24 K-Dramas about Young Adult Love and Friendships

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As we join the Korean wave, K-dramas have become a stapling aspect of introducing us to Korean culture along with K-pop.

So why are Korean dramas taking over?

Well, partially because they offer new perspectives we don’t typically see in western dramas or in other television shows. Korean dramas bring a new style to their narrative but they also bring a complete drama within one season. Unlike western dramas, we can expect to see certain characteristics of what makes a Korean drama standout. So, before listing Korean dramas to watch, let’s learn about their characteristics.

What are K-Dramas?

Unlike western dramas, Korean dramas have a predetermined number of episodes that allows audiences to know how long each show will be and when the last episode will air. K-dramas have a certainty not common in western television shows (which typically depend on viewership to continue to finish the show).

Korean dramas have often been considered a mini series written by one writer, produced and aired in South Korea. K-dramas have a variety of genres, however. The most common genres include melodrama, romance, comedy, fantasy, horror, and historical.

Another key point to K-dramas are their ties with the Korean culture. We can expect to see historical periods, traditional values, modernization, family dynamics, social issues that arise in South Korea, and even more. Despite the varying narrative and genre, there are a few consistencies that you can find throughout most Korean dramas.

K-dramas collage

Record of Youth (top left), Itaewon Class (top right), Nevertheless (bottom left), and True Beauty (bottom right)

Characteristics of K-Dramas:

  • Have typically 16 to 24 episodes.
  • Each episode has a run time of an hour to an hour and a half.
  • Has less sexual content, intimacy doesn’t go pass the kissing (a peck really).
  • Rare use of foul language (though this is changing as the years go on).
  • Dramas have a G-rating (unless they’re of crime, horror, or other related genres).
  • Narratives are simple, compact, and have a central theme.
  • Have emotionally driven narratives.
  • Usage of common clichés throughout each individual genre (for example, the romance genre usually has things like: wrist grab, back hugs, piggyback rides, etc.).
  • Attractive cast, both for eye candy and fashionable characters.
  • Cultural appeal (portrayal of traditional Confucian values, family values, etc.).
  • Dramas have their own OST.

These characteristics make up the Korean dramas we all enjoy watching. K-dramas have a layout and cliches with a fresh look that intrigues us and keeps us wanting more. They portray and offer different genres for us to choose from and explore while still getting a complete drama within a shorter amount of time. We won’t have to worry about having to wait for another season because we can see a story completely unfold (though there are plenty of amazing K-dramas that do have more than one season, most have individual storylines in each season to ensure you’re not left on a cliffhanger).

Find out which Korean drama is for you.

Historical K-Dramas

Take a trip back into Korea’s rich history with their historical K-dramas. Set in a historical period, we can expect references to real-life people/events in a specific time period or factual representations of the period. It depends, however, most are fictionalized narratives or narratives that were exemplified to fit the K-drama mold. Check out these amazing historical K-dramas.

The Moon Embracing the Sun (2012)

With the backdrop of the Joseon Dynasty era, Crown Prince Lee Hwon loses his love, Yoon Bo Gyeong,  before marrying her. Dowager Queen has her killed to secure her power and remove the Crown Prince without knowing that Yoon Bo Gyeong comes back from death. After eight years the Crown Prince Lee Hwon begins to investigate the death of his love upon seeing Wol, a shaman.

You can watch The Moon Embracing the Sun on Viki here.

Kangchi, the Beginning or Gu Family Book (2013)

As a fantasy and historical drama, we get both the historical backdrop and the mythical creature hybrid. Born as a half -human and half mythical creature, Chio Kang Chi journeys through life wanting to live like a human but can’t become one. Realizing his true nature, he begins to live his life adjusting and meeting Dam Yeo Wool who he begins to fall for.

 

You can find Kangchi, the Beginning on Viki here.

Mr. Queen (2021)

This quirky K-drama follows chef Jang Bong-hwan who works at the President’s Blue House. One day, Jang wakes up in the body of Queen Cheorin from the Joseon period. The current king is found to not be much a leader except by name and the true leader is the late King Sun-ho’s Queen, Sun-won. There’s a battle for power, an insanely large secret, and more.

 

You can watch Mr. Queen on Viki here.

Lovers of the Red Sky (2021)

Set during the Joseon era, this historical K-drama tells the story of female painter Hong Chun-gi. Though she was originally born blind (she does eventually gain her sight), Hong holds an extraordinary talent in painting. Despite the societal expectations around that time, she is accepted into a prestigious art school. On the flip side, Ha Ram is an astrologer that’s experience is the exact opposite of Hong’s. He was born with sight but later loses it. Ultimately, the two fall in love despite their physical impairments.

 

You can find Lovers of the Red Sky on Viki here.

Fantasy K-Dramas

Fantasy K-dramas include many aspects of the supernatural, whether it’s having an ability or elements related to the supernatural or even folklore/mythical elements. The fantasy genre has a little of everything for any audience.

I Hear Your Voice (2013)

Park Soo Ha, who has the supernatural ability to read other’s minds by looking them in the eye, has been searching for Jang Hye Sung. As a public defender, she has overcome hardships to realize the systematics of society and justice. Both team up to help find justice in unconventional ways.

You can find I Hear Your Voice on Viki here.

My Love from the Star (2013)

Also known as You Who Came from the Stars in South Korea. Having failed to return back to his planet, Do Min Joon has been stranded on Earth for the past 400 years. He possesses the inability to age and has enhanced abilities. With three months left for his departure to his planet, he finds himself falling for Cheon Song Yi, the actress who reminds him of his love 400 years ago.

 

Watch My Love from the Star on Viki here.

Strong Woman Do Bong Soon (2017)

Who doesn’t like seeing a strong woman take the lead? Do Bong Soon has inherited her family’s Herculean strength passed down from the woman in her family to use for good. Wanting to work as a game developer, she has been hired by the CEO of a gaming company to be his bodyguard. Soon finding herself in a love triangle with her crush In Guk Doo and the CEO, she has to decide how to balance her supernatural abilities and help both men catch the unknown threat.

Watch Strong Woman Do Bong Soon on Viki here.

While You Were Sleeping (2017)

Nam Hong Joo has premonition dreams where she has been left immobile to prevent bad events from happening. Then, she meets two people who develop the same ability that brings them closer. As Jung Jae Chan, a rookie prosecutor, interferes with events he has premonitions about, he finds out along with Hong Joo that their lives have become intertwined. Why have they come together?

Watch While You Were Sleeping on Viki.

W (2016)

Oh Yeon Joo, a cardiothoracic surgeon, enters her father’s study after going missing to discover a bloody scene on his monitor from his webtoon. While in his study, she gets pulled into another dimension that her father has created by his main character Kang Cheol. Saving his life, Kang Cheol has the ability to move Yeon Joo between the two worlds. Will Kang Cheol find his happy ending and will Yeon Joo find her father?

Watch W on Viki.

Legend of the Blue Sea (2016)

Inspired by the historical tale of a mermaid, Shim Cheong, a mermaid, follows her love Kim Moon. Moon’s doppelganger Heo Joon Jae, a con artist, becomes interested in Shim Cheong for her bracelet. Taken in by Joon Jae, she finds a rival for his heart in Cha Shi Ah while still adjusting to survive in a new environment. Can she win his heart and help him from the dangers he will face?

Watch The Legend of the Blue Sea on Viki here or on Hulu here.

K-Dramas that Follow Real Life Situations and Growth

With a humorous tone, these K-dramas center around friendship and love but also delivers nostalgia and the pain of growing up.

Reply Series (2012 – 2016, three total seasons)

Although not necessarily a series, Reply 1988, 1994, and 1997 center around a group of friends whose narratives shift between the past and present selves. Set in different years, we see different friend groups  navigate the journey of their early adulthood into their thirties. A great series if we want to reminisce our adult life.

Hello, My Twenties! (2016)

This drama follows five girls in their twenties living together in a house while going to college. Although each girl has their own quirks, personality, and issues, they learn to sympathize and bond with one another as they deal with their personal issues. It is a slice of life narrative of these girls who face issues we may experience in our twenties. Hello, My Twenties! has two seasons so we can see the development of these girls.

You can watch Hello, My Twenties! on Netflix here.

Go Back Couple (2017)

After marrying at a young age, Choi Ban Do and Ma Jin Joo find themselves at a breaking point in their marriage. Ban Doo has the burden of working as a salesman, covering his boss, and being the breadwinner. Meanwhile his wife has taken the role of a caretaker and house wife suffering from low self-esteem. With regrets about their marriage, they travel back in time to the first time they met in their university years. Given a second chance, will they make the same choices?

You can watch Go Back Couple on Viki here.

Come and Hug Me (2018)

Although beginning with tragic events, Yoon Na Moo and Gil Nak Won were once each other’s first loves. However, after the murder of Nak Won’s parents at the hands of Na Moo’s father, their love ended and went separate ways. But life has a way of bringing back people through fated meets, will their encounters years later after tragedy help heal their relationship or will they remain broken?

You can watch Come and Hug Me on Viki here.

Coffee Prince (2007)

Go Eun Chan, a tomboy and breadwinner of her family, gets mistaken for a boy to act as Choi Han Gyul’s gay partner. To avoid any more blind dates, Han Gyul uses Eun Chan as his decoy. Han Gyul decides to take over his family coffee shop where he hires male employees to be eye candy for female customers. Eun Chan gets hired, although she is not male and Han Gyul begins to question his feelings for her.

You can find Coffee Prince on Viki here.

Fight for My Way (2017)

Life doesn’t always turn out as we want, it takes us down paths away from our dreams just how it did for Ko Dong Man and Choi Ae Ra. Dong Man wanted to be a famous taekwondo athlete and Ae Ra wanted to be a television anchor, however, they found themselves in mundane jobs. Whether they will be able to overcome their odds and fulfill their dreams?

 

Watch this drama on Viki here.

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo (2016)

Bok Joo faces the struggle of having to choose whether to have her love life or pursue her career as a weightlifter. Having to choose between the two at a young age presents struggles of whether she will regret it later in life if she chooses one over the other. Or questions why she can’t have both. It is a drama with a coming of age narrative.

Watch Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo on Viki here.

Itaewon Class (2020)

Park Saeroyi has been expelled from school after getting physical with a bully and, to top off, his father dies in an accident. Although tragedy turns his life upside down, with his friends he manages to open a bar they want to succeed while competing with another food foe.

You can find Itaewon Class on Netflix here.

Nevertheless (2021)

Following two people who are afraid to love, this K-drama unfolds throughout each episode as they get closer to each other. As they try to find happiness and love with each other, people from their past come in and try to remind them why they swore off of love in the first place. And, of course, there’s also the expected K-drama love triangle.

 

Watch Nevertheless on Netflix here.

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021)

After Yoon Hye-jin—an intelligent dentist who lived in the big city—ends up losing her job because of the accusations she throws at the head doctor, she move to the seaside village of Gongjin. She ends up meeting Hong Du-sik, a jack-of-all-trades character who is well-loved and appreciated throughout the town because he’s not afraid to help out or work any job. The two get closer as they cross paths more and more.

 

You can watch Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha on Netflix here.

Hospital Playlist (2020-21)

With a group of five friends that survived medical school together and got jobs at the same hospital, this K-drama follows the friends as they push through every obstacle. From the usual work stress, the drama, the romance, and more, these five friends go through everything together.

 

You can watch Hospital Playlist on Netflix here.

Imitation (2021)

As both a Webtoon and a K-drama, this story follows the two main leads—Lee Ma-ha and Kwon Ryok—as they fall in love and have to deal with their fans. This show exposes some of the harsh realities idols have to face when they want to love someone.

Ma-ha was a trainee for a long time, experiencing failure after failure. Eventually, she gets to debut with her two friends in the group Tea Party. On the other hand, Kwon Ryok is part of the most popular boy group in South Korea at the moment (Shax). The two cross paths multiple times due to misunderstandings and luck. Their feelings develop from there.

 

You can find Imitation on Viki here.

True Beauty (2020)

There’s nothing more painful than the growing pains of being considered ugly in the eyes of everyone else. Im Ju-gyeong knows this firsthand. Battling against her own self-esteem issues and the concept of beauty, she tries to keep her “real” face hidden beneath the layers of makeup so she won’t get bullied in her new high school. This drama intertwines the harsh reality of bullies and confusing nature of love triangles to bring an impactful K-drama.

 

Watch True Beauty on Viki here.

Record of Youth (2020)

Following the story of two popular actors—both friends—and a makeup artist, Record of Youth shows their story of struggling to achieve their dreams while fighting with (or against) the life they were born into. Each character has a dream they’re trying to reach, but they also have people against them that are trying to stop them from reaching those dreams. Some of which include each other.

 

Watch Record of Youth on Netflix here.

Which K-drama will you watch?

Just like the above-mentioned K-dramas, many Korean dramas present us with narratives that show the real struggles we face or dramas that allow us to escape from all the hectic surroundings. Either way, Korean dramas have their own characteristics that bring a new, fresh look on life with some hope.

Where can we start watching these dramas? If we are looking to begin, Viki has many Korean dramas free for us to start enjoying now (all you need is to create an account). But if you have a subscription to Netflix or Hulu, they have their own K-drama category to look through. Netflix is especially growing their collection of Netflix Original Korean dramas. If you want to find more Korean dramas to watch, feel free to check out our Korean Drama Category!

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