Whether you agree or not, Netflix has more or less captured the essence of the Korean film industry with an unlimited supply of Korean dramas, movies, and documentaries to begin with. Not only many of them are exclusive only to Netflix, but most of them have so far been unheard of, due to reasons like them being limited releases or restricted for only Korean television etc. The wait is apparently over and on Netflix US, as of today, there are more than 40 different Korean television dramas can be binge-watched for no reason. Like Korean movies, either romance dramas or thrillers, Korean television film industry too, has flourished over the years, with filmmakers venturing into various genres like crime, horror, etc. along with the usual comedies and teenage romance dramas, which continue to be the most popular genres in Korean television so far.
Everyone knows that Netflix has a vast choice for movies, documentaries and especially TV shows. However, not all members and viewers are aware of the share of the pie that’s there in the offer for dramas filled with criminal investigations, feverish romances or family conflicts. Having that said, let’s welcome some of the best South Korean TV series that are perhaps unknown to many but already are being deeply and religiously loved by others. There’s one for everyone’s taste, whether be it dark and dramatic or romantic and emotional. Here is the list of some really good Korean dramas on Netflix, waiting for your bingeing. And please keep in mind that the list comes with a small dosage of spoilers!
20. Can We Get Married? (2012)
I think that from the title itself, one can already guess what this tv show is going to be about. Yes, marriage is indeed one of the central themes in this drama that combines serious conflicts with romantic comedy. With 20 episodes on its plate, ‘Can We Get Married?’ explores the structure and behaviour of a family, as well as the complicated topic of love. The story goes as follows: an intruding and imposing mother wants to marry off her two daughters to wealthy men. While the older sister marries a doctor, the younger one puts her mother’s plan in peril, when she expresses her will to marry an ordinary young man.
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19. One More Time (2016)
‘One More Time’ is a near-perfect fit for you if you’re into romance and fantasy dramas. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, that’s for sure, but if “Groundhog Day” has struck a chord with you and Korean dramas have found a place in your heart, then it’ll probably fit your drama-hunger like a glove. Starring Yoon So-hee as Moon Da-in and a member of boy-band “Infinite” Kim Myung-soo (although his stage name is the simple letter “L”) as Yoo Tan, ‘One More Time’ follows the story of the indie band singer Yoo Tan who finds himself waking up to the same day over and over again, with a girlfriend he must get to and a music group he must bring back from the ashes. This eight-episode-long series was exclusively released on Netflix.
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18. White Nights (2016)
Although that’s the name we find it under on Netflix, this South Korean tv show’s original name is actually translated into ‘Night Light’. Within it, we are propelled into a drama where money and power are seemingly everyone’s ultimate goals, or almost. In a world of corruption, status, and greed, we are faced with three important characters that will give this story a beginning and an end. There’s a coldhearted woman Yi-kyung who will do anything to seek the ultimate power and wealth she feverishly lives for. Then, we have her ex-lover Gun-woo whom she had mercilessly betrayed 12 years ago, who is a free-spirited and wealthy man now and finally, a new hire Se-jin wanting to leave her poverty-stricken background and past behind to move on with her life. While all of them have the ambition when they cross each others’ paths, things become complicated and we witness a gripping tale of heartbreak, deceit and dereliction.
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17. Immortal Classic (2012)
Depicting a popular culinary competition, two families of restauranteurs, businessmen, chefs and cooks are pitted against each other in this timeless drama which depicts generations of the two families dealing with each other’s insecurities, insinuations, conflicts, relationships and forgiveness. At the forefront of this culinary drama is Hwang Geum Hee, to whom a secret recipe to prepare great Kimchi has been passed down from generations and has to win the cooking competition and make her forefathers proud while protecting the recipe from her competitors. As straightforward as it may seem, ‘Immortal Classic’ has a host of characters and relationships depicted in a very short duration of time and the complexity of relationships and melodrama is what makes ‘Immortal Classic’ an unforgettable recipe to binge upon.
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16. Last (2015)
‘Last’ tells the riches to rags story of a fund manager Tae-ho, whose life turns itself upside down when a big and important financial deal goes unexpectedly wrong, thus resulting him to lose 350 million won. Having lost all his money and after putting himself in a position of extreme danger, he goes underground and discovers a secret society of homeless people who live by their own rules. Wanting to get his life back and discover what triggered the disaster out of his deal, he must now work within the rules and hierarchy system of the street in order to get back to the surface of his previous life. With a great set of developed characters, with ‘Last’, we witness some exciting action, spellbinding thrill and a little bit of romance, all in one. For a good show to be pleasantly binge-watched, that’s all anyone needs.
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15. Heaven’s Garden (2011)
Far from the busy streets of the city-dwelling life, we have a television drama that embraces the traditional values in a rural scenario on the lap of nature. ‘Heaven’s Garden’ is a show about family, broken relationships and the power of forgiveness. With great performances and beautiful visuals, ‘Heaven’s Garden’ is a holistic family television show comprising both tears and laughs, where emotions and ethics are put above the fast-moving conflicts that dramas usually offer. After having married without her parents’ consent, a woman’s relationship to her family is broken. Years later, her husband is sent to prison which leaves her with only one option: take her two daughters with her and return to her father’s home, asking for forgiveness. Jung Jae’s dilemma is not only relatable, but it is also extremely melancholic, thus leading us to root for her and her two daughters, including a stepdaughter.
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14. Man to Man (2017)
Here’s a little mash-up where James-Bond-type of suspenseful action leads the way into an intricate criminal storyline, while the sweet romance and occasional humour balance the drama out into a satisfying tv shows for everyone’s taste. Not only ‘Man to Man’ is entertaining and well-executed, but it is also replete with great energetic scenes and thorough character development. Starring Park Hae-jin and Park Sung-woong, ‘Man to Man’ is the story of a talented and skilful secret agent Seol-woo who becomes a moody celebrity’s bodyguard in order to pursue his missions undercover. Bromance, romance, and a lot of running around with a gun in the hand ensue in this thrilling drama.
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13. Bad Guys (2014)
A scintillating crime drama television series that is, on its own, a sort of ‘Suicide Squad’ as far as K dramas are concerned, ‘Bad Guys’ is the narrative of Gu-tak, a detective who has his own means of rough justice to tackle the criminal consortiums in his district. As his department frequently suspends him for not following the rulebook, he cohorts with Mi-young, a police inspector to get top of the class criminals released from the jail to fight mob bosses and bring crime down to normal. As familiar as the idea sounds like, the execution and the twists in the tale factor in to make ‘Bad Guys’ one of the top-notch K-dramas on Netflix that you can binge upon. And don’t worry – it only has 27 episodes across two seasons.
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12. Boys over Flowers (2009)
A highly popular teenage drama, ‘Boys over Flowers’ is loosely based on a Japanese Manga series of the same name. The story revolves around a group of rich, wealthy boys who call themselves the F4, studying at a high-end Shinwa High School. The three – Ji-hoo, Yi-jung, Woo-bin, and Jun-pyo are led by Jun-pyo, the unassailable leader of the close-knitted group. Meanwhile, Jan-di, a timid girl belonging to a humble family saves a poor boy from committing suicide and immediately gains the F4’s attention and wins a scholarship to study at the Shinwa High School. As Jun-pyo is immediately smitten with Jan-di, the latter falls for Ji-hoo and the close-knitted group begins to crumble. ‘Boys over Flowers’ has all the elements of a typical teenage high school romantic drama and it is no surprise that ‘Boys over Flowers’ created a Korean wave at the time of its release. So, what’s holding you back?
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11. Live (2018)
One of the latest television series on Netflix that you can watch, ‘Live’ is a cop-drama which tells the story of Hongil Patrol division and all the officers, beat cops, cadets and corporals within it. Essentially, ‘Live’ is an account of the incidents the division goes through every day, their struggles, sorrows and joys that they share and the conflicts that surface as a result. Although there are not many K dramas that focus on cops and the upside of being a cop (not the violent, criminal angles), ‘Live’ stands out as one of the unique among all given its lively script and a likeable array of characters. Easily one of the best television dramas that you can stream on Netflix.
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10. Prison Playbook (2017)
As lively and joyous as ‘Live’ was, ‘Prison Playbook’ takes a stark opposite stance and looks at the grim, morose lives of prisoners stationed in a correctional facility. Although it could not match the grit and the essence of the likes of ‘Prison Break’ or ‘Orange is the New Black’, it still qualifies as a captivating drama with a host of characters including cops, convicts, their relatives and the victims lost in a puzzle of love, hate, relationships and moments of truth. Primarily, the protagonist of the series is Je-hyuk, who has been wrongfully jailed while he was trying to save his sister from a sexual predator. ‘Prison Playbook’ is a young, coming-of-age television drama that aspires to be as big as ‘Prison Break’ one day.
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9. Something in the Rain (2018)
A love story to begin with, ‘Something in the Rain’ is the slower cousin of many soulful mainstream Korean movies that are known for their tear-jerking emotions and one-sided heartbreaks. The story revolves around two primary characters – Joon-hee and Jin-ah. While Joon-he is a graphical designer who is into designing characters for computer games, Jin-ah is a girl who is between jobs and is currently working at a coffee shop when she meets up with Joon-he who is none other than the younger sibling of Jin-ah’s best buddy Kyung-seon. What starts as an apparent acquaintance gets blown into a full-fledged romance neither of them had dreamt of. ‘Something in the Rain’ is a novel take on romances and Son Ye-jin as Jin-ah is captivating as ever.
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8. Oh My Ghost! (2015)
A borderline comedy fantasy series ‘Oh My Ghost!’ is a definite respite from the same old romance dramas and thrillers and is a great one at that. The primary character of the story is Bong-sun, a sous-chef at a local restaurant who isn’t interested in anything at all, doesn’t have any friends, has an arrogant and domineering boss Sun-woo and to add to her woes, thanks to her grandma who practices Shamanism, she also sees ghosts in her leisure time (wink!). Adding to her misfortunes, Bong-sun gets possessed by the ghost of a virgin girl Soon-ae who died mysteriously and is now a ghost. With Soon-ae assuming her personality on Bong-sun’s body, her lust and the urge to end her virginity kicks off and she seduces all the men who come her way, starting with Sun-woo. While there is a hilarious angle to the tv show, there is also a side story which runs around the disappearance and death of Soon-ae.
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7. Black (2017)
Here’s a crime tv show where suspense, gore, supernatural and fantasy are all part of it – the deadly combination to concoct a near-perfect web series. Ah, and the romance too, of course. It is a thriller with a complex story full of important details you might miss out on at first, only to realise their importance as the plot moves forward. The acting stands out, the grabbing twists are right on the spot and the never-ending suspenseful events are enough to have you hooked for the entirety of the season. Let’s just say it’s about a case of intriguing serial murders, a grim reaper, a possessed detective and a girl who can see death. Now would be the right time to press the play button.
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6. Reply 1997 (2012)
In the present day, at a high school reunion, six friends have met and are recounting their past days which have gone by and their present lives and how their past decisions have impacted their present lives in a major way. ‘Reply 1997’ was the first season of a 3-season tv show of the same name. It follows two different timelines – one obviously set in the present day at the reunion and another in the past, 15 years ago in 1997. The series was released at a time when Korean boybands and the K-pop culture was on the rise and ‘Reply 1997’ only bolstered it in a big way. The central character of the series is Shi-won, who is a fangirl who idolizes a boyband called H.O.T. and isn’t a big name in studies. Enter her five high school friends, one of whom, Yoon-je also has fallen for Shi-won, for they’ve been friends since their childhood days. As genuine and relatable as the characters sound, so is the attention to detail and the references to Korean pop-culture which became an instant hit within fans and audiences. Watch it if you’ve been a fan of any of those Korean boy bands.
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5. Hello, My Twenties! (2016) [a.k.a. Age of Youth]
With a countless number of characters, whose lives have been entwined in a typical high-school setup, ‘Hello, My Twenties!’ is primarily the narrative of five friends having different personas, likes, dislikes and behavioural characteristics, come together to stay together in a house called Belle Epoque. While it was halted after a seasonal run, the Netflix drama has been touted as “charming, with a lot of energy and fun” by many critics and audiences alike. The five young women have their own secrets which they don’t share with each other, have their own differences among themselves and often argue and fight but at the end of the day, they stick together or at least manage to. The performances are top-in-class and so is the character development, with the screenwriters seasoned enough to give all the five characters their own aura and principles which they live by. ‘Hello, My Twenties!’ is utterly lovable and graceful, along with being sexy and endearing at the same time.
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4. Strong Girl Bong-soon (2017)
One of the most watched K-dramas on Netflix as of today, ‘Strong Girl Bong-soon’ follows the narrative of the titular Bong-soon, a girl who was born with superhuman strength, something that runs in her family and passed on to all the females i.e. is matriarchial in nature. Given her capabilities, Bong-soon aspires big and wants to marry a guy with similar characteristics and has her crush on a police officer Guk-doo. She lands at a bodyguard’s job to a rich business magnate and CEO of a gaming firm and starts having a love-hate relationship with him while trying to fight criminal activities in her vicinity. A one-of-its-kind storyline, combined with sharp characterizations and a playful, fast-paced script have made sure ‘Strong Girl Bong-soon’ to retain the position of one of the most popular tv dramas in Korea as of today. Worry not, it is available on Netflix for you to binge.
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3. Mr Sunshine (2018)
A war drama at the outset, ‘Mr Sunshine’ follows the life of a Korean-based U.S. Armed Forces Officer Yoo-jin who had defected to the United States as a slave child in 1871 due to the turmoils he had faced in his home country. Years later, the boy, now a grown-up man and a revered Army Officer, has returned to Korea on a mission at the US station and falls for a girl Ae-shin. During his mission, as he strives to drive off the forces that threaten his motherland, his intensity for his love soars and ‘Mr Sunshine’ essentially turns into a romantic thriller. The 23-episode long television series was welcomed by critics by calling it “intense and intriguing” while praising its star cast. As a result, ‘Mr Sunshine’ has been nominated for numerous awards and accolades.
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2. Misaeng: Incomplete Life (2014)
More than a mere television series, ‘Misaeng’ has been oftentimes called a phenomenon that influenced the Korean television industry in a pathbreaking manner. Being the first-ever Korean drama to be shot in Jordan, ‘Misaeng: Incomplete Life’ deals with a host of characters, most primarily Geu-rae, an ace Baduk player who has been loving the board game since he has been a child. Due to the dearth of career opportunities in playing Baduk at a professional level, he has to enter the corporate world after high school and that too on the recommendation of a friend. Rae joins One International, a trading company and works under an extremely amicable team and colleagues to win there using his expertise in Baduk and analogously applying his skillset in the corporate world. The rest of the series follows his mundane life at the company and the challenges he has to face while at work, as opposed to a sardonic life he used to lead earlier.
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1. Stranger (2017) [a.k.a. Forest of Secrets]
This crime TV drama is a perfect fit for someone who is craving for well-crafted criminal investigations and consistent, three-dimensional characters who move the plot forward effortlessly. Luckily for the rest of the world, its success wasn’t confined only to its home country of South Korea as Netflix knew its potential and gave it the opportunity to reach out to the audiences internationally. The story follows a prosecutor Hwang Shi-mok, a prosecutor who visibly lacks any emotions and a female detective Yeo-jin who tirelessly pursue a murder case and try to expose the malign intents behind it along with addressing the issues of rampant corruption and non-cooperation among officials. With a realistic setup and headstrong, no-nonsense characters, ‘Forest of Secrets’ is set to be a big name in the world of K-dramas, a phenomenon which has already begun.
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