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Five drama recommendations… with vigilante heroes


There are heroes, and then there are vigilante heroes. Whether they’re fighting against the system that failed them, against deep-rooted corruption, or against their own demons — or heck, why not all three — there is something very satisfying about how K-dramas spin these tales. Here are some of our favorite dramas about vigilante heroes: some old, some new, all beautiful.


 

Five drama recommendations… with vigilante heroes
City Hunter (2011)

 
I’ve said it before, but City Hunter will probably always hold the honorary title of my favorite K-drama, regardless of how many “better” ones I’ve watched and loved since. It completely captivated me from Episode 1, drove me to multiple re-watches in a very short period of time, and — fun fact — was part of what led me to discover Dramabeans recaps. (Thanks, City Hunter!)

Our hero, Lee Yoon-sung (Lee Min-ho) was kidnapped as a baby and raised to be the perfect revenge weapon by his late father’s best friend, Lee Jin-pyo (Kim Sang-joong). As Jin-pyo lays out an elaborate plan to kill the five men who betrayed him and his comrades, Yoon-sung finds himself caught in the classic dilemma of how to exact justice where the law fails to do so without losing his soul — or his love — in the process. This of course puts him at odds with secret service agent Kim Nana (Park Min-young) and dogged prosecutor Kim Young-joo (Lee Jun-hyuk), despite falling in love with the former and sharing somewhat of a common goal (justice) with the latter.

This drama really does have it all: revenge, romance, secret identities, iconic fight scenes (the spoon sequence, anyone?), a lovable ajusshi sidekick, complicated father/son relationships, cohabitation hijinks, and much more. And while it’s entirely possible that the pedestal I’ve placed it on in my head is one that it doesn’t quite deserve, I’m perfectly happy to leave it there anyway.
@mistyisles

 

Five drama recommendations… with vigilante heroes
Heartless City (2013)

 
There’s a lot of vigilante stories in dramaland, but noirs are in short supply. That’s part of what made Heartless City so memorable, especially back in 2013 when it aired. The drama is about a criminal enterprise and the undercover investigation that seeks to bring them down. It’s dark, it’s gritty, it’s intense, and it’s got Jung Kyung-ho as an elusive figure in the criminal underworld who is accused of murder and seeks to catch the true culprit.

Heartless City is the drama that introduced me to Jung Kyung-ho, and what an introduction it was. I love a good vigilante or antihero type, and his inscrutable, tortured criminal boss with hidden depths hit the spot. Add in a bromance between Jung Kyung-ho and Yoon Hyun-min and a badass Kim Yoo-mi as the enterprising criminal Madam Lee, and I was sold.

Despite centering on cartels and the seedy criminal underworld, as with all the best Korean dramas, this drama (ironically) has heart. It also keeps you guessing and has that vigilante hero goodness that makes for an engrossing watch. If you’re looking for a different type of vigilante story with a touch of noir, Heartless City is your drama. –@quirkycase

 

Five drama recommendations… with vigilante heroes
Healer (2014)

 
At first glance, Healer shares a lot of similarities with City Hunter — revenge, a vigilante who pretends to be terrible at fighting to avoid discovery, Park Min-young — so it makes sense that the two are often compared to each other, and that both rank high on my favorites list. The titular “Healer,” A.K.A. Jung-hoo (Ji-chang-wook), is a sort of mercenary-for-hire who just wants to earn enough money to move away to his own private island for the rest of his life. Until, that is, he starts getting deeply and personally invested in one of his jobs. And in a certain reporter.

With probably my favorite performances from both Ji Chang-wook and Park Min-young, an adorable and compelling romance (that places the hero in a love triangle against himself, no less!), Kim Mi-kyung as an eccentric computer-hacking sidekick, plenty of mystery and intrigue, and a quest to right the wrongs of the previous generation, there’s a lot to love about Healer, whether it’s your first time through or a re-watch years later. In fact, you might even say it’s an Eternal Love. (Sorry.) (Not really.) –@mistyisles

 

Five drama recommendations… with vigilante heroes
Taxi Driver (2021)

 
Sometimes, there’s nothing more satisfying than the sheer catharsis of beating a vile villain up. Taxi Driver follows a group of vigilantes who run a taxi company as a cover for their real operation — exacting vengeance on the behalf of victims who cannot receive recourse through legal channels.

Lee Je-hoon stars as Kim Do-gi, a role that highlights the ferocious intensity of his acting and showcases his versatility. As Do-gi goes undercover, he dons a wide array of (often hilarious) disguises, and Lee Je-hoon leans into each persona with such gusto. He may be quick to use his fists, but don’t mistake that for a lack of wit. Each case has the team devising detailed strategies to take down the bad guys, and it’s so exciting to watch them outsmart and outmaneuver their opponents.

The drama also features one of my favorite musical actresses, Cha Ji-yeon, in the role of the evil madame; her theater prowess shines through in her effortless charisma that simply commands the screen every time she appears. She presents a formidable foe for our heroes to defeat, which makes their cat-and-mouse game so nail-biting. I love that the other leading ladies, Esom and Pyo Ye-jin, are equally capable and proactive — they’re no damsels in distress, and they have the mettle to prove it.

The drama has a strong cast all around, from the Rainbow Taxi team to the victims of each case, and I found myself crying, laughing, and rooting for all of them by the end of it. If you’re looking for a thrilling ride that will evoke your emotions and heal your heart, with a stylish soundtrack and sleek cinematography to boot, Taxi Driver is the show for you. (And I’m so excited for the sequel, which is slated for next year!) –@solstices

 

Five drama recommendations… with vigilante heroes
Vincenzo (2021)

 
There’s something extremely attractive about a sharply-dressed man dishing out vigilante justice, so it should come as no surprise that I’m a huge fan of Vincenzo and its titular character, who often kicks butt while wearing a three-piece suit. Although Vincenzo’s (Song Joong-ki) backstory is a bit preposterous, this particular Italian mafia consigliere isn’t motivated by personal revenge or an overwhelming sense of righteousness like most vigilantes. Instead, our anti-hero initially avoids the fight he’s ultimately drawn into, and his alliance with the wacky tenants of Geumga Plaza, the building situated on top of his hidden gold bar stash, started out as a matter of self — well, gold — preservation. But when the bad guys start crossing lines that even he wouldn’t step over, his motivation shifts from safeguarding his gold to defending those he’s grown to care about — and his gold, of course.

Vigilante stories are only as good as their villain, though, and the secret mastermind behind all the corruption and murders in this particular drama is as compelling and intriguing as our hero. Working in the shadows and with a puppet as the face of the evil company that’s out to destroy the little guy, the real Big Bad is violent, sadistic, and not afraid to get his hands bloody — even though he has plenty of people who can do his dirty work for him. While there is a lot of humor thrown into this drama and the primary battlefield is in the courtroom, Vincenzo — like any vigilante — ultimately works outside the law to punish the villains who are too wiley and powerful to be apprehended by legal means. –@daebakgrits

Five drama recommendations… with vigilante heroes

 
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1. I simply CANNOT with City Hunter, he beat up someone with a spoon, WHY, HOW? lol.
2. Heartless city started off so well, but really out-twisted itself, but it was beautifully acted though.
3. I will always love Healer. I was obsessed with this drama. PMY and JCW had THE best chemistry.
4. Taxi Driver was trauma porn and I couldn't finish it, that level of pile on is not for me and I regularly watch violent things.
5. Vincenzo is more of an anti-hero. I loved this drama too.

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This is where I say that City Hunter was basically a spy drama spoof and people who love it side-eye me or hope if they ignore me I'll go away.

Taxi Driver should be on that list of dramas that shouldn't exist (oh wait, that's the other thread).

Healer is what happens when you make City Hunter and then realise you can do it better.

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City Hunter would be better if it was clever enough to be a spoof, so I will bow to this wisdom, lol.

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If you watch it as a spoof, it's actually very funny. Just the image of that child in Thailand growing up to be Lee Min Who - I laughed. Out loud.

All the posing in designer labels. What's-his-name played the role like he was doing a shoot for a fashion magazine on Vigilante Chic.

You're right, it was entirely unintentional. But if it had tried to be a spoof, I think it wouldn't have been as funny. Actual comedies haven't made me laugh as hard as City Hunter when it was at its most serious.

I should rewatch it actually.

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Tell me how that re-watch goes and I'll think about it. Also a child in Thailand growing up to be Lee Min Ho with distinctive red hair and a hat and mask to disguise his identity. lol

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Ha. Things like your #1 are precisely why I have not watched City Hunter in nearly a decade. I prefer the rose-tinted glasses afforded by a bad memory...

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Lol, to be fair it is one of the few things I distinctly remember from that drama. There are some other things, but that was the most absurd.

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I have never been able to connect with vigilante heroes or justice. In real life vigilante justice leads to violence, death and mayhem, so its gets difficult for me to turn my brain off and enjoy it as a form of entertainment.

The only show I came to somewhat like is Healer and Taxi driver has made to swear off all these type of stories.

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One of my most favorite tropes. I started listing shows and it got so long I had to delete it! Including heros fighting corruption made too many shows qualified.

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What do we think about Mr. Sunshine in this category? The definitions of "vigilante" and "rebel fighter" are pretty close after all...

And then we can add Go Ae-shin and Lee Yang-hwa to this fairly male dominated list. I think Go Ae-shin fits especially well, as we often see her flitting around over rooftops dressed all in black with her trusty sniper rifle in hand.

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Under your definition, I would add Bridal Mask to the list. The villain, in this case, is WWII-era Japan.

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1) As a kid who grew up with the Japanese anime City Hunter, I was so disapointed by the Kdrama. I never was a fan of Lee Min-Ho and Park Min-Young was pretty bad as a bodyguard...
2) I'm not sure it's vigilante story. But it was great. Jung Kyung-Ho looked the best in this drama!
3) Healer is one of my favourite drama! It has all the elements : action, humor, romance, sadness, chemistry, great actors.
4) It was pretty violent but it was fun.
5) Vincenzo was a big surprise. The plot looked so weird on paper. But it worked so well thanks to the actors and the PD.

Mad Dog It was pretty fun and Woo Do-Hwan was great in this role 😍

Awaken He's a cop but he has bigger plan.

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I came to love love love Woo Do-Hwan after watching Mad Dog. He has very special eyes.

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I like Healer and Vincenzo so would highly recommend both. Taxi Driver was good in the first 11 or 12 episodes before the writer change fiasco so I dropped that. City Hunter was okay. I have not seen Heartless City.

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Heartless City was ahead of its time in realism. Such a drama could now be broadcast on Netflix and it would be trendy and popular. The drama is amazing, with great unconventional characters, and the script is a masterpiece.

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Taxi Driver is what comes to mind first.

My first vigilante hero is Vincenzo Casanno in Vincenzo.
Then The Devil's Judge's Ji Sung.
For the female, I'd name One the Woman's Honey Lee, the hotheaded prosecutor persona.

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Can I replace Taxi Driver (which lingered too much on torturing the victim for me) with Lookout, featuring Lee Shi Young playing the grieving, bad-ass mom, and her crew, played by Kim Seul-gi and Key?

Or Fiery Priest and Avengers social club?

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Hell yeah, Lookout and Fiery Priest all the way.

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perfect for rewatch which i have! Kim Nam-gil and Honey Lee rock it.

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Avenger Social Club is a clever twist on the usual vigilante trope. Very unusual, both in the choice of the leads and the blossoming relationship between the characters.

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1. Rebel
2. Secret Forest 2
3. Uncle

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The one, the only Healer

Is Vincenzo a vigilante drama? I wouldn't have seen it as being a vigilante drama. I'll need to ponder on this.
Vincenzo is a fun, brash, vibrant drama that's well worth watching nonetheless.

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That was my question...

But, yes, nothing, absolutely nothing beats Healer.

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So funny! My husband just started rewatching Healer just before this topic came up. We are up to episode 7 and I have to say, it still rocks!

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Yes! to the first 4; I rewarched City Hunter recently and thought it held up well. I couldn't get into Vincenzo for some reason. I didn't make it through the 1st episode.
I also like the other beanie suggestions so far: Lookout, Avenger's Social Club, and Rebel. I would also recommend Heard it through the Grapevine where the tutor and house staff stage their revolt and conspire together to protect the new parents from the unreasonable demands of the MLs snooty parents. Very unusual, but great kdrama.

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Vincenzo starts off slow, the first 4 episodes were meh to me, I stuck it out because I liked the actors and it was worth it in the end.

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I watched the first episode of Vincenzo three times and have never passed it. I know it received a lot of praises and I don't hate any actors in it, I just did not care about their characters in Vincenzo at all. Maybe I should give it another go.

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I understand, lol. I would quit too, after 3x.

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Yes, the first episode of Vincenzo is atrocious, I stuck it out and was well rewarded though. Loved it.

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Wow, I had completely forgotten about Grapevine, thanks for that reminder. Such a good show, unlike any other.

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Heard it through the Grapevine - agree! such an underrated drama..

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How can I forgot that drama existed? The theme it highlighted and the way it was explored was quite ahead of its time.

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Wow wow wow, four of these are in my top favourites! Goes to show what genre I like. Fiery Priest is also a good one, I haven’t watched Lookout but now I’m definitely intrigued. I remember when I was having Heartless City withdrawals I checked out Time Between Dog and Wolf, don’t know if it counts tho

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Oh please watch Lookout!

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This list should just be all Healer, lol.
1. Healer
2. Healer
3. Healer
4. Healer
5. Healer

I'm sure there are some others that aren't on this list that might be worth mentioning and that I've forgotten about but why bother when you have, 6. Healer?

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As for the rest of this list-
I loathed Taxi Driver. It has no point, is meaningless, it makes no attempt at making itself thematically coherent, and is gratuitously violent. And I say that as someone who can tolerate high violence and doesn't mind it being used in storytelling.
I think Vincenzo is also dumb and meaningless in its current form. 😅
City Hunter is, in a word, cos I've said this already on its flashback article, overrated heh.
Never seen Heartless City.

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Taxi Driver actually made me yell at it, loudly, while on an intercity bus. It was that bad. It's nothing but cynical torture porn.

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Heartless City is realistic in every aspect. The rest of the dramas on this list are typical korean dramas, for example in terms of character psychology.

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Lookout Lookout LOOKOUT. Would that count as vigilante? I think I need a rewatch to find out.

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Lookout requires a rewatch every few months. No reason needed.

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It’s been on my list forever. I can’t seem to find any legal sites in the US region.
may be I need to dark side this one.

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It’s also called “The Gaurdians” and that’s what it was on Netflix as a while ago. I might be on Amazon Prime with a VPN.

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Kim Kibum is my reason! member of SHINee) and that the drama is awesome.

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KEY!

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but it is a team not single hero.

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I do like the escapism and thrills of vigilante K-drama, but I found Taxi Driver awfully depressing. It wasn't just the trauma porn but the wide range of trauma porn, implying that vigilantism is the only possible cure for all social ills. (I was also irritated that the show shares the name of Scorsese's movie, which is famously ambivalent about the whole vigilante thing.)

In contrast, Angry Mom is a breath of real, fresh air. One of the more unusual aspects of the show is its emphasis on collective action. There's no typical "muscle + engineer + hacker + mentor" combination, just a woman who learns that neither she nor her group of friends can do much without wider (including institutional) support. It's also great to have a central female vigilante for a change, and one who is as down-to-earth and emotionally stable as she is good at thumping people.

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"muscle + engineer + hacker + mentor"

Ha! Was that a shade at Lookout, or does every vigilant kdrama have this combination and I have never noticed??

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That's the combination in Taxi Driver, and versions of it pop up in lots of other shows, Korean or otherwise. Even the current Good Job seems to have something similar, except that the hacker is also the engineer while the muscle is enhanced by the FL's super-vision.

Actually I haven't seen Lookout, but on the strength of the comments about it here I'm thinking of checking it out.

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Funny I hadn't noticed it. Sounds efficient though 😄

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Yup I guess such groups should always be ready for anything :) In the past an engineer or mechanic would have been sufficient for the tech stuff, but for obvious reasons it's now the hacker who takes centre-stage in that respect.

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Heartless City is a different level of drama than the rest. Masterpiece in the drama category.

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I've always had a fondness for Zorro and Robin Hood. I grew up watching every TV show and movie about them that I could, including the spoofs. That's probably why I love City Hunter and Healer so much. However, I refuse to rewatch City Hunter because I don't want to destroy my fond memories of it - that's what happened when I rewatched Secret Garden and Coffee Prince earlier this year. Made me sad. I did rewatch Healer though and still love it just as much :)

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this just might be my favorite genre seeing as i love all of these except Vincenzo which i tried but failed to finish. might have to give it another try since so many beanies loved it. the first three also introduced me to the lead actors whom i just love now. they are also rewatchables on my list of best ones.

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my opinion will be on minority sides. i LOVE City Hunter and think Healer is downgrade of City Hunter. there.. sue me.
i never understand the hype of Healer and never will, i guess.

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I'm not a particular fan of either show, and I do think Healer has a better female lead, but apart from that, yes I agree that Cuty Hunter is a better show.

City Hunter might be ridiculously over the top and cartoonish but it was a genre in itself, it had a tightly written story and ending, plus my lovely prosecutor.

The villains in Healer were ridiculous and the final episode was just bad. And it never could decide what genre it was going to be. It jumped from a romcom to a thriller so much that it never gripped me in either one.

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what about Gaksital tho

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