If you are new to Korean dramas and you have no idea which drama to start with, we highly suggest watching the classics.
The obsession for Korean dramas would not be here today, if it were not for these series which introduce K-dramas to audience outside of South Korea.
You can say, these classic Korean dramas are responsible for the start of Korean wave which is the increase in global popularity of South Korean culture.
Here are 10 classic Korean dramas that somehow never gets old:
1.Full House (2004)
This classic Korean series is considered the romantic comedy genre in Korean drama.
Ji-eun, an aspiring scriptwriter, lives in a house called “Full House” built by her late father.
One day, her two best friends trick her into believing that she has won a free vacation.
While she is away, they sell her house. On the plane, she meets a famous actor named Young-jae.
They get acquainted during her vacation and when she returns, she discovers that her house has been sold to him.
Although they do not get along with each other due to their contrasting habits, they agree to live with each other.
At first, Ji-eun works as his maid in order to buy her house back.
However, they enter into a contract marriage as Young-jae wanted to make his crush, Kang Hye-won, jealous.
Rain, who plays the role of Young-jae, won the Best Actor Award at the KBS Drama Awards for this drama.
The main filming site of this drama, the Full House, was especially built for the series.
It cost approximately USD1 million to build. The house was a tourist attraction until it was torn down in April 2013 due to irreparable damage from a typhoon.
2.Coffee Prince (2007)
Who knew Gong Yoo in his pre-Goblin days? The current generation was introduced to Gong Yoo through Goblin or Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (2016) or Train to Busan (2016).
The older Korean drama fans still remember him and his 2000s hairstyle from Coffee Prince (2007).
He plays the role of Choi Han-kyul, who is the grandson of chairwoman Bang (Kim Young-ok) of Dong-in Foods. It is a company that has a thriving coffee business.
Acting like a stuck-up chaebol, he has never had a job and does not care for responsibility.
In the meantime, Go Eun-chan (Yoon Eun-hye) is a 24-year-old tomboy who is often mistaken for a guy.
Her father died when she was 16 years old and since then she has taken over as the breadwinner in her family.
When Han-kyul and Eun-chan meet, he, not knowing that she is a girl, decides to hire her to pretend to be his gay lover so that he can escape the blind dates arranged by his grandmother.
Wanting to prove himself, Han-kyul takes over a rundown old coffee shop, later renamed “Coffee Prince”.
To attract more female customers, he only hires good-looking male employees.
Eun-chan, desperate for money, continues to hide her gender to get a job at Coffee Prince.
Soon, Han-kyul starts to develop feelings for Eun-chan. Believing that Eun-chan is a man, Han-kyul starts to question his sexuality.
This series was remade in different countries including Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia.
In 2020, the cast of Coffee Prince returns to the cafe of their drama for a documentary called “My Dear Youth – Coffee Prince”.
3.Secret Garden (2010)
Taking a typical Cinderella story to a different twist, Secret Garden (2010) follows the love story between stuntwoman Gil Ra-im and CEO Kim Joo-won.
The pair are from two different worlds. One is a poor orphan and the other is a rich man with a secret phobia. As their worlds collide, Ra-im and Joo-won begin to understand each other’s lives.
And what better way to do that other than magically swapping with each other’s bodies?
The drama was purchased by numerous countries after its release including Peru and United States, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
4.Autumn in My Heart (2000)
If Full House is the pioneer of romantic comedy in Korean dramas, Autumn in My Heart is the pioneer of Korean melodramatic series.
It follows the story of two girls who share the same birthday, are raised in the same village and going to the same class.
One leads a happy life with loving parents and a brother. Her name is Eun-suh (Song Hye-Kyo).
Meanwhile, the other girl named Shin-ae (Han Chae-young) is raised by a single parent and is living in poverty.
One day, Eun-suh has a car accident and a blood test finds hat Eun-suh and Shin-ae were swapped at birth.
The girls are then returned to their biological families. Eun-suh’s brother Jun-suh (Song Seung-Heon) is especially saddened by this.
The two girls meet years later by twist of fate. What happens when Jun-suh sees his long lost ‘sister’ again?
The series has been broadcast in Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and many more.
5.Winter Sonata (2002)
We cannot talk about classic Korean drama without mentioning Winter Sonata (2002).
The story begins with Joon-sang (Bae Yong-joon), who moves to a small town. There, he meets Yoo-Jin (Choi Ji-woo) in the local high school.
They fall in love, but Jun-Sang gets killed in a car accident.
Ten years later, Yoo-Jin meets a guy who looks just like her Jun-Sang.
Yoo-Jin has to choose between her current boyfriend and a person who reminds her of her dead sweetheart.
Winter Sonata is credited for improving the image of South Korea among the Japanese. It also sets fashion trends throughout East Asia.
6.Princess Hours (2006)
This classic Korean drama is also known for contributing to the Korean Wave.
In an alternate reality of 21st century South Korea, the country is ruled by a monarchy.
The crown prince, Lee Shin (Ju Ji-hoon) is a smug and insensitive high school kid.
After getting rejected by his girlfriend Min Hyo-rin (Song Ji-hyo), he decides to proceed with his arranged marriage to Shin Chae-kyeong (Yoon Eun-hye).
Though he was initially annoyed by her naivete and enthusiasm, he gradually begins to open his heart to her.
First of all, can you believe how young Running Man’s Song Ji-hyo in this drama? And Ju Ji-hoon’s acting definitely improves since this drama. His later performances in Along With the God series and Kingdom are just amazing.
7.Temptation of Wife (2008)
In this revenge drama, Jang Seo-hee plays Ku Eun-jae, a lady that was nearly killed by her husband Jung Kyo-bin (Byeon Woo-min).
Kyo-bin believes that Goo Eun-Jae did indeed die. However, he is astonished to meet this woman who looks identical to his former wife but with a completely different personality.
Despite the many controversies concerning the questionable plot, the series is one of the most viewed dramas to date.
The series eventually had two remakes by China and Philippines.
8.Stairway to Heaven (2003)
Han Jung-suh (Choi Ji-woo) and Cha Song-joo (Kwon Sang-woo) grew up together. They were always there for each other.
One day, Jung-suh’s father (Ha Jae-young) marries an actress named Tae Mi-ra (Lee Hui-hyang).
Mi-ra takes in her two children from a previous marriage, Tae-hwa (Lee Wan) and Yoo-ri (Kim Tae-hee).
Yoo-ri is envious of the life that Jung-suh leads and is determined to take everything away from her, including Song-joo.
Meanwhile, Tae-hwa (disturbingly) begins to develop feelings for his stepsister.
Five years later, Jung-suh gets into a car accident causing her to lose her memory. Song-joo is led to believe that she is dead.
Stairway to Heaven was so famous that some of its filming sites are now tourist attractions. This include the carousel where Song-joo and Jung-suh rode as children at Lotte World.
Like many of the classic Korean dramas on this list, Stairway to Heaven was remake in Philippine, Indonesia, Cambodia and Russia.
9.Lovers in Paris (2004)
Today, South Korean screenwriter Kim Eun-sook is known to be her works such as Descendants of the Sun (2016), Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (2017) and The King: Eternal Monarch (2020).
Her work which catapulted her into a household name is actually Lovers in Paris (2004).
It follows the story of the chairman of GD Motors, Han Gi-ju (Park Shin-yang) who is a divorced man working in Paris.
He has a housekeeper named Kang Tae-young (Kim Jung-eun), who is a poor international student.
In the meantime, Han Gi-ju’s nephew, Yu Soo-hyeok (Lee Dong-geon) meets Tae-young by chance, and falls for her.
Tae-young ends up returning to Seoul, soon after, Gi-ju and Soo-hyeok also return to Seoul separately.
When they return, Tae-young asks Gi-ju for a job and in time, the two fall in love.
As the family secret involving Gi-ju and Soo-hyeok is disclosed, the relationship between Tae-young and Gi-ju is in crisis.
To this day, Lovers in Paris is one of the most highly rated Korean dramas of all time.
10.Dae Jang Geum (2003)
This is the only historical drama on this list and its based on a true story of Jang-geum.
She is the first female royal physician of the Josean Dynasty.
Despite her poor background in the male-dominated society, Jang-geum overcomes social and gender discrimination and becomes a royal cook.
From there, she works her way to become the physician in charge of the king.
Thanks to this drama, the Korean public renewed their interest in traditional Korean culture especially royal court cuisine and traditional medicine.