2021 has started off with a bang and in the world of Korean dramas, there’s already some promising prospects for the best list come December. For the purposes of this list, we only count Korean dramas that have finished in their entirety. Any drama that’s currently still airing could make this list but we, of course, judge the entire series before recommending.
Just as a quick disclaimer too, the selections below are subject to change. Given we have a good portion of this year still to come, there are an awful lot of wonderful Korean dramas to enjoy in the coming months. We’ll be sure to update this page regularly!
So without further ado, TheReviewGeek team present our picks for the best Korean Dramas of 2021 so far!
Last updated: 14th April
True Beauty is a perfectly enjoyable Korean drama. It’s a cuddly, warmhearted k-drama romp, with enough laughs, romance and drama to keep you hooked until the end. Unfortunately, it’s also a show riddled with clichés and tropes, taking what worked so well in Extraordinary You (the Director’s previous work) and attempting to rekindle that here – but not quite as effectively.
Adapted from the web comic Yeoshingangrim, True Beauty centers on a high school girl called Ju-Kyung. Bullied for her ugly looks and forced out of school, Ju-Kyung eventually stumbles upon make-up tutorials online and manages to transform her looks overnight.
Armed with a prettier face and a new, confidently bubbly attitude, Ju-Kyung enlists at a new school where she winds up involved in a love triangle with bad-boy Seo-Joon and kind-hearted but quiet Soo-Ho.
Despite a few wobbles along the way, True Beauty rounds things out with a perfectly enjoyable finale that wraps everything up with a neat little bow at the end. While the show certainly won’t win any awards, it does have a light, fuzzy tone and enough laughs along the way to recommend. This sweet Korean drama should appease fans looking for a light romcom.
Run On is a wonderful slice of life drama, centering on themes of acceptance, belonging and purpose. With well written characters, an evolving, progressive storyline and a great blend of humour, romance and drama, Run On is certainly in the running for one of the best Korean dramas of 2021.
The story itself centers around two couples and their differing circumstances that bring them together. The main focus early on is that of former track star Seon-Gyeom. After getting caught up in a scandal, stopping his fellow sprinter Woo-Sik from being bullied in the locker rooms, he quits.
In the midst of all this is gentle Mi-Joo, who works as a subtitle translator for movies. Dedicating long hours to her job, she’s eventually given a job working as Seon-Gyeom’s translation, which occurs around the time Seon-Gyeom makes the bold choice to leave track behind.
There’s a light, breezy tone to this slice of life drama and it’s helped along by an eclectic supporting cast too.
The Uncanny Counter
Based on the web comic Kyeongirowoon Somoon, The Uncanny Counter feels like a heady blend of Mystic Pop-Up Bar, Search and a special superhero team-up like The Avengers. The result is a drama that’s big on action, full of dramatic plot beats and with an intriguing enough story to keep you watching right through to the end.
The main premise here revolves around a group of Noodle Bar owners known as the Counters. They’ve been chosen by spirits within the realm of Yung to hunt down demonic forces on Earth and free the evil spirit dwelling within unsuspecting humans. When one of their own dies at the hands of a powerful level 3 known as Cheong-Shin, the Counters recruit a teenage boy called Mun to their ranks.
Blinded by emotion over his dead parents, Mun dives head-first into training and lets his emotions get the better of him. With strict rules around not messing in human affairs and to do right by others, Mun finds himself caught in the middle of an internal struggle as he sets out to find who was responsible for killing his parents. The truth however, is far more shocking than he could imagine.
With a second season already greenlit and lots of positives to take from this one, Uncanny Counter is easily one of the best Korean dramas of 2021 so far and well worth a watch.
Mr Queen is a hilarious, well written body swap comedy, set deep in the heart of the Joseon Era. Despite a polarizing ending and a couple of misfires along the way, this historical drama is undoubtedly a really solid and enjoyable watch.
The story revolves around Bong-Hwan, an arrogant chef who finds himself suffering from a head injury which tumbles him back through time. When he awakens, he’s trapped inside the body of the new Queen, So-Yong. With political powers conspiring to thwart her at any moment, Bong-Hwan does his best to play up his role while desperately searching for a way back to the present.
Shin Hye-Sun and Kim Jung-Hyun absolutely carry this show, with some absolutely electric scenes when they share the spotlight. This one is certainly worth a watch.
If you could go back and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be? This is a question we’ve all found ourselves asking at one point in our lives. In the case of Korean drama Hello, Me!, that question is given a 16 episode run and a nice backdrop of comedy and drama.
In high school, Ha-Ni is the popular golden child. Adored by her classmates and teachers alike, Ha-Ni has the whole world at her fingertips.
Fast forward 20 years and things are very different. Ha-Ni is a timid, 37 year old single woman. Her temporary position at work is tenuous at best, and she ekes her way through life as a burden to her family.
All of this changes though when a freak accident sends high school Ha-Ni tumbling forwards through time, right into the hospital bed next to 37 year old Ha-Ni. As the two iterations of Ha-Ni begin to interact, they learn and evolve over time, becoming the best versions of themselves.
While there’s nothing particularly outstanding here, there is a very solid premise executed beautifully. This one’s definitely one of the better dramas of the year.
The Penthouse Seasons 1-2
Korean drama Penthouse is pure, unadulterated Makjang. To Koreans, this term simply means extremely dramatized and exaggerated to the point of turning into an exciting guilty pleasure. Penthouse however, takes that concept and dials it up to 11.
With a rare 3 season order and lots of drama across its expansive seasons, Penthouse’s main storyline surrounds a girl called Seol-A who’s pushed off the 49th floor of a lavish apartment complex called Hera Palace where she falls to her death. Who pushed her? And why?
While the murder mystery element does take up a good chunk of time in the first season, it’s the various affairs, relationships and scandalous twists that really make this such an enthralling watch.
In fact, as the seasons swing beyond the opening 22 episodes, Penthouse opens up in the best possible way. If you’re looking for a solid binge-watch, this one is absolutely worth your time.
Beyond Evil is a great example of how to take a simple concept and absolutely run with it. Exemplary acting, tight writing and numerous twists make this Korean drama one of the best shows this year. It’s hardly surprising then that it’s been nominated for 7 Baeksang Awards.
At its core, Beyond Evil plays out as a simple murder mystery. Police detective Dong-Sik is haunted by the ghosts of his past, forced to deal with the death of his sister Yu-Yeon 20 years prior. With the case still unresolved to this day, a string of new murders seem to be connected with Yu-Yeon’s death. It also coincides with the arrival of Joo-Won.
This junior detective is the son of the superintendent and has a serious chip on his shoulder. He suspects Dong-Sik is the one responsible for killing Yu-Yeon and sets to work piecing together evidence to incriminate him. Only, as he soon comes to learn, those at Manyang substation are a tight-knit family and watch out for one another.
Could the killer be hiding in plain sight? Are the officers covering up the truth? Or is all of this a red herring for something more sinister?
Beyond Evil completely exceeds expectations, delivering one heck of a thrill ride from start to finish. This one’s a must watch!
And there we have it, our picks for the Best Korean dramas of 2021 so far!
Did your favourites make the list? Disagree with our selections so far? What’s been your favourite Korean drama of 2021? Feel free to let us know in the comments below and of course, be sure to check out our Korean drama page for all of our K-drama reviews!