When we look back at 2021, the year was filled with a lot of dramas, despite the present challenges production face with the ongoing pandemic. With all the amazing stories also came some notable crop of actors that truly made a mark. It’s undeniable that there are quite a number of them, but we’ve narrowed it down to 15. See if you’re favourite actor made the cut!
Kim Jung Hyun
Kim Jung Hyun is a talented actor who showcased his talent as King Cheoljong in the controversial rom-com series, Mr. Queen (2020-2021). His character was a figurehead of the late King Sunjo’s wife, Queen Sunwon (Bae Jong-ok). But it turns out that he is more to him than what meets the eye. This duality in his character showed Jung Hyun’s dynamic acting chops. Though he previously starred in series like School 2017, Welcome to Waikiki, and Time, it was 2020’s Crash Landing on You that introduced the actor to international audiences.
Na In Woo
Mr Queen was no doubt another one of tvN’s heavyweights as it went on to become the 7th highest-rated drama in Korean cable television history. This helped Na In Woo to become one of the breakthrough actors of the year, having played a supporting role in the historical rom-com. He nailed a memorable performance in it that it played a big part in him bagging the lead role in another sageuk, River Where the Moon Rises (2021). He had to replace actor Ji Soo in the series after the former got involved in a controversy, but even though he came in after six episodes, he managed to prove himself worthy of the opportunity.
Song Joong Ki
Vincenzo was a much-awaited project since it marked Song Joong Ki’s comeback to the small screen from 2019’s Arthdal Chronicles. He played an Italian lawyer and Mafia consigliere of Korean descent who is also an antihero. Besides showcasing his flair for comedy, the actor also delivered memorable action scenes. In comparison to previous projects like Sungkyungkwan Scandal, The Innocent Man, and Descendants of the Sun, there is no denying that Vincenzo put him in a different light.
2021 was a year to shine for the 27-year-old actor as he starred in several K-dramas. He starred in popular Netflix shows such as Love Alarm (2019-2021), Sweet Home (2020-2021), Nevertheless (2021), and Navillera (2021). He transformed from a rookie who debuted in 2017 to a star dubbed as the son of Netflix. He took on a myriad of characters, from a high school student, a charming heartbreaker, to a suicidal boy who tried to make it out alive in a zombie apocalypse. It did not take long for his Instagram followers to pile up to over 11 million, making him one of the most followed Korean actors on the platform. With an ongoing show, Forecasting Love and Weather, it is expected that his popularity will shoot up even more!
Lee Je Hoon
2021 was a memorable year for Lee Je Hoon, having starred in two hit dramas, Move to Heaven and Taxi Driver. These projects showed his comedic talent, but also his ability to excel in drama and action genres. However, beyond 2021, Lee Je Hoon already made people notice with extraordinary talent. His first lead role was in the full-length indie movie, Bleak Night, for which he bagged the Best Newcomer at the 2011 Blue Dragon Film Awards. He even competed against himself in that category! His other notable K-dramas include Signal, Tomorrow With You, and Where Stars Land.
Lee Do Hyun
Even though he debuted in 2017, Lee Do Hyun swiftly went from being called the prince of supporting roles to a leading star. This came after his two hit dramas, 18 Again (2019) and Sweet Home (2020). In 2021 he showed his diverse acting skills in two other popular dramas, Youth of May, where he plays a medical student, and Melancholia, where he takes on the role of a troubled student who falls in love with his teacher. The young actor also made a cameo in the JTBC psychological thriller, Beyond Evil.
Ji Sung has played quite a number of interesting roles in the past, but he showcased his talent and versatility as an actor even more as a merciless chief judge in The Devil Judge. His character, Kang Yo Han, is a star of a courtroom live show that aired on TV. What’s so interesting about this role is that it fights evil with evil, creating a story that is provocative, surreal, and very much character-driven.
Jung Hae In
Jung Hae In is one of the most talented and sought–after actors of his generation. Since his 2014 debut, he has played a number of memorable roles in dramas like While You Were Sleeping, Prison Playbook, Something in the Rain, One Spring Night, and A Piece of Your Mind. But in 2021, we saw him push the envelope as he took on the lead role in the critically-acclaimed military drama, D.P. Having recently completed his mandatory military service, he said that he drew from his own experience to give one of the most compelling performances in his career.
Kim Seon Ho
Kim Seon Ho came to international attention after he played the smart and dashing Han Ji Pyeong in Netflix’s Start-Up in 2020. However, he came back to capture our hearts once more in the 2021 rom-com hit, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha. The series featured him as Hong Du Sik, who is the loveable town hero and jack-of-all-trades in the fictional seaside village of Gongjin.
Kim Young Dae
We all came to know of Kim Young Dae’s talent when he gave a memorable performance in one of 2021’s most-viewed series, The Penthouse: War In Life. His portrayal of Joo Seok Hoon, the young and confused chaebol, revealed that he is a promising young actor. He also appeared in other well-known shows like Extraordinary You (2019) and Cheat On Me If You Can (2020).
Ahn Bo Hyun
Ahn Bo Hyun first started out as a model before he entered the film industry in 2014. However, he soon started gaining attention as an actor in notable supporting roles in shows like Descendants of the Sun (2016) and Itaewon Class (2020). But in 2021, he took on a lead role on the Netflix crime-action show, My Name (2021). He played the brave and charming detective Jeon Pil Do. He then transformed into a game developer in the psychological romance, Yumi’s Cells (2021). Of course, the 33-year-old actor just keeps the ball rolling as he now stars in the new series, Military Prosecutor Doberman.
Jo Byeong Gyu
Jo Byeon Kyu has built his acting credentials with three consecutive hit K-dramas. After taking on supportive roles in shows such as Sky Castle (2018) and Hot Stove League (2019), he stepped into a leading character role for the Netflix series The Uncanny Counter (2020-2021). He played the hot-blooded and righteous So-mun. After getting embroiled in a bullying controversy, he’s been cleared of the accusations since, and fans are waiting for this promising young actor’s comeback
Lee Jung Jae
Lee Jung Jae can be considered one of the veterans in the biz having been in the acting game since 1993. After almost three decades in the industry, Jung Jae harboured a newfound success breaking into the international scene with the worldwide hit series, Squid Game. He played the lead role of Seong Gi Hun, who was a divorced chauffeur and gambling addict in survival horror drama. According to him, this role was a welcome break from what he’s been used to doing since he was mostly offered villain roles for quite some time now. Recently, Lee Jung Jae signed with talent and sports agency, CAA (Creative Artists Agency), which places him alongside notable Hollywood directors and actors including, Brad Pitt, Will Smith and Steven Spielberg.
Hwang In Youp
Hwang In Youp saw his Instagram followers take a steady rise from nearly 600,000 to over 11 million. This rise to fame came after he starred in his first lead role in the show True Beauty (2020-2021). In Youp first entered the entertainment industry as a runway model in 2017 before he made his acting debut in 2018 in the web series, Why. He started to gain recognition for his performance in the JTBC fantasy series, 18 Again (2020). Fans will get to catch him soon in the SBS drama Why Her, which will air on March 2022.
Wi Ha Joon
Wi Ha Joon played the brave and handsome policeman in the hit thriller series, Squid Game. As the series caught on with international fans, the star also saw his Instagram followers rising steadily, with over 10 million and counting! Even though his fate seeded uncertain at the end of the show, many are hoping that he will reprise his role in the show’s second season—and we’ll all get some answers! Another project in which he starred in 2021 is Bad and Crazy alongside Lee Dong Wook. This show reveals another side of him as he plays a detective who has a split personality with a strong sense of justice.