Black and Gray Morality

When your bad guy is this bad, almost anyone can become a good guy.

"Let me give you some advice, Captain. It may help you to make sense of the world. I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people. You're wrong, of course. There are, always and only, bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides."
Lord Vetinari, Guards! Guards!

It is often found in fictional media that the protagonist/antagonist conflict takes the form of the shining knight whose breath smells of flowers and has holy light shining from his every orifice versus the very fount of all evil who Eats Babies as a hobby and Kicks Dogs as a profession.

In an effort to portray "realistic" conflicts, writers often introduce flaws in their heroes and redeeming qualities in their villains.

These can be deeply unsatisfying. Movie-goers want a hero to celebrate and a villain to vilify. But if both sides have flaws and redeeming qualities, how do they know which is which? How can a writer create such a satisfying world without making it all impossibly unrealistic?

It's simple: leave the job half-done. Only the white gets removed, leaving behind a Crapsack World where the choice is between mundane corruption and baby-eating supervillainy. This is the essence of Black and Gray Morality; the only choices are between kinda evil and soul-crushingly evil.

Obviously, the heroes of such settings tend to be antiheroes. In such a world, any characters who appear to be good in any way will eventually be revealed as a Knight Templar in disguise, a Dark Messiah inches from the edge, or a deeply flawed Anti-Hero. And if there are any genuinely good characters on the show, they'll either 'come around' to The Dark Side, die horribly, remain a figure of perpetual mockery or, if very lucky, grow a protective shell of cynicism.

A good litmus test for this trope is as follows:

  1. Do the protagonists regularly get away with ruthless or amoral actions?
  2. Are they still unquestionably painted as being "on the right side?" By virtue of the other side being worse? Whether the author is successful or not does not matter.

If so, you've got a classic case of Black and Gray Morality.

As always, it is important to remember that Tropes Are Tools. If this is mishandled, it can make the protagonist difficult to sympathize with and lead to Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy.

For serious cases where both sides are so black there are no more shades of grey among them anymore, see Evil Versus Evil.

See also Shades of Conflict, Grey and Gray Morality, Black and White Morality, Crapsack World, Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism. The inverse is But Not Too Evil. Contrast with White and Grey Morality, where everyone has some nobility to them, and Designated Hero, which is what happens when the story portrays a side as White when the audience see them as Gray (or Black).

If there are 'true' heroes around along with the 'kinda bad' and 'very bad' characters described above, it's The Good, the Bad, and the Evil. Coming from the opposite side is A Lighter Shade of Black, where an Evil Versus Evil conflict is left with one mildly sympathetic side by not making them as unrelentingly evil as their opponents, while both are still plain evil.


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    Comic Books 
  • Nemesis the Warlock, as with most of the 2000AD stable, verges on Black And Black Morality. Big Bad Torquemada, leader of the human race (in the Nemesis universe, something like a cross between the heretic-burning medieval Catholic church turned Up to Eleven and the Nazis), is a psychotic genocidal religious fascist god-dictator pledged to exterminate all non-human life—but Nemesis himself, who's essentially Satan, has done things like openly lust for genocide right back at humanity and, at his worst, intentionally kill a school bus full of children. Afterwards, he doesn't even seem to understand why it was a bad thing to do. Meanwhile, Nemesis' uncle Baal has a hobby of vivisecting humans and performing Mengele-ish experiments on them and his son Thoth hates and wants to destroy everything, including his father. Nemesis' allies the ABC Warriors are also extremely morally shady, given they've conducted massacres and frequently display genocidal urges towards humanity as well.
  • Lucifer is like this, but oddly, not The Sandman which was more Gray and Gray. The main character is, ya know, Satan, who is caught between The Legions of Hell and the angels of heaven, who soon turn out not to be very nice either.
  • Generally a Signature Style of Frank Miller. All his heroes are sociopaths to some degree (or if you're lucky, just fascists), but the villains they face are even worse. His All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder series took this to such an extreme that whether or not it is parody is seriously debated.
  • Garth Ennis' bad guys are usually the epitome of pure psychotic evil, but morally speaking his good guys often aren't anything to write home about either, as they generally tend to be a bunch of murderous sociopaths themselves. His intense dislike of and tendency to savagely parody or mock any generally 'noble' or 'heroic' superhero or otherwise heroic character (although he does make some exceptions) doesn't help matters much.
    • Unless he's writing Superman.
    • In fact, most modern comic writers fall into this category. Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, and Alan Moore just to name a few, often have morally ambigious protagonists.
  • The Authority are the world's only hope against some of the worst villains imaginable, the kind of bastards who love to create mass genocide just for kicks. The Authority members themselves are borderline sadistic towards evildoers, and sometimes "authoritarian" conquerors if they don't approve of a nation's government.
  • In V for Vendetta, the only real options are to suffer under a horribly fascist government that is the only surviving piece of civilization, or rebel with a vicious killer for freedom before the collapse causes the apocalypse. The film made the rebel option better as there was never a nuclear holocaust (though a terrible pandemic substituted nicely and reduced the United States to a "leper colony"), so though V is still pretty crazy, he does have an ultimately admirable goal, and thus is "less gray".
    • There's some hope in the comic too, but in a rather absolutist way—V leaves the people of England a choice between taking responsibility and pulling together voluntarily, or starving.
    • In the film, the populace's will hasn't been thoroughly crushed under the fascist regime. They are still able to rise up against their leadership with proper inspiration.
  • Suicide Squad is the poster comic for this. It's about supervillains who have been captured and recruited into the U.S. government to go on most probably deadly missions for the good of America.
  • The Secret Six are a group of Anti-Villains that have a tendency to fight other, more evil supervillains. Interestingly, their stories tend to more lighthearted than most superhero stories set in the DC Universe.
  • The Punisher. Especially Garth Ennis' version.
    • There are three generally accepted explanations (any of which may or may not be valid) as to why Frank Castle became The Punisher, none of them very flattering: 1) He was a good, honest family man, when one day his family was murdered by mobsters, which made him snap and become utterly obsessed with killing criminals; 2) He was obsessed with war and brutality from the beginning, used the Vietnam War as an outlet, then essentially sacrificed his family so he could wage his personal war forever; and 3) He let his family get killed because he was a terrible family man and didn't look out for their safety when they needed it, and he's punishing himself with his eternal war against crime, doomed to know only pain, terror, and misery for the rest of his life.
    • Yeah, he's generally the kind of character whom, when trying to explain why he's on a list of superheroes rather than villains, you'd have to use the word "technically" a lot.
  • Fallen Angel in some ways. On the "black" side is the Hierarchy, the people and demons who run the city of Bete Noire, where the book takes place. The "gray" comes from Liandra, a cynical, consistently tipsy fallen angel who serves as a court of last resort, and is willing to do anything, including torture, in order to fulfill her missions. Among her sometime-allies are the city's major drug dealer, the snake from the Garden of Eden, and a man who may or may not be Hitler.
  • Depending on the Writer, Judge Dredd. Some of Dredd's actions can be very questionable. And his enemies have included a genius Serial Killer, an apocalyptic President Evil, a warmongering Soviet military junta, a deranged head judge who wanted to execute the whole city, and an undead Omnicidal Maniac.
  • 300 has the Unreliable Narrator describing the Spartans as "the ultimate good guys"... who are just as insane and bloodthirsty as their Persian enemies, who are only worse for being a gigantic horde bent on destroying and enslaving everyone on their path.
    • The comic starts out mostly like this: The Spartans are ruthless and have moments of cruelty, but treat each other with respect and are steadfast in the defense of their beloved homeland. Their biggest sin is killing envoys (which actually happened). Xerxes is unquestionably a sinister ruler, and although the Persian side isn't really shown to be evil, they are absolutely merciless in their conquest. By the end, the Spartan side is shown in a considerably better light, while the Persians have been reduced to faceless cannon fodder. The movie is much closer to Black and White Morality.
  • Countdown Presents: Lord Havok and the Extremists was a clear example of this. The Villain Protagonist Lord Havok and his teammates are all portrayed as hellbent on taking over their planet, but they're each given sympathetic backgrounds and it's implied that life under their rule may be less dangerous in stark contrast to the way their world is when the story begins. In contrast, the so-called heroes of Angor (what America is referred to as) are all extremely unsympathetic and amoral, save for Blue Jay, who is the Token Good Teammate of the Meta Militia. Americommando is by far the worst, a boozing, womanizing drug addict who makes a deal with Monarch to get at the Extremists by allowing Monarch to destroy the home bases of the individual members of the Extremists, effectively murdering hundreds of innocent people.
  • In Harbinger, Flamingo and Torque are happy to mooch off of Peter's mind-control abilities in order to steal money and cars and stay in hotels for free. And Peter's pretty brutal to his enemies, either mind-wiping them or sentencing them to lives of torment and insanity if he's angry enough. The only really "white" member of the team is Zephyr.
  • The conflict in Mastermen #1 ends up being this, concerning the New Reichsmen and the Freedom Fighters.
    • With the exception of Overman, none of the New Reichsmen had anything to do with Hitler's original plans and thus aren't concerned with what happened during World War II. But it's blatantly clear that they will still uphold the way of life Hitler established, feel absolutely no shame or guilt about how their paradise was built on the deaths of billions, and hold "under people" in contempt. Overman, for his part, feels incredible guilt and shame for what happened, but feels that he has no way to make it right after going so far. He actually betrays the New Reichsmen by lying about the Human Bomb's ability to generate explosions while held captive in the Eagle's Nest.
    • The Freedom Fighters do commit terrorist acts and have help from Doktor Sivana in terms of technology leading up to the total destruction of Metropolis as the beginning, but because they want Overman and the system he helped put into power to answer for the unspeakable atrocities and genocide that made it possible. There's also the fact that each of the Freedom Fighters represents minorities that the Nazi Party is still persecuting and trying to destroy.
    • To make this conflict even more murky, representatives from both groups are called upon in the final issue of The Multiversity to help battle the forces of the Gentry.
  • Ultimate Marvel runs on this trope.
  • The Shadow is Good Is Not Nice at best and more often a merciless Unscrupulous Hero, but his foes deserve every bit of wrath they receive.

    Fan Fic 
  • The Axis Powers Hetalia fanfic Family Ties starts out seemingly Grey And Gray morality—most of the combatants don't want to be there and the only really major offence is the sneak attack and consequent hijacking of Northern Ireland. It rapidly darkens, however, with Russia and China torturing Scotland into unresponsiveness, New Zealand being tortured through solitary confinement, and the "good guys" torturing Ukraine and starting a nuclear war.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction Prison Island Break turns canon heroes into prison convicts, pitted against the Senior Corrections Officer Mephiles, and Mad Scientist Doctor Robotnik. The canon heroes have been turned into murderers, rapists, terrorists, and Mobsters. It even borders on A Lighter Shade of Black. Even if you consider a character like Silver a Woobie of sorts, he's still a first-degree murderer.
    • Mephiles is only maintained as the villain by being the only one so far to stomp over the Moral Event Horizon.
  • Thousand Shinji sees Shinji doing nasty things in defence of or as revenge for Wrongs done to his friends, but compared to what Gendo or the SEELE men have done he is much preferable. Also, he does not damage innocent people and he has displayed some sympathetic traits, so he is an Anti-Hero or Anti-Villain.
  • Exoria has the nation of Valent conducting a surprise invasion of both Hyrule and Gerudo. It is implied through the Exoria Files, however, that neither Hyrule nor Gerudo are exactly "white", though, and hints have been dropped insinauting that Valent may have a very good reason for launching a continent-wide invasion.
  • The New Earth Government from Aeon Natum Engel and Aeon Entelechy Evangelion is much, much more ruthless than its Cthulhu Tech counterpart, and the Migou have a very good reason for invading Earth.
  • Christian Humber Reloaded has this, although which side is black and which is gray depends on whether you're willing to accept the author's perspective that Vash is supposed to be a hero. One way of seeing it is that Vash is a highly ruthless yet effective Anti-Hero who fights against villains who are arguably more consistently malicious, despite killing many innocent people himself. Alternatively, Vash is the Villain Protagonist, and his enemies are less of a threat than he is, if only because the story doesn' touch on their evil deeds.
  • Embers has Zuko, who admits he's 'no good at being good,' even in the original series and is willing to hang Aang out to dry, and he isn't going to even try to prevent a genocide of his own people because even he admits that they deserve it. Then there's Aang, who is well-intentioned but does a lot of stuff that should have killed him and his friends in the series: Hanlon's Razor is true because ignorance can do just as much damage, or more, as malice. The closest thing to an unambiguously good guy may be Kuei, who still ordered the Dai Li to set fires in civilian homes, traps in streets and so on as part of the Ba Sing Se resistance because this is war and he's the Earth King. In contrast to them, there's Azula, who deserves her own content warning, but still has nothing on the Big Bad and his allies, whose plans constitute a Zombie Apocalypse and horribly painful deaths in the works for anyone unlucky enough to survive the various genocidal wars they've stirred up over the millennia.
  • The Uplifted series is the epitome of this trope in Mass Effect fanfics. Of the two protagonists one of them. Joachim Hoch, is a Waffen SS Officer who is not shy about his viewpoints, charming and kind on the one hand, and violent in the other. A classic Anti-Hero. His Quarian counterpart and eventual lover, Hanala Jarva, is manipulative, lying, and brutal. The Quarians ally with the Nazis, because they would make the best shock troops when the time comes to retake Rannoch. While it is true that the Quarians plot a coup against Hitler, their motives are again less than pure. The Allies? Not as bad as the Nazis, but they would turn on the Quarians the first chance they get. Somewhat justified given that the fic is set during World War II.
  • In some The Conversion Bureau fics, both sides are far from paragons of virtue. Who occupies the grey side and who occupies the black side depends on the writer. This is most visible in The Palladium Wings where the Humans are mostly a bunch of vicious Sky Pirates but Celestia is cruel, xenophobic, power-hungry, warmongering sociopath hellbent on genocide.
  • This trope basically comes with the Hunger Games territory, and Some Semblance of Meaning is no exception. Naturally, the story is full of examples of Children Forced To Kill. The only difference is that some (like the majority of the Careers...though even some of them have character depth) take great pleasure in shedding their opponents' blood, whereas others (Vale, Fen, even former Career Obsidian aren't so fond of the way that the Capitol is forcing them to kill their fellow human beings. (That doesn't mean that, if someone is trying to kill them, that they won't kill them first, though.)
  • In Ace Attorney fanfic Dirty Sympathy, Apollo and Klavier are good people but will go through any length possible to free each other from their abusers. Klavier frames his brother for murder he assisted in committing and would have killed Phoenix Wright if Shadi Enigmar hadn't tried beating Olga Orly. Apollo tries to manipulate Machi into killing Daryan, but manages to cover up Machi's murder of Romain LeTouse and pin the blame on Daryan. But Daryan is a Dirty Cop who has the police force in his backpocket and Kristoph is an Amoral Attorney and a Bad Boss with many connections who both threaten them with death and can get away with their murders.
  • Alexandra Quick runs on this about half the time (usually whenever John Manuelito is involved). The rest of the time it's Grey and Grey Morality.
  • Sonic X: Dark Chaos pretty much runs entirely on this. On one side you have a slave-holding, repressive, reactionary empire run by The Legions of Hell — that nonetheless does many good things for its people. On the other side are the Angels, who are The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized at best. Both sides are controlled by Jerkass Gods, one of them a scheming chessmaster, the other a fundamentalist Ax-Crazy sociopath. And then there's the malevolent Eldritch Abomination, the genocidal two-tailed android fox (and his legion of cannibalistic android clones), omnicidal Abusive Precursors, the Metarex, and of course Dr. Eggman just to make things even more shitty. Even several of the lighter characters are quite grey—Eric and his friends eventually resort to piracy in order to replenish their supplies. Several of the saner Angel leaders aren't clean either; Jesus holds some very...questionable views on homosexuals, though he's depicted more sympathetically than his fellow Angels.
  • Darth Vulcan is a Jerkass criminal who has made lives of the Ponyville residents a living hell. But he does a have a code of honor, and his other opponents, like Big Boss, Chrysalis, and Sombra make him into a saint. Averted with his conflict with the Mane 6. They do make mistakes in dealing with him, but they are trying to protect themselves and are in fact trying to save Vulcan from the power he is abusing.
  • Callidus Dominus and the Malphan Empire in "Game of Doctors". They can be ruthless but try to be benevolent dictators, on the other side is the ruthless Virmok Empire which is attempting to take control of the Malphan's Galaxy through invasion and are far more brutal. The Doctors end up helping the Malphans. This is pointed out in Game of Doctors Chapter 8
  • Ambience A Fleet Symphony: Damon is caustic, rude and violent, and he won't shy from acknowledging it. However, he will go to great lengths for his subordinates and innocents, and his targets usually deserve what they get. Between the predations of the bandits and private sovereignties, the neglect-at-best the Feds and other surviving governments have for anyone who isn't a fat cat, and the sinister goals of the Inner Circle and Abyssals, the villains can and do much, much worse.

    Eastern Animation 
  • The protagonists in Aachi and Ssipak are black market drug runners who don't care about the carnage around them and simply want to exploit a hooker for money. At least Ssipak is in love with her. Aachi just tends to be annoyed with having to save her life all the time. The villains are worse in that they are willing to kill and force the hooker into labor.

  • Norse Mythology is, fittingly, this. The head god, Odin, demands human sacrifice, practices questionable magic, instigates wars, and is known to turn on his favorites in mid-battle, ensuring their deaths. However, all this is necessary to make sure he gets great warriors so that his army is strong enough to keep the forces of evil from winning at Ragnarök so that a golden age can emerge afterwards. Oh, and he and his entire army don't get to see that golden age. All of his other gray features tend to be to either delay or prepare for that day. On the other hand, Odin is known for not wanting to harm a woman on any race.
    • Thor has sworn to protect all of mankind, but is actually a Knight Templar since he is willing to go at any length to protect us.
    • Loki helped the gods solve many problems (which he sometimes caused) and was glad to save children from trolls. He is also destined to start Ragnarök.
  • Many world mythologies were at one time or another this. The gods may be jerks who screw around with mankind from time to time, but they were almost always far better than the alternative of monsters and demons.
  • Classical Mythology rules this trope. Unlike Norse Mythology, the gods aren't even contrasted with anything particularly terrible, they're just generally dicks who happen to be in charge (Zeus, fittingly, epitomized this, being a violent rapist and Magnificent Bastard but also powerful enough to defeat all the other gods combined). Well, some were alright—but you never hear about them, because the Greeks generally considered any story that doesn't involve both sides of the conflict being colossal jerks to be one not worth telling.
  • Any version of Robin Hood. Yes, he an his Merry Men were thieves and robbers, but the people of Nottingham were being overtaxed and Robin Hood was simply giving back the money to the poor so that they could live. In the Disney version, Little John even questions the morality of what they do.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Historically rare in the annals of sports-entertainment (except for some Values Dissonance, such as "all-American" wrestlers attacking communist Russian wrestlers from behind and getting cheered for it) until the "Attitude Era," which occurred roughly between 1995 and 2000. The trend was arguably kicked off by Shawn Michaels, who despite being a weaselly, self-centered, preening Jerkass, was so funny and charming as the leader of the D-Generation X faction that fans cheered for him anyway; it certainly helped that his greatest nemesis, the Canadian Bret Hart, was playing an Foreign Wrestling Heel at this time. But the Trope Codifier for the ages was undoubtedly "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the very epitome of the rebel-as-people's-hero. Though Austin never truly reformed his bullying, obnoxious ways from when he was a heel, his courage and charisma won the respect of WWE fans far and wide.
  • Today, aftershocks of the Attitude Era can still be felt, albeit more in TNA than in WWE. Perhaps the best examples are "The Viper" Randy Orton, an outright Sociopathic Hero, and "Asshole" Mr. Anderson, a modern-day Stone Cold.
  • Face does not mean "good guy" and heel does not mean "villain", even though you will occasionally see the terms being used interchangeably, even on this very wiki. A face/baby face is pretty much anyone who is regularly cheered for and heel simply means to turn on the fans. It often looks like the faces are all good and heels are all bad but just as often the fan favoritism will ignore morality and pandering.

  • Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta is about a Jewish merchant who seeks vengeance against the corrupt government of Malta because they essentially stole all his property. We might feel sympathy for Barabas's victims if it weren't for the fact that most are Machiavellian opportunists or hypocrites. The only purely good characters in the play are Barabas' daughter and her fiancé. Things don't end well for them.
  • The True Art Is Angsty approach was rather prevalent in early- to mid-20th century opera, resulting in Type IV/V anti-heroes who are only sympathetic because they're in an extremely Crapsack World. Alban Berg's two operas (Wozzeck and Lulu) are as bleak as they come. Some of Benjamin Britten's operas also qualify, such as Peter Grimes.
  • Shakespeare's Othello: Iago is a Card-Carrying Villain (at least to the audience) but Othello is easily tricked into suspecting his wife of infidelity and killing her by Iago, who essentially uses Othello's grey morality as a weapon for his evil.
  • In Anne of the Thousand Days, Anne considers that, though Henry is having her executed on trumped-up charges, she herself has sent men to equally unjust deaths.
  • Thrill Me: Nathan has helped steal, burn down buildings, and murder a 12-year-old boy. However, he appears to have largely done this because he got swept up in Richard, who set up the crimes and dealt the killing blow to the boy. We see Nathan express remorse for the boy's death. We see Richard express remorse...for getting caught.

    Web Comics 
  • Lackadaisy's main characters are gangsters who run an illegal alcohol joint. Murder, ambiguous innocence and deception follow.
    • Yet most of the cast are still lovable and goofy anthromoporphic cats.
    • It's incredibly easy to forget that what the characters are doing is crime, or that they're even doing anything wrong. Many "Would it be a Heel-Face Turn or a Face-Heel Turn?" ponderings ensue.
  • Looking for Group has elements of this. While Legaria is definitely portrayed as villainous, the heroes aren't very nice people themselves. Especially Richard.
  • Schlock Mercenary, certainly. There aren't a lot of well-paying jobs the "heroes" won't take, and those are generally due to personal grudges (see their reaction to any request from Xinchub) rather than morals. That said, they never come off as Villain Protagonists; in nearly every storyline, following the money either puts them on the most sympathetic side surrounded by state-sponsored ideologues or they managed to find a way to fulfill their contract without doing anything too bad. Or, sometimes, finding some way to get hired by someone else to take out their Bad Boss at the same time. They consider those some of the best days. Even better if they can still collect payment from their original boss.
  • The Baker Street Irregulars of Mayonaka Densha, while not bad people per se, aren't above killing their enemies or breaking into homes in the name of justice. And the villain, Jack the Ripper, for some odd reason, seems averse to actually killing them. This is even lampshaded by Hatsune at one point.
    "You know, for the quote unquote good guys, we sure do...break into a lot of places"
  • 8-Bit Theater: The only good characters of the four or five heroes are an impossibly stupid dullard and a kind woman who is crippled by the fear of doing anything wrong. The other three are an Ax-Crazy Omnicidal Maniac, a mentally-disturbed Munchkin, and a ruthlessly selfish Magnificent Bastard. The king of the most powerful nation in the world is even more stupid than the aforementioned dullard, and may very well be mentally retarded. On the villains' side, we have a LARP-ing emo vampire, an ex-pirate captain (who is also very stupid), a comically-incompetent warlord (who's been very slowly getting better), a dark elf who is quite possibly the most stable and levelheaded of the entire cast, and a nigh-omnipotent jerkass wizard who is actually the Future Badass self of the local Chew Toy. And it's all Played for Laughs.
    • Best demonstrated here by what the Light Warriors planned to do once their mission was accomplished.
  • The various groups in Cry Havoc are black and grey. The mercenaries kill for money with even the most moral of them shooting fallen enemies, the demons they battle are trying to escape their morality by slaying the mercenaries, and the werewolves are just trying to survive, even if they destroy the human race in the process.
  • Everyone in Ansem Retort is either completely evil or somewhat good but has something keeping them from being completely white. Case in point: Namine, who tries to be the moral voice of authority, but is part of Zexion's administration (which has had no less than five sex scandals—at least one of which Namine arranged—and three murder scandals) and occasionally does drugs. She is also still dicking around with Sora's memory, further removing her from the moral high ground—and ensuring that his moral high ground stays happily in Cloudcuckooland, where it can't affect anyone else and is effectively neutralized. Anyone that could be considered "white" usually ends up killed or, like Sora, incapacitated.
  • Girl Genius is an example, albeit not a perfect one, as the core conflict that's driven the story so far (Agatha vs. Klaus) is Grey and Gray Morality. However, aside from Team Agatha, Team Klaus, and Othar, most of the factions that have gotten into the game are evil to a lesser or greater extent. And then there's the Other.
  • Suicide for Hire: Nobody in this world is nice, and those that are die horribly. So, for that matter, do the ones that aren't.
  • The main gist of Brawl in the Family's Ode to Minions. No matter how evil the villains or noble the intentions of the heroes, that doesn't change the fact that the heroes universally win by massacring the enemy army en masse—and those soldiers, while they may be working for evil, still had homes, families, and friends that they're taken away from.
  • In Cwynhild's Loom, both Cwynhild and Ezekiel Nightingale establish early on that they are willing to do whatever is necessary to advance their causes. While Cwynhild is the protagonist, she makes no qualms about killing people who are a threat to her.
  • In Cthulhu Slippers, the main characters are either well-intentioned idiots, mutants, or self-serving sociopaths. Compared to Nyarlarthotep, however, they're shining examples of kindness and light.

    Web Original 
  • In the Web Serial Novel Worm, there are the Villain Protagonists, mostly Anti Villains, and the Hero Antagonists, who are often Jerkasses, Anti Heroes, or even in-universe Designated Heroes. Both sides fight against each other, but all play by unwritten rules designed to keep as many capes on the streets in fighting condition as possible, such as don't kill or unmask any other cape—anyone who goes too far gets sent to the Birdcage. It's all very grey. But then there are terrifying psychopaths like the Slaughterhouse Nine and giant monsters like the Endbringers, which everyone is willing to team up against. The reason why the unwritten rules exist and why captured villains aren't just locked up and the key thrown away are the big threats like these. Fighting the Nine or an Endbringer or a similar threat requires all the firepower that it's possible to bring to the table.
  • The SCP Foundation is an organization that captures supernatural entities (terrible monsters and mere abnormal humans alike) and keeps them imprisoned, doing research on them. Also they use convicted felons (or innocents, in times of duress) to do the dangerous labors and conduct lethal experiments. The whole D-Class-Staff is killed and replaced every month or so. However, all this is just for security, to keep the unspeakable horrors they have captured inside their confinements.
  • This is one of the primary themes of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. The protagonist is the villain, who wants to Take Over the World so he can put an end to all of its pain and misery; the hero is the antagonist, who uses his powers to bully everyone into conforming to his notion of what a True Hero should be like; and the only truly good character gets killed.
  • The point-and-click RPG Echo Bazaar. Whatever path you take, you'll eventually end up housebreaking, spying for mysterious and unpleasant foreign powers, bullying families for protection money, or sending pickpockets to the gallowsnote . This is hugely entertaining.
  • In Filthy Frank: The "good guys" have their ringleader, Frank, who has admitted to raping animals for fun, as well as Pink Guy who also advertises violence to animals. The rest of the housemates are varying shades of bad or worse. The closest thing they have to an antagonist is Lord Chin Chin, a Humanoid Abomination who takes "chromosomes" for whatever reason.
  • In Strange Little Band, the protagonists are thoroughly unpleasant people and almost seem like Villain Protagonists. Then you meet the Antagonists, and you realize who the "heroes" are.
  • In The Insane Quest of Unfathomable Randomness, it quickly becomes apparent that the members of Smoosh are not so much heroes as they are bystanders caught in the middle of a petty fight between two selfish gods. While their enemy, Segami, destroys planets, harms innocents, and causes mayhem to accomplish his goals, their leader, Nintendoki...destroys planets, harms innocents, and causes mayhem to accomplish his goals. The only real thing that sets Smoosh apart from their enemies is the fact that they realize when Nintendoki is telling them to do something wrong.
  • In the Alternate History.Com timeline Reds!, the UASR is presented in a more positive light than most of the other governments of the time, but it is far from perfect. Its abuses include the setting up of kangaroo courts and the execution of potentially innocent civilians (though nowhere near on the scale of Stalinist Russia). Given that their primary enemies are a military junta that suspended the US Constitution and the rogue's gallery of petty fascist groups they drum up to support it domestically, and Those Wacky Nazis in foreign affairs, though...
  • The Nostalgia Chick's trailer plays this for laughs and describes the Dark Nella Saga as a battle between evil and "slightly less evil". (Dark Nella being evil and the Chick only being slightly less.)
  • Kickassia has a president just minding his business being overthrown by a crazy idiot who becomes a dictator—and the latter, who is the protagonist, ends up fighting his comrades, who aren't much honorable themselves and try to take over when they think the Critic's died from their beating.
  • The Curse Of Maraqua plot of Neopets has two groups of pirate armies crashing against each other. While Garin himself is not the nicest guy in Neopia, he helps defend the new city of Maraqua against the even worse Captain Scarblade.
  • In Big Bad Wolves: Moral Event Horizon, the protagonists are members of a group of cannibalistic werewolves who choose to feed on long dead prisoners. One of them, Michael, plans to kill an unrepentant rapist and murderer, in order to feed the group, and tries to convince the Villain Protagonist to help kill him. She declines, citing the group's rule of Never Hurt an Innocent but he kills him anyway in the belief that he was way worse then them.
  • From the website while the green stick figures are Always Chaotic Evil Butt Monkeys, the blue stick figures aren't exactly good guys either.
  • In The Frollo Show, nearly every major character is a bitter, rude and neutral individual. The titular protagonist is widely considered to be one of the most despicable villains ever to appear in a Disney film, as well as an extremely perverted, manipulative and brutish person on the show, but he also saves Paris from a horde of zombies, and he heroically sacrifices himself to destroy a nuclear device his Arabian cousin was planning to detonate over America (he gets better). His best friend Gaston is an arrogant, childish Jerk Jock who blasts a guy's head off for giving him 9.8 instead of 10 points in a contest. Panty and Stocking are... well, Panty and Stocking. The people they fight are, amazingly, even worse than they are.

    Western Animation 
  • While the main cast of Transformers Animated seems to be mostly good, the overall Autobot/Decepticon conflict is frequently shown in this light: Ultra Magnus is OK with lying to the public if he thinks it will protect the peace, someone like Sentinel Prime is a a high ranking officer while Optimus is a space bridge repairman, and they won the great war by creating an Autobot as a superweapon and making him deliberately unintelligent so he doesn't question his own destructive actions.
    • According to The AllSpark Almanac II, they didn't create just one Autobot-as-a-superweapon. They created a whole series of them, with only two surviving (one in the loosest definintion of the word).
    • More prevalent in the third season, where Prime considers sending a near-death Sari into battle against said superweapon, among other things.
    • The main five aren't free from it. In "Where Is Thy Sting?", the innocent, emotionally-traumatized Wasp is pursued very aggressively by Bulkhead, who also accuses him of never being a good robot, when he's HOLDING HIS BEST FRIEND HOSTAGE. Yeah Bulkhead, that's real good hostage negotiations. Also, he starts to beat up the unconscious and helpless Bumblebee (thinking he's Wasp) right at the end.
    • And in a comic that comes free with the toy Jetfire/Jetstorm, Ultra Magnus is fine with running experiments on 'expendable' Autobots in order to create a flying Autobot. He says, "Find me somebody expendable." Admittedly, in this case "expendable" seems to have been "twins who were caught in an explosion and would have died anyway."
    • Meanwhile the Decepticons are more than happy to manipulate potential allies and scrap them when they finish serving their purpose, and field test WMDs in populated civilian territories out of petty revenge.
  • The second and third seasons of Total Drama have become this.
  • South Park, so. Freaking much.
    • One of the reasons why Stan, Kyle and Kenny are the good boys, is because the enemies and/or antagonists are much worse.
  • The Ben 10: Ultimate Alien episode "Vicktor, The Spoils" invokes this. The nation of Zarkovia is beset by rebels. The prince, disgusted by his father's lack of force against the rebels, uses the braindead body of Dr. Vicktor to attack Ben's team and imprison his father. The king escapes, and uses Ampfibian's powers to transfer his mind into Dr. Vicktor's body. He then reveals that he was biding his time, waiting for the perfect moment to crush the rebels. Ben and co. defeat and immobilize King Vicktor, and the prince demands they hand him over. Gwen points out the prince's mind-controlled soldiers, asking "If the prince is a bad guy, who are we here to help?" Kevin suggests the rebels, but Gwen replies "Who's to say they're better then anybody else?" In the end, Ben destroys the prince's mind-control device, allowing the soldiers to choose their own sides, and the group decide not to interfere, and simply let the conflict run its course.
  • The Simpsons. Probably the best television example ever, animated or otherwise.
    • On on hand, you have:
      • An unbridled tyrant (Mr. Burns)
      • Violent criminals (Snake, Fat Tony's gang, Sideshow Bob)
      • Greedy, amoral, corrupt scumbags (Mayor Quimby, Krusty, Troy McClure)
      • Smarmy self-important worthless parasites (Kent Brockman, Chief Wiggum, Lionel Hutz, Reverend Lovejoy)
      • Nihilist punks (Dolph, Jimbo, & Kearney, Patti & Selma)
      • Soul-sucking obstructionist nags (Helen Lovejoy, Agnes Skinner, Jackie Bouvier)
    • And on the other hand, you have:
      • Smart, good-hearted idealists who have a laundry list of bizarre psychological and emotional issues and are prone to horrendous breakdowns (Lisa, Marge, Dr. Hibbert)
      • Benign nice guys too weak, gullible, restrained, and/or petty to ever do any lasting good (Ned, Principal Skinner, Milhouse, Lou, Mona Simpson)
      • Ordinary schmoes who are harmless most of the time but have the occasional bout of astounding jerkiness (Smithers, Carl, Eddie)
      • World-weary drones beaten down by years of misery and resigned to their dismal fate (Apu, Edna, Sideshow Mel, Ms. Hoover)
      • Bitter cynics (Arnie Pie, Comic Book Guy, Abraham)
      • Eternal Jekyll-and-Hyde flipfloppers (Homer, Bart, Nelson, Moe, Barney)
      • Has-beens struggling to find a purpose in life (Ranier Wolfcastle, Drederick Tatum)
      • Punching bags (Gil, Hans Moleman, Martin)
      • Clueless dopes (Lenny, Cletus, Brandine, Ralph, pimply-faced teenager)
      • Assorted weirdos, crackpots, and lunatics (Otto, Superintendent Chalmers, Dr. Nick, Professor Frink, Groundskeeper Willie, Crazy Cat Lady, Jasper, Cookie Kwan)
    • The only unambiguously good person is Maggie. And she's still quite young. She did shoot a number of mobsters though.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants goes perfectly with this trope, especially after the movie.
  • Futurama.
    • On the one hand, we have:
      • Power-mad tyrants (Mom, Nixon, Lrrr)
      • Violent criminals (Roberto, the Robot Mafia, Santa, Bender)
      • Corrupt scumbags (Leo Wong, Zapp Brannigan)
      • Amoral crackpots (Farnsworth)
    • and on the other side:
      • Fry, whose heart is in the right place but whose lack of intelligence often screws things up for everybody,
      • Leela, who is usually on the right side of the conflict but is often short-tempered, violent and egotistical,
      • Zoidberg, who exists mostly to be a punching bag,
      • And Hermes, who does exactly what he's paid to do and nothing more, often regardless of personal ethics.
  • The Fairly OddParents. Sure the good guys are often Jerkasses who make other's lives a living hell, but the villains are outright Card Carrying Villains out to take over the world.
  • Family Guy. Yes, of course, the series sometimes even addressed in territories of Evil Versus Evil.
  • Invader Zim. Dib has been needlessly cruel to Zim and seems to look down on most other humans.
    • That said, Zim isn't good at all, due to trying to conquer the world, despite being so terrible at it that he can't do a thing on his own. Dib looking down on other humans is justified, considering how all humans but Dib and his father tend to be either stupid, jerkasses, straight up evil, or a combination of the three.
  • Generator Rex: Sure, E.V.O.s will cause untold mayhem if not for Providence. But Providence is headed by White Knight, who treats his own men as expendable and clearly has some Fantastic Racism going. He's a dick to the few good E.V.O.s and absolutely ruthless about exterminating the bad ones. Of course, curing them doesn't always work, and containing them isn't always feasible, so he's not entirely without ground.
    • Invoked by his relationship with Evil Counterpart Black Knight, who's a lot nicer to underlings, but instead of killing E.V.O.s, experiments on and borderline enslaves them. She's also a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who will Mind Rape anyone who acts against her, and, unlike White, cares more about personal power than solving problems.

Alternative Title(s):

Black And Grey Morality, Gray And Black Morality, Grey And Black Morality