Best of 2021: Our First-Half Picks (Part 1)

Updated: Jul 9

You could blame it on the pandemic's first anniversary, but 2021 opens with less swoon and more angst. We list our favorite k-dramas whose final episodes were aired during the first half of 2021.

The Uncanny Counter (2020)

Based on the DAUM webtoon Amazing Rumor by Jang Yi, The Uncanny Counter tells the story of So Mun (Jo Byung-gyu). A high school boy who suffers from a leg injury, he is recruited to be a Counter. He meets Ga Mo-tak (Yoo Jun-sang), Do Ha-na (Kim Se-jeong), and Chu Mae-ok (Yeom Hye-ran). As Counters, they search for and combat evil spirits who escape from the afterlife.


The fantasy-superhero k-drama packed a strong punch as it ended its 16-episode run on January 24. With a final-episode average rating of 11% in Korea, it is the highest-rated drama of cable channel OCN.

Mr. Queen (2020)

Mr. Queen is the clever sageuk (historical)/fusion show whose sly commentaries on gender and feminism belie its hilarious facade. Loosely based on the Chinese web drama Go Princess Go, it is about a present-day playboy chef (Choi Jin-hyuk) who falls into a coma, then wakes up in the past as a... late Joseon era queen (Shin Hye-sun)!?!


Despite the show facing controversy every week—after all, this is a playboy chef in a woman’s body gallivanting with courtesans in old Korea and potentially with the king (Kim Jung-hyun)—it is the first major sageuk/fusion hit of 2021. The series finale is the fifth-highest in cable network tvN ratings history. But how can you not rake in those ratings when you have major (and hilarious) chemistry, a non-stop conspiratorial plot, and some seriously amazing cooking scenes (McDonaldu!)?

Penthouse 2 (2021)

The classy—and crass—residents of Hera Palace band together to make the year’s biggest makjang drama a certified ratings juggernaut. The Penthouse is the batsh*t crazy tale of how far the rich will go to maintain their status, and how the poor are poor because the abusive rich help keep them that way. Three seasons strong, the show has enough insanity, crazy fashion, and injustice to drive you up a wall.


After having put Oh Yoon-hee (Eugene) behind bars, Cheon Seo-jin (Kim So-yeon) and Joo Dan-tae (Uhm Ki-joon) prepare for their engagement (and ultimately their business merger), against their children's protests. Eventually, the Hera Palace teenagers take their rivalry to another level by focusing on winning the grand prize of the most-coveted Cheong-ah Arts Festival. Unsurprisingly, the competition ends in someone's murder, which launches a whole new wave of revenge plots yet again.

Beyond Evil (2021)

The arrival of his new partner, elite Seoul detective Han Joo-won (Yeo Jin-goo), disturbs the peaceful life of Lee Dong-sik (Shin Ha-kyun), a brilliant but demoted Manyang detective. An even greater upheaval shakes up the whole town as a murder occurs. It looks suspiciously similar to the unsolved murder where Dong-sik was a suspect 20 years ago. However, as much as Dong-sik and Joo-won distrust each other, they are forced to work together to solve this horrendous crime and prevent another one. In the course of their investigation, they learn more about each other and what lies beneath the still, vast grasslands of Manyang.


Winning Best Drama, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay at the most recent Baeksang Arts Awards, Beyond Evil keeps viewers wondering who the actual killer is, constantly shifting their answers to the question: “Who is the real monster?”

Vincenzo (2021)

After a two-year hiatus, Song Joong-ki came back in a big way this 2021 with the first Korean space movie Space Sweepers and the black crime comedy Vincenzo. He stars in the titular role, an Italian mafia consigliere who returns to Seoul to retrieve his secret multi-trillion won stash of gold buried underneath the decrepit Geumga Plaza. His mission, of course, turns out to be anything but straightforward as he finds himself up against the powerful (and evil) Babel Group, which is out to redevelop the property into Babel Tower.


Aided by the building’s oddball tenants and a smart but zany lawyer (Jeon Yeo-been), our ridiculously handsome anti-hero whips out his mafia playbook to take on the villainous Babel Group in this deliciously entertaining (though often violent) crime drama.

Is your favorite k-drama not in the list? Wait for Part 2—coming soon!

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