We’re having guest posts from the lovely folks on Patreon, to help us take stock of our drama years, kinda-sorta like what we had last year, woot! 🥳
We’ll be seeing about 2 guest posts per week, and this will unfold into January 2023, and that’s perfectly ok. AND, my annual year-in-review, which usually comes out in December, will also come out in January (or thereabouts 😅), after all the guest posts have been published.
Today, I’m pleased to announce that Kun is sharing her drama year!
I’m so pleased that Kun was able to make time to write this post, because our drama tastes overlap enough, and she’s adventurous enough in trying out dramas, that I often feel intrigued by her drama picks, because I haven’t seen the show(s) she’s excited about.
Thanks, Kun, for making the time, and also, for always having my back, and sending me links to things that you think I’ll love. ❤️
I hope you guys enjoy!
Hi everyone, this is Kun and I am a Masters student living in Texas in the United States.
I have pretty much spent my entire life in a primarily Asian community so while I was not directly exposed to dramas I do think this helped open me up to foreign media at least a little.
T.V. shows have always been my favorite form of media and I guess at some point I started to feel like I was just rewatching my favorite shows because I couldn’t quite find any new ones that I actually loved.
So as I was surfing through Netflix I eventually stumbled upon Descendants of the Sun and so began my drama journey. I don’t think I ever really loved DoTS but the drama looked exceedingly pretty and I was intrigued enough to try more.
I think the main thing I tend to look for in dramas are satisfying overarching narratives and compelling characters. Some of my all-time favorite dramas include Be Melodramatic, My Ahjussi, Because This Is My First Life, Healer, and I Hear Your Voice.
Dramas have become my way to relax and unwind when I am not busy cramming or stressing out about finding a permanent job. So without further ado let’s get into my 2022 drama year!
Best Dramas of 2022
Well to put it lightly this year felt like a down year for me with airing k-dramas.
I felt like I dropped the vast majority of shows I started. Quick drops I can deal with but there were also a noticeable amount of shows that I felt quite invested in early but the quality of which steeply declined.
Despite my grumbling I did still have a few shows I genuinely really enjoyed so here’s a top 5 with a few honorable mentions as well!
To any of you who check in on Deep Dive over at Patreon this will come as no surprise as it seemed like every week while this show was airing I was in a constant state of anticipation.
The best way of describing my love for this show would be to say everything about it sparkled.
The world, our characters, the color palette, and the music all contributed to creating this sense of vibrancy and joy that I fully immersed myself in as I watched.
This is not to say that there isn’t plenty of pain and sadness our characters face and work through but through it all my love for our cast only continued to grow.
The biggest factor? The main female lead and our protagonist of course, Na Heedo played by Lee Taeri.
Coming into the show I had not seen any of her previous works and I was promptly blown away by the authenticity of her portrayal of our teenage lead.
Heedo is not by any stretch of imagination an easy character to portray.
She’s loud, awkward, headstrong, and passionate but at her core she’s full of life and truly goes the extra mile for the people she loves. She really brought that spark of life to the rest of our characters and I lit up whenever she graced the screen.
The show is not a one woman show however. I adored all 5 of our central group of friends and their group dynamic as well as their individual dynamics. The two core relationships of the show to me however were Heedo/Yijin and Heedo/Yurim.
This was a show that faced a fair bit of criticism for its ending and a good portion of that was a result of developments within the Heedo and Yijin relationship.
Personally I didn’t have these same misgivings and felt like the show did a good job of laying the ground for all the milestones for the pair.
I will grant that perhaps some of this is a result of me not quite being as on board for this romantic relationship as others.
Don’t get me wrong, I truly loved the level of mutual support these two offered each other but I found myself more invested in their relationship and gestures towards each other as friends than as significant others.
Some of the most meaningful parts of this show were centered around how these two pushed and supported each other to be the best versions of themselves they could be.
The second key relationship that ended up sucking me in more and more throughout the show until it surpassed Yijin/Heedo even, was the relationship between Yurim and Heedo.
Despite a truly turbulent start this relationship ultimately evolved into a friendship so beautiful it resulted in lots of tears (from me). I truly love how much these two came to rely on each other and if I had to pick a non-romantic OTP for the year, this would be the one.
I do also want to highlight Seungwan as one of my favorite supporting characters this year.
Part of the show’s appeal is great comedic sense and Seungwan knocks it out of the park here with a rather dry and sardonic sense of humor.
As the show progresses she also receives a significant subplot which fully showcases what an amazing person she is. I admire Seungwan’s dedication to standing up and acting on her beliefs no matter the personal consequences she faced.
The last major draw of the show for me was the fencing aspect.
I have always enjoyed the inclusion of sports within dramas because they naturally lend themselves to underdogs succeeding despite the odds being stacked against them.
The show does not disappoint on this front and I want to particularly highlight the fencing scenes themselves.
The build-up, execution, and direction for the central fencing bouts were all just breathtaking.
So like I mentioned I had no issues with the way the relationship between Heedo and Yijin ended.
I did however have issues with the absence of our central gang of friends in the present day timeline.
The absence of Yurim in Heedo’s life was particularly upsetting.
While I think the concept of the present scenes was interesting in theory, I never could quite get on board with the adult version of Heedo and I found some of the scenes in the present to be contrary to the appeal of the show.
At the end of the day though, these were minor nitpicks for me in a show that I truly loved.
2. Our Blues
If I could give an award to a show for the best screenplay, Our Blues would top the list for sure.
Our Blues is an omnibus show with 20 episodes dedicated to different characters and their stories.
This may sound disconnected and give the impression of smaller dramas within a drama but the beauty of the show is how interconnected these characters are and how their stories continue or build even as a new story becomes the focus.
There is a very real and poignant sense of community built by this show and by the end I loved each and every member of that community.
It’s no easy feat to craft a variety of compelling and interesting stories (as my drop list can attest to) but I found myself invested in each and every single arc.
Our Blues’s biggest strength, and honestly my biggest draw to a show, is its character writing.
Despite only having a few episodes to develop the relationships and characters within each arc, I was consistently emotionally invested in all of them.
Our Blues was not an easy show to watch. The show deals with extremely heavy topics and very damaged people but it does so with full respect to these issues and without becoming too difficult to watch.
Our characters are not the easiest to warm up to either, necessarily.
With the exception of Eunhui, most of the characters in the show took some time to grow on me but I appreciated how authentic they felt.
The cast doesn’t feel like characters on a tv show, they feel like very real people with all their warts and insecurities and this lent a very refreshing sense of quality to the show.
If I had to pick only one particularly standout character, Eunhui would have to be my pick. We are introduced to her in the very first arc of the show and I was immediately drawn to her hardworking and kind spirit.
The standout arcs for me within the show would be: Yeonju and Hyeon, [MINOR SPOILER] which tackled the subject of teen pregnancy [END SPOILER] and man, I was impressed by these young actors.
Roh Yoonseo as Yeonju in particular is someone I anticipate future projects from!
Dongseok and Seonah which featured perhaps the most damaged characters in our show.
Both of these characters have experienced so much trauma within their lives and it was great to see the show not downplay or do a disservice to the issues they had.
Both of them are given space to properly work out these problems as individuals while offering each other mutual support.
Dongseok and Okdong is the final arc of the show as well as the arc that provided the biggest emotional punch to me. No spoilers, this was just the perfect conclusion to the show and it was brilliantly written and brought to life by both actors.
I also wanted to highlight two characters specifically as a reference for characters who aren’t the easiest initial sell.
Dongseok and Miran are not likable characters on first impression; Dongseok is abrasive and quick to anger while Miran is self absorbed. I have to applaud the show for making me care for and love both of them despite these flaws.
Of course I might be a little biased because I am a sucker for prickly characters who are fluffy and full of love on the inside and Dongseok is a perfect example of this.
Our Blues is a truly unique show – with an excellent cast of veteran actors, nuanced character writing, and beautiful cinematography. The setting of the community in Jeju was perfect and there are so many beautiful shots of the town and the surrounding sea.
Coming from the screenwriter behind My Ahjussi and featuring a cast of Kim Jiwon, Lee Minki, Seon Seokoo, and Lee El, there was simply no way I could skip on this one and it did not disappoint!
Like Our Blues I would also give MLN top marks for a unique and brilliant screenplay.
I don’t think I have ever watched a drama quite like this one nor do I expect to in the future. At times surreal and at times so sharply insightful and reflective of my own experiences, this was truly a remarkable drama experience.
The more dramas I watch the more I have to really value silence. That might seem a little counterintuitive but let me explain….
Scenes don’t always require dialogue and the absence of dialogue when it is unnecessary can elevate moments in a show.
Actions and emotions don’t always need to be vocalized and I loved how often the show simply let scenes play out without dialogue. This was especially prevalent in the early episodes of the show, and I thought it did a fantastic job of creating the appropriate atmosphere for the show.
At its core, the show deals with the concept of ennui.
Our trio of siblings have lives which don’t appear too distressful or disappointing on the surface. Yet despite this, they all feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction with how they lead their lives.
The drama is able to beautifully capture this feeling and immerse the viewer in it as well.
I felt the sweltering heat of the sun as they toiled in the fields, I felt the exhaustion of the long commute to work, and I felt how tired our siblings were when they arrived back home at night.
The lack of dialogue, impeccable sound design, and acting of our main trio all come together to deliver this experience.
A lot of people have mentioned that these opening episodes felt slow, or that the show takes some time to get hooked on but for me it was pretty instantaneous.
That feeling of ennui that I so often feel in these last few years of my own life made this show feel special to watch because I truly connected with what our trio was going through. That feeling of liberation they were chasing is something I hope to find within my own life as well.
So I talked a fair bit about the absence of dialogue but I hope that doesn’t give the impression that the show is lacking in that department!
Monologues from Mijung and Kijung, our two sisters, were at times funny and at times insightful but they were always beautifully written.
The star of the show for me, though, had to be the eldest brother, Changhee. His comments and observations were always a treat and I liked how, flawed as he is, he is self aware and able to look inwards at his own actions and thought processes.
Three unique perspectives from the Yeom siblings, and I enjoyed hearing their philosophical meanderings as to why things are the way they are. As a character driven show, My Liberation Notes does not disappoint.
Also want to give a shoutout to my girl Hyeon-ah who would be right there with Seungwan as one of my supporting characters of the year!
Despite limited screen time I always perked up whenever she appeared on my screen, she’s just someone who has so much love to give that you can’t help but love her.
This show won’t be for everyone and at times things can feel a bit too disconnected, especially towards the end.
Events and actions may feel a bit hard to understand at times but as a whole this show was just beautiful. One that I definitely hope to rewatch in the future as I find myself thinking about it often.
Our Beloved Summer fully focuses on who each of our leads are, and why they are the way they are.
This really sells the angst and conflict between the two, and makes the audience root for them to find a way to work past their differences.
Their conflicts feel rooted in substance, so instead of the show appearing to drag out relationship angst, it instead feels like every step these two make towards reconciliation is both natural and rewarding.
The excellent relationship dynamic and writing sells what could otherwise feel frustrating and slow, and when we get to the end it feels all the more satisfying.
This was by far my favorite OTP this year and I have to credit both Choi Woo Shik and Kim Dam Mi for really selling the pain their characters have to work through.
Show also makes excellent use of framing the flashbacks we get within a documentary that was filmed back when our OTP first fell in love.
It just feels like a lovely touch that in the present day, their reconciliation begins with the filming of another documentary as a sort of update to the first.
The monologues the characters give to the camera are hilarious and it’s a fun way for the show to depict events through two different perspectives.
If I did have to point towards something the show could have done better, it would be the supporting characters.
Don’t get me wrong, Jiwoong and NJ are excellent characters but the show never really did give them the proper screen time to shine.
Both of them are introduced and develop in interesting ways, but I never really felt like their subplots were appropriately resolved. Instead, we had to deal with a painfully unfunny set of comic relief characters who I could do without existing in the show, if I am being honest.
Despite those minor gripes, Our Beloved Summer is a romance between Yeon Soo and Woong and it delivered.
This one might be the most out there out of all the shows on my list.
The tone and execution of the show almost feels like an indie project at times and I know there are plenty of people who found this one to be boring or nonsensical.
Don’t come to this show looking for a gripping Sci-Fi drama featuring aliens, which is the impression that the initial synopsis might give. I do feel like I had a better grasp on what the show was after watching the initial trailers which helped me adjust my expectations accordingly.
If I had to fit it into a genre it felt the most like a buddy cop show. I tend to love this concept, and the partnership between our kickass female leads did not disappoint.
I loved how Jihyo and Bora bounced off each other.
Both of them don’t quite fit into society and are considered outcasts but for completely different reasons, and it feels great to see them be able to bond with each other. I loved their friendship and watching them stumble through the kooky happenings in the show was a blast.
Glitch is quirky, weird, and definitely silly but it was a treat!
An excellent well constructed thriller, with Jisung pulling off yet another masterful double role performance, as twin brothers this time.
A rough premiere and plot armor aside, this was an extremely entertaining and engaging show all the way until the end. The twists and turns in the story feel properly executed and the unraveling of the central mystery was paced well.
I do also want to highlight Hwang Jung Min for an excellent performance as the Dragon Lady Kwon! Without getting into spoilers lets just say her moniker of Dragon Lady is very apt.
Unfortunately there was one character arc that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around, and the show decided to conclude with a sequel-baiting finale which did sour my overall outlook of the show a little.
Still very much worth the watch as the show remains mostly excellent.
Soundtrack No. 1
Short and sweet, really not much to say about this one, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and found the turn from friendship to lovers for Sunwoo and Eunsoo to be quite adorable.
Park Hyungsik does the smitten look quite well, what can I say.
From Now On, Showtime
Another gem of a show that is largely carried by an adorable OTP.
Jin Kijoo was a revelation to me as our female lead and I found myself in awe at how cute she was.
Park Haejin as Cha Cha Woong was a little prickly to open the show, but as it develops this really felt like THE puppy romance of the year.
I just found both halves of the OTP to be absolutely delightful, and I only wish we could have spent more time with that after they had become a couple, but alas that is how romcoms so often feel for me.
Beyond the OTP I also genuinely enjoyed the antics of the trio of ghosts who work with Cha Woong. By the end of the show this really felt like a nice cozy found family and I enjoyed tuning in each week for a dose of happiness.
I think there was also a villain or something and a plot about that, but thankfully little screen time is devoted to this and I have promptly erased most of my memories of it.
The Oh What Could Have Been Award
So I didn’t actually want to do a whole section for best actor/actress but I do want to take the chance to talk about two shows that had enormous potential but couldn’t maintain their quality in the dreaded second half.
Mental Coach Jegal
This show at its best, rivaled 25 21 for my love.
If I truly had to highlight one single actor or actress this year it would have to be Lee Yoomi. I knew she could potentially become one of my favorites after Squid Game where she had my heart in shreds in just a single episode, but I didn’t anticipate it being so soon!
Lee Yoomi as Cha Gaeul was pitch perfect.
Gaeul is a bundle of insecurities and vulnerability despite her outwardly tough persona, and Yoomi does a great job of making me invested in her journey instantly.
As the show peels back her layers we get glimpses of the pain and suffering she has had to endure to succeed as an athlete. Suffice to say my heart was in the wringer and there was not a character I rooted for more than Gaeul.
Gaeul is a short track athlete, which is a sport I had no idea existed until I watched the show. Absolutely did not matter and some of my favorite scenes of the show were watching her overcome the mountain of obstacles she was facing on the track.
When the show focused on Gaeul and other struggling athletes, it was truly brilliant. Not only did it deliver on the sports competition side of things, but it tackled a completely unique facet of the genre I had not seen before.
This is where our Mental Coach comes in, Jegal.
Through his interactions with athletes, we get a glimpse into the disturbing amount of stress and other mental health issues young athletes face.
I love how the show emphasizes through Jegal that it’s ok to prioritize yourself. It’s not just ok, it’s the right thing to do, and self care trumps everything else in life.
This idea of putting yourself first and finding out what YOU want to do is not revolutionary but so often people and especially young adults lose sight of this.
There are so many great nuggets of wisdom from Jegal, as he coaches his athletes, and the show manages to tackle so many different difficult topics with effective and respectful care.
Unfortunately, the show also tried to do much, and while I concede that organizational politics was a required element in a show like this to a certain extent, it felt like too much screen time was given to something that the show failed to make particularly interesting.
The plot stagnates when it moves away from the athletes and eventually a greater focus is eventually placed on this aspect of the show in the second half.
The first ten episodes of the show would honestly be pretty damn close to a 10/10 for me but man does the show stumble towards the finish line. Very little of what made the show great is present and there are more than a few narrative missteps.
These final six episodes were at least somewhat watchable for me because they featured at least one compelling and well-executed storyline that had been built up throughout the show (what a surprise that it was centered around the students and not stuffy bureaucrats).
This, along with my extremely fond feelings for our core group of Jegal and the athletes, carried me limping to the ending.
Ultimately, I don’t regret watching the show because the positives far outweigh the negatives but I feel a little wistful because this show could have been truly great.
Link: Eat, Love, Kill
So this show never reached the highs of Jegal for me, but it was a genuinely different and entertaining show for its first half.
The idea of an emotional link between the OTP was played both for laughs and some genuine pathos to great effect.
I fully bought into their connection, and I especially loved the way they used food to build upon this connection. The intimacy and love that goes into cooking for someone is just such a great way to tease a growing connection.
What truly elevated this show, though, was the interesting stab at black comedy it opens with.
Not only was it hilarious in a deeply disturbing way, but the show also tackled the delicate issue of violence faced by women in an empowering light. Sounds pretty interesting and promising for a premise right?
Unfortunately, just about everything I mentioned so far, fell off a cliff in the second half.
I can only assume the writer was either replaced, or decided that making an actually unique show was too hard.
The OTP connection gets stale, the black comedy disappears, and the empowerment dissolves into our female lead running around waiting for the male lead to save her. The formula actually got so repetitive that I couldn’t even make it to the end. Yikes.
Despite its extremely promising premise, the screenwriter had no idea how to progress the story, and it actually felt like it spun around in a circle and went nowhere.
I did include this show in the same category as Jegal but I view Jegal as a largely competent show and this one as unwatchable in its entirety.
So normally it’s pretty hard for me to pick one single Razzie for an entire year. I drop my fair amount of shows and picking between which one of them I found the worst isn’t always easy.
This year, however, was the easiest it’s ever been. I found a show that managed to be entertaining enough while watching to get me to the finale but also infuriating enough to still make me angry when I think about it.
If I had to describe my experience while watching Big Mouth, this would be an apt metaphor.
Say you are watching an artist begin to paint a mural on a wall.
The artist begins with big bold strokes that instantly draw you in. The moment you start to think you know what the painting will look like there’s a shift or a twist that amazes you.
Surely this is a masterpiece right? You begin to wonder how the artist will be able to connect all these strokes to form a picture.
Then he abruptly stops, and you realize there was never going to be a masterpiece and the mural was just a jumbled mess of doodles.
An attempt was made here to construct a thriller, but rather than making the events of the story meaningful, and having them to build to a real conclusion, the writer instead elects to constantly try and subvert expectations with plot twists.
What seems to have been lost here, is that eventually this reaches the point of where none of the events in the story matter.
Everything is stupid, nothing makes sense, and none of the character arcs feel satisfying.
I would say that the way the female characters are treated by the show is offensive, but considering how the rest of the characters are treated by the show, I chalk this up to gross incompetence and not misogyny.
After the finale, I was genuinely infuriated, because nothing about this show made any sense, and it felt like it was trying so hard to be clever.
When you can’t even make the event that drives the entire plot forward make any sense you know the show is doomed.
Shows of the Past
2022 might not have been the greatest year for me with airing dramas but I was able to find some real gems while working through some of my backlog.
Circle (easily the best Sci-Fi kdrama I have ever watched), The Light in Your Eyes, Lost, and My Name were all fantastic shows that I would love to talk about, but I wanted to highlight one single non-2022 show in particular.
Not only was this my favorite older show I watched this year, but it’s also the only one KFG has not written about so I hope to encourage at least a few of you to go check it out!
There’s just a certain sense of gravity that sageuks have, that can’t be replicated in other dramas. The stakes are so much higher because characters are often fighting for larger ideals or for the wellbeing of their nation.
Nokdu Flower has that gravity while also managing to be deeply personal.
This isn’t a show set in the courts of a King but one that focuses on the people.
Yi Kang and Yi Hyun are brothers who are both just setting foot into the real world as the show begins.
They each have their own baggage and personal ambitions which are almost instantly challenged as the talks of rebellion begin. The choices they make are rooted in what each of them sincerely believes, and the relationship between these brothers is the heart of the show.
Within its 24 episode runtime, the show manages to be extremely dynamic with its character movement.
Characters never remain in static positions because the turbulence of the time forces them to evolve and grow.
This is not just limited to our main two protagonists; so many of the supporting characters have meaningful arcs and moments to shine within the show.
I especially love how the show does not shy away from giving its female characters real agency and significant plot importance.
Ja In and Yoo Wol both make notable contributions to the rebellion, and receive character development to the point where I was tearing up while watching them succeed.
This is a show that can devote a good chunk of an episode to a supporting character and feel just as compelling as when the primary protagonists are in focus.
Nokdu Flower was truly a beautiful show that did justice to all its many wonderful characters.
Shows In Progress
I also hope to finish Unlock your Boss and Recipe for Farewell soon!
Well I think I have rambled for long enough about dramas. I hope it was somewhat interesting and you find a few new shows to try out!
Wish everyone the best for 2023!