10 Highest-Rated Korean Dramas in 2017

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the post series Dramatop 2017

Whew, Dramatop 2017 is finally here! It is a series of posts about Kdrama rankings based on nationwide television viewership ratings (the name is just a title, for fun). We also had it last year (Dramatop 2016), which began as early as mid-January 2017. This year’s version is late, but here it is!

38 free-to-air (FTA) and 29 cable dramas are included in last year’s ranking, bringing the total number of dramas ranked to 67 (versus 51 in 2016). There are five rankings this time, the first of which will bring you the 10 highest-rated Korean dramas in 2017 based on average ratings. This ranking will present the top ~30 % dramas for each of the TV categories as far as ratings are concerned. 

You may want to read the following for more information about the Dramatop 2017; otherwise, scroll down to find out which dramas made it to the top 10 list!

  • 67 dramas are included in last year’s ranking. The basic requirements for the inclusion in the ranking are this: the drama must have aired in the year 2017 at least half of its total number of episodes (special episodes excluded) and it must have at least 8 episodes if it is an FTA drama or 4 if it’s a cable show. Two more shows—My Secret Romance and Meloholic from cable network OCN—actually meet this requirement but they are excluded in the ranking because viewership data for them are unavailable.
  • Being a prime-time show (in other words, a show that airs between 7 pm and 12 midnight) is another requirement for a drama’s inclusion in the ranking. A qualifying drama belongs to one of two categories:
    • Free-to-Air (FTA)—dramas that air on KBS2, MBC, and SBS every Mondays and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, or Fridays and Saturdays. MBC and SBS each have 11 dramas while KBS2 has 16.
    • Cable—dramas that air on tvN, JTBC or OCN every Mondays and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, or Fridays and Saturdays. tvN has the most number of dramas, at 16, while JTBC and OCN have 8 and 5, respectively.
  • These 67 dramas are the ones that are popular worldwide as they have the more renowned actors starring in them and bigger production budget. There are actually over 100 dramas every year from the six aforementioned TV networks but those (daily dramas, filler short dramas, etc.) that complete this number are hardly recognized by the international fans.
  • Weekend primetime FTA dramas are not included in the ranking because they tend to have higher ratings than their weekday counterparts do.
  • All ratings are based on nationwide viewership data from Nielsen Korea.

10 Highest-Rated Korean Dramas in 2017 (Free-To-Air Category)

10. Saimdang, Light’s Diary (10.2 %)

Official Poster of Korean drama Saimdang, Light's Diary

Three of the top 10 dramas on this list are historical series, one of which is the comeback TV project of Jewel In The Palace star Lee Young-ae—Saimdang, Light’s Diary. It premiered with a whopping double-digit viewership but failed to attract more audience as the ratings dropped steadily to 6.1 %. Nonetheless, its average rating made it to this ranking and solidify its status as one of the highest-rated Korean dramas in 2017.

Synopsis: A Korean art history lecturer discovers the ancient diary of renowned Joseon artist Shin Saimdang who excelled in painting, poetry, and calligraphy and unravels her extraordinary life.

2016’s Top 10: Monster

9. Man Who Dies To Live (10.3 %)

Man Who Dies To Live Poster 1

This series prompted some international fans to boycott its broadcast after it allegedly depicted in an inappropriate way some early scenes referring to Islamic culture. But the controversy did not deter the drama from drawing a solid base of viewers as its ratings improved in the following weeks, reaching an all-time high of 14 percent.

Synopsis: A father settles down in a Middle East kingdom where he finds success and amasses an incredible amount of wealth but he returns to South Korea to reconcile with his estranged daughter and son-in-law.

2016’s Top 9: Jealousy Incarnate

8. Witch’s Court (10.6 %)

A legal drama about prosecutors is common in Kdramaland, but one dealing with cases of sexual crimes against women and children and led by a female public official is unique. Witch’s Court could have won an impressive base of viewership due to its fresh concept and a fierce female protagonist. It started out with a modest 6 percent viewership but had it nearly doubled in just 4 episodes.

Synopsis: A special team in the prosecution that deals with sexual crimes against women and children gets a female head prosecutor who is determined to win her cases—even by tampering with evidence and forcing witnesses to commit perjury.

2016’s Top 8: W—Two Worlds

7. Fight For My Way (10.9 %)

Fight For My Way Poster 1

Fight For My Way is one of those most buzzworthy dramas with very decent viewership. With its lovable and relatable characters everyone could root for, the series doubled its pilot episode rating in just three episodes and was able to sustain a double-digit viewership ever since. It has a strong character-driven writing and a plot that makes sense and uses less cliche. 

Synopsis: Two ordinary people suffer a setback in realizing their dreams because of their unimpressive resumes but things start to get better for them after they realize what they really want and persevere with their efforts to reach their dreams.

2016’s Top 7: Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho

6. Falsify (11.1 %)

Falsify Poster 6

The only drama on this list where journalism and corruption battle each other, Falsify presents a story with serious subject matter. It seemed like it effectively reach its target audience as it easily pulled in over 10 percent in viewership, making it the 6th highest-rated Korean drama in 2017. The performance of actors led by Namgoong Min play a very important role in making this a commercially successful series.

Synopsis: One reporter has chosen his career to avenge his brother who died while working on a corruption scandal. He works with a prosecutor to solve cases and uncover the truth that has been distorted, fighting powerful men from the media who have been colluding with crooked politicians.

2016’s Top 6: Remember

5. Rebel: Thief Who Stole The People (11.7 %)

Official Poster of Korean drama Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People

This sageuk is the 5th highest-rated Korean drama last year with an average rating of almost 12 percent. What is more amazing is that it has 30 episodes and that throughout its run it sustained a decent double-digit viewership (unlike Saimdang). Led by actors who were playing their lead roles for the first time, Rebel: Thief Who Stole The People is a drama with interesting characters and story that could immerse you into its world.

Synopsis: Hong Gil-dong, son of a servant, steals from the rich and gives to the poor—a kind act that leads him to becoming the first revolutionary activist in Joseon period.

2016’s Top 5: Legend of the Blue Sea

4. Ruler: Master of the Mask (12.4 %)

Ruler Master of the Mask Poster 12

Ruler: Master of the Mask is the highest-rated sageuk in 2017. With a peak rating of 15 percent, this drama did not fail to woo its viewers until its finale. This is the first MBC series to implement the 30-minute episode format, which brings the total episode of subsequent dramas to 32 or 40. Ruler‘s success could be attributed to the popularity of its leads and a gripping melodramatic plot.

Synopsis: A Joseon crown prince hiding behind a mask fights against an organization that has gained power and wealth through the privatization and monopolization of the water supply all over Joseon.

2016’s Top 4: Moonlight Drawn by Clouds

3. Whisper (15.6 %)

Official poster of Korean drama Whisper

Legal thriller Whisper has veterans actors in its cast, so with an interesting plot that keeps you involved in the story, it is no wonder why the drama has become the third highest-rated Korean series in 2017. It premiered with 14 percent viewership and reached a peak of 20.3 percent, becoming one of the only two 2017 dramas that surpassed 20 percent in viewership.

Synopsis: A court judge and a police detective meet as enemies but they fall in love with each other as they work together later on to take down a corrupt system in a big law firm.

2016’s Top 3: Doctors

2. Chief Kim (15.9 %)

Official Poster of Korean drama Chief Kim

Occupying the second highest spot on this list is the workplace comedy Chief Kim which surprisingly became a massive hit series of KBS2. The gag in this feel-good show will sure to make you laugh, which is why the series managed to surpasse 18 percent in viewership and made an average of almost 16 percent. The local audience loved it, and most probably you will.

Synopsis: An accountant who used to manage financial matters for gangs quits his previous job and begins to work as a middle manager in a company on the verge of bankruptcy where he struggles to save it and fight for its employees.

2016’s Top 2: Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim

1. Defendant (21.7 %)

Official Poster of Korean drama Defendant

Defendant is the highest-rated Korean drama in 2017 (free-to-air category). Unlike the romance series Descendants of the Sun, last year’s winner is a legal thriller full of non-romantic and suspenseful elements in its story. Award-winning actor Ji Sung is a major contributor to the drama’s success, which is characterized by the achievement of over-20 percent viewership in more than half of its total run and a peak rating close to 30 percent.

Synopsis: A righteous prosecutor at the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office is accused of killing his wife and daughter. He is wrongfully charged of murder and faces a death sentence, but finds it difficult to assert his innocence as he suffers from temporary amnesia that took four months of his memory.

2016’s Top 1: Descendants of the Sun

For the CABLE CATEGORY, go to the next page.

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Me? Just an ordinary lad with an extraordinary (says this something called 'stereotype') habit of watching Korean dramas. It started with action-filled City Hunter and the rest, as they say, is history.