The second lead syndrome is a phrase most often used to describe K-dramas when fans are rooting for the second lead, or when they start to fall for them.
The usual formulas of Korean dramas have the female lead ending up with the male lead, but just because it’s scripted and written so doesn’t mean viewers don’t deviate off the male lead to root for those in the background.
Especially when the second leads are just as charming, endearing, and good-looking. Here we present you K-dramas which will give you major second lead syndrome:
1. While You Were Sleeping
While in some cases, the second lead in Korean dramas has a tough exterior, Han Woo Tak is the exception.
Gentle, caring, and soft, Woo Tak is a supportive friend to Nam Hong Joo and Jung Jae-Chan.
While he’s always quietly in the background, it’s hard to ignore the longing moments he shares with Hong Joo and the fact that his phone background is a silhouette of the two together.
While You Were Sleeping is a combination of the legal drama and fantasy genres, focusing on the tale of three young adults who have acquired the ability to see the future through their dreams: field reporter Nam Hong-Joo, rookie prosecutor Jung Jae-chan, and police officer Han Woo-Tak.
Some of these dreams show crimes that Jae-chan has to investigate and others show disastrous events that one or more of them will have to endure.
Troubled by these dreams, the trio collaborates with each other to prevent their ominous dreams from turning into reality and to take down their archenemy, the corrupt lawyer Lee Yoo-beom.
2. Reply 1988
Arguably one of the most loved second male leads of all time, Kim Jung Hwan of the hit series Reply 1988 is definitely going to make this list.
While he’s always had a crush on Sung Deok Su, his childhood friend, he’s never told her about his feelings for her.
And when he realizes that Park Bo Gum (Choi Taek) feels the same for her, he takes a step back for the two.
Respectful and unselfish, it’s no wonder he won the heart of viewers.
3. 18 Again
In 18 Again, Wi Ha Joon (Ye Ji Hoon) is a pitcher who is one of the biggest baseball stars in Korea.
After Jung Da Jung (Kim Ha Neul) interviews him, he immediately takes a liking to her.
A favored trope amongst many, where every girl wants to be with him but he only has eyes for one, their relationship is a fairytale romance that unravels as his feelings for Da Jung remain strong.
4. True Beauty
Based on the popular webtoon, True Beauty‘s Hwang In-Yeop is caught in a love triangle with stars Moon Ga-young playing Lim Joo-Kyeong and Cha Eun-Woo as Lee Su-Ho.
As many fans were quick to assess, Hwang In Yeop has completely impressed the viewers with his accurate portrayal of Han Seo-Jun.
It’s hard not to root for him as we learn more about his family and how protective he gets over Joo-Kyeong.
Especially in his hidden moments of pain, and when we see how affected he is by Joo-Kyeong still in the finale.
True Beauty left fans with major Second Lead Syndrome and it was heartbreaking to see Han Seo-Joon not getting the girl.
5. My Roommate Is A Gumiho
Based on a webtoon, the series follows Shin Woo Yeo, a 999-year-old nine-tailed fox who is set on becoming human and Lee Dam is a university student majoring in history.
When we’re first introduced to Gye Sun Woo, Lee Dam’s popular senior in college, he seems like the typical arrogant character.
He places a bet on Lee Dam’s affection and seems to be drawn by her hard-to-get disposition.
But as the show continues, we get actual character growth and see how he continues to pursue her.
It’s hard not to root for him, even though we know it isn’t in the cards for them.
With a cast like Bae Suzy and Nam Joo-Hyuk, the hype of Start-Up was real and it was inevitable that Kim Seon-Ho would also catch the attention of viewers.
His character, Han Ji Pyeong, is the typical trope of a male lead with a tough facade, and because of this impression, it’s all the more heart-aching when we see glimpses of his tender moments throughout the show.
From bonding with Dal-Mi’s grandmother to helping her to keep the secret of Nam Do San’s true identity.
Set in South Korea's fictional Silicon Valley called Sandbox, Start-Up tells the story of people in the world of startup companies.
Seo Dal-mi is a bright and ambitious young woman who dreams of becoming Korea's Steve Jobs.
Dal-mi doesn't have a fancy background but she's passionate about her work. She has bright energy and is a person of great vitality, having experience in a wide range of part-time jobs.
Nam Do-san is the founder of Samsan Tech. A ‘math genius’, or genius savant, as a young boy, Do-san was once the pride of his family but became their shame now, as his business has been going down for the past two years.
He finds out that Dal-mi mistakenly remembers him as her first love, so he decides to work his way up in hopes of turning that misunderstanding into reality.
7. Crash Landing On You
Yoon Se-Ri is an heiress to a conglomerate in South Korea.
One day, while paragliding, an accident caused by strong winds leads Yoon Se-Ri to make an emergency landing in North Korea.
There, she meets Ri Jeong-Hyeok, who is a North Korean army officer. He tries to protect her and hide her.
Soon, Ri Jeong-Hyeok falls in love with Yoon Se-Ri. Kim Jung Hyun‘s portrayal of Seung-Joon was one of the most wholesome character growth moments in the history of K-dramas.
While his story ended in the most heartbreaking way possible, he did it like how he did the other scenes in style.
And the famous passport scene will always haunt us.
8. Love In The Moonlight
The series is a coming-of-age story about Crown Prince Lee Yeong's growth from a boy into a revered monarch and his unlikely relationship with eunuch Hong Ra-on.
It’s hard to beat the charms of Park Bo Gum (Prince Yeong), but Park Jin Young’s Yoon Sung was a convincing case for second lead syndrome in this period drama.
Although it was obvious from the beginning who Hong Ra On (Kim Yoo Jung) would end up with, it still pulls on your heart to watch Yoon Sung continue to love her – even from a distance.
The ending in particular, without giving anything away, is the salt in the wounds that really make you feel for him.
7. Extraordinary You
The series follows high school girl Eun Dan-oh who is a student at a prestigious academy.
One day, by chance, she discovers that the world she lives in is a fantasy world of comics.
She and everyone else are merely characters in a comic book entitled Secret, all under the authority of their omnipotent and omniscient Writer.
Dan-oh is only an extra character and, worse, the Writer gave her a lame set-up: she is engaged to her long-time crush who despises her, and she has heart disease and is expected to die soon.
Not satisfied with this fate, Dan-oh decides to forge her own destiny by changing the story's plot and finding her own true love.
Her hopes of freeing herself from the Writer's control become stronger than before when she unexpectedly meets nameless Student Number 13.
But as the events around Dan-oh and Number 13, whom she named Haru, gradually start to have parallels with the Writer's previous work Neungsohwa, changing her destiny could have a price to pay.
Bae Kyung is arrogant, rude, and mean towards Eun Dan Oh, so there’s no reason for us to like him.
At least that’s what we think. With this show, there’s more than meets the eye, and once we see his character development come through, it’s hard not to sympathize and root for him.
It’s quite clear that Dan Oh and Haru will end up together, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling the weight of second lead syndrome.
8. Cheese In The Trap
The drama focuses on the life and relationships of a group of university students, particularly the difficult relationship between hard-working scholarship student Hong Seol and a deceptive senior, Yoo Jung.
Jung is rich and popular and he is heir to Taerang Group. Although he appears to be kind to everyone around him, he is quite manipulative with a penchant for destroying those who irritate him, often by using others.
When Seol discovers this, her life starts becoming so miserable she decides to take time off school.
When she returns through a scholarship that was intended for Jung, he is unexpectedly nice to her and he asks her on a date.
Although she is unsure what kind of person he is, they begin an awkward relationship complicated by the distance between them as well as the aftermath of his various schemes.
The situation is further complicated by the arrival of Baek In-ho and his sister In-ha, childhood friends of Jung who have since had a falling out.
It’s one of the rare shows where many fans disliked the male lead from the start, and it doesn’t help that the male lead is portrayed as a sociopath.
A tough rebel who plays the piano, Baek In Ho makes it so easy to root for with his earnest character and the sincere moments he shares with Hong-Seol.
9. The Heirs
The series follows a group of wealthy, privileged high school students as they are about to take over their families' business empires, overcoming difficulties and growing every step of the way.
It’s hard to know who to root for in this drama, while Kim Woo Bin‘s Choi Young Do is definitely introduced to us as the antagonist, his redemption arc does grow over the time of the show and it had many viewers rooting for him over the ever-charming Lee Min Ho.
10. Boys Over Flowers
The series is about a working-class girl who gets tangled up in the lives of a group of wealthy young men in her high school.
It earned high viewership ratings in South Korea and popularity throughout Asia. Starring Ku Hye-sun, Lee Min-ho, Kim Hyun-Joong, Kim Bum, Kim Joon and Kim So-Eun, it aired for 25 episodes on KBS2 from January 5 to March 31, 2009.
Lee Min-ho's role as the leader of F4 completely contrasted his role in Mackerel Run, which earned him overseas popularity.
As the female lead starts a love/hate relationship with Gu Jun Pyo, Yoon Ji-hoo's role as the second-lead is the contradiction most fans relish in.
Sweet, caring, consistent, and protective, he’s there for her in her lowest moments.
"Nevertheless," is a drama that tells the story of an art student named Yu NaBi who does not believe in love but ends up falling for the flirtatious nature of Park Jae-Eon.
Many fans were upset that he did not end up dating Yu NaBi. As much as fans were excited to see Han SoHee and Song Kang on screen together, in reality, Park Jae-Eon was not the best guy for Yu NaBi to date. Their relationship was confusing to put it lightly.
And it makes sense, how can anyone not fall for our "Potato boy"?
If you're someone who always falls for the second lead, these dramas are for you.
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