To get into the Valentine’s spirit, we’re reflecting on some of the best love stories in pop culture over the past 20 years. These romantic pair-ups may give you inspiration on what you and your equally nerdy partner and/or friends could be watching on a holiday otherwise flooded with rom-coms and roses.
2000: Jean & Scott, X-Men
Say what you will about the subsequent films, but X-Men did a fabulous job at introducing us to an already established team in which any character could star as the protagonist. Including – you guessed it – Jean Grey and Scott Summers! They might have had their struggles (we’re looking at you, Logan), but those were always outweighed by their strong connection.
2001: Willow & Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Seasons 5-6)
After Willow gives up on chasing after Oz, she reinvents herself and is won over by the endlessly wonderful Tara. These two have a far less turbulent relationship than the main romantic subplots between Buffy and Angel (and later, Spike), consistently supporting and nurturing each other.
2002: Galadriel & Gimli, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The courtship between Galadriel and Gimli in The Lord of the Rings may be tame by our standards, but immersed in the fantasy world of Middle-earth where the medieval rules of romance apply, it is SAUCY. Gimli’s love for Galadriel represents a union between two races (Dwarves and Elves) divided by prejudice against each other. While this union is on-screen in The Fellowship of the Ring, its effects are evident in The Two Towers when the races work together. You can see Galadriel in everything Gimli does (which is adorable).
2003: Ron & Hermoine, Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix (Book)
Yes, we know! J.K. Rowling famously regrets putting Ron and Hermione together, preferring Hermione and Harry. We’re sorry, J.K., but you can’t change canon. Though we see Ron and Hermione really bloom in the next book, The Deathly Hallows, this one is where their romance truly sprouts. The stolen cheek-kisses, the blushing, the crushing and the questioning – it’s the cutest part of any romance, which is presumably why J.K. Rowling slow-burns it through this whole novel. We can’t get enough!
2004: Peter Parker & Mary Jane, Spider-Man 2
After their honeymoon period in the first film, Peter Parker and Mary Jane are in dire straits in Spider-Man 2. Where the first film was the awkward phase, this is the heartbreaking one. The slow-burn continues after Mary Jane is engaged to another man, kidnapped by Dr. Octopus, saved by Peter, learns Spider-Man’s true identity and struggles with the idea that being a superhero’s romantic interest is dangerous… before choosing him anyway at the end of the movie.
2005: Jim & Pam, The Office (Season 1)
The Office favourites Jim and Pam grow as characters and as a couple over the more than eight years of the show’s run, but unfortunately, we can’t make them the number one love story eight times in one article. Out of all the slow-burns so far, these guys are definitely the most painful. Pam has been engaged for three years by the first episode, all of which Jim has spent unrequitedly loving her from his desk. The two have an achingly close friendship pranking co-worker Dwight, but the heartstrings tug the hardest when Pam falls asleep on Jim’s shoulder in episode two.
2006: Dr Brennan & Booth, BONES (Season 1)
Where the partners-in-crime dynamic flourishes between Dr. Brennan and Booth in Bones, it’s uniqueness stems from the flipped male/female romantic stereotype of the woman acting as the emotional saviour of the damaged or detached man. Instead, we see Dr. Brennan as the emotionally challenged but hyper-intelligent character overcoming her issues with the help of her symbiotic professional relationship with Booth. And on top of it all, the two manage a charged romantic tension and a smart comedy duo.
2007: Vanessa and Barry B. Benson, The Bee Movie
Okay, this is a weird one, but if you’re going to dump your partner for a bee you better be DEEPLY in love. So, let’s give Vanessa and Barry the benefit of the doubt. The romance in The Bee Movie between co-protagonists Barry B. Benson and Vanessa the florist starts as a partners-in-crime situation, when Barry introduces her to the perspective that humans are exploiting bees for their honey. Between a few dates and “You Like Jazz?”, the two resolve to help each other change the world.
2008: Aang & Katara, Avatar: The Last Airbender (Season 3)
Let’s be honest, Aang and Katara’s ‘relationship’ in the first two seasons was the equivalent of crushing on your babysitter. But once you’ve spent two seasons running from the Fire Nation as the last Airbender and last Waterbender in the world, you develop some emotional maturity that breaks down the boundaries of a few years’ age difference. Yes, we see how these two become an adorable old couple in The Legend of Korra – but as we’ve established, the beginning is the cutest part.
2009: Percy & Annabeth, Percy Jackson & The Last Olympian
Percy and Annabeth were an on-and-off ship throughout the Percy Jackson series up until the last instalment, The Last Olympian. ‘Sighted’ mortal Rachel Elizabeth Dare may have distracted the young hero’s heart, but in this last book, Percy and Annabeth finally not-quite-but-close-enough-confess their feelings for each other. Constant reminders of their stolen kiss in The Battle of the Labyrinth plague Percy’s mind all the way up until the moment where they kiss again – happily, in safety, and sure that it means more than just the heat of the moment.
2010: Scott Pilgrim & Ramona Flowers, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Throughout Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, titular character Scott Pilgrim is wrestling with breaking up with his current high-school girlfriend, Knives, to be with the cooler and more colourful Ramona Flowers. Scott discovers Ramona’s dark history with exploitative and unhealthy relationships, but as the issue is in Ramona’s standing in the shadows of romances, Scott can’t be the one to save her. Ramona cuts ties with her latest evil ex (Gideon) in order to stop the cycle, Scott and Knives make up and agree to be friends, and Scott and Ramona walk into the distance in peace.
2011: Steve & Peggy, Captain America: The First Avenger
The beginnings of Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter’s friendship in the Great War form in her finding a kindred spirit in Steve, who – as a failed army volunteer – has been battered down but remains resilient, just as she has in being a female officer. As they grow together while Steve is enlisted in the super-soldier program, Peggy’s witty comments and cheeky jabs at him don’t ease up, but rather become associated more with flirtation than comradery. But just as they start to get together, Steve takes on a dangerous mission that heartbreakingly separates them for 70 years.
2012: Gray & Juvia, Fairy Tail (Volumes 17-35)
Gray and Juvia’s relationship in the Fairy Tail manga has an established unrequited love dynamic played for laughs, subverted in pivotal moments. Nowhere is this more evident than in the tournament arc. While luxuriating in the city together, Juvia overwhelms Gray with affection, which he has no emotional capacity for and feels he must reject to preserve his brand as the angsty teen in the back of class. But when they’re paired against a team from a rival school their teamwork is astounding – using prepared combo moves and saving each other’s butts from attacks.
2013: R & Julie, Warm Bodies
Warm Bodies took a lot of us by surprise with its impressive genre-mashing, bringing post-apocalyptic zombie horror movies and romantic comedies together. The traditional antagonist of a zombie movie – the zombie – is now one of two protagonists using love to break down the prejudice against the undead. Empire claims this movie “manages to make the apocalypse seem charming,” saying, “’Warm’ is the right word”.
2014: Magnus Bane & Everyone in The Bane Chronicles (Book)
Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters series features many love triangles and angsty teen romances, but by far the cutest is that of Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane. For the immortal warlock, Magnus, love is not new; The Bane Chronicles documents moments of love throughout his life with men, women, Shadowhunters, Downworlders and mere mortals. All are equally adorable except for Alec, who rises above them all.
2015: Amanita & Nomi, Sense8 (Season 1)
As an already-established couple at the beginning of Sense8, Nomi and Amanita subvert most romantic subplot tropes including the slow-burn. They own and value their identities. They communicate effectively as a couple and generally look like a healthy, real-life relationship – except for Nomi’s sensate status. Being hunted all over the world for your supernatural powers is bound to get in the way of a few Valentine’s dates.
2016: Clarke & Lexa, The 100 (Season 3)
Stranded on a radiated Earth, The 100 protagonist Clarke encounters Grounder Lexa, leader of the Coalition, in a diplomatic meeting between groups. After convincing each other they mean no harm, a professional relationship turns romantic – which is problematic for Grounder politics. Clarke’s “Sky People” turn violent against the Grounders, who turn to Lexa in anger for allying with Skaikru. The relationship is constantly rocky but also extremely determined and devoted.
2017: Steven & Connie, Steven Universe (Seasons 4-5)
Okay, we’re going to admit it: Ruby and Sapphire are the cutest couple in Steven Universe. But in 2017, Connie and Steven took centre-stage with episodes such as The New Crystal Gems, Doug Out, Dewey Wins, Gemcation and Kevin Party. Connie has already begun to demonstrate her prowess in combat, but here she struggles with her actual talent and how Steven perceives her (namely, as someone who needs to be rescued), which adds some much-needed tension into their relationship. Also, no, the show creators have never confirmed them to be a thing. But they ARE, okay?
2018: Amy, Rory & The Doctor, Doctor Who (Season 11)
Perhaps one of the weirdest love triangle dynamics is in Season 11 of Doctor Who, between Amy, Rory and the Doctor. Keep in mind this isn’t a perfect love triangle, as Rory and Amy are the only two in a confirmed romantic relationship – but Amy and the Doctor have a close bond that at first intimidates Rory, before he accepts it and is later enveloped into it as well. While each character is played for laughs for their own reasons (The Doctor’s eccentricity, Amy’s impulsiveness and Rory’s fear), these characteristics aid them in their journey and ever-changing relationship dynamic.
2019: Eleven & Mike, Stranger Things (Season 3)
Mike and Eleven’s first season slow-burn is adorable, yes, and their second season apart is full of heartache. But season three of Stranger Things brings a surprisingly effective element to the mix: cringe. During their awkward phone calls and meaningless breakup, the audience is left at once baffled by their decisions and recoiling at memories of their tween selves. Looking past the Russian experiments in another dimension, this was the most accurate depiction of romance at their age all decade. That’s why we love it.