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.
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