The 10 best Korean dramas of 2022

After the monumental success of Squid Game in 2021, it couldn’t not be a banner year for Korean dramas. For one, the aforementioned series has been cleaning up at award shows in the West, and fans continue to wait with bated breath for season two. Other shows are making headway too: in November, The King’s Affection, starring Extraordinary Attorney Woo’s Park Eun-bin and Rowoon of boyband SF9, made history as the first K-drama to win an International Emmy.

Online streaming giants like Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV and Prime Video (to name but a few) are also putting some serious budget behind K-dramas, whether to produce fresh originals or distribute gripping shows to a clamouring audience. If it all left you feeling a bit overwhelmed, don’t worry – catch up with our list of the 10 best Korean TV shows of 2022.

Derrick Tan, Commissioning Editor (K-pop)

Words by: Tássia Assis, Carmen Chin, Gladys Yeo, Rhian Daly, Tanu I. Raj, Derrick Tan and Lauren Webb

Semantic Error

10. Semantic Error

Season: limited series

Semantic Error was a standout in a year of increased production of BL (Boys’ Love) dramas. Sure, it’s a typical college romance where two protagonists butt heads and eventually fall in love, but the leads’ synergy and chemistry in this bite-sized production are off the charts.

Jang Jae-young (Park Seo-ham) and Chu Sang-woo (DKZ’s Park Jae-chan) are unlikely to cross paths, but a group assignment brings them together. Banter ensures as gregarious Jang tries to crack aloof, inflexible Chu. This pursuit makes every scene involving them both – not to mention the thoroughly rewarding ending – a work of art. DT

Biggest fan: Romance stans who both crave that fuzzy feeling and can’t help their internal screaming in moments of tension.

Thirty Nine

9. Thirty Nine

Season: limited series

It’s rare to see the stories of women about to enter their forties – unless in the context of family and motherhood – on screen anywhere in the world. Enter Thirty-Nine, which stars Crash Landing On You’s Son Ye-jin and Hospital Playlist’s Jeon Mi-do.

The three 39-year-old women at the heart of Thirty Nine are gloriously independent but struggling with work, family, love and, for one of the three BFFs, a major health issue. The series pays tribute to unshakeable friendships and the messiness of life, even when you’re expected to have everything figured out. RD

Biggest fan: Those who believe female friendships are life’s greatest romances.

Our Blues

8. Our Blues

Season: limited series

As one of South Korea’s most picturesque places, Jeju Island is often swarmed with both domestic and international tourists alike in pursuit of a stress-free getaway. As you imagine, the experience isn’t quite as tranquil for Jeju’s own residents. These are the people Our Blues is interested in. The series explores the trials and tribulations of its cast, one diverse in backgrounds, dispositions and values.

From fish store owner Jeong Eun-hui (Lee Jung-eun) to humble merchant Lee Dong-seok (Lee Byung-hun), each protagonist comes together like pieces in a puzzle. Thought-provoking and tear-jerking, Our Blues dives straight into the matters of the heart and emerges as one of the year’s most nuanced K-dramas. CC

Biggest fan: Slice-of-life buffs who love torturing themselves with heart-wrenching scenes, and those who loved the famed Reply series.

Little Women

7. Little Women

Season: limited series

The Korean adaptation of Little Women adapts Louisa May Alcott’s tale to modern-day South Korea, exploring the classic novel’s themes of struggle and strife. The Oh sisters (Kim Go-eun, Nam Ji-hyun and Park Ji-hu, all excellent) take on Korea’s richest family in a storyline that weaves a captivating web of murder, fraud, and embezzlement.

Kim Go-eun (Yumi’s Cells) in particular has a flawless turn as In-joo, while Squid Game’s Wi Ha-joon continues to prove himself the most exciting male actors coming out of South Korea. Their chemistry is undeniable in this intense series. LW

Biggest fan: Your pal that claims to be above cheesy romances but somehow gets heart-eyes for the angsty, problematic anti-sweethearts in blood pressure-spiking crime K-dramas. Because that’s much healthier.

Juvenile Justice

6. Juvenile Justice

Season: one

Netflix’s original series Juvenile Justice delves into the inner worlds of rule-breaking teens who escape strict punishment due to lax laws. If the antisocial adolescents look bad, the magistrates aren’t so clean either – dark secrets lie behind their stuffy, righteous façades.

The drama stars a stellar cast of judges including The Queen’s Umbrella’s Kim Hye-soo as the poised, stoic Shim Eun-seok, who uses her wits to punish the guilty while providing closure to victims and their families. Keep your eye out for the scene-stealing Lee Yeon as the deranged Baek Seong-u. DT

Biggest fan: Courtroom drama junkies who love debating the ethics of criminal cases, fictional or real.

Business Proposal

5. Business Proposal

Season: limited series

Many Korean offerings this year have drawn their plots from webtoons and Business Proposal is no exception. This source material can make for some unrealistic, even absurd premises, but not with this buoyant office rom-com. It takes everyone’s favourite romance tropes – fake dating and a relationship between a wealthy CEO and his subordinate in the office – and runs with them.

Of course, the set-up of Business Proposal’s romances are by no means original in the K-drama sphere. But when executed with as much care as this series did, you have a cult classic on your hands. CC

Biggest fan: People who grew up on an unhealthy diet of fanfiction and overindulgent, corny manhwa. It’s not a guilty pleasure if you’re not ashamed of it!

My Liberation Notes

4. My Liberation Notes

Season: limited series

There are series that can be praised for their direction, others for their narrative, and others for a skilful cast. And when you have all three, you find yourself with a masterpiece. That’s My Liberation Notes, an essential depiction of living in the 2020s.

This mesmerising series about three adult siblings living with their parents in a rural village is about the mundane subtleties in our lives: family meals, lengthy commutes, unspoken words, boring jobs. Despite its slow start, the series explores our deepest yearnings with masterful dialogue and introspective storytelling. Soon you’ll find bits of yourself and your life in this show, like a diary you forgot you’d written. TA

Biggest fan: Anyone who feels exhausted and doesn’t know why or when the malaise started – but believes there’s got to be more to life somehow.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo

3. Extraordinary Attorney Woo

Season: one

The adjective applied in the Korean title of this show translates to “weird” – which should clue us in to how K-dramas usually approach neurodivergence. But Extraordinary Attorney Woo excels not just in its warm, genuine, humanised and (fairly) accurate portrayal of the autistic attorney Woo Young-woo, but also by embracing the other-ness that defines her life.

Even in the moments where Woo is treated cruelly and insensitively, the show never apologises for Woo’s autism nor diminishes her as a person – a subtle but notable proclamation that her triumphs don’t come in spite of her differences. In fully embracing her identity, Extraordinary Attorney Woo shows its understanding of neurodivergence: you didn’t choose to be different, so why make apologies for it? TR

Biggest Fan: People looking for heartwarming tear-jerkers that reinforce our faith in humanity in this cruel world. TV viewers who’re tired of neurodivergence being treated as a prop or comic device.


2. Pachinko

Season: one

An epic on-screen retelling of Min Jin Lee’s 2017 novel, Pachinko chronicles the enduring journey of a Korean family over one of the most tumultuous centuries in East Asia’s history, shedding light on the complicated history between Korea and Japan.

At the centre of it is Sun-ja (portrayed beautifully by Minari’s Youn Yuh-jung and newcomer Kim Min-ha), a young Busan woman forced to leave her life behind and start anew in Osaka in a bitter twist of fate. Pachinko is a poignant tale of displacement and oppression, but also one full of hope, as Sun-ja – and her descendants – rediscover home in one another. GY

Biggest fan: East Asian history buffs, or people who just… like being sad.

1. Twenty Five Twenty One

Season: limited series

In the world of K-dramas, there are the rare shows that leave an indelible mark on you. Twenty Five Twenty One is one of those shows, its magnetic cast and poignant storytelling making for an irresistible combination. It follows five young friends trying to find success, love and happiness – and grapple with young adulthood – against the backdrop of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, which threatens to derail their lives.

Na Hee-do (played by Kim Tae-ri) dreams of being a fencer, but her school’s team is scrapped because of the economic restraints caused by the crisis, while Baek Yi-jin’s (Nam Joo-hyuk) family loses everything. As debtors hound them to cough up what they owe, they split up and he has to rebuild his life on his own, hustling for any part-time job he can get.

Charming and refreshing, Twenty Five Twenty One succeeds not just in making you fall hard for its lead couple, but also fleshing out the peripheral characters until you’re rooting for them too. Even smarter is the choice to tell Hee-do’s story through her diary – looking at it through the eyes of her daughter Kim Min-chae decades later – giving the young girl a fresh perspective on her mother and letting viewers into a relatable period of the exhilaration and uncertainty of youth. RD

Biggest fan: The sucker for nostalgia who can find the romance in even the most complicated and demoralising situations.


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