Year In Review: 2018 Best Korean Dramas
By turns, it has been a shower of healing narratives, amazing thrillers, and heart-fluttering romance stories in our selection of 2018 Best Korean Dramas.
Onto our second year of creating this important year-end feature, we are happy to reminisce the fond and eventful memories which we received from the stories that warmed our hearts from 2018 Best Korean Dramas.
Following the same guideline set since last year, December 2018 dramas are not included in this list since the broadcast dates will cross over 2019. On that note, some 2017 tail-end dramas will be recognized on this roster based on the same consideration.
Hero-centric plot has been a constant fixture from the narratives which paraded this year. That has been expected given how combination of two popular actors have starred in a few series this season.
A few remarkable heroine roles were also gifted to viewers. Most of those stories propelled the “healing drama” trend that ran from the entire four seasons of 2018. Other notable genres showcased this season leaned on supernatural contents. If last year was an exhausting chase to catch criminals and serve justice, 2018 Korean dramas provided a diversity with variety of themes to choose from.
Our guidelines for choosing 2018 Best Korean Dramas are pretty much the basics: inventive plot, engaging narrative, novelty, character portrayals, appeal to general audience, and the re-watch value.
Here are 24 of the Best Korean Drama series we pick this year. Click the drama posters to read our full reviews.
*Note: Weekend family dramas and daily dramas are not included in the selection of dramas we watched and reviewed this year
First Quarter 2018 Korean Dramas
1. Prison Playbook (tvN) *Editor’s Pick
It will be hard for the viewers not to subconsciously join the virtual cause to protect baseball star Kim Je Hyuk from any harm that comes his way. His clueless yet adorable portrayal of a kind-hearted athlete, who gets incarcerated for an assault case in trying to protect his sister, easily gains empathy points from the audience.
The daily pictures of convicts’ activities like doing wood works, gardening, field exercises, and even the mundane eating times are injected with spirited approach.
Prison Playbook lets you understand how mistakes are not supposed to define you as a person. It teaches you that personal battles are given to be won over, and that having a good heart is a blessing every time.
2. I’m not a Robot (MBC)
Pacing to an interesting love milieu, the story of a man, who stumbled on the peculiar cure for his extreme human allergy, confronts the reality of how his newfound liberty to interact with people comes with the price of admitting that he is in love with a robot. To complicate his situation, he learns that his reservations are pointless since the supposed android he can’t love, is actually a woman, who is commissioned to pretend that she is not a human.
I’m Not A Robot communicates how the heart believes what the situation tries to conceal. It affirms how reciprocated love is felt even if it is not vocally declared.
3. Welcome to Waikiki (jTBC) *Editor’s Pick
We only have fond and happy memories to look back when we think of Welcome to Waikiki. Nothing else matters.
The series spurred to a big pile of happiness pill during its run. Capitalizing on the brilliant synergy of its small cast, the series displayed the best character sketches laid for them. The balance of romance and comedy was fused to perfection, but the breakthrough comedy skits could be credited to the drama’s success.
Whether on a binge-watch or after a day’s work, the amazing cast of Welcome to Waikiki will never ever let you down.
4. Return (SBS)
On paper, the cast roster speaks for an exceptional vibe, with actors known for their stellar works through the years. The casting rigmarole was sustained well to maintain its gripping legal-crime premise.
Return is a strongly portrayed drama, which relies on the precise shifting of plot bends to highlight the growth and movements of the main characters, who are caught up in the murder mystery. Viewers will be left on the edge of their seats as a battle of cunning ways erupt ceaselessly from its onset up to the pinnacle of its riveting high.
5. A Korean Odyssey (tvN)
A Korean Odyssey joins the fantasy-romance trend dominating K-dramaland in the recent months, and is strong in limning character sketches of the supernatural beings depicted in the story. It also highlights interesting arcs and bends that raise awareness on modern societal problems through side problems solved in the story before the culminating conflict.
A Korean Odyssey spins a thickly designed plot, which focuses on character redemption, with the romance plot acting as the supporting driver to achieve the designed pilgrimage of the characters. It makes use of a realistic storytelling inducing addictive bliss and burrowing pain following its supernatural premise.
*Note: Includes tail-end 2017 Korean dramas
Second Quarter 2018 Korean Dramas
6. Suits (KBS2)
Whether you’re a fan of the original American series or a newcomer to the legal drama’s fandom, you will surely find yourself drawn to Suits thanks to its compelling storyline and relatable characters. It was also able to provide a fresh take on the original series’ framework and characterizations without overly sticking to it, which gives everyone something new to look forward to.
May it be the thrilling legal dramas bring, the romance that makes us swoon without a fail, the life lessons we learn through the characters, Suits is able to cater to a plethora of elements and makes it blend with each other very well in just one show.
Suits goes to show that justice still does prevail – even in this cruel and unfair world.
7. Switch Change the World (SBS)
Time whizzes enjoyably in the swift paced story of Sa Do Chan. The mood, the characters, and even the music sets up an engrossing legal-crime drama, powered by caper activities and clever showdown between the heroes and the villains. It maintains its upbeat tone and clever narration, while unraveling the back stories.
Throughout, Switch Change The World has never played favorites on the outsmarting game between the heroes and villains. The turning of tables and mind tricks powers the engaging core of the narrative. If you like heist stories, you would most certainly be delighted to join Team Switch in their adventure.
8. My Mister (tvN)
My Mister has introduced characters who are living up to the weight of life realities. Through their shared pain, they find out the meaning of life through mutual healing.
The series pictures ordinary flawed characters, making the viewers able to relate to their pains as if they are their own. Narrated in the perspective of a young woman who has long given up with the miserable life she had to live, My Mister takes you to a breathtaking acceptance of how happiness never amounts to the level of success, fame and money, but by living life to the fullest.
9. Partners For Justice (MBC) *Editor’s Pick
Partners For Justice is reminiscent of the feel Western crime TV series usually imbibes. That if it goes for more seasons to come, I would gladly remain loyal as a fan. It has mastered an approach to make crime stories not too emotionally taxing to watch, and the diverse human atrocities depicted are carefully selected and given proper redemption. It was a surprise favorite for me this year, given how I did not have any expectations of how it would go about when I first read the synopsis.
10. Something In The Rain (jTBC) *Editor’s Pick
Taking subtle storytelling that is focused on the bliss and complication of the love tale, viewers would be immersed to cheer for the fulfillment of the romance which is belatedly realized, crazily enjoyed, and painfully let go in Something In The Rain.
The series reinvents the romance drama landscape with how it fervently keeps the serenity of the storytelling by its heartfelt dialogues and spontaneous scenarios.
Available on Netflix.
11. That Man Oh Soo (OCN)
That Man Oh Soo is a light and comforting watch perfect for rom-com cravers. Though it struggles at its end game, it is the kind of drama that you would rerun due to its sweet scenes. However, we wish it could have ended on a spree of more sweet notes after pulling the amnesia trick, since for the majority of its run, the drama is strongest on the love couple’s saccharine frames. But then again, we were delighted for the most parts of the story, and that’s all that matters.
12. The Grand Prince (TV Chosun)
Grand Prince announces its presence through an engaging symphony of love and drama, involving a woman caught in between the affection of two Joseon princes. The grandiose design, powered by indelible portrayals of the actors, makes up the familiar contours of classic historical masterpiece which we have loved in the past, visibly evident in this new spectacle.
As the only period drama aired in the first half of the year, Grand Prince superbly unravels the poignant events of the story. It drives a balanced energy by incorporating the trademark political strife of historical dramas and cushioning it with the romance elements of the story. It secures a well-blended serious and bright notes, while drawing the viewers to its stunning love tale. The seamless narration easily navigates the viewers to the compass of the narrative.
13. Lawless Lawyer (tvN)
One unambiguous conflict plus precise hero-villain showdown makes Lawless Lawyer a thrilling crime drama that does not suffer with pointless plot insertion and indecisive characters. The airtight narration consistently conforms to the shifting of the plot bends.
It banks on a sane trajectory approaching the solid portrayals of the lead cast and facile story thread of crime, and its deserving punishment. The approach to bank on the powerhouse cast in terms of trusted acting prowess pays off to reach a fulfilling culmination.
The attention to whirl within the borders of its courtroom premise is made more clear-cut owing to the well-utilized cast. If you like hero-centric stories with the right mixture of drama and action, Lawless Lawyer Lee Jun Ki will be happy to serve you.
Third Quarter 2018 Korean Dramas
14. What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim? (tvN)
There was no wasted episode in What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim? – even with the parade of acceptable cliches. The engrossing mood explained well the immense following it generated throughout its run.
While it does not have a neatly written and creatively imagined plot, it is still an enjoyable watch to make you smile and laugh. It relies on the perfect execution of the couple’s love journey and targeted people, who prefer a light and comfy story full of romance and heart-flutters.
15. Mr. Sunshine (tvN) *Editor’s Pick
Looking back, Mr. Sunshine took a simple route following how period set stories are usually done. We got the historical problem scenario to spur the web of the events, the heroes and the villains to move inside it, and the path to a satisfying closure. Furthermore, the quality of the cinematic experience of every episode is one for the books, that even with its somber tone, it would yield a trance moment for you to appreciate its worth.
But it was the expressive depictions and garnished screenplay execution that made Mr. Sunshine a force to reckon.
Available on Netflix.
16. Miss Hammurabi (jTBC)
Weighing the judgment on who deserves to be gratified, Miss Hammurabi gives off a consoling effect as it courageously probes in showing how human flaws and pains either motivate or shatter a person.
Although slightly sprinkled, romance is not an integral plot game-changer for Miss Hammurabi. Humor is evident, but it is the overall design of the main leads’ growth coinciding with the lessons they learned from the legal problems they handled – that makes jTBC’s legal story a must-watch drama you should include to your list.
17. My ID Is Gangnam Beauty (jTBC)
My ID is Gangnam Beauty thankfully proves how youth dramas does not warrant immature characters, while treading on excess baggage of being young, chasing dreams, and discovering love.
It easily hooks due to its refreshing mood, and successfully elevates its game through romantic notes in the waning episodes.
One of those rare few youth dramas that I gladly recommend if I will be asked for K-drama suggestions on the spot; because of its nicely paced, decently acted, and engaging overall appeal.
18. Life On Mars (OCN)
The remake has the feel and essence of the original series but also adds a Korean feel to it, which makes for a successful adaptation. From the props to the music, the production team put so much effort in capturing the authentic feel of that time. The conflicts, crimes, villains and the characters’ back stories provided much intrigue that makes it an enjoyable watch.
Fourth Quarter 2018 Korean Dramas
19. 100 Days My Prince (tvN)
If you’ve grown tired of watching the same story about people having bloody and scheming fights over the throne – whether it be Joseon’s, Goryeo’s, or Silla’s, then 100 Days My Prince’s slightly fluffier take on palace wars is definitely for you. The drama focuses more on the love story between its two lead characters, rather than the fight for the throne.
Beware when we say fluffy though. Because as light-hearted and funny the most of the drama is, there are also several moments when we almost wanted to enter the screen and showed the characters a piece of our mind. Hint? Well, we all know that historical dramas are not historical dramas without character deaths which crush our hearts, right?
20. My Secret Terrius (MBC)
MBC scored one of the best series for 2018 in My Secret Terrius. Creatively conceived in complete package, it even included extra perk for fulfilling the dreams of So Ji Sub fans to see right before their very eyes the imaginary romance they all dream of with him — a picture of him taking care of children plus doing house chores like a dream husband. *wink
For its polished and lively screenplay and sane story direction, it is one drama worth adding to your watch list.
21. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes (tvN) *Editor’s Pick
Rarely do we get such an emotionally affecting drama that did not send us to a weep fest, yet broke our hearts big time nonetheless.
Achieving that conquest, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes intricately poured an array of harrowing emotions that was not apologetic in making the audience get a taste of fearless and agonizing sentiments.
The Smile Has Left Your Eyes put me on that realization on how I underestimated melodramas to be just relying on tears and series of unfortunate events to whirl its narrative. If given proper treatment, even with bare setting along with essential conflicts and characters, it can paint an idyllic picture that goes back to one of the fundamental goals of storytelling — providing clear inspiration to its viewers.
Brilliantly penned, portrayed and executed, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes has streamed to one of the best melodramas in the recent years. What you can change to because of love, and to which extent you would be willing to go to for that same love, are the questions answered in the thrilling strips of this series.
22. The Third Charm (jTBC)
The Third Charm is reminiscent of the feel I had with heartwarming romance drama Because This Is My First Life, in the sense that the love lessons cut deep to people who have experienced the anguish that always comes with heartfelt adoration we feel for someone.
In a sea of Korean romantic dramas, it is rare to find an unfeigned love story. Most often than not, avid followers can already predict the flow of the narrative. Hence, going an extra mile with a simple love premise is already a feat hard to accomplish.
23. The Guest (OCN) *Editor’s Pick
The Guest is the kind of drama that grows on you. Sure, the premise is dark and horrifying, which may be reasonably enough to scare some people away. However, every episode manages to keep your attention and makes you want to know what would happen next.
This series focuses on eerie supernatural events that may or may not transpire in real life, but all throughout its entire run, it is centered on only one subject – humanity.
Faith, friendship, loyalty, sacrifice, hope, and the will to survive are just some of the things that makes us human and The Guest was able to touch on these things, even the darkest side of each.
24. Room No. 9 (tvN)
This drama features strong female leads and excellent plot. A woman being jailed for a crime which she did not commit and the one assigned to ensure she stayed in jail have a mysterious encounter. This meeting results them in the body exchange.
The actresses both played their original and switched characters to perfection; that it’s not hard to get immersed when they are playing each other’s roles. Room No. 9 has a great story and characters of which viewers would love and hate.
You may check the rest of the dramas we have reviewed and rated below.
ABOUT THE WRITER
abbyinhallyuland reads and sleeps a lot when she is not traveling. Her calendar reminders are mostly K-Drama broadcast schedules and birthdays of her favorite Korean actors. Promoting K-Drama watching as stress therapy is her life advocacy. She is fond of Spencer Reid, Gregory House, Kenshin Himura, Starwars saga, Haruki Murakami and Hunter x Hunter.
Recommended Korean Dramas: Reply 1988, Nine, Misaeng, Gaksital, Discovery of Love, Because This is My First Life, Descendants of the Sun, My Love from the Star, Healer, Punch, You’re Beautiful, Coffee Prince, Princess Hours, The Greatest Love, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, City Hunter, and The Smile Has Left Your Eyes.