11 Inspiring Sports-Themed K-Dramas To Watch

There is nothing that beats a good sports drama, whether it is football, baseball, soccer, badminton, or swimming, the list is endless. You don’t have to be a sportsperson or even be into sports to enjoy a sports drama. The line between reel and real gets blurred, and as the momentum builds up, there’s a feeling of an adrenaline rush in anticipation of the final strike, bout, or the winning goal. So let’s game, set, and read about 11 sports-themed K-dramas that will make you laugh, cry, cheer, and learn some valuable life lessons on the way.

“Twenty Five, Twenty One”

A curious teenager named Min Chae (Choi Myung Bin) discovers her mother Na Hee Do’s old journals and starts reading them. We are taken back in time to the late 1990s, when the world is at the cusp of a yet unknown millennium and was trying to recover from an economic crisis. A spirited and spunky fencer named Na Hee Do (Kim Tae Ri) trains hard. Her dream is to play for her country, defeat her one time idol and now rival Go Yu Rim (Bona), and experience true love. Baek Yi Jin (Nam Joo Hyuk), an idealistic and hardworking young man, is trying to rebuild his life and that of his family post the economic downturn. Hee Do and Yi Jin become friends, and though her sprightly nature sharply contrasts his reticent personality, the two complement each other in every possible way. As a teary-eyed Hee Do asks Yi Jin, “Why do you root for me? Even my mom doesn’t,” he simply answers with, “Because you give me hope. And I want more for you. And it makes me want to do well too.” It’s a telling statement of their deep bond as they set forth on their bittersweet journey as friends and then lovers. The promise of becoming great together binds them even when apart.

A show which had its viewers so invested in the lives of the characters and their story, “Twenty Five, Twenty One” is an achingly stirring coming-of-age story of growing pains, young love, heartbreak, friendship, and ambition. The stellar performances by Kim Tae Ri as the reckless, impulsive Hee Do and Nam Joo Hyuk as the stoic and determined Baek Yi Jin made their characters so relatable and real that it was hard to let go of them. Never did a show stir emotions as this one did.

“Love All Play”

There are two ace badminton players: one had to quit the sport, and the other finds the game tedious. But when these two join forces, they are a match made on court. Tae Yang (Park Ju Hyun), a talented and well-known badminton player, quits the sport after an incident. Miserable and living a life of self blame, badminton had been Tae Yang’s reason to live. She meets Park Tae Joon (Chae Jang Hyeop), who regards the sport as a burden of sorts. He feels he is destined to live in the shadows of his sister’s illustrious sports career and the successful badminton equipment business of his parents is not helping his cause either. When the two meet as part of the badminton team Yunis, it’s love and play for both. Tae Joon in his desire to impress Tae Yang finds his passion for the game reignited.

“Love All Play” is an incredibly delightful show in every sense of the word. A warm love story set against the backdrop of the business of sports and management, the drama scores on all aspects. and Park Ju Hyun and Chae Jong Hyeop’s tingling chemistry takes center court.

Stove League

Baek Seung Soo (Namgoong Min) has been appointed as general manager for the pro league baseball team Dreams. He is the man with the Midas touch, and it’s his ability to turn the fortunes of teams that makes him the perfect man for the job. But there are those who want the dissolution of the team and think Seung Soo will be the perfect candidate to help them do so. Dreams are at the bottom of the ladder. Seung Soo not only motivates them but astounds everyone by showing a different facet to his so called shrewd personality. Lee Se Young (Park Eun Bin), the devoted operations manager of the team, helps Seung Soo in helping Dreams become the dream team.

“Stove League” scores a home run with an engrossing and rewarding narrative. There is something enthralling in watching shows which motivate and give you the morale boost, and “Stove League” is that one show. Life affirming lessons along with winning performances—does it get any better than this?

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“Racket Boys”

Yoon Hyun Jong (Kim Sang Kyung), a one time badminton player, struggles to make ends meet for his family. He gets the chance to coach a countryside middle school badminton team which is on the brink of extinction. There are just three players left on the team: Bang Yoon Dam (Son Sang Yeon), Na Woo Chan (Choi Hyun Wook), and Lee Yong Tae (Kim Kang Hoon). Hyun Jong’s city bred son, a former badminton prodigy named Hae Kang (Tang Jun Sang), joins the team along with In Sol (Kim Min Ki). They now have enough players to enter competitions and driving them forward is their hunger to win.

“Racket Boys” is an empowering story of grit and determination as these boys soar to great heights, investing their blood, sweat, and tears for the love of the game. It is very easy to root for and cheer on these amazing kids. Despite none of them being professional players, the actors who received special training give their best knock ever.

Fight My Way

Dong Man (Park Seo Joon) is a taekwondo and martial arts expert. But after losing a competitive fight, Dong Man has lost his self confidence and puts his dreams on the back burner. His best friend and evenutally girlfriend Choi Ae Ra (Kim Ji Won), an aspiring anchor, is not too keen on him being back in the fighting arena. She dreads him taking up a fight. But Dong Man needs to win that one bout, despite health issues, to get his confidence and self-esteem back as an athlete. The story of Dong Man and Ae Ra from “Fight For My Way” was influenced by that of Choo Sung Hoon, an MMA champion, and his fashion model wife Yano Shiho. Their story inspired writer Lim Sang Chun to highlight the lives of athletes and their families.

“Fight My Way” strikes a chord for its realism. A story of ordinary people and their burning desire to make it big against all odds resonated with viewers. Park Seo Joon is adorable as the unassuming Dong Man and Kim Ji Won as the opinionated Ae Ra brings forth a natural camaraderie which is effortlessly endearing.

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Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

This drama is a cute friends-to-lovers story between a spunky weightlifting champ named Kim Bok Joo (Lee Sung Kyung) and a swimming prodigy Joon Hyung (Nam Joo Hyuk). The two had met years before in elementary school. Now on campus, an easy friendship develops between the two. They help, motivate, and encourage each other through their many issues and challenges. The story revolves around Bok Joo, who loves to tuck into food and is comfortable in her skin until she develops a crush on Joon Hyung’s older brother. The tomboyish Bok Joo gets self conscious about her appearance, trying to lose weight, which is sacrilege for any weightlifter.

“Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo” is a wonderful watch. On one hand, it brings out the lighthearted aspect of campus life and young love, and on the other, it highlights the many issues athletes deal with, ranging from performance pressure and mental health to body positivity. Lee Sung Kyung owned her role as Bok Joo as she brought forth her character’s physicality and the emotional aspects as naturally as possible. Her spontaneous chemistry with Nam Joo Hyuk made them one of the most cherished onscreen pairs.

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“To The Beautiful You”

Goo Jae Hee (Sulli) idolizes Kang Tae Joon (Minho), an athlete who has fallen into a slump. Jae Hee cuts her hair short, disguises herself as a boy, and transfers to Tae Joon’s all boys school. Tae Joon, who is nursing an injury and feels it’s the end of the road of his sporting career, initially spars with Jae Hee. As her encouraging and endearing personality wins him over, she encourages him to tide through his apprehensions and fear. The rest though is predictable high school fare. Tae Joon develops feelings for Jae Hee thinking he is a boy, and an unusual love triangle begins to develop.

“To the Beautiful You,” an adaptation of the Japanese manga “Hana Kimi,” is a breezy watch with entertaining characters. While the central theme is of friendship and acceptance, the gender swap gives the drama a comic twist.

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King of High School

Lee Min Seok (Seo In Guk) is an all-star ice hockey player in his school team. Min Seok looks identical to his older brother, a director of a company. After his brother’s sudden disappearance, Min Seok has to pretend to be his brother. Once at the company, he meets Jung Soo Young (Lee Ha Na), and sparks fly. But can he divulge his true identity?

Though there is not much hockey depicted in the show, this drama is still a winsome watch. As Min Seok navigates his double life, the show gives plenty of cute and funny moments. But when he falls hopelessly in love, that’s when the real fun starts. With quirky characters, a tense love triangle, and plenty of laugh out loud moments, this one is a win win all the way.

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 “Run On”

“Of all the things I have loved, why have I never loved myself,” says Ki Seon Gyeom (Im Siwan), a champion sprinter. Seon Gyeom, a self righteous young man, is not one to bask in his achievements. He takes down bullies in the team and stands up against the discrepancies even at the risk of getting disqualified. He takes to training with his focus being to hone the talent of those who lack resources. He meets Oh Mi Joo (Shin Se Kyung), a hardworking and passionate film translator who has battled sexism at the workplace but stands up for herself. After meeting Mi Joo, Seon Gyeom realizes it is okay to vent out all his pent-up feelings. Not happy being a sprinter, he takes to being an agent, a job he enjoys more. There’s also Seo Dan Ah (Sooyoung), the brusque CEO of a sports management company. Having given up her dream to play soccer, she craves true love and friendship. Lee Young Hwa (Kang Tae Oh), an optimistic and sensitive art student, befriends Seon Gyeom and Dan Ah.

As these four individuals traverse the road to self discovery, they learn valuable lessons in self-love and self-belief. “Run On” is about taking charge of your destiny, articulating what you feel, and being free of the shackles one tends to bind oneself with. It also addresses several issues of toxic parenting and performance pressure as well as bullying, class divide, and same sex love.

“Prison Playbook”

Kim Je Hyuk (Park Hae Soo) is a famous baseball player whose life turns upside down just as he is about to sign up for a major league. A protective brother to his little sister, he beats up the man who abuses her and ends up in jail. His best friend Lee Joon Ho (Jung Kyung Ho), a corrections officer at the prison, helps him endure the difficult moments. Je Hyuk continues to practice baseball in prison in hopes of resurrecting his career once out. The show also focuses on his encounters with several people. Jung Hae In as Captain Yoo, a man wrongly framed for killing a soldier, comes across as cold but at heart is a good person. There’s Min Chul (Choi Moo Sung), a former gangster who regrets his past, and also Je Hyuk’s girlfriend Ji Hi (Krystal), who stands by him despite the odds.

This may not be your typical K-drama, but “Prison Playbook” is a masterpiece in its execution and finely etched characters. As the individual stories of each prisoner unfold, it tugs your heart. It’s an emotive narrative backed with impactful performances that will make you weep copious tears.

“Thumping Spike”

The Daehan High School Volleyball team aspires to reach the top despite being at the lowest rung of the ladder. A volleyball star named Se Ra (Hwang Seung Eon) is facing stagnancy and a slump in her sporting career after a fall out. She cannot seem to shake off the sense of despondency. Woeful, she finds herself stuck coaching the floundering bunch of boys at Daehan High School. To make matters complicated, she is constantly at loggerheads with Daehan’s star player Hwang Jae Woong (Song Jae Rim). None of the players in the team can match up to Jae Woong’s expertise. But the love for the game so strong and the desire to win even stronger, can this mediocre team turn their fortunes around?

A marvelous underrated gem of a show, this drama celebrates friendship and teamwork. You also get a lot of show of sportsmanship as well as a heart thumping romance, which makes for a perfect watch.

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Heading to the Ground

A soccer player and a sports manager are determined to prove their worth and mettle. Cha Bong Gun (Yunho) is an aspiring soccer player from a humble background who has a burning desire to play professionally. But fate keeps putting every obstacle between him and his dream. He is wrongly accused of a hit and run and ends up serving a prison sentence. Once out, things are way tougher for Bong Gun, and as he hustles between odd jobs, he never gives up on soccer. Hae Bin (Go Ara), the daughter of a rich man, is so burdened with her surname that she is always hiding her identity. She gets a job as a sports manager, but can a woman survive in a man’s world? And will Bong Gun and Hae Bin succeed and withstand the prejudices and overcome their challenges?

“Heading to the Ground” is a true blast from the past and does not disappoint in any way. It’s a story of perseverance and resilience, and its appeal lies in the straightforward storytelling.

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

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

Currently watching:The Legend of the Blue Sea

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