K-dramas are notorious for developing storylines around popular tropes from office romances, friends to lovers, and the infamous ‘second-lead syndrome.’ The trope often entails a riveting love triangle between two male leads and the female lead. More often than not, the second-lead male character is kind, perfect, and the one everyone roots for. But as the female lead falls in love, he is often left in the dumps. Here are some of the best ‘second-lead syndrome’ K-dramas
’18 Again’ is a remake of the Zac Efron movie, but with a twist
A few K-dramas are remakes of popular American series or works. In 2020, actor Lee Do-hyun starred in 18 Again, a K-drama remake of the teen movie 17 Again. Unlike the original, the K-dramas added a love triangle and a second-lead that falls in love with the female lead.
In the K-drama, actor Kim Ha-neul stars as Jung Da-jung, the wife of Hong Dae-young (Lee). She seeks a divorce after realizing their marriage has fizzled. At work, she meets baseball player Ye Ji-hoon, played by Squid Game actor Wi Ha-joon. He becomes smitten and falls in love.
Ji-hoon is much younger than Ha-neul, but he could care less and is everything she wants in a partner. While fans root for him as the second-lead, he lets his heart get broken when realizing she still loves her husband.
‘Love Alarm’ is one of the best ‘second-lead syndrome’ K-dramas
The ‘second-lead syndrome’ in K-dramas becomes relatively apparent from the get-go. Netflix’s hit drama, Love Alarm, became one of the best that helped define the second-lead trope. Kim Jo-jo (Kim So-hyun) is an ordinary girl living in a society where a Love Alarm app rules the dating world.
She is friends with the kind and sweet Lee Hye-yeong (Jung Ga-ram), who has secretly been in love with her for some time. But when his childhood friend returns home, his chances are gone. Hwang Sun-oh (Song Kang) is every girl’s fantasy, rich and handsome. When realizing Hye-yeong likes Jo-jo, he does the unthinkable and pursues her.
Love Alarm became one of the best-performing teen romances that adequately portrayed the second-lead trope in K-dramas. Fans pitied Hye-young as Sun-oh is a walking red flag.
Love Alarm is on Netflix.
‘Start-Up’ follows a case of mistaken identity into true love
Before Twenty-Five Twenty-One, Nam Joo-hyuk was famous for his leading role in Start-Up. He starred as Nam Do-san, a gifted math prodigy who falls off the map and instead owns a start-up company that is failing. In a case of mistaken identity, he meets Seo Dal-mi, played by Bae Suzy.
She believes Do-san is her first love from childhood. When Do-san meets investment tycoon Han Ji-pyeong, played by Kim Seon-ho, he gets entangled in a web of lies. Ji-pyeong is the real childhood love but wants to keep it a secret from Dal-mi. But over time, as Do-san tries to reinvent his life, he falls in love with Dal-mi.
Fans soon got caught in the ‘second-lead syndrome’ trope of Start-Up, knowing Dal-mi was meant to fall in love with Ji-pyeong first. Throughout the K-drama, he battles between breaking her heart with the truth and hiding his love for her.
Watch Start-Up on Netflix.
‘True Beauty’ is one of the best teen romance K-dramas with ‘second-lead syndrome’
True Beauty is undoubtedly one of the best and most talked about teen K-dramas from 2020. The webtoon-based storyline enthralled audiences with its love triangle, bad boy character, and comedy. Above all, True Beauty rose to become one of the best K-dramas using the ‘second-lead syndrome’ trope.
In a Cinderella story, Im Ju-kyung (Moon Ga-young) was bullied for her looks until moving back to her old town. With a chance to start over, she turns to makeup and becomes the school’s new goddess. But she develops a rivalry with the school’s top student Lee Su-ho (Cha Eun-woo).
She also captures the attention of the bad boy, Han Seo-jun (Hwang In-youp). It just so happens that Su-ho and Seo-jun are former best friends turned enemies. When Seo-jun realizes Su-ho might have feelings for Ju-kyung, he sets out to get close to her. But along the way, he finds himself falling in love. Fans love a bad boy and root for Seo-jun, but even fate cannot stop ‘second-lead syndrome.’
True Beauty is available on Viki.
‘Cheese in the Trap’ defined the ‘second-lead syndrome’ trope in 2016
If K-drama fans were to pick the one K-drama that defined the trope, it would be Cheese in the Trap. The 2016 K-drama encompassed all facets of the ‘second-lead syndrome’ trope in a way that had fans angered by the finale.
Cheese in the Trap focuses on college student Hong Seol (Kim Go-eun). She soon realizes the school’s ‘perfect’ and wealthy senior, Yoo Jung (Park Hae-jin), is anything but the facade he puts forth. Unable to deal with him, she takes a break from school. He goes out of his way to be nice to her when she returns.
Hong Seol is unable to determine who he really is. But along the way meets Baek In-ho (Seo Kang-joon), a gifted pianist from a troubled background. He is sweet, attentive, and protects Hong Seol. The K-drama is one of the first where fans disliked the male lead. Cheese in the Trap became the best ‘second-lead syndrome’ where fans wholeheartedly wanted In-ho to get the girl.
Cheese in the Trap is available on Viki.