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Marvelous Midlife Romances in K-dramas

For most of us, the gateway to k-dramaland was a rom-com with a cute twenty-something candy girl and a tsundere chaebol male lead in their mid to late twenties who dashed off into their happily-ever-after at the end of 16 episodes. But as we grew older we realized that while the trope was cute, it also bordered on fantasy.

Hardly anyone gets to be that successful (with a degree and a masters from an ivy league school no less) with that kind of business acumen at that age. And there are very few people who have their first great big love story turn out to be their one true love. So we hoped that k-drama would grow along with us and give us less than successful midlife leads, no longer in the first blush of love, who have enough emotional baggage to make them seem like the people we hang out with (except for their impossibly perfect skin). K-drama delivered and gave its own spin on mid-life romances which we’ve enjoyed.

Kiss Sixth Sense (2022)

Hong Ye-sul (Seo Ji-hye, Crash Landing on You) has a unique special ability: When she kisses someone, she is able to see that person’s future. The story gets more interesting when she accidentally kisses the neck of her annoying boss, Cha Min-hoo (Yoon Kye-sang, Chocolate)—and sees a vision of his future in bed with her! The 10-episode rom-com is based on the popular web novel Kiss Six Sense.

Available on Disney+

Love to Hate You (2023)

Nam Kang-ho (Teo Yoo) is a top actor, the "God of Romance" who secretly hates women. Yeo Mi-ran (Kim Ok-vin) 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 Love to Hate You serves up familiar k-drama tropes in a sinfully delicious 10-episode package with sizzling chemistry, lots of cringe, and toe-curling romance.

Available on Netflix.

When My Love Blooms (2020)

This classic melodrama of first loves, painful goodbyes, and second chances stars the charming Lee Bo-young and Yoo Ji-tae as former college sweethearts who meet again by chance 25 years later.

The drama goes back and forth between two time periods: the mid-1990s—where he is a radical student activist from a working-class family, and she is a sheltered member of the bourgeoisie, and the present day— with him as an anti-labor chaebol executive and her as a struggling, working-class single mother. Over a languid, atmospheric 16 episodes with soaring violin crescendos and almost dream-like cinematography, we learn how they found themselves on paths so divergent, not just from each other but from who they used to be. And of course, if the star-crossed lovers can find their way back to each other despite the many obstacles in their path.

16 episodes. Available on Netflix and Viu.

Bo-ra Deborah!/ True to Love (2023)

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.

14 episodes. Available on Amazon Prime.

Love Is for Suckers (2022)

Goo Yeo-reum (Lee Da-hee, Search: WWW) works as a producer of a reality show. Her longtime best friend Park Jae-hoon (Choi Si-won, Work Later, Drink Now) is a plastic surgeon. They've dated other people before and the subject of dating each other never came up. But all that is about to change when Jae-hoon finds himself a contestant in one of Yeo-reum's shows called Kingdom of Love. Along with the other contestants and members of the production staff, they must now ask themselves if they're ready to fall in love. Read the full review here.

16 episodes. Available on Amazon Prime.

My Liberation Notes (2022)

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. 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.

Hospital Playlist Season 1 and 2 (2020-21)

When Hospital Playlist Season1 debuted in 2020, audiences were introduced to yet another close-knit group of friends that we all longed to be a part of. Having perfected the art of creating on-screen chemistry with an ensemble cast in their Reply Series (Reply 1988, 1994, 1997) and Prison Playbook, director Shin Won-ho and writer Lee Woo-jung once again made us fall in love with the ‘99ers—a group of talented doctors who share a passion for music and who genuinely care for each other. Lee Ik-jun (Jo Jung-suk), Chae Song-hwa (Jeon Mi-do), Yang Seok-hyung (Kim Dae-myung), Kim Jun-wan (Jung Kyung-ho), and Ahn Jeong-won (Yoo Yeon-seok) brought us along the ups and downs of their burgeoning careers, complicated love lifes, and steadfast friendship.

12 episodes/season. Available on Netflix

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" teacher Choi Chi-yeol (Jung Kyung-ho) and the warm entrepreneur Nam Haeng-son (Jeon Do-yeon) has been a joy to watch so far. 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.

16 episodes. Available on Netflix.

Mad for Each Other (2021)

He goes to therapy for anger management issues; she, for trauma. They’re not supposed to be dating other people, much less each other. And yet, here they both are.

Mad for Each Other is an unexpectedly sensitive and sympathetic exploration of how wounded individuals are healed not just by therapy but by their community. Solid performances from Jung Woo and Oh Yeon-seo make this unusual romance/healing drama with only 13 35-minute episodes a worthwhile watch.

Available on Netflix.

Doctor Cha (2023)

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.

Available on Netflix.

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