Drama Reactions & Reviews
How was 2009 for you?
by | December 6, 2009 | 410 Comments

With the year coming to an end, that means it’s time to take stock of the past twelve months (well, eleven really) in kdramas. The broadcast stations will be holding their awards ceremonies at the end of the month, and I’m working on my wrap-up of 2009’s offerings — as are some very talented (and prolific!) drama-watching fans — which I’ll post up closer to the end of the year.

But this is your turn to weigh in on what you liked or didn’t. I didn’t do a year-end poll last year (after putting one up in 2007) and people seemed to really want one, so it’s back.


Note that for most cases, I used the word “favorite” as opposed to “best,” so vote on your favorite in each category, whatever that word means to you. It could be the one you thought was the best quality, or simply the one you enjoyed the most. Polls will be open for voting till the end of the month.


I tried to be inclusive but naturally couldn’t list every drama that aired in 2009 (there were more than 50). I included dramas that aired the majority of their episodes this year, but left off those that aired more than half their episodes in 2008 (like East of Eden) or haven’t yet aired half their runs (Will It Snow For Christmas).

Did I leave out your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

     Update! Added:


Dramas in this category often boast big budgets and feature big names in front of and/or behind the cameras, whether that means lead actors like Lee Byung-heon or A-list screenwriters like Choi Wan-kyu (Swallow the Sun) or Song Ji-nah (Story of a Man). These dramas may also feature stories with broad scopes, lots of suspense and/or heated power struggles — mobsters, assassination attempts, espionage, and money games, they’ve got it all.


Some of these are more conventional historicals, while others are in the fusion bent, but all are period pieces and feature some great costuming, acting, and fusion-inflected music and score.


Trendy kdramas, which are mostly set in contemporary times and tend to focus on relationships and modern urban life, aren’t the exact same thing as romantic comedies, but the two terms have become almost synonymous when talking about Korean dramas nowadays. (This is particularly true because trendy no longer means exclusively contemporary. The growing fusion trend is giving rise to the “trendy sageuk” such as Hong Gil Dong and Tamra the Island, both of which are, of course, not set in modern times.)


A couple of the dramas below seem like they belong more in 2008 (A Star’s Lover, Wife’s Temptation) but they did indeed broadcast more than half their episodes in 2009. The oft-derided (but highly watched) “makjang” genre fits in here, where fast developments employ outrageous plot twists and do anything under the sun to keep ratings high, whether it’s the use of devices like switched identities, secret babies, revenge vendettas, adultery, violence, and/or tragedy. But not all soaps are makjang, and while an entry like A Star’s Lover may also be considered a trendy, but I think its tone is pure melodrama.


Family dramas are difficult to summarize in 100 characters (my word limit here), because they’re often populated with lots of members of a sprawling, multigenerational family. Tonally, there’s no restriction; they can range from straight/dramatic to light-hearted and comic. The themes most often explored are love and marriage, generational conflicts, and interfamily relationships. It’s stuff that sounds generic on paper, but the execution and tone of the drama sets the series apart from each other.


If someone were to say a character’s name, would you immediately have a sense of not only which drama they were in, but what kind of qualities the character embodies? Has his or her name become shorthand for an entire set of traits? (“Sageuk F4,” for instance, probably elicits an immediate mental picture. As does “middle-aged Gu Jun-pyo.”) If you have to puzzle over a character’s name, wondering where he/she was from, they probably aren’t in this list.


For better or for worse, modern kdramas focus heavily on love relationships between its main characters. Often we’ll get the obvious love triangle or rectangle, although sometimes the lines will get even more messily entangled and create other romantic polygons. This kdrama emphasis on love could spark an entire discussion of its own, so I’ll just say that this means that a drama’s appeal is often linked inextricably to the effectiveness of its main pairing. It’s even true when the drama is (ostensibly) about something other than romance, such as medicine, law, business, war, or espionage. When a main couple fails to spark and create chemistry, no matter how well their parts are written, a drama loses some of its energy. But when they do come together, boy does the end result end up much more than the sum of its parts. So, who sizzled this year?


Sometimes an alternate pairing is just as fun as the OTP (“one true pairing,” aka the main couple) — or even more so. When an OTP becomes too drawn out, often a second pairing will lighten things up and allow you to enjoy romantic chemistry without as much angst. Or perhaps you suffer from Second Lead Crush Syndrome (as I often do), and find the supporting male lead more compelling, or deserving, than the hero. You know it’s a losing proposition but you’ll root for Mr. Second Lead to get the girl instead.

NOTE: To clarify (sorry for the confusion), Boys Before Flowers’ true “soulmates” are Jan-di and Ji-hoo (Gu Hye-sun, Kim Hyun-joong). “Soeulmates” is the nickname for Kim Bum and Kim So-eun’s characters.


I’m talking about people who were relatively unknown before a 2009 drama made their star rise. Therefore, even though Go Hyun-jung acted the heck out of a memorable character, she doesn’t count because she’s already an A-lister. Even some actors who aren’t at her level — like Kim Bum (Dream), Kim Kang-woo (Story of a Man), or Jang Geun-seok and Park Shin-hye (You’re Beautiful) — weren’t counted because they were all known prior to their roles this year. On the other hand, the following actors went from unknown names to familiar faces overnight:


I learn this lesson time and time again: You can never judge a drama until it’s actually aired, no matter what it seems like from the pre-show promos and teasers. It cuts both ways: Sometimes a drama will be surprisingly good. But conversely, when pre-show buzz seems strong and/or certain well-loved stars are making television comebacks, it’s natural to get one’s hopes up. Unfortunately, that often leads to disappointments when the drama falls short of our expectations.


I know the word “overrated” carries some baggage, but here I want to use it as the direct opposite of “underrated” — as in, you feel it got more attention than it merited (even if the drama was generally good). This is a small category, given that to be here, these dramas had to be popular enough in the first place to be considered overrated.


Now for the other end of the spectrum: These dramas had smaller fanbases and lower ratings numbers, but were, sadly, not given their due. Thank goodness for mania fans, eh?

(And because I know someone will ask: No, I didn’t include You’re Beautiful in either the overrated or underrated categories. It didn’t get high enough ratings to be put in the above list, but its media and fan buzz was so strong that I don’t think you could call it underrated, either.)


410 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. Grace

    Hm…this is a toughie!

  2. yb

    this was so fun! thanks!!!
    this year has been crazy.. i mean honestly what good qualities did BoF have? yet it’s still amazing.
    city hall was one of my faves…
    and of course you’re beautiful.
    oh goodness. this year.. *sigh*

  3. Hmmm

    The list was really biased. I felt some could have been in different categories.

  4. anne

    seriously, story of a man is the MOST underrated drama of the year~

  5. javabeans

    @3: What categories would you have chosen?

    I thought of dividing the list into more separate genres, but I didn’t think that made for a fun poll when you only have, say, 2 entries for straight horror, or 2-3 for straight action. Some combining was just going to have to happen.

  6. Brendel

    That was nice…and tough.

    I think 2009 is not as bad as 2008. I’m really looking forward to the year-end reviews.

  7. veronica

    i feel like triple was the most underrated drama. i absolutely loved the drama in a whole. it wasn’t a monumental drama but it was beautiful from music to cinematography. it was marvelous.

  8. moodeely

    Haha love this post JB! I enjoyed voting. I am curious to see though which drama will get the most votes on Best Drama of the Year and Best Trendy Drama, BOF or YAB???

    I personally loved YAB but everyone could be voting for that since it just recently aired and everyone is suffering from YAB withdrawals. But then I looked back on watching BOF, and the plot inconsistencies and Gu Hye Sun’s portrayal of an annoying Jan Di, reminded me that YAB is truly my love.

  9. raahmose

    you’re beautiful tops the category everytime it is a choice.
    not surprised

  10. 10 all4movies

    I actually would have put Queen Seon Duk under biggest disappointment as it started out well with the younger cast. then slowly came to a grinding halt, like a bad train wreck, with the older cast.

    Since the other sagueks of the year underperformed, all my hopes for a great sageuk were on QSD.

    Oh well, let’s see what 2010 brings.

  11. 11 Kiu

    Wow, You’re Beautiful has been reeking in the votes with these polls! My personal faves of this year were definately Queen Seon Duk and Shining Inheritance. I’m really enjoying Smile, You too 🙂

    (I can’t believe yesasia STILL doesn’t have Shining Inheritance! Does anyone else know where else I can buy drama sets? Thanks!)

  12. 12 Emily

    For fav alternate pairing, you listed soulmates for BOF twice. Will you add the results?

  13. 13 javabeans

    @Emily, the real “soulmates” are Jan-di and Ji-hoo, while “Soeulmates,” of course, refers to the nickname for So Yi-jung and Ga-eul. But I see that that’s not immediately evident. I’ll add a note, thanks for bringing it up!

  14. 14 Maddie

    After looking at the polls, I realized that I watched a lot of dramas this year! It’s hard to just pick one favorite. I loved City Hall; Smile, You; Sons of Sol Pharmacy; Brilliant Legacy and of course You’re Beautiful!

  15. 15 Linda

    i loved you’re beautiful.. but looking at the results, im wondering if its not biased b/c everyone’s fresh off the drama-craze..

  16. 16 Icarusfalls

    City Hall, You’re Beautiful, Family’s Honor, Smile You, Sons of Sol Pharmacy, and Creating Destiny FTW!!!! I loved all these..
    couldn’t stand BOF even though Jun-pyo was soo freaking adorable, he couldn’t carry the whole show for me.. same with QSD.. I loved Mi-shil and Alcheon but they couldn’t make me watch the whole show.. especially once young Duk Man was replaced by Lee Yo Won!

  17. 17 Emily

    Oh, oopsies! I misread the soulmates and seoulmates.

    I think I chose the wrong one. I wanted Ga Eul and Yi Jung, not Jihoo and Jandi. I doubt it’ll make much of a difference 🙂

  18. 18 momosan

    oooh, some of these are real toughies! I’m becoming a split personality! CH in some YAB in others! Bidam vs Mishil. Mishil vs. Tae Kyung. Such choices! Yikes!

    I would have put Style in biggest disappointment, as that was a hot mess by the end, but I went with Triple. I bailed when they ran over the puppy. And they totally wasted some serious talent in there.

    Actually the whole exercise reinforces to me that I had a surprisingly good year in drama watching! Better than last year anyway.

    No, I’m not living on your site today – although it may seem like it – since this about the 5th comment of the day. I actually came by to check some reviews to see what I should spend my Borders coupon on – got a card and a coupon code, so I’ve got enough for a box set practically free, and I don’t want to waste it and the code ends this evening.

  19. 19 lovenyc52

    Man i was really torn on some… mainly torn between YB and CH… totally different dramas but loved them both. A tough tough decision was best breakout performance… for me it was lee min ho vs. im joo hwan. as much as i am sooo Team Park Kyu, i had to go with Lee Min Ho on this one. While Im Joo Hwan had a pretty solid cast, writing and storyline to work with, i feel Lee Min Ho’s acting really carried BOF, even when the rest (the storyline especially) just got absurd.

    Great poll JB 🙂 Can’t wait to read your 2009 wrap up!

  20. 20 Z

    I think this poll came out too soon after YB ended… the withdrawal hasn’t died down yet.

    How do you choose between Sons of Sol and Smile you for best Family Drama? Why don’t I go ahead choose which of my brothers I love the most while I’m at it…

    And, I really wished I could have voted for Accidental Couple more because it was and absolutely wonderful little show that kind of got overlooked int he City Hall Mania (I actually prefer it to City Hall and watched it in real time, whereas I didn’t pick up CH until after it ended… don’t stone me). So I’m glad it made it into the “Most Underrated” Category.

  21. 21 eunwhui

    you’re beautiful just ended, so it’s more popular, than like boys over flowers, since that seemed FOREVER ago.
    plus. i seem to forget that some shows even showed this year! this year just seemed soooo long!
    my favorite couple is in smile, you: jungin and hyunsoo!
    i just didn’t like the couple in you’re beautiful, though i adored the plot. minam and taekyung are too dysfunctional for my taste. as minam is too clueless too apologetic, and taekyung i don’t think ever understood how to express real love…

  22. 22 Jihwan

    I don’t think 2009 produced alot of top notch dramas but it did air some of the cutest, most lovable dramas. I really fell in love with You’re beautiful (even though I really disliked the first episode) and Tamna Island. Tamna island is definitely one of the most underrated shows this year. I never realized how talented and charismatic Im Joo Hwan is! When I first started the drama I didn’t even think he deserved to be lead, but the more I watched it the more I understood why they chose him. He’s a great actor and I would love to see more of him in 2010!

  23. 23 dramalover

    I know this site is YAB and BOF bias but seriously, how could Go Hyun Jung lose to Jang Geun Seuk and Lee Min Ho? This is such a disrespect to the actress and the whole acting community. And I thought the viewers of this site are more mature than those teenagers. Seriously no matter how much you love YAB or BOF, be fair when you vote ok?

  24. 24 Anonymous

    You have made an excellent review, thanks for letting us to contribute.

  25. 25 mina

    I had some serious mind debate on my favorite trendy drama this year…for me, it’s head to head with You’re Beautiful and City Hall! lol! (randomness) they kinda rhyme…

  26. 26 raine

    Thanks javabeans for the poll! Over at thundie’s blog there were a series of polls as well and I enjoyed doing that so I love that you did it here too!

    anyway call me shallow or whatever but I kept debating whether I’d vote for a trendy drama vs. some well produced underrated drama in some categories… I always end up choosing the trendy drama! LOL 0.o

    the hardest poll question would have to be: “What was your favorite alternate pairing?” I wanted to vote for all of them… well maybe not all because I’ll never in a thousand years vote for JH-JD pairing hahaha… but it was very difficult to choose… I loved seoulmates, I loved jeremy, I loved Shin woo, I love Taebong, I love I love love love poong ho! I also would have loved Il Woo and ChAE won… But, I just can’t help but choose KSY and LBH!

  27. 27 lilsh0rtnancy

    Best drama of the year definitely goes to You’re Beautiful for me. 2009 would’ve been a year of disappointment if it wasn’t for YAB. Perfect casting, fun and well developed characters, consistency in the plot, well-written script and one of the best OST. This drama was filmed as the drama was aired and had a lot of last minute filming, but the quality of the script and the filming did not suffer like it did for BOF. Kudos to the production team and cast.
    Most overrated drama goes to BOF and My Fair Lady.
    After looking forward to the Korean remake of BOF, the script writers left me hating almost every single character that I came to love in the manga and previous adaptations (the best goes to HYD). GJP was weaker than Tsukasa, GJ yelled a lot but didn’t stand up for much, JH was an annoying presence rather than a prince who comes to her rescue, JY was an emotionally wrought character (too much angst for a playboy) and what was the last F4’s name? (who cares, obviously the script writers didn’t).
    My Fair Lady had ALL of the K-drama cliches. My god, how unoriginal was this drama. None of the characters were developed, not even YEH’s leading character. If it wasn’t for YEH and the chic wardrobe, I’d doubt this drama would get any recognition.

  28. 28 luraaa

    Great poll! I had a hard time choosing which one. I was just wondering why BoF is not in the category for the Biggest Disappointment? I’m a HanaDan fan, and I was looking forward to that drama since last year (and I was part of the fan craze as well), but after watching the entire series, I felt like it really was a huge disappointment for Korea’s adaptation of one of the most popular shoujo mangas of all time. True, BoF was fun(if you are part of the craze), but for someone who would see it a few years from now, it might be a disappointment to them as well. I was just thinking that Korea could have done better. (There I go again with all the should haves and could haves).

  29. 29 sue

    i was surprised to find myself voting Return of Iljimae over You’re Beautiful. I think YB’s ending completely ruined it for me, where as RoI was perfect ’till the end!

  30. 30 mimi

    Oh, please give us full coverage of the award ceremony!
    Gu Jun Pyo… swoon!!! sigh!!

  31. 31 luna.tic

    Thanks for the poll, JB! Will look into some of the other dramas on your list (now that YB has ended, i’m still in the re-watching phase!) Happy that YB is highest rated in fav and trendy drama. Glad that most agreed Min Ho made a breakout performance, he deserved it (tho BOF is an addictive mess). Hope to see more of addictive kdramas in 2010!

  32. 32 balletbabeanna

    Hi JB, why wasn’t My Fair Lady under the “BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT” list?

    And I completely agree SUE #29 about the ending of YAB!!!

  33. 33 le meera

    I think Brilliant Legacy would have gotten more votes if you included it in your recaps… 😛

    because there’s a natural bias towards the dramas you recapped, since your readers here would be more familiar toward them. 😛

    and while You’re Beauitful was no doubt, a fun drama, the fact that it just finished and is so fresh in people’s minds can help toward it’s leading factor

  34. 34 Anonymous

    ha! i only finished BOF so I guess it gets my vote for all categories in which it’s listed!

  35. 35 imanonaut


    I think people *are* being fair. The poll was for favorite character and not about quality of acting. I haven’t seen Queen Seon-deok, so I can’t comment on it, but for me Jang Geun-suk’s Hwang Tae-kyung was the best character of the year. I’m not a teenager and I’m not childish, so I’d appreciate not being talked down to just because I don’t share your opinions.

  36. 36 YABaddict

    Wow, looking at this poll I realized that I did not watch a lot of dramas this year…I restrained myself through most of the year only to fall madly in love and addicted to You’re Beautiful.
    But one that I really enjoyed which was not on your list was Hateful but Once Again. I don’t know why I picked it up but once I started I couldn’t stop. I loved the pairing of Jung Gyu Woon and Park Ye Jin. I had never seen her before and thought she was great! I caught a little bit of her in parts of QSD, I watched it on and off and haven’t picked it up again, but I really like her as an actress.
    Hateful but Once Again also had a great soundtrack (mostly instrumental)! I think some of the criticism was that it focused too much on the parents, not enough on the young couple, but I enjoyed the parents’ stories as well. It aired so early in the year I don’t know if it was already nominated for something or not.
    But YAB was definitely the big pleasant surprise of the year! We’ve said so much about it and could still say so much about it, I will restrain myself!

  37. 37 lilsh0rtnancy

    @ dramalover:
    No matter what age you are, you don’t have to be fair when a poll is asking you for your own personal preference, hence “favorite” in the description.
    I’m sure GHJ and QS will sweep the awards at the end of the year so no need to fret over an internet poll.

  38. 38 Infiniti512

    I’m thinking that You’re Beautiful is getting the bandwagon vote. I’m watching it now and its cute but it’s not worth all the buzz. ….And don’t get me started on Boys….

  39. 39 sjsmn

    the most overrated was my fair lady
    the most underrated was the tamna the island
    the most most….. the best was you’re beautiful. that’s it. the end!!!!

  40. 40 Jini

    Thank you for these polls! Must have taken you a long time.

    I loved YB… it’s my favorite drama this year. The 3 male leads made it especially wonderful. Everyone was casted so well. Sure I’m a little disappointed with the ending, but it’s hard to satisfy everyone. and Hong sisters always put out endings making us want more from it… hopefully there will be a season 2 ^.^

    Even tho BoF was all the way back in Jan… I’m very happy soeul couple is still very loved ^.^ and even with the warning… I still managed to misread and voted for jandixjihoo XD

    Daww and I really adored jeremyxminyeo… more than shinwoo… it was less forced and cuter (because hongki is such a dork). although I’m an avid Hongki fan so I’m so biased XD

  41. 41 pabo ceo reom

    Great job with the poll JB!

    Not only was it fun to do, but it also provided a much needed reminder of what went on this year (totally overwhelmed lol).

    Can’t believe this decade is coming to a close already….time flies!

  42. 42 Amg1

    My biggest heart brake was how Yoon Eun Hye, was turn to a mere shadow of here formal self e.g Coffee Prince, the writers of My Fair Lady totally butcher her character, from a potential 2009 best actress to something that was if not comical, a substandard work, not of her own doing but they collapse midway, she remains my favorite Female Actress but this time I must agree with JB specially the ending it really sucked. May 2010 bring Yoon Eun Hye better luck, JB you remain my Favorite blogger in the whole wide world, lots of love, and may you have happy holidays, and a superb 2010…. :0

  43. 43 Icarusfalls

    It was hard to do but I ended up picking City Hall for many things over YAB. For fav., I picked CH… trendy, I picked YAB.. fav couple, CH (DUH!!!!)

    Both dramas are phenomenal and so are Family’s Honr, SoS, Smile you, and brilliant legacy… the whole year was just great!!!!

    The hardest to pick was fav charcater and fav family drama…. I ended going with Family’s honor for the latter.. it is just beautiful!!!! Even though I am a huge fan of SoS, Smile You, and Creating Destiny.. SoS deserved it in my mind w/o a doubt but they had the uberhigh ratings..so….

    and I only picked BOF for two things – overrated and Jun-Pyo’s breakout performance!!!

    BTW, Triple was gravely disappointing..

  44. 44 sophie

    so many of the hearty, good dramas this year were underrated.

  45. 45 sucker for Seok

    Not gonna say anymore about YAB, simply the best!
    I was hugely dissapointed by Style… *sigh

  46. 46 Nom_Kitteh

    I voted even though I shouldn’t have because I only watched five dramas all year: Boys Over Flower, Story of a Man, My Fair Lady, City Hall, and You’re Beautiful.

    Out of the five, though, City Hall and YAB jostled for the top prize, but YAB won. YAB was original, fun, self-referential, irreverent, smart, brilliantly cast, perfectly executed (except towards the end when Shin Woo, UEE, and the batty mom got way too much screen time, at the expense of Angelina Jolie and Jeremy).

    Although both were feel-good shows, I think the fact that the kids in YAB were genuinely having a blast making the drama transmitted a sense of joie de vivre that cinched the gold for me.

    The others: BOF was basically excrement after ep 11 (Lee Min Ho is amazing, though); Story of a Man was too incesty (although all the guys were hot, which was a plus); My Fair Lady was poorly cast and uninspired (poor YEH).

    I love end-of-the-year polls!

  47. 47 lovenyc52

    @ 23 dramalover

    If you read the description under ‘Breakout Performance’ JB clearly explained that as Go Hyun Jung is already an experienced actor, she didn’t qualify in that category. JB also said to vote for your ‘favorite’ and not necessarily the ‘best’ so it’s all a matter of opinion. Just because someone preferred YB or BOF over QSD does not make them immature. Please also keep in mind that as this is JB’s blog and her poll, she can categorize as she pleases and if you don’t agree, too bad.

  48. 48 lenrasoon

    My Favs was “BRILLIANT LEGACY, STORY OF A MAN, QUEEN OF HOUSEWIVES and SONS OF SOL PHARMACY” so i voted for them, but i find so funny that “Boys Before Flowers” didn’t get much vote in comparison to “You’re Beautiful” since when it was aired early in 2009 it was so crazy and everybody just talked about that XD, but i had to vote for Lee min ho on the Breakout performance category, he was good! sorry Yoon Sang Hyun ;_;
    Oh my disappointment was definitely “Triple” and yeah maybe i was expecting too much from it :-/

    i loved this post Javabens, thank you for this ^_^ *i just love polls hehe*

  49. 49 yssers

    I had fun answering this!… answering this made me miss Park Gyu the Exiler!!…

    and You’re beautiful really is a hit!..

  50. 50 Chocolatetree

    Since I am in withdrawal from YAB, almost anything that featured YAB I voted for.

    I felt guilty, but seriously, seeing as I’ve *never* finished a drama before, the fact that I did and am feeling completely forsaken without it shows that YAB was something special. It’s a very surprising and new feeling. Anyway, for me, it deserves the hype since it really got me hard.

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