The world of romantic K-dramas is governed by tropes, from childhood lovers reunited in adulthood to blind dates gone wrong and often, a second lead who will make you question your loyalty to the male lead. Indeed, such is the raw magnetism of the secondary male interest that it has earned a moniker of its own: Second Lead Syndrome. While the male lead comes to terms with his burgeoning feelings, you’ll find his counterpart selflessly putting the female lead first, hyping her up when she is down and even nudging her into the arms of his rival if that ensures her happiness. Ahead, we raise a toast to the altruism of all the second male leads whose love went unrequited:
Hotel Del Luna (2019)
Such was the hatred that paranormal innkeeper Jang ManWol (played by IU) harboured for her first love Go ChyungMung (played by Lee DoHyun), that she bid her time for a millennium to exact her revenge. Unbeknownst to her, her warrior love has been watching over her for 1,300 years as a firefly to atone for his sins and earn her forgiveness.
Strong Girl BongSoon (2016)
The penalty for taking time to realise his feelings for the bite-sized superhero Do BongSoon (Park BoYoung) would be a heavy price to pay for the straight-laced cop, In GukDoo (played by JiSoo). After a nail-biting love triangle, he ultimately decides to back down from the fight and allow her to find happiness with video-gaming CEO extraordinaire Ahn MinHyuk (Park HyungShik).
Romance Is A Bonus Book (2019)
When recovering from a failed marriage, a girl can use all the help that she gets. Fortunately, Kang Dani (Lee NaYoung) doesn’t just have a gifted editor (Cha EunHo played by Lee JongSuk) who is nurturing an unrequited love for her for a decade, but also a famous book cover artist (Ji Seo Joon played by Wi HaJoon—yes, that cop from Squid Game) who will help her see herself for the promising woman that she is.
She Was Pretty (2015)
Reuniting with your childhood love is always tricky business, especially when you aren’t the popular kid that you used to be. Now reunited as editor and employee at a fashion magazine, Ji SungJoon and Kim HyeJin’s (played by Park SeoJoon and Hwang JungEum respectively) love story will find further gravitas when she earns the attention of a goofy co-worker Kim ShinHyuk (played by Choi SiWon) who will appreciate her for exactly who she is.
Reply 1988 (2015)
If you love someone, you should let them go. While Kim JungHwan’s (Ryu JunYeol) childhood crush, Sung DeokSoon (HyeRi), finds her happily-ever-after in the arms of Choi Taek (Park BoGum), it was this act of selflessness on his part that tugged at the heartstrings of viewers.