2018 has been a good year for Korean Dramas. Below I provide a top 15 list with the best dramas of 2018, based on what I watched so far. So, if there are even better dramas that are not included in this list, chances are I have not watched them yet.
My Top 15 List
In full disclosure, I had a tough time ranking some of the dramas below, because it is quite difficult to compare dramas from completely different genres. For example, how do you compare a good romantic comedy with a well-made action drama? Nonetheless, I tried my best to come up with a top 15.
1. Mr. Sunshine
Eugene Choi was born into slavery in Joseon, but managed to leave the country for the Unites States when he was a child. Decades later, he returns to Joseon as a Captain in the USA Marine Force and head of the US Legation. Here he meets Go Ae-shin, an aristocratic young woman who hides her true identity under the guises of a feminine and frail demeanor. In reality she is part of the Righteous Army and one of the best snipers of the Resistance.
Mr Sunshine is packed with action, friendship and romance. What truly sets this drama aside is the story-telling. Every single detail, whether visual or auditory evokes a specific mood (hope, sorrow, nostalgia etc.) and contributes to the unfolding of the story.
Mr. Sunshine is a work of art. Everything, from acting, picture, sets to music, is presented in the highest form of artistry. I would say Mr. Sunshine is one of the best dramas ever produced by the Korean TV Show industry, so far.
2. My Mister
Slice of Life, Friendship, Drama
This drama is in my top 10 Korean dramas of all time. It is one of the very few dramas that is flawless in every aspect: writing, directing, acting, music etc. “My Mister” tells the story of a deep and meaningful bond between a young woman and a more mature man. Through sharing the burden of their own pain, they forge a strong relationship, as they heal each other’s wounds with their mere presence.
Lee Ji-An had a rough life since childhood and only relies on herself. In need of money, she accepts the task to spy on Park Don-Hoon, whom she works with. The head of the company needs a reason to fire him and hires Ji-An to find his weakness. As she taps into the most hidden corners of his private life, she realizes he is even more miserable than her, yet he does not use that as an excuse to stray from the right path in life. For the first time Ji-An learns that sincerity and kindness do exist and that the world is not the mere antechamber of hell after all.
This is an amazing drama, however, I would probably not recommend it to someone who approaches a Korean drama for the first time. For a list of dramas for beginners, see my recommendations here.
Time doesn’t have the best ratings among the dramas of 2018, but on my list it occupies a well deserved the 3rd spot. I started watching it without many expectations, and it left me with a deed and lasting impression. Cheon Soo Ho is a willful young man who discovers that he has an inoperable brain tumor. He rebels against life as he cannot accept that he only has six months to live. in an instance of negligence he gets indirectly entangled in the death of a female escort. Her sister, Seol Ji Hyun sets on a journey to take revenge on her sister’s death by tormenting Soo Ho.
Time is an excellent melodrama. Nothing about it is cheesy or superficial. It has one of the best writing and dialogues. it made me reflect how limited and precious is the time we have left in this life and how important it is to fill it with something deeply meaning.
4. Life on Mars
Action, Psychological, Fantasy
This drama is a remake of a BBC original series. A modern day detective suffers a serious brain injury and travels 30 years back in time. In order to return home he will try to solve a serial murder case. This is an amazing drama; well directed, beautifully written and the acting is stellar. See my full review on this drama here.
5. Memories of the Alhambra
Gaming, Action, Romance
The gaming sub-genre has begun to take shape in the last few years in the Asian drama-land. In the near future, I might compile a list with the best gaming Asian dramas.
Yoo Jin Woo is a game developer and the CEO of an investment company. He takes a business trip to Granada, in search of the mysterious inventor of an innovative augmented-reality video game. He gets access to the game and start testing it on the streets of Spain. Soon, however, he realizes that the game has a bug that doesn’t allow the player to completely disconnect from the game. Thus game and reality are tightly connected and the wounds received while in game-mode carry on in real life. The only way to survive is to level up and try to stay ahead of the NPC players. The key to solving the final quest lies with the sister of the game inventor who lives both in the real world and in the virtual reality.
Memories of the Alhambra is an intense and one of a kind type of drama.
“Mother” is a remake of a Japanese drama with the same name. Kang Su-Jin is a temporary teacher who had a traumatic childhood. When she witnesses the abuse one of her young students is submitted to by her family, she decides to abduct her and raise her as her own daughter, while becoming a fugitive.
”Mother” is a drama that explores the depths of the concept of motherhood. This is a drama that will pull the strings of your heart and the suspense will make you watch it at the edge of your seat. Amazing directing and acting!
7. Sky Castle
This drama is a sharp satire aimed at the Korean high society: corruption, unscrupulous business practices, unhealthy educational environment. It depicts a world in which the mail goal in life is to succeed and remain at the top of the social ladder. Concepts such as personal well-being or happiness are shunned and seen as detrimental to succeeding in life. Children are seen the means to maintain the family prestige, thus they undergo harsh treatment from their own parents in order to keep at the top of the cutthroat competition among the most prestigious families in the country.
Given the plot, I was reluctant to watch it, at first, but the great ratings convinced me to give it a try.
8. Are You Human Too?
Have you ever wondered what makes us “human”? This drama tries to answer this question through the eyes of a robot. If you like a good romance sprinkled with a little bit of sci-fi, then “Are You Human Too?” is a must-watch. I won’t insist much here, because I already made a full review on this drama that you can read here.
9. I Am Not a Robot
Sci-fi, Romantic comedy
“I Am Not a Robot” is a very heartwarming drama. The male protagonist became an orphan at an early age. Being the sole heir of his parents’ fortune, he grew up surrounded by greedy legal guardians. As a result of traumatic events, he developed a psychological illness that causes him a life-threatening allergy-like reaction when he comes in contact with other human beings. But when he discovers that one of the projects his company finances is aiming to build an android, he becomes personally involved. He asks to test the robot before deciding to continue investing.
The researchers are in urgent need of funding, but the robot is not functional yet. Unaware of his potentially deadly condition, they deceive him by sending him a real human who pretends to be a robot. Humor ensues as the female protagonist agrees to act as a robot in order to gain his trust and resources. It follows a heart-aching, yet sweet romantic comedy.
10. The Miracle We Met
Fantasy, Psychological, Melodrama
“The Miracle We Met” tells the story of a man who dies (by “mistake”) and who is brought back to life in another person’s body. Two people share the same name and the same birth-date; while one is a good-natured chef, the other one is a righteous, yet inflexible bank manager.
In a fortuitous set of events, both of them are involved in an accident. The angel of death mistakes their identities and takes away the chef, instead of the banker. Realizing his mistake, he decides to return the chef to life. But in the meantime his family already had cremated his body. Thus, out of options, the angel makes the decision to return his soul into the body of the banker. This is yet another drama I reviewed. For more, see here.
11. Switch: Change the World
For some mysterious reason, this drama is quite underrated, but it takes a well-deserved 11th spot on my list. Sa Do-Chan is a con-man who once studied law, but he is now making a living by swindling corrupt people. One day, trying to get away from a difficult situation, he pretends to be a prosecutor, but, as a strange twist of fate, he does indeed look exactly like Baek Joon-Soo, a prosecutor who barely survived an assassination attempt and who is now in a coma. The assassins mistake the con-artist for the prosecutor; thus, the other prosecutors decide to take advantage of the situation and ask Sa Do-Chan to temporarily take the identity of their comatose colleague.
The hero of the story will use his con-artist skills and unconventional ways to solve some cases. I used to not be very impressed with Jang Keun-Suk’s acting, but he surprised me greatly in this drama.
12. Your Honor
When his identical twin (who is a judge) disappears, Han Kang Ho, decides to take on his persona in order to avoid the police who is chasing him. Kang Ho does not posses the stature of his brother. He is unpolished and undermanned, but he lets himself be guided by his common sense and untainted sense of justice. In order to avoid giving sentences that might later be deemed invalid should he be discovered, he asks his pupil and judge in training, Song So Eun to write the verdicts.
Your Honor is a sweet and fun comedy that will talk to you about the meaning of sincerity and true justice.
13. What Is Wrong with Secretary Kim?
This series is one of the most successful dramas of 2018 in terms of ratings. I enjoyed watching it, especially since the main actors are two of my absolute favorites at the moment. In fact, the delivery of the characters was exceptional! Lee Young-Joon is the cold and self-absorbed CEO of a major company. He is very capable, despite his narcissistic tendencies. A big part of his success, however, is due to his secretary, Kim Min-So, who has been next to him for the past nine year. She knows him perfectly to the point that she anticipates his thoughts before he can express them and sometimes she makes decisions in his stead, based on his character and mindset.
However, the perfect and efficient secretary Kim one day informs him that she wants to quit her job. Aware of the fact that he won’t ever find someone who could replace her, he tries every strategy to make her change her mind. He offers her an astronomical raise and a promotion as one of the directors of the company; he even offers her to be her legal husband so that she could be the co-owner of his wealth, just to convince her to continue working as his secretary. But nothing seems to make her budge from her decision. What is wrong with secretary Kim?
14. Familiar Wife
Cha Joo-Hyuk is a bank employee who is married and has two children. However, he regrets marrying his wife who once was his whole world. In his eyes, the once naïve and sweet woman, has now transformed into an angry monster who abuses him physically. He pities himself and regrets not having made a different choice 12 years ago. After a series of mysterious events, he travels back in time to the day he first met his wife. He ultimately makes the decision to avoid ever meeting her. He then wakes up into the present where he lives the life he always dreamed of: rich and with a refined woman next to him. Now his former wife works with him at the bank and he is puzzled to see her bright and sunny as she used to be when they first met.
The setup of the story would make you think this might be a shallow romantic-comedy. Far from it. Although there are a few funny moments in the story, this is a drama designed to make the viewer take a deep look into their hearts and analyse their regrets in life and maybe reevaluate some of their views on missed opportunities.
A woman sacrificed everything for her career as a journalist, even her unborn baby, which ultimately led to the failure of her marriage. While her husband (who is a lawyer) is contemplating to ask her for a divorce, she comes to be accused of murder. He takes her case and vows to find the murderer, while making a final attempt to repair their relationship.
This is an unpredictable drama, intense and packed with suspense. I highly recommend it, especially to those who like the mystery genre.
This drama started with a bang, but lost much of its stamina towards the end. It had the potential of being one of the best Korean Dramas in recent years, but something inexplicable happened that transformed it from an amazing drama into a fairly good drama.
Michaela Choi is a musical actress who has the ability to see everyone’s life-clock, including hers. Aware of the fact that she only has three months to live, she works hard toward achieving her dream of becoming the lead actress in a musical before she dies. One day, she meets a man whose mere presence is able to stop the countdown on her clock. Michaela will try every possible way to be around him, even become his personal driver if that means she can cheat death. But soon she learns that everything in life comes at a cost.
As I stated above, this is a good drama, but had the potential to deliver a lot more than it did. It is still worth watching, though.
Dramas (of 2018) with good ratings that I have not watched yet. In no particular order:
Lawless Layers: action, legal, romance.
Prison Playbook: drama, dark comedy, friendship.
Children of a Lesser God: supernatural, investigation.