You don’t have to be a K-drama’s main couple to set off fireworks. While viewers go gaga over the ridiculously angsty journey that the one true pairing endures to finally be together, sometimes it’s the second lead couple who steals the show. And when they’re not stealing the show they’re reminding viewers and their couple counterparts that love is more than just angst–it’s cute, funny, and sometimes even frivolous. So, as an ode to my favorite second lead couples (and a plea for those in the future to get a teensy bit more airtime), I’d like to share with you some of my favorites.
1. So Yi-jung and Chu Ga-eul, Boys Over Flowers
The pop culture phenomenon Boys Over Flowers gave way to its own phenomenon with the relationship between the secondary couple. They are no Geum Jan-di and Gu Jun-pyo, nor do they even have much screen time together, but they spurred the imaginations of fanfic writers and fanvid producers everywhere.
There is nothing particularly special about their budding relationship: So Yi-jung plays the rich playboy to Chu Ga-eul’s poor working girl. He has parent issues and a past love that make it difficult for him to offer up his heart. But their relationship stands out because it stands in opposition to the main couple’s relationship, which is fraught with a conniving evil parent, a frustrating love triangle, one out-of-place sex tape scandal, and of course, amnesia. So Yi-jung and Chu Ga-eul’s interactions are a breath of air compared to the overdone angst of the main couple. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Kim Bum is just the cutest thing ever.
2. Cha Mu-won and Seo Na-yoon, Protect the Boss
How do you get a guy to like you again after you’ve rejected him? Especially when that guy looks like Jaejoong? Seo Na-yoon shows us how in Protect the Boss. Her honesty is the heart of why this secondary couple is so fun to watch. When she finds out that Cha Mu-won is in love with another girl, she doesn’t turn all evil-ex-girlfriend as you would expect. Instead, she hilariously moves in with the other girl, pouting and making sad faces just to make her feel guilty.
She’s too needy and he’s too standoffish. But for some reason, this push and pull only seems to attract them to each other. Cha Mu-won and Seo Na-yoon are two rich kids who don’t particularly care to be stuck under the confines of their chaebol worlds. Both earnest and open when they find someone they really like, it’s no wonder that they finally end up together.
3. Jason and Pil-suk (The Milky Couple), Dream High
Is it possible to compete with a love triangle like the one between Go Hye-mi, Sam Dong, and Jin-guk? If you’re absolutely adorable, of course! Jason and Pil-suk’s story is an oldie-but-goodie high school get-together fueled by the innocence of first love: self-proclaimed loser Pil-suk falls in love with the most popular guy in high school; he gradually falls for her; they learn to accept each other despite their flaws and support each others’ success. This is a sweet love story and viewers really rooted for them.
Aside from their fun high school love story, what’s really endearing about this couple is their unexpected depth. After being rejected by Jason (who is Kirin High’s most talented student), an overweight Pil-suk loses drastic amounts of weight in hopes that he’ll see her differently. Along the way, she realizes that she would rather make that change for herself rather than for him. Through her own transformation, she teaches him that he should also make changes for himself by relying on hard work instead of his talents solely. Even though the Milky Couple are not Dream High’s main leads, they sure make us feel like they are.
4. Eun Shi-kyung, Lee Jae-shin, The King 2 Hearts
Even though I am only 12 episodes into this heart-thumping drama, these two have quickly shot up to almost topping my list. They epitomize the idea of opposites attracting. And although they share the screen with a main lead couple (Lee Seung-gi and Ha Ji-won) whose relationship is quite literally as electric as tension between the North and the South, the couple manages to act as a welcome complement.
As princess of the Royal Family, Lee Jae-shin’s loud and spoiled inclinations clash with Eun Shi-kyung’s straight laced personality. It’s absolutely adorable to watch one man who has only ever been in love with his country fall in love with a woman, probably for the first time. And because he shoulders the responsibility of protecting her as a bodyguard, his tiptoeing back and forth across the line of professionalism and awkward flirtation is a delight.
5. Kim Tae-han, Kim Dong-ah, Wild Romance
Did I already mention how much I love opposites attracting? While Lee Dong-wook and Lee Si-young‘s characters bring the hilarity by way of loud declarations and physical comedy, the secondary leads do so by subtle misunderstandings. Kim Dong-ah’s bold affinity for pornography and exploring her sexuality scares the hell out of Kim Tae-han, who practically blushes at the sight of a woman’s ankle.
I love how the tables are turned: rather than the man encouraging the woman to open up to her sexuality, it’s she who practically forces him to even utter the word “sex.” And after some awkward moments and a lot of red faces, she finally gets him to admit that he’s got a thing for a girl in a hanbok. Wild Romance is one drama that I wish had shown much more of their secondary couple. In fact, I enjoyed their moments together much more than I did the lead couple.
6. Lee Jung-do and Min Joo-hwa, City Hall
Let’s face it. No one can challenge Cha Seung-won and Kim Sun-ah when it comes to romantic chemistry. The writers of this drama chose to present a second lead couple that didn’t try to take up this challenge, but built for them a bittersweet past.
Years of being married and shifting ideologies have just about torn this couple apart. She’s become a ruthless top figure in the province’s city hall, while he’s become an overbearing idealist. What’s engaging about this couple is that neither of them is fully right or fully wrong, much like how marriages are. And despite being enemies in the workplace, they both look out for each other at home: he’ll let her cry on his shoulder even after she’s manipulated the city’s voters, and she’ll defend him when he’s getting bad-mouthed. Their animosity towards each other is always underlined by memories of a sweet past. This is what makes them one of my favorites.
I love watching secondary couples in dramas because they are usually written so well. Since they have less airtime, writers can thoroughly get to the point and to the heart of those relationships without dragging them out. And their lack of time onscreen makes viewers want more of them.
These are just a few of my favorite secondary couples. Which dramas made you want to see more of these backseat couples?