2017 was quite a strong year for K-dramas, and the list of dramas to dive into whenever you’re in the need for something romantic, thrilling, mysterious, or magical has grown longer in a wonderful way.
Because of the ever-evolving nature of the beast known as K-drama, the careers of the actors involved, and innovations in industry and technology, 2017’s drama crop reaped a tasty new round of drama trends that have been so much fun to watch and even better to experience. From time travel to fantasy to legal dramas, 2017 saw it all and then some.
Let’s dive head first into 9 of the hottest 2017 drama trends.
Fantasy is a part of the greatest pieces of literature, the best films, and the most riveting television. Very much an parent genre with many rambunctious fusion children who flit about dramaland, fantasy has given birth to the legal fantasy “While You Were Sleeping” and reincarnation fantasies such as “The Legend of the Blue Sea” and “Goblin.” What makes it such a powerful genre is how easily it can be adapted and infused into a story. A new fantasy drama (or two) aired nearly each month of 2017, weaving the absurd, the glorious, and the extraordinary throughout the year.
Watch “While You Were Sleeping”:
Time travel isn’t a new idea. Dramaland has seen it many times before. They’re old friends, you might say. This fantasy child is one of the more prolific drama trends of 2017, appearing consistently every two or three months of the year, earning its own category on the drama trend list. However, this year’s batch of time travel shows was very distinct in its concoction of new mechanisms of travel such as alien-controlled manholes in “Manhole” or a crazy stairwell ride in “Greatest One-Shot.” Not to mention the various and sundry methods in “Tunnel,” “Go Back Couple,” “Tomorrow With You,” and “Into the World Again.” Because each drama that journeys through time deals with the “what if’s” in life, the things we’re faced with that we might want to change if we had the chance, it allows us to connect with time travel stories and live out our own fantasies vicariously, making this genre incredibly popular.
Reincarnation, another of fantasy’s many errant children, is an idea that stems from the most ancient thought and belief systems, and is one that is often mentioned in pop culture due to Korea’s Confucian roots. The year of 2017 welcomed several reincarnation dramas with open arms, including “Saimdang, Light’s Diary,” “Goblin,” and “Black Knight.” Part of the beauty of the reincarnation drama is how easily it can be combined with other genres and allow for a lot of creative fluidity for writers, qualities that have made it a go-to genre for 2017. The busy year delivered many reincarnation dramas that explored romances and rivalries over the centuries, which kept us riveted to our screens.
Watch “Black Knight”:
Several years ago, the ghost drama, another child of fantasy, was quite popular and that popularity grew in 2017, seeing Jo Jung Suk as the possessed human (rather than the man dating a possessed woman like in “Oh My Ghostess”) in “Two Cops,” and Go Kyung Pyo taking up residence in a typewriter to fulfill his incomplete life’s wish in “Chicago Typewriter.” Even “Manhole” tapped into ghostly story-telling powers for a few weeks. People have always been fascinated with life after death and if and how the dead intermingle with the living. These trending 2017 dramas serve as vehicles that explore all of the possibilities people have been curious about for centuries and bring those ideas to life for a few hours each week.
Watch “Two Cops”:
One talent, two roles
People are always impressed when Korean talents take on two roles, but this year featured over 10 dramas with such onscreen challenges for our favorite Hallyu stars. Some of these titles will spill over into 2018, carrying (and perhaps dragging) some New Year drama cheer along with it. “Melo Holic,” “Black Knight,” “I Am Not a Robot,” “Two Cops,” and “Defendant” are only a few 2017’s offerings to the drama watcher. What makes these popular dramas so unique and addicting is how thoroughly changed the actors become. In roles like Jo Jung Suk’s in “Two Cops,” we are able to watch him mimic the behavior of another actor with astonishing accuracy that is not only perfectly suited to the role, but also highlights the actor’s talents, making drama viewers look forward to more of his performances. Or, like Uhm Ki Joon’s unforgettable portrayal of polar opposite twin brothers in “Defendant,” we get to watch an actor take on, develop, and champion two different characters in an extraordinary example of, dare I say, acting genius.
The legal drama trend was a big one in 2017, and what made it unique was that it became braver, tackling difficult subject matter, allowing the trend to expand and grow throughout the year. “Witch’s Court” tackled sexual crimes, while “Suspicious Partner” and “Judge vs. Judge” dived into ethics and murder. “Forest of Secrets” was so popular that a second season is in the works, a rare happening in dramaland, which is known for its succinct, one-season storytelling. Other awesome dramas in this category are “Defendant,” “Criminal Minds,” and “While You Were Sleeping.” People always love a good mystery, and paired with such relevant issues, the legal drama satisfies the need for an exciting watch, tapping into topics that affect our everyday lives.
Watch “Witch’s Court”:
Although prison shows could technically fit under the legal drama category, two of the biggest names in K-drama this year featured convicts, reminding many of the popular American television show, “Orange Is the New Black.” Currently airing, “Prison Playbook” focuses on the lives of the people within a prison’s grounds, a subject previously unexplored in K-drama. Welcome to a whole new world. Joining it is also “Oh, the Mysterious,” which details the life of a man who escaped prison to clear his name and stop the wicked powers that be from hurting any other innocents. Prison life is something relatively unknown to the masses, and what makes these stories so appealing are how they introduce us, quite literally, to new situations we wouldn’t normally be faced with. Both of these dramas are character studies that create people who are just as important as the plot threads that drive them, shaping dramas that are intriguing not only for their creative production, but because of the content’s novelty in dramaland. I wouldn’t be surprised if this trend continues into 2018.
Watch “Oh, the Mysterious”:
What’s more exciting than a romance with a few thrills or a romantic partnership that bands together to banish the evils of the world? Look no further than the hybrid romantic comedy and thriller genre that has shown its face more than once in 2017. “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon” paired bitty Park Bo Young and easy-going Park Hyung Sik as a strong crime-fighting duo. Lawyers Ji Chang Wook and Nam Ji Hyun battled stalkers and murderers in “Suspicious Partner,” while Jung Yunho and Kyung Soo Jin took on a little bit of crazy and a lotta bit of mystery in “Melo Holic.” This genre separates itself from the typical romance by inserting an honest mystery or thriller plot thread into the story. Life-and-death hinges on the capabilities and decisions of the romantic leads, who become more than just a swoon-worthy onscreen pairing. They come together as more than lovers, and that makes a thriller romance a riveting watch. It’s a viewing experience that is engaging and keeps us coming back for more thrills from week to week, which is exactly why this trend was so popular.
Watch “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon”:
What reminds me so much of popular manga and J-drama “Zettai Kareshi” (and its remakes) is the newest surge into the bot love: it’s about that time to fall in love with some androids. The currently airing drama “I Am Not a Robot” explores love between a man and whom he believes to be a robot, causing all sorts of internal conflict in the most adorable Yoo Seung Ho. “Are You Human, Too?” (starring Seo Kang Joon and Gong Seung Yeon) is a pre-produced drama to air in 2018 that paves new roads in dramaland as the first romance story between human and ‘droid. “Love Like a Human” has tentative casting (Yoon Hyun Min and the long-awaited Yoon Eun Hye), but a definite AI/living-breathing-human romance in the works. The genre is brave as it explores the boundaries of love, which makes it completely engaging.
Watch “I Am Not a Robot”:
Which is your favorite K-drama trend of 2017, Soompiers? Let us know in the comments!
Raine0211 is a lover of all things Korean, especially K-pop, K-drama, and Korean food. When she’s not writing for Soompi, she’s playing the cello and singing. She happily indulges in all kinds of K-pop, but her biases are SHINee (You worked hard, Jonghyun!), Infinite, and VIXX. She lives in Seoul with her roommate who also loves K-pop and K-drama.