Best of 2021: Our First-Half Picks (Part 2)
The remaining entries in our top picks somehow have somber tones, while those in the honorable mention have more cheerful vibes. Here is part 2 of our favorite k-dramas whose final episodes were aired during the first half of 2021.
Move to Heaven (2021)
In this Netflix original, Han Geu-ru (Tang Joon-sang, Crash Landing on You), a young man with Asperger’s syndrome is left to run the family trauma cleaning business, Move to Heaven, after his father (Ji Jin-hee, Undercover) passes away. The business involves cleaning and arranging the things left by someone who passed away.
Helping (and annoying) him is Cho Sang-gu (Lee Je-hoon), an uncle he didn’t know until after his father's death. An ex-convict and street fighter, Sang-gu has to learn to become a proper guardian to Geu-ru and employee of Move to Heaven over three months. Keeping a close eye on him is Yoon Na-mu (Hong Seung-hee, Navillera), Geu-ru's neighbor and best friend.
Move to Heaven is not a show you would describe as heavy. It isn’t difficult to watch or painful to plod through, nor is it overbearing about its lessons. In fact, it is light-hearted throughout much of its running time, with a sprinkling of laugh-out-loud moments, courtesy of the unusual relationship between Geu-ru and Sang-gu.
Taxi Driver (2021)
Taxi Driver finished as the fourth highest-rated Friday-Saturday show of SBS ever. With phenomenal performances by its ensemble cast led by the indefatigable Lee Je-hoon, the series treated its audience to suspenseful episodes every week. Fans of the show have been clamoring for a second season. Who wouldn’t want another 16 episodes of the kick-ass ragtag team of Rainbow Taxi Company exacting revenge on the most elusive criminals? The series takes its viewers on a high-octane ride in every episode.
Youth of May (2021)
Youth of May takes us back to the city of Gwangju during the politically charged month of May 1980, when a student-led uprising against the military regime led to the killing of thousands of citizens.
But before all that happens, we're first introduced to medical student Hwang Hee-tae (Lee Do-hyun), who goes home to Gwangju to help transfer a patient wounded from student protests in Seoul. He's a top student at the prestigious Seoul National University, but this failed treatment forces him to defer his graduation.
In Gwangju, he meets nurse Kim Myeong-hee (Go Min-si), who is practically her family's breadwinner. Until the end of May 1980, she has one month left before she has to leave for Germany, where she will study medicine on a scholarship. Lacking airfare funds, she agrees to go on three dates with Hee-tae in place of her friend, Lee Soo-ryeon (Keum Sae-rok), who comes from a wealthy family but actively protests against the government.
Adapted from the BBC series of the same title, Undercover tells the story of an NIS agent Lee Suk-kyu (played by Ji Jin-hee from Designated Survivor: 60 Days) who met and fell in love with a civil rights lawyer during one of his covert operations. Fast forward nearly 20 years, and his wife and family still have no idea about his murky and dangerous past, and he himself has long left the service and now runs a quiet little bike shop. However, things take a complicated turn as his wife is about to be the head of the investigative anti-corruption unit. Her promotion would mean that his bloody past and his real identity are about to be exposed, as well as the horrific deeds of his friends and colleagues. So how far would you go to protect your loved ones from the ghosts of your past? And more importantly, how far would you go to protect your wife from yourself?
Undercover achieved impressive ratings during its run, nearly hitting 7% average audience share—impressive for a cable show where others usually flounder in the 1-3% range. The series was praised by its fans as a solid contribution to the action/k-drama genre, with its Bourne-level fight choreography, brisk pacing, and a taut storyline.
A female-led drama through and through, Mine stars Lee Bo-young (I Can Hear Your Voice, Mother) and Kim Seo-hyung (Temptation of Wife, SKY Castle) as strong, capable women who have married into the Hyowon chaebol family and are responsible for raising its heirs. Behind the scenes, the all-female tandem of PD Lee Na-jeong (Fight for My Way, Oh My Venus) and writer Baek Mi-kyeong (The Lady in Dignity, Strong Woman Do Bong Soon), calls the shots.
This high-society drama consistently drew in high viewership ratings throughout its run with its suspenseful blend of murder, mystery, upstairs-downstairs drama, and jaw-dropping set-pieces and fashion. It also broke new ground by featuring the first-ever lesbian lead in a k-drama, played by Kim Seo-hyung, and was praised for its focus on its strong female leads.
Run On (2020)
Run On was marketed as a romance between an athlete who attempts to look for meaning beyond his sport and a translator/subtitler who just wants more people to appreciate good films. Run On’s charm, however, was not just in the mature, realistic, and slow-burn romance between the two protagonists Ki Seon-gyeon (Im Shi-wan) and Oh Mi-joo (Shin Se Kyung) but in the great chemistry of its four leads. Yes, FOUR! It’s one of the few k-drama romances that focus on two couples that (surprise, surprise) are NOT in a weird love-triangle-square whatever. The drama gives as much importance to the developing romance as the growing friendships among the four leads and the people around them. It’s a leisurely and lovely watch for those who want more than just meet-cutes and grand gestures.
Lovestruck in the City (2020)
How do men and women in the city date? Six Seoulites take part in a (fictitious) documentary to answer this question, telling the stories of their love lives in the process. Of the six, Park Jae-won (Ji Chang-wook) is a successful architect pining over a summer fling—a free-spirited woman he knows as Yoon Seon-a. That woman is Lee Eun-oh (Kim Ji-won), a struggling freelance marketer trying to forget what happened during that summer by the beach.
Scripting Your Destiny (2021)
This little gem of a web series can easily be overlooked, but truly great stories can come from small packages like this one. Scripting Your Destiny is a short (only 10 episodes at 25 minutes each) fantasy web series about a god in charge of human fate and decides to steal ideas from an as-yet-unwritten screenplay by a writer who has a penchant for overly dramatic romances. The series builds a neat little world around its lovable characters Go Chae-kyung (Jeon So-nee), the writer, and Shin Ho-yoon (Ki Do-hoon) who is in charge of writing Go Chae-kyung’s fate. Between the two of them, they test how far they can defy the mysterious laws of fate. Filled with parodies and heartwarming scenes, the series is a must-watch for those who love fantasy dramas.
Is it ever too late to pursue one’s childhood dreams? Shim Deok-chul (Park In-hwan) turns 70 and decides to find out. A retiree with a family of grown children, Deok-chul takes it upon himself to finally fulfill his long-time goal of learning ballet, but must do so in secret since his family is not likely to understand or accept this turn of events. Enter Lee Chae-rok (Song Kang), a talented but troubled ballerino whose career is on the brink of a breakthrough. Replete with skills but burdened by personal demons, the young dancer finds himself thrust into the role of reluctant teacher, while Deok-chul learns to navigate the balance between following his heart and listening to his family’s wishes.