Korean actors are not just widely in the local scene as they also captivate a wide audience and fanbase internationally. As the craze over K-dramas only gets wider, it’s undeniable that one of the major factors that people go gaga over these subtitled dramas, are the handsome male leads.
Groomed and written to perfection, these “oppas” have all created immense following. But among the long list, there are some who truly stand out each year. Looking back at 2020, here are 10 that really outshone them all!
Find out if your favorite made the list.
Ji Chang Wook
Lovestruck in the City is among the popular K-drama that created a huge buzz in 2020. It stars Ji Chang-wook opposite Kim Ji-won. But the handsome actor gave fans one more reason to tune into their TVs as he also starred in Backstreet Rookie earlier that year.
As one of the most handsome faces and talented actors in Korean television today, Chang-wook first graced the musical theatre world. He entered into film in the 2006 movie Days and took on a series of minor and supporting roles in dramas and movies before he reached leading man status.
His dramas, Smile Again and Warrior Baek Dong Soo, have earned domestic success, but Chang-wook made a stronger impression in his role in the highly acclaimed Empress Ki. The drama was so well-received that it elevated his popularity even further and attracted a lot of international fans. His succeeding drama, Healer, is what kick started his career in China.
Chang-wook is fluent in Mandarin which he was able to showcase in the Chinese drama, The Whirlwind Girl 2. He then went on to release a Chinese mini album where he sang three songs in Mandarin.
Chang-wook was not just another handsome guy on-screen because he really can pull off an impressive acting performance that is impressive enough to earn recognition. Not afraid to push the envelope, the guy even does his own stunts! At 33, Chang-wook is still on his way to more success as he remains to be one of the favorite oppas in South Korean TV and audiences abroad!
Song Joong Ki
You can really tell someone’s starpower when even though they don’t have a drama released in 2020, he remains to be every inch as relevant. That shows how Song Joong Ki is indubitably one of South Korea’s Hallyu A-listers. Paid at least US$50,000 per episode to star in a drama, Song is also one of the highest paid actors in South Korea.
Song first drew attention with his acting debut in Frozen Flower (2008) where he starred alongside veteran actor Jo In Sung. But it was his role as the wealthy aristocrat and womanising Gu Yong Ha in this 2010 coming-of-age drama, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, where he showed his finest moments as an actor which inevitably launched his acting career.
But it was the global success of his 2016 drama, Descendants of the Sun, that propelled Joong-Ki into a household name status. It was a huge comeback for the actor after he was drafted into the military in 2013.
But did you know that Song Joong-ki never had an inkling that he’d be joining the entertainment industry? He was actually taking up Business Economics when he was scouted by an agent in the subway. Despite his father’s protests, he tried his luck and the rest, as they say, is history!
Ju Ji-hoon was first recognized because of his good looks and sophisticated image. He first captured the hearts of audiences back in 2006 when he played the “cold-on-the-outside-yet-soft-on-the-inside” Crown Prince Lee Shin/Prince Gian in the hit series, Princess Hours.
More than a decade after, Ji-hoon made waves again as another Crown Prince in a political period horror thriller, Kingdom which was set in the Joseon era.
Kingdom blew up in bigger popularity when it returned for its second season in 2020 which also aired around the same time as Hyena, a legal drama also headlined by Ji-hoon. This stream of successful projects brought the actor’s name back back into the mainstream, and he has no plans of stopping any time soon.
After exploring different genres and characters throughout his career, and despite a drug scandal in his past, Ji-hoon proved that he is a committed actor. He braved the harsh South Korean media and a military hiatus only to come back with an impressive and notable performance in Five Fingers.
Ji-hoon has certainly proven a strong range which led him to create a solid acting portfolio that only explained his strong resurgence in 2020.
Lee Joon Gi
Lee Joon-gi wowed fans yet again in his return to the small screen as a loving family man hiding a dark past in tvN’s Flower of Evil. The thriller drama was a hit in South Korea, but it also received much praise internationally for its incredibly tense plot and Joon-gi’s spine-chilling performance.
However, before perfecting this mysterious and brooding persona in his recent projects, Joon-gi’s visuals first leaned towards that flower boy image. He delivered a memorable performance as a beautiful and effeminate street clown in the highly acclaimed historical film, The King and The Clown, which propelled him to fame and boosted his popularity throughout Asia.
Joon-gi displays his versatility evidenced by his wide range of projects across different genres. Not only is he able to carry on intense drama, he is also talented enough to do his own stunts. Another prominent title he earned over the years is that of ‘King of Sageuk’. Sageuk refers to Korean historical dramas.
Joon-gi is more than just your typical K-drama oppa, he’s also a singer, dancer, a model, and even a martial arts expert. If anything Joon-gi just keeps on giving fans a lot to love about him, hence it’s no surprise why he remained to be among the top favorite actors of 2020.
Lee Dong Wook
Lee Dong-wook loved one woman for 600 years in “Tale of the Nine-Tailed” which catapulted his popularity in 2020. He plays the character Lee Yeon, a lovelorn gumiho (nine-tailed fox) who holds immense power over all living creatures under his care.
However, Dong-wook was no stranger to this oppa status. He became a cult favorite when he played the somber Grim Reaper in the 2016 Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (Goblin), then transformed into the straitlaced top attorney in Touch Your Heart, and exchanged his suites for scrubs to become an emergency room specialist in Life.
With his flawless skin and well-defined features and that captivating east-meets-west look, It was hard not to notice Dong-wook’s stunning visuals. He was winning fans of all ages despite nearing 40. His ability to portray otherworldly characters just comes naturally.
His colorful acting career has proven that Dong-wook has grown to be a prolific actor. But apart from acting, he also boasts of many other hats, including that of a model, TV and radio host, and entertainer.
Lee Min Ho
A lot of K-drama fans find Lee Min-ho to be the “ultimate oppa” in this current crop of hallyu stars. So it comes as no surprise that after a three-year hiatus, fans were eagerly looking forward to his first TV comeback after military service in The King: Eternal Monarch.
Lee Min-ho needs no introduction as he is arguably one of the most recognized South Korean actors today. He gets a lot of hearts fluttering not only in South Korea, but also in the rest of Asia, the Middle East, Europe and even in America.
Lee Min Ho’s acting career began in 2005 with small roles in dramas such as ‘I Am Sam’ in which he acted alongside Park Min-young and Big Bang’s T.O.P. But it wasn’t until his breakout role as the arrogant, curly-haired chaebol Gu Jun-pyo in ‘Boys Over Flowers’ that audiences began taking a great interest in him.
Despite what others claimed that Lee Min-ho’s explosive popularity would fizzle down with the Flower 4 craze, the hardworking actor has proven that he is no one-hit wonder. He has successfully built a stable career and continues to receive offers from drama producers and advertisers alike.
Park Seo Joon
2020 has been a good year to Korean heartthrob and Rom-Com king Park Seo-joon. JTBC’s Itaewon Class cemented the 32-year-old’s place amongst South Korea’s most talented. The popular series showed off his incredible acting range and introduced him to a wider, more global audience.
Though popularly known for his work in romantic comedies like What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim, Seo-joon completely owned and transformed into the character of ex-convict-turned-CEO Park Sae-royi for Itaewon Class. His performance in the webtoon-based drama inevitably led all-new fans to his solid body of work, while long-time stans found more reason to celebrate him.
Seo-joon’s fame extends to social media, where he is the first Korean actor to receive a YouTube Gold Creator Award. Park Seo Joon isn’t your typical brooding male lead in K-dramas, but his unique charm and talent have made him a household name.
Nam Joo Hyuk
Before his memorable roles in Cheese in the Trap and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo, Nam Joo-hyuk had his start as a model. 2020 was a particularly special one for the young actor as he added more hit K-dramas to his list of credits, including Start-Up and The School Nurse Files. On top of that, he also went on to star in the movie Josee and became the brand ambassador for Dior Beauty.
Signed under YG Entertainment, Nam Joo Hyuk made his modeling debut in 2013 for the SONGZIO Homme Spring/Summer 2014 collection. After a slew of supporting roles on TV and some appearances in music videos, he earned his big break in the teen drama, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo.
Nam revealed that he’s drawn to flawed characters who try to be a better person, and many loved the way he brought these characters to life.
In “School Nurse Files,” he played Chinese teacher Hong In-pyo who accidentally releases monster-like creatures, known as “jellies,” which puts the student body in danger. In “Start-Up,” he transformed into software engineer Nam Do-san, who is a genius at his work but lacks interest in social interactions and an ability to read social cues. Meanwhile, in “Josee,” he plays college student Young-seok, who falls in love with a girl in a wheelchair but fails to keep his relationship.
The past year is a testament to how Nam Joo-hyuk is an incredibly talented award-winning model-turned-actor who has enjoyed sustained success.
Hyun Bin’s acting career has been a rollercoaster ride with its ups and downs, but the hunky actor always manages to bounce back in bigger ways.
His breakthrough role was in “My Name is Kim Sam Soon,” where he took on the lead role along with Kim Sun-a. That TV series remains as one of the highest rated Korean dramas to this day, and it was there that he started to develop a solid fan base. Hyun Bin then forayed into eclectic roles, from mainstream to esoteric characters, which he all played so well.
When “The Secret Garden” came along, his performance earned him a spot as one of the most popular Hallyu actors. When it concluded, Hyun Bin shot to massive fame. The media can’t get enough of his indelible charms, and it was obvious that he was on the up and up.
Even upon his return from military service, Hyun Bin was able to overcome the inevitable slump that male artists experience after prolonged absence. After racking up several projects in the big and small screen, it was the 2019 drama, Crash Landing On You, that brought his name to the international scene. The show’s premise brought Hyun Bin and Son Ye-Jin’s career to new heights. By 2020, fans just came in hordes as they fell in love for the star crossed lovers.
At 38, Hyun Bin experienced a resurgence in a vastly competitive market that is dominated by a younger breed of actors. As a brand and as an actor, he proves that he is still up to par. Besides a list of acting projects lined up for him, he currently graces the scene as a CF king worth millions of dollars!
Kim Soo Hyun
Kim Soo-hyun started his acting journey at the young age of 19. He first stepped out into the spotlight with a supporting role in the 2007 sitcom Kimchi Cheese Smile as a pretentious college swimmer. But, it was Dream High that was considered his breakout role, where he starred alongside IU and Bae Suzy. He was also part of the popular drama, Moon Embracing the Sun, which is one of the most popular dramas in South Korea. From there, he was handed CF offers left and right.
But many have come to love Soo-hyun when he played an alien trapped on earth for thousands of years in My Love from the Star. He became such a big household name that five years after his last lead role in The Producers, everyone was in a frenzy for his 2020 tvN romantic drama It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. After several cameo roles in dramas like Crash Landing On You and Hotel Del Luna, this was his comeback lead role since his military discharge.
With a story that revolved around mental health on top of an unconventional romance, viewers fell in love with the story. With the drama’s massive success in 2020, Soo-hyun again became the talk of the town looking every bit as charming since he started!