Marathon it now!
From a strict world-building point-of-view, Arang and the Magistrate is the best fantasy kdrama I’ve ever watched. The world, based on a famous folktale, feels magical, and its fantastical elements are grounded by winning performances from its cast. While I think it could have been a little tighter if two episodes were shaved off, the drama generally maintains its fast pace and keeps a clear focus on the mystery of Arang’s murder and the search for Eun-oh’s mother. Watching the lead couple fall in love is a treat, and the high stakes in their search for truth only enhances their romance. Be prepared for comedy, drama, and tragedy in this exciting historical fantasy.
Healer (KBS | 20 episodes | December 8, 2014, to February 15, 2015)
You can level several complaints at Healer: the early wire-work is worth a few raised eyebrows, a good chunk of the bad guys were barely better than low-level NPCs, coincidences abounded, the finale felt rushed, etc., but no other show came close to generating the same kind of excitement for me in 2015 as Healer. From its adorable and believable OTP to its masterful use of flashbacks to a cheesy love song that won me over to a world populated by smart, determined, and different women, writer Song Ji-na proved that she is excellent at building characters and crafting a story the audience will care about. What do I have to sacrifice to ensure you’ll be writing again in dramaland soon?
I Hear Your Voice (SBS | 18 episodes | June 5 to August 1, 2013)
This was a mishmash of genres and tropes that honestly sounded like a disaster on paper: a mind-reader, a courtroom drama, a one-sided childhood love, a childhood rivalry/competition carrying over to adulthood, and a killer bent on revenge. Luckily, there was some magic holding all these pieces together. Even though awful things happened to our characters, I Hear Your Voice was astonishingly relentless in its optimism and sympathy for other people, even terrible ones. Character development arcs for the leads cemented our main pair as one of my very few kdrama OTPs. The drama suffered mildly from its two-episode extension, but I can’t even really hold it against the show when that allowed it to develop a touching character arc for a secondary character.
Queen In-hyun’s Man (tvN | 16 episodes | April 18 to June 7, 2012)
I’m pretty sure the only one who sobbed more over this show than me is Yoo In-na. Queen In-hyun’s man boasts one of my favorite romances—in any genre—and my first kdrama OTP. This is one of the smartest time travel dramas I’ve seen and had one of the cleverest male leads I’ve ever seen in dramaland. But the heart of the show was Yoo In-na’s Choi Hee-jin, an actress who wore her heart on her sleeve and fell in love with a time-traveling Joseon scholar despite everything in their way, like bloody political conspiracies, several centuries, and a pain-in-the-ass ex-boyfriend. Make sure you have plenty of tissues and a fainting couch on hand for this one.
Save Me (OCN | 16 episodes | August 5 to September 24, 2017)
I went into this show worried that the heroine’s story would quickly be co-opted by the quartet of boys trying to save her, but they never made her pain and trauma about them. Instead, the boys suffered for the heroine in her quest to escape a religious cult, and in spite the many ways in which the villains tried to break her, she never gave up. Watching the good guys join forces to uncover the corruption in their town—and just how loved ones were complicit in it—was as emotionally taxing as it was satisfying. You’ll need to take this one slow, but you should definitely watch it.
Secret Love Affair (JTBC | 16 episodes | March 17 to May 13, 2014)
Are you in the mood for an unforgettable drama about a woman who found herself trapped in a cage of her own making by sacrificing her morals and time and youth in order to acquire wealth and prestige? Are you in the mood to watch her rediscover her love of music, crave quiet moments of happiness, and find passion and desire with the help of a much younger man? Secret Love Affair boasted one of the smartest scripts in 2014, and its detailed camerawork and gorgeous soundtrack ensured that the audience paid attention to every detail. Kim Hee-ae and Yoo Ah-in’s performances as the two lovers were breathtaking. If you want smart, sophisticated, morally gray, and engaging storytelling, make sure you check this out.
Shut Up: Flower Boy Band (tvN | 16 episodes | January 30 to March 20, 2012)
Easily the best installment of the Flower Boy franchise to date, SUFBB was everything I wanted out of a high school drama: a coming-of-age story where friends learn that growing up can be just as much a threat to their worlds as any other poverty, bullying, and the drive to succeed. The Eye Candy boys formed one of my favorite “found families” in dramaland, and their struggles against each other and against the world were both heart-rending and heart-warming. There are few neatly tied bows in this show—SUFBB knows just how messy life can be, and it isn’t afraid to stop things with an “and they kept living” ending. Watch this for great music, great performances, and great reasons to cry.
Bump it up your watch list.
Bad Guys (OCN | 11 episodes | October 4 to December 13, 2014 )
This was definitely the most problematic kdrama I watched in 2014, but I still loved it—even if it was powered by the blood of fridged women. The metaphors could occasionally get out of hand and the censorship fog was pretty ridiculous at some points, but the show was filled with slick action sequences, a twisty plot, and characters that eventually earned your sympathy. Definitely not a show for the faint at heart, but if you can stomach the violence, Park Hae-jin’s and Kim Sang-joong’s performances are worth it. Hey, OCN, if you’re going to give us a sequel, can we add another lady to the mix?
Can We Get Married? (JTBC | 20 episodes | October 29, 2012, to January 1, 2013)
This contemporary take on love and marriage follows four compelling couples in different stages of their relationships, from just me to divorce. At the heart of the conflict are a young engaged couple and the woman’s mother, who is determined to ensure her daughters and sisters are happy and successful. While the best story line is the divorcing couple, the engaged couple holds their own while enduring the gauntlet of clashing family values, exes, and their own hearts. The story lagged a little in places but nevertheless found its way to mostly satisfying resolutions. (This is also the last time I liked Sung Joon, for the record.)
Circle (tvN | 12 episodes | May 22 to June 27, 2017)
The worst storytelling tragedy is watching a show desperately over-expand to try to fill up space it really just isn’t meant to take. But this drama knew where it wanted to go, and its interconnected mysteries across three separate timelines kept the momentum going when a longer, more unwieldy show would have languished. The 2017 timeline is by far the most compelling (and had the most shriek-worthy cliffhangers), while the future timeline frequently struggled to find its emotional footing. The show’s greatest weaknesses were in extrapolating the implications of the central technology/mystery and its limited number of female characters. Nonetheless, it is a solid show that sci-fi fans should check out.
City Hunter (SBS | 20 episodes | May 25 to July 28, 2011)
City Hunter still holds onto an important section of real estate in my heart, and not just because of Lee Min-ho’s penchant for low-cut v-neck shirts. While City Hunter might appear to be about two men and their quest for vengeance, the story really centers on familial love in all its heartbreaking forms, from a mother for her missing son to a soldier for his comrades to a daughter for her wrongfully dead parents to sons for their tragically disappointing fathers. The romance that unfolds between our leads combines sweetness and peril, and the cat-and-mouse game between the titular City Hunter and the prosecutor is equally compelling. Be prepared for comedy and tragedy in equal measure (and keep a few tissues on hand, just in case).
Dalja’s Spring (KBS | 22 episodes | January 3 to March 15, 2007)
This solid entry into the noona romance genre is actually one of my favorite workplace dramas. I’ve gotten so used to the “one girl per team” dynamic that is it remarkably refreshing for Dalja’s work (and personal) life to be filled with so many women in different life stages. My favorite parts of the show are whenever the ladies band together to help each other or to solve work problems. I will forever be grateful that instead of turning the second leading lady into The Other Woman Who Slept With My Man, she became one of Dalja’s best friends and almost a mentor at times. Watching Dalja sort out her life and fall in love is a treat, even if there are a few rough spots.
Dream High (KBS | 16 episodes | January 3 to February 28, 2011)
Say whatever you like about Dream High’s idol cast, the show makes up for many shortcomings with its earnest take on the cutthroat entertainment industry. Parts of it are clumsy, yes, and it is rarely subtle, but it is always satisfying watching young people chase after, struggle for, and (sometimes) achieve their dreams. In between musical numbers and confusing teenage love triangles, Dream High takes the time to tackle subjects like sexual assault, bullying, the pressure to conform to beauty standards, and going too far to get what you want. One of the most satisfying plots of the show is the broken friendship between our two lead ladies and how they both change because of it. Simple, endearing, and worth your time.
Flower Boy Next Door (tvN | 16 episodes | January 7 to February 26, 2013)
This well-beloved Flower Boy installment is a charming slice-of-life drama anchored by a wonderful lead couple. While many people are (rightfully) enthusiastic about the kind, caring, and quirky male lead, my love for our depressed, introverted heroine knows no bounds. Her sometimes dark, often painful, always insightful voiceovers have stuck with me after many other details have faded. The sweet romance draws out the best in both leads and makes for a memorable relationship. The “neighborhood” has a few standout characters, including a hilarious webtoon editor. This drama stumbles in a few places, particularly in the home stretch, but it is otherwise a memorable contemporary drama.
Heard It Through the Grapevine (SBS | 30 episodes | February 23 to June 2, 2015)
This was from the team who gave us Secret Love Affair, so I knew I had to give it a shot even though the length and the dark comedy/satire description made me a bit nervous. There was no reason to be worried: straight out of the gate, I wound up with teenage parents who desperately loved each other and their baby and wanted to figure out how to carve out a life together despite the class warfare perpetrated by the boy’s high-strung rich parents. The upstairs/downstairs divide and absurd comedy frequently were some of my favorite parts as was the development of minor characters. The final arc slowed down a bit too much for my taste (and kept the young couple from achieving OTP status), but this drama ultimately reinforced my love for this creative team. What’re you going to bring us in 2016?
Heartless City (JTBC | 20 episodes | May 27 to August 30, 2013)
If you’re looking for a cops vs. gangsters drama with a dark and gritty noir atmosphere, look no further than Heartless City. From a slick score to brutal fight scenes to corruption on all levels, this drama is an entertaining ride. The biggest draw for this show (aside from the soundtrack and cinematography) is the enigmatic and well-dressed Doctor’s Son and his two closest supporters. While the show does suffer from sidelining its heroine and its sometimes too-convoluted-for-its-own-good plot twists/character reveals, it is one of the best crime-themed kdramas I’ve had the chance to watch. Give it a shot when you need a break from trendy romantic comedies.
Liar Game (tvN | 12 episodes | October 20 to November 24, 2014)
This was a solid adaptation of a manga I never read. Even if I had to rewatch explanations for the games a couple times to make sure I knew how things worked, it was a tightly plotted and quick-moving show. There were some excellent performances all around (including the scene-stealing Lee El). The hero and the antagonist were nicely fleshed out, but I felt like the show sidelined its heroine in order to further the men’s rivalry, which was a shame, because from what I understand, the heroine was the heart of the manga. Ultimately, this show engaged my brain but not my heart—though I wouldn’t say no to a second season.
My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (SBS | 16 episodes | August 11 to September 30, 2010)
This is easily my favorite of the Hong Sisters’ comedies, largely thanks to a delightfully outspoken heroine who isn’t shy about going after whatever—or whoever—she desires. The hero’s journey from jerk to 100% willing to die for the heroine is one of the few drastic changes of heart that I wholly believe. While the show features a funny, charming cast, a dose of eleventh hour noble idiocy and a deus ex machina happy drag it down a little. Nonetheless, there are some real gems in this drama, and it holds a special place in my heart. If only the rest of the Hong Sisters’ body of work were this enjoyable.
Nine: Nine Times Time Travel (tvN | 20 episodes | March 11 to May 14, 2013)
Easily one of the smartest SFF kdramas, Nine is the thrilling journey of a man determined to right some of the wrongs of the past, including his father’s murder, before he dies of brain cancer. If that wasn’t difficult enough, the past and present are synced, and as his younger self goes further and further off script, changes ripple out in increasingly difficult to predict ways. A lackluster romance, poorly acted villain, and a couple side-eye worthy plot points keep Nine from achieving greatness. The divisive ending will leave you reeling (and/or angry). This was ultimately a drama that engaged my brain—but not the entirety of my heart. Unfortunately, my goodwill toward the show have been tainted by the lead actor.
The Princess’s Man (KBS | 24 episodes | July 20 to October 6, 2011)
This show hooked me in its opening sequence with its gorgeous cinematography, haunting soundtrack, and bloody opening purge. The Princess’s Man centers on Grand Prince Sooyang’s rise to power and eventual ousting of his nephew in order to become King Sejo, but it is told through the eyes of two fictional star-crossed lovers: Se-ryung, the Grand Prince’s daughter, and Seung-yoo, Prime Minister Kim Jong-seo’s son. After the prime minister’s family is slaughtered by the Grand Prince’s faction, Seung-yoo vows revenge; meanwhile, Se-ryung must grapple with her love for her father and the dawning realization that he is a monster. Sadly, my feelings toward this show have been tainted retroactively by the lead actor.
Punch (SBS | 19 episodes | December 15, 2014, to February 17, 2015)
If modern-day political thrillers featuring a cast of mostly morally bankrupt characters sounds exciting to you, then this is a show you’ll want to watch ASAP. Even though I spent a good chunk of the time wishing violent, humiliating failures on 90% of the cast, Punch was a compelling, fast-paced drama fueled by intense performances, constant backstabbing, and a time bomb in the form of a terminal cancer diagnosis. Despite some serious missteps in the final episode, Punch delivered (and raised my blood pressure) every week. A not insignificant portion of my love for this show is due to the powerful ladies who fell on different spots in the character alignment chart.
Scent of a Woman (SBS | 16 episodes | July 23 to September 11, 2011)
It’s a terminal illness melodrama that sometimes verges on inspiration porn and occasionally makes me want to tear my hair out and in a few memorable instances made me cry. Watching the heroine reclaim her life and do the things she had put off for a future she no longer had was a delight, whether that was give herself a makeover or go on vacation or quit a job she hated or take tango classes. When the hero wasn’t being ridiculous, the romance was great, though the second leads could be less than pleasant from time to time. The ending is contentious: I was in the camp of mostly liking it, but it didn’t make everyone happy.
School 2013 (KBS | 16 episodes | December 3, 2012, to January 29, 2013)
Though most people remember this drama for the breakout performances of its two high school leads (which was a delightfully damaged bromance), School 2013 actually has a wonderful ensemble cast. The two teachers were perfect foils for one another, and some of the best scenes in the show are when they come together to handle the administration or try to help their wayward second-year students. This drama can be unflinching in its critique of academic pressure, bullying, competition, and abusive families, but it never loses sight of the students and their futures. While I wish there had been more screen time devoted to the girls, this drama is nonetheless one of my favorites.
Sungkyunkwan Scandal (KBS | 20 episodes | August 30 to November 2, 2010)
A young Joseon woman cross-dresses in order to provide for her family, gets tangled up with three pretty boy scholars, and is forced to attend the best school in the nation—seems like the perfect storm of clichés, right? But Sungkyunkwan Scandal is far more than the sum of its parts, and its earnestness mixed with cutting commentary on classism and feminist issues is enough to delight just about any drama fan. Our main quartet (and their developing friendships and romances) are the strongest part of the drama. The four of them uniting together to solve a mystery and get justice for old wrongs is a satisfying, though not perfect, final arc. Give it a try if you’re in the mood for something that will make you smile. Sadly, this show has been retroactively tainted due to the lead actor.
The Three Musketeers (tvN | 12 episodes | August 17 to November 2, 2014)
Kdrama adaptations don’t always work well, but this fantastic adaptation of the famous Dumas novel was clearly made by people who had great fondness for the original. It had a great mix of humor, action, and high-stakes politics, all centered on a doomed crown prince. Jung Yong-hwa put in a great performance as Dal-hyang, and Lee Jin-wook was perfect as Crown Prince Sohyeon. While the leading ladies didn’t get as much screen time as the eponymous musketeers and their tagalong, they were solid characters with some wonderful moments. Unfortunately, the good feelings I have for this show have since been tainted by one of the main actors.
Two Weeks (MBS | 16 episodes | August 7 to September 26, 2013)
I’m a sucker for redemption stories, and Tae-san had such a wonderful character arc that he’s one of the few absent fathers I have ever rooted for. The deadline to his bone marrow donation for his daughter put real weight behind his desperate attempts to evade both the bad guys and the police in order to stay alive (and healthy) long enough to get to the hospital. Over the course of the show, he earned the allies he needed to go from being a panicked fugitive to a trickster ready to bring the villains down. The supporting characters were amazing, I’m genuinely disappointed this drama didn’t end with an OT3. It was so close! #TeamHappyFamily
What’s Up? (MBN | 20 episodes | December 3, 2011, to February 5, 2012)
One of the rare college-centric dramas that actually focuses on school, What’s Up? features a ragtag group of incoming musical theater freshman and some of their professors and upperclassmen. Our main trio consists of a good-for-nothing scammer who decides to make something of his life after a deadly accident, an orphaned and innocent country girl unprepared to catch the attention of a talent agency, and a masked idol and illegitimate child who hides his identity in order to protect his ambitious mother. In between the hazing and musical numbers, the characters get to shine with their (occasionally doomed) romantic relationships, family drama, talent rivalries, terminal illnesses, and fights over dorm room cleanliness. It’s funny, heartfelt, and earnest in the best ways.
While You Were Sleeping (SBS | 32 mini episodes | September 27 to November 16, 2017)
I wanted a grander, wider-reaching story than the one I got, but that’s what happens when you promise me prophetic dreamers who want to change the futures they dream of. If I ignore what I wanted this show to be and instead judge it based on what was actually offered to me, this was a good fantasy romance about two people finding each other again after childhood tragedy and growing to love one another. And in that, it delivered on almost every level. While I have and could continue to nitpick about various storytelling choices and lack of development for some characters, I don’t regret spending sixteen hours of my life on this show.
You’re All Surrounded (SBS | 20 episodes | May 7 to July 17, 2014)
I can’t fully explain my love for You’re All Surrounded. It wasn’t the best show on paper, but I adored the fact that our hero was in a revenge thriller and everyone else was in a buddy cop show. The growing friendship among our rookie cops and their team leader’s exasperation as he attempted to keep them from accidentally killing themselves or the populace they served were some of the best parts of the show. A complicated mother-son-esque relationship gave the show some additional emotional depth, but the overacting top villain took it right back. The second lead lady was also underutilized, which was a shame.
Check it out on a slow day.
Cheongdamdong Alice (SBS | 16 episodes | December 1, 2012, to January 27, 2013)
This drama was meant to be a hard-hitting subversion of the usual Cinderella story, and on many points, it worked. When our heroine realizes that life is stacked against her, she despairs, and she gets angry. If the system isn’t fair, then she is going to cheat in order to have some small chance at escaping her life of poverty. The show even took the time to disabuse its male lead of the notion that he had ever been a self-made man, which was refreshing and needs to happen more often. Unfortunately, this show has since been ruined by its male lead.
Coffee Prince (MBC | 17 episodes | July 2 to August 27, 2007)
Over a decade later, it’s easy to see why this is one of the popularly cited gateway kdramas. It continues to be the only cross-dressing kdrama where I actually believed people believed the heroine could be a guy, and there are many breath-taking romantic and angsty scenes. Alas, after a decade, there are some glaring places where this drama shows its age, most notably in its use of romantic tropes, and its second half is largely forgettable. (So much so that I thought the reveal of the heroine’s gender was actually toward the climax, not halfway through. Ooops.) Best viewed through the lens of nostalgia.
Faith/The Great Doctor (SBS | 24 episodes | August 13 to October 30, 2012)
Let’s be honest—this drama was a bit of a mess. While it romance is, to date, my favorite romantic role for Lee Min-ho, the plot itself was a mess that went in circles in the final stretch and the magic was criminally neglected. It would have been a much better drama if it had been cut down to 16 or 20 episodes. Nevertheless, there were some gems here, especially Kim Hee-sun’s character, who is one of the few female time-travelers in dramaland. She was a delight, especially when she baffled the hero, who slowly but surely became smitten with her. This is a drama I dearly wish could have a second chance to achieve greatness.
Flower Boy Ramyun Shop (tvN | 16 episodes | October 31 to December 20, 2011)
Warm is one of the first words that pops into my head when I think of this show, despite its winter setting. It’s a quiet, slice-of-life drama about a woman who has withdrawn from the world and a sunshine-bright man who wants to draw her back out. Our heroine is heartbreakingly relatable with her quiet cynicism and distrust of a world that has hurt her and that she knows is unfair, and her monologues about life in general and her life in particular are stunning. Possibly the best roles for these lead actors to date, though some tired romance tropes tarnish what could have been a strong ending.
The Flower in Prison (MBC | 51 episodes | April 30 to November 6, 2016)
Sometimes you just need the kdrama equivalent of a generic mid-90s fantasy novel in your life. Flower in Prison isn’t the best told, filmed, or acted drama, but I loved it for the fact that it never forgot that its heroine and her personal journey were the heart of the show. Everything revolved around her, and no one questioned her right to be center stage. Unlike some of the sageuk I’ve seen, this drama filled its ranks with women of all ages and statuses, from bodyguards to water maids to concubines to the power behind the throne. If you want a long, easy watch, this is a good choice.
God’s Gift – 14 Days (SBS | 16 episodes | March 3 to April 22, 2014)
The first episodes of this show are an emotionally fraught Bad Ending thriller, and I was so on board with the reset button and fighting our way to achieve the Good Ending. This was one of the few shows that legitimately got my adrenaline going—I texted friends every airing day so they could check on the progress of the subs for me. The mystery, the danger, and our leads were all fantastic, but some major missteps in the last few minutes of the finale knocked this drama all the way down here. I needed a conclusion, not confusion, and definitely not the suspicion that my time had been wasted. I will always be sad about what this show failed to be.
The Master’s Sun (SBS | 17 episodes | August 7 to October 3, 2013)
Monstar (tvN | 12 episodes | May 17 to August 2, 2013)
Nice Guy/The Innocent Man (KBS | 20 episodes | September 12 to November 15, 2012)
Honestly, this is the closest kdrama has ever gotten to making me ship horrifically toxic relationships, on both sides of the love triangle. Self-loathing Ma-ru went to prison for his girlfriend, Jae-hee, only for her to betray him and marry a wealthy, older businessman. Upon his release, he tries to seek revenge on her by using Jae-hee’s adult stepdaughter, Eun-gi, who is fighting not to be ousted as successor to her father’s company by Jae-hee (and Jae-hee’s son, her half brother). A twisted love triangle ensues, which cannot be stopped by car crashes, brain damage, amnesia, or creepily obsessed secretaries. The ending is a mess, but it is a delightful, if occasionally frustrating, ride.
Shining Inheritance/Brilliant Legacy (SBS | 28 episodes | April 25 to July 26, 2009)
Three Days (SBS | 16 episodes | March 5 to May 1, 2014)
featured a strong performance by Yoochun (including some great fights) and certain members of the supporting cast, yet the show was a forgettable thriller that was surprisingly light on the overall tension. There were many great, suspenseful scenes, but they somehow failed to capitalize upon each other. The constant reset of the clock didn’t do the show any favors, either. Unfortunately, this show is even less appealing now due to the lead actor.
A Witch’s Romance/A Witch’s Love (tvN | 16 episodes | April 14 to June 10, 2014)
was definitely a show that wasted my time. The central romance had all sorts of promise, but the second male lead and his plotline sucked virtually all of the light and joy out of the show for a long stretch in the middle. If we could have cut him out entirely and thus gotten the main couple together sooner, this would have been much higher on my list.
You’re Beautiful (SBS | 16 episodes | October 7 to November 26, 2009)
I would advise against it.
The Heirs/The Inheritors (SBS | 20 episodes | October 9 to December 12, 2013)
I Miss You (MBS | 21 episodes | November 7, 2012, to January 17, 2013)
Inspiring Generation/Age of Feeling (KBS | 24 episodes | January 15 to April 3, 2014)
was a narrative mess that liked to endlessly circle around frequently shifting MacGuffins and suffered from a mid-show writer switch. Its few saving graces were a handful of scene-stealing characters, fantastic fight scenes (I would adore a supercut of all of them), and hot people in period outfits. Unfortunately, the good feelings I have for this show have since been tainted by the lead actor.
Missing Noir M (OCN | 10 episodes | March 28 to May 30, 2015)
It’s a tricky thing to integrate an overarching plot into a heavily episodic format, and Missing Noir M failed to rise to the occasion. While there were a few outstanding cases, they aren’t enough to mask the show’s criminal underutilization of the female cast. The good episodes also can’t redeem the show’s final arc, which not only failed to answer basically every question we had but also telegraphed its downer ending (complete with Tragic Fridging) so obviously that all it earned from me was eye-rolling and irritation. OCN has far better procedurals. Pick one at random and you’ll certainly wind up with a better one than this disappointing mess.
Pretty Man (KBS | 16 episodes | November 20, 2013, to January 9, 2014)
Rooftop Prince (SBS | 20 episodes | March 21 to May 24, 2012)
Secret Garden (SBS | 20 episodes | November 13, 2010, to January 16, 2011)
Solomon’s Perjury (JTBC | 12 episodes | December 16, 2016, to January 28, 2017)
I’m always going to be bitter that this show lied about the heroine being the protagonist. She was great whenever she wasn’t sidelined by the hero, but even then her investigation into the death of one of her classmates was hampered at every turn by the hero withholding information from her with very little reason. In a change from many other school dramas, several of the adults are good people with the kids’ best interests at heart. There were some great characters and moments, but in the end this show ultimately fell apart when it became clear it didn’t care about its heroine at all.
Wanted (SBS | 16 episodes | June 22 to August 18, 2016)
Part thriller, part reality show from hell, Wanted never lost sight of its goal: having a mother do everything she could to rescue her son from his unknown abductor. Despite all of the solid components, the show was rarely able to live up to its potential. It was neither as terrifying nor as heart-wrenching as I’d hoped going into it, even though the cast did their best to elevate the material they had been given. Months later, Wanted has left very little impression on me. This drama isn’t necessarily a waste of time, but it is ultimately bland and forgettable.
I’ve already suffered—why should you?
Doctor Stranger (SBS | 20 episodes | May 5 to July 8, 2014)
just could not get its shit together. How does a show with North Korean defectors, undercover spies, doctors who had been forced to do human experimentation, secret identities, life-or-death situations, political corruption, and revenge fail to make any part of it interesting? It was an absolute waste of the cast, crew, and my time.
I Need Romance 3 (tvN | 16 episodes | January 13 to March 4, 2014)
was pretty much filled with most of the romance tropes I hated, and I spent most of the time wanting to hit the two male love interests with frying pans. I was disappointed that the writer abandoned the sismances that were hallmarks of previous installments of the series. It takes a special level of fail to sour me on both Sung Joon and Kim So-yeon.
Marry Him If You Dare/Mi-rae’s Choice (KBS | 16 episodes | October 14 to December 3, 2013)
Myung-wol the Spy (KBS | 18 episodes | July 11 to September 6, 2011)
Soul (MBC | 10 episodes | August 5 to September 3, 2009)
Few things are as disappointing as a drama that gives you practically everything you want only to yank it away from you in the final stretch. Between its refusal to properly reinforce its own mythological rules and insistence on giving the hero the final plot line that by all accounts should have been the heroine’s, Soul was more concerned with achieving its pre-determined Bad Ending than bothering to be faithful to its own themes and internal logic. All you had to do was hold it together for ten episodes, and instead you crashed and burned on the landing.
Spy (KBS | 16 episodes | January 9 to March 6, 2015)
I honestly didn’t think that I’d have to crown a new “Least Thrilling Thriller” so soon after 2014’s Three Days, but here we are. Where Three Days could at least consistently deliver compelling action and suspense sequences (even if the show was bleh overall), Spy consistently teetered on the precipice of interesting but refused to take the leap. The premise was tantalizing enough that I reluctantly stuck around, hoping against the odds that the show would get its shit together and deliver on its promises, but alas. Don’t waste your time on this one, friends, unless you’re out of Nyquil and melatonin.
Surplus Princess ( tvN | 10 episodes | August 7 to October 9, 2014)
started out with some zany comedy and a healthy dose of parody. The love triangle was one of the most balanced I’ve seen in some time (to the point that I constantly questioned which guy was the lead), and the female friendship was adorable, but the show eventually began to flounder. With the sudden reduction in episodes, it was basically impossible to come up with a satisfying ending, and Surplus Princess fell apart completely.
W: Two Worlds (MBC | 16 episodes | July 20 to September 14, 2016)
The first half of this high-concept drama is a thing of beauty, filled with tantalizing possibilities as the hero of the story-within-a-story takes charge of his own life. Unfortunately, the main couple’s relationship lacked a solid foundation, and it quickly became apparent that while the writer could talk shit about lazy storytelling, she wasn’t above making those same lackluster decisions herself. The last third in particular is an exercise in frustration and thwarted greatness. This drama is best enjoyed as a tragedy—just turn it off once you’ve reached the “Bad End” midway through. It is more satisfying and makes more sense than the ending we actually got.
Who Are You? (2013) (tvN | 16 episodes | July 29 to September 17, 2013)
You Who Came From the Stars/My Love From Another Star (SBS | 21 episodes | December 18, 2013, to February 27, 2014)
was the show I felt the most betrayed by. Jun Ji-hyun was brilliant as Song-yi, and Soo-hyun held his own as Min-joon. For the first half of the show, I rooted for them—and then Min-joon turned into a gaslighting jerk who drowned in his own mainpain. Couple that with the most ridiculous deus ex machina I’ve seen in a while and the total waste of Yoo In-na, and I became angry-bored with the whole thing. At least the show introduced me to Shin Sung-rok and Park Hae-jin?