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8 TV show recommendations from a recent K-drama convert

Looking for a place to start? Here's a list curated according to genre to help you out.
Published 16 Jan, 2023 05:47pm

If you’ve made it through over two decades of existence exposed to mostly American television content, I have to tell you — you’re missing out. K-dramas are all the rage right now — and rightfully so. Don’t get me wrong, dear reader, I was just like you a few months ago. As an outsider, it’s difficult to understand the appeal, it’s a world you maintain distance from because the obsession is actually kind of scary. But now, it’s safe to say I’ve crossed over to the other side and I have no regrets. I’m here to extend you an invitation because why revel in it alone?

Surrounded by colleagues who were all part of this world, I finally gave in. And disclaimer: after you’re in, you will find the content you’ve consumed before it rather bland. The best part about K-dramas, personally, is that not only is the storytelling well-knit and super fine, but it also rich in culture. You will be travelling to a different corner of the world, exposing yourself to their values and their colourful food and lives. Another thing that stands out for me is the sense of community in Korean culture. And how writers often formulate this interlinking web, diving into side characters deeper than shows that only place the leads under the spotlight.

There is a racist objection I’ve heard from non-converts saying they can’t distinguish between the faces. I will admit I thought I would have this problem too but it’s only because of lack of representation. The more you expose yourself, the easier it becomes. On that note, let’s dive into the list. Give it a try and thank me later.

Dialling nostalgia

Reply 1988

 Photo: Netflix
Photo: Netflix

Though this list is not in viewing order, I did want to put the one that led me into the K-drama universe by the hand on top. As the title suggests, with Reply 1988, I landed in the 80s into a cosy little neighbourhood in Seoul. A story following five kids and their families, this is a tale of friendship, family and love that is going to make you laugh and cry. Those who’ve already experienced the 80s will be met with pleasant nostalgia and others, with the appreciation of simple times.

Twenty-Five Twenty-One

 Photo: Netflix
Photo: Netflix

Connecting the present-day Covid-struck world with the IMF crisis time in South Korea in the 90s, Twenty-Five Twenty-One is another time travelling portal. It gets interesting though, the story unfolds when a struggling ballerina runs off to her grandmother’s house and finds her mother’s old journals. While she learns to see her mother and her art of choice in a new light, we are met with an inspiring and moving tale of how a world renowned fencer made her mark. A bittersweet story, you can’t help but wish for a sequel.

Welcome to a fantasy world

Hotel del Luna

 Photo: Viki
Photo: Viki

You may have wondered, when we die, where do we go? Well, according to this show, Hotel del Luna is where we go. A hotel that caters to the dead? An instant yes for a weirdo like myself. The story is, of course, not as simple as that. It follows a 1,000-year-old hotelier who hires a new human every few decades to manage the place. It’s when Koo Chan-Sung (Yeo Jin-Goo) fills in the role (rather unwilling at first which I didn’t understand because I would’ve loved to guide dead souls to the afterlife but that’s just me) that the future of Hotel del Luna is forever changed.

Rom-coms and lighthearted, wholesome stuff

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha

 Photo: Netflix
Photo: Netflix

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha might be my safest recommendation because it’s difficult to dislike a story so wholesome and light — unless you’re a broody soul who hates joy. But anyway, the plot follows a dentist who refuses to compromise on her values, moving to a seaside village and adjusting to a lifestyle she’s not used to. There is massive character development and the show also touches on one’s journey with PTSD.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo

 Photo: Netflix
Photo: Netflix

I usually avoid watching remakes but this one just made me understand why K-dramas are simply superior. I was told Extraordinary Attorney Woo is the Korean version of Good Doctor, an American show about a doctor on the autism spectrum. Woo Young Woo is a lawyer on the spectrum and like the doctor, she is brilliant at what she does though she struggles with other parts of the human experience. Let me tell you, when I watched the “Korean version” I forgot all about the American drama. It was simply too bland in comparison. Taking up different cases, the show explores the legal aspect but adds humour and wholesome moments to the personal struggles that Woo faces on her way.

Drama, so much drama

The Penthouse: War in Life

 Photo: Netflix
Photo: Netflix

This one is a recent watch and let me tell you, it is about to get intense in here. The switch from the calm, respectful characters I’ve collected over the course of my K-drama conversion to this wild ride legit gave me a whiplash. The Penthouse: War in Life is aggressive, everyone in it is pretty much some level of obnoxious and it will infuriate you at many points. If drama had a face, it would be this show. Think Star Plus, except well structured. You’re going to love it or hate it or both. God knows I’m still conflicted about how I feel about this one.

Reeling in suspense

Little Women

 Photo: Netflix
Photo: Netflix

If you’re familiar with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, flush it all out because this is nothing like that. The show also follows a trio of sisters and the unsettling setting quickly turns into a murder mystery you can’t get through fast enough. The poor Oh sisters face-off against a wealthy family and there’s drama, intrigue and plot twists that keep you hooked. I’d call this the TV version of a page-turner.

My Liberation Notes

 Photo: Netflix
Photo: Netflix

I’m sorry to end this on a depressive one but I think My Liberation Notes needs to make the list. An excruciatingly slow show, I felt like this was an anti-escape from reality. It is reality staring you in the eye but pretty poetic and tied together with symbolism. More character based than plot based, it follows three siblings and their monotonous lives ridden with challenges in the conquest of their desires. At the very least, this one is going to make you think and maybe bang your head in a wall but that’s for you to find out.

Do you have any K-drama recommendations for us? Let us know in the comments!