It’s that time of the year again! No, I don’t mean getting smashed on eggnog or staying up to the countdown of the new year. It’s time for our annual K-drama superlatives-style roundup!
In this year of K-dramas, we’ve had a particularly strong showing of historical dramas (sageuks), both traditional and fusion. There was also an uptick of dramas featuring well-written, empowered, multi-dimensional women. Netflix also dipped their toes into the production of K-dramas, which affected how their dramas are structured (for better or worse? Let us know what you think down in the comments).
To honor the dramas that have accompanied us this year (or made us laugh and cry and laugh so hard that we cried), I give you, in no particular order, 2019’s superlatives.
Before you get up in arms about the lack of the Arthdals or the Nokdus, please note that this is not a list of the best dramas of 2019, but rather a fun, silly way to take a stroll down memory lane. So feel free to head down to the comments section and nominate superlatives for all the other deserving dramas!
Disclaimer: This article only includes dramas that started airing between December 1, 2018, and November 30, 2019. Also, minor spoilers ahead!
Best send-off to the military
Lee Jong Suk in “Romance is a Bonus Book”
While “Romance is a Bonus Book” wasn’t necessarily one of the buzziest dramas of the year, it still drew attention for being Lee Na Young’s return to the small screen in nine years and for being Lee Jong Suk’s last drama before he enlisted.
The drama is set in the publishing industry and is a story of how good books touch the lives of the readers. In many ways, the drama itself is very much like curling up with a good book with a good cup of coffee — it’s not particularly thrilling yet is soothing, comforting, and is like spending time with a good friend. Frankly, we couldn’t have asked for a better send-off for Lee Jong Suk. See you in 2021!
Most victorious return from the military
Kang Ha Neul in “When the Camellia Blooms”
As we say goodbye to Lee Jong Suk, we also say welcome back to Kang Ha Neul, and boy, what a welcome! Just a week or two after his discharge from the military, Kang Ha Neul started working on “When the Camellia Blooms,” a drama that bloomed into one of the highest-rated dramas of 2019. His craft was definitely not dulled during his time away in the military, as he (along with his co-stars) turned in a spectacular performance that kept the viewers glued to this rom-com-thriller hybrid of a drama!
Best tongue-in-cheek moment
Lim Jin Joo (Chun Woo Hee) is a drama screenwriter who writes a script titled “It Gets Better When You Turn Thirty.” But when the drama aired, it only received ratings of 1 percent, which is just about how “Melo is My Nature” fared. Tell me they don’t have a psychic on staff! Though in all fairness, the drama aired on a cable network, so 1 to 2 percent is not too bad.
But the viewership ratings are a pale indication of this gem of a slice-of-life drama, which not only tackles heavier themes like depression but does it in a relatable and self-aware manner. It will make you laugh one second, tug at your heartstrings the next, and have you laughing again at all the meta moments! PPL inception anyone?
Also, we can’t get enough of all the “Reply 1988” jokes:
Catch the first episode of “Melo Is My Nature”:
Most likely to have all the women say “YAAAS”
As K-dramaland gears up to enter a new decade, we are delighted to report that there are more and more dramas headlined by talented women, and the female-oriented “Search: WWW” is certainly the creme of the crop! Our three female leads portray characters that are all successful, strong, and fabulous in their own ways. And even better? Their friendship is strong enough to support each other even though they’re from competing companies. There’s no “aggressive career woman” or “women have to tear each other down” or even “strong women date submissive men” stereotypes in sight! Instead, there are well-rounded, multi-dimensional characters that drive a grounded story of friendship and love.
Catch the first episode of “Search: WWW”:
Most in need of a season 2, stat!
There are often times where we want a second season after watching a particularly good drama. But that’s not the case with this zombie sageuk “Kingdom” (Apparently zombie-sageuk is a genre now, and it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds). Nay, we don’t want a second season, we need a second season!
Having aired on Netflix, it has adopted the U.S. way of TV serializing by ending the last episode of season one with bombshell after bombshell and whetting viewers’ appetite for the impending doom slated for season two. If you’ve been pulling your hair out waiting for season two to be announced, then hold on to your hair because the new season of haunting zombies and hauntingly beautiful storytelling will be released in March 2020! Check out the teasers here.
Drama with the best guests
“Hotel Del Luna” is another super buzzy drama of 2019 and so many other superlatives could’ve been bestowed on it, including “Best OST,” “Most fabulously dressed,” and even “Most dedicated firefly.”
But I chose a more encompassing “Best guests” instead. After all, a hotel would be nothing without its guests. Each guest at the Hotel Del Luna (including the staff) brings their own baggage and pain, and it was always cathartic as a viewer to join them on their journeys of healing.
And it’s not just the hotel guest characters that are entertaining, but also the guest stars themselves! With Oh Ji Ho, Lee Joon Gi, Lee Si Eon, Lee Yi Kyung, Pyo Ye Jin, Nam Da Reum, Sulli (you’re missed greatly), and so many more well-known actors popping in and doing cameos, it just made the drama even more delightful. Oh, and the biggest jaw drop of cameos? Kim! Soo! Hyun!
Catch the first episode of “Hotel Del Luna”:
Busiest actor in town
Yeo Jin Goo in “The Crowned Clown,” “Absolute Boyfriend,” and “Hotel Del Luna”
I’m going to start off this entry (and the following one) by waving the disclaimer that I didn’t actually take attendance for every actor in the industry, so there’s no actual statistic to back this claim. That being said, Yeo Jin Goo has been a clown, a king, a robot, and a hotel manager this year alone, so, let’s just go ahead and award him this superlative!
“Hotel Del Luna” needs no introduction, and “Absolute Boyfriend” (with Girls’ Day’s Minah) is a fluffy easy watch, but if you want to see Yeo Jin Goo really flex his acting chops, then turn your attention to “The Crowned Clown.” Yeo Jin Goo plays the dual role of a burdened King who is slowly unraveling as well as a clown who is filled with much vibrancy and hope. He does a phenomenal job imbuing each role with such different energies that distinguish one character from another that it’s no wonder he’s such a sought after actor!
Catch the first episode of “The Crowned Clown”:
Busiest actor in town (supporting actor category)
Kim Won Hae and Kim Sun Young in almost everything
You wouldn’t be remiss if you thought you’ve seen his face a few times this year, because Kim Won Hae‘s more or less been on the air for the whole year in back-to-back projects. He started the year off in “The Fiery Priest,” then “He Is Psychometric,” then “Melting Me Softly,” and now in “Chocolate.” That’s not even including the handful of cameos he’s done in other dramas. And what’s even more impressive? The number of dramas he’s been involved in this year has actually decreased compared to last year. He’s the busiest actor indeed!
Another omnipresent actor is none other than Kim Sun Young, who has played substantial supporting roles in six(!) dramas this year! She’s been in “Romance Is A Bonus Book,” “Her Private Life,” “Moments of 18,” “When The Camellia Blooms,” “Vagabond,” and also the currently airing “Crash Landing On You”! Her talent shines through in her range and versatility, imbuing even her more outlandish characters with likeability and heart. She’s always a fun addition to any drama, so here’s to seeing more of her next year!
Least bloody historical drama
“Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung”
Historical dramas (even fusion ones) are usually about throne chasing or fighting against tyrannical leaders or something along that vein, which usually also means war, torture, and bloodshed. Yet “Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung” is probably the least violent sageuk to hit our screens, as it instead delivers a progressive story about female empowerment and social change which is won about through negotiation and debate rather than violence. While it may not be entirely realistic for that era, the issues raised are relevant to any time period, showing that there is real depth to this drama underneath all the pretty (and there is a lot of pretty).
Least desirable superpower
“He is Psychometric”
After a tragic accident, Yi Ahn (Jinyoung, doing well in his first-ever lead role too!) acquires the ability to see the memories of a person after touching them. The storyline, filled with mystery and suspense, will continuously grab your attention as our leads try to solve a case that is very personal to them. That being said, I personally feel for Yi Ahn because that is not a superpower a person would ever want. With the amount of emotional baggage people carry around as well as their personal struggles and such, it would be terribly heavy to see into those memories. Teleportation for me please!
Catch the first episode of “He Is Psychometric”:
Best guilty pleasure
“Graceful Family,” the top-rated drama this year for its network, is one delicious soapy makjang that will drag you down with it the moment you press play. There’s something ridiculously addictive about a no-apologies, over-the-top drama with vivid characters, each with their own brand of crazy. There’s a fabulous female lead who totally owns her big personality like a boss. Throw in some birth secrets, scandalous affairs, a spy agency, and an intense slow-burn of a romance, and you may very well find yourself awake at 3 a.m. continuing your descent into makjang addiction.
The peak of ridiculously fabulous:
Catch the first episode of “Graceful Family”:
Hottest mess of a drama
“Melting Me Softly”
Yes, there is the irony in having a drama that’s supposed to melt softly be called the hottest anything, but the lack of nuance is indicative of the whole storytelling for this drama. Sadly, this drama could have been so much better — it even had a built-in, organic reason as to why the two leads had to stay away from each other — but instead, what we got was a drama that had no subtlety, lacked basic logic, and had tonal whiplash.
That’s not to say the drama didn’t have its good points — it did have Ji Chang Wook after all — but every time you thought things were starting to look up, the storyline went wonky again, and in the end, you just wished someone would set a bonfire and melt everything less softly.
Catch the first episode of “Melting Me Softly“:
Most relatable drama title EVER
“I Hate Going To Work”
Aired on: KBS
Air date: April 9 – July 2, 2019 (12 episodes)
Starring: Kim Dong Wan, Han Soo Yeon, So Joo Yeon
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know this drama existed until prepping for this article. (I know that makes me a bad Shinhwa fangirl). But the title resonates on such a deep, spiritual level that fellow working adults will most likely relate. Just as relatable as the title is, the drama is also a slice-of-life drama that focuses on the everyday issues that happen in the workplace, such as clashing work styles or inflexible bosses. And it’s through these common problems that we can band together and vent about our terrible day at work, then gather strength to go at it again the following day!
Golden-est name of 2019: Jae Wook
Kim Jae Wook in “Her Private Life”
Jae Wook is the golden name this year! It’s mostly because Kim Jae Wook’s character in “Her Private Life” is Lion, I mean, Ryan Gold. When the drama aired, it immediately grasped our fangirl hearts and we couldn’t get enough of the perfect boyfriend that is Ryan Gold. Not only is he so darn good looking, but he’s also emotionally mature enough to be in a healthy, no drama relationship! We all needed a Ryan Gold after watching this drama!
Catch the first episode of “Her Private Life“:
Lee Jae Wook in “Extraordinary You”
Kim Jae Wook isn’t the only Jae Wook in town that’s been catching people’s eyes! One of the hottest young actors is named Lee Jae Wook, and even though he only debuted in December 2018 with “Memories of the Alhambra,” he’s continuously booked work this year. He starred as Lee Da Hee’s love interest in “Search: WWW” and then as the second male lead in the much-beloved teen drama “Extraordinary You.”
And while the main leads of Dan Oh and Ha Roo had a universe-spanning love, we couldn’t help but still root for Baek Kyung, who, despite being written as quite a d-bag, still managed to tug on heartstrings largely thanks to Lee Jae Wook’s natural charisma. (Side note: “Extraordinary You” should also be given the title of “Drama with the tallest boys.” Seriously, why are they all so tall?)
Catch the first episode of “Extraordinary You“:
Most likely to make you drool
“Chocolate,” as the title suggests, is a soothing, comforting drama that indulges in your senses. The cinematography (much of which is shot on location in Greece) is gorgeous, the OST will make your ears sing, and the touching stories set in a hospice will make your eyes puddle. But the most impactful of all? The shots of the food! All that foooood! From Korean to Western, to desserts… oh. em. gee. This is a PSA for all you viewers, don’t watch this drama on an empty stomach. You’ll thank me later!
Most likely to make you laugh so much you’ll wonder if you might land yourself in hell
“The Fiery Priest”
A priest, a detective, and a prosecutor walk into an… exorcism. Okay, that’s not exactly accurate, but you get the idea. This is one of the highest-rated dramas of the year and for good reason. The bloody poster above belies the fact the drama is downright hilarious, following our three bumbling leads as they join forces to solve cases and serve justice (with slapstick and ridiculous parodies that are thrown in left and right). And as you find yourself laughing at Kim Nam Gil’s hot-headed but also derpified Catholic priest character for 10 minutes straight, you may or may not take pause to wonder if it’s inappropriate to laugh at priests before you just continue laughing again.
Catch the first episode of “The Fiery Priest“:
Most anticipated reunion
“Goblin” co-stars Lee Dong Wook and Yoo In Na reuniting in “Touch Your Heart”
After their tragic star-crossed lovers run in “Goblin,” it was a treat to see Lee Dong Wook and Yoo In Na reunite again in an easy, breezy rom-com! The two actors continue to bring their super sizzling chemistry in the law-themed “Touch Your Heart,” making it one of the more delightful dramas to watch this year. Even the supporting characters are a fun, solid bunch that add layers to the all-around adorableness.
Catch the first episode of “Touch Your Heart“:
Most bromantic bromance
Just as the poster indicates, this is a gorgeously shot, character-driven historical drama that depicts the conflicts that arise when fighting for power and country, and how two friends become enemies during it all. Despite their antagonism towards each other, going so far as to betraying and fighting the other, they realize they’re still each others’ rock, no matter their difficult history. The two warriors stay alive for each other and protect each other all the way to the (tragic) ends of the earth.
Best Glow Up
“One Spring Night”
If you feel like you had a weird sense of déjà vu when “One Spring Night” was first announced, don’t worry, because it actually isn’t that weird at all. In fact, “One Spring Night” has pretty much the same as cast and production crew as “Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food.” The script was even initially offered to Son Ye Jin before she turned it down.
Given the amount of buzz “Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food” generated in the early days, it’s no wonder they wanted the band to get back together, but we can’t forget about how the second half of that drama just gradually became frustratingly depressing and negated whatever fondness we had of it. So in comes “One Spring Night,” which delivered a heartfelt, grounded story of love overcoming obstacles, keeping the storyline going strong all the way. Most importantly, it stuck the landing! No wave of disappointments here!
“Angel’s Last Mission: Love”
Is there another drama this year that featured more rain than “Angel’s Last Mission: Love”? It was raining when our two leads Lee Yeon Seo and Dan first met and since then it’s only gotten wetter. It’s almost always raining when something big happens, and rain even becomes an important plot point in regards to Dan after he becomes an angel. Heck, it’s even right there in the poster! And if we’re being honest here, if we get to meet INFINITE’s Myung Soo (L), who cares about a little rain, amirite?
Catch the first episode of “Angel’s Last Mission: Love“:
Most likely to get your blood racing
The highly anticipated “Vagabond” reunites Lee Seung Gi and Suzy six years after their first outing together in “Gu Family Book.” This is a spy thriller drama that features tightly choreographed, blockbuster-esque action scenes that will get your blood pumping. With exciting twists and turns brought to life by a talented cast, you will be kept on the edge of your seats all the way to that very ending. You may very well pick up your seat and chuck it at the monitor when you realize a season two isn’t confirmed yet! *shakes fist at ending*
Most likely to give you dehydration
“Radiant” is a poignantly woven story about a woman in her 20s who appears to be trapped in the body of a 70-year-old. The main story unfolds via different narrators, thus allowing the viewer to experience the myriad of emotions on a much deeper level, especially the hurt and pain that consumes our main characters. The story is so raw and so human that you won’t be able to make it through without crying your body weight in water.
As if the drama wasn’t enough to make us cry, lead actress Kim Hye Ja continued the tearfest during her speech when she won the Daesang (Grand Prize) at the 55th Baeksang Arts Awards. Her speech echoed her final lines in the drama, saying, “My life was sometimes happy sometimes not. They say that life is nothing but a mere dream, but I was still grateful to live it. Every single day was dazzlingly beautiful. Even if you’re struggling right now, everyone alive has the right to enjoy all this every day. Even if one ordinary day is followed by another ordinary day, life is still worth living. Don’t waste the present by regretting the past and worrying about the future. Live this day radiantly, you deserve it.”
Catch the first episode of “Radiant“:
Which of these dramas have you watched or will be adding to your watch list? What other superlatives did you bestow on your favorite dramas? Share your nominations and comments with us below!
Belinda_C has written 67+ articles and quizzes in 2019 and wishes to thank all the readers and let them know she appreciates each and every one of them. Talk K-dramas and SEVENTEEN with her on Twitter!