This article contains spoilers. 3/5 stars Although K-dramas have started to be a little less shy about it, they still don’t show us a lot of sex – but they do love to dance around the subject. Characters can endure 16 or 20 episodes of yearning without so much as a kiss. Perhaps all that pent-up tension is what gives us the fiery misunderstandings that keep romantic leads apart until their climactic embraces. Nevertheless , a college-set youth romance from JTBC airing globally on Netflix, doesn’t beat about the bush. Its lead character, Yoon Na-bi, played by The World of the Married breakout actress Han So-hee, definitely has sex. She’s meek and shy, and dresses modestly, but she was in a sexual relationship with an older artist as the story began and spends a lot of the show engaged in a casual fling with fellow art student Park Jae-eon (Song Kang). Given the conservative society she lives in, Na-bi struggles with this relationship and before long pushes Park away – both because she misinterprets his interactions with another woman and because she fears the public stigma of being associated with a known playboy. The show reaches this point fairly early on, leaving Na-bi to ponder what her true desires are for the rest of the series. This, of course, is the perfect moment for a secondary romantic lead to come in and confuse her. His name is Yang Do-hyeok, and he’s played by Chae Jong-hyeop, who also played an insufferably sweet and smiling second romantic fiddle in The Witch’s Diner this summer. Nevertheless midseason recap: Netflix K-drama tackles young love Na-bi’s scholastic struggles mirror her personal ones, as she’s having trouble completing her art project. Her teacher recognises her talent, but says that something is holding her back and preventing her from fully expressing herself. Early in the final episode, a fan falls from the ceiling in the school workshop, smashing her work in the process. With Jae-eon’s help, Na-bi manages to save and complete the project, and finds the key to her self-expression along the way. Na-bi’s name means butterfly in Korean, and her completed sculpture is of a woman spreading her wings. This painfully literal symbolism earns her gushing praise from her teacher and a ticket to study in Paris. Nevertheless struggled to find an audience in South Korea, debuting with soft ratings and seeing its viewership shrink after that, but it’s been a different story internationally, as the show has consistently ranked high on Netflix, particularly in Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. Part of that surely comes down to the presence of Song Kang ( Sweet Home , Love Alarm ), a young star with a massive fan base – 10 million Instagram followers and counting, many of them based overseas – who gets to play the sexy bad boy here. But given the places where the show has been popular, including many Muslim countries, it’s possible that the story’s clear, but censor-friendly allusion to sex has given Nevertheless the allure of a forbidden fruit. Some viewers have criticised the show for its toxic masculinity. While it’s true that possessive male protagonists have plagued the more regressive K-drama romances – a recent example being She Would Never Know – that seems an odd way to attack this particular show. For all its faults, and there are plenty, Nevertheless is trying to be progressive and frank about sexual desire and modern relationships. Viewers labelling it as toxic are only calling attention to their own conservative values. Six new Korean dramas to look out for in August 2021 To pad around Na-bi’s endless dithering as she struggles with her conflicting feelings of desire and propriety, Nevertheless presents an array of secondary couplings in her immediate group of college classmates. Most intriguing among these is the one between Yoon Sol (Lee Ho-jung) and Seo Ji-wan (Yoon Seo-a). The latest in a streak of softly suggested LGBT romances on Korean screens, Sol’s yearning for Ji-wan is clear early on and we have to wait the whole series for Ji-wan to acknowledge her own interest, but not in so many words. For a show that gleefully alludes to casual sex, it’s a little disappointing that Sol and Ji-wan’s courtship escalates only to a single shot of them holding hands under a table. Then there’s the conventional hetero pairing of the fiery Oh Bit-na (Yang Hye-ji) and the cool Nam Kyu-hyun (Kim Min-gwi). However, this coupling had to be butchered in the last three episodes owing to Kim’s real-life cheating scandal. The actor was edited out of the show as much as possible, which results in some bizarre conversation scenes between the two of them, where we only ever see Bit-na’s face, while we can assume that some other scenes were cut completely. Compared to some other romantic Korean dramas, Nevertheless is quite handsomely shot, which somewhat makes up for the hollowness of the narrative. But the show doesn’t do itself any favours with its repetitive soundtrack. More grounded than its peers and looking to shine a light on realistic modern relationships, not to mention featuring some queer representation, Nevertheless hints at a more mature direction for K-drama romance. Hopefully, a less meandering show will carry the torch from here. Nevertheless is streaming on Netflix.