Have you ever been so invested in a secondary character so much that you wish they’d end up with the protagonist? Yours might be a case of Second Lead Syndrome, a feeling that fans of Asian dramas know too well.
It’s that gut-punching, heart crushing feeling you get where you end up falling for the (usually male) character and wishing that he’d end up with the female lead, even if you know that it won’t happen. It’s self-inflicted torture, yes, but sometimes we welcome that kind of pain.
The SLS wound is still fresh from the K-Drama Start-Up, where Han Jipyeong (Kim Seon Ho) stole the show from the main lead, so much so that Nam Joo Hyuk, the actor who played Do San, was completely roasted on social media. If you happened upon the Start-Up Bardagulan Facebook group in the weeks leading up to the show’s finale, you’d know that it was not pretty.
Jipyeong’s plight was the starting point for Underdog’s latest Doghouse Live discussion on Discord. We formed an unofficial SLSG (second lead support group) with our host Tish Valenzuela and writer Reena Dunque, who went Off about why Jipyeong deserved better and Natasha Aquino, a casual fan with a hyper-fixation problem to enlighten us on the trope and the characters that fall under it.
Below are some of the questions and answers from our guests and the audience during the discussion.
Natasha classified the second lead as the character who is “usually the rival, usually the third point in the love triangle, [and] usually male.” He’s also the guy that the main lead takes for granted despite the fact that he will do anything for her happiness. So yes, the perfect formula for disappointment.
According to Reena, the easiest way to tell that an actor is playing the second lead is to look at the poster or key art of the series. The further the actor is to the main actress, the more likely he isn’t going to end up with her.
The second lead is always written to be the ‘nice’ guy, or at the very least, the one who treats the female lead right, but is never the right guy for her. Natasha presented four different types of second leads she often encounters in Asian dramas. She also included their success rates for good measure and added pain. They are: the Childhood Friend (25%), the Best Boy (25%), the Soft Bad Boy (35%), and the Not-So-Second-Second Lead (50%).
Jipyeong was a shining example of a second lead — a character with a proper sob origin story with a connection to the female lead’s past. He was charming; always displaying the right amount of concern and silent yearning for Dalmi’s character. And what does he earn in the end? Nothing.
Reena’s presentation pointed out that as a character, he had strong chemistry with Dalmi — even more so than Dosan. He saw Dal-mi in her most unrefined state, and while he never displayed any grand romantic gestures, they did have a lot of intimate moments that fans inhaled. It also helps that Kim Seon Ho’s portrayal made Jipyeong even more endearing (see: his dimples).
Natasha also volunteered other examples of second leads: Hua Ze Lei from Meteor Garden and Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin from Ouran High School Host Club as examples of second leads she’s cried for in the past. Other members of the audience volunteered Han Seojun from True Beauty, and the actor Jisoo as pretty much most of the drama characters he plays.
Second lead syndrome exists only in the context of a love triangle. And since most Asian romance dramas operate on that, the trope is way more obvious. They’re also mostly male because romance dramas are marketed towards women. There are exceptions; remember the whole Team Edward/Team Jacob Twilight of the 2010s? For female second leads, there’s the case of Soo Ah of Itaewon Class.
In the Filipino setting, most of the secondary female characters are designed as the kontrabida. In contrast to the ‘nice guy’ foil of the male second lead, female second leads are designed for us to hate them for ruining the happy ending. She’s pretty, mataray, and just generally a bitch. Think of Maja Salvador in One More Chance, or of Liza Soberano’s minor roles in Got To Believe and Must Be Love.
Everyone agreed that the answer is simple — we tend to root for the nice guy. And while we can’t say for sure that the trope was popularized by men who operate on the “nice guys finish last” ideology, that seems to be the case for this trope.
Our “Who Would Win in A Fight?” closing segment ended in a tie, with six votes each for Jipyeong and Shin Hyuk. Though they didn’t get the girl in their respective dramas, at least we know that they are equally loved.
Doghouse Live! happens once a month on the Underdog Discord, streamed live on Facebook. Got a topic you wanna talk about at our next discussion? Email us at email@example.com!
Memes, internet trends, and lingo come and go. Can't keep up? We got you.Read On
Does this make it possible for us to imagine better futures?Read On