Cinderella stories are a common theme in K-Dramaland. Add a royalty component and fuse it with modern-day life and you've got the trappings of a fairytale hit! Here are some must-see classics to add to your K-drama watchlist.
1. Princess Hours (2006)
Princess Hours made K-drama history when it aired in 2006. A lot of K-drama fans still look back at it as one of the classic dramas that got them hooked and defined Hallyu or the increase in the worldwide popularity of Korean culture.
The show takes place in an alternate version of South Korea anchored on the existence of a monarchy and an imperial family. It follows the life of Shin Chae Kyeong (Yoon Eun Hye), an ordinary high school art student who finds out that she was betrothed to the Crown Prince Lee Shin (Ju Ji Hoon) by virtue of an agreement made by the late Emperor Seongjo and his trusted friend (her grandfather!). Chae Kyeong violently protests but eventually agrees to the setup to help her parents, who are drowning in debt. Her adventures begin when she moves into the palace and learns to adapt to royal life.
Things get interesting when Prince Shin's cousin, Prince Lee Yul (Kim Jeong Hoon), enters the scene and becomes her friend. Will Chae Kyeong learn to love her cold prince charming or will handsome and down-to-earth Yul sweep her off her feet? One thing's for sure: things will never be the same for our cute and feisty heroine.
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2. The Last Empress (2018 to 2019)
The Last Empress was originally slated as a 48-episode drama. Due to its success, it was extended to a whopping 52-episode run. The drama revolves around musical actress, Oh Sunny (Jang Na Ra). Sunny becomes a modern-day Cinderella and gets to live out her ultimate dream (she's a huge fan of Korea's Emperor Lee Hyuk, played by Shin Sung Rok) when the emperor suddenly shows interest in her and makes her his wife.
Sunny soon realizes that palace life is not as simple as it seems. Behind the glitz and glamour lurk attempted murders, mysteries, conspiracies, cover-ups, secret relationships, and major betrayals. If you're ready to get pulled into a deep drama black hole, then this show is for you. Join Sunny in a life-changing royal adventure and get ready for extreme plot twists and an unexpected intense ending.
3. The King 2 Hearts (2012)
Lee Seung Gi and Ha Ji Won bring their A-game to the table and serve a lot of feels in this 2012 drama about a South Korean Crown Prince who falls for a North Korean special agent.
Immature Crown Prince Lee Jae Ha (Lee Sung Gi) lives a carefree life in the shadow of his older brother King Lee Jae Kang (Lee Sung Min). He gets tricked by his hyung to participate in a joint military exercise with North Korea and crosses paths with brave Special Forces Officer Kim Hang Ah (Ha Ji Won), the daughter of a North Korean military commander.
Jae Ha and Hang Ah start off on the wrong foot until a friendship sparks and love blooms. Political circumstances eventually come into play that thrust the two into an arranged marriage. As both characters adapt to their newfound situation, a chain of events are set in motion culminating in the death of King Jae Kang and his wife.
Evidence points to the involvement of Club M, a terrorist group out to eliminate and replace the royal family. Jae Ha has no choice but to step up. Will he be able to protect his country and fight for his love before it is too late?
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4. My Princess (2011)
My Princess takes place in a fictional modern-day Korea during a time when the public clamors for the restoration of the country's monarchy. A nationwide search takes place to find out who is next-in-line for the coveted throne. Enter college student and part-time tourist attraction princess stand-in Lee Seol (Kim Tae Hee).
Lee Seol has always dreamt of being a princess. Her life turns upside down when she finds out that she is the great-granddaughter of Emperor Sunjong, the last emperor of the Joseon Dynasty. As she steps into her new life as a princess-in-training, Seol meets Daehan Group heir Park Hae Young (Song Seung Heon), who is tasked with equipping her with everything she needs to know to fulfill her role and prove her worth.
Hae Young holds a deep family secret linked to the royal family that renders him torn when he starts developing feelings for Seol. Will he set his personal ambitions aside for true love or will he be the key to destroying the Korean monarchy?
The dramas main characters will get you hooked on their love-hate relationship and send fuzzy feels up your spine. Like all dramas linked to royalty, behind-the-scenes conspiracy is peppered throughout the drama—leading to a stronger conflict and heightened character growth. In true K-drama fashion, the drama doesn't disappoint and serves an ending that is one for the books!
5. Goong S (2007)
Hot on the heels of the success of Princess Hours is a spin-off drama called Goong S (aka Prince Hours). The drama does a 180-degree turn on the whole Cinderella trope by showcasing a story from a rags-to-riches prince's point of view. Unaware of his royal origins, Kang Hoo (Seven) was raised by a former palace guard as a commoner following the death of his mother, who was thrown out of the palace before his birth.
As soon as Kang Ho's existence as Prince Lee Hoo is made known, he takes his place in the palace as a candidate for the spot of Crown Prince. Within the palace walls, he gets exposed to palace politics and develops a romance with his childhood friend, Yang Soon Ae (Huh E Jae). Though she works as a palace maid, her support for Lee Hoo stays strong as he walks the path to being a true Crown Prince. The plot thickens when another contender for the throne, Prince Lee Joon (Kang Doo), and the daughter of the Prime Minister, Shin Sae Ryung (Park Shin Hye), enter the scene and stir things up.