A non-Soap Opera narrative with special interest in the relationships of the characters rather than their heroic exploits. This trope can apply to any work of fiction: a Vampire Detective Series, a Humongous Mecha Anime, a historical thriller, or what-have-you. Movies and television which invent all-new superheroes quite often take this route (either that or they go the "realistic" route, without costumes). Usually it has a "softer" feel and much more screen time devoted to getting to know the characters and their individual strengths and foibles and on their "civilian" activities. Relationships change and develop over time, and much of the show's driving force comes not from plot but
Melodrama simple interactions.
It's not uncommon for such series to "take a break" from the normal heroics to have an episode of pure characterization (Comic Book fans have long nicknamed these "baseball issues", which inspired a trope name) or to eschew the heroics/doctoring/detecting entirely in favor of other soap opera staples like the Soap Wheel and Four Lines, All Waiting. In the case of superheroes, part of the drama will derive from separating hero and civilian identities with romantic complications. Anime beach episodes, when not entirely devoted to Fanservice, can be a form of this trope.
- This is something often mentioned about Neon Genesis Evangelion - that it was unusual for a mecha series to be so focused on characters and interpersonal relationships. Maybe it's part of a broader trend?
- Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne is definitely more about the relationship between Madoka, Lan and Muginami than about outright mecha action.
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED; to the point where it was practically formulaic to have one episode with action followed by an episode with nothing but soap.
- Code Geass. In there with all that mecha fighting and political intrigue and overacting, they manage to squeeze in all sorts of high school drama and comedy, leading to sometimes-incredible Mood Whiplash.
- Gunslinger Girl focusses on the interaction between each cyborg girl and The Handler they've been assigned, rather than the anti-terrorist missions that are their reason for being.
- The Love Triangle plots that are a staple of the Macross franchise.
- Captain America tends to get all angsty about young sidekicks (particularly regarding Rick Jones) because Bucky "died" (Winter Soldier is a long story for another time) while his sidekick. This also explains his early animosity towards the Young Avengers. Similarly, Cap's own comic book made commentary on '40s vs. "modern" (whatever time period we're in) American values.
- The X-Men are perhaps the most dramatic case of this in comics, with the X-Men and their related characters carrying on absurdly complex and thoroughly incestuous relationships (usually figuratively, sometimes borderline literally) with one another, some platonic, some romantic, and some somewhere in-between. If you come up with two random X-Men, odds are good that they shared a bed or a relative - and if they didn't, one probably shared a bed with the other's relative.
- Watchmen, although the theme seemed to be "costumed adventurers" didn't have any life outside of fighting crime.
- Green Lanterns devotes one issue to Simon telling his mom he's a superhero, and another to detailing Jessica's everyday struggle with anxiety.
- Preacher had long stretches where the story took a break from the overall Rage Against the Heavens plot to focus on the relationships between the three main characters. This is most evident in the arcs later collected in Dixie Fried and All Hell's a-Comin'.
- Marvel Adventures: Avengers turned away from saving-the-world plots to focus more on filling up lazy afternoons with activities like showing up at a country fair, chasing down spammers, dating, and pestering each other. Maybe not melodrama so much as passing the time.
- Plenty of Astro City stories are more character studies than they are superhero epics.
- She-Hulk (2022) is all about this, as Jennifer has quit the Avengers and superheroing in general after a Trauma Conga Line of events that have left her feeling burned out. The book focuses on her attempts to go back into practicing law and having a civilian life hanging out with her gal friends and doing ordinary activities like watching movies on the couch and getting together to eat cake.
- Ultimate Spider-Man has several issues that are just focused on Peter's personal life, with little to no costumed crimefighting whatsoever. A few examples are the issue where he tells Mary Jane his secret identity, and another issue that focuses solely on Aunt May talking to her therapist about Peter's odd behavior since Uncle Ben's death.
- Child of the Storm zig-zags the trope. On the one hand, it's heavily character-driven, with the Avengers and their various associates being cast as a dysfunctional family, and the effects of the plot on the characters being emphasised, and a persistent criticism of the first 30 chapters of the first book is that they're very short on actual action. On the other hand, the grander plot starts picking up speed from chapter 40, with the vast majority of major events (and many minor ones) being revealed as part of a grand chess game being played by Doctor Strange, taking on more characteristics of a superhero epic, while the story (and its author) disdain a number of classic soap opera tropes (particularly of the wacky misunderstanding variety) as ridiculous.
- The Pokémon fanfic Olivine Romance. The usual Pokémon and Pokémon battles are relegated to subplot status while the human's drama and romances take center stage.
- In Cardcaptor Rad, there's just as much, if not more, focus on character interaction than action.
- Parodied in The Specials. There is no actual super-combat or rescuing on screen at all.
- The Scream series is notable for this in the slasher genre, with a heavy focus on the characters, their relationships, and their backstories. The first film actually saw Executive Meddling to add a death to the middle of the film, as outside the two opening kills, there were no deaths for the first hour in the original script.
- Wild Cards, in places, took a break from the superhero action to have entire stories devoted to the relationships between the characters. One of the best-liked novels, Ace in the Hole, was partially political intrigue and partially about the failed reconciliation of the surviving members of the Four Aces.
- The third and fourth series of Warrior Cats have been described this way by fans, since there's really no antagonist and no overarching conflict until the later part of the fourth series.
- In interviews before the show's premiere, Joss Whedon said the spin-off Angel would be a "case of the week"-type show, and not a soap opera like Buffy. It ended up becoming a bigger soap opera, with multiple love triangles, Shot Reverse Shots of people standing around in rooms and rehashing old plot points, Angel's son going from a baby to teenager and sleeping with Cordelia, etc.
Fred: Who's Darla?
Gunn: Angel's old flame from way back.
Fred Not the one who died?
Gunn: Yeah. —No, not that one, the other one that died and came back to life. She's a vampire.
Fred: (confused) Do y'all have a chart or somethin'?
Gunn: In the files, I'll get it for you later.
- Lampshaded by Cordy herself: "Tell me we're not living in a soap opera."
- Lampshaded by Gunn as well in "Players": "Listen, I spent most of this year trapped in what I can only describe as a turgid supernatural soap-opera."
- Battlestar Galactica: Half of its plots revolve around interpersonal relationships, though they went overboard with it in the latter half of season two and third quarter of season three. They pulled a few superb conclusions to those seasons to make up for the dip in form luckily enough, and the show was at its best mixing genres and usually had the balance right.
- Its prequel/spin-off series, Caprica, shifts even further in the direction of soap opera / family-based drama, while retaining a penchant for larger dramatic themes. The result is a very different show.
- While The Tick (2001) was more of a sitcom-type than a soap-type, it rarely showed the superheroes fighting, instead throwing them in plots like "meeting new heroes in an abusive relationship" or "suing the magazine that displayed naked pictures of Captain Liberty".
- 24. Whenever there's a couple real-time minutes to fill between Jack's latest action scene or torture technique? You can bet someone in either CTU in the White House be interrupting all their important business to talk about a coworker's feelings.
- Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman caught a lot of flack in its day for being more like "Moonlighting with superheroes" than other Superman shows, which were traditionally more action-oriented.
- Smallville has always focused on interpersonal drama to a bit higher degree than, say, Superman: The Animated Series. In later seasons, the story-to-angst balance was tipped far towards angst, even after Lana was Put on a Bus.
- Harper's Island uses this as a sort of Padding. Remember, your average slasher film is only about 90 minutes long; this one has some 13 hours to fill!
- Harper's Island producer Jill Blotevogel would later become showrunner for MTV's Scream: The TV Series, which got criticized for employing the same trope.
- The Office (US) had this especially during Season 4 and early Season 5 what with the drama over Jim and Pam and the Dwight-Angela-Andy Love Triangle. Season 9 also leaned heavily in this direction, with the Halpert marriage becoming rocky, Angela becoming The Beard for a gay politician, Dwight suspecting he's the father of Angela's child, and Andy deciding to break into show business.
- Baywatch often did this, in order to provide for some variety other than heroic Rescues, Fanservice and Montages.
- London's Burning was always very character-driven, with much emphasis on the personal lives of the men and woman of Blue Watch and their spouses and children. Indeed, the pilot movie was written by Jack Rosenthal, a former staff writer for Coronation Street. Unfortunately, the last few seasons started spending so much time on this aspect that Blue Watch spent more screentime dealing with the mess their job made of their love lives than actually doing said jobs, and the show suffered for it.
- Doctor Who's revival is much soapier than the classic series, probably thanks to its initial showrunner being a soap writer. The Doctor now had romances with several companions, most notably Rose, there was lots of drama with companions' families, and characters spent a lot of time angsting over the Doctor's role in the universe. Series 1 was probably the soapiest of the revival, with the action quotient increasing as the show went on, especially after Steven Moffat took over as showrunner, but the soap influences never really went away.
- There was an odd short-lived trend in The '70s of newspapers introducing daily or weekly serialized fiction, usually set in the city served by the paper, often called soap operas in print, mainly to appeal to young female readers (they often centered around a Naďve Everygirl). Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, in The San Francisco Chronicle, was the most successful, eventually spinning off into a book series. Across the Golden Gate, Cyra McFadden's The Serial (in the Pacific Sun in Marin County) was turned into a Cult Classic novel (and later a movie starring Martin Mull and Christopher Lee). But the others like Bagtime (Chicago Sun-Times) and Federal Triangle (Washington Star) faded into obscurity.
- A Show Within a Show in City of Heroes is mentioned that's apparently a soap opera involving superhero characters, called The Super Days.
- Techincally, this is part game mechanic for Shin Megami Tensei Persona 3, Persona 4, and Persona 5 as the player goes through an Eastern RPG with Dating Sim elements. It's become a Cash-Cow Franchise and brought Atlus into the mainstream English videogame market.
- Super Stupor. In the words of the writer: 'It's about heroes and villains in their everyday lives. Really, that's it. '
- Everyday Heroes. Truth, Justice, and Lawn Care.
- Superego primarily focuses on the cast's problems cooperating over its slowly revealed Jigsaw Puzzle Plot.
- Homestuck, especially in act 6. The emphasis on romance (actually called "shipping" in-universe) had started much earlier, but in Act 5 the characters' romantic attractions provided impetus for the plot. By Act 6 it had consumed the storyline, and one of the very last scenes before the Gainax Ending is a tea party date between new characters with no plot relevance whatsoever.
- Interviewing Leather focuses primarily on the interview of the supervillainess rather than seeing her in action.