She is beautiful. She is sweet. She is sincere. So why can't she get the guy already? The Unrequited Tragic Maiden is (usually) a female character that seems to have all the perfect characteristics to make her the ideal romantic interest or even The Ingenue of the story, but alas, for some reason the object of her affections does not view her as such. Usually this is because she is overshadowed by another female character who has captivated the heart of the guy, placing the Unrequited Tragic Maiden on the sideline only to be seen as a friend or ward.
No matter how painful her yearning for love is, the Unrequited Tragic Maiden never truly achieves her happily ever after with the one she loves. She endures it all with a sad smile and is often reduced to a tragic fate. She is the poster child of Unrequited Love. In the end she will often sacrifice herself or her happiness to make sure her beloved is happy.
Fan reactions to her tend to be mixed. Many fans will cheer and push for the Maiden's success, to the extent of calling The Hero an Ungrateful Bastard if he doesn't fall to the girl's feet (because the often never asked for pining and sacrifices are seen by fans as him owing her affection or sex no matter what he actually thinks or says) or Slut Shaming any possible female love rival (because The Hero is seen as a tool of women's validation and some think that women shouldn't act on their own romantic feelings if it interferes with others); and if the Maiden doesn't succeed, much bashing of the author shall be expected. On the other hand, others will turn against the Maiden and call her insulting names; this is especially obvious if either The Hero has another prospect love interest or female friend who's perceived as being "stronger" and "cooler" than the maiden herself, or the Maiden has a second prospect male love interest whose (canon or not) feelings she passes up on to favor The Hero.
(It should also be pointed out that, specially in modern times, several of these Maidens are also full-blooded characters with motivations, relationships, backstories and/or interests that go beyond their Unrequited Loves... and yet many fans will insist on only focusing on their love woes, either ignoring or refusing to see their non-romantic character depths.)
Compare to Hopeless Suitor and Romantic Runner-Up, who is the brother of this trope but usually with a less tragic end. May wind up becoming The Lost Lenore after death if the person they loved grieves for them, blames themselves for her death or else only discovers that he loved her when it was too late. Contrast to Green-Eyed Monster, in which the woman is more prone to sabotage and a devious nature unlike the docile nature of the Unrequited Tragic Maiden.
This is starting to become either a Discredited Trope as romantic portrayals of females become less dependent on the male characters, or a Deconstructed Trope to showcase a point-of-view of it being an unrealistic idea of romantic love.
Shirley Fenette from Code Geass. At first Played for Laughs, then for intense drama with a side dish of Break the Cutie. And right when it looks like she may have the chance to get Lelouch's love... BAM! Fatal injury to the gut, pool of her own blood, death in front of Lelouch.
Played with in Ano Hana The Flower We Saw That Day. Meiko aka Menma suffers a tragic death right after hearing Jintan deny having a crush on her. In reality, he returned her feelings while she was alive, and still liked her even when she was a ghost.
Kaede Fuyou from the SHUFFLE! TV series is a rather unusual example, as she plays this straight first... and then dips into yandere. Though she gets better, and she has pretty good reasons for her Yandere episode. In the original Visual Novel, whether Kaede is this or not... it actually depends on the player.
There's one in Michiyo Akaishi's Ten Yori Mo, Hoshi Yori Mo. It's not Mio Mizumori, who actually has her feelings for Shou requited very soon. It's actually Miyabi Fujiwara, the local Ojou, who falls for Shou at first, then is manipulated by Tadaomi due to her feelings... and ends up dying in a plane crash caused by Tadaomi in an attempto to kill Shou.
Shirley Marks from Captain Tsubasa, to a degree. She loves Stefan Levin deeply, can't tell him her feelings because his dead fiancée Karen was her best friend and she clearly knows he simply can't love her back. This is a pretty sucky situation, but the girl is somewhat genre savvier than usual and she attempts to not wangst and complain about it.
In the anime, Princess Sara plays it straighter. Her deal is muchmorecomplex, though.
Played with in Daily Life with Monster Girl, with Mero. She wants to be the Unrequited Tragic Maiden to the man she harbors affection for, eagerly stepping on the sidelines and only wanting to be a tangential part of the protagonist's harem.
In the Marmalade Boy anime Anju Kitahara has more than one whiff of this, being a Yamato Nadeshiko and loving her Childhood Friend Yuu, who already has a girlfriend named Miki by the time they meet again. She immediately recognizes the trope and tells Miki that not only she will not step in between them but she'll support them as much as she can. She does have a slim chance later when Yuu and Miki break up during a crisis, but since they hook up again later, Anju decides to step aside.
Several of these appear in Detective Conan, with the most tragic case being Shouko Utakura from the Seance's Double Locked Mystery Room Case. Who ends up murdered by the guy she loves (Ryuuichi Mifune) because he mistakenly believes her to be involved in the death of his girlfriend Kira. (She sorta is, but definitely NOT in the way he expected her to.)
The reason why Sonoko dislikes Shinichi is because she thinks Ran will end up as Shinichi's UTM. For all that she knows, he's out there resolving cases while she pines endlessly for him! (Little do the girls know that Shinichi is the titular Conan, however.) Sadly, the Stranger of Ten Years OAV implies that were Shinichi not to return to normal, Ran would be very likely to play the trope straight. .
In Candy Candy, Annie Brightonbelieves that she is this to her beloved Archibald "Archie" Cornwell in the Boarding School arc, which does not mixes well with her strong self-esteem issues coming from both her background as an orphan and her secret jealousy of the titular Candy, the girl whom Archie seems to crush on. It turns out that Annie's love for Archie is requited in the end, as he realizes that while he does care for Candy, Annie is the girl he actually loves. And Candy is a Shipper on Deckwith her own romantic woes, anyway.
Also subverted with Susanna Marlowe. She has ALL the signs of being Terry Granchester's tragic maiden — but he ultimately decides to stay by her side after she falls victim to Break the Cutie.
In Project ARMS, Yugo is clearly in love with Ryo, but knows he loves Katsumi and thus does everything in her power to help rescue her. She eventually dies saving him and everyone else from the Jabberwocky.
Subverted by Youko Nakagawa in the anime of Card Captor Sakura. She pines for Touya Kinomoto who (unbeknownst to her) is starting to develop feelings for Yukito Tsukishiro, and plans to tell him about her love in the School Festival. She does cry when Touya politely turns her affections down at the end of the episode she's featured in, but she actually apologizes for crying and tells him she'll be okay. Her only request is for him to dance with her around the bonfire.
In the original story of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid", the mermaid rescues and falls in love with a prince. He marries a different girl whom he believes had rescued him, and who actually did help in his rescue (and in some versions she was actually his bethrothed from before the mermaid incident happened). Because she was unsuccesful in making the prince fall in love with her, the mermaid turns to sea foam, choosing his happiness over her own life. In some versions she is rewarded for her sacrifice with a new life as an air sprite, during which time she will earn a soul (mermaids don't naturally have them) and go to Heaven.
The Lady Of Shalott (the page image) from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem of the same name which is based on the Arthurian Legend character Elaine of Astolat, who pined after Lancelot (who, of course, only had eyes for Guenivere) and eventually died of a broken heart.
Rebecca of York to Ivanhoe, due entirely to the fact that she's Jewish. She warns Ivanhoe not to fall for her at their first meeting and does a graceful I Want My Beloved to Be Happy bow out at the end allowing Rowena and Ivanhoe to be together and devotes the rest of her life to doing good works. Notable in that even the authorpreferred Rebecca and Ivanhoe, but couldn't pair them up due to Moral Guardians.
Emily from Tim Burton's Corpse Bride could qualify as one of these. A beautiful young woman murdered on the night of her elopement by who she THOUGHT was her true love, she who spent her afterlife heartbroken and longing to experience real true love. When she found it in Victor, he was already betrothed to a woman named Victoria, with whom he sincerely was in love. Albeit Emily initially insisted that Victor keep a promise to marry and spend eternity with her that he made unwittingly, in the end she was willing to let him go and spend his life with his own true love, rather than keeping him to herself and causing Victoria a pain that wasn't much different from the one she felt. Once this was said and done, Emily was finally free from her pain and was able to ascend to Heaven, her undead body turning into butterflies that peacefully flew away.
Live Action Television
In Smallville, Chloe is solidly pining after Clark for the first five seasons, and even after getting together with Jimmy for season six and seven, it is pretty obvious that she would be with Clark if she gets to choose. Not to mention an Anguished Declaration of Love in late season seven. Subverted when she seems to be Happily Married with Jimmy. Double subverted when Jimmy divorced her for always taking Clark's or Davis' side. Triple subverted when she ends up with Oliver. Although that probably counts as being Strangled by the Red String.
Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was this for a while, pining away for Xander, until she got a boyfriend of her own. And then became (or realized she was) a lesbian or a lesbian-leaning bi.
Emma on "Bates Motel" seems to be one of these. She is every bit as hot as Bradley, but Norman just likes Bradley better.
Giselle from the ballet of the same name. In some versions, Giselle falls in love with Albretch, but Albretch is engaged to Bathilde. After dying of a broken heart (perhapsliterally), Giselle becomes The Lost Lenore.
Ophelia from Hamlet might be seen as one. Against the warning of her father, she's fallen in love with the Prince, and as soon as Hamlet begins to feign madness, the first thing he does is try to break off his relationship with Ophelia. She doesn't take it well, and then things go From Bad to Worse. At her funeral, Hamlet sobs profusely for his love for her.
Viola describes herself like this (although she claims to be talking about her sister) in the middle of "Twelfth Night", trying to explain to Orsino that sometimes you don't end up with the person you want and there's nothing you can do about it.
Viola: My father had a daughter loved a man, as it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, I should your lordship.
Orsino: And what's her history?
Viola: A blank, my lord. She never told her love, but let concealment, like a worm i' the bud, feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought, and with a green and yellow melancholy she sat like patience on a monument, smiling at grief.
She does get the guy at the end of the play, though.
Eponine from Les Misérables is in love with Marius and does everything she can to help him, even though he is in love with Cosette and only views Eponine as a friend. This portrayal contrasts with the one she has in the original book, where she's more of a Stalker with a Crush.
Helen Chao from "Flower Drum Song" is one of these. Like Eponine, she gets one of the arguably better songs in the show and does everything she can to be a supportive friend to Ta. He first rejects her by chasing the wrong love object before again passing her over.
Namine from Kingdom Hearts is drawn to Sora and wishes she were Kairi. In the end, she wants Sora and Kairi to be happy and merges with Kairi thus destroying her own identity and existence in some ways.
Princess Julia from Geneaology of the Holy War. She falls in love with her half-brother Seliph, but cannot pair with him... without glitches and lots of patience in the player's part. (And it's even lampshaded in-game, with Seliph's potential love interest Lana actually feeling guilty upon having her feelings requited.) Averted in the Oosawa manga, where the ending strongly hints at them ending up together even after finding out that they're half-siblings, and Lana's feelings seem to be geared towards Larcei's twin brother Ulster.
Sylvia also is this in the Oosawa manga. She fell in love with Lewyn after he showed her the kindness nobody else would and proclaims her feelings for him more than once. However, Lewyn already has feelings for Ferry, whom he professes his love to during the Silessa arc, after apologizing to Sylvia due to being unable to like her back. When she confronts Ferry about it, Sylvia explains her backstory and then runs away crying.
Blazing Sword has a Double Subversion in Priscilla. She does have a number of possible lovers she can Support with, but due to her status as nobility, she ultimately ends up in a Star-Crossed Lovers situation — with all but one of them the magician Erk, who has peerage only due to his tutelage under Pent, the Count of Reglay.
Also, if Eliwood reaches an A support with anyone but Ninian, she will become this since her romantic feelings for Eliwood are set in stone regardless of support levels and she must return with her brother Nils to the land beyond the Dragon's Gate anyway. Though she also hasseveral other reasonsto be depressed, and if she has to leave for the Dragon Gate lands, she is able to tell Eliwood goodbye without crying a single tear, having recoveredfrom her former trauma.
Path of Radiance has Titania, second-in-command and Team Mom of the Greil Mercenaries. It's revealed in her Supports with Ike that she grew close to and became enamored with Ike's father Greil while training under him, but she pushed away her feelings for Greil when she discovered that he was already married with children. It should be no surprise that she (along with Ike and Mist) is hit the hardest by his death at the hands of the Black Knight (to the point that she breaks down into tears in their A Support when Ike thanks her for taking care of his father in his final years). She does have Ship Tease with Ike, Boyd, and Rhys in Radiance, but ultimately ends up single by the end of Dawn.
Dragon Quest V: Potentially Bianca, provided the hero chooses to marry Flora instead. She helps him complete his Engagement Challenge, gets her hopes briefly raised, then dashed, and proceeds to get bodyslammed by a load of extra angst just to drive home to the player they made the wrong choice. At least the remakes dial it back.
Subverted during Shizune's path in Katawa Shoujo. Misha fits in this trope well... but the person she's hopelessly in love with is Shizune, not Hisao. Which also makes her the very rare Les Yay/Schoolgirl Lesbians version of the trope.