Based on a 2020 report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South Korea has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to supporting and accepting the LGBTQIA+ community compared to the other OECD members.
Over the past two decades, the country has seen some improvement in legal LGBTI inclusivity, but only at a moderate pace. The South Korean society, as a whole, remains extremely conservative and the nation itself is falling behind other progressive countries in terms of pushing for more LGBTI-inclusive laws, which include legal protection for LGBTI individuals against discrimination and violence, as well as laws addressing the needs and challenges of same-sex couples.
This is why it’s refreshing to see the South Korean TV series tackle LGBTQIA+ themes today more fearlessly than ever, helping spark conversation and reshape the general public’s way of thinking towards the community.
Here, we list down eight must-watch K-Dramas with LGBTQIA+ representation:
Reply 1997 (2013)
In Reply 1997, we are introduced to Jun Hee (HOYA), a mild-mannered childhood friend of the main couple Shi Won (Jung Eun Ji) and Yoon Jae (Seo In Guk). He also has a huge secret that he’s been keeping for the longest time: He is in love with Yoon Jae. However, acknowledging the budding romance between his best friends, he chooses not to get in their way, all the while being honest with them about his true feelings.
At Eighteen (2019)
High school drama At Eighteen tackles all kinds of growing pains teenagers go through, including coming to terms with one’s sexuality. In the 13th episode of the series, Oh-je (ASTRO’s Moonbin), confesses to his ex-girlfriend Da-heen (Kim Bo-yoon) that he broke up with her because he is in love with a guy. Later, Oh-je apologizes to his best friend Joon-woo (One Seong-wu) for not confiding in him sooner. He then asks, “I’m weird, right?” To which Joon-woo replies, “Not really. It’s just how you feel.”
Itaewon Class (2020)
Itaewon Class is a hit K-Drama from last year, best known for breaking stereotypes. One of its most memorable characters Ma Hyun-yi is a transgender chef who becomes more comfortable in her own skin and sexuality as the show progressed. She is a close friend of ex-convict Park Sae-ro-yi (Park Seo-joon), and helps him turn his bar-restaurant in the upbeat district of Itaewon into a booming business. It would have definitely been better if Hyun-yi was portrayed by an actual transwoman (she was played by cisgender actress Lee Joo-young), but we got to give the writers props for the sensitive way they handled her storyline.
Hello Dracula (2020)
A short TV special from JTBC, Hello Dracula follows the story of An-na (Girls’ Generation’s Seohyun), a lesbian who has just broken up with her long-time girlfriend. Reconnecting with her overbearing mother (Lee Ji-hyun), she tries to take control of her own life.
Run On (2020-2021)
Run On is a rare watch, featuring more than one LGBTQIA+ representation. A sports-themed series revolving around former track-and-field athlete Seon-gyeom (Im Si-wan), film translator Mi-joo (Shin Se-kyung), and the people who get tangled up in their lives, it effortlessly included asexual and gay characters in the script and didn’t hold back from schooling the audience about the insensitivity of “outing” someone.
Move to Heaven (2021)
Love can come in many forms and the Netflix original Move To Heaven made sure to prove it. A show about trauma cleaners — contractors who clean after the deceased — it has an episode in which the main trio (Tang Joon-sang, Lee Je-hoon, and Hong Seung-hee) had to pack up the room of a doctor (Kwon Soo-hyun), who left a letter for his lover. It is then revealed that he shared a whirlwind romance with a globe-trotting cellist (Kim Doh-yon).
Mad For Each Other (2021)
A mini-drama following eccentric individuals with their personal issues to deal with, Mad For Each Other has a scene-stealer of a character who goes by the name Samantha (An Woo-yeon) — a queer computer specialist, who enjoys dressing up as a woman. She strikes an unlikely friendship with No Whi-oh (Jung Woo), a detective with anger management issues, and Su-hyun (AKMU’s Lee Su-hyun), a student, who takes on multiple part-time jobs.
Ongoing tvN weekend series Mine wraps up our list. Billed as a women-centric drama, it stars Kim Seo-hyung as Seo-hyun, a powerful chaebol married to the first son of another chaebol family. She is intelligent, composed, and dignified, but remains unhappy, having to set aside her feelings for internationally-acclaimed artist Suzy (Kim Jung-hwa), her secret lover since college. In the second half of the show, she gains the courage to break the prejudice surrounding her, permitting Suzy to openly talk about their relationship and even encouraging her stepson (played by VIXX’s Cha Hak-yeon) to pursue his true love, despite the opposite wishes of his family. (We stan an unshakable queen!)
Happy Pride, binge-watchers!