In certain group dynamics, you will notice three characters with different mannerisms, attitudes, and personalities that are easy to identify with — a character who is nice and gentle, a character who is mean and tough, and the character who is caught in between the two other characters.
- Nice Character: This character is simply what they are — nice, polite, friendly, and helpful. They show everybody a great deal of respect and kindness, even to their worst enemies. They're the kind who never loses their temper nor resort to violence, although they do when pushed too far. Other variations would have them to be seen as naive and gullible due to seeing no reason to be justifiably angry with others and always believes there's some goodness in them, and often at times, they can appear to be too nice. They'll most definitely be the peacemaker when the mean and in-between characters get into fights, which can qualify them as The Chick or The Heart. If they're the dumb one, he'll easily be a Kindhearted Simpleton. In a trio of siblings, they'll most likely be the youngest. They can be the Token Good Teammate if they're a part of a villainous trio or if the in-between character is more mean than nice. In a Freudian Trio, they're commonly either The McCoy or The Kirk.
- Mean Character: The polar opposite of the Nice Character. Simply put, this character is rude, unfriendly, harsh, and abrasive. They're the one that the nice and the in-between character have trouble getting along with. The mean character will usually bully the nice character and will engage in fierce arguments with the in-between character. While they may turn out to be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, they will put a heavy emphasis on "Jerk", and their heart of gold will appear on a few occasions. In a trio of heroes, they'll be a gritty and violent Anti-Hero who will show no mercy to anyone who gets in their way, or at least a Good Is Not Nice hero who genuinely does good, but is nevertheless rude and rough. They may be grouchy and cynical, always seeing the worst in everything and everyone. If they're the leader, expect them to be either strict and no-nonsense or bossy and egotistical. If not, he'll be The Lancer who will be the first to criticize The Hero's leadership or decision-makings. In a trio of siblings, they'll most likely be either the middle or the eldest. If the "mean" aspect goes too far, they can be the Token Evil Teammate. In a Freudian Trio, they're commonly either The McCoy or The Spock.
- In-Between Character: This character isn't as well-mannered as the nice character as they have a few negative traits, but they aren't as abrasive and unpleasant as the mean character. They may be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold with a heavy emphasis on "Heart of Gold". If they're not a jerk, they will most likely have a Sugar-and-Ice Personality who can either be too aloof, quiet, or serious to be nice or mean. If they're indeed a Nice Guy, it won't be to a naively idealistic extreme, and not to the point of being a pushover. With the nice and mean character being respectively optimistic and pessimistic, the in-between character stands on the realistic side of things. If they're the dumb one, this means that their niceness and meanness will vary from time to time due to their stupidity. They'll commonly have a close brotherly/sisterly relationship with the nice character and will have a rivalry with the mean character. In common ways, they will be The Leader or the mentor of the group who shows respect for their comrades while keeping the two in line in one way or another, mostly the mean one. For this case, the character will most likely be The Hero. In a trio of siblings, they're most likely to be either the middle or the eldest. In a Freudian Trio, they're commonly either The Kirk or The Spock.
Darker versions of this trope can qualify. For example, if there is a trio of villains or jerks, there will be one who is nicer or more innocent than the other two and the other villain/jerk who is more villainous and meaner than the other two.
If this trope applies to three female characters, they'll typically be Town Girls too, with the nice one as the Girly Girl (unless she is an Alpha Bitch), the mean one as the Tomboy (Unless the Girly Girl is mean, then shell likely be in-between) and the in-between one as neither.
If there are 6 characters in a group, the dynamic will come in 3 pairs, meaning that there will be a nice pair, a mean pair, and an in-between pair.
Note that this group dynamic can be a unique way to establish moments of how each character acts and what defines them. This is a snippet in the Power Trio explaining the basic makeup of trios — "Trait 1, Trait-opposite-of-Trait-1, Trait-Between-the-Two."
Compare The Good, the Bad, and the Evil, a scenario in which the trio gets into conflict with each other.
- The Duck cousins, Donald Duck, Gladstone Gander and Fethry Duck from Disney Ducks Comic Universe. Scatterbrained but sincere, optimistic and friendly Fethry is always the Nice one, while Donald and Gladstone are prone to alternate portrayals. Sometimes Gladstone is the jovial but Innocently Insensitive In-Between and Donald is the selfish and prone to violence Mean, while other times Gladstone is the arrogant and disrespectful Mean and Donald is the honest, loyal yet hot-tempered In-Between. It helps that Donald's role in stories varies between heroism and outright villainy, largely depending on whether his positive or negative aspects are emphasized.
- Josie And The Pussy Cats: Melody is the ditzy but nice one, Alexandra is the mean and sarcastic one, and Josie is really nice, if not as nice as Melody.
- Justice League of America has the trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Superman is the nice, idealistic hero in contrast to the humorless, grumpy Batman, while Wonder Woman mediates between the two.
- The first three Robins have such a dynamic after Jason's return. Dick (Nightwing) is easily the most openly friendly and kind member of the Batclan even if he has a quick temper and is fiercely protective of his family's privacy and safety. Jason (Red Hood) comes back angry and violent, using murder and intimidation to achieve his goals. Tim (Robin) is more mellow than either of his brothers, he joined up to act as a peacekeeper and mender of family ties and maintains that position even after he has lost his idealistic attitude, Tim is the member of the family to try and bring Jason back into the fold after repeated attacks.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has Michelangelo (nice), Raphael (mean), and Leonardo and Donatello (in-between).
- In the Gotham City Sirens, Misanthrope Supreme Poison Ivy is the Mean, erratic but perky Harley Quinn is the Nice, and cat burglar with a conscience Catwoman is the grounded In-Between.
- Garfield: Odie (nice) is nothing but friendly and passive towards Garfield. Garfield (mean) is constantly selfish and lazy, and loves to bully both Jon and Odie. Jon (in-between) is usually a Nice Guy but is often more assertive to Garfield than Odie is.
- Charlie, Lucy and Linus from Peanuts. Charlie (nice) is a sweet, helpful kid in spite of his constant Butt-Monkey and Failure Hero status. Lucy (mean) is a bossy fussbucket who often delights in putting Charlie Brown down, though she does have a good side. Linus (in-between) is an Innocent Prodigy who always goes to Charlie Brown's support when he needs it, but he does have his moments of assertiveness.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: What Came After: Popplio, Riolu, and Alesia respectively. Alesia isn't as short-tempered or sarcastic as Riolu, but laughs along with him at Toucannon's insult at Trevenant while Popplio refrains from doing so, and when Riolu gets bitten by a Magikarp, Alesia is busy laughing her ass off while Popplio assists Riolu.
- In Ragnarok Ragna Guardian, we have 3 examples in the Guardians:
- The Brawn Triumvirate:
- Shin plays the Nice, being the most sincere and kind of the group and is very trusting.
- Reiko plays the Mean. She's made it clear she's only in it for fun and will leave, putting all of Yggdrasil at risk, if it gets to boring. She also has a terrible temper and Can't Take Criticism.
- Shiro plays the In Between. He has the unlikely combination of being kind, simple, trusting, and sarcastic to an ungodly degree. Their classes even say it clearly: Shin the magic using Clown, Reiko the BFG using Military, and Shiro the sword wielding Knight.
- The Brain Triumvirate:
- Anki would be the Nice, as stoic as he may be, he is actually the friendliest Brain to approach and is very empathetic. He is also the staff wielding Sorcerer.
- Yuki would be the Mean. She is rather merciless in battle and very antisocial. She happens to be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. Her class doesn't actuallt fit, however, as she is the BFS wielding Paladin.
- Saya is the In Between. She is a Type B Tsundere and rather cynical, despite her cheerful appearance. She, however, possesses a great sense of loyalty. She is the Ice magic wielding Indigo Mage.
- The Crafty Triumvirate:
- Mukuro is the Nice. They always treat everyone with respect and will deliberately hold back in battle unless specifically told not to. Their class doesn't exactly fit, though, as they are an axe wielding Destroyer How their triumvirate is Crafty and not Brawn is still unknown to this day, since Shin could have easily taken their place.
- Roku is the Mean. Impulsive, Hot-Blooded and impolite. He is only loyal to Shiro, his brother-figure. He is the knife and fist wielding Ninja.
- Raka is the In Between. On one hand, she is sociable, kind, and polite. On the other hand, she is a minor Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. Her class is the Ranger.
- The Brawn Triumvirate:
- In We Are All Pokémon Trainers we have:
- Ammy (Nice), Herbert (Mean), Tagg (In between)
- Sakura (Nice), Lyuri (Mean), Hikari (In between)
- Zeal is a one man example with him representing nice, Red Eyes mean, and Zach the in between.
- In Where Talent Goes To Die, the sixteen students are divided into groups of four in order to explore the school, and Kaori Miura's three companions fall into this trope. Sae Edogawa is the Nice one, as she's a kind and understanding individual who's already taken a liking to Miura. Shiro Kurogane is the Mean one, as he holds a lingering grudge against Miura for defeating him in a game of shogi. Akito Sakuragi is the In-Between one, as he doesn't particularly care for Kurogane's attitude, but isn't as active in speaking up for Miura. The "mean" and "in-between" roles switch after the first murder. Sakuragi kills Kurogane in a bid to escape without even needing a "motive." Meanwhile, Kurogane, despite his dislike of Miura, claims that he'd never seriously consider killing her.
- Wonder Girl, Robin and Superboy, known In-Universe as the "Junior Trinity", in the Teen Titans Our Own League novels. Wonder Girl is a Spoiled Sweet, compassionate, and idealistic princess (Nice). Robin is an aloof, pragmatic Control Freak with a Hidden Heart of Gold (Mean). Superboy, although very friendly and a loyal friend, can be flippant, an Attention Whore, and tends to invite disaster with his recklessness (In-Between). As Beast Boy puts it:
Beast Boy: [Points to Wonder Girl] You're fun, [points to Robin] you're no fun, [points to Superboy] and you're fun whether we want it or not.
- Seth in the Pokécity: The Barney-related characters. Vinny is an Extreme Doormat who simply goes along with Flosshead's schemes (nice). Flosshead is a complete Jerkass who has no real qualms about raising hell for fun (mean). Barney, while an abusive asshole in his own right, is usually more occupied in television and booze (in-between).
- Ask White Pearl and Steven (almost!) anything has Amethyst, Pearl and Garnet fill these roles after they learn that Steven is a Diamond:
- Since Amethyst has been Locked Out of the Loop and wasn't part of the Rebellion, she lacks the sort of history and baggage the other Crystal Gems have regarding the Diamonds. As a result, she's the most willing to judge Steven on his own merits, and is the only one to continue treating him like her adoptive younger brother figure.
- Pearl, by contrast, is utterly convinced that he's White Diamond in disguise (given how she's the only one who knows that Rose is really Pink Diamond). She also believes that White Pearl/Earl is Brainwashed, trying to spur her to turn against him and rejecting the notion that Earl legitimately cares.
- Garnet, meanwhile, is caught In-Between. While she distances herself from Steven, she also makes an effort to understand him rather than simply rejecting him outright as Pearl has, and strives to keep the peace between her and Amethyst.
- Life Fiber Hunters in Natural Selection follow this dynamic, with Ira as the nice, Nonon as the mean, and Satsuki as the in-between. Ira tends to act like an honorable knight with a strong devotion to both justice as well as Satsuki herself. Nonon is by far the most sarcastic and blunt of the three and gives no quarter when dishing out insults even at her own teammates expense (though usually always with good reason). Satsuki, while devoted to her mission of saving the world from the Life Fibers and is polite with her fellow teammates, is also incredibly stoic with a strong case of Good Is Not Nice as well.
- The Red Lotus Trio in Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail. Atticus is the Nice for being a kind and loyal corgi king, Lexi is Mean for having a hatred for passengers ("free-riders") and Chloe is the In-Between shown to be a kind and caring girl yet is known to have plenty of resentment issues.
- The Witches of Lancre from Discworld. Magrat Garlick is the sweet and naive one, albeit shy, Granny Weatherwax is the grumpy mean one, and Nanny Ogg mediates between with her friendly attitude and constantly bickers with Granny.
- Ender's Game has the three Wiggin children: Peter (mean), Valentine (nice), Ender (in-between).
- Harry Potter:
- The three leads fit this trope nicely. Harry, being a compassionate, warmhearted All-Loving Hero, is hands-down the nicest one of the group, though he is still able to stand up to meaner characters whenever he doesn't want to put up with their crap. Ron is prone to easily losing his temper and can get violently jealous, especially if anyone other than him does anything romantic with Hermione, though he does become more and more sensitive as the series goes on. Hermione, while having moments of being bossy and somewhat vain about how smart she is, is still a pretty level-headed and well-meaning person and does know when to be kind and who to be kind to if ever they need it.
- The Black sisters fit this as well. Andromeda Tonks is the nice one. She was disowned by her family for marrying a Muggleborn and her daughter become an Auror. Narcissa Malfoy is the in between. Shes a pureblood supremacist but she still cares for her family and grows to have a distaste for Voldemort himself. Shes willing to lie to him, even though it would kill him eventually, to make sure Draco survives. Bellatrix is the mean one. Shes a fanatical follower of Voldemort and kills two of her own family members for being on the good side.
- In The Princess Bride, Fezzik is a nice Gentle Giant, Vizzini is a mean Evil Genius, and Inigo is in-between as he's charming and polite but also obsessed with revenge.
- In Wings of Fire, we have the guardians of the Dragonets Of Destiny. Webs is the kindest to the dragonets and doesn't hate Glory for being a RainWing, but he's too jaded and cowardly to stop the other guardians from trying to kill her. Kestrel is the cruelest out of the three, verbally and physically abusing the dragonets, even chaining them to stalagmites if they misbehaved. Dune is the dragon in the middle, not being as friendly to the dragonets as Webs but not as abusive as Kestrel, even having occasional moments of kindness.
- The three Heffley brothers from Diary of a Wimpy Kid. All three have there jerk moments, but Greg is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, making him the nice one, while Manny borderline crosses the Moral Event Horizon at the end of Cabin Fever, making him the mean one. Rodrick is mostly a bully to Greg, but never even comes close to the Moral Event Horizon, making him the in-between one.
- The three leads of Aesir: Cross Wars. Azrael is kind, gentle and respectful, Azazel is smug, Hot-Blooded and rude, and Uriel is somewhat arrogant, but mostly keeps to herself and doesn't indulge in taunting others outside of battle, unlike Azazel.
- The three heroic male characters introduced so far in The Spectrum Game. Silas is the Nice one. He's kind, encouraging, and very much a Cultured Badass. Inigo is Mean, being snarky, abrasive, and acts snappily to most who try to get close to him (both figuratively and literally.). Makoto is the In Between. He's a nice enough person, and treats most people with respect, but his obsession with Revenge prevents him from being the nicest he can be.
- The three females fit this, too. Azurine is Nice, being warm, friendly, soft-spoken and a Perpetual Smiler and Wide-Eyed Idealist. Minori is Mean, somehow being less willing to let others in than Inigo, and being even ruder in comparison. Scarlett is In Between, being as friendly as Silas, but also being The Gadfly who loves trolling people.
- A villainous example in The Adventures of Petrushka by Margarita Fadeyeva and Anatoly Smirnov, with the three servants of Stencil. The Breath-Measurer is the Nice, as he is much less active in oppressing Stencil's subjects than his two colleagues and, unlike them, has a family that he really loves. The Word-Catcher is the Mean, delighting in every tyrannical whim of Stencil's and sadistic towards the commons. The Step-Counter is the In-Between: he is wicked enough but doesn't take bribes and isn't sadistic, and he is so stupid that, with some Insane Troll Logic, Petrushka persuades him to stop serving Stencil in all but name without the Step-Counter even realizing it.
- The Scott siblings in the Generation V series. Due to their mother experimenting with their upbringings, Prudence is a typical heartless bloodthirsty vampire, Chivalry is somewhat more sympathetic to humans and frequently falls in love with them, and Fortitude (raised as human as possible) is the most similar to and sympathetic to humans.
- Warrior Cats: For the first few books of Power Of Three, the prophesied three start out this way. Hollypaw(leaf) starts out as the nice one who is the most courageous and sociable of the three ( until when she finds out Squirrelflight isn't their biological mother). Jaypaw(feather) is the mean one due to being the most rude and sarcastic out of all the them. And Lionpaw(blaze) is the in-between due to being a bit arrogant but also friendly.
- Old Harry's Game: Initially, The Professor is the nice, a Wide-Eyed Idealist who sees the good in everybody and is almost endlessly forgiving even to the cruelest people. Thomas is the mean, a ruthless murder-rapist who doesn't care about anyone or anything but himself. Satan is the in-between, an Anti-Villain who hates humans and loves cruelty, but whose torments are usually reserved for people who it's really hard to feel sorry for and who has some lines even he won't cross (though he's a little inconsistent as to what exactly his lines are). Later series created a secondary trio of Scumspawn as the nice (he tries to be mean out of love for Satan, but he really doesn't have it in him to hurt people), Thomas as the mean (for the same reason as before, though he did Pet the Dog with increasing frequency), and Edith as the in-between (she's definitely not evil, but she's not exactly likeable or easy to get along with either)
- King Lear:
- Lear's daughters. Cordelia is the saintly, kind-hearted Nice Girl. Regan is the Blood Knight who murders and dishes out torture. Goneril is less outwardly vicious than Regan, and more of a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. It is easy to interpret Goneril as actually feeling remorse for her crimes, while Regan has no such regrets.
- The sisters' three husbands each correspond to this as well. Cordelia's the King of France is a Nice Guy who marries Cordy even when she is disinherited. Regan's the Duke of Cornwall is a sociopath who gouges Gloucester's eyes out. Goneril's the Duke of Albany turns a blind eye to any suffering for the first half of the play, before finally pulling a HeelFace Turn.
- In Spooksville: Of the main three, Adam is the nice (being a kind, friendly, and idealistic) Sally is the mean (being rather sarcastic and cynical, but still ultimately a brave and good-hearted girl, and Watch is the In-between (He's not quite as nice as or heroic as Adam but still a decent kid in general.)
- Freeze Flame:
- The Larry, Wendy, and Ludwig trio from Bowser's Koopalings follow this trope. Larry is the nice one, as he's shown to be the nicest Koopaling, doesn't tend to make fun of people (except call them a "jerkhole" when they treat him like shit), and loves to have fun, Ludwig is the mean one, as he's shown to be selfish, often looks down upon his siblings and likes to think he's better than all of them, and even makes fun of them at times (mostly towards Larry), and Wendy is in-between as she sometimes tends to mock others and call people names at times, but still has a good heart and she's also the more sane Koopaling.
- Wendy's three friends, Camilla, Lauren and Ally, also have this dynamic. Camilla is a wealthy, stuck-up Spoiled Brat who treats everyone, including her closest friends, like dirt, Ally is a very friendly person, if a bit of an airhead, while Lauren is more friendlier than Camilla, but unlike Ally her patience has a limit.
- Helluva Boss:
- I.M.P has Millie (nice), Moxxie (mean) and Blitzo (in-between) in the pilot. But in the series, it changed to Moxxie (nice), Blitzo (mean) and Millie (in-between). Though, Millie and Moxxie do swap places depending on the episode.
- Their angelic parrallers, C.H.E.R.U.B has Collin (nice), Keenie (mean) and Cletus (in-between).
- Starter Squad has Charmander, Squirtle and Bulbasaur: Charmander is Mean, being a Combat Pragmatist who often acts like a Jerkass to both Squirtle and Bulbasaur, Bulbasaur is Nice aside from the occasional psychotic moment, and Squirtle is In-Between, being nicer than Charmander but much more willing to challenge Charmander's authority than Bulbasaur.
- RWBY: Ruby's a bubbly and positive Plucky Girl, Weiss is an Academic Alpha Bitch with a tendency to think highly of herself, and Blake is more coolheaded than Weiss but more aloof than Ruby.
- Eddsworld: Edd is a down-to-earth Nice Guy, Tom is a cynical grouch and Matt is a narcissistic ditz. During his time on the show, trigger happy Token Evil Teammate Tord was also in the "Mean" category.
- In Megan Kearney's Beauty and the Beast, Beauty and her two sisters superficially comform to this trope. Virtue is sweet, domestic and motherly, Temperance is a prickly, sharp-tongued intellectual who was a Big Sister Bully to Beauty when they were little, and Beauty, whose temperament lies in-between the two, often feels inferior because she's neither as sweet as Virtue nor as clever as Temperance. All three sisters are more complex than they seem at first glance, though. Virtue's "niceness" can be unintentionally harmful, as she avoids dealing with problems and negative emotions, and encourages her younger sisters to do the same. Temperance truly loves Beauty and is ultimately the one who persuades the family to let Beauty follow her heart when she confesses her love for the Beast to them. And Beauty's balance between sweetness and pragmatism makes her, in their father's words, "the very heart of the family."
- On the Dream SMP, we have Ranboo as the mild-mannered and polite Nice Guy, Tommy as the abrasive and hot-headed Jerk with a Heart of Gold (mean), and Tubbo is the friendly yet chaotic In-Between.
- In Noob, the main guild has its male membership consist of Sparadrap, poster boy for Kindhearted Simpleton, Omega Zell who's both a jerk and a bigot and Arthéon, the guild's leader and Only Sane Man.
- Cody is the nice one for being smart, sane and calm, the mean one is downplayed with Bowser Junior since he can sometimes throw a fit when he plays with Joseph and Cody along with being cruel to Cody at times, and Joseph is in-between due to sometimes being the sanest at times and being rude to Cody by calling him weird and making fun of him with Junior.
- The Bowser Junior, Bowser and Chef Pee Pee trio follow this trope too, but this time, Junior's role is different; Junior is the nice one who likes to play with toys and annoys Bowser and Chef Pee Pee, where it's Bowser who's the mean one for yelling at Chef Pee Pee nonstop and causing additional chores for him, beating Junior up and being a trademark Jerkass, while Chef Pee Pee mediates in-between where he's smarter than Bowser and Junior and being much saner than them, but can sometimes act grumpy towards them when they annoy him, even though Bowser and Junior both start it.
- The Rosalina, Jeffy, and Mario trio follow this trope as well. Rosalina is the nice one for treating Jeffy with respect and sticking up for him if Mario abuses him in any way, Jeffy is the mean one for throwing temper tantrums and generally annoying Mario, and Mario is the in-between one for being the Straight Man who disciplines Jeffy when he misbehaves.