As we slowly wind down towards the end of 2019, you might have the time to sit down and watch a Korean drama, or two, from this year’s selection. You might have heard of shows such as VagabondDoctor JohnChief of Staff, and many more. But if you are feeling overwhelmed by the variety of choice before you, don’t fret! We have carefully selected from a variety of genres; dramas that you can watch with family and friends in your spare time. So sit back and enjoy as we guide you through our choices!

Sky Castle

ByulHarangBona: You might be wondering why I included Sky Castle on my recommendations list, despite its broadcast date falling on November 23rd, 2018. The answer is simple. It’s because the drama only ended in February 2019, thus I consider it to be within the range of dramas released in 2019. Produced by director Joo Sang-KyooSky Castle is a satirical drama that takes a look at the lives of upper-class families, as they use a variety of methods to compete with each other for success in their career and academia- all at the cost of destroying each others’ lives.

What I love about this drama is that I can really relate to the plot, as someone coming from a country where families are equally competitive in both studies and work. For example, both Cha Seo-Joon and Cha Ki-Joon have to undergo intensive study sessions held by their father Cha Min-Hyuk, so they can top their classes. Meanwhile, I had to attend tuition classes weekly to push up my grades until I managed to persuade my parents that I could attain good results, on my own, through self-study. Furthermore, you can easily understand each character’s actions and motives through the excellent acting of both the actors and actresses. Actress Kim Hye-Yoon, in particular, captured my attention with her excellent acting. Her various expressions of anger and jealously truly brought her character to life. Also worthy of praise is actress Kim Bo-Ra, as she awed me with her flawless acting. Despite her role of Kim Hye-Na being manipulate in nature, she brings out the pitiful side of the persona, to the point where you feel pity for her instead of hatred.

The original soundtrack (OST) for the drama, We All Lie” by Ha-Jin, captures the sombre mood of the drama perfectly with its deep lyrics. It serves as a stark reminder, to all of us, that we all lie at a certain point in our life, for our own benefit. With the drama perfectly reflecting the competitive nature of both the working world and the academic life of students, it is a worthy watch for both young people and adults.

Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Cinematography: 8/10
Soundtrack: 9/10

Final Score: 9/10

The Last Empress

ByulHarangBona: Another drama that made my list, which first premiered in late 2018 but ended in early 2019, was none other than The Last Empress. The story takes place in present-day Korea, but is set under the premise of constitutional monarchy. Jang Na-ra plays the character of Oh Sunny, a musical actress, who marries Lee Hyuk (Shin Sung-rok), the Emperor. There, she goes up against the absolute power of the corrupt Imperial family, while falling in love with the Emperor’s imperial guard Na Wang-sik (Choi Jin-hyuk). Together, they work to expose the corruption of the royal family.

Korean dramas usually have 16-32 episodes but this masterpiece, which was produced by director Joo Dong-Min, had 52 episodes (extended from an initial 48 episodes) in total. However, the story did not feel draggy at all. It has just the right amount of suspense and thrill. For example, each characters in the story has their own motives, where you either hope for them to succeed or fail. This includes Princess Sojin‘s attempts to woo Na Wang-sik. Do you want her to triumph in the pursuit of true love after failing several times in the past? The star-studded cast, of the likes of Jang Na-raChoi Jin-hyukShin Sung-rokLee Elijah, and Shin Eun-kyung really impressed me too. I especially commend Jang Na-ra and Shin Sung-Rok for their acting. The former expresses her emotions well with how she articulates each line, while the latter displays the emotion his character feels perfectly with his facial expressions, to the point where you feel sorry for him, even though he is a villain.

The drama is blessed with a great selection of OSTs. My personal favourite was Not Over” by Gaho. The lyrics made me feel as if the Emperor Lee Hyuk was singing the song, as he yearned for not only his loved ones to come back to his side, but to also return to a time where he was still pure and innocent. With the drama’s continuous twists and turns, this is a drama that I will recommend to people who enjoy both mystery and tragedy.

Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Cinematography: 7.5/10
Soundtrack: 8.5/10

Final Score: 9/10

Strangers From Hell

ByulHarangBona: Need a show filled with horror and suspense? Strangers From Hell will meet your needs with ease! Helmed by Director Lee Chang-hee, the story follows Yoon Jong-woo (Im Si-Wan), who moves to Seoul after getting an internship at his friend’s company. Despite Eden dormitory looking gloomy, he decides to stay there, due to the cheap rates, so he can save money. However, mysterious happenings start to occur nightly there, causing Jong-Woo to start to living in fear of his creepy co-residents.

The drama is based on a Webtoon by Kim Yong-ki and is part of OCN‘s “Dramatic Cinema” project. The story flows neatly, and you can understand why the protagonist starts being paranoid within days of staying at Eden dormitory. For example, he comes out of his room to one of his fellow roommates brandishing a knife and muttering that he will kill him soon. Scary, isn’t it? This was also Im Si-wan‘s 1st drama project after completing his military service. He portrayed his role well and you can understand the rollercoaster of emotions his character felt- from being calm and reasonable to being aggressive and unstable. Frequent Korean drama watchers will remember seeing Lee Dong-wook acting as a handsome and caring grim reaper in Goblin and as a workaholic lawyer who eventually learn to love in Touch Your Heart. However, in Strangers From Hell, his acting raises to another notch, as he occupies the role of a serial killer, looking to groom another person into being the same. He displays a great understanding of his character and you will shudder whenever he appears on screen with the dark aura he has. One moment that comes to mind is his character Moon-jo silently peering into a hole that lets him observe Jong-woo in his room.

Despite the lack of great soundtracks, in my personal opinion, this drama makes up for it with its great cinematography. Each scene transitions smoothly to the next. For example, the scene where a character drinks from a bottle of water and sets it down will cut to a scene of another character putting down the beer he just drank. Another notable feature of the drama is how the story build up its tension and psychologically triggers the viewers’ fear in a cunning way. Thrilling and horrifying in nature, this is a drama I will recommend to bold and fearless viewers!

Story: 9.5/10
Acting: 9/10
Cinematography: 9.5/10
Soundtrack: 4/10

Final Score: 8/10

Welcome to Waikiki Season 2

WithJuyeon: Are you looking for a good laugh? Don’t let the almost completely new cast from the second season of Welcome to Waikiki deter you from watching it, in fear of disappointment. For those of you who enjoyed the first season, I can assure you that this one is just as hilarious, despite its share of lackluster moments. Take it as a stand-alone season, rather than a sequel, and you will find yourself laughing along to the characters’ silly antics. Those who have yet to catch season one can watch this season, without worrying about missing out on the story, as the two seasons are barely related to each other. They just take place in the same setting and start off the same with three friends running a guesthouse. I do, however, encourage you to watch the first one as well. This series knows how to entertain.

I find the chemistry between the cast in season two to be better compared to that of the first, and this plays a big part in a drama. Lee Jun-Ki (Lee Yi-Kyung) is the only character remaining from season one. He is an aspiring actor who goes to lengths to achieve his goal of becoming a household name. Cha Woo-Shik (Kim Seon-Ho) dreams of becoming a singer, while quirky Kook Ki-Bong (Shin Hyun-Soo) is a promising baseball player who aims to play in the major league. They are met with a series of misfortunes while working towards their dreams. Han Soo-Yeon (Moon Ga-Young) was the first love of the three men during their school days. Due to an unfortunate incident, she ends up becoming the first resident of their guesthouse. So, who gets the girl? That is for you to watch and find out! Moving onto the two other main characters, I found Kim Jung-Eun (Ahn So-Hee) to be rather lacking. For someone who makes up a part of the main cast, she doesn’t contribute to any of the characters’ development, not even to her own development. On the other hand, Cha Yoo-Ri (Kim Ye-Won) plays an important part in their development. She is Woo-Shik‘s older sister, who could come off as selfish at the beginning, but as the story progresses, you will find yourself liking her.

The cinematography isn’t one to brag about, but it is worth noting that the cinematography captures the comedic moments well. The soundtrack is fun and matches the eccentric theme of the show. The emotional ballads will strike a chord with you, making you feel sympathetic for the characters during their hardships.

There is never a dull moment with these six wacky characters. Their antics did not come off as cringey and were actually funny, despite being exaggerated. The majority of this show relies on its comedy, but it also gives a sense of reality by showcasing the struggles one may face when trying to realize their dream.

Story: 6/10
Acting: 9/10
Cinematography: 7/10
Soundtrack: 8/10

Final Score: 7.5/10

Search: WWW

WithJuyeon: A young chaebol who inherits his position in a company from his father or grandfather and falls in love with a poor woman after a number of coincidental meetings? You won’t find any of that in Search: WWW. This story revolves around three women who work in the same industry, dealing with search engines. This show is perfect for those looking for something besides the typical rom-com, emotional historical dramas and suspenseful crime shows. It depicts the competition between two of the biggest portal sites, Barro and Unicon, and how the employees come to understand and respect one another.

This show is driven by its characters, more than its story (which is rather simple). Despite having strong personas, the three leading women are not without their flaws. Bae Ta-Mi/Tammy (Im Soo-Jung) has a competitive nature. She strives for nothing but success, causing her to cast her personal life aside. She sticks to her values, not giving in to the desires of her love interest, Park Morgan (Jang Ki-Yong). Personally, I found the progress of their romance to be rather slow and dull, but that is with good reason. As mentioned earlier, Tammy is not one to yield so easily. Their conversations are mature and they really show the importance of respecting another’s morals. However, that does not take the fun out of the drama. Cha-Hyun/Scarlet (Lee Da-Hee) is your go-to girl when you need someone to lift your spirits. Cheerful and bubbly, she never fails to be there for the people she cares about. Her romance with Seol Ji-Hwan (Lee Jae-Wook) is honestly one of, if not, the cutest thing I have ever come across. I don’t even have the words to describe their relationship. They’re just so adorable together that I can’t help but smile while watching them! Song Ga-Gyeong (Jeon Hye-Jin) is a headstrong woman who rarely shows her emotions. She has an admirable relationship with her partner, Oh Jin-Woo (Ji Seung-Hyun), who silently has her back and respects her decisions. She may not be the nicest person, but she is not completely dislikable either. There are many layers to her and the more you peel, the more you will find yourself softening up to her.

The cinematography in this drama plays with dreamy lights and symmetrical patterns, making for very beautiful scenes. The close-ups are done tastefully too, as they never feel abrupt or out of place. In regards to the soundtrack, this has got to be one of the best, with each track perfectly complementing their scenes. The many soulful ballads are not overplayed, and they never fail to leave an impact on the emotional parts. It is as if each of them were composed to fit their scenes, you can’t play any other ballads over them and expect the same impact. The track “Search” by Elaine suits the show especially well— you can literally feel girl power radiating from it.

Comedy? Romance? Action? Suspense? Melodrama? Search: WWW has them all. I absolutely loved watching the friendship and rivalry between the three leads, who had great chemistry together, grow. These women know how to hold their own, a refreshing sight to see in the K-drama world. With three strong female characters leading the show, this is a win, especially for us ladies.

Story: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Cinematography: 8/10
Soundtrack: 10/10

Final Score: 8.5/10

Every year sees tons of new dramas aired, with some exceeding expectations, some meeting them, and some missing the mark. Including only 5 dramas does not cover all of our favorites, hence we would like to throw in two honourable mentions, namely Class of Lies and Extraordinary You. The former is a school mystery that was executed almost perfectly. The ending, however, was a huge let down and is the reason that the show did not make this list. It was rushed and provided no closure, something that is especially important for a crime/mystery show. Extraordinary You depicts the lives of webtoon characters who are aware that their stories are planned out by a writer. They are determined to do whatever it takes to change their destiny. Entertaining and interesting, with fun characters to boot, this show didn’t make our list due to its pacing. The story was dragged on for a period of time, with repetitive events that provided no real progress. It is quite impossible to watch each and every show that aired within the year so we hope that you enjoy our selections!