The year 2021 has been an interesting when it comes to K-dramas. Be it romance, thriller, or slice-of-life stories, it has been a year of great wins in terms of Korean content. We all were deeply attracted to suave and sassy Vincenzo Cassano, fell in love with our dimpled Chief Hong, rooted for the IkSong couple, and danced a few turns with Lee Chae Rok. On one hand K-drama-land was filled with rosy images and butterflies with dramas like Hometown Cha Cha Cha, and on the other hand, there was constant thrill, dystopian stories and cliff-hanger with dramas like Squid Game.
From Vincenzo to Hometown Cha Cha Cha, The Devil Judge to Hospital Playlist – 15 impactful Korean dramas in 2021
Here are our 15 picks from the host of 2021 K-Dramas! Which one did you like the most? (Note: The following list presents the dramas in an alphabetical order of their titles. This list is not a ranking for the dramas.)
Beyond Evil is a drama which will make one question their reality. The drama focuses on two detectives as they team up to find a serial killer. Throughout their journey, they discover much more than evidence and motive for the murders. They find the hidden secrets and ambitions of those around them, which makes them question the truth at every turn. The drama stars Shin Ha Kyun (Soul Mechanic) as Lee Dong Shik and Yeo Jin Goo (Hotel Del Luna) as Han Jo Woon in the lead roles. Choi Dae Hun, Kim Shin Rok and Choi Eun Sang among others play prominent roles in the drama.
Happiness concluded recently and in its wake, left a cathartic experience for the viewers. Set in a world which is now accustomed to living with the fear of COVID-19 virus, Happiness is quite the dystopian drama. It tells the story of the main leads Yoon Sae Beom, a special task force member and Jung Yi Hyun as former baseball player-turned-detective as they and the residents of the Le Ceil building battle the next unknown deadly virus pandemic. This unknown virus turns humans into flesh eating beings who attack other humans to quench their thirst and hunger. The drama stars Han Hyo Joo (W-Two Worlds) and Park Hyung Sik (Strong Woman Do Bong Soon; The Heirs). It marks their return to the drama world after a gap of six years and return from the military, respectively. With Jo Woo Jin (Chicago Typewriter) playing a prominent role as Han Tae Seok, former military personnel who is now tasked with battling this unknown strain of virus. The drama showcases the uncertainty, the fight or flight mode, the morality and the conscious of the people who are faced with an uncertain future, with the risk of losing their lives. Despite the grim nature of the show, the light hearted and beautiful moments between the leads are something to look forward to in the drama.
The drama got every audience member fawning for a relationship like Chief Hong [Kim Seon Ho] and Hye Jin [Shin Min Ha]. Hometown Cha Cha Cha is the one for the books. The drama is as breezy as its title. Set in a quaint little coastal town, the drama chronicles the lives of its inhabitants and the blooming romance between the main leads. Each character carries their own set of problems, but those are soon resolved with understanding and meaningful communication. The drama promoted the meaning and the need of having a healthy relationship, while at the same time staying firm on one’s individuality without forcing it on one another. The drama marked Shin Min Ah’s (Oh My Venus, Arang and the Magistrate) highly anticipated comeback to the small screen, and each minute of her presence on screen was worth the wait. Granny Gam Ri won our hearts with her sweet and caring approach, whereas the town’s residents made us feel at home with their homely presence.
One cannot say ‘Best dramas of 2021’ without mentioning Hospital Playlist 2. This K-drama is a healing series chronicling the lives of doctors, nurses, residents and patients. Despite being a medical-centric show, it delivers lessons of life with ease. The medical talk doesn’t overpower but enriches the narrative. The drama stars Jo Jung Suk (Exit), Yoo Yoon Seuk (Mr. Sunshine), Kim Dae Myoung (The Sound of your Heart), Jeon Mi Do (Mother), and Jung Kyung Ho (Prison Playbook) in the lead roles as doctors for departments at the Yeuljae Medical Center. The five doctors and their stories have become an indispensable part of the audience’s lives. The sequel of Hospital Playlist was one of the most highly anticipated returns owing to a gap of over a year. From the music, to the quotable one-liners to even matters of the heart, each arc is handled and executed with extreme finesse. The blooming romances, the friendships in different ages and beyond make this series a special one. With the way season 2 ended, the anticipated for season 3 is more than ever!
D.P. stars Jung Hae In (Something in the Rain) in the lead as Ahn Jun Ho, a young boy who served in the military and one day became a part of the army defector arrest team. The drama is only 6 episodes long, but packs a punch nonetheless. The story makes ample use of dark humour to deliver serious situations with ease. The drama is much about than just the arrests as it delves into the minds of those who defect the military and abscond. The drama is based on the webtoon D.P. Dog Day written by Kim Bo Tong and there is a second season in the making! The drama also stars Ko Kyu Hwan (Maggie) as Han Ho Yul, Kim Sung Kyun (Reply 1988; Moon Lovers Scarlet Heart Ryeo) as Park Bum Goo in prominent roles. The Netflix series has been renewed for season 2.
We have seen dramas depicting life inside and outside a courtroom, but what about life that happens before the courtroom comes into picture? The answer to that question is the drama Law School. The drama chronicles the lives of students studying at a law school as they tackle prejudices, extreme pressures and expectations to becoming the best of the best in the business. Amidst all this, the teachers and the students are caught up in a serious murder case which tests their knowledge and limits. From murder mystery to sexual harassment, many serious topics are covered in this underrated show of 2021. Law School stars Kim Myung Min (Immortal Admiral Yi Sun Shin), Kim Beom (Tale of the Nine Tailed, Boys Over Flowers), Ryu Hye Young (Reply 1988)and Lee Jung Eun(Parasite) in prominent roles.
Mine is a female centric drama that focuses on two women as they navigate power, break the stereotypes and hope to find their true selves. Lee Bo Young’s (When My Love Blooms) Seo Hee Soo and Kim Seo Hyung’s (Sky Castle) Jung Seo Hyun hail from rich backgrounds, and are married. The story follows their lives as they try to fit in to families and responsibilities, all at the same time trying to not lose themselves. VIXX’s N aka Cha Hak Yeon plays a supporting role in the drama. What makes the drama a cliff-hanger, is the format of the show. It is no less than a makjang drama, which is full of unexpected twists, narratives and glamorous execution.
Netflix series Move to Heaven is based on a non-fiction essay Things Left Behind written by professional trauma cleaner Kim Sae Byul. The drama stars Lee Je Hoon (Taxi Driver, Phantom Detective) and Tang Jun Sang (Crash Landing on You, Racket Boys) in the lead roles. Tang Jun Sang plays the role of Geu Roo, an autistic boy who works with his father’s business ‘Move to Heaven’, a company that arranges for the things left by the deceased. Lee Je Hoon plays the role of Geu Roo’s uncle, a former underground fighting champion who takes over ‘Move to Heaven’ after Geu Roo’s father’s death. Despite the grim nature of the job, the drama imparts meaningful lessons on life, grief and death. Each story is like a dot on a paper. These dots, when connected present a beautiful picture of emotions and slice-of-life drama.
Nevertheless star Han So Hee returned to the screen with My Name. The drama is compared to the lines of blockbuster Korean movies like Villainess. My Name is one of those fewer dramas with a female lead centric plotline. Han So Hee’s character in her previous dramas and this one are shades apart. She channels a dashing, daring and violent self to portray her role Ji Woo. The drama ticks several boxes as it sports a trance-like OST matching the mood of the drama, the artistically shot fight scenes, and also the final showdown between the characters. My Name also stars Ahn Bo Hyun (Itaewon Class, Yumi’s Cells) and Park Hee Soon (Beautiful World) in the lead roles as it chronicles the story of a young woman, who sees her father being murdered right in front of her eyes, and abandons everything to join the criminal underworld and infiltrate the police force undercover—all to find and destroy the one who took her father from her.
Navillera is one of the most impactful K-dramas of 2021. The drama aimed to break the stereotype that only girls go for ballet. It also sent out a message about the long-buried desire to pursue one’s passion. The story revolved around a ballet prodigy close to giving up finds inspiration anew when he takes on his oldest student yet—a 70-year-old retiree who finally decides to pick up his ballet shoes and chase his dreams. Starring Song Kang (Love Alarm) and veteran actor Park In Hwan in the lead, Navillera is one greatly inspiring drama. Featuring just 12 episodes, the makers delivered a drama wrapped in all things sweet, sour and savoury.
Racket Boys is one of the underrated K-dramas of 2021. Telling the story of a bunch of badminton players, Racket Boys is a delightful sports drama. The story focuses on a school in Haenam town, as the middle school badminton plays give their all to become the best team. The boys and the girls’ team face several challenges in making their dreams a reality, and that is what makes the drama more realistic and grounded. Racket Boys features an ensemble cast consisting of Tang Jun Sang (Move to Heaven; Crash Landing on You), Kim Sang Kyun (The Crowned Clown) as Yoon Hyun Jung, Son Sang Yeon (Failing in Love) as Bang Yoon Dam, Oh Na Ra (Man to Man, Chicago Typewriter) as Ra Young Ja, among others.
The series that needs no introduction! Squid Game has become the most watched Netflix show of all time, thus cementing its name in the history pages. The drama featured a stellar cast comprising of Lee Jung Jae (The Thieves, Chief of Staff), Park Hae Soo (Prison Playbook), Wi Ha Jun (Bad and Crazy), Heo Sung Tae (The Outlaws), Kim Joo Ryeong (Recalled), Jung Ho Yeon, Anupam Tripathi, with Gong Yoo (Goblin, Coffee Prince) and Kim Byung Hun (Mr. Sunshine) in guest role among others. The leads actors, who were already a household name in South Korea, were brought to a wider limelight owing to the success of the show. What the drama people’s favourite were the themes of morality, human conflict, emotions, the comment on rich-poor divide and also capitalism. A survival show to win 45.6 billion won, it just is tightly packed in 9 episodes of about an hour or less each and each episode leaves a lasting impression on the viewers.
Taxi Driver is adapted from the webtoon The Deluxe Taxi by Carlos and Keukeu Jae Jin. The drama stars Lee Je Hoon in the lead role as Kim Do Gi, a taxi driver who works for the Rainbow Taxi company. The company is not your traditional taxi service company; for it is a secret organization that orders hit men to avenge the ones who did not get justice in the traditional manner. The drama also stars Esom (Because this is my first life) as Kang Ha Na, a prosecutor going after Rainbow Taxi, Kim Eui Sang (W- Two Worlds) as Jang Sang Chul, the man who hires Do Gi. The drama is densely packed with twists and turns, and it promises a thrilling adventure with a dose of moral lessons and justice! The sequel for Taxi Driver is currently in the making. The season 1 is currently available on Amazon Prime Video.
The Devil Judge was also one of the most highly anticipated dramas. The drama marked return of Ji Sung (Kill Me, Heal Me) and GOT7 member Jinyoung (Psychometric Guy) to the small screen. The drama is set in dystopian future, where the lines between the right and the wrong are blurred. Ji Sung plays the role of Kang Yo Han, the Head Judge and a mysterious figure with secrets and ambitions of his own. Jinyoung plays the role of Kim Ga On as his second in command. The drama is a commentary on the society, the rampant injustice caused because power and politics. Each episode is thick with suspense and intrigue, as it delves into each case and also the personal lives of the main leads. The drama also stars Park Gyu Young (It’s Okay not to be Okay, Dali and the Cocky Prince) as Yoon Soo Hyun who is a detective also Ga On’s love interest, Kim Min Jung (My Fellow Citizens!) as Jung Su Ah, am ambitious lawyer who has risen from poverty and is Yo Han’s another second in command.
The drama that introduced the world to Vincenzo Cassano – the suave and stunning consigliore, K-drama Vincenzo is definitely one of the most hyped and loved dramas. The drama marked actor Song Joong Ki’s (Descendants of the Sun) comeback to the small screen after Arthdal Chronicles. The drama, despite its popularity, did receive mixed reviews from some audience members. While some wanted the scenes to be more compact, some doubted the weaving of the plot due to hyper-realistic scenes and seemingly fantastic results. It was a fun experience, overall for many! Ok Taec Yeon (Bring It On, Ghost; Save Me) with his dashing looks and smooth acting chops immediately became a favourite villain. While Vincenzo Cassano is no saint, his strife for justice made him into an anti-hero. Jeon Yeo Been’s (Night in Paradise) Hong Cha Young is just the amp up energy needed in the show. She is no damsel in distress, and her sarcastic dialogues deliveries against wrong-doers were a delight to watch!
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