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[One True Pairings] The best OTP is a NOTP


Forest of Secrets

By ChinguMode

Soon after I discovered K-drama, I watched Boys Before Flowers. This classic is on Netflix and introduced me to the K-drama tropes I was only just starting to recognize. The second male lead syndrome. The dead fish kiss. The chaebol jerk. The insane mother-in-law. The wealthy asshole male lead won over by impoverished-but-good-hearted female lead. The wealthy asshole male lead fixed by impoverished-but-good-hearted female lead.

And, of course, the OTP. The great, fated romance this month’s theme is all about.

As much as I love the vast landscape of new television opened to me by K-drama, I have to admit I very quickly tired of many of these tropes. I’m not sure what my limit is for watching a Fated and Destined couple overcome obstacles to fulfill their ordained romantic pairing — all the while shipping the female lead with the second male lead and hating the second female lead on account of her being batshit crazy — but that limit was reached within a year.


Boys Before Flowers

I have a K-drama list devoted entirely to shows ruined by an over-emphasis on romance. Black was genius until they awkwardly plastered a weird nonsensical “happy” ending on it. Big was a morally complex gem until the Hong sisters threw their central conceit out the window and made everybody happy — offscreen. Strong Woman Do Bong-soon, which admittedly has one of the best OTPs in dramaland, was struggling with difficult themes of female strength, misogyny, and paternalism only to discard them at the halfway point in lieu of romance.

Was every K-drama just a Boys Before Flowers redux? Were we really just watching the same show over and over again? Was romance going to be the entire point of every drama I watched?

Looking at the most critically-acclaimed shows from recent years, I’m going to answer this question with a resounding “no.” Ask people what they think are the best shows from the last few years and chances are high their answer will include Forest of Secrets, Circle, and Signal.


Circle

And what sets these shows apart? Little romance and no OTP.

Goblin may have been the most-watched show of 2017 but Forest of Secrets had far greater critical acclaim and regularly tops viewers’ Top Drama of 2017 lists. In fact, Dramabeans Editors voted Forest of Secrets the best drama of 2017 and Circle the best action or thriller, while Signal got the Editor’s Pick for Best Drama in 2016.

What sets Forest of Secrets apart from other shows is its lack of a romance plotline. Not that it didn’t have a female lead; it did. Bae Doo-na did an amazing job portraying the smart, quirky, kind Han Yeo-jin and her strong personal and professional relationship with prosecutor Hwang Shi-mok. But their relationship was built on mutual respect, trust and a genuine enjoyment of each other’s company.


Signal

You could argue that there was romantic possibility in both Circle and Signal. But while that may be the case, there was definitely no defined OTP plotline.

So it seems that K-drama audiences don’t need an epic One True Pairing to appreciate a television show. In fact, they regularly choose shows without an overt romance plotline to top their best drama lists.

Why were these shows without a romance plotline more acclaimed than ones with the obligatory will-they-won’t-they, destined OTP? Is it because the writers spent more time on plotting? Is it because the relationships portrayed felt more organic than ones that emphasize the fairy-tale concept of “finding the one”? Or could it be as simple as wanting to watch something fresh and original? Is the OTP trope simply too tropey?


I Remember You

One of my favorite underrated little dramas is the 2015 Seo In-gook drama I Remember You. Ratings-wise, this show barely made 5% but it is a surprisingly gripping psychological thriller. Or most of it is. There is a halfhearted romance plotline in this show: It even ends with an OTP kiss. But while the rest of the show is fascinating and original, every time the show opted for romance it became a mess of clichés and bad K-pop.

So maybe the problem is not romance, per se. Maybe the problem is not an OTP. Maybe the problem is that K-drama writers are still writing the same romance over and over again.

Whatever the reason, for now it seems the best OTP is the NOTP.


Forest of Secrets

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I love a good OTP, and I'm usually looking for a romantic plotline when I watch dramas, but I really appreciate this perspective. And I love your insightful analysis here.

I submit that the leads from Mystery Queen are in this vein, too. No romance, per se, but the right kind of chemistry and characterization make for such a dynamite pair. (Full disclosure: I am hoping for romance in Season 2. Forgive me. I'm weak.)

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Thank you, ChinguMode (aka @leetennant)! I love that you have written not one, but TWO essays for this month's theme. I agree that shows which promised a great story are too often ruined when they lack originality. My favorites are the ones that play with the standard kdrama formulas. Or throw them out the window. That's one reason why the NOTP is so refreshing and interesting...
(That said, I am also weak when it comes to Mystery Queen. *sigh*)

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You guessed it, Mystery Queen is on... The List.

I also like romance but I am a bit bored by it being so formulaic. If you know a couple are going to kiss in episode 11 then it stops being interesting.

As @rukia said, it's a lack of originality rather than the romance itself.

I'm so happy both of mine got published, although I did have to stop myself writing a third...

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Why? Go for it! You have interesting things to say and you write well...!

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There's nothing wrong about wanting a bit more romance! I love Mystery Queen too and would like them to add more ♥ (without removing the quirkiness and banter from S1, if that's possible).

But I'm on Inspector Woo's ship. Yes, I made my own ship! It comes with holes, ready for sinking.

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oooo very interesting. very interesting ship indeed.

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I love kdramas because of the romance...sometimes it works, sometimes it not...... but if I want mastery the Eanglish series are so good... and for action, the USA series are the best... also for comedy...but the romance.. k Dramas are the best , so please stop trying to make k Dramas the same as other country Dramas...and enjoy this gems.....as they are!!!!!

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Two of my favorites, Circle and Forest of Secrets! I know I would like Signal and Monster/I Rememer You as well. I would place Lookout on this list too. Kdramas do such a good job with making us care for OTPs so much that when there isn’t one, we ship them anyway! Well done!

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I hadn't even heard of Lookout (The Guardians) but it looks quite good. Another show from early 2017 that I missed. I'd say "I'll put it on The List" but I think that's redundant at this stage.

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I say that quite a bit as well. LOL! But LOOKOUT is great. The ending made me want to scream, and I did, but I’m still glad I saw it. Kim Young Kwang’s besr performance to date. This was my “list” from last year...several have dropped off, but everything on the old dramas to watch are still there! http://www.dramabeans.com/members/ally-le/activity/221262/

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Forest of Secrets, Signal, Circle, I Remember You... are all in my Top 10 dramas list.
Now I see that the "NOTP" is another common pattern among them.

I just love it when the possibility of romance is simply suggested. With a "real" OTP, we already KNOW they'll end up together...which I find less thrilling. However, with these slow-burn type of relationships, when the audience is not assured of the pairing's future, you enjoy what you get (usually sizzling chemistry when done right) without wondering when the promised OTP will FINALLY come together.

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I LOVE your take on OTP... Actually I don't mind romance take an BIG integral to the storyline. But AT times more often than not, It's always taking away the initial promosing plot. Can I just say, and the writers start to lost focus of what she might be initial intent and switch the focus to a formulaic romance? Everytime they introduce romance, I always sigh, "oh not again" rather than being excite. There is some drama who
are really smart to take romance become an integral part to the theme and make it more interesting. That might be, all in all, it's depend on the writers!

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I often find as well that they create really great female characters but once the romance plotline starts, they just become generic and boring. I'm trying to think of a really great drama where the entire point of the show was romance and I can't. Maybe My Love From The Star? And while that was very enjoyable, I wouldn't call it a "great" drama.

There will be one though - interested in recs.

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Agree. Initially in 1st episode, we have this spunky, brave and admirable heroine who works 3 part-time jobs, not afraid to stand up for herself. But then once the romance kicks in, she transformed to a typical Candy. What?

The closest I can think of a character that had many part-time jobs, got strong determination, admirable self-pride and was potrayed as realistically as possible is Yoon sunbae (Han Yeri) in Age of Youth 1. Well, she's still awesome as ever in S2 but she already got a stable job in it.

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I want to agree by referencing Strongest Deliveryman but I know how popular that show was. Chae Soo bin's character was fantastic until she became "the lead male's girlfriend" and then she was pushed to the side and stuck in a really tropey romance plotline.

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I think it helped that in season 2, the bf is not there for 95% of the series, so we could continue focusing onthe non-romantic part of her growth. Sure, figuring out what it means to be 1/2 of a romantic team is also important in a person's growth, but it was interesting to focus on something else.

I love romances in kdramas, but I always end up feeling a little resentful of the hero for changing the heroine or for having his problems be at the forefront of the second half of the drama.

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I love forest of secrets, definitely the leads simple conversations in the soju tents are beautiful.
But I do have a comment didn't you write the previous essay on OTP where you mentioned loving strong Woman Do Bong Soon as an OTP but here you kinda criticise it as an OTP so that was leaning a bit on the hypocrisy side for me

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You can love an OTP while still being critical about how it influences the overall story trajectory/themes of the show. Not everything has to be black-or-white 😉

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Thanks for commenting, @reyna.

Yes, as @mindy said, you can have a fantastic OTP but it doesn't mean the drama overall is great (Healer, SWDBS). As much as I loved Min Min and Bong Bong as a couple, I felt the show suffered from their relationship being brought to the forefront. Despite the gay shock jokes and slapstick, the first half of that show was exploring a lot of really interesting themes. Then they got jettisoned in the back half. That's why I say that SWDBS is only half amazing.

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I'm going to have to disagree. The romance, chemistry, cute moments was the good part in Bong-soon. It was the serial killer stuff and the mishandling of "strong women" theme (mom's domestic violence towards dad) that made it not-so-great in my book.

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But I mean, that was the point of the character of the mother initially. There's nothing special or Earth Mothery about 'female power'. Power is power. If people have power, they misuse it.

She embraced but then misused her power and that was a deliberate contrast to Bong Soon who tried to pretend her power didn't exist. The obvious point is that if you have power you should use it but use it well.

Once her mother lost her superpowers, she then embraced the age-old 'domestic power', trying to regain her sense of superiority by being controlling in the home. The show was clearly critiquing that dynamic, at least until they backed down from a lot of it in the back half...

... is just my opinion, of course. Mileage varies in all things.

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I just remember how they made a lot of jokes about her beating up the husband and only devoted a teeeeeeeeensy bit of air time to pointing out how wrong it was. That's why to me, that show is a counterexample to this post. The romance was the good part, the other themes was where it tried hard (and failed).

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@mary

Well I think we can both agree the show failed even though it had a fantastic OTP, even if we disagree about the why.

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OMG! I was waiting for this one. FoS and Signal are my favorite dramas of all time, and they happen to have the most interesting characters and relationships, because it comes naturally when the story is good and well developed.

Since I grew up watching The X-Files, I can handle UST and platonic relationships pretty well :p Maybe that's why I enjoy those dramas that explore the characters nature and take their time building a realistic relationship, instead of throwing a fated romance.

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I have to admit I thought that X Files dragged that out too long. She had a baby and they were still in a 'will they/ won't they' plotline. It's interesting though because the producers of that show didn't want a romance. They didn't see them as an OTP. It was the viewers who pushed that and in the end they had to do it for them.

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I never watched the whole X files series. Skully had a son?? OMG, with him???????😨

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With him? With aliens? By aliens with his DNA? I was never really sure about that. They certainly call him "their son", even though they gave him up for adoption or something.

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They ruined it after season 7 and they really handled the baby arc the wrong way. Chris Carter has serious issues when it comes to writing M&S romance, he doesn't know how to do it and he prefers to play that silly game of will they/won't they (even today with the revival).

But the chemistry in the golden era was off the charts. Thanks David and Gillian for it!

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The will-they/won't-they is such a trademark of American TV. I think they play this game because in the 80s, there was this series called Moonlighting that was really popular. Coincidentally, ratings declined when the OTP finally got together. Though there were other factors contributing to the decline at the time, the whole thing became a cautionery tale in TVland.

After season 7 was when David Duchovny was exiting the series, so he was only there for half the episodes. This is why I get really nervous when TV series go on for too long.

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You bring up some great points, and argeed them well. The only thing I would say is that while you named three dramas, arguably three of the best dramas of the past year or so, there were many highly-acclaimed dramas that had strong romantic elements, and where the romance didn't tear it down. Like you admitted, it's not necessarily the presence of romance, but romance done badly that can mean NOTP is the new OTP.

It seems to me that because romance and love has that crack quality to it--it's a rush of dopamine after all--and since we can actually feel the love as stand-ins for the lead, even rough brush strokes will do to give us something that feels incredible to watch. (I sometimes feel the same way about action elements--they're thrown in haphazardly sometimes, but provide such a jolt of energy that their cliche elements are overlooked easily). Platonic, familial, workplace and similar interactions require more subtlety to get a response, I think, and so writers have to work a little harder on those elements, since most viewers will be expecting more depth from those and it will require more to pull them in.

Love these points of discussion you brought up! I think this month's theme might be my fav so far!

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As you say, I think writers get caught up in the romance plotline because it's easy. They can get viewers caught up in the romance crack and just throw in a set of tropes rather than working on something original.

It's the same with makjang - if you have too many episodes to fill, it can be easier to throw in soap opera elements than sit down and work out something better.

There are good dramas and there are good OTPs but it's rare for those two things to happen at the same time. INAR is the one show where I thought they came the closest but even it wasn't perfect.

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I love romance, but I'm not sure if there is enough heart-fluttering moments to last 16-20 hours. The exciting part seems to the initial development of the romantic relationship - the romantic uncertainty and tension. kdramas tend to zero in on the romance a lot and pack in all that tension in the first 8 episodes. I think it would work a lot better if other elements of the story are more well-developed and the romance was doled out more evenly through the entire series.

From my observation of real life, the exciting romantic uncertainty/tension portion is pretty short. Then, if you're in a healthy relationship, you're on the path to comfy-old-couple-dom- arguing about the best way to load a dishwasher and agreeing to skip Valentine's Day gifts because it's a commercial holiday and you both have student loans to pay off.

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Hi ChinguMode. Thank you for your interesting analysis. We must share similar kdrama tastes. I tend to the mystery/legal/crime genres but not exclusively.
I Remember You, Signal, and Forest of Secrets are right up there probably in my top 10.
I Remember You was more truly (bro)mantic in the sense of showing the brothers' relationships as children and adults played beautifully by all the actors involved. (I may have the grammar wrong there.)
Circle I missed so I looked to see what I was watching during it's broadcast. At that time around June, 2017 I was already watching Suspicious Partner, Ruler: Master of the Mask, Duel, and Secret Forest. I guess had too much on my plate on at that time. I will have to try to work in Circle somehow. The show's ratings were poor but that doesn't matter. ( I am still ticked off that 2 episodes were lopped off A Beautiful Mind which also had a slow romance,)
Duel would probably qualify as NOTP.
Thanks again.

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Off the top of my head, I can't think of a show I loved that was a ratings success in Korea. Even Stranger only averaged 5%. In fact, if a show is rating really well in Korea I often see that a sign that I won't like it.

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The highest rated show I watched last year I am sure was the excellent "Defendant" with Ji Sung.
From Wikipedia:
the AGB Nielson Nationwide lowest rating was 14.5% for episode 1 and the highest rating was 28.3% for episode 18. It was doing so well that 2 episodes were added. Sometimes that is not a good idea for a series but in this case it worked out well I think.

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Wow, good to know! I haven't seen it yet. Will line it up.

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This post speaks to me on another level!

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Thanks! I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

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All the 4 dramas you mentioned are some of my favourites. Loved FoS and their relationship was such a refreshing take on how a man and woman can just be friends. When others were suspecting him, she took a risk and chose to trust him, eventually able to break through his barriers. I just loved it when he started smiling!
While circle did hint at an OTP, I'm glad it focused more on the brother's relationship same as IRY.
Other shows which I enjoyed last year are voice and tunnel. While tunnel did have a pair and most of the hero's action was to make sure he returned to his wife, romance was not the central focus of the story.

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At the time I watched Circle, I would have liked a romance plotline. I thought that Yeo Jin Goo and Gong Seung Yeon had really great chemistry and a beautiful connection.

But judging from my other experiences, I doubt it would have been done well so in that respect I'm glad there wasn't one. The show was 90% perfect as it was.

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I loooovveeedd the forest of secrets!!! Though while I think that the relationship between the 2 leads is on point, I couldn't help but wish that there's a little bit more romance to it. Not too much but enough to give me some more butterflies (crossing my fingers in season 2). Only because I think they have a really great chemistry and it could be an opportunity for more character growth (esp with our male lead).

I do agree though that most times once a drama starts focusing more on the romance plotline, everything else about the story tend to go out the window

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I love the Forest of Secret's NOTP. They were definitely friends but in my mind they were a little romantic too. I don't mind if they don't blow it up into a romance (will eat it up if they do) because the small looks, the tiny smiles, the fun jabs at each other, their loyalty and faith in each other, were delicious offerings to my soul.

Which reminds me of God's Gift 14 Days. The NOTP was great until that ending happened. It ruined the NOTP.

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Yes, yes, yes! Romance is all good but when it takes over all reason, it's not so good anymore. It could also be because I've been watching dramas for quite a while now that I kinda desensitized myself to lovey-dovey acts. Lol.

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Eeeeh.
"Why were these shows without a romance plotline more acclaimed than ones with the obligatory will-they-won’t-they, destined OTP?"... will you riot of I say sexism? Cause based on my experience with western movie-goers, just adding the word 'romance' to a poster makes some testicles shrink 3 sizes. Rom-com as a genre is so hated that some people refuse to use it for movies they consider 'good', like 'When Harry met Sally'.
I don't really want to elaborate but to me focusing on emotions and character development is a staple of the romantic genre and dramas often lack that special flavor when they try to go without it. And I'm saying this as a person who groans every time an action movie attempts to have a romantic subplot.

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That's an interesting point, @vivanesca

You certainly have a point when it comes to US/Canadian tv and movies. One thing I loved when I started watching kdrama was the characterisation; it's so much deeper and richer. There's far too much emphasis on action in American TV. That's one of the reason I don't watch much of it, I'm a little tired of the superhero genre.

I have written some stuff around the traps about the emphasis on action in the culture of toxic masculinity that developed after 911. There's definite sexism there, especially in the portrayal of women.

But... if I could just defend my position for a moment, I think there is something to the idea that the romance plotlines being written aren't original or interesting.

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You make an interesting point for sure. Rom-coms tend to be more formulaic than, say, thrillers. Relying on cliches and retelling the same fairytales over and over and OVER makes for some really boring writing. But I don't think romantic genre is the only suffering one. If your story sucks, it sucks, no matter if you try to patch it up with pretty actors kissing or throwing people at buildings or gore.

Personally if I find myself unable to ship any couple of characters in a movie or a tv series, it often means the story failed to make a connection with me. And I do tend to choose romcoms with a gimmick (robots! radio! mermaids!) cause it guarantees at least a little bit of variety.

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Apropos of nothing, have you seen the film Spellbound? It's the only film I've ever seen that's a horror rom-com. It's like the most cliched horror film and the most cliched rom-com put together in one film but somehow it makes the tropes shiny and new.

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Genre mixes always turn out at least fun but I genuinely hate horror movies, I can barely stand thrillers. My favorite movie of all time is (all three of the LOTR movies direcor's cut let's be honest, but besides them) Gone Girl. Really good twist on what thrillers are usually about - damsels in distress. But like a while ago I saw The Beauty Inside and it was purely about love - for yourself primarily, but also romantic love and sexual love and it focused on two characters and it was absolutely brilliant. Just two people and their circumstances.

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@liquidsoap
Spellbound says that horror heroines are always single because it's the isolation in a horror film that makes it horror. So if she has somebody to lean on, to care for and to live the horror with her then it's not a horror anymore. Even if you don't like a jump-fright, I'd recommend it.

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I'm so conflicted about this post. On one hand, I loved the shows it's pushing for (Signal, Forest of Secrets, Circle). But on the other hand, I'm not sure how to feel about the assumption that what made them great was the lack of romance.

Some shows can still be mediocre even if they lack romance. I'm not gonna name names, but one example rhymes with Shriminal Minds. And some shows focused on an OTP can be enjoyable like Healer, or great overall like Just Between Lovers.

I think what made the author's favorites (Signal, FoS, Circle) great is the writing. They explored different, non-romantic themes, and they explored them well.

Even in Just Between Lovers' case, it explored other issues outside the romance. Like dealing with loss of a loved one and PTSD. But again, in that example, it was the writing that elevated it. Not just the presence of another theme. How many shows did we see that mishandled PTSD by going "Oh, the pain will go away after an accidental kiss"?

Would JBL have lasted 16 hours just with ice cream-sharing and carrot-munching? Probably not. But can you imagine all that paaaaaaain without the sweetness between its OTP? I wouldn't wish that kind of show on my enemy!

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Hmm I don't know. Maybe that is what ChinguMode meant in the first place. Good, straight-up romances are hard to find in dramaland. So she ends up liking NOTPs because there's an opportunity there to explore new themes, while a show that is 100% romance will have to work hard to not go stale. That idea, I super agree with! :D

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Yep, you nailed it. That's exactly what I meant. Thanks so much for your interesting comments.

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Oh! I'm so glad I misunderstood! And you understand my misunderstanding. LOL

I was so confused at first, "Did she really mean it that way about OTPs? Say it ain't so, Lee!" It took me overnight to think of what to comment.

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I don't think @ChinguMode meant no OTP at all, she loved our OTP in INAR!!! I think she meant shows OTP-centric, with all the BOF's elements have become a BOF pastiche, and for instance, we might end up watching the same story again, or versions of it.

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When the romance is done well, I love it. I think everyone likes jumping on a Ship if it's a fun ride and the destination is good. But when it's formulaic or paint-by-numbers (or even a bit disturbing), then I'd rather it wasn't in there.

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Tell me about it. I cannot believe I liked playful kiss so much when I watch it for the first time (never watched the manga), except that Jung So min is super cute. But man, her character is the perfect doormat. I wouldn't have fallen for baek seung jo in a million years. The drama was kind of fun, but the OTP dysfunctional. He falling in love with her was like against his will, and she definitively deserved better.

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Or think about Rain's character in Full house, and I know is a popular drama. But again, they were so wrong for each other!

Don't know if you watched Pretty Man (if you didn't, then don't), because it is another example of a ruined OTP, although IU's character was also very cute there. I liked that drama just because of her. 😃

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I haven't seen Full House and it's not on the list. I think my list has about 100 dramas on it at the moment. I'm actually considering a spreadsheet to keep track of it. And then I think - that's certifiably crazy!

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Thank you for this article, @chingumode.
In Chief Kim there was no OTP, and I was happy that they didn't pair Chief Kim with Ha Kyung, because there were just perfect as friends with the same goal of saving the company.
I also like dramas where there seem not to be an OTP, or at least, where the plot is not necessarily based on romance. Chicago Typewriter, Entertainers, Healer, Cantabile Tomorrow, and even I Hear Your Voice fall into this category, I believe... Not perfect dramas, and some have or ended up having an OTP, but they were not opt-centric. Life is not all about romance, and these dramas definitively don't have the rich chaebol jerk, the poor good hearted girl, the envious second lead female or the crazy, rich and evil future mother in law. LOL 😂
I really enjoyed them a lot.
There are also some few dramas like WFKBJ where although there is an OTP and a very well and beautiful constructed romance, the whole message of the story is not about finding that romance and fight for it and overcome obstacles, but it is about overcoming your own obstacles in life in order to achieve your goals of becoming something, in their case: athletes. Erin their medals and even, find through it means of living. I liked so much that none of them, not even Shi ho, who fell into the category of the crazy envious second female lead for a couple of episodes because she wanted Joon hyung back, was rich. They were just normal middle class people with health issues as well, like us. In such a story, the romance and the OTP felt like a breeze of joy, but the show provided equally amount of time to family and friends relationships. I loved it.
Those who haven't watched our fairy weighlifting should binge it this weekend!!!

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"Those who haven't watched our fairy weighlifting should binge it this weekend!!!"

Oh, alright then. It is number 1 on the list after all. *presses play*

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I second WFKBJ! This underrated gem was just almost perfect in every way. The romance was just plain beautiful to watch. I loved the topics and message they covered; it was was the perfect balance of friendships, romance, family, health issues, first love/heartbreak, dreams and goals, overcoming obstacles and self-love. The characters were ALL great. No chaebol jerk, no second-lead syndrome, no candy-type female lead and Shi ho was the first second lead female that I didn’t hate! I thought her character was beautifully developed. Lately I’ve been enjoying shows with subtle or NOTP more but WFKBJ is one of the few romance dramas I always rewatch and enjoy (along with Healer) without cringing at the tropes or cliches.

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I like your write-up @ChinguMode.

My own theory (because I've got theories about everything!) is that dramas can cut believability corners about a lot of thing *apart from* Romance.

I Remember You is a perfect case in point, the police work is really dodgy. He's a geeeeeenius. But as viewers we buy all of that. However, as soon as it comes to that romance, we cry foul. That's not how romance works! We know better than that. Boy's got a phone, why does he disappear for a year?

Another one for me is Nine. I could completely suspend disbelief when it came to the time travel but I could not see the main pair together and I had to stop watching it.

Unless we're police officers (or time travellers lol), we allow the drama to make it up. Do we know what it feels like for the FoS main character to live with the surgery he'd had? No, we don't so we just go with the world that the drama creates.

But most of us know what healthy relationships should look like. When they get the OTPs wrong, I hate the drama and I can't watch it anymore. Therefore your NOTP dramas maybe have it a little easier because they don't show relationships that make me feel uncomfortable. They're not great stories with a mediocre romance added on.

But I don't want dramas to get rid of OTPs completely because when they get it right, it's soooooo addictive. I just want them to take the OTPs as seriously as they do the rest of the drama.

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Those are such great points! :) Maybe we're gonna get super choosy about legal dramas soon, since there's been tons of them in the past year.

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Excellent points! Although I have to admit the police work in Doubtful Victory was so awful that I could have used a romance plotline to distract me.

When it's done right, it's amazing. But like the US film industry, the Korean one is pumping out so much content at the moment, it's no surprise a lot of it is written like a paint-by-numbers portrait.

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This may be the 1st time I've agreed with every single line of one of these, especially the end - the idea that fitting the network/audience/whatever required standard romance can swamp a decent show. And it isn't an issue with rom-com itself, but the Kdrama trope set up that seems to be the issue - possibly the 2 most successful last year (Fight My Way, Because this is My Life) were focussed around developing the relationship and interactions and not that diagram of 1st 2nd etc leads and their interactions and impacts on OTP etc. The 2nd lead thing, IMO, really only works when it's subverted (Protect the Boss was quite good for that - Na-Yoon was a fab character).

Thank you for this :)

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Ohhh i loved Protect the Boss because of her, I mean, I really liked the whole story, and interestingly, I didn't like the OTP because it was, again, unnecessary, but I really loved Wang Ji hye as Na-Yoon.
I believe, instead of OTP, we should have had them simply to become friends, and to improve the profit in their company, although I must recognize that some elements of Ji sung falling for Choi Kang Hee's Eun Seol were hilarious, just like having the cousins fight for her. It was really fun, but somehow the OTP didn't have much chemistry for my taste.

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Misaeng was another good NOTP drama....

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It is funny how i ALWAYS get more strong couple chemistry vibes from those NOTP couples ( eg, Forest of Secrets, Mystery queen, Signal, TEN, Vampire prosecutor, Look out) than those defined couples/ love stories in rom-com/melo shows. For eg: I could watch my favorite lieutenant Han ye jin and Prosecutor Hwang shi mok's ordinary conversations at their go to -Pojangmacha , all night long, and i would not get bored. I could watch Ajhumma detective and Ha wan seung' bickering , nothing which is romantic, but it would still make me smile from ear to ear.

It is also frustrating to watch that these dramas where there is no defined love story , but we still keep our hopes up just to see a teeny weeny glimpse of something starting till the end of the drama, but it just ends on a general note.

I just want to say, i love this post. This is what i needed. Romance does not have to be defined, nor it does need to be shown like -in -your -face. It can be subtle ,it can be non-existent on the outside, but the feelings are more stronger when there is lack of it.

I swear i love NOTP couples than those cheesy couples in rom com dramas.

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I really really love Forest of Secrets and I could also watch Han ye jin and Prosecutor Hwang shi mok at their Pojangmacha all night long. I know a lot of people shipped them but I kind of shipped their friendship, if that makes any sense. If there's a season 2, I hope they don't "go there". I just love that they have such a great connection that's not about romance.

As for Signal, I have a secret, slightly shameful, fantasy about a season 2 Noona romance between Park Hae-young and Cha Soo-hyun. But mostly, I think a romance plotline in that show wouldn't be done well so it's best to avoid.

Thanks for commenting!

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Ahaha, I just got a goosebumps, few days ago I had a thought it would be great if someone write about friendship of SoF for this month's theme.

Maybe the problem is that K-drama writers are still writing the same romance over and over again.

Hear, hear. The problem with kdrama-romance writing is often once the OTP ends up together (usually in episode 6 and above), the romance suddenly becomes so stale and uninteresting. It's so...shallow and one-dimensional.

Logically speaking, it's hard to maintain the momentum if there is only 1 subject/ focus in the drama. But the shows such as SoF and Signal do it so well because while the main focus is in investigating the case, it explores everything that are related to it; family, friend, workplace. The world in these shows is so vast, so many characters, so many possibilities and twists, unlike many of the predictable and small world of romance-centered kdrama.

We usually can predict where the romance is going, throw some family and in-laws problem or bitchy and jerk SL as a test to OTP relationship. It's why BTIOF is so good, because while the obstacles are going by kdrama textbook, there's a depth to the characters and the obstacles are potrayed in a way that the viewers can relate. It's the same with INAR, JBL and WFKBJ.

Anyway, I do like the romance in IRY. They speak so little but their action speak so much. A simple handshake and a comforting hug are so meaningful for this OTP.

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I tentatively suggest that one of the reasons the shows derails after a couple gets together is because then they bump up against (pun intended) the S.E.X. problem. So then they have no choice but to find contrived ways to separate them or keep their relationship really shallow. That's one of the reasons it's so unsatisfying.

One of the reasons I didn't like the way the romance in IRY was because it was just trope city. I think they could have given these two characters a connection without Forced Cohabitation, Shared Childhood, Dead Fish Kiss and Time Jump.

I could write yet another essay on it but IMHO he was asexual. His response to her skinship was always one of deep discomfort but he wanted her beside him because he relied on her. Plus his family tried to kill her. A lot. Then he just disappeared for a year.

Basically, they had a lot of issues to deal with but instead it was Time Jump and then some weird out-of-place OTP kiss at the end.

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I think one of the reasons I especially enjoyed Chief Kim was because they did stay away from any real romance. The show knew what it was about and knew that romance wasn't needed to keep us viewers watching. Who needed romance when we had the best bromance anyways?!

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Hmm... I loved that show for what it focused on, not what it didn't do. I'm not sure I would've liked it less if (for example) they added a few more romantic scenes between the OTP.

Actually, now I'm curious how the wacky cast + writer would've handled a romance. Probably in delightful and unexpected ways like the rest of what they did to the "office drama" genre.

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I totally get what you are saying. But, sometimes I just appreciate a show that doesn't feel the need to include romance. Not every show has to have a romantic line. This is very true of kdramas, where romance pops up all over the place and can seemed forced or unnecessary.

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'Revolutionary Love' would have been MUCH more satisfying if the idiot stalker lead had learned his lesson and the (bad) OTP had instead evolved into work colleagues who mutually respected each other. It had already gone halfway there but that series final scene had me yelling angrily at the screen. You messed it up!

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This is pedantic I know, but NOTP doesn't mean no OTP - it means saying no to the OTP. When a drama has an OTP you can't stand, they are your NOTP (e.g. Kim Tan/Cha Eun Sung in The Heirs).

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I love a good romance and I admit that most of the shows I obsessed about had an OTP I loved. In fact the OTP was the often the reason I obsessed about it. However I've also stopped watching several dramas that focused heavily on the OTP because I couldn't get in board with the romance.
For dramas with little or no romance between the leads my enjoyment depends on the drama as a whole as opposed to one or two characters so I think that is a big advantage of the NOTP.

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I'm invested in dramas with little to no romance lately, but the drama has to really grasp my attention if it doesn't have a love line.

FoS was one of those great dramas without OTP that managed to fully capture my attention.

IRY has the perfect amount of romance that I like in my dramas. It was subtle, deeply rooted in the leads' honest interactions and simple because there were no overdramatic obstacles. The characters were smart and sensible too. It remains my fav k-drama ever after years.

SWDS bored me to tears. I can't bring myself to watch it because it's over the top and annoying.

Signal and Circle are on my to-watch list.

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You know what I'm getting tired of? People who hate on love and couples meant to be instead of criticizing where the real problem lies: the writing.

Love and love stories are important!

We live in a dark world with many bad things happening. So I definitely enjoy dramas, even if they're solely about two people falling in love. And even if it's cheesy. As long as it tugs my heart and I'm rooting for them: give me all the OTPs in the world.

Yes I enjoyed Signal and Secret Forest. I loved them even but I also loved Moonlight Drawn By Clouds which was a youthful fusion sageuk about first love. It was fluffy but it felt genuine.

So, don't make the OTP trope the problem when the problem is the writing. Terrible when dramas like "DotS" or "Goblin" get the title for best love story when really it's terribly written cheesy OTP fanservice. And I emphasize the term "written".

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Then we're agreed! Writers often throw in a romance plotline because "kdramas are supposed to have one" and then they make it paint by numbers, throwing in standard tropes and being lazy. Nobody is going to have a problem with a well-written story. I mean, I loved INAR because the love plotline almost completely avoided the standard tropes. I'm watching WFKBJ this weekend and I cringed when he kissed her in episode 11. But other than the pacing of the show, the relationship itself is fresh and original and it contributes something to the show's themes and overall message.

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I just want to say Nothing to lose/ Judge vs judge wasn't that well written. But I thoroughly enjoyed the interactons of the OTP that wasn't an OTP all the way to the end. But more the fact that they had chemistry and because they didn't make the couple cheesy I actually liked this drama. Even though procedural wise it was pretty bad and based on so many coincidences.

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I'm with you on this one. I prefer the dramas without the romance. Sadly, however, one often does not know if a drama will or won't focus on romance, and since I realized I am no longer primarily attracted by lovelines it has become difficult to talk myself into picking up new dramas without clear indication of a main plot other than a love story. I don't categorically refuse romance - but let's just say a drama's OTP's build-up to romance has to be approached in refreshing way to fully engage my interest. No more regurgitated 'they are each other's destiny' please. Let's be more realistic, 'kay, thanks.

For me, dramas light on the romance (or where a pairing was not the main focus of the story being told) that you didn't mention are: Ms. Temper & Nam Jung Gi, Mystery Queen, Awl, Liar Game, Secret Investigation Record, The Devil, Bad Guys, Angry Mom, Police Unit 38, Tunnel.

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Totally with you. I wondered why people so obsessed with DOTS, Goblin. The plot is simple and happened at cliffhanger. Why can't you just be together? Dr vs army? So.... just get together. What's with the dilemma. Don't get angry with me dear DOTS fan out there. I love Song Joong Ki and Song Hye Kyo too. Anyway, It is always Happylyeverafter. Though, finally I've realized why Korean and many people loved Kim Eun Sook so much. It was that, in my opinion, she gave her all at her writing in terms of the world she created. The cinematography is always mesmerising. The fantasy she created; detailed and meticulous. Having said that, it wasn't enough for me to keep me awake and follow through these drama till the end. Her latest soon-to-premier (not so soon) Mr. Sunshine's trailer; is super awesome. Hopefully, Byun Yo Han can make me stick through it. I missed Lee Bang Ji.

Anyway, I can't recall recommending people to watch DOTS or Goblin. But I did diliginetly push to go for Signal and Forest Secret to those who asked me what to watch. I guess being addicted to K-Drama for 16 years had me said enough-is-enough to romance as main plotline. I enjoyed drama when it has more complex, new and fresh plotline more and the romance is a secondary. So I am totally with you. Best OTP is NOTP.

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I found DOTS quite boring. I found Goblin even more boring, very self-indulgent and [reference to OTP I won't make because I've said this enough already, y'all know].

Kim Eun Sook is not up there with the Hong Sisters for me yet but she's close. Korean audiences love their work but I do not.

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hello I would also like to bring Save Me to the table for being awesome and having NOTP.
I mean, there was definitely one in our hearts, but it was never brought to fruition on screen, and it wasn't what the drama was about.
Also I find the best romances to be when the plot is about something else, but the characters happen to fall in love along the way. The only issue I get with those is if they drop the plot to focus on the romance instead halfway through the show (looking at almost every kdrama ever made right now >.>). So these shows with a NotQuiteTP where you ship them but it never happens on screen are sometimes my favorite, because I can ship it in my imagination but I never feel like it's ruining the story and characters.

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The way that kdramas drop the plot and main themes to focus on romance around the 3/4 mark is exactly my problem. Even the best ones do it. Even INAR did it to a certain extent in its final two episodes. So a show without a ship doesn't have this problem. I said it above but when I watched Circle I was shipping wildly. But having seen so many shows derailed by the OTP, I'm now glad they didn't have a romance plotline in it.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on OTP/NOTP @leetennant I loved Signal, Forest of Secrets and Circle too. I think I would focus on the high quality and overall coherence of the writing and direction (together with the acting) as the reasons for their success rather than the lack of OTP in itself. Shows like these are generally much more disciplined and tightly plotted because of their complexity.

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I relate deeply to this analysis.
I can't stand romantic clichés as plotlines anymore! That's why I watched Save Me - Signal - Queen for 7 Days - Forest of Secrets - Prison Playbook recently and all made it to my top 10 favorite dramas of all time... and the excessive romance is what made me stop watching A Korean Odyssey. Sun Mi and Oh Gong from eps 5-8 spent too much time in that "are we together? we're not together- romantic- game" that I had to take a break from it.

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So because of a bad relationship here and there, you want us to give up on love.

I say “NONOTP!!! LONG LIVE LOVE!” Even bad OTP is better than NOTP.

Because that deep down inside, we watch the NOTP dramas and think “But these two would be so good together!”

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LOL. You're making me feel like the Grinch of kdramas here. Down With Love! Up With Chocolate!

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Heartless city was a great drama with little opt. It still had the main leads falling in love....somewhat. But was never the focus. Such a good action and thriller drama. One of my favorites and I will definitely rewatch it again.
Is circle that good though? Since Gong Seung Yeong is in it, I guess I will watch it.

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Circle was amazing. I admit the final episode was a bit weak but I rarely watch a kdrama where it isn't. I watched Circle in one day. I couldn't stop. In the end, it was 2am and I think my eyeballs were about to fall out of my head. Still Top 3 for me.

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I didn't like FoS exactly because of absent romantic element. Just fight against corruptions that is so easily overdone.
I also didn't like New Leaf drama - also excessive fight against corruption.

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