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Best Korean Drama Series
Korean Television is experiencing a world renaissance. Known as the Korean wave, Korean culture, its comics, its music, its food, but especially its television shows, is being transmitted around the world like never before.
However, their shows operate a little different than the ones in North America, (being smaller and more akin to European ones). They don’t have seasons, rather they have a set number of episodes with a definite beginning and an end. They tend to be inherently stylish and to laddle on the pathos like its going out of style. Korean Dramas are a little like the visual equivalent of MSG
Korean dramas fall roughly into three categories:
The Love story
The period piece
The detective show
The love story is by far the most popular genre in the Korean wave. Love dramas drive much of the movement’s popularity. They tend to be lost love and Cinderella stories. They ladle on the injustice and the misunderstandings and, combined with a unique stylishness unique to Korea, have found a way into the hearts of many female viewers.
The period piece is a television show that illuminates a little piece about Korea’s historic past. When I first got into Korean Dramas, I knew very little about Korean history before WWII. And I think that’s true for most people. But after watching a few, I’ve come to realize how rich and varied their history is. For sheer, entertainability, the best period drama is "Dae Jang Geum." "Jumong," comes a close second. "The Sea God," a distant third. ("Damo" is good, too).
Korea, like America’s fixation with "law and order" and "CSI" type shows, enjoys its fair share of crime shows. Though, often times, the show will be about the criminal, rather than police (or at times, both). "Resurrection" is my personal favourite. "Coma" is short and gritty. The recent, "Lawyers of Korea" can’t stand up to its elders, but it's a welcome new addition.
And of course, some shows do their own thing. "All-in" is unclassifiable. Others, like Damo, are a mixture of genres (a period piece and a detective show).
Now, since a lot of the popularity of Korean dramas is amongst the female population for the romancey soap operas, a lot of the other amazing television shows get overlooked, I think. So my top ten list may not contain strictly ten most popular, but simply the best, from a variety of genres.
Top ten dramas
1) Dae Jang Geum – a bit older but it, along with Winter Sonata, started the damn Korean cultural wave in the first place. It's amazing shows like this that jumpstarted the industry and rocketed it to fame. A must see. It’s simply enthralling. It’s the story of a woman in Feudal Korea, her quest for revenge for the death of her family, her triumphs as a cook and a healer and the people that want to stop her. You won’t be able to put it down.
2) Full House – a major smash hit. A woman is tricked out of her house by her friends when she goes on holiday. Upon returning, she finds a famous actor has bought her house. She makes a deal to be his housekeeper in exchange for eventually being able to work back to owning her house. Romance/angst ensues.
3) Coffee Prince – a strange little romance about a woman who works so hard to support her mother and sister that she has no time to keep up her feminine appearance. Mistaken as a boy and due to a bizarre series of occurrences, she is hired by a rich, handsome man to play his gay lover to get his mother to stop trying to marry him off. Romance/angst ensues.
4) Jumong – A period piece chronicling the life and death of Jumong, the founder of Goguryeo, one of the ancient three kingdoms of Korea. It’s a massive, eighty episode program that’s truly epic in scope. It makes some of the ‘epics’ that came out of Hollywood look like cheap sitcoms.
5) Winter Sonata – If this were five years ago, Winter Sonata would have a much higher place on this list. It has aged, but not terribly. It is the definitive Korean romance. I wont spoil the plot for you, but it has so many twists and turns you’ll be riveted to your seat. It pretty much set the standard for later dramas to come.
6) All in – an underdog, you wont find this on many top ten Korean drama lists, but this little gem deserves everything I’m about to gush about it. It’s essentially a love story, but it’s a bout a man and his inescapable pull towards the world of gambling. It’s epic in scope, goes from Korea to America and back again. It has mobsters, casinos, prison sentences. It gives the godfather a run for its money. Must see.
7) Goong – Another very popular romance about an alternative world where the Korean royalty still rules and its young prince is in need of a bride (another Cinderella story). I give it a lower ranking than its popularity deserved just because the acting in terms of the male leads (who are very pretty…) is a little jarring at times. Still a very good show.
8) Resurrection – Like all-in, resurrection is a break from the more relationshipy Korean Drama fair. It’s one of the aforementioned detective shows. It's a story about two twins, one dies and the other, takes his place to unearth the secrets that tore their families apart. I've never seen such a well-planned revenge story. It's very good.
9) My Name is Kim Sam Soon – a slight breath of fresh air from the usual drama romance fair. Kim Sam Soon is not your everyday stunningly beautiful Korean actress. She has no plastic surgery, very little make-up and her personality is a little rough around the edges. But despite it all, she is no less deserving of the man of her dreams. Very good.
10) Golden Bride – A romance, but with an interesting take, a half Korean half-vietnamese woman who marries a Korean and goes to his country. Cultural differences ensue. In this case, the couple is already together, its how they deal with their circumstances that drives the show.
Do you watch enough Kdramas to have a favourite?
- 8% Dae Jang Geum
- 26% Full House
- 20% Coffee Prince
- 5% Jumong
- 5% Winter Sonata
- 2% All-in
- 16% Goong
- 0% Resurrection
- 7% Kim Sam Soon
- 1% Golden Bride
- 10% Other (state in comments)
This poll is now closed to voting.
UPDATED TOP 20 LIST
Well, it's been over two years since I first made that top ten list. It's had a lot more success than I thought it would. In that time, new dramas have come, old ones have gone. I want to make an updated list. It's not exhaustive, but more inclusive of some dramas overlooked and new greats that have earned a place in this NEW TOP TWENTY LIST
1) Dae Jang Geum – for descripton, see above
2) Secret Garden – a new addition but it's quickly earned it's place near the top. It starts out like a typical Cinderella type story: a poor stunt girl meets jerky rich guy. He falls for her. But then everything is turned on its head about five episodes in. I wont spoil it. But this drama really shines. Great writing. Great acting. A fresh take on some overdone tropes. I highly recommend it.
3) Full house - see above.
4) Coffee Prince – see above
5) Jumong – see above
6) You're Beautiful - simple premise: girl is asked to join a boy-band after her twin-brother's botched plastic surgery leaves him unable to (yes this is a Korean drama so a boy getting plastic surgery is not surprising so much as that it was botched). It's cute girl hanging out with cute boys and wearing pants.
7) Iris - One of the most expensive (and exciting) K-dramas to date. It's got it all, mystery, action, love-triangles, international travel opportunities. It's Korean drama at it's finest. Go watch it.
8) Winter Sonata – see above
9) Dream High - regardless of what you might say about Suzy's (from Miss A) acting. This is an instant classic. It's American Idol meets...Winter Sonata? The first few episodes even feature Winter Sonata's Bae Yong Jun in a cameo role. It stars various idol group superstars like Miss A, T-Ara, 2pm and IU. It's a drama. It's a musical. It's a love story. Watch your favourite K-idols pretend to be teenagers and get their big break (and fall in love).
10) All in – see above
11) Brilliant legacy/Shining Inheritance - A complicated story. Two families, one torn apart and just trying to survive and find each other meet another and through the strength of their convictions and hard work, start rebuilding their lives. Great acting. Can't put it down. It's a real "page turner."
12) Goong – see above
13) My Girl - EXTREMELY POPULAR. Overlooked by me before because I have a bad case of K-drama-Cinderella-story-fatigue. But it's cute fun (and very popular). If you can't get enough of beautiful Korean people reluctantly falling in love, this one is also for you.
14) Iljimae - a period piece on par with Jumong. Only ranked lower because it came later. It's a revenge story about a Robin Hood-like thief who steals from the rich and gives to the poor and gets caught up in a quest to exact vengeance for his family, somewhat like Dae-Jang-Geum.
15) City Hunter - interesting drama for it's different-ness. It's about an international espionage incident gone wrong. The lone survivor out seeking answers and along the way, adopting the child of his fallen comrade, raising him in South-East Asia to seek answers about his dead father.
16) Resurrection – see above
17) My Name is Kim Sam Soon – see above
18) My Girlfriend is a Gumiho(nine-tailed fox) - a cute romance about a mythical demon (nine-tailed fox) is released from her prison after 400 years, she assumes the image of a woman proceeds to fall in love with her unwitting (and spoiled rich guy) rescuer, desiring to bond with him so she can become more human. misunderstandings, tensions ensue. Much chicken is consumed.
19) Boys over Flowers – classic Japanese manga story that's now, I believe, a manga, an anime, and a K,T, and J drama. It's about a poor girl, in a rich private school and how she proves herself to be awesome. Can't go wrong.
that's it for now. More greats will inevitably air in the future. More will have been inevitably missed by me. If I missed a classic, let me know!
What's the best Korean drama?
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