Dear kfangurl: Which dramas have strong, interesting female characters?

Reka writes:

Dear kfangurl,
I love you blog! Your reviews are very interesting!
I started watching kdramas last year, and haven’t stopped since xD
I was wondering, can you recommend me any kdramas with good, compelling, interesting female characters? Because I find this aspect kind of lacking D:

Even better if they’re fierce badasses, amiright? <3

Dear Reka,

Thanks for enjoying the reviews, and the blog in general! I’m glad you like it around here. πŸ™‚

You’re right to say that dramas featuring female characters who are strong, compelling, and interesting are less common. Traditionally, many dramas – kdramas in particular – have seemed to favor Candy-esque female leads, who often need to be saved by their knights in shining armor. Sometimes, we even see dramas where the female lead is there just to be a foil to our male protagonist (again, I’m looking at you, Memories of the Alhambra), so when a drama comes along that showcases strong female characters, it feels extra precious.

Personally, over the years, I realize that I’ve come to value dramas featuring strong female characters &/or strong female friendships more than ever, so your question really got me thinking.

I’ve put together a list of dramas (broken down into 3 sub-lists) that I think fit the bill, but of course, I haven’t seen every drama ever made, so I’m sure there are perfectly qualified dramas missing from this list. Additionally, although I realize that your question specified kdramas, I’ve also included dramas from China and Taiwan that I think also sit in these categories.

As always, everyone, do feel free to chime in with your insights and your own picks of worthy dramas in the comments! πŸ™‚

Dramas with a strong / interesting female lead character

This section is for dramas where I feel that the focus of the story is more about the female lead’s journey, rather than, say, an OTP coming together. Some of these dramas feature OTPs, sure, but to my eyes, the OTP relationship is secondary to the female lead’s own trajectory of growth &/or healing.

The First Half Of My Life [China]

A fantastic, elegantly written story of personal growth and healing, where our female lead picks herself up from a sudden divorce, and learns independence, confidence and strength, all over again. Bonus points for a wonderful bestie who stands by our female protagonist with fierce loyalty. There are lashings of romance, but Show is clear that its main focus is always on our female lead and her personal journey.Β Such an underrated gem.

Grade: A

Flash Review: here.

SKY Castle

This is an ensemble drama with a strong focus on the theme of the dysfunction of keeping up with the Joneses, so there is no single strong female lead. But, this drama world is peppered with strong female characters, each with their own brand of steeliness. I found Show’s ending on the underwhelming side, but the rest of the drama is very solid and compelling.

Grade: A

Review: here.

The Light In Your Eyes [Dazzling]

It’s really best to go into this one with as little idea as possible of the plot, so let me just say that our female protagonist Hye Ja, is vibrant yet vulnerable, and is delivered with a great deal of heart. Bonus points to Show for also featuring Hye Ja’s friends, where together, they form a Tight Trio, and support one another through thick and thin. There is a romance in this, but the story really is all about Hye Ja’s journey, and what a beautiful, raw, poignant yet pure journey that turned out to be.

Grade: A

Flash Review: here.

Angry Mom

Kim Hee Sun is absolutely fabulous as our titular Angry Mom Kang Ja, who dons a high school uniform in order to get to the truth of some dark and disturbing events at her daughter’s school. She’s fearless and a total badass, yet full of warmth and heart, and I found it impossible not to love her. Judging by how she soon gains an adorably youthful Smitten Puppy admirer in Ji Soo, I can safely say I’m not alone in having hearts in my eyes for Kang Ja. The fact that Kang Ja has an equally badass, fiercely loyal bestie who happens to have a princess fixation, and who’s always got her back, is just icing on the cake.

Grade: A

Review: here.

VIP

There is a couple at the center of our story, but this drama is really all about the journeys of our female characters. In the midst of the tension-laden mystery of who had an affair with whom, while trust and friendship is put to the test, our female characters manage to chart meaningful journeys of personal healing and growth, which I found gratifying to witness.

Grade: B++

Flash Review: here.

The Story Of Minglan [China]

Show leans long (73 episodes!), but at its center, we have a naturally smart female protagonist, who, from a beaten-down, overly cautious small potato, grows into a shrewd, confident and wise matriarch who is a force to be reckoned with. Show is quite meandering, but is so full of heart, that I found it worth the watch. It was worth the wait, to be able to witness Minglan eventually come into her own.

Grade: B+

Flash Review: here.

My Daughter Seo Young

At 50 episodes, Show is a fairly big commitment, but one that I felt flew by relatively quickly. Our main character Seo Young (Lee Bo Young), who’s hurt and battered on the inside, but steely and prickly on the outside, charts a meaningful journey of growth and healing, and several of her key relationships are healed along the way as well. Another plus point, is that the OTP relationship is handled in a way that feels believable and organic. Also, I found Lee Sang Yoon especially handsome in this.

Grade: B+

Flash Review: here.

King’s Daughter Soo Baek Hyang

This is a story of one woman’s evolution from a poor village girl, to actual, bona fide princess, and it’s so satisfying to watch Seo Hyun Jin portray every aspect of Soo Baek Hyang’s journey. Even though it’s clothed in political robes, Show is, at its heart, more akin to a family drama, and possesses lots of heart, to prove it. I found this engaging and even a little cracky.

Grade: B

Review: here.

Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung

Your mileage may vary with this one (some folks love it, Show was just ok, for me), but there’s no doubt that our protagonist Hae Ryung is a strong and interesting heroine. At a time where women mostly just obsessed about who they would marry, Hae Ryung rejects the idea of marriage, and instead, sets her sights on getting a job, so that she can feel like she’s adding value to the world. Pretty wow, for a sageuk, no? To Show’s credit, it upholds Hae Ryung’s dreams all the way to end, even while throwing in a cute little romance on the side.

Grade: B

Flash Review: here.

Misty

I got accidentally spoiled for the ending while watching this, and ended up dropping out because that took away the mystery of the watch, but I must say that from what I saw, Kim Nam Joo cuts an absolutely commanding figure as our female protagonist. On top of being impossibly regal, she’s also passionate about work, sharp as a samurai blade, and coldly calculative about people; not your average kdrama heroine, to be sure. Worth the watch, I believe, if you are able to avoid spoilers for the ending.

Graceful Family

I personally ended up dropping this one (dropped post here), but lots of people enjoyed this one, and it does feature a strong, badass female lead at the center of its story. Our female lead Seok Hee (Im Soo Hyang) is unpredictable, sardonic and shrewd, and possesses a fiery sense of justice, and overall, is a character very much worth rooting for, if you can look beyond Show’s flaws.

The Good Wife

I fell off the wagon with this one and haven’t gotten around to finishing it, but while I was watching this, I was very impressed. Jeon Do Yeon is regal, restrained and charismaticΒ  – not to mention capable! – as our female lead Hye Kyung, and right away from episode 1, I found myself rooting for her and wanting her to succeed. I loved that Hye Kyung is strong in spite of her vulnerability, and in the face of a difficult situation and conflicting emotions, she digs deep, and produces the strength she needs to face everything, one step at a time. I really need to get back to this one.

Dramas with a strong / interesting female character that’s part of an OTP

I wanted to include this section because so many dramas showcase an OTP at its center, and some of these dramas feature a female lead who is as compelling and as interesting as her male lead. Yes, more often than not, the story circles around the romance, but for these female leads, they are never defined by the romance, and are still interesting in their own right.

Secret Love Affair

Kim Hee Ae is sophisticated, beautiful, elegant and altogether magnificent as Hye Won, the object of her twenty-years-younger piano protege Sun Jae’s (Yoo Ah In) adoration and affection. Beyond the OTP development (which is completely absorbing on its own), Show also does a deep dive in meaningfully exploring Hye Won’s emotional landscape, and what makes her tick. Absorbing and emotional to a staggering degree.

Grade: A++

Review: here.

Healer

I think Ji Chang Wook‘s male lead Jung Hoo is utterly swoony, so to say that I think Park Min Young more than holds her own opposite him as female lead Young Shin, is a Big Statement indeed. Young Shin pops onscreen in a big way, feeling real and relatable, and also, aspirationally brave and warm-hearted. I wanted to be like her, and I wanted to be her best friend.

Grade: A+

Review: here.

My Mister

Show is vague about whether there is romance in this OTP connection, and there are fans with fiercely different views about this. What I will say, though, is, both Lee Sun Gyun and IU are fantastic in this, and the connection between them, while hard to pin down exactly, is strong and undeniable. As Ji An, IU is jaded yet fragile; tough yet vulnerable; cold yet self-sacrificing. Ji An’s backstory and her journey towards hope and life isn’t even half of Show’s appeal, and yet, even on its own, it’s absorbing, compelling stuff.

Grade: A+

Review: here.

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

Bok Joo (Lee Sung Kyung) took a while to grow on me, but I soon grew to love how relatable and real she feels. From wrestling with how she feels about weightlifting, to grappling with her sense of identity and self-acceptance, to contending with inconvenient and embarrassing romantic feelings, Bok Joo feels gloriously genuine and authentic. Plus, what a bonus, that she has a couple of besties, and together, they eat, laugh and cry as a tightly knit group, always reminding one another of their inner swag. Even more bonus, is the fantastic OTP chemistry, which feels like it’s off the charts, at times.

Grade: A+

Review: here.

I Hear Your Voice

Show’s got lots of appeal as a breezy, heartfelt noona romance with lots of squee-worthy moments serving up all of the feels, but even better, is that at the center, we have a strong female lead in lawyer Hye Sung (Lee Bo Young), who’s all pride and bluster on the outside, and soft, vulnerable and tender on the inside. It’s through Hye Sung’s relationships with the people around her that we witness the growth and healing that she charts, and to Show’s credit, this is woven into our story in a manner that feels organic and believable. As a bonus, I thought Lee Jong Suk was very melty in this.

Grade: A+

Review: here.

Romance is a Bonus Book

Even though this show is packaged in shiny rom-com colors and serves up suitably sweet OTP moments, at its heart, Show is more about our female lead Dan Yi’s (Lee Na Young) struggle as a newly-divorced single mum, to re-enter the workplace and rediscover her lost mojo, both as a professional, and as a woman. Show is thoughtfully written, and full of poignance and heart, with just the right touch of whimsy.

Grade: A

Review: here.

She Was Pretty

On the surface, this looks a lot like almost every other rom-com populating Dramaland, but what sets Show apart, is how heartfelt and warm it is, even as it explores the theme of self-worth, self-acceptance, and self-love. Our female lead Hye Jin (Hwang Jung Eum) grapples with her embarrassment over her less-than-pretty appearance, and struggles to learn to love herself, as much as she struggles to believe that she is worthy of love. A wonderfully uplifting watch.

Grade: A

Review: here.

Arang and the Magistrate

Shin Min Ah’s feisty ghost is a great character, and is well-matched to Lee Jun Ki‘s ghost-seeing (but also, ghost-denying) magistrate. More than a heartfelt love story (though we do get that, and with very excellent OTP chemistry, to boot), we also get to witness Arang’s search for identity and meaning. The writing falters a touch in spots, but Show is an absorbing and satisfying watch, overall.

Grade: A

Review: here.

Coffee Prince

Eun Chan is, in essence, the opposite of the typical Candy. She’s so boyish that she’s often mistaken for an actual boy; she’s the breadwinner of the family; she teaches judo; she’s physically strong; she possesses a ravenous appetite. Yes, Eun Chan finds love in the midst of our story, but she remains fiercely independent, and dares to dream new dreams for herself, and dares to chase those dreams. Worth stanning, indeed. On top of that, Yoon Eun Hye shares a fantastically cracky chemistry with co-star Gong Yoo that actually leaps off the screen to hit you in the feels. So good.

Grade: A

Review: here.

Oh Hae Young Again [Another Oh Hae Young]

Hae Young (Seo Hyun Jin) is a flawed female lead that I loved, and loved to root for. She looks like her life’s a mess, and her bluster and bravado is all for show, but she’s so easy to relate to as an everygirl who just wants to be happy. Above all, I loved Hae Young’s resilience, and how, when she loves, she loves fearlessly. So brave, and so aspirational. <3 Seo Hyun Jin shares wonderful chemistry with her male lead Eric, but I think it’s also important to keep in mind that this is a melo, rather than a rom-com.

Grade: A-

Review: here.

Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms [China]

Show’s main appeal is the epic love story between our leads Ye Hua (Mark Chao) and Bai Qian (Yang Mi). The romance is intoxicating, heady stuff, and Mark Chao is uber melty as Ye Hua (I swoon just at the memory, flail), but notably, Bai Qian is a strong, powerful goddess in her own right. Yes, we do need to wait for Bai Qian to mature as a character, but once she does, the badassery is there in spades, and I lapped it all up with a spoon.

Grade: A-

Flash Review: here.

In Time With You [Taiwan]

I love-love-love Chen Bolin as male lead Da Ren, so very much (hearts in eyes foreverrr), but I must admit that our female lead You Qing (Ariel Lin) is a strong, interesting character in her own right. She may have her flaws, but her good points far outweigh her weaknesses, and I couldn’t help but root for her to find happiness, even when she was displaying bouts of frustrating behavior. Such an organic-feeling love story, between two people who feel so real. <3

Grade: A-

Flash Review: here.

Go Back Spouses [Go Back Couple]

For me, Show’s main appeal is as a heartfelt story of do-overs, and the wisdom and perspective gained through the experience. I fancy we spend more time with our female lead Jin Joo (Jang Na Ra) than our male lead Ban Do (Sohn Ho Jun), and in particular, I loved watching her revisit her youth, her times with Mom (Kim Mi Kyung), and reclaiming the mojo that she’d lost, over the years. Earnest, wholesome and bittersweet, despite Show’s rough edges.

Grade: B++

Flash Review: here.

My Girlfriend is a Gumiho [My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox]

I loved Shin Min Ah as this show’s titular gumiho. She’s ethereally beautiful, yet full of sass and cheek, as she regularly threatens male lead Dae Woong (Lee Seung Gi) that she will eat his liver, if he doesn’t feed her beef. Tee hee. The hijinks! I remember finding our gumiho much more interesting and compelling than her human male lead, and Show gets bonus points for managing to deliver a story that actually hit high notes of big feels, in its final stretch.Β An oldie but a goodie.

Strong Woman Do Bong Soon

I did not enjoy Show’s sense of humor, which I found to be in very poor taste. But, it was admittedly refreshing and quite different, to see our male lead Min Hyuk (Park Hyung Shik) literally swoon at the superhuman strength of female lead Bong Soon (Park Bo Young). If you can get past the crass humor and the serial killer aspect of our story, the OTP is very adorable indeed.

Grade: B

Review: here.

Love For A Thousand More

A cute little web drama about an immortal with the body of a beautiful young girl, but with the soul of a crusty, old granny, who’s lived for a thousand years, and who dishes out relationship advice for a living, but personally swears off dating. Yes, of course there’s a bit of a loveline for the immortal who’s sworn off dating, but it’s our lady immortal who steals the show, in all of her grumpy, sardonic glory.

Grade: B

Flash Review: here.

Dramas showcasing strong female friendships

Of course, I couldn’t do this post and not include a section on dramas that showcase strong female friendships.

Search: WWW

A drama that shines the spotlight on not just one strong female character, but three? Yes, please, and thank you very much. Show introduces us to three very different female lead characters, and proceeds to make each of their trajectories different, while keeping them connected and intertwined. The result is absorbing goodness, and I came away more invested in these three ladies and their friendship with one another, than in their individual lovelines, even though I was also suitably immersed in each of their love stories. Very well done, I must say.

Grade: A

Review: here.

Be Melodramatic

A quirky, off-the-wall story of three friends who are completely different from one another, yet fully invested in and supportive of one another’s lives. Show does a lovely job of fleshing out each of our main ladies’ personal stories, while also spending time delving into the dynamics of their friendship. Sometimes Show feels outright weird, but I mean that in the best possible way.

Grade: A-

Review: here.

Age Of Youth

A coming-of-age story that takes place in a share house, where our residents go from strangers to, well, family. <3 All our characters feel real and relatable, and Show does a nice job diving into each of their personal stories, while also showcasing the group dynamic of this burgeoning sisterhood. Imperfect in spots, but so endearing overall.

Grade: B++

Flash Review: here.

Age Of Youth 2

A worthy sequel to Season 1, despite the departure of several characters, and the casting of a different actress for one of our characters due to scheduling conflicts. Show manages to retain the same strengths as Season 1, giving time to individual arcs while teasing out the group dynamics within the share house and showing the growth of the in-house friendships. This season feels more bittersweet than the first season, but is, overall, as solid as its sister.

Grade: B++

Review: here.

20th Century Boy and Girl

A warm, simple, angst-lite, heartfelt romance that happens to feature a group of gal pals that I really liked. The three girls are as different as can be, in personality and chosen profession, but they get along like a literal house on fire whenever they hang out together, and it warmed my heart to see them love and accept one another, flaws and all, without pettiness or jealousy. I loved how candid, familiar and cozy their friendship felt. <3 I mean, I also really liked the romance, which features Kim Ji Suk in a rare melty role, but that’s just bonus.

Grade: B

Flash Review: here.

Dear My Friends

A top quality drama that’s made of multiple veterans, Dear My Friends feels fresh and comfortable at the same time, with characters at the center of our story, who are usually relegated to peripheral roles as grandmothers and grandfathers. The care and friendship – the sisterhood, really – is clear to see, and it’s so poignant to see these friendships which have weathered the years. I haven’t finished this one yet, because I’m not ready for any of our characters to die – and someone probably will, given the age and life stations of our characters – and I just can’t bear the thought of it. I will go back to it someday, though.

IN CLOSING

Wow. When we break it down this way, there really are more strong, interesting, compelling female characters in Dramaland than we first thought, aren’t there? That’s a very happy discovery, I think. It’s also very heartening to see that Dramaland realizes that more than ever, we like our female characters strong and interesting, and is working on bringing us more of them.

Meanwhile, I hope that you’ll find more than a few strong heroines to love from this list!

Love! ❀

~kfangurl

Cheers to all our female superheroes on our screens, in all their different forms and foibles. <3

POST-SCRIPT:

1. If you feel that I missed anything, or if you have your own insights that you’d like to share with the rest of us, do tell us about it in the comments!

2. Do you have a question of your own? Drop me a comment here or on theΒ Dear kfangurlΒ page, or send me an email!

69 thoughts on “Dear kfangurl: Which dramas have strong, interesting female characters?

  1. oldlistener

    Good list and good comments by all.

    I don’t think that these have been mentioned :

    Love o2o – Wei Wei is capable and confident. She is initially in awe of her boyfriend and can’t believe her luck. She isn’t a doormat and the leading man doesn’t do anything she can’t accept.

    Bromance – Megan Lai is convincing as a bad ass man.

    The Beauty Inside – The leading lady has grace under pressure.

    All these women have supportive friends and a great boyfriend whose on her side.

    One Asian movie: My wife is a gangster 3. No question about who is in charge here. Some martial arts, a coherent story and lots of humor. Shu Qi is perfect for the role.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Dear kfangurl: What are some dramas with excellent OTPs? | The Fangirl Verdict

  3. Drama Fan

    Awesome list! I suggest two more: Lady Mishil from Queen Seondeok and the Queen Seondeok herself. They were both so cunning and it was just simply so much fun to watch, two badass women outsmarting each other.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Thanks for adding to the list, DF! (And, I’m sorry for this terribly late reply!) I haven’t seen Queen Seondeok, but even I’ve heard of Lady Mishil, so I believe the hype! πŸ˜€

      Reply
  4. Storyteller

    Not sure if you’ve seen it, but Mother was such an underrated gem that touched on child abuse, adoption and the different forms of motherhood. Definitely deserved the Baeksang Best Drama award and Cannes nomination.

    Kang Soo Jin’s (Lee Bo-young) growth as a mother, daughter and sister was particularly rewarding to see, and her maternal connection with Hye Na (Heo Yool) was believably authentic.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Oh, you’re right, Storyteller, I haven’t yet seen Mother! I was a little spooked by the theme of child abuse, I have to admit. It didn’t sound like an easy watch by any means, but I still have good intentions of checking it out sometime. But I’m sure that Lee Bo Young’s character in Mother deserves a mention on this list, so thanks for giving her the shout-out she deserves! πŸ˜€

      Reply
      1. Storyteller

        Going in, I had similar apprehensions too! πŸ™‚ Thankfully, the child abuse scenes were kept to a minimum and concentrated on Ep 1. Tight storytelling, excellent cinematography and acting made it an easier watch than expected, but it definitely tugged my heartstrings ala My Ajusshi. I found my eyeballs sweating after each episode. πŸ™‚

        Haven’t seen LBY’s work before, but she is superb here. Heo Yool’s acting game was a revelation though — the way her eyes conveyed raw emotion was special to behold.

        Reply
  5. Ayra

    I would like to recommend strong female leads like Romantic Doctor, Teacher Kim 1 and 2; IUΒ΄s Hotel del Luna; or Itaewon Class

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Thanks for adding to the list, Ayra.. very helpful, since I haven’t seen some of those shows and therefore wouldn’t be able to nominate those strong female characters myself! πŸ˜‰

      Reply
  6. ilypjm

    Very nice list you have here! πŸ™‚ For me personally, I want to include Si Tu Mo of Put Your Head On My Shoulder. From the start, I have taken a great liking into her character and personality as she kinda looks like someone who needs constant attention (due to her bubbly character and small figure i guess) , when in reality she has enough spirits inside her to be independent and stand for her own opinions. Like you have mentioned in your review of the drama, I found that the scene of when she failed her interview in the first episode; as Gu Wei Yi took her bag instead of his; her action of not flipping over the mistake and blaming it all on him (although, technically i believe she could), is admirable(?) She was super cool about that like?? Sis, you failed your interview because of him and you’re okay with that?

    It’s not that I do want her to be angry at him or whatnots,, just, as a viewer, I do know that she really wants to pass this interview, but when she couldn’t,, she handles that rejection maturely. That’s something to ponder,, her professional attitude, I mean.

    *I’m not sure if you will agree with me though,, but maybe because I’m biased hehehh this IS my fav drama ever after all hahahh

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi there ilypjm, thanks for adding to the list! Yes, I agree that Si Tu Mo had a refreshing sense of self, and I liked her general confidence too. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  7. Jae

    I don’t know know if the girls in Because This Is My First Life especially Ji Ho and Esom’s character. But my other favorites would be Seo Ye Ji in Lawless Lawyer and Jung Ryeo Won in both Witch Court and History Of A Salaryman.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      All great picks, Jae! πŸ˜€ I haven’t seen Witch’s Court, but I did love Jung Ryeo Won in History of a Salaryman! πŸ˜€ And I thought Esom was especially boss, in Because This Is My First Life! 🀩🀩

      Reply
  8. Tina

    I think that Chinese dramas generally are ahead of Korean dramas when it comes to strong and nuanced female characters. I feel that Korean (and Japanese) dramas with “strong” women sometimes try so hard to prove a woman’s strong bona fides that she is drawn as a one-dimensional charicature of what people imagine strong to be. Or the supposedly strong woman melts into weak sauce when it comes to romance. (I’m also not a huge fan of dramas when something similar happens to the male character.)

    I’ve been happier with the protrayal of women in Chinese dramas. The complex female characters in Story of Yanxi Palace, Legend of Fu Yao, General and I, and Story of Ming Lan, for example, drew me in and kept me watching regardless of any flaws the dramas may have otherwise had.

    Having said all that, I did love the female leads in Korean dramas such as The Light in Your Eyes and My Mister and all of the women in Be Melodramatic. I never warmed up to the female lead in Another Oh Hae Young because I thought that she was weak and uncontrolled. And really whiny. The female lead in Healer was okay but she didn’t strike me as stronger than other female lead characters. The same with Strong Woman Do Bong Soon, unless you count physical strength. (I was more irritated, however, by the show’s treatment of physical abuse and homophobia.)

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi there Tina, that’s an interesting point, about Chinese dramas having more success with portraying strong and complex female characters. πŸ™‚ I haven’t watched a wide enough range of C-dramas to have a truly informed opinion on that, but I’m intrigued, especially because a good number of the modern C-romcoms seem to glorify the ιœΈι“ζ€»θ£ (dominating boss) sort of storyline, and when I wondered why this type of story is so popular, I could only conclude that it speaks to the idea of being a 小ε₯³δΊΊ (little woman). It sounds like you’ve watched quite a few C-dramas.. would you be able to share any insights on that? It’s been puzzling me a fair bit. πŸ™‚

      I totally agree that SWDBS was very problematic as a show, and I cringed more than a few times at the insensitivity and crassness. But, I included it anyway, because at least in the literal sense, Bong Soon was strong, and I appreciated that her prince, instead of swooping in to save her, swooned at her strength instead. That was pretty cool. I concede that Hae Young isn’t for everyone, and I can see why she might rub audiences the wrong way. She worked for me, though; instead of being turned off by her uncontrolled whiny behavior, I saw it as complete honesty and vulnerability. The details are hazy for me right now, so I can’t comment in a more detailed manner, but suffice to say that I understand completely, if she doesn’t work for you. πŸ™‚

      Reply
      1. Tina

        I haven’t watched a wide range of C-dramas either. Most of the ones I’ve watched have been historical or fantasy (like Legend of Fu Yao). I am currently watching the modern day Chinese drama Medical Examiner Dr. Qin, however, and I like the female lead so far. But you’re right, it starts out with an arrogant, domineering male boss.

        Perhaps I gravitate towards historical and fantasy Chinese dramas because they tend to create worlds where females are dominant, or at least hold their own against males, without bludgeoning me on the head with that point. Although I prefer dramas with strong female characters, I also tend to lose interest in dramas where the whole focus seems to be to prove that women can be strong, too. I’m already aware that women can be strong, thank you very much drama writers, and I’m a little bothered that some writers seem to think that that point still needs to be proven.

        While I know that the US still has a long ways to go when it comes to women’s equality, countries like Korea and Japan sometimes seem to be further behind, especially when it comes to women in the workplace. Maybe that’s why their dramas tend still to serve up a fair share of Candy or strong-woman-melting-into-romantic-mush or one-dimensional, cartoonishly “strong” heroines, regardless of the genre. And maybe modern Chinese dramas include a lot of dominating bosses because they tend to reflect modern Chinese society but Chinese writers feel that they have greater latitude to create strong and complex female characters when constructing historical or fantasy worlds because they’re not attempting to depict current society? (Okay, that was one convoluted sentence.)

        Reply
        1. Tina

          I’m revising my assessment of Medical Examiner Dr. Qin. He is not in fact a domineering boss but instead reminds me of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes. I really like the female lead. Warning: Many of the autopsy scenes are quite graphic.

          Reply
          1. kfangurl

            Thanks for coming back to update your assessment of Dr. Qin, Tina! πŸ˜€ I actually tried watching about 5 eps, and liked the characters well enough. I just struggled with the cases getting solved so conveniently. I’m going to give it another try with an adjusted lens around case expectations, and I hope that’ll help me enjoy it as much as others have! πŸ™‚

            Reply
        2. kfangurl

          Hm, that’s an interesting perspective, Tina, thanks for sharing! I do agree with you that our dramas are still finding their way, when it comes to portraying strong female characters. I’ve been watching mainly kdramas and C-dramas for the last few years, so I can only speak for those, but I feel like we’re seeing a little more from kdramas, in terms of strong and interesting female characters, and I do think that we’re seeing some progress, because I don’t feel so much, like the dramas are coming across try-hard with the strong female characters. I haven’t sampled as many C-dramas, so while I say that a lot of the C-romcoms seem to favor the dominating boss trope, there might well be C-dramas with strong female characters that I just don’t know about. And I do think you have a point, about there probably being more strong female characters in the period dramas. Now that I think about the C-period dramas that I’ve seen, the women were actually, on average, stronger than the ones in modern C-dramas, on average. How interesting!!

          Speaking of strong female characters, have you seen The First Half Of My Life? That was quite an anomaly, I feel like. Strong female characters, strong female friendships, elegant, thoughtful writing, and all packaged so beautifully. So rare in a modern C-drama, I thought. I highly recommend it, if you haven’t seen it yet! πŸ™‚

          Reply
  9. beezrtp

    Chicago Typewriter’s Lim Soo young’s character from the 1930’s was totally badazz. Although we didn’t get to spend enough time with her. She was totally committed to her cause to the point that she was judge and executioner and it did not matter what anyone’s relationship was within their organization, or to her personally, or their possibly legitimate reason for betraying the cause – she carried out her conviction unwaveringly. The moment she started to move my reaction was “‘ish just got real”.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Oh yes, I did enjoy her 1930s character in Chicago Typewriter! I didn’t care for the present-day character so much. Which is probably why I forgot about her, when making this list..! πŸ˜… Thanks for adding her to the list of awesome female characters! <3

      Reply
  10. Tal

    For me one of the BEST female characters ever and kdrama is Miss Hammurabi. I could watch several seasons of that show and it’s a hidden gem everyone should watch.

    Reply
  11. Elyce Bruijnes

    Female friendships would not be complete without Avengers Social Club, where alone they were in hopeless situations, but together found the strength they needed to improve matters/ get revenge.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Ooh, thanks for adding to the list, Elyce! πŸ˜€ I’ve had Avengers Social Club on my list, but haven’t managed to get around to it, and then I sort of forgot about it, a little bit. Thanks for bringing it back to my attention, I’ll bump it up my list! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  12. beezrtp

    Believe it or not, Shin Se kyung as “General” Boon Yi in Six Flying Dragons had a back bone of steel. After having her and “her peoples” hard cultivated harvest confiscated, as a young girl, she single handedly set the storehouse on fire as in “you may have stolen it from us but you can’t have it either!” Several times her loyalty was put to the test with her life on the line yet she never waivered. And I think the most novel thing that impressed me most about her as a heroine – despite being in love with Bang won, she made her own choice to not become his concubine. SHE decided that was not the life she wanted. Although I must give Bang won props that he respected her choice. In most stories set in times where women had no agency, you wouldn’t usually see a woman turn down a chance to be lifted from abject poverty and into the arms (bed) of the man she loves; and the men, especially men of power, didn’t take “no” for an answer.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Wow, she sounds pretty darn awesome! I’m guessing I just didn’t get to the part where all this happened, coz I only lasted about 30 or 31 eps before dropping out. What a badass. And I think the thing I love most about your description, is how she chose not to be Bang Won’s concubine, despite loving him. I think for most women, love tends to be a blinding force that hampers their judgment, and yet, she chose independence, regardless of her enduring love for the man whose concubine she would have been. I’m intrigued. This is the closest I’ve come, to date, in terms of reconsidering the need to give SFD another look. 🀭

      Reply
  13. BE

    Kim Tae Ri and Kim Min Jung as Ae Sin and Kudo Hina respectively in Mr. Sunshine were pretty bad-ash. The male leads got a bit more ink, because they were all terrific as well. But Ae Sin as a kind of Korean Joan of Arc, and Kudo Hina as hotel owner and clandestine spy were without reproach.

    Reply
  14. shorterthanparkboyoung

    Personally I think IU’s role as Mang Wol in Hotel Del Luna was also amazing and really showcased her as a powerful woman. Not only was she physically stronger than the male lead, she definitely dominated the screen with her presence. And regarding a knight in shining armour, the male lead was pretty much saving her from bankruptcy and bad management decisions. 10/10 would recommend Hotel Del Luna for its amazing cinematography, good fleshing out of our leading lady, themes of healing and its lovely OST

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Glad Hotel Del Luna worked for you.. I didn’t end up enjoying it as much as you did, unfortunately. But I do think it’s the sort of show that, if it works for you, works for you very well – and IU in it. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  15. Lee Tennant

    It’s a great list. I could quibble here and there (Shin Minah’s acting drives me bananas, I can’t watch her) but instead of doing that I’ll mention two female characters I love that aren’t on the list – Jo Jia from INAR and Son Soo-jung from My Strange Hero.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Aw, I’ve been fond of Shin Min Ah for a long time, so I personally don’t struggle with her acting. πŸ˜… Thanks for adding to the list of awesome female characters! <3

      Reply
  16. Ness

    Chung Song Yi from (You who came) My love from the stars! A hard-to-take seriously character, the comic relief… I think that is why I liked her so much- she was not the perky, poor, hardworking girl nor the badass, bent on revenge woman- she was a nonsensical main character in a crazy premise.She remains true to her β€˜dumb, glitzy’ personality till the end despite her vulnerable moments, her very forgiving personality, her tenacity, perseverance and her A+ comebacks! I also loved her wardrobe at the time and the amazing interiors!

    Reply
  17. Aqua

    Love all this Shin Minah love. If I were to add a drama it would be Marriage, Not Dating. I loved how Han Groo’s character and the step-mother in law had a unique relationship that empowered each other.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Ooh! Marriage Not Dating! I did enjoy that show a lot, and Han Groo’s character in it was quite refreshing. Thanks for adding to the list of fabulous ladies! πŸ˜€

      Reply
  18. Storyteller

    Signal’s Detective Cha Soo-hyun is superb as the gutsy, principled Cold Case Squad leader, brought to life by Kim Hye-soo’s dedicated and convincing portrayal of her character’s past and present iterations. 11/10 acting, plot and production value of this masterpiece.

    Detective Cha escaping the kidnapper / serial killer was the prime showcase of her strength amidst dire vulnerability — and made for one of the most nail-biting scenes on the small screen.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Ah, I really need to get back to Signal. I watched maybe 3 eps, before deciding to put it aside for later, coz it was hard to watch. πŸ˜› Thanks for adding Detective Cha to the list! <3

      Reply
  19. My2Girls

    As always an excellent post. Perhaps it says something that this list of strong female characters is very much in line with my list of favorite shows. Now I have so many dramas I want to revisit. But I must say that my ALL-time favorite female character did not make your list and I think she deserves a mention. For me personally she was my β€œgateway” to this world of Kdrama and I have felt like I have never seen her equal (though that may be because she is so linked emotionally to my falling in love with Kdrama) and of course I can only be talking about Sam Soon.

    XO, Amy

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Ahhh! I remember watching My Name is Kim Sam Soon very early on in my drama journey, and having mixed feelings about the show in general. I wonder if I would feel differently about the show, if I went back to it now? I mean, you clearly loved it and we usually feel so similarly about dramas.. πŸ€” An intriguing thought that I might explore sometime!

      Reply
  20. Timescout

    Great post again! Good suggestions, though there are several I haven’t seen myself. Lady G mentioned bunch of good ones too, like Dal Ja’s Spring, Fermentation Family, Signal, The King of Dramas, When It’s At Night.

    Here’s few more… The Legend (the protagonist is male but drama has several great ladies, including the FL), The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry, A Wife’s Credentials, Gloria, Yoo Na’s Street, Secret Forest // Hanasaki Mai ga Damatte Inai (both seasons), Juhan Shuttai, Unnatural, Shima no Sensei, Yakou Kanransha. Hmmmm… can’t think of many cdrmas that would fit, beyond those already mentioned in the post. Maybe… Of Monks and Masters (a male protagonist but the female characters are pretty ineresting – it’s an interesting drama on the whole πŸ™‚ ).

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Gosh, so many interesting female characters – in shows that I’ve yet to watch! πŸ˜… Thanks for adding to the list. This is why a community effort is best, coz I certainly am far from having seen all the dramas out there! 😁 Especially the Japanese ones. 😝

      Reply
      1. Timescout

        There really seems to be more dramas with strong or somewhat strong female presence than you’d think. And the ladies don’t have to be particularly badass to be memorable either. It’s not uncommon for well constructed and acted supporting characters to add something important to the shows in question. Jdramas tend to have good “Average Janes” (Joes too), which I like. There are only so many geeeeniuses I can take within a drama year. ☺

        Reply
        1. kfangurl

          HAHA! Yes, almost every other kdrama features some kind of geeenius! πŸ˜† The geniuses were fun for a while, but now I roll my eyes when yet another drama gets announced that features a geeenius – quite possibly with something to do with a serial murderer as well! πŸ˜‚ My soft spot now is for stories that feature ordinary people as our heroes and heroines. It sounds like I really ought to give Jdramas some love soon.. they seem to have a lot of what I look for, in a drama. I only wish they were prettier to look at, in terms of cinematography and color palette. (I’m so superficial, I know! 😝)

          Reply
          1. Timescout

            Oh yes, kdramas should drop geeeniuses and serial killers stat. Both have overstayed their welcome. πŸ˜€

            I tend to like jdramas (especially the slice-of-life ones) because they often feature ordinary people in (mostly) ordinary jobs. Many have families or colleagues/friends as focal points too. Not much romance in general, but that’s never a bad thing when it comes to me, heh. Japanese drama makers don’t seem to invest that heavily on the “look” of their dramas, probably because they make so many each year and seem to prefer more naturalistic and muted look anyway. There are exceptions of course. Anyways I’m used to their production values now and don’t even notice that anymore. πŸ™‚

            Reply
            1. kfangurl

              Come to think of it, I guess the understated, naturalistic look of Jdramas is in line with the general preference for the understated and naturalistic in other things, like Zen? I wonder if this was a deliberate decision, to keep the look and feel of the dramas as such. I’ve downloaded Nemureru Mori no Jukujo with plans to give it a try one of these days. I think when I feel oversaturated with overproduced dramas with little of their originality, that would be a good time to whip out a Jdrama or two! πŸ˜‰

              Reply
          2. beezrtp

            Cinematography? Color pallette? You’re nowhere near shallow. I’m looking for hot male lead and is there a gratuitous shower scene and if he doesn’t have abs them don’t even bother with the shower scene.πŸ˜‰

            Reply
            1. kfangurl

              PWAHAHA!! You made me laugh out loud with your comment, beez!! 🀣🀣🀣 I feel you; I used to look forward to the shower scenes by the hot male lead too – until I realized that I’d gotten to the point where no number of shirtless scenes could make up for a mess of a show, for me. Case in point: The K2, which featured a glorious nekkid fight scene, but which I could not power through no matter what! πŸ˜πŸ˜† Yet, I don’t know if I am so purely driven by the writing and acting, that I can love a show with no polish and bland colors. πŸ˜πŸ˜…

              Reply
              1. beezrtp

                Wow. Kfangurl, I think the K-Bloom is off the rose for you. I feel myself getting there but I hope Kdramas can hold on to me a while longer. (Lately, now that there’s not as much, for me, interesting shows I want to watch so I’ve been feeling like my slow self-taught Korean lessons have been and are a waste of time.)

                The reason that I say that about you is while the OTP in The K2 had ZERO spark, the whole chemistry going on with K2 and the older female lead was inadvertently sizzling. So much so that the director had to give interviews saying that was not the intention for there to be anything between K2 and her. Also, I kinda hated The K2 (the show) because of the lacking OTP and all of the other characters were horrible human beings yet the older female character, while not being a good person had all types of layers going on. That’s what surprised me is that that didn’t hold your interest enough if only for purposes of dissecting what was going on with her and with her and K2.

                You would think that with as much “onion” as they gave that character that they could’ve done the same for K2 but, then again, maybe it was just the actress doing ALLLL that.

                Reply
                1. kfangurl

                  Aw, I wouldn’t say the k-bloom is quite off the rose for me.. I did like the older female lead in The K2, and her chemistry with K2 was a big part of the reason I hung onto the show for as long as I did. I found her enough, as long as she was being strong and interesting. It all started coming apart for me, when she started losing control and became more hysterical. With that, she was no longer compelling to me, and my perception of her chemistry with K2 also went down. If Show had kept her powerful and controlled all the way to the end, I would’ve probably hung on for her πŸ˜‰ My K2 dropped post is here, if you’re curious to see what else I felt about the show! 😁

                  Reply
  21. beezrtp

    Kfangurl, can you tell me what drama that is where Shin Min-ah is doing archery?

    You’ve mentioned a lot of dramas that I’ll need to add to my Monster [watchlist]. Or maybe I should call it my Blob because it’s ever growing.

    You mentioned Hye Jin of She Was Pretty and I just wanted to mention the she was also part of an awesome female friendship that you don’t usually see in Kdramas (although sadly Show used it for the triangle).

    And a couple of honorable mentions (because they aren’t leads per se) in my book are Hye Jin (Lee Dae-hae) and Seol-hwa (Kim Ha-Eun) of CHUNO! because neither of them accepted the typical fate of women who fall into their circumstances. Hye Jin escaped from a marriage she did not want and she did not spend the rest of her life grieving what she thought was the death of her first love to the point of accepting whatever “fate” left her. And Seol-hwa escaped her pimps. True they had to depend on men [it was the tunes] but THEY chose WHICH men and I believe if they had not been satisfied with that choice they would’ve moved on to another new, different choice. They didn’t just accept what certain men/women and circumstances were forcing on them. Girl Power!πŸ’…πŸ‘ŠπŸ’ͺπŸ‘ 

    Reply
    1. Snow Flower

      Beez,

      Seol Hwa is probably my favorite female character. (That explains my user name too!) She is not successful in business, neither is she good at swordfighting or archery, but she is a resilient survivor. When we first meet her in Chuno, she has a cynical attitude towards love and street smarts, both of which help her to survive in the brutal world of 17th century Joseon. In the course of the story she finds out that true love does exist. She falls deeply in love, only to have her heart shattered. But I also believe that this experience will make her stronger. We never find out what happens to her, and I often imagine that she will bring a lot of spunk and charm in the life of a poor scholar who has fallen into despair.

      Reply
      1. Lady G.

        Seol Hwa truly went through a lot in Chuno. I’d also always hoped she’d find the guys again and a place to call home if she wanted on the land/house Daegil bought.

        Reply
    2. kfangurl

      Hi there beez, I’m sorry to disappoint, but that photo of Shin Min Ah doing archery isn’t from a drama, but a photoshoot. πŸ˜› I was using the picture just for illustration purposes. πŸ˜… But one can hope that she’ll take on a drama where she’s a badass archer / bodyguard!

      Thanks for pointing out the bestie in She Was Pretty, I’d forgotten about that! I do think I docked points off that friendship for being dragged into a love triangle. πŸ˜› And both Hye Jin and Seol Hwa were strong women in their own ways, thanks for adding them to the list! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  22. Snow Flower

    Kfangurl,

    Thank you for the great list! I was very happy to see The Light in Your Eyes, Misty, My Mister, and Secret Love Affair on it.
    I would like to add a couple of characters from my favorite genre, sageuk:

    The Princess’ Man – the main heroine defies her own father to be with the man she loves.

    Hwang Jin Yi – the titular character is a gisaeng, a highly restricted social position for women, yet she finds freedom through her art.

    Sungkyunkwan Scandal – who can forget the cute and resourceful heroine who risks her life living like a man to support her family?

    Damo – tragically flawed heroine who goes on a dangerous mission.

    Nokdu Flower – a drama that featured 4 memorable female characters. They were all from different classes (merchant, yangban, peasant, slave) but each had her own strength.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Glad you liked this list, Snow Flower! <3 And thanks for adding to the list of great female characters too! πŸ˜€ Yes to the heroine in The Princess' Man, I'd forgotten about her. Park Min Young's character was cute in SKKS, and although it wasn't PMY's best work (she mostly just had to look pretty and smile widely) I agree that her character was written as different and resourceful for the times, kinda like Rookie Historian, in a way! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  23. Lady G.

    Very nice posts. A lot of good suggestions, though I haven’t seen a number of them, they fit the bill. I have to say while I can’t stand helpless Drama Gals, I still love my white knights. Here are some of my picks with my favorites with FLs that can hold their own, grow and mature.

    No particular order just going alphabetically from My Drama List –
    All about Eve, Cunning Single Lady, Dal Ja’s Spring, Faith, Falling For Innocence, Fermentation Family, Hotel King, I Am Legend, Live Up to your name, Miss Ma Nemesis, My Fair Lady, My Princess, Nice Witch, Partners for Justice 1 & 2, Queen of Office, Secret Mother, Signal, Spotlight, Stranger, Terius behind me, The Ghost Detective, The Girl who sees scents, The King of Dramas, When it’s at night

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Thanks for the great list, m’dear! πŸ˜€ I completely forgot about Terius Behind Me! I really did enjoy the female lead character Ae Rin, she was so resourceful, smart and brave! 🀩😍 Also, yes, I do appreciate a nice white knight in my dramas too, I have to admit! πŸ˜‰

      Reply
      1. Lady G.

        Thanks! I think the FL in Terius really grew on me, I liked how bold yet sensitive she was and doing her best to make everything work despite the insanity around her.

        Reply

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