Crash Landing on You, Itaewon Class, Goblin, and More: A List of Binge-worthy Korean Series
K-drama mania has hit the Philippines hard—and streaming sites such as Netflix and Viu are bringing the best of them to our screens. From psychological thrillers to black comedies, from swoon-worthy romances to historical dramas, there’s a genre for everyone to enjoy
Crash Landing on You
This romantic series reinvigourated—or jumpstarted, in the case of some audiences—the K-drama mania in the Philippines. Released on tvN in South Korea and on Netflix worldwide, Crash Landing On You drew in a strong viewership, making it the third highest rated Korean drama in television history.
Its premise is a strange one: Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin), a wealthy South Korean heiress, ends up paragliding into North Korean territory after a tornado blows her off course. This sends her crash landing—literally—into the arms of Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin), a captain in the North Korean Special Police Force. Aside from its well-executed romantic plot and stellar ensemble cast performance, the drama also received high praise for its portrayal of everyday life in the North, showing a cultural aspect of the country rarely explored in any fictional capacity.
Based on the webtoon of the same name, this underdog revenge story focuses on Park Sae-ro-yi (Park Seo-joon), a young man whose quiet life changes after he gets expelled from school for getting into a fight with a classmate (who is the heir apparent to franchise giant Jangga Group). Earning the ire of its CEO Jang Dae-hee (Yoo Jae-myung), Sae-ro-yi is forced to carry out a three-year prison sentence. His dogged determination propels him forward with a new dream: to open his very own restaurant-bar in the cuisine-rich Itaewon district in hopes of one day eclipsing Jangga Group’s success. Heartwarming at its core, the series allows audiences a closer glimpse of the South Korean F&B industry culture while exploring themes around social class, racial discrimination, and gender-related issues, which are handled with care through the interactions of its core cast.
Set in the fictional—and incredibly exclusive—neighbourhood of Sky Castle, this satirical drama explores the dynamics between and among four upper class South Korean families who constantly lock horns with each other in an exaggerated display of one-upmanship. Here, encouraging—forcing, rather—their children to succeed academically and keeping their overachieving husbands on top of the medical and legal totem poles is a ruthless Olympic sport played to perfection by the Castle mothers. The ultimate prize for “good” parenting is getting a child into one of Korea’s top three universities: Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University (hence the stylised titular acronym ‘SKY’). Mum’s secret to success? Employing the services of highly sought-after tutors for a hefty sum. The dynamic cast is led by five veteran actresses: Yum Jung-ah as the overzealous Han Seo-jin, Lee Tae-ran as the down-to-earth Lee Soo-im, Yoon Se-ah as the virtuous No Seung-hye, Oh Na-ra as the feisty Jin Jin-hee, and Kim Seo-hyung as the wonderfully devious Kim Joo-young.
The World of the Married
The finale aired not too long ago, and everyone is still talking about it. Adapted from the first season of the BBC series Doctor Foster, The World of the Married introduces us to the picture-perfect lives of Ji Sun-woo (Kim Hee-ae) and Lee Tae-oh (Park Hae-joon). At first glance, Sun-woo seems to have it all: a loving husband, an obedient son, and a successful medical career. However, a strand of dyed red hair on a scarf and a tube of cherry chapstick leads her to suspect that Tae-oh is having an affair. Her suspicions prove correct and the gloves come off, setting into motion the gripping events that make up its 16-episode run. You might think, “not another show about immorality and infidelity,” but the war that wages between Sun-woo and Tae-oh is so masterfully executed that you’d be surprised to find yourself throughly engrossed by everyone’s unhappiness.
“Endearing” would be one of the last words in the world one might use to describe prison life, but Prison Playbook, a poignant black comedy starring Park Hae-soo as Kim Je-hyuk and Jung Kyung-ho as Lee Joon-ho, succeeds at threading warmth through a bleak setting. A superstar baseball pitcher, Kim Je-hyuk suddenly finds himself facing a prison sentence, convicted of assault after stepping in to save his sister from an attacker. While incarcerated, he runs into an old friend, corrections officer Lee Joon-ho, and this relationship serves as both the heart and backbone of the series. The sense of community that forms among the prisoners is also a strong point; the characters’ compelling back stories and day-to-day interactions allow audiences to understand that we are not defined by the mistakes we make.
All top student Oh Ji-soo (Kim Dong-hee) wants is to get into university, but because he was abandoned by his parents, earning enough money to do so becomes a struggle. And so he turns to a life of crime as a security service provider for an illegal business under the name “Uncle,” with “Old Man” Lee Whang-chul (Choi Min-soo) as his man on the ground and muscle for hire. Business goes smoothly until Bae Gyu-ri (Park Joo-hyun), a classmate of Ji-soo, discovers his secret when she steals his phone and taunts him with blackmail. While Ji-soo displays an impeccable entrepreneurial spirit, he is no hero as he is breaking the law to ensure his own survival. His classmates—many of whom look down on him—are no better, as they themselves are caught up in their own dishonest dealings. Much darker than the usual teen-oriented K-dramas, Extracurricular is a brazen yet sober deep dive into the moral failings of its young cast.
Strangers from Hell
Should you find yourself feeling increasingly uncomfortable as the 10-episode thriller unravels more and more of its twisted odds and ends, don’t be too worried—this is exactly how Strangers from Hell wants you to feel. An aspiring crime novelist, Yoon Jung-woo (Im Si-wan) makes the move from Busan to Seoul after a senior from school offers him an internship. With next to nothing in his pockets, all he can afford is a shoebox of a room in a dingy dormitory, where his neighbours seem to be up to no good. One cannot help but feel for Jung-woo, for whom sanctuary is next to non-existent: his boss does not take his troubles seriously, his girlfriend is too preoccupied with her own dealings to listen to him, and the shady antics of the people next door—specifically one Seo Moon-jo, an enigmatic dentist played by Lee Dong-wook—make the thought of going home unimaginable. The cinematography captures the suppressive mood through cleverly framed scenes, which lend the feeling of unease regardless of whether Jung-woo is moving through the cramped halls of the dorm or navigating his way through the brightly lit streets of Seoul.
This fantasy drama first aired in 2016, but is still beloved to this day—so much so that it has reached cult favourite status in and out of South Korea. Gong Yoo stars as Kim Shin, the titular goblin and a decorated military general from the Goryeo Dynasty. Framed as a traitor and cursed to remain immortal, he lives a lonely existence, waiting for the day when his bride will come to pull out the sword buried in his chest to end his life. Nine hundred years later, he meets a high schooler named Ji Eun-tak (Kim Go-eun), who claims to be his sought-after bride. Kim Shin also finds himself in the company of a nameless ex-grim reaper (Lee Dong-wook), who doesn’t remember anything from his former life. A perfect K-drama for the true blue romantics, Goblin highlights the value of friendship as well, with audiences praising the series for the bromance between Kim Shin and his grim reaper buddy.
The zombie apocalypse formula has been repeatedly tried, tested, and even overused, but this political horror thriller has taken it to new heights. Set during Korea’s Joseon period, Kingdom follows the story of Crown Prince Li Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), who finds himself caught in a political conspiracy as he begins to investigate the circumstances surrounding his mysteriously ill father. As his shocking discoveries urge him to travel around in search of more concrete explanations, he crosses paths with physician Seo-bi (Bae Doo-na) and tiger hunter Yeong-shin (Kim Sung-kyu), who are struggling to deal with a plague that brings the dead back to life by nightfall. The show propels the plot forward at near breakneck speed, bringing audiences to the edge of their seats even during scenes sans zombies. Its historical setting adds to its richness; the thrilling fight scenes (with swords and bows and arrows taking centre stage), stunning landscapes, and detailed costumes never fail to please. The past two seasons have ended on cliffhangers, leaving viewers clamouring for more.