by Ladytron33, November 29, 2012

(Some Major Spoilers ahead!)

Second Lead Syndrome. It’s a disease known to all drama fans. In fact, you can’t call yourself a drama addict until you've found yourself screaming at your computer screen, pleading for the leading lady to turn around and notice the poor idiot behind her. You know the one – the guy who’s secretly in love with our heroine but never seems to win her heart, no matter how hard he tries.

My first experience with SLS was in the drama Can You Hear My Heart. I was completely obsessed with Ma Roo. I loved his relationship with Woo Ri, and I desperately wanted them to be together in the end. I knew it was probably doomed. I mean, he was her step-brother after all. (Okay, so he only thought his mentally disabled uncle was his father. He was really the illegitimate son of Woo Ri’s step-father’s adopted sister and the man who killed her mother in a factory fire. Got it? No one ever said watching dramas was easy.) Yet knowing all that, I still clung to the hope that they would get together ‘til the very last episode. It never happened.

I was a drama newbie at the time, so I didn't know how the rules worked. As much as you, the viewer, love the second male lead, our heroine never will. They’re the sweet, thoughtful, devoted guys who are forever stuck in the friend zone. Of course, they’re also the kind of guys who would never be single in real life because any sane woman would realize their potential early on. But we know that Dramaland doesn't follow the same rules as the rest of us. 

So what makes a character a second lead and not the leading man? It’s not looks, or money, or personality, seeing as second leads are usually pretty great catches. After a very scientific study (as in, I watched a ton of dramas and made some wild assumptions), here’s my list of reasons:


1. Distractions 

If you want the girl, you can’t let yourself get too distracted. This is exactly what happened to Yoon Ji Hoo in Boys Before Flowers. Ji Hoo was the boy of Geum Jan Di’s dreams until he ran off to Paris to chase after his leggy model girlfriend. Big mistake. It opened up the chance for Goo Joon Pyo to swoop in when his rival wasn't paying attention. In the end, Joon Pyo gets the girl and Ji Hoo spends his time pining for what could have been.


2. Meddling Family

In dramas, especially the Korean ones, the family often stands in the way of true love – if you let it. That was the fate of Lee Han Se in Smile, You. He and Seo Jung In were already married and on their honeymoon when he was forced to abandon her on the side of the road by his pissed off parents. (This is why you should always screen your calls, people!) Han Se eventually realized his mistake, but by then it was too late. Not only was Jung In too hurt to ever trust him again, Hyun Su had already begun to fill the Han Se shaped hole in her heart.


3. Friendly First Impressions 

First impressions mean a lot in Dramaland. The easiest way to get stuck in the friend zone is to start out that way from the very beginning. Just ask Eun Gyeol in To the Beautiful You. Of course, it’s not like he had much of a choice, seeing as he thought Jae Hee was just another male classmate. When your relationship begins with a chance encounter in the men’s room, it’s pretty hard to move on to romance.


4. Destiny

Sometimes, the obstacle standing in our second lead’s way is destiny itself. In Goong, if Lee Yul had stayed the Crown Prince, Shin Chae Kyung would have married him instead of Lee Shin. But things don’t always work out the way you plan, and Yul lost his one true love to his cousin. No matter how much he loved her, there was no way to get around fate.


5. Lost Chances 

Second Leads are defined by lost chances. They are the kind of guys who wait for the heroine to be ready for them instead of being aggressive and assertive with their feelings. One of my favorite second leads is Shin Woo from You’re Beautiful. Because Shin Woo knew Go Mi Nam’s secret, his main goal was to protect her and keep her safe. He was happy to stand on the sidelines and watch, steering things in the right direction whenever they started going the wrong way. 

The problem with this strategy is that leading men like Hwang Tae Kyung never sit by and wait. First, leads (literally) grab love by the wrist and run with it. By the time second leads are ready to confess their feelings, it’s way too late.  They've already missed out on all the hand holding, the intense longing stares, and the obligatory pressing together of the lips shared by our OTP.

6. Timing 

In Dramaland, it’s all about firsts: first love, first kiss, first sight. If a character doesn't have good timing, he’s never going to get the girl. In My Girl, Jung Woo always seemed to find Yoo Rin when it was already too late, losing out to Gong Chan every time. He eventually got to do something first (propose!), but Gong Chan had already won our heroine’s heart by then. Of course, who really knows what would have happened if Jun Woo's timing had been better. But I like to think my beautiful Jun Ki might have had a lot fewer crying scenes!


7. Chemistry

The biggest problem for second leads is a lack of chemistry. If the leading lady doesn't feel that romantic spark, you're doomed to stay a friend forever. Poor Jae Shin in Sungkyunkwan Scandal never had a chance with Yoon Hee. He might have been courageous and dashing - willing to sacrifice everything for love - but he was never the one in Yoon Hee’s heart. Fundamentally, no matter what else happens in a drama, if our heroine doesn't have feelings for “the other guy,” there’s nothing he can do to change her mind.

Since I've already talked about our favorite romantic heroes, it was time to discuss "the other guy." Who are your most memorable second (or third!) leads? Did you hold on to hope that they would get the girl in the end? Or did you just like the added eye candy from a third point in the love triangle? Tell me in the comments.

(Author’s Note: Yes, I know these characters are all from K-Dramas. The Koreans didn't invent the love triangle - they just do them so well. And so often.)