The end of the year is a time for lists, and the Hallyu Wave is the perfect fodder for list-making. For those who haven’t been paying attention, Korean drama – affectionately called Kdramas, and other forms of Korean popular entertainment (think BTS) have been sweeping the Western scene in recent years.
Between their compact 16-episode format, reliance on familiar yet exciting tropes, and seamless mish-mash of genres, Kdramas have a lot to offer viewers of any gender, nationality, or age. And with streaming platforms like Netflix getting in on the Asian market, finding new dramas to watch has become easier than ever.
Since there are far too many shows for any sane human to watch, and too many services on which to watch them, a very biased individual has decided to introduce newcomers to some of the best ones of the past year. Welcome to a whole new obsession if you haven’t started watching yet, or to endless hours of arguments if you’re already an avid fan.
10. Designated Survivor: 60 Days
Stars: Ji Jin Hee, Son Seok Goo (Sense8), Kang Ha Na
Available On: Netflix
One path into the world of Kdramas is to start with a remake of a well-known American series. Designated Survivor only lasted 4 seasons, but the Keifer Sutherland vehicle made enough of an impact to launch a Korean version. With powerful performances and plenty of plot twists packed into just one season, the remake is more fast-paced and sometimes more insightful than the original.
This show starts very similarly to its predecessor, but half of the fascination is watching it find ways to localize the issues. Culturally specific storylines like North Korean immigrants and anti-discrimination laws that still haven’t passed make Designated Survivor: 60 Days much more than your average political thriller.
9. Extraordinary You
Stars: Kim Hye Yoon, Ro Woon, Lee Jae Wook
Available On: Viki
Anyone who knows anything about Kdramas has seen, or at least heard of, Boys Over Flowers. It’s the epitome of a cliched high school romance, replete with a crew of beautiful boys led by a rich jerk whose world turns upside down when a poor but brave girl stands up to him. But what about the side characters in that drama? What happens to all the extras while the leads are acting out their terrible romance?
Extraordinary You explores that and more in its comic-within-a-drama, in which young Dan Oh learns she’s not the hero of her own story. In fact, she’s not even real. What better way to rebel against a bad writer than to start up a romance with an incredibly hot extra who barely even speaks?
8. When The Camellia Blooms
Stars: Gong Hyo Jin, Kang Ha Neul, Kim Ji Suk
Available On: Netflix
Part-time murder mystery and full-time family drama, When The Camellia Blooms is first and foremost the story of a small town. When a single mother with a burdensome past arrives in Ongsan, the women are aghast and the men are enthralled. But as she slowly worms her way into everyone’s hearts, various families on the block learn the importance of their various bonds.
And then there’s a the string of murders, because what would a Korean drama be without its genre mixing? The story doesn’t quite succeed in keeping viewers guessing, but the mystery side plot actually winds up being one of the most meaningful parts of the show.