Horrible, rich jerk meets poor, cheerful girl, and by the magical power of love, he becomes sort of nice! That's pretty much 90% of K-dramas in a nutshell. Sure, bad-boy-turned-squishy-marshmallow stories can be fun to watch, but sometimes it gets tiring trying to root for nothing but reformed bastards, and you just want to watch a genuinely non-terrible male lead for once. Well, if you're the type who always roots for the kindhearted second lead, here's a list of 10 K-drama male leads who actually aren't jerks.
1. Kim Boong Do (Ji Hyun Woo), Queen In Hyun's Man
Time traveling scholar Kim Boong Do snags the top spot on this list for being a magnificent unicorn of a male lead who is kind, thoughtful, and respectful from day one. Queen In Hyun's Man was the first drama I saw with a genuinely sweet lead, and at the time, I almost couldn't believe some writer actually created this character.
2. Jung Joon Hyung (Nam Joo Hyuk), Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo
Jung Joon Hyung might crack some insensitive jokes at the beginning of Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, but even when he's immature, he's never ill willed, and he spends the vast majority of the series following Bok Joo around and trying to make her happy. What more could anyone possibly want?
3. Yoon Dong Ha (Park Seo Joon), Witch's Romance
Oh, Yoon Dong Ha, you do things to my heart. I love dramas that flip gender norms, and while this series lost a lot of steam in the second half, I appreciated that we had a fierce leading lady and a younger, adorable puppy as the male lead.
4. Seo Jung Hoo (Ji Chang Wook), Healer
Full Healer review
5. Kim Yeol (Lee Won Geun), Cheer Up!/Sassy Go Go
Fun fact: Cheer Up! is the one and only K-drama I have ever watched more than once on my own. Everything about this series makes me smile, and Kim Yeol's crinkly smile certainly doesn't hurt. Like Weightlifting Fairy's Joon Hyung, Yeol has some growing up to do, but it doesn't take much to make him realize when he's being self-centered.
Full Cheer Up! review
6. Enrique Geum (Yoon Si Yoon), Flower Boy Next Door
Enrique wasn't my personal cup of tea (I much preferred the also-sweet comic artist next door), but there's no denying that he's about as kindhearted as they come. His unabashed friendliness was exactly what the female lead needed to pull her out of her isolated world.
7. Song Sam Dong (Kim Soo Hyun) and Jin Guk (Taecyeon), Dream High
I couldn't bring myself to call out just one male lead on this show. Suzy's character was surrounded by guys who would go out of their way to help her, and that's why it wasn't clear to me for most of the series who she would choose.
8. Choi Taek (Park Bo Gum), Answer Me 1988
Full Answer Me 1988 review
9. Choi Dal Po (Lee Jong Suk), Pinocchio
Lee Jong Suk has such a gentle demeanor in all of his real-life interviews that it's tough to see him as an actual jerk on any show. In Pinocchio, Dal Po is always looking out for In Ha and doing his best to support her.
Bonus: Dong Hae Sung (Lee Won Geun), Thumping Spike 2
If you don't have time to watch an entire show but just want to see a bunch of cute romance all in one sitting, then Thumping Spike 2 is the series for you! Most web dramas really play up the extremes of the jerk boy/poor girl story. While Thumping Spike 2 definitely goes for a lot of typical K-drama cliches, the male lead isn't one of them. Hae Sung is popular and a little standoffish to the outside world, but he warms to our female lead rather quickly, which means—you guessed it—lots and lots of Lee Won Geun crinkle smiles. (Okay, yes, those are my weakness. Can you blame me?)
Are there other dramas with non-jerk K-drama male leads I should check out? I'm always on the lookout for more suggestions! Who's your favorite from this list?