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Korean Dramas: A Beginner's Guide

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Why are more and more Americans falling under the sudsy spell of South Korean dramas? One theory: These shows tend to come in self-contained 16-to-20-episode seasons, making them easily digestible. Another: If you don’t speak Korean, watching one demands your full attention (subtitles!), meaning you get sucked in that much more quickly.

And then there are the dramas themselves — endearingly theatrical and kooky, with a sweetness that can be tough to find in grittier American fare. “Their portrayal of love is a little more PG,” says Jacqueline Sia, senior content manager of international TV library DramaFever. “Korean dramas can spend 16 episodes getting to the point where the leads kiss.”

Want in? Start with any of these conveniently categorized gateway dramas. Anieyo (translation: You’re welcome).

Teen Soap
Boys Over Flowers (Hulu, Netflix, DramaFever)

The premise A dry cleaner’s daughter snags a scholarship to a tony prep school, populated by spoiled hotties.

Selling points Imagine The O.C. infused with the silly energy of a TGIF sitcom.

If you like it, try… Heirs (Hulu, DramaFever), a Gossip Girl-inspired serial that also stars Boys breakout Min Ho Lee.

Romance
My Lovely Sam Soon (Hulu, DramaFever)

The premise Sparks fly between the lovably flawed Sam Soon and her reserved new boss, Jin Heon.

Selling points If Sam Soon sounds a lot like Bridget Jones’s Diary, that’s because it is — only with a Pretty Woman-esque twist. (Sam Soon agrees to be Jin Heon’s fake girlfriend in exchange for $50,000.)

If you like it, try… Coffee Prince (Hulu, DramaFever), a gender-bending romance with a conventional soul.

Historical Fantasy
GU Family Book (Hulu, DramaFever)

The premise During the Joseon dynasty, a half human, half fox falls in love with a martial-arts teacher.

Selling points Great costumes, heart-pounding fight sequences, and an epic story line that’s a crash course in Korean mythology.

If you like it, try… Empress Ki (Hulu), a more realistic costume drama about a lady monarch in the Yuan dynasty.

Paranormal/Horror
Vampire Prosecutor (Hulu, DramaFever)

The premise Uh, it’s about a vampire. With a law degree.

Selling points Vampire. Prosecutor. What about this needs explaining?

If you like it, try… Master’s Sun (Hulu, DramaFever), a spookier variation on Ghost Whisperer.

Genre-Defying Miscellany
My Love From Another Star (Hulu, DramaFever)

The premise An alien falls for an actress. (Is she the reincarnation of the girl he loved in the 17th century? You bet!)

Selling points Rom-com, sci-fi, melodrama, showbiz spoof — Love mushes them together in a tasty K-drama stew.

If you like it, try… Secret Garden (Hulu, DramaFever), which somehow turns Freaky Friday into a romance.