If you think the more recent Korean dramas are great, wait until you check the ones made in the early 2000s, they are to die for and they are what we would call exceptional. These classical dramas are what brought many people to K-drama land; the phenomenally great storylines and great acting have the ability to turn anyone into a major k-drama fan.
1. Winter Sonata(2002)
The series is widely considered to be the Korean drama that launched the Korean Wave throughout Asia and worldwide.
PLOT: Joon Sang moves to a new high school in search of his biological father. Yu Jin and Sang Hyuk are close childhood friends, although Sang Hyuk wants to be more than a friend, Yu Jin sees him as a brother. On a trip together with other high school mates, Oh Chelin, Jin Suk and Yong Kuk, Yu Jin is saved after an accident by Joon Sang. They become close and she opens up his cold heart. However, circumstances and fate dictate that their love will never be. He abruptly disappears from their lives.
Ten years later, the old High School buddies gather to celebrate Yu Jin and Sang Hyuk’s soon-to-be wedding. Yu Jin, who was deeply in love with Joon Sang, still has a fire in her heart for him. But at the party, Oh Chelin’s new boyfriend arrives, who appears the same as Joon Sang.
2. My Lovely Kim Sam Soon(2005)
This was one of the very first Korean dramas that I watched, it actually helped me in discovering my love for k-dramas.
It starred Kim Sun-a (who actually gained 15 pounds for the role),Hyun Bin, Jung Ryeo-won and Daniel Henney.
PLOT: Kim Sam Soon is a baker who has a talent in making pastries and cakes. On Christmas Eve, she caught her boyfriend, Min Hyun Woo, cheating on her and breaks up. On that same night, she accidentally went into the men’s restroom and met Hyun Jin Hun. By sheer coincidence, Jin Hun needs a baker for his restaurant Bon Appetit and Sam Soon is unemployed. Sam Soon is hired as the restaurant’s chief baker and the two fight like cat and dog.
3. Secret Garden (2010)
Secret Garden was a huge ratings success, with an estimation of more than 20 billion won worth of economic effect.
The drama tells the story of Kim Joo Won, an arrogant and eccentric CEO who maintains the image of seeming perfection, and Gil Ra Im, a poor and humble stuntwoman whose beauty and body are the object of envy amongst top actresses.
Their accidental meeting, when Joo Won mistakes Ra Im for actress Park Chae Rin, marks the beginning of a tense, bickering relationship, through which Joo Won tries to hide agrowing attraction to Ra Im that both confuses and disturbs him. To complicate matters further, a strange sequence of events results in them swapping bodies.
4.Personal taste (2010)
It is adapted from Lee Se-in’s 2007 novel of the same name about a furniture designer, Park Kae-in, who lives together with architect Jeon Jin-ho under the mistaken assumption that he’s gay.
PLOT: Jeon Jin Ho is a straight guy who is mistaken as gay when he applies to become Park Gae In’s roommate. His hobbies include organization and ironing, and he’s known for his stoic poker face. He’s a stickler for cleanliness, but he also has a talent for figuring out a women’s feelings. Gae In is very trusting even though she has a habit of being betrayed. However, that doesn’t stop her from giving people the benefit of doubt and Jin Ho is no different.
5. Full House(2004)
Considered a pioneer of the “romantic comedy” genre in Korean drama, the drama was a great success in Asia and helped propel the Korean wave.
PLOT: Han 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 she has won a free vacation. While she is away, they sell her house. On the plane, she meets a famous actor named Lee Young Jae. Through comedic events, they get acquainted during her vacation and she discovers her house has been sold to him.
They later agreed to live with each other. At first, Ji Eun works as his maid in order to buy her house back, but because of Young Jae’s wish to make the love of his life, Kang Hye Won jealous, they get married. They set up a contract for the marriage to last six months. During that time, complications arise and Ji Eun and Young Jae become attracted to each other.
6. Autumn in My Heart (2000)
PLOT: Yoon Joon Suh and Yoon Eun Suh grew up as siblings but Eun Suh was in fact from a different family as there was a mix up at the hospital where she was born. The switch came to light when Eun Suh was involved in a car accident and it was discovered that her blood type was different from her parents.
Eun Suh’s life took a complete turn when the 2 girls were returned to their respective families. Soon after, the Yoon family left for the States and Eun Suh was left living in sordid condition with her real family in Korea. Years after, Joon Suh returned to Korea and by chance the two former siblings were reunited.
7. Temptation of Wife(2008)
PLOT: One night Goo Eun Jae got drunk and Jung Gyo Bin took this opportunity to take advantage of her. Eun Jae and Gyo Bin got married but their marriage is not a very blissful marriage. Eun Jae’s best friend, Shin Ae Ri, openly flirts with Gyo Bin in front of Eun Jae. Gyo Bin decided that he did not want to remain married to Eun Jae and tried to kill her. Eun Jae was presumed to have drown and died.
Gyo Bin thought he was successful in killing Eun Jae and moved on with Ae Ri. Months later, Eun Jae is back for revenge but she presumes the identity of another woman, Min So Hee, who had killed herself.
8. Worlds Within(2008)
PLOT: Joo Jun Yeong, a producer working her way in the male-dominated world of drama creators. Co-star Hyun Bin plays her mentor, who makes Joo’s character’s life miserable at first, but later discovers his affection toward the hard-working and passionate newcomer.
9. Coffee Prince(2007)
PLOT: The drama tells the story of an unlikely romance between a tomboyish woman, who dresses like a man in order to get work, and a young food empire mogul. It contains homoerotic elements, as the man does not initially know of the tomboy’s true sex.
10. Lie to me (2011)
PLOT: The series revolves around a civil servant named Gong Ah-jung (played by Yoon) who pretends to be the wife of the wealthy hotel heir, Hyun Ki-joon (played by Kang) to impress her former friend. It is directed by Kim Soo-ryung and Kwon Hyuk-chan, produced by Jo Sung-won and written by Kim Ye-ri.
11. Shining Inheritance/Brilliant Legacy (2009)
It was among the top-rated Korean dramas of the year; it maintained its number one spot in the viewership ratings chart for 20 consecutive weeks and reached a peak rating of 47.1% for its last episode
PLOT: Go Eun Sung’s life is similar to Cinderella’s. After her father died, her step-mother, Baek Sung Hee, took away all of her assets and her younger brother, Eun Woo, suddenly disappears without a trace.
Despite this, Eun Sung perseveres and works really hard to fulfil her dreams. When the CEO of a food company, Jang Sook Ja, suffers amnesia and can’t remember who she is, Eun Sung takes her in. However, Eun Sung does not know that she is the grandmother of Sun Woo Hwan, the man who she switched bags with at the airport.
12. Princess Hours/Goongm(2007)
The show was the tenth most popular drama of 2006, with a peak rating of 28.3%. It also became a hit across Asia.
PLOT: A common high-school girl tries to find her way after she is unexpectedly married off to the Crown Prince. As she struggles to adapt herself to the proper manners and royal duties of palace life and to her disagreeable husband, Lee Shin’s sentimental cousin and second-in-line to the throne, Yul, steps into her life. She feels like she can rely on Yul to help her, but finds it difficult not to worry about her haughty, cold-hearted husband.
13. Stairway to Heaven(2003)
PLOT: The relationship of childhood sweethearts Cha Song Joo and Hang Jung Suh becomes complicated when Jung Suh’s father remarries. Along with a new stepmother, Jung Suh also has a new introverted stepbrother, Han Tae Hwa and a scheming stepsister, Han Yuri. Gradually, Tae Hwa falls in love with kind-hearted Jung Suh and Yuri decides to pursue Song Joo. Nothing can shake the bond between Jung Suh and Song Joo, however, not even Song Joo’s departure to study abroad in America.
14. Boys over flowers (2009)
PLOT: Jan Di, the Heroine, is the poor but bright girl who has a strong sense of justice and full of vitality. She transfers to an exclusive high school where only the rich go. In there, she encounters with the four rich and quirky boys and experiences love and friendship.
15.Sassy Girl Chun Hyang (2005)
PLOT: The story begins when Lee Mong-ryong is transferred from Seoul to a high school in Namwon Province. Chun-hyang does her best to help Mong-ryong, her first love and the son of the Namwon Police Station chief, to enter a prestigious university.
However, after meeting with Mong-ryong’s first love, Chae-rin, Mong-ryong’s love toward Chun-hyang is shattered, although Chun-hyang’s love remains unwavering. One day, Byeon Hak-do, CEO of a famous entertainment company, appears in her life. He exudes confidence that he can make any woman fall for him. But as Chun-hyang shows no interest in him, his self-esteem is damaged profoundly. Byeon Hak-do is determined to make her love him.
16. I’m Sorry, I Love You(2004)
PLOT: Cha Moo Hyuk was adopted by an Australian family but was abused and left homeless at an early age. One day, he comes across Song Eun Chae, the coordinator for Choi Yune, a famous singer in Korea, whom she is secretly in love with. Her fateful encounter with Moo Hyuk ends up affecting not only her life but that of her precious Yune as well.
17. Save The Last Dance For Me(2004)
PLOT: Eun Soo is a pure but unsophisticated woman who runs a small resort inn with her father. Eun Soo is just an ordinary girl, but her life changes when she meets a man who’s completely lost his memory. She takes him in and cares for him, and even gives him a name: “Baek Chang Ho”. Love blossoms, and soon wedding bells can be heard.
But on the night of their wedding ceremony, Eun Soo’s father passes away. And soon after, Chang Ho disappears too! In the blink of an eye, the two people Eun Soo loves most in the world have left her. But Chang Ho had his reasons for disappearing: his real name is Kang Hyun Woo, and he’s heir to a large conglomerate. Even more, someone is plotting to kill him.
18. Big (2012)
PLOT: 18-year-old Kang Kyung-Joon’s spirit suddenly becomes transplanted in the body of 30-year-old Seo Yoon-Jae. Seo Yoon-Jae is a successful doctor and engaged to high school teacher Gil Da-Ran. Gil Da-Ran just so happens to be the teacher of 18-year old Kang Kyung-Joon.
19. Summer Scent (2003)
PLOT: Three year’s previously Min Woo lost his first love in a tragic accident. As he struggles on with life he meets Hae Won who reminds him of his lost love but is racked with emotion and confusion as his feelings for these two women become intertwined. Unbeknownst to the florist Hae Won she has received her heart transplant and a second chance at life from Min Woo’s first love. When the two cross paths Hae Won notices her unusual heart beat. Nobody knew it was her heart that remembered and beats strong for her lost love Min Woo. As Hae Won starts falling in love with Min Woo soon the conflict erupts between the lovely florist and her fiance Jung Jae.
20.Only You (2005)
PLOT: The drama takes place in Italy and is a story of how a young girl finds her way to the heart of a rich young man, who is obsessed with cleanliness.
21. Wonderful Life(2005)
PLOT: Han Seung Wan and Jung Se Jin bump into each other at the airport and accidentally take each other’s passports. They meet again and Seung Wan and Se Jin end up spending the day together. Both having to deal with love complications, they end up drunk and having a one night stand. Back in Korea, Se Jin discovers she is pregnant and leaves to have the baby alone. A year later, Se Jin’s clueless sister ends up spilling the secret to Seung-Wan at his parents birthday party, showing up with his baby daughter. Seung-wan and Se Jin are then forced to marry by their respective families. Complicated love takes place between Do Hyun, Se Jin, Chae Young and Seung-Wan.
22. kill me Heal me (2015)
PLOT: After a traumatic experience in his childhood, Cha Do Hyeon, a third-generation billionaire, suffers memory lapses and his personality then scattered into seven different identities. Wanting to regain control over his life he asks Oh Ri Jin, a first-year psychiatric resident, to try to help him secretly, but she eventually falls in love with one of his personalities. Meanwhile, Ri Jin’s twin brother, Oh Ri On, is a famous mystery novelist who investigates Do Hyeon and his family.
23. Lovers in Paris (2004)
The series was very popular during its run, Kim Jung-eun and Park Shin-yang shared Grand Prize (“Daesang”) honors at the 2004 SBS Drama Awards, and later at the 2005 Baeksang Arts Awards.
PLOT: Tae Young lives in Paris and is working on a screenplay. She meets Gi Ju while working at a friend’s stall and Soo Hyuk, when her bicycle breaks down. Soo Hyuk and Tae young become friends. Gi Ju asks her to act as his fiance for work reasons. Things go badly and everyone returns to Korea.
Back in Korea Tae Young, Gi Ju and Soo Hyuk begin to develop friendships with Tae Young and end up feeling more feelings towards her than they initially thought. However, Gi Ju is Soo Hyuk’s uncle and they had grown up like best friends since they were only about 7 years apart. Their feelings towards her slowly begin to be revealed causing heartache for all the people around them.
24. My Girl(2005)
The romantic comedy series was a hit during its run—it placed number one in its timeslot and reached a peak viewership rating of 24.9%. It was a hit during its run—it placed number one in its timeslot and reached a peak viewership rating of 24.9%
PLOT: When Gong Chan meets the lively and beautiful Yoo Rin, he finds out that she has connections to his missing cousin, whom his grandfather has been searching for. He asks Yoo Rin to lie about being his long missing cousin until he can find his real cousin. She says yes, but soon their feelings for each other get in the way of their plans. Gong Chan’s friend, Jung Woo falls for Yoo Rin while Gong Chan’s ex-girlfriend, Seo Hyun, a pro tennis player, tries to win him back.
25. Sang Doo Let’s Go To School(2003)
PLOT: Cha Sang Doo (Bi) and Chae Eun Hwan (Gong Hyo Jin) grew up as the best of friends. One day, Eun Hwan’s family goes bankrupt and debtors rushed to collect their belongings. When her father’s old record player was being taken, Sang Doo goes after the guy, accidentally killing him. After being released from prison, he finds that his family and Eun Hwan have left him. Years later, he becomes a gigolo (with his uncle) to pay off his sick daughter’s hospital bills. He eventually meets his long-lost first-love, Eun Hwan as a high school math teacher. In an effort to regain her love, he returns as a high school student in her class. As everything seems to be going smoothly, circumstances prevent them from staying together.
The Heirs (2013)
Kim Tan is the heir to Empire Group who has been sent to study abroad in the U.S., In reality, it’s a form of exile, as his elder half-brother back home schemes to take over the family business. While in the States, Kim Tan meets Cha Eun Sang, who arrived from Korea in search of her older sister. He feels himself falling for her, never realizing that she’s the daughter of his family’s housekeeper. When his fiancée Rachel Yoo arrives to bring him back to Korea, his heart is torn between love and duty.