Put your hands up...if a k-drama has made you believe that unless you’re part of a couple, your life is doomed to unhappiness. Don't worry; you're not alone. The good news is times, as they say, are a-changin', and more and more single people can live meaningful and happy lives. Yes, even in k-dramaland! So in honor of Singles’ Day, we celebrate all the singles in k-dramaland—the ones who rock singlehood and remind us that there's more to life than romantic love.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
Lee Sun-sim (Lee Hye-ri) in Miss Lee (2019)
Imagine being a clerk, used to receiving instructions from everyone in the company. One day, you suddenly become the CEO. The catch? The company is about to be bankrupt, and no one else wants to take the leadership position. This is what happens to Lee Sun-sim, nicknamed “Miss Lee” by her colleagues in Cheongil Electronics. With her mismatched credentials and inadequate skill level, she is tossed around among her subordinates, suppliers, and other business partners. However, her optimism and laser focus on her goals win Production Manager Yoo Jin-wook (Kim Sang-kyung) over, becoming her reluctant but helpful mentor. She has no time for love between learning how to be a leader and actually bringing her company back in the black, making this k-drama a unique one among the usual paired-up fare.
Ashin (Kim Shi-a / Jun Ji-hyun) in Kingdom: Ashin of the North (2021)
Immigrant. Outcast. Woman. Ashin, a Seongjeoyain Jurchen, uses her knowledge of the resurrection plant to avenge the people who wronged her. At an early age, she learns archery, defending herself from boars in the forest and from “pigs” in the military barracks. Because the Pajeowi Jurchens have killed everyone she ever loved, whatever iota of emotion remaining in her heart has been devoured by revenge. Committed to eradicating her enemies, she has spent most of her youth spying on and plotting against the Pajeowi. Read the full review here.
Lee Se-young (Park Eun-bin) in Hot Stove League (2019-20)
Many people wind up meeting their significant other in the workplace—it is, after all, where most of our time is spent with the same group of people. So you would think that while working in the male-dominated field of professional baseball where she could have her pick of players, Lee Se-young (Park Eun-bin) could easily have her choice of men. But it seems romance never even crosses her mind, as getting her bottom-ranked team out of the pits is her top priority, and not even the arrival of an attractive new general manager (Namgoong Min) can sway her professionalism and resolve.
Seo Dan (Seo Ji-hye) in Crash Landing on You (2019-20)
Russian-educated ice queen cellist Seo Dan (Seo Ji-hye) is a typical k-drama second lead throughout most of Crash Landing On You: a tall, beautiful foil and antagonist to the female lead Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin), hellbent on holding her fiancé via arranged marriage (Hyun Bin) to his promise. Her obsession turns pretty toxic at some point, as she resorts to using kidnapping and prison as tools to keep her man in check. While she inevitably falls for the second male lead (Kim Jung-hyun), things, unfortunately, don’t work out, but she learns to embrace her singlehood as a trend worth following.
Men on a Mission
Kim Do-gi (Lee Je-hoon) in Taxi Driver (2021)
Kim Do-gi (Lee Je-hoon) is the lead guy in the ragtag team of vigilantes of Jang Sung-chul (Kim Eui-sung). Being a driver of Rainbow Taxi is just a front for Kim Do-gi who is coming to grips with his past after a violent tragedy. He and the rest of the team use highly-specialized skills to exact vengeance on parties that somehow manage to slip through the law's fingers. His colleagues in Rainbow Taxi are more than just people he works with—they’re a tight little family unit whose shared experience of grief enables them to provide support and healing for each other. Kim Do-gi is not actively dating or even looking for a romantic partner. He’s got other, more important things on his mind, like meting out justice and helping others find inner peace. Read the full review here.
Haksan/Yi-kyu (Kim Sang-kyung) in Crowned Clown (2019)
The Secretary of State Haksan (Kim Sang-kyung) in the King’s court has got a lot on his mind: The King is addicted to drugs and has pretty much left the state in the hands of his scheming counselor; the Queen Dowager is looking for ways to install her own relative in the court, and there is growing unrest in the state’s borders. What’s a guy to do? Look for the King’s doppelganger and train him to become a good king, that’s what. Despite being in love with a gisaeng (trained artistic courtesans) and maintaining a friendship with her for several decades, Haksan never allows his personal feelings to get in the way of his ultimate dream: create a just and peaceful society for all Jeoson. In the end, love is a luxury that Haksan denies himself and makes a great sacrifice for King and country.
Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) in Squid Game (2021)
Who's got time for love when you're just trying to stay alive? Divorced dad Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) is mired in debt and has lost custody of his daughter. When he's presented with the chance to win a ₩45.6 billion grand prize to play in children's games, he grabs the opportunity and doesn't look back. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, he sets about trying to "outwit, outplay, outlast" the game without losing his humanity in Netflix's biggest show of the year.
Read the full review here.
Kim Sung-ryong (Namgoong Min) in Good Manager (2017)
Kim Sung-ryong (Namgoong Min) is not your typical good guy oppa. One can endearingly describe him as a brazen and charming conman with a degree in accounting. He lives off of fixing accounting statements and skimming money from illegal ventures when he can. He's perfectly content to be a puppet manager and continue this top skimming—until a series of unfortunate and hilarious events turned him into the poster boy for Human and Employee Rights! So obviously, he has no other choice but to go against the very company who hired him to be a puppet manager and uphold his image as a good man. With a cutthroat finance officer and an underhanded corporation constantly gunning for you, who has the time for some silly office romance? Certainly not our Good Manager!
Jang Geu-rae (Im Siwan) in Misaeng (2014)
Not realizing his dream of becoming a professional baduk (Korean board game) player, Jang Geu-rae (Im Siwan) is thrust into the corporate world of One International. Because he achieves his internship through a baduk acquaintance’s recommendation, he is ostracized and even bullied by some of his colleagues and fellow interns at the trading company. However, his manager Oh Sang-shik (Lee Sung-min) shows him the ropes. Relying on his mentor and life lessons from baduk, he eventually learns to compete in the rat race and carves his own career path.
These singletons don't let society dictate when, how, and if they should date. They're perfectly content living life on their own terms. May their tribe increase! Did we miss out on your favorite single?
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