Let’s face it, Kdramas are cliched… very cliched. We love them because they cater to our unreal ideas of deep, lasting romance and idealistic relationships. Kdramas portray idealistic relationships, whether it is friendship, sisterhood, romance, family relationships or relationships between office colleagues. Even negative characters are relatable and follow a code that’s defined by their character.
Yet, real life is hardly as smooth. Neither are we super-rich nor do we follow love with so much passion. Neither do we have extraordinary mental strength nor do we have the capacity to laugh and cry freely, feel freely. And that’s precisely why we love our Kdramas do much. For the duration of each drama, you get immersed into an unreal alternate reality that you wish would never end.
It is no hidden fact that I am always on the hunt for interesting stories. And I am also always on the lookout for KDramas that show the not-so-rosy realities of life. Dramas with grey characters, dramas where characters are not perfectly dressed, dramas where emotions are not always romantic and dramas that make you feel with scenes rather than dialogues!
Yup, that’s me. So here are some of my non-cliched Kdrama picks from South Korea. These are realistic Kdramas, slice-of-life Kdramas with no ‘over-the-top rich dude’ to the rescue. I urge you to watch these realistic dramas, they are quite possibly the only masterpieces of their kind.
1. My Mister, Na-ui Ajeossi
Let me be very clear, if you are looking for a light-hearted Korean drama, this life drama not for you. This is a dark complex drama of damaged people healing each other. The drama has a beautiful storyline that highlights unlikely dependencies and relationships, both familial as well as with people who are essentially strangers.
P.S The very first episode of the drama takes a good 30 minutes to get the character introductions out of the way and start with the real story. Bear with it, when the story really gets going, you’ll find it hard to stop.
This also drama also touches upon life’s hardships, life on the streets, violence, corporate politics, adultery, unemployment and more. But the thing that hits me the hardest, the thing that made me watch the drama several times in so far, are four main relationships.
The drama features the strange and unexpected K-drama couple pairing of a much younger IU and a much older Lee Sun-Kun, a pairing that raised may eyebrows in South Korea, a fairly conservative society just like North Korea.
The relationship between the extremely talented young female lead (IU) and the middle-aged white-collar employee (Lee Sun-Kun). The relationship is a delicate one, well within the boundaries of Korea social structure and unspoken taboos. For example, there is no real ‘flowers, rings and dates’ romance between a young woman and the older man (a taboo), though there is a lot of subtle feeling, emotions, care and love… the real, not-fairytale kind. Both have each other’s backs, without words, without expectations, without any explicit, vocal contract.
The relationship between the female lead IU and her nemesis (Jang ki-Yong), an abusive loan shark who take every opportunity to hurt and torture the female lead under the pretext of revenge for her having killed his father. There is a palpable feeling of hate but admiration, love but with the need to inflict pain! Enough said, for this relationship too, has several layers and undertones; and revealing more here would be such a shame. One dialogue hits you really hard though – ” He is tormented by the fact that he liked me once, and I am tormented by the fact that he was once nice to me.” Now go watch it, really!
The relationship between the old male lead with his two equally old brothers, who back up as drinking buddies, punching bags and support systems. Three characters past their prime who feel as if each one of them has failed in ‘life’. It is fascinating. It is equally fascinating to see these three characters and their deep dynamics with each other, so much so that you wish you were a part of three siblings, and of course, that you were male!
The relationship between the male lead and his cheating spouse. This is the one that really puts things into perspective with regards to the background dynamics of a cheating spouse. The feelings on both sides, the emotions, the strain on the relationship and the cluelessness of what should be done in the future are all packaged quite nicely here. It is all very beautifully done.
Watch it, this ‘struggles in life’ drama really is a masterpiece, an underrated masterpiece with drab clothes and real city locations that keep it honest and real. You can read more on this drama in my My Mister KDrama review.
2. Something in the Rain, Pretty Noona Who Buys My Food
Though this is a kind of ‘love conquers all, against all trials, tribulations and odds’ Korean drama, it keeps things real and honest. This is refreshing if you watch a lot of Kdramas where the leads are rich, where the leads are into ‘let’s do something beautiful together every day’ kind of romance and where the clothes, backgrounds, storylines and just about everything else scream, “this happens only in dramas!
This drama takes you through the lives of a real couple, where this is real love, real clash of personalities, real flights, real emotional and physical support, and a real dose of office politics, including overt and covert sexual harassment. Though the drama features the love between a much older woman and a much younger man (which is a taboo in Korea, as mentioned before), this is an emotional rollercoaster of persistence, perseverance and ‘taking firm stands’.
The biggest bonus in this drama is that the female lead plays a very relatable character even in professional life, where gender inequality is alive and well, and women do try to compensate by bending over backwards.
3. Itaewon Class
Itaewon Class is a recent one, a Feb 2020 drama actually and I watched it when it was a current drama, long before it featured on the Highest-Rated Korean Dramas list. It does contain romance but it is the slow burn kind, the kind that slowly grows on you without you even realising it, the kind that is always present in the background no matter the situation. But Itaewon Class is mainly about a few misfits uniting for their dreams, standing together against a villainous opponent who would go to any lengths to get them to bend to his will.
There is a lot more that can be said about this drama and its character development but it suffices to just say that this drama offers a lot of life lessons. Each episodes leaves you with something that you can take away and apply to your own lives and circumstances. It is one of my favorite Kdramas, catch it on Netflix. I hope to write my Korean drama review on this one soon.
It’s Okay That’s Love, Misaeng, Fight for My Way, One Spring Night, Another Miss Oh, Because This Is My First Life and Emergency Couple are a few other Korean drama series that fall in this category of awesome dramas that show real, everyday life and its struggles.
Emergency Couple deserves a special mention since most categorize it to be a medical drama rather than a realistic comfort drama. But trust me, it isn’t as much about hospital politics and medical procedures as it is about a real couple who have divorced and now intend to see no more of each other ever, until their find themselves working together for the same hospital. It is a beautiful romance drama where feelings are very delicately handled, especially when the feelings have been separated on paper. A romantic drama that shows real love, where an official divorce decree can hardly take into account leftover love, especially the feeling between a married couple, no matter how bitter and vindictive they have now become.
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