What makes a good female lead?


What makes a good female lead? A strong Personality? Someone who is physically strong? A female lead with a wealthy background and job? A male lead that seems weaker?

I personally think that a good female lead doesn’t need to be any of those things. A good female lead can even come from the rich man poor woman plot as long as the writers create good character development. Also if i think about any of me favorite actresses its because the make the character come alive no matter what character they are given. Sunny from Goblin did have any extreme character development but, she was a much better actress than Kim go eun. Park Bo Young has played a variety of characters from cute to tough and I think that all of her rolls are played very well. In “Because This Is My First Life” The female lead Jung So Min didn’t particularly play a fierce or aggressive female lead but her character was well developed and acted so she was likable. Tunnel had Lee You Young as their female lead and she was a very interesting character that wasn’t cute, or aggressive but instead kind of crazy. Crazy in a very intelligent way that made me love watching her scenes. Suspicious partner had a female lead that was very well written for the most part (except when the writers had a hard time managing the romance and crime aspect) and this female lead had a strong moral compass and perseverance.

These are just a few of my favorites, what is your favorite type of female lead and which actresses did it best?

The Devil Judge

Yup, character development is a big deal for me. Sometimes people complain about the physical attributes of actrices and complain that they aren’t ‘acting well’ or are ‘pretty enough’ (I don’t like timed comments anymore), but if they can really make you believe they are their character, then they are obviously doing a good job.

Even the “evil characters”, for example Mi-sil in The Great Queen Seondeok. She was brilliantly portrayed by the actress that played her. Or Kim Yoo-jung, who also does a great job portraying the characters she plays.


Honestly I only put timed comments on when something really funny is happening. Other than that they are distracting. Even if i think the male lead is really attractive I won’t keep watching if the character is not well developed or the after can’t act well.


She should be a real human being and resonate with us: either because she’s lovable or because she commands our respect for her personality.
This depends on the writing and directing but also on the actress who can bring the character to life.

Of course it’s difficult to watch a really ugly main lead in close-up for 16 episodes so if she has decently good looks it’s a plus. Most k-drama heroines are very plain though! The really beautiful ones are just a few.
Some names which come to mind:

  1. Han Ye Seul (Birth of a Beauty, Madame Antoine)
  2. Shin Min Ah (My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, Tomorrow with you)
  3. Lee Sung Kyung (About Time)
  4. Kim So Hyun (Bring it on, ghost)
  5. Kim Yoo Jung (Moonlight Drawn by Clouds)
  6. Kim So Yeon (Secret Mother)
  7. Kim Ji Won (the fiancée in Heirs, the bitchy ex in Fight My Way)
  8. Park Min Young (I am Sam, What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?)
  9. Suzy (but not with short hair like in While You Were Sleeping)
  10. Jung Ryeo Won (Wok of love) Oh, that smile!

On the other hand, some of my very favourite actresses are not great beauties. I’ll watch any drama with them in it.

  • Gong Hyo Jin (Don’t Dare to Dream/Jealousy incarnate)
  • Seo Hyun Jin (Another Oh Hae Young, Romantic teacher Kim)
  • Kim Seul Gi (Oh My Ghostess) I love her to bits!


So true! I don’t understand how people can keep watching an actor or actress just because (s)he’s pretty (if the drama is bad, I will stop watching after giving it a 2 or 3 episode chance).

Plus attractiveness is really subjective. Some people find certain actors / actresses attractive, while others don’t. For me, it’s not important at all. Story is most important. And something I didn’t mention before - the ability to deliver comedy / do funny scenes is also a big plus for me. Instantly makes me like the character more :slight_smile:

Yeah they are great. Perfect examples of actresses who can deliver comedy well.


I love the growth of the character during the drama, but I usually like to see a (fairly) mature female character, with a self-ironic personality, but I also like the shy and tender characters, as long as they do not fall into the stereotype. (I do not mind the protagonist of Playful Kiss)


Wow! :face_with_hand_over_mouth: The comments here don’t mince words at all, :joy: :thinking: hmmm. . . Are these words you’d say to the actress, actor, writer, or director, if you could do a face to face critique?

I agree with many of the points made on what makes a good female lead.
Definitely the embodiment of the character being portrayed. A person who can create realism to the point of escapism. Yet, I should be able to differentiate the person, from the character being portrayed. The chemistry with other characters should be palpable.


I love good character development and chemistry between the leads, but I also like dramas where the FL is as smart/competent (not necessarily in the same exact way) as the ML. I find this tends to be more the case in Chinese dramas, and that in my experience Japanese dramas are particular offenders in having FL characters who are not very smart, not really good at anything except tenacious emotional labor, acting with a ML who is written to be the most athletic, smart, “popular” (even though he’s completely standoffish and doesn’t seem to have friends) man in all the land. EG, “Morning Call” and “Mischievous Kiss.”

I tend not to really care what the FL looks like that much, as far as I can tell they’re all beautiful, some more stereotypically and some more uniquely.


A well-written, structured, rounded character with real abilities and real problems.

My biggest problem with female leads is that although they begin by being interesting, they tend to take some stupidity potion mid-series and they make bad choices and they need to be rescued by the male lead.
My second biggest problem is that strong female characters must always go overboard: too smart, too pretty, too rich, too ruthless, too determined, too professional, too skilled, too everything. The FL is overwhelming, then she meets ML and mellows into an “adorable, quirky” FL.

Producers think that a pretty face can carry a show, but in reality a bad actress with perfect appearance but no personality or presence may ruin a show.

Also, I agree with:


I agree, Dramaland seems to have slowly phased out from doormat idiot FLs to this. It’s like the writers, in their effoet to make a strong FL, make her invulnerable. She’s always right. It’s the people around her who are the problem. There’s hardly any space for growth. When she meets the Ml, either she mellows to absolute stupidity or she just does whatever the heck she wants while the ML cleans up after her messes. And the physical violence ohmygoodness why is it a thing to show FLs hitting men? Are we supposed to think “wow she’s so strong hitting everyone she meets so cool!!”

Every human has their own vulnerabilities. Doesn’t mean they aren’t strong, doesn’t mean they aren’t brave, doesn’t mean they aren’t fighters and survivors.

But I do understand… it’s hard to portray strength of character. Both the actor and the writer have to be in sync, the subtle hints and body language need to be just right, and things should flow naturally.

I love the FL in the drama I’m currently watching, From now On Showtime. She’s a police officer. She’s adorably cute, but she isn’t cutesy or childish while on the job. She can fight, but she doesn’t abuse her power. She’s on fire for justice, and at the same time she’s caring towards victims and people in general. Her fatal flaw is her impulsive nature. She tends to tackle things head on and react immediately, without thinking about it much. That’s an advantage when quick reactions are needed. She can think on her feet. She pushes the ML out of his comfort zone and can be pretty sarcastic but she isn’t disrespectful. She can be pretty silly when it comes to physical comedy. It all flows well, and she has easy chemistry with everyone.


This is actually a very, very good point and one that I think Hollywood gets wrong so often.


So true, the easiest way to write a good female lead or male lead is to have a balance. Figure out a couple of things they are good at, add in a few things they’re okay at, and finish it off with whatever they’re bad at. That’s how real humans are and therefore how kdrama characters should be written. I think Han Hyo Joo’s character from “W” best showed this. She’s a medical resident who’s originally wanted to be an artist. So her two skills are medicine and drawing. She is competent enough to try and figure out her situation and solve some problems but she’s not a genius or an accomplished fighter. So, in situations where physical strength or complex problem solving are needed the male lead steps in because that is what he does for a living.


I think everyone here has listed some actresses and their characters so that we can all have a frame of reference and a good idea as to who everyone is talking about. What the actual actress, writer, whoever would think if we said this to their face has literally no relevance in this conversation.


This is a good point because I also like Oh Han Ni from playful kiss because she is consistent. Even if her decision are often crazy or ridiculous I can fully believe she would make those decisions and that there are real women like here. She’s also likeable which is extremely hard to do with characters.


Sometimes a really attractive actor/actress may make me interested in a drama but their acting abilities and the plot are what keep me interested in the story. Sung Hoon is one actor that has this problem for me. I really like his personality (in I love alone) and I think he’s fairly attractive/hardworking but I never like any of his dramas. They always seem cringey or bad to me and I can never make it past one episode.


I am sorry you feel that way. 🥱

The drama I was watching when I came across this thread was Because of Love
The actress is a second female lead Tian Lei Xi


While reading what you @christina_ and @vivi_1485 have written, to which I would generally agree, the female lead of Falling for Innocence came to my mind. I think she embodies everything you are looking for in a female lead’s character.

As far as I remember she didn’t take some stupidity potion mid-series as one of her strong points was her intelligence. I admit that she made some bad choices when the show was progressing and of course there were situations, when she had to be rescued by the male lead. But even so she needed his help in this situations she was still a “strong” female lead. The bad choices she made weren’t a result of stupidity but most of the time a result of her so thought strong points, her determination and intelligence. This gave her the chance to grow during the show.

This problem of yours seems to be resolved by the female lead of Falling for Innocence,too.

Well, she is portrayed as maybe too determined and too professional but as these strong points of her seem the reason behind some of her bad choices they give her character the space to grow while remaining her strong and defying points. Which gives her the the chance to meet the male lead as an equal.


I haven’t watched this drama, but if your descriptions are correct, she could be a good female lead.

I’m not against leads making mistakes or seeking help or being very determined. I just don’t accept strong women portrayed as caricatures of men or adopting all the negative points of a man to show they are strong (eg beating their husband, which is considered as cute in most K or C dramas!).

I usually don’t like social dramas, but I watched “Life is a long quiet river” and I think both women were quite good. They made mistakes, they made bad choices, they overestimated themselves, they pursued careers but they were true to their type.

If you can easily substitute an actress with an actor for the same part in a drama, then the part is not written for an actress and the writers had a male lead in mind.


I am not sure if I understand you correctly.

So basically you are saying that in order to create a strong female lead you expect her to be written as a woman’s role/character so that most of her strong points are part of her identity as a female not a result of the character being a caricature of a man’s role/character.

On top of that for being considered a strong one the female lead may be allowed to make mistakes and take the wrong direction, as long as she stays true to her character and doesn’t change mid-series to become the caricature of a man or the damsel in distress.

Is that what you meant?


More or less, yes.

For example, a female police officer doesn’t have to get in bar fights or to only wear masculine clothes or beat the suspects or curse without reason to show that she is strong. However, she must be able to do all that when needed and not always need the male lead to take over. At the same time, she can’t be written like a bubbly, fashionable, irritable and bossy wife who just happens to work in a precinct instead of a shoe shop!

There must be a balance. The best way to achieve a balance is to write a realistic woman, to take examples from life.

This is a screenshot from “Be Reborn” (2022) (not on Viki)
The woman in this scene is a police team leader who was sent specifically to help with a very difficult high-profile case. Her contributions so far: she brought potted plants, she bought a new pillow for the ML and, in this screenshot, she is dusting the desks in her free time. As a professional police officer, she is too strong, too stubborn, too ruthless, to the point that she ignores input from her colleagues, botches a stake-out to show that she is not soft and she generally ruins the efforts made so far by the other team. But she is pretty and the ML likes her.

I loved “Reborn” (2020) but the 2022 version is ridiculous.