Many Korean dramas have left a strong mark on the viewers for the timely narrative surrounding social issues and mental health.
In 2021, here are ten (10) crowd-favorite Korean dramas that imparted a powerful messsage on life and humanity, in no particular order:
1. Move To Heaven (2021)
What matters the most in life when our loved ones depart? What is left behind when we face death? Move To Heaven (2021) contemplates the shortness and value of life through trauma cleaning. It’s narrative reflects much insight on how a single life simply leaves a mark and how a loss unravels moments, hidden desires, and thoughts through personal possessions left behind. It will also leave you pondering about someone who has departed—that there is more to a person, that there are more undisclosed layers to a simple story. Overall, the drama teaches the value of time, life, and family relationships.
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
2. Deserter Pursuit (2021)
Deserter Pursuit (2021) serves as an eye-opening experience that bravely tackles the struggles of new recruits and reasons why some enlistees decide to desert the army. It raises public awareness that enables one to 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. The portrayal of abuse and injustice in this drama is visually powerful, expressing a desperate message for change—a call to social empathy, protect the victims, empower justice, take part of the change, and not respond indifferently as bystanders or onlookers.
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
3. Mouse (2021)
A complicated yet brilliant storyline, Mouse (2021) explores the origin of psychopaths—a pure entertainment of science fiction and reality. The exceptional performance of Lee Seung-gi as a psychopath will grab your attention with his mastery in switching expressions from fake humanity to a real sadistic. The drama will also leave you 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
4. Taxi Driver (2021)
Taxi Driver (2021) talks about dealing with evil doers in society that the law of justice is sometimes slow to punish and the victims are mostly left hanging and wounded. Hence, a group of hurting people creates a secret movement to help victims get revenge through a special taxi service. The drama also shows the painful situation that victims of abuse, murder, and crimes go through while the culprits live a free life, unpunished and unbothered.
Starring: Lee Je-hoon, Esom, Kim Eui-sung, Pyo Ye-jin
Written by: Oh Sang-ho, Lee Ji-hyun
Directed by: Park Joon-woo
5. Hospital Playlist 2 (2021)
Hospital Playlist (2021) is more than a medical drama that incorporates “life” into the incredibly busy career of doctors. It highlights the life’s up and downs of healthcare workers amid the noise and haste of city life. The show also 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
6. Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021)
Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021) is more than a romantic drama that introduces multiple characters whose stories represent our daily lives. It also raises awareness that mental health matters in dealing with people, particularly portraying how damaging words from people can be psychologically powerful. Another wonderful thing about this drama is that it highlights how genuine love plays a major part of being set free—that healing involves having the courage to be known and yet, still loved.
Starring: Shin Min-a, Kim Seon-ho, and Lee Sang-yi
Written by: Shin Ha-eun
Directed by: Yu Je-won
7. Happiness (2021)
The narrative of Happiness (2021) has a timely message that puts emphasis on the multiple characters representing various human behavior in response to crisis. It shows the dominant risk-takers or decisive people, analytical solvers, impulsive doers, and the low-key type who seeks peace during conflicts. It also 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
8. One Ordinary Day (2021)
One Ordinary Day (2021) is a brilliant Korean version of BBC’s Criminal Justice with emphasis on the psychological impact on the falsely accused and how cruel the society can be. Kim Soo-hyun displayed various emotions of someone wrongfully accused including anxiety, panic disorder, depression, loss of identity, and decreased self-esteem. It also showed many forms of defamation from media libel to interrogation slander to public scrutiny and abuse. Overall, the drama conveys a strong message of keeping an open mind about a person’s innocence or guilt until the full evidence and facts are clear.
Starring: Kim Soo-hyun, Cha Seung-won, and Kim Sung-kyuo
Written by: Kwon Soon-kyu
Directed by: Lee Myung-woo
9. Our Beloved Summer (2021-2022)
More than the mood of romance is the emotive storytelling in Our Beloved Summer (2021-2022) on humanity’s imperfections influenced by painful and traumatic events in life. It beautifully portrays life’s brokenness—the fear of abandonment, act of avoidance, bottled-up emotions, and the pain of loneliness. Above all, it delivers the heartwarming message that healing only happens where there is forgiveness and one-anothering.
Starring: Choi Woo-shik, Kim Da-mi, Kim Sung-cheol, Roh Jeong-eui
Written by: Lee Na-eun
Directed by: Kim Yoon-jin
10. Snowdrop (2021-2022)
Snowdrop (2021-2022) has a powerful narrative that explores the unceasing timely issues on abusive power, dirty tactics, greed, and maltreatment in politics. While it deals with the relational ills between South Korea and North Korea, it also reflects the fact that every nation of the world suffers from the same political issues—where power comes first before humanity and violence controls the situation. However, it also shows that good people still emerge in a mob of monsters, who will take the risk of destroying the enemies and saving many lives.
Starring: Jung Hae-in, Jisoo, Yoo In-na, Jang Seung-jo, Yoon Se-ah, Kim Hye-yoon, Jung Yoo-jin
Written by: Yoo Hyun-mi
Directed by: Jo Hyun-tak