Three months have already passed this year, so it’s time to take a look at some dramas that stood out from the rest by pulling in amazing numbers in viewership. As we’ve said many times before, although award-winning series perform well in the rating game most of the time, TV ratings and drama quality do NOT always predict one another. The following top Korean dramas in the first quarter of 2020 are recognized as such based on their ratings and, by extension, popularity among the local TV viewers. And many of them received positive reviews from the audience.
We used the sum of the average and peak ratings of the series to determine the order of the ranking in this article as this composite score can more accurately decide which dramas performed well in the competition.
We ranked nine free-to-air and 14 cable dramas. They are all prime-time series that aired for at least three weeks on one of the major broadcasters—KBS2, MBC, SBS, JTBC, OCN, tvN, Channel A, and TV Chosun—from January 1 to March 31, 2020. Daily and weekend dramas of free-to-air TV channels (e.g. Saturday-Sunday dramas of KBS2) that easily obtain double-digit ratings were excluded from the ranking. All of our data came from Nielsen Korea. Contact us to know more about our methodology.
Top Korean Dramas in the First Quarter of 2020 (Free-to-air Television)
5. Woman of 9.9 Billion (KBS2)
- Broadcast Period Covered (no. of episodes): January 1-23 (16 episodes)
- Average Rating: 8.8%
- Peak Rating: 11.6%
- Sum of Average and Peak Ratings: 20.4%
Rounding out the top 5 in this category is Woman of 9.9 Billion, a thriller headlined by Parasite actress Cho Yeo-jeong. She took on the role of an unfortunate woman whose life begins to change when she surprisingly gets hold of 9.9 billion won in cash (8.2 million US dollars). Meanwhile, Kim Kang-woo plays a disgraced cop who sets out on exposing the truth behind his sibling’s death. The success of the series capped off an impressive 2019 for KBS2 Wednesday-Thursday dramas, almost all of which made it to the top 10 list of the highest-rated Korean dramas last year.
4. Hyena (SBS)
- Broadcast Period Covered (no. of episodes): February 21 to March 28 (24 episodes)
- Average Rating: 9.7%
- Peak Rating: 12.5%
- Sum of Average and Peak Ratings: 22.2%
If KBS2 takes pride in its Wednesday-Thursday dramas, SBS boasts of its Friday-Saturday series. They are relatively new in the game, having been introduced by SBS in February 2019 with the premiere of The Fiery Priest. Hyena is the 6th drama to air on the time slot and just like its predecessors, it has achieved double-digit ratings that dominate viewership rankings. Starring Kim Hye-soo and Ju Ji-hoon, the legal drama revolves around the rivalry between two elite lawyers who serve only VIP clients and go to any length to win their cases.
3. Never Twice (MBC)
- Broadcast Period Covered (no. of episodes): January 4 to March 7 (36 episodes)
- Average Rating: 9.9%
- Peak Rating: 13.2%
- Sum of Average and Peak Ratings: 23.1%
Third placer Never Twice doesn’t have many famous actors in its cast or an intriguing story that makes you eager to watch its first episode. But you can’t say it managed to score high ratings only because it is a weekend drama as its ratings slid to as low as 5 percent and failed to record a double-digit average (weekend dramas of free-to-air broadcasters tend to get ratings higher than that of their weekday counterparts). Headlined by Park Se-wan and Kwak Dong-yeon, the series follows the lives of the long-term guests of an inn.
2. Stove League (SBS)
- Broadcast Period Covered (no. of episodes): January 3 to February 14 (29 episodes)
- Average Rating: 14.1%
- Peak Rating: 19.1%
- Sum of Average and Peak Ratings: 33.2%
Namgoong Min stars in Stove League, also a Friday-Saturday drama of SBS, as the newly-appointed general manager of a professional baseball team that is at the bottom of the ranking. With the next season coming up, he takes on the challenge to prepare the team well and improve their standing in the next games. While the sports-themed drama recorded double-digit ratings from January to February, it premiered in December 2019 with a dismal 3.3 percent rating. But this figure increased almost sixfold as it ended its broadcast on a high note with 19.1 percent.
1. Dr. Romantic 2 (SBS)
- Broadcast Period Covered (no. of episodes): January 6 to February 25 (33 episodes)
- Average Rating: 18.3%
- Peak Rating: 27.1%
- Sum of Average and Peak Ratings: 45.4%
It comes as no surprise that the top Korean drama in the first quarter of 2020 is Dr. Romantic 2. After all, it is the sequel to the popular 2016-2017 medical drama starring Han Suk-kyu, Yoo Yeon-seok, and Seo Hyun-jin. Han reprised his role in the second season but Yoo and Seo did not return, making possible the casting of Ahn Hyo-seop and Lee Sung-kyung. The series follows the personal and professional growth of two young doctors as they work in a small hospital under the supervision of a genius surgeon with triple board certification in general surgery, cardiovascular surgery and neurosurgery. It is the only 2020 drama in free-to-air TV that surpassed the 20 percent mark in ratings in the first quarter of the year.
Top Korean Dramas in the First Quarter of 2020 (Cable Television)
5. The Cursed (tvN)
- Broadcast Period Covered (no. of episodes): February 10 to March 17 (12 episodes)
- Average Rating: 4.2%
- Peak Rating: 6.7%
- Sum of Average and Peak Ratings: 10.9%
In the cable TV realm, the debut TV project of movie director Yeon Sang-ho (Psychokinesis, Train to Busan) proved successful as it landed on the top 5. The Cursed kicked off its broadcast with a modest 2.5 percent rating but went on to exceed the 6 percent mark. It is an occult thriller starring Uhm Ji-won as a reporter who digs into a criminal case involving the biggest IT company in South Korea. Her investigations lead her to cross paths with a girl with supernatural ability and discover terrifying secrets about the company’s CEO, played by Sung Dong-il, and his men.
4. Hi Bye, Mama! (tvN)
- Broadcast Period Covered (no. of episodes): February 22 to March 29 (12 episodes)
- Average Rating: 5.8%
- Peak Rating: 6.5%
- Sum of Average and Peak Ratings: 12.3%
Hi Bye, Mama!, Kim Tae-hee’s first drama in almost five years, hit the five percent mark right off the bat, indicating that her popularity as an actress can still pull off a successful premiere. She’s partnered this time with Lee Kyu-hyung—who takes on his first-ever lead role in a prime-time drama—and they play a married couple whose life is turned upside down when she passes away due to an accident and returns fives years later as if she only went on vacation during the entire time she’s gone. Turns out the deity has given her a chance to win back her life by completing a mission in 49 days.
3. Hospital Playlist! (tvN)
- Broadcast Period Covered (no. of episodes): March 12-26 (3 episodes)
- Average Rating: 7.5%
- Peak Rating: 8.6%
- Sum of Average and Peak Ratings: 16.1%
PD Shin Won-ho and screenwriter Lee Woo-jung—the creators of Reply 1988, Reply 1994, and Reply 1997—are back with a new project everyone wanted to happen. Like the Reply series, Hospital Playlist features an ensemble cast but this time the main characters are adults in their early 40s who are doctors, played by Jo Jung-suk, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jung Kyung-ho, Kim Dae-myung, and Jeon Mi-do. The slice of life drama follows these five characters as they maintain their unbreakable decades-long friendship and deal with the challenges of their personal and professional lives.
2. Itaewon Class (JTBC)
- Broadcast Period Covered (no. of episodes): January 31 to March 21 (16 episodes)
- Average Rating: 11.8%
- Peak Rating: 16.6%
- Sum of Average and Peak Ratings: 28.4%
Runner-up Itaewon Class performed so well in ratings that it became the second-highest-rated JTBC drama of all time, next only to SKY Castle. Overall, the series ranks six in terms of both average and peak ratings. The drama benefited from the popularity of the webtoon it was based on and Park Seo-joon who nailed his character. But for Kwon Na-ra, who portrayed one of the female leads, the success of the series is thanks to Jo Gwang-jin, the author of the webtoon who also wrote the script of the TV adaptation. The series centers on an ex-convict who opens a small pub in a tourist spot in Seoul to operate it as a franchise one day and take revenge on the restaurant industry mogul who sent him to jail.
1. Crash Landing on You (tvN)
- Broadcast Period Covered (no. of episodes): January 11 to February 16 (10 episodes)
- Average Rating: 14.8%
- Peak Rating: 21.7%
- Sum of Average and Peak Ratings: 36.5%
Crash Landing on You is cable TV’s top Korean drama in the first quarter of 2020. While Itaewon Class took only four episodes to climb past the 10 percent mark, Crash Landing on You had to wait until its 8th episode to accomplish a similar feat. But the second half of its run became so successful that it achieved a peak rating of 21.7%, becoming one of the only two cable dramas that exceeded 20% in nationwide viewership. It is now the second-highest-rated cable series of all time as far as peak ratings are concerned, next to SKY Castle. In terms of average ratings, it ranks fifth. The romantic drama tells the story of a North Korean soldier (Hyun Bin) and a South Korean heiress (Son Ye-jin) who come across each other after a paragliding accident.
Hey there! Thank you so much for reading our article. Again, we used a composite score to arrive at this ranking. We also applied this method to our Korean Drama Ranking Based on TV Ratings from 2017 to 2019, a downloadable PDF content that is exclusively available to our email subscribers. It contains the list of the top 100 Korean dramas in free-to-air and cable TV. Here are sample pages:
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