by christy, August 16, 2020


  • There are spoilers in this article from Strong Woman Do Bong SoonReply 1988, Goong, Ashes of Love, Cheese in the Trap, Doctor Stranger, While You Were Sleeping, and Moonlight Drawn by Clouds
  • My opinions about Ashes of Love and Cheese in the Trap are solely based on the television dramas, not the novel/webtoon.
  • Pictures also don't necessarily correlate with the paragraph/article, but rather are just displayed to show second leads in the dramas I've seen.

1. Hesitation

I find the most common quality that makes a second male lead a second lead is their tendency to hesitate. They'll hesitate to tell the girl their feelings. They either wait around too long or find out too late that the girl had liked them this entire time. In Gook Du from Strong Woman Do Bong Soon found out much later that Bong Soon had liked him this whole time and only began pursuing her after it was too late. 

There is a monologue from Kim Jung Wan in Reply 1988 that perfectly describes what I'm talking about. He mentions his hesitations were like the red lights that kept him from going to his first love and part of the reason why he couldn't get the girl in the end. 

"I should have been more courageous. It was not the traffic light’s fault. It was not timing. It was my many hesitations." - Kim Jung Hwan

Choi Taek ended up to be the one with Sung Duk Seon because he was more ardent. 

Although not always the case, most male leads end up getting the girl because they don't hesitate. They go for it.

2. Persistence

In this case, the second male lead doesn't hesitate and confesses to the girl. I'm all cool if the second male lead understands that the female lead doesn't like them back and accepts the rejection, but if they don't... It starts coming off as forceful. 

For some reason, they just can't take no for an answer. They'll persist and try to get the girl to like them back. Some even go as far as to hurt and manipulate her, driving a wedge between her and the one she really likes. Lee Yul from Goong emotionally manipulated Chae Gyung into thinking Lee Shin doesn't like her, when he knew very well the two of them liked each other. And don't even get me started on Run Yu from Ashes of Love. Fixing the "love pill," forcing his engagement with Jin Mi, manipulating her to kill his own brother, Xu Feng, the one she truly loves, hell I can write a whole other article on Run Yu, but I'll stop here for now. 

Persistence can be good when used for the right cause, but in this case, it only shows immaturity. It's better to just accept the no and move on.

3. Just the "Nice Guy"

Kindness, true kindness, should not be given with the expectation of getting something back. If you want to do nice things for someone and help them, it should be out of the kindness of your own heart. "Nice guys" are those who seem "nice" on the outside, doing "nice" things for the female lead, but ultimately are doing each of those things for selfish reasons. They feel entitled that just because they've been nice to the female lead, they deserve to be the one to receive her heart. 

Time also doesn't entitle them to the girl's heart, whether it is waiting for them or having known them longer. They don't own the girl. She has her own feelings just as they have their own.

I saw a comment from DeDear23 in an article I wrote last year called, "Are Second Male Leads Actually Selfish?" that I'd thought I share with you all:

"The second male lead’s niceness is attached to his feelings and expectations. The feelings, though nice, become troublesome, 'I like you so you must like me back even when I can tell you don’t/can’t'.

Truly caring about someone means putting their feelings above yours, not the other way around. How do you get so engrossed in your feelings that you do things to hurt who you claim to care about?" - DeDear23

Honestly, I couldn't agree more. Although not all second leads are like this, a lot of them are.

4. They're simply just not the one the female lead likes back.

If you're not convinced by any of the traits I listed above, at least this one should. This is the number one reason they are the second male lead.

I've seen countless of second male leads who are truly good, some of which are even my favorite characters. These include Han Woo Taek from While You Were Sleeping and Kim Yoon Sung from Moonlight Drawn by Clouds

With that being said, I didn't get SLS (Second Lead Syndrome). In fact, I rarely ever get SLS. I can count 3x out of 200+ dramas I've seen where I've gotten SLS, two of which I didn't even finish. But the reason why I rarely get SLS isn't necessarily because I don't like the second lead, but because I simply just ship the main leads more. 

In the end, all that matters is that the main leads like each other. Sure, the male lead could be the worse sometimes, but they do have their moments. As long as I can see that the male lead and female lead care about each other, why should I be against their relationship? (Well... actually thinking about it now, the 2/3 times I've had SLS is when the male or female lead is actually psychotic *coughs* Yoo Jung from Cheese in the Trap and Song Jae Hee (female lead) from Doctor Stranger, and in that case, yes, I was heavily against their relationship).

Nonetheless, there are some second male leads out there that just deserve someone better. If not, at the very least someone that truly likes them back. Why waste time on someone who clearly doesn't like you back?

(Image Source: Soompi)

What are your thoughts? 

What makes a second male lead a second lead? 

Why do they become the second lead? 

And why don't they get the girl in the end?

Edited by: Yuanwei (1st editor) & Cookie (2nd editor)