Our Guide to K-dramas

After decades of holding onto the repetitive nostalgia that Hollywood romantic comedies and sitcoms offer, a new contender has made its mark on this generation’s pop culture: Korean entertainment. While Korean culture has found international success in music, beauty and fashion, one aspect that has only now begun to gain traction in America is Korean dramas.
Often featuring a cliche plot with an overly dramatic twist and containing hints of comedy, K-dramas appear to be the mirror image of American dramas–until they aren’t. Creative and addicting, there is a reason why these shows have accumulated a devoted fan base around the world.
Based on not just one category, Korean dramas have a little bit of something for everyone, ranging from cliche romance to timeless, historical dramas. Each plot is carefully constructed to tell a story from a variety of perspectives without compromising its quality or clarity, a quality that has long been forgotten in the overused storylines of American television.
“I’m a sucker for romantic comedies, but Korean dramas usually span a variety of genres, which is why I love them so much,” junior Katie Song said via Instagram.
Adding to their appeal is the ability to tell a story within a matter of episodes rather than sprawled out through unnecessarily numerous seasons. Not only does this prevent redundancy in the plot, it also keeps the audience engaged by only highlighting what is pertinent to the story.
“Rather than having endlessly boring continuous seasons that get worse and worse like ‘The Walking Dead’ or ‘The 100,’ most dramas are short, 16-episode miniseries that end without leaving the watcher any disappointment and, oftentimes, wanting more, “ freshman Jeremiah Jung said.
Almost as important as the storytelling is the performers who bring that story to life on the screen. And, in the case of Korean entertainment, it’s actors and actresses who truly immerse themselves in portraying the character at hand. Whatever the scene calls for, the actor is able to evoke that very emotion, prompting an equally emotional response from an audience who hang on every word.
“My favorite part of K-dramas are the cast and the OST [original sound tracks] because the music really gets you into the drama and the casts are all beautiful and amazing actors/actresses,” junior Kai-Min Tsuei said.
Along with each drama is a soundtrack showcasing the voices of prominent South Korean artists. These original sound tracks are matched to a particular scene from the drama, allowing audiences to connect to the show even after they have finished watching the drama.
Nevertheless, there remains an overarching meaning to the popularity that the Korean entertainment industry has garnered within this decade. Once overshadowed by Hollywood blockbusters, this new generation of diverse American youth seeks people who represent them in media, something Hollywood has rarely provided.
Korean dramas offer us a glimpse of what the future holds in terms of both quality and diversity. Especially now, in a time where we are trapped in the limited consistency of our mundane home lives, these shows offer an escape to connect to a world that we can only hope will one day be ours.

1. Reply 1988

Who: Group of five friends Sung Deok Sun (Hyeri), Go game champion Choi Taek (Park Bo Gum), cold and closed off Kim Jung Jwan (Ryu Jun Yeol), considerate Sung Sun Woo (Go Kyung Pyo) and class clown Ryu Dong Ryong (Lee Dong Hwi)
What: The story follows the lives of five families living in the same street of Ssangmundong in Seoul as the five friends remincises their late 1980s as high school students. It also follows a mystery on who the final love interest of Sung Deok Sun (Hyeri) would be.
Where: Netflix, Dramacool
Recommended: friends to lover, coming of age, nostalgia, 1980s, childhood friends
Similar Dramas: Hospital Playlist

2. Kingdom

Who: Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji Hoon), his bodyguard Moo Young (Kim SangHo), nurse Seo Bi (Bae Doona) and Yeong Shin (Kim Sung Kyu)
What: This ongoing production with two seasons follows the main character during Korea’s Joseon period, as a mysterious plague overtakes the land. The crown prince attempts to gain support from his allies in order to stop the undead and reclaim his rightful place on the throne.
Where: Netflix (2019- )
Recommended: horror, suspense, zombie, historical, revenge, redemption, drama, political, comedy, folklore,
Similar dramas/movies: Rampage, Mr. Sunshine


3. Secret Garden

Who: Kim Joo Won (Hyun Bin) a wealthy young man and Gil Ra- Im (Ha Ji Won), a poor stunt woman fall in love 

What: The story follows the love interests with a twist where they switch their souls and have to quickly adapt to the contrasting social hierarchy. 

Where: DramaCool 

4. Itaewon Class

Who: ex- convict Park Sae-ro-yi (Park Seo Joon), manager Jo YiSeo, and his restaurant staff

What: The drama follows Park Sae-ro-yi whose life turns for the worse as his father is killed in an accident and is expelled from school. He opens his pub DanBam in honor of his late father in Itaewon while conflicts with his past arise. 

Where: Netflix

Recommended: slice of life, revenge, dark themes, redemption 

Similar Dramas: Fight For My Way

5. It’s Okay Not to be Okay

Who:  Psychiatric ward caretaker Moon Kang Tae (Kim Soo Hyun) and children’s book writer Ko Mun Young (Seo Ye Ji) with antisocial personality disorder 

What: This series follows the main characters who experienced parental abuse and murder as a child and how they come together to find love as they overcome their past memories. 

Where: Netflix

Recommended if you like: mental health, romance, drama, emotional, fantasy,comedy 

Similar Dramas: Hyde, Jekyll, Me

6. Weightlifting Fairy

Who: Aspiring college weightlifter Kim Bok Joo (Lee Sung Kyung) and aspiring college swimmer  Jung Joo Hyung (Nam Joo Hyuk) 

What: The 16 episodes follow the title heroine Kim Bok Joo falling in love with her friend Jung Joo Hyung as they fight for their dreams. 

Where: Viki

Recommended: strong female characters, romance, comedy, drama, coming of age, sports, friends to lovers 

Similar Dramas: Strong Woman Do Bong Soon