Last year, I blogged about The Untamed and how much I loved it. It got me through a very gloomy few months. And while this incredible drama remains my all-time favorite, I am happy to report that I have since discovered several more delightful shows to keep me going through the pandemic and my lingering Long Covid. Here are my top six! All are available on Netflix or Rakuten Viki. The subtitles are way better on Rakuten Viki because there are often notes explaining the cultural, historical, or linguistic context of the dialogue, which makes it a much more immersive experience. Sadly, Rakuten Viki does not pay its translators. It is apparently a volunteer job. I hope they can pay their translators at some point, because they do a stellar job.
If you loved The Untamed, you will love this show too. A Chinese drama of 36 episodes (and one very important bonus clip!), it is based on the danmei novel Faraway Wanderers (天涯客) by Priest (pseudonym of a Chinese author). Considering what went down with one of the leads, Zhang Zhehan, it is a particularly bittersweet watch. Anyway, this show has everything: a beautiful, damaged assassin, a really evil dad, a dark conspiracy, two cute soulmates, one grumpy immortal, one innocent apprentice, and a treasure beyond dreams.
The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty
Aaahhh this show has all the tropes I adore: found family, food, love-through-service, humor, palace intrigue, murder mystery, and martial arts. Produced by Jackie Chan, this 48-episode Chinese drama is based on the novel of the same name by Meng Xishi. Darren Chen plays Tang Fan, the ‘sleuth’ of the title. He is a low-ranking government official in 15th century China who is a total foodie and supplements his meagre income by writing erotica. Enter Sui Zhou, a commander in the Imperial Guards, and Wang Zhi, commander of the Western Depot, and sparks will fly. And a lot of food will be cooked and shared. I love all the dinner scenes! Click here for an excellent spoiler-free primer on the show.
Guardian: The Lonely and Great God
Come for the romance, stay for the bromance. This wildly popular South Korean show is about a military general who is framed by his king and killed as a traitor. After his death, he is cursed by the Almighty to become an immortal “Goblin”. Not until his bride removes the sword from his body will he know any peace. Switch to modern times, and a cute and bubbly 19-year-old student summons the goblin by mistake. Thus begins one of the greatest k-dramas I’ve seen. The romance is lovely, but the real show-stealer is the relationship between the goblin and the grim reaper, played by the amazing Lee Dong-wook. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and, of course, tears. Highly recommended!
If you liked Lee Dong-wook as the grim reaper, you will love him as the 1000-year-old Gumiho: the nine-tailed fox. Once a guardian mountain spirit, he now works as an agent for the Afterlife Immigration Office to kill supernatural creatures that threaten the mortal world. This he does as a kind of payment for a favor he received: the rebirth of his beloved, lost to him in a fight with the evil dragon Imoogi. He thought he had killed Imoogi, but evil will return, as will his beloved. Who will win this time? A fun show, full of twists and turns, and some wonderful characterization. Also, a surprise ending!
This show made me laugh so hard! It also made me hungry. It is about a male chef called Jang Bong-hwan from the modern era who becomes trapped in the body of Queen Cheorin in the Joseon era. Of course, he is desperate to make his way back to his own time and body, but first he must survive the web of lies and murderous intrigue he finds himself in. King Cheoljong, the reigning monarch, is king in name only. He is a figurehead and the true power is wielded by the ruthless dowager empress and her brother. But the king is not what he seems either – he has a dark side. Nobody can be trusted! Except Court Lady Choi, who is comedic gold, and Hong Yeon, Queen Cheorin’s childhood playmate and handmaiden. My favorite part of the show is Jang Bong-hwan/Queen Cheorin’s gradual takeover of the palace kitchens and all the amazing depictions of food. I also love the exploration of gender. This might be one of the funniest shows I’ve seen, but also kind of bittersweet. Hilarious and tender. Well worth watching.
The only non-fantasy / non-historical drama on my list, this 16-episode romantic k-drama follows a male psychiatric nurse, his autistic older brother, and a celebrity children’s author. The older brother is the only witness of their mother’s murder, the younger one is deeply unhappy despite having a cheerful façade, and the children’s author has an antisocial personality disorder. Each episode is framed as a fairytale. I really cannot do justice to this show in words. It is deeply emotional and affecting and has one of the most beautiful endings I’ve seen in k-dramas.
Everyone’s talking about Squid Game right now, but it’s not remotely one of my faves. I quit watching midway through the deeply upsetting Episode 6. I know the show is meant to be a commentary on capitalism and social inequity, but grimdark / bleak shows are just not my thing.
That’s it from me for now. Stay well and safe, you all.