Best K-dramas of 2022 (First Half)
Around 40 k-dramas aired in the first half of 2022, covering every genre from fluffy rom-coms to gruesome tales of zombies and revenge. So whether you like to keep it light or are unafraid of darker-themed series, there's something for you. Here is our curated selection of the best k-dramas that aired between January to June.
Our Beloved Summer
From its softly-filtered cinematography to its mellow soundtrack, Our Beloved Summer evokes the feelings of a warm and gentle stroll under the shade of blush-pink cherry blossoms — albeit on a path littered with pain and hurt.
Through the lens of a documentary, this coming-of-age romantic comedy showcases how two people who couldn’t be more different — Kook Yeon-su (Kim Da-mi, Itaewon Class) is a hardworking, ambitious girl burdened with the responsibility of looking after her grandmother; and Choi Ung (Choi Woo-shik, Parasite) is a carefree artist for whom the ideal life consists of basking under the sun during the day, and lying underneath a lamp at night — can be drawn to each other, and forced apart, and perhaps, eventually, end up together again.
Beyond romance, this show is also a story about growing up, about forgiveness and second chances, and about getting to really know yourself and having the courage to make mature choices. Read our full review here.
16 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Bad and Crazy
In Bad and Crazy, tvN's late December action-comedy drama, Lee Dong-wook plays Ryu Su-yeol, a violence-averse and morally ambiguous detective (with fabulous hair!).
Ironically (and predictably?), he doesn’t exactly have a clean record even if he's a member of the police anti-corruption division. But the sudden appearance of K (Wi Ha-joon) — a violent, unstoppable punisher of sorts — turns Su-yeol’s life upside-down. As Su-yeol attempts to solve a particularly difficult drug case, he constantly comes into contact with K, who slowly causes Su-yeol to reconsider the choices he’s made in his life.
Although it premiered with relatively high ratings in Korea, Bad and Crazy wasn't able to sustain the ratings, ending at a disappointing 2.8% nationwide. That's really a shame because the drama is a fun, fast, and entertaining watch from beginning to end. Read our full review here.
16 episodes. Available on iQIYI and Netflix.
Through the Darkness
Today, we've grown accustomed to seeing police work filled with DNA technology and mind studies, but there was a time when killers got away more than they got caught, and profiling used to be considered ridiculous quackery.
Told through the studying and capture of three notorious Korean killers, Through the Darkness showcases the difficult and unthankful job of the first criminal profiling team in Korea, and the politics they've had to wade through against the public and against their own departments so they could ensure that science and rational thought would win over clumsy witch hunts and careless arrests.
This tense serial killer drama is based on a book written by South Korea's first criminal profiler, played by Kim Nam-gil. It traces a loose history of profiling and forensics in Korea, and even references America's Mindhunters book (now a show) often. Fans of forensic detection shows may want to add this old-school gem on their list.
16 episodes. Available on VIU and Viki.
A corrupt but cunning accountant, Hwang Dong-joo (Im Si-wan, Run On) suddenly quits his job after his father suspiciously dies in a car accident. Though estranged from his father, he becomes determined to avenge his death.
He eventually finds his way to the National Tax Service (NTS) Central Regional Tax Office as Division V investigation team lead, going after companies run by fraudulent professionals like what he used to be. Will he be able to gain helpful allies, when his demotivated team is treated by NTS as trash? More importantly, could he take down his much more powerful network of opponents led by NTS’ third most powerful man, In Tae-joon (Sohn Hyun-joo, The Good Detective)?
The multiple layers of scheming and counter-scheming in this 16-episode MBC action thriller is such a delight to watch. Whatever actions that make Dong-joo appear reckless turn out to be a product of his well-crafted plan. But the villains are not pushovers either—as Dong-joo gets closer to his goal, he finds it increasingly more difficult to win, and the potential losses may negate his earlier wins.
With the sheer number of characters (org chart, anyone?) continually shifting their alliances, one-upping one another through their fast-paced banter and deceptive ploys, there is no dull moment. The story is so engaging and the cases are so relatable that one hopes for a Dong-joo in her own country’s NTS or its equivalent.
16 episodes (8 episodes per season). Available on Amazon Prime Video and KOCOWA.
All Of Us Are Dead
Ever since the genre-resurrecting Train to Busan, Korea has just kept on cashing in on their love for the zombie and the undead. All of Us Are Dead is Netflix' attempt bringing together all the elements of a guaranteed commercial hit, and they made sure they won.
The show is still one of the top most-viewed global Netflix shows, thanks to a handful of good-looking teens, hundreds of terrifying zombies, and an abundance of action sequences that stretch the limits of both fancy camerawork and your own ability to hold your breath. But also true to k-drama form, the series also pulls emotional strings every now and then, and its focus on the various relationships between teens and their parents gives the show some unexpected depth amid the bloody frenzy.
Although the pace slows down considerably towards the end as the survivors realize they now live in a new world, All of Us Are Dead is still a solid show throughout and an enjoyable addition to the k-zombie genre.
12 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Twenty Five Twenty One
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.
Twenty Five Twenty One was marketed as a romantic comedy that focused on the love story of Baek Yi-jin and Na Hee-do, but it delivered so much more than it promised. It artfully portrayed the triumphs and trials of growing up, making deep connections, and pursuing passions. The series, with its nostalgic, wistful, and respectful view of youth, quickly became a favorite with all of us here at GwenchaNoona. Read more here.
In the series, you'll meet the beloved Taeyang squad everyone's talking and tweeting about. The oldest of the group, Baek Yi-jin (Nam Joo-hyuk) 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) 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) 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), the school’s heartthrob whose grades are far from stellar and Ji Seung-wan (Lee Joo-myung), the uncompromising and idealistic class president.
16 episodes. Available on Netflix.
The show has all the makings of a rom-com classic: Food researcher Shin Ha-ri (Kim Se-jeong, The Uncanny Counter) agrees to go on a blind date to help her best friend scare off the guys her father wants her to marry. But she doesn’t know that the guy who would be sitting across the blind date table from her is none other than Kang Tae-moo (Ahn Hyo-seop, Lovers of The Red Sky), the new workaholic CEO of the company she works for.
Based on a popular webtoon called The Office Blind Date, this silly rom-com reigned on top of Netflix's global non-English series ranking for three straight weeks. And it’s easy to see why: Every episode of this show was a hilarious riot, with sprinklings of swoon in just the right places and an unexpected-yet-very-much-welcome amount of steaminess, serving us viewers with 12 hours of pure joy and escapism.
With its brilliant mix of humor, swoon, steaminess, and tongue-in-cheek writing, Business Proposal is bound to be a staple on lists of fun k-dramas fans will be recommending for years to come. Read our full review here.
12 episodes. Available on Netflix.
It has often been said that it takes a village to raise a child. But another lesser-known African proverb cautions that a child who is not embraced by the said village would “burn the village down just to feel some warmth.” Juvenile Justice, the 10-episode Netflix k-drama about young offenders, is about those teens who exploit loopholes in the law and try to get away with burning it all down.
It is hardly a show to be entertained by, but it is a show worth thinking about and talking about. Like its controversial Netflix predecessors Extracurricular and D.P. (Deserter Pursuit), Juvenile Justice is as thought-provoking as they come, giving global k-drama viewers a glimpse of the jarring realities Korean youth face that the usual romcoms and even domestic crime shows dare not even touch. Read our full review here.
10 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Military Prosecutor Doberman
Ahn Bo-hyun stars as a corrupt and apathetic military prosecutor Do Bae-man who has a change of perspective (and heart) when he meets his replacement, captain Cha Woo-in (Jo Bo-ah), a prosecutor who is bent on inflicting revenge on all those who had a hand in disgracing her late father and their firm. Soon, Do Bae-man realizes that he has also been victimized by the powers that be in the military, and now therefore has his own very personal reasons for taking revenge.
Military Prosecutor Doberman is a thickly-stacked tour of the worst abuses of the military disguised as a revenge action drama. Thankfully, it's not as bleak as the controversial and acclaimed Netflix military drama D.P., because Doberman allows for some comic relief and a bit of legal fantasy to seep in. Read our review and recommendations of what to watch after here.
16 episodes. Available on Viu and Viki.
A project four years in the making, the much-awaited small-screen adaptation of Korean-American author Min Jin-lee's best-selling novel Pachinko delivers an epic series that amazes in terms of vision and scale.
The series begins in the early 1900s in Korea, when a pregnant Sunja — played by promising newcomer Kim Min-ha in her younger days, and by Oscar–winner Youn Yuh-jung when she gets older — finds out that her lover Hansu — brought to life by Lee Min-ho (The King: Eternal Monarch) — is already married. To create a better life for her child, she chooses to marry another man and travel with him to Japan. The focus, as showrunner Soo Hugh said in an interview, "is the question of survival, but at what cost?"
With inspired storytelling, built upon what is clearly a thorough understanding of the themes and messages of the novel, plus the very deep pockets of Apple, Pachinko almost feels like an eight-hour epic film. Whether you've read the book or not, watching the series is an experience worth having.
8 episodes. Available on AppleTV+.
King of Pigs
Based on the 2011 adult animated film by Yeon Sang-ho (the screenwriter and director behind Train to Busan and Hellbound), King of Pigs is the extremely graphic and remarkably violent 12-part series that explores the tortuous repercussions of high school bullying and violence. While it is remarkably faithful to the themes of the animated film, the 12-part format also gives TVING the vast liberty to explore the deep pain and disturbing motivations of every bully and every victim in the show, making this one of the more harrowing and more difficult k-drama series to watch in 2022.
Be warned that the violence in this show is pretty graphic and intense, and the tragedy quotient is very, very high. Definitely not for anyone looking for a feel-good revenge series, as this show just goes from dark to darker.
Once again, 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 fictional Purung town in 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-a (Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha), Han Ji-min (One Spring Night), Kim Woo-bin (Uncontrollably Fond), Go Doo-shim (When the Camellia Blooms), and Kim Hye-ja (The Light in Your Eyes), Our Blues went on to become the eleventh highest-rated cable drama in Korean television history.
20 episodes. Available on Netflix.
My Liberation Notes
One of the most talked about "healing" dramas of the year so far, My Liberation Notes portrays chronicles the everyday struggles of the Yeoms, a working-class family from Gyeong-gi province (the "eggwhite" to Seoul's "yolk.") Through the eyes of three siblings (played by Lee El, Lee Min-ki, and Kim Ji-won) and the mysterious stranger (Son Suk-ku) who moves in next door, it portrays the desire to break free from the monotony of life and societal expectations.
My Liberation Notes ranked as the number one drama on Good Data’s Buzzworthy list for three weeks, with the charismatic Son Suk-ku, in his first leading role, consistently topping the actor rankings as well. Thoughtfully written (by My Mister's Park Hae-young) and deliberately paced, the slightly unconventional drama is widely celebrated by introverts who feel seen by the rich, relatable script and realistic characterization.
16 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Audiences have long loved the doomed romance of Romeo and Juliet, so it was only a matter of time before k-drama staged its own version.
In fair Joseon where we lay our scene, a fictional emperor Lee Tae (Lee Joon of The Silent Sea) is determined to become an absolute monarch. However, he comes up against his own minister Park Gye-won (Jang Hyuk of Voice), who counters his every move. Complicating matters is Yoo-jung (Kang Han-na of Start-up), a noblewoman whom Lee Tae desires and eventually marries, but soon proves to be of a bloodline that could be his undoing.
Bloody Heart is DisneyPlus' first foray into historical drama, and it is as classically-structured and as sageuk as one gets. But despite the slow and often theatrical production, Bloody Heart does win on many fronts, such as skillful plotting, wonderful performances (especially from Jang Hyuk), a number of unpredictable character arcs, and some very creative scheming that will keep audiences wondering how this doomed romance is going to end. Read our recommendations on what to watch after Bloody Heart here.
16 episodes; available on Disney+.
Chae Soo-bin and k-pop star Kang Daniel star in Disney’s first locally produced k-drama Rookie Cops. Disney+’s take on a cop drama is an interesting departure from the dark and edgy police fare that’s a standard on the Korean small screen.