With pandemic restrictions gradually lifting in 2022, folks were in the mood for love—in particular, love between fictional characters. From live-action to western animation to anime (well, mostly anime, if we’re being honest), terabytes of fanfic and good old-fashioned baiting have created a cottage industry out of shipping, one that’s going stronger than server. Here’s our list of the most popular character ships for 2022, with some background included on each one. It’s true that anime dominates the charts, but you might be surprised to see which ships locked in the top spots, as well as some intriguing runners-up from all kinds of media.
Jujutsu Kaisen got a lot of shipping love this year, which fully checks out. It’s chock-full of great characters who resonate with audiences, meaning it’s only logical they’d want to see some of those characters smoosh faces together.
The YutaMaki ship actually comes from Jujutsu Kaisen 0, a prequel series that depicts the events leading up to Yuji’s entry into the world of cursed spirits. Yuta and Maki are two students who meet at Jujutsu High. Their ship didn’t quite reach the same audience as some others from the main series when JJK0 was still just a manga and hadn’t yet hit screens, but with the release of the Volume 0 movie, it instantly hit the mainstream. While they have a bit of a rough start with Maki looking down on Yuta for his devil-may-care look, they quickly develop a mutual respect that blossoms into admiration. Yuta might have his dead gal pal following him around as a cursed spirit, but that doesn’t stop him from developing a close bond with Maki. Their parallel backstories–both having lost someone close to them and gaining some kind of boon as a result– make them a natural fit both as a ship and as narrative counterparts. There’s a lot of headcanon about what might’ve gone down with them between the end of Chapter 0 and Yuta’s reappearance later in JJK, and if hints dropped by artist Gege Akutami are any indication, there just might be something to it.
There’s something about the pairing of an effervescent flirt and an oblivious brooder that really gets fandoms going. Take those two archetypes and turn them both into badass warriors, and you’ve got the recipe for Demon Slayer’s GiyuShino ship. Giyu Tomioka, the renowned Water Pillar, is a single-minded slayer who spends more time worrying about taking down demons than he does, say, making sure his outfit doesn’t include clashing prints. His counterpart, Shinobu Kocha AKA the Insect Pillar, seems like a bundle of joy and enthusiasm at first glance. Beneath the facade, though, her backstory’s about as tragic as they come, with her whole family being killed by demons. Nowadays, instead of decapitating them like other demon slayers, she prefers to use a poisoned blade to make their deaths especially painful (she later reveals that she’s ingested enough wisteria to make her entire body poisonous to demons, which is in the running for the most hardcore thing on this whole list). Giyu might try to keep their relationship strictly professional, but Shinobu understands him at a fundamental level, as they share the indomitable drive to make demons dead. With the text hinting so heavily at a deeper connection between them, fanon doesn’t have to do much to justify this built-for-shipping pair.
AruAni comes to us from the SNK/Attack on Titan fandom and is the pairing up of Armin Arlert and Annie Leonhart. In true SNK fashion, their relationship involves a lot of trauma and bloodshed; on the other hand, their story together miraculously doesn’t end in the most depressing way imaginable. Two skilled warriors with a mutual respect for each other that begins to turn into something more, things come to a head for them when Annie, in her Female Titan form, refuses to kill Armin, leading him to deduce her identity. As the story progresses, they eventually manage to reconcile their differences and—it’s heavily implied—enter into a relationship, making them the first on this list to canonically end up together, and marking the first time in history that Attack on Titan has ever led to anything resembling a happy ending. With the ship all but confirmed as canon, the AruAni community has plenty of ammunition, topping the list as the most popular AOT ship on the wiki this year.
Owl House has a sizable fandom across all age groups thanks to its magical school plot and a refreshing amount of LGBTQIA+ representation. Its first ship to make the list is between Hunter and Willow AKA Huntlow, two characters with (to say the least) some complicated allegiances. Willow is a skilled witch originally placed on the Abomination Track before her knack for plant magic manifested itself, with nobody even so much as mentioning that she’s the one character to be named after a tree. She’s a powerful asset to the protagonists, which places her squarely in opposition to Hunter, the arrogant nephew of Belos who was embedded at the school as a sleeper agent to recruit for the Emperor’s Coven. Hunter and Willow share a few friendly moments before his sinister intentions are revealed, but one redemption arc later, they’re cutting each other’s hair, exchanging knowing looks, and doing a whole lot of blushing together. While it didn’t start out as an especially popular ship, their first episode together sparked plenty of love for the idea of them as a couple, especially when it was revealed that they’d both been taunted as being “half-a-witch” throughout their childhoods. Bonding through shared ostracism and trauma! What better way to kick-start a relationship?
Here we go. Finally adding a little queer spice to the list is EiMiko, the femslash ship of Raiden Ei and Yae Miko from Genshin Impact. It’s definitely Miko’s most popular ship and one of two of Ei’s. Their shared backstory is pretty complicated as their friendship goes back literal centuries (although Ei spends a big chunk of that trapped in the Plane of Euthymia, a facet of her consciousness). Once the Traveler helps free Ei from the plane, Miko convinces her to turn her attention towards the people still alive in this world. Their playful banter hints at there being something deeper to their relationship like a mutual attraction, while the fandom is more likely to call them a divorced couple. The game does plenty to cement this notion since the two are basically inseparable, both as friends and combatants. While it’s unlikely they’ll ever be canon-canon, there’s still enough there for shippers to get their fix, both in the game and in an impressive volume of fanfic.
The first and only live-action ship on the list is Byler, or the pairing of Will Byers and Mike Wheeler from Netflix’s Stranger Things. In his desperate crusade to save Will against all odds, fans definitely felt Mike’s love for his best bud in the first season (even if it did lead him to make some brash decisions). But as everybody’s favorite kids have grown into adolescents, the nature of their friendships have turned into full-blown ships for some fans. After their heartfelt reunion in the Season 1 finale, Will and Mike haven’t always had a lot of time to just hang out and be kids together. Will’s memory loss in Season 2 is reversed when Mike recounts their first meeting in kindergarten, which also earns them a way of defeating the Mind Flayer. Later, Will expresses discomfort with how Mike’s relationship with Eleven has monopolized his time, leading to a super problematic and low-key homophobic moment that reflects, uh, preeetty poorly on Mike. Finally, in Season 4, it’s all but confirmed that Will has feelings for Mike, which he passes off as Eleven’s, before breaking down. It’s an absolutely heartbreaking scene in a season that otherwise seemed like it kind of forgot Will existed.
As for the fandom, this display of unrequited love is like catnip for shippers, and it’s gained such a sizable following that it easily clears the top spot for Stranger Things ships on the wiki. We love a good pining, but hopefully Mike can work through some of the issues that make him such A Problematic™ in the upcoming final season. Will deserves at least a little support after everything he’s been through.
ZhongChi, AKA ChiLi, is the second Genshin Impact ship to make the top ten. Hydro harbinger Childe/Tartaglia is a youngster with a knack for swordfighting, but more importantly, he’s the patron of funeral parlor employee/Geo Archon vessel Zhongli, often referred to by fans (and, recently, even in-game) as Zhongli’s wallet. The two have a close friendship that gets a bit rocky when Zhongli lies about his true identity, prompting Childe to challenge him to trial by combat. They get over it, though. Boyfriends do a big trial by combat sometimes. It’s part of every relationship.
Some major credence lent to this ship comes from a teaser where the two are seen eating together at a restaurant and Zhongli offers a pair of dragon-and-phoenix chopsticks to Childe, mirroring an ancient Chinese tradition among newlyweds. BL media often uses references like this to skirt around censors, causing many fans to become true believers for pairings all-but-explicit as this one. With their finances and their chopsticks inexorably linked, they’re not only the most popular slash ship in Genshin, but the property’s most popular ship, period. There are even some poly ships involving them and a third. So progressive, this fanon!
Next is the second Owl House ship, as well as the second ship overall to actually be made canon.
Lumity is the pairing of protagonists Luz Noceda and Amity Blight, a ship whose canonization makes for so many great firsts. Their meet-cute was more meet than cute (Amity caught Luz eating a sandwich while she was undercover as an Abomination, which should’ve been impossible), leading to a good degree of animosity between the two and eventually a full-blown witches’ duel—incidentally, the way most WLW relationships start. Once they’ve resolved their considerable issues with each other, it’s a slow burn on the way to full-blown romance, but once the episode “Enchanting Grom Fright” aired and confirmed that Amity like-liked Luz, the whole fandom was sent into a tizzy, wondering if the two would really become Disney’s thirty-ninth first ever same-sex couple. Their prayers were answered in Season 2’s penultimate episode when the two actually kissed. Often compared to the legendary Catradora ship, Lumity is a worthy entry in the trend of shows targeted at younger audiences that embrace femslash relationships for their protagonists. Sapphics keep winning!
Soukoku is a slash ship from the Bungou Stray Dogs fandom. It pairs up Chūya Nakahara and Osamu Dazai, two writers from early 20th century Japan. (If you don’t know much about Bungou Stray Dogs, the conceit of the anime and manga are pretty much “what if late Japanese writers were friends, and also in the mafia, and also had superpowers?”) By definition, they kind of can’t be canon since they’re based on real people, but one thing they do have going for them is that they came up with their own ship name. Soukoku, or Double Black, is a name they gave to themselves after a successful fight. Except for a brief four-year stint apart, the two have spent years as partners with the utmost trust in one another. Dead Apple director Takuya Igarashi even mentioned that their bond goes deeper than friendship, describing it as if they’re “one soul in two different bodies.” Definitely something I say about all my platonic friends.
The fandom can’t seem to get enough of their unassailable relationship: not only is the romantic Soukoku ship the most popular one on AO3’s Bungou Stray Dogs tag, but the platonic Soukoku ship is the third-most written for the franchise—not to mention that they’re the second-most popular ship overall on the Fandom wiki. Which just leaves us with one more…
In case you thought you’d seen the last of JJK, think again. It fully bookends our 2022 list, ending us on a high note with the SatoSugu ship. That should come as no surprise though; it’s been a big year for JJK, and there’s still plenty more of it to come as the second season prepares for a July release.
Gojo Satoru and Getō Suguru attended Tokyo Jujutsu High together and became fast friends, despite some serious ideological differences about what it means to be a sorcerer. Getō believes it’s their duty to protect the weak, while Gojo would rather not worry too much about collateral damage (read: innocent people). This ultimately culminates in Gojo casually slaughtering a village of non-sorcerers, placing him in breach of the Jujutsu Regulations and making him an outlaw. The two nearly come to blows over this, but are unable to bring themselves to hurt each other, parting ways without any bloodshed.
(Also, all of this might’ve just been part of Gojo’s dream. It’s kind of a weird arc.)
Later on, the two declare war on each other. Their conflict seemingly ends with Gojo straight-up murdering Getō. They’re sorta reunited later when an ancient entity possesses Getō’s body and confronts Gojo. Gojo dispels the spirit, but not before witnesses take note of Getō’s apparent survival and accuse Gojo of faking his friend’s death. Gojo is exiled from the jujutsu world yet again for a crime he didn’t even commit.
SatoSugu has been a phenomenon since its inception, topping the JJK tag on AO3 and even Tumblr’s 2021 charts. Now, over two years after the series premiere, it’s still topping the Fandom charts as well.
It’s got all the trappings of a great ship: two young friends with irreconcilable differences who meet back up years later, the weight of all that history still heavy on their shoulders. Conflict, drama, two distinct but equally zany hairstyles—the works. Can’t hurt that Gojo is a fan-favorite character with a whole arsenal of combat abilities and an ego to back them up.
Unfortunately, it also has the even more unusual distinction of having one half of its pairing kill the other, and then the survivor being forced to confront his partner’s reanimated corpse. Nobody ever said love was easy.