It is very common that when women are the main characters, they will have a boyfriend that is depicted as a complete badass or a Badass Normal. They singlehandedly fight the Monster of the Week and even rescue their action/magical girl friends when they are still learning how to use their powers/skills. They are more than capable of facing the Big Bad and his/her goons without powers.
In short, they are completely badass...Except whenever their action/magical girl friends are around. Then they somehow become very ineffective fighting against the Monster of the Week and are completely useless against the Big Bad. Sometimes, they even get demoted to Distressed Dude. Many times, they are not allowed to win a fight unless their girlfriends are somehow incapacitated. Most of the time they are somehow unable to get the same powers/abilities as their action/magical girl friends.
One potential (in-universe) explanation for this is that the boyfriend in question is a Badass Normal, while the "girlfriend" has actual magical powers, special abilities, or is a much better Badass Normal. And while the boy is no doubt skilled, he can't really compare to soul-eating monsters or the ability to shoot fire from one's hands.
Another explanation is that though the boy has powers of his own, and is more than a badass normal, he isn't the Chosen One, or lacks the local monster-killing MacGuffin, which the girl noticeably has.
When this trope is played straight, it is used to denote Girl Power. This trope appears primarily in shows intended for girls, where the spotlight is supposed to be on the female characters as the heroes.
Compare to the Worf Effect, where a badass character is taken out easily to show how tough the new villain is. The difference between a Useless Boyfriend and the Worf Effect is the setting and how frequently the badass in question is beaten down. The Worf Effect will overlap with Useless Boyfriend, but the Boyfriend is characterized by his uselessness. Though he may also serve a similar purpose, the "Worf" will be actually effective against a wide variety of enemies and will gain victories for their side, whereas the Boyfriend serves as a punching bag until his girlfriend shows up.
See Girl Power, Action Girl, Talented Princess, Regular Guy, Informed Ability, Magical Girl, Distressed Dude. Also look at Badass Decay. Contrast Faux Action Girl, which is a part of the Distaff Counterpart. The man's fear of becoming this trope is part of the driving force behind No Guy Wants an Amazon.
- In the first Sailor Moon anime, Tuxedo Mask is one of two Trope Codifiers. He was the mysterious protector of the main characters while Usagi and her team got stronger. He becomes completely useless against the first and last Big Bads, often leaving Usagi alone for the bigger battles. (In his defense, it's not like he wants to: in the first series he's gravely injured and then dies in between the fight with Beryl and the one with Metallia!Beryl, in S he's keeping Chibi-Usa alive via constantly transferring some of his own Life Energy to her comatose body after her Heart Crystal is stolen, in Super S the influence of Black Moon leave him greatly debilitated, and in Stars he was dead again.)
- Austria from Hetalia: Axis Powers was shown to be this, back when he and Hungary were still together. Prussia's comments at his loss hint that he used to be able to hold his own, but got complacent and has gone soft, or at least weaker than Prussia and his allies.
- Wonder Woman: Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman's official Love Interest for decades, was a US Air Force pilot and agent and the second Trope Codifier. But he ended up rescued by Wonder Woman as often as Lois Lane was by Superman. Eventually they wrote him out of the series, even marrying him to Wonder Woman's female sidekick, Etta Candy in Wonder Woman (1987).
- Wonder Woman (1942): Under Charles Moulton Steve got captured frequently, but also got himself out or was Captured on Purpose rather often and was far from useless given that all the heroes were captured rather frequently and if he wasn't the one in duress that issue he was helping those that were. Once Moulton left Steve's competence quickly started slipping.
- In the TV series, this is averted. While he's not bulletproof so the heavy-hitting still has to be done by the heroine, he's still a badass soldier. They don't let useless wusses be USAF fighter pilots, after all. Of course, gender roles mean that when it comes to audience perception, any given instance of needing rescue adds far more The Load points to the character than it would for a female character.
- The Wonder Woman (2017) film averts this as well. Set in WW1, Steve is introduced as a daring spy on an important mission and that mission drives much of the plot. While Wonder Woman obviously dominates every fight scene she's in, Steve remains useful in combat. He even gets a Heroic Sacrifice to complete his mission that saved thousands which convinces Diana to not give up on mankind.
- Shows up quite often in Touhou Project fan fiction, due in part to the fact that many such fanfics involve Muggle humans accidentally finding themselves in Gensokyo, a land whose chief population seems to be magic bullet-shooting Action Girls.
- According to the celebrated Sailor Moon fanfic Tuxedo Mask, the Token Male Tuxedo Mask's apparent uselessness is a tactic intended to keep Sailor Moon fantasizing about him while simultaneously forcing her to do all of the real work.
- The Discworld of A.A. Pessimal continues the canonical theme of tough women rescuing men who flounder a bit in a crisis. The canonical character of Ponder Stibbons, intellectual, Wizard and übernerd, for instance, finds himself with an Assassin girlfriend (and later, wife), who realises he needs to be protected and bodyguarded through some tricky situations, as he is not built or inclined for fighting. She, on the other hand, is. Caught in a nasty jungle war in Howondaland, protection duties are delegated to another Lady Assassin, one trained by his wife. Who, later on, gets an ineffectual boyfriend of her own to manage and do the thinking for.
- In Scream 2, Derek Feldmen is the boyfriend of Sidney Prescott, the Action Survivor and Final Girl from the original film. Though he tries to protect Sidney when a second "Ghostface" killer arises to stalk her, he consistently fails to achieve anything useful. The most prominent example comes when the second Ghostface directly attacks Sidney for the first time; Derek fails to arrive until after Sidney has escaped the costumed killer, and when Derek attempts to capture Ghostface, the killer incapacitates Derek with a simple slash across the arm and then escapes easily. Deconstructed in that Derek's ineptitude actually brings him under suspicion as being the killer (or at least working with the killer), since it's well-known in-universe at this point that the original Ghostface was Sidney's boyfriend and one of her classmates working together, with Randy Meeks, one of the original Ghostface's surviving victims, even pointing out that Derek's medical studies would give him the knowledge to be able to cut his arm without inflicting permanent damage. Eventually, Sidney herself starts suspecting that Derek might be Ghostface due to this... which leads to the tragic twist of her indirectly causing his death at the hands of the real Ghostface.
- The Servant series, by Lori Foster, has Gaby as the supernatural protagonist and Luther as her Muggle love interest. If it were a straight-up detective series, Luther would be pretty badass. Unfortunately, since he's not supernaturally empowered, he can't hold a candle to Gaby.
- In the Discworld, practically every central female character is a tough cookie and the usual expectations are reversed with a vengeance. Even a highly-functioning character like Moist von Lipwig discovers - periodically - he has to depend on a Violently Protective Girlfriend to get him out of a potential fight he has no hope of winning. Other such pairings include barbarian hairdresser Conina and her hopeless dreamer boyfriend Nijel; the Wizzard Rincewind discovers he is dependent on a succession of tough women to get him out of trouble; Queen Magrat fights not one but two wars to rescue the kingdom for her well-meaning but inept husband King Verence; Susan Sto Helit takes charge of Lobsang when Time runs out; and Discworld women, in general, realise they're going to have to do the thinking, acting, and fighting on behalf of men they get involved with. In the main, they roll their sleeves up, clench their fists (and sometimes, their teeth), and get on with it.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer's boyfriend in seasons 4-5, Riley, was a Badass Normal who was completely and utterly outclassed by Buffy. The show even deconstructs the trope, with all the Unfortunate Implications that come along with it. Riley eventually feels useless (in combat and even emotionally because Buffy refuses to really open up to or rely on him when she needs help) and weak compared to Buffy and leaves her. Later it turns out that he marries a different, and less empowered Action Girl with whom he can form a more equal Battle Couple.
- In Charmed, Cole turned into this after his HeelFace Turn, but then turned into a Muggle. His frustration with this led to him using a forbidden power source, becoming strong again, but eventually being corrupted. Then he gets better, then he gets worse again, then...
- Played straight with Mickey of Doctor Who at first, then subverted.
- In Majikoi! Love Me Seriously!, Kazama, Gakuto, and Gen are all shown to be extremely talented fighters who can take down large swarms of thugs on their own. However, whenever the Villain of the Week shows up, they all get sidelined in favor of one of the girls taking them on. This even applies to their rivals as well, as while Hideo may be able to toss around the average Mook with ease, he's completely overshadowed by his female companions and never participates in any major fights. This is regularly lampshaded, as the guys mention how humiliating it is to constantly get shown up by girls.
- Fey of the Whateley Universe has immense magical powers and has beaten The Necromancer in one-on-one duels. Her boyfriend Stalwart is an inventor, and not all of his inventions work.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Shining Armor is a captain of the guard. However, he has a weak record of being badass or doing anything on camera when the mane 6 get involved. In his defense, though, he does have some outstanding moments such as performing a spell fueled by The Power of Love alongside Cadance that kicked the changelings out of Canterlot, briefly taking on King Sombra (even though it ended up putting black crystals in his horn that temporarily prevented him from doing magic), and throwing Cadance like a javelin to catch Spike and the Crystal Heart, enabling Sombra's defeat.
- In Winx Club, the specialists from Red Fountain are depicted as completely badass warriors, due to the fact that they are training all the time to be BadassNormals. For this reason, one would logically expect them to be able to fight competently against the forces of evil. Despite this, they are usually ineffective against the Big Bads, and are very weak compared to the Winx against magical threats. However, they do manage to hold their own against mooks and can sometimes take on bigger threats like the Trix and the Wizards of the Black Circle.
- In W.I.T.C.H., Cornelia's boyfriend, Caleb, is an undeniable badass, leading the resistance forces in Miridian, running daring raids against Phobos' forces, and even saving the girls in their first encounter. Despite all of this, he is next to useless against Phobos, Cedric, or any of the Big Bads, really.
- Matt Olsen, Will's boyfriend, subverts this trope. When he finds out of Will's second life, he decides that he isn't going to let Will get hurt with him around. He takes copious amounts of Taking a Level in Badass after his successful Battle In The Centerof The Mind against his Brainwashed and Crazy self, gets himself new powers and is now on equal footing with them! Sadly, the series is canceled before we can find out if he'd end up getting shunted back into this category.
- The wielders of the Forest Stones from Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders, despite riding badass wolves and having their own magic stones, were unfortunately made all too aware of this trope. They have been kidnapped, transformed, and in short are pretty much useless.
- In Kim Possible, this is zigzagged and Discussed with Kim's best friend, Ron Stoppable, who was originally the Sidekick before his Relationship Upgrade with Kim in the second movie. As the Plucky Comic Relief, he routinely embarrassed himself and had very few serious accomplishments to boastnote , which in the Post-Script Season become a subject of some Angst for him in several episodes. Kim insists, contrary to his worries, that she loves him.
- Lampshaded and... Parodied?... with Steve Trevor, love interest of Wonder Woman in his appearance at Batman: The Brave and the Bold: In all other incarnations (animation, live-action TV) he is a fairly proactive guy, (except comics, as you can see above) in the Cold Opening of "Scorn of Star Sapphire!" he is a secret agent so confident that Wonder Woman will come to his rescue that he doesn't move a muscle to get out of a Death Trap, let her do all the work, and gushes in her presence. And this immortal line:
Steve Trevor: Have to say, being a secret agent is a cinch when you have a super-powered girlfriend.
- Which prompts Batman to wonder What Does She See in Him?