Kainoa, Stuff We Love

A Recovering K-Drama Addict’s Top 10

Chuno filming location

Chuno filming location in Jeju-do

5 years ago, I had to stop watching Korean dramas (K-dramas) because of the amount of time I was spending not sleeping and barely being able to concentrate on anything else other than what I was caught up watching. It’s a good thing, considering my life has gotten so much busier and to be honest, I didn’t enjoy how emotionally invested I was becoming that I didn’t want to leave the house. So now, no more staying up until 3 am on a ridiculously early Saturday morning, convincing myself to watch “just one more episode”. No more buying boxed sets of subtitled dramas. Nope, that’s it. Don’t get me wrong, I do miss a good drama every now and then, but now I can only minimally commit, which means, I start a few episodes and once I decide I’d like to see how it ends, I head over to Drama Beans to finish the series by reading episode summaries.

I also watch Korean movies, or an episode of my favorite Korean variety show, Running Man, instead. The time commitment is 2 hours, which I can live with. What I love about K-programming is watching how culture plays out on the small screen. Do I believe everyone in Korea is the son or daughter of a business conglomerate like the ones portrayed on TV? Absolutely not, but the things I find most fascinating cross the strata of Korean society, like food, language, behaviors, expectations, and cultural mores, which tend to be less exaggerated than other drama storylines and pique my interest to learn more about them on my own. What helped me to kick the habit was plots were becoming too predictable:

Incorrigible male lead almost always gets the girl. Nice girl meets guy and he first, doesn’t acknowledge her, then makes her life hell. As time passes, he begins to show some vulnerability and develop feelings for her, and pretty soon, we’re rooting for them to get together. She manages to break down his asshole façade and he becomes somebody who can love and be loved.

Forget Love Triangle. Try Love Rhombus. What are relationships without a little drama? Sometimes the main couple’s relationship is jolted and stalled by the brief or long-standing presence of other people who are viable alternatives, like the guy’s beautiful ex or the girl’s good friend who begins to fall for her. Distractions and confessions from these new people are either quick and persistent or painfully slow, all the while wreaking havoc on the blossoming relationship.

lovers' locks at namsan

Lovers’ Locks at Namsan

Contracts. In the case of romantic comedies, if the main couple fights like cats and dogs, a contract outlining the conditions of a “truce” emerges. Most of the time, the guy is in power and hoping to keep the girl close, but outlining the conditions of their professional and/or living relationship. The contract is broken and revised a series of times as they begin to fall in love.

Girl impersonating a guy. Whether set in the Joseon dynasty or in modern times, a girl dressing up or acting like a guy through most of the drama is pretty standard these days. It portrays women trying to infiltrate the privilege and prestige in the male realm. What also ensues is a pseudo-homosexual storyline, where the girl will finally admit she is a girl and they’ll fall in love, but not before making the guy question his sexuality as he falls for his “friend”.

Good looking guy posse. Need I say more?

at Namsan Tower

at Namsan Tower

Looking for a gateway watch? I suggest the movie “200 Pound Beauty“, a romantic comedy focused on the definition of beauty and plastic surgery in South Korean society. When you’re ready to take the plunge, here’s a list of my top 10 favorite dramas:

  1. Full House
  2. My Lovely Sam Soon
  3. Goong
  4. Sungkyunkwan Scandal
  5. Coffee Prince
  6. You are Beautiful
  7. Cinderella’s Sister
  8. Autumn in my Heart
  9. Reply 1997
  10. Bad Love



  1. I can understand you. I was once a k-drama addict. I watched Autumn in my heart, Winter Sonata, All about Eve and etc on TV when the trend just started. I bought a Hotelier boxed set because of Bae Yong Jun. Then later watched Full House, Coffee Prince and You are Beautiful online. But now, all dramas are watched with fast forward and catching only the first few and last few episodes. Current list is Good Doctor. Waiting for it to finish to watch all at one shot.

    • Carolina has been trying to get me to watch Stairway to Heaven forever. Did you watch that one? I bawled my eyes out to the point of hyperventilation with Autumn in my Heart, so Stairway to Heaven might immobilize me. LOL.

      I love that the internet has changed how we now watch K-dramas. It’s now possible to watch what’s current in Korea with a 2-3 day delay for subtitles or to watch all of it in one go.

  2. Now it’s so convenient to watch korean drama, you can even watch it in hd mode. But after so many k-drama, I get tired of their usual plot. I knew Stairway to Heaven was popular, but I didnt watch it as it had a tragic end. Now more prefer to watch encouraging and funny k-dramas.

    • I totally agree. Inspirational and funny k-dramas are what I’m drawn to these days, especially if I’m investing precious time into watching. Let me know if you find a drama that’s too good to pass up. 🙂

  3. BRODRUEZ says

    A must watch Korean Drama… ***Marry Stayed out all night*** you can find it on Hulu (http://www.hulu.com/mary-stayed-out-all-night) it’s a great show has it all funny, sad, loving,) trust me it’s will put you on your toes and keep you up all night wanting to know what will happen next. LMAO I should know I got stuck staying up late at night watching this k-drama with 3 sleepless nights and not moving an inch off my bed :(…. But I must say I LLLLOOOOOVVVVEEEE k-dramas i always end up in tears from laughing or even because of some kind of heart break. A few years ago I watched 200 pound beauty and that is what pulled in the the k-drama hole I ended up liking korean music korean food korean everything… I could have convinced myself I was part korean because my kids would wonder how I was able to understand the drama’s (them not knowing it had sub-titles)….

    Wonderful to know I’m not the only one who gets crazy over K-Drama.. maybe someday we should make a must watch list have and a discussion day or a korean recipe picture day…. Invite friends to join in and cook your favorite korean dish while watching a good k-drama…….

    Sending you all lots of love and blessings…. ALOHA (BRODRUEZWIFE)

    • Uh-oh, your recommendation for Mary Stayed Out All Night has me curious. I remember hearing the buzz about this drama when it first came out, but I resisted. Now that I’ve been seeing other similar recommendations and yours, I’m going to have to check it out. Thanks!

      200 Pound Beauty is a gem. I’d like to see more of those types of movies come out with a female lead.

      BTW, I can identify with you when you say how Korean dramas are the gateway to appreciating all cultural things Korean. I got into bibimbap after watching My Lovely Sam-Soon and ramyun eaten out of a metal pot from Boys Over Flowers. I can’t remember when I replaced wooden chopsticks for metal ones and regular spoons with long handled ones. Sesame oil, pepper flakes, kojujang, and citron tea are standards in th kitchen, as is korean nori. And don’t even get me started on K-Pop. Yeah, let’s not go there. LOL!

  4. Morgan says

    This made me laugh! My parents (mainly my appa) is a K-drama addict…I think he probably watches the Korean news (with no subtitles) more than he does our local news. I recognize every single K-drama trait that you mentioned, but the predictability doesn’t hold him back from getting immersed in any/every episode. *sigh* But he enjoys it, so what can you say?

    We recently went to see a Korean movie called Wedding Prince, which turned out to be really funny! Comedian Bobby Lee was in it, and Margaret Cho did a cameo as a Korean shaman…I love her!! If you ever have a chance, watch it.

    A couple of my favorites are My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox, Ajumma, and the variety show 1 Night 2 Days…I like the funny ones. And I have to mention that the first time I went to Seoul with my sister, she made it a point for us to find the coffee shop where they filmed Coffee Prince at! If you’ve ever been to Seoul, you’ll know that they looooove their coffee there and have a cafe on every block. But we found it, right up a little lane from a Hello Kitty Cafe…my sister was in heaven. haha

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