20 Korean Drama Adaptations of Western TV Shows and Movies
When a TV series, or even a film, that you enjoyed comes to an end, you might be left feeling both satisfied and empty. Satisfied due to the completion of the story, empty because you are left with the question “What should I do next?” We have all gone through that and more often than not, we tend to believe that there is no other TV series/film that can bring the exact sense of joy you gained from the one you just finished.
However, there are certain instances where you get to re-watch your favorite shows but with different twists, different actors, and different characters. This list is all about bringing you some recommendations for K-dramas that have been inspired by some popular TV shows and films.
Of course, the most significant difference is that these are based in Korea but, one thing that the sudden wave in K-drama has taught us is that K-dramas can be even more intriguing than your everyday American or British shows. They have their own ways of achieving suspense and their own elements. So, you will not be re-watching your favorite shows but rather, watching something similar and in a different context.
20 Couple or Trouble – Overboard
Based on the 1987 Hollywood film, Overboard, which features Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Couple or Trouble seemingly follows the exact same plot as its original source. With key differences like the female lead, Anna Jo (Han Ye-seul), being an American-bred heiress in Korea and the male lead, Jang Chul-soo (Oh Ji-ho) not being a father but rather a guardian to his nephews, the show adds more depth to the original plot.
Converting a film into a TV series might seem strange, especially when the film has already succeeded, but in this situation, Couple or Trouble takes time in allowing the characters to develop themselves and their bonds naturally. Thus, Anna Jo’s conversion from an uptight-wealthy-stubborn woman to a more compassionate person is more natural when compared to the character development of Hawn’s character, Joanna Stayton.
19 Entourage – Entourage
Based on HBO’s comedy-drama of the same name, this K-drama follows a very similar premise to its counterpart. As for the American version, the show was loosely based on Mark Wahlberg’s life and his experience as an up-and-coming star in Hollywood. His story has inspired the creation of the protagonist, Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) whose Korean version is Cha Young-bin, played by Seo Kang-joon.
Unfortunately, the K-drama was not able to receive as much success as its original source. However, it is still worth watching simply because the Korean Entourage focuses more on the emotional landscape of the protagonist. With a heavy emphasis on the themes of friendship, identity, and figuring out oneself, Entourage, the K-drama, is capable of making you self-analyze and figure out your own stand-stills.
18 Less Than Evil – Luther
If you enjoyed BBC’s Luther, which has Idris Elba playing the protagonist, Luther, then Less Than Evil is a must-watch. Similar to Luther, it follows a seemingly harsh detective named, Woo Tae-suk (Shin Ha-kyun) and his ongoing conflict with the antagonist, Eun Sun-jae (Lee Seol), a psychopathic murderer based on Ruth Wilson’s character, Alice Morgan.
However, unlike Luther, Less Than Evil follows different stories and focus more on the psychological aspect of the characters. So, in a way, you will be experiencing a show that is similar to Luther but with many new twists and turns. Moreover, the characters are quite different to its original counterparts.
17 Life on Mars – Life on Mars
BBC’s Life on Mars is an award-winning drama that blends the genres of time travel and crime and detective. It has influenced many recreations, including an American TV series and a K-drama. The K-drama follows Han Tae-joo (Jung Kyung-ho), a forensic scientist who is taken to the past and converted into a detective.
As always, the K-drama does tap into your emotions more than its original counterpart but, this has only allowed the viewers to get more attached to the characters. Thus, the Korean remake might even be better at influencing the viewers than the original. Even if you haven’t watched BBC’s Life on Mars and are a fan of K-dramas like Signal, this remake might be a right fit for you.
16 Marrying a Millionaire – Joe Millionaire
Here is an interesting adaptation, Marrying a Millionaire is based on the infamous 2003 reality TV show, Joe Millionaire. The American reality show brought 20 contestants and introduced them to a man who looks like a millionaire but, in reality, is an “average Joe”. Taking this as its premise, Marrying a Millionaire focuses on a fictional tale where the protagonist.
Han Eun-young (Kim Hyun-joo) ends up being a contestant in “Marry a Millionaire”, a reality show similar to Joe Millionaire. The key difference is that Eun-young is aware that the lead man, Kim Young-hoon (Go Soo) is not a millionaire as he was her first love. Even though adult Eun-young enters the show regretting her past crush, she ends up reigniting her buried feelings for Young-hoon. If you enjoy shows like The Bachelor, Marrying a Millionaire would definitely become an instant hit.
15 One Ordinary Day – Criminal Justice
HBO’s The Night Of, which features Riz Ahmed, is the American adaptation of Criminal Justice, while One Ordinary Day is the Korean remake of this British miniseries. The series follows the same plot with the addition of heightened suspense. Kim Soo-hyun takes over the lead role as Kim Hyun-soo and does a brilliant job of portraying Hyun-soo’s transformation from an ordinary College student to someone who becomes cold and indifferent to others.
The series captures the corrupt nature of the legal system perfectly. The verdict’s change from the death penalty to life imprisonment is one key example of how One Ordinary Day has changed its plot line to cater to Korean society. Overall, the mystery and the tensions will keep you on your toes, but it is Hyun-soo’s ultimate fate that leaves you feeling bittersweet.
14 Woori the Virgin – Jane the Virgin
If you want to revisit the nostalgia of Jane the Virgin, but are not interested in investing the time to re-watch 100 episodes, then Woori the Virgin is what you should resort to. From the artificial insemination which leads to the protagonist’s pregnancy, regardless of her being a virgin, the romance to the comedy, everything about Woori the Virgin is very similar to its original source, in turn, making it a loyal remake.
However, it does get cringy at times, but that is something you can expect from K-dramas of the rom-com genre. Given that this remake is just fourteen episodes, the K-drama focuses only on the main plot and avoids going into unnecessary routes. Nonetheless, it does not fail to capture the essence of Jane the Virgin. Funnily enough, it also allows Korean social norms to enter the comedic element of the show.
13 Uncle – Uncle
Based on the British sitcom of the same name, Uncle follows Wang Jun-hyeok (Oh Jung-se), an unsuccessful musician, who ends up having to look after his nephew. Reluctant at first, Jun-hyeok develops a beautiful bond with his nephew, which ultimately makes him a better person.
This K-drama might be similar to the original source’s storyline, but it does avoid relying too much on humor. Uncle, the Korean version, relies heavily on empathy and thus, focuses more on the themes of family and human connections. It can also be dark at times due to the fact that the show digs deep into trauma and pain.
12 Romance Is a Bonus Book – Younger
The American show, Younger, was based on Pamela Redmond Satran’s novel of the same name and follows Liza (Sutton Foster), a woman in her 40s, who lies about her age to land a job. Romance Is a Bonus Book might have some similarities to Younger, but it is hard to claim it to be a replica of the American version.
Instead of lying about her age, the protagonist in the K-drama, Kang Dan-i (Lee Na-young), lies about her qualifications. However, like Younger, it does follow this single mom’s attempt at trying to prove herself to be worthy of a good career while juggling her love life. As Mac-Donald states, even if Romance Is a Bonus Book is not the exact translation of Younger, its “compendium of romance, publishing and top stars” is what allows it to be popular and so appealing to the viewers.
11 Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area – Money Heist
Yet another show that has been shortened so that you don’t have to invest days for it. Even if the premise is similar, the Korean version takes the political element to the next level, which is also what makes it stand out. The series takes place in the Korean peninsula, where North Korea and South Korea are opening up their borders for economic purposes. So, yes, the tension is high, but the fact that the tension stems from a real-life nation-based conflict that we are all very familiar with makes it quite unique.
This Korean series has also taken a different approach in its character portrayal. For example, Tokyo in the Spanish version, Money Heist, played by Ursula Corbero, can be quite frustrating at times. Jeon Jong-seo’s Tokyo is able to win the audiences due to her loyalty.
10 Cleaning Up – Cleaning Up
The British TV series, Cleaning Up, is about a struggling cleaner, Sam Cook (Sheridan Smith), whose world takes a turn when she enters the corrupt financial world after overhearing her employers’ blackmailing schemes. The K-drama adaptation takes this premise to a different level by heavily focusing on the classism that exists in South Korea. By now, it is obvious that one recurring theme in K-dramas is the ugly social binaries in South Korea.
This show allows the so-called “cleaners” and “maintenance staff” to be flies on the wall and gain an upper hand. It is definitely intriguing to watch how the three protagonists, who were looked down upon, get to use corruption against the corrupt to fulfill their dreams. Cleaning Up also gives a glimpse into the true nature of the “rich” people.
9 Behind Every Star – Call My Agent!
Behind Every Star is an agent trying to make sure everything runs smoothly. This Korean take on the French series, Call My Agent!, changes its trajectory to adapt to the Korean entertainment industry. For a change, you get to watch the agents, and not the celebrities, shine, in turn, allowing you to get a glimpse of how complicating and stressful the life of an agent can be. Since the show revolves around 4 agents in a famous agency, you get to see four different perspectives. The added humor and the chemistry between the characters is a bonus.
That being said, it wouldn’t be a K-drama without the intense drama, and that is elevated through the death of the CEO of the company. This pushes the agents further as they are forced to make sure the agency is not sold.
8 Vincenzo – The Godfather
No one can ever top Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy. At the end of the day, it’s a classic and includes some legendary stars. Fortunately, Vincenzo seems to be well-aware of the fact. That is why, even if it is clearly inspired by The Godfather, it seems to draw a clear distinction between itself and the infamous movies. Rather than focusing on the Dons, Vincenzo focuses on the consigliere, played by Song Joong-ki. Moreover, this consigliere seems to be at odds with the new Don.
The setting being South Korea allows the series to take new routes and a new approach in delivering the story. Nonetheless, it does not fail to incorporate the much-needed action scenes and the revenge plots. Overall, Vincenzo is a refreshing take on the Italian mafia world and allows a South Korean to take the forefront.
7 Mistress – Mistresses
With an IMDb rating of 8.4, this K-drama might have surpassed its original counterpart, the British TV series, Mistresses. This is the perfect watch if you are looking for a TV series filled with nothing but drama and constant shocks. Mistress revolves around four friends with contrasting personalities. They have different jobs and even more different lifestyles. Thus, you enter a chaotic world and follow these four women as they struggle with heavy and deep secrets, which also results in numerous deaths.
Mistress might end up teaching you a lesson or two about relationships and friendships. Due to the four protagonists, you end up watching four different stories in the span of 12 episodes.
6 Criminal Minds – Criminal Minds
The American hit TV show, Criminal Minds began in 2005, but it is still being continued. If you are someone who loves the show but hates the fact that it is super long or wants to watch it but can’t bear the idea of getting involved with a TV show that has over 300 episodes, the Korean version is the right option. Now, the storylines and the characters are very similar, making it a literal translation of the American show.
However, the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) of the FBI, which is very much specific to both the American context and the show, cannot be found in the Korean version for obvious reasons. To overcome this obstacle, the creators have created a fictional National Criminal Investigation (NCI) which is yet another unit that tracks down criminals. So, you will not be missing much.
5 The Good Wife – The Good Wife
Here’s a TV show that was able to bring justice to its original counterpart. The Korean version of the American show, The Good Wife, does intensify the dramatic nature of the original but apart from that, it tries its best to stay true to the storyline. With Jeon Do-yeon taking over the role of Kim Hye-kyung, the counterpart of Alicia, the show focuses on a badass female lead.
Perhaps, the two key differences you will notice are the way in which the Korean version focuses on the main story and the main characters and avoids digging deep into the side characters. Of course, this is due to the limitation in the number of episodes. The other difference is the husband. In the Korean version, you will find a more mysterious version of the husband, Peter.
4 Designated Survivor: 60 Days – Designated Survivor
One thing that the Korean version of the American political thriller Designated Survivor does better is the capturing of the protagonist’s moral compass. With Ji Jin-hee taking over the role of the lead, Park Mu-jin, the series reflects on the real-life political tensions between North Korea and South Korea. However, it merely uses this as a foundation for the story and instead, utilizes the limited time to focus on the protagonist’s character development and how he reflects the Asian societies where morality is an integral part of the culture.
The show is also a reminder of our own moral principles and thus, regardless of the viewer’s ethnicity, makes the viewer revaluate and analyze themselves and the society they live in. The fact that the show grants a time limit to the protagonist forces him to speed up his character development process, which is yet another reason why the Korean version is better.
3 Suits – Suits
If you enjoyed the American legal drama Suits but found it to be a bit messy after the first few seasons, the Korean version might help you make amends. It is clear, concise, and does not beat around the bush. What made the Mike Ross – Harvey Specter show so appealing is the way in which it takes a refreshing approach to legal dramas. For one, it definitely shows the plausible illegality of legal, and two, it has become the show that makes people fall in love with the law. Of course, once you illustrate how luxurious, classy, and energetic the legal field can be, who wouldn’t be intrigued?
The Korean show captures all these with the added bonus of sticking to the important storyline and removing the unnecessary long routes taken by its original counterpart. Moreover, Mike Ross in this version, played by Park Hyung-sik, might be more responsible and transparent. So, you might find yourself more attracted to this version.
2 18 Again – 17 Again
This is a K-drama that does the opposite of “concision”. Apart from the fact that the Korean adaptation takes the protagonist back to when he was 18 instead of 17, like the original, you also get a more elaborate version of the American film which featured Zac Efron and Matthew Perry. With Yoon Sang-hyun and Lee Do-hyun taking over the lead role, what you get is a show filled with brilliant comedy. It is also interesting to watch the protagonist, Hong Dae-young’s character development progress naturally, unlike in the film, where it is more of a sped-up version.
The Korean drama takes its time in exploring important themes like ageism, family bonds, the importance of communication and love. It is a beautiful and easy watch, and one that will surely make you laugh.
1 The World of the Married – Doctor Foster
If you are not new to the K-drama wave, then you must have surely heard of The World of The Married. It is a tense, messy, and extremely dramatic TV series that exposes the facade of a “perfect family”. With Kim Hee-ae playing the role of the wife who is quite proud of her “well-put-together” family and Han So-hee taking over the role of the mistress who disrupts this idea of a “peaceful family”, you get some intense conflicts. From satisfactory turns to blood-boiling fights, this show makes you go through so many emotions, and at a heightened level.
The interesting part is, The World of The Married is actually based on the British psychological thriller Doctor Foster. Even if the Korean adaptation has surpassed the original version, you do find some brilliant performances in both. So, this Korean remake is undeniably a successful adaptation of a Western production.