A drama’s popularity among the local viewers can be measured quantitatively not just by TV ratings, but also by buzz scores—which gauge the popularity of shows based on the number of times they are mentioned or discussed on blogs, forums, social media, and other online platforms. If TV ratings come from Nielsen, buzz ratings come from Good Data Corporation which releases the top 10 list of the most buzzworthy Korean dramas every week. A 10 percent buzz score for drama X means that for every 100 online drama mentions/discussions monitored by Good Data Corporation, 10 are about drama X.
Our ranking is based on index scores derived from the sum of the average and peak buzz ratings of each drama. 2019 saw the broadcast of 104 prime-time Korean dramas, 92 of which premiered within the year (the rest started in 2018 and ended in early 2019). The ranking considers only the data for the year 2019, e.g. The Last Empress was included in the ranking but its buzz data from November and December 2018 were excluded from determining its average and peak buzz ratings. Contact us to know more about our methodology.
Note: Buzz and TV ratings are NOT always directly related. Some dramas with low TV ratings get high buzz scores (e.g. Extraordinary You). The opposite is also sometimes true (e.g. Mother Of Mine). However, seven of the 10 most talked about Korean dramas of 2019 obtained high buzz and TV ratings.
10. The Tale Of Nokdu (KBS2) — 11.94% Average / 20.77% Peak
The Tale Of Nokdu has easily become one of the most favorite Korean dramas of the year, with many viewers considering it as the best sageuk of 2019. Based on the webtoon “Nokdujeon” by Hye Jin-yang, the series revolves around a young man (Jang Dong-yoon) who disguises himself as a woman to enter a widows’ village and investigate a previous attack on his family. He’s pretty convincing in his act but a reluctant gisaeng trainee (Kim So-hyun) discovers his secret early on. The drama remained consistently good throughout its run, which is capped off by a very satisfying finale. (Peak ranking: overall 2nd most talked about Korean drama in November)
9. One Spring Night (MBC) — 12.77% Average / 21.07 Peak
From the writer-director duo of Something In The Rain, One Spring Night boasts of an unusual on-screen romance between a single dad (Jung Hae-in) and a woman (Han Ji-min) who’s been on a long-running relationship with her boyfriend. But unlike the former, One Spring Night didn’t let its viewers down and concluded with a sweet and happy ending. The series tackled so many serious issues—from the stigma attached to dating a single mom or dad to abusive marriage—but it never felt too heavy. (Peak ranking: overall 2nd most talked about Korean drama in June)
8. Extraordinary You (MBC) — 16.49% Average / 21.74% Peak
Extraordinary You‘s premise is probably one of the most interesting this year: a high school student (Kim Hye-yoon) who has almost everything in life, including a fiancé, learns that she’s a character in a comic book. The webtoon-based drama follows her journey towards understanding her reality and veering off the pre-determined course of her life, for example, by choosing the man (Kim Ro-woon) she thinks is her true love. It’s one perfect example of a series with low TV ratings but high buzz scores—not many people watched it on TV but many of those who tuned in discussed it online frequently. (Peak ranking: overall 2nd most talked about Korean drama in October)
7. The Light In Your Eyes (JTBC) — 13.25% Average / 27.33% Peak
The Light In Your Eyes is one of those dramas that will give you the shock of your life while watching. In my case, I wasn’t really sure how to feel. I was confused and excited at the same time, but in the end, I felt satisfied knowing that the series did a good job of telling the story it wanted to tell. The critically acclaimed drama centers on a 25-year-old woman (Han Ji-min) who uses her magical watch to travel back in time and save her father from an accident, which results in her getting stuck living the 70-year-old version (Kim Hye-ja) of herself. But there’s more to that time travel plot than meets the eye. (Peak ranking: overall most talked about Korean drama in March)
6. The Fiery Priest (SBS) — 12.74% Average / 28.29% Peak
The Fiery Priest will be remembered as the first SBS drama to air on Fridays and Saturdays and, most importantly, the highest-rated Korean drama on free-to-air TV in 2019. Its story focuses on a bad-tempered Catholic priest (Kim Nam-gil) who partners with an inept homicide detective (Kim Sung-kyun) and a headstrong prosecutor (Lee Ha-nee) to solve a murder case. The drama is a very enjoyable show with a great ending, which is why it won rave reviews and many viewers are hoping for a sequel. (Peak ranking: overall most talked about Korean drama in April)
5. The Last Empress (SBS) — 16.87% Average / 24.34% Peak
Set in a modern constitutional monarchy, The Last Empress centers on an aspiring musical actress (Jang Na-ra) who ends up marrying the emperor (Shin Sung-rok), and, later on, destroying the imperial family. Her involvement in toppling the monarchy begins when she gets entangled in the murder of the emperor’s grandmother and meets an imperial bodyguard (Choi Jin-hyuk) who wants to take revenge on the imperial family. The 48-episode drama got four additional episodes, but Choi Jin-hyuk couldn’t appear in them due to a conflict in his schedule. (Peak ranking: overall most talked about Korean drama in February)
4. Arthdal Chronicles (tvN) — 18.02% Average / 28.31% Peak
Dubbed as Korea’s first ancient historical drama, Arthdal Chronicles unsurprisingly generated so much buzz because of its star-studded cast led by Song Joong-ki and Kim Ji-won, a massive budget that promises a grand production, and a team of award-winning director and screenwriters who gave us My Mister, Signal, Tree With Deep Roots, and Jewel In The Palace. It’s the most buzzworthy drama in 2019 in terms of premiere week buzz score, with a record of 26.74 percent. But the discussions about the series dwindled over time and it even recorded its lowest score during its final week. The drama follows the life of different tribes in a fictional land called Arth as they fight each other for power and survival. (Peak ranking: overall most talked about Korean drama in June and September)
3. When The Camellia Blooms (KBS2) — 17.50% Average / 29.23% Peak
If One Spring Night has Jung Hae-in playing a single dad, When The Camellia Blooms has Gong Hyo-jin portraying a single mother who runs a bar to make ends meet. With raising a kid alone and putting up with her neighbors who constantly intimidate her for being a single mom who sells liquor, she’s got enough on her plate already. So when the son (Kang Ha-neul) of her very close friend falls in love with her and a serial killer threatens her life, her determination starts to crumble, although she never forgets to fight back in the end. (Peak ranking: overall most talked about Korean drama in October & November)
2. Hotel del Luna (tvN) — 30.68% Average / 36.86% Peak
Hotel del Luna is 2019’s highest-rated Korean drama on cable TV, so it comes as no surprise that it nearly topped this buzzworthy ranking. The fantasy romance drama is written by the Hong sisters and revolves around the owner (IU) and manager (Yeo Jin-goo) of a strange hotel that only caters to ghosts. It’s a perfect example of a drama with high TV and buzz ratings, with most of the viewers discussing the good things about the series, especially since it delivered an emotionally satisfying and great ending. (Peak ranking: overall most talked about Korean drama in July & August)
1. SKY Castle (JTBC) — 32.77% Average / 36.98% Peak
SKY Castle is unarguably the most talked about Korean drama of 2019, with a peak buzz score of 37 percent and a record-breaking TV rating that makes it the highest-rated cable Korean drama of all time (in terms of single-episode rating). Its popularity is also reflected in online search trends as it topped Google’s list of trending Korean TV shows of 2019. The award-winning satirical drama sheds light on the rich’s obsession with sending their kids to the best universities in Korea. It doesn’t have a star-studded cast but the impressive performance of its actors, led by Yum Jung-ah, and the superb direction will make you watch the entire drama in one go.