Over the last few years, the world has fallen deeper in love with K-dramas — serialized fictional works made in Korea. Streaming giants like Netflix and Disney Plus also play a part in the phenomenon, whether it’s with original series like Squid Game or making dramas from local Korean channels available soon after airing as Viki and KOCOWA do.
One of the key differences between most K-dramas and American TV shows is the format. K-dramas are short series of only one season, comprised of 16, hour-long episodes aired over eight weeks, two per week. There are shorter productions, like mini-dramas and web dramas, as well as longer stories, some similar in format to soap operas and some with several seasons. The most well-known dramas from the bigger channels, like the ones in this list, tend to follow the rule. That means, if you’re getting started in Dramaland, the sheer amount of options might be overwhelming.
Like most TV shows, there are K-dramas of any genre, but the popular ones usually have at least an element of romance—and romance K-dramas, whether they’re romantic comedies or melodramas, are some of the most successful.
Want to know which ones you can’t miss? In this list, you find 10 of the most essential romance K-dramas.
10. What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim? (2018)
This is one of the biggest K-dramas of all time, and with good reason. Superstars Park Seo-joon and Park Min-young star as narcissistic businessman Lee Young-joon and his perfect secretary Kim Mi-so. After working together for nine years, Mi-so finally fulfills the financial goals she had at the beginning and announces her resignation, which takes Young-joon by surprise. He is convinced that her reason for quitting is a secret crush on him, and the idea of losing her makes him realize how important she is.
In the meantime, trauma from the past resurfaces when Mi-so finds someone who claims to have been by her side when she was kidnapped as a child. Her memory of that time is broken and confusing, and this mystery man can be the key to understanding what really happened.
Based on a webtoon, What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim? is a 2018 romantic comedy with elements of a thriller. It aired on tvN and you can watch it on Netflix, Viki, and Hulu.
9. Crash Landing on You (2019-2020)
A new classic, this is the first K-drama that several fans have watched. Son Ye-jin plays South Korean heiress and businesswoman Yoon Se-ri, who accidentally lands on North Korea after a paragliding accident. Hyun Bin plays the North-Korean military captain Ri Jeong-hyeok, who fails to arrest her, then takes it upon himself to hide her until it’s safe to (secretly) send her back.
Captain Ri shares the task of watching Se-ri with his squad, and we get to see how their friendship develops—one of the highlights of this drama. The hate-to-love dynamics of the two protagonists is fun and adorable to watch, but there are heavier story arcs involving corrupted North Korean soldiers and greedy South Korean men as well.
Crash Landing on You is a funny and dramatic story of romance, politics, and fate. Aired on tvN between 2019 and 2020, it’s available for streaming on Netflix.
8. Fight For My Way (2017)
Briefly leaving the world of wealthy CEOs, but sticking to future Marvel star Park Seo-joon, Fight For My Way is a story about four friends in their mid-20s. All from regular backgrounds, they’re struggling to chase after their dreams, and screenwriter Im Sang-choon gives us plenty of funny and inspiring moments along the way.
Seo-joon stars as Go Dong-man, an aspiring martial arts athlete who works as a contract employer. Choi Ae-ra, played by Kim Ji-won, is his longtime best friend and an aspiring television anchor who works at a department store. The group of friends is completed by Kim Joo-man (Ahn Jae-hong) and Baek Seol-hee (Song Ha-yoon), a couple trying to overcome obstacles in their relationship. The story follows their daily lives, their journey to follow their dreams, and what happens when Dong-man and Ae-ra start falling for each other.
You can find this 2017 KBS2 drama on Viki, KOCOWA, and Netflix.
7. Strong Woman Do Bong-Soon (2017)
Women in Do Bong-soon (Park Bo-young)’s family all have the gift of super-strength, passed down from mother to daughter. Their powers are meant for greater good and will be taken away if abused, which is something Bong-soon, both short in height and short-tempered, keeps in mind.
After witnessing her powers, Ahn Min-hyuk (Park Hyungsik), the CEO of a gaming company, hires her as a bodyguard. He quickly falls for her but decides to hide his feelings by pretending to like the same person she does: police officer In Gook-doo (Kim Ji-soo), an old friend of hers. Things get more complicated for the trio when a series of kidnappings start to happen around Bong-soon’s neighborhood, all targeting women, and it’s up to them to solve the case.
Strong Woman Do Bong-Soon feels like a superhero comic book brought to life, but mostly as a romantic comedy. You can tell from the sound effects and the journey the main character goes through until she finally saves the day. And the character of Min-hyuk is a perfect representation of the audience, his own heart melting for our heroine. This 2017 jTBC drama is available on Viki and Netflix.
6. Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021)
After giving K-drama fans what was arguably the biggest second-lead syndrome case of 2020 in Start-Up, Kim Seon-ho made things right as leading man Hong Du-sik in Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha. Set in the seaside village of Gongjin, this K-drama combines the bickering couple dynamics with a small town, a sure hit for fans of Hart of Dixie (2011-2015).
Du-sik doesn’t have a formal job, but he does it all for the village and is called Chief Hong by locals. Someone who keeps crossing his path is dentist Yoon Hye-jin (Shin Min-ah), who comes from a rich environment in Seoul and decides to move to Gongjin to open a dental clinic after losing her job. While initially, they can’t see eye to eye, the two become good friends and grow feelings for each other.
Side characters are an important part of the drama as you would expect from shows set in small towns. Their stories add mystery, comedy, and even tears to this healing romantic comedy. Aired on tvN in 2021, Homecha is available for streaming on Netflix.
5. It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (2020)
A worldwide phenomenon, and rightfully so, this drama should captivate you from the first frame. Mixing live-action with 2D and 3D art, it plays on the fairytale theme to tell the story of damaged people who find healing in one another.
Ko Mun-yeong (Seo Ye-ji) is a famous writer known for her unconventional fairytales: they’re dark in writing and in art, and teach harsh lessons about life. She has an antisocial personality disorder and was brought up in a home as luxurious as it was traumatizing. During a book reading at a psychiatric hospital, she meets Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun), a seemingly emotionless caregiver whose only priority is providing for his autistic older brother and only family, Sang-tae (Oh Jung-se). Mun-yeong is instantly attracted to Gang-tae, and Sang-tae is a huge fan of hers, which is why their lives become entwined. Through these relationships, they uncover mysteries and traumatic events from the past, finally finding peace and moving forward.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay is a funny, mysterious, and stylish journey of healing through friendship and love. It shows that no trauma can define you forever and the right people will accept you for who you are and bring out the best in you. This 2020 tvN drama is available on Netflix.
4. So I Married The Anti-Fan (2021)
Based on a webtoon, this is actor Choi Tae-joon’s first work post-military. And he comes back in style, playing a beloved idol called Who Joon, whose life turns upside down after crossing paths with journalist Lee Geun-yeong (SNSD’s Choi Sooyoung).
Geun-young accidentally sees Who Joon talk to a mysterious woman. He looks angry, and gets even angrier after seeing the journalist, thinking she caught the two in a photo and breaking her camera. Geun-young is subsequently fired from her job, which she credits Joon for, and what follows is a public conflict between the two, turning her into his official anti-fan. That’s when a duo of producers comes up with the idea of a reality show called So I Married the Anti-fan, starring Joon and Geun-young as if they were a couple living together.
As they spend time together, walls start to come down and they learn that first impressions might be deceiving. And, like any good enemies-to-lovers story, it shows that not all people will leave once they know you at your worst — the ones that stay are the most valuable. This 2021 Naver TV original is available on Viki.
3. One Spring Night (2019)
You can’t really know what a melted heart feels like until you’ve witnessed Jung Hae-in. Here, he plays young pharmacist Yoo Ji-ho, considered inferior by most peers for being a single father. Lee Jeong-in, played by Han Ji-min, is a librarian feeling stuck in her life and relationship when she first meets him, and the two develop a friendship that quickly turns into love.
This is director Ahn Pan-seok’s latest drama, which aired a year after Something in the Rain (2018). And while both are melodramas starring Hae-in as the male lead and discussing contemporary issues in Korean society, One Spring Night greatly improves on its predecessor. It doesn’t go overboard in an attempt to be realistic, instead maintaining a light and heartwarming tone all along, with an original soundtrack by Rachael Yamagata wrapping it up beautifully. This 2019 MBC drama is available on Netflix.
2. Business Proposal (2022)
Kang Tae-moo, played by Ahn Hyo-seop, is a workaholic who couldn’t care less about all the blind dates his grandfather sets up. Things get to a point where he decides to propose to whoever sits in front of him on the next date — which happens to be Shin Ha-ri (Kim Se-jeong), an employee in his company. He doesn’t recognize her at first because she’s actually pretending to be an over-the-top version of her wealthy best friend Jin Young-seo (Seol In-ah), who is as exhausted by blind dates as Tae-moo is. And the girls’ plan of instantly getting dumped backfires when he proposes.
Business Proposal is a masterclass on how to write a good romantic comedy, using clichés and well-known tropes to build an entertaining story that still feels fresh and won’t require you to think too much. It’s the shortest drama on the list as well, with only 12 episodes, while all the others have 16 episodes. Also adapted from a webtoon and aired on SBS in early 2022, you can find it on Netflix.
1. Romance is a Bonus Book (2019)
This is a warm and cozy K-drama fit for book lovers. It tells the story of Kang Dan-i (Lee Na-young), looking to get her life back on track after a painful divorce that left her broke and homeless, and Cha Eun-ho (Lee Jong-suk), a successful editor and author who has no idea how much his friend is struggling. Ashamed of her situation, she never told him how bad things were — but now, when the two start working together at Gyeoroo Publishing Group and living together, she starts to open up.
In Romance is a Bonus Book, we get to know more about the personal and professional lives of people who work to get books done. We meet Dan-i at a low point, dehumanized by those around her, wondering if things might have turned out differently if she’d made a different decision. Before putting her career on hold for motherhood, she was a genius advertiser, but the years spent away are frowned upon in the industry, so working as an assistant at Gyeoroo is an opportunity to start fresh from the bottom.
The comedy of the Gyeoroo team is beautifully complemented by the friends-to-lovers romance of Dan-i and Eun-ho, as well as the mystery of a famous writer who disappeared. Romance is a Bonus Book is a 2019 drama aired on tvN and available on Netflix.