So many more dramas, so little time. International audiences had more Korean dramas to choose from in 2022 and they were available on more streaming platforms. Which dramas stood out? The variety of 2022 Korean dramas offered plenty to to enjoy, but the following dramas offered something extra, whether it was a distinctive plot, a fresh take on the inevitable-although-beloved tropes, great action scenes or enjoyable character development.
Ghost Doctor: K-dramas are often about two seemingly dissimilar characters getting closer—via romance or friendship—and discovering they can learn from each other. In this case, it’s a buddy story between two unlikely doctors. Rain plays the arrogant surgeon who can do no wrong. When he falls into a coma his spirit inhabits the body of a wellborn intern who is afraid of surgery. The hospital is full of coma ghosts, the wandering spirits of trapped bodies. Why see it? Great comic chemistry between Rain and Kim Beom. On Viki.com.
Business Proposal: A description of this drama might suggest it merely contains the same old rom-com tropes, but somehow Business Proposal makes those tropes fresh and fun. In this story a food chemist gets bribed to go on her best friend’s blind date only to discover that the blind date is her boss. How quickly can she get out of this awkward situation? Not fast enough, but she certainly tries. There’s some fun interaction between the drama’s characters and a televised drama within the drama. Ahn hyo-seop and Kim Se-jeong have mad chemistry. Why see it? Kim is very funny. Everyone in this cast looks like they are having fun filming. On Netflix
Military Prosecutor Doberman is a campy drama about a military prosecutor, played by Ahn Bo-hyun, and the prosecutor who wants to unmask his corruption, played by Jo Bo-ah. There are some highly stylized action scenes, including Jo’s killer action scenes in killer heels. It’s Ahn’s most relatable role this year, even though his character is initially misguided and money-hungry. Why see it? Military Prosecutor blends genres—legal military, comedy and action—in its pursuit of k-drama justice. On Viki
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39 is a touching story of female friendship and how it helps the main characters survive a tragic reality. Some of the drama’s characters grew up without a supportive family but they developed friendship bonds that endure and sustain them. Why see it? Son Ye-jin is wonderful in 39 and the drama more than passes the Bechdel test of main female characters talking about and prioritizing something other than men. Netflix
Pachinko: Pachinko might not technically be considered a Korean drama, but it’s a Korean story with major Korean stars. It’s based on a bestselling novel by Korean American author Min Jin Lee and features Youn Yuh-jung, Lee Min-ho and newcomer Kim Min-ha. Why see it? Pachinko is a sensitive retelling of the novel’s moving story of displacement. It’s a family saga of survival in the face of hardships and discrimination. Gorgeous visuals, great acting and Lee Min-ho really ups his game with this role. On Apple
My Liberation Notes: This drama, starring Son Suk-ku, Kim Ji-won and Lee Min-ki, is the very understated story of three unhappy siblings, living out in the sticks with their parents. The commute keeps them from enjoying the city they work in and they blame it on their inability to sustain a love life. Things change when a stranger comes to work for the family. The drama offers surprising twists of fate and an intimate look into a family’s dynamic. Why see it? The evocative portrayal of quiet desperation by My Mister writer Park Hae-young. Son’s subtle acting, the worlds of despair he conveys with his eyes. Netflix
Green Mother’s Club: This murder mystery about a competitive group of mothers asks whether such rivalry is enough to push anyone over the edge. Korea has been described as the most over-educated country in the world and the pressure can start early. Green Mother’s Club wonders how much a mother should sacrifice for her child, how much she should push that child to succeed and whether female friendship can survive such fierce competition. Why see it? It’s an intriguing mystery that at the same time explores notions of female friendship and competition. Netflix
Sound of Magic: Would you believe in magic if the magician is proven to be a fake? Ji Chang-wook plays a magician who lives in an abandoned amusement park. When he first meets the schoolgirl played by Choi Sung-eun, he scares her, but she eventually returns to answer his most important question. Do you believe in magic? She wants to. She needs to. Why see it? Even if you don’t believe in magic, you might understand the magic of giving a desperate person hope. Netflix
Our Blues: This ensemble drama features a star-studded cast at the top of their game. It occasionally almost gets mawkish, but more often shines in its depiction of very relatable stories of human interaction. Set against the beautiful scenery of Jeju island, the hardworking characters—haenyeo, fishermen, merchants—make misguided attempts to communicate with and care for each other. Everyone has their share of blues. Why see it? The whole cast of Our Blues gives a great performance, but Lee Jung-eun as Eun-ji rules the island with her no nonsense attitude and generous heart. Netflix
Why Her? Seo Hyun-jin commands the screen in this smart character study of a lawyer who chases success at all costs. She’s a match for her law firm’s CEO, played by Heo Jun-ho. He supports and promotes her, but kicks her to the curb when he needs to save himself. The story remains riveting to the end as the law student, played by Hwang In-yeop, helps remind her what being a lawyer should really entail. Why see it? Seo Hyun-jun is an interesting k-drama heroine who sees the light and becomes a force for good. On Viki in the US.
Eve: Although this melodramatic “makjang” drama is so over the top it’s practically in orbit, it’s hard to look away. Seo Yea-ji is beautifully chilling in Eve, as a woman who flirts with insanity, while attempting a complex long-term revenge. The camera loves Seo and cannot get enough close-ups. The clothes, the sets and the lingering shots of her face are gorgeous. Why see it? Seo Yea-ji is mesmerizing. Also, gifted actor Park Byung-eun plays the secretly vulnerable chaebol she seduces. On Viki.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo: One of the year’s very best and most loved dramas, Extraordinary Attorney Woo tells the story of one very unique lawyer, whose skills, charms and personality quirks enable people to not only love her, but to see beyond their prejudices about those who think a little differently. Park Eun-bin gives the performance of the year as Woo Young-woo, a lawyer on the autism spectrum. Why see it? Attorney Woo is a lovable character, whose love of justice and determination help her combat discrimination. On Netflix
Little Women: Don’t let the title fool you. The poor little women in this drama may be inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s characters, but they encounter the kind of melodramatic plot twists Alcott really wanted to write. Great cinematography, good acting and a fast-paced plot, Why see it: You never know what to expect with director Kim Hee-won, who also directed Vincenzo, and in the case of Little Women, the director again delivers a fresh and original drama. Netflix
Big Mouth: This Disney+ drama, shown in the US on Hulu, hits all the classic k-drama high points from romantic snowfall scenes to terrifying car collisions, while exploring the dangerous nature of power and the delusional following a charismatic personality inspires. Although the plot of Big Mouth occasionally get tangled up in its various threads and some mysteries aren’t completely resolved, this thriller does keep viewers guessing. Is Lee Jong-suk really the criminal Big Mouse and if he isn’t, who is? Why see it? Lee is far too charismatic an actor to convince viewers he’s an incompetent lawyer, but his transformation into the vicious Big Mouse is nevertheless impressive. On Disney+/Hulu
Glitch: The quirky drama Glitch slipped under the radar for most k-drama viewers, but it’s well worth seeing. While it’s an alien-abduction, religious cult story, its also about finding your voice and believing what your gut tells you. In Glitch two former BFFs reunite. The boyfriend of the character played by Jeon Yeo-bin is missing and she wonders if aliens kidnapped him. The only people who seem willing to help her belong to a wacky UFO club. Why see it? Nana is really entertaining as her buddy, a dedicated UFO seeker. It’s a fun fast-paced girl-power comedy. Netflix
Under the Queen’s Umbrella: Kim Hye-soo delivers a powerful performance as a queen who struggles to protect her sons from the evil intentions of her ruthless mother-in-law. Power struggles between the queen, consorts, concubines and queen dowager in this Joseon-era court often turn vicious and are sometimes deadly. Why see it: Kim Hye-soo’s riveting performance as the protective queen and the fascinating details of the court’s female hierarchy. Netflix
Curtain Call: This tale of deception features Kang Ha-neul pretending to be the grandson of a conglomerate CEO, played by Go Doo-shim. Go’s character was separated from her husband and son during Korea’s division. Kang’s character plays his part for money, but also supposedly for a worthy cause, as the grandmother desperately wishes to see her North Korean grandson before she dies. Why see it: Curtain Call features a great cast, an entertaining plot and, for those outside Korea, might provide some insight into the emotional and psychological wounds caused by the country’s partition. A fun performance by Choi Dae Hoon as the ne’er do well second son. Viki.com
Love Is For Suckers: While this drama starts out with plenty of one-sided love tropes and there’s no doubt Lee Da-hee’s character will fall for her devoted best friend, played by Choi Si-won, things get interesting when Lee’s character produces a dating reality show. To complicate their relationship she gets Choi’s character to appear as a contestant. Why see it: The Viki original drama uses the dating singles show to consider what love is, what’s ethical in love and what you should actually be looking for in a partner—hint, it’s not just good looks. Choi is always endearingly good when portraying devotion. Viki.com
Reborn Rich: Hyun-woo, played by Song Joong-ki is a loyal conglomerate employee, but despite his loyalty he’s ultimately disposable. The wealthy conglomerate he would kill for eventually decides to kill him. However, he’s reincarnated into the body of the youngest grandson of the conglomerate family, knowing everything he knew before. How will he use his knowledge of the future? Will he exact revenge, command the company that used him so shamelessly or perhaps even prevent his own demise? Why see it? Reborn Rich echoes the meteoric growth experienced by real-life Korean conglomerates, spun as a time-traveling tale of reincarnation. Viki.com
Weak Hero Class: Yeon Si-Eun, played by Park Ji-hoon, is a quiet student who just wants to study and mind his own business. If only his school was not a battlefield or the bullying in his classroom was not so vicious and in league with dangerous criminals. There’s no way to escape the violence, especially when it intrudes on what matters most—his studies. Why see it: The Wavve drama offers plenty of surprises and interesting character development. Intense, fast-paced and well-acted, a look at how devastating bullying can be. Viki.com
This list includes dramas that first aired from mid-Dec. 2021 to mid-Dec. 2022.