This article was first published on 25 February 2022.
Historical K-dramas or saeguks are great alternatives to your usual rom-coms. This is because aside from a compelling love story at their centre, they take the plot to another level with political tension and more high-stake conflicts. Ready to go on a historical K-drama binge? Here are 12 titles you can stream on Netflix right now.
1. Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung
Shin Se-Kyung stars in this 2019 drama as the titular character. She is a strong-willed woman in the Joseon Dynasty who signs up as a female historian for the Inner Court. She accidentally gets acquainted with Prince Dowon (ASTRO’s Cha Eun-Woo), the king’s second son who has been forcibly isolated his entire life for unknown reasons. Prince Dowon is secretly a romance novelist that’s famous all over Hanyang (now Seoul) whom Hae-Ryung isn’t a fan of.
Why you should watch it: The amusing friendship-turned-romance between the two main characters isn’t the only charm of this drama. It also addresses misogyny and gender stereotypes effectively through Hae-Ryung and the other female characters in the story. It has a great take on the importance of equal education for any gender and any social class too.
2. Moon Embracing The Sun
This drama starts with the young romance between Crown Prince Lee Hwon (Yeo Jin-Goo) and noblewoman-turned-Crown Princess Heo Yeon-Woo (Kim Yoo-Jung). It’s quite rare for those royally betrothed to be in love, making their relationship quite special. Yeon-Woo comes from an honourable family who corrupt government ministers find as a threat. Because of this, the ministers arranged for Yeon-Woo to be murdered by a shaman’s curse. However, the shaman who performed the curse chose to save Yeon-Woo’s life. The shaman realised Yeon-Woo lost her memory due to her spell so she decided to raise Yeon-Woo far away from the palace as Wol, her apprentice.
Years later, Lee Hwon (Kim Soo-Hyun), now king, was forcibly married to Yoon Bo-Kyung (Kim Min-Seo), daughter of Yoon Dae-Hyung (Kim Eung-Soo). Yoon Dae-Hyung was one of the ministers who arranged for the former Crown Princess’ death. One day, the now grown-up Wol (Han Ga-In) was sent to the king’s palace as a shaman. Lee Hwon’s feelings are stirred when he realises how much Wol resembles his first love.
Why you should watch it: Despite airing over a decade ago, Moon Embracing The Sun still remains to be one of the best historical K-dramas in our book. It has a lot of twists and turns that make each episode compelling. Its ‘love conquers all’ main arc has a satisfying pay-off too.
3. Tale Of Nokdu
Jeon Nok-du (Jang Dong-Yoon) has been on the run with his family his entire life. One day, his family gets attacked. In the hopes of finding out who is after them after all these years, he tails one of their attackers. He sees one of them entering a village exclusive for widowed women. He disguises himself as a woman to find out the truth. There he meets Dong Dong-Ju (Kim So-Hyun), a gisaeng (courtesan) trainee who dreams of a better path for herself. Dong-Ju discovers Nok-du’s secret which starts their unlikely friendship.
Why you should watch it: An empowering female lead who fights for what she wants? Check. A quirky yet positively complex male lead who looks pretty dressed in both men’s clothes and in a woman’s hanbok (traditional Korean clothes)? Check. This drama not only has an interesting lead duo but also an intriguing plot that will have you glued to the screen from start to finish.
4. Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth
The drama responsible for the powerhouse friendship of the Wooga Squad, Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth stars Park Seo-Jun and Park Hyung Sik, with notable performances from Choi Woo-Shik and BTS Taehyung a.k.a. V. They’re also joined by Go Ara, Seo Ye-Ji, Do Ji-Han, and more. It revolves around the story of elite male youth warriors during the Silla dynasty.
Why you should watch it: If the ensemble cast isn’t enough to pique your interest, this drama’s coming-of-age theme will surely hook you in. It has arcs about pursuing your passion, falling in love, and going after your dreams set in a gorgeous historical backdrop that will leave you entertained from start to finish.
5. Love In The Moonlight/Moonlight Drawn By The Clouds
Love In The Moonlight follows the story of Hong Sam-Nom (Kim Yoo-Jung), a woman who was strictly instructed by her mother to live as a man ever since she was young. Her wit and cunningness landed her a job as a eunuch trainee in the Inner Court where she befriends a mischievous young man (Park Bo-Gum) whose true identity is Crown Prince Lee Hyeomyeong. Their friendship turns to romance. However, Sam-Nom’s past starts catching up to her and she realises that her relationship with the Crown Prince is a lot more complicated than it seems.
Why you should watch it: Park Bo-Gum and Kim Yoo-Jung’s chemistry is just one of the many upsides of this drama. The intriguing twists, the way each character’s secrets are unraveled, and the way the story developed from comedic to dramatic seamlessly in its 16-episode run is pure brilliance. We won’t blame you if you rewatch this drama more than once.
6. The Crowned Clown
Yeo Jin-Goo stars as both King Lee Hun and crowd jester Ha Sun in this drama. King Lee Hun’s poor leadership caused many uprisings in Joseon. In an attempt to avoid assassination, his advisers found a lookalike in Ha Sun, who grew up performing as a clown for the masses to earn a living. Taking over Lee Hun’s role temporarily, Ha Sun turns out to be a better fit for the throne with his compassion for the people. However, the threat of anyone finding out his secret is looming over his head. He also starts falling for Lee Hun’s wife, Queen Yoo So-Woon (Lee Se-Young).
Why you should watch it: Despite his age, Yeo Jin-Goo is a veteran when it comes to historical K-dramas. He shows off his acting prowess once again in this double role. Apart from his performance, the suspenseful plot mixed with heartwarming moments make this an incredible watch.
7. Queen For Seven Days
Loosely based on the true story of Lady Shin and Prince Jinsung in the 1500s, this drama stars Park Min Young as Lady Shin Chae-Kyung (later the titular Queen Dangyeong) and Yeon Woo-Jin as Crown Prince Lee Yeok (later King Joongjong). The couple married prior to the Crown Prince’s coronation as king. However, seven days after they took the throne, Queen Dangyeong was removed from her position and was expelled from the palace.
Why you should watch it: It would be cheating to let you in on the details given the very intriguing title of the drama. However, we guarantee that this won’t disappoint, especially when it comes to political themes and twists and turns presented in each episode.
8. My Sassy Girl
If you loved 2001’s My Sassy Girl film starring Jun Ji-Hyun and Chae Tae-Hyun, then here’s a retelling of that story with a Joseon twist. It tells the story of strict scholar Gyeon Woo (Joo Won) nicknamed ‘Joseon’s national treasure’ and the titular sassy girl, Crown Princess Hye-Myung (Oh Yeon-Seo). The two meet in one of Hye-Myung’s sneaky attempts to slip out of the palace to search for her mother, the dethroned queen.
Why you should watch it: It’s just as fun as the classic K-film but with the added thrill of riveting political twists. Joo Won and Oh Yeon-Seo’s impeccable onscreen chemistry also adds to the charm of the drama.
9. Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency
Lee Soo (Seo Ji-Hoon) is a blacksmith who is in love with Gae-Ddong (Gong Seung-Yeon). Gae-Ddong is a bright young woman who is focused on looking for her long lost brother. Lee Soo wants to marry Gae-Ddong so he hires the Flower Crew Matchmaking Agency consisting of Ma Hoon (Kim Min-Jae), Do Joon (Byeong Woo-Seok), and Ko Young-So (Park Ji-Hoon). On his wedding day, Lee Soo suddenly disappears, giving the crew more than what they’re hired to do.
Why you should watch it: It’s entertaining from start to finish, with each character having their own charm. We won’t spoil the details but its overarching theme of the value of our choices is delivered effectively throughout the series.
10. The King’s Affection
One day, the true Lee Hwi was assassinated. Dam-Yi was asked to take Lee Hwi’s place. To hide the truth about the prince and her true identity, Dam-Yi was raised to be a man. At present, she’s Joseon’s king. Jung Ji-Un (Ro Woon), a charming scholar, was assigned to be one of her advisers and teachers. Jung Ji-Un is Dam-Yi’s first love and the son of the person who assassinated her brother.
Why you should watch it: Despite its more serious tone compared to other historical K-dramas, this saeguk still has a good mix of heartwarming and lighthearted moments that balance the entire storyline. Park Eun-Bin definitely delivered a stellar performance as both Lee Hwi and Dam-Yi, adding on to the reasons why this is a true must-watch.
11. Under The Queen's Umbrella
Because of her delicate position in the royal court, Queen Hwaryeong (Kim Hye-Soo) has to always be graceful and dignified at all times. However, her five sons — Joseon's princes — are all mischievous, doing things that question the honour of the royal family. One day, Queen Hwaryeong decides to break all protocols and does whatever it takes to discipline and educate her sons to turn them into worthy royals.
Why you should watch it: This empowering drama about womanhood, this series embodies the highs and lows of being a woman in power and having to juggle various roles in life. It's heartwarming, funny, and relatable. Kim Hye-Soo's captivating performance also brings this drama to a homerun.
Watch Under The Queen's Umbrella here.
12. 100 Days My Prince
Lee Yool (Do Kyung-Soo) is the Crown Prince. Because of his traumatic past, he grew up to be cold and arrogant. One day, due to a fatal accident outside the palace, he loses his memory. He gets adopted into a lowly village where he takes on a new identity as Na Won-Deuk.
Why you should watch it: This historical drama has everything: romance, politics, comedy, melodrama — you name it. Despite covering many genres, it's able to tell a cohesive, emotionally gripping story about a person trying to find his true purpose in the world and discovering that personal connections are not as bad as he makes them out to be.
Watch 100 Days My Prince here.
(Cover photo from: Netflix)
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