Korean spy dramas have become a popular genre, captivating audiences with their blend of suspense, intrigue and espionage.
This rise in popularity comes from its ability to create complex plots involving secrecy, covert operations, and political intrigue, and the constant appeal of the spy drama genre lies in its adrenaline-filled stories, full of twists and unexpected revelations. Viewers are captivated by the high-stakes missions, clever strategies, and battles between spies and enemies, creating an immersive and entertaining viewing experience.
Additionally, the genre often explores complex characters, moral dilemmas, and the human side of what often results in betrayals, adding depth and relevance to compelling stories.
Thanks to its intense action, suspense, and character-driven storytelling, Korean spy series have become popular among viewers in Korea and around the world. Here are some of the best Korean spy dramas to add to your Watch Next list!
Spy, KBS (2015)
Spy follows the story of a regular housewife, Hyerim, who finds herself thrust back into the dangerous world of espionage when she is handed a mission involving her own son, Sunwoo.
Though seemingly an ordinary public official, Sunwoo turns out to be a double agent working for the NIS. Hyerim must now try to protect her family while unraveling the truth about her son’s double life.
Alongside her struggles, she faces challenges from both the intelligence agency and rival spies, leading to intense and suspenseful situations that test her loyalty and determination to safeguard her loved ones.
Throughout the series, Hyerim confronts danger and deception, ultimately risking her life to safeguard her family from the perils of espionage.
Good Casting, SBS TV (2020)
Good Casting centers on three female former National Intelligence Service (NIS) agents who are brought back into the fold for a secret mission to infiltrate a large conglomerate.
Posing as incompetent office workers, the trio tries to uncover corruption within the company while facing comical challenges due to their lack of business knowledge. As the agents deal with office politics and unexpected situations, they gradually uncover secrets and conspiracies that lead to both humorous and dynamic scenes.
Along the way, they form unlikely alliances, meet eccentric characters, and use their individual skills to accomplish their mission while dealing with personal and professional dilemmas.
Crash Landing on You, tvN (2019 – 2020)
Crash Landing on You follows the story of a South Korean heiress, Yoon Seri, who accidentally paraglides into North Korea due to a sudden storm. There, she meets a North Korean army officer, Ri Jeonghyeok, who helps conceal her identity and attempts to send her back home safely.
As Seri navigates the unfamiliar environment of North Korea, she develops relationships with Jeonghyeok’s comrades and experiences the complexities of life across the border. Meanwhile, Jeonghyeok finds himself drawn to Seri while protecting her and dealing with his own personal and political challenges.
Amidst cultural clashes and political tensions, their unexpected romance blossoms as they face obstacles and dangers in their attempt to reunite Seri with her home in South Korea.
Moving, Disney+ (2023)
A more recent show to contribute to the genre is Disney+’s Moving, which also brings a bit of the supernatural to the mix.
The series primarily follows two sets of main characters: three high school students who not only have their own supernatural powers but also share an unknown tie through the second set of characters central to the series: their parents.
Also, with supernatural powers of their own, which they passed on to their kids, the parents worked together as spies in South Korea’s NIS but left when their jobs endangered their families. Now, years later, the NIS is after their children, and they must all work together to protect themselves.
Iris, KBS2 (2009)
Iris revolves around two friends, Kim Hyunjun and Jin Sawoo, who are recruited into South Korea’s secret intelligence service, the National Security Service.
They undergo rigorous training to become qualified agents. However, their friendship is tested when they both fall in love with the same woman, Choi Seunghee, a psychologist from the NSS who had recruited them both. As they go on a mission together, their loyalty, trust, and friendship are challenged by personal and professional conflicts.
The plot intensifies as they become entangled in a complex web of espionage, betrayal, and political intrigue, face dangerous adversaries, and uncover shocking truths that shake their loyalties and beliefs to their core.
Iris II: New Generation, KBS (2013)
In a follow-up to the previous show, Iris II: New Generation continues the story of the secret South Korean intelligence agency NSS as they face new challenges and threats.
The series follows a new group of agents who are tasked with thwarting the plans of a mysterious and powerful organization called IRIS. Led by a skilled and determined team, including elite agents and analysts, they embark on high-risk missions across various countries to prevent global crises orchestrated by IRIS.
As they navigate intricate political landscapes and dangerous adversaries, the agents uncover hidden agendas, betrayals, and personal vendettas, further intensifying the conflict between NSS and IRIS.
Athena: Goddess of War, SBS TV (2010 – 2011)
The first spin-off from the abovementioned Iris franchise is Athena: Goddess of War, which takes place in the same timeline as Iris and follows the story of the National Anti-Terror Service (NTS) agents who are on a mission to prevent global terrorism threats.
Led by a talented agent, Lee Jung-woo, the team faces intense challenges and dangerous missions against a terrorist organization known as Athena.
Amidst the high-stakes operations and covert missions, the agents confront personal dilemmas, complex relationships, and internal conflicts within the organization. As they race against time to thwart catastrophic attacks orchestrated by Athena, they uncover shocking secrets, espionage, and betrayal, testing their loyalty and dedication to safeguarding their country.
7th Grade Civil Servant, MBC TV (2013)
Spying and romance collide in 7th Grade Civil Servant! The series revolves around two novice spies, Han Gilro and Kim Seowon, undergoing training at the National Intelligence Service (NIS).
Gilro, inspired by his love for James Bond, joins the industry and develops romantic feelings for Seowon, a goofy but talented agent, which complicates their professional relationship. As they embark on missions together, their contrasting personalities lead to comedic situations and conflicts.
Alongside their training, they become entangled in a complicated web of espionage and political intrigue. Balancing their budding romance with their duties as agents, they navigate the challenges of undercover operations while dealing with personal emotions and loyalty to their country.
Family: The Unbreakable Bond, tvN (2023)
One of the newer shows on this list is Family: The Unbreakable Bond, a comedic twist on your typical Korean spy drama.
Kwon Dohoon works for South Korea’s NIS as a black ops agent with superior skills as a sniper. However, by day, he’s also a husband disguising himself as your regular, run-of-the-mill office worker. Even his wife, Yoora, has no idea about his secret identity.
There’s trouble in their paradise when Dohoon becomes too busy with his espionage work while all Yoora dreams of is having the perfect family. However, she is also hiding a secret of her own.
City Hunter, SBS TV (2011)
City Hunter follows Lee Yoonsung, a highly skilled vigilante seeking revenge for his adoptive father’s betrayal and tragic past.
Trained by a secret organization, he adopts the persona of City Hunter and returns to South Korea. Working as a highly proficient problem solver within the Blue House, Yoonsung uses his intellect and combat skills to take down corrupt individuals.
Alongside his mission, he becomes entangled in a romantic relationship with Kim Nana, an intelligent bodyguard unaware of his true identity. Amidst his quest for justice, Yoon-sung unravels conspiracies, uncovers hidden truths, and confronts powerful adversaries while seeking retribution and finding redemption.
Undercover, JTBC (2021)
Based on the BBC drama of the same name, Undercover follows the story of a husband and wife duo hiding secrets that could disrupt their marriage.
Han Junghyun is a highly skilled agent for the National Intelligence Service (NIS) who goes undercover to take down one of their targets. He falls in love with Yeonsoo, and they end up getting married.
Years down the line, Junghyun maintains his secret and past, and Yeonsoo is promoted to a top position within the Corruption Investigation Office, thus becoming a NIS target herself.
Junghyun is brought back into the fold to take her down, and he works to navigate the intricate dynamics within the family while trying to gather crucial information to save them both.
The Veil, MBC TV (2021)
The Veil follows the story of Han Jihyuk, an elite agent in the NIS who mysteriously disappears during a mission and is presumed dead. However, he reappears a year later with no memory of his past and is now working as a part of a secret organization known as The Veil.
Tasked with taking down a powerful conglomerate involved in corrupt activities, Jihyuk works undercover while trying to uncover the truth about his own identity.
As he navigates the dangerous underworld, he forms alliances, faces adversaries, and slowly pieces together fragments of his forgotten past, with the ultimate goal of finding the traitor within the organization that left him for dead.
My Secret Terrius, MBC TV (2018)
In My Secret Terrius, Go Aerin, a single mother, encounters trouble after her husband’s sudden death. She crosses paths with her neighbor, a mysterious ex-spy named Kim Bon, who helps her navigate the chaos surrounding her husband’s demise.
Unbeknownst to Aerin, Bon gets involved in her life to uncover a conspiracy linked to a dangerous secret organization. Bon, using his espionage skills, assists Aerin while simultaneously investigating the covert operation that led to her husband’s death.
As they work together, they uncover hidden connections, face perilous situations, and gradually develop an unexpected bond.
Man to Man, JTBC (2017)
Man to Man follows Kim Seolwoo, a skilled black ops agent tasked with going undercover as a bodyguard to protect a top Hallyu star, Yeo Woongwang. Seolwoo infiltrates Woongwang’s world while keeping his true identity hidden.
Through their unique and sometimes humorous interactions, Seolwoo becomes not only Woongwang’s protector but also his confidant, forging an unexpected bond.
As they navigate the entertainment industry’s complexities and encounter various threats, Seolwoo uncovers dangerous secrets tied to Woongwang’s past.
The series shows Seolwoo risks his life to safeguard Woongwang while uncovering hidden agendas and conspiracies lurking within the glamorous world of celebrities.
Snowdrop, JTBC (2021 – 2022)
Set against a pivotal moment in South Korea’s history, Snowdrop revolves around the story of a young woman named Eun Yeongro who encounters a mysterious man named Lim Sooho, covered in blood while seeking refuge from a blizzard.
She takes him into her dorm, thinking she is helping him hide from the government, unaware that he’s actually an undercover spy from North Korea on a mission in the South. As their relationship grows and they fall in love, Yeongro discovers Sooho’s true identity and gets caught up in his secretive mission.
Set against the backdrop of political turmoil in the late 1980s, the series explores their personal struggles, the complexities of espionage, and the challenges they face due to their conflicting loyalties.
Vagabond, SBS TV (2019)
Vagabond follows the story of Cha Dalgun, a stuntman who loses his nephew in a tragic plane crash. Suspecting foul play, Dalgun embarks on a mission to uncover the truth behind the incident.
Along the way, he teams up with Go Haeri, a National Intelligence Service agent, and together, they delve into a complex web of corruption, espionage, and political conspiracy. As they navigate dangerous situations and encounter powerful adversaries, they uncover shocking truths about the crash and its connection to a larger scheme.
The series chronicles Dalgun and Haeri’s determination to unravel the hidden forces behind the catastrophic event.
Bridal Mask, KBS2 (2012)
Bridal Mask is set in the 1930s during the Japanese occupation of Korea.
The story revolves around Lee Kangto, a Korean police officer initially loyal to the Japanese authorities. However, as he witnesses the atrocities committed by the Japanese against his people, his perspective changes.
Disguised as the enigmatic vigilante known as Bridal Mask, Kangto fights against injustice and tyranny, seeking to protect the Korean population. Alongside his covert activities, he navigates complex relationships and moral dilemmas.
The series showcases Kangto’s transformation from a pro-Japanese officer to a hero fighting for Korean independence and explores patriotism, sacrifice, and the struggles faced by those fighting for freedom during a tumultuous period in history.
Time Between Dog and Wolf, MBC TV (2007)
Time Between Dog and Wolf follows the story of Lee Soo-Hyun, a NIS agent, who goes undercover in a criminal organization to avenge his mother’s death.
After growing up in Thailand, Soo-hyun returns to Korea and infiltrates the criminal ring. However, an operation involving the woman he loves goes wrong, leading to a life-threatening situation. In the chaos, he loses his memory and is taken in by the organization.
As he lives among the criminals, he struggles with conflicting loyalties and begins to form personal connections. While grappling with his lost memories, Soo-hyun navigates the dangerous underworld, torn between his past life as an agent and the new reality among the criminals.
Spy Myung-wol, KBS2 (2011)
Spy Myung-wol follows the story of North Korean spy Han Myungwol, who is tasked with a mission to kidnap a famous South Korean actor, Kang Woo. However, her mission faces complications when she starts developing genuine feelings for Kang Woo.
Myungwol struggles to carry out her assignments while dealing with the unexpected emotions that arise. As she tries to complete her mission, she faces challenges from her own North Korean agency and the intricate web of relationships she develops in South Korea.
The series depicts Myungwol’s dilemma as she balances her loyalty to her country and her growing affection for the target of her mission.
Sweet Spy, MBC (2005 – 2006)
In Sweet Spy, a young and widowed traffic cop named Lee Sunae is in the middle of a seemingly standard traffic violation check when she meets Han Yooil, the charming man that she stopped.
Unbeknownst to her, he is an international spy on a mission in South Korea. She gets yanked into his world of high-profile espionage after forgetting to return his pen – which she didn’t even know was a spy tool!
Soon, the Special Operations Unit becomes involved in her life, brings back characters who are linked to her husband’s death, and helps her uncover secrets to find out the truth, which all lead her back to Han Yooil.
My Name, Netflix (2021)
In My Name, Jiwoo, a young woman seeking revenge for her father’s death, goes undercover in a crime organization.
Using a new identity as a member of the criminal group, she infiltrates their ranks while concealing her true motives. As she navigates the dangerous world of crime, Jiwoo faces internal conflicts and moral dilemmas while collecting evidence to avenge her father’s murder.
Throughout her undercover mission, she encounters unexpected allies and adversaries, delving deeper into the criminal underworld to unravel the truth.
Jiwoo’s journey is one fraught with complexities of maintaining her cover while seeking justice, culminating in a gripping tale of revenge and redemption.
Heartless City, JTBC (2013)
Heartless City, or also known as Cruel City, revolves around Jung Shihyun, an undercover cop operating in a drug cartel under the alias Doctor’s Son in order to seek justice for his mother’s murder.
Shihyun forms alliances and faces dangerous situations to gather information and dismantle the criminal organization. Amidst his undercover work, he encounters Soomin, a woman seeking her own vengeance, and the two become intertwined in the world of crime and corruption.
As Shihyun delves deeper into the criminal network, he grapples with balancing his loyalty to the police and his involvement in the criminal world.
Different Dreams, MBC TV (2019)
Different Dreams follows the story of Lee Youngjin, a Korean nurse raised by a Japanese family who returns to Korea during the Japanese colonial period. With a hidden agenda to seek vengeance for her parents’ death, she becomes involved with the Korean independence movement.
Alongside Kim Wonbong, a key figure in the resistance, Youngjin navigates dangerous situations and espionage activities while trying to uncover the truth behind her parents’ demise.
As she immerses herself in the independence movement, she faces challenges, confronts enemies, and forms alliances in her quest for justice and freedom for her homeland.
A Man Called God, MBC (2010)
In A Man Called God, Choi Kangta, a martial artist with a tragic past, seeks revenge against those responsible for his family’s death.
After growing up in the United States, he returns to Korea to uncover the truth behind his father’s murder. Under the alias Michael King, Kangta rises through the ranks of the underworld, facing dangerous adversaries and navigating complex relationships.
Along the way, he encounters Jin Bobae, a journalist he meets by chance after his partner betrays him, and forms a bond with her while pursuing his mission for vengeance.
However, their budding relationship soon becomes the reason why his life is put in even more danger than he had bargained for.
Local Hero, OCN (2016)
Local Hero follows Baek Shiyoon, a former secret agent who seeks a quiet life after retirement. He becomes the owner of a local bar for other agents and uses it as a cover for his covert investigations into his former partner’s death.
Despite wanting to lead a peaceful life, Shiyoon is compelled to use his skills to uncover the truth and take down the corrupt forces manipulating the system. He eventually crosses paths with an aspiring police officer named Choi Changyu and, seeing his potential, trains him to become an agent as well.
With the help of Changyu and other allies, he embarks on a mission to expose the wrongdoing while navigating dangerous situations.
Rugal, OCN (2020)
Bringing in a mix of science fiction, Rugal tells the story of Kang Kibeom, an elite police officer who faces a tragic incident where a criminal organization called Argos kills his wife and blinds him.
He is then recruited by the NIS to join a special organization called Rugal that offers him a chance to regain his sight through cutting-edge biotechnology. Equipped with artificial eyes and enhanced abilities, Kibeom is determined to take revenge on Argos and dismantle the organization.
Alongside a team of uniquely skilled individuals who’ve also undergone biotechnological enhancements, Kibeom hunts down criminals and fights against the powerful forces of Argos.
The Spies Who Loved Me, MBC TV (2020)
In The Spies Who Loved Me, Kang Ahreum is a wedding dress designer unaware that both her ex-husband, Jun Jihoon, and her current husband, Derek Hyun, are secret agents.
Jihoon is an Interpol agent undercover as a travel writer, while Derek is an industrial spy and CEO of his own agency. Both men have hidden their true identities from Ahreum, but it soon catches up to them all.
Ahreum’s close friend is murdered, and she seeks help from Jihoon to find out the truth, leading her into unexpected situations and uncovering secrets about the people around her.