It’s time for our July installment of the ranking of the most talked about Korean dramas of the month! July saw the premiere of at least 13 series, six of which have claimed spots in the ranking below. Once again, this list is not arbitrary, but derived carefully from Good Data Corporation‘s weekly rankings of buzzworthy dramas and actors. (Definition: a “most talked about” or “buzzworthy” Korean drama is one that is frequently mentioned or discussed by many people—mostly Koreans—on blogs, forums, social media, and other online platforms.)
tvN dramas have usually taken the top spot since we began making this list, but this fact is still surprising (and impressive)—the top 3 shows in July come from the network. The cable network also has a total of four series in the list, which is the most number of dramas by a network we’ve ever had in a single ranking. SBS fares better than last month, going from not having a single drama in the list to two shows this time, on par with MBC. KBS2 has no representative while JTBC and OCN stay even by logging one drama each.
10. Nokdu Flower
Ranking last on our list is this sageuk starring Jo Jung-suk , Yoon Shi-yoon and Han Ye-ri. Nokdu Flower is based on a true historical event— the Donghak Peasant Revolution in the 1890s—and stars Jo Jung-suk and Yoon Shi-yoon as half brothers on different sides of the conflict. The evil turn of Yoon’s character and the emotional performances of Jo’s are the highlights of the show. Towards the end of its run, the drama shifts focus from domestic revolutions to threats that lurk across the border, exploring the beginning of Japanese invasion of Korea and the impact of war on common folks. While some viewers thought the ending was unsatisfactory, some praised the writer for sticking to facts while tackling a historical event such as this. (Peak position: no. 4 in the second week of July)
9. Moment At Eighteen
Despite premiering in the last week of July, JTBC’s Moment At Eighteen has managed to be on this list thanks largely to its leads—movie star Kim Hyang-gi, who is making her drama comeback after two years, and K-pop star Ong Seong-wu, who is making his drama debut. The show revolves around Ong’s character, an introverted teenager, who moves to a new school, where Hyang-gi is an overachiever with a controlling mother. The series seems to have all the elements that make teen dramas so appealing even to grown-ups—from that first flush of teenage love to intense friendships, teen angst, and life-changing lessons. (Peak position: no. 3 in the fourth week)
8. Arthdal Chronicles
After consistently topping our lists in June, Arthdal Chronicles has slipped to rank 8 this month, mainly because it concluded the run of its first and second parts in the first week of July. Don’t grieve yet; the show will be returning with the third and last part in September, which I’m looking forward to despite the plot holes in the story we’ve seen so far. Arthdal’s run was, for lack of a better word, quite eventful—from controversies about its quality during the premiere to issues with the drama’s production company not paying its staff and lead actor Song Joong-ki announcing his divorce from Song Hye-kyo. With big names like Jang Dong-gun, Kim Ok-bin, Kim Ji-won, and of course, Song Joong-ki coming together in this elaborate, high-budget telling of a story about a mythical ancient civilization, I expect the show to bounce right back to top when it returns in September. (Peak position: no. 2 in the first week)
7. Doctor John
Ji-sung is back to the small screen with Doctor John, a medical drama also starring Lee Se-young and Lee Kyu-hyung. Just the cast alone makes one want to check out this drama, right? Ji Sung plays a brilliant and arrogant anesthesiologist who is obsessed with relieving people of their pain. But one incident sends him to jail (Wait, again? Just like in Defendant?). Lee Se-young takes on the role of a resident working under him while Lee Kyu-hyung—who is probably my favorite actor in dramas who is yet to get a lead role—enters the plot as a prosecutor to create some much-needed tension between our doctor leads. The story must be really interesting seeing that the drama exceeded 12 percent in ratings on its second week and maintained a 4th place finish in the buzzworthy ranking since its premiere. (Peak position: no. 4 in the third and fourth week)
6. Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung
Shin Se-kyung has come back to the small screen after last year’s Black Knight in Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung, a refreshing show about a passionate female historian battling gender prejudices in 19th century Korea, where most professions are male-dominated. Joining her is Astro’s Cha Eun-woo, who was last seen in the sleeper hit romantic comedy My ID Is Gangnam Beauty, playing a lonely prince who secretly writes erotic novels in his spare time. I’m already loving this flipping of traditional gender roles. The initial episodes introduced us to Shin’s and Cha’s characters and the various obstacles in their paths of simply doing what they want to do. Fans are curious to see how their paths will cross and their relationship develop in the drama. (Peak position: no. 3 in the third week)
Rounding out the top 5 this month is OCN’s only entry on the list, Watcher, a crime drama about an internal anti-corruption team in a police force. It stars Han Suk-kyu, Kim Hyun-joo, and Seo Kang-joon in lead roles, making this one hell of a trio. During the premiere week, the series did a good job of establishing the characters’ backstories and motivations, making several of us curious about the dynamics between the trio as they work together to take down corrupt police officers and find themselves linked by an incident from the past that changes their lives forever. If you’re still wondering whether or not to give this drama a go, I suggest you check out our first impressions and decide from there. (Peak position: no. 5 in the first week)
4. One Spring Night
MBC’s much hyped One Spring Night, which has consistently stayed in the top 5 throughout its run from May to July, slipped to rank 4 during its final month. The show revolves around a simple romance between single dad and pharmacist Jung Hae-in and librarian Han Ji-min, complicated by the their families and exes. The fans hoped to see a satisfactory resolution to all the conflicts threatening Jung Hae-in and Han Ji-min’s happily-ever-after, and in a welcome departure from director Ahn Pan-seok’s usually open-ended finales, One Spring Night tied all the loose ends nicely. That’s all I’ll say without giving spoilers to the finale, so if you still haven’t caught up, now’s the time! (Peak position: no. 1 in the first week)
3. Designated Survivor: 60 Days
Remakes usually tend to be a hit or a miss with drama fans and this one seems to fall firmly in the former category. With a star-studded cast comprising of solid performers like Ji Jin-hee, Kang Han-na, Lee Joon-hyuk and Bae Jong-ok, Designated Survivor: 60 Days premiered with a tense first two episodes in the first week of July to a buzz score of 10.97 percent. Ji Jin-hee’s performance as a nerdy science professor who suddenly finds himself at the center of the biggest political upheaval in his country has been flawless. With a stellar supporting cast and a heady mix of fast paced action and plot twists, this political thriller is sure to keep viewers on the edge of their seats in the coming weeks. (Peak position: no. 4 in the first week)
2. Search: WWW
I couldn’t be more glad to see this feisty, unapologetic drama that celebrates independent women at number 2 in this list. Search: WWW made a runner-up finish in three of the four weeks of July. In the show, Im Soo-jung, Lee Da-hee and Jeon Hye-jin play career women dealing with the ups and downs of their lives. During its final week, we saw Im Soo-jung’s character come to a decision about whether to marry Jang Ki-yong’s, which was a pressing question that the viewers wanted answers to. And without giving spoilers, I would like to say that the show had a pretty satisfactory resolution to the arcs and blew me away with how it explored marriage and romance between an older woman and a younger man. The success of this show further proves that there is an audience for women-led dramas that don’t fall into romance cliches, and my only hope is that Kdramaland keeps these kinds of dramas coming. (Peak position: no. 2 from the second to fourth week)
1. Hotel del Luna
The most talked about Korean drama in July is IU and Yeo Jin-goo’s Hotel del Luna, which took over from Arthdal Chronicles to take first position in its place. Not only does the show come from the same network as Arthdal, it’s also airing in the same time slot, so tvN has managed quite a feat—getting back-to-back number ones. Despite starting in the middle of the month, Hotel del Luna managed to snag the top spot every week since its premiere, smashing even Arthdal Chronicles’ record with a peak buzz score of 26.47 percent. And frankly, we’re not surprised, considering how many things this show has going for it—from being a comeback drama of the Hong sisters, to the collaboration of two of the most popular drama actors these days, as well as its unusual setting of a horror rom-com genre taking place in a hotel that caters only to ghosts and spirits. (Peak position: no. 1 from the second to fourth week)
Special Mention: Joseon Survival
I’ll cite Joseon Survival as an example of how being a “talked about” drama is not always something to be proud of. This show didn’t make it to the overall Top 10 of the month, but following Kang Ji-hwan’s arrest in a sexual assault case, the drama jumped 12 places in the ranking that week (July 8-14) compared to the previous week, with Kang himself moving up 49 places to make it to the Top 10 in the buzz ranking for drama actors. Indeed, a noteworthy “achievement” in that particular week’s ranking. But we all know how the discussions about the show went on—full of negatives and shame-on-you comments.
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