Korean series

Beyond girl boss: These K-drama characters redefine the ‘strong woman’ stereotype

Samantha Onglatco, Ysa Abad
Beyond girl boss: These K-drama characters redefine the ‘strong woman’ stereotype
These female K-drama characters inspire us with their inherent kindness

MANILA, Philippines – For years, K-dramas have followed the foolproof formula of two men pining over a woman who has to choose between the two. More often than not, women are portrayed as a damsel in distress that needs saving or someone who is used for the character development of the male lead. Just think about all the classic K-dramas: Boys Over Flowers, Secret Garden, and Princess Hours. 

Fortunately, this almost dreaded cliché has evolved in recent years as writers create more dynamic women characters who have aspirations of their own outside of their love interests. 

Interestingly, more and more female characters in K-dramas have become beacons of empowerment, not just with their girl boss attitudes but their inherent kindness. Here are some of them:

Oh Mi-joo from Run On

Who doesn’t love a woman who knows her worth?

Oh Mi-joo, the female lead of Netflix series Run On, is working as a subtitle translator when she suddenly crosses paths with leading man Ki Seon-gyeom. Throughout the course of the drama, Mi-joo exemplifies strength by standing her ground against abusive workmates and standing up for the people she loves, especially the shy Seon-gyeom who is taken advantage of by his peers.

Despite her inherent strength, Mi-joo remains kind and warm to the people around her. Mi-joo serves as a good reminder that women do not need to be mean to others to be strong. Sometimes, all you need to do is know your worth and stand up to the people who don’t recognize it!

Ko Mun-yeong from It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Despite her imperfections, the infamous Ko Mun-yeong from Emmy-nominated Netflix series It’s Okay to Not Be Okay showed viewers that there is strength in growth.

Ironically, Mun-yeong is a children’s book author who is introduced as detached and selfish. But as the drama progresses, Mun-yeong slowly but surely develops more empathy towards others with the guidance of the people around her, making her one of the crowd favorites in terms of character development.

Moreover, viewers are able to see Mun-yeong struggle with overcoming her traumatic memories, and in the end, a stronger Mun-yeong emerges – one who has faced her trauma head-on. What makes it even better is that she’s finally allowed others to be there for her. It takes a lot of strength to grow outside of your comfort zone, but Mun-yeong was able to do just that in the course of the drama.

Yoon Se-ri from Crash Landing On You

This list can’t be complete without the infamous Yoon Se-ri from Crash Landing on You, who stole our hearts in 2020!

With her fearless personality and fabulous fashion sense, Se-ri embodies what it means to be a strong woman by fighting for what she deserves and what she believes in. Despite her familial troubles, Se-ri became a successful businesswoman with her own brand despite all odds.

Even when she meets North Korean soldier Ri Jeong-hyeok, her cutthroat and decisive personality shines through, which ultimately leads him to falling in love with her. As she is riddled with many challenges throughout the drama, she remains steadfastly proactive in facing them while allowing herself to sometimes be overcome with emotion. 

Kook Yeon-su from Our Beloved Summer

Kook Yeon-su is the dynamic character everyone needs to encounter at least once in their K-drama journey.

Throughout Our Beloved Summer, viewers witness the differing character traits of Yeon-su that sometimes come into conflict with one another – prideful, but insecure; independent, but lonely; the list goes on. In spite of her weaknesses, Yeon-su has persevered through the hardships of her life by working hard and gaining the respect of her peers.

Since she was born without a silver spoon in her mouth, Yeon-su had to bear the responsibility of providing for herself and her grandmother. Later on in the drama, Yeon-su learns to allow others to care for her as well. In this drama, Yeon-su’s character shows that strength can also mean letting go of your pride! 

Sung Bo-ra from Reply 1988

Being a stubborn activist and diligent student, Sung Bo-ra is the woke girl of your dreams. Although Bo-ra seems rough on the edges, her character’s journey in Reply 1988 shows that she was misunderstood by her family and peers.

Determined to succeed in all her endeavors, Bo-ra shows viewers that determination can bring anyone a long way. With her courageous personality, Bo-ra also serves as an inspiration for outspoken and passionate individuals who are born and raised in conservative families and societies. 

Chae Song-hwa from Hospital Playlist

The poster character for promoting self-care and self-love! 

The only female in a group of five successful doctors, Song-hwa is a refreshing character that proves that a woman can be dedicated to her job, be successful, and still enjoy her life outside work. 

In their friend group, she’s the one who glues them together by mitigating conflicts. As a doctor, she’s loved by her patients and praised by her colleagues. And while it might sound like she has too much on her plate – Song-hwa runs the neurosurgery department of a known hospital and also serves as bassist in a band – she still gives utmost priority to her rest days. 

From splurging online and maintaining her habit of brewing coffee in the morning to going out for weekend camping and buying her dream car, Song-hwa showed us the importance of not depriving yourself of things that make you happy. 

Kim Bok-joo from Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

As an amateur weightlifter, there’s no denying that Bok-joo is strong. But more than her physical strength, we can’t help but adore her fortitude. 

Far from the archetype of pretty and picture-perfect female leads, Bok-joo has her bad hair days, questionable table manners, and endless wardrobe of tracksuits and running shoes. It’s these and her dedication to making her dream of becoming a professional weightlifter come true that makes us root for her.

She doesn’t always come off as graceful, but she’s okay with that. There’s no big makeover or physical transformation in the drama as Bok-joo is comfortable and confident with her beauty. 

More than the physical attributes, though, it’s Bok-joo’s journey of pursuing her dream that showed her immense strength and commitment. In a male-dominated sport, she wasn’t afraid to stand her ground and fight for what she believed was right.

Oh Dong-baek from When The Camellia Blooms

Growing up as an orphan, Dong-baek had her fair share of struggles in life, but she did not let those hold her down. She was ostracized for being a single mom, ridiculed in town for being unmarried, and was bullied for her decision to raise a child alone. 

But despite having moments of fear and self-doubt (which are all understandable), Dong-baek stood her ground – she did her best to provide for her child. Even when she became a target of a serial killer, she refused to close her bar restaurant and go into hiding.  

Dong-baek’s bravery was commendable throughout the series. She serves as a reminder that while problems are inevitable in our lives, it’s how we deal with them that defines us.

Bae Ta-mi, Cha Hyeon, Song Ga-kyung from Search: WWW

Three female leads – all holding high positions in successful rival web companies – and you’d assume that it’d fall under the stereotype of revenge dramas, full of sabotage and blackmail. But Search: WWW is different: it’s a celebration of successful women empowering each other. 

Having clever and well-accomplished female characters that stand alone without the need of a man is a breath of fresh air. In this series, the romance aspect and the male characters are the ones taking a backseat. 

All three females, with their varying experiences, present unique viewpoints on success. Usually, female K-drama characters that are in positions of power are portrayed as mean or downright crazy, but the most we can get from these lead characters is being guarded and cynical. 

Their friendship is also notable. Despite how potentially ugly corporate greed can be, they did not let it affect their relationship and dedication to helping each other out.

Which of these characters are your favorite? – Rappler.com 

Samantha Onglatco is a Rappler intern under Life & Style and Entertainment section.