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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, being famous (or infamous) as a powerful warrior is a prerequisite for being summoned as a Heroic Spirit.
- Berserk: The anime and manga begin with the Black Swordsman Arc when the protagonist Guts is already an expert demon-slayer and one of the greatest master swordsmen in the world. Even in the Golden Age film trilogy which introduces him as a fifteen years old mercenary, he has already been training since age six and fighting since age nine, and has gotten so strong that he is able to defeat a famous and dreaded opponent like Bazuso the Grey Knight. In all versions the Training from Hell that he went through as a kid in order to get that way is shown in flashback a good deal after his introduction to the audience as a character.
- 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.
- Sword Art Online
- Kirito was a beta tester of the eponymous VRMMO. His knowledge of the game's mechanics give him an edge over other players at the game's launch, and allows him to adapt to other VR games fairly quickly.
- By the time the "Fairy Dance" story arc begins, Suguha Kirigaya has been playing Alfheim Online for some time, allowing her to mentor Kirito when he joins.
- Sinon has been playing Gun Gale Online for long enough by the start of the Phantom Bullet arc that she has made a name for herself as one of the deadliest sharpshooters in the game.
- 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 insanely powerful vampire who personally commanded armies and fought in battles even as a mortal. The centuries since then have only made him stronger. This makes him markedly different from the antagonist vampires he encounters, who tend to be "young" and unused to calling on their abilities in combat.
- 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: Braves of the Six Flowers, 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.
- In Yuri!!! on Ice, the protagonist Yuri Katsuki has been figure skating since he was very young. He's now in the twilight years of his career without too much international success, but he is still Japan's top skater and is actually extremely talented when not crippled by his extreme performance anxiety.
- Arawn is Tears to Tiara is a thousand-year-old recently awakened Fallen Angel who is virtually immortal, rather strong, in possession of holy magic, a skilled swordsman, and a war veteran who leads the good guys, serves as The Mentor to Deuteragonist Arthur, and is one of a few characters who know anything about what is really going on.
- Tatsuya Shiba from The Irregular at Magic High School is acknowledged as one of the best magicians of his generation, being an expert in several fields of magic, an accomplished fighter and tactician and several high-ranking students at his school defer to him, if only out of respect. His most powerful attack has the equivalent strength of a tactical nuke.
- Ayato Amagiri from The Asterisk War is already an expert in melee combat, not to mention his natural magical energy is so huge his sister placed as seal on him to prevent his body from tearing itself apart. Very quickly he becomes the best fighter at school; and in the first tournament, he doesn't really become stronger, he just remembers techniques his sister taught him to win the current fight.
- Lux Arcadia from Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle is the legendary Black Hero that once defeated the Arcadia Empire. By definition, that makes him the best warrior of his generation, but he keeps that under wraps to prevent political backlash.
- Soul Eater: Troubled Souls: How long Maka Albarn's been on the job isn't exactly stated, but something can be inferred. She's known Claudia since the latter was a new student, which was before she met Caius, who has a two year tenure under his belt already by the start. Add to the fact Maka has been on the canon adventures (the fic is Canon Welding so that includes anime events) up until the Baba Yaga Castle invasion, she's pretty experienced.
- Ambience A Fleet Symphony: Despite his youth, Damon is already a trained helicopter pilot, fought in various big battles and done a lot of things long before he gets Murakumo.
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.
- Zootopia: Technically an Experienced Deuteragonist, but Nick Wilde knows pretty much everything there is to know about the city of Zootopia and its criminal underbelly, having lived there making a living as a small-time con artist for about 20 years. This is contrasted with main protagonist Judy Hopps, a rookie cop who has lived in the city for less than a week.
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.
- Too Big To Fail is about a financial crisis, and the man who solves the crisis, isn't some low level banker or bureaucrat, but the US Treasury Secretary himself. Hank Paulson's previous job as CEO of a major investment bank is mentioned multiple times in this movie ... just in case you forgot that!!
- Van Helsing has the eponymous character already an accomplished monster hunter whose reputation precedes him even in the distant and remote Transylvania.
- 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 of a ship in the Betan Astronomical Survey when we first meet her. Betans have very high standards of education, so it's actually more impressive than it sounds. Her experiences (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 akin to training a young officer), and even less as a saint.
- 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. Though there are short stories set before it detailing things like his first command and how he lost those fingers.
- In Honor Harrington's first novel, On Basilisk Station, she has already commanded one vessel and is starting on her second. And has been out of the Academy for well over a decade. Still, her XO has some trouble taking orders from her as she looks like a teenager, despite being over forty.
- Shai, protagonist of The Emperor's Soul is one of the best Forgers in existence - that's exactly the reason she's forced to attempt Impossible Task.
- Kelly and Amber, the point-of-view characters of The Crush, are professional soldiers who're considered some of the best in their trade. Other rangers and civilians are sometimes starstruck by them, but also disappointed and resentful that they've gone completely downhill in the last year.
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 Sameen 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 as an interrogator. Root has a mix of hacking experience and was a killer for hire for years before she joined up, getting her first indirect kill as a teenager.
- 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.
- In Vikings Ragnar is an experienced warrior with enough of a reputation that he can easily recruit a crew of seasoned warriors for his new raiding venture in the west.
- All of the captains in the Star Trek series count. All of them had to rise up through the ranks and have exemplary records before being given their ship or station. Kirk has multiple decorations for valor, Picard fell into command of the Stargazer and held onto it for quite some time, Sisko was XO of a ship and principle designer of the Defiant before commanding DS 9, Janeway was an accomplished science officer and Archer was a respected warp test pilot.
- 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: their Multiple-Choice Past establishes them either as a War Hero who repelled a slavery raid singlehandedly, the Sole Survivor of a thresher maw attack, or a Ruthless soldier who sacrificed most of their unit in a battle against batarians.
- Dead Rising
- Frank West has experience in combat before being thrown into the midst of the Willamette outbreak. He's covered wars, y'know.
- Chuck Greene, from Dead Rising 2, has some experience slaughtering zombies under his belt, having survived an outbreak in Las Vegas that claimed the life of his wife and resulted in his daughter's infection.
- 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.
- Hiryu from Strider is established as a Special A Rank assassin, and is the youngest to achieve it before beginning his story.
- 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 new players still have to be guided through things, so in every game the protagonist has a support crew talking to him through comms and explaining incredibly basic facts that he'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, the Arbiter is a former Covenant Supreme Commander who's over 67 years old, and Jameson Locke used to be one of ONI's most elite agents.
- Wes from Pokémon Colosseum is not a newbie Pokemon trainer like the 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.
- Assassin's Creed III: Decoy Protagonist Haytham is already a Master Assassin Or is he? at the start of the game. When you finally get to control Connor, he's already proficient enough in hunting that the Justified Tutorial is him teaching his friend and even without Assassin training he can still handle trained redcoats.
- In Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Edward Kenway is already a hardened privateer-turned-pirate even before he puts on the Assassin robes.
- 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 civilian, albeit the sister of one of the S.T.A.R.S team from the first game). 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 II, 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.
- Alpha Protocol has an interesting use of the trope. On your first playthrough, Mike Thorton can have one of five backstories. Four of them 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. The fifth class is Rookie, which unlocks new dialogue options and certain bonuses, but gives Mike fewer skill points to start with. Only beating the game as a Rookie unlocks the Veteran background for a New Game+, which has Mike already a member of a similar agency to the eponymous one prior to his seeking them out; he has more skill points and unlocks more dialogue options from the beginning.
- Certain Links from The Legend of Zelda are continuing their stories from a previous installment (usually in a new land), such as the one from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link being the same Link from the first game, but going on a new quest to awaken a (different) princess. The Link from Breath of the Wild is one of these despite not having starred in a previous game; before being caught up in the adventure, he was already a knight. Specifically, he was Princess Zelda's personal bodyguard, and had quite a good deal of practical experience in battle.
- Sonic the Hedgehog is implied to have been fighting Dr. Eggman since before the series begins with the original game.
- Splinter Cell: Sam Fisher was already an experienced Navy SEAL before joining Third Echelon, and in the first game had been doing his job for some time before the plot.
- In The Godfather II, Dominic is already established as Aldo's Underboss when the game starts.
- Several Grand Theft Auto protagonists:
- Tommy Vercetti from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is already a notorious murderer by the time he first arrives in Vice City.
- Niko Bellic from Grand Theft Auto IV is a veteran of the Yugoslav War and had already done gang work before reaching Liberty City.
- All the three playable characters of Grand Theft Auto V are former or current criminals.
- The male protagonist of Fallout 4 differs from all the other protagonists of canon games in the Fallout franchise, in that he is already an accomplished soldier and veteran of the Alaska reclamation campaign against the People's Republic of Tyranny. His wife - not so much, as she is primarily a lawyer in private practice before the bombs fell. A military or government agency background is only implied due to her skills matching her husband's.
- 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. In one arc he discusses a mission he was on fifty years previous, though due to his species' long natural lifespan and longevity treatments he's still in his prime.
- 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.
- Commander Badass of Manly Guys Doing Manly Things is, at the start of the story, a long-time soldier with plenty of battles under his belt. He's also presumably been running the agency that the comic is centered on for a while.
- 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.