With South Korea's recent move to add more LGBTQ+ representation on mainstream dramas (Mine's SeoSoo couple, and Nevertheless' SolJiwan couple), it was only a matter of time for streaming companies to ramp up production of Boys Love web dramas. For this week's GwenchaNoona Weekend Binge, we look at the highly watched BL coming-of-age drama, Light on Me, which recently concluded its 16-episode run last August.
Based on the popular BL visual novel game, Saebit Boys Student Association and its web novel adaptation, Behind the Desks: Love is Addiction by authors Day7 and Evy, Light on Me follows a socially awkward and introverted student named Woo Tae-kyung (Lee Sae-on, MixNine) in his effort to finally make friends with his schoolmates—something extremely difficult for Tae-kyung since the students at Saebit All Boys High School see him as arrogant (not true!) and unfriendly (half-true).
Luckily, his teacher, Seo Haet-bit (Lee Ki-hyun), gives him the perfect opportunity to make new friends— by becoming a member of the Student Council! Of course, an unfortunate (and embarrassing) meeting with the Vice President, Noh Shin-woo (Kang Yoo-seok, Start-Up) makes joining even more arduous if not for the help of the friendly and seemingly perfect Student Council President, Shin Da-on (Choe Chan-yi, Govengers) and the hyper head of Socials committee, Namgoong Shi-woon (Go Woo-jin, Govengers). As Tae-kyung sets on to find meaning in friendship, he also stumbles his way into finding his first love—but who exactly is his first love? Viewers will have to watch to find out!
Let me start by stating a fascinating fact—this is a k-drama. Everything about Light on Me screams that it's your typical coming-of-age romcom k-drama—from the trope-heavy writing formula (outcast falls for the campus crush? You got it. Pining Tsundere guy? It's there. Awkward but cute protagonist? Uhuh!) to the very aesthetically pleasing cast and setting. It might seem like an overreaction, but to longstanding BL fans, this is another step into BL becoming mainstream in South Korea. This is even more noticeable when we realize that Light on Me ran for 20 - 30 minutes and lasted sixteen episodes which allowed the producers and writers to push for satisfying character arcs and passable story-telling—something sorely lacking in previous Korean produced BL web dramas.
The story is nothing new— like I said, very trope-y, but that does not mean it's not enjoyable. Frankly, it's refreshing to see a light coming-of-age BL drama when fans have been constantly bombarded with amnesiac lovers, reincarnated soulmates, and gang bosses falling in love— because not all LGBTQ+ relationships would be so thrilling, right? While not as exciting as the others, Light on Me's simple story makes it one of the most relatable BL drama series to come out in the past year. The characters' journey to make meaningful connections with others—and the messy outcomes of misunderstanding and emotions will have viewers cringing and laughing in equal doses. The main theme of this drama is that it flows exactly like a visual novel game—in the sense that you never really know who the protagonist will end up with until the very last episode. This mode of storytelling has caused BL viewers to start a shipping frenzy.
It doesn't help that all the protagonists are unfairly attractive (FYI, the majority of the main cast were idols and kpop trainees!) and seemed to have pretty good chemistry with one another— and not just in the romantic sense. After all, it's not a good coming-of-age drama if you don't have a quirky set of friends, right? Watching the group banter, goof around, and study together will have viewers smilingly reminisce about their own experiences growing up. The actors themselves seemed to be fearless when initiating and sustaining skinship (affectionate touching). Acting cute, hugging each other, calling each other pet names, having friendly (and unknowingly romantic) hangouts came naturally to the cast members (check out the behind-the-scenes of the series! It's a riot!). A special commendation to the only female cast member, Yang Seo-hyun, for her portrayal of the bratty lovestruck antagonist, Lee So-hee. (I cannot count how many times I slapped her in my head.)
Going beyond kilig, Light on Me also raised some relevant issues about the need for more acceptance and awareness for LGBTQ+ people. However brief, the show also touched on topics of family problems (and the insane need to be perfect and well-liked), non-consensual acts (taking pictures without consent), and cyberbullying. While not all of these issues were heavily focused on, it was still surprising that the writers included them as part of the world-building. My favorite issue that this show addressed would definitely be its take on healthy dating culture. While the story uses messy unrequited love to churn the story along, Shin-woo's outlook on dating and relationships definitely stood out.
Overall, Light on Me is definitely South Korea's most wholesome and well-formed BL Drama Series— sealing it as a serious contender in Asia's BL industry. We definitely will be looking forward to a possible sequel featuring our gullible teacher, Seo Haet-bit, and his childhood friend, Tae-sung!
STREAM: If you're curious about how South Korea is (finally) telling LGBTQ+ stories, then this is definitely a must-watch. Also, you'll probably enjoy watching if you're a fan of Coming of Age dramas and the slice-of-life genre.
SKIP: If you're looking for complex acting (you know what made us sob? Move to Heaven) and a unique storyline (we'd recommend a zany drama like Zombie Detective if you are), this would not be the mini-drama for you.