We are publishing a series of stories to coincide with World Mental Health Day on Saturday, Oct. 10. It raises awareness about the importance of mental health and advocates against social stigmas. These are challenging and stressful times. According to the World Health Organization, half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 but most cases go undetected and untreated. Let’s make the world a kinder and happier place for all to live in.
If you’ve ever found yourself on the side of Twitter fan culture, then you may have come across the “comfort character.”
As the name suggests, that’s a fictional character people find immense comfort in, either because they can identify with them or wish that they could hang out IRL. The feelings are so real that people say even just thinking about their comfort characters has helped them calm down during panic attacks.
Comfort characters aren’t anything new. The term itself has appeared as early as the heydays of Tumblr, when people would post fan art and messages to express their appreciation for these characters. But it recently blew up on Stan Twitter where people now actively discuss their love. The “comfort character” has become so popular that entire Twitter accounts have been created for posts about wholesome fanfiction of people meeting their favourites.
Fans constantly tweet about their comfort characters, posting video edits and photos.
When a fan account tweets that they’ve been going through a rough time, their friends will usually spam photos of their comfort characters in the replies.
The typical comfort character is usually protective of their loved ones and is caring and loyal. Think Harry Potter’s dopey best friend Ron Weasley, your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, or Sugawara, the “mom-friend” from the anime Haikyu.
It’s totally random.
For me, it’s Jack Pearson from the show This Is Us. Jack, played by Milo Ventimiglia, is the quintessential television dad. He’s selfless and loves his family unconditionally. He became a comfort character for me after an episode from the show’s first season.
Jack’s family had embarked on a road trip to his in-laws for Thanksgiving when one of their tires popped and they ended up staying at a shabby lodge. Though things didn’t go according to plan, Jack made it his mission to give his children a Thanksgiving to remember. With convenience store hotdogs roasted over the room’s furnace and a copy of the film Police Academy that Jack stole from the lodge’s office, the family enjoyed a nice indoor picnic.
Many would find it incredibly strange that I, a 19-year-old girl from Singapore who does not even celebrate Thanksgiving, have developed an attachment to a fictional middle-aged TV show character. But I am drawn to Jack’s love for his family, something I have, but definitely wish I had more of.
I don’t have the same heart-to-heart talks with my parents that Jack has with his children. Once, when I broke down in front of my dad because of unbearable stress from school, all he said was that this wouldn’t be happening if I just prayed more. Not the words I wanted to hear. I love my parents but sometimes, I wish I could open up to them more.
So whenever I feel overwhelmed or stressed, I put on my favourite episodes and clips from the show. This gives me a moment to breathe and provides me with a quick escape from my worries. It always feels like I’m receiving a warm embrace.
It’s the same with my friends who have their own comfort characters. Although these people only exist in made-up worlds and are not real, comfort characters have become instrumental in helping many of us Gen Zs deal with our emotions.
My friend Rebecca, 22, has anime character Sailor Moon (aka Usagi Tsukino) as her comfort character.
“Usagi has helped me in so many ways,” she told me. “Seeing her be strong in times she wants to give up inspires me to keep going because if she can do it, so can I.”
She and Sailor Moon are both Cancers, and having the same star sign is what first connected her with the character. The love only grew from there.
“I can see a lot of myself in her and I can see what I lack. For example, she’s kind of selfish but it’s made me more aware of being giving to others.”
She said Sailor Moon encourages her to embrace vulnerability.
“She’s helped me realise that showing emotion is OK and that it’s OK to take time for yourself and recharge,” she said.
“I can have a terrible day, come home, watch the show, and get so inspired to make the next day better.”
High school student Chris, 16, calls Captain Marvel her “#1 hyper-fixation,” claiming to own just about every piece of Captain Marvel merchandise.
“As someone who has diagnosed PTSD, I see a lot of my traits in her character, thus creating this sense of comfort around her,” she said. “She learns that her past doesn’t define her as a person and that it can empower her. And as someone who struggles with their past, it’s really comforting.”
I feel the same way about my comfort characters. There’s Jack, but also Logan from the show Big Time Rush and Alex from the musical Netflix show Julie and the Phantoms. They all lift my spirits when I’m not feeling my best. Setting up fan accounts for fictional characters gets a bad rap. Many think we’re nuts for latching onto people who aren’t real, but they provide us with a sense of comfort when it’s hard to get the same from people in real life.