Korea has demonstrated its soft power in recent decades with the growing influence of K-pop and K-dramas which have appeared to become an ubiquitous source of entertainment around the world. While the anime from the country has not had the same exposure, it is certainly going to gain more traction in the coming years with the growing adaptation of the popular manhwa from the country. But it should be noted that there are already shows that have done well by addressing a multitude of socio-political issues, offering heartwarming anecdotes, or simply delivering pure entertainment through action-packed dramas. The interesting fables that offer a taste of local culture have their own distinct appeal, so we have compiled a list of the best Korean anime that you should definitely watch.
22. My Beautiful Girl, Mari (2002)
Directed by Sung-gang Lee, ‘My Beautiful Girl, Mari’ or ‘Mari Iyagi’ is a slice-of-life anime written by Kang Su-jeong and Seo Mi-ae. The anime follows Kim Nam-woo, a young adult who is struggling to come to terms with the pain of parting ways with his loves ones. His widowed mother no longer has time for her while his only friend Jun-ho is moving to Seoul leaving him hopelessly alone. In order to overcome the pain, he ends up in a dream world where he becomes acquainted with a beautiful girl named Mari. As he spends time with her, Kim Nam-woo slowly matures and discovers his true purpose in the process.
21. Blade of the Phantom Master (2004)
‘Blade of the Phantom Master’ or ‘Shin Angyo Onshi’ is an epic fantasy action film directed by Jouji Shimura. The film revolves around Munsu, a lone warrior who is almost on the verge of dying after getting lost in the desert for many days. Just when he thinks, his life is coming to an untimely end, a young man named Mon-ryon saves him.
Interestingly, his girlfriend Chunhyan is captured by Lord Byonand and he is desperate to save her. But before he could achieve his ambitious goal, desert goblins notorious for their cannibalistic nature take Mon-ryon’s life. Munsu barely survives and decides to complete the ambitious goal set by his dead savior. Once he free Chunhyan, the two set out to punish the people responsible for the fall of Jushin, a once-great country that was destroyed sometime in the past.
20. Tower of God (2020 -)
The chosen people a.k.a Regulars are summoned by the powerful tower that grants them every wish, be it wealth, power, or popularity. Far removed from these materialistic pursuits, a boy named Twenty-Fifth Bam has lived most of his life in a cave wearing soiled clothes. His otherwise depressing and sorrowful life suddenly seems colorful when Rachel enters his life the two become close friends. The duo discuss everything under the sun and Bam gets to learn a lot about the outside world from his friend. But when Rachel sets her eyes on climbing the tower, her friend suddenly finds himself alone again. Determined to pursue her, Bam decides to follow her path and ends up shaking the very foundation of the Tower itself becoming an Irregular in the process. This marks the beginning of a new life for the young boy as countless adventures wait for him in the future. Feel free to watch the show here.
19. Lookism (2022)
Inspired by Taejun Pak’s South Korean webtoon of the same, ‘Lookism’ addresses several sensitive subjects and tries to bring awareness to issues that deserve more attention. The show revolves around the high schooler Park Hyung Suk, who frequently gets bullied or even assaulted by other teenagers merely because of his appearance and insecurities. Naturally, he is tired of the relentless mockery and ridicule, so he hopes to just disappear. When he decides to transfer to a new school, he gets the shock of his life as he wakes up in the morning as a tall, good-looking, and strangely athletic high schooler. It turns out that he has somehow become the owner of two disparate bodies and because of that he now gets to experience what life is like for people with looks that are considered attractive by societal standards. You can watch the show here.
18. The God of High School (2020)
The titular tournament pits high school students against each other in pursuit of the greatest fighter. The competition allows participants to use any means necessary to win and the champion gets to fulfill a wish that they desire. In this chaotic and dangerous contest, Taekwondo expert Jin Mo-Ri, swordswoman Yu Mi-Ra, and karate specialist Han Dae-Wi meet and become friends with each other despite knowing that they are about to enter a battlefield from which no one will return the same. As these fighters prepare to put everything on the line for their dreams and aspirations, the political leaders keep a close eye on the tournament for their own selfish reasons. You can watch the show here.
17. Noblesse (2020)
Noblesse Cadis Etrama di Raizel or Rai is pushed by his servant Frankenstein to join the Ye Ran High School as the dangerous shadow organization named Union is desperate for his blood. Although Rai soon adjusts to his new environment and makes friends, his peaceful life is disturbed by the Union who kidnaps all his friends. A rouge member of the evil organization soon starts helping Rai on the insistence of Frankenstein, but his own life is deeply entangled in all the mess making it increasingly hard for him to be of much use. As Noblesse Cadis Etrama tries to keep his identity a secret, Nobles Regis K. Landegre and Seira J. Loyard also join the same school just to investigate Rai. It creates a strange dynamic at school with each party trying to get more influence and power than other so that they can achieve their twisted goals. Feel free to watch the show here.
16. Solo Leveling (2024 -)
Everything changed forever when the Gate connecting the real world to the realm of magic and monsters suddenly appeared around a decade ago. Hunters with superhuman abilities started fighting against these dangerous beasts to keep civilians safe. Although it can be a lucrative job for many, twenty-year-old Sung Jin-Woo is not among the lucky few as he has a pathetic power that has earned him the infamous title of world’s weakest. Since he desperately needs money to pay his mother’s medical bills, Jin-Woo puts everything on the line, over and over again to ensure that he shoulders all his responsibilities. But when he decides to reluctantly take part in an unrealistic and intense training program, it sets him on a path to become the world’s most fearsome Hunters. You can watch the anime here.
15. Sky Blue (2003)
Revolving around the complex themes of class struggle and environmental degradation, ‘Sky Blue’ a.k.a ‘Wonderful Days’ is a South Korean science fiction film. The Kim Moon-saeng directorial is set in the year 2142 and paints a frightening picture of the future. As human civilization has fallen apart because of Environmental degradation, cities like Ecoban that rely on smart and savvy energy production techniques have become home to people. Interestingly, the carbonite extraction for these processes is done away from the city and one of the people who takes an active part in ensuring things are carried out smoothly is named Shua. Despite the horrible conditions he finds himself in, the young man actually has hope as he is in love. But soon he realizes that romance in real-life is far more complex than it appears in most stories.
14. A Day Before Us (2018 – 2019)
Ha Eun’s day could not be any worse as she is stuck in the rain without an umbrella. So when she recognizes a familiar face, she is quick to say hi but is met with a cold shoulder. However, this does not dissuade her from trying again and she takes shelter in the boy’s umbrella. While this in itself is not such a bad thing, Ha Eun ends up accidentally hugging the guy following which she is left red-faced. Interestingly, the boy does not respond much and simply boards the bus. But the two appear to have been destined to meet each other as Ha Eun’s friends invite both of them for dinner soon afterwards. When everyone leaves, the duo spends some intimate moments together that change the trajectory of their lives forever.
13. Winter Sonata (2009 – 2010)
Inspired by the South Korean television series of the same name, ‘Winter Sonata’ is a romantic drama anime. The show revolves around Yoo Jin, who falls in love with a boy named Joon Sang at a very young age. But their story does not have a happy ending as Sang tragically dies in an accident. In order to move on and start a new life, Yoo Jin decides to tie the knot with her childhood friend, not knowing what the future will look like. But in a strange turn of events, she comes across someone who looks exactly like Sang soon afterwards which turns her life upside down.
12. Closers: Side Blacklambs (2016 – 2019)
Dimensional monsters showed up all over the world and wreaked havoc once the dimensional gates suddenly opened. Interestingly, some people also gained extraordinary psychic powers following the strange phenomena. This leads to an interdimensional war and once monsters are pushed back, the gates are closed. People with psychic powers all over the world participate in research and are officially called Closers. The purpose of this research is to prevent another dimensional war but just when it has barely commenced, dimensional gates all over the planets start shaking for some mysterious reason.
11. Beauty Water (2020)
Han Yae-ji is a successful make-up artist who frequently works with famous actors and helps them get ready for their roles. Deep down she feels inadequate and is not at all happy with her appearance. So when she learns about a cosmetic product called Beauty Water that would allow her to reshape her body as she deems fit, Han Yae-ji immediately buys it. While the desire to become more confident in her appearance is not bad in itself, the make-up artist unfortunately is overcome by a self-destructive paranoia as the side-effects of the beauty product start to appear.
10. Oseam (2003)
The winner of the Best Feature Film award (Annecy International Animation Film Festival 2004), ‘Oseam’ is a historical adventure drama movie based on the eponymous fairy tale written by Jeong Chae-bong. The story revolves around an innocent five-year-old boy named Gil-son and his blind sister Gam-i, who have the misfortune of losing their parents at a young age. Interestingly, they are raised in an isolated temple in Mt. Seorak by a kind monk, who has the kids’ best interest in his heart. Gil-son is like any other ordinary child his age, curious by nature and always trying to make friends wherever he goes. But his life takes a surprising turn during one snowy day, as Gil-son finds himself in an unexpected situation.
9. Aachi and Ssipak (2006)
When all sources of energy are exhausted, humans start using excrement to produce more energy. The government plants citizens with anal implants to detect defection providing them with juicybars every time they exrete. But little do people know that these juicybars are actually narcotics that give users extreme constipation. When they eventually become addicts, these users tend to become part of the underground diaper gang whose only goal for survival is procuring as many juicybars as they can. Meanwhile, two small-time crooks Aachi and Ssipak are desperately trying to make ends meet by illegally selling these bars. When they meet a woman capable of producing dozens of them at once, they feel that their time has finally come. But soon they realize that the duo will have to deal with the diaper gang and the government itself who are desperately trying to get their hands on addictive narcotics as well. ‘Aachi and Ssipak’ is a hilarious action comedy film directed by Jo Beom-jin, that you should definitely watch. The anime is accessible for streaming here.
8. My Daughter is a Zombie (2022)
When the zombie outbreak hit South Korea, hundreds of thousands of innocent people lost their lives in senseless violence. Now one year later, the city has finally been declared zombie-free. But a hopelessly optimistic father named Jeonghwan has hidden a dangerous secret from everyone. His daughter Su-ah is actually the last surviving zombie on the planet and whenever her violent tendencies die down, he feels that she truly has a chance of leading a normal life. However, Jeonghwan must not only make sure that he keeps his secret but also prevent Su-ah from hurting him or anyone else since it can start the zombie apocalypse all over again.
7. Green Days: Dinosaur and I (2011)
Studio Meditation With a Pencil’s ‘Green Days: Dinosaur and I’ is a rom-com movie that is set in the ’80s and ’90s. The film evokes a deep sense of nostalgia in the viewers and evokes visuals of a time long gone. The Ahn Jae-Hunn directorial revolves around the lives of three teenagers struggling with typical adolescent problems. The heartwarming movie beautifully captures the hopes, aspirations, and anxieties of a normal teenager and offers a much-needed message of positivity that resonates with the viewers.
6. The Fake (2013)
Winner of the Best Animation awards at the Gijón International Film Festival and the Sitges Film Festival, ‘The Fake’ is a South Korean animated drama movie written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho. The film is centered on the age-old moral conflict of good and evil and tries to engage viewers by offering a fresh perspective on it. It constantly asks the audience tough questions by playing with the boundary between the two and by masterfully using characters that push the ideas to the extreme.
5. Seoul Station (2016)
Directed by Yeon Sang-ho, ‘Seoul Station’ is a suspense horror movie that is animated by Studio Dadashow. Interestingly, the film actually serves as a prequel to ‘Train to Busan,’ the popular live-action movie directed by Yeon Sang-ho. ‘Seoul Station’ revolves around a group of people who are desperately trying to survive during a zombie apocalypse. Feel free to watch the movie here.
4, The King of Pigs (2011)
Kyung-Min could not come to terms with the fact that his business has gone bankrupt and all his dreams of the future are now relegated to just a figment of his rich imagination. Instead of seeking some counseling to deal with the trauma, he ends up impulsively killing his wife following which Kyung-Min looks for his middle school friend and classmate Jong-Suk. When they were in school, the duo used to get bullied relentlessly by his peer who used to call the two friends pigs. They could barely protest as they were outnumbered but things changed when they met Chul. After 15 years now, Kyung-Min takes Jong-Suk down memory lane to reveal some shocking truths that he has buried until now.
3. Chun Tae-il (2021)
Starring talented voice actors like Jang Dongyoon, Yeom Hyeran, Jin Seon-kyu, and Kwon Hae-hyo, ‘Chun Tae-il’ is a drama movie by Studio Myung Films that try to honor the titular protagonist by offering viewers a close look at his personality and destiny. Viewers are introduced to what Chun Tae-il used to be like with his family and friends, while also providing some understanding of the tumultuous times that he lived through that eventually pushed him to take drastic measures to ensure some social change.
2. When I Woke Up I Became a Bagel Girl (2019)
Studio Animal’s ‘When I Woke Up I Became a Bagel Girl’ recounts the bizarre story of Bong Gi, a lazy and unemployed man who once used to be quite ambitious and determined to make something of his life. Now, he wastes an awful amount of time playing online games to escape the caustic reality of the real world while dreaming about attractive women. Interestingly, one day he wakes up to realize that he has somehow turned into the kind of woman he used to fantasize about and now must find ways to come to terms with his new reality. You can watch the anime here.
1. Jang Geum’s Dream (2005 – 2006)
‘Jang Geum’s Dream’ is a historical comedy anime series produced by Heewon Entertainment. The show is inspired by a popular historical drama and follows the titular protagonist as she follows her life-long dream of becoming a chef. When she is selected as a palace servant, Jang’s dreams appear to be coming true already. She soon finds new friends but her seemingly ordinary life gets complicated as she encounters corruption and greed.
Read More: Animated Shows Like Lookism