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The best Netflix series for K-drama fans

netflix korean drama vincenzo

Let’s go ahead and cut to the chase. If you have any interest whatsoever in K-dramas — and you should, because so many of them come close to TV perfection — Netflix is increasingly the go-to source for fans. The biggest streamer in the world said it would spend around half a billion dollars this year on Korean content alone. That’s to continue investing in a Korean content slate that’s helped Netflix garner almost 4 million users in the country. It even built a pair of production facilities in South Korea and has been releasing a steady stream of original Korean shows and movies. Which ultimately begs the question: Which ones, exactly, are the best Netflix series to stream right now for K-drama fans?

Since “best” is subjective, a good way to answer this is by identifying a certain kind of Netflix K-drama. Below, you’ll find our recommendations for original Netflix Korean fare that a connoisseur of the genre would identify as “must watches.” We can argue about which ones of these are the best. But all of these, most definitely, need to at least be seen. There are seven shows in all below. And at least some of them also deserve to be on the year-end best TV of 2021 lists. Furthermore, you don’t have to take our word for this, either. Ask any hardcore K-drama fan, and they will point to some and maybe even all of these shows as among the best of what Netflix has to offer. So, without further ado, let’s dive in.

Best Netflix series (for K-drama fans)

If you need a one-stop-shop place to start, Netflix’s K-drama landing page is a good entry point into the category. These are all grouped the same way Netflix content on your main page is. The K-drama categories here include everything from “Soapy TV Shows” to “Popular,” “Sci-fi” and more.

Let’s start with a recent addition to Netflix’s library, one that debuted in February. I should also add the caveat: These are all K-dramas that I’ve seen. There will no doubt be some that other fans feel should be on a list like this — I just haven’t gotten around to them yet. This is my completely subjective ranking for right now, so keep that in mind.

Vincenzo

Vincenzo is a perfect example of something I’ve encountered during the coronavirus pandemic. Stuck at home, I’ve found myself gravitating to international streaming fare, including Korean shows like this one. And it feels like so many K-dramas, including Vincenzo, try to bombard you with anything and everything you could possibly like. Vincenzo, especially, encompasses comedy, drama, action, corporate espionage, and intrigue, a little romance — something, in other words, for everyone.

A quick summary of the plot: Vincenzo Cassano is a lawyer and consigliere for the Italian mafia. He returns to his homeland of Korea and quickly locks horns with a corrupt CEO and his minions. Vincenzo lays the smack down on bad guys the way you’d expect from a stylish Mafioso. He also sticks up for a coterie of small business owners, who form the heart of the show. There are way too many twists in Vincenzo to count, so you’ll never get bored. There’s only one season (again, something of a hallmark of K-dramas), so you don’t have to make a huge investment here. It’s pure escapist TV, of a sort that translates across any language.

Crash Landing on You

Crash Landing on You gets my vote for the #1, absolutely best Korean drama on Netflix.

The plot: A filthy rich South Korean heiress goes hang gliding and gets swept across the border in a storm. She lands in a North Korean forest. In a tree, where she crash lands into the arms of a handsome, elite North Korean soldier.

You can probably guess where this one’s going.

Same as with Vincenzo, CLoY (the acronym by which fans refer to the show) is chock-a-block with everything from romance to comedy, drama, action sequences, big-budget set pieces, an ensemble bromance, and spy action, along with much more. Be warned: You will literally fall in love with all of these characters, and you might even feel ready to march outside of Netflix’s headquarters in protest once you’ve finished this one. That’s because there’s not going to be a Season 2. Just try it, though. You’ll see what we mean (But you WILL be satisfied, overall, because this one is absolutely the best of the best).

Search: WWW

If you’ll allow me another point of personal privilege, Search: WWW is my #2 K-drama out of all of them I’ve sent at this point. The story is great — there’s actually not one, but a handful of interlocking storylines that fit together quite nicely. But I love this one so much because the three women at the center of this drama are written and performed so well, to a degree that’s so refreshing to see in a TV show.

At the heart of the story are two fictional Yahoo-like web portal companies in Seoul: Unicon, and Barro. Two of the show’s three key women work for Barro, while the other is a top executive at Unicon.

The Unicon executive, at various points in the lives of the other two, has been a kind of mentor/older sister figure to them both. The two Barro women, meanwhile, are pretty much complete opposites. One is dedicated to her career and doesn’t allow herself much time for love. The other is a strong, passionate woman who’s a bit headstrong but also vulnerable when it comes to love. Both of those women also clash a bit over the direction for Barro — specifically, how to increase its market share in order to finally dethrone the top dog, Unicon.

The storylines for these three women definitely carry the show all by themselves. The men, I can take or leave — with the exception of the TV drama star that one of the three women, Scarlett, eventually falls in love with.

The two elephants in the room — Squid Game, and Hellbound

person in red costume with triange design
A scene from Netflix’s series “Squid Game.” Image source: Netflix

It would be utterly absurd, meanwhile, to leave two relatively new K-drama additions to Netflix off of this list.

Squid Game and Hellbound both have staggeringly high critics scores at Rotten Tomatoes (Hellbound actually has a perfect 100% score). They’re also among the biggest Netflix releases ever — of any genre. That’s according to the streamer itself.

The great thing about them is that, while they were released independently of each other, they also work as a kind of philosophical pairing if you watch them back-to-back. The former offers a pretty dark take on the dog-eat-dog, winner-take-all nature of capitalism. Squid Game pits 456 contestants against each other in a series of games where the ultimate prize is 45.6 billion won. It’s just that … well, all the other contestants are killed along the way.

Meanwhile, Hellbound grapples with the implications of blind faith. Here’s the story: A creepy face materializes to tell sinners they’ve been marked for death. At the appointed hour, right on time, three scary, massive demons show up to subject the victim to a beatdown. After which they’re incinerated, sending their soul on its way. “Unbelievable demonstrations of hell take place in the middle of Seoul right in front of crowds,” reads the official synopsis from Netflix. “Mysterious beings condemn individuals to be hellbound, and otherworldly beings appear exactly at the specified time to kill the condemned in a brutal burning.”

If the show stopped there, it would already be a compelling-enough TV series. But the series goes on to add some creative extra touches that pull you in even more. Such as a QAnon-style group that stirs up people into a frenzy with its own bizarre ideas about what’s happening. There are tons of twists, and the characters are all rounded out with three-dimensional backstories.

Two honorable mentions

My Name

This one came out earlier this year. And while I normally stay away from crime dramas in any language, something about My Name pulled me in and made me want to check it out. I’m not sure what, exactly, but I absolutely know why I stayed all the way through and was so blown away by it. The reason for that is Han So-hee, the actress who stars as the daughter of a man she saw murdered right before her eyes.

Her father, we come to understand, was part of a drug gang. And while she and her father didn’t see much of each other as she grew up, they began to reconnect as she matured.

One day, on the way to her apartment, someone guns him down. While his daughter can only watch, helpless, through the keyhole of her front door. So what does she decide to do? Join the gang. Ask them to train her. Subject herself to a brutal regimen on the road to breaking bad. All so she can be ready, fully ready, to hunt down her father’s killer and take revenge.

Whenever Han So-hee is on the screen, you don’t want to take your eyes off her. I know this is the nature of the job for an actor, but in her case you really feel like you are staring at an angry, vulnerable, fragile, broken, and extremely deadly young woman. Even when she’s saying nothing at all, she wears all of that on her face and in the way she carries herself. Overall, the writing here is excellent, and the twists are a little predictable but handled well. But put this one on your list for no other reason than to be wowed by a singular acting talent.

Hospital Playlist

“Every day is extraordinary for five doctors and their patients inside a hospital, where birth, death and everything in between coexist,” reads the official Netflix description for Hospital Playlist.

This one reminds me of Scrubs, in terms of the mixing of both comic and serious tones. The characters practice medicine. There’s also the normal bond we see between friends. And they’re also all in a band together. Hospital Playlist is another fan favorite. It’s on all of the “Best Korean drama” lists, and fans of the genre should definitely check it out.

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Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.




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