What makes a good couple?

What makes a good couple?

I love a good love story. I find watching the struggles of two people come together to be more exciting than any action-adventure story or fantasy setting could ever be. But just what is it that makes a good love story, and even more importantly, a good couple? There are literally hundreds of romance manga, yet only a handful of couples have carved a place in my heart as my favorites. After thinking about it, I came up with several elements all that are present in all of the love stories I’ve enjoyed most, so I thought I’d share them with you guys.

Interesting characters: No matter how great a love story may be, if either of the characters in a relationship with each other are boring or unmemorable, I won’t feel the need to care about them. Take Hana-Kimi, for example: I never found myself particularly attached to either Mizuki, who is a cherrful-yet-typical shojo heroine, or Sano, who is pretty-yet-dull, and thus they never stood out to me in comparison to other manga couples. Even if one character is unique, if the other character is flat or outright annoying it makes it impossible for me to have strong feelings towards a couple, such as in The Devil Does Exist, which features a pretty intriguing male lead in Takeru but a disappointingly dense heroine in Kayano. This is probably why my favorite couples also consist of my favorite characters, particularly Kodocha‘s Sana and Akito.

I like fun, teasing couples like Dengeki Daisy’s Teru and Kurosaki.

The power balance is equal: There are too many series that glorify romantic pairings in which the woman is in a subservient position. While I probably don’t even need to mention magical-girlfriend/harem series such as He is My Master, a (sadly high) number of shojo series feature relationships in which passive girls are dating guys who hold power over them – which they use to the fullest extent. In Black Bird, Kyo’s often cruel treatment of girl-next-door Misao is treated as ‘romantic’ because he is her protector, while in Hot Gimmick Hatsumi is blackmailed by her jerky neighbor Ryoki, which eventually turns into ‘true love,’ warts and all. Dengeki Daisy offers an interesting case: although Kurosaki is Teru’s protector and a few years older than her, the worst he ever does is tease her, while Teru’s brighter and spunkier than either Misao and Hatsumi could ever hope to be. Thus, they feel more like equals than many other manga couples, and this has helped me latch onto the couple as one of my most recent favorites. But it’s not just the power balance that’s important: both characters also need to feel equally in love with each other. In Itazura na Kiss, Kotoko spent six years pining after Naoki Irie before he confessed his love. The two married shortly after, but Naoki still rarely showed his affection for Kotoko, often putting his work ahead of her and being just generally indifferent to celebrating anniversaries and going on dates. Even though it’s obvious that he does love her, it’s hard for me to love Naoki and Kotoko as a couple as much as I love their love story because their relationship feels so imbalanced.

They’re comfortable around each other: Over at Beneath the Tangles, TWWK wrote a great post on the myth of chemistry. As TWWK writes, if Kimi ni Todoke‘s Sawako and Kazehaya were a couple in real life, many people would say that they ‘don’t have chemistry’ because they are always blushing and awkward around each other. The post goes on to say that chemistry is unimportant because finding out more about the other person is more important than focusing on your own feelings. However, I have to wonder: isn’t being nervous around someone the opposite of getting to know them better? Getting to know more about the other person should allow both individuals involved to be more comfortable not only in their relationship, but in showing their true selves.  All of the couples I love in anime and manga bicker with each other, and while on the surface that may seem dysfunctional, it actually shows how close they are that they’re confident that an argument won’t tear them apart – and confident that they know the other person well enough to call them out on their crap. I appreciate how unique Sawako and Kazehaya are as a shojo couple – he’s not the stereotypical bad boy and both of them are adorable together – but they’re missing that ‘spark’ that I need to completely fall for a couple, and thus I think I admire how different they are more than I actually like them.

We actually see them fall in love: I cannot stress enough how important this is.  The most important factor in determining my feelings towards a couple is that I understand their reasons for falling for one another. Thus, I tend not to care much for shojo series where the girl has feelings for her boyfriend-to-be prior to the series start. This is not only because I enjoy watching the process of characters falling for one another, but also because the backstory of why the girl fell for the guy tends to be pretty shallow (e.g, he lent her a handkerchief while flashing a dazzling smile)., and don’t convince me that the couple was meant to be together. But it’s not just important for me to know why a couple loves each other: it needs to actually be shown. One of the problems I had with Marmalade Boy‘s Miki and Yuu was that Yuu’s reasons for liking Miki were told instead of shown. He tells her that he loves her because she’s honest, which to me seems like a very vague reason to fall for someone because it could easily be applied to another girl in the series who had a crush on him. Thus, we need to see the ‘chase’ as the relationship unfolds: how the characters met; the struggles they went through to realize they’re in love with each other, in order to fully share the couple’s joy once they finally get together.

Kodocha’s Akito and Sana

And then they build a relationship: Several anime bloggers have pointed out that a flaw of romance anime is that they often focus solely on the drama before two characters get together. Many fans believe that very few series highlight the main couple maintaining their relationship, but actually I’d argue that there are many shojo series that do (His and Her Circumstances, Sand Chronicles, Mars, and Love*Com are several examples among many others). It can be kind of unsatisfying to see a couple you like confess and kiss at the very end of the series, without ever getting to see them be happy together. This type of ending often leaves me wondering: what kind of couple will these characters be like together? What separates couple A in series A from couple B in series B is their dynamic with one another, and I feel this is best shown once the characters are dating. Of course, there is some truth to the opinion that the ‘before’ is more interesting because the characters’ are faced with odds that prevent them from being together, and because once the couple has gotten together there aren’t many storylines left. But I think seeing a couple build on their relationship to become closer to each other and watching them resolve problems that young couples naturally face (going to different colleges, etc.) can be interesting if it’s done well. Thus, most of my favorite couples are from series that highlight both the before and after: we get to see them meet and slowly fall in love, then they eventually together and we are allowed to truly get to know and feel for them by seeing how they’ll make their relationship work. Both Akito and Sana from Kodocha and Tsukushi and Tsukasa from Boys Over Flowers go through each of these stages, and that is why they are my favorite couples in anime and manga.

There are many reasons why the audience might love one couple over another. What is romantic is subjective, and in terms of manga at least, readers may all be looking for different things. While some people prefer romances that are written as though they could happen in real-life, others prefer fantasies that some would label ‘dangerous.’ For those of you who have couples you love: what is it about those couples that makes them stand out above the rest? And what do you feel is the most important factor in being engrossed by a romance? Share your thoughts, guys!


23 thoughts on “What makes a good couple?

  1. I really do like your point about the importance of relationship development after the love confession as being a good litmus test on how good of the storyteller the creator is. Tsukushi and Tsukasa are also one of my favorite pairs since they go through a lot of obstacles (especially in the manga) — yet somehow, they manage to come through, even with their battle scars at the end.

    I have to admit, though, that I like my pairings where one of the characters has an emotional edge over the other. Either one of the characters is more mature, or experienced, in dealing with love and then it’s nice to see the other character grow up and mature to reach his/her level. Mars and Hanadan, definitely had it, and I think that’s why they’re perpetually on my list of faves even though it’s been a few years since I last even re-read them.

    1. Thanks so much for commenting! It’s very hard to do a story with the couple already happily together in a unique way, but when it’s done well, it’s really rewarding. Most series that do show the couple after they’ve started dating often shift the focus away from their relationship and onto the characters’ friends, such as Love*Com and Kimi ni Todoke, which is sort of a cop-out (though I still like these series, of course). As for the second part, I actually agree with you – when one character has stronger feelings for the other it brings a certain dramatic edge to the story. It’s also great because you can see the other person slowly warm up over the course of the series, much like Tsukushi in Hanadan does. However, by the time the couple gets together I like knowing that both of them are equally invested in another, which was part of my problem with Naoki still being so cold even after he and Kotoko are married in Itazura na Kiss. Also, I admittedly have a gender bias: it bothers me more when the girl is vying for a guy who doesn’t even notice she exists because those series tend to make it seem as though the girl’s entire life revolves her crush (also because the guy tends to hold all of the power in the relationship), but it doesn’t bother me as much when the guy is in the one who falls in love first.

  2. Interesting. We actually have pretty similar requirements. For me the most important one is definitely, an equal power dynamic. (examples: Shuri and Sarasa from Basara, Oscar and Andre from Rose of Versailles, Usagi and Mamoru from Sailor Moon(manga only), Rukia and Ichigo from Bleach, and Shin and Kumiko from Gokusen) This is mainly because I get bored of couples where one of them is constantly bending over backwards to satisfy the other (examples: Tamahome and Miaka from Fushigi Yugi, and Kagome and Inuyasha from Inuyasha). Not to mention problematic couples where the power dynamic is so unbalanced, it’s broader-line abusive.

    This also ties into the interesting character requirement. I don’t know if it’s just me, but when there is a power discrepancy, the less powerful partner tends to come off as flat and boring. (examples: Shino from Honoka ni Purple, and Yanagi from Flame of Recca). My third requirement is to see them actually fall in love (example: Van and Hitomi from Escaflowne and Sakura and Syaoran from CCS). I like when we see their trials as a couple too, but it’s not necessary for me to really love them and I definitely like seeing them comfortable together too, but I think an equal power dynamic usually takes care of that.

    So yeah, we’ve got the same kind of requirements it seems. :3 I can’t really think of anything to add to your list. You’ve basically nailed it! All your requirements pretty much fit into what I think as well. For example, your interesting character requirement is why I can’t be bothered with romances like the ones in Fruits Basket.

    1. Thank you! 🙂 I’m glad you mentioned Miaka and Tamahome – although I think they have a great love story, they’re not at all one of my favorite couples. First of all, Miaka’s obviously very average and not that interesting, while Tamahome being too perfect keeps him from being so interesting as well. And you’re definitely right that in relationships with uneven power balances the less powerful partner tends to be flat – that’s the problem most smutty shojo series have, which, as you pointed out, tend to seem abusive. It’s a problem that many male-fantasy series that include a female who is in love with a male character who has control over her (he owns her/is her boss) face as well, so I tend not to care much for those pairings.

  3. My favourite couples in manga are:
    Tsukasa and Tsukushi because of their feelings for each other they become different people:Tsukasa changes into a better person and fights for what is right. He learns how to aprecciate the human kindness and the value of true frienship and treasure his one true love, Tsukushi~who also changes her attitude in a beautiful way when she sees the fact that in a way she’s kind of similar with Tsukasa~his devoted to his friends and cares for his family. His sister Tsubaki, acknowledge Tsukushi as her brother’s true love and helps her brother to be with Tsukushi. Both of them surpass all the difficulties with devotion towards each other for protecting their love. ♥
    Mamoru and Usagi because Mamoru is the perfect boyfriend. He’s charming,brave, smart, hero, friend in need, very found and takes care of children, likes cats. He protects Usagi everytime she’s in danger and gives her courage when she needs to fight. You could say Mamoru is like an guardian angel who protects innocent people. He somehow feels bound to her because of his past memories and that is why they both tend to take care of each other. They surpass all the difficulties with attachment for each other.♥

    1. You really hit on the reasons why I love the “Tsu’s” so much – because of how much they changed and became better people by being together. Series where the characters don’t change much tend not to leave a lasting impression on me, so I guess it makes sense that the couples I’ve liked the most include characters who grew in their respective series. It just makes the couple feel more realistic and easier to root for, in my opinion.

      Even though I wouldn’t consider Usagi and Mamoru one of my favorite couples, I’m glad whenever I hear of other fans who like them. I think their love story is great. Couples who go through a lot together tend to be the ones who stick out the most, I’ve found.

    2. Lately, I’ve been put into a position where I had to defend Tsukasa to a bunch of Rui fans who had just read the first few early volumes (eyerolls). I pointed out how he goes through a profound transformation, which is why I ended up deserving Tsukushi’s love. Case in point, when he buys out the entire cake case and waited out with Yuki and Tsukushi to help Yuki’s mend her heart. The early Tsukasa would never do something like this, which shows tremendous growth. The same goes for Tsukushi, as she learns to fall in love and learn to depend on others, something the early Tsukushi would never do. That is what makes me jump in defense for them, because of how much this couple is realistic in their interaction with each other. Funny thing I found out, is how important their astrological signs are in the story. Reading up on Aquarius compatibility with Capricorn, I learned that both signs help bring out each others’ positive characteristics! I was amazed when I read that and helped explain the whole Saturn necklace thing even more.

    3. just wanted to say I read the Sailor Moon manga and I really liked the Usagi/Mamoru pairing because they had such a sweet, loving and healthy relationship. It makes me somewhat uncomfortable when I see or read about couples that abuse each other all the time like Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma/Akane and Inuyasha/Kagome (specially the first one). I get that its supposed to be funny, but I dont find it to be so.

      1. Thanks for commenting! Alot of people are bothered by Takahashi’s couples since they often consist of characters who endlessly deny their feelings for one another and constantly argue. And while I don’t mind bickering couples, it can get tiring fast if there’s nothing else to the couple. And yay, more Usagi and Mamoru love!

  4. Interesting discussion. I always tend to think of why I like a couple so fiercely. I also prefer to read manga that does have a relationship build up, which at times doesn’t happen all that often. I still enjoy reading manga that doesn’t have the build up, but you do wonder if a couple will make it for the long haul.

    I definitely enjoy Tsukushi and Tsukasa’s relationship. Theirs is fully fleshed out which is great. You see them go through a lot as a couple in general and come back stronger. I think my other favorite couple is Sakura and Syaoran from Cardcaptor Sakura. Neither really liked each other at first, and their relationship starts out more like rivals than friends. But when misunderstandings get explained and the two have time to really consider the other as individuals, they start realizing they like each other more than they thought. Eventually, it turns into love. I enjoyed watching these two get cute and blush around each other. Syaoran especially because he’s adorably awkward around Sakura and doesn’t know how to act when she’s near. The build up to their relationship is quite nice because they become friends first before finally falling for the other. It’s sad when Syaoran has to leave Japan to go back to Hong Kong, but the final scene in the manga made me tear up and smile because they get to really be together.

    1. I agree – there are many great romance anime and manga that don’t follow the main couple after they’ve gotten together, and while I may enjoy such series part of me will wonder what type of couple they’d be. However, when it comes to romantic series that involve kids (such as Cardcaptor Sakura and Gakuen Alice), I’m less picky because I get caught up in how cute they are together. Sakura and Shaoran are probably the cutest couple in anime and manga, so I definitely can see why you’d like them.

    2. I don’t know much about Tsukushi and Tsukasa, so I cannot comment much. But from what you have described about Tsukushi and Tsukasa, I do think they would make a relatively good match.

      I fully agree with you about Syaoran and Sakura make a good match, I also like them together because their relationship is really sweet to watch/read without feeling overly saccharine. And I can also feel some good chemistry between them, especially throughout the season 3 of the anime and volume 6-12 of the manga.

  5. Both Dengeki Daisy and Boys Over Flowers has some similarities when it comes to the main pairing xD (which is why they’re my top favorites) Also, Riku kinda reminded me of Tsukasa’s sister. The way she teases and beats him up when it comes to Teru kinda reminded me of it! 😉 Another bickering relationship that I also enjoy is the couple from “Girl Got Game” by Seino Shizuru. This manga is more on comedy than romance though. There are just no breaks with the hilarity that this manga brought. So if Hana Kimi bored you, you can try this one since it’s pretty similar in the gender-bender aspect!

    Eh… I dropped Kimi ni Todoke cause the couple is too awkward. They start out sweet, innocent and really intriguing… but after they become lovers, they become boring and their misunderstandings annoy the hell out of me D: I thought Pin/Ayane has some sort of the bickering love thing here (I was holding on to this manga in hopes this pairing might happen) but it disappointed me when she got together with the other guy. Perfect Girl Evolution’s Sunako and Kyohei are fun to read… but there’s hardly any character/pairing growth. Sure they have their sweet moments but you can’t really see any progress cause this story has become too dragging (even the minor characters are getting annoyed with them). Such a shame though cause it was kinda close to BOF with the 1 girl and 4 hot guys with her xD

    I haven’t read the Kodocha manga cause the characters are too young for my age. But maybe I’ll try this one since a friend also recommended this to me. They say that it has similarities with Gakuen Alice although I dropped that one cause I don’t really like Mikan’s character much (like you said, I’m also into a couple only if I like the characters in it).

    1. It’s funny; I actually compared Teru and Kurosaki to Tsukushi and Tsukasa in another post because of their bickering dynamic. It’s no surprise I became so attached to them. I’ve heard good things about Girl Got Game – I’d like to give it a try, even though I’m not usually into gender-benders. More than for it’s romance, Kimi ni Todoke has really appealed to me in it’s depiction of the friendship among the girls and Sawako’s character development. It’s great to see her come out of her shell.

      I think you should give Kodocha a try. One of it’s greatest strengths is that even though it’s about kids, they aren’t depicted as innocent or cute as most children are in anime and manga. The main character Sana is like a spunkier version of Mikan, and the series has great character development.

  6. “Thus, most of my favorite couples are from series that highlight both the before and after: we get to see them meet and slowly fall in love”
    Agree with you. I don’t like romance “for the sake of romance.”

    As for me, I want the dynamics I get from my favorite pairings. I want both partners to be equally smart useful and strong. I want to approve of the attraction and see the relationship as mutually beneficial for both parties.

    Too often pair makes me think “Why would would he want her? Why does he find that behavior cute? Why doesn’t he let her try rescuing her own fool self for once so she doesn’t keep getting into this situation? Why is she staring at her feet instead of beating the heck out of him for being an *sshole to her? Just because you’re the main male and female characters doesn’t mean you’re a good match! I don’t care if he rescued you in the first chapter, that doesn’t mean you belong to him for life!”

    Since I’m female, I’m more judgemental of ‘classic’ female portrayals. I don’t like girls who act like girls in the traditional (stereotypical) sense of the word. I don’t like guys who pander to girls just because they’re female. I like it when the characters act as if they’re both the same sex, with no preconceived notions about hero/damsel, jock/cheerleader, badboy/schoolgirl, or any of the usual male/female matchups. If they can start out as if they’re both just people – equal until proven otherwise – then it catches my attention and holds it.

  7. Do they HAVE to fall in love…? Idk I guess it’s hard to think of an instance where they don’t…this is hard lol, I guess if it’s a couple couple then perhaps.

  8. 1. How the way they treat each other
    I mostly like a couple if the two of them can treat each other very well, instead of being so abusive or mean towards each other.
    For example: Mao and Meili from Cooking Master Boy (Chuuka Ichiban)
    Though they are not a couple yet but I wanted to see them as a couple. I always like on Meili being helpful and supportive towards Mao even though she is not a good cook like Mao. Meili always helps Mao to do some of his cookings or finding the ingredients for Mao, and when Mao was almost defeated in the cooking match she gives Mao an encouragement to do his best. I also like on how the way Mao is always being so kind to Meili and never looked down on her even though she is not really a good cook like him. Meili’s charcater development in the manga is also quite good because she can be finally useful for Mao when she cooked the Mapo tofu to help the Mapo Tofu restaurant owners to rekindle their relationship.

    2. How the relationship grow
    I like to see on how the relationship between them grow, because I can see clearly on how the way they fall in love with each other and the reason of it.
    For example: Syaoran and Sakura from Cardcaptor Sakura
    I walks like on how their relationship grows graudually from being rivals for clow cards, to friends, and finally they fell in love with each other. Syaoran always helps Sakura to capture the cards and Sakura also always being so grateful to Syaoran for helping her. I also like on how the way Sakura treats Syaoran, she always being so friendly and sweet to Syaoran even though Syaoran always being so mean to her. And I like their relationship even more when Syaoran shows more of his gentle side towards Sakura, especially when Syaoran fell in love with her.

    3. How their personality compliment with each other.
    I always like a couple if their personality can compliment each other quite well, even if they are the polar opposites.
    For example: Sana and Akito from Kodocha.
    Even though Sana and Akito are the polar opposites, but these two go along quite well with each other especially when Sana and Akito are getting closer with each other. And I also quite like on how the way they gradually fall in love with each other after they realized their feelings for one another.

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