A character motivation trope. A very fundamental thing that people want out of life is to feel loved, in fiction as in real life — whether by a specific person, an unspecified but worthy "Mr. Right"... or by as many people as possible.
Wish Fulfillment is an undeniable part of all fiction, and there is nothing at all wrong with it, in and of itself. I Just Want to Be Loved is a specific wish that some members of the audience would like to have fulfilled by the fiction they consume.
This wish is usually (but definitely not exclusively) expressed by females. Because at least some women believe that family is everything, said women are more likely to care about being loved, as opposed to actually doing something really cool. This trope is seen as having its share of Unfortunate Implications about what women should aim for in life (though not always).
- Guts from Berserk. Having lived a life full of struggle, blood and battle, and trauma, Guts more than anything just wants to be loved, having been denied it for so long along with being sexually abused as a kid. He eventually finds it with his teammate Casca — who also yearned for the same — but their union is tragically abrupted when the Eclipse happens and Casca is driven insane, amnesiac, and mute. This pretty much sent Guts over the edge himself and he tried to wash the pain away by feeding his bloodlust and hatred, but in the end it didn't compare to the feelings and memories he had with Casca. Now, Guts desperately wants to find a cure for Casca's insanity so that they can mend their fragmented relationship, and it's made all the more difficult since Guts' Enemy Within constantly goads him to take advantage of his mentally and sexually traumatized lover — which he almost did at one point — and as a result Guts has clashing feelings of wanting to be with Casca and feeling shame for wanting her since it puts her in danger.
- Alois from Black Butler. It gets so bad that eventually he doesn't care whether it's Claude, and sells his soul to Hannah instead because she was pretty much the first person since Luka to earnestly say "I love you".
- In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, a place to belong with people who wish good things upon him, thats what Zenitsu wanted as he laments never having a place to himself by being orphaned, possibly abandoned at birth, and no one ever expecting anything out of him, labeling him as worthless; Zenitsu fell prey to people in the past who took advantage of his need to belong by faking a bond with him, using and abusing the guy, however thats all in the past as Zenitsu realizes that meeting with his master, Jigoro, changed that situation. With his master he found a place to belong and someone who honestly wished him good, and that extends even more when Zenitsu finds Tanjiro, Nezuko and Inosuke, his honest friends.
- Miyako Miyamura's goal in ef - a fairy tale of the two. is this, ever since her parents's messy divorce that had them ignoring her completely.
- This, coupled with I Just Want to Be Normal and I Just Want to Have Friends, and besides her wish to Kill All Humans, is what moved Elfen Lied's Lucy all her life. In fact, this is what moves most main characters in this series.
- Despite what he'll tell you, this and I Just Want to Have Friends are the primary driving forces for Greed in Fullmetal Alchemist. By extension, Father and Envy also want this.
- Kaguya-sama: Love is War:
- Kaguya was starved of affection her entire life due to her family's Social Darwinist philosophy and emotional neglect from her father, so the things that motivate her the most are a desire for both romantic and familial love. Unfortunately, her desire for the former is hampered by her inability to confess to the boy she likes due to conditioning from the environment she grew up in.
- Hayasaka has this to a lesser degree (since her parents actually are a part of her life despite their busy work schedules). She mentions at several points that she wants to be able to fall in love just like Kaguya has, though she doesn't have anyone that she's interested in.
- Lyrical Nanoha:
- Fate Testarossa just wanted to be loved by her dearest mother who tortures her on regular basis because she hates how Fate (who is a clone) resembles her deceased daughter. She gets everything she wished, though: she gets a new family (the Harlaowns) and later becomes one of Vivio's two mommies with Nanoha. People even call the three of them "the Takamachi family".
- On a non-eros(?) note, Hayate Yagami. From an orphan to being one of the aces, adored by her immediate underlings who are also her surrogate family.
- Midori Days: Seiji "Mad Dog" Sawamura is a tough delinquent with a heart of gold who is lonely in love because girls reject him as being too scary. One day he begs heaven to send him a girlfriend, no matter who she is, and a girl named Midori, who—unbeknownst to him—was in love with him but too shy to confess, is inexplicably transformed into a miniature hand-puppet-like replacement for his right hand. Thus begins an unusual love story.
- Naruto only wishes to be loved and approved of, which is why he pulled pranks and acted like the class clown. This was also his (initial) reason he wanted to be the Hokage.
- Hinata has always wanted to be loved and acknowledged by her family, who were abusive to her to the point where they stripped her of her rightful birthright as heiress to the Hyuga clan because they perceived her kind, gentle nature for weakness and even disowned her for a time, during which she had to live with her sensei Kurenai.
- In Dork Tower, Matt McLimore's ongoing desire to be involved with someone repeatedly pushes him back to his ex-girlfriend, Kayleigh... even while his dream girl, Gilly the Perky Goth, hovers nearby.
- Irredeemable. This is the Plutonian's motivation for being a superhero after spending years in several foster homes with people who were afraid of him. Despite being a respected champion, he's so obsessed with the negative comments and constant demands people give him that it drives him over the edge.
- The Ultimates: Wolverine opines that Quicksilver's incestuous attachment to his sister stems from his Missing Mom and abusive father rendering him desperate for any kind of love and affection. Quicksilver later confirms this.
- There are probably too many fanfics to list that appeal to this wish. The appeal of the Relationship Sue is arguably derived from this wish (as well as the specific desire to be loved by a particular character).
- Adriens reason to agree to be akumatized in Brokenhearted. Hes already blown his chances with Marinette and taken every route he could to avoid her to try to get over her, but the pain still remains. So when his father offers him a chance to bring back his mother, the only person who has ever loved him unconditionally, Adrien decides its the best chance for him to be happy again without Marinette.
- Due to her dream, Tenten in Eroninja has a hard time understanding that Tsunade would want a romantic (and sexual) relationship with Naruto, citing that Tsunade is a Living Legend whom Naruto should worship. Tsunade retorts that she's been worshiped for decades, but being loved is something far more important and rare.
- Pokémon Reset Bloodlines has the local Knight of Cerebus, Belladonna Tyrian. In her case, while she has clearly found romantic love, her horrible childhood has left her desperate for having a loving family, which is why as soon as she finds out she and Ash might be half-siblings, she's quick to try and form a familiar bond with him, despite having tried to kill him in their first encounter.
- White Sheep (RWBY): It was implied in canon, but made explicit here. The God of Darkness lived out in the middle of a monster infested wasteland, so when a woman came to him and offered to be his first worshiper in exchange for resurrecting her husband, he did so happily. Thousands of years later, Yang manages to get the God of Darkness on their side not only by pointing out how the God of Light has rigged the deck in his favor (where he gets all the love and credit while the God of Darkness gets nothing despite doing half the work), but also by promising humans will worship him forever if he defeats the God of Light and saves the world from annihilation. After the God of Darkness defeats his brother, the humans make good on their promise and dedicate a yearly Festival of Darkness in his honor.
- In Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail all Chloe Cerise wants is someone to love her as who she is. Not as the Professor's daughter, not as someone who is going to be see into Pokémon. Just herself. It gets to the point that she leaves for the Infinity Train and decides to stay there because that is where people love and appreciate her...while back in Vermillion City the end of Arc 1 has her family create an online campaign to show how much they did care about her, giving her that love and support that she needed. However, Chloe finds the sentiment too late at this point.
- The sequels to Disney's Cinderella do this with Anastasia, one of the "wicked stepsisters." It's revealed that she's not wicked at all, just absolutely desperate for someone to love her. Her stepmother and sister Drizella have convinced her that the only way to find that love is to woo a rich prince, and she follows their ideas without question to do it. With Cinderella's help, Anastasia eventually learns that love can take other forms, too, and becomes much nicer as a result.
- In the film version of Coraline, the title character believes that her parents don't love her anymore because of the stresses of their recent move and new jobs. As such, she wishes for a family that would love her no matter what — and gets one in the form of the "Other Mother" and the Other World she had created. The movie soon deconstructs the trope, though, as Coraline realizes that a world where everyone dotes on her and gives her everything she wants isn't real love — but by that point, the Other Mother has kidnapped her real parents and forces Coraline into a deadly game to win them back. Be Careful What You Wish For indeed...
- The second, third, and fourth films of the Toy Story films are all about this.
- The recurring theme in Toy Story 2 is this. Woody fears that Andy doesn't want him anymore because he's broken, so he considers auctioning himself to a museum in Tokyo to be "loved by millions forever". Jessie is traumatized by her previous owner abandoning her. The villain, Prospector Stinky Pete, has never been opened from his box and has been corrupted by the isolation. Even the second Buzz Lightyear's arc ends with him reconciling with his father, Zurg.
- In Toy Story 3, the villainous Lots-o-Huggin' Bear offers a new take on this trope. He was loved by Daisy, a little girl who cherished him dearly... until one day where she accidentally left him, and her other toys, behind after a picnic. They struggled to get back to her, only to discover that Daisy's parents bought her a new Lots-o-Huggin' Bear. Lotso was so furious at what he saw as "betrayal" (even though it was clear that Daisy cared about him so much that she couldn't stand being without him) that he decided that children were incapable of truly loving toys, and took over Sunnyside Day Care as a ruthless despot to enforce his twisted belief — but deep down, he just wants Daisy back.
- The Big Bad of Toy Story 4's entire goal is based on this. She was designed as a talking doll, but her voicebox doesn't work, which she thinks is the reason she was never adopted by a child. As such, her plan is to get Woody's voicebox for herself, hoping it will make her more lovable.
- In Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane is a total bastard who manipulates everyone around him with no interest in or respect for their feelings, but all he really wants is to be loved. He gets yelled at for this by many other characters, but the real problem is Kane's inability to love anyone back.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 surprisingly gives this as an underlying motive of Nebula. She was the Un Favorite of Thanos compared with her "sister" Gamora, eventually turned into a near cyborg to try and keep up. However, underneath her many lost flesh/brains/nervous system, what Nebula really wanted was Gamora to support her in their struggles since Thanos was never going to love her—in other words...
Nebula: You were the one who wanted to win, and I JUST WANTED A SISTER!!
- Alice in Ready or Not (2019) confesses to Becky that while her various foster parents weren't bad, she's always wanted to have a real family of her own.
- Ayn Rand, in her novel Atlas Shrugged, deconstructs the trope as well as gender-flips it via the character of James Taggart. James wants to be loved, but not for anything he actually does. Rather, he wants to be loved for himself. Not for the benefits he might bring into the life of the person that loves him. Not for any of his virtues or good qualities. He says that he wants to be loved for himself. Ultimately, what he truly wants is to be loved for absolutely no reason at all, i.e. loved in spite of his own worthlessness.
- As an adolescent, the St. Augustine of the Confessions was solely driven by a desire to love and be loved by someone else. Problem is, without real friends to restrain him, our hero's search for love quickly turned into an exercise in habitual lust, an empty and miserable existence where he became increasingly distant from any real relationship.
- Shelly from the first Disney Chills book is desperate to make her friends and parents happy and be popular, so she makes a deal with Ursula to become champion of the swim team in the hopes of granting all her wishes at once.
- In Hair made of Starlight, (think Rapunzel meets "Arabian Nights" Days), this is what drives Alya. She takes Saffron from her parents as a baby, isolates her from the world since age ten, wipes her memories whenever she gets loose, and tries to kill Rashid (the "prince" character) all to make Saffron love her and only her. As it happens, there is a Freudian Excuse: Alya is the daughter of a human and a jinn and was the victim of Half-Breed Discrimination all her life. She believes only a fellow half-jinn can love her, and engineered Saffron's pregnant mother eating magic spices to give Saffron jinn powers in utero before making the bargain for her.
- The final page of Gone Girl implies that this is Amy's motivation behind hiding her true self to Nick before they were married, eventually feeling comfortable with him enough to show him that she's a Sociopath, and staying with him after framing him for murder and killing Desi to get him off the hook once she realized that she still loved him. She's put on masks and personas her whole life, and felt incredibly hurt when she showed Nick, who she calls her soulmate, what she was really like, and discovered that he didn't like her true self the same way he liked her while she was pretending to be a "Cool Girl." While they're laying together in bed, Nick doting on her a day before she gives birth, this exchange belies Amy's desire to be loved for who she is by the one person in the world who really knows her:
Amy: This morning he was stroking my hair and asking what else he could do for me, and I said, "My gosh, Nick, why are you so wonderful to me?" He was supposed to say: You deserve it. I love you.
- Subverted in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Poor Merope Gaunt thought that after keeping Tom Riddle with her via regular love potions, he'd still love her. Instead he dumped her, heavily pregnant, and went back home, refusing to explain why he'd run off with a tramp's daughter, though it should be pointed out that had Tom Riddle explained that hed been under an enchantment which had now been lifted, Muggles would have thought he was crazy. Small wonder that her son Voldemort thinks of love as a weakness.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Ford and Arthur try to flatter their Vogon captors poetry to avoid being thrown out of the airlock. The Captain asks them if they're saying that he writes poetry because "Underneath my callous exterior, deep down, I just want to be loved?" Subverted when he announces that he actually writes poetry to throw his callous exterior into sharp relief, and they're going to be thrown out the airlock anyway.
- A male version in Over the Wine-Dark Sea. Sostratos never keeps a Heitaira because he wants one that will really love him and can't quite believe it of a hireling.
- Twilight fulfills this wish. The whole point of Bella being an Audience Surrogate is so the audience can indulge their wish to be loved by Edward Cullen.
- Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" is addressed to a woman whose heart has been aching in its hunger for love, a hunger the singer is eager to satisfy.
- Phoebe of Charmed made it her personal mission to find love during the last few seasons. In the end, she got a Cupid. Yay?
- Game of Thrones: Jack Gleeson mentions in Inside HBO's Game of Thrones that deep down, Joffrey wants his (step)father's acknowledgment and the peoples' love. But obviously, between his wanton sadism, entitlement issues, his mother's rearing, his (step)father's less-than-stellar example as King, and the little fact that everyone hates him, his chances of ever getting his wish are somewhat slim.
- Jon Lovitz of Saturday Night Live did an impression of Harvey Fierstein (playwright of Torch Song Trilogy). The parody version of Fierstein had a variant of this as his Catchphrase. "I just want to be loved. Is that so wrong?"
- Mad Men: Multiple characters of the show ache for love they never knew they wanted.
- Don exemplifies this almost perfectly. Almost everyone knows him at face value as the suave, handsome advertising executive. Only a few characters like Anna know about his real backstory and allow him to drop the persona and make him feel truly appreciated.
- The Sopranos:
Tony: I mean, don't you love me?
- With the overall poor parenting of his father and mother, Tony has one chip on his shoulder when it comes to parental figures. He tries to bond with his uncle Junior, but the latter's increasing dementia makes it hard for them to make a full connection.
- Having lost his father at a very young age, Christopher always tries to find a surrogate. The most obvious choice being Tony, but given their line of work, their chain of command, and their respective mental situations, the relationship slowly sours until it's rotten.
- Harald Finehair in Vikings seem to run on this. He originally set out to conquer Norway as a mean to get married to the woman he was in love with, and generally seems to want the crown of Norway to be loved in general and his attitude to rejections, romantic and non-romantic.
- Homelander in The Boys is a very very dark take on this. The need to be loved by people effectively drives all of his actions be they right or wrong, keeps him in line and taking orders from Madelyne Stillwell, allows him to be manipulated by Stormfront, and even drives him to do terrible things like murdering the mayor of Baltimore or kidnapping Ryan, all of which is implied to stem from the loveless and abusive upbringing he had in a Vought laboratory. Season 2 ends with him being cowed into submission and losing everything he as in spite of all of his power simply by Queen Maeve threatening to make the world stop loving him by showing the video of him leaving a planeload of people to die, and ends with him pathetically masturbating on a rooftop while repeating "I can do what I want" over and over.
- Subverted and deconstructed in Black Friday. Linda says that she does what she does so people will love her, but Wiley laughs this off. As he points out, real love is a reciprocal relationship, and Linda is utterly incapable of feeling genuine affection or empathy towards another person, let alone even considering putting their needs ahead of her own. What she really wants is to be adored; an All Take and No Give relationship in which she is the Taker, and she wants this relationship with every other person she comes into contact with. Once she's made divine prophet of the cult in the second act, she drops all pretense about her desires and even has a whole Villain Song titled "Adore Me."
I demand your love,
and worship, too.
If I don't get it,
I will end you,
'cause I will be adored...
- Chrysothemis in Richard Strauss's opera Elektra, who does not share her sister Elektra's thirst for revenge, and just wants to be a simple wife and mother — and this wish is what sustains her in her dark, fearful time as a prisoner. (Note: this is not her characterization in the original Sophocles play.)
- Natalie in Next to Normal has spent her whole life being The Un-Favourite compared to her big brother, Gabe. This is particularly irksome because her brother died before she was born, and her mother has just been hallucinating him for over a decade.
- The Dating Sim genre arguably exists because of this wish.
- In Amnesia: Memories, Spade World reveals this to be something Ikki wants. He used to be ridiculed as a child, until he wished to be popular and gained his hypnotic eyes, which cause any woman that looks into them to fall for him. Now he's sick and tired of the shallow affection of the fangirls his eyes have brought him and wants to find someone he can have a meaningful, longlasting relationship with.
- The motivation — and a frequent line of dialogue — of the fallen hero Flambeaux in City of Heroes.
- Fate/Grand Order: Mata Hari's wish is just to have a loving family. However, she's painfully aware she's an In-Universe low-Tier-Induced Scrappy and is never going to have the chance to make that wish.
- The Collector in LittleBigPlanet, and Liquid Ocelot in the Metal Gear level pack.
- In Mortal Kombat, this is the crux of Mileena's motivations. She was a clone of Kitana, mixed with Tarkatan DNA to make her more vicious, but it only deformed her face with a Tarkatan jaw and made her insane. Being raised as Kitana's "twin sister", she ultimately wanted to feel mutual love between her sibling, but Kitana (and many others) simply would never see her as anything more than an abomination. The closest thing she got to mutual love was with Tanya.
- By the time she's killed in MKX and brought back as DLC for MK11 she's still hell bent on earning Kitana's love. Her Friendship, which are usually silly and hilarious, has her hosting a tea party and dressing up teddy bear guests as herself, Jade, and Kitana.
- Her arcade ending shows that she realized Kitana would never love her, so she killed her, revived her parents, and took her place. With her time powers she earned her mother and father's respect, and pretty much everyone else loved her out of fear. The final scene shows her in a loving embrace with Tanya, while she holds her newborn daughter, and smiling at her while saying that her baby truly loves her unconditionally and doesn't look at her like a monster, but as perfection; as her mother.
- The Pokémon Mimikyu wears a Pikachu disguise in hopes that people will love it the same way that they love the Series Mascot.
- At the climax of TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, Robot Buddy R-110 is fatally wounded by the Big Bad and in his last moments he laments, "I only wanted to be loved..." This runs contrary to his recent activities throughout the last act.
- Mandatory Touhou example: Koishi Komeiji, the Bonus Boss of Subterranean Animism and the little sister of Satori Komeiji. Her kind are mind readers, and sometimes A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read, leading her to close her evil eye and shut down her conscious mind entirely, leaving only an Empty Shell driven by her subconscious. When you fight her, her spellcards are all themed with Freudian psychology, including one that looks phallic.
- This is Cecilia's main issue in Wild ARMs 1. Throughout the game she worries that, because she's a princess, people only care about her because of what she represents or the role she plays, not about her as a person. It's deconstructed when Cecilia realises that loving and caring about others is the best way to ensure people will care about you.
- RWBY: The God of Darkness has a terrible reputation among humanity. His domain is lifeless and eternally night, spawning only the Creatures of Grimm and death for anyone who travels there. As a result, he receives no worshipers; no-one seeks his blessing, asks for his help or leaves him votive offerings — they always seek out his brother, the God of Light, instead. So when a mortal woman comes to him seeking his help to save her lost love, he's thrilled to have the opportunity to prove he's just as worthy of human faith as his brother. He therefore does exactly what the woman asks of him with no strings attached. When his brother shows up to chastise him and undo the resurrection, the God of Darkness bitterly claims that the rules they live by are stacked in the God of Light's favor, leaving him jealous and angry with the adoration and reverence and power that his brother receives compared to him.
- 101 Dalmatian Street, Hunter Devil is shown to be this. Being alone in the World, with his abusive Great-Aunt Cruella as his only Family, he is desperate to try and please her just to get her to notice him. Realizing what a Monster Cruella truly is, on top of the Dalmatians offering what is arguably the first piece of affection that Hunter has ever had, leads to his HeelFace Turn.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Despite her talk, cruelty, and narcissism, Azula is a young girl who wanted to be loved by her mother and be trusted by her friends and family. But her upbringing, narcissism, and cruel side kept emerging more than not making her very difficult to approach. Also, her ideologies (her being born into a fourth generation of Fire Nation propaganda) fly in direct opposition to her desires.
- Family Guy: Meg Griffin is treated horribly by her family and most of Quahog for her supposed ugliness. She is desperate for affection to the point of mental instability. One cutaway gag shows her "dating" a corpse. In another episode, Meg accepts a pity date from Brian, her family's talking dog, and becomes obsessed with him after he insults another girl in her defense and kisses her while drunk. Fans debate whether Meg is a Woobie, Broken Bird or comical Butt-Monkey.
- A later episode of The Powerpuff Girls had the Gangreen Gang become good at thieving working for Sedusa. The whole episode it comes off as her playing on the teenagers' sexual attraction to her, but a double-cross reveals the Gang was looking for more parental love.
- She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Unusually, most of the people driven by this motivation are villains.
- Catra's core problem is that she is this trope, but doesn't realise it. As a result, she keeps betraying and exploiting the people she wants affection from in pursuit of power she doesn't realise that she doesn't actually want. Alienating her last friend drives her second Villainous Breakdown, where she alternates between frantically trying to crush the heroes, and collapsing into an emotional abyss.
- Hordak, the Big Bad, is chasing the acceptance and approval of his father-figure, Horde Prime - seeking to conquer Etheria to prove to Horde Prime that he isn't defective. It's heavily implied that when Entrapta is with him, as either his girlfriend or his Only Friend depending on how you interpret their relationship, he would on some level rather stay with her than summon Horde Prime...and it's one of the things that leads Horde Prime to Mind Rape him when they do finally meet.
- Deep down, Scorpia only wants to feel accepted; she's with the Horde because she doesn't think the other princesses would accept her, and is complicit in a lot of bad stuff in the hope of getting Catra to finally notice her and return her feelings. When she's compelled to switch sides anyway in order to save her Only Friend, she's actually accepted really quickly - she tears up when Frosta thinks her pincers are the coolest thing ever.