As I was looking back at the dramas I’ve watched this year, I realized that many of the ones I stuck with weren’t even from 2021. Overall, my taste continued to veer toward Japanese series. They just feel quirkier (and shorter!).
Rather than try to rank dramas that are so different from one another, here’s a brief round-up of what I enjoyed this year.
Kakenai!? (Can’t Write!?)
A series about writer’s block? I can definitely relate! This one was so offbeat and creative, centering around a screenwriter tasked with crafting a Japanese Dorama while trying to keep his anxiety in check. I can’t say I’ve ever watched another series quite like this. It was very funny.
Watch On: Netflix
Kanojo wa Kirei datta (She Was Pretty)
I’ve never seen the original Korean drama this is based on, but I thought Kanojo wa Kirei datta ticked all the boxes I’d hope for in a romantic comedy. The cast was great and the pacing moved at a clip. It was just a lot of lighthearted fun.
Watch On: Netflix, WeTV
Kieta Hatsukoi (My Love Mix-Up)
This was my favorite drama of the year. So many mangas are adapted into live action series, but this one really felt like a colorful, quirky manga (or anime) come to life. It’s a total shot of serotonin – funny and sweet and wonderfully acted. I think it’s impossible to leave Kieta Hatsukoi without becoming a huge fan of both Snow Man and Naniwa Danshi. Meguro Ren and Michieda Shunsuke are just too good.
Watch On: Viki
It takes a lot for me to become invested in a Korean drama. They’re just so looooong. But, Run On was a fantastic example of the form, filled with interesting characters who balked tropes in surprising ways. Both of the series’ pairings were compelling, resulting in a 16-episode drama that rarely dragged. Also, I loved how the main character worked as a subtitler. The script writers definitely knew their audience.
Watch On: Netflix
Shadow Beauty is easily the darkest show on my list. It’s basically just severely broken people making bad choices. And although the series shifted in odd directions at times, the episodes’ brief running time ensured that scenes never dragged. The idol actors (Golden Child’s Bomin, fromis_9’s Nagyung, Pentagon’s Hongseok) were all excellent – especially the first two who played against type. But, actresses Shim Dal Gi and Heo Jung Hee were absolute revelations.
Watch On: WeTV, Viki, Kakao TV
Older Shows I Enjoyed:
This was my first C-Drama and I started it because I’m a big fan of Wu Jiacheng’s music. It was an entertaining, melodramatic look at the formation of an idol group. Very unrealistic, though!
Watch On: YouTube
Hajimete Koi wo Shita Hi ni Yomu Hanashi (A Story to Read When You First Fall in Love) (2019)
As a teacher myself, I think I’m drawn to dramas set in or involving schools. This one’s about a cram school and a somewhat dicey relationship between teacher or student. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about the age difference in the romance, but I thought this series was otherwise quite good.
Watch On: Viki
Ore no Sukato, Doko Itta? (My Skirt, Where Did It Go?) (2019)
I adored this drama. It’s another school setting, but this time the teacher is wonderfully eccentric. Furuta Arata is AMAZING in this role, and if you’ve watched Kieta Hatsukoi and want to see Michieda Shunsuke in another drama, he’s here too. Unfortunately, this one’s hard to track down… but well worth it.
When We Were Young (2018)
I love shows that are driven by a palpable sense of nostalgia — especially if that nostalgia’s seen through a different cultural lens than mine. Set in China during the mid-90’s, When We Were Young is a slice-of-life drama about growing up. The cast is excellent and the show remains surprisingly compelling across its (admittedly long) 24-episode run. However, it does get a bit sad toward the end. I liked the more humorous moments the best.
Watch On: Viki, WeTV