From Real Life to the Screen: 7 K-Dramas Inspired by True Stories

the red sleeve kdrama

While looking at a good K-Dramas, we often cannot ask ourselves how the screenwriters thought of this? Where do they get their ideas?

While many stories are entirely original, and some are based on novels or webtoons, many are also based on actual life events in various degrees of accuracy.

In this article, we tried to list some of the most compelling retellings of actual life events we could find, more specifically, seven K-Dramas and mini K-Dramas.

Do you want to know what K-Dramas we choose? Then keep reading this article! And if you're going to know much more about your favorite K-Dramas and K-pop groups, check out the other articles on Daebak.Co!

The Red Sleeve

Released in 2021 on MBC and starred 2PM Lee Jun-Ho and Lee So-Young, respectively, as young prince Yi-San and court lady Sung Deok-Im.

The series is based on a book of the same name, also loosely based on historical records about the relationship between King Jeongjo and his concubine Uibin Seong.

While being indeed heavily romanticized, it is, in fact, true that Sung Deok-Im refused his proposal not once but twice because she did not want to lose her freedom, or at least that's how the director of the series interpreted these refusals, we know this for sure since King Seongjo himself wrote about it in his eulogies.

This also was quite an extraordinary event, a kind that has rarely written eulogies, even less for a concubine.

The relationship between Yi-San, a young idealist and rightful prince and then king, and this brilliant and charming court lady, will take your breath away.

The two actors portrayed their emotions incredibly and got great chemistry on screen.

Totally worth watching!

Hymn of Death

Hymn of Death is a 2018 South Korean television SBS miniseries starring Lee Jong-Suk and Shin Hye-Sun, available on Netflix outside of Korea.

This K-Drama is set in the 1920s, during the Japanese occupation of South Korea. It follows the stories of playwright Kim Woo-Jin, who, in his works, talked about the difficulties of that period, and the Jeoson dynasty's first soprano, Yun Shim-Deok.

The two met while Yun Shim-Deok was in college and fell in love but to her despair, Kim Woo-Jin was, at the time, already married. Among many difficulties, their love story ended tragically.

Besides being a great product, this series is a good way for foreigners to learn more about this historical period in Korea and these two significant figures. 

As a plus, the series also marked the reunion of Lee Jong-Suk and Shin Hye-Sun after School in 2013.

Not among the most popular K-Dramas on the list but a must-see K-Drama!


Released in 2016 by TvN, Signal revolves around criminal profiler Park Hae-Young, played by Lee Je-Hoon, who, one day, finds a mysterious walkie-talkie that connects him to detective Lee Jae Han (Cho Jin-Woong), who is actually living in the past.

Detective Jae Han, surprisingly, is investigating the murder case of Yoon Jung, Hae-Young's childhood friend, which had remained unresolved for years.

In this investigation, they will also receive the help of Detective Cha Soo Hyun (Kim Hye Soo).

While the main characters are not based on real people, the cases depicted through the series take inspiration from real-life cases.

The following part will contain some spoilers.

In the first episode and second episodes, the events recounted are based on the 1997 "Park Chorong Bitnari Kidnapping Murder Case," where an eight-year-old girl was kidnapped and later on murdered by her kidnapper — a pregnant woman.

Also, in episode 1, they found the body of the kidnapping suspect hanging inside a waste disposal bin. This incident is based on the 2010 "Ochang Manhole Case" in Cheongju, where a building contractor was found hanging inside a manhole with his wrists bound together by cable wire. The case was ruled as a suicide that was made to look like a murder to let the victim's family collect the insurance.

Episodes 11 and 16 are based on the infamous 2004 Miryang gang rape, in which at least 41 male high school students gang-raped several middle school and high school girls over 11 months. Besides being quite brutal, the case also provoked controversy due to the police mistreatment of the victims and their lenient handling of the offenders.


Finally, various episodes cover a case based on the Hwaseong Serial Murders, the most famous serial killing case in South Korea, which inspired different series and movies.

Starting from 1986, even after 5 years, the culprit still hasn't been caught. The culprit has raped and murdered at least 10 different victims. Due to the lack of technology in crime investigation in South Korea at the time, the case infamously became a cold case.

An intense thriller K-Drama that will keep you stuck in front of your computer!

Fight for my way

Released in 2017 on KBS2, Fight For My Way tells the story of Ko Dong-Man (Park Seo-Joon), who dreamt of becoming a famous Taekwondo athlete, but instead has a tedious job in a company, and his long-time friend, Choi Ae-Ra (Kim Ji-Won), who wants to become a TV host but rather works in a department store.

While pursuing their dreams and discovering a new, unexpected romantic spark in their relationship, their friends Kim Joo-Man (Ahn Jae-Hong) and Baek Seol-Hee (Song Ha-Yoon) face the most significant crisis after 6 years of perfect love.

The writer of the series, Lim Sang Chun, revealed that the main couple was inspired by Choo Sung Hoon and his wife, Yano Shiho and that he wanted to introduce the general public to the life of martial art fighters, who usually face a lot of misconceptions.

A K-Drama made for the lost youth, a story about finding yourself and true love!

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo is a K-Drama loosely based on the life of Olympic gold medalist Jang Mi-ran, aired on MBC in 2016.

The series focuses on the life in the college of our protagonist, Kim Bok-Joo, played by Lee Sung-Kyung, a passionate girl on the weightlifting college team who spends most of her time practicing with her other teammates and friends Lee Sun-Ok and Jung Nan-Hee.

They are not very popular with the guys since their sport is not considered very feminine. Still, one day she ends up meeting Jung Joon-Hyung (Nam Joo-Hyuk), a collegiate swimmer who is actually quite popular.

The two initially have some misunderstandings and later become friends. Still, soon they start developing feelings for each other, and throughout the story, they help each other grow up as athletes and people.

An endearing coming-of-age K-Drama that will make you smile and tear up a bit, undoubtedly one of the most popular K-Dramas on the list!

Taxi Driver (Seasons 1 and 2)

Released in 2021 on SBS, Taxi Driver tells the story of Kim Do-Ki (Lee Je-Hoon), a former officer in the Special Forces whose life changed after his mother was murdered by a serial killer.

After the accident, he is at a loss and lacks a purpose until he meets Jang Sung-Chul (Kim Eui-Sung), who recruits him for his company, Rainbow Taxi, far from an ordinary taxi company. Rainbow Taxi is a secret organization that avenges victims whom the law didn't avenge.

At the same time, Kang Ha-Na (Esom) is a prosecutor who investigates the company for its unlawful acts but feels conflicted about what they do.

The series Signal covers various real-life cases.

Some spoilers ahead.

In season 1, for example, right at the beginning of the series, we found a case remarkably similar to the 2008 Cho Doo-Soon case, a particularly shocking case involving the sexual assault of an 8-year-old girl. Cho Doo-Soon brutally assaulted her, causing her severe permanent damage, and faced only a 12-year-long sentence due to his claim that he was drunk during the act, which "affected his ability to judge right from wrong."

The case caused much rage in South Korea as many wished he could face the same destiny he met in the series.

The 2nd case assigned to Rainbow Taxi is, instead, inspired by the events on the so-called Purple Island in Jeolla Province, an issue that emerged in 2014.

It was discovered, in fact, that many disabled people were literally sold or coerced into starting to work in the salt factories there and then abused and threatened to not run away from these dreadful places. 

It was also discovered that police officers contributed to this situation by not intervening and, in some cases, bringing escaped people back to these factories.

The U Data case is, as well inspired by the abuse that happened in WeDisk, a genuine cloud storage company run by CEO Yang Jin-ho, who perpetrated various kinds of abuse on his employees by not only hitting them but also forcing them to do absurd things like dying their hair in the color he liked.

In 2018, a video of Jin-ho exposed his behavior. In the video, Jin-ho slapped one of his employees and forced him to kneel. While another video showed Jin-ho forcing his employees to kill chickens with a crossbow during a company retreat.

In season 2, instead, a pretty infamous case is covered, the Nth Room crime case.

The crimes took place over two years, between 2018 and 2020 when three perpetrators blackmailed various women into sending exploitative and sexual content of themselves through Telegram.

A man under the moniker "God God" sent links on Twitter to his victims claiming their information was stolen, but actually stealing them through this link and forcing them to submit the material, which was then uploaded on one of the 8 chat rooms created.

Similarly to Nth Room, another chat room, Doctor's Room, run by a man named Baksa, used false model listings to lure in victims.

Both God-God, Moon Hyung-wook and Baksa, Cho Ju-Bin, respectively 24 and 25, were arrested in 2020.

Finally, the series often talks about bullying, not referring to one case in particular but addressing a severe social problem that affects Korean students.

A must-watch, which also has a Webtoon version!

Juvenile Justice

Juvenile Justice is a 2022 series that was released on Netflix.

The series follows the story of Shim Eun-Seok (Kim Hye-Soo), a judge particularly well-known for disliking juvenile offenders who face little to no punishment in South Korea due to the current Korean law.

In the series, as in Signal and Taxi Driver, various cases are covered, taking inspiration from real-life crimes.

Some spoilers ahead.

The first case covered sees a 13-year-old boy who killed and dismembered an 8-year-old boy and then discarded the body. The real-life case is, if possible, even more chilling.

The events took place in 2017 in South Korea, where a 17-year-old girl, colluding with an 18-year-old student (Park), planned the brutal murder of an elementary school student.

Kim lured the girl into her place from a nearby park, telling her that she'd let her use her phone as the girl was trying to call her mom, then killed her and hid the body on her apartment's rooftop. 

She also confessed to mutilating part of it and sent it to Park.

Park denied her participation in the conspiracy of the murder and only admitted disposing of the body.

They both were sentenced to 20 years in prison, which was considered too lenient by the general public.

The series later references the 2018 Sookmyung Girls' High School fraud case involving the leaking of test answers and their father's consequent falsification of two students' grades.

Another case touched by this K-Drama is the 2020 Daejeon hit-and-runs case.

Eight middle school students, in fact, stole a car from a car rental company in Seoul and arrived in Daejeon, where they killed an 18-year-old college student working part-time as a delivery man.

The eight students pleaded not guilty and did not apologize to the victim's family. Since they were under 14, they did not need to bear criminal responsibility and only paid 400 million won in civil compensation.

Overall many cases in the series were inspired by actual life events, and this is also what makes this series so enraging and why it sparked so much conversation in South Korea.

A must-watch K-drama if you like crime-thriller K-Dramas and enjoy true crime stories.

These are just some of our favorite K-Dramas inspired by real stories, some tragic and some inspiring and romantic. Some of them have become very popular K-Dramas well known to the public, but you can find exciting suggestions among these titles! Tell us in the comments if you have other K-Dramas you want us to watch and write about!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We Bring Korea to you!

Happiness delivered from Korea to your doorstep! Experience the best of Korean culture with Daebak Box!