This year I’ve taken a slight detour from the usual American TV shows that I watch such as the Vampire Diaries and the Originals and tried something different: Asian dramas (specifically K- and C-dramas). What I discovered was a difference in conveying emotions in the show, these Asian dramas have a knack for making the audience laugh and cry, more so than the average TV drama. Indeed I’ve noticed that these shows can go into the melodrama genre and seem to have a higher likelihood of including cliches and tropes in their storylines, but they are definitely TV shows that are worth watching and I found myself wondering “How have I been missing out for so long?”
Below are some recommendations for TV shows to watch if you’re looking for something slightly different, and today I’ll be dealing with Korean drama recommendations. There’ll be a separate post for other types of Asian drama and also movies later on!
Korean Drama (K-drama):
There’s really been quite a wave of increasing fandom for most things to do with South Korea – K-dramas, K-pop, Korean culture and food and language in the last two decades or so. This is also known as the ‘Hallyu wave’.
One of the earliest shows that kicked off this movement, or maybe slightly preceeded it was:
Autumn in My Heart
This is probably one of the first Korean dramas I had ever watched and I have faint memories of certain episodes from when I watched this at the age of 6 with my mum back in 2000 when it came out. The 14-episode drama is part of a drama series called Endless Love in which the storylines are all based in the romance genre. Autumn in My Heart is really where the genre of melodrama began and from where many cliches and tropes took their origin e.g. *SPOILER* nosebleed = cancer. *END SPOILER*
The story revolves around two girls who were mixed up at birth and ended up living two contrasting childhoods: in poverty vs wealth. Nonetheless, during this time, meaningful relationships are fostered within their ‘families’ e.g. Jun-suh cares dearly for his ‘sister’ Eun-suh and would do anything for her.
A few years later by way of a car accident, the mix-up mishap is discovered and the girls, through a very emotional parting, return to their original homes. Jun-suh (the brother) moves away with his family and real sister to America, whilst Eun-suh goes to work and live with her real mother in Korea, wondering if she would ever see her ‘brother’ again. Things get extremely complicated when the two cross paths many years down the line.
The show is very good at manipulating your emotions (and turning on the waterworks) and conveying the emotions of the character: the tragedy and torment that the parents must deal with after learning about the true fate of their daughter, the anguish and confusion that the brother and ‘sister’ feel when they discover the truth, the jealousy and envy that the daughter who lived in poverty feels when she looks at the happy, wealthy family.
I would recommend watching this show to see the roots of Korean drama, from where it all started. Autumn in my Heart was a launching pad for some of the most prominent actors and actresses in K-drama, including Song Hye-Kyo – an international superstar.
Verdict for the show: Emotionally draining, tragic…good for days when you just want a good cry.
Ok, so yes I am a Song Hye-Kyo fan. She is a fantastic actress and it has been amazing to see how her acting style has matured over the years. She has garnered her superstar title by starring in some of the greatest K-drama hits, and Full House is one of them. If Autumn in My Heart hadn’t started the wave, Full House certainly did in the year 2004.
This 16-episode drama is a cute, short, and happy romantic comedy about the relationship between a naive girl who is tricked by her two best friends and has her house sold to a pampered movie star. Determined to get her house back, a war begins.
Verdict: Light and happy, good for days when you need a little bit of cheering up.
(Also the soundtrack is so beautiful, and it’s so popular that it has been translated into other languages including Vietnamese.) You can listen to the main tune below:
Descendants of the Sun
In terms of soundtracks, one of the best that I have come across so far is from the drama Descendants of the Sun, whereby I like almost every single song on the soundtrack.
If you were to only watch one K-drama (but why???) then go for this one. It’s probably not an exaggeration when I say that Descendants of the Sun is the most popular K-drama ever produced, starring *surprise surprise* Song Hye-Kyo and Song Joong-Ki – two of the biggest stars in the industry at the moment.
The 16-episode drama depicts the epic journey that a doctor, Dr. Kang Mo-Yeon (Song Hye-Kyo) and a captain of the special forces, Captain Yoo Shi-Jin (Song Joong-Ki) must face in order for their love to survive. But this show is much more than just romance, and I’m not even sure how I can express how great this is in words, so I’ll just direct you to the trailer (which also isn’t enough to express how great the show is, so you’ll just have to watch it):
And when you get the time, have a listen to the music as well.
This one is one of my favourites: Always – Yoon Mirae
Other songs that are awesome from the show include:
- Everytime – Chen & Punch
- You are My Everything – Gummy
- This Love – Davichi
- Once Again – Mad Clown & Kim Na Young
- Say it! What are you doing? – K.Will
Verdict: Watch this! Watch this! Watch this! And listen to the music!!!!
Splash Splash Love
So the image above basically sums up the plot of Splash Splash Love which, for a change, does not star Song Hye Kyo. It’s a short TV drama that consists of only two episodes and so it doesn’t take much time to finish. This is slightly different to the other dramas listed as its a historical drama, we go back in time so we can appreciate some of Koreas beautiful history with costumes, and customs whilst it’s all interwoven with contrasts to the present day. This romantic comedy is perfect if you need something to brighten your day. Definitely worth watching.
Verdict: Watch this is if you’re short on time and want a good laugh.
Other notable recommendations:
- Secret Garden
Unexpected sparks fly between a stunt woman and an arrogant business man, and things get more complicated when they wake up in the wrong body.
- Sungkyunkwan Scandal
At a time when only men could go to university, one girl defies all by taking her brother’s identity and passing the entrance examination. She must keep her gender a secret, or face death.
- My Love from Another Star
Witness what happens when you fall in love with a good-looking alien who has superpowers.
There are many, many, many other dramas out there and many that are worthy of being mentioned here, but alas, I have not had the time to watch all of them, but I encourage you to go out there and explore the wide range of options on offer. There’s so much to watch and enjoy! The two best places I’ve found to watch these dramas are on DramaFever and Viki, alternatively, YouTube often has uploadings of the dramas as well with English subtitles (Viki has many options for other languages too, thanks to their awesome fan/volunteer translators).
So it’s over to you now. Have you watched any Korean dramas? What are your favourite ones? What would you recommend?