So, K-dramas. Spending nearly most of my teen years obsessing about K-pop and the Korean entertainment culture, I might not be an expert — but I certainly won’t be shy to call myself a K-pop veteran stan. Korean entertainment has peaked at yet another high thanks to the global BTS phenomenon (as with every other recent high), besides the culture’s trend-setting productions such as the dystopian Squid Game (2021) and Oscar-winning Parasite (2019). With streaming platforms and social media helping the cause, we easily get overwhelmed by the new productions we should be keeping up with, and all the other modern classics to catch up on. What fans find the most interesting about K-dramas is the variety of topics on offer. While rom-coms remain one of the industry’s fortes, the genre is never short on discussions of history, society, fantasy, and more. That’s why I thought it would be great if I distil the years I spent binging K-dramas into this article consisting of all the K-drama hidden gems you should watch:
Mr. Queen (2020)
K-dramas’ level of creativity is second to none when it comes to the fantasy category. Based on Xian Chen’s fiction Go Princess Go, the 2020 production is an all-in-one that consists of Korean history, comedy, fantasy and romance. Unlike other periodic dramas, Mr. Queen unfolds as Queen Cheorin, with the soul of a modern-day chef trapped inside her body, explores love and helps King Cheoljong reclaim his power over the court.
Watch Mr. Queen on Viu.
Pegasus Market (2019)
Let me just put it out there: Pegasus Market is the absolute weirdest television series I have ever watched. This, however, does not make Pegasus Market any less of my favorite K-drama series. Set in the local Daema Supermarket, the production presents the most absurd, yet funny interactions between the perfectionist General Manager and his extraterrestrial Ppaya team members while they carelessly destroy the antagonists’ agenda.
Watch Pegasus Market on Viu.
Strong Girl Bong-soon (2017)
Strong Girl Bong-soon is another fantasy series every viewer should watch. Taking the “strong, independent woman” character to a very literal level, the protagonist Do Bong-soon is probably the strongest character in television history. Although she can easily protect anyone with the abnormal gift she inherited from the founding mothers of the family, she sometimes sees it as a curse that makes her less of a woman and is always conscious of the responsibilities she is charged with. More than a journey for the protagonist to overcome her own life struggles, Strong Girl Bong-soon encourages young audiences to embrace their gifts.
Watch Strong Girl Bong-soon on Netflix and Viu.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo (2022)
This 16-episode slow-burn is a K-drama dark horse in the first half of 2022. Following Woo Young-woo, a prodigious lawyer with Asperger’s Syndrome, Extraordinary Attorney Woo normalizes the discussion and educates its audience on the condition via a script filled with love, sisterhood, and wholesome moments. The production deviates away from the unrealistic dramatic twists K-dramas are notorious for and tells the story as Young-woo grows as a person. The team also pays tributes to some of South Korea’s most influential court cases and social issues, including the sexist corporate culture, and the nation’s intense cram school culture. On a personal note, the absence of unreasonably toxic characters is what makes this drama even better.
Watch Extraordinary Attorney Woo on Netflix.
Because This Is My First Life (2017)
Disguised as a rom-com, the 2017 Because This Is My First Life challenges South Korea’s familial intervention on dating and marriage culture with a story built on the nation’s soaring housing market. First seeing marriage as merely a social construct, the realist protagonists Nam Se-hee (played by Lee Min-ki) initially married the broke and jobless writer Yoon Ji-ho (played by Jung So-min) to secure a portion of his monthly income from rent, without the expectation to develop feelings for his tenant and pretend wife.
Watch Because This Is My First Life on Netflix.
Save Me (2017)
It might be nice for K-dramas to touch on different social issues; however, some audiences might find them glorifying certain situations. You won’t see that in Save Me. A television adaptation of Jo Geum-san’s webcomic Out of the World (세상 밖으로), Save Me goes into the life of the protagonist Im Sang-mi’s family and illustrates in detail how a religious cult tears the fragile family further apart. With impeccable scores, sets and the eerie theme, the cast members orchestrate 16 episodes of fright that keep the audience constantly on edge. The production exposes the cults of South Korea, to which a number of the nation’s people have fallen victim.
Watch Save Me on Amazon Prime.
The Package (2017)
The Package unfolds with a Korean packaged tour, consisting of a solo traveler and three duos, beginning their holiday in France. Initially judging with prejudice against one another, the production slowly gets into the history the travelers carry, while they heal from the past and start new relationships with the help of scenic France.
Watch The Package on Amazon Prime.
Reply 1988 (2015)
Saving the best for last, we have arrived at, no exaggeration, everyone’s all-time favorite — Reply 1988. Following the squad of five childhood friends in the Ssangmun-dong neighborhood, Reply 1988 is set in 1988 Korea, right at the start of the Korean Economic Miracle. The production depicts the ordinary everyday life of the small-town people filled with friendship and wholesome family moments, as the country takes off around them. Widely acclaimed for realistic illustration of relationships in the reserved Asian culture, Reply 1988 is one of the highest-rated K-dramas in Korean cable television history.
Watch Reply 1988 on Netflix.