"Warning: The game you are about to play is canon." [sic]That which counts, in terms of continuity. Canonicity, as it applies to television series, is substantially different from its literary counterpart. For example, there is no question of which Sherlock Holmes stories (the first non-biblical literary works to which the term was applied) are canonical: those written by Doyle are, everything else isn't. Television canonicity works much differently, as there are many authors involved. Works not officially sanctioned are generally outside of canonicity, but what remains inside is more nebulous. Officially licensed material, novelizations and tie-in novels are not usually considered canonical. Even broadcast material can be excluded from the canon when decreed by Word of God. The primary issue is that canons for completed works (especially with a single author) are descriptive, whereas fans' attempts to define canonicity for ongoing works are prescriptive. If a fact is canonical, you are not allowed to contradict it. The concept of canonicity is almost entirely an invention of fandom. The writers will ignore, include, or change whatever facts they damned well like. This is not to say that the writers totally lack a sense of continuity, but it is a much weaker concept than "canonicity" as presented by fan communities. Writers can tweak continuity quite a lot without actually breaking it by using Broad Strokes. In fan communities based on very loose continuities, what is "canonical" can sometimes boil down to "the bits we like". Fans will attempt to find any excuse to "de-canonize" facts that they personally find inconvenient. A related term is Deuterocanon (known here on TV Tropes as Word of Dante), which in this context refers to those persons, places and/or events which are not explicitly shown on-screen, but which are considered "official" or close to it. For canonicity that comes not from the source material but from pronouncements by the creator, see Word of God. For the contrary idea that something is canonical only if it appears in the source material (external opinions of the creator, Dummied Out content, and Deleted Scenes not included), see Death of the Author. This concept is related to the literary term used to describe a body of work that is considered the foremost in quality and significance. For example, if one refers to the English-language literary canon, it is understood that one is speaking of books such as A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad—in other words, most of the books you read in High School are part of the English-language canon. Canonicity should not be confused with Fanon, but everyone does it all the time. See Fanon Discontinuity for when people decide en masse to disregard actual canonicity, and Canon Discontinuity when the writers do it. Alternatively, see the Continuity Tropes index for all related concepts. Official Fan-Submitted Content is when the creators ask the fans to add to the canon. Not to be confused with the Visual Novel Kanon, or the camera company Canon, or with singer/songwriter K'naan, or with Pachelbel's Canon, or the The Legend of Zelda Big Bad Ganon, or with actual cannons. It must be noted that "canon" is a term misused even more often than the notorious "Egregious," as seen in the page quote. Many people mistakenly use "canon" when they mean "canonical" (if using it as an adjective) or "canonicity" (if using it as a collective noun), and "non-canon" when they mean "non-canonical." "Canon" is a singular noun that refers to the official story of a work (typically according to the writers of said work) and must come after a singular specifying article (such as "the" or "a") or must have an "s" applied to the end of the word when referring to more than one individual canon. "Canonicity" is the collective noun form and is the correct word to use when referring to the idea of canonical or non-canonical things in general and should be used any time you want to use the word "canon" without preceding it with a singular specifying article. "Canonical" is the adjective form describing something that is or isn't part of the canon in question. The correct terminology can be most easily exhibited with these three sentences: "Let's discuss canonicity. Because this particular detail is canonical, it fits within established canonicity and therefore is part of the official canon. However, because this other conflicting detail does not fit into canonicity, it's clearly non-canonical and does not belong in the canon." If you're still confused, a simple way to remember how to use these words is to compare "canon" to "continuation," "canonical" to "continual," and "canonicity" to "continuity."
Examples of canons in fiction
open/close all folders
- When it comes to the Gundam franchise, the official word from Sunrise is that all works that appeared in official releases count as being canonical unless stated otherwise. Even if they try their hardest to line up with continuity and get appearances in crossover media like Super Robot Wars, this still creates quite a lot of problems. Most of the time they act more like written guides are the most canonical, anime is more of a film/movie adaptation of what actually happened, yet much more canonical than manga and novels, and games are, all non-canonical, unless retconned by any previous mentioned media and with no contradiction with the guides.
- For most Dragon Ball fans continuïty is Serious Business, and plenty a Flame War has erupted over what is and isn't canonical. Complicating this is that, over the course of the franchise's 30-year long run it has had many properties (plus a lot of Filler) developed without Akira Toriyama's direct influence, with many of the franchises' beloved characters either not being thought up by the original author or plain not fitting in the timeline. There are also many fans who feel the need to explicitly tell other fans what parts of the series they are allowed to "count" and what parts not, to the point where they insist that separate scenes in an episode should be disregarded. In the more reasonable parts of the fandom, it's generally agreed that there are several "tiers" of canonicity:
- Manga Canonicity: anything that has the involvement of Akira Toriyama, and the "absolute" canon: The original manga, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods and Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’, Dragon Ball Super. Super adapts the two aforementoined movies with some minor differences, with the version being "truly" canonical being up to fan preference as none of these differences have any bearing on the long-term plot. There is also a 2008 OVA special that was confirmed to be canonical in Battle of Gods. Dragon Ball Super also has a manga drawn by Toyotaro with some minor differences to the anime. Word of God is usually considered canonical as well, but due to Toriyama's forgetful and sometimes self-contraditory nature some fans take this with a grain of salt.
- Anime Canonicity: All of the anime-exclusive Filler and Non-Serial Movies that don't contradict the manga or have small plotholes that are easily explained away. They aren't canonical to the manga and thus will never be referenced in manga-canonical materials, but you could be excused for "counting" them. Examples include the Ginyu-takes-over-Bulma subplot (which was actually referenced in Super), the 10-day wait for the Cell games, the driving episode, Cooler's Revenge, Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan, and Bojack Unbound. The Other World tournament used to count as well, but has since been demoted as Resurrection F explicitly retconned all scenes in hell.
- Non-Canonicity: All anime-exlusive materials that contradict the manga, all unique video game plots (many of which are What-if's anyway), and all non-Toriyama or non-Toyotaro; manga. Examples include The Tree of Might and Return of Cooler.
- Superhero comics have wildly fluctuating levels of canonicity with generally the most popular stories written by currently established writers being considered canonical, often even if they weren't originally. For example, Kingdom Come, originally an Elseworlds story, was eventually retconned to be the official future of the DC Universe (and later retconned to be one of the Fifty Two earths with the Superman of that universe interacting with his mainstream universe counterpart.) Often after a major retcon or reboot, classic stories are considered canonical until proven otherwise by new canonicity. Birthright was considered Superman's origin story even after Infinite Crisis until Johns wrote Secret Origins.
- Marvel tends to be very inclusive with their canon; many works are included thanks to their utilisation of more than one Alternate Universe.
Film - Animated
- The Disney Animated Canon itself isn't one singular canon, but rather a concept put in place to define over fifty separate canons. That being, each animated film created by Disney Feature Animation as being canonical and definitive to that particular universe, with everything else (tie-in books, TV shows, sequels done by other divisions) as being non-canonical supplementary material. Actual continuation within the larger canon is rare, limited to only four official sequels and a handful of short films.
- Titan A.E. had two short novels that came out with the film, to help explain the two main characters' pasts and motivations, as well as the world in which it is set.
Film - Live-Action
- The Star Wars canon is explictly patterned after Star Trek canonicity. That is, the "real" canon is just the movies and the Clone Wars cartoons, and that while the Expanded Universe material has its own internal continuity and canon, it is most assuredly not the "official canon" of Star Wars. This policy has been reinforced by Disney, the new owners of the franchise. However, most fans don't seem to realize that there is a difference, or else deny the difference matters, or simply declare that the owners of the franchise have no say in the matter and thus consider the EU canon to be the Star Wars canon proper. The struggles to retcon EU to accommodate new Clone Wars material has actually caused one SW EU author to quit. For more on this, see Expanded Universe (and the Star Wars Expanded Universe).
- Dragonlance fans regard the stories written by Margaret Weis and/or Tracy Hickman as being the official canon, but attitudes towards the books written by other authors range widely.
- The Cthulhu Mythos canon is sometimes only the work of H.P. Lovecraft, but sometimes also the work of August Derleth. Fans argue, especially with the changes in character Derleth created. In fairness, the mythos is all about horrors beyond our comprehension, so its natural that different writers would have different interpretations of the material.
- There's some argument over what is and what isn't canonical in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien as they relate to Middle-Earth; he made many, MANY changes to his works over the course of his lifetime. The Hobbit is sometimes considered non-canonical because it was not originally created as part of Middle-Earth, despite the fact that the widest-known book in the setting, The Lord of the Rings, was meant as a sequel to it.
- The Silmarillion and the Appendices to Lord of the Rings are accepted as the most canonical accounts of the pre-Hobbit history of Middle Earth but for events not covered in them one has to delve into writings unpublished during Tolkien's lifetime, which are much less organized. The History of Middle Earth series published by his son is 12 volumes devoted to documenting the evolution of Tolkien's ideas and manuscripts and STILL didn't exhaust the known body of manuscripts left behind at his death. This is further complicated by the fact that Tolkien was himself a philologist and wrote a complex Literary Agent Hypothesis into canonicity explaining how he obtained a manuscript of the Red Book of Westmarch, Frodo and Bilbo's first-hand acount of their journeys. Tolkien's preferred way of dealing with apparent inconsistencies in canonicity was to attribute them to a story having been handed down in more than one form before reaching his ears or to the personal biases of those involved in the transmission of the story.
- In Sherlock Holmes fandom, the original works penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are the primary canon, with different spinoff 'verses having their own subsidiary canons. However, what facts are and are not canonical is made less clear by the trope-naming Literary Agent Hypothesis, where Doyle is merely John Watson's literary agent and the stories are all first-person accounts penned by Watson (and in a few aberrant cases by Holmes himself). Watson refers repeatedly to Doyle editing parts of his stories—and in turn Holmes regularly accuses Watson of "re-imagining" cases to be more exciting and trope-tastic—but Watson also edits himself, alluding to cases still too dangerous or controversial to publish. There even seems to be some Retcon involved around Moriarty, with stories published after "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House" suggesting that Watson WAS involved in the long cat-and-mouse game leading up to the destruction of Moriarty's crime network but suppressed that fact in order to protect the ongoing investigation.
- In the Harry Potter fandom, it is, of course, widely accepted that the books take precedence over the movies. The Harry Potter Lexicon and the Harry Potter Wiki have two different approaches to this. The Lexicon believes that the canon consists only of the things J. K. Rowling has said or written, ergo the films are non-canonical unless it can be proved that a particular detail was provided by Rowling herself. The Harry Potter Wiki, on the other hand, has a "canon tier" system which regards the films as canonical in the places where they don't conflict with the books. The practical effect of this is shifting the burden of proof, i.e. the Lexicon says movie details have to prove canonicity while the Wiki says they have to be proven not canonical. Also, the Wiki places the Harry Potter video games on a third tier, below the films. And then there are the fans who disregard statements from Rowling and/or whole books, mostly because they don't like that a certain character died or a certain ship became official.
- Doctor Who has no official policy from above on what is or isn't canonical. Being a show about time travel and history being altered, this probably makes sense.
Why all this fuss about canonicity - and, indeed, continuity - in a show about a man who changes history for a living? Steven Moffat (link)
- This wiki considers only the TV series to be part of the Whoniverse, and everything else to be the Doctor Who Expanded Universe. However, in Night of the Doctor, which shows the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor into the War Doctor, the Doctor refers to some of his companions from the Big Finish Doctor Who audio stories, thus confirming them as canonical.
- Paramount maintains that nothing that didn't happen or wasn't referenced onscreen in Star Trek is canonical. This technically includes the film series beginning with the 2009 "reboot", which features a few characters from after Star Trek: Nemesis in the "prime universe". Star Trek: The Animated Series is generally not considered canonical (with the possible exception of the episode "Yesteryear", according to the authors of The Star Trek Encyclopedia). The official status does seem to change from year to year, considering how many writers worked on both that show and the original series. Currently Paramount's policy is that the canon consists of the movies, the live-action shows, and TAS.
- Like Star Wars, Babylon 5 also has canonical licensed tie-in media.
- Lost's Alternate Reality Games and tie-in video game have mixed canonicity, and the showrunners have used the podcast to declare what can be taken as canonical and what cannot.
- In terms of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in addition to the seven seasons of the TV show, all the Season 8 and 9 comics have been declared officially canonical by Joss Whedon. All other Dark Horse comics produced before the Season 8+ comics, however, are not considered canonical.
- The Stargate Verse's canon has the TV shows override the original movie. The Stargate: Infinity cartoon is not canonical. The Stargate Atlantis continuation novels are.
- Religion, which is in fact the origin of this concept, also has its share of both canonicity and Fanon. In addition to The Bible, for instance, Jews have The Talmud and many old Jewish legends besides, and Christians have works from various Jewish and Roman historians such as Josephus, Gnostic cults, and certain popular contemporary legends as well. Note that true believers do not necessarily automatically disregard all of these apocryphal works as wholly false; in fact, Jews and Christians will often borrow from these works to interpolate from the canonical works when adapting various parts of the Bible to television and movies. They just don't require anyone to believe in these "supplementary" writings in order to be a believer.
- Note that the Bible has been officially and permanently fixed since the 300's. Before this many smaller groups of religious sects argued over which Gospels were in fact true to the canon of Jesus. For example, you might be surprised to hear that there was a Gospel of Peter. It's not in your local Bible, though. If the early compilers of the Bible had the information we do now, what became canonical would probably have been very different. Just one example: early Christians believed that the John mentioned as Jesus' disciple, the author of the Gospel of John, the author of the 3 Letters of John and the author of Revelation were all the same person. They're now widely considered to have been at least three different people (most historians would still say that the Gospel and the Letters probably had the same author, but the other two are undeniably different), which casts doubts on whether it was right to include those books.
- In Islam, there's The Qur'an, the Word of God, and the Hadith, things said by Muhammad that aren't part of the Koran. The Hadiths have to be reliably traced back to Muhammad, fit with existing proven Hadiths, and so on, but which ones count and which don't depends on who you ask.
- The Koran assumed readers are already familiar with the events described in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. However, the Koran also makes it clear that the Bible is a distorted, not always reliable version of these events, and in many places gives a slightly different narrative than the Biblical one.
- Ordinarily Wizards of the Coast takes the position that any video game adaptations aren't canonical. But then the Forgotten Realms novel and sourcebook writers chose to make canonical several plot points from the BioWare games. For example, the whole Bhaalspawn plot from the Baldur's Gate series was referenced in the 3.5E sourcebook Lost Empires of Faerûn, and other material mentions the Wailing Death in Neverwinter Nights.
- By the ordinary standards the Baldur's Gate novelizations would have been more canonical than the games, but references in various materials in the run-up to 5E, plus a new comic book series, made clear that while the canonical protagonist was the one from the novels (or at least had the same name, race and gender), the events he was involved in and his companions during them were closer to those of the games.
- In BattleTech, there is now 'divergent canonicity', thanks to Wiz Kids' improper seizure and use in 2001 of a FASA-era submission, which included an extensive history of the 'Eridani Light Horse' mercenary unit. Wiz Kids and the author arrived at a settlement whereby he provided a new version and it was treated as canonical —- without the author signing over the rights in his contribution, the only known time this has occurred regarding official Battletech material. Topps later bought Wiz Kids and, after a few years, hijinks ensued, followed by a lawsuit. Ultimately the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that the submission is a contribution to part of the Battletech property. Many of its details have been contradicted by new canonical material since its publication, but since the author still retains copyrights in his contribution, it effectively forms its own branch of Battletech canonicity which he has stated he intends to build upon at some point.
- Transformers, with all its spin-offs, is a massive canonicity snarl. Generation 1 and 2, Beast Wars and Beast Machines are the main canon, sort of, but there's also Robots in Disguise, the Unicron Trilogy, the live-action movies and the new Transformers Animated. Linnaean taxonomy has nothing on Transformers continuity families of multiple micro-continuities, including conflicting stuff like toys' "tech spec" bios and the kiddie cartoon shows. And then the "Universe" comics seem to have made it all a Marvel/DC-style multiverse, where characters pop in and out of continuities with alarming frequency.
- Many games (and especially Visual Novels) have the problem of the Story Branching into Multiple Endings, thus creating a number of mutually exclusive but canonical happenings. This becomes particularly relevant when the source material is adapted to a linear medium like a TV series and one of the paths has to be chosen, adding "extra canonicity" to it. The same applies to sequels. Choose wrong, and the original fans will be up in arms; and there likely is no right answer. See Tsukihime for an example. Most frequently, the "good" ending is the one chosen.
- In the games Wing Commander III and Wing Commander IV, which also had novelizations contracted out by Origin, you are given several choices as to an action path to take, as part of the "interactive movie" feature of those games. Origin (later bought by Electronic Arts) has declared that the choices taken in the novels are the official history of the in-character universe. Sorry, Locanda IV.
- Metal Gear Solid has two endings, one in which Snake's love interest Meryl dies and another in which she survives. Initially, the creators decided to handle the issue by simply ignoring it; Metal Gear Solid 2's story neither contradicts nor confirms either ending, making them both possible. It wasn't until the fourth game that we found out that Meryl lived.
- Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer assumes (not unreasonably) that the Knight-Captain defeated the King of Shadows instead of pulling a Face–Heel Turn.
- The Elder Scrolls has some oddities.
- Morrowind established that at least five of the possible endings to Daggerfall were canonical due to a Reality-Breaking Paradox called the Warp in the West.
- The two novels set between Oblivion and Skyrim (Lord of Souls and The Infernal City by Greg Keyes) are canonical.
- Skyrim implies via Sheogorath's daedric quest that the canonical version of the Champion of Cyrodiil was an Imperial male who joined the Thieves Guild and the Dark Brotherhood. Its notoriously Unpleasable Fanbase went nuts over the Champion not matching with their varied versions.
- Castlevania has been subject to multiple canonicity revisions, first with series lead IGA cutting out certain stories from the canon, then later adding most of them back, then we get Lords of Shadow which ditched previous continuity altogether.
- Fighting Games have their own problems when they introduce an actual narrative into the mix; usually they involve some kind of tournament or Big Bad that every single character (often more than a dozen!) is trying to triumph over, each with his or her own ending for doing so. When a sequel rolls around, it can be a Herculean task to figure out who won the previous game, which other characters had endings that could play out even if they didn't win, and which have been relegated to what-if scenarios.
- Melty Blood, which is based on Tsukihime, actually gets around this by creating an imaginary story branch (The 'Satsuki' route).
- This is especially a problem in games such as Tales of Symphonia, where the game varies slightly by which character you choose as Soul Mate for the main character. And thus begin the Shipping Wars.
- In The Legend of Zelda, all 18 flagship games are canonical, (and not the games by Phillips, or Spin-Off games like Link's Crossbow Training or Hyrule Warriors) albeit in three Alternate Timelines that diverge at Ocarina of Time, according to the 25th anniversary encyclopedia Hyrule Historia. These games include multiple people named Link and Zelda (about ten each).
- Pikmin. In the bad ending of Pikmin 1, Olimar fails in collecting all the ship parts and doesn't make it home. This obviously isn't canonical because in Pikmin 2 he lands on Hocotate and it is requested that he go back.
- Fire Emblem:
- This also happens in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. The game assumes that you got the most perfect ending possible in the predecessor, Path of Radiance. This means that you would have had all possible characters recruited and alive, as well as having defeated The Black Knight, a boss battle you could escape. This makes less sense as Radiant Dawn offers you to transfer your game save from Path of Radiance to draw from it and alter things in the game. On the other hand, the story of Radiant Dawn would be somewhat boring if all characters had died in Path of Radiance.
- Fire Emblem Awakening not only makes every game canonical to the same verse, but potentially every save file ever made as well, due to the various worlds accessible through the Outrealm Gate. That said, there may be a world where everyone did die in Path of Radiance, but that's not the world that Radiant Dawn takes place in.
- The X-Universe series has about half a dozen novels set in it, and has an encyclopedia designed to be the official explanations for everything. Unfortunately, an apparent chronological error in said encyclopedia leaves a bit of confusion surrounding the Second Terraformer War.
- Officially, the Halo canonicity policy is that if there's a conflict between new material and old material, the new material wins unless directly stated otherwise. Some players got very angry that various details of Halo: Reach didn't match up with the earlier-published novel Halo: The Fall of Reach.
- The Dragon Age Extended Universe has what is referred to as the "BioWare canon". Rather than creating stories that avoid Cutting Off the Branches of players' choices as with the Mass Effect EU, the Dragon Age EU establishes a canon of the games for its stories. Word of God has said that, should a player have made different choices in their own playthroughs, the events in the EU would have transpired differently or never happened at all.
- For Sluggy Freelance, there's been some discussion about what is canonical and what is not, though not everything has been covered. Obviously the regular stuff by the author Pete Abrams is assumed to be canonical, though some bits feature an Unreliable Narrator and brief moments of Breaking the Fourth Wall never have any implications of the characters knowing they're fictional. Stick-figure filler is equally obviously not canonical. Pete has also declared Ian McDonal's "Meanwhile in the Dimension of Pain [or elsewhere]" Saturday fillers strips to be "mostly" canonical, meaning not necessarily in exact detail, whereas its successor "The Bikini Suicide Frisbee Days" by Clay Yount, set in the strip's past, was declared non-canonical from the start to avoid problems. The status of other guest strips has usually not been commented on — some of them seem like they would fit in the canon, others not — though Phil Foglio's was explained as a weird dream.
- For El Goonish Shive, almost everything in the main comic is canonical except the first introductory storyline, the Q&A sessions, any other appearances of the cast of the Fourth-Wall Mail Slot, April Fools' Day comics, and Guest Strips. There are also some special cases.
- The "Squirrel Diplomacy" storyline is ambiguous as even Dan is not entirely sure how canonical it is aside from Grace being able to speak to animals using her antennae.
- The existence of Matt and Rat can be considered a Canon Discontinuity as Dan refuses to acknowledge any panels containing them to exist nor any reference to them.
- For the EGS:NP section, most storylines can be assumed to be non-canonical unless they are referred to in the main storyline or have a dedicated graphic of Grace firing a cannon in the commentary for the first comic of the storyline.
- The Sketchbook/Filler section is intended to be composed of entirely non-canonical strips (unless they consist of part of an already canonical strip) but at least one sketchbook strip has somehow found its way into being part of a main comic strip which Dan comments on in the commentary but does not explain.
- Ben 10,000 Returns establishes that only the three shows Ben 10, Ben 10: Alien Force, Ben 10: Ultimate Alien (excluding What If? episodes), and Ben 10: Secret of the Omnitrix build up the canon of the Ben 10 franchise and everything else takes place in a separate Alternate Timeline.
- The movie Ben 10: Alien Swarm was later made canonical however with the episodes "Revenge of the Swarm" and "The Perfect Girlfriend" which acted as sequels to the movie and explained many unanswered questions.
- The Fairly OddParents Live-Action movie A Fairly Odd Movie: Grow Up, Timmy Turner! takes place in the future and shows that the Tootie/Timmy shippers won out in the end, as Timmy gives up his fairies for Tootie, but a loophole in the rules allows him to keep his fairies, so long as he uses them for unselfish purposes. Tootie also is allowed to learn of the fairies. Although the movie is not the finale of the series itself, it seems to set the events of the future in stone.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The show is generally considered to be canonical by the fandom. Everything else... it's a bit less clear, as many of the spinoff works don't contradict the show, but similarly the show very rarely references things that originate in the comics, chapter books, etc. Generally, material created by the show's writers (such as the Equestria Girls movies or The Journal of the Two Sisters) is held to be closer to canonicity than other works, but for the most part everything is considered unofficial until it's shown in the show.
- The Steven Universe Crossover with Uncle Grandpa is stated out loud that it is non-canonical.