High schools are a very common setting, which means the hero is generally a high school student. But how old should they be? If they're seniors, there's a chance that graduation issues might interfere with the plot. If a first year, they're new to the school. Either one can complicate things. To avoid that, the writers will often opt to put them between the two poles, leading to this trope. The hero is free to have the widest range of plots without stressing about graduation or being new.
Depending on the medium and culture, there can be more to it as well. For example, the Japanese school system divides high school into three years instead of four. There's also more importance placed on age. The end result is that the main character of a high school setting is normally a second year. Why? As a second year, he has both kohais and senpais
, meaning it allows for more variety; you have the more mature third years and the immature first year students as best friends, tough rivals or love interests. While of course the heroines' actual personalities will vary to an extent, it usually gives a hint to the viewer or player of how they will act, or just allows you to label them easier. Or the greater diversity may merely appeal to the audience.
It is also sometimes evoked in the division of sections, especially if the classes are arranged in a hierarchical order based on academic performance. Being put into the first, or "star" section may interfere with the plot due to academic pressure (except when it's the focus of the plot, of course) interfering with the protagonists' high school life, while being in the last section may indicate that the protagonist is of poor academic standing or is a delinquent. That's why the protagonist of an Anime or Manga is usually put in section 2-C or 2-D. If the protagonist is instead put in 2-A, and if said protagonist is not indicated as having special skills (academic or otherwise), then expect her to be Always in Class One
(which would have no functional distinction from the other classes of that year.)
For whatever reason, the main characters in high school settings are often divided among these lines. While not an ironclad rule (such as in the case of School Days
) it is actually surprisingly rare to find a high school setting that breaks this mold for no reason.
Anime & Manga
- Amagami SS has second year Junichi, with the older Morishima and the younger Ai and Sae, both of whom are friends with his sister. The remaining three are in the same year.
- In The World God Only Knows, the age of the capture targets varies greatly. While there have been no first year high school students, the sempai kohai dynamic was used to specific effect in one of the girl of the week stories. Being a second year also means that Keima, the protagonist, has an established reputation for being a rude otaku.
- In Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon Usagi and friends are in their 2nd year of Junior High at the start of the series.
- Toradora!: Ryuuji and Taiga are put in section 2-C.
- Lovely Complex
- Hayana from Twinkle Saber Nova.
- The class in Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei are second years and always remain that way.
- School Rumble: plays this straight (including the sections 2-C and 2-D).
- Daily Lives of High School Boys's main characters are in class 2-A.
- In Real Bout High School, Ryoko is this.
- Rosario + Vampire: Season II...but only because the original covered their first year in high school.
- In Air Gear, the entirety of the main cast is in second year. However, while they are often shown at school, the series doesn't really focus on their school life.
- While the Usotsuki Lily leads start as first years, this trope is strongly enforced once they move up a year. Characters in their third year never graduate and repeating first year Taiyou reacts with despair when he realizes the true meaning of "You're sure to get a girlfriend as a second year."
- Bleach: Ichigo, Orihime, Uryuu and Chad are all second-year students before the 17 month timeskip. Rukia, Renji, Matsumoto and Shinji of all people tend to pretend to be that when they're staying in the physical world or just trying to contact Ichigo.
- In the first two seasons of Hidamari Sketch, Hiro and Sae are this. Yuno and Miyako become second years in the latter two.
- In Girls und Panzer, the main character, Miho, is a second-year student, who recently transferred to her high school because of a bad experience with tankery at her old one. Most of her friends are in the same year.
- Averted in Mai Hime. The high school-age characters are divided between the first year and the third year, with none in the year in between.
- The main characters in Shindere Shoujo To Kodoku Na Shinigami.
- In The Intimates, wannabe whiz kid Punchy is in his second year at Superhero School the Seminary... but due to his poor grades, he was held back and is thus technically still a freshman. Still, his status as the only main student already familiar with the school pegs him as your primary protagonist.
- Spider-Man was bitten by the spider which gave him his powers when he was fifteen, which would probably put him at sophomore age, and all of his classmates were roughly the same age.
- Kohaku Yudin of the fanfic Yu-Gi-Oh! GSTART (as well as all of his friends) starts his second year at Delta High South in Chapter 2.
- Haruhi Suzumiya: Volume 9 sees the SOS Brigade (except for Mikuru, who's now in third year) become second years. This becomes a plot point in the tenth novel when Haruhi decides to recruit freshmen.
- Kaname of Full Metal Panic!.
- High School D◊D: Issei is in his second year high school when the plot kicks off.
- A Certain Magical Index: Touma is in second year in a certain high school. The other protagonists: Accelerator's year is not given, and Hamazura Shiage is a drop-out.
- The Familiar of Zero's Louise and the other members of her class are second year students and are summoning familiars because of it. Her familiar, Saito might have been a second year high school student himself.
- In FoxTrot, Peter fills this role as a junior, who would be a second-year in Japan. His sister Paige, however, averts this, as every year, there are strips about her entering high school for the first time.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Double whammy in that not only did Buffy come to Sunnydale in her sophomore year, it's implied that it's directly on the heels of her adventures in L.A., which would mean she wasn't even called to action as the slayer *in the backstory* until her sophomore year.
- Dawson's Creek: Joey explicitly states in the pilot that she and Dawson are starting high school, and Dawson is classified as a freshman by Mr. Gold, and yet they are also stated to be fifteen and in 10th Grade. Granted, graduation didn't come until the end of Season Four, but that was only because Seasons One and Two covered one school year; Season One's finale states very clearly that it had only been three months since the pilot, and Season Two picks about about 30 seconds from where Season One left off.
- Degrassi: Gloriously averted in that the characters started off in 7th and 8th Grade and were allowed to age right through 9th and beyond.
- Degrassi has a rotating cast but due to a failure to introduce younger characters in seasons 8 and 10 during which time the school was Ret Conned from a 6-year junior/senior high into a 4-year high school since when they've usually introduced a new freshman class every other in-story school year which seems to average out to every third season due to a floating timeline.
- Freaks and Geeks: Averted. Sam Weir and his buddies were "geeky" freshmen for the television series' very short run.
- Gilmore Girls
- Glee: Rachel states in the pilot that she's a sophomore, and it is assumed that all the kids are in the same year. It isn't until the Third Season premiere that a few of them are retconned into juniors in what, for all intents in purposes, should have been their senior year.
- Head of the Class: Averted. When Charlie Moore takes over teaching the class it seems as though they'd been at it for a year or more already; but the show lasted 5 seasons*, which means that they were freshmen when he started teaching.
- Word of God is the Seasons 4 & 5 took place over senior year.
- Heroes: Claire starts off the show as a sophomore.
- The three main characters of Kamen Rider Fourze are all second-year high school students.
- The O.C.
- An interesting case because their first year was originally their junior year, but then their next year was... their junior year, and the previous year was retconned to be their sophomore year.
- Popular: Sam, Brooke, Harrison, and the rest were all sophomores in Season One, and Word of God says that had the show gotten a third season, they would have graduated at the end of it.
- Power Rangers: Though it took them four seasons to graduate, Word of God as per the official merchandise places not a single Ranger below the age of sixteen during the first season. The only one to graduate ahead of the others was Billy, who was a freakiní genius, and given what ideal role models they were all supposed to be, itís doubtful any much less all of them were in remedial classes.
- Veronica Mars starts in Veronica's junior year, but When It All Began and many flashbacks are set in the previous year, while freshman year isn't mentioned much.
- The Wonder Years: Whether or not itís an aversion really depends on how you classify its genre. If you see it as primarily the story of Kevin, Winnie, and Paul, then it is, since they start off in 7th Grade and age right on up through 11th Grade. If you see it as a family dramedy that includes the adolescent protagonistís best friend and childhood sweetheart, then not so much.
- Welcome Freshmen: A major aversion in that enduring freshman year was the show's entire premise. After the Second Season, all but one character became sophomores. The show's title was kept by flunking Walter and making him repeat 9th Grade, while new freshmen were introduced.
- Liv And Maddie plays this straight, the title twins being sophomores, presumably so their brother Joey could be younger than them and still go to High School alongside them.
- In both Persona 3 and Persona 4, the main character is a second-year student. Both start off by transferring to a new school, and both quickly gain at least one male and one female friend of the same age/in the same homeroom. However, while P3's lead gets some experienced sempais to work with, P4's heroes surprisingly lack a sempai who doesn't get killed before the main plot begins, anyway.
- This also means that while the P3's main is mid totem pole on the leadership scale P4's lead is the leader of their group.
- Cross Channel runs along these lines, though the age of the characters in question is vague due to the school system used.
- Da Capo leaves Junichi's age somewhat vague, but the basic points of the trope stand; he has younger and older love interests, is used to the school and not about to graduate.
- Shirou and Tohsaka in Fate/stay night are both second years, while Sakura is a first year. No really important third years, but the fact they aren't graduating until the next year is an important detail in the UBW True End epilogue.
- Kanon has Yuuichi transferring in during his second year, with the older Mai and the younger Shiori.
- SHUFFLE!. Asa and Kareha are older, Primula is younger, no graduation in sight and everyone is comfortable.
- In Tsukihime, Shiki is 17ish. Ciel can be his sempai and when Akiha transfers in, she can be a first year.
- In Little Busters Riki, Masato and Kengo are in second year. In fact, with the exception of Kyousuke, all the main characters are in second year.
- In Hatoful Boyfriend, the protagonist and her classmates are second-year students, as is Anghel who is in another class. Nageki is a first-year for the sixth time, and Yuuya is a third-year.
- The main characters of El Goonish Shive are all in junior year, something Word of God states was only briefly meant to be the case. Eight years later, they've reached May of that year...
- Ash and Emily of are both sophomores (literally second year)at the beginning of Misfile, mostly important because until the misfile Emily was a graduating senior. Now she has to repeat her last two years of High School and re-take the driver's license exam.