South Korean culture has infiltrated every facet of our lives in recent years, from our beauty regimes and the films sweeping up coveted awards, to the music we listen to and – most recently – the must-watch television shows. K-dramas have developed a cult following in the West ever since Netflix added them to their ever-growing roster of series, but it’s the recent Squid Game that has really put them on the map, with the show on track to become the streaming service’s most popular of all time. Here, we’ve rounded up this year’s most exciting new Korean TV shows to watch now.
The best new K-drama shows
It’s the most talked-about show of the year, and with good reason – the highly addictive dystopian thriller has become such a global hit that it is projected to become Netflix’s most popular show of all time. In a cross between an extremely dark version of The Hunger Games and Parasite, 456 cash-strapped people are invited to play a series of popular children’s games. The winner will walk away with a handsome cash prize – but losing means paying with their lives. With its striking visuals, compelling characters and clever social commentary, it makes for compulsive viewing.
This poignant drama eschews a lot of the typical K-drama tropes to offer up something a little different. The show follows a young man with Asperger’s syndrome, Han Geu-ru (Tang Joon-sang), who runs Move to Heaven, a trauma cleaning service, along with his ex-con uncle Sang-gu (Lee Je-hoon). As they clean the homes of people who have recently died, respectfully disposing of their possessions, the pair get a chance to clean up the mess in their own lives. Tackling social issues often glossed over in K-dramas – from autism and dementia to suicide and domestic violence – it’s a tender portrayal of humanity.
Offering a biting portrayal of the lives of Korea’s uber-wealthy (a regular theme in recent K-dramas), Mine centres around the powerful Han family, and specifically on its two daughters-in-law as they try to carve out their own identities in a resolutely patriarchal society. But it quickly becomes apparent that the Han mansion hides many secrets – including a murder, revealed in the first episode, which propels the narrative. Expect twists and turns aplenty, beautiful outfits – the Han women know their Dior handbags from their Hermès scarves – and magnetic performances from the lead actresses Lee Bo-young and Kim Seo-hyung.
This cosy romance is a fine example of one of K-dramas most popular genres: the heart-warming rom-com. Big city dentist Hye-jin (Shin Min-a) decides to start over in a small seaside town after being fired from her hot shot practice. As she struggles to adjust to her decidedly less glamorous life in a rural town where the locals all know each other’s business, she meets the village’s down-to-earth jack-of-all-trades Du-sik (Kim Seon-ho), who helps the townspeople by doing any job they might need. The two couldn’t be more different – but as they say, opposites attract…
Part crime thriller, part romance, part dark comedy, this mafia-inspired show follows Italian-Korean lawyer and organised-crime consigliere Vincenzo Cassano (played by Korea’s resident heartthrob Song Joong-ki). Forced to flee Italy after his adopted mafia father’s death, he returns to his motherland to recover a stash of hidden gold under an apartment building, only to find it is set for demolition by the corrupt Babel Group. Now Vincenzo has a new target to take down – the ruthless conglomerate. No K-drama is complete without a love interest, which here takes the form of fellow lawyer Hong Cha-young (Jeon Yeo-been).
Based on a popular webcomic of the same name, Nevertheless stars Korean drama favourite Song Kang as Park Jae-eon and Han So-hee as Yoo Na-bi, a university art student who no longer believes in love after she discovers her boyfriend has been cheating on her. Yet a chance meeting with Park Jae-eon immediately sparks her interest and the two are instantly attracted to each other, in spite of both of their reticent feelings towards love and relationships. Praised for offering a fresh perspective on dating life in Korea, the romantic drama highlights the struggles of finding love in the modern world.