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.
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!
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.
Joo Hyun-young was so good as the spunky Dong (to the) Geu (to the) Rami that it’s hard to believe it’s her first ever drama role, but when you’ve got it, you’ve got it! This talented young comedienne won the Baeksang and Blue Dragon Series awards for her work in Saturday Night Live (SNL) Korea Reboot, and immediately followed EAW with a main role as a rookie talent manager in the showbiz behind-the-scenes workplace comedy Behind Every Star.
“Tactician” Kwon Min-woo may have been everyone’s least favorite Hanbada lawyer, but the character served as a vehicle for Joo Jong-hyuk to showcase his acting chops. Shortly after EAW ended, the up-and-coming actor, whose mystery film Spy-type Model was released this year, landed a lead role in the KBS Drama Special entitled Do You Know Ashtanga?
Bae Hyun-sung and Roh Yoon-seo, Our Blues
Teen pregnancy is rarely tackled in-depth in k-dramaland, much less with such sensitivity. Our Blues, the well-loved anthology style series by veteran writer Noh Hee-kyung dedicated a whole chapter to the taboo topic. Young actors Bae Hyun-sung and Roh Yoon-seo showed great promise as Jeju Island high school students who must make a life-changing decision and mend the relationship of their feuding fathers, all under the watchful eyes of their small-town neighbors.
This year, apart from Our Blues, Bae Hyun-sung hilariously played a member of Marketing Team 3 in the workplace comedy and social media darling Gaus Electronics. Roh Yoon-seo co-starred in the Netflix youth romance 20th Century Girl, and will be in the upcoming tvN romance Crash Course in Romance, headlined by Jeon Do-yeon and Jung Kyung-ho.
Go Youn-jung and Hwang Min-hyun, Alchemy of Souls
2022 was a great year for actress Go Youn-jung. Aside from taking over as the female lead in Alchemy of Souls: Light and Shadow, the second part of the Hong sisters’ popular fantasy drama, she appeared in the acclaimed espionage thriller Hunt, Lee Jung-jae’s directorial debut which premiered at Cannes. Next up for this rising star is the all-star fantasy drama Moving, co-starring Ryoo Seung-ryong, Han Hyo-joo, Jo In-sung, and Cha Tae-hyun, coming to Disney+ in 2023.
With his striking visuals, calm demeanor, and kind heart, Songrim mage Seo Yul, portrayed perfectly by idol group NU'EST/Wanna One's Hwang Minhyun made it easy for us to fall in love with him. The idol-actor, who made his drama debut in the 2020 youth drama Live On, is slated to play a successful music producer suspected of murder in the upcoming mystery drama Useless Lies with Kim So-hyun.
Kim Ji-hyun, Thirty-Nine
Completing the female friendship trio of Son Ye-jin and Jeon Mi-do in the JTBC melodrama Thirty-Nine is veteran musical theater actress Kim Ji-hyun. Prior to starring in the tearjerker, she had appeared in minor roles in such dramas as Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021) and Nokdu Flower (2019). Her funny, endearing, and often scene-stealing turn as Jang Joo-hee shined a spotlight on her talent, and she has been cast in a major role in the second season of Baeksang Best Drama winner D.P..
Kim Woo-seok, Military Prosecutor Doberman, Rookie Cops, and The Forbidden Marriage
Kim Woo-seok’s role as the unhinged villain No Tae-man in Military Prosecutor Doberman caught our eyes with his powerful performance. It’s not every day that you get to hate a villain and then ultimately wish for his redemption. His range can be seen in his other performances this year in the Disney+ youth drama Rookie Cops, where he played upright freshman Seo Bum-ju, and in the currently airing historical romance comedy The Forbidden Marriage where he plays Lee Shin-won, a trusted friend of the king.
Park Ji-hyun, Reborn Rich
Best known among film enthusiasts for her breakthrough performance in the hit 2018 horror flick Gunjiam: Haunted Assylum, Park Ji-hyun had appeared in supporting roles in nine television series before turning heads in Reborn Rich. She came off so strong as Mo Hyun-min, a media heiress married into the Jin chaebol family, that she even outranked the drama's actual female lead in Gooddata’s Buzzworthy rankings. Seeing as how Reborn Rich ended as the year's highest-rated drama and as the second highest cable series of all-time, we're pretty confident this gifted actress is already getting flooded with offers to lead her first drama.
Jeon Chae-eun, Little Women and If You Wish Upon Me
Jeon Chae-eun was impressive as Park Hyo-rin, the mousy daughter of a political couple turned willful teenager in this year’s Little Women, and then as Yoo Seo-jin, an intuitive and compassionate helper in If You Wish Upon Me. She even made a cameo in workplace comedy Today's Webtoon. The 17-year old actress’ filmography is still short but with all her exposure to talented actresses around her, we are excited to see her in more shows.