One of the most overused tropes in kdrama is the childhood connection. When the trope is executed well, I absolutely love it but these days, most dramas use the childhood connection as a way to avoid actually writing a compelling relationship and good story.
That being said, here are some recommendations of my favourite kdramas (in chronological order) that you should watch if you want a break from typical childhood connection love stories.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Kim Se-jeong and Kim Jung-hyun star in this delightful and fun installment of the iconic School series. School 2017 goes through the familiar beats of a typical school drama tackling issues like the pressure to get good grades to get into a good university, bullying, class privilege and discrimination. But what makes it stand out amongst the rest is the main couple, Eun Ho and Tae Woon.
Eun Ho and Tae Woon’s relationship is not only sweet but also playful with the two constantly bickering and teasing one another. The two also support one another emotionally, lifting each other up and encouraging/helping one another to pursue their dreams. Unlike many other school couples, there is nothing toxic and unhealthy about their relationship. School 2017 gives viewers a sweet and healthy couple worth rooting for and reminds us that dating and falling in love is supposed to be fun!
The Tale of Nokdu is about a man named Nokdu (Jang Dong Yoon) who disguises himself as a woman to hide in a widow village to evade assassins. In this women-only village, he meet Dong Joo (Kim So Hyun), a kisaeng in training secretly plotting to avenge her family.
The drama starts off as a light-hearted romantic comedy before morphing into more typical sageuk fare with palace politics, heartbreak, and tragedy. The change in tone is jarring and the writing is a bit uneven leaving the audience feeling like they’re watching two completely different dramas. (I enjoyed both versions of the drama but others may feel differently!) Despite these issues, the strong performances of the cast, intriguing plot lines, and nuanced villains make it worth watching till the very end.
3. Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung (2019)
Feminism and female agency take center stage in this fusion sageuk drama starring Shin Se Kyung and Cha Eun Woo. Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung is about a woman (the titular Goo Hae Ryung) who becomes a female historian in the Joseon era and falls in love with Lee Rim, a sheltered prince who moonlights as a romantic novel author.
Rookie Historian stands apart from other sageuk dramas in its progressive characterization of the women. Hae Ryung and her fellow female historians are all independent and have actual agency! Which is rare in sageuk dramas where women are often powerless and have their lives dictated by the whims of men.
Touch Your Heart reunites Goblin’s iconic couple Lee Dong Wook and Yoo In Na and their chemistry is better than ever. This romantic comedy is about an actress who takes a job as a secretary for a cold and stoic lawyer to prepare for her comeback after a major scandal.
At first the two leads seem to be the classic kdrama archetypes of the ditzy female lead and cold male lead we’ve seen a million times before. But the combined efforts of the screenwriter and actors successfully injects heart and depth into the characters. Yes, Yoon Seo is perky and kind of a ditz, but she’s also intelligent, earnest, and hardworking and throughout the drama demonstrates great inner strength. Jung Rook seems like the typical cold male lead but as we get to know him, he’s revealed to be an awkward (not cold!), respectful, and considerate person and not the abusive, toxic cold male lead that is so prevalent in kdramas. The level of care put into the development of Yoon Seo and Jung Rook and their relationship makes Touch Your Heart a must-watch.
Do You Like Brahms is one of the more unique romance kdramas I’ve watched in recent years. Park Joon Young (Kim Min Jae) is a burnout superstar pianist and Chae Song Ah (Park Eun Bin) is a student pursuing her music dream as a violinist. The two meet and sparks fly.
Both Song Ah and Joon Young are gentle, soft-spoken introverts…a rarity for kdrama leads! Although I love the romance in this drama, Song Ah and Joon Young’s individual journeys are the highlight. Song Ah’s quiet resilience in the face of constant adversity and Joon Young’s struggle to open up and be vulnerable were beautiful to watch. I highly recommend this drama for those who want a change of pace from the usual kdrama archetypes the main characters fall under.
6. Summer Strike (2022)
Summer Strike is a webtoon adaptation about a girl named Yeo Reum (Seolhyun) who quiets her job and moves to the seaside village of Angok from after her life in Seoul takes a turn for the worse (toxic workplace, dumped by boyfriend, mom dies, you name it). In Angok, she meets An Dae Beom (Yim Siwan), a librarian who was once a promising math prodigy with a tragic past.
Yeo Reum and Dae Beom are yet another introverted kdrama couple I absolutely love. Seolhyun and Siwan have beautiful and understated chemistry. I have mixed feelings about this drama but if you’re like me and adore quiet and introverted leads, I recommend giving this drama a try.
Love to Hate You is my favourite kdrama of 2023 so far. A simple and straightforward drama with strong performances and great chemistry from the actors.
Love to Hate You stars Kim Ok Vin and Yoo Teo in a romcom about a feisty attorney who is uninterested in relationships and a famous heartthrob actor with a gentleman reputation but has a disdain for women. The two meet, misunderstand one another but eventually fall in love.
Not only is there no childhood love connection but there’s no murder/thriller plot that every kdrama seems to have these days. This drama is just good old-fashioned enemies to lovers fun featuring misunderstandings and a contract relationship. I have issues with the ending of Love to Hate You but I still highly recommend this drama.
What’s your favourite kdrama without the childhood connection trope?