TV shows and movies set within the military backdrop are always a blend of entertainment and a harsh reality check.
On the one hand, it’s fascinating – if not a little terrifying – to see what current and prospective soldiers need to endure to serve their country. On the other hand, knowing that the stories are still largely fictional is a stark reminder that what we’re seeing on our screens is likely nowhere close to the much more difficult reality.
South Korea has a mandatory military policy in place for men aged 18 to 30, where they are required to serve between 18 to 21 months in a branch of the military.
The rules and circumstances surrounding this are complex, but these Korean TV shows about the military may shed a little bit of light on it!
These Korean military dramas offer a unique window into the struggles and sacrifices made by soldiers, as well as their experiences both on and off the battlefield.
Viewers will find a compelling narrative experience that appeals to audiences well beyond their own country’s borders, whether they are examining the bonds formed in the heat of battle or focusing on the individual struggles of servicemen and women.
Descendants of the Sun, KBS2 (2016)
A captivating story unfolds in the fictitious war-torn nation of Uruk in Descendants of the Sun.
We follow the lives of Captain Yoo Si-jin, a Special Forces officer, and Doctor Kang Mo-yeon, a dedicated surgeon, who embark on a romance that is suddenly interrupted because of their jobs.
When they are reunited in Uruk, they deal with the demanding rigors of military service, humanitarian endeavors, and the complexities of their romantic relationship while stationed in a volatile area.
As they struggle with their duties and encounter life-or-death situations, they develop strong bonds with their fellow soldiers and the medical staff and show the persistence of their love through the hardships of war.
Search, OCN (2020)
Search, a 2020 South Korean TV show, is a thrilling narrative set in the treacherous demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.
The series centers on a specialized search team tasked with looking into lethal and mysterious incidents that happen within the zone.
The team, which is composed of experienced military personnel and subject-matter experts, sets out on dangerous missions to learn the truth about unexplained phenomena and encounters with unidentified entities.
They must contend with internal and external conflicts and hidden agendas as they delve deeper into the mysteries of the DMZ. The suspenseful storytelling in Search, which combines military action, mystery, and psychological drama, keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.
Military Prosecutor Doberman, tvN (2022)
A sharp-witted and tenacious military prosecutor named Do Baeman (where the titular nickname “Doberman” comes from) is the protagonist of Military Prosecutor Doberman, which centers on his life and career.
Do Baeman takes on high-profile cases involving corruption, abuse of power, and crimes within the military with a strong sense of justice and an unyielding resolve, which frequently puts him at odds with powerful people.
Do Baeman and his team uncover a web of deceit as they delve into challenging investigations, exposing murky secrets within the military establishment.
Alongside him is Cha Wooin, who is also a military prosecutor who joins the team with her own internal agenda.
Crash Landing on You, tvN (2019)
Crash Landing on You begins when Yoon Seri, a wealthy South Korean heiress, inadvertently paraglides into North Korean territory during a storm.
There, she meets high-ranking North Korean officer Ri Jeonghyeok, who reluctantly aids her in hiding and tries to send her back to South Korea.
Seri develops strong bonds with the villagers and Jeonghyeok’s subordinates as she adjusts to life in North Korea and becomes involved in their lives.
Meanwhile, her family and fiance start looking for her while back home.
The show explores the difficulties and misunderstandings brought on by the political chasm as it spins a tale of love and resiliency across the Korean border.
D.P., Netflix (2021 – 2023)
Netflix’s D.P. revolves around a young soldier assigned to the Army’s Deserter Pursuit unit.
Ahn Junho is tasked with finding and bringing back AWOL soldiers, and he finds himself struggling with the difficult moral decisions and harsh realities of his work.
He sets out on emotionally charged missions with his partner, Han Hoyeol, and they eventually learn the struggles and life stories of each deserter.
The show explores the inner workings of the military justice system and the human struggles that soldiers face as Junho negotiates the hazy lines between loyalty and empathy.
In doing so, it sheds light on the lesser-known facets of military service and illuminates the murky areas of loyalty and empathy.
Comrades, KBS (1975 – 1978)
A group of soldiers who become close friends while serving in the Korean War are at the center of the South Korean TV drama Comrades.
The series narrates their experiences during the war, highlighting their camaraderie, sacrifices, and difficulties encountered on the front lines.
The relationships between the characters deepen as the war goes on, and they become more and more dependent on one another to survive.
The show also examines how the war affected their lives and the years that followed, showing how these comrades’ enduring friendship and fortitude helped them face the challenging and frequently harsh realities of South Korea’s reconstruction.
Legend of the Patriots, KBS (2010)
Legend of the Patriots is a remake to the previously mentioned series, Comrades, and was produced as a way to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.
Much like the original series, Legend of the Patriots centers on the lives of a group of South Korean military personnel who served in the Vietnam War.
Their experiences in battle, the difficulties they face, and the strong bonds they form there unfold throughout the show, which also delves into the soldiers’ individual histories, interpersonal relationships, and the long-term effects of their military service.
It was less about the different ideals between the North and South but about the lives of the soldiers.
Blue Tower, tvN (2013)
Blue Tower, a 2013 South Korean TV series, revolves around the lives of the dedicated soldiers stationed at the Blue Tower, a remote military outpost near the North Korean border.
The narrative focuses on their interpersonal relationships, day-to-day struggles, and difficulties sustaining the security of their post.
The soldiers are put in danger more and more frequently as the level of tension on the Korean Peninsula rises.
The show provides an intense and heartfelt depiction of life on the front lines by delving into their personal lives, the sacrifices they make, and the challenges of their mission.
Blue Tower ZERO (2013)
The title alone, Blue Tower ZERO, might already clue you in on what this show is about!
It’s a prequel to the previous Blue Tower, and delves into the early days of the military outpost near the North Korean border.
The series explores the formation of the Blue Tower unit, shedding light on the backgrounds and motivations of its key characters.
The show traces their journey as they overcome initial challenges, build the foundation for their camaraderie, and adapt to the demands of their mission.
Blue Tower ZERO deepens viewers’ understanding of the soldiers’ relationships, their commitment to duty, and the complexities of their roles in safeguarding the border.
Oh My Captain, Naver TV (2018)
Oh My Captain follows a diverse group of military cadets as they receive training at a prestigious military academy.
In the story, female soldiers are trained at a mobilization reserve division.
Despite having a fierce disposition, Captain Cha Songjoo is a female with excellent training records, but this is put to the test with the arrival of male captain Kim Soohyun.
Everyone was anticipating his arrival except Captain Cha, who was focused on achieving another promotion.
While Captain Kim was striving to be as flawless as Captain Cha, however, he began to develop feelings for her.
Bridal Mask, KBS2 (2012)
The next show on the list is based on Huh Youngman’s famous manhwa (comic book) – Bridal Mask.
The series is set during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930s.
In order to fight against oppression, Lee Kangto, a Korean police officer who was initially loyal to the Japanese, assumes the mysterious persona of Bridal Mask, a vigilante standing in for the oppressed while pursuing justice.
Kangto’s journey is entwined with complicated relationships during the upheaval, including his friendship with freedom fighter and childhood friend Mok Dan.
Mr. Sunshine, tvN (2018)
Viewers are taken to the late 19th century, during the decline of the Joseon Dynasty and the rise of modern Korea, in TVN’s Mr. Sunshine.
It centers on Eugene Choi, a soldier from Korea who was born in America and later served as a U.S. military officer. There, he gets caught up in political intrigue and falls in love with Go Aeshin, the daughter of an aristocrat.
In addition to exploring Eugene’s involvement in the struggle for Korean independence, the series also examines his internal conflict over whether he should be loyal to the United States or to his heritage.
City Hunter, SBS TV (2011)
City Hunter follows the story of Lee Yoonsung, a highly skilled assassin who seeks vengeance against influential people who he believes are to blame for a tragic event in his past.
Yoonsung infiltrates the government while posing as a worker for the government and hunts down corrupt officials.
He develops strong bonds along the way, including a romantic one with Kim Nana, a bodyguard.
Yoonsung must navigate moral dilemmas and the difficulties of leading two lives as he seeks justice and fulfills his personal vendetta.
Iris, KBS2 (2009)
The espionage action series Iris revolves around Kim Hyunjun and Jin Sawoo, two friends (practically brothers) who are accepted into the highly classified South Korean black ops organization known as NSS.
They navigate a world of espionage, global conspiracies, and danger as the organization’s elite agents.
When they both become involved with Choi Seunghee, an NSS analyst and the person who recruited them both, their loyalty to each other is put to the test.
In the world of covert operations, viewers witness complicated relationships, betrayals, and moral dilemmas.
Road Number One, MBC TV (2010)
Road Number One tells of a tale as old as time: the intertwined fates of two young men, Lee Jangwoo and Shin Taeho, who become soldiers on opposing sides of the Korean War.
Jangwoo had enlisted to earn money to help his childhood sweetheart, Sooyeon, but she later learns that he died in battle. Enter Taeho, a handsome and intelligent military officer; though Sooyeon never forgets her first love, she lets Taeho into her life.
However, the news of Jangwoo’s death turns out to be wrong, and he returns to find his lover married to a man who he will have to fight side by side with as they head back out to the Korean War.
Duty After School, TVING (2023)
The newest show on our list is Duty After School, which aired just earlier this year, and it’s also one that brings a fresh take on the military series genre!
Where the previous shows featured official soldiers who went through formal army training, Duty After School focuses on students still in high school!
The seniors at Seongjin High are forced into battle when mysterious creatures suddenly start appearing and covering the sky.
Under the command of their teachers, they forgo preparation for college entrance exams in favor of army training against these extraterrestrial creatures.
The King 2 Hearts, MBC (2012)
Lastly, The King 2 Hearts thrust viewers into an alternate universe where South Korea is a constitutional monarchy headed by a caring king who aspires to combine the South and North militaries into one.
Jaeha, his younger brother and next in line to the throne, is intelligent but too carefree, wanting just to live a playboy lifestyle. Hence, the king tricks him into participating in a joint military exercise in the hopes that it will help him grow up. However, he falls in love with a North Korean officer, Hangah.
Their lives are changed as they are forced to build their relationship, and Jaeha unexpectedly ascends to the throne.