If you’re a fan of science fiction and fantasy films and series, you probably also like getting lost in the world of the characters and solving the mystery together with them. While Korean dramas boast of their extensive list of romantic dramas that pretty much started the Hallyu wave across the international platforms, their crime thrillers, fantasy, and sci-fi shows are almost up to par in terms of hype.
Almost all broadcasting networks have produced some pretty impressive and mind-blowing series, such as SBS’s My Love from the Star, tvN’s Memories of the Alhambra, OCN’s Tunnel, and KBS2’s Are You Human?, among others. Below are eight sci-fi and fantasy dramas you can binge-watch to either play detective or get lost in fantasy worlds.
1. My Love From the Star (2013–2014)
After landing in the Joseon era and failing to catch his ride back to his planet, a wandering alien, played by Kim Soo-hyun (The Producers) gets trapped on Earth for 400 years. In order to keep his secret hidden, he changes identity every 10 years to keep people from suspecting him as his appearance never changes. Three months before his scheduled return home, he meets and unexpectedly becomes neighbors with a rather odd and rising actress, played by Jun Ji-hyun (The Legend of the Blue Sea), who has a strange resemblance to the girl he fell in love with back in the Joseon period. When danger starts to lurk around her, he inevitably finds himself saving her. With constant high viewership ratings, My Love From the Star was a massive global hit back in 2014. It received positive feedback from international critics. The show instantly became one of the most watched drama series in the history of Korean entertainment.
2. Memories of the Alhambra (2018–2019)
Memories of the Alhambra was another one of Korean drama’s commercial successes in the international platform as it continuously topped viewership ratings for its episodes. The drama was praised for its concept of augmented reality, fast-paced plot, impressive CGI, captivating cinematography, and cast performance. The show follows the character of Hyun Bin (Crash Landing on You), a CEO of a company that invests in optical devices. He travels to Spain to meet a famous game creator, played by EXO’s Chanyeol (Secret Queen Makers), who designed an AR game of medieval battles featuring the real-life Alhambra Palace in Spain. However, the creator suddenly goes missing, and the CEO finds himself entangled in a web of mysterious events with the game creator’s sister, played by Park Shin-hye (Doctors). Together, they team up in an attempt to solve the mystery as the line between the real world and the AR world starts to blur.
3. Circle: Two Worlds Connected (2017)
Circle: Two Worlds Connected is first set in 2007, where two fraternal twin brothers, along with their scientist father, accidentally discover a female humanoid alien. The family brings her into their home, and the brothers forms a close relationship with her. However, after discovering her secret of a highly advanced technology that turns memories into videos, the father takes her into isolation and studies her. After which, he never returned home. Fast forward to 2017, a string of suicides in his university makes one of the brothers suspect the deaths as murder, while linking the crimes to his twin brother who is desperately searching for aliens. Eventually, the former meets another student who looks exactly like the female alien they adopted as children. In 2037, where earth is divided into two worlds of chaos and peace, a detective investigates the disappearance of two twin brothers back in 2017. Starring Yeo Jin-goo (Hotel del Luna), Gong Seung-yeon (Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency), Kim Kang-woo (Woman of 9.9 Billion), and Lee Gi-kwang (Lovely Horribly), the series highlights two parallel story lines as the characters struggle between the period of time set in the years 2017 and 2037 with their discovery of an alien technology that could decide the fate of the entire human existence.
4. A Korean Odyssey (2017–2018)
A Korean Odyssey is a spin-off from the classic Chinese novel titled “Journey to the West” but with a modern take. It centers on the story of a girl who has the ability to see spirits and gets deceived by an immortal being. She frees the immortal from imprisonment in exchange that he be of service to her when she needs help, on the condition that she calls his name. But after being freed, the immortal being wipes her memory of his name and flees. After 25 years of disappearance, the two meet again in a fateful encounter. This time, she is able to trick him into wearing a magical bracelet that forces him to act in love with her and follow her whims. Starring Lee Seung-gi (Vagabond), Oh Yeon-seo (Love with Flaws), Cha Seung-won (Splendid Politics), and Lee Hong-gi (Melting Me Softly), the series is an action- and fantasy-packed love story of tragedy and sacrifices, and of how love ties two conflicting characters. The show is a reunion project among Lee Seung-gi, Cha Seung-won, Lee Hong-gi, the Hong sisters, and even director Park Hong-kyun, who have worked together in the past, albeit not all in one show but in other TV series.
5. While You Were Sleeping (2017)
Praised for its fast-paced plot, creative scenes, and mind-boggling twists, the legal and fantasy drama takes the concept of clairvoyance into the dream world. While You Were Sleeping follows three characters who are able to foresee the future through their dreams. Bothered by these dreams that turn into their realities, a field reporter, played by Bae Suzy (Vagabond); a prosecutor, played by Lee Jong-suk (Romance Is a Bonus Book), and a police officer, played by Jung Hae-in (A Piece of Your Mind), team up to prevent the crimes and catastrophic events in their dreams from happening to each other, and eventually take down one common enemy, a corrupt lawyer played by Lee Sang-yeob (Good Casting). This is actually Lee Jong-suk’s third time to work with the show’s screenwriter Park Hye-ryun after their collaboration in I Can Hear Your Voice (2013) and Pinocchio (2014–2015), while this is Bae Suzy’s second time to work with writer Hye-run after their hit series Dream High (2011).
6. Are You Human? (2018)
To cope up with the longing and sadness from being apart from her son, a renowned scientist builds AI robots who look exactly like her son to keep her company. When an attempt on her son’s life sends him into a coma, she replaces him with one of the robots in order to continue his duties and keep his position as heir of a conglomerate. Oblivious of her AI boss’s real identity, a female bodyguard tries to uncover the truth but unexpectedly falls in love with him. Now, she must protect him from the same people who tried to murder the real heir, who is still in a deep coma. Starring Seo Kang-joon (When the Weather Is Fine), Gong Seung-yeon (Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency), and Lee Joon-hyuk (365: Repeat the Year), the sci-fi fantasy series features a AI and human love story that dares defy the odds. The production of Are You Human? (Also known as Are You Human Too) was said to have taken two years to complete and cost 10 billion KRW (9.23 million USD). It was also screened at the Cannes International Series Festival before the show’s premiere date.
7. Tunnel (2017)
Inspired by the real life Hwaseong serial murders, Tunnel was an international hit, specifically in China. The story starts in 1986 where an exceptional detective, played by Choi Jin-hyuk (Rugal), mysteriously travels 30 years into the future after passing through a tunnel when he was following leads for a homicide case. There, in 2016, he partners up with an eccentric but highly-skilled detective, played by Yoon Hyun-min (My Holo Love), to investigate the resumed crimes of the serial killer that Jin-hyuk’s character has been investigating back in 1986. With the help of a psychology professor and consultant, played by Lee Yoo-young (The Lies Within), the detective duo embarks on a mission to stop the killings and catch the murderer. The show is often compared to the 2016 hit Signal, with their similar time warp trope and crime thriller genre. It is often praised by viewers as a worthy rival, although it is less dynamic than the 2016 sensation in terms of story line progression.
8. The Bride of Habaek (2017)
The Bride of Habaek is a spin-off of the popular manhwa called “Bride of the Water God” written by Yoon Mi-kyung back in 2006. It tells the story of a conceited and self-centered water god, played by Nam Joo-hyuk (The Light in Your Eyes), who goes down to modern day Seoul in search of the three divine stones that will help him get his throne. To accomplish this, he seeks the help of his fated bride, played by Shin Se-kyung (Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung), a psychiatrist who is a modern skeptic. She thinks the man who claims to be the water god is delusional, unaware that her family and ancestors are destined servants of the water god. Things gets even more complicated when the other celestial beings—the water goddess played by Krystal Jung (Player), the wind god played by Gong Myung (Be Melodramatic), and the semi-god played by Lim Ju-hwan (The Game: Towards Zero)—all decide to come down to earth as well. The show was well received internationally, and viewers lauded the show for its lack of overly dramatic sidelines and presence of some interesting turns of events in the story.