Korean Actresses Who Gave Stellar Performances In 2021

The year 2021 brought us K-drama lovers so much joy, pain, and healing. Through all the massive hits and plethora of K-dramas that aired this past year, it’s really no surprise that so many actresses delivered great performances. It was one of the best years yet as all the talented queens gave it their all in their respective roles. Here are 17 of those actresses.

Disclaimer: Actresses whose K-dramas aired in December 2021 were not included. Also, this list is in no particular order.

1. Kim So Yeon in “The Penthouse

Kim So Yeon is an obvious choice for this list. Her co-stars in “The Penthouse” were remarkable in their roles, but Kim So Yeon’s portrayal of a woman who lets greed and power take over her sanity was unforgettable. Her development in becoming a madwoman, willing to sacrifice anything and everything (except her daughter) to see her dreams come true, was truly a great performance to watch. Kim So Yeon very much deservedly won the Daesang at the 2021 SBS Drama Awards, and she also won Best Actress at the 57th Baeksang Arts Awards.

Start watching her from the first season of “The Penthouse”:

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2. Park Ha Sun in “The Veil

Park Ha Sun starred in the highlight anticipated MBC series “The Veil” as Seo Soo Yeon, a team leader at the National Intelligence Service Crime Information Center. Her chemistry with leading man Namgoong Min was obviously important, but on top of this, she was able to completely sell the stoic and badass traits of her character. In fact, fans were so curious and intrigued by her character’s backstory that they released a special two episode spin off!

Start watching this blockbuster K-drama:

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3. Honey Lee in “One The Woman

Honey Lee was the winner of the Best Actress award at the 2021 SBS Drama Awards for her dual roles of Kang Mi Na and Jo Yeon Joo in “One The Woman.” The two characters look identical to each other, which leads to an incident where Jo Yeon Joo ends up switching lives with Kang Mi Na, a chaebol daughter-in-law. Honey Lee’s acting range portrayed in her two very different characters was a delight to watch, and it was hilarious seeing the comedic antics that Jo Yeon Joo goes through.

Watch Honey Lee in “One The Woman”:

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4. Lee Bo Young in “Mine”

In “Mine,” Lee Bo Young plays Seo Hee Soo, a former actress who marries a man who already has a son. She becomes part of this chaebol family that has a lot of secrets and isn’t treated well by the people in the family, who continually look down on and take advantage of her. As Hee Soo deals with the hardships surrounding her extravagant life, viewers are still able to sympathize with her character, who all the while exudes so much grace and beauty. The emotional depth Lee Bo Young is able to show in just a single role was effortless, and we really couldn’t expect anything less from her.

5. Lee Young Ae in “Inspector Koo”

Lee Young Ae stars as Koo Kyung Yi, a former police officer that now works as an insurance investigator. After the death of her husband, she takes on the task of solving crimes despite no longer being a police officer. Seeing the elegant Lee Young Ae transform into a character that indulges in gaming and alcohol will have you applauding her acting abilities. Despite her unruly hair and less than fashionable clothing, she is able to charm viewers and draw them into her character and story. You’ll be taken aback by the complete transformation!

6. Han So Hee in “My Name”

Yoon Ji Woo (Han So Hee) has grown up with a mobster as a father. When he gets brutally murdered, she becomes a police officer in order to figure out who in the police department is responsible for her father’s death. Han So Hee is definitely one of the best actresses of this past year. For those who watched her in “Nevertheless,” viewers were able to see the stark contrast in characters that she is able to portray – nothing short of an artistic genius. Han So Hee’s transformation and the versatility in all the roles she has taken on are remarkable.

7. Shin Hye Sun in “Mr. Queen

There’s a reason why “Mr. Queen” has remained as being one of the highest premiere ratings of any weekend drama in tvN history. When you see Shin Hye Sun cast in a series, you know it’s going to be good and that her acting will be impeccable. Shin Hye Sun’s humorous yet humanist portrayal of Jang Bong Hwan was one of the best performances of 2021. She was even nominated for Best Actress at the 2021 Baeksang Arts Awards, only solidifying the brilliance of her performance!

Watch this hilarious series starting with the first episode:

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8. Jung Ho Yeon in “Squid Game”

It’s no secret that Jung Ho Yeon has taken the world by storm. She not only rose to mega stardom through her very first role as Kang Sae Byeok in “Squid Game,” but she is also the first Asian solo cover model to represent on the cover of U.S. Vogue magazine. Kang Sae Byeok in “Squid Game” was the underdog that everyone was rooting for. With her little brother and her having nothing in their lives, she became an icon for those who related to the pangs of her suffering and hardships. Jung Ho Yeon was recently nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series at the 28th Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards!

9. Jeon Yeo Bin in “Vincenzo”

Jeon Yeo Bin plays Hong Cha Young, a competitive and strong-headed lawyer who will stop at nothing to solve her cases. Despite Hong Cha Young’s tough exterior and sharp tongue, she has a loneliness within her that Jeon Yeo Bin was able to show through her gaze. Her banter and chemistry with the mafia Vincenzo, played by Song Joong Ki, was also much enjoyed by fans as she was able to bring out a softness to his tough character. Hong Cha Young was very much loved by the end of the series!

10. Han Hyo Joo in “Happiness

In “Happiness,” Han Hyo Joo stars as Yoon Sae Bom, a tactical agent in the Seoul Police Special Operations Unit. She is forced to stay in the confines of her new apartment building as a result of an outbreak of an infectious disease. Sae Bom is a new kind of hero that we didn’t know we needed. She’s brave, mentally and physically strong, and she isn’t afraid to stand up for people. Han Hyo Joo’s ability to portray this carefree but courageous character was on point, and viewers couldn’t help but fall in love with her character!

Check out “Happiness” here:

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11. Kim Go Eun in “Yumi’s Cells

Kim Go Eun has established a name for herself as being one of the best in the industry. Having started her career by accident as she followed her friend to an acting audition, she has proven time and time again that she has a natural talent for acting. This past year, viewers had the pleasure of seeing her star as the very realistic and relatable Yumi in “Yumi’s Cells.” Kim Go Eun was able to effectively show the emotions of an ordinary woman who struggles with expressing how she feels and the journey she goes on while finding her one true love.

Start watching Kim Go Eun in “Yumi’s Cells” here:

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12. Go Min Si in “Youth Of May

In “Youth of May,” Go Min Si stars as Kim Myung Hee, who is nurse during the time of May 1980, a historically significant period in which there was a lot of political upheaval. She meets medical student Hwang Hee Tae (Lee Do Hyun), and the two engage in a passionate romance. Her character is one that is poor and has had to overcome many obstacles to become who she is. As a result of her hardships, Kim Hyung Hee is strong, independent, and fights for what is right, especially for those around her. Go Min Si was able to portray this role so perfectly, garnering an overwhelmingly good response.

Watch “Youth Of May” here:

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13. Shin Min Ah in “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha”

Shin Min Ah always shines on the small screen no matter what role she takes on, so it’s really no surprise that she impressed everyone in her role as Yoon Hye Jin in “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha.” Her realistic character and various quirks made her so lovable. Yoon Hye Jin is independent but also realizes her mistakes, learning from them and becoming a better person. Shin Min Ah was able to show us a character that we could all lean on and heal through.

14. Jeon Mi Do in “Hospital Playlist 2”

Jeon Mi Do is an obvious fan favorite. She won the hearts of many through her role as Song Hwa in the “Hospital Playlist” series, and it was especially heartwarming to see her chemistry with Ik Joon (Jo Jung Suk). She brought a warmth to the story and was the healing component in the series. She was enjoyable to watch, and it was truly unbelievable to find out that this was her first ever starring role in a K-drama. All the praise and adoration she has received is much deserved!

15. Lee Se Young in “The Red Sleeve

Lee Se Young dominated brand reputation rankings for months. Her portrayal as the strong-willed Seong Deok Im in “The Red Sleeve” was perfectly executed, and she garnered a lot of new fans as a result. Seong Deok Im’s independence despite having such limited choices in life as a court lady was inspiring to see, and the love story between her and Yi San (Lee Junho) was heartbreakingly beautiful. Lee Se Young recently won the Best Actress award at the 2021 MBC Drama Awards as well as an award for Best Couple with Lee Junho.

Watch her in “The Red Sleeve” here:

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16. Go Hyun Jung in “Reflection of You”

Go Hyun Jung always rises to the challenge with any role she takes on. In “Reflection of You,” she plays Jung Hee Joo, a woman who grew up in poverty but ended up marrying a wealthy man. The two have a daughter and son together. Despite her loving husband and children, Hee Joo gets entangled in an affair with an artist, and she struggles to come out of it. Seeing Go Hyun Jung in this type of role was enthralling, and her ability to showcase her character going through an affair, betrayal, corruption, revenge, and love all at the same time made the series thoroughly entertaining to watch.

17. Jun Ji Hyun in “Jirisan

Jun Ji Hyun as Seo Yi Kang in “Jirisan” only proved that the actress is capable of doing it all. She is able to perfect every single role that she takes on. In “Jirisan,” Jun Ji Hyun plays a top ranger who patrols the mountains at Mount Jiri National Park, rescuing people who are missing or helping people who get injured while hiking. She has an intensity and charisma that is hard to shake, which only proves why she’s one of 2021’s best.

Check out “Jirisan” starting with the first episode here:

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Hey Soompiers, which performances from these actresses were your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!

binahearts is a Soompi writer whose ultimate biases are Song Joong Ki and BIGBANG but has lately been seen obsessing over Hwang In Yeop. Make sure you follow binahearts on Instagram as she journeys through her latest Korean crazes!

Currently watching: “Let Me Be Your Knight,” “Our Beloved Summer,” “Snowdrop,” and “Bad and Crazy”
All-time favorite drama: “Secret Garden” and “Star In My Heart”
Looking forward to: Won Bin‘s return to the small screen

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