Comprehensive Korean drama rankings set Kdramapal apart from other sites, so here we are presenting, albeit late, 18 Korean dramas with the highest ratings in 2020 from January to June. Like our previous TV ratings-based rankings, this article looks at the series that recorded the highest number of viewers in Korea during their broadcast. The dramas below are the most popular locally as far as viewership is concerned but bear in mind that they are not necessarily the best among the group (although being popular and “the best” are NOT mutually exclusive).
We have two rankings separating the cable dramas from the free-to-air (non-cable) ones. Both rankings included prime-time dramas that aired at least half of their episode count from January 1 to June 30 this year. Based on that requirement, we analyzed 41 series, all of which are ranked according to the sum of their average and peak ratings. Read on to find out which dramas claimed a spot in the Top 10, and where you can watch them.
(If you want to know more about our methodology, contact us.)
The top three finishers in free-to-air TV are some of the must-watch Korean dramas on Netflix these days. And you know what? They aired on SBS, which has 6 dramas in the Top 8. Great, although we could not help but point out one show that failed to meet expectations, at least ratings-wise.
The overall average rating of the 17 non-cable dramas in this category stands at 7.1 percent (SBS—11.2%, MBC—5.3%, KBS2—3.7%)
8. The King: Eternal Monarch (SBS) — 19.3%
Many viewers locally and abroad had anticipated the premiere of The King: Eternal Monarch because of its well-known cast (Lee Min-ho and Kim Go-eun) and celebrated screenwriter Kim Eun-sook, who gave the world Mr. Sunshine, Goblin, and Descendants of the Sun. Naturally, SBS wanted the show to set a record in TV ratings as did Kim’s previous dramas. But the result was a disappointing average of 7.7 percent and an eight-place finish on this ranking. You can watch this Korean drama on Netflix.
7. Nobody Knows (SBS) — 20.0%
Following her stellar portrayal of a college admissions coordinator in SKY Castle, Kim Seo-hyung returns to K-dramaland this year as a detective hell-bent on catching a serial killer who murdered her friend. Nobody Knows is thematically related to the critically acclaimed 2004 Japanese film of the same title that is based on true stories of children who are marginalized in society. You can watch this crime thriller on Kocowa, OnDemandKorea, Viki, & Viu.
6. Woman of 9.9 Billion (KBS2) — 20.4%*
The only KBS2 drama to surpass the 10%-mark in ratings during the first half of 2020, Woman of 9.9 Billion features Oscar-winning film Parasite actress Cho Yeo-jeong as a hopeless woman who happens to gain possession of 9.9 billion won. She thinks the huge sum of money will change her life overnight, but that is easier than done as she has to fight to keep it. Kim Kang-woo plays the male lead as an ex-detective. You can watch this series on Kocowa, OnDemandKorea, Viki, & Viu.
5. Good Casting (SBS) — 20.8%
Good Casting features girl power with three female National Intelligence Service agents who go undercover to infiltrate a tech company. Leading the cast is Choi Kang-hee, who previously played a similar role as a crime-fighting ajumma in both seasons of Queen of Mystery. The trio also includes Yoo In-young—who you might have seen as Baek In-ha in the 2018 movie adaptation of Cheese in the Trap—and award-winning actress Kim Ji-young (Graceful Friends). You watch this spy action Korean drama on Kocowa, OnDemandKorea, Viki, &Viu.
4. Never Twice (MBC) — 23.1%*
Fourth on the list of Korean dramas with the highest ratings in 2020 from January to June is Never Twice, the only MBC drama in this period to hit double-digit viewership. It marks Kwak Dong-yeon‘s first lead role in a series, which makes the drama’s rating success all the more meaningful to him. The story follows the lives of the regular guests of an inn, including the characters of Oh Ji-ho and Ye Ji-won. You can watch it on Kocowa, OnDemandKorea, Viki, & Viu.
3. Hyena (SBS) — 24.7%
Third placer Hyena, a Netflix original series, follows two polar opposite lawyers (Kim Hye-soo and Ju Ji-hoon) who join hands to take revenge against a law firm that scapegoated them. It was so good that it earned five nominations at the 2020 Baeksang Arts Awards, including Best Drama, Best Actor, and Best Actress. In case you want more from the performances of Kim and Ju, search for Signal and Kingdom, respectively. You can watch Hyena only on Netflix.
2. Hot Stove League (SBS) — 33.2%*
Runner-up Hot Stove League may have failed to top this ranking, but the prestigious 56th Baeksang Arts Awards recognized it as the BEST drama from April 2019 to April 2020. It is one example of a series that is objectively excellent and extremely popular among the viewers. The sports-themed drama tells the story of two managers (Namgoong Min & Park Eun-bin) who go all out to improve their bottom-ranked professional baseball team’s standing. You can watch it on Kocowa, Netflix, OnDemandKorea, Viki, & Viu.
1. Dr. Romantic 2 (SBS) — 45.4%
Claiming the no. 1 spot in this ranking of Korean dramas with the highest ratings in 2020 (January to June) in the free-to-air TV category is Dr. Romantic 2, a medical series headlined by Han Suk-kyu, Ahn Hyo-seop, and Lee Sung-kyung. It is a sequel that almost beat the first season (20.4% average & 27.6% peak), justifying the production of another installment in the future (fingers crossed!). You can watch this Korean drama on iQIYI, Kocowa, Netflix, OnDemandKorea, Viki, & Viu.
The top 5 on this list are definitely among the best Korean dramas on Netflix right now. tvN boasts the most number of dramas in the Top 10, with six, including the occult thriller written by Train To Busan director Yeon Sang-ho. Meanwhile, two historical series made the cut and both of them were broadcast by the same lesser-known TV network.
Overall, the average rating of the 24 Korean dramas that qualified for this ranking is 4.72 percent (JTBC—7.3%, tvN—4.8%, TV Chosun—4.3%, OCN—2.64%, Channel A—0.7%).
10. Black Dog (tvN) — 9.6%*
Rounding out the Top 10 is Black Dog, a drama about school teachers and their challenges every day at work. Seo Hyun-jin led the cast as a newbie teacher who has a lot to learn from an experienced colleague (Ra Mi-ran). The term “black dog” refers to feelings of depression, and if that is related to the drama’s title, the show must be heavy on the struggles of the main character to keep her dreams alive in the classroom. You can watch this Korean drama on Viki & Viu.
9. When My Love Blooms (tvN) — 9.7%
When My Love Blooms is a story of romance set in the past and present. Two university students (Park Jin-young & Jeon So-nee) fell in love with each other during their college days. Twenty years later, they meet again as a successful businessman (Yoo Ji-tae) and a struggling contract worker (Lee Bo-young). According to the drama’s director, the transition between past and present aims to tell viewers not to dwell too much on their past nor anticipate too much from their future. You can watch this romantic K-drama on iQIYI, Netflix, Viki, & Viu.
8. Selection: The War Between Women (TV Chosun) — 10.5%
This sleeper hit sageuk tells the story of a woman (Jin Se-yeon) who participates in the selection process for the new Queen of Joseon to find the mastermind behind the murder of her twin sister. Selection: The War Between Women also stars Kim Min-kyu as the King, and with a peak rating of 6.348 percent, remains to be the all-time highest-rated drama on TV Chosun in terms of single-episode rating. You can watch it on iQIYI & Viki.
7. King Maker: The Change of Destiny (TV Chosun) — 10.8%
Although King Maker: The Change of Destiny is second only to Selection: The War Between Women as far as peak ratings are concerned, it is the no. 1 TV Chosun drama of all time in terms of average ratings. Starring Park Si-ho and Go Sung-hee, the drama follows kingmakers with psychic abilities as they fight to get control of the monarchy. You can watch it on iQIYI, OnDemandKorea, & Viki.
6. The Cursed (tvN) — 11.0%
The Cursed is the first-ever drama written by Yeon Sang-ho, the director of the hit zombie flick Train to Busan. It centers on a reporter (Uhm Ji-won) bent on exposing an IT conglomerate’s wrongdoings, which leads her to encounter a teenager (Jung Ji-so) with supernatural abilities. PD Yeon said that he would “go on with” a second season if the drama’s ratings exceed 3 percent. Well, it did way better than that. You can watch this Korean drama on iQIYI, OnDemandKorea, & Viu.
5. Hi Bye, Mama! (tvN) — 12.0%
After a five-year hiatus, Kim Tae-hee (Yong-pal) returned to K-dramaland this year with fantasy comedy-drama Hi Bye, Mama!. She took on the role of a ghost who gets a second chance at life for 49 days, which she spends on reconnecting with her family. The series marks the first lead role of Lee Kyu-hyung, who rose to fame after playing supporting roles in Stranger and Prison Playbook. You can watch it on Netflix.
4. Hospital Playlist (tvN) — 25.1%
Hospital Playlist is the fifth Korean drama directed by PD Shin Won-ho, the man behind Prison Playbook, Reply 1988, Reply 1994, and Reply 1997. It is similar to Reply 1988 in that it focuses on five best friends, this time played by Jo Jung-suk, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jung Kyung-ho, Kim Dae-myung, and Jeon Mi-do. The series currently holds the record as the highest-rated Korean medical drama on cable TV of all time. You can watch it only on Netflix.
3. Itaewon Class (JTBC) — 28.4%
Itaewon Class is the third most-nominated TV series at the 56th Baeksang Arts Awards. Park Seo-joon headlined the drama as a small pub owner who wants to make a name in the food industry, a goal motivated by revenge against the CEO of a large company. He got nominated for Best Actor, while his co-star Kim Da-mi took home the Best New Actress award. The series also won Best Mini-Series Silver Bird Prize at the 2020 Seoul International Drama Awards. You can watch it on Netflix.
2. Crash Landing on You (tvN) — 36.4%*
The North Korean setting of Crash Landing on You sets it apart from other shows on this list. The drama unfolds when a South Korean heiress (Son Ye-jin) lands on North Korea after a paragliding accident, which explains why half of the story takes place in the secretive country. There, she befriends a North Korean soldier (Hyun Bin) who promises to help her return home. The series is one of only three Korean cable dramas that climbed past 20 percent in viewership. You can binge-watch it on Netflix.
1. The World of the Married (JTBC) — 47.2%
SKY Castle and The World of the Married are the other two cable dramas that achieved higher-than-20-percent TV ratings. The World is incredibly impressive because it hit 28 percent on its finale, the highest rating ever achieved by a Korean cable drama. It also boasts the highest average rating for any cable drama, thanks to a wild and gripping story about a wife (Kim Hee-ae) who gets the shock of her life upon learning that her husband and friends have been betraying her. You can watch this record-breaking Korean drama on iQIYI, Netflix, & Viu.
That’s it for the first half of the year! If you want access to the FULL ranking (41 dramas), please join our email list using the form at the bottom of this page. The ranking is published on the Most Talked-About Korean Dramas from January to June 2020, a downloadable content that we will send exclusively to our email subscribers on November 2, 2020.
*This series premiered in 2019. Our ranking took into account only the episodes that aired in 2020 when we determined the drama’s peak and average ratings.