“Noona Romances” are chock full of beautiful, confident, and self-possessed leading ladies opposite fun, young, and equally stunning leading men; the relationship dynamics are almost entirely turned on their head from your traditional dramas, which usually have slightly older men and younger women. In “Noona Romances,” the women are often in control and not at all shy, but that doesn’t mean the guys don’t come in to sweep them off their feet!
Below are my picks of the best “Noona Romances” in Dramaland! How many have you seen?
The third installment in the “I Need Romance” series pairs up arguably two of Korea’s most beautiful people, then alternates between seriously adorable scenes and seriously steamy ones. The age gap is barely noticeable as Shin Joo Yeon (played by the classically beautiful Kim So Yeon) is sweet and playful and frankly, a little immature, while Joo Wan (played by the incredibly handsome Sung Joon) portrays the typical rich boy overflowing with confidence and charm.
This drama touches on every trope in the book: uncomfortable living situations when Joo Yeon is forced to take Joo Wan into her home as a favor to her mom; love triangles, as of course there’s another love interest in the form of Joo Yeon’s boss (played by the charming Namgoong Min); rich man meets poor girl; and, of course, noona romance! However, despite covering a lot of clichés, “I Need Romance 3” is addictively entertaining and definitely has something different, not to mention the chemistry between the leads.
Watch “I Need Romance 3”:
Okay, so technically this one isn’t a romance so much as a one-sided crush that didn’t even merit a confession, but watching Bok Dong (played by the then-rookie actor Ji Soo) go from openly disliking the female lead to secretly falling in love with her was just too cute! Especially given his bad boy image. Shame about the frankly creepy age difference.
Jo Kang Ja (played by the ageless Kim Hee Sun) enters her daughter’s high school to protect her from bullies, pretending to be the teenage version of herself and taking on the name of Jo Bang Wool. Jo Bang Wool and Bok Dong immediately butt heads in a power struggle over who runs the school, but while Bok Dong doesn’t know her identity, he becomes enamored by her, trying to protect her and even give her his wallet!
Watch “Angry Mom”:
Like “I Need Romance 3,” this couple meets during childhood and reunite years later with the male lead Park Soo Ha (played by Lee Jong Suk) pining after a disinterested Hye Sung (played by Lee Bo Young). When they first meet, Hye Sung rescues Soo Ha from the man who murdered his father and then testifies against the man in court. Years later, she’s working as a public defender and Soo Ha finds her after seeing her face on a poster.
The big twist in this drama is that Soo Ha can hear people’s thoughts, which gives him a pretty huge advantage in trying to win his Noona’s heart, not that he really needed it, I mean, it’s Lee Jong Suk. He generally follows her around kissing her on the cheeks and back hugging, and any single straight woman would be pressed to turn him down.
Watch “I Hear Your Voice”:
“Surplus Princess” was not a perfect drama by any means, but the blossoming romance between Ahn Hye Young (played by Kim Seul Gi) and Big (played by Nam Joo Hyuk) was one of its saving graces and a memorable addition to the world of Noona romances.
Ahn Hye Young is a successful Mukbang live streamer, or food porn blogger. She dresses up in strange costumes and eats massive amounts of food on camera in an attic bedroom she’s decorated to look like the inside of a genie’s lamp. Big is an adorably shy (until pushed to his limits) younger man and one of Hye Young’s many housemates, who gradually comes to love her.
The pair share a couple of kisses in disguise, first while practicing lines for an acting role Big is rehearsing for and then in the classic “Kiss me against the wall so those people don’t see us” move we’ve all seen in the movies. But Hye Young seems to be keeping a respectful distance from her young admirer, likely because of the age difference. Big doesn’t like it when she treats him like a child and finally makes a move, refusing to acknowledge the age difference.
Watch “Surplus Princess”:
Uhm Jung Hwa plays the aforementioned “Witch” in this drama depicting the romance between Ban Ji Yeon, a thirty-nine year old journalist who’s obsessed with her job and has lost faith in love, and a young, seemingly free-spirited errand boy named Yoon Dong Ha (played by Park Seo Joon), who is actually struggling with the death of an ex-girlfriend.
The two don’t get off to the best of starts when Ji Yeon steals Dong Ha’s bike to meet a deadline and then acts high and mighty, refusing to sufficiently apologize. Her co-workers talk behind her back and call her “the witch” because she’s cold and career-minded, but she’s actually a very robust character with overflowing confidence that dances around her house with attitude to chase away the memories of a bad day, character traits not often seen in younger leads.
Dong Ha saves Ji Yeon from humiliation at the hands of her colleagues and then accidentally overhears her sad life story when she visits a psychic with her mom. The two accidentally switch phones and are forced into each others lives as a result.
Watch “A Witch’s Romance”:
As adorable as the main love triangle was in “Reply 1988,” we found ourselves tuning in just as much to see the result of another romance: that of Bo Ra and Sun Woo (played by the adorable Ryu Hye Young and Go Kyung Pyo). Coming out of left field, Sun Woo confessed his feeling for Duk Sun’s (Hyeri) elder sister with little warning, giving the usually rude and stand-offish girl a shock. She turns him down to begin with as she has a boyfriend and has never looked at Sun Woo as a man before, but his constant heart eyes and determination eventually get to her and she agrees to date him.
This couple really shows the ups and downs of dating someone older or younger in Korean society. Bo Ra struggles to let go of honorifics, especially since she’s always seen Sun Woo as a friend of her little sister. Sun Woo wants to talk casually and be considered on the same level as his girlfriend without the division that an age difference can create.
There are a lot of obstacles for these two to overcome and the “will-they-won’t-they” dynamic soon becomes a make up break up cycle that spans years. Their scenes together, however, show them at their happiest, as they truly do bring out the best in each other.
Watch “Reply 1988”:
“Let’s Eat” is a slice-of-life drama following young people living alone in the same apartment building as they build friendships and argue over the best ways to enjoy Korean food. Soo Kyung (played by Lee Soo Kyung) is a manager at a lawyer’s office who lives alone and struggles to find people to eat out at restaurants with, desperate to try the next hyped up eatery. Dae Young (played by the charming Yoon Doo Joon) is an overly open and friendly insurance salesman who manipulates people into purchasing insurance by pretending to be their friend. She is suspicious of his open and kind demeanor, calling him a swindler and even wondering if he is behind a number of attacks in the area. He seems to enjoy her company, if only to get a rise out of her or trick her into becoming a customer. The pair seem like a very unlikely fit, but they bond over an almost obsessive love of food, with Soo Kyung admiring Dae Young’s food blog without knowing he is the author.
There’s barely a couple of years separating these two, but he does call her noona, so it counts right? Also, if you’re a fan of the Let’s Eat series, you’ll be happy to know season 3 is coming out in 2018!
Watch “Let’s Eat”:
In an interesting twist on the noona romance narrative, “King of High School” turns the relationship dynamic on it’s head when Jung Soo Young (played by Lee Ha Na) is unaware of the quite substantial age difference between her and her romantic interest Lee Min Seok (played by Seo In Guk).
Lee Min Seok is a high school hockey player with a fun and charming attitude who is forced to impersonate his older brother and start at his new job, struggling with all the pitfalls of corporate business and adulthood, but rather enjoying talking comfortably with people more than 10 years his senior and exploiting his authority. He is surprised to find that his assistant at the office is a noona he has met before when she was babbling, drunk on the steps outside a convenience store eating popcorn.
The pair gets off to an awkward start and romance is probably the last thing on either one’s mind, with much bigger fish to fry; however, the time spent together in the office starts to blossom into feelings that force them both to question their limits. Can Min Seok confess everything to the woman he is falling in love with, will she accept him for who he really is, and is the age difference and the deceit too much for Soo Young, who is generally a very awkward character to begin?
Nevertheless “King of High School” is a very sweet, uplifting, and fun addition to the Noona Romance collection.
Watch “King of High School”:
“Hello My Teacher”
This is an oldie but arguably a goodie if you’re interested in seeing some of your favorite stars in their earliest roles, playing fun and quirky characters.
Gong Hyo Jin plays Na Bo Ri, an unfortunate substitute teacher who takes a job at the school she was kicked out of for fighting. She was a troublemaker in her youth, but wants to make a good impression as an adult in her new position. Unluckily for her, she’s forced to teach a very unruly and difficult student in Park Tae In (played by a young Gong Yoo) who doesn’t cut her any slack at all.
Obviously, this blossoms into a romance, which is more than problematic given not only the age difference but her position of authority over him; it’s creepy, but rest assured the drama feels so long he actually grows up before they get together.
To finish up the list, I recommend “Secret Love Affair” if you’re looking for a darker, more serious noona romance. The drama follows Oh Hye Won (played by the stunning Kim Hee Ae) as she embarks on a dangerous affair with Lee Seon Jae (played by Yoo Ah In), who is taking piano lessons from her husband.
Hye Won is a complex character who’s successful in her field but had to give up her true passion in music. She’s stuck in a marriage she believes is loveless and is looking for some kind of mental escape, but her affection towards the young, innocent, and naive Seon Jae could change her life forever. Does she think it’s worth it?
Yoo Ah In is brilliant in this drama, and his portrayal of super talented Seon Jae somehow manages to be sweet and childlike, then flips everything on it’s head and is suddenly very masculine and mature.
Watch “Secret Love Affair”:
So that’s it! Did you find a drama you haven’t seen yet to add to your watch list? Did we miss one of your faves? Let us know in the comments below!
Check out more noona romance K-dramas in the collection here!
MizWest is an English Teaching Assistant with way too much time on her hands. When she’s not watching dramas or shaking it to K-pop, she’s studying everything Korean culture with a view to move out there some day soon!
Currently watching: “Hwayugi,” “Mother,” and “Radio Romance”
Looking forward to: “The Great Tempter,” “My Ahjussi,” and “Are You Human Too”
All-time favorites: “Healer,” “Reply 1997,” and “Master’s Sun”