K-drama romances have not exactly had a stellar record of presenting good dating prospects over the past 20 years. Don’t get us wrong. They’ve shown sexy, powerful, attractive, and crush-worthy men, but a good number of them wouldn’t actually make good life partners. In fact, we might even venture to say that the tsundere (indifferent, uncaring, and sometimes mean) chaebol so prevalent in k-dramas has reinforced a rather unhealthy standard of men for many people over the years. Thankfully, in the past few years, k-dramaland has gifted us with more stan-worthy male leads.
Meet Hong Du-sik, played to dimpled perfection by Kim Seon-ho in TvN’s Hometown Cha-cha-cha. He’s a jack of all trades...master of, well, life. He has a license in plumbing, painting, real estate, origami, etiquette coaching, and a whole host of other skills that even he himself no longer counts how many licenses he has. He’s the kind of guy you’d want to be stuck on a deserted island with because he’ll help you survive but also because he’s just great company. He’s an intelligent, avid reader and knows about good wine, good food, and even good art. But more importantly, he’s the guy who is kind to the elderly and to children, who will call you out when you’ve crossed the line, and just genuinely knows how to love people, romantically and otherwise. (We’ll stop now lest this whole article becomes an ode to Hong Bang-jan.)
We take a look at the other men that k-drama writers get right---the ones whom mothers-in-law will love, BFFs will get along with, and the ones who could very well be future fathers to our imaginary children.
Men In Uniform
Ri Jeong-hyok (Hyun Bin), Crash Landing On You (2019-20)
In a recently aired NHK documentary on Crash Landing On You, Son Ye-jin described the hit drama’s iconic scented candle-in-the-market scene: “In an unfamiliar place, with no one to rely on, just when she couldn’t keep going anymore and wanted to cry, she sees the light in the distance. When she follows that light like a child, Jeong-hyeok is standing there. I think that was the moment Se-ri fell in love with Jeong-hyeok, who was there for her, like a ray of light in her total darkness.” It wasn’t just South Korean businesswoman Yoon Se-ri who fell in love with the hunky North Korean soldier at that moment. As audiences came to know that the serious captain is actually a tender marshmallow on the inside, who was willing to put everything on the line—even his own life—to help her return to Seoul, he captured millions of hearts worldwide. The fact that he made her handmade guksu (noodle soup) and nursed her hangover with bean sprout soup and hand-roasted coffee are just icing on the cake.
Hwang Yong-sik (Kang Ha-neul), When the Camellia Blooms (2019)
While the typical leading man hides a heart of gold under a cold exterior, Ongsan's hero and country bumpkin cop Hwang Yong-sik wears his heart on his sleeve and loves with no filter. From the moment he becomes smitten with pub owner and single mom Dong-baek (Gong Hyo-jin), he becomes determined to be by her side—not as a suitor, but as a friend and ally—and endearingly asks for her permission to do so. Fully aware of her insecurities, abandonment issues, and challenges as a single mom in a small rural town, Yong-sik sets out to make Dong-baek feel that she is more than worthy of love. With the earnestness of an adorable mutt puppy, he brings her flowers every day, announces loudly and proudly that he likes her, and always takes her side, extending that protectiveness to her son, Pil-gu. A refreshingly progressive male lead with neither commitment nor communication issues, we should all be so lucky to have a Hwang Yong-sik in our lives, and it wouldn't hurt if were as adorable as Kang Ha-neul.
Guys Next Door
Ki Seon-gyeom (Yim Si-wan), Run on (2020)
You don’t often get lovable beta males in a testosterone-driven world of competitive sport. And yet, Ki Seon-gyeom (deftly played by the talented Yim Si-wan) in Run On, manages to be both a sensitive and naive romantic male lead and a rebel with a cause. In his own way, he resists the culture of bullying in competitive running and protects the weak. But outside the race track, he is content to let Oh Mi-joo (Shin Se-kyung) make the first move and assert herself. He’s by no means a pushover, and he does take matters into his own hands when he needs to. He’s just realized that he doesn’t need to do it ALL the time, nor does he need to do it alone. He’s got healthy relationships with men, except with his father, who is the biggest bully around. He’s the kind of guy that you’d definitely want in your present and your future.
Park Chan-hyuk (Kim Ji-seok), My Unfamiliar Family (2020)
Estranged for four years due to a misunderstanding, Park Chan-hyeok (Kim Ji-suk) and Kim Eun-hee (Han Ye-ri) rekindle their 15-year friendship and see each other in a new light. Eun-hee is so comfortable with him that she confides to him everything—from cringey dating details (TMI!) to sensitive family issues. Ever the patient listener and wise adviser, he helps her see through what her family says and does and, more importantly, take action. Almost a member of Eun-hee’s family, he employs her brother and drives a long distance to support her sister. In the slight chance that Eun-hee does not fall for him and officially make him POF (part of the family), could I keep him instead?
Yoon Yoon Jae (Seo In-guk), Reply 1997 (2012)
Seo In-guk charmed his way into hearts when he brought the character of Yoon Yoon Jae to life on Reply 1997. The childhood best friend of the female lead (Shi-won, played by APink member Jung Eun-ji), Yoon Jae put up with quite a lot from his bestie, especially during her idol-obsessed years.
From early on in the series, we watch Yoon Jae display loyalty to his friends, respect for Shi-won’s parents, and a dedication to his hyung Tae-woong. He also happens to be one of the most intelligent kids in school, and is later revealed to have done quite well for himself as an adult (no spoilers). And while he may not have been his best friend’s first love, there’s something to be said about a relationship that grows over the years into something deeper and richer. I mean, who hasn’t had fantasies about marrying their best friend?
Sun Woo (Go Kyung-pyo), Reply 1988 (2015)
In the pantheon of “Best Boys from the Reply Anthologies,” it’s pretty hard to beat Ssangmun-dong’s Sun Woo (Go Kyung-pyo) from Reply 1988. Devoted son to a widowed mother? Check. Loving older brother to a much-younger-and-really-adorable-sister? Check. A hardworking student with eyes set on a brighter future? Check. Caring friend, ready to lend a comforting shoulder or a listening ear? Check. Eventually becomes a doctor? Check. Patient suitor and ultimately loving boyfriend? Check and check. Name it, and Sun Woo will fit the bill. It doesn’t hurt that he’s really easy to look at, too.
Find yourself a Sun-Woo, then let us know if he’s got more friends like him!
Ha-ru (Ro-woon), Extraordinary You (2019)
Number 13 (later named Ha-ru, portrayed by SF9’s Ro-woon) saves Eun Dan-oh (Kim Hye-yoon) multiple times: comforting her, breaking her fall from a staircase, and defending her from her rude fiancé Baek Kyung (Lee Jae-wook). Ha-ru tops it all off by actively supporting Dan-oh’s goal to break free from her “fate”—dying from her heart condition—even though they know they are merely extras in the manhwa Secret. His reassuring emotional presence in Dan-oh’s life stands in stark contrast to Baek Kyung’s behavior: embarrassing her in front of the class, hurting her, and treating her as a tool. Note to self: Ha-ru—admire, befriend, pursue. Baek kyung—avoid like the plague.
Jung Joon-hyung (Nam Joon-hyuk) Weightlifting Fairy Kim Book-joo (2016-17)
It took a while for the seemingly carefree Jung Joon-hyung (Nam Joo-hyuk) to get around to sorting his feelings for fellow athlete Kim Bok-joo. But once he did, he didn’t look back. From sneaky kisses, thoughtful gifts, and displays of affection, Joon-hyung was all in. And yes, he may have had some difficulty dealing with bouts of jealousy but let’s chalk that up to growing pains. You think being a teen in love is hard? Try being one with Olympic dreams in mind dating someone with the same pressures. But our boy is a quick study and learns to navigate the landscape of his new relationship, all while dealing with his personal demons, and trying to be there for Bok-joo as she deals with hers. Gold medals all around for Jung Joon-hyung!
Romantic Doctors from Hospital Playlist Seasons 1 and 2 (2020-21)
Lee Ik-jun (Jo Jung-suk)
The newly-proclaimed king of the slow burn romance, general surgeon Lee Ik-jun and main vocalist of Mido and the Falasols, stole our hearts as he serenaded us week after week. He is hilarious, brilliant, friendly, and utterly devoted to being a great dad to U-ju. An all-around good guy interested in other people, he is the confidante to almost every employee at the hospital, from interns to security guards.
When it came to love, though, Ik-jun proved that he was as patient as he was devoted. After he confessed his feelings to his longtime best friend, all of us held our breath as we waited between seasons for her answer. Knowing what was at stake, he gave Song-hwa all the time she needed and proved that he was a far better man than most. If he ever felt impatient or frustrated, he never showed it. Instead, he was the best friend to her, made her laugh, made sure she always had coffee and created a safe space for when she needed it. He loved her without expecting anything in return, simply content to be by her side. And if that’s not a keeper, we don’t know what is.
Kim Jun-wan (Jung Kyung-ho)
Prickly and aloof, cardiothoracic surgeon Kim Jun-wan is probably not the first person that comes to mind when we think about green flags. But “prickly and aloof” does not a tsundere make. Kim Jun-wan is a demanding boss, but he’s not mean. He demands excellence from his subordinates, but he doesn’t yell at them. His mysterious nature makes him seem indifferent, but he does care very deeply for his patients and goes the extra mile to help them heal. Those who are fortunate enough to be in his inner circle know that he is a softee who is affectionate and thoughtful. He doesn’t stand in the way of his girlfriend’s dream to study abroad. He respects her decision to break up with him even if it hurts him deeply. He does not let his pride get the better of him and eventually learns to forgive her when he realizes that he can’t live without her. Perhaps his years of studying the human heart make him adept at loving and being loved.
Yang Seok-hyeong (Kim Dae-myung)
Among the five members of Hospital Playlist’s 99ers, obstetrician Yang Seok-hyeong is the most socially awkward and reclusive. Even among their tight-knit circle of friends, only Chae Song-hwa is the one he truly opens up to. Seok-hyung carries the baggage of his failed marriage caused by the way his overbearing mother terrorized his then-wife. But OB resident Chu Min-ha (Ahn Eun-jin) saw past his introverted exterior and admired his surprising tenderness and compassion for his patients.
Although Seok-hyeong was reluctant to open himself to love and subject another woman to his monster-in-law of a mother, he couldn’t help but slowly let Min-ha into his heart. In the end, the lovable and wily bear found a way to ensure that his mother would value Min-ha as much as he did without burning any bridges.
Ahn Jeong-won (Yoo Yeon-seok)
Men of faith are hard to come by in k-dramaland. And ones who aren’t caricatures of Christians barely exist. Yoo Yeon-seok blesses the audience by playing the saintly pediatric surgeon Ahn Jeong-won (Christian name Andrea) who longs to be a priest. That’s hardly surprising since his two older brothers are men of the cloth, and his two older sisters are religious. But his mother has other plans for her youngest child. She wants him to find a good woman and give her grandchildren. There are certainly a lot of women who would volunteer as tribute.
Dr. Ahn is not only a child whisperer; he’s also a singer/drummer, a secret CEO of a charity, a dutiful child, and one of the kindest people around. When he does find someone to love, he’s respectful of her boundaries, supportive of her career, and completely sensitive to her needs. Moreover, he didn’t start a relationship until he knew exactly what he wanted and was willing to commit to. With his spendthrift ways as his only major flaw, he’s a shoo-in to be Yulje Hospital’s living saint and boyfriend of the year at the same time. And did we mention that he’s completely adorable?