We’re all very well acquainted with stories that involve a poor girl and a filthy rich guy who’s a total jerk forming an unlikely couple. We’re also used to tales of first loves and love triangles that sometimes get so complicated our heads start to spin. These familiar stories remain entertaining as we watch them play out time and again, but sometimes it’d be refreshing to see something that goes a little deeper, wouldn’t it?
Today I present to you a handful of K-dramas that go beyond just the romance side of things. They consider the human experience through different lenses, asking hard-hitting questions that make both the characters and viewers reflect on their lives, as well as society. Still, despite dealing with heavy topics, these dramas adroitly weave humor into their stories, preventing viewers from becoming completely emotionally drained. (Really, I promise they aren’t filled with only doom and gloom.)
So forget about the Cinderella stories, high school romances, and love-hate relationships where the couple doesn’t even kiss until the second to last episode; these dramas are here to show you their mature sides.
In “My Wife Is Having an Affair This Week,” Do Hyun Woo (Lee Sun Gyun) thinks his marriage is going great when, suddenly, he discovers that things might not be going so swimmingly between him and his wife after all. (Spoiler, but not really: Yes, his wife is indeed having an affair this week.) As he digs deeper into the reason behind the demise of his marriage, he begins to realize that infidelity, and ultimately his relationship with his wife, is much more multi-faceted than he originally assumed.
While this drama doesn’t condone cheating, it does make it out to be less of a black-and-white issue than it’s often viewed as. It shows that sometimes people have affairs not simply for the thrill of it or merely out of lust. Indeed, there may be a multitude of factors that contribute to someone seeking a partner outside of their marriage. This drama also points out that we aren’t always the good people we think we are. Instead, we sometimes trick ourselves into believing that we’ve done everything as we should.
“My Wife Is Having an Affair This Week” handles a sensitive topic in a way that’s thoughtful and doesn’t rely too much on emotional blowups or bickering between the main couple. And while it’s definitely a tearjerker at times, it does have comedic moments peppered throughout to lighten the mood as Hyun Woo tries to restore what once was.
Watch “My Wife Is Having an Affair This Week”:
It’s Okay, That’s Love
Can I just start by saying that this drama is really, really good? Like put that other drama you’re watching right now on hold good. “It’s Okay, That’s Love” starts off as another drama where the main characters get off on the wrong foot due to their clashing personalities. Big deal, right? The story becomes much more intricate, however, as we begin to catch glimpses of the characters’ often unstable mental states.
This drama features a captivating story and a spectacular cast, hence my need to sing its praises from the get-go. Moreover, it tackles mental illness in a way that challenges existing misconceptions and prejudices viewers might have, while also attempting to make the topic much more accessible to the general public. Another aspect that makes this drama truly shine is the actors’ masterful portrayal of emotions. I found Jo In Sung’s performance especially moving.
This drama will undoubtedly pull at your heartstrings as you watch its characters come together to comfort each other, support each other, and ultimately love each other.
Watch “It’s Okay, That’s Love”:
Not gonna lie, this drama is pretty silly and is by far the least mentally stimulating of the bunch. Although it revolves around a group of men in their 40s, it often feels more like watching a band of teenage boys as they ogle at women and behave in other childish ways. Don’t let this deter you from at least giving this drama a chance though!
They may not be the most mature characters, but they’re still very much adults dealing with adult problems. Besides, who said grown men can’t have fun and mess around too? These men aren’t just here to look goofy either. They also, at least to some extent, represent the modern man, who isn’t necessarily in a rush to get married, have kids, and so on.
Even though the story itself is not incredibly deep overall, it is nice to see a drama that focuses on older adults, and as far as I’m aware, there aren’t many centered around a group of men. So if you want a mature cast without too heavy of a plot, you might want to give “A Gentleman’s Dignity” a go.
Watch “A Gentleman’s Dignity”:
I’ve watched a lot of dramas about high school students in my time, and I can tell you that few address the burdens of Korean students in the compelling way “SKY Castle” does. Not only that, but it makes one wonder just how far parents will go to try to give their children — or is it themselves? — a picture perfect life.
This drama puts several wealthy families under the microscope, revealing all of the facades and elaborate schemes they construct to ensure they never lose face and that their children get into one of the most prestigious universities. It also examines the mothers’ lives at length, pointing out how the mother is held solely accountable for a child’s academic success or failure.
While many of us may be far removed from the world of the elites, you don’t have to be rich to understand how trapped the characters in “SKY Castle” feel, slaves to their materialistic and pretentious lives where beneath almost every action lies an ulterior motive. Even with a lot of the characters not being the most likable, as the story goes on, one can only hope that they find a way to break free.
Watch “SKY Castle”:
This one starts off feeling like a pretty typical romantic comedy, where through a series of somewhat bizarre events, its protagonist, Yoon Ji Ho (Jung So Min), finds herself thrown into a sticky situation that leads to the serendipitous meeting of her and the male lead, Nam Se Hee (Lee Min Ki).
But as the plot progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that “Because This Is My First Life” is far from typical. That’s not to say it’s over the top or absurd though. What differentiates it from other rom-coms is its characters’ acute introspection and its gentle but serious handling of real issues. In particular, many viewers are likely to deeply relate to Ji Ho as she grapples with her future, wondering what she’s accomplished so far and whether she’ll ever fulfill her aspirations.
Also, this drama is full of poignant and insightful lines that add significant depth to the characters as well as the story. Even simple ones are delivered in such a way that your heart is sure to be moved.
Watch “Because This Is My First Life”:
Unlike so many other dramas, “Misty” isn’t about a tough young woman with a pure heart and can-do attitude trying to attain her dreams. Rather, it offers us Go Hye Ran (Kim Nam Joo), a woman who has already reached the peak of her career as a news anchor for a popular TV channel. She’s calculating and chic, and some might even call her heartless when they see how laser-focused she is in terms of getting what she wants.
Hye Ran’s cold personality often makes it difficult for the people around her to feel much, if any, sympathy for her. In fact, many would rather criticize her and watch her fall flat on her face than try to understand what she’s had to sacrifice in order to achieve her success. As viewers, however, we get to see Hye Ran not only as an ambitious career woman, but also as a struggling wife and as a woman who has fought tooth and nail to demolish obstacles placed before her.
She’s far from perfect, but her flaws make her human — a real woman — and her willingness to rebel against those who try to put her in her place on the basis of her gender and age is admirable. So if you’re seeking a story about a strong, no-holds-barred woman, look no further than “Misty.” And if Hye Ran’s character isn’t complex enough for you, maybe the murder mystery she finds herself entangled in will be.
Which K-dramas with mature storylines do you recommend? Let us know in the comments below!
seheee is a software engineer by day and an avid K-pop concert goer by night. She also occasionally makes an appearance on Twitter @_seheee.