Dear kfangurl: What are some iconic kdramas over the years?

Today’s Dear kfangurl post is inspired by j3ffc‘s and Trent‘s comments on my recent VOGUE India collab post, where I talk about the male gaze vs. the female gaze in kdramas over the years.

In response, j3ffc basically wanted to know which classic dramas I think drama fans should check out (which would demonstrate the shift in gaze over the years), and Trent heartily seconded the idea and expanded on it:

“The question I’ve been thinking about is along the lines of how do you think kdramas have evolved over the last couple decades? Do you see discernible or important trends in that time? (Broadly considered: thematically, in treatment of tropes, genre or sub-genre expansion (or contraction), production values, stylistic changes, acting and\or casting type trends: it’s all fair game). You touched on a bit of this in this Vogue interview, but I’d be very interested in a broader look, and I just don’t have the range of experience to even attempt a synthesis. You do, though. 😁”

So today I thought I’d talk about kdramas which I would consider iconic, over the years, and how kdramas have been evolving, in broad strokes.

Down memory lane: Bae Yong Joon & Choi Ji Woo in 2002’s Winter Sonata

PARAMETERS & CAVEATS

1. When I say iconic, I’m referring to dramas that were something of an Event Drama, in that it left a mark on our collective consciousness, as a drama fandom.

2. Just because I consider a drama iconic, doesn’t necessarily mean that I liked it, or would recommend it. 😅

3. Importantly, in the interest of showing how dramas have evolved over the years, I’m including more than just Event Dramas, in more recent years. This is because the dramas don’t evolve in a neat, single direction, and I think a collection of dramas gives us a better feel for how things have changed.

4. I’ve included only a few dramas from 2021, because, well, it’s hard to tell which ones will stick in our collective consciousness, when we’re still in the midst of 2021.

5. Although I have watched a lot of dramas, I haven’t seen all of ’em. In fact, there are some dramas on this list that I still haven’t watched.

As always, feel free to share other drama titles, your thoughts and insights, in the comments! ❤️

EARLY 1990s

Feelings (1994)

This is an early youth kdrama that I sought out because so many of the OG kdrama fans kept referring to this as a classic. I found this one interesting to watch because this is such an early drama that drama tropes didn’t yet apply.

Show feels a little scattered, but is worth a look if only for the thrill of seeing the early works of some of today’s well-known names. For example, that’s Lee Jung Jae on the left, looking all fresh and babyfaced, compared to his recent outing in Squid Game. Kinda trippy, yes?

In terms of production values, stuff is a lot more stark and matter-of-fact. You see characters smoking, and you also see their uneven skin, because blemishes aren’t airbrushed away by filters.

Edited to add: This is probably the first reverse-harem kdrama, in that all the boys like the same girl, but this didn’t become a trend until later.

Review is here.

Last Match (1994)

This is another show that I sought out, for the same reason I sought out Feelings. It was referred to quite often as a classic, by OG drama fans.

I personally found Show rather uneven, but this show apparently took drama fans (especially fangirls) by storm when it aired, and definitely contributed to the nationwide love and admiration for Jang Dong Gun, which still endures today. You’d probably have heard his name referenced in multiple dramas as a standard for handsomeness. Well, that’s babyfaced Jang Dong Gun right there. 😁

Flash Review is here.

MID TO LATE 1990s

Sandglass (1995)

I haven’t seen this one myself, but this was definitely an Event Drama for the ages.

Word on the street is that people across Korea were rushing home to watch this, on the days that it aired. It’s also one of the highest rated kdramas in kdrama history, with its final episode reaching 64.3% nationwide. That’s crazy impressive.

Definitely worth seeking out.

EARLY 2000s

All About Eve (2000)

This is a classic that I sought out, because so many OG drama fans referred to this as a must-see. I actually really enjoyed this one, and would recommend it.

It was still early enough that drama tropes didn’t apply, and it was just refreshing to see the telling of a love story without the use of tropes as crutches. Also, this was the show that cemented Jang Dong Gun’s popularity, I think, because this one definitely gave me Jang Dong Gun-appreciating eyes. 😍

Review is here.

Autumn In My Heart (2000)

This was the first of the Seasons dramas, and since the Seasons dramas are so foundational to Hallyu (the Korean wave), I just had to include all of them, starting with Autumn in my Heart.

This feels like the start of Hallyu’s melodramatic phase, where drama writers seemed to revel in angst and tears as a way of engaging audiences. Song Hye Kyo is impossibly long-suffering and pure, in this one, while Song Seung Heon is rather wooden, but caring and loyal, with lots of yearning on the side.

Beautiful Days (2001)

I wouldn’t call Beautiful Days iconic, exactly, but I thought it would be worth mentioning, because it vibes differently from the more strongly melodramatic favorites of the time. It doesn’t result in anyone dying, at the very least.

Also, this is the first time audience buzz resulted in the second lead (Lee Byung Hun) ousting original male lead (Ryu Shi Won), to win the ever-pure, sweet and long-suffering female lead’s (Choi Ji Woo) heart. Also interesting to note, is that audiences favored Lee Byung Hun’s character for being a bit of a tragic bad boy sort, with smolder and charisma to spare, while snubbing clean-cut boy-next-door Ryu Shi Won.

What I also found interesting in this show, is how the kisses aren’t yet sanitized, to the frozen kiss sort of thing that became kdrama standard for a long while. Lee Byung Hun kisses his leading lady with.. ardor, and clearly, audiences lapped it up.

Review is here.

Hotelier (2001)

Again, I wouldn’t call this one iconic, exactly, but I felt it was worth mentioning, because this was another early instance of a second lead (Bae Yong Joon) ousting the original male lead (Kim Seung Woo) to win the female lead’s (Song Yoon Ah) heart.

Plus, for a while, this show competed in the exact same time slot as Beautiful Days, where a similar dynamic between the male leads was playing out. I thought that was super interesting.

I personally found this one cracky to watch, but I wouldn’t call this show all that typical, since our female lead is not so much of the long-suffering pious variety, and is more of the strong and sassy type. However, it’s notable that it’s charismatic, influential Bae Yong Joon who wins the lady’s heart, rather than steady everyman Kim Seung Woo.

Winter Sonata (2002)

This was THE kdrama that first led Hallyu around the world, I do think.

Everyone and their mothers (and grandmothers!) were watching this one, swooning over Bae Yong Joon, and allowing Show’s ups and downs to dictate their moods for the day. Show contains many narrative devices that we’ve come to recognize as tropes. Amnesia, meddling parents, meddling second leads, noble idiocy; Show has it all, and we lapped it all up, with relish and tears.

Notably, Choi Ji Woo’s female lead is of the pure-hearted, long-suffering, pious variety, and Bae Yong Joon’s male lead is sweet, thoughtful and charismatic – with a lot of hidden pain.

Jewel In The Palace (2003)

Perhaps not quite in the same category as the other shorter dramas that I’ve mentioned, Jewel In The Palace is still considered an Event Drama in its own right. This is the show that shot Lee Young Ae so high and so deep in the Korean consciousness, that she is still revered today.

Show is 54 episodes long, and is a great glimpse into palace life, traditional royal cookery and traditional medicine. This drama was shown on my local TV network multiple times over the years, and my mom watched it at least 4 times.

Stairway to Heaven (2003)

This is the show I think of, when I think about Classic Hallyu Angst. Even though this one didn’t sweep the world as strongly as Winter Sonata did, it embodies the preference for pain as a way to engage audiences. I honestly don’t remember much of the plot, but I do remember that everyone in this drama world cries A LOT. I also remember hating the ending. 😅

I wouldn’t exactly recommend that you seek this one out, but if you’re curious to know what quintessential Classic Hallyu melodrama is like, this one fits the bill.

Summer Scent (2003)

What I find interesting about the Seasons dramas, is that they shift in emphasis and sensibility, to some extent. We start with Autumn in my Heart, which I personally think has the most tragic story among the Seasons dramas, and then Winter Sonata is slightly less tragic, even while remaining stalwart in its melodrama leanings.

Summer Scent is the first of the Seasons dramas to shift directions. I personally never got around to watching this one, but I understand that Show has its sad parts, but overall, isn’t engineered to be heavy or depressing. Interestingly, the lighter of the Seasons dramas were not as popular among audiences, compared to the angstier Autumn in my Heart and Winter Sonata. Perhaps there is something to be said about the Angsty Approach, after all? 😉

Full House (2004)

Full House is the first big rom-com that I can think of, in the history of Hallyu. What I mean is, perhaps there were other rom-coms before this one, but this is the Big One that I heard most people talking about. You couldn’t deny the buzz around this one, if you tried.

I personally didn’t love this one when I watched it, although I have to admit that this is the cutest and most adorable I’ve seen of Song Hye Kyo, ever.

It’s interesting to note that our male lead (Rain) is quite the shouty jerk through most of our story, while our female lead (Song Hye Kyo) is often hapless and frustrated, but cute as a button while she grapples with the ridiculous situations thrown at her.

I’m Sorry, I Love You (2004)

This is definitely an iconic kdrama. It’s literally got tragedy built into its bones, since our male lead (So Ji Sub, in arguably his most iconic role) basically starts our story with only 3 months left to live. You can already sense where Show wants to go, yes?

I personally didn’t love this one when I watched it, but lots of people count this one a timeless classic.

What Happened In Bali (2004)

I haven’t seen this one myself, but thought it’d be worth mentioning, because – again – lots of OG drama fans count this among their favorites.

To my understanding, this one bucks the trend a bit, in that its story dips into the dark and dysfunctional side of things, much more than the average Classic Hallyu drama.

MID TO LATE 2000s

Hello My Teacher (2005)

It’s roundabout here, that I feel like dramas started shifting away from angsty melodramas in a significant way, and embracing a lot more lightness and cute.

This is an early noona rom-com, which I found fun to watch, mostly because Gong Hyo Jin and Gong Yoo are effortlessly cute together. Fair warning that Gong Hyo Jin starts out as Gong Yoo’s teacher in the story, which is, understandably, a squicky set-up for many viewers. Maybe it’s because Gong Yoo is so clearly NOT a high school student anymore; somehow, Show made it work.

Delightful Girl Choon Hyang (2005)

I remember loving this when I watched it. This was just fun and funny, and I remember thinking that Han Chae Young and Jae Hee were pitch perfect in their roles.

This drama is significant because this is the first outing by the Hong sisters, who went on to write many hit dramas. I’ve been less able to enjoy their recent works, but it’s true that for a season, the Hong sisters seemed to have a bit of a magic touch, when it came to writing drama crack.

My Name Is Kim Sam Soon (2005)

I personally didn’t love this show when I watched it (and a second, more recent attempt got me nowhere either), but this is a classic worth mentioning, because so many drama fans count this a fond favorite.

I think what’s interesting about this, is this is a very early instance (arguably the first instance?), where a female lead in a romance is allowed to be loud, rough and (supposedly) not very attractive, and yet, she wins the heart of our younger, handsome and successful male lead (who does admittedly have some jerk tendencies). Sam Soon is allowed to retain the core of her personality, ie, she is not required to change for love, and I think that’s the key thing that causes this show to stand out among its peers.

Save Your Last Dance For Me (2005)

This one’s not an iconic drama of its times, but I couldn’t resist giving it a spot on this list, because it’s a fond favorite of mine.

Our female lead (Eugene) is the pure-hearted, long-suffering, super understanding sort, while our male lead (Ji Sung) is the prickly chaebol prince with a hidden soft core. This one feels like a mash-up of sorts, because it retains many of the melodramatic elements typical of Classic Hallyu (like Winter Sonata, for instance), but introduces the prickly prince of a male lead who needs to be melted by his One True Love. That’s evolution in progress, in a manner of speaking?

Also, this one’s an interesting one to check out, for the fact that this is when real-life husband and wife Ji Sung and Lee Bo Young first met. As our clingy second female lead, Lee Bo Young didn’t get the guy in the show, but she’s still happily married to him in real life, heh.

Spring Waltz (2006)

I haven’t seen this myself, but thought it would be remiss of me not to include it, since it is one of the Seasons dramas. Like Summer Scent, this wasn’t as popular as its earlier cousins.

From what I understand, this is the lightest and most cheerful of the Seasons dramas, even though it’s essentially still a melodrama.

Goong (2006)

Although this was my personal gateway drama, I’m not being biased when I say that Goong was an Event Drama, when it aired. It did so well that it got an extension, which, unfortunately, caused the story to slump in its last third.

Still, the Goong experience is a worthwhile one. I think this is a very early (possibly first?) instance of a kdrama being adapted from a manhwa. Fans of the manhwa had originally been dissatisfied with the relative unknowns who got cast as the leads, but the series turned out to be hugely successful, catapulting both Joo Ji Hoon and Yoon Eun Hye to stardom.

I feel like this show also helped to popularize the cold, prickly prince type of male lead, who meets a warm, cheerful, ordinary girl and is changed by love.

Review is here.

What’s Up, Fox? (2006)

I personally don’t think this counts as an iconic drama. However, I thought I’d mention it because it’s an early noona romance which was popular among fans.

While My Name Is Kim Sam Soon is also technically a noona romance, in this show, Noona literally helped take care of the male lead, when he’d been a kidlet. I was a little squicked out by this, not gonna lie.

Coffee Prince (2007)

Ahh. Coffee Prince is definitely an iconic drama; a modern classic, if you will.

Show effortlessly captured the hearts of its audience, not only in Korea (where it ranked 2nd nationwide, for much of its run), but internationally as well, with its story of a plucky, feisty tomboy, who goes undercover to work as a coffee “prince” at a cafe staffed only by male employees, and falls in love with her boss, who’s something of a spoiled rich playboy type.

On the surface, the leads do sound like they fit nicely into the archetypes of the day (prickly prince meets warm girl), but Show does such a fabulous job of breathing life into these characters and this drama world, that everything feels organic and real.

Importantly, Show is considered quite a trailblazer, for pushing the envelope on the concept of same-sex attraction.

Review is here.

Dal Ja’s Spring (2007)

I wouldn’t call this one iconic per se, but I do remember liking it a lot, when I watched it.

I’m including this here because I think this show helped to popularize the noona romance, which has since become a Total Thing in Dramaland. I think it does say something about the collective kdrama consciousness, that an older woman’s ideal mate is allowed to be a younger man, even though there’s a more age-appropriate suitor in her orbit.

Also! Lee Min Ki is adorable playing said younger man. 😍

Que Sera Sera (2007)

I haven’t seen this one myself, but I do believe it counts as an iconic kdrama, because it left such an impression on drama fans.

Similar to What Happened In Bali, Que Sera Sera is considered a bit of a rebel sort of show, with its set of flawed and selfish characters, who dip into dysfunction more than just a little.

City Hall (2009)

I wouldn’t call this one an iconic drama per se, but I’m including it because I think Show sets itself apart by being a romance that’s focused on more mature characters than the usual teens or twentysomethings.

I feel like that acknowledgment that mature characters are deserving of swoony romance too, is in itself, evidence of growth in Dramaland in general

Boys Over Flowers (2009)

This was totally an Event Drama that captured the k-fandom the world over.

I can’t watch this show now, but back when it aired, I’d slurped it up eagerly, along with everyone else. For some reason, Show had a cracky quality to it, that had us eating this up with a spoon, even though, objectively speaking, it’s not a good show. I was stunned, back in the day, when a lady I knew, who’s a busy mom of 4, who daily juggles all kinds of other duties, along with a full-time job, told me that she’d bought the DVD box set of this show, and watched it 6 times. SIX TIMES! 🤯

Our leads fit quite well into the archetypes of prickly prince and ordinary warm girl, but beyond that, I do feel like many people were struck with a serious case of Second Lead Syndrome (SLS). There was just something about Ji Hoo (Kim Hyun Joong), with his quiet, violin-playing ways, that stole many of our hearts (mine included). Maybe this was the beginnings of the Perfect Second Lead, which also became a Total Thing, in Dramaland?

You’re Beautiful (2009)

Although Yoon Eun Hye kinda started it with Coffee Prince, I feel like Park Shin Hye going undercover in a boyband was possibly the true start of the Crossdressing Phase. I also think it’s the start of the reverse harem phase, where one female lead gets the attention of just about every male around her.

Therefore, while we technically still have the prickly prince type of male lead, and the sweet, innocent, pure-hearted type of female lead, the dynamic feels different, because now our female lead is allowed to receive a lot more romance-fueled male attention than her predecessors. I definitely see that as a bit of evolution, right there.

I also think this show is well worth seeking out; it’s just a lot of nonsensical fun. I feel like this is peak Hong sister’s quality programming.

Brilliant Legacy / Shining Inheritance (2009)

I wouldn’t exactly call this an iconic drama, but I’m including it because lots of people consider this a fond favorite. I found this one entertaining enough when I watched it, but I wouldn’t personally count it a favorite.

Unlike the early melodramas of Hallyu, this one has lots of lighter elements, plus makjang lashings as well. Also unlike early angsty melodramas, this one ends on a happy note. Interesting to note, is that we still get the rich male lead paired with a hardworking down-on-her-luck female lead.

Off-topic, but just as an interesting factoid, that’s Bae Soo Bin, second from left, who plays the handsome, perfect second male lead here, and who is currently playing Rowoon’s father, in The King’s Affection. Talk about feeling the passage of time! 🤯

EARLY 2010s

My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (2010)

This show is well-loved enough, that I think it’s safe to call it an iconic drama. It’s just such a fun watch, that also manages to serve up a healthy amount of emotional heft.

I find it interesting that even though we still have a rich guy as our male lead, and our female lead is cute and winsome, the power dynamic is flipped on its head, because our girl also happens to be a gumiho, and therefore possesses supernatural powers. Again, I see this as part of the evolution of character archetypes in kdrama.

Shin Min Ah is absolutely adorable and incandescent in this, and alone makes the watch worthwhile – even though Show has more going for it than just a fabulous female lead.

Open Threads listed here.

Pasta (2010)

This isn’t an iconic drama, but I thought I’d include this because, honestly, back when this aired, I watched this and loved this – twice. This, despite the fact that our male lead is very, very shouty and chauvinistic, and our female lead is a plucky, earnest, wholesome type who’s way too smitten with the shouty Chef to be healthy.

I think that just goes to show just where we were, collectively, as a fandom. This sort of stuff was widely accepted as romantic. 😅

Although, I have to admit that Lee Sun Gyun does cut a charismatic figure as a diva star chef.

Secret Garden (2010)

This was definitely an Event Drama, back when it aired. I feel like we collectively squeed and swooned our way through this show, heh.

Besides this also featuring a prickly, rich male lead (Hyun Bin), and a more ordinary female lead (Ha Ji Won), it’s interesting to note that Show presents our male lead in a bit of a derisive light. However, I still couldn’t stomach a rewatch just a few short years ago, because I found our male lead too abrasive, and the Intended Romancey moments, too invasive of personal space.

Another notable point, I feel, is the fact that Hyun Bin goes shirtless in this show, in a landscape where the gratuitous shirtless scene was not yet a norm. I personally think that this particular shirtless scene (which I personally found very pleasing *cough*) may have helped to start the ball rolling in the direction of the gratuitous shirtless scene.

Oh! My Lady (2010)

This drama is largely forgettable, but I wanted to include this here, because I wanted to mention that male lead Siwon goes shirtless in this quite a fair bit. I feel that that helps to illustrate my point, that shirtless scenes became a Total Thing, in the early 2010s.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)

I do think that Sungkyunkwan Scandal counts as an iconic drama, because it was such a successful early (first?) fusion sageuk. The light, earwormy music; the crossdressing hijinks; the whole rom-com treatment; it all came together to make for a watch that felt fresh and cracky.

Our male lead still lands in the vicinity of stoic and aloof, while our female lead is still very much a warm, pure-hearted, wholesome type.

I think what sets this drama apart, is the simmering, smoldery bromance between Yoo Ah In‘s and Song Joong Ki‘s characters. Although their relationship isn’t specified to be romantic, their bromance legit beat all other nominees at the 2010 KBS Awards, to win Best Couple. That’s definitely considered a bit of trailblazing, right there.

Review is here.

Chuno (2011)

Chuno was definitely an Event Drama for the fandom, when it aired. It swept multiple awards at multiple awards shows that year, and is still considered a classic today.

I think what’s interesting, is that I’ve mentally pegged this period (the early 2010s) as the time when Dramaland served up a lot of gratuitous shirtlessness, and it’s only now, with 20/20 hindsight, that I realize that Chuno fits squarely into that category as well.

Yes, the whole show is a work of art, basically, but it’s also true, at the same time, that our slave hunters didn’t actually need to be that shirtless. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I very much appreciated the excellent fighting form that Jang Hyuk, Kim Ji Suk and Han Jung Soo showed, heh.

Also, I do think that even in all of its wonderful facets and layers, Chuno does count as a story which very much employs a male gaze. It’s a man’s world, and even our female lead is mostly relegated to being a beautiful, idealized catalyst.

Review is here, Open Threads listed here.

City Hunter (2011)

I’m including City Hunter on this list, because it really was very popular when it aired.

While this is an early instance of our hero actually being an action hero, our hero still falls into the strong, silent type sort of space, while our female lead plays a slightly more secondary role. Interestingly, the romance is more muted in this, while our male lead’s story takes centerstage.

Also, true to trend, Show serves up some shirtless Lee Min Ho – in case anyone’s keeping tabs.

Dream High (2011)

I do count Dream High as an iconic drama, because I believe this is the first drama where so many kpop idols are cast in main roles.

I very much enjoyed Show when it aired, and found it a pretty cracky watch. What’s interesting about Show, is that instead of having our male lead do the shirtless scene, which, by then, had become a norm, that falls on second male lead Taecyeon. I was legit confused by this, when watching, because I took that as an indication that Taec was supposed to be our male lead. Ha. Funny how we are influenced by norms, eh?

Review is here.

The Moon Embraces The Sun (2012)

I’m including this on the list because Show really was very popular when it aired, to the point that I kinda do think of it as an Event Drama.

I think what’s interesting for our discussion today, is that the entire crack factor of this show basically rests on Kim Soo Hyun‘s smoldery gazes, and whether his character the king would sleep with his queen – or be swayed by the commoner shaman girl who’s roped into being his human talisman. Female lead Han Ga In honestly doesn’t do much except open her eyes really wide, most of the way through. And yet, we all lapped it up like it was candy spiked with crack.

Review is here.

Edited to add: Queen In Hyun’s Man (2012)

We went through a total time-travel phase roundabout 2012 to 2013, and I feel like Queen In Hyun’s Man might be the poster child for it. I personally found this show the most swoony and engaging of the various time travel dramas.

Our male lead (Ji Hyun Woo) is highly intelligent, and also, sincere and likable, while our female lead (Yoo In Na) is lovable and cute as a button. This felt extremely refreshing, in a landscape where the cold, prickly male lead was still A Thing.

Ji Hyun Woo’s real life love confession to Yoo In Na, upon the completion of the drama’s filming, just added to the buzz.

Review is here.

Reply 1997 (2012)

I definitely consider Reply 1997 an iconic drama because this is the first of the many collaborations between PD Shin Won Ho and writer Lee Won Jung, which typically serve up warm, toasty, nostalgic slice-of-life goodness.

I feel like this is the beginnings of a shift towards showcasing more ordinary characters (versus chaebol princes). Show also stands out in my memory for being one of the first dramas to showcase kisses that are steamier than the average frozen kdrama kiss. Additionally, I feel that Show also pushes the envelope on same-sex attraction in kdramas, with one of its secondary arcs.

Review is here.

Heartless City (2013)

I definitely count this an as iconic drama, because I believe this is Dramaland’s first foray into experimenting with noir.

Jung Kyung Ho is wonderfully magnetic as our protagonist Baksa, and our drama world is compelling in all of its dark, oily, yet alluring dysfunction. I would honestly watch this just to see Jung Kyung Ho channeling a quietly powerful and ruthless drug lord. 🤩

Flash Review is here.

Heirs (2013)

This was definitely an Event Drama when it aired, and this is also definitely a show that I can’t recommend in good conscience. 😅

I guess it says something, that Show’s notions of romance – forced kisses and controlling boyfriends – land as old-fashioned. I hope this means that we’ve evolved as a drama fandom, and that’s why this sort of thing no longer makes us swoon.. Coz it definitely didn’t make me swoon. 😝

Review is here.

My Love From Another Star (2014)

This was a total Event Drama when it aired, so I’d definitely count this as an iconic drama.

There’s just something about Show that grabbed me by the heart and wouldn’t let go. Sure, our male lead is a strong, silent, powerful type, but our female lead is anything but a normal Candy.

Not only is she a top star and therefore influential in her own right, she’s also allowed to lean into the silly, farcical, the ugly AND the crazy. And despite all this, she’s still considered suitable for an otherworldly romance with a handsome alien. I think you could say that there’s some bits of evolution going on there, in terms of the female lead archetype?

I’d say this female lead is very different from some of the early female leads we touched on earlier in this post, and I feel like that’s interesting in and of itself.

Review is here.

Misaeng (2014)

I am including this show here, because it was a total Event Drama, when it aired. It had so many regular folks talking about it, in Korea, because it resonated so deeply with so many people.

One of the things that sets it apart from the typical kdrama, is that it isn’t a romance (although it’s also true that Sandglass isn’t a romance either, and that was much earlier), and its protagonist is a regular underdog, despite his baduk genius.

Review is here.

Secret Love Affair

I consider this show an iconic drama, because of what a masterpiece it is. Also, I think it’s bold for a show of this time, to feature a flawed female lead, who’s as shady and ambitious, as she is talented and beautiful.

Review is here, Open Threads listed here.

MID TO LATE 2010s

Healer (2015)

I don’t think you could say this drama was an Event Drama in Korea, since it suffered from pretty low ratings. However, it totally was an Event Drama among the international drama community. We slurped up Healer like we’d never tasted crack like this before, and bloggers everywhere were writing thousands upon thousands of words, just to work out all the feels.

What I find interesting about Show’s execution, is that Ji Chang Wook’s shirtless scene is treated as very matter-of-fact, despite Healer’s superhero-esque characterization. It’s very interesting, considering what a staple the Gratuitous Shirtless Scene had been, up to this point.

I also love that our female lead (Park Min Young) is portrayed as brave, interesting and passionate in her own right, which also lends itself to an OTP (One True Pairing) relationship that feels nuanced and balanced, even though, like I said, Healer himself has a superhero flavor about him.

Review is here.

Kill Me, Heal Me (2015)

I wouldn’t call this one an Event Drama, but it is iconic in its own way. For one thing, it’s the stand-out among the various multiple personality dramas that Dramaland served up, at around this time.

Additionally, even though we have a forceful male presence that’s more typical of the prickly jerk male lead, this is assigned to one of our male lead’s alters, and our actual male lead is actually a really normal, nice guy. And while our female lead does squeal and scream a lot more than I would like, the eventual relationship between our OTP is teased out to be something that’s power-balanced and healthy. I do think that that’s (more) evidence of evolution.

Open Threads listed here.

She Was Pretty (2015)

I wouldn’t consider this an iconic drama, but I wanted to include it because Show serves up the important idea that our female lead doesn’t need to change her looks, which are considered not typically attractive, in order to be happy.

Also, I think that this might be Dramaland’s pinnacle of Second Lead Sydrome, because our second male lead Siwon is truly wonderful and unforgettable.

Another note of potential interest, I think, is the fact that Show does serve up gratuitous shirtless scenes, of both our male lead Park Seo Joon, and second male lead Siwon. So basically, the Shirtless Scene is still very much A Thing, at this point.

Review is here.

Descendants of the Sun (2016)

This was definitely an Event Drama, when it aired. Song Joong Ki, fresh out of the military at the time, looked fabulous in his military fatigues, and we all swooned in unison, heh.

I personally didn’t care much for the writing in this show, but I have to confess that I did not object at all, when Show insisted on serving up gratuitous scenes of a shirtless, glistening Song Joong Ki, working out at the gym. 😅

I think Show was trying to go for a strong female lead, but this didn’t work very well, to my eyes.

Review is here.

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)

Objectively, I’d say this drama is more than a bit of a mess, but it was quite the Event Drama when it aired, which is why I’m including it in this list.

I think one of the things that sets this show apart, is its use of the reverse harem. Basically, our female lead is surrounded by handsome, eligible young men, many of whom have more than a passing interest in her.

Review is here.

Goblin (2017)

This does count as an iconic drama, I believe, because so many people consider this a fond favorite.

I didn’t finish this show, which makes my recollection of its workings even harder, oops. But I do think that even though, on the surface, it is our supernatural goblin who has more power than our schoolgirl female lead, ultimately Show turns that on its head, by putting some key power in our female lead’s hands.

Strong Woman Do Bong Soon (2017)

I don’t consider this an iconic drama, but wanted to include this on the list, for the simple fact that Show makes our female lead the one who’s physically strong, while our male lead swoons in response to her superhero ways.

There’s a lot that I considered flawed about this show, but this one single principle is one of the best things about it.

Review is here.

Something in the Rain (2018)

Even though I don’t personally love this show, I have to admit that I do think it counts as an iconic drama, since so many of us are still talking about it, today.

While opinions vary widely over what Show did right or wrong, I think it’s fair to state that this is an example of a noona romance between two regular people, where the power dynamic could shift either way, depending on how the characters manage things. In that sense, I think that it’s a step away from the older dramas, where it’s typical that one party has more power than the other.

Review is here.

My Mister (2018)

I definitely consider My Mister an iconic drama, for what a masterpiece it is.

One of the things I love about it, is how there is nothing formulaic about it. And while viewers are divided on whether there is romance in this story, I think it’s quite a step forward, for a drama to even be able to be interpreted as a platonic soulmate sort of deal. That’s quite a departure for kdramas in general, which are known to shoehorn a romance into just about any genre.

Review is here.

SKY Castle (2018)

This is an Event Drama, even if just for the monster ratings that it garnered, during its run. These were the highest ratings ever achieved by a drama on a cable channel, up to this point.

I feel that it’s telling, that a drama that’s more social satire than anything, would be able to make that kind of splash, in Korea. This is definitely evidence of evolving drama tastes, I think.

Review is here.

What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim? (2018)

This isn’t an iconic drama by any means; I just wanted to include this here, as an example that the Gratuitous Shirtless Scene hasn’t actually gone away. Show capitalizes on the Park Seo Joon shirtless, and the camera definitely pans appreciatively across his bare torso, more than a little.

Flash Review is here.

Thirty But Seventeen (2018)

While I wouldn’t consider this drama iconic, I wanted to include this in the list, because of how the OTP dynamic plays out.

At first, our male lead does seem to be in the mold of the typical aloof jerk type, but Show turns that on its head, and he turns out to be a lot more down-to-earth than one might first expect. Also, while our female lead does appear to be a helpless naive sort to start with, she demonstrates growth and strength over the course of our story, such that the OTP dynamic evens out to become something nicely balanced.

Review is here.

Romance is a Bonus Book (2019)

While I don’t exactly consider this an iconic drama, I really appreciate that not only is this a noona romance, our noona is a divorcée, who is also a single mother, who’s struggling to rediscover her mojo.

All of these things have traditionally been considered negatives in Korea society, and yet, in our story, she’s deemed as worthy of a dreamy, earthy fairlytale sort of romance with a younger, handsome, successful man. Again, progress!

Review is here.

Search: WWW (2019)

Instead of the traditional love square, our story set-up is 3 strong women as our key characters, while their love interests play supporting roles. That’s huge, in a kdrama.

Even better, is the fact that all 3 women are allowed to be flawed and ambitious, all the way to the end of our story. Yes, they learn and they grow, but they essentially are still the same people. What a departure from the perfect heroines of yore!

Review is here.

Be Melodramatic (2019)

Similar to Search: WWW, this show also features 3 women at its center, and their love interests as secondary. The women in this story are less ambitious as a general rule, and more quirky, and perhaps that’s why I have a softer spot for this show than Search: WWW. Both are great examples of recent shows where women are allowed to be normal and flawed.

Show is also notable for having a gay couple among its cast of characters – and treating said couple with a very matter-of-fact touch.

Review is here.

THE 2020s

Crash Landing On You (2020)

Although this is a recent drama, I’d already consider this an Event Drama, because this show singlehandedly brought so many new fans into the drama fandom.

Importantly, even though our male lead is handsome and stoic, he’s not a jerk. And even though our female lead can sometimes come across as flaky, she’s also shown to be smart and shrewd. Last but not least, the unity that our OTP shows, in working to overcome the seemingly impossible divide between them (the 38th parallel!), is heart-melty, moving stuff. All great departures from the traditional set-ups of older dramas, while retaining the essence of what we’ve always loved about kdramas.

Review is here.

Hospital Playlist (2020)

I wanted to include Hospital Playlist on here, because our main female character Song Hwa (Jeon Mi Do) is allowed to be in her 40s, and fantastically competent, yet sincere, warm and altogether lovely, all at the same time.

It’s the darndest thing, because traditionally, a single woman in her 40s is typically portrayed as coldly ambitious, especially if she happens to be brilliant at her job. I LOVE that Hospital Playlist allows Song Hwa to be amazing, while keeping her warm and down-to-earth.

Review is here.

It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (2020)

I do consider this show to be an iconic drama, because I believe this is the first time we get a female lead who’s overtly prickly, to the point of being a possible sociopath.

It essentially feels like Dramaland’s come full circle with the prickly jerk male lead, and in this case, it’s the female lead who gets to wear all these qualities traditionally assigned to male leads, and be reformed (to an extent) by love.

Review is here.

The King: Eternal Monarch (2020)

This was an Event Drama when it aired, though I personally didn’t care for it all too much.

While Show’s idea of romance didn’t do anything for me, I do concede that in an older drama, the titular king would have likely been a lot more prickly, whereas Lee Min Ho’s character is actually portrayed as very nice and pleasant. Instead, it’s our female lead (Kim Go Eun) who shows a little bit of that prickliness, because of her suspicions towards our time-traveling, universe-hopping king.

Also, parallel universes was also a bit of a trend in Dramaland, at around this time.

Review is here.

World Of The Married (2020)

Show got some monster ratings while it aired, which is why I’m including it on this list.

I also think it’s worth a mention, because instead of exploring romance like so many other kdramas before it, Show deals with the fallout of infidelity in a marriage, and how that can systematically destroy both parties. It’s not pretty, but Show manages to be a compelling, if dysfunctional, watch.

Again, this is just an example of how kdramas have evolved over time. Something like this would have never gotten made, 10 years earlier.

Review is here.

Mr. Queen (2021)

I wanted to include this drama on here, because it dares to be so different, in playing with gender roles, within a sageuk environment.

The body swap isn’t a new thing, since we’ve already seen it in Secret Garden, but Show really pushes the envelope on things, [HIGH LEVEL SPOILER] with our King and Queen falling in love – while our time traveling male protagonist is still in control of the Queen’s body. [END SPOILER]

Review is here.

Vincenzo (2021)

I’ve got Vincenzo here, because I believe this is one of the most well-received antihero dramas, in a time when Dramaland seems to be going through an antihero phase.

I feel that the fact Dramaland’s going through an antihero phase, says something about the evolving sensibility of kdramas as a whole. It’s now no longer a given, that the character we’re invited to root for, is a good guy. Dramaland’s now more upfront and daring about embracing the antihero, and I feel that this makes for another milestone, in Dramaland’s continuing evolution.

Review is here.

IN CLOSING

I hope this was helpful, in giving everyone a broad overview of how kdramas have been evolving over the years.

Of course, I’m not an actual historian of kdrama, so if I missed out anything, or got anything wrong, feel free to correct me, or share your views, in the comments!

Thanks, everyone.

Smooches. ❤️

~kfangurl

Dramas.. our forever love.. 🥰

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!

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Elena
Elena
4 days ago

I guess there are other dramas that could be considered for this list, but the one I’m missing the most here is King of baking Kim Tak Gu. I think it reached more than 50% in ratings and had the whole country talking about it. I remember watching and being totally addicted to it, even friends of mine that never watch kdramas, they watched this one and got hooked too. Although it would not be the kind of drama I’d watch nowadays, I think it’s totally iconic.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
7 days ago

We’ve started The Princess’ Man (2011), y’all. On Viki. Very good so far, which is is fortunate since neither of us are sageuk-prone.

Thanks, @Trent and @KLNoona for the recommendation.

As Rita said elsewhere, Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow North Americans!

Trent
7 days ago
Reply to  merij1

Ahh, I’m glad you’re liking it so far; I’m not exactly sageuk-prone myself (although I find I’m maybe gradually warming up to them as I get more familiar with their conventions; as with much else, it matters also that we seek out the higher quality ones).

A bit of an admission to make–I haven’t actually seen it yet. It’s been on my list, not only because I hear consistently good things about it, but also because I’ve been a Moon Chae-won partisan ever since Flower of Evil, where I thought she was great…

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
7 days ago
Reply to  Trent

She’s certainly likable in this one.

BE
BE
8 days ago

I would think Mr. Sunshine ought to be included, especially since its Netflix production gave it a large international audience as it was being aired.

I also think from what I understand Queen Seondeok should be included. Certainly it was a devastatingly good and entertaining saga of a sageuk. And it seems to me, even though I am probablly one among many yet to finish watching it, Six Flying Dragons was pretty iconic in its telling of the Joseon foundation tale.

Also I would think Reply 1988 about which I have never, not once, heard a bad thing, a universally loved favorite in a universally well liked series.

reaper
reaper
8 days ago
Reply to  BE

So can you recommend Queen Seondeok and SIx Flying Dragons?
I watched Mr. Sunshine and it was okay.
Also saw Reply 1988 but dropped it very fast.

BE
BE
7 days ago
Reply to  reaper

Well, you have your tastes that are different than mine. For me, next to Chuno, Queen Seondeok is the best sageuk I have seen. Six Flying Dragons is great too, but while not as long as QS, feels long. The thing about 6FD is that it so comprehensively presents a Joseon Origin Saga. Of course I loved Mr. Sunshine, and really you ought to go back and watch Teply 1988, THE most heart warming K Drama ever.

reaper
reaper
7 days ago
Reply to  BE

Thanks for the insights.
Na I watched 9 out of 20 eps of Reply 1988 and just couldn’t deal with it

JJ
JJ
7 days ago
Reply to  reaper

@reaper – awww, bummer Reply 1988 didnt work for you 🙁 That does happen though when a drama works for some and not others. I am on Epi 7 of Reply 1988 and love it. Hope you find something that works for you 🙂

reaper
reaper
6 days ago
Reply to  JJ

Nice that you enjoy it ^^
I haven’t found a drama I really enjoy in quite some time…

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
6 days ago
Reply to  reaper

@reaper, I’ve forgotten which types of shows you like best, but JJ and I loved The Bond, a Chinese family drama streaming on Viki. It’s a based on a novel, so not at all tropey. Very well written and acted.

reaper
reaper
6 days ago
Reply to  merij1

Just watched the trailer. Seems very promising. Thanks for the recommendation

JJ
JJ
6 days ago
Reply to  reaper

@reaper & – Oh I am so glad merij1 you suggested The Bond!!! I have been thinking of some good Shows to suggest for you reaper. Its really no fun not find a Kdrama to enjoy.

I loved The Bond sooo very much. I hope you do as well. Hang in there with the child actors, they grow up around Episode 5!

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
6 days ago
Reply to  JJ

Thanks, JJ. I forgot to mention that. It’s a good show for those five episodes but it got much better for me when the children got older.

reaper
reaper
6 days ago
Reply to  merij1

Thanks fpr the info about the child actors. Might have accidentally dropped it without this knowledge.

reaper
reaper
3 days ago
Reply to  merij1

@JJ
Thanks so much for the recommendation
I really like the show (I am at episode 10) and I also loved the first few episodes with the children.
Even tho I am struggling a bit with the oldest brother at the moment…

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
3 days ago
Reply to  reaper

We all agree Yicheng saved his siblings by stepping in as parent, yet paid a high price in terms of his own life and personality. He’s stunted.

With his siblings, at least, he’s a terrible listener. He’s that executive who jumps to decisive action the moment he gets the initial briefing, assuming his understanding of the issue is complete for no apparent reason, other than his confidence in himself.

He also harbors deep-seated resentment over what he gave up, which in later years he’s more likely to channel appropriately at his father, but early on, seems more likely to direct at his brother Erqiang or his cousin Weimin. Or at Simei, but with a different feel in her case.

The show just gets better as it goes!

When you’re done with this one, we have another you will probably like.

reaper
reaper
3 days ago
Reply to  merij1

True we can agree to n that. And I am used to his behavior. What I am struggling with is the marriage.

already looking forward to your next recommendation

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
2 days ago
Reply to  reaper

@reaper here’s your 2nd recommendation: On The Verge of Insanity, a 2021 K-drama streaming on Viki.

It takes place in a corporate workplace. One of the two leads is a senior engineer struggling not to be be laid off by the manufacturing company he’s been serving for 23 years. A really inspiring, capable and sweet guy.

The other lead is the head of HR who has been tasked with firing a large percentage of the senior employees.

Her interactions with this man become the core of the show. It’s a not a romance, btw.

Last edited 2 days ago by merij1
reaper
reaper
2 days ago
Reply to  merij1


Thanks again.
Watched the trailers and I have to pass this one.
But Thanks for the recommendation.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
2 days ago
Reply to  reaper

No worries. You be you.

Those are the best two shows we saw this past year.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
2 days ago
Reply to  reaper

I’m paraphrasing comments I made to others about the eldest brother in The Bond.

As for his marriage, yeah it certainly feels doomed from the start, with considerable pain ahead.

At the same time, he is treating this woman with far greater affection than anyone he ever has before. In response to her he has grown that sweet part of himself that died with his mom.

So the question is whether an extremely unwise relationship choice might still be — at least in part — a good thing, even in hindsight. Platitudes aside, is it ever truly better to have loved and lost?

In my experience, you choose what you take from failed relationships.

One choice leads to a lifetime of lingering bitterness.

Whereas a better choice leads to a bitter-sweet mix of regret and gratitude, where you accept that you chose that path because you had needs that it met at the time; and that if only because it was your choice, neither party is totally to blame.

I think that’s the path the eldest brother is headed down. Ironically, this is his younger sister Simei’s path. Which in her case, was always her natural personality. The surprise for me was that he basically became her for a while.

Last edited 2 days ago by merij1
reaper
reaper
2 days ago
Reply to  merij1


Thanks for your insights. I never analyze dramas that deeply or at all.

So either I am blind or you forgot to tell me the other recommendation….

mast
mast
8 days ago

My girl (2005) with Lee Dong Wook and Lee Da Hae???

j3ffc
j3ffc
10 days ago

Kfangurl….wow, wow, wow!!

Thanks so much for putting together this fantastic resource, informed with your usual discerning eye and ability to match shows to different viewers’ tastes. Reading the fast forward since the mid-90’s until now nicely illustrates the growth and change of the field. (I dunno, but I was somewhat surprised that K-dramas and the Hallyu wave started as late as they did.) I particularly appreciated your willingness to acknowledge more recent dramas that you think belong in the pantheon with all-time greats, and also to weigh popularity and cultural impact alongside artistic merit. Brava!

Of course, in addition to your high level of drama scholarship, many of us will use this guide to select shows from all eras of K-drama. Like Merij1, I hope that you’ll make this a living, growing document. I know I’ve added a few to my (embarrassingly lengthy) to-do list. I find that I enjoy mixing in the occasional older drama, using the appropriate age-lens (or in egregious cases, full-on goggles) to improve the experience. The oldest ones on your list that I’ve seen are Hello, My Teacher (for the Gong/Gong goodness) and Delightful Girl Choon Hyang (early stage Hong sisters) both of which required the use of sketchy websites, which diminished the experience. I appreciate the many new suggestions that you’ve provided. I’ll come back to this post when I get to some of the earlier shows to share thoughts and hopefully others will, too.

Thanks, KFG, for all of your hard work (!) and for giving us the benefit of your insights here.

Medea
Medea
10 days ago

Hey KFG! This list was really cool to see! I haven’t seen many of the older dramas, so I might check them out. I was especially interested to see a young Son Ye-Jin in Summer Scent, so I might watch that one just because of that.

I’d also probably add Squid Game as an iconic drama. It is fairly unconventional, but I think it’s undeniably an event drama – it’s the first time that a K-drama has truly gone mainstream in the West, isn’t it?

reaper
reaper
10 days ago
Reply to  Medea

I think we should clarify first whether squid game is still a kdrama at heart. Or what other defintion it suits.

Su San
Su San
10 days ago

It will be interesting to see how Netflix will impact kdramas classics on a future list (Navillera, etc.).

reaper
reaper
10 days ago
Reply to  Su San

A very very bad impact. It is called westernization.

Trent
10 days ago
Reply to  Su San

I think that will be an interesting question to consider with just a few more years under the bridge. As far as I’m concerned, although the Netflix-backed productions haven’t necessarily been uniformly great, I also think they’ve created some genuinely interesting shows that have pushed in some innovative directions in thoughtful and entertaining ways.

Paulina
Paulina(@soilseothuaidh)
8 days ago
Reply to  Trent

Yes, I agree, drawing from and being inspired by different cultures is not a bad thing per se. I’d say the opposite is true, being open to other cultures’ influences can only broaden and enrich your worldview and lead to breaking down barriers. It works both ways and doesn’t necessarily entail losing your own cultural identity. 

Su San
Su San
10 days ago

Thank you for this list–LOVE this!! It shows your love of and expertise on kdramas.

As a new fan, this thoughtfully compiled list is a fantastic guide for my viewing pleasure The biggest lesson I’ve learned from your Verdicts is to pick well-done shows to watch rather than for the actors who star in it. I’ve also learned that it is much more enjoyable to watch a well-done program, even if it is a genre I never would have chosen.

wonhwa
wonhwa
10 days ago

One I’d add to this list is 2002’s Ruler of Your Own World. Not only is it a fantastic show, but even though it’s early, you can see it intentionally pushing back against and subverting many standard kdrama tropes (the female lead is rich, the male lead is poor, the rich attractive wrist-grabbing guy with who doesn’t really understand consent doesn’t get the girl, no “first loves” or virginal heroines, etc.). Also, you get to see a very, very young Kim Jae Wook as a member of an indie rock band. It was a big hit when it aired and still holds up really well.

Gloglo
10 days ago

Thank you for this list, kfangirl. Some of my favourite shows are here, although I haven’t seen most of them. I’m super interested in how the jerk ML, both the tame and the plucky FL, and the yummy second lead have evolved in the last 20 years. Very curious about shows like beautiful days, winter sonata, city hall, summer scent, hello my teacher and goong. They seem right down my alley.

I’m keeping my mister for the group watch. I want to see it as the threads appear and go to the comments without knowing the ending or where the story is going. Really looking forward to it!

phl1rxd
phl1rxd(@phl1rxd)
10 days ago

Fangurl – this post was a lot of work and I want to let you know I appreciate it very much! A very enjoyable read.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
10 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

In my opinion, for legacy pieces like this that people might continue to come back to you, you should feel comfortable adding entries.

Such a great resource!

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
10 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

You are so quick!

KLNoons
KLNoons
11 days ago

I really enjoyed reading this. I agree with the majority of your list, you picked some great ones and it makes me want to go watch some oldies that I haven’t seen before. Speaking specifically about romance dramas, I’d have to add You’re Beautiful for comedic value and Jang Geun Suk in his heyday, Rooftop Prince and Queen In Hyun’s Man for the time traveler theme, and my all time favorite rom-com, Something about 1%, which had one of my favorite tropes of a contract relationship between a rich, snobby man and innocent young girl. Also, for those who liked Song Joong Ki in Vincenzo, Nice Guy/Innocent Man was a great melodrama and kind of a breakout roll for him as I recall.

Last edited 11 days ago by KLNoons
KLNoona
KLNoona
11 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

You’re right! I didn’t see You’re Beautiful, probably because it was right after Boys Over Flowers and I scrolled too quickly past it because I am one of the ones who hated that show! Maybe I’d view it differently now, as I just rewatched The Greatest Love, which I couldn’t get through the first time but enjoyed a lot this time around. So you hit pretty much all my intro shows!

KLNoona
KLNoona
11 days ago
Reply to  KLNoons

Ok, it’s been so long since I posted that I changed in emails and realized I made a typo in my name when recreating the account! But it’s KLNoona from many years ago!

ngobee
ngobee
11 days ago

Thank you, kfangirl, that is a very interesting list. I would add Giant, the sprawling construction business saga from 2010 which was a huge success. Do you have any idea where the “separated in childhood” trope comes from?

wonhwa
wonhwa
10 days ago
Reply to  ngobee

Giant was definitely a huge (and well deserved) smash hit although I never sensed it got the same traction with international fans as it did in Korea.

reaper
reaper
11 days ago

Nice one.
Kdramas do really have very distinctive phases throughout the past.

reaper
reaper
10 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

I never really noticed. Probably because I didn’t pay attention to the production years. So it seems more random I guess.

Elaine Phua
Elaine Phua
11 days ago

I’m a bit puzzled why you say Jewel in the Palace is not on the same level as other iconic dramas on this list, was it not a big hit in Korea? It was HUGE in Singapore haha, everyone was watching it, all the aunties and even some non aunties. Jewel, Winter Sonata and Stairway to Heaven cemented my impression of K dramas as long slow and Melodramatic, so I avoided as much as possible until Netflix kept pushing me Crash Landing on You and I tried it out during lock down last year. Such an enjoyable experience! (except the dead fish kisses). Definitely my gateway drama that I will fondly remember. I think Squid Game may well be considered iconic too, so many non K drama fans watched it, including my husband. (I don’t have the appetite to watch a violent dystopia show right now)

Elaine Phua
Elaine Phua
11 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Haha no worries, thanks for the quick reply!

Natalia
Natalia
11 days ago

Re: It’s OK to nor be OK could it possibly also be a pretty rare case of a show where one of the leads has a disability?

Elaine Phua
Elaine Phua
11 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Hmm good question, I thought she was diagnosed as having antisocial personality disorder but not sure if it was an official medical diagnosis.

Natalia
Natalia
10 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Actually I was referring to Oh Jung Se’s character, the brother.

Trent
10 days ago
Reply to  Natalia

I thought that’s what you meant with your original remark but wasn’t sure. Although as I recall, the FL was also mentioned as having been formally diagnosed at some point with “anti-social personality disorder,” although (not being any sort of mental health professional) I’m not sure how well that holds up to her actual characterization in the show…

Natalia
Natalia
10 days ago
Reply to  Trent

I thought she does show a good deal of the main symptoms of anti-social personality disorder ; like recklessness and total disregard for rules and morals. Also violent tendencies. Where the lines are blurred is on empathy: she seems to care for both brothers, and a few of the patients. At least that’s what I thought. So I’d say that she started as a true ASPD patient but turned into a brat with (sort of) kind heart by the end of the show (a little bit like Oh Jung Se’s character who seems to be coping quite better by the end of the show, but what can I say, it’s fiction, not real life…). In any case the FL’s ASPD in this show is ten times more on the spot than, let’s say, the FL’s in Itaewon Class (also supposed to have ASPD, but came across really as a spoiled, unlikable brat).

Trent
10 days ago
Reply to  Natalia

I went into the show with the idea that she had ASPD (from the character blurb on the show’s Wikipedia page, which I usually read before starting a show), but as it progressed, I started to come around to the view that she wasn’t truly borderline psychopathic, but more working through significant family-related trauma, which she was eventually able to overcome to a significant degree.

I had somewhat the same reaction to Kim Da-mi’s character in Itaewon Class, that is, I didn’t feel that she was necessarily legitimately diagnosed with whatever the formal DSM-5 disorder they claimed she had, just that she had personality issues and a lot of growing up to do.

I also cut Seo Ye-ji’s, and to a lesser extent, Kim Da-mi’s characters a lot of slack, to the extent that I loved Seo’s character, and I liked, or at least readily forgave, Kim’s character for some of her more outrageous stunts.

In this, alas, I think there’s some element of the idea that has been developing elsewhere in this thread, to wit–guys often are more willing to give a pass to female characters (or in real life, in his original–I think mostly, sadly, accurate–formulation) that are outré or boundary-pushing, on the grounds that they are “interesting” (where interesting is often a proxy for “attractive”). I don’t want to be too gender-reductive, but I also want to exhibit a bit of self-awareness here, so there you have it.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
10 days ago
Reply to  Trent

@trent I’d say that accurately sums up my thoughts, particularly as expressed in the comments on other KFG posts.

reaper
reaper
10 days ago
Reply to  Natalia

The FL in Itaewon class had ASPD?
She surely didn’t act like that.

Islander _58north
Islander _58north
11 days ago

Did I see Signal?

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
11 days ago

@Islander_58north Hard for us to say. Did you?

(Kidding!)

Last edited 11 days ago by merij1
Snow Flower
Snow Flower
11 days ago

I did not fail to notice that Kim Soo Hyun has the most dramas on this list!

reaper
reaper
11 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Can somebody explain to me why badass is a good character attribute? Which is apparently admired? Isn’t it just a more positive word for violent and crazy?

Never got people who fall for an antihero… also just another word for criminal…

reaper
reaper
11 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

AH the female brain… a mystery I will never solve…

reaper
reaper
10 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Yeah of course it isn’t the case for everyone.
Just feels like Bad boys trigger the neandertal reproduction part of the female brain 😀

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
10 days ago
Reply to  reaper

Here in the US it’s definitely not just the female brain.

That alone could not explain how the trend started with antiheroes like Clint Eastwood in those spaghetti westerns.

But as for romantic attraction, yes, both men and women have a strong superficial attraction to ridiculous personality types.

Which is why a woman should always ask her male friends what they think of some guy she’s attracted to — before it becomes unsafe for them to answer honestly! — and visa versa for men seeking counsel from their women friends.

Last edited 10 days ago by merij1
reaper
reaper
10 days ago
Reply to  merij1

Well it is the US no offense but IT’S THE US.

I get antiheros as characters. I just don’t get the attraction towards them.

“both men and women have a strong superficial attraction to ridiculous personality types”… really?

Basic requirement is to have friends of the opposite sex that you can talk with about these topics.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
10 days ago
Reply to  reaper

So in the end, we agree!

reaper
reaper
10 days ago
Reply to  merij1

Probably, maybe, I am not sure but kinda seems that way

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
10 days ago
Reply to  reaper

Ha. You are so funny.

We differ on the diagnosis but agree on what one might do about it.

(Parenthetically, our queer child overheard me dictating that and sarcastically observed, “huh, must be hard being straight.”)

reaper
reaper
10 days ago
Reply to  merij1

Well I am still pretty sure we are not on the same page. Because I was sarcastic about your opposite gender friend solution 😀

The queer child definitely has a point.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
10 days ago
Reply to  reaper

Ah, I failed to appreciate your dry wit!

I’m surprised you don’t know what I’m talking about. Men often have a superficial attraction to women with whom no one in their right mind should want to be in a long-term relationship.

It’s the reciprocal of some women having a superficial attraction to bad boys.

Last edited 10 days ago by merij1
reaper
reaper
10 days ago
Reply to  merij1

Ah I see. That is true. Thankfully I am not one of them. I am sane and like to keep my distance to females especially in these crazy days.
Maybe I didn’t realize because men are more subtle when they are attracted to these women.
Women on the other hand start blushing, swooning and that weird body wiggle.

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
10 days ago
Reply to  reaper

Men are subtle in how they express their attraction to so-called “hot” women?

If only.

reaper
reaper
10 days ago
Reply to  merij1

Well I am only used to the men I hang out with. I can’t speak for the broad majority.
Maybe I should it phrase like this: In my experience men do it that.
I know the opposite is quite often the case.

Trent
11 days ago

Yes!! THANK YOU!

I think your iconic or influential list is borne out just by the fact that I’ve heard of almost all of them, even though I’ve seen almost none of the ones outside the last decade. (I definitely would like to see several of those, just to get a taste of the iconic or classic hallyu. The real trick is finding the darn things… the usual streaming services usually don’t carry the older stuff).

This really is helpful and interesting, to help give a grounding and a sense of where the roots of the current dramaland lie. Thank you for taking the time to lay it out like this!

(A somewhat trivial tangent: I was observing just this morning in a different forum that Daniel Henney, a Korean-American actor (of half Korean descent) was the 2ML in My Lovely Sam Soon, playing backup to Hyun Bin, and apparently won a couple best new actor awards for the role. He’s now playing the character of Lan (and doing it very well, I might add) in the new Amazon Prime adaptation of the Wheel of Time that just started a couple days ago, so.)

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
11 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Fyi, Trent, in the show Henney plays an LA-based Korean-American who speaks almost no Korean.

We didn’t much enjoy Sam Soon. While I appreciate the breakthrough regarding how a female lead could be portrayed, she just wasn’t very likable.

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
11 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Bridal Mask! Tree With Deep Roots! They are back! I hope more older classics become available.

Trent
11 days ago
Reply to  Snow Flower

The Princess’s Man didn’t used to be available on US Viki, but it popped up just a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I think it works the other direction, too. I seem to recall Six Flying Dragons being available awhile ago, but it’s fine now…

KLNoons
KLNoons
11 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

I’m glad someone mentioned the Princess’s Man. That was my all time favorite sageuk, to me far superior to The Moon That Embraces the Sun (in which I loved the kids in it but found the adults’ acting less than stellar.)

merij1
merij1(@merij1)
7 days ago
Reply to  KLNoons

We just started it! Thanks for the push.

Trent
11 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Ah, thanks for running down some of these sources for us! You know, I know I ran across Winter Sonata too on one of the less-traveled sites a few months ago, I think it was even a legal one, but now I can’t remember where it was…

Amazingly enough, Boys Over Flowers is one of the older event kdramas that US Netflix actually carries. Too bad that’s one of the ones I really don’t have any interest in!

(Oh, also, I just checked and I think Full House is actually geo-restricted on iQIYI– it doesn’t turn up on my installed app, but when I fire up the VPN and search through the browser, there it is… (The main reason to watch that one would be super-cute Sung Hye-kyo; I think I’ve watched that iconic “bear song” clip on YouTube several times, oops).

JJ
JJ
11 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

This is AWESOME! Thanks KFG. 🙂

Lamenteuse
8 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Bridal Mask is available on Viki US now? Finally! Group watch? 😉

wonhwa
wonhwa
10 days ago
Reply to  Trent

Kocowa has started adding some of the older classics (and I’m assuming by extension they’re now available through Viki premium as well). Dramafever used to be my go-to spot for those, but alas . . .