The evolution of K-dramas has been crazy, especially in recent years. Even within the last decade, the Korean entertainment industry has garnered an even bigger international following. There have been more platforms and opportunities to watch K-dramas, which has only increased its viewers and popularity, especially on social media. From 2012 until now, we have been blessed with the likes of some crazy hit K-dramas that will forever be engrained in our hearts. Mind you, this list was almost impossible to narrow down, but here are just 20 of the best K-dramas from the past decade.
Disclaimer: List is in no particular order, and titles are from 2012 to 2022.
“My Love From the Star”
“My Love From the Star” is a drama that took all of Asia by storm. Kim Soo Hyun stars in this drama as Do Min Joon, an alien with a chip on his shoulder who falls in love with the vain and outrageous actress Cheon Song Yi (Jun Ji Hyun).
This series is one that cannot be left out of a list like this. “My Love From the Star” is said to have single-handedly started one of the biggest Hallyu waves all across Asia. This series shot Kim Soo Hyun to stardom, and he continues to be one of the most sought-after actors in the industry. The story about an actress who falls in love with an alien is one that may have initially sounded obscure, but it ended up being epically grand.
If you haven’t watched this classic, start here:
“Incomplete Life” (“Misaeng”)
Im Siwan plays Jang Geu Rae, a Go board game player who fails to become a professional, and as a result, he has to find a job. Geu Rae has no experience in any sort of workplace as he has spent most of his life playing Go. Through connections and sheer luck, he is able to work for a trading company as an intern but learns that he has to make some major adjustments to fit in.
Based on the popular webtoon, “Incomplete Life” struck quite the emotional chord with South Koreans as they could find themselves relating with the ordinariness of a full-time office worker. This was also Im Si Wan’s first lead K-drama role, which people were very impressed with. He was able to showcase his natural talent, making him a household name.
Watch “Incomplete Life” here:
Sung Duk Sun (Hyeri) and Choi Taek (Park Bo Gum) have been best friends since they were kids. They hang out together all the time and are super comfortable around each other, which is why it’s only natural that Choi Taek ends up falling for Duk Sun. The difficult part about this situation is that their mutual friend Jung Pal (Ryu Jun Yeol) also has feelings for Duk Sun.
This series took the world by storm, mainly because of the anticipation for who Duk Sun would pick at the end. “Reply 1988” is said to have been one of the biggest love triangles of all time, creating a divide between “Team Jung Pal” and “Team Taek.” The series provided an emotional rollercoaster, constantly keeping viewers on their toes. The family aspect of the series is also one that is unforgettably heartwarming.
Check out episode one:
“Descendants of the Sun”
In “Descendants of the Sun,” Song Joong Ki stars as Yoo Shi Jin alongside Song Hye Kyo as Kang Mo Yeon. Yoo Shi Jin is an army captain who falls head over heels for Dr. Kang. They embark on a whirlwind of a romance despite their different backgrounds. Although they want to be with each other, Yoo Shi Jin’s job consistently puts his life at risk, which is difficult for Mo Yeon to handle.
“Descendants of the Sun” is another blockbuster series that brought in a huge wave of international fans. People fell absolutely head over heels in love with Song Joong Ki and Song Hye Kyo. There was something about an army captain falling in love with a doctor that people couldn’t get enough of. Their chemistry is palpable and undeniable as the two even later went on to become a couple in real life. Although the series at times seemed over-the-top, it managed to draw in an immense amount of viewers and love.
Watch the series here:
This series is a bit different from the typical rom-com vibe we get from Kim Eun Sook’s writing in comparison to past projects. The drama involves a goblin (played by Gong Yoo) and his bride (played by Kim Go Eun). The two embark on a whirlwind of a romance and are faced with a lot of serious and supernatural obstacles that jeopardize them from being together. It sounds a lot different from the K-drama tropes that we’re used to, right?
This series was so popular that Quebec, Canada continues to be a destination for many K-drama lovers, as parts of the series was filmed there. The series provided a heart-wrenching romance, along with a bromance that many will say is the best of all time. The series has some memorable lines that people continue to recite to this day, and we can’t forget that sizzling kiss scene that continues to rake in the views. It is undoubtedly one of the best!
You can watch the first episode here:
“Signal” stars Lee Je Hoon, Kim Hye Soo, and Jo Jin Woong, as a group of police officers who are able to communicate with the past through a radio. Inspired by a real life infamous case that happened in Korea, “Signal” was able to bring the story to life.
Fantasy thriller “Signal” has stood the test of time as being one of the best K-dramas. It achieved whopping success in South Korea as its viewership ratings exponentially grew throughout the weeks. The success of it was so big that it was broadcasted in other parts of Asia, where it was also very well received. It was so easy to get intensely invested in wanting this case to be solved, that it kept viewers completely engaged and on the edge of their seats until the very last episode.
Watch “Signal” now:
“Love in the Moonlight”
In “Love in the Moonlight,” Hong Ra On (Kim Yoo Jung) is a eunuch for Crown Prince Lee Young (Park Bo Gum). Lee Young is completely unaware of the fact that one of his eunuchs, who are all supposed to be male, is a woman. He starts to notice Ra On and is drawn to her, which leads him to take a lot of risks and make a lot of sacrifices in order to be with her.
The butterflies from the romance between Ra On and her prince Lee Young were endless. And with the cute and heartfelt looks that the prince gave his eunuch, along with an emotional OST that was always playing in the background, “Love in the Moonlight” stole the hearts of many. With the ratings showing the success and love of the series, this is one drama that cannot be overlooked!
Start watching here:
“Stranger” (“Forest of Secrets”)
“Stranger” is a drama about Hwang Shi Mok (Cho Seung Woo), a prosecutor who has a unique ability to see certain parts of a crime scene in his head. He works with Han Yeo Jin (Bae Doona), a passionate detective, to fight against criminals.
The success of “Stranger” was immense as there was even a sequel that was produced as a result of the positive response it received. The story of Hwang Shi Mok and how he solves cases was one that people felt so drawn to and were fascinated by. The story unfolded perfectly while constantly keeping viewers on their toes. It’s a series that has to be binge-watched, which is a testament to the suspenseful writing and production.
“My Mister” stars Lee Sun Gyun as Park Dong Hoon and IU as Lee Ji An. Dong Hoon is a married man in his 40s who goes through a lot of stress as a result of work and family. Ji An is a young woman who has had to go through a lot of traumatic experiences, and as a result, has lost a lot of hope in life. The two meet in the workplace and form a very unusual bond where they seem to understand each other.
No one could have anticipated the emotional impact that “My Mister” would have over Koreans and even international K-drama fans. Even after the completion of the series, people continued to praise to the series and its genius script. The dark and depressing tone of the story managed to uplift and bring hope by the end, which is a skill and talent that not many writers can pull off. Luckily, Park Hae Young was able to do this flawlessly.
Watch episode one here:
This epic blockbuster stars Lee Byung Hun as Eugene Choi and Kim Tae Ri as Go Ae Shin in a historical piece that is set in the early 1900s. The story involves Eugene falling in love with Ae Shin despite their starkly different backgrounds. Eugene was born as a slave but runs away to the United States where he becomes a Captain of the Marine Corps while Ae Shin is a Joseon noblewoman.
The badass character of Go Ae Shin really made this series exciting to watch. And when you have the additional cast of Lee Byung Hun, Byun Yo Han, and Yoo Yeon Seok, you can look forward to seeing them all in one frame, showcasing their incredible acting chops. The cinematography and romantic scenes between Eugene and Ae Shin are heart fluttering and beautiful, and the emotions of the series have lingered well after the end!
“Crash Landing on You”
Hyun Bin stars as the North Korean soldier Ri Jung Hyuk while Son Ye Jin plays the beautiful and charismatic Yoon Se Ri. In a freak accident while paragliding, Yoon Se Ri stumbles into North Korean territory where she meets Ri Jung Hyuk. He takes it upon himself to watch over her while he figures out a way to get her back to South Korea.
“Crash Landing on You” single-handedly brought an endless wave of international fans into K-drama land. While the pandemic was happening in the world, people found solace in Yoon Se Ri and Ri Jung Hyuk’s love story. Although the storyline was a bit out there, people found themselves rooting for the OTP and wishing they were part of the North Korean soldier squad. Their love story even continued into real life, which is a constant reminder of how real the actors’ chemistry was in the series.
Han Joo Won (Yeo Jin Goo) is a police officer who gets transferred to a small town from the big city of Seoul. He is trying to uncover the case of a series of murders that happened 20 years prior. His main suspect is his partner and fellow police officer Lee Dong Sik (Shin Ha Kyun).
With good reason, “Beyond Evil” received seven nominations at the 57th Baeksang Arts Awards, and it won three. When you have the acting chops of Shin Ha Kyun to lead the cast of already talented individuals, it’s really a no brainer that the series would be so successful. The storytelling aspect of “Beyond Evil” is a work of art as viewers are constantly pulled into the characters and this mystery that envelops the series. The anticipation of wanting to find out the outcome is also intense, which makes it an exhilarating watch.
Watch “Beyond Evil” here:
Park Sae Roy (Park Seo Joon) has been through a lot in his young life. His father is tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident, he is expelled from school, and he is sentenced to jail for three years. All this tragedy happens as a result of one family that owns the biggest restaurant chain in Korea. After getting out of jail, Sae Roy swears that he will get revenge and decides to open up his own restaurant called Dan Bam.
The misfit group of characters in this series won over the hearts of many. The exposure to the various characters and what they were experiencing was so raw and necessary, which many found solace in. Although there was a love triangle and love story in the series, the real overarching drive of the plot was seeing Sae Roy get the revenge he needed and to see him achieve his dreams of opening up a restaurant. All of these tropes and storylines provided viewers with an engaging watch, making it one of the best K-dramas ever.
Jo Jung Suk, Yoo Yeon Seok, Jung Kyung Ho, Kim Dae Myung, and Jeon Mi Do star in “Hospital Playlist” as a group of five doctors who have been friends since medical school. The five of them all work at the same hospital, Yulje Medical Center. The story follows their friendship as well as the romance and patients that they deal with day to day. They also happen to form a band together.
There was nothing more heartwarming than seeing this group of doctors saving lives and being friends. It provided healing and warmth with how much they leaned on each other and helped each other through life. People really couldn’t get enough of their chemistry as well as music playing, which is why there was a second season. The success of both seasons was monumental, and we can only hope that there will be a third one day!
The series that took the world by storm, “Squid Game” is a story about 456 participants who engage in a series of children’s games in hopes of winning 45.6 billion won (approximately $40 million). Lee Jung Jae, Park Hae Soo, Jung Ho Yeon, and Wi Ha Jun star in this drama about players who fight to the death in order to win the prize money.
“Squid Game” is another series that took the world by storm. With the genius script written by Hwang Dong Hyuk, this drama is so fascinatingly dark and intriguing that it went on to be one of the most watched shows on Netflix of all time. The cast was also able to gain immense popularity worldwide, which has led to a lot of international opportunities. Although Hwang Dong Hyuk had mentioned that he did not want to do a sequel, as a result of the enormous success of the series, there will be a second season!
Based on a popular webtoon, “D.P.” stars Jung Hae In as Ahn Jun Ho and Koo Kyo Hwan as Han Ho Yeol. The two are part of a special military squad responsible for finding deserters.
This short six episode series was able to provide a very intimate look into the world of the South Korean military. Seeing how much a lot of the soldiers struggle through various issues while being in the army or even before being drafted, gave a very emotional and sympathetic perspective. The series was portrayed in a powerful way, and with Goo Kyo Hwan and Jung Hae In as the lead actors, it was a sure success.
“The World of the Married”
Ji Sun Woo (Kim Hee Ae) is a doctor who is married to Lee Tae Oh (Park Hae Joon). The two have a son, and they seem like a solid family, except that she finds out her husband is having an affair. She is caught in a whirlwind of lies and betrayal from several people, and it makes it impossible for her to trust anyone. She tries her hardest to discover the truth and to get revenge on her husband.
This intense makjang series managed to sweep all of South Korea in terms of ratings and buzz, and it is one of the highest rated dramas in Korean cable television history. Seeing Sun Woo get revenge on her two-timing husband Tae Oh was enthralling. There were several lines from the series that went on to become popular memes and GIFs, which showed its popularity among viewers. The series also won several awards including the Best Director and Best Actress awards at the 56th Baeksang Arts Awards, reaffirming the amount of its influence and impact.
Shin Min Ah plays Yoon Hye Jin, a dentist who quits her job in the city as a result of a fight she gets into with her boss. She goes to a small town to start fresh but finds herself getting into a lot of bad luck when she gets there, causing her to rely on the help of Hong Doo Shik, played by Kim Seon Ho. Doo Shik is a local resident who is technically unemployed but has a lot of odd jobs. He continually helps Hye Jin while she gets back on her feet to eventually open up a practice in the small town.
There was something about the comfort and reassurance that the townspeople in “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” provided for viewers. It was healing on so many levels. On top of that, we had the budding romance between dimple couple Shin Min Ah and Kim Seon Ho that gave everyone enough butterflies to last a lifetime. Although the OTP was perfect, the series was more than just about romance. It was about finding people near you to lean on when life gets tough. Doo Shik was able to find healing by opening up about his trauma and mental health, a situation that many can relate to!
“My Liberation Notes”
The newest script written by Park Hae Young stars Son Suk Ku, Kim Ji Won, Lee Min Ki, and Lee El. The series focuses on the ordinary lives of three siblings who try to figure out their place in the world.
One of the newer titles on the list, but one that cannot be overlooked, “My Liberation Notes” had high expectations from the public as it was from the same writer who brought us the masterpiece “My Mister.” Somehow, Park Hae Young managed to exceed our expectations, drawing in high ratings and also shooting Son Suk Ku to stardom. The intriguing storyline and character development sucked viewers in, but it was really the romantic tale between Mr. Gu and Yeom Mi Jung (Kim Ji Won) that really won hearts over.
“The Red Sleeve”
Based on a novel, “The Red Sleeve” is a historical K-drama that tells the story of an emperor named Yi San (Lee Junho) who falls in love with a court lady named Seong Deok Im (Lee Se Young). Despite their differences in class and status, the two engage in a deep romance while trying to fight for their nation.
No one could have anticipated the emotional impact that Yi San and Deok Im would have on the K-drama world. Even though it’s been awhile since the series has ended, their love story still remains in people’s hearts – some may still be weeping. The fact that it is based on true events also makes it more intriguing and touching. Lee Junho was also able to experience a rise in fame and is said to have been receiving countless K-drama offers. I am definitely looking forward to his next project!
Watch “The Red Sleeve” here:
Hey Soompiers, what was your favorite K-drama from the past decade? Let me know in the comments below!
binahearts is a Soompi writer whose ultimate biases are Song Joong Ki and BIGBANG but has lately been seen obsessing over Hwang In Yeop. Make sure you follow binahearts on Instagram as she journeys through her latest Korean crazes!
Currently watching: “Extraordinary Attorney Woo”
All-time favorite dramas: “Secret Garden” and “Star In My Heart.”
Looking forward to: Won Bin‘s return to the small screen.