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:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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).
  • 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 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.
  • 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 is not an Ace Pilot, has no psychic power, and has only a blind rage against the main antagonist (who doesn't even consider him a worthy opponent until half-way through).
  • 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 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.
  • Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann started this way. Overcame this in episode 11.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Comedy 

    Comics 

    Film 
  • Lester Burnham from American Beauty is a Jaded Washout and Henpecked Husband to a wife who is cheating on him. The movie is about him growing a spine, quitting the job he hates and standing up to everyone who gave him hell.
  • The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Despite being the movie's protagonist, he's a lazy, drunken, jobless good-for-nothing who doesn't care about anyone but himself, and is constantly screwing things up or getting in trouble. He's hopelessly out of his league when it comes to dealing with the Kudzu Plot he's thrown, and in the end, very little of what he does ultimately matters. But, he doesn't care; "the Dude abides."
  • 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 Pythons 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 (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.
  • 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".

    Literature 

    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.
    • 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 

    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.

    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.
  • 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!


Alternative Title(s):

Classic Antihero