Five drama recommendations… with a dose of fantasy
by DB Staff
Though most dramas are set in a present day that we can all relate to (at least somewhat), every now and then dramaland dips its toes into a fantastical setting or premise. Ranging from the sumptuous to the harrowing to the hilarious, the following dramas are some of our favorites when we’re in the mood for a dose of fantasy.
W—Two Worlds (2016)
Fantasy is one of my absolute favorite genres. It’s a place to explore the impossible and ask all kinds of crazy “what if” questions – and W—Two Worlds is not a show that shies away from the crazy what ifs. What if your favorite webtoon character came to life? What if you could jump into the world of your favorite webtoon and change its trajectory? What if you could only leave the webtoon world by finagling yourself into increasingly dramatic predicaments? What if that mysterious villain you wrote gained seemingly infinite power because you never defined any of their limitations?
The world (well, worlds) that W imagines is as dynamic as its characters, from the larger-than-life action hero to the webtoon writer who loses control of his work. It takes you on a wild ride, drags your heart through the wringer (in all the best ways!), and might just leave you feeling a little frightened of your own potential to make future-altering changes in the world around you.
Memories of the Alhambra (2018)
I’m not saying it was perfect, but something about Memories of the Alhambra just did it for me. The romance might not have been perfect, and sure my brain had trouble understanding the rules of the world sometimes, but none of that matters, because this drama took me places. I’ve long since picked apart in my head what I loved about this story so much, and it boils down to this: a hero on a quest that spirals out of control. In the case of Alhambra, our hero (Hyun Bin) starts out confident and in charge, but when the mountain is bigger (and the mystery deeper) than he thought, he ends up broken. The stakes are higher and more deadly than anyone imagined, and they don’t match what could and should be possible in the real world. Ack, it has to be my favorite setup ever, and just a perfect use of the fantasy element.
In Memories of the Alhambra, the rules of reality are bent by an AR video game, but the premise really works for anything. It creates such a different fantasy story than one that starts and finishes with the same premise (like a ghost hotel, or gumiho lover) because it’s about the clash of reality and fantasy. It remains one of my favorites. –@missvictrix
Hotel del Luna (2019)
World building is an integral part of the fantasy genre, and while Hotel del Luna has one foot grounded in reality — and among the living — the other is set in a fantastical hotel full of magic, grandeur, and ghosts with unfinished business. Although the afterlife mythos is routinely explored and reinvented for K-dramas, Hotel del Luna has its own unique lore and rules that make it a standout among the other ghost-centric fantasy dramas.
The story begins hundreds of years ago with a curse that bound our heroine Man-wol (IU) to the hotel, and from there the tale builds, creating a world that is mostly unseen by the living, save a select few who can potentially fill the position as the hotel’s manager. Enter Chan-sung (Yeo Jin-gu), who has been selected as the next — unwilling — manager of Hotel del Luna. As he begins to fill the shoes of his predecessor, we learn about the ins and outs of the hotel and its role in the afterlife. Visually gorgeous and romantic, Hotel del Luna is a bit episodic, but the overarching story that ties everything together is well written and full of heartwarming characters. –@DaebakGrits
The King: Eternal Monarch (2020)
I’m an absolute sucker for the isekai genre and for stories about twins/doppelgangers swapping places. So as much as I may gripe about certain parts of The King: Eternal Monarch, I will also staunchly defend this guilty pleasure favorite. More often than not, isekai stories follow a hero(ine) who travels from our present reality into another fantastical universe, but in this K-drama, our ordinary world is the universe that is unknown to Gon (Lee Min-ho), a king who might as well have stepped out of the pages of a fairy tale.
Although the reality he comes from is not much different from ours, his elevated status and royal cockiness delay his ability to acclimate. It would have behooved him to have concocted a cover story (Isekai 101) to explain his unorthodox apparel and white steed. Instead, he advertises to anyone that asks that he’s a king from another universe (who will behead all those who insult him). It makes for better entertainment, but it’s no wonder that Tae-ul (Kim Go-eun) believes he’s bat guano crazy. As much as I enjoy the leading couple, though, my favorite pairing is doppelgängers Yeong and Eun-seob. The moment they met and Eun-seob realized for the first time he’s handsome, they stole the show — and my heart. –@DaebakGrits
My Roommate is a Gumiho (2021)
The fantasy genre usually also means stories that are sweeping and epic and dramatic, but they can also equal comedy, as in the case of My Roommate is a Gumiho. It had its sweeping moments of drama and fate for sure, but it also relied mostly on the hijinks of its wacky setup: a college student (Hyeri) accidentally swallows the fox bead of a gumiho (Jang Ki-yong) and the two are forced to cohabitate.
Happily, the drama lets Hyeri do what she does best, which is be a hyper and zany girl with her heart exploding off of her sleeve. In contrast to that, we have our ancient gumiho-turned-professor who is quickly running out of time to become human. The fun is in the clash of these two characters and their worlds — somehow they wind up strangely believable as a fated couple, whether they’re eating fried chicken or contending with spirits that aim to keep them apart. If you can swallow the premise as easily as Hyeri swallowed the fox bead, this is an enjoyable (and sometimes joyfully weird) take on the gumiho legend mixed with the elements of a classic K-drama rom-com. –@missvictrix
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- W–Two Worlds: Episode 1
- Memories of the Alhambra: Episode 1
- Hotel del Luna: Episode 1
- The King: Eternal Monarch: Episode 1
- My Roommate Is a Gumiho: Episodes 1-2 (Review)