K-pop artists branching out into acting is not unheard of these days. Not all of them, however, manage to score a success in this endeavor. We’ve combined for you a list of 10 singer-turned-actors who did find success in acting, proving that they can act in Korean dramas too and be recognized for their outstanding performances.
1. Do Kyung-soo
Do Kyung-soo, more popularly known as D.O., was first introduced as the eighth member of the K-pop group Exo in 2012. As the group became one of the bestselling artists in Korea and abroad, D.O became popular and started making a name for himself in the industry.
In 2014, he branched out into acting through a supporting role in the movie Cart, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the 52nd Grand Bell Awards. In the same year, he played a supporting role in It’s Okay That’s Love and earned a Best New Actor nomination at the 51st Baeksang Arts Awards. He got his first drama lead role in the 2018 historical series 100 Days My Prince, which became the third highest-rated cable drama in Korea that year. This was his last drama before he began his mandatory military service in July 2019. D.O. is expected to be discharged from his duties in January 2021.
2. Im Si-wan
After making his debut as one of the vocalists of the boy group ZE:A in 2010, Im Si-wan’s breakout role in dramas came in 2012 with the hugely popular sageuk Moon Embracing The Sun.
In 2014, he landed his first leading role in the office drama Misaeng: Incomplete Life, which became a commercial hit and launched him to stardom. His portrayal of the underconfident but determined Jang Geu-rae won him Best New Actor at the 51st Baeksang Arts Awards. He most recently starred in the 2019 OCN thriller Hell Is Other People, and is slated to play an athlete in the upcoming sports-themed film Boston 1947 alongside Ha Jung-woo and Son Ye-jin.
3. Im Yoon-ah
Well before her acting debut, Im Yoon-ah became known as a member of Girls’ Generation (also known as SNSD), one of the best selling girl groups in South Korea. In 2007, she made her acting debut with a small role in the MBC drama Two Outs In The Ninth Inning. Just a year after, she got her first leading role in the KBS1 drama You Are My Destiny, for which she won Best New Actress at the 45th Baeksang Awards.
Wanting to move away from her goody image and leave the idol actress bias behind, she starred in the 2016 drama The K2 opposite Ji Chang-wook, playing the disturbed daughter of a politician. In 2019, she took her first leading role in a feature film through Exit, which went on to become one of the highest-grossing Korean films of all time.
4. Jung Eun-ji
Jung Eun-ji debuted as the lead vocalist of girl group Apink in 2011. The very next year, she tried acting with a lead role in Reply 1997, which enjoyed critical praise and became the highest-rated cable drama in 2012.
She also received much praise for her portrayal of a feisty teen obsessed with K-pop boy groups and won Best New Actress at the 49th Baeksang Arts Awards. She has since headlined dramas like Cheer Up and Untouchable. Jung debuted as a solo artist with her first album in 2016, following which she released a ballad album every year until 2018. In 2019, she has promoted successfully with her group Apink and appeared in the horror movie 0.0MHz.
5. Lee Ji-eun
Lee Jie-un, or IU, as she’s professionally known, debuted as a solo artist at just 15 years old with her album Lost And Found. Her angelic voice and innocent looks gained her the title of Korea’s “little sister.” In 2011, she took on her first acting role in the teen drama Dream High, playing an overweight aspiring singer.
She played her first lead role in the 2013 weekend drama You Are The Best but it wasn’t until 2018 that her talent as an actress received an immense amount of attention. During that year, she starred in My Mister and earned a Best Actress nomination at the 55th Baeksang Arts Awards for her excellent performance. In 2019, she headlined the Netflix anthology series Persona and the fantasy drama Hotel del Luna, which became the highest-rated cable drama of the year. IU has recently signed up for her first lead role in a commercial film opposite Park Seo-joon.
6. Lee Seung-gi
Not many are aware that Lee Seung-gi first made his mark in the entertainment industry as a ballad singer. In 2004, his debut song Because You’re My Girl won him the best new male artist award at the prestigious Mnet KM Music Video Festival, which is now known as Mnet Asian Music Awards.
After some minor roles, it was his lead role in the 2009 drama Brilliant Legacy that shot him to Hallyu fame. He was nominated for Best New Actor at the 46th Baeksang Arts Awards for his performance in the said drama. For much of the early 2010s, he divided his time between singing, acting, and hosting, which earned him the moniker ‘triple threat entertainer’. Lee was most recently seen opposite Suzy in the 2019 espionage action drama Vagabond.
7. Park Hyung-sik
Park Hyung-sik is also a member of the K-pop boy group ZE:A. After debuting along with Im Si-wan, and not seeing much success in the music industry, Park set his sights on musicals and acting. After making his theatrical debut in 2011, Park was cast in various supporting roles from 2012 to 2013.
The next year, he played a major supporting role in the weekend drama What’s With This Family and got nominated for Best New Actor at the 51st Baeksang Arts Awards. In 2016, he took on a lead role in the historical drama Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth. His breakout series was the 2017 fantasy rom-com Strong Woman Do Bong-soon, which became the highest-rated cable drama of the year. 2019 saw the actor make his feature film debut with Juror 8, following which he began his compulsory military enlistment.
8. Seo Hyun-jin
This is something only hardcore fans of Seo Hyun-jin know—that she debuted as the main vocalist of the girl group M.I.L.K in 2001. Although the group disbanded two years later, she went on to do musicals, which naturally led to acting. Her foray into the rom-com genre with the 2015 series Let’s Eat 2 marked a turning point in her career.
After starring in the 2016 fantasy rom-com Another Miss Oh, her popularity skyrocketed and she won Best Actress at the 53rd Baeksang Arts Awards. Since then, Seo Hyun-jin has starred in several romance dramas like Dr. Romantic, Temperature of Love, and The Beauty Inside. She is playing a high school teacher in the ongoing tvN drama Black Dog.
9. Seo In-guk
With how popular Seo In-guk is as an actor, his debut as a singer often goes unacknowledged. But the actor was the first winner of the popular singing competition Superstar K! He debuted as an actor in the 2012 romantic drama Love Rain and played his first-ever lead role in Reply 1997 opposite girl group Apink’s Jung Eun-ji.
His portrayal of a teenage boy in love with his best friend catapulted him to instant fame and earned him a Best New Actor nomination at the 49th Baeksang Arts Awards. Since then, Seo In-guk has regularly released albums while starring in dramas like Master’s Sun, High School King of Savvy, and The Smile Has Left Your Eyes. In 2019, he signed on to headline the film Pipeline, which is due to premiere in 2020.
10. Yook Sung-jae
Yook Sung-jae debuted as a vocalist of BTOB in 2012 and as an actor playing a minor role in the hit series Reply 1994 in 2013. In 2015, he was cast as the lead in the teen drama Who Are You: School 2015, for which he was nominated for Best New Actor at the 52nd Baeksang Arts Awards.
His popularity as an actor surged after he played a major role in the 2016 fantasy romance drama Goblin. In 2019, he confirmed his lead role in the drama Man Who Bakes Bread, only to step down from the project two weeks later. He is slated to appear in the upcoming JTBC drama Ssang Gap Pocha that will premiere in 2020.