lirazel: ([kd] secret place)
[personal profile] lirazel
I've decided to start keeping a post of my recs for Korean dramas to help you figure out what you might want to watch. This won't be a list of all the dramas I watch, just the ones that I think are good enough that other people should watch them too. I'll be updating it as I find new ones, and I'll be making this a sticky post within the next few days. I hope it can lead you on your way to loving Korean TV dramas!

At the moment, all of the listed dramas are available on dramafever and/or hulu. Dramafever officially licenses these dramas, so if you watch there (or on hulu) you are NOT participating in piracy--you're getting things straight from the source. In the future, there might be some dramas that aren't available on those sites (for instance, I've got Capital Scandal on my harddrive at the moment and Resurrection/Rebirth currently torrenting, and I expect to add both of them to this list) and I know that those sites aren't available to all of my friends, so you can PM me if you're trying to find something you don't have access to. I'll try to help you out, though I make no promises.

Mawang/The Devil

Summary: When Homicide Detective Kang Oh Soo hit a dead end in his investigation of two seemly unrelated murders, except for the Tarot cards left behind at both crime scenes, he sought help from Seo Hae In, a woman with Token-object reading ability. She revealed that the killers were different in each murder, but the victims were chosen for their connection to a death of a high school boy. Later, the cases proved to have one more thing in common: the suspects have the same defense attorney, Oh Seung Ha....Now, someone has came back to revenge the boy’s wrongful death by killing those who got the killer off. - dramawiki (edited for spoilers, so don't read the synopsis at the link)
Can be watched on:,
Starring: Joo Ji Hoon, Uhm Tae Woong, Shin Min Ah.
Watch it if you like: thrillers that are more psychological than action-packed, stories with complicated morality, moments of grace between enemies, stories that raise questions about the nature of vengeance and free will, excellent symbolism, PSYCHIC LIBRARIANS, one of the few well-done love triangles in the world (it’s practically not even a love triangle, I don’t even know how they pull this off), tight writing, angst that isn’t self-pitying or wallowy, the past coming back to visit, Russian novels (not literally but this feels like one to me), Uhm Dae Woong being excellent.
Why you might not like it: if you aren’t in the mood for something dark, skip this one. It’s heavy and while there are moments of grace and beauty, it isn’t a happy story. Come back to it when you can handle something a little darker.

Shut Up! Flower Boy Band


Summary: Eye Candy is a six member underground rock band led by Byung Hee. When the group transfers into the prestigious Jungsang High School, they find their rival, Strawberry Fields. This is a story about the two rock bands and how they deal with friendship, relationships, and their passion for music. - dramawiki, in the worst synposis EVER. This makes it sound so juvenile. And while it's definitely focused on teenagers, it's about so much more than that.
Can be watched on:
Starring: Sung Joon, L, Lee Hyun Jae, Kim Min Suk, Yoo Min Kyu, Jo Bah Ah, Jung Ui Chul, with a truly awesome cameo by Lee Min Ki.
This page is a great resource for helping you keep the boys straight in the first two episodes or two (after that: trust me, you'll know who is who).
Watch it if you like: well-done stories about teenagers (think Skins Gen 1 except with less cussing, nudity, drugs, etc.) that acknowledge how complex they can be, friends who are incredibly loyal but can also hurt each other badly, excellent bromances, heroines who are low-key but don’t suffer fools and stand up for themselves, stories about what it means to grow up and figure out what you want, music, dramas that don't drag and are never paced too slow, bands, romances between people who actually make each other happy, pretty boys (piles of pretty boys actually).
Why you might not like it: if you hate high school stories, possibly. I think it’s still worth a shot even if you're generally not into that genre, but if you absolutely hate that, you might not like this either.

Reply 1997 (also called: Answer Me 1997 and Respond 1997)

Summary: This drama will focus on the extreme fan culture that emerged in the 1990s when idol groups took center stage and K-pop was blossoming. It tells the story of 6 former high school friends from a school in Busan who meet again in 2012 and brings back memories to 1997 when they were still high school students. Moving back and forth between the ’90s and today, the story centers on the life of Sung Shi Won (Jung Eun Ji), who idolizes boyband H.O.T., and her 5 high school friends. - dramawiki
Can be watched on:, (not every episode is up on hulu yet, but I expect it will be any day).
Starring: Jung Eun Ji, Seo In Guk, Shin So Yool, Hoya, Eun Ji Won, and Lee Shi Un
Watch it if you like: stories about fangirls, watching Eunji be ADORABLE, 90s nostalgia, beautiful coming-of-age stories, gay characters whose stories aren't from some sort of After School Special, bffs who fall in love, family narratives, found families, gentle humor, bffs who can sometimes hurt each other but love each other fiercely and would do anything for each other, watching characters grow up before your eyes,high school stories,
Why you might not like it: It's not the fastest-moving drama out there (though I don't think it drags. It more...takes its time, and I love that about it), and if you hate high school stories, you might not like this one. If you discover that Eunji grates on you, that might turn you off to it, too, but I haven't heard of anyone that's actually happened to--everyone I've heard of who tried it loved it.

City Hunter

Summary: The story takes place in Seoul, 2011. Lee Yoon Sung is a talented MIT-graduate who works on the international communications team in the Blue House. He plans revenge on five politicians who caused his father's death with his surrogate father Lee Jin Pyo and eventually becomes a "City Hunter." - dramawiki. What is up with these bad summaries? I mean, that's true, as far as it goes, but again: so much more than that.
Can be watched on:,
Starring: Lee Min Ho, Park Min Young, Lee Joon Hyuk, Kim Sang Joong, Kim Sang Ho.
Watch it if you like: a nice mix of action and psychological thriller-ness, heroes who have a lot of angst and baggage but don’t brood too much and actually have a sense of humor, heroines who get to DO things, adorable romances of adorableness, complicated relationships especially of the family variety, excellent productions values and cinematography, Lee Min Ho being HOT, stories with a sense of humor, a lack of love triangles, tight writing.
Why you might not like it: I cannot imagine. I really can’t. It’s the Korean Batman except SO MUCH BETTER (and sans my-parents-are-dead! whining).

Queen In-Hyun's Man

Summary: Kim Boong Do is a scholar who had supported the reinstatement of Queen In Hyun when Jang heebin's schemes resulted in her being deposed and replaced as King Sukjong's queen consort. He travels 300 years into the future of modern Seoul and meets Choi Hee Jin, a no-name actress who is expecting a career renaissance through her role as Queen In Hyun in a TV drama - dramawiki
Can be watched on: dramacrazy, kimchidramas
Starring: Ji Hyun Woo, Yoo In Na, Kim Jin Woo, Ga Deuk Hi
Watch it if you like: time-travel, adorable people in love, smart heroes, smart writing, excellent pacing, romances that are sweet without being saccharine, plot twists that will actually make your jaw drop, barriers to romance that are actually barriers and not just idiot plots, culture clash, costume dramas, political intrigue (but not too much political intrigue), competence in your leads, characters who totally deserve to be happy, good people doing the right thing because it’s the right thing.
Why you might not like it: If you hate romance and love and adorableness. No but really: this is a straight-up romance with time-travelling goodness, and though it is swoony and adorable and lovely, it isn’t cheesy at all

Coffee Prince/The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince

Summary: The life of Go Eun Chan (Yoon Eun Hye) is not easy; she works many jobs to pay off debts and even gave up her feminine image. Choi Han Kyul (Gong Yoo) is the heir of a big food company, but his grandmother wants him to settle down, so she arranged many dates for him. After Eun Chan bumped into Han Kyul and was mistaken for a boy, Han Kyul decided to hire Eun Chan to be his gay lover in order to avoid the arranged dates. Desperately in need of money, Eun Chan had no choice but to accept. Han Kyul's grandmother also made Han Kyul in charge of a filthy coffee shop in danger of being bankrupt. Eun Chan begged to work at the coffee shop, and not long after, feelings start to spark, except, how would Han Kyul accept his "homosexuality"? - dramawiki
Can be watched on: dramafever.comm,
Starring: Yoon Eun Hye, Gong Yoo, Lee Sun Gyun, Chae Jung Ahn.
Watch it if you like: gender-bendyness, girls who dress up as boys, bromances, excellent relationships between sisters, romances that are hella enjoyable but don’t insult your intelligence, excellent physicality, coffee, Yoon Eun Hye being ADORABLE, awesome soundtracks, angst that comes from understandable character decisions but doesn’t take over the story, heroines who know what they want and work to get it but keep their sense of humor, loooots of adorable male bonding.
Why you might not like it: if gender-bendy-ness isn’t your thing? Although if it isn’t, what are you doing in my journal?

Love Rain

Summary: "Love Rain" depicts a 1970's pure love and a love from the present day at the same time. It shows how the children of a previous ill-fated couple, who met in the 1970s, managed to meet and fall in love. Seo In Ha and Kim Yoon Hee, an art student and a shy beauty, met and fell in love with each other during college in the 1970s but unfortunately their love was fated to never be. Now in the present 21st century Korea, Seo In Ha's son, Seo Joon (a liberal photographer) meets and falls in with the daughter of Kim Yoon Hee, Jung Ha Na, a cheerful and energetic girl who's personality is different from her mother's. Will their love for each other keep them together or will they have to face the same fate as their parents? - dramawiki
Can be watched on: dramafever,
Starring: Jang Geun Suk, Im Yoonah, Jung Jin Young, Lee Mi Sook.
Watch it if you like: drop-dead gorgeous cinematography (this is easily one of the most beautiful dramas ever), Yoona’s adorable face, a great soundtrack (especially in the 70’s era), complicated familial relationships, relationships where the couple is really good for each other, beautiful angst, adorable young love, dramas where the images are more important than the dialogue, being blown away at how Jang Geun Suk and Yoonah manage to create two completely distinctive characters each in the same drama, satisfying romances, a celebration of the seasons.
Why you might not like it: This is a straight-up romance. It’s classified as a melodrama, but I feel like after the first four episodes, it really isn’t, as the show gets much lighter (with just enough angst to have some actual plot) from there. If you aren’t in the mood for love, skip this one.
An important note: This is really two dramas in one. The first four episodes, focusing on young Yoon Hee and In Ha falling in love at college in the 1970s is insanely beautiful and quiet and lovely, though some people might find it slow (I didn’t). It’s also very much a romantic melodrama. But starting in episode 5, we leap forward to the present day, and the show is much lighter, the ship much more vivid, and the mood is very different. If the first four episodes aren’t really working for you, you can skip forward to the 5th without missing too much, imo. Definitely give the second generation a try if the first doesn’t work for you.

Goong/Princess Hours

Summary: Goong is a story about young love in face of tradition, politics, and intrigue. In the imaginary world, modern-day Korea is a constitutional monarchy and the Royal Family lives in a grand Palace, the Goong. Story opens with the sudden death of the reigning the King. Faced with the decreasing popularity among the public for the Royalty, a grand wedding for the Crown Prince, Lee Shin, is decided to be the best publicity move to improve the image of the Royalty and at the same time prepare Shin for immediate succession. The intended bride? The headstrong, awkward, and sweet spirited Shin Chae Kyung that just happens to go to the same exclusive art school. Chae Kyung was betrothed to become the next Crown Princess by her grandfather and Shin's grandfather. - dramawiki
Can be watched on: dramafever,
Starring: Yoon Eun Hye, Joo Ji Hoon, Kim Jung Hoon, Song Ji Hyo.
Watch it if you like: married couples who fall in love AFTER they get married, court intrigue, examinations of how damn hard it is to be royal and why being a princess isn’t always that great, Yoon Eun Hye being ADORABLE, portrayals of both good and bad family relationships, adorable old dowager queens, excellent production design.
Why you might not like it: it’s not the best-paced thing out there, especially in the second half, and the plotting amongst the adults can get kind of draggy. But it is so damn lovable despite that that I think those things are easy to overlook. Also it’s got a typical Kdrama love rectangle, which is like my least favorite thing ever, and it gets dragged out for way longer than it needs to be. But, again, I think it’s worth it despite that. I'm also of the opinion that the main appeal of this one is the ship, so if they don't work for you, the show might not either.

And here is a list of resources that will help you with some language/cultural elements that Westerners may not pick up on:
A superhelpful glossery of commonly used Korean words that don't really have English translations (especially helpful with honorifics)
An entire entry about that complicated little word: oppa
Banmal: informal or familiar speech
Jondaemal: formal speech

And a brief note:
You have to teach yourself how to watch non-Western dramas, is what I’ve figured out. They have their own clichés and their own tropes and some of them might be grating or weird to Western viewers. But that’s okay. They’re not wrong—they’re just different.

The first thing that people notice is pacing. It’s different. Really, really different, in some cases (not so much with, say, City Hunter, but more with things like Goong). I’ve seen some people say that there is no pacing, but that’s not true. There is. It’s just not the same pacing we use in the West. But think of how different TV (or even movies) that were Hollywood-made were fifty years ago (awkward syntax, please forgive me). They’re drastically different than today’s techniques. Asian dramas are also different in this way. Now even after you get used to this difference, there are still some shows that will drag. That’s because no show is perfect. But once you get into the rhythm of these shows, it’s pretty easy to deal with, imo.

There are some tropes you're going to see pop up again and again: love rectangles (most drawn out to the point where you're going to want to murder the writers), the idea that love found originally in childhood is more beautiful than love first found in adulthood, people getting drunk and getting piggyback rides, etc. There's also way less, well, romantic touching. You're lucky if your OTP gets a few kisses in. I actually love this most of the time, because it makes smaller gestures--hand-holding, a piggyback ride, a back hug (you'll know it when you see it)--all the more powerful. But it is very different than Western TV. (And I will say, once or twice it has annoyed me. I cannot tell you how badly I wanted one of the B couples in Shut Up! Flower Boy Band to shove each other up against a wall and make out. They didn't, and my soul was crushed. THE CHEMISTRY THEY HAD THOUGH. It would have been entirely in character.)

If you find anything you're running into that you don't understand, I may be able to point you to a resource that helps clarify.
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