In the months since the incredible, widespread success of Netflix’s Squid Game, viewers around the world have turned their eye toward K-dramas. Though it is unfortunate that it has taken this long for many to realise the charm of South Korean shows, 2022 has shown that the world of K-dramas can be deeply moving, wildly hilarious and, arguably, resonate better than what the West has been putting out.
Just looking at what’s been released in the first half of 2022, we have the melancholic slife-of-life Our Blues to poignant romantic comedy Soundtrack #1 to the historical epic Pachinko. While there’s an array of exciting new music releases to come – including a Korean adaptation of Little Women and The Youngest Son of a Conglomerate starring Song Joong-ki – let’s take a look back at the 10 best K-dramas of 2022 so far.
A Business Proposal
An ordinary girl and a dashing wealthy guy faking it a relationship until it maliciously it becomes real has always been one of the K-drama world’s favourite plot lines. But A Business Proposal takes that oft-used trope, polishes the hell out of it and cranks it up to 11 – it’s no surprise that is the show is one of Netflix’s most-watched Non-English shows of the year so far.
The opening plot device – an ordinary office worker, while pretending to be someone else, finds herself on a blind date with the CEO of the company she works for – sets in motion a charming, engaging story that enthralls every step of the way. Couple that with the excellent chemistry of the main cast, and A Business Proposal sets itself up as the K-drama rom-com to beat in 2022.
Angela Patricia Suacillo
Forecasting Love And Weather
Forecasting Love And Weather is clever in more ways than one. Beyond the obvious – it takes place at the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA), where employees Jin Ha-kyung and Lee Si-woo, both fresh from failed romantic endeavors, struggle to navigate an office romance – the show also uses weather as a plot device that grows and contrasts with the characters.
The tumultuous nature of the weather does more than just keep viewers and characters alike on their toes, it also gives the relationship between the show’s main couple depth and complexity. Also extra points for being (probably) the first show to explore the ins and outs of a meteorological office in the K-drama world.
Angela Patricia Suacillo
Legal dramas (be it in the K-drama world or Western media) are a dime a dozen – but Juvenile Justice does just a little more than usual to keep it above the fray. Here, Kim Hye-soo puts on a tremendous performance as Shim Eun-seok, a stern, unfriendly judge marred with a tragic past, who ruthlessly metes out harsh sentences to delinquents, and candidly expresses her hatred for them.
When compassionate new hire Cha Tae-joo (Voice’s Kim Mu-yeol) – who happens to be a former juvenile offender – gets thrown into the mix, Eun-seok is forced to reckon with the bitter emotions stemming from her devastating history. Through a series of unjust, heart-breaking and downright macabre cases, the pair begin to question their beliefs on crime, justice and punishment.
My Liberation Notes
Perhaps the most complex and saddest part about adulthood is that the more we are supposed to be in control of our lives and emotions, the more we lose our grip on them. Obligations, responsibilities and structure rushes in and pushes out everything, and being in the backseat of your own car becomes frighteningly real. So, when Kim Ji-won’s Yeon Mi-jeong broke down in the middle of work due to her exhausting schedule, we all felt a kindred fire light in our hearts – after all, crying at work is an essential rite of passage for adulthood.
This is why My Liberation Notes will be one of the top K-dramas of this year. Among the pages of this riveting, moving diary is a safe space for anyone gasping to break the ennui of their everyday life and find something, anything, that brings a fresh breath of change. Here’s the catch, though – the biggest changes and revelations in life are never external. Look inside, and there the answers are.
Tanu I. Raj
To paraphrase Tolstoy: “Happy people are all alike, every unhappy person is unhappy in their own way.” As a general rule in the K-drama world, stories generally come with the confidence that everything will be okay in the end. Reassuring, but that’s escapism for you. Where Our Blues excelled was in the bittersweet intersection of happiness and unhappiness, also known as contentment.
Set against the azure seas of Jeju Island, human stories are doled out in measured doses of three episodes, all focusing on the various, subtle ways the “blues” of life – loneliness, discontentment, depression, longing and more – tinge the vibrancy of life on this idyllic vacation destination. The best part? As in life, these stories don’t always have the perfect endings. First loves don’t work out, friends are forgotten, hatchets aren’t always buried, but we are always left with the intrinsic realization that they were meant to be.
Tanu I. Raj
Pachinko charts the journey of a poverty-stricken South Korean family across multiple generations, as they depart from the comfort of their home on a cross-continental trek in search of a better life. Beginning in the 1910s with the Japanese occupation of South Korea, Pachinko acquaints us with the lives of the Zainichi population before jumping decades forward to the ’80s.
The Apple TV+ original series is a cinematic triumph on the part of screenwriter Soo Hugh and directors Kogonada and Justin Chon – discerning in its retelling of an era rarely discussed in the history books and breathtaking in its visual direction. Sitting at the core of this time-hopping tale is the family’s matriarch, Sun-ja (portrayed by Jeon Yu-na as a child, Kim Min-ha as a young adult and Youn Yuh-jung as in her golden years), who fights tooth and nail against the hardships thrown her way.
Fiction might make falling in love seem like the stuff of dreams, but in reality, it’s anything but a breezy affair. As Soundtrack #1 puts across in four episodes jam-packed with emotional richness, there are very real, practical matters that make a fairytale concept like love more complicated that it’s chalked up to be.
Such is the case with Han Sun-woo (Park Hyung-sik) and Lee Eun-soo (Han So-hee), best friends who have known each other for nearly two decades, though eight of them were spent by Sun-woo carrying a torch for Eun-soo. With only two weeks left before he’s set to depart the country for a project, their impending, long-term physical separation pushes this pair of friends out of their comfort zone, allowing them to evolve into something more.
Friends-to-lovers tropes are miles away from being the most original foundation of romance stories, but when done as delicately and introspectively as Soundtrack #1 has, bolstered by sharply-etched visual storytelling, it just does the trick. When it works, it really works.
A beautiful, heartwarming tale of friendship, love and loss, Thirty-Nine stars Son Ye-jin (Crash Landing On You), Jeon Mi-do (Hospital Playlist) and Kim Ji-hyun as high school best friends fast approaching their forties. Each character hails from drastically different backgrounds, first brought together by the seemingly perfect Cha Mi-jo’s (played by Son) search for her birth mother, later forming an unbreakable bond that seeps into each of their families over the decades.
After one of them receives a heart-breaking diagnosis, the trio grapple with what remaining time they have together, hoping to fulfil each other’s deepest wishes before parting ways. The simple premise, paired with the authentic chemistry between the actresses, and not to mention the brilliantly poignant, yet sentimental writing, elevates Thirty-Nine into an outstandingly evocative lesson on family, chosen or otherwise.
Grim Reapers tasked with preventing living humans from taking their own lives form the bedrock of this multi-layered webtoon adaptation. Tomorrow follows Joon-woong (SF9’s Rowoon), who gets recruited by head Grim Reaper Koo Ryeon (Kim Hee-sun) as a rookie member of the team, as part of a deal after his soul gets stuck in mortal limbo.
Despite its hefty and sensitive subject matter, this K-drama series confronts the realities of mental illness with compassion and empathy, and offers critical perspective into the social stigma that clouds the vilified few who believe there is no other way out. Tomorrow is also delicate in ensuring that comedic relief never detracts from the gravity of its overarching purpose as a catalyst of necessary conversations surrounding mental health.
Twenty Five Twenty One
We all love a good coming-of-age story, and the nostalgic Twenty Five Twenty One delivers all that and more. Starring Kim Tae-ri (Mr. Sunshine) as Na Hee-do, a cheeky high schooler with a fiery passion for fencing, this charming K-drama is an inspiring testament to youthful ambition and dreams in a world ruled by unflinching pragmatism.
Hee-do soon crosses paths with the 22-year-old Baek Yi-jin (Nam Joo-hyuk), a young man forced to drop out of college after his family loses everything in the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Despite her young age, Yi-jin soon finds himself learning far more from her infectious optimism than he ever expected, while he imparts his own wisdom to help navigate her way to her dreams.