We all have that one friend that just doesn’t get our
obsession dedication with K-dramas. (Frankly, sometimes I don’t get it either—I just choose not to question it.) Whether you have that friend or you are that friend, here I have some of the best dramas to get any non-fan hooked. The following shows are the ones I, personally, believe really stick with you and leave you wanting more. All perfect for starting your drama journey. So take the journey! You know you want tooooo.
(*In no particular order)
1. My Love From Another Star (★★★★★) – I love when dramas add a touch of fantasy because they’re always able to lace it into the story in a fluid way while keeping its originality. And this love story between a Hallyu star and an alien certainly is original. The couple is already insanely sweet (and downright hilarious), but the drama keeps the stakes high with a killer on the loose and the threat of tearing our poor couple apart. It’s definitely an oddball of a show, even for drama standards, but that’s part of its charm.
2. You’re Beautiful (?) – If you saw my Unfinished Business post, you know I still haven’t finished this drama. I know, I know… *lowers head in shame* However, I did get pretty far before I got myself into those damn spoilers, and I loved everything about it. The idea of an innocent nun posing as her brother to join an all boy band sounded so ridiculously fun (and also reminded me of my favorite manga, Hana-Kimi) that I couldn’t pass it up. There are times when the plot seems totally implausible, but this drama really is all about having a good time and not paying too much attention to the logic (or lack thereof).
3. Kill Me, Heal Me (★★★★★) – Despite the hilarious screenshot I chose, I love Kill Me, Heal Me for its dark, gritty take on one man’s tragic past and the consequences he must endure (i.e. Six bothersome, yet gut-bustingly funny personalities). Male lead Ji Sung‘s acting alone is enough reason to pick this one up, but what really drives it home is the intricate plot. Just when you think you know something, the drama laughs in your face and throws another curveball. It’s an experience worth all the tears and frustration.
4. I Hear Your Voice (★★★★★) – A Noona romance can be weird for new viewers, and I can understand since I wasn’t exactly on board at first. But, now, it’s probably my favorite sub-genre. You just can’t resist a lovesick puppy in the rain. I mean, look at him! >.< Other than the undeniable cuteness, what drew me in was mixing a young mind-reader into an intense legal thriller. Though mind-reading may seem cool, and plenty useful in the courtroom, we see how this ability has completely isolated the male lead and how it’s affected the way he looks at society. To go on, the drama had great twists, and an absolutely wonderful look at revenge and what it really means to protect that person you love. Not to mention it’s also the drama where I first fell for Noona killer Lee Jong Suk.
5. Marriage, Not Dating (★★★★☆) – No rom-com has ever made me laugh as much as this one. Even the background music gets me giggling. It’s just so good. Every character is quirky, memorable, and surprisingly modern. (The female lead played by Han Groo legit felt like a friend I’d know today.) The whole romance is modern and it doesn’t feel over-romanticized or cheesy. Dramas are a great escape into (let’s face it) unrealistic relationship goals, but it’s nice to see something a little more relatable like Marriage, Not Dating. Love isn’t always just daffodils and back hugs; there’s plenty of awkwardness that comes with the deal.
6. Coffee Prince (★★★★★) – Should be renamed Coffee King, because this surely is the king of all gender-bender dramas. (I’d even go as far to say it’s the king of all rom-coms.) Though I enjoyed what I saw in You’re Beautiful, the whole girl pretending to be a boy thing didn’t work quite as well as it did in this one. And I think it’s all due to Yoon Eun Hye‘s spot-on performance. You could sorta see her as a guy appearance-wise, but it was her entire tomboyish demeanor that sold it and made me believe the people around her truly had no idea she was a girl. I feel like anyone who loves the movie She’s the Man (that’s gotta be everybody, right?) will get the same satisfaction from this drama.
7. City Hunter (★★★★★) – One of the biggest badasses in town. That’s all you need to know. Okay, there’s a little more to it than that, but this really is one of those exciting, popcorn type of dramas. It is awesome. Seeing a masked vigilante take down a whole bunch of baddies again and again, one after the other is just so invigorating. It reminds me of why I love superheroes like Spider-Man so much. Now whenever I see an evil villain in any other drama totally stepping all over the protagonists, I just want City Hunter-sshi to crash in and kick some ass. (Come on, Lee Min Ho, you could make a few Yoon Sung cameos here and there.)
8. Healer (★★★★★) – And since we’re talking about City Hunter, I, of course, have to talk about Healer, our other badass hero. To be fair, I see Healer as a completely separate thing from City Hunter even though it’s hard not to compare them. They’re both exceptional on their own, but I will admit that Healer takes up waaay more room in my heart. If there was a checklist for the perfect drama, this wouldn’t have a single box unchecked. It’s got smart writing, intense action, and all the while, there’s this whole big mystery surrounding all the characters that is so exciting to watch unfold. And the two leads… Ah, gosh. City Hunter-sshi is great, but if you want a romance to end all romances, look no further. Healer will straight up roundhouse kick you in the feels. *looks off into space* All right, before I start writing an entire essay on why you must watch this, I should move on… *clears throat*
9. Pinocchio (★★★★☆) – The fictional Pinocchio Syndrome (in which the person hiccups whenever they lie) puts an interesting take on the leads’ relationship here, letting them be more open and outright about their feelings. It gave the show the opportunity to ditch certain drama tropes and concentrate on more important things. Lee Jong Suk and Park Shin Hye are the cutest together, but it really is more about the journey they and their other pals take as they learn the ropes of being real reporters. Being someone who didn’t exactly look at reporters in the greatest light, I was able to get some major insight into the inner workings of their minds. It did make me appreciate them and their profession a little more.
10. Dream High (★★★★☆) – Another intriguing look at an industry we never really know too much about. The Korean music business is like an entirely different entity. After all, there is a reason why it’s gaining more and more popularity all over the world. This drama showcases all the backbreaking hard work idols have to endure as they try to climb the ladder of success. It shows the rewards and the downsides with many different types of characters and their struggles, whether it be image, peer-pressure or some disability. Though it does reveal a lot of what the industry is like, I think it could’ve been so much darker than it was, seeing that idols in real life seriously go through hell. But the drama’s overall message was meant to be a hopeful one, so I think it still delivered. This drama is also a good gateway into K-pop, but that’s another story….
What was my gateway drama, you may ask? Well, technically, the first time I remember ever getting interested was when I walked in on my mom watching a 2005 makjang called War of Roses on TV. I was instantly hooked (which was weird, since it wasn’t exactly the type of show the ten-year-old me should’ve been into). From then on, whenever my mom was watching Korean TV, I’d always join her. However, I didn’t start going out of my way to look for dramas until I saw an ad for Boys Over Flowers somewhere online.
So why is BOF and other classics like Secret Garden not on my list? Though they’re drama fan favorites, I don’t think they’re the best for a newbie to start off with. For instance, I tried showing one of my friends BOF and she couldn’t get past the first twenty minutes. However, my friend did, to her own surprise, enjoy some of the dramas I listed above, especially Healer and I Hear Your Voice. Anyway, though these are my picks, I understand people may enjoy other shows or genres for their own reasons. But, hey, Dramaland is a pretty big place. No matter what, there’s something in there for everybody. You just gotta start lookin’.
What was your gateway drama? And what would you recommend to a friend? 🙂