Meteor Garden (2001, Taiwan) – "Qing Fei De Yi" by Harlem Yu
As the first drama adaptation of the Boys Over Flowers manga, Meteor Garden made the smart choice of aging up their characters so that the romance takes place in a university setting. The series’ F4, played by actors Jerry Yan, Vic Zhou, Vanness Wu, and Ken Chu, became so popular that they continued to perform and release music in Taiwan as F4. Harlem Yu’s opening song was a cultural touchstone even for many young Asian Americans who got to see themselves represented in a modern Asian youth story. Does anyone remember Wong Fu Production’s spoof?
Boys Over Flowers (2009, S. Korea) – "Almost Paradise" by T-Max
I absolutely detest this song. From its initial refrain, it’s loud, grating, and encapsulates everything that made Korea’s adaptation of Boys Over Flowers unbearable to watch even as an avid drama-viewer back in those days. Nevertheless, Boys Over Flowers was a massive hit that introduced international audiences to some of the worst tropes in Korean dramas, and launched the career of actor
Princess Hours/Goong (2006, S. Korea) – "Perhaps Love" by Howl & J
I could have sworn that this was the drama’s opening song, but I did initially watch this on bootleg DVDs. Princess Hours has one of the best Korean drama soundtracks of all time, combining both traditional instruments and modern pop among its tracks. Howl & J’s duet captures the feelings of budding love in this adaptation of the manhwa Goong, which imagines what it’d be like if Korea’s monarchy still existed. This was the breakout role for both Joo Ji-hoon (Along with the Gods, Kingdom) and Yoon Eun-hye (Coffee Prince), who shared some of the steamiest make-out scenes on Korean network television in the 2000s.
Goblin (2016, S. Korea) – "Beautiful" by Crush
Goblin had one of the most popular Korean drama soundtracks in recent years, with most of the songs topping Korean charts for months and covered by other K-pop vocalists. Crush’s “Beautiful” played during some of the drama’s most pivotal scenes
Hana Yori Dango II (2007, Japan) – "Love So Sweet" by Arashi
You can’t talk about the Japanese Hana Yori Dango and its sequels without mentioning Arashi. Both “Wish” (Season 1 OP) and “Love So Sweet” (Season 2 OP), had cheerful melodies that characterized much of top boy band's popular discography, but the latter is arguably the better song. Matsumoto Jun was at the height of his popularity as one of the series’ leads and as a member of Arashi when this was airing. I think it was also widely believed (and confirmed?) that he dated Inoue Mao, who played the protagonist Makino Tsukushi. I wish I can find a clip of the actual drama opening on Youtube, but blame the legacy of Johnny Kitagawa for Johnny Entertainment’s regressive internet copyright policies.
Last Friends (2008, Japan) – "Prisoner of Love" by Utada Hikaru
I know it’s in poor taste to laugh at a drama that tackles relationship violence, but whenever Utada Hikaru’s “Prisoner of Love” started playing during a serious scene, I couldn’t help but crack up at the AUDACITY of the musical cue. As soon as you heard, “I’m a prisoner of love”, you just knew some bullshit was about to go down with Nishikido Ryo’s creepy stalker abuser boyfriend character (who lots of people guiltily thirsted after). I was debating between including this or Utada's Hana Yori Dango II ending, “Flavor of Love”, but this was the perfect classic Utada Hikaru pop ballad to pair with a messy-ass drama.
Hanazakari no Kimitachi e (2007, Japan) – "Ikenai Taiyou" by Orange Range
This was an absolute banger of a J-rock song to pair with the wacky drama adaptation of Hana Kimi. They did the absolute least with the opening, which featured only a simple zoom-out of the class of characters, but it was bad-ass as hell. The song was also performed within the drama in the last episode(?) which is always a nice touch.
Devil Beside You (2005, Taiwan) – "Ai Mei" by Rainie Yang
Rainie Yang played the lead protagonist Qi Yue and sang two tracks for the soundtrack of Taiwanese drama, Devil Beside You, an adaptation of the manga Akuma de Sourou (The Devil Does Exist) about step-siblings that of course fall in love. The ending song “Ai Mei” was the perfect song to listen to while getting in your feelings about your crush. The song also hit it big upon release and was included in Rainie’s debut album that same year. Her other featured song in the drama, "Li Xiang Qing Ren" was also on the album.
Journey to the West (1996, Hong Kong) – "Sai Yau Kei" by Dicky Cheung
Journey to the West, a classic tale about a legendary pilgrimage by a monk and his four disciples, is one of the most heavily adapted intellectual properties across Asia. I contend that this 1996 TVB version of Journey to the West is the best drama adaptation of the source material (don’t @ me 1986 stans). Dicky Cheung, who played the hot monkey king, sang the opening and pretty much every other song on the soundtrack. The action-filled opening title brings back memories of my family gathering round the TV, and definitely made being Buddhist seem cool as a kid.
Princess Returning Pearl (1998, China) – "Dang" by Power Station
I have such vivid memories of this epic title sequence, with Power Station vocalizing as the title appears over a majestic field of warriors on horseback. It’s a very effective opening that gives way to the typical montage of palace relationships. Fun fact: Fan Bingbing was only 15 years old when she played a supporting role to the two titular princesses, played by Ruby Lin and Zhao Wei (the latter also playing Mulan in the 2009 Chinese live-action film, which I recommend checking out if you're waiting for the Disney live-action to be released).
Two emotional rock ballads that don’t get enough love internationally.
Delightful Girl, Choon-hyang (2005, S. Korea) – "Emergency Room" by Izi
This is my go-to noraebang staple. I died when it came up recently on Hospital Playlist.
1 Litre of Tears (2005, Japan) – "Konayuki" by Remioromen
Listening to this song (or "Only Human" by K) triggers my tear ducts.
Sorry for the messy write-ups. I wish I could say I didn't dwell on it too much but meh.
Favorite songs featured in dramas or favorite dramas in general? What was your introduction to Asian dramas?