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.
- 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".
- 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 also wants this.
- 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 Vivio's two mommies with Nanoha. People even call the three of them "the Takamachi family".
- On a non-eros(?), 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.
- 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.
- Naruto himself 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- The main character of (500) Days of Summer has this motivation.
- All of the daughters in Eat Drink Man Woman, to various degrees.
- 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. For Gamora to be a true sibling to her.
Nebula: You were the one who wanted to win, and I JUST WANTED A SISTER!!
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- Game of Thrones: Jack Gleeson mentions in Inside HBO's Game of Thrones that deep down, Joffrey wants his father's acknowledgment and the peoples' love. But obviously, between his wanton sadism, entitlement issues, his mother's rearing, his 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 Catch-Phrase. "I just want to be loved. Is that so wrong?"
- Phoebe of Charmed made it her personal mission to find love during the last few seasons. In the end, she got a Cupid. Yay?
- 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 characterisation 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.
- The Collector in LittleBigPlanet, and Liquid Ocelot in the Metal Gear level pack.
- 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.
- The motivation — and a frequent line of dialogue — for the fallen hero Flambeaux in City of Heroes.
- Mandatory Touhou example: Koishi Komeiji, the extra 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 closing her evil-eye. When you fight her, her spellcards are all themed with Freudian psychology, including one that looks phallic.
- The Pokémon Mimikyu wears a Pikachu disguise in hopes that people will love it the same way that they love the series mascot.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Despite her talk, cruelty, and narcissism, Azula is a young girl who wanted to be loved by her mother and trust in 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 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.