It's tough being a kid in Fiction Land. Bad enough when you're an only child, but if you're among a pack of siblings, this particular trope is nearly guaranteed to raise its head at some point in order to make life even more difficult.
Parental Favoritism is just what it sounds like—one child is given preference over their siblings. In order to qualify, this has to be consistent. One child being asked to do the other's chores because their sibling is sick is probably not favoritism, although that probably won't stop the kid lumbered with the extra work from grumbling. One child having to do all the chores on a daily basis, while their sibling sits and plays video games, however, is.
It may show itself in a variety of ways. If there is an argument or fight, the parent(s) will always take the side of one particular sibling, and the other(s) will be the ones being scolded/punished. The parents may brag about one child in particular and be admonishing or dismissive of the others for their faults and regardless of the achievements of the brothers and sisters. A regular line that may be entailed with this is a variant of, "Honestly, (insert name), why can't you be more like (insert favourite's name)?" There may always be one particular kid who gets out of doing their chores, even if the other kids get pulled up for forgetting to tidy their room.
Sometimes, there may be more than one "favorite," or the mother and father will have different "favorites," making life even more of a headache for their siblings.
There are a few different versions of the trope, and a few different "explanations" as to why one child is preferred over the other. These divisions can be by:
- Birth Order
- The oldest child is favoured because they are the firstborn/family heir. Tends to apply more to sons than daughters, since old inheritance laws favour boys over girls. This is found more often in fantasy or historical literature, where these laws have a real impact on how the family is run. Sometimes, the oldest child may have a huge set of standards thrown on them, but other times, an overachiever will set other standards for the younger ones.
- The youngest child is favoured because they are the "baby" of the family, and the parents will protect them from being "bullied" by their older siblings even when they are big enough to defend themselves or started the trouble in the first place. This is popular in more modern literature, especially with teen novels and children's TV.
- Middle children can often get a rough deal; very rarely are they the family favourite, unless they do something really outstanding to explain it. Middle Child Syndrome, as it's known, is a real life phenomenon, that some psychologists are studying today.
- Occasionally, the parent(s) will favor a child who shares their own place in the birth order over the other children, due to their own childhood experiences with their siblings. For example, a parent who was bullied by their older siblings as a child being more likely to take the side of the younger child, regardless of the older sibling's guilt or innocence.
- Preference by gender often relies on the boys:girls ratio within the family. If there are several of one sex and only one of the other, the sibling with a different gender from the others will probably be "the favorite." This can backfire though—they may instead be the "ugly duckling" of the family if the parents prefer one gender over the other, a preference that often hinges on the culture the story is set in (i.e, the solitary sister who's expected to clean up after, and cook for, her brothers).
- If there is one son and several daughters, the son will probably acquire the title of "heir to the family." His parents may believe him to be "more important" than his sisters, and they might be expected to obey him/take care of him.
- If there is one daughter and several sons, she will probably be the "baby" of the family regardless of birth order (possible exception if she is the oldest sibling, in which case she'll be de facto babysitter). Strangely, brothers are seldom shown as resenting their sister—in fact, they'll "defend her honor" more ferociously than their parents will. Any potential boyfriends are in for a hard time.
- Sometimes, one child is funnier, more gregarious, or more talented than the others, making them "the favorite" almost automatically. In some cases, this sibling will be sweetness and light to everyone else, but the Devil in Plain Sight to their brothers and sisters. Although, in other cases, the other child could have a negative personality so the fault could partly fall on them. Alternatively, a Dead Little Sister situation might occur with the parents...or parent, since this applies especially if a spouse has died. In this case, one child will be favoured because of their resemblance to a particular person. Particularly narcissistic parents however, tend to favour the child that most looks/acts like himself/herself.
- Biological vs. Adoption
- It hardly needs mentioning that dozens of fairy tales (notably "Cinderella") involve stepchildren mistreated by their parents in favor of their biological children. This is pretty much a Discredited Trope today; more commonly, you have an adopted child who suffers some perceived slight from his stepparent and must be reassured that he is loved just as much as the parent's natural children.
- This is also commonly inverted - the adopted child will be well behaved, the biological child will be spoiled and jealous, and when the inheritance or the call to adventure is passed down to the adopted child instead of the "true" inheritor, expect the biological child to start a Cain and Abel situation rapidly.
Any of these criteria can backfire. For example, one child might be the favorite because they look and act just like their saintly, deceased mother. Another might be just the opposite -- The Unfavourite—because of their resemblance to the mother that walked out on the father—or even because they remind the father of the saintly mother. If the saintly mother died in childbirth, then that child's usually got a hell of a lot of resentment to get over, no matter what the physical similarities.
Occasionally, parents have a child that naturally requires more care and attention than the others, because they're very young, disabled or psychologically damaged. This will still seem unfair to the other kids who get less of their parents' time, but it's necessity rather than favoritism...usually. This is a favourite plot for children's books and television, where the lead character is jealous of a new baby sister or brother only to be reassured that "we love you just as much." On the other hand, if the favorite is Too Good for This Sinful Earth, the parents may never learn to appreciate their living children.
Sometimes, the parents are reasonably handing out the privileges and responsibilities with age. When the older child looks only at the responsibilities and the younger at the privileges, both can come to the view that they are the Unfavorite. Or they may responsibly differentiate, but the musically untalented child may resent the lessons as favoritism, and the talented one, the other's free time as favoritism; or the child who must do all the chores resents the sickly child's confinement to his bedroom and inability to play. Cue Sibling Rivalry.
Of course, it is common that the parents are not aware of their favoritism and may be appalled at themselves upon realizing it. Very few parents would actually pursue favoritism with the knowledge of the other children's hurt feelings.
In fact, the obligatory "talk with the parents" is normally part of a Parental Favoritism plot...but that does not guarantee it will solve anything. If the writer is trying to Hand Wave the glaring bias of the parents, there will be a scene where mum and dad will give a long speech on how they value all their kids equally, and will tell the un-favorite child that making them live in the basement and forcing them to bow whenever their little brother enters a room is really a mark of their esteem. The words "you're the responsible one" will probably be mentioned in some form. A more realistic version is where the big talk is honest, and the parent doesn't bother trying to justify their actions, but do realise they were wrong and attempt to make amends. This is regularly done to "humanise" the hitherto parents—but it's probably too late. By the time of the talk, most of the audience will already be set against the parents, and it'll take a hell of a lot of good writing to redeem them. But if the parents have clearly realized their foolishness and have shown to be really sorry, then this MAY take a lot of weight off them.
Parental Favoritism can have a huge impact on characters even when they become adults. The Favorite will probably be spoiled and throw a tantrum if she or he doesn't get his or her own way; kids at the bottom of the pecking order will usually be bitter and cynical about relationships and family life, or have serious self-esteem issues.
This is all too often Truth in Television.
- Implied in an ad for Invisalign Teen. Twin teenagers both need braces; however, their mother gets Invisalign for one daughter and regular braces for the other. The Unfavorite spends the commerical complaining about all the limitations of her headgear, while the favored daughter gloats and rubs her face in how she doesn't have to deal with all those issues. Thanks, Mom.
- A DVR ad has it to where a mother and father openly admit in front of their son that their daughter is their favorite child without a hint of remorse. Then casually suggest they just give him the last video slot simply because "that's the best he is going to get".
- Another commercial for Guiness uses the same premise; two parents tell their adult son he's their least favorite child, to the point that he's not only under his siblings, but also the dog and their fine China. But they buy him a case of Guiness to make up for it.
Anime & Manga
- 5-year-old Shinnosuke's The Unfavourite, and he knows it.
- Why Ken partially resented his older brother in Digimon Adventure 02. Not only was he the younger sibling, and thus overlooked for the firstborn, Osamu was also a child prodigy and a media darling. This ensured that Ken never got the kind of attention he desperately wanted from his parents. It didn't help matters much when Osamu died in an accident, and his parents were too caught up in their grief to notice Ken even after that. After he's manipulated into more or less selling his soul in the Digital World, he gains the prodigy aspect his brother had, and his parents apparently begin to love him... but only as a shadow of what they once had with Osamu. It took him vanishing into the Digital World with the intent to stay there permanently, then returning in the midst of a complete mental breakdown, for them to finally begin loving him as Ken.
- Ootori Kyouya is victim of a subtle version in Ouran High School Host Club. As the youngest of three sons in a rich family, he is expected by his father to perform at respectable standards, but never to do anything to one-up his brothers, who will inherit the Ootori business empire.
- His sister also seems to get this treatment to some extent. She's admonished for returning home when she is happily married and has no real business to be there. This has the Ootori family fulfill two of the criteria. She, however, seems to ignore it and act cheery nonetheless, going out with Tamaki on occasion to explore the world of commoner cuisine.
- A similiar fate befalls Azuma Yunoki in La Corda d'Oro, who is forced to give up playing piano by his grandmother because he's better at it than his two older brothers; as he says, "My place is always below my brothers". Most probably a result of Japanese cultural values, and seems wildly unfair to Western readers. Azuma develops a bit of a psychological problem as a result (which probably means it's supposed to seem unfair to the original audience, as well).
- Taken to extremes in Saiyuki. Gojyo is a 'child of taboo,' raised by his stepmother and half-brother. She eventually attempted to kill him, but her biological son killed her first.
- In Naruto we see in the flashbacks that Fugaku Uchiha preferred his older, genius son Itachi to the younger Sasuke, saying several times to Sasuke that he wanted Sasuke to become a shinobi like Itachi.
- The situation eventually turns around completely after Itachi is suspected of murdering Shisui which he did. After Sasuke masters the fireball technique, Fugaku tells him not to follow Itachi's footsteps.
- Turned around even earlier when Sasuke's mother told him that in public, Itachi was the shining star. In private, the only thing Fugaku talked about was Sasuke. Or so she says.
- Likewise, Hiashi Hyuuga preferred his younger daughter Hanabi, as he believed Hinata lacked any real talent, especially when compared to her genius cousin Neji. After Neji loses his fight against Naruto, Hiashi's attitude starts to change and he softens up to both Hinata and Neji.
- The situation eventually turns around completely after Itachi is suspected of murdering Shisui which he did. After Sasuke masters the fireball technique, Fugaku tells him not to follow Itachi's footsteps.
- Something that plagues Johan very intently. Which one of them was the unwanted one?
- Very messed up example with the hommunculi of Fullmetal Alchemist, where Pride has that name in part, being the oldest, and the one whose personality represents Father in his purest form. Continuing the metaphor, the Anti-Villain Greed has a sort of "Well Done, Son" Guy relationship to Father and turned Defector From Decadence because he couldn't stand being second to anyone (and being the least evil of the bunch probably helped).
- In the 2003 anime version, this is the reason for Envy's hatred of the Elric brothers; he is the homunculus created by their father in an attempt to revive his firstborn son, and he was cast aside when he came back as a "monster".
- Part of Sesshomaru's backstory in Inuyasha is that he resented his father for being disappointed in his heartless son Sesshomaru, while giving his life to save the infant Inuyasha (and his mother).
- Part of the backstory of Big Bad King of Gallia in Familiar Of Zero; his elder brother was the favorite for being better at everything. Then, in the old Kings last moments, he named the younger his successor, due the old kings insanity. Ecstatic, even knowing the true reason he was chosen, he went to rub it in his older brothers face. Unfortunately, the elder was honestly happy for his younger brothers success. This drove Joseph mad, and he ended up killing his older brother. So begins the tale of the mad king.
- In +Anima, the Royal Family of Sailand is a perfect example of Favoritism. In fact, it's most likely why Husky was named Crown Prince out of birth order.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion gives us an odd case. Gendo shows no love or affection to Shinji, but is almost uncharacteristically fond of Rei, who he treats as an adoptive daughter. The reason he's fond of Rei however is because she resembles his dead wife, and in the end, both the children are little more than pawns to him toward resurrecting her. Before his death however, Gendo admits that he secretly held great love for Shinji in his heart, but was simply too afraid to face it.
- There's a case of Grandparental Favouritism in Axis Powers Hetalia; Grandpa Rome raised Italy Veneziano, but ignored his brother Romano because Veneziano was more talented. He left his money to Romano, but this only increased Romano's sense of being The Unfavorite, as in his youth he was convinced the money was the only reason anyone would want him.
- Dick Grayson/Nightwing has been noted to be Batman's favoured son, also being the first Robin.
- Harry Osborn from the Spiderman films, Ultimate Spider-Man and The Spectacular Spider-Man, which is an interesting case since he is an only child. His father Norman Osborn prefers his friend and fellow intellect Peter Parker over his own son.
- Darkseid treats all his children terribly but out of all of them, he respects and likes Orion the most, even if Orion is on the good guy's side and actively opposes him.
- Marvel's Thor is clearly his father's Odin's favorite. This goes to an insane level when in Fear Itself he is willing to destroy the entire Earth for Thor's sake. He never went that far for Loki or even Baldur, the latter of whom didn't even know he was one of Odin's sons until fairly recently. Let's not even get into Loki's problems from all of this...
- Tokyo Mew Mew No Hope Left has this trope in spades at the beginning. The protagonist's parents are described as preening her older sister and sending her to a fancy school, while forgetting that our heroine exists.
Film - Animated
- Played for laughs in Disney's Robin Hood by the childish Prince John.
Prince John: Mother always liked Richard best...
- Which might possibly have been Truth in Television; it's been suggested by many historians that Richard was the favorite child of their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, while John was the favorite of their father, Henry II.
- Nuka from The Lion King is neglected in favour of the youngest, Kovu, whom Scar chose as his heir.
- In Toy Story, Woody belives he is The Unfavourite when Andy received Buzz in the first film. But by the third film, it was clear that Andy's favourite toy was Woody.
Film - Live Action
- Zach from the Quebecois film C.R.A.Z.Y is the fourth son of five and manages to be a case of both Parental Favoritism AND The Unfavorite - his religious mother believes he has the power of healing and defends him from his father's scorn. Meanwhile his dad, having suspected him of being gay from an early age, lavishes most of his praise on the three older brothers, who are respectively a genius, a jock and a macho lady's man. Meanwhile the youngest just seems to get ignored.
- In Dead Poets' Society, Todd receives a birthday present from his parents - a replica of what they sent him the previous year. It comes out that his brother's birthdays are a big deal, but his own are clearly an afterthought. He throws it away angrily; one of his friends then jokingly tells him to cheer up; he'll get another one next year.
- Subverted in Repo! The Genetic Opera. Rotti Largo is utterly disappointed with all three of his grown-up children, and starts looking among the children of his employees for a worthy heir.
- More specifically, the daughter of his former protégé and his ex-fiancée.
- In A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the robot child a couple uses to replace their comatose son becomes The Unfavorite when their real child wakes up from his coma.
- In Ferris Buellers Day Off, Ferris's sister complains that her brother can get away with anything, and their parents will believe him. Since her brother is Ferris Bueller, she's probably right. On the other hand, Ferris wanted a car, which she got.
- Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story: The fact that Dewey Cox's father is fond of reminding Dewey that "the wrong kid died" when discussing Dewey's deceased older brother is a pretty good indication of where Dewey stands on the pecking order.
- John feels like this in The Lion in Winter as well:
John: Who says poor John? Don't everybody sob at once! My God, if I went up in flames there's not a living soul who'd pee on me to put the fire out!
- Geoffrey, in turn, has a bad case of Middle Child Syndrome:
Geoffrey: It's not the power I feel deprived of... it's the mention I miss. There's no affection for me here: You wouldn't think I'd want that, would you?
- The TV movie Sweet Dreams (1996) has this trope in a flashback scene near the end between Laura Renault (played by Amy Yasbeck) and Allison Sulivan (played by Tiffany Amber-Thiessen).
- Laura Renault: He didn't draw me because he knew I was bad.
- The TV movie In the Deep Woods (1992) has this trope near the end of the movie between Joanna Warren (played by Rosanna Arquette) and Tommy Warren (played by Christopher Rydell).
- Welcome to The Dollhouse: the mother obviously favors the cute youngest daughter Missy over the plain middle daughter Dawn, to the point where Mom and Missy cuddle on the couch while watching television and Dawn has to sit on the floor.
- In Ever After, Rodmilla de Ghent favours her eldest daughter Marguerite, who is beautiful and behaves the same way as her mother, compared to her stepdaughter Danielle and her younger daughter Jacqueline, who has a much sweeter, kinder personality.
- Ramsey Hogan in Desert Heat clearly favors one child over the other two.
Matt: "Why are you ridin' me and Jesse so much and never Petey?"
- This is the Red Queen's Freudian Excuse in Alice in Wonderland, as she claims (and is partially right) that her parents and the rest of the kingdom favoured her little sister the White Queen more than her.
- Played painfully straight in The Feast Of All Saints, where Cecile overtly favors her son Marcel and barely tolerates her daughter Marie, largely because she is jealous of Marie's beauty. This culminates with Cecile attacking Marie when the latter comes home after being gang raped. Near the end of the movie, Cecile even says she wishes Marie was dead and asks Marcel to pass along the message.
- Biblical example: The story of Joseph and his brothers. Jacob favored Joseph because of his resemblance to Jacob's favourite wife (he had two, as well as both of their maids, all of whom he'd had children by), who had died. The multi-coloured coat (actually a translation error—it reads "long-sleeved" in most modern translations) was proof of Jacob's favor. All things considered, it's probably not surprising that his brothers wanted to teach Joseph a lesson, especially when he bragged about dreams in which his brothers were made to bow down before him. Benjamin, Jacob's other son by that wife, was second-favorite, but his position as the youngest meant all the other brothers protected him. This makes the trope at least Older Than Feudalism.
- Actually, it's claimed that Joseph looked just like Jacob. And the coat is originally described as a striped coat, no more. The idea that Joseph looked like Rachel probably came from the musical.
- Of course, Jacob had been his mother's favourite, and his rivalry with with his twin brother Esau (his father Isaac's favourite) was fuelled by this, and led to his fleeing his homeland...
- Then there's Isaac, who was born to Abraham and Sarah very late, and after Sarah (in despair at a total lack of children) had told Abraham to have a child by her maid Hagar. Once Isaac was born, Sarah told Abraham to banish Hagar and her son Ishmael.
- Both Lucifer and Cain were arguably motivated in their bad deeds by this - Lucifer was told to bow down to humans (indicating that they're superior), refused, and was cast out, while Cain murdered his brother because God liked Abel's offerings better. God really seems to like playing favorites.
- Lucifer was cast out for believing himself to be better or equal (I'm not sure which) to God, while Abel's offerings were better because they were from the best of his flock, while Cain's... well, they're not said to be the first harvest, so they weren't the best of his harvest. Abel gave his best to God, Cain didn't.
- The Bennet sisters, in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Tearaway Lydia is Mrs. Bennett's favorite daughter; sensible and witty Elizabeth is Mr. Bennett's. Oldest sister Jane, however, is loved by everyone thanks to her sweet nature, but bookish Mary and second-to-youngest Kitty get the short end of the stick. (You will notice that Kitty doesn't even get a character trait; she's just 'second-to-youngest'. That's favoritism for you.)
- Mrs. Dashwood does that in Sense and Sensibility. She is kind and affectionate to her three daughters, but she has a particularly close relationship with Marianne, who strikingly resembles her and is constantly referred to as being her darling child, doted upon or something of the sort. Meanwhile, she generally finds Elinor incomprehensible and fails to take her feelings into account, possibly because she often doesn't realise they exist. When the sisters have similar love problems, Mrs Dashwood leaves Elinor to shift for herself while giving Marianne her unlimited support. While some of this could be explained by Elinor's and Marianne's respective attitudes, Mrs Dashwood continues to be inconsiderate to Elinor even when it is revealed that her love interest is engaged to another woman. Completely inverts the Middle Child Syndrome.
- Fudge, in Judy Blume's series of young adult novels beginning with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, was the family favorite, getting away with murder while big brother Peter got repeatedly whacked over the head with An Aesop about loving his brother. The fact that Peter Can't Get Away with Nuthin'' doesn't help.
- In fact, this is one of those odd instances where it's not clear whether Fudge is the parents' favorite, or the author's. Peter's parents seem as if they're supposed to be the wise, sensible, benevolent type, and they do make up for some of Fudge's excesses, but the fact that Fudge never gets called on his bad behaviour suggests that either he was given serious preference by his parents...or Blume didn't want to let such things as "discipline" get in the way of Fudge's antics.
- In the latest book in the series, Double Fudge, Fudge's latest "phase" is that he's obsessed with money. His parents are actually somewhat worried about this, and Anne, the mother, is positively mortified when Fudge's excessive greed results in him getting evaluated by the counselor and she's told that maybe she should try to stress that "the best things in life are free," etc. The problem is never solved, per se, in order to allow for hijinks and because Warren and Anne really have no idea what to do about it, but it does seem to lessen. Slightly. Fudge books are only published once every ten years, so we might have a bit of wait to find out what happens next, if anything.
- His parents do get fed up with Fudge and punish him when warranted. In Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing Fudge is throwing a tantrum and not eating his cornflakes and his dad makes him stand in the bathtub while he dumps the bowl of cereal on his head, and in Superfudge he was occasionally scolded (and spanked once) by his mother over his misdeeds and at the end was punished by his parents for riding his bike to town without telling anyone.
- Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing itself also had Fudge get punished for his actions, as he ruins a poster that Peter, Jimmy, and Sheila had been working on for weeks. His mother spanks him. Though that's scarcely enough to make up for the incident in the park, where she blames Peter for allowing Fudge to jump off the jungle gym even though Sheila was supposed to be in charge.
- The mother does later tell Peter that she's sorry she yelled at him and knew it wasn't right, but she was upset.
- Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing itself also had Fudge get punished for his actions, as he ruins a poster that Peter, Jimmy, and Sheila had been working on for weeks. His mother spanks him. Though that's scarcely enough to make up for the incident in the park, where she blames Peter for allowing Fudge to jump off the jungle gym even though Sheila was supposed to be in charge.
- Played with in Judy Blume's The Pain And The Great One, a kids book told in two parts. The first, an older sister describes how her little brother "The Pain" gets away with murder and is clearly the parents favorite, in the second the brother describes the sister "The Great One" in pretty much the same way, also concluding that she must be the favorite.
- Murphy in Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files. In Blood Rites, she asks that Harry time an assault on a vampire lair so that she can skip her family reunion. The timing is off, however; she attends part of the reunion, and learns that her younger sister - who their mother explicitly says is allowed more freedom as the youngest than Murphy had as a youngster - is marrying Murphy's ex-husband. The sister got involved with the ex when he failed to arrest her for underage drinking when she was spending an unsupervised vacation in New Orleans. Their mother is A-OK with this, and criticizes Murphy for her reaction.
- Of course, only part of this is because Murphy's sister is the favorite sister. The other part is that Mrs. Murphy absolutely loved her son-in-law. She's thrilled that she's getting him back in the family again.
- Mercilessly deconstructed in Leaving Poppy by Kate Cann. The heroine, Amber, has a younger sister that is so favored by her mother it reaches ridiculous levels. At the start of the story, the heroine is due to go on holiday to celebrate her exam success. But Poppy—who her mother describes as "fragile"—suddenly becomes "ill," crying all the time and throwing tantrums. Their mother guilt-trips Amber into staying...and Poppy "miraculously" gets better. In later chapters, it is revealed that Poppy is not sick -- she's psychotic, partly as a result of being spoiled, but it's also suggested that she was "born bad." Even as a child, she slashed another kid with scissors -- and planned the whole thing meticulously.
- In C. J. Cherryh's Regenesis, part of the backstory of Giraud and Denys Nye is that their mother wanted to raise a genius, and pressured Giraud, the eldest, to perform as a child; although he was bright, he wasn't up to that level, and was The Unfavorite. Denys, on the other hand, was a genius and was coddled. Denys grew up introverted and antisocial, depending utterly on Giraud to handle interaction with other people.
- Paula Danziger is another teen writer who was fond of this, although in Can You Sue Your Parents For Malpractice? she turns the trope on its head—big sister Melissa is the family favourite until she defies her draconian father by moving in with her boyfriend. Rather than choosing a "new" favourite, her father takes his annoyance out on his two younger daughters.
- A major part of the plot of Jacob Have I Loved: Sarah Louise's younger twin, Caroline, received all the attention as a baby because she was always weak and ill. She grew up beautiful, popular, talented at singing and the piano, sweet, and perfect, while Sarah Louise became a hard-working tomboy who "never gave her parents a moment's worry." Sarah Louise's mission in the novel is to find a life outside her sister's shadow.
- In Diana Wynne Jones' Archer's Goon, the youngest of the seven magical siblings is the most powerful and favored of the group. His elder brothers and sisters are bound magically to protect him.
- In Stephen King's novel The Eyes of the Dragon, Peter is the King's favorite son. This leads younger brother Thomas to build a deep jealousy and hate of his older brother that the Big Bad Flagg takes advantage of.
- To a large extent, this is actually inverted. The King certainly adores Peter, and thinks him a better heir, but feels most like the younger son. (In fact, many of the eavesdropped statements that led to Thomas's resentment ended with a "like something I would have produced at his age" that Thomas missed.)
- GRR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire has a few:
- Tywin Lannister loves his oldest son Jaime, who's tall, handsome, a ferocious knight and generally regarded as the ideal son. (For awhile) His second son, Tyrion, is a malformed dwarf whose birth killed Tywin's beloved wife. Tyrion's not the popular son.
- Warrior-like Randyll Tarly (said to be the finest soldier in the realm) bypasses his heir, the cowardly, compassionate, bookish and weight-challenged Samwell, for his younger son Dickon (and by "bypasses" we mean "chains him up for three days, threatens to kill him, then has him forfeit his birthright and be exiled to the
Foreign LegionNight's Watch rather than let him become a *gasp* academic").
- He explicitly tells him he'll enjoy hunting him down like an animal if he doesn't join the Watch, while skinning a dead deer. He rips its heart out in front of him for emphasis.
- Queen Cersei lavishes shamelessly preferential treatment on her sociopathic eldest Joffrey while publicly berating the sweet, gentle Tommen as a weakling.
- There is a very mild version with Catelyn. While she dearly and deeply loves all of her children, she has mentioned that Bran is her favorite. There is also a mild version between Arya and Sansa specifically, as Catelyn often finds herself wishing that Arya could be more like her ladylike sister. (While Catelyn loves her real children, she does, however, really hate the bastard Jon and the foster child Theon that invade her way of life).
- And Theon gets the short end of the stick again when, feeling unwelcome in Winterfell, he tries to go back home to Pyke. After Balon's oldest boys were killed and the youngest taken hostage in punishment for a failed rebellion, he was left with his daughter Asha. Not surprisingly, Balon doesn't welcome the son who was raised by his enemies, but he absolutely dotes on Asha.
- Katie Nolan of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn knows when she gives birth to her son Neely that she'll love him more than her daughter Francie, but promises she won't show it. She rationalizes much of her favoritism by saying that Neely needs more encouragement, while Francie is strong like her and will get what she wants somehow. For example, when she can only afford to send one of the kids to high school, she says it should be Neely because he won't go unless she makes him, but Francie will get an education because she wants it.
- In Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men, Tiffany Aching, the next-to-youngest child in a family of girls, is somewhat overlooked because the youngest child is the only boy.
- In Lynda Robinson's Lord Meren mysteries, it is revealed in Murder at the Feast of Rejoicing that Meren, the eldest son, was put under great pressure to excel by his AbusiveFather, while his younger brother Ra was indulged and spoiled.
- J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter: Harry endured some pretty extreme abuse at the hands of his aunt Petunia and uncle Vernon, while his cousin Dudley was extremely pampered, owed at least in part to a long-held jealousy Petunia held of his mother.
- Ron certainly felt like this was the case, although readers generally see no evidence of it: among his many insecurities, he frets about being the sixth boy in a family that always wanted a girl.
- It's probably safe to say that Harry Potter is made of this trope: Regulus was the favorite over older brother Sirius (mostly because the former was just as much a bigot as his parents); Dumbledore's sister Ariana required constant supervision, leaving Albus rather aloof; Petunia certainly felt that her parents liked Lily better after discovering she was a witch.
- Crookedstar from Warrior Cats was this to Rainflower, to the dismay of him, his brother Oakheart, and their father Shellheart all because he broke his jaw, this "ruining his good looks." But he eventually tells her that she would never make him ashamed of who he was.
- Breezepelt feels like this at first, bcause his dad never pays attention to him (but not knowing he had more than one kit). So he starts working with the Dark Forest not only to destroy the Clans, but also to get revenge on Crowfeather.
- In Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey novel Busman's Honeymoon, the Dowager Duchess explicitly tells Harriet that Peter is her favourite child.
- In JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Boromir (the elder son) is heavily preferred to Faramir by their father, Denethor. It's especially emphasized in The Movies, where Denethor is shown as blatantly unfair; in the book, Gandalf at least believes that it is partly that Denethor is still grief-stricken over the death.
- In The Silmarillion, Fëanor and Fingolfin, who are half-brothers, fight for the love of their father Finwë, who shows no signs of favouritism. Then the eldest son, Fëanor, publicly threatens to kill Fingolfin, setting the point of his sword to his brother's chest. He is exiled... and his father Finwë goes with him. Poor Fingolfin. (Though arguably this might have been necessary to keep the slightly unhinged Fëanor from going batshit crazy... which he did anyway, mind, but only later.) Even so, Finwë declares that as long as his son is exiled, "I hold myself unkinged" and refuses to see or talk to his people, even during the holiest festivals.
- Jacqueline Wilson has used this a few times:
- The Diamond Girls involves a mother who is desperate for her fifth child to be a boy, after having four daughters. She obsesses over it to the point of planning her new life around her son—demeaning the value of her daughters (probably unintentionally) as she does do. This is one of the few cases where Parental Favoritism has started before the kid is born. It doesn't work out so well for the fifth Diamond child when "he" turns out to be a she, however...
- Girls In Love has one character, Nadine, with a younger sister who is the favourite of their superficial and snobbish mother. Natasha is a Devil in Plain Sight, but she looks cute, and later starts a career as a child model, so of course she's "Mummy's favourite."
- Goes both ways in the Conqueror books. Temuge is the youngest of five brothers, and his mother dotes on him as a result. This leads to him becoming a rather soft and chubby child who never learns to use a bow or sword effectively, making him the least favourite in his father's eyes.
- Jodi Picoult favours the Ill Girl variation on this trope:
- In My Sister's Keeper, youngest daughter Anna was conceived specifically to be a donor for cancer-struck big sister, Kate. While she is pregnant with Anna, her mother, Sara, admits that she hasn't really considered her new daughter's personality, only the genetics that ensure she will make a good donor. Even when Anna is born, Sara's main concern is that the doctors don't damage the umbilical cord (which can be used to save Kate) - she pays very little attention to the newborn baby. Anna's dad is more concerned with her, but even he neglects his oldest child, Jesse. Late in the book, he admits that he hasn't really paid much attention to Jesse's development, and can't fill in the gap between being told that Jesse wasn't a suitable donor for Kate, and being confronted with a seriously troubled 18-year-old. Jesse and Anna are only seen in terms of what they can do for Kate - Kate, to her credit, notices this and doesn't like it one bit.
- In Handle with Care, Willow suffers from severe brittle bone disease, which understandably necessitates a lot of care and caution. However, her mother, Charlotte, takes it to an extreme, ignoring older daughter Amelia and systematically destroying the girl's life as she campaigns to improve Willow's. When Amelia develops bulimia and starts self-harming, Charlotte genuinely can't see why Amelia has such problems. Unlike Willow, who is cared for by her family, Amelia is promptly shuffled off to a clinic in Boston when her problems are revealed, to be someone else's problem for a while. What makes this particularly sad is that before Willow's birth, Charlotte admits that she would hesitate to take a bullet for her husband, because Amelia would need her, but she's protect Amelia no matter what. By the end of the book, it's doubtful that Charlotte would give the same answer.
- In Outbound Flight, Jedi Lorana Jinzler is confronted, to her shock, by the brother she never knew, who told her angrily that their parents, who she also never knew, loved her for being a Jedi, loved her more than their other children, held her up as a shining example of what they should be. She's confused and disturbed and both of them come away from that confrontation worse off; at the end of the book, Lorana tells someone to find her brother and tell him that she was thinking of him, and hoping that he could find a way to let go of his anger - at her, at their parents, at himself.
- Fifty years later, in Survivors Quest, that person Lorana talked to finally stops neglecting the promise and arranges for Dean Jinzler to go to the ruins of Outbound Flight, where his sister died. Time has muddled up his anger, and although he still believes that she was unduly favored, he wants to put things to rest and say his goodbyes. During the events of the novel he realizes, in a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, that he'd been lying to himself for years. Their parents had loved the absent Lorana, but they had loved the children they had just as much. All those years when Dean had been pushing himself to excel in his father's fields, they had been proud. He just hadn't seen it.
"I'm an electronics technician. Like my father before me."
- Manny Heffley, the baby of the Heffley family from Diary of a Wimpy Kid. (Manny is three years old, Greg is around eleven to thirteen, while Rodrick is implied to be in between fifteen to seventeen.) Manny is allowed to do all sorts of stuff like bring toys to church, call his brothers names, throw fits to get his way, and crawl out of bed at night and stay up. Greg states that when he was Manny's age, he had none of that. The Parental Favoritism also spreads to the extended family. (Manny is given far more presents for Christmas and more stuff that he wants, Greg is given stuff like books of Algebra or deodorant.) Especially the only in-focus grandmother who claims to like all of her grandchildren equally but her fridge is practically wallpapered in pictures of Manny.
- The only onscreen grandfather meanwhile actually subverts this. It's also why he is Gregory's favourite grandparent, for obvious reasons...
"Gregory's my favorite!"
- In the Maximum Ride series, Jeb clearly favors his foster children (the Flock) over his six-year-old biological son Ari, to the point at which he leaves Ari in an underground lab filled with unethical scientists who unsurprisingly have no problem experimenting on the poor kid. Because of this, Ari understandably resents the Flock for this (especially Max) and tries constantly to gain his father's favor. Then the parental favoritism becomes literal when it turns out that Max and Ari are half siblings.
- Of course, it's a bit blurry as to whether he genuinely loved them or was just another in a long line of people trying to use the Flock to their advantage. The fact that he doesn't shut up about how they have to save the world might be an indicator.
- A very important part of L. M. Montgomery's Jane of Lantern Hill: Grandmother only loves one of her children, Robin, Jane's mother. She's also insanely jealous, so this love doesn't extend to Jane.
- As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury both feature a mother having a favorite son out of all her other children, despite the fact that the son is a Jerkass.
- The gods in Percy Jackson are guilty of this. In fact, Poseidon openly admitted that Percy was his favourite son, which is a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
- In Jane Eyre, Jane is treated only like another mouth to feed for her spiteful aunt (whose husband treated Jane more kindly before he died) and her cousins, especially John, take delight in bullying her, even in front of their mother who does nothing to stop them.
- In The Legend of Rah and the Muggles, Rah is the favorite of virtually the entire Muggle community, because he's a good boy who doesn't ever deviate from the norm and builds them a mill. This is taken to ridiculous levels in one chapter, when he wins a croquet game and everyone acts like he won the Olympics, complete with giving him an old and valuable medal. Rah also seems to be the author's favorite as well, given that she made his entry in the character glossary easily the most detailed, while most everyone else (including Zyn) got two or three sentences tops.
- In Beyond the Western Sea, Lord Kirkle favors Laurence, while Lady Kirkle favors Albert, leading to a Cain and Abel situation.
- Laurence in the Temeraire books. He's the unnecessary third son of a minor aristocratic family, and his father, who'd never paid him any attention, expected him to go into the priesthood, but instead he ran away and joined the Navy. And just when he thought he might have been in a position to make his way back into his father's good graces with his accumulated military honors, he experiences the local equivalent of Falling Into the Cockpit and finds himself recruited to the socially unacceptable Aerial Corps instead, and his father almost disowns him. Their relationship only gets worse from there.
- In the Chinese Cinderella story Bound by Donna Jo Napoli, at first the stepmother cared for neither main character Xing Xing or her biological daughter, as during her time, sons were more favoured. However, as Xing Xing's father grew closer to Xing Xing after the death of his wife, the stepmother grew closer to her own daughter, while simultaneously despising and envying her stepdaughter.
- Present across the Julio-Claudian family in I, Claudius.
- Forced to play up his idiocy and disability, Claudius always disgusted his mother, especially when compared to his noble and valiant brother Germanicus. There was no resentment of Germanicus on Claudius's side, though.
- Livia justified her actions by pointing out how disastrous Augustus's Parental Favouritism was: by favouring Marcellus over Agrippa, and Lucius, Gaius and later Germanicus against Tiberius, he risked civil war in Rome after his death.
- Claudius later used this to protect his own son, Britannicus, from his adopted son Nero, hoping to divert Agrippinilla's attention from him. He fails.
- A major theme in East of Eden, due to the running Cain and Abel parallel. It happens first with Cyrus Trask, his unfavorite eldest son Charles, and the favorite, Adam. Thanks to Generation Xerox, things go pretty much the same way with Adam's twin sons, Cal and Aaron.
- In Gene Stratton Porter's The Song of the Cardinal, the cardinal got this. His father stuffed him with food in the nest, and his mother, more equitable, gave him only half of what she gathered.
The king came to see him and at once acknowledged subjugation. He was the father of many promising cardinals, yet he never had seen one like this. He set the Limberlost echoes rolling with his jubilant rejoicing. He unceasingly hunted for the ripest berries and seed. He stuffed that baby from morning until night, and never came with food that he did not find him standing a-top the others calling for more. The queen was just as proud of him and quite as foolish in her idolatry, but she kept tally and gave the remainder every other worm in turn. They were unusually fine babies, but what chance has merely a fine baby in a family that possesses a prodigy? The Cardinal was as large as any two of the other nestlings, and so red the very down on him seemed tinged with crimson; his skin and even his feet were red.
- In Gene Stratton Porter's A Daughter of the Land, Mary. With Kate singled out as the unfavorite.
"I am not! But it wasn't a 'fool thing' when Mary and Nancy Ellen, and the older girls wanted to go. You even let Mary go to college two years."
- In Stuart Hill's The Icemark Chronicles, the youngest son Sharley has a crippled leg, so his parents overprotect him and love him more than their other offspring. His sister Medea grows more and more hatred towards him throughtout the second book, until she eventually tries to kill him.
Here he was, the reason and root of her inability to embrace the cause of the Icemark, her family, humanity, the mortal world…everything! She wasn't responsible for her actions. Sharley was.
Live Action TV
- Subverted in many ways on Frasier—brothers Frasier and Niles were each convinced that the other was their parents' favourite, which resulted in the intense and petty sibling rivalry that they each suffer from in adulthood. It's often made clear, however, that their parents didn't play favourites (and in fact their father Martin in many ways considered both of them his least favourite, as they were so completely different from and diametrically opposed to him) and that all this was just their own insecurities acting.
- The female 'baby' of the family is also subverted slightly in Daphne's relationship with her mother—despite Daphne's endless, thankless sacrifices over the years, her mother is nothing less than hyper-critical and demanding of her, whilst doting upon her boorish, obnoxious, feckless and ungrateful older brother.
- Played with in Supernatural. Throughout Season One, Sam thinks that John hates him (when he left for college, he told him to never come back) while Dean is the one who obsessively follows his Dad's orders and can't seem to comprehend not following an order. But it's slowly revealed that Sam is the one who John cares the most about (although this could just be through the eyes of Dean) while Dean is the one who had to grow up too fast and was treated, well, more like a soldier than a son. Although John did try to make it up by doing a deal to save Dean's life, Dean's Daddy Issues (the fact that he still thinks he wasn't good enough for him and that he still thinks he's the one who should have died) continue to this very day.
- And the Yellow-Eyed Demon knows this. He even taunts Dean by saying that John arguing with Sam was 'more concern than he's ever shown you.'
- Also exists among the angels, as Gabriel points out that they all know that 'He loved you best. More than Michael, more than me' discrediting Lucifer's claim that he hates humans because God loved them more. (In fact, Gabriel says that Lucifer hates humans because he thought that God preferred them.)
- Much drama is wrung out of this question in Heroes: Just who is Angela Petrelli's favorite son? Arthur says it's Peter, much to Sylar's disappointment.
- Seen in full flow in Dallas. Youngest son Bobby is the family favourite, much to the disappointment of eldest son JR who has spent years honing his skills, cunning and ruthlessness in the hopes of winning over Jock (middle child Gary became an alcoholic and even after recovering moved away from the family). Strikingly, when Jock dies it hits JR by far the hardest.
- Gibbs of NCIS is the Team Dad of the main cast, and makes no secret that Lab Rat Abby is his favorite out of his team of Bunny Ears Lawyer investigators. The other team members seem to accept this with good grace, partly because they also dote on her and partly because it's recognized that she's something of a substitution for Gibbs' real daughter, who was murdered as a child and would have been around the same age as Abby.
- Rather cruelly played for humor on Friends. Ross and Monica's mother dotes on Ross endlessly, while giving Monica nothing but hell. Their father also seems to favor Ross, although he doesn't display the cruelty toward Monica that his wife does. (They somewhat quasi-explained it in one episode. Their parents had previously thought that their mother was barren, so Ross was their "miracle child." By the time Monica was born, the "miracle" was gone.)
- As Monica put it (to her brother, Ross): "If I could choose my parents, I'd take yours."
- Though in one instance, her father feels so bad about this that he gives her a car.
- He only did that because he thoughtlessly destroyed her childhood belongings, but saved Ross' things. He may only have given her his car out of guilt for that, not so much for the way he and Judy treated her all her life.
- An episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent featured in "Saving Face" a young doctor who could never escape her brother's shadow, despite the fact that he had died many years ago ("He was the lucky one!"), to the point where they were more worried about his portrait being damaged than her being hauled off to jail. She even did the math and discovered she was conceived almost immediately after his death, making her nothing more than a replacement for him.
- Det. Goren is aware that he's The Unfavorite in spite of the fact that his brother is (was?) a homeless drug addict.
- In That '70s Show, Red favors Laurie over Eric, as he's oblivious to the fact that she's the town slut. OTOH, Kitty's love for Eric goes pretty much into My Beloved Smother territory.
- At one point, after Eric has missed an opportunity to get Laurie in trouble with Red for making out with her professor, this exchange happens:
Eric: Oh, mom! I had her right in my sighta. I mean, she was right there in the cross-hairs.
- Red also favors Hyde, his pseudo-adopted son, over Eric.
- Everybody Loves Raymond. Even the show title suggests so. Robert always gets the short end of the stick from their parents.
- Some episodes of Wife Swap have a family in which one or both of the parents have obvious favorite children. Normally the wife of the other family points this out to the father and adds rules pampering The Unfavorite during the rules change. Generally the family learns their lesson in the end and is shown treating their children more equally in the "where are they now?" ending.
- In Battlestar Galactica, Ellen Tigh, one of the creators of the humanoid Cylons, apparently considered artistic Daniel as her favorite. As Model Number Seven, Daniel is essentially the second youngest of eight. The eldest is... somewhat resentful of this relationship.
- The West Wing presents something of the parent's point of view; President Bartlet clearly has a much more difficult relationship with his middle daughter Ellie as opposed to his eldest Elizabeth and particularly his youngest daughter Zoe, but when accused of this trope, Bartlet angrily denies that he "loves any of his children less than the others".
- Miley's grandmother in Hannah Montana feels that her brother Jackson got the short end of the stick being the normal brother of a world famous pop star, and so she tries to make up for it by openly admitting that he's her favorite. For instance, she blows off Miley's visit with the queen of England to see Jackson's volleyball game. In the same episode, we're shown that Jackson think's Miley's the world's favorite (including their father's), as she gets all the attention, being an international pop star.
- From Arrested Development:
- "I don't much care for GOB."
- "You're my third least favorite child."
- The Smothers Brothers, Tom and Dick, have made this a part of their act for decades. Specifically, how younger brother Dick was always lauded upon, whereas older brother Tom got the short end of the stick. In fact, Tom's Catch Phrase was "Mom always liked you best!" One of their bits talks about how, when Dick got a pet dog and a bicycle, Tom got a pet chicken and a wagon with only one wheel.
- Sometimes, this occurs in ER. When two brothers come into a hospital after an accident, the father chewed the adopted one out, accusing him of doing stupid things that would hurt his son. However, we find out that he is just as strict on his biological son, which was why said son preferred his stepbrother over his father. Even when the stepbrother went into critical condition, the father was more concerned with his real son. Ray angrily called him out on it.
- On Caroline in The City, Caroline's parents clearly unconsciously favor her brother, who really is highly accomplished and successful and of whom Caroline has always been a little resentful and jealous. During a visit home, Caroline's employee, friend, and eventual lover Richard comforts her by comparing her brother to an alien, and saying that if it wasn't so cold, he'd be 'out looking for his pod'. Later, he gently teases Caroline by saying she has to get elected President, 'so her brother can become the Pope'.
- From what is seen in Firefly, Simon seems to be the favorite of the family. While River never comes across as the Unfavorite, we still see that the Tam parents pump vast amounts of energy and money into Simon's social standing and career, but are shown to make no such efforts towards River (despite her being even more gifted than him) and seem more bothered by Simon's attempt to contact his sister than the fact that River has pretty much vanished after being sent to an institute.
- The Tams are worried about their son's apparent loss of mental balance. After all River is safe in a government school nothing could possibly be wrong....
- On The X-Files, Scully is her father's favorite. They share a love of the book Moby Dick; he calls her "Starbuck", and she calls him "Ahab". Following that tradition, she eventually ends up naming her dog "Queequeg".
- Mulder's situation is a bit trickier. While both his parents hold some resentment over his not having stopped his sister's abduction, the favoritism of his parents is a little blurrier. At one point, it seems that his mother was given a choice of which child she would rather give up, and Samantha was that child.
- The Russos favorite varies over the series. Jerry's favorite is Alex (due to being Daddy's Girl) for general purpose. Theresa's favorite is generally Justin. Jerry favor's Justin for things involving Magic. But above all they realize Harper is most likely to take care of them in their own age, and to bring home athletic trophies. The only one to never get a moment of favoritism is Max.
- Pam Puckett on iCarly. It's obvious to everyone that out of the twins, she prefers Melanie over Sam. She even outright asks Sam once why she can't be more like Melanie.
- Mostly averted in Wonderfalls, where they do treat all three of their children well. Nevertheless there was this:
Diana: Sharon go talk to your father, you're his favorite.
- In Roseanne, it's pretty clear that Jackie and Roseanne's parents have each chosen a favorite. Jackie's close relationship with their father leads her to excuse a lot of the abuse they suffered and look to excuse his affair. Bev is ridiculously hard on Jackie and dotes on Roseanne. One episode, where their mother's favoritism is glaring, Roseanne worries that she and Dan may act this way to their own girls. She spends the rest of the episode trying to bond with Darlene who is a Daddy's girl, while forcing Dan to do things with Becky (including an excruciating day at the mall). After things mostly backfire, Dan and Roseanne agree to go back to doting on their favorite and decide to toss a coin on who gets to ruin DJ's life when he's old enough.
- One episode revealed that Jackie is actually Bev's favorite, but in a different way. Bev decided when the girls were young that Jackie had a spark and she would be destined to do great things, while Roseanne was plainer and probably going to wind up being a housewife and mother. Bev only dotes on Roseanne because she took "the right path" and nags Jackie endlessly because she feels she screwed up her life by not becoming a doctor. Both sisters, particularly Roseanne are understandably upset by this, and Roseanne again reconsiders how she treats Becky and Darlene.
- Deb from Dexter feels this way about her father toward her brother. The truth is that Harry just wanted to protect his children and loved them both. Dexter was just a little more high-maintenance.
- All over the place in Veronica Mars:
- "Lilly always said her parents adored Duncan and tolerated her. If she couldn't please them, she'd go out of her way to piss them off."
- Aaron Echolls, who dotes on his daughter and beats his son. Made even worse by the fact that Trina refuses to believe Logan's claims of abuse and accuses him of lying in order to make their father look bad.
- This also inverts the standard "adopted vs. biological" relationship, as Aaron adopted Trina with his first wife, while Logan is his biological son.
- Dick Casablancas Sr. is pretty blatant about favoring his eldest - which ends badly.
- Although Rodrigo Borgia is plainly very fond of all his children, his daughter Lucrezia is obviously his favourite, to the point where it becomes a little creepy. And of his three sons he indulges Juan the most by far and remains completely oblivious to his glaring faults, to the clear resentment of The Dutiful Son Cesare. Meanwhile little Gioffre gets rather overlooked, but doesn't seem to mind too much. Being overlooked is a blessing in the Borgia family.
- Lionel Luthor only cares about his male line. Granted, he doesn't seem to care much about them either, but Earth-2 Lionel certainly cares more about his Earth-1 counterpart's son Lex than his daughter Tess, since he declares that her only purpose as a Luthor is to die so that Lionel can take her heart and use it to bring Lex back to life.
- In the world of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks published by Puffin in the 1980s through to the 1990s, the wealthy ruler of the city of Fang blatantly favors his elder son Sukumvit over his younger son Carnuss, making Carnuss develop a searing hatred for his brother. When Sukumvit becomes ruler of Fang on his father's death, he constructs the deadly Deathtrap Dungeon as a private hobby, challenging adventurers to try and survive going through it for a 10,000 gold piece prize. An embittered Carnuss sees a chance at getting revenge on his hated brother, and begins kidnapping people to test them until he can find someone tough enough to send as his champion to penetrate the dungeon and humiliate his brother.
- Warhammer 40,000 backstory has Horus being the first son found by the Emperor, who was later made Warmaster above his nineteen brothers and generally treated as the Emperor's eldest son. Ironically, he went on to betray the Emperor and lead the unfavorites in what would become the bloodiest war in human history.
- In Death of a Salesman, Willy favors Biff over Happy.
- In King Lear, Lear favors Cordelia over his other daughters, until she refuses to praise him as lavishly as her sisters. Of course, given Goneril and Regan's behavior, he probably had good reason to like Cordelia best.
- In Wicked, Elphaba's father or at least, the father who raised her clearly prefers her sister Nessarose. It's heavily implied to be due to the fact that she was born green, and that that is the only reason. This indirectly led to the death of Elphaba and Nessarose's mother after their father made her drink poppy milk (or some liquid like that) to keep from having another green child. This led to Nessa's legs being crippled and their mother dying in childbirth.
- The book suggests he might just blame Elphaba for that just a bit. And the fact that she can't bathe in water is a real pain in the twees too. Oh! And the sharp teeth. The deck's just kind of stacked against Elphaba here.
- In the book, there's another reason. Nessa shares his religious zeal, moreso than Elphaba or their brother, Shell. That may be a chicken and egg situation, though.
- In the Mario series, Bowser's family has this. Ever since Bowser Jr. first appeared, he's appeared in any other Mario game that has Bowser in it except for the Mario and Luigi series. The the original seven Koopalings, on the other hand have only appeared twice, one of those times in Superstar Saga, where they weren't even being commanded by Bowser but by Cackletta, though she had possessed Bowser, it still changed his appearance to the point where they would have recognized it wasn't him. The other time they appear in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Bowser Jr. that's commanding them, despite the fact that he's the youngest. And of course, Bowser Jr. is the only one who was named after his father.
- Fandom either assumes Bowser put Jr. in charge, supporting the whole favored son concept; or that the older Koopalings are either sucking up to him. Some extremists trying to pander this as proof that Bowser Jr. is Bowser's 'true' son and that the other kids are adopted.
- An interesting case occurs in Kana: Little Sister. At the beginning of the story, Taka (the main character) is resentful towards Kana because their parents tend to favor her (due to her terminal illness). This position is reversed towards the end of the game (which takes place almost a decade later). When Taka offers to donate one of his kidneys to Kana, his parents are opposed to it, because they don't want Taka (their true son) to take risks for Kana's sake (because Kana is adopted)
- The DS version of Dragon Quest V has this with the Briscolettis. Elder daughter Debora is a self-absorbed Rich Bitch, while her sister Nera is a Spoiled Sweet Yamato Nadeshiko who's absolutely adored by everyone. While Debora is still able to get all the material goods she wants from her parents, Rodrigo clearly favors Nera, and appears to have simply given up on trying to rein her sister in. Should the player choose to marry Debora, the father reacts with surprise, but throws his full support behind the wedding, and afterward confesses that you've made him very happy, as he'd given up hope of Debora getting married a long time ago.
- This is actually a game mechanic in F.E.A.R. 3's cooperative campaign. Whichever brother has the highest score at the end of the campaign is deemed Alma's favorite, and will kill/consume the other.
- In Awesome Video Games, Dad obviously prefers Chet over Ace. Whether this has any lasting effects is yet to be seen.
- In Order of the Stick, Eugene Greenhilt favored his daughter Julia over his son Roy, because Julia became a wizard like him, while Roy became a fighter. ("I can tell because you never use the phrase, "crashing depression" when talking about her.")
- In a later example, Elan's father Tarquin favours Elan over his other son Nale, even though Elan is the opposite alignment of both himself and Nale. Not only is Elan a lot closer to Tarquin in mentality, but Tarquin doesn't find Nale's egomania, arrogance and short-sightedness (which led to Nale trying to kill him just to satisfy his own ego) to be very conductive to a healthy father-son relationship. Elan may want to kill him too, but at least he's got a good reason for it instead of "I want to be in charge".
- An unusual case in Misfile, Ash Upton manages to be on both sides of the Parental Favoritism divide thanks to Rumisiel's little filing mishap. As a boy, she had no contact with her mother and her relationship with her father was distant at best (his plans for Ash's summer vacation apparently involved re-roofing the house). As a girl she has a close relationship with both parents who are much more involved in her life. For some reason she feels this sucks.
- Also a subversion, as the change was due completely to Ash's actions. In Ash's past (s)he wrote a letter to his/her mom. As a boy, masculine pride made him throw it away. As a girl, the letter was sent.
- A humorous variant is found in Something*Positive. Fred MacIntire has two (living) biological children, Davan and Dahlia, and an adopted daughter, Monette. His fourth "child" is Davan's friend PeeJee, who lives with them; one strip has him admitting that she's his favorite. It's Played for Laughs, of course, as it's made remarkably clear through all the Deadpan Snarker dialogue that Fred's actually a damn good father.
- Bob and George: Dr. Light goes gaga over the still being created X: you're Daddy's Favorite.
- In the Nuzlocke Comics, Norman shows favoritism to "Good-Ruby", a Vigoroth that he dresses in a hat similar to Ruby's, over Ruby.
- In Batman and Sons, Batman obviously favors Terry over Dick, Jason, or Tim. Most likely due to him being Batman's only biological son (and thus, another Batman).
- This might not be biological favouritism so much as Terry (being a baby) not having the ability to backtalk yet like the older boys. The kids can be very blunt about how messed up Batman is (much to his annoyance) but Terry's the only one who can't say it yet.
- Major part of Zuko's and Azula's Backstory in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Azula was daddy's little girl, while Zuko (the eldest son and heir) was hated by his father just for being alive.
- Also, Azula, due to her upbringing by Ozai (whose favoritism toward Azula means he hates Zuko), mistakenly believed that her mother's favoritism toward Zuko meant that she didn't love her. As a result she became evil and ultimately insane.
- Aang didn't technically have parents (given that Airbending Air Nomad children were sent off to live with the monks) but it was fairly obvious that he was Monk Gyatso's favorite.
- The rough counterpart to the Fire Nation royals, Hakoda's family, doesn't seem to have this problem. Hakoda doesn't show any favouritism for his son or daughter. And while Ozai and favoured child Azula came to share certain traits, Hakoda and Sokka are similar without this affecting Katara negatively.
- In Hey Arnold!, favoritism seems strong in the Pataki family; Olga is praised for her accomplishments and is given more attention than Helga, which causes a one-sided strain between the two. However, Olga actually wishes she could be like Helga, without all the fussing and attention.
- Any time Pickles' parents get any screen time in Metalocalypse, it's made abundantly clear that Seth, Pickles' older brother, is the favorite child. To put it into perspective: Seth is an ex-con who lives with his wife (of questionable virtue) in an attic above their garage in Wisconsin. Pickles is the drummer for the most successful band in the world.
- To further emphasize: whose annual income is so huge that it makes them the seventh largest economy on the planet.
- Dr. Doofenshmirtz on Phineas and Ferb grew up resenting his "goody-two shoes brother, the favorite of my mother" Roger. Even worse, his father preferred the dog, naming it "Only Son", and the only reason his mother liked his brother more was because said brother was better at kickball.
- In Rugrats Angelica once convinced Phil and Lil that every family had one favorite, and that their sibling was it, making both of them The Unfavourite.
- In the Hercules TV series, Phil and Hercules go visit Phil's mother, where she openly calls Phil's brother her favourite, going on about how he's a successful salesman, which Phil resents. However, when the brother comes to visit, he bemoans to Phil that their mother goes on about Phil's accomplishments to him. The mother admits that she did this to make sure neither would grow a big head.
- In the DCAU, Darkseid shows rather blatant partental favoritism towards his eldest son Orion... Who is also his Arch Enemy and wants him dead. Not only is his other son, Kalibak, incompetent (despite being a devoted servant to Darkseid), but Orion absolutely hates having Darkseid's approval.
- Kick Buttowski plays this for comedy. Kick, Brad, and Harold all know Brianna is number one in the house, so they all compete for number 2.
- Grandfather from Codename: Kids Next Door openly states he favored his oldest son, Monty/Numbuh Zero, over his youngest son Benedict/Father. This is due to Grandfather's bizarre morality: He liked Numbuh Zero because he was brave enough to stand up to him, unlike Father, who was a spineless coward by comparison (the fact he only recommissioned him because he couldn't defeat the KND all by himself just makes this worse) Evidently, Monty neither appreciates nor wants this favoritism one bit, while Ben is obsessed with getting his approval.
- Cotton Hill of King of the Hill has said that he prefers "Good Hank" an infant over his grown son Hank mainly due to the facts that he was born in Texas and he didn't cry when he shot a gun near him.
- In The Simpsons episode "Eight Misbehavin'", while Manjula introduces their eight newborn octuplets to Apu, she introduces the last child:
Manjula: (to Apu) And mama's clear favorite, Gheet.
- Despite claiming that Gheet is her favorite, she needed to check Gheet's shirt tag to confirm his identity when she went to go back for him at Moe's Tavern in "Moe Letter Blues".
- Apu is seen holding Anoop more frequently than the rest of the octuplets.
- One episode of American Dad had Stan trying to insist that Francine's (adoptive) parents did not love her as much as they loved their biological daughter, Gwen. Francine starts to believe it when Stan finds her parents will leaving all their stuff to Gwen. But later the father reveals that they only left everything to Gwen because she's apparently a moron and needed all the help she could get, while they knew Francine was already well-taken care of because she married a good man.
- The memoirs Chinese Cinderella and Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah tell the story of how she was victimized at the bottom of the pile in her family. She and her other siblings are treated far worse than her step-siblings, her especially for being the youngest and the one to whom their mother died giving birth. The family does some extremely cruel things to her, from giving her pet duckling to an untrained dog to maul, to sending her to a boarding school in a war-torn city which has been evacuated, in the hope that she will die there.
- Both Oda Nobunaga and Date Masumune had to fought a civil war within their domains during their early career that are the result of this. In either case, while the (late) fathers supported them, their mothers disliked them for a reason—for Oda, his wildness; and for Date, his blindness in one eye—and would prefer their younger brothers to succeed the position.
- Laws throughout history have often geared parents from making the first born son the "favorite." Inheritance went to him first, and often the oldest boy had the second position of power in the house. Having only a daughter was (and some places, still is) a horrible dishonor because nobody can carry on you family name.