The giant streaming site Netflix has been adding more and more Korean content into its platform nonstop. With the ongoing global health crisis still pulling economies down and keeping people from going outside their homes, watching series and films at home has been providing entertainment for the most of us.
If you’re looking for Korean drama suggestions to binge-watch with your family or even by yourself, no worries. We have compiled a list of highly recommended series for you to watch on Netflix. The following are critically acclaimed and award-winning K-dramas that are available for both the US and Philippine audiences.
Misaeng: Incomplete Life (2014)
Starring Im Si-wan (Strangers from Hell) and Lee Sung-min (Money Game), Misaeng: Incomplete Life became a hit drama when it aired. It focuses on the story of a quiet but determined worker who fails to achieve his longtime dream of becoming a baduk player. Armed with only a high school equivalency exam and an acquaintance’s recommendation on his resume, he goes out to work at a trading company where he meets a harsh but kind-hearted mentor and other office colleagues with different personalities and stories. The drama aims to tell the realities of the corporate world, where workers may face competitions, experience discrimination, and come across harassment and harsh superiors. Misaeng: Incomplete Life won three major awards at the 2015 Baeksang Arts Awards—Best Director for Kim Won-seok, Best Actor for Lee Sung-min, and Best New Actor for Im Si-wan.
Reply 1988 (2015–2016)
Following Reply 1997 and Reply 1994, Reply 1988 is the third installment of tvN’s Reply series. Set in the title year, the drama revolves around five childhood friends played by Lee Hye-ri (Miss Lee), Ryu Jun-yeol (Lucky Romance), Go Kyung-pyo (Cross), Lee Dong-hwi (Pegasus Market), and Park Bo-gum (Record of Youth) who struggle as they venture through life and balance school, family, friendships, first loves, and growing up. The series was critically acclaimed and became a commercial success, with its final episode recording an 18.8% nationwide rating. In the 2016 Baeksang Arts Awards, the series won Best Director for Shin Won-ho and Best New Actor for Ryu Jun-yeol. It also became, and remains, one of the highest-rated dramas in Korean cable television history.
Signal features a magical radio that allows a criminal profiler in 2015 and a detective in the year 1989 to communicate. The drama revolves around an unusual team-up of three determined and headstrong cops as they attempt to solve and close cold murder cases. Starring Cho Jin-woong (Entourage), Lee Je-hoon (Where Stars Land), and Kim Hye-soo (Hyena), the crime-thriller drama became a massive success and received a variety of feedback from both its viewers and critics because of its gripping plot, well-written lines, and the notable cast performance. It eventually became one of the highest-rated dramas in the history of cable television in the country. The investigative fantasy series went on to win in the 2016 Baeksang Arts Awards, bagging the Best Drama, Best Actress for Kim Hye-soo, and Best Screenplay for writer Kim Eun-hee, as well as two Daesang awards (Grand Prize) from tvN10 Awards and 1st Asia Artist Awards for Cho Jin-woong.
Descendants of the Sun (2016)
Starring Song Joong-ki (Arthdal Chronicles), Song Hye-kyo (Encounter), Kim Ji-won (Arthdal Chronicles), and Jin Goo (Legal High), the medical action drama features a fictional country plagued with war and diseases. It follows the love story between a captain of the South Korean Special Forces unit and a medical doctor assigned to the said country. The series was an immense hit both locally and internationally, even boosting Korea’s tourism. It also had local adaptations in several Asian countries. The said series was reported to have revived the Hallyu (Korean wave) that has been lost for many years in Korean dramas during that time. Descendants of the Sun also bagged a total of 45 awards, including the Daesang (Grand Prize) at the 2016 Baeksang Arts Awards, and was recognized as the Most Popular Show of the Year by the Korea Broadcasting Advertising Corporation. The series also marked Song Joong-ki’s comeback drama after being discharged from his mandatory military enlistment. It was written by award-winning writer Kim Eun-sook.
Another Miss Oh (2016)
Having held the record of the highest audience rating for a tvN Monday-Tuesday show, Another Miss Oh became one of the highest-rated Korean dramas in cable television history. Due to its performance and popularity, the series received an extension of two more episodes and two additional specials. Starring Seo Hyun-jin (Black Dog), Eric Mun (Eccentric! Chef Moon), Jeon Hye-bin (Leverage), and Lee Jae-yoon (Alice), the series follows four people who suffer misfortunes and heartbreaks because of a mistaken identity. Two women who share the same name got mixed up by their lovers, who took matters into their own hands, further threatening their romance. The drama got a nomination for Best Screenplay and Best Director at the 2017 Baeksang Arts Awards, while Seo Hyun-jin took home the Best Actress award of the same ceremony.
Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (2016–2017)
2016 was such a year for award-winning writer Kim Eun-sook, with her two series Descendants of the Sun and Guardian: The Lonely and Great God becoming immensely popular and well-received both locally and internationally, even making it to the list of the highest-rated dramas in free-to-air TV and cable categories, respectively. Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, one of her works under the fantasy genre, consistently topped viewership ratings with every episode. In addition, the songs from the drama’s official soundtrack (OST) remain some of the most-viewed OST music videos on YouTube. Starring Hallyu star Gong Yoo (Big) and then rising actress Kim Go-eun (The King: Eternal Monarch), the series follows the 900-year-old cursed general who seeks a bride who will be able to pull out the sword in his chest, finally ending his miseries of almost a thousand years. Of course, he eventually falls in love with her, making his journey to death more complicated and filled with struggles. The leads are also joined by stars Lee Dong-wook (Strangers from Hell), who plays the 300-year-old Grim Reaper with a tragic past as a King in the Joseon era; Yoo In-na (Touch Your Heart), who plays the reincarnation of the goblin’s sister and the late wife of the said King; and idol-turned-actor Yook Sung-jae (Mystic Pop-up Bar), who plays the goblin’s indirect nephew.
Starring Cho Seung-woo (Life) and Bae Doona (Kingdom 2), Stranger centers on a prosecutor who lost his ability to feel empathy due to a corrective brain surgery years ago and his odd team-up with a tough and determined police lieutenant. Together, they attempt to investigate a mysterious murder case that leads them to uncover an even bigger political corruption scheme. The show was renewed for a second season this year, which premiered in August. The first season became locally and internationally successful, becoming one of the highest-rated cable dramas in Korea as well as the only Korean show to be listed in The New York Times’s Best International TV Shows of 2017. It also won the Daesang (Grand Prize) for Television, Best Actor for Cho Seung-woo, and Best Screenplay for writer Lee Soo-yeon at the 2018 Baeksang Arts Awards. The main character of the series is said to be the embodiment of the popular Korean adage, “We cannot rule those who want nothing.”
Prison Playbook (2017–2018)
Prison Playbook tells the heart-wrenching story of the people behind bars, the officers assigned to their facilities, as well as their families. Starring Park Hae-soo (The Legend of the Blue Sea) and Jung Kyung-ho (Hospital Playlist), the series follows a superstar baseball pitcher who was jailed after saving his sister from being sexually assaulted. Coincidentally, the elite prison guard in his facility was his best friend. The drama marks Park Hae-soo’s first-ever lead role. It was directed by Shin Won-ho, the award-winning director of the Reply franchise, and was written by one of the franchise’s junior writers, Jung Bo-hoon. It bagged the Best Supporting Actor award for Park Ho-san (Dinner Mate) and Most Popular Actor award for Jung Hae-in (A Piece of Your Mind) at the 2018 Baeksang Arts Awards.
Mr. Sunshine (2018)
Starring veteran actor Lee Byung-hun (Iris), Kim Tae-ri, Yoo Yeon-seok (Hospital Playlist), Kim Min-jung (My Fellow Citizens), and Byun Yo-han (The Roots of Throne), Mr. Sunshine follows a boy born into slavery who was able to escape to the United States and eventually becomes a US Marine Corps officer. He returns to his homeland years later and falls in love with an aristocrat woman. He also unexpectedly uncovers a plot by foreign forces to colonize Korea. The series was also written by Kim Eun-sook, and like her aforementioned dramas, Mr. Sunshine became one of the highest rated K-dramas in the history of cable television. Lauded for its great cinematography and emotional narrative of the fight for Korea’s sovereignty, the series received various feedback from its audience as well as its critics, with the majority left feeling impressed with its detailed storytelling and the cast’s award-winning performance. The series also marks Kim Tae-ri’s debut in TV series, as well as writer Kim Eun-sook’s first-ever modern historical drama. Lee Byung-hun won the Best Actor award at the prestigious 2019 Baeksang Arts Awards for his performance in the drama.
SKY Castle (2018–2019)
Starring Yum Jung-ah (Secret Healer), Lee Tae-ran (Make a Woman Cry), Yoon Se-ah (Stranger 2), Oh Na-ra (Chip In), and Kim Seo-hyung (Nobody Knows), SKY Castle attempted to show a closer look at the lives of the higher class and influential families in South Korea and how they will do everything to keep being on top. A group of housewives living in a luxurious residential area called SKY Castle in suburban Seoul are dead set on enrolling their children at the top universities in the country, further improving their status in the society. The satirical drama series was immensely popular both locally and internationally, especially in China, and was extended from 16 to 20 episodes even before it started broadcasting. It remains as one of the the highest-rated dramas in Korean cable television history and received positive reviews from critics and audience alike. The series also won multiple awards, including four from the 2019 Baeksang Arts Awards. It was a commercial hit, with its episodes rising from 1% viewership ratings to double-digit viewership ratings percentage during its run.
When the Camellia Blooms (2019)
When the Camellia Blooms is definitely my favorite in this list. It’s a highly popular romantic K-drama of 2019 that won the Daesang (Grand Prize) award at the recently concluded 2020 Baeksang Arts Awards, with Kang Ha-neul bagging the Best Actor award. It follows a single mom who moved to a fictional countryside called Ongsan and opened up a bar to support herself and her son. She catches the attention of a charming and justice-driven police officer, who falls for her at first sight. Conflict arises when the child’s real father comes back to their lives, in hopes to get another chance to rebuild their family, and a serial killer on the loose threatens her and the safety of the whole town. Starring Gong Hyo-jin (Jealousy Incarnate), Kang Ha-neul (Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo), and Kim Ji-seok (My Unfamiliar Family), the series is filled with heartwarming romance, suspense, mystery, comedy, and some drops of bitter-sweetness. This show is everything you need for a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Although, I feel like the real love triangle in the series is not between the female lead and the two male love interests but between the two dads and Hyo-jin’s onscreen son Kim Kang-hoon (Kingdom 2), as both compete nonstop to woe the child and earn his approval.
Kingdom Seasons 1 & 2 (2019, 2020)
Kingdom is one of the first Netflix original Korean series that caught global attention, mainly for its plot, an almost-complete set of genres, star-studded cast, and a brilliant narrative that now seems quite timely with the world’s ongoing fight with a deadly enemy, COVID-19. The zombie thriller series received immense support and popularity from its global audience and fans. Starring Ju Ji-hoon (Hyena), Ryu Seung-ryong (Personal Taste), and Bae Doona (Stranger 2), Kingdom is set in the time of the Joseon dynasty and follows a crown prince’s fight for his people, and for his life, as he attempts to uncover a political conspiracy against him and his father, the King who is suffering from a sudden mysterious illness while in the middle of a zombie outbreak. Because of the series’ success, it was renewed for a second season that aired last March, and a third season is also being considered, with Hallyu star Jun Ji-hyun (The Legend of the Blue Sea) in talks of joining the cast.
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