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Anime and Manga
- The plot of C'mon Digimon revolves around technology that can give digital monster three dimensional forms that can interact with tamers more directly. It's still a game though. Digimon V-Tamer 01 reveals there is in fact an entire Digimon World, that is not a game and the C-mon device rendered them completely wrong.
- In Digimon Tamers the Digimon is thought of as nothing more than a media franchise including a TV series akin to, but separate from, the first two seasons of the anime. Then Guilmon and the others come to the real world and everything changes.
- Interestingly, Wormmon plushies can be seen in Digimon Frontier. The meaning of it (as in, if the franchise exists as in Tamers) is unknown.
- In Bleach, this happens, but just to Ichigo. He thinks that Don Kanonji's show is fake and that he can't really kill ghosts, but then it is revealed to him while fighting a Hollow that Don Kanonji actually does have powers... they just aren't very strong: he can see ghosts, but not clearly, and can fire one Painfully Slow Projectile made of spirit energy.
- Sailor Moon examples:
- Manga: Minako has a franchise as Sailor V. It started with the Sailor V Game Artemis assembled to exploit her ability to learn very fast from video games, and it later evolved in a large merchandise of all the Sailor Senshi (Sailor V is still the most popular, second only to Sailor Moon).
- The '90s Anime: Sailor V's franchise still exists, again started with the Sailor V Game (even if the circumstances are unknown). One episode has Usagi, Ami and Rei visiting the studio where Sailor V's anime is being made and defending it from two Youmas accidentally trying to ruin it, and later episodes show that the franchise has expanded to at least Sailor Moon, with Sailor Venus disguised as Sailor Moon passing Usagi as a fan who owns a fake Cosmic Heart Compact.
- The Silver Age The Flash read adventures of the Golden Age Flash, then discovered he really existed in a parallel universe.
- There's a homage to this in Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew!, where there's an issue where Captain Carrot discovered that his favorite comic book heroes (and the ones that pay his paycheck, as Cap's alter-ego is a cartoonist for his world's DC Comics) really existed in a parallel universe.
- And the episode "Legends" of the animated Justice League, in which Green Lantern discovers that the heroes from his favorite comic as a boy really ... etc.
- Our universe exists in the DC multiverse; we're Earth-Prime. We get comics based on other universes, like everybody else, which raises the question of if what the writers put in comics affect other verses, or are they just story tellers?. We have only one native superhero (a Superboy, which makes sense since, every Universe seems to have a Superboy/Superman), left to help with the Crisis on Infinite Earths before he was scheduled to go public. He's become a bit of a Jerkass Straw Fan in the decades since, being the last piece of the Silver Age the heroes tend to forget him inbetween appearances. (He believes that the writers cause the events in the comics to happen, but that could just be to avoid taking responsibility for his actions.)
- One Golden Age story in Superman has an in-universe comic book character created by Lois Lane called Mental Man come to life. Like the Sherlock Holmes explanation in The Real Ghostbusters below, he explained that he was brought to life by the collective belief of his readers. Turns out to be a subversion when it's revealed to be Aquaman in disguise, helping Supes in one of his Golden-Age-style complex plans to catch crooks.
- In the Marvel Universe, some heroes license their likenesses for charity comics published by... Marvel.
- Marvel went so far as to have Captain America's civilian identity become the artist for his own comic!
- Stan Lee in general liked to fuel the perception in the readers' eyes that the comics they were reading depicted real events, often inserting himself and Jack Kirby into the story as cameos, and setting the stories in real places like New York. This may be one reason why modern-day Marvel is so obsessed with Recursive Canon.
- The in-universe comics are depictions of the heroes' public adventures with any parts of their personal life made up by the authors. Nonetheless, She-Hulk, when acting as a lawyer, frequently uses back-issues of comics as evidence against supervillains in her own No Fourth Wall series.
- Also in Marvel, there was the mini-series 1985. It seems to be happening in our world, until Marvel villains start showing up and murdering people...turns out that as in Earth-Prime in DC, this world has one guy with superpowers, a lonely comicbook nerd with Franklin Richards-level powers he didn't know about. The hero, his son, somehow or another goes to the Marvel Universe and brings the heroes back to contain everything, just as we see Galactus' helmet peeking over the edge of the town's sign mumbling "I hunger..."
- An Astro City comic addressed the hazards of writing superhero comics when the heroes and villains depicted within are real: the publisher is beaten senseless at a convention by a villain who didn't like the way he was depicted. While in the hospital, he decides to switch the focus to cosmic entities, reasoning that they're so far above human affairs they "won't give a gnat's fart" about the comic. It didn't work out that way.
- A The Flash comic by Mark Millar made a similar point. Millar's Author Avatar wasn't actually threatened by villains (although maybe that's why he lives in Coatbridge, far away from Keystone City), but had to deal with problems like "So if the kid's a minor, we'd need to get his parents' permission to use him, and if they're still in the 30th century..."
- In Alan Moore's Tom Strong series there is a parallel Earth far away across the galaxy, Terra Obscura. It has more, and more powerful, 'science heroes' (the series term for superheroes) than the 'regular' Earth. Tom Strong travels there on several occasions, the second time he has found out that the heroes of Terra Obscura are featured in numerous comic books on his own world, much to the amazement of his Terra Obscura parallel Tom Strange. On the long trip back after saving the world he puts his feet up and reads them all.
- The Terra Obscura characters are all pre-existing out-of-copyright characters created by Nedor Comics. Including Tom Strange himself, who was originally Doc Strange and whose first name was Hugo.
- In one Calamity James strip, James buys a huge stack of Mega-Man (nothing to do with the video game character comics) and promptly has them fall on top of him. Fortunately, the real Mega-Man suddenly swoops in and saves him... but then James offers him a jelly baby in thanks, forgetting that jelly babies are the one substance that can defeat his Mega-powers.
- Mitchell Hundred, protagonist of Ex Machina, is a DC comics fan as a kid before becoming the world's only superhero. He's also seen as an adult visiting comic book stores selling issues of The Authority and Planetary, titles published by Wildstorm - the DC imprint that also publishes Ex Machina.
- Science Dog, a comic book character in Invincible, suddenly appeared at the door of Mark "Invincible" Grayson's house. Mark was understandably surprised by the visit of the non-human being but it turned out to be an alien using Science Dog's form to make the encounter easier. Bad idea.
- The Authority themselves, in an abortive Grant Morrison series, found themselves on our Earth, where they encountered the comics in which they had made their first appearances.
- A key concept of The Multiversity, according to Grant Morrison: each Earth has comics featuring characters from other Earths, through which the heroes can keep informed about what's going on elsewhere. For example, Mastermen #1 begins with Adolf Hitler reading Action Comics while using the toilet.
- There's a very, very good Power Rangers fanfic that did this inspired by the crossover between Power Rangers in Space and Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, where each team thought the other was just an urban legend.
- A Game Comes to Equestria: in Domino City, and pretty much in all of the world, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic airs on television and is as pretty popular as it is in Real Life (almost rivaling the popularity of Duel Monsters In-Universe), but is generally regarded as a work of fiction. Then Yugi appears on the show from a mysterious re-airing of "Luna Eclipsed" onward, and everything changes. this makes Rebecca Hawkins do a Double Take When she sees him during the Lost Element chapters that were televised In-Universe.
- In The Bridge, Planet Terra holds an amalgamation of various Kaiju franchises like Godzilla, Gamera, and Pacific Rim. The story starts with several Kaiju getting transported to the world of Equestria. Later, the spinoff The Bridge: Humanity's Stand reveals that the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic exists on Terra. When the human characters learn what happened to the missing Kaiju, Lauren Faust (who in this universe, did not leave the show after season 2) is shocked because she thought Equestria was just something she made up. She and her husband Craig McCracken get hired by the Global Defense Force as consultants to teach everybody about Equestria in case it is needed, though the two worry that anything they say may not be accurate to the real Equestria.
- In Condorman, the creator of the titular comic book hero is so obsessed with being realistic that he refuses to write anything that he can't do himself in real life. Sure enough, when the CIA ends up sponsoring his antics in order to rescue a major Soviet defector, they build all of the gadgets he's invented, leading to a hilarious Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys? speech from the Big Bad.
- In the Hellboy film, Hellboy is only known to the outside world as an urban myth and the star of a series of comicbooks. When John Meyers meets the real HB, he complains that the comics never get his eyes right.
- In Captain America: The First Avenger Steve Rogers is being dressed up and paraded as the mascot "Captain America" as a way to boost the morale of the troops. They not only make films about the fictional character, they also make a Captain America comic-book series.
- In Lev Grossman's The Magicians the world described in a popular fantasy series titled Fillory and Further turns out to really exist and is visited by the novel's protagonists.
- In its sequel The Magician King, the world of The Teletubbies turns out to really exist as well.
- The Captain Underpants series starts off with two boys, George and Harold, being punished by Principal Krupp, for drawing comic books starring their hero, Captain Underpants. In retaliation, they hypnotize Mr. Krupp into thinking he's actually Captain Underpants. Hilarity Ensues when the boys can't un-hypnotize him...
- Zig-zagged in Jack Blank. Jack grew up reading comic books. When he arrives in the Imagine Nation, he finds out that many of his favorite comic book heroes are real people. However, Literary Agent Hypothesis comes into play when Jack reads a storyline where Prime succumbs to a Rüstov infection and finds out later it's instantly fatal, but the real Prime is perfectly fine and healthy. Jack asks Prime if that story really happened, Prime tells him that sometimes the authors and artists embellish history. Also, Jazen Knight mocks Jack for believing Captain Courage is real because he's an entirely fictional character, but Jack doesn't see the difference between believing in a real person and a fictional one if they're both equally amazing, having very little exposure to real-live superheroes at that point.
Live Action TV
- Referenced in Sherlock, when a couple of clients claim that the things that happen in a comic book series seem to be coming true around them. According to supplemental material (John's blog), it was a company's attempt to promote the comic series and Sherlock uncovered it.
- In Heroes, in the clairvoyant's comic book some of the Heroes (like Hiro and Ando) are depicted as characters in it. Most people outside the main cast would assume that it is a work of fiction.
- This is the premise of Big Bad Beetleborgs, though the main characters become the comic book heroes, instead of them showing up as separate characters.
- In Power Rangers Ninja Storm, Tori dismissed the Power Rangers as comic book characters and/or urban legends before she and her friends became Rangers themselves. This infamously sparked some fan debate, as it suggested Ninja Storm was an Alternate Continuity, and when the next season confirmed it wasn't, then how could she justify ten years of giant monster attacks as fiction?
- Inverted in the Supernatural episode "The Monster at the End of This Book". Sam and Dean discover that their lives have been turned into a series of horror novels. Played straight with the writer, who discovers (when Sam and Dean show up at his house) that the characters he thought he'd created are actually real.
- In Psychonauts, Raz grew up reading True Psychic Tales for years before he went to Camp Whispering Rock and trained under the real-life Sasha, Milla and Crueller. In this case, though, it's implied that everyone knows psychics are real, which presumably means the comics are just well-known Psychonauts' adventures marketed to kids.
- In Skullgirls, the titular character of the Show Within a Show Annie, Girl of the Stars, is not only based on the folklore exploits of the real in-universe Annie, she actually is the original Annie who fought against multiple Skullgirls in the past and uses it as a cover for her life in the present. She has to change her hairstyle every few years to keep appearances up, but every "new" Annie is still the same girl. She even lampshades it.
Annie: It's kinda weird playing yourself on television, isn't it?
- Homestuck takes this trope to Mutually Fictional levels - one of the characers reads a web comic about the Midnight Crew. Then there's an Intermission starring the Midnight Crew, where it's shown that a version of Homestuck is a web comic in their canon. It's then revealed that both words are Alternate Universes to one another, and the comics were written From Beyond the Fourth Wall by the Author Avatar.
- In Legion of Nothing, superheroes are real, but comic books like Spider-Man and X-Men are as common as they are in our universe. No doubt some real superheroes run their own comics, too...
- Played with in The Descendants where the fact that comic books are, by the time of the series, a 100+ year old art form. This leads to an inversion where the media refuses to call them superheroes.
- One company however, takes full advantage of their Secret Identity issues to publish comics using real heroes in fictional stories without getting likeness rights.
- Other folks, especially street vendors, make a killing off unofficial merchandise the same way. Whitecoat buys spares of his Nice Hat from them. He also invokes the above inversion this trope in the page quote for te series.
- Alloy recently got to save the writer and artist of the comic based on the titular characters.
- The premise of Warp Zone Project can be summed up as "What we know to be true history is fiction and what we know as to be fiction is true history". The latter implies this trope. This is done as part of a Masquerade to keep things under control in a world where Everyone Is a Super via making most people think super-powers only exist fiction (the show is about those on which the Masquerade doesn't work).
- The Fairly OddParents: The Crimson Chin is real (as real as magic is, anyway - he's been brought to life by fairies so many times it's not even mentioned anymore).
- Static Shock: Virgil grows up reading comic books about Superman and the Green Lantern, and eventually meets and teams up with them from time to time. Probably more of a subtle retcon. Static Shock was originally disconnected from the regular DC universe with the DC characters as fictional (kind of like Milestone Comics to The DCU). Then Static and his universe got added to the DC universe, so now Static couldn't have possibly read those comics or everyone should know Superman's Secret Identity as well.
- In the Justice League episode "Legends", John Stewart, Hawkgirl, Flash and the Martian Manhunter are transported to an alternate universe inhabited by the Justice Guild of America, Golden Age heroes which were featured in comics John used to read as a kid. J'onn brings up the possibility that the comics' authors in the primary universe had a subconscious link with the Guild's universe, hence why they existed only as comics characters in the primary universe.
- An episode of The Real Ghostbusters had a superhero and villain from one of Ray's comics become "real" and clash with the Ghostbusters. Unusually, no explanation was ever given for why the comics characters were able to enter Ray's reality. (This shouldn't be confused with a later episode in which a shapeshifting ghost briefly imitated the same superhero.)
- A later episode had Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty show up, and it was explained that the collective belief of their fans was sufficient to make them "come to life".
- Incidentally, the superhero "Captain Steel" was a Superman Expy while the villain was the pre-Crisis Lex Luthor; their creator was an obvious pastiche of Marv Wolfman of DC Comics, and the cartoon was made during the Crisis on Infinite Earths comic event.
- The Justice Friends are a part of Dexter's Laboratory's Three Shorts format, but seems to be portrayed as half real and half fictional in Dexter's universe: Major Glory has a television show, but actually exists and has super powers. Likewise, Dexter and Dee Dee meet the stars of the in-series shows Action Hank and Pony Puff Princess (twice in the case of the former).
- This may or may not be in effect in SpongeBob SquarePants: Mermaidman and Barnacleboy may be real superheroes... or actors in a TV show. Or superheroes who happen to have a TV show about themselves. They appear to have real super powers and an invisible boatmobile and whatnot, but SpongeBob once defeats one of their enemies using something he learned from their show.
- On Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Michaelangelo reads a comic book series about the superhero Bugman, and then discovers that there really is a Bugman.
- Not restricted to just the 1987 show, this happens in the 2003 show as well, when Mikey tries to get an issue of the Justice Force comic to find out what happened to one of the heroes in the cliffhanger of the previous issues, but finds his favorite characters real, but the character he was hoping to have survived, had died. (This is based on an issue of the original TMNT comic, but Mikey being a fan of the comic is new in this version.)
- Rocko's Modern Life has comic book hero Really Really Big Man, who will occasionally drop in and save the day. And perhaps offer you a vision from his Nipples of the Future. Seriously.
- Robot Boy has the Human Fist. The trope is double subverted in the episode The Human Fist on Ice, by first introducing a Camp Gay ferry boat captain, playing the role of the Human fist in a spectacle, then having the real Human Fist show up to beat the crap out of the villain.
- An episode of Dragon Tales has Max's hero Mondo Mouse turn out to be real, in Dragonland at least. And apparently he can enter and exit the comic books at whim.
- In Count Duckula the Count's hero Tremendous Terrence is a comic book star and cereal mascot but no-one shows any surprise when they meet him in person.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Rainbow Dash is a fan of The Adventures Of Daring Do. Two seasons later, it's revealed that Daring Do is a real pony who publishes the stories of her adventures under a pseudonym.
- In The New Scooby-Doo Movies episode "Wednesday is Missing", Mystery Inc. runs into The Addams Family. Fred mentions growing up watching the Addams Family on TV and is shocked to meet them in the flesh. The Addams Family are apparently unaware of any TV show documenting their lives.