Where can I find Korean dramas?
I don’t really have a favored streaming site – just search for Korean dramas and see what you can find in your part of the world. The free ones usually annoy you with commercial breaks. Grrr! Nothing ruins the mood like that awful invention. But even if you’re willing to pay, it’s not easy to decide: Sometimes a particular drama is available exclusively from one site, sometimes streaming sites suddenly drop old favorites that you counted on to watch later.
Two popular websites in the United States that offer streaming services with English subtitles are viki.com and dramafever.com. Most of the dramas that I review were at one time available on one of them. Make sure you test the streaming sites with all the devices you want to use before you sign up. Sometimes one service works betters for mobile, but the other one is better for laptop/desktop watching.
I’ve never watched a Korean drama. What would be a good series to start with?
Go with My Love from the Star. If there’s one show that epitomizes what Korean dramas are all about, this is it. It might feel a little weird in the beginning, but hang in there for at least two episodes to find out if rom-com K-dramas are for you. If yes, try Secret Garden next – this is really the Korean rom-com classic. Both dramas were hugely successful and are still very popular today. I also like Queen In-Hyun’s Man a lot – it’s a mix of time-travel thriller and romantic comedy.
I can’t find a drama that you reviewed. What’s going on?
The English translations of Korean drama titles sometimes vary. If you can’t find the show on your favorite streaming site with the name given in my review, search for them on Wikipedia to see if they have alternative titles or look up the main actor or actress. Be careful on Wikipedia, though – summaries there are sometimes quite detailed and give away much of the show.
I’ve watched all the dramas on your list. Where can I find more recommendations?
Take a look at my Guide to Korean Drama Blogs. Here I point to several that have ratings and recommendations.
How did you come up with the dramas on your list?
I have watched more than 150 romantic K-dramas and made notes on them. Then I watched those I really liked a second time, just to be sure that they held up. There are still a few older ones that I haven’t watched yet, and I follow the new releases so I will keep adding to the list.
How often do you update the list?
Whenever I come across a drama that deserves to be listed. If you’d like to be notified about updates, just click on the “Follow” button on the sidebar on the right side (or at the bottom of the page if you use a smartphone). Or follow us on twitter: @Kdramaroma.
There are a few strange terms that keep coming up in dramas. Can you explain them to me?
I noticed that there are no ads on your website. How do you recover your costs?
I don’t. But for now that’s okay. If you’d like to support the site, you can buy a T-shirt or a mug from our shop. Or just enjoy it for free.
Is there a structure to your reviews?
I always try to provide certain pieces of information that might make it easier for you to decide if you want to give that particular drama a chance:
- Year: Usually more recent dramas have higher production values but they are sometimes also slicker, more similar to Western shows. In the last few years there has been a decided effort to develop dramas that appeal to a global audience – an audience that might be turned off by some idiosyncrasies that can be seen in older Korean dramas.
- Short description of content: Usually it’s just one or two sentences to give you an idea of the setting (e.g. hotels, fashion, politics, film, news) and the main conflict. I’m reluctant to go into further detail and give away more. I know that some people like more detailed information about the plot so I considered providing a link to a website with more (but not too much) plot info for each of the shows. However, I haven’t found a website that walks that fine line with any consistency.
- Lead actor/actress: If you really like or dislike somebody, it’s good to know upfront.
- TV station: There are three big TV networks in Korea that show dramas: public KBS (Korean Broadcasting System, founded 1927), partially publicly owned MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, founded 1961) and privately owned SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System, founded 1991). Approximately half of the dramas on my list were shown on SBS, about a quarter on KBS and about another quarter on MBC. However, the majority of MBC dramas selected were from 2008 or earlier. Even though the big three are still clearly the major players in the drama world, cable channels have become more important in the last few years. They produce for a niche market so they can take more risks and experiment more. Cable channel tvN (Total Variety Network, founded 2006) has been especially prolific and some of their shows made it on the list, like the cutting-edge drama Hogu’s Love, a show dealing with single motherhood and unwanted pregnancies.
- Writers: If you like a drama by a particular writer, you might also enjoy her other work. Case in point are the Hong sisters, Hong Mi Ran and Hong Jung Eun, a writing team that penned a number of great dramas. Strangely enough, though, I found that more often than not the quality of writers’ work is inconsistent.
Why should I trust your reviews? Taste is subjective, isn’t it?
Yes, taste is a personal matter. But I think reviews can still be useful. The trick is to find somebody with similar tastes. For example, this website focuses on the best romantic dramas – shows where the love story is the most important aspect. So obviously, if you are a fan of melodramas or horror movies, my reviews won’t help at all. When I visit review websites to get some ideas, I usually read their reviews of the dramas I have already watched to find out if we share a similar perspective.
I want to find out more about Korean dramas. What’s the best starting point?
Take a look at my Guide to Korean Drama Blogs. Here I list and comment on helpful websites.
How do Korean dramas differ from Western TV shows? What makes them so special?
The short answer is: K-dramas are immensely emotionally charged and often cross familiar Western genre lines. Watching a great K-drama is like an emotional roller coaster – constantly up and down (and up at the end if it’s a romantic K-drama) with unexpected turns. And for Western viewers, there’s the additional appeal of the familiar mixed with the foreign. We can relate to the basic plot lines and the modern lifestyles, while the Confucianism-influenced Korean values and rituals (especially when it comes to the importance of family and social relationships) add a fascinating twist.
Also, the sometimes odd behavior of the characters (from wrist grabbing to piggy-back rides) feels fresh and intriguing. It leaves you wondering which of the strange customs exist mainly in fictional TV culture and which are in fact common practices in Korea.
Can you think of any Western cultural traditions that are similar to Korean romantic dramas?
Yes, two actually.
One is the American screwball comedy, a genre that was hugely successful in the 1930s and 1940s. Similarities are plenty: Plots concerning courtship are a given and bridging difference in economic and social status is a common theme. Also lots of slapstick comedy, witty dialogue and, of course, no sex – a result of the U.S. film industry’s moral guidelines applied from 1930 to 1968. If you’d like to try out a few films, start with Bringing Up Baby (1938, with Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn) or the more recent What’s up, Doc? (1972, with Ryan O’Neal, Barbra Streisand).
The other similar tradition is a romance genre called “regency” (or “traditional regency”). The name refers to the time in which these stories take place – the Regency period in Britain from 1811 to 1820. Regencies share a lot of qualities with romantic K-dramas. A formula common to both is a spunky heroine clashing and then falling in love with an arrogant and rich hero in a world where social and economic differences are quite rigid. It’s the classic fight of romantic love against a restrictive society with lots of funny scenes, a happy ending and no sex. If you love romantic K-dramas, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll like regencies, too. Apparently, the owners of the streaming site dramafever think so too – and now offer a few classic British TV shows.
Just like K-dramas, regencies have their own vocabulary, which can be confusing to the uninitiated. So here’s a suggestion for exploring this fictional realm: The original, classic regency is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (published in 1813), but instead of reading it, I would first watch the BBC miniseries from 1995 with Colin Firth. Now you’ll have a better idea what regencies are all about and you could start reading. To ease into this world, I’d start with one written fairly recently, for example, Miss Armstead Wears Black Gloves by Marian Devon or The Magnificent Masquerade by Elisabeth Mansfield. Then move to Clare Darcy (Elyza or Eugenia) and finally to the creator of the modern regency genre, Georgette Heyer (The Corinthian, Arabella, Frederica). Other authors I recommend are Andrea Pickens, Barbara Metzger, Carola Dunn, Dawn Lindsey, Joan Smith, Judith Nelson, and Norma Lee Clark.