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The world of K-dramas is intimidating. As you stare at the long list of K-dramas, you have no idea what to watch first—will it be a cheesy romance, action-packed love story, or a historical drama?
Luckily, you’re in the hands of a seasoned expert. K-dramas caught my attention years ago after finding Boys Over Flowers while scrolling through Tumblr. It’s been a wild journey ever since.
If you’re new to K-dramas, here are the essential shows to watch first. They’ll pull at your heartstrings, make you laugh, suck you in with their dramatic storylines—and you’ll understand why they’ve earned classic K-drama status.
Boys Over Flowers was my first K-drama, so it holds a special place in my heart. You might brush it off as outdated, but that’s just not true—its age doesn’t make it any less amazing.
It follows Geum Jandi, the spunky daughter of a dry cleaner, and her unexpected entry into the prestigious Shinhwa High School. She despises the snobby attitudes of the wealthy students around her, but soon becomes acquainted with the richest boys in school: the elite F4.
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You’re Beautiful is full of the amazing over-dramatic acting that K-dramas are known for. The story centers around Ko Mi-Nyeo, a woman who initially has aspirations of becoming a nun. Her twin brother, Mi-Nam, dreams of becoming a singer.
Soon after Mi-Nam is supposed to join the all-male K-pop group A.N.Jell, he has to fly to the United States to fix a messy plastic surgery procedure. Naturally, Mi-Nyeo is asked to fill in for her identical brother. This puts Mi-Nyeo in a very awkward position—she has to pose as a man on stage, while trying to disguise her gender from the other group members.
You’ll notice that gender-bending is a huge trend in K-dramas, and Secret Garden definitely isn’t a stranger to that theme. When the wealthy CEO Kim Joo-Won meets stuntwoman Gil Ra-Im on the set of his cousin’s film, he can’t stop thinking about her.
At the start of the show, you’ll think it’s just a typical K-drama centered around the love story between another arrogant businessman and a feisty woman. However, when Joo-Won and Ra-Im miraculously switch bodies, the story starts to get pretty interesting (and hilarious).
4. City Hunter
City Hunter stars one of my favorite K-drama actors, Lee Min-Ho (you’ll also recognize him from Boys Over Flowers), as the main protagonist. This K-drama isn’t short on awesome stunts and action-packed scenes.
Lee Yoon-Sung is an MIT graduate who works in Seoul’s Blue House. When he was just a baby, his father died during a special military operation in North Korea. His father’s best friend, Lee Jin-Pyo, raised Yoon-Sung, and provided him with extensive martial arts training for one purpose: to exact revenge on the men who killed Yoon-Sung’s father.
I hope you’re not tired of gender-swapping K-dramas yet because Coffee Prince is another prime example. Go Eun-Chan poses as a man in order to get better job opportunities. When she applies at Choi Han-Gyul’s coffee shop, her boyish looks prevail, and she lands the position.
There’s just only one problem: she starts falling in love with her boss. How long can she keep her gender a secret?
If you’re a fan of history and time travel movies, chances are that you’ll enjoy Rooftop Prince. The show begins 300 years ago during the Chosun Dynasty when the wife of Crown Prince Lee Kak passes away from an unknown cause. After teleporting 300 years into the future, Lee Kak struggles to adapt to modern culture.
He soon realizes that time travel might be the key to uncovering the mystery surrounding his wife’s death. When he meets a woman who looks a little too much like his dead wife, he becomes determined to solve the centuries-old case.
7. Full House
Don’t expect to play this trailer and see a young Mary-Kate and Ashley. This Full House (luckily) has nothing to do with them or John Stamos.
Ha Ji-Eun, a writer, lives in a home called “Full House” that her late father constructed. When her friends fool Ji-Eun into thinking that she won a free vacation, they ship her away and then sell her house. On the way back from Ji-Eun’s trip, she encounters the actor, Young-Jae (played by the real-life K-pop celebrity Rain) on the plane. He also just so happens to be the new owner of her house.
My Girlfriend is a Gumiho also translates to My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox. The nine-tailed fox found in Korean culture is heavily influenced by Japan’s mythological creatures. When Cha Dae-Woong accidentally releases a gumiho (nine-tailed fox) from a painting, he’s in for some trouble.
He attempts to run away from the gumiho, only to fall and get knocked unconscious. When he finally wakes up, he comes across a beautiful woman who he realizes is the human-form of the gumiho.
The song in this video makes you want to cry, doesn’t it? Well, wait until you watch Winter Sonata. Make sure you have ten boxes of tissues and a gallon of ice cream on hand before tuning in.
The captivating story of Winter Sonata is responsible for popularizing K-dramas across the globe. It follows Joon-Sang and Yu-Jin, two old friends who became separated for an entire decade following a devastating car accident.
After watching that Winter Sonata trailer, you’ll need something a little less depressing. My Lovely Sam Soon is that comic relief you’re looking for.
Kim Sam-Soon, a rambunctious baker, has had a bad couple of weeks—she gets fired from her job and catches her boyfriend cheating. It seems like destiny when she meets the owner of a fancy restaurant and soon gets hired.
K-Dramas Have Something for Everyone
Sure, not everyone likes the sappy romance and overly emotional acting that comes with K-drama territory. The plotlines might be a little hokey at times, but the narratives are often addictive and totally binge-worthy.
The classic K-dramas on this list paved the way for modern K-dramas, which is why they’re worth checking out. For more Asian-influenced TV, learn more about what makes Terrace House so compelling to watch.