A list of my all-time faves. It’s a short list coz hey, I’m a noob.
1. Coffee Prince (2007)
This is the show that kickstarted my k-drama addiction. It wasn’t the first one I watched, but it sent me tumbling down the rabbit hole and made me rue the day I ever thumbed my nose at dramas. I’ve seen this far too many times but each viewing has never brought diminishing returns. I return for its moments of joy, conflict and heartbreak that feel as natural and warm as its summer setting. It’s no surprise that it’s a much beloved show for many across the world. It’s pure drama magic, and since my first brush with it, you could say each time I watch a new drama I’m really hoping it will be the next Coffee Prince. So far, it hasn’t happened and I suspect that it’s not likely to. I will never be over this pairing of Choi Han Kyul and Go Eun Chan, and I will never be over this drama.
2. My Name is Kim Sam Soon (2005)
This is the drama was all about the heroine for me. Sam Soon is the drama heroine to end all drama heroines. She is so indelible and Kim Sun Ah’s portrayal so iconic that it’s hard to see any drama topping her character. They say she’s the Korean Bridget Jones, but really, Bridget can’t hold a candle to Sam Soon. The show places her firmly and resolutely at its centre and never wavers from its commitment to telling her story. Unlike many other rom-coms, or dramas in general in which a relationship often becomes a vehicle for male character growth, here the drama is so enamoured of its titular character that there’s none of that nonsense. Sam Soon is an unapologetically balls-out, warts-n-all comic heroine who isn’t played just for laughs or cheap tricks. Kim Sam Soon, I love you.
3. A Wife’s Credentials (2012)
I never expected a drama about a middle-aged wife in crisis to be so riveting and affecting. I love this drama’s treatment of the wife in question, humanising her needs, desires and struggles to become her own person. It’s fascinating to observe all the numerous women who pop up in this story, alongside it’s wry social commentary about materialism and the hypocrisy of the upper class. It’s also beautifully filmed and intensely compassionate and humane. Read my review here.
4. Thank You (2007)
What should be a morose melodrama turns out to be a gloriously uplifting exploration of gratitude, redemption, family and love in all its various forms. This is a character-driven drama that moves swiftly. It’s got plenty of genre conventions and plot manoeuvrings to hold your attention, but its heart, warmth, humour and grace are what makes this criminally under appreciated drama really special. Gong Hyo Jin is amazing here, alongside an awesome cast in a drama peppered with memorable characters. Stunning.
5. Me Too, Flower! (2011)
This drama about two lonely souls boasts two of the most heart-wrenchingly damaged pair of lovers I’ve yet seen in a rom-com. It’s full of twisted, fraught connections and relationships, but there’s also plenty of hilarity and warmth. Written by the same screenwriter who brought us My Name Is Kim San Soon, it’s no wonder this also features a heroine who is bold yet afraid, who contains multitudes within her. There’s wonderful, witty dialogue, and intense, mature explorations of the human relationships. Love it, warts and all.
6. Beloved (2012)
Adapted from a Japanese novel, this melodrama isn’t an easy watch by any means, but its intricate story about a marriage being tested is intensely involving and ultimately affirming of love and life. It’s quiet, understated way creeps up on you so much so that you hardly realise how intense the underlying emotions are in this finely drawn tale as its characters toggle between trust and betrayal, love and longing. It’s not for everyone, but for those looking for a mature, nuanced and near-flawlessly written story about marriage and love, look no further than Beloved.