There’s nothing like a good KDrama to end a gruelling workday. Before I get into the list of the top 10 best KDrama of all time, let me tell you what I believe constitutes a good KDrama:
- Chemistry: A great cast that clicks superbly.
- Storyline: The beautiful people are great, but that can only get you so far. A great story will keep you watching, wishing you could watch it for the first time again.
- Humour: The best dramas have (fitting) lighter moments, even when dealing with some dark subject matter.
Now here are some KDrama tropes that put me off (you won’t find any of these in my list of best Kdrama of all time):
- The teary female lead: Heroines that cry too much is so 90s, I can’t even.
- Slow moving: It is frustrating when the plot barely inches forward at a glacial pace. I have occasionally watched dramas in 2x, and that’s not a good sign.
With these in mind, I present to you the top ten best KDrama of all time:
1. Hometown Cha Cha Cha
Anyone who’s watched this romantic dramedy set in a seaside town has fallen head-over-heels in love with actors Shin Min-a and Kim Seon-ho. Most of us fell for Kim in Start Up and were brokenhearted that his character didn’t land his lady love. So, Hometown Cha Cha Cha, in which he plays the ever-helpful Du-sik, comes as a good redemption. In addition, the grandmothers and other residents of the seaside town all have beautiful little stories of their own that make this drama a heartwarming watch.
Memorable moment: The iconic scene where Du-sik shows off his multiple licenses for all the working roles he juggles.
Favourite character: Du-sik is the ultimate lead and a fascinating, layered character.
2. The Uncanny Counter
Featuring another great ensemble cast, The Uncanny Counter, a fantasy series, follows the adventures of devil hunters. What stayed with me was the idea that inherently wicked people are possessed by evil spirits and driven to follow their base and violent desires. In other words, the devil didn’t make them do it; they let the devil in. The fantasy and action sequences are superb, which set the show apart as one of the best KDrama of all time. However, the best moments in the show are about the fierce loyalty of friendship and the redemption that can only come from justice served.
Favourite character: Chu, the noodle chef, whose fierce love for her teammates, especially So Mun, makes her the most lovable of the four Counters (i.e., fighters of evil spirits).
Memorable Moment: When So Mun fights a bullying gang to protect his friends and the rest of his schoolmates.
A Korean-Italian mafia consigliere played by Song Joong-ki, you say? Sign me up! My Italian-speaking friends tell me the man’s Italian is hilarious. Still, I wouldn’t know the difference so long as he looks cool speaking it. If you’ve been missing a bit of spice in your life, this is your 2x Spicy Hot Chicken Flavour Buldak ramen. Each episode has so many twists and turns; the show is a roller coaster ride! If you’re looking for realistic (which would defeat the purpose of listing the best KDrama of all time), you can skip this one, but you’d be missing out on some legit fun.
Memorable moment: When Vincenzo is arrested, Team Leader (and biggest Vincenzo fan ever) Ahn Gi-Seok of the International Organized Crime Bureau forsakes his cover to save Vincenzo.
Favourite character: Jang Han-seo is Jang Jung-Woo’s younger half-brother, who keeps up appearances as Chairman of the nefarious Babel Group until Jung-Woo reveals himself. This character has all sorts of arcs and is an unexpected fan favourite.
4. Flower of Evil
Anything I could say about this creepy thriller about a family man whose sordid past comes to haunt him would probably be a spoiler. Lee Joon-gi’s spectacular acting does every bit of justice to this nuanced and troubled character.
Memorable moment: Baek Hee-Sung, the seemingly warm and expressive father, practises facial expressions like smiling in front of a mirror using an online video tutorial.
Favourite character: Baek Eun-ha. Jung Seo Yeon plays the lead couple’s adorable daughter, who brings out the best parts of every character, including her paternal grandmother.
5. It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
An antisocial children’s book writer with a troubled childhood falls for a nurse at a psychiatric hospital. The story is one of healing and building your own family.
Memorable moment: When Moon Sang-tae, Gang-tae’s autistic older brother, shows that he can care for his younger brother. He continues caring for him and then accepts the love-starved Ko Moon-Young as part of their little family after she begs him. The three dysfunctional orphans now form one functional family.
Favourite character: Ko Moon-Young. She is a stunning femme fatale who is hurting inside in a way she cannot comprehend.
6. Itaewon Class
You simply cannot have a top ten best KDrama of all time without counting Itaewon Class. It follows the revenge story of Park Saeroyi. He is determined to avenge his father’s killing. But, unfortunately, those who killed his father almost turned Saeroyi into a convict. So the plot weaves a double whammy into the already-passionate tale. It’s a story of determination, conviction, kinship, and camaraderie.
Memorable moment: Realising that Yi Seo is the driving force behind Saeroyi’s success, Geon Won offers Yi Seo an excellent position at Jangga Group. However, he later discovers that, despite her self-serving exterior, she is fiercely loyal to her boss and has her own agenda throughout their conversation.
Favourite character: Yi-seo. When Saeroyi opens his business, he soon realises it’s not going well. Then along comes the best thing to happen to him: Jo Yi-seo. The multi-talented, socially lacking genius keeps taking Danbam to the next level. This climb continues until they are on par with Jangga Group, against whom Saeroyi must win his lifelong battle.
7. Extraordinary Attorney Woo
This drama about an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) lawyer gained recognition for its realistic representation of autism and excellent storytelling. Needless to say, Kang Tae Ho’s Jun Ho won many hearts. Last year, it was the most popular show and even started a greeting trend. Speaking of, its excellent portrayal of female friendship also deserves applause.
Memorable moment: Su-yeon, Young-Woo’s work friend and old classmate, asks her to give her a nickname. Young-woo rejects Su-yeon’s suggestions,’ Babyface Choi Su-yeon’ and ‘Most Beautiful Choi Su-yeon’. She then tells her that she is a bright, warm, and kind person: ‘Spring Sunshine Choi Su-yeon’. If you don’t get a bit teary watching this scene, where have you buried your heart?
Favourite character: Bang Gu Ppong. Though this is not a recurring character, Koo Kyo Hwan’s portrayal of a man accused of abducting children from their school left viewers thinking about the many drawbacks of the education system. The system pressures its students so much that Gu Ppong tries to create a low-key sanctuary for the children, which gets mistaken as kidnapping attempts.
8. Alchemy of Souls
This fantasy series was trending on Netflix for all the right reasons. Across two seasons, we follow Jang Uk as he unlocks his full powers, gets his heart broken, and then mended. Under the guidance of a great master, he transforms from a somewhat unmotivated youth into the most powerful man in the world. The first season is light, with bright colours and a lot of comedy. Season 2 is darker, as Jang Uk struggles with his loss and the phantoms that haunt him.
Memorable moment: Jang Uk’s first fight sequence in Season 2 is incredible for its choreography and cinematography. It is also the audience’s first look at the darker Jang-Uk.
Favourite character: Go Won. The Crown Prince Go Won has a great character arc. He starts as something of a bully, poisoned by his master and bothered by Jang Uk’s quickly growing powers and his disregard for authority. However, as fate pulls them together repeatedly, he develops a soft spot for Mu-deok/Naksu and a kinship with Jang-Uk.
9. Guardian: The Great and Lonely God
I’d recommend this show for many reasons: epic fantasy, bromance, an incredible second-lead couple, gut-wrenching tragedy, entertaining comic moments, and great production. The story is about an extraordinary girl who can see ghosts, a goblin doomed to roam the earth for centuries in search of his bride, and a Grim Reaper who lives on a limited salary. And what’s more, they all live in the same house at one point.
Memorable moment: When her aunt’s loan sharks kidnap Eun-tak, Goblin and Grim Reaper come to her rescue.
Favourite character: Sunny. This pretty, feisty fried chicken restaurant owner captures the Grim Reaper’s heart.
10. Hospital Playlist (Both seasons)
This show might just be the single best KDrama of all time. There is so much to love about it. It delivers the best ensemble ever, exciting band sessions, and couples with spectacular chemistry. Even the long-standing friendship between Jung-won’s mother, Ro-sa and Foundation Director Joo Jong-soo is heartwarming. They both lose their spouses in the first episode. Eventually, they wind up spending most of their time together, not in the romantic sense at all, but as friends who are content to grow old together. The show is full of these beautiful moments of friendship, love, camaraderie, loyalty, care, and all the beautiful things that make the world go round.
Memorable moment: So many!
Favourite character: Lee Ik Jun is the stuff of dreams. He is a talented surgeon, a dedicated father, a caring friend, and an all-around goofball who seems to have hacked life and wins hearts wherever he goes.
Did we miss any of your favourites? If so, let us know which are the best KDramas of all time that top your list.