How many times have you rooted for the second male lead in a K-drama, even when he is clearly not destined (in the script) to win the girl?
From Won Bin in classic 2000 drama Autumn in My Heart to Kim Hyun Joong in Boys Over Flowers, many K-drama viewers have experienced an overwhelming empathy for the second male lead, who is usually self-sacrificing and incredibly good-natured – a phenomenon now known as the Second Lead Syndrome (SLS).
SLS happens when you can’t help but gravitate towards cheering for the poor chap, especially when he gets friend-zoned by the female lead or when the main male character is already one step ahead in the dating game.
Jung Yonghwa in You're Beautiful and Mirae's Choice – The guy with unreciprocated feelings
Kang Shin Woo (Jung Yonghwa) was the guy who first knew that Go Mi Nam (Park Shin Hye) was disguising as her twin brother. Not only did he not expose her – which would bring about serious consequences – he went out of his way to keep her safe. He was warm, caring and protective. But even then, Mi Nam’s heart belonged to Hwang Tae Kyung (Jang Geun Suk).
The CNBLUE member again returned to second lead territory in his latest outing, Mirae’s Choice. This time, Yonghwa plays Park Se Joo, a wealthy and talented heir to a broadcast station. He was honest with his feelings and actively pursued his happiness, yet the female lead Na Mirae (Yoon Eunhye) had to fall deep in love with haughty news anchor Kim Shin (Lee Dong-gun).
Granted, the final scene of Mirae’s Choice was ambiguous – there was no clear indication of whom Mirae ended up with – but the fact that viewers are fully aware of her feelings throughout the series made our hearts go out to Se Joo.
Since he’s never gonna get the girl, we wish… producers would give him a break (from getting friend-zoned) and have his next female co-star try win his heart for a change instead.
Kim Woo Bin in The Heirs – The bad boy who didn’t know how to love
While Kim Tan (Lee Min Ho) mesmerised viewers from all over the world, Choi Youngdo (Kim Woo Bin) has gathered himself a legion of fans as well.
As a result of his dysfunctional family, Youngdo grew up with a thwarted mindset. Bullying became a hobby and a way to release his frustrations; and love was a concept he did not understand nor possess. His teenage angst also led to the broken friendship with his former best friend Kim Tan.
Things changed when he met Cha Eun-sang (Park Shin Hye), and viewers start to feel for the lonely boy who simply did not know how to show his affection.
The scenes where he reflected on his past mistakes, and where he finally met his mum who left the family when he was young – along with his change in hairstyle (which we loved) – were the ones that gave us the strongest SLS.
Since he’s never gonna get the girl, we wish… we saw more “bromance” between him and his frenemy Kim Tan.
Lee Hyunwoo in To The Beautiful You – The boy with a killer eye-smile
Even though we know what was coming from To The Beautiful You – having watched the Taiwanese and Japanese versions of Hanazakari no Kimitachi e – we couldn’t help gushing over the adorable second male lead Cha Eun Gyul, played by Lee Hyunwoo.
After Eun Gyul realised that he is infatuated with Goo Jae-hee (Sulli), a girl who disguised herself as a male student to enter an all-boys school for her idol Kang Tae-joon (Minho), he was utterly confused and troubled by his “sexuality”. However, that did not stop him from continuing to be sweet to his crush.
Hyunwoo, known for his killer eye-smile, was so lovable in the drama that it hurt to see him crestfallen.
Since he’s never gonna get the girl, we wish… he got to meet someone as cute as him in the show!
Hoya in Reply 1997 – The boy with a bittersweet secret
Unlike the overused “boy falls in love with girl disguised as guy” storyline, Reply 1997 featured an interesting twist whereby the second lead character Kang Joon-hee (Hoya) secretly harboured feelings for his best male buddy, Yoon Yoon-jae (Seo In Guk).
Joon-hee even helped to bring his crush Yoon-jae and his confidante Sung Shi-won (Jung Eun-ji) together, placing his own happiness below everyone else’s.
Not only does Hoya deserve credit for taking up the role despite having an “idol image” to be concerned about, the INFINITE member also did a great job in portraying the conflicted emotions of the character.
Since he’s never gonna get the girl, we wish… they gave him a happy ending that he deserved.
Kim Ji Hoon in Flower Boys Next Door – The guy who was too passive in love
If webtoon artistOh Jin-rak (Kim Ji Hoon) had anything to blame for winding up alone, it would be his own belated reactions in going after Go Dok-mi (Park Shin Hye), a freelance copy-editor who refuses to leave her apartment or interact with people.
Yet when we think of how Jin-rak carried a torch for Dok-mi for so long, our empathy for him escalates. His wooing tactics such as leaving little drawings on a post-it on her milk carton every day (which formed pages of a flip-book depicting a guy falling in love with a girl) were undoubtedly sweet, but the anonymity of his actions proved to be fatal.
Eventually, Jin-rak lost the girl to Enrique Geum (Yoon Si Yoon), a genius video game developer who tore down the walls of Dok-mi’s heart with his forthrightness, instead of being a mere secret admirer.
Since he’s never gonna get the girl, we wish… he started making moves earlier and more brazenly.
Sung Joon in Gu Family Book – The bodyguard who didn’t dare to love
In Gu Family Book, Sung Joon played the role of Gon, bodyguard of the heroine Dam Yeo-wool (Suzy). Staying by her side all the time, Gon quietly protected Yeo-wool while keeping his feelings for her under wraps.
It was amusing to see how he was so protective of Yeo-wool so much that he would make jealous faces at any male characters who came near her. Nevertheless, Gon was doomed to be the unsung secret admirer as Yeo-wool soon fell in love with her destined partner, Choi Kangchi (Lee Seung Gi).
He may not have gotten the girl in the show, but in reality… Sung Joon and Suzy were spotted on an outing last September, where the actor was seen putting his arm around her shoulder, sparking rumours that the two are dating. Shortly after the scandal broke, JYP Entertainment clarified that the Gu Family Book co-stars are “known to be close friends” and that another mutual friend was present that day.
Kim Bum in Goddess of Fire, Jeong Yi – The man who died for his love
Growing up together like siblings, it seemed as though Tae-do (Kim Bum) was born to protect Jeong Yi (Moon Geun Young). Despite the number of times he willingly risked his life for her, Tae-do was oppa-zoned right from the beginning.
Other than running a tavern for his parents and practising martial arts, Tae-do spends the rest of his time looking after Jeong Yi. A love triangle formed with the entrance of Prince Gwanghee (Lee Sang Yoon), who recognised Tae-do for his outstanding martial arts skills and enlisted him as a military officer.
Jeong Yi joined the pottery department in the Palace after her father’s death. In there, Tae-do continued staying by her side like a knight in shining armour. To rescue Jeong Yi from her kidnappers during the Japanese invasion, Tae-do fought against the ninjas before he was killed by their leader.
He may not have gotten the girl in the show, but in reality… Kim Bum ended up winning the heroine Geun Young's heart for real. The couple, who reportedly developed feelings for each other during the filming of Goddess of Fire, Jeong Yi, was spotted travelling to Europe together after their relationship came to light last November. Guess it pays to play second fiddle, sometimes.