Did your favourites make it onto our list?
K-dramas in 2023 started off with a bang thanks to the warm romance series Crash Course in Romance, also the long-awaited small screen return for Jeon Do-yeon. After a spectacular 2022, the addictive K-drama set the bar high for what to expect this year – and so far, 2023 has yet to disappoint.
Just in the first six months, the world of K-dramas have given us new seasons of beloved shows such as fantasy fan favourite Tale of the Nine Tailed, the moving The Good Bad Mother and the deliciously melodramatic revenge series The Glory. While there’s an array of exciting new music releases to come – including the live-action adaptation of Moving and Gyeongseong Creature starring Park Seo-joon – let’s take a look back at the 10 best K-dramas of 2023 so far.
In this workplace drama, Go Ah-in (played by Lee Bo-young) is the first female executive at a big advertising agency. Determined to go even higher at the company, she has the role of CEO in her sights – but has to beat her work rival to get there.
A rare drama with no romantic sub-plots, Agency focuses solely on Ah-in’s path to success, overcoming childhood trauma to get to the top of her field, but also struggling with work-life balance and the sacrifices and pressures that women face in corporate life. It’s relatable and engrossing, adding the viewer to Ah-in’s group of workplace supporters.
Crash Course in Romance
What’s better than one romantic storyline in a K-drama? Two romantic storylines, of course. It’s basic maths. Crash Course in Romance follows the love story of private maths tutor Choi Chi-yeol (played by Jung Kyung-ho) and former-athlete-turned-banchan-shop-owner Nam Haeng-seon (Jeon Do-yeon) as their paths cross thanks to Haeng-seon’s daughter Nam Hae-yi (Roh Yoon-seo).
Through its many main characters, Crash Course in Romance mixes infallible, classic rom-com elements (intertwined destinies, heart-tugging storylines, enemies to lovers, friends to lovers… You name it, it probably has it!) with a bit of societal commentary and some unforeseen thriller elements. The blossoming romances between the main characters, their best friends, and their offspring make for a more than enjoyable and comforting ride.
Dr Romantic (Season 3)
No genre on TV is as saturated as medical soap operas, yet even within an endless ocean of good-looking doctors saving lives and succumbing to love triangles, one show stands above the rest – Dr. Romantic.
Now in its third season, this inspiring K-drama chronicles the saga of genius surgeon Master Kim (Han Suk-kyu) and the unwavering staff at Doldam Hospital, who fight healthcare injustice to treat their sick and wounded patients at all cost. Buoyed by the return of a fan favourite character from season one, intriguing interpersonal conflict, thrilling medical emergencies and new sets of challenges at their newly built Trauma Centre, Dr. Romantic continues to be must-see TV.
Love To Hate You
The relationship at the centre of Love To Hate You might be contrived but there’s something refreshing about this rom-com. Yeo Mi-ran (played by Kim Ok-vin) is a lawyer who breaks men’s hearts as a way to enact justice, while Nam Kang-ho (Teo Yoo) is a top actor who hates women. When Mi-ran gets a job at the firm representing Kang-ho, the pair meet and begin an enemies-to-lovers trajectory built around a fake relationship.
So far so trope-filled, but Love To Hate You is often fun, very watchable and does its best to show a fresh perspective on misogyny in Korea, from Mi-ran’s attitude towards men to the sub-plots exploring the gender pay gap or workplace culture.
Even though it got off to a rocky start with time lapses and sub-plots that didn’t really contribute to the larger plot, Oasis turned out to be one of those K-dramas that age like fine wine. Against the backdrop of ’80s and ’90s South Korea, a friendship turns into a love triangle turns into a rivalry, not only leaving us gasping for more at the end of every episode but also presenting fully formed characters with exceedingly human motivations.
At its core, Oasis is a story about flawed human beings trying to survive in flawed relationships, driven by selfishness, revenge and greed, but still hoping to find respite at the end of the journey. Without spoiling the ending too much, know that the finale remains one of the most satisfying conclusions to a tumultuous story that yours truly has ever laid eyes on.
Tanu I. Raj
Hwang Do-hee (Kim Hee-ae) is the trusted and highly efficient employee of a behemothic South Korean chaebol – that is, until real lives are put in harm’s way and the company’s unethical practices are uncovered. She seeks justice (and a little bit of revenge) by employing human rights lawyer Oh Kyung-sook (Moon So-ri) to expose the reality of politics, shedding light on the evils that can and often infect these spheres, like deep-seated corruption and nepotism.
Politically charged stories with strong female heroines at the forefront are rare in the K-drama realm, and to witness these women come face-to-face with the realities of systems primed to work against them on is a sobering and thought-provoking experience. They are not without their flaws, nor do they have all the answers, but that’s what makes their ability to overcome the odds all the more inspiring.
Tale of the Nine Tailed 1938
Two years ago, when Tale of the Nine Tailed first hit our television screens, reactions were mixed. Lofty expectations of its incorporation of South Korean mythology and the supernatural were not met, and thus a widespread scepticism about a second season was inevitable. The moment it aired though, we were all delightfully proven wrong.
1938 follows Lee Yeon (Lee Dong-wook), an immortal nine-tailed fox – or gumiho – after he’s sent back into the middle of the drama once more, now in the titular year of 1938. He’s embroiled in a tangled web of human politics, the laws of the spiritual realms and and friction between Japanese officials in Korea during a time of traumatic imperialism and colonisation. 1938’s adventurous foray into fantasy, melodrama, horror, comedy and conversations about the meaning of humanity is more than enough to redeem the missteps of its predecessor.
Taxi Driver (Season 2)
K-dramas adore revenge narratives, but few do it better than Taxi Driver. The series follows Kim Do-gi (Lee Je-hoon), an ex-military man whose mother was murdered. Since he was unable to get vengeance, Do-gi now works as cabbie for Rainbow, a taxi company serving as a front for a group of vigilantes offering a “revenge-call” service.
After disbanding, Rainbow reforms in this thrilling second season to help avenge more desperate victims. Continuing its successful procedural format with cases ripped from the headlines – Rainbow’s exciting takedowns of cult leaders, child traffickers and con artists deliver the karmic satisfaction that real-life rarely gives.
The Glory Part 2
“Why do the poor believe in things like poetic justice and karma?” former high school tormentor Park Yeon-jin (played by Lim Ji-yeon) says during The Glory Part 2. It’s a line that almost cements her fate while highlighting the class hierarchy at the centre of the gripping drama, with the determinedly ruthless Moon Dong-eun (Song Hye-kyo) focused on putting her long-harboured plans for revenge into motion.
The battle between the pair forms the riveting core of the series, which pirouettes through unpredictable twists and turns, keeping viewers constantly on their feet. Song’s performance is a masterclass yet again, too, delivering her emotions in precise, devastating movements throughout.