Quick, name one show which had fan wars anywhere near the level of the Chilbongie/Oppa debate but with the guy’s romantic options. You can’t do it, can you? It could be partially because the female fans don’t get as tied up in knots about that aspect, but really, there is a distinct lack of shows where there is a viable question or chance for the second female lead (SFL) to get the guy. Instead we get the evil second female lead who schemes, lies and does what ever she can to get a guy who’s really not that interested (think Huan Huan in Fall in Love with Me) .
However, lately I’ve noticed an upswing in the number of SFLs who defy the expectation of the evil SFL who is obsessed with the male lead. I am fully on board this trend of non-obsessed SFLs and I hope to see it continue. We still get plenty of the obsessive evil ones, but there is a gratifying variety in the SFLs from the past year as we see three types of SFL in addition to the evil, obsessed b*%$# SFL.
Note: I’m not talking about ensemble shows since that is a different situation and set of trends and tropes.
The Non-Romantic SFL
This is a growing trend where the secondary female lead isn’t a romantic contender for the lead. This breaks down into those who are blood relations to one member of our OTP and those who are are not.
In both Heart to Heart and Cruel Romance our second female lead is a lead’s sister. They have their own character and plot arcs, though in Heart to Heart Yi Seok’s sister Se Ro does share a love interest, Do Soo, with our female lead Hong Do. Still, Se Ro supports her brother’s relationship with Hong Do and when Do Soo initially wants nothing romantic with her she soldiers on and pursues him persistently but honestly. It’s really interesting in Cruel Romance because the sisters are estranged and don’t interact directly for much of the show. Ming Zhu is resentful of her half-sister Jin Xiu and actively plots against her several times over the course of the show. I’m including this example because the reasons for Ming Zhu’s hatred of Jin Xiu are not based on a guy and they are never romantic rivals. I find it refreshing to have a SFL be angry about something other than “you took my man!” and for her not to base her whole life and existence around crushing the lead’s romance. Plus half of the stuff she does to Jin Xiu are because the Japanese are controlling her, and in the end the sisters reconcile.
In Mask our SFL tries to destroy our OTP for reasons other than attraction the male lead. Min Woo is Min Yeon’s half brother, but she wants to break up him and his wife Eun Ha/Ji Sook because Eun Ha had an affair with her husband. She is never a rival for Min Woo’s affections and her goal is less to break up the OTP than to get the woman she thought was having an affair with her husband out of her house.
In Angry Mom the SFL is Kang Ja’s daughter Ah Rang, and thank goodness they didn’t make them compete for a guy. One of the things I really appreciated about this show was we also got Ae Yeon who was scheming and lying not so she could get a guy, but just to survive.
Non Family Member
This doesn’t happen as often, but I would like to see it more. In Healer our hacker Jo Min Ja is in no way a romantic rival, and I just adore her and the different dynamic having a SFL of a different generation. She acted more as a mother figure and mentor. We have a similar dynamic in I Remember You with Chief Planning Officer Hyun since she raised Lee Hyeon after his dad died, but she is more of a tertiary character than a true SFL. I just want to see more of this type of SFL.
The other type we’ve been getting is the friend. While Lt. Yum Mi in Sensory Couple initially appeared to have an interest in Officer Choi at first they easily fell into a friendship and she even became friends with Chae Rim. It was so nice to see that particular relationship bloom.
In Falling in Love with Soon Jung our SFL Han Ji-Hyun is Min Ho’s business partner and friend. They aren’t romantically involved and we never get any clear moves towards him on her part. Sadly the friendship doesn’t withstand Min Ho’s change of heart, but while she schemes against him she never devolves into an obsessed SFL.
Multiple or Unclear SFL
The other part of this trend I’ve noticed is to dilute the secondary female lead. In these cases we either don’t get a clear secondary lead or it is shared out between several characters. When I see You Again seems to be doing this. We’re eight episodes in and we’ve seen several of the secondary female characters in equal parts, and happily none of them are developing into the evil SFL yet.
My Love Eun Dong is kind of an example of this. The secondary female we see the most of is Hyun Soo’s sister, but the show still has an evil SFL. We spend more time with Hyun Ah, so I think she supports the trend of having non-evil SFL.
You could even make an argument for Angry Mom since we see an almost equal amount of Ah Ran and Gong Joo.
Non-Evil Romantic SFL
The rare gem in dramas is a SFL who is a romantic rival and does not fall prey to the evil scheming witch trope, and even rarer is to have it done well. Writers seem to be trying to give us SFLs who actually have a chance with the guy and aren’t manipulative psychopaths, but there are still bumps with the execution. Take Someone Like You. Ya Ti likes Zhan Cheng but doesn’t do anything evil. She actually tries to stop our female lead Yu Xi from being a complete idiot. However, as if to compensate for the SFL not actively putting up obstacles, the writer makes Yu Xi act irrationally and out of character.
Other shows have had better execution for the overall story with varying degrees of success developing the character. On one side of the scale we have Murphy’s Law. Caveat is that the show isn’t yet over and I’m several episodes behind, but so far it has been so nice to have a SFL who is actively trying not to manipulate the situation. Her lies have been of the variety to give our lead more freedom of choice rather than tie him down with guilt. Shi Yu is a fully realized character on her own. I like her, but I’m not rooting for Shi Yu and Jia Wei to get back together.
On the other side of the scale we have Masked Prosecutor. Prosecutor Ri Na had a definite crush on our lead Dae Chul but she saw his interest in Detective Min Hee and let them be. She worked with them and didn’t try to manipulate Dae Chul, though she does tease him and give Min Hee a bit of a hard time. I appreciate that we get a more realistic response to a guy not returning your affections, but I wish we got more development of her character. She doesn’t get any character growth or change.
We get a middle ground of development in Pinocchio. Yoo Rae had a crush on Dal Po, but while she pouts and gets angry when she discovers his feelings for In Ha, that is the extent of it. She vents her feelings and moves on. She has her own interests and goals beyond those we see with the lead.
Other recent examples of a non-evil romantic SFL include Producer and Crossing Hero. In Producer Cindy is not evil; she is sincerely trying to be a better person and some people really routed for her, and there is hope for her and Seung Chan. Mo Han in The Crossing Hero has a huge, long term crush on Xiao Dong but she has to finally let go of it when he falls for Xian Ting. I enjoyed the fact that Mo Han and Xian Ting become friends, and was curious as to how Mo Han’s own love life would turn out.
There are a couple currently airing shows that still leave wiggle room for exactly what kind of SFL we will ultimately end up getting. For example, in High Society. Ji Yi is awesome and a way better person than our lead Joon Ha. At this point the argument could be made for this being an ensemble show with all four of them being leads, but it is so different to have a SFL I like so much more than the female lead, and I would be happy to see Ji Yi with either of the guys.
A different example is Oh My Ghostess. Soon Ae is a ghost and romantic rival who occasionally possesses Bo Young’s body. What I find really interesting about this particular rivalry is that Soon Ae’s interest in Chef Sun Woo is more physical while Bong Sun has more of an emotional connection. I am exceedingly curious as to how this will all play out, but so far Soon Ae has readily avoided all of the evil SFL actions, and based on her personality will continue to do so. This show may come the closest to actually getting SFL syndrome since a lot of people really like Soon Ae and Sun Woo. There’s not much hope for them considering Soon Ae is a ghost, but we are getting a compelling dynamic between the three of them.
While we will never get rid of the evil SFL going after the male lead it is so nice to see more of a variety in our SFLs and I hope to see even more in upcoming shows.