When it comes to Korean dramas, I enjoy fun (and tropey) romantic comedies and exciting action thrillers, but there’s something so moving about these relatable slice of life dramas that capture everyday life, including friendship, family, and career struggles. Recently I watched Because This is My First Life, Hello My Twenties, and Prison Playbook on Netflix (U.S.), and highly recommend all three! Because This is My First Life is also on Viki.
Because This is My First Life (2017)
Because This is My First Life (16 episodes) centers around three best friends entering their 30s. When the female lead, an assistant screenwriter who is passed up for a lead writer opportunity yet again, meets the male lead, a software developer at a startup, they decide that getting married will solve each of their respective problems. One of her friends has a long-term boyfriend who doesn’t get her hints that she wants to get married, which is her life dream. The other friend is a career woman who dreams of being her own boss and avoids commitment, but the male lead’s boss pursues her.
I actually abandoned this drama the first time I tried to watch it, partially because the female lead’s struggles in the beginning were so relatable and stressful. This drama explores misogyny in the workplace, pressure from family to get married, obstacles in the pursuit of your dreams, and worries about money. It’s about the two leads and their evolving relationship as they spend time together, learn about each other and themselves, and fall in love.
While I did enjoy Because This is My First Life, it ultimately didn’t make my favorites list because I felt that the humor sometimes was over-the-top and undermined the drama, and there was a storyline towards the end that fell in the ‘too coincidental for me to believe’ category. Still, this drama had many moving and relatable moments, and many gave it a 10/10 on MyDramaList.
Hello, My Twenties (2016)
I was surprised by the dark vibe of the 12-episode Hello, My Twenties (aka Age of Youth), since the promotional posters were so pastel and cheery. The drama centers around five girls in their twenties who live together: the naive first-year college student with a mysterious secret, an exuberant girl who really wants to date, a quiet girl who juggles part-time jobs to get by, a girl who cares about her looks and her boyfriend, and the only one who isn’t a college student. I loved how despite the vast differences in their personalities, they developed friendships with each other and supported each other through difficult times.
This drama isn’t romance-centered, but there were a couple of cute relationships. Although there is a second season, I haven’t watched it yet because there were some cast/character changes.
There’s also a Chinese version called Youth that is available on YouTube and it follows the Korean version very closely, but totals 26 episodes. There are many familiar cast members, but the most notable is probably Esther Yu, who was very popular on this year’s Youth With You girl group competition series.
Prison Playbook (2017)
Last but not least, I LOVED Prison Playbook (16 episodes). The writer is very well-known for the Reply/Answer Me series, which I’ve never watched (but all three are also on Netflix so maybe I’ll give them a try!). During the first episode, I was skeptical because it felt so bleak, as Je Hyuk, a talented baseball player, is sentenced to time in prison for assaulting the man who sexually assaulted his sister. Initially he seems dull, but the show peels back his layers little by little, showing that there’s more to him than meets the eye.
As Je Hyuk faces challenge after challenge, you can’t help but root for him, as well as the friends he makes while in prison. There are quite a variety of characters, including serious criminals with malicious intent, repeat petty crime offenders, people who have committed a serious crime and regretted it, and people who are innocent. The prison guards are also important supporting characters, including Je Hyuk’s childhood friend, played by Jung Kyung Ho (who I love!).
Everyone is so well-cast in this drama. I was impressed by Jung Hae In, who I had previously thought of as a puppy. His glaring was lethal! Lee Kyu Hyung was stellar as a drug addict struggling to stay clean, although I thought they used him for comedic effect too much. I was surprised to see Krystal play Je Hyuk’s love interest, especially since their personalities were so different, but I soon understood. A lot is shown in flashbacks, or sometimes it’d start with a scene and then rewind in time a bit to show how they had reached that moment. The show is so good at surprising you, reminding you that you don’t know everything.
I loved how funny the show was; there are so many humorous moments that made me laugh out loud. Perhaps sometimes Prison Playbook was a little over the top, but it’s filled with such heartwarming and moving moments. I stayed up late for several nights because I couldn’t stop watching. (Note that this show is overwhelmingly filled with male characters, but maybe this didn’t bother me because I watched it right after Hello, My Twenties, which was very female-centric.)
What am I watching next?
I’m currently watching Hospital Playlist, the new drama by the writer of Prison Playbook, and also on Netflix. Similarly, it focuses on a wide cast of characters, especially the close-knit friendship of the main five characters. It definitely focuses more on day-to-day hospital life rather than dramatic medical cases or hospital romances. There are only 12 episodes but it seems like a second season is planned!
After that, I plan to give last year’s Melo Is My Nature (aka Be Melodramatic) a try. It’s on Viki!