My 2023 K-Drama All-Stars

Last year, I decided to put together my K-Drama All-Stars list. That is, actors who I might have seen the most in my drama watching during the year. Though I watched less Korean dramas in 2023, I wanted to single out these performances as my favorites from the year!

Ra Mi Ran & Lee Do Hyun

Ra Mi Ran and Lee Do Hyun deliver breathtaking performances in The Good Bad Mother. Both are tasked with such varied material, that it would be a challenge for any actor. But both are able to handle that challenge effortlessly. The mix of emotions that these two experienced actors can make you, the audience feel should be part of a masterclass in acting. You hang onto their every word and every expression. Just in awe of what they are able to bring to life with every scene. And they very much helped make The Good Bad Mother one of the very best series of the year.

Lee Dong Wook & Kim Bum

For viewers who have watched the first season of Tale of the Nine Tailed, the scenes are amusingly nostalgic and fun. But also a reminder of how much Lee Dong Wook and Kim Bum’s chemistry and performances truly carried the series back then. That chemistry, charisma and magnetic performance from both of them is once again present here. And that bromance, brotherly connection, whatever you want to call it; that relatable and down to earth human story between Lee Yeon and Lee Rang, working out their differences and painful past, is done so well and is truly a highlight in the series. This season gives them more opportunity to shine and they absolutely take advantage of that chance.

Jung Hae In & Koo Kyo Hwan

D.P.‘s ultimate success is in being able to tell the diverse stories of people affected by Korea’s mandatory military service while never losing focus on our protagonists Jun Ho and Ho Yeol. Their own journeys never take a backseat to anything else. And both sides of the series’ narrative work hand in hand in ways you don’t often see in a drama series. Jung Hae In and Koo Kyo Hwan once again deliver incredible performances that truly elevate the series.

Bae Na Ra

Also from D.P. 2, Bae Na Ra delivers an absolutely captivating performance as Seong Min. Episode 3, where his story is featured, is a breathtaking and heartbreaking episode. And really one of the series’ very best. Bae Na Ra is also in the series Evilive, which I have not gotten a chance to watch yet. But he showed here in D.P. 2 that he is one actor to keep an eye on.

Shin Jae Ha

Shin Jae Ha is an amazing actor. And he was able to elevate material of varied quality in both Crash Course in Romance and Taxi Driver 2. In both series, he was tasked with playing initially innocuous characters who end up turning into much darker individuals. He is able to master that delicate balance to deliver enjoyable, entertaining and engrossing performances. Performances that also prove he is more than deserving of bigger and better roles.

Song Hye Kyo

Song Hye Kyo especially delivered a quiet tour de force performance. That is, Moon Dong Eun may not have had the huge emotional moments or outbursts that one might come to expect in a story about revenge. But the character exuded a quiet resilience with a mix of both confidence and vulnerability. Song Hye Kyo skillfully navigated this challenging material with the necessary nuance that she has not had the opportunity for in years. It is not so much a revelation, considering she has had some excellent performances during her career already. But perhaps it is a reminder that Song Hye Kyo can definitely deliver. And she did that and then some.

Kang You Seok

I first got to know of Kang You Seok with the wonderful series Light on Me. He was able to deliver in two major roles this year. First as Jang Tae Chun in Payback, he must be able to keep up with an experienced and veteran cast. And he absolutely did that. Quite effortlessly too. He more than proves his worth and with this performance, makes a clear case for even bigger and better roles in the future.

And his role in Black Knight was certainly that. Kang You Seok is very much the heart of the story. As Sa Wol, he has this great youthful energy and sincere vibe that makes the character immediately endearing. Sa Wol emerges as an important piece in the series’ central conflict. And Kang Yoo Seok’s charm and charisma help to really move the story forward while forging such strong chemistry with Kim Woo Bin and Esom. That chemistry provides the series’ strongest character moments, that again are so welcome.

Looking forward to seeing what he has in store next!

Lee Je Hoon

The ever charismatic and badass Lee Je Hoon had no problem delivering in the second season of Taxi Driver. Being able to don any disguise and slip into so many different characters while never forgetting Do Ki is definitely a big accomplishment that not many actors would be able to do. The fact that he was able to deliver a similar and impactful guest starring role in Big Bet is just testament to Lee Je Hoon as an actor.

Kim So Yeon

The entire cast of Tale of the Nine Tailed 1938 deserve their kudos. But Kim So Yeon’s performance in the series as well as her impactful guest role on Taxi Driver 2. As Hong Joo in Tale of the Nine Tailed, Kim So Yeon called upon her memorable performance in Penthouse. But she was able to take that fun, expressive and over the top flair to match with some sincerely emotional and deep moments as well. And pairing it with her badass guest role on Taxi Driver 2, Kim So Yeon was able to remind everyone of her versatility. And that she isn’t simply just Cheon Seo Jin.

Jeon Do Yeon

Jeon Do Yeon hit two home runs this year with Crash Course in Romance and the movie Kill Boksoon. In Crash Course in Romance, she led an excellent cast that came together in a way not often seen on Korean drama. And her pairing with Jung Kyung Ho is one of the best romantic chemistry you’ll see. Meanwhile, she was absolutely captivating as she kicked ass in Kill Boksoon. Jeon Do Yeon’s performance grabs you and never lets go until the very last seconds. Her chemistry with both Kim Si Ah and Sol Kyung Gu are the main drivers of the story development as you hang on every moment the characters share with each other.

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