Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (2024)

Fans of Korean entertainment know that there's a must-see K--drama out there for everyone, from those who love romance to the thriller-obsessed. History buffs can turn to the sweeping genre of Korea's period dramas, also known as saeguks. These historical K-dramas traditionally take place in the country's dynastic periods, following the royal courts of the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties, but some standout series have also chronicled dramatic times in Korea's more recent histories. And don't expect only straightforward melodramas; the K-drama world's tendency for genre-mixing means many of the best historical series include time travel, gender-swapping, fantasy magic, and enough rom-com plots to sate the thirstiest romance fans.

Read on for a selection of the best historical K-dramas to watch, from zombie horror shows to epic romances and fantasy adventures. (Once you've dipped your toes in, check out our list of the best K-dramas to watch on Netflix.)

'100 Days My Prince' (2018)

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (1)

(Image credit: tvN)

Period: Fictional story within the Joseon era (1392-1910)

Main Cast: D.O., Nam Ji-hyun, Kim Seon-ho, and Han So-hee

Anyone searching for a more lighthearted period rom-com, this one's for you. Lee Yul (D.O.) and commoner Hong-shim (Nam Ji-hyun) were childhood sweethearts, but they were separated due to tragic events. 16 years later, Lee Yul is the cold-hearted Crown Prince, who decrees that all Korean citizens of marriageable age must wed. Meanwhile, Hong-shim is the country's oldest single woman, and faces possible punishment as she refuses to get married. After he survives an assassination attempt, an amnesic Lee Yul is saved by Hong Shim's father, and, having lost his memories, offers to marry Hong Shim.

WATCH ON NETFLIX

'Alchemy of Souls' (2022–2023)

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (2)

(Image credit: tvN)

Period: Set in a fictional country, similar to the Joseon era (1392-1910)

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Main Cast: Lee Jae-wook, Jung So-min, and Go Youn-jung

This fantasy saeguk takes place in the magical land of Daeho, where mages populate the upper classes. While on the run, master assassin Nak-su (Go Yoon-jung) transfers her soul to a new body to disguise herself, but she unknowingly chooses Mu-deok (Jung So-min), a servant who's too weak to handle magic. Stuck without access to her powers, she soon encounters Jang Wook (Lee Jae-wook), an heir to a family of mages who can't access his powers due to a curse. Jang Wook decides that Nak-su will be his master and the means to remove his spell.

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'Empress Ki' (2013–2014)

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (3)

(Image credit: MBC)

Period: Mid-1300s, Yuan dynasty China

History: Based on the life of Korea-born Chinese Empress Ki

Main Cast: Ha Ji-won, Ji Chang-wook, Joo Min-jo, and Baek Jin-hee

This mega-hit saeguk is the fictionalized biopic of Ki Seung-nyang, who was born in Goryeo-era Korea and ascended to power to become the Empress Consort of the Yuan dynasty. The 50-episode drama follows the future ruler from childhood throughout her life, as she serves Goryeo as a warrior (while disguised as a man), and is eventually sent to become a concubine of the Yuan emperor. There's also a love triangle, between her first love Wang Yoo (Joo Min-jo) and her eventual husband, Ta Hwan (Ji Chang-wook).

WATCH ON VIKI

'The Forbidden Marriage' (2022–2023)

(Image credit: MBC)

Period: Fictional story within the Joseon era (1392-1910)

Main Cast: Kim Young-dae, Park Ju-hyun, and Kim Woo-seok

When this period rom-com begins, Joseon is seven years into a marriage ban. The wife of King Lee Heon (Kim Young-dae) died seven years ago, and no marriages have been allowed while the monarch remains single and grieving. However, Ye So-rang (Park) is determined to make her living as a psychic matchmaker despite the ban (or whether she has to make some fraudulent predictions). When So-rang's arrested for breaking the ban, she pretends that she can communicate with spirits, including the king’s dead wife. She gets out of jail, but Lee Heon refuses to let her leave his side, believing that she's really channeling his lost love.

WATCH ON VIKI

'Gyeongseong Creature' (2023– )

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (5)

(Image credit: Lim Hyo Sun/Netflix)

Period: 1945, in Japanese-occupied Gyeongseong (modern-day Seoul)

History: Fictional story that takes inspiration from the imperial Japanese army's Unit 731

Main Cast: Park Seo-joon, Han So-hee, Kim Do-hyun, and Kim Hae-sook

This genre-bending historical horror-thriller (with hints of romance) takes place in the final days of Japan's occupation of Korea. The villainous General Kato (Choi Young-joon) relocates his terrifying "creature," the monstrous result of human experimentation, to Gyeongseong. Meanwhile, an unlikely pair are both searching for missing women: business owner Jang Tae-sang (Park Seo-jun) is tasked with locating a commissioner's mistress, while a private detective named Yoon Chae-ok (Han So-hee) has arrived in Joseon in search of her mother who vanished 10 years ago. The strangers team up to find the women, which sets them on a path straight toward Kato's monster (and, of course, they begin to fall for each other).

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'Kingdom' (2019–2020)

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (6)

(Image credit: Juhan Noh/Netflix)

Period: Early 17th-century Joseon

History: Alternate history of the period

Main Cast: Ju Ji-hoon, Bae Doona, Ryu Seung-ryong, Kim Hye-jun, and Kim Sung-kyu

This acclaimed horror drama mixes South Korea's zombie trend with Joseon-era politics. A horrific plague has swept through the country, even reaching the royal palace. To investigate the mysterious illness and ensure his place on the throne, Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju) works with two physicians, Seo-Bi (Bae) and Yeong-Shin (Kim Sung-kyu), who have been tracking the disease. Meanwhile, the pregnant Queen Consort (Kim Hye-jun) and the traitorous Chief State Councilor (Ryu) scheme to take the throne for themselves.

WATCH ON NETFLIX

'The King's Affection' (2021)

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (7)

(Image credit: Netflix)

Period: Fictional story within the Joseon era (1392-1910)

Main Cast: Park Eun-bin, Rowoon, Nam Yoon-su, Choi Byung-chan, Bae Yoon-kyung, and Jung Chae-yeon

This epic rom-com belongs to the subgenre of female leads in saeguks disguising themselves as men, either for greater freedom in society or to cover for their twin brother, the Crown Prince. Okay, the latter case is pretty rare, but that's where Dam-yi (Park) finds herself after her twin brother, Prince Lee-hwi, is killed. As Lee-hwi, Dam-yi distances herself from people to keep up the ruse, but things change when she begins to fall for Jung Ji-woon (Rowoon), her childhood first love who becomes her tutor. Meanwhile, Ji-woon who has no clue of her real identity, is surprised when he finds himself falling in love with the Crown Prince.

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'Moon Embracing the Sun' (2012)

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (8)

(Image credit: MBC)

Period: Fictional story within the Joseon era (1392-1910)

Main Cast: Kim Soo-hyun, Han Ga-in, Jung Il-woo, and Kim Min-seo

Another epic romance that takes place in the Joseon royal court, this saeguk follows a love triangle between two princes and a common girl. Though Prince Yangmyung (Jung Il-woo) is the eldest, he has been passed over as heir in favor of his younger brother Crown Prince Lee-hwon (Kim Soo-hyun). Yangmyung is also forced to grow up outside of the palace compound, though there's no bad blood between the brothers. When teenage Lee-hwon sneaks out of the palace to attend Yang-myung's graduation, he meets Heo Yeon-woo (Han Ga-in), the daughter of the king's trusted advisor. Between the love triangle and the vicious court politics, there's plenty of drama before this series approaches anything near a happy ending.

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'Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo' (2016)

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (9)

(Image credit: SBS TV)

Time Period: Mid-900s, Goryeo dynasty

History: Uses names of the royal family of Taejo of Goryeo

Main Cast: Lee Joon-gi, IU, Kang Ha-neul, Hong Jong-hyun, Nam Joo-hyuk, Byun Baek-hyun, Kim Ji-soo, and Kim San-ho.

This fan-favorite saeguk is known for its star-studded cast and tragic, heartbreaking ending. (You've been warned!) Modern-day woman Go Ha-jin (IU) is transported back to the Goryeo era, where she inhabits the body of royal court lady Hae Soo. She quickly becomes entwined with the lives of the many sons of King Taejo (Jo Min-ki), as the princes are drawn to her unusual, lively personality. She eventually falls for one of the princes, but they're kept apart due to political intrigue as the show's plot gets much darker.

WATCH ON VIKI

'Mr. Queen' (2020-–2021)

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (10)

(Image credit: tvN)

Period: Mid-1800s Joseon

History: Uses names of King Cheoljong and Queen Cheorin

Main Cast: Shin Hye-sung and Kim Jung-hyun

If you like you're a fan of period shows that get a bit anachronistic (Bridgerton stans, to the front), then this body-swap, time-travel comedy is a must-watch. In the present day, Jang Bong-hwan, the male head chef for the South Korean President, nearly drowns in his apartment complex pool. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a different body and time: He now embodies the Joseon-era queen Kim So-yong (Shin). As he searches for a way to return to his own time, Bong-hwan must navigate both palace politics and the irritating King Cheoljong (Kim), his now-husband.

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'Mr. Sunshine' (2018)

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (11)

(Image credit: Jisun Park)

Time Period: Late 1800s to early 1900s, before Japanese occupation

History: Fictional story inspired by Korean independence fighters in the Righteous Army

Main Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Kim Tae-ri, Yoo Yeon-seok, Byun Yo-han, and Kim Min-jung

This suspenseful, tragic drama follows an unlikely romance amid a tumultuous time in Joseon's history. Eugene Choi (Lee) was an orphaned child of enslaved people, who escaped to the U.S. and later became a citizen and Marine. When he's sent back to Joseon on a diplomatic mission, he meets Go Ae-shin (Kim), an aristocratic lady whose late parents were killed in a political plot. Ae-shin is now a sniper in Korea’s Righteous Army, which fights for Korea's continued independence against the Japanese. The series follows both Ae-shin and her comrade's efforts, and the couple's will-they-won't-they romance. (An added snag is that Ae-shin's betrothed to another man.)

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'Pachinko' (2022– )

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(Image credit: Apple TV+)

Period: Spans from 1910-1989

History: Based on the novel by Min Jin Lee

Main Cast: Youn Yuh-jung, Kim Min-ha, Jin Ha, and Lee Min-ho

This breathtaking international series chronicles the story of one family over multiple timelines, from 1910s Japanese-occupied Korea to 1980s Tokyo. It centers on Sunja (played by Kim MIN-HA in her youth and Youn YUH-JUNG as an older woman), who decides to leave her home country for Imperial Japan, seeking more opportunities in the early 20th century. Though Sunja is fictional, her journey mirrors the resilient history of Korean women who migrated to Japan during colonial rule, also known as Zainichi.

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'The Red Sleeve' (2021–2022)

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (13)

(Image credit: MBC)

Period: Late-1700s Joseon

History: Based on the romance between King Jeongjo and his royal consort Ui-bin Seong

Main Cast: Lee Jun-ho, Lee Se-young, and Kang Hoon

This moving drama takes inspiration from one of Joseon's most famous love stories. Crown Prince Yi San (King the Land's Lee Jun-ho) is scarred by his father's traumatic death, but he's determined to become a better ruler than his cruel grandfather, the current king. Meanwhile, his court lady Seong Deok-im (Lee Se-young) is a strong-willed, progressive woman who wants to live an independent life. Their engrossing, heartwarming love story is challenged by their places in society, as Deok-im has to choose between her freedom or life as the future king's concubine.

WATCH ON VIKI

'Uncle Samsik' (2024)

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (14)

(Image credit: Hulu)

Time Period: 1960s South Korea

History: Fictional story set in the tumultuous period after the Korean War

Main Cast: Song Kang-ho, Byun Yo-han, Lee Kyu-hyung, Jin Ki-joo, and Seo Hyun-woo

This tense political thriller mixes real-life historical events with fictional ones, during a tumultuous economic and political period in the country. In his first-ever TV role, Parasite star Song Kang-ho plays Park Doo-chil, a mysterious fixer power broker called "Uncle Samsik" who's determined to shape Korea's future according to his goals. He strikes up a partnership with Kim San (Byun Yo-han), a U.S.-educated economist who wants to transform Korea's agricultural economy to an industrial one.

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'Under the Queen's Umbrella' (2022)

Tune Out Today's Reality By Watching 15 of the Most Binge-worthy Historical K-Dramas (15)

(Image credit: Courtesy)

Period: Fictional story within the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910)

Main Cast: Kim Hye-soo, Kim Hae-sook, Choi Won-young, Kim Eui-sung, Moon Sang-min, Ok Ja-yeon, and Chani

This royal melodrama is the story of a mother going to extreme lengths to keep her family safe in a succession battle. The woman in question is Queen Hwa-ryeong (Kim Hye-Soo), a mother of five whose eldest son is the heir to King Yi Ho (Choi Won-young). When the Crown Prince suddenly becomes ill, Hwa-ryeong realizes that her family's status could be in danger, if one of the king's many concubines manages to install their son as the new prince. Hwa-ryeong sets out to install one of her four remaining, underachieving sons, as the next heir.

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