For a slice of life shōjo anime, Fruits Basket is less preoccupied with romance than other works in the genre. Still, the manga and its anime adaptation are primarily about human relationships – including romantic ones. Since the manga first began in the late 90s, fans have wondered who Tohru was going to end up with, Yuki or Kyo, particularly since the story is so subtle about it for so long.
A newcomer to the fandom who has watched the show's beginning only might think that Fruits Basket is about a love triangle. Certainly, Tohru shares moments with both Yuki and Kyo that could be interpreted as romantic. But if you read the manga in its entirety or watch the new anime, you will see that author Takaya Natsuki intended much more than that.
Warning: if you would rather find the answer of who Tohru ends up with for yourself, don't read any further as there will be major spoilers ahead.
In many ways, Yuki seems to be set up as Tohru's main love interest early on; he is a beautiful, gentle boy who shows her kindness when she's ill and homeless. The concept of the "Prince" of the school, having a romantic relationship with a clumsy main girl is a common wish-fulfillment scenario in high school romances. Perhaps Takaya Natsuki intended to play with these expectations.
Quite late in the show, it's revealed that Yuki is Tohru's first childhood crush – a fact not even she remembers. When she was little, she had been separated from her mother and lost. Yuki, who had run away from the main house and Akito's abuse had found a crying Tohru and helped her return home, giving her his hat before leaving.
While Tohru doesn't realize that Yuki is the boy who helped her, she still remembers the occasion fondly and cherishes the hat. Conversely, the hat used to belong to Kyo, but he stopped wanting it when Yuki touched it; at that point, the two boys hated one another, each believing the other was responsible for their misfortune. Already from childhood, the fates of the three characters were closely linked and the hat symbolizes that.
Unlike Yuki, Kyo initially seems to be more of a "bad boy" type and it takes a lot for Tohru to discover his hidden depths. The idea of a kind-hearted female character helping a troubled boy through her own emotional labor is, of course, another romance trope, about as frequent as that of an awkward girl ending up with a princely type. But the relationship between Tohru and Kyo, while looking like this on the surface, is actually healthier and more complex.
Many fans wanted Tohru to end up with Yuki, which is normal since he's a brilliant character with hidden depths of his own. However, Tohru eventually ends up with Kyo and they remain together until old age. This might be a surprise for some fans, but if you read or watch carefully, it actually makes a lot of sense. A reread or rewatch will even reveal that what many consider as a love triangle was barely there in the first place.
Yuki does save Tohru, first as a child and then as a teenager, in what seems like a princely gesture. He even seems to flirt with her, at a time when Kyo is still acting cold or annoyed around her. Even so, Yuki's romantic-coded gestures towards Tohru will often feel like textbook romance, rather than genuine attraction. Two-thirds into the story, we understand why.
As a child, Yuki was severely traumatized by Akito's physical and psychological abuse. Yuki's mother was happy to abandon her son, forcing him to be Akito's playmate and reaping the monetary benefits. As a result, Yuki never experienced motherly love.
As Yuki reveals, helping Tohru was just an act of kindness at first, with no ulterior romantic motive. To him, she was just a strange classmate in need of support. When he got to know Tohru better, he immediately felt drawn to her and believed his feelings were romantic so he tried to flirt with her but it never quite felt right.
The fact that Yuki is actual not romantically attracted to Tohru becomes clear to him the moment Tohru's love for Kyo becomes apparent to us, that is the moment Kyo transforms into his true, monstrous form.
Following the horrific transformation, Tohru runs after Kyo despite any fear she might feel; he's that dear to her. As Yuki points out, when she runs after Kyo, Tohru acts differently, almost like an adult woman. She was never like that with Yuki.
The love triangle, if there ever was one, is resolved right there. Tohru and Kyo and ridiculously shy about their relationship and only officially get together at the end of the manga, but just seeing how protective Kyo is of her and how she cares about him, you can say that the two were the last ones to find out they're dating. The rest of us knew it all along.
Yuki is never jealous of the dynamic between Tohru and Kyo. By then, he knows that his own relationship with her is completely different. Although Tohru is a girl his age, Yuki realizes that he almost thinks of her as a mother figure; she believed in him when his family disapproved of his choices and she was kind to him the way his parents never were.
Yuki was ashamed of these feelings and worried that revealing them would cause Tohru to feel greater responsibility towards him. To hide that, he occasionally acted flirty with her but it never felt right. When he antagonizes Kyo from there on, he doesn't do it because his cousin got the girl Yuki himself wanted. He only does it because he doesn't want Kyo to break Tohru's heart.
When Yuki ends up with Machi, a fellow student council member, this decision makes sense for him and feels quite original besides. Yuki deconstructs the "school prince" type perfectly; ending up with an ordinary girl who is totally unimpressed by the "prince" hype and just likes him for his messed up self is refreshing. This relationship can be juxtaposed with Tohru and Kyo, who also genuinely love each other but face more obstacles due to their emotional baggage and Kyo's position in the family.
That Tohru will end up with Kyo becomes obvious when she accepts his monstrous form. But their romance is much more than a "Beauty and the Beast" situation in which a female character saves a monstrous male with personal sacrifices. True, Kyo might seem cold and even violent at first, but he's never abusive towards Tohru. While he has anger management issues at first, his rage is never directed towards her.
Once you get to know his backstory, it's not hard to understand why he grew up angry; he has been reviled by Akito and the other zodiac members, people blame him for his mother's suicide and he's grown up with the knowledge that Akito plans to confine him in a solitary room forever when he comes of age. This is heavy baggage for such a young boy. Knowing all that, you also know why Tohru's acceptance means so much to him.
The beautiful thing about Kyo's relationship with Tohru is that she doesn't actively try to change him into a better person. She just knows that he's a better person already - he only needs to learn how to show it. Seeing her trust in him, Kyo decides to manage his anger better and become friendlier without her explicitly trying to make him so.
Another beautiful thing is that you don't need to be told that Kyo and Tohru love each other. Takaya Natsuki has put so much work into their relationship that you can just tell how much they care about each other even if love is hardly ever mentioned. They might seem like polar opposites but in truth, they aren't that different: they both want to move beyond past trauma and forge a future together.
When Tohru resolves to break the Zodiac curse, she does it for all the Sohmas, but it's heavily implied that her selfish part does it because she can't stand the thought of growing into adulthood without Kyo. She doesn't want him to be confined because she cares about his own happiness, but she also wants him for herself even if she doesn't admit it. You can't help thinking that the mangaka paid attention to the characters' own desires, resulting in a romantic resolution that feels both natural and earned.
Both Yuki and Kyo are complex characters and, to be frank, great fictional boyfriends for different reasons. Whether or not we like Takaya Natsuki's decision to pair Tohru with Kyo and Yuki with Machi, we can't deny that both pairings feel genuine. Even if some romance tropes are still there, we can't help noticing that these are relationships between living, breathing characters who are suited for each other and want to grow together.
Meanwhile, for those interested in the anime, a Fruits Basket prelude movie is coming out soon, featuring a never-seen-before scene with Tohru and Kyo.