javabeans: It seemed a natural progression to follow our favorite drama bromances with our favorite female friendships, since next to romance, it’s often the heartwarming depictions of friendships that suck us in and stir our emotions.
girlfriday: Do they ever. Friendships and family relationships often make me cry more than romances do.
javabeans: It’s too bad that unlike bromance, the women’s equivalent still doesn’t have a good pithy word that encapsulates what it means and sounds cool.
girlfriday: What, no womance for you?
javabeans: Not when I just hear it as Whoa, mans. I can’t use words like womance, sismance, or the like. Good effort, stumble on the dismount.
girlfriday: Yeah, girlfriends is the only term that feels natural, because when in real life would I ever say sismance?
javabeans: I can tell you when you should, which is never.
girlfriday: On your next birthday, it’s going to be on your card. In big pink letters.
javabeans: I’m not sure this is a game you want to be escalating.
girlfriday: Whatever you want to call it, there was no shortage of great female relationships in dramas, from high schoolers to grandmas in their eighties.
javabeans: I don’t think dramaland is quite as abundant in the female friendships as it is with the men, but when they’re good, they can be very, very good. Here are our top ten:
1. Dear My Friends (2016)
girlfriday: Sometimes the length of a friendship doesn’t necessarily indicate depth, but in the case of these lifelong friends, the years spent side by side made their life stories inextricably linked. These girlfriends showed that when friendships weather divorce, and death, and decades of hardship, they can become the strongest relationships of your life. Dear My Friends was an unusual drama—a love story among friends who were facing their twilight years together—but it’s the most realistic portrayal I’ve ever seen of true lasting friendship. For these women, who were underappreciated by husbands and children, their childhood friends were an unchanging source of understanding, comfort, and love. At times that love was tough and unyielding, and other times it was motherly and warm, and though they all walked such different paths in life, they always dropped everything and ran to each other when they were needed, no questions asked.
The best of them was the friendship between Kim Hye-ja and Na Mun-hee, an inseparable pair who likened themselves to Thelma and Louise and went everywhere holding hands. They were so wonderfully young at heart whenever they were together, still getting into the same petty fights they had as teenagers, as if they hadn’t aged a day. Their stirring love story was the heart of this show, and a reminder of why we all seek to make lifelong connections with people.
2. The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry (2010)
javabeans: Seven years after The woman Who Still Wants to Marry ended, I still haven’t found a dramaland depiction of female friendships that tops its sweet, cheery charm in my heart. It’s not the kind of friendship with life-or-death stakes or heart-wrenching sacrifices, but the drama gave us a lovely, refreshing slice-of-life take on modern women navigating career, romance, and thirtysomethinghood with their best girls at their sides, always ready to offer up a drink in toast or commiseration. There have been countless dramas that have taken a similar approach—I thank/blame Sex and the City—but the beauty here is in the execution, mixing in dashes of poignancy amongst the many, many comic gems, whether it involved your girlfriends peeling you off of wet cement and cutting your hair free of the sidewalk, or going along with your hare-brained exorcism scheme.
These three didn’t meet eye to eye on everything, but their friendship wasn’t as much about having the same outlook on life (one was dying to marry, one had sworn it off forever) as it was respecting how important choices were to the others and advising accordingly. They were the kind of friends who’d come running to comfort you through a heartbreak or a career setback, remind you all the ways in which you were better than your worst moments, and sometimes deliver the truth you didn’t quite want to hear. When I first watched this show seven years ago, I wanted to be these women when I grew up; would that we could all grow into independence and adulthood with as much grace and good humor.
3. Age of Youth (2016)
HeadsNo2: Age of Youth was a drama that resonated with anyone who’s ever had to share their living space with someone else, but especially for those who’ve ever been assigned roommates to live with. There’s always that uncertainty that comes from being shoved in close quarters with someone you don’t know, and first impressions can seem like the most important thing—when really, they’re nothing compared to what you learn by just spending time with each other.
The five girls at the Belle Epoque house couldn’t have been more different, so it was in watching them come together and coalesce as a band of unlikely sisters that the true reward came in. I loved watching them cope with everyday problems—someone eating your food matters, darn it—as much as I loved watching them overcome bigger issues, like how to help someone without hurting her pride, or advise someone who didn’t want to hear difficult truths. Whether they stayed up to cover the night shift for their roommate, held each other’s hair back for a good ol’ drunk vomit, or banded together to protect one of their own from physical threat, these five girls felt like the truest of friends by the end of their journey. I just wish it had never ended. *sniff*
4. Fantastic (2016)
javabeans: More than the romance, it was the three friends at the center of Fantastic that pulled me in and kept me there, for the way they sent a message that isn’t actually that common in the world of dramas: that friends can be as devoted and love as unconditionally as family—and sometimes even do better than blood kin. At first glance, their friendship seems fairly standard—cute and sweet, but like so many high school friendships that drift apart in adulthood. But it was the way they rallied around each other in moments of need that made my heart ache (in the good way), going above and beyond the call of friendship, stepping in when anybody else would have walked away. In one case that meant scrounging up money that couldn’t be spared in order to help a friend’s mother get surgery, while in another it meant taking care of a sick friend who had nobody else to look after her. And when one needed help freeing herself from a hellish marriage, it was the other two who came in with fists raised, ready to smack down any naysayers—and, more importantly, armed with the wits to secure her freedom unequivocally. Individually, these women were resilient and admirable, but together, driven by a common goal and fierce mama-lion protectiveness, they were unstoppable.
5. Answer Me 1997 (2012)
girlfriday: I remember thinking when I first watched this drama that this was a friendship I knew inside and out, because I’d lived it. It was so familiar and down-to-earth, and all the more heartwarming because it tapped into the memories I had of being a teenager and all the hours I spent with friends arguing about our favorite actors and singers, and trying to imitate the terrible fashion trends of our time. I would also recommend the other two Answer Me shows for their female friendships—the franchise is chock full of memorable bromances and girlfriends no matter which era you pick—but these girlfriends were my personal favorite.
It was the kind of friendship that could erupt in a dramatic fight over idol bands—H.O.T. vs. Sechskies never seemed so important until it threatened to break up a friendship—but in the end these girls were loyal to each other in every way that really mattered, proving that being young doesn’t mean you can’t become the kind of true-blue friend we all want in life. When one friend got her hair lopped off as a punishment and her best friend showed up at school with a matching ugly bowl-cut, I never loved two friends more. Sometimes you just need someone who gets you, at the time and place and age you’re in. And if that friendship grows up with you, then you’re one of the lucky ones.
6. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju (2016-17)
javabeans: The Weightlifting trio makes me think of what the Fantastic ladies were like in high school: energetic, loyal, and capable of growing into deep and meaningful adult relationships. That isn’t to say their friendship wasn’t plenty meaningful here as college students, but rather that we saw glimmers of what could become more serious and significant bonds later down the line, when they’d all lived a little more and experienced more struggles. We saw the beginning stages of that maturation as the drama unfolded, taking the girls from their carefree swagger through some growing pains that strained their bonds before strengthening them ever-stronger. They weren’t always perfect friends doing the right thing; as youngsters stumbling through a lot of first times—first crushes, first kisses, first heartbreaks—they were bound to make missteps, which sometimes hurt feelings and caused rifts. But we could feel that genuine love and trust held them together, which trumped misunderstandings and slighted feelings, and I felt safe knowing that after the drama’s curtain fell, they’d continue to grow as friends and emotional supports for each other, able to weather whatever adult storms came their way next.
7. High Society (2015)
HeadsNo2: One of the high points of High Society was its depiction of friendship between its main foursome, but none took the cake quite as much as the relationship between our heroine, born with a silver spoon in her mouth, and her hard-working, cheerful Candy best friend. In this story, the rich girl envied the poor girl—after all, she started out wanting to escape her chaebol family’s expectations, so Ji-yi represented all the things Yoon-ha wanted in life, like simplicity and happiness, and being loved for who you are and not the size of your bank account.
Though they started out on a lie, with the chaebol’s daughter lying about being a chaebol, their friendship was too genuine for any misunderstandings to last long. Even when some lovelines got crossed, both girls remained loyal to each other first, conceding crushes and refusing to become rivals in love. They each wanted the life that the other had, but their adorable love for each other always won out over any feelings of jealousy. When your chaebol friend is ready to break a car window with a brick just to get you out of a potentially sticky situation, the class divide doesn’t seem so divisive anymore—friends are friends no matter the circumstance, which is one of the nicer ideas this show left us with.
8. I Need Romance (2011)
girlfriday: These are your quintessential thirtysomething single girlfriends, a la Sex and the City—they have careers and complicated love lives, and they disagree on everything from sex to marriage. This trio of friends couldn’t be more different from one another, but they also respected those differences and hugged each other instead of judging, which is why I always liked this particular friendship. They were hilariously frank and showed their support in entertaining ways, like the sensible one dictating over the phone exactly what to say so her friend could kick an unwelcome ex-boyfriend out of the house, or the three friends turning a wedding night into a hotel slumber party when one of them got stood up at the altar.
It was just nice to see healthy relationships between women who could be honest with each other about their deepest fears when they needed it, and also turn around and be completely silly and take their friends’ side, no matter how nutty the situation. It was the relationship between the three friends that really carried the show—they cheered each other on at their best and at their worst, and though we might’ve come for romance, it was friendship that made me care most of all.
9. Heartless City (2013)
HeadsNo2: These two may be the most complicated on the list, and for good reason—one was a madam in charge of—er, renting the other one out, while the other was the not-so-sacrificial lamb. While that may not sound like the most affectionate relationship, in the seedy underworld that was Heartless City, theirs was a bond forged by fire and blood. As she found herself with a sudden protege, the normally aloof madam slowly changed—as did her feelings about the work they were doing—as she became more and more attached to a girl she first treated as an employee, then as confidant and friend and, eventually, sister.
There was always something motherly in the way the madam treated her newest charge, which only complicated and underscored their already strange relationship. But despite their work revolving around men—and the worst sorts of them, at that—these two had a friendship outside the realm of men as well, with a storyline that gave them their own problems to deal with and wonderfully thought-out arcs to live out. In a noir that was all about self-sacrifice, they proved that there’s strength in unity, and that the alliance between women who’ve made their living in darkness isn’t one easily torn apart.
10. Ex-Girlfriend Club (2015)
javabeans: This drama almost seems like an odd choice for a case of great girlfriends, because the premise sounds like it could have gone down such a bad path: Four ex-girlfriends resurface in a webtoon artist’s life when his successful series—based on his past relationships with his exes—gets snapped up for a movie. The exes dislike the idea of the project almost as much as they dislike each other—partly for all being exes, and partly for being complete opposites (one’s a fierce careerwoman, one’s a sweet and wily noona, one’s a young seductress, and one’s our best-buddy heroine). The initial encounters are contentious and combative, replete with snide comments and hair-pulling. But a curious thing happens as the ladies team up in a calculated, the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend sort of way, and start seeing each other for their individual merits. What I feared would sink into jealous stalking and petty squabbling turns into good-natured hilarity as they bond despite their own intentions, and as each ex-girlfriend gets her moment of closure with our main hero, she finds newfound sisters in the other exes. It’s not a conventional path to friendship, but it for sure is a laugh-out-loud, bizarrely funny one.
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