Updated: May 4, 2021
K-dramaland is not all about sudden wrist grabs and slow-motion first kisses. In part 2 of our list of underrated k-dramas from 2020, we present five titles that are light on romance but strong on unique themes—ranging from fun and quirky, to dark and edgy.
This Netflix original is the antithesis of everything glossy in k-dramaland. Extracurricular made waves for tackling grittier themes, such as high school students doing sex work for extra income and hustling through poverty. While it may be a tad darker than what we’re used to, Extracurricular ensures that the stories are carefully played out, and isn’t flippant about the serious issues it deals with. Kim Dong-hee and Park Joo-hyun are terrific as the Bonnie-and-Clyde tandem who look like perfect students by day, but live double lives at night.
WATCH: If you need a break from the glossy and cute rom-coms and want to see something that deals with unsavory realities of high school life. Available on Netflix PH.
SKIP: If you are uncomfortable with triggering scenes. While it has no sexually explicit scenes per se, take note that a number of scenes in Extracurricular include assault, violence, prostitution and bullying.
Mystic Pop-up Bar
Welcome to the Mystic Pop-up Bar, where weary souls find relief. Based on a popular DAUM webtoon, the story revolves around Weol-Ju (Hwang Jung-eum), the bar owner, in her quest for cosmic atonement.
But when has cosmic atonement ever been easy? We join Weol-Ju and a reaper-turned-manager, Chief Gwi (Choi Won-young), as they struggle to find the last 10 souls they need to help to finally undo Weol-Ju’s unforgivable sin. Along the way, she enlists the help of Kang Bae (Yook Sung-jae), a young man burdened with an unusual gift that proves useful in her quest.
2020 might be over but make sure to make some time to check out this fun and quirky k-drama! A combination of dynamic storytelling, engaging acting and expansive character developments made sure it can hold its own alongside big cosmic atonement k-dramas such as the beloved Goblin: The Lonely and Great God (2016) and Hotel del Luna (2019).
WATCH: If you’re looking for a good laugh, dynamic story-telling and endearing characters. Watch this on Netflix PH.
SKIP: If you’re looking for a serious drama and/or if you’re not a fan of satires or fourth-wall breakage.
Add another term to the lexicon! Kkondae is a Korean slang word that’s somewhere between boomer and mansplaining—used to refer to people who impose their outdated views onto another person.
This workplace/odd-couple dramedy centers on Ka Yeol-chan (played by Cheese In The Trap’s Park Hae-jin), who quit his job at a ramyeon company due to his terror kkondae boss Lee Man-sik (Kim Eung-soo). He finds success at another ramyeon company, only to have his former boss be his intern. Reversal-of-fortune high jinks ensue.
While this show has notable flaws (and a highly regrettable cultural appropriation scene you might want to skip), it also upends a lot of stereotypes about age, seniority and what it means to be a truly great mentor. You will identify with Yeol-chan’s need for revenge as well as Man-sik’s desire to "stick it to the man" (though he himself was the man not so long ago).
WATCH: If you’re sick of your boss and want to get your vicarious revenge. Also, if you like spicy ramen and don't mind craving it every episode. You can watch this on Viu PH.
SKIP: If you’re looking for a good romance plot (this one has a particularly horrible one).
Into the Ring
A concerned citizen nicknamed “Garden Tiger Moth” is notorious at Mawon District service center for filing numerous concerns and ensuring they are resolved. The concerns are assigned to the competent but inflexible civil servant Seo Kyung-myung (Park Sung-hoon). The queen of civil complaints turns out to be Goo Se-ra (Nana), who loses her part-time job and learns of her mother’s debt. Desperate to earn a stable, higher income, she runs for district representative. Her selfish motive soon disappears as she earnestly resolves the district complaints. Kyung-myung joins forces with her—what ensues are the hilarious ways the astute Kyung-myung complements the passionate and reckless Se-ra.
Nana nails her role as someone who sticks out like a nail but refuses to be hammered down for the sake of her constituents. She has great chemistry with Sung-hoon, who, in turn, shows his adorkable side, in contrast with his very serious role in The Psychopath Diary.
WATCH: If you want a political drama from a woman's perspective that champions the underdog. It's also a rom-com that shows a toxic relationship replaced by refreshing "couple goals" and passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test with flying colors. Bonus: experimental camera angles, a quaint bookstore/campaign headquarters and minor references to a Naruto run, click farms and trolls. Stream this on Viu PH.
SKIP: If you are sick and tired of politics or do not like over-the-top characters.
Search is a military thriller/zombie k-drama produced by OCN's Dramatic Cinema project, a studio that innovatively combines the drama format with cinematic production value. This makes its 10 episodes look and feel like one extended (and expensive) action movie. There’s zombies, zombie dogs, a whole North-versus-South plot and enough jump scares and military scenes to keep you interested. It also offers a rare look at life in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and gives you an idea of the risks soldiers take every time they patrol the border.
WATCH: If you enjoy zombies, zombie dogs, and everything in between. Available on iQIYI PH.
SKIP: If you don't enjoy military plots or jump scares. The romance is also kinda dry.
Interested in watching any of these? Let us know what you think of them, and don't forget to check out part 1 of this post!
What else do you think should be on this list?