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Best Korean Dramas of 2023

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the ten best Korean dramas of 2023!


D.P. 2
D.P. Season 2
Webtoon-based military drama D.P., which made our year-end list in 2021, returned this year with a gut-wrenching second season again helmed by writer-director Han Jun Hee. Though less intimate than the first Netflix series which told smaller stories of what drives desperate conscripts to desert, Season 2 is even more daring and disturbing by starting with the army barrack shooting that ended Season 1. When shocked protagonist An Jun Ho (Jung Hae In) questions how this could happen, the reply from a fellow soldier cuts straight to the terrible truth: it could happen to anyone. In this season, the D.P. unit not only pursues deserters but also accountability from the military institution that incubates a toxic hazing culture and covers up death and violence. Veering at times into rogue action thriller territory, D.P. 2 pulls no punches with its defiant indictment of the establishment, or its soul-draining acknowledgment of reality.


Daily Dose of Sunshine
Daily Dose of Sunshine
"It's always darkest before the dawn. The darkest nights make way for sunlight. The light will shine on you." Psychiatric patients search for the light in the ward with the help of doctors and nurses in the Netflix series Daily Dose of Sunshine, based on a same-titled webtoon by a former nurse. Park Bo Young leads the medical drama as nurse Jung Da Eun, who transfers to the Psychiatric Department and learns how to help patients cope with mental disorders. Bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic attack, paranoia, pseudodementia, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, depression, schizophrenia, self-abuse, borderline intelligence – these commonly cited but oft-misunderstood terminologies are portrayed through patient perspectives for better understanding of the illness. Apart from patients in wards, main characters Da Eun, Go Yun (Yeon Woo Jin) and Yu Chan (Jang Dong Yoon) also each deal with their own mental health problems, allowing audiences to relate to the situations even more. And of course, we couldn't ask for a sweeter and warmer lead than Park Bo Young to be our ray of sunshine in this healing drama.


Doctor Cha
Doctor Cha
"Don't consider your life to be too miserable. Life can't only be filled with good things." Uhm Jung Hwa, who has been out of the K-drama limelight for a while, made her huge comeback this year as homemaker Cha Jeong Suk who returns to the medical field after 20 years. Exhausted with her marriage and family, she challenges herself to pursue medicine again, only to find that her chief surgeon husband (Kim Byung Chul) is having an affair with his first love (Myung Se Bin) who works at the same hospital. Coping with her partner's infidelity, family issues and work stress, the first-year resident is already carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders – but to make things even worse, she's diagnosed with acute liver failure. Regardless of all hardships, the strong and cheery Dr. Cha embarks on a journey of awakening to focus on herself and enjoy the fulfilling parts of life. As makjang and chaotic as it may seem, Doctor Cha is a ratings hit for good reason. The JTBC/Netflix series teaches life lessons on different kinds of relationships, and how we should always make ourselves the priority.


The Glory
The Glory
Netflix wrapped up 2022 and kicked off 2023 with the resounding success of Korean revenge thriller The Glory, a worldwide phenomenon hailed as the Best Drama of the year at multiple award ceremonies. For her first-ever Netflix-exclusive series, hit-making screenwriter Kim Eun Sook worked with director Ahn Gil Ho to craft a dark yet cathartic tale chronicling a bullying victim's lifelong rage, trauma and cold revenge. Winning Best Actress at the Baeksang Arts Awards and the Grand Prize at the Blue Dragon Awards, Song Hye Kyo takes the role of heroine Moon Dong Eun who executes her master revenge plan under the motto "no mercy, no glory" for the eventual destruction of the upper-class classmates led by Park Yeon Jin (portrayed by Shin Ye Eun and Lim Ji Yeon) who tortured her back in high school. On one hand, The Glory breaks hearts by displaying extremely disturbing and brutal bullying scenes (inspired by true stories). On the other hand, Kim Eun Sook did not forget to feed us a spoonful of sugar with her signature romance – Dong Eun's relationship with her "executioner" Joo Yeo Jeong (Lee Do Hyun) and her tension with Yeon Jin's husband (Jung Sung Il) add a little sweetness to the glum and bitter ambience.


The Good Bad Mother
The Good Bad Mother
Ra Mi Ran and Lee Do Hyun capture the love-hate relationship between mother and son in The Good Bad Mother, one of the highest-rating cable series in Korea. The JTBC/Netflix slice-of-life family drama tells the story of cold prosecutor Kang Ho (Lee Do Hyun) who was raised by his strict tiger mom Young Soon (Ra Mi Ran) after his father's passing. His prosecutor job allows him to approach higher-ups allegedly linked to his father's death. Just when you think he's carrying a hidden agenda to avenge his dad, the drama surprises with a big twist: an accident turns him into an amnesia-stricken child. Kang Ho grows up again in the company of his mom and his childhood sweetheart Mi Joo (Ahn Eun Jin). Though we may not agree with the way Young Soon protects her son, the tear-jerking drama stirs and inspires with its delicately written plot that touches on the significance of parenting, motherhood, friendship and community. "A mother can replace anything in this world. But nothing can replace a mother."


The Kidnapping Day
The Kidnapping Day
Given its daunting title, The Kidnapping Day may sound like a crime thriller, but it's actually a black comedy suspense that spotlights the unlikely bond between a gifted kid and her clumsy new "dad." Based on Jeong Hae Yeon's novel The Day of Kidnapping, the ENA drama casts Yoon Kye Sang as poor and warm-hearted Myeong Jun who kidnaps the only child of a chaebol family in order to get money for his sick daughter's surgery. In her first leading role, child actress Yu Na impresses with her natural performance as genius teen Ro Hee, the kidnapee who loses her memory but still manages to calmly adapt to situations and hard carry her "dad" through various challenges. The quarrelsome father and daughter develop a deep dependence on each other as Ro Hee's memories gradually return and they face unexpected turns and revelations that tragically affect three generations of her family. Besides the relationship between the protagonists, The Kidnapping Day also intrigues with its reflections on parenting, childhood trauma and technology ethics.


Moving
Moving
If The Glory was the most talked-about K-Drama in the first half of 2023, then Moving takes the title in the second half of the year. Two years since launching original Korean programming, Disney+ makes a breakthrough in the K-Drama market by hitting jackpot with this award-winning sci-fi fantasy actioner. Based on Kang Full's webtoon, director Park In Je's Moving stars up-and-coming actors Lee Jung Ha, Go Youn Jung and Kim Do Hoon as high school students exploring and adapting to the world as they realize the special abilities inherited from their parents. Meanwhile, the older generation – portrayed by an all-star ensemble including Ryu Seung Ryong, Han Hyo Joo, Jo In Sung, Cha Tae Hyun and Kim Sung Kyun – try to protect the kids from different threatening forces at all costs, including superhumans from the North. Beyond the stunning CG, action-packed scenes and thrilling storyline, the global hit moves with its heartrending family bonds as well as sweet star-crossed romance.


My Dearest
My Dearest
A year after the sensational The Red Sleeve, MBC presents another hit period melodrama My Dearest with strong acting, compelling writing, natural pacing, beautiful cinematography and a perfect soundtrack. Inspired by Margaret Mitchell's classic novel Gone with the Wind, My Dearest unfurls the poignant romantic tale of an ill-fated couple during the Qing invasion of Joseon. Seasoned actor Namkoong Min leads the drama as enigmatic "playboy" Jang Hyun, a quick-witted nobleman who falls in love at first sight with the adorably narcissistic and determined Gil Chae (Ahn Eun Jin), a noble's daughter with a heart of gold. War separates the budding lovers and their families as they overcome trials and indignities in order to stay alive and protect their loved ones. Jang Hyun and Gil Chae struggle through distress, loss, betrayal and misunderstanding without knowing when they can reunite again. My Dearest stirs up angst with the turbulence and patriarchy of the times, but it still flutters our hearts every time Jang Hyun and Gil Chae flirt with their cute fighting when they meet each other!



Not Others
Jeon Hye Jin and Choi Soo Young illustrate an unlikely mother-daughter bond in the comedy-drama Not Others! 29-year-old Jin Hee (Choi Soo Young) still lives under the same roof with her single mother Eun Mi (Jeon Hye Jin). They quarrel over the smallest things on earth, but they're also the most protective of each other. At times they live like strangers in the house, but they can also be very open with each other about sexuality. As the story proceeds, Eun Mi reconnects with her first boyfriend, Jin Hee's biological dad (Ahn Jae Wook), which sparks more thought on the meaning of family and intimacy. Though there's a tinge of mystery in the plot, Not Others doesn't dwell on complex theories or heavy emotions, staying enjoyable with its lighthearted tone and positive themes.


Twinkling Watermelon
Twinkling Watermelon
Viva la Vida! Twinkling Watermelon, a dark horse among the Korean dramas of 2023, warms hearts with a storyline blending elements we all love – time-travel, family, romance, high school and band music! Penned by Kill Me, Heal Me screenwriter Jin Soo Wan, Twinkling Watermelon follows high schooler Eun Gyeol (Ryoeun), a model student and aspiring musician who is worn out by his life as a CODA. By chance, he time slips to year 1995 and meets his father Yi Chan (Choi Hyun Wook), who was still able to hear and speak back in his high school days. Hoping to change his father's fate, Eun Gyeol forms the band Watermelon Sugar to enjoy a shining youth with him and mother Cheong Ah (Shin Eun Soo), as well as another time-traveler Eun Yoo (Seol In Ah). Despite having a main cast of fresh faces, Twinkling Watermelon found its way into audience hearts with its soul-stirring plot that channels the preciousness of human connections beyond words.


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Published December 15, 2023


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