15 Actresses Who Made 2016 K-Dramas Shine

2016 has been an exciting year for drama fans. Some of the brightest stars of K-drama returned to the small screen bearing impressive works to share: Song Hye Kyo, Jun Ji Hyun, Han Hyo Joo, Park Shin Hye, and even K-pop idol Yoona has jumped into the fray. As we near the finish line of the 12th Annual Soompi Awards, who among them will emerge the winner?

Let’s take a look at the nominees for Actress of the Year.

Jun Ji Hyun


Jun Ji Hyun made her long-awaited return to drama this year with “The Legend of the Blue Sea” along with Lee Min Ho, also making his return to the small screen for the first time in years. She showed off her signature comedic touch in many delightful scenes: mobbing five-year-olds on the street, scaring off kindergarten bullies, crying tears of pearl. And she skillfully portrayed the naiveté of a mermaid with little to no experience living on land. It was no surprise that she brought home three trophies this year: Best Couple, Top 10 Stars, and Idol Academy Award — Best Eating at the 2016 SBS Drama Awards.

Watch “The Legend of the Blue Sea”: [viki]https://www.viki.com/videos/1114601v-the-legend-of-the-blue-sea-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]

gong hyo jin

Actresses generally fall into two camps: head-turning star (a la Jun Ji Hyun), or innocent sweetheart (such as Song Hye Kyo). But Gong Hyo Jin belongs in a category all to her own. An atypical beauty, she excels in playing down-to-earth types you can find sitting next to you anywhere. “Don’t Dare to Dream,” also known as “Jealousy Incarnate,” is a romantic comedy about a sunny weather girl, Pyo Na Ri (Gong Hyo Jin), who dreams of becoming a news anchor at SBC. Romantically, Na Ri flirts between two men: a big-shot news anchor (Jo Jung Suk) and a chaebol luxury store owner (Go Kyung Pyo), who is also conveniently her landlord. As a woman in her thirties, instead of beautifying the realities of dating at that age, Gong Hyo Jin chose to keep it real. She won the 2016 SBS Top Excellence Award, Actress in a Romantic Comedy Drama.

Watch “Don’t Dare to Dream”: [viki]http://www.viki.com/videos/1108945v-dont-dare-to-dream-jealousy-incarnate-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]


For a singer, IU has landed major roles countless professional actresses would covet, from “Producer” to “Scarlet Heart: Goryeo.” But with great privilege comes great responsibility. The Korean remake of the Chinese drama “Scarlet Heart” is the story of a modern girl who travels back in time to the Goryeo Dynasty. Though viewer reviews were mixed, Director Kim Kyu Tae has publicly praised IU’s performance in a press conference.

Song Hye Kyo

song hye kyo in DOTS

After spending the past three years concentrating on Chinese films, Song Hye Kyo returned to the small screen with yet another solid performance. A refreshing change from time traveling historical dramas or lovelorn medical thrillers, “Descendants of the Sun” stole everyone’s hearts in its noble exploration of duty. Song Hye Kyo charmed us once again as the strong and unrelenting Doctor Kang Mo Yeon, winning the 52nd Baeksang Arts Awards Most Popular Actress (TV), iQiyi Global Star Award, Best Couple Award, as well as the Grand Prize (Daesang) at the 2016 KBS Drama Awards.

Watch “Descendants of the Sun”: [viki]http://www.viki.com/videos/1097103v-descendants-of-the-sun-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]

Han Hyo Joo

han hyo joo

When it comes to “W,” the first thing that people talk about is the mind-blowing screenplay. Then it’s Lee Jong Suk. The cardio-thoracic surgeon played by Han Hyo Joo almost comes as an afterthought. Her character takes a backseat to the fantastic plot and the intriguing life story of Kang Cheol (Lee Jong Suk) despite its difficulty; the writer of the drama even apologized to Han Hyo Joo for giving her a difficult character to play. But Han Hyo Joo did it well, and snatched up the Top Excellence Award at both the 2016 APAN Star Awards and the MBC Drama Awards.

Watch “W”: [viki]http://www.viki.com/videos/1105299v-w-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]

Park Shin Hye

park shin hye

The latest and greatest from #TeamParkShinHye is the 20-episode medical drama “Doctors.” Park Shin Hye plays a bad-ass doc who knows how to administer a flu shot as well as a jaw-tenderizing punch. The series averaged at 20 percent ratings, peaking at No. 1 on the Nielsen charts. Under the expert tutelage of her teacher Hong Ji Hong (Kim Rae Won), Park Shin Hye’s character transformed from a prickly high school delinquent to a compassionate neurosurgeon. Albeit the plot lines may have left us a bit wanting, Park Shin Hye showed off her karate chops in no uncertain terms, taunting anyone eyeing her SBS Best Actress trophy with a fearsome glare.

Watch “Doctors”: [viki]http://www.viki.com/videos/1104213v-doctors-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]


If Uee’s role in “High Society” was a bit flat, then her performance in “Marriage Contract” was simply amazing. It is the story of a fake marriage arrangement between a cynical chaebol and a single mother. Stricken with the double tragedy of debt and brain tumor, Uee’s touching portrayal of the single mother earned her praise from fans as “deep and authentic.” “Marriage Contract” scored double digit ratings consistently for every episode, closing at 22 percent for the finale. Uee’s improvements were well-noted, and she received the Best Actress (special project) title at 2016 MBC Drama Awards.

Watch “Marriage Contract”: [viki]http://www.viki.com/videos/1097660v-marriage-contract-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]


Uncontrollably Fond” was a highly anticipated drama this summer. The series opened strongly in 3rd place with double digit ratings, but wasn’t able to keep it up through the end. However, despite this, the series redeemed itself overseas. In China, “Uncontrollably Fond” reached 4 billion cumulative views on Youku, making it the site’s most viewed Korean drama. Suzy won Asia Artist Best Star Award for her performance.

Watch “Uncontrollably Fond”: [viki]http://www.viki.com/videos/1106130v-uncontrollably-fond-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]



YoonA starred in the Chinese historical drama “God of War, Zhao Yun” as both the vulnerable Xiahou Qingyi and the hidden warrior Ma Yu Rou. Both of her characters fall in love with Zhao Yun. The series has received over 10 billion views online and was exported at $50,000 per episode to Japan. Many international viewers came to watch the show because of YoonA. If Zhao Yun is the God of War, then YoonA is the Goddess of Cuteness. She is an absolute delight to watch swinging that sword.

Watch “God of War, Zhao Yun”: [viki]http://www.viki.com/videos/1098743v-god-of-war-zhao-yun-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]

Hwang Jung Eum

In the summer drama “Lucky Romance,” Hwang Jung Eum played the attractive 26-year-old Shim Bo Nui, who was born unlucky. To cure her ailing sister, the superstitious Bo Nui is determined to change her fate by following the instructions of a shaman. The shaman tells her that in order to save her sister, Bo Nui must have a one-night-stand with a man born in the year of the Tiger. Enter Je Soo Ho (Ryu Jun Yeol), the Tiger man. Even though “Lucky Romance” didn’t get so lucky with viewer ratings, barely passing the double digit mark throughout its 16-episode run, Hwang Jung Eum didn’t fail to wow with her acting.

Watch “Lucky Romance”: [viki]http://www.viki.com/videos/1103183v-lucky-romance-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]

Kim Hye Soo

Fact: Between 1986 and 1991, ten women were raped and brutally murdered in Hwaseong, Korea. Inspired by the Hwaseong serial murders, “Signal” is a crime thriller about a 2015 cold case profiler who communicates through a mysterious walkie-talkie with a detective from 1989. Working with the cold case profiler is Cha Soo Hyun (Kim Hye Soo), a rookie policewoman in 1989, now an experienced detective. Combining the power of hindsight and foresight, the trio realize an unresolved murder is closer to home than they think. Kim Hye Soo plays a formidable detective with the commanding dignity of a Greek goddess. She won Best Actress at the 52nd Baeksang Arts Awards.

Watch “Signal”: [viki]http://www.viki.com/videos/1103595v-signal-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]

Kim So Hyun

2016 has been a supernatural year for Kim So Hyun. Aside from a cameo appearance in the uber popular “Goblin,” this 17-year-old starred in both “Nightmare Teacher” and “Bring It On, Ghost.” In “Bring It On, Ghost,” Kim So Hyun plays the wandering spirit of a high school student who died in a car accident at 19. Searching for her lost memories so she can “move on” to the next world, she teams up with ghostbuster Bong Pal (Ok Taecyeon). Together, the duo hunt down evil spirits while living under the same roof (the spirit doesn’t take up much space). Kim So Hyun lost her first ever kiss to co-star Taecyeon. A problem we’d love to have.

Lee Sung Kyung

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo” is the tale of an awkward weightlifter whose sole purpose in life is her sport. Until she meets the playful swimmer Jung Joon Hyung (Nam Joo Hyuk) with the help of a dirty handkerchief. Lee Sung Kyung’s acting was well recognized, with the actress winning the Excellent Actress (mini series) award at the 2016 MBC Drama Awards. Her expressions, timing, and chemistry with Nam Joo Hyuk are spot on, giving the audience a fitful of giggles and a heart-warming series they cannot recommend enough.

Watch “Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo”: [viki]https://www.viki.com/videos/1113808v-weightlifting-fairy-kim-bok-joo-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]

Kim Yoo Jung

Having played the younger version of the female lead in just about every popular TV series, “Korea’s Little Sister” is finally old enough to hold her own. In “Moonlight Drawn by Clouds,” 17-year-old Kim Yoo Jung plays a street-smart girl who makes a living by disguising herself as a man, dishing out relationship advice and penning romance novels. She’s so good with her relationship counseling, the prince (Park Bo Gum) hired her as his eunuch confidant. Ratings for the series peaked at 23 percent and Kim Yoo Jung scooped up three trophies at the 2016 KBS Drama Awards alone, including Best Couple, Best Kiss, and Excellence Award for Actress in a Mid-length Drama. In addition, she nabbed Best New Actress at the 5th APAN Star Awards, though she’s hardly new, having debuted onscreen since the age of 4. With 13 years of showbiz experience under her belt, new stars should be calling her their sunbae (industry senior).

Watch “Moonlight Drawn by Clouds”: [viki]http://www.viki.com/videos/1107432v-moonlight-drawn-by-clouds-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]

seo hyun jin

In “Romantic Doctor Kim,” Seo Hyun Jin plays a young woman who is passionate about her role as a doctor. But her bright and warm personality hides a crippling trauma from the past that threatens her career as a doctor. When she meets the genius surgeon Teacher Kim (Han Suk Kyu), aka “The Hand of God,” her life and career take a drastic turn for the better. “Romantic Doctor Kim” has reached 26.9 percent in viewer ratings and is well-praised for its attention to detail in medical procedures, as well as the superb acting. Seo Hyun Jin won the Excellence Award for Actress in a Genre Drama, Best Couple, Top 10 Stars, and Idol Academy Award for Best Kiss at the 2016 SBS Drama Awards. A fruitful year for Seo Hyun Jin indeed!

Watch “Romantic Doctor Kim”: [viki]https://www.viki.com/videos/1113132v-romantic-doctor-kim-episode-1?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]

Soompiers, which one is your favorite actress of 2016?

See the nominees for Actress of the Year here: [viki]https://www.viki.com/videos/1115420v-soompi-awards-actress-of-the-year-episode-22?utm_source=soompi&utm_medium=soompi_news&utm_campaign=soompi_link&utm_content=2016-soompi-awards-kdrama-actress-year&utm_content_id=931853wpp[/viki]


The 12th Annual Soompi Awards is sponsored by Spottoon, a premium comics library, and held in partnership with American network Fuse and Korea’s top production house ZANYBROS.

michelledong is a Soompi Features Writer. When she’s not straining her neck muscles to find The Next Great Korean Drama, she’s writing her book 2 Questions Every Girl is Asking Herself & casting Kim Soo Hyun as her dream lead.

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