Whenever someone asks me if I watch K-dramas, I'm never sure how to answer them. Because while I've seen the classics like Coffee Prince, Full House, and My Love from the Star, my patience for things with multiple episodes has waned through the years. There have been too many instances where I start watching a show, only to completely drop it by episode three (sometimes eight, if it's lucky). Basically, I'm a terrible K-drama watcher. When I do get hooked by a show, I get hooked. I'll watch it one sitting and not shut up about it.
So far in my adult life though, this has only happened with two shows. These are also the K-dramas I recommend to anyone who wants to dip their toes into the genre. And trust me, if I finished these, anyone can.
Full disclosure: I've only watched one of Park Seo Joon's dramas before this one. It was Hwarang, and it was good, but again, I suck at finishing shows so I barely hit episode 10 on that one.
Anyway, what made me check Itaewon Class out was when someone spotted PSJ filming it in Itaewon while I was in Korea. I only had a vague idea of the show at this time, and my friends and I couldn't make it in time to see him, sadly. For some reason though, this led me to download the episodes (there were only about four then) to watch during the flight back home. No one warned me about anything so I ended up crying silently in the plane.
See, what I love about Itaewon Class' plot is that as interesting as Park Saeroyi's story is, you don't watch the show for him alone. He's surrounded by such interesting people with their own struggles and stories to tell, so I was never bored just trying to follow his pursuit for revenge and success. The way the show touched on topics like being transgender and the racism in Korea in the following episodes both surprised and impressed me since those don't usually come up in K-dramas. The empowered female characters like Jo Yi Seo (Kim Da Mi) and Ma Hyun Yi (Lee Joo Young) that dominated the space only made it better. In fact, these are why I promptly began recommending Itaewon Class to everyone I knew who would listen. I never recommend K-dramas, so my sudden rave review has earned this show many converts within my circle.
Another point: They didn't let the romance plot overtake everything, which happens more than we'd like to admit. It was never imposing, though it was palpable enough to remain central to the actual point of the show. This actually made me appreciate and anticipate it more—awkward kissing scenes aside.
I love this show for so many other reasons, and the proof lies in how I waited eagerly for the new episodes on Netflix every week. I've never done that before, and I have no idea how K-drama fans bear this every single time because it was torture.
It's Okay That's Love
I may not have watched a ton of K-dramas, but still, I consider this my favorite K-drama of all time. I rewatch scenes and episodes from it to this day.
Although it's packaged like a rom-com, It's Okay That's Love is also a loaded and emotional show that could be too much to watch in one sitting. The main theme of this drama is mental health, and most of the characters struggle with conditions like anxiety, OCD, and Tourette's syndrome. The episodes explore how these affect their daily lives and interactions. It's not 100% a light watch by any means, but like Itaewon Class, it balances things with lighthearted scenes and handled the theme well and in such creative ways.
The main couple, a novelist and a psychiatrist played by Jo In Sung and Gong Hyo Jin, meet in a talk show and get into a heated debate and develop bad blood. They eventually fall in love (a non-spoiler spoiler) and let me tell you—the growth of their relationship just felt so natural and realistic. Their sweet scenes were so fist-clenchingly good and that I had to pause several times to take a breath and drink water. When they fought, they confronted each other without the theatrics. I could honestly imagine knowing a pair like them in real life. My favorite scene is probably the one where they kept giving "chill" and passive responses to each other over the phone, when in reality, they were smiling so hard and were dying with kilig (this is the only appropriate term for it I swear).
The supporting characters were incredible, too, especially Do Kyung Soo and Lee Kwang Soo. Weightlifting Fairy's Lee Sung Kyung made her acting debut in this drama, by the way!
All that said, this show is a true rollercoaster, so prepare to experience some high highs and low lows. But it'll all be worth it in the end.