As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
In Fullmetal Alchemist, human transmutation — trying to bring back dead people through Alchemy — is forbidden. The whole series is kicked off when the protagonists try to bring someone back and have a close encounter with Truth as a result. The end result: Truth takes Al, and Ed's leg, in payment for returning a barely functional organ pile (which, as it turns out, wasn't even derived from the deceased - bringing people back from the dead really is impossible). Things taken by Truth do not count as 'dead', however, and Ed is able to retrieve Al's soul by sacrificing his arm for it.
It gets a bit more complicated. Al wasn't just "payment". Al's body was taken by Truth, but since a soul cannot be created with alchemy, Al's soul was put into the thing that was created. The transmutation that took Ed's arm was used to transfer the soul into a more stable host, the armor.
The series eventually ends with Ed learning what it'll take to bring an entire human back out from the other side: his ability to perform Alchemy — his own internal connection to Truth.
The 2003 anime version further compounds this: Each time an alchemist performs human transmutation, what comes back evolves into a Homunculus - the deceased brought back by human transmutation, just... not totally themselves. Also, Alphonse managed to bring back Edward, who had just been killed by Envy, back from the dead using himself as the philosopher's stone. Ed managed to bring Alphonse back using himself and ended up in our world instead of dead while Alphonse was brought back with his human body... It can be said that the whole 2003 anime is Ed and Al learned exactly what level of Equivalent Exchange is required to return life to the dead - an exchange of body, mind and soul, a full human being for a full human being.
This is the general rule for CLAMP series, even in a world like Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle where you have otherwise massively powerful magic at work. (In fact, the denizens of that world attempting to break said rule is what kicks off the massive Gambit Pileup that we're just starting to get a peek at now.)
This is one rule that CLAMP has set in stone, actually, and the breaking of it during the Tsubasa Non-Serial Movie was a factor in their abandonment of the original anime adaptation.
Of course, it really comes down to the wording. No coming back from the dead, but having your Reality Warper boyfriend convince the universe to ignore your death and proceed normally achieves a similar effect, if only temporarily (a thousand years, give or take). Just ask Yuuko.
Naruto has generally followed this line of thought. When a character has been shown to really and truly die, they stay dead. When they don't, it was usually a blatant fake-out of some kind.
The cost is arguable, as a person who was already exhausted could revive a large number of people. And it's even cheaper to revive a person as a zombie, apparently with their thoughts and memories intact, though without an independent will, as done by Orochimaru. Note that the Zombie method requires you to KILL someone. That is, one death for every person you bring back as a zombie.
And even then, those who are brought back as a zombie aren't truly "alive." They're dependent on the chakra reserves of the caster of the technique, and when dispelled return to the land of the dead. Hence, they're called zombies since their existences are not permanent — meaning, unless somebody uses the Rinnegan to revive them, they are still technically dead.
In Toward the Terra, the Mu can read thoughts, perform astonishing feats of telekinesis, fly through space unaided, teleport, and do all manner of fantastical mutant stuff. But once a character is dead, they are dead.
One of the rules in Death Note. In the end of the manga, while Light is begging Ryuk to save him from death, Ryuk says that there is no way to do it. The last page (as a follow-up to a previous statement) says, "Once they are dead they can never come back to life."
Technically, this holds true in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Returning a soul to a body is said to be impossible. But screwing with the space-time continuum so they never died in the first place is fine, if difficult.
Digimon Tamers, being a Deconstruction of the previous Digimon series, works this way. There is no village where data forms in eggs, loose data won't sometimes coalesce into ghosts, and absorbing another Digimon's data only makes you stronger (and, in some cases, gives you access to their attacks) and doesn't allow the previous mon to live on inside you. So when Digimon die, they die for good.
Digimon Savers has a variation. Though Digimon effectively turn back into eggs immediately upon dying, they are reborn as new people without any knowledge of their former lives. The only exception seems to exist with partner digimon who have a strong connection with their humans. However, a straight example exists in the victims of Kurata's Gizmon, artificial digimon whose beams cause their victims to be permanently deleted when struck by them.
While Miranda Lotto's Innocence power in D.Gray-Man allows her to turn back time (which doubles as a healing ability as she can turn back time on recent injuries,) she can't use it to bring back the dead. Not that the revived person would stay alive for long if she could, as everything returns to normal after she deactivates it (she can, however, keep a person alive after they suffer a fatal injury in the meantime.)
The Big Bad of the original anime seeks to avert this trope. Whether she actually had any chance of success is unclear, but the method she was trying to use was something the heroes had to stop because it ran the risk of causing severe multiversal damage just to maybe bring back one person. Precia was too crazy to care about the risk.
Player deaths are permanent in Sword Art Online, which is about MMO gamers trpped in the game. Later an item is found that can revive someone, but it only has a ten second window between character death and player death.
Stands have incredible power in Jojos Bizarre Adventure, but one hard rule is that they cannot raise the dead. They can cure wounds so grievous it's amazing there's anything left to cure, and they can bring you back from the very brink of death. But once the soul departs, there is not and never will be a Stand that can undo this. The closest they can get is turning back time to undo the death in the first plac, and even the extremely rare Stand with that power has massive limitations to what it can do.
PS238 followed this trope, until it brought a Mostly Dead character back to life. Canonically, the extremely rare ability to restore the dead marks someone as a "Messiah" class healer, which causes all kinds of ethical problems.
When Joe Quesada took over as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, he instituted a "Dead means dead" policy. It didn't last very long because, by his own admission, it was like closing the gate after all the horses have already escaped. And one of his first acts was to try to retcon Gwen Stacy back into Spiderman, before the writer rebelled.
The Ultimate Marvel universe has the same "Dead means Dead" rule as the normal one does, only this one sticks to the rule. Every hero and villain that has been killed off, stays dead. The only exceptions are:
Valkryie. She was actually revived by Thor, but got killed again by Loki right after her resurrection, So she got officially retgonned.
Gwen Stacy. Her clone was created, with the DNA and all exact memories as the real Gwen Stacy, so she's kinda the real Gwen brought back to life. But in all honesty, when you think about it, she's still really dead, as her original persona which was killed by Carnage, didn't actually come back, only a clone did. So, everyone just really forgot about the real Gwen since the new one took her place. What a bunch of jerks.
Depending on how souls work in Ultimate Marvel, from a certain point of view it could be seen as Carnage absorbing Gwen rather than killing her, seeing as Carnage became the "clone" in question.
The whole point of the Hellblazer story Son of Man.
Magic in Inheritance Cycle works like this, draining a fatal amount of energy from whoever attempts it. It's brought up in Inheritance that you can physically resurrect a dead person, but there is no way to restore their mind, so everyone considers it better to leave them in the ground to avoid certain issues.
Belgariad mentions this as a specific restriction of the Gods; they are not permitted to undo death (even though it's within their power) at the risk of setting off another universal catastrophe. Belgarion, however, is specifically permitted to accomplish this twice: once with a stillborn horse (who becomes important to the plot of The Malloreon), and at the very end with Durnik, fulfilling the prophecy that he would live twice. In the first case, he resurrected Horse in the place of the Gods, and in the second he needed the assistance of the Orb of Aldur and the Gods as well. Also in both cases, the deceased came back with special powers.
The book Fire Sea of The Death Gate Cycle has a few. The Sartan have begun using necromancy to raise the dead, but the raised dead are not very smart and can do only simple tasks. This ritual can only be done after waiting at least three days after death, for the soul to have time to leave. If the ritual is performed before then, the soul is trapped and a lazar is created. They retain their intelligence but are trapped between life and death and must suffer endless pain and torment. And if those aren't enough reasons to just say no, it's discovered that whenever you bring someone back to life, someone else in the universe dies.
The Wheel of Time: While many things can be Healed with the One Power, death is considered final. Other ailments once considered unhealable have since been Healed, but the series goes out of its way to establish a finality with regards to death. There are a few loopholes that can be abused, but none of them are practical:
All dead souls are eventually reborn as the Wheel of Time spins them out into the Pattern again; this is on a metaphysical level, however, and, a handful exceptions aside, is a largely academical distinction.
Balefire erases someone retroactively, causing their actions to have never happened during the time spanned. The strength of the balefire weave affects how far back someone is erased; if timed right, and strong enough, it can prevent the death of someone who died at the hands of the erased person. Mat, Aviendha and a large part of the Aiel force invading Caemlyn are restored to life by balefire stretching back half an hour.
The Dark One can reincarnate people who died, but another body is needed, the procedure is only possible for a very short time after someone dies, and balefire in anything but very small amounts will render the operation impossible. As The Dark One is the Big Bad of the series, this is reserved for the Forsaken - his strongest underlings - and is considered an undesirable way of returning to life.
In the Shannara franchise, characters can be healed from the brink of death. They can survive crippling wounds that would kill a normal person. There are loads of cases of Never Found the Body. But if you actually die? That's all you get. You might come back as a Shade, but even then you're an immaterial ghost who can spend a maximum of a few minutes in the world of the living before returning to the land of the dead. Coming back really doesn't appear to be an option.
In The Dresden Files, there doesn't even seem to be much in the way of healing magic. Any injury to a character is regarded as threatening as it would be in a non-magical genre, and anyone who dies stays that way, though their ghost might cause some trouble. Necromancy provides an alternative approach, though not a very pretty one. It's also shown that the Queens of The Fair Folk can reconstruct damaged bodies, and some similarly powered beings can probably do so as well, but none have ever brought someone back to life.
Harry was thought to be dead during the events of Ghost Story, but it turned out to be Double Subverted, as while he was dead enough to visit the afterlife, he wasn't "Dead" dead. His body was being kept alive by multiple supernatural beings, waiting for him to return.
Live Action TV
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Despite the numerous times things come back from the dead in Angel, in this show, very rarely can magic bring those who died of mundane things back from the dead, as in the cases of Tara and Joyce. After all, the vase that brought back Buffy was the only one in the world, and it was destroyed.
There's also still a terrible price to be paid as it is revealed later that bringing Buffy back destabilized the magic of the Slayer line, leaving it vulnerable to being completely wiped out forever. Zombification seems to be a relatively easy magical process though (several novices pull if off multiple times). Necromancers are the one real exception, as their mastery of death allows them to come back from fatal wounds. And one alternative that was never explored or brought up was bringing someone back as an undead being (zombie, cyborg, etc.) and using the Ensouling Spell on them.
Ben: I've seen this Island do miraculous things, I've seen it heal the sick. But I've never, ever seen anyone come back to life. Dead is Dead. You don't get to come back from that. Not even here.
So when John Locke is seemingly resurrected, Ben is promptly horrified. Turns out he was being used as a Living Bodysuit all along. Sayid Jarrah is also seemingly brought back from the dead, but him being seemingly dead could be just a delayed effect from healing by the Temple pool, which was tempted with by the Big Bad.
Once Upon a Time: Three different magical characters have said that they can't bring back the dead: the Blue Fairy, Rumplestiltskin, and the Genie have all said it's impossible for them.
Destroy The Godmodder uses this to a certain extent. Supposedly despite the fact that you can summon just about anything, you are not allowed to bring back old summons. It usually gets enforced by merely severely weakening the object or just saying no outright, but can sometimes be averted if the summon is different enough from the old one.
By the rules of magic in Shadowrun, resurrection is impossible. Averted in the 2007 Xbox 360/PC game for gameplay reasons.
There are very, very few ways to resurrect someone as they were pre-mortem in The World Of Darkness and all have huge risks involved, slim chances of success and a high chance of coming back wrong or driving the person insane. Oh and they're held by groups or societies who are unlikely to share them out, and may try to kill you just for knowing about them.
In Ars Magica Raising the dead (in a manner other than the classic zombie) is a boundary that Hermetic magic can not overcome. The closest thing is a costly ritual that gives the dead body a simulated life. And in the best it dissolves into a puddle or becomes a shadow without a will (The spell name is The Shadow of Life). At worst a demon possesses the body or the creature becomes a psychopathic murderer who hates the living.
Timemaster: If you are a time-traveler, your death cannot be prevented by time travel. This even applies to temporally-displaced people; one published adventure included a chapter where a general and several soldiers from The American Civil War wound up on a dangerous alternate world/timeline. Normally, if they died, the PCs could alter events to save the soldiers. But since they aren't in their native time, should they die in that chapter the death is specifically noted to be permanent.
Alternity's Gamemaster's Guide notes: "No game mechanic exists for restoring life to the dead." It then goes on to note the First Lawof Resurrection, and the consequences thereof.
Most Rogue Like games. If any character dies, including the one you're controlling, they're gone forever. While there are typically magic items of resurrection, they usually take place right after "death", making them more of a saving throw.
Some Roguelike games (most notably, the Diablo series) also include a feature called "Hardcore Mode" that prevents any kind of resurrection. When a Player Character dies, that's it; they can't be brought back, and their save file can no longer be played.
The first Fire Emblem game and the remakes give you a staff that can bring back one slain party member. As of the remake, most players use it to perform the Tiki/Falchion Bonus Chapter trick. The second game was much more lax, having springs on the map that revived characters, but they had limited uses. The fourth game also has a one use staff (that can be repaired for a very hefty price) that revived the dead. In the rest of the games, ignoring Casual Mode, deaths are final.
In the Dragon Age series, this is one of the cardinal rules of magic. Even bringing someone back from the brink of death can be problematic. There are walking corpses and other zombies, but these are usually just dead bodies possessed by demons (which is why the Chantry advocates cremation). There have been two cases when the (very) recently killed people were brought back: Wynne and Evangeline de Brassard in Dragon Age: Asunder, but in both cases, it was the work of a very powerful spirit, who may or may not be The Maker himself, and the end result is more akin to Living on Borrowed Time: the moment said spirit leaves the resurrected body, the person dies for good.
Despite Pillars of Eternity being a high-magic setting, there is no spell that can resurrect the dead so any companions who die are dead for good (the setting does have magic that binds the soul to the body in such a way that the person doesn't exactly die, but this has major drawbacks, and ultimately leads to being a mindless soul endlessly bound to a pile of bonedust, so it isn't exactly something you'd want to have done to you if you know the price). However, reincarnation happens naturally to everyone.
This is the case for Danganronpa, despite the high level of technology shown. As a murder mystery series, expect the bodies to pile up fast.
The Final Fantasy games usually have this. K Os can be cured with phoenix downs and magic, but death cannot be cured by anything, as shown in the fifth game.
In Pokémon, there are admittedly few cases of this actually happening, but the fans and players came up with a challenge called the Nuzlocke Challenge. Basically, every pokemon who faints, you must release it into the wild, even if it's your starter. The reason being because this pokemon is "dead." That shiny pokemon you're so attached to faints of poison? It's dead, Jim.
One Chance goes beyond the normal definition and tries to prevent the player from even restarting the game.
Playing any of the X-COM series of games on the Ironman setting effectively turns the game into this. You do not get to save or load data. The game restricts you to one save file per game and automatically autosaves after every turn and every time you exit to the menu. Any mistakes, deaths, and losses are effectively set in stone. Lost an elite psionic Super Soldier to a random lucky alien grenade? Too bad, commander, he's dead and gone, no do-overs. You'll have to try and train another.
Black Belt in 8-Bit Theater. This came up to such a point that when asked by the fanbase why White Mage didn't cast revive on him, Brian Clevinger responded by making a comic in where White Mage attempted to revive Black Belt. Her efforts were a miserable failure.
Errant Story touches on this in a particularly humorous fashion.
The world of Dominic Deegan doesn't have any way to resurrect the dead. In the Maltak arc, Necromancer Jacob Deegan claims that, with a little research into some Orc magic, he'll be able to pull it off (though other comics heavily imply he's lying). Thus far, the only ways to "cheat" this are as an Obi-Wan-style spirit advisor (Klo Tark), and by becoming a demon (Siegfried), neither of which are really preferable as you're still dead. Necromancers are the one real exception, as their mastery of death allows them to come back from fatal wounds, but this could be seen as a way to cheat death, rather than revert it.
In Shadownova death is commonplace, usually quite painful and always permanent.
At the start of the third incarnation of Road Waffles, the author warns the main character that Anyone Can Die at any time, and no one will come back, killing some talking birds to make the point. True to his word, she dies anticlimactically about two-thirds of the way into the strip, trying (and failing) to save her original Foil while the rest of the cast regroups.
This is the case in Drowtales. Getting killed or possessed by a demon is both fatal - in the latter case the demon may retain some of the memories or personality of the body. Bodies can be reanimated, but as one character lampshades, it's just an empty shell with golem technology. Exceptions exist to some degree - one secondary character cheated death via magic, and a major plot character may be entirely resurrected.
The Genie in Aladdin lists trying to bring back the dead as one of the three things he can't - or won't - do. He implies that he can make someone Come Back Wrong ("it's not a pretty picture: I don't like doing it!"), although he may have just been joking.
An Egyptian man in the Gargoyles episode "Grief" enlists the help of The Pack (minus Dingo) in a bid to summon Anubis to bring back his deceased son, who had been killed in a car accident two years prior. It takes absorbing Anubis and becoming an avatar of death for him to learn that this cannot be done, and so he performs a Heroic Sacrifice in order to save all present from the collapsing tomb; it's implied that he didn't survive.
Goliath: If there's any justice in this world or the next, he's with his son, now.
Subverted in the finale movie - after dying in the last episode, Megatron is resurrected by Unicron. He survives even after Unicron's essence is removed, but Redemption Earns Life and he leaves for parts unknown. Optimus ends the series by giving up his life to fully restore Cybertron, so it's unlikely he'll be back.
A rare case of this applying to Time Travel; in Code Lyoko, if someone dies, changing the events leading to that death will not save them. That said, no one ever dies in a manner time travel could have prevented, so it's unclear what would happen if they'd tried.
Needless to say, this is how all deaths in real life work. Since humankind's genesis it's been debated what (if anything) happens afterwards, but there are no verified cases of people returning from the dead. The only exception is people who 'died' only temporarily, but were almost immediately revived. As medical techniques improve, the point at which someone is even considered "dead" changes — once upon a time, successfully administering CPR would have been akin to necromancy.