South Korean dramas have become the new Spanish soap operas for Americans. For those who don’t know, “K-dramas” are the regular television shows broadcast in South Korea that have recently become popular among Westerners. Each show varies in plot, but most episodes are about an hour long while 16 to 30 episodes make up the entire series.
Streaming sites such as Netflix and Hulu have partnered up with Korean-based video streaming companies, like DramaFever and Viki, to offer global fans Korean shows that are fully subtitled. This means that almost all past and current K-dramas are available for foreigners to watch. For those interested, but have no idea where to start (don’t worry, I was there too), here are a few of my favorite dramas.
“Doctor Stranger (2014)” This is my all-time favorite drama. Lee Jong-suk stars as Park Hoon, a man who grows up in North Korea after being sent there against his will as a child. He becomes the top heart surgeon of Korea after following in his father's footsteps, which puts him under the careful eye of the North Korean police. Jin Se-yeon plays Park’s childhood love, Song Jae-hee, who’s captured and sent to a labor camp due to her father’s opposing political ties. When Hoon loses Song, he devotes his life to escaping to the South and bringing her with him. As all of this is going on, a much larger plot unfolds. Both North and South Korea’s leaders fall under political corruption and use Hoon as a pawn in their conflict. Out of every drama I’ve seen, this one’s been the most intense and dynamic because of its drastically different plots and subplots. Each separate plot takes place all at once and work well together to tell an amazingly different kind of romance story.
“The King’s Face (2014)” South Korea is known for producing some accurate historical dramas while also establishing a modernized plot to appeal to the public. Here, my favorite Korean actor Seo In-guk stars as Prince Gwanghae, the second son of King Seonjo and the 15th king of the Joseon dynasty. Gwanghae is the child of a concubine, but becomes next-in-line to the crown through his popularity among the public and humanitarian demeanor. This then sets him up as a political rival to his father, the king, which is life-threatening. The show takes place around 1550 to 1610 B.C. when Japan invaded Korea, which means that all costumes and language dialects match what would be found in Korea at this time in history. As the name suggests, the drama also follows a storyline of assessing human faces to determine one’s moral character or personality, of which Gwanghae becomes an avid scholar. He uses this to show that his father may not be the most honorary person to sit in the throne. “The King’s Face” isn’t only full of historical references and accurate depictions of events, but will have your fullest attention due to its tantalizing modern plot in the fight for the throne.
“Descendants of the Sun (2016)” One of South Korea’s most beloved actors, Song Joong-ki, stars as a captain of a South Korean Special Forces unit, Yoo Shi-jin, who’s called into action within a war-torn, fictional country. Song Hye-kyo plays the complementary love interest Kang Mo-yeon, a strong female doctor who ends up entangled in Yoo’s complicated military life. This drama also focuses on more than just romance between the two leads by addressing military conflicts and resolutions with other governments that could apply to current issues. What makes this drama different than almost every other K-drama is that the entire series was written and filmed before its original airing, whereas most are finished after airing 75 percent of the show. For those of you who enjoy military uniforms and war-like conflict in plots, this is the drama for you.
“My Love From The Star (2013)” This is your classic romance drama with a slight twist. Kim Soo-hyun stars as the male lead, an ancient alien named Do Min-joo who spends 400 years on Earth and doesn’t think highly of the human race due to his high capacity of power and intelligence. On the other hand, Jun Ji-hyun’s character, a world famous yet naive actress, Cheon Song-yi, moves into the apartment next to Do. When Cheon discovers a life-changing secret of a childhood friend’s, Do finds himself at Cheon’s side protecting her from fatal threats. “My Love From The Star” aired on one of South Korea’s main broadcasting networks and has become a fan favorite within Korea, as well as globally. I am not a huge fan of overly romantic dramas, but the comedy and science fiction found in “My Love From The Star” makes it stand out as one of the best modern dramas to come out of South Korea.
“Secret Garden (2010)” This is an older drama, but definitely worth the watch. It stars Hyun Bin as Kim Joo-won, a wealthy man who runs a popular department store and thinks very highly of himself. He eventually gets entangled with a stunt woman’s life after picking up the wrong woman on a film set. The woman, Gil Ra-im, played by Ha Ji-won, isn’t your normal female lead. Her physical strength and independent spirit are what catch Kim’s attention, but he’s shunned by his family for having an interest in her. At one point, the characters actually end up switching bodies, which is a very different type of plot for a romance drama to follow. Gil’s no-nonsense personality and Kim’s quest for love will have you rooting for the couple at every twist and turn in their relationship.
Korean dramas have become a worldwide trend. Hopefully I’ve been able to help give you a place to start or a new direction to follow when it comes to watching foreign television.
Maddelynne Parker is a sophomore media arts and design major. Contact Maddelynne at firstname.lastname@example.org.