Dear kfangurl: What are some good dramas that aren’t romances?

rufflina writes:

Dear kfangurl, I have a question for you – can you recommend dramas that are really good and don’t involve romance? I have just finished Healer and really liked the love story there. When picking a new series I searched for drama that does not have romance on purpose because I did not want to “replace” the OTP from Healer with a new OTP right away, but I still wanted to watch something engaging. Two examples that come to mind are My Mister (thanks for recommending it! I loved it so much!) and Hot Stove League (which is the one I’m watching at the moment). I’m sure there are more. And thank you so much for this awesome blog! I very much enjoy reading your reviews before and after watching a drama (except for Someday or One Day. I stopped reading the moment you said that’s best and returned after finishing it 🙂 )

Why, I do think I can help! 😉

Dear rufflina,

I’m so glad that you ended up loving Healer as much as you do; it’s one of my all-time favorite kdramas, and deserves all of the love. 🤩 I can understand your desire to watch dramas that are not romance-centric, at least for a while, so that you can continue to bask in the glow of the amazing Healer OTP. 😍

Because dramas (particularly Korean ones) have a peculiar quirk of trying to shoehorn in a romance one way or another – even if it’s just a token one – dramas that don’t have any romance at all, are fewer than one might expect. Therefore, I thought it would make sense to include dramas in this list, that might serve up a token romance, but aren’t actually focusing on the romance as a main thing. To help you sift through the titles in a meaningful way, I’ll indicate which shows have no romance at all, and which ones have smatterings of romance.

I hope you’ll find this list helpful!

Also, I’d just like to say, everyone, please feel free to chime in with your own suggestions in the comments. I certainly haven’t watched all of the dramas out there, and I know there are definitely other worthy titles I missed! Please share, because sharing is caring! 🥰

A SELECTION OF NON-ROMANCE-CENTRIC DRAMAS

Here’s a list of 40 dramas that I think fit the bill. I’ve watched most of them, but some of them I haven’t. I’m including those based on general positive opinion, so that you don’t miss out on a good drama just because I haven’t seen it yet.

For easy reference, I’ve put everything in alphabetical order.

PS: Just to be clear, when I mention “bromance,” it is to indicate a strong, platonic bond between male characters. A loveline between male characters is typically referred to as “BL,” ie, “boy love.” Just thought I’d put it out there.

Angry Mom

You need a bit of a comic book lens for this, and it can lean a little dark at times, but Kim Hee Sun is flat-out amazing as a mom so determined to get to the bottom of shady things going on at her daughter’s high school, that she’s willing to go in undercover, as a student.

Romance: Technically no, but there is young puppy Ji Soo who’s smitten with our angry mom, and he’s adorable.

Review is here.

Bad Guys

Bad guys who’re enlisted to catch badder guys, in exchange for reducing their jail sentences? I couldn’t say yes to this fast enough, and even though I found this a touch more melodramatic than I preferred, I still loved this one.

Romance: No, but one of our bad guys does carry a torch for someone.

Review is here.

Beethoven Virus

A very solid underdog story of a hodgepodge orchestra working earnestly to prove themselves. Kim Myung Min is excellent as the grumpy, aloof, reluctant maestro, and Jang Geun Suk looks great with a buzz cut, instead of his trademark ponytail. If you like classical music, you should check this one out.

Romance: There’s a romance in here, but it’s not the story’s main focus.

Grade: B+

Circle

An interesting sci-fi story spanning 3 timelines, Circle manages to be interesting, compelling and mysterious – and melodramatic, all at the same time. I found this an emotionally engaging watch that was worth my while, even though I’m not big into science fiction.

Romance: Very minimal.

Flash Review is here.

Dear My Friends

A rare drama that shines the spotlight on older characters and their lives and relationships. I haven’t finished this one because I suddenly felt intimidated by the idea of potentially losing some of our characters to illness or old age, and so I’m paused on this one, but from what I’ve seen, this is very excellent, special stuff that sits in A-grade territory.

Romance: Perhaps lashings of it via a younger character’s arc, but not the main thing, certainly.

Defendant

From the several episodes of this that I’ve seen, this one is very good. Ji Sung is wonderful as always, and delivers a performance that feels raw, organic and faceted. I paused this one because it was hard to see his character suffering, but I’m told that this is a worthy ride, that is exciting, compelling and rewarding. From what I’ve seen of this show, I’d say it’s in A-territory.

Romance: None.

Designated Survivor: 60 Days

I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one, given that I’m not into politics as a general rule. I loved Ji Jin Hee as our hapless, bewildered, sudden presidential stand-in, who suddenly has to put aside his fears to rise to the occasion, and carry a nation on his shoulders.

Romance: Technically none, but there is a burgeoning connection between a pair of secondary characters.

Flash Review is here.

Hi Bye, Mama!

Our premise is one where difficult emotions are a given, and Show – and our actors – pull it off so well. I did feel that some secondary arcs took up too much screen time, but by and large, this was a well-executed story that knew how to bring a lot of feels. Poignant, heartfelt and bittersweet.

Romance: Show deals with a lot of familial love, and along with that, there’s some emphasis on marital love, but this is not a romance, at its heart.

Review is here.

Hikaru no Go [China]

I haven’t yet seen this one, but I’ve heard very promising things, like Show has excellent production values, is a fantastic adaptation of the manga source material, is mostly well-paced, thought-provoking and even a bit educational, while featuring an affecting friendship. My mum just finished this one, and she says she’d give it an A.

Romance: None.

Joseon X-Files

The only other sci-fi kdrama that I’ve watched besides Circle, I found Joseon X-Files smart and different, even though I also felt it was less accessible than the average kdrama. If you’re into sci-fi, this one is worth a look.

Romance: None.

Grade: B+

Kairos

I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’ve heard that it is very well-written, and that the time-travel element is well-managed, with few dropped threads, if any. I’m told that this is absorbing, thrilling, and quite the wild ride.

Romance: None.

Liar Game

I didn’t love this one as much as everyone else, but I thought I’d include it anyway, since it’s so well-loved. I found it uneven and too focused on the mathy games, but most fans love this a lot and find it exciting, intriguing and all-around awesome. I do agree that Lee Sang Yoon does broody and angsty well, though.

Romance: Technically none, although Show hints at a burgeoning connection between our main characters.

Flash Review is here.

Life On Mars

Show is a strange, fantastical, confident little beast, and it is absolutely its own thing, feeling nothing like other kdramas that I’ve seen. The story is mysterious and mind-bendy, and the handling of characters is warm and personal, together making for a rollercoaster of a ride that feels as thrilling as it is confusing. In the midst of it all, the reluctant community feels were my favorite thing.

Romance: Minimal. There are hints of a burgeoning connection between our protagonist and a female character, but it’s quite nominal, in the grand scheme of things.

Flash Review is here.

Live

I’ve only sampled a couple of episodes, so I can’t personally vouch for this one, but I’m told that this is an excellent ensemble drama; one of the best in its genre, even.

Romance: A smattering of it, but it isn’t the main focus of the story.

Midnight Diner

A warm little show that feels like a slice-of-life collection of vignettes, where patrons of a midnight diner end up bonding over food. Show sometimes weirdly attempts to be creepy, but by and large, I found this warm and easy.

Romance: Not that I can recall, meaning, if it’s there, it’s negligible.

Flash Review is here.

Medical Examiner Dr. Qin [China]

I wandered off from this because I found the cases a little perfunctory for my taste, but I thought I’d include this because it’s very popular among fans for the teamwork and camaraderie among our three main characters.

Romance: None.

Misaeng

An understated, realistic, measured story of underdogs trying to make good in a harsh and unforgiving world, Misaeng isn’t an easy watch, but it’s an excellent one. Many viewers found a sense of solidarity in sharing our characters’ journeys. How precious, to be assured that you are not alone.

Romance: None.

Review is here.

Money Flower

An absorbing, compelling revenge tale that is masterfully headlined by the ever-amazing Jang Hyuk. So far, this is the only revenge drama that I’ve watched, that I’ve found satisfying from beginning to end. A tight story, excellent performances, and a haunting soundtrack together made this a very memorable watch for me.

Romance: There are romantic feelings present among our main characters, but they don’t overshadow the main story.

Review is here.

Mother

I haven’t seen this yet, but I’ve heard so many good things about it that I thought I’d include it in this list. I’ve heard that this one is meaningful, touching and emotionally gripping.

Romance: None.

My Mister

So warm, dark and beautiful. This show took my heart, and broke it, and filled it, and turned it upside down and all around, in the process. Thought-provoking, viscerally moving and altogether exceptional.

Romance: Debatable. Some viewers insist that the connection between our main characters is romantic, while others believe it to be platonic.

Review is here.

Nirvana in Fire [China]

So well-written, wonderfully acted, and amazingly executed, that it might be the best drama I’ve seen to date. It can get a touch confusing at first because of the sprawling cast, but hang in there, because everything comes together. There are no superfluous details in this story; everything has its significance and is allowed to take centerstage in its season. Fair warning that this ruined me for dramas for a while; it was just that good.

Romance: There is a very muted loveline in this, that is secondary to the main narrative.

Flash Review is here.

Prison Playbook

Warm and hopeful, with a strong emphasis on community, loyalty, friendship and found family, Prison Playbook stole my heart in deep and surprising ways. Show does a great job of giving secondary characters their time in the spotlight, while keeping a good grip on our overall story. Excellent performances all-around, very much recommend.

Romance: There is some romance in this for our main characters, but the emphasis is always on the bromance rather than the romance.

Review is here.

School 2013

My absolute favorite among the School series, School 2013 is so well-written and so full of heart. Most memorably, this drama boasts one of the best, most potent bromances that I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing on my screen. I found this bromance more compelling than many a romance; it’s SO good.

Romance: None.

Review is here.

Secret Forest / Stranger

I haven’t seen this one yet, but have it on good authority that it’s one of the best kdramas ever written. I’m told that even if legal thrillers aren’t your thing, that this one is still well worth a look.

Romance: None.

Signal

I’ve only sampled a few episodes of this one, and wandered off because I found the serial killing hard to watch. However, from what I saw, this one looks like a solidly excellent drama. Its legions of fans would agree with me, I’m sure.

Romance: None.

SKY Castle

An excellent ensemble cast, tight pacing, and interesting characters make this social satire worth a look, despite its darker content and dysfunctional vibe. I thought the finale was rather weak, but Show manages to tell such a solid story within its first 19 episodes, that the missteps of the finale don’t even matter that much. Compelling and thought-provoking.

Romance: Not that I recall. Which means if it’s there, it’s negligible.

Review is here.

Stove League

A solid underdog story that I found very engaging. Well-written and well-paced, Show remains consistent and deft all the way through, in managing its story. Besides a consistent focus on our GM protagonist (excellently played by Nam Goong Min), our secondary characters also get time in the spotlight, which I thought was very nice. Altogether, very enjoyable and heartfelt.

Romance: None.

Flash Review is here.

Sweet Home

I’ve only just started on this one, so I’m including it in this list mainly based on other fans’ recommendations. Many people have gushed over how good this one is, and how it’s a fascinating psychological study, on top of being a good story. I can only say so far, as a self-confessed horror wuss, that the monsters are more manageable to watch than I’d expected.

Romance: None.

The King’s Avatar [China]

I haven’t seen this one, but have it on good authority that this is a fun and engaging watch that’s full of heartwarming teamwork and camaraderie, set in the world of cyber-gaming.

Romance: None.

The Last Empress

Blithe, over-the-top makjang that’s just the right kind of hammy for my taste, I found The Last Empress a fun, rollicking, ridiculous watch. You do need the right kind of makjang lens for this, but with it on, this one is engaging and entertaining, despite some missteps in Show’s ending.

Romance: There are romantic feelings here and there among our main characters, but romance is never the main point, in our story.

Flash Review is here.

The Uncanny Counter

I’m still watching this one (Edit: review is here!), and so far, I find it very solid. I find the evil spirit hunting dark stuff very manageable, and Show’s knack for heartfelt goodness more than balances it out. I love Show’s superhero origin story vibe, as well as the found-family dynamics of our crew.

Romance: None.

Tientsin Mystic

I didn’t finish this one, but thought I’d include it in this list anyway, because it has a lot of fans. I found the murders, zombies and magic savior babies a bit much for my taste, but Show is very well made, well acted, and gives a rare glimpse into Chinese mysticism.

Romance: None.

Tree With Deep Roots

Really solid, and highly educational too, Show paints a compelling picture of how King Sejong developed the Hangul writing system, fighting against opposition, and against all odds. Han Suk Kyu, Jang Hyuk and Shin Se Kyung are all excellent in this. Highly recommend.

Romance: None.

Grade: A.

Two Weeks

A tight story, deft execution and a great cast come together to make this a satisfying rollercoaster of a ride. Lee Jun Ki is fantastic as a father on the run, desperate to save his daughter. Poignant, satisfying and coherent to the very end.

Romance: Negligible.

Review is here.

Vampire Prosecutor

So engaging, witty and well-written, that I loved this, even though I’m generally not big into crime procedurals or vampires. Yun Jung Hoon never looked so cool, and blood never looked so beautiful or stylish.

Romance: Technically no, but Show does hint at a burgeoning connection between our main characters.

Review is here.

VIP

Well-paced and well-handled, I found myself getting sucked into this one right away, within mere minutes. I really enjoyed the emo-angsty thrust of our story, where we have our protagonist very bothered and very agitated over the discovery that her husband is allegedly having an affair with an unnamed colleague. I found this engaging, thought-provoking and quite cracky.

Romance: There are romantic feelings in the mix among our characters, but that is not the main focus of our story.

Flash Review is here.

Warrior Baek Dong Soo

A very flawed drama that managed to get under my skin in spite of itself, and in spite of my bemusement with said flaws. If you can roll with Show’s logic fails and uneven pacing, Show somehow manages to serves up a watch experience that feels deep and epic, even though there are multiple things that don’t actually make sense. The bromance between Ji Chang Wook and Yoo Seung Ho is Show’s main event, and I did enjoy their bromantic bond very well. Think poetry rather than prose, with this one.

Romance: There’s technically a romance in this, but it’s heavily overshadowed by the bromance.

Review is here.

When The Devil Calls Your Name

A heartfelt story of personal journey and redemption, with excellent performances by Jung Kyung Ho and Park Sung Woong, and lots of great music to score it all. Show manages to retain the integrity of its fantasy logic reasonably well, while serving up a watch experience that’s poignant, funny and thought-provoking.

Romance: Negligible. There are some romantic feelings in the mix between our characters, but it is very little in the overall scheme of things.

Flash Review is here.

White Christmas

I’m including this one even though I didn’t love it, because it’s a cult favorite among drama fans. Dark and thought-provoking, Show asks the question, “Are monsters born or made?” and explores that via our ensemble of fresh-faced characters, in a wintry, starkly beautiful setting. There are a good number of plot holes that I noticed in this one, so adjusting your logical lens to a blurry setting helps.

As a bonus, this happens to feature the “model set” Kim Woo Bin, Hong Jong Hyun, Kim Young Kwang and Lee Soo Hyuk when they were starting out.

Romance: None.

Review is here.

Zombie Detective

I haven’t watched this one myself, but I’ve heard that this one is surprisingly wholesome and funny, as our titular zombie figures out the ins and outs, and various limitations of the zombie life, while trying to live among humans again.

Romance: None.

IN CLOSING

I hope you find this list useful, and I also hope that you find at least some of the dramas on this list interesting enough to check out!

Like I mentioned earlier, there are lots more dramas out there that aren’t romance-centric, so everyone, please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below. As they say, sharing is caring. 🥰

I hope this post helps!

Love! ❤️

~kfangurl

Teamwork makes the dream work 😉

POST-SCRIPT:

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!

65 thoughts on “Dear kfangurl: What are some good dramas that aren’t romances?

  1. Elaine Phua

    Thank you phl1rxd and merij1 for your recommendations!!! They really do sound right up my alley. Not sure where to watch The Long Night, is the IQ one you mentioned a legal site? 😛

    Reply
  2. Kay

    So many great shows on this list! I do tend to prefer romance in my dramas, but it isn’t always needed, and there are so many great dramas that don’t focus on it. Circle, Signal, Money Flower, Two Weeks, The Last Empress, and White Christmas are some of my faves from your list 🙂

    Reply
  3. seankfletcher

    An awesome post, kfangurl and a fabulous list. I realise when I look at a list like this just how much I have seen and enjoyed. Some of my all time favourites are here.

    Reply
  4. merij1

    I’m assuming the “Mother” that you mentioned isn’t the 2009 movie with Kim Hye-ja and Won Bin, but the movie is quite good. And def not a romance!

    Ditto for the 2014 movie My Brilliant Life, which we watched based on your review. (About a 16-year old with progeria.) Touching and so well done.

    Speaking of romance — haha — we are totally loving Beating Again (AKA Falling for Innocence.) We’re only through nine episodes, but thus far it has all the elements we love about K-romance. That said, it really helped that I read just enough of your review to adjust our viewing lens to not sweat the logic gaps or worry overmuch about the corporate drama. A lovely show, so far!

    Reply
  5. Jiyuuu

    I enjoyed and agree with most of the items listed here:
    – Designated Survivor 60 Days (such refreshing idealism for a political drama, makes you think of what could be instead of what is usually)
    – Signal
    – Stranger/Secret Forest
    – Nirvana in Fire (my first c-drama, epic, ended up reading the book after, will remain in my top list probably forever)
    – Life (by the same writer of Stranger, starring Lee Dong Wook, it’s a medical drama that focuses on hospital politics, I remember thinking it had one of the most satisfying endings I’ve watched in a while)
    – Suspicious Housekeeper (haven’t finished this yet but enjoying the korean remake)
    – Kingdom
    – Suits (negligible love story)

    Some titles that I enjoyed but haven’t been mentioned yet:
    – Engine (most of Takuya Kimura’s dramas are romance but I remember this barely has any and enjoyed it a lot)
    – Arthdal Chronicles (same writers of Tree With Deep Roots and Queen Seondeok, took a while to hook me in but worth it)
    – Welcome to Waikiki (has romance but the focus is on their lives and day to day escapades, soooo funny!)

    Now I’m curious about “Someday or One Day” and “Zombie Detective.” Thanks for the recommendations!

    Reply
    1. merij1

      Someday or One Day is one of the best K-dramas we’ve seen thus far. But yes, don’t read anything about it in advance. Just watch it!

      Reply
        1. merij1

          Yes, and I was keenly aware of that while watching it. Is there a generic term for “East Asian-style dramas”?

          Reply
  6. Timescout

    Wow! You managed to dig up quite a few dramas that are not romance focused. And there’s more in the comments too. I’ve seen quite a few of these, which isn’t really a big surprise, considering my general lack of love for romances. 😀

    I’d add Joy of Life (cdrama), Heard it Through the Grapevine, Life, Cross Fire (cdrama) – all have some romance in the mix but it’s not the main thing. There are many, many jdramas with very little or no romance at all. One of the more interesting ones of recent years is Seirei no Moribito (three short seasons) as it’s a fanasy historical, which is not a genre often seen in jdramas.

    Reply
  7. D

    Great post kfangurl. I normally watch a lot of romance-centric dramas. I tend to steer away from non-romantic ones. So, this is a good post for me to avoid. LOL!! In saying that though, there are some really good dramas that I have enjoyed that have no romance at all. Certainly will pick up some of these shows when I’m in the mood. Thank you and thanks for the person asking it too.

    Reply
  8. Lady G.

    This is a great list!! I’ve seen a bunch of these and they are so good.

    My Kdrama List: “The Suspicious Housekeeper,” – Quirky, odd, family focus and definitely she is mysterious! and “Queen of Office” (just a smattering of attraction here and there but overall it’s an office drama at heart with very hysterical moments!) And all of these – Bad Papa, Missing Noir M, Special Affairs Team TEN 1 & 2, Big Issue, Cheo Yeong 1 & 2, Brain, Ghost, Partner (2009), Solomon’s Perjury, The Ghost Detective, Tell Me What You Saw, Tunnel, Voice 1, 2, 3, Assembly and Partners for Justice 1 & 2 were fantastic and all starred Jung Jae Young.

    Reply
  9. Antonio

    My Mister, besides being the most exciting work of art of all time, is also a wonderful love story in my opinion 🙂

    Reply
    1. merij1

      Truly one of the greatest shows of all time. We almost didn’t watch it, however, thinking it would be sad and depressing. Turned out it was just the opposite!

      As for for love, yes, but not the (mutually) romantic kind.

      Reply
  10. yoeda

    Chief Kim or Good Manager. Come to think
    of it NGM rarely got a girl in his drama. Lol. He can be JH no 2 Lol. Also some oldie like Master Of Study. It was a fun drama with Kim Soo Ro and Bae Do Na with teenage Yoo Seung Ho and Lee Hyun Woo.

    Reply
  11. Elaine Phua

    Useful post! It definitely helps when one has had enough of romances for a while. Late last year I actually took a long break from all K dramas for a while. I watched C drama Ancient Detective based on recommendations, enjoyed that very much and followed with Nirvana in Fire and Someday or One Day, both of which are fantastic and epic in their own ways and spoiled me off other dramas for quite a while. I was then left with nothing to watch until finally Zombie Detective piqued my interest. The funny thing is after Zombie I wanted some romance again and watched Her Private Life which I recommend as a really good, swoony rom com with v healthy relationship dynamics (ie lacking negative lying that I feel undermined other rom coms I watched). Haha. Happy now to leave romance again for The Uncanny Counter, enjoying its mix of superpowered action and mystery thriller!

    Reply
    1. Natalia

      Exactly! Thanks, Rufflina for the great suggestion and thanks, K, for this very useful post. I am currently watching the Tale of the Nine-tailed and I keep wishing there was less “romance” in it. Generally speaking, I also don’t understand why there has to be a romantic couple in every show. So I will gladly watch the shows on this list!

      Reply
    2. phl1rxd

      Hi Elaine – that is one heck of a watched list you mention above – every one a great drama.

      You might be interested in the Longest Day in Chang’an. No romance but with mystery and political intrigue. Production values are top notch with some of the most beautiful use of lighting I have seen in a long while. The OST is so good. I think you would know by E4 if it is for you or not.

      I think you may have mentioned in a previous post that you like police/detective dramas. Medical Examiner Dr. Qin is good (great trio) and I am presently watching The Long Night, one of the Light On series dramas which are excellent. They are on iQ_YI (being careful here 🤐 not to type out complete name). I am also watching My Roomate is a Detective – quick cases and another nice trio of smart crime solvers. I am always on the lookout for a good crime drama. 🧐🧐

      Reply
    3. merij1

      Elaine, I recommend Be Melodramatic and Because This Is My First Life. Be Melo has some romance going on but it’s hardly the main focus. Because This Is… is technically a romance story, but I’d have a hard time summarizing that way.

      Instead I’d say both shows explore how interestingly quirky people learn to live with one another and with themselves. Each is unique, in the sense that I can’t think of any other show to compare them with. Be Melo, in particular, is such fun and also offers an insider’s view into how K-dramas are written and produced. My wife and I would put them right up there with two others you mentioned — the traditional romance My Private Life and the wonderfully conceived Someday Or One Day.

      Reply
  12. ngobee

    Thank you kfangirl, great suggestions!

    After watching kdrama for roughly one year, I’ve tired a bit of the love stories, so this comes at a great time. I watched “Awaken”, where Nam Goong Min is terrific if rather unlikeable for long stretches. A hard watch in places because of what’s done to the children but worth it for the narrative. One torch carrying person, but no romance. And now I’m watching “Watcher” (same director as “Stranger”), I’m 6 episodes in, it’s taut and great and no romance in sight.

    Reply
  13. Toratatsu

    I’m so glad someone asked this question. I’d been thinking of enquiring this of kfangirl myself, and I have several here on my ‘to watch’ list.
    I started watching “Canny Counter”, which I’m thoroughly enjoying, and realised that I was all romanced out, and I needed a break from all the tropes, cliches, and cringiness that often comes with a lot of romantic dramas. lol
    Thanks for the list!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      How interesting, that you’ve had the same question on your mind Toratatsu!! What great timing, that rufflina asked the question when she did! 😃 I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying The Uncanny Counter – SAME HERE! 😃🤩 It’s so absorbing and engaging, it doesn’t need any romance so spice it up, and I’m glad that the writers didn’t add one, just for the sake of it. 😊 I hope you’ll find more good shows to enjoy, from this list! ❤️

      Reply
  14. carulhein

    Hi Kfangurl, I do love romance, so don’t watch a lot of non romance. I did recently finish Misaeng and Signal though and loved both. Also, I’d recommend the Fiery Priest. I loved Kim Nam Gil in it. He’s a wonderful actor. Very funny. And I also enjoyed Memorist. I’ll definitely dig into your list though. I’ve been meaning to watch Stranger for a while. Thanx.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      I feel you, carulhein, I do love a good romance myself! 😃 At the same time, some of these non-romance-centric shows are so good, it’d be a pity to miss out on them. 😊 I haven’t seen either Fiery Priest or Memorist, so thanks for giving them a shout-out! I’ve been meaning to check out Stranger too.. I’m just waiting for the right mood, coz I’ve heard it can be a rather dense watch. 😅

      Reply
  15. Jina

    Also would recommend The Good Detective for a more lighthearted police drama that has a very small splash of romance but is most definitely not the focus at all!

    Reply
  16. rufflina

    What a treasure chest of good dramas! Thanks so much, kfangurl, for taking the time to make such a detailed post about my question <3 I love the variety of different styles and your comments on each of the dramas. I’m looking forward to spending many pleasant hours watching your suggestions 🙂

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      I’m so happy you like the look of this list, rufflina! 😃 I hope you’ll find a good number of dramas to enjoy, as you explore it! ❤️❤️

      Reply
  17. BE

    A couple of thoughts–
    With regard to My Mister, for those who think it is romantic, I would like them to think it all the way out: Park Dong Eun and Li Ji An as an actual couple. For me, not only does it diminish the whole meaning of their encounter in the series, who the characters actually are and where they are in their lives, but just does not make any sense whatsoever. If anything, My Mister really is about friendship, family, community, and the love therein. Romance as presented in My Mister is likely as not to be something wounded, wounded deeply, or broken by betrayal.
    Dear My Friends actually has a couple of romances in it, one more central to the story being told, which is really part of a larger mother daughter story, and the other more of a gentle late in life affectionate friendship of a couple that had split up decades earlier. Romance, marriage, last chances are all a part of this series but only in the sense of a very realistic portrayal of such, warts and all, as would be a part of anyone’s life really. It is a drama about several characters all but one sixty plus or older, the one being a woman almost in her forties, connected to one another by friendship or family, dealing with aging, the traumas of their pasts, being old, with dying hanging over their heads. As with My Mister, it is a story about love in a much grander sense than just the one of romance. And as with My Mister despite all sorts of trauma going on in it, in the end takes the elegaic position of love (of which romance may or may not be a part) and loving among people as a kind of redemption for their suffering.
    Finally, I know for younger people My Dear Family might not be quite the cup of escapist or comfort food fantasy television one wishes to see, and for older people, well it may be a little too close to home, but I am on my second viewing, and all i can say is that it is as good a character study as I have seen in K Dramas and the actors are almost to a one so very, very good, real professionals who inhabit their characters completely, and in many of their cases with emotional courage.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Hi BE! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights into My Mister and Dear My Friends!

      I’m with you in that I strongly feel that the connection between our leads in My Mister, is one of the platonic soulmate variety, but I felt I had to acknowledge the viewers in the romance camp, because there were a number of those fans who were deeply dissatisfied with my review because I apparently couldn’t see the love that was so apparent between our leads. 😝😅 I personally think that the romantic angle is over-reaching, but it’s a fact that a good chunk of viewers received it that way, and take comfort in that view.

      Also, thanks for weighing in on Dear My Friends. That’s super helpful! I haven’t finished it yet myself, so having your much more informed insights is great. ❤️

      Reply
      1. BE

        Dear My Friends. The title, gosh only that crew could sympathize with old person wire crossing. Yuk.

        I think the one big thing I wanted to communicate with you about the series is that despite the various old person traumas it deals with, sometimes in aching detail, certainly not the sexiest subject matter, and I mean that in the metaphorical sense, not only is the ensemble so spectacularly good–I mean there are six to seven fully developed lead characters enacted by an all star squad of actors pulling out all the stops and all the tricks of their trade picked up over decades long careers, but in the end it projects a redemptive glow.

        Reply
    2. merij1

      It was clearly a love story. Just not romantic love.

      I suppose she might have felt that way about him, but it’s not necessary to assume that. The story works either way.

      Reply
  18. pickleddragon

    Great list, kfangurl! A lot of these were already on my watchlist, and your endorsements have moved some of them up the order. Romance is not my preferred genre either, so this is a list that I find particularly interesting. I do have a few extra recommendations.

    Among kdramas, I would add the slightly flawed but very fine NOBODY KNOWS, as well as BLACK DOG, both from 2020, and WATCHER, if anyone wants a solidly directed crime thriller (from the same person who directed STRANGER 1). Another show from the same writer as STRANGER that I’d recommend is LIFE, with a lot of crossover cast, and an excellently written and gripping story about the conflicts that capitalist societies deal with, set in a hospital (it’s not a medical drama).

    For cdramas, I’d recommend two shows from the recent Light On series – THE LONG NIGHT and THE BAD KIDS. For what I call a journey of self-discovery, I’d recommend a little known tw-drama called I, MYSELF (not the world’s greatest show, but has some life lessons for romance fanatics, I feel).

    Also, I agree with your mother re HIKARU NO GO – it is an A+ in my books – one of the most endearing coming-of-age stories i have ever watched on television so far. It had me hooked from the opening to the finish of a fairly long episode run.

    I haven’t watched enough jdoramas, but I imagine there are more non-romance stories there than you might find amongst k-, c- or tw-dramas.

    Looking at this list also makes me wonder if you have thoughts on crime dramas, a genre that I am particularly partial to. I don’t find standard procedurals (like Dr Qin) much fun, but something like STRANGER is in a different league and oh so special. If there are more like this that you or others would recommend, I’d be keen to know!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Ah, I’m so glad you enjoyed this list, pickleddragon! 😃 So pleased that it’s helped you to rearrange your watch list somewhat. Thanks for adding some great titles to the list – I’ve heard good things about The Long Night and The Bad Kids, though I haven’t checked out either one yet. I simply don’t have any more room on my overflowing drama plate, but I’ll work on dipping a toe in, once I make some room. 😉 With both you and my mom speaking so highly of Hikaru no Go, though, that’s likely to be the next C-drama I sample, once I have the bandwidth. 😃

      I imagine you’re right about J-dramas probably having a good selection of non-romance-centric dramas to offer.. I haven’t watched enough of those to have any good suggestions, but I’m pretty sure the original Midnight Diner is worth a look, since I thought the k-version was very decent. 😊

      I haven’t seen enough crime dramas to have a good suggestion off the top of my head, but I did enjoy Bad Guys and Vampire Prosecutor very well, and they’re both about crime without actually being very procedural-like? 😅 Hopefully other fans on here will be able to give you some good suggestions!

      Reply
    2. Timescout

      Crime shows world over tend to be quite standard procedural. I generally like those though. 😉 Hmmm… Burning Ice (cdrama) might fit the bill somewhat. There are tons of cookie cutter Japanese crime shows (procedurals) too but Border is something a bit different. There’s more than one ‘border’ in it. On the kdrama side… perhaps Life on Mars (loved the BBC original and the Korean version is one remake done right) and Children of Nobody.

      It’s preeetty hard to find something akin to Stranger/Forest of Secrets and yeah, it IS special.

      Oh, the original Midnight Diner (Shinya Shokudō) is great! Well, at least the first two seasons. 🙂

      Reply
      1. pickleddragon

        Thanks for the recs, Timescout and kfangurl! I tried Burning Ice which had such a terrific opening but too much gore by the halfway point for my liking. I’ve only now begun gingerly exploring jdoramas, but I already have Border on my list, along with MIU404 and Unnatural. Among kdramas, Children of Nobody is also up there. I’ve heard good things about Life on Mars too, so the re-endorsement is a useful reminder for me to pick it up! Bad Guys also sounds like the caper / crime kind of show I might enjoy. 🙂

        And yeah, I realize Stranger is a class apart.
        *twiddles thumbs waiting for season 3.

        Reply
        1. Timescout

          Too much gore or gratuitous violence tends to put me off crime/action shows, so I try to avoid those. Jdramas don’t usually have any of that, thankfully.

          Ah, I did consider Untamed but wasn’t sure if it was too ‘procedural’. 🙂 Anyway, it’s a great one. MIU404 is on my List of Doom, not idea when I’ll get to it though. Other Akiko Nogi dramas I’ve watched and enjoyed are Soratobu Kouhoushitsu (with Ayano Go from MIU404 – he’s always good) and Juhan Shutai!, which I just loved. That’s one feelgood drama if there ever was one.

          Bad Guys was pretty good but a bit too violent for my taste. I did watch all of it though. Children of Nobody is rather harrowing due to the subject matter but it made an impact, at least to me. Lee Yi Kyung in one of his best gigs. A reminder that he can do much more than just comedy. Drama had some flaws but I don’t think they mattered much in the long run.

          Gosh, I do hope we’ll get Stranger S3!

          Reply
          1. pickleddragon

            I have watched Soratobu Kouhoushitsu and enjoyed that show, although I’d classify that as a romantic drama (not just romance, though)!

            And I just finished catching up with MIU404, which I HIGHLY recommend. It’s a procedural, and has its flaws, but the Go Ayano-Gen Hoshino pairing is gold! They’re both so different here from their signature roles I have watched (Soratobu and NigeHaji), and they do a darn good job. Buddy cop drama done very well indeed.

            Juhan Shutai! is on my list as well, since I’m working my way through Nogi Akiko’s works.

            I also recently finished the tw-drama The Victim’s Game, which is decent. It has some gore, and characters you don’t necessarily empathize with, but if you want something that is well produced, packaged and executed, I’d recommend.

            Reply
  19. A

    Zombie Detective and Fiery Priest got me through the pandemic and helped me laugh so hard when I needed it most. Lots of humor and also substance. Light hearted but moving. Entertaining but not overly sweet or fluffy. Perfect for pandemic viewing to help release stress. They both feature appealing female sidekicks who develop trust and friendship with the male leads. Love this kind of slow building story. Made me realize that most kiss scenes in dramas are gratuitous and unnecessary.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Glad to hear that Zombie Detective and Fiery Priest helped you so much, A! 😃 Since you speak so highly of both, I should probably give at least one of those shows a try sometime soon. 😉

      Reply
  20. Growing Beautifully

    Great list @kfangurl! I’m glad to see I’ve managed to watch quite a few of those. I believe I can add to the list the much forgotten
    Phantom, a 2012 show with So Ji Sub. There was no romance between the investigating couple. The focus was on the investigation.
    Avengers Social Club (2017) which was more a sister-mance.
    Children of Nobody with focus on child abuse and trauma.
    CHIP-IN which was a kdrama version of a locked room mystery to begin with.
    Confession which was more a legal investigation
    Harvest Villa which was more a psychological thriller sort of show.
    Missing: the Other Side a different kind of ghost story with detection.
    Pegasus Market quirky and entertaining.
    Player team work and cons.
    Sketch supernatural investigation thriller
    Solomon’s Perjury students investigate the death in school
    Suits
    The Guest Scary horror evil spirit possession.
    Trap Psychological thriller.
    (^▽^)

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Aw wow, that’s a lot of great additions, thanks GB! ❤️ I haven’t seen any of the shows you listed except for Suits, which does absolutely qualify, as long as one ignores the shoehorned in loveline that it absolutely did not need. 😆

      Reply
      1. Growing Beautifully

        @kfangurl, LOL… the fact that the ‘romance’ was such a non-issue to me, means to me it was a drama without romance. It would have stood well without any romantic thread in it, so yes it was shoehorned in most forcefully!!!

        Reply
      2. Growing Beautifully

        I’ve been trying to ‘Like’ posts, but maybe WordPress does not update it on my page or is rejecting me!!! However I’m glad to see my Reply posts do get posted.

        Anyway, I’ve Liked your post, Snow Flower’s and Timescout’s … °˖✧◝(⁰▿⁰)◜✧˖°

        Reply
    2. Snow Flower

      @GB, how is Solomon’s Perjury? I have been meaning to try it, mostly because of Jang Dong Yoon.
      Children of Nobody is very good, but unsettling. Great dramatic role for Lee Yi Kyung.

      Reply
      1. Growing Beautifully

        Hi @Snow Flower!
        Solomon’s Perjury was good. Now that I’m looking back, it generates a positive vibe in my memory so that’s a good sign. It was quite tight, the ‘kids’ were convincing as kids, the set up and process of the ‘trial’ in school was interesting. I liked the arguments and the way to revelations behind the death. And of course the kids ‘grew’ by the end of the show, which is what I look for in every drama.
        (❁´▽`❁)✲゚

        Reply
    3. Timescout

      Ah, that’s another good list! I’ve seen Phantom, Avengers Social Club, Children of Nobody, Confession and Missing and enjoyed all of them. Avengers is undoubtedly my fave but Children of Nobody was kind hard to forget. Solomon’s Perjury has been on The List for ages, I’ll get round to it one of these days. 🙂

      Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      That’s a good point, DF! My Country really was more about the bromance, even though there’s a romance in it. And of course, Jang Hyuk steals the entire show, with his amazing portrayal of Yi Bang Won! 🤩🤩

      Reply
      1. Ele Nash

        Oh, My Country, yes! The shoe-horned bit of romance is the worst bit of that show but I did enjoy the rest of it, most especially Jang Hyuk as Yi Bang Won 😍 Oh, and Jang Hyuk in Money Flower!! So completely brilliant. Oh, and Tree with Deep Roots! Hmm, I have a theory Jang Hyuk excels in non-romance roles. He’s best miserable and tortured 😂 So on the theme of that, I’d add Bad Papa and really Beautiful Mind has minimal romance.

        Agree Signal is excellent and Hospital Playlist is good with both only shadowing romance. Life on Mars is a remake of a really good British show of the same name – which might be why, kfangirl, you thought it was unusual for a kdrama. The British version was amazing so I might have to see how the Korean one compares.

        I’m currently watching (under duress as my son loves it!) Hell is Other People which is far from romantic! Super-disturbing. He enjoyed Extracurricular which someone else mentioned.

        Reply
  21. Erin Osen

    Excellent idea for a post. I never thought of searching for drama without a romance, but that is an interesting perspective ! Thanks as always for your insight.

    Reply
  22. Trent

    Another great freelance topic for a post!

    I went through my list of things I watched last year, and the only non- or incidental romance shows that pop up are:

    Extracurricular: not your average angsty-but-feel-good high school drama, this is instead high school through a dark and twisted lens. The main characters are anti-heroes, not heroes. But I did find it interesting and compelling to watch, so. No real romance, just a feint or two between the two leads, that never gets overt or really goes anywhere romance-wise.

    Kingdom: Super-high production values and a very fine cast, this is all zombie apocalypse in the Joseon era, so it rather depends on one’s tolerance for zombies (with all the face-chompin’ gore that implies). No romance to speak of, though.

    I’m wondering if Hospital Playlist would qualify? One of the main characters harbors feelings for another, but it doesn’t take up much time at all, and only really comes out near the end, and remains unresolved. One of the other main characters is in a clandestine romance with a secondary character, but again it doesn’t take up a lot of time. And of course Yoo Yeon-seok’s resident yearns for his affections, but also not a lot of screen time.
    So I feel like this could definitely be a candidate.

    Search: This just came out last fall, and really flew under the radar (for me at least). I just finished it yesterday after binge-ing in just a few days, and really liked it a lot. I saw it described somewhere (can’t recall where, or I’d credit it) as “Predator in the DMZ,” and as a first order approximation, that’s not a bad description, although incomplete of course. Two of the main characters are exes (and we’re left with the impression that they will get back together after the show is over), but there’s no romance during the actual show.

    I’m excited that you decided to give Sweet Home a try, I hope that you will find it interesting enough to stick with it. If you do finish, I will of course be very interested to read your take on it! I agree that it doesn’t have romance as such, although I think there are subliminal or subtextual feints towards some romance-type feelings between a couple of the character pairs…that don’t really end up coming to anything.

    Oh, and I just started Prison Playbook yesterday. Looking forward to it! (I had never seen Krystal Jung until Search, and really liked her in it, and now lo and behold, here she is again in Prison Playbook).

    Reply
    1. Snow Flower

      How could I forget Kingdom, Search, and Prison Playbook? Thank you for adding these excellent dramas to the list!

      Reply
      1. Trent

        To be fair, kfangurl had Prison Playbook on her original list; I just suggested Hospital Playlist, which I think is kinda-sorta created/written by the same team?

        Reply
    2. kfangurl Post author

      Ooh, thanks for all the great suggestions, Trent! 😃 You’re right, Hospital Playlist definitely qualifies! I don’t know why I didn’t think of it, especially since I loved it! 😅 Maybe it was the fan wars around who deserved to be in a loveline with whom.. but technically, there wasn’t a lot of romance in it, and the friendship was absolutely delightful. 🥰🥰 Thanks for giving it the shout-out it deserves! 😃

      I haven’t seen the other shows you mentioned, thanks for adding them to the list! And yes, I started on Sweet Home! I’m a little shocked that I haven’t run away screaming yet.. perhaps I’m not as much of a wuss as I’d thought..? But also, maybe I haven’t yet reached the hard-to-watch stuff, since I’ve only just started on my watch..! 😝

      That’s great that you’ve started on Prison Playbook! I loved that show, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!! ❤️

      Reply
      1. Trent

        @kfangurl Sweet Home fighting!

        Anyway, I just had to drop by to mention that I couldn’t help binge-ing the first four episodes of Prison Playbook already (and these are the long 90 minute episodes, no less!), and it is totally wrecking me (in a good way). I don’t know if the writer/producer team involved with the Reply series and this and Hospital Playlist are just working right in my wheelhouse, or if they just have a magic drama wand or something, but they seem to have a storytelling groove that plugs right into my brain. Crazy.

        Reply
  23. manukajoe

    Hot Stove League and Misaeng were the ones that came to my mind. I also recommend Misty, which is fantastic although the end is a little weak. Also The Victim’s Game, a Taiwanese forensic drama, a little dark, but not really scary, very tight and well written. Chief Kim/The Good Manager is also well liked and has little romance (but I prefer Hot Stove League).

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Oh yes, I’ve heard good things about The Victims’ Game too.. glad to hear that you liked it, and that’s it well-written! 😃 I’ve come across a lot of love for Chief Kim, that’s a great addition to the list, thanks joe! 😃

      Reply
    2. pickleddragon

      Oh haha I just mentioned Victim’s Game in an earlier sub-thread, without noticing you had already mentioned it! It was good, although the crime itself was evident early enough in the story. The interesting part was in the characters and what their motivations were and what their growth was, IMO. I’ll be looking out for S2 when it comes out!

      Reply

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