Scene-stealer, secretly sweet, sana-ikaw-na-lang-’yung-bida. These are some of the words to describe the noteworthy female second leads in Korean dramas. Another one: SASSY! Sometimes, they’re besties with the lead actress. Other times, they’re in a love triangle or square with the main couple. A handful makes you feel the second-lead syndrome, similar to those male second leads na ~nagpaubaya~. A few of them became so popular that in their next project, they were already the star. The TV series from The Land of Morning Calm just have a way to not only highlight one pair but also showcase the charms of their supporting actors.
By no means is this an all-inclusive list, and fans of classic K-dramas can definitely add more to it. But here’s a look back on all the ~sassy~ female second leads in recent Hallyu history.
Iconic female second leads in K-dramas
1. Seo Dan in Crash Landing on You
In this epic South-North Korean romance, Seo Ji Hye played a chic, sheltered, and standoffish NK native. The wealthy woman was in love and engaged with the dreamy Captain Ri (Hyun Bin), whom we all know eventually fell for SK chaebol heiress Yoon Se Ri (Son Ye Jin). What we loved about Seo Dan was how she knew what she wanted and she wasn’t afraid to fight for it. Aside from being assertive, she proved in the end that she's a truly strong, independent woman. Of course, we have to say: her chemistry with Alberto Gu (Kim Jung Hyun) was insane!
2. Scarlett in Search: WWW
Lee Da Hee played Cha Yeon (a.k.a. Scarlett) in this underrated TV series. From the very start, she was a lovable character–she was feisty, competitive, and oh-so-chic! She's a jiu-jitsu athlete in the series, and one of the things that drive her to succeed and earn more money is so that she can pay off anyone that becomes collateral damage to her rage. At one point, she seemed to have a girl crush on one of her colleagues. Then she clumsily falls in love with someone who’s her opposite: a gentle and warm-hearted soul. All these made her, hands-down, the most endearing main cast member in this series.
3. Sung Bora in Reply 1988
Okay, this drama’s a couple of years older than the rest in the list, but a lot of people only came to know the Reply families when the series started trending in the Philippines in 2020. That counts as "recent," right? LOL! Anyway, Bora was played by Ryu Hye Young. She was the eldest sister of Deok Sun (Hyeri) who was always mean and cranky to her siblings. She was the type of person who fought for civil rights, and in one scene, she even saved a neighbor from getting mugged. These and more earn her a truly sassy badge in our book!
4. Oh Soo Ah in Itaewon Class
Hating on this "driven" career woman was probably one of the most unforgettable parts of the emotional roller coaster brought by this drama. Soo Ah was played by Kwon Na Ra and was the first love of Saeroyi (Park Seo Joon). Their childhood connection continued until they belonged to rival companies. By then, Soo Ah became torn about doing well at her job or helping Saeroyi, who was a struggling small business owner. TBF, she ~mended her ways~ in the end, and was blessed with an open ending involving a cute chef. Lucky girl!
5. Gyeoul from Hospital Playlist
The female doctor played by Shin Hyun Been seemed nerdy and shy at first. Eventually, she displayed how courageous she is. She doesn't back down when she thinks something is wrong, even if she gets physically hurt or verbally abused. Another thing we love about her is how she never gives up on the person she likes. She was determined to win over his affection without changing any part of her personality. A true queen!
6. Won In Jae in Start-Up
Played by Kang Ha Na, she was the estranged older sister of Dal Mi (Bae Suzy). She seemed like a spoiled brat at first, but eventually, you see how intelligent, driven, and self-sufficient she was. Who wouldn’t admire how she let go of being handed a company in order to start one from scratch without financial help from her stepdad? We stan this sharp-looking, baby-faced boss!
7. Gye Bun Ok in Snowdrop
As you would expect in a series set in a time when the Korean people were fighting for democracy, there’s bound to be a few badass characters. One of them was Bun Ok, played by Kim Hye Yoon. She was the phone operator in a women’s dormitory, the residence of Eun Young Ro (BLACKPINK’s Jisoo). It’s hard not to admire Hye Yoon’s convincing portrayal of a girl who just wants to do the right thing despite not having a good social standing.
8. NJ in Our Beloved Summer
With long blonde hair and the stature of a K-pop idol, Noh Jung Ui was almost unrecognizable in this series (you might have seen her in 18 Again—she was the daughter of lead character, Hong Dae Young). In this kilig-filled rom-com, NJ was a top Hallyu celeb who had a crush on Choi Woong (Choi Woo Sik). She deals with her unrequited feelings like many other girls—even though you found her annoying, you gotta admit that her story was relatable (except maybe for the part where she's a household name, she owns million-dollar buildings in South Korea, and she has no friends). And you gotta give it to her—she did not quit until she was sure she had no chance.
9. Dr. Hong Ga Young from The Silent Sea
Award-winning actress Kim Sun Young has always played badass roles, and her character in this Netflix series is no different. Sure, Dr. Song Ji An (Bae Doona) was an MVP in their mission to the moon. However, Dr. Ga Young was the silent savior that helped keep members of the crew alive. Her decision to follow through on the mission alone proves her boldness already. And ~*spoiler alert*~, she survives till the end, which goes to show that she’s not someone to mess with!
10. Choi Nam Ra from All of Us Are Dead
You might recognize Cho Yi Hyun from Hospital Playlist as that intern with a twin. In this new zombie series, she plays a high school class president who gets stuck with her classmates. She admits that she wouldn’t have gotten the position if not for her mother. However, because of her intelligence and tenacity, she becomes essential in the survival of the group of Hyosan High students. TBH, she's one of those second leads that many people might prefer over the actual lead.
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