Before they were “K-dramas,” they were first called “Koreanovelas.” It was how the Filipino audience referred to them back in the day. And while the term might have changed, it seems like the OG leading ladies from the 2000s have remained more or less the same. Newsflash: Two decades later, some of these actresses are still more popular than ever!
Wondering where your favorite Hallyu princesses are now and what they’ve been up to lately? Below, we round up some of the most popular Korean leading ladies every OG fan would no doubt recognize.
1. Song Hye Kyo
Whether you're an OG fan or a recent K-drama convert, you're no doubt familiar with Song Hye Kyo. Still shining as brightly as ever, she remains to be one of the most beautiful faces in Korea. She first rose to fame with Endless Love: Autumn in My Heart (2000) and Full House (2004), both of which aired in the Philippines. She then took the Hallyu industry by storm with the success of Descendants of the Sun (2016), which she starred in alongside her ex-husband Song Joong Ki (the two filed for divorce in June 2019). Her last starring role in a K-drama was for Encounter (2018), which wrapped up in January 2019. Since then, her fans have been eagerly waiting for her next project.
2. Jun Ji Hyun
It wasn’t the TV industry that made Jun Ji Hyun a household name in the biz. Rather, it was My Sassy Girl (2001), one of Korea’s highest grossing romantic comedy films of all time, along with other notable films such as Il Mare (2000) and Windstruck (2004). In 2013, however, she made a highly anticipated return to television and starred in fantasy romance My Love from the Star, which was a raging success that sparked trends in fashion and beauty. Her last starring role for a K-drama was for Legend of the Blue Sea, which concluded in January 2017. Most recently, she made a buzz-worthy cameo in the final episode of Kingdom season two. Now married and with two sons, she’s expected to return to the small screen in 2021 for Mount Jiri.
3. Choi Ji Woo
You can’t call yourself an OG K-drama fan if the name Choi Ji Woo doesn’t ring a bell. One of Korea’s most famous actresses, she’s most notably known for Endless Love: Winter Sonata (2002) and Stairway to Heaven (2003), both of which enjoyed extreme popularity in the Philippines. Her last starring role for a K-drama was in 2017 for the family melodrama The Most Beautiful Goodbye—but who could also forget when she recently made headlines for her cameo appearance in Crash Landing on You as herself? So, so cool! The actress is currently pregnant with her first child and is expecting a baby girl this year.
4. Yoon Eun Hye
Yoon Eun Hye’s breakthrough role in Princess Hours (2006) was also her acting debut, and it was a huge success across Asia. She further rose to fame in 2007 when she starred in Coffee Prince alongside Gong Yoo, besting veteran actresses and becoming the youngest ever to win Best Actress in Baeksang Arts Awards. The success of Princess Hours and Coffee Prince also made her one of the highest paid celebrities during the peak of her career. After a five-year hiatus, she returned to the small screen in 2018 for Love Alert.
5. Ku Hye Sun
Did you know that she was originally supposed to debut in a three-member girl group with 2NE1's Park Bom and Sandara Park? Instead, Ku Hye Sun was advised to pursue acting instead of music and she rose to fame in the 2006 television drama Pure in Heart. But in 2009, she and co-star Lee Min Ho enjoyed popularity all over Asia thanks to the massive success of Boys Over Flowers.
In 2016, she married her Blood co-star Ahn Jae Hyun. The two had a widely controversial divorce in September 2019. In the same month, the actress announced on Instagram that she’ll be taking a break from the entertainment industry to pursue a college education.
6. Kim Tae Hee
Considered to be one of the most beautiful women in South Korea, Kim Tae Hee was more known in the Philippines as a kontrabida back in 2003 for her portrayal of the evil stepsister in the hugely popular series Stairway to Heaven. She did, however, get her well-deserved leading lady roles in Love Story in Harvard (2004), Iris (2009), My Princess (2011), and Yong-pal (2015). Recently, the actress experienced a resurgence in popularity when she returned to television in 2020 for Hi Bye, Mama!, which easily became one of the top shows on Netflix.
Kim Tae Hee has two daughters and has been happily married to singer-actor Rain since January 2017.
7. Jang Na Ra
Jang Na Ra’s Successful Story of a Bright Girl was aired in GMA-7 back in 2003. It recorded high ratings in Korea and even landed her the Best New TV Actress trophy at the Baeksang Arts Awards, eventually launching her to stardom with a string of well-received dramas that extended her popularity to other Asian countries. Even her recent projects—Go Back Couple (2017), The Last Empress (2018), and VIP (2019)—were consistently successful. Known for her baby face, she’s often referred to as “CF Queen” by media outlets for her numerous product endorsements. Jang Na Ra’s next K-drama, Oh My Baby, is slated for release this May 2020 and will be available for streaming in Viu.
8. Lee Da Hae
Lee Da Hae skyrocketed to fame for her roles in My Girl (2005) and Green Rose (2005), both of which were so popular in the Philippines that they even merited a local adaptation featuring Kim Chiu and Anne Curtis, respectively. She is known to be multilingual and is fluent in speaking Korean, Japanese, English and Chinese, hence her significant popularity in China. Her most recent starring role in a K-drama was in 2018 for The Good Witch, in which she portrayed twin sisters whose personalities couldn’t be more opposite.
9. Lee Young Ae
Jewel in the Palace was so popular in the Philippines that it’s practically impossible not to have heard of the name Jang Geum, a.k.a. the iconic character Lee Young Ae portrayed in 2003. It was one of the highest-rating Korean dramas of all time, which was aired internationally in 91 countries. Apart from a short cameo in My ID Is Gangnam Beauty (2018), Lee Young Ae’s recent appearance was for the movie Bring Me Home (2019). She’s also been actively involved in philanthropic works. She got married in 2009 and gave birth to twins in 2011.
10. Son Ye Jin
Son Ye Jin initially solidified her status as a Hallyu star in 2003 for her roles in The Classic film and in Endless Love’s third installment, Summer Scent. Her two movies that followed, A Moment to Remember (2004) and April Snow (2005), also proved to be huge hits in Asia, which garnered her the title of “Nation’s First Love” in Korea for her pure and innocent image. The actress had a five-year hiatus from TV and made a small-screen comeback for Something in the Rain in 2018, a commercial hit which received rave reviews. The following year, she broke records by starring in Crash Landing on You opposite Hyun Bin, and it became the third highest-rated Korean drama in cable television history.
11. Ha Ji Won
Remember Memories of Bali (2004) and Secret Garden (2010)? Ha Ji Won, who was the famed leading lady of these popular Koreanovelas, has dreamt of becoming an actress ever since she was a little girl—and she has proven her mettle through a streak of hit dramas and films. She’s still actively starring in K-dramas today, with her most recent one being Netflix’s Chocolate that aired this year.
12. Gong Hyo Jin
A powerhouse in the land of K-dramas, Gong Hyo Jin made her acting debut in the 1999 horror film Memento Mori. Her classic TV series repertoire includes Beautiful Days (2001) and Sangdoo, Let's Go to School! (2003), but it was in the past decade that she achieved mainstream popularity with hit K-dramas like The Greatest Love (2011), It's Okay, That's Love (2014), The Producers (2015), and Jealousy Incarnate (2016). Still a sought-after leading lady today, her most recent project was for When the Camellia Blooms (2019) that is currently streaming on Netflix.
13. Jung So Min
Playful Kiss (2010), a romantic comedy drama based on the Japanese manga Itazura Na Kiss, received low ratings in Korea but had a strong cult following overseas—including the Philippines, wherein it was aired by GMA-7. The TV series was quite popular, launching its lead actress Jung So Min into stardom. The actress continues to enjoy leading lady roles with a streak of successful K-dramas including My Father Is Strange and Because This Is my First Life, both from 2017. Her new K-drama, Fix You, is now streaming on Viu.
14. Park Shin Hye
Not a lot of people remember, but Park Shin Hye played the younger version of Choi Ji Woo’s character in Stairway to Heaven (2003). However, the actress only started gaining mainstream popularity in 2009 for the romance comedy music drama You're Beautiful. She further rose to fame, particularly in the Philippines, when she starred alongside Lee Min Ho in The Heirs (2013). Today, Park Shin Hye remains to be one of the most sought-after leading ladies in the Hallyu industry with popular dramas including Pinocchio (2015), Doctors (2016), and most recently, Memories of the Alhambra (2019).
15. Han Hyo Joo
The Endless Love tetralogy had a huge following in the Philippines, and its fourth and final installment, Spring Waltz (2006), was the drama that launched Han Hyo Joo to commercial success. Her next breakthrough role came in the form of Brilliant Legacy (2009), which was aired locally by GMA-7. In her last K-drama, W: Two Worlds Apart (2016), she starred alongside Lee Jong Suk for her TV comeback after six years. Han Hyo Joo was also in the main cast of American series Treadstone, which is based on the Bourne film franchise.
Did we miss anyone? Let us know who your favorite OG K-drama actresses are in the comments section below!