Always Second Best

"He's willing to be second best, the perfect lodger, the perfect guest..."
Bob Seger, "Beautiful Loser"

Some people always win, some people always lose, and these people... end up second place.

They're usually competent, skilled, or (if it is romance we are talking about) relatively inoffensive at least. But they never quite succeed. There's usually some character (usually, but not always, the protagonist) who beats them. If it wasn't for That One Person they'd be number one, but they aren't.

So they're number two, making them prime material for Rival Turned Evil. If a Sibling Rivalry is involved being always second best often comes part and parcel with being the Unfavorite.

Compare Can't Catch Up. The Worf Barrage. Romantic Runner-Up is a version of this character specific to romance stories. Poor Man's Substitute is the version where a character acts as a poor replacement. When it's more perceived than actual, it's Always Someone Better. Often related to Second Place Is for Losers and The B Grade


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  • Koujirou Hyuuga from Captain Tsubasa is a very good player, but not good enough to beat Tsubasa. This is played for drama towards the final episodes of the original series, during the third Championship final match, which is all about Hyuuga doing everything possible to at last defeat Tsubasa. In the end, the match ends on a draw and both teams are declared champions
  • Dio from Casshern Sins sees himself as this to Casshern. And it irritates him to no end
    Dio: We are perfectly identical, in both skills and specs! So explain to me why I'm inferior to Casshern!
  • After knowing she was seconded to NAGO in school again, Yanagin in Daily Lives of High School Boys dared NAGO to beat her in karate and then ramen which Yanagin was decisively defeated in both. In a later skit she tried daring NAGO to beat her in tolerance in the sauna, and defeated again—not only to NAGO, but presumably her two other friends Habara and Ikushima.
  • Mello from Death Note. He joins the mafia, kidnaps poor little Sayu, kills Souichiro, kidnaps Takada, and gets his best friend killed - all in the name of being better than Near at the "L's Successor" game.
    • Meanwhile, Near feels the same way with L, only in the "Greatest-Detective" game.
  • Dragon Ball Z.
    • Vegeta is practically the poster boy for this trope. His anger at this state is a large driving motivation for him throughout the series.
    • Goku has this dynamic with all his rivals. Yamcha, Krillin, Tien, and Piccolo are always second to Goku even at their strongest, saved when Piccolo briefly became the strongest hero after merging with Kami.
    • Goten and Trunks have this relationship. Trunks is always a little stronger than Goten because of his age and being trained by his father. Goten isn't bitter about this, just mildly annoyed.
    • Goten also has a mild case of this with Gohan. When training, he becomes upset at how easily Gohan can beat him.
    • As of late, Goku is always second to Beerus, the strongest being the universe if you don't count Whis.
  • This is a major part of Jinnai's motivation in El-Hazard: The Magnificent World coupled with a side-order of Unknown Rival. Makoto constantly and effortlessly doing better than him at just about every activity (at least at school), coupled with Makoto being the one to expose his bribing his way into the student council presidency, is what causes him to snap at the beginning. Though it's worth noting that he lead the Bugrom against the kingdoms of El-Hazard before finding out that Makoto was working with them. Makoto's participation just made it personal.
  • In the earlier half of Eyeshield 21, the Deimon Devil Bats managed to beat weak teams like the Cupids or the Chameleons, but lost against strong teams like the White Knights, the Aliens, and at best tied with the Sphinx. (Technically winning because the Sphinx didn't want to fight the Aliens after such a hard battle anyway.) They got better as the series went on, but through out the entire series, you could never be so sure that they were going to win or not.
    • Parodied with Saburo Mitsui, kicker for the Hakushu Dinosaurs who always tries to be third best at everything.
  • Gaka Izumi from Flunk Punk Rumble. A formidable fighter/student on his own accord, but it's practically a running gag that he's only second to Hana and Chiba at strength and academics, respectively.
  • In Omake chapters of Fullmetal Alchemist, Mustang constantly suffered this to Edward in regards to the popularity polls. Whenever there was poll, Ed would always win, by a large landslide and Mustang would get pissed.
    • The picture above was also the source a Brick Joke. Prior to the final popularity contest, Mustang was sure that he would come in first place because Ed and Al had been Out of Focus during that period of the manga.
  • In Hellsing, Walter is this to Alucard. During their final confrontation, Alucard even rubs it in Walter's face by stating that if Anderson couldn't defeat him, then a "brat" like Walter never could. Of course, this blatantly implies that Walter wasn't even second best, but third best behind Anderson, who Alucard views as his true rival and Worthy Opponent.
  • Kuroko no Basuke: As a collective group, the "Uncrowned Kings" are this in comparison to the "Generation of Miracles". Both groups are five extremely gifted basketball prodigies who have greater skills than any of their peers. The Generation, however, are as far beyond the Kings as the Kings are from everyone else. Their Meaningful Name comes from the fact that if they had been born in any generation before now, THEY would be the Generation of Miracles.
  • Maken-ki!: Poor Kinua. Despite her wealth, upbringing and her beauty... she just can't compete with Azuki's natural athleticism. The the very first chapter establishes the fact by having Kinua lose to her (again), at the end of their duel during the introduction ceremony. And in chapter 10, Azuki outperformed her in gymnastics too.
  • Yzak Joule from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED. He manages to be great at everything, but always ends up losing to Athrun Zala at all that at the same time. Guess what place he ranked among the Red Suits upon graduation.
    • Outright parodied in the Chibi Character Theater shorts, where Yzak (and Dearka) actually manages to beat Athrun (and Kira) at beach volleyball...but the crowd STILL reacts like Kira and Athrun won, to Yzak's utter exasperation.
  • In Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam: The Steel 7, Tobia goes to recruit Giri, former Ace Pilot for the Jupiter Empire and his one-time rival, for a mission to stop the Jovians from blasting Earth with a colony laser. Giri refuses at first, but that changes the nanosecond he learns that the Empire's leader is Callisto; back in the Empire's Newtype Corps, Giri always came in second to Callisto, who would smugly rub it in. Thus Giri joins entirely for the chance to ruin Callisto's plans, and takes great pleasure in mocking him over how a supposedly inferior pilot is showing him up.
  • To some degree Rock Lee from Naruto fits this trope: He is usually described as (and shown as) one of the strongest of the younger ninjas... but never actually wins (although he always gives a good account of himself).
    • He curb-stomps both Naruto and Sasuke. He even went as far as to one-shot the main character, Naruto. Lee beat his double in Shippuden. I know what you're thinking: "How hard is it to beat yourself?" Well, think about it. This is Rock Lee we're talking about, one of the best taijutsu specialists in Konoha; when you take that into consideration, taking out his double is quite a feat.
    • The reason why Sasuke betrayed Konoha in the first place. He was second best to Itachi and felt that he would become second best to Naruto.
    • Madara Uchiha was this to the 1st Hokage. Many, many of the current problems in the ninja world are ultimately the result of Madara's inability to accept this and his subsequent actions. Talk about petty...
  • Pokémon's Ash Ketchum has participated in 4 major league tournaments, and the best he has accomplished is to reach the semifinals.
    • Except for the Orange Island Leagues (a filler arc), which he actually won. Though it doesn't seem to be anything special as it was never mentioned again, nor did the Orange Islands appear in any of the games. Gets really strange in the later seasons when his Pokemon should be the equivalent of level 100 by now.
      • That Orange Island bit didn't help his case much either. The first thing that happens after getting back to Pallet Town, Team Rocket manages to set them up in a trap that would have worked had Gary Oaks not come in as a Deus ex Machina to save everyone. He even points this out to his rival, that his victory didn't mean much if he still fell for Team Rocket's trap. Angry, Ash challenges him to a battle, and Gary's Eevee effortlessly beats Pikachu.
  • Ranma ˝: Fans often assume this to be the case with Ryoga, compared to Ranma, who always seems to come out on top in their matches. But others have found that by simply comparing their track records, Ryoga has beaten Ranma nearly twice as many times. It's more that Ranma wins when it's important.
  • Kariu of ReLIFE gets top grades and is an excellent athlete, but she remains second to Hishiro in academics and Honoka in sports.
  • This is the defining trope of Special A, with Hikari forever trying (and failing) to beat Kei at anything.
  • Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko: Madoka always ends up being second to Yohko, bet it sports, studies, or starship pilot Yohko is way ahead of her. Its a bit jarring as Yohko spends most of her time being a slacker and still get better grades than her.
  • Yuuya from Super Gals, nicknamed "Second Place", always playing second fiddle to everyone else. He ends up with The Rival and the last episode shows them running around town winning contests...
  • Seidou Takizawa from Tokyo Ghoul has an enormous inferiority complex as a direct result of this. When he isn't coming in second to his so-called rival, Akira, he's being shown up by the insanely talented rookie Juuzou.
  • Variable Geo: When Damian first senses Satomi's latent energy, he has a background check done on her which reveals she used to be undefeated... until she met Yuka. She continued to lose each time they competed, with each loss chipping away at her confidence until she finally stopped trying, out of fear that she'd never be able to defeat Yuka. Damian uses this to The Jahana Group's advantage by playing on her insecurity so she'd enter the VG tournament.

  • Batgirl 2009 is Stephanie Brown, aka Spoiler, aka girl Robin, aka girl who screws up every major plan. Her predecessor, Cassandra Cain, was a much better fighter, with a far better track record and a cooler tragic backstory note . Key to this relationship, however, was that Stephanie showed no bitterness towards Cassandra for all of this — they were, in fact, good friends —and accepting it in good humour, attempting now and then to do the best with what she had rather than seethe about being in second place. This was also partly because there was one key area that Stephanie could trump Cassandra — social skills (Cassandra having such a maladjusted upbringing that she could barely read, write or speak coherently until her teenage years).
  • Flintheart Glomgold's main grievance with Scrooge McDuck is that Scrooge is the Richest Duck in the World, Flintheart the Second Richest Duck — a designation that he feels to be humiliating. Much of the humor in his first two appearances is that the characters have similar skill-sets and about equal fortunes. Scrooge gains the victory in their first story by having some more string than Flintheart, and wins the rematch by a rather small sum of coins. The problem is that they are both too competitive to accept anyone as an equal.
  • Doctor Doom's boiling hatred of Reed Richards stems from the fact that Reed is the smartest man in the world — just the tiniest bit smarter than Doom is. He also came up second to Doctor Strange in a contest between the world's mages; though Doom being Doom, he managed to suppress his pride long enough to work the situation to his advantage.
  • Jason Todd, the second Robin feels this way towards Dick Grayson, the first Robin and current Nightwing. It really doesn't help that Bruce expected him to be exactly like Dick, and that, as a family, Dick is by far Bruce's preferred son. Arguably second most preferred son after Damian's introduction, although it's debatable, and either way, Dick is the one who will inherit the title of Batman.
  • Bullock and Montoya. It doesn't matter how Badass Harvey Bullock is (indeed, often rushing bravely into situations that would give even Batman pause); in the end he's just a big, fat, clumsy buffoon who can never quite measure up to Action Girl Renee Montoya. Even when he takes on the vigilante Lock-Up - a man who is at least as large as he is — he gets no respect, as Montoya just leaps atop Lock-Up's back while Bullock has him distracted and beats him unconscious with her pistol. Bad enough that the out-of-shape Bullock is visibly winded after the fight; when the rest of the cops show up, Montoya even gets credit for busting Black Mask's entire gang, despite admitting that Batman, Robin and Nightwing were responsible for that one! (Also Positive Discrimination, as you may have noticed.)
  • This is weirdly inconsistent with Wolverine (James "Logan" Howlett) and Sabretooth (Victor Creed). Sometimes, it's made clear that Wolverine will always be better than Sabretooth and that's why Creed hates Logan. Other times, Creed us better than Logan and this is why he's such a big threat despite his really low ambitions. It's wildly inconsistent and depends on what story you're reading, but is inexplicably constantly brought up. For what it's worth, it was retconned years down the line that Sabretooth was Charles Xavier's first choice for the X-Men, but after finding out he wasn't willing to change his ways, he reneged on that.

  • In Thousand Shinji, Rei got depressed because she thought she would always be second to Asuka in Shinji's heart even if she talked them into a threesome. She tried to reassure herself that second place is better than no place at all.

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney's Aladdin. Even before he got the genie, Jafar was Always Second Best in another way; by being beneath the Sultan, who he saw as immature and unfit to rule (and... he was kinda right). The reason he fell for Aladdin's goading so much toward the end might have been because he couldn't stand the thought of still being second-best after all he'd gained.
    Aladdin: (to snake Jafar) The genie has more power than you'll ever have!
    Jafar: What?!
    Aladdin: He gave you your power, he can take it away! Face it Jafar, you're still just second best!
  • In Aladdin: The Return of Jafar, the tables were turned. Jafar was delighted enough to make a whole song taunting Genie, "You're Only Second Rate".
  • Cars: Apparently, Chick Hicks has been "chasing that tail fin" his entire career, always trying to beat The King. He wins the big race, but the fans were so upset at what he did to win the "victory" wasn't worth it.
  • It's unknown if Anna has any feelings of inadequacy in the final product, but for much of Frozen's development she had issues involving her relationship to her older sister Elsa. Elsa was written as less reclusive than in the final film. In early drafts where she was a villain they didn't even have the whole part about Anna and Elsa being locked away for over a decade. Anna's unused song "More Than Just A Spare" (written when Elsa was still the antagonist) is all about how she wants to get out of her sisters shadow. It's likely they scrapped this character point: A. Because Elsa didn't interact with people, or even her sister, so no one could even know how talented and popular she is and B. It gives Hans and Anna too similar backstories.
    I'm not part of the town, not meant to be queen, just somebody hopelessly inbetween
    She's the scholar, athlete, poet
    I'm the screwup... Don't I know it
    But then, who could ever compare?
    Of course they're gonna think I'm just the spare
    Well I won't care.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bjorn Turoque in real life documentary Air Guitar Nation against C-Diddy. Widely Considered the Second Best AIR GUITARIST in the World. During the movie, he gets eliminated several times but always comes back and earns the respect of fellow air guitarists for his performances.
  • Salieri in Amadeus is presented as this trope.
  • The Cincinnati Kid with Lancey Howard's cracking line at the end; "You're good, kid, but as long as I'm around you're second best."
  • Galaxy Quest: After Alexander frees the suffocating Thermians.
    Alexander: (resigned sigh) It just isn't fair.
  • Loki in Marvel's Thor, as well as its source mythology. As the trickster figure he often takes a back seat to the bravo-ed brawn that it his brother.
  • Steven Prince in The World's End was always just a bit less cool than his friend Gary King, who also got it on with the girl Steven liked.

  • In The Book of Joe, this is how Joe feels in comparison to his older brother Brad especially in their father's eyes- mostly thanks to Brad's sporting prowess. Touchingly subverted when Joe finds out how proud his father was of his literary career.
  • Elleston Trevor's Bury Him Among Kings is a World War I novel about the Sibling Rivalry between two brothers, the younger of whom feels Always Second Best.
  • Illvin in the Chalion series to his brother Arhys. Unusually, he doesn't mind too much. ("If I ever run into the third best swordsman in Carabastos, he's going to be in very big trouble.")
  • A major source of tension in the romance between Locke and Sabetha of the Gentleman Bastard series. The two of them are equally skilled grifters. However, Locke very easily wins the recognition that Sabetha craves, often stumbling into it by accident. It's unclear how much of this is due to sexism and how much is due to Locke's penchant for insane, flamboyant, improvised schemes (as opposed to Sabetha's meticulous preplanning).
  • In the Halo novels, Fred is this to John (Master Chief), in every area. John is convinced he does this on purpose so he doesn't have to be in charge.
  • Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series. To start off with, he's always in the shadows of his older brothers who areHead Boy, Captain of the Quidditch Team, another head boy, and popular pranksters. Add to the fact that his best friends are respectively the legendary Harry and brilliant Hermione, Ron suffers a massive inferiority complex for much of the series. This gets a huge lampshade when he sees himself in the Mirror of Erised and when when he is taunted by the Horcrux in the locket before he destroys it.
  • The mysterious villain of the Anthony Horowitz book I Know What You Did Last Wednesday, Captain Randle/Johnny Nadler, came second in every subject and never really stood out of the group he was part of in school (which consisted of everybody who came first). He doesn't respond too well; he lures everybody who bested him to a secluded island and kills them with cruel and ironic death traps which somehow relate to the subject they beat him in.
  • Denethor and Faramir in The Lord of the Rings. Denethor was second best in his youth to Thorongil in both his father's heart and his people's, which left him very bitter. He grew so afraid of this trope (being second best to Gandalf in his son's and knights' respect and affection, being second best to Aragorn in honor and glory in his people's opinion) that it is one of the reasons he succumbed to despair in the end and committed suicide. As for Faramir, he was deemed second to his brother by his people all his life, being less flamboyant and more gentle and scholarly in nature than Boromir in those times of war, but he never grew jealous about it. He also accepted to be second to Aragorn with grace after the war.
  • In Midnight's Children, Saleem's uncle Mustapha becomes a civil servant, but is constantly passed over for promotion. He ends up stuck in second-rate positions for his entire life. This infuriates him, causing him to take it out on his children. Even in the scope of his genealogy hobby, he discovers that someone's better at it than him.
  • Our Dumb World, brought to you by The Onion, says this about South Korea.
  • Zhou Yu towards Zhuge Liang in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. As a matter of fact, Zhou supposedly died out of despair out of this trope. This dynamic even caused this trope to be called the "Yu-Liang Complex" in China—although it was not historically true.
    Zhou Yu: If [Heaven] have gave birth to Yu, why did [he] give birth to Liang?!
  • The book The Shadow Club by Neal Shusterman is about a group of kids like this who band together. It does not end well.
  • Exaggerated in the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Wraith Squadron. One of the pilots, Falynn Sandskimmer, feels this way about herself. She's second-best in several areas (TIE pilot, security expert, scout), but doesn't see herself as number one at anything. She fails to see how her versatility makes her valuable (she's number two to several different people). At the end of the novel, she makes a desperate attempt to be "first" at something; she succeeds, but dies in the process.
    • Fellow squadron member Tyria Sarkin also has this problem, considering herself the worst pilot in the group. It doesn't help that she is a Force sensitive that was considered too weak to be a Jedi. She gets better about it, eventually becoming a full Jedi. Rather ironically, she is one of those that Falynn considers herself weaker than, serving as the pointman during raids.
  • In Under the Volcano, Hugh Firmin (in spite of his excellent qualities) finds that his older brother Geoffrey keeps getting in ahead of him doing the things that Hugh aspires to, and, even worse, throwing those accomplishments away: Geoffrey was a decorated (then disgraced) hero in World War I, while Hugh has not managed to see action in the Spanish Civil War; Geoffrey married (and lost) the woman Hugh loves; etc.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • Tigerstar suffered from this. He claims that he was a great warrior, but as soon as Bluestar discovered Firestar, he was reduced to "a great warrior, just not as good as Firestar".
    • Ashfur in the second arc, The New Prophecy. He would be the best choice for deputy...if not for Brambleclaw. He could have been StarClan's chosen one... if not for Brambleclaw. He could have had Squirrelflight's affections...if not for Brambleclaw. See the pattern?
    • Gray Wing from Dawn of the Clans to his brother Clear Sky. He's the Tribe's second best hunter after Clear Sky, second place in their little brother Jagged Peak's Big Brother Worship, and second place romantically to Clear Sky's mate Bright Stream and second mate Storm. It stems from Gray Wing being a deconstruction of series protagonist Firestar.
  • Demandred from Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time is this trope. He is mentioned that "He would have been the greatest man of his age, had he not lived at the same time as Lews Therin Telamon." He was apparently born one day after Lews Therin, setting a trend of always being a step behind for their entire lives, the envy at this turning him from one of the most prominent good generals in the fight against evil into one of the most prominent evil generals. He was and likely still is second best at most (though he's one of the Shadow's most potent servants, he's still stuck playing second fiddle to Ishamael). Really, it's small wonder the man is more than a little insane by now.
    • "Born one day after Lews Therin, he had almost as much strength and almost as much skill. He spent years almost equaling Lews Therin's accomplishments and fame."

    Live Action TV 
  • There was a commercial in which the main character was a man who had a history of being second-best at everything he'd ever done, and had developed something of a complex about that fact. However, the fact that he has managed to get second place at everything should mean he's still ridiculously talented in a wide range of skills.
  • Allison Harvard reached the final Runway of America's Next Top Model in Cycle 12 and 17. She finished 2nd both times.
  • The Brady Bunch:
    • Bobby's dilemma in "The Winner," from Season 2.
    • Jan's famous cry, "Marcia Marcia Marcia!!!" in "Her Sister's Shadow."
  • Part of the Sibling Rivalry between Niles and Frasier Crane stems from the fact that they both consider themselves this trope. Whether it be the success of their personal lives (for much of the show's run, Frasier was twice-divorced and once left at the altar, while Niles was mired in a miserable, abusive marriage), the prestige of their professions (Frasier had fame from his radio show, while Niles's private practice was more dignified and lucrative), their parents' love (they both took after their dead mother, and barely resemble their father at all), or anything else under the sun, a staple of their dynamic was to declare they were better than the other, rub the other's face in it, and then privately worry that the other was better than them.
  • Friends: Played with between Chandler and Richard. Chandler feels like he's second best to Richard, who is the mature, sophisticated man he always wanted to be and the love of Monica's life. In fact Richard is second best to Chandler, as when faced with a choice between the two, Monica picks Chandler (with all his immaturity and quirks) over the seemingly perfect Richard and repeatedly reassures him he is the love of her life.
    • Prior to this Chandler was also second best to Joey whenever they tried to pick up girls. Though again subverted when Joey's serious girlfriend falls for Chandler instead. (Though he still worries he's second best in bed, so much of his belief he's second best comes from his own rampant insecurities).
  • The writers of Merlin (2008) have set up an interesting dynamic between Arthur and Lancelot that seems to be based on this trope in which both of them are always second best to the other. Where Arthur is arrogant, Lancelot is humble, yet he has been the only male character thus far that has ever been able to best Arthur in combat. However, he declines membership into Arthur's knights as he considers himself unworthy. Later, on noticing that Arthur clearly has feelings for Guinevere, Lancelot bows out of the Love Triangle without a fight so as not to get in the way of Arthur's intentions — even though he obviously had the more advantageous suit. Lancelot is only second best to Arthur because he chooses to be — and Arthur knows it.
    • Conversely, Lancelot adores Merlin and Guinevere to the point of worship. He has stepped into the void for their sakes. However, their lives revolve completely around Arthur, and he's all they ever seem to talk about in Lancelot's presence.
  • Saturday Night Live once did a commercial parody for "The People's Second Choice Awards". Hosted by Ed McMahon, celebrity presenters included Oates, Tom Wopat (referred to as "the dark haired guy from The Dukes of Hazzard"), etc.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Dr. Julian Bashir graduated second in his class from Star Fleet Medical. For a while he seemed to have a bit of a complex about this, until it was decided that he did it on purpose so as not to draw too much attention to himself.
  • Amanda Kimmel and Russell Hantz both made it to the final Tribal Council on Survivor twice in a row. And both lost twice. In a row.
  • The Vampire Diaries: Damon Salvatore fits this trope.
    • After the events of 4x20, Katherine Pierce may qualify in regards to Elijah. She finally admits she loves him and wants to be with him, and he chooses his brother over her. For the third or fourth time. This has also happened to her various times throughout her life.
  • Angie Tribeca has Laurie Partridge, Angie's old police academy roommate.
    Laurie: I was always the best at everything, and then I met you in the Academy and suddenly, I was "Most Likely to be Overshadowed by Angie Tribeca."

  • "Beautiful Loser" by Bob Seger (see the page quote) sums up someone who fits this trope nicely.
  • The Small Faces were considered this to The Who, who were themselves considered this to The Beatles.
  • Any musical act that has had several songs go to #2 but has never had a #1. In the United States:
    • Creedence Clearwater Revival are the kings of this trope, reaching #2 five times without ever hitting the top spot.
    • By 1981 Foreigner scored five Top 10 hits in Billboard, with "Double Vision" hitting #2. Then "Waiting For a Girl Like You" spent an agonizing ten weeks at #2, kept out of the top spot mainly by Olivia Newton-John's "Physical". They finally got to #1 with "I Want To Know What Love Is" in 1984.
    • On the country chart, the record for most weeks at No. 2 without reaching No. 1 was accomplished in 1955 by Kitty Wells. The then-reigning Queen of Country Music spent an incredible 15 weeks in the runner-up spot with her classic "Making Believe," stuck for every one of those weeks behind Decca Records-labelmate Webb Pierce's 21-week chart-topper "In the Jailhouse Now." Wells wasn't doing too much complaining; she already had two No. 1s hits earlier, including her signature song from three years earlier with "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels."
    • The song "Only Love Can Break a Heart" — one in a country version, the other pop — had this happen twice. The first time was in 1962, when pop singer Gene Pitney was stopped at No. 2. Ten years later, Sonny James recorded a country version (one of his many covers of pop hits), and appeared primed to continue his then-prevailing consecutive No. 1s in as many single releases streak, extending it to No. 17. However, Capitol Records labelmate Freddie Hart had an even bigger song out at the same time: "My Hang-Up is You" (his follow up to "Easy Loving"), and it was Hart's six-week run at No. 1 that stopped James' "Only Love" and his No. 1 streak at 16.
    • In a coincidence, Skeeter Davis' "End of the World" stopped at No. 2 on both the country and pop charts in the winter of 1963.
  • Dave Mustaine's band Megadeth have always been behind his former band Metallica in terms of popularity. He has long been frustrated about this situation (as heard in the documentary Some Kind Of Monster), despite being extremely successful himself, just out of sheer rivalry.
  • In their documentary, Fearless Vampire Killer's Laurence Beveridge admits to feeling this about Kier Kemp. Both sing and play rhythm guitar for the band and were best friends since they were 9. Laurence feels that Kier is a better singer than himself and that people notice Kier more than himself.
    • Conversely, Kier Kemp also feels this to a lesser extent about Laurence. He says that he feels inferior to Laurence based on his ability to perform and get a crowd going.
  • Boy bands One Direction and The Wanted were considered equals...until the former soared to international superstardom while the latter got completely flattened by their rivals.
  • Paul Simon has complained from time to time about people viewing him as this in comparison to Bob Dylan.
  • "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty spent six weeks at #2 in 1978, trailing "Shadow Dancing" by Andy Gibb all of those weeks. Reliable sources (scroll down) report that some backroom shenanigans at Billboard prevented Rafferty from hitting #1.
  • PSY's "Gangnam Style" was a massive hit, topping the chart in every country in the world...except the United States, where it got stuck at #2 for seven weeks behind Maroon 5's "One More Night." Like with "Baker Street" above, it is rumored that there was a conspiracy to keep "Gangnam" from hitting the top, and it had minimal radio airplay while "Night" was purposely kept at or near the top of the radio charts for nearly three months, as most #2 peaking hits do so against strong and stable #1s.
  • OneRepublic had this happen to them twice over. In 2007, their song "Apologize" became a massive hit and stayed in the Top 10 for an unprecedented 25 weeks and once broke the record for the most spins on mainstream radio. Yet, it was held off the top spot by Chris Brown's "Kiss Kiss" and later Alicia Keys' "No One". History Repeats six years later, when they released "Counting Stars". It managed to be an even bigger hit than "Apologize", spending another 25 consecutive weeks in the Top 10, spent 68 weeks on the Hot 100, and has garnered over one billion views on Youtube. Yet, once again, they were held off from the top spot, this time by "Timber" from Pitbull featuring Ke$ha.
  • This happened to Drake with "Hotline Bling". While "Best I Ever Had" being stuck at #2 was frustrating, it was his debut single and was against I Gotta Feeling, so it was more understanding. "Bling", however, was a pop-culture phenomenon whose success spread far beyond just being "a Drake song". It was stuck behind The Weeknd's "The Hills" and Adele's "Hello". The week it looked to hit #1, The Weeknd released a remix of "The Hills" featuring Eminem and another with Nicki Minaj. This gave "The Hills" a sales boost to keep it atop the charts. The week after, "Bling"'s streaming was crippled when Apple withheld the data for the release of the video. And the next week was the week "Hello" came out, ending its chances of ever hitting the top.
  • Subverted with Linkin Park's debut album Hybrid Theory. While it remained at #2 during its peak, it was the best-selling album of 2001 anyways (and indeed, the best-selling debut album of the 21st century).

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Played for Drama during the Rey Mysterio feud of the summer of 2005. Despite being a former WWE Champion and the physically larger of the duo, Eddie could never beat Rey one-on-one. The fact that he couldn't accomplish this even after overcoming drug addiction, Brock Lesnar, and so forth eventually drove Eddie insane. And even when his sadistic mind games finally caused Rey to crack, to the point where he and his son Dominic were pathetically praying in the locker room before a match out of mortal dread, it still wasn't worth the massive amount of hatred Eddie got from everyone (including even Tazz, who always cheered the heels).

    Video Games 
  • In Batman: Arkham Series, The Riddler is this to Batman. His attempts to prove himself the intellectual superior through his riddles and deathtraps only serve to disprove this notion when Batman constantly defeats him. In fact during one of his Death Trap scenarios when Edward attempts to cheat, in order to "outwit" the Dark Knight, it fails because Batman is also better at cheating.
  • In Class Trip Crush, twins Taketo and Yasuto Kanzaki manage to be mutually Always Second Best to one another. Taketo is good at everything he puts his hand to, where Yasuto is rather clumsy outside of baseball and quite conscious of that fact; Taketo, however, describes Yasuto as a "genius" and observes that no one can possibly match him at the one thing he's devoted all of his effort to. The feeling that he couldn't measure up to his brother led Taketo to switch from the baseball team to soccer team to avoid competing with Yasuto, and his route shows that he has something of a complex about it.
  • In Juuzaengi, Kakouton and Kakouen found their positions as Sousou's best generals threatened once Kan'u came in the picture and defeated enemies that they cannot defeat.
  • Riki from Little Busters! sees himself as this - not as strong as Masato, as strong-willed as Kengo, or as generally perfect as Kyousuke, or anything really all that special in general. It actually doesn't bother him, though, and he's content to just follow after his friends for his whole life.
    • Also, Haruka is this for her twin sister, Kanata. Their parents enforced a heavy competition between them as to which would be the heir and which the unnecessary child, and in almost everything Kanata would win. She takes it much worse than Riki, though.
  • Dex from Mega Man Battle Network, he even has to lie to his little brother Chisao to hide this fact.
    • In the classic series, this trope is intergal to Dr. Wily's backstory. Despite winning many awards in robotics, Wily was consistently second place to Dr. Light despite his best efforts. This eventually drives him completely insane, and he becomes obsessed with taking over the world primarily just to prove that he's better than Light.
  • The Rivals from the Pokémon games, especially Blue and Silver. They're all highly skilled trainers who manage to beat all eight Gym Leaders (and, in Blue's case, the Elite Four) yet always manage to lose to the player. The first two generations tied this into An Aesop about The Power of Love, but in the third and fourth generations, you're just better than them.
  • Aperture Science to Black Mesa. In Portal 2, you come across several second-place trophies in the 1950s Aperture Science area; it is implied they lost every time to Black Mesa. This is after they've been shown to go out of their way to engage in everything they do in the most ridiculous, inefficient, dangerous, and/or pointless manner possible, so what they succeed at must be rather phenomenal. On the other hand, there is a branch in which Aperture managed to trump Black Mesa: Potato Sciences.
  • Juan Corrida to Matt Engarde in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All. Even in Jerkassery.
  • Elias Goldstein in Shall We Date?: Wizardess Heart struggles to live up to the high standards of his prestigious family, particularly that of his perfectionist older brother Klaus. Klaus tends to be overly critical of Elias's efforts in magic, observing that although Elias is a skilled wizard, he lacks imagination.
  • Yellow, the professional StarCraft gamer, was titled king of second place for always getting oh so close to the gold, but never EVER winning a major title. Another gamer, Stork, had inherited his title until finally getting a gold in a relatively recent finals.
    • Further, in Starcraft 2, Marine King Prime has been in more GSL finals than anyone else (3 out of 5 so far) and has come in 2nd every time.
  • Luigi in the Super Mario series, every version, has had to feel this his entire life. Every time he wants to do something, Mario beats him to it or outperforms him when the brothers are both present. This has since become a defining character trait for Luigi from Luigi's Mansion and onward, with him nearly snapping in Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time.
  • In Tales of Legendia, Shirley is always getting overlooked by her big sister Stella, as well as both sisters' mutual love interest, Senel. Senel continues to choose Stella over Shirley even after Stella dies partway through the game.
  • Subverted in Touhou: Marisa's pretty proud of being second only to Reimu, since it means she's still skilled enough to take on everybody else, even without any special powers of her own.

     Web Original 
  • 2nd HOTTEST GIRL (A Love Song), a song by Tobuscus is about the 2nd hottest girl on a show who will always be second hottest.
  • In Noob, this is explictly the situation of Amaras in regards to Fantöm until it turns out that Fantöm had been unknowingly getting an illegal boost from the game creators and the creators delete Fantöm's avatar in an attempt to cover their tracks and make Fantöm's player the scapegoat. These events automatically made Amaras number one.
  • Other Space's Michael is the embodiment of this trope, except he doesn't even get to be first officer.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons had an episode where a new student was slightly better than Lisa at everything, mostly slightly more knowledgeable and better on the sax. She even has a dream where she performs in "Garfunkel, Messina, Oates, and Lisa", the second-most popular band in America, which is sponsored by Avis Rent-a-Car and has a #2 single called "Born To Runner-Up". She awakes wondering why people would come to the concert just to boo them.
    • Lisa's voice actress Yeardley Smith even remarked about how often Lisa would enter a contest and end up in second place; two notable examples are Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington and Lisa the Beauty Queen. Also when she entered a cruciverbalism (crosswords) contest, she went to the finals and lost to Gil.
    • Whenever there's a bake sale the food Marge bakes will always be 2nd place.
  • In South Park this is apparently why Bono is quite an overachiever: To his father, he will always be a "Number Two." Bono IS literally a number two, thus revealing why he also holds the record for the biggest shit ever taken.
  • In ThunderCats (2011)
    • This is present with young Prince Lion-O and his adoptive older brother Tygra, a beneficiary of Parental Favoritism who actively upstages Lion-O every chance he gets. Tygra makes an explicit point of successfully taunting Lion-O during some Gladiator Games, ensuring Lion-O loses his temper, and with it, the match.
      Tygra: When it comes to everything except the crown, you're always going to be second place.
    • In fact, Tygra tries to be Always Someone Better because of a deep Inferiority Superiority Complex, and an abiding suspicion that as a mere Spare to the Throne, he will forever lose to Lion-O, a motivation underscored when Tygra bitterly rants about how Lion-O's taken away both his chance to wear the crown, and, he suspects, his chance to romance Cheetara, the Love Interest of their Sibling Triangle.

    Real Life 
  • Younger siblings are often doomed to a life of this. Not their fault somebody else was born first and got so many Game Breakers.
  • Michael Jordan had his own personal Second Best in the form of Clyde Drexler, who was known in his prime as "the best player in the NBA not named 'Jordan.'"
  • The Dallas Cowboys in the late 1960s fit this trope. They couldn't quite win the NFL championship, resulting in several infamous defeats. There was a book written at the time, sarcastically titled Next Year's Champions. They finally broke the jinx with a 24-3 victory over Don Shula's Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI.
  • The ancient Greek philosopher Eratosthenes was nicknamed "Beta" by one of his contemporaries, because he was supposedly "the second-best in the world at everything". This means this trope is Older Than Feudalism. Carl Sagan said in Cosmos, however, that Eratosthenes was clearly Alpha at many things, since among other achievements he was the first to scientifically and correctly measure the circumference of the Earth. Using nothing but sticks, shadows, and a bit of mathematics.
  • John Adams. His love of the new nation he helped form - the United States - was unparalleled. However: His cousin Sam Adams was a more fiery orator and leader of the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson the better writer who crafted the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin the better diplomat and political schmoozer, George Washington the better leader. John was almost always second place to others, most notably the Second President of the United States after Washington, and he dreaded how history would overlook his contributions.
  • A dreaded moniker in golf circles is "best player never to win a major." Phil Mickelson was stuck with this moniker until he won the Masters in 2004.
  • Raymond Poulidor, a French cyclist known for always ranking second (or close to second) in the races he participated in, to the point that his name became a French expression: "X is the Poulidor of this game," meaning X always comes second.
  • In South Korea, professional StarCraft player Hong Jin-Ho earned the nickname "King of Silver" after he managed to come in 2nd place in 6 different major tournaments but never won one.
  • Sham, the horse who placed second in the 1973 running of the Kentucky Derby, ran a near-record breaking two minute race despite having injured himself in the starting gate. Any other year, he would have made history. Unfortunately for him, 1973 was the year of the legendary Secretariat.
  • Tom Sneva came in second place in three Indianapolis 500 races (1977, 1978, and 1980) before finally winning one in 1983.
  • EDM group Sash had five number two hits in the UK, three of them in succession, but never made it to number one.