One of the most popular questions I’ve received in recent weeks is: “Noona’s Noonchi, what are the best Korean Dramas of 2022 in your opinion?” It’s a great question but not an easy one to answer; because the truth is we all have our preferences, our own likes and dislikes. It’s also a question that I have had to think long and hard over because there were so many wonderful K-Dramas this year. Is it me, or do K-Dramas keep getting better and better? Well this year was, without a doubt, full of fabulous Korean Dramas. Here are my top ten!
#10 – Our Beloved Summer
This was a beloved romance indeed. What I loved about this K-Drama was getting to watch how a high school romance matures into a committed relationship that we hope lasts a lifetime. It was a realistic portrayal of high school and college sweethearts just beginning their lives but it also shows how they progress to a point where they can give wholeheartedly to one another.
What I thought was great about this K-Drama was how we got to see the main leads learn about themselves, who they are, and grow into their own. Watch this if you want to learn more about the reality of relationships. Each character’s self-discovery was a parallel process as they were filming the sequel to their hit documentary from high school. That said, this was a fun premise to show a beloved summer.
#9 – Thirty-Nine
What a terrific K-Drama depicting female best friends. I can’t imagine a more hopeful way to navigate a terminal cancer diagnosis than with besties like these by my side. I also loved the way grief was depicted, showing the depths of despair it can bring, but also joy and happiness amidst the sorrow. That’s the thing. Grief doesn’t just present itself in one way; there can be opposite emotions and elements (i.e., dialectics) happening at the same time. Thirty-Nine covers them all.
Perhaps, what was most poignant was showing how a terminally ill patient can choose to live out the rest of her life. Her choice was to spend quality time with her loved ones, and in all honesty, choosing to not prolong her physical pain by undergoing more treatments. At first, I was taken aback by this; thinking she was giving up. But I came to realize that since the prognosis is what it is and she doesn’t have much time to live, then choosing to love to the fullest can be the brave decision.
#8 – If You Wish Upon Me
Team Genie is just amazing. This is the team at the hospice in “If You Wish Upon Me” that seeks to grant your final wish and does everything and anything to make it happen. I wanted to be part of Team Genie because they gave hope to those who are holding on by a thread; hope to make a wish they only dreamed about come true.
Team Genie brought hospice patients such peace in their final days. Hospice is such a sad word when you hear it because we all know what it means, right? I love how this K-Drama shows us a hospice full of healing and love, despite it also being a place where someone’s life ends. The tears were plentiful, but they weren’t all sad tears, I believe. We also shed tears full of hope because we saw how Team Genie heals through their empathy and compassion.
#7 – Business Proposal
Now this is quite the proposal of a K-Drama. I absolutely enjoyed all the tropes it showed because those tropes are what makes a K-Drama, a K-Drama! Let’s start first with the “contract relationship” trope between the two main leads. Hilarious beginning and just fun mishaps along the way until they start developing feelings for each other.
Of course, the romance shows us another trope – the chaebol falling in love with the girl whose family owns a fried chicken restaurant. Another cute trope we see is the second lead best friends who also fall for each other; the twist this time is that it’s the female chaebol whose father forbids her to date the guy who happens to be the “secretary” of the male lead chaebol. “Business Proposal” was the perfect formula of a classic K-Drama that also gave us all the feels.
Let’s not forget a childhood trauma trope (i.e., male lead) and how his girlfriend, the female lead handles it – is brilliant. This K-Drama may be feel familiar but the emotions and well-laid out themes teach us some good life lessons. Plus, the tropes give us the comfortability and predictability we need in a world full of change.
#6 – Twenty-Five Twenty-One
I received so many DMs on my Noona’s Noonchi IG after this K-Drama ended. Most comments centered on the ending not being what we all wanted. Folks were so upset by it! Quick note, this is what I mean by the K-Drama tropes. The happy ending is also a trope that people like but don’t admit to liking until it doesn’t happen. Despite the ending being something we may not have wanted, it was very realistic and well done.
I think it made sense to a coming-of-age story set during the IMF crisis. This series showed a different side of what happens to young love when people change in the relationship. My favorite portrayal in this K-Drama was the friendship between Na Heedo and her archrival turned bestie Ko Yurim. What a beautiful relationship and one for the history books, I think. This K-Drama shows us the growing pains of following our dreams while at the same time showing us what beautiful romantic love and platonic love can look like.
#5 – Our Blues
There’s so much to say about this K-Drama that I don’t know where to begin. I loved how we got to see a story focusing on a set of different characters every couple of episodes. So many layers to this one, but the main theme for me is how it shows us that reconciled relationships are key to the healing process. Also, it shows us that no matter how broken the relationship, there can be hope for reconciliation.
There’s just too much to describe since there were many relationships we fell in love with, but my personal favorite in this K-Drama is the sister relationship between an older sister and her younger sister with Down Syndrome. We got to see both sides of the emotional struggle each sister feels. One is very aware of how her disability affects others, especially her sister; while the other experiences caretaker stress syndrome, feeling the dialectics (opposites) of wanting to protect her sister with Down Syndrome while at the same time resenting her for it. Heart-wrenching and heartwarming at the same time.
#4 – My Liberation Notes
Talk about understated. The writer of “My Liberation Notes” also wrote “My Mister” (one of my all-time fave K-Dramas), so I knew I was going to like this one. However, I absolutely fell in love, particularly with the male lead known as Mr. Gu (Gu sshi in Korean). Depicting the realities of daily Korean family and work life, it appears to be a sleeper and humdrum of a K-Drama, but you look past that and there’s depth beyond belief.
“Choo-ahng” is a word that was coined through this K-Drama. The female lead tells Mr. Gu she wants to be “choo-ahng’ed” (aka cherished or revered), going beyond just love. (Mic drop.) I saw that scene at the end of episode 2 and thought it was brilliant. A woman dreads the life she lives, which she feels is boring, so she ups the ante by telling a guy, who’s an alcoholic and miserable, that she wants him to “choo-ahng” her because she’s never experienced that. He takes her up on it and the rest is history.
The siblings in this K-Drama are also a fine feature, especially the brother who has some of the most insightful things to say. This is a K-Drama that shows you how to accept where you are, who you are and whatever season of life you are in to experience true freedom in being you. “A” for authenticity.
#3 – Under the Queen’s Umbrella
I waited for this K-Drama to be completed because I saw the first episode and realized this was a doozy of a K-Drama that I wanted to truly deep dive into. As the title states, it really was all about the queen, the female lead who also encompassed the characteristics of a male lead because of her charisma and alliances.
This one is all about family and parenting when it boils down to it. Sure, it had all the political intrigue that a historical drama (sageuk) does. But it really focused on the queen’s role as a mother and a co-parent with the king. Behind the title of queen, you’ll see a fierce and tough mother to her boys as she seeks to rear them to be the best princes they can be. Her motivation isn’t about power and control as we tend to see in these sageuks. She is a mother who loves her sons and wants them to succeed because they’re her sons.
I loved the scenes she had with the king talking about their sons and her providing him feedback when necessary. You don’t get to see that in these historical K-Dramas. It was co-parenting at its best. However, this K-Drama stood out to me because of how she accepted her son’s sexuality early in the drama. She discovers his secret one night when she finds him wearing makeup and women’s clothing in a hideaway, but once she gets over her astonishment, she accepts it and then proceeds to protect him all the way. This is the type of parenting I want to show my clients for the sake of their kids’ self-esteem and development.
#2 – Reborn Rich
I am writing this article just a day before the final episodes air, which goes to show you how much I love this K-Drama– even before it’s ended. This one is all about the intricacies of a family, a chaebol family at that. What makes this fascinating is how it weaves in historical events of Korea from the late ‘80s to the epic 2002 World Cup when S. Korea made it to the semifinals.
What may have started out as a revenge drama, somehow evolved to a poignant grandfather-grandson love story. Sure, the other family members add impact to the storytelling, especially the power and control game of Soonyang’s takeover. And an added bonus was all the business nuances we learn about in that era. But somehow along the way, we become smitten with the grandfather (harabugi) who we loved to hate in the beginning. We felt him dismayed by his children’s behavior, as well as that of his eldest grandson. And seeing his health deteriorate, the grandfather becomes the one character we empathize with the most. His grandson (played by Song Joongki) had it all planned out to take over Soonyang and exact revenge for his past life, but he can’t deny the emotions he feels about his grandfather.
The grandfather who didn’t trust anyone, not even his grandson, yet there was such jeong between them. Jeong is the unique Korean concept of affection, kinship, and attachment. We are at episode 15 (as of this writing), and revenge no longer seems to be in the picture somehow. I believe Song Joongki’s character is now working to take over Soonyang to honor his grandfather’s work and build the company to even grander heights to carry on his legacy.
#1 – Extraordinary Attorney Woo
Everything about this K-Drama is extraordinary! I even wrote an article about it a few months ago. Each episode in this K-Drama had its own heartwarming story which kept viewers entertained and intrigued. I especially loved how each episode stood out on its own; each addressing suicide, school stress and pressure, bullying, marital strife, and gender equality to name a few.
The writing was fantastic and kudos to tackling as many themes as she did. Woo Young Woo was such a loveable person because of her autism, not despite it. From the get-go, she breaks the stigma surrounding autism, sharing it openly in the courtroom during her first case. What an empowering example for all of us to see. This is a big deal, especially in Korean culture, so I am glad to see it.
Every character surrounding her in the law firm, Hanbada, was an integral part of the story and character development of Young Woo. The workplace contributed to Young Woo’s extraordinary work and in turn, she also contributed to its success with her extraordinary skills and talents. This K-Drama was a global success in S. Korea and all over the world because it was so comforting and warm.
Regardless of the criticism surrounding it due to the autism portrayal or the Hanbada workplace being unrealistic, the reality is, we all need to watch something touching, encouraging, and uplifting to soften our hardened hearts. In all honesty, Covid has brought about some tough times and “Extraordinary Attorney Woo”, what with all her cuteness and quirkiness, helped bring the world together.