by Cho Na, October 6, 2020

down the rabbit hole: "a metaphor for an adventure into the unknown" (Wikipedia)

I have watched Asian dramas consistently starting summer 2019 and joined MDL on August 26 in the same year. Looking back, I have learned interesting things on watching dramas to share with you all. As I watched like 97% rom-com or romance dramas, automatically my learning experiences came mostly from that genre, though many are applicable in any other genres as well.

This article can also be viewed in Dark Mode.
Mild spoilers ahead, though I tried not to put any even in older dramas. Read on your own risk.
 What I wrote are mainly my personal experiences, thoughts, and preferences. 

Moon Embracing the Sun was my first Asian drama I watched back then in summer 2019, recommended by Youtube when I was browsing videos casually. Before that, I was never interested in dramas. As I watched Yeo Jin Goo (the young version of the Male Lead) fell from the ladder seeing Kim Yoo Jung (the young version of the Female Lead), so I also fell into the dramaland rabbit hole. Looking back, though, I would never want to watch it as my first ever drama. Not that it was bad, but just not for a beginner like me. I cried for every good character who dies in it (and there is quite a handful of them), and so much political angst!!!

Lesson: Never 100% rely on recommendations, they are only good if the recommenders really know about you. There are always subjective preferences. If you want a recommendation, put as many as conditions you want to see in a drama. Back then, if I want a recommendation for a sageuk (Korean historical drama), I would ask for a romcom instead.

Normally, having seen a sageuk as my first drama, I would like to try a modern Kdrama for my second one, which was how I landed with Boys Over Flowers. Now that I looked back, I think this drama is the ultimate test for anyone upon entering Asian dramaland, lol! After watching this, you may be able to enjoy any painful and exhausting trope of romantic dramas. Seriously, I'm just kidding. But I actually cried together with the Second Male Lead and his grandpa, following him being rejected by the Female Lead. Yup, quite early in my dramaland days that I got infected from the Second Lead Syndrome.

Lesson: Actually, I'm quite grateful that I suffered early from Second Lead Syndrome or SLS (when you root for the second male lead to be with the female lead instead of the first male lead), as I have quickly built immunity against it. How? By identifying who the One True Pairing or OTP is (perfect pairing between two fictional characters) as fated by the drama gods aka writers. Once you figure them, stick with them thru fire and storm of drama moments.

After watching a few modern Kdramas, I tried my first C-dramas The Eternal Love and The Eternal Love 2. As I watched both dramas one after another, I was surprised that the sequel doesn't follow the story when the prequel ends. After I looked into it, I was surprised to find out that it is not uncommon in C-dramas. Sometimes the inconsistency not only on the continuation, but the whole entire story changed, and even the main cast, too!!!

Lesson: As it seems that quite common C-dramas have sequels and seasons, and they have to undergo tight censorship that may change the storyline, we just have to accept the inconsistencies in their drama sequels/seasons. If possible, I will wait for the sequel about to air before watching the prequel. If not, just as a reminder, I will write down how the story ends in the Notes feature provided in the drama page or in my own custom list. But then, do not have any expectation for their sequels/seasons!

Following the costume C-drama above, I want to know how modern C-dramas are like. So I tried Put Your Head on My Shoulder. Once I watched, I understood the need for skipping and fast-forwarding. This drama has a side couple and side stories that many watchers, including me, not really interested in. And as I watched more dramas, I realized how important skipping and fast-forwarding scenes for the benefit of our sanity. 

Lesson: When I come across a scene that seems boring or a character who seems annoying, I do one of the following options (depending on the features available): change the speed to 1.5x or 2.0x  from the regular speed, use 10 seconds skip, move the mouse along the timeline at some sites that show upcoming scenes, watch the preview of the upcoming episode or the recap of the previous episode, or read the comments of the particular episode then skip scenes or the entire episode.

Having tasted several Kdramas and C-dramas, I felt a little bit bored watching dramas even though the summer was not over yet. You think I was crazy as it had been only a few months and I was in drama slump (not interested in watching any drama) already??? Well, I can say I am a self-diagnosed ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), I get bored and distracted easily. So what did I do? Time to try my first dorama (Japanese drama): Hana Yori DangoHana Yori Dango 2, and the movie Hana Yori Dango Final..

Lesson: Now, without even waiting until I get into drama slump, I continuously diversify dramas I watch. Different countries, genres, setting (modern/historical), length of episodes, intensity (comedic/melodrama), age (school/working), actors/actresses, movie/drama, etc. Having a broad interest actually works well in avoiding drama slump, and ending up with a long list of dramas in your PTW can be beneficial for variety ;D.

In a drama slump? This may help: Guaranteed Tips For Coming Out of A Drama Slump by Nymphadora.

Soon I encountered the universal problem any international drama watchers faced when I tried to watch Perfect Wedding: SUBS. I opted to watch Yang Zi in this drama instead of her other more popular dramas at that time because of the interesting synopsis. Great idea, but challenging execution. The official Tencent channel in Youtube only provides a language sub other than English, and this was the one when I found the trick to auto-translate it into English. The computer-generated sub is painful to understand, but I enjoyed the story immensely.

Lesson: Since then I have watched dramas with variety of subproblems: auto-translate myself, auto-subs by the official channels, subs right on top of the native language or subs in color that cannot be seen clearly, unsubbed episodes, etc. I learned that the more I watch dramas (especially for romance or rom-com genres), the more I found a similar plot with usual tropes that I can test myself by watching raw versions. 

After lurking around the outskirt of MDL for two months, finally, I signed up in this site on August 26, 2019. The reason? Just because I was dying to review Chasing Ball. Later I found out that I was not the only one, many members joined MDL just to write their first reviews! And until now, I read reviews of EVERY drama I am ready to watch. Since I no longer have time to write reviews for every drama I watched, I just put positive and negative highlights in my custom lists. You can check out how I did it here (2019) or here (2020).

Lesson: Although I prepare watching dramas by reading reviews (and comments), I prefer reading reviews that are rated 6 and below for dramas with a high rating (8+), and reviews that are rated 7 and above for dramas with a low rating (below 8). Why? I appreciate those particular reviewers who have guts to voice out their opinions that are different than the mainstream. So please do write reviews if you are going nuts (either positively or negatively) on a drama you just watched. 

Don't know how? Read MDL reviewers' experiences in Meet the Reviewers of MDL by MDL Reviewers

I found the benefit of reading recaps and episode guidance incidentally when I watched my first Taiwanese drama Murphy's Law of Love. The Male Lead owns a divorce service agency, meanwhile, the Female Lead works for an online dating company, and their offices are across each other. I did not want to skip or fast-forward the drama because of the interesting nature of their businesses, but the business talks and meetings are quite tiresome. 

Lesson: Recaps and episode guidance are useful if you don't want to miss anything you might if you skip or fast-forward scenes. Many Korean and some Taiwanese dramas have recaps written in English by fans; some C-dramas have google-translated recaps, and a few Thai dramas have recaps in Thai that can be translated. For costume C-dramas with long winding stories, I also use episode guidance to understand the story arc (the structure and shape of a story).

It took me several months to finally get my first dip on lakorns (Thai dramas) with Rak Kan Panlawan, after studying about tags. FYI, this drama is safe for beginners. If you have never watched any lakorns, below, I put a link of an article that exclusively talks about what you can find in lakorns. Also, even if you have watched Thai romcoms, you may be shocked when you switch to their romance drama/melodrama, especially if the topic is revenge. Be mentally prepared! You may see scenes with Slap-and-Kiss trope, sexual assault, even rape.

So what's the fuss about lakorns, anyways? Check this out: Introducing Thai Lakorns by Cheer 

Lesson: Now, I always look at the tags before watching any drama from any country. Be warned though, spoilers may also be included inside the tag list. I don't mind being adventurous, but I just want to be prepared for the adventure. Once you think that you are prepared, you may enjoy new things you have never seen before in dramaland! That brings me further to the drama below.

Although I have watched costume C-dramas, I avoided its Republican era period. When Arsenal Military Academy first came out, I watched the trailer and right away I was not interested. Because it's about military, war, politics, and propaganda. What made me watch it after several months later are its stunning cinematography and attractive costumes. They are unique, different than the dynasties era's props I usually watched. This picture below is its artistic drama poster that becomes my favorite:

Lesson:  So far, I have only watched three Republican era C-dramas. Now I am quite comfortable with them, though they are not my favorite yet. The longer my journey in Asian dramaland, the more I encountered things that were not my preferences before. I have enticed to watch dramas, not because of the synopsis but: catchy titles, colorful drama posters, interesting trailers, stunning cinematography, fashionable costumes, favorite writers, favorite actors and actresses, and eye-candies ;D

Entering the year 2020 I decided to make my drama watching experience more fun by using milestones and mementos. For example, for the first drama of this year, I picked Pegasus Market on January 1. I laughed so hard two straight days binge-watching it, I got a stomach ache from it. The experience of watching this drama became like an invisible talisman (an object believed to have magic powers and bring good luck), during the dire COVID-19 pandemic situation.

Lesson: Besides a New Year drama, I also 'celebrate' other real-life events like New Year's Eve, birthday, Valentine's Day, etc., by watching special dramas. Moreover, I marked my milestones of watching dramas: dramas/movies completed and days watched in hundreds, episode counts in thousands, and MDL anniversary. For each event, I watched dramas that are memorable. If you want to make your own milestones list, here is mine, for example.

Although I watched several romcom costume/historical C-dramas, I did not dare to touch the long (more serious) dramas (usually 40+ episodes). They tend to have a long list of the cast (can be 100+), characters with multiple names each, names of inanimate objects, prequels with a cliff-hanger (suspenseful situation) or sad endings, slow beginnings, and can drag with many side stories. Not until I watched my first one: The Legends. The poster below shows many characters typical of long costume C-dramas, and everyone has his/her own stories to tell!

Lesson: Since it seems like all long costume C-dramas were adapted from novels, this was when I was challenged to dig out the primary sources as well. Especially since I look for happy endings, cos these dramas may end tragically. The popular ones have been translated in English, though some ongoing, but more are still in Chinese. The same situation happens with any drama adapted from manhua (Chinese comics), manga (Japanese comics), manhwa (Korean comics), and webtoon (digital comics originated in South Korea).

Now that my article came to an end, so the last stop is about drama endings. I also think that Hong Kong is the last geographical source which dramas I would watch, with my first one: Leap Day. This drama is about time traveling to another country in different timelines. As much as I love dramas with time-travelling, parallel universe, and such, many of these dramas end up with open-endings, cliff-hangers, or the main missions remain unfinished.

Lesson: I always look for dramas with satisfactory endings. I wait for a drama until the sub is completed, even longer when I know there will be a sequel. But, exercising patience is hard to do. For sequels, sometimes unexpected things non-drama related happen, that certain prequels will not continue for an indefinite period of time. On top of that, annoyingly, a drama can end with a hook teaser (unexplained element to keep watchers interested). It makes you wonder if there will be a second season, though it was not planned so. That's why they are called dramas anyways, they may open with a bang, and may end dramatically too ;D


  • Completed 221 dramas and 43 movies
  • Countries: China (85), Korea (78), Japan (44), Thailand (38), Taiwan (18), and Hong Kong (1)
  • Historical/costume (full, time travel, parallel world, previous life): Chinese dynasties (39) Chinese Republican era (3), Korean sageuk (15), Thai 1900's (1), Japanese parallel world(1)

I do not own any of the images. All credit goes to their respective owners. Image sources with the links:
Cover image; Headers image; Moon Embracing the Sun; Boys Over Flowers; The Eternal Love; Put Your Head on My Shoulder;  Hana Yori Dango; Perfect Wedding; Chasing Ball; Murphy's Law of Love; Rak Kan Panlawan; Arsenal Military Academy; Pegasus Market; The Legends; Leap Day
Closing Image

Edited by: Yuanwei (1st editor) & Jojo (2nd editor)

hana yori dango boys over flowers the eternal love drama recaps reviews second lead syndrome the legends pegasus market tags moon embracing the sun put your head on perfect wedding chasing ball murphy's law of love rak kan panlawan arsenal military academy leap day drama/movie recommendation drama sequels drama seasons skipping scenes fastforwarding scenes drama slump auto-generated subs raw version episode guidance ending mdl anniversary novel adaptation comic adaptation comfort zone drama milestone