Guest Post at Viki: Kdrama Love Squares

Hey guys, the excellent streaming/news/everything kdrama(and every other kind of drama) website Viki asked us to do a guest post for them on their blog!  We were really honored that they even found our little blog over here, let alone that they let us work with them!  Thanks, Viki!

We are including the post here as well for anyone interested, but let's be honest:  You were going to  spend your Saturday streaming kdramas anyway, so you might as well check out our post on their website while you're at it!

Kdrama Love Squares: Keep 'Em or Cut 'Em?

Anyone who has watched more than one K-drama on Viki has probably figured out that the heart of every series is the “love square.” You would think that we would get tired of them after the amount weve seen, but they still get us every time  clich├ęs and all. Let’s take a look at what we would keep or cut from the typical K-drama love square.

Female Lead

First up: K-drama female leads  love them or leave them? She’s the girl whose antics get her into all sorts of awkward situations. With two attractive rich men fighting over her, she’s also the luckiest girl in the world! Female leads are typically hardworking poor girls in desperate need of a makeover. They break down into either sassy girls who don’t let anyone mess with them, or girls who are downtrodden and overly accepting of nonsense.

One of the things that attracted us the most to K-dramas were the spunky, confident female characters, such as Sam Soon from My Name Is Kim Sam Soon. This type of female lead is an obvious keeper. But the dramas in which the female lead follows the male lead around like a puppy (Playful Kiss) are ones we might cut.

In their defense, downtrodden female leads are not all bad. Its really satisfying to see someone go from frumpy and passive to beautiful and empowered, but only if the progress is extreme. For example, in Scent of a Woman, the female lead starts out painfully wimpy and homely, but by the third episode, BAM, she’s a total powerhouse. In spite of problems, we would keep her because deep down, most of us still feel like that awkward girl who hopes to become powerful and miraculously snatch the man of her dreams.

Male Lead

Male leads  at least theyre consistent. Ninety percent of the time, they are abnormally attractive, abnormally wealthy, and abnormally selfish and rude. However, by the end of the drama, theyll end up with girls who are less attractive than they are, care less about their money, and become decent human beings with deep feelings. Although these male characters are in almost every single K-drama, we love them anyway. (Not to mention the brooding shower scenes!)

These male leads do come with their share of problems, though. Sometimes their version of a “decent human being” isn’t decent enough. Even though we don’t want to cross Boys Over Flowers fans, you can’t tell us that were the only ones who found Jun Pyo’s intensity just a little bit unsettling. Especially when he said things like, “I will encircle you forever so that you can never leave me. There has to be some minimum standard for change.  For example, don’t beat someones faces to a pulp. Totally reasonable, right? 

Although they are ridiculous, overall we can’t help but say KEEP the traditional male lead trope.

Second Male Lead

Second male leads are easy to spot. They’re the handsome ones lurking (or stalking) in the background, doing thoughtful things for the female lead while she makes ugly crying faces over the rude man she loves. They’re the type of guys your dad wants you to marry.  

Second male leads occasionally end up with a terrible girl, but most of the time, they just end up brooding and sad. And for all of this brooding, they don’t even get shower scenes. Don’t they have to shower, too? Or maybe they dont shower, and that’s why they lose the girl.

It’s this sadness that makes us dislike second male leads. And here’s why: we love them too much. We suffer from second lead syndrome on a regular basis (Flower Boy Next Door being the most recent example). So when the second male lead implies he will never love again, we get a little cranky. If you need to create jealousy in a drama, introduce an old love for a couple of episodes and then send the person on a business trip or have the person get hit by a car. Its something that happens all of the time in dramas! Just cut these nice guys and give them a break.

Second Female Lead

The girl we all love to hate: the second female lead. Or, as it often happens, the first love who is often a raging monster in disguise.

What we would keep is the flexibility of the second female lead. Although most are monsters, some are kind, sisterly types who respond maturely to their jealousy. For example, Coco loves the second female lead in Coffee Prince. If she could, she would be best friends with her in real life. They would hang out at art galleries and eat brunch (because she’s too classy for lunch).

In reality, we have to recognize that sometimes second female leads literally kill people. In fact, we would rather have her be a horrible person and a murderer, rather than be tricked into liking some previously terrible person. But let’s face it: we fast forward through 90 percent of second female lead scenes anyway, so keeping them isn’t a big deal.

To sum up, we have pretty conflicted feelings about all of these characters. But conflict is at the core of K-dramas, which is why we adore them so much!


  1. I totally agree about giving the 2nd male lead a break - whenever my daughter sees one of these on a Kdrama series we are watching she says "Poor That Guy"! That guy who is always suffering unrequited love, that guy who is unappreciated by the female lead, that guy that needs to love someone else...yes, that guy!

    1. That guy who needs to love me! Poor that guy. Poor me.

  2. I am sorry I cannot watch Korean dramas.The women act submissive and subservient to their male masters.There is also too much arm grabbing and the males are chauvinistic. Also when the women is right and the man is wrong the woman always says sorry master.

    1. Even though I love Korean dramas, I agree with a lot of what you said. My favorite dramas are the ones where the female lead has a strong personality from the beginning and doesn't put up with being treated poorly. I also really, really need for the male lead to undergo massive change or the whole thing isn't worth it.

      And the arm grabbing? Not okay.

    2. yeah this is why i watch tvb hong kong dramas.The female leads are mostly assertive independent strong willed women who take crap from no one.However tvb has gone downhill lately because everyone is flee to china for the big bucks.There were some good series in 2012 such as tiger cubs, the Hippocratic crush, the confidant and the last steep ascent.Conversely korean women in korean cinema/movies are not submissive etc.E.g Son ye jin ha ji won moon chae won and han hyo joo.

    3. Interesting! I haven't tried any Hong Kong Dramas, but if they have assertive female leads, I might just have to test them out!

  3. I remember Geum Jandi(Koo Hyesun) from Boys Over Flowers is a GREAT example of a strong female lead! She definitely didn't let herself get bossed around, even if a whole gang was against her...DAEBAK!!
    Gil Raim(Ha Jiwon) in Secret Garden was very strong-willed too! That was why Joowon loved her :D I love these two girls! Awesome characters!!

    1. Yeah, those are definitely two of the best!

  4. Mok dan in bridal mask, arang in arang and the magistrate and the lead female in faith were some of my best characters. They didn't let the male characters dictate their every move. Go mi nam in you're beautiful was too weak and meek. I loved her though. Also, one of the reasons I love queen in hyun's man was because gimbong du was never rude or arrogant. He was gentle and I loved him. And they liked each other from the get go. They didn't fight the attraction and each other, it was somethin different. Btw, u wrote a very nice piece and it's spot on.

    1. I just barely reviewed Queen In Hyun's Man, and that was one of the things I loved the most about it, too. It showed that the characters don't have to be cruel to have a good show. Since I love shows with strong female leads, I will have to check out those ones you mentioned! I loved the actress in My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, so maybe Arang is a good place to start.

  5. The second male lead in Summer Scent was nothing like the normal 2nd - a psychotically possessive nutjob, who even kidnapped the female lead and held her against her will. That's the sort of the thing that make Gu Jun Pyo look like Ji Hoo sunbae!

  6. Fun article! I do think the 2nd male leads need to end up with nice girls more often, even if it isn't a lasting relationship! I find the vindictive nature of many of the 2nd female leads to be too over the top and if they'd tone it down, it would be easier to deal with!


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