8 (Male + Female) Second Leads Who Deserve Our Love

Unless you are a complete newbie to K-dramas, you’re likely to have suffered the heartrending pain of the second lead syndrome (SLS). Episode after episode, we hang in there whispering inside our head; “Maybe this one is different. Maybe there’s a twist here somewhere.”

You are in denial.

You are crying inside.

You are on the brink of dropping the show.

You finally give up and accept the inevitable.

Your ship’s not gonna sail.

Let's take a look at these swoon-worthy second leads who deserve our love for the kind, supportive, best friend forever that they are to our protagonists.

Second male lead

Second male lead syndrome could almost be considered a mainstream plot device in K-dramas, and many of them are well documented and blogged about. The top three mentions are usually: Yoon Ji Hoo (Kim Hyun Joong) in Boys over Flowers, Kang Shin Woo (Jung Yong Hwa) in You’re Beautiful, and Choi Yeong Do (Kim Woo Bin) in The Heirs.

Let's explore a few other ones.


Dr. Chae Eun Sook in Scent of a Woman

As much as I love Kang Ji Wook (Lee Dong Wook) in Scent of a Woman, I cannot but feel torn and heartbroken for the affable and nerdy Dr. Chae Eun Sook (Uhm Ki Joon).

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What’s more heartbreaking than to have a lifelong crush on a woman who leans on you as a friend and confidante but, alas, not as a lover? But as the gentleman that he is, Eun Sook suffers alone. Not only is his love unrequited as Lee Yeon Jae (Kim Sun Ah) is in love with another man, but she’s also terminally ill with only a few months left to live. He does the only thing a self-respecting gentleman would; he strives to be her pillar, helping her get through her inner and outer pain while masking his own. Any lady would be lucky to have a Eun Sook in her life.


Dr. Gook Chun Soo in Emergency Couple

Is there another, more deserving second male lead than the selfless, introverted ER doctor Gook Chun Soo (Lee Pil Mo)? Known as ‘The Devil’ to his interns, Chun Soo may be a no-nonsense, righteous ER doctor, but he’s a teddy bear at heart.

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Initially tough with Jin Hee (Song Ji Hyo), his approach softens when he sees how hard she works to overcome her low self-esteem and circumstances. He doesn’t coddle her but is always there to catch her when she stumbles. Although he's acting tough and mean, his only intent is to mentor and coach Jin Hee, but he starts to fall for her against his better judgement. The heart will do what it wants, even when the head says no.

Jin Hee and Chun Soo seem to fit so well together and their temperament and station in life seem so equal. Had it not been for Jin Hee’s history with her ex-husband Chang Min (Choi Jin Hyuk), the ship would’ve sailed on this one.


David Choi in Bel Ami

Mildly put, my SLS was near feverish while watching this show.

I was shipping David Choi (Lee Jang Woo) with Bo Tong (IU) from beginning to end without a doubt. David is a much, much more deserving partner than Ma Te (Jang Geun Suk). He loves Bo Tong unconditionally for who she is; a poor, ordinary girl with no exceptional talent. His only motive is to bring her happiness, even when he knows that it's a lost cause. Sad and borderline pathetic, given that Bo Tong has eyes for none other than Ma Te, this crush is one that is dangerously obsessive and rooted in shallow values.

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This is one of a few dramas where I honestly had very little love for the male protagonist. Ma Te treats Bo Tong with indifference for most of the show and exists only in his own cocoon. Does he really deserve the leading lady? Perhaps he redeemed himself towards the end, but it was too little too late in my books. *Sigh* Classic case study of how the nice guy never gets the girl.


Zhong Ming in Ode to Joy

Ode to Joy ranks among my favorite dramas. Even though it is primarily about the women, a show without interesting male characters would be dull indeed. So, enter their love interests.

Despite being a successful businessman, Zhong Ming (Jin Dong) cannot bring himself to confess to An Di (Liu Tao). He harbours a one-sided love for her, watching her from a distance and working behind the scenes to help and protect her. Her happiness is paramount to him and he’s willing to see her happy with someone else, rather than risk losing her from his life forever.

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In most romance dramas, one usually knows who the OTP will be from the promotional posters and teasers, but as Ode to Joy is a show about five women, how the romance will play out is a guessing game.

So I waited, and waited, and waited. And I hoped, and hoped, and hoped.

But to no avail. After 42 episodes and two active male pursuers later, Zhong Min is still on the outside looking in. It kills me to see Zhong Min putting his own feelings aside to do what is best for An Di time and time again, and how all of that heart and goodwill is oblivious to her. All she sees is a good friend, not a love interest.

Wake up An Di! Maybe there’s hope, as Season 2 is just around the corner.


Second Female Leads

Second female lead syndrome is almost non-existent in Asian dramas, as deserving second female leads are a rarity. Most second female leads are usually of the bitchy kind and not likely to elicit sympathies or shipping from viewers. Here are three women who defy this convention.


Bang Woo Kyung in Shut Up: Flower Boy Band

Bang Woo Kyung (Kim Jung Min) deserves our love as an honorary member of the Eye Candy boy band. As a sister and motherly figure to the boys, she’s always on the lookout for the band; pseudo-manager, part-time maid, and resident cheerleader. One could say that her long-time crush on Kwon Ji Hyuk (Sung Joon) is the motivator as she sticks to him like gum, but after realizing that Ji Hyuk is in love with Im Soo Ah (Jo Bo Ah), she continues to lend her support despite her initial resentment. This “gum” is one worth cheering for.

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Miao Ai Sha in Refresh Man

To all the annoying, revengeful second female leads in Asian dramas, Miao Ai Sha (Lai Lene) is the complete opposite. An angel without a mean bone in her body, she can be both brash and bashful — she is a woman with an identity of her own.

As Ji Wen Kai’s (Yan Aaron) personal secretary extraordinaire, Ai Sha is loyal and smart, and an important part of Wen Kai’s master plan. Realizing her feelings will not be reciprocated, she chooses to confess on her own terms so she can move on with her life and, in the process, helps bring the OTP together. How can you not like her? She has my vote!

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Dr. Oh Soo Hyun in Doctor Stranger

Intertwined with all the confusing plot and sub-plots, that is Doctor Stranger, Dr. Oh Soo Hyun (Kang So Ra) is someone who deserves our love as the jilted female lead. Amid feeling ashamed for falling for someone whose love of his life happens to be your roomie, it takes tremendous courage for Soo Hyun not to wallow in self-pity or exact revenge. Go, girl!

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There! Second leads that deserve our love. Can you think of others?

Comments (48)

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  • Reply
    Valier Mar 21, 2017

    You picked really good ones! My first ever second lead syndrom was with Kang Shin Woo in "You are Beautiful". Still not over that one^^

  • Reply
    AmauryLindy Mar 21, 2017

    I forgot about doctor stranger

  • Reply
    shining_stars Mar 21, 2017

    lol havent watched any of these shows

  • Reply
    Jessica Mar 21, 2017 - edited

    Ai Sha is an angel!

    • Reply
      Diefenbaker Mar 21, 2017

      I agree!

    • Reply
      Mitta Mar 21, 2017

      I kept waiting to see if she had any hidden agendas but no! She's definitely an angel.

  • Reply
    Risika Mar 21, 2017

    Pasta, Reply, School second leads :( nice article, thanks

  • Reply
    Mighty_Brosia Mar 20, 2017

    Yeah in emergency couple Im really rooting for Lee Pil Mo. from start to finish I dont like the main guy...

  • Reply
    shaz22 Mar 20, 2017

    I always happen to have Second lead female syndrome as I'm too weak to feminine beauty (they are always the better looking one at least for me).
    Park Shi Yeon (Han Jae Hee) - Innocent man
    Uchiyama Rina (Sawamura Haruka) - Strawberry on the shrotcake (for this one, she actually had got away with the better one, Kubozuka over Tacky anyday)

  • Reply
    theairtwit Mar 20, 2017

    I am not & never will be over kong tae kwang in school 2015. watching that hurt my heart, but I just wanted him to be happy in the end.

  • Reply
    seoparkang Mar 20, 2017 - edited

    I expected to see Doctor Stranger here, Kang Sora gave me such a bad SLS! Still mad at the writer till today

    • Reply
      MarjieJoseJavier 15 days ago

      It's painful how their parents' conflicts affected their intense chemistry.

  • Reply
    alexa Mar 20, 2017

    THE SECOND LEAD SYNDROME IN DOCTOR STRANGER WAS SO REAL OMFG

  • Reply
    Juniko Mar 20, 2017

    Kim Woo Bin as Choi Young Do in The Heirs.
    Baron Chen as Dylan in Fated to Love You
    Oguri Shun as Hanazawa Rui in Hana Yori Dango (season 2 only. Same feeling for second part of Boys Before Flower and most of all, the second season of Meteor Garden #Vic&BarbieForever)

  • Reply
    Jul Mar 20, 2017 - edited

    Besides the SLS we ALL had in School 2015, other worthy mentions for me are with Lee Ki Woo in Flower Boy Ramyun Shop (he was the definition of adorable) and Moon Chae Won in Painter of the Wind (a female second lead who has incredible chemistry with the FEMALE LEAD? Oh yes).

  • Reply
    Malu Mar 20, 2017

    You're right that Second Female Synd is virtually nonexistent. In my case, only these characters of old classics have stolen my heart:
    1.- Jae Kyung - Jun Pyo's fiancee (Boys over flowers): I tried very hard to hate her character but it was impossible, sometimes even seemed more interesting and charming than Jan Di. Well, more than her kindness, it was her risky charm that was hard to beat.
    2.- Yoo Hee Jin (My name is Kim Sam Soon): I remember when I saw her I thought: how can she be so angelical? She was kind and friendly, almost an example of sacrifice, she even let go of her beloved without refusing. It broke my heart.
    3.- Yoo Mi (Autumn Tale): She was incredibly devoted to the male lead and very kind. Although her attempted suicide at sea was somewhat manipulative, that scene moved me so much that I have it fresh in my mind until now.

  • Reply
    AnicsiRoscoe Mar 20, 2017

    I dropped Emergency Couple because I just couldn't get over my SLS. I just need Lee Pil Mo as the LEAD in more romance dramas. I mean, COME ON, he is so lovable!

  • Reply
    blackswindler Mar 20, 2017 - edited

    I think the strongest SLS (and I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks this way) was in She was pretty.

    • Reply
      Panda Mar 20, 2017

      Yea the second lead was a cutie

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