2018 is just around the corner, so we have prepared the list of the top Korean dramas in the second half of 2017 by nationwide average TV ratings for you to get an idea about the dramas this year that aced the ratings game. Yes, you read it right—the “top Korean dramas” below have been ranked based on their television audience share in South Korea (data from Nielsen), so please don’t misunderstand and draw some misleading conclusions from the list. It is simply a TV ratings-based ranking that DO NOT necessarily tell you which shows are the “best” in terms of quality. Also, please take note that the ratings represent the number of Korean households watching a certain drama as it was airing, so the following lists do not necessarily present the dramas that are insanely popular worldwide (this kind of list is harder to create since you need a lot of data from major streaming sites like Viu, Viki, and Dramafever to measure the international viewership—oh wait, you can’t ignore the illegal sites as well). To put it in a nutshell, this article lists the most watched Korean dramas* by South Korean viewers in the second half of the year.
Like in the previous ranking (Top Korean Dramas in the First Half of 2017), this list is divided into two categories—free-to-air and cable. This is because dramas from the three big, free-to-air networks (KBS2, MBC, and SBS) have a wider audience reach than those from the cable channels (JTBC, OCN, tvN) and cable dramas do not have an equal chance as their FTA counterparts to be viewed by the viewers (you know, not everyone has a subscription to cable TV). If 15 FTA and 12 cable dramas were included in the first-half ranking, 22 FTA and 16 cable dramas (38 in total) are ranked in the second half. Out of these respective numbers, we have presented below only those that made it to the top 30-32 %. If you’re a Korean, chances are you have already watched those dramas or you know very well how popular they are in Seoul or Busan.
In case you’re wondering why we already published the ranking when there are still 2017 dramas that have yet to conclude their broadcast in early January next year, let me explain that our ground for having done so stems from the fact that most of the high-rated dramas have already aired completely and the soon-to-be completed shows are least likely to obtain ratings that could alter the ranking. In fact, as of this post’s publication date only two ongoing dramas—one for each category—made it to the ranking. We will update the list as soon as new episodes of the two ongoing dramas are released.
Top Korean Dramas in the Second Half of 2017 (Free-to-Air Category)
7. Temperature of Love — 8.0 % (Mon-Tue SBS drama)
The 7th highest-rated Korean drama in the second half of 2017 under this category is this romance series that reunites Seo Hyun-jin and Yang Se-jong from Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim as two individuals who end up matching each other after coming to the same “temperature of love.” The premise of the love story, written by the same writer who wrote the 2016 medical series Doctors, centers around the belief that two people can end up falling in love for real if their “temperatures of love” reach an optimal level at the same time, which sounds interesting to those who hold a particular perspective on relationships and dating. The series showed a strong beginning and peaked at 11 % in viewership in its first few episodes but posted low numbers for the rest of its broadcast. (Watch Temperature of Love on VIU)
6. While You Were Sleeping — 8.3 % (Wed-Thu SBS drama)
While You Were Sleeping has a star-studded cast and a witty script written by an established screenwriter, but it ended up showing a mediocre performance in viewership. It could be mainly because of its archrival Hospital Ship and the successful broadcast of tvN’s Avengers Social Club which achieved over 5 % viewership, and possibly partly due to its airing schedule in fall when the “viewership-disturbing” Chuseok holidays are celebrated. Anyway, overall the series enjoyed widespread popularity and even earned the title as the most buzzworthy Kdrama during its run. That’s kind of a given when Hallyu stars Lee Jong-suk and Suzy are playing the lead characters—a prosecutor and a reporter connected and separated by a tragic past who meet again later on because of their supernatural ability to see the future through their dreams, or while they are sleeping. (Watch While You Were Sleeping on VIU)
5. Hospital Ship — 9.455 % (Wed-Thu MBC drama)
The only medical drama on the list, Hospital Ship ended its voyage with a decent average rating of 9.5 %. It enjoyed double-digit viewership halfway through its run but because of the storm called While You Were Sleeping, the ship veered off course and since then recorded significantly lower numbers. But still, it managed to come this far in the ranking. It’s overall success can be attributed to lead actress Ha Ji-won, who starred in the drama as a cold-hearted genius surgeon who reluctantly works in a ship that renders medical services to the inhabitants of remote island areas. The series highlights the development in her personal and career lives as she performs her duty as a doctor while overcoming a horrible past and realizing her dreams. (Watch Hospital Ship on VIU)
4. Black Knight — 9.531 % (Wed-Thu KBS2 drama)
Black Knight follows love story of a man who is willing to battle a dangerous fate and lay down his life for the woman she loves and wants to protect. The synopsis may sound boring but the series has constantly seen an increase in viewership since its premiere—either because the meat of its story has a lot more to offer or its rival dramas aren’t really interesting enough to woo more viewers. It is the second fantasy romance series in this list and the “fantasy” part has something to do with a love story that spans 200 years. Beloved actor Kim Rae-won is playing the black knight of Shin Se-kyung, and if you’re not a fan of either leads perhaps the gorgeous shots in Slovenia could persuade you to check the drama. (Watch Black Knight on VIU)
3. Man Who Dies To Live — 10.3 % (Wed-Thu MBC drama)
Family drama Man Who Dies To Live achieved high viewership right off the bat and continued to do so despite the controversy it faced within the first two weeks of its broadcast. Its story centers around a father, played by Choi Min-soo, who goes to and settles down in a fictional Middle East country where he amasses a big fortune and returns home several years later to reconcile with his estranged daughter and son-in-law. Many international viewers criticized the alleged inappropriate depiction of Islamic culture in some of the drama’s scenes and even encouraged everyone to boycott the drama, but to no avail. Weeks after the protest, the drama maintained over 10 percent viewership and thus ended up no. 3 on this list. (Watch Man Who Dies To Live on OnDemandKorea)
2. Witch’s Court — 10.6 % (Mon-Tue KBS2 drama)
The titular “witch” in this drama is played by Jung Ryeo-won, but she knows nothing about witchcraft and specializes instead in catching the bad guys as a fearless prosecutor assigned to a team that deals with sexual crimes against women and children. It started off with a modest rating below 7 % but managed to attract more viewers with its heroine who stands out in sharp relief against the other characters. Adding the spice into her life is a principled prosecutor, played by Yoon Hyun-min, who questions her use of drastic and problematic methods in winning cases. This is a show with a heavy subject matter not often broached in Kdramaland, so if you’re into dramas that tries the less explored concept and ideas, Witch’s Court is for you. (Watch Witch’s Court on VIU)
1. Falsify — 11.1 % (Mon-Tue SBS drama)
Legal thriller Falsify dominates this category’s ranking and has become the second Namgoong Min drama this year to become a hit among the local viewers. No one knows for sure if it’s his presence that primarily caused the drama’s success, or the bad-ass journalists battling their own home that made the viewers stick to the drama until the end. The drama highlights a corrupt media colluding with politicians to “falsify” the truth and manipulate public opinion and a group of journalist and prosecutors trying to break this connection from within. A perfect example of shows depicting the dirty realities in Korean society, Falsify remained true to its purpose until the very end and is perfect for those looking for a tight plot with little or no romance. (Watch Falsify on VIU)
Notable observation on free-to-air dramas in the second half of 2017: Unlike in the first-half-of-2017 ranking which has 3 period dramas occupying the top 7 positions, the second-half ranking contains no sageuk at all. Out of the 22 FTA dramas in the second half of the year, only two are sageuk—The King Loves ranks 10th while Seven Day Queen is closer to the bottom of the ranking, at 15th place. In addition, four of the top 7 series have average ratings below 10 % whereas all the top-rated shows in the first-half-of-2017 ranking have average nationwide audience shares that are above 10 %. This could imply that the competition among the dramas is a little bit tougher in the second period, so achieving double-digit viewership is a struggle.
Top Korean Dramas in the Second Half of 2017 (Cable Category)
5. The Most Beautiful Goodbye In The World — 4.2 % (Sat-Sun tvN drama)
Noo Hee-kyung, the writer of the award-winning drama Dear My Friends, wrote a new version of her similarly award-winning work in the 1990s and had it made into a heartwarming family drama titled The Most Beautiful Goodbye In The World, about a mother with terminal cancer who receives much-deserved love from her ungrateful family after they find out that she is dying. The series has only four episodes, which is quite enough number to deliver such a story with a sad but satisfying ending. The ratings of the first three episodes remain in the 3 to 4 percentage range but the number suddenly increased to 6.2 % during the finale. Won Mi-kyung leads the cast as the mother, while Choi Ji-woo and Choi Min-ho plays her children. (Watch The Most Beautiful Goodbye In The World on OnDemandKorea)
4. Avengers Social Club — 5.2 % (Wed-Thu tvN drama)
This revenge drama does not seem to present an attention-grabbing premise one would expect to become a sure hit among the viewers yet it ended reaping remarkable records for the cable network. A daughter of a wealthy family teams up with a fish store owner and unhappily married housewife to take vengeance against those who have wronged them. The heroines are ahjummas (played by Lee Yo-won, Ra Mi-ran, and Myung Se-bin) and romance is barely involved—an unconventional setup in a production sector dominated by romance-centered dramas—but the series received a lot of love from fans of all ages. It got a perfect rating from the users in Dramabeans. (Watch Avengers Social Club on OnDemandKorea)
3. Live Up To Your Name — 5.4 % (Sat-Sun tvN drama)
Medical fushion sageuk Live Up To Your Name occupies the third highest spot in this list with an average rating higher than Secret Forest‘s. It centers on a traditional medicine doctor, played by Kim Nam-gil, from 17th century Joseon who travels into the present and meets his modern-day counterpart (Kim Ah-joong), a thoracic surgeon who does not believe in oriental medicine in which he is an expert. The lead actors of the drama delivered an amazing performance, making you feel a real emotional connection with their characters who have been through a lot together—from hilarious time-travel moments to tear-jerking ones. (Watch Live Up To Your Name on VIU)
2. Woman of Dignity — 6.6 % (Fri-Sat JTBC drama)
A JTBC drama has once again topped the ranking! This time the record holder is a “social drama” in which the power and class structure in society is symbolized by a conflict between two women. It centers on elegant Woo Ah-jin (played by Kim Hee-sun) who lives a life of luxury and peace with his rich husband, until poor woman Park Bok-ja (Kim Sun-ah) walks into her life and tries to climb the social ladder. Interestingly, the series was written by the same screenwriter who penned the first-half ranking’s record holder, Strong Woman Do Bong Soon. To date, no other drama this year has achieved what Woman of Dignity managed to obtain—a whopping 12 percent viewership rating! (Watch Woman of Dignity on OnDemandKorea) [EDIT: Prison Playbook took over the top spot when it reached over 10 % in ratings during its 13th episode (aired on January 10, 2018), increasing its average ratings to 6.8 %]
1. Prison Playbook — 7.6 % (Wed-Thu tvN drama)
Unsurprisingly, the latest drama from the director of the hit Reply series made it to the top of the ranking. Someone who adores PD Shin Won-ho’s previous works should waste no time in deciding to watch this or not because the drama has all the major elements one has loved in Reply 1988 or 1994, albeit in a quite different setting involving several prison inmates. The story unfolds when the star pitcher hero, played by Park Hae-soo, ends in up in prison after an incident and needs to adjust to his new life. PD Shin’s signature directing style—with clever use of flashbacks and a touch of comic relief from lovable characters—will not make you bored in each episode even if it lasts more or less 90 minutes. (Watch Prison Playbook on Netflix)
Notable observation on cable dramas in the second half of 2017: 4 of the 5 top-rated cable Korean dramas in the second half of the year belong to tvN, breaking the network’s previous record of 1 out of 5 and removing OCN’s name from the list. These dramas aired on its brand new time-slots, Friday-Saturday and Wednesday-Thursday, indicating that the move by the network to open a weekend slot and revive its mid-week drama broadcasting is effective in boosting viewership. And while it can be said that the network finally overcame its sluggish performance in the first half of the year, the same cannot be said about OCN which suffered a significant drop in drama ratings in the second half.
*These dramas are broadcasted on evening prime time slots. Weekend dramas from the three big networks and daily dramas were not included in the ranking, and so were other dramas which aired on other TV stations.