15 South Korean Series You Will Love After the ‘Squid Game’21.10.2021
It is worth noting that South Korean pop music has been at least as beloved outside of the Republic as it is within it in 2021. It all began with K-pop’s international rise. However, South Korean films have had a reverent audience outside of the US long before Parasite won its Academy Award. Like any other art or culture, not all South Korean entertainment can be considered gold. However, the movies and TV that the country exports are more than capable of competing on a global level.
Squid Game is a popular survival drama that has caught the attention of the entire world. Netflix claims that the series is the most watched streamer episode ever. This surpasses Bridgerton’s record of nearly 30 million viewers. These are significant numbers, and the Google search traffic confirms that.
Netflix had been betting big on K dramas long before Squid Game. While this is a great thing, it can be difficult to find the right show. These are the top and most popular Netflix shows right now. There are many more on the way. They cover all aspects of South Korean TV, including horror, science fiction, period drama, and other genres.
Extracurricular (2020, one season)
Another drama about a dull teenager who runs a sex ring at night. This one is a little different. It combines dark comedy with action and hints of romance drama. Oh Ji-soo, a teenager who is desperate for some extra cash, runs a prostitution ring while he’s not at school. Gyu-ri, his friend, comes from a wealthy background but still wants to join when she discovers Ji-soo has a sideline. Soon, the police and both the competitors begin to circle and life becomes much more dangerous for the teens.
Sweet Home (2020, one season)
Sweet Home, based on the title, is a family comedy that focuses on three generations of one family living together. It’s not about the residents in an apartment building, but it is about them hiding from the zombie-esque plague that has decimated the world. The infection transforms people into various monsters, but the plot follows the traditional zombie format. Cha Hyun-soo, a high school student, lost his entire family in a car accident and moved into the building just in case. This popular series is based upon a very popular webtoon.
When the Camellia Blooms (2019, one season)
We can all agree that serial killers are a major problem in American romantic comedy. Oh Dong-baek, played by Gong Hyo-jin, is a single mother who moves to a small community and opens a bar. She then begins a relationship with a local officer. Sometimes it seems like he is the only one who loves her. The older, more traditional women in the town don’t like that Dong-baek’s a single mother, and are equally scandalized by her alcohol-related business. While the show is lighthearted about some of these outdated views, it also introduces a serial killer who could well be Dongbaek’s next victim.
Do not be misled when we claim that this episode lasted for only one season. It actually has 40 episodes and four specials. However, Netflix edits pairs of episodes together to make it more like 20. If you are looking for something fast, this is bad news. But it’s great news if your heart gets sucked in.
Romance is a Bonus Book (2019, one season)
Cha Eun-ho, a well-off editor, doesn’t know that Kang Dani, his childhood friend and advertising copywriter, is now unemployed and a single mother without many prospects. He asks her to find him a housekeeper and she secretly accepts the job. She soon realizes that her ruse is not permanent and she returns to work. However, she has to deal with discrimination as a woman who’s been out for so long. It’s a romantic comedy with real-world problems.
Kingdom (2019, two seasons)
Although it’s not a history lesson, Kingdom opens a window into Korea’s Joseon Dynasty. This was a long-running era that lasted until the early 20th century. There wasn’t a zombie plague at that time, so no liberties were taken. The series opens with rumors circulating that the King has died. His son, Crown Prince Lee Chang is determined to discover the truth. It turns out that the King actually died of smallpox. However, the Queen Consort, a powerful courtier and her father have a plan. They’ve given the King a plant that can revive him (you see where this is going) in hopes that he will live long enough to allow the Queen to have a son. Lee Chang is only the son of a concubine and would lose his claim on the throne.
It blends horror with medieval-esque political intrigue to create something that is truly unique in either genre. It’s Netflix’s original South Korean series, based on a webcomic series created by Kim Eun-hee. There are currently two seasons and one special episode of a feature-length length. A third season is in the works.
It’s okay to not be okay (2020)
South Korea is not the only country where discussions about mental health are fraught. Although there are more options for treatment than in many other countries, social stigma is still a problem. This is why Jo Yong’s and Park Shin-woo’s miniseries were so popular last year. Jo based her show on personal experiences and did a lot of research. The series follows the slow-burn romance of Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soohyun), a Korean health worker who lives with his autistic brother and Seo Yea-ji, a well-known children’s author with an antisocial personality disorder. It’s beautiful, and it was enough to inspire a series children’s books that were based on the fictional writer.
Memories of Alhambra (2018-2019, one-season)
This almost sounds like an episode from Black Mirror, even though it is not quite as dystopian. A new augmented reality game has an interesting spinoff. It involves medieval battles around the Alhambra fortress, Granada, Spain, where much of the series was filmed. A tech CEO who is interested in investing goes to Spain to find the creator. The creator’s sister is a cool hostel owner and the two of them set off to find their brother. As reality and fantasy blur, romance reigns. The show is another Korean hit. It features solid special effects and location work.
The King’s Affection (2021 – One Season)
Only a few episodes in, this very sweet, very juicy saeguk features Park Eunbin as a royal girl who pretends to be her dead brother to protect the crown. When she begins to feel for her tutor, the ruse becomes more complex. The first season’s episodes air twice weekly from December through April.
Crash Landing on You (2019-2020, one season)
This title isn’t metaphorical (or at least, not just one). The series involves a literal crash landing on the North side the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Yoon Se-ri (Son Yejin) was a heiress who is also an independent business owner. Her complicated relationships with her family led her to leave them. A tornado strikes her while she is paragliding, and she is saved from death by a captain of the North Korean Special Police Force. This South Korean TV mega-hit was a result of the romance between these two strong characters and the sensitive portrayal of the north’s life.
Wish You (2020, one season)
Queer themes in Korean pop culture are still relatively new. However, there is a lot of material in the pipeline. (Where Your Eyes Linger also did well in Asia last year but isn’t available on Netflix US). The series is about the attraction between a singer and songwriter. It also features popular actor Lee Sangyoon and K-pop star Kang Insoo. The eight-episode series is presented by Netflix as one movie.
Stranger (2017-2020, two seasons)
Many of the stars from these shows are just beginning to be known by audiences outside of South Korea. Not so here. Bae Donna starred as a star in Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, The Host and other international films and shows in English, including Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending and Sense 8. (She also appears in The Kingdom, which is listed earlier on this page). She plays the role of a police lieutenant who teams up with an unsympathetic prosecutor in this twisty-turny drama about crime. They investigate a murder that leads to a bigger conspiracy between the police force and a large conglomerate.
Chief of Staff (2019, two seasons)
Jang Tae Jun (Lee Jung Jae), a former police detective, serves as the chief adviser to a senior lawmaker at the National Assembly. Kang Seonyeong (Shin Min A) is a rival politician who was recently elected. However, they are secretly in love and play traditional power games. It has that House of Cards/juicy thriller feel.
Itaewon Class (2020, one season)
Itaewon Class is another great example of South Korean producers being willing to address increasingly difficult social issues alongside their drama. Park Seo-joon plays Park Sae-ro, a high school student whose life is ruined by Geun-won the son of a powerful food conglomerate owner. He is suspended for fighting the bully and his father is killed in reckless driving accident involving Geunwon. Instead of the consequences for the wealthy kid, it is Sae-roo-yi who ends up in prison after nearly killing his father to death. He opens a bar in his hometown for people from outside, while plotting to take down the conglomerate that destroyed his life. His bar staff includes a transgender man, a Guinean Korean and another ex-con. They all struggle with acceptance, but they find acceptance among the other underdogs at this bar.
Mr. Sunshine (2018, one season)
Another dramatic historical drama that South Korea excels in is Mr. Sunshine. It takes place at the end of the Joseon Dynasty and features activists fighting for Korean independence. The epic’s heart is the cross-class love story of a vassal who returns to Korea after serving as an American Marine, and the daughter of a powerful Korean aristocrat. The series’ 24 episodes feature several significant events in the world and local. This is a remarkable feat of period drama. It also offers a glimpse into key moments in world history through a Korean perspective.
This is My First Life (2017, one season)
Nam Se-hee (Lee Min-ki), an IT guy who is struggling to pay his mortgage bills, and Yoon Ji-ho(Jung So-min), a writer in need of a place to call home. The two of them become roommates and then they enter into a two-year marriage out of convenience. It’s not easy, and there’s a love story. But it’s not obvious. This comedy-drama, which is sometimes bittersweet, uses the central couple’s situation as a way to examine and dismantle traditional roles and ideas in marriage.