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Best Korean Dramas of 2015

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

2015 is ending soon, so it's time to start off the year-end lists. Here are our picks for the ten best Korean dramas of 2015!

Angry Mom
With its amusingly straightforward title, cute comic logo and Fight Back to School-like premise about a mother going undercover as a high school student to protect her daughter, Angry Mom seems poised to be a comedy of errors, but the series ends up going to surprisingly dark places. Although school bullying isn't a new topic for Korean dramas, Angry Mom raises the stakes to involve a downright terrifying ring of corruption, violence, negligence and abuse – all of which Kim Hee Sun's mother-on-a-mission takes on with unrelenting courage and sass. The 90s drama queen may have risen to concerned mom status, but she still looks right at home in a schoolgirl uniform while talking back to authorities and unwittingly stealing teenage hearts. Bridging the generations by pairing one of the Korean Wave's original stars with one of Korea's brightest teen talents (Kim Yoo Jung) as mother and daughter, Angry Mom delivers the expected undercover misadventures, and then so much more.

Answer Me 1988
One would think that by the third incarnation, the magic would wear off a bit; instead, the Answer Me/Reply series just keeps getting better. Director Shin Won Ho and writer Lee Woo Jung continue to deliver just the right mix of slice-of-life warmth, humor and nostalgia with its depiction of close friends coming of age in, this time, 1988. The eighties pop culture references, event markers and fashion trends are as amusing and evocative as ever, and the stories of family, friendship and first love get us right in the heart. With the more family-centric episodes and wider look at multiple families on the same street, this installment feels especially moving and relatable, be it in the daily spats, the unspoken parental love, the lingering grief of loss, or just the pain of being a middle child. The series also converts doubters into believers once more with its uncanny ability to turn untested idols and up-and-comers into the most lovable, hilarious bunch of teenage protagonists you'd want to befriend. There's so much going on with the different characters, we don't even care that much about who the heroine's husband will be.

As a realistic workplace drama based on a webtoon, Awl drew comparisons to Misaeng, but JTBC's uncompromising series is a different, darker beast about labor rights and the struggles of everyday workers. Ji Hyun Woo plays Lee Soo In, an ex-soldier who thought he had found his place as a supermarket manager – until he dares to refuse a directive to force out his subordinates. With the help of a labor rights consultant (Ahn Nae Sang), the unpopular but stubbornly principled Soo In organizes a union at his branch and leads the protest against a company that resorts to increasingly flagrant countermeasures. Awl not only riles one's feelings of anger and indignity for the little guy, but also lays out the tiring grind faced by labor unions and activists, from legal semantics and management repression to infighting and financial difficulties – all of which balloon into an increasingly dehumanizing fight. Even for cable, it is rare and refreshing to see a TV series so directly address sensitive labor issues, especially given the nation's checkered history of labor disputes and the story's obvious real-life inspiration.

If there's intel to acquire or a top-secret package that needs delivering, who you gonna call? Healer! Rising to Hallyu heartthrob status, Ji Chang Wook brings the goods as the vigilante "night courier" who is perfectly content on his own until Park Min Young's spunky reporter appears in his life and sends his heart in a loop. Though the ratings were lackluster, this addictive action thriller series scripted by renowned screenwriter Song Ji Na found a fervent following with its rousing blend of fist-pumping action, heart-throbbing romance and the relentless pursuit of justice. Perhaps nothing exemplifies the caliber of the production more than movie star Yoo Ji Tae's rare appearance on television, and in a supporting role at that, as a distinguished newscaster desperately trying to uncover the truth behind the past tragedy that links them all together.

Heard It Through the Grapevine
When Park So Young, as the youngest daughter of the Han family, yells "You're funny and pathetic!" to her parents, that pretty much sums up the amusing pairing of Yoo Jun Sang and Yoo Ho Jung as the prideful, patronizing heads of a prestigious family whose lives seem to be in perfect order until their faint-hearted teenage son (Lee Joon) impregnates his girlfriend (Ko Ah Sung). This may sound like a typical disapproving in-laws setup, but the drama takes on the family feud with a farcical tone. Overly concerned with appearances and manners, the Han parents are too ridiculous to be outright villains, and everyone sees right through their high-maintenance fronts as they try to deal with their emboldened son and level-headed daughter-in-law. Like with last year's Secret Love Affair, director Ahn Pan Suk and writer Jung Soo Joo turn what sounds like makjang material into a classy production through a nuanced script that encompasses not only the family members but also the household staff, strong art direction and set design (the stunning Han mansion is nearly a character in itself), and a sly sense of black humor that has you burst out laughing at unexpected moments.

I Remember You
With a string of acclaimed hits under his belt, Seo In Guk is now a firm guarantor of K-Drama quality. His 2015 offering I Remember You continues this trend of excellence with its gripping plot and engaging performances. Seo plays a brilliant criminal profiler who returns to Korea after an extended period abroad to act as a consultant for a team of detectives while investigating the many mysteries of his tragic past in secret. The reliably fantastic Jang Na Ra plays his foil/love interest, and the pair display an easy, lived-in chemistry that is as endearing as it is captivating. Flanked by a very capable supporting cast, Seo and Jang navigate the twists and turns of a story that has romance, comedy, mystery and suspense. The serial killer mystery element of the drama is especially well done, driving viewers to always anticipate something else just around the corner even when all the cards seem to have been revealed.

Kill Me, Heal Me
It's hard enough for an actor to have one character that stays in the audience's memory, but Ji Sung achieved the formidable feat of creating seven distinct and memorable characters in one go. Though the romantic suspense about a man with dissociative identity disorder and his struggle with his many selves has its share of plot holes, the sheer range and commitment of Ji Sung's performance puts Kill Me, Heal Me in its own league. The unpredictable and compelling strife for love and self between harried nice guy Cha Do Hyun and impetuous rogue Shin Se Gi left audiences with the difficult conundrum of which Ji Sung to root for. And who could forget boy-crazy fangirl Yo Na? Pairing up again after Secret Love, Ji Sung and Hwang Jung Eum have even better chemistry the second time around, and adding rising star Park Seo Joon to the mix just makes everyone happy.

Missing Noir M
OCN continues its strong genre programming with this taut, slick and thoughtful crime procedural from the director of Ten. Kim Kang Woo and Park Hee Soon form the odd buddy cop pairing as a genius former FBI agent with inner demons and a straight-talking, pavement-hitting veteran who's been asked to watch over his inscrutable partner. Both are perfectly cast: Kim effectively underacts in a serious, broody and occasionally explosive role while Park lightens the tone with approachably gritty charisma. Resident cyber expert Jo Bo Ah completes the newly formed missing persons unit headquartered in a stately, old-fashioned house that adds to the neo-noir mood. The drama's cases, ranging from the gruesome and twisted to the haunting and heartbreaking, all challenge the mind with crime-breaking puzzles and difficult questions of whether justice has been delivered. With its comparatively low-key cast and premise, Missing Noir M may not have generated the ratings of OCN hits like Vampire Prosecutor and Bad Guys, but audiences would definitely be well served with a second season.

With a star package like Kim Soo Hyun, Kong Hyo Jin, Cha Tae Hyun and IU, it's hard for Producers to go wrong, but the workplace romance series does throw some interesting curveballs as a "variety drama." On the workplace side, we have a bumbling rookie producer's initiation into the working world and a jaded veteran's struggles to keep his show afloat, often humorously chronicled with mockumentary-like interviews and how-to wisdom. On the romance side, we have cohabiting soulmates too comfortable to change and awkwardly honest young'uns with earnest crushes. Clocking in at a breezy 12 episodes, Producers does not execute its concept in the cleanest way, but its willingness to play with the format brings something fresh to the table. The cheeky insider's look into TV station politics, industry shenanigans and variety show production, with KBS's own signature program 2 Days & 1 Night serving as the meta punching bag, provides an endlessly entertaining and insightful backdrop for the flawed yet endearing protagonists.

Six Flying Dragons
We may be jumping the gun a little considering that SBS's historical series is less than halfway through its planned 50-episode run, but that's how much faith we have in Lee Jung Myung's original work, the superb cast and the production team that has already skillfully adapted Tree with Deep Roots. Six Flying Dragons is just as tense, thought-out and thrilling as Tree, but with even more at stake: the founding of the Joseon Dynasty. Revolving around six key figures who brought down the Goryeo Dynasty and started a new era in Korean history, Dragons offers an enthralling reinterpretation of known history that stirs the mind and excites the spirit. Kim Myung Min is brilliant as always as Jung Do Jeon, the scholar whose vision of a new world plants the seeds of revolution. The most bewitching character though is Yoo Ah In as the young Lee Bang Won, a hot-blooded, dangerously ambitious and self-aware idealist who would later become the fearsome King Taejong.

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Published December 21, 2015

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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