Awake O Dead, for there can be no rest for ye beneath the earth. Let the splintered bones burrow from the grave pall. Let cold fingers grip time-worn blades, and unseeing eyes survey the fields of slaughter. For your time has come once more. And the dead shall walk.
The undead make great minions. But where are you gonna get your hands on a bunch of Skeletons or zombies? Why not go look up Animate Dead in your Tome of Eldritch Lore (it should be in chapter one, part II, "Exercises for the Aspiring Necromancer", just after "Applied Demonology"), proceed to your local graveyard, and give it a try? So long as you have enough mana, you can do this all night! Of course, easy come, easy go. Chances are that your new minions are low-durability and may even have a short lifespan. Good thing you can just raise the corpses of your slain foes, right?
If you lack the necessary skills, of course, you can always employ someone else to handle the casting for you. But watch out for your opponents to figure out what you're up to - if the caster goes down, there's a good chance the entire army will crumble into dust on the spot.
In short, when a spellcaster of some sort has a spell to create an undead minion out of a corpse (of whatever degree of freshness), that spell is some variety of Animate Dead. The usual output is a skeleton or zombie, though a mummy is another possible result if the corpse in question was embalmed.
Incidentally, this is how traditional ("Type V") zombies are made - a voodoo bokor revives a dead person, who is then under their control.
See also Necromancer, Army of the Dead, Night of the Living Mooks. Not to be confused with Praise Dead.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Devil Gundam can use its nanomachines to animate corpses, turning them into zombies to pilot Death Army mobile suit.
Kagura from InuYasha can use her fan to control corpses.
Done by Gekko Moria in One Piece, who can reanimate zombies by putting shadows of living people inside corpses.
In Naruto, Orochimaru, The Second Hokage, and Kabuto can all reanimate the dead with the same jutsu, with Kabuto performing the largest scale resurrection seen in the series.
In Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja , two powerful fragments of a malevolent Reality Warper re-animate two corpses of his childhood orphanage, who proceed to recruit mutated humans into an army to take over the world.
Nekron from the Green Lantern mythos has the ability to do this by giving Black Lantern Rings to the dead, turning them into an extension of his will while possessing a twisted version of their personalities in life.
Films — Animated
The Horned King's reason for seeking the eponymous Cauldron in The Black Cauldron is because it's a magical Artifact of Doom which can create an undead skeletal army known as the Cauldron Born for the summoner to conquer the world.
The magic system in Warbreaker allows for the animation of anything made from organic material. Animated dead (called Lifeless) are particularly useful, however — ordinary Awakened objects can just be given one command, which they will then fulfill mindlessly, whereas Lifeless can be "programmed" to perform more complex tasks.
In The Prism Pentad the wraiths serving Borys are able to possess statues but also corpses and skeletons, resulting in this trope.
In The Witch Watch re-animation can be used to bring back sentient abominations but it's tricky and it can be easier just to raise your own army of feral abominations. Including undead dogs.
The first lesson to Discworld's student wizards on the topic of Necromancy is contained in Wodelley's Occult Primer, the standard text. "Chapter Seven: Elementary Necromancy" begins, ''First, take thy spade..."
In the modern cutting-edge Unseen University, the Department of Post-Mortem Communication Studies (formerly "Necromancy") employs Charley, a fully animated skeleton, who does the lab technician and odd-job funtions.
In the Laundry Files novels by Charles Stross, creating zombies is relatively simple: take a relatively fresh corpse, summon up a Feeder in the Night, and have it inhabit the corpse's nervous system. (Other varieties can inhabit skeletonized corpses, feeding on the informational echoes of the deceased inhabitant's mind.) Since the Feeders aren't very intelligent and can be bound and programmed, the eponymous budget-conscious occult intelligence agency uses the 'Residual Human Resources' in a variety of roles: nightwatchmen, door guards, shelf-stackers...
Live Action Television
In the episode "Hollywood Babylon" of Supernatural, Walter Dixon controls the vengeful spirits of those who died on a movie set to taken revenge on those who changed his script for the movie.
In Lexx, Divine Assassins such as Kai were created this way. His Divine Shadow had Kai's body decarbonized and animated by protoblood. He's still clinically dead (one reason he and Xev can never consummate a relationship).
The Trope Namer is Dungeons & Dragons. The basic "Animate Dead" spell creates skeletons and zombies. The next spell on that list is "Create Undead", which outputs ghouls, ghasts (advanced ghouls), mummies, and mohrgs (worms that coil in skeletons and control them by contorting around the bones, they look like animated intestines with clawed mandibles.) Then you get Create Greater Undead, which gives you shadows, wraiths, spectres (all varied ghosts), and devourers (sort of high-level ghouls). Those are the core spells, others allow you to awaken entire battlefields (Plague of Undead), designate one undead to lead others (Undead Lieutenant can effectively multiply the amount of undead you control several times over). There's even an EPIC spell that kills an entire army then animates them as undead, although not all of the new undead are under your control.
There's an even nastier epic spell that kills a single creature, then instantly animates it, with only the caster knowing at first. This can be used to infiltrate a group, though as time goes on, it becomes easier to notice ("Say Regdar, you're looking really pale. Have you been getting enough sleep lately?").
In Warhammer, this type of necromancy is a trademark of the VampireCounts and Tomb Kings armies. Necromancers/Liche Priests are vital for holding the undead armies together, and can use their magic to replenish the ranks of their forces with freshly raised dead. They can even conjure skeletal or zombie units out of nowhere to surprise their foes. Sieges get tricky when skeletons are sprouting in your courtyard like daisies...
The "Zombie" and "Mass Zombie" spells in GURPS can be used to create any sort of undead. Stronger undead (mummies) take more energy than weaker ones (skeletons) and often require special preparation.
The Fantasy World of Yrth has the nation of Abydos. Zombies do the routine and repetitive work, which makes farming really creepy. Nobody minds much because their version of Christianity considers necromancy to be holy (BTW their neighbors think they are heretics).
Although a Necron Lord can only animate other Necrons, not the corpses of enemies.
Oh so many ways in both old and new World of Darkness:
A few bloodlines in Vampire: The Requiem — such as the Burukamin, who originate from the Japanese underclasses that deal with "unclean" jobs such as funeral duties, and the Sangiovanni, who are justfuckedup — have bloodline-exclusive Disciplines that allow them to reanimate the dead as servitors. The Lancea Sanctum also have a Theban ritual called the Gift of Lazarus that allows them to create a sentient undead servitor that's perfectly aware of its condition and wants to go back to being dead, but is still beholden to the person that raised it.
Geist The Sin Eaters has a Ceremony that allows for the reanimation of corpses, as well as some interesting uses of the Marionette Manifestation.
Exalted has several of these. At the low end there is the thaumaturgical discipline known as Arts of the Dead, which allows familiar with it to raise a dead body as a zombie, which costs quite a bit and only lasts a few days. Midnight Caste Abyssal Exalted have the particular ability to animate any number of bodies with a simple touch. And then there is proper Necromancy, which ranges from 'animate a horde of zombies' to 'animate necromantic warmachine' to 'summon the souls of a dead Titan'... Even the Lunar Exalted get in on the fun, animating corpses using parasitic worms in a technique known as Wasp of the Labyrinth.
Also the Mask of Undeath, technically. It lets its user live after they've been killed, but only 'till they finish their task at hand. Then they die.
In Warcraft 3, Scourge Necromancers can raise Skeleton Warriors from corpses, and the Graveyard is a building which produces an infinite number of corpses. Thus the only limiting factor is mana. Inexplicably, one corpse of any unit type produces two humanoid skeletons with swords.
Similarly, Warcraft 2 has Raise Dead, which produces a single humanoid skeleton warrior with a sword.
Warcraft 3 also features the Avatar of Vengeance, which spams a shorter-duration Animate Dead spell while not being squishy at all.
The Death Knight, a Scourge hero unit in Warcraft 3, has as his Ultimate move "Animate Dead" which raises up to six nearby dead units to fight for the Death Knight for forty seconds. One update made them invulnerable for the duration.
Death Knights in World of Warcraft have several spells that allow them to raise undead Ghouls from corpses. The basic raise dead spell creates an NPC Ghoul that will follow the player around and attack his target (there's a talent that will turn it into a permanent pet under the player's control), raise ally raises a dead group/raid member as a Ghoul they have control over. And the army of the dead summons about 20 Ghouls at once (although they're individually weaker than the ones summoned through raise dead).
The website for Diablo III gives an interesting justification: instead of animating individual skeletons (which might be damaged, too small, etc.), skeletons are actually amalgamated bone dust and dirt, held together by the magician.
In Heroes of Might and Magic 3, the Necromancy skill raises a percent of the (non-undead) casualties from each successful battle as skeletons (or, in the case of dragon casualties, Bone Dragons). There is also a structure in the Necropolis (Necromancer/Undead City) that allows you to do this with 100% efficiency using your owntroops. Heroes 2 also had the Necromancy skill (it was the first game in the series with skills and the first game with Necromancer-type heroes), though it lacked the aforementioned 'Skeleton Transformer' (but on the other hand, the Price of Loyalty expansion introduced a buildable building that raised the efficiency of necromancy for all your heroes by a set percentage). Additionally, the RPGs of the HOMM 2-4 period featured an Animate Dead spell, which resurrected the target corpse as a friend of the caster.
This is how the undead other than death knights and possibly ghouls are created in Battle for Wesnoth.
City of Villains has the Necromancy power set for Masterminds, which allows the player to summon up to three zombies, two grave knights (armored zombies with broadswords and some dark powers), a ghost, and a lich. Also, there's Mr. Bokor in Port Oakes who gives you a temporary power that lets you summon a zombie to fight for you.
In Dragon Age: Origins, there's a literal Animate Dead spell. It raises the corpse of a single humanoid dead foe (e.g., the Darkspawn counts, bears do not) as a skeleton the same class of the corpse, armed with the same weapons, and lasts until it's dead, or you deactivate the spell, or you travel to another area.
In Fable II, a Hero can summon the spirits of the dead to fight for him for a short time with the Raise Dead ability. These are not skeletons or zombies, but literal spirits. Shades can be summoned from thin air, but the spirits that come from the corpses of slain foes are stronger and more durable. Eventually, however, the spirits disappear.
In Sacrifice, the spell "Animate Dead" is available to your wizard if they serve Charnel.
Paladins from the Clonkfan-mod Metal and Magic can do this. They create ghosts or skeletons, depending on which god they serve.
Clive Barker's Undying has the Invoke spell, which raises dead enemies to fight on your side for a little while. It also insta-kills skeletons and, if cast upon the Trsanti warriors, will cause them to commit suicide, though not the female Trsanti for some reason. A journal written by a Trsanti witch specifically calls out the tribe's men for their weak-mindedness.
What makes Shadow Warrior's Necromancers so much of a threat is that they can resurrect chunky salsa enemies. That's right: you can slice 'em, dice 'em, bake them, marinate 'em, zest 'em, and even harvest their spirit's life force, and they'll STILL COME BACK. They also summon demonic skeletons, but those are MUCH less of a threat and more of an opportunity if you have the right skills.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim features an entire spell tree, Conjuring, that involves necromancy (animating the dead, stealing their souls, summoning demons, etc.) which allows your character and some necromancer enemies to resurrect the dead as slaves to the being that resurrected them. The regular version has a bunch of drawbacks but can save your life when dealing with one badass army and a lot of dead meatshields; you can only have 1-2 dominated dead allies at a time (two if you master the 'twin souls' conjuring skill, and Serana the vampire doesn't count), the resurrected enemy is either too dominated to speak like they were alive or soulless and completely silent (no convincing people that the guy you murdered was fully resurrected), and if they die the spells break apart and the corpse turns to ash. Get the fully mastered spell though, Dead Thrall, and you can keep resurrecting the same corpse over and over and over! You can do this on almost any now-dead being, even the Emperor!
In Adult Swim's Viva Caligula, Caligula may resurrect the skeletons of his slain citizens foes to go forth and destroy.
In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, the appropriately named Necromancer commits crimes using freshly animated corpses that he usually steals from the local morgue (he finds bodies taken from graves to just be too "icky" to use). Despite the name, his powers come from a mutation and not from magic. And he strenuously objects when anyone suggests that he's ever killed anyone, because he hasn't. Ever.