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Useless Boyfriend
"My hero!"

It is very common that when women are the main characters, they will have a boyfriend that is depicted as a complete Badass or a Badass Normal. They singlehandedly fight the Monster of the Week and even rescue their action/magical girl friends when they are still learning how to use their powers/skills. They are more than capable of facing the Big Bad and his/her goons without powers.

In short, they are completely badass... Except whenever their action/magical girl friends are around. Then they somehow become very ineffective fighting against the Monster of the Week and are completely useless against the Big Bad. Sometimes, they even get demoted to Distressed Dude. Many times, they are not allowed to win a fight unless their girlfriends are somehow incapacitated. Most of the time they are somehow unable to get the same powers/abilities as their action/magical girl friends.

One potential (in-universe) explanation for this is that the boyfriend in question is a Badass Normal, while the "girlfriend" has actual magical powers, special abilities, or is a much better Badass Normal. And while the boy is no doubt skilled, he can't really compare to soul-eating monsters or the ability to shoot fire from one's hands.

Another explanation is that though the boy has powers of his own, and is more than a badass normal, he isn't the Chosen One, or lacks the local monster-killing MacGuffin, which the girl noticeably has.

When this trope is played straight, it is used to denote Girl Power. This trope appears primarily in shows intended for girls, where the spotlight is supposed to be on the female characters as the heroes.

Compare to the Worf Effect, where a Badass character is taken out easily to show how tough the new villain is. The difference between a Useless Boyfriend and the Worf Effect is the setting and how frequently the Badass in question is beaten down. The Worf Effect will overlap with Useless Boyfriend, but the Boyfriend is characterized by his uselessness. Though he may also serve a similar purpose, the "Worf" will be actually effective against a wide variety of enemies, and will gain victories for their side, whereas the Boyfriend serves as a punching bag until his girlfriend shows up.

See Girl Power, Action Girl, Informed Ability, Magical Girl, or Distressed Dude. Also look at Badass Decay. Contrast Faux Action Girl, which is a part of the Distaff Counterpart. The man's fear of becoming this trope is part of the driving force behind No Guy Wants an Amazon.


Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Hailing from Sailor Moon, Tuxedo Mask is one of two Trope Codifiers. He was the mysterious protector of the main characters while Usagi and her team got stronger. He becomes completely useless against the first and last Big Bads, often leaving Usagi alone for the bigger battles. (In his defense, it's not like he wants to: in the first series he's gravely injured and then dies in between the fight with Beryl and the one with Metallia!Beryl, in S he's keeping Chibi-Usa alive via constantly transferring some of his own Life Energy to her comatose body after her Heart Crystal is stolen, in Super S the influence of Black Moon leave him greatly debilitated, and in Stars he was dead again.)
  • Austria from Axis Powers Hetalia was shown to be this, back when he and Hungary were still together. Prussia's comments at his loss hints that he used to be able to hold his own, but got complacent and has gone soft, or at least weaker than Prussia and his allies.

Comic Books
  • Wonder Woman: Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman's official Love Interest for decades, was a USA Air Force pilot and agent and the second Trope Codifier. But he ended up rescued by Wonder Woman as often as Lois Lane was by Superman. Eventually they wrote him out of the series, even marrying him to Wonder Woman's female sidekick, Etta Candy.
    • In the TV series, this is averted. While he's not bulletproof so the heavy hitting still has to be done by the heroine, he's still a badass soldier. They don't let useless wusses be USAF fighter pilots, after all. Of course, gender roles mean that when it comes to audience perception, any given instance of needing rescue adds far more The Load points to the character than it would for a female character.

Fan Fiction
  • Shows up quite often in Touhou fan fiction, due in part to the fact that many such fanfics involve Muggle humans accidentally finding themselves in Gensokyo, a land whose chief population seems to be magic bullet-shooting Action Girls.

Live-Action Television

Literature
  • The Servant series, by Lori Foster, has Gaby as the supernatural protagonist and Luther as her Muggle love interest. If it were a straight up detective series, Luther would be pretty badass. Unfortunately, since he's not supernaturally empowered, he can't hold a candle to Gaby.

Visual Novels
  • In Maji De Watashi Ni Koi Shinasai, Kazama, Gakuto and Gen are all shown to be extremely talented fighters who can take down entire armies on their own. However, whenever the Villain of the Week shows up, they all get sidelined in favor of one of the girls taking them on. This even applies to the enemies as well, as Hideo may be captain of the boxing team, but is completely overshadowed by his female companions.

Web Original
  • Fey of the Whateley Universe has immense magical powers and has beaten The Necromancer in one-on-one duels. Her boyfriend Stalwart is an inventor, and not all of his inventions work.

Western Animation
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Shining Armor is a captain of the guard. However, he has a weak record of being badass or doing anything on camera when the mane 6 get involved. In his defense, though, he does have some outstanding moments such as performing a spell fueled by The Power of Love alongside Cadance that kicked the changelings out of Canterlot, briefly taking on King Sombra (even though it ended up putting black crystals in his horn that temporarily prevented him from doing magic), and throwing Cadance like a javelin to catch Spike and the Crystal Heart, enabling Sombra's defeat.
  • In Winx Club, the specialists from Red Fountain are depicted as completely badass warriors, due to the fact that they are training all the time to be Badass Normals. For this reason one would logically expect them to be able to fight competently against the forces of evil. Despite this, they are usually ineffective against the Big Bads, and are very weak compared to the Winx against magical threats. However, they do manage to hold their own against mooks and can sometimes take on bigger threats like the Trix and the Wizards of the Black Circle.
  • In W.I.T.C.H., Cornelia's boyfriend, Caleb, is an undeniable badass, leading the resistance forces in Miridian, running daring raids against Phobos' forces, and even saving the girls in their first encounter. Despite all of this, he is next to useless against Phobos, Cedric, or any of the Big Bads, really.
    • Matt Olsen, Will's boyfriend, subverts this trope. When he finds out of Will's second life, he decides that he isn't going to let Will get hurt with him around. He takes copious amounts of Taking A Level In Badass after his successful Battle In The Centerof The Mind against his Brainwashed and Crazy self, gets himself new powers and is now on equal footing with them! Sadly, the series is canceled before we can find out if he'd end up getting shunted back into this category.
      • The comic was also good at subverting it. When Matt learns about The Masquerade, he helps the girls hiding it from their parents. Next story arc, he is a Distressed Dude, but at then end he manages to save the day. Then we learn he was a Really 700 Years Old secret protector.
  • The wielders of the Forest Stones from Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders, despite riding Badass wolves and having their own magic stones, were unfortunately made all too aware of this trope. They have been kidnapped, transformed, and in short are pretty much useless.
  • In Kim Possible, Ron Stoppable is this for Kim. Despite the act that he has "mystical king Fu powers" he is unable to beat Shego nor any villain of the week. Most of the time Kim does all the work. He becomes aware of this trope at the last episode and feels outclassed compared to Kim. Even in the last episode when he was allowed to awaken his powers and beat the BigBads by himself, he was unable to use his powers until the last moment and when Kim was knocked out.
    • Ron really is more of a subversion however. He is, in fact an attempt at lampshading this trope. The main difference is that Ron hasn't made any claims to be badass, he knows he isn't badass.
    • The other thing is that it's Kim's show, so she's usually the hero with Ron as loyal support, though he has a number of All Up To You moments. note 
  • Lampshaded and... Parodied?... with Steve Trevor, love interest of Wonder Woman in his appearance at Batman The Brave And The Bold: In all other incarnations (animation, live action TV) he is a fairly proactive guy, (except comics, as you can see above) in the Cold Opening of “Scorn of Star Shappire” he is a secret agent so confident that Wonder Woman will come to his rescue that he doesn’t move a muscle to get out of a Death Trap, let her do all the work, and gushes in her presence. And this immortal line:
    Steve Trevor: Have to say, being a secret agent is a cinch when you have a super-powered girlfriend.


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