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Best Korean Dramas of 2018

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

We wrap up our TV picks with our editors' picks for the best Korean dramas of 2018!

Come and Hug Me
Mystery melodrama Come and Hug Me shares the painful yet mellow love tale between Gil Nak Won (Jin Ki Joo) and Yoon Na Moo (Jang Ki Yong) over a span of 12 years. Nak Won, whose name means "paradise" in Korean, brings joy and happiness to the suffering Na Moo. Na Moo also acts much like his name which means "tree" – he would do anything to protect Nak Won, which makes her feel safe whenever they are together. However, Nak Won's parents are later murdered by Na Moo's father (Heo Joon Ho), a serial killer who never got caught. Nine years later, Na Moo becomes a passionate police officer, and Nak Won becomes a rookie actress. The two rekindle their flame but have to face the mental stress caused by reporters who bring up their tragic past. More than just a thrilling and romantic melodrama, Come and Hug Me also sheds light on the cruel prejudice and discrimination one receives after being labeled as the "perpetrator's family." The two leads, as well as child actors Nam Da Reum and Ryu Han Bi, all show impressive acting that totally exceeds audience expectations!

Screenwriter Lee Soo Yun made a splash last year with Stranger. Her second work again employs the talents of Cho Seung Woo, who plays the new president of a troubled university hospital that is gridlocked in power struggle. Parachuted in by the sketchy parent corporation to deal with administration and finance, this outsider becomes the most enigmatic element in the hospital's festering pool of conflicting interests and egos. Cho is joined at the hospital by an impressive lineup that includes Lee Dong Wook as an ER doctor, Won Jin Ah as a pediatrician, and Yoo Jae Myung, Moon So Ri, Moon Sung Keun and Kim Won Hae as senior doctors. The ambition of the project is signaled in the simple yet overwhelming title of Life. In comparison to Stranger, Lee Soo Yun's script for Life casts a wider net to examine the complex and calculating relations and mindsets of the drama's various characters, whose desire to perform their jobs may exist alongside their pursuit of other things, like truth, justice or power.

Life on Mars
After getting hit by a car while chasing a serial killer, an anguished detective suddenly wakes up in 1988. Still a cop in this world, he has just transferred to a new precinct that includes Park Sung Woong as the classic rough yet big-hearted veteran and Ko Ah Sung as a smart officer who is constantly sidelined because of her gender. As he gradually adjusts to the old-school environment and ways of policing, he becomes involved in another serial murder case and confronts unresolved questions and traumas of his past. Jung Kyung Ho gives a career-best performance as the protagonist who must deal not only with crime mysteries and external conflicts, but also the unsettling psychological implications of his situation. Voices and visions constantly allude to the likelihood that the protagonist is in a coma and everything we're watching is in his head. Yet, this alternative world and its people seem real and better than the depressing state that he was in before. The makers of Life on Mars do a phenomenal job of adapting the 2006 BBC series in a way that retains the concept and tone of the original while going in their own direction to recreate the time, place and culture of 1988 Korea. Remakes don't get much better than this.

South Korea's work culture often seems intensive in TV dramas, and that's how it is in reality. Slice-of-life police drama Live revolves around the realistic daily routines and challenges faced by police officers. Police intern Han Jung Oh (Jung Yoo Mi) never hesitates to speak up for herself as a woman and as a human in a gender-biased society. Fellow rookie Yeom Sang Soo (Lee Kwang Soo) joins the police force to earn a living for himself and his mother. They both take this job in hopes of changing their fates, but it turns out their perception of police work is totally reversed. They are led by a strict and bad-tempered senior officer (Bae Sung Woo) who teaches subordinates in a rigid way. No matter senior or junior, the police officers all encounter different dilemmas and hardships at work, and sometimes serve as the scapegoats of politics. As much as police risk their lives to maintain a safe public environment, every decision they make can also greatly affect the lives of other people. Should they depend on their moral compass or merely follow orders? Live reflects the dark side of the workplace, even for civil servants like the police. Jung Yoo Mi's portrayal of a female empowerment icon also brings inspiration and hope to women living under a patriarchal system.

2018 Baeksang Arts Awards Best Drama winner Mother, the Korean remake of the same-titled Japanese hit series, centers around motherhood and the outrageous problem of child abuse. Lee Bo Young and child actress Heo Yool touch hearts with their excellent portrayal of an intimate mother-daughter bond that is not determined by blood. No matter how brutally her biological mother (Ko Sung Hee) and her mother's boyfriend (Son Seok Goo) treat her, warmhearted and tough Hye Na never blames them for anything. Even after Hye Na's school teacher Soo Jin discovers the scars and bruises on her body, the girl still defends her mother. Soo Jin decides to visit her home to seek the truth, but shockingly finds her student dumped on the roadside. Reminded of her own tragic childhood, she becomes determined to help the poor little girl run away from her cruel fate. Throughout their thrilling journey of escape, they are helped by Soo Jin's two mothers (Lee Hye Young and Nam Gi Ae), which unveils her grievous memories piece by piece to the audience.

Mr. Sunshine
What sets Kim Eun Sook dramas apart isn't necessarily the writing but the scale and ambition. The screenwriter is one of the few marquee names in the industry with the clout, resources and creative freedom to realize expansive (and expensive) stories with her pick of top stars. Thus after Descendants of the Sun and Goblin, she collaborates again with director Lee Eung Bok to create Mr. Sunshine, which courts movie stars Lee Byung Hun and Kim Tae Ri to the small screen and features the likes of Yoo Yeon Seok, Byun Yo Han and Kim Min Jung in supporting roles. Set in turn-of-century Korea – after the abolishment of slavery, before Japanese annexation – the drama paints the complex backdrop of a country shaken by social changes, modern influxes and foreign imperialism. Notably, most of the main characters are people who have no place in the old Joseon: a slave who returns as an American soldier, a butcher's son who leads a Japanese gang, a learned noblewoman who becomes a freedom fighter. In this tumultuous period commonly covered in movies but rarely on television, old conflicts of class resentment persist alongside the rising threats of war and occupation. This is a glamorous, timeless tale of lovelorn men and courageous women torn between love, loyalty, honor, revenge and country. For once, Kim Eun Sook's world isn't just about romance but rather romanticism.

Four talented players come together as a con group to eliminate selfish and cruel high-powered people! The con artist gang is led by Kang Ha Ri (Song Seung Heon), a charming and witty veteran swindler who masterminds everything before taking action. He works along with getaway driver Cha Ah Ryung (Krystal Jung), hacker Lim Byung Min (Lee Shi Un) and fighter Do Jin Woong (Tae Won Seok). The group starts with the purpose of recovering black money from the corrupt, but Ha Ri secretly has a bigger picture in mind to avenge his wronged father. Righteous prosecutor Jang In Gyu (Kim Won Hae) scouts them for the special team "Player" in order to put an end to high-society corruption. Through numerous mental and physical fights, the four exhibit their fabulous teamwork and strong camaraderie, though the other members later discover Ha Ri's real identity and intention. Rather than being a dark crime drama, Player unfolds its thrilling plot in quite a humorous and playful manner. Every episode is as exciting to watch as a crime action movie!

What's Wrong with Secretary Kim?
Without doubt, What's Wrong with Secretary Kim? is one of the most sensational K-Dramas of the year based on popularity and ratings. Starring in her first workplace romcom, Park Min Young forms good chemistry with partner Park Seo Joon, who again showcases his comedic talents. Park Seo Joon plays mischievous and narcissistic company vice-president Lee Young Joon, who has been assisted by his competent secretary Kim Mi So for nine years. After Mi So announces her resignation, Young Joon realizes that he can't live without her and tries everything to make her stay. In the midst of their budding romance, Young Joon's elder brother (Lee Tae Hwan) pops up and interferes with their relationship, which brings up the brothers' tragic past related to Mi So. Besides the leads, Kang Ki Young, Pyo Ye Jin, Kim Byung Ok, Hwang Bo Ra and Hwang Chan Sung also add humor to the story.

SKY Castle
Korea's standardized college scholastic exam is known to be extraordinarily intense due to the high competition for university admission. In order to secure a place at a top college, parents in the elite SKY Castle apartment building practically do everything possible to nurture their children into ace students. Ambitious mom Seo Jin (Yeom Jung Ah) stops at nothing to send her driven daughter to college. Seung Hye (Yoon Se Ah) constantly argues with her egoistic husband (Kim Byung Chul) as he never wants to lose to other parents. Young Jae (Song Gun Hee), who comes from a seemingly perfect family, successfully gets into the best medical school, but his mom (Kim Jung Nan) takes her own life out of the blue. Seo Jin's daughter is later accepted through the coordination of a consultant (Kim Seo Hyung) who advised Young Jae and guarantees a 100% admission rate. Meanwhile, SKY Castle newcomer Soo Im (Lee Tae Ran) feels fed up with her hypocritical neighbors and their tiger parenting. The intertwining rivalries and relationships of the SKY Castle families provide a whole new perspective on the mindsets of well-off parents, and the drama gives us food for thought on harsh parenting and the education system.

Something in the Rain
Director Ahn Pan Suk has established a distinctive style in past dramas like Heard it Through the Grapevine and Secret Love Affair. He applies that strength in mood and aesthetics to a lighter and more conventional romantic storyline in Something in the Rain. The cinematography, art direction and music are all carefully designed and curated to create an artsy, atmospheric piece that refreshes the noona romance subgenre. Though the drama deploys familiar archetypes like the disapproving mother and the crappy ex-boyfriend, much of the protagonists' interactions feel genuine, from the hinting and guessing of a relationship's start, to the dripping-sweet affection of lovers, to the arguments and resignation of later episodes. Something in the Rain hits pitch-perfect chemistry with Son Ye Jin in her television comeback and Jung Hae In in his first leading role. The script also notably emphasizes how the heroine and her female colleagues have to deal with ongoing workplace and sexual harassment.

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Published December 21, 2018

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