“Alchemy of Souls Season 2: Light and Shadow” lives up to its magical expectations



“Alchemy of Souls” Season 2 highlights a heartwarming love story through hidden parallels.

Nayja Shah and Emily Wong

The highly anticipated season two of the popular fantasy K-drama, “Alchemy of Souls,” aired from Dec. 10, 2022 to Jan. 8, 2023, keeping viewers at the edge of their seats as the plot thickened. Further tensions arose between characters, adding to their long list of unanswered questions in season one. Set in the fictional world, Daeho, the infamous assassin Naksu (Jung So-Min) switches souls with a weak, blind girl who she later finds possesses divine powers. While training the son from a prestigious family, Jang-uk (Lee Jae-wook), to become a powerful mage, they became closer not only as a pupil and master, but also as lovers. However, their forbidden love ended in a tragedy: the first season left off with Naksu jumping into Lake Gyeongcheondaeho after stabbing Jang-uk under the control of Jin-Mu (Jo Jae-yoon), the villain. The last we see on the screen is the revival of Jang-uk from his death bed with the power of the ice stone. Season two picks up three years later, surprising viewers with Jang-uk’s cold persona which develops from the tragic events leading up to and after his death. 

Now tasked with finding and killing soul shifters, Jang-uk lives haunted by demons of his past, quite literally. Although the world believes Naksu is dead, it quickly becomes clear that she is actually alive, transformed back into her original body. Unfortunately, after losing her memories, Naksu is made to believe that she is Jin Bu-yeon (Go Yoon-Jung), the heir mage of the Jin clan and the body Naksu’s soul had occupied during season one. The worlds of a broody Jang-uk and a sunshine-esque Naksu meet and soon take on a fake-marriage trope after they strike a deal to help Naksu escape her over-protective mother and to help Jang-uk remove the ice stone from within him. But while the pair of opposites experience turbulence, their bond only strengthens. 

As the plot unravels, it becomes clear that season two of “Alchemy of Souls” is unlike most other K-drama sequels. It offers heartbroken viewers the meaningful, romantic closure they deserve while holding true to the original plotline with a memorable execution. 

Not only does “Alchemy of Souls” have an intriguing plot with the unique concept of soul-shifting magic, but the excellent storyline execution from the directing to the breathtaking CGI enables viewers to live through the experience. It is one of the few fantasy Korean dramas that creates an entirely new world rather than setting fantastical characters in the modern-day. And especially during the soul shifting and battle scenes, Director Park Joon-hwa takes the show’s world-building to the next level.

Not only does “Alchemy of Souls” have an intriguing plot with the unique concept of soul-shifting magic, but the excellent storyline execution from the directing to the breathtaking CGI enables viewers to live through the experience.

Though the drama’s execution is nearly flawless, we do have one critique of the plot: although Naksu is one of the most menacing assassins in the kingdom of Daeho, her outstanding abilities can only be seen in one action scene. This makes sense, since in season one her shifted body didn’t have the strength to fight, and in season two she loses her memories. However, though the show constantly highlights Naksu’s character as a former assassin, that aspect of her is never properly portrayed. Instead she is constantly posed as the damsel-in-distress role. This trend of initially portraying a strong female lead only to eventually rely on the male lead for action scenes is far too prevalent in K-dramas but quite disappointing fans who were hopeful for a change in “Alchemy of Souls.”

Besides the change in plot, another major difference from the first season to the second is the female lead switch. Season one starred Jung So-min as Naksu, but because Naksu’s soul was switched to her original body, her character is then played by Go Yoon-Jung. This switch brought mixed feelings from viewers who had become attached to the previous actress for how she perfectly portrayed Naksu with her sharp eyes and stubborn personality – cute, yet fierce simultaneously. However, the new female lead in season two brought new perspectives for how she would portray Naksu with her missing memories. Because the show’s writers knew it would be hard for viewers to move on from the first actress, they thoughtfully built up another emotional connection so that viewers could fall in love with the new actress portraying the same character. They included many parallels between the two seasons of Naksu’s daring yet playful personality to remind viewers that despite the change in actresses, she is still the same character they knew all along. From her first encounter with Jang-uk in both seasons where she defends herself using an object as her weapon to her continuous love for chicken, all of these moments help remind the viewers that Naksu is still Naksu, whether she is played by So-min or Yoon-Jung.

And despite this being the first lead role for actress Go Yoon-Jung, she is highly praised for her expertise as she ensures there are no holes left in her portrayal of Naksu. Not only did she excellently embrace Naksu’s character, but her chemistry with Lee Jae-wook (Jang-uk) shined so brightly, both on and off screen, that many fans have expressed their hope that the two will work together in future projects as well.

Well-written and enticing, there are many plot foils in season two that leave fans making connections. 

Another fan favorite from this series is the smart yet easily flustered Seo-Yul (Hwang Min Hyun). In both seasons, Yul is first presented as a potential love interest to Naksu: in season one Naksu was Yul’s first love, and in season two, Naksu at first mistakenly believes Yul is her future groom then later reunite as each other’s “foolish friend.” This initial label is quite fitting, even endearing. But after learning about Naksu’s true identity, Yul’s response is much more mature and urgent. This is a result of his regret of not revealing Naksu’s identity in season one which cost his friend, Jang-uk, his life. Burdened with a torturous regret, Naksu and Yul once again experience a quiet-yet-tumultuous relationship. These particular details in their pained relationship portray how the Hong sisters meticulously scripted the plot; although Yul could have easily become a static side-character as a defeated and dying second-lead, his character isn’t abandoned.  

But even while Jang-uk and Naksu enjoy the limelight, former Songrim leader Park Jin (Yoo Jun-sang) and Maidservant Kim (Oh Na-ra) nearly surpass them as the best couple on the show. If Jang-uk and Naksu were the angsty, heart-wrenching couple, Park Jin and Maidservant Kim comforted the viewers with their soft intimacy. Fortunately, since season one Park Jin learned his lessons to act on love, leading to a harmonious relationship in season two. From humorous debates about their priorities to the impromptu proposal scene, this couple’s chemistry stole viewers’ hearts. And consequently, fans were ready to fight the writers when their near-death scene happened. 

Last but not least, we cannot forget about the Crown Prince, Go-Won (Shin Seung-ho). Known for his pettiness and his playful-and-sweet encounters with Nak-su in season one, his charismatic character and great sense of humor carried into season two. Despite fans worrying about the Crown Prince becoming Jang-uk’s greatest rival, his morals and upright personality keep him from being swayed by Jin-Mu’s plan for greater power, ultimately proving that the Crown Prince is the most honorable hero of them all. And thankfully, the writers did not play into the “egotistical-royalty” trope that most princes fall victim to in fantasy shows. His wholesomeness shines through all his serious and stern expressions as he continuously takes care of the turtle Naksu gifted him. 

As noted with these characters but also within the plot, are the parallels. Well-written and enticing, there are many plot foils in season two that leave fans making connections. 

One of these connections is the continuation of Naksu and Jang uk’s marriage into season two. Season one was supposed to end with the couple happily married and enjoying their ever after, but due to a fatal turn of events, there were no weddings to attend. Season two kicks off with Naksu trying to find herself a groom and then out of convenience, Jang-uk ties the knot with her. While it’s a natural happening, this continuation of the potential marriage in season one gives the viewers the reality that was stolen from them earlier. It also allows the couple to explore their relationship through numerous tropes, from a lord and a servant, to a master and a pupil, to a forbidden then lost lover pairing, and finally to a sunshine-broody pair.

No matter their dynamic, the lovers were connected by their yin and yang jade stones, which holds a deeper importance as the series progresses. In season one, Jang-uk gifted the blue jade stone to Naksu while he kept the matching red jade stone, symbolizing their connection to each other. When his red stone glows for the first time in three years, both the audience’s and Jang-uk’s hearts flutter at the idea that his love, Naksu, is still alive and remembers him.

As their story unfolds, Naksu’s memories begin to unearth and so do Jang uk’s memories with the Naksu he believes is dead. In the statements Naksu passes like, “It is better to die than do nothing,” and in Naksu’s behaviors, like how she so-uniquely holds Jang uk’s hand, it becomes apparent to both the main couple and the viewers that Naksu is Naksu. And while that may seem obvious, it is both conflicting for the pair who are trying to move forward from their past and relieving for the viewers who were waiting for the spunky, sarcastic, yet heartbreakingly romantic Naksu to resurface.

And finally, their happily ever after comes. The last episode of season two begins with a small wedding for Naksu and Jang-uk. By officially marrying, they announce to the people around them and to the skies that they have decided to be together, therefore no one can set them apart. After living through the names of Mu-deok, Bu-yeon, and Naksu, she finally can be called by the true name her parents gave her, Cho-yeong. “Yeong” meaning shadow and “Uk” in “Jang-uk” meaning light, their names reflect their fated relationship. The title of season two, “Alchemy of Souls: Light and Shadow,” ultimately portrays how deeply connected these two characters are: just as how a light that embraces the shadow are together, Jang-uk and Cho-yeong will never be lost in darkness. From their on-screen connections to the bond explicitly written in their names, the Hong sisters cleverly wove together the perfect closure for “Alchemy of Souls” fans. 

Season two wrapped up both seasons nicely, answering if not most, but all questions that arose from each episode. Thankfully, instead of continuing the trend of tragic endings because they live long in viewers’ memories, “Alchemy of Souls” followed through with a satisfactory ending that will stay in the hearts of all fans as an unforgettable, comforting and entertaining show.