Nothing beats those K-dramas that have that old-school vibe to them. From flip phones to the most questionable hairstyles, Y2K dramas have a different place in our hearts. Like me, if you’re a fan of them, you’ve watched the all-time classic Playful Kiss, starring Kim Hyun-joong and Jung So-min in the lead roles. If you haven’t yet, I recommend you check it out on Viki.
Playful Kiss is your typical high school K-drama, based on the Japanese manga Itazura Na Kiss written by Tada Kaoru. Aired in 2010, the story revolves around Baek Seung-jo, the most handsome, clever, and stoic boy in school- your typical tsundere who makes all the girls starry-eyed. So it’s no surprise that Seung-jo is the campus crush of sorts, especially Oh Ha-ni’s.
Oh, Ha-ni is a student in the same school, kind of a clutz and not so bright either, but that doesn’t come in the way of her adorable personality. After three years of having this insufferable crush, Ha-ni decides to take a leap of faith and confess to Seung-jo. However, this does not go as planned- at all.
Seung-jo rejects Ha-ni and embarrasses her unnecessarily in front of everyone at school. After he calls her dull and says he hates stupid girls, Ha-ni vows never to have anything to do with him again. As we all know, though, that’s not how things pan out.
After startling events, Ha-ni and her family live in Seung-jo’s house with him and his own family. In this comically awful situation, the two of them begin to act out towards each other due to the rising tension between them. However, in due time, the duo figures out that it’s not the kind of tension they initially thought, and things slowly start to border romance. With Seung-jo having humiliated her before, Ha-ni isn’t sure whether she can forgive him for everything.
If you loved how things panned out in this show, I’m here to introduce you to 10 k-dramas just like Playful Kiss. With some full of banter and coming-of-age issues and others a little more serious and real-to-life, these 11 k-dramas like Playful Kiss are sure to leave you with a warm feeling inside and something to think about.
10. School 2017
Though youth may be seen as the best time of one’s life, there’s very little that youngsters don’t have to worry about, especially those in high school. School 2017 brings out this element in a story that revolves around a friend group on the brink of graduating.
As the seventh installment of KBS2’s ‘School’ franchise, the main character here is Ra Eunho, played by Kim Sejeong. With her love of drawing, Eunho aspires to be a webtoon artist but soon realizes that the school system does not support people like her. Hyun Taewoon and Song Daehwi are two of her friends fighting their battles.
The former, who Kim Junghyun plays, is a rebellious boy who doesn’t take school seriously despite being the son of the school’s director. Instead, he plays practical jokes on the school and is soon dubbed Student X, though no one knows that it is actually him doing it all.
Junghyun and Daehwi appear to have a troubled relationship, with something from their past haunting the two still. On top of that, Daehwi’s family is not financially proficient, and despite being the school’s top student, he cannot afford college by a long shot.
Eunho’s internal upheaval is only made worse when she’s accused of being Student X, and her university plans appear more than bleak. A mix of complications makes these teens unable to figure themselves out while also being at one of the most crucial points of their lifetime.
- Director: Park Jin-suk, Song Min-year
- Screenwriter: Jung Chan-mi, Kim Seung-won
- Starring: Kim Jung-Hyun, Kim Se-Jeong, Jang Dong-Yoon, Han Sun-hwa, Han Joo-wan and others
- Total Number of Episodes: 16
- Where to Watch: Viki, Netflix
9. Live On
One thing that wasn’t part of school life before lately is becoming more dominant than ever- social media. This is exactly what the plot of ‘Live On’ is based on. At Seoyeon High, where lookism is at its peak, everyone judges everyone based on their looks, dress, and popularity.
At the apex of this system is Baek Horang, the it-girl of the school due to her incredible social media popularity. Outwardly, Horang looks pretty and well put-together, but her condescending and cold attitude costs her the love of friendship.
All is well until one day, Horang’s life takes a turn as the school broadcast reads out a message sent anonymously. It shakes her to her core as the message hints at something terrible from her past that no one should know of.
Now a girl on a mission, Horang decides to join the broadcasting club to get to the bottom of this. This is where she bumps into the manager of the club himself, Hwang Minhyun. Their personalities seem quite different; they are often at loggerheads with each other.
Apart, other students of Seoyeon seem to start getting involved one by one, from Yang Hyeji, Horang’s former friend, to Noh Junghyun, a student council member. Getting to the bottom of this mystery feels more and more impossible for Horang as things complicate further.
- Director: Kim Sang-woo
- Screenwriter: Bang Yoo-Jung
- Starring: Jung Da-bin, Hwang Min-Hyun, Noh Jong-hyun, Yang Hye-ji, Yeonwoo, Choi Byung-chan and others
- Total Number of Episodes: 8
- Where to Watch: Viki, Netflix
8. Extraordinary You
This amazing drama was a favorite among viewers, and its unique concept made it so special. From breaking the fourth wall to re-writing your destiny, Extraordinary You has it all, packaged in a series of hilarious dialogues and mishaps.
After noticing funky things happening around her, protagonist Eun Danoh (played by Kim Hyeyoon) realizes that she and all her friends are characters in a manga titled ‘Secret.’ Danoh already has a lot on her plate- she suffers from a chronic disease, which means that she may not live for very long, and her crush of almost a decade, Baek Kyung, hates her. Oh, and she’s also engaged to him.
Given all this, understandably, Danoh is determined to change the course of events from being a side character who’s been given quite a terrible fate to the main character of her manga. The fantastical world of comics, despite being bizarre, does offer her some respite. This comes in the form of mysterious, nameless Student No. 13, whom Danoh nicknames Haru (played by the handsome Rowoon) in her head.
He saves her in various situations several times, which catches Danoh’s interest. Using glimpses of the storyboard only she can see to her advantage, Danoh figures out the plans of the omniscient and omnipresent Writer. She was the main character of a previous manga named ‘Neungsohwa,’ a period romance set during the Goryeo period.
As fate (or the storyline) would have it, Kyung’s arrogant self was her fiancé in this comic, too. The closer Danho pays attention, the more she sees other characters, like students Yeo Joo-da, Lee Do-hwa, and even the school cafeteria cook, popping up from Neungsohwa. Things start to escalate quickly as Danoh finds more and more patterns between Secret and Neungsohwa, and the girl realizes that changing her fate may cost her a heavy price.
- Director: Kim Sang-hyeop
- Screenwriter: In Ji-hye, Song Ha-young
- Starring: Kim Hye-yoon, Rowoon, Lee Jae-wook, Lee Na-eun and others
- Total Number of Episodes: 32
- Where to Watch: Viki, Netflix, WeTV
7. Sassy Go-Go
Just like Live On, this drama (also known as Cheer Up!) is based on a high school, Sevit High, that has something that creates a hierarchy amongst the students. Except this time, it is academic elitism- the smartest and, coincidentally, the richest kids are placed on a pedestal here.
Opposite this group of kids, called ‘Baek Ho,’ is a group of students who consistently rank the lowest without exception. With Kang Yeon-doo (Apink’s Jung Eunji) as their leader, they form an outcast street dance club called ‘Real King.’
After a certain turn of events, the two groups are forced to merge into one cheerleading squad to save their respective cliques in school. Yeondoo and Kim Yeol (Lee Won-Keun), the President of Baek Ho, constantly butt heads at this new prospect but soon realize there is no other way out.
As the two groups begin to work together, the unthinkable happens- they forge unbreakable bonds, some new and others old. These new friendships prove extremely powerful against outside forces trying to bring them down.
Dealing with the weight of academics, social pressures, abusive parents, and a corrupt system is never easy, especially not for these youngsters. Sometimes, Sassy Go-Go can be a real tearjerker, and other times, a hilarious comedy of errors. This drama is the way to go if you want something that will truly touch your heart.
6. Mackerel Run
Talking of old-timey dramas, Mackerel Run is even older than Playful Kiss. Originally aired in 2007, the show had quite an interesting success story- it only gained momentum in the following years after the cast members rose to fame in various other dramas they starred in (Boys Over Flowers, Scandal Maker, Painter of the Wind).
That apart, this drama is a must-watch for all and any Lee Minho fans out there. In 2023, Minho exuded much confidence and maturity after his roles in hits such as The Heirs and King: Eternal Monarch, but in 2007; Lee Minho was a whole different story. His youthful confidence and awkwardness only add to his role as Cha Gongchan.
Able to enter the affluent school Myoungmun High in Gangnam only on a football scholarship, Gongchan soon finds out that fitting in is not easy as an outsider.
Skipping class and mooching off are the only things the boy does at school until a girl named Min Yoonseo (played by the wonderful Moon Chae-won) transfers to his school one day. Falling head over butt on sight, Gongchan promises never to skip a day of school again.
This promise comes at the right time, as the same day, the school administrator warns him that cutting one more class will get him kicked out of school immediately. For his future and his newfound crush, Gongchan has to change his habits quickly. A lighthearted drama packed with the most comical moments of misfortune, you should definitely add Mackerel Run to your to-watch list.
- Director: Kim Yong-jae, Choi Young-hoon, Kim Hong-seon
- Screenwriter: Baek Ji-hyun, Park Jae-hyun
- Starring: Lee Min-ho, Moon Chae-won, Kwon Se-in, Jung Yoon-jo, Go Kyu-pil, Jang Tae-hoon and others
- Total Number of Episodes: 08
- Where to Watch: Viki, Amazon
5. Be My Boyfriend
Still a sucker for the fake-dating-turns-real trope? Yeah, same here, but that’s only one of the reasons why Be My Boyfriend ticked all my boxes for the perfect high school romance drama. This drama is a spinoff of a different parent drama, Best Mistake. While I highly recommend you watch that one beforehand (simply because it’s so good), Be My Boyfriend will 100% make sense even if you choose not to.
The protagonist here is Lee Seungmin- an ordinary guy who goes to school daily and has several close friends. He doesn’t think himself to be exceptional in any way, and neither does anyone else. However, things are about to change quickly when a certain Oh Jina, his crush, crosses paths with him. She’s the opposite of him- a well-known and well-liked idol trainee. So why is it Seungmin, of all people, that Jina proposes a fake relationship to?
Whether they can overcome the hurdles of their different worlds and personalities is completely up to the two of them. However, when it comes to whether Seungmin can confess for real to Jina or not- that’s his mountain to tackle.
- Director: Lee Si Young
- Screenwriter: Han Song Yi
- Starring: Shin Hyunseung, Lee Siwoo, Choi Yuju, Im Sungkyun, Kim Byeonkwan Jung Bomin, and others
- Total Number of Episodes: 15
- Where to Watch: WeTV, Viki, Apple TV
4. True Beauty
With how this drama took 2020 by storm, I hardly think it needs any introduction. Everyone and their grandma was obsessed with True Beauty and if you still haven’t watched the show, it’s time to catch up. Famously based on a webtoon of the same name by artist Yaongyi, True Beauty revolves around Lim Ju-kyung, a high school student plagued by societal beauty standards and its awful effects on people like her.
Constantly picked on for being ‘ugly’ by their schoolmates and even her family (horrible stuff), Jukyung takes it upon herself to change her appearance. Binge-watching makeup tutorials and practicing her skills endlessly, the girl finally achieves her goal- the heavy makeup she wears now has transformed her into a ‘goddess.’ After changing schools, she convinces her peers that her look is a natural beauty and quickly becomes popular.
Jukyung befriends three of her schoolmates- Lee Suho, Han Seojun, and Kang Sujin, and becomes especially close with Sujin. It soon becomes clear that these kids are fighting their own battles.
When this drama was aired, the internet was taken over by the lead trio, played by Moon Gayoung, Cha Eunwoo, and Hwang Inyoup, not just for their gorgeous visuals but also for their realistic acting and staying true to the whole webtoon-like concept.
Ultimately, Jukyung also has to deal with her romantic feelings towards Suho, while Seojun deals with his feelings towards Jukyung. This triangle was the topic of uncountable online debates, with many fans suffering from the second-lead syndrome over the image of a poor, lovestruck Seojun (or was it Hwang Inyoup himself?).
True Beauty, while a very slice-of-life and comical show, also has much to say about the suffering these strict beauty standards and external judgment from people inflict on everyone, even young schoolchildren.
Any drama with Park Shinhye in the lead role is bound to be good, as is this 2011 K-drama, with Jung Yongwha as the male lead. Park Shinhye’s character and our protagonist, Lee Gyuwon, is a university student majoring in traditional Korean music. Meanwhile, Lee Shin leads a band named ‘The Stupid’ at the same university.
As is the story, these two get off on the wrong foot because of a misunderstanding on their first meeting. However, after Gyuwon sees the boy performing on stage for the first time, she realizes why he’s so popular on campus.
Gyuwon is nearing an important event in her life: possibly being a lead actress in a Broadway production. However, her reputation is sabotaged by the mother of the girl she’s competing against for the role, Han Heejoo, and ultimately loses the role to her.
Interestingly, Shin joins the Broadway rehearsals too, and soon he and Gyuwon get closer and closer, ultimately falling for each other.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Shin, Gyuwon, and their friends all have their own decisions and hurdles to cross as university students on the brink of starting their careers. Balancing her love life, passion for music, and the corrupt system, Gyuwon has some very important choices- being the bigger person in life isn’t always easy.
2. A Love So Beautiful
Another lovely K-drama from 2020, A Love So Beautiful, is based on a Chinese drama of the same name. Aired on Kakao M, this web series has 24 episodes, about 25 minutes each.
For those in whose heads ‘Reply 1988’ lives rent-free, this drama is certainly something you will take too well. The story revolves around five schoolmates who attend Chun Ji High School together and are close friends. From the age of seventeen up to adulthood, we follow them through their troubles, achievements, and general ups and downs of growing up.
Primarily, the drama focuses on Shin Soli, a super bubbly girl who has a crush on her friend and neighbor, Cha Heon. She’s adorably clumsy and expressive to the point of bursting, which makes her confess her feelings to Cha Heon many, many times.
Unfortunately, the boy is so awkward that he doesn’t know how to react properly and ends up saying something he doesn’t mean or running away as fast as possible. His trouble showing how he feels becomes a real issue when a national swimmer named Woo Dae-Seong transfers to Chun Ji High and quickly falls for Soli.
However, this isn’t the only place where love has started to blossom- Soli’s two best friends, Kang Ha-young and Jeong Jin-hwan, are working their way through their romantic feelings on the backdrop of all this mess.
Nostalgic and fun, A Love So Beautiful will leave you feeling all warm inside, but not without a slight pang in the heart for all the times that have passed and won’t return.
- Director: Seo Min-jung
- Screenwriter: Choi Yoo-Jung, Jang Yoo-yeon
- Starring: Kim Yo-han, So Joo-yeon, Yeo Hoe-hyun, Jo Hye-joo, Jeong Jin-hwan and others
- Total Number of Episodes: 24
- Where to Watch: Netflix
1. Our Beloved Summer
Truly the rom-com of all rom-coms, The audience brilliantly received Our Beloved Summer and developed a cult following soon after. If that wasn’t enough, the drama was nominated for many awards after its release, including the SBS Drama Awards and Baeksang Arts Awards.
With Choi Wooshik and Kim Dami in the lead roles of Choi Ung and Kook Yeonsoo, respectively, this show has a plot that differs from the rest. It revolves around the pair who were a couple in high school and had filmed a documentary together with their friend. Though they broke up with the promise to never see each other again, they find themselves in front of the camera after their producer friends discover their documentary is doing rounds on the internet again.
Now both fiercely independent, their situation takes Ung and Yeonsoo back to times and feelings they thought they had left behind. They are complicated as people, and together as a pair, the two exes cannot help but ponder the what-ifs.
Each interaction is filled with comically biting dialogues and the most telling facial expressions, but they are also more complex than what meets the eye. Our Beloved Summer is kind of what love feels like. It talks of the feelings and old dreams of Ung and Yeonsoo, who were, once upon a time, just kids.