[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have author Katherine Center guest posting on the site today. She has a great starter guide for anyone looking to get into K-Dramas. Take it away, Katherine!]
Getting obsessed with K-dramas got me through the pandemic—and taught me more than I hoped for about love, sacrifice, and the value of a great swoon. Here’s the point: Korean TV is fantastic at love. Korean rom coms follow a central arc of a totally mesmerizing love story, but more than just hypnotizing you into binge-watching, they also teach you wise lessons about kindness, redemption, community, and the healing power of love. There’s nothing as nourishing as getting lost in a great story, and that’s never as true as when times are tough in the real world. Think of these shows—and the cascade of blissful chemicals they will trigger in your brain—as delightful mood elevators, lovely escapes, and delicious treats to look forward to.
1. Secret Garden
A soul-switching comedy about a snobby chaebol (rich guy) who falls in head over heels for a poor girl who works as a stuntwoman. This one is so bighearted and so tender, and he’s so mean at the start, and then he falls for her SO hard . . . it’s utterly swoon-worthy. A classic—and an all-time favorite!
2. Oh My Ghost
A girl who sees ghosts is living a terrified shadow of a life . . . until she gets possessed by a feisty ghost trying to solve the mystery of her own death. The love story in this one is super engaging—the main character works in a restaurant and is secretly in love with the celebrity chef owner—but I came to care about all the characters, even the ghost herself. Totally enjoyable on all levels! (Be sure to get the Korean version—it’s been remade in other countries).
This is in my Top 2 favorite K-dramas ever—due in no small part to male lead, the divine Gong Yoo, who’s just such a nuanced, delightful actor. A story about a 900-year old Guardian God (in Korea, a Dokkaebi, or Goblin) who cannot die until he finds his bride—the only person who has the power to end his life. He’s wanted to die, and has searched for her all these years—but of course, once he finds her and falls in love . . . he suddenly wants to live. I devoured this one. Loved it, loved it.
4. I Am Not a Robot
This one is straight up adorable. A guy with an allergy to humans (like, literally can’t be touched), agrees to test out a human-like robot. But the robot breaks at the last minute, and the scientists who made her ask the *real* woman she was based on to step in and save them. She has to pretend to be a robot, which is fun, and their slow-burn love story is a total delight. The actors are adorable, and this is another one where you just come to love everybody.
5. The Inheritors
This is a very angsty high school drama! It stars Korean megastar Lee Min Ho as a high school former badboy who falls in love with his housekeeper’s daughter. A classic rich guy/poor girl story where the world is entirely against them. The actress Park Shin Hye is totally appealing as the bullied but courageous and good-hearted main character.
6. Coffee Prince
This one was a huuuuge hit in Korea about a decade ago. A gender-bender where a girl pretends to be a guy to get a job as a waiter in a coffee shop—and the shop owner, a straight guy, falls in love with her, even while thinking she’s a boy. It’s a heck of a premise, and it definitely allows for a great obstacle between the two of them. And it stars Gong Yoo, who is just off-the-charts charming. Really angsty and addictive.
7. My Lovely Sam Soon
An oldie but a goodie! A restaurant owner falls in love with an “overweight” (though she’s totally normal) pastry chef, over his family’s objections—and his own. She’s so lovable and relatable—and gives some Bridget Jones vibes. The way he falls for her is epic. Lots of fun agony and angst! Delicious.
8. My Strange Hero
I fell for this one so hard from the start that I was *afraid* to keep watching it for fear it would let me down. But it never did. It started awesome and stayed awesome the whole way through. A story about a guy who was kicked out of his high school . . . going back to that high school to finish his degree years later. His one true love, who was also caught in the scandal, is back at the school as a teacher now, and she winds up becoming his teacher. This is another one where you wind up loving everybody—even, especially, the villain(!)—as he slowly turns toward redemption.
9. Another Miss Oh
This one has a quieter, moodier tone, but it’s still super-satisfying, and it hypnotizes you into binge-watching with its totally addictive pacing. The guy in this story keeps seeing flashes of the future with the girl in the story—who he barely knows. Their lives get intertwined, and they fall in love, but what he knows (or thinks he knows) about their future drives him to try to stay away. Angsty, mysterious, and so fun!!!
10. Fight For My Way
This is another K-drama where you just come to care about pretty much everybody. The main couple is part of a group of friends since childhood. At the beginning of the story, the two leads decide to be brave and pursue their passions, career-wise—her to be an announcer, and him to be a martial arts fighter. As they support each other along the way, they realize they’ve been in love all along. I just loved this one. It’s like a colorful hug.
11. Chicago Typewriter
This is a past-lives love story where you get two stories going on at once, layered on top of each other. The leads fall in love while trying to decipher their relationship in the past (1930s Korea, during the Japanese occupation)—a story that turns out to be totally epic. This is the only K-drama so far that has made me sob uncontrollably. But it’s hopeful and lovely, too. Plus, bonus! It’s about a writer—and so the sets are awash with all kinds of bookish gorgeousness. This is one you won’t forget.
12. My Secret Romance
At a low moment in her life, a girl winds up having a one night stand with a very cute guy—and then running away the next morning, mortified. Fast-forward a year: She’s pulling her life together, has gone to school to be a dietician, and just got a job working at a fancy corporation’s cafeteria . . . but it turns out the boss of the company is none other than the cute guy she hooked up with.
13. Crash Landing on You
Last but not least. The one that started it all for me. A totally epic love story with completely charming leads and life-or-death stakes. She’s a South Korean businesswoman who goes paragliding one day, gets caught in a freak tornado, and winds up flung across the border into North Korea—where she is discovered by none other than the desperately handsome and morally upstanding Captain Ri, who spends the rest of the show trying to get her home and keep her safe.
*Some are available on Netflix, others are only available on Viki, an Asian streaming service! You can watch for free on Viki, but they’ll show you ads. I went ahead and got a subscription!! 🙂
About the Author:
Katherine Center’s new novel is WHAT YOU WISH FOR. She’s the author of How to Walk Away and Things You Save in a Fire—both instant New York Times bestsellers—as well as The Lost Husband (now a movie starring Josh Duhamel), and five other bittersweet comic novels. She writes laugh-and-cry books about how life knocks us down—and how we get back up. Katherine has been compared to both Nora Ephron and Jane Austen, and the Dallas Morning News calls her stories, “satisfying in the most soul-nourishing way.” Her books have made countless Best-of lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Books of 2019, Goodreads’ Best Books of the Year 2019, BookBub’s Best-Loved Books of 2019, the Indie Next Great Reads List, Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction, and many, many more. Katherine lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her husband, two kids, and their fluffy-but-fierce dog.
What You Wish For by Katherine Center, out now!
From the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away comes a stunning new novel full of heart and hope.
Samantha Casey is a school librarian who loves her job, the kids, and her school family with passion and joy for living.
But she wasn’t always that way.
Duncan Carpenter is the new school principal who lives by rules and regulations, guided by the knowledge that bad things can happen.
But he wasn’t always that way.
And Sam knows it. Because she knew him before―at another school, in a different life. Back then, she loved him―but she was invisible. To him. To everyone. Even to herself. She escaped to a new school, a new job, a new chance at living. But when Duncan, of all people, gets hired as the new principal there, it feels like the best thing that could possibly happen to the school―and the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sam. Until the opposite turns out to be true. The lovable Duncan she’d known is now a suit-and-tie wearing, rule-enforcing tough guy so hell-bent on protecting the school that he’s willing to destroy it.
As the school community spirals into chaos, and danger from all corners looms large, Sam and Duncan must find their way to who they really are, what it means to be brave, and how to take a chance on love―which is the riskiest move of all.
1 thought on “A K Drama Starter Guide by Katherine Center”
Same here! Kdramas have been my saving grace this past year. My VIKI subscription has been worth the price.
I agree with most of your recommendations although I will add that some of the older Kdramas you listed need to be viewed with the same lens as older romance novels-if you’re looking, you can find problematic tropes like in secret garden but some of them do stand the test of time and most of them I find incredibly enjoyable anyway.
Fight for my way, CLOY, and Another Miss Oh are all in my top 5 favorites. Goblin and coffee prince are must sees along with Descendants of the Sun just so you can be well-versed in the most popular dramas of all time.
I would also like to add Its ok to not be ok (available on Netflix) and the newest version of 1% of something (VIKI) to your romance list.
My #1 favorite is actually not a typical romance but it is flawless-My Mister. I prefer the VIKI translations but it’s also available on Netflix.
True beauty (VIKI) was such a gem and so very enjoyable.
Just between lovers is also in my top five
Oh, and just for discussion purposes, I didn’t really enjoy Ghostess, the girl that comes back isn’t the actual girl he fell in love with.