Top K-Dramas to Watch for Cultural Knowledge

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Wondering what to watch this year? Maybe try these 12 top K-drama recommendations for 2023. This year we created a watch list of Korea’s top K-dramas. The list may help you learn more about Korean culture, social asperiations, and life.

Watching K-dramas to Help with Cultural Integration

Settling into a new cultural becomes easier with shared cultural knowledge. Since Korean pop-culture exists separately than other countries, you have to catch up. Catching up on local pop-culture means committing to the research. One of the easiest ways to do this includes binge watching Korean dramas.

Pop-culture provides an easy way to start a fun conversation and build relationships. As someone who moved to the Lower 48 without watching US TV or listing to US popular music, trust me that you need to do this. Fitting into society was painfully difficult to build friendships until I caught up on pop-culture. It turns out that many casual relationships begin with a shared understanding of current culture. When I moved to South Korea I did not make the same mistake. I paid close attention to pop culture related to my age group and it help my transition a lot.

In 2023, I thought it would be fun to create a pop-culture starter guide that the South of Seoul community can follow along with over the year. Some people might start this journey once they arrive in South Korea, while others might choose to begin this journey in the months before their relocation.

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South of Seoul K-Drama Recommendations

In response to this goal, in 2023 I will lead an Arts & Entertainment Initiative including K-drama recommendations for those just getting into the genre. The recommendations in this post include the top dramas in recent years. Consider them a K-drama primer that will quickly take you down the rabbit hole. Once you complete this list, we encourage you to dig deeper into the K-drama history and find more dramas to watch from the past as well as current dramas.

Watching K-Dramas with English Subs

Interestingly, since you may need English subtitles for your K-dramas you may run into streaming issues in South Korea. A variety of websites popular with K-drama fans can’t actually stream in South Korea without the help of a VPN.

While living in Korea, we recommend the following online sites for K-Dramas while living in South Korea:

  • Netflix
  • Watcha (Not all series have English subs)
  • Amazon Prime Video (not everything is available)

With some creativity like a great VPN, you may find other options for watching K-dramas with English subs on free sites. Keep in mind, not all VPNs work and sometimes they quit working for a while when sites find new ways to detect them. Since many of the options may not be entirely legal, we will leave these alternative choices up to you.

Although we figure most folks know what K-dramas are these days, not everyone does. Some people may not so let’s dig deeper into the K-drama genre as we start your recommendations.

What are Korean Dramas?

Korean dramas, also known as K-dramas, are television dramas produced in South Korea. They typically consist of 16-24 episodes and air on Korean television networks, such as KBS, MBC, and SBS. Korean dramas are known for their unique storytelling, engaging characters, and emotional storytelling. Many of them have gained popularity not only in South Korea but also around the world. Particularly in other parts of Asia and among fans of foreign language television dramas.

Why do people love Korean Dramas?

There are many reasons why people love Korean dramas and become addicted to them. One reason is that people love the story telling. K-dramas are known for their engaging storylines and well-developed characters, which often include a mix of romance, comedy, and drama. Another reason is that Korean dramas often have a strong sense of culture and place. Such information allows viewers to learn about South Korean customs and traditions.

Additionally, many Korean dramas have relatable themes and messages, such as the importance of family, friendship, and following one’s dreams. Furthermore, the high production values and visually stunning cinematography of Korean dramas add to their appeal. Overall, Korean dramas offer a unique and enjoyable viewing experience that has made them popular around the world.

Korea’s Most Watched Dramas

Korea’s most-watched Korean dramas vary depending on the time period and the television network on which they are aired. However, for this blog post we want to focus on some popular and highly-rated Korean dramas so that you have a strong cultural catalog of common pop-cultural knowledge after your first year living in South Korea.

Foundational Korean Dramas in A Year

Feel free to mix and match the order of these dramas to fit your taste. We create the list based on months to create a framework to build pop-cultural knowledge over time.

January “Crash Landing on You”

This drama tells the story of a South Korean heiress who accidentally crash lands in North Korea and falls in love with a North Korean army officer who helps her hide and eventually returns to South Korea.

February “Itaewon Class”

This drama follows the story of a young man who opens a bar in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul and takes on a group of misfits as employees, who help him seek revenge against the corrupt corporation that caused his father’s death.

March “Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo”

This historical drama is a retelling of the Chinese novel “Bu Bu Jing Xin” and follows a 21st century woman who is transported back in time to the Goryeo Dynasty and falls in love with the princes of the royal family.

April “The Heirs”

This drama follows a group of wealthy and privileged high school students as they navigate love, friendship, and the pressures of their families’ expectations.

May “Reply 1988”

This coming-of-age drama follows a group of friends who grow up together in a small neighborhood in Seoul in the late 1980s.

June “My Love from the Star”

This drama tells the story of an alien who has been living on Earth for 400 years and falls in love with a famous actress.

July “Boys Over Flowers”

This drama is a modern retelling of the classic novel “The Great Gatsby,” and follows a group of wealthy and privileged high school students who fall in love and experience personal growth.

August “Hotel del Luna”

This fantasy drama tells the story of a man who becomes the manager of a hotel for ghosts and a mysterious woman who is the hotel’s owner.

September “The Uncanny Counter”

This drama is based on a webtoon of the same name and follows a group of young people who have the ability to hunt down and capture malevolent spirits known as “demons.” These young people, known as “Counters,” work at a noodle restaurant as a front for their demon-hunting activities.

October “Goblin or Guardian: The Lonely and Great God”

This fantasy drama tells the story of a goblin who is trying to find a human bride to end his immortal life, and the human woman who becomes involved in his fate.

November “Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo”

This coming-of-age drama follows the friendship and romantic relationships of a group of college athletes.

December “Moonlight Drawn by Clouds”

This historical drama is a fictionalized retelling of the life of King Hyomyeong and follows a young man who disguises himself as a woman to serve as the king’s eunuch and falls in love with him.

If you find yourself falling in love with dramas like so many before you, you may also enjoy these other South of Seoul Blogs: