The 11 Best Korean Movies and TV Shows on Netflix

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The 11 Best Korean Movies and TV Shows on Netflix

South Korean filmmaking finally got its due when Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite won both the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Picture in 2019. But the Korean film renaissance has been going strong for much of the 21st century thanks to directors like Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Yeon Sang-ho and Lee Chang-dong. Now worldwide audiences are being treated to Korean TV shows, as well, with The Squid Game and Hellbound becoming instant Netflix hits.

Netflix has a decent selection of Korean content with 35 movies and 179 TV shows, including several Netflix originals. From drama and action/adventure to sci-fi and horror, here are the 11 Best Korean movies and TV shows on Netflix:

1. Night in Paradise

night-in-paradise-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Park Hoon-jung
Stars: Uhm Tae-goo, Jeon Yeo-been, Cha Seung-won, Park Ho-san
Genre: Drama, Film Noir
Runtime: 131 minutes

Watch on Netflix

Writer/director Park Hoon-jung’s sixth feature, Night in Paradise, posits that revenge is a dish best served raw. Characters feast on mulhoe—spicy raw seafood soup served chilled—a delicacy that elicits childhood memories and reminiscences of pleasurable meals shared with family members who have since died at the violent whims of spiteful gangsters. Instead of acting as a point of catharsis, these recollections fuel a fruitless pursuit for vengeance. After his terminally ill sister and her child become the latest targets of the Bukseong gang, professional hitman and rival Yang gang member Tae-gu (Uhm Tae-goo) attempts to settle the score by ambushing the culprits he believes responsible for their murder. With the ruthless Chief Ma (Cha Seung-won) mobilizing the entire Bukseong faction to catch and kill Tae-gu, he is ushered off to Jeju Island where he will stay with an assassin-turned-arms-dealer before permanently relocating to Russia. In lieu of personally fetching Tae-gu upon his arrival, the old man sends his young but ailing niece Jae-yeon (Jeon Yeo-been) to chauffeur the fugitive back to their island abode. Not one to mince words or feign politeness, Jae-yeon is initially contemptuous towards Tae-gu and resents her uncle’s participation in his escape. Her own past has seen relatives needlessly sacrificed in the name of gang rivalry, a point that inadvertently allows the two would-be adversaries to bond over their incalculable loss—as well as, of course, their shared love of mulhoe. While the visual and thematic richness of Night in Paradise could adequately carry the film on their own, the wry comedic tone that often infiltrates even the darkest exchanges between characters enhances the overall emotional payoff. This is particularly true of Jae-yeon and Chief Ma, who—despite having death as an omnipresent specter in their lives—manage to contribute nonchalant levity, whether that be after a near death experience or while overseeing orchestrated assassinations. Park’s careful attention to multifaceted and often intersecting sentiments keeps the viewer consistently enthralled in the narrative web he weaves, an undeniable boon for a two-hour-plus film. Night in Paradise is most incisive in these complex moments of bitter ambiguity. It would be impossible and ineffective to attempt to aptly deduce the most morally correct way to overcome a rabid desire to avenge those who have been unjustly ripped away from this mortal coil. Park lingers in the burning rawness of these compulsions. Whether the viewer finds the piquant discomfort alluring or is ultimately left soured by the ordeal is merely a matter of palate.—Natalia Keogan

2. Okja

okja-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, An Seo Hyun, Byun Heebong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yoon Je Moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Woo Shik Choi, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal
Genre: Sci-fi & Fantasy, Action
Rating: NR
Runtime: 118 minutes

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Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. What appears to be a sticking point for some critics and audiences, particularly Western ones, is the seemingly erratic tone, from sentiment to suspense to giddy action to whimsy to horror to whatever it is Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. But this is part and parcel with what makes Bong Joon-ho movies, well, Bong Joon-ho movies: They’re nuanced and complex, but they aren’t exactly subtle or restrained. They have attention to detail, but they are not delicate in their handling. They have multiple intentions, and they bring those intentions together to jam. They are imaginative works that craft momentum through part-counterpart alternations, and Okja is perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality. Okja is also not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chad Betz

3. Squid Game

squid-game-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Creator: Hwang Dong-hyuk
Stars: Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Wi Ha-jun
Genre: Thriller
Rating: TV-MA

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Honeyed snacks, candy-colored walls, and a larger-than-life doll all sound like a child’s fantasy come to life. But inside the world of Squid Game on Netflix, innocent nostalgia comes with a body count as 456 individuals compete to the death in playground games for $45.6 billion Korean won (or $38.6 million American dollars). All on the brink of financial ruin and desperate for a way out, the players are pitted against each other by the rich and powerful for entertainment, until there’s just one victor left standing. Released on September 17th, the South Korean drama already boasts significant accolades. It’s the first Korean show to ever top Netflix’s U.S. Top 10, it’s the platform’s number one series across the globe, and it’s currently on track to become the most popular Netflix series ever—usurping period romance Bridgerton. Created by genre-spanning filmmaker Hwang Dong-hyuk, Squid Game’s plot line will feel familiar to anyone who’s seen The Hunger Games or Battle Royale, the Japanese cult favorite that popularized the battle royale genre. Yet rather than take place in any dystopian landscape, Squid Game grounds its premise through a real-world, contemporary setting. The “last-man-standing” hook means there’s a predictability to how it all plays out, but Hwang is less concerned with subverting the battle royale formula as much as digging into the human stakes that make it tick.

Manipulated by fine print, the Squid Game competitors aren’t initially aware of the life-or-death consequences they’ve signed up for. After the first game’s mass casualties, a loophole gives them the chance to opt out from playing and return safely to their empty bank accounts. The choice seems like a no-brainer from an outside perspective. But as the essential second episode reveals, there are no good options for those on society’s margins, and a worry-free existence where money isn’t a daily stressor seems impossible to obtain. The games are bad—but who’s to say the real world isn’t worse? —Annie Lyons

4. Snowpiercer

snowpiercer.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt
Genre: Sci-fi, Action
Rating: R
Runtime: 126 minutes

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There is a sequence midway through Snowpiercer that perfectly articulates what makes Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho among the most dynamic filmmakers currently working. Two armies engage in a no-holds-barred, slow motion-heavy action set piece. Metal clashes against metal, and characters slash through their opponents as if their bodies were made of butter. It’s gory, imaginative, horrifying, beautiful, visceral and utterly glorious. Adapted from a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is a sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world. Nearly two decades prior, in an ill-advised attempt to halt global warning, the government inundated the atmosphere with an experimental chemical that left our planet a barren, ice-covered wasteland. Now, the last of humanity resides on “Snowpiercer,” a vast train powered via a perpetual-motion engine. Needless to say, this scenario hasn’t exactly brought out the best of humanity. Bong’s bleak and brutal film may very well be playing a song that we’ve all heard before, but he does it with such gusto and dexterous skill you can’t help but be caught up the flurry. —Mark Rozeman

5. Kingdom

kingdom-netflix-poster.jpg Year: 2019-21
Created by: Kim Eun-hee, Kim Seong-hun
Stars: Ju Ji-hoon, Ryu Seung-ryong, Bae Doo-nam, Kim Sung-kyu
Genre: Horror, Action
Rating: TV-MA

Watch on Netflix

American (or even just Western) zombies are almost always the driving point of the narrative—representing big nasty threats like national anxiety about disease, nuclear war, capitalism, the collapse of society, and racism—often limiting the genre’s possibilities and focusing their plots largely on external forces. By contrast, in Kingdom (transported to South Korea’s Joseon period) these stories become more interested in how existing structures (and the normal people living inside them) handle the threat, and how coping makes them better equipped for the inevitable return to normal. Western zombie shows allow their audiences to appreciate how society adapts to these monstrous allegories, forming the factional city-states of The Walking Dead (Alexandria, Hilltop, Woodbury) or the religious zeal of Santa Clarita Diet’s Anne Garcia (Natalie Morales); Korean zombies rage in a society that ultimately stays the same. The latter’s evils are amplified and exposed by the zombies, but the infected undead also catalyze a satisfying hero’s journey in the midst of misguided magistrates, fear-based isolationism, and class warfare. —Jacob Oller

6. Hellbound

hellbound.jpg Year: 2021
Creator: Choi Kyu-sok
Stars: Yoo Ah-in, Kim Hyun-joo, Park Jeong-min
Genre: Supernatural thriller
Rating: TV-MA

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Netflix’s second blockbuster Korean series of the year is based on Yeon Sang-ho’s webcomic Hellbound, asking what would happen if angels started appearing on earth, telling humans that they were soon going to be dragged to hell by ultra-violent smoke demons, while all of Seoul—and the world—looked on. I’m just one episode in, but the pilot is more intriguing than the premise should be, as the show wrestles with questions of faith, judgment and redemption in the face of undeniable evidence. Yoo Ah-in stars as the charismatic cult leader of the New Truth Society, and Yang Ik-june is the detective still treating the mysterious deaths as murders, while his daughter (played by Lee Re) becomes involved with the cult. —Josh Jackson

7. Space Sweepers

space-sweepers-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Jo Sung-hee
Stars: Song Joong-ki, Kim Tae-ri, Jin Seon-kyu, Yoo Hae-jin
Genre: Sci-fi, Action
Rating: NR
Runtime: 136 minutes

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Netflix introduced its audience to Southeast Asian big-budget sci-fi with the Chinese film The Wandering Earth, a mess of a story that was still beautiful to look at. Space Sweepers, from Korean filmmaker Jo Sung-hee, is a much more cohesive and coherent offering with just as much flash. The dystopian setting sees the head of a giant tech company creating an Eden on Mars, essentially consigning most of humanity to poverty and pollution. A ragtag team of space-junk collectors is each looking after their own self-interest when they find a mysterious young girl who entangles them in much larger worries. With compelling characters, thrilling action sequences and an engaging plot, it’s a strong entry for Korea’s first sci-fi blockbuster. —Josh Jackson

8. Boys Over Flowers

boys-over-flowers.jpg Year: 2009
Creators: Jeon Ki-sang, Yoon Ji-ryun
Stars: Ku Hye-sun, Lee Min-ho, Kim Hyun-joong, Kim Beom
Genre: Teen Romance
Rating: TV-14

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Meet the Korean Chuck Bass: Corporate heir Jun-Pyo has got Chuck’s sneer and the sharp suits down pat. When Jun-Pyo and his boy band-like entourage of longhairs, the F4, stroll into a room, girls at Shinhwa High go Beatlesmania. But when rebellious, quirky Jan-Di surfs a serendipitous scholarship to Korea’s most exclusive high school, she bathes F4 in contempt, eviscerating them for their cruel, spoiled behavior. There’s nothing like an outlier to turn a rich boy’s heart—at least in the pictures, right? But while Jan-Di melts Jun-Pyo’s cruel, cruel heart, she finds herself warming up to quiet, mysterious, sonata-shredding F4-er Ji-Hoo, who plays the Nate Archibald of the series. We’re guessing you can predict who’ll win Cinderella’s heart, if Gossip Girl taught you anything about the cruel fantasies of TV-land: some love and heartbreak stories are universal. —Dakota Kim

9. Psychokinesis

psychokinesis-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Stars: Ryu Seung-ryong, Shim Eun-kyung, Park Jung-min
Genre: Superhero, Action
Rating: NR
Runtime: 101 minutes

Watch on Netflix

Following up Train to Busan, his adroit add-on to the endlessly alive zombie genre, Yeon Sang-ho offers another interpretation of the zeitgeist with Psychokinesis, building a deft, vaguely political room of South Korea’s own in the cinematic superhero universe. Ryu Seung-ryong plays everyman nobody Shin Seok-heon, a dopey security guard estranged from his family, brought back into daughter Roo-mi’s (Shim Eun-kyung) life after a gang of unionized construction workers accidentally kill her mother while attempting to evict the young fried chicken entrepreneur from their small storefront. Also: Seok-heon has burgeoning superpowers of the titular variety, contracted when he drinks from a public spring polluted with an alien substance recently released into the earth via crashed space rock. Though Yeon (who also wrote the film) typically confuses comic book sensibility with a total lack of deeply written characters struggling under actually interesting motivations and backstories, Yeon isn’t particularly driven by the same forces as the MCU or the DCEU: Psychokinesis has an unfettered heart, an unfussy melodrama, in ways films of those brands don’t, not burdened by the same economic pressure—while also declaring very clearly that the police are bad. It’s all pretty refreshing in the wake of an Infinity War. —Dom Sinacola

10. White Nights

white-nights.jpg Year: 2016
Creator: Han Ji-hoon
Stars: Lee Yo-won, Jim Goo, U-ie, Jung Hae-in, Jeon Kook-hwan, Jung Han-yong
Genre: Drama
Rating: TV-14

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Desperately broke, seemingly innocent Se-Jin encounters steely, self-possessed Yi-Kyung by chance, but their rendezvous seems fated when Se-Jin proves she has the mettle to be a daring yes-woman for Yi-Kyung’s dangerous, ruthless business enterprise, Gallery S. CEO Yi-Kyung strives to break Se-Jin of her limiting, bourgeois views on money so she can live fearlessly as a financial assassin and conscienceless corporate warrior. But Yi-Kyung’s plans to mold and use Se-Jin go much farther than even Se-Jin anticipates, deep into a historical feud with her former lover, Gun-Woo, an unlikely corporate rival and free spirit. The drama is slow to unfold, but White Nights balances its mystery with stylish, polished visuals, deviously juicy plot twists, and vulnerable, relatable characters. And of course, no Korean drama would be complete without a love triangle. —Dakota Kim

11. #Alive

alive-zombie-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Cho Il-hyung
Stars: Yoo Ah-in, Park Shin-hye
Rating: NR
Runtime: 99 minutes

Watch on Netflix

Fans of zombie cinema were hotly anticipating at least one South Korean zombie feature this year: Peninsula, the sequel to the much-loved Train to Busan was heavily hyped, but ultimately fell far short of the original. Thankfully, though, there was another Korean zombie flick waiting in the wings to step into its place, in the form of the significantly more successful (if modest) #Alive. Fans of the original World War Z novel will certainly find this story familiar, as it’s suspiciously similar to one of that book’s better-loved passages, about a young gamer/hacker in Japan who is so deeply engrossed in the web, he fails to notice the world descending into a zombie apocalypse around him, before finally being forced to unplug and go on the run. Here, the same basic premise is simply transplanted to South Korea, where the introverted protagonist must rappel down the side of his apartment building to avoid the prowling dead, while also looking for other survivors hiding among the carnage. It’s a much tighter, more neatly executed story than the disappointing excesses of Peninsula, perfect for pandemic-era viewing. —Jim Vorel