9 Highest-Paid K-Drama Stars: Kim Soo-Hyun, Hyun Bin, Song Hye-Kyo and More
It appears that Hallyu superstar Kim Soo-Hyun, known as the King of Commercials in South Korea, just broke his own impressive record. Cementing his position as K-drama’s top earner, he is set to receive a staggering 500 million won (approximately $600,000) per episode for his new drama titled That Night, the Korean adaptation of British hit TV series Criminal Justice. It will air in the second half of this year.
When it comes to the highest-paid K-drama stars in 2020, he was already sitting comfortably right at the top of a very impressive list, thanks to his $240,000-per-episode pay cheque from his smash-hit drama, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay.
It just begs the question: What is the 33-year-old actor going to do with all that money? And also, who are the other actors and actresses who command top dollar in the K-drama stratosphere? Here are some of our favourite power earners.
(Related: The Best New Korean Dramas To Watch In 2021)
1/9 Kim Soo-Hyun: $600,000 per episode
The actor saw his value skyrocket after he was discharged from the army, and his paycheque just keeps hitting new highs. He’s also the king of commercial films (CFs) and has won various awards for his roles, as well as the hearts of K-drama fans all around the world.
Watch him in: It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, My Love From the Star, Moon Embracing the Sun, Dream High
2/9 Jun Ji-Hyun: $120,000 per episode
This Korean starlet doesn’t seem to have aged a day since she shot to fame and helped put K-entertainment on the world map with her breakout role in 2001’s My Sassy Girl. Also known as Gianna Jun, the 39-year-old most recently made a cameo as the mysterious Ashin in the hugely popular period horror thriller, Kingdom, and will star in the sidequel, Kingdom: Ashin of the North, set for release this year.
Her steady work over two decades, including lauded comedic turns in hits My Love From the Star and Legend of the Blue Sea, along with several well-received movie roles, has made her the highest-paid Korean actress today.
Watch her in: My Sassy Girl, Kingdom, My Love From the Star, Legend of the Blue Sea, Il Mare, Windstruck, The Thieves
(Related: Jun Ji-Hyun Is Alexander McQueen's First Korean Ambassador)
3/9 Hyun Bin: $113,000 per episode
Trailing surprisingly far behind top male earner Kim Soo-Hyun is K-drama’s original hunk, who crash-landed into our hearts with the 2020 smash hit Crash Landing on You. The handsome half of K-drama’s most beloved reel-life-to-real-life couple can only see his commercial value and popularity rise, now that he’s got lady love and Crash Landing co-star Son Ye-Jin by his side. The 38-year-old is currently working on new movie projects, which will make him even more well-known to international audiences.
Watch him in: Crash Landing on You, Memories of the Alhambra, Secret Garden, Confidential Assignment, The Negotiation
(Related: 8 Hyun Bin Dramas and Movies to Watch in 2021)
4/9 So Ji-sub: $89,800 per episode
This oppa has been acting since 2002, and has amassed an impressive body of work (and considerable commercial clout) over the years. So Ji-sub, 43, is a household name in Korea, and shot to stardom with 2004 dramas What Happened In Bali and I’m Sorry, I Love You, and has since starred in numerous hit dramas and movies.
Shows to watch: What Happened In Bali, I’m Sorry, I Love You, Oh My Venus, Battleship Island, Be With You
5/9 Jo In-sung: $89,800 per episode
Another beloved oppa with a long string of drama and film hits, including The Classic with Son Ye-Jin, What Happened In Bali and That Winter, The Wind Blows alongside Song Hye-Kyo. The 39-year-old hasn’t done a drama series in a while—we’re sure his legion of fans are awaiting his next move.
Shows to watch: The Classic, What Happened In Bali, Spring Day, That Winter, The Wind Blows, It’s Okay, That’s Love, Dear My Friends
6/9 Lee Min-Ho: $84,000 per episode
While popular Hallyu stars such as Jo In-Sung and So Ji-Sub reportedly make more than Lee Min-Ho per episode, Lee is the most-followed K-drama star on Instagram (23.2 million and counting), while his immense regional popularity and ability to make fans go weak in the knees cannot be denied. From his Boys Over Flowers and City Hunter days to last year’s smash hit The King: Eternal Monarch, the 33-year-old’s popularity and commercial viability can only continue to rise.
Watch him in: Boys Over Flowers, City Hunter, The Heirs, Legend of the Blue Sea, The King: Eternal Monarch
7/9 Song Joong-Ki: $68,000 per episode
After the meteoric success of Descendants of the Sun and the ensuing brouhaha surrounding the rise and fall of the Song-Song couple, some wondered if Song Joong-Ki’s career would survive. Despite all the real-life drama he has gone through, the 35-year-old bounced back with Netflix films Space Sweepers and Vincenzo, currently showing and trending on the streaming platform. His charm is still very much intact, which is why he’s one of K-drama’s top earners.
Watch him in: Descendants of the Sun, Arthdal Chronicles, The Battleship Island, Space Sweepers, Vincenzo
(Related: Vincenzo: What Luxury Watches Does Song Joong-Ki Wear in the Hit Korean Drama?)
8/9 Ji Chang-Wook: $67,000 per episode
Newer K-drama fans may know him from this year’s rom-com hit Lovestruck in the City, but Ji Chang-Wook has been popular since his roles in Empress Ki, Healer and The K2. The 33-year-old has since been catapulted into the ranks of K-drama’s top earners, and we wait with bated breath for his appearance in Chinese drama Mr Right.
Watch him in: Empress Ki, Healer, The K2, Suspicious Partner, Lovestruck in the City, Backstreet Rookie
9/9 Song Hye-Kyo: $56,500 per episode
Meanwhile, the other half of the erstwhile Song-Song couple is holding her own as one of the highest-paid female stars, as well as a super sought-after ambassador for top international fashion and beauty brands. The ageless beauty, 39, has a long string of TV and movie successes and was no. 6 in Forbes’ Korea Power Celebrity list in 2018. Before the massive success of Descendants of the Sun, she was already a household name in Korea with K-drama hits Autumn in My Heart, All In and Full House, all in the early Noughties.
Post-Descendants, she starred in Encounter with Park Bo Gum and is currently working on the highly anticipated new drama Now, We are Breaking Up, set for release later this year. Surely her asking price will go up with this new work, and as the popularity of K-drama around the world continues to climb new heights.
Watch her in: Autumn in My Heart, All In, Full House, That Winter, the Wind Blows, Descendants of the Sun, Encounter, The Grandmaster
(Related: Song Hye-Kyo Makes a Comeback in the New K-Drama, Now, We Are Breaking Up)