Passions and Obsessions

Our lists of most romantic K-Dramas

Yes, it’s a never-ending experience. Rewind!

Goblin

With Dr. Erik Paolo Capistrano, Didi Lopa, Helweena Sadorra, Mich del Rosario, Susan Joven and Annie Ringor

(Photo credits belong to official promotion sites.)

Swoon was a word I associated with vampires, thanks to Anne Rice. This was in the late ‘90s when my evening diet consisted not only of Scarsdale and Atkins (all the rage at that time), but also of Anne Rice’s famous vampire series; I lived in a vampires’ world,  empathizing with their loneliness born out of immortality. I even became somewhat suspicious of celebrities with seemingly preternatural-like talent and strength—that was how much I bought into Rice’s version of evolution where vampires resurrect themselves, ad nauseum, from one incredible being to another (including rock stars and tennis champions). Swoon is the state the vampire’s  prospective victim finds herself/himself in before the love bite—such ecstasy in captivity.

The vampire became the romantic hero of that decade, and, it would turn out, in the most part of this millennium, after so many writers, both of books and films, turned into Anne Rice-wannabes.

Fast-forward to the reign of K-Drama today. Again, the term “swoon,” but this time not to describe a victim’s fainting into ecstasy. Swoon in today’s pandemic is more the act of escaping into your own world of romance—away from the woes of the news, your immediate milieu, and your fear of the uncertain future. It’s a swoon coupled with the thrill of romance that is engaging even if it’s not hard realism. What I like about the K-Drama that I’ve followed is that it doesn’t insult your intelligence or tax your credulity.

K-Drama develops the story’s characters as much as the romantic plot. And it has humor.

It is an experience so that you swoon over and over, you relive the “kilig” (particularly if the actors/actresses are good-looking and charismatic). K-Drama lovers re-watch their favorite series. I know of a friend who watched Encounter nine times.

We asked here some K-Drama followers for their own lists of Most Romantic K-Dramas (from 10 to 20), and their insightful comments.

My own list:

  1. Reply 1988 (Park Bo-Gum,  Hyeri, Ryu Jun-Yeol, Go Kyung-Pyo)

  2. Love in the Moonlight (Park Bo-gum, Kim Yoo-Jung)

  3. Encounter (Park Bo-Gum, Song Hye-Kyo)

  4. Personal Taste (Lee Min-Ho, Son Ye-Jin)

  5. The Inheritors (Lee Min-ho, Park Shin-Hye)

  6. Legend of the Blue Sea (Lee Min-Ho, Jun Ji-Hyun)

  7. Boys Over Flowers (Lee Min-Ho, Koo Hye-Sun)

  8. Coffee Prince (Gong Yoo, Yoon Eun-Hye)

  9. Goblin or Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (Gong Yoo, Kim Go-Eun)

  10. Big (Gong Yoo, Lee Min-Jung)

  11. The Winter the Wind Blows (Jo In-Sung, Song Hye-Kyo)

  12. It’s Okay, That’s Love (Jo In-sung, Gong Hyo-Jin)

  13. Dear My Friends (Go, Hyun-Jung, Jo In-Sung)

  14. Start-Up (Nam Joo-Hyuk, Kim Seon-Ho, Bae Suzy)

  15. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo (Nam Joo-Hyuk, Lee Sung-Kyung)

  16. One Spring Night (Jung Hae-In, Han Ji-min)

  17. A Piece of Your Mind (Jung Hae-In, Chae Soo-Bin)

  18. Healer (Ji Chang-wook, Park Min-Young)

  19. Suspicious Partner (Ji Chang-Wook, Nam Ji-Hyun)

  20. Itaewon Class (Park Seo-Joon, Kim Da-Mi)

Winter Sonata

Winter Sonata

Erik Paolo Capistrano, PhD:

“Most romantic” can be subjective. Hence, I am compiling this list based on the impact a drama— whether a single episode or even a single scene—had on me. The experience ranged from me pausing and rewinding to see if I heard and understood that correctly (at best)—to me throwing the pillow or remote control (at worst).

I also tried to do a mix of newer and older ones, and popular and not-so-popular ones. But most of all, I also thought about the diverse meanings of “romance” and “romantic,” so that we can have a wider range of dramas to think about.

(In no particular order)

  1. KBS Fight for My Way (2017, Park Seo-Joon and Kim Ji-Won)

Famous (or infamous) for Kim Ji-Won’s cringe-worthy display of aegyo (cuteness), it nonetheless showed good chemistry between her and Park Seo-Joon. And that one scene where Seo-Joon got some sort of revenge with his own cuteness on Ji-Won was hilarious. It’s a reflection of the reality that being in a relationship doesn’t always have to involve two people with a lot of commonalities.

  1. tvN Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (2017, Gong Yoo, Kim Go-Eun, Lee Dong-Wook, and Yoo In-Na)

Sometimes, even a fantasy story can have multiple moments of romance—and in different kinds as well. The respective stories with tragic fate-based endings of Gong Yoo and Go-Eun, and of Dong-Wook and In-Na, reminds us that love does have its own mind and will at times. Coupled with an amazing soundtrack, the drama resonates with these messages reminding us that love isn’t always about sunshine and rainbow.

One thing that stood out for me that I like to highlight is this quote from Gong Yoo’s character:

“Mass is not proportional to volume.
A girl as small as a violet. A girl who moves like a flower petal is pulling me toward her with more force than her mass.
Just then, like Newton’s apple, I rolled toward her without stopping until I fell on her, with a thump. With a thump.
My heart keeps bouncing between the sky and the ground.
It was my first love.”
― Kim In Yook, Physics of Love 사랑의 물리학

Lines like this made me rewind the scene and read that one out loud.

  1. KBS Descendants of the Sun (2016, Song Joong-Ki, Song Hye-Kyo, Jin Goo, and Kim Ji-Won)

Many people find this drama cringey, and with good reason. I agree. But as cringey as the Song-Song couple was onscreen, when this is contrasted with the onscreen story of Jin Goo and Kim Ji-Won, we see multiple sides to a love story—or what it should be.

There are few noteworthy scenes that stood out, for me, because they were very creative in communicating the romantic scenes. The first is the wine scene. Joong-Ki’s character couldn’t even taste the wine because he was on duty, so Hye-Kyo’s character drank a bit of it, held it in her mouth. That set up the perfect excuse for the kiss scene (as cringey as that sounds now that I look back on it). The second was that conversation that resulted from that kiss, where Joong-Ki asked Hye-Kyo, “About that kiss, should I apologize, or confess?” I remember my head snapping back just to rewind that scene. Now if that wasn’t a confession of love, I don’t know what one is.

  1. JTBC Run On (2020, Im Si-Wan, Shin Se-Kyung, Choi Soo-Young, and Kang Tae-Oh)

I find this recently concluded drama romantic in that it communicates to me that it is possible to find love in some of the most under-appreciated times, or in some of the most inopportune circumstances. While we may be good at what we do now, and that we are thus content with that kind of life, questions on “following one’s heart” still persist. And no matter how strong and successful one is, having that one person to see through the barriers you’ve put up and understand your vulnerabilities is as priceless as it can get.

I especially liked how Kang Tae-Oh’s character was able to break through Choi Sooyoung’s character’s barriers of being a strong and independent woman (yes this is where my bias towards Girls’ Generation comes in—Choi Soo-Young is a member of the legendary girl group), and earned her affections.

  1. tvN Hospital Playlist (2020, Cho Jung-Suk, Yoo Yeon-Seok, Jung Kyung-Ho, Kim Dae-Myung, and Jeon Mi-Do)

Not many would consider this a romantic drama that is typical of the love stories found in— obviously romantic dramas. But it does have its romantic moments. What I do like about the romance in this drama is that it is more… mature… for a lack of a better word, especially since all the characters are in their 40s. All the characters are very good in what they do, but they are all lacking in one aspect—a romantic love life. And each is low-key struggling with their encounters of love and romance. Jung-Suk’s character, after going through a divorce and is now raising their son on his own, suddenly comes to terms  with the fact that he likes Mi-Do’s character—a feeling he has kept to himself since medical school when he learned that Dae-Myung’s character—his best friend—liked Mi-Do. Funny thing is that Mi-Do rejected Dae-Myung’s confession because “she liked someone else” (speculations are about that it’s Jung-Suk). Kyung-Ho and Yeon-Seok also found their respective prospective loves, albeit in different circumstances.

This also has a great soundtrack that amps up the romantic vibes.

Bottom line, it’s how these characters handle these encounters of love that made me put this on the list. And I honestly can’t wait for Season 2 when hopefully all this develops more.

  1. tvN The K2 (2016, Ji Chang-Wook and Im Yoon-Ah)

Essentially an action drama with a lot of conspiracy, this drama makes it to my list because of the onscreen chemistry between the two lead characters (and yes, my bias towards Girls’ Generation is also here because of Im Yoon-Ah). A romantic highlight of this drama, for me, is the ramyun scene. Yoon-Ah’s character, who was under house arrest to protect her identity from the world, wanted ramyun, but couldn’t find all the things she wanted to make one. She ended up disappointed, and just ate the ramyun dry out of the pack. All this while her bodyguard, Chang-Wook’s character, watched from the security cameras. The next night, he secretly prepared everything for her so that she only needed to cook it. The happiness on her face said it all—along with the happy dance.

Who could have thought that preparing ramyun could communicate thoughtfulness?

Then, of course, there’s the typical “I’ll risk my life for you” thing that Chang-Wook exuded as Yoon-Ah’s bodyguard.

  1. SBS It’s Okay, That’s Love (2014, Jo In-Sung and Gong Hyo-Jin)

Against a backdrop of the struggle between managing mental health and finding romance, I’m warning you that this can take you on an emotional rollercoaster ride. I like it in the sense that I saw two older individuals trying to go through their respective lives as professionals and yet behind the scenes they’re trying to deal with past traumas and whatnot. It reminds me—and us— that no matter how good we are in managing our professional lives, dealing with our personal lives doesn’t have to be done alone. And understanding this can lead to a more mature love relationship.

  1. tvN What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim (2018, Park Seo-Joon and Park Min-Young)

Sometimes, even the most confident, secure, and content people can have that one moment where everything seems to be shaken at least and to fall apart, at worst. And sometimes, it’s a good thing that things get all twisted and turned upside down and inside out. You’ll never know what will happen next.

But one of the biggest selling points which makes this drama romantic is the interaction between the two main characters. While admittedly there’s a lot of cliché and cheesy stuff in this drama, the fact that Seo-Joon’s character and Min-Young’s character have strong personalities makes for an interesting pair. I warn you though, it might be too cringey and too cheesy for a lot of people that it’ll be frustrating. This is one of those dramas that kind of goes over-the-top cheesey.

  1. KBS Winter Sonata (2002, Bae Young-Joon and Choi Ji-Woo)

You can’t mention romantic Korean dramas without mentioning the classics. And one of them is definitely Winter Sonata. While largely considered to be a “makjang” type of drama, it became a cornerstone in the discussion of the history of Hallyu.

That aside, the reason this is on my list is first and foremost the chemistry between Bae Young-Joon and Choi Ji-Woo. With a story now considered a stereotype for dramas that was one for the ages, and a soundtrack to convey heart-rending emotions, this drama has an unexpected twist that doesn’t lead to a happily-ever-after end. This reminds us that despite everything—the challenges, hardships, and efforts to overcome them—things don’t turn out the way we want them to, and yet, after dwelling on it, it’s fine.

There’s actually romance in that irony as well.

As honorable mentions, you can put here the Endless Love series if you want the entire package (Autumn in My Heart—2000, starring Song Seung-Heon, Song Hye-Kyo, Won Bin, and Han Na-Na; Summer Scent—2003, starring Song Seung-Heon, Son Ye-Jin, and Han Ji-Hye; and Spring Waltz— 2006, starring Seo Do-Young, Han Hyo-Joo, Daniel Henney, and Lee So-Yeon).

  1. MBC Beethoven Virus (2008, Kim Myung-Min, Lee Ji-Ah, Jang Geun-Suk)

Not many Korean dramas have classical music as backdrop. Engaging in classical music is already romantic in itself since it brings people together and develops relationships within a context only a few people can truly understand (“using one’s music to communicate one’s feelings towards another person”).

The thing about this drama is that we have a love triangle that isn’t typically seen, and the two men fighting for the one woman’s affection aren’t really at odds with each other in a traditional sense. Once you take a step back and see things from a different perspective, conveying one’s love for another by teaching and encouraging to develop the gifts and talents given is kind of sweet. To sweeten the pot, you have the typical circumstances surrounding the blossoming of a relationship. So who would the woman choose in the end?

That, plus the fact that Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon sang that beautiful soundtrack that to this day I find heart-rending (Jang Geun-Suk has his version too).

  1. KBS Love Rain (2012, Jang Geun-Suk and Im-Yoon-Ah)

Aside from the fact that this also plays into my bias towards Girls’ Generation (with members Yoon-Ah being the lead actress and Tiffany singing the OST), this is also now considered as a classic.

Getting two love stories set in different eras can be confusing for some, but at least it’ll get you into thinking about the circumstances that make for a good romantic scenario in the ‘70s vis a vis the present. The different personalities of each character in each era could be confusing, but hey, looking forward to how they’d fall for each other is something interesting as well.

For the ‘70s, I guess a lot of people who experienced or thought to have experienced falling in love at first sight could relate to it. I mean, who wouldn’t either cringe or swoon over the prospect of love at first sight? And who wouldn’t believe in a second life, in another lifetime, where you can encounter that same person again? For the present, you’d think about how fate could play a hand to bring two people together. How you take it from there is another thing altogether.

You’re up for some old-school romance here.

  1. JTBC Strong Girl Bong-Soon (2017, starring Park Bo-Young, Park Hyung-Sik and Ji-Soo)

What starts out as a typical “rich guy needs a bodyguard” gets a twist—the bodyguard is a woman endowed with superhuman strength, but  who doesn’t want to use it because she wants to be more lady-like to get the attention of her crush. The romance here is a little stereotypical— rich guy who is arrogant at first opens up to girl bodyguard. This leads to a couple of scenes which I totally found romantic—the best for me is Hyung-sik’s character confessing to Bo-Young’s character that he’s sick, then grabbing her hand and putting it on his chest, saying that this is where it hurts.

This, and not to mention the fact that Bo-Young is such an adorable actress in this drama, which really ups the romance factor quite a bit.

  1. KBS On the Way to the Airport (2016, Kim Ha-Neul and Lee Sang-Yoon)

I won’t be surprised if not too many people actually picked this drama up. It’s not a typical romance drama, period. But it is romantic in the sense that we see here two people coping with tragedy and challenges in their respective lives, then one incident led them to get involved with each other. I loved how they both try to be rational about their growing relationship with each other. They’re unhappy with their lives, then they find sympathy in each other. Are they friends? Best friends? Buddies? Are they cheating? We won’t know for sure. But it makes you think about what is a relationship, what is romance, and what defines them and changes their definitions.

Just watch out though. It’s a melodrama that can be a bit heavy on the heart.

  1. KBS Full House (2004, Song Hye-Kyo and Rain)

You can’t have Korean romantic dramas and not talk about Full House. Aside from the fact that we see two very popular Korean celebrities, this drama also tackles building a relationship with so many questions in mind—questions on social status, on economic standing, on what family means, and how in the world can something so illogical and so impossible happen right under one’s nose? Well, that’s drama for you.

I guess what makes this romantic is that it just lays out the cheesy stuff, typical of the early 2000s. Then there’s the chemistry between Hye-Kyo and Rain. It will take you on a rollercoaster ride for sure.

  1. MBC My Spring Days (2014, Kam Woo-Sung, Choi Soo-Young, Lee Joon-Hyuk, and Jang Shin-Young)

Now this one for sure not too many people picked up (I picked this up because it features Girls’ Generation’s Soo-Young). But this drama makes it to my list because it really makes you think about how people can get together  while not really knowing what will happen next, not really knowing why they met each other, and not really knowing where their being together would lead them to.

One of the highlights of this drama is how Soo-Young’s character shows so much gratitude for being given a second chance in life, and how she is determined to make the most out of it. Then comes Woo-Sung’s character, who is just wandering around, day by day, trying to cope with a loss (I will not give a spoiler). The two meet in a typical drama-like fashion—unexpectedly, and their personalities slowly complement each other. And that’s another way of looking at what’s romantic.

Mind you though, the ending isn’t what you expect.

True Beauty

Didi Lopa:

I did not put CLOY (Crash Landing on You) because for sure it’s number one on everyone’s list already.  The K-Drama must be memorable and this is achieved when there’s chemistry between the main characters, sometimes chemistry with the second lead as well, to leave you confused as to who you will root for. When you end up smiling all by yourself, watching them together, then it’s a successful K-Drama pairing.

Music is also very important as it sets the mood!

  1. Sunshine (Lee Byung-Hun, Kim Tae-Ri)

  2. Full House

  3. Oh My Venus (So Ji-Sub, Shin Min-A)

  4. A Love So Beautiful (2020, Kim Yo-Han, So Joo-Yeon)

  5. What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim

  6. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo

  7. It’s Ok Not To Be Ok (Kim Soo-Hyun, Seo Yea-Ji)

  8. Dinner Mate (Seo Ji-Hye, Song Seung-Heon)

  9. I’ll Find You When the Weather is Fine (Seo Kang-Joon, Park Min-Young)

  10. True Beauty (Cha Eun-Woo, Moon Ga-Young)

  11. Romance is a Bonus Book (Lee Jong-Suk, Lee Na-Young)

  12. Noble, My Love (Sung Hoon, Kim Jae-Kyung)

  13. Coffee Prince

  14. Big

  15. Something in the Rain (Jung Hae-In, Son Ye-Jin)

  16. I Wanna Hear Your Song (Yeon Woo-Jin, Kim Se-Jeong)

  17. Do you like Brahms (Park Eun-Bin, Kim Min-Jae)

  18. Suspicious Partner

  19. Warm and Cozy (Yoo Yeon-Seok, Kang So-Ra)

  20. Wok of Love (Jung Ryeo-Won, Lee Jun-Ho)

Helweena Sadorra:

What makes a memorable romantic K-Drama for me:

  1. Well-thought-out characters

There are only two types of characters (and two types of storylines too) in romantic K-Dramas— one who has chosen to love from the very start and one who would fall in love along the way. What makes the drama interesting is usually the depth of the lead characters despite the predictability of romance.

I particulary enjoy romantic K-Dramas with empowered women or those that highlight their growth in a male-dominated society.

  1. The gripping lines or scenes

It’s not the wrist-grabbing that “pulls” or magnets fans like me. It’s all those creative ways of saying I love you or I like you that would make you rewind those scenes or quote those lines.

Madalas kong nasasabi kapag nanonood, ‘Grabe itong mga K-Drama, bakit parang hindi sila nauubusan ng nakakakilig na linya at eksena na parang bago pero hindi naman? (I tell myself, why don’t these K-Dramas run out of lines or scenes—they’re not new but they seem new each time.)

  1. Timelessness

Most of these dramas have stayed/ would stay in my heart for a long time. The warmth they bring live on despite all the changes through the years.

I can simply pick any of them and watch to comfort and inspire myself when I need it the most.

  1. Healer

  2. It’s Okay Not to be Okay

  3. King 2 Hearts (Lee Seung-Gi, Ha Ji-Won)

  4. Because This is My First Life (Lee Min Ki, Jung So-Min)

  5. Reply 1997 (Seo In-Guk, Jung Eun-Ji)

  6. Descendants of the Sun

  7. Goblin

  8. City Hall

  9. Faith (Lee Min-Ho, Kim Hee-Sun)

  10. My Love From The Star (Kim Soo-Hyun, Jun Ji-Hyun)

  11. It’s Okay, That’s Love

  12. Lovers in Paris (Kim Jung-Eun, Park Shin-Yang)

  13. Pasta (Lee Sun Gyun, Gong Hyo-Jin)

  14. Jealousy Incarnate (Jo Jung-Suk, Gong Hyo-Jin)

  15. Princess Hours (Yoon Eun-Hye, Ju Ji-Hoon)

Mich del Rosario:

  1. What’s wrong with Secretary Kim

  2. Descendants of the Sun

  3. Healer (I super loved this!)

  4. The Winter the Wind Blows

  5. Her Private Life (Kim Jae-Wook, Park Min-Young)

  6. Crash Landing On You (Hyun Bin, Son Ye-Jin)

  7. The Inheritors

  8. K2

  9. Encounter

  10. Jealousy Incarnate

  11. She Was Pretty (Park Seo-Joon, Hwang Jung-Eum)

  12. Doctors (Park Shin-Hye, Kim Rae-Won)

  13. Uncontrollably Fond (Kim Woo-Bin, Bae Suzy)

  14. Start-Up

  15. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo

Susan Joven:

  1. My Mister (IU, Lee Sun Gyun)

  2. Crash Landing On You

  3. Sunshine

  4. The Inheritors

  5. Coffee Prince

  6. Something in the Rain

  7. My Love From The Star

  8. Reply 1988

  9. Itaewon Class

Annie Ringor:

  1. Oh My  Venus

  2. Uncontrollably Fond

  3. It’s Ok That’s Love

  4. It’s Ok To Be Not Ok

  5. Crash Landing On You

  6. Coffee Prince

  7. That Winter, The Wind Blows

  8. Master’s Sun (So Ji-Sub, Gong Hyo-Jin)

  9. Descendants of The Sun

  10. You Are My Destiny (Jang Hyuk, Jang Na-Ra)

About author

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After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.
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