Best Actors and Actresses of 2020

We finally reached the last category of our year-end specials. This time, we picked our top actors and actresses who performed their best in this year’s K-dramas.

Maknae’s Choice

Park Seo-joon (Itaewon Class)

Park Seo-joon’s defining moment in Itaewon Class happened earlier in the series. Its premiere episodes already showed how much effort and preparation Park Seo-joon put into his role as Park Saeroyi. From his angry expressions to his habitual hand movements, there’s no doubt Park Seo-joon created his very own version of the well-loved webtoon character.

Nam Joo-hyuk (The School Nurse Files/Start-Up)

Starring in multiple dramas in one year is difficult. Comparisons would be inevitable. But for Nam Joo-hyuk, it was his time to prove that he is more than just a pretty face and that he could do diverse roles. Hong In-pyo is a cynic while Nam Do-san is naïve. Both these roles require subtle nuances to show the characters’ vulnerability. Nam Joo-hyuk, for his part, did it well and showed that flawed characters are much more charismatic than the perfect ones.

Cho Jung-seok (Hospital Playlist)

The ability to make people laugh is often overlooked when it comes to deciding an actors’ performance. Most people will highlight big breakdown scenes or action peaks in a series more than the funny ones. But Cho Jung-seok deserves to be in the spotlight for playing Hospital Playlist’s Lee Ik-jun. He was brilliant in every episode and delivered hilarious (and very memorable) scenes flawlessly.

Kim Hye-soo (Hyena)

It would be a shame not to include Kim Hye-soo in the list of best actresses in 2020. Similar to Park Seo-joon, she has that one defining scene in Hyena that struck me and put her in my top performances for the year. She could change the look on her face in an instant – from being the sassy and vicious Jung Geum-ja to her version who is vulnerable because of her past. I’m not exaggerating when I say that her eyes emit the right emotions needed for her scenes.

Seo Ye-ji (It’s Okay To Not Be Okay)

Another runaway winner this year is Seo Ye-ji. She has always been acknowledged as an actress but through It’s Okay To Not Be Okay, she finally reached mainstream popularity, which she really deserves. Her character as Go Moon-young is just tailor-fitted for her. From the butterfly hug scene to her remarkable breakdown moments, Ye-ji is impeccably mesmerizing.

Kim Hae-sook (Hospital Playlist/Start-Up)

Kim Hae-sook has a ton of acting awards on her belt. Being an established actress means she’ll shine no matter what role you gave her. This year, she once again took on mother/grandmother roles to adorable main leads Ahn Jeong-won (Hospital Playlist) and Seo Dal-mi (Start-Up). Her roles as Jeong Ro-sa reminded me why she has always been one of my favorite K-drama eomma. I can watch her nag Jeong-won to get married all day (haha). Her portrayal as Choi Won-deok, meanwhile, tugged a lot of hearts and truly made Han Ji-pyeong’s character shine.

p.s. she’s the Captain Emeritus of the WinterGarden Ship (Lee Ik-jun is the president)

Tipsy Musings

Cho Jung-seok (Hospital Playlist)

Without a doubt, Hospital Playlist is packed with top-notch actors. I actually had a hard time choosing my favorite among them. But after all the thinking and the considerations, my heart decided to go for the adorkable Lee Ik-jun. Perhaps it’s because of his theater background, but Cho Jung-seok has a special way of bringing a scene to life.  Whether it’s a a heart-tugging sequence or a my-tummy-aches-he’s-so-funny moment, this actor can bring you inside the drama as if you are a part of the story. He made Ik-jun an actual human being and not just a representation of one.

Lee Kyu-hyung (Hi Bye, Mama!)

Versatility is the name of the game for Lee Kyu-hyung. From the funny drug dependent Loony in Prison Playbook to a grieving doctor who can’t move on from his wife’s death in Hi Bye, Mama!, this actor never failed to impress me. He always brings depth into the character he plays. He successfully made the viewers feel the pain, suffering and guilt of Cho Gang-hwa.

Heo Jun-ho (Kingdom Season 2)

This veteran actor brings his A-game in every series without fail. His portrayal of the gallant Lord Ahn is a  perfect representation of how he balances instinct, technique and experience.  He has the power to make the audience believe in what he says. His death in the drama, though I’ve been preparing for it since the first season, is excruciating. The scene where he became a zombie and attacked Lord Cho is a masterpiece. 

Seo Ye-ji (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay)

Playing an eccentric character has always been a risky move in dramaland. You’ll either be remembered for your astounding performance or be a big failure for cheesy acting. Good thing Seo Ye-ji accomplished the former. She made Go Moon-young a three-dimensional character with rich backstory and not just a caricature. Though she has always been an amazing actress, I believe this drama marked a new era for her.

Go Bo-gyeol (Hi Bye, Mama!)

Ahh, Go Bo-gyeol is a big surprise for me in Hi Bye, Mama. I’ve seen her in previous dramas but this is the first time that she left a lasting impression on me. This heart-piercing scene lingered in my mind after I saw it. Her sublime approach conveyed explosive feelings even in the absence of lines.

The Frown Crown

Lee Joon-gi (Flower of Evil)

When I wrote my first impression of Flower of Evil, I already declared Do Hyun-soo/Baek Hee-sung as my favorite male lead of 2020. We all knew that Lee Joon-gi always made quality dramas with unforgettable characters, but his version of this dual personality was just A++++. I was even prepared to accept it if the drama decided to make him the real serial killer!

Credit: yesdramas

Kim Soo-hyun (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay)

The power couple of It’s Okay to Not Be Okay just aced their roles. I think all you fellow ahjummamshies could attest to that. It’s Kim Soo-hyun’s best role yet, and I think it will be for years to come.

Credit: hwanginyeop

Yoon Si-yoon (Train)

Another actor that had dual roles this year was Yoon Si-yoon. Train had no shortage of plot twists in a world of serial killings. I was able to keep track of the complex story because of the nuanced portrayal of Yoon Si-yoon as Detective Seo Do-won. I can still remember how poor Do-won cried while hugging his dead girlfriend on the railroad!

Seo Ye-ji (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay)

I think it’s injustice if I don’t include Go Moon-young in this list. She’s high up there in the list of elite stars who could perfect any given material to her. Go Moon-young was a really hard character to portray. She had the deepest scars and built the highest walls but Seo Ye-ji managed to make her a character so relatable despite the dark aura that surrounds her. Go Moon-young may be a little bit different as an individual, but Seo Ye-ji made the role her own. She made the unwilling audience root for the witch!

Credit: haengoon

Nana (Into The Ring)

Maybe this was an odd choice but given the options, I’d like to include an actress who really excelled in the romantic comedy genre for this year. Into The Ring was really underrated, and Nana was definitely the life of this show. Goo Se-ra was my favorite drama heroine of 2020! And in case you need a little pick-me-up before this tumultuous year ends, her portrayal of the unapologetic and bubbly unemployed citizen-turned-politician could possibly save you!

Credit: kdramaxoxo

Seo Hyun-jin (Black Dog)

When I first watched Seo Hyun-jin’s portrayal of Go Ha-neul, I knew that this was one of her best dramas yet. The drama was about Go Ha-neul’s journey from seeing everything as a weed to realizing that they are just flowers yet to bloom. It was so satisfying to watch the point of view of teachers in a school drama. She had no love line, which was also one of the drama’s strengths for me. The audience was able to focus on her alone and her fight for equal employment opportunities, and student welfare in and out of the classroom.

Busy Ahjussi’s Faves

Kim Soo-hyun (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay)

Kim Soo-hyun is finally back! After suffering from a lackluster film and drama before his enlistment, the actor was able to turn the tables with an outstanding performance as nurse Moon Gang-tae in IOTNBO. The character is very complicated as someone who tries to hold back all the painful emotions he had in the past but KSH portrayed it so effortlessly and tastefully. While there are a lot of actors who can cry river with so much ease but KSH did it evoking the right emotions, you can’t help but empathize with the character. And to see behind the scenes footage where he is so playful during breaks doubles, my admiration for how easy and seamless he can switch back and forth from his real persona to his drama role. No doubt he is this year’s highest-paid actor.

Oh Jung-se (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay)

One measure that an actor is really great is when he completely blurs himself out and only lets you see the character he is playing – and that’s what Oh Jung-se just did in IOTNBO. Portraying the mentally challenged Moon Sang-tae, OJS gave one of his most memorable performances to date. He just not completely transformed himself into a man with autism but also took us to the character’s journey of conquering his fear and rediscovering himself. His most unforgettable scene (that was actually hard to watch) would have to be the scene where he spiraled out of control and accused his brother Moon Gang-tae of trying to kill him. It just deserves a standing ovation. OJS proved over and over again that he is of his own league and is someone to really watch out for.

Lee Joon-gi (Flower of Evil)

Just trying to think of his scenes in FOE already made me feel all sorts of emotions – love, sadness, pity, fear – as Lee Joon-gi excellently breathed life into his character Baek Hee-sung. Watching LGJ masterfully switched back and forth from a doting father to a man with murderous instinct put me in one of the most thrilling emotional rides this year. Coupled with his realistic action stunts (where he didn’t use a body double), the actor proved that he just can do anything he sets his eyes into. Lee Joon-gi is definitely a top-caliber actor you’ll never grow tired of watching. But I’m lowkey hoping for a rom-com next year, Mr. JG.

Suzy (Start-Up)

Okay, okay! Suzy might not be one of the best actresses this year for a lot of people but I really want to put her on the list because of how far her acting prowess has gone. From having a hard time to convey emotions in her past works, Suzy was able to make us all understand and empathize with what her character Seo Dal-mi was feeling in the drama Start-up. Funny scenes – great! Crying scenes – great! Now, I could really tell that Suzy is more than a pretty face!

Seo Ye-ji (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay)

To say that Seo Ye-ji did exceptionally well in IOTNBO is an understatement. The actress just completely transformed into the beautiful but dark character that is Go Moon-young, a children book’s author with a not-so-child friendly past. From her visuals to her deep voice, from her emotive eyes to her outbursts, nothing came short of excellence in SYJ’s performance. She just gave it her all and it was somehow cathartic to watch. She’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.

Jang Young-nam (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay)

Jang Young-nam must have mastered both reserved and hysterical acting, seeing how she eloquently demonstrated these in the drama. She can send chills down your spine with just her scary stare and smile and have you running out the door the moment she screams at you and blurts out her lines. Her portrayal of the psychopath nurse Do Hui-jae is so compelling and haunting that I think no one can outdo her in such roles. Hoping for meatier roles and much much more spotlight for our ahjumma this 2021 because she just more than deserves it.

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>>Most Unforgettable Scenes of 2020

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