You don’t have to look very far to see how Asian culture has made a far reach to America, more specifically, South Korean culture. With their main (and most lucrative, I might add) export being culture, it’s hard to turn the corner and not find someone raving about some aspect of South Korean culture. We’ve seen BTS all over our screens, we are constantly hearing about their skincare and makeup, but have you watched their TV shows? Their television programming is unlike anything we have seen in America.
Not only are the plots addicting, but the sheer variety is enough to last you a lifetime. Korean dramas, or K-Dramas, have been around for a long time so there’s a lot to sift through and a lot to catch up on. Luckily, I have wasted many hours of my life and lost a lot of sleep watching a good handful of them, so don’t worry, I got you. Here’s a list of some of my favorites.
1. Goblin (aka Guardian: The Lonely and Great God) – 2016
Kim Shin (played by Gong Yoo), a military general from the Goryeo Dynasty, is framed as a traitor and killed by the king. Years later, he is cursed by the Almighty to remain immortal forever, cursed with the fate of watching all those he loves die before him as payment for all the lives he took in his past life as a military general. He’s also tasked with using his powers as an immortal being to help those on Earth. This immortal being, also known as a “goblin,” can only be released from his curse if he finds his goblin bride, to pull out the sword from his chest, the sword that carries this curse. This is one of the most popular Korean drama series in Korean television history, so it’s safe to say you won’t be disappointed.
2. Itaewon Class – 2020
I will probably never shut up about this show. Call me basic, but this recent smash hit is easily one of my top 10 favorites of all-time. If you’re not really about supernatural characters and you enjoy a good underdog story, this is drama series for you. The show follows the trials and tribulations of Park Sae-ro-yi (played by Seo-Joon Park) and his determination to achieve what seems almost impossible, despite all the odds stacked against him and unshakeable enemies from his past who are out to ruin him every step of the way. Not only does this series have an amazing plot, but it also addresses issues that are seldom addressed in South Korea (almost considered taboo) such as mental illness, racism, and transphobia.
3. Reply 1988 – 2015
OK, to be honest, I have this listed as the third option, but this is at the top of my personal list of favorites. Part of the Reply anthology series (preceded by Reply 1994 and Reply 1997), Reply 1988 is a slice-of-life series that gives you an in-depth look at the lives of 5 families living on the same street in a Seoul neighborhood of Ssammundong in the year – you guessed it, 1988. This show has so much heart, covering teenage love, family dynamics, and ride-or-die friendships. The entire Reply series is the definition of wholesome. If you love shows that make you feel warm and fuzzy, I can’t recommend this show enough. It’s my go-to comfort Korean series, and even after the third time watching it, it still never gets old.
4. Hospital Playlist – 2020
If you liked Reply 1988, binged the other Reply series, and need more of that down-to-earth, slice-of-life humor, Hospital Playlist is about to fill that void for you. Woo-Jeong Lee, writer of the Reply anthology series, will grab you by the heartstrings again with yet another slice-of-life drama series that follows 5 doctors (I guess 5 is the magic number), all friends since undergrad, and their lives in the hospital and how their work-life affects their personal life in ways they never imagined. One of the best parts about this show is the cameos. So many Reply series cameos, but don’t worry, I won’t spoil them for you!
5. Kingdom – 2018
Alright, this one is for all of you who like action and zombie movies. Kingdom is set in Korea’s Joseon Period (also known as Korea’s longest Confucian dynasty) just three years after the Japanese invasions. The Crown Prince, Lee Chang (played by Ji-Hoon Ju), happens upon political corruption soon after discovering a mysterious plague. I have to say, as someone who loves horror, the effects in this show were A+ and the storyline keeps you on your toes at all times. Unlike a lot of horror and action television shows, it’s hard to predict what will happen next. You are following right behind the Crown Prince and finding out things in real-time as he finds out. The best thing about this series is that it’s the only one on this list with a second season that is already out, so if you binge the first one, the second one is waiting for you without delay.
Photo via SBS