If there’s bromance, there’s womance in K-drama

The badass women are no longer tearing each other down, but basking in the company of gal pals

Woo Young-woo scores a win in her personal life with her romance with Jun-ho in 'Extraordinary Attorney Woo.' (Photo from

It bothered me to hear my high school teacher say that Maria Clara was the quintessential woman for us to emulate. Her?! She was a ninny! I sulked the entire time in Filipino class, silently chafing at how docility was being touted as an admirable trait. Adding to my annoyance was that the boys were not being pushed to be like her boyfriend Ibarra, who was described as “(a brother) of Cain, (and knew) how to lie and to evade” in the Leon Ma. Guerrero-translated Noli Me Tangere.

Female representation has been a perennial bone of contention for me because women always get the short end of the stick despite the march of time. They’re always caged in the discourse of binary oppositions skewed towards men, and obligated to navigate Lacan’s Symbolic Order—a masculine world of order and authority—as if it were the most natural thing to do. Female representation in literature was challenged by Simone de Beauvoir et al. earlier on because patriarchal discourse continued to dictate what women should be. A few decades later, I wondered if people still believed women—literary and otherwise—should merely exist, not live. Or is the world seeing more people like Aaron Cho, a heterosexual, who, in replying to someone rebuking him for looking like a woman in his outfit, celebrated women?

“I’m glad because women are strong, independent, and fierce!” wrote the London-based model in his IG clip, ending it with a heart emoji.

“Reading” K-drama series as literature, dissecting how women characters are made to come to life, I was skeptical that they were “breaking the bias” (this year’s International Women’s Day’s theme). But my cynicism was refuted.

K-drama is celebrating womance, a non-sexual relationship among women, alongside bromance. No more women tearing each other down, but women basking in the company and support of their besties and gal pals.

“Women, especially Asian American, already face so many stereotypes and need to delve through biases on a daily basis. You get through it with the support of other women that understand what you’re going through,” says Jeanie Y. Chang in her Noona’s Noonchi IG. The licensed marriage and family therapist uses relevant K-drama scenes touching on grief and childhood trauma, her specialties, in her one-on-one consultations with patients.

Deep diving into K-drama, Dr. Chang applauds the womance of Na Hee Do and Ko Yo Rim in Twenty Five Twenty One (2022). Previously fencing rivals, they began a friendship when Ko Yo Rim, played by Bona, apologized for her meanness towards Na Hee Do, Kim Tae Ri’s character. Their womance deepened when Ko Yo Rim revealed her vulnerability to Na Hee Do after confessing her reluctance to go to Russia, and they hugged.

K-drama is shredding its gender-specific definition by fielding badass females at ease with weapons and mêlée

“The womances that promote good mental health are where you can be your authentic, raw, and real self, and accepted in that way,” says Dr. Chang in her Noona’s Noonchi YouTube channel. In the same breath, she encourages women to assess their womances by asking how vulnerable they can be.

Naksu is feared by all for her magic and fighting skill in ‘Alchemy of Souls.’ (Photo from

A badass typically conjures up a brawny man defending women, children, and elders, but K-drama is shredding its gender-specific definition by fielding badass females at ease with weapons and mêlée. In Alchemy of Souls (2022), Go Yoon Jung’s Naksu was a fearsome, sword-wielding sorceress-assassin. In Mr. Sunshine (2018), Go Ae Shin, played by Kim Tae Ri, was a Joseon aristocrat turned sniper-freedom fighter.

In contrast, Do Bong Soon was a human weapon in Strong Woman Do Bong Soon (2017). Born with superhuman strength, Bong Soon, played by Park Bo Young, co-opted the male bodyguard trope by becoming the protector of a young male CEO of a gaming company. Parallel to Do Bong Soon is Do Ha Na in The Uncanny Counter (2020). Played by Kim Sejeong, Ha Na has preternatural strength, and the ability to read and enter old memories as if she was there, and to sense demons from a distance, which helped the Counters fight roaming evil spirits.

But the badass females were still limited to the world of the surreal, and thus unreal, until Yoon Ji Woo in My Name (2021) entered the scene, catapulting the badass female character through the threshold of palpable reality. Played by Han So Hee, the character discovered that finding her father’s killer meant being tough: joining a drug ring, training as a fighter, and becoming a mole in a police force upon the drug lord’s behest. Learning that Han So Hee prepared for the role upped the ante for badass females. She’d spent several months in “action school to learn the actions and gestures”—making a stunt double unnecessary—and carried a knife to internalize her role, according to an article in

Professional women—scrupulous or not—are now part of K-drama storylines. Detective Cha Ji Won, played by Moon Chae Won, in The Flower of Evil (2020) didn’t lose her equanimity in her investigative work even when her husband became the primary suspect. Bae Doona’s Seo Bi in Kingdom (2019) was a mere physician’s assistant in a clinic in Dongnae, but she rose above her position after discovering a cure for the zombie disease.

Lawyers came in various forms, like prosecutor Ma Yi Deum, played by Roh Jeong Eui, in Witch’s Court (2017) who never toed the line. She had no qualms in fabricating evidence or committing perjury to solve cases, which didn’t sit well with her straitlaced colleagues. Jeon Yeo Bin’s Hong Cha Yong was a self-serving corporate lawyer in Vincenzo (2021), but found her true calling after taking over her father’s law firm following his unexpected death. She faced off with the Babel Group, the conglomerate she once represented, in defending the tenants of Geumga Plaza.

Professional women—scrupulous or not—are now part of K-drama storylines

Seo Yea Ji, played by Ha Jae Yi, was a no-nonsense attorney in Lawless Lawyer (2018). She didn’t misplace her sense of justice despite losing her job after assaulting a judge with a prejudice towards women, who presided over her case trial.

Perhaps the most celebrated female lawyer character at the moment is Woo Young Woo. The titular character in Extraordinary Attorney Woo (2022) elevated the case of autistic persons as more capable than what society originally thought. Young-woo, played by Park Eun Bin, was viewed as the firm’s weakest link because of her condition, but she proved that despite having Asperger’s syndrome, her divergent thinking, high IQ, and eidetic memory could win cases. Her romance with a legal support staff further drove home the point that autistic persons can fit well in society.

Choi Yoo-jin in ‘The K2’ rules the boardroom while facing off with her enemies. (Photo from

But it was Song Yoon Ah’s Choi Yoo Jin who took the modern women into the boardroom in The K2 (2016). The head of JSS Security had steely determination and ambition, and was merciless and decisive. Appropriating “masculine behavior,” she hired a former mercenary soldier as protection detail, and constructed her ultimate weapon, Cloud 9, a semi-artificial intelligence capability of data analysis, enabling her to use information against her enemies as they were wont to do against her. She accepted death with quiet dignity after an epiphany on making sacrifices.

Professional women with noonchi also make a formidable combination. “[Noochi] is more about doing than being, keenly observing and then taking action based on what one feels is best given the situation or relationship,” explains Dr. Chang.

In Business Proposal (2022), Kim Sejeong’s Shin Ha Ri, the gregarious food researcher at Go Food, used her noonchi to “help people feel comfortable, safe, and confident.” Jeong Chan Yong, the acting teacher played by Jeon Mi Do in Thirty-Nine (2022), used it to give her two best friends, Cha Mi Jo and Jang Joo Hee, a nudge by turning their personal wishes into her dying wishes that they had to fulfill.

“Chan Yong knew that’s what they always hoped for (Mi-jo to find her biological mother and Joo Hee to have a boyfriend), but needed the push to do it,” says Dr. Chang.

Women’s desire is another bias-breaking theme tackled by K-drama in Love and Leashes (2022), Forecasting Love and Weather (2022), and Start-Up (2020). Jung Ji Woo’s Seoh Yun in Love and Leashes shattered the stigma around women and BDSM (bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism):  Seoh Yun likes BDSM and assumed the dominant role of master in her relationship with colleague Ji Hoo that turned from a business partnership into a romantic coupling.

‘Noochi’ is more about doing than being, keenly observing and then taking action based on what one feels is best

BDSM isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but, as Dr. Chang clarifies, “If it’s done well in a trusted relationship, it can enhance the relationship, and make one feel more connected to the other like the characters in Love and Leashes.”

Jin Ha-kyung (Park Min Young) reclaims herself—her life and career—in ‘Forecasting Love and Weather.’ (Photo from

Park Min Young’s Jin Ha Kyung in Forecasting Love and Weather (2022) wasn’t going to be cowed by her deceitful ex-fiancé, Han Ki Jun. She refused to be the deranged woman for remaining at the Korea Meteorological Administration after their relationship collapsed. In standing her ground, Ha Kyung reworked the madwoman image reflected by Bertha Rochester, the “insane” first wife of Edward Rochester in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

Feminists Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have argued that female characters were either angels or monsters in literature, i.e., crazy Bertha, the symbol of women’s vulnerability in a patriarchal society. They went on to say that once women were seen as surplus to male requirements, they were simply “hidden away, as ‘madwoman’ Bertha Rochester was by her husband.” They were labeled as hysterical, thus it was justified to mistreat them, like Bertha being locked up at Thornfield Hall.

Ha-kyung rejected being the surplus woman: She stayed in the company and “called out Ki Jun for his biases.” That her male boss wanted to see her rise to the top was another stereotype smashed.

Bae Suzy’s Seo Dal Mi in Start-Up (2020) claimed her self-worth by resigning from the office that undervalued her. She’d proved her mettle by having the most sales in a day, yet her boss wasn’t keen on making her a full-time employee. In deciding to quit, she reached her goal of becoming CEO in the end.

“[Start-Up] is one of the…K-dramas that talk about women and claiming your self-worth, valuing you at the workplace…and the value you put in yourself. Everything you do at the workplace directly intersects with your well-being,” points out Dr. Chang.

Female representation in literature and TV has broken the bias on defining women to a certain extent, but a sustained discussion on female representation must prevail because the stereotyping of women persists. There’s a need to recognize that destroying one gender to uplift the other goes against a gender-equal society, and upholds casual sexism and oversimplification of gender.

K-dramas have helped change people’s perception of society by portraying female characters that Dr. Chang sees as “empowering, aspirational, and inspirational.”

There’s still a long way to go in having more people like Aaron Cho, who’s already deconstructing gendered clothing. “If a shirt fits, why does it matter if it’s pink, sparkly, or made of mesh?” he quipped in an IG reel.

But the long journey to an equitable society has already begun with more than one step.

About author


She has clocked years of overseas work and living. On the second year of the pandemic she returned and settled back in the Philippines after 20 years.

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