Second male-lead syndrome is not a phenomenon limited to Korean dramas. It applies to any show, novel, movie that features another character who should've won the girl.
Korean dramas are particularly adept at, possibly even the master of, using second male leads to mess with the audience’s hearts. Why must they do this to us? Why does it hurt so much?
Here are 4 reasons why second lead syndrome is so much more painful in Korean Dramas.
1. The second lead is always nicer
K-drama writers excel at creating male leads who encapsulate all the characteristics of cockiness; they’re often obnoxious, sometimes have serious bullying problems and are initially mean to the female lead. They're equally as talented in counterbalancing these off-putting male leads with second leads who embody the picture of perfection. Second leads are what you’d envision a modern-day knight-in-shining-armour to be. They stand up for, and comfort, the female lead when the main lead is being intolerable, they express their feelings with sensitivity and gentleness, and heck sometimes they have more ~chemistry~ with the female lead.
In short, their utter compatibility with the female lead has us ripping our hair out as to why the two leads had to get together.
Case number one – Boys Over Flowers
Second lead Yoon Ji Hoowas, the only somewhat decent person in the F4 group. He’s intellectual, a true artistic soul and became a doctor. I’m still not too sure why Jan Di ended up liking Jun Pyo so much.
2. Their tragic history
Lots of characters have sad backstories. The male leads are usually assigned these sympathy-inducing backgrounds but sometimes when the drama writers want to play with our feelings even more, they write in a sad background for the second lead as well. It’s a battle of who-has-it-worse and a war for who we’ll be cheering on, but at the end of the day we inevitably end up in pain because no matter how we think of it one of them is going to get hurt. What’s even more tragic about the second lead’s situation is that nothing seems to go their way.
Case number two – The Heirs
Ah Choi Young Do. You poor guy.
3. They deal with the female lead’s feelings for the male lead
Is there anything more painful than having to watch someone listen to the person they like cry about how much they like someone else? If the actors are super good, you can sometimes literally see the light leaving their eyes and their soul dying right in front of you on the screen. Extra kudos to the actors if they look away from their female love interest to blink away a tear.
The second lead always helps the main lead get the girl *Heartstrings torn*. That’s fine, because I totally didn’t want my heart to remain intact by the end of the drama anyway.
Case number three – She Was Pretty
Kim Shin Hyuk did an excellent job of comforting Kim Hye Jin as she struggled with her childhood love not recognising her. Poor guy had feelings for her but helped her rekindle the love.
4. They rarely get happy endings
What, realistically, could a second lead’s storyline end with? Something happy where they can get over the pain of their love for the female lead? Yeah, maybe not. Sure, sometimes the writers are benevolent and match up the second male lead with the second female lead so that everything is neatly tied up. But let’s be real, there’s no satisfaction in seeing him paired up with someone else when you’ve just seen the depth of the second lead’s love for the main lead, for the past sixteen or more episodes.
Sometimes it’s even worse and the writer's do horrible things to the second lead just to make sure the two mains can get together.
Case Study – Love in the Moonlight
To be fair, the Crown Prince and Ra On were such a cute couple but why did they have to do that to Kim Yoon Sung (B1A4’s Jinyoung)? I’m still heart-broken.
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