Every single K-Drama fan has suffered from the dilemma that arises out of the infamous “second lead syndrome”. The female lead’s knight in shining armor, the good boy, and sometimes the bad boy that’s good to her. The best friend, the enemy, and sometimes even the adopted brother in some certain cases, all thoroughly play with the viewers’ hearts as they fret to decide who deserves who. The second leads are usually the embodiment of unrequited but unconditional love and not just plot devices to bring the main leads together.
They’re inevitably let down and rejected and in most cases, they know the fate they’re in for. They know they’re in love and therefore, in deep trouble but there are no ways about it. However, their love is unwavering even if it has to be from afar. They show up when even the male lead can’t and oftentimes they do so with no expectation of gaining anything in return. They’re always grateful for having even just the slightest bit of time to spend with their love and even happier when they see them happy. However, overshadowed by the inevitable charm of the main leads, the second leads are often misunderstood. Their love is overlooked in favor of the scripted main lead but that does not make their feelings any less valid. As a matter of fact, their love transcends the need to be together and what comes first is her happiness, even if that means letting her go. Let’s take the example of some of our favorite second leads!
Park Hyung Sik As Sam Maek Jong in 'Hwarang'
Sam Maek Jong (Park Hyung Shik) successfully confuses girls' hearts in his elegant performance as the second lead with his beautiful royal mane and the brilliance of a King. While standing firm as the revolutionary reformer of a nation, his emotional and vulnerable side is brought out in his unrequited love for the female lead, Ah Ro (played by Go Ara). All he cares about is what's the best for her and her safety notwithstanding anything that might stop him. Even though he initially starts out having feelings for her because she was the only respite he could afford and ultimately tries to somehow escape reality with the excuse of love, his heart is unwavering and sincere. At the end of it all, he's still just as passionate but this time he focuses that energy on his nation.
Park Seo Joon As Oh Ri On in 'Kill Me, Heal Me'
This one might seem controversial right off the bat but on second thought, isn’t love supposed to see no condition? Despite the seemingly problematic position Oh Ri On (Park Seo Joon) was put in, his feelings for his adoptive "sister" never weakened. Oh Ri Jin (Hwang Jung Eum) might have never even thought of him in any way other than like a brother, but for him, she was his whole world. His love was as pure as it comes. He never strove to attain her. There’s no surprise in the fact that their love would never be fulfilled but that didn't stop him from loving her from afar. He just wanted to be right beside her when she needed and even when she didn’t.
Ji Soo As In Gook Doo in 'Strong Woman Do Bong Soon'
Ji Soo has officially become infamous for the number of times he gets stuck being the adorable second lead. Even though In Gook Doo is has been the ultimate heartthrob crush of the female lead Bong Soon (Park Bo Young), he is a little too late for her. The love he held dear and close to his heart, reserved only for Bong Soon remains unfulfilled due to the cruelty of time. A comedy of errors leaves this love unrealized as Gook Du mistakes Bong Soon’s inability to take hints as her not having any feelings for him. Bong Soon on the other hand, aware of her insane strength can never take Gook Du’s hints about him liking “delicate” and “flower-like” girls seriously. While the two go their own ways, Bong Soon finds the true love of her life while Gook Du is left heartbroken in the wake of a confession too little too late. Who can even tell what would have happened if the two expressed themselves clearly earlier?
Choi Siwon as Shin Hyuk in "She Was Pretty"
Another classic case of the second lead syndrome transmitted from the one and only Choi Siwon. Shin Hyuk will definitely go down in history as the most rooted for second lead in the history of K-Dramas. Choi Siwon delivers a brilliant performance as the comic relief of the story while also harboring one of the softest hearts among all the characters. He’s perhaps the perfect example of the saying that the prettiest smiles hide the most pain. Shin Hyuk is desperately, irretrievably in love with Hye Jin (played by Hwang Jung Eum). He does everything he can for her because, for him, nothing but her happiness comes first. He’s selfless at the cost of his own happiness. Even though Hye Jin does not return his feelings, he never once imposes on her, making sure that she does not feel burdened by his feelings and sees her off with the main lead Sung Joon (played by Park Seo Joon).
Lee Jae Wook As Baek Kyung" in "Extraordinary You"
Baek Kyung’s character was undoubtedly polarising but it wasn’t a hard one to empathize with. At the most, he was only a tough nut to crack. Baek Kyung (Lee Jae Wook) wasn’t himself at all until he gained his conscience, delineating his mean antagonistic behavior towards Dan Oh (Kim Hye Yoon) to simply the manhwa author’s whim. Everything he knew about himself seems to fall apart once he gains his conscience and he slowly begins to acknowledge his true feelings for Dan Oh. Behind the stage, right from the time they were children, Baek Kyung and Dan Oh seemed to have shared a sweet relationship. However, when Dan Oh tells him that she has never felt anything for him, he starts questioning those moments he spent with her. Baek Kyung deals with this whole new world while also coping with his traumatic past as well as the selfish predatory nature of his “family” in the present. A classic tsundere, Baek Kyung cannot come to terms with the fact that the person who is at least supposed to love him, doesn’t choose him. However, he can’t overlook Dan Oh’s sincere emotions for Ha Ru (SF9 Rowoon). Even though there was no competition for Haru when it came to Dan Oh’s heart for he was definitely the man for her, fans couldn’t help but hope for a better ending for Baek Kyung as well.