One of the best ways to kill boredom during quarantine is to binge-watch your favorite movies and TV series. Watching your favorite Korean dramas is no exemption. If you’ve already completed a ton of Kdramas, though, it might be hard to figure out what to watch next. Don’t worry. Your Kdrama addict chingu (that’s me) is here to help you narrow things down.
‘Sageuk’ is a Hangeul term for ‘historical or period’ that denotes historical dramas including drama plays, films, or television series. It is said to be the meat and potatoes of K-Drama wherein we get to see the rich history of the Korean peninsula that provides fodder for fantastical, dramatic, and re-imagined stories of history.
I am a Sageuk K-Drama enthusiast because historical dramas allow me to immerse myself into other worlds. I fell in love with period dramas after watching ‘Queen for Seven Days’. I am attracted to the old world: the beautiful and colorful costumes, the sword-fighting, and the old language. If you are interested in starting your own sageuk addiction, here’s a list of some great sageuk K-dramas for you to re-watch or watch (if you haven’t yet).
30 Great Sageuk Dramas to Binge-Watch
30. Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)
Starring: Park Min-Young, Park Yoochun, Yoo Ah-in, Song Joong-ki
This is the perfect sageuk for newbies! Starring Korea’s top hallyu stars, you cannot go wrong with ‘Sungkyunkwan Scandal’. The story revolves around a girl who disguises herself as her brother to attend an all men’s school (schools during the Joseon era apparently only accepted male students). Kim Yoon-hee attends the prestigious school with other Confusian scholars until her secrets are discovered. At the same time, she starts to grow feelings for Sun-joon.
29. The Scholar Who Walks the Night (2015)
Starring: Lee Joon-gi, Lee Yu-bi, Lee Soo-hyuk, Kim So-eun
Looking for an epic fairy tale to follow? ‘The Scholar Who Walks the Night’ revolves around a Joseon scholar with a stealthy past who recruits a cross-dressing bookseller to help him protect the throne from a vampire.
28. Moon Embracing the Sun (2012)
Starring: Kim Soo-Hyun, Han Ga-In
A simple historical drama with a touching romance that slightly touches on politics. If you prefer romance to a traditional historical drama and enjoy heartbreaking scenes, be sure to include this to your list.
27. Empress Ki (2013)
Starring: Ha Jiwon, Joo Jin-mo, Ji Chang-wook
Have you seen oppa Ji Chang-wook dressed in an emperor’s robe yet? He couldn’t be more attractive as the Emperor of Yuan in this highly romanticized period drama. This drama is loosely based on real historical events and the story revolves around a girl who was born as slave pretending to be a man so she would not be sent to China to serve the Emperor. She grows up as an activist and saves girls from being sent away as tributes, but soon falls in love with the King of Goryeo, as well as with a Prince from Mongolia, the next Emperor of China.
26. Love In the Moonlight (2016)
Starring: Park Bo-gum, Kim Yoo-jung, Chae Soo-bin, Kwak Dong-yeon
A coming-of-age historical drama with lots of kilig moments between the Crown Prince and a girl who reluctantly disguises herself as a man and is sent to the palace as a eunuch. It’s interesting how the love story evolves as the Crown Prince develops feelings for the girl dressed as a eunuch.
25. Jumong (2006)
Starring: Song Il-gook, Han Hye-jin, Kim Seung-soo, Song Ji-hyu
If you have been watching historical dramas since the early 2000s, you have probably heard of or already watched ‘Jumong’. This drama might be a bit time-consuming to watch, but it is definitely compelling. The drama basically examines the life of Jumong, founder of the Kingdom of Goguryeo. The battle scenes are awe-inspiring and realistic. This historical drama is considered part of the Korean Wave; so if you’re truly a fan of period dramas, you can’t skip this epic series.
24. Gunman in Joseon (2014)
Starring: Lee Joong-gi, Nam Sang-mi, Jeon Hye-bin
If you want an action-packed bad-ass drama with a bit of a love story, ‘Gunman in Joseon’ is perfect for you. The fact that popular actor Lee Joong-gi stars as the rebel gunman in this epic drama is already enough to put it on your list.
23. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (2016)
Starring: Lee Joong-gi, Lee Ji-eun, Kang Ha-neul, Hong Jong-hyun
A historical drama that captured the hearts of many Pinoys, this epic and tragic historical drama will arouse a variety of emotions and set your heart racing like never before.
22. Queen Seonduk (2009)
Starring: Lee Yo-won, Go Hyun-jung, Uhm Tae-woong, Kim Nam-gil
Set in Silla, one of the three kingdoms of Korea, this drama revolves around Seondeok, a woman who eventually becomes the first female ruler of Silla. Though most of the story is fictional, the drama is based on the real life of the Queen. Brace yourself as you will always be on the edge of your seat while watching this sageuk series.
21. Faith (2012)
Starring: Lee Min-ho, Kim Hee-sun
A story that transcends time and space, a Goryeo-Age warrior falls in love with a present day doctor. Starring Lee Min-ho, travel back to the Goryeo era and witness their epic love story. If you like unpredictable plots that keep you guessing about who’s good and who’s evil, you have to watch this drama.
20. My Sassy Girl (2017)
Starring: Joo Won, Oh Yeon-seo, Lee Jung-shin, Kim Hyun-hye
If you’re into rom-coms, but are looking for one that takes place in historical times, ‘My Sassy Girl’ is a good choice. I laughed during almost all of the episodes. This drama is based on the 2001 film of the same name, but does not take place in modern times. ‘My Sassy Girl’ is definitely a fun option if you want to skip the usual tragic stories of historical dramas.
19. Iljimae (2008)
Starring: Lee Joong-gi, Han Hyo-joo, Lee Young-ah, Park Si-hoo
I just gotta say it: Lee Joong-gi rocks in historical Korean dramas! ‘Iljimae’ is basically the Korean version of Robin Hood. It is a story of a hero who robs from corrupt government officials and gives back to the poor. After every nightly outing, he leaves behind a picture of a plum tree branch, thus the name Iljimae.
18. Gu Family Book (2013)
Starring: Lee Seung-gi, Bae Suzy, Sung Joon, Lee Yu-bi, Yoo Yeon-seok
A period drama with romance and fantasy elements, ‘Gu Family Book’ focuses on the story of half-human and half-mythical creature (werefox) Choi Kang Chi who struggles to live more like a human and discovers his true origin. This sageuk drama has received numerous nominations and awards, including the Top Excellence Award in Miniseries for an Actor and Actress with Lee Seung-gi and Bae Suzy respectively.
17. Jewel in the Palace (2003)
Starring: Lee Young-ae, Ji Jin-hee, Hong Ri-na
‘Jewel in the Palace’ became a hit and aired in more than 90 countries. With an outstanding and grand production, the series is based on the true story of Jang Geum, the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty. This epic drama showcases the main protagonist’s perseverance and portrayal of traditional Korean culture, including Korean royal court cuisine and traditional medicines.
16. Rebel: Thief Who Stole The People (2017)
Starring: Yoon Kyun-sang, Chae Soo-bin, Kim Sang-joong
This drama depicts the life of Hong Gil-Dong, the first revolutionist and dissident activist and a hero to the people of Joseon. Gil Dong is a well-known name in Korea. He is said to be the real Robin Hood of Korea, and his story has been used as inspiration for a great number of comics, video games, and films.
15. Deep Rooted Tree (2011)
Starring: Han Seok-kyu, Jang Hyuk, Shin Se-kyung
‘Deep Rooted Tree’ is not your typical historical drama and it’s far from being a romantic comedy. Before you decide to watch this drama, be prepared for numerous conspiracies and political intrigues with elements of tragedies, mysteries, and thrillers. If you’re into heart-stopping, tragic series, you’ll definitely enjoy this sageuk drama.
14. Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth (2016)
Starring: Park Seo-joon, Park Hyung-sik, Go A-ra
If you’re into historical dramas mixed with modern elements, action, romance, and comedy, ‘Hwarang’ is sure to suit your taste. This drama features likable and enjoyable characters to keep you entertained throughout the whole series. Most sageuk dramas are tragic and full of political intrigues; so if you want to take a break from such plots and watch a simple story with a happy ending, ‘Hwarang’ will not disappoint you.
13. Six Flying Dragons (2015)
Starring: Yoo Ah-in, Kim Myung-min, Shin Se-kyung
One thing that I personally look for in a sageuk drama is the intense sword-fight scenes. ‘Six Flying Dragons’ is one of those dramas filled with great fight scenes. This political period drama will get you engaged in its conflicts, romance, betrayal, heartbreak, and struggle for power. Despite its lengthy 50 episodes, this sageuk drama will always keep you on the edge of your seat.
12. Warrior Baek Dong-soo (2011)
Starring: Ji Chang-wook, Yoo Seung-ho, Choi Min-soo, Yeo Jin-goo
Baek Dong-soo was a real life legend who created a martial arts guide in Joseon commissioned by King Jeongjo. Find out how the legendary Baek Dong-soo became the top swordsman and folk hero of Korea by watching this sageuk drama that offers up ultra satisfying fight scenes.
11. The King In Love (2017)
Starring: Im Yoo-na, Im Si-wan, Hong Jong-hyun
A light romance drama that centers on the lonely life of a young King and his loyal best friend, and ends with a tragic love triangle. Everyone will be able to relate to this drama.
10. 100 Days My Prince (2018)
Starring: Nam Ji-hyun, Do Kyung-soo, Jo Sung-ha
This drama is a story about a Crown Prince who spends 100 days outside of the palace after a tragic accident leads to temporary memory loss. This is the first role of Kpop idol D.O. of EXO, who plays the Crown Prince Lee Yool.
9. Haechi (2019)
Starring: Jung Il-woo, Go A-ra, Kwon Yul
Set in the Joseon Dynasty, this story is about an outsider Prince who joins hands with unlikely allies to help him ascend the throne and bring forth a new age of reform. A sageuk drama full of adventure and political intrigues, ‘Haechi’ is definitely one for the books.
8. Crowned Clown (2019)
Starring: Yeo Jin-goo, Kim Sang-kyung, Lee Se-young
‘Crowned Clown’ follows the story of a Joseon king and his doppelganger, a clown whom he puts on the throne to escape conflicts afflicting the royal court. This drama is actually a remake of the 2012 Korean period film ‘Masquerade’, and is one of the most remarkable sageuk dramas ever made. It’s definitely a must-watch.
7. The Royal Gambler (2016)
Starring: Jang Keun-suk, Yeo Jin-goo, Jun Kwang-ryul
This series revolves around a Joseon nobleman with political motives who is forced to live as a commoner and hatches a plot that brings the fate of two princes together, one of whom is unaware of his royal blood. ‘The Royal Gambler’ is a period drama full of adventure and plot twists that won’t let you leave your seat once you start watching it.
6. The Emperor: Owner of The Mask (2017)
Starring: Yoo Seung-ho, Kim So-hyun, Kim Myung-soo
This is one of the most remarkable period dramas I have ever watched in terms of cinematography, plot, and acting. Though this drama pulls out exaggerated conflicts between the protagonists and antagonists, you will still find this drama pleasurable to watch. With an intriguing story and a fantastic cast, this sageuk is a total package.
5. Arang and the Magistrate (2012)
Starring: Lee Joong-gi, Shi Min-ah, Yeon Woo-jin
‘Arang and the Magistrate’ is a historical-fantasy drama with a touch of romance sprinkled with horror. This drama is based on the ancient dark folk tale The Legend of Arang, who died unjustly and returned as a ghost to reveal the circumstances surrounding her death. This drama is perfect for anyone who loves interesting fantasy dramas.
4. My Country: The New Age (2019)
Starring: Yang Se-jong, Woo Do-hwan, Kim Seol-hyun, Jang Hyuk
Set during the end of the Goryeo period to the early Joseon period, ‘My Country’ is a story of two friends with different social statuses, who aim their swords against one another due to their differences in opinion about their country. This drama is not for faint-hearted viewers; but if you can handle a lot of conflict, tragedy, heartbreaking, and pain, you might want to consider adding this to your watchlist. I assure you: you won’t regret watching this series. Prepare some tissue, though, because you’ll definitely be needing it.
3. Queen for Seven Days (2017)
Starring: Park Min-young, Yeon Woo-jin, Lee Dong-gun
This sageuk drama is actually the reason why I started watching Korean period dramas in the first place (because it stars Yeon Woo-jin). The story centers on a noblewoman who eventually becomes a queen and gets overthrown by her enemies after seven days. I have already watched this drama three times and it still continues to stir my interest. If you’re into tragic love stories, I highly recommend watching this.
2. Kingdom (2019)
Starring: Ju Ji-hoon, Bae Doo-na, Ryu Seung-ryong
If you miss ‘Game of Thrones’ and are a big fan of ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘Kingdom’ is the perfect series for you to binge-watch. This heady Korean feudal drama is about a kingdom plagued by a corrupt queen, massive armies, and zombies that stalk the whole country. Set during the Joseon period a few years after the Japanese invasions to Korea, the first season portrays the story of Crown Prince Lee Chang, who stumbles across a life-threatening political conspiracy while investigating the spread of a mysterious plague.
1. Mr. Sunshine (2018)
Starring: Lee Byung-hyun, Kim Tae-ri, Yoo Yeon-seok
Set in Hanseong (the former name of Seoul) in the early 1900s, ‘Mr. Sunshine’ is a period drama that focuses on activists fighting for Korea’s independence. It is one of the highest-rated Korean dramas in cable television history (6th highest-rated since April 2020). If you’re looking for an action-packed series and want to learn more about Korea’s history, ‘Mr. Sunshine’ is the perfect drama for you. In my opinion, it is the best sageuk yet.
(ALSO READ: 15 2018 K-Dramas that are Worth Watching)
How many of these sageuk have you watched?
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