One of the phrases that stuck with me after watching a Korean reality show is that hard work will never betray you. No matter how long and arduous the journey may be, hard work will always be your life line in reaching your dreams.
Here are 10 Korean actors who persisted through difficulties and first played minor roles before hitting it big.
❤ Jo Jung-suk
Jo Jung-suk may be the epitome of persistence and hard work. Despite being admitted to the Seoul Institute of the Arts on student loan, he quit school to earn money for his family after his father passed away.
For almost a decade, he participated in plays and musicals before debuting in the small screen with the MBN drama What’s Up?
In 2012, he bagged the 33rd Blue Dragon Film Awards Best New Actor trophy for Architecture 101.
He’s currently starring as the funny and lovable Dr. Lee Ik-jun in Hospital Playlist.
❤ Ryu Jun-yeol
Like Jo Jung-suk, Ryu Jun-yeol prevailed over hardships. While studying under a scholarship program, he provided for himself by taking part time jobs.
Before making us weep in Reply 1988, he took part in several indie films including Socialphobia where he was first noticed.
In 2013, he landed a bit part in the KBS2 drama, The Producers. Honestly, I’ve seen this series but didn’t notice uri Jungpal, mianhae.
Following the wide success of Reply 1988, he top-billed Lucky Romance and starred in The King, which gave him two best new actor awards.
We’re still awaiting for his TV comeback. Oppa, bogoshipoyo!
❤ Park Bo-gum
This real-life angel went through a lot of trials before becoming who he is now. His mother died when he was in the 4th grade and had to declare bankruptcy at 22 due to his father’s debt.
He debuted in the 2011 film, Blind. In 2012, he made his first small screen appearance with OCN’s Hero.
Bogummy continued playing supporting roles the following years with Bridal Mask, Wonderful Mama and Wonderful Days. He also took part in Naeil’s Cantabile.
After winning a lot of hearts in Reply 1988, Park Bo-gum became a big name in the K-Dramaverse. He starred in Love in the Moonlight and Encounter as the lead actor to famous stars Kim Yoo-jung and Song Hye-kyo, respectively.
Oppa will once again bestow upon us the honor of seeing him on TV in the upcoming tvN series Record of Youth, also known as The Moment.
❤ Lee Min-ho
Lee Min-ho oppa was an aspiring football player in his grade school days. He was selected to be a part of a famous football manager’s class but had to give up playing the sport due to an injury.
He started his acting career by playing a bit part character in KBS2’s Sharp in 2003.
In 2005, he participated in MBC’s Recipe of Love as one of the waiters.
I first saw him in the drama I am Sam as the school heartthrob who has a crush on Park Min-young’s character.
After Boys over Flower took the world by storm, Lee Min-ho’s popularity skyrocketed, and he starred in several dramas.
He’s currently appearing as King Lee Gon in The King: Eternal Monarch opposite Kim Go-eun.
❤ Kim Jae-wook
In high school, Kim Jae-wook failed the audition of idol-making show Akdong Club since his music lean towards rock music rather than the K-Pop style. For years, he focused his attention to modelling and his love for music.
He debuted in 2002 with MBC’s Ruler of Your Own World, playing the role of an indie rock band member. But it took him five years to appear on screen again since he found acting difficult.
In 2007, he took part in Dalja’s Spring as the male lead’s friend. And in the same year, he was casted as the handsome waffle guy in the widely popular drama Coffee Prince.
He also gave us major second lead woes in Mary Me, Mary! and Temperature of Love.
It was not until Her Private Life in 2019 that Kim Jae-wook finally snatched the male lead role in a drama.
Though Kim Jae-wook took the long road to reach the top, his experiences shaped him to be the remarkable actor that he is now. And if you want to experience chills in the middle of summer, I suggest you watch him in The Guest.
❤ Jung Hae-in
Celebrities usually debut at an early age, but this oppa proved that age is just a number in running towards your dream. At 26, Jung Hae-in debuted with Bride of the Century and appeared during the same year in The Three Musketeers.
He then participated in Blood as the friend of Ahn Jae-hyun’s character.
Did you notice his cameo in Reply 1988 as Sung Duk-sun’s former classmate?
In 2016, he then took supporting roles in Yeah, That’s How It Is and White Nights.
People finally took notice of him in the hit drama Goblin as Ji Eun-tak’s crush. The following year, he was casted as the second male lead alongside Suzy and Lee Jong-suk in While You Were Sleeping.
He had his first leading role in noona love story, Something in the Rain opposite Son Ye-jin, and also led the recently concluded tvN drama A Piece of Your Mind.
❤ Park Seo-joon
It’s hard to imagine Park Seo-joon not being the lead star in a drama, but, hey, did you know that he played a small role in Dream High 2 as an idol group member?
In 2012, he became part of the KBS2 series Shut Up Family.
The following year, he played minor roles in Pots of Gold and One Warm Word.
And though he snagged the starring role in A Witch’s Love, it wasn’t until Kill Me, Heal Me that his popularity grew.
He’s now competing for the 56th Baekksang Best Actor trophy for his outstanding performance in Itaewon Class.
❤ Jang Ki-yong
With his to die for looks, one might think that you won’t miss this stud when you see him in a drama. But this oppa actually played several minor roles before we got to know him as the “knight in shining uniform” in Go Back Couple.
Though he began his career as a model in 2012, it was not until 2014 that he first appeared on the small screen as Lee Sung-kyung’s boyfriend in It’s Okay That’s Love.
The same year, he participated in Surplus Princess. Okay, this is a big embarrassment. I’ve seen the show but didn’t notice him. Maybe I was too busy ogling at Song Jae-rim and Nam Joo-hyuk.
Oppa also took minor roles in JTBC dramas Schoolgirl Detectives and This is My Love.
In 2015, he acted alongside 2NE1’s Dara and Winner’s Kang Seung-yoon in webdrama We Broke Up.
Ki-yong oppa then played a male nurse in the 2016 KBS2 drama A Beautiful Mind. And in 2017, he took the role of Ji In-ho, Crude Play’s drummer and rapper in tvN’s The Liar and His Lover.
He’s now top-billing KBS2’s time slip series Born Again.
❤ Seo Kang-joon
Many may have fallen in love with Seo Kang-joon as the tough but caring Baek In-ho in Cheese in the Trap, but years before that, he already made his way into the K-Drama world.
He appeared as one of the leading characters’ classmates in To the Beautiful You and a disorderly student in the Good Doctor.
In 2013, Seo Kang-joon participated in The Suspicious Housekeeper.
The following year, he took supporting roles in Cunning Single Lady and What Happens to My Family.
Have you seen his latest series, When the Weather is Fine?
❤ Go Kyung-pyo
I’ll cap off this list with another Reply 1988 alum. Go Kyung-pyo debuted with the KBS2 program Jungle Fish 2 in 2010.
He then became a cast member of comedy show SNL Korea for its first three seasons. In 2011, he took part in My Love, My Family.
The next year, he had supporting roles in Operation Proposal and Standby.
Oppa also appeared in a few episodes of Quiz From God 3 and 4.
I personally saw him first as the adorable and loyal Yoo Dong-hoon in Flower Boy Next Door. His love line with Kim Seul-gi’s character is one of the main reasons why this drama is fun to watch.
Before he snatched the lead role in Strongest Deliveryman, he first gave us serious second lead syndrome in Jealousy Incarnate.
He was discharged from military service last January. Oppa, we’re patiently waiting for you. ❤
Jumping to the K-Pop scene, let me introduce to you the hardworking kings of the K-Pop world, NU’EST. They’re actually the reason why I can’t forget the phrase hard work will never betray you. Despite having debuted in 2012, they swallowed their pride and went back to being trainees in Produce 101 to save the group.
They finally won their first ever music show trophy 1,480 days after debut as a sub-unit and 2,611 days as a full group.
They recently came back with I’m in Trouble.
❤ ❤ ❤ Stan hardworking kings, stan NU’EST! Stream I’m in Trouble!
~ Tipsy Ahjumma
Here are some of our other top 10 lists.