Welcome to my K-drama addiction…
Squid Game finally brought the world’s attention to Korean dramas but, despite its popularity, psychological thrillers might not be for everyone so I decided to compile a list of a few (okay, maybe more than a few) shows that I’ve seen and enjoyed from various genres. They aren’t all K-dramas, but they are all very entertaining in their own ways so hopefully you’ll find something on the list to help dip your toe into an entire other continent of storytelling if you haven’t already. There’s so much you might be missing out on! And this is totally just my own opinion so you may or may not agree with my suggestions. For perspective, I’m a Mexican-American girl with a strong preference for sweet, happy endings and this list is of the shows lining my path into the world of K-dramas.
Oh, and one of the best things about these shows? They’re completed. Western shows drive me crazy with their stupid mid- or end-of-season cliffhangers and endless season renewals that drive a show way past stale and/or reduced into last-minute drivel, or get cancelled before the characters and viewers can find any modicum of resolution. I loathe it and it’s all the result of greedy studios and money. So far all of the C- T- and K-dramas that I’ve found have both a start and an end. Done. A well-planned storyline topped with a nice tidy little bow on a finale that satisfies all. No need to worry about it dragging its feet, panicking, or being cut off too early. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy.
Note: I’d highly recommend that you always always watch with the original language/audio and use subtitles when possible. Some don’t have dub options but even when they do it’s never as good. If you’ve never watched anything in a different language before then learning how to watch and read subtitles at the same time might be a new skill you’ll have to learn but I promise it comes quickly and it’s a skill so worth having because it opens up an entire world of cinema to enjoy!
This genre is my least searched for and yet whenever I do fall into the odd mood that has me giving a show a chance, I’ve yet to be disappointed. The perfect balance of grit, human exploration, and comedic relief is what carried me past the first episode all the way to the finale in a hungry binge.
Mad for Each Other
She’s paranoid with a secret and he’s an ex-cop with anger issues and after a series of run-ins and misunderstandings they’d very much like to never see one another again. Of course, it turns out they’re neighbors and share a psychiatrist. Toss in drug lords, neighborhood crime watch, and more and this makes for the perfect blend of shenanigans, down to earth, and thrilling crime mystery.
Touch Your Heart
He’s a serious lawyer and the best at his firm. His new unwanted assistant? An actress ruined by scandal pretending to be a nobody all for the chance of proving herself and landing a role in a new K-drama. The romance is fun, but each episode brings on new cases that delve into Korean law and both its strengths and failures.
Adopted by an Italian family, he later joins the mafia, but now he’s back in Korea to collect a hidden stash of gold except unexpected rivals and neighbors will put his skills as a lawyer (and mafia man) into use threatening to alter the direction of his life. Thrilling, captivating, and with just the right amount of quirky relief to keep you clicking ‘next episode’.
More: The K2 (2016; Korean), Lawless Lawyer (2018; Korean), Mouse (2021; Korean), Squid Game (2021; Korean), Vagabond (2019; Korean)
If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, I’m sure it’s rather apparent that I love the fantasy and sci-fi genres so it’ll come as no surprise that I’ve discovered quite a few shows to watch in these genres as well. The way fantasy in particular is so effortlessly fused with lore, legend, and modern day in many of these shows is an absolute standout for me. They all have intriguing premises, which is why I clicked on them, but the execution is incredible and the world-building?! Outstanding, creative, and it leaves an impression. All of that on top of excellent storytelling that contains multiple plot lines and secrets that weave together cohesively to naturally propel the plot is just *chef’s kiss*. While other shows I’ve watched feel like they’re trying too hard, many of these ones here feel effortless and I fall instantly into whatever world they’ve built and story they’re telling. I love it.
Hotel del Luna
Cursed to help shuttle souls to the afterlife, Man-wol is a thousand years old and looking for a new human manager for her hotel. She’s found just the person and, whether he likes it or not, she’s going to gift him the ability to see ghosts and drag him kicking and screaming into his new job. There’s humor, ghosts that are sometimes scary and sometimes not, fascinating lore, and Man-wol’s mysterious past creates an undercurrent of intrigue that will keep you fascinated.
The King’s Avatar
If you like gaming, then this is for you. If you don’t care about video games, then this will tempt you to play.
When an elite professional player who helped found and shape the world of gaming is shoved aside for new blood, he bands together a ragtag team of nobodies into a team skilled enough to take on the championship. Unexpectedly gripping, fun, heartfelt, and thrilling, this show is an absolute edge-of-your-seat binge.
Mystic Pop-up Bar
Help solve the grudges of 100,000 humans or face Hell? Weol-ju has spent 500 years trying to pay this price and not only has an ex-afterlife cop joined her side who might know more than she realizes, but an innocent grocery store worker revealed his unusual ability that just might help Weol-ju make the deadline. Fun, exciting, high-stakes, and threaded with Weol-ju’s dark past, it all comes together in this fantastical world where ghosts and the living collide.
More: Bulgasal (2021; Korean), The Devil Punisher (2020; Taiwanese), Itaewon Class (2020; Korean), The King (2020; Korean), A Korean Odessy (2017; Korean), Memories of the Alhambra (2018; Korean), My Only Love Song (2017; Korean), Tomorrow (2022; Korean), The Uncanny Counter (2020; Korean)
Period pieces are fascinating not just because of the main stories they tell but for the glimpses of history, culture, etc. that they reveal. Honestly the shows below often do such a good job of weaving together catchy plots with all of the best ingredients: romance, humor, political intrigue, epic fight scenes, history/culture, and evolving character arcs.
100 Days My Prince
He’s a prince with amnesia and she’s an unmarried village girl sentenced to being beaten or life as a concubine. The solution? Marry this useless stranger who’s wandered into her life and can’t even remember his own name. Of course, there’s a reason why the prince can’t remember his past and those behind it won’t rest until he’s dead. Both hold deadly secrets in their hearts and the village can only shield them for so long before deadly court politics hunt them down swords in hand.
The King’s Affection
Twins were unacceptable. She was supposed to die. Instead fate brings her back to her brother, the prince, and when he breathes his last she’s dragged into the palace to take his place. If anyone discovers she’s a female, it won’t only be her head that is lost. Forced to grow up under the intense scrutiny of court life while hiding a deadly secret only her two closest servants know about, the Crowned Prince must fight for her place in the palace, her right to the throne, to protect those few she’s allowed herself to love, and for the good of her country. High-stakes, thrilling, with pockets of sweetness it all wraps together for an addicting watch.
Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung
Female historians are being hired for the palace and causing a stir in tradition. Not only will they have a lot to learn about recording history, but how to navigate the deadly political plots that seem to be hidden everywhere. The prince might enjoy secretly writing romance novels and Goo Hae-ryung might think she’s found the perfect job as a historian, but neither are prepared for the secrets of their pasts that will soon rise to haunt them or the deadly lengths to which their enemies will go. Whether they’re ready or not, they will face historic moments that could make or break their country but will the prince learn to speak up and will the historians remain silent on the sidelines?
More: The Crowned Clown (2019; Korean), The Rise of Phoenixes (2018; Chinese), Word of Honor (2021; Chinese), Yanxi Palace Princess Adventures (2019; Chinese)
I love romcoms. They’re fun, they’re quick, they’re binge-able, and did I mention that they’re fun? This is probably the genre I’ve explored the most as I tend to look for shows that will help alleviate my anxiety and not add to it haha plus I’m a sucker for a cute romance. Personally I thought that all of these were fun to watch and though some were more memorable than others, I’ve watched plenty that nonetheless managed to entertain me.
Her Private Life
At work she’s a dedicated art museum curator. After work, before work, and sometimes during work, she’s a famous anonymous blogger & diehard fangirl of boyband member Cha Shi-an. It’s a secret she’s managed to hide for years but her new boss just might be her downfall jeopardizing her career. He already gives her a hard time about work, the last thing she needs is for him to discover her fangirl secret. Or to fall in love with him. This show was so fun to watch!
Does the best friend have a super annoying personality/voice? Yes, she seriously does. That aside, however, this show presents one of the cutest couples ever and unfolds the story of how they first meet online in a video game and end up together in real life. Super adorable, chill, fun, and the way the gaming parts were interwoven with their real lives/events was great too even without a bigger budget for the graphics. I really liked this couple! She’s smart and genuinely kind, he’s driven and just the right amount of devious, and from day one they build a foundation of trust between them that honestly more characters need to take notes on.
Romance is a Bonus Book
She’s in her 40s, a single mom, and desperate for a job. Despite her many awards and past work on her resume, it means nothing to the current market who can only see the multi-year gap she took to raise her daughter. Thankfully, after some key omissions on her resume, she lands a job as a publishing intern. Cue shenanigans and challenges. It does a great job of bringing up social and workforce issues while also balancing humor and romance creating a show with a deeper resonance than expected.
(There’s an American version of this called Younger starring Sutton Foster which is more of a quirky sitcom than the Korean version. Both are based on the book Younger by Pamela Redmond Satran.)
More: Accidentally in Love (2018; Chinese), Business Proposal (2022; Korean), Hometown Cha-cha-hca (2021; Korean), The Perfect Match (2017; Taiwanese), Put Your Head on My Shoulder (2019; Chinese), Search WWW (2019; Korean), Triad Princess (2019; Taiwanese), Use For My Talent (2021; Chinese)
So there you have it! A list of shows that I really enjoyed and there are tons more out there for you to discover. I only meant to list maybe 5 or 10 shows and it quickly got out of hand becoming a huge list leaving out only the shows I don’t remember (which I guess is enough to not earn a spot on the list to begin with lol). I’ve certainly not seen everything (I’m a relative newbie myself but thanks to Netflix, internet, etc. it’s become much easier to find and watch new shows) so please feel free to drop your own recommendations down in the comments section! I can’t wait to add them to my list!
Note: Some of the shows listed above I haven’t actually finished yet but I’m enjoying them so far (if the endings change my mind though then I’ll be updating this post haha). I also didn’t review/describe most of the shows listed not because I liked them any less but because this post would end up ridiculously long haha but hopefully the title or poster will intrigue you enough to look it up and find out more!