With the prolific success of the majority of K-Dramas in 2020, starring the most stellar actors, often in their comeback roles and veteran actors doing what they do best, fans of K-Dramas are engaging in a heated debate about whether 2020 is going to surpass 2016 as the true golden age of K-Dramas.
2016 brought us top-rated and unforgettable dramas that will go down as history as undoubtedly iconic. However, 2020 is inching towards becoming a close competitor with the unstoppable momentum shown by the K-Dramas this year. Even though there are still more K-Dramas to come in the next two months, here is a short comparison of the highest-rated dramas of both years to determine which year, after all, is more likely to be remembered as the golden year of K-Dramas.
It is important to note that cable-only K-Dramas naturally had a lower rating in most cases due to the lesser viewership of cable dramas as opposed to free-to-air dramas. On the other hand, free-to-air dramas soared in ratings. However, this does not mean that one was better than the other, rather, only that free-to-air dramas are accessible to a larger portion of the Korean population. However, the overall success of both kinds can be determined via Netizens’ response to the same, albeit, it will be an abstract measure and is bound to differ from person to person. This list is also, by no means, an absolute representation of the concerned years in K-Drama, considering the fact that a lot of 2020 K-Dramas are still airing or are yet to be aired. Stay tuned for updated versions!
According to Nielsen Korea, one of the highest-rated K-Dramas of 2016 was ‘Goblin,’ which reached an overall 12.81% viewership in South Korea. Despite being a cable-only drama at the time of its airing, Goblin received immense worldwide popularity and still continues to be one of the most-watched and most loved K-Dramas of all time. On the other hand, ‘The World Of The Married’ received a whopping 16.9% overall rating just in South Korea, taking the lead as one of the highest-rated K-Dramas ever. However, it is difficult to weigh which drama had more of an impact or will have more lasting of an impression down the ages. ‘Goblin’ enjoyed incredible success, which is sustained to this day. In contrast, despite being the highest-rated K-Drama in Korea, ‘The World Of The Married’ could not surpass the success of ‘Goblin’ overseas. This one definitely goes to ‘Goblin’!
Among free to air dramas, ‘Descendants Of The Sun’ recorded a historical 28.58% rating, with each episode scoring even more individually. While it is unfair to compare the ratings, despite being aired on cable TV, ‘Itaewon Class’ obtained a rating of 11.8% and was even more popular overseas. The popularity of both the shows is unprecedented and continues to rise as more fans of K-Dramas delve deeper into it. As such, it would be a disgrace to rank one above another. The only possible solution would be a tie.
The mega-hit mystery thriller, ‘Signal’ recorded a total of 8.8% nationwide average ratings while being a cable only drama. The drama created a niche for the genre and even popularised it by its original rendition. Without a doubt, Signal remains one of the best representative dramas of the genre. On the other hand, the second season of ‘Stranger’ scored an average of 7.2%, a clear increase from its first season, although lower than 'Signal.' When it comes to worldwide popularity, however, the second season of ‘Stranger’ was far more anticipated and watched by viewers, owing to streaming services like Netflix. Even though fans are hopeful for the second season of 'Signal' soon, the airing date keeps being pushed back, and it is only fair for 'Stranger 2' to take this one.
‘Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim,’ another free to air drama, recorded 20.39% average nationwide ratings according to AGB Nielsen in 2016. Considering the fact that Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim received a second season, which also aired in 2020, scoring an average of 18.4%, it is easily one of the most popular medical dramas. Simultaneously, ‘Hospital Playlist,’ which was a cable-only drama, recorded a 9.9% average rating. While taking into account the overall popularity of the dramas, both were incredibly popular, but ‘Hospital Playlist’ easily takes the lead.
Both works of Lee Min Ho, ‘Legend of The Blue Sea,’ and ‘The King: Eternal Monarch’ fall within the scope of our discussion. ‘Legend Of The Blue Sea’ was a free-to-air drama and recorded a 17.58% rating nationwide. It was also immensely popular overseas and has become a cult classic K-Drama that almost every fan of K-Drama recognizes as a favorite. On the other hand, ‘The King: Eternal Monarch’ did really well overseas, but the ratings took a dive in South Korea with 8.1% even though it was broadcasted as free-to-air. As such, ‘Legend Of The Blue Sea’ definitely takes the lead.
Finally, ‘Moonlight Drawn By Clouds’, which recorded an average of 18.3% was a free-to-air drama. Though it cannot be compared to a cable drama directly, the popularities of this drama and ‘It’s Okay To Not Be Okay’ are absolutely neck and neck. ‘It’s Okay To Not Be Okay’ received an average rating of 5.4%, entering the list of the highest-rated cable TV dramas and was also unbelievably popular worldwide. Even though it’s hard to decide which one of these 2 takes the cake, ‘It’s Okay To Not Be Okay’ would be our pick.
While it was a very close tie, ‘It’s Okay To Not Be Okay’ served as the tiebreaker, which has proven 2020 to be the golden year for K-Dramas of this generation, at least for now! (Note: 'Crash Landing On You' was not considered because it began airing in December 2019).