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.
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.
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” 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.
“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” 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” 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.
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” 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” 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.” 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?