The recipe for a classic Korean drama, or K-drama, usually has certain ingredients—the rich guy/poor girl combo; a love triangle; disapproving parents; and at least one deathly ill person (typically from cancer). But while the plot lines can be a smidge predictable, there’s just something about a good K-drama that keeps us coming back. With the massive influx of dramas on streaming sites like DramaFever and Netflix, however, it can be hard to find ones that cut through the noise. If you’re new to Korean dramas and don’t know where to start, or if you’re just looking for an unconventional story line to switch things up, we recommend the picks below. They’re a mix of interesting plots that sway from the typical K-drama structure and good ol’ classics that have earned themselves that status. Either way, get ready for some hardcore binge sessions.
1 ‘Boys Over Flowers’
The créme de la créme. Consider this show the Mean Girls of Korean dramas…but with reversed gender roles. The mean boys of Shinhwa High School call themselves F4 (yes, like the keyboard function), and are able to rule over the students with their smashing good looks and parents’ impressive bank accounts. However, when scholarship student Geum Jan-di, an ordinary girl from a poor family, takes a stand against F4’s leader, Gu Jun-pyo, he slowly but surely ends up falling for her. Their relationship that follows is a bumpy one as they have to survive a disapproving mom, class discrepancies, a love triangle, and even a car crash—all the elements for a super dramatic Korean drama.
2 ‘Dae Jang Geum’
If you’re a fan of historical fiction dramas, you don’t want to miss Dae Jang Geum, the story of an orphaned kitchen cook who went on to become the king’s first female physician. The story is actually based on the true story of Jang-geum, the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty. Although it was a time when women didn’t have much say in society, her sharp wits and advanced cooking skills go on to cure the king at the time of his various illnesses. If the story alone isn’t enough to captivate you, the food porn definitely will.
3 ‘Strong Girl Bong-Soon’
The synopsis might sound a bit silly, but don’t be quick to write this one off. The story revolves around a ridiculously strong girl named Bong-Soon who gets her superhuman strength from a hereditary power that’s only passed on to women in the family. However, she must only use her strength for good because if she uses them selfishly, she loses her powers forever. Her quiet life in the shadows changes when she meets the CEO of a huge gaming company and is employed as his bodyguard (and eventual love interest). Her childhood friend, a police officer, simultaneously gets her embroiled in a series of crimes targeting women in the neighborhood, and she becomes involved in a hunt for a serial killer. The result is a very-human superhuman girl who struggles between balancing a personal life and a superhero one.
4 ‘Oh My Ghost’
This comedy-drama is Freaky Friday 2.0. The main character, Bong-Sun, has an extremely shy and submissive personality, which causes her to get trampled on at her job as an assistant chef. Oh, and she’s also able to see ghosts (casual). She ends up getting possessed by a ghost named Soon-ae, who just so happens to have the polar opposite personality—she’s spunky, loud, and outgoing. She’s also a virgin who believes that her ghostly existence in the world is due to her lacking love life, so her goal is to seduce as many men as possible through other women’s bodies in order to move on to the afterlife. Turns out that her grudge is something else entirely, and Soon-ae’s death wasn’t a natural one. The dynamic duo decide to join forces and help each other out in a mutually beneficial—albeit possessive (literally)—friendship.
5 ‘Save Me’
Looking for a refreshing change of pace? Save Me takes a sharp turn from the typical K-drama plot line. The story involves a girl who gets trapped into a cult disguised as a Christian church. While in their clutches, she runs into four high school friends on the road where she desperately mouths the words “save me.” We don’t want to give too much away, but what follows is a battle between a charismatic cult leader with freakishly white-blonde hair and four young boys who are willing to go to extreme lengths to save their friend.
Ah, who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? The Abyss is a mysterious ball that revives dead people with a different appearance that reflects the person’s soul. When two friends, Se-yeon, a beautiful prosecution lawyer, and Cha Min, an unattractive but kindhearted heir to a cosmetics empire, die in separate incidents and get revived into different bodies, they start working together to find out the reason for their revival and who caused Se-yeon’s death.
7 ‘You Are Beautiful’
Mi-nyeo and Mi-nam are identical twins with very different career paths. They both grew up in an orphanage, but Mi-nam wants to become a famous singer to find his mom while Mi-nyeo is training to become a nun. When Mi-nam wins a coveted spot in the musical band A.N.Jell, he must leave to America for a few weeks to fix his botched plastic surgery. He requests his twin sister to pose as him until he comes back, and she reluctantly does to secure his spot. But posing as a boy is harder than it sounds, and when the other band members find out she’s a girl, they have to balance complicated emotions (yes, there’s a love triangle) while trying to hide the gender switch from the rest of the world.
8 ‘One More Time’
A modern (Korean) re-telling of Groundhog Day, this story features a young singer of an indie band who gets swept up in a cursed case of deja-vu. He is forced to relive the same day with no apparent reason as to why he’s stuck in a time loop. That is, until he realizes that living the same day over and over again might be able to save his distant girlfriend from a terrible fate.
9 ‘Crash Landing On You’
When a South Korean heiress of a conglomerate is forced to land in North Korea from a paragliding incident, she meets a high-ranking North Korean officer named Jung-hyuk. But instead of killing her or holding her for ransom, he decides to protect her from danger. And since there’s nothing like a forbidden romance to get the sexual tension going, naturally they fall in love. It’s a true Romeo and Juliet story (you know, without all the suicide).
10 ‘My Love Eun Dong’
Ladies, get yourself a man who will prioritize you even after being separated for 20 years. The crazy love story is told by a famous actor Eun-ho as he recounts his past to the author of his autobiography. His story is an interesting one because he only became a star in order to find his first love, Eun-dong. Eun-ho and Eun-dong’s complicated romantic history spans back a whole two decades to when they met in 1995 (now that’s commitment). As we see flashbacks of his history to the present, you start to grow in love with their heartwarming love story—and more hopeful for the chance of a reunion. Now if only we knew where to find men with that level of dedication.
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Hana Hong Hana Hong is the beauty assistant at Marie Claire, where she covers skincare, makeup, and haircare, and is identifiable by her signature cateye.