With its range of unique and believable characters, realistic angsty teenage relationships, and more than just a pinch of fanservice, you can’t deny that Free! was put on this earth for yaoi/BL fans. As if the first season, Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, didn’t provide enough boys love leanings, we were even graced with a second season, Free! Eternal Summer, and a handful of new, shippable boys along with it.
Free! is also heaven for multi-shippers. Each of the boys interact with each other in such different ways and have such unique dynamics between them that it feels possible to ship any pair that so much as looks at each other - and oh, do we ship them. Due to Free! Not being canon BL (although it’s pretty damn close) it also escapes the tropes that many yaoi and shounen-ai series fall into. This means it’s harder to pin seme and uke roles on any particular character, leaving fujoshi, fudanshi, and other BL fans free to swap the roles of pairings as they see fit.
Anything goes when it comes to Free! yaoi/BL pairings, but which ships are the most popular in the fandom? In this article, we’ll be looking at the most shippable swimming boys - expect multiships, the most canon couple around, and to start off with, a well-loved wild card… Watch out for sharks and spoilers!
5. Sousuke Yamazaki x Makoto Tachibana (SouMako)
First up we’ve got a pairing that those outside of the Free! fandom just might not get.
After all, Sousuke and Makoto’s canon interaction in the anime series is pretty much limited to the Free! Eternal Summer Special. However, precisely because there’s such little canon material, the pairing is totally open for interpretation, and there’s just something that makes SouMako one of the most popular pairings amongst fans.
It’s hinted in their interaction in the special episode that they might have actually had some off-screen time together - either that, or they feel comfortable enough around each other without having interacted much. How do we know this? Well, Sousuke immediately tells Mako to call him by his first name, prompting Mako to do the same. Anyone who knows Japanese honorifics and anime character tropes can see that this goes against both of their personalities if they didn’t get on.
SouMako is pretty aesthetically pleasing, too. Whereas most characters in Free! have different body types, Sousuke and Makoto are both gentle giants. They also have just the right balance of similar and different personality traits to make a relationship work. They’re both kindhearted caretakers with childhood best friends, but whereas Mako is warm and openly loving, Sousuke is cold and reserved, earning them the title of swimming mum and dad within the fandom.
4. Sousuke Yamazaki x Rin Matsuoka (SouRin)
Next up we’ve got the first childhood friends coupling, Sousuke and Rin. Their years of friendship means they’ve got a deep, intrinsic trust in each other. Even after years apart, they still understand each other better than anyone else around them, knowing exactly what the other is thinking. Sousuke is a pillar of support for Rin, wanting to protect him no matter what - something we see when Sousuke threatens Haruka in episode two of Eternal Summer, telling him not to get in Rin’s way.
It becomes clear that Sousuke has seen Rin during his darkest hours, and will do anything he can not to see that again. Rin also doesn’t want to see Sousuke sad - when Sousuke reveals the truth about his injury, Rin cries for him, telling him not to give up, that he will wait as long as it takes to swim with Sousuke again. It seems these two are only willing to take down their tough-guy exterior around each other, and share in each other’s pain.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom in SouRin land! These two have a lot of moments that put a smile on fan’s faces. They’re always bickering, for example when Sousuke moves into the same room as Rin, and they fight for who will be on the bottom… Bunk, of course. They’re also the only couple in Free! to have their own special handshake, the epic SouRin brofist the fandom will never forget.
3. Rei Ryuugazaki x Nagisa Hazuki (ReiGisa)
What’s brighter than the sun, cuter than a basket of puppies, more soothing than a - okay, I’ll stop. But seriously. If you need a happy ship to turn to when all the swimming angst gets too much, ReiGisa is the way to go. These two are the sunshine of Free! and arguably the most canon pairing of them all. They’re all over each other, sleeping on each other’s shoulders, stealing glances, and sharing food. Oh, and don’t forget that Nagisa canonically spends a lot of time at Rei’s house…
Rei and Nagisa are two sides of the same coin. At the beginning of Free!, it seems that with Nagisa’s pushy, hyperactive nature and Rei’s obsession with beauty and calculations that the two just weren’t meant to get on. However, we quickly learn that it’s these differences that makes them unable to be without each other. In fact, it’s because of Nagisa’s determination to have Rei… On the swim team, that’s Rei’s entire world changes. Nagisa draws Rei out of his shell, introduces him to new experiences and people, and eventually Rei starts to smile.
Rei is also a good influence on Nagisa, as we can see in episode five of Eternal Summer, when Nagisa runs away from home. While Makoto and Haru struggle to get a reason out of him, Rei comes rushing in, panicked, clearly worried about his boyfrie- I mean, Nagisa. Rei is also the only one who truly gets through to Nagisa, giving him the courage to face to his parents. However, that doesn’t mean that Rei doesn’t spoil Nagisa, giving into him where he’d refuse others!
2. Makoto Tachibana x Haruka Nanase (MakoHaru)
In at number two we have the Free! fandom’s married couple, Makoto and Haru. If there’s one word to describe MakoHaru, it would be pure. They have a gentle and subtle relationship that’s calming to watch, the kind of deep bond where they don’t need words to understand each other - but know when it’s important to say their feelings out loud. Having known each other since they were little, it just seems natural that Mako and Haru are by each other’s side.
Makoto is the only character in Free! that seems to accept Haruka exactly as he is. He doesn’t push Haru to do anything he doesn’t like, or question his frequently odd behaviour, because he knows exactly what Haru’s thinking - in fact, in the specials it’s revealed that he can quite literally read Haru’s mind! Haru also understands Mako, especially when it comes to his fears. Since they were children, Mako has always found relief in clinging onto Haru like a comfort blanket, and Haru has always accepted this and been there for Mako, no matter how irrational the fear.
Haruka also relies on Makoto when it comes to, well, pretty much everything. I mean, how many people would you give a house key to so they can drag you out of the bath every morning? MakoHaru need each other - it’s difficult to imagine them apart. But there’s nothing to worry about - as we can see from the ending card above, they stay together even after they graduate high school and Mako moves to Tokyo!
1. Rin Matsuoka x Haruka Nanase (RinHaru)
In at number one we have RinHaru, also known as Sharkbait. Everything Free! began and ended with these two. The entire first season is about their relationship, and the final fight in the Eternal Summer Special is between them. RinHaru may not have the years of friendship that MakoHaru and SouRin have behind them - but that’s what makes them such an amazing pairing. Within just a short few months in the last term of their last year of elementary school, Rin and Haru became an unforgettable presence in each other’s lives.
If MakoHaru is pure, RinHaru is fierce. What Rin and Haru lack in understanding, they make up for in intensity. In middle school, Haru was so upset about hurting Rin that he gave up the thing he loves the most, meanwhile Rin didn’t give up swimming exactly because of his obsession with Haru. They get into misunderstandings, fight, hurt each other - they mess up, and then they fix it. They think about each other more than what is possibly healthy, worry over what the other is thinking, what they’re doing, if they’ll still be able to be together in years to come. That’s what makes Rin and Haru’s relationship so raw and realistic.
It’s not all angst, of course. Rin and Haru are each other’s catalyst, pushing each other to become better swimmers and better people. This is best seen in episode twelve of Eternal Summer, when Rin whisks Haru off to Australia... You know, as you do. There, they share a bed, reminisce about their relationship, and Haru finds his dream - once again, Rin has shown Haru a sight he’s never seen before. Then, at the very end of Free!, we see RinHaru standing side-by-side, ready to race as professional swimmers - they made their dream come true, together.
Well there we have it, some of the most popular ships in the Free! Fandom. Minus HaruH2O of course, but then again, water doesn’t have a gender… So, who’s your Free! OTP? Are you a multishipper for these swimmers, or is there only room in your heart for one yaoi/BL pairing per boy? Let us know in the comments!