Trends come and go but in 2021, historical dramas proved that they’re here to stay with just the right mix of K-drama formula and magic. Here are our top historical drama picks from last year.

‘Mr. Queen’

We started our year with the hilariously funny and sweet “Mr. Queen.” It’s a historical drama with an unbelievably preposterous plot but works nonetheless. Time travel? Check. Male-female body swap? Check. King tries to rebel against the palace? Check. There’s nothing simple about this historical drama about a 21st century male chef who wakes up in the body of a Joseon queen. But that’s exactly why “Mr. Queen” is a cut above the rest with its unexpected twists and turns.

Shin Hye-sun gives an excellent performance as Queen Cheorin, not to mention her sizzling chemistry with the charming Kim Jung-hyun. This is definitely one of the 2021 historical dramas you shouldn’t miss.

‘Lovers of the Red Sky’

Stills from “Lovers of the Red Sky”

The elegant production design and cinematography of historical dramas are just some of the reasons why we couldn’t get enough of them. The same is true for “Lovers of the Red Sky” where almost every scene is like a moving painting. This is fitting for a 2021 historical drama about a female royal painter played by ‘sageuk’ veteran Kim Yoo-jung. However, if you’re looking for a typical historical drama on palace politics, then this isn’t the one for you. “Lovers of the Red Sky” veers away from that as evidenced by its cliffhanger ending. 

The story focuses on Hong Cheon-gi and Ha Ram whose lives are intertwined since birth. Ha Ram played by Ahn Hyo-seop lives as a blind astrologer with an evil curse. It’s mostly a fantasy drama with a historical drama setting.

‘The King’s Affection’

Stills from “The King’s Affection”

This historical drama is probably one of the surprise hits of last year as it features relatively fresh faces for its supporting cast. We’ve seen gender bender plots in numerous historical drama productions but “The King’s Affection” is still refreshing. Where else can you find a story about a woman posing as a king? The idea can be quite ridiculous for some but suspension of reality is needed to enjoy this charming drama.

Rowoon is a revelation as the royal tutor Jung Ji-un who falls in love with the king played by Park Eun-bin. His love knows no gender nor fault and what could be sweeter than that?

‘The Red Sleeve’

It has been a while since we’ve seen a historical drama based on real historical characters. “The Red Sleeve” tells the love story between a court lady and a king, loosely based on the life of King Jeongjo and Royal Noble Consort Uibin Seong. But aside from their story, the drama also plays on the role of court ladies in the palace. 

Lee Junho gives his best performance as Crown Prince Yi San, who’s later on crowned as King Yeongjo. He effectively portrays a man conflicted with his duty as a king and his love for one woman, Seong Deok-im, played by Lee Se-young. The story is romantic and painful like any epic love story.

Other 2021 historical dramas worth watching

River Where the Moon Rises

Secret Royal Inspector Joy

Missed the first part of our list? Here’s part 1 of our favorite 2021 K-dramas.

Myla writes news stories for a living and watches K-dramas for leisure. She enjoys doing both for Hallyudorama.

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