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Highest Rated Korean Dramas of All Time (Updated Ranking)

by Amber Simmons

In the ever-evolving world of entertainment, Korean dramas have carved out an enduring niche and captivated audiences across the globe with their compelling narratives, dynamic characters, and evocative storytelling. Over the years, some of these series have transcended cultural barriers, winning hearts and shattering viewership records along the way. This continuous rise in popularity has cemented the status of K-dramas as a powerful force in the global entertainment industry.

In this article, we delve into the highest rated Korean dramas of all time (cable) and in the last seven years (non-cable), recognizing the captivating shows that have etched their names into the annals of television history. From heartwarming love stories to thrilling action sagas, these unforgettable series exemplify the magic of Korean storytelling, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of viewers in Korea and abroad.

NOTE: Each drama included in this list is ranked according to its highest nationwide TV rating, as determined by Nielsen data. In instances where peak ratings are tied, the average rating served as the decisive factor. Our rankings are regularly updated to account for the latest developments.

Top 20 Highest Rated Korean Dramas of All Time in Cable TV

In this category, we focus on the realm of cable dramas, which have garnered significant attention and acclaim in recent years. Often recognized for their bold storytelling and innovative concepts, the following series have broken boundaries and defied expectations, setting new standards in Korean TV.

20. Hospital Playlist 2

Peak Rating: 14.080%

Network: tvN

Broadcast Year: 2021

Following the success of its first season, Hospital Playlist returned with a much-anticipated second season, which continues to follow five doctor friends as they face new challenges in both their personal and professional lives. Building upon the strong foundation of the first season, Hospital Playlist 2 delves deeper into the characters’ backstories and relationships, while maintaining its signature blend of humor, warmth, and drama. The engaging storylines, endearing characters, and exceptional performances from the cast further solidified its reputation as a must-watch series, earning it a spot among the highest-rated Korean dramas in cable television.

19. Hospital Playlist

the main cast of Hospital Playlist

Peak Rating: 14.142%

Network: tvN

Broadcast Year: 2020

Hospital Playlist is a heartwarming medical drama that tells the story of five doctors who have been friends since their college days. It follows the lives of these doctors as they navigate the challenges of their profession, while also exploring their personal relationships and growth. Season 1 captivated viewers with its unique storytelling, focusing on the characters’ everyday lives and showcasing their deep camaraderie. The combination of moving stories, genuine friendships, and a talented ensemble cast—Jo Jung-suk, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jung Kyung-ho, Kim Dae-myung, and Jeon Mi-do—made Hospital Playlist a highly-rated and beloved drama. It was helmed by award-winning director Shin Won-ho who is known for directing the acclaimed Reply series.

18. 100 Days My Prince

Nam Ji-hyun and D.O. in 100 Days My Prince

Peak Rating: 14.412%

Network: tvN

Broadcast Year: 2018

100 Days My Prince is a romantic historical drama that revolves around Crown Prince Lee Yul (Doh Kyung-soo), who suffers from amnesia following an assassination attempt and ends up living as a commoner under a new identity. During his time in hiding, he meets and falls in love with the oldest unmarried woman (Nam Ji-hyun) in a village. The series stands out for its character development, as the protagonist Lee Yul undergoes a transformative journey of self-discovery and learns the value of empathy, love, and the everyday struggles faced by his people. The chemistry between D.O. and Nam Ji-hyun also captivated audiences, adding depth to their characters’ evolving relationship.

17. Our Blues

a scene from the 2022 Korean drama "Our Blues"

Peak Rating: 14.597%

Network: tvN

Broadcast Year: 2022

Our Blues is a heartfelt K-drama set in Jeju-do, South Korea’s largest island, where a diverse community of characters navigates love, forgiveness, and support. The series masterfully weaves together the complex stories of over a dozen characters, tackling heavy themes such as child abuse, debts, teen pregnancy, bullying, and prejudice against the disabled. With an ensemble cast featuring notable actors like Lee Jung-eun, Cha Seung-won, Shin Min-ah and Lee Byung-hun, it resonated with viewers for its powerful storytelling and emotional depth. The drama was also praised for its thoughtful soundtrack, which includes “With You,” a collaboration between BTS member Jimin and Ha Sung-woon.

16. Vincenzo

Song Joong-ki and Jeon Yeon-been in Vincenzo

Peak Rating: 14.636%

Network: tvN

Broadcast Year: 2021

Vincenzo, a dark comedy-crime drama, revolves around an Italian-Korean mafia consigliere (Song Joong-ki) who moves to Korea to recover a hidden stash of gold. Upon his arrival, he encounters various adversaries and unlikely allies as he devises intricate schemes to achieve his goal. One of the standout aspects of Vincenzo is its distinctive blend of genres, skillfully incorporating elements of crime, dark comedy, and action into a compelling narrative. The series explores themes of justice, loyalty, and the fine line between good and evil, providing viewers with thought-provoking content amidst the thrilling plot twists and turns.

15. Agency

Lee Bo-young in a scene from "Agency"

Peak Rating: 16.044%

Network: JTBC

Broadcast Year: 2023

Agency is a compelling series that emphasizes female solidarity and power dynamics in the corporate world. It follows an advertising agency employee, played by Lee Bo-young, as she shatters the glass ceiling, overcomes prejudices, and fights for her dreams even after being demoted in a company scheme. Alongside other strong female characters, the story highlights the achievements and struggles of women in a traditionally male-dominated environment. It offers a fresh and engaging narrative that stands out from other workplace dramas, showcasing the resilience and determination of its female protagonists.

14. Doctor Cha

Uhm Jung-hwa in a scene from the 2023 Korean drama "Doctor Cha"

Peak Rating: 16.181%

Network: JTBC

Broadcast Year: 2023 (ongoing)

Doctor Cha follows the story of a woman, played by Uhm Jung-hwa, who decides to reclaim her dreams after a life-threatening incident. Twenty years after leaving her medical career to become a housewife, she returns to complete her residency, facing disapproval from her arrogant husband (Kim Byung-chul) and critical mother-in-law. This captivating K-drama offers a unique underdog story, showcasing themes of resilience and rekindled ambition. With engaging performances by the leads, it has resonated with viewers who appreciate character-driven stories about personal growth and empowerment.

13. Itaewon Class

a scene from Itaewon Class featuring Park Seo-joon and Ahn Bo-hyun

Peak Rating: 16.548%

Network: JTBC

Broadcast Year: 2020

Based on the popular webtoon of the same name, Itaewon Class is a drama that tells the story of a young man (Park Seo-joon) who opens a bar-restaurant in Itaewon after his life takes a tragic turn. The series follows him and his diverse group of friends as they navigate the challenges of life and business, while confronting their own personal struggles. It resonated with viewers thanks to its inspiring story of resilience, friendship, and determination, as well as its memorable characters and outstanding performances, particularly by Kim Da-mi, who won the prestigious Baeksang Art Award for Best New Actress in 2020.

12. Love (ft. Marriage and Divorce) Season 2

a scene from Love (ft. Marriage and Divorce) Season 2 featuring Sung Hoon

Peak Rating: 16.582%

Network: TV Chosun

Broadcast Year: 2021

Following the success of its first season, Love (ft. Marriage and Divorce) returned with a highly anticipated second season in 2021. The drama delves into the lives of three women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who are all facing the complexities of marriage and divorce. It explores themes such as love, betrayal, and forgiveness, while providing an honest look at the realities of marriage. Starring Sung Hoon and Lee Ga-ryeong, Love (ft. Marriage and Divorce) 2 continued to enthrall audiences with its intriguing plot and captivating characters, earning it a spot among the highest-rated Korean cable dramas of all time.

Love (ft. Marriage and Divorce) Season 2 is currently the highest-rated drama of TV Chosun.

11. Under the Queen’s Umbrella

a scene from the 2022 historical drama "Under the Queen's Umbrella"

Peak Rating: 16.852%

Network: tvN

Broadcast Year: 2022

Under the Queen’s Umbrella is a captivating Joseon-era drama that delves into palace politics, succession battles, and survival instincts. Centered around Queen Hwa-ryeong, played by Kim Hye-soo, the series explores her struggle to empower her sons and protect them from deadly machinations. Amidst a stellar cast, the show masterfully balances political intrigue, comedy, and drama. Although some subplots and filler episodes slow down the pace, the historical setting, engaging characters, and strong performances make Under the Queen’s Umbrella a thrilling watch that showcases progressive themes and a satisfying conclusion.

10. Crash Course in Romance

Jeon Do-yeon and Jung Kyung-ho in a scene from "Crash Course in Romance"

Peak Rating: 17.038%

Network: tvN

Broadcast Year: 2023

Crash Course in Romance starts off as a quirky romance between a banchan store owner (Jeon Do-yeon) and a celebrity Math instructor (Jung Kyung-ho), and later dives into the lives of competitive mothers, high school academics, jealous classmates, scheming rivals, scandals, and even a murderous psychopath—making for a rather chaotic mix of themes. Set in an academic district, the drama effectively portrays the academic pressure faced by students and their parents as they prepare for college entrance exams. Its primary drawback lies in its multiple subplots that cause tonal jumps and a cluttered storyline. However, the performances of the actors and the attempt to explore the dark side of education make the series compelling. When focusing on romance and exploring love challenges, the drama also excels.

9. Mr. Queen

Shin Hye-sun and Kim Jung-hyun in Mr. Queen

Peak Rating: 17.371%

Network: tvN

Broadcast Year: 2020-2021

Mr. Queen is a historical fantasy-comedy that centers on a modern-day chef who finds himself transported back in time to the Joseon era, only to discover he has now inhabited the body of a queen (Shin Hye-sun). The drama skillfully blends humor, romance, and political intrigue, as the protagonist navigates the challenges of court life and the intricacies of his new identity. Mr. Queen‘s unconventional plot, along with its strong performances, engaging storyline, and memorable characters, captured the hearts of viewers and made it one of the most watched K-dramas of all time.

Mr. Queen was the highest-rated Korean drama of 2021 in cable TV.

8. Extraordinary Attorney Woo

Park Eun-bin in a scene from Extraordinary Attorney Woo

Peak Rating: 17.534%

Network: ENA

Broadcast Year: 2022

Extraordinary Attorney Woo stars Park Eun-bin as an autistic lawyer navigating a prestigious law firm. The show skillfully portrays the range of the autism spectrum, challenging discrimination while avoiding turning protagonist Young-woo into a quirky caricature. It achieved success through its moving scripts, interesting legal cases, and well-developed supporting characters. Though the show tackles serious themes, it balances them with humor, making it a refreshing, non-ableist exploration of autism spectrum disorder. Park Eun-bin’s authentic portrayal of Young-woo shines on screen, leading to her winning the Grand Prize at the 2023 Baeksang Arts Awards.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo is currently the highest-rated drama of ENA.

7. Mr. Sunshine

Lee Byung-hun and Kim Tae-ri in a scene from Mr. Sunshine

Peak Rating: 18.129%

Network: tvN

Broadcast Year: 2018

Mr. Sunshine transports viewers to the tumultuous period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, at a time when Korea faced significant political upheaval and encroachment by foreign powers. The story revolves around a Korean-born U.S. Marine Corps officer (Lee Byung-hun) who returns to his homeland and falls in love with a noblewoman, portrayed by Kim Tae-ri. As they navigate their complex relationship, they also become entangled in the fight for Korea’s independence. One of the most striking aspects of Mr. Sunshine is its impressive attention to historical detail and its ambitious scope, delving into a rarely explored era in Korean history. The series deftly combines elements of romance, action, and political intrigue, crafting a narrative that is both informative and emotionally resonant.

Mr. Sunshine was the highest-rated Korean drama of 2018 in cable TV.

6. Guardian: The Lonely and Great God

Kim Go-eun and Gong Yoo in a scene from Goblin

Peak Rating: 18.680%

Network: tvN

Broadcast Year: 2016-2017

Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, also known as Goblin, weaves a captivating tale of love, destiny, and the supernatural that transcends time and space. It follows the story of a mythical goblin (Gong Yoo), who has been cursed with immortality until he finds his destined bride—who turns out to be a high school student (Kim Go-eun). The series offers viewers a rich tapestry of characters and relationships, including the humorous and endearing bromance between the goblin and the Grim Reaper (Lee Dong-wook). The mesmerizing chemistry between the lead actors has contributed to the series’ immense popularity, while the stunning cinematography and visually striking settings further immerse the audience in the drama. The memorable and evocative soundtrack, meanwhile, perfectly complements the emotional journey of the characters.

Goblin was the highest-rated Korean drama of 2017 in cable TV.

5. Reply 1988

a scene from Reply 1988 featuring the main cast

Peak Rating: 18.803%

Network: tvN

Broadcast Year: 2015-2016

A nostalgic trip down memory lane, Reply 1988 transports viewers back to the late 1980s as it follows the lives of five childhood friends and their families living in the same neighborhood in Seoul. The series uniquely blends humor, friendship, and drama as the characters navigate through life’s ups and downs. Starring Lee Hye-ri, Ryu Jun-yeol, Go Kyung-pyo, Park Bo-gum, and Lee Dong-hwi, it brilliantly captures the essence of the ’80s, from its fashion and music to the cultural and political landscape of the time. The show’s heartwarming and relatable stories, combined with strong performances from the ensemble cast, made it a massive hit with viewers.

Reply 1988 was the highest-rated Korean drama of 2015-2016 in cable TV.

4. Crash Landing on You

Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin in Crash Landin on You

Peak Rating: 21.683%

Network: tvN

Broadcast Year: 2019-2020

Crash Landing on You brings a fresh perspective to the romantic-comedy genre by intertwining an unlikely love story with the political complexities of the Korean peninsula. It follows a wealthy South Korean heiress (Son Ye-jin), who accidentally crash-lands in North Korea after a paragliding mishap. There, she encounters a North Korean army officer (Hyun Bin) who helps her return to South Korea despite the numerous risks involved. The series challenges preconceived notions about North Korea by humanizing its citizens and showcasing their daily lives, as well as their hopes and dreams. It is also known for the exceptional chemistry between the lead actors—who are now real-life husband and wife—which has fueled its widespread appeal and attracted a dedicated fanbase.

Crash Landing on You is currently the highest-rated drama of tvN.

3. Sky Castle

Yum Jung-ah and Kim Seo-hyung in a scene from SKY Castle

Peak Rating: 23.779%

Network: JTBC

Broadcast Year: 2018-2019

Sky Castle is a satirical drama that explores the dark side of South Korea’s competitive education system. Set in an elite, upscale neighborhood, the series follows the lives of four families who are determined to ensure their children’s success at any cost. With its intriguing plot, strong character development, and outstanding performances, Sky Castle became a massive hit, sparking conversations about the lengths parents go to for their children’s education. The series artfully portrays the consequences of ambition, power, and greed, making it a must-watch for any serious K-drama fan. It became the first-ever Korean drama to achieve the elusive 20% rating in cable TV.

Sky Castle was the highest-rated Korean drama of 2019 in cable TV.

2. Reborn Rich

Song Joong-ki in Reborn Rich

Peak Rating: 26.948%

Network: JTBC

Broadcast Year: 2022

Reborn Rich centers on the wealthy Soonyang Group and its devoted employee (Song Joong-ki) who uncovers a massive secret slush fund. After being killed for his discovery, he is reincarnated as Jin Do-jun, the youngest member of the Soonyang family in 1987, with his past life’s memories intact. Now armed with these memories and his knowledge of future events, Do-jun embarks on a mission to take control of the Soonyang Group and solve his own murder, all while navigating the turbulent world of South Korea’s corporate dynasties. The series offers a unique blend of humor, drama, and social commentary, delving into the excesses of wealth and the complexities of corporate culture while exploring the impact on everyday working people. The intriguing dynamic between the young Do-jun and his powerful, but flawed grandfather (Lee Sung-min) adds depth to the narrative as both characters struggle with their own moral dilemmas.

Reborn Rich was the highest-rated Korean drama of 2022 in cable TV.

1. The World of the Married

Kim Hee-ae and Park Hae-joon in The World of the Married

Peak Rating: 28.371%

Network: JTBC

Broadcast Year: 2020

The highest rated Korean drama of all time in cable television is currently The World of the Married—a riveting series that explores the complexities of marriage, infidelity, and revenge. Based on the popular BBC series “Doctor Foster,” it follows the life of a successful doctor, played by Kim Hee-ae, as she discovers her husband’s affair and becomes embroiled in a gripping tale of vengeance and betrayal.

One of the strengths of The World of the Married lies in its outstanding performances, particularly by Kim Hee-ae in the lead role. Her captivating portrayal of a woman pushed to the brink of despair garnered widespread acclaim and earned her multiple awards, including the prestigious Baeksang Arts Award for Best Actress. The series also excels in its compelling storytelling, which skillfully delves into the emotional turmoil and intricate dynamics of the characters’ relationships. The narrative is filled with twists and turns that keep viewers on the edge of their seats until the very end.

Top 21 Highest-Rated Korean Dramas Since 2016 in Free-to-Air TV

In this part, we turn our attention to the non-cable dramas, which have long been the cornerstone of Korean television. We are exclusively ranking dramas that aired in 2016 or later. This decision is based on two factors: first, the availability of reliable viewership data for use in our analysis; second, recognizing the increasingly competitive landscape in recent years, as cable networks such as tvN and JTBC now directly compete with KBS2, MBC, and SBS. Given these circumstances, comparing the rating performance of dramas from the past decade with those that aired before 2013 may not be a fair assessment.

This ranking excludes daily series and weekend dramas, which typically garner double-digit ratings with ease.

21. The Red Sleeve

Lee Jun-ho and Lee Se-young in a scene from The Red Sleeve

Peak Rating: 17.4%

Network: MBC

Broadcast Year: 2021-2022

The Red Sleeve is a historical Korean drama based on a popular novel of the same name by Kang Mi-Kang. It delves into the life of a controversial historical figure, King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty, and his romance with a royal concubine. King Jeongjo, played by Lee Jun-ho, is known for his progressive ideas, support for scholars, and attempts at reforming the Joseon Dynasty. The drama stands out because it provides a fresh perspective on King Jeongjo’s story by focusing on his relationship with court lady Sung Deok-im (Lee Se-young) and their impact on each other’s lives, as well as on the course of Korean history. Ratings-wise, it was MBC’s most successful series in 2021 and also the biggest sleeper hit in free-to-air TV in that year.

20. Return

Park Jin-hee in a scene from the Korean drama "Return"

Peak Rating: 17.4%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2018

Return is a thriller and mystery series that gained attention for its gripping storyline and suspenseful twists. An interesting fact about the drama is that it underwent a major casting change midway through its airing. The original lead actress, Go Hyun-jung, left the show after episode 14 due to conflicts with the production team. After her departure, Park Jin-hee was brought in to replace her and continue playing the character for the remainder of the series. Despite the abrupt casting change, Return managed to maintain high ratings and keep viewers engaged throughout its run.

19. One the Woman

Lee Sang-yoon and Lee Honey in a scene from One the Woman

Peak Rating: 17.8%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2021

One the Woman revolves around the story of a prosecutor played by Honey Lee, who loses her memory and assumes the life of a wealthy chaebol heiress due to their striking resemblance. As she navigates her new life, she becomes entangled in a web of secrets, deception, and romance, all while attempting to uncover the truth behind her past. The drama kept the audience engaged with its clever plot twists, light-hearted humor, and suspenseful moments. Honey Lee delivered an exceptional performance in her dual roles, showcasing her versatility as an actress.

18. The Last Empress

Choi Jin-hyuk and Jang Na-ra in a scene from The Last Empress

Peak Rating: 17.9%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2018-2019

The Last Empress is a suspenseful and action-packed series set in an alternate version of modern-day South Korea, where the government still operates under a constitutional monarchy. Jang Na-ra stars as a musical actress who becomes the Empress through an arranged marriage, only to find herself involved in palace intrigue, conspiracies, and murder. The drama captivated viewers with its blend of intricate storytelling and fast-paced plot twists, offering an exciting and unique take on the concept of a modern monarchy.

The Last Empress was the highest-rated Korean drama of 2018 in free-to-air TV.

17. Good Manager

Lee Jun-ho and Namgoong Min in a scene from Good Manager

Peak Rating: 18.4%

Network: KBS2

Broadcast Year: 2017

Good Manager is a workplace comedy-drama that centers on an accountant who turns from a life of crime to become a middle manager at a large corporation, where he strives to expose corruption and fight for justice. With its witty humor, engaging characters, and clever plot, the series kept viewers entertained while addressing social issues in the corporate world. The chemistry between the lead actors, Namgoong Min, who plays the titular Chief Kim, and Lee Jun-ho, who plays his rival-turned-ally, added to the show’s charm and appeal, making it one of the most memorable Korean dramas in 2017.

16. Hot Stove League

a scene from the 2019-2020 Korean drama "Hot Stove League"

Peak Rating: 19.1%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2019-2020

Hot Stove League revolves around the world of professional baseball and the challenges faced by a struggling professional team called Dreams. It focuses primarily on the behind-the-scenes aspects of baseball, such as scouting players, developing strategies, and dealing with financial constraints, rather than on-field action. This approach sets Hot Stove League apart from other sports dramas, providing a fresh perspective on the genre. The series was critically acclaimed and earned numerous accolades, including Best Drama at the 2020 Baeksang Arts Awards. Its success can be attributed to its realistic portrayal of the sports industry’s complexities, the captivating character dynamics, and the engaging performances by the cast led by Namgoong Min and Park Eun-bin.

15. The Penthouse 3

Kim So-yeon in a scene from The Penthouse 3

Peak Rating: 19.5%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2021

The Penthouse 3 is the third and final installment of the highly popular and suspenseful Penthouse series. The drama is known for its intricate storylines, depicting the lives of wealthy families residing in the luxurious Hera Palace and their struggles for power, revenge, and ambition. Despite the series’ controversial themes and intense, sometimes violent, scenes, it continued to garner massive viewership ratings and a dedicated following throughout all three seasons.

14. Whisper

Lee Bo-young and Lee Sang-yoon in a scene from 'Whisper"

Peak Rating: 20.3%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2017

Whisper is a suspenseful legal thriller that delves into the world of law, corruption, and revenge. The series focuses on the partnership between a righteous police detective (Lee Bo-young), and a brilliant judge (Lee Sang-yoon) as they work together to uncover and fight against corruption in the legal and corporate world. It gained popularity for its thrilling plot, well-developed characters, and the way it tackled real-life issues such as corporate greed and corruption in the legal system. The drama’s engaging storyline and the strong performances by its lead actors contributed to its success.

13. Taxi Driver 2

the main cast of Taxi Driver 2 as seen in a scene

Peak Rating: 21.0%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2023

Returning for a second season, Taxi Driver 2 follows the adventures of Kim Do-ki (Lee Je-hoon) and his team at Rainbow Taxi as they continue their clandestine revenge services. The action-packed sequel features a series of cases inspired by real-life incidents, including one based on the controversial 2019 Burning Sun scandal. The show maintains its balance of comedy and action, with exceptional performances from the cast, including Pyo Ye-jin. Although some revenge stories in this season may feel rushed, the captivating plot twists, impressive OST, and strong performances kept viewers hooked. A third season is confirmed.

12. The Legend of the Blue Sea

Lee Min-ho and Jun Ju-hyun in a scene from The Legend of the Blue Sea

Peak Rating: 21.0%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2016-2017

The Legend of the Blue Sea is a romantic fantasy series that weaves together the present-day love story of a genius scam artist and a mermaid with a Joseon-era tale of their past incarnations. It marked the highly anticipated comeback of actress Jun Ji-hyun to television after her immense success in My Love from the Star. Additionally, this was the first television project for the lead actor, Lee Min-ho, after completing his military service. The series gained popularity both domestically and internationally in part due to the star power of its lead actors and the engaging, fantastical storyline that seamlessly integrated historical and modern settings.

11. Doctors

Kim Rae-won and Park Shin-hye in "Doctors"

Peak Rating: 21.3%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2016

Doctors is a medical drama that follows the journey of a rebellious high school student turned successful neurosurgeon, played by Park Shin-hye. The series also stars Kim Rae-won as her mentor and love interest. Featuring themes of redemption, love, and personal growth, it gained popularity for its engaging plotlines, strong character development, and its exploration of various medical cases and ethical dilemmas. It managed to strike a balance between romance, drama, and the realities of working in the medical field, garnering high ratings and generally positive reviews throughout its run.

10. The Fiery Priest

Kim Nam-gil in a scene from The Fiery Priest

Peak Rating: 22.0%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2019

The Fiery Priest is a unique blend of action, comedy, and crime-solving centered around an unusual partnership between a hot-tempered Catholic priest and a bumbling detective. The titular fiery priest, played by Kim Nam-gil, joins forces with the detective (Kim Sung-kyun) to solve a murder case and fight against the injustices in their city. The series gained popularity for its fast-paced plot, engaging action sequences, and comedic elements, offering viewers a fresh and entertaining experience. Its unique premise, coupled with standout performances by its lead actors, contributed to its impressive viewership ratings.

9. Liver or Die

Yoo Jun-sang in a scene from Liver or Die

Peak Rating: 22.7%

Network: KBS2

Broadcast Year: 2019

Liver or Die tells the heartwarming and emotional story of a man named Poong-sang, played by Yoo Jun-sang, who has selflessly devoted his life to taking care of his four younger siblings. Each sibling has their own unique set of problems and challenges, and the drama delves into their lives and the complexities of their relationships with each other. The series explores the protagonist’s struggles as he navigates the burden of his family’s expectations and his own desires for happiness. It received positive reviews for its captivating and relatable portrayal of family relationships and its exploration of societal issues.

8. Moonlight Drawn by Clouds

Kim Yoo-jung and Park Bo-gum in Moonlight Drawn By Clouds

Peak Rating: 23.3%

Network: KBS2

Broadcast Year: 2016

Moonlight Drawn by Clouds is based on a popular web novel of the same name. Set in the Joseon Dynasty, it tells the story of a young woman (Kim Yoo-jung) who disguises herself as a man and becomes a eunuch in the royal palace. She eventually falls in love with the crown prince (Park Bo-gum), creating a romantic and heartwarming tale amidst the backdrop of palace politics. The series captivated viewers with its engaging narrative, beautiful cinematography, and the compelling performances of its lead actors. Its success led to a surge in the popularity of “Moonlight Syndrome,” a term coined to describe the passionate fan following and the widespread admiration for the drama’s themes, actors, and costumes. 

7. When the Camellia Blooms

Kang Ha-neul and Gong Hyo-jin

Peak Rating: 23.8%

Network: KBS2

Broadcast Year: 2019

When the Camellia Blooms is a heartwarming series that combines romance, comedy, and mystery elements. Set in a small town, it centers on a single mother, played by Gong Hyo-jin, who runs a bar named “Camellia.” The drama follows her life as she encounters love, friendship, and battles against societal prejudices while also becoming entangled in a serial murder case. It received critical acclaim and resonated with viewers due to its endearing characters, heartwarming narrative, and the charming chemistry between Gong Hyo-jin and Kang Ha-neul. The series went on to win Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Grand Prize at the 2020 Baeksang Arts Awards.

When the Camellia Blooms was the highest-rated Korean drama of 2019 in free-to-air TV.

6. Dr. Romantic 2

Ahn Hyo-seop in a scene from Dr. Romantic 2

Peak Rating: 27.1%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2020

Dr. Romantic 2 is the highly anticipated sequel to the successful medical series Dr. Romantic, which first aired in 2016. Set once again at the small and under-resourced Doldam Hospital, the drama continues to follow the story of the genius surgeon Kim Sa-bu, played by Han Suk-kyu, as he mentors a new group of talented doctors and tackles various medical cases. Introducing new lead actors Ahn Hyo-seop and Lee Sung-kyung, it continued to captivate audiences with its thrilling medical cases, engaging character development, and the portrayal of the professional and personal challenges faced by the medical staff.

Dr. Romantic 2 was the highest-rated Korean drama of 2020 in free-to-air TV.

5. Dr. Romantic

Seo Hyun-jin in season 1 of Dr. Romantic

Peak Rating: 27.6%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2016

Dr. Romantic is a captivating medical series that tells the story of the talented but enigmatic surgeon Kim Sa-bu (Han Suk-kyu) who works at the small and under-resourced Doldam Hospital. Kim Sa-bu becomes a mentor to two young doctors, played by Yoo Yeon-seok, and Seo Hyun-jin, guiding them through various medical challenges and helping them rediscover their passion for medicine. The drama highlights the importance of teamwork, communication, and empathy in the medical profession. It enjoyed high viewership ratings and critical acclaim for its engaging narrative, realistic portrayal of medical cases, and the strong performances of its lead actors.

4. Defendant

a scene from the 2017 K-drama "Defendant"

Peak Rating: 28.3%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2017

Defendant tells the gripping story of a prosecutor, played by Ji Sung, who wakes up one day to find himself on death row with no memory of how he ended up there. Accused of murdering his wife and daughter, he must regain his memory and prove his innocence while battling against the real perpetrator. The drama enjoyed immense popularity, with high viewership ratings throughout its run. Its success can be attributed to its suspenseful, well-crafted narrative, and the engaging performance of Ji Sung and Uhm Ki-joon. The series kept viewers on the edge of their seats with its thrilling plot twists and intense emotional moments, leaving a lasting impression among viewers.

Defendant was the highest-rated Korean drama of 2017 in free-to-air TV.

3. The Penthouse

Lee Ji-ah in a scene from The Penthouse

Peak Rating: 28.8%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2020-2021

Set in the luxurious and exclusive Hera Palace residential complex, the first season of the highly popular and suspenseful The Penthouse series follows the lives of wealthy families as they engage in power struggles, revenge, and deceit. The drama is known for its intricate storylines, complex characters, and captivating performances by its ensemble cast. The first season garnered massive viewership ratings and positive reviews for its dramatic intensity, bold storytelling, and the engaging portrayal of its characters—laying the groundwork for its two subsequent seasons.

2. The Penthouse 2

Kim So-yeon in a scene from The Penthouse 2

Peak Rating: 29.2%

Network: SBS

Broadcast Year: 2021

The Penthouse 2 is the second season of the widely popular Penthouse series. Continuing the story of the wealthy residents of the exclusive Hera Palace, this season delves deeper into the tangled web of power struggles, revenge, and deception. It maintains the thrilling, dramatic, and intense narrative that has become synonymous with the drama. The series continued to captivate audiences with its intriguing plot twists, the evolution of its characters, and the introduction of new characters that added further layers of complexity to the story. It garnered even higher viewership ratings than the first season and reached new heights of popularity.

The Penthouse 2 was the highest-rated Korean drama of 2021 in free-to-air TV.

1. Descendants of the Sun

Song Joong-ki and Song Hye-kyo in a scene from Descendants of the Sun

Peak Rating: 38.8%

Network: KBS2

Broadcast Year: 2016

Descendants of the Sun is the highest rated Korean drama in non-cable television in recent years. Its story unfolds in a fictional war-stricken country and follows a devoted soldier (Song Joong-ki) and a talented surgeon (Song Hye-kyo) as they grapple with obstacles in their careers and personal lives. The drama’s strengths lie in its captivating character development, the enchanting chemistry between the lead actors, and its impressive production value.

Descendants of the Sun was among the first Korean dramas to be entirely pre-produced and filmed before airing. This pioneering production approach resulted in enhanced visual quality and overall production standards. Filming took place in Greece, augmenting the series’ visual appeal and providing a more immersive experience for viewers.

The drama enjoyed tremendous success both domestically and internationally, winning over audiences with its touching love story, well-developed characters, and exhilarating action scenes. The show’s cultural influence went beyond its high viewership ratings as it boosted tourism to filming sites and sales of products showcased in the series. The undeniable on-screen chemistry between the main actors, who later married in real life, also played a significant role in the drama’s lasting popularity and widespread acclaim.

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