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Sempai/Kohai Romance

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I hope sempai falls in love with me!

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
lazybanshee on Dec 12th 2014 at 4:34:28 PM
Last Edited By:
Pichu-kun on Mar 24th 2018 at 12:20:42 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

The duality of sempai (senior) and kohai (junior) is omnipresent in Japanese society: at all levels of education, and in sports clubs, businesses, and informal or social organizations, and is an essential element of Japanese seniority-based status relationships, similar to the way that family and other relationships are decided based on age, in which even twins may be divided into elder and younger siblings.

The relationship between a sempai and a kohai is traditionally that of mutual respect, and the kohai is obligated to defer and look up to them, while the sempai is obligated to look out for, and protect, the kohai.

Needless to say, romance fits this relationship like a glove.

Extremely common in Yaoi, Yuri, and shoujo manga in general.

Subtrope of Sempai/Kohai.

See also Mentor Ship, Teacher/Student Romance.


Anime and Manga

  • Maria-sama ga Miteru runs on this trope, as the Soeur system is essentially an extension of the traditional Sempai/Kohai relationship. Though nothing happens on-screen, the bonds between souers are almost always romance laden.
  • In SHUFFLE!, Asa is Rin and Kaede's sempai, but tells Rin to stop calling her "Asa-sempai" when they start dating.
  • Rather frustrating to fans of the ship is the example from Skip Beat!!. Kyouko and Ren, lead girl and lead guy respectively, have a sempai/kouhai relationship as Ren has been in show business longer than Kyouko has. It's also a romance series with the biggest Anchored Ships you've seen in a shoujo in a long time.
  • Subverted in Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai, where Kuroneko and Kyousuke are in a romantic relationship for a while, and she becomes his kohai after she transfers to his school, but the two events are unrelated.
  • Souchi's sempai to Morinaga's kouhai in the university in The Tyrant Falls in Love.
  • Shirou and Sakura in the Heavens Feel route of Fate/stay night. Sakura does not stop calling Shirou "sempai" even after they begin their relationship.
  • Bakemonogatari
    • Kanbaru Suruga refers to both Araragi and Senjougahara as sempais and is explicitly romantically interested in the latter while not minding the former.
    • Averted with Sengoku Nadeko, who is technically in a kohai position to Araragi but does not refer to him as anything but "big brother Koyomi" (even though they are not related), adding a Brother–Sister Incest subtext instead.
  • Tamaki and Haruhi from Ouran High School Host Club, though the sempai/kohai dynamic goes away once they start dating (not that it stops Haruhi from referring to Tamaki as such).
  • In Miracle Girls, Tomo has a crush on her senpai Kurashige.
  • Maya Ibuki in from Neon Genesis Evangelion refers to calls Ritsuko as "sempai". It's heavily implied that Maya has unrequited affections for Ritsuko.

Light Novels

  • My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU: Hachiman Hikigaya is a Second Year Protagonist. Then in the middle of the series (volume 6 in the light novel and second season of the anime), appears Iroha Isshiki from First Year that went to Service Club to get a problem solved. Since then, she hangs with Hachiman calling him "senpai". But later in the series is known that the only person she says "senpai" is Hachiman, mostly like a Ship Tease for him (and actually she's considerated as an actual contender for Hachiman's heart apart of Yui and Yukino).


  • Shiki's Filk Song rap "Senpai" references this trope.

Web Original

Video Games

Feedback: 51 replies

Dec 12th 2014 at 7:23:31 PM

Fair point, didn't think of linking it.

Dec 13th 2014 at 12:27:05 AM

With a title like that, the examples would be restricted to Japanese media only. If that's not what you want, you should come up with an all-English title for it. :)

Dec 13th 2014 at 6:07:29 AM

I think it's okay for it to be restricted to Japanese media and other works that mention this type of relationship by name (there were two characters on 30 Rock with a sempai-kohai relationship though they were both americans and not really weeaboos either).

There isn't really a similar relationship between upperclassmen and underclassmen in the West by default for this trope to be extended to upperclassman/underclassman romance in general ("people within a similar age range that spend hours at a time in the same place sometimes have relationships" is a bit of People Sit On Chairs).

The typical concepts associated with such a relationship fit pre-established tropes such as Lover And Beloved like a glove.

Dec 13th 2014 at 3:37:20 PM

There's no reason to say, "runs on this trope." The example should have actually context and tell about the romantic relationship of these people. The example and description expects people to know what Sempai Kohai is. One page shouldn't rely on another.

Dec 13th 2014 at 5:24:56 PM

^ but this is a subtrope of Sempai Kohai, why not?

Dec 14th 2014 at 4:36:09 AM

I explained the sempai-kohai relationship in a nutshell, I don't need to define these terms, they are explained plenty in the main article which this is a subtrope of, even saying "underclassmen/upperclassmen" in brackets would not do the term justice, you may refer to useful notes/japanese culture, or you may even google them, because you're currently using the interblogs.

you might have had a point if sempai/kohai would be just a trope in itself, but it's a real type of relationship millions of people have

Dec 16th 2014 at 3:55:30 AM

The Sempai Kohai page has a couple of romantic examples that can be copied to this YKTTW.

Dec 21st 2014 at 2:25:12 PM


viable trope in dire need of examples

Dec 24th 2014 at 12:05:05 PM

  • Shirou and Sakura in the Heavens Feel route of Fate Stay Night. Sakura does not stop calling Shirou "sempai" even after they begin their relationship.

Dec 26th 2014 at 4:19:33 AM

  • Examples section
    • Added a line separating the Description and Examples sections.
    • Sorted examples by media and added media section titles.
    • Namespaced and italicized work names.

Dec 26th 2014 at 4:37:58 AM

Is this really that different from Teacher Student Romance? Is it distinct enough, and is that distinction universal outside of Japanese Culture?

Dec 26th 2014 at 5:08:59 AM

^ The decisive difference between this and TSR is the much smaller age gap, which alleviates some unfortunate implications (of an adult in a position of authority dating a person who, in school settings, has probably not even reached the age of consent yet). Plus, I vaguely recall lazybanshee wanting to make it an Eastern Asian-only trope, which pretty much restricts it to Japanese media, anyway.

Dec 26th 2014 at 6:58:02 AM

^ how do you think this would happen in Western shows? I guess... it doesn't sound as "special" as it is in Japan.

Dec 26th 2014 at 8:29:21 AM

As I understand the S/K relationship, there can be a very prevalent age gap between the two. There's nothing saying that a Senpai and Kohai need to conform to a certain age gap at all, since the relationship can exist at any social level.

As for it happening in Western shows, how about Entrapment? The Catherine Zeta Jones character and the Sean Connery character have a S&K thing going on, and clearly there's a level of romantic entanglement.

Jordan and Mitch in Real Genius come to mind as well.

Dec 27th 2014 at 1:42:36 PM

who tagged this as discard and for what purpose

@Black Templar, Entrapment is closer to Mentor Ship. Sempai/Kohai is a unique type of relationship that exists mostly in Japan.

There are key differences between this and mentorship in the west: first, juniors and seniors at school, workplace etc. are socially obligated to behave according to the standards of such a relationship, second, instead of being one-on-one, all juniors are kohais to all seniors and vice-versa.

As such, I think that examples outside the Japanese media must be restricted to situations where characters refer to each other explictly as sempai/kohai.

@Koveras, I do not think that a sempai has an authority position enough to have Unfortunate Implications either way. They are not teachers or bosses, but just senior students or employees. It is socially acceptable for them to ascribe menial tasks to kohais, but they can't strong arm them into romance.

Dec 28th 2014 at 2:46:34 PM

Sempai and Kohai should definitely be clearly defined in the description if the terminology is going to stay in the title, or at the very least the supertrope should be mentioned in the description immediately. Though I'm not fond of trope descriptions that rely on taking a Wiki Walk for an uninformed person to understand a key term, so I'd favor the former.

Dec 28th 2014 at 3:31:47 PM

Fair enough, I wrote an introductory sentence.

Dec 28th 2014 at 7:09:25 PM

That's what I was trying to say. You shouldn't need a Wiki Walk to understand a page. The examples still need to be expanded beyond saying one is Sempai and one is Kohai.

Dec 29th 2014 at 12:02:17 AM

  • The relationship between Hiroyuki & Kuroyukihime in Accel World. Kuroyukihime is not just Haru's sempai, but also his "parent" in the sense that she is the one who introduced him to Brain Burst, something a "parent" can only do for one other person.

Dec 29th 2014 at 12:59:57 AM

Since this is about romance, shouldn't the Laconic be something like "I hope sempai loves me!"?

Dec 29th 2014 at 2:07:00 AM

^ Maybe lines of dialogue should perish? That, a "romance fits like a glove" ("Needless to say"? ... don't say it then; why torture readers?), with a transfer into a phrase "runs on this trope" opening the examples list — makes it hard to pity this ykttw for having a "Motion to discrad" tag unaccounted for. This is full of Word Cruft.

Dec 29th 2014 at 2:24:38 AM

I don't know that there are enough examples of this trope, and I still say it's not different enough from Teacher Student Romance and Mentor Ship. I think the lack of examples bears me out on that, as do the number of examples being shot down because they don't exactly fit. You're going to spend a lot of time policing the page for examples that don't fit and pruning them because they aren't explicitly Senpai/Kohai. This is an incredibly specific focus of two other tropes we already have. I set it getting published very bravely, and merged very quickly.

Dec 29th 2014 at 4:03:30 AM

Sempai and Kohai are not teacher and student, or mentor and protege.

@lexicon, it's not my fault that you don't understand what a sempai is after it has already been explained... you can always choose not to consume Eastern Asian media as a whole, if that is the case.

Dec 29th 2014 at 5:12:35 AM

But they're not distinct enough for a viable trope. Again, the dearth of examples speaks volumes.

Dec 29th 2014 at 5:36:58 AM

  • Amagami:
    • One of the schoolgirl heroines of this dating sim is a sempai to male Second Year Protagonist. She brushes off his initial chasings as being not serious, and confides in her best friend that she fights strong urges to spoil her partner, when their relationship progresses.
    • Two of the heroines are friends to little sister of the protagonist and are a year younger than him. Sae (one of them) is problematically shy, so in her arc, protagonist takes the lead in an effort to amend that. Ai (the other) starts off as a tease, gradually growing to be passionate about the protagonist and looking to him for support.
At least that's the case with anime adaptation. >_>

Dec 29th 2014 at 6:14:30 AM

  • CLANNAD: Yukine Miyazawa is a caring selfless girl, technically kohai to protagonist male, Tomoya. The school life is not of big importance, her events in game occur in one particular room of school building, between and after classes, where she runs a sort of haven often visited by gangsters to whom she is a helping, kind and well-respected little sister of her late brother, who was a big-shot gangster. Tomoya learns all this as he sticks around, and the growing feelings remain unspoken until the finale of the secondary personal route Yukine has, when Tomoya gives a big hug to her instantly-very-happy self in front of all the protective mean-looking gangsters.

Dec 29th 2014 at 11:34:16 AM

I do see the obvious problem with this trope rapidly attracting Zero Context Examples; "X is this trope" is a ZCE, whether the reader "understands" what a sempai is or not.

Description still needs some serious help. I admit I was hoping that adding a definition would help the rest of the description to tighten up, but it hasn't. Right now it's telling us there is a trope without really telling us what the trope is.

Dec 29th 2014 at 7:16:53 PM

lazybanshee, I didn't say I don't understand what a sempai is. I said that the examples need to say how this is a Sempai/Kohai Romance. You having less of an attitude would really help. I second everything Nemuru Mae Ni said about the Word Cruft and line of dialog laconic.

Dec 29th 2014 at 7:38:12 PM

  • In Sailor Moon Sailor Jupiter devolved a strong crush on her (unnamed) Sempai. He broke her heart by dating another girl.

Dec 30th 2014 at 2:39:17 PM

^^It is enough for characters to refer to each other as such, or be in such a relationship de facto, to qualify for this trope.

^^^There are characters who are in a sempai/kohai relationship, and also in a romantic relationship. Succinct?

I also disagree with the notion that zero context examples are always bad, like when people are blotting out appearance tropes on character lists as ZCE when nothing can really be said. Like, yeah, Sherlock, the character has blue hair. You can see it on the portrait, yes. Congratulations. Don't comment that shit out.

Dec 30th 2014 at 4:51:37 PM

This is Teacher Student Romance In Japan. Already have, motion to discard.

Dec 30th 2014 at 6:05:33 PM

^ that'd be Sensei/Student Romance; sempai/kohai is something else.

Dec 31st 2014 at 10:44:29 AM

^^^ But appearance tropes aren't simply about appearance; it's about using that appearance to communicate something about a character. It makes no difference if a character has blonde or blue hair if it's just a way to visually differentiate Bob from Fred. If Bob has light blonde hair as a way to visually demonstrate his pure and caring heart, then that's a trope and as such has context.

Same thing applies here. You're looking at a spesific relationship dynamic that has many elements that can be used to establish it; are they classmates? Coworkers? Clubmates? Why are they interested in each other rather than someone of their own social level? Is the kohai idolizing the sempai, as is often seen in this trope? Do they resent them? There's tons of things that can be used for context.

(Also, the entire Skip Beat example is full of natter and YMMV; it needs to be rewritten objectively.)

Dec 31st 2014 at 1:41:36 PM

Note that a lot of appearance tropes end up being fixed or cut because they're chairs.

Jan 1st 2015 at 6:18:54 AM

@jamespolk, wat

you're confusing sempai with sensei. try reading before being a condescending smartass


appearance tropes are about appearance, that's why they are called appearance tropes.

Jan 1st 2015 at 9:08:05 AM

^ Appearance tropes are about appearance as they relate to another aspect of the character; see the "common issues" list here. Appearance is only a part of them. There is no situation in which a zero context example is appropriate; even if it is rehashing the obvious to you, someone completely unfamiliar with the work may not be able to understand it without that context.

Jan 1st 2015 at 10:06:30 AM

<Moderator headband on>

lazybanshee, drop the belligerent attitude and insults. Also, each trope example needs to explain how it applies; Zero Context Examples are forbidden, on this YKTTW or other tropes.

</Moderator headband back off>

That said, I disagree that this is an appearance trope. It's a romance trope that is impinged by social status factors.

Jan 1st 2015 at 10:11:16 AM

No one's arguing it is an appearance trope; I'm just using appearance tropes as an example of how not to make something a ZCE, since it was brought up, just so we're clear.

Jan 1st 2015 at 12:35:03 PM

I'd like to ask if examples that are only implied are allowed. Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (and maybe the original games) seems to have a couple examples that could fit

Feb 22nd 2015 at 10:57:49 PM

The examples still need context to say how this is a Sempai/Kohai Romance. The laconic still needs to change from a quote to what the idea of this is. The description and examples still need to get rid of the Word Cruft.

Apr 15th 2016 at 9:16:49 AM

Apr 16th 2016 at 9:54:43 AM

Sep 29th 2017 at 10:56:02 PM

  • The Pokemon trainer class "Teammates" (formerly "Sr. and Jr.") is known as "Sempai and Kohai" in Japan. More than a few duos have heavy laden Homoerotic Subtext.

Oct 1st 2017 at 1:48:46 PM

If we want to go beyond the Far East, Junior Senior Romance is a start.

Oct 2nd 2017 at 8:00:20 AM

Light Novels:

  • My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU: Hachiman Hikigaya is a Second Year Protagonist. Then in the middle of the series (volume 6 in the light novel and second season of the anime), appears Iroha Isshiki from First Year that went to Service Club to get a problem solved. Since then, she hangs with Hachiman calling him "senpai". But later in the series is known that the only person she says "senpai" is Hachiman, mostly like a Ship Tease for him (and actually she's considerated as an actual contender for Hachiman's heart apart of Yui and Yukino).

Oct 1st 2017 at 5:21:35 PM

Nov 14th 2017 at 12:51:53 PM

Nov 19th 2017 at 5:53:40 PM

Confession Executive Committee Love Series has Hina Setoguchi (Kohai) trying to capture the romantic attention of her graduating crush Koyuki Ayase (Senpai), and resolves to confess to him after years of letting her feelings build up. She picked the worst day to do it, since he comes to Hina heartbroken and thinks her confession was just her trying to cheer him up. And it goes down the tube thereafter since she bottles her feelings up again.