All it takes is one killer role for an actor to become a Hallyu star and secure his position in the Korean entertainment industry. A lot of actors go unnoticed and struggle for many years before they make their big break-out role. Here’s to all those actors who worked hard to make a name for themselves (and continue to work hard). Check out our list of K-dramas that boosted actors into the spotlight!
Hyun Bin in “My Name is Kim Sam Soon”
Hyun Bin played the charming Hyun Jin Heon in the hit series, “My Name is Kim Sam Soon.” In the drama, his character’s arrogance was perfectly contrasted with how he swept the leading lady (played by Kim Sun Ah) off her feet. This was Hyun Bin’s breakthrough role, which earned him a long successful acting career that only continues to grow.
Start watching “My Name is Kim Sam Soon”:
Yoon Shi Yoon in “Baker King, Kim Tak Goo”
Yoon Shi Yoon hit the lottery when he won the role of Kim Tak Goo in this series about the driven and passionate baker who strives to be the best in Korea. He was able to win the hearts of viewers as the series was very well received and earned high viewership ratings. Although Yoon Shi Yoon continues to take on incredible roles that really showcase his acting abilities, he is still known to many as Kim Tak Goo.
Start watching “Baker King Kim Tak Goo”:
Won Bin in “Autumn In My Heart”
Won Bin first graced viewers with his incredibly good looks as the boy next door in the series, “Propose,” but it wasn’t until his role as the second lead in “Autumn In My Heart” that he was able to secure his position in the industry. His character, Han Tae Suk, is a typical rich chaebol who tries to win the heart of the poor female lead (Song Hye Kyo), but he played the role so well that he has become one of the most notable second lead characters in K-drama history! Although he hasn’t been very active in the industry, he continues to model and do commercials. We are all (patiently) waiting for his return to the small screen.
Lee Min Ho in “Boys Over Flowers”
How could we forget Lee Min Ho as Gu Joon Pyo in “Boys Over Flowers”? His permed hair and extravagant fashion will go down as being one of the most unforgettable male lead appearances in K-drama history. Lee Min Ho hardly had to try to leave an impression in the industry as this was his first main role in a series, and it skyrocketed his acting career quite effortlessly.
Start watching “Boys Over Flowers”:
Jo In Sung in “What Happened in Bali”
It feels like just yesterday when we saw Jo In Sung play Kang In Wook in the tragic melodrama, “What Happened in Bali.” He portrayed the tragedy of his character and his unrequited love so well that it’s no wonder Kang In Wook became his big breakthrough role!
So Ji Sub in “I’m Sorry, I Love You”
Another actor who secured his fame in the industry through “What Happened in Bali” is So Ji Sub. His calm and cool demeanor won viewers over, and it’s an image that he still hasn’t been able to shake since! Although he really gained popularity through “What Happened in Bali,” it was his role as Cha Moo Hyuk in “I’m Sorry, I Love You” that really won hearts over. His rugged and bad boy character trying to find his birth mother is an unforgettable story and role!
Start watching “I’m Sorry I Love You”:
Song Seung Heon in “Autumn In My Heart”
This series made an impression on all of Korea for its heartbreaking storyline and very visually appealing cast (Song Seung Heon, Won Bin, and Song Hye Kyo). Song Seung Heon was previously known for his comedic side when he starred in the hit sitcom, “Three Guys and Three Girls,” so the fact that he was able to showcase a more serious side really gained him the respect as an actor.
Park Seo Joon in “A Witch’s Romance”
Park Seo Joon was able to climb to fame very quickly, and with good reason. He’s been able to gain enough respect that people trust the scripts that he takes on, almost guaranteeing success in the roles that he chooses. He started off in various small roles, but his most significant role was when he played the young and charming Yoon Dong Ha alongside Uhm Jung Hwa in the rom-com drama “A Witch’s Romance.”
Start watching “A Witch’s Romance”:
Seo In Guk in “Reply 1997”
Seo In Guk made his first impression in the Korean entertainment industry after he won first place during season one of “Superstar K.” But through his role as Yoon Yoon Jae in “Reply 1997,” he was able to show the country that he was more than just a singer. He was able to beat out a lot of other actors, which is impressive considering it was his first time starring in a main role!
Start watching “Reply 1997”:
Park Bo Gum in “Reply 1988”
It’s hard to imagine the baduk playing genius Choi Taek being played by any other actor other than Park Bo Gum. His innocent and naive character won the hearts of viewers as he also won the heart of the leading lady, Sung Deok Sun (Girl’s Day’s Hyeri). He has since played in several lead roles and has also secured his position as being one of the most sought-after actors in the industry.
Start watching “Reply 1988”:
Kim Woo Bin in “Heirs”
Although he wasn’t the male lead, Kim Woo Bin’s role in “Heirs” as the cold and baggage-filled Choi Young Do suited him perfectly. It was the first role that really brought him to light and garnered him a huge fan base. His ability to be a big jerk and still manage to be a character that people can sympathize with showcased his skills as an actor. He’s since starred in several K-dramas and movies, and fans are currently awaiting his return to dramaworld!
Start watching “Heirs”:
Gong Yoo in “Coffee Prince”
It seems like just yesterday we were seeing Gong Yoo star as the rich and charming Choi Han Gyul in “Coffee Prince.” The series was a huge success at the time and is even now considered a classic, as it’s filled with so many memorable scenes. Since then, Gong Yoo has continued to do wonders in maintaining his status in the Korean entertainment industry and really delivering in all of his roles.
Start watching “Coffee Prince”:
Lee Jong Suk in “School 2013”
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which role secured Lee Jong Suk’s position in the industry as a lot of his roles seemed to be mega hits. From the bitter songwriter Han Tae Sun in “Secret Garden,” to the high school student Go Nam Soon in “School 2013,” and the mind-reading high school student Park Soo Ha in “I Hear Your Voice” – a lot of the roles he’s taken on have been successful. However, Lee Jong Suk’s role in “School 2013” is the one that really earned him the title as a respected actor in dramaworld. His tortured soul persona in the drama made him very relatable and really showcased his acting abilities.
Start watching “School 2013”:
Song Joong Ki in “The Innocent Man”
Before Song Joong Ki’s infamous role as Captain Yoo Shi Jin in “Descendants of the Sun,” he played Kang Ma Ru in the hit melodrama, “The Innocent Man.” His innocent and flower-boy appearance contrasted well with the dark, playboy ways of Ma Ru, showing how versatile Song Joong Ki is as an actor!
Start watching “The Innocent Man”:
Kim Soo Hyun in “Dream High”
Before Kim Soo Hyun’s epic role as Do Min Joon in the international hit series, “My Love From the Star,” his humble beginnings began as Song Sam Dong, the good-looking country boy who is a musical genius. Kim Soo Hyun’s role alongside Suzy became his big break in the K-drama industry. Besides his obvious good looks, he impressed people with his singing voice, especially considering that he’s not an idol. His character also had sizzling chemistry with the leading lady, Go Hye Mi (Suzy), that was serious relationship goals!
Start watching “Dream High”:
Ji Chang Wook in “Healer”
Ji Chang Wook as the dreamy Seo Jung Hoo in “Healer” is so unforgettable. The toughness, romance, and good looks of Jung Hoo made up the perfect role for Ji Chang Wook and was just what he needed to push him in the right direction in the industry!
Start watching “Healer”:
Yoo Ah In in “Sungkyunkwan Scandal”
Yoo Ah In is considered to be one of the best actors in the industry, but even he didn’t always have a starring role. Yoo Ah In as Moon Jae Shin in the sageuk drama “Sungkyunkwan Scandal” was definitely the first big stepping stone in his career. He was able to show the bad boy side of Jae Shin so well, impressing viewers with his acting capabilities. And his bromance alongside Song Joong Ki’s character also won the hearts of many!
Start watching “Sungkyunkwan Scandal”:
Park Hae Jin in “My Love From the Star”
Park Hae Jin made a big impression in the industry as his role alongside Lee Bo Young in the hit family drama, “My Daughter Seo Young,” but what really skyrocketed his acting career was his role as Lee Whi Kyung in “My Love From the Star.” The hit series put him on the map as he was able to get his first starring role shortly after.
Start watching “My Love From the Star”:
Kwon Sang Woo in “Stairway to Heaven”
It’s hard to mention classic K-dramas without mentioning Kwon Sang Woo. His role as the rich CEO named Cha Song Joo in the melodrama “Stairway to Heaven” was the first watched series for many K-drama fans. It is a tragic love story that has become one of the most unforgettable roles in Kwon Sang Woo’s repertoire of dramas!
Hey Soompiers, which of these actors is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!
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binahearts is a Soompi writer whose ultimate biases are Song Joong Ki and BIGBANG. She can often be seen singing her heart out at karaoke, walking her dog, or indulging in desserts. Make sure you follow binahearts on Instagram as she journeys through her latest Korean crazes!
Currently watching: “Terius Behind Me,” “The Beauty Inside,” “The Third Charm,” and “Where Stars Land”
All-time favorite dramas: “Secret Garden,” “Goblin,” “Because This Is My First Life,” “Star In My Heart”
Looking forward to: Won Bin‘s return to the small screen and Song Joong Ki‘s next drama