de Wish and Cho Na, novembro 12, 2022

There is no lack of good dramas around – alongside traditional TV stations, major streaming platforms such as Netflix, Disney+, and Tencent are also making their own dramas to attract viewers.

After joining MDL and seeing many 10/10 ratings and rave comments and posts in the likes of “masterpiece”, “I wish I could watch it again for the first time” on a myriad of dramas, I always wonder if there exists a Best of the Best (BOTB) drama for MDL members who rated a perfect 10 for several dramas? And does that BOTB drama change over time?

On Sep 11th, 2022, on a whim, I launched this poll “Best of the Best (BOTB) – Drama Edition” to unearth only the BOTB dramas among MDL users, by limiting each MDL member to one and only one precious vote. This list is planned to be an evergreen list, allowing MDL members to change their one vote unlimited times. The results, based on the first 1,000 voters and henceforth annually on Sep 11th, will be summarised and analyzed to see if the BOTB dramas have changed over time.

Before we dive into the results of the first 1,004 voters/votes*, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves how do we define the BOTB Drama?

* This editorial is based on the result of the first 1,004 voters/votes, as I missed the 1,000-voter/vote mark. In addition, as each voter only has one vote, “voter” and “vote” have the same meaning and “vote” instead of “voter” will be used henceforth to facilitate the drafting of this editorial.

The “BOTB Drama” has not been defined for this poll, simply because everyone is made up differently – of different DNAs, genders, cultures, ages, likes, biases et cetera. In addition, while some of us have watched Asian dramas for a while, some of us might be new to Asian dramas.

To some, the “BOTB Drama” is a classic, a signature, or a critically acclaimed all-rounded drama in terms of story, acting, cinematography, CGI, and music. But to others, it could well be the first Asian drama that sucked them into Asian dramaland, or one that wowed and touched them deeply, or a drama that one always goes back to and/or benchmark with, or simply the representative drama of their favourite oppas or unnis.

Whatever your definition is, below is the result of the inaugural BOTB – Drama Edition based on the voting by the first 1,004 votes.

Launched on Sep 11th, 2022, this BOTB list started slow, garnering only 501 voters and 56 titles, on Oct 1st, 2022. It doubled over the next 8 days, hitting a total of 1,004 voters on Oct 9th, 2022, with a grand total of 76 titles.

With more than 20 votes each, and a combined 704 votes or ~70 % of all votes, the top 10 dramas are clear winners. Of note are the top 3 dramas, each scoring more than 100 votes, and a combined 465 votes (including Love Like the Galaxy: Part 2 / LLTG2).

Chinese 9.0 - 187 votes
Chinese 9.0 - 138 votes
Korean 9.0 - 106 votes
Chinese 8.9 - 72 votes
Korean 9.0 - 48 votes
Korean 9.0 - 39 votes
#07 Love Like the Galaxy: Part 2
Chinese 9.0 - 34 votes
Korean 9.1 - 33 votes
#09  My Mister
Korean 9.1 - 25 votes
Chinese 8.6 - 22 votes

Note: Ancient costume dramas are shaded in yellow.

Topping the BOTB list is the Chinese ancient costume drama Love Like the Galaxy. Recently aired in July 2022, it has garnered 187 votes. Wait, no, it has garnered a total of 221 votes, or more than a fifth of all votes, combining Part 1 and Part 2. And unlike the MDL ranking where Part 2 (#20) is ranked slightly higher than Part 1 (#25) with the same 9.0 rating, in this poll, Part 1 actually received 5.5 times more votes than Part 2 (9.0). Did fans really enjoy Part 1 better or actually prefer Part 2, but voted for Part 1 to focus their votes?  Don't worry, when analyzing LLTG, Part 1 and Part 2 of LLTG are considered as 1 drama.

Love Like the Galaxy follows the growth and development of the vivacious and deeply insecure FL Cheng Shao Shang (Zhao Lu Si), through her family dynamics with the scheming aunt who brought her up in Part 1, and her romance with the ML Ling Bu Yi (Leo Wu) who has a hidden identity. Viewers raved about its sophisticated story, complex characters, the sizzling chemistry between the leads, and the stellar performance of Zhao Lu Si.

Up next are two ancient costume dramas, C-drama The Untamed with 138 votes and K-drama Alchemy of Souls with 106 votes. Interestingly, both dramas are fantasy dramas set in fictional worlds, each with 5 noble families/clans and with mystery revolving around soul sorcery and humans running wild. Read more in this prior article Withdrawal from Alchemy of Souls? Try The Untamed!.

First aired in 2019, The Untamed hit 10 billion views back on Dec 29th, 2021. The powerful story of the societal oppression the protagonist Wei Wu Xian faced, practicing unorthodox demonic cultivation not by choice and for a righteous cause, the elaborate world-building with iconic complex 3D characters, soulful OSTs, and the chemistry of the cast, especially the two leads (Xiao Zhan and Wang Yi Bo), has propelled them from ‘little transparencies’ to megastars.

Alchemy of Souls finished its airing in August 2022, with a cliffhanger ending and a Part 2 Alchemy of Souls: Light and Shadow, which had just wrapped up filming on October 6th and is scheduled for release on December 10th. Alchemy of Souls follows the story of the FL Naksu (Go Yoon Jung), an elite assassin who soul-switched accidentally into the weak body of Mu Deok (Jung So Min) and becomes the maid-teacher of the ML Jang Uk (Lee Jae Wook) who holds a dark secret about his scandalous birth. The intriguing mystery and the comedic-sweet chemistry between the leads have fans making wild theories following each weekend of airing, and impatiently waiting for AoS 2 to air.

Placed at 11th to 18th spots are dramas with at least 10 votes each and a total of 112 votes.

Chinese 8.8 - 19 votes

Chinese 8.4 - 16 votes

Chinese 9.0 - 15 votes
#14 Vincenzo (2021)
Korean 9.0 - 14 votes
Korean 9.1 - 14 votes

Chinese 9.1 - 13 votes
Korean 8.8 - 11 votes
Korean 8.8 - 10 votes

The remaining dramas that made it to the list consist of 58 dramas with a total of 188 votes. Please see the list of the remaining 58 dramas in the comment box.

Henceforth, in analyzing the results, * after a number denotes the inclusion of LLTG2.

An immediate observation of the list toppers is the reign of ancient costume dramas, as marked in yellow cells in the ranking tables above.

7* of the top 10 dramas are dramas set in ancient times, with 5* of them coming from China. In fact, if you have been tracking the voting of this poll, you might have noticed that at the 501-votes mark of this poll on Oct 1st, the top 6* spots are all taken by ancient costume dramas, including the recently aired C-drama Love Between Fairy and Devil (LBFD) (2022)!

If you have been watching Asian dramas (read: not just K-dramas) for a while, you will know that Chinese ancient costume dramas are widely acknowledged as the gem of C-dramas and a notch better than their Korean counterparts, with story depths exploring friendship, loyalty and love, complex characters, intricate costumes, elaborate sets, breathtaking cinematography, and martial arts/action choreography and beautiful OSTs. Fans of LBFD attest to these very elements that made it such an enjoyable and unforgettable watch. Find out more in this recent MDL drama recap article by Blizzardahm and Cho Na on How to Make a Romantic Xianxia: Love Between Fairy and Devil

Overall, I am glad that ancient costume dramas are given due recognition in this list. We should also give kudos to the actors and the production teams, as filming and producing ancient costume dramas demand more effort from them, compared to contemporary dramas. The production teams need to design the ancient sets, costumes and swords, and even the hairdo. The actors often have to put on heavy wigs, dressed in thick, long, and flowy clothes, and perform flying and flipping martial stunts or carry themselves in dignified poses even as they just walk, sit and even drink a cup of water. In addition, there are many often poetic proses that the actors need to memorize and say fluently as they act.  

Just as the top-ranked ancient costume dramas are predominately C-dramas, all 3 modern dramas among the Top 10 are K-dramas. Modern K-dramas are much loved by global viewers for their unique plots and fast-paced, shorter episodes. Over the years, K-dramas have evolved from just cheesy romantic comedies (romcoms) to sophisticated crime, legal and political thrillers with plot twists to keep the viewers hooked from episode to episode.

The top modern drama, coming in at the 5th spot, is Crash Landing on You (CLOY(2019), a rom-com involving a North Korean army officer (Hyun Bin) and a South Korean heiress (Son Ye Jin). While they were co-stars in an earlier K-drama in 2018, they started dating only after this hit drama that was aired in 2019-2020. The couple had their wedding in March 2022, and are now expecting their baby, in what some fans felt as the episode 17 of CLOY.

The other two modern dramas among the Top 10 are Flower of Evil (2020) and My Mister (2018), placed respectively at the 8th and 9th spots. Both dramas are of completely different genres. Flower of Evil is a suspenseful crime thriller and romance drama of a young endearing family man (Lee Joon Gi) who hides a dark secret from his homicide detective wife (Moon Chae Won). On the other hand, My Mister is not your typical drama; it is a slower-paced psychological life drama of a depressed middle-aged man (Lee Sun Gyun) in his mid-life crisis, owing to his younger CEO who had an affair with his wife and sabotaged his career, and his no less miserable younger co-worker (IU). 

I would consider Mr. Queen (2020) an ancient fantasy costume K-drama since a major part of this drama takes place in the ancient past, as the ML time-traveled and get trapped in the body of a young Queen (Shin Hye Sun).

The top modern C-drama, coming in at the 11th spot is You Are My Glory (2021), a romcom on a celebrity (Dilraba Dilmurat) and her long-lost high school crush (Yang Yang) reuniting through online gaming 10 years later. The much-awaited final episode featuring the wedding of the couple resulted in the crash of Tencent’s server, preventing ardent fans from “attending” the wedding!

4* of the Top 10 dramas and 6* of the Top 18 dramas aired this year in 2022, and 4 of the Top 20 dramas aired just last year in 2021. In short, 7* dramas from 2022 (including Immortal Samsara: Part 1 and Twenty-Five Twenty-One) and 5 dramas from 2021 (including Ancient Love Poetry, You Are My Glory, Vincenzo, and Beyond Evil) are ranked among the Top 18 dramas.

The oldest dramas in the Top 18 are My Mister (2018) (9th, 25 votes), Reply 1988 (2015) (14th, 14 votes), and Nirvana in Fire (2015) (16th, 13 votes). A shout-out to Queen Seon Duk (2009, 2 votes) and Dong Yi (2010, 1 vote), which have withstood time to be the two oldest dramas to make this list. And yes, they are both ancient costume K-dramas depicting the life stories of actual historical heroines, the hallmark of quality production and best drama. 

Queen Seon Duk (2009)
2 votes
Dong Yi (2010)
1 vote

Did those recently aired dramas ace the poll by riding on the hype during their airing and/or the recency effect, whereby viewers recall and relate more with the recently aired dramas? Or is it just the younger viewers who are more actively voting?

To be honest, I have been tracking this list for when MDL Top 20 dramas make this list, to see if the results align or resonate with each other. And oddly or not, a sorely missed drama is Hospital Playlist (HosPlay), as both seasons of HosPlay (Hospital Playlist (2020) and Hospital Playlist 2 (2021)) are rated 9.1 and ranked at 4th and 5th spot on MDL Top Dramas. Is HosPlay simply over-rated or is HosPlay probably just a feel-good drama that viewers enjoy while watching? Or did fans of HosPlay find another more endearing drama to vote for?

Other MDL Top 20 dramas that did not make this list are Prison Playbook (2017), 1 Litre no Namida (2005), Mother (2018) and It's Okay to Not Be Okay (2020). Are these dramas too heavy and too much to bear emotionally to be considered in one’s Best of the Best drama?

Have you also noted that MDL Top drama Move to Heaven (2021) did not make the list at the 501-votes mark on October 1st? And super-hyped contender Extraordinary Attorney Woo (2022) also features an autistic lead and once scored an MDL rating of 9.2 at the end of its airing, appears in the BOTB list only in late September and with 1 vote at the 501-votes mark.

Finally, the much-hyped Who Rules the World (2022) and The Long Ballad (2021) that ruled screens and MDL feeds during their respective airings have also been missed from this list. Did the fans of Zhao Lu Si-Leo Wu and Yang Yang-Dilraba Dilmurat focus their votes on LLTG and You Are My Glory (2021) instead?

What other dramas did you find sorely missed in this list and why?

With the global popularity of K-dramas, it is no surprise to see the list dominated by K-dramas.

Of the 76* dramas that made the list, K-dramas top this list with 45 dramas, followed by Chinese (25*), Thai (4), and Taiwanese and Japanese (1 each) dramas. While the number of K-dramas on this list is almost double that of C-dramas, C-dramas actually took out 8* of the Top 13 spots, seemingly signaling the imminent rising popularity and quality of C-dramas.

Thai dramas are also gaining more traction with global viewers. Thai BL dramas I Told Sunset About You (2020) (4 votes) and Bad Buddy (2021) (2 votes) are the front runners, followed by romance dramas P.S. I Hate You (2022), and The Crown Princess (2018) (1 vote each).

Taiwanese drama Someday or One Day (2019) is the highest-placed BOTB drama (5 votes) and the second highest-ranked drama on the MDL Top Drama list which is neither a K-drama nor C-drama. This 13-episode mini-series tells the story of the FL (Alice Ke) who seeks to unravel why she has traveled back a decade and lived another person's life, in a bid to change the lives of her past and present. It looks like a drama to check out soon if you have not watched any Taiwanese drama.

The only Japanese drama that made this list is Double (2022), a psychological mini-series of two men (Chiba Yudai and Nagayama Kento) whose lives intertwined with changing dynamics, from mentor-mentee to competitors as actors.

Thai BL drama
I Told Sunset About You (2020)
4 votes
Thai BL drama
Bad Buddy (2021)
2 votes
Only Taiwanese drama Someday or One Day (2018)

5 votes

Only Japanese drama Double (2022)
1 vote

Finally, here’s a look at the top genres of BOTB dramas, based on the genres (maximum of 4 genres) listed on the MDL web page of each drama.

Snapshot of the BOTB Top 18 dramas vis-a-vis a total of 76 dramas that made the list

The top genres of the 76* dramas in the list are Romance (50* dramas), Drama (43), Comedy (23), Mystery (20*), Fantasy (19), Life (16), Thriller (15), Historical (14*) and Melodrama (11). And interestingly, the Top 8 BOTB dramas do not have the Drama genre tagged to them!

Are you also thinking what on earth does the Drama genre comprise of, and ain’t every drama have some drama elements, to begin with, and thus redundant? Thanks to fellow MDL member ElBee who responded to my curious feed, apparently, Drama is an official genre, and is defined as follows, according to MDL’s Guide on Genres:

Drama: a genre that focuses on the in-depth development of realistic characters dealing with emotional themes (Different from the “Melodrama” genre).

Scrutinizing the genre table of all 76* dramas, I can’t help but wonder how relevant are the genres listed on MDL, and if it makes more sense to list genres based on the following 4 aspects to better describe a drama:

1) Time: Ancient, Modern
2) Feel: Laugh, Cry, Scared, Excited (i.e. Comedy, Melodrama, Horror, Thriller), etc.
3) Relationship focus: Romance, Family, Friends, Colleagues, etc.
4) Setting: Wuxia, Life, Political, Law, Medical, Sports, Business, Youth, etc.

This is it – the inaugural BOTB – Drama Edition based on the first 1,004 votes as of October 9th, 2022. A big thanks to all who have voted to make this editorial possible!

While this inaugural list cannot be changed by your voting, you can still continue to vote though as it will count towards the 1-year review next September. Till next year, below is some “homework” to try out in the meantime!

How does the result then (at 1,004 votes) compare to the result now?

How many dramas have you watched from this BOTB list?

Are there any BOTB dramas that you have yet to watch and are keen to watch soon and why?

Thank you to the editors who edited our article! The images are taken from official posters or photos on the MDL drama pageThe featured image is a collage of drama posters. First draft by Wish. Visual design and preliminary editing: Cho Na.
Edited by: devitto (1st editor)

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