Top 10 Must-watch Korean TV Shows

Korean TV Shows. The Korean Wave or Hallyu began in the 1990s, driven by Korean dramas and music, where the popularity of the Korean culture among the rest of the world slowly began to grow. The movement gained traction since the rise in the use of social media websites and platforms such as Youtube. A ridiculously influential phenomenon that had global-scale effects, the Korean or Hallyu wave began in the 21st century. It has heavily impacted the contemporary cultures, music industry, film industry, television industry, and behavioral aspects of various people throughout the world.

By 2007, a new term called ‘Hallyu 2.0’ began to crop up. It was a new wave in the popularity of Korean media due to the country’s advances in digital technologies and social media platforms. The Korean entertainment industry has also been criticized for its methods and links to corruption, as reported by Al Jazeera in February 2012. There have also been rampant allegations in the entertainment industry of mistreatment towards its musical artists. Despite that, the popularity of K-dramas and K-pop continues to grow. You may also want to have a look at 2020 Korean Men Fashion-20 Outfit Ideas Inspired By Korean Men if you love Korean fashion.

Top 10 Must-Watch Korean TV Shows

When it comes to k-dramas, it’s nigh impossible to pick a few favorites. The Korean drama industry is a super successful one, and new dramas are released every day, making the world swoon with their beautiful lead characters, soulful plots, and heart-warming romances.

Also, have a look at the 10 Best Korean Movies that you must watch in 2021.

Korean TV Shows

Common Tropes in Korean TV Shows:

Korean dramas are nothing but a tiresome yet entertaining bundle of cliches and tropes. They usually last for one season with an average of 16 episodes, and they’re crammed to the teeth with every possible eye-roll-worthy trope on the planet. Here’s a brief summary of what you can expect in a k-drama:

  • Amnesia: This happens sooner or later in all Korean dramas. Either one of the love interests doesn’t remember the other from their childhood, or they suffer some tragedy and forget. It tends to add a nice bit of tension and frustration to the plot.
  • Childhood Connections: This ranks somewhere in the top 5 tropes to appear and reappear. Our two main leads will know one another from a passing encounter when one or both of them were young, or they will be best friends/neighbors who have known each other all their lives. This also happens with the female lead and the second male lead.
  • Parental Issues: God forbid that our characters have normal parents. There’s a wide range of parental figures that fall outside the boundaries of ‘nice and normal,’ including overbearing and childish, absent, strict and cruel, money-leeching, etc.
  • Friends/Enemies to Lovers: Most of us love this trope, and it’s not hard to see the attraction. Especially with the enemies to lovers trope. It’s kinda exciting to see two people who hate each other and always fight with each other to being lovers.
  • Best Friends to Enemies: The love interests for the female lead (and it’s almost always one female lead with two male love interests) are often best friends who temporarily become rivals and enemies for loving the same girl.
  • Love (Insert Shape Here): No, the girl cannot have just one love interest. How boring! She must have two, three, even four! As you can imagine, the complicates the love shape (and the plot somewhat).
  • The Cinderella Effect: Another trope that has endless appeal to us common folk. Small-town plain-looking girl finds her footing in the world and the boy of her dreams.
  • Black and White Male Lead: The male leads are either 100% angels, who are incapable of doing wrong, or jerk-faced bad boys who won’t hesitate to make life hell for our heroines.
  • The Unrequited Love of Second Leads: Ah, what pain this causes! Second leads can be guaranteed to be the epitome of gentlemanly etiquette and kindness. But you can bet all your money that they simply will not get the girl.
  • Fate and Destiny: Korean dramas rely heavily on the concept of fated love and destiny. It’s actually a huge part of their culture and mythology and is heavily featured in their dramas, particularly period dramas and fantasy dramas.
  • Past Lives/Time Travel: Most of us scoff and roll our eyes at this trope (at all the tropes, actually, but this one particularly). You will encounter this trope in 99% of Korean fantasy dramas. The male lead is an alien or some fantastic mythological creature with superpowers. He falls in love with the past version of the heroine and then proceeds to find her in the present day.
  • Bromance: If they’re not both pining for the heroine, chances are they will be loyal to the point of being unrealistic, and they’ll be super cute about it too.
  • Jealous Ex-girlfriends: The hero’s ex-girlfriend with haunt and taunt the female lead like a vulture until she’s either redeemed herself or put in her place.
  • Flashbacks and Time Gaps: A frequently found trope in period/fantasy dramas in conjunction with time travel and past lives.
  • Cliffhangers: Tragedy tends to strike in the second last episode and predictably resolves itself in the last one.
  • Miscellaneous: Oh, boy, this could fit an essay. But we’ll just list a few for convenience’s sake: wrist-grabbing, fish kiss, piggyback rides, rich boy poor girl dynamic, back hugs, evil in-laws, staring while the love interest is sleeping, hero rescuing the heroine from an accident, girl eating an army’s worth of food while the guy stares moon-eyed, getting drunk on soju, sharing an umbrella, first loves being permanent, product placement and ads, chasing the vehicle the hero/heroine is leaving in, resting head on each other’s shoulder, and the list goes on. Let’s move on.

These are some of the most well-loved Korean dramas of all time that you should definitely check out. You can watch most of these dramas here.

How Did We Decide Top 10 Must-watch Korean TV Shows?

The following Korean dramas were chosen because they’re considered somewhat classic. They aired years ago but have still maintained their popularity. New generations of drama watchers are just as smitten as the old ones, proving the timelessness and great entertainment value of these shows.

↓ 10 – Full House

Air Date: July – September 2004

Number of Episodes: 16

Cast: Song Hye-Kyo, Rain, Han Eun-Jung, Kim Sung-soo

Synopsis: An aspiring writer is tricked into leaving her house (named Full House) by her two best friends. They send her off on vacation and sell the house behind her back. She meets a famous actor during her trip. While the two initially don’t get along, fate conspires to bring them together.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • If you are new to Korean dramas, then this is the best place to start. The show was so successful that it was remade by eight countries, including Turkey, Pakistan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, China, and Malaysia.
  • It’s based on a Korean comic called Manhwa, of the same name.
  • It’s a romantic comedy sure to make you giggle at every turn.

Korean TV Shows

↓ 9 – Boys Over Flowers

Air Date: January – March 2009

Number of Episodes: 25

Cast: Ku Hye-sun, Lee Min-ho, Kim Hyun-joong, Kim Bum, Kim Joon

Synopsis: It is based on the Japanese manga of the same name and follows Geum Jan-di, a dry-cleaner’s daughter who enrolls in a prestigious school. There, she encounters F4, a group of four high-born boys who rule over the entire school. She befriends them all and eventually falls in love with the leader of the group.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • It’s a fun series, chock-full of k-drama tropes. You’ll find it highly entertaining and exasperating at the same time, which is an interesting mix.
  • It stars Lee Min-ho, one of Korea’s most bankable and much-loved oppas.

Korean TV Shows

↓ 8 – Moon Embracing the Sun

Air Date: January – March 2012

Number of Episodes: 20

Cast: Kim Soo-hyun, Han Ga-in, Jung Il-woo, Kim Min-seo

Synopsis: The historical drama is based on the novel of the same name. It is the love story of King Lee-hwon of the Joseon Dynasty and Wol, a shaman, set in the Korean palace. The two must survive the political machinations of the people around them while Wol also struggles with her identity.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • Ah, there’s only one answer: Kim Soo-Hyun! The handsome actor is not only extremely easy on the eyes, but his performance in the show brings the viewer to tears.

Korean TV Shows

↓ 7 – Kill Me, Heal Me

Air Date: January – March 2015

Number of Episodes: 20

Cast: Ji Sung, Hwang Jung-eum, Park Seo-joon

Synopsis: The soulful romantic comedy deals with issues such as child abuse and disassociative personality disorder. A man who’s suffered through great tragedies in his life is helped by a beautiful psychiatrist.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • The drama mixes multiple genres. It is a romantic comedy, suspense thriller, and a medical drama as well!
  • The lead actor’s incredible performance as he plays several different versions of himself.

Korean TV Shows

↓ 6 – My Love From the Star

Air Date: December 2013 – February 2014

Number of Episodes: 21

Cast: Kim Soo-hyun, Jun Ji-hyun, Park Hae-jin, Yoo In-na

Synopsis: An extraterrestrial who is stranded on Earth during the Joseon era falls in love with a girl. In present-day Seoul, a famous movie star, who happens to be a reincarnation of that girl, finds herself attracted to Do Min-joon, her reclusive neighbor hiding his true identity.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • Jun Ji-hyun’s comic timing is flawless, and her acting will leave you in stitches.
  • The show’s fantasy-based plot leads to great action sequences and special effects.
  • The chemistry between the main leads is to-die-for!

Korean TV Shows

↓ 5 – Guardian: The Great and Lonely God

Air Date: December 2016 – January 2017

Number of Episodes: 16

Cast: Gong Yoo, Kim Go-eun, Lee Dong-wook, Yoo In-na

Synopsis: A military general from the Goryeo era is cursed into becoming an immortal Goblin. His curse can only be broken by the ‘Goblin bride.’ He falls in love with a high-school student in present-day Korea who seems to be the one to break his curse so he can finally die peacefully.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • Goblin was crazy-popular when it came out! The ratings it gathered were off the charts, and the reviews were positive.
  • The bromance between the male leads is both hilarious and super-sweet to watch. Seriously, you should just watch it for the bromance.
  • The show’s special effects are mind-blowingly awesome, and it’s so much fun watching the fighting and action sequences.

Korean TV Shows

↓ 4 – Strong Girl Bong-soon

Air Date: February – April 2017

Number of Episodes: 16

Cast: Park Bo-young, Park Hyung-sik, Ji Soo

Synopsis: It is a fantasy romance drama that tells the story of a young woman that possesses super-strength. She struggles with the ability, which has been passed down to every woman of her family for generations and aspires to become a video-game creator. She gets a job at a successful game company and develops an attraction for the company’s young and handsome CEO.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • The petite Park Bo-young is cute as a button and an absolute pleasure to watch.
  • It’s extremely satisfying to watch her kick butt.
  • The show alternates between being a light, funny romance drama to a dark, crime-thriller. The shift in tones is amazing from episode-to-episode.

Korean TV Shows

↓ 3 – Love in the Moonlight

Air Date: August – October 2016

Number of Episodes: 18

Cast: Park Bo-gum, Kim Yoo-jung, Jinyoung

Synopsis: The crown prince of the 19th century Joseon Kingdom falls in love with a street-smart girl posing as a eunuch in the palace. The coming-of-age romantic drama is based on the novel of the same name.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • We girls like our oppas (Korean term of endearment for ‘older brother’), and Park Bo-gum is the most dashing and adorable of them all. It helps that he is a terrific actor.
  • It’s a happy, light-hearted show, for the most part, guaranteed to make you smile.
  • The antics of the female heroine keep the viewers well entertained.

Korean TV Shows

↓ 2 – Descendants of the Sun

Air Date: February – April 2016

Number of Episodes: 16

Cast: Song Hye-kyo, Song Joong-ki, Jin Goo, Kim Ji-won

Synopsis: A soldier and a doctor fall in love. They struggle to survive, save lives and maintain their relationship in a fictional war-torn country.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • The show revived the Hallyu wave, boosted the popularity of Korean culture, and helped its stars gain international recognition.
  • The chemistry between the lead and secondary couples is intense and incredible. The beautiful love story will surely leave you breathless.

Korean TV Shows

↓ 1 – Reply 1988

Air Date: November 2015 – January 2016

Number of Episodes: 20

Cast: Lee Hye-ri, Park Bo-gum, Go Kyung-pyo, Ryo Jun-yeol, Lee Dong-hwi

Synopsis: It’s a beautiful coming-of-age story of five friends and their families who live in the same neighborhood. It’s the third show in the Reply series.

Why You Should Watch It:

  • The show got not only high-ratings but also critical acclaim. This is proof enough that the audience and critics alike adored it.
  • It is one of the funniest Korean television dramas to exist. You won’t be able to keep the laughter and amusement at bay.
  • The growing up of the five friends is simultaneously heart-warming and bittersweet.
  • The show’s soundtrack is worth listening to.

Korean TV Shows

If you are interested in Korean fashion, have a look at Korean Winter Fashion Trends; 26 Best Korean Winter Outfits.


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