A lot of Korean dramas are produced every year. But contrary to popular belief, the productions are not mainly focused on the romantic-comedy genre. In fact, a good number of action and thriller series are in production annually, and they are not far behind the popular rom-com dramas.
Many K-drama fans are actually more into the gripping storylines and bone-chilling twists brought by thriller series. If you’re also a K-drama thriller fan on the look out for some recommendations on what to binge-watch before the quarantine ends, below are eight highly recommended and award-winning K-drama thrillers from the last decade.
The Chaser (2012)
When his fifteen-year-old daughter dies in a car accident, causing his wife to go into deep shock and commit suicide, a doting family man and respectable detective turns into a madman with a revenge-driven life. Upon learning that his daughter’s death was collateral damage in a politician’s desire to climb up to the presidential seat, he goes on a vengeance spree to make the man pay for ruining his life. Starring Son Hyun-joo (Justice), Kim Sang-joong (The Banker), and Go Joon-hee (Possessed), The Chaser went on to bag 20 wins from its 29 nominations from various award-giving ceremonies. Despite the show having up-and-coming stars (at that moment), the series still rose in popularity and success with its well-written plot and solid actor performances.
I Can Hear Your Voice (2013)
Starring Lee Bo-young (When My Love Blooms, ongoing), Lee Jong-suk (Romance Is a Bonus Book), Yoon Sang-hyun (Hold Me Tight) and Lee Da-hee (Search: WWW), I Can Hear Your Voice follows the story of a lawyer in pursuit of money and glory, having grown up in poverty. She eventually meets a high school senior with the ability to read other people’s thoughts when he looks into their eyes. He gained this ability after witnessing his father’s murder 10 years back, with which the lawyer is somehow connected. Together with another lawyer, the trio solves crime cases through unconventional means, proving that even if justice is blind, it can hear your voice. Because of its consistent rise in ratings, the series was extended from its original 16 episodes to 18. It was an international hit and was aired in many Asian countries.
Punch highlights the remaining six months in the life of the chief of the anti-corruption investigation team of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. Starring Kim Rae-won (Black Knight: The Man Who Guards Me), Kim Ah-joong (Live Up to Your Name), Seo Ji-hye (Dinner Mate, ongoing), Cho Jae-hyun (Cross), and On Joo-wan (The Lies Within), it tells the story of one man’s choices to achieve the greater good. Upon getting diagnosed with brain cancer, he traces back and reexamines his life. Before life runs out, he attempts to make his one last fight against the big, bad world and bring down his boss, a corrupt public official. The series aired in three Asian countries and went on to win several awards including the Best Screenplay (TV) at the 51st Baeksang Arts Awards in 2015 and a Daesang (Grand Prize) for Cho Jae-hyun at the 15th Gwangju International Film Festival.
Starring Lee Je-hoon (Where Stars Land), Cho Jin-woong (Entourage), and Kim Hye-soo (Hyena), Signal centers on a magical radio transciever that has the ability to connect two strangers from two different periods of time. In the year 2015, a criminal profiler picks up an old walkie-talkie by accident and receives a message from a strange voice. The signal comes from a detective living in the year 1989. Using the limited capability of the said device, the detective attempts to solve a crime presently happening in his time based on the current information that the profiler has in 2015. With each solved case, the present is changed by the past, gradually affecting the future. The series was an immense success; it received a variety of positive feedback both from viewers and critics because of its gripping storyline, well-written lines, and the actors’ notable performances. It was also remade into a Japanese and a Chinese series that aired in 2018 and 2019, respectively. The series won several awards from various award- giving bodies, including the prestigious 52nd Baeksang Arts Awards for Best Drama and two Daesang (Grand Prize) from tvN10 Awards and 1st Asia Artist Awards for Cho Jin-woong.
Starring Cho Seung-woo (Life) and Bae Doona (Kingdom 2), Stranger follows the story of a prosecutor who lacks empathy (as a result of corrective brain surgery) and social skills and a determined, headstrong police lieutenant on a dangerous mission of investigating a mysterious murder case. This eventually brings them to uncover the biggest political corruption scheme. The show was listed by The New York Times as one of the Best TV Shows of 2017. The series was eventually renewed for another season, which is to air on July this year. It also won the Daesang (Grand Prize) for Television at the 54th Baeksang Arts Awards in 2018. The creation of the main character was said to have been inspired by the Korean adage, “We cannot rule those who want nothing.”
W: Two Worlds Apart (2016)
Exploring the mix of thrilling and romantic scenes set in a fantasy world, W: Two Worlds Apart features parallel universes—the real world and the world inside the webtoon “W.” Starring Lee Jong-suk (Romance Is a Bonus Book) and Han Hyo-joo (Dong Yi, Treadstone), the series follows a surgeon who was sucked into an alternate universe inside the popular webtoon that her father created. While in the webtoon world, she meets its lead character, a former Olympic athlete turned multimillionaire who built his own television broadcasting company in an attempt to discover the truth behind his family’s massacre and find the culprit. The series is Han Hyo-joo’s comeback to the small screen after six years.
Starring Kim Nam-joo (My Husband Got a Family) and Ji Jin-hee (Designated Survivor: 60 Days), Misty follows the story of a popular news anchor who becomes the main suspect in a murder case. She turns to her husband, who is a public lawyer, to be her legal counsel despite their problematic marriage. Korea Communications Commission rated the show 19 for its first four episodes because of several scenes containing violence and sexual content. This was later on changed to rated 15 by episode 5. This is Kim Nam-joo’s drama comeback after six years, as well as musical actor Im Tae-kyung’s debut in the small screen. Kim Nam-joo’s work on the show won her the Best Actress Award in three different awards ceremonies, including the prestigious 54th Baeksang Arts Awards in 2018.
Kingdom Seasons 1 & 2 (2019, 2020)
Kingdom is a zombie thriller series set in the Joseon period. It was the first original K-drama series that Netflix produced and released on its platform. Because of its huge success, the franchise was renewed for a second season, which also received immense support from audience and fans. A third season is also rumored to be in the works. Starring Ju Ji-hoon (Hyena), Ryu Seung-ryong (Personal Taste), Bae Doona (Persona), and more, the series follows the story of a crown prince on a dangerous mission of uncovering a political conspiracy and investigating his father’s mysterious illness. Eventually, a man-eating plague breaks out, bringing the whole kingdom into chaos and the citizens on the edge of survival. With the help of a physician, hope emerges in the form of a resurrection plant that is said to have the ability to end the plague. Now, the crown prince must put an end to the political turmoil while trying to save his people from an outbreak that hell has set loose to end the Joseon dynasty.