10 K-Dramas That Feature Strong, Multi-Dimensional Women
At one point, maybe a decade or two ago, K-dramaland was populated with Candy-type female leads. They rarely had any agency; their storylines revolved around the male leads, only reacting to what was happening or being done to them. Mostly, they were there to be a love interest, to be arm candy. Secondary female characters’ storylines were even more cliché; their sole purpose was to be vindictive and calculating, creating chaos in their wake so the male lead could have a chance to swoop in and “save” the female lead.
While these characters can be entertaining to watch, we also know that this broad-strokes-characterization of women is largely unfair. We women are more complex than just the “bubbly but naive” characters you often see in dramas, and thankfully, as times have progressed, K-dramaland has given us female characters we can actually aspire to be: women who are resilient and strong, who are intelligent and excel in their fields, who don’t confine themselves to the usual notions of femininity; women who support other women. And so as we celebrate Women’s Day and celebrate all the amazing women in our lives, let’s also look at some of the impressive women in K-dramaland who have emerged these recent years and aren’t afraid to show everyone who’s boss.
Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.
Not only does Yoo Hye Jung (Park Shin Hye) have a kick-ass profession — she’s a neurosurgeon — but she can literally kick ass too. Growing up under less than ideal circumstances, it’s no wonder she becomes somewhat of a delinquent in her teenage years. However, somewhere along the way, she decides to do better and make something of herself. She manages to veer away from all the anger and violence from her tough childhood and instead draws from her inner strength and intelligence. And despite all odds, she successfully becomes a respected neurosurgeon and finds work at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the country. But she still carries some of that badassery from her teenage years and can still deal out some ass-whooping whenever necessary.
Watch the first episode of “Doctors” here:
“Witch’s Court” (2017)
We don’t really see many female prosecutors in K-dramaland, and even if we do, they’re often second fiddle to the leading men. But “Witch’s Court” rights this wrong by giving us Ma Yi Deum, a smart, charismatic prosecutor with killer instincts. She’s not afraid to play at the big boys’ table and can handle whatever they throw at her, often dishing the same back to them. She’s able to skillfully extract information from the opposing sides, and win her cases not just because she’s smart, but also because she’s self-assured enough to not let her opponents mess with her. Yes, she can be a little egotistic and bad-tempered, but that just makes for a more authentic character.
What’s even more girl-crush worthy than Ma Yi Deum is the actress herself, Jung Ryeo Won. While accepting her Top Excellence Award during the 2017 KBS Drama Awards, she used the public platform to speak out against sexual violence. Preach, girl!
“I can’t bring you to success, but I can ruin you.”
Watch the first episode of “Witch’s Court” here:
“Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo” (2017)
Speaking of rarities in K-dramaland, here is something that is truly as rare as a unicorn — a female weightlifter. Weightlifting as a profession or sport traditionally evokes impressions of masculinity, and indeed we see Kim Bok Joo (Lee Sung Kyung) initially struggle between the ideas of loving this sport (that emphasizes strength and a larger physique) or submitting to the usual beauty standards. Throughout the drama, Kim Bok Joo realizes that these are not mutually exclusive ideas and that she can excel at weightlifting while also embracing her gorgeous femininity. And at the heart of it all — all concepts of masculinity vs. femininity aside — she comes to accept that who she is is enough and that she doesn’t need to overtly change herself to be loved. Nabbing a cute boyfriend is just the icing on the top on this journey of self-discovery, acceptance, and love.
Watch the first episode of “Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo” here:
“Strong Woman Do Bong Soon” (2017)
How can we possibly leave out Do Bong Soon (Park Bo Young) when we’re talking about women of strength? After all, name one stronger woman in all of K-dramaland. And the strength here is very literal. Born with superhuman strength, Do Bong Soon can lift buses and take on squads of goons, all without breaking a sweat. Hilariously, all of that epic badassness is packed in a tiny adorable package who can probably get away with anything just by pouting and batting her eyelashes. This sweetheart definitely doesn’t need to be saved. In fact, she’ll be the one who will princess-carry you away from danger!
Watch the first episode of “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon” here:
“Fight My Way” (2017)
Unlike most of the other women on this list who have high-powered careers or have “unique” skill sets, Choi Ae Ra (Kim Ji Won) falls into more of the every-person category. Currently working at a department store, she’s fighting for a chance to realize her lifelong dream of becoming an on-air announcer. Though the system is stacked against Choi Ae Ra, she continues to push ahead with tenacity and fortitude, not allowing outside circumstances to hold her back from achieving her dreams. She’s also such a vibrant, multi-layered character; she can be sassy yet cute, geeky yet fabulous, and if anyone tries to mess with her, she’s able to take them down on her own, no mixed-martial-arts-fighter-boyfriend necessary. And that’s why, as “average” as she may appear to be, she’s really quite top-notch and her resilience is certainly something we can all aspire to.
Watch the first episode of “Fight My Way” here:
Since we’re talking about impressive women, we definitely have to talk about the whole subset of women who are admirable just for functioning on a day-to-day basis — mothers. The act of carrying a pregnancy to term and giving birth is impressive enough, but the following raising and loving and nurturing all take a tremendous amount of strength (and patience).
In “Mother,” a Korean remake of a similarly-titled Japanese drama, the idea of motherhood is explored further beyond the boundaries of biological ties. And while the main plotline starts off focused on a substitute teacher (Lee Bo Young) who saves and later becomes a mother to a young student who is being abused at home, the whole drama itself explores the relationships between many different pairings of mother and child, biological or otherwise. This drama is centered around women and is driven by their stories, and while not all of these women are role-model material or even that nice, they all have a story worth telling and listening to. Sometimes it’s heartwrenching, sometimes it’s heartwarming, but it’s always one of resilience, conviction, and growth.
Watch the first episode of “Mother” here:
“Hotel Del Luna” (2019)
“Hotel Del Luna” tells the story of a woman who doesn’t need a man to take care of her. Yes, Jang Man Wol (IU) becomes who she becomes because of a man’s supposed betrayal, but through the years since then, she’s come into her own and accepted her place in the grand scheme of things — which is being a gorgeously dressed hotel owner who knows how to take care of herself and her own interests. Even when Goo Chan Sung (Yeo Jin Goo) comes into the picture later, she doesn’t change herself for him and instead maintains her own sassy, sarcastic, even savage personality. With all the supernatural powers that Man Wol holds, she’s the one who goes about saving-the-day and it’s all done in a matter-of-fact way. Her strength also lies in her ability to accept her vulnerable side, to say goodbye to the past and to let go, because she understands that’s the only way for her to welcome a different future. And that’s when she truly blossoms.
Watch the first episode of “Hotel Del Luna” here:
“Search: WWW” (2019)
Empowered women support each other instead of tearing each other down, and that’s exactly what we get in “Search: WWW.” With the three leading women here working in two competing IT companies, and in high positions no less, it’s understandable if there’s a lot of backstabbing and sabotaging going around. But instead, the squad of Bae Ta Mi (Im Soo Jung), Cha Hyeon (Lee Da Hee), and Song Ga Kyung (Jeon Hye Jin) only help and support one another in both relationships and careers. There are no stereotypical characterizations here, and instead, we have well-rounded, multi-layered characters that drive a grounded story of friendship and love.
Watch the first episode of “Search: WWW” here:
“Graceful Family” (2019)
Don’t let the title fool you. There’s hardly anything graceful about this makjang of a drama. At the center of this deliciously addictive soapiness is the fabulous Mo Suk Hee (Im Soo Hyang). Being exiled to America 15 years ago, the wealthy heiress returns to Korea with a fire burning in her veins, determined to find out who murdered her mother and to escape the clutches of an all-powerful management team. She is bold, intelligent, and never backs down from a challenge. What makes her even more fascinating is her own big personality, which can be brash and even a little over the top, but she owns it all like the boss she is, all the while looking fabulous too.
Watch the first episode of “Graceful Family” here:
“Tell Me What You Saw” (2020)
This currently airing OCN drama is a suspense thriller about three people on the hunt for a serial killer. The three includes Oh Hyun Jae (Jang Hyuk), a genius profiler who’s an eccentric recluse, Cha Soo Young (Girl’s Generation’s Sooyoung) as a rookie detective with a photographic memory, and Hwang Ha Young (Jin Seo Yeon) as the charismatic leader of the Provincial Special Detective Division. As we’ve seen from many a crime thrillers, these leadership roles are usually held by men, so it’s refreshing to see a capable woman kick ass in the role.
In fact, while Hwang Ha Young’s first meeting with Cha Soo Young is a little tense, it’s the former who discovers that the latter has the ability to perfectly remember and recreate a crime scene. Hwang Ha Young even becomes somewhat of a mentor to Cha Soo Young in the process, trusting her when no one else does, and the two women become forces to be reckoned with. A thrilling storyline about self-sufficient women taking down bad guys? Sign us up!
Watch the first episode of “Tell Me What You Saw” here:
BONUS: C-drama “Oh My General” (2017)
“Oh My General” gives us a super duper kick-ass woman in Ye Zhao (Sandra Ma), a woman who’s disguised as a boy and raised as a warrior. When her father and brother die in an invasion, she takes control of the Ye army to defend her home. She rises in ranks and is later given the title of general, and her skills and bravery earn her the respect of her fellow men. This drama too challenges traditional gender roles, with Ye Zhao being someone who loves weapons and combat, and is the first one to run to a fight instead of from it. And really, who says all women have to be docile and fragile and protected? Some of us enjoy rumbling and tumbling as much as the next dude, and Ye Zhao is a prime example of this.
Watch the first episode of “Oh My General” here:
What other dramas featuring strong, empowered women can you think of? Let us know in the comments below!
Belinda_C wishes a happy Women’s Day to all you amazing women! May we all aspire to be great! Talk SEVENTEEN with her on Twitter!
All-time favorite: “Kill Me Heal Me,” “Defendant,” “Hotel Del Luna”
Looking forward to: “The King: Eternal Monarch” starring Lee Min Ho and Kim Go Eun