The Good in 2016 (End of the Year Post, Part I)

Dear Readers - we watched a lot in 2016 ... individually and collectively. The end of the year is a wonderful time to do a bit of soulsearching. In general, but also with regards to Asian drama. Here is our "Best of 2016" list. Each of us got to select 5 Asian dramas they thought stood out. 

The Good


Well my wolf, of course, takes top prize for emotional involvement and I'm not counting it as part of my five, because Scarlet Heart: Ryeo gets the win-my-heart forever Daesang for me. Plus, despite being gorgeous always and swoon-worthy often, it's not well-written, the acting quality varies greatly by actor, and I'm very unhappy with the ending.  How hard would it have been to give us a meet-cute in the current century, Show?  I will never forgive you for leaving my wolf alone in the dark forever.  Never. (Still, you should watch it.  Lee Joon Gi and Kang Haneul give amazing performances from beginning to end. Breathtaking, even, at times, and they are frequently supported by a host of very capable folks who bring some pretty difficult characters to life.)
For overall actual objective goodness, we've got Pied Piper for thrills and brain twistiness, Marriage Contract for the right sort of melo, Five Children for a good long family drama, and hmmm...right now I'm going to say Come Back, Ahjussi for that sort of comedy that makes you laugh but also breaks your heart (and because it's exactly the sort of thing where My Beloved shines), and 1% of Something (the remake) for a romcom.  Oh but then there's Age of Youth, too...damn, I need to go through my list.  Nope, I'm going to stick with what I have, but yes, anything I have mentioned here I would heartily recommend to anyone.


I am a brutal dropper and at the end of every year, I am happy if I have finished a handful of dramas for the end of the year post. This year too, I started many and dropped many - some because I thought they were horrible, some because I didn't have the time (Come Back Ahjussi), one because it made me too sad (Dear My Friends). I regret not getting into one the most and that is Signal. I honestly tried, but it wasn't for me. So many things just didn't feel right for me (it's not the first time this happens with this writer's dramas). I have thought about trying again, but where to get the time?!

I would recommend these 5 dramas. These were the ones I was really, really looking forward to (would even watch raw sometimes).

Pied Piper: Not only did this drama bring Shin Hakyun to my favorable attention, it also combines what I look for in dramas: good writing, good acting, good directing, and good editing. I even got to mention this in an academic journal, because it touched upon many topics I deal with in my "real" job.

On the Way to the Airport: I did not expect to like this, because it's not exactly my kind of topic (too melo and too romance-focused), but it enthralled me from the start and did not let me go. This, too, was really well written and wonderfully acted. In addition, the cinematography was so beautiful (from beginning until end). It pleased me on all levels and it was simply "life like" - something that KDrama doesn't do well often.

Scarlet Heart Goryeo / Moon Lovers: Surprised to see this here? Me too. No, this was NOT a good drama. If I use the categories I used for the other two (writing, acting, directing, editing), it falls short in all those categories. Actually, I am still baffled by how it is even possible to mess something notably pre-produced up so badly. And yet - it captured me emotionally to a degree that makes it special. Lee Jun-ki was simply stellar. Like other objectively bad dramas (Inspiring Generation comes to mind or Goddess of Marriage), I will certainly remember this for a long time. 

1% of Something: Again, this is a surprised for me. I actually don't like RomComs. But not because I don't like the genre per se, but because KDrama has killed my like for it. So many RomComs so badly done! It's a crying shame. But then, this came along and showed me that there is hope: They can still do it. No stupid tropes and horrible cliches - just a story of a man and a woman who falls in love despite the odds and find happiness together.
When a Snail Falls in Love: This is the best C-Drama I watched this year, which speaks for Daylight Entertainment and the quality it seems to stand for. I like it for the genre (crime), for the location shoots, for the script, and the acting.

Honorable mention to Old Nine Gates (because Fo Ye is SO HOT and we had so much fun; sadly, the writing is all over the place) and Ice Fantasy (simply crazy). Both dramas hold a special place in my heart (for different reasons). Recapping C-dramas has become a new trademark of PotUp since Nirvana in Fire and it's really paying off. So many new readers! It was lovely to meet you all.


Sigh, it seems I watched a lot of 2015 shows in 2016. So for now, I have four favorites.

Old Nine Gates because Fo Ye is AWESOME.  Loved all the other good guys, too, and I normally like villains more.   

Ice Fantasy because Shi and Lian Ji and Yan Da were AWESOME.  Pretty good story, too.
Heaven's Promise, a Korean daily drama was an excellent revenge and switched identities show that I couldn't stop watching.  And yes, Lee Yuri is AWESOME. ;-)

Finally, Kazoku no Katachi, about a crochety, misanthropic, late 30s man, Daisuke, who finds love with the crochety, misanthropic late 30s woman who lives above him.  The side story of Daisuke's terminally ill father is not overly melodramatic, and the show as whole balances heartwarming - e.g. Daisuke taking over guardianship for his teenage stepbrother - and funny _ e.g. Daisuke's dad zipping open his son's self-contained world.  Seriously, I think I should download all the episodes and re-watch.


Sadly, due to the death of beloved King Bhumipol of Thailand, many of the lakorns I was watching are on hiatus until 2017 as a period of mourning. I don't want to include any that aren't finished (or may never be finished as there is no announcement to when they may restart). And because of the slow subbing (with gratitude for the few subteams that bring Thai dramas to the English-reading world), much of what I watched and enjoyed at the beginning of the year are, in fact, 2015 dramas.
Morrasoom Sawat / Monsoon Passion: This particular lakorn began in 2015, finishing it's run in February 2016. I watched it raw, though, before ever getting the subtitles to really enjoy the dialogue between the characters. Young mafioso falls in love with an underage schoolgirl, but abandons her. They meet up again 5 years later; she's beaten down trying to keep her family of four together, and he's a cold jerk that can't help but assist her. His mafia shirts are worse than anything you saw in 1 Percent Of Something, but Weir made you want to take him home and feed him cookies and a homemade meal. Totally adorable, yunno, for a gun-wielding gang member.
LoveO2O / Just One Smile Is Very Alluring: My mainland China love. Yang Yang's smile could melt steel, and his ability to dance through the fight scenes wearing that Mane Of Glory was even better the second time around. Despite Zheng Shuang's almost skeletal appearance, I totally adored this couple. There were no great misunderstandings, no episodes of stupid fillers, and even though it was 30 episodes, no great bogdown of the plot. The gaming scenes were very well done, and if I had one (tiny) issue, it was that Wei Wei had little to do within Xiao Nai's company, even though she had the same degree as his adorable compatriots.

Signal: I carried this show on my trip to Japan / South Korea, and boy did it help fill in those long stretches of travel time. I was practically on the edge of my train / plane seat with each episode, worried about the Butterfly Effect and whether Hae-young was going to be able to save his brother. Many times I couldn't even guess what the next twist would be, and the police work was solid even though fictional. I loved our trio of time-skipping crimefighters!! Bring us Season 2!!
Marriage Contract:  Lee Seo-jin and Uee seemed really mismatched at first, but after the first few episodes, I found myself really rooting for this couple to find happiness together. I cried more than I laughed, but I finished it with a big smile. It gave us a realistic yet hopeful ending, and I can totally picture the three of them being a family forever.

1% Of Something: OMG the clothes but OMG the chemistry. The development of Chaebol and Teacher's relationship was very believable and a delight to watch. Their ability to stop the Jealous Clingy Ex-Girlfriend was the most amazing smackdown I've seen in a while. At the end, they (and we) got a great happy ending. Well done, Show.


Oh, we are supposed to focus here. I'm starting again.

Signal: Signal flew to the top of my all time favorite list not just the 2016 list. I've always loved Kim Hye-Soo. She is an actress that I would really like to know. I get the feeling that she is the person who who snap you out of a funk. She is excellent here even playing 10 years younger, which a lot of people cannot pull off. After he relegated his responses to the other veteran actors around him Lee Ji-hoon was quite good, too. However, Cho Jin Woong was a revelation. There wasn't an emotion that he was not required to portray, and he did it effortlessly like he wasn't acting at all.  I wanted to be his friend. 
I wanted to be all of their friends. There wasn't a weak minor character (either actor or development) in the bunch. It was well crafted, making me completely believe in something that was unbelievable from the very first minute in the show. It was so tense at times, I'd pause to get up and walk around. So heartbreaking that I thought I would run out of tears. Bravo, show. Bravo.

Pied Piper: The real tragedy I think here is how underrated this show was. Did it come to soon after Signal, I wonder? If it were on now when there is no other dark crime drama on, would it be doing better? The leads (Shin Ha-Kyun--Kakashi's new love--and Yoo Jung Sang) in this were excellent, and once again I was drawn into the team dynamics more than the romance. The battle between the anti-hero and the villain who thinks he's a hero really was fascinating even after the culprit was revealed. This show also had my favorite married couple of the year in Jo Jae-Yoon's Ji-Hoon and  Lee Jung Eun's Ha Na.
1% of Anything: I liked a lot of couples this year, but I think I liked the way the show handled the falling in love bit with them the most. I remember watching the original and liking it enough but not smitten the way I was with how they clearly fell for each other but still tried to play by the rules even though we all know that love has no rules. I hope this gives both actors a boost for more consistently good roles. Despite the fashion disasters of the show, it was a love, and one I know that I will rewatch soon because of the fuzzies it gives.

Love O2O/Just One Smile is Very Alluring: This was a very fun show even though the female lead was completely miscast. I can't blame her for that. She did a fine job. But of course the focus here was on Yang Yang's Master. Yes, he is beautiful to look at, but what I loved about his character was that he was the anti-drama hero hero. The show kept undermining our expectations for what would happen in traditionally angst-filled situations. He was always like "why should I believe other people instead of my girlfriend?" How many times have you wished that about the hero in the drama? I love how he respected her and fell for her not because of her beauty but because of her skill. He really was the perfect boyfriend character. And let's not forget the Chef. A look from him could burn your clothes off from the length of a football stadium.
Morrasoom Sawaat (or the one that started it all): This is not one of the best dramas I watched this year. It isn't even one of the best lakorns I've watched. but this was my introduction to Weir Sukollawat Kanarot, and as you know that has completely changed my daily habits. I even considered using my Labor Day weekend to go to his fan meet in Minnesota, a 1300 mile, 3.5 hour plane ride away. There was something positively fetching about him in this show (and what I've seen subsequently in other shows). It also had the crazy 2nd leads of great lakorn tradition, and you really wanted to find out what happened. I'm counting this because it started in 2015 and ended in 2016, and I watched it all in 2016.
Honorable mention--Gogh, The Starry Night: A webtoon that was better than most dramas I watched. Loved the characters and the humor and (surprisingly) the office politics.   I rewatched the 2nd half recently when I was home sick, and it made me forget that I was home sick. I enjoyed it so much that I'm considering recapping it--something I said I wouldn't do again for awhile if ever.