Beyond K-dramas: Chinese dramas and more

dramaroma update: In the last few years major changes have happened in the Korean dramaworld: The amount of dramas aired on the three big networks KBS, MBC and SBS has been massively reduced while the number of shows on cable channels has increased. As a result, currently more than twice as many dramas on Korean TV are available on cable channels as on the big networks. In addition, the recent expansion of Korean material on worldwide streaming sites like Netflix and Disney has made K-dramas more popular globally. And the growing importance of the global market is influencing the content produced in Korea.

The impact of these changes on the genre we like, romantic dramas, has been quite … mmh … dramatic. First, there’s a much smaller selection of new romantic Korean dramas available. And second: Some of those available favor the currently popular genre blending of romcom + murder (latest example, Crash Course in Romance), which we abhor. In short: Nowadays, it’s hard to find new Korean romantic dramas and even harder to find really good ones from the small pool that’s available.

So, we have done what a lot of other K-drama fans interested in romance have been doing – we’ve started to search more intensively for romantic dramas from other Asian countries. While we have reviewed excellent Chinese and Japanese dramas here and there for several years, we recently started to pay closer attention to the drama scene in China after coming across the great shows written by Wang Xiong Cheng (The Day of Becoming You, Hi Venus).

While we expect that the great romantic Korean dramas will still be center stage on dramaroma in the future, from now on we will review excellent romantic dramas made in other Asian countries more frequently – without any claim of comprehensive coverage, of course.

In the end, it’s all about showcasing great romances – no matter where they are made.

Non-Korean dramas reviewed so far:
Hi Venus (2023) China
Love Between Devil and Fairy (2022) China
The Day of Becoming You (2021) China
My Unicorn Girl (2020) China
Far Away Love (2016) China
Pretty Proofreader (2016) Japan
Boss & Me (2014) China
Just you (2013) Taiwan
99 Days with the Superstar (2011) Japan


New Review: Love Between Devil and Fairy (2022)

Esther Yu and Dylan Wang in Love Between Fairy and Devil Chinese Drama publicity image

A spectacular action-packed supernatural fantasy (xianxia) about the romance of a seemingly insignificant member of the Fairy tribe and the leader of its mortal enemy, the Lord of the Moon tribe. Esther Yu plays the sweet and bubbly fairy to perfection while Dylan Wang shines as the terrifying, emotionally dead anti-hero Moon supreme who can’t help himself from falling for the fairy. A captivating romance without a dull moment, easily switching between comedy, action, romance and melo.

Be warned, though, the mainly lighthearted tone of the first 20+ episodes changes later on. The last third has a good deal of angst, so sensitive viewers might want to skip from episode 26 to the end in their first watch to assure themselves of a happy ending. The ending, while happy, feels a little rushed — that’s probably why two short special episodes, mostly consisting of flashbacks, were added later.

A suspenseful story of forbidden love that is as exciting and addictive as it is visually stunning. Is this the most romantic drama of 2022?

iQiyi. China. Written by Cao Xiao Tian and Bai Jin Jin.

Esther Yu and Dylan Wang in "Love Between Fairy and Devil" Chinese xianxia drama publicity image

New Review: The Day of Becoming You (2021)

Publicity photo for the 2021 Chinese drama "The Day of Becoming You," showing Liang Jie (left) and Zhang Xin Cheng.

A romcom fantasy about an entertainment reporter and the leader of an idol group whose bodies get switched. Well written, often funny, sometimes self-ironic (“Doesn’t it feel like a scene in a Korean Drama?” asks one of the protagonist). The focus is on the leads Zhang Xin Cheng and Liang Jie (Hi Venus) who do a great acting job making the body swap visible by impersonating the other character.

Two negative aspects: First, the drama is framed by a meta plot that undermines the emotional impact of the story. So, for the first watch, I recommend eliminating the framing by starting episode 1 at 6:48 minutes and stopping at episode 26, 32:43 minutes. Second, the show has one of the most obnoxious product placements I’ve ever seen. If laughing it off doesn’t work for you, be prepared to skip, rather than be annoyed.

But these are minor points that only slightly detract from the overall excellence of the show. Another winner by screenwriter Wang Xiong Cheng who also penned Hi Venus. Highly recommended.

iQiyi. China. Written by Wang Xiong Cheng.

New Review: My Unicorn Girl (2020)

Darren Chen and Chen Yao in a snowy scene in the Chinese television romcom My Unicorn Girl

Heart-fluttering moments in every episode and the extra-cuteness of the leads (Darren Chen, Chen Yao) make this romcom about a crossdressing girl playing on a male hockey team worthwhile to watch. A rare drama in which haircuts (esp FL boyish cut) double the cuteness factor.

The plot involving our leads employs many typical drama cliches (face blindness, accidental kisses, fated love, etc.) in an entertaining and generally well thought out way. Their romance often plays out on kindergarten level (boy annoys/teases girl, girl has no clue (or does she?), boy acts like that because he likes her) but all is forgotten when they gaze into each other’s eyes. Sigh!

Sadly, other aspects of the drama are a lot less fun: While the sports part is generally okay, the second and third leads vacillate between barely tolerable to completely irritating. If you skip most of their scenes, you’ll enjoy this piece of sweet, silly and simply adorable super-fluff a lot more.

Chinese. iQiyi. Written by Fan Kan and Fang Qiang Qiang.

New Review: Hi Venus (2023)

Joseph Zeng and Liang Jie in a poster for the Chinese television series Hi Venus.

A feel-good Chinese romcom about a female doctor from a poor background who is forced to become the hospital director’s assistant.

This is not another one of your usual medical dramas – in fact, doctoring plays only a small role, as the focus is on the administrative aspect of health care. Not only are we spared medical case after medical case (can you tell I’m not a fan of most medical shows?) but this romcom also involves no major love triangles, no jerky boss, no evil parents, no childhood connection between our leads, and shockingly enough for K-drama fans … no serial killer! And still, I couldn’t wait to watch the next episode of this drama about two adults who kept bickering and verbally sparring while slowly becoming more and more emotionally attached.

After a bit of stumbling in the beginning, this series does everything right — plot-wise (no boring episodes) and character-wise (except dressing the FL in horrible frumpy clothes for most of the show). One other imperfection is the incredibly stupid plot twist in episode 22 and the FL’s nonsensical response. Despite this unnecessary annoyance, it’s great fun to spend time with our leads all the way to the perfect happy end. Light-hearted, humorous, blessedly stress-free.

Excellent minus.

Youku (China). Written by Wang Xiong Cheng.

New Review: Extraordinary Attorney Woo (2022)

Korean actors Park Eun Bin and Kang Tae Oh in a scene from Extraordinary Attorney Woo K-drama

This popular legal drama is owned by actress Park Eun Bin who plays talented Attorney Woo, a rookie lawyer on the autism spectrum working at a top law firm. It is an amazing, touching performance, based on a superbly written character. We witness her inner struggles about work, friends and family (and, later on, romance) and see the often socially awkward interactions from her perspective.

With a sweet love interest, a wide variety of colleagues, and hilarious friends, the show offers some of the most finely drawn characters in the dramaworld — plus a simply delightful romance. However, almost every episode deals with another new case and has an extended court room scene with Attorney Woo saving the day. If, like me, you find this type of repetitive plot structure tiresome, the drama’s unique charm just might win you over despite this issue.

Characters/writing: Excellent. Plot: okay.

ENA. Netflix. Written by Moon Ji Won.

New Review: Shooting Stars (2022)

Promo image for the Korean drama Shooting Stars featuring Lee Sung Kyung and Kim Young Dae.

Focusing on events taking place at an artist management agency, this is probably the best behind-the-scenes show about the Korean dramaworld – well, certainly one of the funniest. This is mostly due to the many finely drawn supporting characters (from clueless interns to bizarrely behaving actors) that you can’t help but wonder if they are inspired by real-life models. Numerous cameos from real K-drama stars and the screwball romance of the head of the PR department (the amazing Lee Sung Kyung, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo) with the company’s biggest star (Kim Young Dae) are other highlights of the show.

This well-written mix of workplace comedy and rom-com is somewhat bogged down in the last third by some “more serious” plot developments, but in the last couple of episodes we’re back in comedy mode. Entertaining, amusing and simply just a lot of fun to watch. Don’t miss it. Excellent minus.

tvN. Written by Choi Young Woo.

New Review: From Now On, Showtime! (2022)

Photo of scene from the K-drama "From Now On, Showtime," starring Park Hae-Jin

A wild genre mix with an exceptional cast. It has all the stuff I usually don’t like in dramas, like ghosts, evil spirits, and serial killers, but to my surprise they are packaged in such a funny and charming show that they lose much of their scariness – and you can always skip a scene or two if they get to you.

Park Hae Jin (Far Away Love, My Love from the Star) plays a famous magician who is able to pull off the most amazing tricks – simply because he has three invisible ghosts working for him. Most of the plot deals with him partnering up with a female police officer (Jin Ki Joo) with whom he shares a complex past and a romantic present.

The banter between the magician, his house spirit and the ghostly crew is hilarious; the leads are gorgeous; and the touch of noble idiocy can easily be overlooked in a very satisfying ending. Excellent minus.

MBC/Viu. Written by Ha Yoon Ah.

A photo of Park Hae Jin hugging Jin Ki Joo, starring in the Korean Drama "From Now On, Showtime."
Jin Ki Joo (left) with Park Hae Jin, starring in From Now On, Showtime.

New Review: Business Proposal (2022)

A surprising hit on Netflix. A well done, self-ironic rom-com about a CEO (Ahn Hyo Seop, Father is Strange) who falls for an imposter (Kim Se Jeong) posing as his blind date.

All the fluff you want with no angst, no love triangle and an interesting second lead couple who dares to defy the trope-ical family obligations. After watching so many family dramas with role models who are ready to give up on their romances to appease their families, it was refreshing to see a female protagonist stand up to her father’s interference. A special shout-out to the hilarious Lee Deok Hwa who plays the CEO’s grandfather and likes nothing better than watching K-dramas. Well, we all can relate to that, can’t we? Excellent.


Written by Han Seol Hee and Hong Bo Hee.

New Review: Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021)

Kim Seon-ho as Du-sik and Shin Min-a as Hye-jin in the Korean drama Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha

A big city girl (Shin Min-a, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho) moves from Seoul to a small seaside village where she encounters jack-of-all-trades Chief Hong (Kim Seon Ho). In a reversal of the traditional drama trope, here it is the male lead that whips the female lead into shape – in this case to fit into the village community.
An adorably deep-dimpled lead couple, a variety of amusing side characters who have their own happy endings, and pretty scenery make for a relaxing watch. A less perfect male lead and a more convincing explanation for his hyper-helpful behaviour would have made this an even better rose-colored treat.
tvn/Netflix. Written by Shin Ha Eun.