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Best K-dramas of 2023 (Second Half)

While Netflix still dominates our list, we see more k-dramas from other platforms such as Disney+ and Prime Video. The k-drama genres also have become increasingly more diversified. We noticed fewer themes centered on revenge, romance, and medical drama, while there were more series about fantasy, music, and superheroes—even horror made it to the list.


GwenchaNoona | Best K-dramas of 2023 (Second Half) (K-drama posters from "Behind Your Touch", "Moving", "D.P. 2", and "Lies Hidden in My Garden")

K-drama Posters from HanCinema

Revenant (SBS, Disney+)

This stylish ghost story serves up all the classic scares with a side of heavy folklore and a compelling mystery that keeps everyone guessing until the finale. The titular revenant is the long-haired ghost of a young girl who was violently killed half a century ago for horrific reasons. Now that it has returned to modern-day Seoul, it drives people to commit inexplicable suicides, eventually finding a home in the body of Gu San-young (Kim Tae-ri, Twenty-Five Twenty-One), an ordinary worker who struggles to make ends meet. Once possessed, San-young flits in and out of consciousness and commits heinous things she has no memory of. This terrifies the poor girl so much that she immediately seeks help from Yeom Hae-sang (Oh Jung-se, It's Okay to Not Be Okay), an eccentric folklore professor who can see ghosts.


While much of Revenant is pretty standard East Asian horror fare (there's a long-haired ghost, some ghastly faces in the windows, taboo ceremonies, and some pretty violent ends), it still works primarily because the show both leads and swerves away from the familiar horror tropes and twists. While the ghost story remains central, Revenant is also a maze filled with robust folklore, "eat the rich" commentary, false memories, and family drama taken to enjoyably dark directions. 


See our full review and recommendations here. 12 episodes on Disney+


Lies Hidden in My Garden (Prime Video)

Two women—one rich and comfortable (Kim Tae-hee, Hi Bye, Mama!), the other one hounded by abuse and poverty (Lim Ji-yeon, The Glory)—clash when one’s husband is accused of murdering the other’s spouse. But having been subjected to lies, manipulation, and violence, will these two women ever learn to trust themselves and get to the truth of the murder? Or will the men in their lives destroy them first?


Based on the eponymous novel by Kim Jin-young, Lies Hidden in My Garden is less of a k-drama and more of a velvety eight-hour movie that should be savored like a full-bodied wine on a chilly evening. It is the rare drama that teaches the audience to mistrust their intuition, to pay more attention to what is unsaid, and to be skeptical of the characters’ unreliable memories. It especially teaches one to read metaphors scattered artfully in plain sight.


Read our full review here. 8 episodes on Prime Video


D.P. 2 (Netflix)

Our deserter pursuit (D. P.) team has been pursuing military deserters for over a year. But the growing evidence of abuse, neglect, and even murder in the military begins to take a toll on our pursuers' consciences. Faced with growing pressure from the public and human rights groups, the D.P. team must now make difficult choices that may lead to explosive consequences.


The second season of D.P. is definitely more intense, more ambitious, and ballsier than the first in both theme and production. It not just features deserters, but also the inner workings of military conspiracy and corruption.  Having warmed up the engine in the first season with individual cases, the second season ramps up the intensity by targeting the government and military institutions directly. 


Check out our full review here. 6 episodes on Netflix


Moving (Disney+)

Something lies beneath the surface of a nondescript high school where we meet seniors—Kim Bong-seok (Lee Jeon-ha, Nevertheless), Jang Hui-soo (Go Youn-jung, Alchemy of Souls: Light and Shadow), and Lee Gang-hoon (Kim Do-hoon, Today's Webtoon). Each has superpowers that they have inherited from their parents, former NIS field agents Kim Doo-sik (Jo In-sung, It’s Okay, That’s Love), Lee Mi-hyun (Han Hyo-joo, Happiness), and Jang Ju-won (Ryu Seung-ryong, Miracle in Cell No. 7).


The characters of Kang Full, the original webtoon artist on which the show is based, aren’t really superheroes at all. What they are, are persons who have superpowers living among others who don’t. Under the careful script and the understated elegance of the actors’ performances, it is not heroism that takes center stage, but humanity. As the characters interact with each other and the world around them, they are shown to be no more and no less than the rest of us as they deal with stress, loss, joy, love, and injustice caused by an imbalance of power.


Read our full review here. 20 episodes on Disney+


Behind Your Touch (JTBC, Netflix)

There’s a serial killer on the loose in a small town in South Korea. Don’t worry though. Help is on the way with a detective from Seoul who’s been demoted to the already challenged local police force, Jang Yeol, and a veterinarian who’s recently come into some butt-touching psychic powers, Bong Ye-bun. Lee Min-ki (Because This Is My First Life) and Han Ji-min (Yonder) play the leads in this hilarious comedy mystery. They are joined by Kim Jun-myeon (EXO’s Suho) who is easily crushable material but also potentially mysterious murder suspect. Will these two squabbling neighbors and the rest of the town ever be able to work together to find the culprit?


See our full review here. 16 episodes on Netflix


Twinkling Watermelon (tvN, Viu)

The link between his silent small home and the loud wider world—that’s what the smart high school student Ha Eun-gyeol (Ryeoun, 18 Again) is to his family. A child of deaf adults (CODA), he later discovers his love for music.


One day, Eun-gyeol finds himself traveling back to 1995. He bumps into a student his age—his father, Ha Yi-chan (Choi Hyun-wook, Twenty-Five Twenty-One)! But his future dad is crazy about Choi Se-kyeong (Seol In-ah, Business Proposal), not his would-be mom Yoon Cheong-ah (Shin Eun-soo, SF8). Will he find out why he must travel back in time before his time is up?


The k-drama sheds light on the plight of people who can't hear or speak, and the social challenges they face. It highlights the importance of communicating with and supporting their whole family (including the CODA). It also raises questions about fate vs. choice, and trust vs. responsibility, as the time-traveling protagonist attempts to alter the future through the past.


Check out our full review here. 16 episodes on Viu


Celebrity (Netflix)

How does one go from being an ordinary person to being one of the most followed influencers in South Korea? Ask Seo A-ri. If she were alive, that is.


Celebrity is seriously fun the way most mean-girl shows are fun: loads of shiny bling and high fashion, tons of catfights, and all the premium kitsch that involve tons of slapping, hair-grabbing, and wine-spilling not seen since the heyday of the Mexican telenovela. It’s an unapologetic camp with a touch of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, and if you can withstand the hideous screeching and the caricature mean girls, then this show will be a fun popcorn watch for you. Park Gyu-young (Dali and the Cocky Prince) plays the Machiavellian Seo A-ri to the hilt, and she’s superficial when she needs to be, but human in other places when she no longer can take the game.


But this is not to say that Celebrity is just tooth-rotting fluff and fakery. The show does have something to say about the duplicity of these internet celebs, how fame wrecks someone’s head, and most importantly, the real-world consequences of online abuse. The show also takes its time exposing the seedy underbelly of the influencer lifestyle: rampant drug use, paid appearances, fake friendships, sexual favors, and the use of designer knockoffs, among society’s ills.


Read our full review here. 12 episodes on Netflix


Death’s Game Part 1 (TVING, Prime Video)

Adapted from a Naver webtoon by Lee Won-sik and Ggulchan, Death’s Game (2023) is a fantasy-action k-drama starring Seo In-guk (Reply 1997) and Park So-dam (Parasite). After a long and fruitless search for permanent work and endless misfortunes, part-timer Choi Yi-jae (Seo In-guk) applies for and finally lands his dream job: being dead. But Death (Park So-dam) is not impressed—insulted, even. She sends him on a series of deadly “internships” as punishment: experiencing the deaths of 12 different people. Can Yi-jae outwit Death in her game and earn his position in heaven, or will he be forever demoted to hell? 


The k-drama boasts a stellar cast, delivering compelling and nuanced performances. Seo In-guk and Park So-dam's intensely violent scenes help unify the story. Choi Si-won and the other actors playing the characters taken over by Yi-jae do not let themselves be outdone by the leads. Though their scenes are short, they effortlessly draw viewers into their worlds.


See our full review here. 4 of 8 episodes on Prime Video


Castaway Diva (tvN, Netflix)

In Park Eun-bin’s follow-up project to her Daesang (Grand Prize)-winning performance in Extraordinary Attorney Woo, she plays Seo Meok-ha, a 31-year old aspiring singer who must adjust to society after having been stranded on a deserted island for 15 years. Upon her return to civilization, she discovers her idol Yoon Ran-joo (Kim Hyo-jin, The Good Detective 2) has faded from stardom, and together they navigate the challenges of the music industry. Helping Mok-ha along her journey are her classmate Jung Ki-ho (whose fate has been a mystery for most of the series) and her newfound family, especially Kang Bo-geol (Chae Jong-Hyeop, Love All Play) and Kang Woo-hak (Cha Hak-yeon, Mine).


The music-themed romantic k-drama shines with its intricate character development and jaw-dropping musical performances by Park Eun-bin, bringing authenticity and heart to her role. Castaway Diva offers a story that is not only thought-provoking—viewers are left pondering on the real meaning of family and the pursuit of dreams—but also resonant and uplifting.


12 episodes on Netflix


Mask Girl (Netflix)

Kim Mo-mi (Go Hyun-jung, Dear My Friends) is an office worker by day and a masked DJ at night. She and her officemate Joo Oh-ham (Ahn Jae-hong, Reply 1988) both have an inferiority complex and get caught up in an unexpected situation. Nana (Into the Ring) and Yeom Hye-ran (The Uncanny Counter) also star in the dark comedy series.


7 episodes on Netflix



HONORABLE MENTION


Perfect Marriage Revenge (MBN, Netflix)

Perfect Marriage Revenge stars Jung Yoo-min and Sung Hoon, in a drama that uses the premise of the contract marriage as a means to gain revenge on a family.


Think of this drama as makjang-lite—a quick walk into the well-trod path of birth secrets, scandalous reactions, and very little background research. If you want to enjoy this, throw your skeptical brain out the window and enjoy the lovely ride of beautiful people doing stupid things, all the while making us all grateful we’re not part of the drama.


Check out our full review and recommendations here. 12 episodes on Netflix


A Time Called You (Netflix)

This 12-episode thriller and romance drama stars Ahn Hyo-seop (Business Proposal), Jeon Yeo-been (Vincenzo), and Kang Hoon (The Red Sleeve). The series focuses on Han Joon-hee who travels back to 1998 and meets a high school student resembling her late boyfriend. The highly anticipated series is a remake of the classic Taiwanese romance Someday or One Day.


12 episodes on Netflix


See You in My 19th Life (tvN, Netflix)

This 12-episode romance-fantasy series stars Shin Hye-sun (Mr Queen) as Ban Ji-eum, a woman who remembers all of her previous lives. In her 19th life, she sets out to find Moon Seo-ha, played by Ahn Bo-hyun (Military Prosecutor Doberman), whom she met in her 18th life before it was tragically cut short.


12 episodes on Netflix





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