2017 was a stellar year for the women of K-dramas, giving us a multitude of leading ladies who inspired us with their strength, determination, and independence. In recognition of the talented actresses who brought these characters to life, we’ve selected 15 nominees for the 13th Annual Soompi Awards’ Actress of the Year category. Get to know the nominees below through their quotes and scenes that most inspired us this year!
Warning: some spoilers below.
Kim Ji Won: rewriting the Cinderella story
As Choi Ae Ra in “Fight My Way”
When Choi Ae Ra discovers that the guy she’s been dating is actually engaged to another woman, she takes him down with a scathing lesson in feminism. Ae Ra is well-acquainted with empowerment, and her own effort and perseverance drive her to defy the odds and chase after her dream job in “Fight My Way.” Kim Ji Won instills this character with fierce determination and spunk that make her equal parts admirable and lovable.
Start watching “Fight My Way”:
Park Min Young: strength in separation
As Shin Chae Kyung in “Queen for 7 Days”
Park Min Young tackles a heavily emotional role as Shin Chae Kyung in “Queen for 7 Days.” Chae Kyung must sacrifice her happiness and live apart from her lover Lee Yeok once he becomes king in order to keep both of them from danger. Chae Kyung’s emotional strength is apparent in her ability to take consolation in the fact that their love can be beautiful even if they live separate lives, as painful as it may be to do so.
Watch “Queen for 7 Days” here:
Jang Nara: giving thanks
As Ma Jin Joo in “Go Back Couple”
When Ma Jin Joo is transported back in time to her days as a university student, she gets another chance to spend time with her mother, who is deceased in Jin Joo’s present. Jin Joo makes sure to shower her mother with the gratitude and appreciation that she rarely showed as a youth, in a touching reminder of the importance of not taking loved ones for granted. Jang Nara’s sincerity as her character grapples with emotionally-charged family situations such as death and divorce shine through in this role.
Catch Episode 1 of “Go Back Couple”:
Lee Bo Young: fighting for truth
As Shin Young Joo in “Whisper”
Lee Bo Young lends an intensity to the role of Shin Young Joo, a detective who is passionate about justice — and not afraid to play a little dirty to achieve it. While her methods are sometimes questionable, Young Joo is admirable for her determination to uncover the truth and fight against corruption, even though she knows it will not easily be snuffed out.
Watch “Whisper” here:
Suzy: facing fears
As Nam Hong Joo in “While You Were Sleeping”
Suzy is wonderfully wacky as Nam Hong Joo, a quirky young woman who sees the future in her dreams. Hong Joo leaves her job after she dreams of her own death occurring at work. But after months of feeling purposeless, she decides to return to her job as a reporter, refusing to let fear rule her life and showing an impressive determination to change the future she dreamt of. Suzy balances Hong Joo’s impassioned and opinionated side with her eccentric nature to make for a refreshingly unique female lead.
Start watching “While You Were Sleeping” below:
Jung So Min: the proposal
As Yoon Ji Ho in “Because This Is My First Life”
Aired on: tvN
Air date: October 9 to November 28, 2017 (16 episodes)
Also starring: Lee Min Ki
It’s not often that we see women initiating marriage proposals in K-dramas, but Jung So Min inverts this gender stereotype as Yoon Ji Ho in “Because This Is My First Life.” Born into a patriarchal family that is essentially ruled by her father and prioritizes her brother, Ji Ho boldly decides to marry her housemate Nam Se Hee — not for love, but for purely practical financial reasons. There’s something oddly empowering about Ji Ho’s decision, and Jung So Min gives this character a relatable quality that makes her easy to cheer for.
Catch “Because This Is My First Life”:
Park Bo Young: a different kind of strength
As Do Bong Soon in “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon”
Do Bong Soon is certainly one of the most unique heroines of 2017: this petite girl possesses a superhuman strength, which she uses to help others. Park Bo Young seamlessly transitions between Bong Soon’s bright and bubbly personality and her tough-girl, crime-fighting persona. But Bong Soon is not all brawn, and she is perhaps most inspiring when she loses her powers and must adjust to life as a normal person. Although clearly upset by this huge change in her life, Bong Soon puts on a brave face, showing a different kind of strength in her positive attitude.
Watch “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon” below:
Nam Ji Hyun: setting boundaries
As Eun Bong Hee in “Suspicious Partner”
Eun Bong Hee may be deeply in love with Noh Ji Wook, but instead of being totally consumed by her feelings, Bong Hee looks after her own emotional wellbeing when she warns Ji Wook to give her space after he sends her mixed signals despite rejecting her. Bong Hee’s outspokenness, as well as the spunk and determination that Nam Ji Hyun endows her with, make her a refreshing lead throughout “Suspicious Partner.”
Watch “Suspicious Partner”:
YoonA: selfless friendship
As in Eun San “The King Loves”
YoonA showcases an array of complex emotions as Eun San when she finds herself caught in a love triangle between two best friends in “The King Loves.” And while she dearly cherishes her friendships with both Crown Prince Won and Wang Rin, San cares so much for her two friends that she does not want to come between them, attempting instead to forego her own happiness in order to preserve their friendship with each other.
Start watching “The King Loves”:
Seo Hyun Jin: sticking to her intent
As Lee Hyun Soo in “Degree of Love”
Seo Hyun Jin navigates the complexities of both love life and career path as aspiring screenwriter Lee Hyun Soo in “Degree of Love.” When a show she has been working on deviates from her original script, Hyun Soo struggles between her desire to debut as a screenwriter and her drive to stay true to herself and her creative work. She courageously stands up for herself in a show of the determination and resilience that makes her an easy character to root for.
Catch “Degree of Love” here:
Jung Ryeo Won: battling sexism
As Ma Yi Deum in “Witch’s Court”
Jung Ryeo Won tackles the topic of sexual assault for “Witch’s Court,” playing the selfish and ruthless prosecutor Ma Yi Deum. Yi Deum is an anti-hero of sorts, going to extreme lengths to get what she wants. If not always likable, she is often admirable, as in this scene in which she boldly stands up to sexism in the workplace. But in addition to her strong personality, Jung Ryeo Won also gives Yi Deum some humanizing moments that make her relatable.
Start watching “Witch’s Court” below:
Kim Go Eun: the ultimate sacrifice
As Ji Eun Tak in “Goblin”
Ji Eun Tak broke our hearts when she courageously sacrificed herself to save a bus full of schoolchildren in one of the most poignant and moving scenes from “Goblin.” Kim Go Eun portrays Eun Tak with a bright and youthful personality that makes her lovable through and through, even as she faces ghosts, loses loved ones, and battles with depression, eventually becoming a mature young woman with a heart of gold by the end of the drama.
Watch the first episode of “Goblin” here:
Shin Se Kyung: spreading kindness
As Yoon So Ah in “Bride of the Water God”
Getting caught up in the company of gods can certainly complicate life for a mortal, as Shin Se Kyung’s character in “Bride of the Water God” quickly discovers. Yoon So Ah is a psychologist with a penchant for helping others, especially the mentally ill, despite her own tragic family background and isolation. Shin Se Kyung conveys So Ah with a refreshing genuineness, making for a character with whom it is easy to empathize.
Catch “Bride of the Water God”:
Moon Chae Won: fierce determination
As Ha Sun Woo in “Criminal Minds”
Moon Chae Won is a fearless, no-nonsense agent for her role as Ha Sun Woo in the Korean adaptation of the American series “Criminal Minds.” Her toughness and determination are illustrated by her refusal to be sidelined just because of her gender, and this grit makes her an excellent agent and invaluable asset when solving crimes.
Check out the trailer for “Criminal Minds”:
Bae Doona: pure badass
As Han Yeo Jin in “Stranger”
Aired on: tvN
Air date: June 10 to July 30, 2017 (16 episodes)
Also starring: Cho Seung Woo
There’s something refreshing about a female lead who is not afraid to throw a punch or two, and seasoned actress Bae Doona certainly gets in on the action plenty of times as detective Han Yeo Jin in “Stranger.” Fighting corruption in a prosecution office and solving a murder case, Yeo Jin is badass through and through.
Watch the trailer for “Stranger” below:
Hey Soompiers, who were your favorite actresses from 2017, and when did they inspire you? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
Check out the nominees for Actress of the Year in the 13th Annual Soompi Awards below (presented by Oh My Girl’s Arin and Hyojung), and don’t forget to vote!
hgordon stays up way too late on weeknights marathoning K-dramas and trying to keep up with the latest K-pop releases. She’s grateful to these K-drama ladies for being a continual source of inspiration in 2017!