“Twenty-Five Twenty-One” navigates adolescence in the 90s

Photo courtesy of Netflix.

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College students can get a taste of some much needed escapism from social challenges and find solace in characters pursuing their far-fetched dreams in “Twenty-Five Twenty-One.” For anyone with hopes that feel distant, this K-drama will give you the perfect motivational boost.

The show follows the rise and relationships of relatable heroine Na Hee-do from late adolescence to early adulthood as she pursues her dreams of fencing at the national level — despite the seemingly endless setbacks constantly thrown her way. At the same time, she meets Baek Yi-jin, a young man seeking to rebuild his life.

Although “Twenty-Five Twenty-One” is marketed as a romance, the show focuses more on characters and the individual stories surrounding them rather than excessive romance or inauthentic meet-cutes. The budding love between the two is merely a strong subplot, not overpowering the themes of platonic bonds, goal pursuits and the overlooked difficulties of young adulthood. The plot, riddled with equal joys and obstacles is realistic, and that’s what makes it so immersive.

Students who have dealt with academic struggles, athletic competition or even a less than supportive family member will find their struggles portrayed on a big screen with realism and hope. Audiences experience a colorful, unique slice of life through the eyes of these characters without ignoring the struggles endured by so many young adults. And that is perhaps what makes the show the most comforting: its startling realism when it comes to the difficulties of growing up.

Romance subplots do exist between numerous characters, but more notable are the friendships portrayed. Supporting the main characters are more fan favorites, including studious but charming Ji Seung-wan, mischievous but charming Moon Ji-Wong and lovable Ko Yu-rim. Each character is unique, contributing to a diverse cast with upbeat and dynamic chemistry. School clubs, impulsive late-night hangouts, beach days, you name it — the found family trope thrives in the series as characters explore the joys and nuances of life together.

“Twenty-Five Twenty-One” also provides a bounty of ‘90s nostalgia sure to sweep you away from the stress of daily life, with flip phones, colorful diaries, cassette tapes and a comforting vibe from every angle. There is a very clear aesthetic portrayed, but it still allows room for reality and nuance to seep in, making each character and scene vivid and relatable.

At the same time, the story is set against the height of the IMF economic crisis in South Korea — a common source of struggle for many characters in the drama. In the current era of the 21st century, where the social, economic and political climate often seems murky, the setting remains relevant.

More than just a coming of age story, “Twenty-Five Twenty-One” showcases characters navigating the winding road between adolescence and adulthood, providing easy stress relief and relatability to any college student. If you’re searching for a comfort show with high binge potential, “Twenty-Five Twenty-One” is for you.

“Twenty-Five Twenty-One” can be streamed on Netflix.


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