Korea is famous for more than just its food. In more recent years, the Korean drama has become a popular pastime for those interested in the region.
“Drama” in the blanket term for scripted TV shows in Korea, but they can range from comedic to romantic to dramatic, often with a combination of multiple themes. When a new drama comes out, if it is a hit, it takes over the surface of Korea, with actors from dramas becoming models for companies and spokespeople for organizations simply because their drama is popular.
Dramas been around for a while and, if you’re new to the scene, choosing which drama to watch first can be a difficult decision. So, to help you out a bit, here’s my list of the top 5 gateway Korean dramas.
My Love From Another Star
This 2014 hit tells the story of a popular actress and her developing relationship with an alien (aka her “love from another star”).
I’ll admit, this does sound a little ridiculous at first glance. A storyline with a plot like that usually would end up being cheesy at best, but was an absolute success due Kim Soo-hyun’s realistic portrayal of an extraterrestrial being and Jun Ji-hyun’s acting as an annoying, but relatable, protagonist.
There’s a lot of back and forth between modern day and olden times in this drama, making for a dynamic storyline and pleasant viewing experience.
Hwarang is a great example of the historical Korean drama. Set during the time of the Kingdom of Silla (57BC – 935AD), this drama follows the story of the Hwarang, an group of elites set in place by the current queen in order to balance out the current system of government.
Historical dramas are, while all cultures have their own version, pretty unique in Asia, as they tend to be very well received by the general public. Personally, they’re hit or miss for me, but Hwarang was definitely one of my favorites to date.
This drama captures another popular type of Korean show: the high school drama. These kinds of shows explore the dynamic of Korean high school kids, usually as it concerns family wealth or romance.
In School 2013, the main characters, two high school teachers, tackle the problems of class that is plagued by bullying and underachieving students. This drama features actors Lee Jong-suk and Kim Woo-bin as rival students who, at one time friends, struggle with reconciliation.
The most recent drama on our list and definitely one of my all time favorites.
Goblin is the story of a goblin who was once an army general before he was cursed to live forever. He can only die if he finds the “goblin’s bride,” which he does in modern times after living for over 900 years.
The drama’s storyline is about past lives and their interaction with our lives now and in the future. It definitely seems convoluted at first but, much like My Love From Another Star, the characters are portrayed realistically, making for a relatable portrayal of characters that, at their base, aren’t relatable at all.
Boys Over Flowers
The classic, the legend. This is the Korean drama of Korean dramas, one that set the precedent for many dramas that followed.
Boys Over Flowers follows the storyline of a very poor high school student and her relationship with her wealthy, heir to a large fortune classmate. The two go through the difficulties of being in an inter-class relationship, which is something often explored in Korean dramas. It is in this drama that many of the now stereotypical Korean drama tropes became popular, such as the back hug and evil Korean mother.
Korea has an abundance of entertaining shows and I highly encourage exploring different genres (I didn’t even cover their medical dramas, another favorite of mine). One really nice thing about dramas is that they’re usually just one season of 15-20 episodes, meaning you don’t have to make a long-term commitment (I’m looking at you Breaking Bad).
Which shows from the list would you like to watch? Have you ever seen a Korean drama before? Which one and what did you think? Let me know in the comments below!