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The 12 most anticipated K-dramas of 2021, from Jun Ji-hyun’s star turn in Cliffhanger to Netflix’s star-studded sci-fi The Silent Sea

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 12/1/2021 Pierce Conran
Jun Ji-hyun standing in front of a mountain: Jun Ji-hyun in a still from Cliffhanger. Jun Ji-hyun in a still from Cliffhanger.

Given the riches that Korean TV offered the world last year, it's hard to imagine the industry topping that in 2021. But with networks and streamers busy working on a range of exciting new stories, there's reason to be very optimistic as we enter the new year.

Expect high altitude adventure, a sci-fi drama set on the moon, a high-stakes survival game show, more zombies than you can shake a stick at and, of course, plenty of romance. Read on for our 12 most anticipated K-dramas of 2021 - which is merely a fraction of what's on the way.

Cliffhanger

Likely to be one of this year's hottest shows, Cliffhanger is an adventure drama from tvN set in the mountainous Jirisan National Park. Superstar Jun Ji-hyun returns to screens as a top mountain park ranger who works with her fellow rangers, played by Ju Ji-hoon, Sung Dong-il and Oh Jung-se, who rescue the park's visitors and become involved in a mystery. From Signal and Kingdom writer Kim Eun-hee, the show is currently filming and will launch worldwide on iQiyi later this year.

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Sang-ho Yeon holding a book: Director Yeon Sang-ho (right) is adapting his own webtoon Hellbound for TV. © Provided by South China Morning Post Director Yeon Sang-ho (right) is adapting his own webtoon Hellbound for TV.

Hellbound

After penning the occult-themed series The Cursed, Yeon Sang-ho is working on his first small screen project as a director. The Train to Busan filmmaker is adapting his own webtoon Hellbound and bringing it to Netflix as a six-episode original. Yoo Ah-in leads the cast of this fantasy series in which demons appear on earth and begin dragging people to hell. Yoo plays the leader of a cult named the 'New Truth Society'.

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Hospital Playlist season two

Medical drama Hospital Playlist returns for a second season, which will once again explore the lives, friendships and struggles of five young doctors in a hospital's upscale VIP ward.

Among the show's many season one cliffhangers, viewers are desperate to know if Ik-jun and Song-Hwa, played by Jo Jung-suk and Jeon Mi-do, will wind up together. Yoo Yeon-seok, Jung Kyung-ho and Kim Dae-myung will also return.

Kam Woo-sung et al. posing for the camera: From left: Kam Woo-sung, Jang Dong-yoon and Park Sung-hoon lead the cast of Joseon Exorcist. © Provided by South China Morning Post From left: Kam Woo-sung, Jang Dong-yoon and Park Sung-hoon lead the cast of Joseon Exorcist.

Joseon Exorcist

A third season of Kingdom isn't on the cards just yet, but the undead will return to the Joseon Kingdom in 2021 through the new supernatural period horror Joseon Exorcist on SBS.

Currently filming with Jang Dong-yoon, Park Sung-hoon and Kam Woo-sung, the story follows the struggles of the king and his two sons as they try to protect the kingdom and exorcise the evil spirits who roam the land.

a group of people standing in front of a stage: A promotional image of L.U.C.A.: The Beginning. © Provided by South China Morning Post A promotional image of L.U.C.A.: The Beginning.

L.U.C.A.: The Beginning

Set to debut on February 1, the tvN drama L.U.C.A.: The Beginning stars Kim Rae-won as a man with a special ability but who has lost his memory. While he tries to uncover the mysteries around him, he is chased by dangerous figures.

This action series features a host of supporting stars who are known for their sterling film work, including Kim Sung-oh, Ahn Nae-sang, Kim Sang-ho, Jin Kyung and Park Hyuk-kwon.

Jo In-sung, Han Hyo-joo, Cha Tae-hyun posing for the camera: From left: Jo In-seong, Han Hyo-joo and Cha Tae-hyun lead the cast of Moving. © Provided by South China Morning Post From left: Jo In-seong, Han Hyo-joo and Cha Tae-hyun lead the cast of Moving.

Moving

Though not yet in production, one of this year's most hotly anticipated shows is Moving, an adaptation of Kang Full's supernatural webtoon about a high school teen keeping a secret from his parents.

Mo Wan-il, the director of last year's smash hit The World of the Married , is on board to helm the series, while stars Jo In-seong, Cha Tae-hyun and Han Hyo-joo have all been offered leading roles.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: The Penthouse returns for season two this year. © Provided by South China Morning Post The Penthouse returns for season two this year.

The Penthouse season two

This list would hardly be complete without mentioning that the despicable world of upper class scheming from The Penthouse will return for a second season, to air this year. Most of the cast are likely to return, but even if there are characters whose futures seemed in doubt during this week's season one finale, don't count them out just yet.

Expect more shouting, backstabbing, scandals, crushing defeats and miraculous rises when the SBS show returns for a 12-episode run.

Lee Jung-jae et al. posing for the camera: Lee Jung-jae (left) and Park Hae-soo lead the cast of Round Six. © Provided by South China Morning Post Lee Jung-jae (left) and Park Hae-soo lead the cast of Round Six.

Round Six

Director Hwang Dong-hyuk, known for hit films Silenced, Miss Granny and The Fortress makes his first foray into TV with the Netflix Original Round Six. The show depicts various down-on-their-luck characters, including childhood friends played by Lee Jung-jae and Park Hae-soo, who have been recruited to participate in a mysterious survival game, with the chance of winning a gigantic sum. Hwang's Silenced star Gong Yoo will reportedly make a cameo.

Gong Yoo, Bae Doona, Lee Joon, Jung Woo-sung posing for a photo: The Silent Sea actors (from left) Gong Yoo, Bae Doona and Lee Joon, and producer Jung Woo-sung. © Provided by South China Morning Post The Silent Sea actors (from left) Gong Yoo, Bae Doona and Lee Joon, and producer Jung Woo-sung.

The Silent Sea

Netflix is going to the moon in 2021 with the upcoming eight-part mystery sci-fi thriller The Silent Sea. Currently filming with Gong Yoo, Bae Doona and former MBLAQ member Lee Joon, the show follows a group of elite scientists who embark on a mission to the moon in order to retrieve mysterious samples from an abandoned research station. Adapted by director Choi Hang-yong from his short film The Sea of Tranquility, the series is being produced by superstar Jung Woo-sung.

Sisyphus: the Myth

Launching on screens next month will be the time travel-themed drama Sisyphus: the Myth from JTBC. Cho Seung-woo stars as a genius engineer who is helped by someone in the future, played by Park Shin-hye, who actually just appeared in another time travel story, the Netflix thriller The Call. This high octane series promises lots of action, thrills and mystery. Director Jin Hyeok previously helmed City Hunter and The Legend of the Blue Sea.

Snowdrop

Yoo Hyun-mi and Jo Hyun-tak, the writer-director combo that set screens alight with SKY Castle, are returning with Snowdrop, a new series based on the memoirs of a man who escaped a political prison camp in North Korea. Set in 1987 during the Korean military dictatorship, the show stars Jung Hae-in and Kim Ji-soo as students who become involved in political protests and fall in love. The JTBC drama will also reunite the creators with SKY Castle stars Kim Hye-yoon and Yoon Se-ah.

a close up of Song Joong-ki, Taecyeon looking at the camera: (From left) Song Joong-ki, Jeon Yeo-bin and TaecYeon lead the cast of Vincenzo. © Provided by South China Morning Post (From left) Song Joong-ki, Jeon Yeo-bin and TaecYeon lead the cast of Vincenzo.

Vincenzo

Superstar Song Joong-ki is returning to screens in February as Vincenzo Casano, a consigliere for a mob boss in Italy, who escapes to Korea when a mafia war breaks out. Back in his birth country, he falls in love with a just lawyer played by Jeon Yeo-bin, but with 2PM's TaecYeon also in the cast, expect a love triangle to develop before long in this tvN romantic drama with a Cosa Nostra twist.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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