Tis the season for talking about our drama years, and this year, well, we’ve got an unexpected bonus for everyone!
Basically, over on the Drama Exchange on Patreon, I saw that Shahz had floated a cool idea to the community: that everyone come up with their own year-end lists, to complement my annual Year-In-Review post (which will still publish as usual, in case you were wondering!). She even came up with a bunch of categories for everyone to work with, and everybody was pretty buzzed about it.
Some days later, it suddenly occurred to me one morning, that it might be fun to invite those who are keen, to turn their year-end lists into guest posts here on the blog. I asked the community, and got lots of positive responses! Those who couldn’t commit to writing a post, were enthusiastically supportive anyway, and basically, that’s why we’re here today.
This kick-off post is by Shahz, who volunteered to go first (yay Shahz!). Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be seeing 5 more posts (yay!) by mystery guest writers from the Patreon community – whose identities will be revealed when their posts go live. Thanks for doing this, you guys! 😘
Thanks to another brilliant idea by Shahz, we’ll cap everything off with a poll (which I will announce after everyone’s guest posts have gone live), to see which dramas you guys as a community give your stamp of approval to this year!
I hope you all enjoy!!! ❤️
Hi everyone. So I am Shahz and I am here to bring you my year in review for 2021.
So let’s starts with a little bit about me. I live in the North West of England and yes I am always cold!! I have quite a busy work and home life and K dramas are my R&R. I am also an avid Liverpool FC fan.
Flirtation, an affair and lifelong commitment
My K drama addiction started when the pandemic started and I needed to move away from my usual dark fare (Mindhunter type of stuff) to something lighter. I always say I thought my K drama viewing was a mild flirtation, which turned into a full blown affair – and now I am in lifelong commitment territory.
At the start of my flirtation I tried a few K dramas that Netflix thought I would like but couldn’t get past the first ten minutes. And then I came across Marriage Contract and googled a review and what should appear but KFG’s review. A few paragraphs in (I don’t read more than that because of spoilers) I remember thinking this reviewer is excellent and I will come back to this. And that is what I did time and again, working through the top rated shows on KFG’s Full List of shows.
My Patreon experience across different time zones and oceans….
On KFG’s 8th anniversary of blogging I joined Patreon as a small gesture of support on my part for all the hard work that KFG puts into content that she creates. I remember specifically thinking that I probably won’t make much use of the episode notes as I rarely watch anything current but I can go back and see the posts later. Well, how wrong was I?
My viewing experience completely changed. I moved onto shows that were being broadcast and enjoyed the insightful comments made not only by KFG but the other Patreon members as well (you know who you are!).
KFG recently introduced Drama Exchange zones (spoiler and non-spoiler sections) where members can discuss shows that they are watching or seek recommendations. And now you can find JJ and myself on there, every morning, noon and night despite our different time zones. I have to say it is probably one of my favourite parts of my Patreon experience. If you enjoy analysing dramas under the microscope, do come along and join the Patreon community.
Yes, we have Shows that some of us love and some of us dislike (Kings Affection). I am in in the dislike category in case you are wondering. Despite that you will find everyone hugely supportive, kind and thoughtful and your opinion will be valued. We also do our own watchalongs and – ahem – harass KFG when we find a show that we love (The Bond and Lost)! You can join here or let me know if you have any more questions on the experience and I will be happy to answer as I am sure others will.
So now onto my Top Ten shows this year!
🏆 1. The Bond 🏆
This show takes top spot this year. I watched this purely as I had been impressed with Bai Yu in Suddenly this Summer. My experience with C dramas up until then had been an uneven one but then The Bond came along and completely blew me out of the water.
The show is about 5 siblings who grow up in poverty losing their mother and are brought up by a feckless father. Sound like a misery fest doesn’t it? In fact the show is the complete opposite.
Whilst your heart breaks with the siblings and their troubles, you also celebrate in their everyday victories. Are there points that you want to cajole, shake and shout at them for some of their life choices? Absolutely. But do the actors make you want to hug, laugh and rejoice with them again? Absolutely yes.
Each of the siblings (well bar the youngest) gets equal billing. I don’t think I have ever seen a show do this so well. The show is also great at subtly showing societal changes within China, as the story progresses. Word of warning, the first episode is hard but get through that, and the show is so rewarding. On that note, I have never seen a better set of children actors in a show!
The show is a complete package. By the time the show is finished you will also share an unshakeable bond with the siblings.
Another reason the show will always hold a special space in my heart is that this is the first show that JJ and I bonded over! And how apt that the show is called The Bond.
KFG’s in the middle of episode notes on Patreon.
This show also sweeps quite a number of awards for me!
Best Actor: Bai Yu
Bai Yu’s wins this for many reasons. His portrayal of a young man to a man in his 30’s struggling with duty. Parenting at young age when he should be growing up. His befuddlement when dealing with his sister Simei (The Chaos Generator as per Merij). His nuanced acting showing a man who is aging slowly before us.
Most of all I love how Bai Yu is completely devoid of artifice. He wears ugly suits that befit his character and we only get a glimpse of his star quality when he wears a letter jacket borrowed from his friend.
Best Supporting actor: Zhan Wan Yi
This was really tough as this could have gone to any of the cast and I was torn between Liu Jun (Feckless father- watch the show you will know what I mean) to Zhang Wan Yi.
Zhan Wan Yi mesmerises in his role as Erqiang (Second brother). A man of few words but everything is etched on Zhan Wan Yi’s face. I constantly found myself searching his face to see how he felt, exactly, about a situation. And he is involved in one of the sweetest love stories I have ever seen.
Best Ensemble cast: So no surprise that Show wins this award from me. This is probably a good point, to mention Song Zu Er as Si Mei here. Yes, she is silly and wild but boy, that girl really knows how to love. Rachel Momo: a quiet performance as sensible but deeply traumatised San Li is beautiful to watch and she is also involved in another one of the best romances I have seen all year.
And special mention to Liu Jun, who will forever be known as Feckless Father. His portrayal of a selfish man who takes no responsibility in life should make you hate him but he never descends into one note or caricature as Liu Jun plays Feckless Father with a rough charm, and by the end of the show you deeply care what happens to him. I will let you decide if there is redemption for him.
Best Song: Life should always be in the Light – sung by Zhou Shen. Uplifting and empowering much like the show, with lines which include “Life should always be bright, and I will always be on your side,” it is much like the show. Zhou Shen brings so much love and passion to this song that I can’t think of The Bond without this song
I play this constantly on my Spotify list!
Here is the song on Youtube but it has minor spoilers, so beware!
Best OST: Spanish violins and end credit song which is also uplifting.
🏆 2. Lost 🏆
At number 2 it is Lost. I am not going to do the hard-sell for you on this show. You are either going to going to get it or you won’t. I see it as simple as that. Show deals with grief, suicide, depression, Alzheimer’s and extramarital affairs but ultimately still leaves you with hope.
Paulina over at Patreon described this show as a piece of art and I completely agree it is a masterpiece. KFG breaks the show down beautifully here.
So what is it about? It is about two people who struggle to connect with others, but more importantly, themselves. They are lost, and feel that they are barely clinging on, and are just going through the motions of life. On the surface they have nothing in common but meeting each other and finally meeting someone who listens and tries hard to understand, sparks them both into life. Isn’t this what everyone is looking for?
This show is demanding. It asks for your full and undivided attention; reveals are in throwaway ordinary conversation. Blink and you will miss them completely. I was transfixed by both leads. Ryu Jun Yeol with hair and a voice that would sail ships.
Jeon Do Yeon, articulating pain, loss and grief through her voiceovers. Our obsession knew no bounds over at Patreon when we systematically discussed this scene below.
Show also contains one of the most romantic gestures I have ever seen in the form of [MINOR SPOILER] “The Galaxy has arrived so I’m sending it to you” which became a motto of sorts for a few of us over Patreon. That simple sentence means so much more than any grand gesture. Keep your flowers, your diamond rings; a girl just wants the Galaxy. [END SPOILER]
Award: Underrated gem. I wish more people would see this.
🏆 3. Mr Queen 🏆
This show ended its broadcast in February 2021 so it makes this year’s list. Based on the original Chinese web drama Go Princess Go, the drama is about a man named Jang Bong-hwan from the modern age, being trapped in the body of Queen Cheorin in the Joseon era.
So I am going to be brutally honest here.
Did I hate the ending?? Yes. Did the show’s ending make me lose sleep? Yes. Was I angry at the show for being cowardly with the ending? Without a shadow of doubt. So why does this make it into my top 3?
Simply put, a glorious performance by Shin Hye Sun. I abandoned this show 3 times in the first few episodes because I couldn’t find the right lens but each time I went back because Shin Hye Sun kept calling. I went from not understanding the show to being completely enamoured with Choi Jin Hyuk’s deep intonation used for voiceovers and Shin Hye Sun’s masculine movements in comparison to her pretty, feminine and delicate features.
A huge draw for me was the OTP. Kim Jung Hyun is very much the straight man to Shin Hye Sun’s Queen but yet he shines as a male lead who seeks to understand his partner, despite being completely baffled by her behaviour, apologises when he is in the wrong and [MINOR SPOILER] even creates the Queen’s dictionary to understand the language used by his Queen. That is some dedication there! If the Galaxy (Lost) hadn’t arrived the Queen’s dictionary would have been the year’s best romantic gesture. [END SPOILER]
The show also is fantastic at layering. At first glance Mr Queen is silly and frivolous, but Show pays attention to details and does an excellent job in getting to grips with what drives both leads and many a time the show had me in hysterics. And did I mention Mr Queen prepares the most glorious of foods?
If you haven’t already give this show a try.
You can watch the leads’ chemistry here :
KFG talks about how we were cat fished but still awarded it a B++ as it had that much going for it.
Best Actress Award: Shin Hye Sun. I bow to your comedic timing. We are definitely not worthy.
🏆 4. Yumi’s Cells 🏆
So strap line for the show is “Take a peek inside Yumi’s mind and meet the brain cells controlling her personality!”
I only checked this out to satisfy my curiosity, expecting the animation to be poor and a bit of a ripoff of Inside Out, and expecting to drop this after 30 minutes. Well, I was completely wrong. I always thought of myself as someone who has a million thoughts happening at once. Well, it turns out that we are like this! Kim Go Eun is so relatable as the titular Yumi and Trent introduced us to the term fremdschamen (secondhand embarrassment).
Each episode I learned something new not only about how my mind works but also how I act in relationships, the ones I had or never quite had. If you haven’t checked it out already, do give it a go you might learn something.
KGF covered it on Patreon, and her review is here.
There is fun little quiz at Soompi which helps you work out what primary cell you are. I am apparently Rational cell, in case you are wondering!
However, there is only one Primary cell that steals the show at that is Naughty Saurus whom you can check out being unleashed here.
🏆 5. Youth of May 🏆
In the middle but by no way a middling show is Youth of May. A 12 episode show. Youth of May is set during the Gwangju Uprising, with Hwang Hee-Tae (Lee Do-hyun) and nurse Kim Myung-Hee (Go Min-si) as our leads. Oh Man-seok is terrifyingly chilling as Hwang Gi-nam, a man who will stop at nothing to keep his power.
To my shame I knew nothing about the Gwangju Uprising until I watched this show. Show does a brilliant job in capturing everyday people caught up in life-threatening circumstances through no fault of their own.
Did I know that the show was going to break my heart before I started the show? Well, I had a strong feeling that it would.
KFG wrote: “However, I am also here to vouch for the fact that for those who are courageous to invest their time – and their hearts – in this story, it is a worthwhile venture indeed.”
I could not agree more this show requires courage but it is oh-so-worthwhile. So, you know how I mentioned I like dark material? As hardened as I am, there are a couple of scenes that haunt me to this day. When the show ended I physically could not move for 20 minutes. That is how much it affected me.
KFG ended her review with: “Deeply stirring and bittersweet, with an undercurrent of hope and resilience.” And with that in mind I share below a sweet photo of the couple who will forever live in my heart.
🏆 6. On the Verge of Insanity 🏆
On the Verge of Insanity comes in at 6, with the dull synopsis of “it follows the story of middle-aged office workers struggling to survive in a turbulent workplace”. Sounds a bit like Misaeng doesn’t it? And why would I want to see a show that is going to pale into insignificance (yes I adored Misaeng)? This I probably would have swerved if Sean hadn’t spoken so winningly about it.
Well. Show’s nothing like Misaeng. This is middle aged people behaving badly and we have no innocent here. But the unholy trinity, as I liked to call them, had me in hysterics.
The Unholy trinity
1. Moon So-ri as Dang Ja-young is a workaholic head of HR team. Yes she is slippery but I Ioved watching her outwit her dull bosses who were only above her in station due to gender and nepotism.
2. Jung Jae-young is our male lead Choi Ban-seok, a developer who ends up on the HR team. He has this positive dad energy going on but cross him at your peril. And some of the best moments in the show happen when he is in the midst of a grudge.
3. Lee Sang-yeob as Han Se-kwon is glorious as the narcissistic, childlike Development Team Leader. He’s nemesis to male lead and ex-husband to female lead. I would brighten up each time he made an appearance, as I knew fun and trouble would ensue.
Show is slightly indulgent in its ending but the show teaches us through the leads, that you are never too old to make a fresh start. And most of all, the importance of work and life balance to all of us is dispensable.
🏆 7. Move to Heaven 🏆
Move to Heaven is my 7th pick. I dragged my feet with this because I knew this would be a difficult watch. At the heart of the story is our young male lead with Asperger syndrome, who works with an uncle he barely knows. They work as trauma cleaners, clearing out the possessions of dead people, while bringing to life their stories and supporting those left behind.
“Show takes the heavy, delicate topic of death, and gives it a warm, tender and hopeful sort of treatment which I personally find extremely soothing. It’s true that some of the cases are painful to watch, but Show always finds a way to bring a heartfelt, healing touch to each case, which makes the journey feel worthwhile.”
I don’t think I can say anything more than this, apart from the fact that Ji Jin Hee completely stole my heart in his role as an empathetic father to the male lead.
🏆 8. Hellbound 🏆
There is no Squid Game on my top ten, because as good as that was, this was infinitely more relatable. If you haven’t watched the show you will probably be thinking, “Shahz finds monsters that send individuals to hell as relatable?!”
It is hard to explain why without spoiling it for you, but what I will say is, the show, under the guise of horror, provides a thought-provoking commentary on the abuse of religion, and the power we have as humans, to make our own decisions around what justice means; basically, the importance of free will.
Word of warning: Show sets up the structure in the first 2 episodes and it wasn’t until episode 3 that Show grabbed my attention. I had this marked down as average and then I didn’t!
🏆 9. D.P. 🏆
D.P is at number 9. This was a toss-up between Navillera and D.P. and I opted for D.P. simply for the reason that I thought with Korea’s cancel culture, this was a brave choice to produce, direct and act in. Show is only 6 episodes and I was riveted through each episode.
A young private’s assignment to capture army deserters reveals the painful reality endured by enlistees during their compulsory calls of duty.
Military enlistment is often romanticised in K dramas but this show shines an honest light on the horrifying realities of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, that these conscripts have to endure.
And we see all this through the empathetic eyes of Jung Hae-in as Private Ahn Joon-ho who is assigned to capture army deserters and is ably supported by street wise Koo Kyo-hwan as Corporal Han Ho-yul. In fact, I really enjoyed Koo Kyo- Hwan’s brand of humour.
KFG gave this an A+.
🏆 10. One the Woman 🏆
Last but not least, is One the Woman. There was so much hype around this show, I decided to follow it. After a very rough first episode I stuck with it and I am so glad I did. Make no mistake this is Lee Ha-nee’s show, and boy does she deliver. If Shin Hye-sun wasn’t in this list, Lee Ha-nee would have walked away with my Best Actress award.
So what’s the show premise? Are you ready? A corrupt prosecutor’s life changes completely after waking up from a coma, and suffering from amnesia caused by a car accident. She is mistaken for Kang Mi-na, a woman belonging to a chaebol family, who has disappeared.
Does this sound bonkers? Well, I can safely assure you the show is bonkers, but it’s so much fun. It never takes itself too seriously and neither should you. Buckle up for pure fun. Those who love Lee Sang-yoon maybe disappointed as he is woefully underused.
Razzie award – The show that promised so little but delivered so little
🍓 Doom at your Service 🍓
I has high hopes for this. Park Bo-young and Seo In-guk make a beautiful couple. The music and cinematography is good as well. Apparently 150 countries were
fooled persuaded into buying the rights to the show. So what’s not to like? Well, quite a bit actually. Unfortunately Show infantilised not only the main leads, but also to the second FL. It made my head and heart hurt. So I dropped it!
You can read KFGs dropped post here.
Shows that made my 2021
I spent a lot of my year abandoning dramas, or at least it feels that way! But shows that convinced me on my long term commitment were: Do you like Brahms, Flower of Evil, Misaeng, Reply 1988, 5 to 9 ( J drama) and You are Beautiful. If you haven’t watched You are Beautiful give it a go as it’s hilarious but oh-so-sweet, and Jang Keun Suk is enchanting.
Here is my favourite song.
And on that note Spotify tells me that I listened to it “What should I do” 193 time!
Special Mention: Long Night
One show that I did want to share you as I sign off, but was released in 2020 so didn’t make into my list, is Long Night. I will forever be grateful to phl1rxd for introducing this to us.
Show starts as whodunit or rather whydunnit? But the beating heart of the story is Bai Yu as Jiang Liang, a young Prosecutor who spends 10 years trying to get justice.
As a viewer you see Bai Yu’s character’s life, career, love life, reputation, and family all disappear in front of him, and for someone he barely knew. The show is also fast paced and the writing is tight. As a viewer, and his s friend Detective Zhu puts it, “I had to believe we would get justice.”
Hard as this story is to watch, I wanted to stand up and applaud Jiang Yang and his friends who pursued justice through no personal gain.
Show is only 12 episode and it looks like it is going to get a K drama remake. But please watch the original as I promise no matter how hardened you are (I don’t cry easily) you won’t be able to stop yourself from shedding tears for Jiang Liang, and send a prayer of thanks for good men like him who deserve so much better.
So that has been my year in review. And let me end with wishing you Merry Christmas and a happy new year. I hope next year brings health, wealth and dramas in abundance for you all.