The 15 Most Anticipated Korean Dramas of 2021

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Jun Ji-Hyun and Ju Ji-Hoon in Jirisan, Jo Jung-Suk in Hospital Playlist, Lee Ha-Na in Voice
Every few years, a particularly swoon-worthy Korean drama turns a wave of international viewers into avid fans of the genre.
Notable examples include Full House in 2004, Boys Over Flowers in 2009, The Heirs in 2013. In 2020, both Crash Landing on You and Itaewon Class hooked the attention of large audiences at the start of the year, and the interest in K-dramas only grew as the months wore on. Viewing for the genre on Netflix nearly tripled in the U.S. last year, and the streaming giant recently announced that its investment in Korean content between 2015 and 2020 will total $700 million and include leasing nine stages across two production facilities in Korea.
Beyond Netflix, Korean networks continue to produce series which are regularly distributed globally through platforms including the American streaming service Rakuten Viki, Chinese video site iQIYI and Hong-Kong based provider Viu.

A bountiful slate of new series is on the horizon for 2021. They feature actors we have missed on our screens and newcomers who are taking on lead roles for the first time (including, to the great anticipation of many, Jisoo from K-pop phenom BLACKPINK). Many of these shows are helmed by directors and writers who have produced some of the hottest Korean dramas to date, while others are adapted from webtoons that have attracted a significant audience online.

Most of the series do not have confirmed launch dates but are planned for release in 2021. Some of the shows will debut on Korean networks like tvN and JTBC, with no confirmed plans for international distribution at the moment. This could change, though, as a growing number of global fans call for Korean dramas to be made available in their countries.

Here, the most anticipated K-dramas of 2021.

River Where the Moon Rises

Release date: Feb. 15

Network: KBS2; will be available on Rakuten Viki

Kim So-Hyun (Love AlarmThe Tale of Nokdu) and Ji Soo (When I Was Most BeautifulMy First First Love) star in this reimagining of the folktale about Princess Pyeonggang and On Dal. Pyeonggang (Kim) is resolute in her goal: to become the first female ruler to lead the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo. Her aspirations are tested when she meets On Dal (Ji Soo), whose love for Pyeonggang drives him to protect her above all else. In this period drama that promises plenty of action and romance, the versatile Kang Ha-Neul (When the Camellia BloomsMidnight Runners) also plays a role as On Dal’s father and a general of Goguryeo.

Sisyphus: The Myth

Release date: Feb. 17

Network: JTBC

Launched in 2011, JTBC has released some of the most beloved Korean dramas of the last decade—including 2020 favorites Itaewon Class and The World of the Married. Branded as JTBC’s “10th Anniversary Special Drama,” Sisyphus: The Myth is directed by Jin Hyuk of The Legend of the Blue Sea and City Hunter fame and features seasoned actors Cho Seung-Woo and Park Shin-Hye. In the mystery-fantasy, Cho plays genius coder Han Tae-Sul, who meets Park’s Kang Seo-Hae—an elite fighter from the future who travels back in time to save him. Both Cho and Park recently starred in thrilling dramas—Cho in the crime series Stranger and Park in the Zombie film #Alive. Based on the premise, it seems like Sisyphus: The Myth will be an exhilarating ride, too.

Vincenzo

Release Date: Feb. 20

Network: tvN

After a betrayal, lawyer Vincenzo Cassano, who works as a mafia consigliere, flees from Italy to South Korea.

He is on a mission to find something hidden, and along the way joins forces with cutthroat attorney Hong Cha-Young. Vincenzo boasts an impressive cast, with Song Joong-Ki (Arthdal ChroniclesDescendants of the Sun), Jeon Yeo-Bin (Be MelodramaticAfter My Death) and boy band 2PM’s Taecyeon (The Game: Towards Zero, Save Me) in the lead roles.

Yoo Jae-Myung and Yang Kyung-Won, who had standout performances in last year’s Itaewon Class and Crash Landing on You, respectively, also star in this series.

Snowdrop

Release Date: TBA

Network: JTBC

Snowdrop is already one of the most-talked-about series, in no small part because it features Jisoo from BLACKPINK in her first lead role—alongside star actor Jung Hae-In (One Spring NightSomething in the Rain).

But the series is also highly anticipated because of the creative forces behind it, director Jo Hyun-Tak and writer Yoo Hyun-Mi, whose last collaboration Sky Castle is the second-highest-rated drama in Korean cable history.

Actors Kim Hye-Yoon and Yoon Se-Ah from Sky Castle join the cast as well. Snowdrop begins as Im Soo-Ho (Jung), covered in blood, darts into the female dorm at a university on a day in 1987.

Against the backdrop of political upheaval, Eun Young-Cho (Jisoo) hides the disheveled student and the pair’s story unfolds.

Jirisan

Release Date: TBA

Network: tvN

There’s always buzz surrounding actor Jun Ji-Hyun’s projects, and Jirisan is no exception. The star from Legend of the Blue Sea and My Love From the Star takes the role of Seo Yi-Kang, a park ranger who knows the trails of Jirisan National Park like the back of her hand.

She becomes partner to Kang Hyun-Jo—portrayed by Ju Ji-Hoon, whose lead roles in the 2020 series Kingdom season 2 and Hyena garnered much attention.

Together, the park rangers uncover a mystery causing the mountain to have a deadly effect on visitors. The series also features Sung Dong-Il (the Reply series) and Oh Jung-Se (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay). It’s produced by writer Kim Eun-Hee (KingdomSignal) and director Lee Eung-Bok (Mr. Sunshine, Guardian: The Lonely and Great God)—who have been behind some of the most popular K-dramas in the past ten years. Jirisan is also the first television show to be filmed in Jirisan National Park, the largest national park in South Korea.

Jun Ji-Hyun in Jirisan
Jun Ji-Hyun in Jirisan Courtesy of Astory

Red Sky

Release date: TBA

Network: SBS; will be available on Rakuten Viki

The novelist Jung Eun-Gwol is a familiar name in the K-drama world: two of her books were adapted into hit television series—Sungkyunkwan Scandal in 2010, and Moon Embracing the Sun in 2012.

Now, her 2016 novel Hong Chun-Gi is being adapted for the screen by director Jang Tae-Yoo (You Who Came from the StarsHyena) and writer Kim Young-Young (Be Melodramatic).

The historical fantasy follows a prodigious female painter in the Joseon dynasty, Hong Chun-Gi (Kim Yoo-Jung), and a blind astrologist named Ha Ram (Ahn Hyo-Seop).

A demon is trapped inside of Ha Ram’s body, and its strength grows as Ha Ram’s feelings for Hong Chun-Gi become stronger.

The Silent Sea

Release Date: TBA

Network: Netflix

Following his 2014 short film The Silent Sea, Choi Hang-Yong is now directing an eponymous series adapted from his earlier project. The Silent Sea features powerhouse actors Bae Doo-Na (KingdomStranger) and Gong Yoo (Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, Train to Busan).

Lee Joon (Father is Strange) also makes a return to the small screen for the first time since completing military service in 2019.

The story takes place in a futuristic world where resources are depleted and a crew of scientists must journey to the moon to get their hands on samples from an abandoned facility. Director Choi is joined by Park Eun-Kyo (Mother) as writer, and actor Jung Woo-Sung as an executive producer.

From left: Gong Yoo, Bae Doo-Na, Lee Joon, Jung Woo-Sung
From left: Gong Yoo, Bae Doo-Na, Lee Joon, Jung Woo-Sung Courtesy of Netflix

Move to Heaven

Release date: TBA

Network: Netflix

Kim Sae-Byul was a trauma cleaner tasked with handling the belongings of the deceased. The Netflix original series Move to Heaven is based on Kim’s nonfiction essay “Things Left Behind,” and tells the story of a young man, Geu-Ru, who has Asperger’s syndrome.

Played by Tang Jun-Sang (Crash Landing on You), the character is left alone after the passing of his father.

His uncle Sang-Gu, played by Lee Je-Hoon (Time to HuntSignal), becomes Geu-Ru’s guardian after being released from prison, and the two gradually warm up to each other as they run the trauma cleaning service “Move to Heaven.”

Voice Season 4

Release date: TBA

Network: OCN

It’s rare for Korean dramas to have a second season, let alone a fourth one. In Voice, Police Officer Kang Kwon-Joo has a heightened ability to distinguish sounds, allowing her to solve crime cases as a voice profiler.

In its initial season, the show kicked off with Kang hearing a murder take place on the phone while she was working at an emergency call center.

Season 3 completed airing in 2019, with each of the first three installments featuring Lee Ha-Na as Kang. Song Seung-Heon (Dinner Mate) joins Lee in the new season.

You Are My Spring

Release Date: TBA

Network: tvN

Each of the last three projects Jung Ji-Hyun co-directed have been hits: Mr. SunshineSearch: WWW, and, most recently in 2020, The King: Eternal Monarch. Now he returns with the new series You Are My Spring. The story revolves around four individuals who live in a building that is the site of a murder: a hotel concierge manager (Seo Hyun-Jin), a psychiatrist (Kim Dong-Wook), an investment banker (Yoon Park) and an actress (Nam Gyu-Ri). Romance blossoms as each of the character’s dark past surfaces.

Hellbound

Release Date: TBA

Network: Netflix

Yeon Sang-Ho (Train to BusanPeninsula) will direct this Netflix original based on his webtoon of the same name.

Yoo Ah-In (#AliveBurning) stars as Jeong Jin-Su, the leader of the fictional Saejinrihwe religion that believes that death angels condemn humans to hell according to God’s will.

He faces off against broadcast station director Bae Yeong-Jae—played by Park Jeong-Min (Time to HuntStart-Up)—who launches an investigation into the cult-like group. Artist Choi Gyu-Seok, the illustrator of the original comic, joins Yeon as a writer of this supernatural drama.

Image from the webtoon Hell (left), Director Yeon Sang-Ho (right)
Image from the webtoon Hell (left), Director Yeon Sang-Ho (right) Courtesy of Netflix

Hospital Playlist Season 2

Release Date: TBA

Network: tvN

The follow-up season to one of the most beloved shows of 2020 will arrive this year. At the core of Hospital Playlist is the friendship between five doctors who developed a close bond in medical school and now work at the same hospital.

After long days of work, they practice together in a band. The first season of this slice-of-life drama was packed with heartwarming moments, providing much-needed comfort and relief when it premiered during the early months of the pandemic.

D.P.

Release Date: TBA

Network: Netflix

Adapted from the webtoon D.P: Dog Days, the series follows the journey of An Joon-Ho (Jung Hae-In), a soldier in the unit of the South Korean Army tasked with arresting deserters. D.P.—which stands for “deserter pursuit”—examines human rights issues in the military as An meets those he is assigned to chase down and learns of the complex emotions behind their decisions to leave. The creator of the webtoon, Kim Bo-Tong, will work on the Netflix screenplay and partner with director Han Jun-Lee (Coin Locker Girl.)

Image from the webtoon D.P.
Image from the webtoon D.P. Courtesy of Netflix

Youth of May

Release date: TBA

Network: KBS2

Youth of May is a love story set in May 1980, against the backdrop of the Gwangju Uprising—mass protests against military rule by the government.

Lee Do-Hyun and Go Min-Si recently starred as siblings on the Netflix original Sweet Home, which was released in December 2020 and reported as the top local title viewed by 22 million households worldwide.

For Youth of May, Lee and Go will return to the screen together, this time as lovers. Lee, who has transitioned from support roles (Hotel Del Luna) to leading ones (18 Again) over a few short years, plays medical student Hwang Hee-Tae.

Go, who made her acting debut in 2017 through My Sassy Girl and is also a part of the cast for Jirisan, plays a nurse living in Gwangju.

Undercover

Release Date: TBA

Network: Netflix

Following the 2020 crime drama Extracurricular, director Kim Jin-Min returns with another Netflix original. Han So-Hee (The World of the Married) stars as Ji-U in this reverse undercover story.

The daughter of a mobster, Ji-U is bent on seeking revenge after her father’s death and poses as a police officer to find the parties responsible.

Han is joined by Park Hee-Soon (Seven Days1987: When the Day Comes), who plays the leader of a drug ring, and Ahn Bo-Hyun, who impressed with his supporting role in Itaewon Class and will play the detective who becomes Ji-U’s partner.

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