Nothing is more inspiring than watching other successful, strong women. And with these great dramas that drive home a heartfelt, thrilling storyline, who needs a male actor to catch out attention when these leading ladies deserve our admiration?
We’ve compiled some of the best female leads from the latest Korean dramas for you to binge on at home.
At the heart of “The Uncanny Counter” is the group of “Counters,” ordinary humans inhabited by spirit companions from Yung. These supernatural partnerships grant them vitality and extraordinary abilities, in exchange for a mission: to track down evil spirits that have eluded the afterlife’s grasp.
Within the narrative, two female protagonists shine, each inspiring in their own ways. Chu Mae-ok (pictured left), a mother who endured the loss of her child, finds herself gifted with healing capabilities by her spirit companion. Serving as the group’s bedrock, she emanates a nurturing warmth that naturally positions her as an advisor and guide to her fellow Counters.
Conversely, there’s Do Ha-na (pictured right), the lone survivor of her family’s poisoning tragedy. Empowered with remarkable physical prowess and psychometric abilities, she emerges as a formidable combatant, a stark contrast to Mae-ok’s maternal role.
Seo A-ri (played by Park Gyu-young from “Sweet Home”) rockets to stardom on social media practically overnight. The allure and dazzle of the influencer world, however, come at a cost. When A-ri is thrusted into a realm where she must navigate the treacherous waters of envy and online negativity, she fights to stay true to herself and not succumb to the dark side of online fame.
The show’s tagline, “awfully scandalous and brutally glamorous,” captures its essence, offering a narrative that explores the shadowy facets of the internet.
“Agency” tracks the journey of Go A-In (Lee Bo-Young) as she progresses from the very bottom to the pinnacle of her career within an advertising agency.
Hailing from a modest family background and lacking a prestigious university degree, Go A-In possesses an unwavering aspiration for triumph. Employed at an advertising agency, she’s recognised for her single-minded focus on achievement and financial gains. Through her unquenchable thirst for success, she embarks on a journey starting from the bottom, aiming to ascend to the esteemed position of the first female executive leader at a prominent advertising agency.
This gripping political drama stars actress Kim Hee-ae (“The World of the Married”) as Hwang Do-hee, a “fixer” (think: Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope in “Scandal”, minus the affair with the president) who once controlled the strategic planning office of Eunsung Group, a conglomerate. Actress Moon So-ri (“The Handmaiden”) plays Oh Seung-sook, a determined human rights lawyer who is called the “rhino of justice”.
Hwang Do-hee decides to join Oh Kyung-Sook’s campaign to become the mayor of Seoul, where the latter is running for the position with the goal of fighting for the weak. Both powerful women have headstrong attitudes and are intractable in their own ways; they often butt heads with different opinions. But at the end of the day, they’re both striving for the same end goal: to make Oh Kyung-Sook the mayor of Seoul.
Veteran actress Jeon Do Yeon is known for taking on multi-faceted roles where her characters are the essence of resilience, courage, and empowerment. In Kill Boksoon, Netflix’s new Korean action-thriller, her character ticks all the boxes. Gil Boksoon (Jeon) is a renowned assassin, but her biggest problem isn’t her enemies – it’s her teenage daughter. As she nears the end of her contract with leading killing agency MK Ent, she decides to take a step back in order to focus on her relationship with daughter. After all, as the show’s logline puts it: “At work, she’s a renowned assassin. At home, she’s a single mum to a teenage girl. Killing is easy. It’s parenting that’s the hard part.”
In this heart-tugging rom-com by director Yoo Je-won (the force behind other popular Korean rom-com hits such as Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha), Jeon Do Yeon makes her return to the small screen as Nam Haeng-sun, a former national handball player who now runs a banchan (Korean side dishes) shop. After her mother’s death, she gave up her sports career to take care of her daughter and disabled younger brother. Her world gets turned upside down when she is suddenly thrown into the cutthroat world of private education when her daughter tries to join a celebrity math instructor’s class.
The Glory, Netflix’s thrilling revenge-based show, was released in two parts – the first eight episodes premiered in the latter half of 2022 while the rest of the season was released in March 2023. Departing from her typical melodrama roles, Song Hye-kyo stars in The Glory as a former victim of brutal school violence. Consumed by a thirst for retribution, she embarks on an elaborate revenge scheme to confront and torment her childhood bullies who once traumatised her. Revenge is a dish best served cold, indeed.
In Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first South Korean film, which made its debut and won an award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022, Korean singer and actress IU stars as single mother Moon So-young. With no other options, she decides to give up her baby at a church’s baby box, only to later find out that there are child traffickers – brokers, as the film calls them – who are selling the orphaned infants given up by desperate mothers to affluent families who can’t have children of their own.
After she ambushes them, she decides to journey together with them to find the best potential parents for the baby. Navigating the challenges and uncertainties along her way, she gradually sheds her previous limitations and matures into a confident individual who eventually finds her path in life.
This well-loved drama is an adaptation based on the famous 1868 novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott.
Rather than the four March sisters in the original novel, the Korean adaptation follows three Oh sisters who, similar to the book, grew up in poverty.
Actress Kim Go-eun stars as In-joo, the eldest sister who’s an accountant. Nam Ji-hyun plays In-kyung, an enthusiastic reporter at a news station with a drinking addiction. Park Ji-hu plays the youngest sister, In-hye, who has a natural talent for drawing; she’s enrolled in a prestigious art high school and is keeping secrets from her family.
The young women struggle with a mountain of debt – accumulated by their father – to their name, and they have to bravely work through the difficult dramatic situations that befall them.
The star of this 2022 Korean hit drama is Woo Young-woo (Park Eun-bin), an autistic lawyer that’s working at a prestigious law firm. Park’s exemplary acting sees her bringing Young-woo to life in an incredibly detailed and genuine approach.
Young-woo, who is a rookie lawyer and the first attorney in Korea with autism spectrum disorder, is a high-functioning autistic person with a photographic memory. She’s a graduate of Seoul National University with an IQ of 164, and has no trouble with building strong legal defences and effortlessly finding legal loopholes for her clients. However, her social skills falls outside of the recognised social conventions and the series follows her as she tries to overcome the prejudicial treatment at work, in court, and in her daily life.
In part one of this period fantasy action-romance series, Nak-su (portrayed by Go Yoon-jung) is an infamous elite warrior known for destroying anyone in her path. After a fatal wound in a battle, she transfers her soul as a last resort to the supposedly blind and physically weak Mu-deok (Jung So-min).
As Mu-deok, Nak-su is no longer able to wield her sword or abilities as the body is not her own. While she embarks on a hunt to find her old body, she meets Jang Uk (Lee Jae-Wook), one of the heirs to the noble Jang family. Through a series of incidents, the fearsome assassin with a spitfire personality becomes Jang Wook’s servant, but she also secretly teaches him how to fight. Together, they both battle rival mage clans and betrayers in the kingdom.
Part two of the drama is currently in production and is set to premiere in December 2022.
In episode four, Noh Da-hyun (Moon Ga-young) gets berated by her mother who hopes for her to become a grade five civil servant. This leads to an argument between the two and Da-hyun breaking down.
Da-hyun says firmly through her tears: “I wasn’t born to make you proud, Mom. I wasn’t born for dreams you weren’t able to achieve. I’m so sorry, I want to live my life however I want to whether it’s good or bad.
“I want to make decisions for myself and be responsible for my actions.”
Seeing Da-hyun stay true to herself and fight for control of her future reminds us that we should stand up to societal pressures and the path other people set for us, or to put it simply, be the main character of our lives.
Yoo Jung (Kang Han-na) is abducted by the evil mastermind Gye-won (Jang Hyuk), who wants to disguise her as his niece in hopes that she’ll marry the king and he can gain even more power within the palace.
He threatens her with the lives of her family, and even in such a terrifying situation, Yoo Jung remains unshaken and composed. She also comes up with an elaborate plan to get out of Gye-won’s clutches safely without putting her loved ones at risk.
She stands up to Gye-won with a straight face and tells him to “let me go”. If that doesn’t scream ‘main character energy’, then what does?
And it’s not her first brush with death either.
When she was young, Yoo Jung witnessed her parents being unfairly executed and was close to death herself until she was saved by Lee Tae (Lee Joon). When she refuses to back down despite facing death a second time, it’s clear she’s not wasting her second chance at life.
Perhaps going through a near-death experience was part of it, but having Yoo Jung’s bravery, strength and determination to fight and treasure a second chance is indeed something we all need a little bit of.
In this sports drama, lead character Park Tae-yang (Park Ju-hyun) struggles and punishes herself for an accident that happened to her ex-friend Jun-young three years ago.
The accident occurred when Tae-yang dragged Jun-young out for drinks and a snowboarding trip but the latter got injured during the secret outing. It ruined Jun-young’s badminton career and she covered up the truth by telling everyone that she hurt herself during training.
Tae-yang faced no consequences, save for the years of gut-wrenching guilt that haunted her.
In episode 11, Tae-yang finally decides to come clean and reveal the truth despite being on the rise to becoming a badminton star, saying she is unafraid of people tearing her apart and that she wants to be honest.
Seeing Taeyang muster up the courage to do the right thing was inspiring because we all know how hard it can be to admit to our wrongdoings. Hey, main characters make mistakes too, but what matters most is owning it and what we do after to make amends.
What would you do if your brother died and your fiance admitted to killing him?
Doctor Lawyer’s female protagonist Geum Seok-yeong (Im Soo-hyang), a prosecutor, is caught in an impossible situation when her fiance Han Yi-han admits to killing her brother due to medical malpractice.
Unknown to her, Yi-han was threatened by the head of the hospital because the latter is just trying to hide a lot of dirty little secrets — as most drama villains are wont to do.
Seok-yeong confronts Yi-han but he keeps up the lie and breaks up with her. Angry and upset, she turns her rage into her motivation to (legally) punish negligent doctors.
Most who have suffered crippling losses like our leading lady might give up (and it’s justified), but she doesn’t. Faced with the injustices of life, Seok-yeong chooses not to surrender to that which she cannot control and instead hones in on what she can do as a prosecutor.
She showed us that we too can harness our strong emotions and use that to push ourselves forward and be the change you want to see in this world.
Our heroine, Hong Ye-seul (Seo Ji-hye), is a project manager of an advertising agency who tends to be a pushover. She also often seeks the approval of her boss, Cha Min-hoo (Yoon Kye-sang), and frequently makes her decisions based on his responses.
When Ye-seul takes charge of a campaign for a bedding company and proposes ideas to her bosses, her lack of confidence shows when she is constantly prepared to be rejected.
In episode two, after Ye-sul finishes setting up a pop-up store to promote their campaign, Min-hoo questions why she didn’t present an idea like that earlier to him.
He later offers some enlightening advice — that it is better to make one good plan instead of coming up with many proposals — before subtly complimenting her work. After this scene, Ye-seul is empowered and resolves to show her work in a better light in the face of her superiors.
While the male lead is the catalyst for change, our leading lady teaches us that it is okay to accept compliments and learn how to become the star of your own life. At the end of the day, people are more likely to be convinced that you’re capable if you own your power.
(Additional reporting: Syarifah Nadhirah, Aisha Hassan from Asiaone)
This eight-episode crime noir drama is not your typical light-hearted Korean drama. Gritty and intense, My Name is full of unexpected twists and action sequences.
Rising actress Han So-hee proves herself as an incredible actress with range by bringing the main character Yoon Ji-woo to life.
Ji-woo, who witnessed her father’s murder, is determined to seek revenge. To avenge her late father, she joins a crime syndicate led by Choi Mu-jin (Park Hee-Soon). After undergoing rigorous training to hone her fighting skills, she changes her identity and infiltrates the police force, in order to find the man who killed her father.
Through several of the show’s breathtaking action sequences, Han’s Ji-woo proves herself as a formidable force in a world where danger’s lurking around every corner.
Hong Cha-young played by actress Jeon Yeo-been in the hit Korean drama Vincenzo works as a lawyer at a firm favoured by many rich but morally dubious clients. In the first few episodes, Cha-Young is seen taking a different path from her father, who also happens to be a lawyer, as she had no intention of working for low-rent clients, no matter how worthy the cause. Her father, on the other hand, battled on behalf of the poor. As a person who cares more about practicality than virtue, Cha-Young has a competitive spirit, and does an amazing job as a lawyer in court than everyone else, despite having her flaws.
One other noteworthy point when it comes to her character is that she has been spotted in an array of ultra-polished ensembles with the trendiest accessories to boot, emphasising her strong character as a female lead.
Cha Yu Ri (Kim Tae Hee) has been lingering on Earth after her death and has been watching over her husband and daughter. After throwing a tantrum and cursing out a deity, Yu Ri is granted a shot at her old life to be human again. In order to stay human, she has 49 days to make her life as it was before she died. Problem is, it’s been five years and her husband has already remarried.
Yu Ri shows us that there are no limits to love and her strength throughout each episode is not only inspiring but just might make you curl into a bawl and sob. In a good way.
Coming from the writers of the iconic dramas like the Reply Series and the Prison Playbook, Hospital Playlist is yet another heartfelt drama that breaks the stereotypes of Korean dramas.
Chae Song-hwa (Jeon Mi-do) is an associate professor of neurosurgery and the only woman of the group of five. She’s the best at her job, runs the neurosurgery department, intelligent and empathetic.
Song-hwa is a refreshing character that shows a woman can devote herself to her job, be successful and still have her own personal life. Inspiring, motivating and kinda makes you wish you were her. Forget the four handsome male leads, Hospital Playlist is a must-watch with her in it.
This comes from her background as an heiress and a successful businesswoman, as well as her own personal troubles.
Being the illegitimate daughter of the Yoon family, she grew up feeling rather lonely and almost outcast within her own family. Her stepmother abandoned her at a beach, her brothers never really felt she was the rightful heir to their family’s business. All that loneliness caused her to struggle with thoughts of suicide, which she overcame.
Despite her harsh realities, she grew fiercely independent, resilient, and went on to build her own business empire and brand. It was probably this resilience that she had that made her a survivor even when she crash landed in North Korea only to face even more life-threatening dangers. Her will to survive and beat the odds was truly inspiring.
Three leading women working in competing successful web companies, and all in high positions. You’d assume that the drama would be filled with sabotage, blackmailing and backstabbing.
Well, forget the stereotypes, leading women Bae Ta Mi (Im Soo Jung), Cha Hyeon (Lee Da Hee), and Song Ga Kyung (Jeon Hye Jin) empower each other in work and even relationships.
You’ll find no drama tropes of successful women but rather, heartwarming friendship and meaningful relationships.
By day Sung Deok-Mi (Park Min-Young) works as a curator at an art gallery, she’s exceptional at her job and the epitome of professionalism. By night, she’s a hardcore fan whose world revolves around her idol, Cha Shi An. She even runs the fan website.
For years, the typical stereotypes of fangirls are always mainly degrading or demeaning. Sung Deok-Mi sets the precedence that you can be more than just the typical label and that there’s nothing wrong with what one likes. She has a successful career and is a woman not to be trifled with.
Talk about strong women leads!
One of the most highly-rated historical dramas, most overlook the strong women lead that is unlike any other.
Go Ae-Shin (Kim Tae-Ri) is a double-edged sword. She’s the daughter of an aristocrat, living in the high world full of social hierarchy. Yet she’s also a deadly resistance fighter that works for a cause she fiercely believes in.
Willing to put her life on the line for her country, this woman fights for her beliefs to the very end and shows that whatever a man can do, she can do it better.
If you’ve watched Strong Woman Do Bong-Soon, you’d know that Bong-soon takes smashing stereotypes to a whole new level with her defining personality and physical ability.
This down-to-earth female lead has superhuman strength despite being on the petite side, and her heart is no let-down either with her determination and lack of hesitation when it comes to defending others.
Not much has to be said to grasp the personality behind a woman (a teacher, at that) who kidnaps a child who’s being abused at home.
Her protective nature seems to be fuelled by impulse at first, but later she shows to be very mindful and motherly as she assesses and navigates the risky situation around her.
We love a good character in relentless pursuit of their dreams. Though born of a ‘third-rate life’, Ae-ra lives to the title of the show Fight For My Way by remaining righteous, self-sufficient and ambitious about becoming an announcer.
She is considered a good role model for the audience as a character who stays true to herself, refusing to be dampened by the words and actions of others while staying spirited, strong and sassy.
This one features not just one, but three female protagonists from different walks of life, who form a revenge club of sorts. The unlikely trio form a deep bond despite their different personalities, and it’s certainly refreshing to witness the strengths of each character grown from their individual difficulties, and how they come together to form a support system and dynamic friendship with each other.
We love to see #WomenSupportingWomen!
The female lead of Descendants Of The Sun has shaped a huge part of the show’s success, as one of the biggest K-dramas to hit the small screen in 2016. As a cardiothoracic surgeon within warzone, Mo-yeon’s headstrong character is not only complemented by her sheer intellect and beauty, but also her clear distinction between heart and mind and her humility.
Her willingness to admit mistakes makes her a likeable and admirable character, especially when you take into account how incredibly human she is thanks to Song Hye-kyo’s superb acting skills.
It’s hard to fathom how one can cope with being in someone else’s body, much less the body of a royal princess during historic times. All with the painful memory of her previous life in mind, Hae Soo has come face to face with a myriad of challenges, such as adapting as a person of the 21st century in 941 and pleading for the justice of others.
How she takes everything in her stride while maintaining her faith, sincerity and kindness to others shows just how strong she is, both emotionally and mentally.
Transformed from a high school delinquent into a successful neurosurgeon, Yoo Hye-jung’s got quite the brain and the brawn to be one of the toughest female leads we’ve seen.
Perhaps it’s her backstory of having a difficult childhood that makes it even more remarkable when she shows how much compassion she is still capable of – while staying absolutely kick-ass.
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo is another K-drama that nails the concept of an extremely physically strong woman. As a talented weightlifter, Bok-joo struggles with her “lack of femininity” but learns to overcome her esteem issues and love herself.
Through all of this, she never falters in showing her true self as an awkward but outgoing and loveable character.
The heart-wrenching premise of Second 20s follows Ha No-ra – a 38-year-old woman who gave up being a dancer at 19 after she was pregnant – now close to divorce and diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.
To make the most out of what’s left of her life, she takes charge of herself again and attends college. This emotional journey really reflects No-ra’s personality as an empowering female lead who once sacrificed her life to responsibilities as a mother and housewife.