Korean cosmetics are not the only thing I love about Korea, as my ultimate Big Love are Korean Dramas. Some popular Beauty Bloggers have confessed how blogging helps them fight depression, and cast away black thoughts. Asian Dramas are my cheer-up medicine. I started watching dramas in 2006, when I was facing some personal problems, and they are my happiness remedy every since. I seriously spend way too much time watching dramas, and my friends think I am completely crazy and I need to seek some kind of a cure by sharing my obsession. So I decided to incorporate some drama-love into this blog and I will share with you occasionally some thoughts about dramas and some recommendations!
I watch all kinds of dramas: cheesy romance, school dramas, thrillers and investigations, fantasy… but historical dramas hold a special place in my heart. They are in general a bit more mature, with bits of political plots and war. They are also more violent (in these dramas, a lot of people encounter bloody deaths) and the romance tends to be more complex and deep (“love you for a thousands years” kind of thing, if you see what I mean). In Korea, historical dramas are directed to both a younger and older audience – which makes them more diverse and often more complex. For me, the best about historical dramas, is that they offer a glimpse into History (I learned soooo much about different Korean historical eras, kings and dynasties that I could win a special Korean History trivial pursuit!) and allow to ‘time travel’ far away from your day-to-day worries. Cause hey! how can you worry about your ‘mean boss’ if people get betrayed for power, tortured and killed! That puts things into perspective. I also love the beautiful costumes, and the whole visual delight these dramas have to offer. Small note on my selection: I prefer the relatively “newer” historical dramas, as I find that in the old classics such as ‘Jewel in the Palace’ or ‘Dong Yi’ the male cast is just so-so… and let’s face it, I love flower-boys (these insanely handsome young men!). The older dramas also tend to be longer and more focused on Palace intrigues, while I love all the romance and especially the heart aching love triangles.
I don’t only watch Korean Historical dramas, and I need to admit that China improved so much in Drama-making that actually some of my favourite Historical dramas are Chinese… but let’s start here with my subjective top 5 of best Korean Historical dramas so far.
- No* 5 The Princess Man
This 2011 drama is a big hit among drama-lovers, and gets to this day amazing reviews and ratings. I liked it. It was a good drama with a good plot, but definitely not my favourite. The drama takes place in the 15th century during the Joseon Dynasty, and tells the story of a forbidden romance, between Princess Se Ryung the daughter of Grand Prince Su Yang and the son of her father’s mortal enemy. The story that starts cheerful and romantic, quickly moves into a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ type of plot with lots of blood and tears. The actors did a good job in portraying complicated emotions, and no one was totally evil or totally good. The drama offers both a beautiful love story, and a wicked love-triangle. There is a dense political plot – but that actually makes sense, so it’s interesting to follow. Overall, the drama is enjoyable and beautifully filmed – so it totally makes it into my top 5 of Korean Historical dramas.
Where to watch it: If you google a bit, you will find a lot of places to watch this (that I won’t advertise…), in the States you can watch it at Dramafever (they have a good app for iPads, if you don’t mind the ads.)
- No*4 Jang ok Jung – Living by love
I have a bit of mixed feelings about this drama, and it wasn’t so much of a hit when it first came out. It starts beautifully – the acting, the images, the romance (ohhhh the romance!!!) and then it goes dark and tragic. This drama offers a fresh view on the romance between royal concubine Jang Ok-Jung, (the real name of Jang Hui-bin) and king Sukjong during the Joseon Dynasty. Jank Ok-Jung was traditionally portrayed as the villain in several popular historical dramas, as she came down in history as manipulative and hungry for power. This dramas tells her story from a totally different perspective, and the actress (for some reason she is kind of disliked in Korea) did a good job in portraying her complex personality on the edge of good and evil. The drama starts, with Jang Ok-Jung’s youth as a Joseon era ‘Fashion Designer’ and ends in some more conventional harem-palace type of tragedy. Despite the predictable end (it follows history…) the drama is worth a try, and has a special place in my heart. Special mention of the character of Prince Dongpyung that gives you a serious second lead love syndrome!
Where to watch it: You can watch it on Viki (licensing depends on you region)
- No*3 Maids
This is a seriously underrated Korean Drama, and I want to do it justice by saying how much I loved everything about it! Maids, tells the story of a young noble girl that falls into slavery after her father is wrongly accused of treason. The lead actress did an amazing job in portraying the young girl, that changes from a slightly arrogant young noble into an extremely mature and determined person. There are lots of ups and downs in this drama, a mystery to discover, an investigation to fulfil and of course love-love-love… All the crew of actors did great, and every one of them was attaching in its own way (yes, even the evil characters). There is a love-triangle (of course! My heart skipped a bit or two when watching this) and lots of heart aching scenes. Globally this drama is more mature (but without ‘mature content’), and is not your typical relaxing romance story. Also, the music in this drama is absolutely beautiful – and I still spend hours listening to this drama’s soundtrack.
Where to watch it: The drama ‘Maids’ is available on Dramafever.
- No*2 The Moon embracing the Sun
Ok, now we move into ‘serious’ territory – meaning dramas I am so obsessed about, that I already re-watched several times! The moon embracing the sun, is a perfectly beautiful love story between an imaginary Joseon prince and his childhood sweetheart, that survived years of separation and a very adverse environment. This drama is original and quite typical at the same time. Original because it brings you into the world of ‘Shamans’ during an imaginary Joseon time, and typical because the love story is quite predictable (but who cares, right?). The first 6 or 7 episodes portray the main characters as teenagers, and let me tell you, this young crew did a fantastic job! They display stunning acting skills, and the story they tell both makes you laugh and cry in turns. I was smiling so much during these first episodes, that I may have even drooled a bit… Then, the story slows down, only to mediate about the power of Love and Destiny. Overall, a very enjoyable drama that offers a great escape into an epic love story.
Where to watch it: This drama is available with subtitles in multiple languages on Viki.
- No*1 Empress Ki
There is not enough words to describe how much I adore this drama! I usually don’t recommend it as a first drama to watch, for ‘Asian drama newbies’ because it is quite long (51 episodes – is by far the longest drama I have seen). But if you don’t mind the length, then watch this drama! It is based on historical events, depicting the story of Empress Ki who went from being a Korean (Goryeo at the time) concubine to the Empress of the Yuan empire (Mongol rule). Despite its length, the drama is never boring as it goes into several distinct phases: the youth of Empress Ki as a badass ‘bandit’ in Goryeo, her as a servant in the Palace and finally as concubine and queen. All the actors are beautiful and skilled (some serious eye-candy going on in this drama!), the love-triangle is just out of this world and even the political intrigue is amazingly well conducted. By the time it aired in Korea in 2013, I was watching each episode twice (without subtitles – then with subtitles) and I have re-watched it since. This drama received multiple awards, and was immensely popular in Korea. ‘Empress Ki’ displays amazing acting, gorgeous costumes, a great soundtrack and is my all-times favourite drama.
Where to watch it: In the states you can watch it on Hulu, as well as lots of other places that you have to google yourself ;)
- Honorable mention: Sungkyunkwan Scandal
Sungkyunkwan Scandal didn’t make it into my top 5, but it is definitely a good drama worth to watch. It’s a light and sweet comedy about a girl that pretends to be a boy in order to join the prestigious Sungkyunkwan academy during the Joseon dynasty. If you want something sweet and funny, this drama is a good match!
Where to watch it: You can find it on Dramafever.
Please let me know in comments or by message, if you liked this post and if you would like to read more of this kind of posts! In the meantime, if you want to find out more about dramas I loved, check out Mydramalist!