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

Yes, this is a ranking of the highest-rated Korean dramas of all time (in cable TV) that will be updated every time a new drama breaks a record and unseats another show. tvN dramas make up 70% of all the shows in this list while those which aired in 2018 represent 45% of the total. The latter statistic is not surprising at all, given that the cable dramas last year recorded a 41% increase in their overall average rating year-on-year according to this report.

Take note that this ranking is based on the average nationwide TV ratings of the series (data from Nielsen Korea), and thus reflects the popularity of the shows during their broadcast. The following are the 20 most watched or highest-rated cable Korean dramas of all time.

20. Lawless Lawyer (2018) — 6.1%

Lawless Lawyer Poster 1
  • TV Channel: tvN
  • Broadcast Schedule: Saturdays & Sundays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Legal Action
  • Director: Kim Jin-min
  • Writer: Yoon Hyun-ho

Lawless Lawyer is an action-filled series starring Lee Joon-gi as the titular defiant lawyer. The hero is a former gangster who becomes a lawyer to avenge his mother’s death. He boasts a very high case success rate thanks to his particular style of dealing with cases using both his fists (literally) and the loopholes in law. Starring opposite Lee is actress Seo Yi-je, another feisty lawyer who gets her license suspended after attacking a court judge. The series was off to a very good start and concluded with almost 9 percent in nationwide viewership.

=17. The Light In Your Eyes (2019) — 6.3%

The Light In Your Eyes Poster 1
  • TV Channel: JTBC
  • Broadcast Schedule: Mondays & Tuesdays
  • No. of Episodes: 12
  • Genre: Melodrama
  • Director: Kim Suk-yoon
  • Writer: Lee Nam-kyu, Kim Soo-jin

=17. Misty (2018) — 6.3%

Misty Poster 1
  • TV Channel: JTBC
  • Broadcast Schedule: Fridays & Saturdays
  • No. of Episodes: 16
  • Genre: Mystery Melodrama
  • Director: Mo Wan-il
  • Writer: Jae In

Misty was highly praised for almost everything—writing, directing, cinematography, and acting. It was nominated for the Best Drama prize at the 54th Baeksang Arts Awards and won the Best Actress award for its lead Kim Nam-joo. She is playing a famous and ambitious anchorwoman whose life takes a sinister turn when she becomes a suspect in a high-profile murder case. His lawyer husband, played by Ji Jin-hee (Designated Survivor), then decides to defend her despite their broken marriage. The series started off its broadcast with just 3.5% rating but went on to achieve a peak viewership of 8.5%.

=17. Childless Comfort (2012-2013) — 6.3%

Childless Comfort Poster 1
  • TV Channel: JTBC
  • Broadcast Schedule: Saturdays & Sundays
  • No. of Episodes: 40
  • Genre: Family Drama
  • Director: Jung Eul-young
  • Writer: Kim Soo-hyun

Record-breaking series Childless Comfort unseated Reply 1997 from having the highest-rated Korean drama episode on cable television in 2013. It went on to become the first ever cable drama to achieve a double-digit viewership (with a peak of 10.7 percent), so imagine how gripping its story must have been to get those viewers tune in to the drama. The heart-warming family series revolves around how a family in the suburb of Seoul deal with societal discrimination when their very smart and highly educated granddaughter becomes pregnant and ends up a single mother.

16. Woman of Dignity (2017) — 6.5%

Woman of Dignity Poster 3
  • TV Channel: JTBC
  • Broadcast Schedule: Fridays & Saturdays
  • No. of Episodes: 20
  • Genre: Satire
  • Director: Kim Yoon-chul
  • Writer: Baek Mi-kyung

Woman of Dignity centers on a corporate heir’s wife, played by Kim Hee-sun (Room No. 9), who hires a female caregiver for her ailing and very wealthy father-in-law and ends up finding her luxurious life overturned by that woman (Kim Sun-ah). A “social drama” where the confrontation of two women symbolizes the power and class structures in the society, Woman of Dignity received critical acclaim and achieved a peak nationwide audience share of 12.1 percent, becoming the JTBC drama with the highest-rated episode in 2017.

15. 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%.

14. 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.

=12. 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.

=12. What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim (2018) — 7.4%

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%.

=10. Prison Playbook (2017) — 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

PD Shin’s second drama on this list, 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.

=10. Strong Woman Do Bong Soon (2017) — 7.6%

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.

=8. The Crowned Clown (2019) — 8.4 %

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

=8. Memories of the Alhambra (2018-2019) — 8.4 %

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%.

7. 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.

6. 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.

5. 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%.

4. 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.

3. 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.

2. 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.

1. 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.

ABOUT US: A site dedicated to Korean TV series, Kdramapal publishes up-to-date and relevant content about Korean dramas including casting news, drama rankings, roundups (recaps), synopses and general info, and TV ratings. Visit us again for updates, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Samfann

Samfann is a writer and editor for Kdramapal. He works closely with other writers to produce and publish online content. At the age of 21, he founded a Korean entertainment blog that went on to become a major player in the industry. He spends most of his free time watching American and Korean TV series and doing volunteer work for an online initiative that provides underserved students with grants and scholarships. He's also passionate about unique and revolutionary ideas that make the world a better place.

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