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!
Youth of May
Youth of May is a well written romantic drama set during the middle of the 1980’s during the Gwangju uprising. A romance blossoms between Hee-Tae and Myung-Hee but their love is pushed to the limits as a much larger threat sees the future of Korea hang in the balance.
Alongside Hee-Tae and Myung-Hee are Soo-Chan and Soo-Ryeon who become romantically involved with Hee-Tae and Myung-Hee, respectively. Split across 12 episodes, this tale of love, betrayal and heartbreak is a real rollercoaster ride of emotion.
Vincenzo is tvN’s latest comedy/thriller hybrid, taking parts of both genres and meshing them awkwardly together.
It takes a while to get going but soon the show manages to strike the right balance between the two states. The opening scene in episode 1 is by far the best 10 minutes from any drama in 2021, with ruthless, unflinching action and tension.
The main story doesn’t come from a mafia feud or warring families though, instead turning to a simple court case and drama surrounding a building called Geumga Plaza.
With lawyers on both sides of the conflict doing their utmost to gain the upper-hand, Vincenzo’s long (nearly 90 minute!) episodes are packed full of shocking twists and slapstick comedy.
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.
Adapted from the web comic Yeoshingangrim, True Beauty centers on a high school girl called Ju-Kyung. Bullied for her looks and forced out of school, Ju-Kyung eventually stumbles upon make-up tutorials online and transforms her looks overnight.
Armed with a prettier face and a 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.
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 main premise 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.
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.
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.
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, Bong-Hwan is 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.
Move To Heaven
Move to Heaven is a very special Korean drama. It’s a show that takes the taboo subject of death and lays it out across 10 episodes, complete with excellent acting, impressive storytelling and tear-jerking segments. I dare anyone to sit through Move to Heaven and not be moved to tears.
Suffering from Aspergers, Geu-Roo is our main protagonist and he’s looked after by his Father Jeong-U. These two live together, running a business called Move to Heaven.
Basically, when a loved one passes away, a team arrive and clear out the room, collecting up any valuables in a yellow box while getting rid of everything else. This team are the Move to Heaven crew.
When Geu-Roo suffers a devastating loss, he’s forced to question everything he once knew.
This poignant, beautiful K-drama is well worth watching.
What happens when someone good has been pushed to the point of pursuing evil methods for revenge? Step forward Taxi Driver. SBS’s latest revenge thriller is a simple, effective series that explores this very concept in an interesting way.
At the heart of this lies Do-Ki, an ex-military man with a big chip on his shoulder. After being forced to watch his murdered Mother die in his arms, Do-Ki joins forces with a man named Sung-Chul to set up Rainbow Taxi foundation. Their intention is simple – help those in need to gain revenge against their oppressors.
With numerous cases dotted across its run-time, some late-season melodrama and some pretty on-point and thematically relevant material, Taxi Driver delivers an enthralling yet simple revenge thriller.
Navillera is a beautifully written Korean drama, one that dives into the idea of dementia while juggling that with following your dream. At the center of this is Deok-Chool, a sweet old man who learns he’s got dementia, which threatens to aggressively worsen with time.
Unwilling to let this horrible disease hold him back, Deok-Chool sets out to make his dream come true – performing ballet on the stage. To help him, Deok-Chool relies on the help of Chae-Rok, a talented dancer with a short-fuse and a lot of impatience.
Both characters grow across the 12 episodes, culminating in a tear-jerking and beautifully written finale. This is one of the stronger series of 2021 and a definite must-watch.
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 was nominated for 7 Baeksang Awards and took home 3 – including Best Drama.
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, nothing is that simple.
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!