Growing up as a TCK, I was first introduced to Korean dramas back in 2005 when I met one of my best friends in eighth grade. You could say that I have been hooked ever since. There is however one tiny problem: I have not seen a Korean drama in at least three years. Keeping up with them is a skill in its own, I kid you not. You've got MBC, KBS, TvN, and OCN, not to mention a handful of internet outlets (webcasts) that are now producing their own content. Every Korean drama is replaced by another, and another, resulting in 12 months of non-stop entertainment.
I have seen a ton of dramas of the past 10 years, which means the following recommendations will be golden oldies to some, while others might never have even heard of them. I may not be up-to-date with the latest stars and #koreandramas, but I am most definitely able to throw it back. Here are the dramas that introduced me to this worldwide phenomenon (it is that big), and the ones that made me stick around.
6. Goong / Princess Hours (2006)
This is not the first drama I ever watched — that was #FullHouse (2004) — but it did leave a lasting impression on me. To me, it is the perfect representation of rom-com (historical) Korean dramas. It is quirky, heartwarming and at times just plain cray (in a what-the-hell-is-going-on-why-are-they-not-together-yet kind of way).
#Goong is set in an alternative Korea, complete with imperial family, and centers around Crown Prince Lee Shin (Lee Ji-hoon) and his new bride, Chae-kyeong (Yoon Eun-hye). I should mention that this is an arranged marriage, with Chae-kyeong being a mere commoner. What follows is nothing short of a disaster. Lee Shin's wife is headstrong and is all but impressed with her unemotional, unsympathetic husband. If you are looking for an alternative to your average Sageuk drama then look no further. Love triangles, hilarious grandparents and a catchy soundtrack, Goong has it all.
If You Liked: My Princess (2011), Boys Over Flowers (2009), Sassy Girl Chun-hyang (2005) and Playful Kiss (2010)
5. Thank You (2007)
I have got a few "less mainstream" recommendations in here, and I think some of you might consider Thank You to be one of them. I have been a big fan of Gong Hyo-jin ever since watching this. Not only because she is a great actress, but because of the projects she choses to be involved in (The Greatest Love, anyone?). I think Jang Hyuk's talent speaks for itself. From the classic Successful Story of a Bright Girl to Korea's highly anticipated adaptation of Taiwanese hit Fated to Love You, I feel like there is nothing this man cannot do.
Now, back to #ThankYou. Korea is great at coming up with intricate storylines, and whoever came up with this one sure went the extra mile. Jang plays Gi-seo, an arrogant doctor who goes out to find the young girl his late girlfriend infected with HIV during her internship. No, I am not making this up. It is in a small town that he finds Bom and her mother Young-shin (Gong). What follows? Drama, intrigue, and tears. In all seriousness though, Thank You also addresses the prejudice and discrimination associated with HIV, giving it much more depth than your average Korean drama.
If You Liked: I'm Sorry, I Love You (2004), 49 Days (2011), Scent Of A Woman (2011), Padam Padam (2011)
4. East Of Eden (2008)
This one requires some real commitment. Most of you will be used to watching a season with 20-something episodes, but for East of Eden you will need to be willing (and able) to sit through 56 episodes. That said, I liked this drama so much at the time, that I ended up watching it twice. You know, in case I missed anything.
Set between 1960 and 2000, #EastOfEden revolves around brothers Dong-chul (Song Seung-heon) and Dong-wook. Following the death of their father, their paths part, with Dong-chul joining the mob and Dong-wook becoming a respected lawyer. There is a little bit of everything in this one, from romance to great fight scenes. The main reason I stuck around was because I wanted to see if Young-ran (Lee Yeon-hee) and Dong-chul had a future together. If romance is not what you are into then do not move on just yet, because with a fantastic ensemble cast like this one, the writers were able to include a variety of storylines, keeping you hooked beginning to end.
If You Liked: City Hunter (2011), Iris (2009), The King 2 Hearts (2012), Capital Scandal (2007) and Bridal Mask (2012)
3. Love & Marriage (2008)
Here is another one some of you might not be familiar with, though I am certain the names Kim Min-hee and Kim Ji-hoon will ring a bell. To me Love & Marriage (by some also referred to as Matchmaker's Lover) is the perfect rom-com. It is one of those dramas that proves humor can be translated, and that when it comes to love, we all struggle with the same common issues; insecurities, emotions and expectations.
#LoveandMarriage revolves around Kang-Hyun (Kim Min-hee), a "couple manager," and Hyun-Soo (Kim Ji-hoon), a divorce attorney. See what they did there? With both characters on opposite sides of the "love spectrum," they have got very different professional interests. Well, that is until their paths cross and they get to know each other. Love & Marriage has restored my faith in the awkward phenomenon that is the "Korean drama kissing scene," which is often a stiff, unrealistic version of what a kiss should really look like. That's right, no freeze frame, and no overly-dramatic music. Bottom line: Love & Marriage is cute, quirky, and both leads have serious chemistry.
If You Liked: My Girl (2005), My Lovely Sam Soon (2005), Dal Ja's Spring (2007) and Personal Taste (2010)
2. Boys Over Flowers (2009)
If you are familiar with the Japanese phenomenon of Hana Yori Dango, as well as its Taiwanese adaptations Meteor Garden (2001) and Meteor Garden II (2002), then this is an absolute must-see for you. I have watched both seasons of Hana Yori Dango, including the movie, and I have got to say that #BoysOverFlowers does it justice.
The drama made Lee Min-ho a star in South Korea, and for a good reason. His portrayal of rich heir and professional jerk, Gu Jun-pyo, makes you want to punch him in the face — if only to wipe that ridiculous smile off his face. This is probably why the hardworking, middle-class Jan Di (Ku Hye-sun) cannot stand his ego and sense of entitlement. He makes her life a living hell at school, but that is all about to change as Jun-pyo starts to see her in a different light — a light that eventually succeeds in melting his icy little heart. Aw, there ain't nothing like a solid high school romantic drama.
If You Liked: Dream High (2011), Reply 1997 (2012), School 2013 (2012) and Playful Kiss (2010)
1. Scent Of A Woman (2011)
Honestly, I knew when I started watching Scent Of A Woman that it had to be good. One does not simply waste Kim Sun-a (of My Lovely Sam Soon fame) and Lee Dong-wook (of My Girl fame). If you are looking for a cry-your-eyes-out kind of drama then look no further because this one's got "the dramatic disease" element down to a T.
#ScentOfAWoman (not to be confused with the 1992 feature film) follows the life of Yeon-jae (Kim Sun-a). Mid-30s and still single, she is considered to be a bit of a spinster. Her life is turned upside down when she not only loses her job but is also diagnosed with cancer. She decides to escape the big city and is on holiday that she meets Ji-wook (Lee Dong-wook). Now, this all sounds very predictable, and who knows, maybe it is, but I promise you this drama will make you feel all the feels. Accompanied by a soundtrack that you will be humming for weeks to come (even though we might not be able to understand a single word of it), Kim Sun-a and Lee Dong-wook created something that has become the ultimate tearjerker.
If You Liked: 49 Days (2011), I Can Hear Your Voice (2013), The Greatest Love (2011), A Thousand Days' Promise (2011)
That's it ladies and gentlemen. These are the recommendations of a girl who hasn't watched a single drama is the past 3–4 years. If you haven't seen any of these yet, then I'd suggest you give one of them a go. I promise you won't be left disappointed. In the meantime, I'd love to hear some of your recommendations, so be sure to share those in the comments below. Old or new, feel free to just throw 'em all out there!