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Always Second Best

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"He's always willing to be second best, the perfect lodger, the perfect guest..."
Bob Seger, "Beautiful Loser"

Some people always win, some people always lose, and these people... end up second place.

They're usually competent, skilled, or (if it is romance we are talking about) relatively inoffensive at least. But they never quite succeed. There's usually some character (usually, but not always, the protagonist) who beats them. If it wasn't for That One Person they'd be number one, but they aren't.

So they're number two, making them prime material for Rival Turned Evil. If a Sibling Rivalry is involved being always second best often comes part and parcel with being the Unfavorite.

Compare Can't Catch Up, The Worf Barrage, and Driven by Envy. Romantic Runner-Up is a version of this character specific to romance stories. Poor Man's Substitute is the version where a character acts as a poor replacement. When it's more perceived than actual, it's Always Someone Better. Often related to Second Place Is for Losers and The B Grade.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • 12 Beast: Eita's biggest source of angst is his big brother Kouki. Eita's incredibly awesome and tends to excel with a little work at whatever he does. Kouki just happens to be a little older and better, and LOVES to use this to torture him. Anytime Eita takes on a sport, Kouki jumps in and does it better, and any time Eita tries to impress a girl Kouki jumps in and uses his awesomeness to seduce that girl for himself.
  • Sayaka Saeki to Touko Nanami in Bloom Into You. Sayaka has always been second in their class, while Touko is first, and Touko ends up becoming Student Council President while having Sayaka as her vice president. Sayaka doesn't resent Touko for it — in fact, she falls in love with her because of that.
  • Koujirou Hyuuga from Captain Tsubasa is a very good player, but not good enough to beat Tsubasa. This is Played for Drama towards the final episodes of the original series, during the third Championship final match, which is all about Hyuuga doing everything possible to at last defeat Tsubasa. In the end, the match ends on a draw and both teams are declared champions.
  • Dio from Casshern Sins sees himself as this to Casshern. And it irritates him to no end.
    Dio: We are perfectly identical, in both skills and specs! So explain to me why I'm inferior to Casshern!
  • In A Certain Magical Index, the #2 Level-5 Esper Teitoku Kakine is obsessed with proving himself stronger than the #1 Accelerator, and it infuriates him to no end that Accelerator is both still #1 despite receiving brain damage and doesn't really give a shit about him. It doesn't end well for Kakine either time he fights Accelerator either, although technically the second time was due to outside interference.
    • Ayu Mitsuari feels resentment towards Misaki Shokuhou due to feeling that she is simply an inferior version of Misaki and that people will always compare her to Misaki, seeing her as nothing more than a cheap knockoff of Mental Out. What she doesn't know is that she and Misaki actually possesses near identical potentials, Ayu's simply not as powerful as Misaki due to the fact that the researchers were sabotaging her development in order to keep her at a certain level, in case they ever needed a replacement for Misaki.
  • After knowing she was seconded to NAGO in school again, Yanagin in Daily Lives of High School Boys dared NAGO to beat her in karate and then ramen which Yanagin was decisively defeated in both. In a later skit she tried daring NAGO to beat her in tolerance in the sauna, and defeated again — not only to NAGO, but presumably her two other friends Habara and Ikushima.
  • Mello from Death Note. He joins the mafia, kidnaps poor little Sayu, kills Souichiro, kidnaps Takada, and gets his best friend killed — all in the name of being better than Near at the "L's Successor" game. Meanwhile, Near feels the same way with L, only in the "Greatest-Detective" game.
  • Dragonball Z:
    • It's been the story of Vegeta's life, ever since he met Gok- we mean, "Kakarot". No matter how hard he tries, or how much HARDER he continues to push himself, Goku's power level is always several orders of magnitudes greater. Which endlessly frustrates the Saiyan Prince.
    • Goku has this dynamic with all his rivals. Yamcha, Krillin, Tien, and Piccolo are always second to Goku even at their strongest, save when Piccolo briefly became the strongest hero after merging with Kami and Vegeta and Trunks also increased their power while he was subdued by the heart virus.
    • Goten and Trunks have this relationship. Trunks is always a little stronger than Goten because of his age and being trained by his father. Goten isn't bitter about this, just mildly annoyed.
    • Goten also has a mild case of this with Gohan. When training, he becomes upset at how easily Gohan can beat him.
    • As of Dragon Ball Super, Goku is always second to Beerus, the strongest being in his universe if you don't count Whis.
  • This is a major part of Jinnai's motivation in El-Hazard: The Magnificent World coupled with a side-order of Unknown Rival. Makoto constantly and effortlessly doing better than him at every activity (at least at school), coupled with Makoto being the one to expose his bribing his way into the student council presidency, is what causes him to snap at the beginning. Though it's worth noting that he lead the Bugrom against the kingdoms of El-Hazard before finding out that Makoto was working with them. Makoto's participation just made it personal.
  • In the earlier half of Eyeshield 21, the Deimon Devil Bats managed to beat weak teams like the Cupids or the Chameleons, but lost against strong teams like the White Knights, the Aliens, and at best tied with the Sphinx. (Technically winning because the Sphinx didn't want to fight the Aliens after such a hard battle anyway.) They got better as the series went on, but through out the series, you could never be so sure that they were going to win or not. Parodied with Saburo Mitsui, kicker for the Hakushu Dinosaurs who always tries to be third best at everything.
  • Gaka Izumi from Flunk Punk Rumble. A formidable fighter/student on his own accord, but it's practically a running gag that he's only second to Hana and Chiba at strength and academics, respectively.
  • In Omake chapters of Fullmetal Alchemist, Mustang constantly suffered this to Edward in regards to the popularity polls. Whenever there was poll, Ed would always win, by a large landslide and Mustang would get pissed. The picture above was also the source of a Brick Joke. Prior to the final popularity contest, Mustang was sure that he would come in first place because Ed and Al had been Out of Focus during that period of the manga.
  • In Hellsing, Walter is this to Alucard. During their final confrontation, Alucard even rubs it in Walter's face by stating that if Anderson couldn't defeat him, then a "brat" like Walter never could. This blatantly implies that Walter wasn't even second best, but third best behind Anderson, who Alucard views as his true rival and Worthy Opponent.
  • Kuroko's Basketball: As a collective group, the "Uncrowned Kings" are this in comparison to the "Generation of Miracles". Both groups are five extremely gifted basketball prodigies who have greater skills than any of their peers. The Generation, however, are as far beyond the Kings as the Kings are from everyone else. Their Meaningful Name comes from the fact that if they had been born in any generation before now, THEY would be the Generation of Miracles.
  • Maken-ki!: Poor Kinua. Despite her wealth, upbringing and her beauty... she just can't compete with Azuki's natural athleticism. The the very first chapter establishes the fact by having Kinua lose to her (again), at the end of their duel during the introduction ceremony. And in chapter 10, Azuki outperformed her in gymnastics too.
  • Yzak Joule from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED. He manages to be great at everything, but always ends up losing to Athrun Zala at all that at the same time. Guess what place he ranked among the Red Suits upon graduation. Outright parodied in the Chibi Character Theater shorts, where Yzak (and Dearka) actually manages to beat Athrun (and Kira) at beach volleyball...but the crowd STILL reacts like Kira and Athrun won, to Yzak's utter exasperation.
  • In Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam: The Steel 7, Tobia goes to recruit Giri, former Ace Pilot for the Jupiter Empire and his one-time rival, for a mission to stop the Jovians from blasting Earth with a colony laser. Giri refuses at first, but that changes the nanosecond he learns that the Empire's leader is Callisto; back in the Empire's Newtype Corps, Giri always came in second to Callisto, who would smugly rub it in. Thus Giri joins for the chance to ruin Callisto's plans, and takes great pleasure in mocking him over how a supposedly inferior pilot is showing him up.
  • In Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, Mikoshiba's former "rivalry" with Kashima played out exactly like this. When Mikoshiba details their past rivalry, it's shown to be hilariously one-sided in Kashima's favor, with Kashima getting better grades, being better at athletics, and better at wooing their female classmates. Even in the present, when the two's looks are compared side by side, Kashima is always referred to as the more attractive of the two. Even when he's not compared to Kashima herself, he gets this: Chapter 68 has Mikoshiba incited after they tell Kashima that Hori likes her legs, and Kashima first states her shock that Hori likes them more than Mikoshiba's (for some reason...), and then even more than Nozaki's.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • Izuku Midoriya and Katsuki Bakugou both consider themselves to be second best... to each other. The latter is obsessed with proving himself superior to Midoriya, disregarding his victories against him and dwelling on the defeats. He also subconsciously admires Izuku's drive to become a hero and fears being defeated by him. The former openly admits to admiring Bakugou for his determination and skill and doesn't consider himself to be as powerful as him, even with One For All in play. After their fated duel, Bakugou starts calming down considerably and, instead of fearing Izuku's rise, decides to surpass All Might instead.
    • Endeavor, the Number Two Hero is another example. He's always second to All Might even after trying for decades to surpass him. He eventually marries Rei and eventually produces Shoto in hopes of using him as a Laser-Guided Tyke-Bomb to surpass All Might and finally beat him. After All Might loses his powers, Endeavor becomes the Number One Hero by default, and is thoroughly bummed about it.
  • Alan from My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! spent his life feeling like he was living in the shadow of his twin brother Geordo, who excelled in everything with ease while he always came up short (at least until he discovered he had a gift for music). As if to reflect this, Geordo has golden hair while Alan's is silver.
  • Naruto
    • To some degree Rock Lee fits this trope. He is usually described as (and shown as) one of the strongest of the younger ninjas... but never actually wins (although he always gives a good account of himself). He curb-stomps both Naruto and Sasuke. He even went as far as to one-shot the main character, Naruto. Lee beat his double in Shippuden. I know what you're thinking: "How hard is it to beat yourself?" Well, think about it. This is Rock Lee we're talking about, one of the best taijutsu specialists in Konoha; when you take that into consideration, taking out his double is quite a feat.
    • The reason why Sasuke betrayed Konoha in the first place. He was second best to Itachi and felt that he would ultimately become second best to Naruto, which would mean he would have no chance in hell of catching up to Itachi.
    • Madara Uchiha was this to Hashirama Senju, the 1st Hokage and his old friend/eternal rival, both from a power perspective (each gain in power Madara made, usually at a great personal cost, was matched and surpassed by Hashirama during the clan wars) and an ideological one (Hashirama was generally more affable and capable of fostering peaceful relationships with his optimism, while Madara's own cynicism turned others away). Many, many of the current problems in the ninja world are ultimately the result of Madara's inability to accept this and his subsequent actions. Talk about petty...
  • Pokémon:
    • Ash Ketchum has participated in six major league tournaments, and has not managed to win in any of them. His sixth, the Kalos League, plays this trope rather literally, as he finished runner-up there. The only exception was the Orange Island Leagues (a filler arc), which he actually won. Unlike the other cases, this league is anime-exclusive, and is not found in the games.
      • Finally averted in the Alola League. The result prompts him into Stunned Silence until Gladion confirms Ash did finish in first place.
    • The first thing that happens after getting back to Pallet Town, Team Rocket manages to set them up in a trap that would have worked had Gary Oak not come in to save everyone. He even points this out to his rival, that his victory didn't mean much if he still fell for Team Rocket's trap. Angry, Ash challenges him to a battle, and Gary's Eevee effortlessly beats Pikachu. On the other hand, Gary is this to Ash when it comes to league results. His best placement is in the Top 16, the same as Ash's worst placement.
    • May, Dawn and Serena all share the same fate in their respective fields in Pokemon Contests (for May and Dawn) and Showcases (for Serena); like Ash, they go only as far as second place. In their peak positions, May lost to Solidad in the Kanto Grand Festival, Dawn to Zoey in the Sinnoh Grand Festival, and Serena to Aria in the Showcase Master Class.
  • Ranma ½: Ryoga and Ranma's rivalry is complicated. It looks, and Ryouga acts, as though Ranma always wins but by comparing their track records, Ryoga has beaten Ranma twice as many times. It's more that Ranma wins when it's important.
  • Kariu of ReLIFE gets top grades and is an excellent athlete, but she remains second to Hishiro in academics and Honoka in sports.
  • This is the defining trope of Special A, with Hikari forever trying (and failing) to beat Kei at anything.
  • Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko: Madoka always ends up being second to Yohko, bet it sports, studies, or starship pilot Yohko is way ahead of her. Its a bit jarring as Yohko spends most of her time being a slacker and still get better grades than her.
  • Yuuya from Super Gals, nicknamed "Second Place", always playing second fiddle to everyone else. He ends up with The Rival and the last episode shows them running around town winning contests...
  • Sword Art Online: Sugou Nobuyuki serves as this to Akihiko Kayaba. When Kayaba effortlessly overrides Sugou's control of ALO and grants Kirito admin privileges to turn the tide, Sugou's immediate response is to throw a temper tantrum, whining about how even in death, Kayaba's getting in his way and one-upping him.
  • Seidou Takizawa from Tokyo Ghoul has an enormous inferiority complex as a direct result of this. When he isn't coming in second to his so-called rival, Akira, he's being shown up by the insanely talented rookie Juuzou.
  • Variable Geo: When Damian first senses Satomi's latent energy, he has a background check done on her which reveals she used to be undefeated... until she met Yuka. She continued to lose each time they competed, with each loss chipping away at her confidence until she finally stopped trying, out of fear that she'd never be able to defeat Yuka. Damian uses this to The Jahana Group's advantage by playing on her insecurity so she'd enter the VG tournament.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Seto Kaiba was, without contest, the best gamer in Japan before Yugi solved the Millennium Puzzle. Kaiba was never able to defeat the Pharaoh in a fair Duelnote , and in the continuity of the Dark Side of Dimensions film, he was never able to get over it.
    • Anime antagonist Zigfried Von Schroeder falls under this as well. He's Kaiba's German counterpart, the young CEO of a major corporation, but he's always been one step behind Seto and hated that fact with a burning passion.

    Comic Books 
  • Batgirl (2009) is Stephanie Brown, aka Spoiler, aka girl Robin, aka girl who screws up every major plan. Her predecessor, Cassandra Cain, was a much better fighter, with a far better track record and a cooler tragic backstory.note  Key to this relationship, however, was that Stephanie showed no bitterness towards Cassandra for all of this — they were, in fact, good friends — and accepting it in good humour, attempting now and then to do the best with what she had rather than seethe about being in second place. This was also partly because there was one key area that Stephanie could trump Cassandra — social skills (Cassandra having such a maladjusted upbringing that she could barely read, write or speak coherently until her teenage years).
  • Flintheart Glomgold's main grievance with Scrooge McDuck is that Scrooge is the Richest Duck in the World, Flintheart the Second Richest Duck — a designation that he feels to be humiliating. Much of the humor in his first two appearances is that the characters have similar skill-sets and about equal fortunes. Scrooge gains the victory in their first story by having some more string than Flintheart, and wins the rematch by a rather small sum of coins. The problem is that they are both too competitive to accept anyone as an equal.
  • Doctor Doom's boiling hatred of Reed Richards stems from the fact that Reed is the smartest man in the world — just the tiniest bit smarter than Doom is. He also came up second to Doctor Strange in a contest between the world's mages; though Doom being Doom, he managed to suppress his pride long enough to work the situation to his advantage.
  • Jason Todd, the second Robin feels this way towards Dick Grayson, the first Robin, first Nightwing and third Batman. Dick is credited as the Robin who saved Batman from becoming too dark, restarted the popularity of sidekicks in the modern era, and also came into his own as a hero, founding the first incarnation of the Teen Titans. Dick is also the only member of the Batfamily that Bruce treats like an equal. It really doesn't help that Bruce expected Jason to be exactly like Dick, and that, as a family, Dick is by far Bruce's most preferred son, and it's even common knowledge that Dick is the one who will inherit the title of Batman.
  • Bullock and Montoya. It doesn't matter how badass Harvey Bullock is (indeed, often rushing bravely into situations that would give even Batman pause); in the end he's just a big, fat, clumsy buffoon who can never quite measure up to Action Girl Renee Montoya. Even when he takes on the vigilante Lock-Up — a man who is at least as large as he is — he gets no respect, as Montoya just leaps atop Lock-Up's back while Bullock has him distracted and beats him unconscious with her pistol. Bad enough that the out-of-shape Bullock is visibly winded after the fight; when the rest of the cops show up, Montoya even gets credit for busting Black Mask's gang, despite admitting that Batman, Robin and Nightwing were responsible for that one! (Also Flawless Token, as you may have noticed.)
  • This is weirdly inconsistent with Wolverine (James "Logan" Howlett) and Sabretooth (Victor Creed). Sometimes, it's made clear that Wolverine will always be better than Sabretooth and that's why Creed hates Logan. Other times, Creed is better than Logan and this is why he's such a big threat despite his really low ambitions. It's wildly inconsistent and depends on what story you're reading, but is inexplicably constantly brought up. For what it's worth, it was retconned years down the line that Sabretooth was Charles Xavier's first choice for the X-Men, but after finding out he wasn't willing to change his ways, he reneged on that.
  • In the late Silver Age Kara Zor-El/Linda Danvers — aka Supergirl — worked as a photographer in San Francisco station KSF-TV together with her rival, Nasthalthia 'Nasty' Luthor, who was always better than her. In Demon Spawn, Linda admits she is aware of the fact, although she hates it. She would have an easier time admitting it if 'Nasty' didn't rub it in every second.
  • In Superior Spider-Man, Doctor Octopus took over Spider-Man's body in an attempt to prove he could better than his hated arch-rival and is flabbergasted by how much Peter was holding himself back. However, as the series winds down, Otto learns that Peter truly is the superior one because he never let his hubris get the better of him and he performs a Heroic Suicide to give Peter back his body. Sadly, when Otto returned in Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy, he couldn't accept all of this and vowed to get back at him.
  • The Boys: Payback, The Avengers analogue are this to The Seven, The Justice League analogue. Payback is deemed a second rate team, perpetually living in the shadows of the Seven and are considered disposable by their superiors.
  • The Ultimates:
    • Tony Stark's older brother Gregory is smarter, more successful, considered more valuable by Fury, and lacks the flaws Tony is ashamed of. Tony starts to get over it when after Gregory turns out to be a rat and successfully outwits him.
    • Loki, to both Thor and Balder. His envy of this is what ended up driving him to villainy.
  • Wonder Woman: The Amazon Mala was designed to always be second best to Diana, but despite her strong competitive spirt she's never upset at losing and has only kind things to say to and about her princess despite being determined to beat her one day. After Artemis' introduction in Vol 2 Mala started to fade further back in the running in Amazonian competitions and was often left out entirely.

    Fan Works 
  • Conversations with a Cryptid: Endeavor gets upstaged at his own publicity gala for him becoming 1# Hero just by All Might showing up.
  • Crimson and Emerald: Endeavor is smarting over the fact that he's now third best thanks to Hawks. His enmity with All Might is now partially transferred to Hawks.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genocide: Hikari knows that she'll always be second fiddle to her friend Asuka and she's accepted it readily.
  • Rivals Series: Yuuri initially felt like this when against Viktor (his ultimate rival), though this is eventually subverted after he beats Viktor at the Winter Olympics and takes the gold medal from him several times after that. No, the trope really applies to everyone else (usually Chris), who are all world-class skaters but are stuck competing for third place because Yuuri and Viktor are so ahead of the rest of the pack. They're only lucky enough to get second at competitions where only one of the two are competing, and first at ones where neither are.
  • In Thousand Shinji, Rei got depressed because she thought she would always be second to Asuka in Shinji's heart even if she talked them into a threesome. She tried to reassure herself that second place is better than no place at all.
  • Deconstructed in The Heroic Chronicles of a Young Man. Both Tenya Deguchiya and his mother think him mediocre for never winning and having a less powerful Quirk than her. Everyone else points out how hypercompetent Tenya is based off the fact he's second place in everything he tries and that not only is his mother's Quirk ludicrously powerful, but that Tenya's is insanely versatile. Tenya's mother fires frickin' laser beams from her fingers and generates more power in thirty minutes than all her coworkers combined can in a day. Tenya's "Mathmagician" essientially gives him the magic from The Saga of Tanya the Evil, allowing him to do pretty much anything that he can figure out the appropriate formula for, from flight to explosions to removing staples.

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney's Aladdin. Even before he got the Genie, Jafar was Always Second Best in another way; by being beneath the Sultan, who he saw as immature and unfit to rule. The reason he fell for Aladdin's goading so much toward the end might have been because he couldn't stand the thought of still being second-best after all he'd gained.
    Aladdin: The Genie has more power than you'll ever have!
    Jafar: What?!
    Aladdin: He gave you your power, he can take it away! Face it, Jafar! You're still just second best!
  • Cars: Apparently, Chick Hicks has been "chasing that tail fin" his entire career, always trying to beat The King. He wins the big race, but the fans were so upset at what he did to win the "victory" wasn't worth it.
  • Frozen: Growing up in the shadow of her older, seemingly-perfect sister Elsa, Anna comes to develop an inferiority complex, thinking of herself as "completely ordinary" and "not ''that'' princess... it's just me." According to Word of God, this low self-esteem is exploited by Hans, and he especially plays on it during his post-reveal monologue, telling Anna that she's "no match for Elsa" and that her sister "was preferable, of course."
    • In an earlier draft where Elsa was written as less reclusive than in the final film, the theme of Spare to the Throne was more prominent and this trope was more heavily explored, as seen in Anna's unused song "More Than Just A Spare":
      I'm not part of the town, not meant to be queen, just somebody hopelessly inbetween
      She's the scholar, athlete, poet
      I'm the screwup... Don't I know it
      But then, who could ever compare?
      Of course they're gonna think I'm just the spare
      Well I won't care.
  • In Monsters, Inc., Randall becomes incredibly resentful of the fact that, in the company rankings, he is always in second place, behind Sulley. Monsters University shows that Sulley (with Mike's assistance) had been getting the better of Randall ever since their university days too, though it also shows that it's largely his own fault: Randall can never outdo Sulley because his hypercompetitiveness gets the better of him, causing him to tense up and make mistakes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bjorn Turoque in real life documentary Air Guitar Nation against C-Diddy. Widely Considered the Second Best AIR GUITARIST in the World. During the movie, he gets eliminated several times but always comes back and earns the respect of fellow air guitarists for his performances.
  • Turned into a Berserk Button in Aladdin (2019) as a way of bringing forward Jafar's motives in the mix relative to the animated version, where the second-best angle is present but less conspicuous until the climax.
  • Salieri in Amadeus is presented as this trope.
  • The Cincinnati Kid with Lancey Howard's cracking line at the end; "You're good, kid, but as long as I'm around you're second best."
  • The Lord of the Rings: Faramir plays second fiddle to his older brother Boromir; in the eyes of their father Denethor, Faramir is worthless while Boromir is his shining son.
  • Galaxy Quest: After Alexander frees the suffocating Thermians.
    Alexander: (resigned sigh) It just isn't fair.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: Loki is repeatedly a victim to this. He has been constantly overshadowed by Thor since they were children.
    Loki: I remember a shadow, living in the shade of your greatness.
  • Steven Prince in The World's End was always just a bit less cool than his friend Gary King, who also got it on with the girl Steven liked. Deconstructed, however; for all Steven's insecurity on the subject, while this might have been true when they were teenagers, as adults Steven clearly has got his act together much better than Gary, who is a stuck-in-the-past loser who hasn't moved on from his teenage ideas of what's cool versus what isn't. Tellingly, while the girl the two clashed over thought Gary was the coolest thing ever as a teenager, as an adult she thinks he's an insufferable wanker and ends up getting together with Steven.
  • Miles from Don't Think Twice is constantly frustrated by his students repeatedly achieving more success than he does.

  • In The Book of Joe, this is how Joe feels in comparison to his older brother Brad especially in their father's eyes — mostly thanks to Brad's sporting prowess. Touchingly subverted when Joe finds out how proud his father was of his literary career.
  • Elleston Trevor's Bury Him Among Kings is a World War I novel about the Sibling Rivalry between two brothers, the younger of whom feels Always Second Best.
  • Jamal from the second Disney Chills book feels overshadowed by his twin brother Malik, and makes a deal with Dr. Facilier to swap lives with him.
  • In A Frozen Heart, Prince Hans' father sees his youngest son as useless and a "weakling" compared to his older sons, as while he is smart and intelligent, they are far more effective and ruthless. As a result, Hans develops a massive inferiority complex.
  • A major source of tension in the romance between Locke and Sabetha of the Gentleman Bastard series. The two of them are equally skilled grifters. However, Locke very easily wins the recognition that Sabetha craves, often stumbling into it by accident. It's unclear how much of this is due to sexism and how much is due to Locke's penchant for insane, flamboyant, improvised schemes (as opposed to Sabetha's meticulous preplanning).
  • In Halo: The Fall of Reach, Master Chief John-117 notes that Fred-104 tends to come in second place in every competition, which is reflective of his place among the Spartan-IIs (second best sniper, second-in-command, etc.). John is convinced he does this on purpose so he doesn't have to be in charge.
  • Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series. To start off with, he's always in the shadows of his older brothers who are Head Boy, Captain of the Quidditch Team, another head boy, and popular pranksters. Add to the fact that his best friends are respectively the legendary Harry and brilliant Hermione, Ron suffers a massive inferiority complex for much of the series. This comes to the fore when he sees himself in the Mirror of Erised and when he is taunted by the Horcrux in the locket before he destroys it.
  • The mysterious villain of the Anthony Horowitz book I Know What You Did Last Wednesday, Captain Randle/Johnny Nadler, came second in every subject and never really stood out of the group he was part of in school (which consisted of everybody who came first). He doesn't respond too well; he lures everybody who bested him to a secluded island and kills them with cruel and ironic death traps which somehow relate to the subject they beat him in. As it turns out, the people on the island ran over his wife and sons and they didn't even realize it.
  • Journey to Chaos: After his Rage Against the Mentor, Eric consistently tries to prove himself to be better than Dengel in some way: a better mage, a better mercenary, a better chaosist, etc. but falls short each time until the end of Book 3 where he performs a spell that killed Dengel. Then Kallen says that he couldn't have done it without her.
  • Denethor and Faramir in The Lord of the Rings. Denethor was second best in his youth to Thorongil in both his father's heart and his people's, which left him very bitter. He grew so afraid of this trope (being second best to Gandalf in his son's and knights' respect and affection, being second best to Aragorn in honor and glory in his people's opinion) that it is one of the reasons he succumbed to despair in the end and committed suicide. As for Faramir, he was deemed second to his brother by his people all his life, being less flamboyant and more gentle and scholarly in nature than Boromir in those times of war, but he never grew jealous about it. He also accepted to be second to Aragorn with grace after the war.
  • In Midnight’s Children, Saleem's uncle Mustapha becomes a civil servant, but is constantly passed over for promotion. He ends up stuck in second-rate positions for his entire life. This infuriates him, causing him to take it out on his children. Even in the scope of his genealogy hobby, he discovers that someone's better at it than him.
  • Claudius Lyon, Loren Estleman's Affectionate Parody of Nero Wolfe in the Nearly Nero short stories, is basically this to Wolfe himself. He's a fanboy who tries to emulate Wolfe in every respect, but is decidedly second-best when compared to the master.
  • Our Dumb World, brought to you by The Onion, says this about South Korea.
  • Illvin in Paladin of Souls to his brother Arhys. Unusually, he doesn't mind too much. ("If I ever run into the third best swordsman in Carabastos, he's going to be in very big trouble.")
  • Zhou Yu towards Zhuge Liang in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. As a matter of fact, Zhou supposedly died out of despair out of this trope. This dynamic even caused this trope to be called the "Yu-Liang Complex" in China — although it was not historically true.
    Zhou Yu: If [Heaven] have gave birth to Yu, why did [he] give birth to Liang?!
  • The Shadow Club by Neal Shusterman is about a group of kids like this who band together. It does not end well.
  • In Skippy Dies, Jeekers is an academic over-achiever who would be best in his class, if not for Teen Genius Ruprecht. When Ruprecht falls into a pit of depression after Skippy's death and stops participating in class, Jeekers feels a certain glee at finally being able to be the best.
  • Exaggerated in the Star Wars Legends novel Wraith Squadron. One of the pilots, Falynn Sandskimmer, feels this way about herself. She's second-best in several areas (TIE pilot, security expert, scout), but doesn't see herself as number one at anything. She fails to see how her versatility makes her valuable (she's number two to several different people). At the end of the novel, she makes a desperate attempt to be "first" at something; she succeeds, but dies in the process.
    • Fellow squadron member Tyria Sarkin also has this problem, considering herself the worst pilot in the group. It doesn't help that she is a Force sensitive that was considered too weak to be a Jedi. She gets better about it, eventually becoming a full Jedi. Rather ironically, she is one of those that Falynn considers herself weaker than, serving as the pointman during raids.
  • In Under the Volcano, Hugh Firmin (in spite of his excellent qualities) finds that his older brother Geoffrey keeps getting in ahead of him doing the things that Hugh aspires to, and, even worse, throwing those accomplishments away: Geoffrey was a decorated (then disgraced) hero in World War I, while Hugh has not managed to see action in the Spanish Civil War; Geoffrey married (and lost) the woman Hugh loves; etc.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • Tigerstar suffered from this. He claims that he was a great warrior, but as soon as Bluestar discovered Firestar, he was reduced to "a great warrior, just not as good as Firestar".
    • Ashfur in the second arc, The New Prophecy. He would be the best choice for deputy...if not for Brambleclaw. He could have been StarClan's chosen one... if not for Brambleclaw. He could have had Squirrelflight's affections...if not for Brambleclaw. See the pattern?
    • Gray Wing from Dawn of the Clans to his brother Clear Sky. He's the Tribe's second best hunter after Clear Sky, second place in their little brother Jagged Peak's Big Brother Worship, and second place romantically to Clear Sky's mate Bright Stream and second mate Storm. It stems from Gray Wing being a deconstruction of series protagonist Firestar.
  • Demandred from Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time is this trope. He is mentioned that "He would have been the greatest man of his age, had he not lived at the same time as Lews Therin Telamon." He was apparently born one day after Lews Therin, setting a trend of always being a step behind for their entire lives, the envy at this turning him from one of the most prominent good generals in the fight against evil into one of the most prominent evil generals. He was and likely still is second best at most (though he's one of the Shadow's most potent servants, he's still stuck playing second fiddle to Ishamael). Really, it's small wonder the man is more than a little insane by now.
    • "Born one day after Lews Therin, he had almost as much strength and almost as much skill. He spent years almost equaling Lews Therin's accomplishments and fame."

    Live Action TV 
  • There was a commercial in which the main character was a man who had a history of being second-best at everything he'd ever done, and had developed something of a complex about that fact. However, the fact that he has managed to get second place at everything should mean he's still ridiculously talented in a wide range of skills.
  • Allison Harvard reached the final Runway of America's Next Top Model in Cycle 12 and 17. She finished 2nd both times.
  • Angie Tribeca has Laurie Partridge, Angie's old police academy roommate.
    Laurie: I was always the best at everything, and then I met you in the Academy and suddenly, I was "Most Likely to be Overshadowed by Angie Tribeca."
  • The Brady Bunch:
    • Bobby's dilemma in "The Winner," from Season 2.
    • Jan's famous cry, "Marcia Marcia Marcia!!!" in "Her Sister's Shadow."
    • Even Greg is not immune, as in "My Sister Benedict Arnold" (from Season 3), he always seems to be in the shadow of Warren Mullaney, the classmate who beat him out for the last spot on the first-string basketball team and defeated him in a school class president election.
  • Part of the Sibling Rivalry between Niles and Frasier Crane stems from the fact that they both consider themselves this trope. Whether it be the success of their personal lives (for much of the show's run, Frasier was twice-divorced and once left at the altar, while Niles was mired in a miserable, abusive marriage), the prestige of their professions (Frasier had fame from his radio show, while Niles's private practice was more dignified and lucrative), their parents' love (they both took after their dead mother, and barely resemble their father at all), or anything else under the sun, a staple of their dynamic was to declare they were better than the other, rub the other's face in it, and then privately worry that the other was better than them.
  • The writers of Merlin (2008) have set up an interesting dynamic between Arthur and Lancelot that seems to be based on this trope in which both of them are always second best to the other. Where Arthur is arrogant, Lancelot is humble, yet he has been the only male character thus far that has ever been able to best Arthur in combat. However, he declines membership into Arthur's knights as he considers himself unworthy. Later, on noticing that Arthur clearly has feelings for Guinevere, Lancelot bows out of the Love Triangle without a fight so as not to get in the way of Arthur's intentions — even though he obviously had the more advantageous suit. Lancelot is only second best to Arthur because he chooses to be — and Arthur knows it.
    • Conversely, Lancelot adores Merlin and Guinevere to the point of worship. He has stepped into the void for their sakes. However, their lives revolve completely around Arthur, and he's all they ever seem to talk about in Lancelot's presence.
  • Rupauls Drag Race:
    • The "Susan Lucci" of the seasonnote  is the contestant who becomes known for almost winning a challenge several times but ends her run without ever winning once. Examples include Season 2's Pandora Boxx (the first to draw the Lucci comparison, but she managed to snag Miss Congeniality in the end), Season 6's Trinity K. Bonet (who even lost Miss Congeniality, despite being one of the nicer queens of the season, due to fan favorite BenDeLaCreme dominating the online vote), and Season 12's Jackie Cox.
    • Special mention goes to Season 2's Raven, who managed to come in second place for the crown not only in her season, but also in All-Stars 1. Though this may be a case of The Runner-Up Takes It All, as she has since been hired as a stylist for RuPaul himself.
  • Saturday Night Live once did a commercial parody for "The People's Second Choice Awards". Hosted by Ed McMahon, celebrity presenters included Oates, Tom Wopat (referred to as "the dark haired guy from The Dukes of Hazzard"), etc.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Dr. Julian Bashir graduated second in his class from Star Fleet Medical. For a while he seemed to have a bit of a complex about this, until it was decided that he did it on purpose so as not to draw too much attention to himself.
  • Amanda Kimmel and Russell Hantz both made it to the final Tribal Council on Survivor twice in a row. And both lost twice. In a row.

  • "Beautiful Loser" by Bob Seger (see the page quote) sums up someone who fits this trope nicely.
  • The Small Faces were considered this to The Who, who were themselves considered this to The Beatles.
  • Any musical act that has had several songs go to #2 but has never had a #1. In the United States:
    • Creedence Clearwater Revival are the kings of this trope, reaching #2 five times without ever hitting the top spot.
    • By 1981 Foreigner scored five Top 10 hits in Billboard, with "Double Vision" hitting #2. Then "Waiting For a Girl Like You" spent an agonizing ten weeks at #2, kept out of the top spot mainly by Olivia Newton-John's "Physical". They finally got to #1 with "I Want To Know What Love Is" in 1984.
    • On the country chart, the record for most weeks at No. 2 without reaching No. 1 was accomplished in 1955 by Kitty Wells. The then-reigning Queen of Country Music spent an incredible 15 weeks in the runner-up spot with her classic "Making Believe", stuck for every one of those weeks behind Decca Records-labelmate Webb Pierce's 21-week chart-topper "In the Jailhouse Now". Wells wasn't doing too much complaining; she already had two No. 1s hits earlier, including her signature song from three years earlier with "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels".
    • The song "Only Love Can Break a Heart" — one in a country version, the other pop — had this happen twice. The first time was in 1962, when pop singer Gene Pitney was stopped at No. 2. Ten years later, Sonny James recorded a country version (one of his many covers of pop hits), and appeared primed to continue his then-prevailing consecutive No. 1s in as many single releases streak, extending it to No. 17. However, Capitol Records labelmate Freddie Hart had an even bigger song out at the same time: "My Hang-Up is You" (his follow up to "Easy Loving"), and it was Hart's six-week run at No. 1 that stopped James' "Only Love" and his No. 1 streak at 16.
    • In a coincidence, Skeeter Davis' "End of the World" stopped at No. 2 on both the country and pop charts in the winter of 1963.
  • Dave Mustaine's band Megadeth have always been behind his former band Metallica in terms of popularity. He has long been frustrated about this situation (as heard in the documentary Some Kind Of Monster), despite being extremely successful himself, just out of sheer rivalry.
  • Boy bands One Direction and The Wanted were considered equals... until the former soared to international superstardom while the latter got completely flattened by their rivals.
  • Paul Simon has complained from time to time about people viewing him as this in comparison to Bob Dylan.
  • "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty spent six weeks at #2 in 1978, trailing "Shadow Dancing" by Andy Gibb all of those weeks. Reliable sources (scroll down) report that some backroom shenanigans at Billboard prevented Rafferty from hitting #1.
  • PSY's "Gangnam Style" was a massive hit, topping the chart in every country in the world... except the United States, where it got stuck at #2 for seven weeks behind Maroon 5's "One More Night". Like with "Baker Street" above, it is rumored that there was a conspiracy to keep "Gangnam" from hitting the top, and it had minimal radio airplay while "Night" was purposely kept at or near the top of the radio charts for nearly three months, as most #2 peaking hits do so against strong and stable #1s.
  • OneRepublic had this happen to them twice over. In 2007, their song "Apologize" became a massive hit and stayed in the Top 10 for an unprecedented 25 weeks and once broke the record for the most spins on mainstream radio. Yet, it was held off the top spot by Chris Brown's "Kiss Kiss" and later Alicia Keys' "No One". History Repeats six years later, when they released "Counting Stars". It managed to be an even bigger hit than "Apologize", spending another 25 consecutive weeks in the Top 10, spent 68 weeks on the Hot 100, and has garnered over one billion views on YouTube. Yet, once again, they were held off from the top spot, this time by "Timber" from Pitbull featuring Kesha.
  • This happened to Drake with "Hotline Bling". While "Best I Ever Had" being stuck at #2 was frustrating, it was his debut single and was against I Gotta Feeling, so it was more understandable. "Bling", however, was a pop-culture phenomenon whose success spread far beyond just being "a Drake song". It was stuck behind The Weeknd's "The Hills" and Adele's "Hello". The week it looked to hit #1, The Weeknd released a remix of "The Hills" featuring Eminem and another with Nicki Minaj. This gave "The Hills" a sales boost to keep it atop the charts. The week after, "Bling"'s streaming was crippled when Apple withheld the data for the release of the video. And the next week was the week "Hello" came out, ending its chances of ever hitting the top.
  • Subverted with Linkin Park's debut album Hybrid Theory. While it remained at #2 during its peak, it was the best-selling album of 2001 anyways (and indeed, the best-selling debut album of the 21st century).
  • Jo Dee Messina's 1999 cover of Dottie West's "Lesson in Leavin'" spent eight weeks at #2 on the country music charts, all eight of them behind Lonestar's "Amazed".
  • This happened again in 2004, when Kenny Chesney's "I Go Back" spent seven weeks at the #2 position behind Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying". Even more interestingly, Chesney's song was getting an exorbitantly high amount of airplay which would've set a record for the highest airplay total for a #1 country hit if not for Tim's song ranking even higher still.
  • George Strait's "Run". It hit #2 on the December 15, 2001 country singles charts, behind Toby Keith's "I Wanna Talk About Me", then fell back to #3 when Alan Jackson's "Where Were You" jumped over it. "Run" then returned to #2 on the January 5, 2002 chart, again behind Alan, after which Aaron Tippin's "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly" knocked "Run" back out of the #2 position for a week. "Run" then returned to #2, but fell back to #3 again when Steve Holy's "Good Morning Beautiful" overtook it for the runner-up slot — all the while, Alan was still at #1. Steve claimed the #1 position on the February 2 chart, with "Run" falling back to #3 once more while Alan fell from #1 to #2. "Run" then jumped back to #2 again on the February 9 chart, still stuck behind Steve, before ultimately beginning its descent a week later.
    • On a broader scope, Strait has a record 44 #1 hits on Billboardnote , but he has never had a #1 ranking on the Billboard Year-End chart for the country format. He's had the second-biggest country hit of the year four times: with "Blue Clear Sky" in 1996, "One Night at a Time" in 1997, "Write This Down" in 1999, and "I Saw God Today" in 2008.
  • Andy Griggs' 2000 hit "She's More" spent five weeks at the #2 position on the country charts. The first four were all behind Faith Hill's "The Way You Love Me", and the fifth by Chad Brock's "Yes!", which jumped over it from the #3 position. According to Billboard, one of the weeks it was stuck behind Faith, it missed the #1 position by only five spins.
  • Travis Tritt's 2001 single "It's a Great Day to Be Alive" reached #2 on the April 21, 2001 chart, behind Jessica Andrews' "Who I Am". The next week, "Ain't Nothing 'bout You" by Brooks & Dunn leapfrogged Tritt to gain the #1 position. "Great Day" spent four more weeks in the #2 position behind Brooks & Dunn (who ultimately spent six weeks in the penthouse). This happened again on the Billboard Year-End country chart for 2001, where "Ain't Nothing 'bout You" was the most-played country song of 2001, and "Great Day" the second-highest.
  • Jason Aldean's "Tattoos on This Town" spent six weeks at #2 in late 2011-early 2012. The first of those six weeks, it was held off by Brantley Gilbert's "Country Must Be Country Wide". One week later, Lady Antebellum's "We Owned the Night" jumped over it from #3, holding the position for two weeks. Then, Zac Brown Band's "Keep Me in Mind" also jumped over it from #3... after which the charts stood mostly still for the next few weeks, due to Christmas airplay and a lack of new single releases stagnating the charts, drawing out the #1 and #2 rankings of ZBB and Aldean even longer.
  • Subverted with "Time Is Love" by Josh Turner, which only got to #2 on the country airplay charts, but was the top country hit of 2012 according to Billboard Year-End, due to its exorbitantly long chart run.
  • "Snapback" by Old Dominion spent two weeks at the #2 position on the Country Airplay charts in 2016, getting blocked by "Mind Reader" by Dustin Lynch the first week, and "Came Here to Forget" by Blake Shelton the second week. When the Billboard Year-End chart was published for 2016, "Snapback" once again ranked #2, behind "Head Over Boots" by Jon Pardi.
  • "Burning House" by Cam peaked at #2 on the Hot Country Songs, Country Airplay, and Canadian Country charts published by Billboard. It was blocked on all three charts by Thomas Rhett's "Die a Happy Man".
  • The Bellamy Brothers are the most-nominated duo in country music history, as they have received the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association "Duo of the Year" award more than any other artist... but they have never won it once.
  • EDM group Sash had five number two hits in the UK, three of them in succession, but never made it to number one.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • While he became better remembered with time, New York was one of the few territories Pedro Morales where fans were mostly lukewarm to him, not believing him to be on Bruno Sammartino's level.
  • Chris Hero has something of an inferiority complex regarding AJ Styles and Bryan Danielson, as he is aware he's usually left out of the conversation when people start arguing which is the best in the world. It got to the point he changed his wrestling style in response to Danielson in Pro Wrestling Guerilla after Bryan had left the promotion.
  • Nikita once said she'd be considered the best woman on the UK's wrestling circuit if not for Sweet Saraya, who ended her two year undefeated streak where several men had failed.
  • Roderick Strong eventually developed a mutual respect for Jay Briscoe after Generation Next's attempted takeover of ROH but not for Jay's "baby brother" Mark, who he sees as a hanger on.
  • Played for Drama during the Eddie Guerrero/Rey Mysterio Jr. feud of the summer of 2005. Despite being a former WWE Champion and the physically larger of the duo, Eddie could never beat Rey one-on-one. The fact that he couldn't accomplish this even after overcoming drug addiction, Brock Lesnar, and so forth eventually drove Eddie insane. Even when his sadistic mind games finally caused Rey to crack, to the point where he and his son Dominik were pathetically praying in the locker room before a match out of mortal dread, it still wasn't worth the massive amount of hatred Eddie got from everyone (including even Tazz, who always cheered the heels).
  • Brought as the "replacement" for the crazy joker Kazushige Nozawa, Montel Vontavious Porter proved to be a very formidable force in New Japan, getting shocking victories over several of the world's best wrestlers. Time and again it was made clear that he was still #2 when it came to Nozawa's boss, Satoshi Kojima, though. MVP held no grudges about it.

  • Michael Jordan had his own personal Second Best in the form of Clyde Drexler, who was known in his prime as "the best player in the NBA not named 'Jordan'."
  • American Football:
    • The Dallas Cowboys in the late 1960s fit this trope. They couldn't quite win the NFL championship, resulting in several infamous defeats. There was a book written at the time, sarcastically titled Next Year's Champions. They finally broke the jinx with a 24-3 victory over Don Shula's Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI.
    • The Buffalo Bills of the 1990s managed to make four consecutive Super Bowls, which is a truly impressive accomplishment. Unfortunately, they lost all four times, making them the second-best team in the league.
    • As shown in this graph, the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2000-Present put together two of the most consistent winning decades in the 21st Century back-to-back. Unfortunately, they also played in an era of their more successful nemesis, Tom Brady-Bill Belichick New England Patriots, who currently own one of the top spots in terms of winning records, placing the Steelers at a very distant second. Whether or not its something to be proud of is up for debate.
    • Collectively, NCAA football head coaches who were once assistants under current Alabama head coach Nick Saban have been this to him. As of Week 7 of the 2020 season, Saban has led the Crimson Tide in 22 games in which the opposing head coach was one of his former assistants. Saban's record in these games: 22–0.
    • Eli Manning spent his football career stuck in the shadow of his older brother Peyton, despite leading the New York Giants to two victories over the New England Patriots at Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, and denying the Patriots a perfect season in XLII.
  • A dreaded moniker in golf circles is "best player never to win a major". Phil Mickelson was stuck with this moniker until he won the Masters in 2004.
  • Andy Murray had to wait longer than any other tennis player in history to go from World No. 2 to World No. 1 — seven-and-a-half years, during which time he was stuck behind either Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, or some combination of the three. He reached eleven Grand Slam finals during that time, and lost eight of them, three to Federer and five to Djokovic. In any other era, Murray would undoubtedly have become World No. 1 a lot faster, but unfortunately for him, he happened to have been playing at the same time as three of the greatest tennis players in history.
  • Raymond Poulidor, a French cyclist known for always ranking second (or close to second) in the races he participated in, to the point that his name became a French expression: "X is the Poulidor of this game", meaning X always comes second. Poulidor would earn eight podiums at Tour de France, finishing second on three occasions and third on five occasions.
  • In badminton, there's Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia. Just look at his medal record; the Asian Championships, Commonwealth Games, and Southeast Asian Games aren't really considered to be major tournaments, but most of the others are.
  • Hockey Hall of Famer Brad Park. Finished as a runner-up for the Norris Trophy (best NHL defenseman) 6 times, four of them to Bobby Orr; finished as the second-leading scorer among Bruins defensemen, behind Orr; and even started his career drafted 2nd overall.
  • Sham, the horse who placed second in the 1973 running of the Kentucky Derby, ran a near-record breaking two-minute race despite having injured himself in the starting gate. Any other year, he would have made history. Unfortunately for him, 1973 was the year of the legendary Secretariat.
  • Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, best known for playing The Mountain in Game of Thrones, came 2nd or 3rd at every World's Strongest Man event between 2012 and 2017. Similar to Andy Murray, it's widely thought that he would have won at least one during that time if he hadn't had the misfortune of competing at the same time as Žydrūnas Savickas and Brian Shaw, two of the strongest men to have ever lived, and who between them won every title between 2009 and 2016. In 2018, however, with Savickas past his prime and reigning champion Eddie Hall retired, Hafthor finally won the title.
  • Tom Sneva came in second place in three Indianapolis 500 races (1977, 1978, and 1980) before finally winning one in 1983.
  • In Formula One, meanwhile, Sir Stirling Moss was a famous and spectacular example. He finished runner-up in four consecutive championships, from 1955 to 1958, and finished third in the three championships after that. He's widely regarded as the greatest F1 driver never to win the title. Worth noting that he won plenty of races during that time - more than any other driver not to have won a championship, in fact.note 
    • Rubens Barrichello spent his entire career at Ferrari playing second fiddle to Michael Schumacher as he won five consecutive championships, including notoriously being ordered to drop out of first place so Michael could win. When he moved to Honda in 2006, he found himself on an equal footing with team-mate Jenson Button, only for Button to generally out-perform him, scoring a win and two podiums in that first season while Barrichello could do no better than fourth. Then in 2009 Honda became Brawn, showed up to the first race with a car that blew everyone else out of the water... and Button won six of the first seven races to claim the title, with Barrichello coming in third.
  • In Association Football, some national football teams suffer from this reputation:
    • Netherlands currently holds the record of being the team with most World Cup finals played without winning the trophy (1974, 1978, 2010). They're also one of only two countries, the other being Sweden, to have played in both men's and women's World Cup finals without winning either trophy (Netherlands: 2019 women's; Sweden: 1958 men's, 2003 women's).
    • Argentina has been always a contender for winning major international titles and won several under-20 trophies during the 90s and 2000s. In The New '10s it's had a generation consisting of some of the most decorated football players in history. The last time Argentina won a senior competition was in 1993, and has lost six finals (four Copa América, one Confederations Cup and a World Cup) in 13 years.
  • In snooker, Jimmy White; six times World Championship finalist (including five in a row 1990-4), six times runner-up. Four of those times to Stephen Hendry, which in turn contributed to Hendry's own reputation as an Invincible Hero.
  • French long-distance runner Alain Mimoun finished second behind the Czech Emil Zátopek no less than 5 times, including at the 1948 and 1952 Olympic Games and was generally the one of the only runners who could keep pace with Zátopek in a race. This earned him the nickname 'Zátopek's Shadow'. It wasn't until the 1956 Olympics that Mimoun finally bested his friend and rival, coming first in the marathon while Zátopek came 6th.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Champions supplement Allies features Executive Sanction, a U.S. government superhero team with one member supplied by each of various government agencies. One member, assigned by the official law enforcement super-agency PRIMUS, is Silver Avenger, a second son, former second-string quarterback, second in his class at West Point, and previously secondary to PRIMUS's leader, the Golden Avenger. Unfortunately, he now finds himself second in military seniority to the Army's representative on the team, Major Star, who thus has command. This rankles with him, just a little bit.
  • In Warhammer, the Empire of Sigmar is the largest and most prestigious human nation in the world and also the most technologically advanced (granted Cathay may be moreso, but we never see them so they don't count). Bretonnia has played second banana to the Empire for most of their shared history and this resentment has led to a long-running national rivalry, the two nations alternating between friend and foe.

  • Part of Matthew Harrison Brady's backstory from Inherit the Wind is that he ran for President of the United States three times. Obviously, he didn't win.
    Bannister: You know, Mr. Brady — Colonel Brady — all of us here voted for you three times.
    Brady: I trust it was in three separate elections!

    Video Games 
  • In Batman: Arkham Series, The Riddler is this to Batman. His attempts to prove himself the intellectual superior through his riddles and deathtraps only serve to disprove this notion when Batman constantly defeats him. In fact during one of his Death Trap scenarios when Edward attempts to cheat, in order to "outwit" the Dark Knight, it fails because Batman is also better at cheating.
  • In Class Trip Crush, twins Taketo and Yasuto Kanzaki manage to be mutually Always Second Best to one another. Taketo is good at everything he puts his hand to, where Yasuto is rather clumsy outside of baseball and quite conscious of that fact; Taketo, however, describes Yasuto as a "genius" and observes that no one can possibly match him at the one thing he's devoted all of his effort to. The feeling that he couldn't measure up to his brother led Taketo to switch from the baseball team to soccer team to avoid competing with Yasuto, and his route shows that he has something of a complex about it.
  • Sir Jasper in Dragon Quest XI. To most people in Heliodor, he and Sir Hendrik are the "sword and shield" that work together to defend the kingdom. But Jasper felt that he was being overlooked in favor of and outdone by Hendrik. This is what inspires him to ally with Mordegon and work toward the destruction of Heliodor and all the other kingdoms in Erdrea; by serving as The Dragon to Mordegon and receiving dark powers from the Lord of Shadows as a reward, he would finally be able to get ahead of Hendrik.
  • In Ensemble Stars!, this became Akatsuki's role — to be an extremely strong and intimidating idol unit that would never actually directly threaten fine, acting as something of a shield that other units would have to overcome to reach fine. But over time, they come to develop their own identity, and in Quarrel Fest, finally go all out and prove that when they try their absolute hardest (and a few things fall in their favour) they're capable of besting fine, too.
    • Ritsu struggles with feeling like this as well — his older brother Rei is an exceptionally talented and influential idol, to the point that he was targeted as one of the 'Five Oddballs', the most eccentric but powerful students at school. As a result, Ritsu often feels like people only care about him because of his brother and worries that he'll never be able to match him in talent.
  • Okita in Hakuouki is motivated entirely to be of service to Kondou and receive his approval and is constantly frustrated and annoyed that it is Hijikata who Kondou trusts and relies on the most. Okita vents this by pushing as many of Hijikata's buttons as possible.
  • In Juuzaengi, Kakouton and Kakouen found their positions as Sousou's best generals threatened once Kan'u came in the picture and defeated enemies that they cannot defeat.
  • Little Busters!:
    • Riki sees himself as this — not as strong as Masato, as strong-willed as Kengo, or as generally perfect as Kyousuke, or anything really all that special in general. It actually doesn't bother him, though, and he's content to just follow after his friends for his whole life.
    • Also, Haruka is this for her twin sister, Kanata. Their parents enforced a heavy competition between them as to which would be the heir and which the unnecessary child, and in almost everything Kanata would win. She takes it much worse than Riki, though.
  • Mega Man:
    • Dex from Mega Man Battle Network, who even has to lie to his little brother Chisao to hide this fact.
    • In the classic series, this trope is integral to Dr. Wily's backstory. Despite winning many awards in robotics, Wily was consistently second place to Dr. Light despite his best efforts. This eventually drives him completely insane, and he becomes obsessed with taking over the world primarily just to prove that he's better than Light.
  • The Rivals from the Pokémon games, especially Blue and Silver. They're all highly skilled trainers who manage to beat all eight Gym Leaders (and, in Blue's case, the Elite Four) yet always manage to lose to the player. The first two generations tied this into An Aesop about The Power of Love, but in the third and fourth generations, you're just better than them.
  • Aperture Science to Black Mesa. In Portal 2, you come across several second-place trophies in the 1950s Aperture Science area; it is implied they lost every time to Black Mesa. This is after they've been shown to go out of their way to engage in everything they do in the most ridiculous, inefficient, dangerous, and/or pointless manner possible, so what they succeed at must be rather phenomenal. On the other hand, there is a branch in which Aperture managed to trump Black Mesa: Potato Sciences.
  • Juan Corrida to Matt Engarde in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All. Even in Jerkassery.
  • Elias Goldstein in Shall We Date?: Wizardess Heart struggles to live up to the high standards of his prestigious family, particularly that of his perfectionist older brother Klaus. Klaus tends to be overly critical of Elias's efforts in magic, observing that although Elias is a skilled wizard, he lacks imagination.
  • Yellow (real name: Hong Jinho), professional StarCraft gamer, was titled king of second place for always getting oh so close to the gold, but never EVER winning a major title.
    • Another gamer, Stork, had inherited his title until finally getting a gold in a relatively recent finals.
    • Further, in StarCraft II, MarineKingPrime has been in more GSL finals than anyone else (3 out of 5 so far) and has come in 2nd every time.
  • This has become a defining character trait for Luigi from the Super Mario Bros. series from Luigi's Mansion and onward, though he rarely complains about it. This is especially prominent in the early games in the Mario & Luigi series, where Bowser can't even bother to remember his name, with him nearly snapping in Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. Later games in the M&L series take pains to show him as an equal or even better to Mario, with Dream Team making Luigi a focal point of the game.
  • In Tales of Legendia, Shirley is always getting overlooked by her big sister Stella, as well as both sisters' mutual love interest, Senel. Senel continues to choose Stella over Shirley even after Stella dies partway through the game.
  • Subverted in Touhou: Marisa's pretty proud of being second only to Reimu, since it means she's still skilled enough to take on everybody else, even without any special powers of her own.
  • Kingdom Hearts: The main character Sora is implied to have always been outdone by his best friend Riku and admits at the end of the sequel that he sees Riku as the Always Someone Better to himself. This led to some problems in the first game as while the two are good natured about their rivalry at the start, several factors lead Riku to grow more and more antagonistic towards Sora in pursuit of saving their mutual Childhood Friend Kairi which eventually culminates in him taking the Keyblade from Sora because The Dark Side Will Make You Forget has corrupted him to the point that he sees Sora as unworthy and himself as the only one that can do what needs to be done. By Kingdom Hearts II he's gotten over this thanks to Character Development (and nearly helping the Big Bad destroy the universe in the first game, that's a big wake-up call) and admits to Sora while they're trapped in the Realm of Darkness after beating Xemnas that he considers himself to be inferior to Sora since the former doesn't worry about being the best and just follows his heart.

    Web Original 
  • 2nd HOTTEST GIRL (A Love Song), a song by Tobuscus is about the 2nd hottest girl on a show who will always be second hottest.
  • In Noob, this is explicitly the situation of Amaras in regards to Fantöm until it turns out that Fantöm had been unknowingly getting an illegal boost from the game creators and the creators delete Fantöm's avatar in an attempt to cover their tracks and make Fantöm's player the scapegoat. These events automatically made Amaras number one.
  • Trick Moon: Mage joined Dr. Bleak because he was tired of being in Prince's shadow. His comments also imply he didn't like being considered as on the same level with the more inexperienced Trickshot and Pocket.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Fairly OddParents, this is part of the backstory of the Crimson Chin's Arch-Nemesis, the Bronze Kneecap. He was a professional ice skater who consistently placed third in every race he ever entered, never quite being good enough to win. His Start of Darkness came when he competed in a celebrity race and was moments away from winning for the first time ever, only to trip over the Crimson Chin, fall and break his kneecap, and come in third yet again. He fights the Crimson Chin not to prove that he's better than him, but because he's furious at the Chin for ruining his one shot at a Broken Win/Loss Streak.
  • The Simpsons:
    • The episode "Lisa's Rival" featured a new student who was slightly better than Lisa at everything, mostly slightly more knowledgeable and better on the sax. She even has a dream where she performs in "Garfunkel, Messina, Oates, and Lisa", the second-most popular band in America, which is sponsored by Avis Rent-a-Car and has a #2 single called "Born To Runner-Up". She awakes wondering why people would come to the concert just to boo them. Lisa's voice actress Yeardley Smith even remarked about how often Lisa would enter a contest and end up in second place; two notable examples are "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington" and "Lisa the Beauty Queen". Also when she entered a cruciverbalism (crosswords) contest, she went to the finals and lost to Gil.
    • Whenever there's a bake sale the food Marge bakes will always be 2nd place.
  • In South Park this is apparently why Bono is quite an overachiever: To his father, he will always be a "Number Two." Bono IS a number two, thus revealing why he is the record for the biggest shit ever taken.
  • In one episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog, the villain Katz constantly wins second place in Nowhere's candy competition, and sends a jelly monster after Muriel, whose famous candy made first place.
  • Thunder Cats 2011:
    • This is present with young Prince Lion-O and his adoptive older brother Tygra, a beneficiary of Parental Favoritism who actively upstages Lion-O every chance he gets. Tygra makes an explicit point of successfully taunting Lion-O during some Gladiator Games, ensuring Lion-O loses his temper, and with it, the match.
      Tygra: When it comes to everything except the crown, you're always going to be second place.
  • Metalocalypse: The guitarists in Dethklok are Skwisgaar Skwigelf, known as the world's fastest guitarist, and Toki Wartooth, known as the world's second-fastest guitarist. Skwisgaar is, on top of being a better guitarist than Toki, also Dethklok's primary songwriter and usually plays Toki's portions on albums too. This causes some understandable friction until Skwisgaar reveals that he was the one who wanted Toki in the band. Skwisgaar believes that without Toki to push him, he would never muster the self-discipline necessary to stay the world's best guitarist.
  • In She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, this is the source of Catra's frustration with her former best friend Adora/She-Ra. Ever since they were children, Catra was seen by many as a useless nuisance that was holding Adora back from her full potential at worse, and an annoying tag-along at best. Adora leaving the Horde is what it took for others to finally start giving Catra respect and recognition, with her quickly climbing the ranks of command. Despite not really caring much for the Horde, the very idea of joining the rebellion and once again finding herself as a sidekick to someone she came to realize had inadvertently contributed to some of the worst parts of her life enraged her enough to start actively desiring Adora's demise from that point forward.
    Catra: “The sad thing is, I’ve spent all this time hoping you’d come back to the Horde, when you leaving was the best thing that ever happened to me. I am so much stronger than anyone ever thought.”
  • Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race has the Ice Dancers team, Jacque and Josee, professionals who've won gold in every event, except the Olympics, where they received silver because Jacque dropped Josee. This forms their character motivation at the start of the race, as they want to redeem themselves. The first few challenges see them continuing to land in second place (and a few background characters rubbing in that they aren't Olympic gold medalists). When they fall below second place, they drop any pretense and declare themselves villains, as their only goal is to win the challenge. They wind up finishing third place.

    Real Life 
  • The ancient Greek philosopher Eratosthenes was nicknamed "Beta" by one of his contemporaries, because he was supposedly "the second-best in the world at everything". This means this trope is Older Than Feudalism. Carl Sagan said in Cosmos, however, that Eratosthenes was clearly Alpha at many things, since among other achievements he was the first to scientifically and correctly measure the circumference of the Earth. Using nothing but sticks, shadows, and a bit of mathematics.
  • John Adams. His love of the new nation he helped form — the United States — was unparalleled. However: His cousin Sam Adams was a more fiery orator and leader of the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson the better writer who crafted the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin the better diplomat and political schmoozer, George Washington the better leader. John was almost always second place to others, most notably the Second President of the United States after Washington, and he dreaded how history would overlook his contributions.
  • In South Korea, professional StarCraft player Hong Jin-Ho earned the nickname "King of Silver" after he managed to come in 2nd place in 6 different major tournaments but never won one.
  • Until 2016, the Sharpe Brothers were this in competitive pinball, with the two of them collectively having eight 2nd-place finishes in major pinball tournaments with no wins. The streak was broken with Zach Sharpe getting 1st place at Pinburgh 2016.
  • Actress Susan Lucci was nominated for the Daytime Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Drama (All My Children) 18 years in a row before finally winning in 1999. In pop culture she has become the patron saint of performers who are continuously nominated for their field's top prize without ever winning.
  • More like Always Third Best, but Evil Geniuses's Dota 2 division qualifies. No matter who the players are, the team would almost always finish 3rd whether it be The International (averted in 2015's iteration, where they won) or the Majors. While they have the moniker of the "Lower Bracket Kings", they unfortunately would also be called having the "3rd Place Curse." Funnily lampshaded by their midlaner Sumail in his tweet: "1 2 EG 4 5."
    • Played straight, however, with Cloud9 (led by EternaLEnVy) back in 2014. During that whole year, they had an unprecedented nine second place finishes at the events they participated. This roster never seemed to be able to break their "2nd Place Curse" all the way until they disbanded.


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