2023 in Kdrama: The Dragon Poll Results

How do viewers feel about the 2023 drama year? Call It Love.

I wonder what this year’s Best Drama is

One of the great things about running this poll every year is that it provides a nice overview of each drama year.; sometimes hard when you’re in the middle of it. And while I dubbed 2023 the Year of the Soufflé, it’s been a nice little drama year really. There were none of the highs of previous years but also no notable lows either. There were good dramas, bad dramas, liked dramas, loathed dramas. The good Sageuk, the disappointing Sageuk, the surprising-excellent Fusion Sageuk.

If anything did stand out this year, it was the growing number of poor Webtoon adaptations and unnecessary sequels. In fact, I should probably call it the Year of the Sequel but I suspect this trend is here to stay. With the pressure to produce more and more content, creativity, and originality are often the first things to go and this has meant a lot more content of mediocre quality. If this continues into 2024, it’s going to be harder and harder to find those little gems that brighten our year.

But that’s enough pontificating (for this post at least). Without further ado, let’s find out how your dramas fared in the Dragon Poll!

The Best

I wonder what this year’s Best Drama is

Call It Love has been voted the Best Drama of 2023. Best summed up as the revenge drama that wasn’t, Call It Love was an experimental and intricately-directed love story between the angry Shim Woo-joo (Lee Sung-kyung) and chronically lonely Han Dong-jin (Kim Young-kwang). Beautiful, sad, introspective and sometimes profound, Call It Love was the clear winner for Best Drama, taking almost a quarter of the vote (23%).

Call It Love was not without competition, though. The intergenerational superhero drama, Moving, polled strongly with almost one-fifth of the votes (19%). A violent commentary on the destructiveness of the ongoing Korean conflict to the soldiers forced to fight it, Moving was a strong contender and was topping the poll at one point. But Call It Love’s fans made a last minute push that took it over the line.

Moving towards the Best Drama gong but not quite getting there

Special mention goes to both Twinkling Watermelon (15%) and to fusion Sageuk, The Matchmakers (9%); the latter of which suffered by ending so late in the year. A strong showing in the last few days of the poll suggests this would have done better if there was more time for people to consider it in its entirely. With a great cast, good performances, a lovely romance and excellent plotting, The Matchmakers could have been taking out this category with slightly different timings.

The Worst

After last year, it’s nice to able to name a single drama the clear Worst Drama of the year – and voters were very clear. The supernatural romance, Kkokdu: Season of Deity took out 21 per cent of the vote for Worst Drama.

While Kkokdu was the clear winner, special mention should be made of the headscratching, Heavenly Idol (13%), in which a magical interdimensional being fights the evil that is the Korean pop industry, and the terrible Strong Girl Nam-soon (11%). The latter could probably take out a new award of Most Disappointing if I’d thought to include it. I see a new category next year.

The anticipated addition to the Strong Girl series left viewers disappointed

Your Favourites

It may have trailed behind its glossier compatriots for Best Drama, but Twinkling Watermelon made it to the hearts of viewers in 2023 anyway. Voters have given the joyful timeslip drama the gong for their Favourite Drama with 15 per cent of the vote. The delightful drama that saw teens from the modern era travel back in time to meet their youthful parents, Twinkling Watermelon had a lot of heart, even if its flaws meant it couldn’t muster the award for Best Drama.

It did have strong competition from another timeslip drama: the gleefully Makjang revenge fest that was Perfect Marriage Revenge (12%). Nothing says revenge like living well. That and imprisoning your enemies.

Getting revenge by having a perfect marriage

Most Underrated

Since it got Best Drama, it’s probably no surprise that voters felt that Call It Love was underrated. Taking out nearly one fifth of the vote (18%), Call It Love was the clear winner of this category. It’s unusual for this category to go to a drama that is so high profile (last year, for example, it helped people discover the quiet achiever that was Through the Darkness, when it had passed a lot of viewers by). But with a lot of commentary concerned with some of the drama’s unusual production decisions – like the overwhelming pink filter and the aspect ratio for the flashbacks – fans obviously felt the show didn’t get the credit it deserved.

Special mention needs to go to: the discussion of Korea’s relationship with technology from the beginning of the year, Unlock the Boss (10%); the unique contract kidnapping drama, The Kidnapping Day (8%); the timeslip drama (yes another one), The Miraculous Brothers (7%); and the reflective discussion of modern romance that was The Interest of Love (7%).

It may have ended early in the year but people still loved Unlock the Boss

Most Overrated

No contest for Most Overrated this year. Junho and Yoona’s high-profile romance drama, King The Land won this category with a whopping one third of the vote (32%). Despite the casting of two extremely popular Idols, one of whom can even act, King the Land was a definitive win for Most Overrated. Park Eun-bin’s 2023 outing, Castaway Diva, was in second place with 18 per cent of the vote.

The Acting

For the first time, a child actor was nominated (and has won) a Best Actor award in the Dragon Poll. Yuna, who headlined her drama, The Kidnapping Day, at the tender age of just 12, was the conclusive winner of Best Female Actor with one fifth of the vote (20%).

The face of the future if this performance is anything to go by

For the men, the ever popular Namkoong Min won Best Male Actor for 2023 with more than a quarter of the vote (27%) for his performance in the popular Sageuk, My Dearest.

Both wins were conclusive, but special mention needs to go to Kim Young-kwang whose repressed portrayal of the lonely Han Dong-jin in Call It Love garnered one fifth of the votes for Best Male Actor. There were no notable special mentions for Best Female Actor in 2023, with other contenders being clustered together well behind.

Best OST (Original soundtrack)

While music is always important to a kdrama and they’re known for their well-crafted original soundtracks, this year had a number of musical dramas where the soundtrack played a more important part in the plot itself.

Twinkling Watermelon walks into the prize for Best OST

Twinkling Watermelon was a music drama as well as a timeslip drama and its original songs sounded fresh and raw like a highschool band really did perform them. It’s probably not suprising that it was the clear winner of this category with almost one third (32%) of viewers giving it their vote. Music drama, Castaway Diva was back at 17 per cent, while Sageuk My Dearest was close behind that at 15 per cent.

Most Stylish Production

It may not have made the cut for Best Drama but Moving is the clear winner for Most Stylish. Nearly one in four (24%) voters thought the CGI-heavy fest of super powered humans and their exploitation by various world governments was the most impressive production this year.

My Dearest (17%) was the runner up with Call It Love (9%) and The Matchmakers (8%) worth a mention in third and fourth. Considering how popular Call It Love was and how controversial its pink filter, it seems that viewers loved it despite some of its production decisions, rather than because of them.

The One…

that made you laugh the most

Twinkling Watermelon (20%), with special mentions to opposites-attract romcom, Love to Hate You (14%) and vampire dramedy, Heartbeat (12%).

Comedy Heartbeat did well in the laugh category but disappointed with its ending

that made you cry the most

Twinkling Watermelon (22%) made viewers cry the most although Call It Love was very close behind (21%). Special mention to mental health drama, Daily Dose of Sunshine (13%), which also left some voters in tears.

with the best villain

Despite its late entry to the competition, The Matchmaker’s brilliant, Machiavellian, Sun Tsu-inspired villain, Lady Park, has surged forward to take out best villain (20%), just beating The Kidnapping Day (19%). Special shoutout to the write-in ballot who named Heartbeat’s writer as this year’s worst villain. That show’s ending definitely inspired some passion this year.

Good or evil is just a matter of perspective with the very best villains

with the best romance

If it wasn’t the production values that sold Call It Love then it must be the romance. So it’s not surprising that the slow burn romance between Dong-jin and Woo-joo took out Best Romance with nearly a quarter of the vote (24%). Close behind was Yi-chan and Cheong-ah in Twinkling Watermelon (19%). The delightful young love between the male lead’s teenaged father and his profoundly deaf mother captured viewer’s imaginations but couldn’t quite compete with the more mature, semi-forbidden romance from the Pink Drama.

with the worst romance

So many contenders this year. It seemed like every second drama was a supernatural fantasy with a cursed Joseon backstory and a somewhat squicky modern romance. In the end, See You in My 19th Life took out the award with more than a quarter of the vote (27%) but Destined With You was a clear second (19%) and of course Kkokdu was worth a special mention at 17 per cent.

with the romance that should have been but wasn’t

Originally reserved for dramas that didn’t have a romance plotline when they clearly should have (and otherwise known as the Law School Award), we got a bit cheeky this year and nominated several alternative OTPs in dramas where we thought romance might have happened with the wrong people.

And while Stealer: Treasure Keeper’s strange non-romance naturally took out first place with a quarter of the vote (25%), second place was the preferred alternative romance from Song of the Bandits (24%).

Skunk and Min-woo were “like family” in Stealer

…with the best ensemble cast

Taking out this award makes this officially Twinkling Watermelon’s year even if it didn’t snare Best Drama. People loved so much about this show, including its strong ensemble cast. To say it’s a conclusive win is an understatement. Four in 10 voters (41%) loved this ensemble lineup. As such, it has little competition, although Moving is worth a special mention at 19 per cent.

…with the worst ending

Vampire comedy, Heartbeat, was the only drama this year that truly upset people with its ending and it’s reflected in a vote that was nearly half of everyone who polled (44%). Nothing could come close to that level of crushing disappointment, but Crash Course in Romance got a good chunk of the remaining votes (19%).

Nothing says critique of Korea’s education system like things remaining the same

This Year’s Special Award

Retrospectively, this year’s special award could have been “Best Grape” with the Shine Muscat’s late push to sell us fruit in a year of controversy about stolen seeds and poor quality harvests. Nonetheless, in a year of sequels it seems only fair to judge which of these was the most successful.

There were so many sequels this year that I’ve probably missed some. Nonetheless, the second part of Alchemy of Souls won the day with 34 per cent of the vote. Quite far back in the field was ensemble comedy, Work Later, Drink Now 2 (15%) and D.P. 2 (14%). Voters were pretty unimpressed by the rest of this year’s sequels.

Did we get Best Sequel? I was hoping for Best Sequel

The Results

How did your favourites fare? Did democracy work again?

Best Drama

Winner(s): Call It Love

Special Mention: Moving, Twinkling Watermelon, The Matchmakers

Author’s Pick: Call It Love

Favourite Drama

Winner: Twinkling Watermelon

Special Mention: Perfect Marriage Revenge

Author’s Pick: Twinkling Watermelon

Worst Drama

Winner: Kkokdu: Season of Deity

Special Mention: Heavenly Idol, Strong Girl Nam-soon

Author’s Pick: Kkokdu: Season of Deity

Most Underrated

Winner: Call It Love

Special Mention: Kidnapping Day, Unlock The Boss, The Interest of Love, The Miraculous Brothers

Author’s Pick: Race, Cold Blooded Intern

Most Overrated

Winner: King The Land

Special Mention: Castaway Diva

Author’s Pick: Castaway Diva

Best Male Actor

Winner: Namkoong Min (My Dearest)

Special Mention: King Young-kwang (Call It Love)

Author’s Pick: Jung Hae-in (D.P. 2), Yoon Kye-sang (The Kidnapping Day)

Best Female Actor

Winner: Yuna (The Kidnapping Day)

Author’s Pick: Yuna (The Kidnapping Day)

Best OST (Original Soundtrack)

Winner: Twinkling Watermelon

Special Mention: Castaway Diva, My Dearest

Author’s Pick: Twinkling Watermelon

Most Stylish

Winner: Moving

Special Mention: My Dearest

Author’s Pick: Call It Love

The One That Made You Laugh The Most

Winner: Twinkling Watermelon

Special Mention: Heartbeat, Love To Hate You

Author’s Pick: Stealer: Treasure Keeper

The One That Made You Cry The Most

Winner: Twinkling Watermelon

Special Mention: Call It Love

Author’s Pick: Twinkling Watermelon

The One With the Best Villain 

Winner: The Matchmakers

Special Mention: The Kidnapping Day

Author’s Pick: The Matchmakers

The One With the Best Romance

Winner: Dong-jin/Woo-joo (Call It Love)

Special Mention: Yi-chan/Cheong-ah (Twinkling Watermelon)

Author’s Pick: Bong-Seok/ Hee-soo (Moving)

The One With the Worst Romance

Winner: Ji-eum/ Seo-ha (See You in My 19th Life)

Special Mention: Hong-jo/ Shin-yu (Destined With You), Kkok-Du/ Gye-jeol- Seol-hui (Kokdu: Season of Deity)

Author’s Pick: All of the above and more

The One With the Romance That Should Have Been But Wasn’t

Winner: Stealer: Treasure Keeper

Author’s Pick: Stealer: Treasure Keeper

The One With the Best Ensemble Cast

Winner: Twinkling Watermelon

Special Mention: Moving

Author’s Pick: Work Later, Drink Now

The One With the Worst Ending

Winner: Heartbeat

Author’s Pick: Unlock the Boss

Best Sequel

Winner: Alchemy of Souls

Author’s Pick: Work Later, Drink Now


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