Start Up's Han Jipyeong, Reply 1988's Kim Junghwan, While You Were Sleeping's Han Wootak, True Beauty's Han Seojoon, She Was Pretty's Kim Shinhyuk, or most recently released drama Our Beloved Summer's Kim Ji woong-are you familiar with these characters? Under what circumstances put them into the same category? Perhaps, you have already guessed it; they are the second male lead in romance K-dramas.
There's nothing like a good love triangle to spice up a drama, however, this trope mostly results with what's so-called the second lead syndrome. The phrase second lead syndrome is mostly used by audiences from K-drama, to explain the phenomenon when the audience is rooting for the second lead to end up with the main character instead of their intended partner (or first lead). Aside from love triangles, the second lead syndrome can also come from tropes like illicit affairs, unrequited love, forbidden love, and many more. Even they apply to both genders, most second lead syndrome is experienced because of a male lead.
The reason why this phenomenon occurs is that the second lead is often depicted as someone ideal for us. Sometimes they can be seen as someone who is always there for the main character, or someone who the main character can truly rely on. They would do things that make our hearts sway around like stepping aside to make the relationship between the main lead and the first lead bloom. At some point, while it does make our hearts ache, that's just the reason why we love them and their selfless traits.
Apart from the main character story, usually, dramas also display a good proportion of the second lead backstory into the plot. The incorporation of the second lead story usually becomes the birth of a second lead syndrome, because the second lead characters are usually written in a way to contradicts the first lead's persona. In the end, why we are more attracted to second leads is because their character arcs tend to be more highlighted in the story, making them hard not to notice and irresistible not to love, even we already acknowledge their inevitable fate in the first place.
From the beginning of the drama, you have already figured out who the endgame is. But along the way, the second lead story touches you and you can't help but also root for them despite knowing they will only end up hurting at the end. We are still in for the ride, despite expecting a huge heartbreak. Something along the lines of "I saw it coming, but it still hurts." Sometimes you may question, why do these innocent characters exist when the director is not going to give them what they deserve, anyway? Well, maybe we all just feel thrilled to keep rooting for someone who we know is going to lose, but of course, still, with holding onto a little bit of blinded hope, praying that we will see them receiving their happy ending. Even if they didn't, they will always have a special place reserved in our hearts.