A lot of us in K-dramaland are always on the lookout for good Korean dramas to binge-watch, and what surefire way than to browse the list of the prestigious Baeksang Arts Awards winners? It is an annual awards ceremony held to recognize the best and brightest stars, crew, and works in film, TV, and theater.
The following are the winners of the Baeksang Arts Awards Grand Prize and Best Drama categories from 2011 to 2020.
When the Camellia Blooms (Grand Prize, 2020)
When the Camellia Blooms tells the story of a single mother who moved to a fictional town called Ongsan and manages a bar in order to support herself and her son. A police falls for her at first sight, and when a serial killer resurfaces and threatens her, he seeks the help of the whole town to protect her. Filled with lighthearted romance, suspense, comedy, and some drops of character relatability, this show is guaranteed to give everyone a roller-coaster ride of emotions. This series also landed Kang Ha-neul (Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo) his win as Best Actor in the recently concluded 56th Baeksang Arts Awards. Gong Hyo-jin‘s (Don’t Dare to Dream) notable acting in the series as his love interest also made them such an adorable onscreen couple. Although, the real love triangle in the series proved to be between Hyo-jin’s onscreen son Kim Kang-hoon (Kingdom 2) and his two dads Ha-neul and Kim Ji-seok (My Unfamiliar Family), who alternately compete for the child’s attention and approval.
Stove League (Best Drama Award, 2020)
Two managers are determined to create the best baseball team and aim for them to reach the top of the league. Caught between the engaging scenes and the excellent storytelling is the characters’ determination to reach their goals. The viewers were able to feel their perseverance to climb to the top in their field, which made everyone who watched the show cheer for them in their journey. Even with the zero romance, Namkoong Min (Doctor Prisoner) and Park Eun-bin (The Ghost Detective) proved you don’t need the good ol’ romance genre to reel in the interest of the viewers. Aside from the inevitable free baseball lessons, Stove League is also insightful in terms of the characters’ personalities and relationship with each other and the profound hardship in life when struggling towards one’s dreams.
My Mister (Best Drama Award, 2019)
Three brothers who are experiencing middle-life crisis come across one strong, cold young woman, and together, they embark on a meaningful journey towards healing, self-forgiveness, and redemption. My Mister stars Lee Sun-kyun (Diary of a Prosecutor) and Lee Ji-eun (IU) (Hotel del Luna). Its beautifully written narrative, sentimental similarities with today’s realities, and relatable characters made the viewers warm at heart. Despite the inevitable flaws, the series highlights a different kind of heart-tugging romance between the lead characters, far more different than the conventional one we always see in films and TV shows. As the drama received critical acclaim for its direction and screenplay, the cast themselves also received positive feedback for their performances. It was a commercial success overall, with its episodes topping audience ratings every week.
Stranger (Grand Prize, 2018)
Starring Cho Seung-woo (Life) and Bae Doona (Kingdom 2), the series tells the story of a prosecutor who lacks empathy and social skills because of a brain surgery and a determined, headstrong police lieutenant. They embark on a mission to investigate a mysterious murder case that eventually leads them to uncover the biggest political corruption scheme. Stranger was listed by The New York Times as one of the Best International TV Shows of 2017 and was eventually renewed for another season. The second season was scheduled to air in July this year, but because of the pandemic, the premiere is yet to be determined. The creation of the main character was said to have been inspired by the Korean adage, “We cannot rule those who want nothing.”
Mother (Best Drama Award, 2018)
Mother tells the motherly tale of how a grade-school teacher steps up for one of her students who is being abused at home. Because of a dilemma, she makes the inevitable choice to kidnap her from her abusive home and attempts to stand as her stepmother. Lauded for its exquisite look into motherhood and the ugly truth inside the homes of the abused and the neglected, the series is an equally emotional journey that showcases the realistic instances of the characters. The show is a remake of the award-winning 2010 Japanese TV series with the same title. Despite the loopholes, Lee Bo-young (When My Love Blooms), Heo Yool (The Guest), and Lee Hye-young (Lawless Lawyer) were still able to make it through and provide an entertaining and tearjerking drama for its viewers.
Dear My Friends (Best Drama Award, 2017)
Dear My Friends is a heartwarming story between friends as they go through old age and the last stage of their lives. It features stars Go Hyun-jung (My Lawyer, Mr. Jo 2: Crime and Punishment), Kim Hye-ja (The Light in Your Eyes), Na Moon-hee (Father I’ll Take Care of You), Go Doo-shim (When the Camellia Blooms), Park Won-sook (The Last Empress), Youn Yuh-jung (Never Twice), Joo Hyun (Never Twice), Kim Young-ok (The King: Eternal Monarch), and Shin Goo (My Mister). In the drama, the characters attempt to live their last moments the best way they could. The series became a tribute to the whole cast, who are each an icon and veteran in the entertainment industry and have poured their very best performances in their whole career into their characters. With a definite award-winning cast and narrative, heartwarming plot, and good directing, the series was expected to give a heartbreak like no other, and it did deliver. Between the comedy and the adorable relationship among the characters is a beautiful storytelling of a lifelong friendship that anyone in their old age can relate to.
Descendants of the Sun (Grand Prize, 2016)
Descendants of the Sun is a romance story between a soldier and a medical doctor, played by Song Joong-ki (Arthdal Chronicles) and Song Hye-kyo (Encounter), who are both assigned to the fictional country called Uruk that is plagued with war and diseases. It went on to become a huge success for both the production team and Korea in terms of tourism, culture, and economy. Aside from the peak audience rating of 38.8% domestically, it was also massively popular outside of Korea and had local adaptations from several Asian countries. The success of the series was said to have revived the Hallyu or Korean wave, which then was consistently declining over the years. The series marked Song Joong-ki’s comeback to the TV screen after his discharge from his military enlistment.
Signal (Best Drama Award, 2016)
When a mysterious walkie-talkie allows a criminal profiler from 2015 to communicate with a detective from 1989, the unexpected duo work together to prevent crimes in the past and solve cases in the present. But along with the limited power of the radio comes inevitable consequences they have no complete control of. Signal was a huge success, receiving positive feedback both from viewers and critics because of its gripping narrative, well-written lines, and the actors’ notable performances. Lee Je-hoon (Where Stars Land) and Kim Hye-soo (Hyena) have proven again and again why thrillers and crimes genre are their forte, and they are also joined by veteran actor Cho Jin-woong (Entourage), who has proven himself as an equal in terms of acting performance.
Heard It Through the Grapevine (Best Drama Award, 2015)
Starring Yoo Jun-sang (Liver or Die), Yoo Ho-jeong (A Little Love Never Hurts), Lee Joon (My Father Is Strange), and Go Ah-sung (Life on Mars), Heard It Through the Grapevine features a satirical black comedy narrative of the lives of Korea’s wealthy class. The reputation of a prestigious family suddenly gets wrecked after their son impregnates his lover who comes from a rather ordinary social background. The series’ success can be noted from its dramatic execution of scenes, the solid performance of the cast, well-laid plot, clever directing, and good music choices. The young couple is comprised of a smart, intuitive, and selfless young woman, who is prepared to sacrifice her happiness for her unborn child and is a timeless image of a strong mother, and a young man torn between his romance and the expectations from his family and other circumstances.
Good Doctor (Best Drama Award, 2014)
Set in the world of a hospital, Good Doctor highlights the medical journey of a genius autistic doctor, played by Joo Won (My Sassy Girl), with an excellent memory and impressive spatial skills. Because of his mental and emotional condition, he often has to prove himself and overcome daily challenges and doubts about him. Because of the underlying social message of the show, the series became one of the most successful and watched medical dramas. It received awards and recognition for creating awareness and shedding light to people with special needs and their potential contribution to the society. The show received the plaque of recognition from the Korea Association of the Welfare Institutes for the Disabled and an award from the Disability Awareness Campaign Headquarters.
The Chaser (Best Drama Award, 2013)
A caring father and doting husband goes on a vengeance spree after his fifteen-year-old daughter is killed in a car accident, and his wife goes into deep shock and commits suicide. Upon learning that his daughter’s death was collateral damage in a politician’s election campaign, he vows to make the man pay for ruining his life. Starring Son Hyun-joo (Itaewon Class), Kim Sang-joong (The Banker), and Go Joon-hee (Possessed), The Chaser features a well-written and structured storyline, impressive directing, and promising acting performance from the cast. At that time, the series featured lesser-known actors in the industry and received no hype, but it still went on to achieve success in its ratings.
Tree With Deep Roots (Grand Prize, 2012)
Based on the novel of the same title by Lee Jung-myung published in 2006, Tree With Deep Roots follows the stories of a royal guard, played by Jang Hyuk (Tell Me What You Saw), on a revenge spree, as he attempts to discover the truth behind the serial murders of scholars in the Gyeongbok Palace, and the king, played by Han Suk-kyu (Dr. Romantic 2), who created the Hangul (the Korean alphabet), as his in-laws are killed by his father. Packed with action, romance, suspense, and historical and social elements, the series marked Han Suk-kyu’s TV drama comeback after 16 years of only film works. The equally jaw-dropping drama Six Flying Dragons is considered as its prequel.
The Moon Embracing the Sun (Best Drama Award, 2012)
Based on a novel with the same title by Jung Eun-gwol published in 2005, The Moon Embracing the Sun revolves around a love story set during the Joseon Dynasty between a king and a female shaman, amidst a political conspiracy and struggles in the same reign. Starring Kim Soo-hyun (The Producers), Han Ga-in (Mistress), Jung Il-woo (Sweet Munchies), and Kim Min-seo (Witch at Court), the series was recorded as the most profitable drama series for MBC at that time, with a peak audience rating of 42.2% nationwide for its final episode. With its promising cast, it did not shy away from its narrative of a secret romance, along with the heartbreaks, tragedy, and conflicts that a forbidden love usually entails.
Secret Garden (Best Drama Award, 2011)
Starring Hyun Bin (Crash Landing on You), Ha Ji-won (Chocolate), Yoon Sang-hyun (Hold Me Tight), and Kim Sa-rang (This Is My Love), Secret Garden embodies a modern Cinderella story between a stunt woman and a high-end store CEO. Because of a misunderstanding, their worlds collide, and they become drawn towards each other, eventually falling in love. Although ridden with romantic clichés such as the gap between their social status (rich and poor) and a disapproving mother as an antagonist, its beautiful plot was carried on in an artistic, storytelling way. It was also mixed with lighthearted comedy and fantasy elements that drew the viewers in. There were a few sprinkles of cheesy moments, but they still worked with the narrative and were not that cringeworthy.