korean-drama

15 Awesome Korean Dramas to Jumpstart Your Korean Learning in 2020

Looking for a way to spice up your Korean studies?

You should watch Korean dramas!

Korean dramas are a goldmine of authentic dialogues, colorful vocabulary and useful idioms.

In addition to being highly addictive, dramas will broaden your cultural horizons by providing a fascinating glimpse into Korean culture.

From forbidden love to rags-to-riches stories and heartbreaking family feuds, watching Korean dramas online is a winning recipe for successful Korean learning.

Not sure where to begin or even how to incorporate dramas into your studies?

Then read up! We’ve rounded up a list of websites where you can find the best Korean dramas and some fantastic titles you’ve gotta watch. But before we get started, let’s discover how to best use dramas to learn Korean.
 


 

Tested and Proven Tips to Learn Korean with Dramas

  • Choose a drama you like. The sky’s the limit when it comes to Korean dramas, so make sure you genuinely enjoy what you’re watching. That’s a guarantee that you’ll keep at it! It’s entirely up to you to decide what drama works best for you.

    Find a show that’s based on your personal preferences and interests, including favorite hobbies, a topic you want to learn about or even your favorite Korean actors. Otherwise, it’s also smart to watch popular and iconic dramas, as they’ll improve your knowledge of Korean pop culture.

  • Watch actively. Take a segment and close your eyes to make an effort to follow what’s being said. Write down difficult words and new expressions, looking them up in a dictionary only if you can’t figure them out from context. Replay difficult scenes and parts where you didn’t fully understand what was said.
  • Don’t use English subtitles. Don’t fall prey to the temptation to turn on English subtitles; your brain would focus on reading the English writing instead of listening to the Korean sounds. This “crutch” is actually a hindrance that you should avoid. Definitely turn on Korean subtitles if your provider offers it, though, which is the next point.
  • Watch with Korean subtitles. This will allow you to build reading familiarity with Hangul, as well as to verify that you’ve fully understood what’s being said in the dialogue. Ideally, you want to watch a scene without Korean subtitles, and then watch it again with them.
  • Read along. Another great exercise is to read the subtitles out loud and act the part. It’s a challenging activity that will greatly improve your reading speed. It may be difficult for you to achieve at first, but keep in mind that practice makes perfect! Replay a scene over and over by reading out loud until you can read without stumbling.
  • Focus on the plot. Even at a beginner level, it’s easy to follow a drama without subtitles for an extended period of time. Sure, you’ll miss the little nuances, but you’ll still know the gist of the story. Plus, there’s always the option to rewind if you feel like you’ve missed too many critical elements.

    Before you get started, try at least reading the plot of your favorite drama on Drama Wiki. This will give you a good indication of what the drama is about, which is particularly helpful for understanding the story in Korean.

Where to Watch Korean Dramas Online

Viki

korean drama

Viki is a freemium streaming website featuring global primetime shows and movies from all over the world. With over 1,300 Korean dramas and growing, Viki is your one-stop shop for authentic Korean content. We particularly love that Viki features dramas from a rich diversity of genres, from love stories to historical dramas, medical telenovelas and more.

Unlike other streaming sites, Viki is powered by a community of volunteers who are genuinely passionate about the Korean language and spreading Korean culture. On Viki, subtitles are entirely translated by watchers from all over the world, which allows you to choose from a variety of languages for subtitles, including Korean. Often, you’ll notice that you may not entirely agree with the translation, and that’s a good sign. Be sure to give back and contribute to the site with your own translations when you can.

Drama Fever

korean drama

Please note: Unfortunately, as of 2018, Drama Fever is no longer available. Luckily, all the Korean dramas on our list below are available to watch elsewhere!

DramaFever is another video streaming website that lets users stream content for free with ads or for a monthly subscription. Drama Fever started off as a Korean drama-only platform and is today owned by Warner Bros. It has licensing deals with all of the three leading Korean networks, including Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), and Munwha Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), and offers dramas with English and Korean subtitles.

The site offers over a thousand titles searchable by genre, date of release and popularity. To maximize your studies, be sure to download the Drama Fever apps and study with your favorite Korean dramas on the go, anytime you want.

Netflix

korean drama

The popular American streaming company Netflix offers an ever-changing selection of Korean dramas with English subtitles. Users must register for a paid subscription, which will give you access to Netflix on desktop and mobile apps. While the curation of Korean dramas on Netflix is limited, the site does a great job suggesting content that’s most relevant to you based on your interests and viewing history.

To make your Korean studies more efficient using Netflix, it’s a good idea to be open to a variety of content that you may not otherwise have watched. Unlike the above streaming sites that specialize in Korean and Asian dramas, Netflix won’t necessarily offer the largest database of content, but the site does feature some hidden gems that are often surprisingly entertaining!

FluentU

korean drama

You might not be able to watch full episodes on FluentU, but it’s an excellent resource for any learners of the Korean language who want to learn with K-dramas and other authentic Korean content.

You can watch with dual-language Korean and English subtitles, or you can turn off the English subtitles and focus on your Korean reading and listening skills.

Either way, if you’re not sure about what a word or phrase means, all you have to do is hover your cursor over the word in the subtitles to see its definition, an associated image, some example sentences and even other videos where you can hear the word or phrase used for more context.

In addition to the subtitles, you can also read the full transcript of the clip before you watch (and click on any word to hear it pronounced) and browse the “key vocabulary” section for even more support.

FluentU has a clip from “Descendents of the Sun,” which is on our list below. You can also watch a funny scene from another Korean drama, “Shut Up Flower Boy Band.” K-drama aficionados will especially appreciate this commercial, which uses a stereotypical Korean drama scenario to sell a product (with hilariously over-the-top results).

korean drama

15 Awesome Korean Dramas to Jumpstart Your Korean Learning in 2020

1. “Itaewon Class” (이태원 클라쓰)

korean drama

Watch it on: Netflix

Park Sae-ro-yi, who has just started going to a new high school, intervenes when he notices Jang Geun-won, the wealthy son of his father’s employer, bullying another student. This sets off a wild chain of unforeseen events involving death, prison, a new restaurant opening and romance.

As you might guess from the name, “Itaewon Class” takes place in the Seoul neighborhood of Itaewon, which is known for its multi-cultural, international and generally open atmosphere. The show is notable for featuring a more diverse grouping in its main cast than is usual for a Korean drama, including a biracial character and a transgender character.

Park Sae-ro-yi opens a bar-restaurant in Itaewon, so you’ll hear some language in the show related to food and the restaurant business, but as a learning tool, “Itaewon Class” might be best for picking up smaller bits of everyday language. While the show contains a variety of dialogue spoken at different speeds, many of its conversations are paced slowly and evenly for dramatic effect, which makes it great for mining short, common phrases.

2. “My ID Is Gangnam Beauty” (내 아이디는 강남미인)

korean drama

Watch it on: Viki | DVD

“My ID Is Gangnam Beauty” is the story of Kang Mi-rae, a girl who has plastic surgery before attending college. Her intention isn’t to become beautiful, but simply to look average so that she doesn’t stand out. But unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

Before long, Mi-rae is encountering new obstacles to her desire to live a “normal” life, including altercations with the school’s most popular and conventionally attractive guy, Do Kyung-seok. “My ID Is Gangnam Beauty” is interesting both for its examination of societal beauty standards and for its wider meditation on different types of beauty and love.

As this drama takes place mostly in a college environment and involves some of the students’ parents, you can use the show as an opportunity to see how younger people address both their peers and older adults. Pay attention to how students speak to other students based on age and seniority.

3. “Romance Is a Bonus Book” (로맨스는 별책부록)

korean drama

Watch it on: Netflix | DVD

Kang Dan-yi is reckoning with some difficult life changes. Not only has she recently undergone a messy divorce, but she’s having trouble re-entering the workforce, and nearly everything else is going wrong, too.

Eventually, she lies about her age and background in order to land a job as an intern at a publishing company where her longtime friend Cha Eun-ho, a successful writer, works as an editor. Bookish romance may ensue.

Since “Romance Is a Bonus Book” takes place in and around a publishing company, you can learn language related to books and publishing in the process of watching it. As the drama deals with the struggle of breaking into a new career as well, you’ll also learn language for talking about jobs and work in general.

4. “Misaeng: Incomplete Life” (미생)

korean drama

Watch it on: Netflix | Viki | DVD

Who doesn’t love a good office drama? “Misaeng” is an award-winning Korean series that follows a group of characters working at a trading company in Jordan.

The main character, Jang Geu-rae, once had dreams that didn’t involve office life. He was obsessed with playing the board game “Go”
professionally, but ended up having to get a regular job like everyone else. As he settles into his new career, he struggles to fit in with his co-workers and to learn to get along with others.

As “Misaeng” is focused heavily on the office environment, it can teach you a lot of language related to working, business and interactions between employees and superiors.

5. “Reply 1997” (응답하라 1997)

korean drama

Watch it on: Netflix | Viki

“Reply 1997” switches between a timeline that follows high schooler Sung Shi-won, a huge fan of the boy band H.O.T., and her friends in 1997 and another timeline that features the same people years later at a school reunion dinner.

This is a great drama for Korean pop music lovers to delve into, as it hearkens back to the origins of what we now know as K-pop in its ’90s plot.

“Reply 1997” will teach you language related to music and music fandom, of course, and also includes Korean-language songs specific to the era of the show. Additionally, while many Korean dramas are shot in Seoul, this one takes place in the city of Busan, with a large portion of the cast being from the area and speaking the local dialect.

6. “Memories of the Alhambra” (알함브라 궁전의 추억)

korean drama

Watch it on: Netflix | DVD

“Memories of the Alhambra” has an interesting plot hook that might pull in those looking for a K-drama that’s somewhat out of the ordinary: Augmented reality video games… in Spain! In this visually striking and offbeat drama, CEO Yoo Jin-woo travels to Granada to work on developing an AR game there.

The show features many aspects of AR gaming, including some truly entertaining sword battles. As the game begins to intersect with real life, the plot becomes more and more complicated.

Since “Memories of the Alhambra” takes place in a location outside of Korea where the characters occasionally use English to communicate, it might be less intimidating for beginners who want to get used to the sounds of Korean while taking in some great visuals and enjoying an international atmosphere. You can also get some Hangul reading practice from the game interfaces that appear on the screen.

7. “Chicago Typewriter” (시카고 타자기)

korean drama

Watch it on: Netflix | Viki

“Chicago Typewriter” is about three people in modern-day Korea who in a previous lifetime worked together as resistance fighters during the Japanese occupation in the 1930s. These people (in the present day) are Han Se-ju, a bestselling writer with a cold personality, ghostwriter Yoo Jin-oh and Jeon Seol, who considers herself Han Se-ju’s biggest fan.

Tensions rise as Jeon Seol insinuates herself into Han Se-ju’s life in a way that humorously recalls and references another story of obsessive fandom, Stephen King’s “Misery.”

As Han Se-ju is a writer, this is another drama that includes language related to writing and books, including some that appears in self-important monologues from our successful author. It also features heated interactions between characters, and so is good for encountering fast-spoken dialogue.

8. “Cheese in the Trap” (치즈인더트랩)

korean drama

Watch it on: Netflix | Viki

“Cheese in the Trap” is a campus drama based around the friendships and relationships of several college students. Hong Seol, a student from a poor background, finds herself navigating feelings towards a mysterious and wealthy older boy, Yoo Jung.

Without giving too much away, this drama might seem to fall into the romance category of “enemies to lovers,” as Yoo Jung sometimes appears mean and manipulative but begins to be unexpectedly nice to Hong Seol.

“Cheese in the Trap” is another drama that’s great for seeing interactions between college students. It also features many everyday phrases, including common greetings, questions and interjections.

9. “Oh My Ghost” (오 나의 귀신님)

korean drama

Watch it on: Netflix | Viki

“Oh My Ghost” unfolds in the food world with a supernatural angle. Na Bong-sun, a shy, lonely restaurant employee, has a crush on the chef she works for, Kang Sun-woo. She often finds herself flustered and making mistakes at work.

However, when Na Bong-sun becomes possessed by a ghost, Shin Sun-ae, who’s determined to sleep with a man before moving on to the afterlife, her boss begins to look at her differently.

Despite its goofy possession plotline, “Oh My Ghost” includes a lot of scenes featuring routine work in a restaurant kitchen with related language and dialogue surrounding both Korean and international cuisine. Between this and many emotionally charged exchanges, you get a lot of rapid-fire dialogue with this show that makes for challenging listening practice.

10. “Heirs” (상속자들)

korean-drama (1)

Watch it on: Netflix | Viki

“Heirs” (also known as “Inheritors” in English) follows the complicated life of wealthy Korean young adults in their quest for love and self-discovery. The drama follows Kim Tan, a self-conceited Korean playboy, and heir to one of the most powerful chaebol families. Unable to abide by the strict rules of Korean society, his parents send him to the U.S., where he’s able to live a free, careless lifestyle and indulge in all temptations.

There, he meets Cha Eun-Sang, a Korean girl from modest descent, who crossed the Pacific in search for her older selfish sister. Their fates intertwine and as they get closer, Kim Tan’s jealous girlfriend forces Eun-Sang to leave, prompting the young heir to return to Korea to look for her.

This endearing drama is rich in colorful idioms and daily expressions that will set a solid groundwork for your Korean studies. Be sure to pay attention to the level of speech between Eun-Sang and the “chaebol kids.” This should teach you about perceived hierarchy in Korean society and how language is deeply influenced by these codes and can also contribute to power plays.

11. “Coffee Prince” (커피프린스 1호점 )

korean-drama

Watch it on: Viki | DVD

This popular 2007 Korean drama became an instant hit across Asia and was one of the first dramas to really spread the Korean wave of drama. “Coffee Prince” is the unlikely love story between Go Eun-Chan, a tomboy from a poor family, and Choi Han-Gyul, a womanizer with a chaebol pedigree. Much to the despair of his grandmother, a self-made food magnate, Han-Gyul spends his time in casual encounters and has no interest in the family business or the blind dates he gets put on.

One day he meets Eun-Chan, a clumsy girl whose slender frame and boyish outfits lead Han-Gyul to mistake her for a boy. Touched by her raw innocence, he develops a friendship with her and starts getting confused by his nascent feelings for her.

“Coffee Prince” is a fantastic introduction to the vocabulary of food and beverage and related expressions. If you’re interested in learning more about the history behind coffee brewery and its jargon, this drama will get you covered. Watching this touching drama, you’ll also realize that modern Korean incorporates a lot of anglicisms. Pay attention to the pronunciation of these words, which may be unsettling at first, and how they fit into sentences.

12. “Descendants of the Sun” (태양의 후예)

korean-drama

Watch it on: Amazon Prime | Hulu | Viki | DVD

“Descendants of the Sun” is by far the most successful drama of the year 2016 and also one of the most fascinating Korean dramas ever made. The drama follows special forces officers Yoo Shi-jin and Seo Dae-young, whose unique skills in combat lead them to sensitive combat fields, from North Korea to Afghanistan.

On one of their rest days, they catch a motorcycle thief and injure him badly. As they stitch him and prepare to send him to the nearest hospital, the thief steals Dae-young’s phone. Upset, the men decide to confront him at the hospital, where they end up meeting Dr. Mo-yeon, who wrongly takes them for gangsters. It’s love at first sight for Shi-jin.

This drama is a great way to pick up some handy and very common technical words used to describe the military, including Army ranks, description of missions and army tools and weapons in Korean. You’ll also learn plenty of authentic expressions used in the army during training and combat.

13. “Boys over Flowers” (꽃보다 남자 )

korean-drama

Watch it on: Hulu | Viki | DVD

“Boys over Flowers” is another very popular Korean teen drama following the decadent lives of wealthy Korean heirs. It was based on the famed J-drama “Hana Yori Dango” and stars the very handsome Lee Min-ho as lead.

In this drama, Go Jun-pyo, the ring leader of F4—a group of four rich and good looking young men—gradually learns to become a better person as he falls for Geum Jan-di, the daughter of a family of laundry cleaners. All should go well, except for the numerous obstacles that get in the way of the two lovers.

This is a fantastic resource for useful and very common action verbs. The dialogues of Boys over Flowers” feature a rich variety of sentence structures as well, especially dry declarative phrases expressing a variety of feelings, including surprise, anger, happiness and fear.

14. “Gourmet” (식객 )

korean drama

Watch it on: Viki | DVD

If you wish to learn more about the fascinating traditions and history of Korean cuisine, this food drama is a must-watch. “Gourmet” follows two promising chefs who grew up together as they compete for the title of Master Chef at one of Korea’s finest restaurants.

Lee Seung-chan, a bright and happy young man is the rising star at Woonamjeong. He works alongside Oh Bong-Joo, who he considers a brother, to perpetuate the family legacy. One day, Oh’s aging father decides to retire. Unable to name a successor, he decides to organize a cooking contest and let the best chef win, causing dissension in the family and uncovering a deep family secret.

“Gourmet” is quite possibly the best drama to discover the rites of Korea’s ancestral royal cuisine. You’ll learn a plethora of advanced words and expressions that were used during the Joseon era to describe lesser-known ingredients, ancestral dishes and culinary techniques, and even the philosophy behind Korean food.

15. “My Love from the Star” (별에서 온 그대 )

korean-drama

Watch it on: Viki | DVD

This quirky romantic drama follows Do Min-Joon, an alien who landed on Earth 400 years ago during the Joseon Dynasty period. Beyond his incredible looks, Min-Joon possesses numerous assets, including enhanced physical abilities such as a superhuman vision, an ability to hear from far distances, and amazing speed.

Highly critical and cynical about humans, Min-Joon’s world turns upside down as he falls in love with actress Cheon Song-Yi.

“My Love from Another Star” offers a glimpse into a wide range of expressions and levels of speech. Note how Min-Joo’s own language evolves from formal to more casual as he warms up to Song-Yi. You’ll also pick up a lot of useful words about acting and the film industry along the way.

 

Now that you know how to learn Korean with a drama and know just where to start, what’s holding you back from your Korean studies? That’s right, absolutely nothing. Have fun!
 


 

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