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
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
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
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
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. Daebak (Jackpot)
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)
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)
4. Shine or Go Crazy
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)
3. Gu Family Book
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. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Goryeo
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)
1. Empress Ki
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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