Kat Cho Recommends Korean Dramas for YA Readers | Tor.com

Kat Cho Recommends Korean Dramas for YA Readers

I am a firm believer that Korean dramas are just YA books in visual format. There are so many overlapping themes and tropes: there are sometimes love triangles in both YA and K-dramas, plots where characters fake a relationship (that blooms into a real one), blackmail and sharing secrets, and, of course, all the angst! And though K-dramas do come at it from a slightly different cultural lens, it hits you in the same feels! So here is a list of some of my favorite K-dramas and the YA books they remind me of!


If you liked: Legend by Marie Lu

Watch: City Hunter

Lee Yoon-Sung (Lee Min-Ho) works at the Blue House for the National Communication Network Team. He graduated from M.I.T. in the U.S. and possesses elite skills as an I.T. engineer. At the Blue House, Yoon-Sung meets Kim Na-Na (Park Min-Young), who works as a bodyguard there. The two people fall for each other even though Yoon-Sung was warned not to fall in love. An elaborate plan for revenge is his ultimate mission….

How they’re similar: A vigilante boy crosses paths with a girl who works for the government he’s trying to defeat. They soon fall for each other, but will their opposing sides might rip them apart. Both the show and the book are told from dual POVs. They both follow the boy vigilante and show why he thinks that he’s justified in fighting the system (it’s obviously for very personal reasons that have affected his family). And then switch to following the girl who has gained her government position through hard work and commitment to the cause. However, when these two clash both of them will change how they see the world around them!


If you liked: Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Watch: Gu Family Book

Choi Kang-Chi (Lee Seung-Gi) is legendary gumiho that is half human and half animal. He struggles to live his life as a human and also falls in love.

How they’re similar: You find out you are the child of an “evil creature.” How do you reconcile that part of yourself with the human life you live and the people you love? Gu Family Book focuses on the gumiho (nine-tailed fox) while Serpentine focuses on a girl who finds that she is a serpent demon. In both stories, the main characters is kind and strong-willed, and not the kind of person you would expect to have demonic characteristics. That’s why it’s such a journey for them when they find out about this side of them. Of course, both of them deal with it in different ways (and their parents’ stories actually have a big part in this journey for both of them!)


If you liked: Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare

Watch: Moorim School

The Moorim School isn’t focused solely on high academic scores. The school teaches its students virtues including honesty, faith, sacrifice and communication. The teachers and students at the school come from different countries and each have their own stories.

How they’re similar: A school where special kids are taught to fight and hone their superhuman/magical abilities. But being special doesn’t stop them from feeling the painful angst of being a teenager experiencing firsts. While Shadowhunter Academy takes place in an academy in the city, Moorim School chooses to isolate itself. And while Shadowhunters fight demons and downworlders, the Moorim School is more of a place for kids who can’t find their place in the world to seek balance and education. However, the feeling of a school where the kids bond over their special abilities is very prevalent. And any story about a magical school has great stories of friendship and bonding!


If you liked: Warcross by Marie Lu or Girl Gone Viral by Arvin Ahmadi

Watch: Memories of Alhambra

Yoo Jin-Woo (Hyun-Bin) is the CEO of an investment company. He has good sense at his work, a strong adventurous spirit and a strong desire for winning. Yoo Jin-Woo is going through a hard time emotionally due to things like betrayal from his friends. He visits Granada, Spain on business and stays at an old hostel run by Jung Hee-Joo (Park Shin-Hye). There, Yoo Jin-Woo gets involved in a strange affair.

How they’re similar: Video games that affect your reality becomes the center of controversy and competition. Warcross and Girl Gone Viral aren’t exactly the same, but they have great aspects that connect with different parts of Memories of Alhambra. Alhambra touches on the corporate politics and the underhanded behavior done by the heads of big corporations in order to gain the latest tech. That’s also very prevalent in both Warcross and Girl Gone Viral!


If you liked: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer or The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith

Watch: Orange Marmalade

300 years ago, humans and vampires finalized a peace treaty, but they still do not get along well with each other.

In the present day, Jae-Min (Yeo Jin-Goo) is a popular high school student. He falls in love with transfer student Baek Ma-Ri. Baek Ma-Ri though hides her true identity as a vampire.

How they’re similar: A human falls for a vampire while trying to navigate the hardships of high school. To be fair, Twilight and The Vampire Diaries are very different; pretty much the only thing that connects them is the fact that there is a vampire boy who loves a human girl and his love for her gets her in trouble. What I kind of love about Orange Marmalade is that it turns that trope on its head. The vampire is a girl, and while she’s not exactly putting the human boy in danger (in Orange Marmalade, the world knows about vampires a la The Southern Vampire Mysteries/True Blood) issues arise when the boy finds out that the girl is a vampire. There’s also a swoon-worthy boy vampire in Orange Marmalade, so don’t worry, that trope still survives through a secondary character.


If you liked: Star Crossed by Melissa Landers or Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Watch: My Love From Another Star

Do Min-Joon is an alien who landed on Earth 400 years ago during the Joseon Dynasty period. Do Min-Joon possesses a near perfect appearance and enhanced physical abilities involving his vision, hearing and speed.

Do Min-Joon holds a cynical view to human beings, but he falls in love with actress Cheon Song-Yi.

How they’re similar: Alien is stuck on earth, trying to hide his powers, when he falls in love with a human girl. Both stories center on aliens who look human on the outside, but have powers that could draw unwanted attention and put those they love in danger (Another good comparison might be Roswell). My Love From Another Star adds in a fun trope where the main female is actually a movie star who is caught up in scandal. And she ends up depending on Do Min-Joon for help. He is cynical about humans and human life and has lived on earth for hundreds of years trying to find a way back home. So when he finds himself falling in love, it is very inconvenient. In Obsidian Daemon is an arrogant boy who is dismissive of the main character at first (much like Do Min-Joon is dismissive of Cheon Song-Yi). But falling in love changes them and shows them the positive parts of being human and the connections that come with it.


If you liked: Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar

Watch: The Heirs

“The Heirs” depicts the friendships, rivalries and love lives of young, rich heirs led by Kim Tan (Lee Min-Ho) and a girl named Cha Eun-Sang (Park Shin-Hye). Unlike the others, Cha Eun-Sang is considered ordinary and comes from a poor background.

Boys Over Flowers

Set at a famous high school for the super-wealthy, this is a puppy love story centered on a poor girl and the F4 gang of rich kids headed by the rough and fearless Jun-pyo Koo.

How they’re similar: The drama and trials of being born into one of the richest families in the city play out in an elite high school, all witnessed by an outsider who somehow lucked into a chance at a top tier education. While Gossip Girl takes a look at high society life through the eyes of NYC teens, Boys over Flowers and The Heirs focuses on chaebols (heirs of some of the biggest fortunes in Korea). Interestingly Lee Min Ho plays the richest student (a la Serena Van Der Woodson) in both shows!


If you liked: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C Dao

Watch: Empress Ki

The series revolves around Gi Seungnyang, a Goryeo-born woman who ascends to power despite the restrictions of the era’s class system, and later marries Toghon Temür (Emperor of Mongol Empire) to become an empress of the Chinese Yuan dynasty, instead of her first love, Wang Yu. It managed to highlight the deep love the Emperor embedded in Lady Ki and depicts her loves and political ambitions.

How they’re similar: A story about the lengths a woman will go to increase her social class and become empress. Both stories are beautifully told historical dramas that show the lengths women had to go to in order to survive and gain power. While Empress Ki was more reluctant than Xifeng, they both ended up marrying the emperor and becoming empress. This gave them a power they never thought possible before.


If you liked: Kingdom of the Blazing Pheonix by Julie C Dao

Watch: K2

Kim Je-Ha (Ji Chang-Wook) is former solider for hire. He is also called K2. He is hired as a bodyguard by Choi Yoo-Jin (Song Yoon-A). Choi Yoo-Jin is the wife of a presidential candidate (Cho Seong-Ha) and the daughter from a chaebol family. Meanwhile, Ko An-Na (Yoona) is the secret daughter of the presidential hopeful. She is also a recluse.

How they’re similar: Two different takes on the Snow White story with heavy focus on the evil queen, Snow White, and their relationship. So, there are a lot of differences between Kingdom of the Blazing Pheonix and K2, so this might seem like an odd pairing at first. But when you look at their source inspiration then things become a little more clear: both are inspired by the Snow White story. K2 takes a modern approach and uses corporate intrigue and family greed to show how the Snow White character clashes with the “evil queen.” Dao, however, goes old-school in her retelling. In both stories, the evil queen has sent the Snow White character away to live in isolation. And in both stories, the snow white characters find a reason to return in order to regain their inheritance and protect those that they love!


If you liked: Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

Watch: My Girlfriend is a Gumiho

Late in the evening at the Buddhist Temple, selfish college student Tae-Woong wanders off hoping to catch a signal for his cellphone. Suddenly he hears a woman’s voice from his cellphone. The woman instructs Tae-Woong to enter the temple and draw nine tails onto a painting of a fox. Once Tae-Woong draws the nine tails on the fox, he unknowingly frees the legendary nine tailed fox known as “Gu Miho” (Shin Min-A). Tae-Woong fears for his life, but Gu Miho just wants to be loved (and eat lots of beef!).

How they’re similar: Both draw on the myth of the gumiho (or nine-tailed fox) and whether she can fall in love with a human boy—in both stories, a human discovers a supernatural being and is caught up in her world. Wicked Fox plays more directly on the gumiho myth with the need to eat livers and absorb gi in order to live forever, while My Girlfriend is a Gumiho takes a lighter approach—Gu Miho simply loves meat. But, that doesn’t mean she’s not strong and one to be feared. Gu Miho starts out wanting love in My Girlfriend is a Gumiho because she’d spent so long trapped inside a painting, while Miyoung chooses to keep herself isolated from the world of her own free will. Both stories touch on the fact that humans fear the gumiho and that perhaps that fear is unwarranted and cruel—all the gumiho needs is to be loved.


Kat Cho used to hide books under the bathroom sink and then sneak in there to read after bedtime. Her parents pretended not to know. This helped when she decided to write a dinosaur time-travel novel at the tender age of nine. Sadly, that book was not published. She currently lives and works in NYC and spends her free time trying to figure out what kind of puppy to adopt. She is the writer of Wicked Fox, available on June 25 from Penguin Random House.


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