Do you like watching Korean dramas? Well, I do! I actually prefer historical dramas, maybe because I love history. I would actually watch a lot more, except that I’m usually busy. It would also be nice to watch with my family and use it as a bonding experience. Sadly, no one wants to watch any top Korean historical drama at home… except me!
And because I want to binge-watch in my free time, I reached out to ten people* who appreciate K-dramas for suggestions. So what are the best Korean historical dramas I (and you) should watch? Read on for drama series suggestions that will have you rubbing elbows with Korean royalty, albeit via your screens.
* Responses may have been edited for brevity.
What are the top Korean Historical drama series that are a must-watch?
“I really like this because it tells the story of the titular character Ki Sung Nyang ascending to power, even with class restrictions at the time. She was able to change the system – such a strong woman!”
– Chef Amir Langbay Valdez, Bailiwick instructor / head of Cake Buddies by Buboy and Yang
The TV series Empress Ki is about the historical figure Empress Ki, in case you haven’t figured it out yet. She was from an aristocratic family of the Goryeo dynasty and was the Imperial Concubine of Toghon Temür (played by Ji Chang-Wook). The series shows how Ki Sung Nyang (played by Ha Ji Won) overcame being just a servant to being the empress of the Yuan Dynasty. As is the tendency with most movies and TV series based on history, there will always be artistic interpretation. That means Empress Ki may not be the most historically accurate series. It will, however, send you researching the true events that happened – and that’s always a good thing to me! And if you just want to watch a series about a strong, ruling woman, then this one’s for you. It’s got a love triangle too!
“I liked Kingdom first of all because it’s based on history. And second, even if it’s historical, the themes – like politicking – are still relevant even up to now.”
– Jacqueline Pascual, owner of Jacq’s Florals
Okay, so this may not be the best historical Korean drama based on a true story. But I’m pretty sure it’s a top Korean historical drama with a horror factor. After all, it has zombies! This K-drama is set in the Joseon era. Ju Ji-hoon plays Crown Prince Lee Chang, who has to deal with zombies and political enemies alike. And where do the zombies come from? From an herb called the “resurrection plant”. Sounds intriguing, right? Political machinations, horror, adventure, and fantasy – Kingdom has it all. It might be something you can rope your husband into watching with you!
Jewel in the Palace (The Top Korean Historical Drama for Me!)
“I liked that it was fast-paced with very clear storylines. You’ll get a glimpse of the palace life as different members of the court. Also, the series showcased the food culture of Korea. The best part is that Jang-geum (the main character) was depicted as a strong, intelligent, tenacious, hardworking, and independent woman. It’s uplifting and touching. I also loved the costumes and locations. It’s definitely a K-drama worth watching!”
– Karen May Reyes, make-up artist
I have to say that out of all these historical drama series on this list, this one is my favorite. Why? Well, it features a lot of food of course! This Korean historical drama is based on the life of Jang-geum. Jang-geum, played by Lee Young-ae, is an orphaned kitchen cook. Back then, women had little influence, so it was amazing that she became the King’s first female physician. She also had to learn various cooking techniques to try and cure the King’s various ailments. This isn’t a new series as it came out here in the Philippines back in 2003. This show started the wave of Korean shows being shown in the Philippines. Jewel in the Palace is also the 10th highest-rated Korean historical drama of all time, according to Wikipedia. Watch this show for another strong woman figure, plus a lot of delicious food.
Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth
“First of all, it’s a historical drama, which I found interesting. I also loved the story, and the cast was really talented! It had a lot of great lines/dialogue. I like its story arc about the inevitability of destiny and fate, and how parallel that is to the power of our individual choices.”
– Kate Trinidad, lawyer
This historical K-drama is set in the Silla period. Queen Ji So forms a group called the Hwarang to protect the kingdom and the royal family. That’s the gist of the story. It sounds like it has a lot of political intrigues again… but do you want me to be honest? I think it’s worth watching because of the cast of the boys! They’re all so handsome. And who doesn’t want some eye candy mixed with an intriguing storyline? I sure do! It’s another series you can rope your boys into watching since this has plenty of adventure and bromance.
“I loved the scenes where the main character was trapped in a woman’s body! So funny! I also loved the food presented from the Joseon Dynasty.”
– Sabrina Go, boss of business owner
If you read that, then yes, it’s true. Mr. Queen is a historical comedic slash drama. Jang Bong-hwan (Choi Jin-hyuk) is a chef in the present world. One day, he wakes up in the body of Kim So-yong, Queen Cheorin (played by Shin Hye-sun) in the Joseon era. So yes, you can imagine the panic and the hardship of a man navigating life in a woman’s body. It’s funny, as long as it never happens to us, am I right? It’s actually a very Filipino shtick, if you think about it. And of course, since it’s a Korean drama, there are also politics, intrigue, and a plot that will keep you watching.
Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
“I am really into Korean history, which is why I started watching it. I loved the concept and the flow of the story… and of course the very handsome actors!”
– Patricia Ann Triñanes, social media manager/digital marketer
This drama series tells of Go Ha-jin (played by Lee Ji-eun) who gets transported back in time during a total solar eclipse. She arrives in the Goreo Dynasty, in the body of Hae So. She befriends the princes, especially 8th Prince Wang Wook (Kang Ha-neul), and Wang So (Lee Joon-gi), the “wolf dog” 4th Prince who hides his face behind a mask. And yes, that’s the start of a love triangle. The period also happens to be very dangerous for her, as (you guessed it), there are political intrigues and machinations. A little trivia: apparently, this period drama was a failure in Korea. It did well in other countries though. That trivia alone made me want to watch!
Love in the Moonlight
“Love in the Moonlight made me go back to watching K-dramas. The pacing of the story is just right and the characters developed at the right moments. The cast portrayed their roles so well that even their facial expressions alone touched my heart. You will regret not finishing the series. I’m not familiar with Korean historical things, but watching this made me interested to learn about Korean kingdoms and dynasties.”
– Sheila Ganzan, healthcare writer
This series is based on the novel “Moonlight Drawn by Clouds.” It’s a cute romantic comedy and a coming-of-age story. It stars Park Bo-gum as Crown Prince Lee Yeong and Kim Yoo-jung as eunuch Hong Ra-on. And if that confused you, here’s an explanation coming up. You see, Hong Ra-on (or Hong sam-nom as she is also known) was raised as a boy by her mother. That’s how she ends up as the eunuch companion of the Crown Prince. It’s the opposite of Mr. Queen a bit, where the female character here tries her best to pass off as male. Got it? The two main actors are also just so adorable together. That’s more than enough reason to invest in this K-drama.
Moon Embracing the Sun
“I love the unpredictability of the events in the story! I also loved the love story element, of course. It really hits you in the heart!”
– Cece Mariano, wedding coordinator, Kiss the Girl Events
This series is also known as “The Moon that Embraces the Sun” or “The Sun and the Moon”. The series stars Kim Soo-hyun as Lee Hwon, King of Joseon, and Han Ga-in as Lady Heo Yeon-woo / Shaman Wol. Basically, Lee Hwon is the Sun, and Shaman Wol is the Moon. They met each other when the shaman was still Lady Heo Yeon-woo and actually fell in love. The Dowager Queen doesn’t like it though. She orders a shaman named Jang Nok-yeong to cast a spell on Yeon-woo so that she dies and is buried. The spell is temporary though; she is revived by Nok-yeong. However, she gets amnesia and becomes the Shaman Wol. She returns to the palace to cure the Dowager Queen’s grandson and meets Lee Hwon again. And if you’re with me so far, that’s the start of political intrigues and the fight to make things right.
The King: Eternal Monarch
“I really enjoyed the plot twists! They kept me on the edge of my seat. I was excited to see it weekly. It has science and time travel, and I enjoyed the way some characters didn’t turn out to be the people I thought they were. And of course, Lee Min Ho. Hehe!”
– Kia Santiago, copywriter
This series is set in two parallel worlds. Emperor Lee Gon (played by Lee Min-ho) is the ruler of the Kingdom of Corea. When Lee was a child, his half-uncle Lee Lim staged a coup, killing Emperor Lee’s father. His uncle also wanted the mystical flute called the Manpasikjeok, which gives the power to cross to other worlds and time travel. The child was saved thanks to a mysterious figure who shot at the coup plotters. The flute is also halved. The figure then drops an ID card and disappears. Years later, Emperor Lee discovers an alternate reality where the Republic of Korea exists. And in that reality, he discovers the figure who saved him.
Wow, that was a long type. This sounds like a very exciting K-drama! And based on the picture, the visuals are amazing! At the very least, like Kia said, the presence of Lee Min Ho throughout the series will be a comfort. If he’s your type at least.
The Princess Hours
“It’s a take on an alternative Korean universe, which I found very creative. It’s about an arranged marriage between the crown prince and a commoner. I also really love the hanboks in the series!”
– Sarah Lopez Alano, dentist
Princess Hours might have been the highest rating Korean historical drama of all time – at least in 2006. But that’s just conjecture on my part. It was definitely a hit in Asia though. The story is set in alternate Korea, where royal families still exist. The focus is on Crown Prince Lee Shin. Because Shin’s father is badly sick, Shin is required to find a consort so he can become the new emperor. He finds out that he was betrothed to commoner Chae-kyeong by his grandfather. He also finds out that his new wife is headstrong and knows nothing about living the royal life. They eventually fall in love with each other through the course of the series. It’s a typical rich and poor romance story, but I’m still genuinely curious how the story ties everything together. And I’m curious how they imagined modern Korean monarchy.
This list of top Korean historical drama is only a starting point.
I’m sure there are a lot more historical Korean drama series that are not on this list. And I’m also sure that if I type in Google “top 10 Korean historical drama 2020”, I’ll get different results from when I type in “top historical Korean drama 2017”. But like I said, I have limited time. So maybe if I do manage to finish watching the top 10 Korean historical drama series listed here, that’s the time I’ll go look for more to watch. As long as they tell the story of Korea in the historical days, I’m up for it! Feel free to send me any suggestions you may have too!
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