When times are tough, when we feel the waters of stress rising all around us, there’s one thing that can carry us through: Shipping. There’s something so comforting about spending time with our favorite ships. Whether you’re a fan of enemies to lovers or friends to lovers, fanon, canon, or something in between, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of watching the chemistry develop between characters, savoring every accidental hand touch and almost-kiss. Seriously, when will they kiss already?! Sorry, we got a bit distracted there.
But with so many potential pairings across the fandom multiverse, which ships captured the most hearts this year, and earned the most online searches? As we say a fond (or not so fond, depending) farewell to 2023, let’s take a look at the fictional relationships that buoyed us through the year and break down the Top 10 Most Searched for Ships of 2023.
The first ship on our list comes from the world of Honkai, a video game franchise that includes a series of games set in a separate world, all within the same larger multiverse. Bronseele is a femslash ship between Bronya Zaychik and Seele Vollerei. The canon ship primarily comes from the games Guns Girl Z and Honkai Impact 3rd. They also have an enemies-to-friends-to-maybe-lovers dynamic in Honkai Star Rail, but the most overtly romantic storyline between the two characters unfolds in Honkai Impact 3rd.
From the beginning, they care deeply for one another, beginning as childhood friends growing up together as roommates in the same orphanage. There, they formed a deep bond filled with tenderness and protective instinct, sometimes to the point of violence or self-endangerment on the other’s behalf. When the two are separated at the end of Azure Waters and before the game’s main story, Seele gives Bronya a weapon, and her first kiss. With that kiss, they share a promise: they will never give up on each other, and they will reunite. The ship is one of the most popular in the Honkai fandom, and with the incredible connection and loyalty the two share, it’s easy to see why.
With the release of its fifth season this year, Bungou Stray Dogs has been attracting quite a bit of fan attention. The series follows a group of characters based on famous authors, all of whom have been reimagined as young adults and teenagers with supernatural powers. There are characters based on figures from Japanese literature, American literature, and more, but this particular ship pairs two characters that might sound familiar to any Russian literature aficionados reading this: Nikolai Gogol and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Though they bear little resemblance to the historical figures that share their names, their relationship definitely includes quite a bit of Crime and Punishment. The two have a close, intimate friendship, but it’s a bit complicated. See, Nikolai also wants to kill Fyodor. On Fyodor’s side, he seems to harbor some genuine admiration for Nikolai, as he’s pretty much the only character he’s ever said a complimentary word about. It’s plain why the dynamic between the two young men is compelling to fans, who, though the ship is not canon, read Nikolai’s insistence on wanting Fyodor dead as an admission that he has strong romantic feelings for him, feelings he is deeply conflicted about.
8. Luffy Harem
Who said a ship has to be a pairing of only two characters? Sometimes the love interest options are so good, they’re a bit like potato chips. You can’t stop with just one! Enter the eighth most searched ship of 2023, Luffy Harem. This polyamorous One Piece ship is exactly what it sounds like. The ship includes Monkey D. Luffy, obviously, as well as Nami, Nico Robin, Boa Hancock, Nefertari Vivi, Marguerite, Rebecca, Shirahoshi, Alvida, Carrot, and Vinsmoke Reiju. That’s a pretty busy dating schedule, hope Luffy’s good at keeping a full calendar!
Luffy has canonical bonds with all of these women, though none of them are explicitly romantic at this point. Alvida and Hancock have harbored romantic feelings for him, as well as Rebecca and Shirahoshi. Nami, Robin, and Vivi are dear friends to him, some of the closest friends he has. Reiju views Luffy with respect and appreciation, and Margeurite and Carrot are friends and allies to him as well. He doesn’t really seem to reciprocate any potential romantic advances, and the Luffy Harem ship largely exists as a meme within the One Piece fandom, but there’s something undeniably charming and entertaining about the way Luffy seems to travel the sea, essentially collecting women who are obsessed with him. Everybody loves Luffy! Maybe it’s that sweet hat.
Project SEKAI is a popular mobile rhythm game that follows Hatsune Miku and her friends, who exist both in the real world and in SEKAI, a world created from emotions, where Virtual Singers live. There are as many SEKAIs as there are feelings themselves. And speaking of feelings, many fans have quite a lot of them about the pairing of Project SEKAI characters Rui Kamishiro and Tsukasa Tenma. These two are a match made in chaos, a pair of weirdos known for causing trouble all around their high school whenever they aren’t performing with the Wonderlands x Showtime troupe. Everyone around them considers the two boys a matching set, and you rarely see one without the other. If they were two stray cats at a shelter, the sign above their room would read: Bonded pair! Do not separate!
But their friendship isn’t just about them being silly goofy guys together, it’s also about Tsukasa’s trust in Rui, and Rui coming out of his shell and making more friends thanks to Tsukasa’s influence. Rui and Tsukasa bring out the best in each other as people, and as artists too. Due to the color schemes of their cards, Rui and Tsukasa are frequently portrayed as the moon and the sun respectively in fan works. This comparison really highlights them as two beings that share the same sky and shine alongside each other. Also, during the Kamiyama High Festival, Rui and Tsukasa rehearse the proposal scene from Romeo and Juliet together. If that’s not some truly irresistible ship bait, then what in the world is?
In the tragedy-drenched world of Attack on Titan, it’s hard to imagine characters having much time for romance. But witnessing the constant horrors and endless stream of bloodshed can really bring people closer together, and the Attack on Titan fandom has plenty of ships to choose from. One of the most searched for ships this year was EreMika, the pairing of Eren Jaeger and Mikasa Ackerman. The two first met as children, with Eren’s father working as the Ackerman family doctor. One day, Eren and his father discovered the bodies of Mikasa’s dead parents, with Mikasa nowhere to be seen. Against his father’s wishes, Eren rescued Mikasa, and wrapped his scarf around her. It seems that she’s carried a torch for him ever since, and she still wears that scarf.
There’s just something about rivals-to-lovers, enemies-to-lovers, or any pairing with a decent dose of bickering and tension. The back and forth of witty, snarky banter, the endless question of “are they going to fight or kiss?” They claim not to like each other, but they also can’t seem to leave each other alone. It’s like catnip to certain shippers, and one great example of this kind of ship is Kaveh and Alhaitham in Genshin Impact. The two roommates and former university classmates have an undeniably charged relationship, though whether that relationship is an often-antagonistic friendship or something more romantic might be up for interpretation. Either way, they could benefit from some relationship counseling, as their conflicts are frequently caused by issues with communication and misunderstanding rather than any genuine malice. But still, they do care for one another, and even if they can live without each other, they don’t seem to truly want to.
Another dynamic that some shippers just can’t resist is “opposites attract.” That’s certainly true of this Jujutsu Kaisen pairing, which includes Satoru Gojo and Utahime Iori. Gojo is playful, and often teases the more serious Utahime, much to her annoyance. The GojoHime ship really began to take off during the Kyoto Sister School Goodwill Event Arc, which showcased their drastically different dispositions as well as highlighting multiple facets of their relationship. There is the teasing, of course, the little barbs, the jokes, and Utahime throwing a drink at Gojo. But they are also shown to work well together, setting aside their petty arguments when there is a more important task at hand. The ship has been popular with fans of the manga for quite some time, and now that the anime adaptation is gaining more attention, even more Jujutsu Kaisen fans are hopping onboard.
The Honkai franchise has already blessed us with a childhood friends-to-lovers pairing, and now it’s given us some good old classic enemies-to-lovers as well! Blade and Dan Heng are first introduced in Honkai: Star Rail as members of enemy groups, with Blade in the Stellaron Hunters and Dan Heng in the Astral Express. But wait a minute…it turns out that centuries ago, they were once best friends! They were so close, in fact, that they shared a pair of matching bracers that allowed them to share a telepathic bond, and to feel each other’s warmth. But things went horribly wrong, countless lives were lost in the process, and Dan Heng lost his memories. When Blade and Dan Heng came face to face again, it was as enemies, fighting on opposite sides, and with Blade carrying the hurt of all those years ago. So, despite its initial appearance, RenHeng isn’t a basic enemies-to-lovers ship at all! It’s really more like a best friends (and maybe lovers) to enemies, to maybe one day lovers again.
Hope you’re feeling thirsty for some classic literature references with your romantic pairing, because we’ve got another entry from Bungou Stray Dogs! Soukoku is the ship name for the characters of Chūya Nakahara and Osamu Dazai. Paired up to work for the mafia together when they were 15 years old, the pair earned the name Soukoku after defeating an enemy organization together. They also received the nickname “Yokohama’s vicious dup.” The two fight extremely well together, and though they claim to dislike working with each other, trust one another completely. They have a rivalry, but a mutual admiration. They say they don’t like each other, but know everything about each other. This isn’t your first rivals-to-lovers rodeo, you know how this goes. Even after Dazai leaves the mafia, the two still end up partnering up once more. Their complex, sometimes fraught, always intimate friendship may not be a canonical romance, but it frequently crosses into the realm of an intensity that borders on romance, such as during their storyline in Dead Apple. If you know, you know.
Jujutsu Kaisen earns itself another spot on this list, the top spot no less, with the ship between Gojo Satoru and Getō Suguru. The two best friends are great compliments to one another, becoming close during their time at Tokyo Jujutsu High in spite of their differences in outlook on the world. Suguru believes in the strong protecting the weak, while Satoru believes in doing what’s best for himself, but they still forged a deep bond as both friends and warriors. Add in the fact that they’ve got opposite hair colors (making them a classic Hair Contrast Duo), and have a tendency to bicker like an old married couple, and you’ve got quite an appealing fanon ship. There’s also quite a bit of compelling drama attached to the two that, for the sake of spoilers, we won’t go into here. Suffice it to say, SatoSugu shippers have experienced the full spectrum of human emotion while following the story of these two men, from joy, to frustration, to downright devastation.