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A Chingu Like Me: K-dramas About Friendships



Who can forget the iconic bunch of Reply 1988 or the musically gifted doctors from Hospital Playlist? K-drama extols the virtues and values of friendships across a whole spectrum of ages and situations. From childhood playmates to senior buddies, we all get by with a little help from our friends. On World Friendship Day, we celebrate k-dramas depicting loyal and affirming friendships that touch our hearts and leave lasting impressions.


Adolescence and Young Adulthood

Is youth really wasted on the young when it is spent in the company of friends who make the ride worthwhile? Many people form lifelong friends in their impressionable adolescent years. We look at some of the dramas that make us nostalgic for the bonds of friendship that were formed at a time when identity and companionship seemed to overshadow all other needs.


Rookie Cops (2022)

Ko Eun-kang (Chae Soo-bin, Love in the Moonlight) and Wi Seung-hyeon (Kang Daniel) are college freshmen at the prestigious Korean National Police University (KNPU). Ko Eun-kang’s last-minute entry into KNPU shakes the decades-old hierarchical and patriarchal system. Seung-hyeon, Eun-kang, and their cohorts come of age in what can only be described as a police-themed university experience—complete with hazing, difficult professors, on-the-job training, crime-busting, loss, disillusionment, and, of course, romance. With each other’s support, however, they’re ready to take on the wide world. Read our full review here.


Reply 1997 (2012)

The k-drama that started it all for Reply fans! The first of the Reply series aired in 2012 and anchored itself around six main characters and their lives in Busan. The story jumps between 1997, when the six friends are navigating their senior year in high school, and 2012, when they have all gathered for a reunion. The hook is that their 2012 selves have a newly engaged couple in their midst, but the big reveal doesn’t happen until the very end. What stands out in this anthology are the unlikely love triangle, the revelation of someone’s gender identity, and the nod to the intensity of idol fandom at a time when K-pop was starting to take hold in pop culture.


Reply 1988 (2015-2016)

Nostalgia is the name of the game, and Reply 1988 is proof that k-drama can ace the game as well—if not better—than anyone else. A hilarious family drama about five friends who live in the same neighborhood entirely set in 1988 Seoul, Reply 1988 is carved on many k-drama fans’ hearts because of its warmhearted and hilarious take on ‘80s life and love. The phones! The bangs! The denim jackets! The cringey dance productions! Reply 1988 is so immersive and so entertaining that you’d think you grew up with the gang in Seoul, too.

Twenty-Five Twenty-One (2022)

The series follows the lives of the Taeyang squad as they grow from being adolescents to young adults in the late '90s in the midst of the economic crisis in Korea. The oldest of the group, Baek Yi-jin (Nam Joo-hyuk, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo) is thrust from his comfortable and lavish life into the harsh realities of the world as his father’s company goes bankrupt. Na Hee-do (Kim Tae-ri, Space Sweepers) is the feisty, never-say-die fencing athlete who has dreams of competing against her idol. The beautiful and talented Ko Yu-rim (WJSN's Bona, Joseon Attorney) is the number one fencer in Korea but sees her sport as a means to end her impoverished life. They are joined by Moon Ji-woong (Choi Hyun-wook, Weak Hero Class 1), the school’s heartthrob whose grades are far from stellar, and Ji Seung-wan (Lee Joo-myung, Kairos), the uncompromising and idealistic class president. As they deal with the storm and stress of the world, they learn to figure out who they really are and what they mean to each other. Read more here.


Misaeng: Incomplete Life (2014)

Office workers typically spend more time among colleagues than their own families, and friendships are bound to develop despite some workplace competition. Based on a popular webtoon, Misaeng: Incomplete Life centers on Jang Geu-rae (Im Si-wan, Tracer), a baduk prodigy who struggles in a corporate setting after failing to make it as a professional player. Featuring a large ensemble of talented actors including Lee Sung-min (Reborn Rich), Kang Ha-neul (Insider), Kang So-ra, and Byun Yo-han (Mr. Sunshine), who accurately portray the different personalities you'll typically find yourself working with.


Midlife

If you’re going to go through a midlife crisis, you might as well do it with your best friends. Growing older with grace is something we all aspire for. Thank goodness for friends who stick it out with

us while we’re trying to navigate the more complex world of careers, relationships, and families.



Our Blues

Veteran writer Noh Hee-kyung (Dear My Friends, Live) shows us her mastery of the slice-of-life genre and her ability to assemble a large cast of some of Korea's top actors. In this anthology-style series, she weaves a colorful tapestry using the joys and sorrows of the villagers (past and present) of the fictional Purung town on Jeju Island.

Over 20 episodes, we get involved in the daily lives of the close-knit community, most of whose livelihood involves the sea: an assortment of market vendors, boatmen, and haenyeos—Jeju's women divers. With its heartwarming stories, life-affirming message, and powerhouse cast that includes Lee Jung-eun (Parasite), Lee Byung-hun (Mr. Sunshine), Shin Min-ah (Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha), Han Ji-min (One Spring Night), Kim Woo-bin (Black Knight), Go Doo-shim (When the Camellia Blooms), and Kim Hye-ja (The Light in Your Eyes), Our Blues went on to become the 11th highest-rated cable drama in Korean television history.

Hospital Playlist Seasons 1 & 2

At the heart of the series are the highly enviable and surprisingly relatable love and friendship of the ‘99ers, a moniker for the five surgeons at Yulje Hospital who all happen to be medical school friends and bandmates. Jo Jung-suk, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jung Kyung-ho, Kim Dae-myung, and Jeon Mi-do and their equally lovable co-stars have wonderful and palpable onscreen chemistry that will surely make this (and its first season) a fan favorite for years to come. Check out our blog post on why we love these characters so much.


Prison Playbook

Hospital Playlist's literal title is Wise Doctor Life, and it is the second installment in the "wise life" series. The first installment is Wise Prison Life, otherwise known as Prison Playbook. Trade doctors in white coats and a hospital for convicts in prison overalls and a penitentiary, and you’ve basically got another entertaining cast of Shin-Lee characters to fall in love with. This series is centered around a superstar baseball player, Kim Je-hyuk (Park Hae-soo, Squid Game) who finds himself in jail after assaulting a man who tried to rape his sister. But it’s really the camaraderie between him, his fellow convicts, and even the prison guards that will draw you in and keep you watching. If that’s not enough reason for you to watch, Jung Kyung-ho stars here as a prison guard and Kim Je-hyuk’s best friend!


Thirty-Nine

The female-centric melodrama starring Son Ye-jin (The Last Princess), Jeon Mi-do (Hospital Playlist), and Kim Ji-hyun (Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha) as lifelong best friends became one of JTBC’s top 10 dramas of all time when it aired. While celebrating love and friendship, Thirty-Nine also explored such heavy themes as adoption, infidelity, terminal illness, and death, showcasing its lead cast’s top-tier acting talent. Read more here.


Cleaning Up

Eo Yong-mi (Yum Jung-ah, SKY Castle) and Ahn In-kyung (Jeon So-min, Something about 1 Percent), close friends working as custodians at a brokerage company, are forced to let their unlikable co-worker Maeng Soo-ja (Kim Jae-hwa, Why Her?) in on their insider trading scheme after Soo-ja overhears their conversation and blackmails them. As they cooperate to get information from the brokerage, they face life-threatening challenges, and soon they grow closer together. They may have to pay for their crimes eventually, but they create a safe space for one another with friendship that transcends their differences and dire circumstances.

Super Seniors

Some studies show that the key factor in living a long and fulfilling life is having the support of a community. The desire for intimacy and connection grows stronger (and not weaker) with age. We should all be so lucky to still have a ride-or-die squad with us when we become seniors.


Dear My Friends

Dear My Friends features a powerhouse ensemble composed of some of the most awarded and beloved senior actors in Korea, acting as lifelong friends. Park Wan (Go Hyun-jung, The Great Queen Seondeok), a 30-something translator, reluctantly keeps getting roped into the drama of her headstrong mother Jang Nan-hee (Go Doo-shim, Exit) and her fellow senior-citizen friends (Youn Yuh-jung, Kim Hye-ja, Na Moon-hee, Park Won-sook, and Shin Goo) and gives in to their requests to document their life stories. Along the way, she learns valuable life lessons. Incredibly poignant, surprisingly funny, and featuring the beautiful sights of Slovenia and Croatia, Dear My Friends is a healing, life-affirming celebration of friends who have become family, and the beauty of growing old with them by your side.

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