- Netflix has led the way in streaming a vast variety of TV shows made in Seoul. Fans of “Daredevil” and “The Wire” will find plenty of slick action and character-driven intrigue in these gritty K-thrillers.
- From the international political conspiracies that drive the drama in “Vagabond” to the formidable crime-fighting team in “Bad Guys,” these shows mix tight plotting with moments of black comedy to deliver blockbuster thrills.
- Every series uses slick cinematography and stellar stunt work while rooting the action in political tensions and criminal conspiracies that delve into prescient social issues.
- These are the nine best Korean thrillers available to stream now on Netflix.
Slick action sequences and tangled mysteries served with a shot of dark humor – South Korea has been lauded as a leader in crime dramas and twisty thrillers long before “Parasite” hit the jackpot at the Academy Awards.
Netflix has become an industry leader in commissioning and distributing TV shows made in Seoul, introducing global audiences to a new class of rogue detectives, cold-blooded criminals, and slick undercover agents fighting for justice.
From the Marvel-style crew of secret agents in “Rugal” to the time-hopping conspiracies of “Signal,” there’s a story to entertain everyone.
Black comedy “Extracurricular” follows a shy high school student who has a secret side hustle running a shady business venture, while “Last” sharply satirizes corporate corruption by sending a disgraced fund manager into the mafia-run hierarchy of Seoul’s criminal underworld.
Whether you’re in the mood for a complex crime drama, fast-paced action, or political intrigue, these are the nine best Korean thrillers available to binge-watch now on Netflix.
Note: Numerous Netflix titles drop off the service monthly, so the availability of titles below may change.
“Rugal” is South Korea’s spin on Marvel’s ever-growing library of TV shows starring supernaturally-augmented vigilantes. Based on the webcomic of the same name, “Rugal” follows elite police officer Kang Ki-beom (Choi Jin-hyuk), whose failed mission to bring down crime syndicate Argos draws the attention of their ruthless leader Ko Yeong-duk (Park Jung-hak).
Like many of Marvel’s comic book heroes, he’s lost everything when the National Intelligence Service offers to save his sight, if he agrees to aid them in their war against Argos.
Ki-beom vows to see justice served, and equipped with a new pair of eyes enhanced with NIS biotech, he joins black-ops unit Rugal.
Like the Avengers, each member of the team has a unique ability that doubles as their Achilles heel. They’re united by government suits, but operate outside the law.
Expect slick cinematography, complex conspiracies, and formidable fight scenes, all fuelled by Ki-beom’s relentless pursuit of vengeance.
A high school nerd descends into a life of crime in ‘Extracurricular’
“Breaking Bad” heads to high school in this thought-provoking thriller. Shy, straight-A student Oh Ji-soo (Kim Dong-hee) is so unassuming, his teacher advises him to cause a little more trouble in life. But Ji-soo’s perfect transcripts don’t show his extracurricular activities. Specifically, his side hustle running an illegal business that provides compensated dating.
The show mines the dramatic irony of this set-up for black comedy. Ji-soo starts out as a socially awkward teenager setting up shop in the adult entertainment industry to pay his way through college, but soon faces dark decisions when a rival gang threatens his operation and the police get involved.
Violent, sharply-plotted and unafraid to take on taboo topics including sex work, poverty, and corruption, “Extracurricular” is a bold thriller with a twisted moral compass.
A reckless stuntman and a rookie spy team up to investigate a suspicious plane crash in ‘Vagabond’
Stuntman Cha Dal-gun (Lee Seung-gi) is devastated when his beloved nephew Cha Hoon (Moon Woo-jin) dies in a plane crash while en-route to a Taekwondo competition in Morocco.
His grief turns to rage on arriving in Tangier, where he discovers evidence that the tragedy may have been engineered. Dal-gun swiftly puts his training to the test, chasing a suspected bomber through the streets and across the city rooftops.
Gravity-defying parkour tricks and some seriously dangerous driving attract the attention of the Moroccan police, putting Dal-gun in the path of embassy intern and covert operative Go Hae-ri (Bae Suzy). The two team up to unravel coded messages from the salvaged flight recorder, uncovering a conspiracy that connects the co-pilot, the president, and two shadowy defense contractors battling to commission South Korea’s next-generation fighter jet.
“Vagabond” balances its nail-biting car chases and sniper evasions with the budding love-hate camaraderie between the stuntman and the spy, while grounding its blockbuster action sequences in a classic David and Goliath story of one man fighting a systematic web of corruption.
A missing police officer and a mysterious two-way radio give ‘Signal’ a supernatural edge
The past and present collide in “Signal,” a clever crime drama that delves into real cold cases with the help of a two-way radio that transcends the laws of physics. Cranky but committed detective Lee Jae-han (Cho Jin-woong) disappeared in 2000, but 16 years later, none of his colleagues have discovered what happened to him.
Until cocky young investigator Park Hae-young (Lee Je-hoon) finds an old two-way radio buried in the trash. He assumes it’s dead, but at exactly 11:23 p.m. every night, the battered walkie-talkie crackles into life, as the missing detective’s voice echoes through the station. The pair begin to exchange information, using their fragile connection to crack cases and turn former tragedies into triumphs.
Hae-young’s boss Cha Soo-hyeon (Kim Hye-soo) worked with Jae-han over a decade ago, and she’s determined to find out why he went missing. The trio resolve to unravel the mystery, but soon discover that messing with time can unleash a flood of unintended consequences.
“Signal” smoothly syncs its time-shifting storylines, using notorious unsolved murders to give the detectives’ supernatural missions a chilling dose of reality. Their partnership is the heart of the show, but even the strongest bonds can’t always survive the test of time.
‘Bad Guys’ unites a hardened police detective with three cold-blooded killers to create a formidable crime-busting team that’s destined to implode
Jung Tae-soo (Jo Dong-hyuk) is a cool, efficient assassin for hire. Park Woong-chul (Ma Dong-suk) is a reckless, hot-headed gangster. Lee Jung-moon (Park Hae-jin) is a shrewd, softly-spoken serial killer. Individually, they’re three of Seoul’s most notorious convicts. Together, they’re a time bomb with a lit fuse.
But cynical police detective Oh Goo-tak (Kim Sang-joong) has bigger problems on the loose. The best way to catch a criminal, he concludes, is by utilizing the combined talents of the three most accomplished killers his country has safely locked away.
“Bad Guys” steps up to its compelling premise in style. Each episode introduces a new mission impossible for the team to take on, with every task forcing our three alpha criminals to cooperate.
Beyond the whip-sharp dialogue and explosive fight scenes, “Bad Guys” succeeds in making its villains sympathetic. The show raises potent questions around truth, justice, and judgement. Come for the crack team of daredevil antiheroes, and keep watching as the show unravels what drives them to live beyond the law.
‘Last’ is a riches-to-rags tale of a disgraced fund manager forced to fend for himself on the streets of Seoul
Jang Tae-ho (Yoon Kye-sang) is an arrogant fund manager who bets everything on a dirty deal that goes badly wrong.
In one stroke, Tae-ho loses ₩35 billion ($28 million), his job, and his freedom. On the run from loan sharks, he winds up in Seoul Station, a hidden underground enclave ruled by the city’s homeless community, where begging is a business run by crime lord Kwak Heung-sam (Lee Beom-soo).
With nothing left to lose, Tae-ho resolves to do whatever it takes to rise to the top of the food chain and regain his reputation.
“Last” sharply satirizes the world of corporate corruption by placing a crooked financier in the heart of South Korea’s criminal underworld. The show exposes the bleak reality of daily hunger and deprivation as Tae-ho is forced to fend for himself in the violent ecosystem that governs the streets of Seoul.
An elite spy is assigned to protect an arrogant action star in ‘Man to Man’
“Man to Man” strikes a fine balance between adrenaline-fuelled action and buddy comedy as it sets up the unexpected bromance between its two stars.
Smooth black-ops agent Kim Seol-woo (Park Hae-jin), better known as Agent K, takes a job as a bodyguard to brash movie star Yeo Woon-gwang (Park Sung-woong).
The actor finds Agent K’s cool competence intensely irritating. Agent K considers Woon-gwang’s belligerent bravado asinine but perseveres because his role is an assumed identity for a mission of vital importance.
Working for Woon-gwang might be Agent K’s cover, but the actor’s fan turned manager Cha Do-ha (Kim Min-jung) is his mark. Spying shenanigans, political intrigue and an inevitable love triangle ensue, until Do-ha and Woon-gwang compromise Agent K’s agenda, and things get even more complicated.
“Man to Man” parodies established espionage franchises like “James Bond” and “Mission Impossible,” as the action hero and the undercover agent are forced to put aside their egos to take down the bad guys together.
The Grim Reaper joins forces with a woman cursed to foresee death in murder mystery ‘Black’
Black (Song Seung-heon) is a Reaper. Invisible to humans, he guides them from one world to the next. A Reaper’s mandate is to observe and record death, never interfere.
But some, yearning to experience life, go AWOL to possess the body of a deceased human. When one of Black’s colleagues does just that, he finds himself forced to follow suit in order to track him down.
Black assumes the identity of the late detective Hang Moo-gang and meets his mysterious partner Kang Ha-ram (Go Ara), a woman who can foresee death. Together they delve into the series of murders Moo-gang died trying to solve. “Black” spins a complex, chilling mystery, with a forbidden romance at its center.
Secrets and shadows from the past run riot in this tightly plotted thriller that explores what it means to be human.
Political thriller ‘Designated Survivor: 60 Days’ charts the journey of an unassuming everyman forced to take presidential office after a catastrophic explosion
Shy scientist Park Mu-jin (Ji Jin-hee) never wanted to go into government. He puts his faith in facts, not political posturing, so much so that he gets fired as Minister of Environment after refusing to compromise on a dubious American auto trade deal that could compromise South Korea’s air quality.
His stubbornness later saves his life, as he’s the only member of the governing party not present for the President’s televised address when a bomb detonates at the National Assembly building. As the highest authority left alive, unassuming Mu-jin is swiftly dispatched to a bunker and sworn in to assume the presidency.
While Mu-jin battles to maintain control, National Intelligence Service agent Han Na-kyung (Kang Han-na) hunts down the attackers, grimly resolved to find the people responsible for the death of her fiancé.
Inspired by the original American series, “Designated Survivor: 60 Days” is a compelling crash course in South Korean politics, as Mu-jin finds himself negotiating a fragile Korea-US trade agreement, a dicey North Korean peace deal, a possible military coup and a National Assembly dominated by members of the opposition.
While the covert investigation and political strife make for some high-stakes drama, it’s Mu-jin’s growth as a leader that drives the story. Actor Ji Jin-hee nails the role of a man thrown in the deep end, but imbues his doubt with enough wit and budding resolve that you’d trust him to take office (theoretically).