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Kenshin Himura from Rurouni Kenshin and Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal. After the death of his parents, Kenshin (a child at the time) is taken by slavers, who are later violently killed in front of him by bandits. After burying the mutilated victims alone, Kenshin is resolute to “create a peaceful world where people could live without fear”. To accomplish his ideal, Kenshin trains with the master of the “Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū” (a fighting style so deadly that, to truly master, it means death to the teacher) and, at 14, became the legendary assassin "Hitokiri Battōsai”. Kenshin goes into hiding years later and marries a mysterious woman named Tomoe for appearance only, but they later fall in love. After a series of events, Kenshin kills Tomoe unintentionally in battle. As Tomoe died, she gave Kenshin half of the X shaped scar on his cheek. Kenshin later finds out, after reading Tomoe’s diaries that he had killed Tomoe’s fiancé (a man who years earlier, gave Kenshin the other half of the X shaped scar) before he met her and she only married Kenshin out of revenge, but, after living together, fell in love with him. Broken and filled with remorse for killing countless people, Kenshin wanders off wielding a sakabatō or reverse blade sword. He is determined to never kill again and to aid those in need, as atonement for the murders he committed.
Hiei from YuYu Hakusho. Being tossed away by your clan, brought up by bloodthirsty thieves who later abanndon you, and going through torture just to find your homeland only to learn that your mother committed suicide and your twin sister has been kidnapped by a sadistic psycho will make you be just a little bit dark.
Vash the Stampede from Trigun. He was born as an artificial human on a space cruiser transporting most of humanity to a distant world, where the crew was paranoid of him. Thanks to his brother, he got to watch the cruiser destroyed, killing millions, including his mother figure. Years later, after the discovery of his destructive powers, he unwittingly caused the annihilation of an entire city.
Black Lagoon has quite a few characters with these kinds of pasts:
Revy is a Chinese-American who was abused by her alcoholic father (whom she later murdered) and brutalized by the police for laughs. She sometimes loses control of her bloodlust, slips into a scary-calm state of Ax-CrazyTranquil Fury nicknamed "Whitman Fever" by Dutch, and starts shooting everyone she comes across whenever something gets too close to her past. She either has to run out of steam or get physically restrained whenever that happens.
Balalaika is for the most part far more calm and controlled as befitting a mob boss, but her feelings of being rejected by her country (the former Soviet Union) despite her years of service, as well as the collapse of said country, have left her with nothing else but the enjoyment of planning and winning wars. Balalaika enjoys playing at war so much that she even gives Revy pause, and good luck trying to stop her once she decides to unleash her army.
Roberta, meanwhile, is a former soldier and assassin renowned for her animalistic ruthlessness, earning her the nickname of "The Bloodhound of Florencia", who tried to find solace working as a housemaid for the Lovelace family. She nearly went permanently insane because of the guilt she felt as a former assassin and because of the loss of her patriarch.
And the less said about what Hansel and Gretel went through to become the completely fucked-up kids they are, the better.
The entire main crew of Cowboy Bebop has this to some degree. Spike Spiegel used to be an enforcer for the Red Dragon crime syndicate, essentially Space Triads, only to fall out with them and his former best friend and fellow assassin Vicious over a girl named Julia, resulting in him faking his death. Jet Black used to be a cop until his own corrupt partner and best friend set him up and tried to kill him, though he got off with merely losing his left arm and needing a cybernetic replacement — this, after the love of his life dumped him for, basically, being too controlling. Faye Valentine lost her family, her memories, and her past after she was placed in cryogenic suspension after a space shuttle accident, and after she was revived, the one man who seemed to care for her "died"...and left her stuck with a debt reaching into the millions. Radical Edward's father was so absent minded that he was barely aware of her existence, so she spent her entire childhood wandering aimlessly in and out of orphanages and possibly over most of the planet. Even Ein, the "Data dog," was subjected to experimentation to make him a Data dog by people with questionable ethics.
The first segment of Memories "Magnetic Rose" had Heinz, a space salvage specialist who had some really weird reactions to such harmless things as a falling china doll. The haunted space ship, of course, uses his trauma over his daughter having died after falling off the roof while wearing a toy spacesuit he gave her to try and convince him to stay...forever.
In Baccano!, there's Czeslaw Meyer, a young boy who, when his grandfather and caretaker died, was taken in by his grandfather's alchemy student, Fermet. A few years later, they become passengers on the ship the Advene Avis. Cue both of them becoming immortal. Fermet's true nature begins to shine through, and he starts experimenting on Czes, claiming it's for science. This torture continued for the next two hundred years. The torture and abuse is only ended when Czes finally manages to kill Fermet, in a way that causes Czes to gain all of Fermet's memories. This means that Czes now has both his own memories of being tortured and memories of sadistically enjoying torturing himself. Because of all this, the kid now has intense trust issues.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: Notable since this trope applies to virtually every character with any significance in the story, not simply the protagonist. Though technically speaking, every person on NGE's Earth who lived through and survived the post-Second Impactglobal chaos would qualify.
Guts's childhood from Berserk is singularly horrific. His mother was hanged presumably as he was being born (yeah, we don't get it either), and he was adopted by a mercenary named Gambino, who trained him as a child soldier. During his time in Gambino's band, Guts had to endure some seriously Harmful to Minors stuff of both the horrific violence and the sex varieties — he was even raped at one point in the manga when Gambino sold him to a pederast soldier in his band as a child prostitute. It all came to a head when Gambino, his leg having been blown off by a cannonball and thus making him unfit for combat, got drunk one night and tried to kill Guts because he blamed the kid for the death of his lover from the plague. Guts had to kill Gambino in self defense and then get away from the camp to escape the wrath of the other mercenaries. And that's just peaches compared to the stuff that comes afterwards.
Casca's past isn't much better — she lost her village at an early age and was sold to a noble who wanted a new serving girl, only for it to transpire that he wanted her for sex. Just as he's about to rape her, though, Griffith shows up. Instead of killing her would-be rapist, however, he makes her do it instead ("If you have something you wish to protect, take up that sword."). She has a relatively easy life afterward, until the Eclipse goes down and she suffers a horrific ordeal — the worst of it at the hands of her original savior, no less — that ends with her being driven insane.
Griffith's past wasn't much of a walk in the park either, as revealed in the second to last episode of the anime, just before he crosses the Moral Event Horizon.
Many of the main characters in Hellsing have some pretty dark childhoods: Seras Victoria witnessed her parents being murdered by burglars while hiding in a closet, and Integra's uncle tried to kill her to take control of the Hellsing family. Even Alucard counts: back when he was just an Ottoman kid named Vlad III Dracula, he had been sold over to the Turks, whose ruler raped him.
This seems to be the case with a number of characters in Elfen Lied, most particularly, Lucy.
While a majority of Axis Powers Hetalia is silly and cute, the characters are still countries, thus, all of them have some negative points in their history. Nevertheless, Russia takes the cake for troubled pasts; the best example would be the "Bloody Sunday" strip, in which he finally snaps and starts gunning down his own people as they're rioting in the streets ("If they hate me, they're not Russian.") before turning to Lithuania and stating "We don't want children who can't play nice, do we?".
This trope is probably why certain countries, such as Israel, will never show up in this series, as it would quickly destroy the very comedic nature of the series itself.
Virtually every other character in Naruto fits this description at least partially, including the titular character himself. Most notable, however, is Sasuke. Not only does he have a dark past, but he also has a dark present, and in the early episodes, every main female genin (except Hinata) is attracted to him in some way.
Then there's Asuna. We don't really know the details, but she underwent Laser-Guided Amnesia so that she could forget all that she had been through. What we do know is that it includes being imprisoned in a tower and used as a human weapon, and the destruction of a Floating Continent.
Setsuna. During her fight with Evangeline, is revealed that she has no parents, and because of her white white wings, she was chased out of the Crow village and picked up by Eishun.
Kaoru in Ai Yori Aoshi (physical abuse, betrayal, abandonment), to the point of not even remembering his childhood friend when he meets her again.
Digimon Adventure 02: Ken Ichijoji. Just...Ken Ichijoji. What started out as The Unfavourite Syndrome developed into a death in the family. Then he ended up being infected with the Dark Spore, which started playing on his huge inferiority complex and guilt over his brother's death, which was one reason he became the Digimon Kaiser, at which point he was convinced that the Digital World was makebelieve and he was just expressing his anger in a fictional world. He was bluntly shown otherwise by watching his Digimon die right in front of him, and never mind the better part of the hell the rest of the season puts him through while he's trying to make up for his misdeeds.
Chichiri in Fushigi Yuugi has a Trauma Conga Line in his past. His childhood best friend, Hikou, betrays him by stealing a kiss from his fiancee, who immediately calls off the engagement in shame. Chichiri goes berserk and attacks Hikou, but as they are fighting, a massive flood sweeps through the village. Chichiri's fiancee and family are killed in the flood, and although Chichiri attempts to save his former best friend's life, Hikou is lost in the flood before they can make amends. Chichiri also lost his eye in this incident, and, in fact, it was getting hit by the driftwood that caused him to let go of Hikou's hand. This all comes back to haunt him near the end of the manga and the OVA, when Hikou reappears as one of Tenkou's demon underlings...
While Chichiri is the most notable example among the protagonists, lots of other characters follow this trope, particularly from the Seiryuu and Genbu sides. Nakago has a particularly nasty one as his Freudian Excuse, though the fact that he's a horribly Manipulative Bastard who infamously winds up being a Karma Houdini means that few fans want to pity him for it.
One Piece: every character that joins the crew (and then some) have a tragic past, as if it's a requirement to jump aboard a ship with Luffy. Most pasts, however, take a usually "boring" subject and draw them out into originality. A good example is Sanji; everyone knows being stranded on an island sucks, but this is hardly an island: it's a mushroom rock that's too far above sea water to fish and incapable of sustaining any life...because it's a ROCK. Not to mention, he realizes that the only other person on this island has a big ol' bag of, what he thinks is, food, much bigger than the one he gave to Sanji. However, it turns out that other guy just had a bunch of money and absolutely NO food, and that instead of keeping any for himself, gave all the food he recovered to Sanji and broke off and ate his own leg to survive. And on top of all that, the food that Sanji got was barely enought to last 20 days (though it lasted 25 days). It took eight-five days for a ship to find them. One can only imagine how hellish the last 60 days (two months) must have been. No wonder Sanji considers wasting food to be a horrible offense.
Another good example is Zoro's past, following the otherwise generic "my best friend/rival died" past but adding in the mix that his friend didn't die honorably; she died falling down the stairs. No epic sword fight, no sacrifice, she was just tired and slipped down some stairs.
One without a twist, but still absolutely horrible. Hancock and her sisters. Slavery is never a pretty story.
Ace's past isn't very heartwarming either, putting aside all the time he spent with Luffy and Sabo. Ace's father was none other than Gold Roger, the Pirate King. Now normally, being related to such a powerful and important figure would be a cause for joy, right? Not. In the eyes of many who actually met Roger (and didn't antagonize him), he was a great man. But the truth of the matter is that hiding his identity as Ace's father was imperative, seeing as his enemies basically amounted to the entire world. For years, Ace was tortured with the fact that in the eyes of the world, he wasn't supposed to exist, that the world would be better off without him, making him far more jaded than a child should and causing him to despise his father for the rest of his life. Most of all, the only reason he bothered to continue living was to find out whether or not he deserved to be born, just because the blood of a Pirate King ran through his veins. Living only stopped being so painful when Luffy and Sabo, and eventually the Whitebeard Pirates, came into his life.
Law's past is up there with Robin's for how bad it is. Law was born in the country of Flevance, also known as "The White City". It was said to be a land straight out fairytales — everything, from the grass to the trees to even the buildings was pure white. Eventually, this phenomenon was discovered to be the result of a mineral beneath the country, callled Amber Lead. The people of Flevance began mining this mineral, bringing them untold amounts of prosperity. However, a hundred years before the beginning of the Amber Lead industry, the World Government conducted a geological survey and determined that the mineral was poisonous. Both they and the royal family of the country knew of its true nature, but kept it a secret due to the economic growth it brought Flevance. Though eventually, the buildup of Amber Lead poisoning became too great and a horrible breakout of disease struck Flevance, causing neighboring kingdoms to believe it to be an epidemic and quarantine the island (though the royalty of the country managed to escape thanks to the World Government). With the doctors unable to cure the disease, despair over being abandoned and desperate to escape, the population used the remaining Amber Lead as weaponry and went to war. The resulting conflict would kill almost all of the people of the White City, including Law's former friends and family; Law himself only managed to survive by hiding himself amongst corpses being carted out of the quarantine zone.
In Bleach, two of the female leads have Break the Cutie pasts. Rukia blames herself for the death of her beloved mentor, Kaien. Meanwhile, not only did Orihime have Abusive Parents, but she was also bullied in school and her brother, Sora, died in a car accident. Early in the story, Sora unwillingly comes back as a Hollow, and finally commits suicide so he can move on to the Soul Society.
Ichigo, who saw his mother get killed by a Hollow when he was a kid.
And Ishida, who saw his grandfather get killed by Hollows, with the shinigami nowhere in sight, when he was a child. Later, it turns out that the whole incident was planned. His grandfather didn't die in the Hollow attack, but was captured by Soul Society and experimented upon by Mayuri Kurotsuchi. When Ishida fights Mayuri, he even shows Ishida a photograph of his grandfather's body whilst gloating.
Fate Testarossa herself, who grew up under the "care" of an abusive and thoroughly monstrous Evil Matriarch who wanted her as a Replacement Goldfish for her daughter, Alicia, but grew to hate her for having her own personality before Nanoha entered her life. Her reason for taking in Erio and Caro was so that they wouldn't have to grow up like her.
The backstory of Kagura from Ga-Rei involves her being forced to kill her own older sister. In the beginning, it doesn't bother her too much, but, later on, it comes back to hit her hard.
Although the Mask of Ice DID kidnap them in order to use them for his plans, you see that he's got a heart for the kids. This is seen in the FRLG chapter, in the flashback of Silver and Blue/Green escaping Mask of Ice. Before, you see a large ice statue of all the kidnapped children and Mask of Ice, all wearing their masks and everything. After the kids run away, you see Pryce change the sculpture into one of all the kids standing around Pryce, who is in a wheelchair, all of them smiling. So you gotta assume that Pryce loved the kids like they were his own, even if he did kidnap them.
Then again, whether or not he loved the kids, there is no doubt that Pryce had absolutely no clue how to raise them. One panel actually hints that he physically hit Blue just because she wanted to nickname her Jigglypuff. Judging by that panel, it's pretty obvious that Blue and Silver had an awful childhood.
Played straight with Mitsumi in Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl Adventure. She was raised by Cyrus to be devoid of all feelings toward Pokemon and human, her only purpose to defeat her opponents. Rowan eventually softened her up though, and made her realize that there's more to Pokemon than fighting.
Ciel from Black Butler was a happy, loving, carefree child before his tenth birthday. Then, his parents were murdered, the mansion set on fire, and he's kidnapped. He's locked in a cage with other children his age and eventually made a child sacrifice until he accidentally called upon a demon in his desperation to live. His past is still being pieced together so more details will probably surface. No wonder he's a bitter, driven 13-year-old.
The children in Noah's Circus had a pretty bad past, too. Too bad the man who helped them turned into a crazy Stalker with a Crush and, with some psycho doctor, killed children so their bones could be used in the making of prosthetics.
In Soul Eater, Crona was used as an experiment for his/her mother, and ended up becoming the host to a Living Weapon, driven insane through physical and psychological abuse, and forced to kill unknown (but probably large) numbers of people in order to harvest their souls. Crona gets a brief respite when Maka defeats them, only to be forced back into working for Medusa.
From what little we know, Liz and Patti's history is probably a troubled one, but this is hardly referred to.
The characters in D.Gray-Man. Specifically, a whole bunch of the main Exorcists. Kanda and Lenalee, in particular, had their traumatic pasts inflicted on them by the "good guys" so they could fight the "bad guys". Allen was abandoned, beaten, and such until he met Mana, who died shortly after. Miranda was always teased for being wimpy and useless and broke down when she was fired for the 100th time. Krory was bullied by the people in the village near his castle because of his grandfather's reputation and therefore chose to never leave even when his grandfather died. Lavi used to be cold and emotionless due to all the cruelties of humanity that he had been exposed to such as numerous wars, since recording such events is part of his life as a Bookman. Kanda used to be an exorcist in a previous life, before he was killed by an Akuma. His brain was extracted and transplanted into his current body, to undergo multiple, painful and fatal synch attempts with his Innocence. He also killed his best friend. Twice
Pandora Hearts is full of characters with this trope, though it's not very obvious at first. Gilbert, Vincent, Alice, Leo, Echo, and Break are probably the best examples.
And then it finally revealed that Oz, whose dark past was thought to only being neglected by his own father, actually have the most tragic past of all: born as a plushie, forced to murder so many people and caused the legendary Tragedy of Sablier, and his owner Alice, who was the only one who cared for him and gave him his name, killed herself to save him.
Sheryl grew up as a homeless orphan in the Galaxy fleet before being "discovered" by her manager, Grace. Also, even when she does get past that and works her way to the top as an Idol Singer, she finds out that everything she's ever achieved was actually part of Grace's plan, leading to her breakdown later in the series.
It doesn't help that Grace is the source of her v-type infection and is likely the reason why she's an orphan in the first place.
Ranka is also an orphan who lost her family during a Vajra attack on their research fleet, an event so traumatic that she lost her memories and, for a time, the ability to speak before her adoptive brother got to her.
It's made worse for her that the cause of the attack was her singing, which, thanks to the Vajra germs she got from her mother, allowed her to unknowingly comunicate with the Vajra.
Chrono is the most obvious example, having once been part of the Sinners and accidentally killed the woman he loved.
In the manga, all of the Sinners are refugees from their home and only betrayed the other demons because it was that or be killed. Aion's reasons for leaving are particularly troubled (but crazy).
Rosette and Joshua are orphans. This would be Conveniently an Orphan if it wasn't for the fact that both of them have some flaws explained by their parents' deaths (particularly in the manga).
Satella watched as her home burned to the ground and her family was killed by a demon around the age of 9 or so. Fiore is the sister she lost in the massacre, who Came Back Wrong.
Azmaria's parents either abandoned her or were killed (possibly during the first world war). She was then taken in by a group of traveling musicians, who were killed by a man so he could adopt her and use her powers to bring back his dead wife. Yep, he was killed too.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Practically everybody. Ed and Al lost their mother when they were young, tried to resurrect her, and failed; and, as a result, Ed lost two of his limbs and Al his entire body. Roy and Hawkeye, among others, participated in the Ishvalan genocide and feel extremely guilty about it. Scar lost his brother in said genocide, Winry's parents were killed on the battlefield, Hohenheim unknowingly helped kill off the population of an entire country, and Bradley grew up as a test subject, was injected with the Philosopher's Stone, and does not know whether his present personality is the one he had prior to the injection.
This is how the +Anima children are usually depicted gaining their animas, animal spirits of sorts which grant them the animal's abilities. It comes from the need for help to escape from a dangerous situation, such as being close to death.
Soubi from Loveless was orphaned at the age of six, raised by a teacher who wanted to control him completely and sexually abused him, and then handed off to Seimei, who viewed him as a possession and physically and emotionally abused him before abandoning him without explanation. Ritsuka is a little young for this trope, but is well on his way to acquiring one.
A lot of characters in Speed Grapher, but none more so than Chōji Suitengu, the Big Bad of the series. Near the end of the series, after showing how much of a bastard he is, one episode finally delves into his history and gives him a hell of a Freudian Excuse.
Despite being a fairly lighthearted series, Keiko from Stretch appears to fit this trope. Something to do with her mother, apparently.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: most characters just have a Dark And Troubled Present, but Kyouko had her attempt to help her father spectacularly backfire when he finds out, causing him to go nuts and kill the family, Mami lost her family in an accident and contracted with Kyubey to save her life, and Homura has been resetting time in a futile attempt to save Madoka for years now.
In Wild Fangs, it turns out Syon was artificially engineered and grew up in a lab where he was constantly experimented on but had no one who remotely cared for him. Subverted in that he doesn't remember it all that well so it's not as big a deal as others think it is.
If anyone in Monster appears not to have a Dark and Troubled Past, just keep reading/watching and one will be revealed.
Ironically, the king of this trope in the series is none other than that irredeemable Johan Liebert. Or is he? The debate goes on and on...
Naruto: Shinobi in general have blood on their hands before they reach chunin rank. Also, considering they are essentially soldiers, whose relatives and friends are also soldiers, living in a warzone, nearly every character has lost someone important to them at some point.
Itachi saw the end of the 3th ninja war and the kyuubi attack before he was even a ninja and decided to do ANYTHING to pevent war.
Kakashi saw his father take his own life at 7, then his friend Obito dies, giving him a sharingan and a new ninja way, then he is forced to kill Rin for an as of yet unknown reason, and finally, he loses Minato who was his teacher. Considering the kind of bond teachers and students have in Naruto, this must have hit him hard as well..]
Sasuke, at 8, saw his clan get massacred by his older brother under order of the Hokage and killed said brother at 16, only to learn the truth after the act, and set himself on the Asura path
There are many more examples to think of. Most of the villains have similar backgrounds, and quite a few good guys as well.
Naruto lost his parents and any chance of a relatively normal life the very night he was born. He was also taken hostage by The Heavy at the age of one minute. That's gotta be some kind of record.
No mentions of Ai Enma from Hell Girl yet? That girl was made an outcast by her village, and was selected to be sacrificed to a mountain god at the age of 7. She escaped that fate, only to be faced with a worse one 6 years later, where she was betrayed by her only friend and she her family was buried alive. Then she tried to deliver vengeance on her village and was condemned to carry souls to Hell for eternity.
It's mentioned in Fairy Tail that everyone in the guild has some sort of hidden pain in their pasts. A lot of them are explored in each arc of the manga as it goes on.
Inspector Himuro of Remote has one that is regularly hinted at but not revealed until the last few volumes
Accelerator in A Certain Magical Index. Due to his seemingly invincible powers, he's been attacked ever since he was a child by people who either wanted to "prove their strength" or by people who thought he was too dangerous to let live. He survived all of this without a scratch, but having that much violence directed at him all his life has left him rather messed up. And if people aren't trying to kill him, they're trying to use him in inhumane experiments. When he's introduced, he's willing to do just about anything to make sure people never attack him ever again.
Most of the main characters in A Cruel God Reigns. If they don't have one, they are well on their way to getting one.
Jeremy is physically and sexually abused for months before he snaps and kills Greg, and then has to deal with living as a murderer.
Ian grew up knowing his mother committed suicide and wondering why his family was dysfunctional. Later on in the series he has to deal with his Broken Pedestal view of his father.
Lindon become estranged from his first wife and daughter because he was so rigid and neurotically morose.
Nadia's mother blames her for her sister's preoccupation with suicide. Her parents also fought bitterly and cheated on each other during her childhood.
Natasha suffered Greg's beatings and eventually had to leave Lynn Forest for her own wellbeing, as well has knowing her little sister Liliya killed herself.
Cass' parents are abusive alcoholics, which is why he works so many jobs (legal and illegal), in an attempt to earn money for school and to escape his house, eventually ending in his drug addiction and Hooker with a Heart of Gold.
Even Bratty Half-Pint Matt, who grew up unwanted because Greg believes that he is not his actual son.
Haruka's life story, to put it bluntly, is the destruction of the lives of a born telepathic girl.
Yuriko has one too. When she was a child, her mother was a famed psychic, but Driven to Suicide after being accused as a fake. This is why she is so eager to prove psychics exist.
In Anatolia Story, Nakia was forced by her father to become a concubine to the Hittite king, who was basically the enemy of her country of Babylon at the time. Also, the king was old enough to be her father. When she got to his palace, she quickly became scared and lonely, since he already had a lawful wife, a huge harem full of other concubines, an elected crown prince and four more sons. It's later revealed that she also went through a period of time when people gossiped openly about the legitimacy of her child, Juda, since he shared few features with the king.
Ursula was orphaned when her family died of the plague and grew up in poverty, becoming desperate for any chance, however brief, of knowing wealth and comfort.
The end of the series also reveals that Urhi was the child of a noble family in another country. When his home was invaded, the conquering army killed all of his family, took him as a Sex Slave, and castrated him so that he couldn't run the risk of having children and furthering the now-extinct bloodline of his country's royal family. ''Then', he was shipped off to Anatolia to be a junior priest, which is where he meets Nakia.
Pretty much every experiment in Project ARMS. To name a few:
Hayato watched his home village and his father (or at least, the man he thought was his father) get destroyed when he was a child. Immediately after, a stranger (the same one who killed his dad in front of him) cuts off his arm and replaces it with the ARM replica.
Kei was raised as a soldier instead of a child, harshly treated by the Blue Men. In the manga, she and some other children were playing in a church when a madman comes in. The children try to run, instead of listening to her and staying hidden, leading to her watching them die and her getting her eyes stabbed out. In the anime, she tries to save some children from a burning building, only for them to die and her eyes to get burned out. In both cases, this leads to her own ARMS being implemented.
The Bowen twins were ostracized by their peers and their parents, all of whom were unable to cope with the fact that the elementary school-aged boys were super-geniuses. A flashback reveals that Jeff murdered their parents, which even freaked out Al.
Carol was sent to the Egrigori as a test subject because her parents were terrified of their creepy daughter who had the power to bend things into knots with her mind. She grew up believing that the horrified reactions her powers got from people were the same things as love and respect.
Cliff and Yugo Gilbert spent their childhood having their mental powers tested, meaning they were both horribly abused by the scientists.
Kyklops spent his entire life kept by the Egrigori, taught to kill with a knife as soon as he was old enough.
All of Keith White's "children", who were just clones of himself that he made to implant ARMS into. They weren't even given names (they simply were known as "Keith [Color]") and the surviving ones (Black, Green, Blue, Red, and Violet) all had to watch as their brothers and sisters died horrifically painful deaths from the experiments.
Quite possibly the ultimate example of them all is poor Alice. She's yet another Egrigori experiment who is confined to the labs, where she sees how lonely and sad the other children are. She wants nothing more than for them all to see the outside world, even for just one day, but her attempt to make this happen end with all of the children being shot to death by Keith White. She then gets absorbed by an alien life form and splits into "White Alice" and "Black Alice", both of whom keep their desire for love, but one of whom (guess which?) expresses this in the form of wanting to destroy all life on Earth.
Tenjou from Murasakiiro No Qualia. As a child, Tenjou fell off a jungle-gym, getting her body fatally wounded. And that's when the traumatizing part begins. Completely conscious, she then watches her best friend replacing her "damaged body parts" with jungle gym parts. This obviously still doesn't sit well with her for long years after. Justifies her acting like a jerk toward Yukari.
The majority of the cast in Attack on Titan, due to the nature of the series.
Levi is a former criminal, with his past shrouded in mystery and fodder for many rumors.
Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Reiner, and Bertolt are all refugees from Wall Maria, having lost everything when Titans destroyed their villages.
Mikasa's parents were murdered in front of her, by human traffickers that intended to sell her into sexual slavery at the age of nine. Eren killed two of them to rescue her, but she was forced to kill the third man on her own.
Reiner, Bertolt, and Annie are Tyke Bombspies sent to carry out genocide against mankind, and committed an act of mass murder at the age of 12 and 11 respectively on the orders of their superiors. All three are deeply traumatized as a result of their actions.
Ymir and her vague comments about having been hated, tormented, and expected to "die for the happiness of others". She stole the Titan's Power from a mysterious group, and spent 60 years trapped as a mindless Titan in what she described as an endless nightmare.
Krista is the daughter of a significant nobleman, born out of wedlock to his mistress. A conflict between her relatives concerning her potential as a successor caused her to be driven out and forced to take up a false identity. She joined the military to escape, with the hopes of getting herself killed in a suitably tragic and heroic fashion.
Mei from Yurara was madly in love with his teacher. Then a malevolent spirit pulled her off the roof of the school to her death. He never quite got over it.
Ramblerthe RamblingRabbit◊ from the Happy Happy Clover Anime/Manga by Tatsuyama Sayuri. Is an adult rabbit who usually visits Crescent Forest at random. He would usually go on dangerous adventures and travels around the world. Clover the main protagonist of the series, really admires him and wants to go traveling with him. But each time she would ask him that same question, he would refuse to answer her question. He says that she will have to wait until she gets older. In the characters mini-bio in the 3rd,4th and 5th volume for the main characters. It reveals that Rambler's homeland has been destroyed by humans. In the 4th volume of the manga, one story involved Rambler coming to stay with Clover for the night. Clover and her parents wants him to stay at her home for the night. Rambler refuses and prefers to sleep outside. However Clover, starts getting very worried about him and continues to ask him to stay for the night. Later, Clover starts looking for him in the rain just to let him stay. But when she finally, finds him out in the rain. She tries to let him come to her home, and starts pulling his arm hard. Rambler responds by snatching his hand away from her, causing Clover to cry and believes she really was a busybody and starts running back home. The next morning, Clover finds Rambler crying and starts asking him whats wrong. He then explains to Clover why he didn't want to stay at her house. He tells her that, sleeping in a bed and staying at her house reminded him of his old home and forest before it got destroyed. After he finished, he tells Clover to keep it a secret between him and her.
In Umi Monogatari, everyone was afraid of Kanon as a child due to her evil aura, which made her grow up aloof and unwilling to trust herself and others.
The Sailor Moonanime may not have many notable instances of these, but the manga has one for at least half of the characters, including the majority of the Senshi barring Usagi, and possibly Haruka and Michiru. And that's only if you don't count their past reincarnations as Serenity's guardians. Examples:
Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon, of all people, may count as a dark and troubled past life, as being Princess Serenity, she'd committed suicide upon seeing her Prince Endymion killed by the Dark Kingdom.
Rei Hino/Sailor Mars was raised by a neglectful father and an ailing mother, and when her mother died, her father seemingly didn't care, leading Rei to grow a strong distrust of men. Also, in Casablanca Memories, she was shown to have had her heart broken by a man who seemingly fell in love with another woman, furthering her conviction against males.
Makoto Kino/Sailor Jupiter lost her parents in a plane crash, compelling her to have to learn to take care of herself. All of her peers feared her and refused to have anything to do with her because of her strength and her height. She was even dumped by her boyfriend, who deemed her not feminine enough for him.
Where do we start with Minako Aino/Sailor V/Sailor Venus, who over the course of her own series, goes from a carefree Genki Girl into a Married to the JobBadass who hides her countless emotional wounds? She was the first Senshi to have been awoken, and had to fight all the youma by herself for a year. Within that year, she'd not only had to kill her first crush, who turned out to be a youma, she is implied to have lost many friends because she was too busy being Sailor V to have a social life. At the end of Codename: Sailor V, she learned that Kaitou Ace, her one true love was Danburite, a member of the Dark Kingdom, leaving her no choice to kill him and her only chance at happiness. Also, she remains cognizant of the Moon Kingdom's past life, Serenity's suicide, and the subsequent destruction of the Moon Kingdom, and place the blame squarely on her shoulders, thinking that it was her duty to protect Princess Serenity at all costs.
Mamoru Chiba/Tuxedo Mask, like Makoto, lost his parents in a crash, and wound up with Laser-Guided Amnesia with regards to his identity. This is his stated reason for looking for the Silver Crystal, the same thing the Senshi were looking for.
Menace of Amara has a particularly nasty one. Yes, she was a Bad Boss, being more concerned with ceaseless sexual pleasures and perversions with her vast harem oflesbian love slaves than actually ruling. But her favorite slave Anarista, possibly the one woman she actually loved, grew so sick of her petty hedonism that she betrayed Amara to a foreign power. Menace's people were destroyed, her kingdom toppled into ruin, and the former queen was flung to the hands of her former slaves, who beat and gangraped her until she died.
The X-Men's Wolverine, who also had a Mysterious Past and, thanks to his amnesia, had it remain that way for a looong time. Further complicated by implanted memories; as if forgotten trauma wasn't bad enough, how about a helping of trauma that didn't actually happen? Not to mention the pain of wondering if his few happy memories were real or not.
Magneto, in spades. His entire birth family was killed in the Holocaust, his daughter Anya died in a fire because he didn't know how to use his nascent powers to save her, and his wife (who was also his childhood sweetheart) called him a monster and fled after he — literally — exploded in rage and killed the villagers who'd prevented him from either concentrating on said powers or going after Anya by normal means. Later, he joined an American government agency to pursue Nazis, and agents killed his girlfriend because he had pursued one of the "wrong" Nazis. No wonder the guy has a deeply cynical attitude toward humanity.
Gambit was not merely an orphan whose parents may or may not be dead—or may simply have deliberately abandoned him—but was taken in by a creepy old man/possible pedophile, then turned out onto the streets of New Orleans to fend for himself until the age of ten, then was adopted, fell in love, witnessed his younger cousin's drowning (at age 13), further witnessed the retrieval of said cousin's body(!), accidently killed his fiancee's brother in a duel, and accordingly was exiled from the only home he ever knew. To make matters worse, his powers raged out of control and in exchange for help fixing them he was tasked with—unbeknownst to him-leading a murder-squad against a group of fearful, helpless mutants, only managing to save the life of a single child. Oh, and the girl he loves he can't even kiss because she'd suck the life out of him.
Cyclops was thrown out of a crashing plane with the only parachute and his baby brother when he was a young boy, which, when the parachute caught on fire, ended with him in a coma for a year with brain damage that permanantly removed his ability to control his powers. During that time his brother was adopted to make him more vulnerable. He spends the next few years in an orphanage where he is bullied, belittled and experimented on while any attempt for him to be adopted is quelled by the Mad Scientist running the place. He finally gets away when his power activates and he almost kills several people, and when running he is taken in by a man. The man is an abusive criminal who beats him and treats him as more of a gun than a teenage boy and Scott is eventually forced to atomize him by Professor Xavier.
Batman has probably the quintessential Dark and Troubled Past, which was his parents getting killed by an unknown mugger before his very eyes.
The two-issue miniseries The Ultimate Evil actually tried to defy the use of this trope, with social worker Debra Kane having a discussion with Batman on the concept of a person being born bad, or becoming a criminal because of childhood abuse. Debra asserts that it is not an excuse at all, on the grounds that all people have a choice, and that excusing or sympathizing with criminals who were victims of abuse is an insult to all of the other victims who suffered similar or even worse abuse and did not imitate their abusers.
Post-crisis Martian Manhunter has probably the most extreme example in comic books, and that's saying a lot. His evil twin brother created a plague which destroyed the entire green martian race, including his wife and child, leaving him to wander aimlessly amoung the ruins of his dead race until he was teleported to earth.
Incredible Hulk: Bruce Banner and his mother were regularly abused by his father, Brian. Brian eventually killed his wife, in front of Bruce.
V from V for Vendetta was tortured and experimented on in a concentration camp, transforming him into an embodiment of anarchism.
Ah, Thug-Boy from Empowered. The general criminality is how he met the love of his life, and she knows the basic outline of the whole 'Witless Minion' scam (although the detail about their last employer/victim still searching for the only survivor has apparently been glossed over). But then there is San Antonio. Cape-killing terrorist anyone?
Sin City protagonists usually have one, even if we never get their full backstory. This comes in vague references to past events; Dwight apparerntly had a criminal past and Wallace likely had an abusive childhood, for instance. Marv was tied to a tree in the middle of the woods and left overnight once, was in prison, and once made a reference to being in a war.
Grimjack has probably one of the worst cases of this trope. Abused and abandoned by his family, he spent his childhood fighting for his life in a gladitoral arena. He eventually escapes and finds peace in another dimension, only for everyone in the dimension, including his true love, to be slaughtered by demons. Then there was all the crap he went through during the comic.
Starfire from Red Hood and the Outlaws has spent most of her life as a slave to the Citadel, after being sold into it by her own sister. She mentions some experiments done on her too, which were all likely horrific.
X-23, hoo boy. A clone created by mixing Wolverine's genetic material with that of her human "mother" to be a living weapon, Laura was raised in a padded cell, beaten, abused, had her Healing Factorforcibly activated by exposing her to lethal doses of radiation as a child, had her claws surgically removed to be coated in adamantium one at a time with no attempt at anesthesia whatsoever, was trained and conditioned almost from birth to be an assassin and racked up an impressive body count before she was a teenager, and was made to kill the only people during this time who ever showed her any kindness by means of an olfactory trigger that she was conditioned to enter an Unstoppable Rage whenever she was exposed to it. One of them was her mother, right as she planned to help Laura escape. After getting away, she was forced to cut off contact with the only other family she had to protect them from her Ax-Crazy abusive handler, and spent time on the streets as a child prostitute specializing in cutting her clients. The worst part about all this? While Logan lost most of his memories about the really shitty stuff that's happened to him, Laura remembers everything.
Villains can suffer these as well; as a child, Doctor Doom had to watch both his parents die and grow up an orphan among persecuted Romani in Latveria.
Kyon Big Damn Hero has Michikyuu Kanae, who, as a slider, has gone through hundreds of worlds, only to have them invaded by aliens and everyone she loved killed. Again. Hundreds of times.
In the Uplifted series, Joachim Hoch has this. He was conceived as a last ditch attempt to bring happiness to a couple who had lost their children to the First World War, and was beaten by his father until he was killed during the occupation of the Ruhr. He then ran away from home and was taken in by an SS officer (a surprisingly decent man), and ultimately followed in his footsteps. He's a surprisingly balanced person in spite of all this.
In A New Face In Ponyville, Joshua Rocket is revealed to have shadows of one of them in chapter 9note Counteraction. This could also be a case of Mysterious Past since not a lot of concrete details were given and even what WAS said could be put up for speculation considering it was under heavy sedation after an attack from the Equestrian Pony Alliance
Firefly in Ace Combat The Equestrian War lost her home, her parents and her dreams of becoming a Wonderbolt, thanks to Black Star. It's the reason she is sometimes cold and angsty toward others.
In The Key to Marauding, Dawn has all the emotional baggage of Series 5 of Buffy (dead mother, knowing that the first 14 years of her life aren't real encounters with Glory etc...). In the fic she is chained up in the dungeon and nearly raped by Lucius Malfoy, kidnapped and tortured by Death Eaters and is torn between her own world and the Potterverse when a way of getting back appears.
By the sequel she has lost her adopted parents (Mr. and Mrs Potter). Then, pretty much in one night, her adopted brother (James), a woman who was like her sister (Lily), the man she loved had gone insane before her eyes (Sirius) and was imprisoned in Azkaban, where she watched him fall apart, knowing he was innocent and knew the traitor to be former True Companion Peter Pettigrew, and was also aware that she was the bait for his betrayal. Then, she lost custody of her Godson (Harry) because of Blood Wards, and had to endure a year of trying to care for him, but as she said herself to Harry, 'every one thing I gave you, they took two away' before leaving, recognising that she was making it worse for him. She then had to endure Harry's anger at her until the Blood Ward thing is explained to him. Oh, and to top it all off, she miscarried her baby by Sirius. Trauma Conga Line doesn't even begin to describe it.
Ciara's backstory in Looming Darkness. After Zelda's mother revealed there was a prophecy concerning her, she spirited Ciara away to Earth and left her with Abusive Parents while her real parents were murdered by Ganondorf. She'd been abused for her first 13 years of life until Link brought her back to Hyrule to take down Ganondorf.
Although never stated in the fanfiction itself, Darkheart of The Return Of Chaos is revealed to have a Dark and Troubled Past by the author in other works.
Don't you just love to read pointless and poorly written garbage about fictional people's problems?
Well if you do you're a complete sadist but that's okay, you've come to the right place. This is the land where we step over the borderline from "tragic past" to "Loaded up with so many problems it's kind of sick". Sounds like fun huh?
Take a glance around the room and you will see our first victim. His name is L Lawliet. Although he possesses legions of adoring fans they all seem to be obsessed with torturing him. Let's take a closer look.
L sat sadly in task force headquarters. He felt his imminent doom hanging over his head as well as the pain of his unrequited love for unnamed love interest/dead love interest. This reminded him of all the tragic things that had happened to him, the things that kept him awake every night for fear of terrible nightmares (because this explanation of L's insomnia isn't complete rubbish at all).
He thought back to his childhood as a poor orphan boy. He thought about that flashback he was going to have later in the series when he died and how it showed how tragic a character he was.
It had all started when the young boy had to watch his family be brutally murdered. They were shot/burned/eaten/poisoned/exploded/forced to watch the Pokémon movies. It was a horrifying memory that would haunt the detective all his life.
After many heart-breaking scenes of carnage Watari brought the young L to Wammy's house. He was very emotionally scarred and had no friends. Then one day Watari brought two new children to the house, A and B.
L immediately fell in love with A/B/random other chick. Unfortunately they died. All of them. Violently. While still carrying his child. Right in front of him. Other wretched stuff.
Stallionsof Harmony Verse has Prince Blueblood, who lost his parents as a colt, was blamed for it by his entire family and later was betrayed by his so called best friend, who used him to steal treasures from the castle. It took Nightmare Moon and other Elements of Harmony for him to start trusting others again.
Cooler Rising. This seems to be true for both Cooler and Zither, or at least as far as they're concerned.
In The End of Ends, Beast Boy explains his past to Terra to justify just why he felt depressed after she dumped him.
Films — Animated
Kovu from The Lion King II: Simba's Pride was raised by his vengeful mother to become Scar's successor and trained to be a hateful war machine so he can kill Simba.
Megara in Hercules: she sold her soul to Hades in order to save her boyfriend, and he dumped her shortly after that. Also, it's hinted that she probably had more problems to face in life besides that.
Spoofed in Wreck-It Ralph: Sergeant Calhoun "Was programmed with the most tragic back-story ever."
In Kung Fu Panda 2, it turns out that Po of all people has one, though he doesn't learn about it in full until just before the climax. It involves the attempted massacre of his entire species by Lord Shen and his birth mother sacrificing herself to save him.-Tigress can also be an example. She was left by her parents in an orphanage, called a monster by adult and child alike and was not shown any signs of parental love by her foster father, Shifu.
In The Snow Queen (2012), The Snow Queen's backstory shows her as a girl whose natural sorcerous powers were so strong that she was rejected and mocked by her people.
In Frozen, Queen Elsa goes through her greatest failureas a child. She strikes her sister Anna in the head with her icy powers, causing her to fall unconscious. The trolls remove Anna's memory of all the events and her sister's magic, but she still comes out with a white stripe in her hair, thanks to the ice magic. In case you thought that seeing your sister's white stripe of hair and being reminded of your largest mistake wasn't bad enough, her parents decide to separate the two sisters to allow Elsa to gain control of her powers. Then, when they grow older, their parents die, which finishes off their Trauma Conga Line.
The eponymous Max Payne had one, his family was killed in a mysterious robbery. Made extra saccharine thanks to the Flash Backs being in a warm ember tone compared to the rest of the film's drab winter blues and grays.
To be even more specific, in the game the movie is based upon, his family got killed by V-head junkies as part of an attempt to silence Max's wife for knowing too much about Project Valhalla. Tragically, Max's wife didn't have a clue what the memo meant and wanted to talk to Max about it, but he didn't listen to her because he had to go to work for the day.
The emotional turmoil brought on by the childhood abuse of Tim Robbins' character is the main crux of Mystic River.
Gabriel in Van Helsing also has Wolverine Amnesia, it's implied by Dracula they both share "a history" together, and even hints at Gabriel being an immortal "tripped" angel or the like, but nothing concrete ever comes of it. Sequel Hook?
O-Ren Ishii from Kill Bill is a female example, losing both of her parents to vicious Yakuza gangsters at the age of seven and then getting her revenge just four years later.
The main character of Hoosiers, Norman Dale, moves to the small town of Hickory, Indiana to take one last shot at redemption as a basketball coach after ruining his coaching career many years earlier when he lost his temper and punched one of his own players.
Subverted in The Dark Knight, where the Joker likes telling stories about his Dark and Troubled Past to explain his scars...but every story is different.
This is a tribute to Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, wherein The Joker has the following line; "Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another...if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!"
The first five minutes of The Descent kill off the main character's husband and young daughter, leaving her traumatized and sometimes hallucinating. A big part of what fuels her trip into Ax-Crazy, particularly if the monsters don't really exist.
The first five minutes of the Prom Night (2008) remake feature the protagonist coming home to find her father and brother dead, and watch her mother get killed, all because the killer was looking for her. For her character, this doesn't really come into play much for the rest of the movie, even when the killer comes back.
Princess Leia from Star Wars. She remembers her (presumably adoptive) mother always being unhappy when she was young, saw her homeworld destroyed as a You Said You Would Let Them Go, has seen one son KIA and the other do a Face-Heel Turn — his twin sister was forced to kill him.
Given that the main characters in The Way Back are seven gulag escapees and an orphan, this is something of a given. None of the men will tell each other their stories, but they all tell the girl, who, in turn, passes them on to the others. When she asks why they don't talk to one another, she's told that, in the gulag, the less you say, the better off you are.
Jack/Kyra during the Time Skip between Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. She ran away to search for Riddick and signed up with a bunch of mercs, only to be enslaved, with a heavy implication as to what kind. Made worse in that she was only twelve at the time! Riddick is understandably pissed to learn this, as well as furious at her for ignoring his single instruction when they parted ways;
Riddick: I told you to stay on New Mecca. Did you not listen!
Something that happened "in Chicago" to Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings is repeatedly alluded to, much to his displeasure.
Both Eddie and Sarah in The Hustler have this; she even lampshades it when they first meet.
Sarah: "Eddie, look, I've got troubles... and I think maybe you've got troubles. Maybe it'd be better if we just leave each other alone."
In Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker (1964), the main character is traumatized by what happened to him and his family in a WWII Nazi concentration camp. He hasn't been able to work through his issues, which causes those unpleasant memories to regularly flood his mind.
The Wolfman (2010): You've had quite a nice little messed up childhood, haven't you, Lawrence? What with witnessing your mother's death and all, and being sent to a mad-house where you underwent all sorts of nasty treatments and then shipped off to live with a distant relative in America.
Magneto. "Holocaust survivor" is about as dark and troubled as it gets.
Wolverine's past history of fighting in the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and his past work with Team X.
In The Wolverine, Yukio’s first premonition was her parent's death, and after she was forced to watch it come true, she became a street urchin scavenging for food until Ichiro Yashida found her and adopted her under his wing.
The Marquess from The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making has a very troubled past. She stumbled into Fairyland when she was 12, lived there for many years, fell in love, became a heroine and queen, and became pregnant. Then she was snatched back into the human world, stuck in a 12 year old's body and with her alcoholic and abusive father, no husband, no child, and no Fairyland.
Most of the main characters in T.S.Hana's Dawn of Craven: The Alchemist fall under this trope.
The Witch Megiram's servant, Ororo, is implied to have a troubled past, as she lives with the evil woman "by choice". She chose to live with Megiram as a servant for life over staying with the possibly rich Axel who loved her quite a bit (to the point where he still blushes at seeing her). There had to have been something up.
Wang Sau-leyan in Chung Kuo. He was ugly, fat, clumsy, and treated as a poor sequel to his brothers while he grew up. This is not presented as an excuse for his behavior, but it helps explain it.
Also Sirius Black, who had (let's count!): 1) a dead best friend, 2) a dead brother, 3) abandoned (disowned) by parents, 4) spent 13 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, 5) been betrayed by former True Companion Peter Pettigrew!
Harry himself: both parents murdered before his eyes at age one, nine years living with abusive guardians, being bullied at school by his cousin and his cousin's friends, a dead godfather, a dead mentor, the most evil person in his world has a connection to him, a life and death battle every year, and sometimes his friends turn their backs on him.
Neville Longbottom also deserves a mention. Lives with his grandma because his parents were tortured into insanity by Death Eaters and feels that he can never live up to them and has no self confidence at all. He also thought for a long time that he was a squib and only discovered his magical ability by being dropped out of a window.
A Series of Unfortunate Events has this with Count Olaf, and the entire series could be said to be the dark and troubled past of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny.
Sandor Clegane killed an innocent peasant boy and laughed about it, however the fandom forgave him as soon as he confided that his older brother Gregor had burnt his face as a child.
To be fair, this is a series that opens with the closest thing it has to an actual protagonist executing a soldier for suffering from PTSD, and whose first act revolves around another point of view character intentionally tossing an eight-year-old from a tall tower. So, in context, one murder isn't really that bad, and in fact Clegane may be the most moral character in the series simply because he has some awareness that the things he's doing are terrible, where the other protagonists, who are all bloody-handed murderers at this point, are firmly convinced they're the hero.
Most of the vampires from Twilight seem have dark and troubled last minutes of their human lives; the terrific pain of the transformative venom doesn't help matters.
Vin from Mistborn. Born the daughter of a skaa (peasant) woman and an Imperial nobleman (a death sentence from the get go), her earliest memory is of her insane mother killing her little sister and performing Hemalurgy to transfer some of her soul to Vin, before being rescued by her older half-brother. Said half-brother genuinely cares about Vin, but he's a cynical, abusive Jerkass who hammers into her head the idea that she can't trust anyone because everybody is selfish and manipulative. They spend the next several years working as petty thieves on the lowest rung of society, until the half-brother runs out on her, though it turns out that he was actually captured and executed, leaving Vin without a protecter in a den of scum. Of course, from there, she gets recruited by La Résistance, finds out that she's an Extraordinarily Empowered Girl, and takes a level in badass, but still. Is it any wonder the poor girl spends most of the trilogy wrestling with crippling paranoia?
Francis Crawford of Lymond in Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles. He's got almost everything: rejection by his father, didn't fit in as a child, betrayed by his early—perhaps first—lover, framed as a traitor, physical and perhaps sexual abuse as a galley prisoner, self-hatred because he blames himself for his sister's death, and pretty much everyone he cares about dies as a result of knowing him.
Séraphine Francq (Fiancée du Vent): lost her mother at a young age, her father died from the experiment that gave her her powers, was gang-raped by schoolmates, and consequently beat them up so hard that one of them is stuck in a wheelchair for life, giving her remorse...
Barbie, from Stephen King's Under the Dome, has a greatest failure in the time he allowed his military unit in Iraq to torture and kill a prisoner for no reason. He regrets this for the rest of his life, and his remorse thinking back on it is bad enough to get an Energy Being who sees him as an ant to show pity on him.
K.J Parker's The Scavenger Trilogy. The story revolves around Poldarn's unknown past and worse pasts are few.
Harry in The Dresden Files. Never knew his mother, his dad died when he was a kid, bullied at an orphanage, adopted by an abusive Evil Mentor who tried to turn him to The Dark Side, had to kill him in self-defense, arrested by the White Council, barely escaped the death penalty for violating the Laws of Magic, and is still under the Doom of Damocles and being stalked by an Inspector Javert at the beginning of the series. None of this is what makes him a woobie; he is one because, taking into account the things that happen to him during the actual series, his backstory isn't depressing so much as it's "a very small taste of what's to come.''
Jez from the Spaceforce series, a space vampire whose entire race was almost totally wiped out in a genocidal uprising by their own 'bloodservants' when she was a teenager. The remnants were exiled from their homeworld, and now face fear-based prejudice in a supposedly liberal galactic Union.
Burke from Andrew Vachss' books. Born to a mother (strongly implied to be a teen prostitute) who promptly abandoned him, brought up through a variety of foster and juvenile homes, and experiencing the worst that humanity has to offer is a very succinct description of his past.
Since all of the princesses of The Princess Series are based mostly on the Grimm Bros. version, they all have this, though some more than others.
Kieran Trevarde of The God Eaters has a dead mother, some degree of rape and child prostitution, as well as drug addiction in his past, and a dead lover on top of all that at the outset of the novel.
YMMV, but Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre was betrayed by his greedy father and brother to marry a woman they knew was insane just to get her money, and all the man ever wanted was to find someone to love.
Jane had one, too. She was orphaned, put into an unloving and abusive home, and sent to an unsanitary boarding school that could barely feed its students. The first friend that she made there died shortly after she arrived, as did most of the other students in a typhoid epidemic.
Another Charlotte Brontë example: Lucy Snowe in Villette.
Everyone in The Pale King, but Toni Ware especially. She spent her childhood in perpetual poverty as she and her sometimes-crazy mother drifted around the country. She also saw her mother murdered right in front of her.
Bluestar's mother died when Bluestar was only an apprentice, and her father never really paid much attention to her and her sister. Her sister died as a young mother, and Bluestar felt guilty for her death because she'd convinced Snowfur to leave the camp for a little while. She had kits with a RiverClan cat (a forbidden relationship), but had to give them up in order to become deputy instead of Thistleclaw, and one died.
Crookedstar sustained a disfiguring injury as a kit. Because his shallow mother couldn't stand having such an ugly kit, she neglected him, favored his brother, and renamed him Crookedkit for his injury. As he grew up, many of the cats he was close to died.
Yellowfang, a medicine cat, had kits with the Clan leader (another forbidden relationship). Two of them died, and the one that lived became cruel and bloodthirsty, killing his own father and taking leadership, breaking the warrior code by stealing kits from other Clans, and even murdering kits from his own Clan and framing Yellowfang.
The In Death series: Eve was abandoned by her mother, raped by her father (who impregnated her mother with the sole intention of selling her to child molesters), killed him in self-defense, and then had to handle at least one abusive foster parent as she grew up in the system. Roarke was regularly beaten up by his father and non-biological mother, had to steal for his father, and even though Summerset took him in, they lost Marlena, Summerset's daughter, to a group of rapists. Dr. Mira watched her parents divorce, her mother remarry, and was sexually abused by her stepfather to the point of being Driven to Suicide (fortunately, she survived). Boy, these three had it rough, didn't they?
Kvothe from The Name of the Wind had his entire troupe die, lived homeless for three years, got kicked out of the only place he felt he belonged after the death of his troupe...and that's just what we know so far.
In Heart's Blood, Anluan’s entire family history, all the way back to his great-grandfather, Nechtan, who had an evil summoning spell go VERY wrong.
Caitrin’s isn’t exactly bright and cheery either. Her father’s dead, her sister married and left her, and a distant relative took over the house and allowed her son to beat Caitrin when he felt like it.
The members of the host are all souls from Purgatory. Some of them seem to have particularly violent pasts.
Animorphs Tobias. His natural father had to leave, and he was given a fake father, who then left himself. His mother was in an accident and didn't even remember him, besides being blind. He was bounced among aunts and uncles who didn't really care about him and became a bully magnet.
Marco. The disappearance of his mother and the subsequent split of his family caused him to become more cynical and, in effect, more ruthless and pragmatic and less attached to romantic, idealistic principles.
Fisk from the Knight and Rogue Series. He took up crime to support help suport his sisters after they lost both parents to disease. When his oldest sister marries someone who could take care of them, he decided Fisk alone couldn't stay, becuase he didn't want to be associated with a criminal. And that's ignoring everything involving Jack Bannister.
In Devon Monk's Dead Iron, Cedar's brother Wil dragged him west after the loss of his wife and children. Then they went on the wrong land and were cursed into werewolf form. Cedar came to find himself at the end of a bloody trail, and backtracked to find his brother's wolf corpse, its throat torn out by himself.
While the Aunt Dimity series is generally upbeat, many characters have had brushes with insanity, tragic accidents, serious diseases, major injuries, even war and murder. In some cases, coping with the fallout occurs over an extended period (often carrying over from one book to the next). The fates of other, more minor characters are addressed in the epilogue that closes each novel; they typically go about rebuilding their lives, and are usually better off after all is revealed.
Both main characters of Gives Light. Skylar had his mother murdered in front of him when he was five. Her murderer realized he was in the room and slashed his throat. Skylar didn't die, but now he's irreversibly mute. To top this all off, his one dream in life is to be a singer. And then you have Rafael, son of said serial killer. Everyone equates him with his father and he has no friends. Until he meets Skylar.
Vulpie in A Fox Tail has a particularly dark one, almost to the point of parody, beaten and shot by his birth father at 5, raped by a priest at 12, beaten by another foster parent for being gay... A psychologist strongly believes that it's his reason for hacking the known universe, but Polar helps him grow out of it.
In Sarah A. Hoyt's Darkship Thieves, Kit's wife died, and it looks like he murdered her, and he refuses to clear his name out of, it turns out, fear that other dark elements of his past will turn up.
Legacy of the Dragokin: All of Kthonian Knights have one; the three girls were kidnapped and raped by truly evil men and the guy had his hands cut off and left for dead for deserting the Leondian army. All of them function as a Freudian Excuse except for the last one. The only thing his past does is make him angst about how he can no longer truly embrace his precious little sister.
In Andre Norton's Storm Over Warlock, Shann Lantee was a Street Urchin. The only affection he got during that time was from a pet bird, that died in pain. He was at least once tortured with an Agony Beam by a bully. And he saw people under mind-control — a fact which he blurts out to Thorvald; that deeply embarrasses him, because it underscores how unlike the standard Survey team member's life his has been.
Jace Wayland from The Mortal Instruments, saw his father, Michael Wayland, murdered in a pool of his own blood. That was staged, of course. And Michael Wayland was never his father.
The Power of Five: Played straight with Matt, Pedro, Jamie, and Scott. Subverted with Scarlett, whose had the nicest life out of all five Gatekeepers.
Hostile Takeover (Swann): Klaus and Jonah Dacham were raised by an abusive mother, who often threatened them with their absent and nameless father. They joined the secret police to escape her, and were groomed to commit atrocies, peaking in Jonah's massacre of 35,000 rebels and innocent bystanders on Perdition.
In Wen Spencer's Ukiah Oregon series, Ukiah was abandoned in the woods to run with the wolves before that, Magic Boy was brutally murdered, eventually creating Ukiah and Atticus. Atticus Steele was another foundling. The foster parents who would have adopted him died in a car wreck and he was passed from foster home to foster home throughout his childhood. Max Bennett's wife disappeared mysteriously while he was on a speaking tour, only to turn up at the bottom of a lake from a car wreck.
Both Greg and Emma from the novel Fort Hope have troubled pasts. They come to find out their dark and troubled pasts are linked. Of course, in that book, almost everyone is related somehow.
Samantha Cataranes from The Nexus Series has a particularly unpleasant past. It is strongly implied during the first book that her experiences drove her to revile "Transhuman" technology and join the ERD as soon as she was old enough.
There are eight main characters in Of Fear and Faith and each one has experienced either a crappy, abuse-filled childhood or a life-altering, emotionally scarring tragedy. To put it in perspective, the character who lost his father when his hometown was destroyed probably has the least depressing backstory.
A large part of Damnatio Memoriae is the reader waiting to find out what happened in Enim's past that had caused him to become so withdrawn and troubled. It's then revealed that his mother jumped off a bridge, survived but is now in a vegetative state being kept alive by his uncle, and Enim could have stopped her. Oh, and she had schizophrenia and Enim most likely has it, too.
Will Herondale. Or at least, he alludes to one quite often.
Jem Carstairs. A demon who had a grudge against his mother tortured him in front of his parents, injecting him over and over with a drug that made him hallucinate vividly.
Live Action TV
Ned from Pushing Daisies was abandoned by his father, accidentally killed both his mother and the father of his childhood sweetheart, and spent most of his childhood in a Boarding School of Horrors. This, along with being given the sometimes unfortunate gift of bringing people Back from the Dead with a touch, led him to grow into a nervous and shy adult with some trust issues.
And, upon trying to solve his first murder case (which was an accident) to make his father love him more, he was found with the man's body and thrown in jail. When he was 10 years old. Is there such a thing as a cosmic Moral Event Horizon?
The initial sequence of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pilot episode shows Sisko being bodily dragged out of his quarters because he refuses to voluntarily leave his wife's corpse behind, despite the fact that the ship was critically damaged by the Borg and he doesn't have enough time to dig her out of the rubble before it explodes. Then we flash forward three years to his arrival at the space station.
Elle Bishop of Heroes - originally introduced as a demented vixen (everyone's favourite trope), but then revealed to be ridden with several issues, including being experimented upon as a child, locked up, and pumped full of drugs, eventually leading to her being diagnosed as a sociopath and the subsequent use as an "Executioner" by her own father.
Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the most well mannered and uptight middle-aged English Gentlemen you will ever come across. However, one old friend from College still calls him by his old nickname, Ripper, and their conversations drop tonnes of hints that he used to be one evil, badass warlock in his youth, whose feared reputation was very rightfully earned. It's never explicitly mentioned what he and Ethan did in the past and what happened to the other people in their group, nor what made him change into the champion of good he is today.
The rest of them were killed by Eyghon.
Spike used to be ridiculed by his social peers while still alive, and this is shown to deeply affect his personality, most evidently by lowering his already not-so-good social skills, along with leaving other significant marks. After siring his mother, she abused him verbally and sexually assaulted him, to the point that he was forced to kill her for good to stop her. He admits many years later that this episode has been weighting on him. After regaining his soul, he has to come to terms with the great sense of guilt he feels towards his criminal past. Us viewers usually get to see bits of his past via flashback, and the extent to which it is dark and troubled is occasionally emphasized by Spike telling Buffy that she really doesn't want to know how far he's gone in torturing and killing people. It gets better.
Then there's the Angel side. There's Gunn, who ended up a street teen because vampires killed his family, and Fred, who got sent to a hell dimension, enslaved, and lived in a cave for five years.Plus Wesley, who was emotionally abused by his father and locked in a dark closet for hours. Plus Angel himself, of course. And Connor, good lord, Connor. Raised in a hell dimension to hate his real father and once tied to a tree and left behind at five years old so he could work to escape and find his foster father.
Almost everyone on Grey's Anatomy?
Meredith - Abandoned by Dad, raised by a mother who didn't really care about her or want her.
Cristina - Witnessed her dad die when she was 9 (she actually felt his heart stop!)
Alex - Abusive dad, Crazy mother. Practically raised his siblings, went to Juvie.
Izzie - Grew up in a trailer park, gave up a baby for adoption in high school.
Marcus Cole , in the episode in which he was introduced, says he "doesn't believe in miracles". We later learn that he witnessed everyone he cared about, including his Ranger brother, being killed in a Shadow attack on his home colony. He can't shake the survivor's guilt.
It comes completely unexpected with Delenn, who, throughout the show, is well known for her compassion and kindness, as well as being a firm believer in the just cause and a wise advisor to others, cautioning against anger and hatred. However, it's not until much later that some details from her earlier life get revealed. She was aboard the ship that encountered the first human vessel and whose salute to the strangers scared the humans so much that they opened fire. When the initial salvo killed the most important religious leader of the minbari, she became the highest ranking person on the ship, and still holding the dead body of her teacher, immediately ordered a holy crusade by the whole minbari people to completely annihilate the entire human race. When the destruction of earth was stopped at the very last moment, it was not because she regreted her order.
"It doesn't matter how my parents raised me, because I loved my parents. Sure, they could be a little 'strict', but I often think back fondly on the memories I haven't repressed. The truth is, I wouldn't be the man I am today if it wasn't for the way my parents raised me."
Dr. House himself figured out at age 13 that his "father" wasn't actually his biological father, and he was therefore the result of his mother's infidelity. The father who raised him was a strict military man who moved them all over the world and was fond of punishing his rebellious son with ice baths and other forms of corporal punishment. Also, there's the whole "losing part of my leg against my will thanks to a decision by Stacy, leaving me with chronic pain and a limp" thing. He didn't want his leg amputated. Later on in the series, when he has to go under for surgery again, he tells Cuddy not to let the doctors amputate it unless there's no other choice.
Dr. Chase's father abandoned the family, leaving Chase to care for his alcoholic mother, who eventually drank herself to death.
Dr. Cameron married a man she knew was dying of cancer when she was 21. Since she knew he was terminal when she married him, it's implied that her damage goes back even farther than this situation.
Dr. Taub is revealed to have cheated on his wife, and has had a suicide attempt in his past.
Tony lost his mother at the age of eight and was subsequently neglected by his father, who remarried again and again and sent him to live in various boarding schools for the majority of his childhood.
Ziva's mother died when she was young, and her father was basically a sociopath who raised her to kill people. Her younger sister was killed in a Hamas suicide bombing, and she was forced to kill her brother after he became a terrorist. She has also lost several friends while working with Mossad, one of whom was captured while undercover and beheaded.
Even Ducky gets into the act in some episodes. The late Director Shepard also had a screwed-up childhood. Basically, the only ones with possible good pasts are cheerful Perky Goth Abby and Hollywood Nerd McGee.
Whoops! Abby is still haunted by her first case, where she failed to reunite a damaged family. And McGee's father was emotionally abusive and distant. To be clear, that's all four members of the field team now with daddy issues.
NCIS:Los Angeles has this with everyone, but especially Callen, to the point where he doesn't know his FIRST NAME.
Special mention to Marty Deeks, who had an abusive father who he eventually shot (at age eleven) to protect himself.
Walter Bishop from Fringe crossed several ethical boundaries (including experimenting on children, see below) in the name of Science, before he was admitted to St. Claire's Psychiatric Institution.
Walter's also directly responsible for another Dark and Troubled Past: to save the other dimension's Peter after losing his own to a fatal illness, Walter kidnapped that Peter to this dimension. The ensuing years were implicitly turbulent and unhappy: by the time Peter was 13, Walter had been committed to a mental institution, and after Peter split for Europe at 18, Elizabeth Bishop committed suicide. We *still* don't know everything that Peter did or saw before joining Fringe Division, but it was apparently not all sunshine and puppies.
AND let's not forget Olivia in all this. Military brat who moved around a lot, abused by her stepfather, lost her mother at a young age, and, oh yeah, experimented on in Jacksonville by none other than Walter Bishop.
The titular character was abandoned by her parents at the age of 15, taken away from her older brother, and placed in foster care. She finds out later that her parents were bank robbers and "Temperance Brennan" isn't her actual birth name, and that her father is still alive (and an accused murderer).
FBI Agent Seeley Booth would be a parody if he wasn't so expertly written; He was the child of an abusive, alcoholic father who came within inches of killing him and his brother. He almost committed suicide as a teen. He was a top-rated US Army sniper, and feels deeply guilty about it because he came to believe his kills never really accomplished anything. And on top of that, he's a direct descendant of John Wilkes Booth.
Dr. Lance Sweets, the young psychologist, was adopted at the age of six by a loving elderly couple after he had been abused as a young child (he has scars from whips on his shoulders). His adoptive parents died shortly before he came to work with Booth and Brennan.
Booth lampshades all this at one point: "What are we, the island of misfit toys?"
In the eighth season of 24, it is revealed that Renee has one of these.
Michael Westen of Burn Notice observes that this is very common in his line of work:
People with happy families don't become spies. A bad childhood is the perfect background for covert ops: You don't trust anyone, you're used to getting smacked around, and you never get homesick.
The Pretender: Jarod, Miss Parker and Sydney all have dark and troubled pasts. Jarod's leads him to help people, Miss Parker's makes her icy and defensive and Sydney's leads him to stay at the Centre and try and prevent them doing as much damage as he can.
On Stargate SG-1, Dr. Daniel Jackson's cringe-worthy backstory explains how he can keep going in the face of the constant perils he faces on the show. He lost his parents to an accident (which he witnessed) as a kid, and his own grandpa was too busy to take him in, so he went to foster care. He was ridiculed for his (true!) archaeological theories and lost his apartment and research grants before he joined the Stargate program. There, he falls in love with a woman on another planet and stays with her, but she's kidnapped one year later and he leaves to go tramping around the galaxy trying to find her (which remains his motivation for continuing with SG1 until she dies, possesses, and almost succeeds in killing him). Add that to what happens to him during the actual run of the show, and he's still the first one to give anybody the benefit of doubt.
While usually (but not always) portrayed as more of a jadedgoofball than a dark character, Colonel Jack O'Neill doesn't have the most pleasant background. He is ex-Special Ops, and his professional backstory appears to fall under 'you don't want to know' territory. It was stated that he's done some 'distasteful things', and a few allusions have been made to his 'file' and his having a 'strong stomach'. He was also left for dead by his friend and teammate, Frank Cromwell, resulting in four months in an Iraqi prison. The Iraqis were not known for being nice to their prisoners, and he carried a grudge for at least seven years, to the extent that he refused to forgive Cromwell even when the planet was about to be sucked up by a black hole. This was never mentioned again. The specifics of his early life are unknown, but when Sam Carter was trying to get him to empathise with some new Air Force Academy graduates, he retorted that '[He] was never their age.' That one has about even odds of being a joke or a hint-within-a-joke, but it's a weird thing to say if it doesn't have any basis in fact. Finally, his son Charlie accidentally killed himself with O'Neill's sidearm, and O'Neill blames himself. He was suicidal and, were it not for the intervention of Daniel Jackson, he would have killed himself with a nuclear bomb and knowingly taken five-thousand people with him. All this before the show happened. At a later date, there was a little episode called Abyss.
It's actually pretty difficult to find a many character in any of the Stargate shows who hasn't had some horrible tragedy of varying levels heaped on them at some point or another. Mitchell, for example, is, so far, the only main character who has been confirmed to have both parents alive and well, but even he had that troubled experience where he blew up a truck of refugees, due to miscommunication.
Don Draper of Mad Men lives this trope. He was born to a prostitute and frequently abused as a child because of this. Oh, and she died in childbirth. His father had his head kicked in by a horse in front of him. Don then joined the Army, went to Korea, saw his CO die violently in front of him, switched identities with his CO to get discharged, got discovered by his CO's widow, divorced his CO's widow and married his current wife, only to have lots of extramarital affairs.
Jack Harkness gets a lot of this in Torchwood. The audience knows a bit of it due to remembering his origins in Doctor Who, but his actions over the last 100 years without the Doctor include giving up twelve children to aliens who wanted to use them for substance abuse in exchange for a cure to a deadly virus, being a member of a less than morally outstanding Time Agency earlier, having his blood drained as part of an immortality plot, and there are probably a few other things we haven't been made aware of.
Speaking of Doctor Who, the Doctor himself has elements of this trope. At first, it wasn't that bad - sure, he stole the TARDIS from his own people and broke their laws on non-intervention. Then we started to wonder why he left... and when the doctor mentioned 'pressing reasons' we knew it couldn't be good. Then, just to make sure we know that he falls into this trope, the Time War happened off screen, and now his back-story includes a horrible war, at least two (near) genocides, and the destruction of his fellow Time Lords.
A lot of the characters in Carnivàle have this trope:
Ben Hawkins being the primary example, having been raised by his partially insane mother (who was driven insane by virtue of having given birth to him), who drowned his pets and treated him like the devil's spawn because of his gift. When he met the Carnivale troupe, he had recently escaped from a chain gang.
Sofie had to deal with her mother being catatonic from birth, as well as slightly tapped in the head, and she tends to be a little cynical in her manner (although, given her circumstances, there's nothing unjustified about this).
Jonesy had his higher hopes of becoming a well-paid professional baseball player dashed by the Mob mutilating one of his legs after not throwing a game for them, forcing him into a life of crime and, later, employment as a roustabout by Samson.
Henry Scudder's entire characterisation is built around this trope - he didn't want to be an avatar of darkness, and to try and avoid his fate, he travelled from one place to another, causing havoc wherever he went, eventually disappearing altogether.
Management had an accident involving a bear in the trenches during the Great War, leaving him horribly scarred and mutilated.
Justin and Iris both had messy childhoods before being adopted by Norman Balthus, both having to deal with Justin's inner demons, as well as their insane mother, who dragged them halfway across the world because she was convinced their father was evil and trying to kill them.
Hinted at, and later proved, with several characters on ER — Luka, Sam, etc.
On Castle, it's stated several times that Kate Beckett joined the police force because her mother was murdered. At one point in her life, she became totally obsessed with solving her mother's murder, to the point that it almost destroyed her. Despite finding the killer in the Season 2 episode "Sucker Punch", the crime remains unsolved.
Guy of Gisborne of the BBC's Robin Hood - turned out that, when he was a teenager, his dad was a leper and his mother was having it off with Robin Hood's father, and after his parents died, he sold his sister to an older man.
The origin of Dexter Morgan's "Dark Passenger" is from his early childhood, watching his mother being brutally murdered.
Admiral Al Calavicci of Quantum Leap. His family was penniless, his father was gone most of the time, and his mother ran out on him and his sister, Trudy, who happened to have Down's Syndrome. His father eventually found another job out of country, and left Al in an orphanage and Trudy in an institution, but came back in time to free his kids and then die of some unspecified cause. Al, ten years old by this time, went back to the orphanage and his sister back to the institution. Al spent his time running away and stirring up trouble, and, in his late teens, engaged in both boxing and theatre, but apparently, his grades were good enough to earn him entrance to Annapolis. Then, when he went to spring his sister from the loony bin, he was told that she had died of pneumonia some time before. Time goes on, though, and he graduated Annapolis to become a Naval pilot. He met the woman he referred to as the love of his life, a Navy nurse named Beth, and married her. Now, just when you think things are getting better, Vietnam came along. During his second tour of duty, he was shot down over enemy territory, and, depending on the timeline, spent either six or eight years as a prisoner of war. As if that wasn't bad enough, he was listed as MIA, and when he was finally repatriated, he found out that his wife had him declared dead and was already remarried. He went on to remarry four times and gradually declined into alcoholism. Though he did get better, sort of.
Shepherd Book in Firefly was always implied to have one of these, having unusual knowledge of crime, combat, and other esoteric skills suited for a spy or soldier that ran counter to his nature as a Shepherd. In The Shepherd's Tale comic, this past is enumerated on; his original name was Henry Evans, and he ran away from home to escape an abusive father, becoming a street criminal. He joined the Browncoat resistance to escape arrest and imprisonment, and became a spy that infiltrated the Alliance military and joined the Alliance command staff, first as an interrogator and then as a high-level officer. He was eventually disgraced when he planned an operation during the Unification War that got hundreds of Alliance soldiers killed, and was thrown out of the military to become a drunk drifter until, finally, he found and joined a monastery and became the Shepherd in the series.
Derek from Teen Wolf, via Dead Family, and eventually, ripped-in-half older sister.
Elena Gilbert from The Vampire Diaries. To date, she has lost every single one of her parental figures: her adoptive parents (who happened to be her biological Uncle and Aunt) were killed in a car accident shortly before the series began, leaving Elena with an enormous sense of survivor's guilt, having been in that same accident. She didn't find out she was adopted until halfway through the first season, and discovered that the man she thought was her uncle was actually her father, and her mother was a woman named Isobel who had been (willingly) turned into a vampire. They both died, John in order to allow Elena to wake up human at the end of the second season, and Isobel burning herself to a crisp in front of Elena in the cemetery. Jenna, Elena's aunt who assumed custody of the Gilbert siblings (technically cousins) after the tragic pre-series accident, died shortly before John, also in front of Elena, during the ritual in which Klaus ripped out her heart. And then, throughout the third season, Alaric, who had basically acted as Jeremy and Elena's guardian after Jenna's death (who had, incidentally, been in love with Jenna), became increasingly mentally unstable due to all the times he had died and come back to life with the Gilbert Life Ring, eventually turned into a vampire by the season's big bad and completely possessed by the need to eradicate the entire vampire race. And then he died, leaving Elena with Jeremy as her last living relative. And then he died, triggering a Heroic BSOD during which Elena switched off her humanity. When Jeremy came back, it was at the cost of the life of one of her best friends, Bonnie Bennett. (She got better too, but only by becoming the Anchor to the Other Side, through which every supernatural being has to pass (unless you'reKatherine, lmao) which causes her unspeakable pain every time. AND THEN SHE GOT POSSESSED BY HER EVIL DOPPELGANGER. This show never gives Elena a rest.
Jeff's father was an abusive alcoholic who eventually left the family, leaving Jeff with a lot of emotional scars. Additionally, he has seriously deep self-esteem, vanity and body image problems amongst other things.
Britta was taken advantage of at a young age, with no one, not even her controlling father standing up for her. Adding to the many insults and put-downs thrown out by the study group, other students, and even a priest.
Abed's father is cold, controlling, and distant towards him since his parents' divorce, blaming it on his son. He has a hard time to try and connect with other people, feeling alone and stuck in a metaphorical locker. He is so withdrawn he cannot allow himself to exist in his own ideal universe, and he constantly feels the need to scheme and change himself so that his friends won't abandon him.
Shirley used to be a happy, married mother, never thought about going to college and starting a business, until her husband left her, causing her to try and turn her life around while being a single mother and college student for the most of the series. She also used to have what seems to be a drinking problem.
Annie was driven by the pressure and stress to succeed that she ended up taking Adderall. Went to rehab against her parent's wishes (but ultimately for the better of her own health), and is currently estranged from her family.
Troy's parents overprotected him from the ideas and concepts of the adult world, despite him being out of high school. They left him unprepared, overly innocent, and naive. Furthermore, his parents are divorced and his father has pushed him out of the house because it is uncomfortable to have Troy there with his new girlfriend - who is Troy's age.
Pierce has spent his whole life trying to get any hint of appreciation, approval or affection from his prejudiced father, who has constantly emotionally abused him. Even to his dad's grave, he has never once gained any of that.
JAG has both Sarah Mac Kenzie (parental abandonment) and Jennifer Coates (criminal past).
Every single damn transgenic in Dark Angel, but particularly Alec, who spent twenty-two years as a Manticore soldier. In addition to the normal horrible Manticore torture and indoctrination, Alec spent at least two long-term stays in the Psy-Ops re-indoctrination unit. The longer of the two stays bought Alex six months of Cold-Blooded Torture just because his twin brother turned out to be psychotic, and his handlers were curious whether he would snap, too. Alec's flashbacks in the show are...unpleasant.
Aaron Hotchner: It is implied that his father abused him when he was a child.
David Rossi: He failed to stop a killer from murdering a couple right in front of their three children.
When he was a teenager, a group of bullies forced him to shove a kid into a locker and then urinate on him.
Spencer Reid: His mother is a paranoid Schizophrenic, his father abandoned them, and he once had a group of bullies strip him naked and tie him to a goal post and left him there for the rest of the night.
Penelope Garcia: Her parents were both killed in a car accident when she was eighteen.
Derek Morgan: He watched his father get shot when he was a kid. He then hung out with a bad crowd until the owner of the youth center took him under his wing. We then find out that the so called "mentor" actually molested Morgan.
Elle Greenway: Her father, a police officer, was killed on duty when she was eight years old. Elle feels guilty because of this because the last thing she said to her dad was "I hate you."
Multiple characters in OrangeisTheNewBlack have a dark past that is explored to show how they came to be in prison.
The Patient from The Black Parade is implied to have had a violent past, in which he committed many misdeeds.
Pink from Pink Floyd's The Wall. His father died in the war, his mother is over-protective, he was tortured by sadistic teachers...no wonder that, when his marriage collapsed, he isolated himself from the rest of the world and became a fascist dictator in his own imaginary world...
Luca Turilli uses this trope whenever he can.
Lord Of The Winter Snow: Back again to my tragic past
Demonheart: Shocked again she opened the gates / of her tragic past and bloody images / came back to her mind
Dargor; Shadowlord of the Black Mountain: For his tragic past he disowned the sunlight
Legend of Steel: Break the chains of the past forever
Black Dragon: Had to fight the reputation of his bloody past
Dawn of Victory: Shades of a past not so far to forget... / the rise of the demons from their bloody Hell!
Bloody Hell! He couldn't break the chains of this reputation.
The protagonist from The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash", which has him born and raised in an abusive household and abandoned at some point in his childhood. It's hinted in the chorus that he's gotten over it, albeit not in one piece, given the nature of the song.
A lot of great musicians have had dark and troubled pasts. John Lennon had serious issues with the way his mother (and father) treated him, which he only started dealing with after he met Yoko Ono. Neil Young similarly had a chip on his shoulder about his parents breaking up (leading him to support Ronald Reagan under the guise of his 'strengthening the family' rhetoric, although he soon became disillusioned). John Cale, due to his grandmother not allowing any language but Welsh to be spoken in the hause, never had a conversation with his Anglophonic father before he learnt English when he was nine, and he was molested by at least two older men in his youth, giving him issues that fed into his later substance abuse.
Almost the entire cast of the Evillous Chronicles. Venomania was [[spoilers: locked in a basement and]] horribly bullied because of his deformity, and then the only person who accepted him turned on him; it's highly implied that Conchita's parents were abusive; Riliane's parents died and she was forced to ascend the throne while still a little kid; Margarita's true love completely ignored her, which sent her over the Despair Event Horizon; Gallerian's family was killed by MA so he could help her search for the sins,;and Elluka...well, her father raped her, she was split into two people, something happened that culminated in her killing her best friend(I don't think anyone knows what the hell happened in that song). No wonder they're all so fuckedup. And that's only a few of them.
In Chess, Florence's father disappeared during the 1956 Budapest uprising.
Siegfried in Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung: An orphan, with additional guilt-inducing bonus of knowing that his mother died giving birth to him, raised by Mime to be used to kill Fafner for his hoard and the ring. Although he doesn't know it yet, his parents Siegmund and Sieglind were siblings, and his scheming grandfather Wälse alias Wotan also wanted to use Siegfried as a pawn in a longterm project and Wotan's enemy Alberich also would like to get rid of him. Sieglind saw her mother killed and was kidnapped and forced into a loveless marriage, then had to witness her brother and lover killed (which was also due to Wotan's intervention). Small wonder that one of the leitmotifs is called the Wälsungen suffering motive (Wälsungenleidmotiv).
In The King of Fighters series, one or two fighters crop up with these kinds of pasts, but extra points go to Rock Howard, who has this through virtually no fault of his own. He's the son of the notoriously death-retardant Geese Howard, who barely took any interest in the boy's well being. Rock was rendered an orphan by one of Geese's nemeses, Terry Bogart (who tried to keep him from falling to his death, only for Geese to yank his hand out of Terry's grip and Go Out with a Smile as he fell), who took it upon himself to raise and train Rock himself...possibly out of penance. Rock is surprisingly well-adjusted, but it constantly at war with himself internally, given he has "evil blood".
In Silent Hill, a dark and troubled past guarantees you a season ticket to the titular town.
The Final Fantasy series loves this trope. Seriously, we could be here all day.
The Tales Series should probably get its own folder. The heroes, villains, supporting cast and even random NPCs in pretty much any installment can be counted on to have serious issues. Even better, their pasts are usually plot-relevant, and since the franchise loves plots full of Wham Episodes, most characters' pasts are also spoilertastic.
Playing a BioWare (or Obsidian) game? Yeah. This trope will apply to your party.
Knights of the Old Republic. Carth Onasi? Nice Guy, but has a truckload of paranoia issues. Not surprising when you find out that his Evil Mentor decided to defect to the Sith, and laid waste to Carth's homeworld. Carth was widowed in the attack, and he finds out later that while his son survived, the Sith are training him in the ways of the Force. Bastila? Well, it's a mild case, but the Jedi policy of child conscription and forcing them to cut all ties with their family and loved ones isn't pleasant. Mission may not consider her past all that troubled, but she is a teenager pretty much living on the streets of a Wretched Hive. Zaalbar? Exiled from his homeworld for flying into a rage and attacking his brother. Said brother was colluding with slavers to sell his fellow Wookiees into slavery. In his anger, Zaalbar broke the taboo about not using claws in a fight, which makes you less than an animal in Wookiee society. Juhani? Oh, where to begin? Her people were subject to genocide by the Mandalorians. Her parents fled, but ended up on a Wretched Hive that hated "aliens" and openly discriminated against them. Her father became a drug addict and died in a Bar Brawl. Her mother starved to death because she was trying to feed her cub at the expense of herself, but was in debt to a loan shark, meaning Juhani was Made a Slave to pay it off. The Jedi freed her from slavery, and Juhani latched onto their Code and ideals hard. She dedicated herself to training and the Jedi way...until her master decides a good idea of a final test is to goad her into rage and trick the poor girl into thinking she killed her own master! Canderous and HK-47 certainly have dark and troubled pasts, but they're actually proud of the carnage trail they've left. And then, there's what The Reveal has to say about your Player Character.
The second game (by Obsidian) gets an even nastier bunch of people. Kreia? Well, she's been a Jedi Master and a Sith Lord. She was probably The Man Behind the Man for Revan. As much as she protests that she's neutral, it's obvious she hasn't given up the "Sith" part, aside from trying to setter it more towards Manipulative Bastard than Stupid Evil. You don't get much more dark and troubled than Atton Rand, either. Former Republic deserter, Jedi hunter, Sith torturer, Sith deserter, turned to smuggling, and was likely the guy trying to sell your Player Character to the Exchange. Visas is of a rare species who can see through the Force, and Darth Nihilus ate her homeworld and all life on it, sparing only her. She became his "apprentice," but in practice is more his slave and punching bag. Handmaiden is the shunned, Heroic Bastard daughter of a Echani general and a Jedi. Because her daddy cheated on his wife to produce her, her sisters treat her with contempt at best. Disciple? Well, under that naive persona, he's actually a spy for the Republic, enlisting in the Republic Navy because the Jedi shrugged and threw him away after the Mandalorian Wars didn't leave enough Jedi to train apprentices. Bao-Dur? Whew. Massive PTSD issues from creating and using the Mass Shadow Generator at Malachor. He literally threw a switch and killed thousands of ally and enemy alike. Hanharr? Well, we're dealing with Wookiees and slavery, but Hanharr was insane to begin with and slaughtered his whole village to keep them out of slaver hands. Mira? Well, her family was killed by Mandalorians, and the Mandos took her as a slave. She doesn't speak of her captors with too much rancor as they taught her how to fight and handle explosives (in Expanded Universe material, it explains that Mandalorians tend to "adopt" children of fallen foes that have potential to join their ranks). And your Player Character? Well, s/he left the Order to fight the Mandalorians, was the teacher that abandoned Disciple, fought in two of the nastiest battles in the War, ordered the use of the Mass Shadow Generator that made Bao-Dur's issues, was the only one of Revan's followers to walk away and try to go back to the Order, only to get slapped in the face and a sentence of Exile, left with absolutely nothing to show for all the sacrifice.
Neverwinter Nights: By the time you meet Aribeth in Neverwinter Nights Hordes of the Underdark, she has a very troubled past (including being executed for something that wasn't technically her fault). The character you play in that one technically doesn't know about it, even though you almost certainly played the first campaign beforehand. Casavir in the sequel has a stormy history with Neverwinter.
The module creating community has brought up several examples as well. Anera in the Shadowlords arc took a lot of crap from her family (the celestial side) for being too mortal, and eventually entered into a relationship with a necromancer. It did not end well. Alex in The Bastard Of Kosigan series has a very troubled one, dealing with the complications involved with being in love with the severely disfavored bastard, and her abortive relationship with Vlad. Pia in A Dance with Rogues has many regrets about her time as one of Vico's playthings.
Every recruitable NPC in Dragon Age: Origins. In the order you usually meet them, they are: a royal bastard left at the local church to become a mage-hunting Knight Templar; mother is a legendary witch that intends to steal her body some time in the future; used to be an assassin-bard whose favoured method was the Honey Trap; killed all the inhabitants of a farmhouse after experiencinga big cultural no-no; turned into a golem some time ago and lost memories due to a very extensive And I Must Scream experience; old lady who's really dead but kept alive by an inhabiting spirit; another assassin whose past may suck just as bad, if not worse, than the first one's; drunk whose wife left him to become a monster. Even the dog has a troubled past; the dog's original master ended up dying, and it reached you only by managing to escape the mass slaughter at Ostagar. Sometimes, you think your party should form a Country & Western band.
Not if you play Human Noble (who is, incidentally, one of only two PCs without a significantly dark and troubled past as well. Being orphaned as an adult sucks, but it beats out being branded as worthless from birth and forced into crime or prostitution to survive).
Considering the entire story takes place in the past, let's add Dragon Age II companions to the list: a healer who's possessed by a demon due to his own anger; an ex-slave who's hunted by his previous master; an Elven mage whose own clan views her as a walking liability; a prince whose family was murdered; and the story teller who witnesses it all. All of this is not including the main character, Hawke, who witnesses their siblings and mother die, and is forced into war. The only one without a troubled past is Isabela, who seems to make light of even the worst situations.
Actually, Isabela was sold into marriage at an implied young age by her mother for a few silvers and a goat. Then Zevran was hired to kill him, and she inherited his ship and decided to become a pirate. Her stories about her past are the most fragmented of the party, and generally Noodle Incidents. Also, that relic she's looking for? She stole it from the Qunari. This actually comes back to bite the party in a serious way in Act II.
Just about every single major character in Mass Effect has some sort of tragic backstory. Even Commander Shepard can be customised to have one — the Colonist background involves everyone in Shepard's home colony being massacred or taken by slavers, while the Earthborn background gives him or her a criminal history, and the Sole Survivor psychological profile involves Shepard losing everyone in his or her unit to a thresher maw attack.
By Mass Effect 2, the only characters who don't have such a background are Ashley and (maybe) Jacob.
Ayane of Dead or Alive fame is a Child by Rape between the Mugen Tenshin matriarch and the outlaw ninja Raidou (the Mugen Tenshin patriarch's brother). Because she was considered a cursed child, she was shunned by everyone in the clan, except for Kasumi and Hayate, who later turn out to be her half-sibling. This upbringing has shaped her into a cold, ruthless assassin with a burning hatred for her older sister Kasumi.
Jennifer from Rule of Rose. There's a reason why the narrator never fails to refer to her as the "poor, unlucky girl".
Director: Your father was a counter-revolutionary. When he was killed, you, your mother, and your sisters were transported to a North Siberian gulag. Paint me the picture.
Heavy: No. This is my gun. I like to shoot this gun. Is all you need to know.
Director: Your family only lived in that gulag for three months. In December 1941 it burned to the ground. All of the prisoners had escaped. All of the guards had been killed. Tortured to death.
Heavy: I. Like. To shoot. This gun. Is all you need to know.
Later played straight in the comic A Cold Day In Hell, when some of the other mercs visit Heavy's home. It turns out that the events The Director described actually happened, but Heavy's Big Brother Instinct caused him not to want to discuss his family with a total stranger.
Devlin McCormack in The Orion Conspiracy definitely has this. Let us see. He fought as a soldier in the Corporation War, which apparently left him with issues. He admits that he was not a good father to his son, Danny, and that he, in fact, drove him away. Interestingly enough, Danny's death and the investigation of it is what drives Devlin for a portion of the game. Also, the local Jerkass claims that Devlin drove his wife to suicide, which would indicate that Devlin may not have been a good husband. Of course, it is hard to say that really is the case, or if there is more to that story than that.
Five Nights at Freddy's has this for the Suck E. Cheese's you work at, revealed both through voice-mails from the phone guy and newspaper clippings visible through the security cameras. A serial murderer had put on a Freddy Fazbear costume and lured children into the back of the establishment. He was eventually brought to justice, but the children were never found. Soon, patrons started to complain about the animatronics smelling foul and appearing to leak blood and mucus around the eyes and mouth. This, combined with the "Bite of '87" where a kid lost his frontal lobe, has caused the establishment to fall on hard times financially, forcing it to close down at year's end.
Miles Edgeworth in Ace Attorney. His father was murdered when he was ten and Edgeworth spent 15 years believing he was responsible for his death. He was adopted by the honorable and kindly Manfred von Karma, the one who really murdered his father, and brought up to be a cold and ruthless prosecutor with no regard for whether the people he prosecuted had actually done anything wrong. Just like von Karma planned. It's surprising he came out as well-balanced as he did.
Godot. In his first appearance, he claims he's come back from Hell to challenge Phoenix, and he's not exaggerating hugely. He was poisoned by Dahlia and fell into a five-year-coma, during which his beloved Mia Fey was murdered. The poison also took his sight, and is implied to have done other damage as well.
A significant plot point in Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is figuring out what exactly happened to Akane after she was separated from Junpei. Turns out she was kidnapped, locked in an incinerator, and burned to death.
Arguably, every character in Card Players. Nuff said.
One of the De Noirs from Dusk's Dawn gives us an Info Dump about how his father is missing and how "illusions can't help."
All four main characters in Broken Saints, despite coming from vastly different backgrounds, all have less than pleasant life stories:
Shandala was orphaned at infancy, and although her life among the Fijian Islanders is peaceful, when she was a young girl, her adopted mother was horrifically mutilated and murdered by white men under the direction of—and possibly including—her biological father.
Oran's father was killed during a bombing assault on Bahgdad during the first Gulf War.
Kamimura was taken from his home at a very young age to become a monk, leaving his family behind to be killed in the bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki in World War II.
Raimi has arguably the most mundane, but no less heartbreaking. After his father left, his mother died from what is implied to be cancer.
Arguably, Church from Red vs. Blue.While he doesn't remember it for the most part, the original Church is what you get when you brutally torture an AI into splitting into pieces, even to the point of using parts of its own mind against it (Gamma and Omega). The result is a constantly angry person who doesn't even understand why he's so angry all the time. Epsilon!Church probably remembers more about the torture, but chooses to suppress it to keep from going crazy.
It eventually turns out that Zig Zag, the perky, perpetually randy and playful Serbian tiger/skunk crossbreed from Sabrina Online has one of these. She gets livid if anyone tries to suggest it's her Freudian Excuse for being a notorious pornography star and director, though.
Grace, Susan, and Tedd in El Goonish Shive, though Grace appears to have been the only one who suffered physical abuse. "Lord Tedd" from the alternate universe seems to have a dark and troubled past of truly epic proportions.
Many of the characters from Gold Coin Comics, such as Lance, whose entire village was burned to the ground.
Alexander Hamilton in The Dreamer, man, oh man. Let's break it down: when he was a teenager, in the span of a few years, 1) his mother died, 2) his father vanished, 3) his aunt, uncle, and grandfather also died, 4) his cousin committed suicide, and 5) Alexander and his brother were disinherited and left penniless orphans. Let us not forget that his father, James Hamilton, may not even have been his father at all (the honor may go to a gentleman by the name of Thomas Stevens).
Vriska Serket of Homestuck. Being raised by a giant spider who forced her to kill hundreds or even thousands of other children to feed left her pretty damaged.
Tekno in Sonic the Comic. While we never see her past, it's implied that she's done some pretty bad things since she worked with Dr.Robotnik. Her murdering someone in the fan continuation seems to better support this, though that's related to her going through a mental breakdown
When James' mother died, his father kept telling him that god had a plan for those he allowed to pass. But then his father developed Alzheimer's Disease. He was mostly normal at first, and when he eventually needed to go to a nursing home, James would visit him and take him to the church there every Sunday. But in the end, he was just a shadow of the man James once admired.
James: When my mother died, my father always told me that god had a plan for those he allowed to pass. But god took my father years before he finally allowed him to pass.
Sarah has wanted to be a mother for years, and one day got herself inseminated. But in a 1/20,000 chance, she developed ovarian cancer. It's implied she nearly didn't recover, and now she isn't sure fate wants her to be a mother.
Sarah: I think if I were meant to mother, there would be at least one positive sign.
Commander Badass's superiors tried to invoke (yes, invoke) this in Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, telling the Commander that his entire family was dead for two years. The Commander being the Only Sane Man though, his response (instead of becoming dark and broody like they wanted) was to ask for a therapist, then a lawyer.
In Knight Run, Anne and Pray are orphans who have been together forever, with Pray making no attempt to hide that Anne is the only person she cares about. Their extremely unhealthy devotion to each other is one of the many hints that there is something extremely dark in their past, especially as Pray is slowly revealed to be The Ageless and at least one generation older than Anne (though note this isn't particularly rare in this universe). Fans had several theories about who they are and where they came from. The idea that one or both of them killed their parents was suggested, as well as the possibility that Pray might be a doll, or Anne might be someone she kidnapped, so on and so forth. In chapter 74, we finally get a flashback to the truth, and it's far worse than anyone imagined. Pray is one of the monsters who has been fighting humanity for centuries—and Anne is her daughter.
Both Cain and Kylie from Serpamia Flare have exhibited signs of having gone through traumatic events in their pasts.
Tasakeru's primary characters, the Outcasts, are shining examples of this trope, it's pretty much a prerequisite for being one. One is a runaway Samurai suffering from Survivor Guilt, one was thrown out on the streets with her mother as an infant and grew up in poverty, and one was disowned by her family for being a mage. And that's just the ones we know about...
The Nostalgia Chick had a judging mother and an emotionally distant father who both were alcoholics and yelled at each other constantly, had an uncle that molested her, got bullied at school for being the awkward dork, became an alcoholic herself and somehow got fixated on guys she could fix and control to do whatever she asked of them.
Ithalond. An Elf from Imladris, he was pulled into the infamous fic Celebrian. Need I say more?
Touhou: a Glimmer of an Outside World has many, many indications that Yuuka wasn't quite as mentally stable as she is in the roleplay in the past. Like a basement with a room full of torture equipment.
any of the Organization's Agents in LIS_DEAD count, considering what we've learned of the Organization so far.
The Opening Narration of Doom House explains how the wife of the main character, Reginald P. Linux, had died long ago and that this had left a severe depression weighed heavy on his soul.
Jeanette of Funny Business is revealed to have this in the flashback. It turns out that having omnipotent power from a young age can do a number on one's psyche.
A lot of AkaiChounokoe's characters have these, so here's a few
Toki's past and if they are to be believed started is this, particularly so when she tried to runaway from them and, as Brownie put it She was once sweet and only wanted to be loved. Lets see? Here they are:
She was abused and then neglected causing her to almost die of leukemia, during the events of Flashbacks I, soemthing that caused something in her to drive her insane in the next incident (see below)
She returned to the place where she was once abused so she can get hold of the inheritance money but went insane during the events of Insanity and Resentment and has had issues eve since.
Frailine (the one Toki abused) is also an example as per these statements:
She was imprisoned for being criminally insane after the events of Little Girl's Revenge when she almost killed Toki and damaged the border between this world and the next. Kind of a Disproportionate Retribution, compared to what Toki did to her (abused her and then, sometime afterward, she sent to Alaska attached to a bus by a magnet with no means of getting home)
Sometime after being imprisoned, she almost kills herself twice and is never seen again, as per stated, in Diary of a Borderline Schizophrenic, driving Toki into more self-hate because of it.
Bunny and Madgie's parents died in an accident when Bunny was twenty and Madgie was nine.
Doki was seperated from her twin sister Toki at when both were going on thirteen and was sedated and frozen.
Before leaving his home planet on the Dionysian, Fiearius Soliveré of "Caelum Lex" worked as an assassin for the dubious government organization the Society, potentially murdering many innocents. This culminated in an event that caused both his wife and four year old son to be killed
Zuko: father always favoured Azula over him, and then planned to murder him to get the throne. His loving mother sacrificed her life/freedom to prevent this. He, one day, speaks out against a horrible plan, and his own father burns his face for insolence. He then gets banished and put on a Snipe Hunt for the Avatar. Needless to say, he's the Mr. Fanservice of the series.
Aang: While he had a happy childhood with the Air Nomads, he made the fatal mistake of freaking out and running away from his responsibilities, ending up being frozen in ice for a century, and finally paying dearly for it when he discovers the corpse of his beloved mentor.
Katara and Sokka: mother killed in a Fire Nation raid when they were little, and their father and all the men of the tribe left three years prior to the show's start. This left Katara with abandonment issues, and Sokka feeling that he wasn't good enough as a warrior. They may not show the effects as much as Zuko does, but it catches up to them later on (Sokka risks his ass breaking into a Fire Nation prison, Katara has her dark night of the soul tracking down her mother's killer).
Iroh: was once a very powerful warrior and general in the Fire Nation army, leading a siege on Ba Sing Se. Then, his son died, he went into a Heroic BSOD, and 'betrayed his nation'.
All this isn't even counting the pasts of more minor characters such as Jeong-Jeong, Pakku, Hama, Jet, and, even Azula, who has Mommy Issues.
Denzel Crocker on The Fairly Oddparents. At first, he had a life similar to Timmy's: he had a neglectful mother who left him with an abusive babysitter. He also had fairy godparents (Cosmo and Wanda, in fact), which he used to do good things for people. The end came when he lost his godparents: he forgot all his happy memories, the town shunned him because they forgot all the good things he did, he became obsessed with proving fairies exist thanks to a note he left himself, causing him to lose his sanity, he was laughed out of his college for promoting fairies, and he lost Waxelplax because of his obsession. Yeah, not very fun.
Casey Jones was given one of these for his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 incarnation, in order to explain his vigilantism: when he was a kid, the Purple Dragon gang, led by a teenage Hun, burned his father's store before his very eyes. Afterwards, when Arnold Casey Jones Sr. tried to extract retribution, he was killed. Eventually, writers for the Mirage comic book integrated a modified and considerably less sanitized version of the story into the original canon.
Artemis from Young Justice, though it took a long time to figure out the nature of it. Turns out she was raised by criminals, who trained Arty and her sister to be expert assassins. Then her mom broke her spine and was sent to jail. Her sister, not wanting to be left with their abusive father, ran-away, leaving Artemis alone for years, until her now reformed mom came back, kicked her father out, and Artemis decided to become a hero.
Just about everybody in Adventure Time, but special mention to Marceline, who has a thousand years that can all be summed up with this trope, and an honorable mention to the Ice King, whose troubles are of such a nature that he's incapable of understanding them or remembering their existence anymore.
Zap Monogan from Dex Hamilton: Alien Entomologist, He's a human/insect hybrid that was created by an evil scientist as a weapon for the military. He never talks about his past life, and struggles to remember anything about it.
Mike Chilton of the Burners on Motorcity. He used to work for Abraham Kane and was proud of it, until he realized Kane was willing to harm innocent civilians, which made Mike realize that KaneCo was doing more bad than good. He did manage to save several tenants from going down with their homes though. It's revealed in "Mayhem Night" that Mike's greatest fear is his own past.
Anyone who has suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The stress is brought on by being haunted by a traumatic incident in one's past.
Joseph Merrick, "The Elephant Man", never told Treves a single detail about his family, even that his mother was dead, because the whole family situation was a Dark And Troubled Mess. Dead mother, a classic case of Survivor Guilt over his dead four-year-old brother, crippled sister, abusive father, Wicked Stepmother, and step-siblings who were, as he put it, "more handsome". This may actually have been the source of the misnomer "John" — His father was also named Joseph, and he may have wanted to separate himself as far from that as he could, possibly out of paranoia of having to go back home.
All this merely cements his status as the biggest woobie in the history of ever. Sniff.
Russell Brand. Dear god, Russell Brand. Childhood Bulimia? Check. Traumatic incidents involving a tutor, and then a babysitter? Check. Self Mutilation? Check. Mother with Cancer that reappeared four times? Check. Evil Stepfather? Check. Bipolar Disorder? Check. Misguided attempt by his father at bonding, involving a trip to Thailand and prostitutes? CHECK.
Axl Rose, read the biography "Guns And Roses: The Band That Time Forgot" for the full details, needless to say, it's no wonder he's such a Jerk Ass sometimes.
Anyone who has been abused in any way, especially sexually. That leaves a good few of the victims suffering for a long time.
Anyone who has survived school bullying.
Richard O'Brien. Born abnormally small, bullied at school, and then growing up genderqueer in what amounted to a conservative country town in the 1950s/60s...ouch. And then his baby flopped in cinemas.
Janice Dickinson, one of the world's first supermodels. She was thoroughly traumatized and damaged not just by her father's emotional and physical abuse of her, but also his sexual abuse of one of her sisters.
Charles Bukowski, a German-American novelist and poet. His childhood was a long episode of school fights, child abuse and social rejection. This depression later bolstered his rage as he grew, and gave him much of his voice and material for his writings.
Scott Hall. Suffers from PTSD as a result of killing a man in self defence, developed a serious drug and alcohol addiction to treat it, had most of his friends abandon him because of it, and is in a serious amount of pain constantly
Edgar Allan Poe. His biological father left, his biological mother died of tuberculosis along with his brother both loves of his life, and his foster dad was an abusive jerk. No wonder he wrote what he did.
Every African-American slave. It's so dark that most historians argue it had a negative psychological effect on not just them, but their modern day descendents as well, and in a more subtle way for the latter.
Manu Bennett was a bullying victim, then lost his mother and brother in a car accident. He stated in an interview that he found peace through acting.