Gone are the days when the K-dramaland is dominated by Alpha Male Leads. These days, the spotlight is shared with the so-called Beta Males.
Beta Males can be described in so many ways. Generally, Beta Males are the type of characters who put others before themselves. I don’t want to put them in a box since they could or could not have these traits but these are the things I personally love about them.
They are kindhearted. Alpha Males, too. But Beta Males aren’t afraid to show that they are the nice guys. Most of the time, they don’t even know that they are indeed a “nice guy.” Being kindhearted though doesn’t mean they are a pushover nor a doormat who lets everyone walk over them and take away everything from them.
They can also be protective but in their own way. They don’t aggressively wield their swords to anyone but they know when to stand their ground when threats come their way. And when they do, even the most alpha person out there will quiver in fear.
My favorite thing about Beta Male characters is that they don’t need to always be in control. They know when to share the spotlight or is even willing to take a step back, if needed. It doesn’t emasculate them that someone else is better than them.
A bonus trait I love about Beta Males? They love and appreciate the little things. They like a specific detail because it’s a beautiful detail on its own and not just because it’s a detail of a bigger picture. I’m not sure if I’m making sense but let me put it this way. A Beta Male would appreciate every piece of a puzzle and they won’t mind if that puzzle would be incomplete because they like those pieces in their own anyway.
This type of character isn’t a new breed in K-dramaverse. They are always there but they are usually relegated to second lead or supporting roles. Why? Because the society we grew up in tells us these beta male behaviors are boring. Who likes to watch a “weak loser’s” story? Right? And they would even argue that women – which makes up the majority of the audience group for K-dramas or romance stories, in particular – like men who are confident, takes the lead, aggressive, and brave. Women “like” those things. Right? Sure. But as Seo Dal-mi from Start-Up said, everyone has their own preferences.
For so long, we have been forced to watch stories that depend on the gender order theory: that males are aggressive and women are submissive. As our views started to shift, we see more female lead characters who are in distress but can get up on their own. Sure, these alpha females can be paired up with an alpha-type male lead. I love those bickering and bantering scenes as well. But a Beta Male x Alpha Female combination never fails to charm me off.
In a writer’s perspective, personalities that complement each other is one ingredient to make a one-true-pair (OTP). If a story revolves around a female lead with a strong personality, it would definitely be interesting if you pair her up with a character with softer traits. They would seem very different at first but the audience will realize that difference is what makes them a match made in heaven.
Think of Nam Do-san (Nam Joo-hyuk) from Start-Up. Han Ji-pyeong (Kim Seon-ho) has a point when he told him he is not CEO material. It was a harsh truth that still poked at Do-san’s insecurities from time to time. However, it made Do-san realize what Samsan Tech lacked all along – a great visionary. Someone who sees their potential and knows how to steer them in the right direction. Do-san, because he’s a beta male lead from head to toe, let Seo Dal-mi (Bae Suzy) lead them. He shared the control button with her without hesitation. Dal-mi, too, learns from Do-san. She sees his perseverance instead of stubbornness. They’re the perfect match (mian Ji-pyeong!) and the series is becoming more interesting as their story slowly unfolds. So, who again said having beta males as lead is boring? They probably haven’t watched a series with this character paired up with good narration style and well-planned character arcs.
Another combination that writers take is the beta x beta combination. This combination could lead to sweet and heartwarming tales. Take for example Gong Woo-jin (Yang Se-jong) and Woo Seo-ri (Shin Hye-sun) from Still 17. Both of them aren’t the alpha types but their journey is as remarkable and endearing as that of stories led by alpha-type-characters.
I’m not arguing Beta Males are better. They have weaknesses that sometimes frustrate me as heck. But I like that they are now getting the spotlight they have been deprived of for so long. And also, who says beta males could not get the girl? Some Janes definitely prefer the beta-type Tarzans.