In 2020 I started dipping into watching more K-Dramas; 2021 was when I put them into my regular rotation replacing movies as my most added titles in my lists on my usual streaming services.
But, of course, Squid Game has become a huge pop culture phenomenon so that I will keep that off my list. Unfortunately, I also watched some nasty stinkers of shows with Love Alarm and Start-Up on the top of the lists, so disappointing how they turned out.
Nevertheless, I will share the favourites I watched in 2021.
The first show I watched in 2021, and it still has stuck with me, Run On felt different with the more mature conversations being held by the main characters, more mature than the typical shows usually have.
So I could relate more to those conversations and the more mature storylines. It also helps that my favourite member of SNSD, Sooyoung, is on the main cast. Great show to start the year.
I was late to the game on Hospital Playlist, but I’m glad I finally got to watch it this year. I’ve been telling people that it’s a more mature and serious version of Scrubs, another popular hospital sitcom in the US a few years ago.
I love how serious the stories can be and how involved the love stories develop. As much as I love the main starting five cast, the show also has secondary solid characters the primary five bounce off of that keep you involved.
As I start a second watch of the show, you see the details and the groundwork they lay as the show develops.
This has been a great comfort show, especially when you need a pick-me-up. There are so many funny moments in the show; I’ve had to pause and come down from a laughing fit before I can continue. I hope they come through with a season three. Team WinterGarden, let’s go!
My favourite K-Drama of the year, Hometown Cha Cha Cha, hits me in all the feels from the start. Plus, the beautiful cinematography of the local seaside town makes me want to get away from the busy city to decompress, just like how the main female lead starts the series.
The main characters’ development is very endearing and not super out of character, even when a typical love triangle turns out more mature than other dramas.
I watched the show as it was being released, so getting a break for the week allowed me to absorb the show and read some kdrama Reddit threads to see how others are reacting and sharing similar experiences.
The manly tears have been shed even more than when watching Hospital Playlist. I already watched the whole series twice, and it was just as impactful. With the tremendous supporting cast, lots of laughs, lots of tears, Hometown Cha Cha Cha is a complete healing series.
I haven’t put too much thought into music or new groups this year; I stayed with my usual favourites. However, this year was finally highlighted with Aaliyah’s catalogue on streaming services.
I also enjoyed listening to Japanese Breakfast, Stray Kids, SUNMI, STAYC, EVERGLOW, Rocket Punch, and Weeekly. I also gave K-Drama OSTs a shot with some great songs from my favourite shows.
Finally, I will highlight some of my favourite K-Pop girl groups that hit with me in 2021.
Red Velvet – Queendom
It’s probably my most “easy to listen to” album, Red Velvet only came back with one mini-album, but it was good.
Everyone called Queendom safe, but if I get more of the usual Red Velvet, that’s a win in my book. Pushin N Pullin and Hello, Sunset still is my favourite B-sides, but the others are great if you enjoy faster tempo B-sides. Never a bad time to Simp for SM.
fromis_9 – WE GO
As a full-fledged flover, I’m happy for two comebacks in one year for fromis_9. With the transition to Pledis and getting their first win with Talk & Talk, some would assume that it would be my favourite from them.
However, I wasn’t in love with Talk & Talk right away, and it took a while for me to warm up to the single.
WE GO was more my type of song, especially as a great summer hit. It picks up your mood, and it’s a “cruising in the car” song. Plus, the video makes me smile with all the Apple products and the photoshopping graphics and hidden easter eggs.
I hope they can keep the momentum going the next month with Midnight Guest.
TWICE – Taste of Love, The Feels, Formula of Love: O+T = <3
Into their 6th year, TWICE may have had one of their best years of all in 2021.
Alcohol-Free was the ultimate chill summer song that was very unexpected from me, I never thought they would have gone with a slower chill vibe, but it paid off. Everyone gets lines to sing; the video looks excellent and colourful with plenty of “alcoholic” drinks. This song makes you want to drive to the beach with the windows down.
The Feels… I admit I wasn’t a fan of it on first listen. I was apprehensive about how their first English song would be, and I thought it would have been more impactful instead of the groovy vibe they went with.
But then a week rolled on, and I heard it everywhere. The video was cute with the prom theme, and the dance became infectious. I even listen to it on the radio months after its initial release. I prefer The Feels over Scientist…
Formula of Love: O+T = <3 I’ve been jamming to the album since its release. I love the subunit songs, with Push & Pull being my favourite of the three. MOONLIGHT, FILA (Fall In Love Again), LAST WALTZ, and CANDY round up my fave five on the whole album.
Scientist was a pretty weak release for me. However, the video was lovely, with all of them being in a lab and teacher outfits.
Are we still using “Why So Serious?” as lyrics in 2021? With The Feels on the same album, Scientist can stay in the recycle bin. Overall a solid album from TWICE. I can’t wait to see them in NY on tour. Hopefully, we can all make it there.
When I wasn’t filling out job applications and getting interviewed (and quickly ghosted) by many companies, I spent most of 2021 chronicling my Gaming Journal by streaming on Twitch and uploading to YouTube directly from my PlayStation 5.
I learned what streamers go through when it comes down to building an audience and getting more eyeballs to watch and share the experiences a streamer goes through.
As I kept mine pretty simple, it was fun getting to meet and chat with friends old and new. Playing games also kept me sane as it was my essential means of entertainment and escape throughout 2021.
The PlayStation 5 has been my favourite console ever since launch; it just had all the games I wanted to play, and streaming on Twitch was super simple. I also own an Xbox Series X, but after playing the Ori games, it was sitting and collecting dust until the Halo Infinite multiplayer came out.
The same thing with my Switch, I was gifted Pokemon Brilliant Diamond last month, and that was the first time I played anything substantial on that system since last year’s Animal Crossing.
I also invested in a new TV, an LG OLED C1. That turned all my gaming systems into a brand new refresh, visually stunning. The PS5 and Xbox Series X look like proper next-gen consoles in my eyes now; as I was replaying old games, I finished to see how they looked.
However, the Nintendo Switch seemed super dated and old when playing games on an OLED. Too bad we never got that Switch Pro.
Here are some of the games I chronicled through the year that I was proud of playing.
Yakuza 5 Remastered
One of the longest entries in the Yakuza series; I loved every minute of it all. Whether it was breaking out of prison for bear hunting, to spending a lot of time in the batting cages to get back to former glory, or beating other idols on the streets to a dance battle and doing handshake events with crazy wota, this was quickly the most varied and entertaining the series has been.
But, of course, that’s saying quite a lot from one of the best series of games that I love.
Control: Ultimate Edition
From the creators of Alan Wake, this game had me in its clutches with its crazy story and its super fun gameplay. I have never felt so powerful in a game like I was in Control. It felt like I was Jean Grey with a gun that morphs into anything I wanted—highly recommended.
Yakuza: Like A Dragon
The latest entry in the mainline Yakuza titles that transitions to a new hero, Ichiban, and a new turn-based battle system. I will admit, I had some reservations when I first heard the news about the new direction.
However, I’m glad I love JRPGs and the Yakuza franchise, as this was a perfect mould on everything I liked. Another game I put over 100+ hours into and getting a Platinum Trophy, it had everything a Yakuza game is supposed to have.
Great characters, fantastic combat, crazy substories, excellent voice acting, addictive story, lots of laughter and emotion, and great callbacks to fans of the series. I can’t wait for the second installment in the Like A Dragon story.
Final Fantasy VII Remake: INTERmission
Final Fantasy VII Remake was my GOTY last year, and we got the next episode starring Yuffie, and it was worth the wait. The bump in the graphics, the stellar voice acting, the light-hearted feel of the game with Yuffie’s crazy battle style.
They even turned Fort Condor into a fun mini-game, unlike the horrible one it was in the original. With all the little story bits they are feeding us, I can’t help but be all-in with how the Remake storyline will begin to unfold.
Hopefully, the next episode is coming soon or will Final Fantasy XVI be the next FF game on the horizon.
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
THE ultimate visual showcase for the PlayStation 5, Ratchet and Clank games have always been super fun. This version of Ratchet and Clank was like playing a Pixar movie; you can see the strands of hair or shiny reflections in every close-up.
The guns are always fun and can make you feel super powerful as you mow through enemies or turn them into pixels or plants. But, if I have one complaint, even on the most complex difficulties, the game still feels super easy. Easily one of the best-looking games this generation.
Final Fantasy X HD Remaster
Final Fantasy X turns 20 years old this year, so I wanted to play the game to see how much I could get done. Unfortunately, I only remember beating the game on the original PS2.
The whole world brought back so many memories; the music rang through my head even when I wasn’t playing the game; it almost felt natural being back into this game. It still plays like a PS2 game, but it has a timeless battle system. Praise be to Yevon.
Tales of Arise
I only started playing the Tales series of games in the last few years, and Tales of Arise was one of my most anticipated RPGs. I’m glad to say that the game was worth the wait, visually pretty and made some great choices for fleshing out the skits and the main story.
The Battle system had so many different styles to try out; everyone would find one that they would enjoy. I fell in love with Rinwell’s battle style, and I never really liked using mages in the previous games. It felt good stacking spells and nuking mobs all over the field with my fighters doing clean-up duty.
I felt overpowered very early and had to turn up the difficulty to higher levels. Once I figured out the crafting and accessory customizations and unlocked even more complex challenges, I just turned the difficulty up as high as possible.
I felt like I was still on the overpowered side. Probably the easiest Platinum Trophy out of all the Tales games I played.