The year 2023 gave fans a standout year in sizzling romance. Baldur’s Gate 3 allowed players to fall in love — and then make love — with its sexy and eclectic band of misfits. The Resident Evil 4 remake gave Leon Kennedy a head-to-toe makeover and turned him into a bona fide internet babygirl. Outside of games, longtime fan favorite Satoru Gojo made his long-awaited reappearance in the Jujutsu Kaisen anime.
I love it all, but sometimes the source material isn’t enough. It never hurts to add a bit of extra spice to the stories. We simply want characters to kiss each other! Sometimes… it’s just a little more fun to ship.
Whether it’s a steamy slow-burn fanfic or sharing perfectly edited clips of characters online, shipping characters helps build out our favorite worlds in exciting ways. Ships and all that romance provide the fuel to ignite the roaring engine of fandom. So with that, we’ve decided to round up our favorite ships and romantic pairings from 2023.
Shadowheart and Lae’zel from Baldur’s Gate 3
If I had a nickel for every sprawling RPG with romanceable options that had a super-duper compelling sapphic enemies-to-lovers ship that was so good that I couldn’t find it in my heart to come in between the pairing with my player character, I’d have two nickels. Which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird it happened twice.
Anyway, Shadowheart and Lae’zel from Baldur’s Gate 3 have earned a place in my shipper’s heart right next to Miranda Lawson and Jack from Mass Effect. They have such a delicious chemistry, the sort of antagonism that comes from actually being in super similar positions but refusing to acknowledge that, because that would mean acknowledging one’s own faults and shortcomings. Also, I love a spicy knife-to-the-throat scene!!!!!! —Petrana Radulovic
Zelda and Link from The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
Justice for Link and Prince Sidon shippers!!!!! Nintendo really did the Prince Sidon and Link romance dirty this year when it released Tears of the Kingdom. Apparently Sidon is not only straight, but engaged to some lady named Yona? Link didn’t even ride Sidon AT ALL. Boo! Regardless, I actually do love this game for the way it portrays such a beautiful and unending love between Link and Zelda. It was the first time that I felt like I truly understood Zelink shippers, and why I would now count myself among them. —Ana Diaz
Leon and Luis from Resident Evil 4
Most people playing Resident Evil 4 — either the original 2005 game or the recent remake — ship its dreamboat protagonist Leon S. Kennedy with either the looks-barely-legal-but-she’s-20-something-actually Ashley Graham or the mysterious femme fatale Ada Wong. These two women conform to the typical Madonna/whore dichotomy, and what’s more boring than that? Furthermore, Leon always seems so awkward as a person that I always saw him as a semi-closeted queer guy who swipes through Grindr on the DL. (OK, back in 2005 it was Craigslist and not Grindr, but you’re following nonetheless.) For all those reasons, I see Leon’s true love in RE4 as Luis, the flamboyant Spanish babe who even gets a few more lines of dialogue in the remake. The only problem with their relationship becoming more serious (because I can only assume they’ve hooked up) is that they won’t have enough room for each of their respective hair products in any ordinary-sized bathroom. —Maddy Myers
Janine and Gregory from Abbott Elementary
It’s no secret that Janine and Gregory are meant for each other in Abbott Elementary. Sure, this ship is predictable and maybe not that exciting! But also consider this: Both characters fucking rule.
They’ve long been my endgame, like so many other sitcom couples — the same way we all knew Nick and Jesse were fated in New Girl, and that Chidi and Eleanor would end up together in every life in The Good Place. Since those shows ended their runs, I’d waited for another slow-burn romance to come onto the scene. Abbott’s slow burn is refreshing because it doesn’t rely on pure hijinx or plot contrivances to keep its leads apart. Janine and Gregory are both full of heart, carrying around so much (matching) baggage, and trying their best to show up for their students every day. They’re just so profoundly awkward that they struggle to read each other’s signals, and yet they keep trying — because their relationship is built on a bedrock of friendship and trust.
This friendship also means they are excellent scene partners, whose conversations go from flirty banter to serious and consequential very fluidly. Gregory helps pull Janine back from her naive improvement projects, while she helps him gain confidence. I think often of the scene where Janine gently calls out Gregory’s office-supply store decorative classroom posters. Gregory then shares all of the drawings his students make of him; viewers realize he has no idea how beloved he is. Janine — who already knows this — helps him see it, and maybe he starts to believe it a little himself. —Nicole Clark
Literally all of the Owl House ships (Luz and Amity, Hunter and Willow, Eda and Raine)
I simply cannot pick one! Am I in the mood for a rivals-to-friends-to-lovers where a mean girl goes from being rude to being in love with the plucky hero? Or for a prickly guy who’s secretly super soft and a soft girl who’s secretly a badass, who are both outcasts in their own way but find solace in one another? Or a decades-long friends-to-lovers-to-exes-to-estranged-acquaintances-to-reconciled-allies, all while mutually pining for one another after their relationship fell apart all those years ago? The Owl House kept us fed. —PR
Bronya and Seele from Honkai: Star Rail
I haven’t even played the other Honkai games, but apparently Seele and Bronya are lesbians in every universe. I literally adore these two. One is a tough punk leader of an underground grassroots organization that helps the poor, and the other is a world ruler who was originally raised to be ignorant of the cruelty of the state. It’s a match made in heaven! —AD
Haymitch Abernathy and Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games
After I saw The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, I went on a bit of a Hunger Games bender and reread the original trilogy. And let me tell you, reading these books as an adult makes you zero in on Haymitch as the hottest character. The movie trilogy had already seeded some Effie and Haymitch in my mind, but my reread made me want to write a fic from Haymitch and Effie’s point of view, where everything is mostly the same except they’ve been secretly hooking up the whole time. —PR
The player and Rusty from Armored Core 6
You simply gotta respect a ship for which almost every single piece of it is something that’s been invented wholesale by the fans. Rusty and the player character in Armored Core 6 have chemistry, don’t get me wrong — but you never even see this character’s face in the game! In the mercenary hellscape of AC6’s post-apocalyptic, corporate-controlled gig economy, though, any friendly voice in your ear is enough to make you fall in love. Every single piece of fan art I’ve seen of Rusty depicts him as gorgeous. But who cares about his literal physical form! No player actually needed that, turns out, in order to believe that Rusty believes in us. —MM
Geto and Gojo from Jujutsu Kaisen
Do you ever love your bro so much that you let it radicalize you into hating the entire human race? No? Well, this is kind-of sort-of not really what happens with SatoSugu, a popular pairing that matches the infamous Satoru Gojo with Suguru Geto in the anime and manga Jujutsu Kaisen. Their love story is one of a teenage bond gone wrong. I’m still sad they broke up, but hey, at least the Mappa is great at delivering us hot characters. —AD
Keefe and Kelvin from The Righteous Gemstones
The best ships sneak up on you, and none more so than Kelvin and Keefe on The Righteous Gemstones. Every character on this show is such a weirdo, not only because the Gemstone family is rich (yeah, rich people are weird, I said it), but because the family business is televangelism. Kelvin is one of the three adult siblings vying to inherit his family’s megachurch mantle, but he’s so far in the closet that he had my gaydar readings going haywire for the whole first season. Super-closeted Christian adults are like this in real life, and it’s not that funny, although The Righteous Gemstones manages to make it funny, and even heartwarming as Kelvin’s reliance on his ex-Satanist BFF Keefe grows stronger and stranger. Will God forgive them? According to me, an agnostic: Yes!! —MM
Kaveh and Alhaitham from Genshin Impact
Sometimes the best ship is one that feels the most real. This is why I love Alhaitham and Kaveh from Genshin Impact. Together, the two act like an old bickering couple. Kaveh will make snide remarks about the decor and Alhaitham will groan like an old bear. It’s not exactly steamy or hot, but it feels stupidly domestic and entirely possible. It’s basically canon, right? —AD