Over the years, Koreans have adapted their local novels into movies and drama series. This has allowed the audience to be introduced to Korean literature while providing an opportunity for the novel’s fans to appreciate it in another medium. Here are eight K-dramas based on Korean novels, organized by IMDB ratings as of September 12, 2022.
(IMDB rating: 7.6)
Hong Chun-gi is a historical fantasy novel with two volumes written by Jung Eun-gwol. It follows the story of Hong Chun-gi, a female painter who stumbles upon a blind astrologer named Ha Ram. After they keep crossing paths, they eventually grow closer. As their love blooms, fate brings some obstacles due to a curse placed on their families some years earlier. One of them hosts the Demon King (the god of death) while the other is the painter divinely destined to create a vessel to seal him away.
Lovers of the Red Sky is the English title of its K-drama adaptation that aired on SBS in 2021. Many audience reviews praised lead stars Kim Yoo-jung and Ahn Hyo-seop for their amazing chemistry together. The series was nominated for a total of eight categories at the SBS Drama Awards and the 55th WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival.
(IMDB rating: 7.8, from 1.3K votes)
I Will Go to You When the Weather is Fine is a novel written by Lee Do-woo. It tells the story of cellist Mok Hae-won, who has just returned to her provincial hometown. She finds an old house which has transformed into a bookstore and is managed by her former classmate Im Eun-seob. During her stay, she forms new relationships and discovers secrets from the past unfolding.
The drama adaptation was aired on JTBC in 2020 and ran for 16 episodes, with actress Park Min-young and actor Seo Kang-joon playing the lead roles. Although the story might come off as slow, some IMDb users have left reviews stating that this is precisely what makes the show so beautiful.
(IMDB rating: 7.8, from 1.6K votes)
The Lives of Sungkyunkwan Confucian Scholars is a novel written by Jung Eun-gwol. Set in the Joseon era, it follows the lives of four youths at Sungkyunkwan, a prestigious all-male Confucian educational institute. One of the youths, 'Kim Yoon-sik', holds a secret that cannot be disclosed – that 'he' is a girl named Kim Yun-hee.
Sungkyunkwan Scandal, its drama adaptation, was released in 2010 on KBS2. The cast consists of Park Min-young, Park Yoo-chun, Yoo Ah-in, and Song Joong-ki. It received about 26 nominations from six different drama award bodies.
(IMDB rating: 8.0)
The Moon That Embraces the Sun is another 2-volume historical fantasy novel by author Jung Eun-gwol. It tells the tale of the fictional king Lee Hwon who holds on to the memory of his would-be queen, the former crown princess Heo Yeon-woo. After meeting the female shaman Wol, he starts investigating the death of Yeon-woo which holds a dark conspiracy.
The drama (alternative title: Moon Embracing the Sun) ran in 2012 and became a certified hit, reaching 42.2% nationwide. Young actors and actresses rose to fame in this drama including Yeo Jin-goo, Kim Yoo-jung, Kim So-hyun, and Lee Tae-ri. It was nominated for more than 40 awards in a total of 12 award shows and movie/television festivals.
(IMDB rating: 8.1, from 435 votes)
Those Who Read Hearts of Evil is a non-fiction novel written by Korea’s first criminal profiler, Kwon Il-yong, and biographer Ko Na-mu. The story is a fictionalized biography of Korea’s first profiling team. It puts readers in the shoes of profilers as they try to study the minds of serial killers including Korea’s most notorious serial killer, Yoo Young-chul.
Its K-drama adaptation Through the Darkness was released just this year on SBS. Despite some artistic liberties taken with the source material, it portrays a compelling and realistic story. Although we see things mostly through the eyes of the main lead, it allows the audience to immerse themselves in the lives of criminal profilers and the struggles they go through.
(IMDB rating: 8.1, from 1.8K votes)
My Lovely Sam Soon, or My Name is Kim Sam-soon, is a romantic comedy story written by Ji Soo-hyun. It tells the story of Kim Sam-soon, a pastry chef who dreams of baking cakes that taste as good as her father’s rice cakes. At work, she meets Do Yeong, a guy with a pessimistic view on love. Despite having no romantic feelings for each other, they strike a deal to be in a pretend relationship.
In MBC’s drama adaptation of the novel, which was aired in 2005, Kim Sun-a was cast as Kim Sam-soon while Hyun Bin played the male lead, renamed Hyun Jin-heon. Although some details were significantly altered, the story was still well-loved by the public.
(IMDB rating: 8.2)
The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince is a novel written by Sunmi Lee and tells the story of Go Eun-chan, a woman who is often mistaken for a man due to her androgynous looks. As she tries to make ends meet for her family, she crosses paths with wealthy business heir Choi Han-gyul. Resisting family pressure to marry, Han-gyul hires her Eun-chan (thinking she is male) to pretend to be his gay partner to chase away all the female matches his mother arranged for him. Eun-chan also applies for a job at his coffee shop, the titular Coffee Prince, which only employs good-looking male employees.
Coffee Prince the drama became a hit during its whole run in 2007. Countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and China have remade the show, proving its international popularity.
(IMDB rating: 8.4)
Pachinko is a historical novel that is set during the time when Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan. The story is written by Korean American author Min Jin Lee and is a New York Times Best Seller. Writer Roxane Gay said in an interview with the Washington Post that she considers the book her favorite of 2017. The story follows four generations of a Korean family who moved to Japan in the 1910s. It lets you journey along into their lives filled with love, sacrifice, and loyalty. Although fictional, it gives you an accurate glimpse of life during that period.
Veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung plays the main protagonist, Kim Sunja. Her younger self is played by the rising star Kim Min-ha. Other Korean cast members include Lee Min-ho, Jung Woong-in, and Kim Young-ok. The drama was just released this year on the streaming platform Apple TV+ and has a total of eight episodes for its first season.
Sources: IMDB, TMDB, 8 Days, YouTube Channels (Viu Singapore, TV-People, MBC Legend Drama, Apple TV)