K-drama series excel when it comes to fantasy TV. They're so good at blending their stories with real-world legends, otherworldly themes and plots... and, most importantly, mythical characters.
Most mythical characters in Korean TV series are indeed based on legends and myths, but there's a wide range as far as how true-to-life those characters end up being on screen. Sometimes, the character is "inspired by" a legend with lots of creative license involved.
Still, despite how true-to-life these characters are, mythical characters in K-drama series are often well-written and fun to watch. They're made to incorporate well with K-drama's tendency to blend multiple genres, including comedy, romance, drama, and thriller.
From ocean goddesses to wanderers of the darkest nights, here are our picks for the best mythical characters in Korean TV series.
10. Park Seon-Ju (My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho)
Park Seon-ju (played by Shin Min-ah) is a legendary gumiho (also known as a nine-tailed fox) who was sealed inside a painting for over 500 years. She was released by Cha Dae-woong when he drew nine tails on a painting of a fox.
Cha Dae-woong believes that gumiho eat the livers of men, so he's unsure and afraid of having Mi-ho (a nickname he gives to her) by his side. He tries his best to keep her happy by buying her food so that she doesn't end up making him her meal.
According to the myth, gumiho have the ability to shapeshift and they like to take on the form of female humans. They can also steal a human's life force using the "fox bead," which was featured in the series as Mi-ho's dream of being human costing Dae-woong's life.
9. Kim Dan (Angel's Last Mission: Love)
Kim Dan (played by Kim Myung-soo) is a naughty angel who's tasked with an impossible mission in order for him to return to heaven: he must find true love for Yeon-seo (played by Shin Hye-sun), a talented ballerina who was caught in an accident that left her blind.
What makes this mission so hard is that Yeon-seo has a callous heart and doesn't believe in love. She's also abusive to everyone around her, which makes things even harder. But a mission is a mission!
8. Son Oh-Gong (A Korean Odyssey)
Son Oh-gong (played by Lee Seung-gi) is a powerful immortal who's imprisoned in the human world, with his powers sealed away due to the crimes he committed.
He's later released by a little girl whom he tricked, and that little girl would then cross paths with him again later on in the story.
Son Oh-gong's character is based on the legend of Sun Wukong the Monkey King, a mythical figure in Chinese mythology and a character from the classic novel Journey to the West.
7. Park Ji-Sang (Blood)
Park Ji-sang (played by Ahn Jae-hyun) is both a vampire and a doctor at a hospital. Though he's one of the "infected," he respects life and does not want to drink human blood.
In order for him to continue his job at his blood-heavy workplace and not be overwhelmed by his bloodlust, he suppresses his urges by taking a certain drug that helps to quell those desires.
He appears cold and emotionless towards others, but deep down, he's actually caring and kind-hearted, which makes him different and unique from the rest of the infected individuals.
Vampires are well-known creatures of the dark from folklore popular in Europe, known to feed on fresh human blood. However, the origin of the vampires in Blood is more of science fiction than mythical fantasy.
6. Kim Sung-Yeol (The Scholar Who Walks the Night)
Kim Sung-yeol (played by Lee Joon-gi) is another "good vampire" character. He serves as a guardian vampire, and one of his missions is to kill Gwi, an evil vampire who wants to rule the human population.
And just like Blade from the Blade films, he can walk outside during the daytime—but only while wearing his special black robe.
Whereas the aforementioned Blood gives us individuals infected by a lab-created virus who gain vampiric traits, The Scholar Who Walks the Night follows a more typical origin story for its vampires.
5. Lee Yeon (Tale of the Nine-Tailed)
Lee Yeon (Lee Dong-wook) is a 1,000-year-old nine-tailed fox who was the guardian spirit of the Baekdu-daegan mountain range. Because of the tragic fate that cost his lover's life, he gave up his position as guardian to work with Taluipa in exchange for her promised reincarnation.
Now, as a supernatural being who lives among the human world, he hunts other supernatural beings of his kind who threaten the mortal world, all while searching for the reincarnation of Ah-eum (with the fox bead he had given to her as his lead).
His search for his love is thrilling, even more so when he crosses paths with his half-brother (who has a grudge against him) and his enemy from the past (who was responsible for Ah-eum's death).
4. Ha-Baek (The Bride of Ha-Baek)
Ha-baek (played by Nam Joo-hyuk) is a god who needs to go to the human world in search of the magical stones that would help him claim the throne of the Divine Realm. According to Korean legend, Ha-baek was the god of the Amnok River.
But, in the human realm, he loses his abilities and is now just a normal human. Yet even so, having lost his powers, Ha-baek still feels entitled and arrogant, making him look like a fool in front of So-ah (who has encountered similar situations in her job as a psychiatrist).
3. Shim Cheong (Legend of the Blue Sea)
Legend of the Blue Sea is a rare K-drama series in that it focuses on the mythological mermaid, which is unusual for Korean media. It features a love story between a human and a mermaid from the past, which continues into the modery day via their respective reincarnations.
Jun Ji-hyun played the role of the mermaid Se-hwa and her modern reincarnation Shim Cheong, who falls in love with Dam-ryeong and his modern reincarnation Joon-jae (played by Lee Min-ho).
Shim Cheong is very comedic in her scenes given her ignorance of the human world, but still delivers perfect heart-touching moments.
Aside from tears that turn into pearls, the mermaids in this series have incredible strength and can erase memories. Unfortunately for them, their heart will stop beating if someone they love doesn't love them back.
2. Kim Shin (Guardian: The Lonely and Great God)
Kim Shin (played by Gong Yoo) is a 939-year-old immortal who was both punished and gifted with eternal life: a reward for his good deeds and payment for the lives he had taken.
He endured the years and grew lonely as he watches the one he loves die while he still lives on, repeating the cycle for centuries. The only person who can save him from this curse is the bride who can pull the sword out of his chest.
Kim Shin's character was based on folklore about Korean goblins who are known to interact with humans, either playing tricks or helping them.
1. Wang Yeo (Guardian: The Lonely and Great God)
Wang Yeo (played by Lee Dong-wook) is the Grim Reaper who aids the souls of the dead to pass into the Afterlife. His work, however, includes taking Eun-tak's soul (the bride of Kim Shin who managed to escape death with help from Kim Shin himself).
Grim Reapers are famous characters in myths, folktales, and traditions of different regions of the world, often described as a "terrifying hooded man." But Grim Reapers in K-drama series are usually depicted as cool, badass, stylish, and even likable.