Possibly the most reasonable occurrence of this trope in-universe (images not to scale).
I wonder why it’s called ‘evolution,’I mean, evolution normally consists of an entire species changing slowly over a long period of time. The changes that you and your friends undergo are more like a transformation. You each transform into something too enormous to be an evolution.
Well, I don’t know the answer to that myself. I can’t give an explanation, but all I’m aware of is that it isn’t a transformation but evolution.
When something or someone transforms into a more powerful/advanced stage, this is occasionally referred to as evolution. While not technically correct (evolution is species wide, not individual based
), this has come to be a common way to refer to it. This is especially common if the transformation is some form of Adaptive Ability
that allows something to actually modify its biology in response to stimuli. Expect Lamarck Was Right
to show up in such cases.
In older times this wouldn't be considered wrong, as "evolution" was a synonym for "change", but thanks to the published theory of a certain Charles Darwin, the term has come to have a much more specific meaning.
Sometime mix with Multiform Balance
and Super Mode
. In these case, it simply unlock another form that the character may switches to, a temporary evolution. It's not uncommon for these stages to parallel the Bishonen Line
, with intermediary Power-Upgrading Deformation
stages prior to an beautiful Ultimate Lifeform
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Anime and Manga
- The 2003 Astro Boy anime used this to explain Astro's New Powers as the Plot Demands.
- Digimon, in much of the media they are able to jump back and forth between their various stages of evolution. The third season of the show explains Digimon can form "complex mimic proteins" from digital information and are not real animals, they rapidly "evolve" because they originated as computer simulations of evolution. Also, while the v-pets were more rigid, the games have Digimon evolve all over the place with several different Digimon being able to "evolve" into the same one (picture a wombat and mongoose each independently evolving into identical armadillos).
- It was originally treated as "age", with Japanese levels being "Baby", "Child", "Adult" but this got muddled thanks to power creep adding "Ultimate" and "Super Ultimate" levels. The ability to temporarily jump ahead a level or three and then go back usually comes from partnering with a human. "Wild" Digimon can regress, but it's usually a defense mechanism that results from core data forcing severely damaged "shell" data to take the lowest "template" it can still support.
- Levels were ignored in Digimon Xros Wars in favor of the "age" description however. When "evolution", is discussed it's explicitly described as being an Older Alter Ego rather than a "higher level".
- And there are more complicated powerups! DNA Digivolution (or jogress) is fusing together two Digimon having trouble reaching the next level. Biomerge Digivolution and Spirit Evolution are along the lines of humans wearing Digimon as armor, themselves becoming Digimon. Armor Digivolution is a Digimon using another monster's egg as armor, taking on its attributes. Mode Changes usually are not considered evolution as the monster's level does not change but they are powerups. AlforceVdramon and Lucemon are able to raise their level by mode changing.
- In Digimon Tamers, the D-Reaper evolved to keep up with literal and figurative evolution of humans and Digimon.
- Pokémon: see Video Games below
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann Has a one-off example, when Team Pet Boota spontaneously evolves, Pokémon-style, into a speaking humanoid form in a dream sequence.
- A mid-90s Black Jack movie featured groups of people who had developed incredible and highly advanced abilities in a variety of fields, including athletics and art, used the "next stage" terminology. They developed extremely dangerous side-effects also, and it was eventually revealed that, apparently, limited exposure to chemicals found only in a remote desert migrated across the world and advanced certain individuals by accentuating their natural and pre-existing talents.
- A major theme of Getter Robo, since the energy that powers their Humongous Mecha is the spirit of evolution itself, or taken another way, the embodiment of life/survival itself.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion has a one-off example in the form of the Eleventh Angel, Iruel. The Angel has the ability to rapidly adapt to its environment (arguably justified by the fact that it's a colony of single cell organisms, allowing it to reproduce with greater speed) and it gets defeated when NERV manages to convince it to self-destruct by creating an environment where death is the most sensible adaptation.
- In Revolutionary Girl Utena it's more like Revolution Power Up. Concept is pretty similar though.
- People infused with Gourmet Cells Toriko, said cells evolve when the person eats something compatible with them.
- And no discussion of this would be complete without the Marvel Universe's High Evolutionary, a man who has made a career of accelerating the evolution of various species — which, naturally, all happen to be anthropomorphic afterwards.
- At one point, a ragtag group of Avengers goes in to bust up the High Evolutionary to stop him from being... evil or something. The climax involves the villain and an Avenger both hyper-evolving into major godhood and right out of this realm. The kicker was the Avenger was Hercules, who already was a Physical God.
- Easily the most absurd thing the HE ever managed was in his first appearance, where he hyper-evolved a wolf. This evolution came complete with knowledge of martial arts from the future.
- This is trumped by him fighting Hulk so Hulk would kill him, when he changed the "evolutionary levels" of the Earth, converting the ground beneath Hulk into tar (like tarpits, you know, because tarpits are like stone age, man?), then lava, then gas.
- In "What If The Avengers Lost The Evolutionary War?" (What If? v2 #1), all mutant and otherwise empowered superpeople have their powers enhanced in all kinds of ways (Cyclops can now control his blasts and doesn't need a visor; Spider-Man grows four extra arms) while ordinary humans (including non-evolved heroes and villains such as Iron Man and Doctor Doom) become bigbrained superintelligent psychics.
- The Super Mario Bros.. movie features an evolution/de-evolution gun (actually a SNES Super Scope with a paint job), which is used several times throughout. The most extreme use of it comes when it's used to de-evolve Koopa, turning him first into a T-Rex and then eventually sludge. The "evolve" setting apparently just makes you smarter. (Of course, this setting was used on the Quirky Miniboss Squad, so it didn't really make them any smarter in practice, just gave them a bigger vocabulary.)
- It did make them realize that their boss was an evil tyrant, and convinced them to switch sides.
- In Planet of the Apes, specifically Rise of the Planet of the Apes, after exposed to an experimental drug meant to cure Alzheimer's, each ape that's exposed to it almost immediately gains sentience through science.
- The whole premise of Edmond Hamilton's 1931 short story The Man Who Evolved. In the story, a man uses cosmic rays to evolve himself in minutes. In the end, he eventually evolves into protoplasm, since, for some reason, evolutionary levels apparently go in a cycle.
- Philip K. Dick's book The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, set twenty minutes into the future, features "evolutionary therapy" becoming popular among the rich. It makes your cranium large and bubble-like, and even increases your intelligence, although in rare cases it can backfire and de-evolve you into a monkey-like state. The best part? It works by stimulating the gland that controls evolution. I wish I had a gland that controlled my evolution.
- However, evolution is at least not completely fixed in the book, but dependent on environmental factors. Earth in the book has heated up to the point that going outdoors without an air conditioning unit strapped to your back is a fatal mistake. The ridged craniums in the book are supposed to be to dissipate excess heat. Later on in the book when one character travels in time, he comes across humans who are going evolving along different lines because the Earth is now in an ice age.
- There is also a short story by Philip K. Dick, called Strange Eden, that successfully manages to make pretty much every mistake about evolution mentioned here. It's about an astronaut that finds an attractive and immortal female Goddess-like alien on a far-away world. Immediately he wants to sleep with her, but she warns him that in doing so he will magically begin to rapidly evolve. Thinking that this will lead him to become a superior being like her (and for the obvious reason), the astronaut accepts the offer. However, it turns out that humanity's set evolutionary path is that we will evolve into bestial cat-creatures — exactly why is never stated — and so the astronaut is stuck as the alien woman's pet forever.
- One of the early-90s Tom Swift books took this trope to the limit — a human being was hit with an evolution ray, and was turned into a specific person, with his own memories, from the far future.
- Greg Bear tries to justify this in Darwin's Radio. A species that evolves "Darwin's radio" makes abrupt and massive changes in its genome when faced with a significant problem. The radio in question has evolved so that it essentially "knows" what changes are necessary to deal with a particular crisis. One character describes this as "Evolution evolving. Species with a radio can evolve faster and better than species that can't," which almost makes sense if you think about it.
- Also, the "evolved" children actually have several atavistic traits (like color-changing face spots from sea animals and vomeronasal passages like cats) instead of growing new biological devices from nowhere.
- More than a few episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits involved persons getting hit with odd radiations and "evolving".
- The chief example from The Outer Limits would have to be The Sixth Finger, featuring David McCallum as a scruffy laborer / guinea pig in a scientist's evolution experiments, who is turned into a "typical human" from various points in the distant future with a lever (helpfully marked "Forward" and "Backward"). Among other effects, the evolver ray alters his accent and ability to play piano.
- A certain Star Trek: Voyager episode had the characters asking the computer what a hadrosaur would look like had they "continued to evolve"; it matches up perfectly with a Scary Dogmatic Alien species, "proving" it is really from Earth. The conflict of the episode is that is their vaguely religious dogma called "Doctrine" denies this "Distant Origin Theory" and systematically persecutes the scientist who espouses it....
- "Genus Hadrosaur" was described as being the "most highly evolved cold-blooded descendant of Eryops". They manage to get at least five things wrong in that scene.
- Transfigurations, a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, had a surprisingly good (for Trek) version of this: an alien developing Healing Hands and other superpowers because he and other members of his species were on the verge of an "evolutionary leap", preceded by a period of Power Incontinence. The Government of his species has figured out what's happening and decided on a simple solution - kill all the freaks before they get the hang of their new powers.
- In the Farscape episode "My Three Crichtons", an alien probe produced both "de-evolved" and "super-evolved" versions of Crichton. The crew also assumed the "de-evolved" caveman was hostile and savage, while the "super-evolved" Crichton turned out to be the self-serving and dangerous one.
- Deconstructed when the probe explains that the two extra Crichtons are just two of the millions of alternate versions of humanity that the probe was simulating and cataloging. They just happen to be a caveman and big-brained superhuman. And just to nail the point home, D'argo comforts a worried Crichton that the "super-evolved genius" form is just a possible evolution.
- Doctor Who:
- "The Mutants" involved the Solonians mutating into new forms within their lifetimes, something which happened whenever their planet entered a new half-millennium-long "season". The Doctor at least noted this to be a unique lifecycle.
- Red Dwarf, "DNA": Lister uses a genetic transmogrifier to temporarily transform himself into "a super human" to fight a vindaloo monster. He turns into a midget Robocop. This is not stated to be evolution, but it taps into the same misunderstandings about genetics and development that allows people to imagine someone "evolving" during their lifetime.
- In "Pete", a pet sparrow accidentally regresses back to what it evolved from, a Tyrannosaurus rex. I suppose it wouldn't have been half as impressive if he had become a Dromaeosaurus or something.
- In Stargate SG-1, all sentient species apparently evolve "towards" ascension. Just before evolutionary ascension, people will have all kinds of Psychic Powers, such as mind-reading, telepathy, healing powers and some kind of super-intelligence.
- Ultra Series
- In The Movie Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey, Tiga is stuck in a weak Dark Tiga form. Each time he absorb the dark light and purge away darkness from himself, however, he will evolve into a stronger form, and eventually assume the Glitter Tiga form once he full purify himself of the darkness.
- Ultraman Nexus has the eponymous hero evolving into a new form every time his power is given to a new host. He starts off as Ultraman: The Next (In the backstory movie), becomes Ultraman Nexus Junis Red when the series begins, then changes into Junis Blue form by the halfway point. In the final episode, Ultraman Nexus' newest host enables him to evolve into his "true form", Ultraman Noa.
- Many superhero Role-Playing Games — like Mutants & Masterminds and the original Marvel Superheroes Role-Playing Game — include, among the list of powers available to players, some sort of "Hyper-Evolution" power that lets a hero shift up and down along their "evolutionary path," generally affording them the ability to "devolve" into cave-man form (temporarily lower their intelligence to raise their strength) or "evolve" into frail but hyper-intelligent (and possibly psionic) "future" form.
- The write-up for the "Evolution" power in MSH even lampshades it: "This is comic book evolution, people, the kind where super-strong cavemen eventually evolve into giant brains with vestigial limbs."
- Pages from the Mages played with this. The spell "Evolve" changes a normal animal into an intelligent and more or less human-like form. The punchline is that glorified name aside, the spell just permanently transforms the target halfway to its caster (presumed to be a human smart enough to use a 8-level spell), using his own blood sample(!) as a component.
- The Tyranids in Warhammer 40k avert this. While they "evolve" at a hyper-accelerated rate(accomplished by devouring entire biospheres, then using the material to spawn custom-creatures) most of these creatures are short-lived, and allow their superiors to devour them once they've served their purpose. It's bizarre and science fictiony, but the sheer fact that it's portrayed as being generational makes it closer to Real Life evolution than most of the examples on this page.
- Many series with Mons, such as:
- Most Pokémon have stronger forms they can "evolve" into under the appropriate stresses and circumstances. To their credit, though, the official backstory is that Pokémon evolution "isn't like Earth's other organisms". In other words, the terms "evolution" when talking about Pokémon and "evolution" when talking about any other organism are two different things. A better term might be metamorphosis, considering Pokémon was inspired by a rather imaginative idea of insect collecting. The word "metamorphosis" was probably considered too big for the Game Boy display and too complicated for the target audience. This is especially obvious in several insect Pokémon such as Caterpie or Weedle, whose "evolutionary" paths are quite literally pupating just like real-life butterflies and wasps.
- The part about "evolution is always the same" is averted with a couple of Pokémon. Eevee has had new evolutions constantly discovered due to its "unstable genetics". So while it can evolve into Jolteon thanks to a Thunder Stone, if it levels up in a specific area with a special glacier that's covered in snow, it becomes the Ice-type Glaceon. Likewise, Nosepass and Magneton evolve into Probopass and Magnezone respectively when they level up in certain areas of Sinnoh and Unova. This makes sense in a way, people couldn't get these certain evolutions before simply because nobody had discovered the effects certain areas had on certain Pokémon. They adapted to their new environment. Yes, it happened in the matter of five minutes but it's still a slightly more realistic take on the usual fixed evolutionary lines. But while there are those sensible ones, there are also some nonsensical ones. Piloswine evolves into Mamoswine by leveling up and knowing Ancientpower...despite being able to learn Ancientpower as far back as its introduction. And, regarding Eevee, there was no day versus night last year? Ridiculous, yet even in the remakes, oh so true.
- Sometimes metamorphosis is the best word, but most of the time what is happening is maturation. Small, immature Pokémon grow up to become bigger ones. Venusaur looks like a grown up Bulbasaur but because they were using sprites, showing them slowly growing was infeasible, so they had at most three forms to show them getting older as they fight more.
- All in all, the only straight example Pokémon seems to have is the vaguely fetus-like Pokémon Mew, which is guessed to be the evolutionary origin of almost every Pokémon in the traditional evolutionary sense... and evidences this by having their complete genomes integrated into its own — the "hardcoded future evolution" misconception not just written large, but in 50-story flashing neon pink letters.
- And then we have Mega Evolution, which is an in-battle only evolution that temporarily powers up the Pokémon (provided that it is holding a specific Mega Stone).
- Mega Man X8: "New Generation Reploids", by copying the DNA data of earlier models including Sigma who created them from behind the scenes, could change their form and abilities to best suit their environment, and have immunity from the Maverick Virus. They felt they were beyond the constraints of "the old world" and rebelled to make their own society. Maverick Hunter X, a remake of the first Mega Man X game, has an OVA prequel that brings up the implications of evolution involving Reploids several times: X himself is the main factor, as he can, as Dr. Light puts it, evolve as he fights and even influence the evolution of robots in the same way as life. Sigma gets the idea that Reploids likewise have potential, but are being held back by humans.
- E.V.O.: The Search for Eden. In each chapter, you start as a "basic" version of whatever the chapter is about (fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal), and you gain "evo points" by eating other animals, which you can then turn in to alter your body parts. Oh, and whenever you evolve a body part, you get the helpful message "MYSTERIOUS TIME STREAM EVOLVES YOU." Also, occasionally (say, when you're a reptile or mammal and have to do a water stage), you'll get the message "CHANGE IN CIRCUMSTANCES CAUSES EVOLUTION", followed by your characters feet becoming fins. Even if you're a mammal, or a bird.
- Six years later we get Evolution.
- It should be noted that the main character in E.V.O. is a time traveling agent under direct orders of Earth herself, tasked with taking care of eventual historical screwups, and apparently isn't subject to the same rules as everyone else.
- Psaro the Manslayer from Dragon Quest IV is revealed to be after the Secret of Evolution in order to build an all-powerful monster army to help him easily conquer the world. One of his generals, Balzack, showcases the fruits of Psaro's discovery; he's almost pathetically easy to beat in your first encounter with him, but one chapter later, he's gained about 150 kg, some nasty new attacks, and an extra "a" in his name.
- Amazingly enough, Geneforge manages to justify this. All the game's monsters are the result of genetic engineering, and the super-powerful ones were created when basic designs were modified. (These modifications are random, so you encounter a few screwups that are insane or slowly dying.)
- Much of the art work of the game is various schematics and plans for the Mons. Many have notations to things like lack of this causes mutation leading to death or including this gives fire breathing...
- Bubble Tanks II has this whenever your bubble tank collects enough bubbles to level up. You start out as a wimpy single bubble with a weak-damage single shot, and can upgrade into the Glass Cannon Ghost Sniper, the large but slow BFG-wielding Super Heavy, or an in-between.
- This was the main gameplay mechanic of Data East's Darwin series of Shoot Em Ups, where you could "evolve" your ship by collecting literal Power Ups.
- Parodied in xkcd's "Evolving", which uses a Pokémon-style cut scene to show a disease-causing bacterium evolving into a drug-resistant variant.
- Mighty Max used this. In one episode, a mad scientist named Dr. Zygote develops a ray that devolves anything to their prehistoric state. A bunch of human tourists become apes, Max's pet lizard becomes a dinosaur, and Virgil (a lemurian who is supposed to be the next step in human evolution) gets turned into a pterodactyl (?!) Later it's used by Dr. Zygote to turn a bunch of devolved mutated monsters into primordial ooze. He surmises that the ray "reversed their evolutionary path to the final quagmire, an evolutionary dead-end"—which really makes no sense at all. 
- Then in another episode, Dr. Zygote uses the ray again to further evolve himself into a more advanced form, from a big brained alien, to a lemurian, to a floating giant brain, and finally into a flash of light. at the end, he "evolved beyond good and evil" and left. There was a subversion along the way, as he became a
chicken fowl-like humanoid similar to Max's Obi-Wan Virgil, who mentioned humanity will find the form enjoyable, much to Max's surprise. 
- This was Bob the Goldfish's schtick in the Earthworm Jim cartoon. He tried various schemes to evolve himself into a higher form of life, in one instance using a contraption that stole "Evolutionary Energy" from other creatures, turning people into apes & Princess Whatshername into a ladybug & such. Interestingly, Jim's creator Doug TenNapel is apparently a creationist, or at least a believer in some sort of divine intervention in the origins of life, humanity in particular. Fortunately, since it's all Played for Laughs, it's easy for people on both sides of the issue to enjoy.
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series actually invoked this trope between two humans when, after revealing to Harry that he was his father, the Green Goblin exclaims, "I am the ultimate evolution of Norman Osborn! Smarter, stronger, able to be more ruthless than he ever was." Wow. Of course, 'evolution' is frequently used to mean any kind of growth/development.
- In one Pinky and the Brain episode, the Brain attempts to use radiation to evolve Pinky into a higher form of life.
- It's Pinky. Anything at all would be a higher form of life.
- One Prometheus And Bob segment (of Kablam) had an evolution chamber that could evolve a club into a laser, and devolve it back. In the course of it, the monkey was evolved into a human, bob was evolved into a pink version of Prometheus, Prometheus devolved into a purple Bob, and the monkey evolved into a floating telekinetic brain.
- We also see a wolf evolved into a domestic dog and a piece of wood evolved into an aluminum baseball bat.
- The titular Ultimate Forms in Ben 10: Ultimate Alien. The 'fast' part is at least justified in that the entire series revolves around a piece of Imported Alien Phlebotinum that can spontaneously rewrite a person's DNA.
- Word of God claims that the Ultimate forms are actually the projected evolution of a species based off of a simulated planet-wide civil war lasting millions of years.