Here I talk about five kdramas from 2007 to 2021 that I have personally watched that have some kind of LGBTQ+ representation/mention – positive and negative(ish). I’m sure there may be some other kdramas that I am not aware of.
It’s important to note, before we begin, that South Korea does not yet have LGBTQ+ rights such as legal gay marriage and such. It’s another one of the Asian countries, including India, that has a long way to go. And clearly the TV and film, kdramas in this case, are a reflection of that. But it’s not all grim! Things have been picking up and I’m so very happy about that.
PS Spoiler Alerts. Will try to keep them to a minimum but it’s inevitable esp regarding the plot line and the character’s sexuality.
Coffee Prince: 2007
Coffee Prince is this really old kdrama that has Gong Yoo as one of the leads. I left it half-way but basically the premise was that Gong Yoo’s character (who was a chaebol, if I remember correctly) comes across the female lead who he believes is a boy.
They cross paths and get close and Gong Yoo’s character starts developing romantic feelings for this person. But he is also greatly troubled because he can’t fathom how that is possible when it’s a guy (or so he believes).
It wasn’t exactly a comical take on homosexuality but it was still an overdone trope that I didn’t quite appreciate.
Cheese in the Trap: 2016
I adore this kdrama. Cheese in the Trap is a college/psychologically nuanced(?) kdrama with a killer second male lead but honestly, I hate the LGBTQ+ angle in this one. It’s really minor and I don’t even know if it’s worth a mention but here it goes.
There’s a side character who is the Assistant Teacher in the college who is gay and is in a live-in relationship with his boyfriend. When the male lead wants something from the TA, he blackmails to out his relationship in a society that’s not ready to accept it or see it in a good light. Later on in the show, the blackmailing and shaming gets a little cruel and viscous for a minute there. It’s such a minor/brief plot point that I’m not sure many people would have even registered it.
Her Private Life: 2019
This is one of my favourite kdramas for sure. Her Private Life is hilarious yet introspective in all the right ways. You can hear me fan girl all about it in my full review here. But moving on to the LGBTQ+ take in this one – I loved it.
So, the male lead mistaking the female lead to be gay trope is here, sure. But the way it’s approached and integrated is what made me fall in love with Ryan Gold, our male lead to begin with. I won’t spoil much but all you have to do is look at this:
Itaewon Class: 2020
Now finally we come to a kdrama where it’s not a trope, a misunderstanding or a joke. One of the secondary but still solid and main characters in Itaewon Class is revealed to be trans as the storyline progresses. Itaewon Class in general emphasizes on diversity and inclusion and I love it for that and so much more. You can read all those reasons here!!!
What I love about how they approached this is that they didn’t include the trans character for shock value. They do explore the conditioned discrimination of the other characters around, touch upon sex reassignment surgery, facing public scrutiny, and more. It took a while, 2020 out of all the years, but I think finally a mainstream kdrama finally did it right!
Also, totally off topic but I am completely in love with this piano cover of the song Start Over by Gaho used in Itaewon Class. In fact, I’m listening to it right now as I write this.
The finale of Mine was last weekend and it is a very different kdrama genre. It’s the dark, thriller, murder mystery one. So I totally was not expecting one of the leads to be a lesbian. The story really wasn’t going there and it blind sided me but oh how I enjoyed it! Honestly, she turned out to be my favourite character, irrespective of her sexuality.
She is a powerful woman constantly in the public eye and needs to ensure that the image of her family and company are maintained so that the stock prices too are. The kdrama reveals her one true love, her journey, what she had to give up, and eventually her self realization. I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised to have a kdrama have this be one of the important sub plots. And I want more! This kdrama also had some interesting life lessons so there a lot of reasons for you to give it a try! A lesson I take away from it is: How does an elephant get through a door?
As you can tell, kdramas have come a long, though not yet a substantial way, in being inclusive. However, I still appreciate the progress because I understand that it is directly linked to the LGBTQ+ rights and issues in the South Korea. India, too, has a long way to go to with LGBTQ+ rights and I’m hoping we all can see that love is love in our law, society, and kdramas and films wholeheartedly soon. Might be a bit too idealistic on the soon part, but oh well. One can hope.
I mentioned at the beginning that media like kdramas are a reflection of where the society is at when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community rights. But I also truly believe that such pop culture and media also has a significant influence on the same. So I do look forward to a lot more inclusive kdramas from here on now!
Do let me know in the comments what you think about this and also if there are some kdramas that have LGBTQ+ representation that I have missed!