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Exploring the Korean Wave with the 10 best K-Dramas on Netflix

There has been an increase in interest regarding South Korean culture in the past few decades, and it is aptly referred to as the Korean Wave. Here, we’ve got some of the best titles from the movement. 

From K-Pop to K-Dramas, from an increase in consumption of Korean food such as Nuclear noodles, jjajangmyeon and corndogs, to Korean beauty products and a sharp increase in the number of students flying to Seoul for exchange programmes — the glory of South Korea is finally being recognised. 

It is one of the most influential global phenomena since the beginning of the 21st century, and we love this. Bong Joon-ho’s concern regarding the subtitles being the barrier seemingly does not exist as the love for music, films, and art seems to be transcending the mere obstacle of language. 

From BTS dominating the Billboard charts (albeit via an English language song) to K-Dramas like Crash landing On You and Guardian garnering lots of attention, we definitely must thank Psy for triggering the phenomenon yet again with his chart-topper Gangnam Style in 2012. 

With the Korean wave impacting the contemporary arts and cultural realm, let us take a look at the ten best K-Dramas on Netflix to understand what the hype is all about. 

The 10 best K-Dramas on Netflix right now 

10. Itaewon Class (Kim Sung-yoon, 2020)

On his quest to avenge his father’s death caused by his wealthy employer’s negligence, an ex-prison convict opens a restaurant in Itaewon while trying to accomplish his goals. The K-Drama is mellow and endearing with lovely acting and wonderful musical scores, especially V’s Sweet Night.

Based on the webtoon of the same name, the actors expressed their love for the same in a press conference. Park Seo-Jun said, “I play a character who represents the youth in this production so I chose it as I enjoyed the original production. Sae-Roy was very attractive in the original webtoon so I was curious about how I can express it.”

9. The King: Eternal Monarch (Kim Eun-sook, 2020)

The series is set in two parallel universes, a concept that is fairly popular in K-Dramas. An Emperor of the Kingdom of Corea finds access to a portal where he finds himself entering alternative realities that he can use to put an end to certain vicious adversaries who pose a threat to the welfare of his kingdom.

The fantasy genre is one of the most popular areas explored in K-Dramas. It was a highly anticipated project as it would star Lee Min-ho in the lead role. It was a fresh welcome to see the drama steer away from cliches and audaciously venture into the unexplored. The actor, who was on a hiatus due to his mandatory military service, stated that this drama seemed like a fairy tale to him because “most of it is warm and the story inside is warm, and all the characters feel a bit dynamic and breathing. Because these things are interlocked, giving a very positive aura and good experience, I think it’s like a fairy tale”.

8. Nevertheless (Kim ga-ram, 2021)

A relatively new K-Drama on this list, Netflix has not yet streamed all the episodes, and it is already one of the sweetest and most endearing ones out there. It revolves around the budding romance between Na-bi and Jae-eon as they fall for each other yet refrain from commitment due to their personal beliefs.

Her past lover has scorned Na-bi, and Jae-eon loves playing hard to get. It is a romance about two sceptics in their 20s as they try to make sense of their feelings and emotions while clutching on to each other desperately. It provides an insight into what dating in one’s twenties looks like. Based on the eponymous webtoon, the general aura of the series is complemented by wonderful chemistry among the lead actors and the well-thought-out cinematography, which often resorts to symbolism to heighten the overall effect.

7. Law School (Kim Seok-yoon, 2021)

A lot of commonalities have been drawn between this K-Drama and How to Get Away With Murder. The drama focuses on a grisly homicide that takes place at the prestigious Hanguk Law School and pushes a tough nut professor and his group of student aces to weigh justice itself.

It is a delight to watch the mystery thicken with intriguing characters and fascinating storylines as the elusive characters show various sides of their personalities. Presented in a nuanced format, the K-Drama targets a specific set of audiences who shall revel in the exemplary portrayal of the show’s main conflict. 

6. It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (Park Shin-woo, 2020)

The drama series is a story about love, loss, healing, and family; the drama series focuses on a children’s book writer who is loathed by many pursuing a man who keeps relocating with his younger autistic brother while working in various psychiatric wards. They soon discover how their paths are aligned and the solace found if they learn to trust each other.

With a wonderful narrative, the actors deliver incredibly compelling performances that are complemented by rich visuals and stellar cinematography. The effects of tragedy are dealt with in a sensitive and tender manner while the cathartic healing of the character’s individual emotional and psychological selves is relieving. This series also marked Kim Soo-Hyun’s comeback, who explained why he chose the particular series as his comeback: “The reason why I chose the [series] as my return is that the title really caught my eye and the character of Moon Gan-tae. And through his role, many of you will be able to relate to him. So, I properly gave best to my character.”

5. Hospital Playlist (Shin Won-ho, 2020)

Grey’s Anatomy fans, if you miss the show and are looking for a medical drama and rom-com, which also is a slice-of-life series, Hospital Playlist should be the one you are binge-watching right now. It is based on the friendship of five doctors who have been friends since medical school and delves deeper into their various escapades as they navigate through life involving their profession, personal relationships and friendship. 

The wonderful camaraderie shared by all the actor’s on-screen is enviable. It makes one laugh and cry and has a very strong set of female characters, which upstages some K-Drama stereotypes. The doctors seek solace in their light-hearted equation steeped in music, away from the daily struggle of illness, melancholy and hard work. 

4. Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (Kim Eun-sook, 2016-2017)

An unlikely bromance between the Grim Reaper and a 939-year-old immortal Goblin blossoms while the Goblin tries to look for his bride, who is the only one who can remove the invisible magical sword piercing through his heart. 

Gong Yoo, who had previously refrained from reverting back to the writer, eventually agreed after she agreed to his condition of playing a “shy, cowardly Goblin”. In a press conference, Yoo praised Kim Eun-sook by saying, “Her passion for the Goblin was felt wholeheartedly at [that] meeting. … I was very moved by her words. So I decided to trust her. I also have a fear of fantasy projects but I knew I can trust her.” 

3. Vincenzo (Kim Hee-won, 2021)

Vincenzo Cassano is the consigliere of an Italian mafia family when he is compelled to flee to Seoul due to an attempt at his life. In Seoul, he uses his skills to build his fortune and take on other merciless adversaries. 

The drama is extremely grappling and witty, with stellar visuals and well-built characters. Song Joongki, who plays the cruel and ruthless Vincenzo, opened up in the TVN interview regarding why he chose the script. “It is a pleasant, delightful and refreshing script” that was the main reason that prompted him. When asked about the similarities between himself and the character, the actor confidently answered that he prefers being alone as well. 

2. Kingdom (Kim Eun-hee, 2019)

Set in the Joseon Dynasty in Korea right after the Imjin War, the series focuses on a mysterious plague that causes the dead to be resurrected and zombies soon overrun the empire amidst rising political tension, brewing malice and a lot of conspiracies.

The show portrays how power corrupts everyone, with a perfect blend of various genres, including horror, historical period drama, and political thriller. Amidst injustice, greed, envy and inequity, the series exactly reflects what Eun-hee said it would- “politics and the living dead are not separate but rather come together as one”. Eun-hee further elaborated that the show portrays what politics really is. “If we go deeper and deeper, it all boils down to politics. The pain that comes from politics, the price we have to pay for pain, they are the message that penetrates the series.”

1. Crash Landing On You (Lee Jung-hyo, 2019)

An affluent South Korean heiress has an accident while paragliding and crash-lands in North Korea where she is hidden by a cold yet kind-hearted North Korean Captain amidst the rising political tension, and soon they fall in love. 

One of the best K-Dramas of all time, Crash Landing On You, considers the current political conflict between North and South Korea. The drama portrays the same love story amid a flurry of action sequences that also focus on the impoverishment and unequal wealth distribution in North Korea. It is one of the most heart-wrenching love stories of this decade. 

Although it was received with harsh criticism in North Korea, it has been showered with love and appreciation worldwide. Hyun Bin and Son Ye-Jin, who had worked together previously, return to romance each other on-camera and makes magic happen. As Son Ye-Jin said, “There are few opportunities for actors to work together again. But it’s meant to be in a sense as reading the scenario, I thought the casting was really perfect.”