Every Korean drama fanatic will admit that watching a K-drama is much like experiencing a wild roller-coaster ride of emotions. With themes of mixed identities, taboo brother-sister relationships, ruthless in-laws and the inevitable terminal illness set to incredibly dramatic K-pop ballads, every episode brings a new wave of feeling. From happiness to frustration, from excitement to earth-crushing sadness, these K-dramas are those most likely to manipulate your emotions.
Stairway to Heaven (SBS, 2003)
Song-joo (Kwon Sang-woo) and Jung-seo (Choi Ji-woo) were destined to be together even before birth. Often mistaken for twins throughout their childhood, the two were inseparable. But when Song-joo returns to be with Jung-seo after studying abroad, he learns that she has been in a car crash, now has amnesia and cannot remember who he is. Song-joo is determined to help her remember the love they once shared, and just as things seem to be going their way, Jung-seo is diagnosed with eye cancer, and audiences everywhere are heartbroken.
Glass Slippers (SBS, 2002)
In the process of searching for each other, long-lost sisters Tae-hee (Kim Ji-ho) and Yun-hee (Kim Hyun-joo) fall for the same man, Chul-woong played by the oh-so-handsome So Ji-sub. Chil-woong’s persistence for love is endearing, and ultimately lands him his dream girl, but the story takes a tragic turn when he dies saving her in a fight… on their wedding day! No modern Cinderella story gets more emotional than this!
Twenty Again (tvN, 2015)
Due to an unplanned pregnancy, Ha No-ra (Choi Ji-woo) drops out of school and marries at the tender age of 19. But after two decades as an unhappy housewife, she finally gets the opportunity to attend university, alongside her 20-year-old son Kim Min-soo (Kim Min-jae). But things get complicated when she learns that both her husband Kim Woo-chul (Choi Won-young) and her first love Cha Hyun-seok (Lee Sang-yoon) are her professors.
Winter Sonata (KBS, 2002)
There’s no other love like first love is the main theme of this beautiful Korean drama. Torn apart by a car crash, mistaken death and a bout of amnesia, Joon-sang and Yu-jin (played by Bae Yong-joon and Choi Ji-woo, respectively) reunite after 10 years. Despite not having seen each other in a decade, they begin to fall in love all over again. But will destiny allow them to be together?
A Thousand Days’ Promise (SBS, 2011)
Thirty-year-old Lee Seo-yeon (Soo Ae) gets involved with Park Ji-hyung (Kim Rae-won). Upon hearing that Ji-hyung is to be married soon, Seo-yeon breaks things off. Shortly thereafter, she is diagnosed with early onset Alzhermier’s disease, which prompts Ji-hyung to break off his engagement and get back with her. They quickly marry, have a baby and find happiness in their life, but both are very aware of the tragic end that awaits them.
Empress Ki (MBC, 2013)
If you’re looking for a drama to make you laugh, cry, fume with anger in a constantly repeated cycle, Empress Ki is the one to watch. With 51 episodes of gloom, joy, unequivocal glee and downright despair, the series is centered around around Ki Seung-nyang (Ha Ji-won), a woman born in the Goryeo dynasty who rises to power despite the constraints of the period’s class system. She later marries Ta Hwan (Ji Chang-wook) to become an empress of the Yuan dynasty, instead of her first love, Wang Yu (Joo Jin-mo). As far as historical melodramas go, this one tops the list.
I’m Sorry, I Love You (KBS, 2004)
After being abandoned by his mother at the age of two, Cha Moo-hyuk is adopted by an abusive Australian family. After running away at the age of 10, he gets involved with a bad crowd and begins making a living out of scamming tourists. It is through one of these scams that he meets and helps Song Eun-Chae, who works in fashion and is a childhood friend of Choi Yoon—a famous Korean singer. Soon thereafter, he is shot in the head and knowing that he only has days are numbered, returns to Korea where he hopes to seek revenge on his birth mother. Numerous plot twists follow, including a reunion with Eun-chae, an organ donation and a probable suicide.
Beloved Eun-dong (JTBC, 2015)
Top actor Ji Eun-ho (Joo Jin-mo) hires ghostwriter Seo Jung-eun (Kim Sa-rang) to write his autobiography. Despite the fact that he’s a pain to work with, Jung-eun enjoys her work, fascinated by Eun-ho’s claim that he began acting not to become famous, but to find his first love—Ji Eun-dong. He explains their complicated romance spanned two decades and remains convinced he will never find anyone else like her. As he speaks of missed opportunities, viewers can’t help but shed tears for what could have been. The series doesn’t avoid tackling heavy subjects and never resorts to sunshine and rainbows for the sake of a happy ending.
Autumn in My Heart (KBS, 2000)
Eun-suh (Song Hye-Kyo) and Shin-ae (Han Chae-Young) were born on the same day, live in the same town and go to the same school. Eun-suh, however, leads a happy, comfortable life with a loving family while Shin-ae lives in poverty with a single parent. One day, Eun-suh is in a car accident and blood tests reveal that the two were accidentally switched at birth. The girls are returned to their birth families, which causes great confusion, especially for Eun-suh’s brother, Jun-suh (Choi Woo-hyuk). Some years later, Eun-suh, now a poor worker, is reunited with her long-lost brother Joon-suh and so begins a twisted love story.
Pinocchio (SBS, 2014)
Ha-myeong (Lee Jong-Suk) is the proud son of a firefighter, whose reputation, after a fire at a waste facility, is destroyed completely. Ha-myeong is adopted by a man and, despite learning about his mother’s ties to a news story that destroyed his father’s reputation, falls for his new sister, In-ha (Park Shin-hye) who has an odd habit of hiccuping when she tells a lie. There is no shortage of emotional ups and downs in Pinocchio.