K-Drama 101: What is a Candy Girl?

Familiar with the drama term “Candy girl”? Even if you say no, there’s an 80% chance that you’ve already encountered this type of heroine. She’s everywhere in K-dramaland, and is even sometimes referenced in other types of shows and media.

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A “Candy girl”  is described as a woman who has unfortunate circumstances but is 1) hardworking, 2) cheerful, and 3) innocent. The definition also extends to being able to catch the eye of a wealthy man (or men, for that matter). She’s basically Cinderella without the fairy godmother and with a more complicated life.

Origin

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The term comes from the heroine of the well-loved classic Japanese manga and anime series Candy Candy. It follows the life of an orphan girl named Candice “Candy” White, who remains optimistic despite her misfortunes. In her journey she gets to find herself, as well as find love. Her involvement with wealthy, seemingly perfect men is the reason why she’s referred to in Master’s Sun and Cheondamdong Alice as a poor girl with a rich benefactor.

This 2012 post practically gave me a crash course about Candy and her life resembling an epic K-drama. The more I learn about her, the more I’m convinced that Candy Candy is the unofficial kdrama manual of romcom writers. (If Candy can jump out into the real world ala W, what would she say? 😆)

How do dramas reinterpret a Candy heroine? She’s…

  • Poor, taking multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet. May or may not have a recent hardship in the family – i.e., bankruptcy, runaway parents, or tragic death. Also may or may not have a birth secret.

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  • Often plucky and clumsy. Her bubbly personality and innocence is often accompanied with uninhibited mannerisms and interesting choice of words, which the men find refreshingly appealing.

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  • The object of all antagonism. The universe is out to get her, be it the scary potential in-laws, the embittered second lead, or just fate. Her rise to the top is more satisfying that way. Even the male lead would initially clash with her in many cases.

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  • Has the natural ability to attract men way out of her league. She must have a special set of pheromones that only affect the rich and good-looking. “Candy girl” may be naïve when it comes to relationships but she can effortlessly snag a chaebol or two.

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What’s not to love about a “Candy girl”? She’s charming and sweet as her nickname, and she gives hope to average girls around the world that a heart of gold can win over even the coldest, most arrogant rich guys out there. We love it when the underdog ultimately wins in love and life (because she deserves it!), so we’re compelled to root for her all the way. With the impossible standards set on women in the real world, this trope does put some faith (or should I say false hope?) that decent men are actually looking beyond physical appearance and family background 9 out of 10 times.

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If only the “Candy heroine” isn’t so overused in dramas, or at least not downplayed to the extreme. She doesn’t have to be completely unrefined or stupid, and she doesn’t have to look like she hasn’t showered in three days!

Nonetheless, these women are admirable for their tenacity amidst life’s obstacles. I like how nowadays dramaland Candies are given more opportunities to show their intelligence and independence, rather than sit and wait to be swept away by Prince Charming. It’s a trope that won’t fade away anytime soon, but we do see an evolution of this beloved classic character to ride with the modern times.

What are your thoughts on Candy characters? Who’s your favorite Candy girl?

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