“Discover the world of Korean dramas, or K-dramas, that have captured the hearts of millions of fans worldwide with their unique storytelling, engaging plot twists, and memorable characters. Although each show brings its own distinct flavor, K-dramas also heavily rely on certain tropes and cliches that continue to be popular among fans. In this article, we’ll delve into some of the most common K-drama tropes and explore why they remain so appealing to viewers. We’ll also take a look at popular series as examples, and offer insights and perspectives
Love Triangle: The Classic K-Drama Tension
A staple of K-dramas, the love triangle involves three characters, typically two men and one woman, who find themselves entangled in a web of romantic connections. This trope creates tension and drama, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats as they root for their favorite pairing. One notable example is the hit series “Boys Over Flowers,” where Geum Jan-di finds herself torn between the rich, arrogant Gu Jun-pyo and the gentle, kind-hearted Yoon Ji-hoo.
Another popular example is “You’re Beautiful,” where Go Mi-nam is caught in a love triangle between the charismatic Hwang Tae-kyung and the gentle Shin-woo. Fans are often captivated by the chemistry and interactions between the characters, creating heated debates and discussions about who the female lead should ultimately end up with.
Evil Mother-in-Law: The Obstacle to Overcome
The evil mother-in-law trope is a recurring theme in K-dramas, often portrayed as a wealthy, powerful woman who opposes the protagonist’s romantic relationship for various reasons, such as social status or personal vendetta. This character creates conflict and adds depth to the story, making it all the more satisfying when the couple overcomes these obstacles. “
The World of the Married” is a prime example, where the mother-in-law’s manipulative and controlling behavior adds another layer of tension to the already tumultuous marriage. Another example is “Cinderella’s Sister,” where the antagonistic relationship between the female lead and her stepmother adds complexity to the story.
This trope resonates with viewers who may have experienced similar familial conflicts, making it a relatable and engaging aspect of K-dramas.
Amnesia: The Convenient Plot Device
Amnesia serves as a convenient plot device that allows for dramatic reveals, character development, and romantic tension. It’s often used as a turning point in the story, forcing characters to confront their past and make difficult choices. In the classic K-drama “Stairway to Heaven,” the protagonist, Jung-suh, suffers from amnesia, leading to a series of events that challenge her relationships and reveal hidden secrets.
Another example is “I Can Hear Your Voice,” where the lead character, Park Soo-ha, loses his memory of certain events, causing complications in his relationships and the overall plot.
This trope is particularly popular because it adds an element of mystery and intrigue, enticing viewers to continue watching as the characters slowly uncover the truth behind their forgotten memories.
The Makeover: Personal Growth and Self-Discovery
This trope involves a character undergoing a significant transformation, often with the help of a love interest. This change can be physical, such as a new hairstyle or wardrobe, or emotional, such as newfound confidence or self-discovery. “She Was Pretty” showcases this trope beautifully, as the main character, Kim Hye-jin, undergoes a dramatic makeover and gains the confidence she needs to face her past and find love.
Another example is “My ID is Gangnam Beauty,” where the protagonist, Kang Mi-rae, undergoes plastic surgery to change her appearance and gain self-confidence. The makeover trope is appealing because it highlights the
potential for personal growth and positive change, inspiring viewers to believe in the power of self-improvement and determination.
If you’re looking for more romantic K-drama recommendations, check out this list of 20 Best Romantic Korean Movies to Fall in Love With.
Rich Guy, Poor Girl: Challenging Social Expectations
This trope involves a wealthy, often arrogant male lead falling in love with a kind-hearted, struggling female lead. This pairing allows for character growth and the exploration of themes like social class and personal values. “Secret Garden” is a prime example of this trope, as the wealthy and arrogant Kim Joo-won falls for the humble and hardworking Gil Ra-im.
Another example is “Playful Kiss,” where the rich and intelligent Baek Seung-jo falls for the clumsy and not-so-smart Oh Ha-ni. This dynamic is particularly engaging because it challenges societal expectations and allows for the development of strong, meaningful relationships despite external obstacles. Additionally, it highlights the importance of inner qualities and personal values over material wealth.
6. Sibling Rivalry
Sibling rivalry is another common K-drama theme, often involving two siblings competing for the same love interest, power, or recognition. This dynamic adds emotional depth to the story and challenges the characters to confront their personal flaws and insecurities. In “Cinderella and the Four Knights,” the rivalry between Kang Ji-woon and Kang Hyun-min adds an extra layer of tension to the already complicated relationships.
Another example is “Bridal Mask,” where two brothers find themselves on opposing sides of a political struggle, leading to a tense and heart-wrenching narrative.
Viewers are drawn to this trope because it mirrors real-life familial conflicts and showcases the complexity of sibling relationships, creating a more relatable and engaging viewing experience.
The “Cold” Male Lead: Revealing the Softer Side
The “cold” male lead is a popular K-drama trope featuring a seemingly emotionless, distant, or arrogant male character who eventually reveals his softer side and falls in love with the female lead.
This character type often undergoes significant character development as they learn to open up and express their emotions. “My Love from the Star” is a great example, where Do Min-joon, an alien with a cold exterior, slowly learns to embrace his emotions and falls in love with the bubbly and energetic Cheon Song-yi.
Another example is “City Hunter,” where the initially cold and detached Lee Yoon-sung learns to trust and care for others as he develops feelings for the compassionate Kim Na-na. This trope is particularly appealing because it demonstrates the power of love and connection to break down emotional barriers and facilitate personal growth.
Second Lead Syndrome: The Heartbreak of Unrequited Love
Second lead syndrome refers to the phenomenon where fans root for the secondary male character who typically has a kinder, gentler nature but ultimately doesn’t end up with the female lead.
This character often creates an additional layer of conflict and heartbreak in the story, and fans can’t help but feel sympathy for them. “Reply 1988” is a prime example, as many viewers rooted for the charming and caring Jung-hwan over the actual male lead, Taek. Another instance is “Goong” (Princess Hours), where many fans were rooting for the sweet and caring Prince Yul, even though the female lead ends up with the initially cold and distant Crown Prince Shin.
This trope adds emotional depth and complexity to K-dramas, as it highlights the bittersweet reality of unrequited love and the difficulty of choosing between two compelling romantic options.
For fans who crave a bit more steaminess in their K-dramas, take a look at these 10 Steamiest K-dramas to Watch.
Cross-Dressing: Challenging Gender Norms and Expectations
Cross-dressing is a fun and quirky K-drama trope that involves characters dressing as the opposite gender, often for comedic effect or to achieve a specific goal. This theme can lead to hilarious situations, misunderstandings, and unexpected romantic developments. A popular example is “Coffee Prince,” where Go Eun
Chan, a tomboyish girl, pretends to be a boy to work at a coffee shop, leading to a complicated love story with the shop’s owner, Choi Han-kyul.
Another example is “You’re Beautiful,” where Go Mi-nam, a young woman, disguises herself as her twin brother to join a popular boy band and ends up falling in love with one of the members, Hwang Tae-kyung.
This trope is entertaining and engaging because it challenges traditional gender norms and expectations, allowing for unexpected plot twists and character development.
Fated Love: Destiny and True Love
The idea of fated love, or destiny, is a romantic and heartwarming K-drama trope that involves two characters who are meant to be together, regardless of the obstacles they face. This theme often involves coincidences, past connections, or other mysterious elements that suggest the characters are destined to be together.
In “The Legend of the Blue Sea,” the mermaid Shim Cheong and genius scam artist Heo Joon-jae are connected by a centuries-old bond, making their love story feel destined. Another example is “Goblin,” where the immortal goblin Kim Shin and his human bride Ji Eun-tak are brought together by fate, despite their seemingly impossible circumstances.
This trope resonates with viewers because it provides a sense of hope and magic, allowing them to believe in the power of true love and the idea that some connections are meant to last a lifetime.
11. The Contract Relationship
The contract relationship trope involves two characters entering a fake romantic relationship or marriage for a specific purpose, such as financial gain, family pressure, or personal growth.
As they pretend to be a couple, genuine feelings start to develop, and they eventually fall in love for real. “Full House” is a classic example, where the main characters, Han Ji-eun and Lee Young-jae, enter a contractual marriage to save Ji-eun’s house from being sold.
This trope is popular because it allows for the gradual and believable development of romantic feelings, showcasing the transformative power of love in an entertaining and engaging manner.
12. The Workplace Romance
Workplace romance is another common K-drama theme, featuring characters who fall in love while working together in a professional setting. This trope often involves power dynamics, office politics, and the struggle to balance personal and professional life. “What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim” is an excellent example of this trope, where the narcissistic vice-chairman Lee Young-joon falls in love with his efficient secretary, Kim Mi-so. The workplace romance trope resonates with viewers who have experienced or fantasized about finding love in a professional environment, making it a relatable and captivating aspect of K-dramas.
If you’re looking for more K-drama recommendations, don’t miss this list of Top K-dramas to Watch Today.
K-dramas have captured the hearts of millions of fans worldwide with their unique storytelling, memorable characters, and engaging plotlines. While many K-dramas share common tropes and cliches, these elements contribute to the stories’ charm and depth, making each series unforgettable. From heart-wrenching love triangles to emotional character development and exciting plot twists, K-dramas offer a wide range of experiences for viewers to enjoy.
For those who seek a different experience or wish to explore K-dramas that deviate from standard tropes, shows like Stranger, Misaeng, Kingdom, Signal, and Reply 1997 provide refreshing alternatives. No matter your preferences, there’s a K-drama out there
Explore the best K-drama tropes and discover the magic behind the stories. From love triangles to amnesia, learn what makes K-dramas so captivating and find your next binge-worthy series.