Before starting to figure out my list of favorite Korean dramas of the year, I kind of had the feeling that 2022 was a bit of a slump for K-dramas. I thought that, unlike last year, I wasn’t sure if I had series that really stood out to me and make me go “YES! That is an incredible series!”
For me last year, series like Taxi Driver, Move to Heaven, Youth of May would immediately come to mind if someone had asked my what my favorites were.
And actually, now that I have managed to put together a list for 2022, I might even put my Top 10 from last year ahead of most of my list this year. There wasn’t that truly standout series that would pop into my head.
But in putting together this list, I realized that while this year’s crop of K-dramas might not have reached some of the highs of 2021, there were still many great series in 2022.
First, let’s start with five series that I enjoyed, but just missed the cut for my Top 20. In alphabetical order:
Whether it is finding meaning in or being able to make the most of life, Ghost Doctor is all about embracing both the joys and the hardships and everything in between. The series is very relatable and very sincere in the way they are able to touch upon some serious and even difficult topics. But at its core, the series is about appreciating life and the connections and bonds we find in many different places. Rain and Kim Bum are irresistibly charming and endearing as they lead a great cast through the fun and affecting story. Ghost Doctor is easily an enjoyable and emotionally satisfying series.
Forecasting Love and Weather
It is a series that you aren’t quite sure what to expect going into it. But once you’ve been caught up in the wave, it’s hard to stay away. Forecasting Love and Weather is a fascinating and engaging character-driven look at the unpredictability of life and relationships through a clever and whimsical meteorological lens. Just like the weather, life isn’t always sunny. It isn’t always rainy and stormy either. No amount of forecasting can ever accurately prepare one for the unexpected hurdles one faces. And the series shows how it is through those experiences, both good and bad, that people can grow and move forward.
Narco-Saints won’t be the most groundbreaking story. And it misses a few opportunities, perhaps even justifying another episode or two to flesh some potential plot threads out a bit more. But with its perfectly steady pace leading up to a climactic finale, the series ultimately succeeds in what it sets out to do. And that is to be a thrilling and satisfying ride.
Excellent pacing and a steady flow to the story is one of the School 2021‘s strong suits. And that allows familiar stories and plot threads to feel fresh and new thanks to the characters and talented young cast. As light as some scenes may be, the cast actually delivers their strongest performances in heavier scenes. Those performances as well as those from the rest of the ensemble cast, coupled with solid writing and careful direction make for an appealing and enjoyable experience. Overall, the healthy mix of coming-of-age angst with stories about family, friendship and love make School 2021 an endearing and ultimately satisfying slice of life series.
tvN’s Shooting Stars is a romantic comedy through and through. It might not reinvent the wheel, but it knows what it wants to be and does it well. Yet it is also still refreshing and new while being as fluffy and breezy as a romantic comedy should be. That’s also true even when the series does dabble in more dramatic stories, especially those addressing some of the darker sides of Korean entertainment. But this stylized depiction of a world ripe for K-drama shenanigans is an absolute treat.
And finally, my Top 20:
20. Business Proposal
There is always room for a good ol’ fashioned romcom. The kind that easily puts a smile on your face with sweet, fluffy moments and an endearing and charming cast. SBS’ Business Proposal is exactly that kind of series. The romantic comedy features Ahn Hyo Seop, Kim Sejeong, Kim Min Kyu and Seol In Ah in a wholesome, feel-good story that takes on very familiar K-drama elements and puts together what is ultimately a fun and enjoyable time.
19. Once Upon a Small Town
Once Upon a Small Town blends together the best of romantic comedy and small-town nostalgia to deliver a warm, fun and enjoyable time. Park Soo Young (Red Velvet’s Joy) and Choo Young Woo lead a charming ensemble cast in this breezy series that takes full advantage of its cast and beautiful location.
18. All of Us Are Dead
Top-notch bloody action, a solid cast and diverse characters, a cornucopia of familiar themes about society and humanity; overall, All of Us Are Dead may not reinvent either zombie or high school drama wheels. But when used together, the result is a wild and enjoyable ride that is worthy of hopping along for.
17. The Sound of Magic
Netflix’s The Sound of Magic is quite the unexpected adventure. On the surface it is a whimsical musical fantasy. But it is when it manages to dive deeper into the characters and speak of the world at large that it is at its most captivating. With a talented cast led by Ji Chang Wook, Choi Sung Eun and Hwang In Yeop, The Sound of Magic is indeed a magical, emotional and meaningful series.
16. Money Heist: Korea
If you take it as a wild crime/heist adventure, you’ll be treated to some explosive action. If you want some good character moments, the series is filled with some excellent material. If you are looking for some deeper discussions, you will get a taste of that too. Ultimately, Money Heist: Korea is a fun, thrilling ride. One that you will not regret holding on to for 12 episodes.
15. Cheer Up
There aren’t very many college-set youth dramas on Korean television. So it is refreshing to have a series like SBS’ Cheer Up. A big bonus if it is a good series. Which it is! Cheer Up is a lighthearted drama about the members of a struggling university cheering squad. And though the series does have a few exciting scenes of cheer performances, its strongest moments are when it focuses on the relationships and bonds formed between the characters.
14. One Dollar Lawyer
Namgoong Min shows off his great versatility in the fun One Dollar Lawyer. The 12-episode SBS series is a hilarious take on the crime and justice drama. The appeal of One Dollar Lawyer isn’t so much on an overarching, series-long mystery. But really more on the characters you meet and eventually grow to love and enjoy. You just want to see them work and in action, no matter the case that needs to be solved or the people that need to be fought for.
13. Twenty-Five Twenty-One
The tvN drama series Twenty-Five Twenty-One is a wonderfully nostalgic slice of life and coming of age portrait of a group of friends with the ever-changing world as its backdrop. The history that is being made around them is almost a character in and of itself as the characters navigate the tumultuous time that is the dawn of the 21st century and the always tumultuous time between adolescence and adulthood.
12. Bad and Crazy
If possible, go into this series knowing as little as possible about it for maximum effect. The Studio Dragon-produced tvN/iQiyi original series Bad and Crazy is simply crazy good. Lee Dong Wook and Wi Ha Joon are absolutely electric as their performances and perfect chemistry power an unexpectedly fun, wild and fascinating action thriller. I did exactly that and it made the experience all the more satisfying and exciting.
11. Military Prosecutor Doberman
Ahn Bo Hyun and Jo Bo Ah deliver enthralling performances in tvN’s engaging, fun and timely drama series Military Prosecutor Doberman. Mixing the always ripe for excitement revenge drama with an unflinching look at the realities of today’s society and particularly the inner-workings of Korea’s military and justice system, Military Prosecutor Doberman is never short of material. And it is material that the series delivers with a confidence and sincerity that really connects with the viewer through its 16 episodes.
10. Bulgasal: Immortal Souls
Studio Dragon’s tvN fantasy epic Bulgasal: Immortal Souls is a melancholic, though breathtaking series. Led by a commanding performance from Lee Jin Wook, the excellent cast brings to life an intricate and bloody story that spans centuries. And all while touching upon the most human of emotions and relationships, making this story as relatable as it is captivating.
tvN’s Blind is one of the most legitimately exciting suspense thrillers I’ve watched. There have definitely been plenty of mystery suspense thrillers on Korean television. But Blind is one of the very few that is able to start running from the very beginning and never lets up until the very last moments of the final episode. Blending together a fascinating character study, an intricate puzzle of clues and a well-paced narrative, Blind is an action and emotionally-packed roller coaster ride.
8. Revenge of Others
Revenge of Others might be the strongest Disney Plus original Korean drama so far. The high school revenge/mystery thriller is a captivating ride, powered by some excellent performances from its talented young cast. Though its ending is a bit rushed, there is plenty to feel satisfied about across the series’ 12 episodes.
7. Weak Hero Class 1
Weak Hero Class 1 is a thrilling, yet sobering portrait of young students and the different struggles, difficulties and momentary joys they experience while growing up in a society that, too often, neglects and pushes them aside. It is strongest though as a character piece, telling the story of friendship and bonds that must survive under the weight of all that is happening around them.
6. Alchemy of Souls
tvN’s Alchemy of Souls is an irresistible package of fantasy, action, romance, humor and soapy drama. The prolific Hong sisters have crafted a story that allows you to be immersed in this rich, vibrant and fully-realized magical world. And Lee Jae Wook and Jung So Min’s magnetic chemistry helps lead a strong ensemble cast to bring that world to vivid life.
5. Going to You at a Speed of 493km
KBS’ Going to You at a Speed of 493km (Love All Play) is a charming and relatable slice of life story about growing up and overcoming the everyday struggles and hardships of life. The series is a balanced blend of lighthearted romantic drama and coming of age angst. The characters’ personal stories and relationships provide the backbone for the series’ 16 episodes. And the talented young and veteran cast do an excellent job bringing them to life.
4. Seasons of Blossom
In a year where I haven’t really seen that one Korean drama that really hits hard, Seasons of Blossom could very well be that one. Poignant when it needs to be. Funny and lighthearted when it needs to be. Careful and nuanced when it needs to be. Tackling difficult and universally relatable topics, Seasons of Blossom is just simply a thought-provoking and emotional story. And Seo Ji Hoon and So Ju Yeon deliver captivating performances. Two of the best of the year.
MBC’s Tomorrow might be the most complete and well-put together drama of the year. That’s in addition to being perhaps the most envelope-pushing, timely and profound series as well. Tomorrow‘s excellent cast, led by the always captivating Kim Hee Sun, bravely shines the spotlight on topics and stories that rarely get touched upon in mainstream Korean entertainment. Even when tackling such difficult topics is more important now than ever. Tomorrow‘s ultimate success is being able to carefully and respectfully tell these stories while effectively building a colorful world of characters who each have their own worthy stories as well.
2. Extraordinary Attorney Woo
Extraordinary Attorney Woo is simply a wonderful and enjoyable series. Being able to find a balance between good character story and the procedural aspect of the law drama is a perfect combination. The series shines a light on autism in a society and culture that still regards such issues of mental health and neurological and developmental disorders as taboo. Though the series does not do a deep dive in the subject, it is able to be an accessible gateway to awareness that is lacking in Korea and around the world. That accessibility, coupled with genuinely well-written characters, a charming story and an endearing performance by Park Eun Bin, makes Extraordinary Attorney Woo one of the year’s best and most satisfying series.
Pachinko is a breathtaking television event. The eight-episode (first!) season of this Apple TV+ series is truly a stunning experience. An emotional, relatable and captivating experience that you won’t soon forget even as the final credits roll. It is the kind of grand epic production and storytelling that you rarely, if ever see on Korean television or even from any of the recent streaming exclusive local series. Youn Yuh Jung delivers a powerhouse performance and leads an outstanding cast who never miss a beat. With careful nuance and properly expressive emotion, the cast effortlessly brings to life the superbly enthralling stories that are intertwined between characters and history.