Most fans watch Korean dramas for the kilig factor that comes with almost every show, and each one definitely delivers on all the romance and love and feelings. But while kilig is certainly a big draw for viewers, it’s not all that K-dramaland has to offer. Many K-dramas are happy to tackle familial love, platonic love, or maybe not even love but just life in all its complexities. There’s definitely a lot of shows that don’t just focus on romance and show you a whole different side to the lives these characters live, and we’ve compiled a list of the must-watch K-dramas that’s not all about romantic love you can binge now.
The Reply series may be about finding who the female lead character ended up with, but Reply 1988, the latest iteration of the series, delves into more than just a boyfriend/husband hide-and-seek. The show explores the dynamics of the five families in Ssangmun-dong within the individual families and with one another. The friendship of the five teenagers is even more precious. Honestly, this show is just so wholesome. Watch on Netflix.
From the creators of the Reply series comes another set of series tackling the dynamics within institutions like prisons and hospitals. Hospital Playlist follows a group of five friend doctors who come together and play songs as a band to relax from their hectic schedules. All kinds of patients and families and doctors and nurses are depicted quite realistically — and without the usual hullabaloo of hospital management politics. There are subplots of romance, but that’s exactly what they are: subplots. Subplots that make the storytelling of the everyday lives of hospital workers all the more captivating. Watch on Netflix.
Though it premiered to limited to no fanfare, Sky Castle smashed its pilot episode and racked up the then-highest ratings that Korean cable television has ever seen (it’s since been outranked). A satirical K-drama, the show delves into the lives of upper-class Korean families and how parents would go through extreme lengths to get their children the best education — even if they’re going to destroy the lives of other people. The four families, especially the housewives, living in an affluent neighborhood known as Sky Castle would do anything to one-up each other and make themselves the most successful family. One thing’s for sure: Korea’s educational system and traditions are fascinating but also a little bit harrowing. Watch on Netflix.
My Mister is a quiet study of characters — a woman in her 20’s struggling to live day by day while taking care of her ailing grandmother and trying to pay off debts, a man in his 40’s whose wife is having an affair, his older brother with a divorced wife and no job, and his younger brother who is struggling to become a movie director. It’s dark and heavy and full of angst, but it definitely shows a different side to life. Watch on Netflix (featuring singer-actress IU!).
Another K-drama leaning towards darker themes, Save Me follows a young woman named Im Sang Mi whose father gets involved with a religious cult after their family moved to a small rural town. For years, she becomes trapped until she encounters four of her former classmates, who become determined to save her. It stars the pretty Seo Ye Ji from recent crowd-favorite It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, but she’s definitely not okay in this one, so make sure your heart is ready. Watch on Netflix.
There’s not a lot of K-dramas exploring the science fiction genre, but Circle shows how much potential there is in here. The show simultaneously tells the story of two different timelines: 2017, where a student checks out a series of mysterious events as aliens invade Earth; and 2037, where a detective investigates a murder in the new Earth controlled by the invading aliens. It’s a short 12-episode series that would no doubt capture your attention, even if you’re not into sci-fi. Watch on Viu.
Hi Bye Mama
Family is the central theme of Hi Bye Mama, where ghost Cha Yu Ri follows her daughter around, despite being dead for five years and counting. She’s given a chance to take care of her daughter and tie up loose ends when she is reincarnated for 49 days. Plus, she needs to figure out how to make her daughter stop seeing ghosts. Watch on Netflix.
Oh My Venus
After being dumped by her boyfriend, lawyer Kang Joo Eun hires personal trainer Kim Young Ho so she can lose weight, and well, chaos ensues. While there’s definitely romance in the air, there’s also a lot of lessons on self-love. In a society where outward appearance is prioritized, this show tells us about the importance of inner beauty and self-acceptance. Watch on Netflix.
What other K-dramas not focused on romance do you recommend? Share them with us below!