KajoPicks: 10 South Korean dramas that suffer from Second Lead Syndrome
Second Lead Syndrome in Korean dramas are real guys.
It is a phrase coined by K-drama fans when the viewers like the second male lead character to end up with the female lead rather than the main male character.
In most cases, the first male character is always being portrayed as cold and very domineering.
Meanwhile, the second lead male character is the one we know who does everything for the girl but in the end will never have her heart.
Here are ten dramas, we believe that are suffering from a serious case of Second Lead Syndrome:
1.Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)
This historical drama follows the story of Kim Yoon-hee (Park Min Young) who disguises as her brother Kim Yoon-shik to earn money for the family.
It is set time during a period when females are not allowed to earn education or employment.
One day, she is offered a chance to make money by taking an entrance examination to Sungkyunkwan, a Joseon dynasty university.
Since her action is illegal, she gets caught by Lee Sun-joon (Park Yoo-chun).
After acknowledging Yoon-hee’s intelligence, Sun-joon encourages her to enroll in the university.
There, she gets to know her schoolmate including Gu Yong-ha (Song Joong-ki), Moon Jae-shin (Yoo Ah-in) and Ha In-soo (Jun Tae-soo).
Even though she is surrounded by these men, her heart still sets itself upon Sun-joon.
However, viewers are rooting for Yoon-hee to choose Jae-shin.
Unlike Sun-joon who is cold and arrogant, Jae-shin is Yoon-hee’s silent protector who hides his gentle heart behinds his gruffness and constant mood swings.
2.You’re Beautiful (2009)
The series You’re Beautiful (2009) in a lot of ways are similar to Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010).
We have a female lead character who disguises as a boy, a cold, arrogant male lead character and lastly a warm-hearted, protective second male lead.
Ko Mi-nyeo (Park Shin-hye) wants to be a nun while her twin brother Ko Mi-nam wants to be a singer.
One day, Mi-nam must leave for the US to correct his botched plastic surgery.
Hence, Mi-nam’s manager Ma Hoon-yi (Kim In-kwon) approaches Mi-nyeo and asks her to disguise as Mi-nam for a month.
After much consideration, Mi-nyeo agrees and joins the band A.N.Jell whihc include Hwang Tae-kyung (Jang Keun-suk, Kang Shin-woo (Jung Yong-hwa) and Jeremy (Lee Hong-gi).
Shin-woo is the first to discover Mi-nyeo is actually a girl but he does not reveal it to anyone, including Mi-nyeo.
In fact, he continues to care for her while secretly protecting her.
Honestly, a normal woman would definitely go for Shin-woo instead Tae-kyung after watching this drama.
3.She Was Pretty (2015)
This drama will remind you of Selena Gomez’s song ‘The Heart Wants What it Wants’.
Kim Hye-jin (Hwang Jung-eum) has been in love with her childhood friend Ji Sung-joon (Park Seo-jeon) since they were children.
When they reunite as adults, Sung-joon does not recognise her and treats her coldly.
In the meantime, Hye-jin’s colleague/senior feature editor Kim Shin-hyuk (Choi Si-won) is the opposite of Sung-joon.
He helps Hye-jin in her work and likes the way her unique way of dressing up.
Sung-joon on the other hand, only starts to pay attention toward Hye-jin after she had a make-over and treats her differently after knowing she is her childhood friend.
Despite having a serious case of Second Lead Syndrome, the series was both a hit domestically and internationally especially in China.
4.Boys over Flower (2009)
First of all, why would you go for a guy who bullies you publicly in school? It is just wrong on so many levels.
Geum Jan-di (Ku Hye-sun) is the daughter of dry cleaner who is studying at the prestigious Shinhwa High School on a scholarship.
Unfortunately, she gets on the bad side of Gu Jun-pyo (Lee Min-ho) who is the richest kid in school known for his hot-temper.
Unlike others, Jan-di has the courage to fight back against Jun-pyo.
Even though Jun-pyo torments her at first, he eventually falls for her.
While Jun-pyo is busy tormenting Jan-di, the one who treats Jan-di well is Yoon Ji-hu (Kim Hyun-joong).
He is calm and gentle which is the opposite of Jun-pyo’s volatile and hot-tempered behaviour.
5.School 2015: Who Are You (2015)
Go Eun-byul and Lee Eun-bi (both played by Kim So-hyun) are identical twins who are separated when they were children.
Eun-bi lives in an orphanage while her twin is adopted and studying in a private school.
Due to intense bullying at school, Eun-bi decides to commit suicide but she is saved at the last moment by Eun-byul.
After the incident, Eun-bi loses her memory. Eun-byul goes missing while her adoptive mother takes Eun-bi in thinking she is Eun-byul.
When she is living as Eun-byul, Eun-bi gets to know Han Yi-an (Nam Joo-hyuk) Gong Tae-kwang (Yook Sung-jae).
Yi-an is the star swimmer while Tae-kwang is the troublemaker in school.
Behind his naughtiness, Tae-kwang is caring and thoughtful especially toward Eun-bi.
Throughout the series, Eun-bi seems to spend more times with Tae-kwang more than Yi-an making you wonder who is the main male character actually.
6.Love in the Moonlight (2016)
Based on the novel Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, this coming-of-age story is set during 19th century Joseon Dynasty.
It follows the story of Lee Yeong (Park Bo-gum), the only son of the king and heir to the throne.
He has a eunuch named Hong Sam-nom (Kim Yoo-jung) who is in fact a girl named Hong Ra-on.
Ra-on has to disguise herself as a male to make a living.
Meanwhile, Kim Yoon-sung (Jinyoung) is Lee Yeong’s childhood friend and a charismatic scholar.
Your heart cannot help but be softened watching Yoon-sung continue to love Ra-on from a distance throughout the story.
7.True Beauty (2020)
This high school drama gives viewers major heartache thanks to its Second Lead Syndrome.
It centers around Lim Ju-kyung (Moon Ga-young), a girl who is constantly being bullied by her peers due to her appearance.
After learning how to use makeup, she transforms herself and becomes the ‘goddess’ in her new school.
However, her natural face is discovered by the school popular kid Lee Su-ho (Cha Eun-woo).
He couldn’t care less about how Ju-kyung looks with or without makeup.
Just like Su-ho, Han Seo-jun (Hwang In-youp) never shunned Ju-kyung regardless of her look.
Yes, Ju-kyung is in love with Su-ho from the beginning.
However, our hearts are stirred looking how much Seo-jun cares for Ju-kyung while being friend-zoned especially when Su-ho is not there for her.
8.Reply 1988 (2015)
Kim Jung-hwan (Ryu Jun-yeol) has been harbouring feelings for his childhood friend Sung Deok-seon (Lee Hye-ri) since they were kids.
He is reluctant to admit his feelings to Deok-sun. When he finds out that his best friend Choi Taek (Park Bo-gum), Jung-hwan takes a step back for the two.
The drama sets in the year 1988, revolving around five friends and their families living in the same neighbourhood of Ssangmun-dong, Dobong District, Northern Seoul.
However, the plot focuses mainly on the love in the families rather than the romance between the characters.
9.Cheese in The Trap (2016)
When the male lead character is problematic from the beginning of the story, the drama naturally will fall into Second Lead Syndrome.
The story follows Yoo Jung (Park Hae-jin), a handsome, intelligent and heir to a conglomerate company the Taerang Group.
Most people see him as this nice guy who is kind toward everyone. Little that they know, he is manipulative with tendency of destroying those who irritate him.
Hong Seol (Kim Go-eun) sees this dark side of Yoo Jung and her life starts to become miserable up to the point that she decides to take a break from school.
When she returns, Yoo Jung unexpectedly nice to her and even asks her on a date.
Even though she is confused with Yoo Jung, Hong Seol agrees and the two start an awkward relationship.
Then, Baek In-ho (Seo Kang-joon) comes into the picture and falls for Hong Seol too. He is Jung’s former childhood friend.
Unlike Yoo Jung’s manipulative and fake character, In-ho is sincere and earnest man who deserved Hong Seol’s attention.
Perhaps one of the most severe cases of Second Lead Syndrome is this drama Start-Up (2020).
It revolves around a woman who dreams to become South Korea’s Steve Jobs and her love triangle between a man who is secretly her first love and another man who is pretending to be her first love.
Seo Dal-mi (Bae Suzy) takes various part-time jobs while building her dream to become an IT entrepreneur.
Meanwhile, Nam Do-san (Nam Joo-hyuk) is a math genius who founded the Samsan Tech.
Dal-mi mistakes Do-san for her first love from her childhood who used to write her love letters.
In reality, the one who wrote the letters all this while was Han Ji-pyeong (Kim Seon-ho).
While writing all those letters, Ji-pyeong slowly falls for Dal-mi and even forming sweet relationship with Dal-mi’s grandmother.
Although viewers know who Dal-mi would choose in the end, it doesn’t mean this love triangle story is less painful to watch.