The world of Korean dramas is a strange and beautiful place. The South Korean entertainment industry is slowly growing to worldwide dominance, as Kpop, Korean movies like Parasite and Minari, and Korean television series take the world by storm.
The term Korean drama, or Kdrama, refers to almost any South Korean fictional television series, no matter the subject or genre. That includes comedy, romance, sci-fi, horror, you name it. Most of these television series are based on webcomics, a form of storytelling similar to comics that originated in South Korea. You should generally expect a love story no matter the genre (save maybe horror), and the same actors are in pretty much everything. Fair warning: Almost all Korean dramas have quite outlandish premises, but that’s honestly what makes them so good. You just have to learn how to accept the strange and unexpected and go along for the ride.
Recently, Netflix has become the go-to place to find the best Kdrama offerings for US audiences, with many shows being labeled as Netflix Originals. This partnership, as well as the overall shift to streaming, has also changed the business and structure of Kdramas, as previously, pretty much all Kdramas were around 16 episodes long and one season only. Although Korea and its media are still generally conservative, the international audience is definitely shifting perspectives to be more inclusive and representative of all types of people.
In order to help you jump headfirst into this new and expanding area of television, here are the best Korean dramas available to watch on Netflix, both original and not.
Editor’s note: This list was updated November 2022 to include Under the Queen’s Umbrella.
The Silent Sea (2021-present)
Director: Choi Hang-yong
Cast: Bae Doona, Gong Yoo, Lee Joon, Kim Sun-young, Kim Si-a, Lee Moo-Saeng
A sci-fi horror series set in space, The Silent Sea follows a crew as they go investigate an abandoned research facility where a tragedy took place. With the mission to retrieve valuable samples that might lead to the creation of more water, a vitally important and expensive resource now in the future, the crew heads into unknown terror when they enter Balhae station. With Bae Doona and Gong Yoo leading this cast, you already know it’s going to be good. Full of mysteries and twists, The Silent Sea is totally bingeable with its revelations and betrayals scattered generously throughout a dystopian story. — Therese Lacson
Under the Queen’s Umbrella (2022)
Directed by: Kim Hyung-sik
Cast: Kim Hye-soo, Kim Hae-sook, Choi Won-young
Fans of Game of Thrones, The Great, and even The Crown are sure to love Under the Queen’s Umbrella – a juicy historical drama about a group of people fighting for the throne. The main character in our story is Hwa Ryeong (Kim Hye-soo), a hot-tempered queen attempting to turn her sons into young men fit to wear the crown someday. She’s constantly playing a game of chess with both her family and the people in her court, holding onto power as hard as she can. It’s both beautifully shot and soapy, making it a feast for the eyes and the perfect binge-watch. – Taylor Gates
Director: Yoon Jong-bin
Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Hwang Jung-min, Park Hae-soo, Jo Woo-jin
Also known as Suriname, Narcos-Saints fits right in with the ultra-popular American-Colombian Narcos and Narcos: Mexico and also has similar vibes to Ozark and Breaking Bad. The series centers around Kang In-gu (Ha Jung-woo), a businessman who must cooperate with the National Intelligence Service to capture a Korean drug lord who has taken control of the country. It’s a serious drama, but it’s also a lot of fun, leaning into the bizarre nature of the shockingly true events it’s based on. – Taylor Gates
Business Proposal (2022)
Director: Park Seon-ho
Cast: Ahn Hyo-seop, Kim Se-jeong, Kim Min-kyu, Seol In-ah
Meet Kang Tae-mu (Ahn Hyo-seop), a detail-oriented workaholic and the new president of GO Food. Meet Shin Ha-ri (Kim Se-jeong), a new researcher at the company who’s crushing hard on her college friend Lee Min-woo (Song Won-seok). Despite having her interests elsewhere, Shin Ha-ri’s best friend Jin Young-seo (Seol In-ah) convinces her to go on a blind date with Kang Tae-mu in her place. When Shin Ha-ri realizes she’s on a date with her boss, though, things get complicated, and she does her best to turn him off. However, when Kang Tae-mu is undeterred no matter what she does while still thinking she’s her friend Jin Young-seo, things get even more complicated. Business Proposal is a sweet and silly K-drama that’s sure to satisfy your rom-com craving. – Taylor Gates
Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021-present)
Developed by: Kim Je-hyeon (tvN), Studio Dragon
Cast: Shin Min-A, Kim Sun-Ho, Lee Sang-Yi
If you’re looking for a feel-good watch, look no further than Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha. Based on the 2004 South Korean film Mr. Handy, Mr. Hong, the series follows Yoon Hye-jin, an intelligent dentist living in the big city. However, when she unexpectedly loses her job, she moves to a small seaside town where she meets Hong Du-sik – a kind man who often works odd jobs. The two have irresistible chemistry, making them a couple that’s impossible not to root for. – Taylor Gates
The Heirs (2013)
Directors: Kang Shin-hyo, Boo Sung-chul
Cast: Lee Min-ho, Park Shin-hye, Kim Woo-bin, Kim Ji-won, Kang Min-hyuk, Kang Ha-neul
While it may not be the freshest take on K-Drama, this star-studded cast created one of the most-watched Korean dramas on the planet. Essentially a Cinderella story (or even a Gossip Girl story), Park Shin-hye plays Cha Eun-sang, a regular girl who gets mixed up in the business of a bunch of heirs to rich and affluent families. Chief among them is the Kims. As the daughter of the live-in housekeeper, she lives at their home and is enrolled into their high school. There she meets Kim Tan (Lee Min-ho), the scion of the family, and the two fall in love despite the odds. Both Lee and Park were coming off of big projects at the time The Heirs came out and this quickly became a massively popular show. A perfect time capsule of what Korean dramas were trying to achieve back during the 2010s. — Therese Lacson
All of Us Are Dead (2022-present)
Directors: Lee JQ and Kim Nam-su
Cast: Park Ji-hu, Yoon Chan-young, Cho Yi-hyun, Lomon, Yoo In-soo, Lee Yoo-mi, Kim Byung-chul, Lee Kyu-hyung, and Jeon Bae-soo
Based on the webtoon Now at Our School by Joo Dong-geun, All of Us Are Deadis a zombie horror series about high school students who find themselves caught in the middle of a virus outbreak. After an accident leads to a zombie virus being unleashed at a South Korean high school, the students are left to fend for themselves cut off from the outside world by the government. With no supplies and no way to get help, the students must rely on each other and whatever resources they can find to survive this deadly situation. While it is primarily a horror story, the show also addresses a number of social issues. Gory, intense, and well-crafted, All of Us Are Dead has already become one of Netflix’s most popular shows since its release in January 2022. – Remus Noronha
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Kim Hyun-joo, Park Jeong-min, Won Jin-ah, Yang Ik-june
How would people react if giant demons started beating people to death in the streets and publicly “condemning people to hell” for all to see? Badly! Really badly! Have you seen the history of the human race?? That’s the core premise of Hellbound, a bleak, very brutal exploration of faith and contagious social hysteria that would pair like fine sacramental wine with Midnight Mass; Netflix’s other ponderous and petrifying 2021 tale of religion gone wrong. Directed by Train to Busan helmer Yeon Sang-ho, Hellbound is a slower, more solemn affair than his breakout Korean zombie movie, but it shares his knack for using genre storytelling to ask unanswerable (and unthinkable) questions about the nature of humanity without flinching. – Haleigh Foutch
Squid Game (2021-present)
Creator: Hwang Dong-hyuk
Cast: Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Wi Ha-joon, Jung Ho-yeon
You’ve definitely heard about this one, in fact, there’s a good chance it’s the show that brought you here! Netflix’s 2021 original Squid Game charted an immediate and unprecedented climb to the top of Netflix’s most-watched lists, becoming a social media sensation and water cooler talking point. And for good reason, it’s a clever spin on familiar genre archetypes with an exceptional cast that makes for an irresistible binge-watch. Set across nine episodes, the series follows 456 debt-ridden contenders through a series of deadly children’s games for the promise of a life-changing jackpot for whoever survives. Action-packed, horror-tinged, and threaded through with rich character drama, Squid Game can be a bit of a bleak bummer, but in a series exploring the pitfalls of capitalist excess and the people it leaves behind, that’s kind of the point. And like all great genre allegories, it never forgets to lace those themes into its endlessly engaging thrills. – Haleigh Foutch
Crash Landing on You (2019-2020)
Director: Lee Jung-hyo
Cast: Hyun Bin, Son Ye-jin, Seo Ji-hye, Kim Jung-hyun
Probably the most popular Korean drama on Netflix to date is a love story between a North Korean soldier and an heiress from South Korea called Crash Landing on You. Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) is a young, beautiful, and supremely wealthy woman who decides to go paragliding one weekend. She gets caught in a tornado that brings her over North Korea, where she lands. Trying to escape getting caught by North Korea, Se-ri is protected and hidden by Captain Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin).
While Jeong-hyeok attempts to help Se-ri and smuggle her back to South Korea, the two can’t deny their growing feelings for one another. As the ultimate Romeo and Juliet, Jeong-hyeok and Se-ri’s chemistry is amazing, and considering the actors started officially dating after shooting the drama, this isn’t a surprise. Crash Landing on You is the quintessential Korean rom-com series, so it’s definitely a great series to introduce you to the genre.
Director: Kim Hee-won
Cast: Song Joong-ki, Jeon Yeo-bin, TaecYeon
In Vincenzo, Song Joong-ki plays a Korean man who was adopted by an Italian family as a child and raised in Italy as part of a mafia family. After his adoptive father dies, the man’s biological son attempts to kill Vincenzo, leading him to flee back to Seoul, South Korea, where he has a stash of gold hidden under an old apartment building. Unfortunately, Vincenzo has no easy access to the gold unless he tears down the building, and there’s a community of people who live there.
At the same time, a corrupt business called Babel Group illegally takes over the building, leading Vincenzo to team up with the talented, strong-willed lawyer, Hong Cha-young, played by Jeon Yeo-bin, who wants to take down the company for personal reasons. Vincenzo is part action, part drama, and part romance, and altogether a can’t-miss show.
Record of Youth (2020)
Director: Ahn Gil-ho
Cast: Park So-dam, Park Bo-gum, Byeon Woo-seok, Kwon Soo-hyun
One type of series that South Korean television excels at is the coming-of-age drama, or any story centering around a group of young adults finding their place in the world. Record of Youth is a great choice for new fans of K-Dramas, especially given the fact that the cast is led by none other than Park So-dam, who many will recognize for her role as Kim Ki-jung in Parasite, the daughter of the scammer family who pretends to be an art teacher.
Record of Youth centers around three young people, two models and a make-up artist, involved in the modern fashion industry in Korea. The show follows the general storyline you’ll find in most romance Korean dramas, but the actors in the cast help elevate the series and create characters that you want to stick around with.
Itaewon Class (2020)
Director: Kim Sung-yoon
Cast: Park Seo-joon, Kim Da-mi, Yoo Jae-myung, Kwon Na-ra, Ahn Bo-hyun
The first drama on this list based on a webcomic (although don’t worry, there will be more), Itaewon Class is a drama based in the hipster, super-popular area of Seoul called Itaewon (think Soho or the East Village in Manhattan). Park Seo-joon plays Park Sae-Ro-Yi, the owner of an up-and-coming restaurant in Itaewon called DanBam. When he was in high school, Sae-Ro-Yi got expelled for punching a privileged kid named Jang Geun-won (Ahn Bo-hyun), whose father owns a powerful company called Jangga Group. This kickstarts a series of events that lead to Sae-Ro-Yi’s father’s death, followed by a seven-year plan for revenge.
Itaewon Class is an extremely popular drama both in South Korea and internationally, and it accurately depicts the diverse experiences of young adults right now. It is also the first mainstream K-Drama to feature a transgender character, played by Lee Joo-young, signifying a major shift in attitudes for the historically conservative country.
Law School (2021-present)
Director: Kim Suk-yoon
Cast: Kim Myung-min, Kim Beom, Ryu Hye-young, Lee Jung-eun
A newer Netflix series, Law School focuses on a group of students and professors at Hankuk University Law School. When a law professor is found dead and former prosecutor and professor Yang Jong-Hoon (Kim Myung-min) is arrested for the crime, the other characters work together to uncover the truth of what really happened and prove Professor Yang’s innocence.
You can certainly draw similarities between Law School and How to Get Away with Murder, as the Korean drama focuses on law students putting their schooling to the test to help out their professor. At the same time, there are plenty of smaller storylines happening as well, like a mysterious connection between a top-tier student named Han Joon-hwi (Kim Bum) and the professor who is killed. If you want a serious drama with a central mystery, Law School is a great option.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay (2020)
Director: Park Shin-woo, Jung Dong-yoon
Cast: Kim Soo-hyun, Seo Ye-ji, Oh Jung-se
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay is a modern romantic drama that stands out from the crowd due to its portrayal of an adult on the autism spectrum. The series stars Kim Soo-hyun as Moon Gang-tae, an orphaned young man who works as a caregiver at a psychiatric hospital. He spends most of his life taking care of his older brother, Moon Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se), who has autism. The two brothers have lived a lonely life, constantly moving around, ever since Sang-tae witnessed their mother’s murder years earlier.
One day, Gang-tae meets a woman named Ko Moon-young (Seo Ye-ji), a children’s author who has antisocial personality disorder. After realizing that the two have crossed paths before in the past, Moon-young develops a small obsession with Gang-tae and follows him around. As Moon-young, Gang-tae, and Sang-tae spend more time together, they begin to open up about their trauma and heal. The series features a general romance story, but it shines through its portrayal of Sang-tae and his relationship with his brother. Sang-tae exhibits typical “spectric” traits, as they are called, and the show presents a relatively accurate and compassionate portrayal of an individual with autism.
The Uncanny Counter (2020-2021)
Director: Yoo Sun-dong
Cast: Jo Byeong-gyu, Yoo Jun-sang, Kim Se-jeong, Yeom Hye-ran
If you want a superhero-style story, look no further. The Uncanny Counter is the story of So Mun (Jo Byeong-gyu), a kind, intelligent boy who has a walking disability as a result of a tragic car accident he was in as a child, which killed both of his parents. One day, So Mun is possessed by a spirit that grants him the power to banish demons that escape the afterlife. He joins a team called the Counters, which includes Mo-tak (Yoo Jun-sang), Ha-na (Kim Se-jeoung), and Mae-ok (Yeom Hye-ran), who fight together against a rising threat of evil in the area. It gets even more complicated for So Mun when he finds out that his parents’ deaths weren’t accidents after all, and an evil spirit was involved.
Another series based on a webcomic, The Uncanny Counter is a stylish, action-packed thrill ride that doesn’t pull any punches. With a dark, threatening villain that keeps the team on edge, the show maintains a quick pace, while the fantastic acting by the cast adds a deeply emotional side to the story. Despite being advertised as an action fantasy show, you should still be ready to shed some tears when you watch.
Director: Oh Choong-hwan
Cast: Bae Suzy, Nam Joo-hyuk, Kim Seon-ho, Kang Han-na
Start-Up is set in a fictional Korean version of Silicon Valley, where Bae Suzy’s character Seo Dal-mi dreams of being the Korean Steve Jobs. Following her passion, Dal-mi gets involved with a start-up business and quickly becomes entangled with a complicated love triangle. One young man named Han Ji-pyeong (Kim Seon-ho) is her first love, now a successful venture capitalist, while Nam Do-san (Nam Joo-hyuk) is a young man down on his luck, who Dal-mi thinks is her first love. This gives Do-san the motivation to give his start-up another try, while also attempting to make Dal-mi’s mistake a reality. Like Itaewon Class, Start-Up presents a new style of life for young people. While taking on the modern industry of start-ups, the show also gives everyone the classic romance they know they want.
Memories of the Alhambra (2018-2019)
Director: Ahn Gil-ho
Cast: Hyun Bin, Park Shin-hye, Park Hoon, Chanyeol
A true amalgam of genres, Memories of the Alhambra takes place mainly in Granada, Spain with a Korean cast. A science-fiction drama of sorts, the series follows the CEO of an investment company, Yoo Jin-woo (Hyun Bin), who travels to Spain in search of the creator of an AR game in development that feels way too real. When game and reality start to blur and someone is killed, Jin-woo, with the help of the developer’s sister, Jung Hee-joo (Park Shin-hye), must find the bug in the game and fix it before more people die.
Memories of the Alhambra is a breath of fresh air for Kdramas due to its setting and innovative premise. While at times the story lacks sense, the concept and execution are spot-on, and honestly, you can’t help but fall in love with Hyun Bin.
Sweet Home (2020-present)
Director: Lee Eung-bok, Jang Young-woo, Park So-hyun
Cast: Song Kang, Lee Jin-wook, Lee Si-young, Lee Do-hyun
Based on the webtoon of the same name, Sweet Home is an energetic, thrilling apocalyptic horror story about monsters trying to kill everyone and take over the world. No big deal, right? Song Kang makes a rare appearance in a horror show, as the actor usually sticks to romantic dramas (which you will see later on in this list). Kang plays a character named Cha Hyun-soo, a traumatized high school student who moves into an apartment by himself after his parents are killed in a car accident. Unbeknownst to Hyun-soo and the other residents, their apartment building happens to be ground zero for a species of monsters hoping for world domination.
Sweet Home is a great example of the crazy stories that come out of webcomics, which somehow work so well when adapted to the screen. The series is dark, bloody, and unpredictable, and a definite win for Netflix.
Run On (2020-2021)
Director: Lee Jae-hoon
Cast: Im Si-wan, Shin Se-kyung, Choi Soo-young, Kang Tae-oh
Run On is an effortless romance that focuses on the relationship between Oh Mi-joo (Shin Se-kyung), a hardworking movie translator who takes pride in her work, and Ki Seon-gyeom (Im Si-wan), a former sprinter for the national team who wants to become a sports agent. The drama is light-hearted, with not too much action, but it works well with the story. There’s also a major plotline revolving around gender inequality in the workplace, as another character is disregarded despite being the natural heir of her father’s company and becoming the CEO of a sports agency all on her own.
With the main two characters, Run On also provides a close look at some unique and interesting professions that aren’t normally portrayed on-screen. While it might not be as exciting and heart-pounding as some others on this list, Run On is a must-see for the acting and the soft chemistry between the two lead characters.
https://collider.com/best-korean-dramas-on-netflix/ Best Korean Dramas on Netflix Right Now (November 2022)