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Classical Anti-Hero
There, there, Peter.

Nowadays, an antihero is usually thought of as a badass, bitter, misanthropic, violent, sociopathic angry person (see Nineties Anti-Hero). However, this is actually a recent invention. 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 Nineties Anti-Hero.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion, who saves the day several times in spite of all his self-doubt, angst, and neuroses.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Tatsuhiro Satou of Welcome to the NHK 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.
  • Renton Thurston in Eureka Seven, who eventually graduated into a proper hero.
  • In 20th Century Boys, Kenji starts as this.
  • Yukiteru Amano of Mirai Nikki starts out as one. It gets worse, later.
  • Kei Kurono from Gantz. He gets better.
  • 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".
  • Saji Crossroads, Shinji Ikari's expy of sorts, during the second season of Gundam 00. He gets better.
  • Usopp from One Piece is pretty much this in the beginning and mostly in the Water 7/Enies Lobby arc.
  • Mr. Satan from Dragon Ball
  • 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.
  • Amuro Ray and Kai Shiden from Mobile Suit Gundam. Both get better; Amuro in particular develops into a Knight in Sour Armor in Zeta Gundam and Char's Counterattack.
  • Kou Uraki of Gundam 0083.
  • Akitsu Masanosuke from House of Five Leaves is a classical anti-hero, being an overly humble samurai with no self-esteem.
  • Natsume from Natsume Yuujinchou 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.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Akemi 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 (to the point of being The Scrappy to a lot of people). 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, as evidenced by the fact that she's hated by U.S. fans almost as much as Shinji. 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.
  • Rei Kiriyama from Sangatsu no Lion starts the story rife with personal problems, socially detached, and barely able to take care of himself.
  • Nobita from Doraemon
  • Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann started this way. Overcame this in episode 11.

    Comedy 

    Comics 

    Film 
  • Wikus van de Merwe of the film District 9.
  • Most of the protagonists in Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse qualify.
  • Sgt. Neil Howie in the original version of The Wicker Man.
  • Napoleon Dynamite.
  • The portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network teeters between this and Villain Protagonist.
  • 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.
  • Megamind in the movie of the same name. Yes, he's a supervillain, but he's our protagonist and he fits this to a T, especially as his character *ahem* develops through the movie.
  • Queen Elsa of Frozen.
  • Blu from Rio.
  • 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 (its 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 its still there.
  • 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.

    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.
  • 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 Versus 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.
  • 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.

    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.
  • Shinji Kido from Kamen Rider Ryuki is 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 
  • Travis Touchdown, of No More Heroes, a porn-obsessed Otaku without anything resembling a social life. He's also a Nominal Hero, however, eagerly slaughtering opponents and rarely showing any remorse for his killings.
    • No More Heroes 2, meanwhile, deconstructs this by giving him more of a moral compass as well as an animal magnetism that puts him back closer to being a classical hero by the end of the game.
  • Raiden is largely considered to be this in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, though he becomes more of a Jerk Ass Antihero in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.
  • Lester The Unlikely from the SNES game of the same name starts out as such a wimp that even turtles scare him. He does become more heroic about halfway through the game, however.
  • Almaz from Disgaea 3.
  • Cloud Strife of Final Fantasy VII, although he pretends to be a prick.
  • Captain Martin Walker for most of the beginning of Spec Ops: The Line comes off as one of these his actions only cause disaster for both him and the people of Dubai. As the game goes on though it becomes more and more clear that he is actually a delusional Villain Protagonist desperately trying to be the hero of a situation far out of his control.
  • James Sunderland of Silent Hill 2 easily meets the criteria.
  • The eponymous character of Iji, especially in the earlier parts of the game.
  • Though he more commonly plays the part of Sidekick than The Hero, Luigi could fit the bill insofar as being a Lovable Coward whose flaws are made more prominent than those of his Ideal Hero brother, Mario. In particular, the times he has to go it alone portray him without the series' trademark Stock Superpowers (which in his case are usually better than Mario's).

    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.

    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.

    Western Animation 
  • Scooby-Doo and Shaggy.
  • Philip J. Fry from Futurama.
  • Cody and Sierra Total Drama World Tour. First season, Cody was a standard hero, but developed less heroic traits in the third season.
  • Fenton Crackshell from DuckTales 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!


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