a continually expanding list. (*last updated: 1/8/17)
5 Stars★★★★★: the reason we watch kdramas at all,
to 1 Star★: nothing can save the awfulness from this thing.
Angry Mom (2015): One of my favorites.
The undercover mom-as-a-high-school-student led drama was dark, fun, crushing, and empowering, with the right combo of drama and just enough comedy thrown in. Kim Hee Sun leads with a mother’s fierce determination, Kim Hee Won’s more complex than we all thought, and embattled teens played by Baro, Kim Yoo Jung, and newcomer Ji Soo are on point. Bonuses: Ji Soo crushing on a mom, and every brilliant fight scene. More on the drama here. ★★★★★
Autumn In My Heart (2000) : iconic, I mean iconic, like the first icon of iconic kdramas. The drama that put Won Bin and Song Seung Hoon on the map. By modern standards, slow pacing and et cetera, but if a newbie, this is a great one to start on your kdrama journey. (More on the classics here.) ★★★★
Baker King Kim Tak Goo (2010): Yoon Shi Yoon’s breakout role, a ratings darling with a solid plot but lost a bit of its rhythm halfway through. One of those rags-to-riches tales. ★★
Boys Over Flowers (2009): iconic, but not without insufferable moments. If you can get past extreme cheese and get onboard the ridiculousness of the perm, it’s a lighthearted ride. The drama that made Lee Min Ho a household name. Essential as a cult show, but if you skip through a bit, I won’t tell anyone. ★★
Can We Get Married? (2012): Lighthearted on the surface, but digs a little deeper than expected. Likable, though the constant push and pull is sometimes tiresome. Liked the portrayal of different stages of relationships, friendships, and family dynamics. Kim Young Kwang is the unapologetic lothario, Sung Joon’s adorable, and one of Han Groo’s earlier roles. ★★
City Hunter (2011): Park Min Young doesn’t fool anyone in passing off as a bodyguard, ever, but somebody thought it was a good idea. Fun enough if you enjoy action-packed dramas with a side of romance. ★★★
Coffee Prince (2007): Gong Yoo and Yoon Eun Hye star in this cult classic about a cross-dressing girl who gets a job working at a coffee shop. Also stars Lee Sun Kyun. ★★★
Cruel City aka Heartless City (2013): sexy, noir-style thriller, Jung Kyung Ho smolders onscreen. If there’s a noir to latch onto, this one’s a sure thing.
Pairs well with: something hot and spicy, like jjampong. ★★★★★
Discovery Of Romance (2014): too many flashback-dependent times, leads are way beyond the benchmark of fresh-faced undergrads. Plot drags and I felt like I was stuck in a relationship I couldn’t get out of. ★
Doctor Stranger (2014): first two eps are amazing in an epic wartime movie way; it’s all downhill from here. Oh, wait – awesomely epic kiss in episode 9, and yes, downhill aside from that. ★★
Dream High (2011): musical drama about kids pursuing their dreams of becoming pop stars via an arts school. Surprisingly heartfelt youth drama, especially considering the crop of inexperienced stars, probably the most enjoyable kpop star-packed drama there is. ★★★★
Fashion King (2012): nicely executed kiss in episode 2; that’s literally it.★
The Flower Boy Next Door (2013): Watch for Yoon Shi Yoon, stay for glimpses of Kim Seul Gi and a very green Go Kyung Pyo. Funny, sweet, light, and enjoyable. ★★★★
A Gentleman’s Dignity (2012): I wanted this to be so much better than it was. Just check out the cast – Jang Dong Gun, Kim Ha Neul, Kim Soo Ro. Nice that it’s a different storyline, with the focus on a squad of fortysomething bachelors, but damn if the series felt years longer than it was. ★★★
Heirs (2013): So many great scenes, yet such a heinously pricey letdown. Don’t waste your time. (And here’s why.) ★
Hogu’s Love aka Fool’s Love (2015): snappy pacing, refreshing plot, and Kang Ho Kyung (Lee Soo Kyung) is the most awesome female character to pop up in a long time. Twists are a major bonus. Extended review here. ★★★★
Drama pairing: red bean fish bread.
I Am Sam (2007): I watched this for T.O.P. (his early days as an actor). Don’t do it, fellow BIGBANG fans. It’s more satisfying watching him in 19. Or Commitment. Or Into The Fire. Tazza 2. Basically anything else. ★
I Miss You (2012): even more miserable than Shark. Strong PASS. ★
Kill Me, Heal Me (2015): Has some well-written scenes, if you can get past the deplorable English in the first couple eps. Great start, but lost a bit of momentum halfway through. Bringing Kim Seul Gi back as a guest star (or series regular) would’ve done wonders. Ji Sung’s Shin Se Gi is red hot; Ahn Yo Na (Ji Sung’s female personality) is a scream, and the gem to emerge is likely the onscreen chemistry between Hwang Jung Eum and Park Seo Joon. ★★★★★
King Of High School (2014): beautifully written characters, dialog; wonderfully zippy pacing. Jo Han Chul is a comedic genius. Seo In Guk’s the eternally passionate and immature lead, while newbies Kang Ki Young and Lee Tae Hwan make their acting – and bromance debuts. So many fantastic scenes, too many to name. ★★★★
Pairs well with: a bag of popcorn, preferably one of the monstrously large clear bag variety, often found at a Korean market.
The King 2 Hearts (2012): the most interesting, politically intertwined story in kdramaland. Lee Seung Gi is perfectly cast; Ha Ji Won is adorable. ★★★★★
The Master’s Sun (2013): Delightfully spooky, with a lovable Gong Hyo Jin and well-written So Ji Sub. Great chemistry between the leads. Also, loved Seo In Guk, Lee Jae Won, and Park Hee Von in their supporting roles. ★★★★
Misaeng (2014): true-to-life; work sucks, this drama rings so true you can’t help but relate and appreciate. Their pain is your pain, their triumphs your triumphs, their encouragement your heartwarming lifesavers. The worst villains are, in fact, the ones in real life. The most lauded drama of 2014, and it’s not hard to see why. ★★★★★
Drama pairing: Fried chicken and soju.
Monstar (2013) : more fun and heartwarming than I expected. Yong Joon Hyung is ever the spoiled star, and Kang Ha Neul the heartbreakingly perfect guy. ★★★★
My Lovely Samsoon (2005): drama from Hyun Bin’s baby-faced days; Kim Sun Ah is brilliant. This one is not to be missed. ★★★★★
Oh My Ghostess (2015): A horny virgin ghost (Kim Seul Gi) possesses the body of a timid, self-deprecating sous chef. Toss her in the kitchen with a bunch of drool-worthy males, and watching ladies on the prowl were never this fun. Park Bo Young manages both characters nicely, and Kim Seul Gi’s an absolute scream (if you didn’t already know). 16 episodes. ★★★
Plus Nine Boys (2014): Watch for Kim Young Kwang. Misadventures in love should be like this. ★★★★
Pairs well with: any greasy snack that will get all over your fingers.
The Producers (2015): All star cast (Gong Hyo Jin, Chae Tae Hyun, Kim Soo Hyun, IU) in a fresh take on a show – as a kdrama shot in a mockumentary style, ‘a la “The Office.” Cameos aplenty, with some of my favorite faces. Fun and lighthearted, without being too crazy, ridiculous, or idiotic like some shows can be. ★★★
Reply 1988 (2015-2016): The third installment of the Reply series, and arguably the best. It seems the writers and director of the franchise took the first two rounds and storylines and characters got even sweeter, more well developed, and well-written. This time around the show made stars of its entire ensemble cast, but particularly notable are Ryu Jun Yeol (Socialphobia, Glory Day), Park Bo Gum, Episodes are super-sized, so be ready to curl up for the night. ★★★★★
Reply 1997 (2012): what kdramas, when done with sensitivity, humor, and heart, are supposed to be. Jung Eunji and Seo In Guk drive the story, and it’s the best ride; nothing else comes close. Drama pairing: Watch with a heaping plate of kimchi pancakes. ★★★★★
School 2013 (2013): arguably the drama that put Lee Jong Suk and Kim Woo Bin on the map, especially with masses raving about this one. Overall there were undeveloped sideplots and some unfortunate pacing. Found the teacher scenes to be a big bore when the real story was the Lee Jong Suk-Kim Woo Bin bromance. Also, couldn’t help but wish there was a real love story between Park Se Young and Lee Jong Suk’s characters. ★★
Secret Garden (2011): I could watch Hyun Bin and Ha Ji Won in this one over and over. Great dialog, iconic scenes, well-drawn characters. Watch while wearing a matching tracksuit – if covered in sequins, even better. ★★★★
Shark aka Orpheus: Don’t Look Back (2013): I love Ha Seok Jin and Son Ye Jin, but stay away from this one. Yo-yo-ing between misery and misery was miserable. ★
Shut Up! Flower Boy Band (2012): Sung Joon’s earnestness, the fervor of youth, the beauty of friendship, and the innocence of a first love, all rolled into one. ★★★★
Drama pairing: Ramen, baby.
Surplus Princess (2014): If only it hadn’t been cut short, and writers had been given all the episodes they were expecting, who knows what could have been? ★★
Drama pairing: takoyaki balls.
To The Beautiful You (2012): For the record, I hate cross-dressing dramas. For starters, they’re not believable for a second as gender-bending characters. Puh-lease. The lighthearted hypotheticals and goofy mishaps, and Kang Ha Neul, make up for it. With Lee Hyun Woo (in a Toad-esque bowl-cut), the underused Seo Jun Young, and a cameo by Kim Woo Bin. ★★
Valid Love (2014): melo and cinematically gorgeous, started off well but fizzled about 3/ 4 of the way through. Park Jung Min is a fun, welcome sight from the heavy drama between leads Lee Si Young, Lee Soo Hyuk, and Uhm Tae Woong. ★★
Drama pairing: Ramen with eggs.
Who Are You (2013) : I love Taecyeon as much as the next fangirl, but this was a mistake. Chemistry was off (if nonexistent), Jae Wook was a trophy backstory ornament. ★
That Winter, The Wind Blows (2013) : the one where you fall in love with Jo In Sung and his wardrobe. Con men were never this sweet, suave, and sexy. ★★★★★
A Witch’s Romance (2014): sparks fly between leads Uhm Jung Hwa and Park Seo Joon, and that makes this noona romance sail.
Drama pairing: A cold, sexy six-pack. ★★★★★