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The Bias List’s Favorite Korean and Japanese Dramas of 2021

Top Dramas of 2021As 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!?)

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Series Overview (from MyDramaList)

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)

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Series Overview (from MyDramaList)

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)

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Series Overview (from MyDramaList)

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


Run On

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Series Overview (from MyDramaList)

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

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Series Overview (from MyDramaList)

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:


Airbenders (2020)

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Series Overview (from MyDramaList)

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)

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Series Overview (from MyDramaList)

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)

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Series Overview (from MyDramaList)

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)

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Series Overview (from MyDramaList)

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


24 thoughts on “The Bias List’s Favorite Korean and Japanese Dramas of 2021

  1. I was hoping to see “Saiai” on this list, I believe you haven’t seen it but it was one of my favorites this year so here’s my recommendation. I would say the autumn season of Japanese dramas was good! Kieta Hatsukoi was a really sweet drama and I loved Meme and Micchi as Ida and Aoki

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  2. This year was a weird one for me when it came to drama’s. Both the list of drama’s I started but never finished and the list of drama’s I wanted to check out but never started are longer than the list of drama’s I actually watched. However, every year still has its hidden gems.

    This year my favorite drama was a ten episode Kdrama you can find on Netflix called Move to Heaven staring the always good Lee Je Hoon and the brilliant newcomer Tang Joon Sang. It is a show about a pair of trauma cleaners who deal with the material belongings a recently deceased person has left behind after their untimely death. In short it is not a lighthearted drama but it is the most heartfelt drama I’ve watched all year. Each episode highlights the life of a recently deceased person both through the items they left behind and the people they loved. Honestly each of these side charatcters only stick around for one episode each but each one felt so real and their individual stories were given real weight. I wont lie this drama pulls no punches when it comes to its deeply emotional subject matter because it does primarily deal with death. You will cry, more than once, I am pretty sure I cried literally ever episode. However, no drama came anywhere close to touching me as personally as this one did. In spite of how sad it can be it is also remarkably healing and full of love. And it is not totally without its more fun/lighthearted moments. The main duo plus the girl next door form a wonderful sort of found family throughout the show, and there is pleanty of fun shenanigans between them. Overall I cant sing this shows praises enough. The writing was great from beginning to end, the pacing was good, it was beautifully shot, and every single actor from the main duo to the side characters who showed up for fifteen minutes did an outstanding job. If you can stomach the inevitable pain that comes with some of the darker material found here there is so much to love about this show and I can not recomend it enough.

    Also it really seems like I am going to have to check out Run On now. Nothing about its basic premise seems all that interesting but I have seen too many people rave about it. I’ll add it to my to watch list.

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  3. I just finished My love mix up recently and I- didn’t know you would watch it too. I don’t know why, but the fact that you like it too makes me really happy 🤣 It really touched my heart and the goofy facial expression of the main character made me laugh so much. It was definitely a show I would call charming.

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  4. Finally, something on which Nick-sama and I can relate: a preference for weird Japanese dramas and thinking Korean (and Chinese) ones are just too damn long (though God knows I’ve almost binge-watched a few with 70 episodes or more. Thank the CCP for putting a hard 40-episode cap in effect.) Honestly, though, I think it’s got more to do with the fact that there’s rarely enough plot to make it to even 12 episodes.

    I’ve been noticing most dramas, specially romance ones, exhaust the main plot around episode 3-4 and then just rely, episode after episode, on some tiny contrived issue that’ll make everyone squabble till the end of that episode (or at most the next one), when they’ll all hug (unless they’re Japanese) and reassure each other of how much they still love each other and will continue to until next Thursday at 10pm. That’s pretty much Kieta Hatsukoi (which I still loved) and even my all time favorite, Good Morning Call.

    …aaaaaand that Super Amazing & Handsome Genius college whiz kid that’s also Well-Off™ living with his accidental almost-but-not-quite-but-actually-yes girlfriend, mother’s wish fulfillment of a Good Morning Call clone Chinese drama that my mom’s making me suffer through these days.

    *inhales* *exhales*

    And that’s why my favorite drama of the last few months has been Utsukushii Kare. Short, spicy and to the point.

    BTW, your list makes me think you might enjoy Wagahai no Heya de Aru (with my 3rd favorite boy in all of the Japans, Fuma Kikuchi) if you haven’t watched it already. Perhaps Kaodake Sensei too.

    PS: Ok, no, I think my actual favorite drama has been Osanai 3 Kyodai, but I can’t for the life of me find that with English subs (or any subs at all) and so I can’t on good faith recommend that for most people. Still, if anyone here knows some Japanese, it’s free on YouTube, and quite funny.

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      • You know, I don’t think I’ve watched any movies this year, actually — at least ones that were released in 2021. I’m curious about Tokyo Revengers and The Door Into Summer, though. Also really looking forward to Mr. Osomatsu.

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    • That’s the best summary of drama tropes ever! The thing is, they’re great when you’re dealing with short episodes but so tiresome when each episode is over an hour long.

      Thanks for the recommendations! I’ve heard of the first one but haven’t yet checked it out. I’ll add it to my list and take a look at the others.

      Funny story… I’ve started studying Japanese over winter break and the way I’ve been able to memorize the word “くち” is because Kikuchi has big lips haha

      Gotta do what works!

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      • I like your style👌

        And talking about big lips, Michieda Shunsuke. Who only comes up because I started watching one of the series you mentioned above like 2 hours ago and all I can say is, Who’d have thunk cute Aoki-kun could look/become so remarkably punchable…?

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  5. I very much need to check out Shadow Beauty. I’ve heard good things about it plus it contains my lovely favs Bomin and Nagyung. Compared to last year, where I was like 50 something shows, I only completed one this. Squid Game. The hype was too much ignore and I caved. I really liked it tho and I will defend the ending till i die.

    P.S. I see the “Airbenders” show was about the forming of an idol group, I’m curious if you watched that one Kdrama from this year about it. The one called “Imitation”

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    • I tried, and honestly couldn’t make it through the first episode.

      My favorite K-drama about the formation and management of an idol group is still “Top Management.” That one’s so underrated and funny.

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      • Other than Imitation, I recommend IDOL:The Coup for drama about idol groups from this year!

        Cause it has less romance, has the slice of life vibes, quite touching, and only has 12 episodes.

        The casts are mostly idols too! even tho the acting on some parts are still a bit lacking on some point, but overall the drama is pretty much fine.

        The drama is written by Misaeng (2014) screenwriter and available on IQIYI

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  6. I totally relate to how kdramas are way too long! 😅 For the longest time that was the main reason I stayed away from it and only stuck to anime… I watched a few with friends like Scarlet Heart, Goblin and Weight Lifting Fairy but I never watched any on my own because of the run time 😂

    It was only this year with the lockdown that I watched a couple of older ones via recommendations which I really loved : Hotel De Luna, Flower of Evil and Mr Queen.

    And just this week I finished watching one of 2021 – Mouse. It was a really unexpected one and the theme and way the plot went threatened to blow up my mind every once in a while 😂 but I really enjoyed it!

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  7. Still sort of on the fence because the runtime of Asian drama episodes scare me… If there’s a K-drama with 16 episodes and each episode is an hour long, it’s like I’m watching 16 movies lol.

    In all seriousness, I only started to get into dramas this year now to spend my free time and it’s been quite something! I haven’t watched a lot but so far I have watched Navillera which I highly recommend for anyone looking for any coming-of-age fans. It’s definitely my favourite drama I’ve seen so far 🙂

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    • Also I’m definitely intrigued by ‘Shadow Beauty’ which I plan on watching very soon! Gotta get the small Pentagon, fromis_9 and Golcha interaction crumbs there haha

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  8. I watched and successfully finished five Kdramas, namely:
    1) Sisyphus: The Myth
    2) Taxi Driver
    3) Doom at Your Service
    4) Squid Game
    5) The Silent Sea

    Tried to watch Jirisan, but the series suffers poor direction and strange script.

    The best series I’ve watched in 2021 are actually C-drama:
    1) The Long Night
    2) The Bad Kids

    The quality of these series (from direction to script to cinematography to editing to acting) really blew my mind.

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