30 Addictive Korean TV Shows You Don’t Want to Miss

Watching TV is a universal way to wind down and relax at the end of the day—and if it’s a good TV series, you can end up being glued to it for hours straight.

Korean TV series have taken the world by storm these past several years, from entertaining romantic comedies to crime thrillers and historical dramas with lush visuals. 

Below are 30 exciting Korean TV shows that span a variety of genres. Whether you’re into drama, humor or action, you might find your next favorite watch here! 

Contents

1. “Squid Game”

Watch on: Netflix

“Squid Game” ranks impressively as the most popular Netflix show of all time. Be warned, though, that it’s not exactly light watching!

In the show, people in debt are invited to play a seemingly harmless series of games, with a cash prize that amounts to millions of dollars. However, it takes a dark turn because once you lose a game, you die—and every time someone dies, the cash prize gets larger.

2. “What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?”

Watch on: Hulu | Netflix | Viki

In “What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?”, the vice-president of a huge company tries to get his long-time secretary to reconsider resigning–and sparks start to fly between them. A lot of Korean learners are actually fans, especially since the show can help you pick up a lot of slang and everyday words related to Korean work culture.

Having to look up words every time can disrupt your viewing pleasure, though. To fix this for Korean learners, FluentU uses interactive subtitles to explain clips of “What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?”:

FluentU Secretary Kim Screenshot

Other than Kdramas, you can also find other authentic Korean content, such as movie trailers and Kpop music videos.

As a language learning program, it also includes a video dictionary and personalized quizzes that test your speaking, listening and other skills. 

FluentU is available on the web as well as mobile (Android and iOS). 

3. “Boys over Flowers”

Watch on: HuluNetflix | Viki 

This is the show that really can be credited with starting the Korean Wave outside of Asia. An adaptation of the Japanese manga “Hana Yori Dango,” “Boys Over Flowers” tells the story of Geum Jan-di (Ku Hye-sun), a poor girl who finds herself attending Korea’s most exclusive college.

This school is ruled by the iron fist of F4, the school’s four wealthiest and most handsome boys. Geum Jan-di’s uncrushable spunk melts the heart of F4’s arrogant leader Gu Jun-pyo (Lee Min-ho), allowing him to atone for his years of bullying.

4. “Running Man”

Watch on: Netflix

Currently one of the longest-running and most popular variety shows in Korean TV history, “Running Man” is a Korean variety show you don’t want to miss.

Originally, “Running Man” contestants performed various tasks at famous Korean landmarks to win a race. The cast is made up of regular contestants and guests, many of whom participate recurrently. Over time, the style of the show has adapted to a more standard reality-variety show, where contestants complete one long race by playing continuous games. Some episodes now take place around the world.

5. “Crash Landing on You”

Watch on: Netflix

For a romantic series that balances drama and comedy, “Crash Landing on You” is a must-watch.

Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin), a wealthy entrepreneur from South Korea, gets her life changed completely when she goes paragliding and accidentally ends up in North Korea. She’s discovered by Captain Ri Jeong-hyeok (Hyun Bin) a North Korean army captain. As he tries to get her back home, they develop feelings for each other.

6. “Vincenzo”

Watch on: Netflix

“Vincenzo” has an interesting main character: a Korean man who’s part of the Italian mafia. The show starts with him going back to Korea for typical gangster reasons: to get gold hidden in a building.

Along the way, he gets involved with the building’s tenants and ends up joining them in their fight for justice. “Vincenzo” is full of plot twists as villains fight against villains, mixed with a lot of comedic moves.

7. “Goblin”

Watch on: Amazon Prime | Viki

If you’re a fan of Korean dramas, then you’ve probably already heard of “Goblin.” The series weaves modern-day romance with mythology and fantasy as it portrays a 900-year-old goblin who’s looking for his bride because she’s the only one who can end his curse and let him die. However, when he does find her, he’s torn between accepting death and wanting to live so he can stay with her. 

8. “Sky Castle”

Watch on: Netflix | Viki

“Sky Castle” takes a fascinating look at well-off families who would do almost anything to get their children into the best schools. All of the characters live in a top-tier neighborhood called Sky Castle. Although the families look perfect from afar, there’s a lot of drama going on underneath the surface, with parents going to extreme measures to keep up appearances and remain at the top of the social ladder.

9. “The Uncanny Counter”

Watch on: Netflix

“The Uncanny Counter” is based on a Korean webtoon or comic, and it shows because there are a lot of action-packed scenes here. So Mun (Jo Byeong-Kyu) lives a regular life as a high schooler when he becomes recruited into a team of demon-hunters (also called “counters”). The counters work at a noodle shop, and all of them have special abilities, like healing, super speed and sensing memories.

10. “2 Days and 1 Night”

Watch on: Viki

Running since 2010, “2 Days and 1 Night” is one of the most well-known funny variety shows in Korea. Every season, it brings together cast members who go around Korea, usually to more rural places such as islands and mountains. In these places, they have to take on certain missions and challenges, like passing a paper with their mouth or taking off a face mask without using their hands.

11. “Twenty Five Twenty One”

Watch on: Netflix

“Twenty Five Twenty One” takes you back to Korea in the ’90s with a nostalgic coming-of-age story. Na Hee-do (Kim Tae-ri) is an 18-year-old high school student who’s determined to be a successful fencer. She eventually meets Baek Yi-jin (Nam Joo-hyuk), who’s a little older at 22. It’s a very realistic portrayal of growing up, and there’s a lot of intrigue involved too because the story is told through flashbacks.

12. “Mr. Sunshine”

Watch on: Netflix

“Mr. Sunshine” takes place in one of the most crucial periods of Korea’s history: in the 1900s, when Korea was still becoming established as a country while fighting off being colonized by Japan. Eugene Choi (Lee Byung-hun), a former Korean slave who becomes an American army officer, returns to Joseon (the former Korean kingdom). But he ends up in a forbidden romance with a nobleman’s daughter while getting tangled up in politics.

13. “Itaewon Class”

Watch on: Netflix

No matter what life throws at you, don’t give up on your dream—that’s one of the main messages behind “Itaewon Class.” Park Sae-ro-yi (Park Seo-joon) puts up a small pub in Itaewon with revenge on his mind. His goal is to overtake the Jangga Group, Korea’s top food company. He assembles a likable crew of fellow misfits, and they work together to help him get closer to his dream.

14. “100 Days My Prince” 

Watch on: Amazon Prime | Netflix | Viki

Amnesia, plotted murders and long-lost sweethearts—“100 Days My Prince” is a period series with all of the classic elements. Instead of getting assassinated, Lee Yul, the Crown Prince of Joseon, slips off a cliff and loses his memory. He’s tricked into believing that he’s a commoner, so he marries Yeon Hong-shim (Nam Ji-hyun). But then after 100 days, he gets his memories back.   

15. “Knowing Bros”

Watch on: Viki

“Knowing Bros” (also known as “Men on a Mission”) is a top variety show where the cast members act as high school students in a classroom. For each episode, a celebrity guest is introduced as a transfer student. The show includes plenty of joking and bantering, along with bizarre challenges and improvised skits. There are also quizzes about the celebrity guest that the cast has to answer (which results in funny reactions).

16. “Hospital Playlist”

Watch on: Netflix

Compared to your usual medical drama, “Hospital Playlist” has a more lighthearted take, featuring five surgeons who have been good friends since medical school. Although they have different personalities, what they bond over is a love for music—they play in a band together! The series focuses on their medical cases and their friendships with each other, and it’s easy to like each character because all of them care about their patients.  

17. “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha”

Watch on: Netflix

“Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” is a relaxing, slice-of-life series with stunning visuals that showcase the charming seaside village of Gongjin. Yoon Hye-jin (Shin Min-a) is a dentist who moves from Seoul to Gongjin. As she sets up a clinic there, she becomes closer to Hong Du-sik (Kim Seon-ho), who tries hard to help out everyone in the village. Beyond the romance, the series also explores the stories of the other residents of Gongjin.

18. “The Return of Superman”

Watch on: Amazon Prime | Viki

Since 2013, “The Return of Superman” has been featuring celebrity dads who have to take care of their kids on their own for 48 hours. It has a lot of hilarious and sweet moments, and they usually have to do specific activities with their kids or carry out tasks decided on by their wives. Many celebrity kids in Korea actually became famous because of this series.

19. “Hotel del Luna”

Watch on: Netflix | Viki

“Hotel del Luna” is about a hotel that welcomes spirits before they can pass on to the afterlife. The CEO is Jang Man-wol (IU), who’s cursed to run it because of the crimes that she committed back when she was still alive. She ends up recruiting a new general manager, Goo Chan-sung (Yeo Jin-goo), and she starts to become less cold-hearted as she gets to know him.

20. “World of the Married”

Watch on: Disney Plus

If you want a break from romantic comedies, “World of the Married” is a more emotionally intense series that’s about extramarital affairs. Ji Sun-woo (Kim Hee-ae) and her husband Lee Tae-oh (Park Hae-joon) seem like a good match, but Sun-woo slowly finds out that Tae-oh has been cheating on her. From there, it gets messy (and engrossing) as their relationship spirals down and they plot revenge against each other.

21. “Roommate”

Watch on: Amazon Prime

This is the show that really got me into Korean TV. “Roommate” had a simple premise: a beautiful house in Seoul, filled with Korean celebrities who live together.

The characters in “Roommate” wait up for each other to come home from their crazy work schedules and make each other late-night meals. Everybody seems to genuinely enjoy each other’s company, and the absence of obviously scripted conversations and conflicts makes the action and dialogue appear wonderfully natural.

22. “Pachinko”

Watch on: Apple TV

Based on a bestselling book, “Pachinko” portrays four generations of a Korean family that migrates to Japan. Starting from 1915 all the way to modern times, it can be an intense watch because it covers many realistic themes—disease, suicide, natural disasters and discrimination. Tying the story together is Sunja, who goes from a young woman about to leave Korea to a grandmother who has stayed in Japan for most of her life.

23. “Romance is a Bonus Book”

Watch on: Netflix

For a love story where the female lead is older, “Romance is a Bonus Book” might be your next watch. Kang Dan-i (Lee Na-young) is a single mom who’s struggling to find a job. She applies for an entry-level role at the publishing company where her friend Cha Heun-ho (Lee Jong-suk) would be her boss. Their relationship starts to change as they see each other more and more.

24. “Kingdom”

Watch on: Netflix

A zombie virus that’s spreading throughout medieval Korea—that’s the main premise of “Kingdom,” a fast-paced series that will keep you on your toes. Starting from the King developing a mysterious sickness, more and more villages get overrun by zombies, and people start to panic and turn against each other. In the middle of it all, Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) tries to get to the source of the outbreak and stop it.

25. “Signal”

Watch on: Amazon PrimeNetflix | Viki

“Signal” is a detective series with an unusual plot twist: two detectives from different time periods talk to each other through a walkie-talkie and use what they know about their timelines to solve complicated cases. Specifically, Park Hae-young (Lee Je-hoon) is from the present time, while Lee Jae-han (Cho Jin-woong) is from 1989. What they didn’t expect was their actions would cause consequences that they might not be ready to face. 

26. “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay”

Watch on: Netflix

“It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” is a drama that takes an honest look at mental health issues and the effects of trauma. Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun) is a caregiver at a psychiatric hospital who’s looking after his traumatized brother. He runs into Ko Moon-young, an accomplished children’s book writer who has antisocial personality disorder. She becomes obsessed with him, and they slowly start to confront their past together and find healing.

27. “Now on My Way to Meet You”

Watch on: Youtube (for highlights)

This one is a truly unique show: female North Korean defectors (called “beauties”) show off talents, shed tears and tell stories of their lives and escape. Heartbreaking stories of hardship contrast with comedy sketches and flirtations with a panel of male South Korean comedians. The show was highly popular and singular in its attempt to soften attitudes in South Korea about defectors from the North.

28. “Descendants of the Sun”

Watch on: Amazon Prime | Hulu | Viki

“Descendants of the Sun” is a desperately romantic, shockingly addictive series. A hit throughout Asia and beyond, the series tells the love story between Yoo Si-jin (Song Joong-ki), a soldier in the Special Forces, and Dr. Kang Mo-yeon (Song Hye-kyo) who are both assigned to work in the fictional country of Urk in Northern Africa.

29. “Unpretty Rapstar”

Watch on: Youtube (for highlights)

“Unpretty Rapstar” is a music competition reality show with a focus on female rappers.

Contestants have to improvise a self-introduction over the same beat at first. Episodes are then arranged as “missions,” where each contestant must write and arrange an original rap song and direct a music video or live stage performance of the song. There is also a “diss battle,” in which contestants battle one-on-one in a closed event with no MC.

30. “My Mister” 

Watch on: Amazon PrimeNetflix | Viki

This award-winning series has a more unusual setup because it revolves around the platonic bond between an engineer in his 40’s (Park Dong-hoon) and a young girl who’s struggling with poverty (Lee Ji-an). Both of them work in the same company, and both of them have their own life problems that they’re having a hard time figuring out. Through each other, they learn that the world can be kinder than they expected.

Why Watch TV to Learn Korean?

Let’s start with the most obvious reason:

  • It’s fun! You’re naturally more engaged when doing activities that you enjoy, so you should find that you can concentrate longer when watching an interesting show. Personally, I have never been able to practice flashcards for more than half an hour in one go, but I’ve been known to spend an entire day watching Korean TV!

Whether you like dramas, fantasy shows, comedies or shows set in interesting locations like Korean hospitals, there’s sure to be a Korean show that meets your tastes. Besides, you don’t even have to choose just one: you can decide to keep up with multiple Korean shows at once. That way, you can learn Korean from the various topics explored in each show and have a lot of fun along the way.

  • It immerses you in the language. Nothing leads to success in language study like immersion. To hear the language spoken around you, and to be able to use it in your daily life accelerates your learning significantly. This fascinating study showed that even after months of no exposure, participants who learned a language implicitly (through immersion) still had surprisingly high rates of language retention—because they had learned to think like native speakers. My favorite way to immerse myself in Korean is by watching television.
  • It’s varied in topic and level. Watching TV is also helpful as a study aid because it’s so easy to keep your study varied enough to be interesting. You can watch different genres to suit your taste or mood, so you’ll never get bored. You can also change the difficulty level very easily, again, simply by changing what you watch. Absolute beginners can watch more passively with subtitles just to get used to the sound of the language, and engagement can build from there.
  • It’s full of language lessons. The language itself can be extremely different between genres of shows. For example, variety shows tend to use simple, conversational language, while dramas can cover a wide range of topics with varying formality and tone (influenced by the characters and their situations). Documentary and news shows will be more formal, and the vocab quite thematically specific.

How to Actively Watch Korean TV to Maximize Learning

There are many different suggestions on how to study the language while watching TV. What you choose can depend on your preferred learning style, but definitely go beyond just watching! Explore and try out some new active learning techniques each time you watch. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Take notes. Some learners love note-taking—writing down vocab or grammar patterns that they don’t recognize while they watch, to review later. Variety shows in particular are great for this (for beginners especially), as they are often plastered with Korean subtitles which you can just copy down.
  • Repeat aloud. You can practice pronunciation really well by mimicking what you hear on TV. Just be aware of how honorifics and social context affect how the characters are speaking.
  • Use subtitles. I’m a big fan of using subtitles to my advantage while watching Korean TV shows. Watching something with and without subtitles changes the difficulty considerably.

If you’re still at an early level, you can put on English subtitles the first time you watch something in Korean. Sit back and enjoy it to understand the plot. The next day, watch that episode again—this time concentrating on the words and grammar. Press pause and take notes often, repeating the episode many times until you know the story and phrases really well.

Then watch it with Korean subtitles (or begin with Korean subtitles from the start if you’re at an intermediate level). This makes the note-taking suggestion far easier because you can check your spelling and use the subtitles to navigate your way through the more complicated sentences. Pull the episode apart scene by scene, press pause often, and dig out language lessons. You might spend a full week or more on a single episode.

Finally, you’re ready to watch the episode without subtitles. It could feel a bit overwhelming at first, especially for beginners. But if you’ve spent enough time rewatching the episode with subtitles and taking it apart, you’ll probably understand most of it. As your ability to concentrate on what you hear improves, you will find that you need to watch with subtitles less and less.

  • Create associations. Another reason to watch your favorite episodes over and over again is that you can create image associations between what happens on the screen and what is said, to trigger the phrase in your memory. Comedy is really useful for this, as many comedians who appear on variety shows tend to have catchphrases or inside jokes that run throughout a series. You can also develop a kind of “relationship” with characters throughout a series, as you begin to understand their particular situation and how it affects their language.

 

Language learning must be one of the few endeavors that allow us to call watching TV “study.” So sit back, relax and immerse yourself in some Korean TV shows!

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