Korean historical dramas gained momentum around the world. Produced mainly in a mini-series format, the drama series carry their own unique elements that separate them from the other Western dramas and soap operas. The series gives us a chance to peep through Korean history and tradition despite containing few fictional attachments. Most Korean period dramas are not an entirely accurate portrayal of the actual history, they are purely imaginative.
The greatest historical K-dramas stand out by their classic style of presentation. They are packed with fantasy and romance that dramatically switch into fast paste action series. From master archers to down-to-earth romances that warmed our hearts, here is a list of the outstanding 30 best Korean historical dramas with spoiler-free reviews.
30/30. Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung (2019)
Despite some historical inaccuracies, Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung is one of the best historical Korean dramas streaming on Netflix. The main story takes place in the 19th century, in Joseon Dynasty, South Korea. While women are suppressed in this time, the leading heroine Goo Hae-Ryung is a gust of fresh wind in the whole series. She is well educated and her hunger for gaining knowledge finally leads her to be recruited as a female historian. All the way through her journey she keeps her personality high and elegant. On the other hand, our handsome prince Dowon is an isolated soul who has devoted himself to writing romance novels and staying away from the royal court as much as possible. He publishes the novels by the penname Maehwa and gets a huge appreciation.
The classic romance starts with their dramatic encounter but political situations keep them uncertain. The story flows throughout historical events like the destruction of books, political movements, the smallpox epidemic, and informative flashbacks. Will Dowon be able to live the life of his dream? Will Goo Hae-Ryung be able to keep track of her philosophy about life? This show is the perfect combination of romance, drama, conflicts, history, and humor, and the storyline is worthy of your time.
29/30. The Emperor: Owner of the Mask (2017)
This Korean historical series lacks solid facts but enriches lots of drama and romance. In Joseon Dynasty, the king is not as powerful as he should be. Because a group called Pyunsoo controls most of the important things and planning to take over the throne. When the crown prince Lee Sun is born, the king decides to hide him under a mask to save him from the Pyunsoo. But what would happen when the grown-up Lee Sun would begin to search for the reason? Will romance take place between him and Han Ga-Eun? Will this two get along? Would he find a true friend ever? Things get more complicated for Lee Sun when the king is killed. He barely survives and remains in shock for a pretty long time.
28/30. Love in the Moonlight (2016)
It is another classic love story set in the Joseon Dynasty in the 19th century, adapted from the novel “Moonlight Drawn by the Clouds”. It’s a youth romance that brings two different personalities together to figure out the meaning of love. Crown prince Lee Yeong appears to be unpredictable but creative at the same time. Under the veil of mischievousness, he hides the agony of losing his mom and accuses his father. In opposite, Hong Ra-on becomes a street-smart girl and a brilliant writer at the same time due to her versatile early life. Ironically, she is living her life in disguise as a boy, and hides her pain in a smile! But circumstances draw close Yeong and Ra-on. Will they recognize their true self and come together to comfort each other? How will they spread warmth in the monarchy? This is definitely a fairy tale story that will put a smile on your face.
27/30. 100 Days With My Prince (2018)
This Korean romantic comedy in the background of history appears to be a classic. Lee Yul and Yi-Seo are completely different personalities at young age meet each other in an unfavorable condition. However, Yul crushes helplessly on Yi-Seo changes him into a good person later. As they both belong to noble families, palace politics, hunger for the throne, and deception from trusted people tore them apart.
They meet and wed each other years later under another strange circumstance. Yi-Seo now lives a commoner’s life in a rural place. Yul has lost memory after an accident. The couple starts their married life unaware of certain truths. This time they impress each other even without knowing their true identity. How long their marriage will last? Would they return to the palace or spend life in the rural village forever? Will Yul ever regain his memory?
26/30. Secret Royal Inspector Joy (2021)
Ra Yi Eon just wants to pass his life quietly and comfortably and avoid hard work.
But after circumstances beyond his control, he becomes a secret royal inspector and finds himself running around trying to solve mysteries. Kim Jo-Yi, a progressive woman who refuses to humbly accept her fate as a wife, joins him. She decides to divorce her husband while assisting the Royal Inspector in his many interrogations. Very comedic and the romance is coming along steadily. Secret Royal Inspector Joy is lighter than most Korean historical dramas.
There are generally comedic moments and the romance is coming along steadily. The drama also covers corruption and abuse of power like most other serious Sageuk dramas. But, you’ll get to appreciate the humor from our main trio. The relationship between Yi-Eon and Jo-Yi makes the historic show interesting to follow. However, the investigation doesn’t work and you quickly lose track.
25/30. The Great King, Sejong (2008)
This Korean historical drama could be called a masterpiece work. This tells a story about that boy who had the least chance to be a king. Later they take control of the country and build a strong legacy. Sejong was born as the third child, thus almost zero possibility to climb up the throne. He is abandoned in childhood and lives in a house far from the palace. That gives him a chance to see the commoners’ life closely and makes him a thoughtful king in the future. Palace politics reaches its peak while he was living a peaceful life far away. He has acknowledged the ongoing events but chooses to remain calm. Power falls into his hand incidentally. But he never abuses the advantage, instead, he is about to format a writing formula of the language.
This drama will blow your mind for sure. Korean historical dramas just don’t contain beautiful storyline but also shows their charisma in casting. Mesmerizing set, colorful costumes, hearts touching acting, and brilliant camera tricks are used to make the series outstanding. Moreover, they are good enough to change your taste in entertainment!
See relevant: 10 Hot Korean Drama With Lots Of Skinship
24/30. The Crowned Clown (2019)
Diplomacies for the throne are an everlasting fact for almost every kingdom. It becomes more deadly in the mid-Joseon period. In this periodic k-drama, they show the cruel game in the veil of humor. The cold war for power becomes so poisonous that the king needs to hide himself to save a life. To fill up the blank space he hires a look-alike clown to act as king. Besides challenges, the clown Ha-Seon also faces politics he never imagined. Now he is under the observation of two kinds of people; there is one group who actually admires the king and wishes for his long life.
Then we have got the enemy group who would anything to take him down. What if he is caught by the opposition? How would he manage royal diplomacy? Even though it was a remake of the movie “Masquerade”, the series has got huge appreciation from both home and abroad.
23/30. Dong Yi (2010)
It looks like the Joseon Dynasty is very preferable for setting the plot of historical romance! This one is also based on true events. Dong Yi is a common girl whose family is falsely accused to be betrayers, which leads her to hide her identity. Later she enters the royal court with her brilliance and marvelous investigating instinct. She exposes several conspiracies, risks her life to save the kingdom, and meanwhile earns the queen’s favor by restoring her pride. Soon, she gains the king’s affection and gives birth to his child. But, the rivals rise to disclose her true identity to execute or exile her from the palace.
How will she prove her innocence? How will the king keep her safe? Will Dong Yi be the mother of the future king? Will this noblewoman fight for a place as a queen or leave to live a commoner’s life?
22/30. Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth (2016)
Queen Jiso climbs up the throne of Silla after her father’s death. She tries her best to stable the political and economic situation of the kingdom. But the noble families inflame the countrymen against her to take over the power. Besides patriotism, she is also up to protect her son. She forms another elite class as warriors and names it Hwarang. Political influence is well decentralized in this way. But is this the only reason to form a new troop? Or, something else is hidden out there?
Even though the critiques blame the story to be distracting, the worldwide audience loves the drama. K-Drama lovers say it to be a different and refreshing story.
21/30. Jumong (2006)
Though this series is mostly fictional work, it presents the history of Jumong who established the Goguryeo Empire. This is the story of that time when a few tribes were ruling over the land. Jumong’s father and mother were in love but detached during his mother’s pregnancy. His father used to be a warrior and was assumed to be dead.
Coincidentally, he was raised in the royal palace as a prince because the king took his mom there. Family politics haunt him that forces him to run away. While running for life when he meets an elderly man who becomes his teacher. This man happens to be Jumong’s father. Will the truth ever be revealed? Would the father and son reunite? How will Jumong take over power and start a great Dynasty?
20/30. Lee San, Wind of the Palace (2007)
A heartwarming historical drama based on the real-life history of king Jeongjo, the Joseon Dynasty’s 22nd ruler. He is also known as the most kind-hearted, polite king in Korean history. The series describes his life from a human’s perspective. Earlier episodes show his privileged childhood that rarely made him an arrogant fellow.
Instead, he learns to love and be compassionate to every soul, values relationships, respects ancestors, keeps promises, and cares about his countrymen. This brave king handles the palace politics successfully, meanwhile longs for a free peaceful life with his beloved Song-Yeon. Even though it’s a historical drama, a royal fellow’s emotional point of view will surely touch you.
19/30. Iljimae (2008)
Iljimae is another adaption from Chinese folklore that sets in the Joseon era in Korea. Our hero barely escapes from the king’s rage in the first place and then loses memory for a while. After regaining his past, he returns to take revenge on everyone who destroyed his family.
Throughout his journey, he actually started to help the poor citizens by robbing the noblemen. Things become more complicated when he realizes his love for Eun-Cheo, the daughter of a nobleman. Few reckless activities risk his secrecy and safety. You’d have to wait till the last moment to know what’d happen.
See relevant: The Top 40 Best Chinese Historical Dramas Of All Time!
18/30. The Princess’ Man (2011)
This is another classic Korean period drama that shows that love blooms in the least expected place. In the first few episodes, it seems to be a light-hearted story that starts with a playful encounter between Se-Ryung and Seung-Yoo. Then royal politics starts to tangle up the lovers leaving their affection in threat and misunderstanding. Unaware of princess Se-Ryung’s identity, the son of the opposition’s leader Seung-Yoo falls for her. Knowing each other’s family conflicts could barely prevent their hearts.
The pair goes through uncountable revengeful plots, gets framed, is forced to be separated, survives wars, and fights against powerful family and outer enemies. However, the question remains would all these sacrifices be enough to bring them together in the end? Would their misfortunes be worthy? The suspense will continue till the last episode.
17/30. Tree With Deep Roots (2011)
This Korean period drama is pretty distinct from other historical dramas in many aspects. It is a story of two commoners who make themselves adorable to the king through their own skillset. Ddol-Bok and Dam are two childhood friends separated after a political mass murder. Ddol-Bok becomes a skillful warrior who vows revenge, and Dam becomes a court lady.
Both of them took another name that keeps them unaware of their identity. Destiny is all and it pulls them closer to the king who sends them to investigate a secret rebel team. Where will they reach the end of this journey? Will they recognize each other along with the greater good?
16/30. The Rebel (2013)
Here we have got another “Robin Hood” story in a sort of different situation. When the entire country is suffering from a tyrant king, a rebellious force rises to fight for rights. Gil Dong is a respective member of this gang, who soon replaces the leader with his extraordinary genius.
The team is set out to loot the privileged people and stay beside the oppressed. During this volatile era, a contemporary love story also takes place. Jang Nok-Su loves Gil Dong but she is a faithful person to the king. Would these dissimilarities apart the lovers? Would they step back from their perspective?
15/30. The King Dae Joyoung (2006)
This Korean historical drama begins with a background story of Dae Jo Yeong’s parents. There is already a war going on between the Tang and the Goguryeo. His parents barely survive the destruction. There is a prophecy that Dae Jo Yeong would be a king, which puts his life at risk. Throughout the script, he ends up being raised as a slave, separated from his parents.
He is a free-spirited young man and always searches for answers about his past and parents. He finds chances to learn martial arts. Would he get to know about the prophecy? Would his fate lead him to be a king? This Korean historical drama includes a lot of sword fights and martial art scenes that earned extra appraisal from the audience.
Total Episodes: 134, IMDb Rating: 8.3, Watch the Trailer, Genre: Historical, Action.
14/30. My Country: The New Age (2019)
Commoners’ lives go upside down when power shifts in the palace. As the conflicts arise, countrymen also rise against each other for the sake of loyalty to their political views. This is a story of two friends, whose compassion for each other shakes after choosing the separate side of politics. During the crucial time of The Goryan Dynasty’s downfall and the Joseon Dynasty’s emergence, Seo Hwi and Nam Seon-Ho split up their long-lasted bond.
Their intention to protect the motherland in different ways; still remains the same. Would they ever come to the same point of view? The story becomes more tangled when Haan Hee-Jae comes in. This strong young girl has the brilliance to take an active part in politics.
13/30. Kingdom (2019)
A period drama about zombies, with touches of “Game of Thrones” that takes place in the 14th century, shortly after the Japanese invasion of the country. Our protagonist is Crown Prince Lee Chang, who goes out to find out why his father, the corrupt king, has not been seen for a long time. Pretty soon it turns out that he has become a zombie and that he is being held in solitary confinement in the palace.
However, as a result of a tragic chain of events and selfish decisions of the local nobles, the plague is spreading in the south of the country. Chang, with the help of a local doctor and his loyal servant, goes out to stop the plague and in the process, we also get a history lesson. The Kingdom is a stylish and invested series with big fights, a fondness for violence and beheadings, but also with accessible characters that are easy to connect with. In addition, much of the enjoyment of watching stems from the gap in what we know about zombies, compared to the little knowledge of the characters who are first exposed to the living-dead creatures.
12/30. Bridal Mask (2012)
The story takes place in 1930 when the Japanese used to rule the Korean peninsula. This is a twisted story of three youngsters who and bound by a common fact; “Gaksital -The Bridal Mask”. The script presents the conflicts between good and bad, choices and circumstances, humor and cruelty, love and hatred altogether. Kang-To is out to help the Japanese force despite being a Korean. On the other hand, he himself is the undercover Bridal Mask who fights for liberation.
How long he will be able to keep his secret? Especially, when Mok-Dan our heroine starts to love the Bridal Mask but can’t even spare Kang-To. Would he reveal his identity? How would Mok-Dan’s life change when a Japanese school teacher Kimura Shunji would develop affection for her? Who happens to be Kang-To’s friend! This trio could hold you on sit till the end.
See relevant: Top 30 Best Korean High School Drama!
11/30. The Great Jang-Geum (2003)
This masterpiece Korean historical drama also takes place in the period of the Joseon Dynasty. The plot is inspired by the first female physician of the Joseon Dynasty, Jang-Geum’s journey through Korean cuisine, medicine, and traditional cures. The story starts in the royal palace where political tensions are rising and a few assassinations are taking place. In this untamed time, Jang-Geum’s mother is sentenced to death but is spared by some kindhearted officials. Later, Jang-Geum’s father saves her; they fall in love, get married, live low life and raise their only daughter Jang-Geum. Jang-Geum’s struggle starts when she becomes an orphan at a very young age.
As she enters the royal kitchen; still, the political situation is unstable. These conflicts bring her to Jeju Island as a prisoner where she vows to become a physician to return to the palace and declare her innocence. In the meantime, her love for Jeong-ho is tested from time to time. This historical series based on real events will blow your mind for sure.
10/30. Empress Ki (2013)
This story is based on the true events of the Yuan Dynasty. Ki Seung-Nyang is a highly ambitious woman who was born in Goryeo. This is mainly the story of her journey to the final throne. In that era, it was pretty tough for her to ascend to power for so long. But her political foresight led him to the supreme position. She marries Temur the Mongol Emperor despite loving Wang Yu. That brings her the power but doesn’t belittle her sacrifices though. Two men love her with life and she chooses one who matches her dream.
This period drama will definitely connect you emotionally. Despite dramatic representation, this series has shown historical facts as much as possible. This is why critics claimed this show was an informative one!
9/30. Chuno (2010)
How long will you search for your lost love? Dae-Gil would take 10 straight years of determination! It’s an unusual journey for love and dignity. At a young age, Dae-Gil son of a rich noble family is obsessed with Un-Nyun, the sister of a slave. Presumably, Dae -Gil’s family opposes and locks Un-Nyun to die.
Her brother saves her life but burns Dae-Gil’s house. Dae-Gil survives anyway and works hard to recollect fortune. In the meantime, he gets involved with Joseon Dynasty, politics, and slave-hunting. Where would his desire for revenge take him? Would he be able to find Un-Nyun, or lose her forever?
8/30. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)
Though it is adapted from a Chinese novel named “Bu Bu Jing Xin”, is one of the most expensive drama series in South Korea. The fantasy journey starts when a 21st-century young girl travels back through time during a total solar eclipse. She wakes up in the body of a princess named Hae Soo in the Goryeo Dynasty in 941. Kind and warm-hearted Hae Soo finds herself in a triangular love story and eventually in the palace politics for the thrown.
Her inner war about true love gives the story a different aspect. Whom will she choose to be with, the gently appeared 8th prince Wang Wook, or the furious-looking 4th prince Wang So? Will she discover the tender heart behind Wang So’s tough attitude? Will will this story meet and happy ending or fade in time? A brilliant script and a fairly flowing story can keep anyone stuck till the end.
7/30. The Tale of Nokdu (2019)
The Korean historic drama tells the story of Jeon Nok Du, a member of a noble family in the Joseon Dynasty. He is on a mission to capture assassins who tried to kill his family and finds himself in a cross-dressing disguise in a widow’s village. In the village, he meets Dong Joo, an apprentice who will become a Kisaeng against her will. Kisaeng is a historic Korean title for women and girls who were sold to the state in cases where the head of the household was considered a traitor or owed money to the government. They became a kind of hostess or companion in the guest house.
They are taught the rules of tea ceremony, dance, music, and singing. Their main function was to entertain high-ranking people or distinguished guests from other countries. After Nok Du saves Dong Joo from a dangerous situation, she becomes his stepdaughter. Now, he has no choice but to stay in the village for a year. Will he be able to keep his identity a secret?
A lighthearted show with stunning costumes. Even if you’re not a Saeguk fan, you’ll appreciate its entertaining quality. It’s funny, has stunning cinematography, and the cast is great. From female assassins to widows village, The Tale of Nokdu features an unusual female statement with strong women with their own goals and their own inner strength.
6/30. The Great Queen Seondeok (2009)
This Korean historical drama presents the noteworthy life of the first female ruler in their history, princess Deokman, later known as Queen Seondeok. She was born to the king and queen with a twin sister but was sent far away with a trusted servant for safety.
When she was growing up as a commoner, her rivals were taking over the throne. Years later, her twin sister discovers her true identity and assists to fight back for the throne. Besides showing romance from time to time, the series also praises the historic hero Yushin and mourns the downfall of Bidam.
5/30. Gwanggaeto, the Great Conqueror (2011)
The Goguryeo Dynasty used to be a powerful empire once. This series is not about the golden age though, it’s about the reconstruction and expansion by one hard-working blue blood. Things are not easy for Damdeok after his father’s death. He climbed up the throne while enemies were more threatening than ever.
The Dynasty has lost its glory and he is determined to restore its dignity. How would he conquer the devastated kingdom? What will it take to establish stability? How long would he get support from the noble families? This story tells us about that stubborn king who would stop for nothing to conquer the nation together.
4/30. Mr. Queen: The Bamboo Forest (2021)
Here we have got another Korean period drama presented with romance and fantasy. It is basically a prequel to a previous hit “Cheolinwanghoo”. The story includes the first meeting of the main characters, king Cheoljong and So Yong. The episodes show the competitiveness and affection, conflicts, and humor between these two. The show also shares focuses on the other people living in the palace and their interest in different objects.
There is a myth that prequels can’t be as appealing as the earlier series. This Korean historical drama will definitely break this idea into pieces by its charm. Outstanding performances by the leading and supporting characters, sharp sense of humor, and royal rituals will bring you to a fantasy world.
3/30. Mr. Sunshine (2018)
For the first few episodes, this drama gives hints about the transition of Korea. The series takes place in Joseon while Japan is planning to set up a colony there. Eventually, our hero falls into the movement for Korea’s independence. However, the battle is not the pinpoint but the love story of Eugene and Go Ae-Shin.
While they are dying to be together, the different class keeps their consciousness apart. Being born in slavery couldn’t stop Eugene to become a mariner. Yet, being raised in aristocratic family bounds Go Ae-shin in many ways. What will happen in their fate when the great historical movement will take place?
2/30. Six Flying Dragons (2015)
This is a complete political drama; however, you’ll get romance drops from time to time. It is also said to be a loose prequel to the “Tree with Deep Roots”. The base of the script adapts real historical characters, yet includes a few fictional characters and events that enrich the show. The storyline follows the rise of the Joseon Dynasty.
Mainly focused on prince Yi Bang-Won as future ruler, but the characters of Boon-Yi, Ddang-Sae, Moo-Hyul, and others are equally influential. The track of history takes turns with every action taken by the lead characters. There are no melodramatic scenes, but if you enjoy mind games and political excitement, it’s just perfect!
1/30. The Red Sleeve Cuff (2021)
Seong Deok is a royal court girl. She gets involved with the Crown Prince who falls in love with her. The crown prince eventually becomes King Jung Jo, Yi San. Now the king demands that Song Doc becomes his mistress, but she refuses. She longs to live her life freely, and that’s not possible if she becomes the King’s mistress.
Seong Deok also knows that the life of a royal mistress does not usually bring happiness. The historical Korean romance drama dominated the ratings and buzz by the end of 2021. The Red Sleeve took home the most trophies at the MBC Drama Awards and won the “Drama of the Year” award. The first few episodes might give the impression it’s a comedy series, but episode six is where you’ll start to really fall in love.