“Second-Lead Syndrome” is a common trope in K-Dramas where audiences are left to root for the second male lead. They often come with desirable or interesting character arcs that would also make him a perfect choice. As much as the story gives a happy ending for the main couple, it leaves out a worthy contender in the dust for a bittersweet conclusion.
If you think love triangles and second male lead syndrome float your boat, you’re probably familiar with these K-dramas. So, read on to see if your favorite characters made the list!
Nevertheless is a webtoon-based romance drama that mainly revolves around Yoo Na-bi (Han So-hee) and Park Jae-on (Song Kang). The attraction is strong, but Jae-on’s feelings are vague, which only made Jae-on feel insecure. This is why it’s easier for audiences to warm up to Yang Do Hyeok (Chae Jong Hyeop) when he comes into the scene. He is Na-bi’s childhood friend who runs a popular cooking show on YouTube and cooks for a living. To his luck, he ran into Na-bi on the bus—his first love. He still feels the same way about her, and he was more sure of that than Jae-on ever was. His intentions were clear, but it wasn’t met with the same enthusiasm.
My Roommate is a Gumiho
In another webtoon-based series, the story revolves around Shin Woo Yeo (Jang Ki Yong), a 999-year-old nine-tailed fox who is set to become a human, and his roommate Lee Dam (Lee Hye-ri). They had an interesting dynamic which was amusing. But, Gye Sun-woo (Bae In Hyuk), adds a layer of complication to this love triangle. He is Lee Dam’s popular senior in college who’s also a total playboy. Drawn by Lee Dam’s hard-to-get disposition, he places a bet to win her over. But as the show continues, we see character growth as Sun-woo continues to pursue her. Having turned a new leaf, viewers root for him, even though it’s palpable that it isn’t in the cards for them.
Start-Up was an uplifting series that also introduced us to the love story between Nam Do-san (Nam Joo-hyuk) and Seo Dal-mi (Bae Suzy) who are two budding entrepreneurs. Set against the backdrop of the highly competitive world of start-ups, this is also Han Ji-pyeong’s (Kim Seon-ho) playground. From poverty, he worked his way to the top and now mentors up-and-coming companies wherein he came across Dal-mi once again. However, there is more to this incidental meeting, because it turns out that their connection goes all the way back to childhood. With his caring and thoughtful character, Ji-pyeong serves major second male lead syndrome in this series, dividing a lot of viewers in its wake.
This series focuses on male lead Hong Dae-young (Yoon Sang-hyun/ Lee Do-hyun), who wished to go back in time to fix his life, only to end up morphing into his 18-year-old body. Having married young after he got Jung Da-jung (Kim Ha-neul), his high school sweetheart, pregnant, life was hard for them. Now, they’re facing divorce, and his apparent disappearance didn’t help to patch up their relationship. Dae-young starts to live a new life as the adopted son of his best friend and attends the same school as his twin children. Da-jung is left to fend for their children and was fortunate to land a job in a broadcasting company. This is where she meets famous baseball player Jihoon (Wi Ha-joon), who turned out to be a charming single dad who supported her internship at the news station. Audiences swoon over his knight-in-shining-armor entrance into Da-jung’s life. However, his love couldn’t amount to the lingering feelings Da-jung has for her husband. In the end, she declined Jihoon’s advances and chose to fix their marriage.
This series was a cult favorite for several reasons. But, one of the interesting storylines in this coming-of-age drama is the love triangle between Sung Deok-sun (Lee Hye-ri), Choi Taek (Park Bo-gum), and Kim Jung-hwan (Ryu Jun-yeol). The Reply series was always known for teasing viewers on who ended up with who, and for this installment, that mystery revolved around these three characters. The process of how friendship turned into something more was heartwarming as the attraction happened precipitously. Unfortunately, three’s a crowd, and even though Jung-hwan was a strong contender, he was not lucky enough to win the girl. He has always known Deok-sun as a friend, so he held a lot of restraint when he started to grow feelings for her. The memorable alley scene had fans holding their breath. Instead of taking advantage of their close proximity, he nervously looks away. When he learned that Choi Taek held the same feelings for Deok-sun, he gave way to his best friend. But shippers would be happy to know that while the two didn’t end up together on-screen, they are dating each other in real life!
Strong Woman Do Bong-Soon
This fantasy rom-com that starred the Park-Park couple (Park Bo-young and Park Hyun-sik) is one of the most popular K-drama series. As the bubbly Do Bong-soon and the dashing CEO Ahn Min-hyuk, the pair gave fans the perfect mix of funny scenes, brave action sequences, and honeymoon phase sweetness. But if that wasn’t enough to tug at your heartstrings, enter In Guk-doo (Ji Soo). He was Bong-soon’s long-time friend and secret crush, but he never saw her that way even though he cared for her so much. But when he finally realized what he’s got all this time, Min-hyuk had already come into the picture and was slowly winning Bong-soon over. The comedic banter between him and Min-hyuk was entertaining, but when it came down to who’s going to bow out on the race for Bong-soon’s heart, many were secretly wishing that Guk-doo still had that chance.
Love in the Moonlight
Appearing for the second time on this list is the charming Park Bo-gum who played Prince Yeong in this historical coming-of-age rom-com. His charm was unbeatable as he turned from an unlikeable character to this vulnerable young man who was the unfortunate victim of a broken family. Hong Ra-on (Kim Yoo-jung) became his eunuch, who eventually fell in love with him. However, loving Ra-on from a distance is Kim Yoong-song (Park Jin-young), who was a convincing case for the second male lead syndrome. Without giving too much of this story away, the series gave a heartbreaking end for Yoon-sung, which would make you wish that Ra-on would reciprocate his feelings.
With his long royal mane and the elegance of a King, Sam Maek Jong/ Kim Ji-dwi (Park Hyung-sik) confused the hearts of female fans with his commendable performance as the second male lead. While he stands strong as the determined reformer of a nation, his emotional and vulnerable side is brought out as he wrestles with his unrequited love for the female lead, Ah Ro (Go Ara). He only wants what’s best for her and he’s grateful for all she’s done to help him notwithstanding his feelings for her. He’s truly the definition of second lead syndrome when he lost to Moo Myung, who is played by none other than the ultimate K-drama oppa, Park Seo-joon.
Love Alarm is about an app that shows how many people are there who love you within a 5-meter radius. At the start, Hwang Sun-oh (Song Kang) and Jung Ga-ram (Lee Hye-young) are both in love with Kim Jo-jo (Kim So-hyun). The two of them got detected in her love alarm app. But at the beginning of the story until the 2nd season of the drama, Kim Jo-jo is in a relationship with Sun-oh, but as the second season progresses, she starts to realize that Jung Ga-ram is the one who really cares for her all this time. Seeing Ga-ram in a new light, it didn’t take long for her to fall in love with him. So, this will be a small medicine for your battered second male syndrome affected heart.
Cheese in the Trap
Cheese in the Trap is an underrated series, and if you’ve watched this drama, you might be one of those who are left dumbfounded when Hong Seol (Kim Go-eun) chose Yoo Jung (Park Hae Jin) in the end. His character was cold, scary, and manipulative! This leads us to question why these female characters are often drawn to “bad boys”. Apparently, Hong Seol friendzoned the super cute, talented, and warm-hearted Baek In-ho (Seo Kang-joon). It boggles the mind how she overlooked how he would go to great lengths and even sacrifice his own happiness for her.
Do you have more to add to the list? Share your favorite second male lead in the comments!