Over the last few decades, the Korean entertainment industry has extended its reach across the world, supported by the rise of popular digital services like YouTube and Netflix, which has enabled fans of K-dramas and K-comedies to access their favourite content from anywhere around the globe.

And with the top Korean TV shows and movies offering a fresh take on familiar genres, it’s no surprise that streaming services like Netflix are investing millions to add Korean content to their catalogue. Here, we take a brief look at the rise of K-dramas and list some of our favourite shows making the headlines.

The Rise of K-Dramas

Although it might not seem like it, the proliferation of Korean entertainment didn’t happen overnight. There’s a long history dating back to the 1950s, when there were strict limitations placed on foreign films in cinemas and rigorous censorship regarding what artists could discuss in their work. But as these restrictions were gradually lifted, Korea’s cultural industry blossomed from the 1990s as both government and private businesses worked together, setting the Korean Wave in motion.

But why are Korean TV shows so appealing for international audiences? There are countless reasons, but perhaps the most important is just how binge-able they are. While American TV networks tend to produce shows that span multiple seasons, each with a dozen or so episodes, Korean productions tend to span a single season. This means you won’t get tired of the character plots or have to sit through pointless storylines created just to drag the show out for longer than necessary.

Another reason will have to be the famous OSTs featured in each series. From the well-known Who Are You? sung by Sam Kim for the hit show Goblin to IU’s I Will Give You My Heart which was the ballad of choice in Crash Landing On You, there are a plethora of songs that are associated with specific K-dramas since they perfectly capture the show.

And with famous singers such as V from BTS writing songs such as Sweet Night for Korean dramas like Itaewon Class, it is only natural for fans of these artists to show their support for their favourite idols and the show itself.

The Best Korean Entertainment to Watch on Netflix

1. Itaewon Class

One of the hit K-dramas of 2020, Itaewon Class tells the story of Park Sae-Ro-Yi, a recently released convict who opens a street bar in the diverse party district of Itaewon. Here, he struggles to manage his business while also setting out to take revenge on the family who caused his father’s death. While Itaewon Class has been praised for its critique of Korean politics and traditions, it’s also been recognised for its representation of the LGBTQ+ community.

While Korean television shows have traditionally remained fairly conservative, Itaewon Class presents a progressive view of trans individuals, and delves into issues around class and racism. With a dynamic plot that captures the struggles of young people and the reality of corrupt institutions, this K-drama undoubtedly carries an important message for society that is incredibly easy to watch from one episode to the next.

2. Sky Castle

It’s no secret that South Korean students are put under a huge amount of pressure through the education system. No television series has captured this quite as powerfully as Sky Castle, which follows a series of high-society parents using every resource available to ensure their children get accepted into the country's top universities.

With ‘SKY’ as a common acronym used in South Korea to describe the nation’s most prestigious universities – Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University – Sky Castle explores the highly competitive education system through a darkly funny, but super relatable storyline. Although South Korean teens perform wonderfully at school, they are often reported as some of the least happy in OECD countries. Whether that claim is comparable to the youth in Singapore or not, the award-winning Sky Castle sheds light on the cutthroat education system. All 20 episodes of the show can be streamed on Netflix.

For a more light-hearted alternative, consider laughing with Hello My Twenties. Released in 2016, Hello My Twenties! follows 5 young ladies who struggle to balance school life, part-time jobs, self-esteem , and everything else that comes along with being in your 20s.

A similar fashion drama, with a slightly darker twist, is Extracurricular. Starring Dong-Hee Kim who was also part of the Sky Castle and Itaewon cast, Extracurricular exposes scandals that take South Korea by shock. Not your typical high-school K-drama, this teen crime drama revolves around Ji-soo. A student with impressive grades, he tries to make ends meet by protecting and staging rescues of young women who’ve found themselves entangled in illegal businesses.

3. One Spring Night

Fans of Jung Hae-in, this one’s just for you! K-dramas are renowned for their binge-able romances, but you won’t find many as emotionally impactful as the tale told by One Spring Night. Although librarian Lee Jeong-In has dated her successful boyfriend Kwon Gi-Seok for many years, she’s never been able to fully commit to their relationship that she finds monotonous and bland. So, when she falls for a single father played by Jung Hae-in, she has to choose between a safe yet drab relationship or a loving one where social isolation is a genuine possibility.

Although attitudes towards single parenthood are improving in South Korea, it’s widely recognised as a complex social stigma. With single mothers and fathers often describing how they have been outcast by their social circles and their families, One Spring Night caused quite the stir through its portrayal of a loving couple that struggles to overcome this challenge.

Once you’re done with One Spring Night, hop over to Prison Playbook, which includes Jung Hae-in in its stellar cast. And when we say stellar, we mean K-drama crossover paradise. With actors Jung Moon-sung, Lee Kyu-hyung, Park Hyung-soo and Kim Jun-han from Hospital Playlist, you can rest assured that their memorable characters will stick with you for a long time. With extraordinary chemistry between the actors, Prison Playbook dives right into the darkness of prison life and crime albeit with an injection of hope and humour. The perfect K-drama that showcases what true friendship looks like, it’ll stir your emotions in many ways.

4. Crash Landing On You

There have been few Korean television shows more talked about than Crash Landing On You. Telling a dramatic love story, an heiress to a massive conglomerate, played by Son Ye-jin, accidentally flies her paraglider into North Korea only to be discovered by a military officer. With the pair quickly falling in love, Crash Landing On You has made countless headlines thanks to its realistic and detailed representation of the neighbouring country.

With the show’s production including real-life North Korean defectors in the process, Crash Landing On You has been applauded for its relatively accurate portrayal of life in the country. Despite featuring food shortages, electricity blackouts, and frequent home inspections, the show also depicted North Koreans in a significantly softer tone than previously produced portrayals.

For another K-drama romance flick with Son Ye-jin, consider Something in the Rain. Acting alongside Jung Hae-in, Something in the Rain sheds light on modern day issues such as workplace harassment, familial expectations and societal pressures.

5. Vincenzo

This hit drama might have ended, but it’s still making waves, trending on multiple social media platforms with edits of BTS member V, as Vincenzo. So, what about Vincenzo gives it such mass appeal? Vincenzo is an action-packed drama filled with twists and turns and a storyline that revolves around a Korean-born orphan adopted into the Cassano family. Demonstrating the invaluable nature of family ties, something held in high regard in Asian culture, Vincenzo mixes hard truths about corruption with an anti-hero who constantly strides the fringe of a seemingly moral society.

6. The World of the Married

Setting records as one of the most-watched South Korean cable dramas, The World of the Married outshone other top K-dramas like Sky Castle and Crash Landing into You. Masterfully scripted, this Korean drama breaks barriers by revealing dark secrets of what, from the outside, seems like a picture-perfect family. Drawing inspiration from the BBC TV series Dr. Foster, the devilish plot is accompanied by a saga of betrayal and revenge. As characters grapple with internal conflict, The World of the Married steers clear from the cliche Korean love affair unveiling taboo subjects that are frowned upon in the Korean culture - infidelity.

7. Honourable Mentions

  • Start-Up:
    Described as the “Escapist show you’ve been looking for” by VICE, Start-Up is a K-dramas that provides a good balance of rom-com and utopian dreams. It also delivers a fresh new view towards the challenges youth face in making it big.

  • Memories of Alhambra:
    Starring EXO’s Chanyeol, Memories of Alhambra is a must-watch for those who love gaming. If you thought your 1Gbps Gamer Fibre Broadband plan offers an immersive experience, this K-drama takes it to another level. With an augmented reality game as the focus of this drama, it plays around with the idea of different dimensions. Inspired by Pokemon Go and Elon Musk’s autobiography, it might even be a glimpse into what the future of gaming looks like.

  • Sweet Home:
    From webtoon to TV adaptation, Sweet Home is one of the best apocalyptic horror Korean dramas. Riddled with complex characters in a compact storyline, see how the human race fights for survival while holding onto their humanity.

  • Kingdom:
    Want more Korean zombie dramas? Kingdom is worth the binge after you’re done with Sweet Home. With 2 seasons available and a one-hour special episode Kingdom: Ashin of the North out now, not to mention season 3 which will be released soon, this Netflix original horror series will keep you coming back for more.

  • Mr. Sunshine:
    A historical drama that will never go out of style, Mr. Sunshine was awarded Drama of the Year in 2018. History buffs will find themselves immersed in the immense storyline that taps on one of the most distressing times in history - the Japanese Occupation. Diving headfirst into a period of dramatic change in the Korean peninsula, Mr. Sunshine showcases the fight activists endured to regain their country’s independence.

  • Tale of the Nine Tailed:
    Many might think of Naruto when Tale of the Nine Tailed first dropped. Far from that, but still supernatural in theme, this Korean drama has left many feeling withdrawal symptoms after the series ended. Once a mountain God, Lee Yeon, played by Lee Dong-Wook, sacrifices his life for a woman he loves dearly. Spending centuries searching for his lost love, the plot thickens when he meets Nam Ji-A.

  • It’s Okay to Not Be Okay:
    Tackling sensitive issues and topics like mental health and bullying, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay portrays a unique love story in a contemporary setting. It’s Okay to Not Be Okay artfully combines murder mystery, rom-com, and fantasy fairytale.

  • My Mister:
    Probably one of the most underrated shows, My Mister stars idol singer, IU. Highlighting modern hardships, this critically acclaimed series focuses on minute details that many tend to overlook. In a world that is less than kind, this tear-jerker raises questions about flaws in humanity and what it takes to attain genuine happiness.

Catch the Top Korean Shows with M1's Netflix Add-on

With the biggest Korean dramas and comedies making waves thanks to a massive international audience, Netflix has clearly been paying close attention as they’ve loaded up their catalogue with many of the most well-known shows . From Vagabond and Law School to Uncanny Encounter and When the Camellia Blooms, if you’ve found yourself questioning where to stream any of these shows and more, Netflix is your answer. But that’s not all. Besides top K-dramas, you’ll find the best of television from other countries too, whether you prefer American blockbusters or British period dramas.

To make sure you never have any difficulties keeping up with your favourite shows, subscribe to M1’s Netflix Add-on. With 3 streaming plans to choose from, enjoy the convenience of charging your monthly Netflix subscription to your M1 mobile bill. Plus, our 5Go Access ensure a lag-free entertainment experience - download your favourite shows and stream them on your mobile when on the go!