Five drama recommendations… to NOT give you second lead syndrome
by DB Staff
There’s no shortage of second lead syndrome in dramaland, ranging from the “it hurts so good” to the “I’ll never recover from this agony.” Thus being, it’s a real treat when you meet a drama that does the opposite: the OTP is so great, so glittery, so wonderful, that second lead syndrome doesn’t even exist. The drama might try… but you’re totally immune. For some viewers this is pretty common, for others it’s rare, and for most of us, I’d say it’s a welcome break. Because there’s nothing quite like sailing away on your OTP ship.
Shopping King Louis (2016)
Speaking of sailing happily away on an OTP ship without a second lead care in the world, Shopping King Louis is definitely one of the dramas that delivered. When you have clueless puppy Seo In-gook and his total full-hearted infatuation with Nam Ji-hyun, nothing else really matters. Sure, Yoon Sang-hyun might dance around Nam Ji-hyun’s character and make a couple of plays to win her affection, but is there really any true competition going on? No, no there’s not. And sometimes, that’s exactly the way I like it.
A drama that fails in its SLS attempts usually does so accidentally — because the leads are just too good for us to care about anything else. Their chemistry is great, their storyline is well-written, and they just have that magical something that makes you want to watch them all day every day. It’s rare for me to treat a sad second lead as a pesky gnat that I just want to swat away out of the story entirely, but when I do feel this way, I welcome it with open arms. Give me an OTP to swoon over, pain-free! –@missvictrix
What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim (2018)
I know y’all are probably tired of me writing about What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim, but when the prompt is about the K-drama men who did not give me second lead syndrome, I can’t not mention Sung-yeon (Lee Tae-hwan), the walking, talking embodiment of wet socks. As much as I think the writers wanted us to like him (Look, everyone! Sexy, mysterious celebrity writer, ahoy!), every second he was on screen was just plain uncomfortable for me. Lee Tae-hwan — bless his heart — tried his best to sell the character, but aside from Sung-yeon’s profession, the writers really did his character a disservice. I think that whole cockamamie backstory about Sung-yeon losing his memory because of guilt was supposed to make the audience feel sorry for him. And sure, it would be easy to attribute his past actions to his youth and inability to understand the consequences of his actions (abandoning his brother).
Except, the whole situation reeks of the same jealousy, pettiness, and entitlement that he continues to demonstrate as an adult. Before he finds out about his (supposed) childhood connection with Mi-so (Park Min-young), he childishly won’t take “no” for an answer, and once he believes they were kidnapped together, he latches onto Mi-so even harder, despite her clear disinterest. Having the second male lead believe he’s entitled to the female lead because he thinks they have a childhood connection is the weirdest trope reversal I’ve ever seen. Instead of being meta or funny, it just makes him seem pathetic and annoying. Even if you ignore his actions towards Mi-so, though, he reached a new level of bleh when he had the poor aging butler move all his childhood belongings back into the bedroom that was his before this memory loss. Dude, if you’re going to be an extra self-pitying martyr, at least move your own sh!t. –@daebakgrits
Her Private Life (2019)
To be quite honest, I dislike even acknowledging that Her Private Life had a second lead at all, because I loathed him. Eun-gi (Ahn Bo-hyun) acted as though he owned Deok-mi (Park Min-young) and was entitled to a relationship with her just because they’d been friends/practically family for so long. Then the show tried to make us feel sorry for him, but it only served to fuel my rage.
And it’s not like Ryan Gold (Kim Jae-wook) needed any help seeming more desirable than the supposed competition! He repeatedly wowed me with his consideration, like how he confronted his internal biases when he thought Deok-mi was a lesbian and then made it his personal task to protect her “secret” – even though they were barely acquaintances at that point. And that’s just one example. Ryan was just all-around a lovely, endearing person, and then on top of that he’s played by Kim Jae-wook. Basically, second lead who?
Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol (2020)
When talking about or recommending Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol, it’s important to start with the note that the ending episodes are trash and should be avoided at all costs. That being said, the terrible 15% of this drama’s ending somehow doesn’t take away from the rest of the drama for me. There are lots of reasons to give this show a go — it’s a colorful happy pill with the sweetest moments ever — and it also boasts a really fun OTP.
Lala (Go Ara) is our heroine — a chaebol princess who has to learn how to live in the real world — and our hero Joon (Lee Jae-wook) is the sensible, sweet, and supportive guy that she comes to rely on. Their story is precious, as is their innocent bond, and between this OTP and the other side characters in the story, this drama did not need to lean into second lead land. At all. Kim Joo-hun not only seemed like a generation too far from our heroine (*ahem*), but there was no reason for him to pursue her, except the fact that dramas seem to do it on reflex. A bubbly clueless heroine and a young and flustered hero created more than enough plot, captured all the feels — and dare I say, had enough problems on its own. We did not need a sad, divorced doctor with hearts in his eyes. This is one drama attempt to foist SLS on us where I can happily say no thanks.
The King’s Affection (2021)
While the childhood connection trope doesn’t always make sense to me, this was one case where it very much did. The initial friendship between Dam-yi (Park Eun-bin) and Ji-woon (Kim Ro-woon) – and the way she lost it – represented everything that was forcibly taken from Dam-yi. When she wound up in the palace, I couldn’t not root for her to find a way to get that relationship back. Then, once the two reconnected and became friends all over again in spite of themselves, they had such a knack for bringing out the best in each other that it made them a truly beautiful match.
As for our second lead, don’t get me wrong – I liked Hyun (Nam Yoon-soo) a lot, and I was glad that Dam-yi had someone like him in her corner. But it was always clear to me that Dam-yi never saw him as anything other than a cousin and a friend, and that would be enough even if her fight for agency hadn’t been such an important theme of the entire show. And side note: kudos to the show for giving Hyun a conclusion that suited him and was more than just the typical last-minute consolation prize. –@mistyisles
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