An ode to nostalgia: Popular coming-of-age K-dramas to stream on Netflix

Between friendships forged in unlikely places and heart-wrenching instances of romance – coming-of-age K-dramas are at once, relatable and charming. We round up a few to add to your Netflix watchlist.

If there’s any narrative that’s truly timeless, it’s one that explores themes of loss, heartbreak, ambition, academic pressure, mental health, and relationships. And these hallmarks of young adult life – which underline coming-of-age storylines – are relatable, nostalgic, and heartwarming. Add to this quintessential K-drama touches like high-production value, exciting plot twists, and quirky comedy and you’ve got yourself a binge-worthy show. Here are a few K-dramas that will take you back in time.

Coming-of-age K-dramas to add to your Netflix watchlist

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo

This drama explores the life of a naturally-gifted weightlifter who aims to go to a college where she can pursue her passion for lifting. Meanwhile, her best friend Jung Joon-hyung – a swimmer – chases ambitions of his own. As they both juggle their respective careers with their relationships while striving for success, you’ll find yourself crying, smiling, and rooting for the leads. If you enjoy a rollercoaster of emotions in your everyday binge, this one’s for you.

IMDB rating: 8.4

Twenty Five, Twenty One

One of the most popular K-dramas of 2022, this show is set in 1998 and follows the lives of two people who first meet when they are 22 and 18 respectively, only to fall in love three years later. Na Hee-do, the 18-year-old is a member of the high-school fencing team who goes on to join the national fencing team. Baek Yi Jin, meanwhile is coping with the financial loss that struck his family, working part time jobs delivering newspapers only to become a sports reporter for a broadcasting network. Exploring themes of change, love, relationships, and ambition – this story is heart wrenching and comforting at the same time. Don’t miss out on this one.

IMDB rating: 8.7

Reply 1988

A heartwarming tale that will take you back to the 1980s, Reply 1988 follows the lives of five families and their five teenage children, all of whom live in a small Seoul neighbourhood. The storyline is quite simple, with poignant takeaways and hilarious instances as all the characters navigate their relationship with each other while juggling the obstacles that come by their own lives. Expect plenty of mischief and memorable dialogues as well. This is one of the highest-rated dramas on television and is a must-watch.

IMDB rating: 9.2

Moment Of Eighteen

Choi Jun Woo, an 18 year old, dabbles with loneliness in this show. Unable to express his emotions well, he seems aloof to most people despite being goofy, kind, and warm. Things change for him when he transfers schools and meets Yoo Soo-bin, a top student with an overbearing mother who dreams of being independent. Also featured in Ma Hwi-young who’s strong and confident on the outside but is as afraid and uncertain as any other teenager his age. Each of these characters navigate their lives, changing it for the better by leaning on each other. This one’s like a much-needed warm hug.

IMDB rating: 7.5

The Inheritors

If you enjoyed watching Gossip Girl growing up, this K-drama is for you. It explores the lives of rich, privileged students who navigate several challenges while being on the verge of taking over their families’ empires. Kim Tan, about to inherit Jeguk Group is exiled to the US by his brother who’s keen on taking over himself. While there he encounters Cha Eun-sang, who’s on the lookout for her sister. Expect power play, extravagant lifestyles, and enough theatrics to keep you hooked. Not to mention, there’s themes of sibling rivalry, romance, and class divide as well.

IMDB rating: 7.5

School 2017

Exploring the highly-debated subject of the educational system in Seoul, this drama looks into the life of Ra Eun-ho who struggles with her grades while dreaming of being a webtoon artist. Unfortunately, there’s no room for creativity in her high school. Meanwhile, Hyun Tae Won, who has a wealthy father, gets a free pass for bad behaviour and poor performance. Meanwhile Song Dae-hwi, the top-ranking student, is forced to tutor rich kids while being from humble means himself. As these individuals navigate their lives, the narrative touches upon several fiercely competitive scenes, classroom fights, and unexpected heroism. If you like a rebellious tale, don’t miss out on this one.

IMDB rating: 7.5

My First First Love

A bunch of college students discover love for the first time in this series. When Yun Tae-o starts college, he moves to his grandfather’s old house and hopes to impress women with his pad. However, when three of his friends – the childhood crush Hang Song-i, naive rich girl O Ga-rin, and musician Choe Hun ask for a place to stay, he takes them in. What follows is a series of chaotic events that allows them to delve into their individual relationships with each other and discover what it means to be in love. Expect a lot of laughter and some dreamy moments of romance.

IMDB rating: 7.5

Love Alarm

If dystopian dramas (Stranger Things and Black Mirror count!) are right up your alley, this coming-of-age K-drama will appeal to you. It explores first love through a few dark themes. Under the spotlight is a dating app – Love Alarm – that determines whether you’ve a crush on someone within a ten-minute radius and announces it to everyone around. Kim Jojo, a high school girl who’s coping with a set of personal adversities, navigates this complex dating world and has a set of experiences that are
Engaging to say the least. Watch for the complex plotline, stay for the romance.

IMDB rating: 6.8

Feature and hero image: Courtesy Netflix

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