Thriller Korean dramas

Korean dramas are not all about romances where the perfect-looking leads ultimately end up together after overcoming a series of obstacles. There are many thriller Korean dramas out there with enthralling storylines that will have you glued to the screen while you chomp away on a huge bag of chips.  

If you’re up for some suspense-filled dramas – from gruesome murder cases to unimaginable large-scale corruption plots – here are 20 thriller Korean dramas you need to have on your must-watch list.

1. Happiness (2021)

Thriller Korean Dramas 2021 - Happiness
Image credit: tvN

Main Cast:

  • Han Hyo-joo as Yoon Sae-bom
  • Park Hyung-shik as Jung Yi-hyun

Set in a post-Covid world, society is once again plagued by an infectious disease. But this time, it’s a disease that turns people into zombie-like creatures.

To avoid the risk of being infected, people are confined to their apartments and forced to do something we are more than familiar with – social distancing. Puzzled by the sudden outbreak, counter-terrorism expert Yoon Sae-bom and detective Jung Yi-hyun work together to look into the causes of the infectious disease.

Amidst the investigation, the pandemic and chaos open their eyes to even more complex societal issues. 

You can read our episode one review of Happiness here.

2. Hellbound (2021)

Thriller Korean Dramas - Hellbound
Image credit: Netflix

Main Cast:

  • Yoo Ah-in as Jung Jin-su
  • Kim Hyun-joo as Min Hye-jin
  • Park Jung-min as Bae Young-jae
  • Won Jin-ah as Song So-hyun
  • Yang Ik-jun as Jin Kyung-hoon

A society trembles with fear after three executors of hell appear to kill those who received a death decree sent by an angel. 

An astute religious group known as the “New Truth Society” begins to gain widespread support as people believe that the leader, Jung Jin-su, prophesied the mayhem in the past. 

Together with an extremist cult called “Arrowhead”, the New Truth Society condemns people according to their own religious principles. However, not everyone is a follower – there are some who take their guidance and control of the society with a pinch of salt.

Min Hye-jin is a lawyer who works to the best of her ability to reveal the corrupt nature of the New Truth Society. She gets a married couple, Bae Young-jae and Song So-hyun, to fight against the New Truth Society and Arrowhead.

Fun fact: Hellbound was adapted from an animation and a webtoon.

Read more about unknown Hellbound facts here and check out our episode one review of Hellbound.

3. Flower of Evil (2020)

Thriller Korean Dramas - Flower Of Evil
Image credit: tvN

Main Cast:

  • Lee Joon-gi as Baek Hee-sung
  • Moon Chae-won as Cha Ji-won
  • Jang Hee-jin as Do Hae-soo
  • Seo Hyun-woo as Kim Moo-jin

Hee-sung and Ji-won are a happily married couple with a stable career and a beautiful child. Their marriage is smooth sailing until Hee-sung begins to show patterns of unusual behaviour that create a gap between him and his wife.

Since Ji-won works as a homicide detective, she’s quick-witted and perceptive. After she observes her husband’s change in behaviour, she learns more about his hidden identity. While doing so, she finds out that her husband is connected to a serial murder case that occurred 15 years ago.

4. Awaken (2020)

Thriller Korean Dramas - Awaken
Image credit: tvN

Main Cast: 

  • Nam Goong-min as Do Jung-woo
  • Kim Seol-hyun as Gong Hye-won
  • Lee Chung-ah as Jamie Layton
  • Yoon Sun-woo as Moon Jae-woong

More than three decades ago, a small village was thrown into chaos due to a perplexing phenomenon that was buried with neither a clear explanation nor proper closure.

36 years have passed since then, and the same village is now plagued with a new series of mysterious events. Do Jung-woo, also known as one of the most competent leaders at the National Police Agency, begins to investigate the strange occurrences.

Jung-woo works closely with Officer Hye-won, as well as Detective Jamie from the FBI. They go out of their way to unravel the mystery, only to find out that the present events are intertwined with the incidents that took place more than three decades ago.

5. Sweet Home (2020)

Thriller Korean Dramas - Sweet Home
Image credit: Netflix

Main Cast:

  • Song Kang as Cha Hyun-soo
  • Lee Jin-wook as Pyeon Sang-wook
  • Lee Si-young as Seo Yi-kyung
  • Lee Do-hyun as Lee Eun-hyuk
  • Kim Nam-hee as Jung Jae-heon
  • Go Min-si as Lee Eun-yoo 

Cha Hyun-soo is a high school student who loses his family in an accident. Following the unexpected loss of his family, he moves to a dilapidated apartment and lives there by himself.

His dream of living a quiet life is crushed when an inexplicable occurrence takes place – humans begin to turn into monsters, and these monsters prowl about Hyun-soo’s apartment. 

As a result, the residents – including Hyun-soo – are confined to the apartment. They team up against the monsters and fight for their lives.

6. Strangers From Hell (2019)

Thriller Korean Dramas - Strangers From Hell
Image credit: OCN 

Main Cast: 

  • Lee Dong-wook as Seo Moon-jo
  • Im Si-wan as Yoon Jong-woo

Yoon Jong-woo decides to move from the countryside to Seoul in order to clinch a job offer. Since he’s on a budget, he looks for a cheap residential facility. 

He has no choice but to stay in a goshiwon, which is a cheap boarding house. Renters typically get a small, furnished room with a bed, study desk, and a chair. Fancier goshiwon rooms come with ensuite bathrooms and proper closets, and some places even provide free rice and kimchi.

But that’s not the case with Jong-woo, as he settles for a decrepit goshiwon. On top of that, his neighbours are unsavoury characters, but he has to endure the next six months so that he can afford a better place. 

During his time at the goshiwon, Jong-woo comes across strange residents such as Seo Moon-jo, who works as a dentist. To make matters worse, a series of mysterious events unfold at the goshiwon, which causes Jong-woo to be fearful and wary of the residents. 

7. Kingdom (2019)

Image credit: Netflix 

Main cast:

  • Ju Ji-hoon as Lee Chang
  • Bae Doo-na as Seo Bi
  • Ryu Seung-ryong as Jo Hak-joo
  • Kim Sung-kyu as Young-shin
  • Kim Hye-jun as Queen Consort Cho
  • Kim Sang-ho as Moo-young

If you’re a fan of Train to Busan or just anything zombie-related, don’t miss out on the Netflix series Kingdom. Season 2 just came out in March 2020 – for people who have yet to jump onto the Kingdom bandwagon, you have plenty of heartstopping episodes to catch up on! 

Set in the Joseon period, the drama follows the crown prince, Lee Chang, on his journey to uncover the truth behind a mysterious disease plaguing the king. Together with his guard Moo-young, they head off to a faraway province, Dongnae, in search of a physician. 

To their horror, they arrive at the clinic only to find it in ruins with dead bodies piling up under the building. They meet Seo Bi, the only survivor from the clinic, who tells them that the people are not dead and will begin their killing rampage once the sun sets. 

With the zombie disease spreading fast across the Southern provinces, they’ll have to find a remedy, fast. 

8. Rugal (2020)

Image credit: OCN

Main cast:

  • Choi Jin-hyuk as Kang Ki-beom
  • Park Sung-woong as Hwang Deuk-gu
  • Cho Dong-hyuk as Han Tae-woong
  • Jung Hye-in as Song Mi-na
  • Han Ji-wan as Choi Ye-won 
  • Park Sun-ho as Lee Gwang-cheol
  • Kim Min-sang as Choi Geun-cheol

Detective Kang Ki-beom was working on a case involving a criminal organisation, Argos, when he returns home to find his wife murdered by their men. While still in disbelief, they take the chance to knock him out and remove both of his eyeballs.

When he wakes up at the hospital, not only has he lost his eyesight, but he is also framed for his wife’s murder. 

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) offers him a chance at revenge by being part of Rugal, a special team to hunt down the organisation. After regaining his sight thanks to artificial eyeball implants, Ki-beom and his team set out to bring Argos down. 

9. Innocent Defendant (2017)

Innocent Defender
Image credit: SBS

Main cast:

  • Ji-sung as Park Jung-woo
  • Um Ki-joon as Cha Sun-ho/Cha Min-ho (twins)
  • Kwon Yu-ri as Seo Eun-hye
  • Oh Chang-seok as Kang Jun-hyuk 
  • Uhm Hyung-kyung as Na Yeon-hee 

The only thing worse than having a nightmare is not waking up from one. That’s what happens to Prosecutor Park Jung-woo, who wakes up one day to find himself on death row for killing both his wife and daughter

Unable to recall what exactly happened on the day of the incident, he struggles to produce a credible alibi to clear his name. And as a prosecutor who has spent most of his life trying to uncover truths, trying to find an answer while stuck behind bars will require great resolve. 

10. Memories of the Alhambra (2018)

Memories of the Alhambra
Image credit: tvN

Main cast:

  • Hyun-bin as Yoo Jin-woo
  • Park Shin-hye as Jung Hee-joo

Memories of the Alhambra was a highly anticipated drama in 2019 starring big names such as Hyun-bin and Park Shin-hye. Set in Granada, Spain, a newly invented AR game starts to blur the lines between the real world and the virtual world

When a CEO of an investment company, Yoo Jin-woo, decides to head to Hostel Bonita in Granada to seal a deal with the game’s developer, Jung Se-joo, the latter goes missing without a trace. Jin-woo instead meets Se-joo’s sister, Hee-joo, who happens to be the owner of the hostel. 

But as the leads fall in love with each other, a series of mysterious occurrences keep happening, making it hard for them to snap out of virtual reality and keep the relationship going. 

11. Vagabond (2019)

Image credit: SBS

Main cast:

  • Lee Seung-gi as Cha Dal-geon
  • Bae Suzy as Go Hae-ri 
  • Shin Sung-rok as Gi Tae-ung

You know a drama is going to be a hit from the get-go when it has some of the best actors like Lee Seung-gi and Bae Suzy starring in it. 

Seung-gi plays Cha Dal-geon, who works as a stunt man to make ends meet and bring up his nephew, Cha Hoon. But when Hoon’s flight to Morocco for a taekwondo competition crashes with all the people on board losing their lives, Dal-geon puts his life on the line in an attempt to search for an answer.

Teaming up with Go Hae-ri, a National Intelligence Service agent stationed at the Korean embassy in Morocco, they dig deeper into the case to uncover corruption at a scale that’s far beyond their imagination

12. Tunnel (2017)

Image credit: OCN

Main cast:

  • Choi Jin-hyuk as Park Gwang-ho
  • Yoon Hyun-min as Kim Sun-jae 
  • Lee Yoo-young as Shin Jae-yi 

Tunnel is an underrated crime drama which deserves more credit. With an intriguing plot, you’ll find yourself at the edge of your seat by the end of each episode, wondering what’s next to come. 

As detective Park Gwang-ho enters a pitch-black tunnel while giving chase to a serial killer, he gets knocked out by an unknown figure. Waking up to find himself teleported into the future, he now has to work with detective Kim Sun-jae and criminal psychologist Shin Jae-yi to catch the killer on the loose. 

13. Save Me (2017)

Save Me
Image credit: OCN

Main cast:

  • Ok Taec-yeon as Han Sang-hwan
  • Seo Ye-ji as Im Sang-mi
  • Woo Do-hwan as Suk Dong-chul
  • Jo Sung-ha as Baek Jung-ki

While Taec-yeon is better known as a member of 2PM – a popular Korean boy band – he has actually been actively promoting as an actor, starring in popular dramas such as Dream High and Cinderella’s Stepsister. So be sure to catch this drama – one of his last projects before he went on to serve his mandatory military service – to witness this multi-talented star in action.  

In this drama, Taec-yeon plays Han Sang-hwan, who’s now a lawyer. One day, he and three other friends run into their ex-classmate, Sang-mi, who’s stuck in a religious cult mired in secrecy and violence. With her father brainwashed and mother emotionally unstable due to her brother’s death, Sang-mi is trapped with no way out and asks them for help.

From here, they take it on themselves to help Sang-mi by revealing what goes on in the cult behind closed doors. 

14. Bad Guys (2014)

Bad Guys
Image credit: OCN

Main cast:

  • Kim Sang-joong as Oh Gu-tak
  • Ma Dong-seok as Park Woong-cheol
  • Park Hae-jin as Lee Jung-moon
  • Jo Dong-hyuk as Jung Tae-soo
  • Kang Ye-won as Yoo Mi-young

Detective Oh Gu-tak was tasked to form a special team made up of “bad guys” to combat the rising number of crimes in the district. 

His team is made up of ex-criminals: Park Woong-cheol, a gangster, Lee Jung-moon, a serial killer, and Jung Tae-soo, a contract hitman. The last member joining detective Gu-tak and his team of criminals is Yoo Mi-young, a young female inspector known for her zealousness.  

15. Healer (2014)

Image credit: KBS 

Main cast:

  • Ji Chang-wook as Seo Jung-hoo/Healer 
  • Park Min-young as Chae Young-shin/Oh Ji-an 
  • Yoo Ji-tae as Kim Moon-ho 

A crime drama with good-looking leads – yes please! While this 2014 crime drama is full of action-packed scenes, it also offers a breather in the form of a blossoming love story between Park Min-young and Ji Chang-wook.  

While trying to reveal the truth behind the tragic deaths of a couple many years ago, Reporter Kim Moon-ho engages a night courier – Seo Jung-hoo, better known as the “Healer” – to verify the identity of Chae Young-shin, who has presumably died along with her parents

Reporter Kim proceeds to pay him to protect her from the people who wanted her dead in the past. But it won’t take long before Healer and Young-shin join hands with Moon-ho to discover the truth behind the case.

16. He is Psychometric (2019)

He is Psychometric
Image credit: tvN

Main cast:

  • Park Jin-young as Lee Ahn
  • Shin Ye-eun as Yoon Jae-in
  • Kim Kwon as Kang Sung-mo
  • Kim Da-som as Eun Ji-soo

Lee Ahn possesses the ability to see people’s memories when he touches them. While he still lacks full control over his power, he wishes to use it to find leads and crack down on crimes. 

One day, Ahn meets Yoon Jae-in, who has been hiding a painful past. In order to help Jae-in, he needs to put his ability to the test and have better control over it. He convinces his brother, prosecutor Kang Sung-mo, and investigator Eun Ji-soo to let him join them in solving ongoing crimes. 

However, this results in them uncovering darker secrets about each other that they wish they never knew. 

17. City Hunter (2011)

City Hunter
Image credit: SBS

Main cast:

  • Lee Min-ho as Lee Yoon-sung
  • Park Min-young as Kim Na-na
  • Lee Joon-hyuk as Kim Young-joo
  • Kim Sang-joong as Lee Jin-pyo 

Betrayed by his own country in a military operation, Lee Jin-pyo is the sole survivor who will avenge the death of his comrades. 

In order to carry out his revenge plan, he kidnaps his comrade’s son, Lee Yoon-sung, and flees to Thailand. Over there, he trains Yoon-sung to be combat-ready so that they’ll return to South Korea one day to carry out his revenge plan. 

Years later, Yoon-sung lands himself the role of an IT engineer at the Blue House, where he meets and falls in love with bodyguard Kim Na-na. Engaging in a romantic relationship only becomes a hindrance to Jin-pyo’s revenge plan, resulting in escalating tensions between Yoon-sung and Jin-pyo.

18. Signal (2016)

Image credit: tvN

Main cast:

  • Lee Je-hoon as Park Hae-young
  • Kim Hye-soo as Cha Soo-hyun
  • Cho Jin-woong as Lee Jae-han

Park Hae-young was in elementary school when he witnessed his classmate being taken away by a woman, only to be found dead days later. Despite his efforts to tell the police what he saw, they revealed that the suspect was a man, and never found the killer. 

When Hae-young becomes a police officer years later, he comes across a walkie-talkie which connects him to detective Lee Jae-han. Detective Lee, however, is a detective living in the past investigating the case of his deceased classmate. 

Both Hae-young and Detective Lee continue to communicate via walkie-talkie as they search for answers to the unsolved murder. 

19. The K2 (2016)

The K2
Image credit: tvN

Main cast:

  • Ji Chang-wook as Kim Je-ha
  • Im Yoon-ah as Go An-na
  • Song Yoon-ah as Choi Yoo-jin
  • Jo Sung-ha as Jang Se-joon

Kim Je-ha is working as a mercenary soldier in Iraq when he gets framed for killing his own girlfriend. He manages to sneak back into Korea and lands himself a job as a bodyguard to Go An-na, an illegitimate daughter of a presidential hopeful, Jang Se-joon. 

Je-ha is, however, hired by An-na’s stepmother Choi Yoo-jin to ensure that An-na is never revealed to the world as it would ruin her chance of becoming the First Lady. Over time, Je-ha starts to fall in love with An-na, which makes it hard for him to carry out his duties when his employer is the one inflicting pain onto the love of his life. 

This action-packed drama is full of unexpected plot twists and betrayals – a winner for those who love a show that constantly keeps you on your toes.

20. Gap-dong (2014)

Image credit: tvN

Main cast:

  • Yoon Sang-hyun as Ha Moo-yeom
  • Sung Dong-il as Yang Cheol-gon
  • Kim Min-jung as Maria Oh
  • Lee Joon as Ryu Tae-oh
  • Kim Ji-won as Ma Ji-wool 

In this murder mystery, a series of murders known as the “Gap-dong serial murder case” takes place in 1996. Things get complicated when a likely suspect, Ha Moo-yeom’s father, commits suicide to clear his name. 

Determined to prove his father’s innocence, Moo-yeom becomes a detective years later and works relentlessly on the case. When all hope seems to be lost with the statute of limitations expiring, incidents resembling that of the Gap-dong murder case start to happen. Together with officer Yang Cheol-gon, Moo-yeom joins the investigation to nab the killer.   

21. Voice (2017)

Image credit: OCN

Main cast:

  • Jang Hyuk as Moo Jin-hyuk 
  • Lee Ha-na as Kang Kwon-joo 

Moo Jin-hyuk is an outstanding detective known for solving many hard cases. But his life takes a turn for the worse when his wife gets murdered. 

Lee Ha-na, on the other hand, is an ambitious police officer who decides to leave for the States to study voice profiling after learning that her father got murdered while out on an investigation.

Years later, both Jin-hyuk and Ha-na form a team to find the serial killer who’s responsible for the deaths of both their loved ones. 

22. Stranger (2017)

Image credit: tvN

Main cast:

  • Cho Seung-woo as Hwang Shi-mok
  • Bae Doo-na as Han Yeo-jin
  • Lee Joon-hyuk as Seo Dong-jae 
  • Yoo Jae-myung as Lee Chang-joon
  • Shin Hye-sun as Young Eun-soo

Cracking an unsolved murder mystery is not an easy task, especially when you’re working with someone with a polar opposite personality. Follow a prosecutor, who doesn’t feel any emotions after having undergone a brain surgery as a child, and an enthusiastic female detective as they work together to get to the bottom of the case. 

23. Remember (2016)

Image credit: SBS

Main cast:

  • Yoo Seung-ho as Seo Jin-woo
  • Park Min-young as Lee In-ah
  • Park Sung-woong as Park Dong-ho 

While Seo Jin-woo is gifted with the ability to recall every single day in perfect detail, his father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which causes him to lose his memory over time. As he is unable to recall what happened, Jin-woo’s father, who stumbled upon a murder crime scene, is framed for a crime he didn’t commit.  

Jin-woo becomes a lawyer years later to represent his father in court. But bribery and corruption are not the only obstacles he will encounter, as he starts to develop Alzheimer’s as well.

We’re not out to spoil it for you, but just a heads up – be sure to have ready a box of tissues by your side. 

24. Black (2017)

Image credit: OCN

Main cast:

  • Song Seung-heon as Han Moo-gang/Black
  • Go Ara as Kang Ha-ram
  • Lee El as Yoon Soo-wan
  • Kim Dong-jun as Oh Man-soo

Apart from being a detective working on murder cases, Han Moo-gang is also a Grim Reaper responsible for guiding those who have passed on to the afterlife.

As the former hampers the process of the latter, Moo-gang often finds himself torn between saving lives and abiding by the rules of heaven. To make matters worse, he falls in love with Kang Ha-ram, which inevitably forces him to disobey the rules against meddling with the affairs of humans. 

25. Watcher (2019)

Image credit: OCN

Main cast:

  • Han Suk-kyu as Do Chi-kwang
  • Seo Kang-joon as Kim Yeong-goon
  • Kim Hyun-joo as Han Tae-joo

Kim Yeong-goon’s mother was murdered and his father is accused of the crime. Police officer Do Chi-kwang brings Yeong-goon’s father into questioning, and prosecutor Han Tae-joo proceeds to convict him with the charge.  

But 15 years later, the three of them – now police officer Yeong-goon, detective Chi-kwang, and lawyer Tae-joo – reunite on the same internal affairs investigation team to reveal the truth behind this incident. 

26. Hello Monster (2015)

Hello Monster
Image credit: KBS

Main cast:

  • Seo In-guk as Lee Hyun
  • Jang Na-ra as Cha Ji-an 
  • Choi Won-young as Lee Joon-ho
  • Park Bo-gum as Jung Sun-ho

A serial killer is on a spree to murder women with similar attributes, and the police department can’t seem to find any evidence for a much-needed breakthrough. 

While detective Cha Ji-an is searching for evidence, criminal profiler Lee Hyun shows up at the scene to review the site and point towards a likely suspect – the one responsible for his father’s murder and his brother’s disappearance when he was a child. 

With a lack of evidence to track down the killer, Ji-an and her team turn to Lee Hyun to assist them in their investigation.

Best gripping thriller Korean dramas

And there you have it – 20 thriller Korean dramas for you to check out if you’re done watching all the romantic K-dramas we’ve compiled previously. Murder, corruption, kidnap, violence and even zombies – you name it, we’ve got it. 

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Cover image adapted from (left to right): Netflix, tvN and SBS

Originally published on 28th April 2020. Last updated by Cha Yookyung and Engracia Ang on 15th December 2021.

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