Cover Here are some of the most inspiring Korean drama female leads (Photo: Netflix)

From Lee Sung-kyung's gender-defying role in 'Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo' to Han So-hee's serious action chops in 'My Name', we put the spotlight on the most inspiring Korean drama female leads

This article was originally published on March 8, 2022, and was updated on October 28, 2022.

In the world of Korean dramas, viewers are treated to a variety of things, whether it’s a swoon-worthy romance, beautiful cinematography, unique storylines or amazing characters. One thing that we can count on is seeing women run the world, whether it’s by standing up to those in power or subverting society’s expectations of how a woman should be.

We round up some of the most inspirational Korean drama female leads who are encouraging us not to give up and motivating us to be the best versions of ourselves.

Read more: 10 Books Featured in Korean Dramas You Should Read

1. Go Ae-shin in 'Mr. Sunshine'

In Mr. Sunshine, Go Ae-shin (Kim Tae-ri) is a noblewoman by day and a sniper by night. This double identity that Ae-shin has is dangerous considering that the drama is set in the early 1990s when activists are fighting for South Korea’s independence. 

What’s more, being a noblewoman, it’s unspeakable to even imagine that she would wield a gun. But because of her desire to protect her loved ones and her people, Go becomes a sniper for the Righteous army despite society’s expectations.

See also: Why Netflix K-Drama ‘Twenty Five Twenty One’ Is Going to Be a Heart-Fluttering Watch

2. Lee Ji-an in 'My Mister'

Lee Ji-an (IU) in My Mister has endured many hardships in life. She’s lost her parents and left to take care of her ailing grandmother on her own. At work, she’s only a temporary employee who can get replaced anytime and is not treated very well by her colleagues to the point of being almost invisible. 

But still, Ji-an presses on and tries to live a good life, essentially as a person who doesn’t settle despite her circumstances. Above all, Ji-an tries to live by her grandmother’s words that living well is her way of thanking the people who helped her along the way.

Don't miss: IU: 20 Stylish Looks to Dress Like the Korean Star

3. Kim Bok-joo in 'Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo'

There are many things to be inspired about when it comes to Kim Bok-joo (Lee Sung-kyung) from Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo. She’s subverting the stereotype that weightlifting is a sport only for men.

Amidst her strong exterior, she’s just like every other young girl experiencing love, growing and fighting for her dreams no matter what. Bok-joo also tells viewers that it’s okay to lose sometimes—what matters is getting back up again and pushing on.

Read more: Lee Sung-Kyung: 7 Outfits That Prove She’s a Fashion Icon

4. Yoon Ji-woo in 'My Name'

Yoon Ji woo’s (Han So-hee) story is tragic, having witnessed her father’s murder before her eyes, unable to do anything and soon became an orphan hellbent on revenge. But it’s also a story to be inspired by in some ways. 

In order to avenge her father, she joins a gang and puts herself in a dog-eat-dog world and learn to survive by honing her skills, to the point of thriving even further than her male counterparts. In the end, she learns that revenge doesn’t make you whole, just empty.

See also: Exclusive: Han So-Hee Talks Transforming Into an Action Star for Netflix’s ‘My Name’

5. Oh Mi-joo in 'Run On'

At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Oh Mi-joo (Shin Se-kyung) from Run On as just another typical female lead striving on her own. But what’s inspiring about Mi-joo is despite her circumstance, she never really blames her financial situation or that she grew up as an orphan.

Instead, she works hard as a film translator—even if it requires long hours—to give herself and the people she loves a good life. She continues to pursue her passion despite the odds but never backs down when she knows that she and others are being treated unfairly.

Don't miss: Netflix: 5 K-Dramas With Kick-Ass Female Leads You Should Watch

6. Hong Cha-yong in 'Vincenzo'

What’s so admirable about Hong Cha-yong (Jeon Yeo-bin) is how she went from a money and fame-loving lawyer serving affluent clients to a righteous one, providing mostly unpaid legal service to the less privileged. 

This move is somehow fuelled by her father’s death, but the development of her character to take on a conglomerate that’s pushing tenants out of their homes and businesses is inspiring. Cha-young is also not afraid to go to certain lengths for the people she loves and cares for, even if it means, putting her own self in danger.

Read more: Jeon Yeo-Bin: 7 Most Stylish Outfits From the Rising Actress

7. Kim Myung-hee in 'Youth of May'

The best word to describe Kim Myung-hee (Go Min-si) is that she’s a fighter, not in the sense that she can punch and kick but she is able to fight all the hardships in life. 

Working as a nurse in a hospital, Myung-hee knows how to stand up to her superiors and help patients even if it will have repercussions later. As her family’s breadwinner, she works hard to make a living and is willing to make sacrifices for the people she loves.

See also: Who Are the Biggest Korean Drama Breakout Stars of 2021?

8. Kang Mo-yeon in 'Descendants of the Sun'

Kang Mo-yeon (Song Hye-kyo) refuses to buckle under hierarchies and connections. She believes competence outweighs your rank and your connections but soon learns the harsh reality. 

But despite that, Kang stands firmly by her principles. She rejects the romantic advances of the director of the hospital she works which eventually led her to be assigned to a war-torn city as a volunteer.

Don't miss: Song Hye-Kyo Dazzles in Chaumet Pieces in K-Drama, ‘Now We Are Breaking Up’

9. Sung Deok-mi in 'Her Private Life'

Being a fangirl comes with negative connotations, it’s always been stereotyped as a group of loud screaming girls. While that may be true to an extent, the problem is when it just stops there. 

Fangirls are also so much more as Sung Deok-mi (Park Min-young) from Her Private Life shows. When she’s not busy going to Si-an’s (Jung Jae-won) fan meets, she’s a talented curator at a museum. Deok-mi tells viewers not to be afraid to embrace who you are—or to put it more accurately—to embrace the fangirl in you.

Read more: Song Kang and Park Min-Young Get Candid About Their New K-Drama, ‘Forecasting Love and Weather’

10. Kang Sae-byeok in 'Squid Game'

In Squid Game, the stoic North Korean defector Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon) proves that she's no pushover. When a broker tries to scam her and demands more money to bring her mother to South Korea, she pushes back and threatens him with a knife against his throat.

She would later join the violent 33rd Squid Game as Player 067 in hopes of getting enough money to reunite with her family and to lead a better life–a promise she made to her younger brother who's under her care.

Ho-yeon, who made her television debut in Squid Game, bagged the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series at the 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards for her role. She's the second actress of Asian as well as Korean descent to receive an individual SAG Award nomination.

See also: Squid Game’ Makes History at SAG Awards 2022 With Wins for Jung Ho-Yeon and Lee Jung-Jae


Singer Etty Lau Farrell on Overcoming Ageism in the Rock Industry

Karen Seah, the Woman Behind Netflix’s ‘The Apprentice’, on Breaking Gender Norms and Stereotypes

40 New Korean Dramas to Put on Your Watch List in 2022

A resource for women to become their best selves, Front & Female celebrates trailblazers and tackles timely, provocative issues through inspiring content and events. Join the community by subscribing to our newsletter and following #frontandfemale

Tatler Asia
© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.