Each era in K-drama is marked by the oppas we loved at that time. The beginnings of the Korean wave were welcomed with the likes of Bae Yong Joon, Kwon Sang Woo, and Rain, followed by the late 2000s batch, which included Gong Yoo, Hyun Bin, and Lee Min Ho, among others.
The 2010s sustained the ball that was set by the previous decade. As more shows were produced and were able to reach foreign shores, a tide of new actors also came with it. There are those who earned fame as kids and eventually transitioned to playing lead roles as they grew older, but there are others for whom the stars aligned in their young adulthood, and this list focuses on the latter. Here are ten talented icons who stole the spotlight from 2010 to 2019.
Kim Soo Hyun
Critically-acclaimed actor Kim Soo-Hyun is one of the highest-paid celebrities in South Korea, and rightfully so. His breakout role Song Sam-dong in Dream High (2011) shot him to stardom, as the teen music drama gained local and overseas success. It was immediately followed up by the award-winning 2012 sageuk Moon Embracing the Sun. His following two works - My Love From the Star (2013) and The Producers (2015) - further solidified his elite status in the industry.
Before dominating the small screen, Lee Jong Suk was a runway model. He debuted as an actor in the 2010 rom-com Prosecutor Princess and in the same year became part of the supporting cast of Secret Garden. Since his breakthrough in School 2013, he became one of the most sought-after leading men of the decade - clinching the frontlines of I Can Hear Your Voice (2013), Doctor Stranger (2014), Pinocchio (2014), W (2016), While You Were Sleeping (2017), and Romance is A Bonus Book (2019).
The six-foot-two-inch charmer entered showbiz as a model in 2013 and stepped into acting the year after. His performance as Han Yi-an in School 2015 gained traction and prompted the unstoppable increase of his popularity. Nam Joo Hyuk manifested a commanding presence in 2016 with internationally well-received works in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo as the 13th Prince Baek-ah and in Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo as Jung Joon-hyung. Proving his versatility, he took on The Bride of Habaek in 2017 and The Light in Your Eyes in 2019.
Park Hyung-Sik of ZE is among the most renowned idols who crossed over to the K-drama scene. Three years after his debut, the singer landed the character Jo Myung-soo in the high school-themed The Heirs. 2015 saw him as the chaebol Yoo Chang-soo in High Society, and in 2016, he veered away from his usual genre with the historical drama Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth. His fanbase abroad expanded even more with the 2017 rom-com Strong Woman Do Bong-soon, where he portrayed the bold as brass CEO Ahn Min-hyuk.
Park Seo Joon
Park Seo Joon set foot into the entertainment world earlier but became a household name halfway through the decade. He grabbed attention in 2015 with major roles: Oh Ri-on in Kill Me, Heal Me, and Ji Sung-Joon in She Was Pretty. With the visual bombshell ensemble, he headlined Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth (2016). The rom-com icon continued to show authority in the genre with his unparalleled chemistry with Kim Ji-won in Fight for My Way (2017) and with Park Min-young in What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim (2018).
2015 mystery thriller Hello Monsters signaled Park Bo-gum’s inevitable rise in the industry with his scene-stealing portrayal of Jung Sun-ho. His fame skyrocketed with the Shin Won Ho-directed and Lee Woo Jung-written slice-of-life Reply 1988 (2015), where he was the introverted genius Baduk player Choi Taek. In 2016, he starred opposite Kim Yoo-Jung in the highly-praised period romance Love in the Moonlight. Shifting to melodrama, he played Kim Jin-hyuk in the 2018 series Encounter with Song Hye Kyo.
Lee Je Hoon
With a background boasting of extensive experience in film, Lee Je Hoon was a force to be reckoned with even on the small screen. All his projects speak of his range as an actor, stunning the scene in the second half of the era with superb performances. In his television debut Three Sisters (2010), he went from a supporting character to the male lead in the widely-acclaimed 2016 crime thriller Signal. The year after, he was paired with Shin Min Ah in Tomorrow With You, then with Chae Soo-bin in Where Stars Land (2018).
Prior to capturing hearts as Chilbong in the 2013 K-drama Reply 1994, Yoo Yeon Seok was already a familiar face in movies. His following string of works consistently placed him in the frontlines - as Baek Gun-woo in the Hong sisters’ Warm and Cozy (2015), Kang Dong-Joo in the medical-themed Dr. Romantic (2016), and Musin Society’s Gu Dong-Mae in the historical piece Mr. Sunshine (2018). The sageuk drew much love and recognition because of its exceptional storytelling, production, and skill level executed by the cast.
Ji Chang Wook’s early notable portrayals were mainly in period dramas: the title character in Warrior Baek Dong Soo (2011) and Ta Hwan in Empress Ki (2013). He garnered a following from viewers abroad when he played Seo Jung-hu alongside Park Min-young in the 2014 action-romance combo Healer. With Girls’ Generation Im Yoona, the two made a gorgeous lead couple in the politics-centric The K2 (2016). Afterward, he took on more main roles, including Noh Ji-Wook in the 2017 rom-com Suspicious Partner and the 2019 series Melting Me Softly.
Another celebrated idol-actor from ZE:A is the innocent-looking but proven brilliant male lead Im Si-wan. He turned heads as the young Heo-Yeom in the iconic Moon Embracing the Sun (2012). In 2014, he starred in one of the most outstanding workplace K-dramas ever, Misaeng: Incomplete Life, where he depicted a professional Baduk player who tries to make his way into the corporate world. The 2017 series The King in Love brought him back to the historical side, but this time as the main character. Fresh out of military enlistment, he made a comeback in 2019 with a masterful performance in the psychological thriller Hell is Other People.