With the arrival of 2016, it’s another new year for K-dramas but before we look to the fresh selection of anticipated dramas such as “Cheese In The Trap” and “Moorim School,” let’s take a look back at the wide array of dramas we enjoyed in 2015. In particular, here are my top five picks.
Though there was no official criteria for my selection, these five dramas were engaging, both in their plots and in their character developments. The actors did a fine job as well and ensured that viewers cared for their respective characters. Some of them were recognised by the public through drama awards and high viewership ratings, but most of them were criminally underrated (not by international fans though) despite having strong storylines and a consistently high production quality.
1. “Kill Me Heal Me”
Perhaps my pick for drama of the year, “Kill Me Heal Me” was more than a story about a man who suffered from multi-personality disorder (MPD) and had seven personalities, as fun as they were. It was about Cha Do Hyun’s (Ji Sung) journey to find himself, even if it meant digging through his forgotten memories and painful past. Though the plot did get a bit absurd and draggy sometimes, the character development was always tight and definitely kept the show going.
It takes some writing and acting skill for one actor to successfully portray seven different personalities, each of whom had their own moment to shine throughout the drama. I mean, I never expected to get so invested in Shin Se Gi’s (also played by Ji Sung) feelings for Ri Jin (Hwang Jung Eum), at one point I even wanted Se Gi to take over Do Hyun’s body permanently so that he could be with Ri Jin forever. It’s silly, I know, but this show made me think ridiculous thoughts, whether it was imagining Ahn Yo Na (Ji Sung…again) dating Oh Ri On (Park Seo Joon) or Perry Park (Ji Sung) being a bomb-making father.
With the exception of the villains, who were hilarious in all the wrong ways, the characters were generally fun and relatable, especially Ri Jin and her family. They shared the sweetest family bond and best family dynamic I have ever seen in a K-drama; I really enjoyed watching the scenes of them together. Through this family and the contrast made between Do Hyun’s cold family the show really drove home how important the support and love of family is, a reminder I appreciated.
Of course, the wonderful acting performances put in by the actors really made this drama, with the biggest credit given to Ji Sung, who gave life to the seven different personalities and made them really endearing. Ji Sung’s dedication and hard work was certainly recognised by MBC (he won a Daesang for the role during their Drama Awards) and by the public (he gained a lot of fans) and I can’t wait to see his next production! Hwang Jung Eum and Park Seo Joon did well too.
Probably the most melodramatic and dark drama on this list, “Punch” received lots of critical acclaim and love from viewers, and for good reason. It was heart-wrenching and sometimes painful to watch because of the injustice that takes place in the story, but it all makes for good drama.
Callous lawyer Park Jung Hwan (Kim Rae Won) is diagnosed with a brain tumor at the start of the drama and is left with a short time to live. Instead of wallowing in self-pity though, he starts to take action against his former allies and create a world in which his daughter can live safely in, a world with a trustworthy government and fair legal system. Sounds idealistic? Probably so, but that just might be the point the drama was trying to prove. Each character in this drama had a bad side to them, be it the main hero (if you can even call him that) or the various figures of authority (Minister of Defense, Prime Minister Candidate and so on) portrayed here; they were at times ruthless and got their hands very dirty, but they were also complex and layered. Take the supposed main villain for example, Lee Tae Joon (Jo Jae Hyun), though the series is essentially focused on Jung Hwan trying to take Tae Joon down, their relationship was far from what you would expect between a hero and a villain. From having virtual jajangmyeon dates to occasionally sharing touching moments, this was a pair that I always felt conflicted about; should I be hoping for them to go back to becoming friends or should I hope that Jung Hwan wins and Tae Joon gets destroyed?
This conflict could probably be extended to my feelings on the characters as well, especially with morally ambiguous ones like Jung Hwan. Contrary to popular belief, just because a character is afflicted with a terminal disease it doesn’t and shouldn’t make the character a more likeable one. While it is a common trend in K-dramas for the characters to undergo a drastic personality transformation after finding out that they have a limited lifespan, this drama didn’t go down that old route because Jung Hwan didn’t become a nicer person. He still resorted to underhanded and sometimes cruel means to get what he wanted, including using his illness to trick his ex-wife at one point, but his motives were no longer selfish. He worked so hard to clear his own name, to protect his family and all for his beloved daughter. That was perhaps the most moving part about this drama, a father’s unfailing and unconditional love for his child. It motivated Jung Hwan and kept him going even after he was defeated time and again, each time worse than the last, but he gave it all he got, even till his deathbed.
These layered characters probably worked because of the committed performances put in by the various actors, in particular Kim Rae Won. He pulled off the heartless lawyer very well, but managed to tug on viewers’ heartstrings in emotional scenes with his daughter and even in wordless scenes when he was temporarily paralyzed. This drama may not be for everyone because of its serious and constantly suspenseful nature, but I thoroughly enjoyed how it kept me on my feet while still having the time to enjoy the performances and character development shown.
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Another underrated drama which has quite an international fanbase, “Healer” finished airing early on in 2015 but remained as one of the standouts of the year. With a strong narrative and generally fast-moving plot, this drama was at times suspenseful and at times plain adorable.
This drama had one of the best K-drama couples of the year, or even of all time, because both the main characters, Seo Jung Hoo (Ji Chang Wook) and Chae Young Shin (Park Minyoung) helped each other to change and grow through their relationship. Their bond was so strong and they trusted each other so much that the drama was able to take a different approach to so many situations which would typically have led to a breakup or other tiresome angst in other dramas. It was this bond that allowed the couple to accomplish their ultimate goal together in the end.
I’m also glad that this drama defied K-drama norms because even with Seo Jung Hoo being the “Healer” (a night vigilante essentially) he wasn’t always the hero, just like Young Shin wasn’t always a damsel in distress. They both had moments to shine, be it through Young Shin’s earnest reporting or Jung Hoo’s fighting skills, and I really appreciated this aspect of the drama. Their chemistry was also very convincing and truly made viewers root for this couple.
The supporting cast of this drama was fantastic as well, with Kim Mi Kyung in her best role yet as a hacker ahjumma and Yoo Ji Tae as the poor tortured Kim Moon Ho. They added a lot of depth to characters who could have easily been overshadowed by the main couple and caused viewers to be as invested in their stories as in the main story. Yoo Ji Tae in particular made me totally infatuated with Kim Moon Ho and I found myself caring about his welfare and happiness a lot more than I expected to. His complex character was also written very well, because he constantly faced dilemmas and internal conflicts between what he knew was right and the interests of the people around him, namely his brother Kim Moon Sik (Park Sang Won), who is the show’s main villain. Kim Moon Ho lived with a strong guilt within him because of past traumatic events and it is evident even through Yoo Ji Tae’s pitiful gaze and smile.
That is the great thing about “Healer”: the show balances suspenseful action with emotion and heart; even if you’re not a typical fan of thrillers (I’m not) you’ll probably be sucked into this addictive ride that leaves your heart pumping rapidly by its end.
4. “Sassy Go Go”
Now this is truly an example of an underrated drama, by Korean viewership standards at least. Ratings for this drama stayed stagnant at around 4% throughout its run, which for a show of this quality, is truly undeserved. Due to the idol appeal however, international fans from all over the world picked up on it and soon enough everyone started watching it. Although the drama was supposed to be about cheerleading, it was never the main focus of the story. This drama was what “School 2015: Who Are You” was not, a coming of age tale about a group of underdogs trying to survive in school and find success. The friendships, the betrayals, the romance, the familiar challenges posed by authoritative (and a little crazy) adults along with the constant pressure of academics, all these elements blended together to create this story that was relatable and full of heart.
The main characters were all well developed and had interesting character arcs, the most memorable of which would be the main villain, Kwon Soo Ah (Chae Soo Bin). She was perhaps the most emotionally unstable of all the characters due to the immense pressure placed on her by her mother to go to a prestigious university, and this pressure eventually drove her to commit some atrocious acts throughout the drama. Although I hated her character because of how despicable she was at times, I still found myself sympathizing with her, and I credit this to how the writers portrayed Soo Ah as a character, along with Chae Soo Bin’s breakout acting performance. The struggles that she faced in particular were ones that I could empathize with; this definitely helped me to appreciate her fall and eventual redemption better, although I did think that she was forgiven by her peers a little too easily.
The main couple of this drama, Kang Yeon Doo (Apink’s Eunji) and Kim Yeol (Lee Won Geun) were fantastic as well. Their romance wasn’t just adorable it was also believable and enjoyable to watch. Their relationship was not forced despite this show being only 12 episodes long and felt organic to the story. Another relationship I especially loved was the close friendship (and bromance) between Kim Yeol and Ha Joon (Ji Soo). They were always there for each other, no matter what problems they faced they knew that they had each other’s back. They were also fiercely loyal to each other and valued their friendship above everything else, refusing to even let a girl get in the way. These strong and meaningful bonds were what made me love this drama so much so that I still get teary-eyed thinking about it.
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5. “She Was Pretty”
This drama was highly anticipated because of the reunion of Park Seo Joon and Hwang Jung Eum after “Kill Me Heal Me.” Only this time instead of being siblings, they were first loves. The pair certainly didn’t disappoint with their chemistry in this drama though.
Set against the backdrop of fashion magazine “Most”, “She Was Pretty” was an entertaining and touching story about the reunion of two childhood friends who ended up as lovers, only with appearances vastly different from before. While it sounds superficial (and I admit to judging it as so at the beginning) it turned out to be more meaningful and heartfelt than I expected. Perhaps the best part about this whole romance was Ji Sung Joon (Park Seo Joon), who ended up loving Kim Hye Jin (Hwang Jung Eum) all over again despite not knowing her true identity. To add a cherry on top, he loved her before she even tried to improve her own appearance (which to be fair, I never found that bad in the first place), proof of how deep and genuine his love was.
The rest of the drama was pretty simple in my opinion, but that’s not a bad thing because the romance was developed well and empathized upon. It’s nice to take a break from serious shows and watch romantic comedies like this one, especially with its numerous lovable characters, the most notable of which would be Kim Shin Hyuk (Super Junior’s Choi Siwon). His acting ability is already recognised widely but his complete portrayal of Shin Hyuk really brought the character to another level. Even in the midst of the angst his character was a bright point of the show and never failed to bring humor to the story. He wasn’t just a comical plot device though. His cute and considerate relationship with Hye Jin gave viewers another heart-throb second lead to cry over.
Hye Jin’s best friend, Min Ha Ri (Go Joon Hee) also had her moments to shine as her character matured and grew through the drama. From being pampered and insecure Ha Ri grew to become an independent woman who was fully accepting of herself and willing to make her own decisions in life. It was heartening to watch her find purpose in her life and work towards the goals that she set for herself. Of course, it was also sweet to watch her friendship, or more appropriately, sisterhood with Hye Jin, even if they did go through some rough patches in their relationship. Ultimately, this was a drama about inward beauty, and how important our characters are as compared to our outward appearances. You can’t really go wrong with a meaningful and hopeful message such as this, but She Was Pretty definitely did a good job in making the journey very enjoyable.
What was your favourite K-drama of 2015? What do you hope to see in the upcoming releases of 2016? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.