If you enjoy nail-biting suspense and edge-of-your-seat plot twists, mystery thriller K-dramas will be right up your alley. They feature complex, interesting characters and thrilling narratives that will have your heart racing. Here are 26 of the best Korean dramas from the mystery thriller genre!
Revenant is an all-new mystery thriller written by Kim Eun-hee, the scriptwriter behind sensational dramas like Signal and Kingdom. It follows Gu San-yeong (played by Kim Tae-ri), whose life seems to be a constant battle filled with hardship. She meets Yeom Hae-sang (played by Oh Jung-se), a man with a special ability to see demons, and uncovers the truth about a curse that she has been placed under. The duo then works together to unveil the mystery around a string of unsettling events that have been taking place after the passing of San-yeong’s father.
This K-drama keeps its audience on tenterhooks with turn after turn of unanticipated twists, coupled with bone-chilling depictions of supernatural activity. It’s one of the best mystery-thriller K-dramas to be released in 2023.
Watch on Disney+.
The King of Pigs
This drama revolves around Hwang Kyung-min, (played by Kim Dong-wook) who is the CEO of a taxi company. Hidden behind Kyung-min’s cheerful demeanor is his traumatic past of being a victim of school violence. An unexpected incident causes him to hunt down those that have wronged him in the past, accompanied by his old friend turned detective Jung Jong-seok (played by Kim Sung-kyu) and his colleague Kang Jin-a (played by Chae Jung-an).
The plot of King of Pigs is well-constructed, leaving viewers guessing what happens in the next episode as the murder investigations intensify. It has its fair share of explicit violence and brutality, but it definitely befits the somber theme that characterizes this show – amplified by the moody, dark tones portrayed through the cinematography. The performances by the cast members brought their characters to life, and even the child actors put on some outstanding performances!
Through The Darkness
Inspired by a real title authored by Korea’s first criminal profiler, Through The Darkness takes us through the life of Song Ha-young (played by Kim Nam-gil). He works with team leader Gook Young-soo (played by Jin Seon-kyu) to set up Korea’s first-ever Criminal Behaviour Analysis Team. The team initially faces challenges as people are unaccepting of their methods of using criminal psychology to solve crimes, but they soon get a chance to prove themselves when a series of brutal killings take place.
One unique element of Through The Darkness is that it is narrated from the point of view of Song Ha-young, in a format akin to a biopic. Apart from the intense interrogation scenes, this K-drama also showed the emotions of the criminal profilers and how they dealt with their own demons.
Watch on Viu.
Revenge of Others
Revenge of Others is yet another title that touches on the topic of bullying amongst schools in Korea. Ok Chan-mi (played by Shin Ye-eun) is a high school student who finds her world overturned when her twin brother commits suicide. She transfers to her brother’s school to uncover the true reason behind his death. Teaming up with a fellow student Ji Soon-heon (played by Park Solomon), she seeks to find the culprit and put an end to the bullying faced by students in Yongtan High.
The cast did a good job of portraying the hardships that the victims faced – which drove them to take matters into their own hands to put an end to their misery. As the story unravels, it’s easy to get involved in a guessing game of who the perpetrator is, and everyone seems like they could be a suspect!
Watch on Disney+.
The Killer’s Shopping List
This K-drama follows the story of Dae-Sung (played by Lee Kwang-soo) a man with an unassuming personality and an exceptional ability to remember things. A murder takes place near MS Mart, a store owned by his mother. A-Hee (played by Kim Seol-hyun), a police officer who is also Dae-Sung’s girlfriend, decides to investigate it. Dae-Sung and his mom Myung-Sook (played by Jin Hee-kyung) work together with her to solve the mystery.
Lee Kwang-soo, who is a fan favourite especially for his comedic antics in shows like The Running Man wowed us with his heartfelt acting in this series! The season’s length of eight episodes was just right – there was sufficient time for the characters to develop, without being overly draggy or long-winded. Each character also had an excellent backstory making it quite the challenge for the audience to figure out who the real killer is!
Watch on Viu.
When a series of murders take place, Do Jung-woo (played by Namkoong Min) is the man tasked with leading the investigations. He works with no-nonsense officer Gong Hye-won (played by Kim Seol-hyun) and Jamie, (played by Lee Chung-ah) a detective from the FBI assisting in this investigation. All clues point to a mysterious event that took place 28 years ago in a place known as “White Night Village”.
A new twist awaits you at every juncture of this addictive mystery thriller! It will also make you question the motives of every character as you eagerly anticipate their next move. Awaken also features some superb cinematography, especially during the meticulously choreographed fight scenes. There are also some subtle hints of romance – just enough to keep viewers wondering if it could lead to something more!
Watch on Netflix.
Rugal follows Kang Gi-beom (Choi Jin-hyuk), an elite police officer aiming to bring down Argos, one of South Korea’s major crime organizations. His efforts lead to retaliation from Argos who hire hitmen to assassinate Kang’s wife, framing Kang for the murder and leaving him blind in both eyes. Kang later joins the “Rugal” task force, whose members are endowed with biotechnology, granting them superhuman skills. Kang is able to restore his vision and sets out to prove his innocence, bringing those responsible for his wife’s death to justice.
This k-drama is in fact based on a popular webtoon! The lead actor Choi Jin-hyuk stole the show with his charismatic acting. Fans also loved the bromance between Tae-woong (played by Park Sung-woong), leader of the Rugal team, and Kang. If you are a fan of action, you will not be disappointed as Rugal is packed with fight sequences!
Watch on Netflix.
This mystery thriller K-drama follows the lives of three individuals, played by Jang Ki-yong, Jin Se-yeon, and Lee Soo-hyu. The story begins in the 1980s, but the characters are reincarnated and cross paths with each other once again in the present day.
The main premise is the love triangle that the 3 main characters find themselves entangled in, however, a series of murders that occur embroils them in a battle transcending death and time. Born Again drew praise for its plot that captivated viewers, tying in the element of fantasy and romance. The actors are also brilliant in portraying the distinctly different personality traits of the characters before and after their reincarnation.
Tell Me What You Saw
Another title by OCN, which is well-known for its crime K-dramas, Tell Me What You Saw is another suspense-filled K-drama that has received rave reviews from the audience. Oh Hyun-Jae (played by Jang Hyuk) is a prominent criminal profiler whose fiancée was killed in an explosion involving a notorious serial killer. Cha Soo-Young (played by Choi Soo-young) is a police officer from the countryside with a photographic memory. They work together to nab the real killer and solve the mystery behind the death of Hyun-jae’s fiancée.
This K-drama has some of the most realistic murder scenes, depicting the brutal nature of the crimes committed by the serial killer. Eom Moon-suk also did a great job of portraying the villain who always stayed one step ahead of the police, keeping the viewers guessing what his next move was going to be!
Watch on Viu.
Extracurricular follows the lives of four high school students and their unexpected involvement in the world of crime. Ji Soo (played by Kim Dong-hee) is a model student who starts an unlawful business to pay for his university tuition. Gyu Ri, (played by Park Joo-hyun) the school’s socialite, school bully Min Hee (played by Jung Da-bin), and Ki Tae, (played by Nam Yoon-soo) find themselves involved in Ji Soo’s crime organization.
Directed by Kim Jin Min, this K-drama is a treat to watch – marrying great cinematography, stunning performances from the young cast, and a unique plot to produce a masterpiece. The storyline veers away from conventional high school dramas by touching on taboo topics like exploitation, harassment, and bullying. It also shows how the circumstances surrounding a person shape their life choices.
Watch on Netflix.
Class of Lies
Class of Lies is about Ki Moo-hyeok (played by Yun Kyun-sang) a prolific lawyer whose career has been brought to shambles because of a single case concerning a high school. In order to restore his reputation, he takes on the guise of a temporary teacher at the high school and tries to uncover the secret that the students are hiding.
This K-drama sheds light on the abuse of power by powerful people in society who use their influence to undermine the weak. As the story unravels, the hidden motives of the characters are slowly unveiled. The battle between the male lead and antagonist is highly engrossing – they use their wits to play mind games, trying to outsmart each other at every juncture.
Watcher is a K-drama thriller about three individuals, Do Chi-gwang (played by Han Suk-kyu), Han Tae-joo (played by Kim Hyun-joo), and Kim Young-goon (played by Seo Kang-joon) whose lives were impacted by a tragic incident that occurred 15 years ago. They get the chance to work together as part of an internal investigation team seeking to unearth the truth behind the incident. However, their investigations soon reveal that the problem is much bigger than they had anticipated.
The writers of Watcher did a great job in creating an unpredictable storyline, as every episode causes viewers to cast their doubts on a different character. The dialogues between characters also play a big part in portraying the gravity of the different situations, making this K-drama irresistible for fans of the thriller and mystery genres.
Watch on Disney+.
The Lies Within
Jo Tae-shik (played by Lee Min-ki) is a detective whose latest case involves the death of lawmaker Kim Seung-cheol (played by Kim Jong-soo). Tae-shik begins to suspect that the death was more than just a car accident. Strangely enough, Seung-cheol’s son-in-law soon goes missing. Kim Seo-hui (played by Lee Yoo-young), Seung-cheol’s daughter, joins the National Assembly, working with Tae-shik to save her husband and find the true reason behind her father’s sudden demise.
The detectives’ relentless pursuit to find ways around the corruption in the legal system makes for an exciting watch! Lee Min-ki’s performance was also stellar, bringing life to his character – cool, calm, and collected detective who went by his instincts.
Watch on Netflix.
Strangers from Hell
After getting a new job, Yoon Jong-woo (played by Yim Si-wan) moves from the small town where he has lived all his life to Seoul. He finds a cheap communal apartment to stay at known as Eden Gosiwon, sharing amenities like the kitchen and bathroom with other residents. Jong-woo does not particularly like the shabby apartment or his strange neighbours. A series of events then take place in the apartment which causes Yoon Jong-woo to fear for his safety.
You can’t help but feel pity for Jong-woo when watching this K-drama – the writers managed to portray the pain felt by someone who leaves their family in search of a better job, finding himself in a sea of loneliness. The story is written in a way that makes every character seem dubious, and the audience is able to imagine the despair that Jong-woo experiences, as he is unable to rely on anyone around him.
Psychopath Diary revolves around Yook Dong-shik, (played by Yoon Si-yoon) a timid office worker who ends up being used by everyone around him. One day, he happens to witness a murder and accidentally picks up the diary of the murderer. In his frantic attempt to get away from the scene, he is hit by a car and loses all his memory when he wakes up. The only thing in his possession is the murderer’s diary which leads him to believe that he is a serial killer.
This K-drama blends humour, suspense, and action making it extremely entertaining to watch! Dong-shik’s amnesia causes him to alternate between his usual wacky personality and that of a real psychopath. The plot is lined with unexpected events that keep viewers hooked, with sprinklings of Dong-shik’s hilarious antics along the way.
Children of Nobody
Cha Woo-kyung (played by Kim Sun-ah) is a child counselor at a children’s center who leads a seemingly perfect life – she loves her job, is happily married, and is expecting her second child. However, an unexpected accident takes place which changes her life. She crosses paths with Kang Ji-hun (played by Lee Yi-kyung), a detective with a strong sense of justice.
Children of Nobody touches on the sensitive topic of child abuse. It definitely is tinged with a somber note, showing how children’s minds can be easily manipulated by their parents and how horrifying the extent of the abuse they suffer can be. Kim Sun-ah’s masterful performance in this K-drama won her the Top Excellence Award in the 2018 MBC Drama Awards.
Less than Evil
A remake of the British crime thriller TV series “Luther”, Less Than Evil follows the life of Woo Tae-seok (played by Shin Ha-kyun), a detective obsessed with solving cases. He meets Eun Sun-jae (Lee Seol), a murderer and psychopath who he is unable to arrest due to a lack of evidence. In an unlikely turn of events, she becomes involved with Tae-seok and ends up helping him solve other cases.
This K-drama features a storyline without many cliches and unexpected twists at every juncture. It also does not hold back on the gore, with some brutal murder scenes that make your hair stand on end. Just like in “Luther”, it is exhilarating to watch the male lead tread the fine line between right and wrong in order to take down the culprits.
Sketch tells the story of Kang Dong-soo (played by Rain), an intelligent detective whose every move is calculated. When his fiancé is killed mysteriously, Dong-soo works with detective Yoo Shi-hyun (played by Lee Sun-bin) to apprehend the culprit, utilizing her special ability which allows her to see 3 days into the future and create sketches based on her visions.
It was nerve-wracking to watch the characters do all that they can to stop the visions that Shi-hyun could predict from coming to fruition. Along with the audience, the characters had no idea how the events were going to unfold and their despair could be felt through the screen. This K-drama is a stark reminder that life is about the choices we make and that our actions have direct consequences on those around us.
Life on Mars
An adaptation of the popular British TV series of the same name, Life on Mars follows Han Tae-joo (played by Jung Kyoung-ho), the leader of a crime investigation team who has excelled in his career. He gets into an accident while investigating a case and awakes to find himself in the year 1988, working at a police station in a small town. Tae-Joo now has to solve crimes to get back to the present day.
The creators of Life on Mars did their best to incorporate elements of the original series, through the use of the music, props, and cinematography – giving rise to a nostalgic, retro vibe. The story is also written in a way that keeps the audience on their toes throughout the entire season. Some light-hearted humour also brings comedic relief amidst the intense and suspense-filled scenes.
In 1986, Detective Park Gwang-ho (played by Choi Jin-hyuk) is in pursuit of a serial killer and chases him into a tunnel. When he exits the tunnel, he finds himself in the year 2016. The confused detective soon learns that he has time travelled 30 years forward, where the murders continue to take place. He works with Detective Kim Sun-jae (played by Yoon Hyun-min) and Professor of Criminal Psychology Shin Jae-yi (played by Lee Yoo-young) to unravel the murder mystery.
The heinous nature of the villains was one of the highlights of Tunnel – the writers did a great job of showing their deranged behaviour. This K-drama is also full of hair-raising moments and curveballs that last until the very end.
Voice follows the lives of Moo Jin-hyuk (played by Jang Hyuk) and Kang Kwon-joo (played by Lee Ha-na), two individuals who are left devastated by a serial killer who murdered their family members. Kwon-joo, who is a top graduate of the police academy, returns to Korea after becoming a professional voice profiler and works with detective Jin-hyuk to solve the cases and bring down the killer.
This mystery thriller K-drama is packed with non-stop action from the never-ending spree of crimes that the team is tasked with solving. Each case involved the protagonists racing against time to save the victims from danger. You can’t help but cheer Jin-hyuk and Kwon-joo on as they do everything in their power to bring justice to the killer who took the lives of their loved ones.
Watch on Netflix.
No-nonsense prosecutor Hwang Shi-mok (played by Cho Seung-woo) underwent brain surgery when he was a child which left him unable to feel emotions. He has a reputation for being highly rational and level-headed but his inability to empathise with others leaves him lonely. He meets police lieutenant Han Yeo-jin (played by Bae Doo-Na) at a crime scene, and they join forces to solve the case and fight against corruption.
Stranger features incredible performances from the cast, especially the two lead actors. They were able to bring out the contrasting personalities of the characters who were almost polar opposites. The plot, written by Lee Soo-yeon, was also very well executed, taking the audience on a game of ‘guess who’, and keeping certain details hidden right until the very end.
Watch on Netflix.
One of the highest-rated Korean dramas in cable TV history, Signal follows the life of Park Hae-yeong (played by Lee Je-hoon). While still in elementary school, he witnessed the kidnapping of his classmate, Yoon-jung who was found dead a few days later. Fifteen years later, Hae-yeong becomes a police officer and a criminal profiler. He discovers a walkie-talkie that allows him to get in touch with Detective Jae-han, (played by Cho Jin-woong) who is from the past and is working on Yoon-jung’s case. They begin their journey of solving crimes together.
One reason why Signal stands out from other thriller K-dramas is that some of the cases are based around prominent real-life crimes in Korea, making the series even more jarring. It also manages to pull off the time travel concept in its screenplay without any plot holes or fallacies. It’s easy to see why Signal has gotten so many rave reviews!
Watch on Netflix.
Baek Sung-il (played by Ma Dong-seok) is an upright civil servant tasked with collecting taxes from the wealthy elite who use loopholes to evade paying their tax. He goes after Ma Jin-seok, (played by Oh Dae-hwan) a crooked businessman who owes almost $50 million in taxes but finds himself struggling to catch up to him. Initially reluctant, he agrees to let con artist Yang Jung-do (played by Seo In-guk) help him in outsmarting Jin-seok.
The story was simple and easy to follow, with the highlight being the clever tricks that Jung-do and his team pulled off to catch the bad guys. The unlikely friendship that formed between Baek Sung-il and Jung-do also stole the show. They both had different reasons for wanting to take down the villain but set aside their differences and worked together.
Watch on Disney+.
Grid is Disney’s first foray into the Korean sci-fi genre. In 1997, Earth was almost wiped out but survived because of the existence of Grid, a planetary defense system that shielded it from solar winds. After 24 years, Kim Sae-ha (played by Seo Kang-joon), a member of the Bureau Administration, and detective Jung Sae-byeok (played by Kim A-joong) are in pursuit of a murderer when a mysterious ghost appears and helps the murderer get away. The ghost is in fact the creator of the Grid (played by Lee Si-young) who has reappeared after all this time.
Grid features some strong performances from its cast, especially from Lee Si-young, who manages to do justice to her character despite having little to no dialogue. It’s a fun watch, meshing the genres of sci-fi and mystery together.
Watch on Disney+.
In this thriller k-drama, the residents of a town experience a strange illness after inhaling a black gas emitted by a sinkhole. The infection spreads, and the villagers mutate into cannibalistic beasts. Detective Lee Hwa-sun (Kim Ok-bin) is a detective whose husband was murdered. Hwa-Sun soon begins to suspect that the spread of this disease and her husband’s death are linked. She then works with Yoo Tae-han (Lee Joon-hyuk), a former police officer turned reporter, to solve the mystery.
Kim Ok-Vi’s character was one of the highlights of Dark Hole. While dealing with the grief of losing her husband, she was still willing to risk her life to save others, which showed her innate strength. Dark Hole also sheds light on how people in power can use their influence to take advantage of others during times of crisis.