12 Female K-Drama Characters Who Think For Themselves
K-dramas are always fun to watch, but they’re even more alluring when the female protagonist remains as a main focus or has an active role in a drama. All too often, as a drama progresses, we slowly start to see female leads become submissive and undermined by their male counterparts. Their dialogue and actions seem to beg “what can I do for (male character)?” and “what does (male character) need?” when we’re more curious to know how they feel about a situation or what they can do for themselves.
It takes a certain kind of confidence to trust your instincts and move forward in the unknown, especially when encountering a problem that is anything but a simple fix. This is why it’s much more empowering and also comforting to see female characters have an active role in the story. They freely express how they feel, think for themselves, stick by their choices, and work towards their own personal growth rather than acting more as a band-aid for their male counterparts. If you’re looking for a drama with a strong, well-written female lead, then here’s a list for you!
Warning: minor spoilers ahead!
Kang Mo Yeon – “Descendants of the Sun”
Kang Mo Yeon (Song Hye Kyo) is a force to be reckoned with! While she is definitely hot-headed, she’s also strong, independent, and resolute in her beliefs. This is something that rings true in the first interaction she has with Captain Yoo Shi Jin (Song Joong Ki), where she shares her beliefs as a doctor. It’s awesome to see her express strong conviction and challenge his beliefs on his own vocation, especially since Shi Jin seems to be an antithesis to her character (She aims to save lives, his job allows him to take them).
Once she winds up in Uruk, she begins to understand Shi Jin’s job a little more, but instead of sacrificing her beliefs for his, they work together. This is effortlessly seen in the many times they are put in dangerous situations, where Shi Jin definitely has more experience but Mo Yeon still sticks to her gut – and it all works out for the better!
It’s inspiring to see a character like Mo Yeon who trusts herself and has confidence in her own abilities, especially when she knows she can save the day!
Catch the first episode of “Descendants of the Sun”:
Han Jae Yi – “Come and Hug Me”
Han Jae Yi (Jin Ki Joo) is one hell of warrior! “Come and Hug Me” is all about Han Jae Yi having to relive and conquer her childhood trauma of witnessing her parents’ murder, as well as almost dying herself. As an adult, she has to deal with rabid reporters, creepy stalkers, and a gloating serial killer – all while being an actress.
It’d be so easy for her to succumb to criticism and live her life the way others expect, but “Come and Hug Me” portrays Jae Yi as someone who trusts her instincts and stands firm in her decisions. She doesn’t let the people that pry stop her career, and she doesn’t feel ashamed to be in love with Chae Do Jin (Jang Ki Yong) – the son of the man who killed her parents. She knows, more than anyone else, that he is nothing like his father, and she goes for what makes her happy rather than trying to live by everyone else’s opinions.
And we definitely can’t forget the incredibly brave way Jae Yi faces her parents’ murderer, Yoon Hee Jae (Heo Joon Ho)! Despite it being her worst fear, she handles it without cowering.
It’s refreshing that the show doesn’t rob her of her anger and replace it with only fear. Instead, she takes control of the situation in her own way, and it is simply empowering!
Catch the first episode of “Come and Hug Me”:
Ha Moon Soo – “Just Between Lovers”
Ha Moon Soo (Won Jin Ah) has a story that’s just as heartbreaking as Han Jae Yi’s. “Just Between Lovers” is all about Moon Soo processing her survivor’s guilt after the collapse of the S Mall results in the loss of her sister. But as she learns to accept that she doesn’t have to be alone or bottle up her feelings, Moon Soo’s drive to create something new in that space leads her to work on designing the new mall and eventually a memorial. Moon Soo stands firm in her decision to work on the project, even when it causes tensions to run high with her mother, as it brings her the closure she needs.
We also see Moon Soo’s determination to overcome the past through her relationship with Lee Kang Doo (Junho), a fellow survivor of the S Mall collapse. When their intertwined past causes some turbulence in their relationship, Moon Soo doesn’t give up on working things through. Kang Doo really helps Moon Soo let out her emotions, so when he seems unwilling to let her play the same role in his life, she adamantly expresses that the best way for them to get through it is to do it together:
It’s great to see Moon Soo take on the lessons she’s learned and move forward in her life as she refuses to let tragedy define her life and the lives of people that she cares about the most!
Catch the first episode of “Just Between Lovers”:
Ji Ho, Soo Ji, and Ho Rang – “Because This Is My First Life”
“Because This Is My First Life” is a three-for-one in terms of iconic female leads! Yoon Ji Ho (Jung So Min), Woo Soo Ji (Esom), and Yang Ho Rang (Kim Ga Eun) are incredibly different, but all three play an active role when it comes to solving their respective problems.
As the main lead, Ji Ho tends to be shy and inexperienced, but the way she deals with problems and makes life-altering decisions is anything but timid. Through the ups and downs, Ji Ho is always guided by what she determines is good for her, all while refreshingly speaking her mind. We see this in the way she responds to her co-workers after they try to coerce her into forgetting about being almost sexually assaulted:
And while she knows this will cause her problems, Ji Ho doesn’t let her circumstances of needing money and a place to live keep her from speaking out when she’s been wronged. Once she makes the decision to enter a fake marriage with Se Hee (Lee Min Ki), she doesn’t let anyone try and talk her out of her decisions. It’s inspiring to see how Ji Ho is sure of herself, even if the future is unknown.
Then there’s Woo Soo Ji, who is truly the fiercest of the three. Bull-headed and independent, Soo Ji is a wonderfully complex character who shows us the struggles of dealing with the challenges of work culture.
In her personal life, Soo Ji settles for nothing less than what she wants. For example, she’s quick to scold Ma Sang Goo (Park Byung Eun) for overstepping boundaries that they mutually set in a contract:
But at work, she struggles to do the same with her co-workers. She has to deal with gossip and sexual harassment, both of which isolate her from people in the office. While Sang Goo pesters her on why she never says anything, she never allows him to solve her problems for her. In fact, Soo Ji continues with what she believes is right – whether it’s confronting people or choosing the olive branch route. And when she finally decides to confront things head on, she does it in true Soo Ji fashion: with strength and sharp wit.
Finally, there’s Ho Rang, who’s just as sure of what she wants as Soo Ji, even if she doesn’t exactly have the same goals. During the whole show, Ho Rang is certain that it is time for her to get married to her long-term boyfriend, Shim Won Seok (Kim Min Suk). And while she may have odd ways of showing it (rather than clear-cut communication to Won Seok), she’s determined to make it happen.
This determination and impetuous behavior bleeds into her work life, which we see when she gets scolded by her manager after being rude to customers. Instead of letting his stereotypical remark slide, she calls him out on it.
It’s enjoyable to watch how she sticks towards her actions – like the other girls, she remains steadfast in herself no matter the consequences!
Catch the first episode of “Because This Is My First Life”:
Ma Yi Deum – “Witch’s Court”
“Witch’s Court” is a woman-led show that reminds us just how powerful women can be! As the star of the drama, Ma Yi Deum (Jung Ryeo Won) is truly a refreshing character packed with determination and stubbornness. She’s a prosecutor that no one would want to face in court. “Witch’s Court” deals with sexual violence, especially cases of those against woman, but the drama surprisingly doesn’t fall to old tropes such as a man coming to save the girl. In fact, Ma Yi Deum is the one who’s active in all of the cases, and her animosity for people who try to commit wrongs is really the driving force of the show.
Beyond her job, Ma Yi Deum is equally the driving force in her relationships and her mission to find her mother as well. As she slowly uncovers the secrets of her mother’s disappearance and Jo Gap Soo’s (Jun Kwang Ryul) involvement, Ma Yi Deum doesn’t sit and wait for justice to happen – she enlists the help of people like Min Ji Sook (Kim Yeo Jin) to get results and does whatever she can to get to the bottom of things. And while Yeo Jin Wook (Yoon Hyun Min) is her partner in crime, she’s the one who makes the decisions in both their cases and in their relationship. For example: when Ma Yi Deum finds out Yeo Jin Wook’s mother is involved with her mother’s disappearance, she doesn’t let it slide and decides to cut all ties:
Ma Yi Deum’s determination and her bold (and perhaps questionable) actions to get evidence to bring Jo Gap Soo’s crimes to life make our hearts burst with anticipation, but that’s what makes the show so great.
Catch the first episode of “Witch’s Court”:
Kang Mi Rae – “My ID Is Gangnam Beauty”
Kang Mi Rae (Im Soo Hyang) is one of the best K-drama female leads of 2018. We see Mi Rae grow confident throughout the drama as she learns to accept herself. Her journey to self-love is not only inspiring, but is also treated with the utmost care within the narrative. Never once are her feelings out-shined in favor of Do Kyung Seok’s (Cha Eun Woo); she’s allowed to process and stick to her own decisions, as she wants to do what is comfortable for her and not anyone else.
Kang Mi Rae shows us the difficulty of coping with what others think and staying within your comfort zone. It’s a frustrating battle – as we know she wants to be with Kyung Seok – but this is a familiar reality for anyone who struggles with insecurities. Mi Rae is doubled-up in fickleness, and the show explores the adversities of what it takes to discover self-love. But through her struggle with dealing with bullies and others’ attention, we see how the decisions she makes cause her to grow and she eventually becomes the kind of person who does what she desires.
Kim Mi So – “What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim”
Kim Mi So (Park Min Young) is truly one of a kind. From the get-go, she is in control of her own destiny. Despite her very persistent boss, Lee Young Joon (Park Seo Joon), wanting to keep her at his side, Mi So is determined to finally live her life the way she wants. After working tirelessly to pay off her father’s debts and both her sisters’ tuition costs, she wants to take some for herself, which is why she stands her ground – even when Young Joon goes to great lengths to stop her from quitting.
Her certainty is never forgotten throughout the course of the show, and she’s not afraid to tell Young Joon when he’s being out of line. This is one of the show’s best traits, as usually K-dramas don’t let their heroines call people out when they’re being wronged. This was something she did when she was first hired and accompanied Young Joon overseas, and it also seeps into their entangled personal life when he acts inappropriately out of jealousy.
Within the narrative, all of her emotions are validated, and she isn’t undermined by Young Joon even when they fight. Instead, they grow together, with Mi So happily accepting his apologies and happily admitting it when she’s in the wrong. It’s these decisions that drive their relationship forward throughout the course of the drama. She’s truly a heroine we all admire!
Catch the first episode of “What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim”:
Ae Ra and Seol Hee – “Fight My Way”
“Fight My Way” is a drama that follows the story of four best friends all trying their luck against the struggle of finding a sustainable career. In particular, Choi Ae Ra (Kim Ji Won) and Baek Seol Hee (Song Ha Yoon) are truly standouts in terms of leading ladies!
Choi Ae Ra, the main protagonist, is confident, adamant, and relatable. We see her brim with happiness, deflate with failure, and even attempt her best aegyo as she tries her best to manage life. With a dream to be a shining star behind a microphone, we see all the ups and down as she struggles to find footing in the entertainment world – and how she stays determined despite the difficulties. She is beyond giddy when she gets to be the announcer at the mall where she works and isn’t afraid to demand an interview for the position, even when they try to have someone else fill the role.
Her headstrong personality particularly rings true in her relationship with Ko Dong Man (Park Seo Joon). Childhood friends-to-lovers can be a rocky trope, as these characters have been pining for each other for so long that neither of them want to admit it. But as Dong Man struggles to come to terms with his feelings, Ae Ra never lets his jealous behavior determine how she should live her life. She knows how to stick up for herself and live her life the way she wants instead of how someone else tells her she should.
Then there’s Baek Seol Hee, who is determined to lead a simple life. While Ae Ra is more focused on her career, Seol Hee knows that she wants to be a mother. Seol Hee’s journey to stick up for herself and demand to get the things she deserves with the same determination as Ae Ra is satisfying to watch. With a kind, soft, and nurturing soul, she wants nothing more than to have a family with her boyfriend of six years, Kim Joo Man (Ahn Jae Hong).
However, the loyalty in this relationship is put to the test when one of their co-workers develops a crush on Joo Man. Throughout the drama, there are a lot of times where Seol Hee and Joo Man are simply frustrated with each other, but when he challenges Seol Hee to see things how he sees them, she never lets him try and tell her how to feel.
And when Seol hee decides to break up with Joo Man, she is unwavering in her decision no matter how much he begs:
Seol Hee reminds us that it’s okay to fight for our way and to stand firm in order to be treated the way we want.
Catch the first episode of “Fight My Way”:
Kang So Joo – “Bad Thief, Good Thief”
This drama is a little longer than the other ones, totaling with 50 episodes, but it is well worth the watch. Girls’ Generation’s Seohyun shines as Kang So Joo, who puts the good in good cop as she fights against the plethora of corruption as an investigator for the prosecutor’s office.
So Joo is intelligent, tenacious, and unshakable in her fight for justice. When she finds out that Jang Dol Mok (Ji Hyun Woo) is a highly skilled thief with a vigilante lifestyle, So Joo admits that she understands his motives but believes the law will prevail. Not only that, but she sticks to her core beliefs and interrogates him on the spot without letting him leave!
And when the confrontation escalates and she chooses to follow him, she doesn’t let him make the decision about their situation. Instead she lets him know that it’s her choice.
So Joo ends up on his side after making the decision on her own, and not just for Dol Mok’s sake. This decision is something that only aids the investigation against Assemblyman Yoon Joong Tae (Choi Jong Hwan), as it’s her involvement that turns the tide. Another great detail about this show is So Joo’s skills in self-defense are never forgotten. Whether it’s taking down criminals or fighting her way out of being kidnapped, she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself. “Bad Thief, Good Thief” is a drama that isn’t afraid to have their heroine shine and excel.
Catch the first episode of “Bad Thief, Good Thief”:
These are just a few of dramas that have incredible female characters! Have some that aren’t on the list? Let us know what they are in the comments below!
kaityv spends most of her time watching K-dramas even though she should be writing. If she’s not watching a drama then she’s for sure binging BTS, iKON, and Red Velvet music videos.
Currently watching: “100 Days My Prince,” “The Ghost Detective,” ‘The Third Charm”
All-time favorite: “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon”
Looking forward to: “Encounter,” and Ji Soo‘s first proper lead role.