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Cool Kid-and-Loser Friendship

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"Sienna is amazing. She's stylish, worldly and she's so new to our school she doesn't even realise that I'm a full social class below her. I need to cement the friendship before she finds out we have a cafeteria."
Alex, Modern Family

Social cliques are Serious Business in most shows aimed toward kids 9-to-18. It's impossible that the Jerk Jock would hang out with a total dork for non-ironic reasons, nor could the Alpha Bitch be best friends with the Cute Bookworm. Many shows — especially during the '90s and the turn of the millennium — showed how narrow and high are the standards for being popular and the losers repetitively trying — and failing — to impress the popular kid. It goes beyond that by showing that even talking to those dorks could make a character go down in the Popularity Food Chain.

Yet, this happens.

This contrast exists to emphasize both characters by comparison, showing how cool the popular kid is and how dorky their best friend is. Often this trope serves the primary purpose of making the popular kid likeable and sympathetic to the audience because they're risking social judgement and a drop in the Popularity Food Chain by continuing their friendship. This relies on the idea that the less popular character has nothing to lose from the friendship (socially) and only benefits from it.

There are several ways this can come about in a story. The popular character takes control of everything while the loser agrees to everything and works as a subordinate, something that the loser accepts in order to get the attention and popularity that they could have never gotten by their merits. In more positive portrayals, it could happen because the Popular Kid does not need to impress their dorky friend in any way, or because the nerd knows that their friend is a kind person after all. Sometimes the cool kid can be curious about the loser, who is cool in their own way. Sometimes they've known each other since childhood and retained their friendship into their high school or college years. Frequently, if the Cool Kid is a girl and the Loser is a boy (more rarely the other way around), they may be very good friends but the Loser is secretly in love with his popular best friend.

Sub-Trope of Odd Friendship. If this gets lampshaded, it's Loser Friend Puzzles Outsiders. This can be caused by a Bully Turned Buddy scenario, with the bully being the "cool" friend.


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  • This FriXion Erasable Pen commercial, where the nameless "loser" protagonist is jealous of his cool best friend Josh. At least the second version ends on a happier note with the two remaining friends regardless.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Albegas: Played for Laughs - Goro is the "loser" to the three pilots of Albegas, who are famed and respected for their contributions against the Dellingers. The people of Japan shower the pilots with attention but treat Goro as if he doesn't exist, even though he helps them fight the invading aliens too. Even the in-universe Albegas fan-magazine excludes him.
  • DAYS: Tsukushi and Kazama. Tsukushi is awkward, painfully shy, and has no special talents while Kazama is confident, popular and a soccer genius. They're still inseparable, and it's best not to call Tsukushi a loser on Kazama's watch.
  • Delicious in Dungeon had Marcille, top of her class, admired and popular, with dreamy, spacey Falin, who was looked down on by the rest of their classmates. After Marcille gets to know Falin better, they become very close friends.
  • Destiny of the Shrine Maiden: Himemiya Chikane is the popular girl and her best friend is Kurusegawa Himeko, who is a social nobody. It turns out they share a destiny to become magical girls and their friendship takes many unexpected turns.
  • Digimon Adventure: Taichi and Koushiro, especially the dub where Taichi was originally quite mocking and patronizing towards the shy, nerdy Koushiro. Over the course of the series both initially learn to respect each other for their abilities, and this later grows into a sincere friendship that proves one of the closest in the group.
  • Digimon Universe: App Monsters: The Hero Haru is a nerdy and shy bookworm. His mutual best friend is Yuujin, who's athletic, handsome, and popular with everyone. Everyone wonders at how these two could become best friends while being so different.
  • Doraemon: Nobita is a Failure Hero and the bullies' favorite target. His only friend (besides Doraemon) is the pretty, smart, and popular Shizuka.
  • Subverted in Dr. Ramune: Mysterious Disease Specialist's "Chilli Pepper Fingertips" chapter/episode. At first, the dorky, bespectacled protagonist Takaharu is given a foil in the popular ace Bungou, who is the only person in his class who doesn't treat him as a loser. This is because the boys used to be best friends and Takaharu is actually even more of an ace than Bungou is. However, after seeing Bungou getting frustrated at his repeated losses against Takaharu, the latter decides to hold himself back in order to let his friend "win". Unfortunately, this only serves to anger Bungou even more, as he sees Takaharu's actions as Condescending Compassion. The two only make up after Takaharu stops holding himself back and regains his popularity.
  • This pretty much sums up Ishigami's entire social circle in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War. Given the fact that his reputation was destroyed thanks to an incident back in middle school, all of the people that he becomes friends with during the course of the series are vastly higher than him on the social totem pole. This extends all the way to Kaguya and Tsubame, who are two of the most popular girls in school. This ends up being averted at the start of the following school year since one of Tsubame's final acts before graduating was using her social influence to repair his reputation among the student body.
  • At the beginning of Girl Friends (2006), Akko, a pretty, bubbly, popular girl, befriends Mari, a Shrinking Violet with few friends, welcomes her into her social circle, and teaches her to be more fashionable.
  • In Inside Mari, Mari was one of the most popular girls in school. But once she swaps bodies with Isao Komori, Hikikomori, Komori-as-Mari ditches her old group and starts spending time exclusively with Yori, a strange, shy girl with no other friends.
  • My Love Story!!: Downplayed with Takeo and Suna. Suna is a popular Bishōnen while Takeo is a socially awkward hulking giant who is unpopular with the ladies. Despite this, they're extremely good friends, and Suna repeatedly refuses to date girls who are too judgmental about Takeo. Meanwhile, Takeo is widely admired by boys at his school, but most girls won't give him a passing glance due to his large physique.
  • Naruto: Naruto is seen as the annoying Class Clown and is a friendless loser who can't even do basic jutsu at the start of the series. His Vitriolic Best Bud is the ever-popular Chick Magnet Sasuke who is also very capable for his age. By the end of the series, however, their roles have been reversed as Naruto is now well-liked while Sasuke's reputation is rocky.
  • The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko and its sequel Koi Dano, Ai Dano: Kanoko and her group of friends. Kanoko is a plain-looking, glasses-wearing girl who has no interest in romance, while her friends are the most popular students in the school.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann:
    • Kamina and Simon have this same dynamic: they are Bash Brothers who'd die for each other, but Kamina is the acknowledged awesomeness incarnate, while Simon is seen by most in Team Dai-Gurren as somewhat unimportant... least until Kamina's death and he overcomes his Heroic BSoD.
    • Somewhat subverted back in Jiha village. Both were not well-liked for different reasons. Kamina was viewed as a rowdy troublemaker while Simon didn't get along with the kids his age, due to his shy demeanor and his need to dig.
    • The roles are arguably inverted in Jiha village. The other kids think Simon is a loser, but the adults love him because digging is how they expand the village, and Simon is an outright prodigy. Kamina is seen as a troublemaker by everyone, however.

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man:
    • Within Peter's circle and group of friends, Mary Jane Watson was the coolest and most popular in Peter's circle, while she was friends with Peter Parker, and even willing to date him, much to the shock of Flash Thompson and others.
    • In Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man Trilogy, Peter Parker's best friend in most stories is Harry Osborn. Peter is a stammering, bookish dork everyone laughs at, while Harry is the smooth, popular rich kid. This was not their dynamic in the original comic needless to say, since they met in college, and if anything, Peter was the Cool Kid, while Harry was the disappointing spawn of a lunatic father, a drug addict, and who was more or less a rebound for Mary-Jane Watson who pined for Peter but respectively stepped aside when she saw him dating Gwen Stacy, and even then, Mary-Jane dumped Harry. This shows up in the movies and adaptations, where Peter and Harry's dynamic takes a Hourglass Plot with Peter growing cooler and more popular, and Harry growing less and less so.
  • X-Men: Cyclops is the "loser" in the original group assembled by Professor X. He's the Teacher's favorite and team leader but perennially overshadowed by the rich and handsome Warren Worthington III, the Angel, and highly insecure about his attraction and feelings for Jean Grey, which increases when Wolverine shows up later. A lot of adaptations, especially the movies and cartoons, play on Cyclops being too aloof to be popular, and generally being The Friend Nobody Likes of the X-Men.

    Fan Works 
  • Subverted in Influenced Out of Normality when Xander comments how strange it is that an outcast loser like him is friends with the popular kids. His girlfriend Cordelia points out that he goes to their parties (because he's dating her) and has rejoined the swim team (to improve his odds of getting into college) so really, he's a popular kid who used to be an outcast loser and still has outcast loser friends.

    Films — Animation 
  • Beauty and the Beast: Gaston is the most popular man in town: Tall, Dark, and Handsome, strong and skilled and has an army of cute girls at his feet. His best friend? An overweight, short, unattractive guy. Lefou is Gaston's pet and Butt-Monkey, and the relationship works on the dynamics that Lefou inflates Gaston's ego and gives him ideas (since Gaston is quite dumb). Though the live-action version has Gaston abandoned Lefou in the climax.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Played with in 21 Jump Street. Jenko was the popular Jerk Jock in high school who bullied the nerdy Schmitty. They become friends a couple years later in the police academy. When the two go undercover as high-schoolers, this dynamic is reversed as what's considered cool has changed since the duo have been in high school. Schmitty gets in with the cool kids and gets the girl while Jenko ends up befriending the nerds.
  • But I'm a Cheerleader: Before ending up at True Directions, Megan was a popular cheerleader, while the snarky Graham seems to have been a loser with a Friendless Background. They start off hating each other but become friends and then lovers. Of course, these social distinctions matter less in a place like True Directions.
  • The Hottie and the Nottie: Cool girl Hottie is best friends with the nerdy Nottie.
  • In Jennifer's Body, the titular Jennifer remained friends with the dweebish Needy even as she became the Alpha Bitch. That said, it's shown that Jennifer has grown very domineering over Needy, something which only gets worse after Jennifer is possessed by a demon and turns outright controlling and obsessive.
  • Mean Girls: Subverted. It's initially played straight when Cady (Loser) befriends The Plastics (Cool). However, they immediately turn Cady into another plastic Alpha Bitch like them.
  • Rebel Without a Cause by Nicholas Ray has James Dean, the cool bad-boy newbie who attracts the eye of the girlfriend of the leader of the teen gang, befriending Plato (Sal Mineo), the troubled nerdy kid who everyone picks on. Of course, within the film, it's Played for Drama, since it's strongly implied that Plato has a major crush on Jim Stark.
  • In Ice Princess, Casey and Gen are ostensibly this, but as Casey is a loser and the film doesn't spend much time in their high school it doesn't really come off as this. Gen also strikes up a friendship with Casey's nerdy friend Ann which fits this much better- basically Gen pays Ann for math tutoring by introducing her to cute boys.

  • Sara-Kate and Hillary in Afternoon of the Elves are a relatively realistic take on this trope. Their friendship is often awkward and plagued with misunderstandings and arguments, but they still bond over their mutual fascination with elves.
  • While Animorphs doesn't spend much time on high-school dynamics, Tobias is initially characterized as a dorky kid whom Jake once saved from some bullies, and who's been following him around since.
    • There's also Rachel, a smart, pretty girl known to have some success at gymnastics, and Cassie, a short, Hollywood Pudgy farm girl who spends most of her free time taking care of injured animals. It's also worth noting that this trope extends into romance: the Official Couples are Jake/Cassie and Tobias/Rachel.
  • Asperger Sunset: Russ's childhood friend Zach was one of the popular kids. Russ would help Zach study, and Zach would defend Russ from bullies. When they hung out, the other kids treated Russ like a friend.
  • Beautiful Music for Ugly Children: Paige, who has been Gabe's best friend since kindergarten, is pretty, popular, and good in school. Gabe is a mediocre student and closeted trans boy who has been picked on since third grade for acting like a boy.
  • This is exactly the relationship between the two main protagonists of Stephen King's Christine. They've known each other since childhood, and the cool one (who is the narrator) muses on how it's like he was privy to some secret knowledge about the other.
  • This is the premise of Kody Keplinger's The Duff (and of its film adaptation). The protagonist Bianca is the "designated ugly fat friend" of the Girl Posse, kept around because having a dumpy-looking, or at least Hollywood Homely, friend makes the others look more attractive.
  • In Fat Kid Rules the World, Curt is a local rock legend at his school. He befriends Troy, a friendless teen with terrible self-esteem, and the two form a band together.
  • In Full Metal Panic!, Kaname is Jindai High School's Lovable Alpha Bitch, whereas Sousuke is infamous as a hopeless military Otaku whose abysmal social skills make him the school's unintentional Class Clown. And while Kaname will adamantly deny any romantic feelings for Sousuke, she does regard him as a close (if often infuriating) friend and has no issue with being seen as his "handler".
  • Harry Potter:
    • At Hogwarts, Harry is the Cool friend to a bunch of students who, with the exception of Ginny, are not quite popular on their own. This includes Ron, Hermione, Luna, and Neville. The only time Harry feels upset about this is in Book 5, where he had a crush on Cho Chang who was the most popular girl in school, but then in Book 6, he gets over it and dismisses Luna's complaints about people expecting Harry to be around people cooler than them.
    • Snape was the loser to the very popular and much adored Lily Evans in their childhood and their time at Hogwarts. Lily mentions to Severus that her friends kept wondering why she put up with hanging around him all their years, on account of both his great unpopularity and his support for the Dark Arts, and after he called her Mudblood, she broke their friendship, though, from Snape's side, it was a little more than friendship at that point.
    • It also seems that Snape had this status with Lucius Malfoy despite the latter being older, rich, pure-blooded, and a snob.
    • While James Potter and Sirius Black were athletic and well-liked as students, they were best friends with Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew who by most standards wouldn't be considered cool.
  • Seb from Haze is a bullied teen with undiagnosed Asperger's. At the start of the book, his Only Friend is Guzzle, a popular football player. They've been friends since they were kids, before sports became really important and before Seb became a social outcast. Guzzle still hangs out with Seb despite the difference in popularity because he likes his loyalty and honesty.
  • Kill River, an '80s slasher book, has this with main characters Cyndi and Stacy. Cyndi is a punky, rocker-style girl with a music obsession, and it's outright stated that she's anti-social, has no friends and the popular girls at school, including her former best friend, pick on her, whereas Stacy is rich, trendy, outgoing, beautiful and is clearly very popular. They still end up quickly becoming best friends and get along great, and not only due to being the oldest girls at summer camp, as Stacy considers Cyndi to be a cool girl and defends her when Brad and Zack, her boyfriend and friend respectively, pick on her at first. It's not long after that that Cyndi becomes a part of the group.
  • Kita and Grady from Parrotfish. Kita is the cool individualistic popular kid while Grady is bullied for being trans and, even ignoring that, he's a somewhat nerdy, former homeschooled kid. Grady has a crush on Kita and she likes him back, however she likes her boyfriend more.
  • In The Pendragon Adventure, the protagonist, popular athlete Bobby, is best friends with awkward nerdy Mark.
  • Skippy Dies: Hinted at at the very end. After Lori, formerly the Alpha Bitch and most popular girl in school, talks Ruprecht, who is a frequently bullied nerd and her former hated enemy, out of suicide, the two of them make plans to join forces and work together, suggesting the beginning of an Odd Friendship.
  • Wicked:
    • Boq is a bit of a nerdy, quiet fellow while Avaric is a popular student at Shiz.
    • Socialite Glinda spends a chunk of Shiz ignoring her unusual, nerdy roommate but eventually she and Elphaba become friends. She ends up abandoning her former friends to hang out with Elphaba, her sister, and their group of friends.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Big Wolf on Campus. The quarterback Tommy Dawkins befriends the nerdy goth Merton Dingle because he's the only one who can help him with his lycanthropy. Prior to that, he didn't even know his name. Oddly, Becky Dingle seems to be the only other teenager to realize the cool guy is friends with his loser brother in season one.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Cordelia starts out seeming like an Alpha Bitch, but turns into a Lovable Alpha Bitch once she increasingly starts hanging out with the Scoobies. She's particularly contrasted with Xander, with whom she had Belligerent Sexual Tension and eventually dated.
  • Drake & Josh: Drake is a successful Casanova, traditionally good-looking, and plays in a band, yet he is the best friend of dorky Josh.
  • Family Matters:
    • Eddie is a supposedly cool ladies' man whose closest friends are Steve Urkel and Waldo Geraldo Faldo, and the latter is possibly an even bigger loser than Urkel himself and much dumber. Lampshaded by Eddie himself in one episode:
      "I gotta get me some new friends."
    • Steve is also the Loser to Laura's Cool. While Laura has a hard time tolerating Steve (especially when he's hitting on her), she still does seem to consider him a friend for most of the series until the last season when they have a Relationship Upgrade.
  • The Flash (2014): It's implied childhood friends Barry Allen and Iris West were this in high school — Barry was a socially awkward science geek whose father was (wrongly) convicted for murdering his mother, and was looked down on for believing in his innocence. Iris was his far more social and fairly gorgeous best friend, who is outright stated to have had her fair share of boyfriends (though her first serious one wasn't until long after high school). Downplayed as adults — while Barry still hasn't changed all that much, his good looks and charming personality have managed to score him many friends and the interest of many beautiful women, such as Felicity Smoak, Linda Park, Patty Spivot, and Iris herself.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Cool guy Will and his dorky cousin Carlton become best friends over the years, although in a Vitriolic Best Buds way.
  • Friends: Rachel and Monica avert this trope now as adults, but they used to be this in their high school days. Rachel was the most popular cheerleader in the school, while Monica was her fat, unpopular best friend.
  • Happy Days: Fonzie is the Cool Guy (the coolest actually) to high school losers Richie, Potsie, and Ralph and often acts as a Big Brother Mentor for them.
  • iCarly: Freddie is the nerd to Carly's Cool Girl. He's also her Hopeless Suitor but despite Carly's constantly rejecting him, they are best friends. Their other friend Sam is not a loser but, being a bully, appears to be more feared than liked or respected.
  • Liv and Maddie: Downplayed with twin sisters Liv and Maddie playing the popular girl (as a Former Child Star) and the nerd kid respectively. They are very close and best friends indeed. However, Maddie is a basketball star and also becomes a state champion.
  • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: Played with. Smart, athletic, and attractive Moze (who is both The Ace and a Dude Magnet) is friends with Ned (a Book Dumb everyman) and Cookie (an Urkel-like Black and Nerdy guy). Moze could be far more popular (and she is much more popular than she realizes) but she decides to hang out with her old friends. Also downplayed with Ned who while not cool, is respected by most of the class in part due to the guide.
  • One Tree Hill: The geeky "Mouth" McFadden is considered a very good friend by all the popular kids, particularly cheerleader and Lovable Alpha Bitch Brooke.
  • Power Rangers: Dino Thunder: Jerk Jock Conner Mc Knight becomes friends with nerdy Ethan James and Rebellious Spirit Kira Ford when they are brought together to become the Power Rangers. Through this friendship, Conner eventually becomes more of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold and eventually befriends Reclusive Artist and Sixth Ranger Trent Fernandez-Mercer to make a close group of friends, creating some of the most loved characters of the Disney Era. Their friendship is lampshaded by Lovable Alpha Bitch Cassidy Cornell as being strange that the king of all jocks is hanging out with the king of all nerds and the Avril-wannabe.
  • Pretty Little Liars: Popular girl Hanna befriends unpopular and bullied Lucas and social-outcast Caleb (who she later begins dating) in the first season.
  • Saved by the Bell: A nerdy loser named Screech is part of the main group of friends that include Zack, Slater, Kelly, Jessie, and Lisa.
  • The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: Zack is the popular Kid A Nova and Cody is the unpopular dork. London and Maddie count as well since London is a Rich Bitch (though lovable) and Maddie is more academic-oriented and less popular. London and Bailey from On Deck count too, as London is the Lovable Alpha Bitch to Bailey's nerd.
  • Victorious: All the main characters are The Beautiful Elite of the school (also lampshaded In-Universe), but the group also includes dorky Butt-Monkey Robbie and the untalented and unpopular Trina, with the latter being The Friend Nobody Likes and only included because she's Tori's sister.
  • Yo soy Betty, la fea: Catalina Angel is the opposite of Betty but retaining the brains. Attractive, socially active, confident, and with a glamorous job, she still developed a strong friendship with the main character, becoming a fairy godmother of sorts.


    Video Games 
  • Atsuma and Toya from Enchanted Arms are this to Enchant Academy. Atsuma is a lazy and dimwitted goofball, who is hated by the students to the point there is an Anti-Atsuma Association. Toya is both intelligent and hard working, and popular enough to have his own fan club. Their close friendship baffles just about everyone, including their other friend Makoto.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Double Homework, besides frequently calling the protagonist “buddy-ol-pal,” Dennis seems to have told his dad that the protagonist was a close friend of his.

    Web Comics 
  • In a flashback in The Letters Of The Devil, Cedric describes how he became friends with Ira after saving him from a beating from some bullies.
  • I Love Yoo: Shin-Ae and Min-Hyuk. Shin-Ae is disliked by the majority of her classmates due to rumors about her, while Min-Hyuk is shown to be well-known and friendly, although their friendship results in him loosing some friends.
  • Nerd & Jock has its whole premise be about the popular, fit Jock being friends with the meek, introverted Nerd. They're complete opposites, but their bond is very tight.
  • Weak Hero:
    • The timid Eugene becomes friends with the dreaded White Mamba since they sit together in class, and through him becomes pals with all of the school's toughest fighters. Eugene's middle school friend is amazed when he discovers this, and more than one onlooker has wondered why a nerd like Eugene is hanging around a feared gang of delinquents.
    • Timothy doesn't believe that cool guys like Jake and Dean would ever pay attention to him and is shocked when not only does Jake take a genuine interest in Timothy's data collection hobby, but the two of them immediately start treating Timothy as a friend.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • As Told by Ginger: Early on, dorky Ginger sparks the interest of Courtney Gripling, a rich, beautiful, popular girl. Over the course of the series, they slowly form something of a friendship, hindered by Beta Bitch Miranda who doesn't understand what Courtney sees in her at all, but who slowly starts to find Ginger growing on her as well.
  • Daria:
    • Jodie is one of the most popular girls in school, but nevertheless sees socially outcast Daria as a friend.
    • Played with in Daria and Jane's friendship, as Jane is very cool - in an alternative fashion - and it's clear in the show that she could be popular without much effort if she wanted. (One episode actually has her try to act popular, expecting it to fail, with her going through an existential crisis when it works.)
    • Daria and Jane, in general, manage to interact with people across the social spectrum, including popularity-conscious Brittany and Kevin. In small doses, at least.
  • Hey Arnold!: Rich Bitch Rhonda, the popular fashionista hangs out with Nadine, a girl with a fixation on bugs. It works since popularity was never an issue in the show.
  • Kaeloo: Some of the later episodes portray the friendship between Kaeloo and Mr. Cat this way, with Kaeloo being perceived by the rest of the cast as lame and everyone thinking Mr. Cat is cool. The friendship still works well between them.
  • Kim Possible: Popular overachiever Kim and unpopular underachiever Ron are best friends since preschool. They later also have a Relationship Upgrade.
  • The Looney Tunes Show: In this adaptation, Bugs Bunny (who is still The Ace) and Daffy Duck (described in-universe as "an insecure little weirdo who lies about everything") are best friends and roommates. Bugs' friendship with Porky also counts, since Porky here is portrayed as a submissive Butt-Monkey.
  • Milo Murphy's Law: The title character with his two best friends. Even aside from being isolated by his Hereditary Curse, Milo is a sweater-vest-wearing, sci-fi-loving dork, while his Childhood Friend Melissa is an attractive High-School Hustler who could probably be very popular if she wanted to. Word of Saint Paul even describes Zack (star athlete and former face of a semi-famous Boy Band) as "a cool kid who’s trying to fit in with the nerds."
  • Played With on Miraculous Ladybug: Chloé's "best friend" is Sabrina, a nerdier-looking girl whose main outfit includes a sweater vest and bow tie. That said, when she's not being abused by Chloé, she basically functions as your typical Beta Bitch.