If there's one phenomenon that most Korean drama fans are familiar with, it's the Second Lead Syndrome. While we love how Hallyu pairs up iconic stars to top bill a drama, sometimes, they're even better at casting the second lead.
The second lead is usually a guy that competes in vying for the heart of the female lead—but that isn't the case all the time. Sometimes he can have a totally separate arc with another female lead that, IMO, is even better than the leads'. His typical MO? To be so damn lovable, you'll get confused to root for him or for the male lead! With his natural charm (topped with epic scenes and lines), his significant appearances make him truly unforgettable.
Let's look back at the second lead oppas that have stolen our hearts over the years.
1. Autumn In My Heart (2000)
The first installment of the melodramatic Endless Love tetralogy starred Song Seung Hoon as Yoon Joon Suh and Song Hye Kyo as Choi Eun Suh. Theirs was an against-all-odds love story. Among those that hindered their love were their families, an unfortunate illness, and a man named Han Tae Seok (Won Bin) who aggressively pursued Eun Suh.
IRL, it would be hard for anyone to fall for a guy who literally tries to buy your love and suffocates you with his demands—no matter how much he says he cares for you. Tae Seok was never someone you'd seriously root for Eun Suh to end up with. But you wish that somehow, someday, he'd find a love of his own and live a life without all that angst and pain.
2. My Girl (2005 to 2006)
Lee Da Hae and Lee Dong Wook starred in the series as Joo Yoo Rin and Seol Gong Chan, who find themselves with no choice but to pretend to be cousins. Gong Chan needs someone to fill in the role of his grandpa's long-lost granddaughter, while Yoo Rin needs money to pay her dad's debts. The whole "we're related" thing is obviously a difficult challenge especially when they start falling for each other. But it's so entertaining to watch them overcome it.
Way before his heartbreaking portrayal of Wang So in Scarlet Heart: Ryeo (2016), Lee Joon Gi was cast as a playboy in the OG rom-com, My Girl. Joon Gi's character finds himself seriously attracted to Yoo Rin but fails to win her heart. What's great is he merely gets frustrated at himself and sulks on his own rather than forcing his feelings on her. This makes him such a likable character—even if he had that ridiculous haircut!
3. Boys Over Flowers (2009)
You know how the story goes. The counterpart of Meteor Garden's Hua Ze Lei is Yoon Ji Hoo. This means he also ends up losing the girl (Ku Hye Sun's Geum Jan Di) to his best friend (Lee Min Ho's Gu Jun Pyo). Jan Di and Jun Pyo were always MFEO, despite their differences in social status, demeanors, and parental authorities. Not even a handsome F4 member (and a hellish mom) can get in their way.
Ji Hoo is played so well by Kim Hyun Joong. He was utterly dreamy at the start—it's no wonder why Jan Di crushed on him so hard. In contrast, he played the victim of unrequited love quite well, too. In the end, although he annoyingly prevented Jan Di and Jun Pyo to have a smooth sailing relationship, he was still that sweet, brooding, and protective guy you can't help but be drawn to.
4. Strong Woman Do Bong Soon (2017)
The Park-Park couple (Park Bo Young and Park Hyung Sik) were insanely adorable in this fantasy rom-com. As the bubbly Do Bong Soon and the dashing CEO Ahn Min Hyuk, they gave fans the perfect mix of funny scenes, brave action sequences, and honeymoon phase sweetness (remember their Bong-Bong and Min-Min pet names?).
But we can't forget the prince of second leads, Ji Soo, who played Bong Soon's best friend, In Kook Doo. While he was so protective and caring as a friend, he didn't realize how he really felt about her until it was too late. He was naive as well and didn't know how much Bong Soon adored him. Hopefully, this endearing actor gets better storylines (and lead roles) in the future.
5. While You Were Sleeping (2017)
This thrilling legal drama centered on a prosecutor, Lee Jong Suk's Jung Jae Chan, and a news reporter, Bae Suzy's Nam Hong Joo. The suspenseful crimes, despicable villains, and the aegyo- and kilig-filled relationship of the leads were sure to get the viewers hooked. There were also several charming minor characters.
One of those captivating personalities was Jung Hae In's Woo Tak. The police officer was not only handsome but also intelligent and kind. He got entangled with the lead pair as a chingu who was loyal to both of them, but he couldn't help but fall for Hong Joo. Despite his pure love for her, he didn't try to get in the way of Jae Chan and, in the end, chose to be a genuine friend to Hong Joo. What. A. Sweetie. Pie!
6. Cheese In The Trap (2016)
If you were able to watch this underrated series, you might be one of the many viewers left dumbfounded by Kim Go Eun's Hong Seol choosing Park Hae Jin's Yoo Jung in the end. He was just so cold, scary, and manipulative!
What Hong Seol really did wrong, IMO, was friendzoning Seo Kang Joon's Baek In Ho. Much like the actor, the character was super cute and talented. Plus, he was sooo warm-hearted that anyone would be lucky to have someone like him in their life. He showed that he would go to great lengths for Hong Seol, and any sacrifice—even his own happiness—will be worth it for her. Aww!
7. She Was Pretty (2015)
Like in other rom-coms, the lead characters in this drama meet and make a precious connection as kids. They eventually get separated when Ji Sung Joon (Park Seo Joon) migrates abroad. Upon his return, he's determined to meet and reconnect with his childhood love Kim Hye Jin (Hwang Jung Eum). That being said, it's no surprise that Hye Jin would find her way back to her beloved Sung Joon.
But this doesn't mean you'd be Team Sung Joon all the way, who, by the way, was an epic jerk to Hye Jin when he didn't know who she was. So, who treated Hye Jin kindly and always looked at her as if she was the best thing to exist in the world? Kim Shin Hyuk, the charming, energetic, and swoon-worthy gentleman, who was flawlessly portrayed by Choi Siwon. He's just not a guy you friendzone, okay?!
8. Reply 1988 (2015 to 2016)
This series was eye-opening and entertaining in so many ways! You'll see the colorful culture and way of life of average Korean families in the late '80s and early '90s. One minute you're laughing at the antics of the young ones and before you know it, you're ugly-crying because of the elders. You'll reminisce puppy love through Sung Deok Sun (Lee Hyeri). But then, you'll have mixed feelings of happiness and heartbreak as she ends up with the adorable Choi Taek (Park Bo Gum) instead of Kim Jung Hwan (Ryu Jun Yeol).
Let's be real: It's Jung Hwan's fault that he didn't end up with the girl. Blasted traffic lights aside, he had several chances to step up, but he was too torpe (and kind) that he gave way to Taek. He even had to disguise his love confession as a joke! Hay, sayang. (But at least Jun Yeol and Hyeri ended up dating in IRL, right?)
9. Crash Landing On You (2019 to 2020)
The top-rating drama starred Son Ye Jin and Hyun Bin as star-crossed lovers Se Ri, a South Korean heiress, and Captain Ri, a North Korean soldier. While these two definitely gave unforgettable performances, the drama's second lead stars, Kim Jung Hyun and Seo Ji Hye, left lasting marks in our hearts—which was made more apparent by their tragic ending.
Jung Hyun played the dashing conman Seung Joon (aka Alberto Gu ) who charmed his way into North Korean rich girl Seo Dan's (Ji Hye) heart. Although they both had romantic pasts with the lead characters (they were engaged to them!), these two ended up deeply in love with each other. But as a twist of fate, Seung Joon was abruptly killed off in the penultimate episode. This left Seo Dan strong-willed in remaining single for the rest of her life because she already experienced a once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. TL;DR: Ang sakit sakit lang!
10. The King: Eternal Monarch (2020)
The King: Eternal Monarch is, without a doubt, Lee Min Ho's comeback drama after getting discharged from the military. While everyone anticipated his return to the small screen, what we all didn't foresee was to get absolutely blown away by the drama's second lead star, Woo Do Hwan. The actor played two polarizing characters in the epic sci-fi and fantasy drama: the icy chief imperial bodyguard Jo Young and the lovable public service worker Eun Seob.
While he was barely entangled in a romantic storyline, what stood out was Jo Young's solid bromance with Emperor Lee Gon (Lee Min Ho)—his loyalty, friendship, and companionship to his longtime bestie and king. What's even better is that the two actors became really good friends IRL!
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