by KMH, October 10, 2016

So, I can’t be the only one who struggles with female characters in KDramas. So often, they’re weak, young ladies that are pushed around, stepped on and never say a word about it. Whether it be Geum Jandi (who falls in love with a man who bullies her almost 24/7 in Boys Over Flowers), Jang Ha Na (who is oh so selfish in Hyde, Jekyll, Me), or Cha Eun Sang (who is painfully pitiful in The Heirs), bad female characters are everywhere. It’s like women are expected to be feeble and useless so the men can come save them…

Oh, wait.

That’s exactly the point.

Men are the true stars in a lot of these shows. I admit, if I had to list my top 10 favorite KDrama characters of all time, very few of them would be women. Female characters are written so poorly in these shows, it’s kind of hard to like them. Even though I’m a lady myself, I’m not going to give my heart to a character just because she’s a woman. When I see these women, they aren’t people I would want to be. I don’t respect them, mostly because they don’t seem to respect themselves. So, I’ve come up with some criteria for what I think makes up a quality female character, and some examples of leading/supporting ladies I’ve loved.

1) She is able to overcome her fears.

Whether she does it alone or not, it’s important that a woman be able to take her life by the reigns and do what she wants, even if she’s scared. A little confidence goes a long way.

2) She demands (and receives) respect.

This is huge for me. With characters like Geum Jandi and Cha Eun Sang, both tried their hardest to keep their families afloat (which I applaud), only for Lee Min Ho Gu Joonpyo and Kim Tan to stomp all over them, with no respect for how hard they worked. I like characters who don’t let anyone look down on them.

3) She knows when to stick it to the man (literally and figuratively).

Do you have an abusive boss/boyfriend/friend/love interest? Leave him! Quit! Report him to the police! Do something about it! I’m so tired of seeing women sit and take a beating from bosses and coworkers and “love” interests.

4) She can hold her own in the face of hard work.

I don't even necessarily mean "dirty work" either (like working in the service industry as a waitress or a plumber). I even mean a woman who is competent in the office, in the classroom, or any workplace.

5) She can take charge when she needs to.

Sometimes, you have to be the one to take control of a bad situation and turn it into a good one. When I see female leads that are so useless that they can’t even try to save themselves until someone else (usually some rude guy) shows up and does it for them, my heart breaks a little. You’re a strong, independent woman! Act like one!

The female characters I love have most (or all) of these qualities. They’re characters that I want to be. They’re people I would love to have as friends or family members. These are the qualities that the strong women in my life have, and that I try to have, too. Here are some female characters I’ve come across that really impressed me (in no particular order). For the record, I would have definitely included Ban Ji Yeon from Witch’s Romance, but I haven’t finished the show, so I won’t pass judgement on her just yet.

One other thing I’d like to mention before digging into the examples is that none of these characters were created just to be something to look at. They are all strong, mature, adult women who work hard every day and can handle life. They’re all flawed, yes, but they are some of the most human characters I’ve ever seen because of it. They feel like real people, not dolls.

Han Gyeo Wool- Vampire Detective

I love her so much. Whenever the boys wanted to go do something dangerous, she was always right there with them, helping however she could. She had mad skills with computers and wasn’t afraid to tell some little white lies to get information out of unwilling suspects. At one point in the show, there’s a man being a little too disagreeable for her taste, so she kicks the glass he’s holding so hard, it shatters, embedding glass shards in his face. Needless to say, he was a little more willing to talk after that. Gyeo Wool doesn’t like when people think of her as just a girl, so she doesn’t let them. She works her very hardest to escape stereotypes and be who she wants to be. She's gorgeous, but that's not all she is, and it's refreshing to see a character like her.

Mrs. Noh- 38 Task Force

Oh, Mrs. Noh, how you impressed me. She’s no young doe, but that doesn’t stop her. She doesn’t do any of the dirty work, not because she’s unable, but because she’s so successful that she has goons to do it all for her. She’s a powerful gangster. She’s a critical thinker who isn’t afraid to back out of failing projects. Loyalty is not something she worries about. She’s better than you, and you know it (and she does, too). She’s pretty funny, too. She really stands out against the other characters of 38 Task Force. She even has a really pretty, cool assistant to follow her around (the redhead in the main cover for this article).

Han Song Yi- Because It’s the First Time

*This section contains spoilers under the pink bars.*

She’s adorable, yes, and she definitely doesn’t always stand up for herself, but none of that matters in the face of hard work. She’s another one of those characters, like Jandi or Eun Sang, only better. She’s dirt poor. She’s just trying to make it through college, and so she works any and every job she can, whether it be pumping gas, serving drinks, or putting books away at the library. A rich boy falls in love with her, and he’s not all that nice to her. If you're avoiding spoilers, just know that Song Yi doesn't let anyone play her around. If you want the whole story, highlight the pink bars -> What makes Song Yi different is that, while she did fall in love with Yoon Tae Oh, she wasn’t so dumb that she was willing to be made fun of and  abused for that love. She also loved another fellow, Seo Ji Ahn, who was always kind and understanding. Song Yi knew who was better for her, which is something I wish more characters in her position understood.

*No more spoilers. Yay!*

Kang Mo Yeon- Descendants of the Sun

She’s educated. She’s confident. She knows when she has to take control of a situation. When her boss comes onto her, she doesn’t submit. She turns him down and leaves. When that same boss holds a grudge because she turned him down, and she is sent to Uruk, she doesn’t whine about it. Instead, she makes the best of a bad situation and works her very hardest. At one point, she ends up operating on a patient even when she’s told not to, because the life of her patient is more important to her than politics. I was very impressed with her confidence and leadership skills throughout the series.

Team Leader Oh- Time Between Dog and Wolf

She’s not a main character by any means. She stays in the background for a lot of the show, and yet she still managed to stick out, even with star-power likeLee Joon Gi and Jung Kyung Ho hanging around! Team Leader Oh is basically the only competent, non-corrupt, even-tempered person in the entire NIS, from what I can tell. She’s very by-the-book, never allowing her emotions to have a part in important decisions. She doesn’t question authority often, but when she does, you should trust her suspicions. She’s someone that, if I were an agent with the NIS, I’d love to have as a superior. She seems like she’d be really awesome to work with, being such a strong, capable, and intelligent person. I like her a lot.

So, just know that I am certainly not blind to female characters. I'm very confident in my opinion that there need to be more strong, flawed women in KDramas. I've seen enough of these shows that I'm sort of over idealized, submissive beauties. It breaks my heart that the women who act like normal people are almost always described as "b*tchy" or "ugly", despite being more developed and realistic. Give me a role model, not a runway model.

From now on, more Eun Chan, less Ha Na.

(The above picture, if you don't know, shows Go Eun Chan, heroine of Coffee Prince, carrying a plastered Choi Han Gyeol back to his house.)