September saw the broadcast of at least 27 primetime dramas, 10 of which generated the most buzz and became literally the talk of the town in South Korea. And now we’re presenting these shows in a list we have officially called the 10 most talked about Korean dramas in September 2019! We’ve arrived at this ranking using data from Good Data Corporation, which tracks the most buzzworthy Korean dramas and actors every week. (Definition: a buzzworthy or most talked about Korean drama is one that is frequently mentioned or discussed on Korean blogs, forums, social media, and other online platforms.)
Unlike the previous months, where one drama has distinguished itself in buzz scores every week to occupy the top spot in the ranking, September has no standout series. The top five dramas have very little differences in terms of average buzz scores (see summary below). JTBC is the network with the most dramas on the list, while tvN and KBS2 log 2 series each and OCN, MBC and SBS struggle with only one representative.
10. Pegasus Market (tvN) — 2.73%
Pegasus Market, based on the webtoon Cheap Cheonlima Mart, is tvN’s latest offering starring two of K-dramaland’s most beloved (comedy) actors—Lee Dong-hwi and Kim Byung-chul. Lee plays the manager of a failing mart called Pegasus Market while Kim plays an executive in its parent company who gets demoted to oversee the mart. While Lee’s character worries about attracting customers, Kim’s hatches a plan to bring the company down, which goes terribly awry.
The series sounds a lot like Chief Kim, with comedy and love-hate chemistry between the lead actors taking the forefront. If you’re looking for a ridiculous show with so many surprising scenes such as a tribal dance inside a mart, you will love this drama. (Peak position: no. 5 in the third week of September)
9. Mother Of Mine (KBS2) — 3.00%
Mother of Mine is headlined by Kim Hae-sook whose role is a matriarch who has supported her three daughters by running a restaurant. Kim So-yeon is starring as the second daughter who gets romantically involved with her boss; Kim Ha-kyung as the youngest daughter who dreams to become a novelist; and Yoo Sun as the eldest daughter who is married and has a child herself.
Mother of Mine ended in September after a six-month run with 108 episodes. It is one of those long-running dramas that not many pay attention to, but those who bothered watching couldn’t stop raving about the brilliance of the cast and the heartwarming mother-daughter relationship. The show realistically depicts the joys and struggles of living with an aging parent and has made many viewers cry. (Peak position: no. 6 in the second week)
8. Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung (MBC) — 3.19%
Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung is probably one of the most interesting Korean dramas of 2019. Not only does it tell the tale of a female historian (Shin Se-kyung) struggling to prosper in a male-dominated profession, her prince charming (Cha Eun-woo) secretly writes romance novels! All this, in a historical drama set in 19th-century Joseon!
Despite the fascinating premise of the show, several things held it back from achieving top spots in the weekly rankings. While Shin Se-kyung’s acting and her character Goo Hae-ryung earned praises from the fans, Cha Eun-woo’s performance disappointed many. The finale came off as rushed and boring, becoming a roadblock for what would otherwise have been a great series. The show is streaming on Netflix. (Peak position: no. 6 in the first week)
7. When The Camellia Blooms (KBS2) — 4.51%
The reigning queen of romantic comedies, Gong Hyo-jin, finally returned to the small screen with When The Camellia Blooms after almost three years! And starring opposite her is none other than beloved actor Kang Ha-neul, who is also coming back to dramas after completing his 20-month mandatory military service. Gong Hyo-jin wowed me in the very first episode with her character Dong-baek, a gutsy single mother and owner of a local bar named Camellia. Kang, too, is adorable as a policeman with a knack for getting into trouble, who falls in love with Dong-baek at first sight.
This is just the kind of quirky rom-com I love, which has an interesting heroine who challenges social norms, a leading man who supports his woman, and a great team of supporting actors. I especially couldn’t get enough of child actor Kim Kang-hoon, who plays Dong-baek’s adorable son Pil-goo. Oh, and if this wasn’t enough to get you interested, there is also a serial killer angle in the show that is genuinely terrifying. Can’t wait to watch? Head to Netflix. (Peak position: no. 4 in the third and fourth weeks)
6. Be Melodramatic (JTBC) — 5.99%
Movie director Lee Byeong-hun’s (Twenty) drama debut Be Melodramatic finally ended in the last week of September to rave reviews from fans, but with a poor average TV rating of 1.5 percent. Starring Chun Woo-hee, Jeon Yeo-bin, and Han Ji-eun, the show navigates the professional and love lives of three best friends in their thirties. Ahn Jae-hong and Gong Myung are also in the show playing the male leads.
It’s a mystery to the fans of the drama, including myself, how it got consistently low ratings despite being well-loved both domestically and internationally. Perhaps because this show was marketed to a niche audience, most K-drama fans gave it a pass? I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that we had a drama that is realistic, funny, heart-wrenching, quirky, and well-written. I felt like I was best friends with these girls, and appreciated the show exploring issues of mental health and LGBTQ discrimination in Korea. This drama was a winner through and through, so I’m sad to see it end. (Peak Position: no. 3 in the second week)
5. Moment At Eighteen (JTBC) — 7.93%
Kim Hyang-gi and Ong Seong-wu’s Moment At Eighteen ended its run in the second week of September. It started as a sweet youth drama set in a high school, with Ong playing a shy but cute guy who transfers to a new school where Kim is one of the top students. Gradually, however, tensions rise as the drama explores the pressures on today’s teenagers. Shin Seung-ho, who was also seen in Netflix’s Love Alarm, plays Ong’s classmate and rival.
Right off the bat, this show established itself as a series that was much more than the frills and fluff that usually come to mind when one thinks of a high school drama. It has its light moments, but mostly, the show is a sensitive portrayal of one of the most sensitive times of our lives. Ong Seung-wu couldn’t have asked for a better debut and did full justice as the lead with the help of Kim Hyang-gi. I can’t stop singing the show’s praises and would like to echo the fans’ demand for a second season. (Peak position: no.1 in the first and second weeks)
4. Vagabond (SBS) — 7.95%
September finally saw the premiere of Bae Suzy and Lee Seung-gi’s spy thriller Vagabond, after it was delayed several times due to filming issues and its deal talks with Netflix. This $22-million pre-produced series is another one of this year’s dramas with a gigantic budget. Lee Seung-gi plays a struggling stuntman who is also the sole guardian of his nephew. When a plane carrying his nephew mysteriously crashes, he smells a conspiracy and decides to find out the truth. Suzy stars in the show as an undercover National Intelligence Service agent who teams up with him to fight the bad guys.
Vagabond had one of the most-hyped premieres out of all 2019 dramas. And for the most part, the hype was justified. However, as is customary with Suzy’s dramas, the premiere came with a lot of backlash for her acting performance. Personally, I found the female characters badly written, so I’m willing to cut her some slack. But Lee Seung-gi was decent, so I’m hoping Suzy’s character will improve in the future. (Peak position: no. 2 in third and fourth weeks)
3. Strangers From Hell (OCN) — 8.50%
Also based on a popular webtoon, Im Si-wan’s new drama Strangers From Hell is like wine—it keeps getting better as time passes by. He plays a 20-something aspiring writer who lodges at a creepy dorm called Eden Studio and is constantly mystified by the actions of his strange neighbors, including Lee Dong-wook’s role, a kind-hearted dentist by day and mysterious killer by night.
The show started on a promising note, with leads Im Si-wan and Lee Dong-wook taking on roles they’ve never handled before and the supporting cast leaving an impression on the viewers. Lee has earned praises for his nightmare-inducing performance while Im received positive reviews for the confusion embodied in his portrayal of his character. A standout for me is landlady Lee Jung-eun, who toes the fine line between comedy and creepy with finesse. (Peak position: no. 2 in the first week)
2. Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency (JTBC) — 8.52%
It’s not often that one gets to see a historical drama minus the tense power struggles, and Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency has come to fill this void for us. This fusion sageuk is based on a 2014 novel of the same name and stars Kim Min-jae as the handsome leader of a matchmaking agency, with Byun Woo-seok and Park Ji-hoon as his partners. Seo Ji-hoon plays a blacksmith who hires the matchmaking crew to propose to his first love, played by Gong Seung-yeon, but disappears on his wedding day, only to be informed that he’s the next King of Joseon.
This show looks fun from the get-go, and I’m glad it has stayed true to the teasers and kept a lightweight tone. While I’m expecting it to turn darker as the storyline progresses, the young cast looks promising and set to deliver great performances. After several major supporting characters, I’m glad to see Kim Min-jae snag the lead role this time. And you know what? Wanna One’s Park Ji-hoon has topped the buzzworthy drama actor ranking for the second time last week, beating A-list celebrities like Suzy, Gong Hyo-jin, and Lee Seung-gi. (Peak position: no. 1 in the third and fourth weeks)
1. Arthdal Chronicles (tvN) — 9.23%
The most talked about Korean drama in September is Arthdal Chronicles, which returned this month to air the third and final part of its first season—continuing the stories of ancient people played by Song Joong-ki, Jang Dong-gun, Kim Ji-won, and Kim Ok-bin. The show is set in the fictional land of Arth and depicts tussles between various tribes competing to take control of the land and oppressing others. Song Joong-ki’s role leads the fight to free their tribes from oppression.
Despite not topping the weekly list even once, Arthdal Chronicles has occupied the top spot in the monthly list thanks to its consistently high scores in the first three weeks of September. The ending of the drama left many confused because the character arcs were unfinished and hinted heavily at a second season. Owing to the lukewarm viewer response to the drama, however, tvN is still in negotiations with Netflix to produce a sequel (or two). Let’s hope, for the sake of the fans, that the drama returns for a second season and wraps up the story! (Peak position: no. 2 in the second week)