Think you’ve watched everything good on Netflix? Are your shows starting to blur together? It might be time to transport yourself into the world of Korean series, or K-dramas as they’re popularly known.
Despite the name, K-dramas are not just romantic melodramas; the category actually encompasses a lot of quality content, from science fiction to crime thrillers, historical dramas and even comedy. The acting, cinematography, and writing can be so well done, you might find yourself getting hooked. They’re also perfect for binge watching because they traditionally offer more episodes than American streaming series, averaging 16 episodes per season, clocking in at over one hour per episode.
Netflix already has a large selection of titles, and with new ones being added each month, there’s plenty of K-drama on the service to keep you entertained for seasons to come. It can be overwhelming to sift through the hundreds of choices available, so here’s a quick guide to the 20 best K-dramas currently available on Netflix.
Start-Up (2020) | Trailer
A recent Watercooler Pick, this feel-good hit centers around millennials trying to make it in the competitive tech world. Bae Suzy plays likable heroine Seo Dal-mi, an ambitious start-up founder (she wants to be Korea’s Steve Jobs) who finds herself in an awkward love triangle reminiscent of Cyrano De Bergerac. Viewers were split on who Dal-mi should end up with, quiet investor Han Ji-pyeong (Kim Seon-ho) or clumsy engineer Nam Dosan (Nam Joo-hyuk).
Like most K-dramas, the characters in Start-Up are so well developed that you end up feeling bad even for the “bad” guys. This can be the case for supporting characters as well as leads. A particularly poignant relationship occurs between Dal-mi and her grandmother Choi Won-deok (Kim Hae-sook), with family ties taking center stage throughout the show.
One Spring Night (2019) | Trailer
One Spring Night is a simplistic series by K-drama standards, focusing on just one love story and a few of the pair’s family members. Librarian Lee Joeng-in (Han Ji-min) meets pharmacist Yu Ji-ho (Jung Hae-in) by chance and their lives are forever changed. No over-the-top acting to be found, Jung Hae-in and Han Ji-min showcase understated restraint. With emotion bubbling below the surface, each scene feels recognizable. A slow burn that pays off in the end, One Spring Night also has an irresistible child actor, Ha Yi-ahn.
Crash Landing On You (2019) | Trailer
When a paragliding accident takes famous South Korean heiress Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) to North Korea, soldier Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin) agrees to hide her until she can get home safely. While the premise may sound cheesy, Crash Landing On You is a well executed story of forbidden romance that won over critics and fans worldwide. Hyun Bin and Son Ye-Jin’s on-screen chemistry was so electric fans were thrilled to find out the romance continued off screen when the two officially confirmed their relationship.
Boys Over Flowers (2009) | Trailer
Working class Geum Jan-di (Koo Hye-sun) wins a scholarship to a prestigious high school full of wealthy and elite students. There, she clashes with F4, a clique of popular boys who run the school. Boys Over Flowers is ultimately a feel good rom-com in the style of She’s All That and Pretty in Pink. The poor girl must face down the bullies, the elites, and, of course, her crush. The soundtrack and styling choices are famous in the world of K-dramas, and they may bring back memories.
Beyond Evil (2021) | Trailer
This K-drama beat out heavy hitters It’s Okay To Not Be Okay and Vincenzo at the 2021 Baeksang Awards. When a young woman is murdered in a similar fashion to a cold case from twenty years earlier, a small town is turned upside down with suspicion, secrets, and revelations. Unlike many popular K-dramas, Beyond Evil doesn’t include a love triangle or much comic relief. This is a darker piece for mature audiences. The ensemble cast is terrific, led by Shin Ha-kyun (Best Actor winner) as suspect-turned-detective Lee Donsik.
Vagabond (2019) | Trailer
After a tragic plane crash, a stuntman Chal Da-gun (Lee Seung-gi) searches for answers and unveils a web of political corruption spanning from Morocco to Korea. Rom-com darling Bae Suzy (Start-Up) takes on a different role here as an NIS agent trying to expose corruption from the inside. Fans of the Jason Bourne series will enjoy this one for the edge-of-your-seat action sequences and shocking twists and turns.
Stranger (2017) | Trailer
Netflix reportedly paid $200,000 per episode for the rights to stream Stranger on their platform worldwide after its initial airing on Korean network TvN. Hwang Si-mok (Cho Seung-woo) lacks social skills but is a remarkable prosecutor. When he meets detective Han Yeo-jin (Bae Doo-na) at a murder scene, the two start investigating a serial-killer case connected to a national conspiracy. While the mystery in Stranger may hook viewers, it’s the chemistry between Cho Seung-woo and Bae Doo-na that steals the show. The two leads play off of each other effortlessly, forming a memorable duo that propelled the series into a successful second season.
Sweet Home (2020) | Trailer
From 2017 to 2020 Sweet Home—a successful digital comic written by Kim Carnby and illustrated by Hwang Young-chan—captivated readers worldwide. Production company Studio Dragon took the 140 chapter story and turned it into a 10-episode K-drama for Netflix in 2020. Sweet Home centers around depressed teen Chan Hyun-soo (Song Kang) as he’s thrust into a fight for his life when zombies take over his apartment building. The scares are genuinely frightening, so this may not be the best choice for young viewers. But if zombies or post-apocalyptic stories are your thing, Sweet Home will raise hairs and captivate.
Kingdom (2019) | Trailer
Kingdom, one of the Watercooler’s early picks, became suddenly relevant during the pandemic, as it focuses on a crown prince trying to protect his throne as a fast-spreading mysterious plague starts bringing dead people to life. Based on the webtoon Kingdom of The Gods, it was the first K-drama made specifically for Netflix in 2019. Packed with horror, action, gore, and political gamesmanship, it’s been compared to both The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. In addition to its two full seasons, Kingdom spawned a feature length prequel, Kingdom: Ashin of the North, which just premiered in July.
100 Days My Prince (2018) | Trailer
When the crown prince of Joseon, Lee Yul (Do Kyung-soo), is injured during an assassination attempt, he loses his memory. A villager nurses him back to health, and soon a romance blossoms between the prince and the villager’s daughter, Hong-sheim (Nam Ji-Hyun). The chemistry between the romantic leads will keep you watching this story of mistaken identity, political corruption, and budding love. Lead Do Kyung-soo is also a K-Pop star known as D.O., a member of the band EXO. His bandmate Chen adds to the popular soundtrack with “Cherry Blossom Love Song.”
Mr. Sunshine (2018) | Trailer
Don’t let the title fool you, Mr. Sunshine is far from sunny. A sweeping historical drama set just before the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1910, it tells the story of Eugene Choi (veteran actor Lee Byung Hun), who escapes slavery and flees to the US, where he joins the Marine Corps. The 24 episode series follows him as he returns to Korea, becomes an activist, and falls in love with an aristocrat’s granddaughter Ko Ae-shin (Kim Tae-ri), who becomes an assassin. While the series explores real historical events and portrays key figures — including Emperor Gojong, Ito Hirobumi, and Theodore Roosevelt — it’s been criticized for its historical inaccuracies. Still, it’s an ambitious, immersive drama that will spark your curiosity to learn more about history, and you’ll see why it’s earned awards for cinematography, acting, and best overall drama.
My Only Love Song (2017) | Trailer
Famous actress Song Soo-jun (Gong Seung-yeon) storms off set and accidentally travels back in time to the sixth century. There, she meets On-dal (Lee Jong-hyun), an ambitious man hampered by his kind heart. Reminiscent of Overboard, this spoiled “fish out of water” series is full of humor and charm. The acting can sometimes be over the top, but that’s more or less the point and the style of this kooky drama. A good pick for lighthearted historical romance.
The Uncanny Counter (2020) | Trailer
The Uncanny Counter centers around a group of unlikely superheroes working at a noodle shop. The four-member crew all gained powers after near-death experiences and are now charged with capturing evil spirits who inhabit humans and commit crimes. The “counters” are a bridge between life on earth and the afterlife.
The main characters, led by So Moon (Jo Byung-gyu), add heart and humor to action scenes with masterful special effects by Studio Dragon. While at times funny and exciting, The Uncanny Counter packs an emotional punch. Get your tissues ready and enjoy the wild ride!
Mystic Pop Up Bar (2020) | Trailer
Based on the digital comic, Twin Top Bars is quirky, heartfelt, and fun. The story centers on an outdoor bar that travels through time and space to help customers fix their problems, and the healing is accomplished by entering customers’ dreams. Hwang Jung-eum steals the show as bar owner Weol-ju. Mystic Pop Up Bar injects humor and playfulness into subject matter that usually takes a darker tone in K-dramas. There’s still plenty of tears to be shed and, of course, an epic love story sure to delight viewers who have grown tired of the traditional romcom tropes.
The King: Eternal Monarch (2020) | Trailer
The King: Eternal Monarch centers around modern-day emperor Lee Gon (Lee Min-ho), who finds a portal to a parallel world. This sweeping drama split viewers and critics. Some found its non-linear storyline hard to follow, while others loved the different worlds and epic romantic plot spanning time and space. The King: Eternal Monarch is an ambitious K-drama with a big budget. If sci-fi is your thing, give it a chance.
Signal (2016) | Trailer
A police drama with a twist, this series pairs present-day criminal profiler Park Hae-young (Lee Je-hoon) with a detective from 1989, Lee Jae-han (Cho Jin-woong) via a magical walkie-talkie. While the premise may seem basic, Signal offers compelling performances and storylines. Many of the crimes portrayed were inspired by real-life crimes in Korea, including the Hwaseong serial murderers. The second season was greenlit for a 2020 release, but conflicts and Covid have held up production.
Hospital Playlist (2020) | Trailer
Hospital Playlist follows the trials and triumphs of five good friends who met in medical school in 1999. Now in their 40s, each doctor specializes in a different field and has a drastically different personality. A refreshing take on a medical drama, it often leaves out manufactured emergencies and hospital politics while showing the doctors’ lives outside of work. Music bonds the five friends more than anything else. After they perform life-saving surgeries, the main characters get together to jam out in their own band. Currently in its second season, Hospital Playlist is funny, heartwarming, and surprisingly relatable.
Move To Heaven (2021) | Trailer
Do you know what a trauma cleaner is? They clean up after a person has died and return the belongings to a family member or friend. Real-life trauma cleaner Kim Sae-byul’s essay “Things Left Behind” inspired this 10-part series. In Move To Heaven, each episode deals with a new death, giving writers a chance to show a wide-ranging set of circumstances and characters. This happens as trauma cleaners Geu-ru (Tang Joon-sang), an autistic 20-year-old, and Sang-gu (Lee Je-hoon), his estranged uncle, have their own trauma to contend with.
Move To Heaven puts a spotlight on social issues many K-dramas find too taboo to portray onscreen, including a love story between two men, illegal foreign adoptions, and suicide. It sounds heavy, but nosy neighbor Yoon Na-mu (Hong Seung-hee) offers plenty of comedic relief. Thought-provoking and moving, Move To Heaven is ultimately life-affirming. But be prepared—Episode 8 is perhaps the saddest K-drama episode I’ve ever watched.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (2020) | Trailer
This romantic drama centers around three characters in desperate need of healing. Moon Gang-tee (Kim Soo-hyun) is a hospital orderly who dutifully takes care of his autistic brother, Moon Sang-tee (Oh Jung-se). When the two come into contact with children’s author Ko Moon-young (Seo Yea-ji), she becomes obsessed with Gang-tee and romantically pursues him while working with his brother on her new book. Although the romantic storyline is compelling, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay is a series about mental health, confronting past traumas, and moving forward with hope. The message resonated strongly with viewers, scoring high ratings and critical acclaim.
Graceful Friends (2020) | Trailer
When an unexpected death occurs in a group of friends, their lives start to unravel in this enthralling drama that asks the question: Do you ever really know those closest to you? Graceful Friends centers on a close-knit group of middle-aged college friends. Betrayal, murder, and past insecurities provide plenty of drama for viewers, but it’s the more subtle moments that gain Graceful Friends a spot on my list. The supporting characters steal the show with adult film director Jo Hyung-woo (Kim Sung-oh) and his wife, Kang Kyung-ja (Kim Hye-eun), providing humor and heart.