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Seeking Comfort TV? K-Dramas Are the Coziest Corner of Netflix

Five feel-good K-Dramas sure to brighten your day.
  • Clockwise from upper left: Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, The King: Eternal Monarch, Crash Landing on You, and Run On. (Photos: Netflix)
    Clockwise from upper left: Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, The King: Eternal Monarch, Crash Landing on You, and Run On. (Photos: Netflix)

    If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the last 18+ months, it’s that few things are more effective at soothing the chaos of pandemic life than a good comfort watch. And through trial and error (i.e. watching an ungodly amount of new and old TV) I’ve discovered that no show scratches that itch better than a good K-Drama.

    K-Dramas cut across various different subgenres (Squid Game, anyone?), but among the most popular are romantic dramas which share three defining features: a typical run of 16 episodes, humor that errs toward slapstick, and a determination to make our hearts flutter. These shows lean unabashedly into romance and live somewhere on the spectrum between Hallmark movies and the screwball comedies that shaped Hollywood’s Golden Age. In these zany farces, the plot devices that draw characters together are overly contrived, hugs are shot from every conceivable angle, lighting is always glowy, and the actors are — to borrow a phrase from comedian Aparna Nancherla — “offensively symmetrical.”

    Romantic K-Dramas are the easiest of easy watches. They boast high production values, a fixed number of episodes that call for tight and complete plotting, and viewers can feel safe to get swept up in the fantasy of it all because they all but come with the promise of a happy ending. While these shows are extremely popular in South Korea itself, their increasing popularity with American audiences (not usually known for having an adventurous global palette) speaks to our shared desire to experience the kind of visual hug that only comes with something comfortably formulaic.

    Of course not all K-Dramas are winners, but here are five starter titles, all available to stream right now on Netflix, each guaranteed to be comforting as a hot bowl of soup on a winter day:

    Crash Landing on You

    CLOY, as it’s known to its fans, tells the story of a South Korean conglomerate heiress (Son Ye-jin) who has a paragliding mishap and literally crash lands onto a North Korean soldier (Hyun Bin). He nobly decides to help her find her way home, but in order to keep her transgression a secret from their divided countries the pair decides to indulge one of the most enduring romantic tropes — fake dating. A diverting and jam-packed season of television, the show was praised for its richly layered storytelling and nuanced portrayal of North Korean life, a feat it accomplished by having an actual North Korean defector on its writing staff.

    Run On

    A subtitle translator for movies (Shin Se-Kyun) gets hired as an interpreter for a runner on Korea’s national track team (Si-wan Yim) and sparks fly. The male lead is delightfully inscrutable, while the female lead is a sharp and bubbly careerist who understands life through movies. Run On will have you swooning over the non-toxicity of its core male characters — there are several bromances and a progressive queer storyline. It may seem counter intuitive to celebrate a K-Drama for not having much drama, but simplicity is this show’s gift. This is the joy of immersing yourself in a slice-of-life K-Drama. It’s all about watching them figure themselves and each other out — and drooling over the deliciously-filmed japchae.

    Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha

    A remake of the 2004 movie Mr. Hong, a city dentist (Shin Min-a) moves from bustling Seoul to a small seaside town to open up a dental practice. While there, she meets Chief Hong (Kim Seon-Ho), an everyman who seems to work every job in town. The two leads are put in each other’s paths through a fateful set of circumstance and rather than let their differences distance them, they wind up helping one another become their best selves. The scenic beach views will make you want to book a ticket to the show’s (fictional) town. The show’s producers recently had to issue a request to fans to stop doing exactly that because they were swarming shooting locations where real people lived. The allure here isn’t just the the two incredibly cute dimple-faced leads, but also the calming energy of the seaside location, the palpable sense of community between its residents, and the focus on healthy communication between main characters (a potential love rival matter-of-factly state, “love triangles just aren’t for me” the minute he sees himself being pulled into one).

    The King: Eternal Monarch

    And now for something completely different: a high-concept romantic fantasy K-Drama that involves lovers from parallel universes. A tomboyish female detective (Kim Go-eun) from the present-day Republic of Korea and a traditional monarch (Lee Min-Ho) who is the King of Corea in his world meet, clash, and fall in love (think: Kate & Leopold or Outlander). There’s lots of time travel and action, but the show doesn’t skimp on the romance — a neck kiss between the two leads has already racked up over ten million views on YouTube. This blend of high-octane action and slow-burn romance makes for an engrossing tale of two people determined to defy the laws of the universe to be together.

    Touch Your Heart

    A former top actress (Yoo In-Na) recovering from a nearly career-ending scandal has to gain work experience at a law firm in order to land her next role. Unlike the rest of the world, the workaholic lawyer she’s assigned to (Lee Dong-Wook) seems immune to her charms. Lee Dong-Wook and Yoo In-Na are a fan favorite pairing with great on-screen chemistry, having previously co-starred in the hit K-Drama Goblin.

    Naomi Elias is a freelance writer, interviewer, and critic. Her work has appeared online and in print at a variety of outlets including Elle, Teen Vogue, Interview Magazine, and Film School Rejects.

    TOPICS: Netflix