For seven seasons between 2011 and 2018, the cult ABC series Once Upon a Time allowed viewers to enter a world of fairytales with a modern twist. Characters existed in both the Enchanted Forest and the real world, set in the quaint little town of Storybrooke, Maine. Each season found viewers introduced to new treacherous fairytale villains, while countless other fairytale heroes came and went, trying to find their happily ever afters.
Romance is one of the biggest parts of almost all fairytales. Happily ever afters usually involve princes and princesses falling in love and riding off into the sunset together, or unlikely pairings finding their happy endings in each other despite the obstacles that may be thrown their way. Once Upon a Time certainly never had a shortage of couples - and you could even argue that the series became too couple-focused, with time. Some of these couples were definitely much better than others, though.
10 Best: Killian and Emma
The lost little girl who never thought she would matter finding love with the man who once tormented the lost boys of Neverland - it's poetic, really. Once Upon a Time often told stories of redemption, of villains finding their second chances in life, and no version of this familiar trope was told more successfully than the relationship between Emma Swan and Killian "Captain Hook" Jones.
For six long years, these two danced around each other, defeating every villain and threat that came their way - including death itself. When these two finally got their happily ever after at the sixth season's end, it was most definitely long overdue, for both of them.
9 Worst: Henry and Jacinda
We'll be blunt here: Season Seven of Once Upon a Time was a mistake. There was no need to carry the story on past its logical conclusion, which found all of the characters receiving their happily ever afters at the end of Season Six. Alas, the series carried on, rebooting its original premise with a now grown-up and memory-addled Henry.
Over the course of the season, the love story between the adult Henry and Jacinda, the series' second iteration of Cinderella, was told - and was one of the biggest snooze fests the series ever had. The total lack of chemistry between the two characters (coupled with poor acting by both Andrew West and Dania Ramirez) made this entire relationship a mistake.
8 Best: Cinderella and Thomas
In addition to the many reasons we've just outlined as to why the series' second attempt at the story of Cinderella failed so spectacularly, there's this: they already got it exactly right the first time around. The fairytale of Cinderella and her romance with Prince Thomas was one of the first tales that the series adapted in its very first season. It was told with a seamless and emotional integration of a modern day storyline, too.
Cinderella (Ashley Boyd) and her Prince Thomas (Sean Herman), had one of the series' most organically told stories, with some of its best, most natural chemistry. The modern day retelling of their star-crossed tale made for truly gripping television as well - and represented Once Upon a Time at its early best.
7 Worst: Rumplestiltskin and Belle
The romantic nature of the fairytale of the beauty and the beast has long been debated, especially in the light of recent Disney adaptations. It's pretty easy to make the case that the tale is nothing more than Stockholm syndrome at its finest. But no part of the Disney movies makes things as uncomfortable, as terrible, and as downright toxic as Once Upon a Time's version of the tale, in Rumplestiltskin and Belle French.
Rumplestiltskin doubles as the series' Beast character, and from the very beginning of the series, he is nothing more than a character driven by evil and selfish motives. Time and again, he strings Belle along with promises that he will change, and he will put her above his thirst for power and magic. H never, ever does, however, forcing the once inspiring, independent heroine into the worst possible situations each and every time.
6 Best: Ariel and Eric
Another fairytale that Once Upon a Time managed to get just right is the tale of the little mermaid Ariel and her beloved Prince Eric. With the pitch perfect casting of JoAnna Garcia Swisher as everyone's favorite bubbly mermaid, the series already had ensured its adaptation of the beloved Disney movie The Little Mermaid would be one of the most successful princess storylines it explored.
The show doubled down on its Ariel casting, with the earnest performance offered by Gil McKinney as the perpetual dreamboat Prince Eric. Ariel and Eric were the only couple the series introduced that made the idea of love at first sight feel believable - and through the truly emotional work done by both Garcia Swisher and McKinney, their frequent separations were some of the series' most heartbreaking.
5 Worst: Robin and Regina
We're sure Robin Hood was once meant to be an interesting character. Before he got together with the Evil Queen herself, we even managed to get a few glimpses of the hint of a personality. As soon as Once Upon a Time wrongly decided to pair these insufferable characters together, though, all possible enjoyment of his character went out the window.
Nothing about this relationship made sense - nor was any part of it flattering for the duo, who openly engaged in an affair even though Robin's wife and true love Maid Marian returned to Storybrooke. The fallout of their relationship led to some of the series' most petulant conflicts between characters, and resulted in one of the series' most undignified exits in Robin's sudden end.
4 Best: Aladdin and Jasmine
Another Disney movie that received the proper treatment in its adaptation by the series is the beloved film Aladdin. With strong casting in both Deniz Akdeniz and Karen Davis, the love story between Aladdin and Jasmine was one of the most meticulously adapted and slowly developed of all the fairytales introduced on the series.
Once Upon a Time allowed the two to become friends first - both in their adventures in Agrabah and in Storybrooke - before fully exploring their romantic potential. While the overall storylines of the season they appeared in were arguably some of the worst in the entire series, these two made Season Six worth enduring, if only to see them get the happy ending they deserved.
3 Worst: Zelena and Robin
For a show ostensibly meant to be about fairytales and true love, Once Upon a Time somehow spent a quite disturbing amount of time exploring issues of sexual assault and non-consensual romantic interactions. Perhaps the most disturbing of them all came in the form of the reveal that Maid Marian, returned to her true love Robin Hood in the series' third and fourth season, was actually the Wicked Witch Zelena Mills all along.
Every time Robin was intimate with Marian, it was really Zelena - which led to a pregnancy that addled the series with more soap operatic elements than it already had, or ever needed. Worst of all, Once Upon a Time never seemed to take Robin's clear violation and sexual assault seriously - instead allowing Zelena to become a member of the series' central family, and redeemed.
2 Best: Snow White and Prince Charming
At the heart of Once Upon a Time, true love reigns supreme. No love was ever truer than the one that started it all - the relationship between Snow White (Mary Margaret Blanchard in Storybrooke) and Prince Charming (David Nolan in Storybrooke). Without the relationship between these two beloved fairytale icons, the series would never have started. It was through their love that the savior Emma Swan was born; and it was through their love that the Evil Queen was overcome.
While the duo received less focus over the years, as attention shifted to other couples and new, unfamiliar fairytales, it cannot be denied that their fairytale romance was one of the series' most well-executed. One of the most genuinely affecting romances in the series' run, their love story is made all the more real by the fact that Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas fell in love on the series, and now have a happily ever after all their own.
1 Worst: Neal and Emma
We've already talked about the disturbing amount of focus that non-consensual relationships receive on Once Upon a Time. But the series even briefly had the audacity to frame one of the worst of them all as a possible true love narrative. When Neal Cassidy - in reality, Rumplestiltskin's son Baelfire - met Emma Swan, he was a grown adult, with a lengthy fairytale life behind him. Emma, by contrast, was all of 16 years old.
The statutory assault that took place in their relationship led to a young Emma becoming pregnant. But adding insult to injury, Neal allowed Emma to be framed for crimes he committed, and sent to jail as a result. Years later, Neal would mock Emma's plight, and never take any blame for anything he did to cause her strife. All the while, Neal was framed as a hero, and a viable romantic option. That's just unforgivable.