As 2020 comes to a close, so does another great year for Kdramas. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and productions shutting down across the globe, the Hallyu Wave kept on trucking under strict guidelines and constant testing. With only a week break here and there, Korean dramas – whether they be aired on broadcast channels, cable television, or through streaming platforms such as Netflix – made sure to keep fans engaged throughout the year.
Between their compact 16-to-20 episode format, reliance on comfortable yet addictive tropes, and their artful patchwork of genre crossovers, Kdramas have a lot to offer international viewers who are tired of watching seasons of a series only to watch its quality dip in the last few years – or see it cancelled out of nowhere. And with streaming platforms like Viki and opening up shows to the global market, finding new dramas to watch has become easier than ever.
Having already brought you my very biased opinions a year ago, I have decided to once more grace you with my totally arbitrary ranking of the 10 best kdramas of the year. I haven’t watched them all, so this is by no means definitive, but it is a good introduction into some of the most enjoyable Korean romance, mystery, comedy, and horror of the year.
10. Sweet Home
Stars: Song Kang (Love Alarm), Lee Jin Wook, Lee Shi Young
Available On: Netflix
Much like The Walking Dead in its better years, Sweet Home explores what it means to be human when what remains of humanity is turning into monsters. The Netflix original series is based on a popular webtoon, and it follows a cast of characters battling it out at the Green Home apartment complex as they react to the terrifying new world around them.
Unlike zombie shows, the transformation in this series is a curse rather than a disease – but one that still requires the survivors to band together under the leadership of Lee Eun Hyuk (Lee Do Hyun). While kdramas are normally a one-season affair, Sweet Home is a special case that ends on a cliffhanger expecting a second. It’s only 10 episodes for now, but even as it remains unfinished, there is still a satisfying storyline to chew on.
9. Where Your Eyes Linger
Stars: Han Gi Chan, Jang Eui Soo
Available On: Viki
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Where Your Eyes Linger, an 8-episode webdrama with episodes that are barely ten minutes apiece. Normally I wouldn’t include such a short series, but this is one that breaks boundaries and does it beautifully. LGBTQ romance may already be finding its place onscreen in the West, but it’s much rarer elsewhere – in fact, this marked Korea’s first official BL (“boy’s love”) story, and couldn’t actually air in Korea because of that.
18-year old Han Tae Joo’s best friend, Kang Gook, also doubles as his bodyguard. Their master-servant dynamic is forced on him by his CEO father, even as their feelings for each other become far too uncomfortable for said father to handle. The subtle performances and nuanced dialogue are really what makes this romance stand out, and it’s surprising how much depth it packs into such a short time.
8. When The Weather Is Fine
Stars: Park Min Young, Seo Kang Joon, Lee Jae Wook (Extraordinary You)
Available On: Viki
Not everyone is into slow-paced and atmospheric melos, but those who are can find a great deal of comfort in When The Weather Is Fine – especially during the Winter season. When a cellist moves back to her hometown to take a break from Seoul, she’s met with icy silence from her aunt but welcoming warmth from a childhood acquaintance who runs the nearby bookstore. They work together, naturally growing closer even as he hides his lifelong attachment to her, and soon enough the entire town is drawn into their orbit.
While there’s a fair share of tragic pasts for both leads, birth secrets and mysterious circumstances as in all kdramas, the true focus of When The Weather Is Fine is the necessity of community. The book club meetings and town gatherings you only find in kdramas or Gilmore Girls make for some of the most memorable moments in the overall sweet series.