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Kdrama: 12 Perfect Korean Shows To Binge On Netflix

You love Squid Game and plan to check out All Of Us Are Dead, but where do you go from there? Welcome to the world of Kdrama on Netflix. 
kdramas on netflix

Found Family Dramas

Hospital Playlist

hospital playlist

For those who enjoy medical dramas but wish for more quality time with the characters and less administrative politicking, Hospital Playlist is the story for you. A rare Kdrama with a second season, the show follows a group of friends who are doctors at the same hospital and also formed a band together. Their musical ability is questionable, but at least their medical knowledge is impeccable!

Playlist shuttles back and forth between their undergrad days in 1999 and their present day in 2020, but it never forgets to spend precious moments with each patient as well as explore the family dynamics and romances of the protagonists. And while Chae Song Hwa (played by Jeon Do Mi) is the only girl in the group, she is not subjected to an uncomfortable love dodecahedron wherein every guy friend wants her. She does, however, harbor unrequited (or is it?) for her recently divorced bestie Lee Ik Jun (Jo Jung Suk). Watching them dance around each other is part of the fun if you’re into that, but easy to ignore if you’re not.

Prison Playbook

kdramas - prison playbook

Prison Playbook is, as the name implies, a Kdrama that tackles work of a very different nature. When famous baseball player Kim Je Hyuk (played by Squid Game‘s Park Hae Soo) is inexplicably sentenced to a year in prison for defending his sister from sexual assault, he reunites with his childhood friend Lee Joon Ho (Jung Kyung Ho). Once a baseball player himself, Joon Ho gave up on the sport and became a prison guard, though he is still supportive of Je Hyuk’s career.

The series explores the lives of the inmates with humor and warmth, but that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of darkness. Something that is emblematic of Kdramas is the tonal shifts that are woven into every episode, and Prison Playbook is one of shows that does it most seamlessly.

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Reply 1988

kdramas - reply 1988

Created by the same team that handled Hospital Playlist, one might go so far as to call Reply 1988 the perfect Kdrama. Of course, that would be ignoring the movie length runtime of half its episodes – but if you have the time to spare, this is the show to spend it on. Set in 1988, as the title would imply, the series follows the children of one neighborhood through their high school adventures and family struggles amidst the backdrop of student protests that helped pave the way for South Korea’s democracy.

Sung Deok Sun (played by Lee Hye Ri) is the butt of her family’s jokes for not being as book smart as her sister or as good-natured as her brother, but she also serves as the unofficial matriarch of her friend group and always looks out for her best guy friends. As she enters womanhood, she tries to figure out who she really likes just as the audience guesses who her future husband will be. The Reply series popularized a “guess the husband” trope by dropping clues as to which male in the friend group becomes the leading lady’s love interest, and 1988 really runs with that theme. Speaking of, there is also 1994 and a 1997, but trust me when I say 1988 is the best one.

Historical Fusion

Rookie Historian

kdramas - rookie historian

Kdramas set in pre-Korean times, such as the Joseon or Goryeo periods, are known as sageuks. They tend to be full of palace conflicts, betrayals, war and a formal cadence that may all be off-putting to Kdrama newbies. Thankfully, many producers are well aware of this and to fuse the fancy costumes and political strife with modern sensibilities and language for wider audience appeal. Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung is one such Kdrama, tackling very real aspects of the late Joseon era like court historians and the rise of vaccinations in a lighthearted and fanciful way – and with no actual historical figures maligned in the making.

Though the sensible and quick-witted Goo Hae Ryung (played by Shin Se Kyung) is a noblewoman, her background is rather humble and not many opportunities are afforded her beyond marriage to a civil servant. That is, until a new palace decree announces the advent of female historians to follow the domestic corners of the royal family, and Hae Ryung jumps at the chance to work there. Which is where she runs into the Crown Prince’s younger brother Lee Rim (Cha Eun Woo – yes, I’m biased), who has been hidden away by the King and moonlights as a romance novelist.

Though his whimsy rubs her more practical nature the wrong way, of course they must fall in love. And, of course, there must be a twist of fate in their pasts that means they are closer than either expected. But beyond the adorable romance, this Kdrama is unique for its exploration women’s roles in the palace beyond the much-maligned “court ladies,” as well as for the way it works modern hot-button issues into its historical setting.

100 Days My Prince

100 days my prince

Fewer “serious” issues lie at the heart of 100 Days My Prince, but there is a whole lot of comedy and shenanigans to make up for it. Lee Yul (played by Do Kyung Soo), the fictional Crown Prince of Joseon, is a cold-hearted man who has no friends at the palace… Except for one girl he knew when he was young who tragically disappeared from his life many years ago. After an attempt on his life, he ends up in a neighboring village suffering from temporary amnesia, and who should he encounter but that very same girl whom he can no longer recognize? Come on, it’s a Kdrama! You knew it was coming.

Having recently passed a law that his people must marry before the age of 28, he now finds himself subject to his own rules and wedded to Hong Shim (Nam Ji Hyun). Unfortunately for her, he doesn’t know how to do basic household chores or make money, so it’s up to her to keep him afloat while also desperately trying to reunite with the brother she was separated from after tragedy took her family out of the palace. All the historical Kdrama tropes are present, but calibrated for giggles rather than groans!

Kingdom

kdramas - kingdom

Here’s a Kdrama for those of you who can’t get enough of Netflix originals about zombies. Kingdom is another one on this list that doesn’t stop at a single season, but instead has two seasons and a prequel series. What can I say? It’s Netflix. Lee Chang (played by Ju Ji Hoon) is the Crown Prince in what appears to be a typical sageuk about the Joseon era, until it is revealed that the mysterious illness sweeping the kingdom and killing the King is the Joseon equivalent of a zombie virus.

The prince and the assistant physician Seo Bi (Bae Doo Na) appear to be the last line of defense in a kingdom wracked by plague, and the walking body count is never-ending. The pace is not particularly breakneck, but the tension rises masterfully and the actual zombies are some of the best in the genre. Best of all, it easily pulls you into the world of the story and always delivers on both gore and thought-provoking plot.

Have you seen any of these series before? Which other Korean dramas would you recommend? Is there any platform other than Netflix on which you catch your content? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, or on our social media!

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Tatiana Hullender

Tatiana is an editor for The Illuminerdi, as well as a co-host of several podcasts. She is passionate about superheroes and space operas, as well as Jane Austen and kdramas. Visit @myrcellasear on Twitter to follow Tatiana’s articles, interviews and podcasts including: The Flash Podcast, Pop A La Carte and Ladies With Gumption. Subscribe to them on the Podcast app!