Korean pop culture has never been more widely consumed by international audiences. K-pop bands like BTS and BlackPink, Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite and the recent debut of Squid Game has seen the world wholeheartedly embraced Korean film, TV and music.
Netflix has been helping to lead the charge of Korean TV over the past few years, allowing audiences to delve into the rich, varied and fascinating world of the K-Drama.
If you’re looking for a new K-Drama to dive into headfirst, we’ve got a selection for you.
It’s a phenomenon for a reason. Hwang Dong-hyuk's satirical survival drama tells the story of 456 people engaging in a series of deadly children's games for the chance to win enough money to clear their debts. It's unflinching brutality, tight plotting and scathing indictment of capitalism had audiences worldwide hooked. Squid Game season 2 is in the works. Catch up with the hit of the year now.
Yeon Sang-ho (Train to Busan) has adapted his own webtoon for this new Netflix, which some fans reckon is even better than Squid Game. Imagine a world where people start receiving messages from supernatural creatures telling them they will soon be dragged to Hell for their sins. As panic set in, a cult leader (Yoo Ah-in) preaches to the country that they should shame the sinners and hope to receive salvation.
The first three episodes, screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, revealed a challenging story with an unrelentingly bleak perspective that is nonetheless full of surprises.
2019's Vagabond was one of the most searched dramas in South Korea when it premiered, and it's not hard to see why. Cha Dal-gun is a stuntman whose life is turned upside down when his nephew is killed in a plane crash. But then strange things start to happen and Dal-gun becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving covert operatives, terrorists and the government. He teams up with a National Intelligence Service agent to reveal the truth and a cover-up that goes all the way to the top echelons of power. Imagine Lost with a big revenge action subplot and you're halfway there.
Set during Korea's Joseon Dynasty, the first season of Kingdom follows the story of Crown Prince Lee Chang, who, while investigating conspiracies against his family, discovers a plague that resurrects the dead. Dealing with the threat of treason and political subterfuge is tough enough, but add a ravenous zombie hoard on top of that and your troubles are far worse, especially when the Crown Prince’s own father has been infected by the mysterious disease. Kingdom is a hugely entertaining blend of historical drama, zombie horror and political intrigue.
Named one of the best TV shows of 2017 by The New York Times, Stranger stars Bae Doona (Sense8) as a police detective who teams up with a brilliant but cold prosecutor to investigate a murder. The prosecutor lost his sense of empathy after undergoing corrective surgery, which makes his deductive skills unbeatable but means he's tough to work with. Together, they discover a wider mystery behind the murder and a major corruption scandal that runs to the very heart of the nation.
The Uncanny Counter
Premiering last November, The Uncanny Counter became the highest rated series on Korea's OCN. Jo Byung-gyu plays So Mun, a high school student with a disability who finds himself enlisted to be part of the Counters, a group of paranormal hunters who search for and banish evil spirits that escape from the afterlife and possess human hosts.
At the law firm of Song and Kim, only the most elite and wealthy of clients are taken on. For the right amount of money, this team of hotshot lawyers will do anything and everything, regardless of the law or basic human decency. Jung Geum-ja and Yoon Hee-jae are rivals at Song and Kim, and their self-possessed drives are beaten only by their desire to crush one another for supremacy at the firm. Sometimes, however, the best offense is to team up and take on the world.
A Korean Odyssey
Inspired by the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, A Korean Odyssey is a modern-day story with roots in the legends of the past. Seon-mi is a young girl born with the ability to see ghosts and spirits, who as a child was lured into a deal with the Monkey King, allowing her to call upon him should she ever need any help. That moment comes when she is grown up, but now she's stuck amid a battle for immortality involving the ancient gods and their petty trickery.
Number 444 is a Grim Reaper, a heartless agent of death whose job is to collect souls from earth and bring them to the afterlife. After his partner goes rogue and disappears among the human world, 444 must find him, taking over the body of a recently killed police detective. However, when 444 finds himself drawn to a young human woman who can foresee death, he is ready to break the rules for love with a living soul.
Chief of Staff
Often called Korea's House of Cards, Chief of Staff stars Lee Jung-jae (Squid Game) as Jang Tae Joon, a dynamic chief of staff who dreams of washing away the corruption at the heart of the world he works in. He wants to reform the system but believes the only way for him to gain enough power to make such changes is by engaging in the same crooked behavior his colleagues revel in.
Seo Hi-soo is a former actress who rose to the top of her field but she has married into one of the most powerful business families in the country. Inside the family's vast mansion, Seo Hi-soo and her new sister-in-law Jung Seo-hyun find the expectations for them are very different from their old lives. The two women try to find their true identities, all while a mysterious new tutor arrives with a secret plan that could upend the entire family.
Kayleigh is a pop culture writer and critic based in Dundee, Scotland. Her work can be found on Pajiba, IGN, Uproxx, RogerEbert.com, SlashFilm, and WhatToWatch, among other places. She's also the creator of the newsletter The Gossip Reading Club.
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