Let’s be honest, many of us turn to Korean dramas for the romance; it’s a staple that dominates the themes and narratives of a majority of shows. There are back hugs, piggy backs, Kabedon, and love confessions! What’s not to love?
But sometimes you might not be in the mood for romance. Either you’ve had your fill, you’re going through a break up and can’t stand the thought of watching a fictional love blossom, or maybe you just want to watch something different and take a dip into another genre. If that’s the case, check out these eight really good dramas that don’t have any romance (or maybe have a bit but not too much)!
The suspense! The intrigue! The lies and the… games. “Liar Game” is the drama equivalent of calling out the answers while watching a television game show; it’s just so much fun to try and figure out the trick before the characters do, and it’s certainly not easy.
Nam Da Jung (Kim So Eun) is a sweet and naïve college student struggling to pay back her father’s debt when she’s offered the opportunity of a life time: appear on a competition game show with a grand prize of 10 billion won (approximately $9.3 million)! All you have to do is lie, cheat, and outsmart the other contenders. Da Jung isn’t very good at lying (honesty is one of her most dominant character traits), so she enlists the help of an ex-convict and notorious liar named Cha Woo Jin (Lee Sang Yoon).
Sounds like it’d be the perfect environment for romance to blossom, doesn’t it? NOPE! These two remain platonic throughout, leaving enough room for an even more dynamic and interesting relationship. Woo Jin becomes Da Jung’s protector, despite often looking down on her honesty. In the end, her morality rubs off on Woo Jin, causing him to reevaluate his own moral compass and look at the world in a new light.
If you’re interested in seeing a world where the police would let a television network produce a live reality show that caters to the whims of a lunatic, then “Wanted” is for you!
Famous actress Jung Hye In (Kim Ah Joong) is thrown into a whirlwind of conspiracies, murders, and lies as she fights to rescue her kidnapped son, Hyun Woo (Park Min Soo). She receives anonymous messages telling her to put together a team and produce a live show uncovering the truth behind a cold case that the kidnapper is personally attached to.
“Wanted” is a seriously suspenseful drama with amazing performances from Kim Ah Joong, who shows the strength of a woman who will do anything to protect her son. This drama is so incredibly fast paced that even during the quiet moments when Hye In is alone, it feel like a panic attack. The supporting characters are also a treat in this one and you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat asking who the culprit really is!
“Incomplete Life (Misaeng)”
In “Incomplete Life,” Im Siwan plays Jang Geu Rae, a young and pure minded man with little real life experience. The ex-baduk player is thrown into the world of corporate business, and struggles with all the obstacles of fitting in socially and getting by in the office. This drama takes its time to purposefully build up every character (good and bad) to show their every pitfall, struggle, moment of desperation, and eventually triumph. Even seemingly irredeemable characters are shown with such depth that their development is rewarding to watch.
The focus of this drama is its realism and moments we can all relate to; feeling like an outsider, struggling with self worth, and trying to appeal to the people we look up to and feeling their struggles as deeply as our own. It’s a truly heart-wrenching narrative with equally emotional performances from all the cast.
“The Village: Achiara’s Secret”
“The Village: Achiara’s Secret” is a moody, spooky, and aesthetically pleasing drama with all the atmosphere of a ghost story and the cinematography of a feature film. Han So Yoon (Moon Geun Young) moves to Achiara to teach English at the local school, but barely a day after her arrival she trips in the woods and discovers a dead body, soon to be declared the victim of a murder.
But the intrigue doesn’t stop there; the secret in Achiara might have some relation to So Yoon’s mysterious family history and a missing sister that she came to the village to track down. And not to mention there’s suspicious teachers, creepy chemists, and an adorable rookie cop (Yook Sungjae).
The vague romantic relationships in Achiara are twisted. You’ve got a teacher and a student; affairs and lies; and murder. Love is almost painted as risky and the lead does well to ignore the cute smiles of the local men. The most interesting relationships turn out to be between mothers, daughters, and sisters, whose motivations and identities are shaped by one another.
In “Squad 38,” Ma Dong Seok plays Baek Sung Il, a tax enforcer who teams up with a swindler to trick rich people into paying their taxes. When he’s arrested and threatened with a hefty prison sentence, swindler Yang Jung Do (Seo In Guk) has little choice but to assemble a team of grifters. He can either help the most loyal man he’s ever met and bring wealthy criminals to justice, or return to prison, barely a week after being released. Think “The Italian Job” or “Oceans 11,” but every con is in the name of justice!
There is an obvious love interest for Jung Do in the form of Chun Sung Hee (Sooyoung), but the majority of their relationship is shown in flashbacks, leading to a tension between the two when Jung Do is revealed to be a con artist. But the way the drama takes its viewers on a rollercoaster ride with every new con is the main reason to watch!
“Signal” is a rare crime procedural with elements of sci-fi that tells the story of a young criminal profiler who communicates with a missing cop from the past via magical police radio. Park Hae Young (Lee Je Hoon) has distrusted the police since childhood when they ignored his witness statement and failed to rescue one of his classmates. Now, as a grown up working to profile dangerous criminals, Hae Young prefers to work alone but is forced into an out-of-this-world partnership when he picks up a transmission on a police radio in evidence lock-up.
What follows is a nail bitingly intense race to solve some of Korea’s most notorious crimes from the past 20 years, all delivered with outstanding performances and fantastic production.
Kim Hye Soo also stars in the drama as a badass cop working against her better judgement and the criticism of her peers to investigate the disappearance of a colleague she respected and loved. There are so many different relationships on this show, whether they’re vaguely romantic, platonic, or familial, and it’s fun to watch them influence the actions and motivations of all of the characters as the team grows closer while fighting crime.
Soo Sin is an isolated boarding school in the mountains of Gangwando province where the elite 1 percent of Korean students study tirelessly. They’re only promised eight days of vacation every year, from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day. As this time rolls around, busloads of students and teachers leave the school, making it almost desolate. The only ones left are seven students and one teacher, whose mysterious reason to stay behind may start the group down a dangerous road of destruction and murder.
This 2011 show stars some of today’s biggest Korean actors in their earliest roles. Lee Soo Hyuk, Baek Sung Hyun, Sung Joon, Kim Woo Bin, Hong Jong Hyun, and the list goes on!
“White Christmas” is somewhat of a classic for such a short running drama and combines stark, calculated cinematography with seriously hard-hitting storylines and character development. Every character has depth and is deeply flawed, making them the perfect target for the mysterious antagonist. Their secrets shape them and pit them against each other but it’s really the moments when they work together or form alliances for the greater good that stand out. There’s plenty of love/hate bromances in this one so definitely worth a watch if you enjoyed those moments in “Goblin” or “Hwayugi.”
“School 2013” is another modern classic of sorts, and you’ll recognize many of the fresh faces in this drama as some of the most popular actors working in Korea today.
This drama tackles the “School totally sucks” narrative with the inclusion of every possible theme, be it suicide, struggling with a heavy workload, trying to reach a desired grade, isolation, and feeling out of control. In fact, there is little to no room for romance. There was even a plan to include a romantic narrative between Jung In Jae (Jang Na Ra) and Kang Se Chan (Daniel Choi), but it was dropped mid-way through the drama, and with good reason.
At its core, “School 2013” is all about relationships. At the start, every character is like an island: strong-willed and solitary, tackling their problems alone, and for the most part failing. But in the end, we see them come together (sometimes unwillingly) and be vulnerable, asking for help or slowly developing and growing into much better people. One of the most memorable relationships in the show is a bromance between Ko Nam Soon (Lee Jong Suk) and Park Heung Soo (Kim Woo Bin). I don’t want to spoil anything about this relationship as it is the driving force behind the show, but I will say that the friends-to-enemies to maybe something even more powerful is one for the books.
Did we miss any other really good dramas that don’t necessarily have romance? Let us know in the comments below!