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