We made it! Finally, another year has passed, and it’s time to reflect on how we managed our time in 2016 (watching dramas) and kick off those New Year’s resolutions (watching more dramas). While 2016 was tough on so many levels, at least we had a plethora of great Korean shows to keep us company through the highs and lows of regular, not-at-all-like-a-K-drama life. While there were many outstanding dramas to choose from, I somehow managed to narrow the list down to my favorites, so (*drum roll*) here are the top 10 Korean dramas of 2016, as chosen by yours truly, a completely biased Korean drama addict.
#10 One Percent of Something
I know this is a remake of the drama under the same name that aired in 2003, which was based off a novel, so there is nothing new or unexpected about the plot if you are at all familiar with the original drama series, but this 2016 version with Ha Seok Jin and Jeon So Min was truly so much fun to watch! The plot is a classic engagement contract story, where an arrogant heir of a wealthy family is forced to date an elementary school teacher for six months in order to retain his share of his grandfather’s inheritance. And… cue the romance! Both leads not only had amazing chemistry throughout the drama, but they also exhibited strength of character and genuine development, which is always refreshing in this genre. With each episode only running 35 minutes, ‘One Percent of Something’ is a great filler drama when you need something adorable and fluffy to help you recover from some of the more lengthy, angst-filled dramas.
#9 Descendants of the Sun
Who didn’t get swept up in the mega Korean hit ‘Descendants of the Sun’ (henceforth known as DOTS) with its acting, production, and soundtrack, which are all incredible and beautiful and totally worth the watching of this drama by themselves? Living in China at the time, I certainly was unable to escape it. Seriously, who didn’t fall in love with Song Joong Ki’s adorable smile after watching DOTS? And I still get tearful “everytime” I hear Chen and Punch belt out their powerful vocals when the DOTS track comes on in my playlist. While the drama writer’s unrealistic portrayal of such highly-technical professions drove me nuts (it’s a drama, I should have expected this, I know haha), this was certainly a fun drama to watch with friends during the DOTS craze in Asia. For those unfamiliar with DOTS, the plot follows the relationship between the captain of a South Korean Special Forces Unit and a doctor as they face numerous dangers and obstacles in both South Korea and the fictional war-torn nation of Urk. I’ll leave it at that. You will have to watch the drama to learn the particulars. Featuring Song Joong Ki, Song Hye Kyo, Jin Goo, and Kim Ji Won, DOTS is a “must-watch” for any K-drama aficionado.
#8 Answer Me 1988
This drama is pure nostalgia at its best, even for those of us who weren’t even alive in 1988. While some may critique it for having a slow plot, ‘Answer Me 1988’ is not your typical Korean drama, as it truly depicts everyday life, family, and friendship in a natural and beautiful way, while set in a Korean neighborhood in 1988. All the characters experience their own development with their families and friends, and each and every one of them will find their way into your heart. With an outstanding cast of actors, including Lee Hye Ri, Park Bo Gum, Go Kyung Pyo, Ryu Jun Yeol, and Lee Dong Hwi, ‘Answer Me 1988’ truly stands out among the ‘Answer Me’ series and will make you cry like a baby. Make sure you have tissues at hand.
#7 Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
This is one of those dramas that starts out cringingly cute and charming, then turns into an unstoppable, tear-inducing addiction that consumes your thoughts, your dreams, your life. If you are at all familiar with Korean historical dramas, you already know what I’m talking about. Starring IU, Lee Joon Ki, Kang Ha Neul, and Hong Jong Hyun, ‘Scarlet Heart Ryeo’ depicts the power struggle between the Wang princes of the Goryeo Dynasty in their rivalry for the throne and a 21st century girl who finds herself transported back in time during a total solar eclipse and caught up in the political madness. While the drama was a commercial failure domestically, ‘Scarlet Heart Ryeo’ received immense support abroad, and I would definitely recommend it if you are up to an emotional rollercoaster of a historical drama. Of course, all of the eye candy never hurt anyone either (except those of us who may have suffered a heart attack from the bath scene… RIP, us poor souls).
#6 Another Oh Hae Young
‘Another Oh Hae Young’ portrays the confusion and mess that happens when you share the same name as someone else, something many of us can all relate to, I think, but that’s not why I loved this drama. This drama is in my top ten for the acting, the OSTs, and the realism of the characters. If you are tired of the perfect, cookie-cutter leads that are often portrayed in K-dramas, then this is the drama for you. I just loved how there were no clear-cut roles. The good guys did bad things and made mistakes, and the bad guys did good things and loved those around them just as much. Really, this drama really makes you think about the different ways there are to love people and the consequences of each of our choices in life. The story follows a sound director who experiences visions of the future, played by Eric Mun, and two Oh Hae Youngs, one who works as a product planning representative for a catering company, played by Seo Hyun Jin, and the other who works as a TF team leader of the same catering company, played by Jeon Hye Bin. If you are ever in the mood to go on an incredible journey with a well-written plot, great acting, and realistic characters, then go watch ‘Another Oh Hae Young’!
#5 The K2
I should just come out and admit now that I am a huge fan of Ji Chang Wook, so my including this drama as part of the top 10 of 2016 is a given. Fortunately for me (and the world), ‘The K2’ turned out to be as awesome and politically intriguing as we hoped. While the plot is much too intricate and complicated to truly introduce as an excerpt, just know that ‘The K2’ depicts Ji Chang Wook as a former mercenary soldier, who finds himself working as a bodyguard for the wife of a presidential candidate, played by Song Yoon Ah, and her reclusive stepdaughter, played by Im Yoon Ah. The drama also includes super intense, makes-you-cheer-out-loud action scenes and a truly touching, makes-you-squeal-like-a-fool romantic development. For anyone even remotely interested in a fictional portrayal of South Korean politics, especially in the wake of “Choi-gate”, then I’d highly recommend this gem from 2016.
#4 Shopping King Louis
If I had to describe ‘Shopping King Louis’ in one word it’d be “perfect”. But really, I don’t think I ever stopped grinning while watching this drama. Seo In Guk and Nam Ji Hyun had me in a constant state of pure amusement and laughter while watching their portrayals of a rich, amnesiac heir with an addiction to shopping who follows an innocent, energetic country girl in search of her brother as she navigates the daily life and reality of living in the vibrant city of Seoul with very little money and a shopaholic with an eye for high-quality and expensive things as her companion. This is, of course, a romantic comedy, so fall in love with the antics of the two leads while they fall in love with each other! Be prepared to laugh!
#3 Page Turner
‘Page Turner’ is a KBS special drama starring Kim So Hyun, Ji Soo, and Shin Jae Ha. This is not only a top drama of 2016 for me, but also an all-time favorite of mine. Even though there are only three episodes, the characters, acting, and music all throughout the drama truly capture you with their honest beauty and will make you cry. ‘Page Turner’ depicts a talented pianist student under constant pressure from her mother to be the best, who suffers an accident in the beginning that leads her to start resisting her mother’s influence, and with the help of unexpected allies, embarks on a new life filled with music, laughter, and friendship. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll stop now before I lapse into the nonsensical raving of a fangirl (not that that’s a bad thing, just probably too much for this excerpt), so if you haven’t watched ‘Page Turner’ yet, do yourself a favor and go watch it now!
I don’t even know where to start with ‘W’… As someone who watches dramas on a regular basis (okay, everyday, I’ll admit), it is pretty tough to surprise me with plot twists, but somehow ‘W’ not only had a truly unique plot, but also managed to do the completely unexpected. Every. Single. Episode. It got to the point where I was trying to predict the most unexpected plot twist the writer could throw at us, and I was still surprised by each episode. Every. Single. Time. I think I’m still in awe of this drama writer’s masterpiece and master-manipulation of the expectations of jaded K-drama fans all over the world. Starring Lee Jong Suk and Han Hyo Joo, the drama starts off with the father of a cardiothoracic surgeon mysteriously going missing the night he was to release the last chapter of his popular webtoon “W”… And that’s all you’re getting from me regarding the plot, except for a question: have you ever wondered what would happen if the fictional world you created in your head decided it no longer wanted to be a fiction? Yeah, go watch ‘W’ now. You won’t regret it.
If you were obsessing over the year end award shows in Korea as much as I was, then you already know that ‘Signal’ was voted as one of the best dramas of 2016. What they didn’t tell you is that ‘Signal’ is hands down one of the best dramas ever. Of all time. Yup, not lying. This is one of those dramas that I kept putting off watching for some reason while it was airing because I heard how addicting it was and how painful the wait was for each episode to air… So be careful if you start this one, because you will be unable to stop yourself from marathoning it. Yeah, it takes about 18 hours, in case you were wondering. I don’t want to tell you the plot because you should just watch the show, no questions asked, but know that the main cast includes Lee Je Hoon, Kim Hyo Soo, and Cho Jin Woong, and the plot depicts a cold case profiler living in 2015 who is able to mysteriously communicate through a walkie talkie with a detective living in 1989. Now go grab your headphones, tissues, and some snacks, and get ready for the best show ever!
Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth
Okay, I’ll admit I only first started watching this drama because of a certain BTS member’s acting debut as Hansung (a.k.a. Kim Tae Hyung, a.k.a. V), and I had no clue what to expect except a lot of pretty flower warriors, but it was actually the action in ‘Hwarang’ that hooked me right away. There is not a single moment where I’ve felt bored while watching this drama, and the main cast of Park Seo Joon, Park Hyung Sik, and Go Ara are truly great in their roles. As for the plot, while it may not be entirely original, it is super entertaining! Set in the Kingdom of Silla during the Three Kingdoms period of Korea, this drama follows a group of elite youth, known as ‘hwarang’ or flower warriors, who are recruited to protect the hidden king. The drama only just started airing on KBS in December, which is why I included this drama as a bonus, but hopefully ‘Hwarang’ will continue with its action-packed start and finish strong in 2017.
If you haven’t watched any of these dramas yet, I’d highly recommend them, especially as we wait for the new dramas of 2017 to air!
Happy New Year! ~ashSwon