As an alumna of the “Friend of Mine” and “On My Own” love universities, I bear no shame in declaring that my most favorite romantic love story in the world involves falling in love with your best friend.
To me, there’s nothing more fortunate in the world than to fall for someone who gets you and loves you for who you truly are. At the same time, it introduces a needed sexual tension by adding the risk element of not being able to bring things back the way they were in case one of you takes a step forward.
Below are 8 of the most adorable and personally enjoyable depictions of best friends turned lovers romances in anime and manga. And while not all of the couples have explicitly declared themselves as together, they’re very nearly at that point. That said, a HUUUUUUGE spoiler alert! 😀
8 Sweetest Best Friends Turned Lovers Romances in Anime and Manga
1. Last Game [completed]
If there’s a poster pairing for this love trope, it would have to be this adorable series about two smart characters who have been best friends for 10 years. You will root for poor little rich boy Yanagi, who pines for the quiet and oft-stoic Kujou, patroness saint of the oblivious in romance. It’s also endearing to read a story that has the male falling first– all those kawaii blushes!
Their friendship had an unusual start, with Yanagi pursuing Kujou in hopes to distract her enough to ruin her sterling academic performance that defeated his. After getting to know her more, he eventually falls for her. But due to his pride, he could not confess to her. Thus, a 10-year-friendship was born.
While Yanagi’s motivations may not be entirely platonic, his friendship with her is also rooted to how Kujou cares for him even sans his wealth and looks. On the other hand, Kujou looks to Yanagi for support and understanding, especially in matters like her mom, something which she couldn’t openly and easily share with other people.
The transition: Relationship upgrade teasers abound throughout the 56 chapters, and the eventual transition and mutual acceptance of their feelings feels pretty natural. Reading through the end of the series feels like growing up and going into a full circle with them: from the one-sided rivalry to one-sided infatuation to friendship to love.
Selected Relationship Highlight: IMHO, this encapsulates the couple’s entire story.
Kujou gets drunk in her welcome party, and Yanagi arrives to take her back, white prince style. He even shows some savvy in using his “friend” card to justify monopolizing her for the evening.
Later, he learns the reason that Kujou joined a club is to widen her social circles so she could match up to Yanagi’s own people charm. To which, he tells the sleeping girl, “Forget it. I’ve been chasing you for 10 years.” He adds:
Misunderstanding and tsun-tsun moments ensue.<3
2. Warau Kanoko-sama and Koi Dano Ai Dano [both completed]
Unpopular-girl-meets-popular-ikemen plots are a dime a dozen in anime/manga, but the characterizations of Kanoko and Tsubaki spelled the difference between stereotype and spectacular manga read. Kanoko is so clever and sassy that you’ll find it easy to understand why the once-aloof Tsubaki fell in love with her in middle school (in WK) and opted to stay by her side in high school as her best friend (in KDAD).
As her best friend, Tsubaki follows her around and serves as her accomplice in numerous schemes she cooks up. Moreover, she puts his ikemen charms into use– something Tsubaki knows and at times even voluntarily utilizes as long as he knows it will make her happy. While I don’t always approve of his possessive/jealous tendencies, I appreciate his willingness to stick to someone as eccentric and un-shoujo as Naedoko.
Naedoko, on the other hand, may initially appear dismissive and coldly brash towards Tsubaki, but there’s no question about her care and loyalty to him. As described by Tsubaki himself in Chapter 31, Naedoko is the only one to treat him as a normal person, which is why he was conflicted about breaking the status quo. Her friendship simply meant the world to him.
The transition: Tsubaki understood how he felt about Naedoko as early as the first chapter in KDAD, but the series served as his journey to understanding how to properly show his love for his best friend. He started out as a creepily possessive, skinship-obsessed Romeo, but gradually changes into someone who, while still assertive AF, is more respectful of Naedoko’s space and choices. It took me a third reading to understand that, no thanks to my bias for the obvious best guy of the series, President Yabuki.
Meanwhile, Naedoko comes into terms with the fact that she is capable of being liked after living her whole life in belief that she is a perpetually invisible observer in the story. Because of that, she grows to be more empathetic and less awkward in interacting with people.
The characters’ individual growth, rather than their romantic resolution, was the best part of their friendship-turned-to-romance.
Select Relationship Highlight: Every moment Tsubaki overtly and desperately hints his feelings to Naedoko, only for the latter to amusingly misinterpret as friendship. But I especially like the running gag in WK where Tsubaki takes regular 2.5 hour-long train trips with the flimsiest of reasons just so he could visit Naedoko in all of her new schools… because obviously, that’s what friends do.
3. NG Life [complete]
From the same brilliant mangaka that gifted the world with the outstanding romance epic Akatsuki no Yona comes this comedic romantic series about reincarnation. Keidai Saeki is a typical high school boy in modern Japan who possesses the memories of his past incarnation, Sirix of Pompeii. He eventually meets the other important characters in his past life, including his male best friend, Loleus (now in the body of his female best friend, Mii Serizawa) and his wife, Selena (now residing in male neighbor, Yuuma Ujoh).
While not as funny and sweet as AnY, NG Life still makes for a very entertaining read. I particularly adored the characterization of Serizawa, who’s amazingly kind-hearted, mature, and patient all throughout the story. I’ve lost count of times when I thought she was simply too good for Saeki.
The transition: Saeki started to become aware of Serizawa romantically as early as the single-digit chapters, but it’s not till the end of the series that he sorts his feelings out. His growing confusion over who he really wants makes the transition more LOL-stastic, especially when peppered with side comments from his classmates.
Select Relationship Highlight: After a relationship upgrade tease, cowardly Saeki reverts to his conflicted feelings between his past and present life. Serizawa responds by giving him a graceful way out, despite how much it would pain her in return. Her saintly willingness to understand her best friend and not corner him emotionally is at once painful and admirable, but never once did I get a doormat feel from her action. After all, she was his best friend first before anything else, including a lover.
4. Chihayafuru [ongoing]
A trio of children bonded by a traditional card game and brought back together by the love that grew out of it years after they drifted apart, Chihayafuru is a slooooow romance burn given its primary focus on sports (karuta). Yet it’s the evolving dynamics of the players’ personal relationships that really brings out the beauty of the series.
I typically go for the megane, but in this title, I am unquestionably rooting for Taichi and Chihaya. Mashima Taichi is the most fully fleshed out character in the series. Acting as club president and avatar for hard work over talent, he juggles his feelings for Chihaya with his insecurity with Arata while supporting and mothering a whole karuta team with his maturity, patience, and brains.
The transition: Both boys have confessed, and the ball is now in Chihaya’s court. However, given Chihaya’s focus on becoming the Queen of karuta, the love story has taken a back seat. Taichi’s transition isn’t exactly the smoothest (what with the forced kiss and all), but that may have succeeded in opening Chihaya’s eyes a bit to the truth that time is flowing for everyone and that things cannot remain in status quo for their trio.
Select Relationship Highlight: Taichi’s so-near-yet-so-far scene in the train with Chihaya as he hesitates between acting out his clandestine romantic feelings for her or maintaining the platonic pillar of support status quo that he knows Chihaya needs desperately at the moment.
5. Detective Conan [ongoing, probably for 48000 more years]
Gosho Aoyama practically lives and dies by this trope, what with nearly all his pairings revolving around it. But that’s not really a complaint, since he sure knows how to write swoon-worthy moments for his pairings!
Shinichi Kudo is a deduction genius blessed with wicked good soccer skills and a comfortable lifestyle afforded by his novelist dad and actress mom. Ran Mouri is one of the very few people who treated him as a normal person right from the very beginning. Sure, she admires his abilities from time to time, but more often, she treats his sleuthing skills with exasperation and she’ll have no qualms picking fights with him.
Ran, on the other hand, certainly is shown as someone precious Shinichi/Conan has to protect. She is his biggest motivation to move, and that is why she often perceived as the detective’s biggest weakness. But she’ll be damned if she’d let that get in the way of being with him! While not a like-minded Holmes disciple, Ran strives to protect Shinichi/Conan in her own way– with her martial arts skills, courage, and determination.
On a side note, I’d probably fault Ran’s friendship if, after 700+ episodes, she *still* can’t distinguish between a young Shinichi and a Conan Edogawa who only donned Clark Kent specs.
The transition: Their faith in each other is so unshakable that 900+ chapters in, Ran and Shinichi have not given up on meeting each other against all odds. They wholly trust each other even in the biggest perils of their lives (ex. bomb defusal in the first movie). Shinichi has confessed (soooo adorably in London, if I may add), but Ran has not responded *formally* yet (her feelings are pretttyyyy easy to read).
Selected Relationship Highlight: Wayyyyy too many to mention. But I’ve always liked their first meeting as kids at Chapters 921-924, with young Shinichi setting the series precedent of using his brilliant observation and deduction skills to look after Ran, “the only girl to tug at his heartstrings” like so.
I really like the part when, after Ran was threatened that no one would play with her anymore, Shinichi stepped up to the bully’s face and declared that as long as he was around, Ran would always have a friend to play with her.
6. Tomo-chan wa Onna no Ko! [ongoing]
One of my more recent manga discoveries, this title brings together some of my favorite elements in manga romances: tomboyish heroine, sassy wingwoman, dense-but-getting-there male lead, and lots of gags.
Sure, the story screams Wattpad, but its hilarious execution midway through the series will keep you rooting for poor Tomo-chan.
The transition: The main couple is still stuck in a Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun-type of impasse at the moment (400+ comics in), but Jun has had numerous moments when he’s starting to see his best friend as a woman– a particularly attractive one at that. I also love his little green displays of jealousy, which often disconcert him and make him act more protectively (to Tomo’s delight).
Selected Relationship Highlight: Funnily, one of my most fave moments does not have Tomo Aizawa in the scene. Her best friend, Misuzu, discusses to Jun the scenario of Tomo finding another man, and Jun responds accordingly.
7. To Heart [completed]
Hiroyuki and Akari are childhood best friends. On their second year in high school, the usually lazy Hiroyuki gets involved in numerous classmates’ lives (a.k.a. harem tease ships ensue).
I normally do not care much for harems, but I was able to tolerate this specific title (To Heart sequels not included) because of my #feels invested in bringing the dense Hiroyuki and shy Akari together. I love their first meeting under the rain as kids, I love how Akari patiently keeps her #feels in check in face of Hiroyuki’s harem, and I love that at the end of the day, Hiroyuki himself seeks out Akari, like a bird finding its way back into its nest.
The transition: The pairing did not become canon until its sequel, which I barely watched due to the botched characterizations, terrible animation, and loss of focus on the main characters. I didn’t like the transition, but I enjoyed the frustratingly subtle yet whimsically sweet first season, so I still kept it on the main list.
Selected Relationship Highlight: My favorite scene would have to be the bonfire dance. Hiroyuki was a number of people away from Akari during the dance, so he took it upon himself to go to where she was, slamming against people and swapping partners along the way… all so he could dance with her.
8. Akatsuki no Yona [ongoing]
One of the best romance animes that have been shown recently, Akatsuki no Yona’s one draw is the heartfelt, well-written love story that stemmed in childhood friendship.
Princess Yona has always set her heart into marrying Soo-Won and having their loyal general Hak protect them as they serve the kingdom of Kouka. After the nightmarish fall of her royal family though, Yona– with the help of loyal Hak and her four legendary dragons– must crawl back up from the pits of fate to seek justice and get back her rightful claim over the throne.
Hak was Yona’s only pillar of strength after the awful betrayal of her childhood love, ensuring her survival as she wallowed in darkness and despair. He then became her staunchest ally as she sought the dragons and journeyed with her to face Soo-Won once more.
Meanwhile, Hak has bet his entire life on Yona, eschewing even his own responsibility to his clan in order to protect her. She acts as his sheath, becoming the only person to hold him back every time his anger at Soo-Won threatens to consume him.
Their transition: While not yet official, Hak and Yona are on their way to canon status, with Yona realizing her true affections for her best friend (though she remains adorably oblivious to Hak’s lifelong love for her). It took 120+ chapters to get to this point, so impatient readers might get frustrated, but I personally found the pacing of their friendship-to-romance progression just right. There are bigger things for Yona has to face, and I’m grateful for the little but frequent / constant Hak x Yona shipping moments the mangaka generously offers us.
Selected Relationship Highlight: After Yona decides to infiltrate the prostitution ring herself, Hak confronts her alone and begs for her not to go through with it. Yona responds by reiterating her accountability to the people of Kouka as their leader. I love how the scene reveals the conflicting feelings Hak has: one of a lover who doesn’t want to see his beloved in danger, and as her best friend who wants to support the new, more mature Yona he has never seen before.
What to Read / Watch Next
I found a comprehensive list of manga to read that revolves around the BFF to BF romances, but in case you’re interested to know the handful I got to personally read/watch, please feel free to take a gander below. Not all are great, but if you’re looking to kill time (or maybe you’d like to prove my highly unscientific enjoyment ratings wrong), I offer these for your consideration.
|It’s Difficult to Love an Otaku [ongoing]
Enjoyment Rating: 4.5/5
A gaming otaku and a fujoshi who have been friends since middle school suddenly find themselves working for the same company. More comedy than romance, but Hirotaka is hawt! Megane FTW!
|Max Lovely [completed]
Enjoyment Rating: 3.5/5
Best friends Tokieda Airi and Sahara Taki work together to bring down the mysterious bullying group, F, while dealing with their respective social lives.Airi is an atypical shoujo heroine lead and enjoys a comfortable, almost sibling-like bond with her best friend, the smart Taki-kun. At times though, their relationship comes across as MU-ish, rather than platonic, so YMMV.
|Miracle Girls [completed]
Enjoyment Rating: 3.5/5
|Special A [completed]
Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Hikari can try her hardest to insist that she and Takishima Kei are childhood rivals, but their close friendship is evident– from Hikari’s frequent show of concern for Takishima (which the latter quickly destroys by spinning it off as signs of her crushing on him) to Kei’s perpetual protectiveness over his impulsive childhood friend.Enjoyed it more as a manga, despite my reservations over Kei’s oddly drawn eyes.
Enjoyment Rating: 3.5/5
I don’t have the confidence to summarize the plot of TC, but I do love the lengths Syaoran will go through in order to recover his childhood friend’s fragmented memories.
|Sei♥Dragon Girl [completed]
Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Momoka Sendou (nicknamed “Dragon Girl”) and Ryuga Kou are childhood friends. Momoka is a martial artist, and Ryuga is a Chinese magic master who banishes demons. In order to increase his power, Ryuga calls on the spirit of a dragon to possess him, but the spirit enters Momoka instead. Now the two must unite forces and fight demons together!
(Source: VIZ Media)
Kou’s the typical cocky, capable male lead, while Momoka’s the hot-headed, emotional female lead. Stereotypical, but a cute read nonetheless.
|Heroine Shikkaku [completed]
Enjoyment Rating: 3.5/5
Hatori believed that one day she would get married to her childhood friend, Rita. This stubbornness wastes a perfectly awesome second male lead, but who cares? As long as we were able to torture stupid, wishy-washy Rita at one point with a “the one that got away” #feels. /sarcasm
OK, I wasn’t a big fan of the resolution, but read it for the early chapters’ hilarious, anti-shoujo heroine art and dialogues. It’s sad that this promising work ended up falling to the same problems that its genre is notorious for.
|Lovely Complex [completed]
Enjoyment Rating: 3.5/5
Risa Koizumi bond with her buddy, Atsushi Ootani, over lost loves, and ended up falling for him. Unfortunately, he was several inches shorter than her– which wasn’t ideal for someone as tall as her. Risa now decides if she should pursue the romance or not.
It’s been a while since I last read this, but what I do recall most about this title is how I didn’t like how poorly Ootani treated Risa at the latter part of the series, and how doormat-ish she ended up behaving. But again, YMMV.
|Yuki wa Jigoku ni Ochiru no ka [ongoing]
Enjoyment Rating: 3.5/5
On her 16th birthday, Yuki and her acerbic childhood friend Takaya reunite with the rest of their friends in order to protect their community from supernatural forces.
Its mangaka also wrote Kaichou wa Maid Sama, but this title had considerably less doki-doki moments. Also, Takaya is a grade-A a-hole, and the series better have a reasonable justification for his attitude towards his childhood friend that he once was very caring with.
Did I miss any title? Let me know in the comments section!