Korea’s Most Legendary Badass Heroes – Seoulistic

Korea’s Most Legendary Badass Heroes

Image from the MBC Drama "Gyebaek"

Image from the MBC Drama “Gyebaek”

(Click images for sources)

Back in the day there were a lot of wars in Korea. And with wars come legends and heroes, many of whom just happen to be pretty badass! They beat up a lot of people and would’ve seriously kicked your butt, too! Find out to see how bad 😉


Admiral Yi Sunshin (이순신)

This legendary hero of Korean military history is probably the most well known person on this list due to his very cool statue in Gwanghwamun Square (see picture #52), his face on the 100 won coin (get to know who’s on Korean money here) and his involvement with those extremely cool Turtle Ships. Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten all that good stuff if it wasn’t for his Hollywood-esque story line. When the decorated Admiral Yi was commanded by King Seonjo to go setup an ambush in a rocky and dangerous spot (on the advice of a Japanese spy), Admiral Yi knew what was up and said a resounding “nope!” to the king (big no no), eventually leading to his demotion to common soldier. But after the not-too-long-after defeat and death of the new Admiral Won Gyun, the court immediately reinstated Admiral Yi as the number 1. This led to his most defining battle as a legendary hero of Korean military history, the Battle of Myeongnyang. With more than 300 enemy ships coming to fight his “you’ve gotta be joking” number of 13 ships, he again defied the king when ordered to retreat and said “…I still have twelve warships under my command and I am still alive, the enemy shall never be safe in the Western Sea” (source wikipedia). And just like next summer’s Hollywood blockbuster, Admiral Yi delivered ;).


Gyebaek (계백)

Korea’s history of division is more than just the Korean War and the DMZ; it goes back centuries! Back in the Three Kingdoms Period of Korea, Shilla, Goguryeo and Baekjae were the three kingdoms that were fighting it out for supremacy. And in 660 AD, Baekjae, on the verge of losing its kingdom to Shilla, needed a hero to save the day. Now Gyebaek didn’t save the day, but he was still a heroic badass. The Baekjae military general went to his final battle, the battle of Hwangsanbeol, with his “death squad” of 5,000 men against the Shilla and Tang (Chinese force) alliance of 150,000 men. Knowing that he and his family were most likely going to die, he had his most “damn! dude is serious!” moment when he killed his own wife and son to save them from disgraced by capture (source). His radical approach to honor might have worked, but his forces lost and brought the eventual loss of the Baekjae Kingdom. He’s still regarded as one of the most legendary badass heroes of Korean military history though! So badass that they turned his story into a Korean drama!


Eulji Mundeok (을지문덕)

This hero of Korean military history might sound familiar if you’re going to check out some of Seoul’s most popular places to hang out. Near the Myeongdong/Dongdaemun area, you might come across Euljiro-1Ga, Euljiro-3Ga, Euljiro-4Ga stations (on Line 2), which are named after Eulji Mundeok, one of the greatest heroes of all time in Korean history. And his heroics were no better exemplified than in the the Battle of Salsu against Chinese Sui forces. The Sui came for a fight with more than 1 million men (think about that… 1 million!). Knowing that he was overmatched, Eulji Mundeok attacked and retreated, each time luring his enemies closer to their ultimate deathtrap. Finally, this Korean hero used the oldest (or maybe newest?) trick in the book. Eulji Mundeok prepared a dam in advance, making the waterbed shallow. But once the Sui were in perfect position, they unleashed a huge current of water wiping out most of the forces (source). Ok, so it’s unclear if this is more legend than fact, but what is known is that this is one of the greatest military victories in Korean history. That and one badass general!


Choe Museon (최무선)

More than awesome speeches that pumped up his soldiers or super scary mean faces that most legendary generals have, Choe Museon used his nerdy inventing skills to become a Korean legend. He invented the hwacha (literally means “fire cart”), which was a multiple rocket launcher. Basically, back in the 14th century, the dude made rockets. Instant hero. Even the Mythbusters thinks so!


General Kwon Yul (권율장군)

Here’s another legendary Korean military story. General Kwon Yul had 3,000 people to help defend Haengju Fortress (near Seoul). Some were soldiers, but some were regular ol’ Korean farm boys, too. He didn’t care though; he needed all the help he could get with 30,000 Japanese soldiers coming his way. He used the newest technology and launched “hwacha” rockets. He also used the old school method of rolling logs down a hill. Those things and the fact that he was a military genius all amounted to his official status as legendary Korean hero.

Which one of these are the baddest? Write a comment and let us know!

Keith Kim is a Korean-American who has been living in Korea for almost a decade. Being in a unique position as both a Korean and a non-Korean, he's put all his experience and knowledge for surviving in Korea in Survival Korean . Read it to learn how you can survive in Korea. Follow him on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.


  1. Patricia says:

    I love history, especially in these “bite size” segments. And, bad asses are cool!

  2. Doralis says:

    Yay! Some History! I like it! 😀

  3. SaeBom says:

    Heyyy.. how relevant.. I was watching ‘You’re the best Lee Sun Shin’ and wondering why they chose such a strong name for a girl…. thanks for the info.

  4. Mosyi says:

    that killing his own wife + son act is awfully too radical! 🙁
    I wonder if he kill himself after it..

  5. Dani says:

    Wait so is Iljimae literally only a drama? I thought it was a real hero in Korea, or at least a legend xD

  6. Susan says:

    NO WOMEN?!

    • Viking says:

      You’re forgetting that women weren’t allowed to fight back in the days buddy :)))) Reality isn’t a movie ya know ;'(

    • Henry says:

      Women weren’t allowed to fight back then.
      Plus, if they did why wouldn’t anybody put women here?
      Just think dude.

  7. Twelvy says:

    Isn’t Gim Yushin qualified for this list?

  8. Henry says:

    I’m jealous of it.
    I love Korea. Oh and don’t forget that Korea’s better than Japan.

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