The year is almost over, so we now have the list of the top Korean dramas in the second half of 2019. This ranking is purely based on TV ratings from Nielsen Korea, which means that the dramas you’ll see below are those that pulled in millions of local viewers during their broadcast. In other words, these are the most-watched Korean dramas from July to December 2019. (Note: The list will be updated until December 31.)
42 Korean dramas (17 from terrestrial networks and 25 from cable channels) were included in the ranking but we’re presenting only the top 5 in each category. On terrestrial TV, SBS reigns supreme with three shows while KBS2 and MBC are each represented by one series. Meanwhile, tvN is the winner on cable TV with two dramas on the list.
Top Korean Dramas in the Second Half of 2019 (Terrestrial TV)
5. Never Twice — 7.50% (Saturday MBC drama)
Never Twice is one of the five Korean dramas that started in November. The ongoing comedy-family series marks the first lead role of actor Kwak Dong-yeon, who is playing the future CEO of a five-star hotel. Park Se-wan, meanwhile, is starring opposite him as an ordinary girl who moves to Seoul from the countryside. Never Twice is the 5th placer on this list but when it comes to first episode ratings, it is the no. 1 drama (with 6.4 percent), beating 15 other terrestrial series that premiered from July to November. However, dramas on this time slot tend to get higher ratings than their weekday counterparts do, so I’m not completely impressed.
4. VIP — 7.53% (Monday-Tuesday SBS drama)
Did you know that VIP is the only Monday-Tuesday drama of SBS in the second half of 2019? It is the result of the network’s decision to suspend its prime-time dramas on the said time slot after the conclusion of The Secret Life Of My Secretary in June. But the suspension seems to be worth it because VIP is doing well, ratings-wise. As of this writing, the ongoing series had already surpassed the 10 percent mark, recording 11.4 percent in its fourth week. Jang Na-ra and Lee Sang-yoon are starring in the drama as a married couple whose life starts to fall apart when Jang’s character discovers a series of secrets related to her job. The drama’s title refers to the VIP management team of a department store where the two protagonists are working.
3. Doctor John — 8.3% (Friday-Saturday SBS drama)
Starring Ji Sung and Lee Se-young, Doctor John was bound to do well in the ratings race because Ji Sung is the center of the story and Friday-Saturday dramas of SBS are also good performers in terms of viewership. The actor portrayed a genius anesthesiologist who ends up in jail when a patient dies under his care and the story follows his journey towards proving his innocence and doing what he does best again outside the prison. The drama achieved its peak record of 12.3 percent in its second week but it barely obtained double-digit ratings during the rest of its run. Lee Kyu-hyung‘s performance in the show hasn’t gone unnoticed, which is why it comes as no surprise that he will soon be playing a lead role in a fantasy series opposite actress Kim tae-hee.
2. Vagabond — 9.3% (Friday-Saturday SBS drama)
Being one of the most highly anticipated Korean dramas in 2019, Vagabond‘s almost first-place finish in this ranking is predictable. The series generated buzz as soon as Lee Seung-gi and Bae Suzy were confirmed as the leads. Aside from the fact that both singer-actors have a solid fan base in Korea and abroad, their pairing in the series got so many viewers excited because they previously starred together in the 2013 fantasy drama Gu Family Book. The spy action drama kicked off its broadcast in September with a 6.3 percent rating, the second-highest first episode rating in the second half of the year. It obtained a peak rating of 13.0 percent during its final broadcast and although that’s very impressive, I am disappointed because I was expecting it to get something close to 20.
1. When The Camellia Blooms — 13.9% (Wednesday-Thursday KBS2 drama)
The top Korean drama in the first half of 2019 is When The Camellia Blooms. Gong Hyo-jin‘s last seven dramas before this enjoyed double-digit ratings, so I know that Camellia will also be a hit among the viewers. However, I didn’t expect it at all to cross the 20 percent mark. Its best record of 23.8 percent is the highest TV rating for a prime-time terrestrial drama in 2019 and it’s all thanks to Gong Hyo-jin’s superb portrayal of a single mother who struggles to make ends meet while being targeted by a serial killer who has watched her closely for five years. Kang Ha-neul‘s performance also deserves plenty of praise for nailing his character as a bubbly police officer who falls in love with Gong’s character. The success of the series is more meaningful for the actor since it is his first prime-time drama in a leading role.
Top Korean Dramas in the Second Half of 2019 (Cable TV)
5. Watcher — 4.5% (Saturday-Sunday OCN drama)
Rounding out the top 5 in the cable drama category is Watcher, which comes from the director of the award-winning thriller Secret Forest and boasts of actors Han Suk-kyu, Kim Hyun-joo, and Seo Kang-joon leading its cast. The series barely hit the 3 percent mark during its premiere but it more than doubled this number to 6.6 percent in its finale and made it to this list. Taking center stage in the story are typical policemen fighting the bad guys, but this time the antagonists are also members of the police force.
4. Chief Of Staff — 4.7% (Friday-Saturday JTBC drama)
After a nine-year hiatus on TV, Lee Jung-jae has returned to the small screen in the political drama Chief Of Staff. And his choice of a comeback project didn’t disappoint because Chief Of Staff consistently pulled in decent ratings throughout its broadcast, with all of the episodes getting no less than 4 percent. Lee Jung-jae portrayed the titular role of a lawmaker’s chief of staff who wants to climb the political ladder while Shin Min-ah starred opposite him as a newbie congresswoman who is also his character’s love interest. The drama has a second season that is currently airing on JTBC and streaming on Netflix.
3. Graceful Family — 4.9% (Wednesday-Thursday MBN drama)
No one expected Graceful Family to achieve remarkable success, especially since it was airing on the relatively less poplar cable network MBN. It premiered in August with a modest rating of 2.7 percent, and although the second episode saw a decrease to 1.8 percent, the drama went on to record an incredible 8.5 percent during its finale. Wow, that’s huge for an MBN drama! In fact, Graceful Family is now the highest-rated TV program (not only among dramas) of MBN since the channel was founded. The mystery melodrama follows the daughter (Im Soo-hyang) of a family that runs South Korea’s top conglomerate as she uncovers a 15-year-old secret related to her mother’s death with the help of a lawyer (Lee Jang-woo).
2. Arthdal Chronicles Part 3 — 6.5% (Saturday-Sunday tvN drama)
The third and final part of Arthdal Chronicles came in second in this semiannual ranking. The series did not disappoint and did very well overall, both in terms of quality and viewership. After all, 6.5 percent for a cable show is so impressive that the entire cast could throw a party to celebrate. However, when the 54 billion won (US$45.8 million) production cost of the series is taken into account, I can’t really say that the drama had a very successful run. Dubbed as Korea’s first ancient historical drama, Arthdal Chronicles is set in the fictional land of Arth where different tribes face off to amass power and survive. It is also the first-ever Korean drama whose remaining 6 episodes are broadcast two months after the previous ones, a setup most likely caused by tvN’s deal with Netflix. The drama has a star-studded cast led by Song Joong-ki, Kim Ji-won, Jang Dong-gun, and Kim Ok-bin.
1. Hotel del luna — 8.9% (Saturday-Sunday tvN drama)
Hotel del Luna is the highest-rated Korean drama in the second half of 2019, thanks to the popularity of leads IU and Yeo Jin-goo and the Hong sisters who delivered a very entertaining narrative about the CEO of a hotel that caters only to ghosts. There are so many funny and scary moments in the drama, coupled with the tragic past of the heroine that gives you heartbreak and makes you cry. The series recorded the highest first episode rating for a cable drama since July and became the only series that exceeded the 10 percent mark during the same period. Next month, we will release a similar drama ranking for the entire year, but let me state this fact now: Hotel del Luna beams with pride as the highest-rated Korean drama in 2019 in terms of average, peak, and first episode ratings (on cable TV). With a month to go before the year ends, I’m pretty sure no other cable drama can break its record.
You can check out the first half 2019 ranking here.
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