Given that everyone has a preference for actors, genre and storyline, it can be tricky to pin down exactly which Korean TV dramas should be categorized as the best of 2019. There were so many to choose from. Nor do high ratings necessarily decide which drama is the best because some fine dramas miss becoming popular. However, great acting, a thought-provoking storyline, and high production values are always a winning combination.
These 2019 Korean dramas had a lot to offer. If you missed any of them, consider adding them to your 2020 viewing list.
The Fiery Priest, starring Kim Nam-gil and Lee Ha-na won high ratings this year, reaching 8.3 percent. It’s the story of a priest with an anger management problem, an inept detective and a prosecutor who is about to compromise her ethics. The righteous indignation that always gets Kim’s priest character in trouble is just what’s needed to fight corruption and win. Why see it? Watching the good guys win is always so satisfying. Kim is also very funny as the fiery priest and looks like a new brand of superhero, walking down the hall with his cassocks flying.
Hotel del Luna is the story of a hotel that serves as a stopping place for departed souls. IU plays the manager, whose destiny is intertwined with the ghostly hotel, and Yeo Jin-goo plays the man she hires, but who also helps her fulfill her destiny. Why see it? Not only is every frame cinematically gorgeous, but the story explores themes of love, loss, and the impermanence of life. Watch Now
Extraordinary You, starring SF9’s Rowoon and Kim Hye-yoon, is not just a high school drama, but a story about destiny, since the characters find out they are in a comic book, with their fates already sealed. How much of life is in their control? They dare to defy fate and find the answer. Why see it? Not only does it explore interesting themes of predestination, but it cleverly does so using classic k-drama tropes. Watch Now
Crash Landing On You, starring Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin, began rather late in 2019, but it’s a mad-cap, beautifully photographed comedy that explores the very serious consequences of a nation divided. Son is an accomplished comedienne, playing a South Korean CEO, and she falls for a North Korean officer played by Hyun Bin, setting up a conflict that’s hard to resolve. Why see it? Excellent romantic chemistry and a comic take on life in a North Korean village. Watch Now
When The Camellia Blooms offered viewers one of the year’s most appealing k-drama couples. Gong Hyo-jin plays a plucky single mom and Kang Ha-neul plays the simple but determined police officer who loves her. His dogged devotion to her character not only wins her trust but claimed viewers’ hearts. While they grow closer, there’s a serial killer on the loose and she is in danger. Why see it? The characters in this drama are appealingly diverse and quirky, with a special nod to the lovable village ajummahs, who at first doubt Gong Hyo-jin’s character, but then claim her as their own. Watch Now
My Fellow Citizens starred Super Junior’s Choi Si-won in one of the singer-actor’s funnier k-drama roles. He plays a con man who runs for office, using all his conniving skills to win over public opinion. His character is married to a policewoman, played by Lee Yoo-young and he’s afraid she will learn the truth about him. Why see it? Choi outdoes himself in this quickly paced, witty drama about the similarities between politicians and con men. Watch Now
Her Private Life, starring Park Min-young and Kim Jae-wook is a fun story about fandom. Park plays a museum curator who lives a double life, being a competent professional in the day and a crazed fan girl at night. While exploring what it means to be a fan, contrasting the world of high-stakes art and k-pop, the drama never demeans fandom. Why see it? Park’s fandom is a work of art, it’s a fun story about female friendship, and Kim Jae-wook aces his first leading romantic role. It won’t be his last. Watch Now
One Spring Night, starring Han Ji-min and Jung Hae-in, is the story of a woman who is about to settle for a marriage everyone else approves of. Then she meets a shy pharmacist and something clicks. He’s a single dad and that’s considered a problem, but no matter how much of a problem people try to make it, the characters are drawn to each other. Why see it? Han and Jung are both excellent actors, portraying characters so reserved that their mutual trajectory proceeds at a seemingly glacial pace and yet there’s no doubt they will ultimately find each other. Watch Now
Class of Lies aka Mr. Temporary is a drama about a lawyer, played by Yoon Kyun-sang, who goes undercover as a teacher to solve the mystery of a student’s murder. The prestigious school is all about appearances, but like much of the economic strata it feeds, its core is rotten. Why see it? It’s a quick paced mystery about a class system that does no one any favors—particularly the students who attend classes at the school. Watch Now
Sky Castle was the most talked about 2019 TV drama in Korea. The drama centered on a wealthy neighborhood in Seoul and followed the efforts of upscale parents to get their children into the prestigious SKY universities. The drama, starring Yum Jung-ah, Lee Tae-ran, Yoon Se-ah, Oh Na-ra and Kim Seo-hyung, detailed the insane lengths parents will go to to give their already advantaged children an edge. Why see it? It’s mystifying to see the efforts the very rich will exercise to keep their progeny in the top one percent. Watch Now
Children of Nobody, starring Kim Sun-ah is an MBC mystery thriller, in which terrible things happen to children. Kim plays a therapist, who already suffered a breakdown of her own, but tries to solve the mystery before more children are harmed. To solve the mystery she will have to confront her own past and the reasons behind her breakdown. Why see it? The mystery is clever and involving. Kim Sun-ah is really good as the therapist who doubts her very senses but perseveres. Watch Now
The Kingdom is a historical drama about zombies but it’s also a study in how class inequity and the struggle for political power can work against the greater good. The drama stars Ju Ji-hoon and Kim Sung-kyu. Why see it? Where else could you see a drama that mixes up social satire, a historical saga and the ravenous undead in such an appealing way. Watch Now