* Shout-out to MC, who’d also mentioned that she’d love me to write about drama OSTs!
That’s a very interesting question that you ask, about the best OSTs, since music and the appreciation of it is so varied. Just as with dramas, I think our individual responses to music are unique to each of us, and so something I love and think is brilliant might not blow you away the way it blows me away, and vice versa.
But, let me attempt to break down what I think makes a good OST, and then I’ll share some of the ones that I think are best, in my opinion, and then some that may not be the best, but which still bring me the feels.
Of course, I’m far from having all the answers, so as always, everyone, do feel free to chime in with your insights and sharing in the comments! 🙂
WHAT MAKES AN EXCELLENT OST?
I’m far from being a music professional, but here’s what I think makes a good OST.
1. It feels organic to the story
I think the best OSTs not only feel natural to the drama world’s environment, but help to shape it, even. Sometimes, these songs are written specifically for the drama; at other times, they are pre-existing songs that are selected for use in the drama.
Importantly, the songs feel like they belong in the drama world (for example, a breezy song for a youth drama brings out the carefreeness that goes with – or should go with – being young). Also, the lyrics of the songs should support the drama’s message, and – gasp! – not contradict it.
2. It amplifies the story
Also importantly, the songs are applied in an astute manner; the right songs for the right moments can really lift the moment for the viewer, and make it the scene feel more momentous and significant, than if the scene was played without music. Bonus points, if the lyrics of the song are relevant to the scene it’s being applied to.
3. It makes you feel
This is super subjective because each of us is unique, so what makes me feel, might not be what makes you feel. Still, I’d say that the mark of a great OST is that it makes you feel. Whether it’s the poignance of the story, the romance of the OTP, the lightheartedness of our story world, or the wistfulness of unrequited love, a great OST stirs us up on the inside and makes our hearts ache &/or sing – in the best possible way.
4. It lingers with you
This might arguably be the point that sets apart the really great OSTs from the ones that are perfectly decent.
Dramaland generally does a nice job of its OSTs (except when it doesn’t – *cough*Something In The Rain*cough*), so big love ballads that sound good in the moment, but which you forget soon after you complete the drama, are a dime a dozen. The ones that really stand out, to me, are the ones that continue to linger with me, long after the final credits have finished rolling. That’s a lot rarer, and a whole lot more special, I think.
* The excellent ones that don’t linger
For the record, a show might have a very good OST that amplifies the feels, but due to the Show’s tone &/or subject matter, it’s not an OST that I really want to keep listening to. Case in point: World of the Married, which I thought had an excellent OST because the OST kept the tension taut and held me hostage on the edge of my seat, while our story twisted and turned. The thing is, though, I wouldn’t want to listen to that for fun. 😜
And although I haven’t seen 2017’s Save Me, Beez has shared this track with me, which totally gives me the creeps. Excellent for making your audience’s skin crawl, but really, probably not preferred for leisurely enjoyment – uh, for most people anyway. 😉
GREAT OSTs THAT I LOVED (AND STILL LOVE!)
These are the ones that not only linger with me, but make the drama come alive for me. In my experience, these OSTs feel so organically grown alongside the narrative, that it feels like the drama itself would be a mere shadow of itself, if stripped of its OST.
For the record, the OSTs are excellent in their entirety, but I’m only sharing single tracks in this post. Also, to keep things fair – and so that I don’t actually have to rank my favorites! – everything’s in chronological order.
Winter Sonata (2002)
Ahhh, Winter Sonata. Seriously, all I need to hear are the opening strains of this song, and all the Winter Sonata feels come flooding back. Listening to the OST album is such an immersive experience because I feel like I’m re-experiencing that nostalgic, earnest, wistful drama world all over again, without the need for an actual rewatch.
You can visit the OST album here.
Goong was my gateway drama, so I’m probably biased, but I sincerely think that the OST in Goong is one of the best. The OST scores so much of the drama, bringing its manhwa-inspired world to popping life, that it almost feels like you’re watching a musical – but not really.
To illustrate my point, let me say that my sister and I (a different sister than the one who convinced me to watch The King: Eternal Monarch, just to be clear) watched this together and loved it so much that we went on to explore a few other dramas together. Somewhere along the way, my sis remarked that the drama we were watching (I forget which it was) felt so quiet and empty, because that particular show didn’t use its OST in the same way Goong did. In contrast, Goong feels fuller and more fleshed out, because of its OST. And yes, just listening to this one song brings back all my Goong feels – in what feels like a tidal wave. I loves it.
I think of Chuno’s OST as badassery in music form. Honestly, this song isn’t even my usual kind of style, but just listening to this song gets my blood pumping and my feet tapping; I feel vicariously badass just partaking in the music, ha. This is one of those rare cases where the music in question is used to amp up the tension and action in the narrative, and yet, is music that I’m happy to linger in.
Of course, there’s more to the OST than just edgy badass tracks like this one. There are also heartfelt big – and often still manly! – ballads, and plaintive tunes, because our story is an emotional journey at its core. Overall, just fabulous. This OST unfailingly makes me yearn for a rewatch, because its pull is just that strong.
Secret Love Affair (2014)
Gosh, I found the OST in Secret Love Affair as evocative, immersive and intoxicating as the show itself. The music is a legit presence in our drama world, and feels like its own character, who deserves – sometimes demands – its own narrative space. It’s as complex as our characters; sometimes tortured, sometimes simple and innocent, oftentimes a mixture of both. The music in this show is so magnificent; it absolutely lifted my watch experience to a whole other plane – and then kept me suspended there, as I floated in the cloud of its beauty. Guh.
I rarely make the effort to buy a physical album (because who has the space for it all, right?), but I ordered this one; it’s just that special.
My Mister (2018)
I really, really like the OST in My Mister. I wrote in my review – “I found this show’s OST to be often lilting, and alternately moody and wistful. I felt like while the OST worked to make my watch immersive, it also added a layer of surreality – and occasionally, poetry – to an otherwise melancholic narrative.” – and I still stand by it today.
Our story leans melancholic and our character experiences, bittersweet, and the OST worked so, so well, not only to mirror the pathos already there, but also, to inject an occasional touch of almost-whimsy to a world that would’ve been too dark without it. This show made my heart ache, but when it did, the music in it, made that heartache feel beautiful.
When The Devil Calls Your Name (2019)
The music in this show feels quite different from the norm, with its strongly acoustic, folksy vibe. The songs were written specifically to be woven into the narrative, and that cohesiveness shows – and is one of Show’s big plus points. I feel the OST lands very raw and soulful, and it makes this story feel all the more heartfelt.
Our actors do play their own instruments, and Jung Kyung Ho does all his own singing as well. Also, check out that amazing solo on the electric guitar in the clip above. SO good. This OST definitely lingered with me, even after I’d finished my watch.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (2020)
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay is a show that feels melancholic, wistful, surreal and whimsical, all at the same time, and its OST manages to exist in tandem with that interesting mix of qualities, while enhancing our drama world’s ethereal yet dark vibe, even.
This OST definitely lifted my watch experience, making our drama world feel even more immersive than it already was, and some of these tracks continued to linger with me, even after the show was over. Really well done.
OSTs THAT INSTANTLY BRING BACK THE FEELS FOR ME
Here are a bunch of shows whose OSTs didn’t quite make it to my Best List, but which I think deserve a shout-out, nonetheless. Mostly, these OSTs manage to bring back all the feels for me, even though most of these didn’t actually manage to linger with me – much.
Again, everything’s in chronological order.
Classic (Up to 2010)
Save Your Last Dance For Me (2004)
Save Your Last Dance For Me was one of my early kdrama loves, and I love-love-loved the OST. The violin crescendoes in the track above were my favorite; they felt so poetically dizzying. 🤩 There’s a great deal of nostalgic appeal for me, with this OST, and the only reason it’s in this list instead of my Best List, is because I feel that the OST didn’t quite help to construct our drama world (vs. Winter Sonata and Goong), even though it certainly did a nice job of scoring it.
Listening to it now as I type this, legit whets my appetite for a retro rewatch. Young, earnest, handsome Ji Sung as an amnestic chaebol prince who falls for our female lead twice? I want!
You can visit the OST album here.
You’re Beautiful (2009)
This drama is such boppy, silly fun, and this OST brings back all of those youthful, breezy, summery feels. I can’t say I actually think of this drama, nor do I have a special place for it in my drama-loving heart, but listening to the OST, I can practically see Jang Geun Suk in front of me, wearing his signature ponytail and lip-curling smirk, while rocking out with A.N.JELL. Fun times!
You can visit the OST album here.
Oh! My Lady (2010)
You know how, sometimes, a drama is really underwhelming, but it’s got a catchy OST that sticks with you? That’s what Oh! My Lady is, for me. The only thing I really remember about this show is that Choi Siwon is handsome in it – and has his fair share of shirtless screen time, heh. Oh, and he realizes he has a young daughter. Not a very memorable drama, to be sure. But somehow, this OST managed to get under my skin, and wouldn’t let go. I’ve literally had a couple of these songs as my phone ringtones, heh. The OST still brings back all the breezy feels – none of which have anything to do with the drama itself, lol.
You can visit the OST album here.
Secret Garden (2010)
I conclude that Secret Garden’s OST is more enduring for me, than the drama itself. While I loved the drama when it first aired, I find that I can’t get into the show anymore (I’ve tried). And yet, when I randomly heard this song playing at the grocery store earlier this year, I was able to sing along – and place it as part of the Secret Garden OST. That’s some impressive lasting power!
What this OST does for me, is bring back the positive Secret Garden feels, that I can no longer muster by watching the show itself. That’s pretty cool, yes?
You can visit the OST album here.
Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)
I have a huge soft spot for Sungkyunkwan Scandal, because it was my first sageuk ever, and I found it surprisingly fun and cracky. In general, I thought the OST was very well applied. It often brought out – and enhanced – Show’s youthful, breezy vibe, and effectively lifted my watch experience. I just don’t have the impression that the OST was as strong a presence as those in my Best List.
In my head, this sits at about the same level as the OST from Save Your Last Dance For Me. Strongly enjoyable and evocative, and does a great job of scoring the drama; it just doesn’t quite help to construct the drama world, for me. But, it still brings back all the happy-cracky feels whenever I listen to it.
Modern Classic (2011-2015)
Dream High (2011)
I found Dream High cracky youthy fun, and this song always brings back the feels, along with an involuntary urge to bop along to the music. There are so many easy-breezy tracks on this OST; it’s truly the closest I’ve felt to being an actual kpop fan, heh.
Warrior Baek Dong Soo (2011)
Warrior Baek Dong Soo is one of those weird little shows where I feel like it’s somehow more than the sum of its parts. One of the MVPs, for me, is this song on the OST. Even though I found so many logic stretches and plot holes in this show that it became rather ridiculous, this song got under my skin in a big way. I found it so full of burgeoning emotion and expression; it felt meaningful and momentous, even when things on my screen didn’t make sense. And, afterwards, it lingered with me, long after I’d finished the show. That’s some serious staying power!
Gaksital [Bridal Mask] (2012)
It’s been years since I watched Gaksital (8 years! 😱 Where has the time gone?!?), so naturally Show’s details are very hazy to me now. But this song brings back all the epic, pumping, viscerally moving feels, of a people gathered for a cause greater than themselves.
Queen In Hyun’s Man (2012)
I loved Queen In Hyun’s Man, though some of the details escape my memory right now. This song brings back Show’s poignant feels so well, though. “Same Sky, Different Time” sums up this OTP’s dilemma in just its title, and the music evokes the sweet heartache of loving someone across a millennium. Augh. It totally brings back the core feels of this drama, and even though the details are hazy, the nuances of emotion are crystal clear.
Arang and the Magistrate (2012)
I loved this show, and the thing that moved me most about it, was Arang’s search for self. The meaning of the romance is amplified in that context. As a ghost, she’s a wandering entity, and this song is a love song which refers to her as a person, and that gets me every time. I might not think of the show much, nor revisit the OST often, but every time I hear this song, the poignance of that acknowledgment gives me a good dose of sweet, heartachey feels.
Heartless City (2013)
One of the things that really stays with me, with Heartless City, is how moodsy and atmospheric it is, in its dark, gritty, oily sort of way. This song captures that vibe really well, for me. Listening to it, I feel immediately catapulted back into this murky, fascinating drama world, all over again.
You guys know how much I love Healer (hint: A LOT), and this song singlehandedly brings back all those Healer feels; it’s such a rush. 🥰 On its own, it’s a cheesy song by Michael Learns To Rock. In the context of Healer, though, it speaks of an epic love story that involves secret night couriers and blindfolded kisses on rooftops. Squee!
“Oh my love.. I’m all yours.. And there will never be another one because I’m eternally yours.. My heart’s aflame.. and it’s burning in your name.. Even through the sands of time our love will always grow.. And I won’t let go.” Eee!! 😍😍😍
Kill Me Heal Me (2015)
I know I don’t have a review for this show on the blog (I got busy after finishing my watch and never managed to go back to write the review), but for the record, I did love this one when I watched it.
Ji Sung’s performance is amazing, and beyond the story’s logic stretches, what appealed to me more, was the strong emotional core that drives this narrative. It feels poignant, wistful, edgy and quite surreal – and I feel like this song on the OST brings that out, in the most perfectly immersive sort of way.
You can visit the OST album here.
20th Century Boy and Girl (2017)
20th Century Boy And Girl is such a lovely little collection of warm, fuzzy, easy-breezy feels, and this song’s vibe sums it all up, for me. The song lingers with me more than the drama itself, if I’m being completely honest. There’s just something about it that makes me feel like I’m on vacation without a care in the world. 🥰
At Eighteen (2019)
I really really like At Eighteen as a drama, and in particular, my favorite track on the OST is this one. It’s got such an easy, soft-rock, groovy sort of vibe, and on top of that, I felt that the slight plaintive edge in the quality of the vocals was so perfect for the growing pains portrayed in our story. I always perked up whenever this song came on to score the drama moments on my screen, and listening to it now, it still brings back the same hopeful, sweetly melancholic feels.
Be Melodramatic (2019)
This show is such a quirky, unique breath of fresh air. I would’ve never dreamed that I’d be so into a song about shampoo, or that I’d ever giggle fondly at a song about poop, but that’s just what this show does so well. It makes me laugh at unexpected things, while keeping my heart full. Listening to this song brings back all the fun, peculiar goodness about this show, and it just makes me smile. 🥰
Search: WWW (2019)
Search: WWW is a show that dances to its own rhythm, defying both typical story milestones and narrative tropes, and this song brings that all out, for me. This song is so laidback yet groovy-sexy; something very different from the big love anthems that are so often celebrated in Dramaland.
Itaewon Class (2020)
Guh. I just love this song on the Itaewon Class OST. It’s so edgy-groovy and so defiant and strong, all at the same time. It encapsulates the underdog warrior for me, which is exactly what the drama itself celebrates. I love it.
Hospital Playlist (2020)
I freaking love that our Friendly Five play and sing for real, in the course of our show, and on a regular basis too! What did we do to deserve this awesomeness, because I’d like us to do it again. 😍 I will admit that the music in this show didn’t exactly linger with me after my watch, but listening to the OST again – particularly tracks performed by The Five (like this one above) – just brings all the feels back, instantly. Love. ❤️
This list isn’t comprehensive, of course. But I do think this list covers some pretty great OSTs, so I hope you’ll find some lovely nuggets from this post, whether they’re dramas to watch, &/or their OSTs to listen to!
Also, like I mentioned above, everyone, do feel free to share your favorites in the comments, since there are literally so many shows that I haven’t yet watched.
I hope this list helps!
1. If you feel that I missed anything, or if you have your own insights that you’d like to share with the rest of us, do tell us about it in the comments!
2. Do you have a question of your own? Drop me a comment here or on the Dear kfangurl page, or send me an email!