Best Korean Dramas That Will Keep You Coming Back for More During AAPI Heritage Month (and Beyond)
By Zach Seemayer
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Action, romance, comedy, mystery, horror, suspense -- the popular Korean dramas that have become huge hits in the U.S. come in all of these forms, often in the same show!
K-dramas have swept the nation in recent years and have been a huge boon for Netflix, which has been bringing the incredibly crafted shows to international markets, allowing everyone to get in on the incredible entertainment being crafted in South Korea.
This moody crime saga follows the eponymous Vincenzo (Song Joong-ki), who was adopted by an Italian family at the age of eight and grew up in Italy, eventually becoming a consigliere for a mafia family. He is forced to flee to Seoul after the head of the family is killed and the new Don puts a hit out on Vincenzo. The series follows his consuming quest for money and vengeance while also falling in love with an ambitious lawyer, Hong Cha-yeong (Jeon Yeo-been).
While this heartfelt romantic drama series has a lot of love, emotion and a surprisingly thrilling underlining mystery element, It's Okay to Not Be Okay is ultimately about healing, self-acceptance and mental health. The story follows Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun), a man who works as a caretaker/nurse in a psychiatric hospital, while also caring for his autistic brother at home. His life's path crosses with Ko Mun-Yeong (Seo Yea-ji) a successful children's book author with antisocial personality disorder who resides at the hospital. The 16-episode season deals deftly with some heavy subjects -- particularly about mental illness and neurodiversity issues -- while still weaving an intricate and complex story.
Adapted from the popular web comic The Kingdom of the Gods, this period-piece action horror is set during the Joseon Dynasty in the late 16th century, and follows Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) as he uncovers the beginnings of a strange plague that causes the dead to return to life and attack the living. Blending medieval history aesthetic with zombie horror and political conspiracy, Kingdom brings chills and thrills that could rival any zombie apocalypse series on TV.
Jung Geum-ja (Kim Hye-soo) is a ruthlessly ambitious lawyer who isn't above using her feminine wiles, vast intellect and cunning instincts to chase what she wants. Yoon Hee-jae (Ju Ji-hoon) is a confident lawyer who thinks he can best anyone in court -- until he is tricked into falling for Geum-ja before realizing she's an attorney representing his opposition. With begrudging sexual tension underlying dynamic courtroom battles, Hyena marries romantic comedy and drama to create a captivating, memorably fun legal series you can't stop watching.
This sweet, charming romantic comedy follows Kang Dan-i (Lee Na-young), a recently divorced single mother who has to re-enter the workforce years after quitting her job as a copywriter to raise her kid. As she struggles to find work, her best friend, Cha Eun-ho (Lee Jong-suk) -- a successful author and editor-in-chief at a publishing house -- ends up getting her a temp job at his company, and their lives becoming increasingly intertwined as romance blossoms.
After a hit-and-run car accident leaves his father dead, Park Sae-ro-yi (Park Seo-joon) tracks down the culprit -- a rich-kid bully named Jang Geun-won (Ahn Bo-hyun), who happens to be the son of the owner of a massive food conglomerate, the Jangga Group. After he severely beats his father's killer, Sae-ro-yi ends up serving three years in prison and when he gets out, he makes it his mission to take on the Jangga Group by starting a bar in Seoul with the lofty goal of expanding into a franchise and becoming a real competitor. Itaewon Class is a wild coming-of-age drama and underdog story featuring a truly unique and diverse cast of colorful characters that you can't help but root for.
When successful businesswoman and heiress Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) goes paragliding, she winds up accidentally landing on the North Korean side of the DMZ. She is soon rescued by Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun-bin), an officer in the North Korean army, who decides to shelter her instead of turn her over to authorities. As he helps her formulate a plan to return home without being discovered, the pair starts to fall in love. Aided by a strong cast of memorable characters and dynamic chemistry between the show's star-crossed leads, Crash Landing on You has become a phenomenon among K-drama fans -- and for good reason.
This stylish series is an interesting blend of mystery thriller, crime drama, romance and supernatural fantasy, which tells the story of three people who have prophetic dreams about future events. A young reporter, Nam Hong-joo (Bae Suzy); a police officer, Han Woo-tak (Jung Hae-in); and an upstart prosecutor, Jung Jae-chan (Lee Jong-suk); all have dreams of tragic events and brutal crimes that will happen in the future, and they come together to help one another prevent the disasters or stop the crimes.
A fantastical story of romance and magical surrealism, the titular Hotel Del Luna is an invisible establishment in Seoul that caters to ghosts and spirits of the recently deceased and helps them get ready for the afterlife. The hotel is owned by the serious and temperamental Jang Man-wol (IU), a 1,300-year-old ghost who runs the place as a way of repenting for a sin during her life. Meanwhile, the living Goo Chan-sung (Yeo Jin-goo) unwittingly becomes the hotel's general manager and is tasked with helping the spectral visitors with completing their unfinished earthly business and coming to terms with their deaths to move on to the next world.
And the award for the TV show with the most misleading name definitely goes to this Korean apocalyptic horror series, based on a webtoon of the same name, that you should definitely think twice about before watching alone at night. The show follows Cha Hyun-soo (Song Kang), a young man who lives on his own after his family dies in a tragedy. He soon finds himself in a nightmarish dystopia, as the nation is overrun by humans transformed into gory monstrosities hellbent on killing everyone who hasn't been infected by the spreading body-horror plague.
Apart from the K-dramas above, Netflix and other streaming platforms have been instrumental in bringing shows from all across Asia to American TV screens. Here are a few other shows from Korea, Japan and China that might captivate your interest.
Terrace House: Tokyo: A Japanese reality TV show following six people who are looking for love and friendship with one another while living under the same roof. Terrace House is available on Netflix.
Start-Up: This Korean rom-com follows a group of young entrepreneurs and millennials trying to make a name for themselves in the South Korean tech world. Start-Up is available on Netflix.
Atelier:Hailing from Japan, this series delves into the world of risque high fashion and has been favorably compared to The Devil Wears Prada. Atelier is available on Netflix.
My Love From the Stars: Blending sci-fi and romance, this show follows an alien who has been stuck on Earth for hundreds of years, and is months away from returning home when he falls in love with a human and finds himself at a difficult crossroads. My Love From the Stars is available on Viki.
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