Cover Here are the newest Korean dramas to watch in 2021 (Photo: iQiyi)

From Squid Game to Snowdrop and No We Are Breaking, here are the top Korean dramas in 2021 that you should be putting on your watch list

All aborad the K-drama mania after watching hits such as Crash Landing On You, Itaewon Class and It’s Okay to Not be Okay. You'll be pleased to know that a number of notable Korean dramas are set to be released this year––with Netflix even expanding its operations in Asia and leasing 16,000 square metres of studio space in South Korea. Besides all the new films coming to Netflix and new Netflix releases for this month, keep these Korean dramas on your radar to cure your lovesick hearts, give you the thrills or just provide an escape from reality.

A lot of South Korea’s most famous names, from Gong Yoo, Song Joong-ki to Jun Ji-hyun are making their small screen comebacks, with 2021 already looking to be another strong year for Korean dramas. From swoon-worthy romances, edge-of-your-seat thrillers to exciting science fictions, here are the most popular Korean dramas that we can’t wait to see this year.

Note: The list is arranged chronologically, starting from the earliest release date.

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Sisyphus: The Myth

After a two-year hiatus from the small screen, Park Shin-hye is making her return in Sisyphus: The Myth, opposite Jo Seung-woo. It follows Han Tae-sul (Jo), a genius engineer armed with a high level of coding skills and outstanding looks. He's also the co-founder of Quantum and Time, building the company from the ground up to become a world-class company. But little does the world know, the company's stocks are constantly fluctuating after the death of Han's brother, causing him to set off to a dangerous path.

Meanwhile, Park plays Kang Seo-hae, a soldier with commendable skills—from zipling from building to building, shooting to fighting people twice her size—and sets off in search of Han. Following Park's commendable performance in #Alive, many are excited to see her back in action.

Release date: February 17

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Beyond Evil

Beyond Evil is a thriller-psychological drama about two fearless men who are willing to go to extreme lengths in their pursuit of a serial killer that has shaken up their city. It won Best Drama at the 57th Baeksang Arts Awards with Shin Ha-kyun bringing home the Best Actor award.

Lee Dong-shik (Shin), a former detective who has been demoted to mundane tasks at a local police station was just about to settle into a peaceful life he gets called back after a string of gruesome killings occur. Lee and detective Han Joo-woo (Yeo Jin-goo) team up to stop the vicious culprit in his tracks.

Release date: February 19

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Vincenzo

Another household name making a comeback is Song Joong-ki in Vincenzo, playing the role of Vincenzo Cassano, who at the age of eight is adopted and sent off to Italy. As an adult, he becomes a consigliere. But as friction among the mafia starts to run rifle and he flees to South Korea, only to cross paths with a lawyer, Hong Cha-young (Jeon Yeo-bin). The two end up helping each other bring down an evil corporation and protect the tenants living in Geumga Plaza.

Other members of the cast include 2PM’s Ok Taecyeon and Yang Kyung-won, who you would recognise from Crash Landing On You. Vincenzo will also be airing on Netflix.

Release date: February 20

In case you missed it: Exclusive: ‘Vincenzo’ Star Song Joong-Ki Talks to Tatler About the Netflix Hit

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Mouse

While most know Korean dramas for their swoon-worthy romance, Korean crime thrillers are also worth all the hype. Entering the scene is Mouse, a suspenseful story that addresses the question, “What if we could identify psychopaths in advance”?

The series stars Lee Seung-gi and Lee Hee-joon as the nation is gripped with fear when a crazed serial killer’s ruthless murders have gone amok. The two justice-seeking police offers are on the hunt for the killer before he could wreak more havoc.

Release date: March 3

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Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver is adapted from the original webtoon of the same name about a mysterious taxi service that enacts justice on behalf of victims. Kim Do-gi (Lee Je-hoon) is one of the drivers for the company whose mother was murdered. Kang Ha-na (Esom) is a lawyer while Ahn Go-eun (Pyo Ye-jin) is an IT specialist but many consider her a hacker, and all three crossed paths along the way.

A combination of action, crime and drama—you can expect a lot of thrills from Taxi Driver.

Release date: April 2

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Youth of May

If you’ve seen the Netflix original series, Sweet Home, two of the leads of this Korean drama might look familiar to you. After starring as siblings in Sweet Home, both Lee Do-hyun and Go Min-si will try their chemistry as lovers in Youth of May. The youth drama will follow Lee and Go as they become swept up in a historically significant time period in South Korea during May 1980.

Transitioning as a lead actor, Lee plays Hwang Hee Tae, who despite being a troublemaker is actually a bit of a genius, earning top grades to enter Seoul National University College of Medicine. Marking Go’s first lead role, Kim Myung-hee is a nurse living in Gwangju and despite her beautiful appearance, holds a cold exterior. The two seemingly living different lives, end up meeting and experiencing the hardest May of their lives.

Release date: May 3

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Doom at Your Service

This fantasy drama finally saw the team-up of Seo In-guk and Park Bo-young, who have made cameos in each other’s dramas over the years. It follows Tak Dong-kyung (Park), an editor for a web novel company who suddenly finds out that she has a terminal illness and only has a few months left to live.

Wishing for doom to fall upon the world, Mr Doom himself, Myul Mang (Seo) suddenly appears and makes a 100-day contract with her to fulfil her wish. As the two battle it out between wishing for the world to end to saving their loved ones, they too end up falling in love.

Release date: May 10

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Move To Heaven

Adding on to Netflix’s original Korean lineup is Move to Heaven which stars Lee Je-hoon and Tang Joon-sang. This heartwarming story follows Geu-ru, a young man with Asperger’s syndrome and Sang-gu, who suddenly finds himself as Geu-ru’s guardian. The two team up to work as “trauma cleaners”, a group of people clearing out the last possessions of the deceased and uncovering stories that are left behind. They are also tasked with delivering the stories of the deceased to the people they've left behind, offering closure, farewell and comfort.

This inspiring tale is based on a non-fiction essay, Things Left Behind by Kim Sae-byul which chronicles the first trauma cleaners in South Korea. The series will be helmed by director Kim Sung-ho who is making his drama directorial debut and writer, Yoon Ji-ryun who worked on 2004’s Boys Over Flowers. Ji Jin-hee and Lee Jae-wook are set to make special appearances.

Release date: May 14

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My Roommate is a Gumiho

Supernatural romance? K-dramas have that too. My Roommate is a Gumiho is based on a webcomic that follows the handsome and enchanting man, Shin Woo-yeo (Jang Ki-yong). Secretly, he’s actually a 999-year-old nine-tailed fox. In order to become fully human, he collects human energy in a bead.

University student, Lee Dam (Hyeri) crosses paths with Shin. During an unexpected encounter, Shin’s bead falls out and Lee ends up swallowing it, tying their fate together. The bead can only exist inside of a human for no more than a year. Afterwards, it will break and Lee will die while Shim will lose his chance to become human. Shin suggests that they live together to find a solution to their problem.

Sounds like the classic co-inhabitation romance story, right? With a nine-tailed-fox twist. 

Release: May 26

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Hospital Playlist 2

Smash medical K-drama, Hospital Playlist is coming back for a second season. Shin Won-ho is set to return to the director’s chair. We can expect the second season to answer some of the hanging questions from the first season including whether Lee Ik-jun (Jo Jung-suk) and Chae Song-hwa (Jeon Mi-do) will finally become a couple.

Release: June 17

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Nevertheless

Song Kang, the unofficial “son of Netflix” as most K-drama fans call him, is adding Nevertheless to his lineup this year. Song Kang will be playing university art major, Park Jae-eon who seems nice on the outside but is actually indifferent and has a nonchalant attitude towards relationships.

But it's always these “I’m not interested in romance” characters that end up finding love and Park ends up falling for Yoo Na-bi (Han So-hee), a schoolmate who wants to date but doesn’t believe in love. The two started off with a friends-with-benefits relationship but their approach towards love begins to change.

Release: June 19

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The Devil Judge

The Devil Judge sees the reunion of Ji Sung and Kim Min-jung—where he plays a judge while she plays an executive director of a charitable foundation. As a lawyer, Kang punishes corrupt and greedy men with power but he has a secret.

Meanwhile, Kim is involved with high-profile people and has the power to control the country by using her connections. She’s Kang’s enemy. Joining the drama is Kim Ga-in (Got7’s Jin Young) as a rookie judge and Yoon Soo-hyun (Park Gyu-young) as a detective who's after Kang's secret.

Release date: July 3

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You Are My Spring

You Are My Spring is about a group of people who, as adults, still have a childish state of mind. Kang Da-jeong (Seo Hyun-jin) works as a hotel concierge manager and moves to Gugu Building. Her neighbour Ju Young-do (Kim Dong-wook) is a psychiatrist, the two of them witness a murder case.

Healing, mystery, crime and romance—what more can you ask for?

Release date: July 5

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Kingdom: Ashin of the North

Zombie fans rejoice! A spin-off episode of historical zombie hit, Kingdom is coming out this year. While this is not a series per se, it’s still one of the new ones that have been highly anticipated this year. This sidequel, Kingdom: Ashin of the North stars Jun Ji-hyun as Ashin, an heiress to a northern Jurchen town who knows the secret behind the resurrection plant.

Jun’s cameo at the end of Kingdom 2 garnered a lot of buzz and she's here to tell you the story you’ve been waiting for.

Release date: July 23

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Police University

Police University offers a slice-of-life look at the lives of aspiring police officers—perhaps one of the first dramas to be set inside a police university. It boasts a star-studded cast led by veteran comedy actor and host, Cha Tae-hyun, B14A’s Jinyoung and f(x)’s Krystal.

The series follows Yoo Dong-man (Cha), a former detective that works in violent crimes and cybercrime. He starts working as a professor at a police university where he meets Kang Sun-ho (Jinyoung), a hacker and Oh Kang-hee, a judoka. It will also tell the story of the two aspiring police officers, the growing pains of youth and the clash between the new and old.

Release: August 9

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D.P.

While waiting for Jung Hae-in drama with Blackpink’s Jisoo, be sure to tune in to D.P. first. This action-comedy-drama follows the D.P. unit or the Deserter Pursuit unit, a team within the military who track down fellow soldiers who have deserted their posts and gone AWOL.

The series is based on the popular webtoon, D.P. Dog Days which had more than 10 million views. Follow Ahn Jun-ho (Jung Hae-in), who just enlisted in the military but has been assigned to the D.P. unit. He’ll be working with Han Ho-yeol (Koo Kyo-hwan) to find the rogue soldiers. As they continue their search, they discover the individual stories of the soldiers they’re pursuing and why they chose to become deserters.

Release: August 27

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Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha

If you still have’t recovered from the second lead syndrome in Start-Up, then Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha will make up for it. This rom-com series stars Kim Seon-ho as the lead and Shin Min-a, who is making her return to the rom-com genre.

The story takes place in a beautiful seaside village of Gongjin and follows two different people from two different walks of life. Sophisticated Seoulite, Hye-jin (Shin) arrives at the village and sets up her own dental clinic. There, she means unemployed jack-of-all-trades, Du-sik (Kim) and the two form a back-and-forth, up-and-down yet heartwarming romance.

Besides the charming leads, you will also be introduced to a lot of different characters with their own backstories. Prepare to take in the breathtaking scenery of Gongjin and embrace this healing drama.

Release: August 28

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Red Sky

If like me, you were bummed to find out that the original pairing of Kim Yoo-jung and Ahn Hyo-seop in Clean With Passion For Now didn’t happen due to Ahn’s scheduling conflict, then you’ll be pleased to know that the pairing has been given a second chance in Red Sky.

This historical drama is set during the Joseon era where Hong Cheon-ki (Kim), a painter, is picked as the first female painter of the Dohwaseo (Korean Royal Academy of Painting). Painting is everything to her until she meets Ha Ram (Ahn), a blind officer in charge of astronomy, geography, divination and meteorology.

Release date: August 30

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Human Disqualification

This year is proving to be the year of comebacks with Ryu Jun-yeol and Jeon Do-Yeon returning to the small screen in Human Disqualification or Lost. The story will revolve around a 40-year-old woman (Jeon) and a 27-year-old man (Ryu). The woman works as a ghostwriter who hasn’t achieved anything in life while the young man is afraid of becoming a nobody.

Release: September 4

In case you missed it: Korean Entertainment News: ‘Human Disqualification/Lost’ Drops Poster and Teaser

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Squid Game

Ready for some gore and exciting action? Look no further than Squid Game, another offering from Netflix. This Korean survival series follows 456 desperate contestants who are competing in a mysterious deadly game that involves multiple rounds of childhood games. All these for the hopes of winning the 45.6 billion won prize money. But the consequence of losing is death. Who will emerge as the winner and more importantly, what’s the purpose of the game?

Considered the K-drama dark horse, Squid Game has captivated audiences from all over the world—making it Netflix’s most-watched show ever and turning its cast members into overnight superstars.

Release: September 17

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The King’s Affection

A refreshing historical drama will delight us this year. The King’s Affection is a gender-bender K-drama that follows an abandoned female twin (Park Eun-bin) who has to disguise herself as her crown prince brother, Yu Hwi who passed away. As a pretend king, she’s tutored by Jung Ji-un (Rowoon) and the two become faithfully intertwined with one another. But Yi Hwi has to keep her disguise to keep the kingdom from falling apart.

Release: October 11

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My Name

Korean cinema is known for its great noir movies. Just think of Oldboy, New World and A Bittersweet Life as some notable examples that have shaped pop culture. Netflix is bringing us a refreshing noir series in My Name, notably for having a female lead—a rarity in the noir genre known for being a man’s world. Nevertheless star, Han So-hee transforms herself into an action star as Song Ji-woo, who’s out for revenge after witnessing the death of her father. In order to find his killer, she abandons her future and joins a drug cartel led by her father’s friend, Mu-jin (Park Hee-soon) and becomes a mole in the police force.

While on her revenge-driven manhunt, she learns the harsh truth of her father’s death that alters everything she believed in. Han So-hee—who trained for three months in action school—in My Name is like we’ve never seen her before.

Release: October 15

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Jirisan

Jun Ji-hyun will be making her small-screen comeback with Mount Jiri which is centred around a group of rangers and other employees of Jirisan National Park whose primary mission is to rescue lost trekkers. But there’s more secret around the unexplored regions of Mount Jiri, left for the rangers to find out.

Jun plays Seo Yi-kang, the park’s top ranger who’s also very knowledgeable in navigating the national park. Joining her is Kang Hyun-jo (Ju Ji-hoon), a rookie national park ranger. As a military academy graduate and former lieutenant, he's had his fair share of horrific experiences on Mount Jiri, leading him to become a ranger.

Release date: October 23

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Happiness

Speaking of comebacks, two other actors are making her return to the small screen in Happiness. Actress Han Hyo-joo who made her English debut in the drama series, Threadstone is making her return to Korean dramas after a five-year hiatus. The drama also marks Park Hyung-sik’s first acting role after finishing his mandatory military service. Directors Ahn Gil-ho and Han Sang-woon are also working together again after their 2019 drama, Watcher.

Happiness is set in the near future and centres around a newly constructed high-rise apartment building that has residents from diverse backgrounds. Suddenly, a new infectious disease breaks out and the building is sealed off.

Release: November 5

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Now We Are Breaking Up

Song Hye-kyo is also making her long-awaited comeback to the small screen with Now We Are Breaking Up opposite Jang Ki-yong. The drama will tell the story of love and break-ups. Song will be playing Ha Young-eun, the leader of a design team for a fashion company.

She’s cold-hearted because she’s realistic but smart, beautiful and good at what she does. Meanwhile, Yoon Jae-wook (Jang) is a freelance fashion photographer. He seems to have everything: intelligence, wealth and a charming personality.

Release: November 12

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Hellbound

Hellbound from Train to Busan director, Yeon Sang-ho first wowed audiences when it became the first Korean series to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. This upcoming thriller series is about otherworldly beings who appear out of nowhere to issue a decree and condemn individuals to hell. Causing fear to people, the religious group, The New Truth starts to grow in influence. However, a few people start to become suspicious about its activities and investigate its involvement in the supernatural occurrence.

The upcoming series boasts a star-studded cast led by Asian Film Awards Best Actor, Yoo Ah-in as the cult leader. Joining him are Park Jeong-min as a broadcasting station producer, Kim Hyun-joo as attorney Min Hye-jin, Won Jin-ah as Song So-hyun, the wife of Park’s character and Yang Ik-june as detective Jin Kyeong-hoon.

Release: November 19

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One Ordinary Day

South Korea’s highest-paid actor, Kim Soo-hyun is starring in Korean drama, One Ordinary Day, which was previously known as That Night. It made headlines following rumours of Kim’s hefty salary per episode.

Kim will be playing university student, Kim Hyun-soo who is accused of murder. Coming to his rescue is third-rate lawyer, Shin Joong-han, who barely passed the bar exam. Despite that, he’s determined to help Kim prove his innocence. The upcoming drama is a remake of the British TV show, Criminal Justice.

Release: November 27

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Snowdrop

Blackpink’s Jisoo will be making her television debut with Snowdrop and fans cannot wait but be excited. Joining her are Jung Hae-in, Kim Hye-yoon, Jung Yoo-jin, Yoon Se-ah and Jang Seung-jo. The highly-anticipated drama will be set in Seoul in 1987 and follows the love story of Im Soo-ho (Jung), a student at a prestigious university.

Meanwhile, Eun Young-cho (Kim Ji-soo) falls in love with him at first sight during a social gathering and runs into him at her dorm. Will sparks fly behind the two?

Release date: December 2021

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The Silent Sea

2021 seems to be the year of comebacks for many of South Korea’s household names. Gong Yoo and Bae Doona will also be making their returns to drama in The Silent Sea, a science-fiction tale set in the future when the planet is suffering from a lack of water and food. Actor Jung Woo-sung is serving as executive producer.

Considering that there hasn’t been a lot of science-fiction Korean dramas, this one is highly anticipated in addition to Gong and Bae’s comeback who will be playing soldiers sent on a mission to retrieve a mysterious sample from an abandoned research station that could potentially save the planet. Lee Joon is also part of the cast and marks the follow-up to his 2017 drama, My Father is Strange as well as his comeback after completing his military service.

Release date: December 2021

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Glitch

Rising star Jeon Yeo-bin from Vincenzo and Night in Paradise is headlining another drama this year. This time, it’s with the creators of Netflix series, Extracurricular. In Glitch, the rookie actress will be playing Hong Ji-hyo who’s tracking down her missing boyfriend with the help of members of a UFO club. She is also expected to portray her multidimensional character in a unique and imaginative way.

Release: TBC

Don’t miss: 10 Things To Know About ‘Vincenzo’ Actress, Jeon Yeo-Bin


This article was originally published on February 5, 2021 and was updated on October 19, 2021.