Tried and Tested Formula: 7 Character Archetypes That are Always Present in K-Dramas - Arts & Culture

There’s always a second lead bound to get his heart broken, and an extremely unfortunate female protagonist, and dramatic class struggles.

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K-dramas and its creators are famous for impeccable storytelling that takes viewers to a roller coaster of emotions in 16 episodes or less.

But these entertainment gems from South Korea—instrumental to the popularity of the country’s food, music, and traditions around the world—are also known for including characters that may have different looks or names, but have similar personalities, challenges, and life stories. Here’s a look at seven of them.

The Nice Girl

With the odds not always in her favor, a Korean drama’s typical lead lady character is poor, working multiple part-time jobs, and always insulted by society’s rich and privileged, and yet she continues to be kind, forgiving, and hardworking. Things usually work out for her in the end, but it takes a lot of twists, turns, and tears before she gets there.

Cha Eun Sang (Park Shin Hye) from The Inheritors embodies this archetype.

The Mr. Almost Perfect Guy

He’s good-looking, likely the heir to a giant corporation, drives nice cars, eats at the best restaurants, has multiple assistants at his disposal, and lives in a mansion. The male lead seems to have it all, except he hasn’t found the love of his life and his many unresolved issues keep holding him back. He gets a happy ending, too, but he needs to muster up the courage to fight against the odds.

Take Cha Eun Ho (Lee Jong Suk) from Romance Is A Bonus Book for an example.

The Disapproving Parents

The parents of the lead characters always have something to say about their children’s choices and relationships. The rich male lead’s parents always have an arranged marriage planned with the daughter of another company to secure the family business’ future, while the poor female lead always gets warnings from her parents about the dangers of dating someone beyond her league. Both sets of parents, however, only wish for their children’s happiness. 

Gu Jun Pyo’s mom, Shinhwa Group Chairwoman Kang Hee Soo (Lee Hye Young) from Boys Over Flowers, is an example of this. 

The Second Lead

He may not have much compared to the male lead, but he’s kind, caring, reliable, supportive, and overall a likely better choice for the female lead. Viewers get attached and root for them, even though they know from the start that it’s not meant to be. The second lead, however, always loses, hence, the deadliest affliction among many K-drama fans: the Second Lead Syndrome. In the end, second leads are able to move forward, with the mere knowledge that the girl they love—and will never end up with—is happy.

Kim Jung Hwan (Ryu Jung Yeol) from Reply 1988 is Second Lead Syndrome personified.

The Nerdy Sidekicks

These characters may always crack jokes, make fun of their friend, or act all clumsy and incapable in many ways, but they are also deeply emotional human beings that care for the lead’s happiness and are always ready to back them up in any situation.

Oh Ri (Park Seo Joon) from Kill Me, Heal Me is a memorable sidekick.

The Ex Who Keeps Returning

She’s rich, smart, beautiful, and accomplished. It’s difficult to believe she and the male lead did not end up together. It would turn out that she has not been able to move on from the relationship, after all. Despite being turned down multiple times, she tries her best to win back the male lead, even at the expense of the female lead. She doesn’t get what she wants in the end, but she finds peace in the fact that her past flame has found the love of his life.

Min Hyo Rin (Song Ji Hyo) from Princess Hours is an example of this character.

The Psychotic Villain

They look like absolutely normal members of society, yet they hide a heinous side. They are K-drama land’s serial killers, stalkers, or manipulators, always out to hurt their targets without any remorse.

Take Park Seok-Yong from When the Camellia Blooms, for instance. He only appeared in a handful of scenes as an injured recluse living behind the neighborhood’s mechanic shop, but as it turns out, he uses the tools to kill his targets.

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