Cover Ahn Bo-yun, Bae In-hyuk, Kim Seon-ho. Photo: Pinterest

Whether as a childhood best friend or a gorgeous rebel in class, these supporting characters have proven they also deserve the spotlight

A chaebol heiress in her stylish ensemble enters the screen. Her beau comes in next, dazzling in his army uniform or perfectly starched suit. Perfect. There's an electrifying chemistry, no less. Until suddenly, a third character appears in ripped jeans, a white shirt and a charming smile. He happens to be the female lead’s best friend since pre-school or an admirer who is labelled the most notorious troublemaker in school. And just like that, you are immediately drawn into a love triangle trope, and before you know it, you have begun developing a fondness for the third character. Welcome to the Second Lead Syndrome Club, where your fellow Korean drama fans can totally relate to what you’re going through. 
So what exactly is the Second Lead Syndrome? According to the crowdsourced website Urban Dictionary, Second Lead Syndrome is when "you start to ship the female lead with the second male lead” or “when you like the second male lead more than the male lead". Let's admit it, sometimes, the supporting characters in K-dramas are even more admirable than the protagonists, creating confusion and tension enough to rock your world. 
To better understand this, we take a look back at some of the Korean dramas with second lead characters who have earned a special spot in our hearts. 

Read also: 10 of the Most Swoon-Worthy Moments in K-Drama Land

1. Kim Seon-ho as Han Ji-pyeong in 'Start Up' and as Jung Jae-yoon in '100 Days My Prince'

Before he stole our hearts as Gongjin’s Chief Hong Du-sik in the 2021 hit series Hometown Cha Cha Cha, we all wished for this 35-year-old heartthrob who played the role of Han Ji-pyeong, to end up with Seo Dal-mi (Bae Suzy) in the 2020 romance drama Start Up. His character as an intelligent investment expert and mentor at SH Venture Capital was too good to be true and loved by many, causing a divide among viewers between #TeamGoodBoy (those rooting for Han Ji-pyeong) and #TeamDoSan (the group who supports Nam Do-san, the lead character portrayed by Nam Joo-hyuk who is a shy math genius and one of the founders of Samsan Tech). Because the drama concluded with a not-so-happy-ending for #TeamGoodBoy, Seonhonadas around the world rejoiced when he had the happy ending they've been praying for in Hometown Cha Cha Cha. Well, that was before Kim Seon-ho got entangled in another major controversy after the show’s finale.  
In 2018, Kim Seon-ho played another notable second-lead role as Jung Jae-yoon in 100 Days My Prince, the wise secret advisor of the crown prince who has a one-sided love for the female lead, Yeon Hong-shim portrayed by Nam Ji-hyun. 

Read also: 5 Kim Seon-ho Shows To Watch: Start-Up, 100 Days My Prince, And More

2. Lee Sang-yi as Ji Seong-hyun in 'Hometown Cha Cha Cha' and as Lee Soo-chan in 'Youth of May'

When Kim Seon-ho levelled up and became the main star of healing drama, Hometown Cha Cha Cha, he passed the second-lead baton to musical actor and singer Lee Sang-yi, who portrayed Ji Seong-hyun, the bright but workaholic variety show PD who has a long-time admiration for Chief Hong’s love interest, Yoon Hye-jin (Shin Min-a). Commendable for his genuine efforts towards Yoon Hye-jin, however, it seemed like he had the right love at the wrong time... twice: first was back in school and second when they met again after several years. In the end, he had no choice but to accept his fate, leaving Yoon Hye-yin with a heartbreaking song, I Hope You’re Happy. Sigh.
Earlier in 2021, Lee Sang-yi also portrayed the role of Lee Soo-chan in the Eighties-inspired drama Youth of May. A businessman who just returned from his studies in France, he's attracted to his sister's best friend, the lead actress Kim Myung-hee's (Go Min-si), because they are in a similar situation as both heads of their respective households. However, his efforts were not enough for Kim Myung-hee to dismiss her feelings for medical student Hwang Hee-tae (Lee Do-hyun).

Read also: ‘Hometown Cha Cha Cha’ Cast Talks Chemistry, Characters And Working With Each Other 

3. Wi Ha-joon as Ji Seo-joon in ‘Romance is a Bonus Book’ and as Ye Ji-hoon in ‘18 Again’

Before he became one of the stars in the Golden Globe-nominated television series Squid Game and the tvN hit Bad and Crazy, he was first Ji Seo-joon in Romance is a Bonus Book (2019) and Ye Ji-Hoon in 18 Again (2020).  
Ji Seo-joon is a charming book designer who had developed an affection for Kang Dan-i (Lee Na-young), a divorcee who was almost ten years his senior. They are almost a perfect couple, except that Kang Dan-i's heart belongs to her best friend, Cha Eun-ho (Lee Jong-suk)—a successful writer and the youngest editor-in-chief in the publishing company they are both working at. 
In the coming-of-age series 18 Again, which stars Lee Do-hyun/Yoon Sang-hyun as Hong Dae-young and Kim Ha-neul as Jung Da-jung, he portrayed the role of Ye Ji-Hoon, a baseball star who harbours feelings for Jung Da-yung for she reminds him of his brother who passed away in a tragic accident. However, he had to let go of Jung Da-yung after realising that she is still in love with her ex-husband, Hong Dae-young.  

Read also: ‘Squid Game’ Is Officially Netflix’s Most Watched Show

4. Chae Jong-hyeop as Yang Do-hyeok in 'Nevertheless'

While Nevertheless’ butterfly-tattooed playboy Park Jae-eon (Song Kang) raised all the red flags which Yoo Na-bi (Han So-hee) purposedly ignored, fans could not deny the fact that they saw glaring green lights from Yang Do-hyeok (Chae Jong-hyeop)—Yoo Na-bi's childhood friend whose first love is her. He is a good cook and a loyal lover whose heart beats only for Yoo Na-bi, however, the girl obviously opted to see more butterflies.  

Read also: Song Kang: 5 Things You Need To Know About The ‘Nevertheless,’ Actor

5. Kim Sung-cheol as Kim Ji-ung in ‘Our Beloved Summer’

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Above Kim Sung-cheol as Kim Ji-ung in ‘Our Beloved Summer’. Photo: Netflix

Choi Woo-shik fans, relax! We know how the main love team of Our Beloved Summer is oozing with chemistry but still, we feel bad for Kim Ji-ung (Kim Sung-cheol), best friend of Choi Ung (Choi Woo-shik) and the PD producing the viral documentary to which the entire show revolved. Kim Ji-ung has had his feelings for Kook Yeon-soo (Kim Da-mi) since high school and while his love is pure, he had to give way to his best friend. Painful.  

Read also: 12 Heart-Fluttering K-Drama Couples We Love Then and Now

6. Kim Woo-bin as Choi Young-do in 'The Heirs’ 

An oldie but goodie, the 2014 teenage drama The Heirs (also known as The Inheritors) has given us a smorgasbord of characters—from the most adorable to the most irritating. However, while the entire K-drama world cheered for Kim Tan (Lee Min-ho) and Cha Eun-sang (Park Shin-hye), we could not help but be touched by Zeus Hotel Group heir Choi Young-do's (Kim Woo-bin) unusual language of love. Known to be a bully in school, Choi Young-do pull all the strings to protect Cha Eun-sang and turned out to be a warm-hearted person who is thirsty for love and attention.  
Read also:  7 Lee Min-ho Movies and Shows You Need To Watch This 2022: 'The Heirs', 'TKEM', And More

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Above Kim Woo-bin. Photo: Netflix

7. Hwang In-yeop as Han Seo-jun in ‘True Beauty’ 

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Above Hwang In-yeop. Photo: Keyeast

Stunning, tough-looking and popular, True Beauty's Han Seo-jun (Hwang In-yeop) is, deep inside, a kind and soft-hearted person. He got involved with Lim Ju-kyung (Moon Ga-young), an ugly duckling-turned-campus-goddess, whose love interest is his former best friend Lee Su-ho (Cha Eun-woo). For everything that he did for Lim Ju-kyung, one would think he is a better match for her, however, it was not the case.  

Read also: 7 Korean Celebrities Who Have Above Average IQ: BTS’ RM, Song Joong-Ki

8. Bae In-hyuk as Gye Sun-woo in ‘My Roommate is a Gumiho’

K-drama fans are obviously in love with the Jang Ki-yong and Lee Hye-ri tandem in the 2021 iQiYi original, My Roommate is a Gumiho, their most successful series to date. However, viewers still feel bad for Gye Sun-woo (Bae In-huk), Lee Dam’s (Lee Hye-ri) senior in school who, not only looks dashing as a campus heartthrob but has also undergone a major character transformation throughout the 16-episode series. 

Read also: 8 Jang Ki-yong Shows You Need to Watch Now: My Roommate is a Gumiho; Now We're Breaking Up

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Above Bae In-hyuk. Photo: Pinterest

9. Ahn Bo-hyun as Nam Eun-gi in 'Her Private Life’ 

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Above Ahn Bo-hyun. Photo: MyDramaList

While he is best known as Jang Geun-won, the Jangga Group heir who tormented Park Sae-ro-yi (Park Seo-joon) in Itaewon Class, he has portrayed quite the opposite character in Her Private Life, where his role was as a judo silver medalist who practically grew up with Sung Deok-mi (Park Min-young) after her mother took him in and raised him. He is her knight in shining armour, however, they are destined to remain friends. Just friends.  

Read also: Here’s Why You Shouldn't Miss Netflix’s Upcoming K-Drama ‘Forecasting Love and Weather’

10. Kang Ha-neul as Prince Wang Wook in ‘Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo’ 

As the eighth prince of the ruling Wang family during the Goryeo Dynasty, Prince Wang Wook (Kang Ha-neul) is not difficult to love. For one, he is a genuine person who deeply cares for everyone around him, so much so that Hae Soo (IU) has fallen for him in the first few episodes of the award-winning drama, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. But as rivalries worsen in the palace, Hae Soo got swayed and ended up getting close to Prince Wang So (Lee Joon-gi), the fourth prince known for his cold character which he uses to conceal his pains. This leaves Prince Wang Wook alone, fighting for his love and the throne.  

Read also: 10 Korean Actors Who Are Talented Singers Too: Hyun Bin, Seo In-Guk, Jo Jung-suk

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