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The usual suspects like Crash Landing on You and Itaewon Class are on the list, along with a few surprises

While the entertainment industry in most parts of the world suffered from production issues and delays thanks to COVID-19, the K-drama machine seemed to continue churning, giving us hit after hit through 2020 and this year, which we’ve gladly embraced as we stayed home to ride out the pandemic.

As a result, many of the dramas that were screened during this period enjoyed sky-high viewerships, especially as they made their way onto streaming platforms such as Netflix and Viu, and reached a hungry and appreciative audience worldwide. 

Related: 9 Highest-Paid K-Drama Stars: Kim Soo-Hyun, Hyun Bin, Song Hye-Kyo and More

As TV ratings in Korea can differ vastly based on whether they premiere on a free channel (which has a naturally larger audience) or on cable (which you have to pay to watch), ratings for dramas usually focus on the ones on cable channels. A fantastic per-episode rating for a cable show is pegged at 28 per cent, and is currently the figure to beat. The numbers don’t take into account viewership on streaming sites and international audiences, otherwise the results may be a little different (maybe Crash Landing would have rated higher?). 

Here’s a list of 11 top-rated K-dramas in 2020 and 2021. Of course, there are older ratings behemoths and K-drama evergreens that are essential watching, such as 2016’s Goblin (Guardian: The Lonely and Great God) and 2015’s classic, Reply 1988. See if your recent faves are on this list, and if you’re inspired to watch those you haven’t yet caught.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay — 7.348 per cent

For a show that was a huge hit on Netflix, and generated so much news, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay was not considered a big ratings success in Korea, with its best-performing episode recording just 7.348 per cent.

The series propelled its female lead Seo Ye-ji into international stardom (did her massive fame play a part in her current fall from grace?), while its male lead Kim Soo-hyun made headlines for becoming the highest-paid K-drama actor for the astronomical sum he received for this series (he’s since topped that amount with his pay cheque for his upcoming show).

Despite coming in at just a smidgen over 7 per cent, it’s still one of the highest-rated shows domestically in the past year, and has been nominated for multiple Baeksang Arts Awards. It remains to be seen if its female star’s scandal will affect its chances at the awards, which will be held on May 13.

Watch it on Netflix

Record of Youth — 8.74 per cent

Another ratings disappointment, considering the combined star power of the leads, heartthrob Park Bo-gum and Park So-dam, who charmed in the 2019 Academy Award Best Picture Winner, Parasite.

For some reason, when put together, the two oozed… zero chemistry. Perhaps that contributed to the less-than-stellar ratings, or perhaps it was the script. Whatever it is, “Park-Park” fans were left very, very unsatisfied.

Watch it on Netflix

Related: 5 Park Bo-gum Movies and Shows to Binge-Watch in 2021

Stranger 2 — 9.408 per cent

The second season of the award-winning thriller Stranger achieved a high of almost 9.5 per cent average audience share in Korea, and is a must-watch for those who prefer plot-driven dramas, action and strong performances over light-hearted, romantic comedies.

Watch it on Netflix

Love (ft. Marriage and Divorce) — 9.656 per cent

With a title like that, consider us intrigued. The melodrama tells the story of three married couples, in their 30s, 40s and 50s, as their marriages unravel. The tales of matrimonial strife in the lives of three colleagues at a radio station must have struck a chord with audiences, as they continued to tune in to the drama week after week. 

Watch it on Netflix

Related: 7 K-Drama Actresses Who Look Like They Haven’t Aged, and These Pictures Prove It

 

Vincenzo — 11.375 per cent

A good comeback for Song Joong-ki, whose career seemed to be on the precipice, following his divorce from golden girl Song Hye-kyo. His turn as Vincenzo Cassano, an Italian lawyer and consigliere who was adopted by a mafia boss, was much-loved and re-cemented his status as a ladykiller and hitmaker. 

Watch it on Netflix

Related: IN PHOTOS: Song Joong-ki's Best Looks On- And Off- Screen

 

 

The King: Eternal Monarch — 11.6 per cent

Some would consider this highly anticipated Lee Min-ho vehicle a flop, as it recorded a low of 5.2 per cent for one of its episodes in domestic TV ratings, and saw its ratings fall as the series progressed.

Nevertheless, Lee Min-ho’s comeback drama after completing his military service performed amazingly on Netflix, and was the most popular Korean drama series on Netflix in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and India.

Some blamed the lousy ratings in Korea on the convoluted fantasy sci-fi plot and the drama’s multiple in-your-face product placements, but personally, we think this drama was compelling and well worth our time spent in front of the TV screen.

Watch it on Netflix

Related: K Drama Trios That Define "Squad Goals"
 

 

Hospital Playlist — 14.142 per cent

A ratings success, considering it didn’t have any of your usual marquee K-drama big names. The series, which centres on a group of doctors, nurses and patients at a medical centre, is one of the highest-rated dramas in cable history, and is also the most-viewed series on Netflix in Korea in 2020.

The show has spawned a second season, premiering this June. The story of the friendship of five doctors and their after-hours hobby of playing in a garage band is truly heartwarming. Lots of feel-good vibes, amidst the usual hospital drama. 

Watch it on Netflix

 

 

Itaewon Class — 16.548 per cent

This dramatic tale about the underdog rising from the bottom, showcased rom-com king Park Seo-joon in a serious role. It was a hit with critics and audiences, who lauded the tight storytelling and strong performances from the cast.

Itaewon Class won Best Drama Series at the 25th Asian Television Awards, gave us Park’s iconic chestnut hair and made us sit up and take notice of Kim Da-mi, who won Best New Actress at last year’s Baeksang Arts Awards.  

Watch it on Netflix

See Also: 9 Of Our Favourite Park Seo-joon Movies and TV Shows

Mr Queen — 17.371 per cent

A huge recent hit, starring the hilarious Shin Hye-sun and the currently beleaguered Kim Jung-hyun, who’s still mired in the bullying scandal with ex-girlfriend Seo Ye-ji.

The time-travelling, body-swap comedy is the 7th highest-rated drama in Korean cable TV history, which is no mean feat. It also garnered Shin a Best Actress nom at the upcoming Baeksang Arts Awards. Let’s hope her co-star’s troubles don’t hinder her chances, as she was truly excellent in her role as a man from the future who gets trapped in the body of a Joseon queen. 

Watch it on Viu

See Also: 5 Seaguk K-Drama Classics To Watch: Hwarang, Mr Queen, And More

Crash Landing on You — 21.683 per cent

We think nothing more needs to be said about this ginormous hit that spawned a new wave of K-drama fanatics, and blessed us with reel-life to real-life couple Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin, except maybe: “What? It’s not No. 1??”

Watch it on Netflix

Related: Are Kim Jung Hyun and Seo Ji Hye From Crash Landing On You Dating Too?

The World of the Married — 28.371 per cent

A massive hit that broke all TV-ratings records, hitting an eye-popping 28.3 per cent for its best-rated episode. It also scored the highest average rating for a drama on cable TV, with an average of 18.829 per cent.

The melodramatic tale of cheating, revenge, grief and the aftermath gripped audiences, with captivating portrayals by the cast, especially Kim Hee-ae, who won the Best Actress trophy at last year’s Baeksang Arts Awards amidst stiff competition from the likes of Crash Landing on You’s Son Ye-jin and Hotel del Luna’s IU.

The themes of adultery and infidelity, rarely discussed in mainstream Korean TV, and boundary-pushing sexual content made this intense drama the highest-rated series ever. Can it be beaten? We await the next contender with bated breath. 

Watch it on Netflix