What a surreal year 2020 has turned out to be, amiright?
It’s been the year of surprises and curveballs, and I think it’s safe to say that none of us has been unaffected by the events of 2020. As a small silver lining, with lockdowns taking place around the world, and Netflix promoting Asian dramas with unflagging enthusiasm, we’ve welcomed many new drama fans into our midst.
And, our dramas have not let us down. I mean, yes, there’ve been duds, but that’s true every year anyway, yes? 😉 I’m just happy that Dramaland has found a way to continue production while ensuring the safety of cast and crew, coz I know I’m not alone when I say that dramas have helped make 2020 better.
Now, let’s take stock of my drama year in 2020, before 2021 comes upon us!
Someday Or One Day OST – Title Track
MY DRAMA YEAR IN 2020
This has been a somewhat different drama year, for me.
With work getting put on hold indefinitely, I found myself able to blog full-time, literally. I experimented with allowing ads on the blog, and with putting out more frequent posts, in an attempt to test the blog’s potential as an actual income source. At the urging of some of you, I also got on Patreon. The short answer to how all of that went, is, blogging doesn’t seem quite viable as a job replacement sort of income, but I am still very grateful for the help that it does give me. The support that you guys have been giving me and the blog, absolutely does go towards keeping the blog up, and my lights on. Thank you so, so much. ❤️❤️
The funny thing, I realize, is that with the time I’ve put into writing more frequent posts, I’ve ended up checking out fewer dramas this year. While putting this post together, I realize that I mention fewer dramas in this year’s post, compared to last year’s, when I wasn’t actually blogging full-time. It’s the secret that nobody really tells you; blogging is time-consuming stuff, and it actually takes away from your drama hours. 😝
Happily, I still managed to check out a good number of dramas, and I did enjoy several lovely gems. What works for me, might not work for you, and vice versa, but I still hope this overview helps you to discover some great dramas to love.
In deciding on which dramas to watch, I did my best to balance my desire to follow my heart and just watch what I wanted to watch, with taking suggestions into account, and giving at least some attention to drama buzz. Because of this, I found myself enjoying some shows that I never expected to enjoy, but sometimes, I also found myself feeling unable to love a show that everyone else seemed to love. I guess that’s just how the cookie crumbles, since we’re all unique and different, right?
As always, I will be including dramas that started last year, but ended this year, in this post. It has always made more sense to me, to judge a drama only after it’s finished its run. It’s only fair, I think, since Dramaland has proven to us time and again, how a drama can bomb at the very last minute. 😜
THE ONES WORTH MAKING TIME FOR
Someday Or One Day [Taiwan]
Twisty and smart, yet completely heartfelt, this little show came out of nowhere and stole my heart, hook, line and sinker, to be my drama of the year. It’s SO good, you guys. ❤️❤️❤️ This show, its characters and its music just have a way of creeping under your skin and not letting go. Show is so well done, without feeling at all try-hard. Go in as blind as possible, then come back to read the review.
For the record, I also now have serious heart-eyes for male lead Greg Hsu. 😍 Swoon.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay
Dark, whimsical and meaty, It’s Okay is more an enigmatic fairytale than an actual attempt at an accurate portrayal of mental disability. I think that’s important to know, going in. With that fairytale lens in place, there’re lots of goodies to enjoy. Show is very pretty to look at, the music is great, our three leads are each very excellent in their own ways, and the character and relationship journeys are satisfying to witness.
Our OTP is fantastic, but special shout-out goes to Oh Jung Se, who had me scraping my jaw off the floor, with his amazing portrayal of a character on the autism spectrum.
Such warm, lovable goodness, all-around. It’s a treat to have an ensemble cast made up of such strong actors who also share such a natural, sparky chemistry that it’s easy to believe that they’ve known one another all their lives. Who knew a hospital drama could feel this warm and aspirational, while still acknowledging the difficulties that medical staff face? I never wanted this one to end, and I am very much looking forward to Season 2 in 2021.
Don’t be intimidated by the long episodes; you’ll grow to love this crew, and then the long episodes will feel more like a boon than a bane.
A Couple’s World [World Of The Married]
Dysfunctional, compelling and intense, this show kept me on the edge of my seat, often with little idea of where it wanted to go next. Show is polished in every sense of the word, and feels sharper, smarter and darker than the average makjang – which is why I don’t actually consider this a makjang, despite its highly melodramatic narrative. Our talented cast puts in consistently excellent performances, but Kim Hee Ae is the undeniable stand-out, with her magnificent delivery of our protagonist’s multi-faceted journey.
Crash Landing On You OST – But It’s Destiny
SOLID WATCHES I’D RECOMMEND
Crash Landing On You
Silly, slurpable and fun in its first half, and then serious and melodramatic in its second half, Show does suffer a bit from late-run drag, but is still a very enjoyable ride, overall. Hyun Bin and Son Ye Jin make a great OTP, and together, they make all our favorite romantic tropes come alive with fresh appeal.
Our side characters bring a surprising amount of heart to our drama world; the North Korean ajummas are great, and our North Korean soldier puppy crew is endearing and adorable. And last but not least, I do think this is the swooniest and most appealing I’ve seen Hyun Bin, possibly ever. ❤️
Unlike most kdramas, this drama has no romance in it at all. Instead, it’s a great underdog story, whether you’re a baseball fan or not. Nam Goong Min is great as the GM who has the almost impossible task of turning a failing baseball team around, and the rest of the cast is very good too, from major characters to more incidental minor ones. Heartfelt and easy to root for, whether on or off the pitching mound.
Flash Review: here.
My Unfamiliar Family
A show that feels like a meatier, grittier, more condensed take on the average family drama. Thoughtful writing combines with heartfelt performances from our cast to make this show feel raw and real where many family dramas feel stylized and a bit whitewashed, and altogether makes for a thought-provoking, heart-hitting sort of watch. Somewhat makjang in form, but definitely not makjang in spirit.
Do You Like Brahms?
A story about introverts, for introverts. I really really liked how this one made me feel seen, understood and even celebrated, as an introvert. Kim Min Jae and Park Eun Bin are fantastic as our resident pair of introverts, and it’s just bonus that they make such a sweet pair of bashful lovebirds. The character and relationship journeys felt valid and easy to understand, to me as a fellow introvert. Not for everyone by any means, but extra precious, if you identify as an introvert.
Even though revenge is one of the main narrative threads in this story, this was always more of an underdog story than a revenge one. Park Seo Joon is excellent as our protagonist, and the hodgepodge found family that he collects on his personal journey, really helps to make this drama world pop. I thought the main loveline was oddly handled, and I did feel like Show lost a bit of its charm towards the end, but this was still a very solid watch.
Hi Bye, Mama!
Bittersweet, sensitive and poignant, with lashings of levity, Show definitely knows how to serve up the feels. There are no bad guys in this drama world, only people who just happen to be on different sides of the fence, and all the complicated emotions that go with. Our cast delivers all those complicated emotions with aplomb, but shout-outs to Kim Tae Hee and Lee Kyu Hyung, who are literally the best I’ve ever seen them.
Not without its flaws, and Show could’ve been tighter overall, but still a very good ride.
A Piece Of Your Mind
Rather abstract and therefore requires more than the average lens adjustment, but very sweet and warm, once you manage to make those adjustments. Jung Hae In and Chae Soo Bin are lovely in this, both individually and together. A very thoughtful thematic exploration of love and loss, as well as solitude and solidarity.
Not for everyone, since it’s admittedly rather abstract, but so worth it, if it works for you.
Find Me In Your Memory
A solid, sweet healing drama that doesn’t actually feel like a healing drama. Our story has quite a few tropes – a stalker arc being one of them – but manages to feel engaging and heartfelt, in spite of it all. Kim Dong Wook and Moon Ga Young share a sweet chemistry that makes for an OTP connection that feels natural, restrained and charming. As a bonus, Kim Seul Gi and Lee Jin Hyuk make a very cute and dorky secondary couple.
Mystic Pop-up Bar
A little silly, and a lot heartfelt, Mystic is, in part, a poignant story of personal journey, and in part, an endearing, heartwarming story of hodgepodge found-family. I found our main trio very winsome together, and, for the record, Hwang Jung Eum is great (and not at all screechy) in this. Despite its challenges, Show manages to serve up an ending that feels satisfying – even though it has to dodge some logical constraints in order to get there.
Into The Ring [Memorials]
Quirky and different, at its heart, Show is less about politics, than it is about daring to follow your heart, even when the odds are stacked against you. Nana is eccentric but winsome in this, and Park Sung Joon is wonderfully awkward and swoony, in his perfectly adorkable way. Unapologetically kooky, and yet, still deeply heartfelt.
Find Yourself [China]
A noona romance that, amazingly, manages to feel light and fluffy, and yet, thoughtful and introspective, at the same time. Song Wei Long brings more swoon to the table than I’d first imagined possible, while Victoria Song is charming yet grounded, and together, they make a very cute pair. Show’s second half is more muted than its initial slurpable, cracky stretch, but it all balances out to make this feel like an earthy fairytale.
Flower Of Evil
Show can feel rather uneven with an overly analytical lens, so lens adjustment is a must. Despite its shortcomings, Show packs an emotional punch, and Lee Jun Ki and Moon Chae Won are both very excellent in this. Separately, they deliver the complexities of their characters’ journeys very well, and together, they are completely believable as a longtime married couple with a lot of history and feelings between them. Shout-out to lil munchkin Jung Seo Yeon, who plays their daughter. Her delivery is quite stunning, in spots.
Marry Me! [Japan]
Short, fluffy and angst-lite, Show is a fun, easy little marathon that manages to be full of heart, despite its simplistic approach to character and relationship development. Kumada Rinka is especially endearing as our female lead, and every time she smiled, I felt like my screen was exploding with puppies, kittens and rainbows. Sweet, easy and escapist.
Flash Review: here.
Oh My Baby OST – Love Is All Around
OKAY, IF IT’S YOUR STYLE / YOU CAN SPARE THE TIME
When The Weather Is Fine
Slow, beautiful, and thoughtful in its first half, but angsty, melodramatic and a little scattered in its final stretch, Show was a mixed bag, for me. It felt like Show was trying to cover too many bases in a limited amount of screen time, and so in the final third or so, it felt like Show had lost focus, to me. I did enjoy Seo Kang Joon very much in this, and he was a big reason why I stayed with this show, even when it legit made me mad.
Record Of Youth
This one’s basically a Park Bo Gum showcase pretending to be a slice-of-life drama. Everything feels rather overly scripted, and the handling of the OTP relationship puzzled me. But, there are many opportunities for Park Bo Gum to shine in this, and the dramas within the drama were a personal highlight, for me, because it feels like we’re getting to see multiple Park Bo Gum dramas at the same time.
Kim Hye Soo and Joo Ji Hoon share fantastic chemistry in this, and that about sums up Show’s appeal. Kim Hye Soo’s character in particular is painted in morally ambiguous colors, and her breaking the law &/or using people is served up as her being cool and badass. How well this sits with you, will determine how much you enjoy this show. It didn’t sit all that well with me, so I didn’t end up loving this one. But, I did like it fairly well, and I have to say that both Kim Hye Soo and Joo Ji Hoon put in very good performances.
The King: Eternal Monarch
A very ambitious drama that didn’t manage to sweep me off my feet or boggle my mind as it’d hoped to. The parallel universe thing is interesting until the logic fails to hold together, and in the meantime, things feel unnecessarily complicated. The OTP romance is intended to be epic, but it didn’t have enough context or lead actor chemistry to work for me. That said, I loved Kim Kyung Nam in this, and to a smaller extent, Woo Do Hwan too. Relatively pleasant, but definitely falls short of its aim to be monumental and mind-blowing.
Oh My Baby
Show is wonderfully slurpable, cute and cracky in its first half, but suffers from a slump in its second half, where things feel unnecessarily angsty. Our story still manages to feel reasonably cohesive, and our characters also feel reasonably consistent, though I did feel that our ending landed a bit oddly. On the upside, Jang Na Ra delivers a heartfelt, solid performance, and Go Joon is fantastically dorky and endearing when playing a guy in love.
The School Nurse Files
Unapologetically weird, dark and quirky, this show does not attempt to win you over; it just does its own thing and marches to its own rhythm, whether you “get it” or not. Hanging narrative threads abound, but Show doesn’t care about that. It is very strong in its metaphorical messaging though, and is therefore best viewed with a metaphorical lens.
(Dame Holly / LT’s guest review (link below) helps A LOT, if you’re trying to make sense of this one.)
The Romance Of Tiger And Rose [China]
Silly, fluffy, and best viewed with a generous finger on the Fast Forward button. Zhao Lu Si is very cute in this, while Ding Yu Xi manages to deliver some surprising emotional heft, and together, they make a very cute couple. Our plot cycles in place a fair bit, and can feel repetitive, but this is easily fixed with judicious use of that Fast Forward button. Importantly, our story finishes in a way that makes sense, and delivers a happy ending that feels solid.
Flash Review: here.
Love Is Sweet [China]
Our story is tropey and silly, but the OTP chemistry in this is very strong, and it basically carries the entire show. Bai Lu and Luo Yun Xi share a chemistry that feels sparky and natural, and they make this OTP feel organic, melty and sometimes quite molten, even though the drama world itself feels anything but organic. Stuff can get unnecessarily angsty, particularly with our secondary characters, so this one is also best viewed with generous use of the Fast Forward button. The cute corgi earns this show an extra bonus point. 🐶
Flash Review: here.
SHOWS THAT I DIDN’T FEEL WERE WORTH THE EFFORT, TO BE HONEST
My Holo Love
Show aims to be a sweet, simple romance with an A.I. twist, but the problem for me, is that the entire OTP relationship feels insufficiently supported by context. Both leads are reasonably solid and likable, but I found the OTP connection hollow and lacking. I also found the ending rather underwhelming, and it didn’t help that I often felt like Show was logic-challenged.
Flash Review: here.
This Guy Is The Biggest Mistake In My Life [Japan]
I actually really liked it when Show was at its wacky weirdest, which was in its initial and final episodes. I liked Show’s middling middle a lot less. Without its blithely weird armor on, Show becomes a lot less entertaining, and a lot more troubling, with the behavior of its fetishizing male lead. I wanted it to be gloriously wacky all the way through, but some folks love this one as it is.
Flash Review: here.
Love Lasts Forever [An Incurable Case Of Love] [Japan]
This one feels old-fashioned and predictable, with its tsundere male lead and earnest female lead. I think this is strictly for fans of the Mischievous Kiss sort of story, &/or fans of Sato Takeru’s brand of smolder. Best to avoid, if you do not identify as either.
Flash Review: here.
ACTIVELY AVOID, IF YOU DRAMA TASTE IS LIKE MINE
When My Love Blooms
To be fair, some folks genuinely love this one. I just.. didn’t. I found this slow and lacking in payoff. I also found the premise problematic, with our male lead pursuing our female lead while married. If this isn’t a problem for you, and you’re in the mood for something slow and old-fashioned, and you don’t mind a disproportionate amount of suffering for your characters, you might like this.
Flash Review: here.
Edited to add: Chocolate
I only got one episode into this, which is how I forgot to include this when I first published this post. 😅
Right off the bat, this feels very much in the tradition of Hyper Melos from the early 2000s, but – in my opinion anyway – not in a good way. Show serves up a lot of disaster and tragedy in just the first hour, and it’s hard to watch. But the real deal-breaker for me, is my personal aversion to Ha Ji Won as an actress.
Ha Ji Won’s character in this is supposed to be cute, I think, when she’s a patient in the hospital eating food off a random bench, but I don’t feel it, at all. I cringed through all the cutesy, and I couldn’t convince myself to go back for more.
(If you loved this, &/or are a Ha Ji Won fan, I’m sorry. 😝)
SHORT FORMAT DRAMA THINGS
A Jaunt [Drama Special]
A story of friendship found in unlikely places, Show is short, but impactful, poignant and touching. Jung Woong In and Son Sook do a great job with the short amount of screen time they have, and by the end of the hour, they had me by the heart.
Flash Review: here.
Mute [Web Drama]
Light and easy, with some very pleasant music to go with, Show’s an easy watch despite the acting leaning rather green. Rather sweet in its theme, which makes up for Show’s rough edges.
Flash Review: here.
Timing [Web Drama]
Bittersweet, poignant and thought-provoking, Show managed to linger with me, despite its heavy use of tropes. Impressively impactful, for its short running time.
Flash Review: here.
18 Again OST – Hello
SHOWS WHICH FEEL SOLID, BUT WHICH I JUST DIDN’T FINISH
I only got one episode into this, before I got distracted by newer and shinier shows. I did like the underdog quality of our story, and I felt like I’d be able to root for Seo Hyun Jin’s character, as she struggled to fit in at her new job. I also really liked Ra Mi Ran’s character, and I felt like there was lots of potential for a great friendship to develop between these two characters.
One episode in, this one felt like a potential B+.
JURY’S STILL OUT
More Than Friends
I’m not sure how I feel about this show. I find Ong Seong Wu’s character written and delivered too opaquely, and therefore I find his character hard to like. 10 episodes in, I don’t actively dislike any of the leads, but neither do I actually like them, either. I do find it interesting to analyze them to figure out why they behave the way they do, though. I am also rather invested in the arcs of our side characters, so I’m sticking with this one, for now.
10 episodes in, this one feels like a potential B.
I love this show, you guys. There are lashings of silly, but by and large, this one is just so heartfelt and poignant. I love the emphasis on fatherly and familial love, which takes precedence over romantic love in this story. Our cast is very strong and I think our leads are great, but I have to admit that my heart-eyes are for Lee Do Hyun, who is blowing my socks off, in this. I literally don’t want this show to end.
14 episodes in, this feels like a solid A.
Edit: Review is here!
Lie After Lie
I really like this show, right away. It’s makjang in a way that really works for me; I feel immediately pulled into the dilemma and journey of our protagonist Lee Yoo Ri, whose daughter has been forcibly taken from her, after she’s been framed for murder. I can’t help rooting for her to overcome the injustices that have been done to her, even though she’s currently scheming to find a way to become her daughter’s stepmother.
5 episodes in, this feels like a potential B+ or B++.
I have to admit that I don’t have strong feelings for this show and its characters, despite almost everyone else in the dramaverse having deeply visceral reactions to this show. I’m trying to figure out how I feel about our two male leads (I think they’re both just ok, right now), but I do know that I love Kim Hae Sook as Gran in this. Gran basically has me by the heartstrings, and probably always will. So far, I find this show reasonably pleasant, but it’s not rocking my world, which I had hoped it would.
8 episodes in, this one feels like a potential B.
The Uncanny Counter
I’m so pleasantly surprised by how much I love this one. It feels consistently compelling and engaging, whatever angle Show is taking on in any particular moment. I love that Show balances the darker demon-chasing action with lots and lots of heart. I love the Counter crew, and I love So Mun’s friendship with his high school besties, and I hope Show stays this good all the way to the end.
5 episodes in, this one feels like a solid A.
Lovestruck In The City
I wasn’t going to check this out so soon, but all the chatter about Show’s mockumentary style got me intrigued. So far, I like it more than I thought I would. I feel like the mock interview approach, combined with flashbacks to actual events, provides quite a bit of potential to examine what makes people tick, and why they say the things they say, and do the things they do. I’m not sure where Show will take it from here, but so far, I like it reasonably well.
2 episodes in, this feels like a potential B or B+.
Despite being tropey and silly, and requiring a strong manhwa lens, this show somehow appeals to my inner tween. I want to root for our underdog ugly duckling, I find the two male leads pleasant to look at, and so far, Show’s been reasonably entertaining in a mindless, fluffy sort of way. I just wish Show’s episodes were shorter, to go with its fluffy personality.
2 episodes in, this feels like a potential B.
2020/2021 SHOWS STILL ON MY LIST
Kairos I’ve heard so many good things about this one, that it’s tightly written and does a great job of managing the different timelines, and is well-acted too. Sounds super solid, and that makes me want to not miss out.
Mr. Queen This sounds potentially great, and I do enjoy Shin Hye Sun and Kim Jung Hyun. I am a little wary that the humor might not land well for me, but I’m definitely curious to give this a try.
Update: Review is here.
Zombie Detective Zombies are not my kind of thing, but I’ve heard that this one is funny and droll, and feels fresh. That sounds pretty promising.
Update: Flash Review is here.
Run On I wasn’t super interested in this one, but I’ve heard that this one is quirky in a way that’s reminiscent of Be Melodramatic, which I loved. So now I have to check it out, heh.
Update: Review is here.
Go Ahead I’ve heard good things about this one, and several of you have specifically suggested this one to me, so I’m positively intrigued. I love a good family story, and this sounds like it’ll do nicely.
Dear Mayang Street I’ve heard some good things about this one, and it’s been mentioned in the same breath as Reply 1988 which I loved, so I’m curious to see if I’ll love this one too.
Sleuth Of The Ming Dynasty Some of you recommended this to me, saying that it’s got appealing leads, found family and bromance, all of which are things I enjoy in my dramas.
Well. This has turned out to be a pretty decent list, after all, my friends. I managed to talk about 40 shows this year – well, 37, if we don’t count the short-format drama things. Not bad. It’s a little fewer than last year’s 41 shows (so I was right, that I checked out fewer shows this year), but I think it still gives a decent sampling of 2020’s drama offerings.
I realize that I spent a chunk of drama hours on older shows that aired before 2020 (like for our Chuno group watch), which didn’t make it into this post. And I’ve also been slightly more selective this year, and essentially managed to dodge several potential bombs by being late enough to the bandwagon with some shows, to know well enough not to start them, because they famously go off the rails. *cough* DoDoSolSolLaLaSol *cough* This is why I don’t have a Dropped section in this year’s post, which I’m really quite surprised by, since I’ve dropped quite a few shows in the last several years. I guess being late to the party does pay off, sometimes? 😉
[Edit: I did drop something after all! I’ve added Chocolate to the post, which brings my drama count – of stuff checked out, not necessarily completed – to 38, or 41, if we count the short drama things. Yay? 😅]
Thanks so much for your company on this journey, you guys. Your encouragement, support and your presence here on the blog, mean a lot to me. Thank you for sticking with me, through another year. 🥰 Here’s wishing us all a healthy, bright and hopeful 2021, in Dramaland and beyond. ❤️