Compared to 2021, this year definitely felt weaker when it comes to albums. Mini albums faired better than full-lengths, but apart from a few mega-standouts, most K-pop releases took a piecemeal approach to their music — too often stuffing tracklists with a horde of different producers rather than settling on one unique vision.
Like usual, my top ten list is cut in half, presenting the top five mini albums and the top five full albums. My eligibility criteria has widened just a bit to include a few important highlights:
- Mini albums must have at least four full tracks to qualify
- Repackages are considered the definitive version of an album (unless otherwise noted)
LE SSERAFIM – Fearless
Woodz – Colorful Trauma
SF9 – The Wave Of 9
TO1 – UP2U
ATEEZ – The World Ep.1: Movement
Chungha – Bare & Rare Pt.1
5. ENHYPEN – Manifesto: Day 1
2022 was the year when ENHYPEN’s music finally clicked with me, and Manifesto was a big influence on that. It’s a lean, four-song effort where every song works well. Shout out to the fantastic “Shout Out” — a bombastic summertime single that never was.
Standout Album Tracks: Shout Out, TFW (That Feeling When)
4. CSR – Sequence: 7272
I love when rookie artists burst right out of the gate with an identifiable concept. You could criticize Sequence as nothing more than a Lovelyz/GFriend cosplay, but the songs are strong and no one else is tackling this sound right now. Fans of bright, effervescent pop music will find plenty to love here.
Standout Album Tracks: Euratcha!, Toi Et Moi
3. Brave Girls – Thank You
Brave Girls retain last year’s third place slot with another all-killer, no-filler dance pop album that sees them in full mastery of their sound. Any of these songs could have been singles and there’s a consistency to Thank You‘s vision that makes it hang together well.
Standout Album Tracks: Can I Love You, Love Is Gone
2. CRAVITY – New Wave
So many of CRAVITY’s past albums felt like a grab bag of styles. New Wave stands out for its consistency. The group fully embraces a brighter sound palette, resulting in a string of tracks that compliment each other while standing apart as individual highlights.
Standout Album Tracks: Automatic, Colorful
1. Golden Child – Aura
Far and away my favorite musical project of 2022, Aura threatens 2018’s Miracle and 2021’s YES as my favorite Golden Child mini. Every song is excellent, but that opening trio marks a career highlight. The sounds on Aura are varied, yet pulled together by the group’s confident performance. And most importantly, the songwriting is just top-tier. Some of the industry’s best producers have highlights here.
Dreamcatcher – Apocalypse: Save Us
5. Key – Gasoline
Though not as consistently great as his first album, Gasoline is still the work of an artist who knows exactly what he wants to do. Its highlights are plentiful and the music drips with style.
Standout Album Tracks: Guilty Pleasure, Villain, Bound
4. Oh My Girl – Real Love
Real Love‘s title track isn’t among Oh My Girl’s best, but the rest of the album makes up for this misstep. It’s a brilliant blend of quirky experiments and buoyant pop music, dripping with personality.
Standout Album Tracks: Blink, Replay, Parachute
3. DRIPPIN – Villain: The End
I anticipate this album will see a repackage soon, which may eventually raise its placement on this list. But even in its original form, The End holds enough highlights to make it a standout of the year. Some songs feel a bit too trendy for their own good, but the album’s dramatic, rock-fueled sound deepens DRIPPIN’s discography in a satisfying way.
Standout Album Tracks: Silence, Monster, Champion
2. PSY – PSY 9th
This album has been postponed more times than I can count, but the end result turned out to be worth the wait. PSY 9th plays like the coolest party in K-pop, inviting multiple high-profile guests to join in the fun. It’s incredibly varied and occasionally quite bonkers, but even the album’s more “out there” moments hold together thanks to the strength of PSY’s personality.
Standout Album Tracks: Now, Everyday, Dear Me
1. Girls’ Generation – Forever 1
Girls’ Generation understood their mission with Forever 1, and they succeeded beyond the shadow of a doubt. The album plays like an extended victory lap, bounding through genres that reference the group’s various eras. The front half is particularly strong, with highlights like Lucky Like That, You Better Run and Villain painting the group in different musical colors. And of course, it all kicks off with the blazing title track — one of the most effusive openers in Girls’ Generation’s history.
Standout Album Tracks: Lucky Like That, You Better Run, Closer