Arguably the biggest sleeper hit of the year, MBC's historical drama The Red Sleeve premiered to modest ratings of 5.7% in November and ended at 17.4%, making it one of the highest-rated 2021 k-dramas. The Red Sleeve and its stars Lee Se-young and 2PM’s Lee Jun-ho consistently topped Good Data's Buzzworthy rankings for generating the most online buzz, and the drama bagged eight trophies at the MBC Drama Awards including Best Drama, Best Couple, Best Screenwriter, and acting trophies for its leads and supporting cast.
Based on historical events and the eponymous best-selling novel by Kang Mi-kang, the drama about the 18th-century romance between Crown Prince Yi San (King Jeongjo, the 22nd King of Joseon) and Court Lady Sung Deok-im drew in viewers with the palpable chemistry between its lead couple, powerful acting from its entire ensemble of actors, cinematic production values, and compelling storytelling.
If you were one of the many fans who fell in love with this sageuk (historical drama) and its stars, here are our recommendations for your next watch.
If you want more of Lee Se-young...
The Crowned Clown (2019)
Like The Red Sleeve, The Crowned Clown is a Joseon-era sageuk, but it could not be any different. This drama features Yeo Jin-goo in dual roles: a king driven to madness by paranoia and opioids, and his doppelganger—a poor traveling circus performer brought in to shield him from assassination. In her first leading role in a historical drama, Lee Se-young radiates dignity, strength, and grace as Yoo Sowoon, the young queen who finds herself falling for the clown despite the dangers of their situation.
16 episodes. Available on Netflix and Viu.
Doctor John (2019)
Lee Se-young plays Kang Shi-young, a resident under the wing of Doctor Cha Yo-han/John (Ji Sung), a brilliant anesthesiologist who has served a prison sentence for illegally euthanizing a terminally ill patient. At Seoul Hanse Medical Center’s Pain Management Clinic, where young doctors have been trained to focus on symptoms and to keep their patients at arm’s length, Doctor John teaches his students empathy and imparts valuable wisdom: “To understand a person’s pain is to understand that person.”
16 episodes. Available on Netflix and Viu.
Lee Se-young transforms into Han Su-mi, a no-nonsense detective in this crime thriller centered on Dong Baek (Yoo Seung-ho), a man with a supernatural ability to read the memory of any person he touches. Based on a webcomic, the series follows Dong Baek and Han Su-mi as they investigate a mysterious series of deaths. While the various cases might be difficult to keep track of, they all come together in a surprising revelation in the end.
16 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Vampire Detective (2016)
Our favorite court lady goes full blonde, dons stretchy black leather pants, and pulls out the clunky combat boots to play a hacker who aids yet another boyband alumnus (Lee Joon) as he transforms into a... wait for it... a vampire detective. Part campy fun, part serious investigative work, it's a fun ride as we watch the ragtag trio (complete with our favorite uncle Oh Jung-se) solve crimes on an episodic basis while getting to the root of the vampiric problems hounding the night streets of Seoul.
16 episodes. Available on other sites.
Weekend Playlist (2018)
If you'd like to see Lee Se-young's bright and bubbly personality offscreen, check out her variety program with veteran actress Ra Mi-ran, comedienne Kim Sook, and TV personality Jang Yoon-ju. In this 17-episode variety series, the foursome travels to various places around Korea (and even Hong Kong!) to give viewers ideas for fun things they can do on weekends. You may find yourself falling in love with her energetic, sweet, and food-loving nature as the maknae (youngest) in the group of fun women.
17 episodes. Available on other sites.
If you want more of 2PM's Lee Jun-ho...
Good Manager (2017)
In this quirky corporate drama, Lee Jun-Ho surprises viewers as the ambitious ang gluttonous finance director Seo Yul. Acting alongside Namgoong Min, Lee Jun-ho shows a cunning and greedy side as a corporate director locked in a battle of strategy and wits with a sleazy accountant-turned-modern-day-hero as they both set their sights on conquering the unethical and amoral TQ Group of Companies.
20 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Just Between Lovers / Rain or Shine (2017)
In his first drama leading role, Lee Jun-ho is Lee Kang-doo, a construction site worker struggling with PTSD after having survived a devastating mall collapse as a teenager. As he trudges through life bearing his physical and emotional wounds, he meets Ha Moon-su (Won Jin-a), an architect and fellow survivor of the tragedy. As the pair work at the very same site that changed their lives, they help each other heal.
16 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Wok of Love / Greasy Melo (2018)
Lee Jun-ho established himself as a bonafide leading man in this 2018 romantic comedy. Starring opposite veteran actors Jang Hyuk (Money Flower) and Jung Ryeo-won (Witch at Court), Lee Jun-ho turns in a convincing performance as a talented chef down on his luck. With a loan shark and an equally unlucky woman by his side, he revives a Chinese restaurant and tries to turn things around. Be prepared to crave a lot of jajangmyeon and tangsuyuk!
38 half-hour episodes. Available on Viu.
In his last drama before his military service, Lee Jun-ho stars Choi Do-Hyun, a lawyer determined to clear the name of his father who has wrongfully been accused of murder. From the same director as Mother and Flower of Evil, this nail-biting legal thriller also stars Yoo Jae-myung (Itaewon Class) and Shin Hyun-been (Hospital Playlist).
16 episodes. Available on Viu.
If you're new to Lee Jun-ho and just can't get enough of this multitalented idol-actor, we have great news for you! There's a ton of content you could easily spend endless days bingeing on from his work as a member of popular idol group 2PM and as an individual. His most recent variety show appearances, available on Viu, are a good place to start: I Live Alone (2021, episodes 397 and 419), Return of the Superman (2021, episode 388), and The Sixth Sense season 2 (episode 5). We also suggest you check out 2PM's guest appearance on Men On a Mission / Knowing Brothers episode 26, which is available on Netflix.
If you want more historical works from the same era...
The Throne (2015)
In The Red Sleeve, Yi San's father, the controversial Crown Prince Sado, is often mentioned and is pegged as the main reason why San should never succeed his mad father. The Throne is a beautiful but bleak retelling of the animosity between the father, King Yeongjo, and his son, the Crown Prince Sado that culminates with the king locking his own son up in a rice chest for eight days. Powerful performances by Song Kang-ho (Parasite) and Yoo Ah-in (Hellbound), masterful direction by Lee Joon-ik, and sparse cinematography by Kim Tae-gyeong helped this film win multiple awards at the Korean Association of Film Critics, including Best Film in 2015. It also was Korea's official entry to the 88th Academy Awards.
Yi San / Lee San, Wind of the Palace (2007-08)
This epic 77-episode classic MBC drama offers a more extensive take on the life of Yi San, later King Jeongjo, played by Lee Seo-jin, from his childhood all the way to much of his reign. Directed by Lee Byung-hoon, who is also known for the well-loved MBC historical dramas Hur Jun (1999), Jewel in the Palace (2003), and Dong Yi (2009), the drama co-stars Han Ji-min as Sung Deok-im/Uibin.
Fatal Encounter (2014)
This 2014 film starring Hyun Bin is set in 1777, the second year of Jeongo's reign as the 22nd King of Joseon. Unlike the dramas Lee San, Wind of the Palace and The Red Sleeve which provide a longer view of Yi San's life, this action suspense movie focuses on the assassination attempt on the young king amidst the political turbulence of the era. The cast also includes Han Ji-min, Jo Jung-suk, and Jung Ji-hyeon.
If you want more historical dramas with strong female leads...
Jewel in the Palace / Dae Jang Geum (2003-04)
One of the most beloved sageuks of all time, Jewel in the Palace is one of the few historical dramas that features the life of imperial palace court ladies.
Based on historical records from15th-century Joseon, it covers the journey of Dae Jang-geum (Lee Young-ae), from the time she is a young apprentice cook in the palace kitchen to her becoming the first female royal physician. Fans of Lee Se-young will be delighted to see her here as an 11-year-old actress playing the younger version of Hong Ri-na, the drama's second female lead.
Queen Seondeok (2009)
Queen Seondeok remains beloved by its legions of fans not only for its grand scale, but also because it’s a great two-for-one deal: we not only meet Seondeok as she rises from lost vagabond to become the Queen of Silla, but we also get to meet Lady Mishil, the ruthless concubine who smartly (and ever so calmly) blocks her every move. The historical accuracy of royal tales like these will always come under fire as most of the plot lines and characters of Queen Seondeok are based on a heavy mix of fiction and flimsy Buddhist legend. But long before Confucianism took root in East Asia, matrilineal and female-dominated eras were the norm, and the show is an entertaining glimpse of what that time could have looked like.
Empress Ki (2013-14)
Empress Ki follows the rise and fall of Gi Seungnyang, convincingly portrayed by Ha Ji-won, as she goes from being an escaped Goryeo-born concubine tribute to being an empress of the Mogul empire in the Yuan Dynasty. Politics, court intrigue, revenge, hidden identities, scandalous secrets, and a compelling love triangle abound in this 51-episode historical juggernaut with three times more body count than a Shakespearean tragedy. Ha Ji-won’s performance makes it easy to root for Seungnyang as she goes from being a victim to the most powerful woman in the empire. She maneuvers her way in and out of the political sphere, all the while dealing with childbirth, falling in and out of love, suffering personal losses, and abolishing the concubine tribute practice along the way.
51 episodes. Available on Netflix.
Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung (2019)
Shin Se-kyung plays Goo Hae-ryung, the eponymous character in this sageuk. In 19th-century Joseon, Hae-ryung’s very existence is anomalous. For one, she is an unmarried 26-year-old. For another, she can read and write. And to top it all off, she holds a job interning to be a historian in the Royal Palace. While the story is entirely fictional, with many anachronous events and storylines (there were never any female historians in the Joseon era), Hae-ryung’s character shows a real longing for every woman’s desires—to be treated justly in the workplace, not to be judged for the choices she makes, and to define her romantic relationships beyond society’s standards—desires all women can relate to in any century and country.
20 episodes. Available on Netflix.
If you loved all the details of The Red Sleeve and still can't get enough...
Just rewatch the whole drama. Seriously. The Red Sleeve was so thoughtfully laid out that there are many details that might have escaped your notice the first time, and scenes that just hit so differently upon second viewing. You may want to pay closer attention to the poetry used, and the repeated use of such symbolisms as water, flowers, and the changing of seasons. Or if you need some healing, binge on all the hilarious behind-the-scenes footage which more closely resembles a rom-com! There's a playlist with English subs here.