The 15 Best Historical K-Drama Series of All Time, Ranked

Korea has such a uniquely rich history and culture. These historical K-dramas transport us to that past in exciting ways.
The 15 Best Historical K-Drama Series of All Time, Ranked

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Many of today's best-known K-drama series are set in modern times and centered around themes involving high school life, businesses, hacking, luxury, elitism, technology, etc.

But one of the subgenre highlights is the historical K-drama. Between the wardrobe designs and the social behaviors and the settings, these series plunge us into the depths of historical Korea and allow us to experience the uniquely engrossing culture of past Korea.

From shows that are firmly grounded in a biographical figure to those that incorporate fantastical elements, here are my picks for the best historical K-drama series of all time.

15. The Emperor: Owner of the Mask (2017)

Starring Yoo Seung-ho, Kim So-hyun, Kim Myung-soo

Drama, History, Romance

40 episodes (1 season)

7.3 on IMDb

The Emperor: Owner of the Mask (also known as Ruler: Master of the Mask) is set during the era of the Joseon Dynasty and follows the story of Crown Prince Yi Sun (played by Yoo Seung-ho) as he looks for the answer to why he has to live his life behind a mask.

Along with that answer he's searching for, he stumbles upon the truth behind the rulers and those in power who are pulling the strings.

The Emperor: Owner of the Mask also stars Kim So-hyun as Lady Han Ga-eun and Kim Myung-soo as "another" Yi Sun character.

14. Love in the Moonlight (2016)

Starring Park Bo-gum, Kim Yoo-jung, Kwak Dong-yeon

Comedy, Drama, History

18 episodes (1 season)

7.8 on IMDb

Love in the Moonlight stars Park Bo-gum as Prince Lee Yeong of the Joseon Dynasty, who's the only son of the king who's destined to inherit the throne. However, he's pretty mischievous for a royal, which makes his father lose his temper on him.

The series also stars Kim Yoo-jung as Hong Ra-on, who disguises herself as a man named Hong Sam-nom. This "Sam-nom" character also happens to be a writer and a love expert!

When their paths cross on one fateful night, she ends up being a eunuch to the prince and gets caught up in his royal problems, all while trying to find someone dear to her.

13. Gunman in Joseon (2014)

Starring Lee Joon-gi, Nam Sang-mi, Jeon Hye-bin

Action, History, Romance

22 episodes (1 season)

7.0 on IMDb

In most historical drama series, we're accustomed to seeing gentlemen training and mastering the arts of swords and archery. But in Gunman in Joseon, our main character is armed with a rifle—one that's unique in this era and geographical location.

Gunman in Joseon follows the story of Park Yoon-kang (played by Lee-Joon-gi), who escapes arrest from the government that branded his father as a traitor. Now, he returns to Joseon for the sole purpose of avenging his father's death and saving his sister.

The premise of this series—namely its mixture of historical Eastern culture with modern Western culture—feels kind of similar to the film The Last Samurai (2003).

12. Queen Seondeok (2009)

Starring Lee Yo-won, Go Hyun-jung, Park Ye-jin

Biography, Drama, History

62 episodes (1 season)

8.6 on IMDb

Queen Seondeok (also known as The Great Queen Seondeok) follows the story of Deokman (played by Lee Yo-won), one of the king's twin daughters. However, due to a prophecy, she's sent out of the palace and raised by the king's loyal servant, hidden from others' eyes.

When Deokman eventually learns of her true identity, she moves to claim what's rightfully hers and avenge the death of her twin sister.

Across the 62-episode run of Queen Seondeok, we're treated to a story packed full of chaotic political drama that wraps around the tale of the first female monarch of the Kingdom of Silla.

11. The Scholar Who Walks the Night (2015)

Starring Lee Joon-gi, Lee Yu-bi, Shim Chang-min

Action, Fantasy, History

20 episodes (1 season)

7.2 on IMDb

The Scholar Who Walks the Night blends its historical theme with one of the most hyped fantasy themes: vampires. Set in an alternate Joseon era, the series stars Lee Joon-gi as Kim Sung-yeol, a guardian vampire.

On top of hunting down fellow vampires who cause chaos in human society, Sung-yeol aims to defeat and kill the evil vampire Gwi (played by Lee Soo-hyuk) once and for all to stop his sinister plan.

The Scholar Who Walks the Night is a one-of-a-kind vampire story, featuring a blood-sucking gentleman with neither a cape, a gothic robe, nor a leather jacket, but the traditional clothing of the Joseon era.

10. Kingdom (2019)

Starring Ju Ji-hoon, Bae Doo-na, Kim Sung-kyu

Action, Drama, Horror

12 episodes (2 seasons)

8.3 on IMDb

In Kingdom, the tension of political drama isn't rooted in a love story or heirs battling for the throne, but rather a zombie apocalypse.

The series follows the story of Crown Prince Lee Chang (played by Ju Ji-hoon), who wants to find the cause of the mysterious disease that's plaguing the king.

However, his investigation leads him to a sinister secret about the flesh-hungry animated corpses that ravage the land when night falls.

Kingdom concluded with its second season, but there was an additional special episode called Kingdom: Ashin of the North, which stars Jun Ji-hyun as Ashin, a mysterious character they meet during their investigation.

9. Alchemy of Souls (2022)

Starring Lee Jae-wook, Jung So-min, Go Youn-jung

Action, Drama, Fantasy

30 episodes (2 seasons)

8.8 on IMDb

Alchemy of Souls is a period drama that technically doesn't qualify as "historical" because it doesn't feature any real historical figures or events. It doesn't even take place in the real world.

However, even if the fictional land of Daeho isn't historical, and even if the series incorporates elements of magic and body swapping, the entire feel of Alchemy of Souls is historic and epic, so we're including it.

The series follows the story of Naksu (played by Go Youn-jung), who, after suffering a fatal wound, decides to perform a forbidden magic called the Alchemy of Souls to transfer her soul into a new body.

Unfortunately, the spell goes awry and her soul inadvertently enters the body of a weak, blind girl named Mu-deok (played by Jung So-min), who wasn't her intended target. Now, she's lost access to her magic and she'll do anything she can to get it back.

8. Dong Yi (2010)

Starring Han Hyo-joo, Lee So-yeon, Ji Jin-hee

Adventure, Drama, History

60 episodes (1 season)

8.1 on IMDb

Dong Yi is set during the Joseon era under the rule of King Sukjong and follows the story of the titular Dong Yi (played by Han Hyo-joo), an ordinary maiden who rises in rank after stepping foot in the royal palace.

The series—which is based on real historical accounts and figures—also features the story of Choe Suk-bin, the mother of the 21st king of the Joseon Dynasty, King Yeongjo.

Dong Yi was extremely popular when it aired, starring several award-winning actors and actresses, including Ji Jin-hee (as King Sukjong) and Kim Yoo-jung (who played the role of the young Dong Yi).

7. Empress Ki (2013)

Starring Ha Ji-won, Ji Chang-wook, Joo Jin-mo

Action, Drama, Romance

51 episodes (1 season)

8.4 on IMDb

Empress Ki revolves around the character of Ki Seung-nyang (played by Ha Ji-won), who started as a fierce warrior and eventually became a great queen of her kingdom.

While most of the historical K-drama series on this list feature the ever-popular Joseon Dynasty (1392 to 1897), the story of Empress Ki stands out for taking place during the Goryeo Dynasty (918 to 1392).

What makes the series worth watching is its well-written romance plot, with Seung-nyang torn between two lovers: the King of Goryeo Wang Woo (played by Joo Jin-moo) and the Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty Toghon Temur (played by Ji Chang-wook).

6. Jumong (2006)

Starring Song Il-gook, Han Hye-jin, Kim Seung-soo

Biography, Drama, History

81 episodes (1 season)

8.1 on IMDb

Jumong follows the story of the titular Jumong (played by Song Il-gook) and his battles—both against the Han and his own family—as he establishes his kingdom and his subjects. His story is based on the histories of Chumo, the founder of the Kingdom of Goguryeo.

Themes of war and royal disputes are prominent throughout this show, with touches of romance that lighten the tone of the story here and there (along with some heartbreaking moments).

5. Mr. Queen (2020)

Starring Shin Hye-sun, Kim Jung-hyun, Seol In-ah

Comedy, Fantasy, Romance

20 episodes (1 season)

8.6 on IMDb

In the series Mr. Queen, Jang Bong-hwan (played by Choi Jin-yuk), a modern-day chef who awakens in the body of a woman living in the Joseon period. However, this woman is no commoner—she's the queen-to-be, Kim So-yong (played by Shin Hye-sun).

As he tries to find a way out of his "female" body, he finds himself caught in the politics of the royal palace and even unearths dark secrets about the real owner of the body and the people around her.

And since his character is a chef, we also get to see him showcase his culinary powers and introduce modern taste to the people of the past.

4. Pachinko (2022)

Starring Lee Min-ho, Kim Min-ha, Jin Ha

Drama, History

8 episodes (1 season)

8.3 on IMDb

Pachinko is a critically acclaimed epic series based on Min Jin Lee's bestselling novel of the same name. It takes place between the years 1931 and 1989, jumping between the past and present as it explores the four generations of a Korean family who are displaced into Japan.

The vast story primarily centers on Sunja (played by Kim Min-ha in 1931 and Youn Yuh-jung in 1989), who lived her younger days during the era of Japanese occupation and suffers the aftermath long after.

Pachinko tackles themes of xenophobia, discrimination, and social inequality, which are all wrapped up in complex and nuanced family dynamics and romance. The result is a compelling story that's worthy of all the praise and international awards it got.

3. Jewel in the Palace (2003)

Starring Lee Young-ae, Ji Jin-hee, Hong Ri-na

Biography, Drama, History

54 episodes (1 season)

8.5 on IMDb

Jewel in the Palace (also known as The Great Jang-Geum and Dae Jang Geum) is truly a jewel of the Korean Wave. It was one of the most-viewed drama series of the 2000s, and it even garnered praise from international critics.

Jewel in the Palace revolves around the real-life historical figure Seo Jang-geum (played by Lee Young-ae) and her story of becoming the first female physician of the Joseon Dynasty.

While the story primarily deals with themes of political disputes and power struggles, Jewel in the Palace is best remembered as one of the first Korean drama series to introduce Korean culture to the world.

2. The Crowned Clown (2019)

Starring Yeo Jin-goo, Kim Sang-kyung, Lee Se-young

Drama, History, Romance

16 episodes (1 season)

8.0 on IMDb

Due to rampant political conflict and dangerous power struggles, a king places a clown named Ha-seon (played by Yeo Jin-goo) in his spot so he can escape an imminent assassination attempt against him.

Fortunately for Ha-seon, he survives the ordeal. More than that, the kingdom's subjects (who are now subjects of the clown) are now happy to see the drastic change in the way their "king" rules them.

The Crowned Clown is a remake of the 2012 South Korean film Masquerade, and it successfully delivers one of the most unique takes on political intrigue during the Joseon era.

1. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)

Starring Lee Joon-gi, Lee Ji-eun, Kang Ha-neul

Action, Drama, History

20 episodes (1 season)

8.6 on IMDb

In Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, Go Ha-jin (played by Lee Ji-eun, also known as IU) is a modern-day woman who finds herself transported back in time during a solar eclipse. She ends up in the body of Hae Soo, a maiden living in the Goryeo period.

There, she meets the princes of the ruling Wang family and ends up caught between two lovers—4th Prince Wang Wook (played by Kang Ha-neul) and 8th Prince Wang So (played by Lee Joon-gi)—along with the political problems and struggles brewing within the family.