Want to be a seasoned K-drama pro? Brush up on your Asian pop culture with these entertaining Korean dramas on Netflix
Melodrama, intriguing mythology, social culture, and hot Oppas with better skin than most women are just some of the reasons why Korean dramas on Netflix and Viu are a hit. If you’re not already on the K-drama train, get ready to hop on board with our handy guide to some of the best Korean dramas on Netflix and Viu. And if all this viewing makes you hungry for Korean chow, hit up our guide to the best Korean restos in town!
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1. The Uncanny Encounter
The plot: In fictional Jungjin, four Counters (demon hunters) dish out bowls of noodles by day and hunt evil spirits who possess humans by night. When they lose one of their own, high-schooler So Mun (Jo Byung-gyu) is selected by the divine higher-ups as the replacement. Together, the new team bond as they demon-hunt, dealing with their own personal struggles and backstories while exposing an ugly truth about the mayor’s redevelopment plans for the district.
Why we love it: There’s plenty of humour and emotion in this Korean drama, which shamelessly masquerades as South Korea’s version of the Ghostbusters, but with divine superpowers. Ultimately, what drew us in, and kept us there is the Counters’ comedic banter and antics, plus So Mun’s kindhearted approach to life. We also stan the familial bond between So Mun and the Counters – proof that family doesn’t require its members to be biologically related. And while the charm and dialogue drag a little in the middle (the original writer left the show because of creative differences), the end is still satisfying. Better still, rumour has it that we can expect a second season sometime in 2022 since this hilarious K-drama was a hit!
2. Tale of the Nine Tailed
The plot: A 1,000-year-old gumiho (nine-tailed fox), portrayed by Lee Dong-wook, works with the Afterlife Immigration Office to track down and eliminate supernatural entities that threaten modern-day mortals. He’s also waiting for the love of his life, who turns out to be Nam Ji-ah (Jo Bo-ah) an ambitious TV producer on the hunt for her parents, who were kidnapped by demons.
Why we love it: The idea of love that withstands lifetimes (and a handsome man waiting for you through it all) appeals to the sappiest corners of our hearts. But the bigger draw is the mythology that inspires this Korean drama on Netflix, and the premise that love and happiness may not be easy, but are always a choice. On a side note, Lee Dong-wook’s hipster-savvy wardrobe is also a plus.
3. Crash Landing on You
The plot: Crash Landing on You is an unlikely love story between a glamorous business tycoon and heiress and a North Korean soldier, one that gets its start when she literally crashes into North Korea’s armed border after a paragliding incident.
Why we love it: Would any K-drama list be complete without Hyun Bin? We think not! CLoY (as it’s affectionately known by fans) is loosely based on an actual incident where a South Korean actress and her friends accidentally floated into disputed waters and had a conversation with North Korean fishermen. The story slows down mid-way, but the action sequences keep you coming back for more. CLoY is also credited for its authentic portrayal of life in North Korea, a claim backed up by North Korean defectors who have watched the show. The writing team includes one defector, too!
4. Mystic Pop-Up Bar
The plot: As repayment for her sins, ill-tempered Weol-ju (Hwang Jung-eum) is sentenced to settle the grudges of 100,000 souls – a task she accomplishes with the help of her laidback sidekick Chief Gwi (Choi Won-young) and the innocent Han Kang-bae (Yook Sung-jae), who incidentally, can make anyone confess their deepest feelings with just one touch.
Why we love it: Girl power is a big deal here at Team Sassy Mama and Weol-ju’s feisty attitude makes us root for her at every turn. This Korean drama on Netflix is a comedy, silly and lighthearted, but the plot twist halfway through will melt your heart. We also love how colourful this really is without looking too tacky.
The plot: Park Joo-Hyung (Song Joong-ki) is adopted by an Italian family at the tender age of eight. He’s renamed Vincenzo Cassano, and eventually becomes a lawyer and consigliere for the mafia as well as Don Fabio’s right-hand man. When Don Fabio’s biological son attempts to kill Vincenzo, he flees to Seoul and gets to work to recover 1.5 tonnes of gold that is secretly stashed in the basement of Geumga Plaza, which has been illlegally taken over by the Babel Group. How he works with Hong Cha-young (Jeon Yeo-been) an attorney for a rival firm, and the other tenants to fight Babel Group forms the rest of the story.
Why we love it: We’re always in the mood for a good anti-hero, and Song Joong-ki’s baby face and slick moves will have you championing his every move, even when he gets violent or downright sadistic. There’s plenty of humour and romance along the way (this is a K-drama after all!), and Vincenzo has enough of a happy ending to make you overlook the sometimes questionable character-writing.
6. Hospital Playlist
The plot: Five good friends. Five doctors. Hospital Playlist chronicles their individual lives, careers and friendships, all shadowed by the births, deaths and happenings at Yulje Medical Centre. In between in all, they restart their ridiculous five-piece band, with hilarious results.
Why we love it: There’s something heartwarming about watching the group take comfort in each other after a hard day at work, and their shenanigans as a band made us think back to our high school band that didn’t last but was still fun. It isn’t all about the doctors saving lives, too, and nurses are also shown to be an integral part of medical care. Popular Instagram hunk and real-life doctor Mike Varshavki, a.k.a. Dr. Mike, even did an honest review on his Youtube channel! Be warned, each episode of this Korean drama is lengthy, and the initial episodes may try your patience, but it is well worth powering through.
7. Sweet Home
The plot: Cha Hyun-soo (Song Kang) moves into an extremely dingy apartment complex, where the residents are just as messed up as he is. As they slowly turn into freakish monsters, it’s up to Cha Hyun-soo to save the day.
Why we love it: While it looks like your average post-apocalyptic monster romp (hello unflattering CGI monsters!), Sweet Home is quite a good K-drama to sink your fangs into. Every character is struggling with trauma or some form of emotional baggage, and the cast’s strong acting brings this struggle to the forefront. The plot twists in this Korean drama on Netflix get a thumbs-up, too!
8. It’s Okay Not to Be Okay
The plot: Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun) lives with his autistic brother Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se) and they frequently shift from town to town after their mother’s murder. Eventually, Gang-Tae’s job as a caretaker in the psychiatric ward of a hospital introduces him to Ko Moon-young (Seo Yea-ji) a famous children’s author who has an antisocial personality disorder. When they find out their pasts overlap, the trio connects and begin the arduous journey of healing each other’s emotional wounds, discovering painful secrets along the way.
Why we love it: Excellent acting and a heartbreaking plot make this Korean drama on Netflix a tear-jerker, so keep the tissues close by. Seo Yea-ji also does a great job portraying her character’s dual persona – a manic, power-tripped author hiding a traumatised and vulnerable inner child, while Oh Jung-se was lauded for his authentic portrayal of an autistic adult. It’s Okay Not to Be Okay is also a must-watch K-drama because of how it puts various mental health issues in the spotlight, discussing these with grace and sensitivity.
The plot: A zombie plague has ravaged Korea’s historical Joseon period, and strange rumours are starting to spread about the king. It’s now up to Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) to deal with the chaos and save his people, all while the plague evolves rapidly.
Why we love it: Zombies, royal conspiracies, sinister secrets and a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Need we say more? Kingdom is the first original Korean drama by Netflix, and we’d recommend blocking out a day to watch it. Bring your attention span with you because there are only six episodes in each of its two seasons, and each one is dense and packed with detail.
10. About Time
The plot: Choi Michaela (Lee Sung-kyung) has two talents: she sings like an angel and can also see a person’s entire life span in the form of a clock on their forearm. She gets into a minor car accident, where she meets Lee Do-ha (Lee Sang-yoon), the heir to a rich conglomerate and the man who stops her life clock when she is with him. Their love story forms the painful ups and downs in this K-drama.
Why we love it: It’s an age-old case of opposites attract, but it’s also interesting to see the chemistry between the leads blossom, as their characters grow throughout the series. And while we all need cheesy romance every now and then, what makes this slightly laborious Korean drama a worthy investment is the question it raises: if you know your exact time of death, what would you do differently in your life?
The plot: What does it take to be a police officer? That’s what this Korean drama on Netflix, which follows the lives of several police officers as they work to bring justice to criminals, aims to answer.
Why we love it: There’s no glorifying police work here (we’re looking at you, Bad Boys II). Instead, this K-drama offers a rather realistic glimpse into the daily lives of rookie and veteran police officers, highlighting their career and family struggles and how much the job can cost them. The supporting characters aren’t fillers either; each one weaves in and out of the story meaningfully, adding plenty of depth to the overall storyline.
12. 18 Again
The plot: A remake of Zac Efron’s 17 Again, this Korean drama is all about 37-year-old Hong Dae-Young (Yoon Sang-Hyun) who is bored with his job, his family and his life. But when a magic wish transforms him back into his 17-year-old basketball pro self, Dae-Young is excited to begin a whole new life. But is this second chance really all it’s cracked out to be?
Why we love it: While remakes aren’t quite our thing (say hey-o if you love original content as much as we do!), 18 Again does offer plenty of heartwarming lessons that are relatable. This Korean drama on Netflix is simple and easy to watch, which is great if you want to unwind after a long day at work.
The plot: Signal will seem familiar to anyone who’s watched Frequency starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel. In Frequency, Jim Caviezel is an NYC homicide detective who stumbles upon a cross-time radio frequency on his late father’s (Dennis Quaid) ham radio. Father and son then communicate across time to solve a streak of unsolved serial murders without upsetting the space-time continuum. Signal‘s premise is pretty much the same, except that the criminal cases presented on the show are based on real-life ones in South Korea. Instead of a crime-fighting family, the two leads are police detectives from different time periods, connected through a simple walkie-talkie transmission.
Why we love it: Supernatural elements aside, this Korean drama, penned by veteran screenwriter Kim Eun Hee, makes you hold your breath at every turn. The clever writing is complemented by a pleasing soundtrack, an unexpected ending and minimal gore – just in case that’s not your cup of tea.
14. Guardian: The Lonely and Great God
The plot: Also known as Goblin, this K-drama on Netflix is the fifth highest-rated in South Korean cable tv history. It centres around a centuries-old goblin, played by Gong Yoo (you’ll know him as one of the leads in Train to Busan) who has been punished to roam Earth and help those in most need. In between hilarious interactions with his nephew (Yook Sung-jae) and a poker-faced Grim Reaper (Lee Dong-wook) and life-saving missions, he’s also on a personal quest to find his destined bride, who is the only woman who can pull out the sword from his chest and end his immortality.
Why we love it: The comedic timing between the Goblin, his nephew and the Grim Reaper will have you in stitches. But ultimately, what makes us love this K-drama enough to watch it on repeat is the simplicity of the message: everyone deserves kindness and love, and that sometimes, sacrifice is necessary for the greater good.
The plot: Hwang Si-Mok is a brilliant prosecutor, but his lack of empathy and social skills sets him apart from his colleagues. While investigating a murder, he pairs up with Police Lieutenant Han Yeo-jin to solve the murder mystery – a hard task because of the overwhelming corruption and conspiracy that surrounds it. This K-drama has won multiple awards, and Season 2 was released in August 2020.
Why we love it: Gutsy female leads, brilliant scriptwriting and more twists and turns than a rollercoaster make this Korean drama on Netflix worth it. Another pleasant surprise is the excellent chemistry between the leads; the story keeps their relationship professional without resorting to boring romance tropes – always a win in our opinion!
16. The Penthouse
The plot: This Korean drama details the lives of the wealthy families that live at Hera Palace. It slowly untangles the secrets, love triangles and cover-ups surrounding a mysterious girl who falls off to her death at Hera Palace.
Why we love it: We love the amount of drama served up in each episode. The lifestyles of the rich in The Penthouse are filled with murder, backstabbing, bullying and every other melodramatic theme you can imagine, making it an addictive Korean drama to watch. The Penthouse isn’t on Netflix (boo!), but you can stream it on Rakuten Viki or Viu!