History Lessons from K-Dramas

This is my recommended Historical K-drama list…in order of founding. Some of these dramas base their story line very loosely on Korean history, so if you want to know the history, then please read a book or research it online. But I hope you enjoy these drama series. Please be sure to have lots of time to watch them because most of them are very long and addicting from start to finish. You can click on the title of the drama to watch it online or to download it.
Directly about a KingIn-directly about a King (King is not the main character)Shows King through another characterSet in the Time Period of this King

Covers King Tejo (1392-1398), King Jeongjong (1398-1400), King Taejong(1400-1418)

Set in the waning days of the Goryeo Dynasty, this drama depicts the lives and aspirations of six characters in establishing a new country called Joseon, with Lee Bang Won as the central figure. A fusion of saeguk and fiction, the story follows the conflicts of those ‘six flying dragons’ with the entrenched powers set against them, as they attempt to realize the dream they all share of a new nation founded on Confucian principles, which would eventually last for 500 years.
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Covers King Sejong (1418-1450)

This drama is about the life of the fourth king of the Choson Dynasty, King Sejong. He is best remembered for creating the native Korean alphabet, Hangul.
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Based on Lee Jung Myung’s novel “Tree With Deep Roots”. Work that highlights the serial killings during the 7 days before the announcement of the Korean script. A series of murder occurred during the reign of King Sejong. As Kang Chae Yoon who is investigating these cases gets closer to the root of the truth, he finds himself embroiled in a massive conspiracy behind the serial killings which involves a group of genius who are willing to risked their lives towards their cause/goals and secret powers who will interfere with the course of his investigations.
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Covers King Munjong (1450-1452), King Danjong (1452-1455), King Sejo (1455-1468)

Set during the seizure of the throne by Sejo of Joseon in the year 1455, the movie follows the life of Nae-Kyung. Nae-Kyung (Song Kang-Ho) hails from a ruined noble family. He travels around Joseon and studies physiognomy. He is able to asses a person’s personality, mental state, habits and, consequently, their future, by just studying their face. He lives in seclusion with his son Jin-Hyeong (Lee Jong-Suk) and brother-in-law Paeng-Hun (Cho Jung-Seok). Nae-Kyung hopes to one day become a public officer, even though it is virtually impossible due to his family’s failed background.
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A tragic love story between the daughter of Prince Suyang and son of Kim Jong Seo. The son of Kim Jongseo, Seungyoo, is a handsome and wise man who carries a noble quality. Princess Seryeong, a daughter of King Sejo, aka prince Sooyang, is a cheerful, lively lady with a strong curiosity and bold personality. They fall in love instantly but later they find out that their parents are sworn enemies. It’s a Chosun dynasty version of “Romeo and Juliet”
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Covers King Seongjong (1469–1494), King Yeonsan (1494–1506) and King Jungjong (1506–1544)

About 500 years ago during the time of Chosun Dynasty, Korea boasted a rigidly hierarchical and male dominated social structure. Set in this period, “Jewel in the Palace” is based on a true story about a legendary girl (Jang Geum) who became the first woman to be the supreme royal physician of her times. Despite her poor condition as a low class girl in the male dominated society, Jang Geum overcame a series of social discrimination and landed herself as a royal cook, later becoming the royal physician, then ultimately the physician in charge of the king. She was even given by the king the title “The Great Jang Geum.” The story of her checkered life on her success and breakdown as well as her love story beautifully unfold. “Jewel in the Palace” is sure to touch your heart.
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Covers King Seonjo (1567–1608), Gwanghaegun (1608–1623)

Born as a concubine’s child, Gwang Hae was proclaimed as an heir to the throne. Gwang Hae suffered from the threats of dethronement and assassination for 16 years because of his background. This drama is the epic of Prince Gwang Hae who used face-reading skills as his weapon to overcome his destiny and become the king. And there is a woman, beloved by both Gwang Hae and his father King Seon Jo, who denied himself to qualify for the throne. Because Prince Gwang Hae was able to read others’ faces, he succeeded to govern the Joseon Kingdom.
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Covers Gwanghaegun (1608–1623), King Injo (1623-1649)

This interpretation tells of Gwanghae as the son of a concubine and secondary heir, who in his thirst for power, usurps the Crown and ousts his half-sister Jungmyung from the palace. Gwanghae is then deposed in a coup by the Westerners, who replace him with Injo. Extremely paranoid and wanting to stabilise his position, he is also out for Jungmyung’s life.
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Covers King Injo (1623-1649)

Set during the Joseon Dynasty, Yong acted as a hooligan in the marketplace by day but at night he was a thief who robbed corrupted government officials to give to the poor. After each robbery he left behind a painting depicting a plum tree branch to make his mark and was thus named Iljimae. His main purpose was not so much to rob but to search for the owner of a specially designed sword which he saw as a child was used to kill his father, a loyal subject of the emperor. Eun Chae is a government official’s daughter who despite her upbringing has a lot of empathy towards the poor. She met Iljimae by chance and couldn’t help admiring him for what he stood for even though she had never seen his face.
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Kang Chil Woo was a lowly police officer during the Joseon era. His parents were killed in a raid and his main goal was to stay below the radar to survive. However when his sister was killed, his outlook on life was forever changed and in seeking revenge, he turned into an assassin and began to mete out justice to criminals.
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Covers King Hyojong (1649-1659)

Chuno follows the story of Lee Dae Gil, a man of high birth whose family was ruined when Won Ki Yoon, a slave, burnt down his house and escaped with his sister, Un Nyun, who was in love with Dae Gil. Driven by his desire for revenge, he survived his harsh years on the street and made his name as a slave hunter, dedicated in his pursuit to find Un Nyun, his first and only love. Song Tae Ha is a General of the Army who became a slave after being falsely accused of a crime he did not commit, and finds himself on the run from Dae Gil’s relentless pursuit. Both men become entangled in a love triangle with Un Nyun, who is no longer a runaway slave, but Kim Hye Won, a nobleman’s daughter.
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Covers King Hyeonjong (1659-1674)

A Medical drama about the life of a low-class veterinarian of that era who was a horse doctor then becoming a high official as a court physician in charge of the king’s health in the late period of the Joseon Dynasty.
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Covers King Hyeonjong (1659-1674), King Sukjong (1674-1720)

This drama tells the story of Jang Ok Jung, known as Lady Jang Hee Bin, one of Korea’s best known royal concubines of the Joseon Dynasty and famous for her hunger for power and ruthless plotting. However, this drama will tell a completely new interpretation of the infamous royal concubine Lady Jang Hee Bin and show the story before she became concubine and how her involvement as a fashion designer and cosmetics-maker during that era. This drama will also highlight the love story between Jang Ok Jung and King Sukjong
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Set during the reign of King Sukjong in the Joseon dynasty, the story focuses on Dong Yi, a water maid who gains the trust of Queen Inhyeon and later the favour of the king when he is moved by her prayers for the health of the Queen during the court disputes caused by Jang Hee Bin. Dong Yi becomes a concubine with the rank of sook-bin and bears a son who will later become the 21st king of Joseon, Yeongjo.
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Covers King Sukjong (1674-1720), King Gyeongjong (1720-1724), King Yeongjo (1724-1776)

  The story of an unfortunate prince named Yeong-soo (Dae-gil), who is born with the fate of royalty but lives the life of a peasant, and Yeong-jo who has everything. It’s a faction (fact-fiction) historical about the conflicts of love, fate and the throne.
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Covers King Yeongjo (1724-1776), King Jeongjo (1776-1800)

A historical drama about the conflict between father King Young Jo, who wished to strengthen the King′s rule, and his son Crown Prince Sado, who dreamt of making his country one where all are equal. This drama will tell the discovery of the truth behind the mystery surrounding Sado’s death which was sentenced to death by his own father King Young Jo.
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Set during the reign of King Yeongjo, the film is about the life of Crown Prince Sado, the heir to the throne who was deemed unfit to rule and, at age 27, was condemned to death by his own father by getting locked in a rice chest for eight days until he suffocated and starved.
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Yi San dramatizes the life of Korea’s King Jeongjo, the 22nd ruler of the Joseon Dynasty. Jeongjo is remembered in Korean history for his sympathy with the plight of the common man, in spite of his own pampered upbringing as royalty. The drama begins with the King’s early years, during which he befriends two children working in the Palace who are later expelled. King Yeongjo (Jeongjo’s grandfather) seals Jeongjo’s father, Crown Prince Sado, in a rice storage chest with no food or water because he fears that the crown prince is planning a coup. Jeongjo wants to save his father, and with the help of his friends Seong Song Yeon and Park Dae Su, begs King Yeongjo to forgive the Crown Prince. The drama then skips forward to Jeongjo’s adult years when he and his friends re-establish contact with each other. Throughout, Jeongjo’s position as Crown Prince is threatened by palace intrigues.
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Based on the 2010 comic Honorable Baek Dong-soo by Lee Jae-heon, the series is about how Joseon historical figure Baek Dong-soo grew to become a swordsman and folk hero. Baek was one of the three authors of Muyedobotongji, a pivotal martial arts work commissioned by King Jeongjo. Set against the backdrop of political maneuverings in Joseon between different factions, namely those led by King Jeongjo, by the Qing ambassador, by the Japanese swordsman Kenzo, and the assassin’s guild Heuksa Chorong, at its core the series is a coming-of-age drama about brotherhood, friendship, loyalty and honor.
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Set during an era when society does not allow females to be educated nor employed, Kim Yoon-hee (Park Min-young) disguises herself as her brother, Kim Yoon-shik, in order to make ends meet for her family. She goes through a series of odd jobs, mainly at a local bookstore, before she gets offered a chance to increase her earnings by becoming a substitute test-taker (an illegal act) for the upcoming entrance examination in the prestigious Sungkyunkwan. She gets caught by the upright Lee Sun-joon (Park Yoochun), who later acknowledges Yoon-hee’s talents, and even encourages her to enroll in the university. There, she must bear with the endless mischief of upperclassman Gu Yong-ha (Song Joong-ki), put up with the constant mood swings of roommate Moon Jae-shin (Yoo Ah-in), avoid getting in trouble with the strict student body president Ha In-soo (Jun Tae-soo), keep her secret from being discovered, all the while trying to hold her growing feelings for Lee Sun-joon at bay.
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