If I don’t discipline myself, I can start and finish a 16 episode Korean drama series in a day and a half, and that would be the most perfect day and a half for me. I normally watch K-dramas on Viki. But in the last year or so, Netflix’s selection of K-dramas has grown enormously and Netflix is now giving Viki some major competition as a K-drama provider.
But not all Korean dramas are created equal, and despite having more time on our hands during this pandemic, no one wants to commit 16 hours to a bad series. To help you commit wisely, here are my picks for 10 best Korean dramas on Netflix. The grades or ratings assigned are based on the quality of the storyline or plot, depth of character development (especially female characters which is a huge focus for me), and the chemistry among actors.
1. Crash Landing On You (Netflix Original)
A paragliding accident lands a fabulously successful, beautiful and charming South Korean heiress, Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-Jin), in North Korea where she meets a military officer, Ri Jung-hyuk (Hyun Bin), who helps her hide and escape. Crash Landing on You is one of the most-watched series (not just K-dramas!) on Netflix, so I suspect many of you have probably already seen it. But if you have not yet watched it, it should be at the top of your list.
Crash Landing on You is the perfect drama and I will watch it over and over again. It has an original, powerful, and moving storyline and never has a dull moment. The acting is amazing and it has the best chemistry between the two leads. Hands down — Best. Show. Ever. (Rating: A++)
2. It’s Ok to Not Be Ok (Netflix Original)
This story centers around a broken children’s book writer with an antisocial personality disorder, and a caring but a complicated man who works at a psychiatric hospital and cares for his adult autistic brother suffering from trauma. The drama explores psychological and emotional trauma and is an inspirational story of how this trio of broken people find healing, happiness, and love. The female lead, Ko Moon-Young, by the way, is a strong, independent, beautiful woman with iconic style. The chemistry, acting, and storyline are absolutely fantastic! (Rating: A+)
3. Itaewon Class (Netflix Original)
This is an incredibly inspiring story of Park Saeroyi (Park Seo-Joon) who has big dreams of making his Itaewon restaurant a massive success. Geun-Won, the son of Jang Dae-hee (CEO of Jangaa group) kills Saeroyi’s father, but Saeroyi is sent to jail for his attempt to avenge his father. As an ex-convict, Saeroyi plans to get revenge on Jang Dae-hee by growing his small Itaewon restaurant to compete and overtake Jangaa Group, Korea’s largest food corporation.
The storyline is so well written and the diverse characters (including a black-Korean character and transgender character) are all just brilliant! Jo Yi-Seo (Kim Da-mi), the female lead, is an extremely intelligent, tough, and cool character. The only drawback was the lack of romantic chemistry between the two main leads. Watch the series with the expectation that it is not a romance, and you will love it. Definitely a must-watch top Korean drama on Netflix! (Rating: A)
4. Cheese In the Trap (Available on Netflix)
A fascinating day-to-day drama about the lives and relationships among college students. The focus is on the awkward relationship between an introverted, observant girl, Hong Seol (Kim Go-Eun), who prefers to be invisible, and a senior, Yoo Jung (Park-Hae-Jin), who is extremely kind and perfect on the outside, but has a hidden twisted dark side. The drama slowly reveals layers and layers of complexity of this character, who has weird sociopathic tendencies.
This is an absolutely brilliant drama! Cheese in the Trap is somewhat controversial and people feel strongly about it one way or another because of how it ends. Personally, I loved it and highly recommend it. The entire cast and plot were excellent. But what makes this drama truly fantastic are the second leads, Baek In-ho (Seo Kang-Joon) and Baek In-ha (Lee Sung-Kyung) — it is clear why these two became megastars after Cheese in the Trap. (Rating: A)
5. Start-up (Netflix Original)
“Start-up” follows the highs and lows faced by talented, highly intelligent, and motivated 20-somethings as they launch their company and gather investors. The love triangle is at the heart of the story — the beautiful, brilliant and humble Seo Dal-mi (Bae Suzy) must choose between the memory of her first love and the one who consistently supports her and gives her confidence, Nam Do San (Nam Joo-Hyuk). The chemistry among the entire cast is first class and the story is inspiring! But the second lead, Ha Ji Pyeong (Kim Seon Ho), is the best part of the show. He stole every scene and as a result of this drama, is now a huge star! (Rating: A)
6. Something in the Rain (Available on Netflix)
A story about the relationship between a 35-year-old career woman, Yoon Jin-ah (Son Ye-Jin), and her best friend’s younger brother, Seo Joon-hee (Jung Hae-in), who is seven years younger. The couple struggles to hide their relationship and gain acceptance from their families. At times the drama was a little slow, but the main leads had great chemistry and I really rooted for them.
The interesting part about this drama is the struggle of the women professionals dealing with the bad behavior of cringy, loser men at the company where Jin-ah works. I found myself frustrated throughout the drama, wishing the female characters were stronger in dealing with the awful creepy men at work. But overall, it was a heartwarming and great drama. (Rating: B+)
7. The King: Eternal Monarch (Netflix Original)
Lee Gon (Lee Min-ho) is the King of the Kingdom of Korea who uncovers a portal into a parallel world, the Republic of Korea. He soon discovers that his nemesis is running a business of transferring people from one world to another to give them new lives, but their doppelgangers must be killed in the process. There were high expectations for this drama as it had a very interesting and ambitious storyline.
Perhaps it was too ambitious, though. The story got so convoluted and it was confusing to follow once the time travel part was layered on top of the parallel worlds (What?). Because of the focus on the over-complicated plot, the character and relationship development suffered. That said, everything was beautiful and mesmerizing, and overall it was enjoyable to watch. Woo Do-hwan, who played dual characters–the satoori speaking Eun Seop and the super stiff King’s bodyguard Jo Young–stole the show. (Rating: B+)
8. Record of Youth (Netflix Original)
Three young adults from different social classes try to make it in the world of show business. Sa Hye Joon (Park Bo-gum) and his best friend Won Hye Hyo are male models and aspiring actors and Ahn Jeong Ha (Park So-dam – Parasite) is a makeup artist, who starts her own business.
The beginning of the drama was terrific and it had so much promise. But I was disappointed with the lack of development in the relationship between the main leads and even among the friends. I really wanted to love this drama, but frankly, the characters were just plain boring.
The best part of this drama was Hye Joon’s family relationship dynamics, which were heart-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time. There are also several fun cameos by actors I love. I add that my parents were happy to see Shin Ae-ra star in Record of Youth (as an older glamorous mother), and I am told that I was named after her. (Rating: B)
9. My First First Love (Netflix Original)
Various circumstances lead to several of Yoon Tae Ho’s (Ji-soo) friends moving into his house. The drama tells the story of five friends in their early 20s and their experiences in trying to survive independently and find their passions.
This ensemble was so fun to watch and everyone is lovable. I loved the friendships and it was super funny. It had the typical K-drama cliches (rich boy, poor girl, mother abandonment, love triangle), but I still liked it a lot. It was also great to finally see Ji Soo in the main lead role, after the many times he gave me second lead syndrome! (Rating: B)
10. Boys Over Flowers (Available on Netflix)
Geum Jan-di (Ku Hye Sun) comes from a poor family but gets deeply involved in the lives of a group of rich boys in her high school who are treated like celebrities. Ok, this drama is the ultimate K-drama cliche, but it is on the list because it is an essential K-drama 101 classic. It aired in 2009 and it is the most popular Korean drama of all time. Boys Over Flowers catapulted Lee Min Ho’s career and his acting (at least) is great in the drama.
But to be honest, so many parts of this series were super problematic, especially the way the main female character is treated. Also, her character is less like a real person and more like a doll, who did not have much chemistry with anyone. The storyline did not flow well and every episode (25 of them!) felt like a different show. It was actually a stressful ride. But for some strange reason, I am still totally obsessed with it and think about it all the time. It’s hard to explain. (Rating: B-)
After your K-Drama binge, check out these Korean movies on Netflix!
Ella Shin is an intern at Best of Korea and a student in New York City, who loves composing music and everything Hallyu.