The 100 Best Albums of 2022, Part 1
A ranking and review of the best Korean, Japanese, and Chinese albums released this year!
Note: To qualify as an album for this list, a release had to have three or more tracks on it; no “single albums” with just one B-side were eligible.
#100: Nogizaka46, Actually… (Special Edition)
With over forty members, saying it is a challenge to structure songs for this group is an understatement, but these songs manage to repeatedly do so effectively. When instrumentals swell, the group’s harmonies recede and vice versa. The group’s unified voice is akin to that of a live choir performance, and this release knows just when to turn the volume up or down on this choir. Unique combinations of instruments have their moments to shine that keep their distance from the moments where their vocals deserve that spotlight. There is a lot to love about Actually…, and the song structures ensure each reason is realized on its own. Read more here!
#99: Nissy, HOCUS POCUS 3
A pre-release ballad, “kimini fureta tokikara,” is included, but HOCUS POCUS 3 is otherwise a nonstop party. Nissy experiments with combinations of piano-focused, guitar-focused, and percussion-focused instrumentals while telling emotional stories in a carefree way… Nissy’s new music tells a multifaceted story in a way that comes across as effortless. Read more here!
#98: WONHO, Facade
Facade sandwiches vulnerable, fearful tracks between dark, bold flourishes. The B-sides allude to WONHO’s ego being more of a “facade” than it first seems. On Facade, WONHO gives fans more of what they love and expect from him while also opening the door for a new, more complex self-image to become public. The bottom line: WONHO is just getting started. Read more here!
#97: Kumi Koda, heart
Kumi Koda lives up to her title as a prolific and versatile artist once again. Each song is distinct from the others, in terms of its substance, style, or both… [S]tandouts include the Latin-inspired “RED,” the summer-ready jam “GOOD TIME,” and the hip-hop/R&B-inspired “Bow Wow.” Read more here!
#96: P1Harmony, DISHARMONY : FIND OUT
P1Harmony pair important commentary with music that is just plain fun. Just to name a few: “Before The Dawn” is about the value of courage, “Bop” reminds listeners to not take life too seriously, “Follow Me” stresses the need to live in the moment, and the bonus track “+World” encourages people to re-label their quirks as their personal superpowers. Read more here!
#95: Girls2, We are Girls2
Girls2 are a great group for K-pop girl group fans to give a chance as their first attempt to get into the world of J-pop. Fans of fromis_9’s “WE GO” will particularly fall in love with this album. We are Girls2 oscillates between party vibes and triumphant, happy-movie-ending vibes. Whether visualizing a party or end credits rolling, Girls2’s music has the spirit of a satisfying celebration. “Chu-Lu-Chu-Chu” is a synth pop delight, “jinjinjinseishoukaisong” is a rapid, bouncy pop song, and “Watashiga Motete Dousunda” tilts in a rock direction without losing its bubblegum quality. Girls2’s songs are as cute as ever. What is new is the range of scenarios in which these cute songs feel applicable!
#94: XIUMIN, Brand New
The album makes no secret of its roots in nineties and early-aughts inspiration. Rather than take bits and pieces from those musical eras, this album stays overtly steeped in it. The blast from the past takes on a variety of forms, from the New Jack Swing songs to a retro ballad. Read more here!
#93: OMEGA X, Story Written in Music
OMEGA X’s endearing, childlike nature persists on the live-show-ready “Airplane,” the confident “Bounce With Me,” and the summery “Dance With U.” More mature offerings on the album include the pop ballad “Binary Star,” the vocal standout “Dry Flower,” and the guitar-led slow song “Love.” This comeback is full of both wacky adventures and more sentimental moments, but the choice to spend more than half of the time focused on fun hijinks over more serious material is a smart choice; Story Written in Music screams “summer fun”! Read more here!
#92: B.I, Love or Loved, Pt. 1
With this release, B.I proves he excels at dancehall songs that let him show off both his rapping and singing skills, not to mention his choreography that poses as freestyling. “BTBT” proves to have been no one-off; “Keep me up” continues the vibe of “BTBT” and shows he can create a sultry and cinematic atmosphere at whim… “Keep me up” has enough similarities to make its sequel status to “BTBT” understandable, but it also has enough of a distinction sonically to warrant its separate promotional run. Read more here!
#91: AB6IX, TAKE A CHANCE
This mood-boosting album is immense fun from start to finish! A sound-effects-filled opening leads into the peppy “Sugarcoat” and then more danceable tracks. There are some more substantive moments lyrically, like on, ironically, “Weightless,” but these detours still have AB6IX’s unique pep sprinkled on top of them. In other words, more serious moments are given playful elements in ways unique to AB6IX. Read more here!
#90: PIXY, Reborn
PIXY have done a great job settling into their personal identity, putting their own twist on K-pop/rock… PIXY add unique personality to each track on this album, adding sultry vocals to the otherwise-bouncy “Natural,” working with unexpected tempos and sound spacing on “Deja Vu,” belting out a rock gem with “Swan Song,” and adding echoes to the background of the otherwise-consoling “Greetings.” Through the “Villain” music video and their new mini-album, PIXY embody new and intriguing characters who are worth keeping an eye on to see what happens to them next! Read more here!
#89: ONEUS, MALUS
An eerie intro, “Intro : EDEN,” kicks off the album and is followed by a sorrowful rumination on a past relationship, “Same Scent.” This rumination is somewhat disguised by the reggae rhythms and guitars, but their inner angst returns to the surface on the next track, “STUPID LOVE.” Deep voices pair well with this rock sound and display a new degree of maturity. ONEUS continue to both mine mythological references and intense emotions in “Gravitation,” “Mermaid,” and “FULL MOON,” all the while keeping the songs catchy and not too bogged-down in the details. ONEUS do a great job balancing substance with plain fun.
#88: HUTA, aka LEE MINHYUK, BOOM
The passion and effort put into BOOM is evident from start to finish. HUTA spent a full year writing, self-producing, and recording this album, which is ages long in K-pop years! He knew the prolonged period of work would pay off, taking time to channel different sides of himself on different tracks. He has also found ways to smartly highlight different talents at different points, with his singing skills not having to share too much of the spotlight with his rapping skills on some songs and vice versa on others... If his bolder songs are not one’s style, there are plenty of more mellow tracks on BOOM to enjoy, including the R&B “Us Together” and the top-tier ballad “STAY.” Read more here!
#87: HIRAIDAI, HOPE / WISH
HOPE / WISH makes the case for reviving the popularity of albums with long tracklists. It includes songs for plenty of preferences and avoids growing dull with quirky details sprinkled throughout them. An animated voice accompanies HIRAIDAI’s on “takara-mono,” starting the album in a celebratory mood that is present in the concluding song, “WISH,” too. Alongside high-energy pop songs are pop ballads and a folk-rock-inspired song (“subarashikijinsei”). All the while, HIRAIDAI sings in a carefree way about looking on the bright side, living in the moment, and appreciating loved ones. HOPE / WISH is the soundtrack for a healing summer afternoon, and it has pleasant twists and turns that make a full listening session worthwhile.
#86: LUCY, Childhood
Childhood has much reflective, serious material, but it also takes a more celebratory turn at times. Particularly fun songs include “Domino” and “We will fly away,” the latter bringing its message to life thanks to the strings’ ascending structure. The mix of melancholy and passionate moments across a spectrum of emotions pertains to the “PLAY” music video as well… They consciously choose to reconnect with their youthful spirit and untap the potential to inject their daily routines with a new zest for life in the process. Read more here!
#85: TO1, Why Not??
TO1 have managed to not just survive but thrive as a group. They outdo themselves once again and have clearly given their all to Why Not?? The songs feel fast-paced but have a simultaneous undercurrent of ease; their energetic delivery remains measured thanks to the stable tempos and relatively carefree instrumentals. TO1 encompass multiple moods at once in Why Not??, something that is to be expected already upon hearing the album’s explosive introduction, “Boom Pow.” The funk-pop “Drummin’” also delivers, reviving the marching band concept that has not taken center stage in the K-pop scene for far too long. With a style all their own yet the ability to bring to mind older K-pop icons, TO1 have what it takes to continue to persevere.
#84: ITZY, CHECKMATE
“I’m going wherever I want… don’t need no guidance / I’m making my way, I’m on my way up,” ITZY declare on “SNEAKERS.” “Gonna get, get what I want,” they assert on “WHAT I WANT.” “You dumped me, pathetic,” they say on “365,” taunting a past love who is beneath them. CHECKMATE is chock-full of lyrics like these, delivered with ITZY’s trademark sass. CHECKMATE is full of confident bops that stand out not just for their lyrics, though, but for their sonic variety. Funk-pop elements pepper “SNEAKERS,” an industrial layer drives “RACER” forward, the attitude that drenches “WHAT I WANT” is distinct… ITZY continue to find new ways to reiterate their messages of empowerment and self-respect.
#83: pH-1, BUT FOR NOW LEAVE ME ALONE
The songs on this album fall into three main categories. One category includes songs with a heavier feel to them, ones with a strong reliance on percussion. The second category includes songs with pH-1’s typical hip-hop/R&B focus. The third category includes leisurely, more narratively interesting songs, ones that take on a Tyler, the Creator quality with their unconventional pacing and detours. These are generalizations, of course, and there is much sonic variety within those three categories, but taken as a whole, BUT FOR NOW LEAVE ME ALONE can be seen as an example of an artist flexing his ability to blur the lines between formats and genres. BUT FOR NOW LEAVE ME ALONE is in a lane all its own.
#82: NINE.i, [I (Pt. 1)]
NINE.i truly outdo all their previous releases with [I (Pt. 1)]. It far exceeds expectations and shows the group has zeroed in on what to say and how they want to say it. Nostalgia and hope imbue these songs, making the album a perfect soundtrack for a chill weekend hangout. The members flex their vocal skills, particularly through the high notes on “Paradise” and the pop-punk “Loner.” Another standout is “Love,” although no track deserves to be skipped. Read more here!
#81: Kep1er, FIRST IMPACT
Kep1er’s debut started off the year in K-pop on an exciting note, giving the audience a little bit of everything in one release. Half of this mini-album consists of brand new tracks, and the other half are songs from their time on Girls Planet 999 (“O.O.O (Over&Over&Over),” “Shine,” and “Another Dream”). The former dabble in house music, EDM, and more bubblegum-flavored sounds, while the latter include a ballad and two upbeat delights. The array of sounds on Kep1er’s debut release gives pop music enthusiasts of all kinds something to love, and these songs are both a gift for those who have been rooting for them since pre-debut and for brand new fans. While each track on FIRST IMPACT indeed deserves to leave an impact, the biggest gem is their catchy-as-can-be single, “Wa Da Da”! The beat appears tailor-made for dancing, and the silly, joyful theme makes listeners want to join in on Kep1er’s fun! The song perfectly fits its music video, which is full of superpowers and intergalactic imagery. Overall, FIRST IMPACT is a zany release that has allowed Kep1er to leave a lasting impression and obtain well-deserved “super rookie” status.
#80: Luli lee, Fade Away Like A Dream
Fade Away Like A Dream is the kind of album that must be listened to in tracklist order. The introduction, “Don’t Fade Away, Baby,” sets up an intriguing scene and alerts listeners of the suspense to come, with its industrial/rock sound. The following tracks make for quite a variety pack, but all share an atmospheric quality, a dreamy haze filled with echoes, breathy vocals, and other dream-pop touches. Listeners come in and out of this haze thanks to industrial and rock pivots, but they are constantly lulled back into the dreamlike state. Concluding this sonic adventure is a light and danceable track, “Show Me Your Love.” Fade Away Like A Dream is a one-of-a-kind creation starring a singer whose voice won’t soon be forgotten.
#79: SOLE, imagine club
imagine club has the perfect title to summarize its themes and appeal: from the first notes to the final ones, the album maintains a dreamy, atmospheric soundscape. SOLE’s smooth vocals sweep listeners up into an airy and calming mental state… imagine club is much more than an average R&B album. It is a quirky look into SOLE’s imagination, a glimpse that leaves many questions unanswered in ways that are fascinating instead of annoying. If this release is any indication, SOLE has the creativity and vocals to make this a milestone in a far-from-over career. Read more here!
#78: Amazing Show, Lovers, Folks, Tales
With just a three-song tracklist, Amazing Show have to make the most of every second to show what they are made of, and they master that challenge. Their range of sonic influences becomes clear right away on “Lovers,” which is neither a typical city-pop song nor the sound of a generic mandopop release. It is a mix of soulful and peppier moods. “Folks” takes on a deeper tone and features indescribable-in-a-good-way guitar and electronic alterations. They save the best for last with “Tales,” a fast-paced mix of rapping and singing with a surprising filter thrown over their voices. Lovers, Folks, Tales is a variety pack that remains entertaining from start to finish, proving this group can indeed put on an “Amazing Show” even with just a few songs!
#77: KIHYUN, YOUTH
YOUTH does what VOYAGER, KIHYUN’s debut solo release, does well too: it displays vocal and lyrical range broad enough to stay interesting but thematically specific enough to come across as a distinct musical chapter. This comeback’s vague-yet-personal theme is youth. Through alt-rock songs, ballads, and more retro-flavored tunes, KIHYUN talks to both his current and his younger selves. He reflects on the naivete that comes with first love and the ways his view of romance has become more cynical with age. For example, “Where Is This Love” scrutinizes the hollowness of saying “I love you” when actions say otherwise. However, this is followed by “‘Cause of You,” about a state of euphoria that is all thanks to a lover. KIHYUN alternates between giving a voice to his present self and his inner child, and YOUTH is a coming-of-age story to which all audiences can relate. Read more here!
#76: BE:FIRST, BE:1
BE:FIRST prove that “Betrayal Game” really was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their catchy bops! There is not one sonic focal point on BE:1; different songs are centered around different instruments, and what ties them together instead are the members’ distinct singing voices and rap styles. A few highlights: “Scream” is a very fun, percussion-focused song, funky electronic sounds rule on “Spin!,” and the piano shines on “Grateful Pain.” Not every song zeroes in on just one key sound: “Message” is a guitar-backed pop ballad, “Brave Generation” merges rock and electronic sounds, and an electronic orchestra makes “Gifted.” a welcome surprise. A vast array of sonic influences are present throughout BE:1, and the places where they fuse together are unpredictable. Versatility is the name of the game when it comes to BE:FIRST, and this group is particularly worth a try for fans of CRAVITY and SUPER★DRAGON.
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