Five drama recommendations… for when you need to sob it out
by DB Staff
Raise your hand if you’ve ever cried over a K-drama before! Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here are some of our favorite picks for sobbing it out (which is a step up from just a stray tear or a lump in your throat). In other words, here’s a unique collection of dramas — young and old — that hit us in the heart and made us cry rivers of cathartic tears, but also made us love them for it.
Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea, Gaksital is a story of resilience and endurance in the face of hopelessness — and of betrayal, redemption, and sacrifice. It may be a decade old, but it left such an impression on me that many scenes are as fresh and vivid in my mind as if I just watched it yesterday. And if I’m totally honest, it’s one of those K-dramas that I’m a little afraid of attempting to re-watch. There are a few reasons for this, not least of which is that I know I’ll have to prepare myself for the bucketloads of tears. Do I still believe the story is worth all those tears? Yes. But my goodness, did this show make me cry a LOT.
The titular mask-wearing hero, Lee Kang-to (Joo-won), starts out not as a hero, but as a man in an occupied country doing what he believes he has to do to ensure his family survives: assimilate. Almost too late he realizes that he’s not only on the wrong side of history, but he’s also actively and directly hurting the people he loves most. And if a hero with nothing left to lose fighting against impossible odds weren’t tragic enough, Gaksital also gives us best-friends-turned-enemies Kang-to and Kimura Shunji (Park Ki-woong). Ten years later, that’s the heartbreak that still lingers. The friends-to-enemies trope is one of my biggest kryptonites anyway — especially if those friends can’t help missing each other even while knowing the other is out for their blood — and Joo-won and Park Ki-woong made it hurt so, so good. –@mistyisles
Dear My Friends (2016)
As a fan of weekend dramas, I was really excited to see the veteran actors who usually play grandparents coming together as leading characters in the ensemble drama that is Dear My Friends. All I anticipated was a dramatic and fun drama, but not once did I expect to get so emotional while watching it. The drama explores the relationship between a group of friends in their twilight years, and it also delves into the life of the daughter of one of the friends (played by Go Hyun-jung). As she listens to their stories as research for her novel, she unlocks some past memories that she has tried to suppress. And together, they all learn the true meaning of friendship and move past their pain as they discover a new outlook on life.
There’s something about the way Noh Hee-kyung writes that moves me to tears when I watch her dramas, and Dear My Friends (which won best screenplay at the Baeksangs) was no exception. The drama had a very realistic portrayal of friendships and other familial relationships which are neither a fairytale nor a bed of roses. And it was really meaningful to see the ups and downs, and the strengths and weaknesses of these characters as their lives played out on screen.
You can always trust the veterans to bring their A-game acting wise, but the supporting cast was no joke either. And as if that weren’t enough, Lyn’s “Want to be Free” OST playing over several scenes had me bawling my eyes out. Seriously, how can a drama be so heartwarming and yet so heartbreaking at the same time? This is a comforting slice-of-life drama that I highly recommend, but it comes with a warning to watch with a box(es) of tissues, because you’ll definitely need it. –@unit
Just Between Lovers (2017)
I’ll admit I cry easily. But it’s rare that I sob so hard I have to pause a drama because I can’t read the subtitles through the tears. Just Between Lovers is one of those rarities. It’s become my go-to when I need a cathartic cry to remember that while life sometimes goes off course, this cast of seeming outsiders will make me feel like I’m exactly where I need to be.
With a simple premise about surviving a building collapse, the drama gives a cascade of complex ways people deal with trauma. It’s a love story, of course, but it’s also about the connection, support, and strength we can gain from each other — precisely by showing our wounds. Oddly, while the characters suffer terrible losses, it’s not their troubles that bring me to tears. Instead, I find myself sobbing for their small wins. This isn’t a sappy show, where circumstances change and the world is well. In fact, it’s awfully realistic. But the characters find hope despite all that, knowing that while the future may be tough, they’re not alone in facing it.
The problems, for me, are all too relatable, and I find comfort in seeing myself in their world. It’s full of wise words and big truths that help cheer me on as much as they do the protagonists. At the heart of it, there’s something that has always made me cry when someone speaks a solid truth — like I’m finally being seen — and that’s the type of cry this show gives me. –@dramaddictally
Come Here and Hug Me (2018)
For someone who doesn’t favor scary dramas or serial killer anything, I sure talk a lot about this drama, and do a lot of convincing people to watch it. To me, it’s the perfect example of the ubiquitous childhood trauma backstory used for maximum catharsis. First, we get the story of our young teens (cheers for Nam Da-reum) as they hit a terrifying moment that tears them apart. Then, we meet them in the present as adults who are struggling to overcome the trauma from the past — guilt, grief, and fear.
Our heroine has grown up to be a successful actress (Jin Ki-joo in the role that made me love her forever) who’s struggling to keep her head above water, but never giving in entirely to the fear that haunts her. Similarly haunted is our police officer hero — and here, Jang Ki-yong’s stiff and tentative acting works for good and adds many layers to the tormented man his character grew up to be.
The story isn’t a subtle one — it’s a serial killer melo after all — but by gosh the rollercoaster journey of brokenness into healing is one that hit me super hard. It’s the healing element that’s built into the fabric of this drama that made it so emotive for me; I love it for the catharsis of the storytelling as much as for the actual story itself. And it’s still in my top 5 list of dramas that made me cry the hardest. –@missvictrix
Move to Heaven (2021)
Move to Heaven is one of those dramas that you know — even before watching the first episode — will be a massive tearjerker. The synopsis is practically a giant warning label for you to watch with a box of tissues and a tub of chocolate chip cookie dough, but the story’s exploration of family, life, and death are worth the puffy eyes and stuffy nose — and the extra calories.
Lee Je-hoon plays Cho Sang-gu, a man recently released from prison, and like his mullet hairstyle would imply, he’s a little rough around the edges. After his estranged hyung’s passing, he becomes the unlikely guardian for his nephew Geu-ru (Tang Joon-sang), and — thanks to the additional conditions outlined in his brother’s will — this uncle and nephew team up to run the trauma cleaning business Sang-gu’s brother left to them.
In addition to cleaning and organizing the homes of the recently deceased, Geu-ru and his father had a tradition of going the extra mile, taking care to box up the deceased’s most cherished and meaningful possessions to give to their loved ones. As Geu-ru and Sang-gua carry on the tradition, we delve into the lives of the recently departed, gaining a poignant look at their individual stories and the people they’ve left behind. With time, Sang-gu’s hard edges begin to soften as he gains a new perspective, and he lets go of past traumas in order to move on and become a better uncle and guardian. –@daebakgrits
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