Experienced Protagonist

This character's story only begins (specifically at the start of the FIRST work of a series) after they have finished their training, have attained most of their power, and made a name for themselves. They may even be a Living Legend or be Famed In-Story. The audience may only learn of their Back Story in a prequel, short flashback, or have it be mentioned orally, if they even learn of it at all. Usually the conflict they end up placed in is one specifically in their area of expertise or where their knowledge and training can be adapted to new uses.

Because the protagonist is often also the Audience Surrogate, they are often a newcomer to the setting and have to learn everything and develop their skills - whether for fighting or whatever else the story focuses on - from scratch. In such cases the Audience Surrogate may be a supporting character or a Deuteragonist.

Contrast Ordinary High-School Student and Farm Boy, who are complete novices, Rookie Red Ranger who is a novice compared to the others on his team, and Child Prodigy and Skilled, but Naďve protagonists, who are young and inexperienced but are quick learners. Contrast The Mentor, who is experienced and skilled but is usually tasked with teaching the protagonist, rather then being one themselves.

Note that for video game characters, even if they are touted as being experienced or powerful, the trope is functionally averted if their level and abilities in the game are ordinary and average. If this is the case, such examples go under Overrated And Underleveled.

For all examples, please list exactly what skill, training, or experience the character has when the story begins.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Slayers starts off with Lina Inverse as an already powerful sorceress.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Himura Kenshin is a war veteran, has been an accomplished swordsman for over a decade, and is a strong contender for the best swordsman in Japan by the time the series starts.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward and Alphonse Elric are already experienced alchemists who have been working for the Amestris military for three years when the story begins. The anime provides several episodes worth of flashback.
  • In Trigun, Vash the Stampede is a Really 700 Years Old expert gunslinger with a tremendous bounty on his head.
  • Both Kiritsugu Emiya and Saber in Fate/Zero. Kiritsugu is an expert magus killer who is returning to his old job after a ten-year hiatus. In Saber's case, already being an established, powerful warrior is a PREREQUISITE for being summoned as a Servant.
  • Guts from Berserk is a wanderer with a grudge and one of the best swordsmen in the world at the start of the series.
  • Koko's bodyguards in Jormungand (The majority) are veteran from various police and military forces. Jonah is an exception, although he had combat experience as a child soldier in West Asia.
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit begins with Balsa being an experienced bodyguard. A flashback reveals her deceased master, Jiguro, began teaching her at age 12. By the time she was 16, Balsa could already fight better than the men in their area, and spent the next twelve years honing those skills.
  • Shanon and Raquel Casull of Scrapped Princess are a powerful Sword and Sorcerer duo, right from the start, and tasked with safeguarding their adopted sister, Pacifica. They were genetically engineered that way to ensure Pacifica would be well protected.
  • In Spriggan, some of the protagonists who are Spriggan operatives such as Yu Ominae, Jean Jacquemonde and Tea Flatte are experienced in combat in their respective fields with Ominae being an ex-black ops child soldier commando for the US Army.
  • Sagara Sousuke of Full Metal Panic! is a Child Soldier who has several years of combat experience in Afghanistan. Kurz Weber was a mercenary who fought in many countries and Melissa Mao was an ex-American Marine before the three worked together in Mithril.
  • By the time the events of Black Lagoon start, the Lagoon Crew in Roanapur are experienced in handling cargo work in Southeast Asia, which sometimes does lead in to hijacking ships if needed to. Dutch and Revy are experienced fighters, with either bare hands or small arms while Benny is familiar with hacking thanks to some of his years in university before he was forced to drop out. While Rock is new to the crew, he is familiar with the business world, as well as fluent in several languages that he is heavily involved in Lagoon business, though Hotel Moscow takes advantage of his language skills.
  • Gintoki at the start of Gintama is a war veteran and has already retired from fighting against the aliens.
  • Rintaro in Dragons Rioting starts his journey into high school after ten years of rigorous martial arts training have turned him into an extraordinary badass, even by the standards of the Action Girl-packed school he's found himself enrolled in.
  • The eponymous warrior general in Rain is already an established Living Legend who is rumored to be invincible. As a child, he was helpless when his childhood friend and her grandmother were murdered by bandits. He then swore to become the strongest man in the world so that he would always be able to protect others. By the start of the series he's already become a Master Swordsman who wields an Infinity+1 Sword who also possesses Super Strength and magic taken from a dragon he slew.
  • Fairy Tail: While Lucy is relatively new to the world of guilds, Natsu on the other hand has already established his reputation as a destructive fire mage known as "Salamander".
  • The Prince of Tennis: By the time the series begins, Ryoma Echizen has earned several titles in America as a skilled tennis player, at least for his age group.
  • The titular character of Toriko is one of the "Four Heavenly Kings", the four best Gourmet Hunters of their generation, having great strength, high skills and much knowledge end experience from the start. That's why there is Komatsu as the Audience Surrogate.
  • Shinichi Kudo from Detective Conan is already a famous Amateur Sleuth from the start and he has solved many crimes and misteries before the beginning of the story.
  • In The Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Deadly Sins are already established Living Legends within the setting at the start of the series.
  • Alucard from Hellsing is an overpowered vampire, who was in battles for hundreds of years.
  • Souma Yukihira from Shokugeki no Soma has 12 years cooking experience from working in his family restaurant before he enters the first high school years of Tootsuki Culinary School.
  • Spike Spiegel and Jet Black from Cowboy Bebop are characters with skills and pasts from the very start. Spike was a head enforcer for a huge gang and Jet was a notorious police officer nicknamed "The Black Dog" for his tenacity.
  • The heroes from Rokka No Yuusha, the chosen warriors must be among the best in the world.
  • Ryu Sasaskura, the protagonist of Bartender was already a renowned bartender with the title of "Glass of Gods" when the story starts.

    Film - Animation 
  • The Incredibles starts with Mr. Incredible as a famous superhero. Much of the plot involves how he deals with being forced underground, then getting a chance to get back in the game.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Pacific Rim starts off with Raleigh already being a pilot who has to be The Mentor to a new partner.
  • The James Bond films, from Dr. No through Pierce Brosnan's Bond character, had 007 established as an ace agent who could do incredible feats and was at the top of his savvy and game. It was only the three Daniel Craig-as-Bond movies that showed a new 007 making rookie mistakes, paying a price, and learning from them. Even then, he is still demonstrates an impressive set of skills and level of physical fitness that he already possessed, which- if it follows the rough canon of the series- he got from being Cambridge educated and spending time in the Navy (possibly as a commando), amongst other misadventures.
  • Dom is already an accomplished dream thief at the beginning of Inception, the plot is about all the baggage he's accumulated over the years in his profession. He even serves as The Mentor to the Audience Surrogate.
  • Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark is already an experienced and capable Adventurer Archaeologist who has survived the events we would later see in Temple of Doom.
  • Dirty Harry: Callahan has already served long enough on the force to earn himself a reputation as an infamous Cowboy Cop before the film begins.
  • The Die Hard series starts off with John McClane as a seasoned New York cop.
  • Every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie has him as a pro at kicking ass by the time the opening credits end.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has two of the three protagonists as aging sword fighters.
  • This is especially true for actions flicks that are vehicles for aging action stars. John Wayne went through this in later years and The Expendables series revolves around this idea.

  • Eddard "Ned" Stark in A Song of Ice and Fire has been a powerful lord of his keep for 15 years, a Master Swordsman, and a former war veteran.
  • Conan the Barbarian is like this. Even in "The Tower of the Elephant", where he is about 17, he's already had considerable experience although Howard described him in a letter as "more daring than adroit at thievery, and has yet to earn a reputation among other followers of his profession." "At the age of 15, he received his baptism of blood at the siege of the border city of Venarium, between Gunderland and Cimmeria."
  • Cordelia of the Vorkosigan Saga is a bit over 30 and is The Captain over a ship in the Betan Astronomical Survey when we first meet her. Her experiences there (especially herding a bunch of scientists) help her when she is put into the high political circles of Barrayar.
  • Cazaril in The Curse of Chalion is about 35 and has experience as a courier, a castle warden, courtier, and captain (also beggar, galley slave, and other non-conforming jobs). However, he entirely lacks experience as a tutor for a princess (though he does find it's somewhat alike training an young officer), and even less as a saint.
  • Sherlock Holmes was a consulting detective for years before he met his friend and biographer Watson, and most adaptations follow the same line.
  • At the start of the Iron Druid Chronicles, Atticus is already over two thousand years old, has crafted a defensive amulet than makes most spells bounce off him, and can call in favors from everything from elementals to werewolves to goddesses.
  • The first Ciaphas Cain novel "For The Emperor" has the title character already an experienced Commissar and reknown war hero.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer is already an established Slayer at the start of the TV series. Though we do see her starting out in the original film.
  • Iris has Kim Hyun-jun and Jin Sa-woo as veteran commandos with the South Korean Army's 707th Special Mission Battalion before being assigned to the National Security Service.
    • Athena: Goddess of War has ex-National Intelligence Service agent Lee Jung-woo, a veteran intelligence agent, assigned to the National Anti-Terror Service.
  • In Person of Interest, John Reese and Samantha Shaw have combat experience from serving in the US military and having participated in black ops operations in the past before Finch recruited them. Finch, for his part, has been an expert hacker when he started from his high school days. Fusco and Carter have been veteran officers with the NYPD, the latter having served in Iraq.
  • Senior Inspector Chin Hon-to in Tiger Cubs is an experienced police officer in the Hong Kong Police Force with the rank of Senior Inspector while being one of the most known officers in the force's elite anti-crime/terrorist unit, the Special Duties Unit.
  • Both leads of Intelligence (2014); Gabriel Vaughn is a former Delta Force operator with five tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Riley Neal is a former Secret Service agent who was on the US President's detail.
  • Defiance has Joshua Nolan, a grizzled veteran of the Pale Wars with nickname (The Butcher of Yosemite) and enough of a reputation that other important individuals can identify him.

    Video Games 
  • In Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, if you start a New Game+, you get different dialogue in the first mission, where your Wingman mentions he "heard stories about you" and makes a comment based on your Karma Meter carried over from the previous playthrough.
  • Commander Shepard is established as an experienced officer at the start of Mass Effect 1, so that when you start a New Game+, all the Character Levels you gained on the first playthrough would still make sense in-story.
  • Dante from Devil May Cry series, from the very start (the third game, that is), he had been a professional demon hunter (albeit with lots of debt). The very first scene of him has him fending off a minor demon invasion in his workplace without much effort.
  • Kratos from God of War starts off the game as a seasoned Spartan warrior.
  • In the Metal Gear series, Naked Snake (aka Big Boss) and Solid Snake are experienced special forces operatives who were subsequently involved in FOXHOUND after being assigned to the unit from the Green Berets. Played With in that Players Are Morons is in effect, so in every game the protagonist has a support crew talking to him through comms walking them through incredibly basic facts that they'd either know about already or should have been able to quickly deduce (it gets pretty meta in that this is even incorporated into the plot).
  • A number of Fire Emblem's protagonists fall under this trope.
    • Sigurd of Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War starts as an extremely strong unit in a promoted class (Knight Lord) in contrast to every other protagonist of the series, including his son and nephew.
    • Ephraim of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones also qualifies as he is an experienced soldier who is first seen leading an assault on an enemy fortress with only a handful of men, but is also infamous for his Leeroy Jenkins tendencies (he comes out on top, but the people don't particularly like him for it).
    • Ike is this in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, having established himself during the events of Path of Radiance as the legendary warrior who ended the reign of the tyrannical King Ashnard.
    • Chrom of Fire Emblem Awakening has combat experience thanks to his vigilante work as leader of the Shepherds, an unofficial but well-recognized task force with the goal of routing bandits and evildoers within Ylisse's borders.
  • Otto Baynes, the English protagonist of Uncharted Waters: New Horizons, starts the game at sailing and combat levels 10 and 12, respectively (where most other protagonists start at 1/1), and has a nobility rank from the start (where others have to work hard to even get an audience with a monarch). In-story, this is justified by him being chosen as an agent by King Henry VIII on a top-secret government mission—not something you would entrust to a newbie captain.
  • Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten has Valvatorez, an ex-tyrant who willingly lost most of his power after a certain encounter with Artina. His Lancer (or Dragon, From a Certain Point of View) Fenrich may also qualify as this.
  • Subverted in Final Fantasy VII, Cloud is a mercenary-for-hire at the start of the game, but is established as a former SOLDIER, Shinra's elite Super Soldier program. The game integrates this into its tutorial systems, Cloud instructing inexperienced NPCs on gameplay concepts instead of them instructing him. The subversion is that Cloud's supposed experience doesn't carry over into gameplay where he is not any stronger than the other characters, which makes sense because he never actually made SOLDIER, and all his memories as such are fake.
  • Bioshock Infinite: Player Character Booker DeWitt is a hardened ex-Pinkerton Detective and US Army veteran.
  • Halo: The playable protagonists have all been elite veterans serving in the UNSC or Covenant militaries, even the youngest of the bunch like the Rookie and Noble Six. In particular, the Master Chief has spent nearly all of his 40+ years of life fighting for the UNSC, while the Arbiter is a former Covenant Supreme Commander who's over 67 years old.
  • Wes from Pokémon Colosseum is not newbie Pokemon trainer that main series protagonists are. He already has two Pokemon in their mid level 20s, both who evolve by friendship so it's likely he's owned them for a while. He's a former member of Team Snagem as well.
  • Altair in the original Assassin's Creed is introduced as a star assassin, though his supposed experience helps him very little after he is demoted and stripped of all of his equipment a bit later in the game.
  • Samus Aran of Metroid fame was trained as a Chozo warrior (and physically enhanced) after being orphaned, as well as trained as a soldier by the Galactic Federation. Her Modular suit of Powered Armour helps too.
  • Most of the protagonists in the Resident Evil series are this, coming from a military or law enforcement background (e.g. the first game's protagonist were S.T.A.R.S members). The main aversions being the Resident Evil Outbreak spinoff series, (which focuses on the normal citizens of Raccoon City during the Zombie Apocalypse of the first three games) and the second game (Leon being a rookie cop and Claire being a civiliannote  - They've both become this trope in the later games, however). Jake Mueller is an experienced mercenary and Sherry is an experienced agent with the Division of Security Operations after years of being in custody of the American government before Resident Evil 6 begins. Piers was an ex-commando before he was recruited to be in the BSAA when the events of the tie-in manga "Biohazard: Marhawa Desire" start.
  • Spec Ops: The Line Martin Walker had served with the US Military in Afghanistan before he gets sent to Dubai. Not that his experience helps much.
  • Lieutenant Commander Schultz begins Warship Gunner 2 as an experienced Wilkian naval officer; the tutorial has him being tested on his navigation and gunnery skills, before assuming his first command.
  • Alex Mason begins Call of Duty: Black Ops as an experienced Marine who's recruited by the CIA. In Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, his son David "Section" Mason is already a US Navy Commander and a member of SEAL Team Six, leading his own squad, when his story starts.
  • In pre-reboot Tomb Raider, outside of a few flashbacks, Lara is implied to be a highly experienced adventurer right from the start of the series. The reboot averts this by being Lara's first adventure.
  • In contrast to most Tales Series protagonists, Yuri Lowell has already joined, trained with, and left the Imperial Knights by the start of Tales of Vesperia. Stat-wise, he still begins from scratch, but he's at least established as a skilled fighter and got his Bodhi Blastia and Repede from the experience.
    • Lloyd Irving and Cless Alvein are both established as trained swordsmen with their background, Lloyd having taught himself to fight with two swords and Cless getting trained by his swordsman father in his school.
  • Alpha Protocol plays with this. Mike Thorton can have one of a plethora of different backstories. One of them is Rookie, which unlocks new dialogue options, but gives Mike less skill points to start with. The other four classes available from the start all go this way and have Mike already experienced in some way, whether it be decorated in the armed forces (Soldier), having years in covert operations (Field Agent), demonstrating remarkable field work (Tech Specialist), or being a globetrotting Freelancer. This experience is reflected in a higher number of base skill points. Beating the game as a rookie unlocks the Veteran background for a New Game+, which opens up even more in the game and has Mike already being a veteran member of a similar agency to the eponymous one prior to his seeking them out.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Sunrider, The Hero, Kayto Shields, is a trained Captain by the beginning of the story.

    Web Original 

  • In We Are All Pokémon Trainers, quite a few characters happened to have been experienced trainers long before joining the story proper. Tagg for instance had already been a trainer for about nine years.
  • In Chrono Hustle Jack is new to time travel, but an experienced con artist. Melinda is an experienced TRD agent who knows her way around the time stream.

  • The titular character of Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger often gives the impression that he's been a Ranger for a few decades, especially whenever he lectures his AI partner/cadet Omnibus. In sharp contrast to the ancestor he shares a name with as portrayed in his own comic.
  • The Dragon Doctors all start off the comic as possibly the world's best team of magical doctors: Goro's an ex-military combat surgeon who can chop anyone apart and sew them back together again, Sarin the Wizard is a supreme transformation specialist, Mori is a 170 year old super-smart magical scientist, and Kili is the most sensitive shaman in the world. Their real journey is one of character development rather than skill development.
  • Allison/Mega Girl from Strong Female Protagonist has already served as, and retired from being, a Superhero. The series flips back and forth between her emotional struggles in trying to enjoy a "normal" life, and flashbacks detailing her time as a caped hero.
  • Heroes Inc. is a sprite comic that features a team of protagonists from SNES games; within the comic, the games in which each character has been featured are considered canon to the comic as well, so when the team is formed at the beginning of the comic, the characters are already quite experienced from their own prior adventures.

    Western Animation 
  • In Young Justice, several of the protagonists such as Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad are experienced superheroes who made their career as sidekicks with the official Justice League superheroes like Batman, Flash and Aquaman. Averted with others, like Superboy, Miss Martian and Artemis, who begin their superhero careers during the story.
  • Much like the above example, Robin and Beast Boy in Teen Titans are veteran superheroes (albeit being recognized as sidekicks) by the chronological start of the series while the other members of the team only begin their superhero careers upon meeting the rest of the cast. They're all this after the first episode though (seen when a kid with a prosthetic arm recognizes and idolizes Cyborg).
  • Ben 10: Alien Force took place five years after the Original Series, allowing the show to follow an older, more experienced Ben. The sequels toned that down though.