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Oppas vs. Heartthrobs: Swoon-Worthy Male Characters from K Dramas on Netflix

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Kdrama and US drama male leads
Oppas Vs. Heartthrobs

Move aside, ladies—it's time to put the spotlight on the soapy men! Oh, god, no! Not like that! Well…Back to the topic!

So, here’s me admitting my guilty pleasure. Oh god, the amount of hours I’ve invested into Korean dramas, or K-Dramas is no longer a guilty pleasure. It might border on addiction. But in the realm of TV dramas, both Korean and Western productions have gifted us with some truly unforgettable male characters. Think K-dramas on Netflix! Of course!

But hold onto your swoons, ladies, because I’m about to walk you through some fun differences I found along the way. From the dashing oppas of Korean dramas to the suave heartthrobs of Western shows, you have to admit these male leads make us swoon, laugh, and sometimes scratch our heads in bewilderment. So this is my no-holds-barred take on the collision between cultural tropes and the universal pursuit of love, justice, and ridiculously good looks.

Dressed to kill

So first, let’s talk fashion, baby! Korean drama oppas are renowned for their impeccably styled hair, perfectly tailored suits, and trend-setting fashion sense. They effortlessly transform ordinary scenes into fashion runways, leaving us frantically searching for the nearest hair salon. Meanwhile, Western heartthrobs offer their own unique charm with rugged stubble, leather jackets, and an effortless "I woke up like this" aesthetic. Whether you prefer the meticulously groomed oppas or the ruggedly handsome heartthrobs, both styles leave us weak in the knees. Me definitely. Ahn Hyo-sep, a.k.a Kang Tae-moo (Business Proposal) or Gabriel Macht as Harvey Spector (Suits), anyone?

Cue hearts in the eyes

Ah, romance! Korean drama male lead roles have perfected the art of sweeping their leading ladies off their feet. They are the masters of longing gazes, accidental skinship, and heart-fluttering confessions. Their devotion is so intense it makes us question our own love lives. On the other side of the world, Western male leads often opt for a different approach—cue the sizzling chemistry and simmering sexual tension. Any I find myself seesawing between needing some face-fanning unresolved sexual tension or the awww-inducing sweetness. I can’t deny that both have their magnetic pull. They engage in witty banter, fiery arguments, and playfully antagonistic relationships that slowly blossom into heart-melting romances. While the oppas make us swoon with their soulful gazes, the heartthrobs leave us breathless with their razor-sharp wit.

Unafraid masculinity

I can’t deny that when it comes to pouring out those feelings, K-drama men give us the full emotional buffet. They're not afraid to cry those dramatic tears, wear their hearts on their sleeves, and sweep us off our feet with their tender expressions of love. Pass the tissues, please! And those mumbling, stumbling boys tripping over themselves alone have me in awwws. I mean, can you blame me? A man who isn’t afraid to admit just how flustered his girl makes him? I am still giggling and holding my heart as Kim Young-dae as Gong Tae-sung rambles about how much he likes Oh Han-byul (Shooting Stars). Respect points!

I do see that our Western heroes sometimes adhere to that old "strong and silent" stereotype. They keep their emotions under lock and key, unleashing them only in the direst of circumstances. But hey, you can’t deny that when those dams break, hold onto them unmentionables for intensity and drama and passion. Whew! I think I need to crank up my air conditioner!

Filial Piety vs. Dysfunction Junction

Family is a cornerstone of many Korean dramas, and male characters are no exception. They epitomize filial piety, displaying unwavering devotion to their parents and older siblings. Their respect and sacrifice for family often transcend personal desires, leaving us in awe of their dedication. In stark contrast, Western male roles frequently hail from broken families, dysfunctional backgrounds, or strained relationships with their parents. Their journeys revolve around finding their own identity and forging a path independent of their troubled pasts. Unless you’re watching Hallmark. (And yes, I admit there have been some hours spent on many a teeth-grindingly sweet Hallmark drama.) It's a battle between tradition and rebellion, with a healthy dose of therapy sessions thrown in for good measure. Is anyone else thinking of Tom Ellis as Lucifer for his hilarious and admittedly touching epiphanies on therapist Linda Martin’s couch?

Laugh it out

Not all K-dramas are funny, but those that are I can still find myself smiling about as I write this. I mean, there’s something endearing about the tone of humor they use. Some of it, if done right, comes off as natural as my BFF sprawling in the hotel lobby as I find myself laughing too hard to help her to her feet. (Sorry, Mal! You know I love you!) Laughs are aplenty in both Korean and Western dramas, but the style of humor can differ. Korean male leads bring forth a delightful array of quirky antics, slapstick humor, and endearing clumsiness that can turn the most mundane situations into sidesplitting comedy gold. The mooing sound as the ‘laugh track’ with Park Seo-jun’s blind narcissism in the face of his secretary’s resignation still has me giggling (What’s wrong with Secretary Kim?).

Meanwhile, Western male leads are written to wield the power of sarcasm like a finely crafted weapon. They deliver witty one-liners, dry humor, and sharp comebacks that make us burst into fits of laughter. I am so guilty of watching the youtube shorts/videos of Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman and laughing until my sides hurt. Deadpool and Wolverine played by swoon-worthy actors? What’s a geeky girl to do?

So yeah, while oppas steal hearts with their dashing looks and swoon-worthy romance, heartthrobs captivate with their rugged charm and banter-filled love stories. It's a clash of cultural tropes and entertainment preferences. So go ahead, ladies, enjoy all the ways male characters can make us laugh, cry, and fall head over heels. Whether you find yourself falling for that oppa's irresistible charm or that heartthrob's sarcastic wit, one thing's for sure—we’re coming back for more!

If you’re interested to see how these characters have shaped my own male characters check out my short stories titles ‘The Ink Weave’ here:

Of check out an excerpt of my upcoming book ‘My Bad’ for a badass gorgeous supervillain turned hero at:

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