12 Highly-Rated K-Dramas That Were Based On Real Events

A few might be unexpected for viewers.

While many Korean dramas are the work of complete fiction, some take inspiration from true stories. Here are twelve highly-rated K-Dramas that were based on real-life events.

1. Through the Darkness (2022)

The highly-rated thriller is adapted from the non-fiction book of the same name, co-written by journalist-turned-author Ko Na Mu and Korea’s first criminal profiler Kwon Il Yong. Like the autobiography, the K-Drama follows a criminal profiler who analyzes the actions of criminals to discover behavioral patterns.

2. Fight For My Way (2017)

The slice-of-life K-Drama was inspired by MMA fighter Choo Sung Hoon, also known as Yoshihiro Akiyama, and his wife Yano Shiho. The show’s writer was moved by seeing Yano Shiho cry while watching her husband fight, shining a light on how difficult it is for fighters’ families.

3. D.P. (2021)

Although D.P. is adapted from Kim Bo Tong‘s webtoon D.P. Dog’s Day, that doesn’t make it fiction. It’s based on the real bullying, violence, hazing, and deserting Kim Bo Tong witnessed during his mandatory military service. As a co-writer for the K-Drama, Kim Bo Tong even included additional experiences not included in the webtoon.

4. Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth (2016)

While Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth earned high ratings, it also earned mixed reactions for its accuracy. Despite the K-Drama not fully showcasing the history, it was still based on true events. Hwarang were elite warriors of the Silla Kingdom, assembled by King Jin Heung, later becoming the greatest military leaders and generals.


5. Signal (2016)

Although Signal features supernatural elements, like communicating through a walkie-talkie from the present to the past, it took inspiration from real life. It was based on the ten women and girls serial killer Lee Chun Jae murdered in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi from 1986 to 1991. He recently confessed to killing fourteen.

6. Juvenile Justice (2022)

The legal drama is inspired by South Korea’s Juvenile Act, which protects children under the age of fourteen from receiving any criminal punishment for their acts—even for murder. Instead, they are given community service or a couple of years in a detention center. Juvenile Justice references these true crimes, along with others committed by juveniles, for its cases.

7. The Red Sleeve (2021)

The historical romance is adapted from a book of the same name that documents the relationship between the King of Joseon, King Jeongjo, and a court lady Seong Ui Bin—who rejected his proposals to become a concubine twice.

8. Narco-Saints: Suriname (2022)

While the K-Drama Narco-Saints: Suriname took viewers on a wild ride, the true events that inspired it were just as action-packed. It’s based on the real life of drug lord Cho Bong Haeng. He fled Korea in 1994 after being suspected of fraud, moved to Suriname to build a drug smuggling empire, and was later arrested in 2009 from a joint investigation by Korea, Brazil, and the United States.

9. Listen to Love (2016)

Listen to Love (also known as My Wife’s Having an Affair this Week) took inspiration from an unexpected source. It was eerily similar to a real viral post on a Korean forum where a man asked, “My wife’s having an affair this week. What should I do?

10. The Hymn of Death (2018)

The Hymn of Death adapts the tragic romance of the first professional soprano Yum Sim Deok and talented playwright Kim U Jin. Since Kim U Jin was already married when the two met, they began an affair that later ended in suicide as they jumped off a passenger ship together in 1926. The K-Drama received its name from Yun Sim Deok’s song “Hymn of Death”, which became a bestseller following her death.

11. Big Bet (2022)

The hit series Big Bet is full of twists and turns about the seedy underworld of gambling and murder, which is truer than viewers thought. Director Kang Yoon Sung was inspired by a Korean casino owner in the Philippines and wanted to document his story.

‘Big Bet’ was inspired by a Korean casino owner in the Philippines, according to the director. After meeting people who knew the casino owner, Kang decided to write the story and turn it into a drama series.

— Lee Si Jin

| Disney+

12. Move to Heaven (2021)

The heartbreaking drama follows trauma cleaners, those who clean up after someone dies, and is inspired by the non-fiction essay Things Left Behind. The essay was written by Kim Sae Byul, founder of the trauma cleaning company Bio Hazard, which helped the K-Drama shine a light on godoska (lonely deaths/dying alone).

Source: The Korea Herald and Korea JoongAng Daily
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