Ever watched an Asian drama and found yourself falling more for the second lead character? You’re not the only one. ICYDK, second-lead-syndrome — as defined by Urban Dictionary as wanting the female lead to end up with the second lead character more than the main male lead — is a phenomenon often faced by Asian drama fanatics globally. This is due to many second lead characters being written more charismatically than the main lead, making them the better option from the audience’s perspective.
Found yourself obsessed with this trope? Ahead, Asian dramas that gave us irrefutable second lead syndrome and why they’re worth the watch.
Hana Nochi Hare
Serving as a sequel to Japan’s legendary Hana Yori Dango, this Japanese drama is set 10 years after the F4 have graduated from Eitoku Gakuen. But don’t mistake this as a copycat of the original. The main trio of the drama is definitely improved versions of their predecessors, bringing in both a sense of nostalgia and a newfound freshness to the rich-guy-poor-girl narrative. While the main lead Kaguragi Haruto (Hirano Sho) is charismatic in his own way, Nakagawa Taishi’s Hase Tenma definitely redefines second leads as we know them.
He starts off as the childhood friend and fiancé of the female lead, Edogawa Oto (Sugisaki Hana) and is portrayed as someone who’s perfect in every sense of the word. But unlike other second leads, Hase’s character has more layers than your typical good boy, making you love him at one point and maybe resent him (or rather, his ‘flawed’ perfection) in another. We don't want to spoil the details in case you haven’t seen it yet, but he’s a knight in shining armour that becomes the main couple’s biggest fan in the end. In the manga (Japanese comic) this was derived from, he even becomes one of Haruto's closest friends, which we'd love to see if a second season of the drama gets confirmed.
A Love So Beautiful
Before Chinese actress Shen Yue grew in popularity as Shan Cai in the 2018 Meteor Garden remake, she was Chen Xiaoxi for hit C-drama A Love So Beautiful. Following the typical story of dorky-girl-loves-hard-to-read-boy, this is no different from most of the cheesy high-school-themed love stories we’ve seen in the past. However, what makes this stand out is second lead Wu Bosong (Gao Zhiting) who acts almost like Xiaoxi’s guardian angel throughout the entire drama.
Giving us second lead syndrome as soon as he gets introduced in the first episode, this character and his endless efforts to be a worthy rival yet reliable friend to main lead Jiang Chen (Hu Yitian) are all noteworthy. He also has a compelling backstory, being a school athlete who is strictly watched over by his coach (who also happens to be his dad), as well as a caring grandson who takes care of his grandmother who has dementia. Jiang Chen might be better-looking, but after everything Bosong has done, it's inevitable not to fall head over heels for him instead if this were real life.
U-Prince The Series: The Handsome Cowboy
Just to clear things up, this isn’t set in the Wild West. This Thai lakorn (TV drama) made in 2016 is actually about university students navigating through love and life. Following the story of Prikkang (Esther Supreeleela), a girl who detests arrogant people only to ironically fall in love with the bad boy, P’Sibtit (Puttichai Kasetsin), it’s safe to say that this plot is somewhat formulaic. It's a good thing that second lead Key (Baan Kanut Rojanai), who provides a contrast to the toxic on-again-off-again relationship of the two main leads, makes it worth the watch.
While P’Sibtit eventually redeems himself from being a horrible main lead in the end, Key was always consistent and caring towards Prikkang and was never self-imposing or disrespectful towards her unlike the former. It’s kind of frustrating that this drama brought the saying “nice guys finish last” to fruition but still provides great contrast as to what kind of guy we should go for in real life.
Moon Embracing The Sun
We can’t talk second lead syndrome without adding a K-drama into the list. And while it's been years since this one aired, 2012’s Moon Embracing The Sun still tugs at our heartstrings. King Lee Hwon (Kim Soo-Hyun) and Wol’s (Ha Ga-In) love story is nothing short of bittersweet moments to root for. But that doesn’t discount the pain of Prince Yangmyung (Jung Il-Woo), who carried the burden of being in a love triangle with none other than his beloved younger brother.
We can’t help but feel bad for him for always going down the selfless route for both Lee Hwon and Wol. And the only time we thought he was going bad, he still turned out to be one of the good guys. Not to mention that his fate in the drama is one of the saddest things to ever happen not just to a second lead character, but to any character in an Asian drama. If you haven’t seen this yet, you’re totally missing out on one of the best romantic sageuks (historial K-dramas) in the last 10 years.
Moonlight Drawn By The Clouds
Speaking of sageuks, here's another one that's worth spending your hours on. Also fondly known as Love In The Moonlight, this 2016 drama brought us the swoon-worthy team-up of Park Bo-gum as Crown Prince Lee Yeong and Kim Yoo-Jung as gender-bending eunuch Hong Sam-nom/Hong Ra-on. While the two main leads gave us a swoon-worthy love story, Kim Yoon-sung’s Jinyoung as the second lead made our hearts ache in a different way. His character is already admirable as the only honourable man in his otherwise corrupt household. But beyond that, he saves both leads multiple times and ends up professing his love in the most tragic way. The drama also reveals a sadder backstory to his life, making us scream “he deserved better” multiple times to our TV screens.
Love triangles, no matter how cliché, make a romantic narrative more compelling. While we all know from the beginning which two will end up together, we can't help but be taken by our own wishful thinking, especially when the one left out is more deserving of the spotlight. If only there were a spin-off for second leads, right?
Speaking of Asian dramas, if you're looking to cop your favourite lead girl style, why not start with this guide for Itaewon Class' Kim Da-Mi?