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High schools are a very common setting, which means the hero is generally a high school student. But how old should they be? If they're seniors, there's a chance that graduation issues might interfere with the plot. If a first year, they're new to the school. Either one can complicate things. To avoid that, the writers will often opt to put them between the two poles, leading to this trope. Being a second year student, the hero or heroine is free to have the widest range of plots without stressing about graduation or being new.
Depending on the medium and culture, there can be more to it as well. For example, the Japanese school system divides high school into three years instead of four. There's also more importance placed on age. The end result is that the main character of a high school setting is normally a second year. Why? As a second year, he/she has both kohais and senpais, meaning it allows for more variety; you have the more mature third years and the immature first year students as best friends, tough rivals or love interests. While of course the heroes/heroines' actual personalities will vary to an extent, it usually gives a hint to the viewer or player of how they will act, or just allows you to label them easier. Or the greater diversity may merely appeal to the audience.
It is also sometimes evoked in the division of sections, especially if the classes are arranged in a hierarchical order based on academic performance. Being put into the first, or "star" section may interfere with the plot due to academic pressure (except when it's the focus of the plot, of course) interfering with the protagonists' high school life, while being in the last section may indicate that the protagonist is of poor academic standing or is a delinquent. That's why the protagonist is usually put in the median section of the year level. This type of classification standard in Japan; a protagonist in Anime or Manga will be put into section 2-C or 2-D for the matter.
For whatever reason, the main characters in high school settings are often divided among these lines. While not an ironclad rule (such as in the case of School Days or Clannad) it is actually surprisingly rare to find a high school setting that breaks this mold for no reason.
Anime & Manga
- Amagami SS has second year Junichi, with the older Morishima and the younger Ai and Sae, both of whom are friends with his sister. The remaining three are in the same year.
- In The World God Only Knows, the age of the capture targets varies greatly. While there have been no first year high school students, the sempai kohai dynamic was used to specific effect in one of the Girl of the Week stories. Being a second year also means that Keima, the protagonist, has an established reputation for being a rude otaku.
- Toradora!: Ryuuji and Taiga are put in section 2-C.
- Lovely Complex
- Hayana from Twinkle Saber Nova.
- The class in Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei are second years and always remain that way.
- To Aru Majutsu no Index: Touma is in second year in a certain high school. The other protagonists: Accelerator's year is not given, and Hamazura Shiage is a drop-out.
- School Rumble: plays this straight (including the sections 2-C and 2-D).
- Daily Lives of High School Boys's main characters are in class 2-A.
- Rosario to Vampire: Season II...but only because the original covered their first year in high school.
- Highschool Dx D: Issei is in his second year high school when the plot kicks off.
- Sailor Moon begins with the Inner Senshi (Usagi, Ami, Mako, Minako and Rei) and their school peers in their second year of junior high (Whereas Mamoru, and later both Haruka and Michiru are in high school). The last part/season has them as high school freshmen, however.
- In The Intimates, wannabe whiz kid Punchy is in his second year at Super-Hero School the Seminary... but due to his poor grades, he was held back and is thus technically still a freshman. Still, his status as the only main student already familiar with the school pegs him as your primary protagonist.
- Haruhi Suzumiya: Volume 9 sees the SOS Brigade (except for Mikuru, who's now in third year) become second years. This becomes a plot point in the tenth novel when Haruhi decides to recruit freshmen.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Gilmore Girls
- Dawson's Creek
- The OC - An interesting case because their first year was originally their junior year, but then their next year was... their junior year, and the previous year was retconned to be their sophomore year.
- Same thing happened with Power Rangers. The first season was originally supposed to end with a prom. When the show became a hit, episode 40 had its ending changed so that they didn't leave school. Since one of the original six rangers was still there at the beginning of the fifth season, which showed them graduating, season 1 was effectively retconned from senior year to their freshman year.
- The three main characters of Kamen Rider Fourze are all second-year high school students.
- Degrassi has a rotating cast but due to a failure to introduce younger characters in seasons 8 and 10 during which time the school was Ret Conned from a 6-year junior/senior high into a 4-year high school, at this writing subverts this trope by featuring no Grade 10s in the main cast.
- CROSS†CHANNEL runs along these lines, though the age of the characters in question is vague due to the school system used.
- Da Capo leaves Junichi's age somewhat vague, but the basic points of the trope stand; he has younger and older love interests, is used to the school and not about to graduate.
- Shirou and Tohsaka in Fate/stay night are both second years, while Sakura is a first year. No real important third years, but the fact they aren't graduating until the next year is an important detail in the UBW True End epilogue.
- Kanon has Yuuichi transferring in during his second year, with the older Mai and the younger Shiori.
- Shuffle. Asa and Kareha are older, Primula is younger, no graduation in sight and everyone is comfortable.
- In Tsukihime, Shiki is 17ish. Ciel can be his sempai and when Akiha transfers in, she can be a first year.
- From Persona 3 onwards, the main character is a second-year student. The three (or four, counting the Female Protagonist of Persona 3 Portable, though it's not known if Kasumi from the upcoming P5 The Royal will fully follow the deal as well) generally start off by transferring to a new school, and both quickly gain at least one male and one female friend of the same age/in the same homeroom. However, while P3's leads gets some experienced sempais to work with, P4's heroes surprisingly lack a sempai who doesn't get killed before the main plot begins, anyway, and in P5 the heroes must aid the sempais with their own MASSIVE troubles before getting them to join in.
- The main characters of El Goonish Shive are all in junior year, something Word of God states was only briefly meant to be the case. Eight years later, they've reached May of that year...
- Kim Possible starts her series in her sophomore year of high school, hits senior year in season four and graduates in the Grand Finale.
- Daria starts with the title character here, but ends with her graduation. This also had the benefit of letting her younger sister and Foil, Quinn, attend school at the same time.
- Subverted on The Spectacular Spider-Man, which began with Peter's first day of junior year. Justified because it was intended to only be a 65EpisodeSeries that would have ended with him and his classmates Graduating From The Story.