K-dramas in South Korea are broadcasted on two different platforms, public broadcast and cable TV. Public broadcasts are free and include channels such as KBS, SBS, and MBC. However, to watch dramas released on cable TV networks such as tvN, JTBC, and ENA, one must buy their subscription, much like OTT platforms such as Netflix.
K-dramas available on cable TV networks are usually 16-20 episodes long, airing one to two days weekly, and can have a run-time of between 60-90 minutes per episode. Each episode is rated using the AGB Nielsen Rating.
The system analyzes the television watching habits of certain households chosen randomly to come up with ratings for shows. Since many households do not opt to pay for cable TV, public broadcast ratings for K-dramas are higher than cable TV.
Reply 1988, SKY Castle and eight other cable TV K-dramas with the highest ratings of all time
10) Under the Queen’s Umbrella
Nationwide household rating: 16.852%
The K-drama aired from October 15 to December 4, 2022 and has 16 episodes which can also be streamed on Netflix.
The show is set during the Joseon period and revolves around the Queen and the educational methods she uses to reform her four troublemaker sons into respectable royal princes.
9) Mr. Queen
Nationwide household rating: 17.371%
The K-drama focuses on a free-spirited modern day chef working in the Blue House whose soul mysteriously gets trapped in a queen from the Joseon period’s body. Inside the Queen’s body he uncovers the truth about the kingdom’s political scenarios and the chaos that ensues.
The show aired from December 12, 2020 to February 14, 2021 and has 20 episodes.
8) Extraordinary Attorney Woo
Nationwide household rating: 17.534%
The show has 16 episodes that are also available on Netflix and originally aired from June 29 to August 18, 2022.
The K-drama revolves around a lawyer with autism spectrum disorder and her difficulties in navigating life due to her neurodivergent mannerisms that most people do not understand.
Despite her high intelligence, she finds it difficult to get a job for the same until the Hanbada law firm accepts her. The story explores the truth behind her life and family history as well as her creating a place for herself in society.
7) Mr. Sunshine
Nationwide household rating: 18.129%
The K-drama aired from July 7 to September 30, 2018 and premiered internationally on Netflix as well.
The 24-episode series centers around a Korean boy born into slavery who escaped to the US after the 1871 Shinimiyango incident. He returns to his homeland as part of the US military and falls in love with an aristocrat's daughter. At the same time, he also discovers a dark plot by Japan to colonize his homeland and becomes embroiled in the war.
6) Guardian: The Lonely and Great God
Nationwide household rating: 18.680%
The K-drama follows the life of a military officer from the Goryeo dynasty who was cursed to become immortal and live as a Goblin till he finds the Goblin’s wife who can free him from his immortality.
The Goblin’s wife on the other hand, has escaped death and is being hunted by the Grim Reaper. The three soon come to realize that their meeting was not a coincidence and started unfurling the truth behind their connection.
The 16-episode drama is available to be streamed on Netflix and was originally aired between December 2, 2016 and January 21, 2017.
5) Reply 1988
Nationwide household rating: 18.803%
The K-drama is the third part of the Reply series that aired from November 6, 2015 to January 16, 2016. The 20-episode show is also available on Netflix and is the most successful out of all the Reply series.
The drama revolves around the lives of five friends who in the present reminisce about their lives and their families at the beginning of 1988 when they all lived in the same neighborhood. It’s a slice of life drama that takes viewers through the everyday motions of their lives, struggles, and their friendship as the years pass.
4) Reborn Rich
Nationwide household rating: 19.449%
Reborn Rich is the only ongoing K-drama on the list that has seen a phenomenal increase in its ratings with every episode since being aired on November 18, 2022.
The show tells the story of a young and loyal employee of the Sungang group who was murdered by the same family and how he finds himself in 1987, reincarnated in the body of the youngest son of the Sunyang family. He uses this opportunity to plot his revenge and the downfall of the Sunyang group.
3) Crash Landing on You
Nationwide household rating: 21.683%
The 16-episode K-drama available to stream on Netflix aired from December 14, 2019 to February 16, 2020.
The story revolves around the lives of a South Korean chaebol who crash-lands, while paragliding, into the North Korean portion of the DMZ and meets a North Korean army official who helps her travel safely back to South Korea.
2) SKY Castle
Nationwide household rating: 23.779%
The drama narrates the story of housewives residing in a luxurious residential society called SKY Castle, who can go to any lengths to get their children into the top-ranking universities in Seoul. SKY is the abbreviated form for the top three universities in South Korea: Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University.
The 20-episode series aired from November 23, 2018 to February 1, 2019 and can also be watched on Netflix.
1) The World of the Married
Nationwide household rating: 28.371%
The series is the highest-rated show in Korean cable TV history. The 16-episode drama aired from March 27 to May 16, 2020 and had the entirety of South Korea hooked.
The story revolves around a respected doctor who is married to an aspiring actor. The duo even share a son. She thinks everything is going well in her perfect family life till she stumbles upon her husband’s affair with another woman and her world comes crashing down.
A good rating for a K-drama would be above 10% while excellent dramas can range anywhere between 15% and 20%. Achieving a rating above that is considered to be a legendary feat.