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11 Coming-Of-Age Korean Dramas To Reminisce About Friendships, Young Love & Simpler Times

Coming-of-age K-dramas

In an era that’s so fond of reminiscing about the past, the appetite for the coming-of-age genre is ever-growing. Inspiring, fun, and devastatingly heartbreaking, there’s something about this genre that captures an entire spectrum of experiences that’s relatable to every age group. Whether it’s a group of college friends navigating the curveballs life has thrown at them together or an awkward teenager experiencing his first love, these 11 coming-of-age K-dramas will bring you back into your golden days of yore.

1. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

Coming-of-age K-dramas - weightlifting fairy kim bok joo
Image credit: Gyeong Jin

Main Cast:

  • Lee Sung Kyung as Kim Bok Joo
  • Nam Joo Hyuk as Jung Joon Hyung
  • Lee Jae Yoon as Jung Jae Yi
  • Kyung Soo Jin as Song Shi Ho

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo has secured its status as a cult classic among those in their teens and early adulthood.

Driven by a narrative that’s both sweet and poignant, the show is easy to love with the relatable coming-of-age struggles that takes centre stage, along with a good-humoured yet heartfelt romance.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - cast of weightlifting fairy kim bok joo
Image credit: KoreabyMe

Kim Bok Joo is a gifted national weightlifter who spends her days training hard in the sports university she is attending or feasting with her friends – until she encounters her first love. Jung Joon Hyung is a charming national swimmer with an unresolved childhood trauma, and is coincidentally the cousin of our heroine’s crush.

Both athletes quickly become close friends as they help each other through personal and academic struggles, and Joon Hyung soon finds himself falling for Bok Joo.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - weightlifting fairy kim bok joo
Image credit: Couch Kimchi

Despite the light-hearted tone of the drama, it did not shy away from portraying societal problems, traumas, mental health issues and disorders among young students.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - weightlifting fairy kim bok joo
Image adapted from: MBCDrama, MBCDrama

The drama is also filled with quotable dialogues and witty catchphrases, a few of which – “Do you like Messi?” and “Swag!” – have become iconic cultural references today.

2. Twenty-Five Twenty-One

Coming-of-age K-dramas - twenty five twenty one
Image credit: Netflix

Main Cast:

  • Kim Tae Ri as Na Hee Do
  • Nam Joo Hyuk as Baek Yi Jin
  • Bona as Ko Yu Rim
  • Choi Hyun Wook as Moon Ji Woong 
  • Lee Joo Myung as Ji Seung Wan

A show can live or die by its ending, but we’ll leave that for later. 

For the most part, Twenty-Five Twenty-One is a packet of nostalgic magic. The tender and thoughtful writing, the pitch-perfect OST and the remarkably nuanced performance by Kim Tae Ri who plays the main lead, make this drama an utter delight to binge-watch.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - na hee do in twenty five twenty one
Image credit: tvN

Set in 2 timelines, 1998 and 2022, the story follows a passionate and aspiring fencer Na Hee Do and her battle against adolescence conundrums including her own mother, rivals, and the economy. Along her journey towards her dream, she meets Baek Yi Jin, who’s new in town and trying to rebuild his life after his family lost everything to the financial crisis.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - twenty five twenty one
Image adapted from: Netflix

The 2 find solace in each other, forming a bond so real and tangible, and one that defies definition and boundaries. Hee Do’s feistiness and bursting spirit is so infectious it doesn’t just capture Yi Jin’s heart – it also reminds us of the irrepressible naive energy we all once had when we were younger.

On the other hand, Yi Jin’s calm temperament and good-natured personality make us wish we had a friend like that growing up.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - twenty five twenty one
Image credit: tvN

The story arcs of the leads and the rest of their friend group are worth sticking around for, as well – you’ll feel every joyful glee and every heartbreak they go through. Through and through, the drama remains honest in its portrayal of both joyful and sad times, right up till the end, for better or worse.

3. Hello, My Twenties! / Age Of Youth

Coming-of-age K-dramas - hello my twenties
Image credit: Amino Apps

Main Cast:

  • Park Hye Su (season 1) and Ji Woo (season 2) as Yoo Eun Jae
  • Han Seung Yeon as Jung Ye Eun
  • Han Ye Ri as Yoon Jin Myung
  • Park Eun Bin as Song Ji Won
  • Ryu Hwa Young as Kang Yi Na

Sassy yet sweet. Fun yet retrospective. Hello, My Twenties! is a youth drama that beautifully portrays the crutch of young adulthood through 5 university students.

Living under a share house named “Bella Epoque”, the female leads go through typical predicaments that most women in their 20s would worry about – career paths, self-esteem issues, love inhibitions, relationship disappointments, and financial concerns.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - hello my twenties
Image adapted from: Netflix

The unique ensemble of girls, whose personalities are so vastly different, makes their strengthening bond all the more precious and admirable. The series depicts an honest picture of women in their youth and their growing joys and pain – one juggling between studying and multiple part-time jobs, one learning to live independently and with strangers, another grappling with a painful breakup, each with their own individual emotional baggages.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - hello my twenties
Video adapted from: Netflix

Through it all, the girls trudge through the pain and bliss of their 20s together, making viewers smile and cry at their stories.

Season 1 of the series was such a hit that Season 2 was eventually released as well, with slight changes in the cast but with a storyline as insightful and reminiscent.

4. The Reply series (Reply 1997, Reply 1994, Reply 1988)

Coming-of-age K-dramas - reply series kdramas
Image adapted from: IMDb, Film Affinity, The Movie Database

Main Cast:

  • Jung Eun Ji as Sung Shi Won
  • Seo In Guk as Yoon Yoon Jae
  • Go Ara as Sung Na Jung
  • Jung Woo as “Sseureki”
  • Lee Hye Ri as Sung Duk Seon
  • Ryu Jun Yeol as Kim Jung Hwan

K-drama fans love reminiscing about their days in their youth, where bicycle rides, forgotten schoolwork, boy band posters, and crushing on someone were all that mattered.

It’s no wonder the Reply franchise is such a beloved series, especially for those who have experienced the lulls and vibrancy of the 80s and 90s.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - reply 1988
Image credit: Reply 1988

The Reply series has three instalments so far – Reply 1997, Reply 1994, and Reply 1988 – and is essentially a trilogy that’s a tribute to youth. Steeped in cosy textures of nostalgic lilt and quirky humour, the dramas do not stray too far from what real life has to offer.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - reply 1997
Video adapted from: tvN

Each instalment follows an average spunky high school girl and her friendship stories, foolish escapades, and heartstopping first love experiences, with remarkable details in the costumes and soundtracks. Real-world events and Korean pop culture references that are interwoven throughout make the show feel like a heartwarming walk down memory lane.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - reply 1994
Image credit: Stone Music Entertainment

Being a K-drama at its core, multiple love lines and romance plots are inevitable. But the show manages to make them relatable with the familiar subtleties of first love, and keeps them riveting with the franchise’s signature guess-the-husband premise.

5. Dear. M

Coming-of-age K-dramas - dear. m
Image credit: allkpop

Main Cast:

  • Park Hye Su as Ma Joo Ah
  • Jeong Jae Hyun as Cha Min Ho
  • Roh Jeong Eui as Seo Ji Min
  • Bae Hyun Sung as Park Ha Neul
  • Woo Da Vi as Hwangbo Young
  • Lee Jin Hyuk as Gil Mok Jin

Unequivocally, Dear. M pokes at any person’s buried campus romance sweetly and wistfully. Undeniably, the chemistry between our main couples are off-the-charts and simply engrossing.

The drama follows the university life of 4 students at Seoyeon University as they get caught up in the excitement of the search for student “M” – the writer of a community article who submitted a mysterious love confession. They go through university life, evolving friendships, and realistic budding romances in the course of their search.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - dear. m
Image adapted from: IMDbDear M

Three distinct romantic plotlines are portrayed in the drama – friends-to-lovers, the popular campus couple and the opposites-attract couple – but the spotlight remains mostly on the childhood besties couple.

Cha Min Ho is a humble college kid who is studying and working hard to save scraps of his part-time wages. he is hopelessly – and secretly – in love with his longtime best friend, Ma Joo Ah, whom he teases incessantly.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - dear. m
Video adapted from: Viki

Min Ho’s flustered expression every time Joo Ah gets too close to him, the twitch in his jaw when she jabbers on about her hot crush, and the adoration on his face when he looks at her, is all extremely endearing.

The trope may be an ubiquitous one in this genre, but the nuances of unrequited pining, silent jealousy, and slow burn in this K-drama will make you feel the butterflies that you may have once felt. 

6. My First First Love

Coming-of-age K-dramas - my first first love
Image credit: Netflix 

Main Cast:

  • Ji Soo as Yun Tae Oh
  • Jung Chae Yeon as Han Song Yi
  • Jung Jin Young as Seo Do Hyun
  • Choi Ri as O Ga Rin
  • Kang Tae Oh as Choi Hun

Another besties-to-lovers gem, My First First Love centres on a group of five friends who embark into the world of adulting and are introduced to the concept of first love along the way.

At the heart of the story, 2 lifelong friends, Yun Tae Oh and Han Song Yi, navigate new chapters of their lives, as well as their changing relationship when one starts developing feelings for the other.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - my first first love
Image credit: Netflix

The story starts picking up when Song Yi and another two of Tae Oh’s friends end up crashing at his place temporarily, to which he reluctantly agrees. Thus, comes a slew of complicated emotions and situations that arise, and our young characters learn how to figure life and messy love triangles out while living together.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - my first first love
Image credit: Ready Steady Cut

This coming-of-age drama takes on a lighter tone, much like a YA rom-com movie instead of their more true-to-life counterparts. Still, there is a sensitive and pensive undertone to its fresh facade that’ll teach you a thing or two about navigating first loves and growing up.

7. School series

Coming-of-age K-dramas - school series kdramas
Image adapted from: New On Netflix, JustWatch, Alchetron

Another hit franchise that focuses on the struggles of high school students in the course of their formative years, the School series dates back to 1999 and now has a whopping total of 8 seasons – School 1 (1999), School 2 (1999-2000), School 3 (2000-2001), School 4 (2001-2002), School 2013, Who Are You: School 2015, School 2017, and School 2021.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - school 2021 kdrama
Image credit: KBS2

Headlined by young casts and new faces every season, the show is an essential portrait of realistic and darker issues that South Korea’s youths face, including the corrupt education system, teen suicide, corporal punishment, academic and tutoring culture, career prospects and bullying.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - school 2013 kdrama
School 2013 is known to have the most epic and heartwrenching bromance in K-drama history.
Image credit: Viki

Tackling both familiar and difficult issues, every season has a different storyline and school setting, most of which involve a school mystery or conflict to be solved, and a whole lot of teen angst. What the franchise does best is maintain a large ensemble of characters who all work exceptionally together to present what is a deep and honest picture of youth today.

8. Dream High

Coming-of-age K-dramas - dream high
Image credit: allkpop

Main Cast:

  • Bae Suzy as Go Hye Mi
  • Kim Soo Hyun as Song Sam Dong
  • Ok Taecyeon as Jin Guk
  • Hahm Eun Jung as Yoon Baek Hee
  • Jang Wooyoung as Jason
  • Lee Ji Eun as Kim Pil Sook

When K-pop and K-drama come together, you get a masterpiece that’s Dream High. With a title that says it all, Dream High is a drama about six students at Kirin Art High School who share the same dreams of making it big in the entertainment industry, specifically in the musical field.

The cast is an idol-heavy one, but aptly so with a drama of such premise, and they win over a large audience with their endearing characters and stories. Most inspiringly, these fresh-faced idols back in the day are now some of the biggest names in the industry, including Bae Suzy, IU, Kim Soo Hyun and Taecyeon.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - dream high
Image adapted from: Netflix

Earnest, fun and full of heart, the series appeals with its emphasis on friendship, loyalty, and dreams. While there are romance plots in the drama, the OTPs are not that much highlighted here as the friendship and the strong bond that form within the main crew. Being a music-centric drama, the show is chock-full of fantastic music and dance performances.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - dream high
Video adapted from: Netflix

The heart of Dream High lies in the earnest stories of young students who are in pursuit of their dreams to become successful singers and the harsh realities and sacrifices they face in doing so – it even deftly addresses many serious issues that occur within the showbiz.

As inspirational as it is empathetic, Dream High is a breezy watch with lots of profound scenes that’ll shed some light on how idols aren’t saints nor devils, but merely humans like the rest of us.

9. Love Alarm

Coming-of-age K-dramas - love alarm
Image credit: Forbes

Main Cast:

  • Kim So Hyun as Kim Jo Jo
  • Jung Ga Ram as Lee Hye Yeong
  • Song Kang as Hwang Sun Oh

In this age where the use of mobile dating apps is rampant, a K-drama that merges high school romance and fantasy-esque use of dating apps seems very much on trend.

Netflix’s original series Love Alarm took the world by storm upon its release. A swoon-worthy teenage romance, coupled with an interesting sci-fi spin of an app that will notify you if there is someone within close proximity who likes you, sure is a compelling premise. Why isn’t there an app like that in real life, again?

Coming-of-age K-dramas - love alarm
Video adapted from: Netflix

Kim Jo Jo is our female lead – an orphan and a diligent high schooler who balances her studies with numerous part-time jobs. She meets a handsome new student, Hwang Sun Oh, who takes an interest in her when his best friend, Lee Hye Yeong, reveals that he has a crush on Jo Jo. The mild interest turns into something more, and Sun Oh finds himself falling for Jo Jo as well.

To make the love triangle a whole lot more complicated, there is the “Love Alarm”, an app made by an unknown developer, which connects to the user’s heart and is able to sound an alarm when there is someone who likes them within a 10-metre radius. The app impacts both boys’ relationships with Jo Jo, as well as their friendship.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - love alarm
Image adapted from: Netflix

Ultimately, Love Alarm portrays the highlights of a tingly teenage romance beautifully and lukewarm stories about confronting one’s demons that we can relate to. Most of all, the drama poses an eye-opening reality of the dangers that social media can cause and how they define the choices we make, and us, as humans.

10. Nevertheless

Coming-of-age K-dramas - nevertheless
Image credit: JTBC

Main Cast:

  • Han So Hee as Yoo Na Bi
  • Song Kang as Park Jae Eon
  • Chae Jong Hyeop as Yang Do Hyeok

A rather spot-on analogy to convey what it felt like watching Nevertheless is that feeling of deep frustration you would get toward your best friend if she keeps going back to her toxic ex; it’s giving you brain damage but you stick around because you want the best for your friend. And you still end up disappointed anyway.

Nevertheless is a youth romance set in a campus that depicts an unfiltered portrait of the modern view of love and relationships, especially amongst youth. An uncertain romance begins between Yoo Na Bi, a heartbroken woman who no longer believes in love, and Park Jae Eon, a flirtatious campus heartthrob who is a known playboy with frequent casual flings.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - nevertheless kdrama
“Do you want to go see butterflies?” has since become a popular pick-up line and a way to invite the person you like over to your place.
Video adapted from: Netflix

For a drama filled with characters who are always beating around the bush, the show clearly visualises the thrills of a lustful relationship and the fiery chemistry between the gorgeous leads. The side characters are college students with their own relationship predicaments and dynamics as well, each painting realistic pictures of love and attraction in the modern era.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - nevertheless kdrama
Image adapted from: Netflix

Despite being a romance drama at its core, Nevertheless is truly that horror story every girl has been advised to stay away from, but we don’t, as curiosity gets the better of us. Then again, that’s exactly the mess of young love that we’re all too familiar with – we fall, we love deeply and wrongly, we hurt and get hurt, and we learn.

11. At Eighteen

Coming-of-age K-dramas - at eighteen
Image credit: Viki

Main Cast:

  • Ong Seong Woo as Choi Joon Woo
  • Kim Hyang Gi as Yoo Soo Bin
  • Shin Seung Ho as Ma Hwi Young
  • Kang Ki Young as Oh Han Kyeol

18 is a fragile, fragile age indeed. Where one is at the cusp of adulthood, not quite experienced enough to be confident about the road ahead, but mature enough to understand the realities of life.

At Eighteen treads ever so thoughtfully and sincerely on the growing pains and conflicting emotions of teenagers. Our main characters are 18-year-old Choi Jun Woo, a new transfer student who’s come to a new school due to conflicts he faced in his previous one, sweet Yoo Soo Bin, and the class president Ma Hwi Young.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - at eighteen
Image credit: CewekBanget

In all the best ways possible, the show lays bare the entire teenage experience – the awkward uncertainties as a student, the butterflies of first love, the stress of living up to parent’s expectations, the petty jealousy, and the desire to be accepted by your peers.

It also touches on important issues such as social and class divide, corruption in the education system, abuse and mental health amongst youngsters.

Coming-of-age K-dramas - at eighteen
Image credit: DryedMangoez

In a subtle yet resonating manner, the characters are brought to raw, pulsating life in this drama with their raw emotions and stories. Although as simple as a coming-of-age drama can be, At Eighteen is deeply evocative that’ll evoke a reminiscing sigh or a tear or two, and every other emotion in between.

Best coming-of-age K-dramas for a dose of nostalgia

Trust us when we say that these coming-of-age K-dramas truly tap into something inside of us – showing us the struggles and triumphs of growing up and all the friendships forged, love evoked and heartbreaks felt along the way.

Whether you’re an adult going through a midlife crisis or a young teen trying to navigate the complexities of life, the issues portrayed in these dramas are common threads we share – a tale of our shining youth and the lessons learnt along the way.

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Cover image adapted from: The Movie Database, The Movie Database, IMDb