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I feel there is a common audience trend in favoring the side characters more than the MC. And I believe "literary science" backs that up, in regards to character focus. That even though the MC's character and development is very good, it is harmed a little by the great focus on them, due to the audience becoming too familiar with them, and therefore bored.

With side characters, there is less familiarity/more mysticism, and less predictability. More wonder, perhaps?

Or maybe, MCs tend to simply be written worse? More boring and standard. That seems to be the case with Harry Potter (never read the books or seen the films). I have been told by many that Harry is actually the least interesting character in the whole work. The most boring character, and perhaps more boring MC in all of mainstream entertainment. I've also heard a lot of people favor all the side characters in The Walking Dead over Rick Grimes.

Conversely, speaking to a family member, they said they absolutely love Michael Scofield, the MC in Prison Break. Of course, they are not a critic, and furthermore, my whole question is spawned by the fallacious argument that "because it applies to some/all people I know/have observed, it is true for the rest".

But it might be that most audience members do like the MC the most, as one would assume considering they are the main character, who usually gets the most focus, development and generally care that is needed to create a compelling character.

  • I might be wrong about this, but I think often enough the reader would be inserting themselves into the MC. If the MC is "me", then I don't go about liking "me". "Me" is transparent. I like other characters, in part through the MC. I would only dislike the MC if the self-insertion creaks. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Aug 28 '19 at 18:52
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I doubt that its always the case. Personally, I think it depends upon the audience, that what characteristics they like in a person.
For example, my sister has mostly like the main characters since we were children, yet I usually tend to go for the second-in-command character.

Some people like nerds or quiet ones (which usually happen to be the MC friend), while some have a heart for the cool, hero, saving-everyone kind. It does not depend if that character is a side or major one. It depends on what characteristics are liked by what kind of people.

Just make sure that your characters are well described and leave the rest to the readers. I can guarantee that half of the people I know have a major liking for Mr. Harry Potter himself :)

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It's true that because the MC is the focus, he also carries the burden of making mistakes, sometimes for character development, sometimes for the plot. That can make people like the MC less, while Sidecharacters are free to be cool/flawless from the beginning and only show up when they can contribute something awesome. On the other hand, sidecharacters such as Zuko from Avatar the last Airbender are more popular then the Main character even though they make lots of mistakes so that they then can have character development.

But thats all anecdotal. So what hard evidence do we have? Popularity polls. But a big problem with them is that they have a selection bias. If it's a poll on a fan forum the results can be quite different then an offical poll. And that isn't to say that the offical polls don't look drastically different then a poll would be that every reader has to take. You also have to factor in, that popularity poll voters apply "game theory" to their voting: If they know their Favourite (the MC) always wins, they might vote for their second favorite character instead to see him higher up.

Let's look at Naruto: The titular Maincharacter won the offical polls 4 times, his Rival 2 times, and his mentor 3 times. So overall the MC is the favorite, but atleast 5 out of 9 times another character was more popular. And when polling a different subset of the readers (namely westerner instead of Japanese), the badass mentor always wins. On the other hand a similar Series "One Piece" always has the MC at first place (the trend that Westerners have the 2nd place as number one continues here).

Here is what this Data tells me: Even if the MC is not the most popular overall, I would hardly call them the most boring part of the Story, even if critics like to present it that way. A lot of the casual fans still like the MC the most.

And there are different types of readers with different preferences (that may also be culturally influenced). Some people often like the badguy or the rival more. Some like the dependable friend the most. Some like the mysterious badass.

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