It’s undeniable that the Korean entertainment has produced high-quality shows that are well-received by millions across the globe. Their works are exemplary and so the talented actors that they introduce to us.
South Korea continues to reign in this field and we remain dazzled by their creativity and expertise. Hence, we commend them for honing such creative writers, directors, and artists.
Before the year ends, we want to honor the best of Korean content. In selecting our best drama for the year, the impact or relevance of narrative comes first to us, regardless of genre. A storyline surrounding social issues or raising mental health awareness grabs our attention the most.
How the fictional characters leave a strong mark on the viewers is the second point. Thirdly, we look at the overall quality of production and entertainment value.
Here are our 10 best Korean dramas of 2021:
“Happiness” took us by surprise. From the timely message of viral disease to the chemistry of the main leads, the show kept us hooked until the end. We loved how the narrative put emphasis on the multiple characters representing various human behavior in response to crisis. “This is timely. This is real humanity,” we thought.
The drama serves a dose of present reality related to COVID-19 pandemic with its storyline revolving around pursuing happiness amid sickness and strife.
Starring: Han Hyo-joo, Park Hyung-sik, and Jo Woo-jin
Written by: Han Sang-woon
Directed by: Ahn Gil-ho
“Vincenzo” is a visual masterpiece and an outstanding production. Entertainment wise, we totally enjoyed 20 episodes of this crime-dark-comedy drama with its interesting plot and characters. It was an epic ride against the villains and in recovering 1.5 tons of gold.
We had a good laugh with the quirky tenants in Geumga plaza and Vincenzo Cassano’s sense of humor. Song Joongki slayed his role as a Mafia consigliere, our handsome “corn salad” who curses in Italian and flicks his lighter to end an enemy.
Starring: Song Joong-ki, Jeon Yeo-been, Ok Taec-yeon, Kim Yeo-jin and Kwak Dong-yeon
Written by: Park Jae-bum
Directed by: Kim Hee-won
8. Deserter Pursuit
We think that “Deserter Pursuit” is the most depressing series that we have seen this year. But although the story is quite heavy and distressing to watch, it serves as an eye-opening experience that bravely tackles the struggles of new recruits and reasons why some enlistees decide to desert the army.
We believe that this drama serves as a strong voice and platform in building awareness and helping the public understand the unresolved, denied, and neglected issues, not just in South Korea’s military camp, but generally the systems and institutions set up by society around the world.
Starring: Jung Hae-in, Koo Kyo-hwan, Kim Sung-kyun, and Son Seok-koo
Written by: Kim Bo-tong and Han Jun-hee
Directed by: Han Jun-hee
7. One Ordinary Day
“One Ordinary Day” is a brilliant Korean version of BBC’s Criminal Justice. We were blown away by its high quality cinematography and production as well as the performances of Kim Soo-hyun and Cha Seung-won.
We loved how the drama emphasized the psychological impact on the falsely accused and how cruel the society can be. It showed many forms of defamation from media libel to interrogation slander to public scrutiny and abuse.
Starring: Kim Soo-hyun, Cha Seung-won, and Kim Sung-kyuo
Written by: Kwon Soon-kyu
Directed by: Lee Myung-woo
A complicated yet brilliant storyline, “Mouse” explores the origin of psychopaths—a pure entertainment of science fiction and reality.
We loved the crazy ride of mind-blowing plot twists and the exceptional performance of Lee Seung-gi as a psychopath. He grabbed our attention with his mastery in switching expressions from fake humanity to a real sadistic.
The drama also left us pondering about the reality of evilness in society and how it plays a major role in creating the monsters in us.
Starring: Lee Seung-gi, Lee Hee-joon, Park Ju-hyun and Kyung Soo-jin
Written by: Choi Ran
Directed by: Choi Joon-bae and Kang Cheol-woo
5. Hospital Playlist 2
“Hospital Playlist” is more than a medical drama that incorporates “life” into the incredibly busy career of doctors. We loved how it highlights the life’s up and downs of healthcare workers amid the noise and haste of city life. As they embark on hospital adventures, these group of five doctors whose friendship is heartwarming, also entertain its viewers musically.
Moreover, the show reflects the reality of life, death, and relationships in a hospital setting. It is not just a drama that educates the viewers about medical terms, illnesses, and practices, but it also narrates stories through the perspective of patients.
Starring: Jo Jung-suk, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jung Kyung-ho, Kim Dae-myung and Jeon Mi-do
Written by: Lee Woo-jung
Directed by: Shin Won-ho
We were drawn to the warm narrative of “Navillera” and all the nostalgic vibes it gave us. It reflects so much insight about life—deeply moving and touching that tackles dreams, struggles with aging, friendship, and more. It left us pondering about the decisions we make and the inner battles we go through. Best of all, it gave us the courage to overcome whatever life throws at us.
This drama is a perfect watch if you want a better perspective in life.
Starring: Park In-hwan, Song Kang, Na Moon-hee, Hong Seung-hee
Written by: Lee Eun-mi
Directed by: Han Dong-hwa
3. Beyond Evil
Set in a small town of Manyang, “Beyond Evil” is a flawless blend of psychological drama and bone chilling crime. From the thrilling twists and turns to the character development, the storytelling of this drama is perfectly written. It’s more than a crime drama that explores the emotional side of the characters.
We loved how it narrates the psychological impact on the falsely accused and what the person experiences mentally, emotionally, and socially. Best of all, Shin Ha-kyun’s performance stole the show. He perfectly slayed his role as a mentally tortured and tormented man. Hands down.
Starring: Shin Ha-kyun and Yeo Jin-goo
Written by: Kim Su-jin
Directed by: Shim Na-yeon
2. Move To Heaven
“Move To Heaven” is one of those rare Korean dramas that strongly stirs emotions, relates to human problems and talks about the underexplored, delicate facets of life through trauma cleaning. It’s narrative reflects so much insight into how a single life simply leaves a mark and how a loss unravels moments, hidden desires, and thoughts through personal objects or possessions left behind.
This is one of the few dramas this year that made us cry buckets. It moved us to contemplate the shortness and value of life and the significance of connection in relationships. It also left us pondering that there is more to a person who has departed—that there are more undisclosed layers to a seemingly simple story.
Starring: Lee Je-hoon, Tang Joon-sang, Ji Jin-hee, Lee Jae-wook, and Hong Seung-hee
Written by: Yoon Ji-ryeon
Directed by: Kim Sung-ho
1. Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha
For us, “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” has the most powerful and realistic narrative of the year. Although it is a remake of the 2004 film, “Mr. Hong”, we loved how the writer breathed more life into it by introducing multiple characters whose stories represent our daily lives.
Remade into a 16-part series, it is more than a romantic drama that tackles a lot of realistic issues in life as well as raises awareness on mental health. It is loaded with life-giving lessons such as family, friendship, social relationships, career, and more.
Moreover, we found it brilliant how a lighthearted seaside story can turn into a heartbreaking one through the life of Chief Hong Dusik. Kim Seonho made this character iconic with his detailed acting as a charming and broken man. He made us smile. He made us love Gongjin. He made us feel his pain. He made us cry buckets.
Among all the Korean dramas this year, “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” offered the most refreshing watch, a momentary escape amid the troubles around the world from the seaside location to cinematography to Gongjin villagers to Sikhye’s relationship to musical score. Every little thing about this drama just warms your heart.
Starring: Shin Min-a, Kim Seon-ho, and Lee Sang-yi
Written by: Shin Ha-eun
Directed by: Yu Je-won