Recently, the K-Drama Extraordinary Attorney Woo has started a lot of meaningful conversations around the representation of people with autism in Korean media. Similar discussions were sparked around other shows, such as It’s Okay Not To Be Okay and The Good Doctor, that portrayed characters who are on the spectrum.
However, K-Dramas are not new to exploring these issues through their storytelling. Some other K-Dramas in the past have also made honest attempts to bring certain mental disorders and disabilities into light that are worth a watch.
1. It’s Okay That’s Love
This 2014 series portrays three different characters with distinctive mental health issues. Jang Jae Yeol (played by Jo In Sung) is a bestselling novelist and a successful radio DJ who is battling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia. Ji Hae Soo (played by Gong Hyo Jin), the love interest of Jae Yeol, battles anxiety and Genophobia (fear of sexual intercourse). Hae Soo’s housemate Park Soo Kwang (played by Lee Kwang Soo) is a cafe waiter with Tourette syndrome. The story revolves around these three and two other main characters, Jo Dong Min (played by Sung Dong Il) and Han Kang Woo (played by Do Kyung Soo).
The drama’s plot is woven intrinsically with the psychological issues the protagonists are dealing with and how they struggle to find love in the process. In the 2014 year-end Content Power Index’s (CPI) top 10, It’s Okay, That’s Love ranked third due to great appreciation from viewers.
2. Hello, My Twenties! (Season 2)
The second season of Hello, My Twenties! (also known as Age of Youth) explores the journey of Jung Ye Eun (played by Han Seung Yeon) as she fights her way through her demons after getting kidnapped by her abusive ex-boyfriend Go Doo Young (played by Ji Il Joo). Ye Eun struggles with an eating disorder and PTSD, withdrawing herself from the world altogether. The plot follows her endeavors to break out of the darkness and slowly learn to deal with her past.
3. Be Melodramatic
This 2019 K-Drama tells the story of three 30-year-old best friends who struggle through their individual problems in life together. Among these three, Lee Eun Jung (played by Jeon Yeo Been) is a documentary director who is battling Persistent Complex Grief Disorder (PCBD), which is also known as traumatic grief or Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD). Eun Jung lives her day-to-day life almost in a state of hallucination and yet finds enough drive to return to her professional life.
4. Hyde Jekyll, Me
Starring Hyun Bin (playing Gu Seo Jin) and Han Ji Min (playing Jang Ha Na), this K-Drama is a rom-com spin on Lee Choong Ho‘s webtoon Dr.Jekyll Is Mr. Hyde. Gu Seo-jin is a cold-hearted chaebol who deals with dissociative identity disorder. As the story explores the relationship between Seo Jin and Ha Na, audiences also get a look at the struggles of the male lead to deal with his condition.
5. Just Between Lovers
Also known as Rain or Shine, this series revolves around the lives of Lee Kang Doo (played by Lee Jun Ho) and Ha Moon Soo (played by Won Jin Ah), who lost their loved ones as kids in a shopping mall collapse. Both the characters struggle with the trauma even as adults. But what sets this series apart from this list is that it portrays physical disability in a sensitive manner. The supporting character Kim Wan Jin (played by Park Hee Von) is a wheelchair-bound webtoon writer and the closest friend of Moon Soo. Through this character, the drama explores discrimination against physically disabled people in society. Wan-jin is a strong personality who shows that there is more to her being than just her disability.
While most viewers would argue that representation of disability-led marginalization has a long way to go in K-Dramas, these instances keep up the hope that progress can be achieved slowly and steadily.