->'''Wally:''' I've decided to dabble in crime. I need some [[{{Mook}} henchmen]]. Are you in?\\
'''Asok''' What does a henchman do?\\
'''Wally:''' A henchman's job is to be [[CannonFodder gunned down]] in reverse order to his importance.\\
'''Asok:''' [[SortingAlgorithmOfMortality How important am I?]]\\
'''Wally:''' I wouldn't pack a lunch for orientation day.
-->-- ''ComicStrip/{{Dilbert}}'', strip for May 12, 2009

''Villains will appear in strictly ascending order by menace''.

This trope has ancient roots. Possibly the earliest example, at least in the English language, is the OlderThanPrint epic ''Literature/{{Beowulf}}''. It just makes good sense that as our heroes fight the forces of evil, [[TaughtByExperience they should get better at fighting the forces of evil.]] So as the story progresses, the fights should get easier and easier. Of course, having an overly easy fight is just [[RuleOfDrama bad drama]], so you have to consistently increase the threat the heroes face. This results in the SortingAlgorithmOfEvil. The first villain you meet is the weakest, and the last is the strongest. As the heroes get strong enough to defeat their current enemy, a new enemy will emerge that forces them to reach another skill level. It would be an AntiClimax if the hero defeated the Baddest Ass and spent the remaining time contending with not-quite-as-Bad Asses.

There are several ways to justify this; due to LoweredMonsterDifficulty, the current villain usually [[VillainForgotToLevelGrind Forgot To Level Grind]] while the heroes are out collecting TwentyBearAsses and are [[TrainingMontage Gonna Fly Now]] thereby outclassing him. This at least provides an in-story [[SophisticatedAsHell explanation]] for the {{Lamarck|WasRight}}ian evolution of evil from one bad guy to the next. In some cases the BigBad the heroes defeated last time was actually a mere member of a powerful organization. The others can show up to avenge their fallen comrade, so now we have the previous big bad times two or more. In a series centering around military technology this can be [[{{Handwave}} explained]] by technological progress. The heroes will get new weapons, strategies, and better technology, but so will the enemy.

Occasionally, a [[StoryBreakerPower particularly strong]] or evil villain will ignore this trope and [[FinalBossPreview arrive early]] to [[CurbStompBattle beat the hell out of the heroes]], [[DeusExitMachina only to leave them alive]] because they're NotWorthKilling. Villains who use [[ObfuscatingStupidity this as a tool]] are often {{Not So Harmless Villain}}s. Sometimes, rather than toss a stronger villain at the heroes the writer might decide to surprise them with an OutsideContextVillain that uses different tactics than brute force.

A problem comes up if a long-running show goes [[PostScriptSeason past its]] first GrandFinale. We may believe that the ultimate EvilOverlord is enough of a tactical dunce to think that sending his henchmen out in ascending order was a valid strategy. But why should the ''new'', unrelated, BigBad happen to be even stronger? Sometimes the {{Big Bad}}s might form a string of [[TheManBehindTheMan Men Behind The Men]], making this structure more sensible. Although this leads to new FridgeLogic issues: why doesn't the Man Most Behind use the [[AuthorityEqualsAsskicking unimaginable power]] of his position to just wipe all the heroes out [[OrcusOnHisThrone instead of just sitting there]]? If the first Big Bad is only a local terror, bigger bads may not have even been ''aware'' of the heroes. The increasing threats they face are a reflection of the threat they pose to the ultimate boss. And then there's the FridgeLogic that can rise when one wonders why later, more powerful villains would tolerate the earlier, weaker ones hatching plots of their own. If the villain of Season Three [[TheEndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt wants to destroy the world]], and the villain of Season Four [[TakeOverTheWorld wants to conquer it]], why would the Season Four villain tolerate his predecessor's attempts to destroy it? One way to address these issues is to make the later villain a SealedEvilInACan who only gets released after the earlier villain is defeated, not necessarily as a result of it.

Another downside of this trope is viewers who get into a show later may find early villains lame by comparison when they go back to catch up - "Pshaw -- we're supposed to be worried about this guy? [[SuperWeight He can't even]] blow up a [[SlidingScaleOfVillainThreat galaxy]]!" VillainDecay can be used to soften this blow; if the BigBad ends the season a lot lamer than he started, the next season's enemy doesn't have to actually be any stronger to give the impression of an increasing level of tension.

This trope is particularly common in [[TabletopRPG Roleplay Games]] and VideoGames: the more and stronger enemies you fight, the more experience and [[PowerLevels power]] you get. You also get the magical weapons and armors they [[RandomlyDrops drop]]. You have no chance against mid-game monsters with a starting character, but by the time you get to them, you are ready. That makes this the perfect trope for a SmallStepsHero, since they can clean up the world one bad guy at a time.

Related to ConvenientQuesting where ascending menace is laid out geographically, and the player must proceed through these regions in strictly ascending order by menace. ([[{{Mordor}} Mount Doom?]] It's right over there, but you have to go through the [[DeathMountain Hills of Moderate Evil]], which are themselves on the far side of the [[TheLostWoods Forest of Inconvenience]], reachable via the GhibliHills.)

When this happens involving entire [[AlwaysChaoticEvil breeds/species of villains]], it's changing the VillainPedigree. If it's because various villains were sealed away it's SealedCastInAMultipack. If a particularly powerful villain remains on screen for too long and [[CantCatchUp can't keep up]], compare LoweredMonsterDifficulty.

See also SlidingScaleOfVillainThreat, which breaks down the scales of villainy.

Contrast EvilEvolves.

Compare AlwaysABiggerFish, LensmanArmsRace, SoLastSeason, SequelEscalation, RuleOfEscalatingThreat.

'''Since the examples on this page necessarily detail most of or the entire run of their series and what villain later gets replaced by whom, beware of spoilers.'''

----
!Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
* ''Manga/DragonBall Z'':
** The original gives characters an explicit numerical "Combat Rating". [[note]]A very strong human had a rating of about 100, while the heroes' rating was [[MemeticMutation over 9000]].[[/note]] This held out until the middle of the Frieza arc, when the devices that were used to calculate these combat ratings were destroyed; at this point, the BigBad's [[OneWingedAngel strongest form]] had a rating of around ''one hundred and twenty million'', whereas just two months earlier the heroes had been hard-pressed to deal with an opponent nearly seven thousand times weaker (Vegeta, then at 18,000). The plot helps support the progression; Raditz arrived first, and called on a pair of stronger allies; the heroes went after their boss next; the next BigBad was created from said boss's cells, plus those of the powered-up heroes, and so on. The final villain was a mild subversion because, while its final form was considerably weaker than form beforehand, its unique physiology made it nearly impossible to kill and its nature became far more merciless. If you go back to watch the series again, you soon realize that even the first fight was equally as tough as the last. The numerical concepts of "power levels" were quietly dropped after the Frieza saga, as they were starting to get to ridiculously high levels (in the first few episodes, a power level over 1000 was impressive, whereas by the end of the Frieza saga, Goku and the BigBad were in the ''hundreds of millions''. It seems the hero increases in power just enough to get beaten by the next big bad. While there are episodes where Goku casually dispatches villains who fought toe-to-toe with him ''in his youth'', these are naturally filler.
** Starting from Frieza and continuing onward, each BigBad was the most powerful and dangerous being in the universe, even more so than the previous most powerful and dangerous being in the universe.
** Subverted in the special ''Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return!!'', in which an alien menace arrives and is easily defeated, because it arrived a bit too late in the chronology, and everyone was so enormously powerful that it really didn't ever have a chance at all.
*** Specifically, the two villains are noted to be as powerful as Frieza. Goku remarks that it should be a good match for the ''kids''.
** Subverted in ''Dragon Ball GT'', where the new BigBad turned out to be pathetically weak, but had the ability to possess the bodies of the various insanely superpowered supporting characters surrounding the hero in order to increase its strength.
*** It is later played this straight [[spoiler: after possessing Vegeta]] where he becomes much stronger than a Super Saiyian 3 Goku, and a Super Saiyan 4 was needed to defeat him. The next BigBad was Super 17, who forced Goku to go all out, and the final BigBad, [[MadeOfEvil Omega]] [[AllYourPowersCombined Shenron]] was much stronger than Super Saiyian 4 Goku on his own. It took a fusion and a universal Spirit Bomb to take him down, making him the strongest if you include him in the canon.
** Beers from ''[[Anime/DragonballZBattleOfGods Battle of Gods]]'' which is viewed as canon is even higher in power than any villain in the canon, being an official "God of Destruction" for his universe and is [[TheDreaded feared by all the gods in the universe]]. He also curb stomped Super Saiyan 3 Goku without trying [[spoiler: even the Super Saiyan God State, officially the strongest Super Saiyan state]] only forced him to go to 70% of his power and Goku still lost. That's right, Goku famous for always winning, [[AlwaysSomeoneBetter was outmatched by someone will always be better than him]]
** Here's the real kicker, [[spoiler: his assistant Whis is actually much stronger than even he is]] and not only that there's the fact that there's eleven other universe's Gods of Destruction [[SerialEscalation are likely even stronger than Beers]].
* ''Anime/{{Robotech}}'' carried this off by declaring that Zentradi < Masters < Invid. [[ExpandedUniverse Robotech: Shadow Chronicles]] added The Children of the Shadow to this progression. However the Zentreadi are, in absolute terms, far, far more powerful than their creators, the Robotech Masters. The defenders take them down by exploiting a couple of secret weapons and the Zentraedi's special weaknesses, the biggest single battle of all three Robotech Wars comes in the ''first'' one, wiping out most of Earth's population and wrecking civilization. Afterward, the heroes are much weakened when they face the Robotech Masters and are even ''weaker'' when the Invid come. The Invid, too, are weaker by far than they once were.
* ''Anime/YuGiOh'' and ''Anime/YuGiOhGX'' presented villains not only in ascending order by menace, but also, for some reason, [[CampGay effeminateness]]. For instance, the first BigBad in season 1 of ''GX'' was a withered old man; Season 2's villain was a younger, more strapping adult male. Season 3 had a Hermaphrodite Duel Monster. The effeminateness of the villain ties directly into their personal interest towards the hero. At first, the BigBad is usually just interested in a certain trinket or item carried by the protagonist, while the next is usually more interested in the protagonist's actual abilities and strengths. The biggest of the {{Big Bad}}s ''always'' seemed to have some kind of intimate interpersonal relationship with the hero, which would border on HoYay (since both sides in this series were invariably male), if only the BigBad wasn't trying to enslave/murder them for some deep, scarring betrayal they blame on the protagonist. There are only two exceptions: Dartz, in the Doma StoryArc, and the BigBad of the Capsule Monsters arc, which, as far as the rest of the series is concerned, [[FanonDiscontinuity never even happened]]. Even the original series (never released beyond Japan and taking place before the anime we all know and love) has most of the villains being random thugs met in chance encounters, fitting into the algorithm perfectly.
** This is played straight throughout the continuum of all three series so far, the first villains were merely bullies that wanted to abuse their authority, then came Seto who was willing to kill the protagonists as well as being a very high-ranking member of the corporate world. Then came Shadi and Bakura, both with magical powers, with the latter being far more malign and able to alter reality, then came Pegasus who was a more personal threat with Pegasus who wanted the Puzzle to revive his dead lover, and a much longer arc. Marik arrives and really raises the CerebusSyndrome with far more deadlier stakes involved and more personal past to the Pharaoh. Once his dark side is revealed, it's either a TakeOverTheWorld or [[ForTheEvulz watching the world fall to ruin]] depending on which dub you watch. The biggest threats outside of Sieg who merely wanted to best Seto,were Dartz and Zorc [[spoiler: the real identity of Bakura]], with the former being even more dangerous as his ambitions to destroy humanity involving a dangerous EldritchAbomination needed offerings from two worlds with life forms, while the latter wanted merely TheEndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt. GX comes around and while Kagemaru merely wanted youth, Saitou, or rather the Light Of Destruction, wanted universal dominance and was kind of responsible for everything in the series, while [[spoiler: Darkness' AssimilationPlot]] was threatening, it was not on the same scale. 5Ds introduces [[spoiler: Z-ONE]] who is implied to have complete control of the space/time continuum and finally Zexal has Dr. Faker with the implied goal of destroying other dimensions.
* The opposition on ''Anime/SailorMoon'' also sorted itself out into ascending levels of power per season, starting with the Dark Kingdom (which could only field a single youma at a time) all the way up to Galaxia, who threatened the entire universe. The only exceptions seem to be Ail and En who, regardless of probably being weaker than the last villains, had to face senshi with unusually strong attacks. Naturally this filler was forgotten later. It also seems to have been the original M.O. of the Amazon Trio, explaining their penchant for disguising themselves; likewise, there aren't real arc villains either. The strange thing is that the five {{Big Bad}}s of the villain groups (Queen Metaria, Death Phantom, Pharaoh 90, Queen Nehellenia, and Chaos) are all portrayed as having the same dark power to destroy or conquer the universe which would mean they were at the same level of power. In the manga, it's because [[spoiler: they're all the same villain being reincarnated over and over again.]]
* ''Manga/CodenameSailorV'', set before ''Manga/SailorMoon'' and telling the story of Sailor Venus before she became part of the group appropriately has a big bad who though a threat to Sailor V is an extreme small fry in the scheme of things. He's one step below the first arc's QuirkyMinibossSquad being an underling of Kunzite. ''Manga/CodenameSailorV'' debuted before ''Manga/SailorMoon'' but wrapped up shortly after.
* ''Manga/{{Naruto}}'' initially averts the algorithm by including fights between characters much stronger than the main heroes throughout the first part of the series. The first major enemy, Zabuza, is so strong that the Genin can't be expected to hold their own against him (even his BattleButler, Haku, is too much for them). In addition, the BigBad, Orochimaru, shows up in the ''second'' major arc, and for the longest time, even the strongest characters could, at best, manage a tie against him. However, this trope shows up more and more as the heroes gain strength until they're able to hang with the big boys on their own, and once [[spoiler:Orochimaru is defeated, we are introduced to a number of major villains who are even stronger than him]]. Granted, [[spoiler:one of the later antagonists is an internal one with more of a threat for his political influence than his physical power, and a number of major villains meet their defeats for reasons other than the heroes being stronger (Orochimaru himself was at his weakest when he was taken out)]], but even then, [[spoiler:when a number of previous antagonists are resurrected during the Shinobi World War arc, most of them fall victim to this trope (with Nagato being the main exception).]] The trope plays out this way mostly because in part 1, the main characters are fresh out of ninja school and there are several more powerful adult shinobi around; as the heroes catch up to their elders after the TimeSkip, this trope shows up more and more.
* Largely averted by ''Manga/HunterXHunter''. A notable secondary [[HeelFaceRevolvingDoor sometimes-friend-sometimes-foe]] character, [[MonsterClown Hisoka the Magician]] is introduced as one of the most dangerous men alive. Nearly three hundred chapters later (after a long hiatus), he's still one of the most dangerous men alive. The various enemies that the lead characters meet fluctuate wildly between "can kill them with a sneeze" to "wotta wimp!", with no real bearing on what point of the story they're at chronologically.
** Also subverted with the Chimera Ant arc, while Phantom Troupe and the Greed Island enemies were strong threats, the Chimera Ants are very jagged in ranking, some were very weak and others are much stronger than even the BigBad, their king [[spoiler: prior to his death]] was the strongest character thus far.
* In ''Manga/OnePiece'', this is mostly [[JustifiedTrope justified.]] The goal of the series is to reach a geographical destination that has been known but not yet reached for over 20 years, so a lot of pirates have gathered around it. Naturally, the strongest are the ones who have gotten the closest.
** As Luffy and crew get further along the Grand Line, they discover tougher opponents. The series isn't above throwing the odd curveball though, like Mihawk first appearing and [[HopelessBossFight dominating]] Zoro very early in the series, and Bellamy showing up and going down like a punk after the defeat of Crocodile. In contrast to major arc villains, Eneru is a bit of a subversion in that he is the most powerful and dangerous opponent Luffy has actually defeated, his [[ShockAndAwe lightning powers]] giving him enough power to destroy entire islands and NighInvulnerability, [[PlotTailoredToTheParty but]] the one thing that could make all of that power completely useless was being a RubberMan, which Luffy is. Later on in the show's run, the Sabaody arc started with the Strawhats [[CurbStompBattle dominating]] some lame pirates, then introduces nine pirate crews, some equal to the Strawhats. It ends with the Strawhats completely [[HopelessBossFight dominated again]] by some of the strongest characters introduced in One Piece up until now.
** Subverted with the Marineford arc, with numerous high level Marines and pirates that are just too strong for Luffy. These include the Seven Warlords of the Sea like Doflamingo and Mihawk to the three Admirals and from the Vice Admirals to Sengoku. It's going to take time for the Straw Hats to overcome these opponents.
** Also subverted by the Four Emperors. The first one we see is none other than [[NiceGuy Shanks]], followed by [[AFatherToHisMen Whitebeard]]. Then we hear about [[KillEmAll what Kaido did]] to Moria and his old crew. And [[EstablishingCharacterMoment the first thing we see Big Mom do]] is [[spoiler: eat one of her crewmates for no reason whatsoever]] and [[spoiler: decimating islands for not giving her sweets.]]
* ''Manga/{{Bleach}}'':
** Played straight through the first three major story arcs (Substitute Shinigami, Soul Society, and Arrancar).
*** In Substitute Shinigami, the [[MonsterOfTheWeek Monsters Of The Week]] start out as ordinary, non-sentient Hollows but steadily grow more powerful and cunning, culminating in the Gillian Menos Grande at the end of Ishida's introduction story.
*** Ichigo's near-instantaneous defeat by Byakuya in the prelude to the Soul Society arc shows that the Shinigami up the ante as antagonists. On their way to rescue Rukia, Ichigo and Company fight their way up through the Gotei 13 hierarchy, from seated officers to captains with released bankai.
*** Once again, the increased threat level is indicated by Ichigo being handily defeated by Ulquiorra and Yammy's scouting party at the beginning of the Arrancar arc. When the battle begins in earnest, the Arrancar attack the protagonists in line with their power levels: Fraccion first, then Privaron Espada, then up through the ranked Espada, then finally the CoDragons Gin and Tousen, then (after 5 LONG years of publication time) the BigBad Aizen himself.
** Subverted in the Fullbringer Arc. Tsukishima and [[spoiler: Ginjou]] are far less powerful than Aizen or even the Arrancar (on the level of Ichigo's early Soul Society Arc opponents) but make up for it by being much more manipulative at a time when Ichigo is especially ill-equipped to deal with their mindgames.
** ''Consciously'' subverted by the [[PuttingOnTheReich Vandenreich]] in the Thousand Year Blood War Arc. [[BigBad Yhwach]] is a CombatPragmatist who uses a Blitzkrieg strategy true to his Nazi motif, by sending his most powerful fighters in first to steamroller the Shinigami and using the rank-and-file to mop up after them.
* ''Anime/MonsterRancher'' is complex: Pixie is the first of the big bad 4, but stronger than Gali and Greywolf -- it takes the entire team ''sans'' golem to beat Pixie, but only Moochi or Tiger to beat Gali and Greywolf. Then they meet Moo (the BigBad) on the road quite early, and the encounter plays out like a HopelessBossFight. Although it's played straight in a sense, since Naga is the strongest of the big bad 4, and after that it's Moo in his Dragon Body who is incredibly powerful. But is subverted again, because in the next series they're up against one of his captains, who is obviously much weaker than Moo was.
* Averted in ''Anime/RurouniKenshin''. The characters make a point of stating several times that the villain of the third arc, Enishi, while very powerful, is just not on the same level as the villain of the previous arc, Shishio. Enishi manages to make up the difference by striking while everyone's still recovering from the fight with Shishio, sending several of his henchmen to fight the heroes, using a style that seems specifically built to counter Kenshin's own, and fighting an extremely emotionally distraught Kenshin. In short, while Shishio would probably defeat Enishi, Enishi is in a much better position to defeat [[TheHero Kenshin]].
** Plus, some of the enemies are not as big of a threat; Inui Banjin gives Sanosuke a hard time, but once he's able to use Futae no Kiwami the battle ends rather promptly. This is contrasted with Anji, who traded blows with Sano despite the technique supposedly being a one hit kill.
* ''Manga/DGrayMan'' would [[JustifiedTrope justify]] this, since the Akuma all have [[EvolutionaryLevels specific Levels]]... except that, as the heroes get stronger, they start fighting higher-leveled Akuma in larger groups.
* In ''Manga/YuYuHakusho'', every villain is billed as the most powerful, strongest, blah blah blah. This begins with several C-Class Demons early on and ends with the heroes fighting [[RankInflation S-Class demons]] at the end of the series. Somewhat justified in that the Spirit World set up a powerful barrier that prevented powerful demons from entering the living world.
** Actually, that isn't entirely true. His first three foes (two of which would become party members...) were largely unknown and were just a threat because Yusuke himself was unknown (in fact, his first foe in that arc was arguably more powerful than the second two). His next foes were actually some of the more powerful monsters around, but again are not major threats to trained warriors (it is just that the Spirit Detective Agency didn't HAVE any trained warriors...). After this, the heroes fought largely unknown people (in fact, the foes in the arcs immediately after the saint beasts were considerably weaker than said beasts), with the only real challenge being Younger Toguro (who purposefully held back to test Yusuke). In fact, after the Dark Tournament until Sensui, the foes were much weaker than Yuseke's team, but they fought in special ways. From Sensui on though, it was a textbook case. So while the individual fights didn't necessarily follow this trope, the big bad of each arc definitely did.
* ''Manga/{{Saiyuki}}'' inverts this with its seasonal big bads. The first series has Homura, the [[PhysicalGod God of War]]. ''Reload'' has Dr. Nii's disciple Kami-sama, and ''Gunlock'' features Hazel, a mere priest from the west. It also plays with the trope by making the villains harder to defeat in other ways - Homura was unquestionably a bad guy, but is followed by PsychopathicManchild Kami-sama, who just didn't work on the same level mentally. Then there was Hazel, who was in all appearances a good guy, creating a huge ethical backlash to fighting him.
* The classic example of the technology creep variety would be the Zeon mobile suits in ''Anime/MobileSuitGundam''. They go from the rather pathetic Zaku which was designed for fighting conventional vehicles rather than other mobile suits, to the fast, heavily armed & armored, though somewhat unwieldy Dom to the powerful & agile Gelgoog, which nearly matches the Gundam's performance, with a few Ace customs and [[SuperPrototype Super Prototypes]] along the way for flavor. This would be a fairly realistic setup... if the war had lasted longer than a ''single year''. The novelization is somewhat better about this as the war drags on for two years & the Gelgoogs never show up. It also subverts this trope, as the antagonists use a slightly less advanced Mobile Armor to fight the Gundam in the climactic battle due to supply shortages and [[spoiler:though the Gundam defeats it, it proves to be enough of a distraction that a MauveShirt piloting a lowly Rick Dom is able to finish Amuro off]].
* The entirety of battle in ''Anime/TengenToppaGurrenLagann'' is a combination of this and a LensmanArmsRace. The BigBad actually does explain, though, that he [[LawfulStupid intentionally did it that way]], the reasoning being that the harder the heroes have worked to get to where they are, the more crushing it'll be when they're finally defeated. That's, uh... [[{{Determinator}} not what happens.]]
* ''Franchise/{{Digimon}}'' uses a series of EvolutionaryLevels: Baby, Rookie, Champion, Ultimate, Mega. The team has to advance to the next level to face the next level of enemies. This gets a little ridiculous in later series, where every bad guy seems to be Mega level and some are just that much more powerful then other Megas.
** The original ''Anime/DigimonAdventure'' has Devimon, an evil Champion-level Digimon. Then there was Etemon, who was purely comical as opposed to the serious Devimon, but was at the Ultimate level and thus [[NotSoHarmlessVillain considerably stronger.]] Then came Myotismon, an Ultimate of great strength who was the first Digimon in the show to evolve to Mega form. Then came the four Dark Masters, who were all Mega level. The last, most powerful enemy they faced, was Apocalymon, an insanely-strong Mega level, who beat the digidestined at first, but was defeated by their GrandFinale AllYourColorsCombined attack. Explained by the Dark Masters: they were heading up a mountain, through each of the Dark Masters' turfs one at a time and the Dark Masters rarely interfered in one another's matters. The four got progressively tougher the further up the mountain they got, the most powerful Piedmon reigning from the very top.
** The ''V-Tamer'' manga went a step further and introduced Arkadimon, which was the "Super Ultimate" Digimon. Among other things, it killed Sigma's Piedmon (a Mega level) while still at Rookie level. In one hit. Its Champion level did the same to Seraphimon (a considerably stronger Mega) with about as much effort. Consider that for most Digimon, a single Evolutionary Level is often an insurmountable hurdle.
** Also, in ''Anime/DigimonTamers'', the first several Digimon to appear are all Rookie or Champion level, and are easily beaten by the Rookie level Digimon used by the protagonists, that quite quickly unlock Champion level. Later, the Devas appear and nearly force them to unlock Ultimate level, after which they wind up in the Digital World and learn of the D-Reaper, which eventually results in the good guys unlocking Biomerge Digivolution. In the end, it all came down to 4 Megas against one Mega. Guess who kicked ass for most of the fight.
** ''Anime/DigimonSavers'' averts this, in that the first major "villain" they encounter is of the Mega level. Then, however, it turns out that he's not actually a bad guy, and the main antagonist becomes ''Gotsumon'' (a Rookie level digimon), the human-hating minion of the aforementioned bad guy. He ends up manipulating another Mega level digimon into attacking the humans, and then it's revealed that everything bad and the reason why Digimon distrust humans is due to the actions of Dr. Akihiro Kurata - a ''human.'' Later, it appears that Kurata is going to be usurped by [[spoiler: Belphemon]], Kurata instead [[spoiler: fuses with it and remains in control of it until his defeat.]] Yggdrasil rounds out the series as the penultimate antagonist, but considering his actions are due to Kurata's own misdeeds, Kurata still remains the [[BigBad main villain]] of the series.
* ''Manga/MagicKnightRayearth''. The first enemy the PowerTrio faces, Alcyone, is a powerful [[AnIcePerson Ice Mage]] but easily dispatched. Then come [[SummonMagic Ascot]], [[MasterOfIllusion Caldina]], [[{{BFS}} Lafarga]] and, ''finally'', [[TheDragon Zagato himself]]. While their power levels are all over the place, they have specific skills that make them increasingly dangerous, and it would have been easy for any of the later foes to eliminate the Knights had they been dispatched earlier. In particular, [[FridgeLogic one wonders why]], since Zagato knew all about the Magic Knight legend, why he didn't go after the girls himself as soon as they arrived. In the anime, Zagato does show up for a few moments to show the heroes just a tiny portion of his power. Had he actually attacked them, they would not have survived. What Zagato wants to do [[spoiler: Other than keeping his beloved Princess alive]] is never fully explained. He may not intend to kill the Magic Knights, regardless of what that will mean for him. The Ascot arc shows the trope in miniature: the first few "friends" are indeed strong enough to squish the Magic Knights into paste, but they have glaring weaknesses that the girls discover and exploit within minutes. However, his very last Summoned Monsters are titanic foes that can go toe-to-toe with the ancient [[HumongousMecha Rune Gods]], and continue to be powerful presences in the second arc [[BigDamnHeroes whenever the Knights need rescuing]]. He always had access to them, so why he didn't call these right off the bat is a mystery to everyone.
* ''Anime/CodeGeass''. Lelouch faces off with increasingly improving resistance from TheEmpire, but manages to cope because his allies also get better mechas over time. In the first major battle, he faces inept commander Prince Clovis and a bunch of regular Knightmares with his terrorist allies using mostly outdated Knightmares of their own, and they own the field... And then [[TheDragon Suzaku]] shows up... Algorithm leaps somewhat later when Lelouch tries to do this again against much better leader Princess Cornelia, and his (different group) allies are slaughtered. He later however turns the tables when he tries this again, only using the environment to his advantage, supported by the JLF, and with AcePilot Kallen in a better mecha. He nearly has Cornelia beat... And then Suzaku shows up... again. Eventually his allies begin to power up faster than TheEmpire, and he's likely have won the war, if not for some extreme circumstances and misfortunes. Eventually Kallen's able to easily [[spoiler: turn Suzaku's mech to scrap, even after it gets an upgrade.]] By the end of the series however, his terrorist army has gotten ''so'' good, that [[spoiler: when he's forced to fight them, this time commanding the forces of TheEmpire,]] he's no match. Unfortunately the trope is subverted in R2, where Lelouch deals with [[spoiler:the immortal]] V.V. (the target of his vendetta), TheEmperor, and [[ShelteredAristocrat Schneizel]] when everyone thought it was going to be the other way around. Even worse, TheEmperor [[spoiler:kills V.V. before Lelouch even learns that V.V. was the one who killed his mother.]]
* Played straight then subverted in ''[[Manga/KenichiTheMightiestDisciple History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi]]'', in the manga at least. The storyline covered in the anime plays it straight, with Kenichi fighting stronger opponents as his skill improves; high school bullies, Ragnarok mooks, the Eight Fists of Ragnarok, and finally their leader Odin. Kenichi's struggle against YOMI, the next antagonist group subverts it. YOMI's leader Sho Kanou, touted as the strongest fighter of them all and inheritor of the styles of YAMI the series' BigBad organization... is the ''second'' YOMI member Kenichi defeats. However Kenichi then gets his ass handed to him against another member of YOMI. Possibly justified since each of the YOMI members and their masters in YAMI believes that he or she is really the strongest; some of the YAMI members believed that Sho was unsuitable to be YOMI leader. That and Kenichi's fighting ability is highly dependent on the circumstances involved; even though he's practically superhuman at this point he's ''still'' slightly intimidated by high school bullies.
* ''Manga/{{Eyeshield 21}}'' and other such sports manga tend to increase in scope as the story goes on. Athletes face opponents from other cities first and other countries later. Played straight ''and'' subverted earlier in the manga, where the Devil Bats' first opponents are a very weak team, followed immediately by the uber-talented and powerful Ojou White Knights, then the moderately challenging but not all that Zokugaku Chameleons. But, naturally, once they get to the fall tournament, the easy games all happen first. It is a knock-out tourney so only the best get far. Subverted again in the Kanto tournament, where the match-ups are decided through a lottery. They do not go against the nine-times-in-a-row-champions Shinryuuji Naga in the finals, or in the semi-finals, but in their ''very first match''. They then face their ultimate rivals, the White Knights in their second match, and fellow darkhorse team, the Hakushuu Dinosaurs in the final. All are very close, very tough matches, and which one was the best is a matter of debate among the fandom.
* ''Manga/JojosBizarreAdventure'' both plays this trope straight and averts it. While the enemies fought in each series grow stronger the closer that you get to the end, the fact that each volume stars a different hero means that [[BigBad Big Bads]] don't necessarily have to be stronger than what came before. For example, while Dio of Part 3 was quite dangerous, he wasn't as immediate a threat to the world as the Pillar Men of Part 2.
** This is arguable considering what his true master plan was revealed to be in part 6, which is to make a Perfect World for Dio. And although orchestrated by one of his minions and the series 6 BigBad Enrico Pucci, it was still a large threat either on par or greater than the Pillar Men. Especially since the Perfect World would not only have to remove the Joestar family, which are Dio's biggest threat, but also anyone who would ever pose a threat to Dio, including the Pillar Men and the series 5 BigBad Diavolo.
** Given that above point, the only time it's really been subverted (without getting into technicalities) is with Kira from series 4. Although to be fair series 4 is about simply protecting one town over protecting the world. He was merely one serial killer as opposed to a vampire or a mob boss.
*** While Kira most certainly did not have as much ambition or ressources as any of the other Big Bads, he won the SuperpowerLottery so handily that he was just as hard to beat as he should given his place in the series.
** Played straight in-between Part 1 and 2. In Part 1, vampire Dio was the big threat of the series, with [[OurVampiresAreDifferent vampire zombies]] serving as the series' mooks. Come Part 2, vampire zombies have disappeared and vampires are downgraded to {{Mook}} status to make way for the Pillar Men. It helps that the first Jojo had to learn [[KiAttacks Hamon]] to stand a chance against Dio, while the second Jojo already knew how to use it from the get-go.
* ''Manga/SaintSeiya'': By LawOfChromaticSuperiority, the heroes must first battle their peers, the Bronze Saints (and, later, their EvilCounterpart Black Saints) in a local skirmish for the Gold Cloth; then, the Silver Saints, who hunt them down for said Cloth; and finally, the Gold Saints, who never leave the Sanctuary. Then come the Asgardian God Warriors, who can give Golds a run for their money; Marine Shoguns, likewise; and then Hades' Spectres. The last foes they encounter are actual Gods, and the teaser movie for Chapter of Heaven hints that the Bronze Boys are raring to take on the Olympian Gods themselves. Subverted in the manga when Gold Saint Virgo Shaka seeks out and nearly kills Bronze Saint Phoenix Ikki before the actual plot even begins. Their [[CurbStompBattle battle, such as it is,]] is shown as an extended flashback.
** Averted in its prequel ''Manga/SaintSeiyaTheLostCanvas''. The difficulty of the enemies varies ranging from [[EliteMooks simply strong Specters]], the three [[MiniBoss Judges]], to [[CoDragons Thanatos/Hypnos]], but a good deal of energy is put forth into defeating Thanatos/Hypnos before even finishing off the Judges; and many [[EliteMooks rankless strong Specters]] actually served as obstacles for the last arc, outlasting both [[TheDragon the Dragons]] and [[MiniBoss Mini-bosses]].
* Played with in ''Manga/MahouSenseiNegima'', where the first major antagonist that Negi faced -Evangeline - is the strongest character in the series, only winning the fight by a combination of luck and the fact that Eva wasn't really taking the fight seriously/more or less let him win. Played with because part of Eva's curse was still in effect, and when he first fights her without it, he can barely last three minutes.
* This trope is straight out mocked in the second episode of ''Manga/HaruhiChan''. After being 'defeated', Asakura warns Kyon and Yuki that she is "the weakest of the radical four", which will now come after them. And above the radical four, are [[TheManBehindTheMan the top three leaders]]..!
* Played straight for most of ''Manga/FistOfTheNorthStar''. Shin, Ken's initial rival and the man who engraved the seven scars on his chest, isn't even the strongest of the Nanto Seiken masters, but rather Souther, a character who is introduced a bit later and is shown to be immune to the effects of Ken's martial art at first. Jagi, the first of Ken's adoptive brothers to appear in the story, is a petty thug who never truly mastered Hokuto Shinken, but is still stronger than the average {{mook}}, in contrast to Raoh, the eldest and the last one to appear, who is the BigBad for most of the first series and ends up [[HeroKiller killing most of Ken's allies]]. Then there's Kaioh, the ultimate Big Bad of the second series, who was the only villain that was actually immune to Kenshiro's ultimate technique of Musou Tensei and almost killed him during their first encounter. Subverted in the final chapters of the manga, in which the final villain, Bolge, was just an average wasteland thug no stronger than Jagi.
* In ''Manga/BusouRenkin'', the series begins with the main characters fighting off animal- and plant-type homunculi. Then comes along a stronger animal-type homunculus, and then the humanoid homunculi, and then Victor, and then Victor AND the Alchemist Army, and then Victor in his third stage...
** And where does Papillon fit in all this?
* ''[[Anime/UchuuSenkanYamato Star Blazers / Space Battleship Yamato]]''. Initially, Desslok does not consider the Star Force a serious threat, and orders low-ranking shlubs Ganz and Bane to fight them. After Ganz and Bane's defeat, Desslok takes the threat more seriously and sends his best general, Lysis to fight them. After they defeat Lysis, ''then'' Deslok decides to take them on personally.
** In the second season, first the Star Force fights some weak Comet Empire lackeys while Desslok's hanging out at the Comet Empire, then they fight Desslok who almost defeats them but is tricked to run away, then a tank battalion that almost destroys the Space Marines, then they fight Desslok again except this time he's ENRAGED, then they take on the Comet Empire, then the [[spoiler:dreadnought inside the Comet Empire]].
** In the third season, Desslok's buddy-buddy with the Star Force. His generals do not understand this and keep throwing more and more power to capture the Star Force without telling him. He is not amused when he finds out.
* ''Anime/NeonGenesisEvangelion'' is complex. Angels fought later in the series are generally stronger, but some are weaker or don't fight directly. The 3rd fought may be the most powerful. In response, NERV's forces follow a sort of ParabolicPowerCurve, at their strongest from about the time Asuka joins until Shinji surpasses her. This means that some of the midgame angels, like Matariel (the spider, 7th fought) and Sahaquiel (The ColonyDrop angel, 8th fought), which might have been quite strong or invincible against a single Eva...[[CurbStompBattle weren't.]] As the series moves on towards the endgame, things [[DysfunctionJunction start coming apart]] for NERV and they have to start expending irreplaceable resources to defeat the angels. All this makes it hard to determine the strength of the individual angels: Sahaquiel seems more dangerous than Ramiel (the octahedron angel, the aforementioned 3rd fought) but was more easily defeated, Zeruel (12th fought, the one with the skull and which blasted its way into the Geofront) seems to be the most powerful direct combat angel, but if the Eva pilots had still been capable of facing it as a cohesive team, like when they fought Matariel and Sahaquiel, who ''knows'' what would have happened. Angels twelve and up did have [[SanitySlippage increasing effects on the pilots' mental state]].
** But then completely plays it straight in the Finale, since the Final Angel is stated to be the absolutely most powerful of all in terms of AT Field, able to NoSell anything short of another PhysicalGod. Fittingly, there were 2 of them in the same room with him...and he would have let himself die regardless anyway. Then TheMovie ends with....uhhhhhh, the two aforementioned Physical Gods doing....stuff that would make your head explode. And I mean....both the Characters themselves...AND YOU!!! Enjoy your MindScrew, my friends!
*** Actually, the ''really'' final angel is [[spoiler: mankind. The Eva pilots final opponents are other humans.]] Well that and the MP-Eva series.
** It's not that complex. During the first half, most of the angels - save for #5 Ramiel - were more human or animal-like and laughably weak, compared to the second half - starting with #11 Iruel and #12 Leliel - which started taking new forms and started posing a greater threat physically as well as a new threat psychologically, with three of the remaining five angels actually capable of defeating the Evas and/or killing their pilots.
** Actually, most of them stopped bothering to attack in a direct physical manner. They switched to becoming Personified Aspects of the Cast's psychological problems and actually toned down on most of the raw power. Some of them don't even do any literal physical damage anymore.
*** While #10 Sahaquiel posed greater danger than Ramiel, it was still weaker, as its descent was stopped by a single Eva, and once that happened, it had little offensive or defensive ability left. And #9 Matariel was the weakest angel that was felled by only machine gunfire; it only caused problems because of where the Evas had to fight it. Both Matariel and Sahaquiel could have been killed by a single Eva.
**** Sahaquiel probably couldn't be defeated by a single Eva actually since it would have eventually broken through anyway, unless it accidentally triggered a Berserk Eva-01. Which can Curbstomp anything "anyway". Minus the whole potentially ending the world in the process thing that it tends to do also...
* While threat level varies in ''Manga/FairyTail'' the threat and strength of the more serious villains does increase each time, with lesser villains thrown in between them. This is mostly managed by the characters getting by on strategy, nakama power, of in some cases temporary power ups rather than non-stop training.
** Threats thus far are a ordinary dark guild wielding a fairly weak soul sucking demon, a rival turned evil who is on par with one of the main characters and wanted to unseal a similar demon, a rival guild who's master is on par with the BigGood who was trying to put Fairy Tail out of business, An old friend turned evil who was on par with the BigGood and wanted to revive [[SealedEvilInACan Zeref]] (this is when all threats start to guarantee death), One of the larger dark guilds who wanted to start a guild war, a foreign king who had no powers beyond a HumongousMecha who was willing to kill the guild for their magic, then a former guild member and his new, serious dark guild who easily CurbStomped the BigGood and were trying to create a world where only 10% of the population could survive. [[spoiler:Then there's also the black dragon of the apocalypse who the entire main and supporting cast can't put a scratch on and only leaves once it assumes they're dead.]] The most recent arc seems to be toning it back down with a government official who only wants one guild member, supposedly for the sake of the country at the cost of her life.
** It gets played straight with the Balam Alliance, though. You first have Oracion Seis as the weakest, then Grimoire Heart which is led by the BigGood 's mentor, and finally, Tartaros, a completely genocidal guild comprised entirely of Zeref's demons and led by [[spoiler: the very same demon that once gave ''Igneel'' a hard ass-kicking. Keep in mind that non-Dragon Slaying magic does jack squat against dragons in the series.]]
* Somewhat averted in ''Manga/ThePrinceOfTennis''. Many of the earlier rivals are good enough to keep up with Seigaku throughout the manga. Fudomine and Yamabuki, who are faced in the District and Prefectural Tournament respectively on, make it all the way to the nationals. Seigaku's arch rival Hyotei is faced in the very first Kanto Tournament Match. However, they prove to be Seigaku's strongest opponents after Rikkai and get faced again. Later opponents such as Shitenhouji have good players, but are defeated relatively easily compared to the "two loss three win" formula against Hyotei and Rikkaidai.
* ''Anime/{{Bakugan}}'' plays this straight.
** S1: Naga, an egomaniac Bakugan whose plot is to absorb the power of the core of the Bakugan homeworld and conquer the universe.
** S2: King Zenoheld and the Vexos. Zenoheld rules a planet and finally goes AxCrazy and tries to [[OmnicidalManiac destroy the universe]], creating a Bakugan actually capable of doing so. Despite being strong enough to beat Naga, they've got to get a few upgrades to be able to beat them.
** S3: Emperor Barodius and the Gundalians. Are already on the winning side of a war with a peaceful planet and decides to invade Earth [[ForTheEvulz for kicks]]. Once again, the power that was able to defeat Zenoheld isn't enough to beat his forces and more upgrades are needed.
** S4: Mag Mel has yet to show his actual power, but considering he's SealedEvilInACan that was imprisoned for actually committing '''genocide''', it's a safe bet.
*** Now that he has, it's been confirmed, with still more upgrades needed to face his strongest forces [[spoiler:although technically he could simply be considered the same Big Bad but with new tricks, as he's actually what Barodius became after his defeat...]]
* Played a bit with in ''Anime/{{Slayers}}''. The first major enemy Lina fights is the NighInvulnerable Rezo the Red Priest, who happens to have a fragment of the world's Demon God sealed inside of him. Said Demon God is the most powerful of all evil creatures in the world, so, that's it right? Nothing can challenge Lina? Wrong. Oh, so wrong. The next major enemy Lina fights (in the anime) is a creature that's IMMUNE to magic attacks and has to be taken down in a rather unusual way. The next season has the Demon God's underlings show up and be enemies. Surely they can't be as powerful, right? Wrong. Even though they are less powerful than the Demon God at full power, the underlings are stronger than the fragment that Lina fought against in the first season. [[spoiler:In the novels, the BigBad of season 2 manages to freaking TANK the incomplete Giga Slave and managed to fight The Lord of Nightmares to a draw, though that was justified in that the Lord of Nightmares was in Lina's body and did not have access to her full power.]] Season 3 had a combined Demon God and God fusion from another world that needed a specific kind of spell to take him out. Season 4 had the same immune to magic enemy from season 1, though this one had no human controlling him, thus was actually stronger. Season 5 brought back the Demon God fragment from season 1, but this one had more control over the human host and was able to use more of his power. [[WordOfGod If said Demon God from Season 1 had been at full power, that is, completely consumed the human host, Lina would not be able to kill him.]]
* ''Manga/{{Holyland}}'': The first enemies Yuu fights are usually generic punks who know a bit of streetfighting. He starts coming up against more experienced fighters with genuine training in various disciplines. Eventually, he has to face prodigies and pros in combat-tested styles like kickboxing and UsefulNotes/MixedMartialArts.
* ''MutekiKanbanMusume'', being a DeconstructiveParody of the FightingSeries, Inverts and subverts this trope because the opponents are not presented in order of menace to Miki, but in order of their CharacterAlignment: First we know ToughLove / AbusiveParent Miki’s mother, then BitchInSheepsClothing TheRival Megumi, later UnknownRival IdiotHero Kankuro, finishing with WorthyOpponent AngryGuardDog Toshiyuki, the only one of them who is not an ArrogantKungFuGuy.
* ''Manga/MedakaBox'': PlayedStraight with most of the antagonists. Medaka and her friends face an escalating threat of enemies from a justice-driven CreepyChild, a megalomaniacal MindControl abnormal, her RealityWarper ArchEnemy, and a PhysicalGod.
** It is briefly averted in the Jet Black Wedding Arc, where the suitors, despite their powerful abilities called Styles are nowhere near the level of Ajimu, the aforementioned PhysicalGod or Kumagawa.
** PlayedStraight in the final arc with Iihiko, who not only defeated Ajimu numerous times in the past, but is completely immune to abnormal or minus skills. Only the aforementioned styles provide a potential way to defeat him.
* Each of the {{Zoids}} manga/anime has its own sorting algorithm of evil.
** In ''Manga/ZoidsChaoticCentury'', it goes in order of Saber Tiger to Geno Saurer to Death Stinger to Berserk Fury, with minor antagonists sprinkled inbetween.
** In [[Anime/ZoidsChaoticCentury the anime]], it went Saber Tiger, Geno Saurer, Death Saurer, Geno Breaker, Death Stinger, and Ultimate Death Saurer.
** ''Anime/ZoidsNewCentury'' gave us the Elephander, and then the Berserk Fury, with lesser antagonists sprinkled inbetween.
** ''Zoids: Fuzors'' went in order of the Buster Fury, Matrix Dragon, Energy Liger, Gairyuki and Seismosaurus as its primary antagonists.
** ''Zoids: Genesis'' started off with the Bio Megaraptor, then the Bio Tricera, Bio Volcano and Bio Tyranno.
* ''LightNovel/ACertainMagicalIndex'' is rather guilty of this. While not every villain is more powerful than the last, the {{Big Bad}}s have become successively more powerful, to the point that currently there are multiple characters who are ''stronger than {{God}}''.
* ''MajinTanteiNougamiNeuro'' both demonstrates and subverts this trope. While the important bosses continue to increase in difficulty, the entire series takes place [[spoiler:while the titular character continues to grow weaker]]. It is shown later in the series that two characters of similar strength, fighting at different times, have different levels of difficulty.
* Played with in ''Anime/KillLaKill'', in which the Elite Four set up a series of battles for Ryuko based on the number of people they took out in the "student election" (a battle royale), in order from least to greatest. In theory, this would result in this trope... however, Gamagoori, who suggested the system, actually gamed it by deliberately fighting as few people as possible, hoping to take Ryuko out by himself. Consequently, even though he's fought first, he's not at all the weakest.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* ''ComicBook/BatmanYearOne'' reintroduces [[Franchise/{{Batman}} The Detective]] as being principally concerned with cleaning up [[WretchedHive Gotham City]]'s [[TheMafia mobster problem]]; its nominal sequels such as ''The Man Who Laughs'', ''ComicBook/TheLongHalloween'' and ''ComicBook/DarkVictory'' concern the gradual emergence and rise of the supervillain threat, and by the end of ''Halloween'' and ''Victory'' nearly all the principal mobsters are either incarcerated or dead, and the supervillains have taken over. Afterwards, though, this trope is zig-zagged and subverted since, while Batman does deal with global, even genocidal villains as his career moves on, and as part of the ''JusticeLeague'' takes on intergalactic menaces and otherworldly threats, those same supervillains still pose as much or even more trouble for him as they ever have, though under GrantMorrison there was / is a tendency to make the city-based threats part of larger international conspiracies, to the point where prior to the lastest CosmicRetcon Batman had decided to start his own multinational crimefighting ''franchise'' to tackle ''crime everywhere''.
* A subtle example occurs in ''Comicbook/{{Spider-Girl}}'' with the villains [[DumbMuscle Earthshaker]], [[RubberMan Mr. Abnormal]], and [[PsychoElectro Killerwatt]]. All three of them were defeated by Spider-Girl early in the first series, and don't reappear for several years real-time. When they finally reappear, they've been drafted to serve in a government super-team, but do a pretty poor job of it. While they were credible threats to Spider-Girl early in her career, their ineffectiveness is now {{lampshade|Hanging}}d by everyone from Carnage to Agent Maria Hill of SHIELD to Spider-Girl herself.
* WarrenEllis' run on ''TheAuthority'' consisted to 3 four-issue storylines. In the 1st, they fight a supervillain. In the 2nd, they fight an alternative Earth. And in the 3rd they fight what could be described as {{God}}. When MarkMillar then took over the writing, he went back to various kinds of supervillains again.
* Averted in [[ComicBook/LesLegendaires Les Légendaires]]; the first pages of book 1 reveal that the protagonists have ''already'' defeated their ArchEnemy Darkhell before the story even begins for the reader. [[JokerImmunity He comes back]]... 2 volumes later, and he remained the biggest treat they had to face for ''7 books'', to the point the BiggerBad had to be a GodOfEvil in order to actually overshadow him.
* During his tenure as the writer for ''Comicbook/TheAvengers'', Creator/JimShooter pitted the team against a series of progressively more powerful and more dangerous opponents, all of whom had powers that bordered on invincibility. They faced the genetically enhanced Atlantean Tyrak (who had superhuman strength), the robot Ultron (who was equipped with an "encephalo-ray" which could place his enemies in a death-like state and possessed an indestructible adamantium body), the mad scientist Graviton (who had the ability to control one of the fundamental forces of the universe), Count Nefaria (a FlyingBrick), and eventually Korvac (a would-be warlord from the 31st century who had obtained godlike powers by absorbing part of the Power Cosmic from Galactus's abandoned starship). The first four typically took down Thor and Wonder Man (the strongest members of the team) with a single attack, while Korvac actually managed to kill the entire team in battle [[spoiler: before being driven to despair by the apparent betrayal of his similarly cosmically-empowered wife and restoring the team to life with his final breath]].
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Films -- Animated]]
* The ''WesternAnimation/KungFuPanda'' films play this straight with their main antagonists. [[APupilOfMineUntilHeTurnedToEvil Tai Lung]], despite being powerful enough to defeat both the Furious Five and Master Shifu, is still only one guy and his focus is solely on the Dragon Scroll, making him a complete non-issue to anyone outside the Valley of Peace (at least in the short term). Then comes [[EvilOverlord Lord Shen]], who controls a powerful army and seeks nothing less than to conquer all of China. He's not as physically strong or skilled as Tai Lung, but he's a ''far'' greater threat.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* Subtly toyed with in ''Film/PointBlank'' -- the hero keeps killing his way up the chain of command without truly getting anywhere.
* ''Film/JamesBond'' movies, however, frequently have the [[DragonTheirFeet main villain's henchman reappear]] after the main villain has died and his plot has been foiled. Bond will then dispatch them, often by [[HoistByTheirOwnPetard forcing a backfire of their trademark gimmick]].
* ''Film/KungFuHustle'' has a rather clearly evident Algorithm, starting with basic [[GangOfHats Axe Gang]] members that are countered by the Pig Sty Alley's three martial artists, who are then countered by the Axe Gang's hired {{Musical Assassin}}s, who are then countered by the Landlord and Landlady, who are in turn countered by the MadeOfIron and [[SuperSpeed superhumanly-fast]] Beast, who is in turn countered by the [[spoiler:HeelFaceTurn-ed {{Unsympathetic Comedy|Protagonist}} VillainProtagonist]]. In a slightly jarring subversion, the Beast attempted to use a pile of basic Axe Gang members to soften up the hero before properly fighting him.
* ''Franchise/PiratesOfTheCaribbean'' began with the enemies being a crew of cursed undead pirates. The second movie had them facing against the mythological Davy Jones. The third was a battle royal against Davy Jones and the entire East India Company navy, with the God of the Ocean thrown in for good measure. Good thing they had the Pirate council and Elizabeth TookALevelInBadass.
* ''Film/TheLordOfTheRings'' breaks from the trope, with the power level of the foes waxing and waning. For example, the first few villains they face are the supernatural Nazgűl, a hulking cave troll, and Saruman's super-orc Uruk-Hai. In the second film they face mostly rank-and-file orcs. In the third, however, the Nazgűl come back with tougher mounts, the colossal mumakill appear, the king of the Nazgűl shows up, and Aragorn has to duel an armored troll.
* ''Film/TheKarateKid'' series has a pattern in which he must use a new technique that the previous final boss proves immune to, thus suggesting that each opponent is tougher than the previous.
* Each of the ''Franchise/{{Terminator}}'' sequels introduced a more advanced Terminator model as the antagonist. There are plot reasons for this, since Skynet is sending Terminators back into the past from increasingly later points in the future, thus the models are stronger than the previous ones.
** The T-800 Terminator in ''Film/TheTerminator'' is a [[SuperToughness Super Tough]] hulking ImplacableMan with an [[ImmuneToBullets immunity to bullets]], pitted against human fighters.
** The T-1000 model in ''Film/Terminator2JudgmentDay'' looks less physically imposing than the previous one, but it's an illusion. This foe possesses VoluntaryShapeshifting, allowing it to create melee weapons from its own body, impersonate anyone, and will [[HealingFactor recover from anything]] to the point of being NighInvulnerable. Not to worry, the humans now have a reprogrammed T-800 on their side.
** The T-X in ''Film/Terminator3RiseOfTheMachines'' combines the best traits of both previous models, being a Super Tough solid Terminator skeleton with a liquid metal shapeshifter skin. It also has an [[ArmCannon in-built plasma cannon in one of its arms]], and can hack into most mechanical systems and operate them remotely. The odds are tipped even more in the machines' favor, since the friendly T-850 fully admits that it's a depleted model compared to the T-X.
** ''Film/TerminatorSalvation'', as it's set during the future RobotWar, showcases Skynet's entire army, with numerous models of different designs, including gigantic Harvester mechs, regular warriors, and [[spoiler:infiltrator prototypes]]. The movie does play it both ways however, since while the Terminator threat is larger than ever, the Terminators themselves actually seem ''less'' efficient than in previous movies because they uncharacteristically hold back during fights due to the protagonists' PlotArmor.
* In the first ''Film/{{Alien}}'' film, just one alien manages to kill off all but one crew member of the ''Nostromo'', Ripley. In ''Film/{{Aliens}}'', she has to face a ''colony'' of them, including their Queen. Then averted in ''Film/{{Alien 3}}'', which like the first in the series has only a single alien menacing our protagonists, in addition to [[spoiler: a Queen embryo maturing in Ripley's thorax]]. And finally played half-straight in ''Film/AlienResurrection'' when a colony of them is being faced again, but this one consists of no more than 12 individuals in addition to their Queen, as well as [[spoiler: some sort of alien-human hybrid in the end]]. However, between their low numbers and [[TookALevelInBadass how badass Ripley has become]], a lot if not most of the tension was unfortunately lost.
* Subverted in ''Film/ThreeHundred''. After his first wave of {{Mooks}} fails, God-King Xerxes sends his best troops, the Immortals, to kill the Spartans. While the Immortals make quite a few casualties among the Spartans, it ultimately fails because, as the narrator claims, the Spartans were not yet weakened by fatigue.
* ''Film/TheDarkKnightSaga'' makes use of this trope, with each main villain becoming more competent. Alluded to in ''The Dark Knight'' where the first time we see Batman he handily [[spoiler:arrests Scarecrow]]. In addition, the first two movies have Gotham City at risk of losing hope or [[spoiler:sanity]]. The third movie has the city at risk of [[spoiler:every person in it dying.]]
** ''Film/BatmanBegins'' has Batman first fight the mob, then [[PsychoPsychologist Scarecrow]] and his [[BrownNote fear toxin]] and finally Batman must defeat [[spoiler:[[EvilMentor Ra's]] [[{{Badass}} al]] [[KnightTemplar Ghul]]]] who nearly [[spoiler:drives all of Gotham insane with fear toxin, before Batman defeats his army and leaves Ra's to die]].
** Then in ''Film/TheDarkKnight'', SelfDemonstrating/TheJoker manages to put all of Gotham into panic without the vast resources and army that [[spoiler:Ra's al Ghul]] had in ''Batman Begins'' and creates another villain, [[spoiler:Two-Face, by causing Harvey Dent to become a FallenHero]]. The Joker also nearly succeeds in making Gotham lose all hope.
** In ''Film/TheDarkKnightRises'', [[GeniusBruiser Bane]] at first seems to be just a robber who attack the stock market. Very quickly, Bane is shown to be a huge threat, ''especially'' when he [[spoiler:defeats Batman and traps him in a prison halfway around the world]]. After that, Bane forcibly takes over Gotham for months, [[spoiler:and is secretly working with [[DaddysLittleVillain Talia]] [[FemmeFatale al]] [[ManipulativeBitch Ghul]]. Both want {{revenge}} for Ra's death, and want it by [[NukeEm nuking Gotham]].]]
* [[FacelessGoons Stormtroopers]] board the ''Tantive IV'' in the beginning of ''ANewHope'' and several of them [[ImperialStormtrooperMarksmanshipAcademy promptly get gunned down]]. Then, [[TheDragon Darth Vader]] enters and lets everyone know who is in charge. It's not until [[TheEmpireStrikesBack the sequel]] that we are introduced to [[BigBad Emperor Palpatine]], [[EvilOverlord leader of the Galactic Empire]].
** Hey, they didn't do too badly. They made a forced entry into a directly opposed chokepoint and wiped out the rebel crew with about 3 casualties. It's only when trying to shoot the heroes that they suck abominably.
* Used briefly in the first ''{{Gamera}}'' series. In ''Gamera vs. Gyaos'', Gamera takes the entire film to kill Gyaos. Then, for ''Gamera vs. Guiron'', Guiron is introduced as he's effortlessly killing a Space Gyaos. This wasn't entirely intentional on the filmmaker's part, as they'd originally intended for Space Gyaos' role to be filled by a completely different, new {{kaiju}}--they only reused the Gyaos costume because they couldn't make the new monster in time.
* The opposition in ''{{Film/Legion}}'' gets increasingly stronger: Old lady > an ice cream man (bummer) > about 100 angels > another 500 angels > an uber angel.
* Justified in ''PacificRim''. The first {{Kaiju}} to arrive on Earth are [[spoiler: ''scouts'' sent to cause as much mayhem as possible.]] Once humanity began to show resistance, [[spoiler: the Precursors]] responded by sending more advanced and larger Kaiju to deal with the Jaegers. And once the plan of wiping out all Jaegers succeeded, [[spoiler: an extermination wave of deadly Kaiju would come to destroy humanity once and for all.]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Fan Works]]
* Notably subverted in ''[[FanFic/UltimateSleepwalker Ultimate Sleepwalker: The New Dreams]]'' and ''[[FanFic/UltimateSpiderWoman Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With The Light]]''. Villains who appear early in the series have continued to remain deadly threats to the protagonists throughout the entire series, and in some cases outright beat them and [[TheBadGuyWins actually succeed in their evil plots]]. Even when they don't, they often manage to [[EvilVersusEvil defeat other villains]], sometimes in an EnemyMine situation with their heroic nemesis.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Gamebooks]]
* Oddly subverted in the ''Literature/LoneWolf'' gamebooks, then played straight. Lone Wolf actually manages to kill two of the [[EvilOverlord Darklords]] in the first five books; each was the leader of the Darklords at the time of their deaths. Later, Lone Wolf goes on to fight more powerful opponents. Book 12 justifies the subversion by stating that the Darklords are severely weakened by [[WeaksauceWeakness clean air]]; they could only fight at full strength in utterly corrupted environments. After the Darklords are defeated, the trope is played straight, as Lone Wolf's victory managed to piss off Naar, the ''god'' that created the Darklords in the first place.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]
* HarryTurtledove's ''Literature/{{Worldwar}}'' series is blatant aversion of this trope.
* A literary example comes from the ''Literature/{{Lensman}}'' series of novels, which worked up from interplanetary gangsters to an evil older than the formation of the solar system whose goal was domination of all intelligent life in the universe. These books [[JustifiedTrope justified]] the algorithm by revealing in each book that the BigBad of this book was TheManBehindTheMan of last book's BigBad. Then again, the nesting that would be present in the beginning is somewhat mind-boggling. [[note]]The prologue of the first book describes it. This is a {{retcon}}. The original Lensman series consisted of ''Galactic Patrol'', ''Gray Lensman'', ''Second Stage Lensman'', and ''Children of the Lens'', all originally published in ''Astounding Stories'' magazine. In this version, the Eddorians weren't revealed as The Men Behind the Men Behind the Men Behind the Men until the last set of stories. When Creator/EEDocSmith sold the rights to a book publisher, his editor felt the lack of foreshadowing made the series a bit silly and asked Smith to write a prequel introducing the Eddorians from the beginning. Smith took an old, unrelated novel of his, ''Triplanetary'', added the prologue and tweaked the plot to fit the Lensman universe. He then wrote ''First Lensman'' to bridge ''Triplanetary'' with the original series.[[/note]]
* ''Literature/HarryPotter''. Voldemort starts off as a powerless relic of his former glory in the first book and slowly works his way back up to BigBad over the course of the series. Thus, the threat Harry faces grows without the villain changing. Voldemort also tries to {{def|iedTrope}}y this trope at Harry's birth: he set out himself to destroy him. Scar ha ha.
* Justified in the ''Literature/HonorHarrington'' series. The People's Navy starts out the war with Manticore commanded by a bunch of inept bureaucrats and politically-appointed admirals, but the [[EnemyCivilWar Committee of Public Safety's coup]] kicks most of the garbage out of the system and allows the best Havenite admirals to rise to the top...in a purge that also happens to remove their most experienced admirals before they ever come into play. They also implement a system that prevents their best admirals from showing any strategic initiative, including [[StateSec commissars]] with the authority to override admirals and [[YouHaveFailedMe executions for anyone who fails "pour encourager les autres"]]. It isn't until Esther [=McQueen=] becomes Secretary of War and reorganizes the system that they manage any significant strategic victories. When Thomas Theisman overthrows Chairman Saint-Just and restores the original Republic, the StateSec apparatus and political commissars are cleared out entirely, and the finest generals Haven has available can use whatever means they have at their disposal to fight the war with everything they learned in the first war. The second war does not start out well for Manticore.
* Advertising copy for ''The Ghost King'', R.A. Salvatore's 2009 [[TheLegendOfDrizzt Drizzt]] novel: "When the Spellplague ravages Faerun, Catti-brie falls into a deathlike trance, taking Regis with her. Drizzt, with the most unlikely ally of all at his side, seeks the help of Cadderly -- the hero of the recently reissued series The Cleric Quintet. But even as his beloved's life hangs by a thread, Drizzt finds himself facing his most powerful and elusive foe, the twisted Crenshinibon, the demonic Crystal Shard he believed had been destroyed years ago. And the dragon he thought was destroyed along with it. And the mind flayer. And the seven liches that created the Crystal Shard in the first place. All in one godlike entity that calls itself the Ghost King." To calibrate the algorithm, it is the last book in R.A. Salvatore's eighth Forgotten Realms series. But then, Drizzt is a D&D hero, with complete stats - and quite strong enough to face a squid thingy and a dragon and a group of liches.
* Intially played straight in the ''Literature/TheDresdenFiles'' series by Jim Butcher, but later Averted. After fighting an evil wizard with more ambition and [[KickTheDog enjoyment for kicking puppies]] than actual power or brains in the 1st book, Harry Dresden fights werewolves, ghosts, vampires and the ''faerie queens'' by the 4th book... and back down to vampires in the 6th. While there's plenty of fighting and Harry and the other protagonists are powerful in their own ways, the drama generally comes from scheming and Harry's personal stake in the matter. The faeries in ''Proven Guilty'' would have been no problem for Harry even back in book 1, but the problem was that now he had to handle the person who summoned them as well.
** Also, the most dangerous antagonists are not always the ones with the greatest raw power. Villains like Nicodemus and Mavra are significant threats not because of their admittedly considerable powers, but because they are cunning, patient, and pragmatic. Tactics and FlawExploitation win out over brute force more often than not.
* In the ''Literature/CodexAlera'' also by Jim Butcher, [[HordeOfAlienLocusts the Vord]] have this as a superpower, which when coupled with the raw intellect of their Queens is just as scary as it sounds. Even though the Vord are defeated in the early books, this just taught the Queen new tricks to use to modify future generations of her children, so that when they come back they're ''far'' more formidable. The only way to stop the Vord for good ''without'' this happening seems to be to [[spoiler: kill the Queen]].
** Also played generally straight in ''Alera'' with the three successive invading forces. The Marat are ProudWarriorRaceGuy barbarian elves who are very individually formidable but don't really have the logistics to take and hold much of Alera; it also turns out that it's mostly one particularly bloodthirsty leader who wants them fighting Alera in the first place, and once he's removed other leaders are willing to talk things out. Next, the Canim are highly disciplined, technologically advanced wolfmen who succeed in waging a prolonged war along the Aleran coast- at least until it turns out they're only there to try and escape from the even more formidable enemy that assaulted their homeland, which turns out to be the Vord, mentioned above, who nearly destroy the world.
* Generally averted in Creator/JRRTolkien's works- the supernatural powers of evil tend to get ''weaker'', not stronger, as the timeline advances. The supernatural powers of good ''also'' get weaker, however (or at least less accessible) in accord with the general transition of Middle-Earth from a mythological world to a more realistic one. If you start with ''Literature/TheHobbit'' and then go to ''Literature/TheLordOfTheRings'', however, it's played straight, going from the BigBad being a dragon (dangerous on his own to be sure, but lacking minions or the ambition to range far from home without proper incentive) to an EvilOverlord with world-conquering ambition.
** Although at the very end of ''The Lord of the Rings'', the heroes have to face one last battle: a handful of bandits in the Shire. After the climax and death of Sauron, this seems comparatively petty.
* In ''Literature/SeptimusHeap'', the threats the protagonists are up to against increse with progressing story, from the inefficient [=DomDaniel=] of ''Magyk'' over [[GodSaveUsFromTheQueen Queen Etheldredda]] to [[MagnificentBastard Tertius Fume]] and the [[SphereOfDestruction Darke Domaine]] in ''Darke''.
** Although, at the same time this is also sort of inverted: [=DomDaniel=] was actually the most powerful villain faced in the series, being an ultra-powerful undead sorcerer trying to conquer the world, but due to being mostly killed before the series started, he has little of his old power and has to act through his less-capable apprentices. Etheldredda and Fume were not only ghosts, but were also just ordinary jerks acting on petty grudges who happened to have found great powers. Finally, the true villain of ''Darke'' was actually [[spoiler:Merrin Meredith, a ButtMonkey and JokeCharacter, who had happened to find a source of Darke power, but ultimately was just a childish, nasty loser]].
* The ''Literature/SkulduggeryPleasant'' series plays this straight for the first three books, and zig-zags it for the rest of the series: Mevolent, the overlord of evil mages who was supposedly the biggest threat the magic world had faced so far, died long before the series began. The villain of the first book, Nefarian Serpine, was just one of his lieutenants, but was also extremely dangerous and managed to get his hands on a source of godlike power. Then came the second of the three lieutenants, Baron Vengeous, who explicitly invokes this trope when Skulduggery claims that if Serpine was a 10/10 [[OnAScaleFromOneToTen on the scale of evil]], Vengeous was [[UpToEleven an 11]]. The third book [[DoubleSubversion Double Subverts]] this by at first setting up the villain as a trio of Mevolent's minor officers [[spoiler:who's leader doesn't even have magic]], but then [[spoiler:the [[EldritchAbomination Faceless Ones]]]], the villains that all the other villains were serving, who are powerful enough to destroy human civilization as easy as stepping on an ant colony, show up. The fourth and fifth books abruptly subvert the Algorithm by putting the heroes up against a gang of minor villains who are out for revenge and a swarm of evil ghosts with DemonicPossession abilities, and then the ''sixth'' book plays it straight by including no less than ''three'' supervillains with the capacity to destroy the world. And the ''next'' villain is...an ordinary mage and some ordinary psychos he recruited...[[DoubleSubversion who has a machine that turns him into the most powerful mage in the entire world]]. So yeah, the series plays with this trope a lot.
* ''[[Literature/TheLaundrySeries The Laundry Files]]'' both inverts this and plays it straight, since the villains get progressively less ''powerful'' but progressively more ''dangerous''. The villain of the first book was a cosmic-scale EldritchAbomination that ''eats universes'', but it ended up being defeated without causing any damage to our universe, [[spoiler:and without a single casualty]]. The next villain was an insane millionaire with vast resources trying to reactivate an ancient biological superweapon, both of whom ended up dying before they could do anything beyond killing a few people. Then there was a fairly generic {{cult}} of (mostly) ordinary people, [[spoiler: who cause the hero far more suffering than any other threat so far, and come within a hairsbreadth of ''killing'' him and summoning a demon to destroy the world, necessitating a full-out military operation to defeat, AND they had already horribly murdered countless people]]. The latest villain was a SinisterMinister and his CorruptChurch, armed only with money, religious fervor, and a few {{Puppeteer Parasite}}s...who pretty much took over a large chunk of Colorado and tried to summon one of the most powerful and evil forces in the multiverse [[spoiler:and (partially) SUCCEEDED]].
* The ''Literature/NewJediOrder'' novel ''Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream'' has Wedge Antilles trying to string along a merely average Yuuzhan Vong commander at Borleias in order to buy time for the rest of the fleet to regroup after [[spoiler:the fall of Coruscant]]. But due to a snafu, they accidentally kill him (prompting Tycho Celchu to snark that [[SpringtimeForHitler "Wedge Antilles was so good he couldn't lose when he tried to."]]), and Warmaster Tsavong Lah responds by sending his own father Czulkang Lah, a far more effective CO, to command the reinforcements.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* ''Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer'':
** The show generally had a far more dangerous BigBad each season than the last. Good thing [[spoiler:Adam]] didn't show up in season 1. By the end Buffy faces the personified root of all evil. The entire series is a coming of age story and the threats get bigger as they increase in metaphoric resonance with being grown-up.
** Also subverted in Season 6. In contrast to demon-god Glory, The Trio does little to stir the Scooby Gang until the latter half of the season. Still, [[spoiler:Warren does succeed in killing Tara, even if by accident]], which serves as the catalyst to awaken [[spoiler: Dark Willow]], who comes dangerously close to destroying the Earth.
*** [[spoiler: If you consider the Big Bad of each season as the character that causes the most suffering to the Scoobies, then Willow is the Big Bad for Season 6, hands down, being the primary cause of the majority of the suffering endured by all the Scoobies, ''including herself''.]]
** In Season 8 the BigBad was the universe itself!
* ''PowerRangers'' usually uses this, with the villains choosing to create/summon progressively stronger monsters as the season goes on and the Rangers grow stronger. Justified somewhat in ''Jungle Fury'' where the BigBad is a recently released [[SealedEvilInACan sealed evil]] who has lost much of his power, and thus grows stronger throughout the season much as the heroes do. Also justified in ''RPM'' (which is superb at justifying, or at least [[LampshadeHanging lampshading]], standard ''Power Rangers'' tropes) with the assertion that the evil Venjix computer virus is developing increasingly advanced technology over time. The early ''PowerRangers'' monsters relied on their quirks as opposed to raw power and strength. That explains why they were at the front.
** In the first few seasons before they decided on their Discard and Draw style, the main Big Bads were like this. They fight Rita for a seasons, seeing her as the worst evil in the Galaxy, then season 2 comes in, and Zordon says "Forget her, Lord Zedd is worse." Season 3 would introduce Rita's father, Master Vile, who is even worse than him.
* ''Franchise/StargateVerse'': At first glance it might even seem like the Stargate Program was responsible for Earth being attacked by the Goa'uld -- Earth being safely ignored by them until the SGC used the Stargate and wound up killing Ra. However, if the stargate had never been dug up in the first place, then humanity would never have (re)discovered the Goa'uld until humans discovered FTL travel on their own probably hundreds of years from now... and the Goa'uld would probably have been out there waiting for them. So in the case of the overall series' problem itself, the SGC didn't create the villain, just drew their attention prematurely.
** ''Series/StargateSG1'' started with Apophis. When they finally got rid of him, even stronger Goa'uld showed up. But that's okay, the team got good at dispatching Goa'uld. So Anubis shows up, with the full knowledge of the godlike beings who had created the stargates. But they took care of him -- though it was a close one. For almost a whole month there is peace. Then the godlike Ori turn up.\\
\\
This progression is grounded in the plot by Tok'ra. He says that every time the Tau'ri defeat a System Lord an even worse one inevitably takes his or her place. By killing Ra, and others, SG-1 kept disrupting the Goa'uld balance of power, allowing more aggressive Goa'uld to sweep up now-leaderless forces and rise in threat level. They didn't cause Anubis, but probably sped up his timetable. They did make the Replicators more dangerous, by giving the nanotech precursor of the Replicators to the Asgard, from whom it was then captured. A self-application of StopHelpingMe, the Ori only found out about the Milky Way galaxy when Daniel Jackson and Vala accidentally warped over to their home galaxy and caused a scene. An unfortunate coincidence, perhaps, but still their doing.
** The ''Series/StargateAtlantis'' team woke up the Wraith ''and'' turned on the Asurans' hostility switch. NiceJobBreakingItHero indeed. The last episode of ''Atlantis'' was essentially the concept of when the villains skip a few levels past where the heroes are expecting.
* The first season finale of ''Series/{{Heroes}}'' has Molly tell us at point-blank range that there is another, much bigger bad than Sylar, who hasn't shown up yet. It turns out that the one Molly's scared of isn't even the BigBad of Season 2; just the disciple of someone nastier... Adam Monroe, arguably the primary founder of The Company. However, in contrast to Sylar (a power-stealer with a dozen different ways to murder you), Adam is simply an extremely cunning and manipulative man who's very good at getting people to do what he wants. Oh, and who's also got a HealingFactor that makes him nigh-immortal.
** Also, the algorithm looks to be subverted as of the second season finale: BigBad Adam becomes SealedEvilInACan again, and his successor appears to be none other than [[spoiler:Sylar]].
** Volume 3 had Arthur Petrelli, a power-draining EvilOverlord who (after stealing all of Peter's abilities) was essentially a walking PhysicalGod.
** Out the window with Volume 4, where the BigBad is a non-powered government agent who leads SWAT teams with dart guns. Then again, Sylar's helping them...
** Volume 5 has Samuel Sullivan, the superhuman Antichrist, whose Earthbending ability is powered by the number of followers he has and who, with enough followers, is strong enough to crack the Earth in half.
** Generally speaking, apart from volume 2 and 5, it hasn't mattered who the Big Bad is, given Sylar's tendency to [[HijackedByGanon hijack the plot]]. This was rumoured to ''supposed'' to happen in volume 2 as well, but the season was left unfinished due to the 2007 writer's strike.
* ''Series/TwentyFour'': The first season is about Drazen's personal vendetta against Jack and Palmer. The second is about a threatened nuclear attack on Los Angeles. This escalates to a ''successful'' nuclear attack at the ''beginning'' of Season 6. The trope is used within individual seasons as well. In season 1, the main antagonists of the first few hours are a pair of college kids, followed by a local gangster, and building all the way up to [[spoiler: a very well-funded international terrorist group, plotting for the release of an ex-dictator with the help of a group of heavily-armed mercenaries.]] And it happens from season to season, with the BigBad of [[spoiler: season four]] actually working for the BigBad of [[spoiler: season five]], with that BigBad [[spoiler: working for a minor villain in season six]]... and as it turns out, most of ''those'' villains were actually working for the BigBad of [[spoiler: season seven]].
* PLayed with on ''Series/{{Charmed}}'', which actually followed a Bell Curve of Evil. At first, the villains grew progressively more powerful, from warlocks, to demons, to the Source of All Evil himself. Once the Source of All Evil was blown to bits three times over halfway through the show's run things went a bit downhill. Later Big Bads included a WellIntentionedExtremist angel, the Source's slightly less powerful rival, and finally the show's last BigBad were the heroine's {{Evil Counterpart}}s, who were roughly at the same power level they were.
* Reversed on ''Series/MissionImpossible'', largely as a result of plot decay. While in the first few seasons the IMF went up against international terrorists, tyrannical dictators, and the [[RedScare Red Menace]], later seasons mostly found them up against the Mob.
* In the first season of ''Series/{{Lost}}'', the villains are mainly unseen: the monster in the pilot, then Ethan, about whom not much is known. The main antagonist is arguably "the unknown". The second and third seasons are more about the Others. The fourth season introduced the freighties, who made the Others look more like the "good guys" they've always claimed to be. The fifth season introduced the series' true BigBad, the immortal, pure evil [[spoiler: Man in Black, aka The Monster]]. His only hindrance was that he [[spoiler: couldn't kill the heroes directly]], but he racked up a huge body count during the final season and made even master manipulator Ben look weak and powerless.
* The new series of ''Series/DoctorWho'' does this with their season finales. In Series 1, [[spoiler: a far future Earth is invaded by Daleks]]. In the second, present day Earth is invaded [[spoiler:first by Cyberman and then by the Daleks]]. In Series 3, [[spoiler:the Master]]'s invasion of modern day Earth [[spoiler: turns it into a dystopian wasteland]]. In Series 4, [[spoiler:Davros threatens the disintegration of all universes in all of reality]]. Since the writers were already forced to resort to DeusExMachina in the very first season, it makes you wonder about the wisdom of this upping of the threat. The first season led by Creator/StevenMoffat upped the threat again, with all the universes being threatened of [[spoiler: [[FateWorseThanDeath having never existed]] [[TimeyWimeyBall in the first place]] ]], by a still unrevealed BigBad.
* ''Series/{{Farscape}}'' had an odd way of upping the ante each season while making old villains "join the team". First season had Captain Bialar Crais pursuing the protagonists with his one warship. At the end of the first season, Crais is usurped by Scorpius, a rival commander of the Peacekeeper force, and Crais becomes an increasingly trustworthy ally over the next two seasons. By the start of the fourth season, Scorpius is on the outs due to being spectacularly humiliated by the heroes and the machinations of the more politically powerful Commandant Grayza, so he starts to hitch rides and help out the heroes, although he remains much more evil than Crais. The fourth season then does a switch half-way through and makes the evil reptilian Scarrans the main bad guys, supplanting the Peacekeepers for top evil.
* ''Series/{{Supernatural}}'': Seasons 1-2 initially had the Yellow-Eyed Demon as the BigBad, who gets replaced by the more powerful Lilith in seasons 3-4, and then by [[spoiler:the Devil himself]] in season 5. Lampshaded, along with VillainPedigree, near the end of season five when Sam asks Dean if he remembers when they just fought things like wendigos. When it comes to the big bads, the usual downside of the ManBehindTheMan structure is averted, as the lower-ranking villain usually has to free the higher-ranking villain before they can step in. [[spoiler:Yellow-Eyes released Lilith, who went on to release Lucifer]]. In all, the writers are kind of shameless in using this trope. A brief timeline of the show's enemies by season:
** In season 1, the Winchesters were fighting regular monsters since way back when Demons were introduced as the ultimate evil that could only be killed by the Colt. The first mini-boss was Meg, a low-ranking manager, and the first BigBad was a high ranking demon, who doesn't die until the end of season 2.
** Season 3 introduces Lilith, the highest-ranking demon of them all, but also a magic knife that one-shots any demon that isn't a BigBad, meaning that by this time, formerly invincible/immortal demons of Meg's rank or sometimes higher would routinely get one-shotted before they can say a full sentence.
** In season 4, we're introduced to angels, who are at the time understood to be the most powerful beings in the universe other than God Himself, and it's outright stated that nothing can kill them except another angel.
** By season 5, this trope into overdrive as humans are killing angels wholesale with a different magic knife. It even gets to the point where Sam and Dean can kill low-level gods with relative ease.
** Season 6 subverted this trope somewhat, but "the mother of all monsters" is still pretty high-ranking. A corrupted angel ascends to becoming a PhysicalGod at the end, but he quickly loses his powers because his virtual omnipotence was too much of a StoryBreakerPower.
** Season 7 introduced the Leviathans as beings so powerful and dangerous that God locked them away in purgatory to stop them from killing angels. Though this is mostly an InformedAbility because as it turns out, the Leviathans are pretty weak, routinely getting killed by detergent, thus inverting the trope.
** By season 8 the show's writers clearly became aware of this problem after the Lucifer arc, so while angels are still getting killed by the thousands off-screen, this trope seems to have slowed down.
* The ''Franchise/KamenRider'' series is no stranger to this trope, although it became more noticeable during the Heisei Era when they started giving the heroes [[SuperMode Super Modes]] at a certain point in the show when a new tier of bad guy showed up. In ''Series/KamenRiderKuuga'' the villainous Gurongi are a warrior race with a strong class system. It is only honorable that a fight must start with the weakest and after they're finished the next strongest group takes their turn.
** ''Series/KamenRiderDouble'' also pulls this off, but in twist. The Sonozakis don't take on Double one by one, but instead, someone else with ties to the family. One of those ties being in a relationship with Saeko, one of the family members.
** In ''Series/KamenRiderFourze'', the first half of the series revolves around the baddies trying to find potential candidates into becoming one of their own (labelled as a "Horoscope"). One of the main villains gets the power to identify who can evolve from a normal Zodiarts into a Horoscope faster, and so, normal Zodiarts are gone, replaced by Horoscopes as MOTW.
** ''Series/KamenRiderGaim'' is a strange case, as there is not just one faction of villains. The focus seems to shift to the faction that's currently the biggest threat. In the first arc, the main threat seemed to be rival Riders, with the occasional [[MonsterOfTheWeek Inves]]. In the second arc, [[MegaCorp Yggdrasill]] created improved New Generation Rider suits to be used by their elite. These were so strong, a normal Rider couldn't even hope to scratch them. Currently, the focus seems to lie on the [[spoiler: Overlord Inves]], who can easily defeat aforementioned New Generation Riders.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* Every [[ClassAndLevelSystem class and level based]] TabletopGame ever, with ''TabletopGame/DungeonsAndDragons'' being the TropeMaker. For that matter, any TabletopGame that has experience points and character advancement ever. As the [=PCs=] get more powerful, they have to battle more and more powerful enemies.
** This varies from game to game, but the standard Dungeons and Dragons setting doesn't really have a BigBad per se. Instead the characters are assumed to be adventurers going on adventure after adventure with no real connection between them, and it makes sense they choose adventures that match their abilities. Being a Tabletop RPG each group is free to play this trope straight, subvert it, avert it, or whatever they choose.
* The Necrons in ''TabletopGame/{{Warhammer 40000}}'' do this in reaction to strong attacks. If the scouting parties the Necrons send first fail, they send another more powerful one, than another and another till all resistance is dead. Since the Necrons are a race of undead machines, and they are the most advanced in the galaxy, they have yet to meet resistance that would warrant awaking their more powerful weapons of war.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Web Original]]
* ''Literature/{{Eclipse}}'' has one of the quickest escalations on record. The StarterVillain was a bartender who was taken out by both heroines in each of the first two chapters. The second major villain ''personally'' [[spoiler:eradicated an entire country]] and singlehandedly wiped out most of the supporting cast by that point.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Video Games]]
* ''FinalFantasy'' series.
** ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyII'' uses this trope. If you go directly from town A to town B, you'll have the right level of enemies to face. Unfortunately, they forgot to tell you how to get there without wandering, and lined both sides of the path with high-level enemies, leading to slight missteps to be fatal.
** ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyX'' has a somewhat inverted example of this. After reaching the Calm Lands, if one wanted to go backwards and attempt to fight some easier monsters, they're only able to go to the Thunder Plains. Attempt to go any further than this, and you'll find some people who are very annoyed about your previous actions in the game, and sic a [[BeefGate horrifically powerful enemy]] on you, that will devastate you at that stage of the game. It's impossible to have anything even close to a chance of beating it until the end of the game.
** ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyXII'' has a few major exceptions to the trope. Many of the early stages have extremely powerful enemies wandering around that eclipse the normal small fry. A normally leveled party at this point has absolutely no chance against them. [[note]]A few determined level grinders choose to go after them anyway, for the experience they give makes it [[DiscOneNuke very easy to reach level 50 before even fighting the first boss]].[[/note]]
** Invoked in ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyXIII''. [[spoiler:Barthandalus and the other Sanctum fal'Cie ''want'' the heroes to get strong enough to kill Orphan and destroy Cocoon, so they carefully controlled what Sanctum military forces went up against them, making sure the protagonists never fought anything that would outright destroy them, instead giving them just enough of a threat to strengthen them]].
* Played straight in ''VideoGame/BaldursGate''. Your character is targeted by assassins. It starts with some mooks who pose no threat to even a 1st level character, then a moderately powerful spellcaster [[note]]Who approaches your party in the middle of the street, loudly boasting that he is a master assassin, and proceeding to engage all of you and the guards all at once. TooDumbToLive.[[/note]] And so on, until you finally meet the godlike BigBad himself and easily dispatch him with all the loot and experience you've taken from his minions. The reward for killing you grows over time, attracting higher-level assassins. Also averted: the games allow you to wander wherever you want, and some of the starting areas are directly adjacent to areas with creatures that can kill low-level characters in one shot. It's also averted in the very beginning. The BigBad hunts you down personally and your foster father pulls a YouShallNotPass HeroicSacrifice to give you the chance to escape.
* Averted in the MMORPG ''CityOfHeroes'', Paragon City is divided in many different zones, each of which has its own difficulty level. But except for a few limited-access areas, characters can go (and possibly die) anywhere they want in the city. Most {{MMORPG}}s are structured like this; the only thing stopping a low-level character from reaching high-level areas are the powerful monsters. The sorting algorithm is there, just pointed out as how you should do things, not enforced. Typically, the very high-level areas are an inordinately long walk from the low-level areas, or behind a locked door for which the key is easily acquired on the high-level side, in order to at least suggest the intended progression. However, not always: the Forsaken starting area in ''WorldOfWarcraft'' contains a mid-level dungeon in one corner, and is directly adjacent to one of the max-level areas, with some helpful [=NPCs=] hanging around to tell new players not to go past; and the Blood Elf and Night Elf starting regions aren't much better.
* The PC game ''Vivisector: Beast Inside'' has this in abundance: the animalistic enemies are faced based on their level of feralness and anthropomorphism. The Human enemies also get stronger as the game goes on. In a subversion, though, the final leg of the game contains "unfinished" versions of the animal enemies that are pathetically weak and easy to take out..
* Strangely included in ''Final Liberation'': even if the game allows the player to get stronger units and a better army as he wins battles, the opposing forces will always have the same overall level as the player's army.
* The otherwise-excellent ''VideoGame/TheElderScrollsIVOblivion'' shows us why this trope is useful because it lacks it and by doing so is less enjoyable. Monsters power [[LevelScaling is scaled to yours]]: you never have to run in terror from an overwhelming threat or carefully plan the takedown of a challenging monsters. All monsters are similar at all times. There is little sense of accomplishment in levelling up and one can complete the game's main quest while remaining at level 1. Worse, some patterns of "leveling up" make you weaker: you must pick the right skills to advance to stay still. In the end, the difficulty slider lets you change your level more than leveling up. The benefit of this system is that as a WideOpenSandbox the player can go anywhere and do anything without fear of getting smooshed.
* Present in ''NetHack'': The game generates enemies of level equal to the average of your level and the current dungeon depth. This avoids Oblivion's "every level is just as tough as you are" while still providing the same progression.
* While present in most (if not all) {{Roguelike}}s, it's also downplayed in some, such as Dungeon Crawl where there's a chance some of the most powerful enemies in the game will spawn on the first couple of levels of the dungeon, and Sigfried who kills more [=PCs=] than any other named enemy in the game; or ADOM which can spawn horrifyingly out-of-depth monsters (especially in the Dwarven Halls early in the main dungeon, where the PC can encounter Balors, Ancient dragons, etc.)
* ''VideoGame/QuestForGlory'' -- not so much within episodes but present in the larger arc. For instance, if you attempt to venture into the forest when you first begin'' Quest For Glory 1'', you will almost certainly not escape alive without prior knowledge of its layout. As you acquire skills, equipment, items, and experience, you are soon able to survive the forest during the day -- but you still had better stay out of there at night. Even as a top-level player, a nighttime venture in the forest is nigh-suicidal, thereby really giving it a sense of menace. However, as you progress from game to game, enemies as a whole become globally stronger so as to keep up the challenge. A ''Quest For Glory 1'' character imported into ''Quest For Glory 4'', for instance, would probably be killed from the suspense alone. [[note]]Imports are boosted to a minimum skill level, which helps but not that much. The freaking ''bunny'' will probably pose a challenge to an imported character.[[/note]]
* ''[[VideoGame/SuperSmashBros Super Smash Bros Brawl]]''. The story mode begins against the robotic Ancient Minister, then onto the Nintendo villains, led by Ganondorf and Bowser, then the series' perennial antagonist Master Hand and finally [[spoiler:Tabuu, ruler of Subspace.]]
* ''Franchise/FireEmblem''
** In one of the earliest chapters of ''[[VideoGame/FireEmblemElibe Binding Blade]]'', you have the FinalBoss, [[AuthorityEqualsAsskicking King Zephiel]][[note]]the guy with the giant lightning trident-sword[[/note]], and feared DragonRider Narcian are all in Araphen just as Roy's plucky and low-level band of heroes arrive. Zephiel immediately dismisses a suggestion to unleash war dragons on them and delegates the matter to Narcian, who immediately delegates it to ''his'' underling: a level 7 knight. If Zephiel had just stuck around for five minutes, he probably would have won.
** ''[[VideoGame/FireEmblemTellius Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance]]'' Early in the game, your group is not seen as a big threat. You start in independent countries that the bad guys have less control in. After you make it to enemy territory, a knight questions why [[BigBad Ashnard]] is spreading his force so thin near the end of the game. Ashnard's response is that he's fascinated by the strength of the group and it's implied he wants to personally fight the strongest force possible. Also, he's just plain vanilla crazy.
** In the endgame of the sequel, ''[[VideoGame/FireEmblemTellius Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn]]'', [[spoiler:You fight a politician who was blessed by a goddess. Then you fight the Black Knight, who has also been blessed. Next, you fight an army of dragons led by their king, Dheginsea, who in addition to being blessed is also an ancient being who helped defeat the goddess of chaos. Next comes another ancient being who is also blessed by the goddess. Finally, you reach the damn goddess who blessed the bastards from before.]]
* ''{{Drakengard}}'' follows this formula for TheEvilArmy that Caim is fighting across the vast breadth of the land. By the end of the game, he's [[RageAgainstTheHeavens fighting the gods themselves,]] and then the [[FinalBoss Mother of the Gods,]] but you don't know that at the time. According to series canon he never actually fought the gods, as they went with the one ending of the five that was [[BittersweetEnding bittersweet]] and not [[DownerEnding a downer]].
* [[InvertedTrope Inverted]] in ''VideoGame/{{Wild ARMs 4}}''. The game seems to follow this trope until you face an ancient demon with total control of space whose lover you just killed. When the enraged demon goes after you, you're only able to kill her because she expends too much energy creating and supporting AnotherDimension [[DeathTrap designed to kill your party]] ''and'' she goes after you again despite her wounds to ensure she takes you out while collapsing the dimension. Her death causes [[TheDragon Lambda]]'s strategist to propose a plan to have the remaining [[QuirkyMinibossSquad Brionac Lieutenants]] attack the heroes all at once, which gets rejected because TheOmniscientCouncilOfVagueness had other ideas. From that point on, it seems like you fight the QuirkyMinibossSquad in ''descending'' levels of power, culminating in a battle against a scientist who just stands there while you wail on him. [[spoiler: This is exactly what TheOmniscientCouncilOfVagueness had in mind all along, as they wanted to cull Brionac's numbers so that the surviving members would be easier to keep under their control.]]
* Subverted in ''{{Painkiller}}''. While the first boss is a skyscraper-sized undead giant that requires massive amounts of punishment to bring down, the following bosses get successively smaller. Difficulty, however, is still scaled normally until the last boss; the 4th boss is only about King Kong sized, but is the hardest to beat, while the final boss is bigger but turns out to be a pathetically easy PuzzleBoss who can be killed in seconds.
* ''[[VideoGame/SamAndMaxFreelancePolice Sam and Max Episodes]]'': each episode's villain was secretly TheManBehindTheMan of the previous episode's villain, and would increase in important from local criminals all the way up to President Abraham Lincoln, the Internet itself, and finally the BigBad himself. Mildly subverted in the end, as the BigBad was revealed to have been, all along, an annoying recurring secondary character that had appeared throughout the season. Though the first episode villain was acting alone.
* Generally played straight in any given ''VideoGame/{{Touhou}}'' game, ignoring some oddness with midbosses and {{bonus boss}}es. Averted for the series as a whole, where there's no particular scaling of villain power or threat. As characters are reused, their power relative to the point in the game you encounter them is usually relative to the amount of effort they want to exert to try and stop you.
* The final boss fight in ''VideoGame/TheLegendOfZeldaTwilightPrincess'':[[spoiler:Ganondorf goes from gargantuan teleporting boar, to a demon head made of pure energy to a man on horseback who can summon ghost horsemen at will, to a final fight between you and him on foot with swords. But the overall difficulty ramps up: in each successive fight you lose abilities -- the ability to turn into a wolf and use Midna's magic, then Zelda's magic, and eventually it's down to you and your sword. [[CrowningMomentOfFunny And then your fishing rod.]]]]
* Most ''MightAndMagic'' games starting with #3 follow the trope. You start the game in the easiest town and the more you move away from this town the harder the game becomes. ''Might and Magic III'' had a very tough dungeon, the aptly-named Maze From Hell not too far from the start point but it was locked and could only be entered much later in the game. The trope is completely subverted in ''Might and Magic VI'' though. In this game, the starting area has 3 dungeons: Goblin Watch, the starter dungeon; the Abandoned Temple, a slightly harder and longer dungeon meant to be completed next; and Gharik's Forge, one of the most difficult areas in the entire game (possibly the series) and meant for the second half of the game. The Forge is unlocked and the only way to tell it's best left for later is to enter it and watch the entire party get slaughtered within seconds.
* ''[[ShadowHearts Shadow Hearts: Covenant]]'' takes this to an extreme. Every time the heroes defeat the apparent BigBad threatening to destroy the world, a new one appears to, yes, threaten to destroy the world. Somehow it gets softer each time; starting with the threat of demonic global annihilation, and ending with the threat of having the war-torn recent history rewritten into a more peaceful one by the unusually benevolent final BigBad.
* The peak bosses in ''VideoGame/{{SSX}} 3'' follow this pattern; The boss of Peak One is arrogant upstart Mac Frasier, followed by the gargantuan, destructive human wrecking ball Nate Logan on Peak Two, and finally Psymon Stark, an unstable musclehead who might be violating his parole by competing, on Peak Three. If you're playing as any of these guys, the peak boss is changed to 11-year old Griff Simmons on Peak One, riot grrrrrrrl Zoe Payne on Peak Two, and megalomaniac egotist Elise Riggs on Peak Three.
* ''VideoGame/{{Okami}}'': {{Orochi}}'s flunkies, the Spider Queen and Crimson Helm, pose very little trouble, and the Orochi himself is [[VillainDecay severely weakened]] after awakening from a [[SealedEvilInACan 100-year imprisonment]]. The other major villains are already active presences in the world, but they are likewise diminished and can't regain their power, or even cause harm beyond their immediate area of influence, until they absorb the malevolent LifeEnergy of their slain brethren... culminating with [[spoiler:Yami, Lord of Eternal Darkness]], who takes all their evil power unto itself.
* Lampshaded in the end of the ''VideoGame/{{X-COM}}: Apocalypse'' LetsPlay: As a bonus, after the game's done, there's a scene with what would've happened had the aliens sent their biggest and baddest ships through first. It's not pretty.
* Not just played straight, but formalized in ''VideoGame/NoMoreHeroes'', in which you fight your way up the ranks of the official top ten assassins.
* In ''{{Pokemon}}'' the strength of the trainers and the wild Pokémon are directly proportional to how long it is until you get there. There are some aversions: Both the Viridian and Petalburg Gyms have leaders much stronger than you likely will be when you first get there, but you can't actually battle until you're at the appropriate point in the game (with the Petalburg Gym it's because the leader knows he would just kick your ass entirely otherwise). While the Kanto trainers in GSC/HGSS play this straight in that they're all leveled to be near those of someone who beat the Elite Four (which is handwaved by someone stating Kanto has started attracting a bunch of really strong trainers), the wild Pokémon avert it in that they are the same levels as they were in the first generation of games. Interestingly, the trainers still have Pokémon typical of trainers in those locations in the first game, which means they must have held off on evolving them for dozens of levels.
** It's particularly hilarious in ''VideoGame/PokemonBlack2AndWhite2'': in the original ''VideoGame/PokemonBlackAndWhite'', routes 1 and 2 were basically the game's NoobCave, full of low-level trainers like children and schoolteachers. In the sequel, this area is locked off until the post-game and you can't access it until you beat the champion. Visiting the area after leads to the amusing phenomenon of running to the bunches of little kids with ComMons... that are so high-level that they could easily curbstomp most of the bosses in the game. It's quite surreal being named Champion, and then promptly getting beaten by a kindergartner with a level 65 Rattata.
* Subverted in ''VisualNovel/{{Tsukihime}}'' and its sequels. The power and abilities jump all over the place. Nero Chaos is easily the strongest adversary, much tougher than Roa or any of his opponents so far have been. Satsuki presumably comes after this at some point and doesn't amount to much yet. Then we have Kagetsu Tohya with Nanaya, someone Shiki can't beat, then Kishima Kouma who mainly has the advantage of being MadeOfIron. Not much good against Shiki's eyes, though. [[MeltyBlood Wallachia]] really only seems to be a problem because even Shiki's eyes can't kill him normally. In direct combat he appears to be rather weak.
* {{Double subver|sion}}ted in ''VideoGame/DevilSurvivor''. In most routes you have to defeat the remaining three heavenly kings (events in the story have already removed the 4th). Atsuro notes that it is not the normal order to go after the strongest first (see quotes page). When you go to tackle the second, it turns out the third is with him as well (wisely deciding to [[DualBoss fight the people who defeated the strongest of the four at the same time]]) and the map is full of DemonicSpiders.
* Inverted in the Japanese version of ''Wolf Fang'', where picking the harder routes will give you an easier final stage, which reflects how much of the enemy forces remain. The final bosses are still very hard.
* ''VideoGame/{{Prototype}}'': the weapons and gear the Blackwatch are deploying to Manhattan become more and more sophisticated as the infection worsens and they begin to understand and counter both Mercer and the progressing infection's capabilities. Similarly, the infected armies begin to grow in effectiveness as they develop and evolve.
** Justified, as Blackwatch is supposed to be low-key, operating behind the scenes with the [[SemperFi Marines]] as the public face of the operation. However, as you play through the game, you'll see fewer and fewer Marines being torn to shreds by you and the Infected and more and more Blackwatch troopers. Which is nice, because the Marines are [[PunchClockVillain Punch Clock Villains]] and giddily skipping over the MoralEventHorizon is practically a requirement to join Blackwatch.
* Played entirely straight in ''VideoGame/StarOceanTheSecondStory'' - when the Ten Wisemen are revealed as the primary antagonist, the first three you fight are the weakest, and you gradually go up and up to the more powerful ones, leaving only the leader and the second in command eventually. Justified in that the second in command, Lucifer, intentionally set the weaker ones after you first knowing they would be killed
* ''VideoGame/{{Fallout}}'' series.
** Largely averted in ''VideoGame/{{Fallout 1}}''. The game doesn't stop you from wandering anywhere you like right from the beginning, meaning that you could end up encountering enemies that are far too powerful for you to handle. Once the XP and the ammo start rolling in, however, you can tear the world up at your leisure.
** ''VideoGame/{{Fallout 2}}'' benefits from the trope. The enemy progression is: giant ants and scorpions at first then rats and geckos. The Den will probably see your first human vs. human battle with nearly everyone in leather armor, pistols or [=SMGs=]. Vault City will have metal armors and assault rifles. Redding is fairly light but piss off the Salvatores in New Reno and your ass will get lasered -- the Sierra Army Depot nearby has various battle robots. If you are evil, Broken Hills will see your first human vs. supermutant battle. The New California Republic has policemen armed with gauss rifles. In gameplay terms, that means ouch. Both the raider hideout and Vault 15 is full of raiders in leather armor and boasting pistols & hunting rifles but three of them has combat armor and assault rifles. Mariposa is a deathtrap full of super mutants armed with laser rifles, flamethrowers, miniguns, you name it. San Francisco is light but Navarro and the Oil Rig are both utterly deadly with every single combatant clad in power armor and boasting energy weapons. Oh, and the BigBad has 999 HP, a really powerful plasma cannon, a big-ass knife and about a dozen minigun turrets for backup. [[note]]Speedrunning the game is hard: you can get to the final battle via San Francisco. But to get there from your starting location, you have to pass near Navarro which is chock full of Enclave soldiers and plasma turrets. Regardless how good you are, chances are very high that you will stumble into at least one Enclave patrol or a pack of Aliens/Floaters/Centaurs/Deathclaws. If this happens at level 2, you should reload immediately since you will be dead in the first turn anyway. Even an experienced character will have trouble here.[[/note]]
** Present in ''VideoGame/FalloutNewVegas'' as well, depending on who you might consider evil. Listing only those who will attack no matter your faction, your first human enemies are very likely to be Powder Gangers. All are petty thugs and criminals, and any of them can be easily handled by a fast trigger finger or bashing them with a piece of old pipe. The Viper and Jackal gangs are often next and have at least basic armor and firearms, especially since they are the first AlwaysChaoticEvil faction to use automatics. Moving up brings in the Fiends, a pack of drugged up, aggressively homicidal psychotics with highly damaging energy weapons. The game averts the scale and takes a very large step down the moment you reach Freeside, however, as you're engaged by Freeside thugs--little more than desperate civilians acting as muggers, and easily dispatched by even low-level players.
*** ''New Vegas'' DLC is definitely sorting its enemies, considering the main enemies in each new zone. ''Dead Money'' has the Ghost People, which are melee fighters with only highly telegraphed spear or bomb throws for a ranged attack (though the Sierra Madre's holograms are less enemies and more obstacles, and not evil so much as just securing the premises via BeamSpam). ''Honest Hearts'' has the well armed but relatively lightly armored White Legs of differing varieties. ''Old World Blues'' has the equally violent and semi-psychotic Lobotomites, who appear in large numbers and are naturally resistant to pain and injury. Finally, ''Lonesome Road'' has the ghoulish Marked Men, who uniformly have absurdly high health, powerful weapons, and respectable armor, no matter their level.
* ''VideoGame/TheGodfather: The Game'' tries to encourage you to take on the Tattaglias first, followed by the Straccis and Cuneos, leaving the Barzinis for last. However, due to the WideOpenSandbox nature and lack of BrokenBridge, it's perfectly okay to take them on in any order if you're skilled enough.
* In the first ''VideoGame/KnightsOfTheOldRepublic'', you can go through the four planets after Dantooine in any order, so the difficulty actually gets easier. However, after you find the map on the first one, you get to fight a group of bounty hunters (the leader you already vanquished to get that far), after the third you get to fight Malak's apprentice, immediately after that you get to fight a toned-down version of Malak himself, and then you get to fight Malak on full difficulty in the ending sequence.
* ''VideoGame/SkiesOfArcadia'' has a variation: while Lord Galcian is the BigBad, he isn't the FinalBoss. That honor goes to Ramirez, [[TheDragon his Dragon.]] While Ramirez is fanatically devoted to his boss, he's the most powerful of the game's villains.
* ''KingOfFighters'': the later end bosses tend to be stronger, but there's no consensus on which is the hardest.
* Appears in the all of the ''TalesSeries'' games. You encounter stronger enemies and bosses later in the game, though [[HopelessBossFight scripted fights]] with major villains do occur. There are some accessions, such as in Symphonia and Vesperia, where you would encounter a villain that you wouldn't fight until much later in the game. Another partial-departure with it occurs in ''Tales of the Abyss'', where you will end up repeatedly fighting these bosses called the Six-God-Generals throughout the game, and they get stronger each time.
* Played relatively straight in ''Franchise/MassEffect'' games. In the first game, the initial antagonists are the mechanical Geth and rogue Spectre Saren, whom is eventually revealed to be working for [[spoiler: [[SapientShip Sovereign]], a Reaper, who are AbusivePrecursors intent on destroying the galaxy's organic life]].
* In ''VideoGame/MassEffect2'', [[SlaveMooks the Collectors,]] who are abducting human colonies [[spoiler:to build a human-based reaper]] become the main antagonists. They are controlled by Harbinger, another Reaper]], though most early-game enemies are just mercenaries unrelated to the Collectors. At the end of the game, Harbinger mobilizes hundreds of Reapers, all with a personal vendetta against [[PlayerCharacter Shepard]], which will presumably need to be dealt with in ''VideoGame/MassEffect3''.
* Unsurprisingly, the Reapers]] need to be dealt with in ''VideoGame/MassEffect3''. Again, with increasingly strong [[SlaveMooks minions]], who are also called Reapers, but are basically [[NightOfTheLivingMooks reanimated]] [[NotUsingTheZWord corpses]].
* Played straight and subverted in ''VideoGame/FableII'': where the Crucible has a strict progression from Beetles to a huge [[spoiler: rock troll]], but the Big Bad has a serious glass jaw and can be killed by [[spoiler: One friggin' crossbow bolt to the face -- or groin, if you prefer.]]
* Subverted in ''StarWars: TheForceUnleashed'': Kazdan Paratus is [[ThatOneBoss far harder to kill]] when compared to the next Boss character: Shaak Ti.
* Averted in ''VideoGame/{{Borderlands}}'', where you can easily get your arse handed to you by wandering into the wrong area and finding some high-leveled bandits.
* In ''SwordOfTheStars'' the Von Neumanns follow this. At first all they send are probe motherships that send out lesser drones; deadly to individual destroyers and almost untouchable by missiles, but otherwise lightly armed and not much trouble when you get better weapons. That's when you see Berserkers, which are much more powerful and resilient, able to sweep aside cruisers. If you still manage to prevail against multiple Berserker attacks, they deploy the Construct, which is stronger than even dreadnoughts and can cause an EarthShatteringKaboom.
* Downplayed in ''VideoGame/{{Xenoblade}}''. The mechon mostly follow this, but the enemies found in the overworld can be many levels higher than you, for example level 35 enemies that can be found in the starting area and will all join in to kill you if you try to attack one
* ''KingdomHearts'' has an interesting example. [[VideoGame/KingdomHearts The first game]] has what appears to be the creator of all Heartless, the embodiment of emotion corrupted. In ''[[VideoGame/KingdomHeartsChainOfMemories Chain of Memories]]'' we see a preview of much more powerful beings called [[TheSoulless Nobodies]] who are the body and mind that's left over after a Heartless is created; then we find out that the main villain of the first game is only 1/3rd of the psycho assistant of the real creator of the Heartless and the villain of this game is the other 2/3rds. All of this seems to imply that the true villain is reassembling himself. Then we get ''[[VideoGame/KingdomHeartsBirthBySleep Birth by Sleep]]'' in which it turns out again the main villain is more than he appears to be; in this case it turns out he [[spoiler:used to be a very old powerful keyblade Master who then possesses a much younger keyblade wielder who is then split into the main villains of the first and second game]]. This all leads into ''Kingdom Hearts III'' in which all the previous main antagonists, minus all the side games (unless you count ''Birth By Sleep'' a side game) combined into one holy terror of a villain.
** The first game also features this with the Disney villains, but it's played with: The first of the villains introduced to the player character, Hades, is actually the most powerful and is fought last - and he's not at the top of their totem pole, either. (He seems to be quick to cut ties with them completely.)
* ''{{Lufia}}'' series. You beat Gades, [[DidYouJustPunchOutCthulhu a dark god of destruction]], only for you notice there are three more powerful villains out there. In the Sinistrals BossRush, it's quite clear Gades is the least powerful mainly because he can't cast powerful spells.
* Actually subverted in the end of VideoGame/ArcTheLad 2. After a long and grueling path to kill the four demon Generals trying to [[SealedEvilInACan free]] the BigBad, the final person you encounter is a lowly human monarch with no combat abilities or experience what-so-ever, who is rightly terrified of your party. The demon Generals used him too because [[spoiler: The SealedEvilInACan can only be released by a human.]] Later played straight when you have to fight the BigBad anyway.
* Invoked, similar to the ''FireEmblem'' example above, by Lucifer ([[DubNameChange or Cyril]]) of God's Ten Wise Men in ''VideoGame/StarOceanTheSecondStory''. Instead of having all ten fight you at once, he splits them up among the VeryDefinitelyFinalDungeon in order to increase the party's chance of success. The reason for this is that he, true to his [[TheDevil namesake]], wants to backstab his way into [[AGodAmI ruling the Universe by himself]].
* Somewhat justified in the ''{{Videogame/STALKER}}'' series. You start out with basic weapons (usually because you've had a BagOfSpilling moment when you almost got killed somehow, or you've just come to the [[DeathWorld Zone]]) and armor, but you won't be facing anything more dangerous than a few bandits and a time or the local wildlife for a while. Granted, [[EverythingIsTryingToKillYou those are nothing to sneeze at]], but later on they're more of a nuisance than a threat (if they're present at all) and you'll be facing heavily armed and armored troops in large numbers.
* Done in all the MarioAndLuigi games. What's strange here though is that there are many cases of late game areas and early game areas located right next to one another. As in, part of say, the desert is explored at the beginning and part is explored at the end of the game. Given that the enemies are scaled to match this, it means that sometimes you've literally only got a four foot wall between an area with weak enemies and one with strong ones, and no real reason why the latter never seem to cross it.
** It's also done interestingly in MarioAndLuigiBowsersInsideStory, in that the big enemies Bowser fights are actually weaker than the small ones he usually just crushes underfoot. What this means is that when Mario and Luigi revisit the area later, they find that the small enemies are the ones actually scaled to their current level...
* Parodied in ''VideoGame/EarthBound''. During one part of the game, you will need to defeat five moles, each of whom claims to be the third strongest of the moles.
* Played with in ''VideoGame/{{Opoona}}.'' The game has an abundance of both [[BossInMookClothing Bosses in Mook Clothing]] who are far stronger than anything else in their respective area, and enemies who simply have things like a great deal more health than other nearby enemies, so there are often much stronger enemies in an area than their appears. However, the game ''also'' likes to pull on enemies from earlier areas, leading to weak and early game enemies suddenly making a reappearance later in the game, no stronger than they were before. (However, they do have a tendency to appear in larger groups.)
* Played straight in VideoGame/XCOMEnemyUnknown with a twist: [[spoiler: it's entirely {{Justified}}]]. The aliens start by sending in puny Sectoids who couldn't hit a target if they're standing next to it and gradually work their way up to damage-sponges that can MindRape your soldiers into shooting their sqaudmates, while you're upgrading your soldiers to MindRape them right back, [[spoiler: and that's exactly the point. [[TheManBehindTheMan The Ethereals]] are searching for a species with the perfect balance between physical fitness and PsychicPowers, and with every successful operation and psionic operative you make, [[INeedYouStronger you're only proving your worthiness in their eyes]]]].
* In ''VideoGame/{{Robopon}}'', this is zigzagged. At first it's played straight: going from a schoolyard bully and his gang to a brainwashing TV idol, then to an actual gang terrorizing a town, then to a would-be-dictator. It's then averted with Dr. Disc and Prince Tail, neither of whom are evil, but played straight againwith Dr. Zero, MadScientist and the final boss of the game
* In ''Videogame/DarkSouls'' the early part of your quest is you trying to ring a couple bells while overcoming the monsters in your way. When that's done, your next objective is to earn the right to carry the Lordvessel, which means fighting through even more powerful monsters and a pair of warrior demigods. Actually filling the Lordvessel sets you off on what is basically a [[DidYouJustPunchOutCthulhu god hunt]]. The FinalBoss is a fallen GodEmperor who is still fully capable of skewering you on his giant flaming sword.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Web Comics]]
* {{Lampshade h|anging}}ung in [[http://www.zeldacomic.net/episode-173-boingy-boingy-boingy/ this]] ''ZeldaComic'' strip.
* {{Lampshade h|anging}}ung in the first ''[[Webcomic/TheOrderOfTheStick Order of the Stick]]'' book ''Dungeon Crawlin' Fools''. The evil lich Xykon orders his minions to be placed throughout the dungeon in order of weakest to strongest as they approach his lair and orders them to be placed in small groups only. He does this expecting to be entertained as he watches the [=PCs=] hack their way through the dungeon on his scrying ball. Also, [[spoiler: he secretly wants them to reach him.]] The trope is averted later on: after 600 strips, despite being defeated by an unarmed Fighter and acting like a buffoonish HarmlessVillain, Xykon himself proves to be a NotSoHarmlessVillain and remains the most powerful and dangerous foe in the series, with the possible exception of the Monster in the Darkness or [[spoiler:[[EldritchAbomination the Snarl]]]]. Well, [[spoiler: the Three Fiends might be more powerful, and are certainly far more cunning]], but it's unclear at this stage if they'll take over the role of BigBad or stay content playing Chessmaster on the side.
* {{Lampshade h|anging}}ung (yet again) in [[http://rpgworldcomic.com/d/20021023.html this]] ''RPGWorld'' strip.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Web Original]]
* As the Dimensional Guardians from the web fiction serial ''Literature/DimensionHeroes'' continue on their journey, the Dark Overlords, despite having equal control over Creturia, seem to escalate in power. Interestingly, their forces do as well.
* Lampshaded in LegendOfNeil. Wizzrobe lures Neil inot the first dungeon full of relatively weak monsters, but is GenreSavvy enough to wonder why he didn't lead him instead to dungeon 7, which is where Ganon's strongest minions dwell.
* The EvilOverlordList averts this trope:
--> ''80. If my weakest troops fail to eliminate a hero, I will send out my best troops instead of wasting time with progressively stronger ones as he gets closer and closer to my fortress.''
* [[WebVideo/AtopTheFourthWall Linkara]] lampshades this in a guest appearance on ''The Isle of Rangoon'' when he refuses to defeat The Mysterious Malefactor. He points out that his villains have progressed from a semi-incompetent MadScientist to a reality-destroying EldritchAbomination, and advises the characters to be happy with their "mostly-harmless schmuck of a villain".
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* ''WesternAnimation/AvatarTheLastAirbender'' is an interesting variation. They started with AntiVillain Zuko, who was superseded by Admiral Zhao as the main threat. After [[spoiler:Zhao's death]] came Zuko's MagnificentBastard DarkActionGirl sister Azula, the main threat for the second season, who posed far more of a threat than Zuko and Zhao combined and whom [[spoiler:Zuko rejoined in the season finale]]. The variation comes from [[EvilOverlord Fire Lord Ozai]] being identified as the BigBad from the very start of the series, both the audience and the protagonists fully aware that no matter how many enemies they face he would remain their ultimate goal.
* Inverted in ''WesternAnimation/{{Ben 10}}'', where each progressive seasons' BigBad would actually be ''less'' powerful than the previous one (along with having smaller plots and fewer episodes dedicated to their plot arcs). Season 1's BigBad was the hero's ArchEnemy, the most feared alien in the galaxy, bent on galactic conquest, who punches mountains apart and bodyslams buildings hard enough to make them explode. The following seasons featured as Big Bads an 11-year-old who shared the hero's superpowers and whose sole goal was getting revenge on the hero, an alien ghost who "only" wanted to TakeOverTheWorld, and finally a guy in PoweredArmor who only appeared in one episode (albeit a 2-part, 1 hour one), who had to assemble a team of previous secondary villains to do all his fighting for him, and whose big plan was to steal a AppliedPhlebotinum battery that allowed his power armor to shoot EyeBeams.
* In ''WesternAnimation/CodeLyoko'', XANA's power increases every time they [[ResetButton return to the past]]. So, though the Lyoko Warriors get better at fighting them, new and tougher monsters appear on Lyoko, and the specters sent to the real world gain greater powers and versatility over time.
* ''WesternAnimation/DannyPhantom''.
** In the series, Danny's first major foe was a LethalChef who did little more then throw a [[MoodSwinger pissy fit]] over a changed menu. Slowly, but surely he combats more appropriate villains ranging from TheHunter, the BigBad, a [[VainSorceress sadistic emotion sucker]], and his own BadFuture self. By the last season, he's battling ghosts with God-like powers.
** In the movies, ''Danny Phantom'' played with this one a bit. In each successive movie, the villain's physical power and general imposingness decreased, but their actual threat level increased. The first movie villain, Pariah Dark, was by far the most powerful character in the series (four Dannys in four HumongousMecha could barely restrain his de-powered form), yet he only managed to control the town for a day. Next came Danny's MagnificentBastard future self, followed by a frail ringmaster named Freakshow who nonetheless manages to warp the entire country to his liking. The biggest bad of the series ultimately turns out to be [[spoiler:an asteroid.]]
* Surprisingly, ''WesternAnimation/TheFairlyOddParents''... Timmy first starts off having to deal with mean babysitters and school bullies, eventually upgraded to his crazy fairy-hunting teacher. Now he routinely has to deal with the EvilPlan-loving Pixies and Anti-Fairies who seem to be content with nothing less than the total domination and remaking of both Earth and the magical world. This reflects his getting deeper into the world of magic, where the stakes are higher: later on there is The Darkness, which is a threat to the normal galaxy and the magical universe. Timmy is thrown right in the midst of it.
* Played straight with the epic multi-parters on ''WesternAnimation/{{Gargoyles}}''. "Awakening" had [[BigBadDuumvirate Demona and Xanatos]], who are certainly dangerous enemies but weren't really trying to do anything beyond controlling Goliath and his clan for use in their future schemes. In "City of Stone", Demona has acquired a spell that lets her [[TakenForGranite turn the entire human population of New York to stone]], making her much more dangerous. In "Avalon", the enemy is [[EvilSorcerer the Archmage]], who is made even more powerful by the ArtifactOfDoom he's toting. In "The Gathering", the clan is up against [[TheFairFolk Oberon]], a being with godlike powers and [[JerkassGods no morals beyond his immediate whims]]. Finally in "Hunter's Moon" Demona's back again, this time with a virus that can destroy all non-gargoyle life on earth, making her even more dangerous than Oberon, even though she's far less powerful. Averted in the bulk of the series, though, where they face enemies of varying power-level throughout.
* ''WesternAnimation/JackieChanAdventures'' {{justifie|dTrope}}s this by saying that, due to the cosmic BalanceOfGoodAndEvil, if one evil is destroyed, it causes another, stronger evil to fill in the gap (the heroes only receive the OldMaster's warning right after the villain's been destroyed, which leads to their Sorting Algorithm issues). Other than that, the series more or less kept [[BigBad Shendu]] as the strongest foe of choice.
* ''JusticeLeague'' makes it clear that they formed (and reformed) the league because they anticipated progressively stronger enemies. In a neat inversion, the Legion of Doom was organized specifically because the league was so powerful and the bad guys needed some sort of fraternity to put them on a similar level.
* ''WesternAnimation/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagic'' looked to be heading this way, but has recently averted it.
** First, there was [[Recap/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagicS1E1MareInTheMoon Nightmare Moon]]. Likely more powerful than her sister [[BigGood Celestia]], she has done everything in her power to hinder the main cast, but underestimated them and eventually was overcome once they acquired the Elements of Harmony.
** Then came [[Recap/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagicS2E1TheReturnOfHarmonyPart1 Discord]], a GodOfEvil who was so powerful enough that Celestia and Luna had to team up to defeat him last time; against the main characters he's able to neutralise the Elements of Harmony twice (once by stealing them, and once by breaking the friendship that powered them).
** This is averted with the next villain however, [[Recap/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagicS2E25ACanterlotWeddingPart1 Chrysalis]], who is substantially weaker than Discord and possibly weaker than Nightmare Moon. However she is also a shapeshifting EmotionEater who successfully [[BrainwashedAndCrazy Brainwashed]] the captain of the Royal Guard to expose Canterlot to her invading horde, and who--as a result of absorbing all the love surrounding a wedding--''beat Celestia in a fair fight''. She’s also clever enough to quickly prevent the main cast from acquiring the elements of harmony, thus increasing the tension through denying them most of the resources they previously counted on.
** The next villain, King Sombra, is hard to place. He's certainly stronger than Chrysalis (who even powered up struggled with Celestia, while King Sombra took ''both'' Celestia and Luna to take out), it's unclear just how powerful he actually is as he spends most of the two parter unable to directly attack the group. However, he's clearly more ''dangerous'' than any preceding villain due to being DangerouslyGenreSavvy to the point his NearVillainVictory comes without him actually ''needing'' to do anything.
** Tirek starts out the weakest of all of the villains. With a bit of guile, he's able to sway the far more powerful Discord to his side, giving Tirek the opportunity to increase his own power by draining magic from everypony until he's able to do the same to Discord. By the end of the two-parter, he and Twilight (powered up with all of Celestia, Luna, anad Cadence's magic) are the two most powerful beings seen on the show so far.
* In an aversion, while he's received some upgrades over the years, Megabyte from ''ReBoot'' is not only still the main villain, but with the exception of the now-deleted virus Daemon, he seems have become the most powerful virus in existence!
* ''WesternAnimation/TeenTitans'' both uses and ultimately subverts this with its seasonal {{Big Bad}}s
** Season 1: Slade is [[ManipulativeBastard very cunning]] but he's only one BadassNormal against a superpowered team; he can take any of them one-on-one, but against the whole team he gets curbstomped badly. As a result, he spends most of his time hiding in the shadows and plotting.
** Season 2: Slade is back, but this time he's got [[DishingOutDirt Terra]], one of the most powerful characters in the show, working for him. He loses only when she [[TheDogBitesBack turns on him]].
** Season 3: Brother Blood has a wide range of PsychicPowers that let him control large groups of minions ''and'' handle the entire team with minimal effort. It takes the power of DeusExMachina to finish him off.
** Season 4: Trigon is the [[GodOfEvil demonic personification of evil]] and is [[PhysicalGod every bit as tough]] as that implies; once he's out of his [[SealedEvilInACan can]] he causes HellOnEarth in ''moments''. He only goes down at all because [[DarkMagicalGirl Raven]] is his daughter.
** Season 5: The Brain breaks the pattern. He's [[TheChessmaster very smart]] but physically helpless; even with his QuirkyMinibossSquad and LegionOfDoom allowing him to present a global threat, he's still not on Trigon's power ''or'' danger level.
* The [[LawfulEvil Guild of Calamitous Intent]] of ''WesternAnimation/TheVentureBrothers'' fame. Enrolled villains (and protagonists alike) are ranked in order of their threat level; a low-ranking villain such as The Monarch is a good fit for a wash-up scientist like Doctor Venture, while a full-fledged superhero such as Captain Sunshine needs an equally sinister antagonist to match him. Villains and protagonists can increase (or decrease) in rank if their skills improve (or degenerate). And it's all good for keeping the bureaucracy happy.
* Subverted in ''WesternAnimation/{{WITCH}}'', where the relative power levels of [[BigBad Big Bads]], [[TheDragon Dragons]], and {{Mooks}} seem to spike up and down from time to time. The most powerful evil entity in the series is Prince Phobos, fought by the girls at the end of season one [[spoiler: and a bit at the end of season two]]. He's ''always'' dangerous, and always requires the guardians to pull some kind of {{plan}} to beat. Season two's villain is Nerissa, less powerful [[TheChessmaster but more cunning]] than Phobos. Season two's [[QuirkyMinibossSquad Quirky Miniboss Squads]] elevate in power throughout the season (from Phobos' former mooks to custom-created elemental monsters and finally to the former Guardians themselves), but despite this, Nerissa's power remains generally the same, even as she absorbs Hearts throughout the season. Nerissa frequently runs from the guardians rather than fight them, as she gets trounced whenever she faces them directly. She's still a threat because of her planning, however. By the end of it all, the final battle of season two ''is'' against a bad guy who's as powerful as Phobos and Nerissa combined: [[spoiler: [[TheDragon Cedric]], who has consumed Phobos in order to absorb his and Nerissa's powers, along with the powers of the former Guardians]], but because [[HowDoIShotWeb he doesn't know how to shot elements]], he [[spoiler:[[AntiClimaxBoss goes down in a few minutes in spectacular fashion]]]].
** Interestingly, they never actually fight Phobos at his normal level. All fights between him and the main characters have been when he's gained some sort of power boost.
* In ''WesternAnimation/{{X-Men Evolution}}'', the team starts out mostly going up against the Brotherhood, a gang of mutants who are powerful, but not terribly competent (or, for the most part, terribly evil), making them fairly easy opponents. At the end of the first season they meet [[TheManBehindTheMan Magneto]], who is far more powerful, cunning, and professional than his pawns, and he only gets later on when he starts being accompanied by his elite Acolytes. In the third and fourth seasons, though, the focus shifts to [[SealedEvilInACan Apocalypse]], the most powerful mutant ''ever'', [[CurbStompBattle capable of defeating almost any other character in the show with ease]] and possessing world-spanning plans.
* ''WesternAnimation/XiaolinShowdown'' features a strong example of this, here is a list of the big bads as they vary from season to season:
** S1: [[IneffectualSympatheticVillain Jack Spicer]] a self proclaimed "evil boy genius" who, despite being whiny and idiotic, still put up a good fight, and kept the monks on their toes throughout the first season. Ever since then, outside of a few ThrowTheDogABone Moments he's treated as little more than a nuisance, that the monks make short work of, especially in season 3!
** S1-S3: [[EvilSorcerer Wuya]] is a sentient SealedEvilInACan, remaining a (mostly) harmless ghost for the majority of the Show's run, but when her true form is finally revealed in the season 1 finale, she's NighInvulnerable and single handedly conquers the World. They defeat her by getting a MacGuffin from the last person who beat her, that turns her back into a ghost. She's once again re-fleshed in season 3 albeit with her powers nerfed by another villain for [[StoryBreakerPower being too untrustworthy]]. Still she's a worthy foe whenever she's fought.
** S2: [[FallenHero Chase]] [[MagnificentBastard Young]] is introduced as an unstoppable martial arts master with a taste for dragons, he soon blossoms into the new big bad for season 2, enacting a nefarious scheme to turn one of the heroes to the [[TheDarkSide Heylin Way]]. He's so competent, he's never been bested in straight 1 vs 1 combat by the main characters. While still playing a very active part in season 3, he eventually gets overshadowed by....
** S3: [[OmnicidalManiac Hannibal Roy]] [[ManipulativeBastard Bean]] the show's embodiment of true evil, the only character that has no trace of a likability to him. His theoretical victory over the protagonists is described (by Chase Young no less) as being [[FateWorseThanDeath WORSE]] than the end of the world. Far....far worse. While not exactly stronger than Chase, he's easily more dangerous.
* ''WesternAnimation/{{Thundercats}}'' had a form. While they kept using many of the same major villains later in the show, the mutants became more competent when Ratar-o took over from Ssslithe, Mum-ra gained the Sword of Plun-darr and lost his weakness to mirrors, and we were introduced to a new group of villains in the Luna-taks, who were so powerful as a group they usually only showed up singly or in pairs so the Thundercats would have a chance of winning.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Real Life]]
* Any sort of multi-round elimination tournament, from spelling bees to professional sports championships, works a lot like this: the first round includes (and eliminates) the less-skilled participants, then the moderate ones get culled in the second round, and so forth, until only the top two contenders are left to face off for the trophy. Bracketed tournaments often "seed" the teams/participants. In the very first round, the participant who is most likely to win is pitted against the participant who is least likely to win. This practice tries to avoid situations where the best and second best participants face off in an early round (giving the third best a go at number one without having to go through number two). When the competition results are uninteresting (first seed places first, second seed places second, etc) the people who drew up the competition brackets sit around and congratulate themselves. The point is that the matches in the later stages will have been made as interesting as possible, with the maximum possible number of top seeds still in contention.
** Partially averted by the FA Cup in England. Teams in upper leagues enter later than those in lower leagues. However, the draws are entirely random. The Third Round Proper has the 44 Premier League and Championship teams (the top two leagues in English football) joined by 20 teams that have made it through the previous rounds. There is nothing stopping the teams placed first and second in the Premier League from being drawn against each other in the third round.
* If an army were to invade Thailand, they might find this sort of situation. The troops on the borders of the country are usually not the best available. The best are stationed near the capital, but that's mostly because they are needed in case of a coup, either to help or hinder.
* Tends to happen with dictatorships, as the dictator generally likes keeping his PraetorianGuard next to him in the rear, while sending out waves of CannonFodder.
** Not necessarily, as dictators often serve other requirements at home than in the field, i. e. what they really want in their capital is a strong security and secret police to hold down the civilian populace, not so much crack field units to fight foreign invaders after these succeeded in defeating the rest of the army. In that way, the original Praetorian Guard of ancient Rome was special not so much because they were an elite but because they were the only troops allowed near Rome (and a number of emperors found to their cost that you could not always count on their loyalty). Quite often the legions operating on the frontiers had more combat experience and tended to be loyal to their commanders.
* Most wars subvert this trope- at the beginning of the war both countries will be at their best but as one side begins to suffer defeats and begins losing its territory its professional soldiers will have been killed off and it comes down to the point of sending old men and boys to the front. e.g. WorldWarI, Germany in WorldWarII, etc....
* Some commanders tended to keep certain elite forces in reserve to avert a crisis in case of a reverse, and thus the opposition would usually only encounter them after they defeated non-elite units. This was most pronounced with Napoleon, who carefully assembled his Imperial Guard from among experienced and distinguished veterans, and subdivided it into Old, Middle and Young Guard. In the campaigns up until 1812 the infantry of the Old Guard in fact saw very little action (its cavalry and artillery was another matter), but in those of 1813, 1814 and 1815 it became necessary to actually use it in battle almost as a matter of routine. However the Guard actually contributed surprisingly few manpower to the personal safety of the Emperor and his headquarters (in 1814 he was once nearly captured by roving cossacks).
* The 2010-2011 "Arab Spring" protests in the Middle East seem to have evoked this trope. Zine Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia quickly evacuated to Saudi Arabia in the face of rising demonstrations. [[PresidentEvil Hosni Mubarak]] of Egypt refused to abdicate power in the face of massive protests, and used cynical tactics like [[FalseFlagOperation sending in plainclothes cops to engage in looting]]. He eventually stepped down after eighteen days. Then we have MuammarGaddafi of Libya, who has used [[DeathFromAbove airstrikes]] and [[HiredGuns mercenaries]] [[MoralEventHorizon against their own people]] (although the rebels weren't much better), and was killed by rebel forces after a CivilWar. Mohammed Morsi, the replacement to Mubarak, was ousted a year after his election upon rewriting the constitution to make him more powerful... and has since been replaced by Abdul Fatah el-Sisi, who has cracked down '''hard''' on the protesters. Finally, we have Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, who is not only doing everything Gaddafi did, but is actually winning his civil war.
* Saddam Hussein's strategy during the 2003 invasion did so as well, as described by John Keegan in the [[http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3589824/Saddams-utter-collapse-shows-this-has-not-been-a-real-war.html Daily Telegraph:]] "Saddam's correct strategy would have been to group his best forces in the south, to oppose the Anglo-Americans as far from the capital as possible, and then to conduct a fighting withdrawal up the valleys of the great rivers, leaving devastation behind.... In orthodox military practice, the Republican Guard...should have been committed first, to blunt the coalition onset. The regular army should then have been committed to reinforce the Republican Guard when and where it achieved success. The paramilitaries should have been kept out of battle, to harass the invaders if the regular defence collapsed....Saddam has fought the battle the other way around."
* UsefulNotes/TheAmericanRevolution ([[GreyAndGrayMorality for a given value of "evil", anyway]]). In early battles the British were led by Thomas Gage, a poor strategist who didn't take the American forces seriously. After some humiliating losses, Gage was replaced by the much more competent General William Howe, [[PowerTrio assisted by brigadiers Henry Clinton and John Burgoyne]]. After the pivotal defeat at Saratoga, Burgoyne was captured, Howe resigned in disgrace, and Clinton was essentially KickedUpstairs. General Cornwallis, who had [[FinalBossPreview fought George Washington's army at Trenton earlier in the war]], took over for the much bloodier southern campaigns. Cornwallis' defeat at Yorktown ended the war.
* Although hopefully not evil, this fits with police response. First the initial few cop cars. Then waves of them. Then SWAT teams. Then [[GodzillaThreshold call in the national guard]].
[[/folder]]
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