"You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."Winning the Super Power Lottery is a good thing, right? Well, unless you're Blessed with Suck or Cursed with Awesome. But what happens when you're a Differently Powered Individual whose powers only activate upon your death? Kind of a downer, huh? Well, depending on whether permanent death is in your setting, or not so permanent, it can range from bad to downright awful. Fortunately (for the persons possessing these powers), permanent death is a minority regarding this trope. But if it is permanent, it obviously won't be a useful power during their lifetime, so the real question is: what does it mean for the rest of the world? This could mean that Death Is the Only Option. Super Trope to Auto-Revive, and overlaps with Resurrective Immortality, since many people with that power only seem to find out the first time they "die". Compare Came Back Strong, which needn't be lethal, and Traumatic Superpower Awakening, which needn't even be physically damaging. See also My Death Is Only The Beginning and Thanatos Gambit, when the character actually stays dead. When used offensively, this is an example of Taking You with Me.
— Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime & Manga
- In the manga of Soul Eater, Maka's final form is activated because Asura impales her.
- In One Piece, Brook's power only activates when he dies. At first it seemed like the power to come back to life once. Considering the setting, this would normally make him a normal human with Super Drowning Skills. However, when he died the first time, a string of coincidences left him reanimating as a living skeleton, with enhanced longevity, speed, and other related skills. This later turned out to be a serious case of Magikarp Power, as the Time Skip allowed Brook to seriously examine his powers, letting him learn that he can now separate his soul from his body at will (giving him the ability to perform flawless reconnaissance) and learned a new ultimate attack that coats his sword in the cold flames of hell to directly cut at an opponent's soul.
- Bleach: In the Bount filler arc, Yoshino is the only one of her kind that can create offspring. If she dies, a bunch of life-harvesting Bitto insects can be created. Filler Villain Kariya kills her, his former love, for just that, in order to make his comrades more powerful.
- Scrapped Princess: You remember how they've been trying to kill Pacifica to stop her from becoming "the Poison That Destroys The World"? Turns out the power automatically activates when she dies several hours before it was meant to activate naturally; it isn't clear whether she would have had to die to activate the powers under other circumstances or not.
- There are many fans of Code Geass who believe that some of the powers in that show work this way, although the show leaves it open to interpretation. In particular, many of the traits that come with being a Code bearer, such as losing one's Geass, immunity to Geass, not aging, and having weird mental connections with certain people, are thought to not activate until the first time someone "dies" after receiving their Code (which makes them immortal).
- Re:BIRTH –The Lunatic Taker– is essentially The Series of this trope. Every Taker has died while holding onto a special trinket that gives them a second life and abilities to fight with. However they also get a counter for how many days they have left to live and the only way to get more days is to either kill Angels or other Takers.
- Toriko: In order to finish his Food Honor training and master Food Immersion, Toriko goes off to obtain the Bubble Fruit, which only appears for those that show absolute gratitude for food. Toriko had to actually die of starvation in order to realize his gratefulness for food and reach Food Immersion, then obtaining the Bubble Fruit.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Notorious B.I.G. is a Stand summoned by the death of its user. This, incidentally, makes it indestructible; to stop the Stand, you have to stop its user, and B.I.G. no longer has one.
- In the final arc of YuYu Hakusho, Yusuke revives, unlocking latent demonic powers, after being killed in the demon realm.
- Though not strictly death, Rosario + Vampire has Tsukune Aono automatically unleash his ghoul abilities when his life is in imminent danger (i.e. when his neck is snapped, or a knife is shoved into in his vital organs).
- In UQ Holder!, Kirie Sakurame is an immortal who can create a Save Point that brings her or anyone else touching her back to the moment of its creation upon her death.
- In Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu, Natsuki Subaru's ability is to return to a "save point" after death. His save points are unpredictable and can change at any time against his will. This power often leads many people confused about his mentality and emotions, as Subaru is unable to speak of it.
- In Watchmen, when the "squid" died by Tele-Frag it went off like a psi-bomb. It killed half the population of New York and gave survivors and those out of range horrific visions of a Lovecraftian alien invasion.
- Resurrection Man from DC Comics has the ability to come back to life with a new power when he's killed.
- Earlier than Resurrection Man, the DC Universe had Immortal Man, whose power was to reincarnate in a new body every time he died.
- The Phoenix Force from X-Men is supposed to work this way: it activates when the wielder dies (or is about to die) and imbues them with abilities they never possessed before. You must be a compatible psychic host for the entity to possess you, however. To date, Jean Grey has been the favorite choice, unfortunately for her....
- Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin, discovered his Healing Factor after he was fatally wounded by his own glider in the battle against Spider-Man in the "Death of Gwen Stacy" storyline.
- Deadpool attempted to defeat cancer with a Healing Factor that didn't seem to work - until a fatal injury forced it to work at full power.
- The original introduction of Wildfire as Erg-1 in the Legion of Super-Heroes showed him as having such a power; as an Energy Being in a suit he could explode, but that would kill him. It was later revealed that he stayed alive as a disembodied energy that was eventually able to reanimate his suit.
- Doomsday from Superman was engineered to come back from death stronger, each time improved to resist whatever killed him last time. And then dropped onto a Death World by its creator. What could possibly go wrong?
- Technically Superman himself has this, as before his fight with Doomsday he had no idea that he'd enter a state equal to human death to heal. It ends subverted, as the Eradicator explained that the circumstances were unrepeatable.
- Marvel's Great Lakes Avengers had Mr. Immortal, whose only superpower was the ability to come back from the dead. He only learned that he had this power after he tried to kill himself.
- In All Fall Down, AIQ Squared learns the hard way that Siphon has this.
- In Avengers Arena, Nico Minoru is given an extreme power boost after casting a spell in a near-death state.
- Dead Girl from X-Force was born a mutant, but her powers didn't activate until she was murdered, whereupon she came back as a Revenant Zombie.
- In "Nexus", for Jack to have finished his transformation into a half-demon, he had to die first.
- There are several Death Note fics based on the idea that when it says writing a name in a Death Note means you go to neither heaven nor hell it means you become a shinigami. Like the fic "The Prince Of Death" or the Doujinshi "God's Eye."
- Child of the Storm: At the end of chapter 70, Harry is killed by Daken. At the start of chapter 71 the Phoenix resurrects him and promptly goes on a rampage.
- Jedi "Force Ghosts" in Star Wars. Pro: you ascend to immortality as an incorporeal, almost indestructible blue glowy spirit. Con: you have to die to achieve this, and can apparently only communicate with living people in certain locations.
- In The Matrix, the shock of dying in the Matrix is the last stimulus required to awaken Neo's powers.
- Seems to be how Selina becomes Catwoman in Batman Returns.
- This is how the immortality of Highlander characters is triggered in both the movies and series. And it must be a violent death.
- A bit of an inversion, however, as an immortal is only quasi-immortal, and upon being killed permanently by another immortal their power is absorbed by the one who killed them.
- Once an entire lake falls on Jean Grey at the end of X2: X-Men United, she gets stronger and more dangerous as shown in X-Men: The Last Stand.
- The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor: As a reward for completing an epic quest arc, the main character Weed unlocks a new class for players, the Necromancer, and is rewarded with a high-level, as of yet unknown power from the class called The Power to Reject Death, allowing him, when he dies, to resurrect as a random Undead class of monster with new stats and powers until he either dies again, or until 24 hours have passed and he returns to being human. He actually does die, and suffers all the setbacks of death except for the forced logout and normal 24 hour ban from playing. In addition, some of his revivals grant him full on control of the new necromancy skills, while his class type is normally locked out of any variety of sorcery.
- In The Dresden Files, wizards can cast a "death curse", which is essentially a powerful Cast From Hitpoints curse, on whoever killed them. Of course, the invention of means of killing from extreme long range make it much less of a barrier for normal humans to kill them...
- In The Hollows, when a human is first infected with the vampire virus, they gain some benefit but remain alive. Only once they die from some other cause do they become full-on undead and gain the full suite of powers (and the transformation isn't guaranteed unless the virus was passed down from a parent).
- The Draconians from Dragonlance. If you're lucky, they turn to stone or into a (dead) clone of yourself. Bad things include point-blank explosions, melting in a pool of acid, and a repeated, magical blast.
- In the Ancient Future trilogy by Traci Harding, immortality is genetic, but the gene must be "activated" by death or other means to be able to pass it on.
- In the Patternist series, most Psychic Powers manifest around puberty, and it is usually physically traumatic. Doro actually died while his powers were manifesting, and it warped them from some kind of Telepathy into more of a Body Surf power. His first victims were his own parents, whom he possessed and killed in his panic at his uncontrolled mind transfers.
Live Action TV
- In Misfits, Nathan's Healing Factor only works on wounds that kill him.
- Jack Harkness in Doctor Who and Torchwood is a fact of the universe, and hence it will never allow him to permanently die. As a result, he is immediately resurrected to the same state he was before his first death (more or less perfect health), with all physical and mental traumas healed.
- Apparently, being a "fact of the universe" doesn't prevent a giant hole in the Earth from making him mortal.
- He does mention at one point that his hair is slowly turning grey, so he may still be aging, just extremely slowly (he spends nearly 2000 years buried alive and comes out looking the same).
- Timelord regeneration may be an even better Doctor Who example. You get a new personality, temporary extreme regenerative abilities (you can regrow limbs), and an explodey light show which can be weaponised. Downsides include the death of your old personality, and temporary mental issues that go away after exactly one episode (or 'story' for the original run of the show).
- The downside is really only brought up by the Tenth Doctor at the end of his life, hammered home by his last words: "I don't want to go."
- It might be possible to regenerate without dying first; the Doctor has used some regeneration energy for other purposes a couple of times. And then there's the whole issue of Romana's repeated regenerations in Destiny of the Daleks, where she takes on multiple new bodies in a row, apparently because she just felt like a change. The reasons for this and how it's possible have been addressed in works of dubious canonicity, and the show tends to pretend it never happened.
- Word of God says that the titular John Doe gained his ability to know almost anything as a result of dying.
- Dean Winchester, and to a lesser extent Sam Winchester and Castiel, on Supernatural all found out that because of their status as chosen vessels while they had died multiple times on and off screen God always brought them back. Unfortunately for Dean because he's the Righteous Man and bearer of the Mark of Cain not only can he not die but he comes back stronger and virtually unstoppable
- The first death of an Immortal in Highlander freezes them at their current age and they will then resurrect from any fatal injury, save decapitation.
- An episode of Sanctuary deals with Nikola Tesla attempting to create more vampires by posing as a rehab specialist in Mexico to a bunch of spoiled, rich kids. He uses the cover to inject them with a slow-acting serum that is supposed to gradually turn them into vampires like him (minus the electricity). The process is supposed to take decades, although, being immortal, Tesla can afford to patient. Unfortunately, one of the teens ends up having a car accident and is fatally hurt. The experience triggers the serum early, turning him into a vampire. Realizing this, he gets a gun and proceeds to shoot all of his friends, who visited the rehab clinic, turning them as well.
- Warhammer 40,000: One of the Space Wolves characters has a stasis bomb in place of a second heart. When he dies, the bomb activates and all models in base contact are removed from the game. Including Titans. All affected are locked in a time loop, and forced to listen to his last laugh. Forever.
- Dungeons & Dragons has a spell called Contingency, that can do this if you know another spell that would be helpful. Though, the condition for activating the second spell can be just about anything — it doesn't have to be your death. On the other hand, the spell gets triggered when the specified condition occurs, whether you want it to go off at that moment or not.
- There are a number of Epic Destinies who have powers that state: "once per day when you die" as their activation condition. Usually, it involves getting revived.
- There are several Magic: The Gathering cards which have abilities which activate on conditions which would normally cost you the game. There are even more creatures whose abilities activate when the creature is killed, such as black creatures that force the opponent to discard or red phoenixes that serve up fiery death to every creature on the board (and can be brought back to do it again).
- Storyline-wise, Planeswalkers (primarily Pre-Mending) sometimes had their sparks activated at the point of death. Examples include Urza after the detonation of the Golgothian Sylex, and Sorin Markov after vampirization by his uncle. Post-Mending, it "only" requires extreme emotional/physical trauma, such as the murder of a beloved sibling (Ajani Goldmane) , facing an ignoble death in the mud without ever realizing your dreams (Tezzeret), or having your entire hometown wiped out as an indirect result of your actions (Chandra).
- Abyssal Exalted gain their powers by making a Deal with the Devilnote at the moment of death.
- Geist: The Sin-Eaters: Sin Eaters are normal humans who, upon being killed were given a chance to make a deal with a powerful kind of ghost known as a Geist to come back to life, while 'hosting' the Geist, giving it a chance to experience the living world once more. This comes with a suite of super-powers that the human will keep as long as the Geist shares their body, which is usually until a proper and final death.
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: With the exception of Slime, all Greydles have an effect that activates when they are destroyed.
- In Doom, the Pain Elemental can spawn a number of Lost Souls when it dies.
- Various monsters in Diablo II have devastating "cast upon death" abilities. The player characters can acquire some of those, too, a great aid in retrieving your own body.
- Albert Wesker from Resident Evil gains his powers after his death due to a virus he injected himself with.
- Phoenix in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. If she dies with five super meters stocked, she resurrects as her Super-Powered Evil Side, Dark Phoenix.
- In Final Fantasy IV, Scarmiglione, Archfiend of Earth, originally appears as a hooded figure, and is a fairly simple boss. However, after being defeated he declares that his true power lies in death and resurrects as a far more powerful undead monstrosity. Fortunately, Revive Kills Zombie and after that, he stays down.
- A Behemoth encountered in the Cave On the Veldt in Final Fantasy VI does the same thing.
- In Final Fantasy VII there is the Final Attack Materia, which lets you cast the spell/effect of any materia it is linked to... Including The Life Spell or Phoenix Summon, meaning that as long as you have enough MP, you simply will not die (and with the correct materia combination to draw MP from anything, you are basically immortal).
- The Final Attack materia is limited to five "uses" per battle when fully leveled up, however. Using the combination twice on the same character might work, or it might make him cast the spell twice when dying instead.
- One Cyberware implant available in Shadowrun is a tactical nuclear device implanted in the skull. It can be detonated by remote or, of course, dying.
- There is an altar to a god in Arcanum, that grants you a great power if you bring an offering to it. The catch is, you need to sacrifice yourself. If you do it correctly, you are resurrected.
- Pokémon has the move Destiny Bond, which, when used, causes the Pokemon who K.O's the user to be instantly K.O'ed if Destiny Bond was the last move used by the user. It directly ties in with the "death" (or in this case, "knockout") of the user - if the user isn't knocked out, the move is completely harmless. This can be extremely useful in competitive play, as it allows a badly injured Mon nearing the end of its usefulness to quickly and efficiently take down a key opponent.
- There is also the Mana equivalent in Grudge; If the user of this move is K.O'd immediately after its use, the move that the attacker used for the K.O loses all its PP.
- Other moves induce the death themselves. Memento lowers the opponent's stats upon death. Healing Wish restores HP to the Pokémon that switches out for the one that just fainted. Lunar Dance, only useable by Cresselia, restores both HP and MP and removes status conditions for its replacement.
- In World of Warcraft, the priest class has a talent technically called Spirit of Redemption, but usually referred to as Improved Death. When the priest is killed, they temporarily become a spirit healer which allows casting of all healing spells at no mana cost.
- The shaman class has the Reincarnation spell, which immediately resurrects you on death. It's sometimes called the "shaman Slow Fall", because when you're faced with a huge cliff you need to get down now, you don't have time to find a mage to cast Slow Fall on you. Go ahead, leap off the cliff, splat at the bottom, and then come back to life!
- City of Heroes has several powers that you can only use upon defeat. Many, like Rise of the Phoenix and Soul Transfer, revive the user. Some like Vengeance and Fallout, are used to buff your allies or nuke your foes.
- Gill in Street Fighter III has his Resurrection Super Art, which revives him with full health (25% if he is hit out of it at the right time) upon his defeat. Given his SNKBoss tendencies, this is something the player doesn't want to happen.
- In Sengoku Basara 2, Mitsuhide Akechi has a personal item that, if equipped, auto performs his Basara attack upon losing all of his life. His innate element allows him to steal health from any opponent he hits, which means he basically has a shot at self-resurrection.
- Ghost Trick's titular abilities are granted upon death under a certain condition. The recipient's soul is free to move around between objects, and among several possible ghost powers like object manipulation, there's the ability to go back in time 4 minutes before someone's death in order to avert it. This doesn't work on the recipient's own body of course.
- In Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, Ryu's dragon transformation is firstly activated when Bosch stabs him.
- Bravely Default includes the unlockable Dark Knight ability "See you in hell!", a quadruple-powered multitargeted attack which triggers upon the defeat of the user, and which cannot combo with Reraise. Be thankful the enemy dark knight doesn't have it equipped.
- Sluggy Freelance mentions that this sort of power is hard to predict; even Hereti-Corp scientists don't consider their test subjects expendable enough to test for this.
- Dying is the only way to rise to the God Tiers in Homestuck, awarding the player with full, inherent mastery over their aspect and conditional Resurrective Immortality.
- Adrestia in morphE Awakens as a mage right as she dies from a Slashed Throat. Luckily for her, her powers include healing. The other mages' Awakenings are traumatic but much less lethal.
- Servants in The Zombie Knight. If a normal person dies a reaper will probably just ferry their soul, but one may decide instead to take a person on as a "servant." Servants get free unlimited resurrection and healing factor, super strength and slowly developing superpowers.
- In the South Park episode "Fantastic Easter Special" (a parody of The Da Vinci Code), Jesus can resurrect a short distance from where he died. Kyle kills him while they're in jail, allowing Jesus to escape and save the day. Kyle is reluctant to do this, given the whole "Jews killing Jesus" thing and insists that Jesus never tell Cartman about it.
- Mysterion, aka Kenny, also has the power to regenerate upon dying, though whether his superpower is related to Jesus's is never explored.
- It's implied that this is a C'thulhu-related power, since his parents joined a cult when they were younger.
- Mysterion, aka Kenny, also has the power to regenerate upon dying, though whether his superpower is related to Jesus's is never explored.