If Squid Game was your first Kdrama, welcome to your new black hole of binging and reading subtitles. There are more to be experienced. I personally feel that Korean cinema and screenwriting deserve more credit. I’ve compiled a list of my favorite Kdramas that I think Squid Game lovers would enjoy.
1. Save Me
This one is super dark really scary. It’s about Sang-Mi (Seo Ye Ji) whose family falls into hard times and had to relocate to Jin Joo City only to be victims of a real estate scam. They become members of a church group that help them out which ends up being a crazy cult and they can’t get out. She runs into her high school classmates, Sang Hwan (Ok Taecyeon) and Dong Chul (Woo Do Hwan), and asks for help.
This show has suspense and amazing acting in every episode. This is not your usual happy Kdrama and I was terrified the entire time I was watching. The main cast is all phenomenal actors and Taecyeon and Woo Do Hwan’s Gyeonsangdo accents (satoree) are on point. You can catch this crazy thriller on Netflix.
This was also very popular with many non-Koreans. It has zombies, crazy palace politics, and the queen Bae Doona as a doctor in Joseon. What more could you ask for in a zombie show? There are two seasons and an origin story movie, Ashin of the North, with the superstar, Jun Ji Hyun. Based on my google search, Season 3 does not seem to be in production. I hope I’m wrong and it will come out soon!
3. Mr. Sunshine
Out of all of the shows I’ve watched, this one has the most beautiful cinematography. It takes place during political unrest in Korea (based on other historical dramas, I feel like Korea was always in political unrest) when they were most recently colonized by Japan. It’s a story about a Korean man, Eugene Choi (Lee Byung Hun) who was born as a slave in Joseon and when his family is murdered, he made his way to the US when he was a boy and returns to Korea as a US soldier.
He meets a woman Ae Shin (Kim Tae Ri) who is secretly training to be a resistance fighter with the assistance of her grandfather. She is a noble lady and her grandfather did not want to see her get killed like her parents and decided to make sure she knew how to defend herself and her country. This show is multi-layered with so many characters and their stories during the Japanese takeover. If you haven’t checked out any period Kdramas, this is a great one to start with and you can watch it on Netflix.
4. My Country: The New Age
My heart breaks when I think about My Country. This show is so heavy and emotional. It is a war Kdrama that takes place when Korea was switching empires from Goryeo to Joseon. This is the only show I’ve watched that uses proper sword fighting technique for all of you combat sports nerds out there.
The two main characters are Seo Hwi (Yang Se Jong) and Nam Seon Ho (Woo Do Hwan) who are best friends but ultimately go their separate ways during the war due to class and political differences. In my opinion, this was Yang Se Jong and Woo Do Hwan’s best performances. They’re incredible actors and this show really shows their incredible range as actors. There is a lot of death and blood in this one but the story is also beautifully told. I can’t wait until Yang Se Jong and Woo Do Hwan get discharged from the military and see what their next projects are. This is available on Netflix.
5. My Name
Are you ready to see some badass fight scenes? This is a dark KDrama starring Han So Hee who plays Yoon Ji Ho. She enters the police force with a different name and under the instruction of Choi Mu Jin (Park Hee Soon), the leader of a notorious drug-trafficking gang. Han So Hee has brought a progressive outlook for female Kdrama actresses and I love the direction it’s going in.
She finally made it ok for beautiful Korean women to have pre-marital, no strings attached sex, and not be seen as trash. Come on. Let’s stop pretending Ri Jung Hyuk and Yoon Seri slept in separate rooms when he crossed the 38th parallel to find her. Keep doing what you’re doing girl, Unnie loves it! Spoiler alert: there is a hot ass butt naked sex scene in this drama and I am so glad I didn’t watch this with my mom. If you want a dark Kdrama that has amazing fight choreography and a crazy revenge story with plot twists, this show is for you.
Available on Netflix.
6. Penthouse: War in Life
If you want a show with the same degree of crazy as Squid Game, set in luxury and beautiful people, this is the show for you. It has murder, revenge, scheming, rich people politics, and amazing fashion, all set in the beautiful Hera Palace, where only the 1%’ers can live. This show is made great by the actors, especially Kim So Yeon, Lee Ji Ah, Um Ki Joon, Shin Eun-Kyung, Choi Ye-Bin, and Eugene (90s Kpop fans know her as everyone’s favorite member of SES). There’s no way that this crazy story can be pulled off with a different cast. It would have just been super cheesy if anyone in the cast was replaced. When I think about this show, the story is absolutely insane. Every episode is packed with insanity. Don’t think too hard when you’re watching and just let this show take you on a journey. This is one of the most addictive shows I’ve ever watched.
There are three seasons! You can find this work of art on Viki.
7. Taxi Driver
This is another amazing dark drama, with lots of cool fight scenes. It’s about Kim Do Ki (Lee Je Hoon) a cab driver who also helps victims seek revenge when the law wasn’t on their side. Kang Ha Na (Esom) is a prosecutor who is fed up with the lawlessness of the Taxi company but also has conflicted feelings about what they do and why they need to do it. This show has a solid story, organ trafficking, awesome characters, and is packed with action.
It can be watched on Viki.
8. Kill It
Of course, I needed to add a Jang Ki Yong show to the list. This hottie dongsaeng deserves it. He plays Kim Soo Hyun, a veterinarian by day and assassin for hire at night. He was raised in Russia by a hitman after his family was massacred. The feel of the show is a bit like a dark comic book and very entertaining. It has plenty of suspense and a badass female cop, Do Hyun Jin (Na Na) who is trying to find the mysterious assassin. This show will keep you on the edge of your seat and worth the watch.
Available on Viki.
I’ve only ever watched Jung Hae In as someone’s sweet and cute boyfriend and it was refreshing to see him a soldier. This drama was very needed to bring light to the bullying that happens in the military. I hope the popularity of this show will end the bullshit that goes on in there. Jun Ho (Jung Hae In) gets assigned to bring back deserters. As Jun Ho and Ho Yul (Koo Kyo Han) go on their missions to find the deserters, we see the sad story of each person and why they ran away. Koo Kyo Han’s character provides a tiny bit of comic relief for such a dark subject matter. There are rumors floating around about the second season in production. Considering how it ended, I would love to see a second season but I will be satisfied with one season. This show was based on webtoon based on the writer’s actual experience.
There are only 6 episodes so I know you can do this in a day (weeknight even!) and it can be found on Netflix.
This is a fantastic sci-fi thriller. Hae Yung (Lee Je Hoon) finds an old walkie-talkie that transmits a signal with the voice of a detective, Jae Han (Choi Jin Woong), a cop that has long passed. Hae Yung needs to solve a case of a missing girl from 15 years ago before the case reaches the statute of limitation. Soo Hyun (the fabulous Queen Kim Hye Soo) was a rookie when Jae Han died and is now an experienced cop. This story was inspired by a real case that happened in Korea where 10 women were raped and murdered between 1986 and 1991.