American romances on TV often have all the soapy tension but lack emotional depth. A lot of the time, we see the woman crying over the man non-stop and the man being stoic or emotional in a “manly” way – you know, punching walls, gritting teeth, and rarely shed a tear.
When I started watching K-dramas I fell in love with how love was represented on screen. In moments of joy, both people in the pairing express it — they jump, they smile, they laugh, they can’t contain themselves. In moments of sadness, they can’t contain themselves either, both parties shed tears, get emotional, and bring you into their love in an empathic way.
Now, I tend to avoid US-produced romances on television and instead have been binging every K-drama romance I can find on Netflix and Hulu before I finally cave and get a subscription to VIki, a Korean streaming platform. So, to get you started on your K-drama journey, here are some my favorite romances I’ve seen and will touch your heart in some way this Valentine’s Day.
I Need Romance 3
I Need Romance 3 as a series is fantastic for everyone looking for a nice soapy K-drama with heart. In I Need Romance 3, the season from 2014, we follow Shin Joo-yeon (Kim So-yeon) and Joo Wan (Sung Joon) as they reunited after over a decade apart. Having known each other since childhood, Joo Wan struggles to make Joo-yeon see him as something other than her little brother Sweet Potato.
It’s a simple plot over but the show develops our romantic leads in a real way. First, Joo-yeon is in love with Allen, the alias of Joo Wan, because she doesn’t know he’s Sweet Potato. Then she fights the feelings and ignores them. Finally, she gives in to them, and all along there is Sweet Potato, patiently waiting for his first love to come back. Plus, each side character gets their own developed romances, sitting down for a binge of this series on Valentine’s is a heartwarming time.
I Need Romance 3 is available to stream on Netflix.
Romance is a Bonus Book
This is newest Netflix Original K-drama and I debated including it since the season hasn’t completed yet. That being said, From the first episode, I was highly invested in Cha Eun-ho (Lee Jong-suk) and Kang Dan-yi (Lee Na-young). Best friends that should be lovers is the trope that keeps on giving and the circumstances around Dan-yi’s life make it that much more interesting.
When Dan-yi’s life takes a nose-dive she comes back into Eon-ho’s life and refuses to give in to circumstances. She has no more tears to cry after a year of heartache and rejections. Eon-ho is a successful editor for a publishing company and in spite of never truly getting over his first love has crafted a playboy persona that thus far has kept his clear feelings for each other hidden. The show is a romantic comedy that finds light in some pretty dark subjects.
New episodes of Romance is a Bonus Book air weekly on Netflix.
Something in the Rain
I’m a sucker for couples that fight to be together when everything is trying to keep them apart. In Something in the Rain, the 2018 K-drama that follows Yoon Jin-ah (Son Ye-jin) and her romance with Seo Joon-hee (Jung Hae-in), a much younger man and pretty much adopted son of her family. The show focuses on her struggles of being an unmarried woman in her 30s and the pressures her mother put on her. On his side, Joon-hee is a romantic who ignores the age gap, even when it’s the only thing Jin-ah can think about. The show has some soapy twists and will pull some tears from even the most jaded hearts when the couple struggles to keep going.
Personally, this is one of the few K-dramas I’ve seen where the main couple has a true adult romance, sex, fighting, struggles, and all. Even with some calls for suspension of disbelief this show is closest to a real-world love story out of the list. The balance between Joon-hee’s Pollyanna attitude and Jin-ah’s realism is perfect on screen and makes the moments they switch roles extremely powerful. Plus, who can’t help but fall in love with Jung as Joon-hee? Just look at him!
Something in the Rain is available to stream on Netflix.
While You Were Sleeping
While You Were Sleeping is a 2017 K-drama that isn’s solely based on romance but has one of the best ones out there. When Nam Hong-joo (Bae Suzy) falls asleep every night, she dreams of the future. When she foresees an accident that results in her boyfriend killing a pedestrian and her taking the fall, she crosses paths with Prosecutor Jung Jae-chan (Lee Jong-suk) and it’s all crime drama, fantasy, and romance from there.
This is easily one of my favorites as a show and as a romance. As the two grow closer, they develop ways to talk to themselves from the future, they fall more in love, and ultimately end up saving many lives. The interconnectedness of every character that comes on screen to the others is written beautifully and seeing the future is done in a way that is subtle yet deep in fantasy roots.
The emotional punches the show throws are also extremely well done, and while you start out as there to cheer on Hong-joo and Jae-chan you end up falling for every character.
While You Were Sleeping is available to stream on Hulu.
The Legend of the Blue Sea
In The Legend of the Blue Sea, a mermaid meets a con-man at the edge of the world. Yes, this is a fantasy show and yes, the romance between Shim Cheong (Jun Ji-hyun) and Heo Joon-jae (Lee Min-ho) is emotional, selfless, and well-written. The romance involves both parties hiding true parts of themselves and having those parts slowly revealed over time. But the biggest feat of the show isn’t just one romance, but two.
Our main story is actually following the path a former lifetime — one where there isn’t a happy ending. As more of the past reveals itself to the audience and the characters, you get more and more invested in the lives of every character and more scared for Cheong. When hiding, being a mermaid becomes the least of the troubles, you find yourself starting to place every member of the cast as a member from the past, which the show unfolds with perfect pacing.
But my favorite part lies in Cheong. Ji-hyun is able to play clueless new to the world while also maintaining Cheong’s agency and strength. By the same token, Joon-jae is able to look out for her while also believing in her capability. Cheong is a strong female character who feels deeply and fights hard in spite of knowing of the world. This 2016 K-drama is part period piece, part fantasy, part action, part soap opera evil, and all romance. What more could you want? Oh, and like others on the list, get the tissues ready.
The Legend of the Blue Sea is available to stream on Hulu.
With Valentine’s Day around there corner, it never hurts to have a good love story to fall into. Whether you haven’t made it to these titles yet, or you haven’t started watching K-dramas, I hope this brings at least one binge watch into your life.
Do You have a favorite K-Drama romance? Let us know in the comments.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.