Dear kfangurl: What are some shows featuring relatable female leads?

MC writes:

What shows have female leads that are relatable? Lately I get tired of watching candy girls with sad life stories yet are so cheery (I mean who would be so cheery if they had such a hard life!?).

I would love to watch shows with relatable female leads who have their good and bad days and grow through the bad days! I’m asking about female leads coz you did something similar for male leads.

Are you relatable? Am I relatable..?

Dear MC,

Thanks for asking this question!

I realize that although I have written a post about female characters, that post was specifically for strong, interesting female characters, and while that may overlap somewhat with the female leads mentioned in today’s post, it’s true that strong and interesting doesn’t necessarily equate relatable.

WHAT DO WE MEAN, RELATABLE?

While thinking about this post, I realize that relatable is.. relative, really.

Depending on where we are in life, we’d find certain characters relatable because these characters might be going through a similar life stage to us, and we’d find others not relatable, because perhaps we just haven’t gone through what a particular character is going through, like motherhood, or divorce, for example.

So for today’s post, I concentrated on looking for female leads that feel like real people, regardless of the life stage they might be going through, or the challenges they might be facing.

This has thrown up a very wide range of female leads, and I’m hopeful that wherever you might be in life, you’d be able to find at least a few female leads on this list, whose stories would resonate with you.

As always, I’m fully aware that I haven’t seen all the dramas out there, or I might have simply overlooked to include a perfectly relatable female lead. Feel free to add on to this list, &/or share your thoughts, insights and perspectives in the comments below, everyone! ❤️

18 Again

Relatability: She’s a single mom who’s overhauling her life. Finding her way back to the workforce; having to compete with younger colleagues; being passed over because of her age; having to raise her kids while she’s doing all of this.

She’s patient and determined, and does lean a touch perfect in how long-suffering she can be, but I still found her relatable in her struggles and her circumstances.

Review is here.

Age Of Youth

Relatability: This is an ensemble cast of young women in their early twenties, and I feel like these characters are so different from one another, that there’s surely someone you’d identify with, among the bunch.

Whether you’re the shy type, the sexy unni type, the outspoken quirky type or the serious hardworking type, there should be someone in here, who resonates with you.

Season 1 review is here, Season 2 review is here.

At Eighteen

Relatability: She’s just a regular high school student with an open mind and an earnest desire to live according to her own principles. There are struggles, and a clash of values between her and Mom, among other things.

I found her fight to be true to herself, very relatable.

Review is here.

Be Melodramatic

Relatability: Our main trio of female protagonists are each quirky in their own way, and still manage to feel like real people, in spite of those quirks. Because each of these ladies is quite distinct from the others, in terms of character, there’s likely someone in here, that you’d find relatable.

Review is here.

Do You Like Brahms?

Relatability: If you’re an introvert &/or a musician, you’d likely find our female lead relatable. As an introvert myself, I very much felt seen, because Show honors her introversion, and allows our story to develop around it.

Review is here.

Fight My Way

Relatability: She’s an everygirl with a newscaster dream, who may not have washed her hair, and who habitually wears sweatpants and a grungy orange t-shirt, in her downtime. I found her relatable, because she felt so real and down-to-earth.

Review is here.

Find Yourself [China]

Relatability: She’s a competent manager in her early thirties, who’s facing pressure to find a boyfriend and hurry up and get married, before she’s considered too old. However, she’s still got an idealistic streak in her, and would like to get married for love.

Her characterization does lean a touch fairytale, in that she’s more good-natured than most people I know, but I still found her earthy and relatable.

Review is here.

Healer

Relatability: She’s bubbly, passionate and more interested in getting a great scoop, than in making sure her hair and makeup is pretty. I feel like this is arguably Park Min Young’s most relatable role, to date.

Review is here.

Hello, Me!

Relatability: The fantasy set-up is definitely a departure from real life, but the concept, of someone in her thirties being ashamed to face her idealistic, passionate, 18-year-old self, is something that I believe is relatable to lots of people.

Review is here.

History of the Salaryman

Relatability: She’s feisty, and prone to swearing, ha. She’s probably relatable to at least some of us, even if not most of us? 😅

Review is here.

Hometown Cha Cha Cha

Relatability: As an introvert, I actually found Show’s treatment of our female lead’s introversion very relatable.

Her reactions, especially when people encroached on her personal space without sufficient warning, resonated with me a fair bit, which is why she’s on this list, even though the show itself is basically a romcom fairytale by the seaside. 😉

Review is here.

Hospital Playlist

Relatability: I think her relatability lies in the fact that she’s good at her job, is a nice person, and is single, in her 40s.

I feel like there are probably a good handful of us who fit into that category too. Sure, we may not be as amazing at our jobs as Song Hwa, and we might be more prone to losing our patience than her, but I still found her down-to-earth and relatable – yet aspirational too, at the same time.

Season 1 review is here, and Season 2 review is here.

I Hear Your Voice

Relatability: She’s flawed, and that makes her relatable. She might not think the nicest thoughts, sometimes, and she might not have the purest motives, sometimes, but she’s a decent person at heart. I thought that was all very relatable.

Review is here.

In Time With You [Taiwan]

Relatability: She’s a regular girl who happens to be approaching 30, who has pretty relatable guy problems.

She’s not perfect, and she definitely has her off moments. The only thing that isn’t that relatable, is how she’s got a lovely male best friend who’s had feelings for her all these years. But that’s the beauty of this earthy fairytale, isn’t it? 😉

Flash Review is here.

Let’s Eat

Relatability: She’s a single lady in her thirties, who’s very competent at work, and who finds joy and solace in delicious food. And yes, she’s not always polite, and has her fair share of impatient moments. Relatable much? 😋

Review is here.

Let’s Eat 2

Relatability: She’s a struggling freelance writer who’s got a crush on her neighbor, and a big appetite for good food. She’s also got some self-esteem issues that need to be worked out, and is, overall, highly relatable.

Review is here.

Lost [Human Disqualification]

Relatability: She’s reached a point in her life where she feels like she’s worked so hard, and yet accomplished nothing. Her struggle to find herself, and to find meaning in life, is one that I think would resonate with some of us.

Review is here.

Miss Korea

Relatability: She’s an ordinary everygirl who loses her job in a financial crisis, and, with nothing to lose, decides to join the Miss Korea pageant, as a way to win some prize money. Very believable and heartfelt.

Review is here.

My Unfamiliar Family

Relatability: If you’ve ever felt like you’ve got a weird family with more drama in it than the average family, this show is for you. Depending on your personal experience, you might find Mom, Elder Sis or Younger Sis more relatable.

You can rest assured that Show’s touch is real and raw, even if the family issues aren’t exactly the same as yours.

Review is here.

Oh Hae Young Again

Relatability: She deals with a lot of emotional pain and insecurity over the course of our story, and I found her all-in, ugly-cry approach to wrestling with her grief, very relatable. Writer-nim is clearly intimately acquainted with emotional pain and how it all works, and this all resonated with me a lot.

Review is here.

Reply 1988

Relatability: She’s just a regular everygirl, with no particular grace, nor particular talent; just a noisy, loving family and noisy, loving friends.

Review is here.

Reply 1994

Relatability: She’s a regular girl who’s the opposite of genteel. She rocks ugly mop hair, shapeless clothes, and a rambunctious personality.

She’s headstrong, stubborn and outspoken on the outside, and yet completely vulnerable and compassionate and even kinda shy beneath the surface. And, all those growing pains, of waiting for the call from that special boy, that never comes, is so very relatable.

Review is here.

Reply 1997

Relatability: If you’ve ever been a rabid fangirl who would go to the ends of the earth for your favorite idol, this female lead would resonate with you. She’s feisty and loyal, and feels so, so real.

Review is here.

Romance is a Bonus Book

Relatability: She’s a single mom trying to find her way back into the workforce, and trying to rediscover her lost mojo, at the same time. She’s sweet and earnest, but there’s a lot stacked against her, and so sometimes, she has to resort to.. less upright means.

It’s all a little fairytale, yes, but it’s an earthy one that feels like it could be within reach.

Review is here.

Search: WWW

Relatability: Our three female protagonists are strong, opinionated, ambitious women, who have their good days and their bad days; their enemies and their frenemies. Probably pretty relatable, if you’re a strong career woman who’d like to change the world.

Review is here.

She Would Never Know

Relatability: She’s a normal woman who wants normal things, like the trust and commitment of her boyfriend, recognition and opportunities at work, and a mother who understands and supports her.

I found it easy to understand her, because of how relatable I found her.

Review is here.

The First Half Of My Life

Relatability: Her life as she knows it falls apart when her husband announces he wants a divorce, and she’s forced to re-evaluate her life and how she wants to live it.

So real sometimes that it hurts, but so very good, all the way to the end.

Flash Review is here.

The Rational Life [China]

Relatability: She’s a successful and talented legal officer in her thirties, who faces obstacles both at work and in her personal life.

The general treatment is a little glossed over, generally speaking, but the way she maintains grace under fire, and the way she stands up for what she believes in, mostly without ever raising her voice, is good stuff. This is probably halfway between relatable and aspirational.

Review is here.

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

Relatability: She’s a hardworking athlete who’s unschooled in the graces of femininity, and is all shy and awkward in front of the person on whom she nurses a crush. So relatable that the secondhand embarrassment can get a bit much, in spots. 😅

Review is here.

Yumi’s Cells

Relatability: She’s a regular woman with all the typical thoughts and feelings that most women experience at some point. I’m still watching this one, but have found Show’s unpacking of Yumi’s inner workings impressively on point. This entire show feels relatable; not even exaggerating. 😁

Review is coming! (Episode 1 notes are here!)

IN CLOSING

I hope you ladies will find something relatable to watch, from this list! Some of these shows are a little older, but they are all solid watches that I personally enjoyed.

As always, if you guys have other shows to recommend or insights to share, please tell us about it in the comments – coz sharing is caring. 😉

I hope this helps!

Smooches. ❤️

~kfangurl

We’re all so relatable..! 😁

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 the Dear kfangurl page, or send me an email!

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ngobee
ngobee
9 months ago

I think Live, the police series would qualify. The FL is played by Jung Yu-mi, and she is a normal young woman, with normal problems. She has no money, falls for the wrong guy and she really has a heart for the people, especially the young women she has to protect as police. There’s one scene where the police and a whole school search for a girl presumed missing. The FL finds a closed stall in the women’s wash room, some blood drops on the ground leading there. The FL buys a sanitary pad from the vending machine and passes it under the toilet door. The girl hadn’t been able to afford one.

Live is not always an easy watch (there’s a serial killer I could have done without), but it shows real people, badly payed, who have a very difficult task. The FL has always stood out to me, not least because she decides on having a try with a nice kind of guy, a colleague, who is no beauty. It’s all decidedly unglamorous.

Ele Nash
9 months ago

Interesting – and agree with Snow Flower that they need to ring true to be relatable. I also agree, kfangurl, that how you are at he time makes a difference and as a fellow introvert, I’m definitely more drawn to quieter characters (male and female) than the brash, over-confident ones. Though, again, those bawdier ones may still tug at the heart (Seol-hwa, looking at you, lovely 😍)

On that note, actors make a huge difference and some I just seem to warm to not matter who they’re playing – hello Shin Min-a, Gong Hyo-jin, Jang Na-ra… Lots more, actually. I’m hopeless at names.

I do get what MC means that the put-upon-yet-resilient-and-chipper can be wearing. I’m not sure they’re the easiest to relate to but I guess I find I root for them, nonetheless. Maybe the only characters that leave me cold are over-hard, bitter, mean – you know, like thingy from Vincenzo. I just could not find a way to relate to her for one second.

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
9 months ago

I am usually drawn to an interesting and unuasual story, rather than specifically looking for relatable characters or situations. I agree with Gloglo – I don’t expect the dramas to be realistic, but then I don’t expect art to be realistic either. The words “art” and “artificial” are related after all. Instead of looking for relatable content, I am looking for something that rings true. Maybe “ring true” is another way of describing “relatable”? I noticed that most of the dramas on the list were “slice of life” type of dramas. This is a genre that I was not too interested in when I fist started watching kdramas, but it has grown on me.
Sageuks are my favorites. There is very little in them that is directly relatable to my own life, but I still find them fascinating. Maybe that’s a topic for another Dear Kfangurl post: Why do we watch sageuks (or fantasy or science fiction)? Are they relatable? If yes, what makes them so?

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
9 months ago

Great post Fangurl. I can see everyone (both male and female) relating to Yumis’ Cells because it is so very accurate to all humans. An exceptional drama I must say.

I had to laugh at the entry In Time With You. Yes Fangurl, who would not want him as a friend? A rare and completely unforgettable character.

reaper
reaper
9 months ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

I really liked Yumis’ Cells (except maybe the ending) but how do you guys relate to it? I am just curious.

Gloglo
Gloglo
9 months ago

I seldom see realistic portrayal of people in the kdramas I have seen… For me, that’s not really what they are all about. I see them more like fairy tales, or cartoons… They do describe a reality; they do have elements you can relate to or identify with, and characters with incredible depth and with traits one recognises, but they are not realistic, at least not for me.

Saying that, I do engage with some characters more than with others and it has nothing to do with their (alleged) flaws or how their pedestrian life resembles mine, but rather with how they see themselves in the story they are in. For example, in a show I’ve just finished( City Hall) I really identified with the impostor syndrome and flustered reactions of the very batty, unkept, under-qualified and loud female lead, when she’s somewhat “forced” to become the mayor of a town and eventually the lover of this gorgeous intelligent man she would have never imaged herself with. In a similar manner I completely identified with Cha Eun sang in Heirs, as she tried to overcome her crippling sense of duty and social conditioning and become more fearless and rebellious. A similar journey the FL of Something in the Rain had and that really stuck with me. I also adored the FL in My Name is Kim Sam Soon (played by the same actress who plays the FL in City Hall). She’s loud and vulgar, but so grounded and good hearted… I love this kind of female lead, because they force the audience to see that attraction is not really about conventional beauty, but about compatibility.

And of course I really engaged with Aera in Fight My Way, how she is completely frazzled by her good-looking friend (and the drama’s ML) not sticking to the boundaries of their friendship… This is something we all can connect with, even more than with the fact that she goes around with dirty hair or an unflattering tracksuit… Same with the somewhat pathetic and needy FL in Another Miss Oh: I haven’t been scarred by an ex-lover in the same way she has been, but her reactions and crazy outbursts are completely warranted and you feel your heart is with her all along.

MC
MC
9 months ago
Reply to  Gloglo

I see where you’re coming from! I guess when I asked the question (not expecting it to become a Dear Kfg post!) I was just frustrated with watching candy-like FLs who grin and bear through ridiculous amounts of hardships without exploding or getting upset. Like who are these people? Like you I don’t typically look for relatable heroines in deciding what to watch but it’s a nice bonus. I do tend to like slice of life shows though! Maybe that makes me appreciate and enjoy relatable FLs.

Glogló
Glogló
9 months ago
Reply to  MC

It’s a great question, MC. So glad you asked it, as it has made all of us think. I do agree that slice of life shows do make an effort to offer realism and tend to be more muted. I admit that it’s not a genre I gravitate toward because I tend to get bored with real life issues on my screen. Give me fairytale, give me conflict larger than life. Also, let’s not forget the fact that these “thirty something good at their job but unlucky in love” FLs can be just as tiresome as the long suffering yet cheery doormat… It is the nuance in the storytelling what makes one more endearing than the other, more than their attitude or situation in life

I’m curious about the candy FLs you are referring too. Some I’ve seen are indeed a bit annoying… Have you seen Meteor Garden? It’s the Chinese version of boys over flowers, a weird but super cute little show and better to BOF in my opinion. The FL is your usual good girl cutie pie, but she is so charming… I think the actress is sometimes what makes or breaks this kind of characters.

MC
MC
9 months ago

Hey KFG thanks for picking this question up! I didn’t expect you to since you have a mountain of things to do so I’m very pleasantly surprised. Haha.

Of the shows I’ve watched I agree with those on your list, and would only add the following:

  • Because This Life Is My First – Ji Ho and friends are earthy, facing real world problems and I could be any of them if I was in a similar position. Except without a cute Lee Min Ki but what can you do!
  • A Love So Beautiful (chinese) – Xiao Xi was so relatable in how she chased after Jiang Chen that I cringed hard and often. Haha. But that sweetness and naivety about her is lovely and I feel like I was probably as unglam and gangly like her in my younger days. Plus it’s very similar to the reply series and all the girls there are so relatable.
  • My Roommate is a Gumiho – more Hyeri! She’s the grown up version of Deok Sun but honestly she’s like a semi girl crush. She feels so real and relatable but yet I wanna be like her, in how she deals with difficult scenarios and people (won’t say any more due to spoilers), but if you’ve watched you know what I mean. She’s loyal and has a good heart and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. Love that about her.

Once again thanks so much for this list! ♥️

j3ffc
j3ffc
9 months ago
Reply to  MC

Three episodes into My Roommate is a Gumiho and second/third your comment here.

reaper
reaper
9 months ago

I have never understood how people relate to fake characters or identified with them. But it is very interesting.
This list is so emotional and there are quite some weird character trades on here.
But as a man I have no clue what is going on most of the time soooo…..

seankfletcher
seankfletcher
9 months ago

Another wonderful list, kfangurl. Some of these characters are relatable in terms of the women around me regarding their circumstances or key events that have happened in their lives. The stronger shows in this regard are certainly: The First Half of My Life, Romance is a Bonus Book, The Rational Life and Weightlifting Fairy.

Medea
Medea
9 months ago

Yumi’s Cells is almost uncomfortably relatable in some ways, in the way it seems to somehow pinpoint feelings I didn’t even realize I had. Since reading the webtoon and watching the show, I’ve found myself referring to my own cells when I feel a certain way haha. Compartmentalizing my feelings into cells has actually been helpful to me, I think.

Elaine Phua
Elaine Phua
9 months ago

I loved Seo Hyun Jin in Romantic Dr Kim, so happy to see her pop up twice in this list! Agree Park Min Young was vege human and relatable in Healer. Her persistence got to the point where she at times she annoyed the people close to her and I laughed when she took food from others without asking haha!

beez
9 months ago
Reply to  Elaine Phua

@Elaine Phua – that scene came this close 👌 to almost making me dislike our main character! My personal pet peeve is people stealing other people’s lunch! Although I did laugh as she did it in such a cute way; and Healer’s face was as disgusted as mine! 😆

JJ
JJ
9 months ago

@MC – Ohhhhh great question, MC!!! Thank you for asking this one 🙂

MC
MC
9 months ago
Reply to  JJ

thanks! I’m glad you appreciate it 🙂