Updated: Jan 22
Part one of Alchemy of Souls ended with a massive cliffhanger, leaving fans of the Hong sisters’ popular fantasy drama dangling until it returns to Netflix this coming December (exact date TBA). Although Jung So-min is reportedly not reprising her role in part two, with actress Go Yoon-jung (the original Naksu) supposedly stepping in as the female lead, we can’t help but wonder if (and hope that) we’re being misled so as not to spoil the surprise.
As we wait at least three more agonizing months for the answers to our burning questions, here are some other dramas to help tide us over.
For more historical fusion fantasy ...
Hotel del Luna (2019)
Before imagining the nation of Daeho, the famous Hong sisters writing duo created Hotel Del Luna, a strange and curious hotel in Seoul, visible only to departed souls en route to the afterlife. In one of her most iconic roles, Lee Ji-eun or IU (My Mister) plays the cold and mysterious Jang Man-wol, a 1,300-year-old immortal tasked to run the place. Hired to help her is the mortal hotelier Koo Chan-sung (Yeo Jin-goo, Beyond Evil), a perfectionist who takes time to warm up to his cold clientele. Beneath its overarching theme of cosmic atonement, this show delivers heart-tugging tales of love and loss, regret and forgiveness, and—yes—even epic romance.
16 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Arthdal Chronicles (2020)
South Korea’s highly ambitious and big budget maiden ancient fantasy drama, Arthdal Chronicles takes us to the mythical land of Arth during the Bronze Age, where warring tribes, power struggles, and intertwined fates come together to determine the fate of civilization.
Against this backdrop, Eunsom (Song Joong-ki, Vincenzo) and Tanya (Kim Ji-won, My Liberation Notes) are born with ominous prophecies: They will bring destruction to Arthdal. They will find themselves up against Tagon (Jang Dong-gun, Suits), a war hero who wants to be Arthdal’s first king, and Taealha (Kim Ok-bin), a tribe chief’s daughter who will stop at nothing to achieve her ambitions. Told over 18 episodes in two parts, the complex tale of epic proportions is expecting its long-awaited second season to be released next year with Lee Joon-gi (Again My Life) and Shin Se-kyung (Run On) in the lead roles.
18 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Moon Embracing the Sun (2012)
One of the most beloved sageuks (historical shows) of the last decade, Moon Embracing the Sun hit ratings of 46.1%, won Best Drama and Best Actor at the 48th Baeksang Arts Awards, and catapulted Kim Soo-hyun to Hallyu super stardom. Adapted from a novel of the same title, this historical romance with supernatural elements revolves around the fictional Joseon King Lee Hwon (Kim Soo-hyun, One Ordinary Day) and his love for Shaman Wol (Han Ga-in, Mistress). If you're relatively new to k-dramas, you will be delighted to see former child actors Yeo Jin-goo (Beyond Evil), Kim Yoo-jung (Lovers of the Red Sky), and Kim So-hyun (River Where the Moon Rises) play the younger versions of the main characters.
20 episodes. Available on Netflix, Viu, and Viki.
Mystic Pop-up Bar (2020)
Welcome to the Mystic Pop-up Bar, where weary souls find relief. Based on a popular Kakao (formerly DAUM) webtoon, the story revolves around Weol-Ju (Hwang Jung-eum, Kill Me, Heal Me), a centuries-old bar owner, in her quest for cosmic atonement. Weol-Ju joins Chief Gwi (Choi Won-young, SKY Castle),a reaper-turned-manager, 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, Goblin), a young man burdened with an unusual gift that proves useful in her quest.
This fun and quirky k-drama—with its combination of dynamic storytelling, engaging acting, and expansive character developments—can hold its own alongside big cosmic atonement k-dramas such as the beloved Goblin/ Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (2016) and Hotel del Luna (2019).
12 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)
Want another drama with plenty of male eye candy dressed in splendid silk robes? It doesn’t get any better than this immensely popular yet notorious historical fusion fantasy drama, where Lee Ji-eun (IU) is surrounded by eight handsome princes. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo revolves around Go Ha-jin, a modern day girl who magically transports to the Goryeo era during a solar eclipse. Living as Hae-soo, she captures the affections of 8th Prince Wang Wook (Kang Ha-neul, Insider), only to be won over by the menacing 4th Prince, Wang So (Lee Joon-gi, Again My Life). And lest you say we didn't warn you... be prepared for a lot of angst, heartache, and unfinished business!
20 episodes. Available on Viu.
Mr. Queen (2020-21)
Mr. Queen is the clever fusion sageuk (historical show) whose sly commentaries on gender and feminism belie its hilarious facade. Loosely based on the Chinese web drama Go Princess Go, it is about a present-day playboy chef (Choi Jin-hyuk, Zombie Detective) who falls into a coma, then wakes up in the past... as a late Joseon era queen (Shin Hye-sun, Stranger 1 and 2)!
Despite the show facing controversy every week—after all, this is a playboy chef in a woman’s body gallivanting with courtesans in old Korea and potentially with the king (Kim Jung-hyun)—it went on to become one of the highest-rated series in cable network tvN history. But how can you not rake in those ratings when you have major (and hilarious) chemistry, a non-stop conspiratorial plot, and some seriously amazing cooking scenes (McDonaldu!)?
20 episodes, plus 4 special episodes (Mr. Queen: The Secret and Mr. Queen Commentary). Available on Viu.
Lovers of the Red Sky (2021)
Adapted from the eponymous novel by Jung Eun-gwo, Lovers of the Red Sky is an SBS supernatural romance sageuk (historical show) set in the fictional Dan Dynasty. Before Ma Wang, the god of death, was sealed in a royal painting, he cursed the children of the royal painter and the shaman. Thus, the fates of Ma Wang, the painter’s daughter Hong Cheon-gi (Kim Yoo-jung, Love in the Moonlight), and the shaman’s son Ha Ram (Ahn Hyo-seop, Business Proposal) become intertwined.
Years later, Ha Ram goes blind but grows up to become a respected royal astrologer. He meets Cheon-gi, the first female painter of that era. Aided by Samshin, the goddesses of life, can they overcome the curse and the demon himself? Lovers of the Red Sky fans love its retelling of Korean mythology and stunning visual art (and no, we’re not just talking about Ahn Hyo-seop’s abs and pretty red eyes).
16 episodes. Available on Viu.
(Not a k-drama but….) Naruto (2002-17)
The TV Tokyo anime series Naruto (2002-07, nine seasons, 220 episodes) and Naruto: Shippuden (2007-17, 17 seasons, 500 episodes) are based on the Shueisha manga (Japanese comics) series of the same name by Kishimoto Musashi, a multi-awarded mangaka (manga creator). They follow the journey of an orphan and outcast named Uzumaki Naruto, who dreams of becoming the Hokage, the leader of the ninjas living in Konohagakure (Hidden Leaf Village) in the Land of Fire, who deals with missions involving the most powerful nation in the world. Infused with Japanese mythology, both series feature epic battles, angst, and heartbreak peppered with laugh-out-loud humor.
While most hero stories center on people who are already gifted with something extraordinary, Naruto’s early life, just like Jang Uk’s, is introduced with a handicap: He does not know his parents and he has a reputation for being a troublemaker in the village. He learns ninja skills so slowly and poorly that others think he doesn’t have a future, especially if he stands side by side with the elite ninja Uchiha Sasuke. Although most villagers avoid him like a monster, he cares deeply about them. (SPOILER ALERT!) With his perseverance and the help of others, he realizes his dream to become a Hokage, becoming a powerful ninja and a beloved world war hero in the process.
Available on Crunchyroll (all seasons) and Netflix (selected seasons).
For more of Jung So-min (Mudeok)...
The Smile Has Left Your Eyes (2018)
The tvN melodramatic thriller cast Jung So-min as Yoo Jin-kang, a warm-hearted ad designer who meets a mysterious microbrewery worker named Kim Moo-young (Seo In-guk, Café Minamdang). Thinking Moo-young is linked to a murder case, her detective brother Yoo Jin-gook (Park Sung-woong, Life on Mars) stumbles upon their shocking connection. Will the enigmatic man wipe her eyes’ smile, or help heal her childhood scars—or both?
A remake of the 2002 Japanese drama Sora Kara Furu Ichioku no Hoshi, the series is enhanced by its moving original soundtrack, including “Star,” a duet by Jung So-min and Seo In-guk. Even though it was completed a few years back, fans still can't get over the strong chemistry between the leads and the heartbreaking layers of revelation throughout the drama.
16 episodes. Available on Viki and Viu.
Because This Is My First Life (2017)
As Yoon Ji-ho in this tvN female friendship and contemporary romance k-drama, Jung So-min is a disillusioned and burnt-out screenwriter in her 30s. She finds the most practical way to rent an apartment without the social scorn—get married to the socially awkward landlord (Lee Min-ki, My Liberation Notes). Both sensible adults, they will surely keep their relationship strictly as landlord and tenant, right?
The feminist series challenges the concepts of love, marriage, and gender roles. Although its domestic ratings were low, it has a cult following—the story is thoughtfully crafted, and its relatable characters caught in modern problems find logical solutions. Unlike some of Jung So-min’s earlier roles, her Ji-ho is competent, stands up for herself, strives for something other than a man, has devoted friends (Esom, Taxi Driver, and Kim Ga-eun, On the Verge of Insanity), and has a male lead who respects her.
16 episodes. Available on Netflix, Viki, and Viu.
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 grown yet financially unstable children. 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), the youngest daughter, has recently been hired at an entertainment agency as an intern.
With four strong-willed and eccentric children, Byun Han-soo's colorful experience as a father gets even crazier when the infamous idol-turned-actor, Ahn Joong-hee (Lee Joon, Bloody Heart)—his youngest daughter's boss— shows up to his restaurant drunk and claims to be his son! The situation might just uncover a long-held secret between this strange family's father and mother.
52 episodes. Available on Netflix.
For more of Lee Jae-wook (Jang Uk)...
Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol (2020)
If you fell in love with Lee Jae-wook through Alchemy of Souls, then you won’t want to miss his first drama leading role. In this 2020 rom-com, he plays Sunwoo Jun, a mysterious part-timer who gets entangled with Goo Ra-ra (Go Ara, Haechi), a spoiled pianist who leans on him when her family goes bankrupt. Kim Joo-hun (Dr. Romantic 2) co-stars as a doctor who is drawn to Ra-ra's talent and personality, and Ye Ji-won, Shin Eun-soo, and Lee Soo-jae play the lovable residents of the small town of Eunpo, where most of the drama takes place.
16 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Extraordinary You (2019)
Based on the popular Kakao (formerly DAUM) webtoon, July Found by Chance, Extraordinary You is a fun and unique k-drama that will have viewers laughing, as it makes fun of the most used tropes and stereotypes found in rom-com manhwas (Korean comics).
The stage is set when Eun Dan-oh (Kim Hye-yoon, SKY Castle) enters the story. She’s pretty, rich, popular and engaged to Baek Kyung (Lee Jae-wook). She takes being a manhwa character all in stride... until she realizes that she's not the main lead! In denial about the story the writer has planned for her, Dan-oh vows to change her fate with the help of another supporting character, Ha-ru (Rowoon, The King’s Affection). But along the way, Dan-oh and Ha-ru discover that their story does not begin and end in just one book. The chemistry between the leads and the meta-level humor definitely make this a series an easy binge.
32 half-hour episodes. Available on Netflix, Viu, and iQIYI.
For more of Minhyun (Seo Yul)...
Live On (2020)
In his debut k-drama, NU'EST/Wanna One's Minhyun plays Go Eun-tak, the smart and perfectionist chief of a high school broadcasting club in this 8-episode coming-of-age teen series.
When problematic social media queen Baek Ho-rang (Jung Da-bin, Extracurricular) joins the club to find the person threatening to reveal a secret about her past, they initially butt heads but eventually end up falling for each other.
8 episodes. Available on Viu.
The rookie actor has a richer body of work to dive into from his k-pop days as a member of NU’EST and Wanna One.
In case you want to check out his music, we suggest starting out with this cinematic music video filmed in Budapest for his first digital single, Universe.
For more of Yoo In-su (Park Dang-gu)...
All of Us Are Dead (2021)
Ever since the genre-resurrecting Train to Busan, Korea has just kept on cashing in on their love for the zombie and the undead. All of Us Are Dead is Netflix's attempt bringing together all the elements of a guaranteed commercial hit—and they made sure they won.
The show is one of the most viewed Netflix shows globally, thanks to a cast of attractive teens, hundreds of terrifying zombies, and an abundance of action sequences that stretch the limits of both fancy camerawork and your own ability to hold your breath. But true to k-drama form, the series also pulls emotional strings every now and then, and its focus on the various relationships between teens and their parents gives the show some unexpected depth amid the bloody frenzy. While Yoo In-soo was lovable as Songrim heir Park Dang-gu in Alchemy of Souls, he played the main antagonist Yoon Gwi-nam here.
12 episodes. Available on Netflix.
For more of Shin Seung-ho (Crown Prince Go Won)...
Shin Seung-ho earned a Best New Actor nomination at the 58th Baeksang Arts Awards for his role as the bully Hwang Jang-soo in this brutal Netflix adaptation. The Baeksang Best Drama winner reveals the hardships of abuse, bullying, and other harrowing experiences in the Korean military through the eyes of its D.P. (deserter pursuit) team.
Ahn Jun-ho (Jung Hae-in, Snowdrop) and his partner, Han Ho-yeol (Koo Kyu-hwan, Escape from Mogadishu) are tasked to chase down the deserters at any cost. Through their difficult hunts, we learn why some men would much rather risk life and limb to escape the military and its abuses. Read our full review here.
6 episodes. Available on Netflix.