Love Sick

Content Warning: Discussing topics of obsession, stalking, abuse

You’re minding your own business, eating lunch at a local café, when you can’t help but shudder. It feels like someone is watching you… but, when you look there is no one around.

Or is there?

What is a Yandere?

Yuno Gasai watching Yuki from Future Diary
Yuno Gasai watching Yuuki – Future Diary

Yandere is a Japanese term used to describe someone who is essentially sick with love. The nuances of this can vary, with Urban Dictionary defining Yandere as “A person who will go to near-extreme to extreme lengths to be in or deepen a desired relationship, whether it be romantic, platonic, familial, etc.”, while Dictionary.com defines it more broadly as “A yandere is a character, most often female and in anime, who become violently possessive of a love interest.”.

I will admit to being amused that dictionary.com asserts that this is a trope aligned to female anime characters. Because while ‘Yandere’ is a Japanese trope, the concept of an ‘obsessive lover’ is a trope that spans over all cultures and media. It is hardly exclusive to gender or anime.

You may have heard of the Netflix series “You”, or the movie that defined a genre of evil mistresses: “Fatal Attraction”. These are just the bigger examples from a wealth of movies, TV shows, Books, Comics, and more that feature the obsessive lover trope. Or, as it is called by anime fans, the Yandere.

Fatal Attraction (Paramount Presents) Blu-ray Review
Alex standing in a doorway holding a large knife, scene from Fatal Attraction.

Why People love Yanderes

There is a lot of people who regularly shake their heads at yandere fans, and who just can not grasp the attraction. This question has been the topic of articles, posts, YouTube videos, and more.

So, why?

Why I like Yandere Characters

As a fan of yandere characters, and problematic characters on the whole, I will speak of my own experience: They’re fascinating.

The first time I knowingly encountered the trope was Yuno Gasai in Future Diary. I was completely captivated not just by her, but by the fact I found myself rooting for her despite knowing I shouldn’t. The ability of the creators to take something so problematic and then turn it into something I would support within the context of the story lit a very real fire for me. As a creator myself, I envied the ability to pull an audience in those directions.

Why Others Like Yandere Characters

In speaking to other yandere fans over time the general consensus is similar to mine. They find them fun and thrilling within the realm of fantasy, often with the added caveat that they would never condone these things in real life. A yandere fan may also find this kind of obsessive love appealing. Yanderes are often focused entirely on their “lover”, which means they will not abandon or betray you, and there is a sense of comfort in that. Even if yanderes do tend to have more violent “bad ends”.

Hello, I love you. Won't you tell me your name?” Netflix's 'You' and  unpicking the romanticisation of abuse | by Gemma Murray | Medium
Joe watching Beck from the Netflix movie: You.

The appeal is nothing new. Think Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights’, or any number of gothic romance novels that followed it. A more modern example could be the Phantom in ‘Phantom of the Opera’, or Joe from the netflix series ‘You’. You can also see this trend in super hero franchises with the rising popularity of villains and anti-heros such as Harley Quinn, Venom, and Deadpool.

Their appeal can range from the simple fact that the character is attractive, or is played by an attractive actor, to the appeal of risk within the safety of a fictional setting. Charisma, sex appeal, and mixing these with even a hint of danger is enough to lure in a lot of fans. Just think of the meme “If villain bad, why sexy?” and its many variations.

How to write a good Yandere

I don’t only want to dive deep into the trope of the obsessive lover, but also discuss how to create one. Whether as a love interest in a dark romance novel, or the villain in a horror thriller, I want to see more yandere characters! So if you’ve always wanted to write the trope, here is my advice for you:

My first Yandere character was Ray in Pinewood Island. Please skip this section if you would prefer to avoid spoilers!

Ray looking down at you on the beach, from Pinewood Island.

Ray was directly inspired by Yuno Gasai, and my very sudden fondness with the trope. I wanted to capture that feeling of ‘what if someone was obsessed with you, but you needed them’. Of course, in the end that isn’t exactly how the story played out, but when I built his character it was with the intention that he loved Delilah(the protagonist/player character), and would do literally anything for her. Including murder.

Step 1: Motivation

The first step to creating a yandere is motivation. Not only do they need a motivation for their behavior, but they also need some kind of trigger or cause for their obsessive nature. For Ray his behavior is linked to his past. His childhood was awful and he grew up with an incredibly violent father. When he managed to escape that situation he was very alone, and deeply traumatized. It’s when he is essentially at rock bottom that he bumps into Delilah, and just a few kind, but misinterpreted, words from her is enough to trigger his obsession. While that is Ray’s motivation for his obsession it’s not the only type of motivation a character like him could have.

Common motivations for obsession could stem from loneliness. This loneliness can be caused by distant parents, abusive parents, losing someone close to them, being isolated for some reason, or any number of other causes. This loneliness is often then made worse by added trauma. An example of this type of yandere would be Yoosung from Mystic Messenger, or Emma from My Deepest Secret the Webtoon. Both of these characters experienced loss and trauma, and it turned into obsessive and clingy behavior.

Vincent Pait from Dead Wishes.

Another motivation is control. There are several yandere characters who do what they do because of an extreme desire to control the person or situation. This desire can be minimal to a compulsion that effects their entire life. Perhaps they’re just a bit controlling about their lover talking to an ex, or they have to lock the object of their obsession up in a room and control every aspect of that person’s daily life. An example of this type of yandere would be Jumin Han from Mystic Messenger or Vincent Pait from Dead Wishes. Vincent, for example, believes that life needs to follow a set of rules, and takes this to an extreme. He locks the player in his apartment and enforces a very strict and highly scheduled lifestyle onto them against their will, with strong punishments for disobedience.

Yet another motivation could be that they just don’t know any better because they lacked socialization and just don’t understand their feelings, or can’t control them. This is typically because these characters often spent large portions of their life in isolation. An example of this type of yandere would be Yohan from ‘It’s Mine’ the webtoon. He spent a roughly a decade of his life alone in a room and didn’t understand how to approach the girl he was ‘programmed’ to protect in a normal way.

There are more motivations and character backgrounds out there, but defining ‘why’ a character will do what they do is an essential part of character creation. It’s good to look at established tropes to know what a reader or player may expect or assume, even if you intend to subvert those things.

Step #2: Their behavior

The obsession has started, so now what? You have the background motivation and history all set up, now you need to execute it. This means taking a look at what makes a yandere, a yandere. Their behavior.

Shot from the movie “Pet” of Seth keeping Holly in a cage.

The behavior of a yandere can be summed up be these generally accepted traits: Possessiveness (jealousy, controlling behavior), obsessive behavior (stalking, intrusive thoughts), abnormal behavior (violence, mentally unstable behavior).

After the general ‘spark’ of obsession the yandere may not even seem that dangerous. When Ray first meets Delilah she asks him for a pencil, and they have a very short and pleasant conversation. Without the obsessive context this could simply be seen as a sweet meet-cute. It’s Ray’s behavior after this event that defines him as a yandere.

After her class she returns the pencil and makes the off-hand remark that he really “saved her”. He then decides he should continue to save and protect her from then on. He takes this decision to the extreme. He poses as a student and follows her to classes where he can blend in and watch over her from a distance. Eventually he even gets himself onto a university-sponsored trip thanks to the incompetent professor. When that same professor sexually harasses Delilah, Ray ‘snaps’.

This is another common yandere trope, where the character may have been completely harmless before (or only a bit creepy), but then something occurs to push them over the edge.

This can be their obsession being in danger, rejecting them, getting close to someone else, basically something that threatens to put the yandere back where they originally started. In that lonely place that existed before their obsession came into their lives. (Noticing a trend yet?)

In future diary this is when Yuki’s classmates betray him and hand him over to the terrorist “4th”. The guy she had decided to cling to and love as a replacement for her dead family, was now about to be killed. Yuno then runs out to help him, detonating the bombs and killing all of the other students – in her mind they deserved this for putting her obsession in danger.

Yuno looking out at Yuki in danger and thinking “I have to protect Yukkii!’ – Future Diary

This will usually be when the yandere behavior starts in earnest, or ramps up. It will typically continue to ramp up until some kind of conclusion is met. (think Good ends or Bad ends in visual novels)

Its important to remember that we’re building a fictional character, not a real person. It’s important for the audience to feel sympathy – if you want them to. I personally enjoy giving the audience the tools to make up their own mind about what is and isn’t justified. The player learns about the whole of Ray’s behavior, and can then take that information and act according to however they wish. They can insist he turn himself in, they can help him cover his tracks, they can leave him or stay, all depending on their preferences and comfort level.

Player agency in these narratives is an important factor to consider. You’re putting the player in a very uncomfortable place (regardless if they want to be there or not), so then giving them choices to allow them to accept or reject their fate can be a good way to keep a player engaged. It allows them to feel as if they have control over the story, and they can make the choice to “play long” with the yandere or try to escape. Both options can lead to numerous endings and be very thrilling.

Step #3: The Endings

Speaking of endings… With a yandere there are so many options. A lot of otome-styled games only have yandere characters act as yandere in their bad end, and in the good ends the yandere is somehow cured of their problematic obsession because of the almighty power of true love.

After being kept captive the protagonist behaves long enough that the yandere loosens the leash, and they can have their ‘happily ever after’ while players shout ‘Stockholm Syndrome‘ at the screen. (Stockholm Syndrome is heavily criticized in terms of legitimacy now).

A lot of players want that spectrum. They want the happily ever after where love conquers all (This is often demanded within all romance, not just visual novels), and they’ll also want those wild bad ends. Why have a yandere if they’re not going to lock the player in a cage or something? That’s part of the appeal, and that kind of ending diversity you don’t get with other archetypes.

Toma from Amnesia and the infamous ‘dog cage’. Yanderes sure do love cages.

In Pinewood Island you could help frame someone else for the murder Ray committed, you can go on a killing spree with him, you can live happily ever after in Vegas, or sit in prison while he is the only one to visit you. (To name a few endings)

Fans of yanderes know what they’re getting into, and for everyone else I strongly encourage comprehensive content warnings.

In Conclusion

Now that you’ve taken a long, hard look at the yandere trope I encourage you to go out and populate your content with them! Yanderes make excellent villains, love interests, and even protagonists. They can work within any genre, and I’d love to see more of them in action.

They can be polarizing with fans, so be warned that while some may love them, others will hate them. The best way to avoid players being upset by a yandere is remember to use content warnings. I personally recommend a simple list that hits the major points (such as: sex, violence, stalking), and then link to a full comprehensive list that will include more specific things some might find upsetting (Such as listing specific types of violence). This way people can walk away before engaging in content that might harm them. This can also signal to people who are specifically looking for that content that it exists within your game.

With proper research though, they can be a wonderful addition to a story! So go forth and write!

Yandere recommendations

Here is a list of recommendations for “yandere” media. (Please pay attention to content warnings for all of these). I’ll update the list periodically and it will include a wide range of media types. I will not pretend all of these are high quality, some are very cheesy (see: Fear), but if you want to familiarize yourself with the trope here is a good place to start. If you know of more I should check out, let me know!

  • Future Diary (Mirai Nikki) (Anime Series and Manga)
  • You (Netflix Series)
  • Fatal Attraction (Movie)
  • Pet (Movie)
  • It’s Mine (Webtoon)
  • My Deepest Secret (webtoon)
  • Dead Wishes by Violet (visual novel)
  • Mystic Messenger & Nameless by Cheritz (visual novels)
  • Lady Devil (Webtoon)
  • American Horror Story (Season 1) (TV series)
  • Fear (Movie)
  • Secret Obsession (Netflix Movie)
  • Into the Dark: Down (Hulu Movie)
  • Love and Heart (Koi to Shinzou) (Manga)

Including my own games: Pinewood Island and In Blood.

Promotional art from In Blood of the love interests surrounding Ellie