20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

How The Rankings Are Calculated

South Korea has 2 kinds of TV stations, namely free and paid ones. Popular Korean dramas are produced by KBS, MBC, and SBS – the free channels. This means that not all dramas will make it into the top 20 because their target audience is different from cable channels’ case.

If a popular drama happens to come from the latter category, then its ranking may go up in comparison to those from the free channels because it has only a dedicated group of people which they serve instead of everyone else, also known as ‘conventional Korean dramas.’

The latter can be accessed easily for free through most foreign countries via Korean television network websites. Hence, if you want something exclusive to watch on television like ‘Descendants of the Sun,’ this is probably what you would prefer over other possibilities.

Check out 20 High rated Korean dramas below in the list.

1. The World of the Married

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

The World of the Married, the highly-anticipated miniseries from JTBC, took off with a bang and has since delivered record-breaking ratings. It’s the network’s first drama to nail double-digit ratings on its second episode. Moreover, its finale has smashed records for being not only JTBC’s highest-rated drama ever but the highest-rated cable drama of all time.

Starring Baeksang winning actress Kim Hee-ae, it tells the story of a respected doctor who transforms from being spotless in every way to falling deep into a web of shame and hatred following her husband’s (Park Hae-Joon) affair and her friends’ betrayal.

2. Sky Castle

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

Sky Castle (2018) is possibly the largest sleeper hit in Korean cable TV history. It started off with a bad viewership of 1.7%, but this number increased 14-fold to 23.8% during its finale.

The series stars Yum Jung-ah, Lee Tae-ran, Yoon Se-ah, Oh Na-ra, and Kim Seo-Hyung and focuses on a group of rich families’ fight for power, influence, and recognition. However, aside from their exclusive neighbourhood and affluent background, they desire to send their kids to the best medical school in the country.

High education has always been a status symbol in South Korea. People often live extremely stressful lives in connection with getting a better and better education. Even though there are different schools, people try their best to get into the best university regardless of the type of school they apply for.

3. Crash Landing on You

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

Crash Landing on You (2019-2020), starring Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin. Most people commenting on social media seemed pretty confused by the plot—a South Korean heiress lands on North Korean soil after a paragliding accident—and other production details, such as that most of its “North Korean characters” were actually played by famous Chinese celebrities! However, it turned out to be one of the most-watched dramas in the first two months of 2020.

The plot becomes more enticing when a North Korean soldier (Hyun) happens to cross paths with the heiress (Son) from a wealthy family while out on a hike in the woods. He promises to help her return home, but his heart soon falls for her, and the situation seems further complicated as their feelings grow for one another.

As time passes, you can see battle sequences, romantic capers, and even comical moments like those typically seen in soap operas that make Dead-Frog full of never-ending suspense.

4. Goblin

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

It’s amazing to see how a drama in South Korea called Goblin has become such a cultural phenomenon both inside and outside of the country. The series really deserves all of its praise because it’s such an interesting, unique show that tells an unusual love story.

Starring Gong Yoo and Kim Go-Eun, the two actors can fully immerse themselves into their characters that we forget we’re watching a television program at all. It was written by Kim Eun-sook, who made sure this would be one of her best creations yet with its creative plot and talented actors.

5. Reply 1988

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

Reply 1988 tells a story of people who are not extraordinary – they’re ordinary people living in the same neighbourhood. Yet, although they live their lives as separate individuals, they are connected in ways that remind us of the power of human bonds and interactions. After all, we really never know what each other is going through unless we build trustful relationships!

It hit the headlines during its broadcast for its record viewership which was nothing less than impressive. It largely appeals to audiences through humanistic storytelling that deals with themes such as nostalgia, friendship, forgiveness, female solidarity, sacrifice, hope and dreams for the future.

6. Mr. Sunshine

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

Interestingly, Mr. Sunshine (2018) is written and directed by the same director-writer pair who gave us Goblin and Descendants of the Sun, two dramas from 2016 to 2017 with the most views.

This drama centres around a man (Lee Byung-hun) who is taken to the US as a child and returns home as an American Marine Corps officer when foreign forces threaten to colonize the land. After returning to Joseon, he meets a noblewoman (Kim Tae-Ri) and develops feelings for her.

Praised for its history-rich plots and powerful female characters, the series received critical acclaim and positive reviews from critics and ordinary viewers.

7. Mr. Queen

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

Mr. Queen was a huge hit this year thanks to the wonderful performance of Shin Hye-sun and Kim Jung-Hyun, but also for its comical and quirky script that had us in fits with each episode.

It follows a respectable chief gong (Choi Jin-hyuk) at the Blue House who wakes up as the Queen in the Joseon period where she meets many challenges and threats towards her life, including an interest in Taebong (Kim), who’s known for his love for happiness and hate of women.

8. Itaewon Class

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

Thanks to its well-written script and relatable characters, the series ‘Itaewon Class’ was one of the most popular new dramas in early 2020. Many different subplots and character histories often take unexpected turns, which constantly pulls you into watching more episodes as soon as possible.

Park Seo-Joon played a man who originally had a traumatic event happen during his childhood but later sought revenge on the people responsible for taking away his happy life. It may not seem like romance will be a big part of this show, but the female lead character Kim Da-mi will show you otherwise!

9. Hospital Playlist

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

Hospital Playlist (2020) is the latest drama from PD Shin Won-ho, churning out yet another gripping K-drama that made its way to the top of everyone’s favourites list. The show features an ensemble cast comprised Jo Jung-suk, Yoo Yeon-Seok, Jung Kyung-ho, Kim Dae-Myung, and Jeon Mi-do as five best friends who now work at the same medical school together as doctors in one hospital.

The story revolves around their daily lives as they maintain their unbreakable friendship and deal with other people at their workplace. Since it premiered in November of 2018, Hospital Playlist has achieved what no other television program has been able to do so far: it ranks #1 among other dramas in its timeslot. Stream Season 2 now.

10. 100 Days My Prince

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

The top 10 highest-rated Korean dramas on cable TV is 2018’s 100 Days My Prince. The drama stars singer-turned-actor D.O. as the Crown Prince of Joseon, who one day wakes up a complete commoner, with no memories of his previous life as royalty. Instead, a common woman (Nam Ji-Hyun) becomes his companion after they marry, following an old law he previously created.

She often lashing out at him for being a useless husband who can’t even do the most simple household chores yet, but she comes to genuinely care about him over time (and she eventually learns that their kindred-yet-complicated relationship translated into them having real romantic feelings for each other).

Unfortunately, their happiness and romance are interrupted when he regains his memory of being Crown Prince and is expected to resume his leadership responsibilities again.

11. Signal

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

Kdrama Signal received much praise for how well the show presents how slowly-built but tightly wound undercurrents of the plot and character development work to bring out justice over time.

It’s an interesting viewing experience in that it follows the journey of both cold-case investigator Jo Suk (actor Lee Je-hoon) and police detective and profiler Park Hae-Seong (actor Cho Jin-Woong), who communicate across two timelines to effectively solve two different murder cases.

The series focuses on getting viewers involved from the start until the finish with complex plots yet intriguing enough to send chills down your spine every episode.

12. Hotel del Luna

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

“Hotel Del Luna” (2019) is a fantasy romance series starring Yeo Jin-goo as a hotel manager that caters exclusively to ghosts. Thanks to its young cast and diverse storyline, it’s fun and engaging because of the fresh perspective on this narrative.

With IU serving as the female lead actress and Hong sisters as a screenwriter, it became one of the cable dramas in 2019, whose highest-rated cable drama premiering and concluding in 2019 only according to CBC. “Hotel Del Luna” is also noted for its unique delivery never seen before for any single television series.

13. The Crowned Clown

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

The Crowned Clown  (2019) stars Yeo Jin-goo as a Joseon King who puts the lookalike he found in an orphanage on the throne amid political chaos that threatens his own life. While the voting for cable TV dramas with improved average ratings hasn’t opened at press time, we can be sure that many people will agree this is one of the best when it’s all said and done.

The cast gave brilliant performances, but it’s Yeo Jin-goo who not only grabbed a nomination for Best Actor at the 2019 Baeksang Arts Awards but also delivered what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best portrayals of modern times opposite Kim Seolhyun’s winning portrayal as a queen at her prime years.

14. The Uncanny Counter

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

They say that a hero is only as good as his enemy. But, as it turns out, in “The Uncanny Counter,” the bad guys are even more charming than some of the heroes. This webtoon fantasy action series features demon hunters – mortal men and women who fight evil spirits that prey on humans.

 When they aren’t on duty, these heroic fighters work at a noodle restaurant to hide their true identities as demon-slaying vigilantes. It’s heartwarming to see both sides of these characters. We’ve been intrigued by the development of these demons, and we can’t wait to find out what happens next! So get ready for season 2.

15. Encounter

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

Song Hye-Kyo is a successful hotel CEO looking to reconnect with the world after losing herself amidst her material things. That’s when Song Min-Ho (Shim Chang-Min) comes along and treats her daily life at the office as an amateur hour.

Song Min-Ho is an IT designer for a software company and has never dwelled on the conventional ways of success because he finds them immature. Although his skills are sometimes viewed as subpar, it’s obvious that he possesses true passion that only someone in love with his career could ever understand.

16. Prison Playbook

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

The Prison Playbook is unlike any other series. It focuses on life in prison and tells a story through the eyes of Park Hae-soo, a star baseball player that became a prisoner overnight.

Adopting a realistic approach to the audience, this romantic comedy shows us what it means to live an unconventional life without harming its entertainment factor. Anyone who hasn’t already seen The Prison Playbook will most likely enjoy this wonderful visual masterpiece by PD Shin!

17. The Lady in Dignity

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

It’s fair to say that JTBC’s The Lady in Dignity captured the attention and hearts of many viewers, reaching peak ratings as high as 12.1%. Taking place in today’s fast-paced society, viewers were drawn into a story that showed some of the issues they themselves have encountered recently, such as family drama, greed, power plays and so on.

It was an emotional roller coaster for sure, but given all the glamour shown throughout the drama, one could easily say this was a 2-hour escape not to be missed!

18. Reply 1994

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

The second series in the Reply/Answer Me series features six students from a small town that have just entered into university and decide to live together in Seoul as they make their way through.

Most of the characters are played by seasoned actors, with at least one showing up in award-winning dramas such as while there’s also an actress who has now proven herself onscreen once again for her starring role in this amazing new drama.

19. Memories of the Alhambra

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

Memories of the Alhambra is highly audacious. Based on a popular webtoon, written by PD Kim Won-Seok, known for creating buzzed-about thrillers such as W-Two Worlds and Signal, this show boasts a diverse and interesting cast starring.

Hyun Bin from Secret Forest as the CEO of Woorin Financial Group – who’s summoned to Spain to meet with an innovative augmented reality technology developer Mo Yeon Jae (Park Shin Hye), after the strange death of his company’s opposing CEO. Hyun is also joined by Jung Yoo Jin, playing another rival CEO named Lee Woo Jin, whose motive apparently involves his business empire.

20. Strong Woman Do Bong-soon

 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021

No. 20 on this list is JTBC’s highest-rated Korean drama from last year in ratings—Strong Woman Do Bong-soon. This show starring Park Bo-young as a girl with superhuman strength and actor Park Hyung-Sik as the chaebol heir she works as a bodyguard. It has created by the same screenwriter who wrote another JTBC drama, Secret Forest.

A favourite among Kdrama fans, Strong Woman Do Bong-Soon, became instrumental in boosting the popularity of these two actors and starting up acting careers for them.

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 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021
About the author

Neha Garia is the founder and Editor at The Drama Paradise. She is a long-time K-Drama addict and K-Pop lover. Her favorite K-Pop artists are BTS, SF9, ATEEZ, and INFINITE but there are many more groups she is having a look at. Her favorite actors include Nam Joo-hyuk, Kim GoEun, and Kim TaeRi, to name a few. She hopes to share her love for Korean culture with people across the globe.

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 | 20 K-Dramas With The Highest Viewer Ratings As Of 2021