Ever since Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite and Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari won big at the Oscars, people around the world have become swept up in the so-called ‘Korean Wave’ (otherwise known as ‘Hallyu’). But, while we’ve been gorging ourselves silly on beautiful South Korean films, it seems we’ve been ignoring the slew of brilliant K-dramas available.
Indeed, Netflix has created a whole new devoted fanbase of Korean dramas after dropping Squid Game in September. Since its debut, the series has ranked number one on the streaming service in 94 countries and has held the top spot consecutively in the US, shattering the record for a non-English language title.
The nine-episode series is proving massively popular and according to the streaming giant, a “mind-boggling” 142 million households have watched Netflix’s dystopian thriller. However, it is well worth remembering that Squid Game is just the latest in a handful of brilliant Korean TV dramas available for streaming.
With the new arrival of My Name on Netflix, which has been dubbed the next thing for Squid Game fans to watch, there’s plenty of choice of what to get stuck into next.
Which will you be watching first?
All about a young private’s assignment to capture army deserters, this South Korean drama has generated a lot of chat on social media after exposing the dark side of the country’s mandatory military service.
As writer and creator of the show, Kim Bo-tong, puts it on Instagram: “DP was created to end the delusion that things are better now.”
This revenge drama has recently come to Netflix and should be a natural next step for lovers of Squid Game. The eight-episode series follows a young woman, played by Han Sohee, who joins a drug cartel to avenge her father’s death. Encountering hard truths along the way, she later infiltrates the law enforcement agency involved in his murder.
It’s already shaping up to be a hit on the streaming platform and has been consecutively ranking highly in their top 10 shows, as of 18 October.
Watch the trailer below:
On the surface, Squid Game is all cutesy colourful fun, as 456 people come together to play traditional children’s games in order to win a huge cash prize. Much like the infamous Battle Royale, however, there’s a pretty major catch: to lose the game means… well, it means death, and a horribly violent death at that.
Who will win? Who will lose? And, if you can get past all of that shock value, gore and mayhem, it’s time to tackle the biggest question of all: what is the purpose of this twisted game?
Plot wise, it tells the story of two women at the centre of a powerful chaebol family, both of whom are trying to carve out their identities, and reclaim what’s rightfully theirs, in a patriarchal society. Do they have it in them to do what they must to carve a path to true joy, however?
Crash Landing On You
Frequently branded one of the best K-dramas on Netflix, Crash Landing On You tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin), a South Korean chaebol heiress, and Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin), a member of the North Korean elite and a captain in the North Korean Special Police Force.
Their relationship begins, as all the best on-screen relationships do, frostily: Ri Jeong-hyeok finds Yoon Se-ri, after all, in an area forbidden for South Koreans. Quickly, she persuades him to give her shelter. Over time, she convinces him to help her get back across the border to her home. And, inevitably, they fall in love, despite the divide and dispute between their respective countries.
Romance Is A Bonus Book
Romance Is A Bonus Book has rapidly garnered popularity with Netflix subscribers – and no wonder. Funny, sweet and evenly paced, it follows Cha Eun-ho (Lee Jong-suk), a gifted writer who becomes the youngest editor-in-chief ever at his publishing company. But, when former copywriter Kang Dan-i (Lee Na-young) comes to him desperate for a job, he quickly finds himself becoming enmeshed in her life.
Mr Sunshine tells the story of Eugene Choi (Lee Byung-hun), a young boy who ends up in the US after the 1871 Shinmiyangyo incident.
Now an officer with the American military, he returns to Korea at a historical turning point, and finds himself falling for a young noblewoman named Ae-sin (Kim Tae-ri). But, when he uncovers a dark plan to colonise the country he once fled, Eugene is faced with a seemingly impossible choice…
It’s worth noting, though, that while the series has received critical acclaim for its cinematography and storytelling, some have accused it of taking a “pro-Japanese” approach to Korean history.
It’s OK To Not Be OK
The New York Times named this romantic drama series one of ‘The Best International Shows of 2020,’ praising the “archly clever series” for its “tart commentary on cancel culture.”
For those of you who need a little more to go on, though, the critically acclaimed series tells the story of Moon Kang Tae (Kim Soo-hyun), an empathetic healthcare worker at a psychiatric ward who doesn’t have time for love, and Go Moon Young (Seo Ye-ji), a wildly successful children’s book author who doesn’t believe in it.
Watch the trailer below:
As the two get to know each other, they slowly find themselves wading into the L-O-V-E waters they’ve long determined to avoid. And, in the process, they embark on a journey of emotional healing.
If you’re looking for a fun mashup of Grey’s Anatomy and Friends, say hello to Hospital Playlist. Centring around five doctors who became friends while studying in medical school, it follows the 40-somethings as they navigate the landmines in their respective departments.
The first ever Netflix original Korean series to stream on the platform, Kingdom fuses the historical, fantasy and horror genres into one big addictive series. It begins with rumours of a deceased king rising from the grave and the spread of a mysterious plague, prompting Crown Prince Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) to embark on a mission to a) uncover an evil conspiracy, and b) put an end to a rapidly spreading influx of zombies. As you do.
Starring Ha Ji-won, this historical drama series sees a young woman navigate her way through love, war, politics, and national loyalties to become a powerful empress in China’s Yuan dynasty.
As such, Empress Ki is just as beloved for its gorgeous cinematography and lavish costumes as it is the story at its heart. And it’s picked up more than its fair share of awards, too; Ji-won was awarded the Grand Prize at the MBC Drama Awards for her performance, and the series was given the Golden Bird Prize for Serial Drama at the 9th Seoul International Drama Awards, too.
When The Camellia Blooms
This romantic thriller follows single mother Oh Dong Baek (Kong Hyo-Jin) as she meets and falls in love with Yongsik (Kang Ha-Neul), a do-gooder police officer in their small town. But, if you think this is just another small town romance, think again; a sinister serial killer lurks in the background, and it seems our hero may be his next target…
If you’re a glutton for crime dramas, you’ll absolutely want to check out Stranger. It’s best to avoid too much plot (because spoilers), so all we can really tell you is this: the gripping series sees exemplary prosecutor Hwang Si-mok (Cho Seung-woo) lose all his social skills and ability to empathise after undergoing corrective surgery. And so, when he is tasked with solving a high-profile murder case – and one riddled with political intrigue, no less – he finds himself leaning heavily on police detective Han Yeo-jin (Bae Doona).
Cha Hyun-Su (Song Kang) is a reclusive high school student at the best of times but, when his family is killed in a car accident, he’s forced to move into a rundown apartment complex and learn the true meaning of what it means to be alone.
This isn’t just a drama, though; it’s a horror series. Which means that, you guessed it, our hero is forced to overcome his penchant for introversion when the world is turned upside down by a zombie pandemic. Can he and his neighbours – including Pyeon Sang-Wook (Lee Jin-Wook) – join forces to defeat the monsters and survive the outbreak?
Designated Survivor: 60 Days
When government officers gather together for the president’s State of the Union address, an explosion rattles through the building and kills almost everyone – everyone, that is, except the unambitious minister of environment, Park Moo-Jin (Ji Jin-Hee).
Suddenly the highest ranking government officer left alive, the former chemistry professor is told that he must sit as the acting president for 60 days… which, you guessed it, he really isn’t into as ideas go. But, as he settles into the role and does his best to track down the assassins responsible, he soon finds himself flourishing as a national leader.
Loosely based on the true story of a Korean serial killer, this series expertly blends crime and sci-fi in its tale of a mysterious walkie talkie that allows a detective from 1986 to communicate with Park Hae-young (Lee Je-hoon), a leading modern day criminal profiler. Cue the long anticipated resolution to a number of long cold cases… and a thoroughly dangerous attempt to overcome the rules of fate and time, too.
Love Alarm revolves around the story of a technology that enables users to discover love through an application that notifies whether someone within the range of a 10-metre radius has romantic feelings for them. Which means that, yes, it’s here to make us reconsider everything we think we know about love and soulmates. In a very big way.
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Because This Is My First Life
In this bittersweet romcom, Nam Se-hee (Lee Min-ki) and Yoon Ji-ho (Jung So-min) – a pair of 30-something housemates – enter into a marriage of convenience; all they want to do is boost their finances and appease their meddling families. As you’ve undoubtedly guessed, however, it’s not long before the pair start to ‘catch feelings’, and things quickly become more complicated as a result.
An Italian lawyer and Mafia consigliere, Vincenzo (Song Joong-ki) is the adopted son of Don Fabio – aka the head of the Cassano mafia family. But, when his doting dad dies, our eponymous hero soon finds himself on his brother’s hit list and is forced to flee to Seoul, where he sets out to a) recover 1.5 tonnes of gold, b) give an unrivaled conglomerate a taste of its own medicine, and c) fall into a hate-at-first-sight relationship with Hong Cha-young (Jeon Yeo-been). Obviously.
This dark fantasy series may just be the best series you’ve likely never heard of. Within 24 hours of its debut back in November 2021, the overnight phenomenon toppled Squid Game as the most watched show on Netflix.
The synopsis reads: “Unearthly beings deliver condemnations, sending individuals to hell and giving rise to a religious group founded on the idea of divine justice.”
As well as plenty of high octane drama, Hellbound promises a spin on the classic horror with some eerie supernatural elements – well worth adding to your watchlist if you haven’t already.
The Silent Sea
If you’re after a space age drama that promises bucket loads of suspense, we may have found just the show for you. The Silent Sea was the most watched non-English-language series on Netflix at the beginning of this year, clocking in a total of 47.83 million hours viewed.
The sci-fi series follows a group of space explorers trying to retrieve samples from “an abandoned research facility steeped in classified secrets,” according to the synopsis. What transpires is a perilous mission to the moon and plenty of thriller action. It also stars acclaimed Korean actor Gong Yoo, who eagle-eyed viewers may recognise from Squid Game as the mysterious salesman.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.