6 Epic Male Leads That Made These Period K-Dramas Worth The Watch

From lovelorn princes to knights in shining armor who are ready to sacrifice themselves in the line of duty and love, period K-dramas have some epic male leads. You also have young boys on the cusp of manhood, who are skilled warriors excelling in arts and literature, but also contributing in changing the socio-cultural fabric of society. Here are the some of the most epic male leads in period K-dramas to check out.

Crown Prince Yi San in “The Red Sleeve

When the handsome and pleasant Crown Prince Yi San (Lee Junho) sets his sights on the feisty young court maid Deok Im (Lee Se Young), he is charmed. Over time, he falls hopelessly in love with her and wants to make her his concubine. However, the self-righteous Deok Im refuses his advances and even takes to avoiding his lovelorn gazes. She is not playing hard to get but just doesn’t want to demean herself as one of Yi San’s many women. But he is devoted to her and makes it clear that his heart only belongs to her. As the inevitable happens, Deok Im is made the Royal Noble Consort, but destiny plays its cruel hand, and tragedy strikes the couple.

Inspired by documents and eulogies written by King Jeongjo for his favorite and chief concubine Royal Noble Consort Seong Ui Bin, “The Red Sleeve” is a bittersweet tale of true love and heartbreak.

Lee Junho plays Crown Prince Yi San to perfection. The actor not only gets the physical and emotional beats of his character but leaves a lasting impact with his performance. Though the show captures events leading up to his accession as Emperor, we get to see the many shades of King Jeongjo, who is revered as a benevolent reformer and administrator. The chemistry between Lee Junho and Lee Se Young is endearing, and keep the tissues in hand as you are bound to shed tears for this ill-fated couple.

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Eugene Choi & Gu Dong Mae in “Mr. Sunshine”

Eugene Choi (Lee Byung Hun) was born a slave in the Joseon period, and the trauma meted out to his family has scarred him. He escapes to the United States of America. Years later, he returns home to Korea, but this time as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. Captain Eugene Choi shares a love-hate relationship with his home country. On one hand, he is hurt and has deep misgivings toward his homeland, which failed to support him. On the other, he is also driven to protect it from Japan’s Imperial rule. He meets Go Ae Shin (Kim Tae Ri), a young noblewoman, who is also a revolutionary. Sparks fly between the two, who are drawn toward each other despite their different backgrounds and ideological stance. What develops between the two is a beautiful love story, and one can feel its pulsating intensity despite there being no physical intimacy between the two characters.

There is also the ruthless samurai Gu Dong Mae (Yoo Yeon Seok). He is a mercenary who has sworn allegiance to the Japanese Empire after the inhuman treatment meted out to his family and their massacre. Drawn toward Ae Shin, Dong Mae can be cruel, but when it comes to protecting those he respects, he is a formidable force.

Both Eugene Choi and Gu Dong Mae may have been born of low status but grow up to be determined men. Though one stands for the law and the other against it, both these men are resilient in their efforts to safeguard the powerless and the downtrodden. For them, the means define the end, and they seek equality and justice. They are determined men who stand for their convictions, and at the end of the day both of them sacrifice themselves for their beliefs and love.

“Mr. Sunshine” is a classic. Well-etched characters and power-packed performances by the star ensemble are the drama’s core strengths, and Lee Byung Hun and Yoo Yeon Seok are a masterclass in acting.

Crown Prince Lee Hwon in “The Moon That Embraces the Sun

Crown Prince Lee Hwon’s (Kim Soo Hyun’s) marriage to Yeon Woo (Han Ga In) causes strife and discontentment in the palace. The new bride is seen as an unwelcome hurdle in the calculating queen and her conniving subjects’ plans in seeking control. As Yeon Woo ascends as Crown Princess, the newly-wed couple’s life is thrown askew when Yeon Woo dies from a mysterious illness. The grieving and heartbroken Lee Hwon is forced to take in a new bride, but he refuses to consummate his marriage. Mourning the loss of Yeon Woo, he is in shock when he meets the Shaman Wol, whose resemblance to his dead wife is uncanny. Lee Hwon realizes that even his future as king is at stake when he discovers shocking secrets and intrigue brewing in the royal corridors.

Transitioning from Crown Prince to King, Kim Soo Hyun gives a moving performance. The arrogance and petulance of youth gives away to an empathetic and understanding young man, who despite his own love and heartbreak, never compromises on his royal duties. Many know Kim Soo Hyun’s mellifluous vocals strike a chord, and he does it once again with the enchanting “The One and Only You.” “The Moon That Embraces the Sun” remains an all-time favorite amongst period dramas.

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Jang Wook in “Alchemy of Souls”

Jang Wook’s (Lee Jae Wook’s) birth sealed his fate. As a child, he is abandoned by his father, who has also put a spanner in his ability to perform magic by bolting his energy. His father has announced that no one is allowed to unseal Jang Wook’s energy ever. As the young boy grows up watching everyone around him master alchemy skills, you don’t blame him for being forlorn and having serious daddy issues. However, Naksu (Go Youn Jung), a feared assassin in Daeho, is not only a skilled alchemist but has also mastered the art of soul-swapping. Naksu is not bound by the decree of Jang Wook’s father, and on a mission, she has taken refuge in the body of a blind commoner called Mu Deok (Jung So Min). As she makes her way into the Songrim school of magic, she finds herself working with Jang Wook, who is a descendent of one of the prestigious families at Songrim. The two start working together, and Jang Wook wants to learn from Naksu, irrespective of what her agendas or motives are. As the two fall in love, little do they realize that a cruel fate binds them together.

This was a breakout role for Lee Jae Wook, who brought out the loneliness and angst of his character with ease. Jang Wook is a practical and observant man, who has been through several hardships, but they have not made him cynical. He is a loyal friend and a devoted lover, and even though tragedy strikes him, he has a persevering spirit, which instils hope.

The cast of “Hwarang

Imagine traveling back in time and getting to meet the awesome six flower knights of “Hwarang.” The star-studded ensemble features Park Hyung Sik as Crown Prince Sam Maek Jong, who is weighed down by the burden of royalty. He encounters the free-spirited Moo Myung (Park Seo Joon), the flirty Kim Soo Ho (SHINee’s Minho), the carefree Seok Han Sung (BTS’s V), and Park Ban Ryu (Do Ji Han) as well as Kim Yoo Weol (Jo Yoon Woo). These six young soldiers band together to form a new Silla kingdom. From boys to men, “Hwarang” is a coming-of-age story of these flower knights as they set sail on a journey of self-discovery. On the way, as they form bonds of friendships, they also discover love and learn to surmount the many challenges life throws their way. The brotherhood of these flower knights has been romanticized in popular culture as well.

“Hwarang” remains an all-time favorite amongst many fans, and there are no points for guessing why. The kinship amongst the boys is the true star of the show.

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Wang So in “Scarlet Heart: Goryeo”

When Go Ha Jin (IU) accidentally drowns in the ocean while saving a girl, she is taken back in time, centuries away from the world she currently inhabits. She awakens in the body of Hae Soo in the Goryeo Dynasty and encounters the many princes in the house of King Taejo. But there are two in particular, one of whom who is drawn toward her, and one whom she seems intrigued by. Wang Wook (Kang Ha Neul), the gentle and kind-hearted eighth prince, is a true charmer. But there is also the ruthless fourth prince, Wang So (Lee Joon Gi), who is a man who is best to keep away from. However, Hae Soo is drawn toward his devilish and rakish charm. As this young girl finds herself embroiled in palace intrigue, she also finds herself as an unwilling pawn in the fight for the throne.

“Scarlet Heart: Goryeo” remains as one of the timeless classics with a loyal fandom. Wang So can be obsessive, controlling, and even cruel, and he could well be detestable given his maniacal streak. Though one condones his actions, you cannot help but wonder how he is a victim of his circumstances, a man who had been betrayed and abandoned by his own. Wang So has no one, and he can only look out for himself. He is the tragic hero. Lee Joon Gi plays Wang So to perfection, and his chemistry with IU is epic to say the least.

Hey Soompiers, which one of these is your favorite male lead? Let us know in the comments below!

Puja Talwar is a Soompi writer with a strong Yang Yang and Lee Junho bias. A long time K-drama fan, she loves devising alternate scenarios to the narratives. She has interviewed Lee Min HoGong YooCha Eun Woo, and Ji Chang Wook to name a few. You can follow her on @puja_talwar7 on Instagram.

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