Updated: Aug 28
If you watch k-dramas long enough, you will begin to feel like Seoul is your second home. Keen-eyed k-drama fans will even be able to recognize not only famous landmarks but also houses, apartments, and buildings that are often used as sets. But every once in a while, the leads will find themselves in a small town or a not-so-famous city and viewers will realize that there’s so much more to South Korea than Seoul.
In this article, we list k-dramas where the main plot happens in small towns and cities outside Seoul, both fictional and real.
When The Camellia Blooms (2019)
Set in the fictional seaside town of Ongsan, When The Camellia Blooms is the story of Oh Dong-baek (Gong Hyo-jin), a single mother who runs a pub named “Camellia” to support her precocious son, Kang Pil-gu (Kim Jang-hoon). Unapologetic about her unconventional life choices and ostracized by the small-town ahjummas, she finds a doting (albeit initially unwelcome) ally in country bumpkin cop Hwang Yong-sik (Kang Ha-neul). Raised by a single mother himself, Yong-sik is irresistibly (and quite adorably) drawn to Dong-baek’s quiet strength, and helps protect her when she becomes the target of a serial killer.
The way it captured the warmth and kinship of small town life and broke down k-drama tropes won the hearts of Korea’s viewing public, making When the Camellia Blooms the highest rated drama of 2019. It came as no surprise that the rom-com/thriller brought home the highest honor at the 56th Baeksang Arts Awards.
In a small village in fictional Miryeong Forest, Kang San-hyuk (Park Hae-jin), an investment executive, is training to become a member of the Miryeong Forest rescue team so that he can land a deal that will turn the forest into a resort. There he runs into Jung Young-jae (Jo Bo-ah), a surgeon who has been “exiled” to the small clinic in the village. As the leads struggle to adapt to their new lives, they come to grips with the trauma of their past and find healing in the forest and with each other.
Filmed in Gangwon Province in South Korea, the luscious and ethereal forest is the backdrop to the blossoming love story between the two. The beautifully shot drama offers a welcome reprieve from the usual high-rise buildings and urban jungle in Seoul. This charming slow-paced drama is not to be binged in one sitting so that viewers can soak in not just the scenery but also the unfolding plot that meanders here and there, like all good forest trails do.
Second To Last Love (2016)
K-dramas often obsess about the first blush of love, but very few (if at all) focus on those in their middle age. In Second to the Last Love Ji Jin-hee (Undercover) plays Go Sang-sik, a very attractive widower in his mid-forties. He is raising a daughter, taking care of his siblings, and heading Woori City Hall’s tourism section. After losing his wife, he just doesn’t think that he deserves another shot at love. Enter Kim Hee-ae (World of the Married) who plays Kang Min-joo, a capable and stylish executive producer from Seoul. She revels in the freedom and independence that her single life brings, but longs for a great romance. When Kang Min-joo moves in next door to Go Sang-sik, they cannot deny the sparks that fly, and now two stubborn middle-aged people must decide if they can give themselves permission to change their minds about love.
When The Weather Is Fine (2020)
When The Weather Is Fine is best experienced slowly, with a cup of coffee in one hand and your favorite book in the other. Based on a novel, the drama moves at a pace that is languid and atmospheric. Hae-won (Park Min-Young) returns to her hometown of Bookhyun Village in Gangwon Province after a dissatisfying urban life only to cross paths with introverted bookshop owner Eun-seob (Seo Kang-Joon). As both characters are weighed down by past family trauma, they rediscover what it means to open their hearts once again and see a future beyond their dark pasts. As with most small town dramas, the show is peppered with interesting village characters that form members of the neighborhood book club, who share poetry that marks each episode’s theme. (Be warned: there are depictions of graphic violence and abuse.)
My Contract Husband Mr. Oh (2018)
What do you do when you are a beleaguered show executive who is tormented by an angry stalker and feels increasingly threatened by the dangers of urban life? For Han Seung-joo (Uee from the girl group After School), the solution may have to be contracting a “husband” to protect herself. Enter Oh Jak-doo (Kim Kang-woo), a typical “mountain man” who lives off the land as an herbalist. It’s a trade cut from the usual Mills-and-Boon stuff: a vulnerable woman pays a rugged mountain man to come down to the city and provide her with support and protection, and in return, she allows him to stay on her piece of land in the mountains for free. The show turns out to be quite funny and genuinely sweet, with a serious focus on stalking and women’s mental health. But when the fun and awkwardness fade away, and reality comes crashing in, do two people with vastly different backgrounds have a real chance at being together? Or should a sham marriage remain just that?
Eccentric! Chef Moon (2020)
When you’re broken and in dire need of healing, k-drama’s solution is to sweep you away to an idyllic mountainside village. There, you are guaranteed to find your life purpose, your happiness, and even your soulmate, all within 16 episodes! Eric Mun stars as snobby chef Moon Seung-mo who suffers an immense personal tragedy and has lost the drive to be a chef, while Yoo Yoo-jin (Go Won-hee) is a renowned fashion designer who burns out and loses her memory. When the curmudgeon and reluctant solo dad meets the strange amnesiac, the quiet and simple vibe of Seoha Village steps in and works its magic on these burned-out souls to grant them the healing they both desperately need.
Warm and Cozy (2015)
Warm and Cozy is a 2015 MBC series starring Kang So-ra and Yoo Yeon-seok, set in both Seoul and the Jeju Island.
While the drama does show many scenes in Seoul, it is the ones shot on Jeju Island that gives viewers that "warm and cozy" feeling. Baek Gun-woo (Yoo Yeon-seok) runs a café that he opened because of a first love. There, he serves meals that are as pleasing to the eye as the man himself. After a series of very unfortunate events, Lee Jung-joo (Kang So-ra) finds her way to the island as well. She is completely down on her luck. He is a chaebol who drifts along with his whims. She thinks they might have been separated at birth. There’s definitely a connection between them but it can’t be DNA, right? The story as well as those of the people around them slowly unfolds, set against the enchanting backdrop of a seaside town that isn’t as quiet as it appears on the surface.
Don’t be fooled by the title: This isn’t a light and sweet feel-good show centered on confectionery. This 16-episode slow-burning melodrama led by Ha Ji-won (Empress Ki) and Yoon Kye-sang (member of Kpop boyband g.o.d) is more akin to dark chocolate — an acquired taste for some, bitter at times, but deeply satisfying for others. The story starts in a seaside town on the scenic island of Wando in South Jeolla Province, where a boy meets a hungry girl, prepares a warm meal for her, and promises to make her chocolate truffles the next time she returns. Of course, that next time never happens, and 20 years pass before Lee Kang (Lee Kye-sang), the boy who wanted to become a cook but became a neurosurgeon, crosses paths again with Moon Cha-young (Ha Ji-won), the girl who was so inspired by the warm meal she received as a young girl that she decided to become a chef. As adults, they find themselves working in the same hospice — her cooking the meals for the patients he treats — struggling to heal from their own personal traumas along the way. Best consumed slowly.