Compared to 2015, I’d say 2016 was a successful year in dramas. There’s at least one good drama in the varying genres put out this year from crime thriller to romantic comedy to drama. These ones below had to be my favorites because they either made me emotional (in a good way) or just made me enjoy myself that I thirsted over the next episode. At any rate, I am happy with how out-of the-box Korean dramas are going and I hope it goes more in that direction in the coming years.
Signal (tvN/16 Eps.) Without a doubt the best drama of the year. It had my heart racing a lot of the time with it’s plot but also made me emotionally connected to it’s characters that I actually cared what happened to them. The writers clearly knew how to divide the plots evenly throughout the 16 episodes (which can be a problem in a lot of other dramas) so it never feels like its dragging, instead, your having a blast with both the story and the acting.
Best Performance: Well obviously it’s my teddy-bear ajusshi (I call him that) Cho Jin Woong and actress Kim Hye Soo. They both killed it in their performances. Jin Woong made you cry for him while Hye Soo did women proud by playing a smart, level headed female detective.
38 Task Force (OCN/16 Eps.) Right up there with ‘Signal’ when it comes to great thrillers that were paced out really well. The drama comes from writer Han Jung Hoon who did 2014’s ‘Bad Guys’ so really, I was not expecting it to be bad, however, it still surprised me by how good it was. The schemes to cheat these greedy rich folk out of their money is pretty genius.
Best Performance: Seo In Guk. That guy may have a love for his music but c’mon, this guy can act and ad-lib in a room all by himself and still look charming. Another surprise performance was from actress Lee Sun Bin who doesn’t just have a pretty face but acting chops to boot.
Dear My Friends (tvN/16 Eps.) Ugh, way to make me cry. Happy tears and sad ones. Applause to the writer for making much older people the leads of a drama. Some people seem to forget that people of these age groups still live out their lives and aren’t cooped up in a corner and forgotten. The friendships between everyone, especially Hee Ja and Jung Ah, is pure gold. There needs to be more dramas like this.
Best Performance: Everyone! everyone in the cast including Lee Kwang Soo who plays the attentive son to his mother with dementia. His tears were my tears. Also Ko Hyun Jung, who I have always loved, really shines here in a role that any actress would have killed to have.
My Wife’s Having An Affair This Week (JTBC/ 12Eps.) After 2015’s ‘Awl’, writer Lee Nam Kyu came back to JTBC for this drama and pretty much confirmed for me how great he is at his craft. You’d think a drama about infidelity would be without laughs but the show is littered with hilarious scenes and makes emotional ones just as well. This drama may be a Japanese remake but it stands up well on its own.
Best Performance: You can’t go wrong with the man himself, Lee Sun Kyun. Not only is he a great actor but he knows how to choose his projects well. Song Ji Hyo isn’t much of an actress but she convincing enough here. Really, the actress that impressed me the most was singer Boa. I had a good impression of her when she was on a drama special years ago but this time around, I’m pretty sure she can be a lead actress in a standard drama.
Oh My Geum Bi (KBS/16 Eps.) Another one of those dramas that you expect there to be tears but then you don’t expect the laughs that come with it. Geum Bi’s relationships with all the adults in this drama just touch your heart and you really want the best possible ending for her. Perhaps i’m the only one in saying this, but I actually wanted more scenes between Geum Bi and her birth mother; their lost connection and re-connection was fascinating to watch.
Best Performance: OMG, Heo Jung Eun! This child actress came out of nowhere and blew everyone away. You could say she acted better than some of the adults in this drama. Oh Yoon Ah (who plays her birth mother) is an actress who is always underused in dramas but her role here is one of the most memorable yet.
Shopping King Louie (MBC/16 Eps.) Before ‘Weightlifting Kim Bok Joo’ I would have put this drama as the best romantic comedy of the year. Despite its predictable story line, this drama managed to take something cliche and breath new life into it. It’s probably the best example of taking the amnesia archetype and using it as a good plot device that doesn’t seem old or lame.
Best Performance: Again, Seo in Guk is the man. He can be given any plain role and make it magnetic. This is also his second time in the year where he works with actor Oh Dae Hwan (The first is ’38 Task Force’) who is also great here as the comedic relief after playing more serious, bad guy roles. Main Actress Nam Ji Hyun was also a delight to watch. This is the first drama of hers that I have watched and she is just as charismatic as Seo in Guk. Together they are electric, and I would love to see them in another drama again.
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo (MBC/16 Eps.) Here comes the unexpected romantic comedy breakthrough of the year-perhaps in the last few years. Just like the name Gu Jun Pyo is synonymous with ‘Boys Over Flowers’ will the name Kim Bok Joo always remind us of this wonderful gem of a drama. It’s a college youth drama that not only shows an adorable and mature relationship done right but also points out issues of insecurity and the importance of friendship that comes at that age. Years from now, this will be one of those re-watchable dramas.
Best Performance: Lee Sung Kyung. I liked her in ‘Cheese In The Trap’ but her role in this drama convinced me that this model can act. She doesn’t care to be ugly, she challenges herself by taking up these kinds of roles that not just any pretty actress can do. Those are the actresses that I like and respect the most. Fellow model-turned-actor Nam Joo Hyuk was also a pleasant surprise. His role was made for him.
Let’s Fight Ghost (tvN/16 Eps.) No matter what anyone says, I enjoyed this drama. It’s fun, well plotted out till the end, and what I loved most was that main lead, Hyun Ji, never became a Candy character. She was independent, honest, and never held back in communicating her thoughts and feelings with her male lead. This is a girl that I want to see more often in dramaland.
Best Performance: I’d say everyone did a great job here. Taecyeon was surprisingly well fit for this role and I honestly didn’t feel the age difference between him and Kim So Hyun. Instead, I thought they were well matched in chemistry. Comedic duo Kang Ki Young and David Lee were hilarious together and had one of the best male friendships that year. Kwon Yool also played a great villain.
Age Of Youth (JTBC/ 12 Eps.) This had to be the best girlfriend drama all year. I loved these layered characters who were equipped with their own story lines. But I felt like they could have done without the whole ghost thing, it just seemed out of place. The episode of Ye Eun’s kidnapping was also odd and took away from what I thought was the heart of the drama. It was a show about the everyday worries and struggles of young women but it did not need it’s thriller side at all, which is why I ultimately bumped it down to here. Other than that though, this was an enjoyable drama and I’m glad season two has been confirmed.
Best Performance: It’s a tie between Park Eun Bin, and Ryu Hwa Young. Park Eun Bin played the comical best friend (and who everyone watching wanted to be best friends with) but let’s be honest, without her character these girls would have fallen apart long ago. Ryu Hwa Young really intrigued me with her mistress character so well that I can’t imagine it being played by anyone else.
Mirror Of The Witch (JTBC/20 Eps.) Usually when I watch fantasy saeguk (to which I have never completed one, other than this one) it always seems to come off as unbelievable. This drama however, felt like black magic was real and it’s probably due to the way it was filmed-which is BEAUTIFUL. Did it run on too long? yes, it could have been cut shorter considerably, and for that, the villain (played beautifully by Yum Jung Ah) had more character (and ultimately scenes) than it’s good guy leads in the end.
Best performance: Yum Jung Ah as the evil witch Hong Joo. She made you sympathize with her character despite being an antagonist and did bad so well, she made everyone look stupid (but that could have been the writing). More of her please.
Page Turner (KBS/3 Eps.) A short special, but well written enough to watch all three episodes. Kim So Hyun is always a delight to watch and as for Ji Soo this may as well be the most developed character he has played yet.
Best Performance: I’ll say that everyone did a great job here but i’m just glad Ji Soo got to play a slightly different role than his previous ones.
Five Children (KBS/ 54 Eps.) It is rare for me to watch a family drama. Basically there has to be something different about it to make me stick it out for the long haul. This drama did that. It was not only about two families coming together but really pointing out that being a single parent is not a bad thing, it’s hard, yes, but nothing to be ashamed about. For once, both leads played matured characters who not only showed the struggles of being working parents but also showed that when in a relationship, honest communication is key.
Best Performance: I’ll give it to So Yu Jin. I haven’t seen her in a drama in so long that I was reminded by how much I liked her, especially here as the independent working mother. However, everyone knows that it was the secondary couple that really took up the spotlight. Played by Shin Hye Sun and Sung Hoon, this couple gave you jolts of happiness whenever their scenes came up. I was also pleasantly surprised by actress lim soo hyang who’s a typical beauty but doesn’t doesn’t lack in the acting department.