Dear kfangurl: What are some archetypes in kdramas?

T writes:

Hi kfangurl,

What are some of the archetypes you see in Kdrama characters? Could you recommend other dramas with those types of characters?

For example:

Romance is A Bonus Book’s Kang Dan-i is strong, sensitive, but oblivious to Eun-ho’s love for her. Eun-ho is petty, cocky, but really protective and compassionate toward his loved ones.

Another example:

Strong Girl Bong Soon’s rich heir Ahn Min-hyuk is the hardcore, serious, charming type, but completely caught off-guard and smitten with Do Bong-soon, which makes him fall to pieces. Bong-soon is the epitome of aegyo, but hesitant to embrace her full potential (another type).

What other dramas use these archetypes in similar ways or mix and match them in surprising or refreshing ways?

Thanks.

Observing the world around us.. and looking for archetypes 🧐

Dear T,

Thanks for your question!

I’ll do my best to provide a framework of different archetypes in drama, and also, highlight what I feel are shows that fit into those archetypes.

Fair warning, though, that the fit will be more of an approximation than an exact alignment. After all, just about every drama tries to set itself apart from the rest of the pack, and part of that process, comes from tweaking existing archetypes.

As always, everyone, please feel free to add on more thoughts and insights in the comments. My gut says that there are probably many more archetypes that I didn’t manage to talk about, in this post. 😅 So please help me out, by pointing them out for me, in the comments?

PS: For the curious, the screenshots I’m using in this post are from 2013’s Flower Boy Next Door, because Park Shin Hye’s character spent so much of her time observing the world around her, from the safety of her apartment. It kinda feels like what we’re doing today, a little bit?

First of all, what’s an archetype?

According to Britannica:

archetype, (from Greek archetypos, “original pattern”), in literary criticism, a primordial image, character, or pattern of circumstances that recurs throughout literature and thought consistently enough to be considered a universal concept or situation.

And according to this article on MasterClass:

An archetype is a character type, storyline, or event that is notably recurrent across the human experience. In the arts, an archetype creates a sense of familiarity, allowing an audience member to easily comprehend an event or character. Thanks to our instincts and life experiences, we’re able to recognize archetypal characters and plots.

Archetypes in Dramaland: A panoramic overview

Based on the definitions above, this means that the archetypes that I’ll be touching on, may vary between character types, character set-ups, and recognizable storylines.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Strong woman who’s oblivious to the feelings of a blustery dude with a marshmallow heart

Featured in:

In Time With You (Taiwan), Romance is a Bonus Book, Hometown Cha Cha Cha, The Rational Life (China), Hotelier.

My top pick: In Time With You (Taiwan)

Because: It’s so earthy and relatable, yet so melty and swoony. Plus Chen Bolin as Li Da Ren is ❤️.

2. Protagonist on a special and dangerous quest

Featured in:

Memories of the Alhambra, Sisyphus: The Myth, Nine: Nine Time Travels, Liar Game, Bridal Mask (Gaksital), Two Weeks.

My top pick: Bridal Mask (Gaksital)

Because: When I think about the shortlisted shows, Gaksital is the one that is most epic and stirring, and which lingered with me, after I completed my watch.

3. (Usually jaded) Supernatural being finds love (usually with a mortal)

Featured in:

Goblin, Hotel Del Luna, Scripting Your Destiny, Arang and the Magistrate, Doom At Your Service, Angel’s Last Mission: Love, My Love From Another Star, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, Vampire Idol, Legend of the Blue Sea, Love For A Thousand More, Surplus Princess, My Roommate is a Gumiho.

My top pick: Arang and the Magistrate

Because: The fantasy world-building is so intricately done in this one. Also, Arang and her magistrate are super cute together, while managing to bring some pretty hefty feels as well.

4. An A.I. entity falls in love and finds humanity in the process

Featured in:

Are You Human Too?, My Holo Love, My Absolute Boyfriend.

My top pick: Are You Human Too?

Because: It’s such a rollicking good time, with the right absurdist lens on. 🤩

5. Bad guy(s) wreak rogue justice on badder guys / Protagonist on a revenge mission

Featured in:

Bad Guys, Vincenzo, Taxi Driver, The Devil Judge, Money Flower, Nice Guy, My Name, Itaewon Class, Lawless Lawyer.

My top pick: Money Flower

Because: Jang Hyuk is completely magnetic in this, the plotting is tight, and the music is just sublime. 🤩

6. Body swap results in hijinks & romance

Featured in:

Secret Garden, Mr. Queen, Beauty Inside, Big, Oh My Ghostess, Please Come Back, Mister, Go Princess Go (China)

My top pick: Mr. Queen

Because: Shin Hye Sun is freaking brilliant in this, and is, alone, a worthy reason to watch. Show is pretty great too, though opinions on the ending are divided.

7. Damaged individual(s) healed by love (can be romantic / platonic / familial)

Featured in:

It’s Okay To Not Be Okay, When The Weather Is Fine, A Piece Of Your Mind, I’m Not A Robot, Find Me In Your Memory, Thirty But Seventeen, It’s Okay It’s Love, Just Between Lovers, Hometown Cha Cha Cha, Heart to Heart, Mad For Each Other.

My top pick: It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

Because: It’s a pretty meaty exploration of the different types of love that help to heal broken people. I was nicely sucked in, while watching this one.

8. Friends to lovers

Featured in:

Romance Is A Bonus Book, 9 Ends 2 Outs, Fight My Way, She Was Pretty, 20th Century Boy and Girl, More Than Friends, Into The Ring (Memorials), You Drive Me Crazy, Plus Nine Boys.

My top pick: Fight My Way

Because: I love how the long-time familiar connection between our leads feels so plausibly real, even as the sparks between them feel just as believable.

9. Royal falls for a commoner

Featured in:

Moonlight Drawn By Clouds, The King Loves, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, Splash Splash Love, Goong, Goong S, The King 2 Hearts, The Moon Embraces The Sun, The Princess’s Man, My Princess, Jang Ok Jung Live in Love, King’s Daughter Soo Baek Hyang, The King: Eternal Monarch, The Red Sleeve, The King’s Affection.

My top pick: Moonlight Drawn By Clouds

Because: Park Bo Gum’s cheeky Crown Prince is so swoony-cheeky, and he and Kim Yoo Jung are adorable together. 😍

10. Contract marriage gives rise to love

Featured in:

Marriage Contract, Goong, Marriage Not Dating, Fated To Love You, We Married as a Job (Japan), Prime Minister & I, Sweet 18, Lie To Me, Full House, My Girl, Because This Is My First Life, Something About 1%, Happiness.

My top pick: Goong

Because: This was my gateway drama, and was my first encounter with the contract marriage set-up. Therefore, it will always be a fond favorite of mine. 🥰 When Show is at its best, the feels are SO good! 🤩

11. Time traveler falls in love

Featured in:

Queen In-hyun’s Man, Rooftop Prince, Live Up To Your Name, Splash Splash Love, Faith.

My top pick: Queen In-hyun’s Man

Because: The feels are so good, in this one. 😍 Plus, our male lead is nice, and smart, and Yoo In Na is cute as a button in her first leading role! 🤩

12. Crossdressing individual finds love with someone of the supposed same gender

Featured in:

Coffee Prince, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, You’re Beautiful, To The Beautiful You, The Tale of Nokdu, Moonlight Drawn By Clouds, Bromance (Taiwan), The King’s Affection.

My top pick: Coffee Prince

Because: This entire drama world feels so earthy and lived-in. AND, our OTP just has the most natural, crackly chemistry! 🤩

13. Romance with a supernatural / fantasy twist

Featured in:

I Hear Your Voice, Strong Woman Do Bong Soon, Master’s Sun, Oh Hae Young Again, Where Stars Land, Beauty Inside, Someday Or One Day (Taiwan), Sensory Couple, 18 Again.

My top pick: Someday Or One Day (Taiwan)

Because: Show engages me so completely, both mentally and emotionally. SUCH a complete watch experience. We are currently doing a group watch of this, so come join us! There’s time to catch up! (Also, if you haven’t seen this one, just go in blind. It’s the best way to watch this show, trust me.)

14. Broken marriages become whole

Featured in:

One Warm Word, Go Back Couple, Familiar Wife, Cunning Single Lady, Emergency Couple, Can’t Lose.

My top pick: Familiar Wife

Because: I found this smartly written and well acted. Plus, Ji Sung and Han Ji Min are excellent opposite each other. 🤩

15. Protagonist with DID / multiple personalities finds love and healing

Featured in:

Kill Me Heal Me, Hyde Jekyll Me.

My top pick: Kill Me Heal Me

Because: Ji Sung’s performance in this is so excellent, that it’s worth watching for him alone. 🤩

16. Protagonist on a journey to find their lost mojo

Featured in:

Twenty Again, The First Half Of My Life (China), Oh My Venus, Sleeping Jukujo (Japan), She Was Pretty.

My top pick: The First Half Of My Life (China)

Because: So well written, and so well delivered. The dialogue has this particular, sophisticated, thoughtful feel to it that I really love. Also, Jin Dong is very appealing in this, which is bonus. 🤩

17. Tsundere male lead falls in love with ordinary girl

Featured in:

Boys Over Flowers, A Love So Beautiful, My ID is Gangnam Beauty, Playful Kiss, Save Your Last Dance For Me, Beautiful Days, Heirs, Love Lasts Forever (Japan).

My top pick: A Love So Beautiful

Because: Somehow, Show manages to feel fresh and charming, despite it being chock full of archetypes.

18. Protagonist starts to have suspicions about their spouse, whom they thought they knew

Featured in:

Flower of Evil, VIP, Misty, Undercover, The Road: The Tragedy Of One.

My top pick: VIP

Because: I found this one cracky and slurpy, and extremely engaging, when I watched it.

19. Underdogs up against a mountain of odds

Featured in:

Racket Boys, Stove League, Designated Survivor: 60 Days, Navillera, Black Dog, Miss Korea, Beethoven Virus.

My top pick: Navillera

Because: This show just grabbed my heart, in the best way. Touching, moving, inspiring, poignant and beautiful in one.

20. Healing through dealing with death

Featured in:

Chocolate, Move To Heaven, 49 Days.

My top pick: Move To Heaven

Because: Show manages to be engaging, gentle, thought-provoking and even comforting, at the same time.

21. Found family

Featured in:

Thirty But Seventeen, Bossam, Hospital Playlist 1 & 2, Reply 1988, Reply 1994, Reply 1997, Hometown Cha Cha Cha, Mystic Pop-up Bar, The Uncanny Counter.

My top pick: Thirty But Seventeen

Because: The found family feels are warm and sweet, but also underscored with a layer of poignance, that just makes everything pop extra.

22. A successful woman looking for true love

Featured in:

Find Yourself (China), The Rational Life (China), Search: WWW, Baby Faced Beauty, The Woman Who Wants To Marry, Oh My Baby, Dal Ja’s Spring.

My top pick: Find Yourself (China)

Because: I found this very nicely slurpable, yet peppered with thoughtful nuggets of wisdom. A very enjoyable combination, I thought. Plus, Song Wei Long is nicely smoldery in this. Ahem.

23. A group of friends doing life together

Featured in:

Dear My Friends, Be Melodramatic, 20th Century Boy and Girl, Age Of Youth, Hospital Playlist 1 & 2

My top pick: Hospital Playlist 1 & 2

Because: I can’t stop grinning like a goof, whenever I see this Fabulous Five together. 🥰

24. Enemies to Lovers

Featured in:

City Hall, Wild Romance, Hyena, Something About 1%, Her Private Life, Nice Guy, Secret Garden, Full House, It’s Okay That’s Love, Master’s Sun, My Love From Another Star, The King 2 Hearts, Marriage Not Dating, Touch Your Heart,.

My top pick: Her Private Life

Because: Ryan Gold, baby! 🤩

25. Superhero-esque protagonist finds love

Featured in:

Healer, City Hunter, My Love From Another Star, Strong Woman Do Bong Soon,

My top pick: Healer

Because: Everything about this show is pitch perfect. Plus I swoon every time Healer casually leaps off a building. 🤩 Also, this OTP is so good together. ❤️

26. Older woman finds love with a younger man (the Noona Romance)

Featured in:

Dal Ja’s Spring, Something in the Rain, She Would Never Know, Witch’s Romance, High School King of Savvy, My Name is Kim Sam Soon, Queen Of Reversals, What’s Up Fox?,

My top pick: She Would Never Know

Because: I love everything about how these characters and their eventual relationship is portrayed. So earthy and thoughtful, and yet so swoony. 😍

27. Soulmates find each other across boundaries

Featured in:

Secret Love Affair, My Mister, Lost

My top pick: My Mister

Because: The eventual relationship between our leads feels so transcendental and pure, in the way Show presents it.

28. Protagonist finds love with their assistant / secretary / student / ex-student

Featured in:

What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim?, Pasta, Hello My Teacher, Encounter (Boyfriend), The Secret Life of my Secretary, Introverted Boss, Boss & Me (China).

My top pick: What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim?

Because: Park Seo Joon and Park Min Young are picture perfect, together. A fun and undemanding watch.

29. First loves reunite in spite of the obstacles stacked against them

Featured in:

When My Love Blooms, Winter Sonata, My Love Eun Dong, Love is Sweet (China), Cunning Single Lady, Emergency Couple, Come and Hug Me.

My top pick: Cunning Single Lady

Because: A well-rounded, charming watch, that I do think is rather underrated.

30. Potent bromance: friends who treasure and love each other intensely

I love you, man. I mean, I really, REALLY love you, man.

Featured in:

School 2013, Heartless City, Padam Padam, Misaeng, Vampire Prosecutor, Shut Up Flower Boy Band, Reply 1997, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, Chuno, Warrior Baek Dong Soo.

My top pick: School 2013

Because: I find the bromance between Kim Woo Bin & Lee Jong Suk soo potent in this. 😍😍

BUT ALSO! CHUNO!! 🤩🤩🤩

IN CLOSING

I hope this post offers you a decent overview of the various archetypes that you’d find in Dramaland. Also, please keep in mind that my top picks are personal, rather than a judgment on each show’s quality, so your top pick for each category might be very different from mine! 😉

Like I mentioned earlier, if you guys have insights, perspectives or other thoughts to add, please share them in the comments!

Thanks, everyone.

Smooches. ❤️

~kfangurl

Are you.. an archetype..?

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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Aqua
Aqua
2 months ago

VIP will forever be a gem I think is highly underrated! It was thought provoking and had excellent pacing.

Ele Nash
9 months ago

Oh my gosh, kfangurl, I LOVE this post!! You know your A-Z list? You should do the list like this instead / as well as. It is useful! OK, maybe the joy I felt perusing your choices was in part because two pictures of Jang Hyuk cropped up, and maybe also because you chose almost all the ones I’d have chosen, and also because I like seeing your little buzzline about the choices, and also, hello, Healer, and ooh yes My Mister and, argh and squee Coffee Prince 😊 The only snag with your posts and all these end of year hurrahs is there are always so many recommended shows I haven’t seen and I don’t know which to choose to watch next. Maybe we need a list of ‘watch this next’ and the list consists of one drama 😆

seankfletcher
seankfletcher
9 months ago
Reply to  Ele Nash

😂🤣😂

Shahz
Shahz
9 months ago

Love this article and great question! And I really enjoyed Single Cunning lady despite its title. I only picked it up thanks to your ratings list .

Kun
Kun
9 months ago

Extremely comprehensive for sure! My personal favorite is probably enemies to lovers because of the added romantic/sexual tension that often results.

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
9 months ago

Shall we put Gaksital on the list of contenders for the next group watch? Pretty please!

Kay
Kay
9 months ago
Reply to  Snow Flower

I second this! Gaksital is always an amazing watch 🙂

Medea
Medea
9 months ago

Because: Ryan Gold, baby! 🤩”

What better reason do you need? I mean, Her Private Life wouldn’t be my pick for that category, but your explanation almost convinced me 😉

merij1
merij1
9 months ago
Reply to  Medea

AKA cute waffle guy from Coffee Prince!

Elaine Phua
Elaine Phua
9 months ago
Reply to  Medea

Ryan Gold!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The smolder. The fringe. The grin. The consideration and protection without ever being overbearing (aside from the first couple of episodes that is, when he was being horrid boss). The slow kisses…. Swoon!

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
9 months ago

@KFG, your article is the encyclopedia of every drama writer!

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
9 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

High school dramas and sageuks have their own archetypes/tropes.

Medea
Medea
9 months ago
Reply to  Snow Flower

Haha, in Sageuks I feel like the villain is always the Left State Councillor. Is the Right State Councillor always a paradigm of goodness or something?

seankfletcher
seankfletcher
9 months ago
Reply to  Medea

Medea, it certainly feels that way 😂 I do get the feeling though that we don’t get shown much of how it actually worked, because there would be no dramatic licence whatsoever, and most viewers would probably fall asleep 😴 So, we just see everyone lumped in together while the king sits there playing tiddly winks 🤣

So, how did the decision making actually work? The one thing Sageuks rarely spell out, is that, as part of the Confucian ideal, there was a State Council that helped (advised) the king. The council consisted of the Chief State Councillor (aka the Prime Minister – so No. 1 in importance), the Left State Councillor (No. 2) and the Right State Councillor (No. 3). However, just to confuse things, all three were of the first rank. These three State Councillors were then assisted by the Left Minister and the Right Minister, who were both of junior first rank.

Underneath the State Council was the Executive or the the six ministries (i.e. personnel, rites, taxation, defence, justice, works), of which the Minister for Personnel, was the chief minister. There were then assistant ministers.

So, the King and State Council made the decisions and the Executive put the decisions into action.

As it turns out, a weak king was at the mercy of the State Council and went with its decisions (we see this in a lot of Sageuks). A strong king was advised by the State Council only. Such kings ruled the roost, so to speak.

There were further levels 0f bureaucracy (or offices such as the Inspector General) under all this who provided the checks and balances to the above. All in all, there were 18 levels. I’m not sure how they kept track of it all 😱

Elaine Phua
Elaine Phua
9 months ago
Reply to  seankfletcher

Ahahaha I never knew that Left and Right State Councillor were No. 2 and No. 3 after the Prime Minister!! The Left State Councillor was indeed the baddie in The Crowned Clown. But in Chinese drama Longest Day in Chang’an, the baddie was the Right Councillor… Go figure!

seankfletcher
seankfletcher
9 months ago
Reply to  Elaine Phua

What a fabulous show Longest Day in Chang’an is, Elaine 😊 The Right Councillor was impressive, a bit like a spider sitting at home, in his lair, waiting for the flies to descend into his web of intrigue 😉 Perhaps the writer didn’t know his left from his right 😂🤣😂

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
9 months ago
Reply to  seankfletcher

Sean – I need to bookmark this! That is a lot of great info right there.

seankfletcher
seankfletcher
9 months ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

Cheers, phl. I am glad you will find this information useful 😊

merij1
merij1
9 months ago

Naturally, I love your list!

But where is the supernatural or fantasy element in Oh Hae Young Again /Another Oh Hae Young?

merij1
merij1
9 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Ah. That does ring a bell.