Created By: illegalcheese on March 28, 2013 Last Edited By: illegalcheese on March 30, 2013

Metamorphic Character

A character that is transformed several times in a story to progress plot or character development.

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Suggestions and examples please! Oh, and Do We Have This One?? (I can't find it if we do). Any ideas for cutting down on the somewhat lengthy description would be cool, too.

There are a multitude of ways a character may change his or her form. But surrounding the single instances of those changes is a narrative that alters itself and continues as the transformations unfold. A Metamorphic Character is forced to go through a series of these changes throughout the story, accompanied by a growth of some sort, either of character or plot.

Typically, these changes will be necessary for the character to continue a journey, and therefore to continue the story. In this case, "Metamorphic" means more than just the biological process--it is the unfolding of the narrative with successive physical changes. These changes can range from disfigurement to a total change in form, but are usually divided into multiple discrete stages that occur over time. A Metamorphic Character may go through several stages of recovery after a car crash, or may be turned into various animals at different stages of a journey to move along more efficiently. There will always be an aspect of change that is uncontrollable by the character. For instance, even if he or she can shapeshift, they will be forced to take on animal instincts along with the shape. Change is forced upon the character, and they will become someone or something new.

Metamorphic characters will often reflect on the changes that occurred, and a focus will be placed on a before-and-after comparison and on the details of the differences between the new form and the previous one. Because of this level of focus, a theme of Body Horror is not uncommon, especially if a Painful Transformation occured. Thinking hard about these changes at all is Squick inducing to most people. Being altered against our will in a visceral manner is a Primal Fear.

Sometimes, the story will see fit to change the character back to his original form at the end of the story. In these cases, a shift in personality will almost certainly have taken place; the character will still be a different person.

A variation is to have the changes be mental, instead of or along with being physical. For instance, gradual and successive memory loss may force a character to reevaluate himself or even become an entirely new person multiple times. Because of this, stories regarding Amnesia may be subject to this trope.

The cause of the change is often a Jerkass Genie, a Fisher Kingdom, or various generic magical beings or objects. The trope can pop up in works of Magical Realism, in which it is inexplicable, as a rule.

This trope will almost certainly overlap with any of the Shapeshifting tropes.

Examples Include:


  • There are many X-Men, such as Beast, whose mutations grow in stages and cause them to be more monstrous. A recurring theme is how individuals can become different enough to be alienated from society.
  • Peter Parker was bitten by the irradiated/genetically engineered spider in high school. The changes occured instantaneously and he spends some time getting used to them and coming to terms with...well, you know. Peter's powers are somewhat distinct in that they become generally more potent and are tied to his physical maturity. And of course, there's the Six Armed Saga.


  • Kafka's Metamorphosis--in which the 'protagonist' becomes bug of some kind. The transformation continues as he becomes more bug-like and he makes an effort to learn to live with it and cast off his old life as a breadwinner and family man.
  • Animorphs contains one of the most extensive instances of these tropes in fiction. Nearly 60 books and hundreds of transformations for each of the five protagonists, a major theme is of them learning to cope with the mental and physical transformations and the changes required of them to fight a full fledged guerilla war.
  • Alice in Wonderland's Alice undergoes a few transformations including growing, shrinking, and having her neck stretched out. This is a case of the transformations suiting the narrative instead of the character, as they are required for her to progress, but Alice herself has little character to speak of.
  • The Harry Potter series includes Voldemort. We see him as a young child, a handsome young man, then he becomes more snake like, splits his soul in seven and presumably becoming more monstrous, then he almost dies and becomes a wraith-like presence, he hitches a ride on another wizard and becomes a second face on the back of his head, then a spirit again, and then he is resurrected. The transformations are coupled with an increasing horror at what Voldemort is capable of going through.
  • Dil from Deepgate Codex abandons his body and goes to a spirit-like world. The spirit of another angel possesses his abandoned body and screws up royally, get his wings melted off in an acid rainstorm. Then Dil is captured by slavers and turned into something they could subjugate, torture, and mutilate for a very long amount of subjective time. Then Dil is stuck in the brain of a giant glass titan of sorts. Eventually he's able to make it out as a spirit and ends the series as such. Though he can possess other people now and live through them, and there's loads of deserving fodder for which he can do so, so he's better off than before. Dil becomes tougher and more able to weather emotional damage as the transformations took place.

Video Games

  • Sora from Kingdom Hearts undergoes various transitions that mark not only Character Development but also help him experience the actual flavor of the world. It also marks him as being able to fit in and adapt to just about everywhere. The transformations are typically last minute enchantments from Donald Duck to blend in on the new world, and none of them are 100% sure what they'll entail.
    • As a merman in Atlantica, Sora learns how to swim and how different worlds interact in more detail.
    • In Halloween Town he enjoys a darker side of life as a corpse-like vampire.
    • In the Pride Lands he is transformed into a lion cub and learns a lot about being regal and facing up to responsibilities that a lion king has to handle.
    • In Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, he undergoes a gradual loss of memory as he progresses through the game, gaining more powers and abilities via gameplay but losing more and more of himself.
    • In Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance he is shunted into a younger body and weakened in order to re-learn basic Keyblade wielding techniques.

Western Animation

  • Played for laughs in an episode of Futurama, when all the Planetary Express people were exposed to chroniton particles that caused them to de-age. Doctor Zoidberg regressed through multiple "larval" stages emulating several different aquatic species.
Community Feedback Replies: 11
  • March 28, 2013
    M'sCould metamorphosis be differentiated from catharsis? In kafka's metamorphosis the protagonist undergoes only 1 change - from man to bug. He changes only once and that's it! In dragon ball z, buu changes into the terrifying Majin Buu but he does not change back. The same can be said for Brundlefly. However, in Stephen King's The Dead Zone, Christopher Walken undergoes a several transformations. Post accident he changes from a regular man to a psionic with a limp. But his final transformation-his catharsis is comes when he realizes he must commit murder to avert nuclear war. A cathartic transformation is different from a metamorphic transformation in that catharsis is a FINAL transformation.
  • March 29, 2013
    Considering that the trope as I see it frequently consists of multiple transformations of some kind, I think your "cathartic transformation" will always overlap with this trope.

    You're right to point it out, though. The effect of the transformation is very important to the trope. I don't think it should be differentiated so much as incorporated into the trope.

    To be more general, I think that any serious Metamorphic Character will achieve catharsis through the transformations.
  • March 29, 2013
    Video Games
    • Terra from Final Fantasy VI, who has the rare ability to use magic, goes through physical and emotional changes as she learns about herself. For years she was under the influence of Kefka's Slave Crown and had no will of her own. Once it's removed, she wakes up not knowing know who she is. She wonders where she fits in and what love is. Then she surprises everyone by transforming into an Esper and flying away. Her friends find her and learn of her half-Esper heritage, and she rejoins them as a human able to morph briefly into a powerful Esper. She later becomes adoptive "Mama" to orphans in a ruined village, and in protecting them, gains the ability to stay in her Esper form for longer.
  • March 29, 2013
    Hmmm...How much of the later transformations are unwilling or uncontrolled? I think that'd be an important thing to highlight in any examples.
  • March 29, 2013
    The titular character of Orlando A Biography becomes a woman halfway through the book.
  • March 29, 2013
    Played for laughs in an episode of Futurama, when all the Planetary Express people were exposed to chroniton particles that caused them to de-age. Doctor Zoidberg regressed through multiple "larval" stages emulating several different aquatic species.
  • March 29, 2013
    @Duncan, Is it of his/her own will? Also, any idea on how that affects Orlando's character development or the plot as a whole?

    I think something common to the character type is that the character can be strongly associated with the concept of change. So typically, a single transformation wouldn't be enough on its own to make a Metamorphic Character. Rather, the character becomes familiar with or used to the entire process of change as he or she develops or the plot continues.

    So you can see where it would be more common for this trope to have a character who undergoes multiple transformations (to get used to or become familiar with it), though that's not a strict rule.
  • March 30, 2013
    Speaking on unwilling changes, Bruce banner unwilling metamorphosizes into the incredible hulk during the hulk's early life. But after so many changes back and forth bruce learns to control his anger and can then change back and forth at will. But a werewolf has no free will over his metamorphosis. When the moon shines full he painfully changes against his will.
  • March 30, 2013
    • Greek Mythology. Tiresias, the prophet of Thebes, hit two snakes who were having sex. As punishment, he was changed into a woman by the goddess Hera. He became a priestess of Hera, got married and had children. Seven years later he again encountered two snakes copulating and left them alone. Since he had learned his lesson, he was changed him back to a male. Some time after that Zeus and Hera had an argument over who enjoyed sex more, men or women (Hera said men, Zeus said women). Since Tiresias had experience with both, they asked his opinion. He said women enjoyed sex ten times as much as men. Hera punished him by striking him blind. Poor guy couldn't catch a break...
  • March 30, 2013
    ^ I'm not sure that fits, since the second transformation was merely reverting the first. Otherwise, generally one should apply the Rule Of Three when trying to distinguish between a singular event and a sequence.

    Anyway, if I remember this one right...

    Video Games

    • In Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Trap (separately ported to the TG 16 as Dragon's Curse), every time you defeat one of the bosses (starting with the first one), their dying spirit puts a curse on you turning you into some kind of were-animal. While there isn't much emphasis on it from a story perspective, you do have to use the abilities of the new form to reach the next boss.
  • March 30, 2013
    Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars (specifically prequels). The entire selling point of this character is his metamorphosis from a cute boy to the familiar black puffing monstrosity, "more machine than man".