K-dramas are South Korean television series that feature fashionable and talented actors, quality character development, delightful ensemble energy, and textured and emotional storylines with high-level production values. This might explain why many Americans favor them over homegrown entertainment. If you are interested in K dramas that favor supernatural themes, here are five that you may enjoy.
This slick action-drama series adapts a graphic novel and imagines the fictional function of Dol Hareubangs, large rock statues, real-life ancient artifacts on Jeju Island. These crumbling barriers prevent demons from escaping hell and possessing people. Won Mi Ho (Lee Da-hee), a heiress with bad PR, rehabilitates her image by volunteering on the island, but the possessed target her, and no one will let her leave.
Van, a brooding, hybrid human demon who has been fighting the possessed before the Dol Hareubangs existed, and Johan/Giovanni (Cha Eun-woo), a young, unconventional priest, protect her until she can tap into her powers. The lustrous, dynamic visuals feel ripped from the webtoon’s pages. Child abuse’s impact on adults is a tragic thread running through the narrative. The story’s syncretic treatment of Christianity, Buddhism and Korean folklore can be confusing but calls to mind The Wailing (2016) and the long-running CW series’ Supernatural. Island is available to stream on Prime Video.
4. Zombie Detective
A man (Choi Jin-hyuk) wakes up as a zombie with no memory of his past and trains to pass as a human being, but it is expensive being undead. He still needs money to eat, rent a place to live and buy concealer for his pallid, scarred skin. He impersonates a private detective, Kang Min-ho, to earn a living and uncover his past. Former television tabloid reporter Gong Sun-ji (Park Ju-hyun) discovers and keeps his secret.
This dramedy balances an outlandish, fantastical horror premise with practical quotidian concerns of survival. This series flips the zombie genre on its head by taking the empathetic perspective of a confused, solitary zombie trying to create a normal life. He becomes a beloved part of a community that he fears. It also does not hurt that with or without the morbid makeup, the magnetic Choi captivates even when sharing scenes with children and puppies. Zombie Detective is available to stream on KOCOWA.
3. Guardian: The Lonely and Great God
After being executed, faithful warrior Kim Shin (Gong Yoo) awakens as the Goblin, a powerful immortal who can only die if he falls in love with the unknown Goblin bride, a woman who can see spirits and remove the invisible sword lodged in his chest. Almost a millennia later, Ji Eun-tak (Kim Go-eun), an abused, bullied orphan who works for a gorgeous restaurant owner, Sunny (Yoo In-na), realizes that she has the power to summon the Goblin. A Grim Reaper (Lee Dong-wook), the Goblin’s roommate, realizes that Eun-tak was supposed to be reaped at birth, and feels drawn to Sunny.
This romantic yet problematic epic, which alternates between the first century and contemporary times, is the sixth most popular K drama with sumptuous production quality and a gorgeous, talented cast. Each episode reveals the unpredictable characters’ historical connection to each other and ultimately resolves the conflict that took the Goblin’s life. Guardian: The Lonely and Great God is available to stream on Viki.
2. Strong Girl Bong-soon
Equal parts slapstick comedy, action, and mystery, this rom-com series revolves around petite and cute Do Bong-soon (Park Bo-Yuong), the latest in a long line of women in her family to possess superhuman strength. Her surreptitious heroics attract the attention of CEO Ahn Min Hyeok (Park Hyung-Sik), who hires her as his bodyguard to protect him from a stalker in exchange for training her to become a video game creator, her dream job. Meanwhile she tries to stop a sadistic madman holding women captive.
Bong-soon is like many women who shrink themselves, hide their talents to fit in and tries to attract her cop crush by pretending to be helpless. She becomes more confident in wielding her power and has a partner who encourages her to be her full self. Unlike many action series with a woman protagonist, she is never sexualized, but often fights in layers or sweats. Strong Girl Bong-soon is available to stream on Viki.
A 16th century political conspiracy to cover up the king’s death results in a zombie outbreak which threatens to consume the entire nation. Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), the rightful heir and people’s champion, tries to stop the outbreak and unseat the treacherous Queen (Kim Hye-jun), who is more concerned with possessing power than preserving life. Think Game of Thrones without the gendered violence, nudity, or sex.
The action unfolds simultaneously in multiple locations and features characters from varying professions and different socioeconomic backgrounds. Eventually they come together and rally against a common threat: the zombie outbreak. The horror embodies the inhumane, dehumanizing, cannibalistic policies of the ruling class trickling down to the broader population, which is driven to hunger and causes society to collapse. The outbreak’s origin holds surprises. Kingdom: Ashin of the North (2021) is a prequel/sidequel movie which is not as satisfying as the series. Kingdom is available to stream on Netflix.
Feature image courtesy of Juhan Noh/Netflix