Action dramas IRIS and its spin-off Athena have been compared by many, so I’ve decided to also write up a post that compares the two to each other. I’ll be using the criteria that I wrote about in the “Important Factors of a Good Drama” post that I published a while ago. In the end of this comparison post, you can decide which drama trumps the other one. [SPOILERS INCLUDED!!]

1. Genre

Both IRIS and Athena are action-packed dramas that also include love stories so I can’t compare the two dramas in the ‘genre’ aspect.

2. Plot

Plot is a little bit different than genre. The plots of IRIS and Athena are both quite different but also similar due to their genres. In my opinion, both of the plots are very strong in their own unique ways. You can read my explanation of the plots below.

IRIS starts off with two men (Kim Hyunjoon and Jung Joonho) who as close as brothers. They enter the security agency NIS together. Both fall in love with the same woman, but only one gets her. The sweet pair of lovers (consisting of Kim Hyunjoon and Choi Seunghee) go off to Japan and blissful scenes of their blooming love are shown. Later in the drama, various events happen, causing Kim Hyunjoon to believe that Choi Seunghee is dead; Choi Seunghee thinks the same of Kim HyunJoon. So then the lovers are separated. During the separation, we have the addition of another character – Kim Sunhwa, who is an agent from North Korea. Kim Hyunjoon captures her when she was sent on a mission to catch him and he spares her life. She falls in love with him but he’s still thinking about Choi Seunghee. Later in the drama, much to their disbelief, Kim Hyunjoon and Choi Seunghee see each other again. Sadly, Kim Hyunjoon is believed to be on the ‘evil’ side when in reality, he’s still on the good side. Jung Joonho instead turns and becomes evil while everyone else thinks that he’s good. The brothers become enemies. I found this drama sad because it’s not just about love between a man and a woman, but between to guys who were best friends. They trusted each other, talked to each other, played with each other. But in the end, their relationship ended up being broken – the trust was broken, the friendship broken..I found it truly sad.

Athena opens up with an action scene of Son Hyuk and Yoon Hyein beating some guys up, each in separate locations, but working together. It leads you to initially think that these two are the good guys beating up the bad guys, but we later find out that it’s actually the opposite. Which is quite interesting since the good guys were the protagonists in IRIS and here in Athena, the protagonists consist of good and bad. Fast forward a few years from the first scene, and Son Hyuk returns to Korea from another country. Yoon Hyein lived a quiet life for the past few years, working as a museum guide. Lee Jungwoo meets Yoon Hyein at an amusement park and falls for her right away. However, she does not share these feelings. After this encounter, Lee Jungwoo tries to get close to Yoon Hyein, but she keeps distancing herself from him. In Italy, on a mission for NTS (the anti-terrorist organization, like the NIS of IRIS), Lee Jungwoo sees Yoon Hyein and sees that she’s actually not the soft museum guide he thought. He thinks that she’s a black agent that came to help out in the mission. Back in Korea, Yoon Hyein joins NTS when in reality, she’s in Athena. She becomes a spy for Son Hyuk, who saved her from a fire when she was young. Throughout the course of the drama, however, Yoon Hyein falls in love with Lee Jungwoo and she turns from bad to good. Oh yes, and also, can’t forget about Jaehee, who also works at NTS. She was Lee Jungwoo’s old girlfriend and she still harbors some feelings for him. But don’t worry, she’s not the evil girl that you’ll hate.

3. Length of drama

IRIS was 20 episodes long, and the same goes for Athena, so I can’t compare the two in this category.

4. Ratings

IRIS started off with a 25% rating and maintained a strong lead at a pretty consistent 30% rating throughout the entire drama. 

Athena also started off well with a 25% rating and high expectations brought upon from the success of IRIS. However, unlike IRIS, Athena was unable to maintain its lead and started falling behind as its ratings became lower and lower every week. However, it kept its two digit ratings, which is actually pretty good, but just a bit disappointing since it didn’t get all the love that IRIS got. Quite sad indeed. I guess that we could credit this to the high expectations that everyone had for this spin-off.

5. Reviews

Most people say that they like IRIS more than Athena, but then there are some that find Athena better than IRIS. What can I say? Reviews are written by people who are not always very objective (including myself). I’ve read both sides of the argument, and I can’t really comment about both, but so far, I’ve seen more reviews rooting for IRIS.

6. Main cast

The main cast of IRIS is very VERY good – Lee Byunghun AND Kim Taehee in one drama?! Plus, they’re the main leads. In addition, Kim SoYeon, another pretty reputable actress, is in this drama as one of the main four. Another actor (errr…not really) in this drama that added to its popularity is TOP from popular Kpop group Big Bang. No wonder IRIS received so much publicity before it even started airing! And yes, I started watching because of the cast. It really does matter.

The main cast of Athena is not as popular – well, at least for me. I didn’t know any of the actors or actresses in Athena except for Siwon, and I wouldn’t even consider him 100% actor material. Jung Woosung makes his return to the small screen for the first time in 14 years. I never heard of Cha Seungwon until I started watching Athena. He has actually been in many movies and dramas, but I just didn’t watch the ones that he acted in. As for the actresses, I saw SooAe in 9 End 2 Outs but that drama didn’t leave a lasting impression on me much. The other actress that makes up the main cast of Athena is Lee JiAh, also a new face for me. However, my sister saw her in Beethoven’s Virus.

7. The first few episodes

Hooked me. Both dramas managed to hook me. What hooked me? The blooming love story between the leads did. In both IRIS and Athena, the lead couples were too cute. The chemistry was also very visible and kept me going (heheh).

As for the action, both dramas delivered well. There was nonstop action, the evil guys were all over the place – loved it. I don’t watch that many action-packed dramas since there aren’t that many in existence, but I enjoy watching American movies that have lots of action in them. Also, IRIS and Athena both came out when I needed a nice change from the normal romantic comedy or melodramatic drama.

Another highlight in both of these dramas was all the places that the staff actually went to in order to shoot. They went to Europe and Japan in IRIS and Athena. I loved the scenery – it was so beautiful to watch along with the action.

8. Beginning, Middle, and End

I felt that Athena was very much like IRIS (no surprise there). I already commented on the beginning of both of these dramas.

For me, IRIS wasn’t draggy at all. Probably because it’s the first action drama I saw and so much happened, keeping me on my toes at all times. The relationships intertwined in IRIS as well as all the action, the plot, everything – it broke my heart but mended it again. After each episode, I wanted more. And since it was so hard to find this drama in subtitles, so it became really rewarding when I finally found episode all subbed so that I could watch it. If you find our past posts on this site, I always made posts about a new episode of IRIS being subbed.

As for the end of IRIS, it was pretty horrible – the main guy DIES. We finally have our main leads reunited and happy, but as Kim HyunJoon drives to Choi Seunghee with a ring in his hand, he gets shot. And then the drama ends. I was very unhappy with this ending. I know that this is an action drama and all, but still,  it should end happily.

Now for Athena – in the middle of the drama, I felt that although there was lots of action and many events happening, it was starting to get draggy and repetitive. I wanted to see more development in the relationships between characters and the revelations of the truth in everything. Luckily, this drama started to redeem itself. People started changing and the plot started to improve.

I was dreading the end of Athena to come about as I didn’t want it to be another disappointing, horrible, sad ending like IRIS‘. Luckily, it wasn’t. The bad guys are all gone and the end was peaceful. Although I did hope for a bit more, I am still satisfied with this drama’s ending. I mean hey, at least it didn’t end like IRIS did.

Which drama do YOU think was better? Maybe not just based off of my personal evaluation, but yours. Especially for those of you who saw both dramas, which one stuck to YOU more? Comment below!