The 10 Greatest K-Dramas from 2021 You Need to Watch
In terms of Korean dramas, 2021 has been a wild ride. Between the well-loved romance dramas like Nevertheless, the intense action-packed dramas like Vincenzo, and the gruesome dramas like Squid Game, there have been more than enough K-dramas from 2021 to keep you occupied. Even more so, 2021 has been a year of intense growth for K-dramas. Each drama brought more and more attention as the year progressed, and some have broken records that no other K-dramas have before (cough, cough… Squid Game). If you’re afraid you missed some of the finest dramas, here’s a list of the ten best K-dramas from 2021.
The Top 10 K-Dramas from 2021:
1. Squid Game (September 2021)
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t talk about the K-drama from 2021: Squid Game.
As the most talked-about K-drama from 2021, Squid Game raked in millions upon millions of views after its release. Even now, a few months after the initial release, people are still talking about it. Like mentioned earlier, the popularity of this drama led it to break a few records for K-dramas. In particular, Squid Game became the first Korean drama to rank #1 for the most-watched show on Netflix.
This nine-episode K-drama was released all at once September 17, 2021 on Netflix. The storyline follows multiple different characters all fighting for the prize of 45.6 billion won and a chance to better their lives. In some way or another, the characters are all struggling and in need of money, so they take a chance with the deadly Squid Game. The show takes a darker twist on a lot of familiar children’s games, making it all that more haunting and twisted.
Squid Game is the most popular K-drama from 2021 for many different reasons. With the amazing plot, the fantastic characters/actors, and the twisted familiarity of all the children’s games, this drama has the perfect recipe for popularity. In the first month after its release, it racked up more than 148 million household account viewers. But that’s only in the first month. Unless Netflix fully releases their viewership count, we can’t know how many millions of people have watched this drama now. But we do know that it’s still at the front of the list for Netflix’s top 10 watched shows.
To learn more about this drama, you can read through our article specifically about it here. And if you’re ready to start watching it, you can find it on Netflix here.
2. My Name (October 2021)
Another popular K-drama from 2021 that was released on Netflix is My Name.
This K-drama is a total of eight episodes and was also released all at once like Squid Game. It was released on October 15, 2021 on Netflix. This drama is about the character Yoon Ji-woo, someone who’s trying to get revenge on whoever was responsible for her father’s death. After teaming up with a drug crime group, Ji-woo finds herself becoming a secret spy in the police department for them. All the while, she’s on the hunt for the one who killed her father.
This K-drama from 2021 is another action-packed and highly thrilling one that you won’t want to miss. The mixture between the revenge, the crime, and the secrecy keeps you on the edge of your seat and wanting more. Since the drama itself has far fewer episodes than a typical K-drama, it’s easy to sit down and watch this drama all at once or only in a couple of sittings.
Uniquely, this drama was actually first screened at the 26th Busan International Film Festival. The first three episodes were screened on October 7th and the full drama was released on Netflix a week later. This initial screening of the drama brought in a lot of viewers and made the drama that much more anticipated.
You can watch this drama on Netflix here.
3. Nevertheless (June – August 2021)
The next drama on our list of K-dramas from 2021 is the highly loved, romance genre K-drama Nevertheless.
With only ten episodes, this K-drama has wormed its way into peoples’ hearts easily. Following the story of two people who are afraid to love, their story unfolds throughout each episode as they get closer to each other. Of course, it’s never that simple. There are a few people from their pasts that come in and try to remind them why they swore off of love in the first place and another who comes in and creates the typical K-drama love triangle.
This K-drama was first released on JTBC on Saturdays, broadcasting to South Korea through TV. Soon after it finished airing on TV, though, it was released internationally on Netflix for all to see. It was released from June 19 to August 21, 2021. However, this drama is actually based on a Webtoon of the same name. The Korean version was released on Naver Webtoon back in 2018, you can read it here. And the English version was released in May 2021, a few months before the K-drama. You can read that version here.
Many have enjoyed this drama because of the wonderful cast members, the amazing chemistry between the lead characters, and a few other things. If you’d like to learn more about this K-drama from 2021, feel free to check out the article we’ve written about it here.
And if you’d like to start watching this ten-episode K-drama, then you can find it on Netflix here.
4. Lovers of the Red Sky (August – October 2021)
This one of two historical genre K-dramas on our list is a great one. Lovers of the Red Sky has quickly become one of the most-watched historical K-dramas from 2021.
Set during the Joseon era, this historical K-drama from 2021 tells the story of female painter Hong Chun-gi. Though she was originally born blind and later gains sight, Hong holds an extraordinary talent in painting. She is accepted into a prestigious art school despite the societal norms around that time didn’t quite support her decisions. On the other hand, Ha Ram is an astrologer that’s experience opposes Hong’s. He was born with sight but later loses it. Ultimately, the two fall in love despite their physical impairments.
This K-drama from 2021 was originally released on SBS from August 30 to October 26, 2021. It has a total of sixteen episodes. This drama is also available to watch on Viki if you’ve got a Viki Standard Pass. Similar to the last K-drama from 2021 we talked about, Lovers of the Red Sky is based on a story of the same name—a novel with the same name this time by Jung Eun-gwul.
For a historical K-drama, this show has everything you’d ever want. Political games, star-crossed lovers, and a strong cast. There are also quite a few popular singers featured on this drama’s soundtrack, making it that much more loveable. It’s easy to see how much this drama is loved; it holds a 9.5 rating on Viki with over 34,000 reviews. That’s a lot, especially for a K-drama that only came out in the latter half of 2021.
5. The Penthouse: War in Life (Season 2 [February – April 2021] and Season 3 [June – September 2021])
If you’ve kept up with K-dramas since 2020, then this one should be of no surprise to you. With its popularity skyrocketing with the release of the first season, The Penthouse: War in Life also leaps to the top of the list of most popular K-dramas from 2021 with its second and third seasons.
Originally airing on SBS TV, the first season of The Penthouse set up the foundation for the later seasons. It follows the lives of wealthy families living in the Hera Palace and their children who attend the Cheong-ah Arts School. Twists and turns occur throughout the entire first season; between the battles for power and the disjointed views on the world, there’s so much to hold your attention throughout the first season.
The second and third seasons came out after the great success of the first. The second season was released from February to April 2021 while the third was released soon after from June to September 2021. Both seasons continue the storyline from the previous season—following the aftermath of deaths, the downfall of power, and the fight for redemption.
Each season gained millions of viewers nationwide. The second season averaged 5.9 million viewers throughout the release and the third season averaged 4.4 million viewers. This was enough to rank both seasons in the Top 50 Korean Television Series per Nationwide Viewers.
You can read more about The Penthouse K-drama in our blog post here. And you can find all three seasons of this K-drama from 2021 on Viki, available with a VikiPass Plus account (Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3).
6. Vincenzo (February – May 2021)
The next K-drama from 2021 that we need to talk about is Vincenzo.
Scoring the ninth highest-rated drama spot in Korean cable tv history (at the time of its release), Vincenzo truly made an impact for K-dramas from 2021. Following the story of Park Joo-hyung, or Vincenzo, this K-drama is full of action and chaos. Vincenzo was eight when he was adopted and moved to Italy. Later in life, though, when he works as a lawyer in the Mafia, he eventually ends up fleeing to South Korea due to a complication. From here, he sets out to recover 1.5 tons of gold.
Originally, Vincenzo aired on tvN from February 20 to May 2, 2021. Two episodes came out each week. Once each episode finished airing on tvN, it was released on Netflix for international viewers to watch. On average, each episode raked in nearly three million viewers nationwide.
With twenty episodes, Vincenzo is a highly loved crime K-drama from 2021 that is highly loved and appreciated. Not only are there memorable scenes and quotes from the drama, but its continuously engaging.
If you’d like to check it out, you can find it on Netflix here.
7. Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (August – October 2021)
If you’re more into the romance genre, then this next K-drama from 2021 on our list is one you’ll definitely want to check out.
Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha is a sixteen-episode K-drama that aired on tvN from August 28 to October 17, 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 finds herself at the seaside village of Gongjin. There she meets Hong Du-sik, a jack-of-all-trades character who is highly 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.
Much like Vincenzo, this K-drama from 2021 was quite the hit for tvN, scoring one of the higher ratings for the channel’s history. Officially, the drama measured about 2.4 million viewers nationwide per episode.
With sappy love stories, a character who’s quite outspoken, and everything else in between, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha will fill you with all of the lovely feelings that come with a great romance K-drama. You won’t get tired of these characters or their actors/actresses and you certainly won’t get tired of their blossoming romance the longer the show goes on.
To watch this drama, you can find it on Netflix here.
8. Hospital Playlist (Season 2: June – September 2021)
Compared to other slice-of-life genre K-dramas, Hospital Playlist was a major hit.
This K-drama from 2021 follows five friends who met when they attended the same medical school in 1999. Years later, the group of five work at the same hospital and experience the different things life throws their way together. This includes various hospital/work happenings, romance drama, and more.
The first season for Hospital Playlist actually came out in 2020. But the grand response from fans pushed the show to release another season this year. Altogether, both seasons add up to twenty-four episodes and were released first on tvN. The first season averaged a 2.9 million viewership whereas the second season averaged a 3.2 million viewership.
Around the world, shows that take place in a hospital are widely popular. Hospital Playlist is no different. The wonderful friendship between the cast, the presentation of relatable situations, and all the chaos in between are more than enough to make this K-drama from 2021 one of the greats.
Hospital Playlist is available to watch now on Netflix.
9. Mr. Queen (February 2021)
Our second historical K-drama from 2021 on our list is Mr. Queen.
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 drama is a battle for power and also the unveiling of falsehoods. 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.
As all great historical K-dramas include, there’s a battle for power, a secret big enough to ruin everything, and more. This twenty-episode K-drama is full of funny moments and enough twists to keep your eyes glued to the screen!
This K-drama from 2021 originally aired on tvN, averaging 3.3 million viewers throughout, but it’s also available on Viki with a VikiPass Standard account. With the great cast and the unique plot, this drama became one of the top ones to watch from 2021. If you’d like to read more about this K-drama from 2021, you can check out the blog post we wrote about it here.
And if you want to start watching it, you can find it on Viki here.
10. Law School (April – June 2021)
Our last, but certainly not least, drama on our list of K-dramas from 2021 is the legal drama Law School.
When a professor and his students get involved with a peculiar case, things start going a little crazy. During a mock trial, another professor is found dead at the school and the students have to work together to prove Professor Yang Jong-hoon’s innocence. All the while, they learn what authenticity, law, and justice truly mean.
This K-drama from 2021 aired on JTBC from April 14 to June 9, 2021. It averaged over one million viewers throughout the entire season.
Everything within this drama—from the twisting storyline, the mysterious elements, and the amazing actors—is enough to make this a K-drama from 2021 you won’t want to miss.
All sixteen episodes of this drama are available on Netflix to watch, so you can find it here!
Which of these K-dramas from 2021 have you seen?
Did we mention any of your favorite K-dramas from 2021? Did we miss any? We all know that there has been a ton of K-dramas that came out during this past year, so we couldn’t list them all. However, I hope we were able to bring some new ones for you to watch!
If you’re in the mood to find more K-dramas to watch (not just ones from 2021), feel free to check out our K-Drama Category. And make sure you check back with us throughout the month of December because we’re releasing multiple blogs about some of the best Korean entertainment or culture things from this past year.