Korean Drama Genres

Korean Dramas for Complete Beginners: A Crash Course to K-Drama Bliss

Love triangles? Check. Second-lead syndrome? Double check. Amnesia? Don’t even get us started. But that’s the beauty of kdramas. 

Most of us have been captivated by Korean entertainment, from catchy K-pop tunes to thrilling dramas. 

But if you’re a newbie, entering the K-drama world can feel daunting. It’s not supposed to be so.

Forget years of prerequisites and cultural expertise. Here, we start with a clean slate, ready to immerse you in the enchanting world of K-dramas. 

Whether you crave rom-coms, edge-of-your-seat thrillers, or heartwarming tales of everyday life, there’s a K-drama waiting to become your next obsession.

So, get prepared to be whisked away by captivating stories, talented actors, exceptional drama directors, prolific drama TV networks, and a vibrant culture. 

Korean Drama Genres – a lot of them to explore

Korean Drama Genres

A single korean drama can depict different genres and sub-genres. 

Kind of like a romance colliding with time-traveling adventures, or a courtroom drama intertwined with supernatural mysteries. 

Welcome to the captivating realm of K-dramas, where your wildest entertainment dreams can come true.

Korean Drama Genres explained

  • Rom-Coms: Laughter and butterflies take center stage in these sugary-sweet stories. Get ready to root for fated encounters with some supernatural strength in dramas like “Strong Woman Do Bong-soon” and swoon over the charming dentist in kdramas like “Hometown Cha Cha Cha.”
  • Thrillers: Prepare for edge-of-your-seat suspense with “Stranger,” where two contrasting prosecutors unravel a web of conspiracy, or test your nerves with “Vincenzo,” where a Korean-Italian mafia lawyer uses cunning tactics for justice.
  • Historical Dramas: Dive into the past with “Mr. Queen,” where a modern chef gets transported into the body of a Joseon Dynasty queen, or witness the epic rise of a palace cook in “A Jewel in the Palace.”
  • Slice-of-Life: Find relatable warmth in stories like “Hospital Playlist,” where five doctor friends juggle life’s uncertainties amidst laughter and friendship, or resonate with the coming-of-age struggles in “Reply 1988.”

Other Korean Drama Genres and Subgenre Treasures

  • Medical Dramas: Go beyond the stethoscope with “Good Doctor,” where an autistic doctor overcomes prejudice with his exceptional skills, or experience the high-stakes world of emergency medicine in “Emergency Couple.”
  • Fantasy: Escape reality with “Goblin,” where a centuries-old immortal searches for his bride, or unleash your inner fangirl with “Hwarang,” where flower boys become elite warriors in a historical setting.
  • Coming-of-Age: Cheer on Kim Bok-joo in “Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo” as she pursues her weightlifting dreams, or connect with the relatable anxieties and aspirations in “Run On.”

Understand K-Drama Lingo 101

Navigating the K-drama world is easier with a bit of lingo under your belt. Here are some essentials:

  • Oppa: Older brother or male friend used by a female speaker.
  • Dongsaeng: Younger brother or sister used by an older sibling.
  • Maknae: The youngest member of a group.
  • Hyung: Older brother used by a male speaker.
  • Noona: Older sister used by a male speaker.

Understanding these terms and cultural references like the strong emphasis on age hierarchy and family dynamics will enrich your K-drama experience.

K-Drama Tropes: You’re to embrace the familiar, and don’t fear the clichés

Before you dive headfirst into the world of Korean dramas, there’s one thing you need to know: tropes abound. Check them out.

The Alluring Triangle

We’ve all seen it: our protagonist caught between two dashing individuals, one the bad boy and the other the good guy. Yes, it’s familiar, but K-dramas do wonders with this age-old formula. Prepare for sizzling chemistry, agonizing choices, and enough second-hand embarrassment. Just remember, the journey towards that final choice is often paved with hilarious banter, and more.

Second Lead Syndrome

A Curse or a Blessing? Ah, the second lead. The one who loves the protagonist unconditionally, sacrifices everything for them, and ultimately gets left empty-handed. We feel your pain, second lead nation

But this trope isn’t just about heartbreak. It’s about highlighting the complexities of love, reminding us that not all stories have fairy-tale endings. Plus, let’s be honest, sometimes the second lead steals the show with their charm and unwavering loyalty. 

Memory Gone, Love Endures?

Yes, amnesia strikes again. But hear us out! K-dramas spin this tired trope in refreshing ways. Imagine waking up with no recollection of your past, yet drawn to a stranger with an inexplicable connection. Suddenly, amnesia becomes a catalyst for self-discovery, second chances, and, yes, sometimes even amnesia-induced superpowers.

Embrace the familiar, new K-drama fans

These tropes may be well-worn, but they offer a comfortable starting point, a foundation for the unique storylines and emotional rollercoaster rides that await. Trust us, once you delve deeper, you’ll find that K-dramas breathe new life into these familiar formulas, leaving you hooked on every twist and turn. 

Rom-Com Korean Dramas: Where Laughter & Love Collide

Korean Rom-Com dramas

  1. Strong Woman Do Bong-soon: A super-strong girl and a quirky CEO find themselves tangled in a hilarious whirlwind of romance and action.
  2. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo: A heartwarming tale of an aspiring weightlifter chasing her dreams, friendship, and maybe, just maybe, love.
  3. Hometown Cha Cha Cha: A dentist trades city life for a seaside village, where she encounters a charming handyman and learns the true meaning of community.
  4. Crash Landing on You: A South Korean heiress paraglides into North Korea and lands in the arms of a dashing military officer, sparking forbidden love across the border.
  5. What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?: A narcissistic CEO grapples with his efficient secretary’s sudden resignation, leading to a hilarious exploration of his hidden feelings.

Slice-of-Life kdramas: A Glimpse into Everyday Korea

  1. Reply 1988: A nostalgic trip back to 1980s Seoul, where five childhood friends navigate family, first loves, and growing up in a heartwarming and relatable journey.
  2. Run On: A former track star and a screenwriter with different paces find their lives unexpectedly intertwined, leading to a sweet and supportive romance.
  3. Prison Playbook: A baseball star lands in prison, where he encounters an eclectic mix of inmates and learns valuable lessons about life, friendship, and second chances.
  4. Because This is My First Life: A realistic portrayal of modern adulthood, exploring themes of career struggles, family pressure, and finding love in unexpected places.

Historical Korean Dramas

Korean Historical TV Drama

  1. Kingdom: A thrilling zombie apocalypse sets the stage for political intrigue and survival in Joseon Dynasty Korea.
  2. Mr. Queen: A modern chef’s soul wakes up in the body of a Joseon Dynasty queen, leading to culture clashes and hilarious hijinks.
  3. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: A modern woman travels back in time to Goryeo Dynasty and finds herself entangled in royal politics and forbidden love.
  4. Hwarang: Flower boys become elite warriors in Silla Dynasty Korea, facing friendship, betrayal, and love amidst political turmoil.
  5. A Jewel in the Palace: Based on a true story, this epic saga follows Jang Geum’s journey from kitchen maid to the first female royal physician in Joseon Dynasty.
  6. Mr. Sunshine: A Korean American (military) officer returns to his homeland amidst political unrest in early 20th century Joseon, forging forbidden love and fighting for his principles.
  7. 100 Days My Prince: A crown prince suffering from amnesia finds himself living as a commoner, encountering love and learning valuable lessons before reclaiming his throne.
  8. Chicago Typewriter: Three writers in modern-day Korea share a mysterious connection with three writers from the Japanese occupation era, weaving together a story of friendship, love, and historical secrets.
  9. The King’s Affection: A woman raised as a crown prince due to a royal birth defect navigates palace politics, romance, and societal expectations in this unique historical drama.

Thrillers and Mysteries Korean Dramas

  1. Stranger: Two prosecutors with contrasting personalities uncover a web of corruption and conspiracy within the legal system, facing danger and risking their careers.
  2. Vincenzo: An Italian mafia lawyer uses his cunning and dark tactics to fight for justice and dismantle a corrupt Korean conglomerate.
  3. Signal: A cold case detective in the present connects with a profiler from the past through a mysterious walkie-talkie, rewriting history and solving murders.
  4. Flower of Evil: A seemingly perfect husband hides a dark past, while his detective wife begins to suspect and investigate him, leading to a suspenseful journey of uncovering the truth.
  5. Tunnel: A detective from 1986 travels through time to the present day to solve a serial case, but must adapt to life in a new era while facing the consequences of altering the past.
  6. Memorist: A detective with a special ability to read memories teams up with a gifted profiler to catch a serial killer, unraveling a twisted game of cat and mouse.
  7. Kingdom: Ashin of the North: This prequel to the kdrama Kingdom delves into the backstory of Ashin, a mysterious woman seeking revenge, revealing the origins of the zombie plague.
  8. The Guest: A possessed priest and a detective team up to fight evil spirits and demonic forces, facing terrifying encounters and challenging their beliefs.
  9. Tell Me What You Saw: A profiler with visual agnosia and a detective with exceptional memory join forces to solve crimes, relying on their unique skills to decipher clues and catch criminals.
  10. Mouse: A detective driven by revenge and a psychopath with multiple personalities become entangled in a case that challenges their understanding of good and evil.

Medical Korean Dramas: Pulses, Stories, and Love

Korean Medical TV Dramas

Hospitals are more than just sterile environments in Korean dramas. They’re vibrant settings for heartwarming friendships, high-stakes surgeries, and poignant battles against illness. 

So, grab your stethoscopes (or snacks), because we’re diving into the world of medical K-dramas!

  1. Hospital Playlist: Five doctor friends balance demanding careers with their passion for music, creating a heartwarming blend of medical cases, quirky humor, and lasting friendships.
  2. Dr. Romantic 2: A skilled surgeon leaves a prestigious hospital to work in a rural clinic, mentoring passionate young doctors and rediscovering the true meaning of medicine.
  3. Descendants of the Sun: A special forces captain and a doctor fall in love amidst war and natural disasters, showcasing the strength, resilience, and sacrifice of medical professionals. 
  4. Live Up to Your Name: A traditional herbal doctor and a modern neurosurgeon clash but learn to collaborate at a hospital, blending Eastern and Western medicine while navigating personal and professional challenges.
  5. Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim: A genius yet unorthodox doctor takes on a struggling hospital, inspiring and mentoring young residents while fighting for better patient care.
  6. Good Doctor: A young doctor with autism spectrum disorder uses his exceptional medical skills and unwavering determination to overcome prejudice and prove his worth in the hospital.
  7. A Beautiful Mind: A genius writer and a cold-hearted neurosurgeon cross paths after an accident, leading to a journey of healing, empathy, and rediscovering the beauty of life.
  8. Doctor John: A skilled anesthesiologist with a mysterious past uses his pain management skills to uncover hidden illnesses and advocate for his patients, challenging medical ethics and fighting for their right to live.

Ready for your next drama fix? With this list, you’ll be diagnosing your way through laughter, tears, and heart-pounding medical emergencies in no time

Tips for Newbie Korean Drama Watchers

Korean Dramas for Complete Beginners

Genre Gems

Don’t know where to start? Explore curated lists for popular genres like heart-fluttering rom-coms, pulse-racing thrillers, or heartwarming slice-of-life dramas. You’ll discover hidden gems just waiting to become your next obsession.

Patience is Key

Sometimes, K-dramas take their time building characters and relationships. Trust the process, savor the subtle nuances, and allow yourself to get swept up in the unfolding story. Remember, the journey is just as beautiful as the destination.

Start Small, Dream Big

I’ll also recommend that you can dive into the shallows with shorter dramas. Many K-dramas offer 12-16 episodes, perfect for testing the waters without getting overwhelmed. “Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo” or “Hometown Cha Cha Cha” are delightful bite-sized adventures to ignite your K-drama fire.

Make use of streaming sites

Platforms like Netflix, Viki, and Kocowa are your trusty ships, stocked with an ocean of K-dramas. Explore their curated libraries, filter by genre or mood, and sail smoothly with subtitles or even dubs depending on your preference.

Beyond the Screen: Dive into the Vibrant K-Drama Community

Your K-drama journey doesn’t end with the closing credits. The magic continues in a bustling online community teeming with passionate fans just like you. Get ready to join the discussion, share recommendations, and find lifelong friends who understand the joys (and frustrations!) of binge-watching K-dramas. MyDramaList is a great place to start connecting with other Korean drama watchers.

How to connect with Your Tribe (other Korean drama enthusiasts)

  • Forums and Social Media Groups: Delve into dedicated K-drama forums like Soompi or Reddit, or dive into the hashtags on Twitter and Instagram. Share your thoughts on the latest episode, debate character choices, and discover hidden gems recommended by fellow K-drama enthusiasts.
  • Fan Sites and Blogs: Discover a treasure trove of K-drama knowledge with dedicated fan sites and blogs. Get in-depth character analyses, behind-the-scenes insights, and hilarious memes that only true fans will understand.
  • Live Viewing Parties: Take your K-drama experience to the next level with virtual or in-person viewing parties. Gather with friends (online or offline) to cheer on your favorite characters, react to plot twists in real-time, and create lasting memories.

K-Pop and K-Drama Harmony

The worlds of K-pop and K-dramas are intertwined in a beautiful way. Many popular actors started as idols, and catchy K-pop tunes often grace K-drama soundtracks.

So, if you find yourself humming along to the OST, consider exploring the artists behind the music. You might discover your next favorite K-pop group and unlock a deeper appreciation for the drama’s cultural context.

Sharing the Love

Don’t hoard your K-drama gems.  Spread the love by recommending your favorites to friends and family.