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‘Itaewon Class’ is the underrated, diverse K-drama you’re looking for

I’m not the biggest K-drama stan. No, I’m not part of any “Crash Landing On You” subreddits nor do I have a “STAN [insert K-pop bias here] on my Twitter handle. What I can say is that I am a casual observer. I’m just an average girl who fell in love with “Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo” at its peak and though Siwon Choi’s character in “You’re So Pretty” deserved to be the main girl’s endgame. 

Although I am a super casual K-drama stan, it’s time for me to put my foot down. Here’s a controversial question for y’all: Why isn’t the world obsessed with “Itaewon Class?” 

Yes, “Itaewon Class.” The first Netflix suggestion you ignored in favor of “Crash Landing On You.” Or maybe you know it as a webtoon turned live-action drama? Or one of the few K-dramas with good storylines? Or the current K-drama on-air dismantling toxic masculinity, topped with trans rights and dialogues on South Korea’s (SoKor) racism issues?

Here’s a controversial question for y’all: Why isn’t the world obsessed with “Itaewon Class?”

As you can see, I’m pissed on how slept on this K-drama is. “Itaewon Class” deserves to be everyone’s favorite K-drama right now. To give you a gist, here’s what it’s all about: An ex-con named Park Sae-Ro-Yi runs a street bar with his friends, hoping its success would avenge his father against a big bar franchise in South Korea. 

Don’t worry, I know that logline is a bit confusing. The show is exactly what it sounds like: A wild ride. We have coming-of-age stories mixed in with daddy issues and corporate drama. It’s made up of colorful characters like a young super-genius, stone-cold HBIC (head bitch in charge), an ex-Yakuza lackey trying to make a name for himself, and a transgender woman trying to save up for her operation.   

It will make sense when you start watching it—I assure you. Whether you’re a casual watcher like me or you’re one of K-drama’s day1z, there are a lot of aspects of this show to love. Here are some of my main points on why “Itaewon Class” deserves to be your next fave K-drama.

We love a good underdog—and Sae-Ro-Yi is it 

It’s hard not to like the main character, Sae-Ro-Yi. He’s a middle-class, no-nonsense guy who wants to make his dreams a reality. Throughout the series, he is faced with different hurdles: losing a loved one, getting expelled from high school and receiving a three-year sentence in prison. All of this happened because he defended a classmate he barely knew from getting bullied. 

Sae-Ro-Yi also has a lot of principles. He believes in hard work, the best in others, and for others to have the same opportunities as him. Although, he can be naive when it comes to some social graces. Plus, he doesn’t know what self-care means and gets too wrapped up with his revenge plans. Viewers of the show get to see him literally start from the bottom until he reaches his goals of opening a restaurant. He is motivated by spite to avenge a loved one—but it’s inspiring to see him go far. 

If you want to watch the human epitome of Shia Labeouf’s “Just do it” video, this K-drama is definitely for you. 

There is the mandatory K-drama love triangle, but it’s not the show’s heart

In every K-drama, there is a mandatory “will they/won’t they” plot arc. “Itaewon Class” is no different. Sae-Ro-Yi is placed in a love triangle with his childhood sweetheart, who’s working for his rival company, and his young super genius tsundere of a manager. This love triangle is okay if you like watching K-dramas because of it.

Read more: 6 things you may not know about K-drama actress Park Shin Hye

But let me tell you right now, this is not the heart of the show. The heart of the show is its colorful characters and seeing Sae-Ro-Yi (finally) win at life. And by the way, the two female leads stand well on their own too. It’s a show of accepting others despite differences, winning against capitalist corporations, and the occasional filler scenes where they’re just chilling with shots of soju. 

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Although, I have to admit: It’s fun seeing Sae-Ro-Yi transform from being the hardest motherfucker in the game, to the softest, never-been-kissed young man trying to understand what love and relationships mean.

This “non-toxic boys support fellow non-toxic boys” energy is wonderful

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In the K-dramas I’ve watched, healthy platonic male friendships are a rarity. But not in “Itaewon Class.” The show started with the main character defending a bullied classmate, even if they haven’t crossed paths since that day. Sae-Ro-Yi’s friends are amazing men as well. 

They got each other’s backs, unpack and unlearn their mistakes, and got drunk on respect-girls-juice. The only unlovable characters here are the men who made Sae-Ro-Yi’s life a living hell. And even with their respectable story arcs, they explore how toxic masculinity can harm familial ties. 

“Itaewon Class” is a rare K-drama gem that’s unafraid to talk about pressing matters. No matter how frowned upon or taboo it might seem to SoKor’s society.

Read more: 5 of the worst second male leads in K-drama

“Itaewon Class” is not afraid to talk about SoKor’s racial discrimination 

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The series has an interesting character named Tony Kim. Honestly, he’s the sweetest boy out of all the bunch. He’s charming, helpful, overall a genuine guy. What became his hurdle throughout the series is proving his Korean identity to others. For you see, Tony is half-Guinean and half-Korean. 

When he applied to Sae-Ro-Yi’s bar as a server, everyone thought he was a foreigner. He kept telling others that he is Korean. But a lot of them smiled uncomfortably and nodded. One character even told him: “No one believes you’re Korean because you’re black.” A pivotal scene here was when the gang entered the club and denied Tony access. 

This show is unafraid to call out social injustices in SoKor. And for that, it’s hard not to fall in love with the writing and the cast. 

“Itaewon Class” screams transgender rights 

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In Korean media, there have been few films that explored what it means to be transgender. Most of them are works-in-progress while some come off as tone-deaf. The beauty of their character Hyun-yi is we don’t only see transgender representation in media, we also see a show celebrating their journey as they transition.

Read more: 10 Scout-Approved Second Male Leads in K-Drama

My only beef here might be how they chose a cisgender woman to play the role. But to see a K-drama hashing out transgender discrimination, difficulties of transitioning, and the limited job opportunities of transgender individuals is still an undeniable feat.

It’s rare for mainstream dramas in Korea to discuss these topics. And I’m proud to have witnessed it. I hope others would give this one of a kind K-drama a chance too. 

Still from “Itaewon Class”

Correction: Used the term heterosexual woman instead of cisgender woman to describe an actress whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. This has been corrected. 

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Rogin Losa
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