Broken Bird

"Oh! I have a heart to be stabbed in or shot in, I have no doubt," said Estella, "and of course if it ceased to beat I should cease to be. But you know what I mean. I have no softness there, no—sympathy-sentiment—nonsense."

These characters (often female) are coping with a Cynicism Catalyst, a Despair Event Horizon, or a Dark and Troubled Past by becoming as cynical, stoic, and/or badass as possible.

Her deep experience and emotional detachment almost always give the impression of competence, though she doesn't always live up to her own hype. Varying between Cool Big Sis, Emotionless Girl, Little Miss Snarker, and Snark Knight, she marks herself as more experienced and worldly than the other characters, even if the Competence Zone means she herself is barely out of her teens.

In fact, she can sometimes fill a mentor role for less experienced and more idealistic characters, all the while loudly expressing her irritation with said arrangement, so no one gets the impression she's softening up. Sometimes, this is to Jerkass levels; however, she is often a sympathetic Jerk with a Heart of Gold, giving an impression of independent toughness to hide a sincere affection for the other characters.

This character was a hero herself once and failed miserably, or maybe she was abused in some way as a kid; whatever the case, her cynicism undoubtedly stems from some traumatic event in her past that destroyed her faith in just about everything. This revelation is normally accompanied by a Freak Out, said past often delivered in a bitter diatribe towards someone who proved a bit too stubborn in their desire to know what it was. At this point, tears are guaranteed, probably more of them the less she's expressed emotion in the past. She also has a 65% chance of engaging in serious physical violence against whoever is closest at the time. This is always treated seriously and Broken Birds have a tendency to be both prone to violence and very good at it, therefore, potential Love Interests should always prepare to be at least slightly maimed during these breakdowns.

If she is cured of her emotional torment, expect any of a number of paths. At best, she will continue on as a deeper and less emotionally constipated version of who she was before...but she may also fall prey to Good Is Dumb or mutate into a Satellite Love Interest or Satellite Character. Expect Hope Is Scary on the road to recovery, unless she has an Adrenaline Makeover.

A number of Romance Novels lean on this trope when the love interest of the heroine is an Anti-Hero with a scar from the past for her to heal. Sometimes involves a bit of that one as well. Women want to Heal the Cutie instead of Break the Cutie.

This trope can be summed up as Troubled, but Cute + Dark and Troubled Past.

Popular with Byronic Hero. A subtrope of Troubled, but Cute, which sometimes they start as before becoming broken. Overlaps with Stoic Woobie and Jerkass Woobie. Also see Dark Magical Girl. The male counterpart is He Who Fights Monsters, though as implied above there is no shortage of male broken birds.


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    Comic Books 
  • Jessica Jones from Alias (no relation to the Jessica Garner series.) She lost her parents in the accident that gave her superpowers, and her initial career as a superheroine ended with her being kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by the Purple Man. And the worst part was, even though she had friends in the superhero community at the time, it was months before any of them even noticed that she was missing.
  • Empowered:
    • Ninjette, who describes herself as a professional drinker/ninja, is haunted by her father's alcoholism, an abusive past, and her clan's plan to use her as breeding stock
    • Sistah Spooky, who sold her soul for her looks, but hasn't worked out any of her issues with beautiful blonde girls. It Makes Sense in Context.
    • Oh, and Mindf**k';...Between the telepathy she can't turn off, her horrible break-up with Sistah Spooky, and being forced to gouge out her eyes and cut out her tongue by her older brother, it's no wonder she can get a bit cynical. The only reason she seems well adjusted, aside from self-imposed regular isolation? She's forcibly re-edited her own psyche to suppress certain...problematic impulses in order to be as unlike her older brother as possible. That's right, she's so broken she brainwashed herself into faking un-breaking.
  • Katchoo from Strangers in Paradise is outwardly tough but a frightened little girl inside, probably because of her terrible childhood and all the years she spent running from her Mafia Princess ex-girlfriend. She's very dependent on Francine and David (and later Casey), but can be very abusive of them as well, and she tends to hit the bottle after every serious fight with them.
  • Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl, after her spinal injury at the hands of the Joker. Complete with hypercompetence, mentoring of other heroes (though Huntress and Black Canary were really Broken Birds themselves, rather than cheery optimists), the requisite explosive teary breakdown early in her story when her partner learns a bit about her horrible past, and a slow evolution into a happier, less bitter, and more open person...only to be promptly reverted two decades back to her immediate post-shooting self when her series was cancelled. Expect a second boilerplate Broken-Bird-evolves storyline, with the third Batgirl in the 'cheerful mentee' role, over the course of the new volume of that series. Then, post relaunch, Barbara Gordon is back to suffering trauma over TKJ. This plot is on repeat.
  • Still in Marvel comics, there's Spider-Woman/Jessica Drew. On top of her already broken and screwed up past, she gets caught by the Skrull and impersonated, and when she's rescued, almost everyone hates her, which makes her grow even more cynical than she was in the past.
  • Following the reboot, Solstice in Teen Titans is this. Despite seemingly taking her shift in appearance (she now looks like she's made of charcoal and has deep black smoke for hair) graciously then most would, Kiran has stated that she was forced to do horrible things in order to survive after N.O.W.H.E.R.E. kidnapped her. She also broke down and started crying when she realized Red Robin already knew well beforehand about what the organization was doing to teen metahumans but waited to make a move because he needed more tangible evidence.
    • It gets even worse from there. We learn the catalyst for Kiran's new form involved being set up as bait by another N.O.W.H.E.R.E. prisoner whom she had come to care for, and then later on when the team is sent into the future, she refuses to depart from Kid Flash's side. So she ends up condemning herself in the prison Kid Flash is being sent to by killing someone.
  • How many readers of Red Hood and the Outlaws see Starfire. It's not certain at this point if this was Lobdell's intention. She gets really snippy and hostile whenever anyone tries to talk to her about her past, and we eventually find out that her most precious memory is killing the only Citadel member who showed her sympathy in all her time as a slave. It's even lampshaded how screwed up the team must be.
  • All of the kids in Marvel Comics' Runaways but special mention goes to Karolina, Nico and Chase who deal with issues of identity, love and the loss of it.
  • X-23's life is loaded with things that any one of which would make her a broken bird, including horrific medical experimentation, a stint as a child assassin, and a stint as a teenaged prostitute. And after finally making her way to the Xavier School, which should have been a safe haven, she was quickly pushed into the black ops division.
  • Hazmat of Avengers Academy lost everything because of her powers. Mettle, similarly, lost almost all tactile sensation and is now unable to do what he loves: surf. They find some solace in each other.
  • The cast of Avengers Arena is filled with these, including X-23, Hazmat, Mettle, and Nico, as well as space-farer Cammi. Cammi lives in the shadow of Drax the Destroyer and desperately does not want to be "normal" again. The series then proceeds to put them through hell.
  • Sharon Ventura, the second Ms. Marvel, had a miserable childhood, then got gang-raped early into her superhero career, and then, just when she was starting to get over that and develop a healthy relationship with Ben Grimm, she was mutated into a horrible rock-monster form. And then, just as she was finally getting over that, Grimm dumped her. And then Doctor Doom mutated her into an even more horrible form. She eventually had her form stabilized, but it required her to make deals with the Wizard, which cost her many of her friendships in the superhero community.

    Fan Works 
  • A Crown Of Stars: The preface makes a good work summarizing how badly broken Shinji and Asuka were before the beginning of the story. To make a long story short: Their mothers died and their fathers abandoned them when they four. At the age of fourteen they were forced to fight alien monsters. Their pain, their inability to reach out to each other and the war broke them down, and then they died when the world ended. Shinji gave the humanity the possibility to return and they were reborn... into a wrecked world populated with warlords, bandits and starving masses. They were turned into the tools of bloody dictators for three years, and Asuka was turned into a plaything during that time. They went through another conflict where they got shot and nearly murdered, and at the end they stuck together because they felt that no one else in the world could understand their pain, but they were so soul-weary and broken that Asuka was afraid of loving Shinji and they had no hopes of developing a real relationship.
  • Advice And Trust: In chapter 1 Shinji and Asuka open up and talk about their pasts (their mothers' demises, their fathers' abandonment, their lack of friends, their feelings of insolation and loneliness, their self-worth and trust issues...) and realize that they were more alike than they thought:
    Asuka:"What Sensei?"
    Shinji:"The one my father abandoned me with after my mother died in an accident with the Eva! Not that you'd understand that,"
    Asuka: "Me too. [...] My mother... There was an accident with Unit-02... She... died, eventually. My father... didn't mourn very long. [...] So yes, Third Child, I know exactly what that felt like!"
    Shinji:"Your father abandoned you after your mother was gone,"
    Asuka:"You have nightmares all the time about it. The memory keeps coming after you when you try to sleep,"
    Shinji (nodding):"It's hard to sleep. You feel lonely and cold at night, because no one ever held you after that,"
    Asuka:"You never had many friends before you came here. No on ever wanted to just talk to you for you."
    Shinji:"Your father never explained or apologized for why he just left you."
    Asuka:"No one even tried to understand your pain. No one cared."
    Shinji:"You miss her every day, but don't even have any pictures, barely any memories. No one tells you about her."
    Asuka:"And there was never any point in talking about it to anyone, because there was no one in the world who could understand what being an Evangelion Pilot was like,"
    Shinji/Asuka (in unison):"You're just like me."
  • A Growing Affection has Hanabi become one after Madara's attempt to Body Surf into her.
  • The Child of Love: Asuka lost her mother when she was four, got ditched by her father, got trained to fight giant monsters despite being just a kid, got pregnant when she was fourteen… and she always tried to overcome her troubles and becoming stronger and more self-reliant.
  • Children Of An Elder God: In order to try to get over her mother going crazy and killing herself, and her father abandoning her shortly after, Asuka trained to become the best war mecha pilot ever. Thanks to find a decent mother figure she did not become as hostile to and frightened of other people as her canon self, but she still tried to be self-reliant. Through the war she lost friends, her own humanity and worse, but her reaction to each tragedy was trying becoming more badass and more independent.
  • Doing It Right This Time: Asuka and Rei. Their reaction to a decade of abuse and mental trauma culminating with their deaths is striving to become more badass after being sent back to the past.
  • Evangelion 303:
    • Asuka. Prior to the beginning of the story she had been traumatized (it is implied that she tried to commit suicide at one point), and her performance -which her self-image depended hugely on- was slipping due to her past personal issues making her falling apart. She recovered... and then the experimental jet fighter that she was testing crashed, and her best friend died in the accident. She spent several months in a coma, and when she woke up she was a neurotic, short-tempered mess who blamed herself for the failure of the mission and her friend's death and hated herself for being a failure and hurting Shinji due to her out-of-control temper.
    • Rei. She was piloting a war plane and it crashed in the middle of sea. She survived, but she suffered brain damage and she spent several months in a coma. When she woke up, she had become cold and emotionless. She recovered, but she never became her former cheerful self again.
  • Miko in Dirty Little Secrets is definitely one- She's just good at covering it up. It's a wonder she's not worse then she is- she was born from a long line of prostitutes and raised to join the 'family business', starting when she was 12... and both children she became pregnant with were aborted against her will.
  • HERZ: Asuka. Let’s see: she lost her mother and got ditched by her father before being four. She was turned into a weapon and a tool and trained hard for ten long years to become the best as a way to validate her existence. When the time came to prove her skill she got overshadowed by a boy that -as far as she knew- was a rookie with no training. She got repeatedly defeated, humiliated and mind-raped by the enemy. She managed rising from her ashes only to be impaled, mutilated and eaten alive. And still she survived even after her heart stopped for a short while, she became a fine soldier and she even delivered a healthy child.
    Asuka leaned into the kiss. She had lost much and suffered terribly, but from the ashes, she had risen anew.
  • Higher Learning: When they got together Shinji learnt that Asuka's aggressive, stubborn and fearless behaviour had its origin in her childhood's tragedies -which mirror his own- and her desire and need to overcome them. When she got a severe breakdown he tried to reassure her by reminding her that she taught him to fight back when you are hurt.
  • Last Child of Krypton: Asuka devoted herself to train to become the best Humongous Mecha pilot and prepare to fight giant alien invaders to overcome being an orphan kid abandoned by her surviving parent. When the war finally broke out, nothing was going how she thought it should: her enemies beat her, the Commander berated her for anything and an interloper come from nowhere was hogging the credit. However she kept fighting and found a worthier cause to devote herself to.
  • Once More with Feeling:
    • After going through the Angel War and the end of the world, Shinji is trying to grow a spine and be more determined and braver to not let his second chance go to waste.
    • As she is arguing with Asuka about the latter's desire to go to Okinawa, Misato reminds herself Asuka suffered terribly and lost a lot since she was three, but she always tried to become stronger and more determined.
  • Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton: During a heart-to-heart talk Asuka tells Shinji she strove to be strong-willed and excel at everything because after her mother went insane and died and her father abandoned her -making her realizing that he never loved her- she thought nobody would care about her unless she was the best.
  • The One I Love Is: In chapter 6 Asuka shows Shinji she has been very, very badly hurt but she has always tried to overcome it and be a strong-willed, self-reliant girl.
    Asuka:"Don't worry Shinji. So far, I've lived on my own, by my own, only for me, only for my own values and my own satisfaction. I don't need you, or anyone else for that matter. I... I don't want to be lonely anymore. If I could... I'd rather be with you then be alone. But it's too late now. And besides... half of your heart is not enough. If I can't have you all to myself, then I'd rather not have you at all..."
    Asuka:"It's okay. I can manage on my own."
  • Racer and the Geek features Sunny Breeze, a stallion who knows nothing but war, isolation, violence, and betrayal. He's suitably messed up to match, having problems with both post-traumatic stress disorder and severe alcoholism. Even worse is that, despite his vague age, it's readily apparent that he's so young most ponies see him as a colt. His own inability to see the good in himself is his tragic flaw. It's evident in every chapter, although chapters three and four showcase it best.
  • The Aladdin fanfic Antiphony portrays recurring villain Mozenrath as one; he used to be a sweet, excitable child who just wanted to help people and had a strong devotion to his god. Fast-forward fourteen years of what was essentially slavery and emotional-psychological torture, and he's become a sarcastic Social Darwinist who scorns any form of faith and seeks power for himself.
  • Beth Lestrade gets this twice in Children of Time:
    • Having to watch the man you love slide down the slippery slope, then running for your life for nine months, then finding out that said love interest has done a Face-Heel Turn, then committing a Heroic Suicide... will do that to you. The timeline in which most of the above happened is retconned into never having happened, but the main players, Beth included, still retain the memories. She later tells Sherlock that she was considering shooting herself.
    • The beginning of the next season seems to imply that Season 2 might ultimately be about her Character Development, just as Season 1 was ultimately about Sherlock's. Initially after Sherlock's rejuvenation, she seems okay, but future episodes prove that she's not to the point where even Professor Moriarty was concerned about her. (She spent a year thinking that her husband was irretrievably dead and became a Death Seeker.)
  • The pro wrestling story A Ring Of Their Own portrays Molly Holly as one of these, that getting her head shaved at WrestleMania 20 and her subsequent losing streak caused her to lose all confidence in herself and retire from wrestling.
  • In Kitsune no Ken: Fist of the Fox, Tenten is shown to be this. After all, losing both of your parents during a year-long rampage by the Kyuushingai, having no other living relatives to take you in after the fact, bouncing about from place to place without a stable home for a long time following said orphaning, and being driven to learn how to fight just so you can take revenge on the people responsible for said orphaning can't be good for one's psyche.
  • The Naruto Continuation Fic White Rain has one in Lucia Van Alstyne. She witnessed her mother's murder as a child, and married into an abusive relationship. The readers can easily tell how broken she is when she regards both Ino's friendship with Sakura and Hinata's genuine love for Naruto with curiosity.
  • In Gensokyo 20XX, we have this with Yukari, who is the most noticeable than the others and became bitter towards her experiences during the course of the series.
  • In Origin Story, Alex Harris's conversation/therapy session with Doc Samson reveals just how much psychological trauma she's experienced over her young life. Alex's partner Louise also qualifies. The pair of them use their relationship to help each other heal.
  • In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, we are given OC Stand-in Athena who is tricked into killing the only people she considers family, causing her to fly into an Unstoppable Rage whose brutality haunts her. From the same galaxy, a Rich Bitch named Jackie Jakobs is set up quite unsympathetically, but is revealed to have had reasons to act out in the ways she does.
  • From Kill la Kill AU, we have this Ryuuko, who is a bit young for one, however, she seems to have a rather cynical view of the world, especially when it comes to her poor health, having been in and out of the hospital, along with the fact that she was separated from her mother when she was two, meeting her again fairly recently. Apparently, due to the aforementioned poor health, she counts how much time she might have to live, considering death to be a release.
  • Satsuki's portrayal in The Crimson Garment paints her as one of these. The fic attempts to delve into the adverse affects of childhood sexual abuse through several tweaks in her character. From what we see so far, she despises physical contact and seems to see it as indication of dominance. It's also implied that her desire to control and be stronger than others is to compensate for her insecurities.
  • Thousand Shinji: When Asuka was four her mother went crazy and hang herself (and her daughter was the one found her corpse). Shortly after her father remarried and virtually abandoned her. In response to it she tried to become stronger, tougher and fully self-reliant. Shinji discusses it at one point:
    “Passing the favour forward? Yeah. I’ve been helping Rei since I got here, she was far worse than she is now socially, and then you came along. You were the kid, the one in a million, who chose to become strong instead of break in response to such monumental adversity. But I could see it in your eyes, the tone of your voice in sheltered moments that you still carried the wounds, that you were more fragile than you seemed,” Shinji explains.

    Film — Animated 
  • Mittens from Bolt. Being abandoned by her owners made her snarky and abrasive.
  • Megara from Disney's Hercules. After making a Deal with the Devil and becoming a slave to Hades to save her boyfriend's soul, only to have said boyfriend dump her for another girl, she's more than a little cynical, particularly towards Hercules.
  • Wreck-It Ralph:
  • Queen Elsa from Frozen used to be a happy kid until one night when she hit her little sister in the head with her ice powers. After that incident, she refused to use her powers, detached herself from her sister, and locked herself in her room. She's pretty much lived the past thirteen years of her life in isolation and fear of herself and hurting others.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Hatter in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. Mercury poisoning is only part of what drove him mad.
  • James Bond: More than one Bond Girl.
    • Countess Tracy Di Vincezo (Diana Rigg) from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. She's barely recovering from a traumatic divorce (and her ex husband's death), drug addiction, and her child's death. And once she and Bond are Happily Married, she's shot to death.
    • Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet) from For Your Eyes Only, who joins Bond to avenge her parents' deaths with her trusty crossbow.
    • Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (2006). Like Tracy, she's the only girl Bond thinks about leaving MI6 for, but she turns against him by stealing his winnings to pay for her boyfriend's ransom, but dies during the exchange. And what's worse is in Quantum of Solace, we learn that her boyfriend was really an agent with QUANTUM, who staged the kidnapping.
  • Maggie in Escape from New York has the attitude, although the audience learns very little about her past.
  • The Bride and O-Ren Ishii, in Kill Bill.
    • The plot revolves around The Bride on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge to murder the assassins who crashed her wedding, killed her fiance, and ruined her life.
    • As for O-Ren: when she was seven, she watched her parents be brutally murdered right before her eyes, leading her to avenge them by hunting down their killer. At age eleven, she found him and stabbed him to death.
  • Annie Newton in The Invisible. Call her that, and she'll beat the tar out of you. Half the movie is spent learning how she was broken.
  • Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie) in The Hustler is this both mentally and physically.
  • Loki from the Marvel Cinematic Universe could be here. In Thor, we see that he is actually a relatively nice person deep down, who loves his brother and looks up to him immensely. Sure, he's manipulative and a little shit most of the time, what with ruining Thor's coronation to be King just because he thought Thor wasn't ready (he wasn't, but not the point), but learning his whole life and family is a lie and that he's actually part of a race he's been taught to hate his entire life is still pretty devastating, and is what ultimately makes him snap and go about violently trying to prove his worth in the exact wrong way. After this, the downward spiral only continues… though he does seem to get some redemption in Thor: The Dark World. Or does he?
  • Theodore in Her begins the film isolated and withdrawn. He's a writer who has always been inside his own head, but completely caves in after his wife divorces him.
  • Time and events have really taken their toll on Young Charles Xavier in X-Men: Days of Future Past. He lost Raven and Erik, Sean disappeared several years prior (and is later confirmed dead at the hands of Trask), then his teachers and students were drafted, leaving Charles alone except for Hank.
  • Selena in 28 Days Later has already seen society crumble around her and everyone she knows killed or infected by the time we meet her, and as a result maintains that "staying alive is as good as it gets". She ruthlessly kills her companion Mark when she suspects that he is infected, and assures Jim she would do the same to him "in a heartbeat".

  • "Broken Wings" by Mister Mister seems to be about a girl like this, appropriately enough.
  • Take all of the mixtapes and albums of Lupe Fiasco and listen to them in order. If you notice the gradual change into darker, cynical and politically charged lyrics and stories, then congratulations, you've seen what a combination of social issues, executive meddling, and personal loss can do a person.
  • The Tori Amos song "Me and a Gun" from Little Earthquakes. The fact she throws some really bitter snark into it just makes it more so.
  • More than one Ayumi Hamasaki song has shades of this, made even worse by the poppy, energetic tune.
  • The Lady Gaga album "The Fame Monster" definitely qualifies, particularly tracks like "Monster" (in which the narrator becomes as bad as her "monster"-boyfriend) and "Speechless" ("I'll never talk again [...] I'll never love again"). Plus Gaga's more overt use of her more gothic stylings.
  • Tina Turner's "What's Love Got To Do With It", which is practically the Broken Bird anthem. Not far from this is Tina Turner herself, who left a violently abusive marriage with Ike Turner in 1978.
    What's love got to do, got to do with it?
    What's love, but a second-hand emotion?
    What's love got to do, got to do with it?
    Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?
  • Evanescence lyrics are made of this trope. A particularly good example is the (very infamous) "My Immortal", from the perspective of a person who once had a broken bird lover and has become a boken bird themselves after losing them:
    These wounds won't seem to heal, this pain is just too real.
    There's just too much that time cannot erase...
    When you cried I wiped away all of your tears
    When you screamed I'd fight away all of your fears
    And I held your hand through all of these years
    But you still have all of me...
  • Pain of Salvation's albums "The Perfect Element I" and "Remedy Lane" both feature broken birds, the former a male and female and the latter just male. TPE even has the line "A wind-beaten bird/for reasons unheard" when introducing the female broken bird of the concept.
  • Pick a Katatonia song, preferably from "Tonight's Decision" or "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" (one track in the former is titled "I Break", for example). Broken. There's even a meeting of the broken birds in "Passing Bird" (one is faking it, though.)
  • Savage Garden's "To the Moon and Back" depicts the mindset of a Broken Bird in all details. "Gunning Down Romance" to an even deeper extent, though this time, it's the male singer experiencing it.
  • Mr Mister's "Broken Wings" is about someone trying to help a broken bird pull themselves together
  • Demi Lovato's album "Unbroken" is about a recovering broken bird.
  • City And Colour:
    • "Fragile Bird" talks about one who keeps having Bad Dreams, who the singer promises to comfort throughout the night.
    • "O' Sister" is about the singer's sister, who is suffering from depression.
  • Marianas Trench has "Porcelain", which describes a recovering Broken Bird, who the singer sympathizes with and wants to help.
  • A few of Ingrid Michaelson's songs have this:
    "Open me up and you will see/I'm a gallery of broken hearts/I'm beyond repair, let me be/And give me back my broken parts"
    • "Locked Up" is about being emotionally guarded and cynical about love after growing up and being hurt in the past, but trying to get over that and be able to trust again.
    "Should I show them all my scars?/Cherry red, bleeding burn ... Like an angry apple tree/I throw my apples if you get too close to me"
  • Suzanne Vega's "Luka" is about a battered wife/girlfriend (or an abused child), and sung in a toneless, unemotional voice indicating how the titular character has totally given up on life.
  • Boyce Avenue's "Broken Angel" has shades of this; the subject is a perfectionist young woman who suffers lasting damage from an emotionally neglectful father, and blames herself—her shortcomings are the reason he was distant.
  • Billie Holiday had a tragic life where she was the victim of rape at age 11, fell into teenage prostitution, had abusive partners and suffered from severe alcohol, morphine and heroin addiction. All it culminated in her world weary Magnum Opus, Lady In Satin, where she sings about break-ups, unrequited love and all hardships of relationships in her drug ravaged voice. Only a year after recording this album would she die from cirrhosis of the liver.

    Myth and Legend 
  • Older Than Dirt: Ereshkigal, the Mesopotamian goddess of the Netherworld, is the mythological variant of this trope to a tee. While she mainly shows up as the bitter, lonely, and adversarial older sister of the Genki Girl goddess Inanna/Ishtar, Ereshkigal's character is more elaborated elsewhere through her unhappy backstory and her encounter with the Troubled, but Cute plague god Nergal. In a rare happy ending in a mythological love story, the two outcast gods eventually resolve their differences and resolve to rule the Netherworld together. (Scholarly opinions are divided on whether this resulted in Badass Decay of her.)
  • If the Romans are to believed, Queen Dido of Carthage from The Aeneid is this. She is happily married, then her brother kills her husband and forces her to flee her homeland. Then, she has to start a new city from scratch with a few men, and then Aeneas turns up. He has a love affair with her that ends badly (he leaves her because of the Jerkass gods). Later, she loses her sanity and kills herself. To show just how badly she is broken when Aeneas leaves her, Vergil stretches to its limits the inherent flexibility of Latin word order (an effect lost in translation)—the word order and grammar are so horribly broken that the subject and direct object can be several lines apart.

    Tabletop Games 

  • Aldonza in Man of La Mancha. "Aldonza" (the song) is a great portrayal of anger and cynicism overlaying a very unhappy backstory.
  • The Witch in Intothe Woods consistently embodies the cynical and badass qualities, warning Rapunzel, "the world is dark and wild." It never becomes entirely clear where the Witch's brokenness stems from, but she is persuasive enough in pointing out the failings of others to make us suspect that her ruthless and misanthropic ways came from somewhere.
  • Meg Giry in the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies, due to a combination of her falling for the Phantom, who still pines for Christine, and too much time on the Casting Couch over the ten years separating the two shows. She ultimately tries to kill Christine's son; she winds up actually killing Christine.
  • Niobe from The Love of the Nightingale. Procne and Philomele become birds after their Break the Cutie.
  • In The Little Foxes, Birdie married twenty years ago into a Big Screwed-Up Family, who took her cotton plantation and sired on her an unlikable twit of a son. She spends a lot of time drowning her sorrows in her own room, which they try to hide by lying and saying she has a headache.
  • Blanche Dubois of A Streetcar Named Desire is strictly the badass type. She is definitely not emotionless, but she does tend to put herself in charge.
  • Depending on the interpretation, Joanne from Company could be a cynical example: She is an alcoholic who has been twice divorced and is currently on her third husband. She is rather different from Bobby's other friends, spends most of the scenes making occasional snarky remarks, and is shown being extremely critical of both her husband, who clearly loves her with all his heart, and of Bobby. However, Bobby describes her as "warm", and her husband says that her behaviour comes from her being "wildly conceited" with "no self-esteem", and in the end, she also plays something of a mentorly role to Bobby, as she is the one who makes him question what he wants from a relationship.

  • Hayasaka Erika from MegaTokyo is cool, calm, sarcastic, and quick to inflict violence on anyone violating her personal space. At first thought to be the only person in the cast who wasn't awash with neuroses, she eventually turned out to be possibly the most damaged of them all. And it was the title of one of her albums.
  • Erfworld:
    • Jillian Zamussels turns out to be a Broken Bird, among other things, due to being the princess of a destroyed kingdom that she never wanted in the first place, in addition to massive amounts of torture, Mind Rape, and failed attempts to Screw Destiny.
    • Her lover and torturer (yeah, it's that kind of relationship) Wanda isn't better: her backstory, explored in the "Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower)" stories, reveals just how much she was broken, repeatedly, during her first turns of existence, slowly turning her into the ruthless and Fate-abider character she is nowadays.
  • Questionable Content
    • Faye — though she subverts the Freak Out, she makes jokes about it while she's in obvious pain from bringing it up, and chooses to tell Marten beforehand. Still counts, though, because she is pretty broken. After finding out the whole story, Marten is careful to explain the situation to her next potential boyfriend.
      Angus: Wait, how do I know any of this is true? Maybe you're still holding a torch for her!
      Marten: Dude, when a park ranger warns you about bears, it's not so he can keep all the bear hugs for himself.
    • More recent issues indicate that Dora may also be one, particularly regarding her relationship history and trust issues with Marten.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Considering recent developments with her character, Tsukiko from might be this - or she might just be crazy. She says that she "likes" the undead because she thinks that living people are the real monsters and therefore the undead, as their inverse, must be good. It is, however, unclear whether these opinions come from personal experience or not - if they do, she's probably this trope, and a good deal more sympathetic than she had been previously. Which wouldn't be surprising, as a lot of villains tend to have a dimension of sympathy. (Except the Big Bad himself, by admission of the creator.)
    • Miko Miyazaki could be interpreted as such as well; she was orphaned at a young age, is severely socially awkward, and her only friend is her horse. One could imagine a lonely young girl with poor social skills adopting a rigid black-and-white view of the world as a means of emotional defense - only making things worse, as her narrow-mindedness and arrogance drives people even further away from her.
  • Galatea ("Golly") in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!. is much less of an emotional disaster than she once was, but she still tries to project an air of competence and experience far beyond what she actually has (even if she is a genius).
  • In Homestuck. Aradia Megido. The poor girl is so broken by the time the game starts that she's forgotten what emotion feels like, which makes her ascention to God Tier all the more heartwarming.
  • Bathory of Crepuscule seems to be this, as revealed in more recent chapters: For hundreds of years, she's been searching for a surviving relative from the extermination of the pureblood succubi. Thankfully, she finds Angela, her aunt, and seems to be getting better because of it.
  • Sinfest:
    So much cynicism in your voice — masking untold sorrows.
  • The title heroine of Glorianna is carrying heavy angst from some as-yet-unspecified childhood trauma, as well as guilt over her unplanned pregnancy and subsequent abandoning of her baby.
  • The Fox Sister: Yun Hee might be warming up towards Alex, but overall she's still quite brusque and closed off.
  • Murai in Digger is a variant— her Establishing Character Moment is her collapse during the bandit raid, meaning the broken side of her was shown before the facade was.
  • Lei'ella if Inverloch puts on a ruthless facade and uses Spock Speak to intimidate people in her capacity as a thief-catcher, a job which she admits usually results in her killing someone. She's cynical about Acheron's motives, and refuses to believe the thief Varden has any capacity for goodness. This is because she's an elf "afflicted" with mortality and exiled when she was twelve; since then she's had to hide her race because she's invariably been rejected by prejudiced humans.

     Web Originals 
  • Iriana Estchell of Ilivais X lived a life that amounted to abusive rape followed by even more rape, which given her condition meant more like being tortured for 15 years. By the time the story starts, she's desperately trying to cover her mushy, fragile core with stoic badassery and indifferent sadism, but isn't as good at that as she'd like. When she meets someone that loves her (or rather, manipulated into doing so), she's so confused at how she's treated that she tends to respond by hurting her even more.
  • The Nostalgia Chick:
    • In a far lighter example, Nostalgia Chick is a twisted Cute and Psycho girl with a big drinking problem.
    • The Makeover Fairy is also pretty bad, trying so hard to be happy and girly and cheerful, but always showing in the end that she's just a Nervous Wreck.
  • Survival of the Fittest: Thanks to the premise, there are a fair amount of examples of this trope due to how many cuties are broken in each version. It's either that they started out this way and only get more scarred and/or Ax-Crazy, or that they become this way due to the amount of trauma they've suffered. Either way, the island doesn't do well for mental and emotional health.
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • Agent Carolina, in the present, is one of these, having built up a cold, callous exterior that covers her sadness concerning the fates of her Freelancer comrades.
    • Agent Washington was once an Adorkable and friendly Nice Guy, Wash had the memories of a tortured AI unit uploaded into his head. This, combined with the betrayals of various friends and allies later in life, led to Wash becoming cynical and no-nonsense. After the Blues help him escape custody, however, Wash begins to recover and becomes something closer to his kinder self.
    • In Season 12, it's implied and later confirmed that Felix's experiences in the Great War against the Covenant have kind of broken him and reshaped him into the cynical, sort of-Sociopathic Hero he is today. Nope, that's his cover story. He did fight in the war, but he's a total sociopath and isn't broken in the least.
    • It's implied that Locus' experiences in the Great War have also left him with some form of trauma, which he hides with his One-Man Army and Consummate Professional mask. Unlike Felix, it appears to be genuine.
  • In Worm, Vista, the youngest member of the Brockton Bay Wards, becomes this after Leviathan's attack on the city kills two of her teammates-including one that she had a childhood crush on-and then seeing the rest of her team slowly collapse, eventually becoming The Fatalist and accepting what she viewed as her inevitable death while still doing everything she could for her teammates.

    Western Animation 
  • Helga Pataki from Hey Arnold! is the badass variety. She mentions in one episode that she would probably go crazy if it weren't for Arnold.
  • Teen Titans:
    • Raven, though she does gradually open up in the last two seasons.
    • Terra, though she tries to hide it behind a Fun Personified façade. Stick around her long enough, though, and it becomes obvious the girl has serious issues with people.
  • Karai from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles becomes one of these during the show's fourth and fifth seasons, after the turtles and Utroms exile her father to an icy asteroid.
  • Meg of Family Guy. Although it's Played for Laughs and she's a pretty big Butt Monkey, some episodes depict her being both emotionally fragile and disturbed, derived from a desperation for love and attention.
  • Anna Blue, it doesn't get any more broken than this.
  • Mrs. Krabappel from The Simpsons is The Snark Knight variety. In her case, it's Played for Laughs.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender,
    • Mai. Her parents neglected her and forced her to be a "perfect child", causing her to be cynical and apathetic. Unsurprisingly, she ends up with the resident Troubled, but Cute.
    • Azula as well:
    “My own mother thought I was a monster. *Beat* She was right, of course, but it still hurt."
    • Zuko could definitely be considered a male example. His father burned half his face and banished him, sending him on a Snipe Hunt to find the Avatar, all when he was only thirteen. And that's only the beginning. Luckily, he gets better.
    • In the sequel series The Legend of Korra, three seasons of various kinds of trauma have made Korra herself into one. After a three-year timeskip, she's gone into hiding as an earthbender, getting beat up in fight clubs for cash. None of her friends know where she is, and even her parents thought she was in Republic City. Thankfully with some help, Korra is eventually able to recover from her past traumas and retake her position as being the Avatar. By the end of the series, she is hopeful for the future again and begins a romantic relationship with her friend Asami.
    • Averted with Asami Sato despite losing her mother to murder and her father being a terrorist, but she hints that losing Korra would have most likely pushed her over the edge.
  • Gwen from Total Drama Island, in spades. She's never had many friends and gets picked on by every villain.
  • Charmcaster in Ben 10: Ultimate Alien. Being used by Darkstar was a huge part in making it worse.
  • Artemis from Young Justice comes from a broken home, with her mother having spent years in prison, her father being a supervillain, and her older sister, Jade, being the notorious assassin Cheshire. This has understandably made Artemis very cynical and abrasive.
  • Both Rogue and Wanda from X-Men: Evolution.
  • In "Sad About You" on Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot, the human girl Joy was a broken bird who had sworn off friendship and happy feelings after her best friend moved away, but the Care Bears managed to fix it, in large part thanks to Grumpy Bear, who helped them to see that they need to empathize with and acknowledge her feelings rather than simply try to cheer her up.
  • Marceline from Adventure Time. No sign of her mother ever appears, her biological father ranges from "neglectful" to "abusive", her father figure has magical curse alzheimers and doesn't remember her (but still sticks around, just to twist the knife), her boyfriend sold her most cherished possession, and she's had a millennium of other miscellaneous such events. Is it any wonder she plays up her vampirism to drive people away for their own good?
  • The widow Kelly Deegan in Holly Hobbie and Friends Christmas Wishes, until Holly manages to help restore her happiness by contriving to give her the solo at the Christmas pageant.
  • Enrique on Dragon Tales. According to his bio that was posted on the parents section of the show's official website, much of his general mopiness at times as well as his wariness of making new friends and trying new things came from the fact that he and his family had moved several times in his young life.
  • Kitty from Courage the Cowardly Dog lost her girlfriend to their abusive pimp and walks around wearing a creepy mask to shield herself from the cruelty of reality. Courage does everything he can to appease her and succeeds when he reunites the two.
  • Bojack Horseman qualifies, as he'd grown up with a Stage Mom who withheld affection unless he acted, which pretty succinctly explains why he's at best a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Lapis Lazuli of Steven Universe, especially in the episode "Jail Break." Steven is completely capable of getting her free, and alongside the Crystal Gems they'd be more than a match for Jasper and Peridot. But Lapis refuses to leave her cell because she believes that resisting would only make things worse and that the only way she can help them is by stealing the reigns of a fusion with Jasper and dragging them both down to the bottom of the sea forever.