Highest-Rated Korean dramas (cable) of all time [UPDATED]

This ranking of the highest-rated Korean dramas of all time (in cable TV) is updated every time a new drama breaks a record and unseats another series. 16 out of 20 dramas on this list were broadcast on tvN and four of them were directed by one director. You’re an avid K-drama fan if you can guess the name of that PD before you scroll down this page!

Take note that this ranking is based on the average nationwide TV ratings of the series from Nielsen Korea, and thus reflects the popularity of the shows during their broadcast (for a similar ranking based on highest individual episode ratings, go to this page). For the most-watched or highest-rated Korean dramas in free-to-air TV (non-cable dramas), click here.

20. Familiar Wife (2018) — 6.8%

Familiar Wife Poster 1
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Wednesdays & Thursdays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Fantasy Romance
  • Director: Kim Yoon-chul
  • Writer: Baek Mi-kyung

Familiar Wife follows the married life of an ordinary bank employee (Ji Sung) and a working mother (Han Ji-min, Spring Night) who are not happy with their present situation. He’s struggling at work and she’s too busy taking care of their kids that her own job is being compromised. They often argue over simple things and end up having a fight, so when a strange event allows them to travel back in time and live their younger lives, they think their problem is over. But they soon realize that the new future without their marriage is not something they really want. The series obtained a peak rating of 8.2%.

19. Another Oh Hae-young (2016) — 6.9%

Another Oh Hae-young Poster 1
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Mondays & Tuesdays
  • No. of Episodes: 18
  • Genre: Romantic Comedy, Fantasy
  • Director: Song Hyun-wook
  • Writer: Park Hae-young

Another Oh Hae-young is a mistaken identity romance drama about two women, one played by Seo Hyun-jin (The Beauty Inside), with the same name who went to school together and work at the same company and a man (Eric Mun) who gets tangled up with them. The series enjoyed great popularity among local and international fans, garnering a peak audience share of 10.0 percent. It has a unique story which earned a best screenplay nomination from the 53rd Baeksang Arts Awards and boasts an impressive performance from its cast members, especially Seo who took home the Best Actress prize at the said ceremony.

18. Reply 1994 (2013) — 7.4%

Reply 1994 Poster 1
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Fridays & Saturdays
  • No. of Episodes: 21
  • Genre: Romance, Comedy
  • Director: Shin Won-ho
  • Writer: Lee Woo-jung

The second installment of the Reply/Answer Me series follows six university students from the countryside who live together in a boarding house in Seoul and the boarding house owner’s daughter, played by Go Ara (Miss Hammurabi). The characters and their relationships are the shining jewels crowning this show, which got at least 6 nominations from the 50th Baeksang Arts Awards, including Best Drama, Director, and Screenplay. Reply 1994 is a sleeper hit which premiered with only 2.6% viewership but achieved a peak rating of 11.5 percent on its finale.

17. What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim (2018) — 7.45%

What's Wrong With Secretary Kim Poster 1
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Wednesdays & Thursdays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Romantic Comedy
  • Director: Park Joon-hwa
  • Writer: Jung Eun-young

What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim centers on a narcissistic and ambitious company vice president (Park Seo-joon) and his capable secretary (Park Min-young, Her Private Life) who find themselves getting into an awkward situation when she suddenly offers her resignation letter after working for him in the last nine years. Both lead actors are pretty good and adorable at portraying their characters. It’s a perfect drama for those who are into light romance that is thoughtful and with a substance. The show’s ratings peaked at 8.7%.

16. Prison Playbook (2017-2018) — 7.6%

Wise Prison Life Poster 3
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Wednesdays & Thursdays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Black Comedy
  • Director: Shin Won-ho
  • Writer: Jung Bo-hoon

Prison Playbook presents an unconventional and unique plot that focuses on life in prison. It follows the story of a star baseball player, played by Park Hae-soo, who becomes a criminal overnight and is forced to live life in prison as a consequence. The series became a commercial success, achieving a peak rating of 11.2 percent and solidifying PD Shin’s status as a star director. It received five nominations (including Best Director and Screenplay) from the 54th Baeksang Arts Awards and won Best Drama at the 12th Korean Cable TV Awards.

15. Strong Woman Do Bong Soon (2017) — 7.65%

Official poster of korean drama Strong Woman Do Bong Soon
  • TV Channel: JTBC
  • Broadcast Schedule: Fridays & Saturdays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Romantic Comedy, Fantasy
  • Director: Lee Hyung-min
  • Writer: Baek Mi-kyung

JTBC’s highest-rated Korean drama in 2017 is no. 9 overall. Strong Woman Do Bong Soon is about a woman—played by Park Bo-young (Abyss)—gifted with superhuman strength who becomes a bodyguard to a chaebol heir played by Park Hyung-sik (Suits). Written by the same screenwriter who penned Woman of Dignity, the drama became a commercial hit with a peak viewer rating of 9.7 percent. The series is enjoyable to watch and quite romantic, with darker crime elements that are balanced by the hilarious scenes.

14. The Crowned Clown (2019) — 8.41%

The Crowned Clown Poster
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Mondays & Tuesdays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Historical Drama
  • Director: Kim Hee-won
  • Writer: Kim Sun-deok & Shin Ha-eun

2019 is a great year for Yeo Jin-goo because two of his three dramas in that year are on this list! In The Crowned Clown, he played a Joseon King who puts his doppelganger on the throne amid power struggles that threaten his life. In terms of average ratings, this is the 2nd highest-rated cable K-drama in 2019. And it’s not hard to understand why. The cast delivered brilliant performances, with Yeo Jin-goo earning a Best Actor nomination at the 2019 Baeksang Arts Awards for his portrayal. He got nominated along with veteran and award-winning actors Lee Byung-hun, Kim Nam-gil, Lee Sun-kyun, Hyun Bin, and that is no mean feat! He’s one of the youngest actors in history to be nominated for the prestigious award.

13. Memories of the Alhambra (2018-2019) — 8.43%

Memories of the Alhambra Poster
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Saturdays & Sundays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Director: Ahn Gil-ho
  • Writer: Song Jae-jung

This show boasts a highly fresh and interesting concept that comes from the writer of W-Two Worlds. Fans became first interested in it knowing that the PD behind the award-winning thriller Secret Forest would lead the project and A-list actors Hyun Bin and Park Shin-hye signed up to play the main characters. It follows an investment company CEO (Hyun) who travels abroad to meet the creator of an innovative augmented reality (AR) game and finds himself entangled in a series of mysterious events after a high-ranking official of his company’s rival is found dead a few hours after their meeting. The drama’s viewership peaked at 10.0%.

12. Encounter (2018-2019) — 8.5%

Encounter Poster 1
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Wednesdays & Thursdays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Romance
  • Director: Park Shin-woo
  • Writer: Yoo Young-ah

With immensely popular actors playing its lead characters, Encounter is undeniably one of the most highly anticipated dramas of 2018. Well, the numbers attest to that. It enjoyed a double-digit viewership right off the bat, hitting 10% during its second episode. Although the ratings gradually decreased in the following weeks, they remained decent and averaged out to nearly 9%. Song Hye-kyo is starring as a hotel CEO who has everything in life but the freedom to do the things that would give her genuine happiness. Everything changes for her when she meets a free-spirited and ordinary young man (Park Bo-gum) while traveling abroad.

11. Signal (2016) — 8.8%

Signal poster
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Fridays & Saturdays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Crime Thriller
  • Director: Kim Won-seok
  • Writer: Kim Eun-hee

Signal is so good because it properly exploits the mystery and thrill aspect so profoundly, giving the viewers an emotionally gripping experience that would leave them in awe at certain scenes. It centers on a modern-day criminal profiler (Lee Je-hoon, Where Stars Land) who solves cold cases with the help of a detective (Cho Jin-woong, Entourage) from the past with whom he communicates through a mysterious walkie-talkie. The series received critical acclaim for its superb plot, solid acting, and sophisticated direction. It won Best Drama, Best Screenplay, and Best Actress at the 2016 Baeksang Arts Awards. It pulled in a peak rating of 12.5 percent.

10. Hotel del Luna (2019) — 8.9%

Hotel del Luna Poster
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Saturdays & Sundays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Fantasy Drama
  • Director: Oh Choong-hwan
  • Writer: Hong Jung-Eun & Hong Mi-Ran (a.k.a. Hong Sisters)

Hotel del Luna is Yeo Jin-goo‘s second drama on this list. This time he’s starring as a hotel manager who’s got an impressive educational background but ends up working for a hotel that caters only to very special guests—who are all ghosts! With IU as the female lead actress and the Hong sisters as the screenwriter, the fantasy romance series easily became the highest-rated cable drama that premiered and concluded in 2019. If you enjoy a horror romance story and a kickass female lead, this series is for you.

9. 100 Days My Prince (2018) — 9.0%

100 Days My Prince Poster 1
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Mondays & Tuesdays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Historical Drama, Romance
  • Director: Lee Jong-jae
  • Writer: No Ji-sul

Singer-turned-actor D.O. is starring in the series as a Joseon prince who wakes up one day a pauper, with no memory of his past as a member of the royal family. An ordinary maiden (Nam Ji-hyun) quickly becomes his friend and later his wife after they end up marrying each other in accordance with a law he himself previously created. She often lashes out at him for being a useless husband who can’t even do the simplest household chores but she develops genuine feelings for him. Their happiness and romance are interrupted when he regains his memory and needs to act as the rightful crown prince again. The drama hit 10% on its tenth episode and maintained a double-digit viewership until the finale. Its highest rating stands at 14.4%.

8. Hospital Playlist (2020) — 11.0%

Hospital Playlist Poster 2
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Thursdays
  • No. of Episodes: 12
  • Genre: Medical Drama, Slice of life
  • Director: Shin Won-ho
  • Writer: Lee Woo-jung

Hospital Playlist is the latest project from PD Shin Won-ho, who directed three other highest-rated Koran cable dramas on this list. It features an ensemble cast composed of Jo Jung-suk, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jung Kyung-ho, Kim Dae-myung, and Jeon Mi-do. They take on the roles of five best friends who attended the same medical school and now work together as doctors in one hospital. The story revolves around their daily lives as they maintain their unbreakable friendship and deal with other people at their workplace.

7. Itaewon Class (2020) — 11.8%

Itaewon Class Poster 4
  • TV Channel: JTBC
  • Broadcast Schedule: Fridays & Saturdays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Coming-of-age, Youth Drama
  • Director: Kim Sung-yoon
  • Writer: Jo Gwang-jin

Itaewon Class currently holds the title as the highest-rated webtoon-based drama. It was one of the most popular series in the first quarter of 2020, thanks to its relatable characters and story that was penned by none other than the author of the webtoon. Park Seo-joon played an ex-convict who works hard to become a big name in the restaurant industry and take revenge on the people who sent him to prison. This is one of those shows where the female lead character literally kicks the bad guys’ asses, so you might want to check this out to see how Kim Da-mi nailed her character.

6. Crash Landing on You (2019-2020) — 12.2%

Crash Landing On You Poster
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Saturdays & Sundays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Romance
  • Director: Lee Jung-hyo
  • Writer: Park Ji-eun

When Crash Landing on You was first announced, people couldn’t help but comment on its seemingly silly plot—a South Korean heiress lands on North Korean soil after a paragliding accident. But it turned out to be the most-watched drama in the first two months of 2020, with many viewers having gone gaga over its lead actors Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin. The story unfolds when a North Korean soldier (Hyun Bin) finds the heiress (Son Ye-jin) in the forest after the accident. He promises to help her return home, only to fall for her and make things even more complicated. You can see action, romance, comedy, and melodrama in this highly-recommended show.

5. Reply 1988 (2015-2016) — 12.4%

  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Fridays & Saturdays
  • No. of Episodes: 20
  • Genre: Family, Comedy, & Romance
  • Director: Shin Won-ho
  • Writer: Lee Woo-jung

This show lacks revenge arcs, convoluted revelations, or melodramatic romances that characterize many dramas out there. It simply tells the story of ordinary people living in the same neighborhood, showing realistic events surrounding the friendship, love, and family of the five major characters. It hit the headlines during its broadcast for its record viewership that set a new benchmark for cable drama ratings, achieving a peak rating of 18.8%. Lee Hye-ri (Two Cops) and Park Bo-gum (Encounter) are starring as a playful teenager and a professional Go player, respectively. The series received at least 8 nominations and won Best Director and Best New Actor at the 52nd Baeksang Arts Awards.

4. Sky Castle (2018-2019) — 12.5%

  • TV Channel: JTBC
  • Broadcast Schedule: Fridays & Saturdays
  • No. of Episodes: 20
  • Genre: Satire
  • Director: Jo Hyun-tak
  • Writer: Yoo Hyun-mi

Sky Castle is most likely the biggest sleeper hit in Korean cable TV history. It started its broadcast with a poor viewership of 1.7% but this figure increased 14-fold to 23.8% during its finale. In terms peak ratings, it is obviously the highest-rated Korean drama. The series focuses on a group of rich families (Yum Jung-ah). Aside from their exclusive neighborhood and affluent background, another thing they have in common with each other is their desperate desire to send their kids to the best medical school in the country. Sky Castle deals with a very serious issue in Korean society—the overly competitive education and the wealthy elite families’ obsession with having their children study in the most prestigious universities.

3. Goblin (2016-2017) — 12.9%

poster of Goblin
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Fridays & Saturdays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Fantasy Romance
  • Director: Lee Eung-bok
  • Writer: Kim Eun-sook

Goblin is a global hit series that received critical acclaim and became a cultural phenomenon in South Korea. Starring Gong Yoo and Kim Go-eun, it is an interesting series with a fresh and unique story woven beautifully throughout each episode, about a goblin who seeks to end his cursed immortal life and the human bride who can stop his immortality. The drama’s success is attributed to its creative plot and screenwriter who has a particular way of wooing the viewers into watching her show. Writer Kim Eun-sook won the Grand Prize at the 53rd Baeksang Arts Awards for this drama, while Gong Yoo took home the Best Actor award. The series recorded a peak rating of 18.7 percent.

2. Mr. Sunshine (2018) — 13.0%

Mr. Sunshine Poster 6
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Saturdays & Sundays
  • No. of Episodes: 24
  • Genre: Historical Drama, Romance
  • Director: Lee Eung-bok
  • Writer: Kim Eun-sook

Interestingly, Mr. Sunshine was directed and penned by the same director-writer pair who produced Goblin and the terrestrial series Descendants of the Sun. This period drama centers around a man (Lee Byung-hun) who is taken to the US as a child and returns home as an American Marine Corps officer during the time when foreign forces are threatening to colonize the land. After his return to Joseon, he meets a noblewoman (Kim Tae-ri) and falls for her. Praised for its history-rich plots and particularly strong female characters, the series received critical acclaim and positive reviews from both critics and ordinary viewers. The drama achieved a peak rating of 18.1% and became the top Korean drama in 2018 (beating 70 others) as far as the relative viewership performance is concerned. It is Sky Castle‘s biggest rival in the 55th Baeksang Arts Awards.

1. The World of the Married (2020) — 18.8%

The World of the Married Poster
  • TV Channel: JTBC
  • Broadcast Schedule: Fridays & Saturdays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Romantic Melodrama
  • Director: Mo Wan-il
  • Writer: Joo Hyun

The World of the Married kicked off its broadcast with a bang when it became the highest-rated drama premiere of JTBC. Its second episode saw a jump in ratings to 10 percent, making it the first-ever JTBC series to hit double-digit ratings on the second episode. The series stars Kim Hee-ae as a respected doctor whose relationship with her husband (Park Hae-joon) starts to fall apart after he betrays her. Many viewers described the first two episodes as amazing.

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InternJang

InternJang manages a team of writers to publish and promote content for Kdramapal every day. He began watching Korean dramas in 2014 and fell in love deeply with his all-time favorites Signal, Reply 1988, and Misaeng. His affinity for writing led him to start a blog and, later on, spearhead efforts to establish KDP as one of the most dependable sources of K-drama information online.
  • Can anyone clarify why Dr Romantic Teacher Kim 2 isn’t on this list. According to its wikipedia page it has also got the same rating as world of married, they why isn’t it included in this list????

  • I have observed the arguments, comments, responses on which are the best kdrama between the fans. Everyone seems to claim the kdramas that they have watched and loved should be among the best kdramas….and the list are so varied. These showed that each kdramas is very special and has special appeal to each individual. After finish watching the dramas we became so attached to it(cannot move on syndrome) and recommend to all our friends to watch the same kdramas.
    I myself attached to TKEM so much eventhough it has bad rating.
    To conclude most of kdramas are good and enjoyable to watch despite the cliches or what not due to great scripts, acting, directing etc etc.
    It gains popularity throughout the world even in western countries.
    So just enjoy…….Them.

  • It feels more like this list is the spark current viewership based on ratings over the past 5 or so years. My Love from Another Star had a viewership average of 24% for its entire series but was left out. Let’s not forget the behemoth that is Boys Over Flowers. I feel like this may be geared more towards newer interests rather than all time ratings.

    • HI manamina, thanks for commenting! The dramas you mentioned are NON-cable series, so they can’t be seen on this article. 🙂