List of Popular Sageuk (Korean historical dramas) 2003 – 2012

Very often I am desperate for recommendations on the next k-drama to watch. Thought I would share a list of popular sageuk 史剧 (Korean historical dramas), from my top 10 favorites to the ones that you watch to pass time. Enjoy!

A Ratings Powerhouse is what I call k-dramas that are daebak with very high ratings (over 20%) when it was aired in Korea. 

Help spread the k-drama love by turning this into a group effort. If you would like to contribute your thoughts on a certain drama, contact us with a short writeup and we can include it directly in the post below.  

For 2013 – 2015 Korean period dramas, click here.
For 2016 Korean drama recommendations, click here


Warrior Baek Dong Soo

Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Must-watch (5/5)
Episodes and Genre: 29, Historical Martial Arts
Broadcast Period: Jul 2011 SBS
Starring:
Ji Chang Wook as Baek Dong Soo
Yoo Seung Ho as Yeo Un

Synopsis:
Baek Dong Soo is the son of a courageous warrior whose family was left in shambles due to a conspiracy against Crown Prince Sado. He and his friend Yeo Un grow up under the tutelage of his father’s friends who are each highly-skilled in martial arts. 

With unwavering determination, Baek Dong Soo vows to become a legendary martial artist while Yeo Un walks the path of an assassin.

Comments: 
It is a 2011 k-drama that I’m watching in 2016 and I’m glad I found it. If you like this, you might like 2016 k-dramas Jackpot or Son’s War to reminisce on the cast being partially reunited.


Queen Seon Deoka ratings powerhouse!
(average tv rating 35%)
Queen Seon Deok Lee Yo Won, Best sageuk k-drama, drama withdrawal syndrome
Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Must-Watch (5/5)
Title:Queen Seon Deok / Queen Seon Duk / 善德女王 / Seonduk Yeo Wang / 선덕여왕
Episodes: 62
Air Date and Genre: May 2009 (Mon and Tues on MBC), Historical
Starring:
Lee Yo Won as Princess Deokman / Queen Seon Deok
Ko Hyun Jung as Lady Mi Shil
Uhm Tae Woong as Kim Yoo Shin
Kim Nam Gil as Bi Dam (ep. 21 onwards)

Synopsis:
This series is about Princess Deokman’s journey against all odds to become Queen Seon Deok, the first female ruler of Shilla.

Ko Hyun Jung plays the female strategist Lady Mishil who has beauty and brains. I’m at awe at how the good guys and the bad guys devise elaborate schemes to outwit each other. Really makes me wonder who comes up with these stuff!?


Jumonga ratings powerhouse!

(average tv ratings 41%)Jumong Song Il Gook, Best sageuk k-drama, drama withdrawal syndrome
Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Must Watch (5/5) This drama made waves in Asia, trust the hype!
Title: Jumong / The Book of Three Han / The Prince of Legend / 朱蒙 / 삼한지-주몽 편
Episodes: 81
Air Date and Genre: 2006, Historical
Starring:
Song Il Gook as Jumong
Han Hye Jin as Soh Suh No

Synopsis:
Jumong is the third prince of Bu Yeo but he is actually the son of General Hae Mo Su, a hero who fought against the Han to save the refugees. Upon learning the truth, Jumong vows to fulfill his father’s dream and with the help of Lady So Seo No, he succeeds in overcoming all obstacles to become the first king of Goguryeo.

Fun Fact: The character who plays Jumong’s mom is the same age as the character who plays Jumong in real life, both were born in 1971!


The Legenda ratings powerhouse!
(average tv rating 29%)
the Story of the First King
Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Must Watch (5/5)
Title: The Legend / The Story of the First King’s Four Gods / 太王四神記 / 태왕사신기
Episodes: 24
Air Date and Genre: 2007, Fantasy
Starring:
Bae Yong Jun as Damdeok (main guy in Winter Sonata)
Lee Ji Ah as Sujini (main girl in Beethoven Virus)

Synopsis: Damdeok is destined by the heavens to become the great king of Goguryeo. He loses his father, his lover and he is cast out of the palace.

Damdeok must search for the four gods who will help him rebuild Joo Shin. During Damdeok’s journey, he meets and falls in love with Sujini, a cheerful young girl. Will she turn out to be the black phoenix that has been foretold to destroy the world?

Comments: My first Sageuk drama and I never looked back.


Hong Gil Dong
Hong Gil Dong Kang Ji Hwan, Best fusion sageuk k-drama, drama withdrawal syndrome
Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


Ratings: Must Watch (5/5)
Title:Hong Gil Dong / 快刀洪吉东 / 쾌도 홍길동
Episodes: 24
Air Date and Genre: 2008, Action Comedy
Starring:
Kang Ji Hwan as Hong Gil Dong
Sung Yu Ri as Heo Yi Nok / Ryu Yi Nok
Jang Geun Suk as Lee Chang Hwi

Synopsis: Hong Gil Dong is the Robin Hood of Korea, stealing from the rich to provide for the poor. The film depicts Hong Gil Dong’s back story as the illegitimate son with no goals and no future and his transformation into the hero that we all know.

Comments: Funny, quirky and very entertaining. You gotta download If (Man Yak Eh) by Taeyeon, a beautiful song.


The Moon That Embraces the Suna ratings powerhouse!
(average tv ratings 30%)

The Moon That Embraces the Sun, Kim Soo Hyun sageuk ancient kdrama korean, Han Ga In best korean drama withdrawals


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Must Watch (5/5)
Title:The Moon That Embraces the Sun
Episodes: 20
Air Date and Genre: 2012, Historical
Starring:
Kim Soo Hyun as Lee Hwon
Han Ga In as Heo Yeon Woo

Synopsis: Heo Yeon Woo was intended to be the King’s wife but due to palace conspiracies, she almost loses her life. After many years, she comes back as a shaman Wol without her memories and she meets the King once again.
 


Bridal Mask

Bridal Mask Gaksital best kdrama 2012, koream drama withdrawal syndrome Joo Won


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Must Watch (5/5)
Title:Bridal Mask / Gaksital 
Episodes: 28
Air Date and Genre: 2012, Action
Starring:
Joo Won as Lee Kang To

Synopsis: Set in the 1930s when Japan invaded Korea, Lee Kang To puts on a mask as Gaksital to save those who are oppressed and to fight for freedom. 


Faith

Faith Lee Min Ho best kdrama 2012, sageuk korean drama withdrawals


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Pretty Good
Title:Faith / The Great Doctor / 神醫
Episodes: 24
Air Date and Genre: 2012, Fantasy Time Travel
Starring:
Lee Min Ho as Choi Young
Kim Hee Sun as Yoo Eun Soo

Synopsis: Choi Young is one of the King’s strongest warriors. Bound by duty, he travels to the future to search for a great doctor who will save his queen. In present Korea, he meets Yoo Eun Soo, a cosmetic surgeon, and brings her back to ancient Korea. 


Arang and the Magistrate

Arang and the Magistrate Lee Jun Ki Shin Min Ah best kdrama 2012, drama withdrawal syndrome


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Must Watch (5/5)
Title:Arang and the Magistrate / 아랑사또전 / Arangsaddojeon
Episodes: 16
Air Date and Genre: 2012, Fantasy
Starring:
Shin Min Ah as Arang
Lee Joon Ki as Kim Eun Oh

Synopsis: Arang is a ghost who must uncover the mystery of her death. She meets Kim Eun Oh, a man who can see ghosts and they end up falling for each other.


Comments: I’m always up for fantasy and this drama lived up to expectations. 


Queen In Hyun’s Man

Queen In Hyun


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Must Watch (5/5)
Title:Queen In Hyun’s Man / 인현왕후의 남자 / 仁显王后的男人
Episodes: 16
Air Date and Genre: April 2012, Time Travel Rom-Com
Starring:
Ji Hyun Woo as Kim Boong Do
Yoo In Na as Choi Hee Jin

Synopsis: Kim Boong Do, a noble scholar, unexpectedly travels into the future and meets Choi Hee Jin, an aspiring actress who secured the role of Queen In Hyun. Will their love transcend through time?


The Great Seer

The Great Seer Ji Sun kdrama 2011, sageuk, drama withdrawal syndrome


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Just another drama (3/5)
Title:The Great Seer /  대풍수 / Dae-poong-soo
Episodes: 35
Air Date and Genre: 2012, Historical
Starring:
Ji Sung as Ji Sang

Synopsis: Ji Sang inherited his father’s powers as a seer and he must now fulfill his destiny to overthrow Goryeo Dynasty and help Lee Sung Gye become the first king of Joseon. (There’s a lot of feng shui elements in this drama).


The Princess Man

The Princess Man Moon Chae Won Park Shi Hoo 2011 best sageuk, kdrama romeo and juliet period drama withdrawals


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Pretty Good (4/5)
Title:The Princess Man / 공주의 남자 / Gongjooeui Namja
Episodes: 24
Air Date and Genre: 2011, Romance
Starring:
Moon Chae Won as Lee Se Ryung
Park Shi Hoo as Kim Seung Yoo

Synopsis: This drama is about ill-fated lovers, a classic Romeo and Juliet story set in a Korean period drama.


Tree with Deep Roots

Tree With Deep Roots Jang Hyuk Shin Se Kyung 2011 best sageuk, korean period drama withdrawals


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Pretty Good (4/5)
Title:Tree with Deep Roots / 뿌리깊은 나무 / Ppurigipeun Namu
Episodes: 32
Air Date and Genre: 2011, Historical
Starring:
Han Suk Kyu as King Sejong
Jang Hyuk as Kang Chae Woo
Shin Se Kyung as So Yi

Synopsis: King Sejong hopes to promulgate Hangeul (written korean words) but he faces opposition both seen and unseen. He enlists the help of Kang Chae Woo and So Yi who are willing to risk everything for the cause.


The Duo

The Duo Chung Jung Myung sageuk, kdrama withdrawals 2011


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Downright Boring (1/5)
Title:The Duo / 짝패 / Jjak Pae
Episodes: 32
Air Date and Genre: 2011, Drama
Starring:
Chun Jung Myun as Chun Doong
Lee Sang Yoon as Gwi Dong

Synopsis: Chun Doong and Gwi Dong were switched at birth and grow up living each other’s contrasting lives as a nobleman and an outlaw.

Synopsis: I’m a sucker for switched-at-birth stories and an even bigger fan of Chun Jung Myung since What’s Up Fox but I was not impressed with this one.


Kim Soo Ro


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Just Another Drama (3/5)
Title: Kim Soo Ro
Episodes: 32
Air Date and Genre: 2010, Historical
Starring:
Ji Sung as Kim Soo Ro

Synopsis:
Kim Soo Ro is the head of the Geumgwan Gaya and this drama is about his rise to power. 

Comments: There’s sibling rivalry and lots of angst from a mother who did not know that the man she torments is actually her first-born. Plots like these never get old for me but I was a bit disappointed with this one.


Dong Yia ratings powerhouse!
(highest episode rating 33%)

Dong Yi Hang Hyo Joo kdrama best 2010, sageuk kdrama withdrawals


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Must Watch (5/5)
Title: Dong Yi / 성균관 스캔들
Episodes: 60
Air Date and Genre: 2010, Historical
Starring:
Han Hyo Joo as Choi Dong Yi

Synopsis:
Dong Yi is strong-willed and intelligent. She makes her way to the palace and wins the heart of the King.


Sungkyunkwan Scandal

Sungkyunkwan Scandal Park Min Young, Mickey Yoochun kdrama drama withdrawals sageuk


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Just another drama (3/5)
Title: Sungkyunkwan Scandal / 성균관 스캔들
Episodes: 20
Air Date and Genre: 2010, Romance
Starring:
Mickey Yoochun as Lee Sun Joon
Park Min Young as Kim Yoon Hee

Synopsis:
Kim Yoon Hee disguises herself as a man in to attend Sungkyunkwan University where she forms a bond with fellow students Lee Sun Joon and friends.


Chuno – a ratings powerhouse!
(average tv ratings 32%)
Chuno, Best sageuk romance, korean drama withdrawal syndrome
Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Just another drama Pretty Good (4/5)
Title: Chuno / 推奴 / 추노
Episodes: 24
Air Date and Genre: 2010, Action Drama
Starring:
Jang Hyuk as Lee Dae Gil
Lee Da Hae as Un Nyun / Kim Hye Won

Synopsis:
Kind-hearted Lee Dae Gil is from a noble family and he falls in love with the family’s slave Un Nyun. Enraged, Dae Gil’s father leaves Un Nyun to die without food or water. Un Nyun’s brother burns Dae Gil’s house in order to escape with his sister.

Dae Gil who loses everything lives on the streets and his hatred leads him to become a slave hunter. Despite everything, Dae Gil is still searching for the love of his life, Un Nyun, who has taken on a new identity as Kim Hye Won. What will happen when the paths of slave hunter and runaway slave cross again?

Comments:
Despite the high ratings, I was getting bored with the chase between slave hunter and slave because they kept missing each other just one too many times. Overall, it was still a good story though.


The Kingdom of the Winds
The Kingdom of the Winds Song Il Gook, Best sageuk k-drama, drama withdrawal syndrome
Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Must Watch (5/5)
Title:The Kingdom of the Winds / 风之国 / 바람의 나라
Episodes: 36
Air Date and Genre: 2008, Historical
Starring:
Song Il Gook as Moo Hyul
Choi Jung Won as Princess Yeon

Synopsis: The main character Moo Hyul is the third prince of Goguryeo. With his birth comes the prophecy that he will destroy Goguryeo, kill his parents, his brother and his son. The curse dictated Moo Hyul’s tragic fate. He was sent away from the palace to live life as a commoner. Moo Hyul must face all trials to gain acceptance from his father, his people and his enemies as he journeys to become the King of Goguryeo.

Comments: In case you don’t know, Moo Hyul is Jumong’s grandson.


Ja Myung Go
Ja Myung Go period drama, Best sageuk romance, korean drama withdrawal syndrome
Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Downright boring Pretty Good (4/5)
Title:Ja Myung Go / 王女自鸣鼓 / 왕녀 자명고
Episodes: 39
Air Date and Genre: 2009, Romance Drama
Starring:
Jung Kyung Ho as Prince Hodong
Jung Ryu Won as Princess Ja Myung
Park Min Young as Princess Ra Hee

Synopsis:
Princess Ja Myung and Princess Ra Hee both fall in love with Prince Hodong of Goguryeo. Princess Ja Myung is destined to protect her country but destiny foretells that Prince Hodong will cause its demise. How will their fates be intertwined?

Comments:
Boring at first, picked up pace beginning episode 20 and from then on, I was hooked. Had major drama withdrawals after watching the ending and I can’t help but think that Ja Myung indirectly caused the whole tragedy. Prince Hodong decided to attack Nang Nang after Ja Myung left him. She keeps hurting him in an attempt to avoid the future but it just pushes him to do otherwise. Isn’t it ironic?

I usually dislike endings such as this one but it felt fitting in this case. After dedicating his life to becoming king, Prince Hodong finally made a choice.

Try the following links..
Download Baek Ji Young – Love Is Not A Crime / 백지영 – 사랑이 죄인가요
Download Tiffany – By Myself


Iljimae a ratings powerhouse!
(average tv rating 23%)
Il Ji Mae period drama, Best fusion sageuk action romance, korean drama withdrawal syndrome
Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Pretty Good (4/5)
Title:Iljimae / 一枝梅 / 일지매
Episodes: 20
Air Date and Genre: May 2008 (Wed Thurs on SBS), Action
Starring:
Lee Joon Ki as Iljimae / Lee Geom
Han Hyo Joo as Eun Chae
Park Shi Hoo as Shi Hoo

Synopsis:
Iljimae is a legendary thief who steals from the rich to give to the poor, but behind his actions is an even greater purpose. Every place that Iljimae robs brings him closer to his father’s killer.

Comments:
It’s a sageuk (ancient Korean drama) that seeks to appeal to mainstream Kdrama fans and I think it worked. I really liked Iljimae and then I find out that MBC came out with the Return of Iljimae in 2009, just a year after the original one in 2008.

Don’t mistake it for a sequel because it’s not. In fact, the Return of Iljimae is supposed to depict the actual story. I gave it a try and I must say, it was too boring. Either I’ve become biased or the Return of Iljimae really wasn’t good.


Seoul’s Sad Song

Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Just Another Drama (3/5)
Title:Seoul’s Sad Song / Conspiracy in the Court / 汉城别曲 / 한성별곡
Episodes:8
Air Date and Genre: July 2009 (Mon Tues on KBS2), Suspense
Starring:
Jin Yi Han as Park Sang Kyu
Kim Ha Eun as Lee Na Young

Synopsis:
Lee Na Young grew up as a noble until her family was charged of treason and she became an assassin to avenge her family. Park Sang Kyu and Yang Man Oh share the same dream for Korea but they are going on separate paths to achieve their purpose. When they finally meet their long-lost friend Lee Na Young, everyone becomes entangled in a political conspiracy.

Comments:
This drama is a dark suspense-type sageuk (ancient Korean drama). It didn’t garner a substantial following but I’ve been reading ravings reviews about it. Unfortunately, I don’t share the same sentiments. Perhaps my capacity for deep political thrillers is non-existent but if you’re into that kind of thing, you might like this drama.


Strongest Chil Woo

Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Downright Boring (1/5) This is another drama that I couldn’t finish watching.
Title: Strongest Chil Woo / 最强七宇 / 최강칠우
Episodes: 20
Air Date and Genre: 2008, Action
Starring:
Eric as Kang Chil Woo / Choi Chil Woo
Koo Hye Sun as Yoon So Yoon (main girl in Boys over Flowers)

Synopsis:
Chil Woo’s father fought for the freedom of slaves but he was betrayed and died before Chil Woo’s eyes. Chil Woo grew up believing that trying to change the world will only lead to death. He becomes a police officer who only thinks of himself. However, his sister’s death changes Chil Woo and he devotes his life to becoming a vigilante.


Ballad of Suh Dong

Seodongyo Lee Bo Young Jo Hyun Jae, Best sageuk k-drama, drama withdrawal syndrome
Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My RatingMust Watch (5/5)
Title: Ballad of Suh Dong / Song of the Prince / Seodongyo / 薯童谣 / 서동요
Episodes: 55
Air Date and Genre: 2005, Historical
Starring:
Jo Hyun Jae as Jang
Lee Bo Young as Princess Seonhwa

Synopsis: Jang is the illegitimate son of the Paekche emperor. Due to the nature of his birth, Jang and his mother had to flee the palace thus beginning the story of Jang’s life, full of difficulties and hardships until he finally succeeds in becoming the Paekche emperor.

Fun fact for you: the child version of princess seonhwa was played by Sulli from kpop girl group F(x)!
And Koo Hye Sun from Boys Over Flowers was also in it.

Yi San a ratings powerhouse!
(average tv ratings 26%)

Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Ratings: Just another drama (3/5)
Title:Yi San / 正祖大王-李祘 / 이산-정조대왕
Episodes: 77
Air Date and Genre: 2007, Yi San
Starring:
Lee Seo Jin as Yi San
Han Ji Min as Seong Song Yeon

Synopsis: This drama is bout the life of Korea’s 22nd King, King Jeong Jo.

Comments: I tried to give the 77 episodes a shot but failed. The series feels like a history book filmed into a drama and I’m not saying that it’s bad. In fact, this drama received good ratings in Korea so it must be well-made if you’re into that kind of thing. My dad would probably like it.


Thousand Years of Love

Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Downright boring (1/5)
Title:Thousand Years of Love / 千年之爱 / 천년지애
Episodes: 20
Air Date and Genre: 2003, Time Travel
Starring:
Sung Yu Ri as Princess Puyeo-ju
So Ji Sub as General Guishil Ari / Kang In-chul

Synopsis: This story is about a tragic romance between General Ari and Princess Puyeo-ju who could not be together in their past. A sudden twist of fate brings Princess Puyeo-ju one thousand years into the future. She meets General Ari once again who is now a fashion designer in Korea. But destiny also leads them to meet General Kim Yu-suk who killed General Ari because of his love for Princess Puyeo-ju. Will their outcomes finally be reversed?


Jewel in the Palacea ratings powerhouse! 
(tv rating 57.8%)

Dae Jang Geum Lee Young Ae 2003 best kdrama, drama withdrawals period ancient korea


Is it a must-watch, pretty good, just another drama, tolerable or downright boring?


My Rating: Must Watch (5/5)
Title:Jewel in the Palace / Dae Jang Geum / 대장금 大長今
Episodes: 54
Air Date and Genre: 2003, Historical
Starring:
Lee Young Ae as Seo Jang Geum
Ji Jin Hee as Min Jung Ho

Synopsis: Jang Geum is the first woman to become a supreme royal physician. Her story is about overcoming society’s prejudice and achieving success. 

Comments: Everyone loves an underdog, which is why I think this drama did so well and there’s also her forbidden love with the king and that’s always intriguing.

21 Comments

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    April 20, 2011 7:45 AM
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