Five drama recommendations… with tsundere heroes
by DB Staff
Fancy a stoic marshmallow as your drama hero? You’re in luck, because most dramas love the tsundere hero who’s a surly porcupine on the outside, and hot fudge on the inside — and so do we. The list of potentials is pretty endless, but here are five of our personal favorites.
Boys Before Flowers (2009)
As I’m sure is the case for many of us, Boys Before Flowers was one of my very first dramas, and I have to credit the iconic Go Jun-pyo (and specifically Lee Min-ho’s portrayal of him) with really getting me hooked on K-dramas in general. Sometimes I wonder what I would have thought of Boys Before Flowers if I’d watched it later in my drama-watching journey, because at the time it was a magical experience. Jun-pyo’s transformation from the bully who couldn’t express his crush in any way other than making the object of his affections miserable, to the guy who actually put in effort to earn Jan-di’s affections in return, gave me ALL the feels. It was also my first real introduction to the Noble Idiocy trope, which I thought was just the best thing ever. (The angst! The longing! The hidden feelings he couldn’t let himself express!)
Somehow, I think of Boys Before Flowers as both the quintessential gateway into dramaland and also not at all representative of what K-dramas are really like. It’s trope soup for sure, and yet feels like it should be placed in a class all its own. And if you were already well-acquainted with K-dramas before its time (or if you’re brave enough to attempt a re-watch) I’d love to know how it holds up when it’s not your introduction to the K-drama world. –@mistyisles
You’re Beautiful (2009)
Tsundere heroes come in many different varieties, and apart from the usual aloof and enigmatic male leads, we sometimes get the testy and sarcastic kind. That’s what You’re Beautiful offers us, with a hero that’s gruff on the outside but tender on the inside. When we first meet Tae-kyung (played by Jang Geun-seok), he’s sullen, grouchy, and more prickly than a cactus. Tae-kyung starts off absolutely hating Mi-nyeo’s guts, and with her constantly stumbling into his path and making a mess of things, it’s not difficult to see why they just don’t click. Before long, though, we learn that his surliness stems from a defense mechanism he adopted to protect himself. It’s not that he doesn’t care at all — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. He’s too afraid of getting hurt again, so he reacts with irritation whenever he finds himself caring about someone.
Of course Mi-nyeo, with her affable nature, isn’t cowed by this at all. It was beautiful (heh) to watch Mi-nyeo gradually learn to read Tae-kyung’s tells, see past his icy exterior, and melt down his walls to reach his heart. Tae-kyung takes the most roundabout paths to express his affection, but Mi-nyeo’s always willing to wait for him at the end of it, or even meet him halfway. Even though Tae-kyung isn’t particularly eloquent or expressive, his sincerity and his emotions always shine through in his actions. For that reason, the adorable Pig-Rabbit doll will always remain memorable. –@solstices
Falling for Innocence (2015)
Min-ho (played by Jung Kyung-ho) is a special kind of tsundere in that his transformation from a heartless, cutthroat businessman to a lollipop-sucking softie is attributed to a literal change of heart. Although a bit fantastical, Min-ho’s post-heart transplant metamorphosis is amusing because he — like the people around him — struggles to understand why he suddenly has a predilection for being… nice.
In addition to his newfound joviality is an inexplicable affection for the leading lady Soon-jung, his heart donor’s fiancee. It’s a bit hard to watch their romance in the beginning because of the sorrowful circumstances preceding his heart transplant and because he is such a massive abusive jerk before his surgery, but he grows on you the same way he grows on Soon-jung: by making a conscious effort to improve himself and win not only the affection of his heart’s desire, but the approval of his subordinates. –@DaebakGrits
Just Between Lovers (2017)
Putting aside the fact that this drama made me a lifelong Junho fan, the character of Kang-doo is also one of my favorite drama heroes (in a looong line of favorite drama heroes). Kang-doo is a version of the tsundere hero that we know and love quite well — the gruff exterior and hot-headed ways that just barely cloak the heart of gold that’s bursting from within. And in the case of Kang-doo, he’s unable to keep his wonderful heart under wraps from our heroine, despite his best attempts. It’s why we love him, and why we love her.
Just Between Lovers is a lot about healing from grief and trauma, so Kang-doo might be a bit more serious than some other heroes in this list, but it’s
also proof that this hero stereotype works across genres, and aren’t you glad? From parka hugs to construction site rescues to climbing into her bedroom window (okay Romeo), watching the journey of our wounded + wonderful hero made this drama worth the watch. And then a rewatch. And then bequeathed a permanent place on the favorites list. –@missvictrix
True Beauty (2020)
It’s not often that I have second lead syndrome, but Seo-joon (played by Hwang In-hyub) has all the proper characteristics of a leading tsundere man. The motorcycle, the black eyeliner, the leather jacket, and the piercings are all props to maintain his too-cool-for-school bravado. But anyone watching True Beauty can see past his roar and spot his inner kitten. He’s just a big ol’ softy for music, his sister, and our heroine Joo-kyung.
Unfortunately, he won the hearts of everyone but our leading lady, who I don’t want to insult but — girl, you crazy. To be fair to her, most of what made us fall head over heels for Seo-joon was the side of him that he never let her see — partly because he was in denial about his own affection, which he disguised as playful insults and teasing. Case in point: when he gallantly saved her from smacking her head on a tree but claimed he was protecting the tree from her forehead — Hah! We all knew he was secretly smitten, but it took him a while to admit it to himself, and even longer to confess to her. But it’s okay, Seo-joon, you’ll always be the number one tsundere in my heart. –@DaebakGrits
- Five drama recommendations… for the winter blues
- Five drama recommendations… for when you miss your mom
- Premiere Watch: Just Between Lovers, Bad Guys: City of Evil
- Falling for Innocence: Episode 1
- True Beauty: Episode 1
- You’re Beautiful: Episode 1
- Boys Before Flowers: Episode 1 [Korean Hana Yori Dango]