Love Triangles in Drama and Romance: The Manipulative Girl

Love triangles are an integral part of the romance and drama genre. Any anime or manga would inevitably involve the choice of more than one contending love interest for the protagonist(s). A smooth tactic to add tension and added interest for the purposes of plot development, it ideally exists to induce conflicted feelings in the audience which are inevitably divided into camps and ships according to their preferences. Some love triangles which are not well done fail to move the viewer at all, and we as the audience could scarcely care less about who the protagonist ends up choosing. However, there are a few that manage to tear the audience apart, which are arguably a product of good characterisation and character development, and which serve not merely as a means to an end.

Even amongst the ‘good’, there are times where the ship that sails causes an uproar because of the unconventional way the romance turns out. However, depending on the situation, I feel that some of these can be explained and rationalised, so I am perturbed as to the strong opposition to the way things turned out. Then again, perhaps I am seeing things in a too-rational way, so I invite my readers to comment on the following thoughts that I have for the anime examples which I am about to raise. In particular, I would like to discuss the perceived reign of the self-aware, two-faced, bordering on manipulative archetypes of characters in the following anime. *spoilers ahead only in terms of what couple ship sails, skip to the anime you have watched, but if you don’t care, read through everything! xD*

True Tears, a positive example.

Technically, there isn’t just a triangle but a three-point pyramid. However, Shinichiro has two major love interests: namely Hitomi and Noe. Just to briefly sum up their personalities, Noe is the girl who dropped from heaven (no, not literally) who is actually a very pure, untainted yet naive girl; she looks at the world through the eyes of a newborn. but their first encounter was built with the sunshine in the background and the wind blowing her hair … and the world stilled as if he suddenly saw this angel.

Sunlight? Check. Wind? Check. Beautiful scenery? Check. Girl holding out her arms at first encounter? Triple check. Perfect.

Yes, it screams ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’, and has all the setting up of a ‘love at first sight’ scene, commonly the canon ship in anime. Or so it seems. Hitomi is a girl who is living with him at the start of the series due to family circumstances. She is also the girl Shinichiro had a crush on from the start.

However, throughout the turns and twists that complicates the entire web of relationships with revelations that are slowly revealed to the viewer (and to Shinji as well), ultimately Shinichiro chooses to go back to his crush, Hitomi, leaving Noe to nurse her wounds.

There was some sort of outrage in the community; mainly because most people had been rooting for Noe right from the start, no doubt also misled by the way she was introduced into the narrative and believing in the supremacy of reused anime-love forumlae. It probably also helps that Noe is like a moe blob especially in her actions, which sometimes touched the stone-cold heart of yours truly.

LEL such cuteness. *squishes cheeks*

However, despite anime logic, the ending of True Tears accords more with reality. Noe is symbolic of a girl in an ideal world, whom Shinichiro would be able grow and discover new adventures with. Like a breath of fresh air, she opens his eyes to possibilities that he has never seen before. However, the downside is that her emotional maturity has stagnated at the level of a child and many years of solitude has made her extremely fragile and vulnerable. Her inability to socialise inevitably puts Shinichiro in the awkward role of a father or teacher, as the dynamics of their relationship thrusts him in a position of responsibility with Noe needing to be taken care of.

Hitomi, meanwhile, has issues that has created a barrier between her and Shinichiro all these while. The nature of their relationship and the revelations about her family and her family’s intertwined history with his has made her inconsistent in how she treats him, displaying a hot and cold attitude towards Shinichiro. Even when the familial obstacles were removed, she uses all sorts of methods to get to Shinichiro, and the way she declares war on Noe showcases her determined, at-all-costs attitude. She is the more realistic and relatable girl of the lot, having her moments of weakness, anger and resentment at how she is treated. Moe does not actually go well with this girl.

As for Shinichiro, he does harbour romantic feelings towards both girls. However, the way he sorts out his feelings is acceptable, as he clearly serves only as a stepping stone for Noe (even she is definitely in love with him) to develop more as a person. After all, the girl can’t love without knowing how to make friends first. Hence, it makes more sense that he chooses back his first crush, whom he has suppressed feelings for all this time due to all the family drama (which was arguably resolved illogically but that is a post for another time.) In many senses, Shinichiro and Hitomi are a better fit for each other because their feelings were reciprocal anyway, and only confused for a while after the addition of Noe.

Ef: A Tale of Memories, a positive example … ?

That dark aura shows how chummy Miyako and Kei are. I presume that I don’t need to put a picture of Hiro here because the girls are more important, duh.

There are actually a couple of love triangles involved here, but I will focus on the Miyako-Hiro-Kei triangle, which may not have been the focal point of the story but relevant nonetheless. In this case, Miyako is the guy Hiro randomly meets on the streets and discovers that she actually goes to the same school as him, both of them being notorious school-skippers that they never knew the existence of the other until this fateful encounter. Kei is the classic childhood-friend character who is a little bit of a tsundere but also stuck in the imouto-zone. And of course her overwhelming feelings for Hiro goes unnoticed by the latter due to his fixation on his mangaka career.

Unlike True Tears, both girls passive-aggressively declare war on each other once they know of each other’s existence. The drama here resembles more of a tug-of-war game as the girls plot how to weave themselves into Hiro’s heart. There is close to no personality contrast here between the girls when it comes to affairs of the heart because each girl knows how to work unease into the other’s heart. I was personally extremely entertained by how they went about doing everything.

Who Hiro ends up choosing, though, is actually in line with the amount of manipulation that was involved. Despite Kei’s efforts to stop Hiro from thinking about Miyako, Hiro ends up fast-tracking the entire process as the events that ensued forced him to make a decision about his feelings between the two. Nevertheless, I felt that Miyako’s hold on Hiro’s heart was achieved through drastic actions she took that raised his urgency to reciprocate her feelings, as compared to Kei’s little victories. Personally, I felt it was a case of tactics rather than true feelings, given Miyako’s highly clingy and yandere personality that also managed to freak me out.

Good luck to you, bro.

An apt idiom to capture the essence of the love triangle resolution is: the early bird catches the worm. Of course, being the earliest in his life doesn’t actually help, but concerted and directed effort to get oneself out of the Tragedy of the Childhood Friend should. Though of course, my sympathies will still lie with Kei because she should have cut herself out her Hiro’s life and come back transformed so that Hiro will see her in a different light instead of well, being there all the time but hey that’s just my humble opinion.

White Album 2, a negative example

The vastness of the landscape indicates the vastness of the emotions involved in this one.

I have extolled at length on the heartbreaking and analysis-heavy conclusion of White Album 2 before in a then unprecedented two-post series in links here and here. In order to not sound like a broken record I will now state what my conclusion essentially is: Setsuna Ogiso is a pitiable character and despite all that high handed manipulation that she did, she still lost to True Love.

White Album 2 however, holds the most controversy with regards to the situation the characters found themselves in. While True Tears had a girl who was merely reacting to the situation with the maturity and temperament of a child, in WA2 all three characters are arguably more informed about romantic situation they were all situated in. By reason of being extremely close friends, the three are entangled in a situation where it becomes hard to differentiate the close bonds of friendship and romantic feelings. There are also more obstacles given the preciousness of their shared memories as a team and this has the added effect of true conflict as selfish pursuit of love here is counterbalanced by the bond of friendship, something that was not present in either True Tears or Ef: A Tale of Memories.

Perhaps it is due to this reason that manipulation is no longer a factor that can potentially tip the balance anymore. When everything is a mess of emotions and a true love triangle forms, every decision made means more than one person is hurt. In light of a very messed up situation where every step entails real consequences, emotional fatigue reaches the tipping point and only the purest and strongest form of emotions triumphs.

Peach Girl, the special mention

Peach Girl is known in the shoujo world for having an extremely tight love triangle. It is often also highly criticised because the main female character Momo is perceived to be highly fickle-minded and oscillating in between her two love interests. The over-the-top melodrama where the adage of ‘communication is key in a relationship’ can resolve conflicts doesn’t help either. Nevertheless, Peach Girl offers high entertainment value in classic shoujo form, namely the jealousy, backstabbing, drama and simplicity in plot transition.

However, the famed love triangle will not actually be my focus here. Instead, I will mention Sae, the third wheel in the love triangle who is unanimously the Best Villain (or is it Most Annoying Villain?) of Shoujo of all time. Intent on destroying her friend Momo’s life, she is the master manipulator behind the events in Peach Girl, and she exacts her plans in callousness and ruthlessness. One believes her to be beyond the point of redemption when she repeatedly turns her back Momo’s offers to make up and is intent on ruining her life every single time she has. In fact, she does this enough for you to positively hate her for a good half to three quarters of the series.

Sae’s formula to success, arguably applicable in real life? Food for thought.

However, her redemption comes, surprisingly, in the form of providing positive support to Momo’s love life issues. It cannot be denied that what Sae did in the end was the main driver towards a happy ending for her friend Momo. This 180 degree turn in character does not come without consequence to Sae, given that she encountered real failure and setback and a taste of her own medicine while in Evil Mode that prompted her change. Her true salvation, perhaps, lies in the help she renders Momo in the end that made her a more relatable and holistic character. Not to mention that she was given a similar Happy Ending in her side story, which re-emphasises the message that the bad people can get good ends as well as long as they repent.


There are indeed a myriad of examples of manipulative characters as part of a love triangle or polygon, but whether they ‘succeed’ in their pursuit or not is a matter that depends on the quality and type of relationship with their love interest, and how they match up to their rivals.

Manipulative characters may not sit well with the majority of viewers, and often serve as a opening for debate. However, their similarity to real life situations and the audience’s ability to identify with them (because seriously who hasn’t at least thought of doing some of these things before?) gives them a winning edge at times over the rest. I personally like seeing these characters ‘win’ or being given a satisfactory ending because they personify elements of realism, even if rooting for them is akin to a guilty pleasure of sorts.

Wow, that was longer than I thought! It certainly speaks volumes about how much I think these characters should be brought to the limelight xD The examples here mainly pertain to anime I have seen, but they are in no way exhaustive of all types of manipulative characters in romance & drama anime.  Do you like seeing such characters in your romance anime? What are your thoughts about these characters? Are there any other anime like these that gave you any similar impression? I would love to hear your thoughts on these, and anime recommendations are also welcome 🙂 

25 thoughts on “Love Triangles in Drama and Romance: The Manipulative Girl

  1. I haven’t watched True Tears, but I have a feeling ( No, I’m sure of it ) I ‘d prefer Hitomi. My problem with love triangles where it’s 2 girls fighting over a guy and the guy is wavering, more often than not I tend to dislike the guy. It’s the nature of the beast. Men are polygamous.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I just read the comments here, and Ao Haru Ride and Hana Yori Dango were especially mentioned. To me, the most dislikable character in Ao Haru Ride ( and the most dishonest ) is the male protagonist, Kou, and the one that got the short end of the stick is Touma.

        In Hana Yori Dango, for some reason, I don’t feel any empathy towards the main guy. There is something fundamentally wrong in his final action of marrying another girl. I have the same exact feeling towards the main guy in Itazura na Kiss ( It Started with a Kiss ). The main guy here is the worst.


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      • Kou definitely proves himself to be quite unlikable in many ways because of the way he was didn’t even know himself >.>
        I have yet to watch Itazura na Kiss precisely because I thought I wouldn’t like the main guy at all. As for Hana Yori Dango, i guess the fact that he doesn’t speak out against the marriage also makes him not as likable or pitiable, at the very least.


      • Guess what, you nailed it. I get that he was traumatized by his mother’s death, but it wasn’t his fault, and he didn’t have to go the extent of making himself be the boyfriend of some girl who had lost a parent.. He played with 2 girls’ emotions, Narumi ‘s and Futaba’s. I never comprehended the excuse that making himself be with Narumi is the only SUPPORT he could give to a person who had lost a loved one. What if Narumi was a boy ? Would he throw Futaba under the bus for a boy ? No, right ? But it was narumi whom he knew loved him, and she was cute too. Win-win. But Kou had this dog in the manger attitude. He could be with another girl, and he was serious in staying with her to the end ( he even admitted to that ) , as long as Futaba stayed single. He didn’t want Futaba, but didn’t want another guy to get her, either. Ah, don’t get me started. LOL

        As for Itazu na Kiss, the main guy was softer in the anime. In the manga, you’d really hate him, and hate the main girl too for putting up with everything, it was almost bizarre. Just like in Hana Yori Dango, SPOILER, the main guy willingly got engaged with another girl, and it was only accidental that the wedding didn’t push through. In Hana Yori Dango, the other girl voluntarily walked away. But what if she didn’t ? Then everything that happened between the main characters were pointless.
        Ah, don’t get me started.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly, I think whatever excuses were given to explain Kou’s behaviour … was not very good. Even if it was to infuse realism into the context, I thought his actions were still less than justifiable, especially compared to the rest.
        Yeah I think the main guy in Hana Yori Dango was too – soft – and he didn’t actually come out and say that he wanted to be with the main girl outright. That part was the hardest to get through lol, because me as a viewer also gradually felt it was pointless to watch (and got impatient from waiting for somebody to actually do something). Nevertheless, they did get their happy ending, though the main guy isn’t exactly somebody that is most desirable because of the way he didn’t have the courage to take a stand.


      • I hope you can both watch the anime and read the manga and then write any diversions from the original ( usually from the manga ) . I just watched live action of A Short Distance Relationship. I’ve forgotten the title of the manga and I tell you, the manga is completely different from the live action. The only things that are similar are the names of the main characters, the main plotline of student – teacher relationship, and there’s a teacher rival. That’s all. The storyline is definitely not the same.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice post !!!I have seen all 4 animes and enjoyed all of them .I always prefer the manipulative/realistic characters because it’s always interesting to see their development .Hiromi in the case of true tears, Kei in ef and setsuna in White Album 2.

    I might be the only who doesn’t think that Hiromi is as bad as people make her seem to be.She’s not a bad person but she can let her jealousy out so easily and I also don’t think that Hiromi is the most manipulative girl in the show like the majority of people say (Aiko fits this category more and she Is by far the worst one in the show for so many reasons) Hiromi’s flaws were mostly in her personality rather than her actions which is something very human,I can only recall three or two scenes where she does something that I personally consider bad .She is a very relatable / sympathetic character in my opinion.

    Setsuna and Kei definitely fall into this category though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that Aiko can be also considered manipulative given the way she strung Shinichiro’s friend on – in a way she was really emotionally cheating AND she really got away with it, with the relatively good end she got. Though I think, Aiko really started out on a bad note, made many mistakes along the way etc.
      My take is that the spotlight is on Hiromi really because she’s the most obvious contender against Noe in the main love triangle (Aiko never really stood a chance anyway). Plus, Hiromi pitted against Noe (who is the epitome of purity and a child) puts Hiromi in a worse light than she should be. Hiromi’s actions were understandable given the crap she was handed to by Shinichiro’s mother .. and basically her entire life experience thus far.

      Thank you for the comment! 🙂


      • Aiko is one of the most manipulative characters I’ve ever seen in a a harem/romance anime which is strange because usually the characters of her type are almost always sympathetic.Her selfishness far surpasses all the characters in white album 2 and ef and majority of the cast of true tears combined (Using her boyfriend to get closer to MC is just horrible).I consider her a very questionable character and just all around nasty .I’m not sure if we are supposed to hate her or feel sorry for but I have to admit that I did feel a bit sorry for her because she made mistakes which led to her failure but she got what she deserved .I found her a very refreshing example of a third wheel character .

        Hiromi acted selfishly on many occasions but her actions are at least with in a limit .Aiko kinda went overboard Imo.

        I went to recommend Sukitte ii na yo which is kind of an average shoujo but still very realistic.The rival in that anime is a real piece of work though not to the extent of Sea from peach girl.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I do get what you mean, Aiko-type characters are normally the type which fall into the unrequited love category and are by default most pitiable.
        I think Aiko represents that thin line of being confused about her own feelings and being self-entitled about figuring out her feelings (without caring about who she was hurting in the process). Its arguable both ways, but I see her as an example of a very careless attitude towards existing relationships which may very well be more prevalent in reality than we think. You are right, Aiko was overshadowed by the other two girls in the story itself, but she represents a very unique personality that really isn’t developed much in most love triangle anime.
        I think I was not considering Aiko only because her actions did not have any effect on the MC at all, and it seemed like the REAL love web was between Shinichiro, Noe and Hiromi (as opposed to Kei and Setsuna). In this way, she looked more pitiable to me because despite all that selfishness Shinichiro did not even once look at her in that romantic sense.
        Sae was a very melodramatic character, haha. I am waiting for the Sukitte ii na yo manga to finish, actually 😀


  3. I find Love Triangles in series both incredibly frustrating and fun to watch.

    I recently read Ao Haru Ride and there was a small love triangle between the main character, her ‘boyfriend’ and the guy she liked – there wasn’t so much manipulation going on but a lot of time where the main character had to step back and re-evaluate her feelings.

    In Hana Yori Dango, with love triangles, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. There’s an arc where when the main male character gets amnesia another girl pretends to be the main female character to trick him into falling in love with her! It’s a bit of a wild ride with this series – I recommend the drama more than the manga series though. The drama is a lot more light hearted and the character mores likeable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think there are many variations of love triangles out there 🙂 I have also read Ao Haru Ride and watched the live action adaptations of Hana Yori Dango, so I see what you mean. Both of these are not as melodramatic in a sense, even with Ao Haru Ride’s wavering back and forth (which applies to both leads). I agree that Hana Yori Dango is a good story in general, and actually has one of the more memorable triangles in the shoujo genre xD Which version did you watch? I watched the Korean and Chinese ones, haha!

      Thanks for the comment 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is quite the topic. Drama bombs around every turn! I’ve only seen Ef, but just listening to what you had to say on Hiro’s crazy lovers was incitful. Miyako relied on big punches (some literal) to get her point across to Hiro, and hindered that appeal against Kei. Kei, meanwhile, like you pointed, celebrated with her small victories, relying on her past to grant her a future with him. But I guess that’s half the battle with Ef, isn’t it? Trying to find your bright and shiny future with the one you love? Indeed, the Early Bird gets the worm (the big prize), but the second mouse gets the cheese (the sweet satisfaction that comes by snapping the neck of another).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly, and I like how you also likened Miyako to being the second mouse even though she can be said to also be the early bird in the sense that she was the first to open Hiro’s eyes to any sort of romantic possibility in his life 😀
      Such conundrums, as you pointed out, are indeed part of the entire spectacle that is Ef, and what makes it so interesting and intense to follow as opposed to other generic love triangles. Of course, the rest I have brought up here especially True Tears and White Album 2 are highly recommended as well, I daresay you’d like it 😉
      I have yet to watch Ef: A Tale of Melodies, however :p

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve heard good things about White Album. As for Melodies, be prepared to use all of your tissues bawling your pupils out. It’s quite the darker and dramatic change. Why? Adults get involved, and adults do some pretty serious stuff. I loved the heck out of it, though. So enjoyable and unpredictable, much like Memories! The opening is also so, so sweet 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha that’s great! Wow, that sounds erm … juicy xD But definitely seems up my alley and perfect for when I am in the mood for darker, serious romantic drama 😀 I’ll probably give it a try when I am back in that mood xD

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  5. Sorry I had to skip the first two animes because they are my list to watch at some point but peach girl I have recently seen and completely agree with you abou Sae. I agree she is one of the best manipulative anime characters of all time haha lol Peach girl def deserves the name of love hurricane 😛 I am a romance junkie so I’ve watched a fair few ones ahaha
    Itazura no kiss you might like slightly older anime but was entertaining none the less Great post my dear ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about those anime once you have watched them! 😀 Haha definitely, Sae is really striking as a love triangle villain and it really is full of drama xD
      Hehe yeah I know about Itazura no Kiss, I just wasn’t sure whether I would want to watch a series with a male lead that is supposed to be quite harsh and mean ><
      Thank you ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • You always can’t wait to hear what I have to say haha lol well Itazura no kiss the male lead you’ll want to strangle but it about half way through does get really good I do like that anime 🙂 you should watch the first episode whenever and see what you think 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I hate love triangles because the girl I am rooting for nearly always loses. Have you watched Lull in the Sea? Screw triangles, that shape doesn’t have enough sides to cover how messy the romance in that show gets.

    Liked by 1 person

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