Updated: Nov 11, 2021
While 50+ episode family dramas dominate South Korean airwaves on Saturday and Sunday nights, they aren’t as popular among international viewers who may find the long format daunting. If you can overcome that barrier, you'll find yourself happily immersed in some of the funniest, zaniest, and most lovable households Korean TV has to offer.
The k-drama format most international fans are familiar with is the 16 to 20 episode miniseries, with streaming platforms such as Netflix and KakaoTV popularizing even shorter series with only 8 to 12 episodes. But domestically, the 50 or so episode family dramas dominate ratings every Saturday and Sunday night, when families can gather to watch them together right after dinner. Full-length family series have been aired by national broadcaster KBS2 from 7:55 - 9:15 P.M. since the ‘80s, and continue to be well-loved across South Korea.
Weekend family dramas usually have an average viewership rating of at least 20%, with the most popular ones peaking above 40%, numbers that are seldom hit by even the most popular miniseries these days (for example, When the Camellia Blooms, the highest-rated miniseries of 2019 peaked at 23.8%).
Aside from the number of episodes, how is this format different from family-oriented miniseries? For starters, weekend family dramas typically revolve around large extended families—after all, they need to tell a lot of stories over six months. The main family usually has three to four grown children, with an assortment of grandparents, grandkids, aunts, uncles, and cousins either living with them or at least nearby. Since love and marriage are almost always involved, even the families of romantic interests get a lot of airtime. Everyone gets their own well-developed storyline (there's always at least four different love lines going on), allowing the audience to connect much more deeply with all the characters in the ensemble than they would in a miniseries.
Although the genre features such common themes as the struggles of working-class families (including what happens when they become in-laws with chaebols), filial piety, and there's usually some long-lost family member waiting to be reunited, the best of these dramas are able to throw in enough twists and turns to keep things interesting, fresh, and relevant. And while the production values aren't as high as they are in big-budget miniseries (the acting style is a little campier, and don't expect cinematic lighting, special effects, and fancy set pieces), what weekend family dramas may lack in luster and shine, they certainly make up for with heart.
Here are some of the most well-loved and highly-rated weekend family dramas from the last 10 years.
Ojakgyo Family (2011-12)
The lush and idyllic Ojakgyo Farm is home to the Hwang family: patriarch Hwang Chang-sik (Baek Il-seob), his mother Ship Kap-nyeon (Kim Yong-rim), his wife Park Bok-ja (Kim Ja-ok), and their four unmarried adult sons. The eldest, Tae-sik (Jung Woong-in) is a physical therapist hoping to fall in love at first sight, Tae-beom (Ryu Soo-young) is an ambitious and competitive reporter, Tae-hee (Joo Won) is a no-nonsense detective, and the youngest Tae-pil (Yeon Woo-jin) is lazy and unemployed.
Their lives are disrupted when a spoiled college student, Baek Ja-eun (Uee), the daughter of the farm’s rightful owner, suddenly shows up to claim the property after her father dies. Now orphaned, lonely, and penniless, she agrees to live with the family on the farm rather than evict them and uses her legal ownership as leverage to get whatever she wants. What starts out as a forced and hostile co-habitation evolves into acceptance and love.
Although it got off to a slow start, audiences grew to love this family on a farm, and Ojakgyo Brothers rose to peak ratings of 36.3%. Joo Won and Uee won Best New Actor and Best New Actress, respectively, at the Baeksang Arts Awards and KBS Drama Awards, and Lee Jung-sun was named Best Writer at the KBS Drama Awards.
58 episodes. Available on other streaming sites.
My Husband Got a Family/Unexpected You (2012)
Makjang producer Cha Yoon-hee (Kim Nam-joo)’s idea of a perfect marriage is one without in-laws. After a long search, she (thinks she) hits the jackpot with Terry Kang (Yoo Jun-sang), a kind, handsome doctor whose adoptive parents live in the United States. With no in-laws to serve and butt heads with, her marriage is the envy of all her friends and gives her the freedom to pursue her career.
Meanwhile, Um Chung-ae (Youn Yuh-jung) has been carrying the pain of having lost her son 30 years ago. She dreams of the day they’ll be reunited, without knowing that her long-lost son and his headstrong wife with whom she can’t get along have unexpectedly just moved into the apartment across the hall.
My Husband Got a Family is a hilarious yet also heartwarming story of what happens when one woman’s dream becomes another’s nightmare. While the main story revolves around Yoon-hee learning to adjust to instantly having in-laws, over 58 episodes, viewers will also find themselves invested in the lives and loves of the other members of the very large family. Penned by Park Ji-eun (Crash Landing On You, My Love from the Stars), one Hallyu’s most successful screenwriters, My Husband Got a Family was the most highly-rated drama of 2012, with peak ratings of 45.3%, and gave Kim Nam-joo a staggering three Daesang (Grand Prize) awards for her performance.
58 episodes. Available on other streaming sites.
Seo-Young, My Daughter (2012-’13)
Lee Bo-young’s performance in the titular role of Seo-Young, My Daughter made her a household name and earned her the first Daesang (Grand Prize) of her career from the 2013 Korean Drama Awards. This touching drama centers on the complicated relationship and eventual reconciliation between law student Seo-Young and her father (Cheon Ho-jin), whom she blames for the death of her mother and whose debt she paid off with her entire savings. With peak ratings of 47.6%, it became the most highly-rated drama of 2013.
Seo-Young, My Daughter was praised for its realistic portrayal of the pain and resentment that can grow between family members without resorting to the usual tropes. It also won praise for the acting of its ensemble including Lee Sang-yoon as Seo-Young’s wealthy love interest who has his own complex relationship with his father, and Park Hae-jin as her twin brother. So Hyun-kyung (Two Weeks, My Golden Life) was named Best Writer at the 2013 APAN Star Awards.
50 episodes. Available on other streaming sites.
What Happens to My Family? (2014-15)
Cha Sun-bong (Yoo Dong-geun) is a widower who lovingly raised his three children with the help of his sister. His eldest child Cha Gang-sim (Kim Hyun-joo) is a competent executive secretary engaged in a battle of wits with her new chaebol boss (Kim Sang-kyung), and has no interest in getting married. The middle child, Cha Gang-jae (Yoon Park) is a successful but cold oncologist who resents his humble origins. Cha Dal-bong (Park Hyung-sik) is the youngest son who lacks ambition and direction.
Because their father spoiled them so much, all three adult children are indifferent to his affection and sacrifices. Will the arrival of a kind-hearted country girl (Nam Ji-hyun) change their family dynamics and teach the ungrateful children to not take their father for granted? This chaotically funny and heartwarming drama achieved peak ratings of 43.3% and earned for Yoo Dong-geun a Daesang at the KBS Drama Awards. It was named Best Drama at the 22nd Korea Culture and Entertainment Awards.
52 episodes. Available on Netflix.
My Father is Strange (2017)
Byun Han-soo (Kim Yeong-cheol, Times) is a dedicated family man who runs a family restaurant together with his wife, Na Young-shil (Kim Hae-sook, Hospital Playlist 1 & 2) to support their four children. It would be relatively easy sailing if their children could just get steady jobs and relationships! Their eldest and only son, Byun Joon-young (Min Jin-woong, Chocolate) is currently trying to pass the Civil Service Examinations while planning to propose to his girlfriend. Their eldest daughter, Byun Hye-yeong (Lee Yu-ri, Heaven's Promise) is a partner at a prestigious law firm whose interests revolve around her career and money. The second daughter, Byun Ra-young (Ryu Hwa-young, Mad Dog), is a popular pilates/yoga instructor who is seen as a liberal serial dater. Lastly, after years of being jobless, Byun Mi-young (Jung So-min, Monthly Magazine Home), the youngest daughter has recently been hired at an entertainment agency as an intern.
With four strong-willed and eccentric children, Byun Han-soo can definitely say that fatherhood has been a fulfilling and extremely crazy experience! It gets even crazier when the infamous idol-turned-actor, Ahn Joong-hee (Lee Chang-sun, Woman with a Suitcase) --- his youngest daughter's boss, shows up to his restaurant drunk and claiming to be his son --- a situation that might just uncover a long-held secret between Han-soo and Young-shil. This hilarious and heartwarming family drama achieved a peak rating of 36.3% and bagged Kim Yeong-cheol a Daesang (grand prize) award at the 31st KBS Drama Awards. It also amazingly gave ALL their main actors and actresses nominations for the Excellence Award (Actor and Actress categories) at the same award show.
52 episodes. Available on Netflix.
My Golden Life (2017-’18)
Despite being smart and hardworking, 28-year-old Seo Ji-an (Shin Hye-sun) just cannot catch a break. Coming from a poor family with no connections, she seems destined to work part-time or contractual jobs all her life. But all that changes with the revelation that the parents who raised her (Cheon Ho-jin and Kim Hye-ok) are not her biological parents, and that she’s actually the long-lost daughter of a chaebol family who is eager to welcome her home 25 years after losing her.
The transition is difficult and painful for both the adoptive family (parents, two brothers, and a fraternal twin sister) with whom she has always had a loving relationship despite their poverty and the rich “real” family unaccustomed to her sometimes brash ways. Adding to the chaos is a fraught relationship with her new older brother (Park Si-hoo) with whom she had a dispute prior to the big reveal.
Praised for its fast pacing, realism, and shining light on mental health issues, My Golden Life was the fastest KBS2 weekend drama to hit 40% ratings. It received five nominations at the 2018 Baeksang Arts Awards, including Best Drama and lead acting nods for Cheon Ho-jin and Shin Hye-sun.
53 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Once Again (2020)
Penned by Yang Hee-seung, the writer of one of k-dramaland's most beloved rom-coms, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, Once Again’s large ensemble is is led by KBS multiple Daesang (Grand Prize) winning veteran and Korea's "National Father" Cheon Ho-jin as the family patriarch, Song Yon-dal. He and his wife Cha Hwa-yeon (Jang Ok-boon), have worked hard to raise their children: stuntman and father of two Jun-sun (Oh Dae-hwan), pediatrician Na-hee (Lee Min-jung) who is married to fellow pediatrician Yoon Kyu-jin (Lee Sang-yeob), single mom Ga-hee (Oh Yoon-ah), and grad student Da-hee (Lee Cho-hee).