Second Male Lead Syndrome: A Couch Kimchi Roundtable

How many times have you fallen for the second male lead? Did you cry when he didn’t get the girl or end up throwing things out of rage? Why exactly do drama writers make that other guy so damn charming and sweet? This week, the Couch Kimchi girls will dissect our infatuation with some of K-drama’s second male leads.


Page 1

The Male Lead vs. That Winsome Second Dude

Page 2

Second Male Leads Make Great Friends

Confessions of a Second Male Lead

Page 3

Our Favorite Second Leading Men

The Pesky Second Male Leads

Page 4

The Other Guys Who Got The Girl



Tessieroo: It has been my experience with K-dramas that the second male lead is usually more compassionate, funnier, and much more willing to put his leading lady first. Who wouldn’t fall for someone like that, especially if he’s up against a leading man who is petty, spoiled, jealous, and has an ego bigger than most people’s homes? I’m just not a huge fan of a leading guy who’s a jerk but suddenly changes.

I know I’m not the only one, but I’ll never understand why Go Mi Nam (Park Shin Hye) chose Tae Kyung over Shin Woo in “You’re Beautiful.” Her interactions with Shin Woo made her feel happy and secure. He made her laugh whenever they were together! Tae Kyung usually ended up making her cry. Who wants to be around someone who makes them miserable and causes them pain? I don’t understand!

Goodange: I admit I’m joining this discussion because I’d like to understand myself why I root for the main leads in dramas when the ideal second lead is someone whom I would choose in real life. When I think very hard about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever found myself 100% behind the second lead in any drama I’ve watched. Well, I guess Yoo Jun Suk (Park Shi Hoo) in “How to Meet a Perfect Neighbor” counts. He was the second lead, and it was midway through the series when it became obvious that the writers were going to pair him up with Bae Doo Na‘s Jung Yoon Hee. (It wasn’t till much later that I found out that the writers swapped the coupling due to viewers’ demands.) Yoo Jun Suk also didn’t have the typical positive characteristics of a second lead, and the edge in his personality gave the character a bit of dimension, so, he was more appealing to me.


If some viewers have second male lead syndrome, then I can only explain that I have a Mr. Darcy complex. LOL. It’s the romanticized idea that an arrogant jackass can be reformed partly because of the female lead with that special something. Perhaps it’s harder for others like me to appreciate the second lead because he’s practically nearly perfect, whereas we see the process of the main guy’s growth. In some weird way, that makes him an underdog, yeah? It’s also kind of fun to see the initial love-hate between the main leads and have that be transformed into a mutual attraction.

Rinchan: I think we might have the same complex. LOL. When I watched “You’re Beautiful,” I fell in love with Shin Woo, but in the end, I wanted Mi Nam to be with Tae Kyung. Although he wasn’t as consistently sweet and warm like Shin Woo, Tae Kyung wasn’t a jerk all the time. There were instances when he was supportive and nice, too. This contrast between his normal outside persona and the more private, warm side gave him a greater level of depth. To lots of women who enjoy escapism and live vicariously through the female characters, Tae Kyung might be more intriguing and/or a challenge. Although women would like the warmth Shin Woo exudes, they would be enthralled by the fire Tae Kyung lights in them.

Goodange: Yeah, the imperfect lead tends to carry out his good deeds inconspicuously or with more subtlety, while the second guy, who’s always been nice, is just naturally inclined to show it. It’s also that kind of openness that viewers can appreciate because we like to see the female lead, who’s probably already down on her luck, to be treated with respect. Also, the main guy has to struggle with himself first before admitting he’s falling for a girl. Meanwhile, even when everyone thinks she’s a hot mess, there’s the second lead who immediately hones in on her attractiveness and kindness. This is perhaps one of the reasons why some viewers preferred Yoon Pil Joo (Yoon Kye Sang) over Dok Ko Jin (Cha Seung Won) for Ku Ae Jung (Gong Hyo Jin) in “The Greatest Love.”

Tessieroo: You hit it on the head exactly, Ange! The few second lead characters I’ve rooted for treated the leading lady with respect and warmth right from the first meeting. Maybe it’s just that I don’t deal very well with rudeness or feel attraction for the misunderstood “bad boy” type? If the leading guy is mean but in a flirty, harmless manner, then I’m usually on board. However, if he’s just a plain old jerk, then I shut down.



Tessieroo: Friendship has always been the most important thing in a relationship for me, even before romantic sparks. If you can’t comfortably converse or understand each other’s thoughts and jokes, it won’t work, no matter how strong the attraction is! I like it when it’s easy breezy, and the conversations flow without much thought, and the laughter is genuine and natural. The relationship between leading lady In Young (Jo Yeo Jeong) and second lead Sung Hyun (Choi Jin Hyuk) in the original “I Need Romance” worked like that. They got each other, even finishing each other’s thoughts. I’m not nuts about the push and pull between characters, but if it’s harmless, that’s usually okay with me; otherwise, I can’t deal with it. Leading man, Sung Soo (Kim Jeong Hoon) was attracted to another woman, but when he learned Sung Hyun was interested in In Young, he went full steam ahead and cheated on her. Thus began a huge, painful cycle of push and pull between him and In Young; it was infuriating to watch.

Goodange: Yes, I like the sensitivity the second lead and the main girl display toward each other, and while everyone else is being hard on her, he’s openly being her cheerleader and going out of his way to make things better for her.

Prince Yul (Kim Jeong Hoon) never had a chance with Chae Kyung (Yoon Eun Hye) in “Goong,” but he was the only royal friend she had who understood her unhappiness about living in the palace, and there were times when he had to remind Prince Shin (Joo Ji Hoon) to be mindful of that fact and alleviate it.

Tessieroo: Ah, Prince Yul! He started out being kind but towards the end, he went a bit off. I guess this is why relationships shouldn’t be rushed. You might find out later on that the guy isn’t who you think! We’ve had quite an assortment of different second lead types when it comes to personality.

Rinchan: Being friends first can establish a strong foundation for a romantic relationship. One would be hard-pressed to find a stable romantic relationship in which the couple doesn’t see the other as a friend. Unfortunately, friendship does not always lead to an advancement into the romantic sphere. David Choi (Lee Jang Woo) from “Bel Ami” was perfect for Kim Bo Tong (IU) because he was her male version. He was always helpful and supportive. Even when Ma Te (Jang Geun Suk) didn’t see the value in Bo Tong’s ideas, David did. Instead of out right rejecting them, he found a way to make them work. He and Bo Tong got along so well, but sadly, the only man for her was Ma Te.



Tessieroo: In “You’re Beautiful,” I didn’t want Shin Woo to confess, but only because I was sure Go Mi Nam wouldn’t accept him, and he would end up hurt. However, there were a few occasions when I yelled at my screen, “Just tell her!” While it might not have changed anything, at least she would have been aware of the other guy’s feelings. In the recent drama “Discovery Of Romance,” I didn’t want Tae Ha (Eric) to confess to Yeo Reum (Jung Yumi), and I was angry when he did because she was already practically engaged to Ha Jin (Sung Joon).

I guess for me, if both parties are still single, then I have no problem with the second lead confessing, especially if the first guy is playing games. Otherwise, I say keep it to yourself.

Goodange: It wasn’t at all right that Tae Ha did that, but it’s partly what got the ball rolling in the drama. And Tae Ha wasn’t really the second lead, right? There was a long time though when viewers really didn’t know with whom Yeo Reum would end up. For awhile, many thought she would be with Ha Jin, who really was a great catch.

Tessieroo: Very true. Her choice was ambiguous there for a while! And I think you’re right. There are those dramas that have three, strong main characters, so, the PD is coy about who’s the first leading man. Look at the firestorm that started during “Empress Ki.” When the immature Ta Hwan (Ji Chang Wook) won the heart of Ki (Ha Ji Won) over the manly Wang Yoo (Joo Jin Mo), some viewers were furious until it was announced there was no one first male lead; all three characters were considered to have equal status.

Rinchan: I feel bad for the second lead sometimes because of the reaction their confession receives, like Daniel‘s in “Fated to Love You.” He was a wonderful guy whom Mi Young could rely on for strength, but when he proposed to her, things got awkward between them briefly. These confessions are normally resolved with “I’ll give you some time to answer,” and then, they just act like nothing ever happened. LOL. Seriously, how could Mi Young forget!


There are other male leads that don’t need to confess, though. Anyone with two eyes could see that Jo Geun Woo (Shin Sung Rok) was in love with Choi Chun Hee (Jung Eun Ji) in “Trot Lovers.” Everyone could see that except Chun Hee herself, and it is probably because characters like her are guileless and unassuming. However, this blatant blindness to these men’s act of love stems from how the girl sees the guy. If he is just a friend, everything will just seem like a legitimate act of friendship.

Goodange: LOL. They’ve been friend-zoned like Lee Hwi Kyung (Park Hae Jin) in “My Love From The Stars,” and I kind of felt sorry him. He was so enamored with Cheon Song Yi (Jeon Ji Hyun) that he always confessed his feelings for her despite her incessant rejections. He played off his confessions as half-serious because he didn’t want to lose her friendship, but he had almost gotten a yes from her when he made a full-on earnest request to accept his love. If only the time-stopping abilities of Do Min Joon (Kim Soo Hyun) hadn’t affected her answer. I do like that as opposed to the instances Rinchan mentioned, Cheon Song Yi didn’t disregard his feelings. His heartfelt confession received an honest explanation for why she couldn’t be with him. It hurt him, but he could respect her sincerity and that for a flitting second, she was ready to say yes to him.

Tessieroo: It’s awesome when the guy is friend-zoned but she takes the time to give a thoughtful explanation as to why. That tells him that even if the first lead didn’t exist, she still wouldn’t be attracted to him in that way.



Tessieroo: Oh, I have so many! I already mentioned Shi Woo, but my heart was also stolen by See Joo (Yonghwa) in “Marry Him If You Dare,” Tae Wook (Lee Sang Woo) in “Goddess Of Marriage,” Pil Joo in “The Greatest Love,” Ji Hoon (Kim Ji Suk) in “I Need Romance 2012,” and the biggest one, Ji Hoo (Kim Hyun Joong) in “Boys Over Flowers.” That’s right, I didn’t like Jun Pyo (Lee Min Ho) at all, and I’m sure people are gasping in disagreement right now. LOL. Maybe it would be easier for me to list the first leads I liked?

I just don’t like the whole premise of a woman thinking she can change a man. It’s unrealistic. If he’s an ass, then he’s not going to stop being one just because some woman loves him. If he treats her (and everyone else) like crap straight out of the gate, then why would she want to be around him? The moment that main lead Kim Shin (Lee Dong Gun) threw a glass of water in Mi Rae‘s (Yoon Eun Hye) face in “Marry Him If You Dare,” it was over for me, and he was no longer the slightest bit attractive.

Rinchan: I am sure the girl would reply that she sees the true him, and in retrospect he is quite pitiful. The man normally stops being a prick because when he falls in love with her, he begins to sympathize with her and her values. When he tries to understand her and her feelings about things, he somewhat adopts her thoughts as his own; he partakes, at least to some extent, in that way of thinking. In real life though, if he’s a loser when you meet him, then you shouldn’t be too surprised that he’ll still be a loser a couple of months into the relationship. A woman should never enter a relationship thinking they can change a man; a total personality change because of her is unlikely.


As for favorite second leading men, I like Kwang Chul (Jung Kyung Ho) from “Endless Love” and David from “Bel Ami.” As I said, David was supportive and accommodating. For women who are trying to accomplish something in their life, he’s the type of guy they should have around. Meanwhile, the reason I love Kwang Chul is because of his level of long-suffering devotion to In Ae (Hwang Jung Eum). He had loved her forever and risked his life a thousand times for her only to receive nothing but her friendship.

Goodange: I also don’t buy that a woman can simply change a man. It’s up to a person to change himself. I do think that a person’s actions and words can influence or inspire another individual to choose to improve parts of himself gradually. (LOL. I hope I’ve made the distinctions clear.) I think that’s also what the second lead brings to the female lead: Their goodness is inspiration.

Aside from being hot, the supporting male leads of the first two installments of “I Need Romance” were a source of confidence boosters to the main girls after their temporary breakups with the first leads. And on “Flower Boy Ramyun Shop,” Choi Kang Hyuk (Lee Ki Woo) was a pillar for Yang Eun Bi (Lee Chung Ah), especially after she lost her father and had a career setback. He reminded her of her father’s generosity, and not only did he help keep her father’s noodle shop open, but he made her feel so special and good about herself. He was genuinely attracted to her at first sight and was forthright about his interest in her. It was funny how she would nervously scratch under her chin whenever he flirted with her. LOL. It was the one show that had me feeling as divided as the girl between the first and second male leads, and I would have been all right if Eun Bi had chosen him over Cha Chi Soo (Jung Il Woo). What made him so endearing to me was that he wasn’t perfect. Kang Hyuk was a very good person, but he was also weird and on occasion, was disposed to surrendering to his inner five-year-old. He had stinky feet that he was never ashamed of and he would fall asleep anywhere the need hit him. He was also childlike with the way he dealt with Chi Soo and his crush on Eun Bi, but when he was serious, he was manly and so irresistibly seductive.


Even though I never wanted him for Cha Eun Sang (Park Shin Hye), I was also drawn to Choi Young Do (Kim Woo Bin) in “The Heirs.” He was a very layered character. Initially, I wanted Young Do to die off because if there had been an MVP award for bullies, he’d have gotten it, but ultimately, he was contrite about his cruelty and was sincere about being a better person. Of all the characters on that show, he surpassed everyone – including the OTP – as far as personal breakthrough and growth.

Tessieroo: For me, the whole problem with the idea of the leading lady seeing the arrogant male lead’s true self – understanding why he treats people the way he does – is that it’s too similar to an abusive relationship. No! I always think she deserves better and shouldn’t accept his lousy treatment or excuse it.

Rinchan: I totally see where you are going with this, and your perception is not wrong at all. However, leading men with bad attitudes are still considered “good guys” and do not venture down the route of a wife beater. He is rough around the edges, but actually, he does have a good heart even while he is being harsh with the female lead. He generally can be found working behind the scenes to help her. He does not try to emotionally manipulate her like an abuser does, but it doesn’t justify his cold exterior. The biggest difference between an actual abuser and a leading man is that the former never really changes; in fact, the abuser tends to become worse. A leading man, however, is initially inconsiderate of the female lead’s feelings, and overtime, he becomes someone she’d be proud enough to introduce to her family. What writers want is to show character development, and it is easier to do that, as well as more interesting, when the male leads hit or start at rock bottom.



Tessieroo: My least favorite second lead is usually one who is scheming or lying to get the girl. Although it’s pretty rare for men to behave this way, the one that comes to mind is Harry (Yoo Seung Ho) in “I Miss You.” This guy not only lied and cheated to get the girl, but he also murdered people to keep her. He took her far away from her family and friends, and in his determination to keep her by his side, he went so far as to give her a new identity. Creepy as hell!

Rinchan: My least favorite was Choi Yune (Jung Kyung Ho), who began to irritate me toward the latter part of “Sorry, I Love You.” In the beginning, he took the female lead for granted, and then all of a sudden, he couldn’t be without her, which delayed the union of the OTP. It is unattractive when a man is overly petty and needy.

Tessieroo: True, and Harry in “I Miss You” turned out to be a psychopath, which explained his behavior. When the second lead is purposely interfering with the OTP and does it continually even after he’s been friend-zoned, that’s very annoying.

Goodange: I think you won’t find anyone who’ll disagree with you. A character who turns evil and adds to the makjang goes on the hate list. Well, it wasn’t that I hated him, but Yul in “Goong” became irritably pathetic as he got more power hungry and started manipulating Chae Kyung to leave the palace and Prince Shin. Even after she rejected him, he remained desperately clingy that he even asked Chae Kyung if he might have a chance with her in their next life. LOL.



Tessieroo: The only one I can ever think of is Jun Suk in “How to Meet a Perfect Neighbor,” but there has to be others. Didn’t Park Shi Hoo also win the girl when he played a supporting male lead in another drama? I haven’t seen all of his shows, so, I’m not sure.

There’s also “What Happened In Bali,” but some would argue that So Ji Sub was not the second lead. The main girl in “Nail Shop Paris,” which was horrible, also ended up with the second leading man. The power of Song Jae Rim? LOL.

Rinchan: Can we even say that So Ji Sub’s Kang In Wook really got the girl in the end? She was still in love with Jung Jae Min (Jo In Sung) and confessed to it before things ended that way. LOL.

Anyway, Queen Seondeok (Lee Yo Won) with Bidam (Kim Nam Gil) in “The Great Queen Seondeok” would be a famous example of a supporting lead getting the main girl.

Goodange: Yes, Park Shi Hoo has been a very lucky second lead. In “Queen of Reversals,” his character Goo Yong Shik had his happy ending with Kim Nam Joo‘s Hwang Tae Hee. I’ve never actually seen the drama, but I believe he started out as an arrogant and apathetic chaebol heir, but you know, the usual thing happens: He grows up all while falling in love with the main girl. I guess the show had been extended (maybe a couple of times) that it gave his character time to develop and eventually, win over viewers and the girl.

As you can see, the second male leads’ feelings for the female protagonists aren’t always a lost cause. Sometimes, the chemistry between the other guy and the lead girl simply outshines that of the initially intended OTP’s. And whether they have always maintained the ideal traits we’ve come to expect of secondary male characters or they become better persons later on, ultimately, it’s the respect and compassion they give the women that will convert viewers to their side.

That’s all for this roundtable! Let us know which characters had you suffering from second lead syndrome, and be sure to join us next week when we talk about bromances in K-dramas!

Till then!

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