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A Blast Through The Past — A Look at Some of the Most Successful Action K-Dramas in the Past Decade

In a field dominated by cutesy rom-coms, action dramas can sometimes only be found far and wide. The best action dramas, though, shine the brightest and capture audiences of all sorts. Whether a period drama or fitting in modern day, here are (arguably) the best action dramas throughout the past decade. If there’s one that catches your eye, make sure to check it out!

Credit: Chorokbaem Media

2008: Iljimae

A classic in terms of action dramas, this legacy stars Lee Joongi, an actor who is famed for his action roles, especially most recently in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. This dashing protagonist plays a Joseon era Robin Hood, falling in love with Byeon Eunchae, a nobleman’s daughter, played by Han Hyojoo. Full of angst, Lee Gyeom’s backstory would lead anyone to tears, especially accompanied by the dramatic backing soundtrack.

Credit: SBS

2009: Swallow the Sun

Suave takes a physical form in Kim Jungwoo, an orphaned conman played by the ever so handsome Ji Sung. Known more recently for his lead role in Kill Me, Heal Me, Ji Sung stole the hearts of viewers alongside popular Fin.K.L member Sung Yuri. The duo set themselves on a journey across the world, with plot twists galore. While some may find it hard to keep track of the complicated plot, the writers did an incredible job to ensure that viewers stay hooked.

Credit: Taewon Entertainment

2010: Athena: Goddess of War

Riding off the theme of the previous drama, Athena: Goddess of War continues the trek across the globe with main leads Jung Woosung and Soo Ae. Filled with the familiar names of Cha Sungwon, Choi Siwon, Lee Jiah, and Kim Soyeon, this drama was created as a spin-off of the renowned drama Iris. While the drama premiered with its highest viewership ratings, it steadily dropped to a plateau after the release of the sixth episode. Although the reception was disappointing for the amount of money and planning that was put into its production, Athena: Goddess of War still proved itself to be a drama worth the initial hype.

Credit: SSD

2011: City Hunter

Enjoy a drama full of Lee Minho in tight tees and strapping leather jackets as he seeks to avenge his father’s death. Unfortunately, his plans fall to pieces as he finds himself falling for bodyguard Kim Nana played by Park Minyoung. Set in modern day Seoul, Lee Minho plays the role of Lee Yoonsung, an IT specialist in the Blue House by day, the “City Hunter” by night. One of the most well-known action dramas, City Hunter truly lives up to its fame, keeping readers’ hearts racing until the very last minute.

Credit: Pan Entertainment

2012: Bridal Mask

Set in the 1930s during the Japanese colonial period following World War I, Joo Won plays the role of Lee Kangto, a pro-Japanese Korean police officer, infamous for turning his back on his fellow countrymen. He butts heads against Oh Mokdan, played by Jin Seyeon, and although the pair fall in love in the most clichéd way, the circumstances of the time make it refreshing. Hefty with 28 episodes, Bridal Mask truly took the hearts of viewers as it steadily grew in viewership all the way until its finale, winning nine awards including “Drama of the Year.”

Credit: Samhwa Networks

2013: Gu Family Book

A fantastical period drama, Gu Family Book builds off the gumiho legends. Lee Seunggi acts as Choi Kangchi, a half-man and half-gumiho creature who falls in love with Dam Yeowool, played by Bae Suzy. The latter crossdresses as a male martial arts instructor until discovered by Kangchi. The story crosses generations, showing the failure of Kangchi’s father who tried to turn into a full human and hints at a parallel demise for Kangchi. Whether the pair can be together at last or are destined to fail can only be found out by watching it!

Credit: JS Pictures

2014: Two Weeks

Yet another drama featuring the action king Lee Joongi, Two Weeks follows the story of Jang Taesan, a pitiful gangster who is falsely imprisoned. As eight years pass and Taesan is released, he finds out that he has a daughter with his first love, Seo Inhye, played by Park Hasun. Life would be happy for Taesan if not for his daughter’s surprising leukemia diagnosis and another case of sudden arrest which initiates two weeks of turmoil and struggle in order to make things right.

Credit: Kim Jonghak Productions

2015: Healer

Park Minyoung makes her return to action dramas a few years since her role in City Hunter, but this time playing as a journalist named Chae Youngshin whose fate intertwines with that of Seo Junghoo, a night courier played by Ji Changwook. Their story revolves around an accident that occurred in 1992 resulting in tragedy for a friend group that ran an illegal radio station. Although not receiving the highest of viewerships in Korea, Healer found insane popularity within the international fanbase.

Credit: JS Pictures

2016: Moorim School

Fantasy dramas are not quite a speciality in the realm of K-Dramas, but Moorim School is surely one to watch and enjoy. Starring Lee Hyunwoo, VIXX’s Lee Hongbin, and Seo Yeji as the main leads, Moorim School also contains a slew of idol actors including Alexander formerly of UKISS, Z.Hera, and Shannon Williams. Following the two male leads, viewers are introduced to the mysterious Moorim School, with aims to uncover the mysteries behind the protagonists’ pasts in accompaniment to some complicated love lines. Although unique in its multinational cast, Moorim School quickly lost its viewership rankings within Korea.

Credit: KBS

2017: Mad Dog

Released in the latter part of the year, Mad Dog took the drama world by storm with its heartbreaking story and multidimensional characters. Focusing on the life insurance industry, insurance investigator Choi Kangwoo (Yoo Jitae) seeks to uncover the secrets behind the plane crash which killed his wife and young son. Two years after the crash he is joined by genius Kim Minjoon, played by Woo Dohwan, in an effort to clear his elder brother’s name, the main pilot behind the plane crash. Mad Dog proved its popularity, maintaining its viewership with the highest ratings on their finale episode.

Credit: The Unicorn

2018: Call Me Mother

Currently on-air, Call Me Mother has been taking the spotlight due to its atypical strong female lead. Lee Boyoung takes the role of Kang Sujin, an elementary school teacher who kidnaps one of her students in finding that the child is being abused at home. A remake of a Japanese TV series, Call Me Mother inspires many moral arguments, one that definitely becomes more complicated as the story progresses. Make sure to keep up with this drama to see how it unravels!