8 Stressfully Entertaining K-Dramas That Will Have You Yelling At Your Screen
From joyful, feel-good shows that bring smiles to our faces, to heart-wrenching tragedies that many of us end up bawling our eyes out to, K-dramas have a knack for getting viewers emotionally invested. For better or worse, these shows just get under our skin and make us feel.
One noticeable trend among the most addictive and highly-rated dramas is their ability to get your blood boiling, keeping you stressed and frustrated yet entertained. Whether it is over insufferable villains, seemingly unsolvable mysteries, or just objectively bad decisions made by otherwise beloved characters, many K-drama greats demonstrate the capacity to make viewers squirm in frustration yet unable to look away. In no particular order, here are eight stressfully entertaining K-dramas that will have you pulling your hair out.
1. “The World of The Married”
Starting us out strong is the 2020 hit melodrama “The World of The Married,” which remains the highest-rated K-drama on a cable network ever at the time of writing. Kim Hee Ae stars as Ji Sun Woo, a doctor who appears to have it all – a successful career, a bright young son, and of course, a handsome and loving husband in aspiring director Lee Tae Oh (Park Hae Joon). The story takes a turn when Sun Woo finds out that her husband is having an affair with Yeo Da Kyung (Han So Hee), a beautiful, young pilates instructor.
With stellar performances by the three leading actors along with the rest of the cast, the tale of a once-powerful woman unravelling under the knowledge of her husband’s infidelity unfolds into a chaotic quest for truth and revenge. Things get tangled up as Sun Woo digs deeper, and the estranged couple begin a series of mind games that will have you on the edge of your seat, trying not to tear your hair out in anger.
2. “Flower of Evil”
Another entry from 2020, “Flower of Evil” follows detective Cha Ji Won (Moon Chae Won) and her husband Baek Hee Sung (Lee Joon Gi). Hiding behind his picture-perfect image is a dark and painful history, and the ghosts from his past surface in an attempt to threaten his newfound life and family. At the same time, Ji Won and her colleagues begin to investigate a series of unexplained murders, and she starts to notice cracks in her lover’s facade.
“Flower of Evil” is equal parts thrilling and frustrating, as its characters find themselves in a number of situations and misunderstandings that test their morality as individuals, and their trust in one another as a couple. There are moments where you will find yourself screaming at your screen, begging for them to tell the truth and get to the bottom of the mystery. But of course, things are never that simple in the world of K-dramas.
Watch “Flower of Evil” now:
3. “Save Me”
In “Save Me,” Seo Ye Ji stars as high school student Im Sang Mi, whose family finds themselves stuck in a dead-end town in the rural Muji County. The Im family’s journey is one marked with misfortune, and Sang Mi’s brother, Sang Jin falls prey to bullying in their new town, eventually leading him to take his own life. Stricken with grief, the insidious Goseonwon cult sinks their claws into Sang Mi’s mourning parents, convincing them to move what remains of their family into their church despite Sang Mi’s instincts telling her otherwise.
Years later, Sang Mi’s former classmates, led by Han Sang Hwan (Ok Taecyeon), run into her by chance, and they soon catch on to the sinister nature of the cult. The young men attempt time and again to rescue their friend from Goseonwon’s leaders. We learn that they are as cunning as they are evil, appearing to outwit Sang Hwan and his friends at every turn.
“Save Me,” with all its thrills, brings with it a nagging feeling of uneasiness because of how real it feels – everything, from the predatory nature of the cult, the abuse of power within its church, and inaction from the police force, is uncomfortably believable in many places, even in this day and age, making viewers feel genuine fear and stress for the fate of its protagonists.
On a less murderous note, last year’s collage romance series “Nevertheless” is painfully frustrating for a whole different host of reasons. Han So Hee stars as Yoo Na Bi, a sculpture major at an arts university who finds herself feeling jaded about love after ending her relationship with a cruel and controlling ex-boyfriend. She begins to cross paths with fellow student Park Jae Uhn (Song Kang), a well-liked yet flighty playboy who avoids getting into serious relationships.
As young, attractive people do, the pair begin to spend more and more time together, forming a precarious friends-with-benefits relationship. They clearly want different things though, and while the chemistry between the actors is off the charts, it becomes abundantly clear that Nabi and Jae Uhn don’t belong together. Cue the cycles of separation, jealousy, and longing between the pair as they messily navigate their way through their relationship. Every decision made by each character feels like a mistake, and while that makes “Nevertheless” a frustrating watch, it is incredibly hard to take your eyes off the screen.
5. “SKY Castle”
Quite possibly the CEO of stressfully entertaining K-dramas, the iconic “SKY Castle” is a satirical dark comedy surrounding the unscrupulous lengths a group of wealthy parents (led by Yum Jung Ah, Lee Tae Ran, Yoon Se Ah, and Oh Na Ra) are willing to go to for the sake of sending their children to prestigious universities. This gripping drama hyperbolizes the competitive educational rat-race that plagues many societies across the world today through its imaginative plot lines, which include, but are not limited to: runaway children, the suspected murder of a top student, and an evil elite tutor.
With all of these out-of-this-world storylines, “SKY Castle” is, unsurprisingly, an absolute rollercoaster ride of a journey, with unexpected twists waiting at every turn. This is a borderline absurdist take on some very real issues we face as society at large. Melodrama aside though, it is heartbreakingly frustrating to see the mental turmoil young students are put through at the hands of their overbearing parents and an unforgiving educational system. As fun as “SKY Castle” is to watch, it can be hard not to throw something at your TV seeing these children suffer as a consequence of their parents’ ambitions and actions.
Watch (or re-watch!) “SKY Castle” here:
A remake of the 2002 Japanese drama “Hundred Million Stars From the Sky,” 2018’s “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” is a twisted, tragic mystery thriller that tells the tale of a romance that is doomed from the get-go. Seo In Guk stars as Kim Moo Young, a complex young man with a photographic memory and a troubled past. Ironically though, he has no memory of his childhood. Then comes Yoo Jin Kang (Jung So Min), who, despite having a poor first impression of Moo Young, becomes inexplicably drawn to him. The suspicious death of a young woman leads Jin Kang’s brother, homicide detective Jin Gook (Park Sung Woong), to Moo Young, and he begins to suspect that something sinister lies behind his amiable demeanor.
Unbeknownst to Jin Gook, the pair appear to have some shared childhood history, hinted through the physical scars they share. Moo Young’s story and motives, clouded by his amnesia, are difficult to figure out, leaving viewers desperate for answers in each episode of “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes.” Thereafter begins a complex investigation into the young woman’s murder, Moo Young’s mysterious past, and his connection to Jin Kang.
Check out “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes”:
7. “The Penthouse”
Much like “SKY Castle,” this suspense-filled drama details the lives of the wealthy elite and their children, who all live in the luxurious Hera Palace apartments. Starring an ensemble cast of Lee Ji Ah, Kim So Yeon, Eugene, Uhm Ki Joon, and Yoon Jong Hoon, the lives of the seemingly-perfect families begin to unravel at the hands of their own greed and ambition. After a young woman falls to her death during a party held at the apartment, its residents begin to suspect foul play by one another.
A melodramatic, K-drama spin on your classic whodunnit tale, “The Penthouse” makes for a compelling, unpredictable watch. Every single episode leaves viewers on a cliffhanger, and while its plot seems extreme and bizarre at times, this hit series has managed to spawn three seasons for a reason: It is simply that frustratingly entertaining, and K-drama fans cannot get enough.
Dive into “The Penthouse”:
Set in 1999, “Hometown” revolves around the disappearance of high school student Jo Jae Young (Lee Re), which coincides with a sudden series of murder-suicides in her small town. Her father, Jo Kyung Ho (Uhm Tae Goo), is a convicted terrorist serving life in prison after a cruel gas attack on the town’s train station 10 years prior to the events of the drama. Jung Hyun (Han Ye Ri), her aunt (and Kyung Ho’s sister), soon finds out that Jae Young had been in contact with her father prior to her disappearance, leading her to believe that there is more than meets the eye.
Investigating Jae Young’s disappearance is detective Choi Hyung In (Yoo Jae Myung), who lost his wife to the tragic attack 10 years prior. More murders occur, mysterious cassette tapes surface, and the role played by pseudo-religious figure “Guru,” along with his followers, in both the murders and the girl’s disappearance becomes increasingly undeniable, yet hazy. While each character sets out to investigate the strange incidents for their own reasons, Uhm Tae Goo stands out in his role as the enigmatic terrorist, who remains frighteningly calm as more and more lives are endangered, and hell breaks loose in his hometown.
What are some of your stressfully entertaining K-dramas? Let us know in the comments below!
Gladys Yeo is a longtime K-entertainment fan and university student majoring in Media and Asian Studies. Outside of school and writing, she can be found listening to K-pop girl groups, attempting cool new pole tricks, watching anime, or trying (and failing) to control her two pet corgis. Feel free to hit her up on Instagram to chat about dramas, music, and life!