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Unpopular Popular Character
Do you guys know why nobody else at school likes hanging out with you? Because you're always doing stuff like this. You're always coming up with some stupid idea to do something, and then it backfires, and then you end up in some foreign country, or in outer space or something. That's why no one likes hanging out with you guys.
— Craig to Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny, South Park
A character who is liked in the fandom is treated badly, overlooked, or simply hated in the show by other characters, often to the point of being the Butt Monkey. Occasionally this is intentional by the writers and becomes a Running Gag; the character isn't an extreme stereotype or even that annoying. It's just funny.
Part of it may be reflexive sympathy from the audience, but sometimes it's born out of the character being able to genuinely incite sympathy. On the other hand, some shows have such a large fandom that it's difficult to find common ground about who likes/dislikes any one character. Often it comes from the very large difference between what makes a character likable to impartial observers of a situation, and what makes him likable to the people he's interacting with. Being a jerk is a horrible way to make friends, but seems to do wonders for fans.
Compare Ensemble Darkhorse, Cool Loser and Designated Monkey; contrast Ascended Extra, Creator's Pet.
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The Trix Rabbit. Who doesn't want him to get that cereal, kids watching the commercials included? The company has, at least once, run polls to see if he should get the cereal. When they do, the answer is inevitably "yes" in alandslide. And at least once, the rabbit has gotten his wish with no strings. There have been other times when he's gotten it only to discover he is missing something (like Milk, although that one was a Got Milk? ad). One time, the Trix rabbit was moping in front of a little girls' house, when she said she would be willing to give the rabbit Trix. The rabbit actually was able to eat a spoonful before the girl's big brother woke up and took it away. Oddly, this had two versions. Originally, the girl is whispering the whole time, and the brother discovered them. For whatever reason, it was re-shot with the girl yelling "Be very quiet! We don't want to wake my big brother!", as if she's warning her brother to get in there before the rabbit eats too much.
The Trix Rabbit often loses things he gains legitimately when the kids take away his Trix as well, such as one where he entered an ice-skating competition and wowed the judges—when the kids took away his Trix, they took away his trophy too. (There was no indication he was not qualified to enter.)
Anime and Manga
L from Death Note isn't exactly well-liked in universe (having literally no friends and no social skills), but he is probably the most popular character with the fandom. Even those who don't like him do tend to have respect for his professional abilities.
Bastion (Daichi) Misawa on Yu-Gi-Oh! GX is fairly popular among the audience, but is continually mistreated in the series. A recurring joke is that the other characters interrupt him without ever bothering to apologize. At one point in the second season, he threw an important duel once promised that he would be treated better if he lost. (Ironically, it was the only time he dueled the entire season, and he was treated even worse afterwards.)
In the anime/manga series Tenjho Tenge, poor Masataka, despite being one of the most powerful characters in the series spends several of the early volumes being walked all over and generally mistreated by people, even if he could have beaten them with both hands tied behind his back. Fortunately, he starts to gain the respect of other characters as the series progresses, to the point where it is being hinted that he may be the key to resolving the plot of the entire series.
Prussia also counts. In-verse, no one really likes him because of his brash, 'Awesome-Me' personality, his childhood friend Hungary can't stand him, and he spends one Christmas pretending to like being alone. In the fandom, he's surprisingly popular for one of the more minor characters.
Kururu/Kululu from Keroro Gunsou is supposedly the most unpopular character in the anime when mentioned in-universe excluding Dororo because no one remembers him, and the narrator nags him occasionally for having a "bad personality". In reality, Kururu is often considered the most outstanding character in the whole show, and the negative in-universe attention has potential to bring in would-be fans/intensify preexisting fan-ism. They all seem to forget that his personality makes it rather just; would you hang out with a perverted, near-sadistic FROG?
However, he's only popular outside Japan, making this slightly more justified.
Kanetsugu Naoe from Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls can't win the respect of anyone in the show, often being ignored, beaten up, or both. In a poll taken before the anime began, she was the winner, and when the show aired, she earned the love of the fanbase for her delusional persistence.
An example of this working to the character's benefit is Jeremiah Gottwald, the Ensemble Dark Horse of Code Geass. While legitimately villainous in his first appearance, after getting defeated by Lelouch he gets treated like crap in the first season, both the fans and the show's makers adored him, which inspired the writers to change his story arc from an early death to taking several levels in badass and undergoing a Heel-Face Turn to join forces with protagonist Lelouch before finally receiving one of the few unambiguously happy endings out of the entire cast.
Similar to Jeremiah is Patrick Colasour from Gundam 00, who underwent a very similar character arc (Butt Monkey antagonist, hangs on by sheer persistence, eventually gets his happy ending). Unlike Jeremiah, Colasour was never intended as anything but a joke, which makes his eventual fate more surprising.
Chiri of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is an Ax-CrazyNeat Freak who doesn't receive a lot of in-series affection on account of those traits. Nearly everyone fears her, she's the only student that Nozomu seems to dislike, and in one instance, a public park is shown to have a sign prohibiting her from being there and disturbing the peace. However, she's one of the more popular characters in the series because of how crazy she is.
Kanda from D.Gray-Man. Because of his attitude not many characters apear to like him at all including Allen. Minor characters, such as finders, hate him and even the characters that do like him have a bit of an issue with his attitude. Only Lavi normally doesn't seem to be bothered by that, but gets annoyed from time to time. Despite this he is quite popular with fan girls...
Akari Akaza from Yuru-Yuri. She's constantly fighting against the world to get people aware of her existence (and hopefully not get hurt in the process), with only a scant few supporters, such as Sakurako. As for the fans, she always makes her way into show discussion precisely because of her lack of focus.
Rurouni Kenshin: Sanosuke Sagara is one of the most popular characters in the series(he's placed second in all the popularity polls after Kenshin himself). Within the story, he's often subjected to The Worf Effect, and many characters don't quite respect him due to his Idiot Hero tendencies, as well as being a moocher.
Medaka Box: Partly justified since he's a former villain, but Kumagawa generally aggravates a good chunk of the cast with his antics. However, he never "wins" in his eyes, and gets a fair amount of abuse. In the fandom, he's indisputably the most popular character of the series, having more than three times the votes of the titular character in one poll.
Soul Eater's Excalibur. Super powerful, downright annoying and loony as far as the other characters think, it says something that he singlehandedly created some sort of "DO NOT WANT" emoticon/meme (ﺧ益ﺨ). However, he's also considered very hilarious in his irritating-ness that even if he's The Scrappy in-universe, the fans and even the producers like him for his hilarity and loonydom.
Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z is very popular with fans despite most of the cast either distrusting him or out right hating him for most of the series. Even his wife and son often lose their patience with him.
Cell and Freeza have wide followings in the fandom, especially the from the American fanbase, but most everybody in universe hates them, being that they're pure evil.
Among all the endless debates and disagreements over Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, one of the few things everyone agrees on is Rau Le Creuset being one of the best villains Gundam has ever produced. Obviously he's very much hated in-universe (such that only two characters in Destiny thought well of him), and for good reason since he nearly succeeded in causing humanity to wipe itself out, but as far as anyone in the real world is concerned Rau is a Magnificent Bastard of epic proportions, being one of the few Gundam villains (and Char Clone to boot) to be completely evil and nefarious, yet holding a distinctive style and level of Badass from those around him. Even fans who hate SEED in general often claim Rau was one of its saving graces.
In Heat Guy J, the young mob boss Clair Leonelli is easily one of the most popular and well-known characters, but at least initially he's opposed both by the heroes (because he's a violent criminal they have to stop) and by the other members of his crime organization (because he's so young and mentally unstable), and generally surrounded by people who want to screw him over.
Spider-Man, arguably the Trope Codifier: one of the most beloved and popular of all super heroes in real life, in addition to being Marvel's flagship character and mascot (or he used to be, anyway, if you consider Wolverine to be the current one); but widely feared and distrusted by the Marvel U. public with frustrating consistency. One of the key factors that made him such an effective Deconstruction of the Super Hero at the time of his creation, it's become an integral part of his character to the point that he has it worse than pretty much anyone else in the Marvel U. (where practically everyone who isn't Captain America or Tony Stark has to deal with this, and even they have had their moments).
The X-Men as a team are much the same, they are hated by most of citizenry of the Mavel Universe because they're mutants, in fact the comic largely revolves around this, but they are among Marvel's most popular superheroes.
Scott Pilgrim, on his own comic book, is depicted as being the butt monkey of almost, if not all, of his friends, and his own girlfriend, Ramona, to the point that (being played for laughs), Stephen Stills told Knives Chau (Scott's previous short-term girlfriend, and stalker) that EVERYBODY hates Scott. To the reader, Scott is just a shy, cute, awkward, video gamer guy, who's trying to come out into the world. This is, however, later subverted, as we can see that Scott is, indeed, an ass, and deeply flawed by a lot of things, like ignoring past lessons, and mistreating his friends and loves a number of times. A lot of readers and fans took this personally, and some even started to outright hate him, even more than Ramona's evil exes. He's getting better and maturing, very very slowly, so the readers, and his friends, start to root for him and like him again.
Deadpool might be one of Marvel's most popular characters right now, but he's disliked by heroes and villains alike. He's one of the most talented mercenaries in the Marvel Universe (he beat Taskmaster with his hands cuffed behind his back) but he can barely get a job because of his bad reputation. That and his Chronic Hero Syndrome normally kicking in only when he's employed by the bad guy, and vice versa for when he's working with the heroes...
Watchmen: Rorschach. This is an unintentional example, as Moore didn't intend for Rorschach to be as popular as he was.
This is brought up in-universe, when King Candy argues that the the players will dislike a glitchy character like Vanellope being made playable, and will report the game as broken because of her. Ralph counters with the possibility that the players will love her. In the end, he's right.
Really, all three of the bowling team members, including The Dude, who is shown to be a hopeless loser in universe ("You don't draw shit in this town, Lebowski.") Or Walter, whose wife left him and whose bellicose nature seems to mean that most people in-universe barely tolerate him (or don't).
Both Bruce Wayne and Batman are often not well perceived by the people of Gotham in The Dark Knight Saga. The viewers see him in a much more positive light.
Fitz Kreiner of the Doctor Who Expanded Universe Eighth Doctor Adventures basically constitutes a subversion. All but one of the recurring protagonists are genuinely fond of him, and the only one who isn't doesn't like anyone but tolerates him more willingly than she does most people. It's just that they also see him as The Ditz and a Kavorka Man. Even the Doctor, who really does like him quite a bit, has been known to insult his intelligence to his face repeatedly over the course of a single conversation.note "'Yes, you know, you could be right. It is just possible,' he decided, tapping his chin with a long index finger, 'that your knack of stating the obvious is a talent bordering on genius.[...] But more likely, [...] it's just an annoying habit nurtured by your inability to graspbasic principles.'" And it's not so much that he's an Ensemble Dark Horse; he gets good plotlines and is second in "screen" time only to the Doctor. He just is also accused of never taking an interest in anything he can't "drink, inhale, play, dance to or --" even though he totally does. He reads Sartre, for goodness's sake. And it's often said that he competes with the Doctor for popularity among the readers, who generally see him as The Woobie. So, basically, he's well-liked by the audience and the other characters, but the other characters all treat him like the Butt Monkey.
Pushed up to eleven by Mat's background and personality making him actually insecure— he frequently thinks of himself as a lazy lech of barely-non-criminal origins always overshadowed by friends with greater abilities. He has several moments where he basically monologues to himself about how either of his friends would bring more to the table while simultaneously ruthlessly exploiting a fairly minor luck-power into a string of military victories that permanently reshape the continent's politics in ways Rand could only dream of.
It's worth noting that this is definitely intentional on the author's part (where many of the other relationship tropes clearly aren't)— Mat collects a following of impressed people that eventually turn into an army that basically worship the ground he walks on, and the other two lead men have similar development arcs.
The Heroes of Olympus: For much of the series Leo is the only lead without a love interest and is treated as an annoyance by all his friends. Listen to the fans and he's the best thing about the new series. He's also got a line of fangirls a mile long. Team Leo!
Quick, find a page where Nico di Angelo is a) in the vicinity and b) not described as "creepy." Unless his sister is the POV character, it's easier to find rooster teeth. Meanwhile, he's a fangirl darling.
Name one character in who likes the Hound. Only Sansa is even slightlyfond of him; every single other character (and there are many) thinks he's frighteningly unpleasant at best. He doesn't get much luck from the author, either: a ridiculously awful childhood has led to a ridiculously brutal life and culminated in dying miserable and alone in the woods after unsuccessfully begging for a clean death and crying over thoughts of Sansa. Okay, probably not really dead, but still. Now ask the fandomhow they feel about Sandor.
He does have a bone-throwing (no pun intended) moment in the first book — the crowds at the Hand's Tourney in the first book go wild for him after he saves Loras from a mauling at the hands of Gregor.
And there is the gravedigger theory.note A Feast For Crows has Brienne run into a man digging graves at an isolated church, somewhat matching the Hound's description (he's unusually tall, and she can't really see his face.) The Hound's horse is also present at the church. If it really is him, it suggests he's managed to find a fresh start of quiet repentance.
Another from A Song of Ice and Fire: Tyrion. He does have a few friends and allies, but ultimately even they are either killed or abandon him, and everyone else... His father and sister despise him, the court finds him repulsive, and the common people call him things like "twisted little monkey" and very unjustly blame him for all the problems of the realm. Absolutely nothing works out well for Tyrion in the long run, even though he's very clever and is one of the few characters attempting to be heroic. Perhaps due both to his misfortune and his considerable wit, however, he's probably the most popular POV character among fans, and even the author himself.
Near-universal dislike of Tyrion in-universe is not entirely undeserved. He tends to aggravate his inherent social handicaps by needless bullying and asshattery whenever he feels himself in a position of power. Out of universe, his dick moments only add to his popularity, because he tends to be creative and entertaining when putting down others.
It helps that the fandom hates a lot of the people he puts down, such as Joffrey and Cersei.
It doesn't help that his current goals involve bringing back the Targaryen house and dragons respectively, those being pretty much the only two things that could possibly make Westeros worse for literally everyone, if history is any guide. He's not really rebelling against the system in a way that anyone woud call constructive.
While we are at Hounds let's not forget Brienne of Tarth, a lesser noble woman unfortunately born with a very manly appearance, who as only heir to her father took it up to become knight. In-universe she is constantly made fun of for her ugliness and not taken seriously as knight. Among the fans she is quite popular for her prowess as well as taking her vows and oaths as knight seriously, being among the very few to do so. Basically, the fandom has a soft spot for good characters who subvert the in-universe expectation that Beauty Equals Goodness.
Daenerys has elements of this as well. Even her own people don't really like her for much of her arc, she grew up with an abusive brother, something made only more pitiful by her moon-eyed narration. Later on, she had smother her husband to death after someone she thought she could trust rendered him catatonic. Add in the fact that her current political activities have amounted to sinking three nations into murderous anarchy and at least one campaign of mass-murder and the fact that she has pets she thinks of as her cute little children that eat people, and it's not hard to understand why the other characters find her less of the charming and strong young woman the audience usually sees and more of a crazy Bond villain who might strike unpredictably in any direction at any moment.
Luna Lovegood is a quiet, unpopular, bullied Cloud Cuckoolander, and even the few who like her seem to find her more than a bit strange. Among the fandom, she's probably the only character just about everyone likes. Of course, she becomes quite popular in-story during Book 7, where she ends up one of the Big Damn Heroes alongside the likes of Neville Longbottom and Ginny Weasley.
Severus Snape is really unpopular in the books among his peers and students, but he's easily one of the most popular characters in the fandom. So popular, in fact, that in a poll that ran after the seventh book came out he was voted the best character in the entire series.
Two factors contributed to this: firstly, he's the only character in the series that's undergone real emotional conflict (he had a legitimate reason to join the dark side in the form of unrequited love and abuse from his classmates) but still kept on the side of good (if no-nonsense) and secondly in the movie adaptation he was played by Alan Rickman, by far the most charismatic actor in the cast.
Leah, the only female werewolf. Everybody in-story seems to hate her, but the Hatedom especially will argue that she's the most Badass and well- developed character in the series.
In The Mortal Instruments series, Simon is constantly mocked and belittled by the Shadowhunters for being a "mundane", no matter what he does. Even Clary, his childhood friend and love interest can hardly be bothered to remember him most of the time. A number of fans, especially those not overly fond of the Shadowhunters, love him for his snark, adorkable geeky personality, and willingness to do nice things for Clary. It helps that he's one of few not afraid to call out Jace on being a jerk.
Caine Soren from GONE had this in spades. Justified seeing as he's kinda the Big Bad of the entire series.
Mycroft Holmes is a mild example of this on Sherlock. His brother Sherlock usually treats him with cold civility at best (although this seems to be a bit of a Holmesian trait), John isn't terribly enamored of him after their first encounter in the warehouse in A Study in Pink, and Lestrade seems to resent him a bit if his attitude in The Hounds of Baskerville is anything to go by. He's never shown in any sort of social circle either, and the probability that he has actual friends is quite low. But he's well-liked by fans, to the point where's he's become an Ensemble Darkhorse (the fact that he's played by Mark Gatiss helps out a lot).
Sherlock himself is an even bigger example. He treats everyone around him shabbily; if at any point he takes your sensibilities into consideration, say by apologizing, consider yourself deep in his inner circle. But he's a jerk with such panache that audiences can't help but love it.
Although a fan favorite, Seamus Harper of Andromeda was treated increasingly worse in each subsequent season, becoming the butt of stupid jokes and the target of the other characters' unwarranted hostility, even raped by Magog.
All of the Bluths in Arrested Development count technically, but special mention has to go to Gob, as even his own family don't really care for him.
Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory is seen as the weirdest nerd out of the whole group by far, which is really saying something, but he is also very popular with the fans, much more so than the creators intended.
Sweets in Bones is a former child prodigy working for the FBI, but gets absolutely no respect because everyone on the show hates psychologists.
He did lose appeal with fans of the show because of his apparent lack of morals; he let Brennan believe that Booth was dead when he was in fact only undercover, just to see how she would react to the loss and to satisfy a psychological experiment. This not only fails basic morality, but is also an extreme violation of laws and ethics regarding psychiatry which, while allowing such experiments in research situations, absolutely forbids them on patients that you are treating. It is not just mean, it is illegal.
Britta's borderline Butt Monkey status is actually Lampshaded in "Critical Film Studies", where Annie even says "Everyone hates Britta".
Community pretty much relies on the audience sympathizing with the characters for being so pathetic and hopelessly out of touch.
But they all pale in comparison to Ben Chang. Although he came in for a fair amount of fandom backlash after the creators responded to his popularity by exaggerating his character to the point of Flanderization and building long, elaborate plot arcs around him.
Dr. Chase of House. Being The Woobie, incredibly gorgeous, and the first of House's underlings to get a case right when House got it wrong, he's quite popular in the fandom. But on the show he's routinely ignored, verbally abused, or even outright assaulted by House, and Chase's own parents weren't much better.
Third season has Chase getting incredible amount of character development. Every one of his negative actions is addressed and partly redeemed. He is deemed incompetent and stupid by House constantly? He rises up as the best of the three fellowship doctors in terms of diagnoses in the third season. He killed a patient season 2? He's the only fellow that didn't in 3. He betrayed House to the authorities in season 1? He doesn't after being built up as Judas for an entire episode, dismissed by House who is unwilling to listen to his explanations and untrusted by his co-workers, then punched in the face by the very man he is protecting and saving the life of a little girl because he doesn't back down. He's a kiss ass that will do anything House says? He finally stood up to House and gets fired for it, in a twisted ready-to-leave-the-nest way. Sleeping with Cameron while she was high on drugs? After she initiates a friends with benefits situation with him, he's the one that wants something more and courts her in the most non-threatening, yet persistent manner he can (flowers and the weekly reminder that he cares about her, that's it). And he's still dumped on by most of the cast, has the least amount of screentime and is most often only a supporting character when he does show up.
This kind of continued right up until the finale. He was absent from the penultimate episode and got 4 or 5 lines tops in the finale, but he does inherit House's practice after House fakes his own death.
Just to clarify, it wasn't that (in-universe) a woman couldn't be a big star; it was that a woman couldn't be a big star and be a wife and mother at the same time. Contrast that with Ricky, who effortlessly juggled show business with the business of being a husband and father.
The series seemed to recognize this and tried to offer another explanation. During the Hollywood arc, Lucy turns down a chance at stardom after proving herself an immensely talented dancer, because she didn't want to repeat all the grueling hours of practice she went through as Ricky's dance partner. As for singing, although Lucille Ball was a decent singer herself, Lucy Ricardo was tone deaf.
Benjamin Linus on LOST is a manipulative liar - he admits this quite cheerfully whenever the subject comes up - who sacrifices his own adopted daughter in a misguided attempt to hold on to his power (he thinks she can't be killed), is at least partly responsible for the deaths of many Dharma Initiative people, as well as personally responsible for his own father's death (an abusive drunk, but still...) and that of John Locke. Yet Ben became a fan favorite very quickly, and maintained that status right through the series finale, to the point that the showrunners gave him a major role in the DVD Boxed Set 'extra' epilogue.
It should be noted that Michael Emerson was only going to be in the show for a few episodes (as Fake Henry Gale), but fans loved him that much that he was upgradedto leaderof The Others.
The central family from Malcolm in the Middle. In one episode, they discover that their entire neighborhood has a block party whenever they go on vacation.
Sam from iCarly is disliked and feared by many in-universe, but is by far the most popular character in the fandom.
Dwight Schrute from the U.S. version of The Office is a fan favorite but in-universe is generally considered annoying by the other characters.
Red Dwarf has Arnold Judas Rimmer. The fact that the other characters regularly go out of their way to tell us how unlikable Rimmer is probably just makes the fans more defiant.
Radek Zelenka, from Stargate Atlantis, is a gifted scientist, but never got much respect from Rodney McKay, and by the fourth season, is not getting respect from anyone. Fans, however, like his capacity for comedy... and his ability to curse violently in Czech.
Omar Little on The Wire is an interesting case. The dealers hate him because he robs them and makes them look foolish and the cops hate him because he kills people and gets away with it. But the random people on the street love him because he's such a badass.
Al Bundy is despised by pretty much every person in his neighborhood, and barely tolerated by his greedy(Peggy) perverted(Bud) and brainless(Kelly) family. But ask any minimum wage worker in the real word what they think of him, and he's venerated as a man among men.
Tyrion from Game of Thrones is mentioned in the Literature section as well, but it's worth repeating him here, because the TV version is possibly even more popular with fans, being played masterfully by Peter Dinklage.
Garfield: Jon Arbuckle. Up until he got into a relationship with Liz, his dog and his parents were the only ones who ever really liked him. He's constantly belittled by his cat, people tend to hate him within a few seconds of meeting him, and he drives women away in droves, and that's when he's just trying to get a date, not to mention ones he's actually dated, who frequently go to ridiculous extremes to avoid him, but he's pretty popular with fans.
Luann has Tiffany as an antagonist to the star lead, but a lot of readers wonder why her trying to advance a career as an actress is constantly treated with derision by the aimless Luann, and why this is supposed to be a good thing.
This trope has been a staple of pro wrestling at least since the 1990s, especially insofar as the heels are concerned. During the "Attitude Era", WWE began to increasingly give its heels gimmicks that were more frightening or politically incorrect than they had had before - but, surprisingly, many fans found these gimmicks entertaining rather than repellent, and cheered on the heels, forcing WWE to convert these characters into faces in-universe as well. That's how "Stone Cold" Steve Austin became a huge fan favorite, (and to a lesser extent The Rock) not to mention Randy Orton in our own era.
Knuckles seems to be leaning into this area as well due to recent Flanderization. He's bitterly jealous of Sonic and his dopiness and lack of "team ethics" has even Cream the Rabbit making snide remarks at him at times, neverless he has a fanbase nearly as big as the hedgehog himself (granted however, Knuckles was an Ensemble Dark Horse even before his transition into a Butt Monkey).
Same for Dr Eggman, especially in Sonic X, where the poor guy's really just an Attention Whore at heart.
Yosuke from Persona 4 is liked enough amongst most fans. It's not uncommon for him to end up as the butt of a joke. It's a different story when the laughter stops: See any scene involving Saki.
Raven from Tales of Vesperia. At best, everyone tolerates him. Usually, the party members are disgusted by his antics, mostly because he's a Dirty Old Man and refuses to act his age. Most of the time they don't even call him Raven; they just call him, "old man". He's still one of the group until the end.
Lots of Touhou fan works (and some canon) show their love for characters like Hong Meiling, Cirno, and Reisen Udongein Inaba by making them into all-round Butt Monkeys abused by their superiors.
Tenshi Hinanai too, despite the amount of damage she caused all because she got bored of Fluffy Cloud Heaven.
More recently, Kogasa Tatara has become an epic example of this. She is pathetically weak, doomed to failure at every turn and every other character either ignores or mocks her. The fandom, however, has declared her to be the new youkai moe~ and love her intensely.
How badly is Bang Shishigami treated in canon? Arakune, an insect-infested Blob Monster who lives in a sewer and routinely eats Catgirl kittens refuses to eat Bang because it thinks Bang is too smelly and disgusting.
Lemina from Lunar: Eternal Blue is loud, pushy, money-grubbing, has her fair share of blonde moments, and is somewhat lacking in integrity from time to time (despite her respectable long term goals). She's sometimes viewed as a slight annoyance by the rest of the group, and certainly by people outside of it.
Final Fantasy VII's Yuffie, certainly not without justification seeing as how she's a thief that attacked the party and tried to trick them after the fight. If you head to her home town, it'll turn out that the party was right to be suspicious. She steals your materia and you have to get it back from her. She joins you on the straight and narrow from then on and by the end some of the group have grown attached to her, such as Red XIII (the only one to point out she's missing when the group re-unites before the final dungeon) and Cloud (who welcomes her back when she comes.)
Another Nippon Ichi example would be Laharl of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. On the same popularity poll as Asagi, he took the top spot. Yet, in-universe, just ask the Phantom Brave and Disgaea 2 casts what they think of him. Hell, even his own vassals will take potshots at him given the chance.
Gig from Soul Nomad & the World Eaters is outright hated by most of the cast and it takes most of the game for them to be able to even stand him. The fans however, love him for his how outright how Laughably Evil he is.
Fukushima Masanori is one of the better known historical Japanese generals, leader of the Seven Spears of Shizugatake, and one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's finest (and wasn't reported to be as brutal as his fellow general Katou Kiyomasa, who takes anti-Christianiy Up to Eleven). However, whenever he makes appearance in KOEI games (Samurai Warriors, Ace Attorney-like game Saihai no Yukue), he is usually portrayed as a bumbling fool nearing The Scrappy level to possibly make Ishida Mitsunari (main protagonist of the latter game) look good. Koei truly hates Masanori.
Norman Jayden from Heavy Raindefinitely qualifies. The poor guy is abused by every police officer in the game, constantly getting the crap beaten out of him, and doesn't have a single happy ending But he's easily the most popular character outside of the game.
In Majora's Mask, Tingle's father is certainly embarassed by his son's obsession with fairies, but it doesn't go as far as hate. Notably, if you bring him a pictograph of Tingle, he'll reward you with a heart pieace. The Tingle of The Wind Waker, on the other hand, is clearly viewed as bizarre at best and outright disliked by the laborers on his island - two of whom are his brothers!
Glass Joe. He may be the ultimate Jobber with more defeats than most champions have victories, but he'll always be the champion in players' hearts.
Aran Ryan (at least in the Wii version) is a complete psycho who breaks all the rules and is greeted with a chorus of boos from the in-game audience. He also happens to be one of the most popular characters.
Erik from Rune Factory Frontier. Despite his sheer awesomeness, he has to bribe people in game to appear impressed by him.
Epic Mickey: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit leans a bit into this trope. In the game, he's portrayed as a vengeful and jealous antihero regarding Mickey's popularity. Though he improves, he's constantly pained with the knowledge that Mickey received his fame. In Real Life, Oswald's inclusion in Epic Mickey was one of the key aspects which drew people into the game, and he has a solid fanbase in Japan.
The Borderlands series has Claptrap, who's reasonably popular with the fanbase, but in the game itself is treated horribly by just about everyone. Justified, as he's kind of a jerk, and his antics are far more entertaining when you don't actually have to deal with them.
Arguably Altair of Assassin's Creed. Altair has status as a Memetic Badass among fans and the distinction as the first playable character in the series, but many of the other Assassins in-game don't think very highly of him because of his arrogance, to the point that he violates all three tenants of the Assassin's Creed and is demoted to novice by Al Mualim. In particular, Malik—who loses his arm and his brother because of Altair—is pretty unforgiving of him for what he did previously. However, Altair's actions are appreciated by many NPC civilians, who call him a hero, and most of the Assassins warm up to him over time. It zigzags a bit in Assassin's Creed: Revelations where the Assassins are divided between supporting either Altair or another Assassin named Abbas.
Belkar in The Order of the Stick is a casually murderous jerk with no real loyalty to his companions, and the feeling is definitely mutual, as they only keep him around because he's useful/can be "aimed" at the villains. Readers on the other hand love his antics, some so much that they gave him the Draco in Leather Pants treatment (such as insisting he's Chaotic Neutral even though he's canonically identified as Chaotic Evil on multiple occasions).
King Steve also applies, having approval ratings so low the majority of people would rather die than have him rule.
Rebecca Sue McKay of Shadowgirls is treated like dirt by just about everyone at school because of the circumstances surrounding her birth. Fans of the book, however, want to give her a hug whenever she's feeling down.
Kali of Enjuhneer was created as a literalization of the "invisible roommate," but the author has mined her abilities for so many jokes that at times she practically feels like a second main character.
Eridan Ampora falls under this. He already had very few friends before his breakup with Feferi, after which he becomes intolerable. After crossing the Moral Event Horizon, nobody likes him, nobody mourns his death, and even the person who killed him doesn't feel any regret. Despite all this, he has a very large fanbase, mostly due to him being seen as The Woobie.
Vriska Serket has a similar effect - at the start of Hivebent, most of her friends have stopped liking her due to her abusive, sociopathic personality, and the only troll willing to give her the time of day as a friend is Kanaya, with her association with Equius being due to their mutual desire to manipulate each other, her fling with Eridan being antagonistic and her friendship with Tavros being blatantly abusive. She treats everyone unpleasantly, even her eventual best friend John, who puts up with it out of inherent kindness. While she's a controversial character, she's definitely one of the most popular in the fandom.
They seem to be aware of this though, since in Kickassia, while Ma-Ti was only in it for one scene (partially because the actor did not want to be typecast), he gets to call The Nostalgia Critic out on his douchbaggery, cementing his place as an Ensemble Darkhorse.
As of Suburban Knights, Ma-Ti finally got his due. Sure, he died, but he died being AWESOME.
Nella gets paid to be treated like dirt in The Nostalgia Chick's show. When she turned into Dark Nella and got some modicum of payback, the fandom cheered like they were at a football match.
Arguably most of the reviewers and characters from Channel Awesome are this. The actors have a fondness for Self-Deprecation and writing themselves as hating each other, and each one has a fanbase of some size.
Strong Sad in Homestar Runner. The King of Town became this, but didn't start out that way (he was more The Scrappy when he was only focusing on food, and became funnier when he started to also focus on fixing his own unpopularity.)
Red vs. Blue: Caboose. One of the most disrespected characters on the show. The most popular character among the fandom.
Another example is Agent Washington. The Reds and Blues dislike and mistrust him, not only because he's a Freelancer, but also because of how clear he makes it that he's only interested in what they can do for him, not in their well-being. Even among the Freelancers, where he's more well-liked, he still doesn't get much respect, as he's got one of the lowest combat ratings of the group. Yet he's a very popular character among the fans.
The Annoying Orange. Marshmallow seems to like him and Passion Fruit has a romantic subplot with him, but he's barely tolerated by the rest of the group. Even more so with Grapefruit.
Ed, Edd n Eddy are disliked by pretty much all of the other characters in the show. However, they have a large fanbase and are among Cartoon Network's most popular characters.
Squidward Tentacles is one of the most infamous examples of this trope, being berated, loathed, and disrespected by the rest of the characters, yet is widely considered to be the best character on the show.
SpongeBob himself seems to be despised by nearly everyone in Bikini Bottom, to the point where they have a holiday dedicated to getting away from him.
Followed immediately by the holiday to get away from Patrick, which even SpongeBob himself observes.
One long-running example is Looney Tunes character Daffy Duck, whose rivalry over the years with Bugs Bunny was balanced by the audience knowledge that Daffy was very funny. Interestingly Daffy has been used more and more by Warner Bros
Disney's Donald Duck fared similarly, although this probably had more to do with his general bad luck; heck, it's right there in his theme song.
Zoidberg from Futurama is the perfect example. On the show. he's often literally told that he is hated by the cast. However, he has quite a few fans.
Averted with Bender, he's a thief who wants to kill all humans and the fans seem to like him because of his immoral corrupt hedonistic behavior. But most of the main characters like him too, all while knowing how evil and rude he is.
Meg Griffin on Family Guy. Despite (or maybe because) being a rather blatant Butt Monkey (although less from season 8 onwards) she has lots of fans, many pictures of her in deviantart and lots of stories of her in fanfiction.net.
Many of her fans have started using the slogan "I support Meg Griffin, because nobody else does."
Proving this trope, Meg didn't become a popular character until the rest of the cast started treating her like crap. Up until then, she was rather unpopular for being a rather bland, typical teenage girl character.
The Simpsons are arguably Unpopular Popular Characters. In the episode "Simpson Safari", this subtle exchange occurs:
Homer: The Simpsons are going to Africa! Family: Yay! (In Africa, two tribesmen dance around a fire. Suddenly, one of them stops) Tribesman: What is it, N'gungo? N'gungo: Evil is coming. Tribesman: What shall we do, N'gungo? N'gungo(puts his mask on the other tribesman's head): You are N'gungo now!(runs away screaming)
Also, when Marge is ready to propose an idea in the Town City Hall, the townspeople groan and mutter in exasperation.
Looking over the entire course of the series, it is clear that the Simpsons aren't necessarily any worse than the other families in Springfield; they are simply cursed to either suffer bad luck or to bring bad luck to others, as seen in "Treehouse of Horror III" (specifically, the "Monkey's Paw" segment) and "Homer's Enemy."
Kenny is one of these; killed off on a regular basis for five seasons, bullied and insulted by all of his friends, and generally treated like dirt. Of course, as soon as he was Killed Off for Real, the fans were in uproar, and he was back for good by the end of the season.
Subsequently, the character of Butters has taken Kenny's place as the fan-loved, but terribly treated character.
According to Craig in "Pandemic," the entire main cast qualifies as this. Cartman, being a sociopath, comes as no surprise, but Stan and Kyle are disliked because of their propensity towards getting involved inZany Scheme after Zany Scheme that end up with them getting shot into space or stranded in Peru, which: A) only happens to them, out of all the children in South Park, and B) is their fault, according to — well, everyone in South Park.
Pip, who nobody in the show seems to like (including the creators) but has lots of fanart.
Xandir of Drawn Together is largely the show's Butt Monkey, being on the receiving end of all kinds of abuse by the other characters, particularly Captain Hero. However, in the fandom, he's far and away the most popular character on the show; just go to any Drawn Together message board or fan community and check out how much Xandir traffic there is compared with the other characters.
Jack Spicer from Xiaolin Showdown. An Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain/Butt Monkey, described by many as being the funniest character on the show, and even having the largest number of fan girls. Following him is Raimundo, who has either a larger or equal number of fans, and is the butt of a lot of jokes within the show (not as much as Jack).
Tootie from The Fairly Oddparents is extremely popular with the fanbase, despite her position on the show. A decade into the show's life the creators seemed to have finally picked up on this, and elected to make her one of the main characters of the live action Fairly Odd Movie.
Zim himself definitely counts as well. Ostracized by his classmates (although they do sometimes stick up for him when he's being picked on by Dib, who they hate more), banished to Foodcourtia by his superiors, then double-banished to an obscure planet beyond the edge of known space when he escapes from his original banishment, and tends to be the target of revenge plots whenever he comes into contact with other members of his own race. But his Large Ham tendencies and Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain nature make him a hit with fans.
Cody on Total Drama Island, to the point you can't really mention the Total Drama series without someone bringing him up.
Harold is also quite popular, despite being an eternal Butt Monkey in canon.
In a very different way Courtney might fit this too; in show she's very unpopular with most of the other contestants because of her bossiness. In real life, while not exactly universally popular, she has one of the largest and most vocal fanbases.
Even moreso than Courtney is Heather. She's the most unpopular contestant on the show (until Alejandro at the end of World Tour), yet she has a very sizable fanbase, which has only increased with each passing season.
Also Ezekiel. In-universe people seem to find him annoying. In real life he has quite a notable fan base.
Noah is hated in the show for being a condescending, sarcastic know-it-all and a lazy slacker. In real life, he's loved for the same reasons.
Johnny Bravo can't get a girl on his home show, but there are plenty of chicks that would like to handle his bod in Real Life.
On KaBlam!, Henry is pretty much the planet's punching bag. But of course, most of the fans wanna pick him up and hug him.
Beavis qualifies as this during the Christmas Episode of Beavis and Butt-Head when during both the It's a Wonderful Life parody where Butt-Head learns he's now Stewart's sidekick and even protected from Butt-Head by helpful homeless people. During the "Letters to Santa Butt-Head" segments, Beavis gets increasingly more and better fanmail, much to Butt-head's annoyance.
Beast Wars example: As of the time of writing, he's at the bottom of this list, so once again he must ask, why universe hate Waspinator?
Considering he beat out Jazz, Shockwave, and Erector for the fans' choice Transformers Hall of Fame induction, he seems to have it pretty good these days. Would this be enought to elevate him beyond "expendable" in th eyes of his fellow Predacons? Probably not. But it's still not bad.
The episode "Stimpy's Fan Club" is this trope in spades. In the episode, Stimpy gets tons of adoring fan mail, while Ren gets none. Stimpy tries to cheer Ren up by making him the president of Stimpy's Fan Club, but this just drives Ren to new levels of psychosis (and for Ren, that's really saying something). The next week, Nickelodeon got a truckload of letters from children telling Ren they loved him too.
Princess Luna. Within the show's universe, she comes to be accepted back after her exile, but many ponies are still suspicious of her, as seen in her spotlight episode "Luna Eclipsed". Outside of the show, she's one of the most popular characters, even beyond the Mane Cast.
The Great And Powerful Trixie is an egotistical showoff attention horse who spends most of her stage performance bragging about her accomplishments (including her defeat of an Ursa Major, which is a shameless lie) and humiliating Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash with cheap tricks rather than performing, and earns the scorn of most of Ponyville before the episode is over. Yet she has a dedicated fanbase, regularly appears in fanworks, and the owner of Equestria Daily (the world's largest FiM fansite) is an open and unabashed Trixie fan to the point that people have him appear in fanworks just to praise her.
Gilda the Griffon also receives plenty of love from the fanbase despite her being almost literally run out of Ponyville by the main cast.
Silver Spoon is often characterized by the fanbase as being emotionally-conflicted and not actually enjoying taking part in Diamond Tiara's bullying of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, but doing so simply out of loyalty to her only friend (Diamond Tiara herself is genuinely disliked by much of the fandom).
Discord, even after making a Heel-Face Turn, is still distrusted by the show's cast due to his antics in the past. Said antics are hilarious and made him among the most popular characters in the show despite his few appearances.
Maud Pie, Pinkie's older sister. Pinkie adores her to bits, but the other members of the mane cast are put off by her extremely Stoic mannerisms, monotone voice, apparent dullness, and her obsession with rocks. They fail in bonding with her and even express that they don't really consider her a friend since they have virtually nothing in common with her. The fanbase however finds her quite intriguing.
If there was ever a poster boy for this trope, it'd be Wacky Races own Dick Dastardly. Not only is he universally despised by all (even his own sidekick), but he never wins a single race despite having the fastest vehicle in the tournament (mostly due to a compulsive desire to cheat, and every attempt always backfiring on him spectacularly). And the one time he actually won a race by legitimate means (and by legitimate, we mean by the typical standards of this race), the judges called foul play and disqualified him, despite the same tactic being used by another racer who won. Regardless of these failures, Dick Dastardly is easily the most popular character in the fandom.
Argit from Ben 10: Alien Force. The guy's a Con Man who'd sell his grandma for money. He seems to have everywhere in the galaxy people who want him dead. And even the protagonists despise him, allowing him to go around only because he isn't that much of a threat. The only reason someone as obnoxious as him could survive so far is because he has the ability to stop his pulse to play dead. Yet, fans adore him because they find him hilarious, and even Derrick J. Wyatt, the producer of Ben 10: Omniverse, admitted he thinks he's the best thing that came up from the Alien Force / Ultimate Alien era.
Regarding The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Incredible Hulk has so many fans, the second intro bills him as highly as it does the Big Three Avengers. Unfortunately, the second season of the show sees Red Hulk frame him of terrorizing SHIELD, torture him in prison offscreen for several episodes, and provoke him into performing a rampage that causes even his best friends to lose their respect for him. Worse, during the Hulk's imprisonment, none of the other Avengers acknowledged his absence.