10 K-Dramas That Are Based On True Life Events

“Art imitates the objects and events of ordinary life” is a quote by Plato that holds true. Real life has more often been the source of inspiration for reel. If you thought K-dramas with their picture-perfect romances, extraordinary stories of human resilience, and historical sagas were too good to be true, then think again.

Many popular and much-loved shows have actually been based on true life events and stories. Here are 10 such dramas.

Reply 1988

As one of the much-loved and popular dramas, “Reply 1988” has a timeless appeal and high recall value. The year 1988 is a landmark year as Seoul prepped for the Summer Olympics. In the not so sleepy neighborhood of Ssangmun, five best friends in their last year of high school live an unhurried existence. The spunky Duk Sun (Hyeri), the hardworking model student Sun Woo (Go Kyung Pyo), the broodingly quiet Jung Hwan (Ryu Jun Yeol), the goofball Dong Ryong (Lee Dong Hwi), and the introverted and genius Go player Choi Taek (Park Bo Gum) are so bound together despite their distinct personalities, and their commitment toward one another is unshakeable.

Fans were divided between Team Taek and Team Jung Hwan, debating who was the most suitable boy for Duk Sun. But fun fact: Park Bo Gum’s Choi Taek was inspired by Lee Chang Ho, one of the youngest to become a professional Go player at age 11. Lee Chang Ho is the only player to have won all international tournaments at least once. He was often called the “Stone Buddha” for keeping a stoic composure during games, a trait that was articulated by Park Bo Gum’s Taek, whose calm personalty won everyone over.

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“Bachelor’s Vegetable Store”

Ji Chang Wook‘s Han Tae Young, a down-and-out young man, earns his keep and supports his sister and grandmother by selling vegetables. He hires a rag tag bunch and is committed to making his small vegetable shop a success. The drama is an adaptation of a book titled “Bachelor Vegetable Store,” which chronicles the success story of Lee Young Seok. In 1988, Lee Young Seok turned his small vegetable store into a nationwide franchise with 33 outlets across the city.

One of Ji Chang Wook’s early dramas and a favorite among many, this drama is a story of grit and determination as one young man tries to change his fortune. This 2011 drama is totally worth a watch, and a young Ji Chang Wook with his charming smile will melt your heart.

Fight My Way

Park Seo Joon‘s Dong Man puts up a brave fight against all odds to emerge as the winner in a bloody martial arts contest. On the other hand, Choi Ae Ra (Kim Ji Won) dreads it each time he goes in for a fight. But did you know the story of Dong Man and Ae Ra from “Fight My Way” was influenced  by that of a real life couple? Celebrity couple Choo Sung Hoon, an MMA champion, and his fashion model wife Yano Shiho inspired writer Lim Sang Chun to pen the series in order to highlight the life of athletes and their families.

Yano Shiho’s fears and apprehensions whenever her husband Choo Sung Hoon went in for a fight were articulated by Ae Ra’s character. On the other hand Choo Sung Hoon, who is a formidable adversary in the arena, is at heart a sensitive husband and father, the same personality traits which were brought forth by Dong Man.

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Empress Ki

Dynastic wars, palace intrigues, rebellion, and insurgencies all make for dramatic storytelling, and chronicled by court historians, royal tales have often been reinterpreted and retold in pop culture.

“Empress Ki,” starring Ha Ji Won as the titular character who is married to Emperor Toghun Temur (Ji Chang Wook), is a fictionalized account of the life and times of the infamous Empress Ki. Born to a family of low ranking officials, the teenage Ki was presented by the Goryeo Kingdom to the Yuan dynasty in China. She rose in the ranks from palace maid to favored concubine of the emperor and then empress.

Though the relationships in the drama may have been cinematically retold, it’s based on real characters. Empress Ki, who defied the power system, has been often been called out to be manipulative and power hungry in the pages of history. After she invaded Goryeo with Yuan troops, she was labeled a traitor for invading her own country.

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The Red Sleeve

“The Red Sleeve,” which tells the story of a heart-wrenching love affair between a young court maid (and later concubine) named Deok Im (Lee Se Young) and the handsome crown prince Yi San (Lee Junho), broke many hearts. Drawing inspiration from documents and eulogies written by King Jeongjo for his favorite concubine, the Royal Noble Consort Seong Ui Bin, “The Red Sleeve” is an achingly beautiful drama of two lovers and their tragic love story.

Lee Junho bagged a Baeksang award for his brilliant portrayal of the crown prince, captivating many with his emotive performance as the lovelorn Prince Yi San.

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Know as the flower knights, the Hwarang were important members of society of the Silla Kingdom in the 10th century. They were an elite group of young men from high ranking families who were well versed in philosophy, religion, arts as well as martial arts. The legend of hwarangs is often romanticized in popular culture and was showcased in the drama “Hwarang.”

The coming-of-age drama tells the story of a group of young knights (played by Park Seo Joon, Park Hyung Sik, BTS’s V, Do Ji Han, and SHINee’s Minho) who band together to form a new Sill as they’re on the way to discovering love, friendship, and their own paths.

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A criminal profiler named Park Hae Young (Lee Je Hoon) and Detective Lee Jae Han (Jo Jin Woong) come together after the former hears a radio transmission to reinvestigate a cold case. Two timelines, the past and present, overlap, and the two decide to solve similar unresolved cases and find the culprit.

“Signal” is based on real-life crimes which took place in the Gyeonggi province: the 1997 Park Chorong Bitnari kidnapping case and the infamous Hwaseong serial murders between 1986 and 1994, which remained unresolved for years. The makers of the show highlighted these gruesome incidents to pay tribute to the victims and reminding the public to never forget what had happened in the past.

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Taxi Driver

An edge-of-your-seat crime thriller, “Taxi Driver” tells the story Kim Do Gi (Lee Je Hoon), a one-time special forces agent who, after the murder of his mother, is part of the Rainbow Taxi Team, a vigilante service. As a member of this team, he uses his special skills to help people get revenge and serve justice.

Most of the cases he is seen tackling are based on real life incidents. The Cho Doo Soon case, the release of a sex offender from prison, fueled public outrage, and there was the trafficking of disabled people highlighted in the events in Purple Island in Jeolla province. The drama also highlighted the incidents of school bullying and workplace harassment. “Taxi Driver” is coming back with its second season and will have newer cases for Kim Do Gi to take on.

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“Hymn of Death”

Set against the backdrop of Japan’s occupation of Korea, “Hymn of Death” is the story of Yoon Shim Deok (Shin Hye Sun), a music student who meets and falls in love with playwright Kim Woo Jin(Lee Jong Suk). But Woo Jin is already married, and they part ways. Years later, Shim Deok, now a soprano singer, meets him again, and sparks fly as they continue their love affair. As their relationship is illicit in the eyes of society, do the lovers cave in or take matters into their own hands? “Hymn of Death” is based on the ill-fated love story of Korea’s first soprano singer Yun Sim Deok and literary critic Kim Woo Jin. Yoon Shim Deok left behind a record titled “Eulogy of Death,” which she sang and has been adapted in various forms over the years.

“Move to Heaven”

A young man with Asperger’s syndrome (Tang Jun Sang) and his uncle (Lee Je Hoon) work as trauma cleaners. As they clear out the possessions of the dead, they uncover stories which the deceased have left behind, narrating them to their loved ones. This heartfelt drama is based on a true story told through a non-fiction essay titled “Things Left Behind” by Kim Sae Byul, a trauma cleaner who recounted a few incidents from his life.

“Move To Heaven” is a moving drama and a reminder to value all that we take for granted. Though it’s an emotional rollercoaster, its sensitive storytelling with a dash of humor makes it definitely worth a watch.

Hey Soompiers, which one is of these dramas is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

Puja Talwar is a Soompi writer with a strong Song Joong Ki and Lee Junho bias. A long time K-drama fan, she loves devising alternate scenarios to the narratives. She has interviewed Lee Min HoGong Yoo, Cha Eun Woo, and Ji Chang Wook to name a few. You can follow her on @puja_talwar7 on Instagram.

Currently watching:Strangers Again” and “Crash Course in Romance.”

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