This year went by in a blur! I think 2015 was a good year but I was certainly pickier about the dramas I watched, having only watched a little over 10 series. There was only so much time I could invest in watching without interfering with life. And yes – there is such thing as life! So it works out that I managed to make a Top 10 list of everything I saw this year, with clear winners and losers and everything in between. Note: There are some spoilers to the dramas.
This time, I’m going to rank my favorite dramas from best to worst. Here is the top three!
1. Oh My Ghostess
This was the clear winner of 2015. Oh My Ghostess had everything I wanted from a Korean drama. It had all the elements of what I call a “classic tvN romantic comedy” – fun OST, a wisecracking female second lead, a love triangle that isn’t really a love triangle, and a mix of all the genres together. I had so much fun watching this week after week, and I even faced my fears of watching ghost stories to watch this one. There were two things that drew me to this drama: 1) Jo Jung Seok and 2) Kim Seul Gi. I have seen every drama Jo Jung Seok’s ever been in, and he does not disappoint, ever. And Kim Seul Gi is such a winning comedic actress whom I fell in love with in Flower Boy Next Door. She also does not disappoint.
The cast here has amazing chemistry, as in the truly amazing chemistry where you feel like they’re all friends offscreen. I love how Jo Jung Seok looks at Park Bo Young whenever they’re in a scene together; he always looks like he’s stifling a laugh because she must be that awesome to be around with. This show made me want them to be a real life couple – similar to how I felt watching Gong Hyo Jin and Jo In Sung in It’s Okay That’s Love – except I knew they wouldn’t be a real life couple. But that’s how good their chemistry was, and that’s how believable they made their relationship to carry the drama. It was also really nice to see Im Joo Hwan in this drama as a good cop turned bad cop, though his arc towards the end of the drama also showed some of the writer’s weaknesses. As the drama got darker and darker (tonally and visually), it became more of a drag and slowed the pacing. However it did allow for Kim Seul Gi to show off her acting range.
I love this drama to bits, telling everyone I know to watch it. So if you haven’t yet, you really need to watch it.
Read the recaps here.
2. Fool’s Love
This is also a drama I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who wants a well-written drama. A heartwarming tale about first loves, mixed with a realistic tale about an unwanted pregnancy due to rape. Fool’s Love also has the elements of what I call a “classic tvN romantic comedy.” I loved everything about this drama, where you have the lovable Ho Goo (Choi Woo Shik) teaching the hardened athlete Do Hee (UEE) about love and family. Im Seulong and and Lee Soo Kyung were amazing supporting leads, providing the comedy opposite our leads’ more emotional moments.
I liked how the drama addressed the unwanted pregnancy, as well as the different perspectives involving rape. While it doesn’t give a satisfactory conclusion regarding the rape case, I think the drama did try to do a thorough job in representing all sides of the argument – from displaying “victim blaming” (Director Park, the head of Do Hee’s agency), to skepticism (the detective who handles Do Hee’s case), to the fight for the truth to get out there (Ho Goo and Do Hee), to the fan groups who say “My oppa couldn’t possibly have done that!” No one knows the truth except for the parties directly involved, so it’s one of those difficult things to judge from the outside, and these different parties prove that point. As for the unwanted pregnancy, I like that we visit the option of abortion, but Do Hee chooses not to go through with it.
I was a little unsatisfied with how the idea of homosexuality was treated, but it’s similar to that of what happened in Coffee Prince. The stakes are never that high for the person who discovers he just might be gay because we know he’s actually in love with a girl who pretended to be a boy. But the drama does maintain a lighthearted tone throughout, so I can see why they treat this subject so lightly. After all, the undertones of a rape incident is already dark enough to cloud this drama.
I really really enjoyed the acting in this drama, and I really enjoyed watching two people learn to love and how to be happy. Timing is everything, and I think is something perfect to watch over the holiday season.
Read the recaps here.
3. Divorce Lawyers
So this is something a little different. Divorce Lawyers was a Chinese drama that aired earlier this year and it really broke my stereotypical view of what a Chinese drama is. I haven’t watched many, and always thought they were historical pieces with outrageous costumes and makeup. But this was a contemporary one, and it had such an interesting first couple of episodes that I was hooked. A conventional story about two divorce lawyers with very different views about love who learn to fall in love with each other, even though they are constantly at odds with one another. It’s made more unique in that it’s enveloped in Chinese culture and you learn a bit more about how the Chinese would deal with this sort of situation. It’s pretty frank in its views about divorce and constantly reminds you that there are always two sides to every story, and because of the notion of “saving face” you may not always know the full story.
The acting is top notch, especially from Wu Xiu Bo, who’s like the Chinese Robert Downey Jr., and Yao Chen, who’s been compared to Angelina Jolie for China, as the two leads. It’s great watching them distrust each other and pull tricks over each other (with both sides winning and losing almost equally), and then fall in love with each other. There’s also a lot of time spent in the side characters, who are given a lot more depth than you would normally expect. A lot of time is spent on their best friends’ marriage, which starts off happily and then disintegrates before their very eyes. Two lawyers who defend divorcees for a living are now forced to watch their best friends break up, when they’ve been upholding their best friends as the epitome of a perfect marriage.
It does get overly dramatic at times, and certainly takes a melodramatic turn towards the end. However it was still a solid drama that I think everyone really needs to watch. It’s so easy to get sucked in and I gobbled each new episode as it was released. I think it really changed my perception of Chinese dramas for the better, and I’m now more willing to give other contemporary-based dramas a chance. It’s not just all about the K-dramas now.
Read the recaps here.
And now let’s go on to the middle of the list. Unfortunately I had a love-hate relationship with a lot of these dramas, ranking them all the middling score of 6 out of 10. Some have more pros than cons, so I will rank them based on which I have more favorable memories for when I look back at them. But they all had their faults as well.
4. She Was Pretty
An equally enjoyable drama, though not as heartwarming as Fool’s Love, it was fun to watch if you want a conventional romantic comedy. Hwang Jung Eum and Park Seo Joon are incredibly cute together, but I feel that they were funnier together in Kill Me Heal Me. Siwon was the absolute best in this drama, and Go Joon Hee provided stellar backup as the “best-friend-who-never-wants-to-be-your-enemy-but-must-because-DRAMA.” This was definitely mindless fun because the script was standard and padded only with a few winning lines to make it a little more special. If anything, the acting helped elevate the writing because otherwise you’d have just a very conventional romantic-comedy.
The one thing that does make this drama special is the relationship between Hye Jin (Hwang) and Ha Ri (Go). The two girls display one of the best “womances” I’ve seen in a while, aside from the I Need Romance trilogy. They’re really supportive of each other, so when Ha Ri sort-of steals Hye Jin’s man, you also remember the good times and can’t hate her as much as you would normally hate a second female lead.
Everything about this drama is predictable, but that’s also what makes it so enjoyable. It doesn’t require you to think too much about the story, but rather enjoy the actors’ performances and get giddy with Siwon. He’s really the breakout star for this drama, and the only reason to watch.
Read the review here.
5. Twenty Again
It’s so nice seeing Choi Ji Woo in this kind of role where she plays a placid mother who decides to take her future into her own hands. And it was quite entertaining to see Lee Sang Yoon acting far less uptight as he did in Liar’s Game. Unfortunately the two of them didn’t really have the chemistry to make a winning romantic couple. Twenty Again was yet another underdog story, where Choi Ji Woo acts as a mother who rises against all odds and has the courage to start anew.
The drama was also written by one of my favorite writers, So Hyun Kyung, so I knew I would check it out. As always, the first couple of episodes were a little confusing and full of information that were thrown at the viewer at once. But it settled into the right pace and we had a lot of classic back and forth between Nora (Choi) and Hyun Suk (Lee) as they were enemies one moment and friends the next. I was quite glad that no one in the drama was an idiot. Hyun Suk figured out all the secrets and connections between Nora, her son, and Woo Chul (the entertaining Choi Won Young) quite quickly and I was happy to have him be the fountain of all knowledge. But the problem with having someone so smart means that a lot of issues get resolved quickly. And that’s when the pacing slowed down by around episode 13. It was no longer compelling because everyone knew the truth at that point, and Woo Chul’s mistress – Yi Jin (Park Hyo Joo) – was needlessly vengeful. And we all knew as viewers that Nora and Hyun Suk would get together, but I became less interested in how they’d get together. Suffice to say, it lost a lot of steam for me towards the end.
There were a few things I wanted to see in this drama that didn’t really happen, including more awkward situations where Nora would have to be in the same class or group as her son, or Nora dancing more impressively than she did in the school festival. (I have to say, I was kinda disappointed by this drama and Cheer Up’s climactic dance sequences because they weren’t very exciting at all.) But at least there were a few moments that made up for it: Nora earning the respect of students who are technically younger than her but her senior in terms of grade, and Nora standing up to her husband and eloquently putting down all of his excuses. Those were pretty good highlights for this drama.
It’s a very palatable sort of drama to enjoy, even though it does have some flaws in the storytelling. I don’t regret watching this drama at all, but I do wish the writer took a few more risks on the comedy gags, and Choi Ji Woo and Lee Sang Yoon had better chemistry.
Read the recaps here.
6. Cheer Up
Short and sweet, and a well executed high school drama. It’s not just about falling in love while going through puberty. There are real, somber issues that come up in this drama despite its title’s connotations. Suicide, grades, college admissions, abuse (both physical and emotional) all come up in this drama and make it really painful and frustrating to watch. These issues put every character through the wringer, whether directly or indirectly.
I really appreciated the lengths that this drama went to show how conflicted a student could be when burdened with so much responsibility. I also loved that I saw a mother-daughter relationship that was so loving and jokey in Jung Eun Ji and Kim Yeo Jin‘s relationship; Kim Yeo Jin has basically played two of my favorite moms ever at this point (once in Angel Eyes and now here). And the friendships and tight bonds that grew between all the students and their teachers were pretty awesome, because the students learned that their teachers were humans too, and that if they sought the help the teachers would be there for them. Kim Ji Suk is fantastic as usual, and Lee Won Geun and Chae Soo Bin (who plays the villain Soo Ah here) are fantastically new stars; these two newcomers are really going to be able to make waves I think, with the right parts of course. Chae in particular deftly navigates between the fine line of being vulnerable and unforgivably evil in the same scene.
But for all the positives, this drama was plenty frustrating and miserable in some parts. Seeing these kids play depressed students because they’re worried about college is a bit painful to watch because to them, college is the be-all-and-end-all for their future. And that’s just not true, though of course it’s easy for me to say after having gone through it. And it’s also frustrating to watch most of the adults in this drama living vicariously through their children and in so doing, ruin their children’s lives. It’s shocking to see that more of them are not as messed up as they should be. The principal is unashamedly corrupt, and Soo Ah’s mother (played by Go Soo Hee) is so selfish that you want to strangle her. As for Soo Ah, she is so twisted that it’s suffocating to watch her make the wrong decisions because you’re just waiting for her to get her comeuppance. And you know that with every wrong she does, the stakes are greater and her “punishment” will be more severe.
I really enjoyed this series, but at the same time it felt like it strangled my heart at times, and I can’t ignore it. But it’s a real lesson in friendship, and I think it’s worth to watch if you really like Jung Eun Ji.
Read the full review here.
7. Falling In Love with Soon Jung
Thinking back to this drama now I only remember the good feelings, and the funny and warm moments where Jung Kyung Ho charmed the pants off of everyone. But after re-reading my review I realized that there were some problems to the series too. The writing was not very strong, and unfortunately the melodrama part required stronger writing. We ended up with a silly, two-dimensional villain (Yoon Hyun Min) and we had easy outs for every obstacle that Kang Min Ho (Jung) faced. The drama lost all of its pacing and the element of surprise by using flashbacks to reveal parts of scenes that we had not seen originally constantly.
But for all its writing faults, the acting and the comedy in the show made up for it because that’s really all I remember. Months after having seen it, I still remember laughing and falling deeply in love with Jung Kyung Ho along with Kim So Yeon. And I remember thoroughly enjoying Kim So Yeon in this role, where she is just a regular gal who’s hardworking and sweet and deeply loved by everyone around her. Falling In Love with Soon Jung had a little bit of everything – melodrama, mystery, comedy, romance, tragedy, revenge, an underdog story – which makes it a nice, traditional Korean drama to check out. Who doesn’t like an underdog story or watching a bad boy turn good?
Read the full review here.
8. The King’s Face
This was my one historical drama that I actually finished this year. I don’t know what drew me to this drama per se. Was it Shin Sung Rok? Seo In Guk? The fact that it was similar to the film The Face Reader? Either way, the acting in the drama was compelling enough to keep me going. While it took a while to get its bearings straight in the beginning, it got really exciting once King Seonjo allowed his son Gwanghae to rule in his place during the Japanese invasion, and treated him like a Crown Prince. Things also got weird when Jo Yoon Hee’s character Ga Hee enters the palace and forms a weird love triangle between Gwanghae and Seonjo, but it wasn’t the strongest part of the series. No – it was watching a prince battle against all odds to prove that he is a good and worthy king despite every single political manipulation to take him down. It’s one of those dramas where you find yourself rooting for the underdog, but feeling exhausted because you feel like no one understands where the underdog is coming from. And yet, you just know that the underdog will prevail.
I have to give credit to the actors for putting on a strong performance, and also to Lee Sung Jae for being the most infuriating king ever. You hate him as Seonjo because you know he’s smarter than he acts and yet he continues to make foolish mistakes because he keeps thinking that a face defines a person and his destiny. But you have to also appreciate Lee Sung Jae’s ability to make you pity him, because he portrayed Seonjo as a man who never saw himself as a villain in his own story, but rather a downtrodden and misguided hero. And yet, Seonjo was a villain in this drama – a weak one, but an obstacle to his son’s growth into a man and king.
I liked it for the crash course in history, as it is shorter than Hwajung, and it presents Gwanghae in a better light. Who doesn’t want to root for a good king?
Read the full review here.
This was quite the unique drama. It blurred the lines between drama and documentary, never quite doing a good job in delineating between the two. As a drama, it was pretty conventional – you had a love square going on between three PDs and a famous celebrity, with the celebrity wishing for some normalcy after being forced to conceal her true feelings for so long. However in execution I think this drama kind of lost its way. The first two episodes were very jarring, trying hard to be a mockumentary but then switching to clean cuts and sophisticated angles that you’d see in a regular K-drama. After that, when director Pyo Min Soo took over, the style changed even more. They kept changing up how to differentiate between the interviews and the rest of the drama, and eventually just going for the simple ” solo interview in a room” towards the end. Because it kept changing, I was acutely aware of how this drama was trying to be a variety show but also a drama at the same time. And… it didn’t really work in my opinion. If anything, this drama could have just followed the way that The King of Dramas approached production sets.
IU was pretty fortunate to have a good story arc compared to the other characters, as I felt she went through a real change and matured. She changes from someone who keeps her distance from others and allows others to fight her battles for her, to someone who is willing to open up and take charge of her own destiny. I didn’t really enjoy Gong Hyo Jin or Cha Tae Hyun as much in this drama; Gong was a bit too abrasive and she lacked the chemistry with Cha to convince me that they were really falling in love with each other. And as for Kim Soo Hyun, he was such a dork in this drama that it felt like he wasn’t even acting, that he really is this awkward in real life too. His comedic scenes were pretty funny, but when it came to the more serious scenes where he’s supposed to be more affected by Cindy (IU’s character) Kim Soo Hyun appears more stoic than he should be. I guess there are some limits to Kim Soo Hyun’s acting, limits that weren’t as obvious when he was up against Jeon Ji Hyun in My Love From Another Star.
I think overall this drama did decently in Korea, and it could be recommended for K-drama veterans who want a change of pace. But I don’t think this drama is something that you should watch unless you really like the actors. Or really really love variety shows and want to see the in-jokes.
Read the full review here.
And finally, number 10. The bottom of the lot. The one drama that really was the worst drama that I had seen this year. *drumroll*
10. Pride and Prejudice
This was one of the most frustrating series this year that sadly took its name from my favorite book of all time. It had a simple premise: a newbie prosecutor (played by Baek Jin Hee) tries to use her position to figure out who kidnapped and killed her younger brother many years before. She ends up on the same team as her sort-of-but-not-really-ex-boyfriend Dong Chi (Choi Jin Hyuk), and suspects that he might have had something to do with it. Sounds interesting right? Except the writer decides to throw red herrings all over the place and have the lawyers all work against and with each other. It was such a convoluted story that I lost track of all the strings of evidence and who was on which side. Side cases that you thought were just the “case of the week” ended up being more important after you completely forgot about them.
The greatest downfall of this drama was the writing and execution. There was no character who could be the expositional narrator to keep us all on track regarding the case; everyone was on their own path and misleading each other with each new nugget of information. The pay-offs were not satisfying after such a convoluted set-up, and even the romantic backstory between Baek Jin Hee and Choi Jin Hyuk’s characters was completely uninteresting. It was made worse with Choi Min Soo‘s unnecessary accented speech and the abrupt edits between scenes.
The only thing redeemable in this drama was perhaps Lee Tae Hwan, a new idol actor from the group 5urprise. He had an interesting story arc for a couple of episodes that held my attention, and really showed some range in his acting skills. But even he couldn’t save the train wreck that was this drama.
Read the review here.
These runner ups are runner-ups for the sole reason that I have not finished watching them, nor do I plan to. But I kind of wanted to say my peace on it.
I might as well write a bit about Hwajung now, even though I only watched 14 episodes of it. I guess you could say I turned away before I could watch Cha Seung Won‘s Gwanghae fall from power or become evil as the drama portrays him to be. However I did watch his “good parts” so to speak, the parts where Gwanghae was a loving older brother to Jungmyung (Lee Yeon Hee) and was passionate about protecting the country’s borders. The part that aligned most with what I had seen in The King’s Face.
The drama was initially quite interesting considering the political intrigue that Gwanghae was battling against, where even his most trusted allies seemed to have agendas of their own. But what was not so interesting was having to watch Lee Yeon Hee carry the drama. She was up against Cha Seung Won, whom I find quite intimidating and forceful, and Seo Kang Joon and Han Joo Wan, who were painfully unmemorable in the few episodes I saw them in and were expected to be the male leads vying for Lee Yeon Hee’s heart. Lee was great when I watched her in Miss Korea, but for some reason I could not continue watching her here. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s in a historical drama, where she looks like a modern girl but talking sageuk-appropriate speech. I also did not enjoy watching Gwanghae having to fight against his doubters all the time. I get that it wouldn’t be a drama without conflict, but it’s hard to see a man so embattled with his own demons having to fight external ones too.
What’s great about this drama is that it really forces you to take into account the duality of history. One person can be a hero and a villain. For example, Jungmyung’s mother was portrayed as evil in The King’s Face but is a martyr in Hwajung. It also was supposed to depict the dual perceptions of the king, though I didn’t get that far into the series to see. What’s not so great about this drama was the acting and the cinematography (the lighting and how “soap opera”-like it looked bothered me).
Read some of the recaps here.
12. Hyde Jekyll and I
This drama started out strong. I remember really enjoying the first two episodes and looking forward to it each week. Hyun Bin was compelling and Sung Joon made me swoon. It was interesting to see the battle between Hyun Bin’s two personalities because I really didn’t know who I wanted to root for. Seo Jin was a stiff businessman who was the main personality, so you want him to survive. However his other personality Robin is so lighthearted and fun that you want him to survive and be the dominant personality.
Then the drama set in, and we find out that Sung Joon is not playing a kind-hearted, helpful psychiatrist, but rather a vengeful one who wants to torture Seo Jin because they were both kidnapped but only Seo Jin got away safely. It becomes a bit much, with Sung Joon overplaying the evilness a bit. I slowly got tired of the series, seeing how Dr. Yoon Tae Joo (Sung) was trying to use Jang Ha Na (Han Ji Min) for his own purposes. But then it got really ridiculous when they introduced a third persona for Seo Jin: “Terry”. At that point I couldn’t help but think, “This drama is trying really hard to save itself right now, especially since it’s going up against Kill Me Heal Me.”
The writing flagged, and I didn’t have the heart to continue it anymore. It didn’t help that the writer’s first drama was Cheongdamdong Alice, which was fun in its own way but had some issues with the writing and tone. It was very visible here as well.
I have watched other shows but haven’t finished them just yet. I don’t know what I’m waiting for, especially since I know I want to finish them but haven’t had the time. LAST, My Beautiful Bride, Hidden Identity, and Kill Me Heal Me – you’re all part of my New Year’s resolution to watch more dramas.
Cheers, and happy new year!