This post was inspired by a Twitter conversation; the poster had just started Crash Landing On You (first k-drama experience) and no IRL friends were watching and able to dish. The next question was, what can I watch next?
The limitation is Netflix (for now), but I thought, let’s go through what’s on offer on the site and discuss what I think is a solid choice, and why… so let’s go!
From this batch, there are some clear winners and interesting choices, beginning with It’s Okay to Not Be Okay and Crash Landing On You. Both feature attractive leads (though with K-dramas, it’s safe to assume this will always/mostly be true), strong ensemble casts (ditto for this being a truism in K-dramas), and interesting and fresh stories. Okay touches thoughtfully on mental illness (a rarity in Asian topics) while the couple learns the truths behind their connection to each other. Crash flirts playfully with a NK/SK romantic entente and has fun too with life on the other side of the border. Boys Over Flowers is one to watch for its archetypal formula (hey, it’s been adapted at least 5 other times that I know of!) It’s not the best version (I prefer the Japanese and Taiwanese iterations), but it put Lee Min-ho on the map and its even more of a Cinderella tale than the cute Cinderella and Her Four Knights (which has an appealing ensemble of swains for the leading lady). Romance Is a Bonus Book isn’t perfect, but it’s a pleasure to have two leads with acting talent pine in a book-world setting.
If we’re going to talk about books, Rookie HistorianGoo Hae Ryung is a contemporary twist on the historical genre, with a sassy, smart, career-minded heroine and a sensitive author prince. Strongest Deliveryman is a little guys against the big, with a likable cast and it makes for easy watching (unlike The Winter the Wind Blows with a charismatic cast wasted in an unpleasant story). Hospital Playlist is from the same team as the “Reply” dramas and offers up a smart, ‘you feel like you know these people’ ensemble storyline. There are others in this group worth a look, but later, okay?
This grouping features some titles that started really well but lost their way at the end; I have my eye on The Uncanny Counter because I read good things about it daily, but for my money, the winner in this group is BecauseThis Is My First Life. The old ‘contract roommates’ trope is done right with this smart cast. I may also be one of the few who likes Cheese In The Trap, but the casting worked for me and I appreciated the difficulties of navigating university and love lives.
Oh My Ghost is a winner on 2 counts: not only does it feature one of my favorite leading men in a fun story, but one of my favorite actresses in a very amusing and touching turn as the virgin ghost in question. Kim Seul-gi makes every drama better. Hello My Twenties is a solid ensemble cast going through pretty normal romantic and not-so-romantic issues, but the young women who share the house get thru things together. Mr. Sunshine is not a sunshine-y story, but its setting in one of Korea’s troubled points in history and a top-notch cast make it work a look. Just a reminder: Korean dramas do not always believe in HEAs for everyone. Which leads me to the strongest title in this grouping: My Mister. When the cast was announced I was in a quandary: I adore the male lead and like the work the female lead has done, but I really, really did not want them in a romance. The good news is that this is a love story, in many ways, but not a conventional one where they are concerned. We’ve written a lot about this drama on this site (which is searchable), so I won’t go on too much about it, but suffice to say, this is deep, dark, complex, thoughtful, and lovely (not to mention at times heartbreaking).
When the Camellia Blooms is one of the few chances to enjoy the work of Gong Hyo-jin on Netflix, but she’s always won me over and this ‘found family’ drama is charming. I don’t know if it’s everyone’s cup of tea, but The School Nurse Files is an almost recommended one for its quirky but incomplete story. Save Me is Dark, so definitely not for all, but if you’re into stories of cult-like religion, try it!
Seriously, I don’t know why you haven’t watched Stranger (there are now 2 seasons) yet — what are you waiting for? This is complex, Korean politicking and corruption and murder mystery-ing at its finest, and lead actors Cho Seung-woo and Bae Doona are incomparable together. This is another I’ve written about in detail, so search here for more. I am also very fond of the history-driven, winning ensemble casts of the ‘Reply’ dramas: Reply 1994 and Reply 1988. The mixture of ‘who ends up with whom’ and the period details formula works in all 3 settings. (And btw, note the Xs on some of these non-K-dramas, some are even dreadful!)
Misaeng, this remains one of my favorite K-dramas of all time, for its perfect casting (Im Siwan and those Bambi eyes…) and the slice-of-life setting in the workaholic business world in Korea today (aka Hell Joseon). Much more info is available about it on this site. Also, I didn’t highlight Hymn Of Death because it’s on the war/bad things happen spectrum, but it is well done if you’re curious, and it’s short. [An aside, when searching for Korean dramas on Netflix you’ll see recommendations for other titles, often Chinese. I enjoyed the Love O2O drama and movie adaptations, even though I’m not into gaming.]
I hope you’re still reading, because there are some real winners in this grouping! Another Miss Oh has a couple with Chemistry in its leads, and it feels very contemporary in its telling of a couple who think they’re doomed because of misunderstandings. She’s also very good in (not pictured) Let’s Eat 2 (aka outstanding Korean food porn disguised as a romance, like the first Let’s Eat). Reply 1997 is the first of the ‘Reply’ series (in spite of the year) and is a fun start to the formula, touching on the early days of Korean music fandoms. Finally, don’t sleep on the writer-with-a-haunting problem in Chicago Typewriter with its excellent cast and a house all of us envy.
Some really good dramas are really great bromances and Prison Playbook is that (as is the yellow boxed Chinese drama The Untamed). An unconventional setting and an unforgettable cast are always a winning combination in my playbook. The other I’ll recommend is Dear My Friends for its focus on the difficulties of making life and love work and dealing with older relatives and friends as they age. This is a great introduction to some of the best mature actors in Korean television if you’re new(ish) to the genre. Every single actor in this drama has a long resume of great works.
That’s all for this post! There are many titles available that I did not discuss — some because it’s kinder to say nothing at all (and hey, some people may like them) and in some cases I’ve not yet seen them and/or they’re not my cup of tea. But there are so many choices that are very much worth your time — I hope that you have a lot of fun exploring them and discovering what tickles your fancy!