Best Korean Dramas of 2023

By Sandi Thompson
Published: September 9, 2023 (Last updated: last month)
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best-korean-dramas-of-2023

How does one decide what constitutes “best” for K-dramas? Official ratings? Viewer ratings? Awards? In this list of Best Korean Dramas of 2023, I choose dramas with a mixture of good storytelling (the technical elements are solid) combined with the ability to hold your attention throughout without feeling the need to fast forward or skip around. No small order, for sure! 

I humbly offer the following list of the best 2023 K-dramas for your viewing pleasure, and I’d like to thank our friends from MyDramaList and AsiaWiki on the premises. If you’d like a broader list, you may want to check out our Best Korean Dramas Of All Time article, or if you want something more specific, our Highest Rated Korean Dramas in 2023 Based on Nielsen Ratings feature. 

Last Update: November 6th, 2023.


Best Korean Dramas of 2023

Trolley

Genre: Mystery, Romance, Melodrama, Political

Aired: Dec 19, 2022 – Feb 14, 2023

Episodes: 16

Where to watch: Netflix

Plot Summary: Nam Joong-Do and Kim Hye-Joo are a married couple. Nam Joong-Do is a member of the National Assembly and is driven to make the world a better place. His wife, Kim Hye-Joo, runs a book repair shop. She hides a secret that even Nam Joong-Do does not know. Due to this case, Kim Hye-Joo’s secret becomes public.

What makes it a good watch: Who would have thought that a story about a happily married, middle-aged, middle-class couple would be such a tense watch? The show accomplishes this feat and much more with no loud, intense background music, overwrought emotional theatrics, or unbelievable, out-of-nowhere twists. Yet, the reveals feel so monumental, likely due to the deft directorial handling. 

The show’s title, Trolley, takes its name from the philosophical trolley dilemma, where a person needs to make a decision that saves one person or five, depending on how they choose to flip the level for the tracks on the metaphorical runaway trolley.

Viewers will spend time figuring out who each of the players is in this trolley scenario, as well as having their theories blown to bits time and time again, thanks to a large number of red herrings. Sometimes, the viewer may feel specific episodes are stagnant, but looking back after subsequent episodes, they will see those particular episodes reveal much. The emotionally and morally satisfying ending is the payout for the anxiety-induced watch.


The Glory Part 2

Genre: Revenge, Thriller, Melodrama

Episodes: 8

Aired: March 10

Where to watch: Netflix

Plot summary: A high school student becomes a victim of high school violence perpetrated by her fellow students. She dropped out of high school because of the bullying. She then began planning her revenge on her tormentors and also the bystanders who did nothing.

That student is now an adult. She has waited for the leader of her tormentors to get married and have a child. That child is now an elementary school student. The woman who was once a victim of school violence is now the homeroom teacher of her tormentor’s child. Her cruel revenge plot begins in earnest.

What makes it a good watch: Kim Eun Sook, the famed writer behind such hits as Descendants of the Sun, Mr. Sunshine, and Guardian: The Lonely and Great God offers up her first thriller to great success.

Reuniting with Song Hye-Kyo, her female lead from Descendants of the Sun, “the first installment stayed at the top of the Netflix charts for 5 weeks on the Global Top 10 TV (Non-English) chart. This second part opened in the third spot on Netflix’s Global TV, taking first place in 38 nations, second in 21 other nations, and third in 13 countries.” (Netflix series ‘The Glory’ Part 2 tops global Netflix chart – The Korea Times)

While the bullying scenes can be quite graphic and brutal at times, the revenge is made all the more satisfying in comparison. The acting, writing, and story pacing will keep viewers transfixed episode after episode, which makes it a solid binge. 


Call it Love

Genre:  Romance, Melodrama

Episodes: 16

Aired: Feb 22, 2023 – Apr 12, 2023

Where to watch: Disney+/Hulu

Plot: Sim Woo-Joo’s life became miserable because of her father and his mistress. After her father’s death, Sim Woo-Joo is kicked out of her home by the mistress. She decides to take revenge on that woman. She approaches Han Dong-Jin, who is the son of her father’s mistress. Sim Woo-Joo gets to know him and realizes that she has fallen in love with him. 

What makes it a good watch: First-time writer Kim Ga Eun creates a rich world of pathos in this drama, where characters are forced to confront their long-held beliefs. Their problems feel legitimate, and thus their struggles feel real and hard-earned.

While the viewer’s mileage for the director’s choice of pink filter may vary, it nevertheless conveys their intent to create an environment that mimics the characters’ loneliness and melancholy. If you enjoy angsty melodramas like this year’s The Interest of Love or last year’s My Liberation Notes, Call It Love will be a definite must-add to your watchlist.


One Day Off

Genre: Slice of Life, Food, Travel

Episodes: 8

Aired: May 24, 2023 – May 31, 2023

Where to watch: Viki/Kocowa

Plot: Set in the 1990s, Park Ha-Kyung teaches Korean literature at a high school. To escape her ordinary days, Park Ha-Kyung decides to take one-day trips on Saturdays. During her one-day trip, she walks around, eats different foods, and meets various people. She realizes she receives comfort and empathy through her travels.

What makes it a good watch: Lee Na-Young makes a comeback four years after Romance is a Bonus Book to lead this omnibus drama about a teacher who takes day trips to towns outside of Seoul, gaining insight from her interactions with the people she meets.

Director Lee Jong Pil and screenwriter Son Mi, both successful in their film endeavors, turn in their first drama, whose end result is poignant and visually stunning. And given that the entire drama is only eight ½-hour episodes makes it all the more remarkable.


Doctor Cha

Genre: Medical, Romance, Comedy

Aired: Apr 15, 2023 – Jun 4, 2023

Episodes: 16 

Where to watch: Netflix

Plot: Cha Jung-Sook is married to Seo In-Ho, who works as a chief surgeon at a university hospital. He has a strict, sensitive, and thorough personality. Cha Jung-Sook has been a full-time housewife for the past 20 years after giving up her career as a doctor during her medical resident years. After all those years, she decided to restart her medical residency.

What makes it a good watch: Doctor Cha gives us a heroine to root for in a middle-aged housewife who returns to the medical field despite opposition from those who should be supporting her most.

The show takes tropes seen in traditional melodramas or soap operas but puts them in a slapstick comedy. Leading the charge is our male lead, Kim Byung Chul, whose performance elevated a typical loathsome character into something special. What could have been a difficult, stressful watch is tempered by the show’s lighthearted approach and our desire to see the female lead win on her own terms.


D.P. 2

Genre: Action, Military

Aired: July 28, 2023

Episodes: 6

Where to watch: Netflix 

Plot: The pursuit of military deserters continues.

What makes it a good watch:  It’s always a challenge when a drama creates a second season, trying to live up to the expectations set in the first season. None more so than D.P., which earned multiple Best Drama and acting nominations and wins at respected awards shows. However, this second season delivers the poignancy of the first season and even more so. The character development in light of the unflinching environment is especially notable.


Mask Girl

Genres: Thriller, Comedy

Aired: August 18, 2023

Episode: 7

Where to watch: Netflix

Plot: Kim Mo-Mi is an ordinary worker. When she was a child, she dreamed of performing on a stage under bright lights. As she has aged, she got “ugly.” After her workday, and when she is at home, she puts on a mask and streams a live broadcast of herself as Mask Girl. She gets involved in an unexpected case.

What makes it a good watch: This drama will not be for everyone, but if you like biting satire and dark comedies, it certainly might be. Featuring three women in the main role, this drama punches back at South Korean lookism but also addresses universal themes of loneliness, parent-child relationships, and the objectification of women. One may recognize the art direction of Ryu Seong Hee, known for her work in such films as Old Boy, Mother, and Decision to Leave, as well as the recent drama Little Women.


Moving

Genres: Action, Thriller, Mystery, Supernatural

Aired: August 9, 2023 – September 20, 2023

Episode: 20

Where to watch: Disney+/Hulu

Plot: Kim Bong Seok, Jang Hee Soo, and Lee Gang Hoon, seemingly typical high school students, bear extraordinary inherited powers. As they conceal their gifts, their parents fight to shield them from exploitation by others, navigating a delicate balance between secrecy and protection.

What makes it a good watch: Disney rolled out a 50-billion won ($45 million) production complete with over 7000 CGI images spread across 20 episodes, making it the most expensive kdrama to date. However, what sets this drama apart from other superhero productions is the emotional heft of the relationships: parent/child, student/student, adult/student and romantic. The writer took time to flesh out every single character, sometimes taking multiple episodes to tell the character’s backstory, so even minor characters feel like major characters within this universe. 


The Kidnapping Day

Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Comedy

Aired: September 13, 2023 – October 25, 2023

Episode: 12

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Plot: Kim Myung Joon desperately needs money to pay for his sick daughter’s operation. His ex-wife suggests he kidnap a child with rich parents.  While on his way to kidnap Choi Ro Hee, she runs out of the house, collapsing in front of his car. He takes her home, however, he is unable to contact her parents for the ransom money.  Deciding to investigate, he drives to their house, only to witness their dead bodies being carried out on stretchers. To complicate the situation, Choi Ro Hee has now uncovered his lies, including him not being her father.

What makes it a good watch:  What starts out as a caper comedy about a precocious tween and her bumbling captor becomes a philosophical discussion on what makes a family and the value of its members. A dark comedy that is also a worthy thriller, the drama treats its audience with respect while handling all these elements. Yuna, who played the young captive, is amazing. 


And that completes our Best Korean Dramas of 2023 list. We’ll keep this list updated every two months, so make sure to return. 


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