4 Fan Fiction Tropes Found in K-Dramas

K Dramas and fan fiction share a lot of common ground. Both are filled with inexplicable plot twists and couples coming together against all odds. Both often act as a form of wish fulfillment and fantasy for the audience. And both skew towards the same young & female demographic. So it’s no surprise they share archetypes and tropes.

With no further ado, here are four common fan fiction tropes you find in K Dramas.

Mary Sue

A Mary Sue is an idealized female character who serves as a proxy for the author and/or audience. A Mary Sue character gets to live a life others crave.  In fan fictions, this often plays out as an “ordinary girl” finding out she has supernatural powers such as being a vampire or witch. In Korean dramas, this often plays out as an “ordinary girl” finding out she has the superpower to attract numerous sexy chaebol heirs.

Due to these characters’ purpose as a proxy for the audience, Mary Sues have poor character development, something I have lamented elsewhere. In drama after drama, a girl from humble beginnings serendipitously enters into a life of privilege, material wealth, and romantic success. And without compromising her character and morals.

The terrifying drawing that accompanied the original Mary Sue

The terrifying drawing that accompanied the original Mary Sue

Mary Sues exist to have good things rained down on them. Everyone loves them and the people who don’t are nasty people who get humiliated. Conflict? Realism? Dynamism? Who needs it when you have hunky leading men to feature in loving close-ups!

Mary Sues are the grand matriarchs of fan fiction. The concept has been around longer than K Dramas or the internet. The term was coined back in 1973, a dark time when you had to type out your smutty slash fic on a Ye Olde Typewriter and mail it around, hoping the postman wouldn’t see. Just like “shipping,” the term originates from the Star Trek fandom.  In this case, the fanzine Menagerie #2.

Dramas are by no means alone in their Mary Sue-ness. A mix of identification and envy drives the appeal of every “rich people with problems” show (Beverly Hills 90210, Dynasty, etc). But dramas are particularly gratuitous in their Mary Sue-ness, filling shows with lavish vacations, fancy balls, and dresses galore.

Sympathetic Sue

“But why would anyone want to watch a Mary Sue? Why would you be interested in some boring, poorly developed character getting everything you want?”Good question. This is a daunting problem faced by fan fiction auteurs and K Drama screenwriters everywhere. Enter the Sympathetic Sue.

A Sympathetic Sue is a Mary Sue with a (ridiculously) tragic background. Want someone to care about your character, but don’t want to give them a personality that might stop fangirls from living vicariously? Try throwing in a few unspeakable accidents or dead parents!


I feel you Mae-Ri, you’ve got one dead parent, one parent who is a gambling addict, tons of debt, and a million humiliating jobs.

It’s very difficult to name a drama in which the heroine’s parents are not:

A. Dead

B. Drunk

C. Over Their Heads in Debt (Gambling?)

D. Neglectful

E. Poor

Making a Sympathetic Sue is a shortcut to get the audience to root for a character. Who wouldn’t want to root for someone who has had so much bad luck?


Angst/Comfort is a dynamic between characters where a mentally ill, anguished, or grieving character is brought back to happiness by another character. The two then fall in love. This is particularly common in slash fics. It is also regularly found in K Dramas where a pure-hearted, down-on-her-luck girl teaches a damaged, unstable, and very wealthy man how to enjoy life again after his family, a kidnapping and/or terrible accident screwed him up. Maybe they go on a spontaneous vacation together. Maybe they do something “silly” he’d never do on his own like go to a carnival.

Jeju Island, proud sponsor of inexplicable K Drama vacations

Jeju Island, proud sponsor of inexplicable K Drama vacations

In return for excellent comforting, our young heroine is rewarded with the perfect partner who is completely devoted to her. I have already commented upon how this “I can fix him” theme in K Dramas sends an unhealthy message.

Angst/Comfort is a great way to bring characters together who seem incompatible. It creates a situation where characters spend a lot of time together in an emotionally vulnerable situation. It’s a fast way to build a deep feeling relationship.

Draco in Leather Pants

A Draco in Leather Pants is a villainous character retooled as a sexy Byronic hero or misunderstood victim. It is, quite obviously, named after the insanely popular pro-Draco Malfoy genre of fan fiction.

And this is the point in the article at which I am pelted with tomatoes by angry, pitchfork wielding mob.

Most K Drama male leads, looked at objectively, are archetypal villains. The richest kid at a snobby private school is the villain in 80% of 80s teen movies, and the male lead in 80% of early 2000s K Dramas.

Both Western & Korean films are filled with villains that match male K Drama leads to a tee: rich, vain, selfish, arrogant, obsessive. They stalk women, play with people’s emotions, enjoy humiliating the weak, and ruthlessly pursue profits. These attributes are played as romantic and/or the outbursts of a tormented soul in need of healing in K Dramas, and (rightfully) as villainous elsewhere.


For example:

“A rising corporate star with emotionally distant parents who is obsessive, has secret psychological issues, and is bored by the women of his social class” could be a description for Secret Garden’s Kim Joo-Won or American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. Just saying.


So what does this mean? Well, probably not much more than you already knew about K Dramas. The appeal of dramas is partly built on a sort of predictability. They show you characters to root for, they make true love happen, and they have a lot of fun doing it. Like fan fiction, the situation may be different you know the characters and what their places in the story will be. It’s fantasy at its most comforting. Fan fiction and dramas tend to be pure melodramas, more concerned with tugging at emotions than building believable characters. It’s what makes them work on a visceral level, as a tantalizing mix of familiar and exciting.

Have your own fan fiction/K Drama trope to add? Let us know in the comments.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Quizilla (2002-2014). 

  • http://fairyfab.deviantart.com Jaqi From Space

    Oh man. This is exactly how the hallyu fanfiction community is like from a distance :O

    I also noticed that they lack proper knowledge (or atleast, logic) on the idol industry that it makes everything look unreal. You can change things of course, it’s fiction. But sometimes it makes no sense. Especially with arranged marriages (almost 88% of the fanfictions there are arranged marriages with their oppas for business reasons) and living in their dorms like (wow).
    It’s like reading the same story over and over like they have a template or something.
    -The girl/boy is very dense when it comes to love
    -The girl has a secret talent in singing and dancing even without taking lessons
    -The boy goes for the girl because of a bet
    -Nerd who suddenly turns into a goddess after putting down her hair and taking off her glasses
    -Transfer student blah blah blah..
    -The girl pretends to be the guys girlfriend in order to make his parents proud of him/guy becomes her security guard–
    -Seems that all the guys in the story is falling for the girl
    -Smut. Basically kissing in different places and positions. Sex 101.
    -Childhood friends
    -Stereotyping on characters too much. (“Hi, I’m troll Chen imnida”) *cringe* They throw adjectives on them, some money and voila. A perfect character.
    -Mean girls are so unreal. Like some Maleficent or Snow White’s stepmother. Please. At least make them martial artists or make them less dumber than you think they should be.
    -Kiss scenes= walk backwards until you hit a wall and ______-oppa locks you with his arms until you’re both inches apart then kaboom.
    -Disgusting gay ships and just clashing their nuts together. Most of them are smut. No proper story. Disturbing to read :(
    -The story setting is on school but they don’t seem to study/focus on their lessons. You can’t study like that in Korea. Or in any school. Unless the school is really a horrible one.

    There are a lot to say, but these are the most common ones I see. I don’t freak out when I encounter these things. I’m just irked on how they’re overused and unoriginal. No useful plot. Immature messages, they don’t seem to have experienced a proper relationship. I’m not like this always, but I felt like pointing things out.
    I’ve seen really good ones, but people seem to skip to the smut.