Korean dramas, also known as K-dramas, have become immensely popular worldwide in recent years. Known for their interesting plots, great production values, and talented actors, K-dramas have attracted viewers from all over the globe. One of the main draws of K-dramas is the strong, interesting, and complex female leads. Many discussions arise amongst K-drama fans about who the best female lead is. There are certainly many excellent actresses who have delivered mesmerizing performances. Let’s take a look at some of the top contenders for the title of best female lead in K-dramas.
What Makes a Great Female Lead in K-dramas?
When considering the best female leads in K-dramas, there are several qualities that the top actresses tend to possess:
- Strong acting skills – She is able to convincingly portray a wide range of emotions and has great screen presence.
- Complex character – Her character has depth and undergoes an interesting character arc throughout the drama.
- Great chemistry – She shares compelling romantic chemistry with her male co-stars.
- Star power – She is able to carry the drama and draw in viewers.
- It factor – She has that special charm and charisma that makes her mesmerizing to watch.
K-drama female leads also tend to be intelligent, driven, and resilient characters who persevere through the challenges fate throws at them. The most iconic K-drama heroines have qualities that resonate with audiences. With these criteria in mind, let’s look at some of the best K-drama leading ladies.
Jun Ji Hyun
When talking about the top female leads in K-dramaland, Jun Ji Hyun’s name inevitably comes up. She shot to fame with her quirky role in the classic drama My Sassy Girl. Since then, she has starred in hit shows like Legend of the Blue Sea opposite Lee Min Ho and Kingdom with Ju Ji Hoon. Jun Ji Hyun always plays interesting, multilayered female characters. She has excellent range as an actress, being able to pull off bubbly, ditzy roles as well as more serious ones. Her charm and beauty are undeniable assets as well. Jun Ji Hyun remains one of Korea’s highest paid actresses and among the most sought after for lead roles.
Memorable Jun Ji Hyun roles:
- Cheon Song Yi in My Love from the Star – A famous Hallyu actress with a prickly exterior but warm heart.
- Ha Jung Won in The Legend of the Blue Sea – A mermaid who falls for a con man.
- Ashin in Kingdom – A mysterious widow hiding a dangerous secret.
Kim Tae Hee
Widely considered one of Korea’s most beautiful actresses, Kim Tae Hee has starred in many popular romantic dramas over the years. She often plays gentle, kind heroines but is also able to portray more nuanced characters. Kim Tae Hee had her breakout role in the classic drama Stairway to Heaven. Some of her more recent memorable dramas include Yong Pal with Joo Won and Hi Bye, Mama with Lee Kyu Hyung. Kim Tae Hee has an innocent charm that shines through whether she is playing an angelic lead or flawed character. She is especially gifted in emotional crying scenes. With her stunning visuals and acting talent, Kim Tae Hee earns her spot as one of K-drama’s top leading ladies.
Memorable Kim Tae Hee roles:
- Jang Yoo Jin in Yong Pal – A chaebol heiress in a coma.
- Cha Yu Ri in Hi Bye, Mama – A mother who comes back as a spirit.
- Jung Seo Hyun in Stairway to Heaven – A rich heiress caught in a love triangle.
Park Shin Hye
Having starred in hit dramas since she was a child actress, Park Shin Hye has matured into one of Korea’s most popular leading ladies. She is gifted at playing both high-spirited and melancholy characters. Park Shin Hye starred opposite Lee Min Ho in the global phenomenon The Heirs. She has also headlined successful dramas such as Heartstrings, Doctors, and Memories of the Alhambra. Many fans love her for her down-to-earth nature and relatability. She is lauded for her crying and kissing scenes as well. Park Shin Hye’s charming smile and everywoman appeal make her a perennial favorite.
Memorable Park Shin Hye roles:
- Cha Eun Sang in The Heirs – A poor girl who gets entangled with an elite chaebol family.
- Lee Young Shin in Doctors – A troubled teenager who becomes a successful doctor.
- Go Hae Ri in Memories of the Alhambra – The CEO of an AR game company.
Son Ye Jin
Talented veteran actress Son Ye Jin has been the lead in many classic romantic dramas over her long career. She has excellent range, being equally adept at slapstick comedy, melodrama, and severity. Son Ye Jin broke out internationally with her performance in the hit drama Crash Landing on You opposite Hyun Bin. She is renowned for her natural acting style and ability to form sizzling onscreen chemistry with her costars. Some of her other notable dramas include Personal Taste and Something in the Rain. Son Ye Jin has also starred in hit movies like The Classic and A Moment to Remember. Her status as Korea’s “romantic comedy queen” is well-earned thanks to her shining talent.
Memorable Son Ye Jin roles:
- Yoon Se Ri in Crash Landing on You – An heiress who accidentally lands in North Korea.
- Yoon Jin Ah in Something in the Rain – A convenience store manager who falls for her best friend’s younger brother.
- Lee Young Shin in Personal Taste – An architect mistaken for being gay who moves in with a woman.
While she started off as a singer, over the past several years IU has proven herself to be a truly gifted actress as well. She is praised for perfectly embodying each of her characters and being able to capture the small details in her performance. IU starred in the fantasy sageuk Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, melodramatic series My Mister, and hotel comedy drama Hotel Del Luna. Her hard work led her to win the prestigious grand prize at Korea’s Baeksang Arts Awards in 2022. IU continues to surprise viewers by showcasing impressive range and depth as an actress.
Memorable IU roles:
- Hae Soo in Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo – A 21st century woman who travels back in time to the Goryeo dynasty.
- Lee Ji An in My Mister – A down on her luck temp worker who gets involved with three brothers.
- Jang Man Wol in Hotel Del Luna – The boss of a magical hotel catering to ghosts.
Gong Hyo Jin
Veteran actress Gong Hyo Jin is praised for her consistently stellar performances in many hit dramas. She has played a diverse range of characters over the years, from funny sassy women to depressed hermits searching for meaning in life. Gong Hyo Jin has starred opposite major leading men like So Ji Sub in Master’s Sun, Jo In Sung in It’s Okay, That’s Love, and Ryu Jun Yeol in When the Camellia Blooms. She always completely immerses herself in each character she plays. Gong Hyo Jin is revered for her captivating screen presence and nuanced acting abilities.
Memorable Gong Hyo Jin roles:
- Tae Gong Shil in Master’s Sun – A sensitive woman who can see ghosts after an accident.
- Oh Young in When the Camellia Blooms – A single mom who runs a bar in a small town.
- Ji Hae Soo in It’s Okay, That’s Love – A psychiatrist with a painful history.
A former member of the famous K-pop girl group miss A, Bae Suzy transitioned into acting and has starred as the female lead in several top dramas. She possesses gorgeous visuals and a sweet, down-to-earth image that resonates with viewers. Suzy’s first major acting role was as the heroine in the megahit Dream High. She has also headlined the fantasy drama While You Were Sleeping and historical romance Vagabond. Suzy’s sincere acting, melodic voice, and cute personality always shine through onscreen.
Memorable Bae Suzy roles:
- Nam Hong Joo in While You Were Sleeping – A woman who can see the future in her dreams.
- Go Hae Ri in Vagabond – A stunt woman who seeks to uncover a conspiracy.
- Go Hye Mi in Dream High – An overconfident student training to become a K-pop idol.
With their captivating screen presence, acting range, and star power, all of these actresses deserve to be called one of the best K-drama female leads. Jun Ji Hyun, Kim Tae Hee, Park Shin Hye, Son Ye Jin, IU, Gong Hyo Jin, and Bae Suzy have all delivered iconic performances in classic dramas that their fans will never forget. They perfectly portray the multifaceted heroines that we love to root for and cry with. It is impossible to choose just one best female lead, as they all excel in different ways. We can only hope to see more incredible performances from these talented ladies in future K-dramas.