The Hallyu wave shows no signs of piping down, and we’re all extremely grateful. We’re all witnessing a large number of high-quality dramas and music entering Western markets and bringing a wave of fresh air. The television series, in particular, have been enjoying increasing popularity even among people who would have been reluctant to try a Korean-made production only a couple of years ago. But the world is changing, prejudices are hopefully on the go, and more and more people are willing to immerse themselves into and experience new cultures and world views, which means that they’re also more likely to check out the entertainment options other countries have to offer.
The skyrocketing success of dramas has been attributed to many factors, with research pointing to a healthy mixture of predictability and originality. Many of the plots hold the core themes at their center: love, family, money, inequality, and the quest to live a good life. However, they always add a twist that makes the storyline exciting while keeping it realistic. All characters feel like real people rather than stereotypes or caricatures, with even the most unlikable figures having humanizing features that can make you empathize with their motivation, if not their means of achieving it. The resulting product is addictive, and it’s the reason for the enduring appeal of k-dramas.
So if you’ve been feeling uninspired about what you should watch these days, here are some amazing dramas you should try asap.
All of Us are Dead
If you’re a zombie genre fan, then you already know that Korea is one of the world leaders in the genre. Horror k-dramas and films have made the undead scary again, turning them from sluggish, mindless creatures to the fast, vicious, aggressive stuff of nightmares. “Train to Busan,” in which a cynical, workaholic father tries to keep his daughter safe as a zombie epidemic erupts in the KTX 101 they board at Seoul Station, is a memorable example. “Kingdom,” a period drama set in the 16th century in the aftermath of the Imjin War and which follows the Crown Prince of Joseon attempting to save the country from the horror of the bloodthirsty undead, is another instance emphasizing the variety of Korean zombie film productions.
The latest to the scene is “All of Us are Dead,” a coming-of-age story taking place in a high school and sees the students fighting to stay alive as chaos ensues. It’s not difficult to see why, as the story paints a realistic portrait of how people are likely to reach during such an unprecedented crisis. Indeed, the show was so well-received by the public that a second season is in the works. So if you’re a fan of plucky, likable protagonists blended with a healthy dose of horror, “All of us are Dead” is sure to become an instant fav.
Not all of us like our movies and shows gory; if you count yourself among this group, you’re likely to want to watch something more slice-of-life oriented. “Twenty-Five Twenty-One” is the answer. This hit drama has already become one of the highest-rated in Korean cable history, despite premiering only last February. This is a clear testament to its qualities: a strong plot and an engaging cast of characters. The story spans a period of twenty-three years and follows the romantic lives of a quintet of characters between 1998, shortly after the late 90s Asian financial crisis, and 2021. This incredible series is guaranteed to keep you hooked from start to finish.
This title will come as no surprise. “Squid Game” has achieved cult status and is Netflix’s most successful show to date. The gripping story talks about the class disparity, economic inequality, and capitalism against the backdrop of a children’s game competition that pitches the players, all dealing with financial hardship, one against the other for the promised prize of ₩45.6 billion, approximately €33 million or GB£29 million. The main cast, composed of actors Lee Jung-jae, Jung Ho-yeon, Park Hae-soo, and Wi Ha-joon, has gained worldwide acclaim, with critics praising its social commentary, heartfelt core messages, as well as the way the plot handled the issue of violence. Compared to common dystopian narratives, “Squid Game” has a true-to-life setting, which makes it all the more unnerving.
The series, taking its name from a children’s game that was popular in the 70s and 80s known as ojingeo, the literal term for “squid” in Korean, has inspired challenges, cosplays, and Halloween costumes across the world. If you want to take it a step further, you can shop for Funko and gather collectibles of the figurines. Whether you were a fan of gambling addict Gi-hun, North Korean defector Sae-byeok, disgraced stockbroker Sang-woo or the usually eerily silent guards dressed in bright pink coveralls, you’re sure to find the perfect vinyl figure for your collection.
There’s not much to say about “Squid Game.” Its reputation precedes it. If you haven’t watched it yet, be sure to give it a try. It’s one of the most binge-able TV series you’ll ever watch.
Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area
This series, based on the Spanish show of the same name, follows the same premise of a strategist mastermind, The Professor, trying to pull off a heist in a reunified Korea. The crew of characters consists of people with different personalities and abilities who must overcome unusual events and situations in order to reach their goals. They strike the mint of the country, take hostages and start their plan, with law enforcement outside the walls trying to thwart their plans. While the premise sounds exciting, perhaps unsurprisingly given the popularity of the source material, you may be skeptical about watching a remake of another series, given how they usually have a reputation of being subpar compared to the original. But just give it a try. The different setting adds a very fresh quality to the story that will keep you glued to the screen.
When it comes to Netflix, there are so many options that you can sometimes find yourself scrolling through the options endlessly, unable to choose, and worried you’ll pick something boring. But if you choose a K-drama, you’re set for a great ride.