Ma-re is a certified K-drama and K-pop enthusiast. She always likes to discover something new about the wide world of Korean entertainment.
15 Tragic K-Dramas Guaranteed to Make You Cry
Tragic love stories, heartbreaking plot twists, treacherous betrayals—these are just a few of the characteristics of a good "sad" drama that is sure to break your heart. There are plenty of dramas that make us cry our eyes out, but these are the most powerfully tragic films that will have you crying over and over again until the credits roll.
Do you like watching Korean dramas featuring heavy and intense sadness, loneliness, tragedy, and guilt? Then check out this list to find out the best ones that are sure to give you all the feels.
Warning: These plot summaries contain spoilers!
15. Stairway to Heaven (2003)
This film is sure to make you cry—there are just so many heartbreaking moments. The story starts off with Cha Song-joo and Han Jung-suh's puppy love, which bloomed during their childhood days. They are cheesy and lovable, but deep inside, they are both scarred from losing both of their parents. Jung-suh's father re-marries and has a daughter named Han Yoo-ri and a son named Han Tae-hwa.
The intense love battle begins when Song-joo returns from America, which turns into a series of accidents, memory loss, obsessions, possessiveness, insanity, and finally, blindness that almost causes the two leads to be torn apart. Choi Ji Woo and Kwon Sang Woo's performances convince us of the difficulties that the characters have been through, and seeing them cry will break your heart. (Plus, the soundtrack is heartwrenching!)
- Kwon Sang-woo as Cha Song-joo
- Choi Ji-woo as Han Jung-suh/Kim Ji-soo
- Shin Hyun-joon as Han Tae-hwa/Han Chul-soo
- Kim Tae-hee as Han Yoo-ri
14. A Thousand Days' Promise (2011)
How can you not cry when all your precious memories are slowly being taken away? Prepare yourself for these 20 episodes of hardcore melodrama. The story itself revolves around Lee Seo-yeon's memory loss. Can you imagine how sad it is to lose the memory of someone you love? Just how painful is it to be forgotten and to forget?
Those who have dealt with Alzheimer's disease and dementia know how difficult it is to see your loved one struggle in that way. Also, Kim Rae Won's heartbreaking martyrdom in loving Seo-yeon unconditionally is so touching.
- Kim Rae Won as Park Ji Hyung
- Soo Ae as Lee Seo Yeon
- Lee Sang Woo as Jang Jae Min
- Jung Yoo Mi as Noh Hyang Ki
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13. Train to Busan (2016)
This terrifying zombie apocalypse horror movie broke so many hearts thanks to Seok-woo's sacrifice and death in the end. Yes, it is scary, intense, and horrifying at first, as the zombies chase after the living people like hungry monsters. But who would've thought that Seok-woo would die?
He barely survived the fear of dying at the hands of the zombies after being betrayed by Yon-suk and the other passengers as they deliberately block the survivors from entering the safe cabin. Seeing him sacrifice himself to protect his daughter is so painful to watch.
Also, the pregnant woman, Seong-kyeong, bears the burden of being a single mom after the death of her husband. The scene when Seong-kyeong and Su-an walk in the tunnel while Su-an sings and cries at the ending is truly a dramatic masterpiece.
- Gong Yoo as Seok-woo
- Ma Dong-seok as Sang-hwa
- Jung Yu-mi as Seong-kyeong
- Kim Su-an as Soo-an
12. Good Doctor (2013)
Each episode of this 20-episode drama will make you cry. You can't help but sympathize with Park Shi-on, an autistic savant who enters the field of pediatric surgery as a resident. If intelligence were all that he needed, it wouldn't be a problem for him. But his mental incapacity results in conflict with his peers and patients, who view him as childlike and unreliable.
He also thinks that he won't be liked by his crush, Dr. Cha Yoon-seo. He confesses: "If I were a better person, I would have been a better man for you who can comfort you and make you happy." (I swear you'll want to hug and comfort.) Shi-on being hurt physically, emotionally, and mentally is so heart-wrenching. Another one of Shi-on's heartbreaking lines is when he was asked in Ep. 1 why he wanted to be a doctor, and he said that it's because of his brother and bunny. How cute!
- Joo Won as Park Shi-on
- Moon Chae-won as Cha Yoon-seo
- Joo Sang-wook as Kim Do-han
- Kim Min-seo as Yoo Chae-kyung
11. The Innocent Man (2012)
This is not just a melodrama with a sad story—it's more interesting because of the element of revenge and the surprising plot twist. You wouldn't believe that Kang Ma-ru, a man who was once kind and sweet, would become so fierce after being betrayed and tasting defeat. The plot twists are simply mind-blowing, and although the film is not perfect, you'll love the themes of memory loss and threats, which sometimes turn into bouts of pain, heartbreak, anger, and frustration.
As we all know, Song Joong-ki is a cutie, but in this drama, he transitions from cute to scary, which shows how deeply immersed he is in Ma-ru's character. Park Si-yeon did a great job of portraying Han Jae-hee's character—a woman so evil that you'll fantasize about seeking revenge against her!
- Song Joong-ki as Kang Ma-ru
- Moon Chae-won as Seo Eun-gi
- Park Si-yeon as Han Jae-hee
10. Secret Garden (2010)
This show will give you butterflies. Secret Garden is a sweet, cute, and funny show that will make you laugh one minute and cry the next. Gil Ra-im and Kim Joo-won's modern-day Cinderella story is so heartwarming.
We get to witness Joo-won's heartwarming transformation from a rich, self-centered upper-class snob who is incapable of love into a regular guy. It's a unique storyline of a modern fairy tale that was both a heartbreaking and hardcore experience for everyone who watched the whole series.
- Ha Ji-won as Gil Ra-im
- Hyun Bin as Kim Joo-won
- Yoon Sang-hyun as Choi Woo-young
- Kim Sa Rang as Yoon Seul
9. Iris (2009)
This is a spy drama with intense action, rushing adrenaline, and mind-blowing plot twists. Although this is an action drama, you can't help but feel sad while watching it, especially when your favorite character dies (yes, they die). But what makes this drama really sad is the ending!
If you finish watching this, you'll find the ending very sad. Some of your favorite characters are killed, and somehow you'll be confused as to how the characters ended up acting the way that they do. Sa Woo’s death was pretty horrifying; it looked so painful. You can feel Hyun-jun's devastation.
And even the main character, Hyun-jun, dies. One of the saddest lines by Hyun-jun is when Sa Woo died. “I know your feelings. You don’t need to strain yourself to say it. I never once doubted your true feelings, Sa Woo, even till the end. I know all your feelings, Sa Woo. I know.” The ending is just so sad.
- Lee Byung-hun as Kim Hyun-jun
- Kim Tae-hee as Choi Seung-hee
- Jung Joon-ho as Jin Sa-woo
- Kim Seung-woo as Park Cheol-young
8. The Princess' Man (2011)
We were all saddened by the deaths of the famous star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, and I'm sure you'll feel the same way when you watch this melodramatic historical romance drama.
Since when did love become a crime? And what's in a name that prevents two lovers from being together? Lee Se-ryung and Kim Seung-yoo's forbidden love story will bring tears to your eyes. This drama is a sad love story with a tragic ending (though they don't die in the end like Romeo and Juliet).
The ending is so painful to watch, as Lee Se-ryung thinks that her beloved is already dead. But thank goodness, he doesn't die, although he does lose his sight. In the end, Seung-yoo says, "Although I lost my sight, I have retrieved my heart. Although I was unable to get revenge, I gained you instead."
- Moon Chae-won as Lee Se-ryung
- Park Si-hoo as Kim Seung-yoo
- Kim Yeong-cheol as Grand Prince Suyang
- Hong Soo-hyun as Princess Kyunghye
7. 49 Days (2011)
49 Days is a bittersweet and touching story that makes the viewers feel a deep attachment to the characters. This drama shows a different side of death—even though we might regret leaving and being left behind, death isn’t as horrible as it seems, even if we die before we are completely ready.
Its unique plot explores fate, exorcism, and other spiritual topics. Inspired by the concept from Korean Shamanism "Bardo" that a soul usually wanders the earth for 49 days and then moves on to the next life, this drama shows true love, forgiveness, resurrection, and loving the enemy—simply sad, tearful, and melancholic.
- Nam Gyu-ri as Shin Ji-hyun
- Jo Hyun-jae as Han Kang
- Bae Soo-bin as Kang Min-ho
- Jung Il-woo as Scheduler/Song Yi-soo
- Seo Ji-hye as Shin In-jung
6. A Werewolf Boy (2012)
This is a sad story about Kim Sun-yi's teenage days in a country home with a feral werewolf boy. At first, it is not a sad story at all. You feel curious about the true nature of Cheol-su, the feral werewolf boy that Sun-yi finds near their house. But as the story continues, you fall in love with Cheol-su's innocence.
You can't help but love the adorable Song Joong-ki, who acts like a puppy, begging for Park Bo-young's hand to pet him. But their happy memories don't last forever because it's revealed that Cheol-su is dangerous, and the townspeople threaten him and force him to stay away, forcing Sun-yi and Cheol-su apart. But what's more heartbreaking is when Cheol-su says, "Don't go"—such a heartbreaking ending.
- Song Joong-ki as Cheol-su
- Park Bo-young as young Kim Sun-yi / Eun-joo
- Jang Young-nam as Sun-yi's mother
- Yoo Yeon-seok as Ji-tae
5. Bridal Mask (2012)
Bridal Mask is the story of a Korean hero with a life full of tragedy. Set in the 1930s, when Seoul was under Imperial Japanese rule, a Korean detective named Lee Kang-to works with the Japanese police to capture “Bridal Mask,” a mysterious freedom fighter who fights against the Japanese.
This drama shows that fighting for freedom requires a lot of sacrifice and that to be a hero, you must lose something important. Kang-to lost his brother, mother, girlfriend, best friend, and numerous comrades protecting the independence that Bridal Mask had been dying to save.
It's just so sad to see all the pain he had to go through. And if you're truly sympathetic, you'll feel burdened by the responsibility that Kang-to had to carry on his shoulders. No wonder he cried so hard in episode 6! This story is full of tragedy, sadness, betrayal, and pain.
- Joo Won as Lee Kang-to/Sato Hiroshi
- Jin Se-yeon as Oh Mok-dan
- Park Ki-woong as Kimura Shunji
- Han Chae-ah as Ueno Rie
4. Empress Ki (2013)
No matter how tough-looking a woman is, she will always be fragile at heart. She might be powerful, politically greedy, and merciless, but deep inside, her heart beats only for one man. This is the story of Ki Seung-nyang, a Goryeo-born woman who ascends to power despite the restrictions of the era's class system and later marries Toghon Temür (Emperor of Mongol Empire) to become an empress of the Yuan dynasty, instead of her first love, Wang Yu.
With intense drama, strong emotions, and an amazing performance, we are able to see the sadness in Empress Ki's eyes. We see what she honestly feels, despite securing a powerful status. She may be an ambitious woman, but she remains weak when it comes to love.
- Ha Ji-won as Ki Seung-nyang
- Joo Jin-mo as Wang Yoo
- Ji Chang-wook as Toghon Temür
- Jin Yi-han as Tal Tal
- Baek Jin-hee as Tanashiri
3. I’m Sorry, I Love You (2004)
I'm Sorry, I Love You is a 16-episode drama that will make you cry each episode. This story is about a man named Cha Moo-hyuk and his tragic life. All the way, he thought that he was abandoned, but later founds out the truth—that his mother had had an affair with a married man.
In addition to that major revelation, he is accidentally shot twice in the head when someone attempts to assassinate his ex-girlfriend's husband. A doctor saves him but can only remove one bullet, and he has no longer than a year to live.
But the most tear-jerking part is when Moo-hyuk kills himself in a dramatic motorcycle accident so that his heart could be transplanted into his beloved, and when the girl found the truth, she lies down on the grave and sleeps peacefully. She dies there next to a small red bottle, leading the viewer to believe she committed suicide by drinking poison.
- So Ji-sub as Cha Moo-hyuk
- Im Soo-jung as Song Eun-chae
- Jung Kyung-ho as Choi Yoon
- Seo Ji-young as Kang Min-joo
- Lee Hye-young as Oh Deul-hee
2. The Throne (2015)
When it comes to sad film genres, family-related conflicts never fail to make us cry. One of the most tragic stories in Korean history is the death of Crown Prince Sado at the hands of his father, King Yeongjo.
There are two sides to this story: a son begging for a father's love and affection, and a father teaching his son to become a competent king. Which one of them is right, and which is in the wrong? We simply can't tell because the crown prince longs to feel his father's love, but all he gets is scolding and humiliation.
The film is essentially a portrayal of a power struggle between a narcissistic father and his emotionally abused son, who initially strives to earn his father's love and admiration but eventually rebels against his father once he realizes that he can never please him nor truly earn his respect. The power-hungriness, contempt, violence, and the narcissistic need to subjugate and humiliate are made quite evident in the king's interactions with his son. It makes us feel so sad.
Why do they have to live like this? Why can't they show for once how they love each other? Sure enough, the ending of the film is the most tragic father-and-son scene ever.
- Song Kang-ho as King Yeongjo
- Yoo Ah-in as Crown Prince Sado
- Moon Geun-young as Lady Hyegyeong
- Kim Hae-sook as Queen Inwon
1. Miracle in Cell No. 7 (2013)
How many bottles of tears can you make when you know your father loves you more than he loved himself? A sad story of a father's sacrifice and being a victim of injustice, Miracle in Cell No. 7 rose to popularity as one of the most tragic movies of all time.
This film follows the story of Lee Yong-go, a mentally impaired father with the intellect of a six-year-old, who lives in a run-down house along with his daughter of the same age, Ye-sung. He was mistaken as a molester after trying to rescue a girl after an accident. Yong-go is falsely accused of the abduction, murder, and rape of a minor. The police quickly take advantage of his disability and force him to admit to committing the crimes while ignoring exonerating evidence.
Yong-go, who is sentenced to death, is imprisoned and assigned to cell no. 7, the harshest cell in a maximum-security prison. Although the father and daughter scenes were heartwarming, it's heartbreaking when Yong-go is sentenced to death, and a little girl crying behind the jail bars makes our eyes well with tears. But we're all helpless, just like the child, Ye-sung, and no matter how loud we shout or cry, Yong-go will never be saved.
- Ryu Seung-ryong as Lee Yong-gu
- Kal So-won as Ye-sung (Child)
- Park Shin-hye as Ye-sung (Adult)
Did we miss your favorite sad Korean drama? Recommend it in the comments section below, or vote for your favorite in the poll!
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© 2016 Mare-sensei
JG on May 13, 2020:
Chocolate and Hi Bye Mamma !
Nir on March 05, 2020:
49 days is one of my most favorite ever
john on January 20, 2020:
uncontrobally fond should be included too!!
sara on November 16, 2019:
Tree of Heaven is one of the most saddest dramas I've ever watched! it should definitely be on there!!
Perera on August 13, 2019:
Moon lovers: Scarlet heart ryeo must be included too.
KR on June 07, 2019:
I'm surprised Endless Love isn't here, A Rosy Life and Scarlet Heart !!
Samara on March 25, 2018:
What about my rosy life i swear man it dried me out of my tears after it icouldn't watch any korean drama for a while.
diva on May 26, 2017:
what about A Love To Kill why is not on the list this drama is one of the saddest drama ever i almost cry every episode.
Autumn on April 25, 2017:
Why Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart is not on the list? It is the saddest yet the best korean drama I have ever watched. It was not even included in the list of best historical drama. This drama made the viewers fall in love, laugh and cry. In every episodes we joined the characters in every joy and sufferings. It is sad to know that Moon Lovers was underrated in Korea. Hey! It is highly recognized internationally!