The Korean drama craze is sweeping the globe and streaming sites like Netflix and with good reason. K-dramas are full of intense emotions about various, relatable topics. They often offer more exciting plots than the romantic storylines of their western counterparts, and super fans are obsessed with the actors and actresses from their favorite K-dramas.
When did Korean dramas become so popular? Well, the Korean wave or 한류, began in the 1990's when Korean culture started to gain traction worldwide. Initially, K-dramas and K-pop music became popular in neighboring Asian countries like Taiwan and Japan. Thanks to the internet and social media, especially YouTube, the Korean wave evolved and spread from one specific region of the world across the entire globe.
Another surprising reason why Korean dramas are so successful is the government itself; it plays a significant role in the cultural phenomenon. One of the only countries in the world to have a Ministry of Culture, the South Korean government supports the exportation of the various entertainment industries through subsidies and funding.
So, if you're at home bored due to the coronavirus pandemic, what better time to get lost in a Korean drama? You'll be glued to the screen during every episode, and you'll get a closer look at Korean culture and language. You might even improve your Korean listening skills and pick up some new slang words while you're at it. Keep reading for our list of the best Korean dramas to help you learn Korean.
More Reasons to Fall in Love With K-Dramas
If you're still looking for reasons to jump on the Korean drama train, let's start with the subject matter.
There are various genres of Korean dramas, including historical dramas and medical dramas. You'll get a front row view into different aspects of Korean culture. For example, if you watch a K-drama, you'll discover that Koreans take their shoes off when entering a home. You'll also see some insight into the Korean education system. The best cultural aspects, in my opinion? You'll get to see the mouthwatering Korean dishes and listen to addicting original soundtracks.
Another great reason to love K-dramas is that most of the content is G-rated and appropriate for the whole family. You won't feel awkward watching these shows with mom or dad. There are rarely bad words, and even love scenes are kept squeaky clean. Furthermore, a lot of K-dramas focus on family relationships, which is an important and central aspect of Asian culture.
Finally, once you dive into a 16 to 20-episode drama, you're sure to pick up some Korean phrases. Whether you watch the drama with subtitles or not, you'll be able to say "안녕하세요" and chat with your Korean friends in no time at all. If you're like me, you might even find yourself repeating the characters' exclamations such as "오빠야!" (Oppaya literally means older brother, but it's often used by women referring to their older boyfriends.)
K-Dramas You Should Watch to Learn Korean
If you don't know where to start on your Korean drama journey, they are ALL really good and easy to get into. Here is a list of 12 Korean dramas to get you started and help you learn Korean.
My Favorite Korean Dramas
Itaewon Class (이태원 클라쓰) I fell in love with Itaweon Class at the beginning of the pandemic, and I'm not ashamed to say that I finished the entire thing in just a week. The main character, Park Sae-yori, is a stoic, upstanding man who has a tragic childhood incident that leads him to prison. He vows to fulfill his dream and turn his life around, which leads him to open a bar in Seoul's famous Itaweon district. The series follows the successes and failures of the bar, as well as an intense competitor's attempt to ruin Sae-yori. I'd recommend watching this drama for the fantastic shots of one of Seoul's hottest nightlife districts and for the awesome soundtrack.
Skycastle (SKY 캐슬) My first ever Korean drama, Skycastle was the gateway Korean drama that peaked my interest in finding more addicting K-dramas. After one episode of this show, I was hooked. The series follows a group of upper class, wealthy Korean families and the unlimited means they will go through in order for their children to succeed. The main storyline centers around the Korean education system, so it's especially interesting for teachers or those who are interested in high school life.
It's Okay to Not Be Okay (사이코지만 괜찮아) This drama focuses on mental health and emotional healing when a children's book author and a health worker at a psychiatric ward cross paths. The Korean title for this drama actually translates to "pyscho but it's okay," which only reiterates the lack of mental health awareness that lingers in the country. The drama served as a good way to open up the mental health discussion. A bonus: each episode incorporates beautiful animation and fairy tale elements throughout that you'll definitely want to see.
Crash Landing on You (사랑의 불시착) The Korean title of this drama translates as "love's emergency landing," which alludes to the unique and funny premise of the show. A South Korean heiress decides to go hang gliding, when a storm suddenly throws her off course. Where does she end up landing, you might be wondering. None other than North Korea. You'll have to watch to see if she makes it back home or not!
Historical Korean Dramas
Kingdom (킹덤) You may have already seen this drama, as it has gained popularity among people who aren't interested in K-dramas. Actually, Kingdom was the first Korean drama to premier on Netflix. This periodical drama is jam packed with action as well as insights into the Joseon dynasty, which ruled Korea for about 500 years. The story follows the crown prince who happens to stumble upon a political conspiracy while simultaneously dealing with a widespread plague. If you're into zombies mixed together with Game of Thrones type action and history, then this K-drama is the perfect concoction for you.
Six Flying Dragons (육룡이 나르샤) Also titled The Roots of the Throne in English, this is the perfect series for anyone who is a sucker for political ambition and relationships. And even better: this particular drama is 50 episodes long, so you can binge watch this one for days. Set during the fall of the Goryeo period, Six Flying Dragons depicts the political struggles that occurred during the founding of the Joseon dynasty. The series follows six central characters who are prominent figures during the movement. As you can expect, lots of juicy drama ensues.
Love in the Moonlight (구르미 그린 달빛) This Korean historical drama is based off of a book, and it's perfect for romance lovers. It's also set during the Joseon dynasty, and it follows the love story between a crown prince and a young girl. Plot twist: the prince doesn't know she is a woman as she is disguised as one of his official advisors. This sweet tale is really a coming of age story at heart, and you'll fall in love with the main characters' journey together.
Jewel in the Palace (대장금) This historical Korean drama aired in 2003. It's significant, as it was one of the first dramas gain popularity abroad and was at the forefront of the Korean wave. The drama follows the story of an orphaned girl who lived during amidst a male dominated societal structure during the Joseon dynasty. Based on a true story, the long (50 episodes!) series tells the story of one determined girl who eventually becomes the first female royal physician in Korean history.
Medical Korean Dramas
Hospital Playlist (슬기로운 의사생활) I teach a class of pre-med students, and this drama always reminds me of my future doctors. The series follows a group of five friends who met in medical school in 1999. If you didn't already know, studying medicine is a highly selective and coveted career path in South Korea. Doctors are one of the most well-respected and highest paid professions in Korean society, and only the cream of the crop are given the chance to enter medical school. Only twelve episodes, this medical drama is short and sweet. You could easily finish it within a few days. It's not overly dramatic or sensationalizes; rather, it follows the ordinary day to day lives as doctors try to balance career, friendship, and family.
Descendants of the Sun (태양의 후예) This Korean romance follows the love story between an injured special forces officer and a volunteer surgical doctor. If you watch this K-drama, you'll also get some insight into the Korean army. Besides the great cast and soundtrack, this series has some awesome scenery. It was partially filmed in Greece, so you get a break from the concrete jungle that is the big city.
Hospital Ship (병원선) This story follows a group of Korean doctors who deliver medical supplies to rural areas by ship. As someone who has travelled to many of the rural Korean islands, I really appreciate the filming and the premise behind this Korean drama. There really are some places that lack facilities, so you can see how this kind of service might be necessary. Of course, the series is filled with twists and turns as these doctors learn how to become compassionate doctors on their journey.
Good Doctor (굿 닥터) This sweet Korean medical drama follows the life of a brilliant and talented young doctor who has autism. He fights to overcome prejudices from both the patients and fellow staff and prove his worth in his field. This K-drama actually inspired an American spinoff starring actor Freddie Highmore.
Ready, Set, Watch!
There are so many fantastic Korean dramas out there, our list is just skimming the surface. To improve your Korean with K-dramas, you can start by watching with the subtitles on. More often than not, the characters' in Korean dramas repeat certain phrases that are characteristic of their personalities. The repetition will help your listening skills. You might even mimic some of the characters out loud in order to improve your Korean pronunciation and intonation. However, just because you know how to say new words, are you sure you're using them correctly?
You can practice your newly acquired phrases with a real online tutor. Speechling is a one-on-one language tutoring platform where users are given personal attention from native speakers. With awesome Korean language tutors, you'll be using Korean drama phrases correctly in no time!