I LOVE romantic anime. And yet, I HATE everything in romantic stories. That probably means that I’m Tsundere for romance. (It’s kinda like being “in love with love”).
For example, there is the over-glorification of long-distance relationships. Bakuman probably has the most exaggerated example of that, with love interests who barely even talked to each other before, intentionally chosing not to see each other at all until they reach their dreams, and until that happens, only communicate in a handful of short text messages. But I would let it pass for Bakuman alone, exactly because it’s such an exaggerated example, that you can’t even take it at face value as a story about ordinary people and their mundane relationships. Even if it has a mundane setting, it’s execution is so full of shonen idealism, that the end result is closer to all the fairy tales and myths, with their trademark simplified romance, than to any modern slice of life/drama that I’m expected to identify with.
It only gets really annoying, when even though a show has good character depth, in case of a love triangle, they still fall back to the use the “amount of distance between love interests is directly proportional to how much they love each other” concept, a basis for claiming that the ridiculously bland distant girl with barely any lines, is still a better match for the protagonist, than the other one that he actually spends time with, has things to talk about with, and is also attracted to, at least to some extent.
This can also happen without actual physical distance, in situations that western viewers might describe as the “loser” getting friendzoned, by being too close to the protagonist, and the other character “winning” because they were never close friends to each other to begin with.
The main difference between the western “friendzone” concept, and these anime love triangles, might be that they are shown from an opposing perspective. A western story would probably be told the friendzoned love interest’s point of view, focusing entirely on the triangle’s one-sided half, and on the explanation of why the other party is only able to see her as a friend and nothing more. Whether or not that other party is even in love with someone else at the same time, would be a secondary issue, and even if he is, it would be just a narrative device to increase the pain.
Anime romances, on the other hand, don’t really try to prove that love is one-sided, or explain the friendzone as a dangerous trap that always works without fail. Often, the protagonist isn’t even explicitly stated not to be in love with the closer friend, it’s just that the idea of the distant, unattainable love is portrayed as so much more significant, that all other potential love interests insantantly get classified as runner-ups. For example AnoHana, both of the male characters who originally dismissed their living childhood friends in favor of a ghost, appeared to have a change of heart and getting closer to each other, after she moved on, with an ending that can be interpreted as both of them politely counting till 10.000 in their heads to avoid coming off like ” OK, now that my other true love turned into ectoplasm, I changed my mind. Congratulations!”
There are also many other stories, where there is no love triangle, and the main couple is satisfyingly close to each other before becoming a couple. It looks like anime doesn’t have a problem with friends turning into lovers, it just comes as second place to love at first sight with distant non-characters.