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Best Korean Dramas of 2016

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the ten best Korean dramas of 2016!

38 Task Force
Who knew collecting taxes could be so exciting? Having developed procedurals for cops and detectives of all sorts, OCN expands its genre programming to the fresh topic of a city hall task force dedicated to collecting unpaid taxes. Gruff teddy bear Ma Dong Seok plays against type as a dedicated mild-mannered civil servant who doesn't use his fists. He's also not particularly effective at getting infuriatingly rich and corrupt truants to cough up their fair share of taxes. That all changes when he teams up with a con artist to form a fraud ring that swindles tax payments out of the targets. Unrepentant fat cats don’t stand a chance against the roguish charms of one Seo In Guk, but the audience is also a part of the elaborate con jobs as the drama by the writer and director of Bad Guys cleverly withholds and reveals details at opportune moments for maximum comeuppance.

Dear My Friends
Hands down the most realistically moving Korean drama of the year, Dear My Friends rounds up an amazing cast of veterans – warm familiar faces who usually appear as nagging parents and grandparents in daily and weekend dramas – and puts them front and center to tell their own stories about aging and living. Noh Hee Kyung's script addresses the struggles of losing loved ones and confronting dementia and cancer, but never courts tears just for melodrama's sake. The central group of flawed lifelong friends in their twilight years come across as incredibly genuine and tenacious people with a lifetime of memories, grudges, sacrifices and prejudices behind them, and many more days ahead if they can help it. Ko Hyun Jung and her relationship with mother Ko Doo Shim provides perspective for all the thick-skinned sons and daughters out there who love but can't ever fully know and appreciate their parents.

Descendants of the Sun
Appealing to the hopeless romantic and vicarious adventurer in all of us, Descendants of the Sun is the K-Drama sensation of the year. Song Joong Ki makes his long-awaited post-army comeback, and as a dashing special ops soldier at that. While stationed in a fictional country besot with natural disasters and war zone dangers, he reencounters Song Hye Kyo's doctor who manages to stay impossibly put-together through all kinds of emergency situations. Penned by hit-making screenwriter Kim Eun Sook, this old-fashioned melodrama in glossy new form deftly sets aside realism in favor of epic dangers, sweeping love stories and magnetic characters and performances that make everything work. The eye-blindingly beautiful Song-Song couple and breakout stars Jin Goo and Kim Ji Won deliver the cheesiest of lines and most unbelievable of turns with convincing heart-grabbing directness.

The Good Wife
Remaking CBS's acclaimed legal drama The Good Wife is no easy undertaking, but tvN nailed the endeavor by luring Jeon Do Yeon back to the small screen as the mother and wife who restarts her legal career after her husband is imprisoned. The equally formidable Yoo Ji Tae incites both awe and rage as the scheming prosecutor husband implicated in a very public political and sex scandal, while Yoon Kye Sang offers emotional support as the too close friend who helps ease her return to the courtroom. With the ever wonderful Jeon at the center of the engaging, well-scripted show, The Good Wife chronicles the protagonist's personal and professional roller coaster of messy legal, political and romantic entanglements with calm dignity and satisfying character arcs.

Love in the Moonlight
If the first half of the year was all about Descendants of the Sun, then the second half belonged to Love in the Moonlight. Young stars take the reins for an endearingly earnest period romance based on Yoon Yi Soo's novel. Much like Sungkyunkwan Scandal, Love in the Moonlight finds a crowd-pleasing balance of twisty political intrigue and fan-friendly romance (and bromance). The sweet love story between Park Bo Gum's cunning crown prince and Kim Yoo Jung's gender-bending eunuch blooms and falters against the political and ideological power struggle and schemes of the older generation. Besides the two leads, Jin Young and Kwak Dong Yeon also deliver memorable supporting turns that should serve as calling cards for bigger roles.

On the Way to the Airport
Though the premise of two married people falling in love may be potentially off-putting, On the Way to the Airport develops the illicit soulmate relationship into a mature and life-affirming drama. As he so often does, Lee Sang Yoon makes a convincing pitch for best man ever with his warmly intense stares and his character's heartbreaking affection for his late stepdaughter, but the bigger journey belongs to Kim Ha Neul's working mother, a reserved flight attendant in an unhealthy marriage with a controlling, inconsiderate and emotionally inaccessible pilot (Shin Sung Rok). At first, On the Way seems like a story about meeting the right person at the wrong time, but the affair becomes a catalyst to understanding when is the right time to reassess one's life and relationships, to cope and change rather than passively endure. The strong directing and patient script gradually and thoughtfully guide the protagonists towards turning points while the beautiful cinematography makes On the Way one of the best-looking productions of the year.

One More Happy Ending
Through the story of four women (Jang Na Ra, Yoo Da In, Yoo In Na and Seo In Young) with different love and marriage problems, One More Happy Ending explores the meaning of marriage and happiness, as well as their relationships with each other. Dealing with common contemporary love and marriage issues like age-gap romance, step-parenting, marital insecurity and loss of passion in longtime relationships, the relatable story successfully strikes a chord with audiences who have similar experiences. Though marriage doesn't guarantee a happy ending, One More Happy Ending assures audiences that happiness is around the corner and all people, including the divorced, deserve to be loved.

Please Come Back, Mister
If you're given a second chance to live, what would you do? Brought back to life with different identities, two dead men continue to protect their loved ones in SBS drama Please Come Back, Mister adapted from Japanese author Asada Jiro's novel. Department store employee Kim Young Soo (Kim In Kwon), who returns as handsome Lee Hae Joon (Rain), and former gangster Han Gi Tak (Kim Su Ro), who becomes pretty Hong Nan (Oh Yeon Seo), are given second lives to realize their unfulfilled wishes. However, prohibited to reveal their identities, they can never express their love again to their loved ones. Different from typical romantic dramas, Please Come Back, Mister is a thought-provoking story that makes audiences reflect on the value of love and families. Moreover, the fantasy comedy also reveals the dark side of companies that severely exploit workers and the collusion between businesses and gangsters. Despite her delicate appearance, Oh Yeon Seo provides an amazing portrayal of the manly mobster within.

Two detectives from different time periods are connected by a walkie talkie in tvN's sublime crime drama by Misaeng director Kim Won Suk and Three Days and Ghost screenwriter Kim Eun Hee. Jo Jin Woong plays detective Lee Jae Han from the late 80s to early 2000s, Lee Je Hoon is present-day profiler Park Hae Young, and Kim Hye Su spans the timelines as the rookie partner to Lee and the tough superior to Park. After wires fatefully cross one night, the young profiler and veteran detective begin to intermittently share knowledge and clues to solve cold cases that are ongoing in the past. As they make headway into unsolved crimes, including a notorious serial killing case, they come to realize that their actions can have devastating consequences. Through it all, the biggest mystery hanging above is what happened to Detective Lee who has been missing for years in the present day. All stars are aligned for this mind-bending drama that does close to everything right, from the original engrossing story to the atmospheric cinematography and art direction to the top-drawer acting. Please make a sequel!

One of the most talked-about dramas of 2016, W is a unique mix of fantasy, horror, suspense and romance. Though it centers on the love story between comic character Kang Chul (Lee Jong Suk) and rookie doctor Oh Yeon Joo (Han Hyo Ju), MBC's hit drama actually delves into existentialism and free will. In W's comic world, all characters are designed with a specific goal and purpose and must live their lives according to the plot. Once they lose their purpose, they disappear from the comic world. However, Kang Chul goes against the rules of existence and struggles for personal autonomy. This kind of philosophical topic is rare on the small screen, but W takes the extraordinary step of situating the discussion within a thrillingly complex fantasy world and an innovative style of storytelling.

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Published December 21, 2016

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