I don’t know what your tastes are and I myself have not seen many Korean dramas, but I’ll go ahead and recommend High Kick, just because my friend was a writer on that show and she is awesome and really funny.
I’ll tell you my experiences. These may or may not be on your list.
My Lovely Sam-soon. Highly recommended. Mostly light romantic comedy, but some drama as well. And the main character (Sam-soon) is very engaging.
Damo. I have not seen it (it’s on my shelf at home) but my wife liked it a lot.
Happy Family. Just okay. Family drama. Worth a watch but don’t rush out to buy it.
Sungkyunkwan Scandal. Have not seen but my wife says it is the best one she’s ever watched. She made me promise to watch it. And I will, once I get the DVD set from YesAsia.
All In. Here’s a good action/romance set in the world of gangsters and gambling. This was the first K-series I ever watched and I really liked it.
Stairway to Heaven. A high point for Korean melodrama. In my opinion, one of the most effective things I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to say “the best” because it is absolutely gut-wrenching.
The antagonists personify calculated evil and the poor protagonist just has one thing after another happen to her. I was absolutely glued to this series, although at some points I didn’t know if I could go on. I had every emotional reaction possible X10. I highly highly recommend this series, as long as you realize you’re not getting light rom-com. (For that, go with **Sam-soon **which is very funny and cute).
I would say no, there are no Korean dramas like LOST, Arrested Development, Community or Firefly. Korean dramas, generally speaking, are best at things that don’t really exist in American television shows, except possibly in soap operas, but I’ve never really watched those. Plus, dramas usually wrap it up within what would be, in America, considered “one season.” This gives them a completely different feel.
Korean dramas ARE very, very good at being emotion-porn. I would agree that My Lovely Sam-soon is the best I ever saw, but it’s essentially a romance novel with some comedy, which is a genre that doesn’t really exist in American TV. Almost all Korean dramas are played very broadly, which Americans tend to have differing reactions to. It’s probably worth trying out Sam-soon to judge if that kind of melodrama appeals to you.
Take the above to heart, Frylock. If you are trying to find a K-TV series that you can shoehorn into an American-style TV experience, you will be disappointed. To follow up on what **Tanaqui **said, K-dramas are scripted to last anywhere from 16 - 24 episodes, and that’s it. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end which are predetermined.
American TV, on the other hand, is open ended and the writers have to keep coming up with new stuff if they get extended, or the series ends abruptly if it gets cancelled. *Nothing *like the scripted K-dramas. (There *may *be K-TV that follows the U.S. model but I wouldn’t know about it and am not interested.)
Emotion-porn is an excellent way to put it. And no one does it better than the Koreans. No matter what genre a series is described as (comedy, romance, family drama, action, sci-fi, historical, etc), you will get a very wide range and mix. And melodrama. Koreans LOVE melodrama. Slapstick and silliness will turn into heartbreak and pathos on a dime. There will be moments of WTF? if you are not used to it, but if you go into it with no set expectations you might find you like it. I do.
(And if you want Korean movie recommendations, ask here or PM me–I’ve seen about 250 of all genres.)
I used to watch some of the Korean historical dramas like Age of Warriors and The Immortal Yi Soon Shin. They were a lot of fun, lasted well over 100 episodes each and had an historical basis that I was previously unfamiliar with. It helped that there were message boards like this one with people actively commenting on them and giving some historical context.
Korean historical dramas tend to be overly dramatic in their acting, but I’ve enjoyed quite a few of them. Damo is kinda sorta historical - very entertaining but also quite angsty. Daejangguem was also a popular one.