16 Saddest Korean Dramas for When You Need a Good Cry

Movies


It’s been a long week, you’re uncertain of your future, and you just need to watch a sad show and let out some cathartic tears for people who don’t exist. No one’s judging – we’ve all been there. Sometimes all we need is a good cry. Luckily, there are plenty of heartbreaking Korean dramas to choose from. Fortunately, a bunch of them are easily accessible online in ways they never would have been just 10 years ago.



With the success of the Oscar-winning Parasite, South Korea has become famous for the action and horror thrillers it’s produced in the last few years, but dramas have been popular for far longer. Some are wholly unrealistic melodramas, some are heart-wrenching explorations of human connection, and some are just fun romps with a few sad scenes thrown in for good measure. Many sad K-dramas have conquered the hearts of many due to their moving narratives and three-dimensional characters. To celebrate the most memorable, we gather the saddest Korean dramas for audiences to cuddle up with.



16 ‘The Hymn of Death’ (2018)

Cast: Lee Jong-suk, Shin Hye-sun, Sin Jae-ha

In the 1920s, Korea was occupied by Japan, and liberation movements were starting to grow. This is the setting of The Hymn of Death, a show that is based on Korea’s first soprano singer, Yun Sim-deok (Shin Hae-sun), and follows her relationship with the writer Kim Woo-jin (Lee Jong-suk), as well as the tragic end they both come to.

While short and predictable, especially if viewers are familiar with the historical events it tackles, The Hymn of Death is nonetheless a beautiful and insightful look into a time in Korea not often portrayed (despite being one of the most interesting and tragic periods in world history). With only 6 episodes, it makes for an entertaining and binge-watchable series.

The Hymn of Death is not available to stream, rent, or purchase at this time.


15 ‘The Smile Has Left Your Eyes’ (2018)

Cast: Seo In-guk, Jung So-min, Park Sung-Woong

Based on the Japanese TV dramaHundred Million Stars From the Sky and starring Seo In-Guk, Jung So-min, and Park Sung-woong, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes is a mystery romance that centers around a complex man who meets and falls for Yoo Jin-kang, the sister of a detective who takes a murder case in which the young man is involved. This, of course, causes the detective to push the two away. Will their bond be strong enough to prevail?

This emotional K-drama should also be on the watchlist of those who enjoy tear-jerker shows, as it provides viewers with a touching, roller-coaster kind of narrative that will pull at their heartstrings especially due to the sensitive themes it deals with, which include murder, trauma, and mental health. Anyone who decides to press play on this, though, should be warned that the ending is very… polarizing.


The Smile Has Left Your Eyes is not available to stream, rent, or purchase at this time.

14 ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (2003 – 2004)

Cast: Kwon Sang-woo, Choi Ji-woo, Shin Hyun-joon

In 2003’s Stairway to Heaven, childhood pals Han Jung-suh (ChoiJi-woo) and Cha Song-joo (Kwon Sang-woo) share a unique connection that later develops into love. Because Song-joo’s father passed away in a car accident and Jung-suh’s mother passed away from eye cancer, the characters bond over the similar pains and traumas they underwent and a beautiful connection inevitably blossoms.

With an equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming narrative on top of believable and relatable characters, Stairway to Heaven is considered a classic of its genre today and is assuredly one of the saddest K-dramas out there thanks to its engaging premise and well-paced story. No doubt, the gut-wrenching 2003 series is definitely worth checking out.


Watch on Viki

13 ‘Hi Bye, Mama!’ (2020)

Cast: Kim Tae-hee, Ko Bo-Gyeol, Lee Kyuhyung

Created by Yu Je-won and Kwon Hye-ju, Hi Bye, Mama! is a fairly recent Netflix comedy fantasy series following a mother who passes away and begins a 49-day rebirth project, as well as a husband who has just started living a new life after conquering the agony of losing his wife.

On top of the emotional themes it tackles, this must-see 2020 K-drama is packed with impeccable performances and stunning cinematography while reflecting on loss and grief. As such, it sends out a valuable message about these themes, including the importance of healing. Although it is not your average feel-good drama, Hi, Bye, Mama! is beautifully written and will likely play on audiences’ heartstrings to incredible and memorable results.

Watch on Netflix


12 ‘Uncontrollably Fond’ (2016)

Cast: Kim Woo-bin, Suzy, Lim Ju-hwan

Due to its emotional narrative, Uncontrollably Fond is widely regarded as the saddest K-drama. The show depicts the reunion of two former lovers who have now become a famous actor and a documentary producer. As they encounter each other once again, memories of their past come flooding back, years after their painful separation.

Although it is categorized as a comedy-drama, this moving 2016 series is guaranteed to make viewers reach for the tissues. Starring K-pop singer Suzy Bae and featuring tons of emotional damage and incredible acting, Uncontrollably Fond is a must-watch for anyone who enjoys a heart-wrenching story. It is the perfect pick for romance enthusiasts (though it still makes for an absorbing series for any viewer who dares to check it out).


Watch on Viki

11 ‘The Snow Queen’ (2006)

Cast: Hyun Bin, Sung Yu-ri, Im Joo-hwan

Image via Yoon’s Color

From the touching soundtrack to Korean star Hyun Bin’s acting, the 2006 K-drama is an emotional roller coaster that mainly goes down for most of the show. The premise itself tells interested fans what to expect: after the suicide of his best friend, Han Tae-woon has given up his genius-level mathematical skills in favor of boxing, until he meets a woman he met once as a child, falling in love with her only to discover that she was his best friend’s younger sister. The two of them help each other through their grief.

The characters are undoubtedly what stands out the most about this slice-of-life story — they are all well-rounded, likable, and heartwarming even in the ways they deal with the hard challenges life throws at them. Featuring impeccable acting performances, the beautifully shot The Snow Queen is well worth checking out.


The Snow Queen is not available to stream, rent, or purchase at this time.

10 ‘Good Doctor’ (2013)

Cast: Joo Won, Moon Chae-won, Joo Sang-wook

When an autistic man with savant syndrome enters a hospital as a pediatric surgeon, he almost immediately encounters opposition. Looked down upon for his autism by both his co-workers and his clients’ parents and family, he has to find ways to prove that he can work effectively with children despite the obstacles he has to overcome. Furthermore, Good Doctor has an American remake of similar success.

While not the saddest show out there, often throwing heartwarming and inspirational scenes into the mix, there are plenty of Good Doctor moments that properly demonstrate exactly how harsh the world can be to people who don’t conform to what others see as normal. It may not be a fan favorite for audiences who aren’t into medical dramas. However, it is often essential for those who are.


Watch on Viki

9 ‘Winter Sonata’ (2002)

Cast: Bae Yong-joon, Choi Ji-woo, Park Yong-ha

The cast of Winter Sonata
Image via Pan Entertainment

One of the first Korean dramas to become popular internationally, Winter Sonata helped launch the current wave of Korean entertainment media in the West. No wonder it became what most subsequent dramas looked to for their own popularity. The story revolves around Joon-sang, who enrolls in a new high school located in a small town outside of Seoul, with the sole purpose of finding his biological father.

The series came out in 2002 and is the model for most romance K-dramas now. This means that, looking back, it comes across as a little cliché and predictable. However, that doesn’t mean it’s still not an enjoyable melodramatic series. For fans of the typical sad K-drama romance TV series, there are plenty of moving moments inWinter Sonata that are guaranteed to make viewers sob.


Watch on Viki

8 ‘Just Between Lovers’ (2017)

Cast: JUNHO, Won Jin-ah, Lee Ki-woo

A story of two people who gradually grow closer after learning that they suffered through the same tragedy as children, Just Between Lovers is genuinely heartbreaking. It presents one of actor Won Jin-A’s best roles as Ha Moon-soo, an architect dedicated to preventing a tragedy like the one she suffered from ever happening again. She represses her memories until a slowly-developing friendship with Lee Gang-doo (Lee Jun-ho) allows them to both reconcile with the trauma that still affects them.


There is no doubt that the 2017 series makes for a great one, especially considering its cathartic and hopeful ending — one that is very needed after 16 episodes of highs and lows. This accessible show (available for streaming on Netflix) is the perfect K-drama for first-time viewers who are looking to get into the genre, as Just Between Lovers provides audiences with a realistic look at the relationship of two three-dimensional, genuinely believable characters that viewers can’t help but like and relate to.

Watch on Netflix

7 ‘My Love From Another Star’ (2013)

Cast: Kim Soo-hyun, Jun Ji-hyun, Yoo In-na

In My Love From Another Star, Min-joon (Kim Soo-hyun) finds himself, quite literally, a star-crossed love when he falls head over heels for actress and star Cheon Song-yi (Jun Ji-hyun). The only problem is that Min-joon is an alien trapped on Earth and disguised as a handsome and intelligent man who works as a professor.


Opposites attract in 2013’s My Love From Another Star, which is one of the most popular Korean dramas. A bittersweet ending only adds to the charm of the show, which is already present due to Jun Ji-hyun’s fantastic comedic timing and surprisingly emotional moments. The drama launched the male lead actor, Kim Soo-hyun, to new heights in his career as an actor, and it was a cultural phenomenon.

Watch on Amazon Prime

6 ‘Kill Me, Heal Me’ (2015)

Cast: Ji Sung, Hwang Jung-eum, Park Seo-joon

It is rare for a K-drama show to look at identity disorders and abuse as a premise, but Kill Me, Heal Me successfully dives into the depths of Cha Do-hyun’s (Ji Sung) past and his subsequent Dissociative Identity Disorder. It depicts a love story between the son of a wealthy family and his secret psychiatrist.


The 2015 series won several awards for its impactful storyline. Needless to say, the subject it brings up is poignant and relevant, and the main character’s different personalities are all well-portrayed, becoming different characters themselves. A mystery, comedy, and romance all in one, Kill Me, Heal Medoesn’t shy away from the sadder moments that come up, which is why itremains one of the best of the bunch. It can be thoroughly enjoyed with a subscription to Viki.

Watch on Viki

5 ‘Youth of May’ (2021)

Cast: Lee Do-hyun, Go Min-si, Lee Sang-yi

Youth of May is set during the Gwangju Uprising of May 1980, one of the most important events in South Korea’s recent history, with lasting effects today. The series depicts the democratic student uprising in the city of Gwangju against the policies of the current authoritarian government, which resulted in the reported death of 170 citizens, though the number is contested to be much higher.


While portraying the romance between a nurse and a medical student in Gwangju, this K-drama achieves its goal of spreading awareness of the ways normal life was disrupted that year by the uprising, as well as the tragedy it caused among innocent people. Not only is Youth of May an entertaining watch, but it is also educational.

Watch on Viki

4 ‘Goblin’ (2016)

Cast: Gong Yoo, Kim Go-eun, Lee Dong-wook

At some point, Goblin was actually one of the most-watched shows in South Korea, quickly becoming a cultural phenomenon and winning multiple awards. Starring one of South Korea’s top actors, Gong Yoo, this supernatural thriller presents a romance between a Joseon Dynasty-era military officer and a modern-day young woman, a recurring trope in modern K-dramas.


Like My Love from the Star, most of the angst in this show draws from Kim Shin being immortal and falling in love with a mortal girl, and the longing he feels to finally break the curse of immortality he’s been placed under. Goblin is an undeniably captivating series with an intriguing relationship at its center — the number of people who watched it helps prove the point.

Watch on Viki

3 ‘Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo’ (2016)

Cast: Lee Joon-gi, Kang Ha-neul, IU

Historical period pieces are abundant among Korean dramas, but not all of them have as many sad moments as Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. In the sad Korean drama, a modern-day woman gets transported back to Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty and ends up navigating the complicated political situations that result when she’s drawn into a love triangle with two princes fighting for the throne.


Moon Lovers‘ writers successfully manage to get to the heart of the drama, thoroughly exploring the emotions such a tense situation would evoke in a woman used to the comforts of modern life. While it may take a few episodes to get used to the characters, the story is certainly intriguing and worthwhile.

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo is not available to stream, rent, or purchase at this time.

2 ‘It’s Okay to Not Be Okay’ (2020)

Cast: Kim Soo-hyun, Seo Yea-ji, Oh Jung-se

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay is a highly popular and beloved K-drama revolving around Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun), an orphan caregiver who lives with his autistic brother (astoundingly played by Moon Sang Tae). However, when Gang-tae starts working at a psychiatric hospital, he comes across a famous antisocial writer (Seo Ye-Ji) who his brother absolutely loves. Soon enough, unexpected emotions between the two arise.


In addition to its beautiful visuals and excellent acting performances, this 2020 drama (which, at times, gives off strong Tim Burton, fairytale-like vibes in the best possible way) provides viewers with an equal times heartwarming and incredibly sad storyline reflecting on familial bonds, mental health, and all the stigma that surrounds it. For this reason, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay is assuredly among the most touching of all K-dramas.

Watch on Netflix

1 ‘Mr. Sunshine’ (2018)

Cast: Kim Tae-ri, Lee Byung-hun, Ahn Yeon-suk

In Mr. Sunshine, audiences are introduced to a little child (grown into a charming man played by Lee Byung-hun) who is born into slavery but escapes to the United States during the 1871 Shinmiyangyo (U.S. expedition to Korea) because of a tragic experience. Later, as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, he returns to Joseon, where he meets and eventually falls for the daughter (Kim Tae-ri) of an aristocrat.


While the series name is literally Mr. Sunshine, this captivating K-drama does not fall short of offering a couple of emotional moments, taking a special spot among the saddest of its genre. In addition to its intriguing and engaging premise, Mr. Sunshine also benefits from great acting and breathtaking cinematography.

Watch on Roku

NEXT: The Best Revenge-Themed K-Dramas Like Netflix’s ‘The Glory’



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