2022 Favorites: Maknae’s Choice

Gone are the years when the ‘damsel in distress’ is the only female archetype that becomes the main character in K-dramas. This year, there is a more noticeable shift in the way a woman’s story is told. There is more effort to diversify the tales shared with us. Characters who walked into our screen have richer backgrounds and are definitely determined to make their own choices even in those fictional settings.

My top pick K-dramas this year have real strong female leads who said no to hollow female empowerment and definitely campaigned for more significant representation. Here, I present my 2022 Favorites!

Inspector Koo

This action-thriller starring Lee Young-ae wasn’t a top-of-mind choice. But as I recall my year in terms of K-dramas, I realized that watching this 12-episode series was one of those moments in 2022 I truly enjoyed. Inspector Koo isn’t your typical cat-and-mouse thriller. The series proved that thrillers shouldn’t be bound to gender stereotypes and that an all-female-led cast can make such a story exciting too. It’s a must-watch, especially for those who appreciate theatrical storytelling and characters who defy the norms.

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One

Whether you love or hate Twenty-Five, Twenty-One’s ending, this series is still no doubt one of the best in 2022. Na Hee-do, Ko Yu-rim, and Ji Seung-wan all stood out in their chosen field in an era when women with careers on top of their minds are shunned as cold and heartless. And even if the romance element didn’t satisfy its hopeful audience, Twenty-Five, Twenty-One still beautifully conveyed the message it wanted to impart. The moments we shared with Hee-do, Yi-jin, and the rest of their friends would surely stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended to watch if you need characters who utter comforting dialogues about growing up, youthful dreams, and life in general. 

Our Beloved Summer

When choosing which drama deserves the third spot in my top three list I couldn’t choose between Twenty-Five, Twenty-One, and Our Beloved Summer so I decided to include both. These two series are both told the tales of coming-of-age couples but only one gets a second chance while the other ends up with a heartbreaking realistic break-up. While Twenty-Five, Twenty-One banks on nostalgia for its storytelling, Our Beloved Summer’s narrative is simpler. Frenemies became lovers then life happened and they broke up BUT THEN they got another chance at love. That description might sound cliché but its execution definitely isn’t. Our Beloved Summer fleshed out its two characters Choi Ung and Kook Yeon-seo’s individuality like I was reading a really good romance novel in switching POVs. My words wouldn’t be enough to know why a lot of people are raving about this series, all I can say is YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY WATCH IT.   

Little Women

A list of 2022 K-dramas filled with strong female characters would be complete if I don’t include the Oh sisters. Little Women is that series that would put you at the edge of your seat all throughout but at the same time is still rich with heart-wrenching family dramas and lessons about self-growth. Kim Go-eun’s Oh In-ju climbed to the top of my favorite characters from this year’s series. Uhm Ji-won’s portrayal was definitely a standout. From the main leads to the villains, this series is what a true female-led story looks like. 

Under the Queen’s Umbrella

I really thought my 2022 list would end with Little Women but then a Queen came dashing through my list and grabbed her rightful crown. Kim Hye-soo’s performance here alone is worthy of a top spot in any K-drama year-ender list out there. Queen Im Hwa-ryeong isn’t your typical Joseon royal. She’s walking – running – paradox inside a traditional institution. She could be hot-tempered at times but has a kind heart for all the struggling princes. She’s sensitive but understanding and she could definitely trick the rival faction with her smartness and quick-wit. This character isn’t the only reason to watch Under the Queen’s Umbrella. The grand prince’s individual arcs, the subplots of the concubines, and even its romance elements are well executed to give this my must-watch approval.

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