Created By: VampireBuddha on March 19, 2011 Last Edited By: Thebes on February 20, 2012

Classical Antihero

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There's a discussion regarding significant reworking of the Antihero and Sliding Scale Of Antiheroes tropes, and this trope is a spinout. It's necessary, as we don't have it yet.

Nowadays, an antihero is usually thought of as a badass, bitter, misanthropic, violent, sociopathic, angry person. However, this is actually a recent invention. For much of history, the term antihero referred to a character type that is in many ways the opposite of this.

In Classical Mythology and earlier mythology, the hero tended to be a dashing, confident, stoic, intelligent, highly capable fighter and commander with few, if any, flaws. The classical antihero, as their title suggests, is the inversion of this. Where the hero if confident, the antihero is plagued by self-doubt. Where the hero is a respected fighter, the antihero is mediocre at best. Where the hero gets all the ladies, the antihero can't even get the time of day.

In short, while the traditional hero is a paragon of awesomeness, the classical antihero suffers from flaws and hindrances. The classical antihero's story tends to be as much about overcoming their own weaknesses as about conquering the enemy.

As time has gone on, this portrayal has become increasingly popular, as readers enjoy the increased depth of story that comes from a flawed and conflicted character. Hence, the classical antihero has to some extent replaced the traditional hero in the minds of readers as the idea of what a hero should be. It is nowadays rare to find a hero who does not have at least a little of the classical antihero in them.


Anime and Manga
  • Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion, who saves the day several times in spite of all the mental problems.
  • Rock (and Benny) from Black Lagoon. The same can't be said for the other members of the Lagoon Company, though, who are pretty much Villain Protagonists.
  • Nozomu Itoshiki of Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei. AKA Mr. Despair, he is constantly attempting suicide and angsting about the most ridiculous of things. Interestingly, he isn't an example of This Loser Is You, as he's very good looking, intelligent, and comes from a very wealthy (if bizarre) family. In fact, the irony of his character is that he acts the way he does despite having these advantages.
  • Tatsuhiro Satou of Welcome to the N.H.K. is a highly unstable NEET who places all of the blame for his highly unstable life on a conspiracy organization known to him as the NHK.
  • Renton Thurston in Eureka Seven, who eventually graduated into a proper hero.
  • In 20th Century Boys, Kenji starts as this.
  • Yukiteru Amano of Mirai Nikki starts out as as one.
  • Kei Kurono from Gantz. He gets better.
  • The protagonist of The Tatami Galaxy, who is something of a Zetsubou-sensei expy, and is described in some promotional matterials as a "not-so-lovable loser".
  • Saji Crossroads, Shinji Ikari's expy of sorts, during the second season of Gundam 00. He gets better.
  • Usopp from One Piece is pretty much this in the beginning and mostly in the Water 7/Enies Lobby arc.
  • Mr. Satan from Dragon Ball
  • Vincent Law/Ergo Proxy of Ergo Proxy early on. He gets better and advances to a Type II.
  • Kou Uraki of Gundam 0083.



  • Early Spider-Man, explicitly designed to be the first superhero with personal and internal conflicts besides super-villains and criminals.
  • Dylan Dog.
  • Empowered.
  • Dave from Kick-Ass.



  • Evelyn Waugh's first novel, Decline and Fall, has Butt-Monkey protagonist Paul Pennyfeather who is one of these in the way he is rather a pushover taken advantage of by the other characters.
  • Discworld's Rincewind as an inept wizard and Dirty Coward/Lovable Coward who is the Butt-Monkey of the universe. He's noticed it himself.
  • The narrator of Notes from the Underground is one of these, as is Franz Kafka's Josef K-.
  • Gilbert Norrell of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, while a skilled magician, is a humorless and petty character who is far from evil enough to be an Evil Sorcerer, but also far from sympathetic (or interesting) enough to be a traditional hero.
  • John LeCarre's spymaster George Smiley is like this as a contrast to James Bond, living in the more cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, and as opposed to Bond being stylish and a Chick Magnet, Smiley dresses poorly and is a cuckold.
  • Lily Bart from Edith Wharton's House of Mirth. Let's see: fails at anything and everything she tries her hands at? Check. Only ever succeeds at alienating the few people who genuinely do care about her? Check. Is a whiny, insufferable Jerk Ass with an entitlement complex bigger than Brazil? Check. Dies at the end? Check.
  • Lola from Kit Whitfield's Benighted is pathetic, self-loathing and self destructive, turning away from or turning on anyone who might help her.
  • Mick "Brew" Axbrewder from Stephen R. Donaldson's Man Who series, a self-pitying alcoholic who makes Thomas Covenant look like Binky the Clown.
  • Linden Avery in the second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant trilogy. Becomes a more standard heroine in the third trilogy. Stephen Donaldson is very fond of taking classical antiheroes and transforming them.
  • Flinx of the Humanx Commonwealth series. He just wants the universe to let him be. Too bad he's The Chosen One and The Call Knows Where You Live, not to mention that he has a hidden romantic streak and a not-so-hidden streak of curiosity that constantly gets him into trouble.
  • Amir, the narrator of The Kite Runner starts out as a coward hiding from his past but grows throughout the story and is redeemed to become a 'true' hero.
  • David Levin of Everworld. He improves as time goes on.

Live-Action TV

  • Dave Lister, Cat, and Arnold J. Rimmer from Red Dwarf start out like this, although Rimmer is both a neurotic loser and a smeghead. Lister once goodnaturedly described himself as a "bum", while Rimmer would call him a lazy slob. Cat was vain, self-centered to the point of callousness, and not very smart... not surprising given that his species had evolved from a single, pregnant female housecat 3 million years ago (imagine the inbreeding), and even other cats considered him a moron. All three became more competent in the course of the series, but they never quite lost their essential quirks, their good qualities (such as Lister's selflessness and sense of fairness) merely became more pronounced. Or, in the case of Arnold Rimmer, who had no redeeming qualities, Rimmer had a run-in with his Knight In Shining Armour counterpart "Ace" Rimmer from an alternate reality.


Video Games

  • Travis Touchdown, of No More Heroes, a porn-obsessed Otaku without anything resembling a social life. He's also an Evil Antihero, however, eagerly slaughtering opponents and rarely showing any remorse for his killings.
  • Raiden is largely considered to be this in Metal Gear Solid 2, though he becomes more of a Jerkass Antihero in Metal Gear Solid 4.
  • Lester the Unlikely from the SNES game of the same name starts out as such a wimp that even turtles scare him. He does become more heroic about halfway through the game, however.
  • Almaz from Disgaea 3.
  • Cloud Strife of ''Final Fantasy VIII, although he pretends to be a prick.
  • Commander Shepard can show shades of this in Mass Effect 2 given the potential to fail multiple loyalty missions and get most of your squad killed through poor choices during the suicide mission.

Web Comics

  • Megatokyo's Piro probably fits. He's getting better, though.

Web Original

Western Animation

Community Feedback Replies: 17
  • March 19, 2011
    We definitly need this one.
  • March 19, 2011
    Now, all we need to do is see if the descrption needs work, and get an image. Besides that, this is launchable.
  • March 19, 2011
    I think we might need this or either rework the other anti heroes and call them.. new antiheroes instead.. you know what I mean. So, this is something like This Loser Is You?
  • March 19, 2011
    I'm almost tempted to just launch this already.
  • March 19, 2011
    ^ Yes, it's so tempting...but we can't.

    You can't launch babies into outer space.
  • March 19, 2011
    @Rodrigo Vega: Well thanks to semantic drift, what's described on antihero is pretty much what people think of when they say it, so it makes more sense to call this Classic Antihero.

    For an image, what about the image from the final panal of the first Spider Man comic, with Peter slinking off, depressed?
  • March 19, 2011
    Would these count?

    Film - Live Action:

    Film - Western Animation:

  • March 19, 2011
    Since we've got to let this simmer here for a few days maybe it would be worth mentioning what traits each of these examples lack?
  • March 20, 2011
    @Rodrigo: Nowadays, antihero means something difference. Hence the reason I'm calling this Classical Antihero.

    @Bisected: I myself was thinking of a picture of Peter Parker looking pathetic; if one can't be found, I can grab a screencap of Shiji being the same.

    @I haven't seen any of those movies. Could you expand on the examples please?
  • March 20, 2011
    How's this? Possibly clipped down.
  • March 20, 2011
    Hamlet. He was conflicted and emotional before it was cool.
  • March 20, 2011
    Hamlet is a Tragic Hero. Don't know if these two things are mutually exclusive or not.
  • March 20, 2011
    I've heard (in every school book I've read) discussion of how Hamlet doesn't fit the classical definition of Protagonist (meaning "first fighter"). He puts off dealing with his uncle, strikes out at those around hi, runs away, and is generally unheroic. He's full of the kind of self-doubt that this trope is based on.
  • March 22, 2011
    @Bisected: That's good. I'll crop it and use a smaller version.

    @Noir: They're not exclusive. Hamlet can be both.
  • June 26, 2011
    Willy Loman, Death Of A Salesman. A little, pathethic man, broken by his chase after a dream that isn't true (and probably never was).
  • October 11, 2011
    Subverted with Naruto, who was pretty much built to be this, up until the middle of the Chunin arc he was the underdog to the degree that it's pointed out by his peers that he wouldn't be the star of his own life (much less his own comic). After his victory over Neji and after that Gaara however, he's since been slipping more and more out of this trope and after the timeskip he's just been turning more and more of his flaws into strengths.

    Might be straight up averted or some other form of Playing With, but in the beginning of the manga he was a straight up underdog (the only one to not graduate, worst fighter in the team, only good at pranks, with no friends and only one person who even cares about him) even angsting about how he lacked hero traits.
  • February 20, 2012
    We definitely need to keep this trope page. There's a definite gap between your 'evil anti-hero' and your 'weak anti-hero'. You can have both in a character, or just have one. One doesn't necessarily define the other.