Do K-Dramas Shun Sisterhood?

I’ve been watching a bunch of Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, and lakorns recently and you know what I’ve noticed? All the female leads have a female best friend in tow and that is awesome.

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(Master Devil Do Not Kiss Me image courtesy of Tencent Video)

The female best friend is someone every girl in real life needs. They’re the cheerleaders, the protectors, the confessional box, the trash talker, the ice cream buyer, and sometimes, the truth speaker to the female protagonist's wrongdoings.

So why does it seem like a lot of K-dramas neglect this character in their scripts? I'd like to chalk it up to cost cutting but more than likely, it's because they prefer making their female leads be so invincible that they don't require female friends.

Is it true female BFFs are scarce in K-dramas?

To test my theory, I looked into the last 10 K-dramas I’ve watched.

30% of the K-dramas I’ve watched had sistmance (Fight For My WayStrong Woman Do Bong Soon, and Suspicious Partner [and with the latter, the sistmance didn’t really happen until the latter half of the show… Eun Bong Hee weaselled her way into Na Ji-Hae apartment and life].)

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(Fight For My Way image courtesy of KBS2)

The rest had bromance but no sistmance (Hit the TopRadiant OfficeRomantic Doctor, Teacher KimMoon Lovers: Scarlet Heart RyeoLove in the Moonlight, and Chicago Typewriter).

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(Chicago Typewriter image courtesy of TvN)

Some might say I have a poor sample size and I’d agree since this is my list of recently viewed shows. However, I challenge every reader to look at their queues and shows completed to figure out the bromance/sistmance ratio in the K-dramas viewed.

Go on.

Done? So, what is your bromance/sistmance ratio? I’d bet it would be around my ratio. At best, it would be 50%.

An argument that could be had is that in K-drama land, a female best friend doesn't push the story forward. Stuffed toys are enough to provide comfort and support.

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(Goblin image courtesy of TvN)

I’d buy that argument if the protagonist is 10-years old. Otherwise, it is poor logic. When a heroine encounters hardships, even the most tough-as-nails or secretive woman would have a moment of weakness, so much so she confesses to another woman (she may sometimes be a stranger) that she’s having a bad day. 

Let’s take for example My Secret Romance. Lee Yoo Mi doesn’t tell her mother her issues but she opens up to Lee Kan Hee (Cha Jin Wook’s mother), a total stranger, that she may not cook for her loved one anymore.

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(My Secret Romance image courtesy of OCN)

Another person may argue a heroine doesn't need a specific gender to have a BFF.

But almost 100% of male BFFs turns out having jjak sarang (unrequited love) for the lead female. An example is Choi Woo Seung and Lee Ji Hoon in Hit the Top. As much as Ji Hoon wants to remain as Woo Seung's BFF, his ultimate goal is to be her main squeeze.

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(Hit the Top image courtesy of KBS2)

I do admit that as much as I love bromances, I’m getting tired of just loving them (CPT Yoo Si Jin and Master Sergeant Seo Dae YoungKim Shin and Grim ReaperHan Se-Joo and Yoo Jin Oh) and not having the same sistmance connection. The closest instance of sistmance where I felt I wanted that kind of connection is Kim Hye Jin and Min Ha Ri in She Was Pretty. Before that, it was Pan Da Yang and Choi Won Yi in Panda and Hedgehog.

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(She Was Pretty image courtesy of MBC)

Maybe I’m just going to have to rely on international shows to get my sistmance. But if you’re paying attention, K-drama writers, please have more stories where your heroine has a supportive girl friend at her side to cheer her on. She may be Wonder Woman but she'd be a more rounded character if she has a BFF right next to her.

Comments (47)

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  • Reply
    AmandaHayes 15 days ago

    So true, I'd disagree about Chicago Typewriter though, the sismance isn't huge, but it was definitely there.

  • Reply
    princessofsummer 15 days ago

    That I agree especially after watching Taiyou no Uta movie where the lead has her bff who would slap anyone that would hurt her. The closest I have that kind of sisterhood in Kdramaland is Sunny movie. That's the first time I genuinely felt envious of such friendship. You may want to watch that one.

  • Reply
    Camila 18 days ago

    There is only one drama where friendship has been fully explored and encouraged and inspiring: Far Away Love

  • Reply
    TeleriFerchNyfain 19 days ago

    Half the KDramas I've watched had close female friendships - about two thirds had bromances. This out of 275 dramas. Maybe 30 of these did NOT pass the Bechdal test (ie have 2 named female characters talk to each other about something other than their love lives...or men - ie they talk about work, cases, housework, their moms or kids, school, etc). So, yeah, I agree there are more bromances than sistmance, but still, not so shabby compared to the US!

  • Reply
    SmileHoney 20 days ago

    That's true, I'm starting to notice that there's not as much female friend bonding as there should be. Too many the supposed "friend" ends up back-stabbing the main lead, or is sidelined. Maybe it's because "bromance" is the new trend. I originally got into Korean dramas because of all the family / friend bonding (but really because of all the cliffhangers).
    Some dramas that I can think of with women bonding:
    Angry Mom (Kang Ja & Gong Ju)
    Queen of Mystery (Seol Ok & Kyung Mi)
    It's Okay That's Love (Hae Soo & Yeong Jin)
    Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo
    Age of Youth
    Twenty Again (Nora & YoonYoung)
    Seonam Girls High School Investigators
    Soulmate (Yu Jin & Minae / SuKyung, MiJin & YuJin)
    My Runway (Seo Yeon & Na Rae)

  • Reply
    Unnie25 21 days ago

    I'm watching tomorrow with you and they have an awesome sismance. The ladies even talk openly about sex which is unheard of in other dramas. I love their friendship.

  • Reply
    tomatipasta 21 days ago

    shut up family

  • Reply
    Antonin 21 days ago - edited

    If we cheer for bromance, we definitely need more "sismance" in dramas lol

    Basically bromance but with women. Usually "sismance" in dramas are the women drinking and crying together.

  • Reply
    AhlaamSherriff 21 days ago - edited

    just finished Perfect Wife/ Ms. Perfect and Shim Jae Bok had female friends that supported her. It even had cute strong little girl also.

  • Reply
    KatySarang_TGeyes 21 days ago

    Right?? Even the ones where there are two female best friends, it's usually not as deep as the male friendships, and the female best friend is there for comedic relief and occasional emotional support. Her whole character is being the friend, and she has no life of her own. I really want a drama where two females have the same type of deep friendship that the males had. As someone who has been best friends with someone since we were three, and we are both currently adults, it is very possible for females to form close friendships.

  • Reply
    myheartisomg 21 days ago - edited

    I really feel you on this. Most K-dramas would so not pass the Bechdel Test. My favourite one that does is Reply 1997, thanks to Si Won and Yoo Jung. Nothing says sistmance like cutting your hair off in solidarity <3

    • Reply
      TeleriFerchNyfain 19 days ago

      Actually that is PATENTLY untrue - most KDramas DO pass the Bechdal test, honey - even the ones w/o a so-called sistmance. That's because the casts are more balanced (as in almost as many if not more women as men) & often the boss & one lead are both women in the same office (so they HAVE to talk about, you know, work) or you have a family where the women get together to talk about housekeeping etc. KDramas are MILES ahead of most US dramas this way.

  • Reply
    kae 22 days ago

    HEAR HEAR!

  • Reply
    elli_jeu 22 days ago - edited

    Thank you for this post:
    I recheck my watched list and found some sistermance in the ff.:
    1. Bubblegum (Kim Haeng Ah and Oh Se Yeon)
    2. Age of Youth (Belle Epoque Girls)
    3. God of Study (Kil Pul Ip and Na Hyeon Jeong)
    4. Late Night Restaurant (Noodle Girls)
    5. Legend of the Blue Sea (Shim Chung, Seo Yoon Ah, and Homeless Woman)
    6. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo (Swag Girls)
    7. You Who Came from the Stars (Chun Song Yi and the Bookshop Girl)

    7 out of 30.
    I am hoping for some BFF stories too.

  • Reply
    OnigiriBunnie 22 days ago

    You know I never thought of this but yeah I feel like a lot of the K-dramas I have watched have been devoid of sisterhood. I don't know if it's the ones I picked or not. I started watching lakorns in January and there is usually the sistmance or bromance that sticks to the main character. Interesting~

  • Reply
    Hanah 22 days ago

    OMG. I feel like you wrote the exact thoughts that have been lingering in my brain forever (or ever since I jumped on the c-drama bandwagon lol). Yeah, the lack of wo-mance is pretty annoying and if you look deeper, it spells a lot of things about society in general.

    For some strange reason, everyone (and I mean from the east and west) love to pit women against each other. It's like the media is secretly telling us women are all b***** or something, and honestly, it comes off pretty demeaning.

    And the other thing is that it may be a supply and demand thing (or chicken and egg). Maybe some research analyst in kdrama media noticed shows with bromance had higher ratings or something. Lot's of people actively look for bromance and I've even seen one or two comments on a the few female-centric shows on how there is "not enough male characters".

    So I guess it's complicated?

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