Her main rival is Mutsumi Otohime, who may or may not be someone that Keitaro made a childhood marriage promise to. She's fun to watch because she has anemia and is constantly falling asleep in compromising positions (it also doesn't hurt that she's got huge... tracts of land). You see, 90% of Love Hina is fan service. They have a hot tub/hot springs out back and they are constantly jumping in for a relaxing dip. Almost every episode has a character in a loosely-wrapped towel, a little sweaty, just waiting for someone to fall on them and accidentally tear the towel off (Also see Theiss Titillation Theory). Naru is the unfortunate victim most of the time.
She's one of the most fleshed-out women on this list (no pun intended). She acts like a girl, but not like a standard anime cardboard cut-out. She's driven to succeed, but can collapse in a heap of tears when things get too overwhelming. I love the little self-referential jokes in the series ("This isn't antennae, this is my hair!") and the way Naru responds to her trials and tribulations with equal parts sadness, anger, and fear. All this leads to a believable relationship with a boy she may or may not hate.
All right, I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for red hair. What can I say? It doesn't hurt that Malon is utterly charming. You first encounter her in Ocarina of Time, at either the Lon Lon Ranch or, if it's night, outside Hyrule Castle, singing what later becomes Epona's Song. But that's all storyline stuff. She represents the "what if" for Link, or the one that got away.
I'm not sure why she gets so much fan-worship -- she wasn't that particularly important to the plot. Her personality is a little too chirpy and bubbly, and she's looking for a "knight in shining armor to sweep her off her feet". How droll. But somehow she enraptures you. It might be that she's one of the few characters that grows up with you in your seven-year-leap. She has the most bad stuff happen to her -- Ganondorf takes the ranch and promotes the lazy, money-obsessed, selfish Ingo to CEO. This allows him to use/abuse the horses for gambling while the good-hearted Malon works like a slave. A Cinderella story if I ever saw one. Malon is like Batman's Alfred -- she represents the people Link is fighting for. She brings a face to the stakes.
And what a fanbase she has. Look at all the fan art. Look at all the fan fiction. Look at all the cosplay. Look at her Hyspace page. I think there's something about girls identifying with Malon - a sweet, responsible farm girl with the unrequited crush. I identify with that too.
The interesting thing is that most people don't realize Malon started life as Marin, the girl in Link's Awakening. I loved Link's Awakening, but I think because of its B&W Game Boy console and insignificant storyline (it all takes place in a dream, so none of it really happened), it doesn't get the love it deserves. Marin's quite the cutie too -- she loves to sing, she has an idle mind, she has some comic misadventures following Link around -- and her romance with Link is just as heart-wrenching. They share some touching moments, and near the end, she's about to admit something to him, but gets interrupted.
I find this interesting because the whole game is Link's shared dream with the Wind Fish. In that dream, Marin represents Princess Zelda (admitted conjecture, but in the Oracle series, Marin and Zelda's sprite look very similar), but she's also her own person. And a romantic interest who's really a dream is all the more tragic. So Marin is kind of a cross between Zelda and Malon. Which means Malon is an evolution of Zelda.
Yeah, if Milk & Honey is any indication, I'm a Malon fan. But I'm not a LinkXMalon shipper.
2 & 1. Aeris & Tifa
I apologize for the tie, but the fact is, I can't decide between these two. They both represent the ideal woman, the fun one or the motherly one. The one that will keep you from trouble or the one that will get you into trouble. Let's take them one at a time.
First off, I just love Aeris's hair. I love Tifa's hair too, but Aeris's really communicates what she's about -- a simple braid, worn down the back and flowing in the wind, with two little twisties going down the sides of her head and two, crimped "antennae" out the top. It looks natural and ludicrous at the same time. Her eyes are great too -- that vital, luminous green. Not sure about the rest of her outfit though. But all points to her earth allegory.
Tifa seems to represent water. She knows martial arts, many of which involve the concept of "flow" at a base level. Two of her moves are named "Waterkick" and "Dolphin Blow". Her hair, in contrast to Aeris's textured look, is a smooth, thick dolphin tail. And this fits with Cloud's name -- an entity rising above the planet, looking down on water and earth. Like a triforce.
Okay, let's talk about personalities. Aeris is the motherly one. She's positive, loyal, and has a hint of mystery. Despite her tragic birth and being raised in the slums, she's optimistic and encouraging. She's flirty, stubborn, caring, idealistic. She's timid in combat, but not when it comes to people.
Tifa is more shy about her expressing personal feelings, but she'll kick your ass all over Midgar. She's complex, mature, proud, self-assertive, and reflective. She's the one who tries to make connections, like I mentioned in my "writing women" post, probably because of her personal tragedy. Unlike Aeris's, Tifa loses her family and town at fifteen The post-game Tifa adopts Marlene, Denzel, and contacts the group because she's trying to keep the family. She's the badass action girl, but also the girl next door.
I guess that's the reason I can't pick between these two. Aeris seems like she'd be the reserved one, the serious one, the motherly one. Tifa should be the flirty one, the plucky one, the funny one. They mix up the stereotypes so much that each seems like they've both missed and gained something. Like the perfect woman split into two.
And that's probably the reason even the fanbase can't pick one. There is no one right choice, because both are good. The creators of Final Fantasy VII really nailed it when they created these two characters. They are exactly what people are looking for.
There. I got through a whole article about Tifa without mentioning her boobs. Oh, DAMMIT.