The lead character gets the girl, but the second lead wins hearts.
One classic example of a second lead character is F4’s Hua Zei Lei played by Vic Zhou. Remember how barkadas in 2003 were divided between Team Dao Ming Si and Team Lei? That’s exactly how second leads are supposed to make you feel.
They are the bias-wreckers. They make you jump ship every time they are on screen. Sometimes, they make you wish that they ended up with the girl. Or that they ended up with you.
If you keep falling for the second lead in almost every drama, then you are most likely suffering from Second Lead Syndrome (SLS). Having SLS is more common than you think. After all, it’s hard not to fall for a character whose main purpose is to have wide shoulders that women could cry on.
Some of our favorite second leads in K-drama are the following:
Choi Si-won as Kim Shin-yuk, “She Was Pretty” (2015)
Fans also refer to him as “Jackson.” In truth, the nickname is one he gave to Kim Hye-jin (played by Hwang Jung-eum) when he first met her. He makes the connection after seeing her curly hair and wide pants.
What makes him a lovable person is that he kept Hye-jin’s secret for her. No matter how much he teased her, he respected her wishes by not revealing that she was the Hye-jin that Park Seo-joon’s character, Ji Sung-joon, was looking for.
He is a true knight in shining armor. He carried Hye-jin on his back when she ripped her pants. He saved her from having to see her childhood sweetheart and best friend kiss in the garden of LED roses. Hye-jin is able to settle in her job easily because he helped her out.
His only flaw was that he was very childish when it came to dealing with his feelings.
Ryu Jun-yeol as Kim Jung-hwan, “Reply 1988” (2015)
Arguably, the best “Reply” has the best lead (Hello, Park Bo-gum) and second lead. There are so many things that we love about Jung-hwan that we could count the ways.
We love how he rushed to a fast food store, just because Duk-seon (played by Hyeri) wanted a hamburger. That he waited for her every time she went home late. That he forgot his embarrassment and performed onstage so he could win a prize for Duk-seon. That he stood behind an oblivious Duk-seon to protect her from the crowd on the bus. He also bought her the Christmas gift that she wanted. He carried their picture together in his wallet for years. Years!
But the moment he truly won us over was when he and Duk-seon were hiding in a narrow alley. It was the closest he ever got to her and he did not take advantage of the situation. That’s respect. We were in tears when he finally confessed his love for her.
He is the second lead that got away from us.
Jinyoung as Kim Yoon-sung, “Love in the Moonlight” (2016)
Is there are greater act of love than giving up your own life to save the one you love?
Yoon-sung moved us when he stood between a sword and Hong Ra-on (played by Kim Yoo-jung). He did this knowing that she loved Prince Yeong (played by Park Bo-gum). He knew that he had no chance with her and yet he died for her.
But even before he made the ultimate sacrifice, he was already doing things for Ra-on, saving her life many times over. He was the first to figure out that she was a girl pretending to be a boy. He protected her secret to protect her life.
He was also the friend who listened to her while she talked about how much she loved and missed Prince Yeong. This was the most painful part. He could not say anything to her as she poured her heart out.
Lee Tae-sung as Bong Joon-gu, “Playful Kiss” (2010)
The Korean version of “Itazura na Kiss” is probably the weakest version. However, Joon-gu’s characteristics are the same in all versions except for the Thai one.
He is the exact opposite of his rival Baek Seong-joo (played by Kim Hyun-joong). He is warm, outgoing, encouraging, optimistic and loyal. He is lacking in a lot of departments. A lot. But like Oh Ha-ni (played by Jung So-min), he tries his best to persevere. He willingly accepted the role of being Ha-ni’s clown and Seong-joo’s second fiddle.
Choi Jin-hyuk as Daniel Pitt, “Fated to Love You” (2014)
If we’re going to be honest, Lee Gun (played by Jang Hyuk) is a little too sadistic for a lead character. This is why Daniel Pitt shines.
He is respectful and kind to Kim Mi-young (played by Jang Na-ra). He offered a safe haven for her in her messy marriage. He chatted with her every time she felt down. He honed her talent in painting and encouraged her to pursue it. He was a perfect support system for a girl in an abusive relationship.
We especially like that he waited for her until she was ready to be courted by him. He was mindful of her space. This is one second lead that we think was a better choice. We were sorry to see Mi-young dump him.