javabeans: And here we are, with the last of our 10th-anniversary Top 10 lists! Our initial goal in doing these Top 10’s was to celebrate our 10th birthday, and while we didn’t quite make all 10 fit into our birthday month, better late than never?
girlfriday: Since we’re 10 years old all year long, I think it counts!
javabeans: We do intend to keep writing Top 10 lists, but this puts an end to our Anniversary 10 Top 10’s for the time being.
girlfriday: Our last list is, appropriately, Top 10 favorite dramas of all time.
javabeans: We opened this one up to the rest of our staff, and it was fascinating to see not only which titles everyone picked, but also their reasoning for going that way. One person might have been influenced most by character, another by plot, another by emotional response.
girlfriday: I had a lot of fun reading everyone’s lists, so we hope you do too!
There are great dramas that can be excellent fun while watching, but they don’t make my all-time favorites list without this one crucial element: feeling that perfect (or close-to-perfect) sense of satisfaction at the end. These are the dramas that make me sigh in contentment, feel that every minute was worth it, and leave a warm glow for years to come.
1. Shut Up: Flower Boy Band: Captures the turmoil of adolescence, with bromance and rock music.
2. Princess’s Man: One of the fiercest, most resourceful heroines around. Thrilling and romantic.
3. Delightful Girl Chun-hyang: A sentimental favorite! Funny, sweet, and satisfying.
4. Soulmate: Witty, refreshing take on modern love with a breezy attitude.
5. Joseon X-Files: Smartly written, mind-bending plot twists, wryly funny, and unexpectedly moving.
6. Return of Iljimae: Achingly poignant, beautiful, wistful. Not one false step.
7. Gaksital: Epic. Intense. It’ll shred you up and stick with you for ages.
8. Dal Ja’s Spring: Relatable heroine, sweet romance, uplifting take on modern careers and friendships.
9. Story of a Man: Sometimes dark, sometimes zippy fun—capers, bromance, and a satisfyingly matched hero-villain standoff.
10. This Week, My Wife Will Have an Affair: Both cuttingly painful and cuttingly funny, interwoven with hope and understanding.
These are the dramas that burrowed into my soul and took up residence there, leading me down countless imaginary roads where their stories continued and I never had to say goodbye. My favorite stories are the ones that naturally lead me to write a second season in my head, because the characters just refuse to go towards the light.
1. Answer Me 1997: My era, my youth, my story.
2. Misaeng: This drama is how I feel about adulthood. This explains my reluctance to be an adult.
3. Coffee Prince: My ideal romance, if the world were perfect.
4. I Hear Your Voice: Pure addiction in drama form. My favorite cohabitation hijinks and noona romance in one.
5. Return of Iljimae: Sweeping origin story of a hero full of loneliness and pathos.
6. My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho: Grade A beef rom-com comfort food. Nom nom nom.
7. Gaksital: Sometimes history is the best drama, and ordinary heroes are the most extraordinary.
8. School 2013: The only drama couple I ship in real life.
9. Splish Splash Love: Such a perfect little dose of swoony fantasy romance in such a small bite.
10. White Christmas: Left me scarred for life. Why do I keep rewatching it?
I always gravitate more toward dramas with both intellectual and emotional value, so these aren’t just my favorites, they’re also dramas I would wholeheartedly recommend without a moment’s hesitation as perfect examples of what K-dramas bring to the table that other forms of television media rarely can: an unmatched sense of pathos, a complete story, and the ability to both immerse and transport us.
1. White Christmas: Gorgeous, dark, twisty, what-is-the-nature-of-humanity masterpiece.
2. Chuno: Manes of glory and abs and Jang Hyuk, oh my!
3. Tree With Deep Roots: That villain reveal is still unmatched. Also, Jang Hyuk.
4. Liar Game: Best drama villain ever, best hero ever, best mind games. #sixseasonsandamovie
5. Six Flying Dragons: It’s like my fifth favorite drama wrapped around my third favorite drama.
6. End of the World: Death and disease on an apocalyptic scale? Yes please.
7. Conspiracy in the Court: Gripping, depressing, uplifting, unrelenting, masterful.
8. Punch: Amazing villain, deft storytelling, out of this world acting.
9. Heartless City: Dark like my soul.
10. History of the Salaryman: Truly one of a kind, offbeat and hilarious. All hail Yeo-chi.
Take one look at this list and here’s what you can learn about me: I like my heroes flawed, my villains smart, and the darker and grittier the dramaverse, the better. My demands are simple, but hard to meet when it comes to all-time faves, and these are the stories that have secured an eternal place in my heart.
1. Heartless City: Bros before hos, and sometimes drugs.
2. Signal: Can you hear my still beating heart now? Good.
3. Bad Guys: It takes one to know one.
4. Story of a Man: Brainy is the new sexy.
5. Shut Up: Flower Boy Band: Eye Candy.
6. Punch: Sock it to ’em.
7. Liar Game: Go big or go home.
8. Soulmate: This is not a love song.
9. Kill Me, Heal Me: I can’t split my love for you into seven.
10. Autumn Fairy Tale: Won Bin, the original Oppa.
It’s difficult to articulate my subjectivity and natural draw to my favorite dramas, but my final picks ultimately depended on my chemistry with the drama itself. Something in the narratives of these dramas sparked my inclination to fall into the stories head first and remain captured by them through the end.
1. Signal: Waiting for the walkie talkie crackle from Season 2 to let me know that it’s happening.
2. Healer: Clever and lonely night errand boy with adorable alter egos finds people he’d risk his life to protect.
3. Answer Me 1997: A nostalgia for young effervescence that woke up the fangirl I never knew existed.
4. My Name is Kim Sam-soon: The original mortified and unapologetic heroine who strutted away all her haters. She was my idol.
5. Misaeng: Life will always be tragically incomplete, but at least we’re trying to complete it together.
6. Dear My Friends: When I grow up, I want to be them.
7. Gaksital: Epically treacherous. Epically revolutionary. So. Freaking. Epic.
8. Full House: Imagine younger Rain playing himself and adorably dancing to “Gom Se Mari” to cheer up his cohabiter.
9. Queen In-hyun’s Man: Just keep kissing the Joseon scholar until he figures out what it means.
10. Famous Chil Princesses: The family drama that made me want to live in a family drama. Maybe Lee Seung-gi and Park Hae-jin have a little to do with that.
I don’t really have any particular theme or reasons for my top ten, other that that these are the shows that have grounded and increased my love for Korean dramas for one reason or another. And it’s difficult to condense into one sentence why I love them so much, but I’ll do my best — basically, I just love them because I love them, and that’s all there is to it.
1. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju: Favorite relationship, Bok-ju and Joon-hyung were perfect for each other in every way.
2. Shut Up: Flower Boy Band: Favorite boys, I’m still upset Eye Candy isn’t a real-life band.
3. Flower Boy Ramyun Shop: Favorite first Korean drama, the one that started it all.
4. The King 2 Hearts: Favorite downfall of an anti-hero due to love, also favorite second lead (I love you Earnest Bot).
5. School 2013: Favorite bromance, no romance could ever hold a candle to the love between Nam-soon and Hyung-soo.
6. Queen In-hyun’s Man: Favorite time-traveler (Boong-do will always be my ideal sexy nerd).
7. Answer Me 1997: Favorite bit of nostalgia… who can forget their first boy-band crushes?
8. Coffee Prince: Favorite cross-dressing drama, and my favorite first kiss.
9. Arang and the Magistrate: Favorite fantasy, the lore and world-building are still unmatched.
10. Heart to Heart: Favorite show I’ve recapped, I can’t even really say why, just that I enjoyed every minute of it.
As a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” drama addict, “favorite” primarily means “watched more than once.” Likely drama candidates contain memorable characters, establish a sense of ownership after experiencing the debut of now beloved actors/actresses, and exploit my weakness for an ensemble cast filled with oddball personalities.
1. Answer Me 1997: “The reason I like you? … Because you’re you.”
2. What’s Up?: students filling my soul with their stories and song
3. Misaeng: the joy and pain of an exquisitely crafted drama
4. White Christmas: it’s not the holidays without Merry Mad Mir-eu
5. City Hall: Kim Sun-ah at her best, both comedically and emotionally
6. Story of a Man: platonic ideal of cat-and-mouse games (plus Park Ki-woong!)
7. Harvest Villa: goes to 11 on the “dark and quirky” dial
8. Flower Boy Next Door: Webtoon Editor is my patronus
9. King of Dramas: Jung Ryeo-won *heart eyes* and “What would Anthony do?”
10. Coffee Prince: Waffle Prince is the only prince I need
This list is fluid and ever-changing—it’s what I love now, with a slant towards recent shows because my memory sucks. It also doubles as my “shows I hawk to K-drama virgins”-list. For me, these shows transcend culture, language, and genre, to make a full meal for my hungry heart.
1. Signal: I don’t think I need to explain this one.
2. Healer: Just so heart-bursting and badass.
3. I Hear Your Voice: Hits every single sweet spot.
4. Two Weeks: Grand High Oppa, Lee Jun-ki.
5. Secret: I discover revenge melos. Where were you all my life.
6. I Remember You: Creepy, funny and bleeding-hearty.
7. Shut Up: Flower Boy Band: Aaall the bromance forever! Scraping my heart off the pavement.
8. Faith: I adore old-fashioned romances, especially when they involve sword-wielding warriors.
9. Dal-ja’s Spring: Also noona romances.
10. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju: And youthful romances. Everything about this drama is unadulterated joy.
If I were stranded on a deserted island and could only take ten dramas with me, which ten would I take? Here’s my list as of this writing, but I can’t promise that a new show (or a new-to-me, but old show) won’t cause an overhaul in the future.
1. Answer Me 1988: Wholly satisfying on so many levels.
2. Healer: Swoony hero + plucky heroine = consummate romance.
3. School 2013: Teenage angst, wrapped in a perfectly imperfect package.
4. Coffee Prince: Whether man or alien, love conquers all (harbinger of #9).
5. My Name is Kim Sam Soon: Sassy protagonist changes the drama landscape.
6. Bottom of the 9th with 2 Outs: A favorite friends-to-lovers tale.
7. Sandglass: Deservedly the drama of the decade, possibly the century.
8. Moonlight Drawn By Clouds: Puppy love packs an unexpectedly emotional punch.
9. You From Another Star: No one’s immune to Chun Song-yi’s charms.
10. The Lonely Shining Goblin: Flawed, but if you’re in the mood for melancholy…
My favorites are relatively recent except for a few oldies in the mix. I generally gravitate towards human and/or dark dramas with deft writing; eye candy isn’t even a requirement for me anymore! Perhaps because of my quarterlife crisis, I have a preference for pathos over sunshine and rainbows.
1. Misaeng: Jang Geu-rae got me TOO well.
2. Signal: The two operative words will always be “must” and “watch.”
3. I Hear Your Voice: I finally understood that the noona romance hype is real.
4. This Week, My Wife Will Have an Affair: Writing and directing perfection.
5. The Producers: Behind the scenes drama never ceases to amuse me.
6. Dear My Friends: Aging is sobering, but there’s comfort in its universality.
7. Answer Me 1988: Warmed my heart like a mother’s home cooked meal.
8. Memory: Guaranteed inducer of catharsis. Didn’t mind crying in every episode.
9. Stairway to Heaven: My full-blown obsession with this one lasted many years.
10. Autumn Fairy Tale: Three beautiful actors + tear-jerking story = smitten K-drama neophyte, aged nine.
In the spirit of the Top Ten Countdown, I’ve divided my favorite dramas into ten categories. Granted, my selections may not be the best examples of their groupings, but when I’m in the mood for a certain type of show, these are my go-to choices.
1. Coffee Prince (Gender Bender): Proof that love is blind whether you’re man, woman, or alien.
2. Witch’s Romance (Noona Romance): The end all of noona romances. Plus, Park Seo-joon…
3. Healer (Action): Cheeky hero, plucky heroine, clever story, and beautiful action scenes.
4. I Hear Your Voice (Supernatural Twist): Adorable puppy love, and one of my favorite villains.
5. Descended From the Sun (Bromance): The main leads actually get out-chemistry-ed by the male leads.
6. Arang and the Magistrate (Fusion Sageuk): Awesome world-building and character development. And Lee Jun-ki is preeetty.
7. Queen In-hyun’s Man (Time Travel): An almost perfect show that redefines “long-distance relationship.”
8. Delightful Girl Chun-hyang (Old School): So, not that old school, but it’s the oldest of my favorites.
9. Secret (Melodrama): I watched, I cried, I angsted — rinse, repeat.
10. Scent of a Woman (Chemistry): Ignore the plot and just watch for any Tango scene.
I love dramas with memorable characters which is why I probably favor shows with an ensemble cast or scene-stealing side characters. Effortless rapport between characters is the essential element of a good show for me.
1. Mixed-up Investigative Agency: Wacky, mysterious, and utterly brilliant.
2. Jejoongwon: The quintessential story of a remarkable underdog.
3. The Chaser: The monologues are pure gold.
4. Giant: Epic.
5. Signal: Riveting and suspenseful.
6. Queen’s Classroom: A thoughtful and sophisticated depiction of youth and school.
7. Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father: Four masterfully crafted and darkly funny episodes.
8. Bad Family: The perfect balance of outrageous comedy and family love.
9. Answer Me 1988: A nostalgic tale about family and friends that transcends time.
10. Resurrection: Dark, intricate, and an exemplar in its genre.
Some dramas come and go, but these have stayed in my heart. I gravitate toward them because they’ve withstood the test of time, and I’m continually surprised by how much I enjoy them even after multiple rewatches.
1. Jumong: Best ruler origin story ever.
2. Hwang Jin-yi: Why I still try Jang Geun-seok dramas, despite all the flops.
3. Empress Ki: No man stands in the way of this female badass.
4. Full House: Celebrity’s contract marriage and Rain’s cute jealousy face. I’m sold.
5. Stairway to Heaven: Heartbreaking in the most painfully addicting way.
6. Ojakkyo Brothers: Warming like piping hot duck soup on a snowy day.
7. My Daughter Seo-young: Family drama where every subplot is heartfelt and rewarding.
8. Family’s Honor: I love you because you love a dead man – the catch-22 hurts so good.
9. Nice Guy: Ultimate prickly ice princess story, with a twist of revenge.
10. The King 2 Hearts: You can never have too much Ha Ji-won in your life.
I’m surprised (and kinda embarrassed) that my favorites are nowhere near my Top 10 Objectively Best K-dramas list. Looking at it, I seem to love shows with female characters that I either support, adore, or am in awe of.
1. Delightful Girl Chun-hyang: Still waiting for my Chun-hyang ♥ Mong-ryong reunion, Drama Gods…
2. Splish Splash Love: Only Algebra can make Sejong fall in love.
3. Prosecutor Princess: No frying pans of badassery, but Unni learns lawyering while staying fabulous.
4. Sungkyunkwan Scandal: Geol-oh’s hero hiccups + Yoon-shik/hee’s nerdery = Move over, Titanic.
5. My Girl: Jun-ki’s hair is the least funniest thing in this show, and that’s saying something.
6. Dream High: Adorable Robot Suzy as a plot point. What’s not to love?
7. Heartless City: Everyone’s here for the bromance, sismance, and sexy gang war music.
8. W—Two Worlds: Really shocking and amazing start. I don’t regret watching it.
9. Tree With Deep Roots: I didn’t know a language’s history can be this bloody (awesome).
10. Age of Youth: My subconscious was split into five and they became roommates.
Happy big one-oh, Dramabeans! Now with dramas, I tend to gravitate towards the outrageously weird (fantasy, slapstick, etc.). But as I get older, the slice-of-life dramas sneak their way into my heart and, inevitably, my favorites list. So yeah, I like weird. With the occasional sprinkle of ordinary.
1. My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho: This will never be dethroned from its #1 spot. Never.
2. I Hear Your Voice: Redefined love for me. OTP moments still leave me breathless.
3. You From Another Star: Magic. Reminded me why I’m so obsessed with fairy tales.
4. Flower Boy Ramyun Shop: So silly, loud, and downright wild. In other words, awesome.
5. Coffee Prince: The Disney of dramas – it’s just a classic.
6. School 2013: My go-to comfort show. It’s like a nice angsty hug.
7. Pinocchio: Can never have enough Lee Jong-seok. Or writer Park Hye-ryun.
8. Healer: Jumped on this bandwagon super late, but I jumped nonetheless.
9. Brilliant Legacy: An old guilty pleasure for me and my mom.
10. Age of Youth: My soul mate in drama form. ♥
When I watch a drama, I’m usually in it for the comedic hijinks and heart-fluttering romances, but sometimes I can’t help but factor in other elements like a heart-wrenching bromance or a terrifying villain. Therefore, my list is organized according to “the feels when” (TFW):
1. School 2013: TFW you realize your bro hated you because he loved you.
2. I Hear Your Voice: TFW your drenched puppy is so happy to see you that nothing else matters to him.
3. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju: TFW your boyfriend KNOWS he’s making your heart skip beats.
4. Protect the Boss: TFW “villains” are so hilariously ineffective that it’s endearing by the end.
5. You From Another Star: TFW Chun Song-yi brings out her rap game.
6. Master’s Sun: TFW skinship is the solution to your problems.
7. Descended From the Sun: TFW your boyfriend is a smart-talker but terrible liar.
8. You’re Beautiful: TFW you’re an ex-nun living with cute boys.
9. Sungkyunkwan Scandal: TFW your bro tries to stop you from getting yourself killed.
10. Liar Game: TFW you’re not sure who to trust in this world anymore.
I’m surprised to find a number of new dramas made their way onto my top ten list, but there’s no denying that the level of quality coming out of dramaland in recent years keeps surpassing expectations. For me, it’s about what characters stay in my mind and steal my heart.
1. Misaeng: Chief Oh is my favorite character of all time.
2. My Name is Kim Sam-soon: Oh wait, maybe Sam-soon?
3. Answer Me 1988: Crap, definitely Choi Taek.
4. Signal: Okay, let’s be honest, Lee Jae-han has his own list.
5. My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho: But… then what about meat-loving Mi-ho?
6. Oh My Ghostess: Kang Chef would never stand for this kind of indecisiveness!
7. Coffee Prince: Then again, Han-gyul would totally sympathize.
8. Autumn Fairy Tale: Look, Eun-suh had some real dilemmas, you’re being a baby.
9. My Girl: I know, let’s just drink away the confusion like Yoo-rin.
10. Queen Seon-deok: I meant to say, Mishil is the greatest ever… *gulp*
My favorite dramas have the kind of writing and acting that bring characters to life, so their journeys feel like my own. These shows follow their characters as they grow into their true selves, or fall in love with their perfect other halves—or both—and live on in my imagination to this day.
1. Misaeng: Has there ever been a more insightful, heartbreaking, glorious exploration of the human condition?
2. Signal: It felt like I didn’t breathe for sixteen episodes, and when it was over I wanted to do it again.
3. Coffee Prince: You never forget your first (drama) love—especially if his name is Choi Han-kyul.
4. City Hall: An intelligent, realistic love story between adults that’s also swooningly romantic.
5. Scandal: A Shocking and Wrongful Incident: A brilliant hybrid of revenge thriller and family melodrama.
6. Can You Hear My Heart: This family shattered my heart and put it together again, bursting with even more love.
7. Alone in Love: The various ways people love each other, and how to mend a broken heart.
8. Que Sera, Sera: A twisted, emotional love story that felt almost too real and vulnerable.
9. Shut Up: Flower Boy Band: Best coming-of-age music drama ever. Ever.
10. Tamra the Island: Park Kyu’s epic transformation is forever engraved on my heart.
Secondary relationships are what make a drama particularly memorable in my book, adding extra layers that give me much to appreciate long after the drama concludes. Great performances from a talented cast are a given, but it’s those special connections that give my favorites a significant edge.
1. You From Another Star: Funny and heartwarming.
2. Pinocchio: The dads hold a special place in my heart.
3. High School King of Savvy: A grandpa and his loving grandson.
4. Answer Me 1988: The veteran actors who played the parents.
5. Page Turner: Short but sweet!
6. I Remember You: Bittersweet bromance.
7. You’re Beautiful: So much angst!
8. Dear My Friends: Deeply talented cast.
9. Sassy Go Go: The sweetest triangle.
10. Scent of a Woman: Love this mother and daughter.
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