If you don’t mind a bit of melancholy and are curious to navigate a new genre, sad Korean dramas, with their deeply moving narratives, offer viewers a deep emotional purge. From the 2020 hit Hi Bye, Mama! to the Lee Jong-suk starrer The Hymn of Death, here are some of the saddest K-dramas that will do more than just get those tear ducts leaking.
One of the best tearjerkers to add to your watch list is the 2020 tvN K-drama Hi Bye, Mama! Starring popular Hallyu faces Kim Tae-hee and Lee Kyu-hyung, the Korean drama focuses on a mother’s struggle to get a second chance at life with her family. Meanwhile, romantic shows like Goblin (2016) and Kill Me, Heal Me (2015) are layered with mutual pining, forbidden love, dire circumstances and tragic deaths, which in turn make them into one of the best dramas in the genre.
Perfectly balancing its tone with wit and humour between moments of tragedy is the Park Hyun-suk directorial Uncontrollably Fond. One of the saddest K-dramas to come out in 2016, Uncontrollably Fond scored a nationwide finale viewership rating of 9.41 per cent (via Nielsen Korea).
Not to forget the JTBC hit The Good Bad Mother, which remains one of the saddest K-dramas to release in 2023. According to the Korean viewership data analytics website Nielsen Korea, the final episode of the K-drama scored an average nationwide rating of 12.0 per cent, marking a record for the show.
These saddest K-dramas are just what you need to let loose and have a good cry
The Good Bad Mother (2023)
Directed by: Sim Na-yeon
Cast: Lee Do-hyun, Ra Mi-ran, Ahn Eun-jin, Yoo In-soo, Seo Yi-sook
Synopsis: Single mother and farmer Jin Young-soon (Ra) toils hard to give her son Choi Kang-ho (Lee) a good life. Kang-ho grows up and becomes a renowned prosecutor, but soon distances himself from his mother. When an accident leaves Kang-ho in a state of child-like dependence, it is Young-soon who slowly heals him and mends their tense relationship.
Watch on Netflix.
Youth of May (2021)
Directed by: Song Min-Yeop
Cast: Lee Do-hyun, Go Min-si, Lee Sang-yi, Keum Sae-rok
Synopsis: Hee Tae (Lee) and Myung Hee (Go) fall in love amidst the turbulent times of the Gwangju Uprising in the 1980s. Tae, a top medical student, and Hee, a dedicated nurse, want to contribute to their country through their work. However, the rising tensions not only make it difficult for the duo to perform their duties but also take a toll on their relationship.
Watch on Prime Video.
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It’s Okay to Not Be Okay (2020)
Directed by: Park Shin-woo
Cast: Kim Soo-hyun, Seo Ye-ji, Oh Jeong-se
Synopsis: Psych ward caretaker Moon Kang-tae (Kim) meets antisocial writer Ko Moon-young (Son) when the former’s brother goes to attend one of Moon-young’s book reading events. Soon, the trio grow fond of each other and begin a journey of self-discovery. However, when Moon-young and Sang-tae (Oh) realise that they share a tragic past, their bond is put to the test.
About the show: Written by acclaimed South Korean writer Jo Yong, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay is one of the saddest Korean dramas of all time. The TV show earned eight nominations at South Korea’s 57th Baeksang Arts Awards along with receiving a nomination at the 49th International Emmy Awards in the Best TV Movie or Miniseries category.
Watch on Netflix.
Hi Bye, Mama! (2020)
Directed by: Yoo Je-won
Cast: Kim Tae-hee, Lee Kyu-hyung, Seo Woo-jin, Go Bo-gyeol
Synopsis: Cha Yu-ri (Kim Tae-Hee) died five years ago and has since been a ghost. Desperate to come back to her husband Jo Kang-Hwa (Lee) and their child Jo Seo-woo (Seo) as a human, Yu-ri carries out a reincarnation project for 49 days. Will she succeed in her mission and be able to meet her family once again?
Watch on Netflix.
Directed by: Hong Jong-chan
Cast: Lee Dong-wook, Cho Seung-woo, Won Jin-a, Lee Kyu-hyung
Synopsis: Ye Jin-woo (Lee) is a doctor at Sangkook University Hospital’s emergency care department. He gets the shock of his life when the hospital’s director, who is also his idol, is arrested for moving public healthcare funds to his own account. Before he can deal with the truth, a new over-ambitious director named Koo Seung-hyo (Cho) takes charge and makes life at the hospital difficult for Jin-woo.
About the show: One of the saddest medical K-dramas to come out in 2018, Life has a 9.1 rating on the American video streaming website Viki.
The Hymn of Death (2018)
Directed by: Park Soo-jin
Cast: Lee Jong-suk, Shin Hye-sun, Kim Myung-soo
Synopsis: When playwright Kim Woo-jin (Lee) meets music student Yun Sim-deok (Shin), it’s love at first sight. In a turn of events, Korea comes under Japanese occupation, and the young lovers are forced to go their separate ways. When the duo cross paths years later, Sim-deok discovers that Woo-jin is now a married man. However, as old feelings resurface, Woo-jin and Sim-deok indulge in a passionate affair.
About the show: This sad Korean drama starring Lee Jong-suk is based on the real historical couple Yun Sim-deok and Kim Woo-jin who lived in Japan and Korea during the tumultuous 1920s colonial period.
Watch on Netflix.
Directed by: Lee Eung-bok
Cast: Gong Yoo, Kim Go-eun, Yoo In-na, Lee Dong-wook
Synopsis: When the mighty Joseon Dynasty warrior Kim Shin (Gong) is betrayed and brutally murdered, the gods turn him into an immortal goblin. Decades later, Shin, fed up with his immortality curse, decides to visit the modern world in search of a goblin’s bride (Kim), the only person who can grant him freedom. But as the bride falls in love with Shin, will the latter reconsider his plans now?
About the show: One of the saddest Kim Go-eun Korean dramas to watch, Goblin is also best known as Guardian: The Lonely and Great God.
Watch on Netflix.
Uncontrollably Fond (2016)
Directed by: Park Hyun-suk
Cast: Kim Woo-bin, Bae Suzy, Lim Ju-hwan
Synopsis: Popular star Shin Joon-young (Kim) and documentary producer No Eul (Suzy) share a complicated past as teenagers. Reunited in adulthood, they find it hard to be cordial with each other when secrets of their past begin to emerge.
About the show: This tragic love story enjoys a 9.3 rating on Viki and is widely considered to be one of the saddest K-dramas of all time.
Kill Me, Heal Me (2015)
Directed by: Kim Jin-man
Cast: Ji Sung, Hwang Jung-eum, Park Seo-joon
Synopsis: Son of the head of a Korean conglomerate Do Hyun’s (Ji) traumatic childhood memories lead him to develop dissociative identity disorder as an adult. As Hyun struggles with six other personalities, his childhood friend Ri Jin (Hwang) starts helping him heal and cope with his troubled past.
Watch on Apple TV.
Stairway to Heaven (2003)
Directed by: Lee Jang-soo
Cast: Choi Ji-Woo, Kwon Sang-woo, Lee Wan, Ha Jae-young, Lee Hui-hyang
Synopsis: Jung-seo’s (Choi) father Su-ha (Ha) remarries and brings home his wife Tae Mi-ra’s (Hui-hyang) neglected son Tae-hwa (Wan). Jung-seo feels abandoned and shares her pain with her only friend Cha Song-joo (Kwon). However, when Song-joo moves to the US, Jung-seo is left devastated. Years later, the duo meet each other once again and old feelings resurface.
(Hero and featured image: Courtesy Netflix)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
– Which is the saddest Korean drama?
Some of the sad K-dramas are The Hymn of Death, Goblin, Kill Me, Heal Me, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, Moon Lovers, Uncontrollably Fond and Life.
– Who is the most popular Korean drama actor?
Some of the most popular K-drama actors are Kim Hye Soo, Son Ye-jin, Kim Soo-hyun, Lee Min-ho, Bae Suzy, Shin Joon-young, Kwon Sang-woo, Choi Ji-woo, Kim Moo-young, Kim Hye-ja, Song Hye-kyo, Lim Ji-yeon, Yeo Jin-goo and Lee Je-hoon.
– Which is the darkest K-Drama?
Some of the darkest K-dramas include Sweet Home, Beyond Evil, Signal, The Flower of Evil, Strangers From Hell, Kingdom and City Hunter.
– Why do K-dramas make you cry?
While most K-dramas focus on happy endings and cliched love stories, a few, like the Lee Jong-suk starrer The Hymn of Death, often mirror real-life experiences and offer viewers an emotional purge. Some of the saddest K-dramas also don’t shy away from exposing the harsh realities of Korean society.
This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India