20 promising Korean actors in their 20s to keep your eyes on

Both Got7's Jin-young and Kim Se-jeong are K-pop idols currently pursuing acting.
PHOTO: Instagram/Park Jin-young, Instagram/Kim Se-jeong

What makes a K-drama worth the watch? Aside from a good script, casting the right actors is also important.

We've seen Hallyu stars like Son Ye-jin, Park Min-young, Park Seo-joon, Lee Min-ho and Hyun Bin dominate the Korean acting scene, but many promising actors have also surfaced in recent years.

So, here are 20 Korean actors and actresses in their 20s that we think are worth the watch!

Han So-hee, 27

Kicking off the list is Han So-hee who rose to fame in 2020 for her breakout role as mistress Yeo Da-kyung in The World of the Married.

Following her growing popularity, she snagged leading roles in Nevertheless (as Yu Na-bi), My Name (Yoon Ji-woo) and Soundtrack #1 (Lee Eun-seo).

From a scheming mistress to girl-crush fighter, So-hee continues to impress fans with her diverse roles and versatile acting.

And her commitment to the craft is equally admirable.

Did you know she gained 10kg of muscles for My Name? She ditched the girlish image and slaved at an action school for three months in preparation for the role.

But even before the K-drama scene, the 27-year-old was already modelling and was featured in music videos such as SHINee's Tell Me What to Do and Roy Kim's The Hardest Part.

It's no doubt that the actress is currently one of the most highly sought-after names in Korean showbiz and fans can look forward to her upcoming drama Project K with Squid Game actor Wi Ha-jun, set to premiere in 2023.

ALSO READ: K-drama Little Women trailer: Spot Kim Go-eun and Wi Ha-jun in these iconic Singapore locations

Song Kang, 28

Speaking of Nevertheless, we can't forget Song Kang, So-hee's onscreen beau who played Park Jae-eon.

Song Kang made his showbiz debut in 2017 in The Liar and His Lover as Baek Jin-woo.

But before he went into acting, he received multiple offers to become a K-pop idol (are we surprised?). The 28-year-old chose to stick to acting though and it seems his hard work definitely paid off!

According to the South China Morning Post, Song Kang had to beat 900 other applicants to get the role of Hwang Sun-oh in Netflix's Love Alarm, which fuelled his rise to stardom in 2019.

His big break also scored him several back-to-back roles in Netflix productions, such as Sweet Home and Navillera, and he was even dubbed "the son of Netflix".

ALSO READ: 7 things to know about Netflix's new K-drama darling Song Kang of Love Alarm and Sweet Home fame

Got7's Park Jin-young, 27

It's not uncommon for K-pop idols to venture into acting at some point in their career. So, here's our first idol-actor on this list: Got7's Park Jin-young.

Since Got7's departure from entertainment company JYP, Jin-young has been focusing on his solo acting career. But his acting debut was way back in 2012 as Jung Ul-bong in the drama series Dream High 2.

Since then, he's starred in He is Psychometric and The Devil Judge, and currently plays the male lead in Yumi's Cells 2 alongside Kim Go-eun.

Although he's now known as Jin-young, die-hard fans will remember the time when he had a different name: Junior.

In an episode of Korean variety show Knowing Brothers, Jin-young shared that he and fellow Got7 member JB originally debuted as a duo in 2012 called JJ Project.

And his stage name Junior was crafted by his CEO who shares the same name as him and wanted him to be his "junior".

Both JB and Junior debuted again in 2014 as Got7, with the current line-up of members and the former going by the name Jay B. Jin-young dropped his stage name in 2016.

Astro's Cha Eun-woo, 25

Another idol-actor heartthrob we can't ignore is Astro's Cha Eun-woo.

Although he debuted two years prior in the film My Palpitating Life as A-reum, Eun-woo only started gaining recognition for his vocals and stunning visuals after his debut with Astro in 2016.

Soon after, he landed his first lead role in My ID is Gangnam Beauty as Do Kyung-seok and bagged several awards in 2018 including Best New Actor, Rising Star Award and Hallyu Star Award.

He also starred in Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryung as Yi Rim and True Beauty as Lee Su-ho.

However, some fans are hoping to see him explore more diverse roles instead of the cold, handsome male lead stereotype he's mostly played so far.

But besides the fact that he has a pretty face and is musically inclined, this 25-year-old also has the brains to match the brawn! Not only does Eun-woo have an IQ of 142 and a history of being elected class president, he was also the football and basketball team captain when he was in school.

It's no wonder he keeps girls swooning.

ALSO READ: Cha Eun-woo, Park Shin-hye, Song Hye-kyo: More childhood pics of K-drama stars

Kim Se-jeong, 25

If you've been a fan of K-pop for a while, you've probably heard of Kim Se-jeong, or at least her former girl group I.O.I.

Before acting, Se-jeong debuted as an idol after winning second place in the Korean survival programme Produce 101 and earned herself a spot in the K-pop girl group I.O.I in 2016.

Shortly after I.O.I's disbandment in 2017, Seo-jeong debuted in another girl group Gugudan, which disbanded in 2020 as well. Since then, Se-jeong has been working as a soloist and actress.

Her first major acting role was in School 2017 as the energetic and bubbly female lead Ra Eun-ho alongside Kim Hung-hyun and Jang Dong-yoon.

The 25-year-old gained a lot of recognition this year for her role as Shin Ha-ri in A Business Proposal. She impressed fans with her comedic acting skills, playing her character to a tee.

She's also starred in The Uncanny Counter as Do Ha-na and is rumoured to be reprising the role in The Uncanny Counter 2, but no official news has been released yet.

ALSO READ: How to recreate Kim Se-jeong's makeup looks in the K-drama Business Proposal

SF9's Rowoon, 25

If you like a man who's musically and artistically attuned, you might like the next star on our list.

After training for six years under FNC Entertainment, Rowoon finally made his debut with the boy band SF9 in 2016.

He made his acting debut a year later in School 2017 and ironically, took on the role of Kang Hyun-il, a popular boy band member also known as Issue.

In 2019, he was launched into stardom after his first and breakout leading role in Extraordinary You as Ha-ru, alongside Kim Hye-yoon and Lee Jae-wook. He also starred in historical drama The King's Affection as Jun Ji-woon as well as Netflix's webtoon-based series Tomorrow as Choi Joon-woong.

On stage and with his fans, he's SF9's visual and vocalist. But his real name, given by his grandfather, is Kim Seok-woo — "seok" meaning mineral and "woo" meaning helper.

Rowoon also enjoys painting and writing poetry, sometimes thinking about turning them into song lyrics.

In an interview with Marie Claire in 2020, the 25-year-old shared that acting has altered the way he views others.

He said: "After starting acting, I'm now making an effort not to judge other people rashly. And I hope that other people won't judge me hastily."

ALSO READ: Park Hyung-sik, Rowoon, Nam Yoon-su: Who are the K-drama hunks hogging our screens (and hearts) now?

Kim Min-gue, 27

Charming fans with his innocent look, Kim Min-gue stole the hearts of many as secretary Cha Sung-hoon in A Business Proposal, especially with his steamy kiss with co-star Seol In-ah.

But did you know that this same actor played an intense and ruthless North Korean soldier Joo Gyeok-chan in Snowdrop alongside Jung Hae-in and Blackpink's Jisoo?

The stark contrast between Min-gue's characters in Snowdrop and A Business Proposal took many fans by surprise, reported Korean media site Koreaboo.

And besides his talent in acting, he's also skilled in singing. He showcased his sweet vocals in 2017 as a contestant on Korean television show I Can See Your Voice, where celebrities guess if contestants are tone deaf or professional singers.

In an episode of Korean television series Radio Star, Min-gue also revealed that he had previously trained to be an idol but quit after a month so he could continue to pursue acting.

Since his 2013 debut in tvN drama Monster, he's been in numerous projects including Backstreet Rookie and Queen: Love and War.

Currently, the 27-year-old is working on a new drama titled The High Priest Rembrary as its main lead and it's set to air in 2023.

Moon Ga-young, 26

She may be South Korean by heritage but Moon Ga-young is a polyglot born and raised in Germany who's fluent in Korean, German and English. The 26-year-old even told Elle Magazine in an interview that her phone language is set to German.

She's been acting since she was 10 but started gaining recognition in 2018 after starring in Tempted as the cunning and seductive Choi Soo-ji, alongside Woo Do-hwan, Kim Min-jae and Red Velvet's Joy.

Since then, she snagged lead roles in dramas such as Find Me in Your Memory, Eluachacha Waikiki 2 and True Beauty.

Fans of K-pop boy group Exo might also recognise her as Ji Yeon-hee, Chanyeol's childhood friend and love interest from the 2015 comedy-web series Exo Next Door.

Recently, she starred in tvN's Link: Eat, Love, Kill as Noh Da-hyun, a girl whose emotions are directly linked to executive chef Eun Gye-hoon, played by Yeo Jin-goo.

She may not be a Hallyu star yet but she's certainly well on her way there! She has a new drama titled Understanding of Love, slated for release in 2023, in which she plays Ahn Soo-young, a fourth-year chief bank teller, according to Korean media Soompi.

ALSO READ: How these 5 women in K-dramas gave us 'main character energy'

Lee Jae-wook, 24

If you've seen Lee Jae-wook act, you'll know that his works are a testament to his skills.

He made his acting debut in 2018 as programmer/hacker Marco Han in Memories of the Alhambra, which stars Hyun Bin. His impressive performance caught the eye of Hyun Bin's agency Vast Entertainment and Jae-wook was signed in the same year.

He's bagged many different roles since then, starring in dramas like Search:WWW, Extraordinary You, Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol and Alchemy of Souls.

Fun fact? Jae-wook pursued acting because it was the first job he wanted to work hard for.

In an interview with High Cut, the 24-year-old shared that after several part-time jobs, acting was the first one he felt attracted to and desired to work hard for. So, he decided to pursue it professionally.

Jae-wook currently stars in Alchemy of Souls as young master Jang Wook, together with Jung So-min, NU'EST's Hwang Min-hyun, Oh My Girl's Arin, Yoo In-soo and more.

ALSO READ: Alchemy of Souls renewed for second season; Train to Busan, Hellbound director returns to Netflix — K-drama casting latest

Ahn Hyo-seop, 27

You might recognise Ahn Hyo-seop from A Business Proposal, where he played the role of dashing CEO Kang Tae-mu opposite idol-actress Kim Se-jeong.

If you do, you've probably heard him speak perfect English in some scenes. And that's because he does!

Hyo-seop, 27, moved to Toronto, Canada, when he was seven and went by the name Paul Ahn. He moved back to South Korea at 17 to pursue acting.

Even though he started acting in 2016, Hyo-seop rose to fame in 2020 after starring in Dr Romantic 2 as Seo Woo-jin, which won him the Best New Actor award at the 56th Baeksang Arts Awards. He's also starred in other dramas such as Abyss and Lovers of the Red Sky.

Hyo-seop will be reprising the role of Woo-jin for Dr Romantic 3, set to air in late 2022, reported Soompi.

He also used to be a K-pop idol trainee. Fun fact? He almost debuted as a member of K-pop boy group Got7!

On an episode of Korean variety show Happy Together, he talked about his trainee days at JYP Entertainment, Got7's former agency, and revealed that he couldn't join the group because of his height of 1.87m.

"I was a bit lacking in talent then and also I was too tall," he shared. "I really resented my height then. I wanted to become shorter."

Oh, he can also play the piano, violin and guitar, and has a degree in international business! At this point, what can he not do?

Lee Do-hyun, 27

Lee Do-hyun's rise to fame came after his impressive performance as the leading role Dae-young/Go Woo-young in melodrama series 18 Again, based on the 2009 Hollywood film 17 Again.

He snagged another leading role as the intelligent Lee Eun-hyuk in the thriller series Sweet Home, adapted from the webtoon of the same name, alongside Song Kang. He also starred as Hwang Hee-tae in Youth of May and Baek Seung-yoo in Melancholia.

Do-hyun will be in the Netflix revenge series The Glory as male lead Joo Yeo-jung, a man with a complicated past. The drama will also star Song Hye-kyo.

Like most actors, Do-hyun takes his craft seriously. Maybe a little too serious. In an interview with Esquire Korea, Do-hyun revealed that, as a method actor, he tends to stay in character during filming.

While filming Sweet Home, he barely spoke with other cast members and he even broke up with his then-girlfriend so that he could better portray his his character.

He said: "I was about 21 or 22. Of course, my girlfriend didn't understand. She asked me if I was crazy. But at the time, acting came first for me."

ALSO READ: Hottest K-drama actors aged 30 and under you'd want as imaginary boyfriends

Kim Young-dae, 26

Before he started acting, Kim Young-dae's childhood dream was to become a football player, he told The Star Magazine in an interview.

"I really liked playing football when I was a kid. After school, I continued playing football with my friends until the sun went down," he shared.

And while the 26-year-old didn't plan on becoming an actor, he often received offers when he was in middle school and the thought of it piqued his interest as an adult. So, he decided to give it a shot.

"I had gotten tired of living life while going with the flow. It felt like my life had been too calm and quiet until now," he said.

"I had only thought about graduating and getting a job, but I was fascinated when I coincidentally came across a new world. Thinking of it as a big challenge, I thought, 'Why don't I try it?'"

In 2022, Young-dae finally scored his big break.

Not only was Sh**ting Stars his first drama as the main lead, he also had his first fan-meet event on set. Young-dae played the role of the charming, highly sought-after celebrity Gong Tae-sung opposite rom-com queen Lee Sung-kyung.

Prior to Sh**ting Stars, Young-dae has also acted in all three seasons of Penthouse: War in Life as Joo Seok-hoon, Extraordinary You as Oh Nam-joo as well as Cheat on Me, If You Can as Cha Soo-ho.

It's pretty safe to say this won't be the last we're seeing of Young-dae.

ALSO READ: Rising actor Kim Young-dae held first fansign event while filming Sh**ting Stars but it wasn't actually for him

Kim Hye-yoon, 25

Good things come to those who wait.

Despite making her acting debut almost 10 years ago, she's only now starting to have bigger roles.

Her first onscreen appearance was in the KBS drama Samsengi in 2013. At the time, Kim Hye-yoon mostly took on short guest appearances because she wanted to focus on her studies.

She was later awarded a full scholarship to Konkuk University, where she majored in film studies and graduated in 2019.

In 2018, she started gaining recognition after her breakout role as Kang Ye-seo in Sky Castle, which won her the Best New Actress award at the 55th Baeksang Arts Awards.

She bagged leading roles as Eun Dan-oh in Extraordinary You and Kim Jo-yi in Secret Royal Inspector & Joy. She also showcased her acting prowess in Snowdrop as head girl Kye Book-ok, next to Jung Hae-in and Blackpink's Jisoo.

According to Forbes, Hye-yoon has not embarked on any new projects yet.

"Because I haven't actually worked on a variety of roles or films, I feel like I really crave a challenge when it comes to picking roles," she said.

"If there is one standard for picking roles, it is what would be really interesting to see myself in onscreen and I think those are the ones that I naturally gravitate towards."

ALSO READ: Leading actress Kim Hye-yoon: Playing minor roles in the past made me who I am today

Kim Yoo-jung, 22

Kim Yoo-jung may only be 22 years old but she's already been in over 50 productions!

She has been actively working since her debut as a child actress in 2003 and has starred in countless productions including Love in the Moonlight, Backstreet Rookie and Lovers of the Red Sky.

Her latest project is the rom-com film 20th Century Girl which is slated to premiere on Netflix sometime this year.

Having starred in several historical dramas including Love in the Moonlight and Lovers of the Red Sky, Yoo-jung was given the nickname "Saeguk Fairy". Saeguk refers to historical dramas.

When Yoo-jung was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in 2018, she paused her work and went on a brief hiatus to seek treatment and recover.

Now, the actress seems healthier and stronger than ever.

In an episode of Korean variety show Knowing Brothers, she flexed her thigh muscles in a squatting challenge against the other cast members.

When asked if she exercised a lot on set, she told the cast that sometimes there were no chairs available, so she had to lean against the wall to rest and her legs got used to it.

Kim So-hyun, 23

Another beloved child actress who has blossomed beautifully is Kim So-hyun.

Although she was born in Australia, she moved to South Korea in 2003 and began acting in 2006. Having appeared in over 40 dramas and movies, So-hyun is no stranger to the camera.

Despite the early start in her career, she only took on her first leading role in Who Are You: School 2015 in which she played a set of identical twins, Go Eun-byul and Lee Eun-bi.

Since then, she's taken on many more leading roles and is best known for the ones in Love Alarm, Rooftop Prince, The Moon Embracing the Sun and Bring It On, Ghost.

ALSO READ: 'I wanted my action scenes to look brutal and cold-blooded': Kim So-hyun on latest drama River Where The Moon Rises

Exo's D.O / Do Kyung-soo, 29

Popular idol-actor Do Kyung-soo, also known as D.O from the boy band Exo, made his acting debut in 2014 in the drama It's Okay, That's Love starring Gong Hyo-jin and Jo In-sung.

He is best known for his roles as Crown Prince Lee Yool/Na Won-deuk in 100 Days My Prince, Lee Joon-young in Hello Monster and Han Kang-woo in It's Okay, That's Love.

He's also starred in several movies including My Annoying Brother, Room 7, Swing Kids and Secret.

D.O. will be taking on the role of rogue prosecutor Jin Jung in the upcoming K-drama Bad Prosecutor, slated to premiere in October. This will be his first drama project since discharging from the military so naturally, fans can't wait for it to debut.

ALSO READ: 'Going green: We look at Lee Min-ho, Hyun Bin, Lee Seung-gi and other hot K-drama hunks in their military uniforms

Seo Kang-joon, 28

Not every actor shoots to instant fame, some take the slow train and that's the route Seo Kang-joon is taking. 

The 28-year-old made his acting debut in a supporting role in the drama The Suspicious Housekeeper in 2012. In 2013, he debuted in a South Korean actor group under entertainment company Fantagio called 5urprise, which consisted of himself, Gong Myung, Kang Tae-oh (of Extraordinary Attorney Woo fame) and Lee Tae-hwan. The group disbanded in 2020.

He took on his first main role as Gook Seung-hyeon in Cunning Single Lady and won Best New Actor at the 2014 Korea Drama Awards.

Slowly taking on bigger characters. Seo-joon continues to impress fans with his acting in Cheese in the Trap, Entourage, Watcher and When The Weather Is Fine.

Aside from dramas and movies, Kang-joon also made appearances on television shows such as Roommate season 1 and 2 and Law of the Jungle.

In November 2021, he enlisted into the military and went on hiatus. His most recent acting role, and also his first since enlisting in the military, was as Kim Sae-ha in the Disney+ original series Grid.

ALSO READ: Just the tip: Is Seo Kang-joon and Lee Si-young's latest sci-fi mystery-thriller series Grid worth the watch?

Park Solomon/Lomon, 22

All Of Us Are Dead breakout star Park Solomon had dreams of debuting as a K-pop idol but it didn't exactly work out. Nonetheless, the actor's love for dancing and b-boy hasn't faded!

When the 22-year-old gained attention in the Netflix zombie series, many fans assumed he was a rookie actor when in reality, Solomon made his acting debut way back in 2014!

According to Her World Online, he was born in Uzbekistan and spent part of his childhood in Russia but he identifies as Korean. He's also a polyglot who speaks Korean, Chinese and English!

He changed his stage name to Lomon in 2020 and All Of Us Are Dead is the first project he starts introducing himself as such.

ALSO READ: Park Solomon from All Of Us Are Dead: 10 facts that'll make you love him even more

Yoon Chan-young, 21

Even from a young age, Yoon Chan-young was already snatching acting awards.

He won Best Young Actor for his role as Hen Geu-roo in Mama at both the APAN Star Awards and MBC Drama Awards in 2014.

Years later, Chan-young is shot back into the spotlight, along with the cast of All Of Us Are Dead, for their splendid performances in the Netflix zombie apocalypse series.

Fun fact: Chan-young gave his first kiss to his co-star Park Ji-hoo in the drama!

He revealed it in an episode of Knowing Brothers, which he appeared in with Ji-hoo, and shared how the two onscreen lovers prepared for the scene.

Netflix recently confirmed that the series will be returning for a second season, so hopefully we get to see more onscreen chemistry between the two.

Meanwhile, Chan-young's latest drama Hope or Dope 2, in which he plays the role of Gong Yook-tak, began airing in May.

Jo Byeong-gyu, 26

Malicious rumours can cost someone their career and in Byeong-gyu's case, it almost really did.

Byeong-gyu's career was going very well after starring in popular dramas like The Uncanny Counter, Hot Stove League and Sky Castle. Then came the bullying allegations.

An anonymous person claimed that Byeong-gyu had bullied them back in school but later retracted their statement and apologised. Two others accused Byeong-gyu of physical abuse while one more person defended him.

Months later, Byeong-gyu's agency stated that the accusers admitted to their lies and also apologised for their actions, reported Soompi. However, it did nothing to comfort the actor.

In an Instagram post on March 10, he wrote: "My 10-year career has already collapsed and all of the projects I was scheduled to participate in have been put on hold. The damage amounts to a number I can't quantify."

Fortunately, Byeong-gyu is returning to the acting scene.

According to Soompi, he's playing the male lead in the new webtoon-based drama History of Losers and a new film titled Even If I Die, One More Time.

There are also rumours that plans for The Uncanny Counter 2 are underway.

ALSO READ: 'How many do I have to hurt today?' Joo Won fights hundreds of stunt actors for Netflix's Carter

estherlam@asiaone.com