The symbolic equivalent of Arc Words or an Arc Number. A picture or symbol appears multiple times and places over the course of a Story Arc. No explanation is given for the symbol until well after the eagle-eyed fans have noticed it and started debating its meaning. These often either serve as Foreshadowing, or tie into the theme of the story. Note that this is distinct from Sigil Spam, which is about organizations who put their symbol on everything they possibly can. But it is possible for the two tropes to overlap: If a symbol that has been appearing everywhere since the first episode is revealed in the season finale to be the symbol of the Ancient Conspiracy that secretly rules the world, then it's an Arc Symbol and Sigil Spam.
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Anime and Manga
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has the Laughing Man Symbol.
- The Eye of Wdjat symbol (not quite the Eye of Horus) on Yu-Gi-Oh!. Appears on all the Millenium Items except the Key, and on people's foreheads when they are wielding or being controlled by the Items' magic. It also crops up on artifacts that are connected to the secret of the Pharaoh's past. It is defictionalized in a couple of the cards, where it is finally named.
- The symbol of Infinity in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's for the Yliaster arc. It's the very first shot in that arc's first episode (which is revealed to have been made by a monument and its reflection in the water), it appears whenever the Three Emperors summon one of their ace cards, and the circuit they need to complete to summon the Ark Cradle is in the shape of that symbol.
- SEELE's logo is a mix of Sigil Spam and this trope. It turns out that their logo is the face of Lilith, the Second Angel.
- Gurren Lagann. Spirals.
- Uzumaki has spirals in a way entirely dissimilar to the above.
- The seemingly omnipresent penguin-head logo in Mawaru-Penguindrum, which appears on several objects such as a Kanba's backpack, the back of a skunk, and the memory-erasing slingshots that Masako uses.
- Episode 26 of Yu Gi Oh ZEXAL introduces new main antagonists known as the Tron Family who possess "crests" on parts of their bodies. Thirty episodes later, we still don't know what the heck their symbols mean!
- In Last Exile, a vaguely peanut-like shape starts to appear more and more in various places over the course of the series. Then comes the last episode...
- Turtles in K-On!
- Bleach: The cross is associated mostly with Quincies. While their five-pointed cross is an example of Sigil Spam, the Latin cross can often be found inserted in some subtle, or not so subtle way, in any chapter that contains anything relevant to Quincies. One of the author's favourite tactics is to have cross-shaped window frames, especially in the hospital scenes featuring Quincy-in-denial Ryuuken Ishida, where he'll often be shadowed by or beside a cross-shaped window (he also possesses ties that contain little Latin cross patterns on them). It can even be found as far back as Chapter 1, as the blanket pattern on Ichigo's bed. The fandom joked for years that the bedspread meant Ichigo was secretly a Quincy... then the final arc revealed Ichigo really is half-Quincy, after all.
- Dolls are a recurring symbol/motif for Asuka in Neon Genesis Evangelion. She calls Shinji & Rei "dolls" who make no decisions of their own. Asuka's mother was clutching a doll when she killed herself.
- Kill la Kill: Four-pointed stars are everywhere. They are used as rank symbols on Goku uniforms, sparkle in the air when Life Fiber powers are activated, appear as scars on Kiryuin Ragyo's back...
- In Tokyo Ghoul, random shots of Creepy Centipedes begin to appear in the series during the Aogiri Arc. Then Yamori sticks one in Kaneki's ear while torturing him, which remains there until his eventual escape. After the Time Skip, Kaneki has started wearing an Eyepatch of Power decorated with a centipede pattern and his incomplete Kakuja form resembles one, causing CCG to assign him the alias "Centipede".
- The bloodstained smiley face and doomsday clock in Watchmen.
- In 52, the number 52 itself is used constantly as references to the main plot. It's an Arc Number, but also symbols and concepts associated with 52 (such as card decks) are used.
- The Sigil in CrossGen comics' Myth Arc.
- The X symbol for the X-Men.
- Luther Arkwright: The five-armed spiral in Heart of Empire.
- Doors in The Multiversity. Among other things, comic book pages are called "doors" and turning a page is compared to opening a door.
Film - Animated
- The reflections in Mulan.
- The kingdom's sun insignia in Tangled. Finding it hidden in her artwork is what leads Rapunzel to realize she's really the long-lost princess.
- Lord Shen's stylized sun symbol that haunts Po, as well as the yin-yang symbol that haunts Lord Shen in Kung Fu Panda 2.
- In Frozen, doors (open and closed). To a lesser extent, gloves.
- Medals in Wreck-It Ralph.
- Fire and light in The Croods
- Hands are frequently shown and discussed in The LEGO Movie which coincides with its themes such as "you can build anything if you believe you can" and "coexisting makes the world around you a better place".
Film - Live Action
- The standard of two snake heads facing each other in The Movie of Conan the Barbarian.
- The Natural has lightning. It splits the tree open at the beginning of the film, is carved into the bat "Wonderboy," strikes before Roy knocks the cover off the ball in his first at bat, appears on a patch that the Knights wear, and again strikes before Roy hits a pennant-winning home run
- The film Im Juli revolves around a Sun symbol.
- Joe Versus The Volcano features a distinctive jagged line that appears several times during the movie. His company's logo, the entrance to the factory, a crack in a wall, a lightning bolt, and a path up the volcano from the title.
- The eye of the jungle Amy draws in Congo.
- The Kryptonian "S" in Man of Steel.
- The silhouette of a tree in Gone with the Wind.
- The X-Men franchise features many instances of X symbols.
- Books in Liberal Arts
- Balconies in Letters to Juliet
- The color blue in (500) Days of Summer
- Being a film about a man who only has one day to live, clocks and time are frequently shown and discussed in The Living Wake.
- Clocks are also a recurring motif in High Noon as it counts down to the final showdown.
- Blood in Carrie represents power as well as violence and death.
- Keith Roberts' Pavane stories, later assembled into a novel, are all linked by a symbol (designed, of course, by Roberts, who was an artist as well as an author). The symbol depicts two pairs of arrows, one converging and one diverging, within a circle.
- Mark S. Geston's Lords of the Starship has frequent mentions (though no depictions) of a mailed fist and pegasus insignia worn by various enigmatic characters (actually the same immortal man in different guises) who drive the plot over the course of a century and a half.
- The Wheel of Time series has a lot, including the Dragon's Fang and the Flame of Tar Valon.
- The dwarf rune of The Summoning Dark in Thud!.
- Harry Potter: The line-in-a-circle-in-a-triangle symbol recurs in the last book, as it symbolizes the Deathly Hallows.
- Which is not really an Arc Symbol, until you remember that it is mentioned once in the previous book.
- The Trystero post horn in The Crying of Lot 49.
- Brave Story boasts a star-shaped sigil which is found on various locations all over the world of Vision — which, when used in harmony with a certain magical mirror, creates a portal between Vision and the real world.
- The Hunger Games has Katniss' mockingjay pin, which becomes a symbol of La Résistance and serves as the cover for the first book.
- Clear Light of Day, by Anita Desai, has hands EVERYWHERE.
- Deltora Quest has the Resistance logo (a V with short diagonal lines extending down from the tips, forming a partial M). On a more sinister note, there's the Shadow Lord's Brand (a black handprint inside a circle with a hole in the palm), which he is fond of spamming.
- Hours: the symbol drawn next to the first Finn's name keeps cropping up in odd places.
Live Action TV
- The Dharma logo in Lost
- Heroes has the eclipse, everything from a real one to an illustration by Isaac. Another is the RNA symbol, a single helix with half of some base pairs coming off of it. This is also used as the symbol for Takezo Kensei, as it is stated to be the characters for "god send".
- The Blue Sun logo in Firefly was going to be this until the series was so rudely interrupted.
- The Cracks in the Universe in series 5 of the revived Doctor Who appear at least Once an Episode. Notably, they have the exact same shape every time they appear. As is usually the case with the show, the most recognisable feature of the season again acts as foreshadowing.
- The Eye of Rambaldi in Alias.
- The tattoos in Twin Peaks.
- How I Met Your Mother:
- The yellow umbrella is a subversion — we already know that the umbrella signifies the mother, but Ted doesn't.
- The blue french horn signifies Ted and Robin's relationship
- Allusions to the Round Table turn up repeatedly throughout Merlin, (usually people gathering in a circle around Arthur, or Arthur making a speech on equality, or heck, even Uther's rectangular dinner table makes the round one conspicious by its absence) though four series in and it still hasn't shown up for real.
- It finally does show up in Series 5, highlighting Arthur's reign.
- The mysterious signal in the White Bear episode of Black Mirror that appeared on every screen across the world and transformed people into "Observers"; people who stand by and watch everything while those not affected run rampant. Turns out it's a replica of the lead's boyfriend's tattoo.
- Butterfly motifs and the stylized Zetrov "Z" in Nikita.
- The winged fish appears throughout Orphan Black - on the handle of Helena's knife and Thomas' ring, branded onto the back of Maggie Chen's neck, and on Mark's belt buckle.
- The three dots in The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Discussed/lampshaded/subverted: the symbol is so simple that some characters question whether it's actually a symbol, or whether Sarah's obsession with it is a sign of Sanity Slippage. The fact that it was first found in a Room Full of Crazy doesn't help.
- In Hannibal the Ravenstag - a deer with feathers instead of fur - shows up a lot in Will Grahams visions and hallucinations. A statue of one also appears in Hannibal Lecter's office. As becomes apparent over the course of the series the Ravenstag is Will's subconscious suspicion of Hannibal's true nature. As Will becomes more aware the Ravenstag turns into a humanoid figure with stag antlers referred to by Bryan Fuller as the Wendigo, which he finally sees standing in Hannibal's place, showing he's realized the truth.
- The strange symbol of Tempest in ''Arrow turned out to be a map of the Glades.
- True Detective: Spirals and naked women with horns are recurring symbols in a series of murders.
- Alien glyphs in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: they first appear in episode 4, "Eye Spy", written on a blackboard in a guarded room in the Todorov building, long before Garrett (and Coulson) starts scrawling them as a symptom of GH-325 induced hypergraphia.
- In America Unearthed: The appearance of the Hooked X, Cross of Lorraine or Freemason square and compass.
- The rotating red circles in Escape of the Witch, Salmhofer, representing Hansel and Gretel, the "red fruits".
- The Three Virtues of BIONICLE
- Eventually revealed to be a map of the remains of Sphereus Magna - Bara Magna and its two moons Bota Magna and Aqua Magna.
- The reversed peace sign in Deadly Premonition. It's actually the sign of the Red Tree.
- The symbol of the vault in Borderlands.
- Each gun, shield, and grenade brand has it's own symbol, but Hyperion's italicized H is the most important to the plot
- White petals in Metal Gear Solid, from the third game onward. They're primarily associated with The Boss, but the motif also represents death and the loss of innocence (when the petals turn red).
- The stone knife in Fallen London, particularly in the "What the Thunder Said" storyline. Also candles and mirrors.
- Albion has the Eye of the Goddess symbol that turns out on rock faces in different places on different continents. No-one knows what it is until you meet the Enlightened Ones and they reveal it marks their secret teleporter caves, which Harriet can open for you.
- Potatoes in Portal 2.
- As well as the moon.
- The Yatagarasu logo in Ace Attorney Investigations.
- The bulldog logo crops up very often in Mirror's Edge, until Faith discovers that it belongs to the private security company Pirandello Kruger, one of the conspirators in Project Icarus.
- The One-winged Eagle in Umineko no Naku Koro ni.
- The Tanooki tail is a recurring feature in Super Mario 3D Land.
- The Artifact symbol in the first Metroid Prime game, symbolizing the twelve artifacts that must be found to access the Impact Crater, though also appearing prominently throughout the rest of the game.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, the player can find images of the American flag painted in red, white or blue colors in many areas across the first three DLC packs. It is hinted, and confirmed in the fourth DLC, that the flag is the image of Ulysses, the Bigger Bad waiting for you in The Divide, and the flag and its colors denote where he's been and what he found there.
- In Mass Effect, the Citadel's council chambers and the Serpent Nebula, where the Citadel is located, are shaped like Reapers. Look at the map of the council chambers to see its resemblance.
- Chains in Bio Shock 1. Andrew Ryan's objectivism is professed as "the great chain," and there are many decorative chains in the architecture of Rapture as well as tattooed on the protagonist's wrists.
- Bioshock Infinite gave us the bird or the cage to represent Elizabeth
- Burial At Sea gave us the Ace of Spades to represent Jack Ryan
- The Blood Dragon in Dragon Age: Origins, as seen everywhere from the game box to the game over screen.
- Chains also figure heavily in Dragon Age II in keeping with some of the themes of the game (the meaning of slavery and freedom; certainty versus free will) and Kirkwall's long history as a center of the slave trade. As Fenris reminds Anders, "No one is truly free."
- Hysteria Project has the mysterious H-emblazoned maze tattooed on the protagonist's arm.
- The Symbol of Torment in Planescape: Torment, tattooed on the nameless hero's left scapula.
- Among several unidentified glyphs appearing in Thief: The Dark Project, one in particular, resembling an eye inside a semi-circle, reappears numerous times throughout the game, including several cutscenes and in Constantine's mansion, with no explanation given until the last third of the game, when it is revealed to represent the Trickster.
- There are actually lots of other eyes in the series as well. The Eye is an artifact Garrett is trying to steal through much of the first game, and it also requires an actual human eye to be made to work. Garrett loses an eye which gets replaced by a mechanical eye. In the second game, you can throw little eye-shaped cammeras to look around corners and on high roofs. There are also lots of security cammeras in the form of brass heads with a single large glowing eye, and one of the curses used by some guards in the game is "curse your eyes". And in Victoria's realm, there are large flowers with huge eyeballs for blossoms. Which always stare at you as you keep moving through them.
- The Borromean knot from Remember11, which even appears in the game's logo and as a placeholder for the "end of message arrow" in the text. It represents Lacan's real-imaginary-symbolic triad.
- In Virtue's Last Reward, images of lion heads eating a sun are all over the place, and written on one of the warehouse walls is "Memento Mori if the nineth lion ate the sun."
- The X symbol in Kingdom Hearts. It's been all over the series from the very beginning, but Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance reveals just what it means: it is known as the Recusant's Sigil, and Xehanort uses it to mark vessels for his Grand Theft Me plan.
- In Far Cry 3, the Chinese Knife. Every time you see it something weird is going to happen.
- They Bleed Pixels has one that looks like the claw that your hands transform into. It can be found pretty much everywhere; in the background scenery, on some platforms, those gates that can open and close are shaped like it, the knife the headmaster is always seen with is shaped like it, and on the front cover of the book of claws.
- No Man's Sky has a mysterious, floating, rhomboid object with an even more mysterious, pulsating red orb in its center. All that's known about it is that it's called "The Atlas".
- Gunnerkrigg Court has a sigil of an eye with a line through it. It shows up on the walls of containment cells, on spirit-binding magic, and on a necklace worn by a character's mother. It's eventually revealed that the spirit-binding magic was actually a union of magic and computing, and the other occurrences of the symbol are remote interfaces for accessing the magic computer. Also alchemical symbols — Antimony for, well, Antimony Carver, Mercury for Renard the Fox (or rather, for his body-snatching ability—both it and the symbol were associated with Coyote in the backstory), Lead for the Court's Protector and great Sigil Spam of Bismuth for the Court itself.
- Superego has the circle and all its variations, representing each of ten protagonists and their personality disorders.
- Bequerel's face in Homestuck.
- Homestuck has been getting full of these, but increasingly common is the "broken record" symbol, symbolizing The Scratch, as well as various other themes related to breaking and repeating things. Homestuck walks a fine line between Arc Symbols and Sigil Spam.
- Some of these symbols include: The logos on the the Sburb house logo, Kids' shirts, Zodiac symbols, playing card Suits, the Aspect symbols, the Skaia Spirograph, the triangular fractal, the Carapacian barcode tatoos, Pool balls, the Incipisphere diagram, and more.
- Creative Release contains tons of apples and their precise meaning changes depending on the context.
- The yeti symbol in Alice And Kev.
- The Operator Symbol from Marble Hornets, or The Slender Man Mythos in general.
- The yellow sign with the (/) symbol over a heart with a cat and bunny in There she is!!
- In the Evillious Chronicles (a series of Vocaloid music videos and novels by mothy), a symbol that frequently comes up is flowers, to symbolize corruption and sin. Notable examples are in Duke Sateriajis Venomania (commits the sin of Lust in "Duke Venomania's Madness", represented by a flower), Princess Rilianne Lucifen D'Autriche (referred to as an 'evil flower' in "Daughter of Evil"), and Mikulia Greonio (the title of her feature song, and her nickname in the song, is "Flower Of The Plateau"). Also, gears are something of a symbol for the Clockwork Lullaby series.
- In the series Synchronity, there is Len and Rin's treble and bass clef necklaces.
- A certain face of Twilight tends to show up a lot in Friendship is Witchcraft (i.e. during the "It'll Be OK" number or in fireworks at the end of "Foaly Matripony").
- Broken Saints has the red cat eye.
- The Observer symbol in Tribe Twelve, to the point where all of Noah's social networks have that symbol.
- Dusk's Dawn: The Evil Twin's cutie mark, as well as the De Noir family crest, is the Invisible Pink Unicorn logo. What this has to do with anything relevant to the story is anyone's guess.
- The trailers for RWBY place great emphasis upon Remnant's shattered moon- each of the protagonists is shown in the air with the moon (or other circular white object clearly representing the moon) behind them, and as each protagonist finishes their respective battle, the camera silhouettes them against it. The same image is repeated at the end of the series' theme song.
- The Eye of Providence shows up subtly in Gravity Falls, sometimes reduced to just a circle in a equilateral triangle, other times anthropormophized with arms, legs, and a top hat. It represents the enemy from the penultimate episode of season 1, Bill Cipher, who looks exactly like that◊ and would go on to become the series Big Bad.
- Eyes are a recurring symbol for the show, especially the eye that is crossed out which is the insignia for the Society of the Blind Eye.
- Triangles in Phineas and Ferb. There's the obvious ones, such as Phineas' head, and then there's the ones that are snuck in the background to show texture in literally every episode, usually in foliage and rooftops.
- In episodes of season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic where the Mane Six receive their Plot Coupons that will become keys to open the box at the Tree of Harmony, the audience can see flashes of "rainbows" made up of their six coat colors. These are usually quite obvious at the ending of the episode and when their eyes flash showing they've learned a valuable lesson about The Power of Friendship, but subtle hints can be seen by act 2 of each episode that advances this arc.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Order of the White Lotus secret society inconspicuously integrates their symbol into their surroundings, to denote a friendly place.
- Images of lion-turtles also appear in several places before a real lion-turtle provides Aang with information about the Deus ex Machina ability he uses in the finale.
- According to conspiracy theorists, every instance of an eye, triangle, circle, swastika and comma (which looks like an inverted six) is a reference to the Illuminati. The secret society allegedly controlling the world apparently has nothing better to do than to plant secret hints to their existence for people to notice.
- The Super S, which has appeared in various places all over the world since the 50s at least. Its origins are heavily disputed, but almost everyone under a certain age seems to recognise it.