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First Among Equals: K-drama Second Lead Couples We Stan

Not everyone gets a chance to be the main lead in a k-drama romance. And that’s okay because we’re all main leads in our real lives anyway. We’re currently rooting for Cha Sung-hoon (Kim Min-kyu) and Jin Yeong-seo (Seol In-ah) of A Business Proposal. We don’t blame her at all for falling head over heels for the reserved and self-possessed Sung-hoon. (We’d totally spend all our time hanging out in our corner convenience store, if we were in her shoes.)

While we wait for the end game of these two, we take a look at some of the second couples we love–the ones whose relationships might not have gotten as much screen time but who still deserved their own happily-ever-afters.

Second couples have their own roles to play in k-drama romances. Usually, they are used as foils for the main couple. For example, the main leads usually have the men pursuing the women, but second female leads are often more assertive and have no qualms about pursuing men. Sometimes, second couples provide a change in romantic pace; their relationships will often move faster (or slower) than the main leads to highlight the difference. Finally, some second couples start out with one of them being on the losing end of the main love triangle. The latter reason is just lazy writing but we’ve found that some k-dramas are able to give justice to the second lead by giving them the character growth and love interest they deserve.

Taking matters into her own hands

Veronica Park and Ki Dae-joo in Secret Life of My Secretary (2019)

When Veronica Park (Kim Jae-kyung) is speaking (Can you hear her voice in your head too?) she’s used to people taking notice and the handsome, reserved Ki Dae-joo (Koo Ja-sung) has caught her eye. But when he shows no sign of interest in her, Veronica takes on the challenge and pursues him with everything in her arsenal. The funny interplay between the audacious Veronica and the stoic Ki Dae-joo is a fun watch and provides as much kilig and entertainment as the main couple.

Oh Jin-kyu and Ko Won-hee in Strongest Deliveryman (2017)

One of the best things about Strongest Deliveryman was the character growth of second lead Oh Jin-kyu played by Kim Seon-ho. The arrogant chaebol was a hard pill to swallow at the start, but learning his backstory and seeing him overcome his entitlement eventually made us root for him. Ko Won-hee (Lee Ji-yoon) wasn’t just another poor little rich girl. She genuinely wanted to make it on her own. Her unabashed admiration for the unaffected Oh Jin-kyu was sometimes painful to watch but when someone loves that bravely, you can’t help but cheer her on.

Seo Dae-young and Yoon Myung-ju in Descendants of the Sun (2016)

When Master Sergeant Seo Dae-young (Jin Goo) brought First Lieutenant Yoon Myung-ju (Kim Ji-won) to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding as his pretend girlfriend, he didn’t think their relationship would actually turn out to be real. But dating in the military complicates things and Yoon Mjung-ju’s father’s disapproval makes life even more difficult. Not so easily discouraged, she is the one who initiates their reconciliation and proves that true love does conquer all.

Loving Noona

Seo Dan-ah and Lee Yeong-hwa in Run On (2020-21)

Seo Dan-ah (Choi Soo-young) has far too much on her plate to think of romance. She runs her own public relations agency and has to deal with a messy family life and the only thing that calms her is an intriguing painting hanging in the local coffee shop. The last thing she needs is a younger man, artist and painter Lee Yeong-hwa (Kang Tae-oh), pursuing her and pushing her to… feel complex emotions. But as she tries to pull farther away, she realizes that she might just be making a huge mistake. Nobody told Seo Dan-ah and Lee Yeong-hwa that they weren’t the main leads in this show and the viewers are as invested in their ship as they are in the main couple’s (Im Si-wan and Shin Se-kyung) romance.

Kang Sa-ra and Ryu Eun-ho in Beauty Inside (2018)

Insecure and competitive Kang Sa-ra (Lee Da-hee) is used to maintaining a facade, doing exactly as she pleases, and men who display wealth and power. But when she meets calm, angelic, and unsophisticated Ryo Sun-ho (Ahn Jae-hyun), she doesn’t understand why he gets under her skin. Soon enough, she realizes that the heart wants what it wants and these two become one sweet couple.

Majoring in romantic chemistry

Yeo Ha-kyung and Jo Il-kwon in Find Me In Your Memory (2020)

As the little sister and manager of a hotshot actress, Yeo Ha-kyung (Kim Seul-gi) is used to taking care of her sister. Protective and fiercely loyal, she’s often had to step in to make sure her sister doesn’t get hurt. When she meets reporter Jo Il-kwon (Lee Jin-hyuk), she’s content and comfortable being in the friendzone. She finds it unusual to let someone take care of her for once and she’s actually starting to wish that things could be different between them.

Grim Reaper and Sunny in Goblin (2016)

In a love story that spans generations and reincarnations, the Grim Reaper (Lee Dong-wook) cannot escape his fate with Sunny (Yoo In-na). Between the two of them, they attempt to unlock mysteries about the past, seek redemption, and hope for another chance at love. The chemistry between the actors was so tangible that it prompted real-life dating rumors and their being cast as romantic leads in another drama.

Seo Dan and Alberto in Crash Landing On You (2019-20)

In a k-drama with such an epic love story between the two main leads (Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin), it’s not easy to take on second-lead-couple status. And yet, the touching storyline between ice princess Seo Dan (So Ji-hye) and morally ambiguous Alberto (Kim Jung-hyun) was able to keep pace with Se-ri and Captain Ri. It was fun to see Seo Dan open her heart to Alberto and heartwarming to see Alberto become a better man through her influence. From its tumultuous beginning to its moving end, theirs was a love story worthy of being in one of the best-loved k-drama romances of all time.

Three is company

Or if you want to get value for your time and want to watch more than two couples, you might enjoy these shows:

More Than Friends (2020)

The main leads in More Than Friends can’t seem to decide if they should be… well, more than just friends. While they take their sweet time figuring things out, their other friends have issues of their own. After more than ten years together, family circumstances cause Ahn Eun-jin as Kim Young-hee (Ahn Eun-jin) and Shin Hyun-jae (Choi Chan-ho) to rethink their priorities. They’re suddenly realizing that love may not be enough to keep two grown-ups who love each other together. Meanwhile, restaurant owner Jin Sang-hyuk (Pyo Ji-hoon) and hopeless romantic Han Jin-joo (Baek Soo-min) are trying to keep things casually physical but it’s easier said than done when feelings get in the way. While the main leads’ relationship in this drama is frustratingly slow at times, their friends’ love lives keep things interesting.

Because This Is My First Life (2017)

Truly one of the most underrated shows in k-dramaland, Because This is My First Life follows the life Yoon Ji-ho (Jung So-min) who is in a contract marriage with Nam Se-hee (Lee Min-ki) because she needs a place to live. But the drama also follows the lives of her two friends: Woo Su-ji (Esom) a smart, hardworking woman who suffers because of misogynistic workmates, and Yang Ho-rang (Kim Ga-eun) who wants to settle down and start a family. Su-ji meets Ma Sang-goo (Park Byung-eun) who affirms Su-ji and supports her dreams but she’s not ready to fully commit to him yet. Meanwhile, Ho-rang’s boyfriend Sim Won-seok (Kim Min-seok) is far from ready to marry and start a family. More than just a love story though, this drama really is about how these women find their place in the world and become each other’s strength. The romance is just a wonderful bonus.

Lovestruck in the City (2020-21)

In a drama documenting the love stories of dating Seoulites, there’s bound to be more than one couple involved. While Park Jae-won (Ji Chang-wook) and Lee Eun-o (Kim Ji-won) try to get over their failed relationship, Choi Kyeong-jun (Kim Min-seok) and Suh Rin-i (So Joo-yeon) are trying their best to make things work between them. They seem like the perfect couple until the cracks start to appear and they realize that different financial outlooks aren’t so easy to brush off. Finally, no one can understand the platonic relationship between Lee Eun-o and her roommate Kang Geon (Ryu Kyung-soo) who’s still trying to get over a self-proclaimed serial dater Oh Seon-yeong (Han Ji-eun). Not everything’s coming up roses in this drama but it does show some insight into the joys and sorrows of the modern dating scene. (Read the full review here.)


Did your favorite second leads make it to the list?

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1 Comment

Alexis Clarisa
Alexis Clarisa
Mar 25, 2022

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