Every year, there are a host of Korean dramas that start off promising before disappearing down the pits of low ratings and being forgotten. While it’s true that most K-drama fans choose to watch a show mainly based on the actors/premise and that ratings don’t always provide an accurate picture of how good or bad a show is, there are still many fans who seriously look at such figures to help them decide which dramas to watch or shelve. So for those who ignored certain series due to their poor ratings, you might want to read this article. We look at 10 of the lowest-rated Korean dramas in 2018 and try to analyze what didn’t click, and in some cases, if the dramas truly were better than the low ratings they received.
But before you scroll down the page and see the list, here’s a clarification you might want to read first: being “lowest-rated” in this context means that only a very small percentage of South Koreans viewers watched the drama while it was airing on TV. When drama X got 2.6 percent, the rating indicates that only 26 out of every 1,000 South Korean households that were watching TV at the time of X’s broadcast tuned it to watch the drama. For each drama listed below, you’ll see its TV channel, average and lowest nationwide TV ratings (in this exact order; data from Nielsen Korea) given inside the parenthesis beside the drama’s title, e.g. (MBC, 2.7%, 1.8%). And how did we decide which drama should be at no. 5 or 6 on this ranking? More on that at the bottom of this article.
MBC has the highest number (3) of dramas on this list and you know what? These three dramas aired on Mondays and Tuesdays, and so did four other series from JTBC, KBS2, and tvN. What’s wrong with this time slot? Meanwhile, kodus to SBS for not having a drama on this dreaded list!
10. Priest (OCN, 1.9%, 1.3%)
When OCN announced another exorcism drama, it was obvious that it wanted to ride the success of Kim Jae-wook starrer The Guest. Priest features an unusual mix of horror and medical genres, with a story about a group of exorcists teaming up with a young doctor to save the people of their town from a vengeful demon.
The drama stars Yeon Woo-jin as a Catholic priest whose mother was possessed and killed by a demon when he was a child, Park Young-woo as another priest who takes the former under his wing, and Jung Yoo-mi as a young doctor who rethinks her non-belief in God after she witnesses the exorcism of one of her patients.
Priest started slow story-wise as compared to The Guest, leading to low ratings, but fans who stuck to it vouch for it’s thrilling plot twists, compelling performances of the the main cast, and satisfying ending.
9. Risky Romance (MBC, 2.8%, 1.9%)
A medical rom-com—now that’s something you don’t hear about everyday! Lee Si-young starred in this series as an endocrinologist who believes people’s lives are controlled entirely by their hormones, while Ji Hyun-woo played a brilliant neurosurgeon who undergoes an extreme personality change after the death of his friend. He arouses the former’s curiosity and believing that the change in him is due to hormonal imbalance, she attempts to cure him, setting off an inadvertent rivalry between the two.
Risky Romance has all the ingredients to be a successful drama—exciting leading pair, a fun supporting cast, equal doses of romance, comedy and melodrama, as well as an original story. But it completely fell flat, losing out simply because of its inability to take risks and falling into boring K-drama cliches. The female lead is too naive, the male lead is too toxic, and the medical aspect of the show is hardly ever explored.
8. Bad Papa (MBC, 2.7%, 1.8%)
There are very few rules when it comes to picking K-dramas to watch and one of them, probably, is to always check out anything that has Jang Hyuk in it. After exploring a slightly comic turn through Wok of Love, Jang Hyuk returned as a struggling middle-aged father in Bad Papa. He played a boxing champion who lost all his fame and money because of a match gone wrong. 11 years later, in order to support his family, he enters the world of mixed martial arts.
Bad Papa received praise for Jang Hyuk’s stunning performance throughout its run and for tackling deep, moving messages about familial love. Unfortunately, its broadcast was postponed as many as three times due to MBC airing baseball games, which many speculate caused a dip in the ratings.
7. Feel Good To Die (KBS2, 2.7%, 1.9%)
Feel Good To Die continued the trend of office dramas adapted from web-comics, this time with a supernatural twist. The show stars Baek Jin-hee as an ordinary office worker who is caught in a mysterious time loop with her arrogant boss (played by Kang Ji-hwan) who always thinks he’s right and is disliked by every single one of his colleagues.
While the premise of an office romance is already tried and tested formula in K-dramas, the supernatural element of the show made for a refreshing watch. Another standout was Kang Ji-hwan taking the classic arrogant male lead trope and giving his character one of the most satisfying developments ever. Those looking for light, fun show with a side of romance will find this right up their alley, but if you prefer a plot-driven drama with dramatic moments, you might find this boring.
6. Welcome To Waikiki (JTBC, 1.8%, 1.5%)
JTBC jumped into the sitcom format with the wildly hilarious Welcome to Waikiki. The show features a mishmash of characters—Lee Yi-kyung as an accident-prone struggling actor, Lee Jung-hyun as an assistant director with temper issues, and Son Seung-won as a freelance movie writer—all running a guesthouse called Waikiki. One day, a single mother (Jung In-sun) shows at their doorstep with her baby in tow.
Now this is what you call a sleeper hit. Welcome to Waikiki may have gotten unimpressive ratings but it’s subsequent availability on major streaming platforms like Viki and Netflix has made it a kind of cult classic. The show deftly handled several aspects of what it means to be a struggling 20-something—from the heartbreak and hilarity to the small victories and failures, earning it the moniker of “youth comedy.” It’s one of those shows you can pick up anytime, for any episode, whenever you’re in the mood to laugh your pants off.
5. About Time (tvN, 1.6%, 0.9%)
After the success of Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo, any drama headlined by Lee Sung-kyung was bound to make waves. Especially since About Time’s premise is so unique—a fantasy romance between a woman who can see how much time people have left to live, and a man who can stop her own “death countdown” clock from ticking. In the drama, Lee Sung-kyung played a musical actress, her first “grown-up” character after a slew of mostly teen or student roles. Opposite her was Lee Sang-yoon as director of a cultural foundation.
So where exactly did the show falter? For one, the age gap relationship between the leads didn’t quite work out. The chemistry was missing, and the conflicts in the story seemed cliched and manufactured. The show boasted of promising supporting cast members like Han Seung-yeon and SF9’s Rowoon, but failed to utilize their potential by giving them filler arcs that only served to drag down the plot. If I had to pick one reason why this promising show went downhill, I would say lazy writing.
4. The Great Seducer (MBC, 2.2%, 1.5%)
The Great Seducer, also known as Tempted, is a Gossip Girl meets Cruel Intentions adaptation of a French novel, set in the world of wealthy 20-somethings playing dangerous love games. Woo Do-hwan played an arrogant heir who makes a bet with his friends to seduce a diligent college student played by Red Velvet’s Joy. Meanwhile, Moon Ga-young and Kim Min-jae explored negative roles as spoiled brats.
Owing to its big-name cast, the show started strong but after a couple of episodes, Joy and Woo Do-hwan began facing criticisms for their stony acting and lack of chemistry. The writers of the show became lazier and lazier with the secondary characters, with only Kim Min-jae, who played a baddie for the first time, receiving praise for his intense role. An unpredictable ending could have made the experience worth it, but alas, all we got was a rehashed, time skip happy ending that made little sense.
3. Dance Sports Girls (KBS2, 2.3%, 1.7%)
Based on KBS2’s acclaimed 2017 documentary, Dance Sports Girls (also known as Just Dance) is a teen drama with themes of friendship and chasing your dreams. It follows six high school girls who are preparing to take jobs at their town’s recently restructured shipyard while also juggling their dance aspirations with their grades. Park Se-wan starred in the series as a selfish high schooler while Jang Dong-yoon played a fellow student.
The only reason I can think this drama didn’t do well was a lack of promotions and big names. Just the fact that Park Se-wan was nominated for the new actress award in Baeksang and Jang Dong-yoon got himself recognized in KBS2’s year-end drama award ceremony for their performances in the show speaks volumes about how underrated it is. While Jang and Park’s chemistry and individual performances were both excellent, the show managed to craft extremely realistic and heart-warming secondary characters who made us laugh and cry with them. Our only complaint? At just 8 (16 half-hour) episodes, the drama left us wanting more of its wholesomeness!
2. Mistress (OCN, 1.2%, 0.8%)
A mystery thriller with not one, not two, but FOUR female protagonists? Never had a drama sounded better. To add to that, Mistress was an adaptation of the British TV series of the same name. Han Ga-in headlined the show as a cafe-shop owner and single mother, along with Shin Hyun-bin as a psychiatrist, Choi Hee-seo as a high school teacher, and Goo Jae-yee as an ambitious law firm secretary.
Mistress has a dark, mature story tackled in a manner similar to it’s themes, complete with shocking twists and explicit scenes. As far as breaking the mold for what is acceptable on TV goes, this drama took it on itself to become an example. All four actresses gave complex, nuanced performances with the cinematography of the show also making an impact on viewers. So why exactly did it get low ratings? Well, you know what they say about things that are far ahead of competition—the world just wasn’t ready for them.
1. A Poem A Day (tvN, 1.0%, 0.8%)
A Poem A Day, when announced, came across as yet another medical drama with an ensemble cast. It starred Lee Joon-hyuk as a physical therapy professor, Jang Dong-yoon as a physical therapy trainee who isn’t interested in studies, and Lee Yu-bi as a physical therapist who wanted to pursue poetry, but couldn’t because of her poor background.
In the end, the drama became exactly what it had promised to be—a slow, hopeful story with a gentle romance arc. That’s why it failed to get a response from viewers who are used to fast-paced romances full of skinship, because by comparison, Lee Joon-hyuk and Lee Yu-bi’s roles came off as overly boring and formal. Personally, I feel like this is a show best enjoyed by fans of quieter, slow burn dramas. The performances of all three lead actors makes the viewing experience worth it in the end, and even if the show doesn’t end in a mind blowing twist, it does make you stop for a while and ponder about your life and relationships.
So, which among these 10 shows do you think is/are underrated? Type your comments below and let me know!
Note on Methodology
The dramas above are not arranged simply based on their average or lowest ratings (thus the confusing order of dramas according to average ratings, and the presence of both terrestrial and cable shows in one ranking). Instead, each drama’s position on the list was determined by a composite score derived from the standardized average and peak ratings, with the latter having a weight of 60 percent. We ranked a total of 70 Korean dramas from last year, and the ones you’ve just seen are those at the bottom of the said ranking. We will release the full list soon. For relevant questions and clarifications, kindly contact us.
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