Feature: On Bad Romance in Anime

wolf girl

Last week I looked at some of the common elements of anime romances from the positive point of view. This post I want to look at some of the more problematic aspects of anime romance that seem to crop up again and again from personalities to full on stalking and imprisonment. Yep, these are definitely the marks of a bad romance. As always I’d love to hear your point of view in the comments below.

What features commonly appear in bad romance?

01. The guy doesn’t just come off as being a bit of a jerk, he is actually a jerk. Maybe there’s a reason for his damaged and warped personality but what he does is emotionally destructive to his love interest. Yet somehow, we’re supposed to be convinced that the girl will put up with this and should actually pursue this character despite the emotional trauma she’s dealing with, and that this is romantic.

While I know that there are many, many people trapped in emotionally abusive relationships it would be nice if so many romance stories didn’t glorify this. For a non-anime example we could most definitely point straight at Twilight. Edward is a controlling bully and his leaving Bella caused her to become nearly catatonic. This is not healthy. However, let’s go back anime and look at Wolf Girl and Black Prince. Whatever redeeming qualities Kyoya Sata may have or may develop later in the series he is a bully and the argument that Erika got herself into the mess with her lying doesn’t make it any better.

Of course there are plenty of other candidates out there for girls putting up with guys who manipulate them. Then again, we could easily turn that around and look at some of the truly horrendous girlfriends anime has given us over time.

02. Following on from number 1, we have the guy who wants a more physical relationship than the girl and is willing to push for it even when she clearly isn’t comfortable. While in comedies the guy in question will usually get slapped and dropped to the floor or beaten with a broom (hilarious, really) in serious romances what usually happens is the girl allows herself to be convinced. Generally speaking I avoid anime that goes down this road.

One I did watch was Say I Love You. While it isn’t too far over the line, Say I Love You definitely hovers on that borderline during the earlier episodes before the relationship starts to balance out a bit. For the most part Yamato is a generally nice guy (with a couple of rough edges) who helps Mei out and seems to like her but he is definitely more experienced in relationship and at times he is clearly pushing for more than she is willing to give.


Though mostly this is nothing compared to what happens to some guys in a lot of BL so maybe we should just be thankful for that and move on to the next point.

03. Anime romances tend to normalise stalkerish behaviour. Secret photo taking, finding out someone’s entire schedule, likes and dislikes of food, their home address and phone number, it seems nothing is off the table for some determined would-be partners in romantic anime. It would be an adorable display of affection if not for the creepy real world consequences of actual stalking.

However this particular behaviour has been normalised to the point where it is now parodied in comedies and played for laughs. Momokuri last year with Kurihara took this to extremes and while in the show it was played cute and for laughs with Kurihara having no ill intentions, one has to wonder what would happen if Momotsuki had ever tried to break up with her.

Of course, we see the far darker side of this behaviour in Mirai Nikki through the notorious Yuno Gasai who will genuinely do anything to keep Amano ‘safe’ including tying him to a chair and holding him in captivity.

This is probably my least favourite trope in anime romances.

04. The characters know nothing about each other but declare they are in love. How many times do we see the scene where the girl confesses to the guy having never actually spoken to him before? Why are you in love with someone you don’t know? There are so many assumptions being made here and it really makes me wonder how they expect a relationship to last when they can’t even speak to the guy properly.

Of course, there are just as many male characters confessing to girls they’ve only ever admired from afar so this isn’t exclusively a problem of the heroine of the story. I love it when they follow this up with an internal monologue that says they’ve always been watching that person. Yeah, because that will tell you everything about them, or you are journeying into the stalker territory from number 3.

05. The girl starts changing herself entirely based on the guy’s preference. She asks his opinion on everything and ceases to actually make any decisions on her own. It is like being in a relationship was akin to lobotomising the character and suddenly their brain has stopped functioning independently.

I know this one isn’t fair but a character who pretty much has no identity outside of her relationship is Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess. Realistically, what little we see of her before Keiichi makes his wish doesn’t really reveal much of a personality to start with (other than sweet) and then she’s bound by his wish for most of the rest of the show. In this instance it kind of works but I still find these sorts of characters frustrating.

Belldandy - you are sweet but this is a bad romance.

That’s it from me on bad romance trends but feel free to suggest your own or provide more examples of the ones above.

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James

31 thoughts on “Feature: On Bad Romance in Anime

  1. For the most part, I’m right on board with you. Stalking, emotional abuse, “seductions” that cross the line into assault, those are all red flags for me. Also, significant age gaps when preteens or young teens are involved. Much as I enjoy their work for the most part, CLAMP are some of the worst offenders in that area. I remember when Ohjiro confessed to Misaki in Angelic Layer, I was sitting there in disbelief saying (out loud!) to my TV, “What? She’s 12!!” And that was before I had even watched Cardcaptor Sakura…hoo boy!

    In regards to #4, it’s my understanding that this is one of those Japanese cultural things – it’s normal to confess your feelings to your love interest first before the two of you start officially dating, even if you don’t actually know each other that well yet. That said, there are good and bad ways to go about doing this, and anime certainly has its share of bad confessions that would probably turn someone off or creep them out in real life. https://www.tofugu.com/japan/kokuhaku-love-confessing-japan/ has a really good article on this topic (including some examples of bad RL confessions!).

  2. Girlfriend, Girlfriend.

    I have thus far only watched the first episode of that anime, but that girl who confessed to him (despite how he already has a girlfriend) made me legitimately think that she’s a psycho. If I recall correctly, she’d had her eye on the boy for months and months, stalking him, learning to cook for him, overhauling her appearance for him, and more. Yeah, I was rather willing the guy to run away, far and fast.

  3. Pet peeves in anime romance is always a good topic.

    One of mine is the problematic age gap where the girl or (boy) is young enough to be the guy’s daughter. (Or son.) Not only is there a vast differential in experience – and therefor power – Rhe’re not even an adult yet. To young to make such an important decision, you young to legally act on it if they did.

    You can have a good age gap romance if both parties come from places of independence and security. You can have a good romance if the inappropriate age gap is recognized by one of the parties who declines to participate. You can even have a good romance when the parties decide to part ways until the younger person matures. This kind of writing has to be sensitive and nuanced, something anime is not famous for.

    Maybe you could do a post where such problematic issues were handled well?

    As for the stalking… I am amazed at how many people think stalking is romantic. Maybe there’s a fantasy about the stalker being the perfect suitor who just has a great need for the stalkee. In the fantasy, it is the person who is obsessed over who really has the power. That’s not how it works in real life.

    How many times have people wanted this played at their wedding reception? Sting even says it is a creepy song about a stalker. Yet many people think it is purely romantic.


    1. Stalking is just not romantic. I am fine when the story plays it as creepy but when played as harmless or funny it just kind of sours the sweetness I am looking for in a romance.

  4. I loved this post as there were quite great and true points you mentioned out there. I personally hate it when the male lead has a twisted personality and hate it more when that personality of his increases when he realises that he has fallen for the female lead. But what’s frustrating is that the female lead acts along with it and doesn’t protest against it until it’s too much. The male lead of ‘Itazura na kiss’ is my least favourite character due to this particular reason.

    In addition to your point 4, I hate it when the girl/boy who was confessed to suddenly tries to notice the one who confessed and then falls for him/her for no apparent reason. That is one of those ‘Protagonist power’ that I hate in anime.

    A really awesome post and I’m glad that I got to read it!

  5. This was an enjoyable read. Certainly a lot of these situations can occur in real life as well. One that might also be included on the list is being in love with someone that does not feel the same way back. The always (sarcastically speaking) wonderful to hear ” You are very dear to me, but as a friend”. Can’t think of Anime series that deal with this one, but it’s something that must have happened in a series. Otherwise agree with the above comment from D. Keep up the good work 😊

    1. Thanks.
      I can’t think of an anime that deals with the friend issue directly but lots of childhood friends in harem anime have to at least accept that they aren’t being liked back in that way.

  6. That’s one of the things I hated about the LDK manga. Girl does some really creepy things, but because she’s the heroine, we’re supposed to understand. Sorry, sneaking a peek at a guy in the shower or sleeping in the same futon with his brother to make him jealous is not understandable behavior for a girl (or guy) in love.

    1. Why do so many anime characters do stupid things to make their interest ‘jealous’? Don’t they think it through that their interest might just lose interest in them if they behave like that?
      Okay, that should be number six on my list. Idiotic protagonists who think jealosy is the emotion they want their partner feeling.

  7. Number 4 really hits home because it’s so ridiculously common. Like on a per season basis there’s almost always one romance title that trips up on this

    1. I actually prefer love at first sight over number 4. In this case, they are usually a class mate or someone at school so they’ve been aware of the person for awhile but for some reason have convinced themselves that they are in love with them. As a plot device, this is terrible, and as an actual indicator of how relationships work it is worse.

  8. These are the types of things that I notice and I try to avoid. LOL The stalkerish behavior is definitely a red light. This kinda makes you wonder, if your to willing date someone who does these types of thing. Something would also have to be a little bit wrong with you to accept or even normalize this type of thing.

    But Yamato from Say I love you is quite an unusual character within this the shojo demographic. He looked out for Mei. And while he was a bit pushy he also showed a level self control. With Mei meekness, he could have took total advantage of her which happens pretty often in the romance genre. That happens in real life too.

    1. Yamato is definitely an interesting example given he does exhibit some behaviours that are concerning but only in about the normal levels for a teenage guy and does, as you said, exhibit some self-control.

  9. On the note of Belldandy, she may not have much of a personality but she is still choosing that relationship. There is a point in the series where they discuss how no one could really enforce Keiichi’s wish and Belldandy could leave at anytime but she chooses to stay so we at least know Belldandy has opinions and emotions regardless of if she shows them.

    1. They actually are a cute couple and I like the episode where the wish was undone and Belldandy was quite sad about it until Keiichi managed to figure out the words he said and redid it. Still, she was a good example of someone who has little life outside of the relationship itself. Whether she chose that or not, she isn’t exactly a well rounded character.

  10. Great post! I’d forgotten how uncomfortable some animes can get. It makes no sense to me how they have so many fans, though. I’m not sure if people are attracted to the idea of experiencing something similar or because they can relate to it, having experienced something similar. Either way they should break away from it.

  11. Okay, I didn’t read all the way through this, but why all anime characters are in their teens, when they get their first kiss. When I was, 8 or 9, when I got my first kiss, but I was the first move, with someone couple years older than me. Lol

  12. I knew I’d like this list!

    Everything you’ve listed here are things that send me into ragefests and a good part of why romance as a whole is not as near and dear to me as it used to be. I still love some love in stories but I’ve become very picky.

    The romanticization of abuse and stalking in particular needs to stop. Yes, it’s important to portray that in fiction because it does happen in life but is it too much to ask that they don’t show it as acceptable behavior?

  13. Also inconclusiveness. It’s just abnormally rare to for an anime to get past the stage of holding hands. Sometimes too much overreacting and melodrama for its own sake aren’t very appealing, either.

    1. Oh yes. Inconclusive endings. Are they together or just friends? Is there relationship going anywhere or in a year’s time will they still be blushing when their eyes meet? Definitely an issue in anime romances.

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