2019 - Noona Romance trong phim Hàn

##############The First Lead Couple:

2002 - Như khúc tình ca - Romance 

Biscuit Teacher Star Candy (2005)

My Name Is Kim Sam-soon (2005)

Exhibition of Fireworks (2006)

What’s Up Fox (2006)

Unstoppable High Kick (2006-7)

Dal-ja’s Spring (2007)

My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho (2010)

Oh My Lady (2010)

Queen of Reversals (2010)

The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry (2010)

Baby-Faced Beauty (2011)

Flower Boy Ramyun Shop (2011)

I Do, I Do (2012)

Big (2012)

I Hear Your Voice (2013)

Witch’s Romance (2014)

High School King of Savvy (2014)

I Need Romance 3 (2014)

2014 - Tình yêu bị cấm đoán - Secret Love Affair

Temperature of Love (2017)

Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food (2018)

Boyfriend (2019)

Romance is a Bonus Book (2019)

##############The Secondaries:

Bottom of the 9th With 2 Outs (2007)

I Need Romance (2011)

Ojakkyo Brothers (2011-2)

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If you’re anything like me, your ideal drama hero isn’t the cold chaebol with the icy exterior or even the perfect Daddy Long Legs caretaker. He’s the hotheaded ruffian on a motorcycle with a busted lip and a one-sided love for an unattainable noona. Why always a motorcycle? I don’t know. Blame Jung Woo-sung (Beat, 1997). And James Dean.

Perhaps you recently finished I Hear Your Voice and you’re waiting for the next Park Su-ha to come around the bend. Aren’t we all. I spent the better part of the year finally watching the family sitcom Unstoppable High Kick from beginning to end, at a whopping 167 episodes (on the upside, the episodes are super short at twenty minutes each). The thing that kept me going was my tried and true dramaland kryptonite: the noona romance.

I could fill a whole post just naming all the tropes that I love, but noona romances hit my drama sweet spot, mostly because I love soonjung narratives—sweet, innocent love backed by earnest emotion, and a drama sensibility that comes out of a genre of comics called soonjung manhwa. It’s part and parcel of why I love high school stories.

But I find noona romances particularly satisfying because they’re filled with gender reversals. Obviously to have a noona romance, the woman has to be older than the man. But if that were the only reversal in the game, there wouldn’t be much to write home about. The fun part of a noona romance is a reversal in the power dynamic—for starters, the heroine is strong, but she’s also often the boss, the teacher, the one who (outwardly) has her life together. She’s either paired with a beta male (I Do, I Do), or an alpha male in a small pond—say, other nineteen-year olds—who has no power in the real world (Biscuit Teacher).

The hero almost always straddles the man-boy divide, but often the heroine has as much growing up to do as he does. He carries a torch for her, thinking she’s unattainable (my favorite kind of drama angst). Once they’re together, age presents a real-world obstacle. And the army is Hades itself.

All noona-killers aren’t rebels on motorcycles, but that’s the iconic dramaland image because they dare to go against the grain, even if it’s just by saying that age is just a number. Mostly though, you just have to be willing to chase the girl of your dreams with your heart on your sleeve, whether on two wheels or four, or using your student bus pass.

 
SONG OF THE DAY

Lee Seung-gi – “내 여자라니까 (Because You’re My Woman)” [ Download ]

Biscuit Teacher Star Candy (2005)

The premise: A high school delinquent grows up with dreams of becoming a teacher, and manages to finagle a temporary position at a school under the condition that she keeps the biggest troublemaker of them all in check. She wrangles the punk; he falls for teacher.

This drama is pretty much a soonjung manhwa come to life, with imaginary sequences featuring the heroine literally kicking ass and taking names. It’s one of my favorite noona romances in dramaland, and part of it is definitely the match-up between Gong Yoo and Gong Hyo-jin. Never mind that he’s actually older than her in real life; just go with the fiction. He’s the classically brooding rebel teenager who’s misunderstood and assumed to be a terrible troublemaker when he’s really just a lonely kid with no one to take his side. She’s a reformed misfit herself, and as his teacher she’s the first person in his life to stick to him like glue and tell him that she cares and that she’ll never give up on him.

It works, and he doesn’t just open up to her; he falls hard because he’s young and impetuous. Soon he’s running around declaring his love from the rooftops in what is maybe the cutest display of one-sided love ever. It’s the thing you think you wouldn’t ever root for—for the nineteen-year old to win over his teacher’s heart—but you’re on his side before you know it. How can you not, when he’s practically handing her his bleeding heart and asking her not to crush it?

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What’s Up Fox (2006)

The premise: The boy next door returns from his travels abroad as a grown man in a hot body. The noona who’s known him his whole life struggles with this strange new sexual attraction, and the two land in bed one drunken night, beginning their hilariously backwards relationship.

This is one of the great quintessential noona romances that you shouldn’t miss. It’s less zippy than My Name Is Kim Sam-soon (they come from the same writer), but it has one of the more realistic noona romances that could work in the real world. Go Hyun-jung and Chun Jung-myung have a cute rapport that walks the line between too familial and sexually charged, which is the point because theirs is the problem of being TOO close. She’s literally the noona next door who used to change his diapers (or so she claims), so his struggle is to get her to see him as a man.

This drama deals with sexual attraction in a really frank way, which sets it apart from the other usually innocent noona romances. (And the heroine writes erotic romance stories for a porn magazine as her day job, so there are some hilarious fantasy reenactments of her stories that pepper the drama.) We find out that she was his first crush as a boy, but more importantly the object of his sexual awakening; as adults she’s in denial about him being a man, but can’t hide her attraction to him. This drama tackles the tough questions and doesn’t give the couple any easy outs, making their relationship feel earned. It’s also a nice ordinary story about two middle-class people (notably a commonality among many noona romances though not at all a necessary part).

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Unstoppable High Kick (2006-7)

The premise: This is the first of the High Kick series of popular family sitcoms that feature multigenerational households full of wacky hijinks and lots of heart.

There are too many storylines to name, and a great deal of them were addictive in their own right, but none so much as Jung Il-woo’s (when he was nineteen!) as the maknae son of the main family, constantly overshadowed by his smarter hyung and blamed for everything that goes wrong in the world. He lives up to the rebel moniker to a tee, fistfights and motorcycle and all.

Much like Biscuit Teacher, this troublemaker meets his match in homeroom teacher Seo Min-jung, who takes an interest in changing him for the better. He spends a good deal of time making her life miserable, but when she refuses to give up on him, he falls head over heels and proceeds to do all manner of adorable puppy things for the teacher he secretly loves.

This romance is mainly thwarted (as is Biscuit Teacher’s, oddly enough) by an uncle who’s sweet on the same girl. He’s everything the rebel isn’t—a grown-up, her equal, and her ideal. It’s more heartbreaking in High Kick’s version because the uncle has the dominant love triangle in this show, not to mention the fact that this kid loves his family. But it also pulls the angst strings a little more because of it, to great effect. Here the one-sided love feels more doomed, and therefore plays up the achingly sweet gestures of affection that go unnoticed by the heroine, that only the hero and the audience are privy to. I dare you not to become a puddle of goo. High Kick is just a good family show anyway, though it’s worth mentioning that you wouldn’t be left completely in the lurch if you picked it up for the noona romance. It isn’t the main story by any stretch, but it can (and will likely) become the thing you end up watching it for.

 Dal-ja’s Spring (2007)

 

Dal Ja’s Spring is one of these dramas. It aired in 2007 and a favorite of many, Dal Ja’s Spring is about a career-focused heroine (played by Chae Rim), and the younger man she gets entangled with (played by Lee Min-ki). Thwarted by a one-sided love, and anxious to save face, Dal Ja starts up a contract relationship with Lee Min-ki’s character.

It’s no surprise that the story that unfolds is about the bumps on the road to their romance, but the drama handles the contract romance and noona romance themes in an enjoyable and light-handed way. Lee Min-ki’s character, though much younger, actually serves to ground Dal Ja’s flightiness. His presence also forces her to look inside herself, and at the things that are truly holding her back.

But while it makes some heroines outwardly thorny and closed-off, others retain a tender optimism about life despite being disappointed. In Dal-ja’s Spring, when Dal-ja’s boyfriend ditches her for someone hotter, a mixture of anger, desperation, and fierce pride leads her to contract a younger man to pose as her boyfriend in an attempt to save face and get revenge. I’ll always fall for a heroine whose pragmatism is dashed with a little wickedness (especially if it leads to some epic revenging on a dastardly ex), and My Name Is Kim Sam-soon’s heroine has the distinction of being my first love when it comes to willing-to-be-wicked women with warm hearts.

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The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry (2010)

The premise: Three thirtysomething girlfriends tackle dating, work, friendship, and love with a sense of humor. The heroine strikes up a relationship with a man ten years her junior, though in some ways he’s the one who schools her on romance.

I’d recommend this drama for the girlfriend camaraderie and the comedy alone, but it’s also one of the better noona romances of the non-high-school set. Kim Bum and Park Jin-hee play a significant age gap, but the problems are also those of adults who have dated, not the undying first love of a teenaged rebel. It’s as much a story about the start of romance, with all the cute, awkward, confusing, and swoony things that characterize a new relationship. It just also happens to then deal with the specific struggles of dating a noona, from the basic (What do I call her?) to the complicated (How do I explain this to my mother?) and everything in between.

This is one of the more mature noona-killers in this set, by which I mean he’s pretty adult for a man-boy. He’s in a rock band, so he’s by no means buttoned-up, but he strives to act very adult around his girlfriend (which is just not the case for the average noona-killer, who is mostly childish, and on a good day gets his act together to do something manly). If you’re iffy about noona romances, this is a good one to start with.

The title of Dal Ja’s Spring is important too. Spring, or the idea of re-awakening, is as central to this noona romance, as it is to 2010’s The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry. In this drama, Park Jin-hee plays a thirty-four-year-old TV reporter named Park Shin-young who’s always made her career her priority — and that’s where most of the plot tension comes from. Because what do you do when a young musician and student, Kim Bum, flirts with you, fights with you, writes rock songs about you? If you’re Shin-young, you wind up falling in love, a ten-year age difference be damned.

As in Dal Ja’s Spring, the romance in The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry is presented as a new season — or even a second chance — in life and love. Our heroine is once reminded that, “Even in theatre they have dark sets in between scenes… That’s happening to you too. This is just the dark phase before the start of your second chance in life.” And in this case, that second chance takes the shape of Kim Bum and his killer grin.

 

Baby-Faced Beauty (2011)

The premise: An unemployed but talented aspiring designer gets mistaken for nine years younger (she’s 34, they think she’s 25) and keeps the lie going to work for a design company, where she is treated as the lowly grunt by snotty sunbaes who are years younger. She gets off on the wrong foot with the hero, but they eventually become workplace friends and confidantes. He assumes he’s the oppa and enjoys playing the part, so when the truth finally comes out, the jarring reversal puts the brakes on the developing romance, until they figure out a way around the mindfuckery of her going from rookie kiddo to a noona seven years his senior.

Age is most definitely the central conceit, challenge, and conflict in Baby-Faced Beauty. So while it’s not your standard noona romance, our couple definitely bumps up against the noona issue over the course of their courtship. The numbers screw with his mind in a confusing, head-spinning way that almost feels too mean to enjoy, except that it’s really enjoyable.

The lie goes on for long enough that the dynamic is firmly established by the time it gets all shaken up and needs to be redefined. Suddenly Daniel Choi goes from talking comfortably in banmal with Jang Nara to stuttering in jondae, catching himself in fits and starts and feeling terribly uncomfortable with how everything is suddenly backwards. Nothing’s changed for her, yet when the perception of the power dynamic is suddenly different, there’s no fooling yourself that things are still the same. Plus, the hero has been stepping in frequently to help her (although the drama avoids the damsel in distress quagmire, thankfully) which means that he gets to feel that he’s the manly man, the older and wiser oppa taking care of his younger girl. Then one day the world flips and he’s stuck in a noona romance without even knowing it. Muahaha.

 

Flower Boy Ramyun Shop (2011)

The premise: A teenage boy is raised in a bizarre bubble of wealth and privilege, wanting for nothing in the world except the ability to understand human emotions. The heroine is the first person to ever challenge him, and he mistakes love for anger and heartburn before realizing that he’ll have to come down from his ivory tower to chase the girl he loves.

This drama has no realistic characters whatsoever. It only barely has one foot in the real world, but that’s kind of its wacky charm. There’s no question that Jung Il-woo is in his element here as the noona-killer, and this character has all the trappings of adulthood—money, status, a laissez-faire attitude about casual dating—that make him seem more grown up. It’s all smoke and mirrors though, because he was raised with such kid gloves that he needs an interpreter to explain things like “jealousy” and “feelings.”

Lee Chung-ah does start out as a student teacher, but this drama isn’t really among the teacher-student set like Biscuitor High Kick. They soon move to a ramyun shop that becomes the main backdrop for the series, and the rich hero takes up a part-time job there just to be closer to the heroine. There’s a fun to the reverse-Cinderella-ness of the series, because while most chaebol heroes bring the girl into his world of privilege, here the average heroine brings the hero down into her world, where he learns how to live among the people. There’s zingy chemistry and the show moves quickly, though you really do have to embrace the comic-book feel to get into the show. Or yunno, you could just check your brain at the door and watch it for the kisses. Mmmm, Jung Il-woo kisses. Wait, what was I talking about?

 

I Do, I Do (2012)

The premise: An aimless slacker has a one-night stand with a successful bossypants shoe designer. She gets pregnant and doesn’t tell anyone about the baby daddy, and then one day he shows up as the rookie employee on her staff.

The setup is better than the execution in this drama, but it does feature a unique pairing between an alpha heroine and a beta male, no qualifiers, no hedging. She’s the boss in the workplace and in the romance. We do find that sometimes her control freak perfectionist nature is to her own detriment, and to some degree it makes Kim Sun-ah’s heroine cold. But Lee Jang-woo makes up for the warmth in the pair with his adoring noona-loving ways.

The pregnancy takes up a good deal of real estate in the story, even more than the romance, and the workplace drama adds even more filler. It’s not a drama I regret watching by any means, but there are no surprises, and I would’ve gladly traded all the workplace stuff for a meatier romance with more development. There’s so much good conflict to mine in a noona romance with a baby on the way! Alas, everything remains a little undercooked for my liking, despite the couple being really cute whenever they have a chance to let their feelings show. The fast-forward button is your friend.

 

Big (2012)

The premise: High school rebel gets body-swapped with grown man, who happens to be his teacher’s boyfriend. He falls for her thinking she only sees the man on the outside, while she struggles to figure out if she’s in love with Soul or Body.

There are so many reasons I wanted this drama to work, because what a fun twist on the noona romance—the body-soul confusion is the quintessential man-boy conflict of all noona romances made literal by drama magic. The problem is that it doesn’t answer many of the questions it raises, and instead of trusting that the audience could buy the relationship it had been selling all series long, it copped out and sort of glossed over its own central conceit.

That aside (and it’s a huge aside), it does play with all the notable recurring themes in a noona romance, and does a good job of using the body swap to ask the heroine if she can look beyond the trappings of the external—a man who’s age-appropriate, with money, status, parental and societal approval—or can look beyond that to the heart of the person on the inside, no matter his (very young) age. It’s the usual love triangle of noona romances squashed into one mystical and admittedly head-spinning conundrum, often to amusing effect. Just don’t blame me if you smash your hand through the TV at the end. Consider yourself warned.

 

I Hear Your Voice (2013)

The premise: A super-powered boy who can read minds nearly dies witnessing his father’s murder. A brave young girl saves him and testifies to put the killer away, solidifying the hero’s undying devotion to her. Ten years later, he finds her again when he’s a high-schooler and she’s a jaded public defender. This time he vows to protect her when the killer comes back for revenge.

It’s actually difficult to sum up this drama’s premise because it’s so many different things (suspense, comedy, romance, law drama), but the emotional through line is the hero’s endless quest to protect the heroine at any cost. Lee Jong-seok is puppy love incarnate, and has an achingly sweet one-sided love for a good portion of the show’s run. My heart still hurts when I think about it, and I mean that in the best way.

Lee Bo-young has never been so sparkling as she is in this drama, where she plays a deeply flawed, petty, cynical heroine—she’s the object of a ten-year-long first love that’s been built up on such a pedestal that no human woman could live up to it. But what’s great about her is that she shatters that fantasy in one fell swoop only to build it back up again, one reluctant caring gesture at a time. If ever there was a noona romance where a boy lived and died with each thing the heroine said or did, it’s this one.

Their relationship takes on many forms, from idealized first love to familial, supernatural, self-sacrificial, and finally romantic love, and the heightened emotion is backed by the life-and-death circumstances of the narrative. This is also a cohabitation noona romance, which is a rare bird, given that most noona-killers don’t usually get this kind of ’round-the-clock access to their crushes. They start out living together because the hero has to protect her from a killer, and that constant threat of ever-living terror is what keeps them attached at the hip. Serial killers be good for something, y’all.

                                                                            Witch’s Romance (2014)One of the best things about noona professionals is that they invariably come with buckets of self-awareness, which makes them burst off the screen and climb into your heart, though they can be jaded and unhappy when we first meet them. These women don’t necessarily want to be swept off their feet (who’s got the time for that?)—what they want is someone who’ll unfailingly be on their side, at their side. For example, in Witch’s Romance, the heroine makes peace with her single status, only to have it upended by her younger man. But what’s just lovely to watch is how she blooms again under that constancy and sweetness, even against her own expectations.

But while age differences can pose problems for the relationships, the heroines rarely have trouble seeing their respective heroes as men. It’s much harder—and funnier—when the heroine can’t actually see the hero as a man at all, and nothing sums that moment up better than Uhm Jung-hwa booting Park Seo-joon out of bed after discovering their fourteen-year age difference, head filled with the sound of a baby’s gurgling.

                                                                High School King of Savvy (2014)

Then there’s what I consider the most unusual and all-round delightful relationship, High School King of Savvy. To me, this show bucks the noona romance mold in so many ways. When hero Seo In-gook has to masquerade as his older brother despite only being a high schooler, he ends up being the boss to Lee Hana’s endearingly awkward, somewhat timid heroine. It tangles the “traditional” noona dynamics in quite a thrilling way, and both characters have an innocence that makes them seem at similar emotional maturity levels. The subsequent explosion of sweetness and charisma absolutely slays me.

With its offbeat heroines and beguiling heroes, I always find a magical alchemy in the noona romance equation that’s amplified by the reversed age difference: It’s the stuff of squee. Age? It’s just a number. Sometimes an unhelpful number, but when everything else works… age doesn’t matter at all.


                                                                    

 I Need Romance 3 (2014)

In I Need Romance 3, the young hero has a similar problem, but his struggle is even harder, since his would-be ladylove actually has known him from babyhood, and even nicknamed him “sweet potato” because she thought him particularly ugly. But of course, that makes for the most satisfying reversal, like the moment Kim So-yeon wonders who in their right mind would call Sung Joon’s manly glory (lol) at all potato-ish. And yep, she swoons a little (or A LOT) as the sweet-potato veil is finally torn from her eyes.


It’s a keen strike, because it picks at her lurking insecurity that she may be somehow unlovable, which is rooted in a previous failed relationship, having been stood up at the altar. In I Need Romance 3, Kim So-yeon had a whole string of successively worse dumpings, to the point where she barely turns a hair at her latest breakup and simply goes about business as usual, even though we know how much she’s hurting inside.

~

 

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The Secondaries:

 

Bottom of the 9th With 2 Outs (2007)

The premise: Two BFFs take the long way around to love. In the meantime, they’re roommates who give each other relationship advice, and the heroine dates a young baseball player who struggles to make their noona romance survive in the real world.

I’d recommend this drama for the main pairing—that’d be Su Ae and Lee Jung-jin—but I actually liked the noona romance early on with Lee Tae-sung too, even if it’s a secondary couple. It’s the non-fantasy version of the noona romance, where real life problems get in the way, and introducing your new older girlfriend to your friends and family is an awkward affair. They discover in a realistic, bittersweet way that a man who’s just starting out in life and chasing his dreams is in a different place from a woman in her thirties who’s searching for that big life-altering love. But they still put their best efforts into making it work, and they change each other for the better.

 

My Sweet Seoul (2008)

The premise: A thirtysomething careerwoman navigates love and career and friendships in this low-key, thoughtful trendy.

My Sweet Seoul isn’t a rom-com in that it’s not very funny, though it has a lot of the trappings of romantic comedies with the light touches and focus on the heroine’s love life. The noona romance between Choi Kang-hee and Ji Hyun-woo is not the main loveline but it does take up a significant amount of the drama and is often very cute. Still, be forewarned that if you’re watching for noona-lovin’ funsies, this one may be more likely to leave you with a bruised heart.

Ji Hyun-woo is absolutely adorable and wonderful as the devoted young twentysomething; she’s certainly his noona, but he’s mature and thoughtful as a boyfriend. The obstacles they encounter feel realistic and mundane (in a good way); it’s not makjang twistiness forcing them apart, but real-world concerns of what it is to be in different places in your life. You can’t hate the heroine for breaking puppy boy’s heart… only you kind of hate the heroine for breaking puppy boy’s heart. Still, the drama has its lovely moments, and Mr. Voice Lee Seon-kyun is always a draw, especially when he gets to be the hero.

 

I Need Romance (2011)

The premise: A thirtysomething woman ends a decade-long relationship when her boyfriend cheats on her, and searches to redefine herself as a single woman. She discovers that what she needs is a little old-fashioned romance, and strikes up a relationship with a doting younger man.

This is a drama that has a really strong secondary pairing—some would argue stronger than the main pairing—that you can’t help but want to root for. Choi Jin-hyuk might have something to do with that. Just a little. He has great chemistry with Jo Yeo-jung, and plays a character who’s painfully aware that he loves her more than she loves him… which of course makes us love him more. The age gap isn’t hugely at play (she’s his noona and superior at work, but he’s secretly loaded, which ends up being a problem for her down the line) so this isn’t your average noona romance, but it’s one worth checking out. I won’t promise you’ll be happy about the outcome, but the couple does get its chance in the limelight. The drama also features a great girlfriend trio and a contemporary view of singletons looking for love, sex, and everything in between.

 

Ojakkyo Brothers (2011-2)

The premise: The youngest son in this family weekend drama has an unconventional noona romance with his sister-in-law’s aunt, which is less weird than it sounds (okay maybe it’s still weird). The couple has two obstacles to overcome: age and their contentious in-law relations.

This isn’t a secondary coupling as much as a secondary storyline in a family drama with a large cast. It’s not the most prominent couple (brothers Two and Three are the ones you watch the show for), but Yeon Woo-jin makes for a good noona-killer any day of the week. All the other romances on this show come with more dramatic downturns, but this one is mostly cute, cute, and more cute. It sort of gets to sidestep the bulk of the angst because that’s not their storyline’s burden, which means you can get to a lot of the hallmark rom-com moments—awkward non-dates that turn into dates, and blind-date interruptions with a “She’s my woman!”—without having to cash them in for tears down the line. She’s also his boss, and he grows up a good deal over the course of their romance, from an aimless slacker who skated by on his looks, to a young man with dreams and a plan. I’d hardly recommend this show for the noona romance since he’s got three older brothers to compete with for screen time, but I love the drama as a whole anyway; it’s one of the more satisfying and addictive family dramas in recent years.

~

The Not-Reallies:

 

My Name Is Kim Sam-soon (2005)

The premise: An sassy foul-mouthed pastry chef starts a bizarre contract relationship with her assy restaurateur boss. Insults, curses, and sparks fly.

I actually don’t think of Sam-soon as a noona romance, mostly because the power dynamic goes the other way for much of the drama. He’s the boss and she’s the employee, and it’s not so much the gap in their ages that’s at issue between these two. It’s true that she’s older and it does add to the long list of reasons why he would never, ever, ever (snerk) fall for her, but the drama’s conflict doesn’t really stem from their relative ages, beyond the fact that she’s now north of thirty and feeling less desirable because of it. It’s not a drama I’d reach for if I were in the mood for a noona-killer, though obviously I love this classic for a million other reasons.

 





Exhibition of Fireworks (2006)

The premise: Not strictly a noona romance, this one gets the main couple off on the wrong foot with the misunderstanding that the heroine is 20 when she’s actually 30, and the immature hero treats her thusly—talking down to her, rapping her head, calling her kiddo. She puts up with it as they both join the same company as new hires, mostly ’cause he’s also the CEO’s son. Then the truth comes out, he realizes she’s his noona, and then she’s promoted above him. HA. Yay for reversals.

This drama starts off hilarious and zippy, enough to suck you in with the hopes of rom-com zaniness. The heroine is spurned by her longtime boyfriend, whom she worked her tail off to support in his lean unemployed years, only to be kicked to the curb the moment he starts his upward climb. He’s upgrading his life and she just got traded in. She decides to get “revenge” and spies on the new woman in his life, gets caught up in a bickering relationship with the hero (who’s in love with the new woman, of course), and finds herself twisted up in unforeseen complications.

Unfortunately the show loses its center pretty quickly and the rest just gets messier and angstier with characters who do things that make little sense. If there is one reason to watch this show, it’s to see Kang Ji-hwan being present and compelling in the role even as everything falls apart around him, though it’s a bit jarring when he’s the only one still acting by the end of it. Not really recommended, but sometimes you can’t help rubbernecking at the site of a trainwreck.

 

Queen of Reversals (2010)

The premise: A headstrong woman who’s used to getting everything she wants in life finds her life turned upside-down when she goes from top dog at work to low woman on the totem pole, and from happily married to divorced and single again.

This Kim Nam-joo drama features a romance with a younger man, but they’re both too adult to consider it a traditional noona romance. He’s her boss, and she’s scarred from her divorce—these things are the source of conflict, not so much age. The hero does chase her with puppy-like affection though, so you might find enough noona love there to warrant a watch. It’s mostly a workplace drama and very heroine-centric, with a focus on life after divorce. You could even just skip the first half of the drama, which features the first loveline with her husband who ends up not her husband anymore. The heroine is also more likable if you pick it up after she’s shoved off her high horse, though I’ve never had a problem liking Kim Nam-joo.

 




Oh My Lady (2010)

The premise: When a selfish and spoiled movie star finds out he’s got a young daughter, his first instinct is to deny, reject, and run away. He gets saddled with a new housekeeper who also becomes part of his management team, and an unlikely rapport springs up between them as she helps raise his child and pushes him toward growing up and learning what it means to be a real father.

Given the ages of the characters, Oh My Lady doesn’t really qualify as a straight noona romance; Siwon’s character is in his late twenties (though he often acts like a sullen teenager) while Chae Rim is solidly in ajumma territory as a divorced mother of a grade schooler. The age difference is present in their relationship, but it’s almost like their circumstances negate whatever power she would have had as the elder, because he is the celebrity and she’s his employee.

The drama has its merits, though it’s not for any sort of noona-ness that Oh My Lady is appealing. Its draw is for the heartwarming moments of growth as Siwon finally starts to take his responsibilities seriously and bonds with his adorable daughter. The romance that develops is less about passion or even attraction, and sometimes feels like it was forced in because it was the neat option for the star to fall for the housekeeper who taught him how to love. Though maturing and embracing commitment aren’t bad themes to end on.

 

My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho (2010)

The premise: A fraidy-cat slacker frees a gumiho from a mystical scroll, and she terrifies him into being her boyfriend. Her dream is to become human, and he helps her both mystically and socially to shed her nine tails and become a real girl.

If you want to get technical, the gumiho is some centuries the hero’s noona. But she’s basically a kid (not that he’s any glowing example of maturity, but yunno). I wouldn’t call this a noona romance either, though mathwise maybe it’d be more like a great-great-great-great-granny romance, which is a little unsettling. It does have a beta male hero though, who’s extra gutless, so it taps into some of the elements that are characteristic of noona romances, but with a supernatural twist. Maybe we’ll revisit you two when we get to Lovers With Nine Lives, or Interspecies Romance.

~

Okay, that’s it for noona romances. Feel free to add to the list with your recommendations. I’m sure I’ll be the first in line to check them out!


In my happy inner world, there’s never been anything weird about an older woman with a younger man. But in the reality we actually live in, it unfortunately remains an anomaly, and so, rom-com lovers everywhere must acknowledge that despite our best wishes, age matters. You can be sure that if the words “noona romance” are uttered anywhere, I’m somewhere close, skulking hungrily in the shadows.

In a noona romance, couples have to swim against the tide of social pressures, facing judgment and disapproval, all while working through their own emotional baggage: It’s an underdog romance in a meaningful way, and there’s a real excitement in watching that unfold. It’s an intricate problem with a wonderfully tangled-up set of dynamics, but within an ultimately resolvable context.


Witch’s Romance

One of noona romances’ biggest draws for me is the promise of a smart, successful, strong female lead. It’s often the case that her workplace success makes her romantically inaccessible, or even undesirable, as is the case with Uhm Jung-hwa in Witch’s Romance. Her colleagues hate her and go so far as to attempt to humiliate her by hiring a man to pretend to woo her. He then shames her on a public stage for being too old to be kissable.

It’s a keen strike, because it picks at her lurking insecurity that she may be somehow unlovable, which is rooted in a previous failed relationship, having been stood up at the altar. In I Need Romance 3, Kim So-yeon had a whole string of successively worse dumpings, to the point where she barely turns a hair at her latest breakup and simply goes about business as usual, even though we know how much she’s hurting inside.

But while it makes some heroines outwardly thorny and closed-off, others retain a tender optimism about life despite being disappointed. In Dal-ja’s Spring, when Dal-ja’s boyfriend ditches her for someone hotter, a mixture of anger, desperation, and fierce pride leads her to contract a younger man to pose as her boyfriend in an attempt to save face and get revenge. I’ll always fall for a heroine whose pragmatism is dashed with a little wickedness (especially if it leads to some epic revenging on a dastardly ex), and My Name Is Kim Sam-soon’s heroine has the distinction of being my first love when it comes to willing-to-be-wicked women with warm hearts.


Dal-ja’s Spring

One of the best things about noona professionals is that they invariably come with buckets of self-awareness, which makes them burst off the screen and climb into your heart, though they can be jaded and unhappy when we first meet them. These women don’t necessarily want to be swept off their feet (who’s got the time for that?)—what they want is someone who’ll unfailingly be on their side, at their side. For example, in Witch’s Romance, the heroine makes peace with her single status, only to have it upended by her younger man. But what’s just lovely to watch is how she blooms again under that constancy and sweetness, even against her own expectations.

But while age differences can pose problems for the relationships, the heroines rarely have trouble seeing their respective heroes as men. It’s much harder—and funnier—when the heroine can’t actually see the hero as a man at all, and nothing sums that moment up better than Uhm Jung-hwa booting Park Seo-joon out of bed after discovering their fourteen-year age difference, head filled with the sound of a baby’s gurgling.

In I Need Romance 3, the young hero has a similar problem, but his struggle is even harder, since his would-be ladylove actually has known him from babyhood, and even nicknamed him “sweet potato” because she thought him particularly ugly. But of course, that makes for the most satisfying reversal, like the moment Kim So-yeon wonders who in their right mind would call Sung Joon’s manly glory (lol) at all potato-ish. And yep, she swoons a little (or A LOT) as the sweet-potato veil is finally torn from her eyes.


I Need Romance 3

I Hear Your Voice’s heroine also has a past with the hero, and these young men really have their work cut out for them, as they contend with heroines who insist on seeing them as their past selves rather than their present. Moreover, the balance of power is all over the place: How does the couple find equal footing in a sea of inequalities? But what a drama offers in a noona romance is access to the tipping point—as the encounters add up and the emotional stakes rise, their feelings demand a decision be made one way or another, and then… that moment comes when everything changes.

And what would a noona romance be without its puppy half? I love that the hero is forced to work much harder, because as well as making her see him as a man, he has to go further to prove to her that he really means it. If there’s even one percent of him that doesn’t mean it, it won’t work—not because it takes more to win a noona’s heart, but it takes much more to earn her trust. He also needs to be more direct—but such directness demands reciprocity from the heroine, too, as I Need Romance 3 and others prove, because no puppy, however much he loves you, can wait forever. These relationships have no room for complacency.


My Name Is Kim Sam-soon

Unfortunately, not every noona romance provides such a compelling hero. Some leads can be disappointing: My Name Is Kim Sam-soon’s hero spends so long belittling the heroine and making her do the work in the relationship that despite the noona setup, I had little tolerance for that kind of faffery. And that’s nothing compared to Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, which was my most disliked noona romance because the hero jerks the heroine around for much of the show even when he’s wooing her.

But more than simple age difference, we run into more significant problems when the noona setup includes a teacher-student relationships. Flower Boy Ramyun Shop played out that relationship in a way that felt inappropriate, while on the other hand, Biscuit Teacher Star Candy dealt with the same dynamic in a less problematic way, delivered as it was with utter charm: Teacher Gong Hyo-jin spends most of the show just laughing at student Gong Yoo, and pretty much never takes his puppy romancing seriously (not while he’s school uniform, at least).

The problem with high school boys is that in body, they’re full-grown men, and when coupled with the alluring confidence of youth, it’s easy—for our noonas and for us—to be tricked into forgetting that they’re not really emotionally mature, and not quite adults. I Hear Your Voice’s high schooler hero is an exception, but though he’s an old soul in a young body, he’s also a total puppy, and I admit it, I am a puppy-person and even low-key shipped the unshippable in Angry Mom. (Okay, not really, but bad boy Ji Soo’s crush on Kim Hee-sun—whom he was led to believe was a fellow student—was hopelessly adorable, if wholly unattainable!)


Biscuit Teacher Star Candy

Then there’s what I consider the most unusual and all-round delightful relationship, High School King of Savvy. To me, this show bucks the noona romance mold in so many ways. When hero Seo In-gook has to masquerade as his older brother despite only being a high schooler, he ends up being the boss to Lee Hana’s endearingly awkward, somewhat timid heroine. It tangles the “traditional” noona dynamics in quite a thrilling way, and both characters have an innocence that makes them seem at similar emotional maturity levels. The subsequent explosion of sweetness and charisma absolutely slays me.

With its offbeat heroines and beguiling heroes, I always find a magical alchemy in the noona romance equation that’s amplified by the reversed age difference: It’s the stuff of squee. Age? It’s just a number. Sometimes an unhelpful number, but when everything else works… age doesn’t matter at all.


High School King of Savvy

Age serves an important role in the way characters relate to each other in K-dramas, and in romances especially so. Dramaland is particularly interested in the idea of a younger man-older woman romantic pairing, also known as the noona romance.

You don’t have to be a noona to enjoy a good noona romance, and the frequency at which these stories are produced is a clue to how much it resonates with viewers. Why do we enjoy these stories so much? Certainly there’s more behind the noona romance than vicarious enjoyment (though that’s a part of it), or the plot tension this age dynamic adds to a romance on a social level. How are noona romances used to serve the plot, and what messages might be hiding behind the noona romance?

Though noona romances are on an upswing with the recent Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food, currently airing Boyfriend, and the upcoming Romance is a Bonus Book, there were also a bunch of early dramas that were devoted to this relationship dynamic. These dramas were also great character-driven stories about heroines learning more about themselves, and making room in their lives for love. And yes, being wooed by a younger man turned out to be a crucial catalyst for their growth.

 

Dal Ja’s Spring is one of these dramas. It aired in 2007 and a favorite of many, Dal Ja’s Spring is about a career-focused heroine (played by Chae Rim), and the younger man she gets entangled with (played by Lee Min-ki). Thwarted by a one-sided love, and anxious to save face, Dal Ja starts up a contract relationship with Lee Min-ki’s character.

It’s no surprise that the story that unfolds is about the bumps on the road to their romance, but the drama handles the contract romance and noona romance themes in an enjoyable and light-handed way. Lee Min-ki’s character, though much younger, actually serves to ground Dal Ja’s flightiness. His presence also forces her to look inside herself, and at the things that are truly holding her back.

The title of Dal Ja’s Spring is important too. Spring, or the idea of re-awakening, is as central to this noona romance, as it is to 2010’s The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry. In this drama, Park Jin-hee plays a thirty-four-year-old TV reporter named Park Shin-young who’s always made her career her priority — and that’s where most of the plot tension comes from. Because what do you do when a young musician and student, Kim Bum, flirts with you, fights with you, writes rock songs about you? If you’re Shin-young, you wind up falling in love, a ten-year age difference be damned.

As in Dal Ja’s Spring, the romance in The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry is presented as a new season — or even a second chance — in life and love. Our heroine is once reminded that, “Even in theatre they have dark sets in between scenes… That’s happening to you too. This is just the dark phase before the start of your second chance in life.” And in this case, that second chance takes the shape of Kim Bum and his killer grin.

Why doesn’t she (or any of these noonas for that matter) just jump in head first? I remember thinking that during 2013’s I Hear Your Voice, as I watched the sweet romance between Lee Jong-seok and Lee Bo-young develop. It’s easy for the audience to dismiss the heroine’s misgivings as she’s romanced by a younger man, and sometimes her reservations might seem like an annoying plot barrier. However, when you take a step back, these noona romances have something very interesting to say about the power of choice.

In both Dal Ja’s Spring and The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry particularly, it’s the heroine’s inner conflicts that are the major source of tension in the drama. Both heroines are offered a new season in the form of a younger man. This younger man almost invariably adores her, looks past her faults, and has no reservations about their age gap. The choice of a new season is presented, but it’s left up to the heroines to choose to accept. If you think about it, this element is rarely explored in other romances where the question of age is not at the forefront.

K-dramas often treat falling in love like getting struck by lightning or drinking a love potion. There are endless rom-coms where the hero is completely smitten and has no control over his infatuation and adoration. The hero then harasses his way (eventually) into the heroine’s heart. Then there are other romances where the OTP is fated to be, and while the world (or chaebol elders, ever-returning first loves, trucks of doom, and other ill-fated happenings) threatens to separate them, nothing can truly keep them apart.

Noona romances are interesting in that unlike the more tropey romances, they often portray love and embarking on a relationship as being a choice. Dramaland makes it clear that love is magical, bigger than ourselves, and will often plow through any obstacles in its way — and while all of this is true, noona romances often linger (at least for a portion of the plot) over the heroines’ decision-making. They love each other, yes, and they are a great couple, but will the heroine be able to put her baggage aside and fully commit to the relationship?

If love is presented as a choice for our noonas, what sort of things get in the way of what seems like a perfectly acceptable and delightful proposition? Our first reaction would be to say the age of the hero. That’s not exactly fair though, because in most of these stories the hero not only proves his maturity and loyalty, but he himself has a total disregard of the age difference. While the noonas seem to be ashamed and hide from it, the heroes don’t mind one bit.

Jung Hae-in’s character, in Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food, happily shares that his girlfriend is thirty-five. In Temperature of LoveYang Se-jong’s character boldly declares to his noona (played by Seo Hyun-jin) that, “I’m twenty-four; I’ve already done my military service.” And in Witch’s RomancePark Seo-joon’s character is more concerned by his age than Uhm Jung-hwa’s, when he asks if her refusal of him is because he’s too young.

These heroes have no doubt about the woman they’ve chosen. In fact, I can’t think of a noona romance I’ve seen where it was the younger hero that was beating himself up over his age, and breaking things off with the heroine because of it.

What is it that the age disparity does to the inner workings of our noonas, then? It’s about so much more than being perceived as socially awkward, or drawing attention to the seniority of the heroine. To me, one of the primary things the age difference does is open up space for doubt. Dating a younger man seems to wake up worries in our heroines about whether their love is truly a lasting one. It tests her confidence in their relationship, and even more so, her confidence in herself.

While this questioning can happen in any relationship, very few non-noona romances actively feature the heroine deciding to take that step forward — and that’s because noona romances rely on age disparity to give the heroine that moment of pause. This shows up in the plot through worries like, “Can I keep my current life/career/goals and love this person?” or “Can I trust his love is true?” or “Is this what I really want for myself?” These internal doubts can be stronger than any outside antagonist that drives the couple apart.

Often, our heroines use the heroes’ age as a reason or proof not to trust in his love, but most of the time, the issue lies inside of the heroine herself. There are a lot of noonas who are presented with quite a magical romance — but who falter in a mess of hesitation and insecurity after the initial excitement has settled down.

This was particularly felt in Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food. The heroine (played by Sohn Ye-jin) is wrapped up in her job, dating the wrong guy, and clearly missing some magic in her life. When she meets the character played by Jung Hae-in, everything starts to change. But he’s the childhood friend of her younger brother, and this throws a major wrench into their romance.

While not without its faults, the drama was a poignant exploration of what insecurity, self-doubt, and the power of outside perception can do to a romance that would have (and should have) otherwise thrived. It’s also a great example of how noona romances force the heroine to look within to face her issues, and decide whether to trust the love that’s offered to her. The noonas may have a wonderful romance in their lives, but it’s clear that they have to learn how to love and value themselves before they can fully accept the heart of the hero.

That’s not to say all noonas romances dig quite this deep. There are many dramas where the noona romance exists more for comedy’s sake. In the zany 2014 drama High School King of Savvy, our hero (played by Seo In-gook) is in high school, and the heroine (played by Lee Hana) works in the office where Seo In-gook poses as his older brother. Their age disparity isn’t central to the plot tension of the drama — rather, it acts as a fun element that adds to the drama’s flavor.

The same goes for 2011’s Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, where heroine Lee Chung-ah is hilariously teased, borderline harassed, and totally adored by the privileged high-schooler played by Jung Il-woo. The noona romance here is more for the comedy, and to argue that what the heart chooses doesn’t always make sense. And let’s not forget the noona romance subplot in Angry Mom, which, though wonderful, was more about building and softening the character played by Ji-soo than it was about the psyche of the heroine.

 

As we’ve seen, noona romances use their age-disparate relationships in different ways, and to tell different kinds of stories. They can bring out themes, scaffold character development, or function merely as an ode to the logic of the heart. Something I think they all have in common is that at their core, they’re about recognizing value.

One of the things that made me fall in love with K-dramas many years ago is the way that love is portrayed. OTP love goes deeper than surface level and physical attraction. Love is continually shown to be about valuing and cherishing the other person and there are a multitude of tender forehead kisses and back hugs meant to illustrate this deep, patient, and unconditional love.

 

This idea of recognizing the value in another person can come out even more strongly in noona romances because they’re often about a young hero seeing the value in a woman who feels she’s already missed her chance. In Dal Ja’s Spring, or The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry, the heroines are given a new chapter when the hero sees their value. In stories like Witch’s RomanceTemperature of Love, and Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food, it’s the heroine who needs to do the growing, even though she’s the older one in the relationship. Again, the fact that the hero values her so deeply is what spurs that growth.

Whether it’s about learning to value yourself, learning what it means to truly love and be loved, or giving up immature expectations for a real-life romance — a good noona romance has so much depth to explore. While each drama is different, and plays with age dynamics in its own way, each has the opportunity to be a rich story that explores the imperfections of human nature. After all, behind the noona romance, there’s just a story about people.