In most cases, the protagonist is a defining element of fiction. It is he whom the plot revolves around and, usually, the one the audience is supposed to empathize with most.
However, some shows decide to do something different - There is no protagonist. The plot and its narrative don't revolve around a single, "most important" main character. Instead, it shares a cast of characters with (almost) equal screentime and importance to the plot. This is called an Ensemble Cast. This type of narrative is interesting because it highlights the relations between different characters by taking away the importance of a single character.
In addition, it allows the writers to focus on different characters in different episodes freely, without worrying about giving the main character not enough screen time.
On the other hand, it can also result in a work that lacks focus and drive. Something must unite the events other than the main character. Most of these works therefore fix on a restricted setting and stick to it like glue.
is a subtrope of this.
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Anime and Manga
- There's no main character.
- Discussed in the beginning with Carol and the newspaper vice president in their debate about which of the characters is the main character.
- Durarara!! in the same way as Baccano. They're based on books written by the same author.
- Fullmetal Alchemist starts out centered around brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, but over time the cast expands to the point that the brothers share the same amount of screentime as Roy Mustang, Scar, General Armstrong, Ling Yao, and other protagonists.
- From the beginning, Soul Eater has been as much about the Black*Star/Tsubaki and Kid/Liz/Patti teams as it is about Maka and Soul.
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Hardly surprising, given just how many characters there are that it essentially has to do this to give anyone screen time. The clue's in the title, too.
- 20th Century Boys starts out with Kenji as the protagonist, but after the events of the "Bloody New Years Eve" (which happens fairly early in the story), the focus spreads out evenly among the casts. Kanna has a more central role than the others, but not enough focus to call her the "protagonist".
- Simoun collects over a dozen main characters with roughly equal screen time towards the end.
- A lot of Slice of Life anime can easily fit into this trope:
- Azumanga Daioh definitely is an example of this trope. It mainly centers on the antics of the main cast without straying too far into one another. Arguably there are more Sakaki stories than anyone else, but it doesn't get to the point of her being the main character.
- While the first half of Lucky Star focuses on the main Four Girl Ensemble, the late half of the series also focus on the other Four Girl Ensemble, thus fitting into this trope well.
- Axis Powers Hetalia, by its very nature. While it originally started with the "World 8" (Italy, Germany, Japan, Russia, America, China, England, France) in World War II, due to its source material being world history the cast has expanded considerably to include a lot of other countries. Many of them have grown prominent in both canon and fandom that it's reached the point wherein there's no real main character anymore or that everyone's one. Much like world history, come to think of it.
- Lyrical Nanoha: While Nanoha herself is pretty clearly the protagonist of the first season, later seasons and works begin splitting the focus up between more and more characters.
- Pulp Fiction, considering all the protagonists follow their own plot and their ways only cross at random.
- Inglourious Basterds. Despite the Basterds being in the title of the movie, it puts the same focus onto them, Col. Landa and Shosanna Dreyfus.
- The movie Crash focused on several characters and the racial tensions between them.
- Many of the films of Robert Altman, especially Short Cuts, Gosford Park and Nashville
- The Avengers. The lead characters first appeared in their own respective movies before teaming up for this one.
- Waiting, you can more or less pick who you want the main character to be.
- A Song of Ice and Fire has something like twenty-five viewpoint characters, and switches between them every chapter. The TV series does the same.
- Beauty Queens has chapters from the point of view of many of the contestants and doesn't focus on any one of them in particular.
- The Gone series. While Sam could generally be called the protagonist (though there are always large portions of the story not focused on him), Lies moves all the way into this trope, with Sam getting equal or less attention than Astrid's struggle to lead the council and care for her brother, Sanjit and the island kids trying to fly to the mainland, power struggles among the Coates kids, Mary's growing mental problems, and many other subplots with the rest of the Loads and Loads of Characters.
- Another example is The Sound and the Fury, which has four viewpoint characters that each get equal time, and Faulkner has said that the actual "hero" of the story is Caddy, who is not given a viewpoint at all.
- The Animorphs series features six characters who swap first person narrations between books. While you can argue that Jake is the central most character, there really is no true main character.
- The first book of the Hyperion Cantos. All the pilgrims have equal importance.
- Lonely Werewolf Girl and Curse of the Wolfgirl, while Kalix is the titular character, all the rest of the cast have equally important and almost separate storylines. Especially noticeable in Curse where Thrix, and Malveria's story arc have no contact at all with Kalix's.
- Satyrday has the story being told from the viewpoint of every important character, and the number of protagonists is at least 4 for most of the story.
- Stephen King has a couple of books that could arguably fit this trope, chief among them It and The Stand.
- Every Warrior Cats arc after the first focuses on a group of characters with roughly equal screentime and importance, with each of them getting various turning points and focal segments.
- The Railway Series gave individual novels to many engines and even different railways, and while many appeared more so than others, there was never a definite lead character (or at least not until the TV series was made...).
- This is one of the main ways the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Death Star distinguishes itself from the rest of the EU. Rather than revolving around at most three or four main protagonists like most other works, it instead has a large, well-developed cast of supporting characters ranging from Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin on down to one of the stormtroopers.
- In Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, we have many, many different characters, although Celia and Marco do manage to eke out being the many characterse
- Rick Cook's Limbo System shifts among many crewmembers of the human ship, and even some of the aliens, about the First Contact story.
- L. M. Montgomery's A Tangled Web goes through many stories of the family members in the year before it is revealed who will finally inherit the most prized antique that Aunt Becky owned.
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle features Loads and Loads of Characters whose stories all revolve about a single sharashka.
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Cancer Ward revolves about life in a cancer ward in Soviet Uzbekistan, and featuring many characters.
- Stargate SG-1 and its spinoffs all have several main characters, and no single character is ever presented more prominently then any other. The casts of both SG-1 and Atlantis changed fairly often, with only a few characters being present throughout their entire runs.
- LOST is a borderline case. There is an Ensemble Cast, but Jack has a more central position than the rest (as was finally made clear in the last season). Just not enough to call him the "protagonist".
- Once Upon a Time has Emma as the lead protagonist, but each primary characters, as well as some secondary and minor characters, get a good majority of screentime and each of their backgrounds are focal points throughout the series.
- Modern Family really doesn't have a main character, and focuses on all three branches of the family pretty much equally.
- Friends famously had six main characters. All six main characters appeared in every single episode, the cast themselves insisted they be paid the same amount and individual episodes usually divided up screen time equally. At point they even had a chart marking the number of lines and jokes each cast member got, to make sure it was even.
- Heartbeat originally focused on village bobby Nick Rowan, but as the cast changed and expanded, the show developed an Ensemble Cast.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was one of these. Unlike the other Trek series where the focus was firmly on The Captain, DS 9 gave pretty much equal airtime and weight to all its characters from Rom on upwards.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation had a small recurring cast, and main focus was given to Captain, his Number One and android Data. The series gave each of its main characters focus episodes in later seasons.
- Casualty: has a regular turnover of cast and no fixed stars so everyone gets a storyline.
- 'Allo 'Allo!: Started with the focus on Rene, but the comedy hijinks and the sheer number of Once An Episode catchphrases necessitated the whole cast share the limelight (this is quite common with UK sitcoms, Red Dwarf, Are You Being Served, Dads Army, Mongrels et al all have an Ensemble to spread the weight and storylines.
- Caprica has about four characters who could be considered the main character - Daniel Greystone, Zoe Greystone, Joseph Adama and Clarice Willow.
- Community, although the pilot introduces Jeff Winger as the protagonist and the episodes with Two Lines, No Waiting generally have Jeff working the A plot.
- At least on paper, Seamus O'Neill was the main character of Key West. And in the credits, it might have seemed that way. The truth was something entirely different, as O'Neill was actually very rarely the central character in any given storyline.
- In Firefly, Captain Malcolm Reynolds is ostensibly the main character, although all of the characters get a significant amount of focus, and the River / Simon subplot is probably equally important to the main story overall.
- The West Wing turned into this despite initially being thought of as being a show about Sam Seaborn. Led to a lot of cast/pay trouble.
- Glee started out focusing mostly on a few characters (mainly Rachel, Finn, and Mr. Shu), but as formerly minor characters were given subplots and background characters became actual characters, the glee club, most of the teachers, and some students from other schools are arguably main characters.
- The CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise shows are all described as ensemble casts.
- Criminal Minds rarely has ever had fewer than seven main characters. Notable exceptions were the episodes between Elle leaving and Prentiss joining, Gideon leaving and Rossi joining, and most of season six.
- UK police show Vexed changed the female lead for its second series, having originally planned to change the male lead as well. The first series comprised only three hour-long episodes, an extreme example of British Brevity.
- Most long-running soap operas and dramas which are or were broadcast on a daily, weekly or year-in, year-out basis, such as Doctors and Holby City.
- Doctor Who, although the protagonist and some villains have remained the same characters throughout.
- Doctor Who's spinoff Torchwood.
- The Wire seems at first to be about Jimmy Mc Nulty, but how many characters it has and the fact that Jimmy barely shows up in season four makes it clear that it is actually about the city of Baltimore as a whole.
- David Simon's show for HBO, Series/Treme.
- Downton Abbey has at least fifteen characters spread out between "upstairs" (the Crawleys) and "downstairs" (their servants), and almost every one of them is involved in a personal plotline of some sort.
- JAG, rather than focusing solely on Harmon Rabb and his female partner as in the first season, became an ensemble cast beginning in the second season. Even fairly minor characters had episodes putting them in the spotlight.
- NCIS: Los Angeles
- Matador is mainly about two families, but other characters (like servants, friends of the families) get a lot of screentime too.
- Noob gives equal importance to all the members the guild had during the two first seasons of the webseries, the first novel and four fist comics. Once recuited, Ivy becomes a fifth member of the ensemble. The Justice guild main roster eventually became a Deuteragonist ensemble.
- Professional wrestling is pretty much this by its nature.
- Rumors of War combines an Ensemble Cast with Rotating Protagonist (plus Two Lines, No Waiting and regular Time Skips) to create a Cast-Go-Round. The first and third Story Arcs mostly follow Elysia and Nenshe, while the second and (allegedly) fourth arcs follow Illyra and Occela. The characters also seem to spend a lot of time talking about things that happened in between the story arcs, with Obadai stepping in to provide advice and commentary.
- Homestuck is the king of this trope, with over forty characters all being focused on at one time or another, with frequent perspective changes. John is supposedly the main character of the comic, and was the main focus of Acts 1 and 2, with Act 3 covering all four of the kids' perspectives, as well as the Exiles, although arguably focusing more on Jade than anybody else. Act 4 also focused on John, but was more of an ensemble than before. Act 5 Act 1 has the story told with 12 protagonists, but focusing on Karkat more than anybody else. Act 5 Act 2 is the best example, divided between 20 characters with no clear focus. Act 6 switches between the Alpha Kids but focuses mostly on Jane.
- El Goonish Shive tends to focus on groups of two or more more of the main 8 characters and a few supporting characters at a time.
- Drowtales started off with focus on Ariel but the cast kept growing until there was 4-5 important story arcs running at the same time with equally important characters. Currently there was nearly a year where Ariel was never seen with more important plot lines hogging the pages. All those layers of plots of even greater importance that live in the background and probably will burst into foreground in the future.
- The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!—While Bob is the main character (at the very least, because his Weirdness Magnet status drives everything else), the supporting cast gets a lot of screen time. Molly, Galatea, Roofus, Rocko, Jean, and Voluptua have each had story arcs focusing on them.
- Goblins divides its focus between three groups of characters: the titular sextet of Goblins (of which none can be accurately called the main character,) Dies Horribly and his fellows, and Min Max and Forgath, a pair of human adventurers. All three groups are given roughly equal screentime, despite one of them not consisting of any goblins at all.
- Charby the Vampirate confuses some new readers because while the comic is named after Charby, he's only one of many main characters. The story tends to rotate focus through the Loads and Loads of Characters.
- PvP has no single 'main character'.
- The Dragon Doctors split face time among the four protagonists so that none of them is THE protagonist, plus other characters such as Tanica (who spends the first fourteen chapters of the comic in the form of a TREE) get a ton of development and focus too.
- Karin-dou 4koma: Comes with the Slice of Life nature of the comic. The series mostly revolves around Karin-dou and Elza's household, though.
- Red vs. Blue has nearly a dozen main characters, most of whom have had at least a short story focused on them. If the series has a central character, it'd be Church (who is arguably indirectly responsible for almost everything that happens to them), but there's plenty of time in the spotlight for everyone else.
- Every member of Team Kimba or Outcast Corner is a main character in the Whateley Universe, with now at least half a dozen more main characters added in. Every one of these is a protagonist of his or her own storyline.
- Hardly Working stars all of the members of the College Humor editorial staff.
- The Descendants fields seven core characters with the focus in a given issue going to the older Power Trio or either Warrick or Cyn. The others get plenty of face time too, as do the supporting cast, guest stars and the occasional villain will snag a starring role for an issue.
- The Mario Party TV show features a revolving door of players and background commentators. Some are more popular than the others, though.
- Noob gives equal importance to all the members the guild had during the two first seasons. Among later additions, Ivy ended up with more screentime than others. The Justice guild main roster eventually became a Deuteragonist ensemble.
- Each of the three Total Drama seasons started out with several protagonists since the series is based on Reality Shows.
- The show Archer, while titular protagonist Sterling Archer gets a fair amount of screentime, so do the rest of his co-workers at ISIS, often having their own plots.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, although Twilight Sparkle is clearly the main character, all of the Mane Six get a roughly equal amount of screen time and episodes dedicated to them. Especially during season two, where Twilight actually doesn't appear at all in a couple of episodes, or when she does, only delivers a line or two. The Cutie Mark Crusaders get the spotlight with a good amount of regularity and of them Apple Bloom has gotten her own episode, Scootaloo's got hers too (with guest star Princess Luna, and Sweetie Belle shared one with her sister.
- The Justice League cartoon. Superman was sort of the "leader", or at least the League's public face, but he was never more or less likely to be an episode's main character than any of the original seven. Then the show went Heroes Unlimited.
- The main six in Recess all get equal screentime. The creators said they wanted to do this to avoid the show becoming "The Gretchen Show", "The Gus Show", "The Spinelli Show", etc. Though in the movie, TJ becomes The Protagonist.
- Thomas And Friends, despite the boost to title character for Thomas, narrated the stories from The Railway Series rather accurately and thus several engines got near or equal spotlight as him. As the show separated itself from the novels however, more demand was made for Thomas focused stories (for both the show and the books), making him more the central character, though the other engines tend to still get lead roles on a frequent basis.
- Disney's Winnie the Pooh series started to lean into this vein later on, in that while Pooh was still the title character, several characters such as Tigger and Roo started getting leading roles in features, and for some even their own theatrical movies.
- Young Justice from the get go. In the pilot episode it was just Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash and Superboy, though by the end of the season M'Gann, Artemis, Zantanna and Red Arrow were firmly apart of the ensemble. Season 2 goes even further, by adding over ten new main characters to the ensemble, on top of the original eight.
- X-Men: Evolution, which spends most of its time on the original students, with the mentors and even new recruits getting a sizable chunk of the time, too.