The best kdramas of 2021

Published Categorized as Kdrama Buzz

Here is my picks for the best kdramas of 2021.

2021 has been an interesting year for kdramas and while it hasn’t been the most memorable in terms of quality, it did mark a shift in how outsiders viewed Kdramas in general.

Key takeaways of 2021 kdramas:

2021 was an okay year for kdramas- at best. In the long term, I doubt this year would be memorable for much aside from “Squid Game,” but that’s a topic for another article.

OTT content rose in popularity and mentions this year, this article is filled with it more than ever- a first for this blog, and there is a good reason for it.
The higher budget, lack of restrictions and censorship makes for great talents to rise and showcase their best.

Notes: the below list doesn’t include any kdrama above 20 episodes.

“Racket Boys” is not on the list because I haven’t gotten to watch it, I’ve heard great things about the drama.

Note: this article is subjective and a personal opinion, take it with a grain of salt.

On the Verge of Insanity

This drama could be easily labeled the most underrated of 2021. I binge-watched this drama once it was completed and it was so enjoyable.

“On the Verge of Insanity” is both well-written and well-acted. The script is also paced well, something not many kdramas can say this year. It brought some great performances from respected actors.

However, since it lacks a hallyu actor, not many talked about this one. If you want something that’s a slice-of-life kdrama that actually has something to say, this is what you should watch.

The Veil

I’ve contemplated including “The Veil” on the list but have ultimately decided to add it. “The Veil” was very enjoyable and well-acted. The script was ridiculous at times but I appreciated how concise it was. It might’ve been an entirely different tale had it been longer.

“The Veil” screenwriter clearly had the entire concept planned out meticulously and it shows, it slightly fumbles towards the middle but for the most part, you can tell the screenwriter had a clear vision of how they wanted the drama to end which I appreciate, the screenwriter stuck to their vision and planned their script with the ending in mind.

The script get a bit too ridiculous at the end with too many conveniences to drive the plot, added to that, the payoff seems too convoluted to make sense but the overall story, performances [most of them], and effects were stunning. If you’re looking for an action story that’s fast-paced, this is a very good choice.

Taxi Driver

“Taxi Driver” is easily one of the best kdramas of 2021. It offered a great commentary on the current state a lot of us live through, the lack of trust in authority, and why certain people reluctantly choose to rise and do the job for the government that is supposed to protect you.

The stories the drama covers feel personal, the performances were amazing. “Taxi Driver” changed screenwriters towards the end and luckily for us, the drama wasn’t butchered in the process.

“Taxi Driver” would have been perfect if the writing for Esom’s character had been better, this was a point often discussed on online forums. I believe the writing for her character was flawed but the new screenwriter helped fix some of the issues and helped prevent this drama from derailing.

The overall performances, messages, and directing of the drama were more than enough to make it land on my list of the best kdramas of 2021.

The Devil Judge

“The Devil Judge” is easily the messiest script on this list. If you read my review of “The Devil Judge” then you knew it was going to be on the list, but not because its well-written but because I enjoyed it too much to not consider it one of the best kdramas I’ve watched in 2021.

The screenwriter behind the drama who used to be a judge definitely needs to work harder on crafting his characters. This is his second work. He has great ideas but he needs to work on the execution part better.

The stories and themes he tackles were so much fun. The actors definitely carry the project with their charms and acting in areas where it’s obviously lacking. “The Devil Judge” was sooo enjoyable and I believe the cast truly saved this drama.

Mine

“Mine” is a truly empowering women drama. If you’re looking for a feminist drama that does it right, this is the one you go for. “Mine” tells the interesting story of what goes around when a murder takes place, the story is woven well and the women actresses truly embody their characters.

“Mine” focuses on how women deal with prejudice in South Korea, how often they’re dismissed and must abide by rules that restrict them, rules that are set by both men and women to keep the status quo.

What I also liked was how “Mine” ending remained true to the message it was trying to convey, I appreciated that they stuck to the main mood of the story and didn’t butcher the ending. “Mine” is suspenseful, well-acted, and fun.

Squid Game

Everything that is to be said about “Squid Game” has been said at least 1000 times already. I have not much to add to the conversation aside from my initial review of the drama.

“Squid Game” embodies the good that Netflix has done to the Korean TV scene. It will likely be forever remembered as one of the most iconic dramas of all time. “Squid Game” wasn’t perfect in my opinion, it had flaws and certain plot points that I wish had been tackled differently but I can tell the director was trying so hard to perfect everything and he did a marvelous job.

Above all else, “Squid Game” is just so much fun. I had a great time watching it and listening to people talk about it. I watch a lot of movies and dramas from all around the world, and some of my favorite creators were discussing the drama. It was so interesting seeing people outside the kdrama sphere appreciate this gem.

Beyond Evil

“Beyond Evil” is a drama that definitely deserved more attention. It did end up getting it eventually but I wished it had been bigger when it aired, it was truly a masterpiece. At the same time, the themes it tackles are pretty horrifying and difficult to digest, so it’s definitely not a drama you’d recommend to everyone.

“Beyond Evil” script was AMAZING, one of my favorites on this list. It was so well thought out, which is something you don’t always see. Generally speaking, kdrama writers have a rough idea of how to carry out the drama and write it as they’re filming it.

In this case, I could easily tell that the screenwriter had a vision from the get-go. “Beyond Evil” does slow down a bit in the middle because of a rough transition period that should’ve been handled better [I blame the 16 episode format], but it was so well done you can’t possibly be mad.

The method in which the screenwriter uses to show you how certain people react to grief is so heartbreaking. I can’t describe it with words, the drama was truly heart-wrenching and when you pause to think of how everything went down, you feel pain. The drama doesn’t attempt to make you like the main leads and doesn’t even attempt to paint them as the saviors which is something I also appreciated.

Move To Heaven

“Move To Heaven” is another beautiful Netflix drama. The premise of this drama is one of the most unique ones on this list. It deals with people who clean up crime scenes or scenes where people pass away. The stories the drama tells are engaging, touching, and tragic put in one package.

Tang Joon Sang is truly a gem in the making, and Lee Je Hoon does an amazing job as well. I personally enjoyed his performance here more than in “Taxi Driver.” You will cry watching this drama.

D.P.

“D.P.” is also an interesting drama, another hit by Netflix. Too bad the success of “Squid Game” overshadowed it. The drama was getting so much press when it aired but it’s release coincided with “Squid Game” release and people just kinda forgot about it as “Squid Game” took the center stage.

In terms of writing, “D.P.” has an amazing script. One of the best on this list. It’s only 6 episodes, it wastes no time at all and makes thought-provoking points that linger in your mind.

Jung Hae In gives what I believe to be his best performance to date and Koo Gyo Hwan was such a gem and a scene-stealer.

Having said this, “D.P.” is difficult to watch at times and tackles many difficult topics such as suicide, sexual harassment, hazing and more but its definitely worthwhile.

Work Later, Drink Now

I have heard people discuss this drama but I haven’t gotten to watch it until it wrapped up it’s run which is good news because I think this is the type of drama that is better binge-watched.

“Work Later, Drink Now” script might appear typical at first but it does a wonderful job at subverting expectations and adding substance to overly used characters archetypes. The drama is only 12 episodes long but each episode is roughly 30 minutes. Such format works wonders for these types of scripts, had it been the industry standard, I think it wouldn’t have left such an impression on everyone who watched it.

So these are my picks for the best kdramas of 2021, do you agree or disagree with me? What would you add to the list?

By Jass K

Hi, I am Jass k. the founder of Jazminemedia, in this site, I share my thoughts on the stories me and my team cover. I also review and recap kdramas, all the reviews and recaps in this blog are written by me. I've been a fan of kdramas since 2012 and counting~ Join me as I discuss some of the hottest currently airing kdramas, and if you have any requests for a kdrama review, please let me know in the comment section of any article.

1 comment

  1. Hi, excellent review – thanks!!! I realize that when trying to pick up the best dramas we pick up those which fall into the genre we like. For example, I like watching romcoms so I obviously watch more dramas in that genre than in any other genre and will naturally pick up more romcoms as the best dramas of 2021. I guess what I am trying to say is that it is very personal taste. ))

    I only watched 2 dramas from your list – “On the verge of insanity” and “Work later, drink now” and I totally agree and these two also made my list of the best dramas. In my view, “On the verge of insanity” was one of the dramas which handled the 16-episode format very well. At no point of time this drama stalled, there were no filler episodes, each episode had new twists in plot, the story kept intensity until the end and the cast was exceptional. This drama was obviously for more mature audience, who knows what hell sometimes you go through in your office place, what it means to make personal sacrifices for your career, what is wrong choice and what is right one, how to live with your decisions and choices you make, etc. I really liked this drama so for me – this is number 1 drama of 2021 hands down. And the cast – Moon So Ri, Jung Jae Young, Lee Sang Yeob, Cha Chung Hwa. I was recently re-watching “While you were sleeping” and I thought wow, Lee Sang Yeob – what a good actor. And Cha Chung Hwa – she is one of my favourite Korean actresses, how good she was in “Hometown Cha Cha Cha”, playing the mother who lost her child. She is amazing.
    “Work later, drink now” – agree, it was a very original drama, very funny, more dramedy than drama or romcom. Funnily, my favourite character was Kang Ji Gu played by Jung Eun Ji. She had less spotlight than her two friends, but to me she was the coolest character. I even thought maybe I should also create my Youtube channel and start folding Origami )).

    I know I like the drama if I want to re-watch it. So to my personal list I add “Yumi’s cells”, “At a distance, spring is green”, “Happiness”, two of still ongoing dramas – “The Red Sleeve” and “Secret Royal Inspector Joy” (excellent comedy), “Dali and the Cocky Prince”. Maybe I forgot some other good dramas and some of the other are still ongoing, so I may add some more to my list, but this is all for now ).

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