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Best Korean Dramas of 2022

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the ten best Korean dramas of 2022!

Big Mouth
Big Mouth
Lee Jong Suk reunites with While You Were Sleeping director Oh Choong Hwan for this dense crime suspense series packed with action, intrigue and cat-and-mouse thrills. Big Mouth casts a wide net as a legal, prison, hospital, mobster and political thriller at once. Lee Jong Suk plays an unsuccessful lawyer nicknamed "Big Mouth" who lands in prison after being framed as "Big Mouse," a notorious and powerful shadow crime boss whose real identity is a big mystery. Forced to fight and adapt to survive all the dangers thrown his way, he gradually grows into the role of Big Mouse. YoonA co-stars as his wife, a lionhearted nurse who is determined to save her husband. Notably, while most Korean dramas with such marquee casting would try to squeeze in some romantic development, the lead couple here starts the story already married. Their steady relationship is just about the only thing you don't have to question as Big Mouth twists and turns through an ever growing tangle of shady crimes, suspicious figures and conspiracies galore.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo
Extraordinary Attorney Woo
Extraordinary Attorney Woo unexpectedly became one of the biggest Korean drama hits of the year both domestically and internationally on the strength of its lovable protagonist. Park Eun Bin gives a breakout performance as the eponymous attorney Woo Young Woo who is on the spectrum. Starting out at a law firm, Young Woo encounters many hurdles as she navigates court cases, social interactions and those tricksy revolving doors on her bumpy and moving journey of growth. Similarly, those around her also face challenges striving to understand and connect with her. Though Attorney Woo does add to the skewed on-screen association of autism with savant syndrome, the drama notably points out that the exceptionally bright heroine is not representative of most autistic people. Notably, she herself grapples with this fact when taking on cases involving those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Young Woo's cases explore not only legal arguments but also social and ethical questions, adding to the reasons why this ENA/Netflix series inspired so much discussion. Also, we learned many things about whales, and Lee Jun Ho (Kang Tae Oh) is the best man ever.

The First Responders
The First Responders
Police detectives, firefighters and paramedics join hands to save lives and catch culprits at emergency crime scenes in the SBS/Disney+ series The First Responders! Also known as The Police Station Next To The Fire Station, the crime disaster drama follows Kim Rae Won, Son Ho Joon and Gong Seung Yeon's characters from different departments and their thrilling joint response in times of emergency. As frontliners, the three display tenacity and professionalism when facing life-threatening situations and executing on-scene operations. In the end, a fire is not just a fire, and an incident is never purely an incident – every operation uncovers soul-stirring backstories related to social issues and problems like abduction, underage gambling, school bullying, abortion, child abuse, insurance fraud, loan scam, child abandonment, spy cam and more.

Juvenile Justice
Juvenile Justice
With news about the serious crimes and light sentences of underage offenders being a highly debated topic in South Korea in recent years, Juvenile Justice is a timely dive into the juvenile court system. Based on Korea's Juvenile Act, a judge in juvenile cases has limited ability to punish but a greater responsibility to protect minors at risk and manage their rehabilitation. There's no better person to deliver Judge Judy-style justice than Kim Hye Su. The acclaimed actress leads Netflix's courtroom procedural as ice-cold Judge Shim who expresses no sympathy for juvenile offenders. The unrepentant culprits behind the series' more bone-chilling cases won't get any sympathy from viewers either. Other ripped-from-headlines cases involving domestic violence, bullying, runaway youth and exam cheating, however, highlight various social problems that drive youngsters to grave errors, and delve into the personal, familial and societal responsibilities under consideration when minors commit crimes. Juvenile Justice is an intrepid and engrossing legal drama with a thoughtful and compassionate core, though it sometimes makes you question humanity.

The King of Pigs
The King of Pigs
A victim of school bullying and violence takes revenge years later in the picaresque crime thriller The King of Pigs. Adapted from Yeon Sang Ho's same-titled 2011 animated film, the 12-episode TVing series stars Kim Dong Wook as traumatized protagonist Hwang Kyung Min who goes on a ruthless rampage to strike down the bullies who tortured him 20 years ago, one by one. It all begins with a bloody message left at a crime scene calling on Kyung Min's childhood friend, police detective Jung Jong Seok (Kim Sung Gyu), to remember another friend who helped them through their difficult school days. Despite suffering from hallucination, Jong Seok keeps tracing Kyung Min's whereabouts in order to stop the killing. At the same time, he seems to be keeping something under his hat. Brutal and violent, The King of Pigs realistically depicts bullying among teenagers and the ignorance of adults. The frustrations, hopelessness and anguish of the main characters set off devastating consequences when the victim becomes the perpetrator to "find justice" in his own way.

My Liberation Notes
My Liberation Notes
"I don't know where I'm stuck but I want to break free. I want to be filled up for once. Love isn't enough. Worship me." Four years after My Mister, screenwriter Park Hae Young stuns with another somber masterpiece, My Liberation Notes from JTBC and Netflix. Lee Min Ki, Kim Ji Won and Lee El star as siblings from the countryside en route to finding liberation while bearing stress, setbacks and burdens in different aspects of their ordinary lives. Kim Ji Won's role as the introverted and reserved Mi Jeong, who perpetually finds herself a mediocre misfit wherever she goes, may be the best representation of urban loneliness and isolation. The deliberately enigmatic Mr. Gu – portrayed by Korea's newest heartthrob Son Seok Goo – who purposely hides his past from everyone in the village, becomes her unlikely savior, and vice versa. As they "worship" and cheer on each other, they gradually find the keys to their hearts and solace in the other's company. Excellent acting, an outstanding script, and natural visuals and pacing pull together to make this slice-of-life healing drama one of the best works of 2022.

Our Beloved Summer
An ex-couple reunite again after a documentary they shot in high school goes viral in the SBS/Netflix romcom Our Beloved Summer. Kim Da Mi and Choi Woo Sik, the top and bottom students in class, were arranged to sit next to each other to film a documentary a decade ago. In spite of their opposite personalities, they fall for each other. Five years after going their separate ways in life, the bad student has become a prominent artist, while the top student is now a PR expert and an unlikely corporate drone. The two grudgingly cross paths again at work, and they're invited by their third-wheel friend (Kim Sung Cheol) to film a new documentary recollecting the good and bad moments of their relationship. From its interesting setting to the sparkling chemistry of the two leads, Our Beloved Summer radiates a smooth and captivating story that charms audiences with the enemies-to-lovers and lovers-to-enemies evolution of the quarrelsome but loving couple.

Through The Darkness
Through the Darkness brings the story of Kwon Il Yong, South Korea's first-ever criminal profiler, to the small screen. Adapted from the profiler's 2018 book Those Who Read the Minds of Evil, the SBS crime thriller centers around Kim Nam Gil as reticent yet empathetic police detective/profiler Song Ha Young. Probing the minds of evil, he races against the clock to hunt down criminals in cases based on real-life events that shook Korea in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including the notorious Yoo Young Chul incident. The Criminal Behavior Analysis team led by Kook Young Soo (Jin Seon Kyu) unravels the patterns, motives and traits of murderers to assist and accelerate investigation, while holding out against pressure from a police unit led by Yoon Tae Goo (Kim So Jin). Rather than grabbing attention with violent scenes or suspenseful plotlines, Through the Darkness emphasizes the process and development of criminal profiling in Korea through the important work of pioneering mindhunters.

Twenty-Five Twenty-One
Reminisce the good old days of high school, puppy love and friendship in the tvN/Netflix coming-of-age melodrama Twenty-Five Twenty-One! Search: WWW's writer and director partner up again for this retro and colorful teen romance drama that begins with heroine Hee Do's daughter latching onto her mom's youthful days through a diary. In the year 1998, Kim Tae Ri, Nam Joo Hyuk, Bona, Choi Hyun Wook and Lee Joo Myoung – the Taeyang High squad – have the time of their lives together in school and around the neighborhood, filling the screen with their lively energy that we can't get enough of. Kim Tae Ri, who won Best Actress at the Baeksang Arts Awards for her outstanding performance as the sunshiney Hee Do, leads the compelling story that follows her stirring relationship with Nam Joo Hyuk's character, as well as her rivalry and friendship with Bona's character on the fencing piste. Though the ending may divide audiences, Twenty-Five Twenty-One offers an enjoyable binge-watching experience with its evocative narrative that awakens us to find closure.

Coupang Play series Unicorn comically captures the chaotic happenings at a startup led by eccentric CEO Steve, played by seasoned actor Shin Ha Kyun. Comedian Yoo Byung Jae debuts as a screenwriter for the sitcom, while Be Melodramatic writer-director Lee Byeong Hun serves as creative director. Besides exemplifying business concepts like pivoting and venture capital, Unicorn casually mocks the hypocrisy of Korean workplace culture, Gen MZ behavior and our struggles to always be "politically correct." Yoo showcases his typical black humor in a ridiculously fun and fascinating plot, but does not go over the top with nonsense or idealism. CEO Steve and his teammates, including Ashley (Won Jin Ah) and Jay (Lee You Jin), may be crazy and foolish at times with their castle-in-the-air ideas, but when it comes to decision-making, they stick to their core value – people. On their journey of developing and promoting a senior matchmaking app, the team demonstrates their faith and ultimate goal of connecting people, despite coming across numerous challenges and temptations.

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Published December 17, 2022

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