Best Korean Dramas 2009 / 2010 / 2011 / 2012 / 2013
December 16, 2013 3:14 AM   Subscribe

"Here are some of the Korean dramas that I have watched and some were aired in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 or even older. Although some of them might be older than the others, they are still really good dramas which you will definitely enjoy watching. I am watching some of the newer ones which have just started airing a few weeks back and I will share my thoughts with you after I have finish watching them. :)"
posted by timshel (33 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Well that is a long an comprehensive list. I have watched more of them than I care to admit. My biggest problem with Korean dramas, specifically in the romantic comedy genre, is that they all seem interchangeable. After watching them, I can't tell one from the other. I guess that can be said for probably all tv, though.

Anyway, Answer Me 1994 started out looking very promising, but the last few episodes have been charmless and boring in my nonexpert opinion.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:42 AM on December 16, 2013

I remember stumbling across a Korean medical drama and having no idea what to expect. It actually seemed kind of interesting, at first! One character was this woman who'd nixed an easy advancement via family connections and had her dad in a bad mood because of it. There was this line I liked, something like--"You could have been the head of a dragon; now you're only the head of a snake."

...And then there was a pop interlude. Like, an episode had two characters breaking into songs. For no reason. Like, as if someone out there had gone "yeah, we need our protagonists to showcase a couple of pop songs," and the scriptwriters had had to include a threadbare justification for such diegetic whatuppery or something.

And then someone fainted and the male doctor felt her pulse, noted it was unsteady, and diagnosed Marfan Syndrome.

What I am saying is that I have been burned.
posted by KChasm at 4:25 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have been watching Korean dramas seriously since 2007 (and due to growing up in Asia I was weaned on the classics - Jewel in the Palace and so on) and they definitely win over J-doramas in the heart-tugging romantic aspect. Too bad so many of them tend to start out very promising and end disastrously. There are a lot of flubs especially on the 2013 list so don't use it as a guide! (Heirs, I'm looking at you...)

Anyway, Answer Me 1994 started out looking very promising, but the last few episodes have been charmless and boring in my nonexpert opinion.
Yeah, the writers are getting too carried away with being clever and trolling us, and lost the plot somewhere in the process :(

Korean variety is the BEST, though.
posted by monocot at 4:41 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Korean variety is the BEST, though.

There is one specific show that I can absolutely not understand for the life of me. I don't know the name offhand, but the one where two stars pretend to be newlyweds and do stuff around the house. What exactly is the purpose of that show, and why do people watch it? I am so baffled by the concept that my brain literally shuts down the moment I try to think about i...
posted by Literaryhero at 5:13 AM on December 16, 2013

Why do so many titles contain the word "King" or "Prince"?
posted by selfnoise at 5:59 AM on December 16, 2013

I saw the title on this and at first I thought someone was referring to North Korea.

At any rate, South Korean shows are very popular in North Korea, even though people aren't supposed to be watching them.
posted by azpenguin at 6:01 AM on December 16, 2013

We Got Married is the show you're looking talking about, Literaryhero.

And yes, it is baffling. But I've recently got into it with a new couple, "The 4D Couple" with rocker Joon Jung Young and actress Joon Yoo Mi. Mostly because I relate on a deep level with Jung Young and his addiction to video games which scarily mimic my addiction to kdramas.

Which means I'm going through this list and saying, "Yep, I've seen that; OH GOD THAT WAS AWFUL NO NO NO DO NOT WANT TO BE REMINDED; Ohhhh, forgot about that one, it was good..."

(Also I'm excited about the premiere of two more dramas this week, and I'm already currently watching three.)
posted by paisley sheep at 6:03 AM on December 16, 2013

I got myself hooked on Vampire Prosecutor a few months back and enjoyed it thoroughly. That said, I will probably go through this list in more depth when I have more time and pick out something new to watch.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 6:19 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Watching Dr. Jin, a 20 episode soap opera about a time traveling brain surgeon, was probably the most enjoyable television viewing experience I had in the past year. One half totally-predictable-but-hugely-satisfying-emotional-button-pushing, and one half batshit-insane-did-that-just-really-happen-WTF?

That was my introduction to Korean dramas, I've sampled a few others since, currently going through "2 weeks", but nothing else has grabbed me the same way.

It's on huluplus, not sure how else it's available.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:51 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mrs. Ghidorah has reached that magical age when a Japanese woman becomes wholly, completely obsessed with Korean dramas. I thought I was doing okay, watching Japanese TV together, understanding maybe 50% of what's happening through listening and reading subtitles. Now, she's watching things in Korean (which I can't understand at all) with Japanese subtitles, which are freaking difficult. I'm utterly lost. On the other hand, almost every drama seems to have the same plot, so it's not that hard, once I figure out which actor has ended up with which role.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:52 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Going further through her list, though... I disagree (I think -- it's hard to know exactly why she starred most dramas and not others) with some of her recommendations. But that's probably because she likes dramas that I really, really didn't like (she says Heirs is one of her favorite dramas, which, no -- despite it being a ratings monster, it was a terrible drama. It had good moments and was appropriately cracktastic in the classic kdrama way, and I agree with her that the actors were wonderful, but the script and characters were awful), and then there have been recent dramas that I've absolutely loved and thought were brilliant works of art (Heartless City, The Queen's Classroom, and Incarnation of Money are some from 2013 that I can think of just off the top of my head) and they're not on the list.

Honestly, I wish she would have added more of her thoughts to the dramas, because it seems more like it's just a semi-comprehensive list of what aired each year. Which could be handy for reference purposes, but it isn't going to help you weed out the gems from the duds. Kdrama synopses are generally not that descriptive or the description is so vague it doesn't give you enough to go on. Plus, I only counted 69 dramas listed, which are a lot, to be sure; but I know I've personally watched more than that, and I still consider myself fairly new to the kdrama world (I started in 2009, which is probably why I recognize all these titles). I think I just got so excited to see something related to kdramas posted on Metafilter that I was like, "Yes, this ought to be good!"

If you want better ideas of what a drama is like, I'd be more likely to refer you to Dramabeans' ratings list, since it gives you a better idea of why a drama might be popular or the issues with it. But if you just wanted a wiki of kdramas, well, that already exists.

Basically, I have STRONG OPINIONS on dramas and am sad that this is just a laundry list and not really something I could sink my teeth into.
posted by paisley sheep at 6:56 AM on December 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm so happy to see Goddess of Fire in the list. I guess that "a drama series about 16th century Korean pottery" doesn't exactly sound like an enticing description, but I'm currently five episodes in and really enjoying it. I'm surprised by how well-written it is. And Jin Ji Hee, she's seriously only 14 years old? She's amazing.
posted by Caconym at 7:01 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

paisley sheep, Jung Joon Young has joined the cast of "1 Night 2 Days," if you feel the need to watch more of his "4D" character.

Dramabeans has some good year-in-review posts each year for k-dramas - 2013 [1] and [2].

(I haven't watched much k-drama this year, but have been amused by the Korean media coverage of Princess Aurora, a k-drama that went ignored by overseas k-drama watchers. Dramabeans pretty much captures it with just the title of their post, When dramas go crazy. When even Korean drama viewers used to the crazy think a drama is too crazy, you know the writer has managed something special ...)
posted by needled at 7:03 AM on December 16, 2013

Oh, and I just realized that the two new dramas premiering this week (You Who Fell From A Star and Miss Korea) would actually bring my currently-watching tally to six (adding it to Bel Ami/Pretty Man; The Prime Minister and I; Let's Eat; and Reply 1994) which is a record for me, and makes me thankful it's the slow season at work. And that it's winter. Because no one really questions my hibernating.

For the record, I like the four dramas I'm currently watching, although as mentioned upthread, Reply 1994 (aka Answer Me 1994) has faltered in the last couple of weeks (and the last episode made me do a rage smash against my keyboard, but that's because Reply 1997 holds a very, very dear place in my heart with one of my favorite drama characters ever, and we were totally trolled). But I still love the series and hope that they'll push through the last few weeks and somehow pull it off, although I've reached the point where I don't care about who the husband will be. I just want the charm of the friendships to return. And Haitai's story to get a good wrap-up, because he's my favorite.
posted by paisley sheep at 7:05 AM on December 16, 2013

needled: yeah! I heard about him joining 1N2D, and I've been curious about it -- mostly because of him, to be honest. I could never get into season 2 (which apparently was a good thing, since I heard it went downhill), but I thought it was just because of how much I loved the original cast (Eun Ji Won and Kang Ho Dong especially, which is why I got excited about Barefoot Friends once EJW joined, then realized it was one of the most boring variety shows ever) and crew (no one is as delightfully cruel as Na PD!).

But there's six dramas that apparently I need to watch and refuse to give one up, so I've been putting variety shows on hold for awhile. Eventually I want to get around to finally watching Grandpas Over Flowers and start on Grandmas Over Flowers (the idea of Na PD and Lee Seung Gi reunited makes me very happy).
posted by paisley sheep at 7:12 AM on December 16, 2013

That was my introduction to Korean dramas,

Jin is a Japanese drama, not Korean. And pretty enjoyable while also being somewhat baffling. I remember being so surprised when the show just went "nyah nyah" at the convention that time travelers must not interfere with the timeline.

These days I don't watch Korean dramas that are more than thirty episodes long. I've been burned too many times by dramas that start out promising, but then degenerate into a tangle of unlikely coincidences and idiot plots. If the drama is shorter, it has less chance to do that.

Jewel in the Palace was my introduction and I'm still very fond of it even though it was pretty long, though.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:12 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I share paisley sheep's disappointment regarding the blog linked to for this FPP - the blogger ignores a large swath of k-drama, in particular historical sa-geuk and the more adult-themed ones not of the rom-com variety that headline veteran or character actors.

The blogger favors k-drama aimed at a younger audience, featuring good-looking hot young actors and bubbly plots - for example, she gave a star to To The Beautiful You, which was almost universally panned, especially for the wooden acting from some of its idol singer cast.

In contrast, Nine: Nine Time Travels, which made all the critics' best-of lists and for which a U.S. remake is in the works, is not even mentioned.

The blog gives a snapshot of k-drama which is analogous to summarizing American TV dramas by mostly focusing on shows like Gossip Girl and similar fare on CW, while ignoring series like The Wire, Breaking Bad, etc.
posted by needled at 7:31 AM on December 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah, Nine was brilliantly mind-bendy and so, so good. I'm excited to see how it translates to a US show. And you've touched on what I was feeling but couldn't quite put into words: the OP seems like she might be pretty young, and therefore the prime audience for those sorts of idol-filled, mindless, bubbly-plot dramas. Which are ok if that's what you're in the mood for (sometimes mindless entertainment and lots of pretty faces are just what you need), but I don't think I'd put them at the top of a list marked "good." Especially not one that supposedly spans back to 2009 (although she mentions ones that aired earlier than that, like My Girl).

And I just had to do a command+F to confirm she didn't mention My Name Is Kim Sam Soon. Any drama list that doesn't have MNIKSS is not worthy to take seriously, because that's a critically-acclaimed award-winning, yet still hilarious and fun, drama for a reason. (If anyone reading this wants to know where to start venturing into kdrama-land, this one is highly, highly recommended.)
posted by paisley sheep at 7:58 AM on December 16, 2013

Kutusuamushi, there is a Korean Dr Jin, which looks to be a remake of the Japanese version. Not a good remake, I'm thinking. Unless the Japanese version has a fetus tumor in a jar that is a pivotal plot point. Or if it actually has a plot that makes a modicum of sense, which would also be a marked difference from the Korean version.
posted by paisley sheep at 8:12 AM on December 16, 2013

Coffee Prince made the list, so it must be reasonable. (These posts are what convinced me I had to watch it. It was totally worth it.)
posted by asperity at 9:09 AM on December 16, 2013

paisley sheep: "fetus tumor in a jar"

That's in the original manga, yo.
posted by KChasm at 11:44 AM on December 16, 2013

I've been into Korean variety shows lately, but thanks to this post I will make an effort to check out some of the dramas too! Also "Vampire Prosecutor" is the greatest name for a show ever.
posted by jess at 11:51 AM on December 16, 2013

Color me Unimpressed. Looking back - I cant believe how many Korean dramas Ive sat through. Looking at this list, it's equally amazing how many I have not had to sit through - yet.
I havent hated all of them. I wont bother to hate the ones listed here again, except for IRIS and IRIS2. they are atrocious. i hate them again, on your behalf, dear reader.

Moon Embraces the Sun was pale and pathetic after seeing Queen Seondoek, which is inexplicably absent from this list. There are however numerous memorable moments in MES when various actors are able to say on screen "please kill me now", Uhm Tae-woong especially, such a hard worker - and you know they mean it.

of those I havent hated and which are in this list, I guess, Panda and Hedgehog I would say was completely enjoyable, and Skip Beat, which is actually two Korean guys working in a Taiwan drama was highly amusing.
posted by Abinadab at 12:31 PM on December 16, 2013

Jin is a Japanese drama, not Korean

Nope. Believe it or not, it's actually a Korean remake of the Japanese series!
posted by the bricabrac man at 12:58 PM on December 16, 2013

I haven't finished any Korean Drama since City Hunter (a very intense shipping experience). I tried to watch Faith and Dr. Jin but couldn't get into them. Lately I'm very tempted to watch The Heirs, due to all the hilarious gifsets on Tumblr. But I've read ~conflicting reviews of the drama...
posted by fatehunter at 1:20 PM on December 16, 2013

Also "Vampire Prosecutor" is the greatest name for a show ever.

Even better: it is the most accurate two word description of the show on multiple levels -- the main character is a prosecutor who is a vampire attempting (in the overarching plot) to bring another vampire to justice.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 1:53 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

There were quite a few remakes of Japanese series in k-drama this year:
That Winter, the Wind Blows
God of the Workplace / The Queen of the Office
The Queen's Classroom
Ths Suspicious Housekeeper

Some Japanese manga got adapted by everybody - Boys Over Flowers was adapted as a TV drama in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, as well as spawning a Chinese series "inspired" by it. Playful Kiss also got Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese versions, as did Hana-Kimi (the Korean version was the aforementioned To The Beautiful You). Dragon Zakura as far as I know has not spawned a Chinese version, only having Japanese and Korean drama adaptations.

And then the non-local adaptations get shown in the other countries, so then one has to specify whether one is talking about say, the Japanese Dr. Jin or the Korean Dr. Jin.
posted by needled at 2:32 PM on December 16, 2013

fatehunter, I'd recommend sticking with the fun gifsets and skipping watching Heirs. It's not the worst drama I've seen, but it definitely is not good. The first few episodes were ridiculous but still guilty-pleasure fun, but then the drama quickly settled into a frustrating routine of no plot-advancement and no character growth for at least a dozen episodes, miring itself in angsty (and super frustrating) "teen romance" which seemed more like teens wanting to be adults but acting like creepy abusive stalkers instead.

Which is a total pity, because I really love the cast -- the actors were fabulous. But the only real fun characters that made the drama worth it were the tertiary characters (surprisingly, most of them are idol actors, which is usually not something I'm fond of in my dramas). The leads were so aggravating, although Kim Woo Bin (oh he of the fabulous eyebrows) did his best to make his scenes watchable. But if you're a fan of Lee Min Ho (like I am), stick with City Hunter and avoid this mess.

Of course, not everyone agrees with me -- this was the first time I ever got tumblr anon hate because I did a liveblog of my watching experience, and expressed my opinion of the lead character (as a creepy, manipulative stalker). But I think there, again, is that age factor coming into play. The people who saw his character as creepy were older and didn't find his ventures to romance at all appealing, while generally the younger crowd thought he was swooningly thoughtful. Then again, I have issues with the screenwriter in general and her portrayal of romance, and is a big reason why I've never really liked her dramas, despite them being super popular and pulling in high ratings (Secret Garden and A Gentleman's Dignity are the only ones I've attempted, but failed to finish because I found them boring and frustrating, despite having good moments). The only exception is City Hall, which is actually one of my all-time favorite dramas -- so I don't know how I can love that one so much, but find her characterization and glacial plot movement so infuriating in all her other works.

There are just so many good dramas out there that to waste your time on Heirs seems like a crime. Although, to be fair, it was fun in a community-experience way, because now "Tan's ugly sweater" and bursting into "LOVE IS THE MOMENT!" from the super-repetitive OST are now pretty much memes. But watching a show just to understand funny gifsets that are probably the only good bits of each episode? Not worth it.

(See? I said I had STRONG OPINIONS.)
posted by paisley sheep at 3:00 PM on December 16, 2013

Btw, Boys Over Flowers/Hana Yori Dango/Meteor Garden is getting an American remake (not an official broadcast, but a low-budget webseries), with the title Boys Before Friends. The first episode is supposed to premiere on the 18th (or 19th? I've seen both dates mentioned), and it looks like it will be available on Viki.

The trailer for it looks hilariously awful.

I am probably going to watch it, though, because I can't resist shows that may be so awful they turn out to be fun entertainment, and because I've watched all the other incarnations of this story. Boys Over Flowers was my first kdrama and I still love it for sentimental reasons, even though I feel it's the weakest of the versions (...until maybe now?).
posted by paisley sheep at 3:10 PM on December 16, 2013

The first few episodes were ridiculous but still guilty-pleasure fun, but then the drama quickly settled into a frustrating routine of no plot-advancement and no character growth for at least a dozen episodes, miring itself in angsty (and super frustrating) "teen romance" which seemed more like teens wanting to be adults but acting like creepy abusive stalkers instead.

Thanks paisley sheep! That confirms my suspicions. *flashbacks to Goong*

I wouldn't call myself a Lee Minho fan per se - it's more that I feel urges to give every drama of his a try, because reasons. City Hunter is the only LMH drama I could finish so far. His range seems a little limited.

It's a shame that I have less energy to follow dramas these days, when the general consensus seems to be that K-drama keeps improving on the whole, as Korean entertainment becomes a genuine force on the world stage. I just don't have the time for 20+ episodes of 65-min each. Sigh. But if they adapt Secretly Greatly for a drama I'm so there.
posted by fatehunter at 4:55 PM on December 16, 2013

Unless the Japanese version has a fetus tumor in a jar that is a pivotal plot point.

I did not know it had been remade! I suppose it makes sense, since Jin was super popular.

Also... uh... that's not new... it's one of the things that makes Jin baffling. Sometimes I felt like I understood where the writers were coming from, even when it was a bizarre choice--but I never quite figured out the time-travel fetus tumor in a jar.

Queen Seondoek,

I loved the first twenty or so episodes of this show, but I felt like it was yet another drama that ended up being crippled by its popularity. The political/personal intrigues just dragged on.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:19 PM on December 16, 2013

Thanks everyone for letting me know that Dr Jin's time-travel fetus tumor exists in all variants. I dropped the show pretty quick and only kept up with it word of mouth, so I never really followed up on the backstory like I usually do with shows that interest me (such as checking out the source manga).

(And fatehunter, I still haven't seen Secretly, Greatly yet, despite being a major fangirl of Park Ki Woong. Probably because I'm too busy watching other things, heh.)
posted by paisley sheep at 5:55 PM on December 16, 2013

I've watched a few Korean dramas but tend to prefer Japanese ones. Like a few others said, they start out promising but for me get too over dramatic. I still like My Name is Kim Sam Soon and Dal Ja's Spring.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 8:16 AM on December 17, 2013

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