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2010s Retrospective: The Decade in Drama

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

This is part one of our 2010s Retrospective series. Find part two here.


Anisa: It’s been a decade of seismic change in Korean television—if the 2000s were the birth of the English-language Hallyu wave, the 2010s changed so much about the way the industry itself worked. K-dramas began to understand that their audience didn’t end at Korea’s borders. Reply 1997‘s record-breaking success started a cable revolution in 2012, which led to a sea-change in the types of stories, and more importantly the kinds of heroines, that we were able to enjoy on our screens. 


The fandom of the 2000s was sustained purely on fan passion and labour, but with Dramafever’s launch in 2009, we saw the rise of legal licensing and the mixed benefits and drawbacks that resulted from Korean networks turning their eyes to their growing global audience. And by the end of the decade, a new player jumped in: Netflix, resulting in a huge jump in production budgets, and many more people watching K-drama. 

womenofsearch2

We saw a shift from the toxic gender politics of Secret Garden in 2010 to the incredibly nuanced, feminist dynamics of Search: WWW and Melo is My Nature this year; we’ve gone from a surfeit of Candys and the cold chaebol jerks that deign to love them to an abundance of unique and relateable leads, of both genders. So we wanted to do a retrospective on the last ten years of dramas, and highlight some of the unforgettable experiences they’ve given us. 


We’ve assembled our collective top ten lists of 2010 shows (or as close to that number as we could manage), some according to genre and others simply categories we wanted to highlight. The exception is our top ten romances: since that tends to feel very personal, and because there was no way we’d agree on just ten between the three of us, we each have our own list. (Let’s be real, given that 95% of K-dramas have a central love story, even choosing ten was painfully hard.)


An organizational note: Ranking these would have been impossible, so we’ve organized them chronologically by premiere year. Some dramas none of us got a chance to finish, but they were so widely beloved that we felt they had to be on the list (and I’m sure we still missed some)—these are marked with an asterisk.


And finally, as Saya notes below, we included in our lists some dramas starring actors who later revealed themselves to be predators, which we no longer feel able to watch, but were really important and excellent at the time. It would be a shame to ignore the achievements of the rest of the cast and crew because of one terrible person, so we’ve decided to keep those in.

Top Romances

healer

Saya: I like romances where people talk. Without reserve. And say things that matter. I like my heroes direct and sweet and my heroines prickly and weird. I like them open to being vulnerable, and able to say what they’re thinking, willing to negotiate on the difficult things between them. I also love most when my couple can go all-in with each other, and they see each other’s worst and weakest sides and that only makes them closer. Basically, these are (a fraction of) the romances that ruined me for real life.

  1. It’s Okay, It’s Love (2014)

  2. High School King of Savvy/High Schooler King of Life (2014)

  3. Healer (2014)

  4. Sassy Go Go (2015)

  5. Descendants of the Sun (2016)

  6. Doctors/Doctor Crush (2016)

  7. Saimdang–Light’s Diary (2017) (strictly speaking, this is a romance that never was and I am ruined by it)

  8. Temperature of Love (2017)

  9. I’m Not a Robot (2017)

  10. Her Private Life (2019)

IOIL

Anisa: The romances I love the most are the ones that don’t just give us swoonworthy moments between pretty people; I want to know why these two people have to be together, and how they love each other. I want to see the lead couple navigate what it means to commit yourself to another person while being a woman or man in the world. The best love stories don’t pretend that love heals all wounds; they give us people who dare to love each other despite their flaws and insecurities, without letting each other off the hook when they cross the line. A perfect, aspirational mix of idealism and realism that provides both fantasy and catharsis–and couples who stay with us, years after we’ve forgotten the details of the plot.

  1. Reply 1994 (2013)

  2. High School King of Savvy (2014)

  3. It’s Okay, It’s Love (2014)

  4. Heart to Heart (2015)

  5. Jealousy Incarnate (2016)

  6. Fight My Way (2017)

  7. Live Up to Your Name (2017)

  8. I’m Not a Robot (2017)

  9. Just Between Lovers (2017)

  10. Familiar Wife (2018)

QueenInhyun

Paroma: I like my romances epic… sweeping. Spanning years and continents! Lives ruined. Blood shed! And K-dramas often oblige. So, the first and third dramas on my list are hardly a surprise. But I’m also a keen proponent of angst being driven by circumstances, not avoidable miscommunication. The separation must come because the hearts aren’t ready, or because being together will bring about the apocalypse. But, of course, the best romances are the ones with no angst! The ones where they fall in love, learn to trust and accept each other, and defeat all obstacles as a pair. 

  1. Queen In-hyun’s Man (2012)

  2. Reply 1997 (2012)

  3. Faith/Great Doctor (2012)

  4. Pinnocchio (2014)

  5. Sassy Go Go (2015)

  6. Jealousy Incarnate (2016)

  7. Strong Girl Do Bong-soon (2017)

  8. Fight My Way (2017)

  9. Romance is a Bonus Book (2019)

  10. Her Private Life (2019)

Top Melodramas