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
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
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
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer's boyfriend in seasons 4-5, Riley, was a Badass Normal who was completely and utterly outclassed by Buffy. The show even deconstructs the trope, with all the Unfortunate Implications that come along with it. Riley eventually feels useless (in combat and even emotionally because Buffy refuses to really open up to or rely on him when she needs help) and weak compared to Buffy and leaves her. Later it turns out that he marries a different, and less empowered Action Girl with whom he can form a more equal Battle Couple.
- In Charmed, Cole turned into this after his Heel-Face Turn, but then turned into a Muggle. His frustration with this led to him using a forbidden power source, becoming strong again, but eventually being corrupted. Then he gets better, then he gets worse again, then...
- Played straight with Mickey of Doctor Who at first, then subverted.
- Rory Williams also started out this way. He was just some guy who Amy was going to marry, and when he tagged along, he became a Bumbling Sidekick. This changed pretty quickly, as he developed a well-deserved Memetic Badass status.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.