Breakout Stars of 2021

While the whole world is healing and we are still locked up in our homes, dramas always never fail to lift us and provide us with much-needed entertainment. While 2021 will be remembered as the year of COVID-19 variants and massive vaccinations, it’s not all doom and gloom for these Korean celebrities. This year is the year they gained traction in their respective careers, and while not all of them are rookies, these actors and actresses proved to the world that they’re well on their way to mainstream stardom.

The Frown Crown

Jung Ho-yeon (Squid Game)

Whether you’re a fan or not, Squid Game absolutely defined 2021. This survival drama was a phenomenal hit worldwide, thanks to the streaming powers of Netflix. And amidst the global recognition, it’s Jung Ho-yeon who took the most benefit from it. To think that this is her first-ever acting project! Her Instagram account even rose to millions in a blink of an eye… a clear validation of her international stardom. And honestly, the model-turned-actress is worthy of being 2021’s breakout star because her performance in Squid Game proved that she has the acting range as well!

Tang Jun-sang (Racket Boys / Move To Heaven)

We all knew him as the puppy North Korean soldier Eun-dong in 2019’s Crash Landing on You, but 2021 proved to be Tang Jun-sang’s year to prominence. In this year alone, he starred in two lead roles, both of which are hit dramas – Move to Heaven and Racket Boys. At such a young age, he’s already starred in various impressive dramas and movies. He makes a lasting impression in all of his roles, and is well on his way to receiving multiple recognitions in the years to come!

Hwang In-yeop (True Beauty)

We all remember the first half of 2021 as the season of the second lead syndrome in K-dramas. New faces are consistently challenging our unstable hearts. Hwang In-yeop joined the ranks of Kim Seon-ho, Yook Sung-jae, Ryu Jun-yeol as breakout drama stars with roles so unforgettable they could pass as the main male lead. True Beauty also gave birth to countless fan accounts who dissected the two love lines of Moon Ga-young in the drama. And because of Hwang In-yeop’s memorable role as the baddie Han Seo-joon, he became a household name – bagging multiple endorsements and casting offers left and right.

Chae Jong-hyeop (Sisyphus / Nevertheless / The Witch’s Diner)

If Hwang In-yeop’s second lead persona is a rebel hottie, Chae Jong-hyeop’s Mr. Nice Guy challenged our love and loyalty to Song Kang in Nevertheless. Fondly called by fans as Potato Boy, his role in the Netflix drama charmed thousands of fans to abandon the jerk main lead and root for the good boy instead. Aside from Nevertheless, he was also part of Sisyphus and The Witch’s Diner – making him one of the busiest stars in 2021.

Go Youn-jung (Sweet Home / Law School)

We first noticed her in The School Nurse Files, but it’s Sweet Home followed by Law School that paved the way for Go Youn-jung to enter our hearts! Aside from being one of the prettiest faces in the new generation of actresses today, she proved to us that she has the acting range when she appeared in both of these dramas. No wonder she got cast in one of the most anticipated dramas of 2022 – Disney+’s Moving top-billed by Korea’s A-listers!

Maknae’s Choice

Go Min-si (Youth of May)

Since her debut, Go Min-si has been building up her filmography by playing supporting characters and still making the most out of her screen time. But finally, through Youth of May, she showcased that she’s one actress to look forward to. She already did a good job playing the role of Kim Myung-hee but I still can sense that she could top that performance with another fitting role for her.

Na In-woo (Mr. Queen / River Where the Moon Rises)

Na In-woo is my unexpected re-discovery this year. I’ve seen him last year through Mystic Pop-up Bar but it was only through Mr. Queen that I finally took note of him. I thought he would get stuck playing second lead roles for a while but he suddenly landed (and helped save) the lead role in River Where the Moon Rises. That’s when I realized that he was one versatile actor. He could still be refined but he’s getting there nonetheless.

Kang Tae-oh (Run On / Doom at Your Service)

Kang Tae-oh is an actor I’ve been familiar with for some years now. He has that charm that always makes me wonder why he couldn’t get more attention-grabbing roles. But finally in 2021, through his back-to-back projects, he finally got noticeable characters. Both of his characters in Run On and Doom at Your Service have a storyline worthy of a separate drama. That’s why it wasn’t at all surprising that drama producers now think Kang Tae-oh can be trusted leading his own project. 

Yang Hye-ji (Nevertheless / Live On)

Yang Hye-ji is part of the new generation of K-actresses that can be the future of K-dramas if they were given good roles. With her dimpled smile, she easily captured the audience’s heart. Her roles in Nevertheless and Live On are opposites, but she both portrayed those characters well.

Ahn Bo-hyun (Yumi’s Cells)

Similar to Kang Tae-oh, I knew Ahn Bo-hyun from his previous projects. For years, he got stuck playing either the piteous second lead or the annoying antagonist. And he’s good at playing those roles. But with Gu Woong, Ahn Bo-hyun proved that he is also a romantic male lead worthy (and a softhearted male lead at that!). 

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