When K-drama fans discuss popularity, they often look at TV ratings to see which series are successful in that regard. Or, they go to online forums/communities and check what shows people are naturally talking about. The latter scenario can also be actually measured and presented quantitatively, and in K-dramaland, we have Good Data Corporation to show us the numbers. The company releases a weekly ranking of the most buzzworthy or “talked about” dramas based on the frequency by which a certain show is mentioned and/or discussed by Korean fans in news, blogs, communities, social media, and other online platforms. And for the purpose of this article, we compiled those weekly rankings to find out which dramas from January to June 2019 had generated the highest average buzz while they were still airing.
Simply put, a buzz score of 13 percent (example) suggests that for every 100 mentions/discussions/topics included in the analyses, 13 are devoted to a certain drama. But aside from quantitative results, the study also analyzes how the netizens respond to the series. Are they praising the actors? Criticizing the script? And for what reasons? Parts of their reports are published here.
The 10 most talked about Korean dramas in the first half of 2019 have been popular for mostly positive reasons. People talked about these shows because they liked them to the extent that they had to share their personal thoughts about the plots, the cast, the characters, cinematography, and other aspects of the production. Unsurprisingly, dramas headlined by A-list actors are the ones listed below, beating 43 other series included in the overall ranking. (Contact us if you’d like to know more about the methodology.)
10. Romance Is A Bonus Book – 8.73%
The 10th placer is the Lee Na-young starrer Romance Is A Bonus Book (tvN), in which she played a divorcee who has struggled to find new employment until a publishing company headed by a writer prodigy (Lee Jung-suk) gives her a job. This noona romance drama marks her return to the small screen after a nine-year hiatus. And as far as ratings and reviews are concerned, the actress made the right decision to pick this project. It was the second most talked about Korean drama in February and ranked fourth in the list of the highest-rated Korean dramas in the first half of 2019. Reviews are mostly positive, with one user (mayhemf) from Dramabeans commenting, “In the end, it was all about the books. The life of books. Everything else was a bonus. My love for books only grew as I watched the drama.”
9. Encounter – 9.84%
Three shows on this list are actually 2018 Korean dramas which ended in January, and one of them is tvN’s Encounter. Starring Song Hye-kyo and Park Bo-gum, this is another noona romance K-drama about a divorced hotel CEO who can’t seem to find real happiness until she meets a free-spirited guy in Cuba, who turns out to be a new recruit at her company (A noona romance where the woman is divorced again?). Some say this one is boring and overrated and while I haven’t watched the entire show yet, I know for sure that this is a character-driven drama that can only appeal to viewers who could truly appreciate the story it is trying to tell. The drama tackles the challenges of falling in love with someone much younger/older than you, especially if that person belongs to a social class you are never a part of. And it does so with some mesmerizing shots of Havana.
8. Her Private Life – 12.51%
Eighth placer Her Private Life (tvN) was the most talked about Korean drama in the month of May. Based on a Korean novel called Noona Dot Com, it is a romantic comedy about an art curator (Park Min-young) who fangirls a lot in her private time and an art gallery director (Kim Jae-wook) who initially thinks that she is a lesbian. They say the leads had the best chemistry, and while the show has somewhat lost its footing towards the end, the entire drama is satisfying enough. Others point out how the second half unnecessarily focuses on the male lead character while treating the female counterpart as a tool to console or provide him with emotional support. Two episodes could have been devoted instead to exploring how the heroine continues to balance her fangirl life with a successful career and a budding romance. Her Private Life is one of the two dramas on this list which managed to generate so much buzz despite getting below-average TV ratings.
7. Memories Of The Alhambra – 12.52%
Memories Of The Alhambra (tvN) comes from the PD of Stranger and writer of W-Two Worlds and stars A-list actors Park Shin-hye and Hyun Bin in the lead roles. Sounds perfect, right? The series follows an investment firm CEO who goes on a business trip in Granada, Spain to meet the creator of an innovative augmented reality (AR) game, only to find himself becoming the sole target of one of the players of the game. The strange thing is, that player is dead and exists only in the AR world to kill him. The writer is known for unique and creative stories with rich characters but when you watch her work, you often end up with a lot of questions that have no definite answers. And you know what? The writer admitted to having been inspired by Pokemon Go (the popular game!) and Elon Musk while writing this project.
6. The Fiery Priest – 12.74%
Kim Nam-gil transitioned from playing a doctor in Live Up To Your Name to portraying the titular character in The Fiery Priest, which was the most talked about Korean drama in April. His role has never been the kind of Catholic priest to mince words; he needs to say what he has to say and literally kicks a bad guy’s ass even if it’s not necessary. Thus, when his fellow priest is murdered, he ends up solving the crime along with a clumsy homicide detective (Kim Sung-kyung) and a hard-headed prosecutor (Lee Ha-nee). This is the first ever drama to be broadcast on SBS’s brand-new Friday-Saturday time slot. And with a double-digit viewership rating that surpassed 20 percent, the network had all the reasons to throw a big party. The show has never suffered a slump and managed to ramp up the suspense in every episode in the best way possible. Everyone wants a season 2!
5. The Light In Your Eyes – 13.25%
An aspiring reporter (Han Ji-min) uses her watch to travel through time and save her father but she ends up getting stuck living the grandma version of herself (Kim Hye-ja). This synopsis of The Light In Your Eyes would make you believe that it is just some sort of a time-slip series. But believe me, the real story is way different than you would expect. I personally love this show but I cannot elaborate on the reason because it’s a spoiler—one that will probably give you the shock of your life as a K-drama fan. The series became the most talked about K-drama in March and made history as the first ever Monday-Tuesday JTBC series to surpass 6 percent in viewership ratings. It was nominated for Best Drama at the 55th Baeksang Arts Awards and although it lost to My Mister, Kim Hye-ja took home the Grand Prize. Nam Joo-hyuk played the male protagonist.
4. One Spring Night – 13.41%
Interestingly, MBC’s One Spring Night is also headlined by Han Ji-min, who plays a woman whose unhappy relationship with her long-time boyfriend leads her to fall in love with a single dad (Jung Hae-in). The drama comes from the same writer-PD team who gave us Something In The Rain, so some fans worried that it might have a disappointing open-ended finale that is usually found in the director’s past works. Thankfully, the conclusion was sweet and satisfying. On a different note, I find it quite interesting that this and the two dramas previously mentioned (no. 9 and 10) showcase a character who has had a past relationship and finds happiness with a new partner. And by “past relationship,” I don’t mean simply having a girlfriend or boyfriend; I’m referring to marriage, divorce, and having a kid. This kind of shows seem to be more realistic by veering off the typical romance tropes. One Spring Night is MBC’s only representative on this list.
3. The Last Empress – 16.87%
SBS’s The Last Empress is the most talked about Korean drama in the month of February. Set in a modern-day monarchy, it centers on a struggling musical actress (Jang Na-ra) whose life makes a U-turn when she ties the knot with the emperor (Shin Sung-rok). However, when she gets entangled in a series of strange events involving murder, things did not become easier for her. Choi Jin-hyuk is also starring in the series as a royal bodyguard who wants to take revenge against the royal family for his mother’s death. The show became so successful that its broadcast got extended by one week, despite Choi having to leave the production before filming the additional episodes due to scheduling conflicts. It is the second highest-rated Korean drama from January to June 2019, next only to The Fiery Priest.
2. Arthdal Chronicles – 19.84%
With a star-studded cast comprised of Song Joong-ki, Kim Ji-won, Lee Dong-gun, and Kim Ok-bin, it comes as no surprise that Arthdal Chronicles would make it to the Top 3. Dubbed as the first ancient historical Korean drama, this show centers on the mythical heroes of an ancient civilization found in the fictional land of Arth. Its production team is led by the PD of award-winning drama My Mister and the screenwriters of the critically-acclaimed sageuk Tree With Deep Roots. The series topped the buzzworthy drama ranking during its entire run (six weeks), achieving a peak buzz record of 28.31 percent. It also achieved above-average TV ratings but it failed to dominate the list of the highest-rated K-dramas in the first half of 2019. In a departure from the norm, the last six episodes of the 18-episode show will be broadcast two months after the 12th episode was aired. It will return on tvN and Netflix beginning September 7.
1. Sky Castle – 32.77%
By a wide margin, Sky Castle beat Arthdal Chronicles to be the most talked about Korean drama in the first half of 2019. With an average and peak buzz score of 32.77 and 36.98 percent, respectively, this show became phenomenal and incredibly popular. Its TV ratings—making it the highest-rated cable drama of all time (in terms of peak audience share)—tell the same story. It’s a well-known fact that the show boasts a solid script and exceptional direction, for which its PD won Best Director at the 55th Baeksang Arts Awards. The cast also did an amazing job, particularly Yum Jung-ah and Kim Byung-chul who won Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, at the said award ceremony. Sky Castle is a highly recommended satirical drama that mocks the elite families’ obsession with sending their kids to the best universities in South Korea.
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