Classical Anti-Hero

"I'm just doing the best I can to save you."
Joe Lamb in response to a Distressed Damsel, Super 8

Nowadays, an Anti-Hero is usually thought of as a badass, bitter, misanthropic, violent, sociopathic angry person, but this is a recent enough development to be known as a '90s Anti-Hero. For much of history, the term antihero referred to a character type that is in many ways the opposite of this.

In classical and earlier mythology, the hero tended to be a dashing, confident, stoic, intelligent, highly capable fighter and commander with few, if any, flaws and even fewer real weaknesses. The classical antihero is the inversion of this. Where the hero is confident, the antihero is plagued by self-doubt. Where the hero is a respected fighter, the antihero is mediocre at best. Where the hero is brave and courageous, the antihero is frightened and cowardly. Where the hero gets all the ladies, the antihero can't even get the time of day.

In short, while the traditional hero is a paragon of awesomeness, the classical antihero suffers from flaws and hindrances. The classical antihero's story tends to be as much about overcoming his own weaknesses as about conquering the enemy.

As time has gone on, this portrayal has become increasingly popular, as readers enjoy the increased depth of story that comes from a flawed and conflicted character. Hence, the classical antihero has to some extent replaced the traditional hero in the minds of readers as the idea of what a hero should be. It is nowadays rare to find a hero who does not have at least a little of the classical antihero in him.

See also Punch-Clock Hero. Compare Super Loser and Tragic Hero. Contrast with The Ace and '90s Anti-Hero, but see also Byronic Hero, who may or may not be a complex variation of a classical antihero. A sidekick to a classical hero that otherwise fits the role of the trope would be The Lancer.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In 20th Century Boys, Kenji starts as this.
  • Short, chubby, and no small amount a crybaby, Haruyuki Arita doesn't start out Accel World as anybody's idea of a hero. But by the end of the Dusk Taker arc, he is more than capable of dropping a villain like a bad habit.
  • Rock (and Benny) from Black Lagoon. The same can't be said for the other members of the Lagoon Company, though, who are pretty much Villain Protagonists, though after Character Development Rock becomes an Anti-Hero.
  • Nobita from Doraemon is a total loser, a crybaby, and a lazy bum who prefers using tools to cheat than trying to improve himself, but he is naturally a kid with a gentle heart who can be brave and reliable when he needs to.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • Gohan. He tries to play the Ideal Hero when he is the Great Saiyaman, but he's much closer to this trope since he's often plagued with self-doubt in himself, has no real love for fighting outside of sport (which greatly affects his power), and often depends on his father and Piccolo to protect him when he screws up (which has cost them both their lives at one point). He still fights to protect the world, despite his shortcomings.
    • Mr. Satan tries to be an Ideal Hero to the citizens of Earth and everyone, save for the Z-Fighters, sees him as the savior of the universe. Truth is, Mr. Satan is an unapologetic Glory Hound who stole credit for killing Cell from Gohan. He is more often than not scared of fighting anyone stronger than him and will bribe others to throw fights so he can keep his reputation. At the same time, he does have a noble heart and will fight to protect others, even if it means risking his own life. He helps Goku and Vegeta kill Kid Buu by using his heroic status to get the people of Earth to loan energy for the Spirit Bomb.
  • Early on, Vincent Law of Ergo Proxy is very poor material for a traditional protagonist; he's shy, awkward, holds little social standing, and works doing a very dangerous job. He considerably bulks up his credentials as the series progresses.
  • Renton Thurston in Eureka Seven, who eventually graduated into a proper hero.
  • Yukiteru Amano of Future Diary starts out as one. It gets worse, later.
  • Kei Kurono from Gantz. He gets better.
  • The eponymous main character of Goodnight Punpun fits this to a tee; there's nothing particularly exceptional or admirable about him. He's a good person at heart, but is meek, withdrawn, depressed, and bad with people. The story is about his growing disillusionment with life and how this turns him into a progressively worse person.
  • Gundam:
  • Akitsu Masanosuke from House of Five Leaves is a classical anti-hero, being an overly humble samurai with no self-esteem.
  • Natsume from Natsume's Book of Friends is a Socially-Awkward Hero with no self-confidence about people and a tendency to alienate what friends he does make by constantly lying to them to avoid causing a fuss.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion:
    • Shinji Ikari manages to save the day several times in spite of all his self-doubt, angst, and neuroses.
    • Word of God describes Misato as this, too, but unlike Shinji, who is Resigned to the Call, she is much more proactive in looking past her Broken Bird issues and moving forward (particularly by the tail end of the series).
  • Usopp from One Piece is pretty much this in the beginning and mostly in the Water 7/Enies Lobby arc.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica:
    • Homura used to be a Super Loser even with her Time Stands Still ability. Some traumatic cycles later, she's a badass Dark Magical Girl Anti-Hero with loads and loads of guns, and yet she's still losing... against Walpurgisnacht. Even with the universe's biggest literal Deus ex Machina, technically she's still losing Madoka.
    • Madoka spends most of the story struggling to cope with the horrifying things that happen to her friends, while being too scared to actually do much of anything. But she slowly overcomes her fears, and eventually summons the courage to become a magical girl in order to fix most of the tragedy.
    • Sayaka is probably the "strongest" example. She's determined to be a hero, but she's barely decent at fighting, extremely angsty and emotional, and mostly unable to gain the attention of her love interest (well, the male one, anyway). She eventually breaks down completely and becomes a witch.
  • Usagi Tsukino from Sailor Moon is lazy, clumsy, cowardly, overemotional, ditzy, and Book Dumb; but she is essentially a girl of good heart and Incorruptible Pure Pureness. She grows into a stronger heroine as time goes on, although she continues to be a slacker in school.
  • Rei Kiriyama from 3-gatsu no Lion starts the story rife with personal problems, socially detached, and barely able to take care of himself.
  • Nozomu Itoshiki of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. AKA Mr. Despair, he is constantly attempting suicide and angsting about the most ridiculous of things. Interestingly, he isn't an example of This Loser Is You, as he's very good looking, intelligent, and comes from a very wealthy (if bizarre) family. In fact, the irony of his character is that he acts the way he does despite having these advantages.
  • The protagonist of The Tatami Galaxy, who is something of a Zetsubou-sensei expy, and is described in some promotional materials as a "not-so-lovable loser".
  • Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann started this way. Overcame this in episode 11.
  • Tatsuhiro Satou of Welcome to the N.H.K. is a highly unstable NEET who places all of the blame for his highly unstable life on a conspiracy organization known to him as the NHK. And yet he is ultimately a good-hearted person who wants to be a productive member of society, most of his angst stems from feeling he is unable to lead a productive life.
  • Shigeo Kageyama from Mob Psycho 100 is very much this - he's lackluster in most mundane aspects of life; starts the series incredibly out of shape; and his strongest attribute, his incredible psychic power, is something he fears and tries to avoid using. He's shy, unsure of himself, emotionally fragile, and often relies on others for emotional support. However, he's also dedicated to self-improvement, inspires a number of other people around him, and is the strongest psychic in the setting so far.
  • Ichika Orimura from Infinite Stratos is brave, honest, quick to forgive, always wants to see the good in people and puts the needs of his friends above his own. Unfortunately, he isn't very bright, always jumps into conclusions and gets his ass kicked on a regular basis. His attempts to save his friends usually end with his friends saving him instead.
  • Kazuma Satou from Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku o! only wants to have an easy, comfortable life in the RPG-style world he finds himself in. He has no interest in defeating the Demon Lord and even treats his own teammates as liabilities than assets. That said, he does care about his friends in his own way and when push comes to shove, he will do the right thing. His teammates also qualify to varying degrees.
  • Sota Mizushino from Re:CREATORS starts the series with low self-esteem, is more interested in anime and video games than on the real world and is burdened with the guilt of indirectly causing his best friend's suicide.

    Comedy 

    Comic Books 
  • Early Spider-Man, explicitly designed to be the first superhero with personal and internal conflicts besides super-villains and criminals. Spidey's runaway success was a major part of why such depictions came to be the typical depiction of a hero.
  • Although Supergirl is usually considered a classic example of The Cape, when she starts out her career she is an inexperienced, naive, temperamental teenager full of doubts and insecurities who is not even sure of wanting to be a hero and makes tons of mistakes which she has learn from them.

    Films — Animation 
  • Queen Elsa of Frozen. She was born with godlike ice powers, but after accidentally injuring her sister with them, she becomes overwhelmed with angst about accidentally hurting people. Combined with the fact that negative emotions like fear and anxiety cause her to lose control of her powers, her difficulties overcoming this angst end up being a main driving force in the plot.
  • Hiccup Haddock from How to Train Your Dragon is physically frail, rubbish in a fight and would rather solve problems by talking than punching. As the son of a Viking chief, this leaves him about as out of water as a fish can get. Everyone worries what will happen if he ever has to become chief himself - not least Hiccup himself. And then he becomes the first and best Dragon Rider amongst the Vikings...
  • Vakama from BIONICLE: Legends of Metru Nui fits this to a T, though elements of it can also be seen in the books and comics of the first third of the Adventures saga. Of all the Toa Metru, he's the one most wracked by doubt that he can be a Toa hero, much less the leader of a group of headstrong characters such as themselves, at least in part because of how Toa Lhikan was captured by the Dark Hunters saving him. He struggles to come into his own mastering his powers and even when he does take charge, it's usually only in the heat of the moment and he's quick to pass off authority again, and he blames himself the hardest when Lhikan dies and Metru Nui falls into ruin. By the second half of the Adventures saga and shown in detail during Web of Shadows, he tries to compensate by becoming overly aggressive and reckless in leading the team, which gets them mutated into Hordika and gets him a whole lot of (not entirely undeserved) crap, and the stress of all of this failure coupled with learning he and his team might not have truly been destined to become Toa in the first place drive him full-on into temporary villainy. It's only near the end does he finally find a balance.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The eponymous character of Monty Python's Life of Brian, which makes all the funnier the fact that he is repeatedly mistaken for a Messianic Archetype.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel depict Peter in a far more flawed fashion than the previous films, with him being far more temperamental, self-doubting, and with a bad tendency to make rash decisions without thinking about the consequences. However, reception is mixed on if this made him better (as its closer to the comics), or worse (it's harder to root for a guy who screws up like he does) than Tobey's Peter Parker. The sequel toned this down by making him far more grown up and developed, but it's still there.
    • The next reboot, Spider-Man: Homecoming, has him make mistakes so constantly that half his heroic actions in the film seem to be damage control for crises he himself created.
  • In a similar vein, Superman in Man of Steel. As this is Supes before he's came into his role as a superhero, he's far more self-doubting, angsty, and afraid of his powers than most depictions, and isn't quite as skilled in combat as previous versions, making him struggle to balance saving people and fighting villains, leading to more property damage than people would like.
  • Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise. Especially pronounced in the first movie. The novelization expands on the notion that the crew of the Nostromo aren't exactly considered the cream of the crop. Ripley, in particular, is described as competent but "unimaginitive".
  • Officer Jong-goo from The Wailing is a fat, bumbling officer who can't get anything right, completely panics when he has to restrain a lone frail woman, gets no respect from his family or superiors, and according to one comment from his wife isn't exactly spectacular in bed either. It's only when his daughter falls victim to a curse that he has to Take a Level in Badass to try and save her.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World brings us Scott Pilgrim, a 23 year old man living in Canada with no job and no signs of pursuing higher education, who owns almost nothing in the apartment he crashes at, has a bad history of emotionally hurting his exes, isn't dedicated enough to or good enough for his mediocre garage band, has his high school girlfriend pay for video games on a date, and deceives her so he can stalk another girl. He can fight. That's his only "heroic" quality.

    Literature 
  • Evelyn Waugh's first novel, Decline and Fall, has Butt-Monkey protagonist Paul Pennyfeather who is one of these in the way he is rather a pushover taken advantage of by the other characters.
  • Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, who ultimately fails in his mission to destroy the One Ring and is increasingly haunted by the physical and emotional scars of his journey throughout the story and for the rest of his life. His older cousin Bilbo played a similar role in The Hobbit, except with less PTSD and more reluctantly-tagging-along.
  • Discworld's Rincewind as an inept wizard and Dirty Coward/Lovable Coward who is the Butt-Monkey of the universe. He's noticed it himself.
    • Every Discworld protagonist is one in one way or another. Even Death is one.
  • The narrator of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground is one of these, as is Franz Kafka's Josef K. (of The Trial).
  • Gilbert Norrell of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, while a skilled magician, is a humorless and petty character who is far from evil enough to be an Evil Sorcerer, but also far from sympathetic (or interesting) enough to be a traditional hero.
  • John le Carré's spymaster George Smiley is like this as a contrast to James Bond, living in the more cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, and as opposed to Bond being stylish and a Chick Magnet, Smiley dresses poorly and is a cuckold.
  • Lily Bart from Edith Wharton's House of Mirth. Let's see: fails at anything and everything she tries her hands at? Check. Only ever succeeds at alienating the few people who genuinely do care about her? Check. Is a whiny, insufferable Jerkass with an entitlement complex bigger than Brazil? Check. Dies at the end? Check.
  • Lola from Kit Whitfield's Benighted is pathetic, self-loathing and self destructive, turning away from or turning on anyone who might help her.
  • Mick "Brew" Axbrewder from Stephen R. Donaldson's Man Who series, a self-pitying alcoholic who makes Thomas Covenant look like Binky the Clown.
  • Linden Avery in the second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant trilogy. Becomes a more standard heroine in the third trilogy. Stephen Donaldson is very fond of taking classical antiheroes and transforming them.
  • Flinx of the Humanx Commonwealth series. He just wants the universe to let him be. Too bad he's The Chosen One and The Call Knows Where You Live, not to mention that he has a hidden romantic streak and a not-so-hidden streak of curiosity that constantly gets him into trouble.
  • Amir, the narrator of The Kite Runner, starts out as a coward hiding from his past but grows throughout the story and is redeemed to become a 'true' hero.
  • David Levin of Everworld. He improves as time goes on.
  • Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre.
  • Jason of the Argonautica.
  • Peter Keating of The Fountainhead is either this, a deconstruction of this or a Type II AntiVillain
  • Billy Pilgrim of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.
  • Hank Thompson, the protagonist of Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston is this at first, a promising high school baseball player who wrecks his leg then , after a car accident where a friend of his is killed slowly spirals down into an alcoholic slacker, Then after inadvertently getting involved with conflicting criminal elements he levels up.
  • Elric of Melnibone is a cursed prince who ultimately fails to escape his doom, killing everyone he loves with his bloodthirsty sword.
  • A Mage's Power: Eric is a Shrinking Violet who freezes whether confronting monsters or his crush. When things go wrong, he blames himself. Tasio thinks it's tons of fun to guide him into a mercenary guild.
  • The Behemoth Roger Harding is failed graduate student turned librarian with No Social Skills, a cynical worldview, and an un-reciprocated crush on his best friend, whom he puts on a pedestal. Everything remotely heroic he does comes out of a reluctant and resentful sense of duty.
  • The Power and the Glory The Whiskey Priest protagonist is a deeply flawed example of his profession. He is an alcoholic, and a coward, and has even fathered a child. He is well aware of his flaws and his cowardice, which fills him with self doubt and guilt. He does nevertheless does remain a priest, and performs his priestly functions.
  • Danny, the protagonist of Dreadnought, is granted the powers of the eponymous superhero and spends most of the book convinced she doesn't deserve them.
  • Both Paul and Indira of Alien in a Small Town are guilt-ridden neurotics just trying to pull their lives together.

    Live Action TV 
  • Dave Lister, Cat and Arnold J. Rimmer from Red Dwarf start out like this, although Rimmer is both a neurotic loser and a smeghead. Lister once good-naturedly described himself as a "bum", while Rimmer would call him a lazy slob. Cat was vain, self-centered to the point of callousness, and not very smart... not surprising given that his species had evolved from a single, pregnant female housecat 3 million years ago (imagine the inbreeding), and even other cats considered him a moron. All three became more competent in the course of the series, but they never quite lost their essential quirks, their good qualities (such as Lister's selflessness and sense of fairness) merely became more pronounced. Or, in the case of Arnold Rimmer, who had no redeeming qualities, Rimmer had a run-in with his Alternate Universe counterpart "Ace" Rimmer.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Shinji Kido from Kamen Rider Ryuki is pretty much a live-action expy of Shinji Ikari, a good-natured buffoon who, for the majority of the series, is the only Rider attempting to stop the other Riders from killing one another. He never succeeds and for most of the series is plagued by his inability to save the Riders from destroying each other.
    • Chihiro from Kamen Rider Amazons Season 2 is the franchise's biggest example, he's a Nice Guy and a good fighter in his own right who has faced several issues throughout the series, as he is plagued by his urge to eat humans due to his nature as an Amazon and his desire to regain Iyu's humanity. And it gets worse once he was revealed to be the source of the lysogenic Amazons outbreak, he considers himself as a monster and he was horrified of it after he killed the ones who tries to put him in stasis.
  • Scandal: Quinn is more this, as opposed to an Anti-Hero.
  • In the context of science-fiction TV history, Doctor Who was originally one of these. Pre-Who, space travel on TV featured handsome, youthful spacemen aligned with heroic, paramilitary forces. But the Doctor, at his core, is Jack Kerouac in space and time—a dropout from his own people who now just travels around like the '60s never ended. Also, in the William Hartnell days, Ian Chesterton was the male lead, and the Doc was a selfish anti-hero.
    • Averted by the Brigadier in ''Battlefield''. Like many of the companions, he knew he wasn't perfect but was more concerned about defeating the bad guys than his self image.
    BRIGADIER: Probably. I just do the best I can.
  • Gai in Choujin Sentai Jetman
  • Michael Dugdale in Utopia is a rather hapless and borderline suicidal civil servant working for the UK's Department of Health and is blackmailed through various means by The Conspiracy into working for them to bring about a Sterility Plague. By the end of the series, he's broken into a potentially fatal quarantine zone to retrieve biological samples, stormed a Secret Government Warehouse with a shotgun and torched it, saved his wife and his marriage, brokered a deal with the conspirators to leave him alone and given a home to a little girl whose family was murdered.

    Theatre 
  • Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman. A little, pathetic man, broken by his chase after a dream that isn't true.
  • Woyzeck from the eponymous play is considered the first true Antihero, as opposed to the classic tragic hero.
  • Everyone but Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross qualifies, but with particular attention paid to Shelly Levene.
  • Hamlet was conflicted and emotional before it was cool.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 

    Webcomics 
  • MegaTokyo's Piro probably fits. He's getting better, though.
  • The post-scratch Kids in Homestuck eventually realize that, due to the symbolism of being in a void session, they are destined to simply sit around, get distracted by romantic subplots, and wait for the plot to continue without them.
  • Cherry from Cherry's Cure has physical limitations, is slow mentally, and knows all of these things. But is still the hero of the story. She's convinced she can't do what's asked of her, but needs to.
  • Prequel's protagonist, Katia Managan, is severely lacking in any type of trade or social skills . She is constantly self doubting and insecure, and for the most part, most of her endeavors in the story so far have ended in failure. She's getting better but very slowly and not without a lot of effort on her part.

    Web Original 
  • Raimi and Kamimura from Broken Saints.
  • The "Knights of Good" from The Guild, except Tinkerballa.
  • Aquerna, of the Whateley Universe. She is one of the Whateley Academy Underdogs, with laughable powers that make her a campus joke. She has self-esteem problems, and is no longer welcome in her own home since she turned into a mutant. Her combat final story and her Christmas story are all about her personal life and her personal problems, even if some action intrudes into the plot.
  • Every main character in Red vs. Blue qualifies on a comedic level, but a dramatic example exists in Leonard Church, who is a hilariously bad shot, can't seem to accomplish anything, and, in particular, constantly fails in what seems to be the only driving force in his life: being with his ex-girlfriend, Tex.
  • Taylor Hebert, of Worm, a bullied teenaged girl with cripplingly low self-esteem, who finds her escape in going out in costume. Her power is relatively weak (the ability to control insects), and her main victories come from working with other parahumans instead of defeating her enemies alone. Worm is as much about her growth as an individual as it is about The End of the World as We Know It.
  • Jaune in RWBY, who is the only main character not good at fighting and faked his transcripts to get into Beacon Academy. Most of his character arc involves resolving his shame over that. Incidentally, much of his interactions with Pyrrha exemplify how the two hero archetypes play off each other.
  • Eugene, the clone of Matthew Santoro. Due to his clumsiness when Matthew sends him to sneak into the research facility to steal the antimatter so it won't destroy the world, he accidentally drops the jar of antimatter, killing him and Matthew.
  • Paul Twister is portrayed as a strange mix of this and modern Anti-Hero. His "Paul Twister" persona is a snarky thief-for-hire whose soul has a bunch of chaotic Void power bonded to it, causing him to disrupt and destroy magic everywhere he goes, and when he's being Paul he deliberately plays up the badass image he's crafted of the personal... but he really doesn't like it; he only does it because it's one of the few ways he can make a living. The rest of the time, he's a geek from modern-day earth trapped in a fantasy world and he's in over his head. He doesn't like to fight, and tends to lose the few fights he gets into, almost every plan he makes blows up in his face and forces him to improvise his way out of the resulting mess, and being a 21st century guy in a Renaissance-tech-level world means he has very little in the way of useful skills, aside from the Twist. And yet for all his awkwardness and self-doubt, when the pressure's on, he'll find some way to use either science or trickery to save the day.

    Western Animation 
  • The eponymous lead of Courage the Cowardly Dog for very self explanatory reasons. That is, until he gets dangerous and saves the day each episode.
  • Fenton Crackshell from DuckTales (1987) was extremely good at counting, which is how he became Scrooge's accountant. But he often screwed up everything else, and he also was a dork, who had grown up in a trailer park. And when he gets a girlfriend, he becomes painfully hen-pecked. And yet, he was the super hero Gizmoduck, and he also saved the day four times without his Gizmoduck suit!
  • Gumball from The Amazing World of Gumball is unathletic, not the sharpest tool in the shed, and lacks maturity, yet he's also bitterly self aware and snarky, all traits that make him as likely to cope with the World of Weirdness he inhabits as likely he is to get in over his head.

Alternative Title(s): Classic Antihero

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ClassicalAntihero