It’s that time of year! We want to show our love and appreciation for all our favorite dramas and characters. We’re keeping this year a bit more condensed than in years past, but we’re still going to have lots of fun. Will your favorites make the list?
The Maknae: I’m torn between The Heart of Genius and Extraordinary Attorney Woo for favorite ensemble. Both stories absolutely relied on the networks around our main characters, and the networks were adorable and infuriating and inspiring and made me think. They definitely renewed my love of ensemble dramas!
Kmuse: It was a good year for ensemble casts and I feel that everyone will be mentioning Extraordinary Attorney Woo, so I am going to look elsewhere for my picks. I am choosing the drama A Business Proposal. The cast was so much fun and I loved everyone from the nutty cousin to the matchmaking grandpa. The fact that we got two great couples just added to the enjoyment. I also want to give a shoutout to Love Like the Galaxy. I got so invested in everyone’s stories and while the OTP were the stars, they couldn’t have created such a strong narrative without all the family and friends that surrounded them. My final pick is Link: Eat, Love, Kill. This drama would not have been what it was without the great side characters and the mom and grandma. It really was an ensemble effort that kept me invested from start to end.
Drama Geek: Maybe I’m drawn to ensemble casts, but this year there were SO many. One of them is my favorite drama of the year, so I’ll leave that one for that category. My Liberation Notes and Our Blues stand out with both family and vibe, and the fact that you have to grow to love the characters. Twenty-Five Twenty-One was the most beautiful and nostalgic drama, and all the characters made me super happy. Best sismance of the year. The two female leads were sometimes more compelling than the romances. All of Us Are Dead had a fabulous young cast and I cried with each death.
Kdrama Jen: We are going to be circling around some of the same dramas for some of these categories. For me, the best ensemble cast was in Under the Queen’s Umbrella. The concubines and ladies of the court, the princes, the Queen, the King, and all the bearded court officials just worked together so well to craft a story that kept me fully invested. I found all of the characters so compelling, and there was stellar acting throughout.
The Maknae: My favorite OTP is a tie between Dongfang Qingcang and Orchid from Love Between Fairy and Devil and Woo Young Woo and Lee Joon Ho from Extraordinary Attorney Woo. Both OTPs did an excellent job of growing together, supporting each other, and being wickedly hot while doing so. These are not OTPs that I’m going to forget anytime soon.
Kmuse: There were so many great OTPs this year. How am I supposed to choose just one……or five. I will start with Love Between Fairy and Devil. They had oodles of chemistry and I could not stop pushing play on the next episode. This is one I plan to rewatch in 2023. Then I will shift gears and choose the OTP from Bloody Heart. Those two had the best almost tragic love story and you can’t help but swoon as they overcome insurmountable odds to be together. I have to give a shout-out to Crazy Love. I can’t believe I am saying this but Krystal was actually one of my favorite rom-com characters this year. They had such fun banter and it was a very satisfying romance. My runner-ups were two Chinese dramas that had a spectacular year in creating amazing OTPs. The first is A Dream of Splender and the second is Love Like the Galaxy. Who am I kidding, they are just as good as the other three… I am officially cheating and declaring all of these couples as my favorites.
Drama Geek: Fairy and Devil were by far the swooniest couple of the year. Life and death and life again will do that to a pair. LOL. The kisses were amazing and I just couldn’t get enough of these two. The couple that made me “aww” more times than any other was the Whale Couple. They were just the most beautiful and lovable pairing and I still watch so many of their scenes even now. The other couple I still rewatch and love to death is Semantic Error. I don’t know what it is about these two, but they have my heart.
Kdrama Jen: My favorite OTP of the year is the couple from Love Like the Galaxy. I thought about this quite a bit, but this pairing is the one that I am still thinking about, along with their love bite to seal their commitment. They were just such a swoony couple, and they really made my heart race. I also love how these two rescue one another.
The Maknae: Just because Lee Soo Hyuk does NOT get enough love, I’m going to say he was my favorite villain/antagonist of 2022. The long dark overcoats sweeping behind him as he strode through the hallways in Tomorrow were appropriately dramatic, as was his frustration at being thwarted by the misfit reapers under Goo Ryun’s leadership. He was EXCELLENT.
Kmuse: The grandfather and the elitist culture that creates the rich family in Reborn Rich are wonderful villains. Especially because with all their greedy flaws, you can still see bits of humanity that make them relatable. Jang Hyuk kicked butt as the villain in Bloody Heart. Sure he killed a lot of people and gave up true love to create a ruler who wouldn’t be a dictator king… it was worth it in the end. Wasn’t it? But the best villain by far is Dowager Empress Cho from Under the Queen’s Umbrella. When it comes to evil, she reigns supreme.
Drama Geek: YES! Top honors goes to Kim Hae Sook in Queen’s Umbrella. She was such a layered and complicated villain who had me feeling sympathy for her for brief moments. But mostly I just LOVED hating her. For my own choices, I’m going to have to head to school. Yoon Gwi Nam begins All of Us Are Dead as the errand boy for the other bullies in the school (they are all HORRIBLE bullies), but after getting bitten by zombies, he turns into an unstoppable force that will lick your intestines clean. My final one is a bit of Weak Hero Class 1 spoiler so you’ve been warned. Don’t read the next few sentences if you haven’t watch the show. ***SPOILERS*** This one actually took me contemplating after finishing the series and reading an article to appreciate the brilliance of his character and the acting. Oh Beom Seok’s transformation from being bullied into the villain was quiet and went under the radar, but after surveying the details, you are able to see exactly how he ended up doing the horrible things he did. Even in his last few scenes, you can see that he can’t believe it himself.
Kdrama Jen: I have to agree that Kim Hae Sook as the Queen Dowager in Under the Queen’s Umbrella was a fantastic villain. She commanded the spotlight in every scene. She was also the perfect villain because you could understand her motivations and also see how she was blinded by power. She was very believable, so it made her seem even more frightening.
The Maknae: Tie again! This time it’s a three-way tie between ANY kiss between Dongfang Qingcang and Orchid from Fairy and Devil, the kiss when Zhu Yun confesses to Li Xun in Lighter and Princess, and Woo Young Woo and Joon Ho’s first kiss in Extraordinary Attorney Woo. They all make me smile just thinking about them.
Kmuse: Fairy and Devil hands down for the best kisses. Talk about some super swoony smooches. In the nonkiss category, I will say that Love Like the Galaxy had several swoony moments, specifically when our leading lady saves her love from sure death, riding a horse through a throng of guards to make sure they can’t kill him. You have to love a couple whose love language is facing death for each other.
Drama Geek: We are keeping this to one post so I’m going to be a little long winded with each choice. LOL. The Maknae picked the OTP I think had the the highest number of fantastic kisses with Fairy and Devil, and then Attorney Woo had one of the sweetest kisses over. The honor for best sexy times kiss probably goes to A Business Proposal for both OTPs. Kim Min Gue‘s iconic ripping off of his glasses and going in for the kiss will live in my memory for a long time, but the main couple in the drama stole the show once they got together. I should maybe go watch that again for reference. I also want to give a shoutout to the Semantic Error couple. The epilogue kisses were awesome. Finally, one of the most cinematic kisses of the year goes to the young couple in Under the Queen’s Umbrella. The scene could have been a beautiful painting and they were just the most adorable couple of the year.
Kdrama Jen: My favorite kiss of the year was the kiss at the end of My Calorie Boy. It felt like we waited forever for this couple to finally get their kiss, so this kiss at the end of the drama felt like all of us watching the drama had really earned it. It wasn’t a sexy kiss like those shared by Moon Lord and Orchid in Fairy and Devil, but it was a sweetly satisfying kiss.
Best Breakout Performance
The Maknae: I know Wang He Di was already an established actor prior to starring as Dongfang Qingcang in Fairy and Devil, but his performance in that drama was captivating and definitely launched his star through the stratosphere, in my estimation. He was brilliant and amazingly good at the body switches, among other things.
Kmuse: Moon Sang Min from Under the Queen’s Umbrella really caught my attention. I also loved the Crown Prince (Shin Seung Ho) from Alchemy of Souls. I know he is usually typecast as a bad guy, but color me surprised when I kind of started shipping him with the leading lady. Can we get him in a rom-com in 2023, please?
Drama Geek: Choi Hyun Wook started out the year in Twenty-Five Twenty-One falling for his fencing love and wooing us with that big smile, and he finished out the year by kicking everyone’s butt in Weak Hero Class 1 and still winning everyone over with his smile. Similarly, Lomon loved his zombie girlfriend so hard he offered his neck for a snack and really charmed me, it didn’t hurt that I’d already watched him in Revenge of Others and his fighting skills and adorable smile made me take notice. One female actor that caught my eye and I hope becomes the breakout actress of 2023 is Lee Eun Saem from All of Us Are Dead. She’s a side character and the actress has gotten supporting roles so far, but she held my attention along with a very strong female cast.
Kdrama Jen: The best breakout performance goes to Kang Tae Oh for his role in Extraordinary Attorney Woo. Now, Kang Tae Oh has been acting in dramas for a number of years. He is also a member of 5urprise, an acting group that performed at the Drama Fever Awards I attended many moons ago. I took video of their performance, but I still remember that feeling of secondhand embarrassment, like I was watching a poorly synchronized high school talent show performance. Anyway, he has certainly been a presence in dramas. He was memorable in Run On a couple of years ago, but I think people really noticed him this year in Extraordinary Attorney Woo. For this reason, he is my pick for 2022 breakout performance.
The Maknae: Park Eun Bin was my favorite actress this year, hands down. She was artful and professional and sincere and absolute perfection in her handling of Woo Young Woo in Extraordinary Attorney Woo. I think that role could have been a trainwreck in a rookie actress’ hands, and Park Eun Bin showed she was anything but that. She treated Young Woo with respect and absolutely shone.
Kmuse: Kang Ha Na blew me away in Bloody Heart. It is hard to stand out when you are performing opposite Lee Joon and Jang Hyuk, but Kang Ha Na not only stood her own, she outshined them on many a scene. Love love love her. Jung Ryeo Won told the media that May it Please the Court is her last law drama for a while, which is a bit sad because she nails that “ethically grey but wants to be a good person deep down” roles. Out of all her lawyer roles, her best is May It Please the Court. Not only is she a smart and tough lawyer, but she also has a stubborn streak that takes her on a journey for justice, and it is glorious.
Drama Geek: I second Park Eun Bin. She was brilliant and deserves so much praise. My favorite actress was hands down Kim Hye Soo in Under the Queen’s Umbrella. She played the BEST drama mom ever and the most amazing queen I’ve seen in a sageuk. She commanded the screen in every scene, and yet she managed to make all of her children shine to their fullest. Her love for her sons oozed out of every part of her being. Last choice was Kim Tae Ri in Twenty-Five Twenty-One — her effervesce was contagious and made me fall for Na Hee Do SO hard. I almost forgot Shin Min Ah in Our Blues. Her portrayal of chronic depression was devastating and brilliant.
Kdrama Jen: My favorite actress of 2022 is Kim Hye Soo. I thought she was phenomenal in Juvenile Justice. She managed to portray a hardened judge with a heart buried beneath her trauma in a very realistic way. She gave a multi-faceted performance and it felt like we were peeling back the layers with every episode. Then she completely stole my heart forever with her protests of the Queen in Under the Queen’s Umbrella. She conveyed so much love and unspoken pain with just her eyes or a simple movement. She was so fantastic in this role, and if we had a category for best drama mom, then she would win that too!
The Maknae: Ooooh, this is a hard one. Son Seok Koo was brilliant as Mr. Gu in My Liberation Notes, and Kang Tae Oh played Lee Joon Ho to perfection in Extraordinary Attorney Woo. They were each captivating in their own right, and I was glad to experience their abilities through these dramas.
Kmuse: Kim Nam Gil had a sleeper gem of a role in Through the Darkness. He plays a detective in the early years of criminal profiling. While this isn’t as a bombastic role as many characters he has played in the past, this drama takes the time to really let him settle into his performance. It is well worth the watch. Everyone knows that I am a huge Song Joong Ki fan, especially when it is a grittier revenge role, so his performance in Reborn Rich as a murdered flunky who is reborn into the family that caused his death is right up my alley. My final pick for this year is Lee Jae Wook, who stole my heart in Alchemy of Souls. So good and he has officially made it onto my large bias list.
Drama Geek: It’s possibly because I missed him so much, but Kim Woo Bin in Our Blues and then in the movie Alienoid really had me loving him on my screen. He was perfect boyfriend material in Our Blues and melted my heart in so many ways. Choi Woo Shik in Our Beloved Summer was quiet and contemplative, but still had his trademark silliness with charm. I didn’t mention this OTP in the kissing section, but now I think I should. Their sexy time kisses and cuddles were wonderful!
Kdrama Jen: My favorite actor of this year is Song Joong Ki. I am a huge fan of his, but I love him best when he has a role that allows him to be one way on the outside and then instantly switch to one of his dead-eyed looks. In Reborn Rich, he has the opportunity to show his acting skills by moving seamlessly between someone who seems connected and engaged to someone who is clearly plotting the demise of all those he was just smiling at andlaughing with only a few moments before. Reborn Rich is not my favorite drama, but Song Joong Ki is definitely my favorite actor!
The Maknae: The Heart of Genius was a hidden gem for me. It was worth slogging through the math-heavy portions for the clever, mind-bending ending, and I enjoyed the characters I got to know along the way, especially Lei Jia Yin as the motorcycle-riding dad in the Strawberry World, and Wang You Jun as the puppy actor in the original world. They were a DELIGHT.
Kmuse: I will admit I still have a tiny bit of these two dramas to finish (I just ran out of time….eeeak) but I am going to count them anyway and hope they don’t tank at the end. The first is Blind starring Ok Taecyeon. So suspenseful and creepy. Not to mention I gasped at least 3 to 4 times an episode. I have not heard anything bad about the ending so I am going to call this an official Hidden Gem. My second choice is season 2 of The Good Detectives. The vibe and pacing are exactly like season 1. It just dropped on Netflix and Viki and is a must-watch in my opinion.
Drama Geek: I looked through my watch list of 2022 trying to make sure all of my favorite dramas were mentioned and the only one that I haven’t mentioned yet is Love in Time. It’s a Chinese remake of a Taiwense drama that I haven’t seen. The couple was super sweet and I binged the drama so fast with tons of warm fuzzy feelings. The male lead gave me confidence to give men with attitude problems another chance. I’d grown a bit weary of them, and this guy really helped me see that some of them are worth the wait.
Kdrama Jen: The show I think is a hidden gem is Juvenile Justice. I did not hear a lot of others talking about it, but there is some outstanding acting and it is absolutely fascinating to learn about the juvenile justice system in Korea. If you enjoy law dramas, then the stories and characters on the drama may intrigue you. I also want to second Blind and May it Please the Court as hidden gems. I binged both of these!
The Maknae: Three dramas changed the way I looked at the world this year — Love Between Fairy and Devil, My Liberation Notes, and Extraordinary Attorney Woo. They were fantastic vehicles for the messages they carried and the memorable characters they created, and I will be forever grateful for them.
Kmuse: There are so many great dramas this year that it is really hard to choose just one. But if I had to pick the one I am most likely to watch again, it would be Love Between Fairy and Devil. It just clicked with my soul.
Drama Geek: To give the proper understanding for how much I loved this drama I am only choosing one to occupy this category. Every last thing about this drama was near perfection for me. Under the Queen’s Umbrella captured me with its cinematography, the scenes morphing into paintings that are now burned in my heart. The storyline and subject matter were progressive and yet still grounded in the court intrigue of the past. None of the king’s many sons and women ended the show feeling one-dimensional. The Queen helmed it all with her thoughtful portrayal of a mother who will do anything for her children. It even had a beautiful side love story.
Kdrama Jen: My favorite drama of the year would have been Extraordinary Attorney Woo. I love how it touched so many hearts and brought neurodivergence into the Kdrama conversation, but also daily conversation among Koreans. I was in Korea shortly after this aired, and I found it fascinating how many people had watched and how many wanted to talk about it! As I said, this would have been my pick. However, my friend Drama Geek guilted me into trying another drama. I watched Under the Queen’s Umbrella and I found the themes and topics so compelling. I am still thinking about it. Therefore, my choice for best drama goes to Under the Queen’s Umbrella.
Have a Happy End of Year,
Dramas With a Side of Kimchi