Everyone’s got to start somewhere, right? Boys Over Flowers, Coffee Prince, City Hunter–those were some of the big gateway shows for my corner of the internet. (Coffee Prince was my first ever kdrama, thanks to Crunchyroll, though it was a different show that got me hooked.)
I was thinking today about what shows I would recommend to someone new to kdrama. Which shows did a good job with tropes I would later come to recognize as staples of their genres? Which ones are good enough that they’ll hold up to viewing after the new and shiny have worn off? I finally settled on four dramas (not listed above) that I thought would be a good jumping off point for people who are just starting out:
#1 – School 2013
Why it’s a good beginner drama: This drama has a bit of everything you’ll need to be familiar with if you’re interested in teen/youth-oriented shows: school violence/bullying, ridiculous academic pressure, societal despair, etc. You’ll learn fast that there are a lot of shit adults in the world–and also some who will go out of their way to help a lost soul or two. A strong ensemble cast and multitude of interweaving (and emotional) plots keep the viewer engaged. It’s ultimately a hopeful story about high school students gearing up to face the adult world in the near future.
#2 – Flower Boy Next Door
Why it’s a good beginner drama: This slice-of-life contemporary romance provides a good look at the common romance roles (heroine, hero, second female lead, second male lead) and some of the standard plot roles they tend to fill. However, in a fun twist, it’s the hero who is the bubbly bit of sunshine while the heroine is more reserved. You’ll get a taste of frequent twenty-something plots, like career issues, uncertainty about romance, sorting out what life means to them, etc. Also, point to this drama whenever anyone tells you that asshole male leads must be tolerated in romantic kdramas. NOPE.
#3 – Arang and the Magistrate
Why it’s a good beginner drama: I know a lot of hardcore sageuk fans will poo-poo the notion that fusion is a good way to start historical dramas, but one of the benefits of this show is that you literally do not need to know anything about the Joseon era in order to dive into it. While a wide range of historical figures either feature directly in or are major background players to a lot of sageuks, the king and all of his assorted palace drama are so far away he never appears on screen. A new viewer can get used to the historical outfits and character types (shaman, loyal servant, corrupt local officials, etc.) without needing to pause and look up political factions, historical events, and impending massacres.
#4 – Heartless City
Why it’s a good beginner drama: This fast-paced cops vs. gangster drama will thrust you deep into the seedy underground of Seoul, and you might never want to leave. You’ll get to see some of the best versions of character archetypes, from kingpins in well-tailored suits to loudly dressed (and accented) minions to sexy femme fatales to undercover and corrupt (and corrupt undercover) cops. This will serve as an excellent entryway into the Korean gangster movie genre, too, if you want a whole lot more violence and a whole lot more sex once you’ve got the basics down.
Apparently my golden age was 2012/2013. Those are my four recommendations for beginner kdrama watchers. What would make your list? Let me know!