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Five drama recommendations… to give you second lead syndrome

Ahh, second lead syndrome. It’s a pain we know well — and you don’t have to have many dramas under your belt to feel the pain of the second lead male who’ll just never get the girl, even though he’s perfect. Sometimes tropey, sometimes agonizing, sometimes created just to give the audience something to clutch their feels over, let’s talk about some of our favorite SLS moments. Because even though they’re painful, we love ’em.



Anser Me 1994 (2013)

 
I adore the Answer Me series. The nostalgia, the lovable characters, and the sense of community in each installment are hard to beat. There’s something so warm and familiar, like settling in with an old friend. I can’t say I love the whole who-is-the-husband conceit (that’s maybe a bit too familiar at this point), but I’m usually okay with the result. Not in Answer Me 1994. Nope. The second lead syndrome was strong with this one, and I’m not even someone who often gets second lead syndrome. But poor, sweet Chilbongie (Yoo Yeon-seok), always on the sideline, pining with those sad eyes – he got to me.

Childbongie was caring, mature, and considerate, and I loved his and Na-jung’s (Go Ara) friendship. How could I not root for him to win her over? Especially given that Garbage Oppa (Jung Woo) was way too much like Na-jung’s actual sibling to make that pairing anything but uncomfortable for me. Although I’ve forgotten many of the details of the drama by now, when I think of Answer Me 1994, I will forever see the image of a broken-hearted Chilbongie crying alone on the baseball field. Oh, what could have been. –@quirkycase

 


Answer Me 1988 (2015)

 
I have waxed poetic about this drama enough already, but I guess no matter how many years go by, this one still feels like a punch in the gut — and a punch in the gut that everyone needs to know about. The Answer Me series is now famous infamous for the who-is-the-husband guessing game, but by the time the team got to the 1988 edition, they were ready to go all in. And by that I mean, misleading us, tricking us, giving us a collection of the most heart-rending scenes in dramaland, and then waving on the way out. I hate it, but I love it.

By the logic of the show, Deok-sun’s (Hyeri) husband in the present day should have been Jung-hwan (Ryu Joon-yeol): if you watch this drama and tell me otherwise, you’re lying. That being said, the drama decided to pull its trickery and give the girl’s heart not to the tsundere next door who adored her, but the cutie pie genius next door (granted, he also adored her). Park Bo-gum smile aside, this failed love line will always be the example of second lead syndrome at its most brutal. And most memorable, going based on how hot and bothered I still get over this one. –@missvictrix

 


While You Were Sleeping (2017)

 
My second lead syndrome for Woo-tak (Jung Hae-in) was not one of those cases where I shipped him with the leading lady and was disappointed that he didn’t win her over in the end. Nope, I felt like Hong-joo (Suzy) and Jae-chan (Lee Jong-seok) had better chemistry, and I wanted Woo-tak all for my nerdy, Batman-loving self. Geeky hobbies and interests? Check! A dog lover? Yes, please! A strong sense of justice? Yup! Physically fit and looks good in a uniform? Sign me up!

Even if he didn’t already tick off all my personal what-to-look-for-on-Tinder boxes, he still would have won me over with the quiet way he accepted and rooted for Jae-chan and Hong-joo. Sure, there was some playful bickering between the two men, but it was all in good fun. At the end of the day, Woo-tak also knew he was the second lead, and the graceful way he managed his feelings without resorting to jealousy or pettiness endeared me to his character.
@daebakgrits

 


Start-Up (2020)

 
Ji-pyeong (Kim Sun-ho) had all the makings of a leading man: the childhood connection, a delightful relationship with our leading lady’s grandmother, and the confidence that comes from being a self-made success. We also met him, like, thirty minutes (a long time in dramaland) before our real leading man, so I was legitimately surprised when it became apparent that Ji-pyeong wasn’t Dal-mi’s (Suzy) romantic end game. On the one hand, props to the writers for subverting some classic K-drama tropes and completely screwing with my expectations. But on the other… why did they have to make him so darn likable if they were going to pull the rug out from underneath me?!

Admittedly, Ji-pyeong’s success made him a bit pompous, so he had to eat some humble pie before I started to truly ship him with Dal-mi. But as he stepped down from the pedestal he put himself on, I felt he became a better match for our leading lady. He motivated her and brought out the best in her, whereas Do-san’s lack of confidence often got in the way and even dragged Dal-mi down. I’m all for couples who build each other up, and in my opinion, Ji-pyeong was better — and more experienced, thanks to that childhood connection — at coaxing the best out of Dal-mi. Sadly, Dal-mi didn’t agree, and Ji-pyeong was quietly placed into the mentor-zone, which is like the business casual cousin to the dreaded friendzone. –@daebakgrits

 


Nevertheless (2021)

 
Slightly controversial to include Nevertheless in this post of knock-out SLS stories, yes, but it’s here for a very particular reason. While most
destined-to-lose second leads exist in dramas to show us the innate worth of our heroine, the fated fatey fateness of the OTP, and the logic of the heart, Nevertheless used its second lead quite differently: to show the illogic of the heart. From the very start of the drama, our heroine Nabi (played by Han So-hee) struggles with her attraction to bad boy on campus, Jae-eon (Song Kang). Their relationship/fling — when it starts — is riddled with spice, drama, and deep unhappiness on our heroine’s part. There’s nothing about Jae-eon that is good for her, and we see the toll he takes on her emotions to the point where she cuts him out of her life.

All this while, coasting in the background is the second lead Do-hyuk (Chae Jong-hyeop) who’s wholesome and sweet and devoted — everything our hero isn’t. It’s not the typical SLS setup because there isn’t much redeemable about Jae-eon… and in the end the drama doesn’t even try very hard to redeem him. Instead, our heroine chooses the destructive Jae-eon over the wholesome Do-hyuk because it’s what her heart wants, come what may. It’s actually a similar logic to one of my favorite novels ever, Portrait of a Lady, where we watch our heroine basically self-destruct after making choices that she thinks will free her, but in fact, only bind her up more. If Nevertheless wanted to be a little less about sexual attraction and a little more about the human soul, it could have showed us this; instead, we just got a young heroine making a bad choice, and a cute noodle-making, potato-toting character for SLS annals. –@missvictrix

 
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I was not expecting this kinda of torture from you guys.

#teamJung-hwanforever

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She Was Pretty and Sungkyunkwan Scandal are SLS classics!

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Yoo Ah-In in Sungkyunkwan Scandal
Seo Kang-Joon in Cheese in the Trap
Yoo Sung-Jae in Who Are You : School 2015
Yoo Yeong-Seok in Mr Sunshine
Dew in F4 Thaïland

I think I found that the FL were more themselves with the second lead and not shy like they were with the ML.

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A big yes for Yoo Yeon Seok in Mr. Sunshine. I also liked Byun Yo Han's character in the same drama, so I was suffering from Second and Third Lead Syndrome.

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Yoo Ah In in Sungkyunkwan Scandal was the cause of my first ever SLS.

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He was a much better choice.

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His character was far more interesting. YAI was a better actor. I loved their scenes together.

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I imagine YAI's character paired up with Seol Hwa (Kim Ha Eun) from Chuno. Yes, they are from different centuries, but anything is possible in the dream drama world. My favorite SML and my favorite SFL are a match made in drama heaven!

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I'm still waiting for the "Mr. Sunshine" remake with Yoo Sung-jae's character as the romantic lead. There have been other dramas where I've preferred the second lead in some way to the main lead, but this one killed me because there was such a rich story waiting to be told and absolutely scorching chemistry between his and Kim Tae-ri's characters.

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I agree (it's Yoo Yeong-Seok, but I'm bad with name too :p). They had a childhood connection but not the usual lovely one. Her grandfather asked him to protect his granddaughter even if he was in Japanese clan. He cut her hair. Everything was so intense between them.

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Yes to all of these. Perfect, painful choices.

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I will die on this hill that Reply 1988 Ryu Joon-yeol and A Poem a Day Jang Dong-yoon were first leads, so I had first lead syndrome.

My favorite second leads were Heirs Kim Woo-bin, Hotel del Luna Lee Do-hyun, and The Liar and His Lover Lee Seo-won.

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Oh good shout! I was a bit blindsided by a poem a day when love was ruined by timing. The other guy was nicer, but our first lead had a whole redemption arc!

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And it was stolen from us. Still recovering. @raonah

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Thanks for tagging me! Totally agree Minho was the FIRST lead!

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Ji-pyeong (Start-Up) and Do-hyuk (Nevertheless) forever 💗

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I called who the men were in both 1988 and 1994 from the beginning, so it didn't bother me. What bothered me, was we didn't get to see what Jung Hwan was doing in the present day. I still get mad thinking about it.

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Wow hard same. I called the leads early on too. Just would have liked at least some reference to Jung-hwan in the present even if we don't get to see him.

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I thought from beginning it was obvious who the FL was going to end up with in both. I agree with you about not getting to see what Jung Hwan was doing in the present day though.

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I don't mean to break any beanies heart, but basically the reason was that the script leaked and Jung Hwan was supposed to die on war. The ending was changed because of fans feedback.

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I would have rather known that, then be ignorant. Thanks for the info.

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I didn’t but i still felt Chilbongie was not the One. Why? Because it was clear Na Jung only had eyes for oppa. Jung Hwan on the other hand..😢

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1. Start Up remains my number one.
2. Temperature of Love.
3. Empress Ki (the goryeo king (main SLS) and Yon Feisu(secondary SLS)) tore my heart to pieces.
4. Ruler : Master of the Mask's Pulhwangae successor. One of the best characters to be written, and to happen in that show.
5. Go Back Couple's Jang Ki-yong's Jung Nam-Gil( talk of a healthy SLS, no bad blood).

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Speaking of Empress Ki, Tal Tal was pretty cool too.

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Empress Ki had so many SLS's that earned thier story. I totally missed adding Empress Tanashiri to the list.

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Completely agree with Temperature of Love, it was blindingly obvious that SML was the more attractive man!

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All the yes to No. 5! I really enjoyed their chemistry :)

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Temperature of love 😭😭😭

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The Obvious: Hwang In-yeop in True Beauty. A million times the better choice! The minute he declared he'd save her name in his phone with all the hearts - as opposed to what she got, her name - she should have gone for him. What. Was. She. Thinking.

The less obvious: Woo Do-hwan in Save Me. Ok, this is largely because he acted all of the male actors of his age off the screen, but also because his character risked far more - and showed far more devotion to the FL - by entering the cult. And they bonded over that shared experience, as vile as it was: they survived and escaped together. Why she would want to go back to the ML made very little sense to me...

And Ji-pyeong goes without saying... :)

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I think the heroine in Save Me decided to take a break and did not end up with the ML. So I still think that Woo Do Hwan's character has a chance sometime in the future.

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Fortunately, I am immune.

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Me, too!

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I am quite immune these days. But during the early kdrama days, I wasn’t savvy enough to tell who is the ML vs SML. And ended up rooting for the wrong ship. Now I know better.

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Boys Over Flowers was the ultimate SLS 101.

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I am somewhat immune as well. Unless you count, umm, scientifically appreciating looks. Otherwise I’m good.

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Me three 😁

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I took some time to develop immunity but eventually I got there.

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I am not immune, because I always root for the female lead to make her best choice for the future, but I have noticed that a pretty solid majority of k-romances make the male rival in the love triangle better looking than the eventual victor. I assume this is just to show that there is more involved in the female lead's choice than just looks, which as middling looking man, is a basis for choice that I heartily approve! So I guess I am immune in that regard.

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First experience with second lead syndrome was Yonghwa in You're Beautiful. Also experienced SLS with Kim Sung-soo in Full House, pre-scandal KHJ in BOF, Yoo Ah In in SKKS (I'm still wishing for a PMY-YAI reunion as an couple in a future romantic drama), No Min Woo in My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, Yook Sungjae in School 2015, Song Kang Joon in CIIT, and Kim Woo Bin in Heirs even though the drama was horrid.

In Reply 1988, Jung-hwan felt like the ML. I was in his camp, then I was split between Jung-hwan and Choi Taek. Later I was solidly in Choi Taek's camp. Jung-hwan just repeatedly blew it. Near the end of the drama, he gave me a 'straw that broke the camel's back' moment and I was completely done with him. The one thing I liked about Duk-seon-Choi Taek is, unlike with Sun-woo and Jung-hwan, her friends didn't plant the 'he likes you' seed that sent her on a path of falling for him. She fell for Choi Taek all on her own.

Honorable mention:
Song Yoon-ah in The K2. I still haven't finished it in all these years, but I loved her chemistry with Ji Chang Wook and wished she could have been the one paired with him. I wish these kdrama producers would prioritize chemistry. It doesn't matter how popular the lead actors are if they have none.

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I'm that person that watched all the Responds and never got SLS.
Reply 97's was easy: awkward old man vs Seok In Guk.
There was a point in Reply 94' were I was like "writer-nim, can't she end with both dudes?" but then the show became a mess and they made me dislike Chilbong. I don't know if I can call that experience SLS.
In Reply 88' I liked Jung Pal but like her friend. For me Taekie and Deok Seon were a married couple since day 1.

I never understood why people liked Start Up's second lead, tbh. Don't hate me. LOL

I only get SLS in extreme cases:
Rich Man: the ML was a psycho and the SL was so damn cute, nicest guy ever? I know they made him a criminal by the end because no one liked the male lead.
Dream High: For me Taec was the real ML so does it count?
Cheese in the Trap: the ML wasn't really there so...

Sometime I dislike the ML and SL equally (Roomie Gumiho), or I dislike the ML but there isn't a cute SL (Red Sleeve) lol.

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Taec in Dream High WAS the real ML

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Taec was the ML, I don’t care what anyone says. Dream High simply happened to be that rare drama where the SML got the girl and that’s that.

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I’m someone who always claims to be mostly immune to second lead syndrome. So it’s embarrassing to admit that I have more than five choices and I don’t know who to leave out. Which is why I’m throwing the five dramas format to the wind and making my own thing where I put each SL into arbitrary categories I made up on the spot. There’ll definitely be overlap, but whatever this was spontaneous.

1. Reigning Kings

• Yoo Yeon-seok in Reply 1994
• Ryu Jun-yeol in Reply 1988

2. I support all women’s choices…even when she’s WRONG

• Seo Kang-joon in Cheese in the Trap
• Chae Jong-hyeop in Nevertheless
• Yoo Yeon-seok OR Byun Yo-han in Mr. Sunshine (sometimes women can make the wrong choice twice)
• Yook Sung-jae in School 2014
• Yoo Ah-in in Sungkyunkwan Scandal
• Woo Do-hwan in Save Me
• Choi Si-won in She Was Pretty

3. ML + FL are cute, actually. But I want the SML

• Hwang In-yeop in True Beauty
• Wi Ha-joon in 18 Again
• Kim Seon-ho in Start-Up
• Jung Hae-in in While You Were Sleeping
• Nam Yoon-soo in The King’s Affection (Those dimples…)
• Lee Joon-gi in My Girl (I remember my classics!)

4. Objectively trash, but… if SML bad why sexy

• Kim Woo-bin in Heirs (BANE OF MY EXISTENCE)
• Kim Sung-cheol in Our Beloved Summer (imagine still crushing on some girl you met in high school as a grown ass man… he’s hopeless but I can fix him)
• Lee Jae-wook in Extraordinary You
• Bae In-hyuk in My Roommate is a Gumiho
• Kang Ha-neul in Scarlet Heart: Ryeo (biggest snake in dramaland history but at least he was hot!)
• Park Hee-soon in My Name (he’s a SML because he lives in my mind rent-free)
• Lee Jae-kyoon in Secret Royal Inspector and Joy (will never forget how hard i thirsted after this guy. my heart will always have a place for evil bead boy).

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Looking back at it, Yoo Yeon-seok in Mr. Sunshine definitely belongs in category 4. Dong-mae wasn’t a good guy, but he sure was a HOT guy (Kim Min-jung knew what was up!!). Byun Yo-han is staying right where he is.

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LOL! I also had a crush on Lee Jae-kyoon in Secret Royal Inspector and Joy. Taecyeon was the right choice for the rom-com genre, but if this was a non-comedy, yes for some sexy times between the heroine and the evil bead boy.

I think Lee Jun-ki from My Girl was my first SL crush with that trendy-for-2005 mullet and being such a nice guy to the FL. I wasn't shipping him with the FL or anything. Just wanted to jump into the screen and cuddle with him.

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Yeah, that’s exactly how I felt about Lee Joon-gi in My Girl. Lee Dong-wook and Lee Da-hae were cute and I shipped them together so I didn’t want him interfering. But him and his elfin-mullet hair was so cute I wanted him for myself lol. Honestly, I just need this man to do more romcoms. Action scenes are hot and all, but I want him to, idk, fall in love and get into wacky hijinks and get a HEA. I have no idea why he doesn’t get any romcom offers. It’s ridiculous.

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Bead Boy Supremacy! I'm still so smad about that!

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Had us on a chokehold, truly. I’m just waiting for him to be cast in another drama. I’d watch every minute of it even if it’s hot garbage.

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How come SLS is largely about guys?
I have a favourite female SL, Kim Min-jung as Lee Yang-hwa / Kudo Hina in Mr Sunshine who broke my heart because she was tragic but also ultimately heroic, interesting, intelligent and had a wonderful chemistry with one of my all time favourite male SLs, Goo Dongmae played by Yoo Yeon Seok. I cried a river over their storyline and it still makes my heart ache when I think about it.

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Because they make a point of not creating an attractive and/or lovely second female lead to compete for the male lead's attention.
There are lots of nice second female leads with their own romance arc, but not many who are directly in love with the male lead, and can make the viewers like their pairing more than the female lead.

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Yes to all of this. I really hope we get a good SLS with a SFL instead. Adding to your reasons, I guess one thing is that primarily dramas were thought of as entertainment that women consume. In that case having two men pinning for the female lead may have looked more attractive to the writers who wanted the viewers to see themselves in the Female lead. On the other hand, having a rival would've maybe dulled down the lead's spark. Which is why they go the safer route of making the SFL stalkerish, nonsensical and bitchy. One that's easy to hate. Plus it also leaves the choice in the hands of the woman and gives in this aspect more agency than the male lead. But I hope someone would spice things up and gives us a second female lead worthy of being with the male lead.
Also as Midnight said, I remember Kudo Hina too was linked with the SML rather than the ML.

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Very well said.

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Yes! Brilliantly put! The secondary female lead is absolutely a product of kdramas initially created as “women’s entertainment” and therefore, putting down other women who might make the self-insert female lead look mediocre. Because let’s be real, in many dramas, especially those made a while back, the secondary female lead is a catch in every way possible…except in their conveniently bitchy, shallow attitudes. Which is when our holier-than-thou, self-sacrificing female lead steps in by being pure and humble and passive (sometimes to the point of stupidity). Plus, it gets to send the message that love can happen even between two people who seem wildly incompatible on paper (i.e. hot, competent chaebol/poor, clumsy girl). Shoots two birds with one stone, really. The only consequences are misogyny and lazy writing.

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@dncingemma: You’re right as usual! It would be great if kdramas had more secondary female leads who were interesting and complex characters on their own right. But as @wapzy and @midnight pointed out, kdramas seem to deliberately go out of their way to not create these characters. It’s very much because romance kdramas tend to be a heterosexual female fantasy written for and by (mostly) presumed-heterosexual women. Therefore, having two hot, eligible men fawning over “you” (female lead who can be a self-insert) is cool, but another woman who’s also beautiful and/or competent competing for your man’s affections? Absolutely not. It’s stupid and unfair, but unfortunately that’s how it is.

And when secondary female leads do get good characterization and due romantic attention, it’s with the second male lead. It’s what happened with Kudo Hina in Mr. Sunshine, as well as previous Kim Eun-sook secondary heroines Kim Ji-won in Descendants of the Sun and Yoo Inna in Goblin. In fact, the only secondary female lead I can even think of who competed for the male lead’s attention and still remained sympathetic to audiences was Go Joon-hee’s character in She Was Pretty. That’s one woman, just one woman, out of my nearly a decade of watching kdramas. What a seriously wasted opportunity. Enough for me to call it bad writing.

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And I feel if this was about jdramas I would have a longer list, they seem to be able to find that balance where the SFL is still human ad is also good enough for the ML with all her flaws but he just happens to love some else and life is that unfair...

Sometimes ML + SFL or FL + SML will date, In search of thier feelings and what or who they really want...

And here I feel I always get more closure because everyone comes out human an stronger an not just for the last episode

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@ladynightshade: Thank you for being kind. I know you are busy with University work but your comments and replies are as wonderfully written as ever. Thank you also for telling me about Go Joon-hee’s character in ‘She Was Pretty’. I will definitely look it up. When I wrote my original comment, I peremptorily(😂😊expanded the definition of SLS to include unrequited like/love/longing by any second lead including a female one for another second lead but of course as your and other comments have pointed out, the provenance of the SLS goes back to the gendered paradigm of two boys/men vying for the attention of one girl/woman who is torn between these ML archetypes.

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@dncingemma: So kind of you to remember my uni-related misery lol. It’s rough these days. Full disclosure on the She Was Pretty example though, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the drama and so haven’t seen it in many years, probably not since it first aired. I remember me and a lot of other people sympathizing this Go Joon-hee’s character then, but I don’t know if she stands the test of time. Maybe she isn’t that much of a good example after all, but simply the only one who even exists. Just had to say it before you go in with big expectations and get disappointed.

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@ladynightshade: Hang in there! I feel compelled to ask you (as per KDramas) to eat well (ie at least some healthy food), get some sleep and to live well.One last thing, as they say in KDramas, “I’ll leave first”!😂😂

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Seol Hwa from Chuno is another SFL who is in love with the ML and who is also sympathetic. I was totally rooting for her. I agree that such characters are rare in the drama world, and thus more memorable when they are written and acted well.

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Dong Mae for everyone!

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@ndlessjoie: We are kindred spirits.

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I had a good laugh reading your internet-friendly numbered list, thank you so much!!

p.s. not a single lie was told

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KWB as Choi Young Do in The Heirs, omg. I still re-watch some of his scenes there until now. 🤭 And I'd like to nominate Won Bin's Han Tae Seok from Autumn in My Heart under #4 too. He was my first k-drama love.

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Ooh, Autumn in My Heart is such a great choice! I didn’t put it in because I haven’t finished the whole show and frankly, I just forgot about it when assembling the list. Won Bin’s character was such a mess I wouldn’t touch with a 10 km radius, but god he was so hot. Perfect for tier 4.

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I was so in love with him that I watched Autumn in My Heart without subs. 😭 It was my first k-drama.

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I still haven’t recovered from Reply 1988.
The wound is still raw. That hurt so bad. 😭😭😭

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I haven't either. Feel free to read one of my favorite FFs to help ease the pain.

https://dimsumofallthings.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/reply-1988-part-1-goodbye-first-love/

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In other words... a list of dramas for me to avoid like the plague. Lol I hate getting SLS, and if I feel it lurking I will drop the drama like a hot potato. :)

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Reply 1988- my first and last brush with SLS. Ugh 😑 I’m still so mad about that one

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I'll always have a soft spot for Chilbongie and Cheese in the Trap's Baek Inho. I didn't root for them with Najung and Seol respectively, simply because the girls don't see them in the same romantic way, but I loved their friendships.

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Definitely agree about Cheese In The Trap! I wasn’t shipping Baek In Ho with Hong Seol, but I loved their easy friendship and rooted for In-Ho’s story arc.

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Chilbongie! 💔 i felt for him even if I just knew he will not get the girl.😭

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One of the main reason why this is the only Reply series I did not watch.

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I note that Snoflower has already noted the fabulous second lead in SHE WAS PRETTY.

I would like to point out that happy endings for a great second lead can take a form other than 'getting the girl'. Ji-pyeong in START UP is an example of this. He gets to break out of his isolated shell and find friendship and a kind of family: Although I never understood why he was not put together with Kang Hanna's character to form the ultimate romantic power couple.

The second lead in FATED TO LOVE YOU also does not get the girl nor does he get a consolation romance. Instead, he gets what he most wanted and desired above all other things and is quite happy at the end of the drama. Indeed, if he had gotten the girl instead this would have been, for him, the consolation prize. It is a good thing that the heavens have rewarded his wonderful efforts this way because that second lead is probably the greatest second lead of all time.

I probably am not as subject to SLS as many precisely because of the lesson I learned from FATED TO LOVE YOU. One of the most perfect moments in the original T-drama version of this story occurs in the final episode when we see our Second Lead sitting on the stadium steps- looking quite forlorn- and then we hear a woman's voice from behind him uttering a single one syllable word: "Ga" (Mandarin for brother). He stands and turns and there she is: The lost sister that he has searched for twenty or more years to find. It is perhaps the most beautiful moment in the entire drama.

The lesson I learned is simply this: The end of the drama is just the end of one story. We saw a love story and it just turned out that it ended up not being the second lead's love story. We have simply not been invited to see that story but, if our second lead really is as wonderful as we think he is than you can be certain that there will be one because the women of this world are not stupid.

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I have my list! Starting with those I still liked:

Hospital Playlist (I was a sucker for the resident doctor who liked the female lead. I wish he'd stuck around)
The Master's Sun (Ah, Gong-shil!)

And those I didn't like/dropped (primarily because of the SLS, lol)
Itaewon Class - I liked the first love much better than the female lead, I wish she had changed her ways and joined the good side)

Jealousy Incarnate - this show makes me so mad I thought it was 16 episodes when I started it and was so hopeful when I thought she would end up with the second lead...

You're Beautiful - it was just kind of "meh" since the ML was so terrible.

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Totally agree about Master's Sun - I was done with the ML by ep. 12 and Seo In-guk was so pretty, and hot, and kind-hearted, and hot, and yearning, and hot, and athletic, and hot, and great in the fight scenes, and hot ...

I still think Jung Hae-in was the better choice and should have ended up with the girl in While You Were Sleeping. LJS is extremely pretty but I just can't take him seriously as a grown man, let alone a lawyer. And JHI's body, holy crap.

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I totally forgot about You're Beautiful. I didn't get SLS tho, it was more like I hate every single character here except for Jeremy (Hong Ki) so maybe is like ThirdLS? I didn't want him to end with the FL tho, I wanted him for me. I wanted to be his best friend. No one in that band treated him right.

I also dropped Itaewon Class because of the FL. I loved the SFL with the ML. It would've been great to continue their love story with something like "from lovers, to enemies, to partners, to lovers again" and delete completely the FLs character.

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Oh wait... Jeremy wasn't the second lead? Lol never mind then I too had third lead syndrome. I forgot the second lead ever existed.

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Yong Hwa's character was the second lead. He was the typical SL that's supposed to be nice but's only a pushy dude that can't take no for an answer and tries to control everything the FL does.

I don't remember anything he did him, I just remember how I felt about him, tbh. Maybe he wasn't that bad. Who knows 😅

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I have so rarely/practically never properly suffered from traditional SLS so uh...

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Same.

But I do have a massive list of shows where she should have ditched both of them.

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So do I. We should compare lists. LOL

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Only once and it was rewritten to change the ML to SL. Side eyeing A Poem A Day.

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Can I offer you all 2 classics?
Won bin in Autumn in my heart - the one who started SLS for me
Lee Junki in My girl

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1. My Room mate is a Gumiho
2. Start-up
3. While you were sleeping

I adored these SLs every time they were on the screen. Especially Bae In Hyuk...

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It's 2022 and i haven't watched the last episode of reply 1988 🤭🤭
#teamjungpal

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I'm going to have to go with the classic Best Love. This show featured Cha Seung-won as male lead Dokko Jin and Yoon Kye-sang as second lead Yoon Pil-joo.

One of the things this drama did was create a convincing love triangle with the two male leads and Gu Ae-jung, played by Gong Hyo-jin. One minute you were rooting for Dokko Jin, but then the next minute you had a change of heart and were on Team Pil-joo. Pil-joo was just such a nice guy!

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Oguri Shun in Hana Yori Dango. As much as I love Matsumoto Jun and his portrayal of Domyoji Tsukasa, Oguri Shun's Hanazawa Rui melted me into a puddle of goo.

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As much as I love Jun, Hanazawa Rui all the way xD

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Painter of the Wind: Forever bitter that Shin Yoon Bok gave her heart to her old fogey mentor over the elegant, intelligent and utterly beautiful Jeong Hyang, the gisaeng that remained completely enamored and devoted to her even after she discovered Yoon Bok was a woman.

One silver lining is that Moon Geun-Young & Moon Chae-Won still won the best couple award at that year's SBS Drama Awards.

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Bloody Romance - One morally questionable smexy prince to go, please!
Tale of Nokdu - Make that two.
Love by Hypnotic - On second thought, add a third.

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There was a Kdrama called She was Pretty where Choi Si-Won played kind of a rich motorcycle riding bad boy (SML) and I definitely was shipping him with the female lead. He was just so cute and funny that I had no choice but to cheer for him to win her heart.

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Choi Si-won did a fabulous job. SHE WAS PRETTY was so good that the Mainland Chinese re-made it with the great Dilmurat Dilraba in the female lead role.

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Jackson!!!
I loved Siwon in She Was Pretty. I still feel a pinch in my heart whenever I hear his song Only You (ost)

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I'm with you on this! Jackson!

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I'm usually immune from 2nd lead syndrome, but Tim Pei's character in the Cdrama "Miss Truth" ended that...I could have written that drama much better...

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Finally found someone like me. I don't get that feeling either. My only exception is Sungkyunkwan Scandal, but I don't count that one. How could Yoo Ah In play second fiddle to that guy? He gave me creeps from the moment I saw him. Finding out he was a rapist made so much sense.

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It's pretty obvious to me that who's gonna win in Reply1994 so I could prepare myself when watching it but in Reply1988 did hit me damn hard. I mostly on ML in dramas but here I was with Jungpal no matter what.

For old drama, the og SML was Won bin in Autumn in my heart. Back then, I was with him and it ended with sadness so I felt like no more on team SML lol

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The only shows that have truly done this to me are School 2015 and Hana Kimi, because in both instances the second lead was more interesting than the lead AND more prominent than him! I maintain that Gong Tae-kwang and Nakatsu were male leads without the happy ending, which is worse somehow.

Of course, this is a recommendations post, so I recommend Hana Kimi! Nakatsu will punch you in the heart, but he's so hysterically funny and sweet and emotional that it's obvious the drama gets his worth out of him while male lead Shun Oguri stands there like a grumpy cardboard cutout.

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For me, nobody can win over Oguri Shun, sorry :p

For School 2015, there were twin! The ML loved one and changed for the second one, it was the big mistake! He could still love the tough one and the second ML love the timid one. It would have been logical with the characters.

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after all this time, still a mystery for me what anyone say in Ryu Joon Yeol. he seems like "nobodies type" who no one would date. Im sorry, but maybe I dont have the same attractiveness preferences. not looks, but somehow the energy of his character was... a kettle that is not plugged that you are waiting to start boiling.

SLS that had his own loveline, Delivery man & Kim Seon Ho. no that was second leadS syndrom actually. I dont know if there are others like that where "secondary" characters BOTH steal the show. with a jet plane.

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I learned what SLS meant because of Jung-hwan in R88. After that, I purposely set all expectations low for every 2ML to avoid SLS heartbreak. That is, until SLS #2 - Ji-Pyeong. I could not finish Start-up because of this. Now, I try not to start shows that have been known for inducing this syndrome. Never again.

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My heart broke during that noodle scene. *cries*

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Awww real PTSD on this one.

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Agree with 3/5, will need to check out WYWS and Nevertheless. I personally shed too many tears for Chil bongie and poor Jinpyeong. My SLS heart aches for them to this day. Bo gum won me over and was a delightfully unexpected twist in the drama.

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Answer Me 1988 - They date in real life has cured my for SLS
Start Up - I really disappoint with the ending that I didn't watch the last 2 eps

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Team Jung Hwan forever. Saw the show twice and I am just as devasted as the first time I watched.

Chilbongie too. But I wasnt too invested in 94 as I was with 97 and 88.

Not mentioned in the article but mentioned by the other beanies: Sungkyunkwan Scandal, She was Pretty, Warm and Cozy (I was one of team Mayor, although the show was not so popular). Heirs too actually. Somehow I felt bad for Kim Woo Bin's character there. Like I wanted him to get the girl.

And somehow I have to add Queen for 7 days here. Not that I wanted the mad King to win the girl, but he was flawed and kind of a very sad character just yearning for a real friend I guess. So I kind of felt for him and I actually cried a bucket during his death scene. A villain I loved. Sort of. Not sure if that falls as second lead though. Maybe the "other guy" would be more appropriate. Much like Jung Hwan in 88. He was not a 2nd lead for sure. He was a lead. He just didnt get the girl. *burries head on pillows and cries, again*

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I feel like no one really watched Nevertheless until the end. We watch Na Bi falling for Jae Eon, but because she was so hurt by her ex, she pretends she wants a casual relationship. She gets so wrapped up in her pretense nad overthinking everything, she gets hurt again. But as she tries to get over him, we find out he is nothing like Na Bi and the audience thought. Just like Na Bi, he was hurt by his ex, so when he met Na Bi and fell for her, he wanted to approach her carefully, rather pretend he wants to be casual - exactly what she did. Jae Eon is no bad guy in this story. That is exactly the point.

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I agree he loved her and was probably was gutted he fell so hard. It was just a shame that they both failed to talk it out and tried to ignore that there was a deeper connection which is what made their sex life so much more than a casual act. I think it was his ability to play the field so well and be so indifferent to the effect on the women that made it harder to see when he was trying to be genuine.

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will never be able to understand how anyone got SLS in R1988. Cause cmon.. what is the attraction?

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