Love is complicated…(love triangles in anime and manga)

Love is complicated…(love triangles in anime and manga)

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d write about some of the best and most unique love triangles in anime and manga. There are many many love polygons to be found throughout anime and manga, even in series that don’t specifically focus on romance. And while this may be a shojo blog, some of my personal favorite love triangles are from shonen and seinen series, so this list won’t be limited to just shojo examples. I hope you guys enjoy! 

♥Kyosuke-Madoka-Hikaru (Kimagure Orange Road)♥

Why it stands out: They’re all best friends.

In my opinion, Kimagure Orange Road is the quintessential shonen-romantic comedy series and features one of the best love triangles in anime and manga. At first glance, this triangle may seem straightforward: Kyosuke is a newcomer to town and is torn between a sweet, clingy girl named Hikaru and the ‘bad girl’ Madoka whom he falls in love with at first sight. However, this series raises the stakes because not only are Hikaru and Madoka best friends, but as the series progresses the trio become close friends, making Kyosuke’s inevitable rejection of Hikaru in the series’ first film all the more painful.

♥Kyoko-Godai-Mitaka (Maison Ikkoku)♥

Why it stands out: They’re all sympathetic.

One of the best romantic-comedies there is, this classic 80s seinen series features a love triangle between Kyoko, a widow who becomes the mangager of a run-down boarding house, Godai, a poor college student who is Kyoko’s tenant, and Mitaka, a coach at Kyoko’s tennis school. This is one of the few love triangles I’ve encountered where I liked and sympathized with everyone involved: it’s easy to understand why Kyoko is so reluctant to pursue either of her suitors as she struggles to overcome her husband’s death, and I love that both Godai and Mitaka are very respectful of Kyoko’s feelings. You can’t help but root for Godai to win Kyoko’s heart not only because he is the complete underdog, but because he matures into such a sweet and caring guy. And while in most series the charming rich love interest usually comes across as a jerk,  when Kyoko finally rejects Mitaka after he has waited for her to reciprocate his feelings for almost four years, I couldn’t help but cry.

♥Tsukushi-Tsukasa-Rui (Boys Over Flowers/Hana Yori Dango)♥

Why it stands out: It’s unpredictable.

Even though I had been spoiled about who Tsukushi would choose before I got into the series, I still consider Boys Over Flowers’ main love triangle one of the least predictable love triangles in anime and manga. Soon after standing up to the rich clique of bullies at her school called the F4, Tsukushi develops feelings for Rui Hanazawa, the quietest member of the group. However, when the F4’s leader, Tsukasa Domyoji, begins to fall for Tsukushi, she finds herself torn between them. There is a lot of tension in this love triangle, particularly after Tsukasa confesses his feelings to Tsukushi in volume six and Tsukushi ends up feeling as though she betrayed Tsukasa by choosing Rui, and it was at this point in the series that I began to believe that I had been misinformed of who the main couple of the series was. However, Rui ends up rejecting her because he still has feelings for his first love, and over the course of the series Tsukushi finds herself slowly falling for Tsukasa, which made me elated. I think the main reason this love triangle feels so unpredictable is because the author originally intended for Tsukushi to end up with Rui but ended up changing the storyline when Tsukasa became more popular with the fans, allowing the shift in Tsukushi’s feelings to feel very genuine.

♥Akito-Sana-Fuka (Kodocha)♥

Why it stands out: They’re 12.

This was probably the first love triangle I ever became really invested in, which makes sense considering the fact that Kodocha is my favorite series. I love that Akito, who had been in love with Sana from early on in the series, starts dating Fuka when he believes Sana is interested in someone else, which serves as the catalyst for Sana to realize her feelings for him. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that Sana and Fuka are best friends, causing Sana to hide her feelings for Akito from both of them because she doesn’t want to hurt Fuka. None of them know how to handle the situation well because they are only twelve years-old. It doesn’t take long for Fuka to realize she’s the third wheel in this triangle, and I love the scene when Sana and Fuka finally confront one another. When Fuka admits that she doesn’t feel like Akito’s real girlfriend and Sana says she’ll take him from her, all I could think was ‘aww snap!,’ making this one of my favorite moments in anime love rivalry.

♥Sousuke-Kaname-Tessa (Full Metal Panic!)♥

Why it stands out: Sousuke only vaguely seems to realize he’s in a love triangle.

This is one of the few triangles where I enjoy the romantic moments of both possible pairings because while I prefer Kaname and Sousuke as a couple, I can’t help but like Tessa. While it’s fairly obvious that Sousuke is developing feelings for Kaname, the hot-tempered high school girl he’s supposed to be guarding, Sousuke is completely dense when it comes to love. This is especially true when it comes to his commanding officer Teletha ‘Tessa’ Testarossa, who is anything but shy about showing her feelings for him, which completely confuses (and possibly scares) the moody military officer. So while Sousuke may be completely oblivious to Tessa and Kaname’s feelings for him, the entanglements of this triangle are very fun to watch.

♥Momo-Kairi-Toji (Peach Girl)♥

Why it stands out: She dates both of them.

In most shojo love triangles, when the main female character decides between her two leading love interests, she’ll generally stick with her choice and the losing guy will often find love with someone else. However, in Peach Girl, despite the fact that Momo starts going out with Toji, the guy she had a crush on prior to the beginning of the series, she not only later dates playboy Kairi Okayasu after Sae’s manipulations tear her and Toji apart, but she even ends up with Kairi. While there are a few other love triangles where the female dates both guys (such as in Sand Chronicles),  it’s usually made obvious that she is only going out with the second guy as a rebound and is still in love with her first love interest. But in Peach Girl, despite the fact that Momo still has feelings for Toji when she starts dating Kairi, Kairi’s charms win Momo over and she eventually chooses him.

♥Hagu-Morita-Takemoto (Honey and Clover)♥

Why it stands out: (spoiler) She doesn’t end up with either of them.

While I’ve never personally cared for this love triangle because I never understood why either Morita or Takemoto was in love with the moody and introverted Hagu, it still stands out to me as a unique love triangle because she doesn’t choose either guy in the end. Even though Hagu is in love with Morita, Hagu decides to spend her time focusing on her artwork after her hand gets injured, and asks Shu (Professor Hanamoto) to stay by her side and help her. So even though I may not have been as invested in this love triangle, I respect Honey and Clover for not tying up all of the romantic loose ends like most series would, as well as for being one of the most poignant examples of unrequited love in anime and manga.

So what I’ve noticed is that I especially like love triangles where the people involved are friends. In these triangles, there is a lot more at stake, which is why they are so dramatic and interesting. If anyone has a love triangle they love or feel is unique, please feel free to comment!

12 thoughts on “Love is complicated…(love triangles in anime and manga)

  1. I agree with a lot of the love triangles you have picked. Mainly because I’m familiar with some and others, well, I never got a chance to pick up the series to enjoy them. The love triangle in Boys Over Flowers is interesting. There’s a lot of back and forth going on between all three of them. Rui at first couldn’t shake his feelings for Shizuka, but finally does and then becomes more invested in wanting to win over Tsukushi. Tsukushi is not sure who to be with, but ultimately ends up with Tsukasa. Tsukasa I think already knew who he wanted to be with, but had a hard time dealing with the fact that Tsukushi chose Rui over him in the beginning. And there are complications with his status as a wealthy heir to the company and his mother wanting him to marry another rich girl and not a poor girl like Tsukushi.

    I loved watching Full Metal Panic. It’s cute and a little frustrating how Sousuke is dense about the two females vying for his affections. He’s smart when it comes to military tactics, but not so smart when it comes to social interactions. It also doesn’t help that both females are really bold and aggressive in how they pursue him too. I agree, between Kaname and Tessa, Tessa is the scarier of the two in her pursuit of getting Sousuke to notice her.

    I’m familiar with how the triangle played out in the anime version of Honey and Clover. It definitely doesn’t cater to the usual, “hero/heroine has to pick someone at the end of the series.” I saw Hagu as the kind of girl who wasn’t really ready to deal with a relationship and its complications. I saw her as very career focused in that stage of her life and her wanting to sort that out before diving into a relationship.

    Nice picks over all!🙂

    1. Thank you! I loved how complex the love triangle is in Boys Over Flowers, especially because Tsukasa felt betrayed not only because Tsukushi initially chose Rui after he told her he loved her, but also because Rui was one of his best friends. But what I definitely appreciate is that later on in the series when Rui falls for her, Tsukushi makes it clear that she would have fallen for Tsukasa no matter what.

      As for Full Metal Panic!, it’s probably because Sousuke is so dense and innocent when it comes to love that so many females fall for him over the course of the series.

      I think you’re spot on about Hagu – she has a hard time making friends and runs away from Morita and Takemoto when she finds out they have feelings for her, and having a relationship just isn’t a priority for her.

  2. Great picks!
    I really agree with you about Maison Ikkoku. Part of what made the love triangle so good was that Godai really matures through the series but he never loses his kindness and Mitaka genuinely cares for Kyoko. All of them are really sympathetic and as much as I get annoyed with Godai for his lack of determination and conviction with dealing with the two other girls, I ultimately can’t hate the guy because he is so endearing.

    I also agree with Hana Yori Dango. I actually started reading it without knowing who’s going to end up with who (although I spoiled it later for myself) and I thought the canon pairing would eventually be Tsukushi and Rui. Boy was I shocked when the manga went in a totally different direction. Although I can see why Tsukasa was more popular.

    I liked Full Metal Panic! but I never really liked the romance. It was a great comedy though. I mean it’s cute how Sousuke is oblivious but then when I think of the causes/consequences, I can’t really get into the pairing or the triangle as it leaves me feeling a bit disturbed.

    I haven’t read/finished reading anything else so no opinions on the rest.

    1. Thank you! I love Maison Ikkoku and never expected to like Mitaka as much as I did, or to feel so sympathetic towards these great characters.

      Something similar happened to me – when I watched the first episode of the Hana Yori Dango anime, I remember thinking ‘oh, it’s so obvious she’s gonna end up with Rui’ even though I had already found out she and Tsukasa were going to be together. I’m glad the fans preferred Tsukasa, though, because I love the relationship between Tsukushi and Tsukasa and think the story would have been very different had Rui remained the main love interest.

      And while I can see your point about any sort of love story involving Sousuke might be a bit disturbing (in real life), in fiction it’s certainly fun to watch.

  3. I find KOR to be a mixed bag, especially as it was clear from the beginning that Hikaru was always going to lose. A friend has observed on a number of occasions that there’s a good 13 episode series struggling to escape from the TV series, which I find to be a fair assessment. The comedy episodes of the OAVs have not aged well.

    That said, the 1st movie does resolve the triangle extremely well (for all that it is an alternate continuity to the TV series), as well as setting up Hikaru for massive character development in the second movie.

    I don’t have the TV series but have reviewed the OAVs and movies.

    Maison Ikkoku of course bears the distinction of being about the only series that Takahashi has ever really finished.🙂

    I don’t recall the love triangle in Full Metal Panic, but then I’ve only seen the first series once, & none of the related series.

    1. While it’s true that KOR has more than it’s fair share of filler episodes, I love the relationships in it enough that it’s still one of my favorite series. And Maison Ikkoku is my favorite Takahashi series.🙂

  4. First off, I Love your blog! You have written some really great articles and I’m enjoying reading them🙂

    Kimagure Orange Road is one series I’ve always wanted to try, but never got around to. I really need to see the series since it was one of the first ones recommended to me. I LOVE Kodocha and like you loved when Sana made the comment about stealing him away. Such a cute series and its a shame its now out of print.

    Its been ages since I’ve read Peach Girl (its on my shelf, so maybe I should reread it), but I never really got into either Kairi or Tori for some reason. Not that I disliked them, I just wasn’t a huge fan of either. One series that comes to mind with love triangles is Hot Gimmick. I got annoyed with the lead after a point since one of the relationshipa was abusive more than anything, and I kind of pulled for a character other than who she ended up with.

    Now I’m looking at my shelf and realizing just how many manga do have a love triangle🙂

    1. Thank you so much for commenting and for the compliment! I would definitely recommend Kimagure, because it’s one of the most emotional romantic-comedies I’ve come across. Plus, I have a lot of love for classic series.

      Kodocha is probably my favorite series; I’ve rewatched the anime more than any other. I’m always sad that not as many people have seen or read it, so I’m glad to see someone else out there who enjoys it.🙂

      Peach Girl isn’t my favorite series but I do respect its love triangle – it stands out to me.

      Oh, Hot Gimmick – I read very little of that series because I was completely turned off by how passive the main female character Hatsumi is, and by how much of a jerk Ryoki is. And the love triangle in that series ends in a way that like you, many fans were disappointed with.

  5. How I wish more people would see Kimagure Orange Road and Maison Ikkoku – both wonderful series which do the almost-impossible – examine the same triangles/relationships for 75-100 episodes and remain interesting throughout. Great series.

    I also like the triangle in Honey and Clover – I found myself invested in it because I rooted for Takemoto so hard and so much against Morita who, despite being such a funny and cool character, is always leaving everyone behind. But actually, my favorite triangle from the series involves Mayama, Yamada, and that other guy with glasses, because it’s a bit unexpected – glasses guy isn’t as bad as he first seems and Mayama gets a bit jealous and even finally shows that he cares greatly for Yamada, even if only as a friend. Poor Yamada also suffers so much in the series because of her unrequited love.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I agree, I wish more people would give Kimagure Orange Road and Maison Ikkoku a chance; but they often get scared off by these shows because of their age and length. But I’ve found that a lot of the best romance anime are from the 80s and 90s, so I have a lot of appreciation for these titles.

      I actually prefer the triangle between Yamada, Mayama and Nomiya as well – I really rooted for Yamada to fall for Nomiya. Plus, of all the characters in the series I liked and sympathized with Yamada the most. But I focused on Hagu, Morita, and Takemoto because their triangle has a definite (not to mention unique) resolution.

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