21 Best Korean Dramas You Can Stream on Netflix Right Now
Looking for the next Squid Game? Prepare to get addicted to these highly rated, totally bingeable Netflix Korean drama series.
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The rise of the Korean drama
“Have you watched Squid Game?” It’s the question on everyone’s lips. The Netflix Korean drama exploded in popularity this fall, with a whopping 94 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and over 100 million viewers, making it the streamer’s biggest TV series launch ever. It’s safe to say Korean dramas (colloquially known as K-dramas) have come a long way since the low-budget, formulaic soap operas I fell in love with in the ’90s.
Many Korean American families like mine used to have to rent pirated K-dramas on VHS from the nearest Korean supermarket, and even then, we only had two or three options to pick from. Fortunately, over the past decade, the advent of streaming services and the recognition of Korean filmmaking in Hollywood—with films like Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite paving the way—have changed the game. Now we have the world’s best TV shows and movies easily streamable just a single click away.
No longer just a subcategory under the international section, K-dramas have carved out their own genre and are quickly becoming some of the best shows on Netflix. So why not take a break from your true crime documentaries on Netflix and classic TV shows, and try something new instead? Of all the Korean dramas to watch, these 20 make the must-watch list for their high ratings, award wins, and stellar storytelling. Whether you’re into crime shows, zombie thrillers, sci-fi and fantasy epics, or romantic comedies, you’ll find a Netflix Korean drama to fall in love with tonight. Something else you’ll fall in love with: these Netflix codes that reveal hidden titles.
Squid Game (2021)
If you didn’t already binge this in one sitting like I (and everyone I know) did, hunker down for one of the most addictive shows in years. Squid Game is absolutely worth the hype. A brilliant thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat, Squid Game follows desperate and broke Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) as he becomes a contestant in a deadly game in order to win money. The show is reminiscent of Survivor-style reality TV shows, yet packed with biting commentary on social inequality and capitalism. Fun fact: It took writer Hwang Dong-hyuk a decade to write the script and get the series greenlit, but the payoff was big. It released to critical acclaim, and actor Oh Yeong-su became the first Korean actor to win a Golden Globe. Season two has just been confirmed due to popular demand, so make sure to catch up now!
The Silent Sea (2021)
Imagine a not-so-distant dystopian future in which water is the greatest commodity and mankind will go to extreme lengths for it. In this sci-fi mystery-thriller set on an abandoned research station on the moon, a crew of astronauts must retrieve a sample that may save the world. But they quickly discover the mission is much more dangerous than they could have ever imagined. With impressive visuals, suspenseful storytelling, and stellar performances from all-star actors Gong Yu (Squid Games) and Bae Doona (Kingdom, Stranger), The Silent Sea easily made its way into Netflix’s Top 3 list and will keep you invested until the end in a quest to uncover the truth.
Zombies, court intrigue, and filial piety, oh my! Based on a webtoon, this riveting period piece pits a crown prince (Ju Ji-hoon) against treasonous plots to steal the throne, amidst a growing epidemic of the undead. Think The Walking Dead meets The Crown. It’s a smart pick for fans of action movies; Kingdom features epic fight scenes as well as top-notch acting and compelling character development. Director Kim Seong-hun and writer Kim Eun-hee were nominated for two Baeksang Arts Awards (South Korea’s equivalent of the Academy Awards) for this two-season series.
Mr. Sunshine (2018)
This historical fiction series is set right before Japan colonized Korea, when modernization and westernization exposed the kinks in Korea’s traditional social hierarchy but also threatened to stamp out Korean sovereignty altogether. In Mr. Sunshine, a Korean-born U.S. Marine Corps officer (Lee Byung-hun, whom you may recognize from Squid Game, G.I. Joe, and Red 2) is caught between his martial duty and his love for a fierce noblewoman (Kim Tae-ri from The Handmaiden) who moonlights as a freedom fighter and sniper for the Righteous Army. This Netflix Korean drama has gorgeous cinematography and depicts real moments in Korean history while giving you a sweeping romance between star-crossed lovers.
Crash Landing On You (2019)
While paragliding, a South Korean heiress hits a gust of wind that sends her across the demilitarized zone and into North Korea, where she meets and falls in love with a high-ranking North Korean army officer. The premise sounds outlandish, but it’s one that purports a comedic “what if?” situation while also offering a glimpse into what life may be like in North Korea—the show’s writers actually consulted North Korean defectors. The chemistry between actors Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin (who ended up dating in real life after filming) makes the forbidden romance even more thrilling. With 1.75 billion online views, international acclaim, and an American remake on the way, Crash Landing on You is hands down one of the best K-dramas on Netflix.
So Not Worth It (2021)
If violence isn’t really your thing, So Not Worth It is a fun and lighthearted comedy about international students in Korea. This Friends-esque series is unique in that it redefines what it means to be Korean with its multiracial and multicultural cast, including the extremely likable Nigerian Korean model Han Hyun-min. This Netflix Korean drama is one of those sitcoms that’ll put you in stitches—and make you want to learn Korean!
Reply 1988 (2015)
Reply 1988 is a throwback to ’80s TV shows, focusing on family and friendship and evoking nostalgia for simpler times. This sweet, slice-of-life comedy peeks into the lives of several working-class families in a small neighborhood in 1988 Seoul. The plots are simple yet profound and moving. Not only did this series sweep the 2016 Korean award season, it also launched the careers of actors Lee Hye-ri, Park Bo-gum, and Ra Mi-ran.
This one is as feel good and family friendly as they come—no guns, monsters, or inappropriate jokes here! Start-Up follows young entrepreneurs (Bae Suzy, Nam Joo-hyuk, and Kim Seon-ho) with big dreams and bigger hearts as they compete to make their start-ups a reality. This is a K-drama you can watch with your kids or younger siblings. Who knows? They may be inspired to start their own companies. If you’re looking for more family-friendly series, make sure to check out these best kids’ shows.
Hospital Playlist (2020–2021)
A charming medical drama, Hospital Playlist is about a hospital’s top surgeons, who relieve the stress (and often grief) that comes with the profession by playing together in a garage band. The two-season show is like a gentler, funnier version of Grey’s Anatomy; the characters are lovable, the comedy is top-notch, and each patient’s story is poignant yet heartwarming. If you love shows about doctors, this is the best Korean drama in its genre, and it will get you right in the feels!
This whip-smart, two-season crime thriller features a prosecutor (Cho Seung-woo) and police lieutenant (Bae Doona, whom you may recognize from Kingdom and Sense8) who go up against corrupt corporations and politicians in order to fight for justice. The New York Times named Stranger one of the best TV Shows of 2017, and the show also swept the 54th Baeksang Arts Awards. Sleek and cerebral, this is one of the best Korean dramas on Netflix, so don’t sleep on it.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay (2020)
South Korea is just beginning to really address mental health stigma, as well as ableism, and this rom-com approaches issues like trauma, grief, and anxiety in a refreshingly progressive manner. In It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, a psychiatric hospital caretaker and a children’s book writer fall in love and go on a healing journey together. It’s set against a backdrop of gorgeously animated scenes with a hint of dark fairy tale elements. It’s no surprise this was named one of the top international shows of 2020 by the New York Times.
My Mister (2018)
Taking a different spin on healing, My Mister is a Korean drama that focuses on the platonic relationship between a passive middle-aged man and an equally miserable young woman—played by K-pop star IU (Lee Ji-eun)—who’ll do anything to survive in a harsh world. Despite the series’ darker aspects, such as extramarital affairs, extortion, loan sharks, and alcoholism, there are glimmers of hope and redemption. Reminiscent of This is Us, it’s a series that’ll make you love each and every character as if they were your own neighbors and family members. This Korean drama won Best Drama at the Baeksang Arts Awards, so make sure to add it to your list.
Hotel Del Luna (2019)
K-pop singer IU glams up (and cheers up!) for this one. She stars as Jang Man-wol, the gorgeous but bad-tempered, thousand-year-old owner of a hotel for the dead. In this whimsical fantasy-romantic comedy, she and her mortal general manager help various souls find peace and pass on to the afterlife. Hotel Del Luna has its spooky moments, but it’s well-balanced by hilarious banter, magical wonder, and amazing fashion. IU was nominated for a Best Actress Baeksang Art Award, so her charismatic performance is definitely worth watching.
Sweet Home (2020)
If spooky’s your thing and you’re looking for more of an apocalyptic horror (and Koreans do horror very well), check out Sweet Home. Set in a gritty, low-income apartment building, this Netflix Korean drama follows its tenants as they fight to survive against an epidemic of monsters outside. Sweet Home is actually the first Korean drama to reach the Netflix Top 10 in the United States, and with its spine-chilling scenes and interesting crew of characters, it’s easy to see why.
Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021)
Kim Seon-ho (Start-Up) steals hearts again in this rom-com, this time as a jack-of-all-trades who butts heads with an uptight city dentist (Shin Min-a) who has moved to this peaceful seaside village. This sunny series is also about healing and showing how to deal with depression and grief through communication and community. Plus, it’s a refreshing depiction of strong feminist values, with a lot of the female characters making the first move. You’ll find yourself crying and laughing and rooting for all of the lovable characters in this commercial hit.
Hello My Twenties! (2016–2017)
This coming-of-age, slice-of-life comedy about five college housemates is not only sweet and heartwarming but also truly hilarious. Despite their different personalities, these girls get into all sorts of hijinks together and support one another through thick and thin. Both seasons of Hello My Twenties touch on the heartbreaks and tragedies that inevitably come with crossing the threshold into adulthood, while stressing the importance of friendship and sisterhood in order to get to the other side. Fun fact: This was Han Ye-ri’s breakout role before she went on to star in the 2020 Academy Award winner Minari.
A science fiction thriller and a game of wits, Sisyphus is one of the best Korean dramas on Netflix for sure. A mysterious young woman (Park Shin-hye) time travels from the future in order to save the life of the genius CEO (Cho Seung-woo) who invented the time machine in the first place—and to prevent a devastating nuclear war. This high-budget series bounces back and forth between a dystopian, war-torn Korea and the present day, where secret organizations, conspiracy theories, and quantum physics will keep you guessing and hitting that “Next Episode” button.
Itaewon Class (2020)
In this award-winning series, a former convict (Park Seo-jun) dreams of turning his restaurant and bar into a franchise but gets pitted against a powerful corporation. Since it’s a Korean drama, there is a love quadrangle or two, but at the end of the day, it’s an interpretation of the tale of David vs. Goliath. Featuring a diverse cast, Itaewon Class explores classism, transphobia, and racism in Korea, and it’s an inspiring success story for the misfits and the most marginalized in society.
The King: Eternal Monarch (2020)
What if Korea had maintained its monarchy? What if Korea had never been colonized and split into North and South Korea? This ambitious fantasy posits a world where there are alternate realities with alternate versions of ourselves. The emperor of the Kingdom of Corea (Lee Min-ho) finds himself in our dimension, where he meets a no-nonsense detective (Kim Go-eun). Together, they must defeat the forces of evil that threaten both of their worlds. This K-drama is a fun ride—think Outlander meets The Man in the High Castle.
Arthdal Chronicles (2019)
Arthdal Chronicles is Korea’s answer to Game of Thrones, where different clans in a fantastical Bronze Age Korea fight for power, all while a mysterious prophecy swirls around a young man from a small tribe (Song Joong-ki). If you love fantasies and period pieces, this is the Netflix Korean drama for you. The first of its genre on this scale, this epic fantasy is highly viewed and won the Korean Wave Awards’ Cultural Tourism Grand Prize.
The King’s Affection (2021)
Even until my grandparents’ generation, girl-boy twins were often separated at birth in Korea. In this romantic period piece set during the Joseon Dynasty, a series of events leads to the death of the male heir to the throne, and his secret identical sister (Park Eun-bin) must assume his identity as crown prince. Complexities and a comedy of errors arise when she falls in love with a scholar, all while she tries to maintain her secret and her position in court. Make sure you don’t miss this Korean drama!
- Rotten Tomatoes: “Squid Game”
- HanCinema: “‘Crash Landing on You’ Breaks Record for Online Clip Views”
- The New York Times: “The Best TV Shows of 2017”
- The New York Times: “Best TV Shows of 2020”