Knight: And Hero?
Maou: The bed, of course.
Knight: That's not even remotely fair!
In polygamous cultures, it's common to see one spouse (usually a wife) emerge as the leader and/or "favorite" of all of the other spouses. In some societies, this status was automatically bestowed upon the first spouse. In others, it's bestowed upon the spouse which conceives the first heir. And in others, it's determined by who yields the most influence or holds the most sway over the shared spouse.
If there's dissension amongst the harem, however, the spouses will fight over who gets to be the one at the top. This is usually because the top spouse enjoys privileges, authority, or prestige that is denied to their "sibling" spouses. In softer examples, the top spouse may be the one who occupies their lover's bed the most, or the only one who does so at all. In extreme cases, they may be able to boss the others around or even kick them out of the harem altogether.
Another common variation is the "Legal Wife", where only one lover is considered the true "spouse", while the rest are concubines or mistresses. This variation can be common with the Ruling Couple, and can also open the possibility of each individually having their own separate harems. This version most often comes about to avoid a Succession Crisis, since usually only the legal spouse's child can claim the inheritance.
In the Harem Genre, this trope is an evolution of the Supporting Harem, though rarely done because it hinges on marrying all of them being discussed or agreed to as an acceptable outcome. But within the industry, No Romantic Resolution or a single Official Couple are still the most common and favored outcomes. As the genre continues to evolve, however, that is slowly changing.
See Balanced Harem, where this is often avoided to keep the love interest more or less "equal".
- Campione!: Erica sees it as a Foregone Conclusion that she and Godou are destined to be together, and early on tells him that she doesn't mind him having one mistress and only one. Unfortunately for her, Godou turns out to be a Chick Magnet. Further, as his harem grows and the girls compete over who will become Godou's "legal wife" (especially since Godou has never stated he intends to romance all of them—or, in fact, any of them), Erica begins to lose some of her confidence and questions if a harem is a good idea. She does feel better about it again, later.
- High School DXD: Rias Gremory is generally acknowledged to be Issei's immutable favorite, but this doesn't stop the other girls from trying to usurp the position. The most heated rivalry is between Rias and Akeno (who calls herself "Number 3"), since Akeno prefers to see herself as The Mistress. She delights in undermining Rias' authority and in claiming small victories over her (such as being the first girl to bear Issei's child). However, Asia (the Number 2) refuses to lose to either of them and tries to make up for what she lacks in sex appeal with cuteness.
- An extremely clear-cut example is Rias's mother Venelana, to the point the rest of her husband's harem isn't even seen. While nobody questions she earned her was to the top (you don't get a title like Brunette Madame of Extinction for nothing), it's heavily implied any and all dispute stopped when she was the only one to bear his children, since Pure Devils have a fertility problem.
- Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere: Horizon is undoubtedly the love of Tori's life and the one who should become his official wife. Later in the light novels, the option of letting Asama and Nate join in as Tori's concubines/mistresses begins to be explored... at Horizon's insistence.
- In Another World with My Smartphone: Invoked trope by Yumina, the first girl to propose to Touya. When she learns that the other girls in their group love Touya, she's happy about it and deliberately makes arrangements for all of them to become brides. When Touya does indeed Marry Them All later, Yumina become the chairman of the "Bride Conference". Furthermore, Yumina becomes absolutely livid when another girl steals Touya's Sacred First Kiss, shouting "Even I haven't done that!", and all of the girls still compete for Touya's immediate attention in more light-hearted fashion. Further, Yumina later tells Touya that she doesn't care if he has a handful or dozens of concubines—but he had better take care of and love all of them.
- Kanokon: The end of the series establishes Chizuru as the Official Couple and girl that will marry Kouta. The Stinger, however, has Nozomu return and state that she'll settle for being The Mistress and Chizuru agrees to it.
- Maoyuu Maou Yuusha: Demon Queen and Knight quickly become friends despite their mutual feelings for Hero. During one conversation with him, Knight accidentally says that they need to settle who's the wife and the mistress. On other occasions, when a situation makes it impossible or improbable for the girls to have him exclusively, they begin to bicker over who takes priority.
- Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans: Amida Arca is Naze Turbine's first, closest and most favorite wife, who also serves as his right-hand woman for the Turbines, which is entirely composed of women who are taken in by Naze and registered as his wives. Amida is also a talented pilot which also makes her the commander of the Turbines' mobile suit unit. Thus she is also considered a de facto Mama Bear figure for the Turbines, and by extension Tekkadan.
- Overlord (2012): Albedo and Shalltear are competing over who will become Momonga/Ainz's "legal wife" since it's only natural for an Evil Overlord to have multiple wives.
- Re:Zero: The woman Subaru loves first and foremost is Emilia. Later in the series, he develops romantic feelings for the maid Rem while retaining his love for Emilia. Subaru then admits equally loving both girls and intends to marry both of them if Emilia gives him permission. However, the story continues to position Emilia as the only main female heroine and Subaru's One True Love. Also, Rem spends a chunk of the series in a coma and her romantic involvement with Subaru gets seriously downplayed as a result.
- Sekirei: When Tsukiumi gets "winged" as Minato's Sekirei, she tries to save face and declares herself to be his wife before finding out that she's, in fact, his fourth Sekirei (in order of acquisition). Musubi and Kusano take offense to this, and declare that they're also Minato's wivesnote , and when Tsukiumi then insists that she's the true wife, they insist they are as well.
Tsukiumi: Do you know what "true wife" means?!
Musubi: "No I don't!
- Strike the Blood: In the OVA, La Folia is the first girl to propose to Kojou and claims to have no issues at all with Kojou's relationships with other women. However, when the subject of polygamy is raised, she brazenly offers Yukina the position of "second wife". In reality, Yukina is without a doubt at the top of the food chain to the point that the audience could assume a First Girl Wins ending was imminent, if we didn't have prior knowledge that Kojou hooks up with multiple women in the future.
- Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle: Once all the principal love interests are established, the women reluctantly resign themselves to the fact that they must share Lux between each other. That doesn't mean they don't want to be his favorite, or seek to gain some sort of advantage/claim over the other (such as Lux being their fiance, knight, master, etc.).
- World Break: Aria of Curse for a Holy Swordsman:
- A very odd variation occurs between Ranjou and Elena, who both want the special status of "little sister" to Moroha. The title may not matter much to the rest of the harem, but between the two of them, it's Serious Business.
- Another variation occurs with Maya, who (as Moroha's roommate) granted herself the title of his "body pillow". She's very protective of that status and is upset if Moroha sleeps beside anyone but her.
- Angela considers Sir Edward to be her top love, but admits that Moroha is easily her "Number 2".
- In the Yuri Genre manga Yurika's Campus Life, the title heroine is a notorious womanizer, but her childhood friend and roommate Saori is known far and wide as her "legal wife" for being the closest to her (even though Yurika herself is oblivious to her feelings and in denial of her own sexuality).
- Requiem Vampire Knight: Dracula is married to Elizabeth Bathory and has a huge harem of concubines. While his harem is composed of lamias, Bathory is a vampire just like him and rules by his side as his queen.
- X-Treme X-Men: The alien overlord Khan has an harem of concubines from all the worlds he had conquered and when he sets his sights on Earth, he falls in love with Storm so much that he intends to make her his queen. Though Storm seemingly goes along with this (she is actually trying to undermine Khan's invasion from within), his other brides don't take kindly to this - since Khan shared them equally without playing favorites - and try to assassinate her.
- Code Geass: The Prepared Rebellion: Britannian noblemen (as well as male commoners with enough money and/or status) are allowed to take multiple wives, although only a few actually exercise this privilege. This is because two stipulations: one; for one to qualify as a wife one needs to be a Britannian (C.C. actually acknowledges that this law makes sense on a political and national security level) and two, is that Top Wife privileges do exist and said Top Wife has a sort of veto power over who becomes a wife and who is a mistress. And only a foolish man or the Britannian Emperor would dare ignore her.
- In the Judge Dee Fan Sequel series, the first wife becomes a character in her own right, aiding him in his investigations whether she wants to or not and ruling over the judge's household with varying degrees of success (the judge's unconventional methods and lack of political ambitions leaving little room for social mobility). While she's intelligent and determined to make their Arranged Marriage work, a lot of drama comes from the fact that she never had any children, so the other wives have slightly more weight in discussions than would be permitted otherwise. Dee, however, never sees it as a sticking point, and even tells her that she'd be his only wife if they lived in a monogamous society.
- In the 1955 Epic Movie Land of the Pharaohs, which revolves around the building of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Joan Collins stars as the second wife of the Pharoah, who schemes to become top wife in the expectation of being in a position of power after he dies. In the end, her treachery uncovered, she is awarded the "honor" of being interred alive in her husband's tomb.
- "Manos" The Hands of Fate: The Master has many wives- the oldest refers to herself as "the First Wife" and seems to be in charge, although she worries that the Master is getting tired of her.
- Van Helsing: According to her actress, Verona is the oldest of Dracula's brides and is the most dominant one of three as shown when she demands to have the first bite on Anna Valerious, the younger bride Aleera snarls but ultimately backs off.
- In Raise the Red Lantern the protagonist is just the newest concubine, aka the Fourth Mistress. The First Mistress, who is past her child-bearing years, is implied to be the lawful consort, who rules the house in the husband's absence and in responsible for the other mistresses.
- The Belgariad: This trope is in effect in the Murgo royal court. Urgit's mother doesn't mind at all that Silk killed Taur Urgas' eldest son, because he was the son of the "first wife" (who used to boast that she would have her son order the execution of all the lesser wives as soon as he took the throne). Later in the Malloreon, when the marriage arrangements between Urgit and Prala are being arranged, one line in the contract states that Prala will have the permanent rank of most favored wife.
- In Dune, noblemen of the Empire can have one official wife and any number of concubines. It's a plot point that Jessica, though the love of Duke Leto's life and the mother of his heir, is for political reasons only a concubine and not a full wife. In turn, and again for political reasons, their son Paul takes the Emperor's daughter as his wife and the woman he really loves, Chani, as his concubine. The novel ends with Jessica commenting to Chani:
Jessica: Think on it, Chani: the princess will have the name, yet she'll live as less than a concubine—never to know a moment of tenderness from the man to whom she's bound. While we, Chani, we who carry the name of concubine—history will call us wives.
- The Good Earth: Played extremely realistically and dramatically as part of the protagonist's moral decline. After living for years in poverty with his devoted wife O-Lan, Wang Lung later becomes a wealthy man and uses that wealth to buy two concubines—including a former prostitute named Lotus. Lotus becomes the clear favorite to the point that Lung takes two pearls he knew O-Lan loved and fashions them into earrings for Lotus. It's only on O-Lan's deathbed that he gives her attention again.
- Heralds of Valdemar: Among the Holderkin, men take several wives, but the first one rules over the other wives. Talia, the protagonist of the first trilogy is a Holderkin girl whose mother is dead. Right before she get Chosen, her father's other wives are shown telling her she'll need to get married soon and to choose if she'd rather be a first wife or a secondary wife, listing the pros and cons of each option.
- The patriarchal planet Grayson of the Honor Harrington series practices polygamy in part due to the wide disparity between women to men and because the planet is a Death World that can cause issues with births frequently. The Top Wife position is usually a simple matter of seniority between the wives, though Honor causes an unusual wrinkle when she marries a man who is already married. Graysons have no problem with the marriage itself. The wrinkle comes from that Honor is the junior wife while also holding a high ranked leadership position not normally held by women and a national hero on top of that.
- Judge Dee has three wives, the first of whom (aptly named "the First Lady" by the books) is the daughter of his father's Best Friend and generally runs the Judge's household. The other two view her as their superior, even though Dee himself does his best not to play favorites.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Aegon the Conqueror married both his sisters, Rhaenys and Visenya. However, he favored the former over the latter. Of course, both of them competed for Aegon's affection. You'd think Visenya might come out ahead after Rhaenys died, but no. After her death, Aegon became sad and withdrawn and his relationship with Visenya deteriorated as well.
- In Ironborn costume, men can have as many "salt-wives" (women captured in their raids to serve as concubines) as they want, but they are allowed to keep only one "rock wife" (a female Ironborn native). Salt-wives have lower status in Ironborn society, while rock wives are considered an ironborn's true spouse, whose children are supposed to be their legitimate heirs.
- In The Bible, Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel, and two handmaids/concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah. The latter two are automatically lower than the others, and while Leah and Rachel seem to be officially equal, Rachel was Jacob's clear favorite. (Indeed, she was the only one Jacob really wanted to marry—he was tricked into marrying Leah.)
- King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, but one, known only as Pharaoh's Daughter, seems to have stood out above the others as his favorite. Unfortunately, she's also one of the ones who led him into building pagan temples and thus offending God.
- Catherine: Pictured is the "True Chaos Ending", in which Vincent decides to marry the succubus Catherine and travel with her back to the underworld. In The Stinger, we see that Vincent has conquered the entire underworld, with Catherine as his queen and several succubi as his concubines. Catherine is the only one who shares his throne.
- Fallout 3: Within the Republic of Dave, the player finds that President Dave has two wives—his original one, and another he picked up from wandering the wasteland. While Dave never indicates that he has a favorite, it's clear that the original wife isn't happy with the arrangement and that the second wife not only thinks she's the favorite, but that she should be Dave's only spouse.
- Fire Emblem Fates: It's plot point that King Garon had many concubines due to having taken the Marry Them All route, but also a legitimate wife. The first one, Katerina, was adored by the concubines. She died and got replaced by Arete, who was viewed as a Replacement Scrappy and greatly disliked.
- American Dad!: The 2-part episode "Stan of Arabia" has Stan defect from the USA and convert to Islam, whereupon he takes a second wife for himself whom he nicknames "Thundercat." Thundercat makes it very clear that she plans to usurp Francine's position as "#1 wife", and does as much as she can to butter up Stan while undermining Francine. At one point, Stan starts a "point system" to needle Francine.
- The pharaohs of Ancient Egypt typically had a Great Royal Wife, who held the highest status of all the wives.
- Some contemporary African polygynous societies have what's known as a "Great Wife".
- Inca men of enough status could marry multiple wives. If they did, one woman served as the principal wife while any and all others were considered secondary.
- Börte was the first and senior wife of Genghis Khan. During his campaigns, she served as "Grand Empress" and de-facto ruler of Mongolia, while the other wives typically accompanied him. Her four sons were also the only candidates considered for succeeding Genghis as Khan.
- In Japanese culture, only monogamy was technically allowed and thus the term "Legal Wife" became common. Most wealthy or powerful men had more than one concubine or mistress, though, who were secondary wives in all but name.
- The Ottoman Empire under Suleyman the Magnificent had established the official title of haseki sultan (which means "chief consort" or "single favorite") in honor of his favorite harem girl Roxelana. It fell out of use after the 17th century when the ladies now where referred to as "hatun" or "kadin" (roughly "lady") instead.
- Timur the Lame had 18 wives and 24 concubines, but his chief consort was Saray Mulk Khanum, a Mongol princess and direct descendant of Genghis Khan. While she didn't have any children with him (at least not any that survived into adulthood), she was his first and most important wife, since she gave legitimacy to him as a Khan.