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Most K-drama watchers love a good heart-fluttering romance, even if it means sitting through episode after episode featuring countless layers of misunderstandings, love-hate relationships, and characters denying that they like someone they obviously are head over heels about. Personally, however, I’ve grown tired of all that lovey-dovey stuff (maybe I’ve suffered from too much second lead syndrome?), turning to deep and oftentimes dark crime dramas rooted in corrupt systems instead. A logical transition, right?
So for anyone else looking to get out of the romance drama loop, here’s a list of some mind-boggling, mystery-riddled crime dramas that will have you looking over your shoulder the next time you’re out walking late at night.
Kim Sung Ryong (Namgoong Min) has a simple goal in life: save up enough money to move to Denmark. One day, a golden opportunity falls in his lap, leading to him becoming chief of the accounting department of a large corporation, where he plans to quietly bilk some money using his prolific accounting skills so he can fulfill his dream. He soon finds himself caught up in a complex web of corruption within the company, though, and is forced to choose between doing the right thing and giving up what should have been an easy path to a happy Danish life.
While “Chief Kim” does get serious, incorporating things like attempted murder and shady executives, it rarely leaves the mood heavy for long. Instead, it frequently juxtaposes what should be tense, gripping scenarios with hilarious, often ridiculous moments that one can’t help but laugh out loud at.
If you’re looking for some conspiracy, a lot of comedy, and minimal romance (but a solid bromance), I highly recommend checking out “Chief Kim.”
Kim Young Goon (Seo Kang Joon) is a rough-and-tumble patrol officer who doesn’t hesitate to rebel against authority, perhaps due in part to witnessing his dad murder his mom, a childhood trauma that haunts him to this day. Given his disdain for abuse of power, it comes as no surprise when Young Goon joins an anti-corruption unit aimed at catching bad cops alongside longtime detective Do Chi Gwang (Han Suk Kyu), who it turns out used to work with his dad.
Then there’s an enigmatic prosecutor turned criminal lawyer, famous for her cunning and her work with high-profile criminals. As fate would have it, she too is connected to Young Goon’s dad and is not without her own traumatic past experience.
This drama hits the ground running, with an interrogation that gets physical, a car chase, attempted murder, and more all in the first episode, making it hard not to be immediately hooked on it. The question is just how deep does corruption run in the world of “Watcher”?
What would you do if a high school student told you she could curse someone using just their photo, personal belonging, and name written in hanja (Chinese characters)? Roll your eyes and walk away, probably, as reporter Lim Jin Hee (Uhm Ji Won) does the first time she’s approached by So Jin (Jeong Ji So), who claims she has the ability to cast deadly curses on others.
It’s not long, however, before Jin Hee realizes that So Jin might not just be some bored teenager making up stories after all, and that an unimaginable evil might be lurking nearby. Ultimately, the two join forces to take down an evil supernatural force and a powerful IT company.
Although this one is dark and creepy, even tip-toeing into horror territory at times, for the most part, I wouldn’t call it straight up scary. It instead creates an atmosphere that leaves one feeling uneasy and uncertain, possibly even disturbed, featuring many scenes that portray elaborate shamanic rituals and some pretty brutal physical violence. Viewer discretion is advised.
4.My Fellow Citizens
Yang Jung Guk (Super Junior’s Choi Siwon) comes from a family of con artists. Naturally, avoiding the police is in Jung Guk’s best interest, but what’s a conman to do when his newly wedded wife (Lee Yoo Young), who knows nothing of his true career, suddenly confesses to being a cop?
His wife’s profession isn’t Jung Guk’s only problem though. It turns out that swindling millions of dollars from a wealthy but corrupt businessman (i.e., loan shark) isn’t the brightest of ideas — an unfortunate truth Jung Guk learns when said businessman’s daughter (Kim Min Jung) comes after him, seeking revenge. But instead of killing him as one might expect, she demands that he become a congressman to support her own political agenda.
While “My Fellow Citizens” isn’t the most enthralling or thought-provoking of the dramas listed here, it does offer a much more lighthearted storyline, as well as a bit of romance. All in all, this is a good casual watch with some pretty funny scenes throughout.
Based on the popular webtoon of the same name, “Memorist” focuses on Dong Baek (Yoo Seung Ho), a police detective with the ability to scan people’s memories whenever he touches them. While this supernatural skill makes him an invaluable asset when it comes to catching wrongdoers, he’s also a bit of a loose cannon, frequently turning to physical violence during his investigations.
Then there’s Han Sun Mi (Lee Se Young), a tenacious and ambitious criminal profiler who refuses to let anyone intimidate her. Although the two frequently butt heads, Dong Baek and Sun Mi can’t avoid working together after a series of gruesome murders begins to unfold, igniting their mutual passion for catching criminals and administering justice. Of course, with each new case comes more questions, casting doubt on everyone involved.
I love the fast pace and intensity of “Memorist,” which almost make it feel more like a chilling thriller movie rather than simply a TV drama. And while the overall tone is quite dark — murder is the main driver behind the plot, after all — comedic moments can still be found here and there to help alleviate some of the tension. This one is an exciting watch for sure, and I can’t wait to see how it ends later this month!
“Doctor Prisoner” tells the story of Na Yi Je (Namgoong Min), who was once the ace emergency doctor of Seoul’s best-known hospital. Unfortunately, after a run in with the hospital chairman’s son, Yi Je finds himself unemployed and out for revenge against a system that has clearly gone awry. Three years later, he becomes the medical director of a prison, a position he plans to use as part of an elaborate scheme to exact revenge and uncover the truth behind his unjust firing.
But to accomplish his plan, Yi Je will have to set aside his morals, resorting to some of the same tactics used by the corrupt people he wants to destroy. Will justice prevail, even if it’s through seemingly unjust means, or will Yi Je live long enough to see himself become the villain?
For me, “Doctor Prisoner” was an easy drama to pick up, given that I’m a huge fan of both Namgoong Min and this genre. That said, personal preferences aside, this drama offers a pretty satisfying roller coaster ride throughout, with shocking twists and turns in every episode. Also, if Kim Byung Chul frustrated you as the twins’ dad in “SKY Castle,” then you’ll likely find him just as annoying here, if not more so.
7.Children of Nobody
This one will likely break your heart. The story revolves around Cha Woo Kyung (Kim Sun Ah), a child psychologist whose involvement in a bizarre car accident sets her down a path to uncover an even more mysterious series of events linked to child abuse and possibly even murder. Hallucinations? Poetry? Orphans? The further she probes, the more horrifying and convoluted the story seems to get.
Meanwhile, detective Kang Ji Hun (Lee Yi Kyung) finds himself continually drawn deeper into these strange events as well, partly due to Woo Kyung’s obsession with each new case. Though he sometimes finds it hard to take her seriously, he also can’t bring himself to completely ignore her claims that, maybe, there is some hidden injustice that needs to be revealed.
“Children of Nobody” is deeply emotional, with superb acting from all of its cast members. It also periodically asks whether we are obligated — due to our profession or our own morality — to seek out answers to questions no one is there to ask. For example, are we allowed to turn a blind eye to the suffering of children who belong to nobody? This drama may be difficult to digest at times, given its sensitive topic, but it is oh so worth the watch.