Five drama recommendations… for legal dramas that don’t suck
by DB Staff
Dramaland loves its legal dramas, but what makes a legal drama really work and become something fun? An accurate depiction of the law and legal process? An injection of romance? A slice-of-life feel that keeps the story about people, instead of just cases?
No matter what makes a legal drama pop for you, there are more than enough to choose from, each with a unique take on the genre. Here are some of our favorites.
I confess I haven’t gotten through very many legal dramas – and many of the ones I did finish were only because I forced myself to slog through those last few episodes. Not so with Suits, whose characters and cases kept me engaged from start to finish. When the newly promoted senior partner Choi Kang-seok (Jang Dong-gun) decides to take a chance on high school dropout Go Yeon-woo (Park Hyung-shik), he does so knowing that Yeon-woo has just made a mistake that ought to land him with jail time – and that taking Yeon-woo under his wing will get them both in even more trouble if they’re caught.
Between those stakes, snippets of poignant and inspiring life lessons sprinkled throughout the episodes, and of course the magnetic chemistry between Jang Dong-gun and Park Hyung-shik, the show kept me riveted with just the right blend of wit and heart. –@mistyisles
Miss Hammurabi (2018)
I’m not a big fan of legal dramas, but what drew me to Miss Hammurabi is the unique focus on judges rather than lawyers. The fact that it’s written by an actual judge was another plus. I am certainly no legal expert, and I’m sure there’s a bit of creative license at play, but it felt like a realistic take on the day-to-day life of judges and the dilemmas they face.
Our way into this legal realm is through our fresh-faced judges played by Go Ara and L. Of course, it wouldn’t be a drama without leads on the opposite end of the spectrum. Go Ara is overly empathetic and struggles to distance herself from her cases, while L is all logic and rules. The more experienced judge played by Sung Dong-il serves as their pragmatic counterpart, helping our judges learn how to approach the emotional and ethical side of their roles in a more nuanced, balanced way.
While this drama isn’t perfect, I found it one of the more interesting and down-to-earth legal dramas I’ve watched. I enjoyed the slice-of-life approach to the lives and work of judges in Korea and watching two young judges figure out what their job means to them. –@quirkycase
Diary of a Prosecutor (2019)
This drama will always hold a special place for me since it’s one of the very first dramas I recapped. I went into it for the leads Lee Sun-kyun and Jung Ryeo-won, both of whom I love. While they were as good as expected, I found a lot more to love about this understated legal drama.
Most stories about lawyers or prosecutors focus on dramatic courtroom scenes for dramatic cases involving murder or other such shocking crime. But Diary of a Prosecutor is all about the grunt work, which takes up most of the prosecutors’ time, and ordinary cases that can range from petty to tragic. The realistic angle likely stems from the fact that it’s inspired by stories and musings from real prosecutors.
I appreciate the way the cases and the characters’ lives weave together thematically, making the case of the week feel more relevant in the grand scheme of the drama. The balance of cases, character development, and inner workings of the legal system is just right. And it’s surprisingly funny, despite the heavy nature of some of the cases and themes. If you want a peek into the daily lives of a lovable group of overworked prosecutors navigating the good, the bad, and the ugly of their profession, this is your drama. –@quirkycase
While legal dramas have been done to death in dramaland, Hyena offers a slightly fresher and fun spin on the genre. There’s no dull moment, and all the little cases sprinkled throughout the drama that seem unrelated, come together in the end to set up the groundwork for the ultimate showdown between the good guys and the baddies.
Hyena also introduces exciting lead characters with a slice of grey in them. Joo Ji-hoon plays a smartass lawyer – the cocky kind that knows he’s good at his job, but is surprisingly a bit of a romanticist. Kim Hye-soo (and her pixie cut) plays a gangster-like lawyer, willing to go any length to win a case. And the combination of these two characters is totally wild!
The drama focuses more on the legal angle and all the shenanigans that go on between the law firm and their clients, and romance is on the back burner. But the electric undercurrent beneath the continuous bickering of the male and female leads more than makes up for it.
It’s a light watch, the mood doesn’t get too serious, and there are a good number of laugh out loud moments in the drama. And if you like setups where the characters grudgingly come together as a team because, well, it’s their job, but they end up forming a bond based on mutual respect and trust — then this is the drama for you. –@unit
Law School (2021)
As the title indicates, this K-drama is more about budding soon-to-be lawyers than actively practicing ones, but it still manages to be one of the more comprehensive legal dramas that I’ve watched. As the students learn about the South Korean judicial system, so do we, and while I cannot vouch for its accuracy, this particular drama’s exploration of the genre feels more realistic because our law students don’t moonlight as vigilantes. Instead of brawling with their fists, they follow — and occasionally exploit — the law to fight injustices on a courtroom battlefield.
Another appealing aspect of this drama is the teamwork demonstrated by the ensemble cast. We get a lot of legal dramas in dramaland where our lead — and maybe his/her love interest — are the driving force behind the story, but Law School features a larger group of students and their professors working together and pooling their combined knowledge to save their clients and uncover the truth behind their professor’s murder. Although the students don’t always agree or get along, it’s the mixture of their combined personalities — plus the added stresses and conflicts they face as competing students — that really make this a unique, standout legal drama. –@daebakgrits
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