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Dramaland justice: What about the second lead?

Justice might be a strong current running through dramaland, but there’s a corner that lies untouched: the land of the second male lead. If there’s a part of dramaland justice I struggle with repeatedly, it’s this one. However perfect, patient, and delightful these second male leads are, they’re always on the losing side. Again and again. Drama after drama.

It wasn’t a stretch to start thinking about second leads while writing about dramaland justice. After all, I’ve been talking about carefully constructed story worlds where elements balance, baddies are punished, rewards are earned, love conquers all and… wait a minute. That works for the lead couple, but it leaves the second male lead in a ditch somewhere, alone with his broken puppy dog heart. Where’s the justice?!

Second leads of the female variety are mostly antagonistic plot stirrers, but the second males leads? Let’s just say there’s a reason why “second lead syndrome” became a thing. To some (okay, to many), the secondary hero shines brighter, burns harder, and is a better fit for the heroine than the leading hero is. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the heroine’s logic when, pulled between two suitors, she chooses the flawed and somewhat obnoxious hero, instead of the steadfast hero in the background.

We all have a drama (or two or three) where something about the second male lead grabbed us, and wouldn’t let go. Whether it was his face, his story, the way he supported the heroine, or his sincere attempts to win her over — he stole our hearts, and nothing else would do for the heroine. And he not only stole our hearts, but our heads, too. Everything about him seemed to make him a better match for the heroine. Why she doesn’t choose him not only baffles our brains, but can cause actual physical damage to our drama-loving hearts. You know the dramas I’m talking about — everyone has a list (and hint hint, some of mine are sprinkled here in the drama screenshots).

Sometimes we all agree on a second lead scenario, and the entire dramaverse seems to reverberate with the same raw emotion. Ryu Joon-yeol versus Park Bo-gum in Answer Me 1988, perhaps? (I’m still not over that one; it tops my personal SLS list.) But there are also dramas where you feel alone in your SLS. While everyone else seems blinded by the charisma of the main male hero, it feels like they are missing out on the magic of the second lead. For me, this was Park Seo-joon versus Ji Sung in Kill Me, Heal Me, or maybe Seo Kang-joon versus Park Hae-jin in Cheese in the Trap.

But that’s not to say I always bite on the second lead bait. Sometimes I inexplicably have no sympathy for the second male lead, as with Kim Jae-wook versus Yang Se-jong in Temperature of Love. Or, even worse, sometimes I like both of them equally. Kim Jae-wook and Ahn Bo-hyun in Her Private Life. Lee Won-geun and Jisoo in Sassy Go Go. Or even Song Kang and Jung Ga-ram in Love Alarm (call me crazy?). Whether you’re rooting for the first lead, second lead, or torn between the two — either way, you’re having a strong emotional reaction, and that just might be the intention.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the ramifications around the second male lead, not only as a construct, but as one where we’re doomed for disappointment and bitterness. I can only make sense of it when I remove the real-world logic, and instead look at the experience the story creates for viewers. Otherwise, you’ll be left scratching your head, cursing at your drama, or bawling your eyes out — and none of those are mutually exclusive, either.

The first clue that we should abandon real-world logic is that the probability of two amazing suitors pursuing one woman at the same exact time is not as common as dramaland would have us believe. In the world of dramas, though, there is always this overabundance of wooing. Is it to create an important statement around the fact that love is a choice and an action (meaning, the heroine has the power to choose instead of falling blindly in love)? Or, is it merely because it’s delicious to watch a heroine we identify with be adored, pursued, and have the embarrassment of riches known as the love triangle? In other words, is this just another form of fan service?

If the second male lead is about giving the heroine the power of choice, I can agree with it on paper. I like the pragmatism of choice swirling with the magic of romance. I also like that the woman gets to be the decision-maker here; she’s presented with two very different men, and two very different paths, and we get to watch her choose. It’s empowering, in a way. Is that why we like it?

Then there’s the second possibility — that the second male lead and the ensuing heartbreak are is created solely for our (the viewers’) enjoyment, instead of the heroine’s. It could be that the pitch perfect second male lead is there because we want him there, and because this scenario lets us vicariously experience the things we crave (if that’s something we do crave, or admit to craving). The secondary hero might provide the ego boost of being fought over, but in a way, he also empowers the idea of an OTP. At first glance, he might seem to be against it, or be on one end of a storytelling seesaw — but the fact that he always loses the girl only strengthens the argument. There’s only one true pairing possible. No matter how many suitors offer their hand, only “the one” will do.

The second male lead could be about the power of choice, about vicarious enjoyment, and about the strength of the OTP — but, he can also exist purely as a function of the story. What if the second lead hero is there just to add dramatic tension, give us an underdog to root for (I’m a sucker for an underdog!), and feed the romantic entanglements just enough to keep us watching? This is a likely explanation, since a story without conflict is not a story at all (in the classical sense). And the second male lead always gives us conflict. No matter which of these possibilities of functions is true (if any!), they all beg the question: if the second male lead is a construct created for our storytelling pleasure, why is it often one of the most painful and/or frustrating elements of the story?

When I leave stories where I’ve fallen for the second lead, I feel upset, frustrated, and sometimes even a bit disheartened. I might be happy for the main lead couple and their happy ending, but often, my heart leaves them behind. Instead, I walk away down the metaphorical railroad tracks with the second lead hero. So, what’s the message in all of this? Nice guys finish last? Be caring and understanding and the girl of your dreams will Hulk-smash your heart? Serve your purpose in the plot and then get left behind? Surely not.

This is where circling back to the theme of dramaland justice comes in handy, and gave me another lens through which to look at the second male lead and his sad saga. What if we’re looking at the second male lead the wrong way? He could exist in a drama for any, none, or some of the reasons discussed earlier — but what if his truest purpose is to bring balance to the story?

It’s no accident that the second male lead is so easy to empathize with. Dramas need us to like him, and understand his plight, for that extra umami punch to the plot and the story’s conclusion.

Stories with heroes vying for the heart of the heroine are ones that end with a happy union. Storms are ridden out, choices are made, and our OTP comes together. It’s all very heart-warming and sweet, but I think we would all agree, it’s dramaland — not real life. Maybe, just maybe, the second male lead is there to balance that more saccharine side of K-dramas with a nice side dish of the bittersweet.

After all, he reminds us again and again that falling in love doesn’t always mean a happily ever after, that what makes sense to the head doesn’t always make sense to the heart, and that sometimes, life (and drama conclusions!) don’t seem quite fair.

Often, we’re so busy enjoying the fun, swoony, and pleasing parts of the story that we forget how much we need this kind of catharsis from stories. We need to hear about disappointments and setbacks just as much as we need the rose-colored glasses and happy endings. And thanks to the presence of the second male lead, we have both.

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Even if he didn’t win the girl, Ryu Joon-yeol was still the lead of Reply 1988 in my mind.

But yea, Chan gave me SLS all throughout 30 but 17.

Didn’t want PSJ to be with the girl in KMHM. I wanted him for myself.

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RJY has a lot more screen-time and importance to the story, I don't understand why people are calling him a "second lead syndrome".
Taek was the second lead, and he happened to get the girl, that's all.

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Exactly. There was never SLS here. Taek wasn’t even second if you look at everyone’s screen time. Most people are still hung up on first male-first female couple, but it’s not always the case.

Replying @mariah as well.

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What I find fascinating is that if you look at their characters RJY had the more classic man characteristics: grumpy, cold, secretly in love... and more screen time. CT was more a classic second lead: cute, slightly too good to be true, and loser edit. SO for me, R88 was sort of a twist on SLS, such that the second lead gets the girl.

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Ji Soo is finally out of the second lead territory (don't come back there please) but it took us FOREVER.

This is a great write-up. Thank you for writing this, @missvictrix!

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Yeah... I more associate "embolism" with SLS than "catharsis". Of course you're right that the saccharine needs to be balanced out for a satisfying story, but second leads usually fall into two camps for me. Either a) they don't float my boat and are only there to gum up the works while being some mixture of sympathetic and annoying or b) they run off with my heart, leaving me cursing the heroine for her stupidity. Not great options. Maybe they are a necessary evil, but I always felt there had to be other mechanisms that achieve the same effect. Besides, let's face it, 9 times out of 10, it's not the heroine who chooses, it's "fate".

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Oh my god, what is Lee Jun-ki's hair XD

no wonder he didn't get the girl

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Chaebol meets DB5K’s early years is what his hair is 😂😂😂

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Well said LOL!

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It brings back ALL the memories of "Balloons" haha
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdTVb64pfMs

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The SLS frequently seems a mystery to me when the FL doesn't ever think about the SL in a romantic way. I mean, yes, in theory, if he's not just a knight in disguise, SL could be adorable, but if the girl has never ever thought about him that way why would anyone want to make him her match?

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Yes, most of the time, no matter how great the guy is, if he’s just hitting a wall for 16 episodes I see no reason to ship. I usually want him to move on and get someone who deserves him (if he’s nice)

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Primary male leads in K-drama usually start out so insufferably awful that 'SLS' is the audience begging the heroine "Anyone but the lead!" Secretary Kim should have run from her control-freak boss and kept running. The male lead in 'Falling for Innocence' was so unspeakably horrible that he was beyond redemption.

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Justice for Gong Tae-gwang!! ✊✊ Four years later and I still want a freaking reset button.

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I didn't watch the show, only read the recaps and still had SLS, lol. I just like Yook Sung Jae in general.

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I thought he finally found an exclusive relationship with his credit card?

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He was a likable sad puppy and all, but he was mess he would have made a terrible life partner.

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My issue with this drama, it's the main lead seems to change his love because she was easier to love than her sister. I mean there were twin, both could have been happily in couple at the end of the drama!

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The main lead changed his love because her sister did not love him. Just like Lee Eun-bi did not love Gong Tae-gwang. You can't be in a relationship if one party does not reciprocate.

I was on Nam Joo-hyuk's ship all the way.

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Yeah, but it was weird. I didn't like how he felt for Eun-Bi, I prefer his relationship with Eun Byul.

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There was nothing weird about it. Love is not a constant and feelings change that is normal. Eunbi and Yian had mutual feelings for each other. Eunbyul never cared for Yian as more than a friend or brother.

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I get SLS a lot! but "Second leads of the female variety are mostly antagonistic plot stirrers" -- this is what I wish would change. For once I'd like to ship the male lead with the 2nd female.

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There came a moment during BOYS OVER FLOWERS where I shipped Lee Min Ho with the second lead (Lee Min Jung). They had instant chemistry. In contrast, the female lead was so hopeless that I had forgotten why I was supposed to root for her.

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Really?? I should have kept watching then. I think I got to around the 3rd episode and bailed.

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I wouldn't recommend it unless you love angsty love triangles and outrageous hair. I watched it early on in my kdrama-watching life and still think it's a good gateway drama, but I would probably tear my hair out if I watched it now.

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I am so agree with you. I have a SLS for Lee Min Jung, I think she was the best of Second Female Lead for the entire version of BOF.

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BOYS OVER FLOWERS😂😂 while watching this drama, I didn't care about the second female lead. I just water my OTP to be together. Three years later, watched again and even tho I still wanted them to be together, jandi became annoying. From the beginning she looked strong and never gave up,halfway into it she was just too slow and bleh

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I read in a novel, "Male lead is for the female lead. Second lead is for the viewers."

In a simplistic way, more than one suitors for a character clearly tells the audience the character is worthy.

Assuming the female audience largely identifies with the female lead, 2nd male lead is like a fantasy fulfillment. 2nd female lead is often that other woman who's after my man. No idea how much this actually happens in real life relationships but drama makes it "real",

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Aaaaaand there's the second reason I'm not that enthused about second leads...
Cause, yup, I agree that one of their major narrative purposes is to prove the heroine worthy to the audience. Nothing like being defined by a man in order to demonstrate your awesomeness....

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I agree! Throw the 2nd male leads our way. Hahaha!

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No second lead broke my heart as much as Royal Hotness did in TLE. I just wanted share my heart break here 😢. His ending was apt but my heart remain broken for him.

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I have another 2nd lead I cared for: Jo Geun Woo in Trot Lovers. He was so pure. He never pushed much for Chun Hee's attention. Too bad Chun Hee liked the singer guy. Geun Woo was far better imo, nice and attentive. Geun Woo had no chance but he won my heart with his awesomeness. He was the nicest, not pushy 2nd lead ever. Hahahaha

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I love park seo Joon, but ill say and say it again, Choi siwon deserves the girl more than park seo Joon did un she was pretty.

Also, miss v you must’ve read my mind. Im having a personal crisis at the moment with deciding to go on with the flower Joseon crew matchmaking show JUST BECAUSE I like the poor boy way better than Kim min jaes character who’s shaping up to be the male lead.

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I don't like Choi Si-won at all but even I have to agree with you. Seo-joon's character in that drama almost did a complete 180 when he found out she was from his childhood.

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After watching episode 2 of Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency, I had to message my fellow kdrama friend just to say "is this a love triangle? is the king the second lead? I am not ready to have another SLS!" maybe its too early to tell hahaha but I really really like our King!

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That's interesting. In she was pretty I never had the SLS, probably because SL only liked female lead's "ugly" side. I remember him being disappointed when he saw FL all dressed up in a nice make up. ML actually had zero reaction to her makeover, I think that won me over. Someone should like you whole, not only the side that you want to hide.

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I felt he was disappointed she felt the need to change.
As for ML, he had said she didnt have «the look». I'm maybe going by memory. (but I'll be honest, when i first binged the show, I was team ML, but only looking back now I realized it should've been SL. Why am i having second thoughts on such a random, basic, generic drama? no idea).

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I love Seo Ji-hoon, but Kim Min-jae makes my heart flutter, so I am on Kim Min-jae's ship. Gong Seung-yeon did not seem to be in love with Seo Ji-hoon when she accepted his marriage proposal.

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she wasn't. But there's this invisible chemistry that my heart detected. (lol COMPLETELY subjective). It's like when in Hotel Del Luna the Captain has more chemistry with IU than Yeo Jin Goo did. I cant pinpoint why/how. my brain is odd.

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Not odd. A lot of brains (people) felt the Captain has more chemistry with IU than Yeo Jin Goo did. The past should have been its own drama.

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Not just you almost the majority felt Captain had the real chemistry with IU in the whole drama. Wasted potential but more reason to put them together in another drama.

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No one is owed love just because they love someone...that is a slippery slope. The absolutely amazing thing about returned love...is exactly that - it's returned. 2 people freely offering and accepting to share their paths together.

How do we get to a point where we are equating unrequited love with justice when love is unreturned. Sure we all feel sympathy for the love struck...but to transpose that to justice is too far.

It morphs our positive caring for someone whose heart is suffering (we've all experienced that pain) to a place that is darkly possessive. Sadly, for anyone who has seen it will recognise that this 'ownership' (I called dibs) is basis for the logic of abusers...and I hope I never accept it as normal.

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Sometimes finding himself in second lead territory motivates a guy who is lacking to grow and change, so he ends up gaining something important even if he doesn't wind up with the heroine.

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Kim Yoon Sung, in Moonlight Drawn by the Clouds. The Tragic Hero.

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Tragically also the SL in my First, First Love. No wonder he had to go to the military after that! Nothing cures heartbreak than forced enlistment.

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Did he end up losing to Jisoo, the king no the emperor of second leads who never get the girl? Sigh!

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He did. Jisoo lost that crown to Jin young, poor guy!

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I was searching for this comment! Justice for Yoon Sung!!!! I get that he never really stood a chance against Yeong, but jeez, no one even MOURNED. That always makes me mad LOL.

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**Spoilers Obviously**

Hmm in my opinion, Ryu Joon-yeol was actually the lead in Answer Me 1998 but the show pulled a SLS trick towards the end. Sometimes I root for second leads like Choi Siwon in She Was Pretty but not in AM98. RJY should have gotten the girl! I still get upset thinking about it...

Not in kdrama land, but another second lead character I rooted for back in the day was Hua Ze Lei in the original Meteor Garden. But surprisingly I was always Team Si/Domyouji when it came to the Japanese /Korean/CH reboot. Gotta give credit to Vic Zhou on his portrayal.

Anyone still remember the Crown Prince Lee Shin vs Prince Lee Yul fights that would erupt on Soompi verse when Goong first aired? It felt like the fandom was almost split in half. I still remember the signatures and banner I had during that time period lol. I was team SLS on that drama too :((

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I'm not over AM88 either. I have rooted for other second leads in the past and since then, but this is one drama which gutted me. I reacted so badly after, that it was almost like I as going through a break up! I would getting that sinking-heart feeling, listen to the OST and get teary, and be angry at PBG even though his character was sweet and I liked him. Even now, when I re-watch the drama, I can't get myself through the last episode with the 'reveal' scenes that it was PBG all along.

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Same! I can't rewatch past that "confession" scene by RJY in the restaurant, makes me cry every time I've watched it.

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I had never ever suffered from SLS until I watched MR. SUNSHINE, and it wasn’t even Second Lead Syndrome - it was Third Lead Syndrome! 😂

Ma Dol Oppa from TOP STAR YOO BAEK is my only true case of SLS. I believe I dropped the drama after the heroine laughed in his face when he confessed. I can’t bring myself to watch the final two episodes. #bitter

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Who was the 3rd lead in Mr. Sunshine?

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Goo Dong-mae (Yoo Yeon-Seok) leader of the Yakuja in Korea.

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Just making sure. Haha! I had 3rd male lead syndrome too but I couldn't see how he could end up with a noblewoman. They are from different ends of the social spectrum. I wanted him to be with Kudo Hina but she's too flawed and too similar to him for character development.

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My comment back then was that I wanted a prequel. The story of how Dongmae, Hina, and the fortune teller came to be who/where they were at the start of Mr. Sunshine.

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Is he? I would say Byun Yo-han was the third lead.

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As the fiancé, I think he technically is the 2nd lead...

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In terms of casting, Byun Yo-han is listed after Kim Min-jung.

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Yoo Yeon Seok is really amazing! Also, I was team Chilbong on Reply 1994 (another case of SLS for me)

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Oops no. I meant Byun Yo Han as the third lead. Yoo Yoon Seok is listed as second lead.

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Somehow, that is why I liked so much "a poem a day", because doctor Ye was all over second lead material, but he did get the girl!!!😂😉😘😍

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I was waiting for A Poem A Day to come up. I'm still a little bit bitter.

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I'm over it since I fixed it

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*that's a lie - still bitter*

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Dance Sports Girls fixed it a little too.

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Hopefully Nokdu flower willl end it.

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@javinne yes!! Dr. Ye should have suffered the same fate 99.9% of SL face and then NOPE! I was sooooo happy!!

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@raonah My captain, where are you?

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I'm right here, still happily sailing the MinHoYoung.
#MinHoYoungforever 💕💕💕💕

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LOL!!!

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pppffff !
*lighthearted teasing*

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I've always been a main lead type of girl and rarely get SLS but this post has pretty much all the guys i wanted the girl to end up with lol. Only because they were the wounded puppy type that i just love to shelter.

*that first thumbnail being the first ever time i got SLS although to be fair they had far better chemistry 0.0*

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Chillbong in Reply 1994 is my major SLS. Yoo Yeon Seok became one of my favorite actors to watch after that.

I really couldn't understand why Go Ara chose the other guy. I mean, Chillbongie was better looking, a better kisser, a baseball player, and he went all the way to follow her to the seaside despite his busy schedule. For the life of me, I couldn't understand why Chillbongie liked her either; but in a way, I guess Go Ara and the other guy deserved each other. I just wished I got to see the girl Chillbongie ended up with. She has to be better than Go Ara to deserve him!!!

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Chillbong is one of my worst case of SLS!
I cried for days and was so depressed, I just couldn't get over it, it still hurts bad!

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Watching Doctor Romantic partially cured me. Yoo Yeon Sook was wonderful in that drama <3

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I loved Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim, like you said only partially, though! I want to watch Mr. Sunshine but I'm scared of getting another SLS and have my heart broken, again!

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Mr. Sunshine is for when you are in a melancholic mood or when you want a good cry. I watched it for YYS and he really did a good job as GDM. He looks good in that samurai robe :)

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Okay, so that means not any time soon! I'm already watching a drama that's making me cry all sorts of tears, I think it's enough for now!

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SAME! If they do another iteration of Answer Me, I don't think I can watch it since I'm 2/3 getting burned in my choice of leading men

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Geol-oh (Yoo Ah-in) in Sungkyunkwan Scandal.

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It was my first SLS!!! Yoo Ah In was so better for everything! Better acting, character more interesting, better chemistry, they kinda had a connection because her father and his brother, etc.

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Oh My God. I just remember that I have this SLS tooo
this drama is based on a novel and it said that the novel continues with Geol-oh (Yoo Ah-in) journey when he find another girl. Can't get over the drama and pray that they will make sequel for Geol-oh but not until now T___T

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YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS. i was literally scrolling this thread looking for this.

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Has there been any 'second lead syndrome' applied to a female character? While I can think of many 2nd lead male characteres I much preferred to the 1st lead, I sadly couldn't think of any 2nd lead female.

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I think that's because they're mostly written as the manipulative, bit*y and rude type, hard to root for really!

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Hmm... *checks my list of dramas*
IDK if u can consider these girls:
- Min Se Eun from The Third Charm, she was engaged to the male lead, but he broke it off when he found his first love again. I thought she was really sweet with a more... stable personality than the female lead.
- Jo Hye In from Boyfriend, a childhood friend of the male lead. She was totally into him but she respects his feelings and the woman he loves. Very kind and supportive.
And there are the girls that feel so much more awesome and have more depth than the 1st female lead:
- Ueno Rie from Gaksital
- Hwa Gun from Ruler: Master of the Mask

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My Favorit 2nd lead female:
- Lee Min Jung in Boys Over Fower
- Ueno Rie from Gaksital

Both of them are such a badass in female version

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I sadly havent watch the dramas you've mentioned, except for the third charm. They would def go to my ever growing you watch list.

In Third Charm, no one ended up with anyone, which I feel stay true to the characters development. They were all just not right for each other, at least for that point of time in their life. So no 2nd lead (male/ female) for me on that one.

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- Ueno Rie reminds me of another of my ships, Gaya (played by Im Soo-hyang) from Age of Feeling.
- I didn't watch K2 and I'm even too scared to say this and start another war LOL but there's been a lot of noona shipping there
- Also yessss to @parksooha13's reply below re: Lee Min-jung in BOF

There's also Z.Hera's character in Moon Lovers. Technically, she wasn't competing with anyone. But it was such a sweet, cute, one-sided love and Baekhyun's character was all "eeew a non-girly girl" that I felt bad for her and wanted her affection reciprocated.

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My favourite one was Kim Sun Hwa in IRIS. So I really hated the end for the movie.

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I liked her better than the leading lady too!

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!!! IRIS started my unni obsession with Kim So-yeon!

And I just remembered Kim So-eun in Scholar Who Walks the Night. (I love Lee Yubi but her character there was terrible.)

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Me too for the obsession! She killed her haircut! She looked so badass when in the reality she couldn't make a push-up. She had a great chemistry with LBH (better than Kim Tae Hee for me). I really liked her character.

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Innocent Man Han Jae Hee... She is a villain, but i find her story better develop. Heck. The first scene show Jae Hee and Ma Ru at their first innocent love without that tragedy. The story is more atoned to what could have been, the tragedy that set them apart, the denial of their realationship has end, and an acceptance of the situation and moving on. I found their journey is more touching. Not about which fmale lead MaRU should end up with though.

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I got too distracted with the makjang galore in that drama (was it like 3 amnesia in that drama?) to have 2nd lead syndrome. But boy do i fall hard for SJK :D

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Lee Kyung Hee is ridiculous for making multiple amnesia plot, which in Lee Kyung Hee's world fit to the narrative. Haha

Yess i have second lead syndrome because it's too hard to relate to Eun Gi who has mood swing, every single time. Like at times I can relate, but as the story progress, Jae Hee's conflict more compelling. The only think I thank Eun Gi exist is There is someone who love Maru when he need it the most. And when Jae Hee finally let go of Maru and goes to jail, man I'm bawling.

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Whenever I think about that show, I think about how much I like her too. I still remember when she went off on both of the guys for not allowing her to protect herself. I think that's what endeared me so much to her.

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I remember watching Fight My Way with @christina41218 and ending up thinking that maybe Dong-Man would be better off with his ex-gf second lead. That she was played by Lee Elijah of course didn't help - I love her.

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Seol Hwa in Chuno
Ueno Rie in Bridal Mask

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Chillbong, Tae-gwang and Go Jung-won (Jealousy Incarnate), the ones that broke me!

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Go Jung Won😭 especially with Hwa-sin's behavior afterwards: ignoring her she confessed, dumping her from the broadcast, ghosting her too... then quits his job😑. Uhm, why does she like him again?

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I know! I love this show and it made me laugh out loud like crazy, but there were so many things in Hwa-shin that I really just didn't like, he was selfish and I can never forgive him for stealing Jung Won's girl, she was his GIRLFRIEND!!!! They both betrayed his trust 💔

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Song Kang and Jung Garam driving me crazy with shipping wars in Love Alarm! It's the only time I root for both without any clear explanation who the male lead is and who the girl will choose.

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Oh man, there's so many cases of SLS ~!!!
Ryu Jun Yeol in "Reply 1988", Yoo Yeon Seok in "Reply 1994", "Kim Hyun Joong in BOF (but this was also his own fault for being a too little too late), Choi Jin Hyuk in FTLY, Jinyoung in MDBC, Si Won in "She Was Pretty", Jung Hae In in WYWS, Park Hyung Sik in Hwarang, Bae Soo Bin in "Shining Inheritance"...

That's all I can think of right now for me Korean list XD

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BoF gave me the worst SLS. I was so bitter about that ☺ Kim hyun joong took care of her. Jungpyo was a jerk 90% of the show (plus: mother in law from hell😜)

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Yea :(

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BoF was one of the first dramas I ever watched and although it was stupid, I watched it, fast forwarding Lee min ho, because I thought (silly me) she would end up with kim hyun joong, I mean, she liked him first!!!!! But even that reason why I watched was in vain. Utterly disappointment 😩

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Here's an idea, drama gods. Write everything as normal, create the first and second lead, and then... just switch them around. SLS crisis averted!! *nervous laughter*

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I think that's what actually happened in Baking King Kim Tak Goo. I couldn't believe it, it was so weird.

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Hah! Yes, thanks for bringing that up. Oh the irony. The feels are coming back for this drama!

I was very upset at the beginning that Yoo Kyung and Taek Goo didn’t end up together. But I found myself falling for the flawed Ma Joon and realized how much he needed Yoo Kyung by his side more. So I ended up shipping them more than Tak Goo! Actually I liked their pairing more than Tak Goo and his new love. This was the drama that made me fall for Joo Won. *rant* Why didn’t he win anything for his performance in this drama *rant*

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I think Love Alarm will go to that way *nervous laughter*
and for the 2nd lead female is Innocent Man (I just remember my first Chinese drama To Liong To a.k.a New Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre starts Tony Leung. I like the first woman and hate the 2nd woman but then the 1st woman became an enemy and I can't get over it)

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That TLT is such a classic. It was my first chinesse drama too. I remember my dad renting the VHS for the family to watch (gosh, i feel my age). Wasn't there a 3rd woman, the one that he ended up with? It was so long ago i just couldn't remember.

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I think there couple of woman. Lol

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Yeah, I remembered that. I totally hate the 2nd woman and do not understand why Tony Leung go for second woman. I mean she was the enemy at first. I really like the first woman. It was a shame. She became the enemy. Sigh

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Story side .. the twist is amazing but my heart can't handle it in such a young age :D
And what make me angry is the 1st woman became enemy because the 2nd woman is 'kidnap' Tony in their wedding day!

Nothing is wrong with the 1st woman but she feels betrayed since Tony ditch her in her wedding day. The 2nd woman trick Tony so he won't marry the 1st woman. She so manipulative that I hate her, I can't seems to like her til the end. On the other version I already knew the story so I already prepared myself and trying to like the 2nd woman. I remember I like the 2nd woman on the movie stars Jet Lee, she just so beautiful.

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I never like that woman either. LOL.. You are right. She was beautiful and that is about it.

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I might be the only one who get second lead syndrome in Innocent Man. She is the villain, but i find Park Si Yeon character is more develop than the female lead. And PSY chem with Song Joong Ki is really good. Their emotional acting everytime they meet is ellectric. I think the only time I invested so much with the second lead story than the main is the writers seems more caring towards the second lead than their own main lead.

Another case I get is Cheese In the Trap fiasco. The build up between In Ho and Hong Seol is really good. And their chemistry is off the chart and more believable.

Another case is when I watch Can You hear my heart in Nam Goong Min character is more interesting than the main lead story, heck the story seems revolve around his character alot more. It also can't help Nam Goong Min is bring more to the table acting wise for me. Otherwise i rarely get second lead syndrome.

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Like majority, Cheese in the Trap is the drama I wanted to unsee or experience the drama amnesia for once. But purely on a different reason. I have read the webtoon way before the drama aired, so I knew Seol and Jung would be endgame. There wasn’t even competition. Then Cheese in the Trap happened; In Ho had far more scenes than his appearance in the webtoon. He is more fleshed out in the drama; he has more interaction with Seol and her family. It was already too late when I realized I had boarded on the wrong ship! 😣 I thought it was smooth sailing on the Jung ship until I realized I anticipated In Ho scenes more.

I liked the complex relationship of Seol and Jung in the webtoon, but I couldn’t bring myself to ship them in the drama because of In Ho. Like what black magic is this! So I hated the writer, I wanted to forever block Cheese in the Trap on my brain, but I still clearly remember all In Ho and Seol scenes together 😭

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I start to think the writers secretly ship them hecause she can't figure out how make YJ and HS could work in webtoon translate to drama.

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It wasn’t even the screenplay that had issues or else actor would’ve seen it coming. I didn’t like how the PD fooled the lead (and the audience) with the editing. The lead filmed parts that got canned and replaced with unbelievably long and pointless piano playing.

Forever anti that PD.

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I don't think it's all on PD. Heck even based on the plot, it makes sense in narrative sense the story eventually focus on In Ho in second half for me. They basically tease us his problem in the earlier episode. It will be impossible not to bring up the narrative that has already hint. YJ screen time actually has already little since the first half of drama,, to keep him being the mistery of the story. I think they can't figure out how to insert YJ story fit into the plot and still make it compelling.

I just don't believe in conspiracy. Heck Kang Jun become supporting for Lee Yoon Hee in majority of drama in Hwajung and he has no problem about it.

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I don’t understand your comparison to Hwajung. Lee Yeon Hee was FL and much more senior so of course SKJ is a supporting role.

The PD made an adaptation but refused to consult the author. Screenwriters were changed between pilot and later episodes. Footage was filmed but excluded. The PD made a mess. She hasn’t rebounded since this drama.

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@sph_7 well delete scene happen all the time. I don't believe it. U choose to believe it. Let's just agree to disagree. Shall we?
SKJ is also one of the lead in Hwajung, so is he is in CITT.

And PD Lee yoon Jung definitely bounch back with argon. It has solid writing, cast and and better than CITT. And now he got Lee Min ki as her leading man.

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Argon owes it to the prizewinning writer, not the PD. SKJ is irreverent, so are his other works.

I will believe in production bureaucracy because it has screwed over several of my (once) favorite dramas already.

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Read this an interview of Jang SeungJo. He was asked how he felt that audience are rooting for his character in Familiar Wife. The actor responded in this way "Some characters exist to give warmth to another." Then I realize, not all second leads have to end up with the female lead. Some are meant to be the story's warmth. That was what I exactly felt with Park Ki Woong's JIN in The Musical (my favorite second lead male) and even Kim Jeong Hoon's YUL and even in JIHOO of Boys Over Flower.

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Why is it in sageuks, the 2nd lead gets mostly killed off?! This is truly injustice! Jung Il-Woo in METS and Jin Young in MDBC to name two.

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1st leads get killed off, too, sometimes, Lee Dae-gil in Chuno, I might be the only one, but I did not see that coming!

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I cried so much for Jung Il Woo on METS! But I did not experience or feel heavy SLS in that drama coz I wasn't invested so much on the love story of the King anymore when they were older compared to the young versions (for me Yeo Jin Goo, Kim Yoo Jung and Kim So Hyun out-acted their older versions). I was hurting more on his relationship with his brother.

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The thing that I like to remember is this- the second lead is not really a loser just because he did not get this particular girl. The women of this world are not stupid: Just because we do not get to see it you should rest assured that somewhere out this is a very lucky lady who will get this great 'second lead guy'.

Sometimes the writer will even show us the beginning of that new story - like the vignette in the last episode of SHOPPING KING LOUIS where we actually get to see the our second lead meet the real love of his life (cameo by a truly adorable Chae Soo-bin).

But to me the greatest second lead ending is the one in FATED TO LOVE YOU. The second lead in that show is possibly to very best second lead of all time, but he still does not get the girl. Instead he gets the one thing he wants even more than the girl: He gets to find his long lost sister. There is no way that you can say that he ended up a loser when he gets what he wanted the most of all.

The lesson here is a simple one. The end of the drama is just the end of this particular story. It is not the end of the Second Lead's story.

Chan in 30 BUT 17 is really, really young. He is also a great guy, good looking, etc. Trust me- he will lots of have women going way out of their way to meet him. At the end of the drama his story is just barely beginning.

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ah, FATED TO LOVE YOU... true, the Neighbourhood Oppa was very nice to her. But I also find it very creepy that some men would bend over backwards and into a pretzel to help a lady and n e v e r make their feelings known! That is such a pure waste of one's energy! I can't!

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Wonderfully said!

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Usualy, I didn't have SLS. Because I'm a pragmatic person, I know the FL will end up with the ML, so I guess I focus on the main couple. There are some SL who always are with the FL and they suddenly decide to realize their feelings when the ML made his move. I can't root for them, I mean they had all the opportunities but they couldn't take it.
And there are the SL who have a better relationship and chemistry with the FL like in Sungkyunkwan Scandal , Cheese in the Trap, She's So Lovable.
Sometimes, I like the both couple :)

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The screen cap bought me here! School 2015 is the most textbook case of SLS and I'm still suffering 4 years later! Not a lot of of dramas give me SLS bit School 2015, Reply 1988, Heirs and Love Alarm are the only dramas that have made me suffer! Thankfully Love Alarm hasn't finished yet so there is still hope but I still demand justice for the others! I also just realised 2 of these dramas have Kim Sohyun as the female lead so maybe it's just here outstanding chemistry with everyone that made me end up rooting for the wrong ships!

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School 2015 made me experience so much SLS heartaches. It didn't help that years before the drama, I was already a fan of BTOB and Sungjae's my favorite member. I was already a bit biased towards Taekwang's character from the start and seeing how good they were together on screen, I jumped and sailed with the TaeBi ship (even til now).

Yes, Kim So Hyun is really that great actress who always have great chemistry with her partners. I was able to enjoy Radio Romance even if Dujun was so many years older than her because their romance on screen worked for me. I like Kim So Hyun with...
1. Sungjae (my fave of all) on School 2015
2. Yoo Seungho - Ruler: Master of the Mask
3. Yeo Jin Goo - Missing You (young versions of the leads)
4. Song Kang - Love Alarm
5. Taec Yeon - Bring it on, Ghost

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School 2015 was my most severe form of SLS as well followed closely by Reply 1988! I need justice for both these dramas but atleast Ryu Junyeol and Hyeri ended up together in real life! Kim Sohyun is what the media calls a Chemistry Queen! She's great with all her male leads even when they're much older like Taec Yeon and Dujun! She knows how to sell a romance!

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My first SLS is Ryu Joon-yeol in Answer Me 1988 (over Park Bo-gum?!) and I can't get over it till now. I am over the moon when Ryu Joon-yeol and Hyeri are dating in Real Life!! There's no satisfaction ending for SLS than that!

And now I already prepared my heart for Song Kang in Love Alarm. I like Jung Ga-ram but Song Kang win my heart and I can only pray for a happy ending for him.

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Gong Tae-kwang doesn't belong in this post - he was the lead, and no-one can convince me otherwise.

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I've never really got SLS of the Which Ship Do You Choose OTP King (I think maybe once?) but let's just talk about the female second leads I have adored for a second though:
Jo Boa as Yeo Joo in Stranger Living In My House.
Verrrronica Park in The Secret Life of My Secretary.
And Idk if it counts but Park Hooja in My Fellow Citizens. Does getting SLS with them at times count? Lol.

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Your list is pretty similar to mine!

http://www.dramabeans.com/members/cloggie/activity/820417/

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Woohoo! *Hi five*
Actually I should maybe add Eun Ja in Let Me Here Your Song too. She's pretty cool and badass. We need more SLs like her and Veronica. And I could watch five dramas of just Hooja.

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Hooja and her younger sister were awesome

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great article, and everyone's comments were super fun to read...i too think SLS is meant more for the viewers...they fulfill the fantasy expectations...while i can't think of any particular example but i think there have been dramas wherein main female leads spends more time with the second male lead (to her, he is her friend) doing fun and heart-warming stuff and i feels that's so unfair to the second lead eventually.

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dear @missvictrix,
thanks for the post.
and it is not inexplicable why you felt no sympathy for Ahn Bo-hyun VS Kim Jae-wook in Her Private Life. I totally relate. For me, the Childhood Friend just revealed his feelings WAAAAAY too late. And for what? What was keeping him? By then, Kim Jae-Wook had very very very quickly morphed from the aloof boss to a genuinely nice and dreamy Suitor, and it was impossible for Park Min-Young (or I) to look any other direction but in his, with love in our eyes.

so long, "Feels Like A Brother" Friend! Shoulda said something sooner! The Lion Roared and we made way for him in our hearts!

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The first second lead I ever shipped was Yoon Pil-Joo (the plastic surgeon) in The Greatest Love. I was new to K-Dramas. And I liked the shy doctor so much more than the conceited actor. Since then I've come to "know" and appreciate Dok Ko-Jin. But that first time I'd ever seen him in any drama, he just seemed insufferable. And I was seriously upset that Gong Hyo-Jin chose him over the sweet and awkward Pil-Joon.
Since then I have suffered with a chronic case of Second Lead Syndrome. (So much so, that when I wrote a romance novel--available on Amazon Kindle--the second lead winds up with the girl first lead. Just a little literary justice/revenge on my part.

When I'm in charge, characters end up with who I want them to end up with--except not always. Pesky characters sometimes act on their own and ignore this author,s directives. But that's a different subject.

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Omg yes! I forgot about sweet, adorable Pil Joo </3 I don't think I rooted for him to get with GHJ but I LOVED his character

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Yoon Kye Sang in The Greatest Love and Kim Jae Wook in Mary Stays Out All Night are the ones that really made me wanna cry. LOL

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I've seen K-dramas explicitly state that one-sided love is the *pure faultless kind of love*. Often there's no 'choice' being made because the heroine is unaware of second lead's feeling. The second lead's 'big moment' is not getting his chance to win the girl but often its him working up the courage to tell her - just once - what he's holding secretly in his heart.

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You may have missed the most cringeworthy 2nd lead confession I've ever seen (because who watched 'Revolutionary Love' to the end?). The second lead finally gets the heroine alone and confesses his love for her... followed by a loooooong awkward silence. The heroine has this alarmed and slightly disgusted expression on her face that says "This guy's nuts and I should back out of the room."

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Did anyone feel like My First First Love was an attempt to have the second-lead win? Childhood friend overlooked for newcomer who doesn't seem as worthy but then hey is. And even the casting of Ji-soo, perpetual second-lead-cutie, was a little suspicious. I felt like they were trying to turn the SLS thing on its head...give us a story where the guy who might have ended up being the second lead did actually get the girl.

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I'd say you shouldn't put 'Reply-1988' in this category because I was under the impression the second lead DID get the girl and primary lead didn't. Don't you recall halfway through the series frustrated viewers were yelling at the TV "Why is the obvious romantic lead not getting the girl!!!???" It was only after-the-fact that we realized Park Bo-gum had been the 'lead' after all.

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I only watched Reply 1988 because I knew PBG got the girl. To say I have a soft spot for him is the understatement of the decade. It’s more like a marshmallow-cloud-doused-with-whipped-cream spot. Am I right, @bammsie and @ravingnightstar?

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Let's face it, it's Park Bo-Gum! When will he ever not get the girl?

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In real life.

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My heart still breaks for poor Shin-woo. Mi-nam was stupid in a lot of ways, but her taste in men was absolutely rotten.

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Jeremy4Lyfe ;)

That bus scene still makes me tear up.

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Aghhh! Thanks for reminding me! I was totally Team Shin Woo in You're Beautiful that to this day, I've never finished that drama because I was so frustrated with the main lead lol...

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I don't really get second lead syndrome. I may love the second lead more than the first lead (The Liar and His Lover Lee Seo-won, Fox Bride Star Kim Ro-woon, Hotel del Luna Lee Do-hyun), but I don't root for the second lead to end up with the heroine because I know she will end up with the hero and more importantly, because nine times out of ten, she does not like him back.

I only feel betrayed when I have first lead syndrome when the dramas subvert expectations and make the heroine end up with the second lead, which mainly happens in the husband guessing game dramas (Reply 1988 Ryu Joon-yeol, A Poem a Day Jang Dong-yoon) because Ryu Joon-yeol and Jang Dong-yoon were definitely the first leads.

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My main issue with SLS is that the couple that ends up together are so mismatched that I am left wondering what the heck they are going to talk about for the rest of their lives?

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I find the second lead ploy quite damaging, honestly. The female lead usually defies all logic in choosing the first lead, regardless how many more greater qualities the second lead embodies. It's selling a pipe dream and one that isn't healthy in real life.

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Especially in those serieswhere the male lead has a 'redemption arc', which means he's the most horrible person imaginable for the first three episodes. Then the woman is able to magically 'change him' through sheer force of will. You want to tell her "wait a couple years for when the endorphins wear off, that guy's going to revert back again to worst person imaginable."

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I stopped at ep. 6 of jealousy incarnate because of SLS. I managed to finish She was pretty before that and decided if SLS is game strong, kdrama shall be dropped for the sake of my sanity😅😂

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Ryu Joon-yeol not getting the girl made me so so upset. but also wow this piece on second leads goes so deep.

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Chilbongie.... the one who broke my heart!

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I have suffered from the second lead syndrome many times, and 99% of them were for the second male lead. But the heartbreak I felt for Yoon Soo Hee's character in Ruler: Master of the mask beats them all.
I ended up having a girl crush on her!!!

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