I can’t think of any drama that makes me happier than 2019’s Romance Is A Bonus Book does.
Written by Jung Hyun-jung and directed by Lee Jeong-hyo, this scripted romantic drama has so much going for it… and had my heart from the first few minutes of the very first episode. Like from the literal moment that Lee Jong-suk’s Cha Eun-ho sees Lee Na-young’s Kang Dan-i in her wedding dress and whispers a stunned compliment about how beautiful she looks, I was in.
Every time I rewatch Romance is a Bonus Book, I’m overwhelmed by how much fierce fondness I feel for the leads. This is my first drama experience with Lee Na-young, but my second with Lee Jong-Suk (my niece had me start W a few years back) and so I didn’t know what to expect from her Dan-i or their chemistry as a couple.
From the start though, I fell for Dan-i. I’m not being dramatic here. I fell hard for her.
Dan-I is just trying to do her best.
She’s got going against her in the world. She’s a single mom, post-divorce, whose time outside of the workplace – taking care of her terrible (now ex-) husband and their young daughter – has made it so that she literally can’t get hired with the experience she had prior to their marriage. The cards are stacked so high against her that when we see her after the series’ first few flashback moments, shit’s really tough.
Dan-I is largely jobless (aside from working at a supermarket checkout) and living in the soon-to-be-demolished home that she once shared with her family. She doesn’t have regular access to light or running water where she lives and I think she really only gets access to that by hanging about in a jimjilbang (a public bathhouse) or dropping by Eun-ho’s home – and pretending to be his housekeeper, by the way.
And y’all, that shit sucks. I mean, seriously.
Every single time that Dan-I cries in Romance is a Bonus Book, I cry. I cry hard. I’m crying right now as I write this because she’s just fucking losing it on a bus bench after having a job interview snatched from underneath her feet. Like, it is so unfair that Dan-I isn’t loved and respected and catered to. What the hell?
And I think that’s why I liked this show from the start. Because I was instantly invested in Dan-I. I wanted the world for her from the moment that Eun-ho looked at her with love on his face. I saw her weird future-husband taking up space and making their day all about him before it’d even truly began, and I was like “I would commit at least one crime for her”. (And yes, murdering her husband was one of them…)
Which honestly, never happens. I have never fallen for a female drama lead within seconds – which I know much be surprising to anyone who knows how easily I fall for ladies on the regular. But Dan-I just… she got me.
But she’s always had Eun-ho…
So, Korean dramas are pretty trope laden. Many of the shows I know and love take a concept and just straight up stuff full of the kind of tropes that make life worth living. Romance is a Bonus Book is no different. Especially when it comes to a core trope that underlies the entire series.
Romance is a Bonus Book is what Dramabeans (and other sites/viewers) call a “noona romance”. This is because of the age difference between Dan-I and Eun-ho – she’s 37 to his 32 and therefore is his “noona”. Normally, I’m honestly neutral when it comes to age differences in romances as long as both people are adults. Like I don’t feel strongly either way. However, the age difference with an older male partner is pretty common thing in dramas so like… maybe I’m a bit worn out by that and that’s why the noona romance aspect of this show was like catnip to me.
For much of the series, Dan-i doesn’t see Eun-ho as a potential romantic partner. She’s his noona and she saved his life when he was a child so she sees him closer to a kid-brother than a kiss-partner.
But… he’s been burning a torch for her this entire time.
Like, the way that Eun-ho looks at Dan-I and how he looks when he thinks about her… that shit makes me mad soft. Like he’ll fake being stern at her because she’s doing something Absolutely Ridiculous but then she’ll turn away and you can see him melt with love and like… me too, Eun-ho…
Romance is a Bonus Book isn’t just great because I literally want to marry both the male and female leads – like why are they so lovely?? – but because there’s a really fun cast of secondary characters that also captivate you as they’re living their lives around Dan-I and Eun-ho’s lives and are fleshed out people in the story.
For me, it’s most notably the second leads.
Normally, the second leads in many drama series annoy me. They’re often obviously in the way. Male secondary leads are pushy, sometimes creepy. Their main goal is to get the female lead and that’s… about it. Then the secondary female lead is often aimed at the male lead. Maybe she’s an ex. Maybe she’s a fiancé arranged to wed the male lead. Her entire personality though, revolves around the male lead.
(And of course, #NotAllSecondaryLeads but still…)
But Jung Yoo-Jin’s Song Hae-Rin and Wi Ha-joon’s Ji Seo-Joon aren’t th ekinds of secondary leads I’ve shied away from in my time. Hae-rin is complicated and secretly sweet and she’s just trying to do her damn best. I found myself rooting for her because she was relatable on multiple levels as she struggled to prove her worth in publishing and to the people around her – not just Eun-ho.
Okay. No spoilers if you haven’t seen it, but the arc he goes through across Romance is a Bonus Book is incredible. You will cry. You will wish you could hug Ha-joon. And you’ll want to marry him and live with him and his cute ass dog forever.
(His dog is SO CUTE.)
At a time like this as the world goes further in the direction of hell, it’s hard to find things that make you happy. For me, it’s been rereading my old fan fiction faves, spending responsible amounts of money on BTS merchandise drops, and rewatching Romance is a Bonus Book to cry over Dan-I and Eun-ho’s relationship.
And you know what… I think that’s pretty fantastic. Romance is a Bonus Book is such a largely light-hearted show that unless you’re sensitive and sobbing alongside Dan-I or dealing with some spoilery arcs that will destroy you… You’re bound to feel soft. This is a series that had all of my Romance novelist friends losing it on the timeline as they watched together. It’s a series that made Meems, my anti-romance nieceling, feel soft.
And it’s a series that I still rewatch every single chance I get.
If you haven’t watched Romance is a Bonus Book yet, get on that. If you have, talk to me about your favorite characters please!