Can’t move on from Twenty-Five Twenty-One’s emotional finale? Well, much like the tvN series, not all K-drama storylines end with ‘happily ever after.’ Sometimes fans are left with heartache as we watch the characters we poured all our investment into go their separate ways. While viewers clamor for a second season in hopes of seeing their favorite fictional couples finally get together, most of us end up settling for the occasional rewatch.
If you miss going through a roller coaster of emotions (or you just want to know which shows to steer clear of), we’ve listed down 10 K-dramas with bittersweet endings that will definitely have you bawling your eyes out. Warning: Major spoilers are ahead!
10 K-Dramas With Sad Endings:
1. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
This romantic melodrama, based on a Chinese novel, tells the story of 25-year-old Go Ha-jin who’s brought to the Goryeo Dynasty during a total eclipse. She wakes up living in the house of Wang Wook, the 8th Prince of the ruling Wang family during the year 941. To make matters more complicated, Ha-jin is in the body of 16-year old Hae-soo. She soon befriends the other princes and falls in love with the kind-hearted Wang Wook, until she meets Wang So, the fearsome and masked 4th Prince. As several of the princes fall in love with her, Hae-soo finds herself involved in the kingdom’s political warfare over the succession of the throne.
The show's finale episode caused a stir as Ha-jin dies in the past just when Wang So realizes his true feelings. She wakes up in the present without any memory of living as Hae-soo. As Ha-jin often dreams of a masked man, she visits a museum gallery where her memories eventually return upon seeing a portrait of Wang So. She breaks down and feels sorry for leaving him alone. While in Goryeo, Wang So turns as if he hears Ha-jin’s voice.
Starring: Lee Joon Gi, IU, Kang Ha Neul, Nam Joo Hyuk
2. Uncontrollably Fond
Childhood friends Sin Joon-young and Noh Eul went their separate ways due to uncontrollable circumstances. They meet again as adults, with Joon-young now a top actor and singer, and Noh Eul as a documentary producer-director. She has to shoot Joon-young's documentary upon persuading a producer that she can get his consent. Deadset against the shoot, Joon-young eventually agrees but realizes how different Noh Eul is now because she will do anything to rise above others. He gives her a hard time yet tries to win her back in the process.
By its ending, fans already know that Joon-young only has a few months to live. He comes to terms with his life during the final scenes. Joon-young rests his head on Noh Eul's shoulder, who later asks if he's asleep. With no answer, Noh Eul realizes he's passed away. In the final scene, she kisses his poster and says, "See you tomorrow, Joon-young."
Starring: Kim Woo Bin, Suzy Bae
3. Mr. Sunshine
Eugene Choi, who was born to slavery, escapes as a kid to the United States during the 1871 US expedition to Joseon. Years later, he goes back home as an American marine officer. He meets, and grows fond of, Go Ae-shin, an aristocrat’s granddaughter. The two eventually fall in love, but their relationship is tested amidst class and sovereignty issues. In the end, the existing political turmoil leads to Eugene’s death while he fends off his enemies.
Starring: Lee Byung Hun, Kim Tae Ri
4. Youth of May
Watch on: Viu
During the Gwangju Uprising, Hwang Hee-tae enters Seoul National University as a medical student with top marks. He and his best friend then open up an illegal clinic to aid student activists. When one of his friends gets fatally injured during a protest, he promises to assist her in traveling back to their hometown, though the move will cost him. In order to get the money he needs, Hee-tae goes on a blind date set up by his father. There, he meets Kim Myung-hee, a nurse who only agreed to go in place of her friend as she needs money to study in Germany. They end up falling in love, but find their blossoming relationship tested when they get involved in the violent political cries for democracy. Come the heartbreaking ending, Myung-hee dies after getting shot by a soldier from the military.
Starring: Lee Do Hyun, Go Min Si
5. Hotel Del Luna
The greedy Jang Man-wol has been the owner of a supernatural hotel for the past thousand years, catering to the needs of ghosts and souls who have unfinished business on Earth. She is doomed to spend eternity in the establishment to stop her thirst for vengeance and self-destruction after experiencing a betrayal decades ago. Her only chance of escape is to let go of her hatred and find love. Things change when Goo Chan-sung shows up and becomes the youngest assistant manager to work at her hotel. He is forced to manage the business due to a deal his faher made with Man-wol years ago. His excellent talent in managing expenses often clashes with Man-wol's excessive spending, and yet, Chan-sung’s presence might just be what the hotel and the cursed owner need.
As the series comes to a close, Man-wol must decide between staying as the hotel's owner with Chan-sung or finally going to the afterlife. Seeing her conflicted, Chan-sung asks her to go. After all, as the only human staff in the hotel, it's his responsibility to guide all the ghosts there, including Man-wol. He sends Man-wol off and promises to reunite with her in the future. Although the epilogue shows Chan-sung and Man-wol reuniting in a park, the ending is open for interpretation: whether the scene is just his imagination or their next life.
Starring: IU, Yeo Jin Goo, Lee Do Hyun
BLACKPINK Jisoo’s debut drama is set in 1987 when South Korea was under a dictatorial government. She stars as a college student named Young-ro, who meets a wounded man hiding in her university dorm after being chased by the police. Young-ro realizes that the stranger is Lim Soo-ho, who she’d met prior on a group blind date and fell in love with at first sight. She and her friends hide and take care of him, not knowing he’s a North Korean spy in disguise. In an unexpected turn of events, Soo-ho takes the whole dorm hostage, leaving Young-ro shocked to learn his secret.
Despite seeing Young-ro grow distraught and upset by his actions, Soo-ho is left with no choice but to follow orders so he and his teammates can go back home. While apprehensive at first, the pair eventually develop a romantic relationship. Young-ro rejects his father who works with the government, and cooperates with Soo-ho instead to save both him and their friends. Unfortunately, Soo-ho dies at the end, with Young-ro never leaving his side. She ends up witnessing his death at the hands of the ANSP officers.
Starring: Jisoo, Jung Hae In, Yoo In Na
7. Queen for Seven Days
The drama focuses on the tragic romance between Prince Jinseong or Yeok, and the deposed Lady Shin Chae-kyung, based on a true story during the late 14th century. When Yeok becomes king, his wife, Chae-kyung, is dethroned from the palace within a week due to a political faction that controls his rule, making her the shortest queen to reign in Joseon history. By the end of the series, both Yeok and Chae-kyung decide to part ways to ensure each other’s safety, agreeing to love one another from afar.
Starring: Park Min Young, Yeon Woo Jin, Lee Dong Gun
8. A Korean Odyssey
This fantasy drama, loosely based on the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West, revolves around Son Oh-gong, an immortal monkey spirit imprisoned for his crimes, and Seon-mi, a woman who can see ghosts. Seon-mi first meets Oh-gong as a child when he asks her to free him from his incarceration. In exchange, he promises to protect Seon-mi for the rest of her life every time she calls for his name.
Years later, Seon-mi has grown into a wealthy woman who owns a real estate company specializing in buying haunted houses. Oh-gong, on the other hand, has been exiled to the human world with his powers sealed. He soon finds out he can gain back his immortality by eating the flash of a being named Sam-jang who’s been reborn into the modern world. Determined to find Sam-jang, his plan hits a major snag when he realizes that Seon-mi is the person he must kill. However, Oh-gong cannot eat her due to the promise he made 25 years ago. In a bittersweet ending, after the two fall in love, Seon-mi accepts her destiny and dies. Rather than forcing Oh-gong to end her life, she decides to carry it out on her own terms, but is ultimately killed to save the world from an harrowing evil.
Starring: Lee Seung Gi, Cha Seung Won, Oh Yeon Seo, Lee Hong Gi
9. Hi Bye, Mama!
Hi Bye, Mama centers on the story of Cha Yu-ri, a mother who has been living as a ghost after dying in a tragic accident five years ago. Through a reincarnation project, she is given the chance to become human again, only if she is able to restore her place as a mother and wife in the human world within 49 days. However, Yu-ri discovers that her husband, Cho Gang-hwa, has remarried, and she now has to choose between her husband’s happiness or her own. The ending of the drama shows just how much a mother can sacrifice for her child as Yu-ri decides to pass on so as not to shake up her family’s life any longer.
Starring: Kim Tae Hee, Lee Kyu Hyung, Go Bo Gyeol
Cha Mi-jo, Jung Chan-young, and Jang Joo-hee have been best friends since they were teenagers. Now on the brink of turning 40, their friendship faces its biggest challenge yet when they find out that Chan-young is terminally ill and only has a few months left to live. Throughout the series, the trio try to go on with their lives as normal as possible at Chan-young’s request, but they soon break once the reality of Chan-young’s sickness catches up with her. By the end of the show, Mi-jo and Joo-hee struggle to make sense of Chan-young's death as they attempt to move around their grief.
Starring: Son Ye Jin, Jeon Mi Do, Kim Ji Hyun, Yeon Woo Jin, Lee Mu Saeng, Lee Tae Hwan
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