The 30 Best Korean Historical Dramas
Do you like watching Korean historical dramas? Here's the list of top 30 best Korean historical dramas you should not ignore. This list is perfect both for avid fans of Korean period dramas and newbies who know nothing about them! Tell us which series you like the most in the poll below. Also, please share your thoughts in the comments section!
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Table of Contents
- My Sassy Girl (32 episodes)
- Jang Ok Jung, Living by Love (24 episodes)
- Lee San, Wind of the Palace (77 episodes)
- Dong Yi (60 episodes)
- Ruler: Master of the Mask (40 episodes)
- Sungkyunkwan Scandal (20 episodes)
- Scholar Who Walks the Night (20 episodes)
- Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth (20 episodes)
- Jumong (81 episodes)
- Mirror of the Witch (20 episodes)
- Ilijimae (20 episodes)
- Faith (24 episodes)
- The Flower in Prison (51 episodes)
- Queen Seondeok (62 episodes)
- Shine or Go Crazy (24 episodes)
- The King in Love (40 episodes)
- Queen for Seven Days (20 episodes)
- King's Daughter, Soo Baek Hyang (108 episodes)
- Gunman in Joseon (22 episodes)
- The Princess' Man (24 episodes)
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People (30 episodes)
- Jewel in the Palace (54 episodes)
- Deep Rooted Tree (24 episodes)
- Six Flying Dragons (50 episodes)
- Gu Family Book (24 episodes)
- Empress Ki (51 episodes)
- Arang and the Magistrate (20 episodes)
- Love in the Moonlight (18 episodes)
- Moon Embracing the Sun (20 episodes)
- Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (20 episodes)
30. My Sassy Girl
This romantic comedy drama is loosely based on the 2001 movie of the same name that was extremely popular back then. This time the story doesn't take place in modern times. As the majority of historical dramas, it's set in the Joseon period. It certainly will be a fun watch for all the fans of lighthearted romantic comedies. The story itself isn't unique, but what certainly sets this period drama apart from other ones about Joseon era is its beautiful cinematography: the visuals and costuming are entirely impressive.
The light and fluffy series revolves around a sassy, troublemaker Princess and a gifted scholar, who is considered "Joseon's national treasure". Together, they try to discover a secret that divided the royal family.
29. Jang Ok-Jung, Living by Love
This is the story about a cold, strong, sometimes even gritty king who follows his intellect, not his emotions and a beautiful but infamous concubine. Here Jang Hee Bin (Jang Ok Jung) is portrayed not as the evil woman in Joseon history known for her ambition to be queen but rather as the innocent victim of politics. The romance and the difficulties the lead character is experiencing at the palace will keep you glued to the screen! So if you want to see Jang Ok Jung's life from a new perspective, give this drama a shot!
28. Lee San, Wind of the Palace
Lee San, Wind of the Palace, also known as Yi San, is an amazing story of hard-working King Jeongjo, remembered in history as a compassionate and caring ruler who loves his people with his very life. The drama revolves around his struggles to modernize the country and overcome his enemies in his own government, and also tells about his romance with his childhood friend.
Even the only fact that a man is the main lead sets this drama apart from other series of this genre, which centre on women usually. Moreover, if you decide to dedicate yourself to Yi San series, it will probably become one of the longest dramas you've ever watched. Even though the series is rather long, this is a true timeless classic worth watching.
27. Dong Yi
This historical K-drama is set in the late period of Joseon kings and tells the story of Dong Yi, who comes from the lowest class; she is a slave who becomes a top ranking concubine. Despite her dark past full of challenges, she manages to become the best person she can be. This is another long drama on this list, but you will certainly enjoy the playful chemistry between the two lead characters!
26. Ruler: Master of the Mask
Set in 18th century Joseon, Ruler: Master of the Mask tells the fictional story of a Prince who has no choice but to wear a mask to hide his face from Pyunsoo Group, the powerful hidden organization. The secret group tries to gain control over the country by privatizing Joseon's water. Obviously, it's forbidden for the Prince to go far away from the palace, so he can't witness the life outside the its walls. However, he takes a risk and manages to escape to the outside world. There he meets a woman he falls in love with, but under a disguise. Things get complicated as the shadow organization pressures the Prince to execute the father of the woman he loves.
This isn't a historical drama for a perfectionist. However, if you can manage to overlook some spontaneous things that happen at times, you may find this drama a pleasurable watch. Despite its flows, the series is a total package of intriguing story and fantastic cast.
25. Sungkyunkwan Scandal
Here's a perfect series for the period drama newbies! It creates a world that looks like Joseon, but it possesses fresh, modern sort of feel. The story revolves around one girl who disguises herself as a boy to attend the school. As schools in the Joseon era wouldn't accept female students, the brave girl takes the name of her sick brother. He can't attend the prestigious school, and so she takes a risk and is eventually allowed to study there.
If you want to know the plot of this compelling story, you should discover it yourself. There's a bunch of funny and serious moments at the same time, and plenty of romance!
24. Scholar Who Walks the Night
How do you feel about watching an epic fairy tale? Scholar Who Walks the Night is basically a fusion of historical drama and fiction. The plot of a story centers on the scholar who uncovers the truth about an evil vampire who controls the royal palace. So, he dedicates his life to finding the mysterious creature in order to free the country and its people from its control. However, such an important task requires efforts of many: scholar isn't the only one determined to save the people; a bookseller (who turns out to be a girl) and the Crown Prince join hands with him in this fight. Accidentally, the scholar himself turns into a vampire. However difficult it may be, he tries to hold onto his human heart.
Give this drama a try if you feel like watching a fantasy historical. The critics are saying the series has got lots of plot holes, but the magnificence of the story and the cast's excellent acting will certainly make you forgive the flaws.
23. Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth
The drama revolves around Hwarangs, a group of the most elite young men in the Silla Kingdom. They posses all the qualities and skills needed to defend the Kingdom and its royal family. Transporting us back in the 6th century, the historical drama tells us about the life of young people back at that time, their friendships and love.
Hwarang is a historical drama mixed with modern elements, romance, comedy, and action. There are enough interesting and funny scenes featuring likeable and enjoyable characters to keep you entertained. However, if you enjoy the complicated political struggle in dramas, you will be somewhat disappointed. Give it a try if you want to take a break and look for a simple story and happy ending.
This drama basically tells us about the life of the Goryeo kingdom founder: including the time when he was a prince and his adulthood when he was trying to build the kingdom.
Jumong might be a time-consuming drama to watch. So if you are planning to find a historical drama you can finish in just several days, you might want to look elsewhere. You might also want to skip this one if you are seeking plenty of romance. But in general, Jumong is extremely compelling: there are so many sad moments that will make you cry, especially the battle scenes are breathtaking and realistic. If you are a true historical drama lover, you can't skip this epic show.
21. Mirror of the Witch
Looking for a mysterious and moody Joseon-set drama? Mirror of the Witch bakes eerie mystery into historical fantasy drama. It's definitely not a playful romantic comedy neither it is an ordinary historical drama, though we do see some sweet romance here and there in the episodes. For those of you who love dark undertones in dramas, it's a perfect Joseon fantasy show. Though it will most likely hook you up with its fairytale-like concept and murkiness, it moves rather slowly.
In the first episodes, we learn that there are two cursed babies – twin Prince and Princess doomed to bring death to everyone who they love and who loves them. An evil witch convinces the Queen to sacrifice one child´s life for the sake of another.
The Princess is the one who is chosen, since she cannot be the heir to the throne. Yet, the girl manages to survive: she grows up hidden away in the forest for the next 17 years of her life without knowing about her complicated past.
You can compare the story of Iljimae to Robin Hood´s, the story of a hero who robs from corrupted government officials and gives to the poor. Yong becomes Robin Hood at night, and every time he leaves behind the picture of a plum tree branch: that's why he is named Iljimae. However, his main purpose is to search for the owner of a particular sword with which his family was killed, not to steal from others. Along his quest, he falls in love with a noble girl who genuinely admires him. The great action scenes will definitely give you many emotions.
This time-travel historical drama is about a woman with healing powers. One day the modern plastic surgeon is suddenly brought in the 14th century Goryeo by a warrior. She learns that the warrior is the leader of the Royal guard who wants to save the fatally injured Queen. The woman understands she can't come back home. Gradually, the warrior falls in love with her.
This is a perfect historical fantasy drama for you if you like unpredictable plots that keep you guessing about who is good and who is evil until the very end. Pick this series up if you feel like taking a break from traditional, extremely long historical dramas.
18. The Flower in Prison
The Flower in Prison isn't just a love story; it's much more than this. It's about respect, inner beauty, intelligence, and compassion. These are the qualities of Jin Se-Yeon, our witty female lead. Set in the Joseon era, the story follows the woman born and raised in prison. Later, she became helping poor and wrongly accused people. If you are looking for a great story which would give you the overview of people's life in that era, don't hesitate to check out this drama.
17. Queen Seondeok
The story is set in Silla, one of the three kingdoms in Korea (Goryeo and Baekje are other two). It revolves around Seon Deok, the woman who eventually becomes the first female ruler of Silla. Keep in mind that most of the story is fictional (though it's based on the real life of the queen).
Many Asian countries have been mesmerized by this thrilling series. There's no doubt you will always be on the verge of your seat while watching this historical drama!
16. Shine or Go Crazy
This fictionalized historical drama features the story of Wang So, an exiled Prince of Goryeo (later King Gwangjong) and Shin Yool, an exiled Princess of Balhae. The Prince is exiled from the palace and sent to the mountains as a child because of a prophecy. According to the prediction, he is fated to bring bloodshed and destruction. Years pass and one day he meets with Shin Yool who has been exiled from her palace for the same reason as him: a prophecy foretold her destination was to become the light for another country. The girl had no choice but to be secretly raised by a palace maid. Will her and the Prince's prophecies come true once their destinies are linked?
You are definitely going to love this amazing couple, so you will enjoy the drama from start to finish. Shine or Go Crazy includes everything you need for a fun and thrilling ride that you will never forget: drama, romance, humor, and action.
15. The King in Love
Kings live lonely life as there are a few people whom they can trust and count on. In this historical drama, the King has only one loyal best friend. So imagine the agony this show provides when you realize that he ends up in a tragic love triangle when he and his close friend fall in love with the same girl. And it's a real love triangle, as the leading lady genuinely loves both men. She simply loves one of them more.
Down to the smallest detail, costuming, set design, and gorgeous cinematography lead you to a time machine to feel the Goryeo period atmosphere. The drama will not only keep you on the edge of your seat but will also be the stunning feast for your eyes.
14. Queen for Seven Days
This historical drama is based on the tragic love story of King Yeok and Queen Chae Kyung who was dethroned after just one week since her crowning. With Chae Kyung's parents have been warned of their daughter's fate by a prophecy, the girl is sent away from her wealthy family. The prophecy foretold her family's misfortunes in case if she got involved with the Royal Family. Yet her fate doesn't change because she is sent far away from her home. Fate constantly throws Chae Kyung and Grand Prince together, and it seems that tragedy follows them at every turn. As time passes, the girl finds herself in the middle of the rivalry between the King and the Grand Prince.
In case if you are looking for a captivating and entertaining storyline, mesmerizing cinematography, and an extremely complicated and tragic romance, make sure you check out this melodrama.
13. King’s Daughter, Soo Baek Hyang
As the title implies, this drama is about the elder daughter of King Muryeong, the King of Baekje, one of the three Kingdoms in ancient Korea (the story features a pre-Joseon period). Righteous Su Baek Hyang has been taught to never want beyond what she already has. So, she fails to become a Princess, as her rightful place is taken by her ambitious younger sister. Later she becomes the leader of a secret spy group and starts to spy for her own nation. If you are craving for a long amazing historical drama with a complicated story that will make you cry a river, you should give this historical series a try.
12. Gunman in Joseon
Do you love tragic revenge tales packed with love, adventure, action, and drama? If so, you should watch this historical drama about a badass rebel gunman. Also, the fact that Lee Jun Ki stars in this period series may already be enough to make you interested in the show, as he tends to rock in historical Korean dramas.
The story focuses on Park Yoon Kang, a young swordsman and the son of the palace head guard. His carefree life comes to an end after his father has been unjustly killed, and his sister has been enslaved. This is the day when he swears to avenge his father's death and free her sister from slavery. So how our protagonist is going to do that? He decides to take on the new identity and trades his sword for a gun. And this is in 19th century Joseon, when the gun is a relatively new weapon. He only wanted to take revenge but turned out to become a hero to the people.
11. The Princess’ Man
It's not your typical 60+ episode drama like many of those that have already been mentioned above. It's much shorter than that and what's more, it doesn't strictly follow the traditional period drama rules: the romance takes center stage, not political plotting and intrigues (it exists, but it's all interconnected, which makes the politics more interesting). So, The Princess' Man is worth your time even if you fall into the category of those K-drama watchers who make it a rule not to dive into historical series whatsoever.
The Princess' Man is a romantic historical drama featuring the unique story of star-crossed lovers; let's say it's the Korean version of Romeo and Juliet. It's a love story between the daughter of Grand Prince who is seeking to become King and the son of her father's biggest enemy. Obviously, the life of the unfortunate girl becomes extremely complicated when her father is opposing the man she loves.
10. Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People
Set during the reign of the famous tyrannical King Yeonsan, the historical melodrama tells the story of Hong Gil Dong, Joseon's first revolutionary activist and simply the hero of all the people. Born into a servant family in the era when they are horribly treated and unable to stand for themselves, Gil Dong grows up to become the leader of the smugglers band who steal from the nobles and give to the poor.
Gil Dong is the Korean Robin Hood, the hero whose name is known to everyone in Korea and whose story has been used as inspiration for a great number of comics, video games and, of course, films. This emotional drama will stay with you for a long time.
9. Jewel in the Palace
Jewel in the Palace is about an orphaned girl in 15th century Korea, who becomes the first woman to overcome a series of social discrimination. She becomes the royal cook and later the supreme royal physician. The drama is based on the real story about a remarkable and determined girl. It's the story of touching friendships, star-crossed love, and political intrigues (with some repetitive and predictable plot twists though).
It can take you some time to pluck up courage to watch this series, as it's another drama with 50+ episodes in this list. Nevertheless, Jewel in the Palace became an international hit and aired in more than 90 countries, becoming known as the series that helps the spread of Korean culture across the globe.
8. Deep Rooted Tree
Deep Rooted Tree isn't your typical historical drama and it's far from being a romantic comedy. So before you commit yourself into watching this series, be prepared for conspiracies and political intrigues with elements of tragedies, mysteries, and thrillers. If you enjoy such witty, heart-shuttering and tragic series, this one will probably become the next one in your list of "the best dramas you've ever watched".
The story starts off with King Se Jong accidentally causing the death of his family and their slaves while trying to protect them from his brutal father who is holding all the power, King Tae Jong. Luckily, two young slaves survive, but they both are separated from each other: while one of them is raised as a servant in the palace, the other becomes a brave warrior and is seeking revenge. Years pass, and the former slave (who vows to kill the king) returns to the palace. However, he ends up being involved in the mystery surrounding the series of murders.
7. Six Flying Dragons
From the writers of Deep Rooted Tree and Queen Seondeok, Six Flying Dragons promises to be a heart-wrenching, intense emotional ride. The drama is set at the end of Goryeo period and depicts the beginning of the Joseon dynasty. Basically, the story revolves around the lives of six ambitious characters, the so-called "six flying dragons" and their conflicts. They start off as alliances and then end up using each other in their own interests. It's hard to take someone's side, as most of the characters are neither totally good nor evil – they are just human.
Six Flying Dragons is a political drama filled with plenty of great fight scenes, politics, betrayal, heartbreak, and romance to keep you engaged. Despite its 50 episode length, this gripping period drama that doesn't feel that long at all.
6. Gu Family Book
Here's the romance with fantasy elements about the struggle of battling your true nature in order to become a good person, so that you can protect those who you love. The historical fantasy focuses on a half human and half mythical creature (the son of the guardian spirit of Jiri Mountain and a human). The love story of his parents ended tragically, so the boy had no choice but to be raised by adopted family. He learns about his true nature only when he falls in love.
If you are a newbie to the historicals, Gu Family Book is a great series to start with. Especially, if you are seeking something magical, don't hesitate and give it a try.
5. Empress Ki
Empress Ki is a highly romanticized period drama that is loosely based on the real historical events. The main character, Seung Nyang, was originally a slave in Goryeo. Pretending to be a man, so she wouldn't be forced to go to China to service the Emperor, she grew up to become a strong woman and one of the activists who saved girls from being sent away as tributes. The girl couldn't even imagine back then what the future hold for her. Soon, she fell in love with the King of Goryeo, as well as with a prince from Mongolia, the next China's Emperor.
Empress Ki became an international hit, it is rated the second Korean drama after Jewel in the Palace.This historical series will certainly give you the urge to marathon it 24/7!
4. Arang and the Magistrate
If you want to break into a period drama without actually having to deal with the historical part, Arang and the Magistrate is a perfect place to start, especially if you like romantic series. The fantasy drama is based on the ancient dark folk tale, the Legend of Arang that takes its origin from Joseon Korea. The tale tells the story of a murdered magistrate's daughter. The ghost of a beautiful murdered girl haunts every magistrate who is about to take the position. But one day the position is taken by a determined man.
Obviously, the drama expands the original folk tale farther. Moreover, it creates the whole new amazing and layered fantasy world with its own mythology, rules, and magical creatures. This series is perfect for everyone who likes interesting fantasy dramas!
3. Love in the Moonlight
Set during 19th century Joseon dynasty, a book-based drama Love in the Moonlight is the coming-of-age story. At the core of this drama is the love story between the Crown Prince and a girl who reluctantly disguises herself as a man and is sent to the palace as a eunuch. It's interesting to look at the change in feelings of the Prince towards the girl, even before he realizes who she is!
The multi-awarded drama was praised for its production, phenomenal acting, and music. This cute love story will certainly grab your heart!
2. Moon Embracing the Sun
Set in the Joseon era, The Moon that Embraces the Sun is a historical/fantasy drama that centers on the love story between a fictional king and a shaman. They are separated by political intrigues and dark magic, but they are destined to meet again whatsoever: the Moon must embrace the Sun.
It's basically a simplified historical drama that has touching romance but is fairly light on the politics. So,if you prefer romance to a traditional historical drama, and you enjoy heartbreaking scenes, some suspense and action, be sure to pick up this series! This moving series even gained "National Drama" status!
1. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
This period drama revolves around a 21st-century woman who suddenly travels a thousand years back to the Goryeo era. Then she finds out she's in the body of another woman, the cousin of the 8th prince's wife. Gradually, she falls in love with Wang So, the 4th Prince who is known to be violent.
Moon Lovers might not have received high ratings in Korea, but it certainly captured the hearts of viewers overseas. This epic and tragic historical drama will make you feel a variety of emotions and will set your heart racing like never before. Moreover, you will truly enjoy Lee Jun Gi's performance (Wang So, the 4th Prince), as he usually excels at playing badass characters (he has already been mentioned more than once in the list). So, if you want to experience a roller coaster ride of emotions, you definitely should check out this heart-wrenching drama.
I hope you will find your next favorite drama on this list! Also, make sure you vote for a historical drama you like the most on the poll. Also, don't forget to share your all-time favorite series in the comment section below!