Most of us have probably seen the historical K-Dramas where there are kings, queens, traditional hanboks, swords, and more. But what about more modern history? Although it’s not as common, K-Dramas depicting the 1900s do exist and are usually always underrated. It’s time to give them some love!
Note: The K-Dramas are in order from oldest setting to most recent setting.
1. Mr. Sunshine (around 1910)
This series tells the story of a young boy (Kim Kang Hoon) born into a house servant’s family who travels to the United States during the 1871 Shinmiyangyo (U.S. Expedition to Korea). He later returns to South Korea as a U.S. marine officer (Lee Byung Hun). He meets and falls in love with an aristocrat’s daughter (Kim Tae Ri). At the same time, he discovers a plot by foreign forces to colonize Korea.
2. The Hymn of Death (around 1926)
Kim Woo Jin (Lee Jong Suk) is a theater writer while Korea is under Japanese occupation. He is married, but he falls in love with Yun Shim Deok (Shin Hae Sun), the first Korean Soprano. She records the song “Praise of Death,” which becomes the first Korean pop song.
3. Chicago Typewriter (around 1930, also around 2017)
This series follows the lives of two men and a woman through two eras: the 1930s Japanese occupation of Korea and the 21st century. Han Se Joo (Yoo Ah In) was a writer in his past life and is a bestselling author in the present. However, he is depressed with writer’s block, so he can’t write his next book. Yu Jin Oh (Go Kyung Pyo) owned a bar in his previous life but in the present is a ghostwriter who can help Se Joo under a condition. Jeon Seol (Im Soo Jung) was a sniper in the past but has many different talents in the present. She is a former Olympian hopeful, a veterinarian, and a book lover who runs her own delivery service. The story of these three characters unfolds strange connections between the time periods as well as the possibility for their past lives to be improved in the modern world.
4. Bridal Mask (around 1930)
Lee Kang To (Joo Won) is an ambitious and emotionless Korean officer employed by the Japanese colonists. Despite his mother’s disapproval of his work and his brother’s hostile history with the Japanese, Kang To continues to play by the colonist’s rules in hopes of becoming successful and bringing his family out of poverty. However, a mysterious figure wearing a traditional Bridal Mask always seems to get in Kang To’s way.
5. Sandglass (around 1960-1980)
This series is the story of two men whose friendship is put to the test throughout the 1970s and 1980s, one of Korea’s politically tumultuous periods. Park Tae Soo (Choi Min Soo) grows up to become a gangster while Kang Woo Suk (Park Sang Won) grows up to become a prosecutor. Yoon Hye Rin (Go Hyun Jung), the daughter of a wealthy casino owner, is a Woo Suk’s college classmate. Hye Rin is introduced to Tae Soo by Woo Suk, and they fall in love.
6. Love Rain (around 1970)
Seo In Ha (Jang Geun Suk) is a sensitive artist who falls in love at first sight with fellow college student Kim Yoon Hee (Im Yoon Ah). The two of them develop feelings for each other, but In Ha’s best friend, Lee Dong Wook (Kim Shi Hoo), confesses his love for Yoon Hee. Not wanting to ruin his friendship, In Ha watches as the girl he loves grows farther away from him. Fast-forward to present-day Seoul, where In Ha’s son, Seo Joon, meets and falls in love with Ha Na, Kim Yoon Hee’s daughter. The children are completely different from their parents, but fate pulls them together.
7. Youth of May (around 1980)
Hwang Hee Tae (Lee Do Hyun) enters the Seoul National University College of Medicine with top marks. His best friend Kim Kyung Soo (Kwon Young Chan), an avid pro-democracy activist, insists that they open an illegal clinic for students on the run from the government. One day, a factory worker is injured during a protest. In exchange for discreetly transporting himself and the factory worker to his hometown, Hee Tae must go to a meeting with a potential marriage partner arranged by his father. Hee Tae meets Kim Myung Hee (Go Min Si), a nurse who agrees to go to this meeting in place of her friend Lee Soo Ryun (Geum Sae Rok). However, Myung Hee and Hee Tae end up falling in love.
8. Life on Mars (around 1988)
As the leader of a crime investigation team, Han Tae Joo (Jung Kyung Ho) has risen through the ranks by trusting data over all else. One day, while investigating a serial murder case, he has an accident. When he wakes up, he finds himself in the winter of 1988. He’s now a detective appointed to work at a police station in a small city and must solve a case to return to the present.
9. Reply 1997 (around 1997)
This K-Drama focuses on high school student Sung Shi Won (Jung Eun Ji), who idolizes the boyband H.O.T. and her 5 friends in Busan. The timeline moves back and forth between their past as 18-year-olds in 1997 and their present as 33-year-olds at their high school reunion dinner in 2012.