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The K-drama Breakout Stars of 2022

Updated: Jan 1

Out of the hundred or so new k-dramas that get released every year, only a few will become bonafide hits and catapult their cast members to new levels of fame, or even all-out stardom. Many of these breakout actors had toiled in the industry for years, tirelessly building portfolios consisting of supporting roles before finally getting noticed. Then there are the rookies who’ve had the good fortune of choosing the right projects early in their careers, and will hopefully be able to continue their upward trajectories.

Here are the talented actors who got their much-deserved big breaks in 2022, not just by lucking out on being in a hit drama, but by bringing memorable characters to life in a special way.

GwenchaNoona | Breakout Stars 2022 in Review: Bae In-hyuk in "Cheer Up", Seol In-ah in "Business Proposal", Son Suk-ku in "My Liberation Notes", Kang Tae-oh in "Extraordinary Attorney Woo", and Go Youn-jung in "Alchemy of Souls: Light and Shadow"

Son Suk-ku, My Liberation Notes

With barely any speaking lines, Son Suk-ku’s presence as the mysterious “Mr. Gu” in My Liberation Notes, plus a leading role in the blockbuster crime movie The Roundup, made him one of this year’s most buzzed-about actors. A graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, this disarmingly charming actor was the CEO of a large machine tool company before he decided to focus on acting. After making his international acting debut in Netflix's Sense8, Son Suk-ku played supporting characters in the k-dramas Mother (2018), Designated Survivor: 60 Days (2019), and Be Melodramatic (2019), among others. From super villains to irresistibly sexy strangers, he can play them all, and we can't wait to see more of him!

Son Suk-ku is currently in the Disney+ crime series Big Bet, and is set to appear in season two of D.P. and the crime thriller Murderer o Nangam, both on Netflix.

Kim Min-gyu and Seol In-ah, Business Proposal

While Ahn Hyo-seop and Kim Se-jeong were cute as the main couple in the hit rom-com Business Proposal, it was the second lead couple portrayed by Kim Min-gyu and Seol In-ah that broke the internet with one of the hottest kiss scenes ever.

After seven years of playing supporting roles in such dramas as Because This is My First Life (2017) and Just Between Lovers (2018), the bedimpled Kim Min-gyu has landed the male lead role in the upcoming tvN fantasy drama Holy Idol opposite Go Bo-gyeol (Hi Bye Mama).

Coming off playing unlikable characters in the dramas Record of Youth and Mr. Queen, Seol In-ah showed off her endearing side as Jin Young-seo. She has been cast as the leading lady in the retro love story Oasis with Jang Dong-yoon, coming to KBS2 next year.

Bona, Choi Min-hyuk, and Lee Joo-myung, Twenty-Five Twenty-One

Arguably the year’s most beloved coming-of-age drama despite THAT controversial ending, Twenty-Five Twenty-One introduced audiences to three up-and-coming young actors who rounded off the Taeyang squad with Kim Tae-ri and Nam Joo-hyuk. Bona (birth name Kim Ji-yeon) of girl group WJSN turned in a strong, nuanced performance as Na Hee-do’s rival, Ko Yu-rim. She is set to star alongside Woo Do-hwan in the upcoming MBC historical drama Joseon Lawyer.

Choi Min-hyuk’s performance as popular but bottom-ranked student Moon Ji-woon earned him a nomination for Best New Actor at the Baeksang Arts Awards. He then starred in the youth web series Weak Hero Class 1. Playing his platonic best friend in Twenty-Five Twenty-One is model turned-actress Lee Joo-myung, whom we loved so much as class president Ji Seung-wan that she made our list of Fave K-drama Females. While there hasn’t been any recent casting news for these young stars, we’re sure to see more of them!

Bae In-hyuk, Why Her?, Cheer Up, and Under the Queen’s Umbrella

Most actors would be happy to land one hit drama in a year, so Bae In-hyuk must be over the moon with his string of successes. 2022 is definitely a banner year for the 24-year old rising star who had previously appeared in My Roommate is a Gumiho and At A Distance, Spring Is Green. His choice of projects allowed him to show off his range — as a wealthy but rebellious law student (Why Her?), the head of a cheerleading squad (Cheer Up), and a Crown Prince (Under the Queen’s Umbrella).

Kang Tae-oh, Kang Ki-young, Ha Yoon-kyung, Joo Hyun-young, and Joo Jong-hyuk, Extraordinary Attorney Woo

The phenomenal global success of ENA's legal slice-of-life drama Extraordinary Attorney Woo (EAW) brought well-deserved recognition to veteran former child actress Park Eun-bin for her extraordinary portrayal of Woo Young-woo, a rookie lawyer with autism. It also launched her co-actors to new levels of stardom.

Setting hearts aflutter as Young-woo’s green-flagged love interest Lee Joon-ho, Kang Tae-oh and his masculine bone structure have surprisingly flown under the radar this whole time. Since making his acting debut in 2013, he has appeared in such dramas as The Tale of Nokdu (2019), Doom at Your Service (2020), and Run On (2021). But just as he hit the big time, he had to enlist for mandatory military service. Fortunately, we can look forward to his comeback in the second season of EAW.

It took over a decade and 20 dramas for audiences to see Kang Ki-young for the oppa that he is. While he has played memorable minor characters in Oh My Ghost (2015), Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo (2016), and What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim (2018), seeing him suited up as the hardworking and sympathetic lawyer Jung Myeong-sok has made us all see him in a different light. He is currently reviewing an offer for his first leading role, the drama Going to the End opposite Lee Ji-ah (The Penthouse).

We recognized Ha Yoon-kyung from her supporting roles in Hospital Playlist and She Would Never Know, but it was her portrayal of Choi Su-yeon, Young-woo’s colleague and “Spring Sunshine” that really won us over, with or without the bangs! This coming year, she is slated to co-star alongside Shin Hye-sun and Ahn Bo-hyun in the webtoon-based fantasty drama See You in My 19th Life.