If you’re one of the older K-drama fans, then your beginnings in the genre would probably go back to the classic dramas that used to air on local television back in the day. These dramas are the kind that would make you want to go home early just to catch what kind of kilig they have for the day.
Those who are newer to the world of K-dramas, though, would probably be wondering just what kind of titles everyone’s been raving about years before Descendants of the Sun, Goblin, and Crash Landing On You became the popular dramas that they are.
Below, we’re listing down 12 of the classic and essential K-dramas every K-drama lover should watch:
Winter Sonata (2002)
Winter Sonata is the second part of Yoon Seok Ho’s Endless Love trilogy. It follows Joon Sang who moves to a new high school to look for his biological father. There, he meets Yoo Jin after saving her from an accident, and they end up becoming close, with her opening up his cold heart. Because of circumstances, though, Joon Sang disappears from their lives, only to come back 10 years later as the boyfriend of one of their childhood friends.
This drama stars Bae Young Joon, Choi Ji Woo, Park Yong Ha, and more. Dramas Spring Waltz, Autumn Tale, and Summer Scent are the three other dramas included in the Endless Love trilogy.
Stairway to Heaven (2003)
Stairway to Heaven is a melodrama about childhood sweethearts Cha Song Joo and Hang Jung Seo. Their relationship becomes complicated when Jung Seo’s father remarries, and she gets two stepsiblings — Han Tae Hwa and the scheming Han Yu Ri. Despite the stepsiblings’ attempt to get between Song Joo and Jung Seo’s relationship, their bond did not fade, even if Song Joo had to leave the country to study in America.
Things change, however, when Jung Seo gets caught in a car accident, losing her memories, and taken under Tae Hwa’s wing, who gives her a new name. five years later, just as he is about to be engaged to Yu Ri, Song Joo sees someone who looks exactly like his long lost love, Jung Seo.
Choi Ji Woo, Kwon Sang Woo, Shin Hyun Joon,. and Kim Tae Hee star in this drama.
Jewel in the Palace (2003)
Jewel in the Palace is a drama based on the true story of Jang Geum. She is the first woman to become the supreme royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty. The drama tells the story of her journey from being a poor class girl in a patriarchal society to becoming a royal cook, becoming the royal physician for the king, and eventually earning the title “The Great Jang Geum.”
Lee Young Ae, Ji Jin Hee, Hong Ri Na, and Im Ho star in this 2003 drama.
Full House (2004)
Full House is about Han Ji Eun, an aspiring scriptwriter who lives in a house called “Full House.” Her two best friends trick her into believing that she won a free vacation, only for them to sell her house. Upon her return, she learns that her house has been sold to the actor Lee Young Jae. The two end up living together despite not getting along with each other. They eventually end up going into a contract marriage to make the love of Young Jae’s life jealous. Their contract marriage gets complicated, though, when the two end up falling for each other.
The drama stars Rain, Song Hye Kyo, Kim Sung Soo, Han Da Gam, and more.
My Girl (2005)
My Girl follows Gong Chan, who meets Yoo Rin, a girl who has connections to his missing cousin that his grandfather has been searching for. He then asks her to pretend to be her, just until he finds his real cousin. As dramas go, things take a turn when their feelings for each other start interfering with their plans.
This 2005 drama stars Kim Da Hee, Lee Dong Wook, Lee Joon Gi, and Park Shi Yeon.
My Lovely Sam Soon (2005)
This 2005 drama is about Kim San Soon, a baker who’s good at making pastries and cakes. One Christmas Eve, she breaks up with her boyfriend Hyun Woo after she catches him cheating on her. That same night, she accidentally goes into the men’s restroom where she meets Hyun Jin Hoon, who is coincidentally looking for a baker. Sam Soon is then hired as the restaurant’s chief baker. However, she ends up fighting and bickering with Jin Hoon because of their opposing personalities.
Kim Sun Ah, Hyun Bin, Jung Ryee Won, and Daniel Henney star in this drama.
Princess Hours (2006)
Princess Hours centers on Chae Gyeong, an ordinary high school student whose life changes when she learns that she is arranged to marry the Crown Prince, Lee Shin. She does, although reluctantly, as she needs to pay the debt of her family. She then tries to adapt to royal life, while dealing with her husband, his husband’s cousin, and the ballerina Hyolyn.
Yoo Eun Hye, Ju Ji Hoon, Song Ji Hyo, and Kim Jung Hoon star in this K-drama classic.
Coffee Prince (2007)
This 2007 drama centers on four young people who all meet at a coffee shop. At the center of the story is Gong Yoo’s Choi Han Gyul, who takes over his grandmother’s coffee shop to prove himself to her. There, he meets Yoo Eun Hye’s Go Eun Chan, a 24-year-old tomboy who becomes the breadwinner of the family after her father’s death. Because Han Gyul only hires good-looking male employees to attract female customers, Eun chan hides her gender to be able to work there.
Lee Sun Kyun, Chae Jung An, Kim Chang Wan also star in this drama.
Temptation of Wife (2008)
If you love makjang, there’s no other classic drama to watch (and re-watch) than Temptation of Wife. It follows Eun Jae who is killed by her husband Kyo Bin after their marriage becomes unhappy. Thinking that his wife has died of drowning, he moves on with his life with Eun Jae’s best friend Ae Ri. Things take a turn for him when he meets So Hee, a woman who looks exactly like his presumed dead wife. The drama then reveals that So Hee is really Eun Jae who is out for revenge for what her ex-husband has done.
This drama stars Jang Seo Hee, Byun Woo Min, and Kim Seo Hyung. It also comes from Kim Soon Ok, who is also the writer of the popular drama The Penthouse: War in Life.
Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)
This 2010 historical drama centers on Kim yoon Hee, a smart young woman who takes the men’s-only national exam using her brother’s name to pay off their debts. After passing the exam, she enters Sungkyunkwan University, where she must hide the fact that she’s a woman. It’s there that she meets and befriends Lee Seon Joon, Goo Yong Ha, and Moon Jae Shin.
Park Min Young, Park Yoon Chun, Song Joong Ki, and Yoo Ah In star in this drama.
Dream High (2011)
For a classic high school drama about students reaching for their dreams, there’s 2011’s Dream High. It’s about 6 students at Kirin Art High School who all dream of becoming music stars. It follows them as they work hard to develop their singing, songwriting, and dancing skills all while maturing with each other.
Bae Suzy, Ok Taecyeon, Kim Soo Hyun, IU, Ham Eun Jung, and Jang Woo Young star in this drama.
Rooftop Prince (2012)
Rooftop Prince is about Crown Prince Yi Gak who realizes that he has been transported from the Joseon Dynasty to modern-day Seoul. There, he meets Hong Se Na, a woman who looks a lot like his dead wife and is determined to solve the mystery behind her death. With his resemblance with the CEO’s grandson at the company where Se Na works, Gak takes the young man’s identity to try to get close to her.
Park Yoo Chun, Han Ji Min, Jung Yoo Mi, Lee Tae Sung, Lee Tae Ri, and Choi Woo Sik all star in this drama.
Homestream images are from Naver.