Not all fictional heroes are the sort of person you might expect to be a hero of a story. The idea that there is an "IdealHero" and there are "{{antihero}}es" who deviate from the ideal has been around [[OlderThanFeudalism since classical antiquity if not earlier]]. Since then, writers have explored many types of {{antihero}}es, each of which lack one or more traits of an IdealHero.

An Unscrupulous Hero is an {{antihero}} who lacks the '''moral character''' of an IdealHero, but is ALighterShadeOfGrey than the antagonists.

Despite this, these heroes share one overriding heroic trait: unlike a NominalHero, they are heroes in the true sense of the word: when they have to take a stand on one side or another, they choose to fight for good for a morally positive reason, and aren't just helping the heroes for selfish reasons.

These characters generally fall under two different categories:
* They are defined by [[DarkAndTroubledPast dark experiences]] that have made them cold and cynical, and due to [[CrapsackWorld the settings]] in which they exist, there will usually be no compunctions to using more extreme methods. They are as much about payback (or any assorted type of catharsis) as they are the greater good, and their targets will be deserving of it, more likely than not. Just don't expect them to be mindful of any collateral damage.
* They may be a little more selfish, but unlike a NominalHero, have a much stronger honor code that keeps them from becoming less sympathetic.

In terms of sympathy, personality, etc., these characters can vary widely. For some, their admirable motivation may be their only good trait; others may be highly sympathetic, having all the characteristics of a likeable AntiHero combined with the fact that they are willing to sacrifice for a good cause.

Compare[=/=]contrast with SociopathicHero (who genuinely enjoys his bad actions), KnightTemplar, NominalHero, and WellIntentionedExtremist . Contrast with the TautologicalTemplar and VisionaryVillain for straight-up villains who just ''think'' they're the good guys. See also: ByronicHero.

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!Examples:

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[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* ''Manga/DogsBulletsAndCarnage'': [[JerkWithAHeartOfGold The leads]], most notably Naoto and Badou.
* The protagonists of ''Anime/HellGirl'', who've always gone after the AssholeVictim.
* [[JerkassWoobie Jean Croce]] might be this at the end of ''Anime/GunslingerGirl''.
* In ''Manga/DeathNote'' we have L, the HeroAntagonist to [[AGodAmI Light/Kira's]] VillainProtagonist. While L does try to capture Kira because he's a murderer, his main motivation is because he sees Kira as a challenge, and it's revealed that in general he only cares about cases he finds interesting, making him a NominalHero too in this regard. Describing himself as "childish and hates losing," he is willing to resort to, among other things, kidnapping, torture, lying and invasion of privacy to get the job done. The series lampshades how NotSoDifferent he and Light are from each other fairly often. Still, L only reserves his justice for people he sees as evil, and to be fair his accusations seem to always be correct. Moreover, while L does order the deaths of a few criminals to help further the investigation, [[PragmaticHero these criminals were on death row anyway.]]
** There's also [[spoiler:his successor Near]] who teeters between this and NominalHero. [[spoiler:His other successor Mello]] is a full-stop NominalHero, though.
* [[WellIntentionedExtremist Reiji]] becomes this later on in ''Anime/KuroganeNoLinebarrel''.
* Vino from ''LightNovel/{{Baccano}}''.
* ''{{Hellsing}}'' has several of these, but the most prominent example is [[BadassPreacher Father]] [[HolyHitman Alexander Anderson]]. He specifically targets vampires and heathens, believing them to be an affront against God and danger to the innocents of the world. Which they are. He takes it a little too far sometimes with his AxCrazy attacks and BloodKnight beliefs, but he also adores children, acts like a surrogate father to his Iscariot followers, respects Integra's principles and NervesOfSteel attitude, and takes a stand against Maxwell when he starts killing the innocent survivors of Protestant England.
** Another mention goes to Anderson's Iscariot followers, most of whom he raised himself. Compared to Maxwell and his fanatical Holy Crusaders, Heinkel, Yumie, and the rest of Iscariot are under Anderson's [[EvenEvilHasStandards Even Antagonists Have Standards]] direct influence, which prevents them from committing similar atrocities against innocent but non-Catholic populations.
* ''Anime/ChargemanKen'' is either this or DesignatedHero.
* ''Manga/{{Beelzebub}}'': Oga and Kanzaki blend this with NominalHero.
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[[folder:Comicbooks]]
* Scrooge [=McDuck=] develops into one by the "Empire Builder From Calisota" chapter of ''ComicBook/TheLifeAndTimesOfScroogeMcDuck''. His life experiences have hardened him to the point that he's become a corrupt robber baron, he hates his family, and only derives joy from getting even richer. He remains a good guy only because of his brief but ignored epiphany moments. He isn't redeemed by his family until later on.
** Disney Italy has Paperinik the [[NamesToRunAwayFromReallyFast Devilish Avenger]]. He is Donald's superhero (sort of) alter ego, but Donald initially created it to avenge himself against torts (real or imagined) he suffered, his main reason to fight criminals is that crime in general piss him off (assuming [[ItsPersonal they didn't somehow target Donald or Paperinik in the first place]]), and even the most light-hearted stories have him doing things like ''[[TorchesAndPitchforks sick a lynch mob on the Beagle Boys]]'' (they had organized a marathon with Paperinik's SecretIdentity as the prize to empty Duckburg and sack it. Once he found out they didn't actually know his real identity, Paperinik lured the citizens back in town and had them catch the BB in the act).
* If he's not being written as a NominalHero, [[SubMariner Namor]] tends to be this.
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[[folder:Film]]
* TheBluesBrothers, especially Jake. They mean well enough as they just want to save the orphanage they grew up in, but they're not above scamming patrons, acting like jackasses and endangering bystanders more than they really need to.
* Film/JamesBond in ''Film/LicenceToKill'', as he ditches MI6 to take down drug lord Franz Sanchez and avenge Felix Leiter. As part of his RoaringRampageOfRevenge he kills off quite a few bad guys in particularly terrible ways, like feeding someone to sharks and shoving another down a stone grinder.
* Captain Jack Sparrow in ''Franchise/PiratesOfTheCaribbean'': he will lie and reason with friends and foes alike if it means saving himself or gaining the upper hand in his XanatosGambit.
* Sheriff Matt Morgan from ''Last Train from Gun Hill'' is simply trying to execute his duty to the law; however, he has no qualms about threatening his former friend's son, whom he's captured and holding for rape and murder, among other dirty tricks.
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[[folder:Literature]]
* Despite being a straight up bad guy in the films, in the novel Denethor of ''Literature/TheLordOfTheRings'' starts off as a wise ruler dedicated to protecting his kingdom, though he treats his allies with suspicion and verbally abuses his son. Eventually the combined stress of Faramir's coma and his despair send him JumpingOffTheSlipperySlope.
* Mr. Slippery from Creator/VernorVinge's novella, "Literature/TrueNames", is an out-and-out criminal hacker, in it for the fun, but when the chips are down, and the world needs saving, he's willing to save it. And not ''just'' because Federal agents have made him a deal he can't refuse--though that certainly removes any lingering doubts he might have had.
* [[TheDresdenFiles Harry Dresden]], despite being one of the best examples of ChronicHeroSyndrome you'll ever encounter, is not at all unwilling to get his hands dirty, and though he may have a MyGodWhatHaveIDone afterwards, it doesn't stop him doing it again. This comes to a head in ''Changes'' when [[spoiler: he agrees to become the Winter Knight in order to save his daughter, despite knowing that he would then be totally at the command of a manipulative and utterly ruthless [[TheFairFolk Faerie Queen]] who could then make him do anything.]]
* The LightNovel ''LightNovel/FateZero'' gives us the adoptive father of ''VisualNovel/FateStayNight'' protagonist Shirou Emiya, Kiritsugu Emiya. Unlike most examples in this page he still has his moral character however it is [[TheUnfettered how he channels it]] that makes him this.
* Felix Harrowgate of ''Literature/DoctrineOfLabyrinths'' is a wizard uses his powers to put the dead to rest, save a country from invasion, and take out {{Magitek}} machines before they can annihilate ''another'' country, all at considerable risk to himself. Unfortunately, he also says horribly cruel things for the sheer joy of it, repeatedly [[MindRape mind-rapes]] people [[spoiler: including his own brother]], and has a rage blackout in which he seriously [[BondageIsBad crosses]] the [[SafeSaneAndConsensual line]] with an anonymous sex partner.
* Thomas Cromwell is portrayed as this in ''Literature/WolfHall'', with a ''very'' colourful past, and being quite willing to abuse the system to have his enemies executed.
* In ''[[Literature/ElementalMasters The Fire Rose]]'', Jason Cameron is pretty amoral. To the extent that he's a good person, it's because he takes CutLexLuthorACheck and PragmaticVillainy so far that they take him out of the "villain" sphere entirely; he's a philanthropist because that (used to) earn him street cred in his social circle, and because a well-fed proletariat work well and don't start riots. Likewise, he's known for fair business dealings because [[DickDastardlyStopsToCheat he doesn't need to do anything shady]], but he doesn't especially care that his apprentice and agent gets his rocks off on rape and uses his magic to rig cockfights, except that they show him to be [[EvilIsPetty a complete tool]] and unfit to be a Master. [[spoiler: He does develop genuine feelings of love for Rose by the end, though.]]
* Pocket in Creator/ChristopherMoore's ''Pocket the Fool'' novels. He is deeply cynical, sarcastic and bitter due to his childhood as an orphan and generally being treated like a slave by his master King Lear. However he is protective of [[MoralityChain Cordelia]] [[LoveRedeems whom he genuinely loves]] and has a sense of justice when it comes to other oppressed groups. That the latter also tends to go along with his acute sense of vengeance he finds very convenient.
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[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* ''Series/TwentyFour'': Gives us Jack Bauer, Probably the most famous unscrupulous hero in popular culture.
* ''Series/BlakesSeven'': Avon probably averages out here, especially in series 1 and 3 where he's amoral enough to try and abandon Blake on a Hellhole planet but occasionally shows concern for the others, especially Cally. In series 2 he has enough PetTheDog moments to push him closer to GoodIsNotNice, but by the final series the stress of maintaining a rebellion he wants nothing to do with turns him into a NominalHero.
* ''Series/{{Revolution}}'': Miles Matheson after the blackout became this. He helped to start a dictatorship because he wanted to bring peace and order, as shown in flashbacks in [[Recap/RevolutionS1E3NoQuarter episode 3]]. However, he became the Butcher of Baltimore, hurt Rachel (shown in flashbacks of [[Recap/RevolutionS1E17TheLongestDay episode 17]]), and handed Alec over to the Texans when Alec balked at assassinating the Texan president (shown in flashbacks of [[Recap/RevolutionS1E14TheNightTheLightsWentOutInGeorgia episode 14]]). He ended up leaving the Monroe Republic when Monroe went too far and Miles failed to assassinate him (elaborated on in the [[Recap/RevolutionS1E20TheDarkTower first season finale]]). He makes it clear to Charlie that he hurts people and he doesn't think twice about it. Later on, Charlie's influence causes him to become more of a Pragmatic Hero.
* ''VeronicaMars'': The title character's intent is always to catch the bad guy but her methods can range from manipulating an officer in order to steal evidence or eavesdropping on therapy sessions. Her motivation is almost always revenge rather than justice. She certainly enjoys her KickTheDog moments, but her targets [[KickTheSonOfABitch are always REALLY terrible people so the audience doesn't flinch too much]].
* Tsukasa Kadoya, the main character of ''Series/KamenRiderDecade'', is held in prophecy to be the Destroyer of Worlds, who will bring about an end to the Rider multiverse and kill all the Kamen Riders. He ''acts'' less "ultimate evil", however, and more "[[PokeThePoodle kind of]] [[{{Jerkass}} a tool]]" - he will troll and endanger other people to find and defeat the [[MonsterOfTheWeek bad guys of the fortnight]], although he'll throw himself into the firing line as well. Much of the series' mystery is "Is Tsukasa a JerkWithAHeartOfGold, or actually [[BigBad the ultimate evil]]?"
* ''Series/BreakingBad'' has [[spoiler:Hank Schrader]] become one in Season 5B. He spends that entire season [[spoiler:trying to bring Walter White down, who by this point has become a monster. However Hank's tactics to do so range from the morally questionable to downright illegal. He even at one point flat out says that, if a plan involving a cooperative Jesse should go wrong, that he doesn't care if Jesse gets killed.]]
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[[folder:TabletopGames]]
* The [[TheEmpire Imperium of Man]], the [[OurElvesAreBetter Eldar]], the [[TheGreys Tau]] and to an extent the [[OurOrcsAreDifferent Orks]] of ''TabletopGame/{{Warhammer 40000}}'' are traditionally the "good guy" factions of the setting and better than the "bad guy" factions [[note]]that would be the [[ReligionOfEvil Forces of Chaos]], the [[OmnicidalManiac Necrons]], the [[BugWar Tyranids]] and the [[AlwaysChaoticEvil Dark Eldar]][[/note]], [[AbsoluteXenophobe but]] [[MagnificentBastard not]] [[ScaryDogmaticAliens by]] [[BloodKnight much]]. Pretty much the only thing they all have in common is that everyone is out to get them, they have ''some'' noble motives (if not exactly pleasant ways to achieving them) and no matter what horrid things they do, [[ShootTheDog they usually do it for a justifiable reason]], and the bad guys do far worse things than they could ever do anyway.
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[[folder:Videogames]]
* ''VideoGame/TeamFortress2'''s malevolent mercs (and long-suffering P.A. Miss Pauling) may not have consciences, but they are capable of human affection, which is more than their ironically named business rival, [[spoiler: Gray Mann,]] can say...
* The Third Street Saints have become this by the time ''VideoGame/SaintsRowIV'' rolls around.
* Sarah Kerrigan in ''VideoGame/StarCraftII''. She's no longer the VillainProtagonist she was in ''Brood War'', thanks to being freed from the Overmind's programming, but she's still capable of controlling a HordeOfAlienLocusts by force and chooses to use them to kill Emperor Mengsk, mainly for personal revenge. She [[spoiler: can be persuaded to give civilians a chance to get out of her way, but she really had to think about it first.]]
* Ammon Jerro of NeverwinterNights2 is literally [[DealWithTheDevil Hell-bent]] on saving the Sword Coast from the [[OmnicidalManiac King of]] [[LivingShadow Shadows]] at all costs. He goes so far as to stealing the most sacred relic of a extraplanar race of [[BlueAndOrangeMorality Holy warriors]], making several infernal pacts with various demons and devils of the lower hells, killing any who oppose him (knowingly or not), abandoning any allies if they do not pull their weight, and even razing entire villages if it means he has a better shot at defeating the King of Shadows. He's even the DiskOneFinalBoss. [[spoiler:That is until he joins you anyways.]]
* Midna in ''VideoGame/TheLegendOfZeldaTwilightPrincess'' may be this, especially at the beginning. Even when she had no sympathy for those who lived in the light, she still fought for a righteous cause. She loves the people under her rule and wanted to save them. Plus, her dispassion for the people of Hyrule is no different from a government's lack of interests in another nation's politics. She may not have cared about saving the world of light ([[CharacterDevelopment at the time]]) but she sure as hell didn't want to worsen the situation either.
* [[ProfessionalKiller Zevran]] from ''VideoGame/DragonAgeOrigins'' qualifies, if the player can gain his loyalty. He can be recruited after he tries to kill you; he swears to help you end the Blight if you spare him. He advocates the use of poison, rather enjoys his profession and is one of your more [[TokenEvilTeammate morally ambiguous companions]]. With that in mind, he is also [[UndyingLoyalty fiercely loyal]] to your PC if you can get his affection high enough and is nowhere near as bad as his former employers, [[ColdBloodedTorture the]] [[ChildSoldiers Antivan]] [[MurderInc Crows]].
** The player character can be played as an Unscrupulous Hero. You can lie, extort, steal and murder your way through Ferelden, all in the name of stopping the Blight (or ForTheEvulz, depending on the player). Given that you are the only thing standing between Thedas and [[ApocalypseHow total annihilation]] via darkspawn, [[GodzillaThreshold anything goes]].
* ''VideoGame/CastlevaniaLordsOfShadow2'' is mainly about Dracula's [[spoiler: development from a NominalHero, who is only 'good' because he's fighting SATAN, into one of these. Admittedly not much of a jump, as although he does get some PetTheDog moments regarding his family, he never stops being utterly ruthless, and the mountain of tragedy he's gone through over the centuries never leaves him entirely. The main development is that while his desire for vengeance on Satan and Zobek certainly remains at the forefront of his motivations, it becomes clear as the game goes on he really just wants to be at peace with his family, and in the end, Marie and Alucard forgive him and help him find his peace.]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Webcomics]]
* [[SmugSnake Vriska]] from {{Homestuck}} would embody this trope were [[BaseBreaker opinions on her not split further than the San Andreas Fault.]] [[AbusiveParents Forced by her lusus to become a]] SerialKiller from a very young age, she soon grows to embrace the role and [[KillerGameMaster kills thousands of trolls through FLARPing.]] Her EstablishingCharacterMoment is throwing one of her players off a cliff with MindControl ''because she can''. She then goes on to try and establish a [[FoeYay caliginous relationship]] with him - only he doesn't return her feelings, so her "courtships" come off as [[BastardGirlfriend abusive, even for the twisted culture she exists in.]] Later she even goes as far as [[spoiler:turning [[BigBad Jack Noir]] into a PhysicalGod just so that she can have some impact on the story and murdering said caliginous crush for having the guts to stand up to himself.]] And yet through all this, she has every intention of defeating [[BigBad Jack Noir]] and spends much of her time assisting [[TheHero John]] on his quest, [[spoiler:developing romantic feelings for him as time goes by.]] In her mind, she is following the footsteps of her powerful, infamous and morally bankrupt ancestor, but at crucial points proves she is either too cruel or ''not cruel enough'' to play that part.
* Celesto Morgan, of ''Webcomic/DominicDeegan'', is the appointed Champion of Chaos and Destruction. While he views himself as a champion of freedom and destroyer of tyranny and evil, his actions frequently show him to be almost as destructive as the things he fights, such as his battle with The Infernomancer in Lynn's Brook, in which he killed more people than the man he was there to stop. He has also been the vigilante executioner of two, up until that point {{Karma Houdini}}s in the story and has become HeWhoFightsMonsters against the Beast.
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[[folder:Web Originals]]
* ''Literature/{{Worm}}'' gives us [[spoiler:Armsmaster]], who arranges the death of multiple "villains", including a fifteen-year-old girl he ''knew'' to be TheMole, in order to give himself a chance to defeat [[spoiler:Leviathan]] in a one-on-one fight.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* In ''ElTigre'', although Manuel Rivera is usually on the good guys side, that doesn't stop him from doing mischevious things from time to time.
* In ''WesternAnimation/PhineasAndFerb'', Buford may [[CardCarryingVillain boast about being a schoolyard bully]], but when Phineas and Ferb need help, he can always be counted on.
* In ''WesternAnimation/TomAndJerry'', although Jerry is generally a FriendToAllLivingThings, he's definitely not above using violence for reasons other than self - defense or protecting others, often as vengeance for a legitimate wrong, but occasionally, because he's bored. Often when his actions are unambiguously unheroic, especially when unprovoked, we get a rare LaserGuidedKarma victory for Tom.
* If the show wasn't Batman in ''WesternAnimation/BatmanTheAnimatedSeries'', AntiVillain Mr. Freeze would have been this if not a ByronicHero or NominalHero, since the CorruptCorporateExecutive he was opposing was [[BlackAndGrayMorality far worse than he ever was]].
* In ''WesternAnimation/TheVentureBrothers'', Brock Samson is the Venture family's personal bodyguard for most of the series and something of a father figure to the Venture twins. He's also a vicious Swedish murder machine.
* BugsBunny might be acting in self-defense when he injures or kills people, but damned if he's not enjoying it. This was especially the case in his early 1940's shorts.
* ''TheDreamstone'' oddly juxtoposes this with the SugarBowl Land Of Dreams. While usually sweet natured and borderline messianic, the heroes seem completely apathetic to the fact most of Zordrak's mooks are harmless cowards TrappedInVillainy, and much more frequently take sadistic pleasure punishing them or taking their retaliations outside self defense [[PragmaticVillainy compared to vice versa]], mostly all on the principal of [[FelonyMisdemeanor trying to give them bad dreams]]. Later episodes made them more passive, even if they still leaned into PragmaticHero territory.
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