Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man? The world may never know, but one thing is for sure: at the end of one of those roads, he had better show some unfortunate creature the end of the line.
This tradition of killing as an initiation into manhood is at least as old as ancient Sparta, making this trope Older Than Feudalism and based in reality, not literature. This is about as old as the institution of the hunter-gatherer social order, and about as relevant to a society as that institution as a means of testing the mettle of a new member of the hunting troupe. Still, that doesn't stop many a buttoned-down work-a-day father from suburbia from believing that his son will go astray and won't be of any use to anyone if he doesn't go through this rite of passage which his ancestors may or may not have had to undergo themselves (at least in TV land).
Naturally, every once in a while, either because the society/organization is gender-blind or someone wants to get in on the deadly fun, a woman will go through the same process to mixed reaction or no reaction at all if it were one of those aforementioned gender-blind societies/organizations.
A variation of this trope is for elite military forces to kill a man (an enemy or even a low ranking ally) as part of initiation. Outside of the distant past or a very few of the small, isolated tribes over half a century ago, it is a Discredited Trope (except perhaps in cases where said troop is depicted as being villains, thereby avoiding Truth in Television considerations). A variation of this which has appeared in a number of productions involves spies who, in order to become full-fledged agents, are are required to undergo "a final test" to prove their value, which generally involves cold-bloodedly killing a target. Examples include James Bond (who per Casino Royale and the original novels needed to assassinate two people before attaining 00 status) and the 2010s version of Nikita and Chuck, both of which included plotlines in which lead characters were required to kill in order to advance.
Unfortunately, a trope that comes with Unfortunate Implications in the modern days: if such a rite of passage was justified back in ancient times and still is in some contexts, the trope has now been Flanderized into a much less noble version, particularly in Real Life, and contends that revelling in violence and deriving pleasure from killing something or someone is the epitome of manhood and the very definition of badassery. In fact, these days, you are much more likely to see this trope inverted: someone is expected to kill to prove something, and it is their refusal to do so that shows us their character (and in some cases, provides them with an Androcles' Lion protector). It's only in places where there are legitimate targets for murder that we see anything like the original spin. Zombies or aliens or anything, no worries, people will be expected to prove they are worth having along by mercilessly killing them. Other people, even bad people, not so much. It's a modern-day thing.
(The concept of "blooded" versus "green" forces (a continuum, not either/or) is different: killing (or dying) is not required, but you must have remained and functioned with your unit for some time in combat before you start to be regarded as trustworthy.)
Contrast Real Women Don't Wear Dresses, Badass Pacifist, What Measure Is a Non-Badass?. Sometimes used in training in The Spartan Way (not to be confused with literal Spartan training, which also required this). See also If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Black Cat can be seen as kind of a Spiritual Successor to Rurouni Kenshin in this sense; right up to the end, Train averts this trope by refusing to kill the Big Bad, even after said Big Bad gave him detailed instructions on how to do it and tried to explain that he couldn't be stopped any other way. Like Kenshin, Train is a reformed assassin.
The anime Kikaider uses this concept as a last twist out of the left field. To "Become a Real Boy", Jiro ends up becoming capable of killing and committing other evil acts, even if they are for good reasons, due to a fusion of his conscience circuit and an evil control circuit.
In Naruto, the Hidden Mist village used to be known as the "Bloody Mist" for this reason, as the final exam for pre-Genin under the 4th Mizukage was for students to pair up and fight to the death. The practice ended after the preteen Momochi Zabuza showed up and massacred every one of his classmates.
Rurouni Kenshin, working on Batman Logic, mostly averts this trope. However, the reason Kenshin avoids killing is because he was the cause of so many deaths in the past.
There's another twisted line of thought preventing him from killing, as he's convinced that taking a single life will turn him into a bloodthirsty killer, and this attitude never changes, even after his master tells him that Shishio wouldn't even be around if Kenshin wasn't so afraid of the "manslayer", who's merely a figment of his imagination. Despite this, fate seems to conspire to keep Kenshin from killing anyone.
Averted in Trigun. Killing people is serious freaking business and the hallmark of characters who are either morally ambiguous or just plain psycho. Even nonfatally wounding the villain is portrayed as a crippling-guilt-inducing act.
In Vinland Saga, this trope comes into play when the youngest son of a rich farmer wants to become a man. The farmer's housecarls quote this trope at him and tries to get him to cut down a pair of his father's slaves. The trope is deconstructed because it's readily apparent that the situation isn't particularly 'manly' (the slaves are restrained) and the boy is a bit of a Emo Teen either way. When he eventually does end up killing someone, it's by accident in a fixed duel he was intended to win so the king could accuse his father. He ends up horrified, looking at the man's corpse.
In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, there are a few comics focusing on the training of the Emperor's Red Guards. Part of this involves partners who have worked together all along killing each other in front of the Emperor to show their loyalty.
Inverted in Watchmen: Walter "Rorschach" Kovacs implies that he was just playing at the whole "masked avenger" schtick until he killed a child-murderer's pet/guard dogs. It's portrayed as the moment he finally lost his humanity.
Walter: Shock of impact ran along my arm. Jet of warmth spattered on chest, like hot faucet. It was Kovacs who said "Mother" then, muffled under latex. It was Kovacs who closed his eyes. It was Rorschach who opened them again.
'I suppose the prince had no arms with him, or else he would have used them?' 'Yes, sire, he had arms; he always carries a dagger in his belt. But when he saw the blood pouring from his face, he went to a corner of the court and began to cry, which was the strangest thing of all.' On hearing this the king walked to the window and stood for a few minutes with his back to the room, where the company of young men remained silent. Then he came back, his face white and stern. 'I tell you,' he said, 'and it is the solemn truth, that I would rather you had told me that the prince was dead, though he is my only son, than know that he would suffer such an injury without attempting to avenge it.
Mulan (as Ping): But you know how it is when you get those, manly urges, and you just gotta kill something.
Also invoked in the Training Montage. That is, after all, why they were expected to "be a man".
By the end of the movie Mulan has indirectly killed not only most of the Hun horde (via starting an avalanche that buries everyone but the Big Bad and Quirky Miniboss Squad) but eventually Shan Yu by setting him up to be blown up by fireworks. The movie doesn't really bring attention to this and the Emperor focuses more on Mulan saving China instead of her individual actions, but by the measure of this trope she's a "man" a hundred times more than any of the actual male characters.
In How to Train Your Dragon, the people in Hiccup's tribe (men and women alike) are expected to kill dragons for a living, and thus they are considered useful in society only after they have proven themselves capable of slaying one. The plot kicks off when Hiccup manages to trap and incapacitate the then-most-powerful known dragon, but refuses to kill it when he realizes it has high sentience, intelligence (for an animal), and learning capacity, as well as a friendly demeanor.
In Pocahontas, shortly after making landfall, the English settlers are attacked by the local Powhatans. In the chaos, a young man, Thomas, nearly shoots the leader of the settlers, Radcliffe. Radcliffe is (understandably) irate at this, and yells at him to "learn to use that thing properly," because "a man's not a man unless he knows how to shoot."
Films — Live-Action
In the 2006 Casino Royale, it is revealed that secret agents are only promoted to 00 status after assassinating two targets (killing without intention to or in self-defence/heat of battle doesn't apparently count, otherwise MI6 would be loaded with 00 agents). This is also a plot point in the original novel, in which Le Chiffre is James Bond's third target; the film suggests the first two targets are Bond's first kills ever, while the books are ambiguous on this point.
In La Femme Nikita and its American adaptation Point of No Return, the main character has completed her training as an assassin. Her boss takes her out to dinner to celebrate and then reveals that it's actually a test: she has to kill a target and escape without preparation. The first episode of The 1990s Series has the same scenario, although it is subverted in that case as Nikita uses her ingenuity to avoid killing anyone (her first on-screen kill occurs a few episodes later with no fanfare, and by the end of the series, she'd grown comfortable with killing to the point of being shown delivering "safety shots" into the bodies of disarmed enemies, a case of a character becoming Darker and Edgier as a series progresses).
In Surviving The Game, Gary Busey's character relates a story of a dog his father bought him as a child...and had him kill with his bare hands later to prove himself a man.
Variation: In Monsters Ball, Hank and his son Sonny are officers who work on Death Row and the story opens as the latter is about to participate in his first "last walk" of a condemned man. (The title refers to the party that used to be thrown the night before an execution.) However, Sonny loses his nerve and vomits during the walk. Hank is humiliated and furious and confronts him the next morning; the fight ends with Sonny committing suicide. The remainder of the film has Hank struggling with this loss (and notably, his own father chalks Sonny's fate up to weakness).
This is Luigi Largo's philosophy of life in Repo! The Genetic Opera. He considers himself his father's worthy heir because, of the three siblings, he's the only one who kills people on a regular basis.
...but being The Genetic Opera and all, the trope gets played on its head: Luigi is by far and large the most childish member of the cast, even moreso than an actual teenager.
Naked Weapon features a wide variety of pubescent girls being kidnapped from around the world and sent to a tropical island. After immediately killing anybody who says 'Yes, I wanna go home!', they spend the next 9-10 years in a nonstop boot camp teaching the girls everything there is to know about firearms, human anatomy, unarmed combat, and social interaction, honing them into the world's finest assassins. As a penultimate final exam, they are assembled in their barracks and told that they have two minutes to kill half their number or they will all die. In the actual final exam, they are forced to compete in a gladiator-style tournament until only one remains. However, their "performance" is so great that the Madam allows three to survive instead.
Which, if one gives it about a half-second of thought, really is a monstrously wasteful and inefficient way of training assassins, but alas, the Rule of Cool strikes again...
In Dog Soldiers, a potential recruit for the UK special forces gets chewed out for not killing the dog set to track him in a field exercise. Ordered to shoot it after the exercise, he refuses to do so, and is returned to his old non-elite unit.
It is shown in The Bourne Ultimatum that in order to be accepted into Treadstone, Bourne had to execute an unknown man in cold blood. This is less about making him a man, and more about making him a weapon: his attempts to determine why he's supposed to kill this man are constantly rebuked with the admonishment "you don't need to know". Treadstone is training assassins: the assassins don't need to know why they're killing someone, they just need to do it.
Lampshaded in Big Trouble in Little China. Jack is embarrassed by having killed someone only for the first time and lies about it so as not to appear dorky to his male friends, who obviously aren't killers any more than he is.
Unforgiven includes a character whose greatest ambition is to become a deadly gunslinger. After finally getting the chance to kill someone and prove his worth, he is shamed and broken by the experience, with Clint Eastwood's character delivering a speech about killing people that's enough to make anyone hesitate in pulling the trigger. In a deleted scene, the character ended up Driven to Suicide.
It makes more sense in context. Said sniper had killed three soldiers, and even tortured two of them with non-lethal shots to lure the others into her range. After she was shot the first time, she was alive, but was obviously helpless, asking them to kill her. While all the other soldiers wanted to leave her for the rats to eat her for revenge, Joker took her out of her misery.
Dolerhyde in Cowboys and Aliens tells a story to a young boy named Emmett about his first march in the Army (as a boy not much older than Emmett). He tells Emmett that he ended up slitting a man's throat (a Mercy Kill) with the knife he gave the boy earlier and tells the boy that he needs to be a man with a clear implication that this means to be a killer. Emmett ends up stabbing an alien with the same knife.
In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Leatherface/Thomas chases after the Final Girl with his chainsaw, his first murder on behalf of the Hewitt family. Sheriff Hoyt, the closest thing Thomas has to a father figure, stares after him with an expression bordering on paternal love and simply states "There comes a time when every boy becomes a man."
Taken to its logical extreme in 2001: A Space Odyssey: The dawn of man begins when apes figure out how to use bones as weapons and kill creatures.
Many gangster stories have the characters "make their bones" by killing two men. The Godfather is probably the most famous example.
"I'm Moe Green! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!"
Subverted in the Discworld novel Pyramids: during the mock assassination that features as the final exam of the Assassin's Guild, the protagonist convinces himself that his target is not a dummy but a person, possibly even one of his fellow candidates. He resolves to fail the test on purpose, but accidentally succeeds in killing the dummy.
But played straight in that the student is meant to think it's a real person - it is, after all, the final exam for the Assassin's Guild. While it's true that over the course of his lifetime, an Assassin may only be sent out on eight or so commissions, if an Assassin chokes on one of these extremely few commissions, we're looking at loss of revenue, loss of business, and, worst of all, loss of reputation, which will result in further consequences A and B. Not to mention loss of breathing.
In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel No Future, a (female) soldier tells Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart how, before her secondment to UNIT, part of her training was to raise a rabbit, and then kill it. At the time, she thought she didn't mind, now she was a warrior (although she does mention crying herself to sleep later that night). The Brig's training makes her realize she did, and he tells her "Then they were bastards, Tennant, to order you to do that. What were they?"
In Dark Light, the second book in the Engines of Light Trilogy by Ken Mac Leod, the characters come to the planet Rawliston, where the population is divided into three cultures: "Christians" (Post-Industrial Revolution Victorians), "Heathens" (Autochthonous people with a cottage craft system capable of producing highly complex creations), and "Savages" (Hunter Gatherers who live on the outskirts of the actual civilization). The Heathens have a sort of gender-caste system, where gender is not determined by actual sex, but by conduct and career. The ritual to "become a man" involves the Heathens going out and killing a "Savage".
The gender-caste system is not unknown in real life - the Amerindian nations, for example, permitted 'berdaches' - usually men who lived as women, but occasionally women living as men. The whole business has been appropriated by the LGBT movement, but there's evidence that it was less simplistic than that.
In Clan Of The Cave Bear, this goes in the opposite direction for girls: females of the Clan are forbidden to hunt or use weapons, and female protagonist Ayla gets in big trouble when they find out she's been learning on her own.
However, played straight with the Clan in general - a boy becomes a man when he makes his first big kill.
Played semi-straight in the children's book Blood in the Snow, by Marlene Shyer. The main character inherits a gun from his grandfather and his father makes it clear to him that if he wants to be a man, he'll have to learn how to shoot. Due to a traumatic experience involving a stuffed animal he owned as a kid being used for target practice, he trades the gun for a silver flute with a kid at school and endures the ridicule by his father. He later trades the flute back (it's apparently platinum-plated and therefore worth more than originally thought) for the gun so that he can put a fox out of its misery, the source of the blood of the title, and it's implied that making these hard decisions is what's made him a man.
Used horribly in The Knife of Never Letting Go, where on their fourteenth birthday, boys from Prentisstown have to kill another man, usually someone they've known all their life, in order to be accepted into adulthood. They don't know about this before hand, but the main character, Todd, finds out and chooses not to go along with it. For reasons you'd have to read the book to understand, the man who was to be his victim comes after him and attempts to provoke him into murdering him by killing or kidnapping several people he cares about.
The Marines in Jarhead (including the author) are stoked up on the prospect of their first kill, which is directly compared to losing their virginity and becoming a real man.
Galen: You must learn to kill if you expect to survive. Miles: No, you don't. Most people go through their whole lives without killing anybody. False argument.
In White Teeth by Zadie Smith, at the end of the Second World War, Samad insists that Archie must prove himself by executing the sick Nazi doctor they have captured. Archie disappears into the bushes with the prisoner. A shot is heard...
Subverted somewhat in The Lord of the Rings, in the paragraph where Faramir explains how he views the war against Sauron, not for glory but only to defend the Free peoples against a tyrant who wish to devour everything.
Richard Marcinko's Rogue Warrior novels, allegedly based upon or inspired by his real-life Navy SEAL experiences, include references to missions being set up in such a way that new recruits will be forced to kill as a final test of ability.
The short story "Duck Hunt" by Joe R. Lansdale plays this for horror. A nebbish comic book loving scrawny teenager is forced to go on a duck hunt with his father and his father's friends to make him more of a man. After killing a helpless prisoner and drinking his blood along with the blood of the ducks, the teen starts acting "manly" and even cracks a joke about killing a man in cold blood. The other men laugh in good-natured comraderie and promise to get him laid that night.
This is the belief of the Taya (a race of four-armedHeavy WorlderHuman Aliens), the natives of planet Tayahat, in Mikhail Akhmanov's Wind Shadow. All men in their culture are warriors and must go into the lowland jungle to fight and kill. No fighting is allowed in the highlands, which contains villages and is home to the Taya women. Dick Simon is a human who was mostly raised by an old Taya warrior in their ways. He is not considered a man until his first foray into the lowlands and his first kill. The old warrior and his son even specifically mention that a warrior must kill (and every Taya man is a warrior).
Casino Royale, the first Bond novel, describes the two kills Bond undertook in order to be promoted to 007.
In No Deals, Mr. Bond, Bond is captured by KGB and put against four "Robinsons" on an island. They are condemned and desperate men whose job is to provide kill-or-be-killed training for the KGB and Spetsnaz, and they have been led to believe that if they can win these training exercises three times, they are free to go. In this case, Bond is their third exercise.
In Wringer, this seems to be the motivation behind Pigeon Day and wringers in general.
Inverted among Axumites in Belisarius Series. The rite of passage was getting your first battle scar.
In-Universe, Donaka from Man of Tai Chi definitely believes this. After a fighter refused to finish a defeated enemy, Donaka says "you're not a fighter... you're a rat" and kills him.
A Song of Ice and Fire has several characters suggest this. However, most of them aren't nice people. Arya and the squire Edric Dayne compare this, as Edric hasn't killed anyone by age twelve despite going into battle multiple times and Arya has. No one holds it against Edric and Arya is reminded how messed up her life is as a result.
The Killing Kind and The Reapers imply that Louis' first kill was something like this. He killed in defense of his family, and was recruited as an assassin pretty quickly after police suspicions first fell on him. This required him to leave home and take his first step into adulthood.
Live Action TV
In a number of TV series dealing with cops, and particularly rookie cops, an officer's first kill is sometimes implied to be a rite of passage, and an almost inevitable one. For example, Andy in Rookie Blue begins as a green cadet learning her craft, but it is not surprising that before the first season was half over her lessons included her first kill. Flashpoint similarly touches on this in two episodes in which a member of the team kills for the first time (simultaneously debunking an aspect of the trope that suggests members of such things as SWAT teams are already all experienced killers).
A related aspect of this is the fact that in many TV series dealing with FBI agents, CIA or other government agents, and cops, if the lead character(s) is not a rookie, then quite often it is implied, if not outright assumed, that they have already killed multiple people in the line of duty and thus are able to shrug off taking lives without an apparent second thought (a dramatic necessity if the writer doesn't intend for a storyline to be sidetracked; one reason why cops are able to stack up multiple body counts yet are rarely shown as being "desked" pending internal investigations in the midst of a storyline). In reality, the vast majority of law enforcement - and spies - go through their entire careers without having to fire a weapon at another human being. Note: this paragraph can apply to virtually every category, but is placed here because, historically, ongoing TV series are more likely to repeatedly place protagonists in deadly force scenarios, whereas films and novels often chronicle single "missions" or incidents.
Alias: During the third season, details are learned about Sydney Bristow's "lost two years" during which she went deep undercover as an assassin named Julia Thorne. Sydney later arranged to have her memories of the mission suppressed, in part due to some of her actions which included killing an unarmed prisoner in order to prover her loyalty to her "new" employers (Sydney's first kill as an agent is never depicted or mentioned on screen, but is depicted in one of the spin-off prequel novels and is basically shrugged off by the character. On screen, her first obvious kill (as opposed to implied or "did she kill the guy or just knock him out" scenarios) actually doesn't occur until the first episode of Season 2).
Uses this as a plot-point, where the titular Chuck is required to kill a target for the first time in order to become a full agent. It's also a Subverted Trope with Sarah, his CIA handler/love interest, who says that if Chuck goes through with it, he won't be the same man she fell in love with. Chuck ends up killing for the first time to save her life, but still retains his reluctance to use deadly force after.
In the story The End of Time, the trope is subverted when elderly Wilfred Mott, discussing his war experience with a mysterious female Time Lord, is challenged by her when he confesses he never had to kill anyone during his service, to which he replies that he refuses to feel ashamed of this fact.
Also subverted in the 2007 episode "The Doctor's Daughter" in which the Doctor, who has taken many lives in his time, gets into a philosophical debate with Jenny (his cloned daughter) over the morals of being a soldier, and later, when he has the opportunity to gun down a villain, describes himself as the man "who never would".
Game of Thrones: Stated by Theon Greyjoy in the "A Golden Crown" episode: "In the Iron Islands, you're not a man until you've killed your first enemy."
Mentions this twice — first with Trombley, who joined the Marines to kill people (and complains whenever he doesn't get a chance to shoot), and later when Person (the lead Humvee driver) gets a chance to shoot at the Hajji:
Person: Look at me, Brad. I'm a man now, just like you... except I don't look like a faggot and talk all educated.
Unfortunately for Person, after this, "Fruity Rudy" happened to him.
Sayid's brother, Omer, is told he must kill a chicken to be proven a man. However, Sayid kills it for him.
Mr. Eko also has this trope in his backstory. When he was a young boy, his brother was told to kill an old man of their village by a gang of drug smugglers. When his brother can't do it, Eko kills the man without hesitation and is taken by the gang. The implication is that the smugglers want to take the innocence of children by making them kill.
The Nanny: In this TV series, one of the aristocratic families Barbara worked for had a grandfather who refused to take part in blood sports. The reason was that his father felt he needed toughening up and so, on the boy's first hunt, he cut the stag open and shoved the boy inside the carcass.
Inverted Trope. DiNozzo and McGee would be reasonably capable of killing when necessary, and Gibbs is obviously an expert. However, Ziva, though she does have moments of ambiguity, is normally more open about her ability at killing people than any of the male characters and is quite proud of it. (Or so she claims.)
There is also the Episode "Probie" where McGee shoots someone, apparently for the first time, and spends the rest of the episode feeling horribly guilty about it. (Due in part to doubt as to whether he shot the right person.)
Later in the series, it's revealed that an early form of the agency, the NIS, sent probies on kill assignments to test their mettle (similar to the "red test" featured in Chuck).
Night Gallery: The episode "Clean Kills". A wealthy hunter tries to force his son to kill a deer by threatening to disinherit him.
Nikita: The 2010 updating establishes that for Division recruits to be promoted to field agent status (and ultimately survive their training), they must commit an assigned kill. The trope is subverted when Alex, Nikita's mole in Division, expresses that she's willing to do this to maintain her cover, but Nikita tries to avoid this in order to prevent her from becoming another Nikita. Ultimately, Alex ends up not being able to follow through on her assigned target. She does kill for the first time, but it is accidental, and the victim is framed post-mortem to make it appear as if he was the mole within Division, thereby winning Alex a bye on the actual kill test scenario. As the series progresses, and despite Nikita's efforts to avoid it, Alex does ultimately take the darker path and starts piling up the bodies.
The Pacific: Averted Trope interestingly enough with Eugene's character—he learns to kill and develops a hatred for the enemy while in the war ("I'd use my goddamn hands if I had to"), but upon returning home, finds he cannot even go dove-hunting with his father (which he had previously enjoyed) without a sense of panic and despair.
Revolution: Episode 2 includes a sequence where Charlie kills two men in cold blood, after her uncle suggests she doesn't have it in her (despite the fact she killed a few guys in the first episode, but that was in battle as opposed to cold-blood). Afterwards, her uncle shows her renewed respect, although in making it an Averted Trope, she doesn't feel that killing the men has made her a better person.
Silver Spoons: Ricky's grandfather takes him out hunting to "make a man" out of him.
Supernatural: The Winchesters on one hand clearly believe this—Sam more unconsciously than Dean, since he has some pretensions toward normality—but, on the other hand, they strongly disapprove of killing humans, and even Dean is not too impressed by killing frivolously. Their resistance to killing humans is broken down somewhat over the years of war and the fact that the only way they have, most of the time, of killing demons (and that one angel) kills the hosts as well, and they use it without hesitating, but it's still not something they're willing to do without good reason. Humans aren't in their jurisdiction.
Blue Bloods avoids this rather thoroughly by leaving Jamie Reagan's first kill until the middle of season three and making it a Suicide by Cop. Jamie, already in the grips of These Hands Have Killed, is understandably horrified, and not once does anyone treat it as a rite of passage. During the same episode, his father Frank, the police commissioner, recounts a statistic that less than five percent of cops ever have to fire their service weapon outside the range, and only about ten percent of those shots are fatal. On the other hand, Jamie's first shooting, which was nonfatal, gets a passing treatment as this by the IA detective doing the routine shooting investigation, who sarcastically tells him to enjoy the paperwork.
In Star Trek: Voyager the Kazon don't consider themselves to be fully adult until they've killed somebody, whereupon they can add the honorific "Jal" to their names. Word of God is that the Kazon are based on Los Angeles gang bangers.
The villain Lionslayer in Champions takes his name from (and gained his powers during) the ancient Massai rite-of-passage that required a boy to spear a lion.
According to the novels, Ghosts in StarCraft have to kill someone as their final test. It's less a test about being a man, and more about efficiency (the most important Ghosts happen to be female anyway).
Liberty's Crusade has Kerrigan explain this in detail: a soldier pointed a gun at the head of one of her fellow trainees and she had to kill the soldier before he could pull the trigger. Mike immediately makes a connection between it and the death of Raynor's daughter, causing Kerrigan to lapse into a Heroic BSOD on the spot.
In Nova, the titular character (who is arguably a more powerful telepath and telekinetic than Kerrigan) gets recruited into the Ghost program (not that she has a choice, but she actually wants it), and her first task is to eliminate the man who ordered her family killed. She does it with no small satisfaction. After this mission, she is mind-wiped, like all Ghosts. Subverted in that she has killed before (well, she mind-controlled a guy to shoot his boss, but that still counts). She actually violates her orders and uses a gun to kill the target instead of her abilities, possibly as a form of poetic justice, since her parents were shot as well.
In Divine Divinity, you are told by one NPC that orcs don't consider each other real men until their first kill.
In Mass Effect 2, when investigating a murder, Shepard is told by the victim's business partner that the Eclipse mercenaries likely responsible have to make a kill to earn their armor. The merchant is probably referring only to the local group of Eclipse smugglers, since Eclipse operates across the galaxy as a legitimate security firm that prides itself on professionalism.
Also in Mass Effect 2 is the krogan Rite of Adulthood, where an adolescent krogan and any krant he might possess enter an arena and must fight a series of vicious predators, culminating in fighting a Thresher Maw. Killing the Thresher Maw isn't required, merely surviving its attacks for 5 minutes is all that's needed against it. Killing everything else, however, is necessary.
Averted in Eien no Aselia. Yuuto makes it a point to never get used to what he is doing. Another character thinks that this makes him nice and angsty and therefore real protagonist fodder.
In Tsukihime, the plot does not kick off or get truly interesting until the protagonist begins having homicidal impulses. Indeed, without at least one major 'death' racked up in any route, nothing would happen to propel the story or character development.
In Yo-Jin-Bo, Ittosai is a Blood Knight of the most bloodthirsty sort. Following his path reveals that his father trained him ruthlessly from a very early age in the art of swordsmanship and killing, then entered him in a tournament in which the victor was hired to kill a young lord. Ittosai couldn't go through with it because the boy reminded him of his little sister, which enraged his father (who then killed the boy himself).
Ultra Fast Pony features a gender-inverted version, then immediately subverts it. Apple Bloom wonders when she'll get a cutie mark (a symbolic representation of a pony's calling in life, and a major milestone in growing up). Her older sister answers:
Applejack: Oh, you'll get your cutie mark, when you kill your first pony. Or when you do pretty much anything else. The whole system's kinda vague, really.
Drow Tales has a brutal display of the protagonist being ordered to kill a classmate if she wishes to be recognized as a daughter and take her place as heir.
Thomil of Juathuur is considered spineless by other characters (especially Sojueilo) because he is a healer.
Homestuck: The trolls live on a Crapsack World where their worth in society is largely measured by their willingness (and ability) to kill others. (It plays with the trope, however, in that both genders are expected to be violent.) Vriska pretty much gave up on Tavros after he proved himself a coward who would desert a dying [wo]man, lacking the guts to either Mercy Kill her while she was bleeding to death or just plain kill her for crippling and manipulating him. Later, after killing him herself, she realises that not only does she regret it, but it's outright unheard-of among trolls for her to regret it to begin with. Averted partially with Equius, the most blatant example of Testosterone Poisoning in the comic, who happily fights sentient opponents but disapproves of hunting on the grounds that "beasts are to be looked upon with admiration".
Nerf This has just had a character say almost the exact thing:
Taryn's Father: A man's hands aren't meant for hugging. They're meant for killing.
Meta example: a disturbing number of El Goonish Shive fans were openly dissatisfied with Susan's reluctance to kill an Aberration, listing several justifications as to why it was the logical course of action and why a little girl should've had no problem taking a (formerly) human life. There are a lot of sick people on the Internet.
Mildly played with, in that he would presumably have been accepted for a REALLY good robbery, or just something threatening. Only failure at that caused murder to be necessary. Possibly his own. Contrast the first message from Bad Horse:
A heinous crime, a show of force
A murder would be nice of course
with the second
There will be blood, it might be yours,
So go kill someone. Signed, Bad Horse.
A comedic take on this was the topic of an episode of American Dad!. Francine and Steve revere Stan as sexy and awesome (respectively) because he kills people, while Hayley is upset. When it turns out that Stan hasn't killed anyone at all, Francine completely shuts down sexually, Steve openly defies him, and Hayley latches onto him. When Stan finally does get a killnote one of his co-workers, shot by accident when he tried to take out a pedophile, everything Snaps Back to normal.
Averted in the finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, where Aang defeats Fire Lord Ozai without killing him. Some sections of the fanbase were unhappy about this, mainly because the solution that allowed him to do so seemed too out-of-nowhere.
Despite the fact that Negative Continuity pretty much undoes every rite-of-passage he's ever gone through, Bobby Hill on King of the Hill had to kill a deer to become a man. It looked like he wouldn't get a chance, since the limit for hunting licenses had been reached for the year and he would be left behind by his friends who all have a kill of their own (even Kahn JR.), but fortune smiles on him when he accidentally runs a deer over during a driving lesson Hank was giving him.
On the other hand, the roadkill incident may simply be a technicality for Hank, who had already accepted Bobby when he refused to take what they both saw as a cheap shot.
In Moral Orel, Clay took Orel hunting when he thought "it was time." After Orel couldn't shoot a helpless (andadorable) deer, Clay started drinking and ended up killing and eating a hunting dog before accidentally shooting Orel and leaving him to deal with the wound as he went to sleep. Orel was forced to kill a bear to save his horrible father, but when Clay woke up, he lied and told him Clay had killed the bear.
In Rocko's Modern Life, the passage into manhood for the Wolfe family was to bring an elk home for dinner. Heffer, naturally, misunderstands things and ends up bringing home an elk girl he met at a club and fell in love with.
In The Simpsons when Homer is worried that Bart might be gay, he takes him out to kill a deer because that will make a "real" man of him. Of course, it's an unmitigated disaster and Homer, Bart, and Barney end up being rescued by the rest of the family's new gay friend without having to kill anything. On the way to the hunting trip, the men ask Bart whether he's looking forward to it and Bart matter-of-factly comments that he's always considered the idea of a bunch of guys all alone in the woods "kinda gay." Cue awkward expressions and Homer defensively chiding Bart for his 'immature' attitude.
In the South Park episode "Volcano", Stan's Uncle Jimbo takes the boys hunting and is shocked when Stan doesn't want to kill the rabbit he has a chance to shoot. Jimbo is both surprised and disappointed in Stan, and Eric mercilessly teases him for it. Kenny, on the other hand, has no problems either shooting a whole magazine worth of ammo into a deer or drinking the gasoline for the fishing boat, which impresses Jimbo enough to label him a "dirty little bastard". At the end, Stan finally scores a kill — namely that of the friendly Bigfoot-like Scuzzlebutt, who was just being celebrated for saving their lives — and doesn't understand why Jimbo and the others are upset instead of proud. Trying to figure this out leads the kids to eschew hunting and go watch cartoons instead.
On Taz-Mania, Francis X. Bushlad wants to win his manhood (and the right to wear trousers) by killing a Tasmanian devil. Subverted in that Francis doesn't have to do this; there are other and more peaceful ways to attain manhood in his tribe.
His other choices were performing a hostile takeover of a Fortune 500 company or accumulating a stock portfolio with a return of no less than 36% a year.
Prior to the ban on lion-hunting, a Massai boy was to spear a lion as part of his rite-of-passage shortly before his circumcision. Some still do, not that it is actively encouraged anymore.
Though it is referenced in a Star Trek TOS novel in which Uhura spears a robotic lion in a simulated safari as a rite of passage.
Some tribes have to kill a deer or antelope to complete the passage into manhood.
American President Lyndon B. Johnson would require anyone seeking his political favor to join him on his Texas ranch where they would go "hunting" (actually, just sit in a blind while someone drove animals to them). If you wanted him to respect you as a man, you had to kill one.
In recent elections, pretty much every contender for the US presidency has had to have at least one picture of themselves in a blaze orange vest carrying a rifle or shotgun. Barack Obama, notably, is one of the few that hasn't pretended to be a hunter. On the other hand, Teddy Roosevelt (to name just one) was an example of a President who actually was a hunter with no pretence involved, and who moreover numbered dangerous animals like lions among his game.
Perhaps Dick Cheney's hunting accident has changed how Joe Public views politicians with guns.
In urban legend, any number of elite special forces teams (Green Berets, SAS, the Nazi SS, etc.) required as a final test of loyalty that the candidate kill a spouse, family member, or other significant personal relation. In a widely-circulated joke based on this tale, 3 agents are candidates, one has a fiancÚ, one is a newlywed, and one has been married for ten years. The first two candidates chicken out and can't pull the trigger, while the third says "The gun had blanks, so I had to beat her to death."
There's an inversion in one variant: it concerns either the CIA or FBI, and Candidate #3 is a woman who has to kill her husband. Yes, the gun has blanks; yes, she beats him to death.
The more recent version of this is with American troops stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The story will be some version of an Iraqi or Afghan friendly nervously asking an American, usually a Marine, if they killed their wife, child, pet, or someone important. The response to the inevitable 'no' is 'but then how did you become a Marine?' Unlike the above, there's probably some truth to this one, but it's become enough of an urban myth that any specific instance one hears about probably didn't happen.
Japanese military training during WWII and the "China incident" took this to an extreme. Not only was the training extremely brutal, a Japanese soldier was not considered fully trained until he killed a prisoner of war with a sword or bayonet, often while the POWs were immobilized.
In Ancient Greece, Spartan boys were sent out naked with only a single blanket to fend for themselves for a period of time, "living like a werewolf". Stealing and murdering Helots were the main (and traditional) ways to get food and protection against the elements, but any boy actually found killing a Helot was whipped (for being careless enough to get caught). Since the Helots outnumbered the Spartans by more than ten to one, the Spartans regularly killed off a large chunk of the Helot population to keep them in line. Killing wasn't required, only recommended, for the passage into manhood.
In a zig-zag the battle tactic considered most manly by all ancient greeks including Spartans was to simply get into a big mass and walk forward into another similar mass in the assumption that the toughest mass would steamroller the others. In such circumstances no one knew how many(if any) people they personally killed, or even cared much, but you jolly well better stay in the place your officer put you throughout the whole thing.
Just about all mass conscription campaigns feature this trope. For example, during the The American Civil War, both sides tacitly supported campaigns of social humiliation for those who didn't volunteer. A notorious tactic in the Southern states was to leave petticoats on their doorsteps.
Depressingly, this is true in regions that have known mostly war for at least a generation or two, especially in places such as Somalia and Afghanistan, where for many people, war and killing has become the way of life. When children are raised to be fighters in a war that doesn't end, killing is the only skill they bring into adulthood, and it's their most important and readily useful (and often only) skill. These kinds of wars are especially difficult to bring to a close because killing has become a livelihood by which men have come to define their adult lives, and peacetime means being unemployed. The Taliban and Al-Shabab are infamous examples of this, as their fighting force are mostly young men who have known only war for most or all their lives.
Kurt Vonnegut was known to tell the story of how his Uncle Dan came up to him and clapped him on the back after he returned from World War II, proclaiming "You're a man now!" The implication being that the only way for a boy to become a man was to kill people. Although Vonnegut had never had occasion to kill anybody during his military service, he had seen a lot of death and lived through the firebombing of Dresden, which was cited as one of the more horrific scenes from the European Theater. Imagine that you've just gone through the worst, most traumatic experience of your life, and before you've finished dealing with that trauma, somebody comes up to you and congratulates you on it. Yeah, Kurt wanted to kill the guy.
Aversion. While most cultures admire warriors, it is not nearly so common for executioners to be admired. So perhaps "real men kill people and things that are trying to make it difficult for them to be killed."
Special note goes to pre-Revolutionary France, where there were ten or so families that provided the executioners and who all interbred. Why? Because no-one else would associate with them.
Apparently, one reason the Zulu people were so feared in battle was that they had entire regiments of young soldiers who were not allowed to have sex until they'd killed a man.
Some have interpreted that as not being allowed to be married and that fooling around was permitted.
Though amusingly the other interpretation would combine two tropes.
The mining fields of The Wild West, as Mark Twain describes in the autobiographical book 'Roughing It': "... (I)n a new mining district the rough element predominates, and a person is not respected until he has "killed his man." That was the very expression used. If an unknown individual arrived, they did not inquire if he was capable, honest, industrious, but—had he killed his man? If he had not, he gravitated to his natural and proper position, that of a man of small consequence; if he had, the cordiality of his reception was graduated according to the number of his dead. It was tedious work struggling up to a position of influence with bloodless hands; but when a man came with the blood of half a dozen men on his soul, his worth was recognized at once and his acquaintance sought."
Although media coverage, and movies and TV shows, might suggest otherwise, a first kill is not considered a necessary rite of passage for most police officers. Indeed, the vast majority of cops will go through their careers never once having to fire their weapon at a person.
As a matter of fact, a police officer would do well to avoid killing a suspect. It not only prompts an investigation, but can lead to suspension of duty and even dismissal from the job if it's ruled unjustifiable. To say nothing of possible wrongful death lawsuits or psychological trauma. (And, particularly in some parts of the US, one's name being the centre of massive controversy. Indeed, there are many motivating factors in why police officers try to only pull the trigger as a very last resort, such as facing an immediate kill-or-be-killed/kill-or-an-innocent-will-be-killed scenario.
Criminal organizations do not exactly withhold "adult" status to those who haven't killed, but many have their own initiations or special prerogatives for those who have killed.
Along the same lines, there exists a social hierarchy in prisons. People who commit non-violent crimes (burglary, drug offences, white collar crime, etc.) tend to be fairly low-ranking, whereas people who commit violent crimes (assault, gang violence, murder etc.) tend to be a bit more higher ranking. The most respected prisoners tend to be people who have committed violent crimes against authority or government figures, like, say, cop-killers or terrorists. Zig-zagged in that child murderers are regarded as the absolute lowest of the low and usually have to be placed in isolated cells to avoid being killed by other prisoners. Guys who have committed matricide, wife murder or sexual violence are seen as little better. (See, for example, the fate of Jeffrey Dahmer.) Hey, you have to draw the line somewhere, you know.