Here are my favorite Korean dramas aired prior to 2016. The only criterion is my level of enjoyment.
* Photos grabbed from Kissasian.sh
Two murder witnesses — one who eventually became a public defender, and the other a high school student who has the power to read minds –reunite to take on the murderer who is out to take revenge on them after being released from prison.
Genre: Law, Suspense, Fantasy
* This is my favorite K-drama of all time! I almost missed work because I couldn’t stop watching this. The story, the acting, the music — everything was excellent! The fantasy element was mixed in just the right amount. The different cases they worked on were thought-provoking and complex enough to leave me guessing yet were still very believable. It called attention to several ethical and sociological themes that I haven’t really bothered thinking about before. The villain was also super effective. I was genuinely scared of him to the point that whenever I see that actor in other dramas, I instinctively hate his character. And finally and perhaps most notably, I was very pleased that the noona-dongsaeng love story in this was well-developed and rightly paced despite all the legal hullabaloo.
An alien gets stuck on earth for over 400 years and ends up looking after the most popular Hallyu star who looks like his first love in the Joseon era
Genre: Fantasy, Comedy, Romance
* The interaction between the two main characters who were polar opposites was really funny. I also liked how the alien couldn’t resist protecting and helping the girl out. He was always mindful of her and did sweet things for her discreetly. Moreover, I thought the segments that followed a sort-of documentary format wherein the characters were interviewed, and some scenes showing classroom lectures discussing philosophies on love and relationships, were utilized skillfully to reinforce the story and develop the characters.
A scholar from the Joseon era who supported the reinstatement of Queen In Hyun after being deposed, time travels to modern day Seoul and falls in love with an actress who plays the role of Queen In Hyun in a TV drama
Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Romance
* That library scene was the cutest ever! I re-watch that scene every time I’m bored and just want to feel happy. The female lead was so adorable when she made a move on that smart-ass scholar who kept on feigning ignorance.
Genius surgeon from North Korea flees to South Korea to find his long-lost lover
Genre: Drama, Medical, Romance
* The acting was impeccable and the storyline was brilliant. This is a heavy drama but Lee Jong-Suk’s character was so well-rounded that he was a little bit of everything — an action star at times, a comic relief, a prince charming, a drama king, and even a villain. It didn’t end up the way I wanted but I thought it was still a good ending for the series art-wise.
A boy whose family falls victim to bad media gets adopted into the family of the very reporter who caused his family’s ill-fate. To make things worse, he falls for the said reporter’s estranged daughter.
Genre: Politics, Romance, Melodrama
* I liked that the characters who were initially victims of circumstance turned things around and began commanding their lives. It’s an unlikely story but you get by through living off those brief, cheesy moments between the two attractive leads.
A female detective who can see and communicate with ghosts is partnered with a hotheaded rookie cop in the lost and found department. Together, they solve cold cases to help the ghosts to find peace.
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Romance
* This series was exciting not only because they were solving cold cases, but also because it was really hard to choose between the spirit ex-boyfriend and Taecyeon. My heart literally broke 💔, skipped, and jumped out on this one.
A news anchor finds nine incense sticks that allow him to briefly travel back in time to save his family, recover his love, and change the present.
Genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Suspense
* The story unfolded artistically. I like the concept wherein the character needed to solve the mystery given a limited number of chances and a time limit for each chance.
A love triangle between a successful furniture designer, her current boyfriend who is a romantic plastic surgeon, and her ex, a competitive CEO of an interior design company whom she has to work with for a major project
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama
* I like the structure of this drama. It used a stream of consciousness narrative mode depicted through interviews and flashbacks. It was creative. Apart from that, I pretty much hated everything else. The female lead was so indecisive all throughout and kept leading the men on. Also, the story romanticizes the fact that she cheated on her boyfriend with her ex using true love as an excuse. Anyway, considering it made me feel strongly against it this much makes it deserving to be part of the top 10.
A man who was trained to become a professional baduk player since he was young failed to achieve his dream, and is forced to enter the real world armed with nothing but a high school equivalency exam on his resume.
Genre: Business, Comedy, Melodrama
* Beautifully written. I love how this challenges conventional measures of a person’s worth. Character development was on point.
Ex-nobleman who witnessed the king murdering his father grows up to become a rebellious Robin Hood slash ninja crossover character sworn to take revenge.
Genre: Historical, Action, Romance
* This set the bar high for period dramas. The problem I usually have with period dramas is that it gets dragging after some time especially if the love story isn’t the main focus. Well, this is an exception. The storyline was intriguing, the fight scenes were superb, and I thought the main character was cooler than most modern superheroes. Lee Joon-Gi is an excellent actor.
Poor girl enters a university for rich kids and becomes BFFs with the richest and most popular boys on campus
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Melodrama
* No doubt a classic. This rendition wins in flair and romance. I had a really bad case of second lead syndrome. Anyway, the So Yi-Jung side story was cute.
The children of fallen soldiers who were killed by their fellow countrymen to prevent a secret mission getting exposed, are out to seek revenge on the politicians who ordered their parents killed.
Genre: Action, Politics, Romance
* The story was compelling. The soldiers were treated as dispensable tools to achieve political goals. It showed different perspectives on a tragic event: the idealism and patriotism of soldiers and how they risked their lives to complete their mission; the struggles of a politician, how heavy and complex the decisions they make are, and how they have to carry the burden of their implication; and lastly, the point of view of their families and other civilians. Overall, this series makes you reflect on how tragic reality is.
The captain of the royal guards from the Goryeo era time travels to modern-day Seoul and kidnaps a plastic surgeon to bring back to his time in order to save the queen’s life.
Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Romance
* It has the ingredients of a drama that suits my taste: has fantasy elements, has a manly, protective male lead preferably younger, and a smart, highly capable female lead preferably older. The historical setting is a plus. The most memorable scene was when everybody was shocked to see the doctor wearing shorts when she went to see the captain of the guards, and the captain rolled his eyes in disgust (or was it jealousy?).
The story of six students from different walks of life who are aspiring to become pop stars.
Genre: Music, Romance, Melodrama
* This was light and enjoyable. It was interesting to see how the characters dealt with their own flaws and insecurities. All the characters were likable but the country bumpkin was my favorite. He was sweet and sincere. He was cool in his own right even before his ‘makeover’. His character also had depth. I thought it was fresh how he was groomed as the ‘second male lead’ up until the latter episodes.
A tsundere vampire surgeon who suppresses his thirst for blood to save terminally ill patients finds himself attracted to a smart, rich and cocky lady doctor
Genre: Medical, Fantasy, Romance
* I like how the series talks about what it means to be truly human. The lead male struggled to overcome his vampire instincts to pursue higher morals and values that makes him more humane than most people.
Honorable Mentions (sorted by year)
Twenty Again (2015)
Kill Me, Heal Me (2015)
Sassy, Go Go (2015)
Dr. Frost (2015)
Divorce Lawyer in Love (2015)
High School – Love On (2014)
I Need Romance 3 (2014)
The Night Watchman (2014)
Liar Game (2014)
My Secret Hotel (2014)
Emergency Couple (2014)
Plus Nine Boys (2014)
Bride of the Century (2014)
My Lovely Girl (2014)
Medical Top Team (2013)
The Heirs (2013)
Dream High 2 (2012)
Love Rain (2012)
The King 2 Hearts (2012)
Arang and the Magistrate (2012)
Rooftop Prince (2012)
Shut Up Flower Boy Band (2012)
My Princess (2011)
Flower Boy Ramyun Shop (2011)
Mary Stayed Out All Night (2010)
Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)
King of Baking, Kim Tak Goo (2010)
Personal Preference (2010)
Mischievous Kiss (2010)
My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox (2010)
The Return of Iljimae (2009)
You’re Beautiful (2009)
Shining Inheritance (2009)
Hong Gil Dong (2008)
Goong S (2008)
My Girl (2006)