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The best K-dramas to watch on Netflix and beyond

If you are a savvy entertainment enthusiast, it’s impossible to have not heard of one of the many Korean drama that have blown up over the last few years. And if you have — and not watched any of them yet — you’re probably wondering, What is the hype all about?

Well, why don’t you try answering your curiosity by watching some of the best K-dramas of all time? To help you do that, here’s a list of the best K-dramas from every genre that can turn you from a K-drama newbie to a K-drama super fan. And I assure you, after watching a few of these, you will realize how much you have been missing out on.

These shows are sure to keep you hooked with their dynamic storylines, perfect blend of variety of elements, artistic cinematography, tuneful OSTs, and splendid performances that bring these dramas to life.

Mind you, it was extremely difficult to pick only a handful of K-dramas. This is not an exhaustive list, but a short one that can get you started on Korean entertainment. Also, I highly recommend you to watch these dramas in their original language (with subtitles in your preferred language) to not miss out on the nuances that give the true feel of the series.

Satire

SKY Castle (2018)

Image: Netflix

Cast: Yum Jung-ah, Lee Tae-ran, Yoon Se-ah, Oh Na-ra, Kim Seo-hyung

Streaming platforms: Netflix, Viki

From raising their children to be top performers to ensuring their husbands remain distinguished barons, the reputable mothers of SKY Castle have a lot on their plate.

SKY Castle is a luxurious neighborhood coveted by many but occupied by a few influential high-flyers. The occupants are status-obsessed elites who see their children as trophies who will shine in society and uphold their family prestige by getting into the top universities. And as each family pulls all the strings it can to retain its high social position, the drama shows the extremes upper-class parents can go to, even if it comes at the cost of destroying others’ lives.

What to expect: SKY Castle is a masterpiece satire with a complex plot and a deft balance of mystery and comedy.

The show tackles many prevalent and sensitive issues like academic stress, mental health, parents’ sky-high expectations, status-obsessed elites and their tactics, and more. But to counterbalance the seriousness, the drama also includes considerable humor.

Law

Extraordinary Attorney Woo (2022)

Eun Park-bin as Woo Young-woo looking up at the sky with the subway station sign behind her

Image: Netflix

Cast: Park Eun-bin, Kang Tae-oh, Kang Ki-young

Streaming platform: Netflix

If you liked Freddie Highmore in The Good Doctor, you will like Park Eun-bin in Extraordinary Attorney Woo too.

One of the most talked-about dramas of 2022, Extraordinary Attorney Woo follows the story of a genius autistic lawyer, Woo Young-woo (Park Eun-bin). Be it laws or minute details of everyday life, her photographic memory expands beyond that of an average human mind’s capacity. And her high IQ results in exceptional and extraordinary problem-solving skills that beat even the most celebrated lawyers/prosecutors in the courtroom, despite her being a rookie.

But her ingenuity comes up against her struggles with interpersonal relationships, which seeps into her love and professional life.

What to expect: Extraordinary Attorney Woo is a beautifully crafted legal drama focused on the portrayal of autism and the challenges in the life of an autistic person.

What’s in it for legal drama lovers? From piling cases to fierce courtroom fights, Extraordinary Attorney Woo has it all. With a focused approach to laws and legalities, and Woo obsessing over her love of law, you will walk away learning a thing or two about Korean law.

Moreover, to keep things lighthearted, the show includes chucklesome scenes and sweet innocent romance between the leads that will make your heart flutter.

Juvenile Justice (2022)

Kim Hye-soo wears judge’s robe and sits in a big red chair in Juvenile Justice.

Image: Swann Studio/Netflix

Cast: Kim Hye-soo, Kim Mu-yeol, Lee Sung-min, Lee Jung-eun

Streaming platform: Netflix

Juvenile Justice is the story of Shim Eun-seok (Kim Hye-soo), an elite juvenile judge, who holds the adamant belief that young offenders’ punishment should befit the crimes they commit in order to instill fear (of law) and realization of the consequences that come with the damage they cause. Her frustration stems from her position that the lenient law — which emphasizes rehabilitation of juvenile offenders rather than incarceration — is a means of escape even when they commit heinous crimes.

And as the tough judge tackles complex juvenile crime cases, she faces opposition to her unyielding merciless stance, along with the challenge of balancing her detestation of young offenders while holding the beliefs of rehabilitation-focused juvenile justice and punishment that her duty demands.

What to expect: Inspired by real juvenile crime stories and portraying real law, Juvenile Justice is a dark and serious courtroom K-drama that goes deep into the highly sensitive topic of juvenile crimes and law.

While the drama takes creative license for dramatic effect, some of the cases portrayed actually happened in real life. And grappling these complex cases is a tough female lead, whose fierce eyes and solid performance alone are enough to give you goosebumps.

Psychological

Mouse (2021)

A young police officer (Lee Seung-gi) wears his uniform, with a walkie talkie, in Mouse.

Image: Viki

Cast: Lee Seung-gi, Lee Hee-joon, Park Ju-hyun, Kyung Soo-jin

Streaming platform: Viki

When a psychopath serial killer “hunts” in the streets of South Korea, a series of ruthless, blood-chilling murders ensues and puts the entire nation in fear.

To tackle these crimes, rookie police officer Jeong Ba-reum (Lee Seung-gi) and Detective Ko Moo-chi (Lee Hee-joon) pledge to rid the country of the killer. But as Jeong Ba-reum comes closer to catching the criminal and unfurling the mystery, he unearths appalling truths that turn his life upside down.

What to expect: Inspired by the true incident of the Elementary School Murder case in Incheon, South Korea, in 2017, this psychological drama thrives on the exploration of psychopathic behaviors.

And with a 19+ rating for episodes 1 and 2, this is one show that doesn’t shy away from brutal murders, psychological torment and twists, and heart-wrenching crises. So, if that’s not your cup of tea, you might want to skip this one.

Also, be prepared to be blown away by mind-boggling plot twists that will hit you like thunderbolt.

Zombie thriller

Kingdom (2019)

The king in Kingdom holds his hands forward, with wounds on them. He wears royal garb.

Image: Netflix

Cast: Ju Ji-hoon, Bae Doo-na, Ryu Seung-ryong, Kim Hye-jun, Kim Sang-ho, Kim Sung-kyu, Heo Joon-ho, Jeon Seok-ho

Streaming Platform: Netflix

When his father’s mysterious illness is deliberately kept a secret from him, Joseon Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) ventures out to meet the physician who last treated his father, the king.

But the visit reveals a deadly plague is taking over the land, and the young prince must shoulder the weight of the uncertain fate of his kingdom to protect it from his own people who have turned into zombies.

What to expect: Any Walking Dead fans here? Here is a watch-worthy drama for you.

Kingdom is a historical zombie thriller sure to grip your attention with its intricately woven plot, striking visuals, sick swordplay, stunning historical costumes, powerful characters, and, of course, zombies with a ravenous appetite for human flesh.

And with power-drunk politicians planning nefarious schemes to retain their dominance over the kingdom amidst the zombie mayhem, you can bid goodbye to boredom until you complete the series.

So, free your schedule, and keep a bottle and some snacks with you. Because once you sit down to watch this drama, you will be unable to resist clicking on the “Next Episode” button. And before you know it, you have binge-watched the entire two seasons and the Netflix special episode (Kingdom: Ashin of the North).

Action

Vagabond (2019)

Bae Suzy wears a raincoat and holds a gun in Vagabond.

Image: Netflix

Cast: Lee Seung-gi, Bae Suzy, Shin Sung-rok

Streaming platform: Netflix

When Cha Dal-geon (Lee Seung-gi) loses his beloved orphaned nephew in a plane crash, the struggling stuntman prizes only one thing: truth.

But when the officials’ brief explanations and unwillingness to further explore the matter don’t satisfy him, he unofficially investigates the incident with the help of intelligence agent Go Hae-ri (Bae Suzy). And as he begins to uncover the mystery, his search unveils a vast and complex conspiracy.

What to expect: From high-scale conspiracies to secret murders, Vagabond is one action-packed bomb that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Starring Bae Suzy and virtuoso of versatility Lee Seung-gi as main leads, the drama is loaded with fast-paced action, messy car chases, loud explosions, and heavy gunfire. And with high suspense and mind-boggling plot twists, the thrill is never-ending.

But to balance the seriousness, the drama has ample lighthearted and humorous scenes that give comic relief among the increasing tension.

My Name (2021)

Han So-Hee rests her head against a desk with lots of drawings on it in My Name.

Photo: Min Jeehee/Netflix

Cast: Han So-hee, Ahn Bo-hyun, Park Hee-soon

Streaming platform: Netflix

When her father is shot right on her doorstep, vengeance-driven Yoon Ji-woo (Han So-hee) vows to catch the murderer, making it her sole mission in life.

Our tough female lead seeks out Choi Mu-jin (Park Hee-soon) — her father’s best friend and leader of an organized drug ring — and seals her loyalty to him by joining the same underworld web her father was a part of.

And as she tries to uncover the mystery behind her father’s death, she discovers that her whole life was a lie.

What to expect: This action-packed thriller will take you into the world of drug cartels and dark realities. And driving this thrill ride is a vengeful woman whose power-packed punches and fast-spinning kicks can leave even the toughest of men writhing in pain.

Also expect police chases, surprising reveals, soulful performances, and an amazing OST.

Fun fact: Han So-hee did her own stunts in the drama, one of many reasons why this series is a must-watch.

Romantic comedy

Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (2016)

Three young people sit next to each other wearing nice autumn clothing in Guardian: The Lonely and Great God.

Image: Hwa&Dam Pictures

Cast: Gong Yoo, Kim Go-eun, Lee Dong-wook, Yoo In-na, Yook Sung-jae

Streaming platforms: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Viki, Voot, MX Player

Cursed with immortality, 940-year-old Kim Shin (Gong Yoo) is a lonely goblin who has watched his loved ones die as he lives his immortal life as punishment for the soldiers he killed in war. He awaits his prophesied goblin bride, who will pull out the sword from his chest and set him free from his curse.

Ji Eun-tak (Kim Go-eun) is a high school student who sees ghosts and is prophesied to be the goblin’s bride. She is a part-timer at a restaurant owned by Sunny (Yoo In-na). Sunny falls in love with a grim reaper (Lee Dong-wook), who is also the goblin’s housemate.

The lives of these individuals intertwine, and without the characters themselves realizing, they are a part of the bigger play already decided by fate.

What to expect: From budding tender romance to side-splitting comedy to alluring fantasy with a historical twist, this drama has it all. If that isn’t enough, the bittersweet bromance of the goblin and the grim reaper, the unexpected plot twists, and the heart-wrenching moments will definitely leave you hooked on this timeless masterpiece.

Crash Landing on You (2019)

A young woman smiles while looking towards the son, as a young man in a military uniform stands behind her in Crash Landing on You.

Image: Netflix

Cast: Hyun Bin, Son Ye-jin, Seo Ji-hye, Kim Jung-hyun

Streaming platform: Netflix

What happens when a renowned South Korean CEO and a celebrated North Korean captain fall in love despite belonging to the enemy countries? You get a drama like Crash Landing on You.

Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin), a successful businesswoman with a cheerful personality, crash-lands in North Korea. There she meets emotionally reserved Ri (Hyun Bin) and other North Korean officers who shield her from the authorities and help her escape. But during her stay in the enemy country, she falls in love with Ri. Will Yoon Se-ri return to her home unharmed? Or will she choose her love over her country?

What to expect: A love story with a fast-paced plot and humorous scenes generously sprinkled throughout the series.

This dynamic drama takes you on a romantic adventure while keeping you at the edge of your seat as love between the two characters, and simultaneously the tension of increasing life-threatening risk of Yoon Se-ri being discovered by North Korean officials, brew.

Medical

Hospital Playlist (2020)

Five doctors stand next to each other in blue scrubs with white overcoats, smiling and with arms around each other in Hospital Playlist.

Image: Netflix

Cast: Jo Jung-suk, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jung Kyung-ho, Kim Dae-myung, Jeon Mi-do

Streaming platform: Netflix

Hospital Playlist is a slice-of-life drama depicting the everyday lives of five doctors — also close friends since medical school — working at the Yulje Medical Centre.

What to expect: Have you ever experienced that cozy feeling when you drink hot chocolate on a cold winter morning while sitting in the warm embrace of the sun?

That’s how watching Hospital Playlist made me feel.

If you want a break from conventional K-drama tropes like a hero with a traumatic/complicated past, a wicked villain, dirty hospital politics, a revenge-driven plot, and a complicated love triangle, then this is your drama.

But just because Hospital Playlist diverges from conventional K-drama tropes doesn’t mean it’s monotonous and devoid of entertainment. This is a lighthearted series with a handful of serious and emotional moments and plentiful hilarious scenes. It is a fun watch not only for the regular audience but even for doctors.

Moreover, you can get a sneak peek into the lives of doctors at elite hospitals, as the series has numerous scenes where real doctors nod at the accuracy of medical techniques and terms and realistic portrayal of hospital procedures, doctors’ lives, doctor-patient interactions, hospital struggles, and more.

Dr. Romantic (2016)

A group of medical professionals look busy around a bed. In the forefront, a doctor points his gloved finger off-camera, in Doctor Romantic.

Image: Netflix

Cast: Han Suk-kyu, Yoo Yeon-seok, Seo Hyun-jin

Streaming platforms: Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Viki

Nicknamed “Hand of God,” Master Kim is an exceptionally skilled surgeon at an obscure and humble hospital named Doldam who can save even those on the brink of death. His only passion in life is treating anyone sick, be it a criminal or a magnate.

Kim’s arch-enemy is Do Yoon-wan (Choi Jin-ho) — the Director of Geosan University Hospital (which also owns Doldam) — who puts profits before patients. And because of this clash in ideals, Yoon-wan leaves no stone unturned to bring Master Kim to his knees and revoke his medical license.

Will Master Kim, along with his squad of doctors and medical staff from the tiny Doldam Hospital, win against the powerful Do Yoon-wan?

What to expect: From lifesaving chest compressions to nerve-wracking complex surgeries, this medical drama is brimming with dramatic hospital scenes that keep your adrenaline pumping.

What’s more, the subtle and sweet romance, the complex relationships between the characters, and the matter-of-life-and-death decisions of the doctors with the patient on the operation table are plenty to fill your drama cup.

Furthermore, with medical scenes shot under the supervision of an emergency medicine specialist, you can rest assured regarding the accuracy and realistic portrayal of medical practices. And as the drama teaches the true value of being a doctor, in the end, you will walk away wishing you were a surgeon.

Doctor Stranger (2014)

A group of doctors in blue scrubs and white overcoats stand next to each other in Doctor Stranger, while blue blurs appear across the screen.

Image: Netflix

Cast: Lee Jong-suk, Kang So-ra, Park Hae-jin, Jin Se-yeon

Streaming platforms: Netflix, Viki

Park Hoon (Lee Jong-suk), a genius North Korean cardiothoracic surgeon, is desperate to get out of North Korea. He and his girlfriend, Song Jae-hee (Jin Se-yeon), plan an escape from the country. But Park Hoon only manages to flee alone, leaving his love behind.

The genius defector begins working at Myungwoo University Hospital, one of the biggest in South Korea, while planning to reunite with his love. But without realizing it, he becomes a part of the bigger political play alongside Jae-hee.

What to expect: Doctor Stranger is a multi-genre medical drama that blends espionage, romance, comedy, tragedy, and suspense. From brewing conspiracies to nerve-wracking surgeries to life-threatening encounters, this series has plentiful tension to keep you hooked till the end.

Moreover, Park Hoon’s quirky character and the affectionate love between the leads give this medical series a lighthearted ambience.

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