[2021 Year in Review] Oh 2021, you shouldn’t have!
I don’t know what it was about 2021, but the year felt uneventful yet fulfilling at the same time. Maybe it’s because, when compared to 2020, there weren’t as many big titles. We didn’t really have anything like Crash Landing on You, The King: Eternal Monarch, or It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. But looking back on my watched shows, I was perfectly content all year long. I had some belly-laughs, some unexpected swoons, some — ahem, a lot of — tears.
Since I’d say that 2021 has given me plenty of gifts, I thought I’d group together my most noteworthy dramas in categorized “gift sets.” I’m a gal who loves receiving a good tea set or pajama set for Christmas, but come on, what’s better than the gift of k-dramas?
The Wildly Fun Gift Set
Mr. Queen, My Roommate Is a Gumiho, Vincenzo
These shows… ooh boy, were they somethin’ special, lol. It occurred to me that I don’t watch a lot of wacky comedies like Chief Kim or Woohoo Waikiki, and I don’t really know why. Maybe I need a little something extra, like this gift set’s dramas. They were funny, but the themes or stories were so out there that it made the humor ten times better. Mr. Queen had the historical time travel angle, along with the ridiculous body swapping hijinks. The jokes were often obvious and predictable, but they still cracked me up, thanks to Shin Hye-sun’s perfect delivery. I couldn’t have cared less for the political storyline, but that’s how I feel about every sageuk. Then, My Roommate Is a Gumiho had its fantasy angle, with a hilariously naive gumiho and his reluctant human roommate. One particular scene involving a meat song makes me laugh just thinking about it. However, nothing made me laugh as much as Vincenzo. With that drama, it’s like they took a simple revenge thriller and dialed everything up to a level 100. The heroes were crazy, the villains crazier, and there were times where I could barely breathe, I was laughing so hard.
The Feel-Good Gift Set
Hospital Playlist, True Beauty, Run On
Arguably one of the best gift sets. It’s all in the title — they make you feel good. As a huge movie buff, Run On was a true delight. The heroine’s love for film paired amazingly with the hero’s zero knowledge in pop culture. A lot of the movie references and parodies were kind of random, but did I care? Nope. Hospital Playlist was another show that felt random at times, which makes sense since it’s just everyday people coming in and out of the hospital. It takes some getting used to, but I grew to like the looseness in the story. Though, admittedly, I was one of those viewers who would watch the show while cooking or folding laundry, my head only snapping up whenever the 99s Squad was onscreen. My favorite out of this set is definitely True Beauty. It was pure bubblegum goodness that brought back all the feels of classic rom-coms like Boys Before Flowers and Dream High. Effortlessly funny, unbearably cute, and it had one of the best heroines of the year, for sure. I’d love to be BFFs with her, reading manhwas and eating ramyun all day.
The Surprising Gem Gift Set
Navillera, Mad for Each Other, You Are My Spring
Don’t you just love when you don’t expect much from a drama and then it completely surprises you? I went into these three dramas thinking they’d be easy mindless watches, and I came out of them an emotional wreck. Navillera promised a sweet bromance, only to taketh said bromance and make it as sad as possible. Sad, but also incredibly inspiring. I was also surprised by how much I liked Song Kang here. Of course, then he went on to do Nevertheless, but I’ll get to that in a different section. You Are My Spring was a weird mix of thoughtful romance and dark mystery, the one constant being the lovely characters. Seo Hyun-jin was great, as usual, but it was Kim Dong-wook who surprised me here. I hadn’t seen him in anything since Coffee Prince, and it was cool to see how far he’s come as an actor since then. Last but not least, Mad for Each Other was a nice compact drama, with plenty of laughs and heart to keep me happy. Though Mr. Queen and Vincenzo were much louder dramas, this particular gift set was just as memorable for me.
The “Why did I watch this” Gift Set
Lovestruck in the City, Nevertheless, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha
To be fair, all three of these titles are actually legitimately well-made shows (well, excluding Nevertheless’s ending). There was a lot that I enjoyed from each, but in the long run, they weren’t for me. For Lovestruck, Ji Chang-wook and Kim Ji-won had good chemistry, but their characters’ romantic journey was the most aggravating thing. The same goes for Nevertheless. Again, Han So-hee and Song Kang = fire chemistry, their characters’ story = straight-up dumpster fire. I know how the original Nevertheless webtoon ended, though, and it was an ending that made me angry, so that greatly affected my views on the drama. Nevertheless (heh, feel free to kick me), Han So-hee made up for it with her badass role in My Name, and I’m hoping Song Kang will make up for it with his upcoming office drama. Hometown wasn’t exactly frustrating, at least not in the same way as the previous two shows. I’d say I was more frustrated by the lack of plot. The romance was fine, and yes, very cute, but it wasn’t enough to fill a 16-hour drama. But, that’s just me. I’m sure there are plenty of drama fans who would absolutely love this gift set.
The Dark Netflix Gift Set
Sweet Home, Hellbound, Squid Game
Anytime Netflix gifts us a new Korean original, I’m like, “Uh. Thank… you?” Because 98 percent of the time, these originals are dark and gritty, when I’d really rather take a romance. (Seriously, is a little romance too much to ask??) But then I watch these dark shows and end up loving them, so I guess I can be forgiving. The three dramas I included in this set all have to do with human survival in unusual circumstances, which I’m learning is a theme I eat up (See: Kingdom.) Out of the three, I enjoyed Hellbound the least, as it was lacking one very important aspect — a connection with the characters. Whereas, with Sweet Home and Squid Game, I felt for these groups of characters. I was so emotionally attached, in fact, that I surprised myself in how hurt I was with the various relationships and deaths. It was also interesting to experience the worldwide phenomenon that Squid Game became. I’ve had numerous non-drama fans ask me about “that squid show,” and explaining dramas to them has been like explaining technology to my parents. But hey, I’m glad that more people are talking about Korean entertainment in such a positive light.
The Ro-woon Gift Set
Sunbae Don’t Put On That Lipstick, The King’s Affection
I thought it was weird that out of all the fun, crazy dramas that aired this year, the quiet office romance Sunbae is my #1 favorite. But it’s the one that always comes to mind when I try to remember what made me happiest. Was it because of my weakness for the noona/dongsaeng theme? Because of Ro-woon and his beautiful eyebrows? Yes and yes, but also because the romance did everything I wanted it to and more. I loved the couple’s dynamic — their way of talking, of showing affection, of working towards a healthy relationship. We also got so much of our couple being happy and in love, without it feeling boring or unnecessary. Even when the angst hit, it happened in a satisfying way. What can I say, the drama was tailor-made for me. After falling for Ro-woon, I was bound to love The King’s Affection as well. His character is as silly and bashful as his Sunbae character, and it’s just what I need to balance out the seriousness and awesomeness that comes with Park Eun-bin’s character. These dramas get an extra ten points for the height differences alone.
The Lee Do-hyun Gift Set
Beyond Evil, Youth of May, Melancholia
Okay, so yeah, Lee Do-hyun only had, like, two scenes in Beyond Evil, but I did start the drama because of him. And because of that, I ended up falling into a thrilling series that I probably wouldn’t have watched otherwise. I feel like Lee Do-hyun is that kind of actor to me — he’s led me to dramas that surprise me and stay with me in ways I can’t explain. In the case of Youth of May, my excitement for the drama made me want to do my research on the history of Gwangju. I really, really loved the drama, but I honestly don’t like thinking about it because of how painful it was, both in the romance and in knowing that the backdrop was based on a real tragedy. Melancholia is still underway and promising some pain as well, but I’m hoping it won’t hurt as much, especially since I’m quite attached to the main characters and their unique bond. That’s how Lee Do-hyun’s dramas tend to be, though — they take me by the heart with a vice-like grip.
That said, I have to make an honorable mention for Eighteen Again, which I wasn’t able to write about last year since I binged it late 2020/early 2021. It’s the drama responsible for my unhealthy obsession with Lee Do-hyun, and it’s a drama that even a year later, I can’t stop thinking or talking about. (Apologies to family, friends, and beanies who have had to deal with my constant gushing. I have no self-control.) I recently watched it a second time, and you best believe I’m gonna be watching it a third time, when I need a go-to pick-me-up.
I’m sad to see yet another year go so soon, but as always, I look forward to whatever’s coming next. I already have way too many anticipated dramas for 2022, plus all the 2021 dramas I wasn’t able to watch but still want to. So much for sleep, right? The neverending k-drama journey continues — and it’s been great having y’all along for the ride! 💖
- [2021 Year in Review] Part 1: The Bean Count
- [Theme of the Month] Tell us about your year in dramas
- [Theme of the Month] Your year in dramas
- [Theme of the Month] Your year in dramas
- [Theme of the Month] Family drama
- [Theme of the Month] The horror
- [Theme of the Month] Hey, that’s me (again)
- [Theme of the Month] Hey, that’s me
- [Theme of the Month] Villains
- [Theme of the Month] K-dramas and community
- [Theme of the Month] Dramas and food
- [Theme of the Month] Short but sweet
- [Theme of the Month] Adaptations
- [Theme of the Month] Happily never after
- [Theme of the Month] Plot twists
- [Theme of the Month] Year in dramas