Top 10 Highest-Rated Free-to-air K-dramas of 2019. We included 34 free-to-air Korean dramas in our ranking, which is based on average nationwide ratings from Nielsen Korea.
#10. Angel’s Last Mission: Love — 7.3%
Rounding out the top 10 in the free-to-air category is the fantasy romance Angel’s Last Mission: Love, which boasts of the stellar performances of leads Shin Hye-sun and Kim Myung-soo (L). The drama follows a carefree angel who is tasked with finding the true love of a cold-hearted, insolent ballerina before he could return to heaven. He thinks it’s mission impossible because no guy can put up with her despicable attitude, but that’s nothing compared to when he ends up falling for her himself.
#9. Doctor John — 8.3%
Doctor John is probably the first medical drama in K-dramaland where anaesthesiologists, NOT surgeons, take center stage in the story—which for me makes it more interesting. But without that novel detail, it is just like most of the medical series you have seen. You get a genius doctor who can identify the cause of a patient’s pain in seconds and see Ji Sung’s character being sent to jail again (remember Defendant?). Playing opposite the award-winning actor are Lee Se-young and Lee Kyu-hyung, who had been confirmed recently to take on his first lead role.
#8. Woman of 9.9 Billion — 8.9%
Woman of 9.9 Billion tells the story of a woman, played by Cho Yeo-jeong, who’s spent her life being trampled and abused by her parents and husband. But when she miraculously gets hold of 9.9 billion in cash ($8.5 million), she starts to fight for a better life, which is easier said than done since there’s definitely more than meets the eye with the huge sum of money falling from heaven. Kim Kang-woo plays a disgraced cop who seeks justice for his sibling’s death. The two leads previously starred together in the 2012 romantic comedy Lovers of Haeundae.
#7. VIP — 9.2%
I didn’t watch VIP (yet) but the last time I read reviews about the series, people can’t help but point out that a certain “sl*t” and other disgusting characters are ruining their viewing experience. I too hate such characters but on the other hand, they make us root for the protagonists even more. As of the writing of this article, the drama has already achieved a peak rating of 13.2 percent (impressive, although it has no rival dramas on KBS2 and MBC). Jang Na-ra and Lee Sang-yoon are starring as a couple whose marriage life starts to fall apart after the wife discovers a series of secrets about her husband.
#6. Vagabond — 9.3%
I know that Vagabond was bound to become one of the highest-rated Korean dramas of 2019 because of singer-actors Lee Sung-gi and Bae Suzy—who both headlined the 2013 fantasy sageuk Gu Family Book—but I didn’t expect it to fail to enter the top 5. The spy action series revolves around a stuntman who struggles to expose the truth behind a plane crash that has killed his nephew and a National Intelligence Service agent who gives him a hand with solving the case. The first episode was great but the finale is better left unwatched. It’s an overall decent show ruined by a lack of a reasonable ending.
#5. Liver Or Die — 12.19%
Only three noncable series managed to surpass the 20 percent mark this year, and Liver Or Die was the first one to do so. It doesn’t have a star-studded cast nor a big budget, but it went on to achieve a remarkable success that no one has expected. The family drama is about a middle-aged man, played by Yoo Jun-sang, who has spent his life relentlessly supporting his four younger siblings and worrying about their problems. It’s interesting to note that KBS2’s winning streak in the midweek drama viewership started with this show. All Wednesday-Thursday dramas of the network, except for Justice, have made it to this top 10 list.
#4. The Last Empress — 12.21%
The Last Empress, Jang Na-ra’s first drama this year, is set in a modern constitutional monarchy and follows the life of an aspiring musical actress who ties the knot with the emperor (Shin Sung-rok), only to become instrumental in toppling the corrupt imperial family with the help of a royal bodyguard (Choi Jin-hyuk). The 52-episode series became the longest weekday prime-time Korean drama in 2019 but despite its lengthy 3-month broadcast, it constantly enjoyed double-digit ratings from its fourth week. It was originally conceived as a 48-episode drama but SBS greenlighted an extension partly because of the positive feedback, even after knowing that Choi Jin-hyuk could no longer shoot the additional episodes due to scheduling conflicts.
#3. Doctor Prisoner — 13.2%
Doctor Prisoner is Namgoong Min’s attempt at recovering from the poor viewership performance of his previous series The Undateables, which is one of the lowest-rated Korean dramas in 2018. Thankfully his choice and hard work paid off since the medical crime drama obtained double-digit ratings in its second week. The story centers on a brilliant doctor who is forced to quit his job at a hospital after being accused of medical malpractice. Disgusted at the turn of events, he starts working in a prison to build connections with powerful inmates and take revenge on the people who have wronged him.
#2. When The Camellia Blooms — 13.9%
Starring Gong Hyo-jin and Kang Ha-neul, When The Camellia Blooms is one of this year’s dramas with particularly strong female characters at the center of the story. Gong Hyo-jin portrays a woman who was abandoned by her mother when she was a child and now does her best to raise her own son and give him a comfortable life, even if it means she has to be bullied and treated as an outcast by society for being a single mom who runs a bar. Camellia is only a runner-up as far as average ratings are concerned but when we talk about peak ratings, it is no. 1 with 23.8 percent, followed by Liver Or Die with 22.7 percent and The Fiery Priest with 22.0 percent.
#1. The Fiery Priest — 16.1%
2019’s highest-rated Korean drama on free-to-air TV is The Fiery Priest, starring Kim Nam-gil as the titular bad-tempered Catholic priest who teams up with a prosecutor (Lee Ha-nee) and a detective (Kim Sung-kyun) to solve a murder case and beat (literally) other bad guys who mess up with him. The drama is far from flawless but you can barely hear anyone give negative comments about it. So it comes as no surprise that it won the Excellent Korean Drama prize at the 2019 Seoul International Drama Awards. Everyone loves it and demands a sequel!