6 Entertaining K-Dramas With Gender-Bending Female Leads
From sageuks to modern day stories, K-dramas have given us several entertaining gender benders where a woman disguises herself as man in order to fit into situations which otherwise would have been impossible given her gender.
From a young girl choosing to cover up as a man for employment purposes to a young lady who is forced to impersonate as King, the gender swap trope often results in dangerous, awkward, and even comical scenarios. However, these dramas have highlighted several sociocultural issues pertaining to gender roles and disparities and have even touched upon themes of sexuality.
The ongoing series “Our Blooming Youth” has been winning rave reviews for its invigorating narrative and giving agency to its female lead. Jae Yi (Jeon So Nee) is a feisty noble lady who manages to maneuver around the highly regimented and restrictive mandates on women during the Joseon era. Jae Yi is an amateur detective, a skilled swordswoman, and an archer as well as a martial arts expert.
A twist in her circumstances leads her to seek refuge in the royal palace as a soldier and later as a eunuch. But she is no damsel in distress, and even though Jae Yi keeps her identity under wraps, she also turns out to be the most resourceful asset to Crown Prince Lee Hwan (Park Hyung Sik). If you’re enjoying “Our Blooming Youth,” here are six K-dramas where the ladies swap their identities and prove that they are unmatchable when it comes to their skills.
“The King’s Affection”
Dam Yi (Park Eun Bin) has closely guarded her identity. As a young girl, she was compelled to disguise herself and take on the identity of her twin brother Lee Hwi, the Crown Prince, after his untimely death. The Queen, who had given birth to the twins, was forced to dispose of her daughter in favor of her son, who is the heir to the throne. But the Queen fakes her daughter’s death, and when the baby girl finds her way back to the royal palace as a maid, it’s a cause for concern for all those involved. And when the Crown Prince is killed, the Queen asks Dam Yi to guise herself as her now dead twin brother in order to save her daughter and herself.
Dam Yi’s determined face as the Prince is devoid of any emotion as she fastidiously goes through all her courtly duties, weary of those around her. But things change when she encounters her first love and now teacher Jung Ji Woon (Rowoon). Though keeping her guise, she goes through turbulent emotions being close to the man she loves. And as palace intrigues and conspiracies are plotted around Lee Hwi, there is also a tender romance unfolding.
“The King’s Affection” is an adaptation of a manhwa of the same name, scored for its engrossing plot. The show struck a chord given its themes of family, the effort to fit in, and standing your ground despite the odds. Park Eun Bin is impeccable in her portrayal of Lee Hwi and Dam Yi. She brings forth her versatility to switch between the characters with ease, and the chemistry between Park Eun Bin and Rowoon appeals with its sheer innocence. “The King’s Affection” created history as it became the first K-drama to take home an International Emmy in 2022.
An all-time classic, “Coffee Prince” is the OG of the gender-bender trope and retains a timeless appeal. Handsome rich boy Choi Han Gyul (Gong Yoo) shies away from responsibility of any kind, while Go Eun Chan (Yoon Eun Hye) is a struggling delivery woman who is often mistaken for a boy given her physical structure. But when Han Gyul asks Eun Chan to pose as his partner so as to avoid being set up on blind dates by his grandmother, things start going the other way. What follows next is a rollercoaster. Han Gyul is put in charge of the coffee shop “Coffee Prince,” and to attract customers, he decides to hire good looking men. Eun Chan finds herself working there as well. But Han Gyul, unbeknownst of Eun Chan’s true identity, realizes he is attracted to her and questions his sexual orientation. And all hell breaks loose when the truth emerges.
“Coffee Prince” is a cut above the rest. On the surface, it may have been a rom-com, but the show raised pertinent questions on same sex relationships and issues on gender stereotypes as well societal mindsets. Yoon Eun Hye as Go Eun Chan is the most believable tomboy in K-dramas, and she made her character as real as it gets. And Gong Yoo as the gorgeous Han Gyul is swoon-worthy. His confusion and conflicted feelings were easily articulated by the actor with his expressive face. Plus, the image of Gong Yoo in a towel has been enshrined in the memories of fans for eternity.
Start watching “Coffee Prince”:
“Love in the Moonlight”
Another gender-bender drama with many twists and turns set in the royal palace is “Love in the Moonlight.” Hong Ra On (Kim Yoo Jung), a young girl, is moonlighting as a man so as to fend for herself. But when her surmounting debts lead her to getting sold to the eunuch academy, she finds herself at the royal palace. As Eunuch Hong, she constantly finds herself in the presence of the mischievous Crown Prince Lee Young (Park Bo Gum) and his stoic bodyguard Kim Byung Yeon (Kwak Dong Yeon). The Crown Prince is drawn toward Ra On, unaware that she is a woman, and he is confused regarding his feelings but does not shy away from making them obvious. As always in a period drama, in the midst of blossoming romance, there are conspiracies being plotted, rebellion brewing, and mysteries waiting to be unraveled. As Lee Young discovers Ra On’s true identity, there is a third angle of the nobleman Kim Yoon Sung (Jung Jinyoung), who also has feelings for Ra On.
“Love in the Moonlight” meanders a bit, but it manages to balance its youthful vibe with dramatic plot twists. Park Bo Gum is charming and a scene stealer as the jocular young prince, and Kim Yoo Jung is sassy as Ra On. And the friendship between Lee Young, Ra On, and Kim Byung Yeon is heartwarming.
Start watching “Love in the Moonlight”:
“To the Beautiful You”
Would you assume a different identity to get close to your crush? Goo Jae Hee (Sulli) has not had it easy in school, being bullied and ostracized. She idolizes Kang Tae Joon (Choi Minho), an athlete, and is so taken in by him that she decides to focus on sport and even transfer to his school. But here is the catch: Tae Joon goes to an all-boys school, and Jae Hee decides to disguise herself as a boy to get in. In the meantime, Tae Joon is nursing an injury and is unhappy seeing his sports dreams come crashing down. While Jae Hee and Tae Joon clash initially, she wins his favor as she encourages him to tide through his angst. The rest is predictable high school fare as Tae Joon develops feelings and an unusual love triangle begins to develop. Plus, Jae Hee’s identity is divulged, which leads to the usual drama.
“To the Beautiful You” is an adaptation of the Japanese manga “Hana Kimi” and is a breezy watch with entertaining characters while focusing on the central themes of friendship and acceptance.
Start watching “To the Beautiful You”:
The Joseon period and its rigid education policies weren’t easy when it came to women, but a bright young lady manages to masquerade her way around them. Kim Yoon Hee (Park Min Young) impersonates as a boy to earn her keep as a book transcriber and even helps young noblemen pass their exam at the coveted Sungkyunkwan University, which is strictly out of bounds for women. As she calculatedly enrolls to study there in the guise of Yoon Shik, it’s also the start of her misadventures with three young men (Park Yoochun, Yoo Ah In, and Song Joong Ki).
“Sungkyunkwan Scandal” is a well-made show that balances its tone between lighthearted and serious. And Park Min Young’s Kim Yoon Hee is a sassy female lead who proves gender should never determine one’s right to passage. Plus, the drama has one of the best OSTs, adding to the entertainment quotient.
Start watching “Sungkyunkwan Scandal”:
“Love Detective Sherlock K”
Da Hae (Nam Bo Ra) covers up as “Sherlock K,” a successful psychologist and relationship expert. She can dole out relationship advice and analyze your relationships but does it under the garb of a man. She is assisted by the faithful Kang San (Jung Jinyoung), who is the Watson to her Sherlock, as well as Jin Joo (Park Jin Joo), a former hacker who manages Da Hee’s healing cafe. Sherlock K is commissioned by chaebol Do Min Woo (Park Min Woo) to investigate Yoo Na (Yoon Bomi), a calculating star with whom he is being set up. It’s a short drama with a runtime of less than 20 minutes, but “Love Detective Sherlock K” is a no-fuss affair. It weaves in a murder mystery alongside the love angle, so check it out if you are a fan of gender-bender dramas.
Hey Soompiers, which one is of these gender-bender dramas is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!
Puja Talwar is a Soompi writer with a strong Song Joong Ki and Lee Junho bias. A long time K-drama fan, she loves devising alternate scenarios to the narratives. She has interviewed Lee Min Ho, Gong Yoo, Cha Eun Woo, and Ji Chang Wook to name a few. You can follow her on @puja_talwar7 on Instagram.
Currently watching: “Call It Love” and “Crash Course in Romance.”