10 K-Drama Stars Who Got Their Start As Child Actors

The beauty of K-dramas comes in many layers, and one of those layers is represented by child actors. Whether they have their own independent roles or are portraying young versions of adult characters, some of these young talents have grown up in front of our eyes to become stars who have earned their own lead adult roles.

Here are some former child actors we’ve seen thrive as K-drama stars.

1. Yoo Seung Ho

Yoo Seung Ho’s first appearance as a child actor was at age seven in the K-drama “Daddy Fish” back in 2000. His first film role was in “The Way Home,” where he played a spoiled city boy named Sang Woo, who is left by his recently jobless mother with his mute grandmother in the countryside during the summer. Entitled and arrogant at first, the child later learns to value both his grandmother and the country life. Yoo Seung Ho’s acting is spot on as he perfectly was able to showcase a wide range and depth of emotions, from anger and sadness to joy and kindness. Naturally, this character made him famous overnight and earned him the title of “The Nation’s Little Brother.”

Since then, Yoo Seung Ho has had roles in many notable works such as “The Great Queen Seondeok,” “Remember,” “I Am Not A Robot,” “My Strange Hero,” and most recently “Memorist,” which he says helped him leave his child actor image behind him.

Catch the first episode of “Memorist”:

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2. Lee Se Young

Another “Memorist” actor is Lee Se Young, who first appeared on screen at age four in a 1997 K-drama titled “The Brothers’ River.” Yet, one of her most famous childhood roles is in “Lovely Rivals,” where she starred as Go Mi Nam, an elementary school student with an attitude that rivals her teacher for the love of a male teacher who recently joined the school. Her portrayal of a bold and unapologetic character was definitely impressive to watch, further highlighting her natural acting talent.

In 2016, she rose to fame with her role in “The Gentlemen Of Wolgyesu Tailor Shop,” for which she received positive reviews as well as the Best New Actress award at the Baeksang Arts Awards in the television category. She has since starred in many K-dramas, such as “Hwayugi” alongside Lee Seung Gi, “Doctor John” alongside Ji Sung, and “How Are You Bread” alongside EXO’s Suho.

Catch the first episode of “Doctor John”:

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3. Moon Ga Young

Moon Ga Young made her acting debut in the horror film “To Sir, With Love” back in 2006. She landed her first leading role as a teenager in the 2014 romance/mystery drama “Mimi” with TVXQ’s Changmin as Min Woo. Her character Mimi is a delicate and lively girl with amazing hair-dressing skills who is mysteriously linked to an amnesiac named Min Woo. Moon Ga Young managed to vividly portray a bubbly and shy personality throughout the four-episode drama, showing a palpable sense of maturity in her acting.

She is also known for being cast as the female protagonist in the 2015 web drama “EXO Next Door,” alongside the EXO members. Since then, she has played many supporting roles, some of which were in “Heartstrings” and “Mirror of the Witch.” She later starred in “Tempted,” “Welcome to Waikiki S2,” and most recently in “Find Me In Your Memory.”

Catch the first episode of “Find Me in Your Memory”:

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4. Nam Ji Hyun

Nam Ji Hyun launched her career at seven years old with the 2004 film “Say You Love Me.” One of her most distinctive roles as a child actress is that of young Deokman in “Queen Seondeok.” One glimpse at Nam Ji Hyun in this drama is enough to know just how talented she is. Spontaneous, loud, playful, and chaotic, her acting truly left an impression and added to the depth of the story.

She appeared in many dramas until she had her breakthrough with “Shopping King Louie” alongside Seo In Guk. She later worked with Ji Chang Wook in “Suspicious Partner” as well as Do Kyung Soo in “100 Days My Prince.” Her latest work as of 2020 is “365: Repeat The Year,” where she plays a perfectionist webtoon artist.

Catch the first episode of “365: Repeat The Year”:

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5. Ryu Deok Hwan

Ryu Deok Hwan has had a long and rewarding career. One of his earliest and longest played roles was as Soon Gil in the 1996 drama “Lifetime In The Country.” In 2006, his breakout role in “Like A Virgin” earned him critical acclaim as he played Oh Dong Ku, an awkward transgender teenage girl who joins the Korean wrestling team in hopes of winning the tournament cash prize to save up for her sex reassignment surgery. Taking on a daring role in the early 2000s must have been quite challenging for Ryu Deok Hwan, who delivered without fail. The evolution of the character’s traits from awkwardness to assertiveness is tangible throughout the movie.

Later, his versatility in acting showed through his various works, such as “My Son,” “Our Town,” “Private Eye,” and “God’s Quiz.” He recently starred in “Nobody Knows” alongside veteran actress Kim Seo Hyung.

Catch the first episode of “Nobody Knows”:

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6. Kim Yoo Jung

Kim Yoo Jung is easily one of the most famous child actresses of her generation. Debuting at five years old, her first drama was “Freezing Point” as Choi Eun Yi. She participated in a panoply of films and series such as “Iljimae” in 2008, for which she received her first acting award as Best Child Actress. Other works include “Dong Yi,” “Flames Of Desire,” and “Grudge: The Revolt Of Gumiho,” all of which were released in 2010. The latter marks Yoo Jung’s first major role, as opposed to her previous ones where she played the younger counterparts of the female leads. Starring as Yeon Yi, she showed an incredible performance of becoming one with her role.

Her first adult leading role was in “Love In The Moonlight” alongside Park Bo Gum, for which she won the Excellence Award at the 30th KBS Drama Awards. She landed another starring role with Cha Tae Hyun in “Because I Love You,” and her latest work to date is “Clean With Passion For Now.” Her future drama “Backstreet Rookie” alongside co-star Ji Chang Wook will be airing sometime in June.

Catch the first episode of “Clean With Passion For Now”:

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7. Moon Geun Young

Moon Geun Young kickstarted her acting career at age 12 when she starred as the younger counterpart of Song Hye Kyo‘s character in “Autumn In My Heart,” for which she won the Best Young Actress award at the 2000 KBS Drama Awards. Many successful roles followed until she landed another major role through the 2003 horror film “A Tale Of Two Sisters.” One of her other notable roles in the film category is the 2004 movie “My Little Bride,” where she plays a high school girl who is forced to marry the grandson of her grandfather’s best friend to honor a pact they made during the Korean War. Her portrayal of a flustered and stubborn teenager was as persuasive as it was endearing. Her shift between innocence and rebellion shaped her character to be perfectly relatable. This role earned her the label of “The Nation’s Little Sister.”

In 2008, she won a Daesang at the SBS Drama Awards for her role in “Painter Of The Wind,” making her the youngest recipient of the Grand Prize. Her other drama works include “Cinderella’s Sister,” “Cheongdam-Dong Alice,” “Goddess Of Fire,” and “The Village: Achiara’s Secret.”

Catch the first episode of “The Village: Achiara’s Secret”:

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8. Kim So Hyun

Kim So Hyun’s career began in 2006 with her supporting role in “Ten Minute Minor,” but she rose to stardom thanks to her role as the younger counterpart of a villain in the 2012 drama “The Moon Embracing the Sun.” She put a realistic spin on her character and flawlessly portrayed her intentions. The drama was a success and Kim So Hyun was labeled “The Nation’s Little Sister.” Later on, she participated in many popular dramas such as “Rooftop Prince” and “I Miss You,” for which the Korean press dubbed her as the “Queen of Child Actors.” This title shows that Kim So Hyun nailed every role she played as a young actress, and her versatile filmography is living proof of it.

Some of her other works include “Who Are You: School 2015” and “Bring It On, Ghost,” with “The Tale of Nokdu” being her last to date.

Catch the first episode of “The Tale Of Nokdu”:

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9. Lee Hyun Woo

Lee Hyun Woo made his acting debut with “Oolla Boolla Blue-jjang” back in 2004 and has taken on many historical roles since then, namely in “The Legend,” “King Sejong The Great,” and “The Great Queen Seondok.” His breakthrough happened thanks to his role in the manga-based 2012 drama “To The Beautiful You.” While its domestic performance was relatively weak, this drama shot Lee Hyun Woo to stardom in other Asian countries, thus having his name riding the Korean wave. Another role that built his legacy is his major role in the action-comedy hit film “Secretly Greatly,” where he played the character of a North Korean spy disguising as a high school student. This movie was a huge commercial success and his stellar performance further helped build his acting career.

Other works Lee Hyun Woo starred in include “Northern Limit Line,” “The Scholar Who Walks The Night,” “Moorim School,” and “The Liar And His Lover.”

Catch the first episode of “The Liar And His Lover”:

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10. Yeo Jin Goo

Another actor labeled “The Nation’s Little Brother” is Yeo Jin Goo, whose career started at age eight with the film “Sad Movie.” He took on younger counterparts of many lead roles for a panoply of dramas such as “The Moon Embracing The Sun” and “I Miss You,” which contributed to his popularity as a child actor. In fact, these two dramas earned him the title of Best Young Actor at the 2012 MBC Drama Awards, which further highlights his undeniable talent from a young age.

Yeo Jin Goo’s filmography continued to grow with dramas like “Orange Marmalade,” “Jackpot,” “Absolute Boyfriend,” and his critically-acclaimed latest work “Hotel Del Luna.”

Catch the first episode of “Hotel Del Luna”:

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Which actor is your favorite from the list above? Let us know in the comments below!

Esmee L. is a Moroccan lively dreamer, writer, and Hallyu enthusiast.

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