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Best K-dramas of 2023 (First Half)

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Powerful middle-aged women ruled over the airwaves in the first half of 2023, with Doctor Cha leading the pack as the highest-rated cable drama of the year so far, followed by Jeon Do-yeon's Crash Course in Romance, Lee Bo-young's Agency, Ra Mi-ran's The Good Bad Mother, and Seo Ji-hye's Red Balloon. Over on streaming giant Netflix, the second part of Baeksang winner The Glory headlined by Song Hye-kyo and political drama Queenmaker led by Kim Hee-ae and Moon So-ri were among the most watched non-English series globally.


While overall, we felt it was a slow time to be a k-drama fan (seems they made up for it with all the good dramas that premiered in June), we're glad these female-led dramas, the much-awaited return of well-loved series, and a couple of super fun rom-coms gave us just enough reason to justify all our streaming subscriptions!



Agency (JTBC)

Lee Bo-young (Mine) stars as Go Ah-in, the first woman to be appointed as an executive of a major, chaebol-owned ad agency. A self-made creative director known for her brilliant copywriting skills but also notorious for her merciless work ethic, she must constantly battle against the men who look down on her for her gender and poor background.


Co-starring Cho Seong-ha as Ah-in's main rival, Apink's Son Na-eun as chaebol heiress Kang Han-na, and Han Joon-woo as Han-na's assistant and romantic interest, this workplace drama's 16 episodes go by pretty fast, making it an entertaining weekend binge.


16 episodes. Available on Netflix.


Love to Hate You (Netflix)

Nam Kang-ho (Teo Yoo, Past Lives) is a top actor, the "God of Romance" who secretly hates women. Yeo Mi-ran (Kim Ok-vin, Arthdal Chronicles) is a lawyer who eats men for breakfast and has never known real love. Their lives get intertwined when she winds up working at the law firm that represents his agency, and in a short-term contract as his pretend-girlfriend. Like last year's hit rom-com Business Proposal, Netflix's Valentine's offering for 2023 serves up familiar k-drama tropes in a sinfully delicious package with sizzling chemistry, lots of cringe, and toe-curling romance.


10 episodes. Available on Netflix.


The Glory 2 (Netflix)

In the much-more captivating part 2 of this drama, we'll witness Moon Dong-eun's (Song Hye-kyo) years-long revenge scheming finally start to bear fruit. After a comparatively slow start in part 1, the latter half of the series picks up the pace and delivers on our need for retribution.Each episode concludes with a cliffhanger that leaves you eager to press the 'next episode' button.


While the romantic subplot between Dong-eun and the much younger plastic surgeon Joo Yeo-jeong (Lee Do-hyun, Youth of May) is unconvincing, The Glory ultimately succeeds as a satisfying revenge drama, effectively drawing attention to the persistent issue of bullying and the often insufficient response from educators and other authority figures.


Read our full review here. 8 episodes on Netflix.


Taxi Driver 2 (SBS)

If you haven’t watched Season 1, read the plot and review here. Kim do-gi (Lee Je-hoon) and his gang—tech expert Ahn Go-eun (Pyo Ye-jin), mechanics Choi Kyung-goo (Jang Hyuk-jin) and Park Jin-eon (Bae Yoo-ram), and company owner Jang Sung-chul (Kim Eui-sung)—are back as vigilantes for hire in Taxi Driver 2. This time around, they’re out to get traffickers, cult leaders, and drug syndicates. But someone is out to give them a taste of their own medicine. Will they survive or will they get caught by their own violent rope.


Read our full review here. 16 episodes. Available on Viu.



Queenmaker (Netflix)

Hwang Do-hee (Kim Hee-ae, World of the Married), a brilliant and ruthless PR fixer, hatches a plan to elect fiery labor rights lawyer Oh Kyung-sook (Moon So-ri, Race), as the next mayor of Seoul, pitting her against the slick son-in-law (Ryu Soo-young, My Father Is Strange) of the powerful Eunsung chaebol group, her former employer. Will the grassroots campaign fueled by idealism, passion, volunteerism, and well... the desire for revenge, prevail over the South Korean political establishment and wealthiest (but also most evil) family?


With just the right balance of drama and thrills, a sprinkling of well-timed comedy, and the most welcome absence of a love line, this female-dominated series is an exhilarating and satisfying easy weekend binge, two times over.


Read our full review here. 11 episodes. Available on Netflix.


Crash Course in Romance (tvN)

Crash Course in Romance is the latest in the rare genre of middle-aged k-romances, and it was Netflix Asia's top show for several weeks. The slow-burning romance between principled but brash "star" after-school math tutor Choi Chi-yeol (Jung Kyung-ho, Hospital Playlist) and the warm banchan-store owner Nam Haeng-seon (Jeon Do-yeon) was a joy to watch. Because these two characters have had their share of difficulties in life as well as some hefty emotional baggage, the show is a sweet reminder that love can be sweeter when both parties are more mature and wiser. Young actress Roh Yoon-seo took home the Baeksang Best New Actress award for her outstanding performance here as Nam Hae-yi, Haeng-seon's adopted daughter and Chi-yeol's student.


16 episodes. Available on Netflix.


Bora! Deborah / True to Love (ENA)

Where do broken hearts go? They find their way to each other, of course! Dating coach Yeon Bo-ra (Yoo In-na) has just had a very public breakup and subsequent meltdown when she meets Lee Soo-hyuk (Yoon Hyun-min) who has just been dumped himself. Now these two broken hearts must learn to pick themselves up with a little help from each other. Will they allow themselves to fall in love again or will they swear off love forever? Yoo In-na shines in her role as a ditzy but lovable influencer who just can’t catch a break.


Read our full review here. 14 episodes. Available on Prime Video.


Doctor Cha (JTBC)

A major health scare prompts 40+ year old stay-at-home mom Cha Jong-suk (Uhm Jung-hwa, Our Blues) to continue the medical residency program she abandoned decades ago to raise her family. As if the challenge of restarting her career isn't hard enough, she discovers that her husband (Kim Byung-chul, SKY Castle) is having an affair with his first love, her boss (Myung Se-bin, Avengers Social Club), while a handsome surgeon (musical theater actor Min Woo-hyuk) waits in the wings to sweep her off her feet.


Read our review and recommendations for what to watch after here. 16 episodes. Available on Netflix.


Doctor Romantic 3 (SBS)

It's quite a feat to pull off the same achievement three seasons in a row — to draw millions of viewers into the countryside world of Doldam Hospital, and leave them inspired to find the romance in their lives.


It must be, as the head nurse pointed out in one episode, Kim Sabu’s gravitational pull. The showrunners and Han Suk-kyu have together created a character as iconic as other legendary TV doctors, such as Dr. House. But unlike his Hollywood counterpart, the charming and wholesome Kim Sabu teaches not just doctors, but us viewers about the romance of life of passion. With three of Kim Sabu's star pupils from the first two seasons all in the third season, there's more than enough reason to devote time to this medical series for a weekend binge.


16 episodes. Available on Disney+


Bloodhounds (Netflix)

As a thrilling action and revenge k-drama, Bloodhounds already understood the assignment. There are more than enough expertly choreographed fight scenes to satisfy action fanatics, and the fast-paced narrative that ends in a cliffhanger each episode make it a struggle not to binge the entire series in one sitting. But beyond these, Bloodhounds touches on the real-life problem of predatory loan sharks, adding a layer of depth and realism to the series that will resonate with viewers.


Undoubtedly, though, the best part of the show are its two leads — Woo Do-hwan and Lee Sang-yi — who manage to be both adorable as good-natured and loyal friends, and fierce and feared as intense boxers. That they're both incredibly hot once they take their shirts off is just icing on the cake.


Read our review and recommendations for what to watch after here. 8 episodes. Available on Netflix.


HONORABLE MENTION


The Good Bad Mother (JTBC)

Jin Young-soon (Ra Mi-ran, Black Dog), a strict single mother and pig farmer, tries to provide a better life for her son Choi Kang-ho (Lee Do-hyun, The Glory). After Kang-ho becomes a cold-hearted prosecutor, his relationship with his mom suffers until an accident brings him back to his childhood home. Back at his village, he meets his childhood friend Lee Mi-joo (Ahn Eun-jin, Hospital Playlist), who impacts his transformation.


Despite the unbelievable suffering that has befallen Young-soon, her family, and her pigs, the k-drama goes beyond tiger parenting as Young-soon's reaction to her ordeals—it explores generational trauma and healing through community in a heartbreaking and heartwarming way. It’s no wonder then the finale of the small-town k-drama entered the top 25 highest-rated cable dramas of all time.


14 episodes. Available on Netflix.


Race (Disney+)

This 12-episode Disney+ series follows Park Yoon-jo (Lee Yeon-hee, Welcome to Wedding Hell) who gets an internship at the PR department of a large chaebol-owned company where she must now work with childhood best friend Ryu Jae-mim (Hong Jong-hyun) and executive Goo Yi-young (Moon So-ri, On the Verge of Insanity). Things hit a snag when office politics, romance, and life get thrown in the mix. Read our full review here.


Call It Love (Disney+)

If you like long and languid explorations of melancholy and adult loneliness, this one's for you. In a similar vein to niche hits like My Mister and My Liberation Notes, Call It Love stars Lee Sung-kyung (Sh**ting Stars) as Shim Woo-joo, a woman bent on taking revenge on Han Dong-jin (Kim Young-kwang). He becomes her unwitting target only because he happens to be the son of the woman who drove her out of Woo-joo’s house and inheritance. Eventually, hatred turns into affection as the two start spending more time together.







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