At the heart of every Korean drama is its lead couple. But just what kind of lead couple is it?
This brief guide to some of the most common manifestations will help you know for sure.
The Romeo and Juliet
As seen in: That Winter the Wind Blows and I’m Sorry, I Love You
Natural habitat: Verona
Distinguishing features: Longing glances, infrequent kisses, discussion of reincarnation, death
Whether it’s different class backgrounds, an age gap of a few (hundred) years, or the fact that they may actually be siblings, this classic Kdrama couple faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Recent evolutionary adaptations, presumably in response to global warming trends, have forever changed this unique species. Nearly all field research since 2006 confirms a remarkable lengthening of their lifespans: Once guaranteed a tragic ending with a high body count, nearly all Kdrama Romeo and Juliets are now managing to survive—together—to old age.
The childhood sweethearts
As seen in: Jang Ok Jung and I Miss You
Natural habitat: Playgrounds and/or bridges
Distinguishing characteristics: Youth, starry-eyed innocence crushed by the wiles of evil fate
Although extremely rare worldwide, The Childhood Sweethearts are one of the most common Kdrama species. While other children are busying dreaming of adulthoods as ballet dancers, rock stars, or spouses of lesser Kardashians, these couples want nothing more than to be together. Unfortunately, their single-minded determination serves as a lightning rod for misery: they will almost always be torn apart in the most horrible of ways and forced to abandon their hopes of domestic bliss (not to mention underage shagging). But because of the peculiar feng shui of Korean geography, it is inevitable that they will eventually be reunited just in time for a happy ending.
As seen in: To the Beautiful You and Personal Taste
Natural habitat: Shared living spaces
Distinguishing characteristics: awkward bathroom encounters, pajamas
For most human beings, excessive exposure to any person or thing leads to annoyance and eventual hatred. A defense mechanism unique to Human beingus spp. Kdramatis, on the other hand, causes a reaction that is closer to adoration. Researchers have confirmed seemingly limitless examples of this response. Whether the subjects start off as best friends, worst enemies, or complete strangers, the time they’re forced to spend together fighting over the TV remote ensures they end up as lovers.
The second lead
As seen in: Queen of Reversals
Natural Habitat: Myth and legend; widely believed to be cryptozoological
Distinguishing characteristics: Park Shi Hoo
Like those of the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot, sightings of The Second Lead couple configuration are rare and hotly disputed. The only substantiated case in the modern era is 2010’s Queen of Reversals, although rumored appearances include Baker King, Kim Tak Gu and the original Dream High. No matter how kind, supportive, and genetically preferable second lead males may be, Kdrama females habitually relegate them to the dreaded friendzone. This fundamental flaw is believed to rise from DNA replication errors endemic in the Korean population.
As seen in: Boys over Flowers and My Lovely Sam Soon
Natural habitat: Dialogue-heavy scripts
Distinguishing characteristics: Strong characters, plots with more fighting than kissing
Nowhere in the animal kingdom is the line between love and hate as permeable as it is for Kdrama Bickerers. Attraction simmering just below the surface of every heated argument leaves all parties unsure just when fighting will turn into making out. Although Bickerers are nearing endangered status, observers are always on the lookout for any resurgence in numbers.
As seen in: School 2013 and Answer Me, 1997
Natural habitat: Subtext, with occasional surfacings in canon
Distinguishing characteristics: Boys with dreamy expressions on their faces (and no girls in sight), rough-housing that might actually be an excuse for touching
Stemming from a mutation in last year’s bromance trend, Korean drama is now home to a burgeoning population of males displaying an ambiguous love for other males. This variety of sexual chemistry is as yet unconsummated in the mainstream, but School 2013’s boy-on-boy wrestling matches have recently driven temperatures to heights unseen since the sweaty, shirtless volleyball matches of Top Gun. Will this newly observed phenomenon prove hardy enough to last out the year? Will it ever reach full flower in the form of actual kissing? Only time will tell.
The contract couple
As seen in: Ojakygo Brothers and Lie to Me
Natural habitat: A4 92 GSM bond wove
Distinguishing characteristics: unlikely pairings, strict relationship rules that beg to be broken
Many things draw seemingly incompatible Kdrama couples together, but it often takes a contract to keep them that way. These contracts can be fairly simple and straightforward, including only a few basic clauses, or baroquely detailed and spanning many pages of legalese. In truth, Kdrama contracts have only one thing in common: they are quickly and repeatedly violated as the co-singers fall in love.
The me Tarzan, you Jane
As seen in: Gentleman’s Dignity and Secret Garden
Natural habitat: Jungles, 1952
Distinguishing characteristics: Males who tell females what to do, the word eotteohke
Classic Kdrama males are known for their take-charge attitudes and self-confidence, two traits that can sometimes overwhelm the females they hope to mate with. In relatively rare cases, this imbalance of power can form a serious stumbling block to successful communication, frequently leading to physical intimidation. Happy endings are generally achieved, but some researchers find that the ends do not justify the means.
The best friends
As seen in: I Need Romance 2012 and Coffee Prince
Natural habitat: Couches
Distinguishing characteristics: Smiles, shared jokes, entwined personal histories
Are those Kdrama leads having a conversation about something other than how much they love each other? It must be an example of the unusual Best Friends couple configuration, a delightful pairing that genuinely enjoys spending time together even without the promise of romance. Perhaps the most stable and lasting of Kdrama relationships, the Best Friends are sure to provide hours never-ending fascination for viewers and writers alike.