Many people watch k-dramas for their swoon-worthy leading men. Sometimes they set impossible standards, and other times, they’re actually quite problematic. We tried to look at this year’s crop of k-drama leading men and asked ourselves: If our friends started dating these men, would we give the red flag or the green flag?
Baek Yi-jin (Nam Joo-hyuk) from Twenty-Five Twenty-One
After watching his family go bankrupt and having to be separated from his parents, Yi-jin could very well have turned out scarred and bitter. But he isn’t. He is understandably hardworking and hungry for a chance to prove himself, but he doesn’t close himself off to making friends, enjoying the experience of being young, and caring for others. His tentative friendship with Na Hee-do (Kim Tae-ri) is innocent and supportive. He genuinely cares about her. His biggest drawback is his youth; he does not yet have the emotional, psychological, and financial resources to manage romance, career, and family at a turbulent time in history. He’s the kind of guy that even if things don’t turn out well romantically, you genuinely wish him a good and happy life. You’re just grateful that your first love was someone really great. He’s totally a green flag.
Captain Do Bae-man (Ahn Bo-hyun) in Military Prosecutor Doberman
Incredibly intelligent, unbelievably fit, and charmingly bedimpled military prosecutor Do Bae-man is very attractive, especially in his uniform. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, his morality is dubious at best, self-serving at worst. He used underhanded tactics to manipulate people and the law and earned himself a fat paycheck. Eventually, when he teams up with Cha Woo-in (Jo Bo-ah), they help people get some sense of justice but only because it serves their purpose of revenge. Dating someone who is that vindictive is scary. Bae-man is someone you’d love to have on your side, just not as a date. Red flag.
Kang Tae-moo (Ahn Hyo-seop) in Business Proposal
Tae-moo’s chaebol family belongs to the top 1% of society. He graduated from Harvard no less and is set up for success as the new CEO of his family’s company. This makes him incredibly eligible and if his grandfather has his way, he’d soon be married with children. Except Tae-moo is not ready. And we totally get that. But here’s where he gets a little sketchy. In order to get his grandfather off his back he cajoles, browbeats, and hires Shin Ha-ri (Kim Se-jeong) to pretend to be his fiancee and lie to his grandfather. When he does fall in love with Ha-ri, he’s a perfect and supportive boyfriend. We’re wary of these you-make-me-want-to-be-a-better man tropes so we’ll give Tae-moo a yellow flag. Proceed to date with caution. (Also, dating someone who can’t recognize you with a wig and some make-up can be problematic).
Choi Do-il (Wi Ha-joon) in Little Women
Right hand man of rookie politician Park Jae-sang (Um Ki-joon), Choi Do-il is cunning, sexy, and impossible to read. And this makes him super dangerous. While he is protective of Oh In-ju (Kim Go-eun) and has saved her many times, he keeps his motives completely hidden. Women who are drawn to bad boys will be drawn to Do-il like moths to a flame, hoping to be the one person who can bring out his pure heart hidden underneath that smoldering exterior. They’ll draw it out alright and get burned for sure with this flaming red flag. That probably won't stop a lot of women though.
Ha Jong-ho (Kang Hoon) in Little Women
Ha Jong-ho is Oh In-kyung’s (Nam Ji-hyun) childhood best friend and because he’s always around she takes him for granted. Even if his attraction is unrequited, Jong-ho continues to be supportive. He values In-kyung’s passion for her job and doesn’t stand in the way of her success. He’s forthright but gentle and this makes him very endearing. If any of our friends had a platonic relationship with someone like him, we’d tell her to give him a chance. Green flag.
Kim Jung-ho (Lee Seung-gi) in Law Cafe
As far as grand gestures go, Jung-ho is at the top. I mean, who buys a building when someone casually mentions they like it? A noble idiot in love, that’s who. Jung-ho has decided to suffer in silence and hide his true feelings for tenant and former fake girlfriend Kim Yu-ri (Lee Se-young) because of some misguided reason to protect her. He could have saved her and himself an agonizing 17 years of repressed romantic feelings if he’d only communicated with her. While he does become her steadfast knight in shining armor, and he takes great care of her, he’s still a yellow flag. I mean… 17 years? Someone could finish their entire basic education and college degree in that time.
Yoon Gyeo-rye (Ji Chang-wook) in If You Wish Upon Me
Ex-convict Gyeo-rye’s life is so littered with traumatic experiences, it’s a miracle that he hasn’t turned into a gang leader himself. If you look past his rough exterior and his colorful past, Gyeo-rye really does have the softest heart around. It’s no wonder Seo Yeon-joo (Choi Soo-young) falls for him despite their inauspicious first meeting. While we believe in giving people second chances and not judging them for their past, we also believe in therapy. Gyeo-rye has a lot of anger management issues to work through that true love alone cannot cure. Yellow flag. Actually red. Proceed with extreme caution if you must at all.
Jung Ji-ho (Go Kyung-pyo) in Love in Contract
Family court judge Ji-ho is about as stoic as a rock. He hides behind the law and refuses to engage in meaningful human relationships after being burned by his first love. But once he does fall in love, he’s actually passionate, supportive, and endearing. He listens well and makes an effort to meet the needs of his lover. It’s no wonder Choi Sang-eun (Park Min-young) is smitten with him. But if she were any of our friends, we’d have told her to dump him a long time ago. If it takes you five years to really get to know someone you’re in a contract relationship and to fall in love with him, then you’d have to look deep… deep deep deep down inside for his attractive points. And who has the time to do that? Red flag, unless you're willing to wait indefinitely.
Han Seon-woo (Park Hyung-sik) in Soundtrack #1
Seon-woo is a successful photographer who’s been in love with his best friend Lee Eun-soo (Han So-hee) since forever. It’s the quintessential question between platonic friends: Do we risk losing our friendship for something more? Seon-woo is very careful around clueless Eun-soo and only barely manages his jealousy when she’s with a potential boyfriend. But more importantly, he’s a good supportive friend – and sometimes that’s enough to build a great relationship on. He’s a green flag, this one is.
No Go-jin (Kim Jae-wook) in Crazy Love
Go-jin is the top math tutor in college-exam obsessed Korea and he knows it. He’s completely horrible to his fellow tutors and worse to his secretaries. In fact, he receives death threats and scary messages from them. What Lee Shin-ah (Krystal Jung) sees in him is beyond us. Whatever trauma he might have had in the past is no excuse to treat his employees as lower life forms. No Go-jin is a no-go red flag.
Jang Uk (Lee Jae-wook) in Alchemy of Souls
Jang Uk saves Mu-deok (Jung So-min) from her enemies and even gives his life for her. But, being her master (in appearance) tips the power balance in his favor; therefore, he can make her do whatever he wants — a yellow flag. Although he is her student (in private), if they suddenly cancel their arrangement, her alternative is to live in hiding or be killed, whereas he could still live a comfortable life, albeit one devoid of magic.
Seo Yul (Hwang Min-hyun) in Alchemy of Souls
Seo Yul could easily be the man of everyone’s dreams — smart, skilled, and good-looking. He sticks to his principles, looks after his friends, and has loved only one woman in his life. However, we see him waving a yellow flag for not being true to his feelings and being ready to eliminate any threat to the peace in Daeho. If my friend in his fictional world were, for example, So-yi (Seo Hye-won), it would be hard to rival his feelings and memories of his first love Naksu (Jung So-min). But if my friend were Naksu, he would be ready to kill her if she goes wild and harms the people.
Lee Jun-ho (Kang Tae-oh) in Extraordinary Attorney Woo
Lee Jun-ho, oh, Lee Jun-ho. Where do we begin to sing your praises? Nice is too bland a word for Lee Jun-ho. What he is is kind, compassionate, and sensitive. He treats everyone around him with respect and seems to have no mean bone in his body. He genuinely makes an effort to reach out to people. Plus, in case you haven’t noticed, he’s really good at his job. People who are good at what they do are so much more attractive. We don’t think Jun-ho is a green flag because he falls in love with Woo Young-woo (Park Eun-bin) who is on the autism spectrum; we think he’s a green flag because he’s the kind of man who would be great to build a future with.