2019 has been a good year for kdramas, we saw many screenwriters pushing the boundaries on what kdramas should be.
It was the year JTBC dramas rose to the top. Cable dramas in general performed this year, yet again, better than public channel dramas because they obviously always strove to push the boundaries and change our thoughts of what a kdrama is or should be. Cable channels switched up their content while public channels fell behind.
Today, I’d like to talk about my personal favorite kdramas of 2019. Be mindful that this is a subjective article in which I discuss my own opinion about the best kdramas of 2019, I shall explain in short details why I thought these dramas were great. I have checked out the majority of kdrama releases of 2019, I haven’t completed all of them but I do have a good idea about all the releases of 2019 since this is my job.
Note: I have heard great things about “Be Melodramatic” but I didn’t have the time to see it. Other than that, I watched most of fans favorite kdramas this year, of course, this doesn’t mean all of them will be on this list.
Note 2: I watched “Arthdal Chronicles” part 1 but it couldn’t draw my attention because it took too long to set up the premise. When I tried to get back to it, I just couldn’t commit. I found it boring.
Note 3: This is list is in no particular order. And only includes kdramas from December 1st, 2018 to November 20, 2019.
“Sky Castle” is not only one of the best 2019 kdramas but one of my favorites in recent years. It is also probably one of the best-written kdramas on this list, if not the best.
“Sky Castle” wasn’t really supposed to become this phenomena, the cast was older generation actors and younger unknown actors, this is why its initial release flew under the radar since many international fans didn’t focus on it. Despite its slow start, the drama plot helped it become probably the most successful kdrama of 2019.
All Korean broadcasting channels talked about it, it was even parodied by many kpop idols, everyone was talking about how good this drama was and it deserved the all the hype it got. I even wrote a spoiler-free review of the drama, read it here.
“Sky Castle” is a tale about how culture influences our decisions and potentially ruin our lives. The leads weren’t lovable characters but rather annoying, downright disrespectful and oftentimes inconsiderate, still, the plot was so good that people kept coming back for more.
This is the type of kdrama I’d recommend for people who don’t watch kdramas, since you would probably still enjoy it even if you don’t like kdramas because this one doesn’t follow the typical kdrama route.
Overall score: 97%
Strangers From Hell
“strangers From Hell” is a close second for me. While the overall plot was not as consistent as I would have loved it to be, it still was one of the most enjoyable kdramas of 2019. Dare I compare it to the hit movie of 2019 “Joker”? they’re both similar in the sense that they tell a story of man who loses his mind because of his mental instability and the surrounding conditions.
Personally speaking, I liked “strangers From Hell” more than Joker because I think such an idea needs to be explored in more details, we see slowly how Im Siwan’s character changes and it was beautiful and frightening to see.
“Strangers From Hell” could’ve been better because there were certain plot points that weren’t explored properly or even explained but it was full of suspense and gore at times, it was the type of dramas I generally enjoy the most.
I know that this drama wasn’t easy to watch for many kdrama fans, it had gruesome and violent scenes especially early on, if you’re planning on watching this drama, eating is not recommended. If you’re not a big fan of horror or suspense, you’ll probably struggle with this one, this is an OCN drama so naturally, it has such elements attached to it.
I know that many kdrama fans gave up on it because it was difficult to watch, personally, I love horror and gore so I don’t mind such types of dramas, regardless, this drama had an amazing plot that focused on how Korean society flaws. It is easily one of the best 2019 kdramas if we take into consideration the depth of its script.
If you’re a horror fan this is highly recommended. It is easily one of Lee Dong Wook best performances in recent years as well.
Overall score: 97%
One Spring Night
“One Spring Night” was either a hit or a miss with kdrama fans, some loved it while others, not so much.
It was helmed by the same director of “Something in the Rain,” another great kdrama, this drama is very similar in the format and editing as well.
“One Spring Night” is about life issues, its a social commentary drama about how Korean culture and its norms heavily affect its people, and how people’s perspective of what our lives should look like affects us on our daily lives.
Its about a woman who falls in love with a single father and the stigma Korean people have of single parents in general, it showcases the struggles they go through in order to be together.
It is not about a classic rich-boy poor-girl scenario which is also refreshing to see. Everybody’s performance was also amazing, there were certain moments when the drama stalled and felt dull but overall, it was fun to watch.
Overall score: 86%
The main reason I started watching “VIP” was Jang Nara who has had a very successful 2019 with the dramatic over-the-top shenanigans of “The Last Empress” which was enjoyable but too much, I lost interest fast which is why you won’t find this drama on this list.
Jang Nara chooses good projects, I don’t always love them but I always find them interesting to say the least. I am not the biggest fan of Lee Sang Yoon who is a great actor but I watched because of her primarily.
I didn’t expect “VIP” to be this good with all honesty. Its about a woman who finds out that her husband cheated on her and the drama that ensues afterwards. I liked the approach of the director and writer. The screenwriter is the star of this drama, “VIP” is well-written and full of suspense in all the right places, its masterfully executed to make you doubt everyone around Jang Nara’s character as the possible woman her husband (played by Lee Sang Yoon) is cheating on her with.
I also like that the main male lead isn’t your typical nice kdrama character that does no wrong, usually the role of Lee Sang Yoon is given to the second lead role characters in kdramas but its different with this one. I also really liked Jang Nara’s character approach to her issues.
This could be the type of drama you resonate with or love, if you’re a huge fan of dramatic mystery kdramas, but I also understand why some might find the format and execution not to be the best. Its also a kdrama that an older fan would enjoy and probably appreciate better. It deals with the heartache of a woman who loses her grip on everything she’s worked so hard to keep.
Its considered one of the highest rated kdramas of 2019 and with all honesty, I think it deserves.
Overall score: 97%
“Extraordinary You” is one of those kdramas that I honestly didn’t believe I would even watch. A fellow mutual on twitter kept raving about the drama so I thought I’d give it a try, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
The premise of the drama is very interesting, the core idea was very appealing to me. Its about manhwa characters who become aware that they’re living inside a manhwa. Its done better than you’d originally expect it to be, it knows that its dealing with typical stereotypical kdrama points and makes fun of itself but sometimes falls victim to the same stereotypes it tries so hard to poke fun at.
Overall, it was an enjoyable experience, I don’t watch high school kdramas because its not something that caters to my taste anymore but this was nice to see. The young actors who played roles in this drama did very well. The drama last episodes weren’t exactly my favorite but it was still very enjoyable and interesting. I felt that “Extraordinary You” I didn’t need to be this long but it was enjoyable.
If you’re into high school dramas with a twist, this is the drama for you.
Overall score: 82%
Its not easy to find a kdrama where the female leads are truly in charge of their lives. I have been watching kdramas since 2012 and I can barely name 10 kdramas out of the hundreds that I watched where the female lead is truly and utterly in control of her life not aided by the rich male lead.
“Search: WWW” was a beautiful surprise, I didn’t know I’d love it this much. The story revolves around three leading women who shape Korean internet consumption, its about search engine companies and how they shape and influence our behavior.
The core idea was interesting in itself especially since it came out during a time when Naver (the biggest search engine in South Korea) was under scrutiny for hiding articles about YG Entertainment controversies. Naver has a huge share in YG Entertainment and netizens began noticing that articles about YG controversies rarely trended despite the huge buzz surrounding them leading many to question just how much they could trust Naver.
It was interesting to take a look at how things actually work behind the scenes and how corporations truly hold the power to shape and alter the way we think. The drama dealt with strong female characters who aren’t easy to deal with and soft supportive male characters who are actually not the dominant ones in a relationship.
Whats interesting was how committed the writer was to the idea of a truly feminist drama without overly trying to enforce it. Its a drama where the female characters don’t depend on men, I find that very refreshing because even with the biggest most notable kdramas I love to talk about, I rarely find the female lead this empowering.
The male lead is usually the one holding the key to solving the female lead problems in kdramas, as I grow older, I started noticing it even more, there are many powerful women everywhere around the world who hold the key to their own lives. The chemistry between the lead female and male characters were off the charts, in fact, they’re still friends and usually share photos of their get-together whenever possible.
Everything about this drama was perfect, at least to me, I enjoyed it so much and this is why its one of the best kdramas of 2019, in my opinion.
Overall score: 95%
Hotel Del Luna
“Hotel Del Luna” is written by the Hong sister and is probably my favorite Hong sisters drama in recent memory and I think that is in part due to the production requirements. Let me explain.
The drama production staff required Hong sisters to have the episode’s script ready months in advance because each episode required many special effects and to work on them properly, they needed to be aware of what was about to happen each episode. This is something the Hong sisters touched on in an interview after “Hotel Del Luna” ended.
This is not normal for the majority of kdramas we see, but it also played a role in making “Hotel Del Luna” the script it became.
There are many clever subtle details scattered throughout “Hotel Del Luna” that hints at the writers’ efforts to make it as interesting and impactful as possible. There are man Easter eggs here and there, we just didn’t pay close attention, going back to them, it made it even more fun to watch.
They clearly thought this through, it was one the most concise Hong sisters scripts I’ve seen in ages, also one of the most hilarious, fun and dramatic as well. I cried my eyes out during certain scenes.
“Hotel Del Luna” is about a special hotel for the dead, the core idea is interesting and gives a lean way to many splendid ideas, you will never run of out of ideas to explore this drama with.
It is run by a vengeful spiteful character called Man Wol played beautifully by IU. Its another 2019 kdrama where the female lead isn’t likeable, regardless, the drama was very enjoyable and thoughtful. It is truly one of the best 2019 kdramas.
Overall score: 98%
“My Country” stands as the only historical kdrama on this list. Frankly, not many historical kdramas were released this year to begin with.
I don’t personally like historical kdramas or historical dramas for that matter of fact, I don’t like watching anything about ancient times whether it was in English, German, French or Korean. I just don’t find such premise interesting enough for me.
However, I really enjoyed this drama. “My Country” performed well and had many positive reviews but didn’t perform as well as it should have in terms of ratings which I found unfortunate.
“My Country” is intertwined between actual historical events and madeup scenarios, but some of the characters played by the actors were actual human beings cemented in Korean history.
Its a very sad kdrama, the majority of historical dramas share that trait. I loved the way the script progressed until episode 12 and I really enjoyed Woo Do Hwan and Yang Se Jong’s performances.
AOA Seolhyun who played the female lead was surprisingly convincing which made “My Country” more enjoyable, it was Seolhyun’s best acting performance to date.
Jang Hyuk was also marvelous in this drama. Its about how the low class pays the ultimate price for the decisions of the elders and the king. It was beautifully sad. I thought the drama should’ve ended with episode 12, but still, I enjoyed it throughout because of how interesting the script was.
I couldn’t easily predict the next scene, they had many ideas to work with and important historical events to cover in this drama which made it even more interesting since I am not Korean so I had no idea about their history.
The actors performances combined with the brilliant custom design and production value made “My Country” a must-see for kdrama fans.
The light in Your Eyes
“The Light In Your Eyes” has one of the best twists in 2019 kdramas and it’s the reason it made it on this list.
“The Light In Your Eyes” is different from regular kdramas I watch because the main cast focuses on the veteran actress .. she is the star of this show and for a very beautiful reason. Without spoiling much, “The Light In Your Eyes” is a beautiful tale about two youngsters as they navigate life. Its only 12 episodes long which I especially loved because it meant that the kdrama writer wanted to focus on the story and its delivery rather than the count of episodes, many kdramas this year were 16 episodes long simply because it says so and this is how broadcasting channels runs, most of them didn’t need to be this long, it feels like they’re just trying to milk as much as they can from the audience with little care to the plot.
“The Light In Your Eyes” takes you in a certain direction and does certain things that seem questionable at best, some of them are obvious plot holes but you’ll understand why they happened at the end of the drama. It was such a beautiful twist that Korean news outlets couldn’t stop talking about it, it was the trending story for a while on Naver.
There are a couple of plot holes that can’t be explained even by the twist but what matters was the message it wanted to convey to viewers, it was made with love and a purpose. In the end, its all that matters here.
You’ll laugh, cry and feel all sorts of emotions watching “The Light In Your Eyes.” I had an amazing time, it slows down a bit towards episode 7 and 9 but it picks up towards the end. It’s the type of kdrama that your parents can watch and enjoy too.
When The Camellia Blooms
“When the Camellia Blooms” is one of those kdramas that I had a difficult time with throughout, but still it was thoroughly enjoyable.
My biggest issue with “When the Camellia Blooms” was the episodes count, its 20 episode long, I can’t think of a good reason why it had to be this long, it would’ve still delivered the same beautiful story regardless.
It’s a story about warmth, motherly love above all and a bit of suspense. Its not only a romantic comedy but also about a serial killer which gave it that edge. These days typical romance kdramas don’t sell that well, this is why we saw a rise in rom-coms that incorporate a sense of danger, it keeps audience on their toes and gives us a better reason to watch, it kinda becomes boring to watch the same rom-com plot over and over again for the 200th time.
It was Kang Ha Neul comeback project and he nailed it. He had amazing chemistry with the beautiful Gong Hyo Jin. They have also done a beautiful job casting the young son. It focuses mostly on motherly love and the sacrifices mothers make to raise their children. I felt all sorts of emotions watching it and there were many times I cried my eyes out.
It might feel boring for someone who is binge watching it because there are certain episodes scattered throughout that basically provide little plot progress, I’d say about 6 episodes out of the 20 were unnecessarily there, but if you love rom-coms with a twist you’ll probably name this one of the best kdramas if you watch it.
I’d certainly say the writing for this one is one of the best in 2019. It’s a very mature script, unexpected since the writer is a male in his 30s. It was very popular during its run and is one of the highest rated mid-length kdramas of 2019 and one of the best for SBS in 2019.
Overall score: 92%
Memories of the Alhambra
“Memories of the Alhambra” is by no means one of the best written-kdramas of 2019 which is why its in a section by itself, however, it is certainly one of the most ambitious kdramas I have ever seen in my entire life.
It is also one of the worst written kdramas I have seen in recent years, in my humble opinion of course. The reason it’s on this list is purely because I enjoyed it thoroughly.
I had previously reviewed this drama and talked about how displeased I was with its script, but still, I can’t deny that throughout the majority of the drama run time, I REALLY enjoyed it. Its because I wasn’t aware of the identity of the screenwriter and once I became aware, things went downhill and fast.
The writer of this drama also worked on “W: Two Worlds,” now depending on your reaction you either fully understand the previous sentences I wrote or find my utterly annoying at this point. Screenwriter Song Jae Jung probably can’t write a consistent logical script even if her life depended on it.
She was heavily criticized for the way she wrote the ending. I personally knew it was going to end badly but that wasn’t my issue with the script, my issue was with how poorly she tied all the drama elements together, it felt like a bunch of great ideas that can never connect. So many things made no sense and I am not speaking about the core itself, she basically created ‘rules’ for the world she made up and broke/changed the rules how ever she pleased, this compromised the entire premise of this drama.
I personally found Hyun Bin’s performance to be amazing, he’s unapologetic-ally mean and doesn’t change who he is once he meets his lady, he has a goal in mind to reach and does whatever it takes to do it.
The editing and directing was amazing, the production team worked so hard to make this as believable as possible. It is one of the most expensive productions of 2019.
I found Park Shin Hye’s character very disposable and unnecessary, I felt so sorry for her because I know she could do better. Overall, Memories of the Alhambra is one of those guilty pleasure dramas, I enjoyed it a lot but I can’t watch it again because of how poorly the script was written.
Overall score: 40%
So this is my full list of the best 2019 kdramas, I know I might be a bit picky but as the title hints, it’s the best of the best kdramas of 2019. I have seen 100s of kdramas and I have been watching for a very long time, so I’ve naturally become pickier, of course this is not to say every kdrama fan thinks like me, but you’ll likely find the majority of these kdramas in other Kpop news sites.
What about you guys? I am curious to know what your favorite 2019 kdramas were, let me know in the comment section below.
What the hell vagabond is not included in this list
Ok BUT I THINK THE BEST KDRAMAS OF 2019 MUST INCLUDE “TALE OF NOKDU” IT WAS LITERALLY THE BEST!!!!
I agree with all the ones I know, especially strangers from hell, I don’t know how I managed to eat while watching it, it’s the first time I had such strong physical reactions – constant heart palpitations – while watching a korean drama, only thing I was dissatisfied with was the girlfriend because she was so frustratingly insensitive.
Sky castle was really good mainly due to the acting. the plot was iffy for me and I remember being bored by the last episode, but damn yeseo umma really stole the show.
When the Camellia Blooms had many good and refreshing moments, and I was charmed by Kang Ha Neul in the first few episodes, I barely noticed him in his past dramas like scarlet heart or misaeng, but he really shined here. However later on he seemed less convincing because it felt kind of over the top, and the chemistry between him and gong hyo jin was more platonic for me than romantic, I found myself cringing in a lot of the love scenes.
I liked Extraordinary you at first, but the chemistry wasn’t there for me, the acting felt really ingenuine and it really dragged for me near the end so I didn’t finish watching it.
I have a recommendation for you: Tale of Nokdu. It led to two favorite discoveries for me: kim so hyun and jang dong yoon. i was aware of kim so hyun for years but i became a fan here. she’s the first young female lead in kdrama that doesn’t feel like she’s trying to look pretty for the camera. through her acting i felt that her pretty face belied her deep thoughts. apparently this is her favorite project she’s done in her life so far. before her i thought kim yoo jung was the best actress in her age group after her graceful and mesmerizing performance in Moonlight drawn by clouds, but i changed my mind here. and jang dong yoon omg, he might be the most unique actor in the k-ent biz right now. He just graduated from college a few years ago and started acting after he was discovered on tv for catching a robber. unique backstory aside, he’s the most pure, genuine and straightforward actor i’ve ever seen from korea. he’s not jaded by the entertainment industry at all, and he still acts like he’s just a regular civilian and not a celebrity. whenever you watch behind the scenes videos of him, there’s never a moment where he’s trying to awkwardly fill up silences like most actors. speaking of behind the scenes, i got some of the best love scenes in years in those bts videos between kim so hyun and jang dong yoon. they have the best chemistry i’ve seen in years, and from what i hear, it’s the first time kim so hyun is so different around a male lead. it’s worth it to watch the drama just to watch the bts videos lol. Anyway sorry for the long story i feel you and i have similar tastes. even though tale of nokdu has flaws and the ending is rather lackluster, i think you will enjoy it as much as i did.
I totally agree with the review of Memories of Alhambra. It was no doubt a great drama but as the end was approaching it became messed up and not to mention WORST ending! N I never thought of this before but Park shin Hye’s character was indeed disposable. Btw you gave a really good and detailed review of all the drama I wish you made a video on this too
Besides the one mentioned, there were quite a few really good historical dramas in 2019. Kingdom was phenomenal!!! Tale of Nokdu was sweet and funny with lots of twists. Rookie Historian while it doesn’t have the best ending was definitely heart warming.
its an opinion afterall, feel free to disagree as much as you want 🙂
Not disagreeing. Just pointing out a few that might be worth a look for others reading the article.
Her private life is a best drama for me this years
Most of those dramas I’ll give them a second chance because of your recommendation, but honestly I couldn’ t pass over 4 episodes, for me most of them had a super slooowww beggining. Some of this year drama that I also liked are Vagabond, Dr Joon and Tale of Nokdu.
ya, this year the starts of many shows were very slow. But some are worth it. You could also check out the spoiler free reviews of these dramas through my website to see if you’d like to continue watching them.
I beg to differ here from you on three shows. First is When Camellia Blooms which I dropped at Episode 8 as I couldn’t find it intriguing enough to spent my precious time amd mobike data on cuz honestly it’s just an overhyped show for me. It wasn’t something new or something that we haven’t seen before plus the leads didn’t suit each other I mean I have no problem with Age Difference et al but Gong Hyo-jin looked hella old than Kang Ha-neul. Second is of course VIP, which I didn’t even think if watching cuz the concept again is blah and despite the fact that it starred Jang Na-ra. And third is the most disappointing and annoying show to the core (FYI, it’s just my opinion) that is One Spring Night which for me is ‘Old Wine in New Bottle’ cuz honestly it reminded me of Something in the Rain aka Pretty Noona who buys me Food cuz the Premises, Cast, Crew, Concept and Story archs were all same. And the Vibes of the show were so pathetically negative for me.
For me At Eighteen or Moment at Eighteen was a far better show than these three boring shows. Besides, Tale of Nokdu was another good show of 2019 for me. Had perfect chemistry between the leads, story was interesting though it had its own ups and downs but still was far better. And last but not the least Chocolate which although is still airing, is a GEM of 2019 which was the most disappointing year of Kdrama cuz I had a lot of high expectations shows and cuz I dropped literally every second show this year. And for Honourable mentions, mine would be Watcher and Class of Lies which were really good ans intriguing thriller/suspense shows of 2019.
‘When Camellia Blooms’ was a good idea but as I said, too long. I almost dropped the show. I also found the chemistry iffy but loved Ha Neul enthusiasm. as for VIP, I beg to differ because the concept hasn’t been tackled that specific way in Korean dramas before. I haven’t seen ‘pretty noona who buys me food’ which could be why I really liked ‘One Spring Night,’ i don’t mind negativity if it tackles an important subject. if i had probably seen ‘pretty noona who buys me food’ i would likely have the same opinion as yours because i can’t stand repeating things.
Have you seen crash landing to you? It just started and doesn’t quite make it this year yet. But I’m soo hooked. I can’t wait for the next episodes.
Agree with you on when camellia bloom there. Some episodes are so boring and platonic.
yes, I have seen the premiere~ I think I’ll post a review about it, not sure yet
ikr im waiting for the episode 7 to come out its really good would recommend it
Vagabond is definitely on the top of my list. It was so good!