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Coming-of-Age Story

Son of man, look to the sky
Lift your spirit, set it free
Some day you'll walk tall with pride
Son of man, a man in time you'll be!
Tarzan, "Son of Man"

A story featuring an adolescent making the mental leap from child to adult. In real life, this happens over the course of several years. Literature and some television are media that have the space to show the story at a slow pace. But for a movie, things have to be compressed to several months at the most, so expect some really accelerated character development. Tends to happen to a character anywhere from 13 to 20 years of age.

Usually includes some combination of the following:

An increasingly popular comedy subversion is the Delayed Coming of Age Story, in which the person has remained mentally a child his entire life and only finally experiences these things sometime between his late 20s and mid-40s.

Mainstream film coming-of-age stories tend toward dramedy. Independent film or novel stories lean toward drama, sometimes jumping headlong into Wangst.

The word bildungsroman (Ger. "educational novel") or bildungsgeschichte (Ger. "educational story") are sometimes used to describe these kinds of stories. A note on the translation: the terms originated in the Age of Enlightenment, when "Bildung" meant not only "education" but also "self-improvement" (cf. English "building"). In other words, it's not a "novel to educate the readers" but a "novel about the hero becoming someone".

See also Age Progression Song.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The entire subplot of Dragon Ball Z is essentially Gohan growing up with adventures similar to Goku's, his father, albeit far more violent. Like its predecessor, Dragon Ball, the series ends when Gohan is married and has a family of his own.
  • Candy Candy covers Candy's whole life since she was taken in by Miss Pony and Sister Maria as a baby, until she's at least in her twenties.
  • The main premise of Hidamari Sketch centers on Yuno's desire to be seen as mature. Lampshaded, as she becomes overjoyed every time someone compliments her on her supposed maturity.
  • Hitohira: Shy school girl—check. Situation that forces change—check. Affectionate friends to help her—check. It's still very well done, though.
  • Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, when it boils down to it. It's really mostly about Tsuna being shaped and trained by Reborn into becoming a real man fit for being the 10th Generation Vongola boss.
  • Ashita no Nadja: It starts when Nadja has to leave the only home she has known, travelling with the Dandelion Troupe to find her origins and grow up...
  • Chrono Crusade seems to be a coming-of-age story for Rosette, particularly in the manga. It might be one for Chrono as well, although he'd be a "late bloomer" example as he's Really 700 Years Old.
  • Real heartbreakingly deals with teenagers forced to grow up because of the disabilities that they've suddenly had to accept in order to deal with the world around them.
  • Full Moon o Sagashite deals with the protagonist, Mitsuki, having to grow up while dealing with the fact that she doesn't have much time to live.
  • Fushigi Yuugi is a coming-of-age story, among other things, for just about all the good guys—especially Miaka. While it takes somewhere between a few weeks to a few months for them to finish their journey in the book, it's only two days in the real world.
  • Megazone 23, at least the first part. It contains elements of most of the examples from the top of this page and ends on a decidely negative note.
  • Wandering Son has this, but the anime and manga portray it in a different way. The anime seems to be more so about kids learning to be comfortable with their bodies and growing up, apparently changing the protagonists from Transsexual to simple Wholesome Crossdressers. The manga isn't nearly as obvious as the anime, but it's still apparent. The manga began in late elementary, and follows the protagonists to they graduate high school.
  • Once you look past the Fanservice, many of Masakazu Katsura's works turn out to be this. Specially obvious in Video Girl Ai and I"s: both of them feature highschool students dealing with their friendships, viewpoints in life, and their first romantic and sexual experiences.
  • Aside from the Unwanted Harem elements, Rosario + Vampire is this for Tsukune. He starts of as a directionless Ordinary High-School Student, but gradually becomes a more mature and confident individual, and dedicates himself to promoting peaceful relations between humans and monsters.
  • Eyeshield 21 boils down to the main character growing out of his wimpy kid mold and becoming a man (albeit a rather wimpy man).
  • Mobile Suit Gundam AGE features this in the first two generations with their protagonists, Flit and Asemu Asuno, respectively, though their development differs wildly (Flit develops from a Messianic Archetype into a Dark Messiah, whereas Asemu develops from a "Well Done, Son!" Guy into his own person).
  • A Cruel God Reigns is very much a coming of age story for not only Jeremy and Ian, but also for many of the supporting characters, like Vivi, Nadia, William, Cass, and Marjorie. However, the story focuses mainly on how Jeremy and Ian break into adulthood after the trauma of Jeremy's Rape as Backstory and Ian dealing with the fact that Jeremy killed his father.
  • Sangatsu no Lion is essentially one for the protagonist Rei Kiriyama, as many of the story arcs build upon his Character Development with the events that transpire in both the world of shogi and his home life, as well as with the life lessons he learns from them.
  • Fate/Zero has this as a subplot, specifically Waver Velvet, a mage with great potential only marred by his belief of his genetics limiting him and his self-hatred due to how he was treated by others. He learns to stand up for himself, by entering the Holy Grail War and teaming up with a Boisterous Bruiser version of Alexander The Great, who functions as Waver's mentor figure.
  • This is the main plot for My Daddy Long Legs, which chronicles Judy's development from a young teenager to an adult.
  • Oyasumi Punpun is a particularly dark (and strange) example.
  • Ring Ni Kakero doubles as this and as a sports manga. Ryuuji and Kiku, the main characters, escape as children from an abusive household and decide to fulfill their shared dream to have Ryuuji become the best boxer in the world. In their way they grow not just as a boxer and his trainer, but as persons as well.
  • Come to think of it, more than one sports manga serves as this as well. Many protagonists tend to be kids who are either Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life or have difficulties making friends, then find their life goals and/or new relationships via entering the school clubs.
  • Seishun Kouryakuhon revolves around this, being a Slice of Life manga focusing on the four main characters' journey to high school graduation.
  • Akatsuki No Aria is one set in Imperial Japan, where future Elegant Classical Musician Aria Kanbara begins a rocky journey to stardom and to love.
  • Cat Street focuses on protagonist Keito's mental development, overcoming her Dark and Troubled Past as a child actress and finding out how she wants to live her life fron now onwards.

    Comic Books 
  • The Flash: Barry Allen died just when Wally West was transitioning into adulthood. Wally's Character Development as the the new Flash thus played out like this.
  • In Tales of the Jedi, the last arc, "Redemption," centers around Vima Sunrider when she becomes old enough for Jedi training. She starts as a rash and lonely girl, but with the help of the Force, seeks out Ulic Qel-Droma as her teacher and gains the maturity she needs to be a Jedi.

    Fan Fiction 

    Film 
  • Punch is about a high-school senior in Korea trying to find a direction in life, while simultanously bonding with the Missing Mom who abandoned him as a baby.
  • The Graduate is about directionless college student Benjamin Braddock trying to find himself and escape the suburban ennui that his parents and his girlfriend's parents have found themselves in. He more or less fails.
  • The overriding plot of A Bronx Tale, where teenage Italian-American youth Calogero grows up in the changing and divided world of the 1960s while trying to find his way. Influences pulling him in different directions include, but are not exclusive to his Opposed Mentors, (one being his honest, hardworking and poor immigrant father, the other being the intelligent Affably Evil and wealthy Mafia capo who is like a surrogate father to him) his racist, thuggish neighborhood friends, and his black love interest.
  • Super8 is the tale of a young boy and the girl he likes coming to grips with a shared family tragedy... while a scary escaped alien runs amok in their town.
  • The Way Way Back: Summer vacation, first job and a family crisis.
  • The Wise Kids involves Crisis of Faith and dealing with sexuality in a heavily Christian small town.
  • Renaissance Man treats several of the Army students in Mr. Ringo's class in this manner.
  • Blue Is The Warmest Color's more accurate title is Life of Adele: Chapters 1 and 2 rather than Blue is the Warmest Colour as the comicbook. The film is more of a chronicle of how Adele transitions from adolescence to adulthood rather than a lesbian love story even though their relationship is the centerpiece of Adele's life.
  • The Way He Looks deals with both sexuality and wanting to be independent, with being handicapped as an obstacle.
  • Secondhand Lions: A boy is left with his two crotchety uncles while his mother goes out of state to work. At first it's all awkward discomfort, but then they warm up to each other, and one of the uncles tell the boy stories about their "past exploits." By the end he has grown from his shy awkward self, to a self-confident young man determined to take charge of his own life.
    Tagline: Every boy deserves an adventure.

    Literature 
  • Subverted in A Prayer for Owen Meany, the impact of Owen on Johnny is a major part of his life, but Johnny hasn't really changed much since Owen left his life. In fact, he is much worse off.
  • Most—but not all—winners of the Newbery Medal.
  • Each book in Annals Of The Western Shore is this, for different reasons:
    • In Gifts, Orrec and Gry grow up in a society that values magic powers for their ability to dominate and wage war on their neighbors—something neither of them are interested in doing, putting them in an uncomfortable position with their families.
    • In Voices, Memer grows up hating the Alds for their brutal occupation of her city, but slowly comes to realize that simple revenge won't help, and they're really Not So Different.
    • In Powers, Gavir's various illusions about the world and the people in it are shattered when his comfortable Happiness in Slavery is destroyed by war and personal tragedy, forcing him to travel far and wide (and learn even more hard lessons).
  • The Bengali novels Pather Panchali and Aparajito follow the coming of age of the protagonist Apu Roy over thirty years. It was adapted into The Apu Trilogy of films by Satyajit Ray.
  • Harry Potter: The seven books each cover a year of the eponymous Harry Potter's life, primarily showing ages 11 through 17. Although the series is ostensibly about Harry's struggle against the evil wizard Voldemort, his growth from a child through adolescence into adulthood is a major theme, and the bulk of each book is about his time as a student at the strange but wonderful Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
  • Jane Eyre is all about how the title character transforms from angry, poor, unwanted little girl into an emotionally and financially secure woman who is the equal (and perhaps the better) of her love interest, Mr. Rochester.
  • Fever Pitch: The book, not the movies. Describes the author's own coming of age through his relationship with football and his favourite club.
  • The Belgariad is this in a Sword and Sorcery setting. Garion is a teenager through most of the story, but the first book covers his childhood from the beginning. As Garion is painfully Ignorant of the Call, the series deals largely with his coming to terms with being special. Love Interest Ce'Nedra is also forced to grow up, maturing from spoiled princess to responsible queen.
  • Everything in the Tortall Universe.
    • Song of the Lioness has Alanna learning to enjoy being a girl and stop fearing love while she faces numerous dangers to herself and the realm.
    • The Immortals is about Daine moving beyond the sudden death of her mother, finding new friends, mastering her wild magic and gaining unlikely allies with animals and the "monsters" invading Tortall.
    • Protector of the Small has Keladry following in the footsteps of Alanna and dealing with misogyny and other kinds of prejudice, teenage crushes, and deciding what chivalry means to her (for the answer, take another look at the title of her series).
    • Aly of Daughter of the Lioness is the daughter of a legend and leads a life that's both idle and frustrated until she's dumped into another country's burgeoning civil war, where she gains a real sense of maturity about spywork.
    • In Provost's Dog, Beka goes from a Shrinking Violet to a tough cop who manages to get justice despite the corruption, logistical, and bureaucratic difficulties of Tortall's nascent police force.
  • Zahrah the Windseeker begins with Zahrah's parents celebrating her becoming a woman (her menarche), which is followed by a quest as well as a journey of self-discovery in the Forbidden Greeny Jungle.
  • Idlewild is the story of a teenage boy who realizes his world has been shaped by lying adults and is faced with the responsibility to support himself and others. Also, there's an apocalypse.
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man follows the struggles of Author Avatar Stephen Dedalus as he tries to grow up and not to be shackled down by the political and familial situations he was born into.
  • Author Sarah Dessen specializes in these. All of her novels are coming of age stories for her protagonist, usually following their last school year or last summer before college as they come to terms with their messed up families, gain some true friends and/or fall in love for the first time (sometimes all three).
  • Damnatio Memoriae by Laura Marcelle Giebfried follows Enim Lund as he is rather forced to leave the last bit of his childhood behind.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Little House on the Prairie: Nellie and Willie Oleson both do this in the later years of the series, shedding their mama's pampering – much to her chagrin – to become responsible, hard-working adults. Nellie did this in the Season 6 finale, "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not," while Willie's stories gradually came in the final two seasons over multiple episodes..
  • Smallville depicts Superman's teenage years, and deals with both his and his friends' maturation into adults. Along the way, many a monster is defeated.
  • Doctor Who uses this as a common theme. Most of the companions go through a coming of age brought about by their travels with the Doctor.
  • My Mad Fat Diary chronicles the life of Rae, a 16-year old girl suffering from both mental health problems and obesity.
  • HBO's Rome contains a few examples. Brutus goes from a half drunk socialite controlled by the whims of fate and his manipulative mother to a self possessed stoic cutting the straps from his armor as he walks alone against an entire platoon. Octavian meanwhile goes from a geeky wimp at the start of the series to a very, very, creepy Magnificent Bastard in the close.
  • Malcolm in the Middle:
    • The series as a whole revolves around the eponymous Malcolm and his journey through adolescence; as a genius-level teenager, he is often under pressure by those around him, and struggles to find a healthy balance between living up to his potential and doing teenager stuff. His older brother, Reese, is an unintelligent bully who gradually comes to realise that his antisocial behaviour won't work in real life.
    • revolved around Malcolm trying to help his classmate Dabney get into a paintball match despite the resistance of Dabney's overbearing mom. Once Dabney unleashes years of repressed aggression, his mom comes around to try to drag him off.
    Dabney: I'm not your little boy anymore. I'm your little man!
  • Troy has one in the Community episode "Mixology Certification". Over the course of the night on his 21st birthday, his idolization of Jeff and Britta is replaced with the realization they can be just as ignorant as he is at times. Jeff even explicitly tells him he is a man now.
  • Boy Meets World is about an eleven year old who doesn't understand anything about his entire life but is told love is worth it. As he grows up he learns to understand life and love until he reaches the point where he and his life partner set out into the unknown together.
    • The Sequel Series Girl Meets World is about Cory and Topanga's daughter Riley facing the same life challenges that her father did when he was her age.
  • Red Dwarf had one in the episode 'Holoship'. Rimmer seems to realize that he doesn't want to be an officer. He wants someone who will love him. Hence why he's not super-excited when he becomes one, and he immediately gives it up when he realizes the woman he loves can't be with him.

     Mythology 
  • Persephone’s myth is sometimes interpreted as a story of moving from girlhood to womanhood. Persephone leaves her mother’s side (albeit unwillingly) and takes on new responsibilities as a wife and Queen of the Underworld.

     Tabletop RPG 

  • Misspent Youth is a game where you play as a rebellious youth. Predictably, growing up is a central theme, and is even a central mechanic of the game. A player can Sell Out one of his or her Convictions to—amongst other choices—grow up, losing the Conviction permanently, but hopefully winning a conflict. The game ends when a player runs out of Convictions—potentially having grown up completely.

    Theatre 
  • The musical A Chorus Line crams sixteen coming-of-age stories into the montage "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love".
  • Theatre/Thirteen is the literal version of this since it is about the main character's Bar Mitzvah. Of course he is forced to grow up and figure out who his real friends are when he moves to a new town and tries to have the biggest party ever.
  • Theatre/Vanities follows three women from high school in 1963 to college in 1968, and adulthood in 1974, and the musical version adds a fourth act set in the 1980's.
  • Shakespeare's four plays, Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V either depict the wayward Prince Hal's coming of age and taking the throne as a triumphant warrior king, or it depicts Prince Hal tricking everyone into believing it's his coming of age story.

    Video Games 
  • Mega Man Star Force seems to be one of these, as the main character (Geo) starts out by shutting out the world in the first game, then grows up through the second game, so that by the third he is able to step up and take charge of the gang when Luna Platz has been datafied.
  • In Mass Effect 2 this is Grunt's loyalty mission. As a young member of his species, and a tank-bred clone for that matter, finding an identity is important to him. Being a Krogan, Grunt's coming-of-age ceremony relates to him learning to control his innate aggressions; on a more abstract level, he is often seeking the advice and approval of those around him, and interactions with him typically entail helping him sort out his identity and making him a valuable member of his current group.
  • Both the A and B routes of Blaze Union, which deal with Gulcasa and Aegina respectively. The A route goes over more of the traditional story elements covered by this trope, whereas Aegina's path deals more with coming to terms with grief and the truth and finding one's place in the world.
  • Some Pokémon games play with this. Ostensibly, a meek kid from a town in the middle of nowhere becomes powerful and confident, growing more mature over their journey and becoming a battle protégé. The first installment in the series even refers to the protagonists journey as this. From the player's perspective, the Player Character, who is largely featureless, is mostly a receptacle for other characters to speak into, with your rival(s) receiving the actual character development; the player is left to imagine the player character's maturation for himself.
  • Fallout 3 is often seen as one. After all your player character goes from a teenager in a fallout shelter to being the hardened survivor of the wasteland.
  • Tales of the Abyss for Luke. He starts out as a self-centered, sheltered brat, goes through phases of Jerkass, Heroic BSOD, The Atoner and various identity complexes, and ends up declaring his independence from the quasi-father-figure Big Bad and saving the world. Yay!
    • Tales of Graces is also technically a coming of age story, due to the prologue-maingame-future arc structure, but the development is spread across five characters - Asbel, Cheria, Hubert, Richard and Sophie - so it ends up a little less focused.
    • "Tales of Vesperia" acts as a moral coming-of-age for all its characters as well.
  • Beyond: Two Souls is essentially a story of Jodie evolving from shy child, through angsty teenager, to badass adult, all the while learning to cope with her otherness and loneliness resulting from it.
  • Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons becomes a coming of age story for the younger brother, the catalyst for growth being his older brother's death. Near the end, he overcomes his fear of water by swimming across a river alone. Made more powerful by the fact that this is triggered by the action button that is normally reserved for the older brother.

    Visual Novels 
  • Little Busters! is largely the story of how Riki, a rather meek and unconfident young man constantly following after his friends, manages to become stronger and more able to handle things on his own. To a slightly lesser extent, the same is also true for Rin.
  • All three of Fate/stay night's routes, each corresponding to a different one of the Three Faces Of Adam. The first two (corresponding to the hunter and the lord) leave some of his future developments open. The last route, Heaven's Feel (corresponding to the prophet), follows it to its inevitable conclusion.

    Western Animation 
  • Many interpret The Thief and the Cobbler as this for the main character Tack, who begins the story skinny, pale, and mute, but by the end becomes muscular, tan, is much more confident in himself and has the voice of Sean Connery!
  • Gargoyles has a rather subtle story arc featuring Brooklyn changing from a wild-hearted hipster into an effective second-in-command and a brilliant strategist, yet a romantically frustrated character. The episode Kingdom highlights this.
  • The Character Development of Sokka, Katara, but especially Aang and Zuko of Avatar: The Last Airbender involves a lot of this.
  • The main themes of the Toy Story trilogy revolve around growing up, moving on, and that nothing lasts forever. Andy goes from being a carefree young boy to a young man heading off to college, and his toys realizing, and eventually facing the fact that Andy will inevitably outgrow them.
    "How long will it last Woody? Do you really think Andy is going to take you to college? Or on his honeymoon? Andy's growing up...and there's nothing you can do about it."
  • Monsters University is a college campus coming-of-age story mainly for Mike Wazowski as well as Sully, as they study to be scarers, while trying to figure out if they're really meant to be scarers.
  • South Park:
    • The show has been toying with these in later seasons. "You're Getting Old" and "Assburgers" plays this mostly straight for Stan; "1%" flips this trope around in its handling of Cartman.
    • "Smug Alert!" has the town realize that their own smugness caused a terrible storm and that driving hybrid cars was the sole cause of it, even though Kyle points out that it's possible to drive a hybrid without being a douche about it.
  • Monsters University. For Mike especially and also for Sulley. Set on a college campus.

Examples of Late Bloomer Subversions:

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Y: The Last Man features a reasonably realistic delayed coming of age story amongst the Gendercide, war, cloning, cultists and conspiracies going on all over the place.
  • Scott Pilgrim is the story of a flighty, unreliable, mid 20s slacker who is gradually forced to accept that he can't spend his whole life playing video games and running from his problems after meeting Love Interest Ramona.

    Film 
  • The 40-Year-Old Virgin. It's in the title—the question is rather who the truly mature person is: Andy or his partying friends?
  • Failure To Launch. Doubly subverted. Tripp is presented to the audience as a 35-year old who has failed to transition into adulthood, as are all his overgrown-child friends. By the end of the movie, however, we find that Tripp's apparently juvenile behavior is not "failure to launch" but because his finacee died and his friends' situations are also not as they seem.
  • Kicking And Screaming by Noah Baumbach is about a group of recent college graduates who completely refuse to move on with their lives.
  • The Iron Man movie is basically about Tony Stark going from an extremely rich manchild to an extremely rich man. By building a robot suit and fighting crime.
  • The film version of Fight Club is essentially this, in contrast with the Downer Ending of the book.
  • Frances Ha features a 27 year old aspiring (and underemployed) dancer whose life is on autopilot, with her both revisiting her youth and trying to find greater certainty in her future. By the end of the film, her life seems to be on something resembling the right path, but she still has trouble wholly adapting to the adult world.

    Literature 
  • Cerberon features the coming of age of the eponymous unicorn. While already an adult at around twenty years old, he learns through the course of the novel what it takes to be a real unicorn and not just a pretty, well-educated horse with a pointy thing on his head.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one enormous coming-of-age story (only, you know, with monsters and superpowers) for Buffy, Willow and Xander, and the run of the series is structured to follow specific stages of adolescence.
  • Friends is a sitcom focusing on young adults growing into their 30s and settling down with families.
  • In the Firefly episode Jaynestown, the local magistrate, Higgins, has hired Inara to bed his timid son Fess, who is 26 and is not yet "a man". She reassures the naďve Fess that he need not be like his father, only to be himself, which will make him stronger. Afterwords, in Inara's shuttle, Fess expresses disappointment in not feeling different after losing his virginity.
    Inara: You're very quiet.
    Fess: I'm sorry. I just...I just thought I'd feel... different... after. Aren't I supposed to be a man now?
    Inara: A man is just a boy who's old enough to ask that question. Our time together... It's a ritual, a symbol. It means something to your father. I hope it was not entirely forgettable for you.
    Fess: No, it was...
    Inara: But it doesn't make you a man. You do that yourself.
    [Fess ends up proving himself a man by defying his father's attempt to capture the "hero of Canton" who was traveling with Inara.]

     Music 
  • The Concept Album American Idiot tells the story of the Anti-Hero protagonist, Jesus of Suburbia, as he matures from a rebellious youth to a jaded adult. The musical version of the album expands on this story by also telling the coming of age stories of Jesus' best friends, Will and Tunny.

    Theatre 
  • Avenue Q. Princeton is a college grad, but he's still not ready for real adult life.
  • The Musical version of American Idiot does this with its three protagonists, Johnny, Will, and Tunny, who are in their early to mid-twenties.
  • Company, for Bobby.
    Joanne: You're not a kid anymore, Robby! I don't think you'll ever be a kid again, kiddo!

    Web Video 


College Is High School Part 2Teenage TropesDangerous Sixteenth Birthday
Comes Great ResponsibilityDrama TropesThe Commies Made Me Do It
Children Are SpecialYoungstersCowboys and Indians
Comic SutraComedy TropesCompetition Coupon Madness
Born as an AdultAging TropesDual Age Modes
Changeling FantasyPlotsFish out of Water
Comic-Book TimeWe Are Not Alone IndexCommie Nazis

alternative title(s): Coming Of Age; Coming Of Age Stories; Bildungsroman
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