10 Best Historical (Sageuk) Korean Dramas

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It’s time to check in on what I think are the 10 best historical (sageuk) Korean dramas. After recently highlighting what I think are the 10 Best Korean Dramas, I realized there weren’t any historicals on that list!

But it’s not because I don’t love them. There’s nothing like a good historical to create a rich world where the stakes are high and everything feels so grand. My number one historical actually just missed my top 10 list coming in at number 11.

So let’s make sure this amazing genre gets some love and take a look at some of my favorite historical dramas.

10. Sungkyunkwan Scandal

Sungkyunkwan Scandal Korean Drama - Park Yoo Chun, Park Min Young, Yoo Ah In, Song Joong Ki

Plot: A girl disguises herself as a man to get into Sungkyunkwan University where she  finds herself drawing the affections of several of the other students.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal is a fun drama on so many levels. I also think it’s one of the perfect dramas for someone new to historicals. It’s never too heavy and really focuses on the relationships of our scholars.

It’s always entertaining watching a girl disguise herself as boy. Park Min Young is adorable in this role, and watching all of the guys reluctantly fall for her makes for a very fun watch. Each guy is entertaining in his own way, and we also get some nice bromance between them to seal the deal. Our main couple of Park Yoo Chun and Park Min Young is pretty sweet too. Sungkyunkwan Scandal is a classic for a reason.

9. Moonlight Drawn By Clouds

Moonlight Drawn By Clouds Korean Drama - Park Bo Gum and Kim Yoo Jung

Plot: A prince falls in love with his eunuch who is actually a girl disguised as a man. The two have to face many challenges to protect their secret and overcome threats to the throne.

Moonlight Drawn By Clouds was a wonderful youth historical! We have a fantastic couple that were all kinds of cute at the heart of the drama backed by a solid story. The first half is a lot of fun with a great dynamic between our couple. Then the story thickens as the stakes become higher and everyone’s relationships are put to the test.

Park Bo Gum is a complete charmer as the Crown Prince, and he really delivered when things got intense. Kim Yoo Jung is also fantastic as our girl disguised as a eunuch, Ra On. The couple remained completely adorable throughout the drama, and the story was very solid to carry things through to the end. (Moonlight Drawn By Clouds Review)

8. Scholar Who Walks the Night

Scholar Who Walks the Night Korean Drama - Lee Joon Gi and Lee Yoo Bi

Plot: A scholar becomes involved with a plot to take down the evil vampire Gwi, but he ends up becoming a vampire himself.  He then dedicates his life over the next 120 years to finding a way to destroy the evil vampire.

Scholar Who Walks the Night was such an enjoyable drama. It had the feel of an epic fairy tale, and I would love to see more stories like this in kdramas. It’s a little rough around the edges, but there is still plenty to like.

Lee Joon Gi was amazing, and I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect tortured vampire.  He immersed himself in the role as did all of the actors.  Lee Soo Hyuk as the evil vampire Gwi was a joy to watch, and I was thoroughly pleased with him. Overall, Scholar Who Walks the Night hit all the right spots for a fun supernatural historical. (Scholar Who Walks the Night Review)

7. Joseon Gunman

Joseon Gunman Korean Drama - Lee Joon Gi

Plot: When the best swordsman in Joseon is murdered, his son gives up the sword to become a gunman and seek revenge.

Joseon Gunman really intrigued me because of its unique setting during the transitional period between the traditional and modern Joseon. With the gun being a somewhat newer weapon, those who wielded it carried a lot of power. It added an element of excitement to the drama that I loved.

It’s fascinating watching our hero (Lee Joon Gi) go from a traditional swordsman to a western influenced gunman. The drama has some great action and battles to really keep things exciting as well as some intense drama and a great romance. I enjoyed this one from start to finish.

6. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Goryeo

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Goryeo Korean Drama - Lee Joon Gi and IU

Plot: A modern day woman travels back in time to the Goryeo era where she gets romantically involved with several princes and finds herself in the middle of their battle for the throne.

Moon Lovers was one intense ride! It has everything you could ask for including action, romance, handsome princes, drama, and so much intensity. The drama was both epic and tragic. It had extremely high stakes all the way through that kept things intense. It also delivered so many feels.

Lee Joon Gi is absolutely phenomenal as the 4th prince, Wang So. His performance alone makes the drama a must see. The atmosphere, costumes, sets, music, and story were all completely engaging. Moon Lovers is unique in many ways, and I’m thrilled to have enjoyed such a fantastic story. (Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Goryeo Review)

5. Daebak (Jackpot)

Daebak Korean Drama - Jang Geun Suk and Yeo Jin Goo

Plot: A prince is forced to live his life as a commoner, but he becomes super skilled at gambling. Then an intricate plot to control the throne ends up pitting him against his brother, the Crown Prince.

Daebak was such a fun drama! With a stellar cast all around, the acting was superb.  It also had gorgeous cinematography that made every scene enjoyable to look at. The story was interesting all the way through, and I was hooked on Daebak from episode one.

Jang Geun Suk and Yeo Jin Goo were phenomenal in their roles. When you put these two on screen together, wow! They each have such a strong presence and intensity in their acting. I really loved their interactions. So many different relationships were explored, but the brotherly relationship between our two leading guys was so fascinating and gripping to watch. (Daebak Review)

4. Iljimae

Iljimae Korean Drama - Lee Joon Gi

Plot: A masked man robs from the rich and gives to the poor while trying to uncover the truth behind his father’s murder.

Iljimae is the oldest drama on this list coming out in 2008. It does a feel a bit older, but I absolutely loved it, and it definitely holds up. The pacing was great, and I was never bored.  There was also a lot of fun action and plenty of wonderful characters to go around.

I found myself completely immersed in the characters and their story.  Watching Yong develop into Iljimae was an interesting journey. He goes on a moving journey both as a hero and as person. Iljimae really is a fantastic drama on many levels. (Iljimae Review)

3. Gu Family Book

Gu Family Book Korean Drama - Lee Seung Gi and Suzy

Plot: A half human/half gumiho struggles to become human and protect those he loves.

I love pretty much everything about Gu Family Book. I loved the fantasy element and the romance as well as the classic struggle of battling your true nature to become a good person and protect those that you love.

This is one of my favorite roles of Lee Seung Gi, and he just really brings to life the many different sides of Kang Chi’s character. Watching Kang Chi struggle to control his powers and longing to become human was also very emotional.  We then had a beautiful love story with one special girl, Yeo Wool, willing to risk it all to help Kang Chi.

Gu Family Book had such a grand feel to it overall. I loved the family connections and the complexity of the story. The drama was fast paced with new story developments constantly happening. Our characters were interesting and complex, and the whole story just felt magical.  (Gu Family Book Review)

2. Shine or Go Crazy

Shine or Go Crazy Korean Drama - Jang Hyuk

Plot: An exiled prince marries an exiled princess to help her out of a difficult situation, but the two soon go their separate ways. Years later they are reunited, but the prince doesn’t recognized the princess since she is pretending to be a man to help her business.

Shine or Go Crazy is such a fun drama! I was quickly drawn in by our amazing couple Wang So and Shin Yool. I thought they had amazing chemistry.  They had an epic, fated love that brought such touching moments as well as so much joy. Jang Hyuk was absolutely hilarious in this drama.  He was so playful and fun, and his interactions with Oh Yeon Seo were priceless.

Shine or Go Crazy has romance, humor, action, and drama.  It’s one of the few sageuks I have watched where I was on the edge of my seat even during the political talks.  It takes a lot to keep me interested in those sort of conversations, but Shine or Go Crazy succeeded with flying colors.  So much tension!

Overall, Shine or Crazy brought me joy from start to finish.  It is everything I love in a sageuk, and of course, you just can’t beat Jang Hyuk.  It was a fun and thrilling ride that I will always remember.  And I don’t regret one moment I spent watching this fabulous drama. (Shine or Go Crazy Review)

1. Empress Ki

Empress Ki - Ji Chang Wook and Ha Ji Won

Plot: A woman is caught between the King of Goryeo and the Emperor of Yuan as she rises from a lowly concubine to become the mighty Empress Ki.

And my number one historical drama is Empress Ki. Empress Ki is a simply amazing drama. Despite its length, it maintained a wonderful pace throughout the entire drama. It was also structured extremely well. Even though the pacing was always good, it had several layers of well done story arcs that ramped up the intensity several times. It was interesting from start to finish, and I was never bored. That says a lot considering it is 51 episodes.

Empress Ki created a rich world populated with fun and interesting characters. The villains were always entertaining to watch because they were the kind of villains you love to hate. And there were lots of them! We had humorous and loyal supporting characters too.

And we had the epic journey of our leading lady (Ha Ji Won) on her rise to power that was aided by her relationships with the Emperor of Yuan (Ji Chang Wook) and the King of Goryeo (Joo Jin Mo). The love triangle created complicated emotions, but for me it clearly favored one of the men.

Don’t miss out on this gem. Not only is it lovely to look at because of its beautiful cinematography and gorgeous costumes, but epic is the perfect word to describe the scale of the journey our heroine goes on. I wholeheartedly recommend Empress Ki.  What a ride it was! (Empress Ki Review)


So there’s my list of favorite historicals. You may have noticed a certain someone *cough, Lee Joon Gi, cough* had his dramas take up almost half of the list. Well, he is my favorite actor, and I find that he just completely brings to life any drama he is in. A fan favorite of his, Arang and the Magistrate, is another historical that just missed making this list, but it’s well worth a watch too.

But there were plenty of other great dramas on this list with some amazingly talented actors and wonderful stories. And I always look forward to checking out new historicals. There’s just something special about them.

So what are your favorite historical kdramas?

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About Kay

Greetings! I’m Kay, creator and author of Kdrama Kisses. Kdrama Kisses is dedicated to bringing you the latest in kdrama casting news, drama trailers, reviews, and more. Happy drama watching to everyone!
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26 Responses to 10 Best Historical (Sageuk) Korean Dramas

  1. joybran says:

    The only one on your list that I haven’t seen yet is Shine or Go Crazy. I might order them a little differently, and Arang and the Magistrate would make my list, but I think you have come up with an excellent top ten list. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kay says:

      We’re usually pretty close in our thoughts 🙂 I think Arang would have been like 11, so it just missed the cut. There’s definitely a lot of wonderful historicals 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Drama Fan says:

    You seem to like the one where the girl disguises as a man 😋 My favorite sageuk are Chuno, The Great Queen Seondeok (a girl also disguises as a man in it) and Tree With Deep Roots. They are excellent but more on the dramatic side.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kay says:

      Haha, I definitely do like that trope. I think I always like that the couple gets a lot of interactions early on. And in historicals, they get to be a lot more playful too. I have seen Chuno and TWDR (Jang Hyuk!!), but I still need to see Queen Seondeok (it’s on the list). And I like lots of drama 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • joybran says:

      I liked all three of those a lot, but top twenty rather than top ten.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Timescout says:

    My list would look rather different but at least SKKS and Moonlight would make it into mine as well. XD Not sure I can even find 10 I’ve liked enough to list them. Let’s se… Besides the two I already mentioned, definitely on are Arang, Conspiracy in the Court, Chosun Police 1 and 3, Daemang, Joseon X-files, Tree with Deep Roots and probably Legend too. Oh, that is ten actually. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Drama Fan says:

      @Timescout CITC was great! Extremely deppressing but great. I forgot about it but I loved it. Same with Daemang. I haven’t watched the others you mentioned but Joseon X Files is on my super long list to be watched.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Kay says:

      That doesn’t surprise me, lol. But we do share love for SKKS and Moonlight 🙂 And yay! You did find 10. I enjoyed Arang and have seen TWDR, but I haven’t seen any of the others. Legend, Joseon X-files, and Conspiracy in the Court are on the really long watch list though 🙂

      Like

  4. I really need to watch more sageuk dramas! They’re good for my soul. But if I had to pick a number one, I would agree with you, and choose Empress Ki!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Noël says:

    Solid list! I’m certainly not complaining about the amount of LJK I see on this list. The only two shows I haven’t seen are Gu Family Book and Shine or Go Crazy but both are on my to watch list.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post as always 😊 You didn’t add Hwarang though. I really love that one.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. raistlin0903 says:

    This is a great post and very helpfull. As you know I am still planning on watching a historical drama, but have still not completely decided which one yet. With so many things to choose from, this top 10 list really narrows it down. And ofcourse as always this was a great and fun read. Thank you for this post! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kay says:

      You’re welcome, and I”m glad you enjoyed it 🙂 It’s always hard to choose. Scarlet Heart is good if you want a mixture of elements with a nice dose of excitement and angst. Probably the one I would recommend especially since you were already considering it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • raistlin0903 says:

        Yes it is the one I am most inclined to watching next right now. Well after Goblin that is 😊 By the way, have you seen the series Endless Love? As it features Jung Kyung Ho, it has my interest, but I was wondering about your opinion for it 😊

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kay says:

          Yes, definitely gotta finish Goblin first 😉 I haven’t seen Endless Love yet. It is on my list since it has one of my favorite actresses plus Jung Kyung Ho in it. I’ve seen very mixed reviews for it though. It seems like it is heavy on the politics and crazy melodrama. I like crazy melodrama, but not so much politics. But of course, everyone says Jung Kyung Ho is fantastic in it. So I definitely plan to give it a go at some point, but at 37 episodes, I don’t know when I will work it in 😛

          Liked by 1 person

          • raistlin0903 says:

            Haha, yeah, I know what you mean, same problem here. I was browsing through the Viki list, and came across this one. I watched the first 10 minutes or so, and it started off pretty good with a chasescene on the highway. I have added it to things to watch, but it will be a while before I get around to it 😊

            Liked by 1 person

            • Kay says:

              Haha, I do the watch 10 minutes thing a lot to get a feel for it. I wish it was shorter since it’s one I’m very interested in. But with longer dramas, I’m always like “I could get two or three short dramas in during that time!” lol

              Liked by 1 person

              • raistlin0903 says:

                Haha, yeah I know what you mean. I am currently in the middle of a 78 episode anime series called Monster that is very good, but I keep putting it on hold to watch smaller shows in between. Same with K-dramaseries, so even though I will try and het around to it eventually, this series I will watch when I have a little bit more time 😊

                Liked by 1 person

                • Kay says:

                  That is a longer anime! Good you’re enjoying it 🙂 Sounds like we have the same plan for Endless Love. Too many dramas, not enough time. So it will wait for another day, heh

                  Liked by 1 person

  8. Dramalover says:

    All top lists are biased. Yours excludes longer dramas and some great classic sageuks like Jewel in the Palace, Six Flying Dragons, Splendid Politics, The Princess’s Man, A Tree with Deep Roots, Queen SeonDeok, JeJoongwon, The King’s Daughter, Su Baek Hyang, and so on. I also love most of the drama’s you mentioned, except for Shine or Go Crazy. I also have a weakness for Lee Joon Ki and Ha Ji Won dramas. Sometimes fantasy fusion sageuk are separated from more traditional period sageuks as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kay says:

      Yes, since we are all unique in our tastes, any top list will certainly be biased 🙂 I did actually include a long drama as my number 1 favorite, Empress Ki. I loved it and it flew by.

      I definitely have a weakness for Lee Joon Gi. He just makes any drama enjoyable for me, hehe. I also tend to gravitate more towards the fusion sageuks. I still need to see a few of the other longer classics you listed like Queen Seon Deok and The King’s Daughter, and then who knows, maybe they will make it onto my favorites list too 🙂

      Like

  9. SAMWEL PETER says:

    1. six flying dragon
    2. king gwangaetto
    3. tree with deep roots
    4. warrior baek dong soo
    5. empress chun chun
    6. queen seon deok
    7. great kings
    8. king geuchogo
    9. dong yi
    10. empress ki

    Thats my List,TOP NOTCH SAGEUK YOU WONT BE BORED TO WATCH!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kay says:

      Ooh, nice list. I still need to watch most of them. Of course, I loved Empress Ki, and I’ve also seen Warrior Baek Dong Soo and Tree With Deep Roots. I really want to see Six Flying Dragons, Queen Seon Duk, and Dong Yi. I need more time, hehe.

      Like

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