The world of Korean dramas is a strange and beautiful place. The South Korean entertainment industry is slowly growing to worldwide dominance, as Kpop, Korean movies like Parasite and Minari, and Korean television series take the world by storm.
The term Korean drama, or Kdrama, refers to almost any South Korean fictional television series, no matter the subject or genre. That includes comedy, romance, sci-fi, horror, you name it. Most of these television series are based on webcomics, a form of storytelling similar to comics that originated in South Korea. You should generally expect a love story no matter the genre (save maybe horror), and the same actors are in pretty much everything. Fair warning, almost all Korean dramas have quite outlandish premises, but that’s honestly what makes them so good. You just have to learn how to accept the strange and unexpected and go along for the ride.
Recently, Netflix has become the go-to place to find the best Kdrama offerings for US audiences, with many shows being labeled as Netflix Originals. This partnership, as well as the overall shift to streaming, has also changed the business and structure of Kdramas, as previously, pretty much all Kdramas were around 16 episodes long and one season only. Although Korea and their media is still generally conservative, the international audience is definitely shifting perspectives to be more inclusive and representative of all types of people.
In order to help you jump headfirst into this new and expanding area of television, here are 28 of the best Korean dramas available to watch on Netflix, both original and not.
Editor’s Note: This list was most recently updated on March 2022 to include The Silent Sea, The Heirs, and All of Us Are Dead.
The Silent Sea
Director: Choi Hang-yong
Writer: Park Eun-kyo
Cast: Bae Doona, Gong Yoo, Lee Joon, Kim Sun-young, Kim Si-a, Lee Moo-Saeng
A sci-fi horror series set in space, The Silent Sea follows a crew as they go investigate an abandoned research facility where a tragedy took place. With the mission to retrieve valuable samples that might lead to the creation of more water, a vitally important and expensive resource now in the future, the crew heads into unknown terror when they enter Balhae station. With Bae Doona and Gong Yoo leading this cast, you already know it’s going to be good. Full of mysteries and twists, The Silent Sea is totally bingeable with its revelations and betrayals scattered generously throughout a dystopian story. — Therese Lacson
Directors: Kang Shin-hyo, Boo Sung-chul
Writer: Kim Eun-sook
Cast: Lee Min-ho, Park Shin-hye, Kim Woo-bin, Kim Ji-won, Kang Min-hyuk, Kang Ha-neul
While it may not be the freshest take on K-Drama, this star studded cast created one of the most watched Korean dramas on the planet. Essentially a Cinderella story (or even a Gossip Girl story), Park Shin-hye plays Cha Eun-sang, a regular girl who gets mixed up in the business of a bunch of heirs to rich and affluent families. Chief among them is the Kims. As the daughter of the live-in housekeeper, she lives at their home and is enrolled into their high school. There she meets Kim Tan (Lee Min-ho), the scion of the family, and the two fall in love despite the odds. Both Lee and Park were coming off of big projects at the time The Heirs came out and this quickly became a massively popular show. A perfect time capsule of what Korean dramas were trying to achieve back during the 2010s. — Therese Lacson
All of Us Are Dead
Directors: Lee JQ and Kim Nam-su
Writer: Chun Sung-il
Cast: Park Ji-hu, Yoon Chan-young, Cho Yi-hyun, Lomon, Yoo In-soo, Lee Yoo-mi, Kim Byung-chul, Lee Kyu-hyung, and Jeon Bae-soo
Based on the webtoon Now at Our School by Joo Dong-geun, All of Us Are Dead is a zombie horror series about high school students who find themselves caught in the middle of a virus outbreak. After an accident leads to a zombie virus being unleashed at a South Korean high school, the students are left to fend for themselves cut off from the outside world by the government. With no supplies and no way to get help, the students must rely on each other and whatever resources they can find to survive this deadly situation. While it is primarily a horror story, the show also addresses a number of social issues. Gory, intense, and well-crafted, All of Us Are Dead has already become one of Netflix’s most popular shows since its release in January 2022. – Remus Noronha
Writer: Choi Kyu-sok
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Kim Hyun-joo, Park Jeong-min, Won Jin-ah, Yang Ik-june
How would people react if giant demons started beating people to death in the streets and publicly “condemning people to hell” for all to see? Badly! Really badly! Have you seen the history of the human race?? That’s the core premise of Hellbound, a bleak, very brutal exploration of faith and contagious social hysteria that would pair like fine sacramental wine with Midnight Mass; Netflix’s other ponderous and petrifying 2021 tale of religion gone wrong. Directed by Train to Busan helmer Yeon Sang-ho, Hellbound is a slower, more solemn affair than his breakout Korean zombie movie, but it shares his knack for using genre storytelling to ask unanswerable (and unthinkable) questions about the nature of humanity without flinching. – Haleigh Foutch
Creator: Hwang Dong-hyuk
Cast: Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Wi Ha-joon, Jung Ho-yeon
You’ve definitely heard about this one, in fact, there’s a good chance it’s the show that brought you here! Netflix’s 2021 original Squid Game charted an immediate and unprecedented climb to the top of Netflix’s most-watched lists, becoming a social media sensation and water cooler talking point. And for good reason, it’s a clever spin on familiar genre archetypes with an exceptional cast that makes for an irresistible binge-watch. Set across nine episodes, the series follows 456 debt-ridden contenders through a series of deadly children’s games for the promise of a life-changing jackpot for whoever survives. Action-packed, horror-tinged, and threaded through with rich character drama, Squid Game can be a bit of a bleak bummer, but in a series exploring the pitfalls of capitalist excess and the people it leaves behind, that’s kind of the point. And like all great genre allegories, it never forgets to lace those themes into its endlessly engaging thrills. – Haleigh Foutch
Crash Landing on You
Writer: Park Ji-eun
Director: Lee Jung-hyo
Cast: Hyun Bin, Son Ye-jin, Seo Ji-hye, Kim Jung-hyun
Probably the most popular Korean drama on Netflix to date is a love story between a North Korean soldier and an heiress from South Korea called Crash Landing on You. Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) is a young, beautiful, and supremely wealthy woman who decides to go paragliding one weekend. She gets caught in a tornado that brings her over North Korea, where she lands. Trying to escape getting caught by North Korea, Se-ri is protected and hidden by Captain Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin).
While Jeong-hyeok attempts to help Se-ri and smuggle her back to South Korea, the two can’t deny their growing feelings for one another. As the ultimate Romeo and Juliet, Jeong-hyeok and Se-ri’s chemistry is amazing, and considering the actors started officially dating after shooting the drama, this isn’t a surprise. Crash Landing on You is the quintessential Korean rom-com series, so it’s definitely a great series to introduce you to the genre.
Writer: Park Jae-bum
Director: Kim Hee-won
Cast: Song Joong-ki, Jeon Yeo-bin, TaecYeon
In Vincenzo, Song Joong-ki plays a Korean man who was adopted by an Italian family as a child and raised in Italy as part of a mafia family. After his adoptive father dies, the man’s biological son attempts to kill Vincenzo, leading him to flee back to Seoul, South Korea, where he has a stash of gold hidden under an old apartment building. Unfortunately, Vincenzo has no easy access to the gold unless he tears down the building, and there’s a community of people who live there.
At the same time, a corrupt business called Babel Group illegally takes over the building, leading Vincenzo to team up with the talented, strong-willed lawyer, Hong Cha-young, played by Jeon Yeo-bin, who wants to take down the company for personal reasons. Vincenzo is part action, part drama, and part romance, and altogether a can’t-miss show.
Record of Youth
Writer: Ha Myung-hee
Director: Ahn Gil-ho
Cast: Park So-dam, Park Bo-gum, Byeon Woo-seok, Kwon Soo-hyun
One type of series that South Korean television excels at is the coming-of-age drama, or any story centering around a group of young adults finding their place in the world. Record of Youth is a great choice for new fans of K-Dramas, especially given the fact that the cast is led by none other than Park So-dam, who many will recognize for her role as Kim Ki-jung in Parasite, the daughter of the scammer family who pretends to be an art teacher.
Record of Youth centers around three young people, two models and a make-up artist, involved in the modern fashion industry in Korea. The show follows the general storyline you’ll find in most romance Korean dramas, but the actors in the cast help elevate the series and create characters that you want to stick around with.
Writer: Jo Gwang-jin (webcomic and show)
Director: Kim Sung-yoon
Cast: Park Seo-joon, Kim Da-mi, Yoo Jae-myung, Kwon Na-ra, Ahn Bo-hyun
The first drama on this list based on a webcomic (although don’t worry, there will be more), Itaewon Class is a drama based in the hipster, super-popular area of Seoul called Itaewon (think Soho or the East Village in Manhattan). Park Seo-joon plays Park Sae-Ro-Yi, the owner of an up-and-coming restaurant in Itaewon called DanBam. When he was in high school, Sae-Ro-Yi got expelled for punching a privileged kid named Jang Geun-won (Ahn Bo-hyun), whose father owns a powerful company called Jangga Group. This kickstarts a series of events that lead to Sae-Ro-Yi’s father’s death, followed by a seven-year plan for revenge.
Itaewon Class is an extremely popular drama both in South Korea and internationally, and it accurately depicts the diverse experiences of young adults right now. It is also the first mainstream K-Drama to feature a transgender character, played by Lee Joo-young, signifying a major shift in attitudes for the historically conservative country.
Writer: Seo In
Director: Kim Suk-yoon
Cast: Kim Myung-min, Kim Beom, Ryu Hye-young, Lee Jung-eun
A newer Netflix series, Law School focuses on a group of students and professors at Hankuk University Law School. When a law professor is found dead and former prosecutor and professor Yang Jong-Hoon (Kim Myung-min) is arrested for the crime, the other characters work together to uncover the truth of what really happened and prove Professor Yang’s innocence.
You can certainly draw similarities between Law School and How to Get Away with Murder, as the Korean drama focuses on law students putting their schooling to the test to help out their professor. At the same time, there are plenty of smaller storylines happening as well, like a mysterious connection between a top-tier student named Han Joon-hwi (Kim Bum) and the professor who is killed. If you want a serious drama with a central mystery, Law School is a great option.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
Writer: Jo Yong
Director: Park Shin-woo, Jung Dong-yoon
Cast: Kim Soo-hyun, Seo Ye-ji, Oh Jung-se
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay is a modern romantic drama that stands out from the crowd due to its portrayal of an adult on the autism spectrum. The series stars Kim Soo-hyun as Moon Gang-tae, an orphaned young man who works as a caregiver at a psychiatric hospital. He spends most of his life taking care of his older brother, Moon Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se), who has autism. The two brothers have lived a lonely life, constantly moving around, ever since Sang-tae witnessed their mother’s murder years earlier.
One day, Gang-tae meets a woman named Ko Moon-young (Seo Ye-ji), a children’s author who has antisocial personality disorder. After realizing that the two have crossed paths before in the past, Moon-young develops a small obsession with Gang-tae and follows him around. As Moon-young, Gang-tae, and Sang-tae spend more time together, they begin to open up about their trauma and heal. The series features a general romance story, but it shines through its portrayal of Sang-tae and his relationship with his brother. Sang-tae exhibits typical “spectric” traits, as they are called, and the show presents a relatively accurate and compassionate portrayal of an individual with autism.
The Uncanny Counter
Writer: Yeo Ji-na, Yoo Sun-dong, Kim Sae-bom, Jung Do-yoon
Director: Yoo Sun-dong
Cast: Jo Byeong-gyu, Yoo Jun-sang, Kim Se-jeong, Yeom Hye-ran
If you want a superhero-style story, look no further. The Uncanny Counter is the story of So Mun (Jo Byeong-gyu), a kind, intelligent boy who has a walking disability as a result of a tragic car accident he was in as a child, which killed both of his parents. One day, So Mun is possessed by a spirit that grants him the power to banish demons that escape the afterlife. He joins a team called the Counters, which includes Mo-tak (Yoo Jun-sang), Ha-na (Kim Se-jeoung), and Mae-ok (Yeom Hye-ran), who fight together against a rising threat of evil in the area. It gets even more complicated for So Mun when he finds out that his parents’ deaths weren’t accidents after all, and an evil spirit was involved.
Another series based on a webcomic, The Uncanny Counter is a stylish, action-packed thrill ride that doesn’t pull any punches. With a dark, threatening villain that keeps the team on edge, the show maintains a quick pace, while the fantastic acting by the cast adds a deeply emotional side to the story. Despite being advertised as an action fantasy show, you should still be ready to shed some tears when you watch.
Writer: Park Hye-ryun
Director: Oh Choong-hwan
Cast: Bae Suzy, Nam Joo-hyuk, Kim Seon-ho, Kang Han-na
Start-Up is set in a fictional Korean version of Silicon Valley, where Bae Suzy’s character Seo Dal-mi dreams of being the Korean Steve Jobs. Following her passion, Dal-mi gets involved with a start-up business and quickly becomes entangled with a complicated love triangle. One young man named Han Ji-pyeong (Kim Seon-ho) is her first love, now a successful venture capitalist, while Nam Do-san (Nam Joo-hyuk) is a young man down on his luck, who Dal-mi thinks is her first love. This gives Do-san the motivation to give his start-up another try, while also attempting to make Dal-mi’s mistake a reality. Like Itaewon Class, Start-Up presents a new style of life for young people. While taking on the modern industry of start-ups, the show also gives everyone the classic romance they know they want.
Memories of the Alhambra
Writer: Song Jae-jung
Director: Ahn Gil-ho
Cast: Hyun Bin, Park Shin-hye, Park Hoon, Chanyeol
A true amalgam of genres, Memories of the Alhambra takes place mainly in Granada, Spain with a Korean cast. A science-fiction drama of sorts, the series follows the CEO of an investment company, Yoo Jin-woo (Hyun Bin), who travels to Spain in search of the creator of an AR game in development that feels way too real. When game and reality start to blur and someone is killed, Jin-woo, with the help of the developer’s sister, Jung Hee-joo (Park Shin-hye), must find the bug in the game and fix it before more people die.
Memories of the Alhambra is a breath of fresh air for Kdramas due to its setting and innovative premise. While at times the story lacks sense, the concept and execution are spot-on, and honestly, you can’t help but fall in love with Hyun Bin.
Writer: Hong So-ri, Kim Hyung-min, Park So-jung
Director: Lee Eung-bok, Jang Young-woo, Park So-hyun
Cast: Song Kang, Lee Jin-wook, Lee Si-young, Lee Do-hyun
Based on the webtoon of the same name, Sweet Home is an energetic, thrilling apocalyptic horror story about monsters trying to kill everyone and take over the world. No big deal, right? Song Kang makes a rare appearance in a horror show, as the actor usually sticks to romantic dramas (which you will see later on in this list). Kang plays a character named Cha Hyun-soo, a traumatized high school student who moves into an apartment by himself after his parents are killed in a car accident. Unbeknownst to Hyun-soo and the other residents, their apartment building happens to be ground zero for a species of monsters hoping for world domination.
Sweet Home is a great example of the crazy stories that come out of webcomics, which somehow work so well when adapted to the screen. The series is dark, bloody, and unpredictable, and a definite win for Netflix.
Writer: Park Shi-hyun
Director: Lee Jae-hoon
Cast: Im Si-wan, Shin Se-kyung, Choi Soo-young, Kang Tae-oh
Run On is an effortless romance that focuses on the relationship between Oh Mi-joo (Shin Se-kyung), a hardworking movie translator who takes pride in her work, and Ki Seon-gyeom (Im Si-wan), a former sprinter for the national team who wants to become a sports agent. The drama is light-hearted, with not too much action, but it works well with the story. There’s also a major plotline revolving around gender inequality in the workplace, as another character is disregarded despite being the natural heir of her father’s company and becoming the CEO of a sports agency all on her own.
With the main two characters, Run On also provides a close look at some unique and interesting professions that aren’t normally portrayed on-screen. While it might not be as exciting and heart-pounding as some others on this list, Run On is a must-see for the acting and the soft chemistry between the two lead characters.
Writer: Lee Eun-mi
Director: Han Dong-hwa
Cast: Park In-hwan, Song Kang, Na Moon-hee, Hong Seung-hee
If you want to watch something that will pull at your heartstrings, Navillera is the show. Released in 2021 and one of the newest Netflix Original Korean dramas, Navillera stars Park In-hwan as Shim Deok-chul, a retired mailman who just turned 70. Feeling unfulfilled, Deok-chul decides to try and fulfill his dream of becoming a ballet dancer. But aside from his late start, another obstacle he faces is his worsening Alzheimer’s disease. One day, he comes upon a young man named Lee Chae-rok (Song Kang) practicing ballet for an upcoming competition. While Chae-rok is a talented dancer who loves what he does, he is in a bad financial situation and his father is in jail. His mother, who passed away, was a ballerina, and it’s one of the few remaining connections he has with her.
When Chae-rok and Deok-chul meet, they become friends and learn from one another, encouraging the other to continue pursuing whatever makes them happy. Navillera is another example of the shifting perspectives in the Korean entertainment industry, with the series exploring tough topics of death, old age, Alzheimer’s, and the challenges people can face regarding gender, class, and age when trying to achieve their dreams.
The King: Eternal Monarch
Writer: Kim Eun-sook
Director: Baek Sang-hoon, Jung Ji-hyun, Yoo Je-won
Cast: Lee Min-ho, Kim Go-eun, Woo Do-hwan, Kim Hyung-nam
The King: Eternal Monarch is written by Kim Eun-sook, the writer of Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, also known as Goblin. This 2016 series is probably one of the most beloved Korean dramas in South Korea, and the one many people use to introduce their friends to this world. The newer series, The King: Eternal Monarch, shares a star with Guardian in Kim Go-eun, who plays the character Jeong Tae-eul, a police officer in the violent crimes squad. In this fantasy drama, there are two alternate realities — one, the Korea we know today where Tae-eul lives, and the Kingdom of Corea, where Lee Gon (Lee Min-ho) rules as Emperor.
When Lee Gon discovers that he can pass over to the parallel universe, he meets Tae-eul, and you can probably guess what happens next. While The King: Eternal Monarch isn’t as good as Guardian, the series is a unique, ambitious story with fantastic acting from the main cast, and a great choice for fantasy fans.
Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung
Writer: Kim Ho-soo
Director: Kang Il-soo, Han Hyun-hee
Cast: Shin Se-kyung, Cha Eun-woo, Park Ki-woong
A historical romantic comedy that still manages to explore very serious topics, Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung centers around the title character Goo Hae-ryung (Shin Se-kyung), a noblewoman who becomes one of the first four women historians of the Joseon Dynasty. Still single at 26, Hae-ryung already challenges the intense gender roles of the era, and she continues to encourage the independence of ideas and choices for women everywhere. She soon meets Yi Rim, a.k.a. Prince Dowon, (Cha Eun-woo) the heir to the throne whose true passion lies in writing romance novels under a pseudonym.
Through the romance between the two main characters and their story, the show further explores and challenges historical topics of Catholic persecution, censorship, and sexism. Overall, Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung is a hilarious and truly romantic series that manages to feel modern despite the older setting.
Writer: Park Hae-young
Director: Kim Won-suk, Kim Sang-woo
Cast: Lee Sun-kyun, Lee Ji-eun (IU), Park Ho-san, Song Sae-byeok
A truly unique Korean drama, My Mister tells the story of a cold woman who has suffered many hardships in her life, who finds sympathy and comfort in the company of three brothers who are healing from their own trauma. The series is deeply profound and addresses a number of serious topics. The cast is led by Lee Ji-eun, also known by her stage name IU, who plays Lee Ji-an, a woman who will do anything to support her ailing grandmother. She encounters the middle brother, Park Dong-hoon (Lee Sun-kyun), when she is hired as a temp worker at his company. A coworker instructs her to find out Dong-hoon’s secrets, but soon enough she’s falling for the man, who seems to understand more about her than anyone she’s ever met.
Although it’s definitely a slow-moving story, the astounding acting and remarkably written characters will drag you in and keep you enthralled until the last episode. My Mister is a must-watch, especially if you are a fan of serious dramas.
The merc with a mouth is back, baby!
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