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They're the characters the audience is predisposed to root for, suffering as they do from Parental Abandonment
and in some cases, a tragic childhood. They're the little orphan girls and boys who come into the story and proceed to melt the hearts of cranky old people and improve the lives of everyone around them just by being their cheerful
orphan selves. The girls may turn out to be little princesses
, and the boys might end up as Lords
This, of course, is their Happy Ending
after a terrible childhood of drudgery most likely spent in an orphanage or on the streets, or (shudder
) under the care of their dear uncle
or fond stepmother
. If they have foster parents, or sometimes relatives
, they can Earn Your Happy Ending
by melting their cold and cantankerous hearts.
Heartwarming orphans don't have to do
anything to be heartwarming. It seems inherent to their orphaned state. They don't even have to appear on stage. Announce that an orphanage has been destroyed, and A Million Is a Statistic
does not come into play; obviously only a monster would do such a thing.
Of course, if they do certain
things, they can lose the "heartwarming" part and end up with a somewhat less appealing
The exact opposite of the Evil Orphan
. Contrast Conveniently an Orphan
. If they look and act like characters from a Dickens novel, that's a Street Urchin
See Orphan's Ordeal
, Baker Street Regular
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Nadja Applefield from Ashita no Nadja, who travels around the world searching for her mother and helping others.
- Yotsuba from Yotsuba&! is exactly this kind of person - as the main character. However, the series barely touches on her orphaned status, instead focusing on her daily life as a pre-school kid being raised by a (adoptive) single father.
- 25th Baam has never met his parents, the closest thing to a mother figure to him would be his only friend/surrogate-sister/frenemy/love-interest Rachel (it's complicated).
- Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket: a bit different from the others as she was orphaned while in high school, but it doesn't change the fact that her warmth helped heal the hearts of a dysfunctional family.
- Hayate Yagami of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, who turned four cold-blooded warriors into four kind-hearted people by being her cheerfully optimistic self. Though in a slight twist, they don't adopt her — instead, she adopts them.
- Lietchenstein from Axis Powers Hetalia is a bit like this, according to the published manga. Nothing is said about her original "family" and she's shown alone for quite a while, passing through lots of difficulties until Switzerland found her and took her in as his adoptive sister.
- In the "Battle For America" strips, little America fits this as he is almost obscenely adorable and, when told to choose between England or France as an older brother, picks the former out of sympathy.
- As for Liechtenstein, history suggests a relation to Austria, which fans have already considered. Then again, WW1 forced him to abandon her...
- Played with (with rather tragic results) in Pandora Hearts. Phillip is a very sweet little orphan kid whom everyone from the viewers to Oz seems to adore. Too bad he's contracted to Humpty Dumpty...
- Suigintou before her Start of Darkness (in Rozen Maiden: Ouverture).
- This, complete with Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold, was inverted in Monster.
- Heartwarming Orphan protagonists have been a staple of the World Masterpiece Theater series, which adapted most of the classic examples listed under Literature into anime series.
- Subverted big-time in Yu-Gi-Oh!. Kaiba, the orphan with the horrible past (his parents die, none of his relatives want to take him in, he gets continually bullied during his time at the Orphanage of Fear, he finally gets adopted by a megalomaniacal jackass who abuses him regularly and discarded his own son by blood for being too weak,) ends up being one of the series' biggest Jerk Asses.
- AND played straight, in a way, in that it makes him the Draco in Leather Pants. Besides, can one really question why someone would be a jerk after all of that? Not that it makes it any better.
- His little brother Mokuba plays it straight though.
- Serge Battour from Kaze to Ki no Uta.
- In Wild Rose there's Camille, who was taken in by his parents' friend after they died. Not only does he look like an angel, but he's also prone to Tender Tears and just wants some love and attention from his diffident father figure Mikhail.
- Candy Candy
- Naruto is an orphan who has the tendency to make friends out of his enemies. Normally by spilling his life story out while beating them up.
- InuYasha: Rin was orphaned when bandits killed her family in front of her, leaving her mute and suffering nightmares. She lived as outcast in the village, being beaten whenever she was caught stealing food to survive. Then Kouga and his demon-wolves kill the entire village, including her. Then she's saved by Sesshoumaru who was testing his Healing Shiv to see if it worked. And then she follows him everywhere, regaining her zest for life, her ability to talk, while becoming his Morality Pet and melting hearts along the way: starting with his.
- Somewhat subverted in Fullmetal Alchemist, where orphan protagonist Edward Elric is a hot-tempered Measuring the Marigolds alchemist with a fiercely defensive nature and a wild talent for frustrating other people, being as stubborn as he is. Though Edward's genuine care for other people and love for his little brother tend to win even the most cold-hearted characters over in the long run, it is his personality, not his orphaned state, that make people put up with his less-than-pleasant tendencies.
- Joshua Grant from Marginal Prince. While he's not the only character in the series to have lost a parent, he is the only one to have his orphan status as a character (and plot) device. He's a genuinely Nice Guy and still hurts alot over his mother's death (his father died when he was still very young, but it had in turn big effects on Joshua's mother), even though he initially claims it never affected him much. It doesn't help that he is also the heir to a kingdom he doesn't have much of a connection with, being only winded into this because the current king, his uncle, doesn't have any children himself. Joshua spends a great deal of the series angsting over all this, and as he's the main character, this trope is in full effect for both the audience and a bunch of other characters (especially Yuuta once he learns of Joshua's history).
- In Love So Life, Shiharu Nakamura's father dies before her birth and her mother dies when she's five. At the orphanage, she becomes the Onee-sama to the other children, cheers up even the bitterest of them, and remains a source of inexhaustible optimism for everyone around her.
- Incredibly common in British girls' comics of the period from around the 1960s to the late 1980s (by which time most of the comics had folded). One notable example was the highly-popular "Angel", set around an orphanage run by an angelic young woman who was herself an orphan.
- Dick Grayson. Both Bruce and Alfred have commented that he brought joy and color back into their lives after he moved into Wayne Manor. Even as an adult, he's still universally loved by everyone who meets him, and still the best at softening Batman's heart.
- The other Robins also fit this trope to varying degrees. With the exception of Jason, every Robin after Dick has had at least one living parent, but there's usually some form of Parental Abandonment at play.
- The Captain Of The Virtual Console has Ash the Pikachu. This allows her to join Gancena.
- Of Lilies and Chestnuts has Chestnut, an orphaned thestral/batpony. She may be a bit brash, impulsive, and clumsy, but she wins over Fancy immediately and Fleur shortly after, and they both hope this attitude will save her from the judging eyes of Canterlot nobles.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- All the cute, adorable orphans at the horrible Orphanage of Fear dramatized in Sparrows, led by America's Sweetheart, Mary Pickford.
- Irena in The Way Back becomes something of a Morality Pet for the others in the group (seven escapees from a Siberian gulag). They all wind up papa wolves to her, but especially Mister Smith, whose teenage son had been shot before he himself was sent to the gulag. Unfortunately, she doesn't get a happy ending: she dies of heat stroke and dehydration while trying to cross the Gobi desert.
- Brianna in Mystery Team
- Shirley Temple often (but not always) played this role in her movies. See Bright Eyes and The Little Princess.
- Denny in The Room is an infamously botched case of this trope. An orphaned teenager who was taken in by the film's protagonist, he's supposed to establish Johnny as a good-hearted saint, and to provide an innocent contrast to Johnny and Lisa's turbulent relationship. The problem? Because of the movie's bizarrely inept writing and acting, Denny unintentionally comes off as a budding voyeur and sex fiend, and he spends most of the movie creepily hitting on Johnny's fiancee in front of him, even trying to convince the couple to let him have a threesome with them at one point. Contributing to the movie's general weirdness, Denny's actor, Phillip Haldiman, is actually one of the oldest actors in the cast.
- The wide-eyed, terrified, half-starved World War II refugee boy that a GI (Montgomery Clift) unofficially adopts in The Search. Clift's character names the near-catatonic boy "Jim" and gets him to come out of his shell and learn English as they bond—but it turns out that "Jim" isn't an orphan after all, as a desperate mother is criss-crossing Germany searching for her lost son Karel.
- Older Than Radio: Poor little Jane Eyre is tormented by her cruel Aunt Reed and her three nasty children. Then she meets Mr. Rochester...
- Heidi teaches Peter to read, makes the old grandmother more comfortable, helps Clara learn to walk, and makes her grandfather's life worth living.
- Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables improves the lives of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert by being a vivacious handful.
- When Anne is in her late teens, Marilla also takes in a pair of twins, Davy and Dora Keith. Davy is rather Anne-like whereas Dora is the girl Marilla likely wished Anne was sometimes when she was younger.
- In the third installment of the movie adaptation, which diverges horribly from the book series (it moves the series thirty years forward), Anne and Gilbert end up adopting Dominic, the son of a friend of Anne's who was killed helping her look for Gilbert, who was missing in action during WWI.
- Sara Crewe from A Little Princess improves Becky's life and that of the Indian gentleman, and spreads sweetness and imagination everywhere.
- Mary from The Secret Garden makes the garden grow and improves her cousin's health.
- Mary is actually a sort of subversion. She doesn't start as one of these, but more as an orphaned Spoiled Brat who has to go through quite the Character Development first.
- As a Spoiled Brat, actually, she does Colin a lot of good, since she doesn't put up with his nonsense.
- Tarzan is a grown-up example, having been Raised by Wolves.
- Oliver Twist, who just wants a little more gruel.
- Harry Potter starts out as an orphan living in a closet under the stairs and ends up not only making Hermione's, Ron's and Hagrid's lives a little brighter, but also saving the world from You-Know-Who, who is himself a total inversion of this trope, as told in his backstory in Half-Blood Prince. Though ironically, Tom Riddle is more classically this, being raised in his orphanage and going in a quest to discover his parents and all, his charm at Hogwarts even plays of this appeal of sympathy. It's just that a Heartwarming Orphan can easily be The Sociopath.
- Pollyanna, who is so unrelentingly cheerful that she earned a place in the dictionary.
- All the primary characters in Les MisÚrables are orphans. Or else raised by the Thenardiers, which probably counts anyway.
- Cat of the Canals, aka Arya Stark, from A Song of Ice and Fire is an aversion, or maybe a subversion. She ends up joining an assassin's guild/death cult at the age of nine.
- Both subverted and played straight in Conn Iggulden's Emperor series. Marcus is effectively an orphan; his mother is alive, but she abandoned him in order to focus on her career as a prostitute. (Nice lady.) Marcus, however, is not the usual "heartwarming orphan"; his past affects his personality and gets in the way. Octavian also has a living mother but is an unruly street urchin until he is sent off to be raised by family. In his case, things turn out good, to say the least, seeing as he is adopted by Julius Caesar, and later in life becomes the first emperor of Rome.
- Susan Warner's 1850 bestseller The Wide, Wide World.
- In The Little White Horse, the orphaned heroine transforms her uncle, and reconciles him with his true love.
- Subverted in the MechWarrior Dark Age novels where the resident Omnicidal Maniac "adopts" (read: found while strolling through a city that was recently razed by her instructions) a young girl. And she's changed! Now instead of wanting to just burn the known universe to the ground, she's going to burn the universe down for her!
- Flute, in the David Eddings Elenium trilogy, is not really an example of this trope, but the band of knights who informally 'adopt' her think she is. Bit of a shock when they find out she's actually the Child-Goddess Aphrael.
- There are a handful of these to be found among the many orphans in Dear Enemy, the sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs. Sadie Kate and baby Allegra are perhaps the most direct examples of the trope. Sallie, the administrator of the orphanage where they live, admits she sometimes uses their heartwarming characteristics to charm donations of toys or clothing out of the wealthy and powerful.
- A few of Jo's pupils at Plumfield, in Little Men, qualify for this trope.
- Also by Louisa May Alcott are Eight Cousins and its sequel Rose in Bloom. Protagonist Rose Campbell, in the first, is orphaned and comes to brighten the life of her adoring guardian, lifelong bachelor Uncle Alec, as well as her seven male cousins and various other relations. In the second, adult Rose opens an orphanage called the Rose Garden, and personally adopts an orphaned toddler whom she names Dulcinea (after Don Quixote's lady).
- Mark Herron, from Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright. He's extremely knowledgeable about the natural world, and teaches others about it.
- Nello from A Dog of Flanders.
- Freckles is older than normal in Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles but manages to pull off the role becoming McLean's son substitute.
- Parodied, along with many common Romance Novel Tropes, in P. G. Wodehouse's Genre Savvy short story "Honeysuckle Cottage".
- The title character of James and the Giant Peach, abused and neglected by his creepy aunts, is something of an Iron Woobie, nicely adapted in the movie version with the "My Name is James" song. Though miserable in his circumstances, he maintains inner strength, and acts as the leader of all his giant bug friends during their emigration to America.
- Little House on the Prairie: Albert, James and Cassandra Ingalls, Jenny Wilder ... and (to an extent) Nancy Olesen.
- Punky Brewster makes cranky old Henry's life much more interesting.
- Little Timmy from Lassie is an orphan who ends up adopted with the best dog in the world. Subverted in The New Lassie TV series, which revealed that when his adoptive parents moved to Australia, they hadn't properly adopted him after all and left him behind.)
- In Friends, Phoebe is effectively an orphan after her mother kills herself; her father is still alive (as is her real mother - it's a long story), but he walked out on her before her mother's death. She'll use this to get whatever she wants, be it the last muffin or a date; her friends know she does this and will question her if she does it more than once a day.
- There's a cameo in A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift Of All from what appears to be a trio of heartwarming orphans asking for donations. Subverted in that they're actually Colbert's own children, begging the audience to buy the DVD so they can eat tonight.
- The Daily Show often makes use of John Oliver's British accent to do this.
- Harry Hill's sketch show has the Poor Little Orphan Boy, who starts off cute but ends up screaming demands for games consoles and the like.
- Jang Geum of Dae Jang Geum does something ingenious and heartwarming to save the day every second episode.
- As with the Japanese drama version of A Little Princess, Shokojo Sera has Seira who lost her mother at a young age and her father to a mining incident. Yet, her determination to not let things get to her, even when she is mercilessly bullied and treated horribly by her previous classmates and the director of the school, is what shines the most.
- This was a main component of memorable Hoarders participant "Sir Patrick"'s alleged backstory.
- Boy Meets World had Tommy, a kid Eric befriends, though he eventually gets adopted by another family.
- Merlin has one of these, a cute little boy whose father is killed on-screen, who is taken in by Morgana and Merlin, has large blue eyes and a timid expression, and who is eventually smuggled out of Camelot by Arthur. Then it's subverted when it turns out the cute little orphan that they've been risking their lives to protect is Mordred. Oops.
- Teen Wolf has an adult example in the form of Derek Hale. Even ignoring his status as Tall, Dark and Snarky Mr. Fanservice, he gets a lot of sympathy from fans because his ex-girlfriend set his house on fire and his whole family, including his parents, died.
- Dr. Lance Sweets from Bones, though older than most examples (22 in his first appearance), definitely counts.
- Little Orphan Annie: Any character whose heart isn't warmed by little Annie is probably an irredeemable monster.
- Annie: Little orphan Annie makes Daddy Warbucks' life much better through song and dance.
- The title character of Sally.
- Broadway Example/subversion: Little Sally, from Urinetown: The Musical, is apparently an orphan. She appears with Officer Lockstock during the narration scenes as well. However, she never really makes anyone's lives more cheerful. She does witness Bobby's death, and she exposes Cladwell as a murderer, but she suffers the same fate as the rest of the cast.
- Sunny, in the Metal Gear series, who lives up to her name so much that even perennial grouch Solid Snake loves her.
- Flora from the Professor Layton games.
- There's also the Barde siblings from Last Specter.
- The children from the Bassett orphanage in Solatorobo, who have a tendency of getting in trouble and needing to be saved. Two of the protagonists, Red and Chocolat are a fusion of this trope grown up a few years and fused with Happily Adopted (though they only adopted each other and apparently don't have any adoptive parents).
- Part of Super Mario Galaxy's plot revealed Rosalina to be one of these.
- During Children's Week in World of Warcraft, your character can do quests to chaperone an orphan of your choice for the duration of the event.
- Cheryl, of the original Silent Hill, is the Happily Adopted and much-beloved daughter of Doting Parent Harry Mason, who loves her more than anything... both of the times she's his daughter.
- Kit Cloudkicker from TaleSpin is not only an excellent little buddy, but also a great surrogate brother to Molly.
- Goslyn from Darkwing Duck certainly livens up her adoptive father's life.
- Leela from Futurama is an orphan for all practical purposes; sadly, she doesn't seem to get much sympathy from it, and bringing it up may cause groans. She must have some of that mystique, though - she is the most beautiful and most accepted of her kind...
- Also Tinny Tim, the small robot orphan who is seen now and then in Bender-related episodes.
- How about twelve Heartwarming Foster Girls? From Jem, the Starlight Girls.
- The unnamed little girl mistakenly named "Cancer" thanks to her medical bracelet by the inmates of Superjail. Naturally, this being Superjail, things turn out horrifically wrong. Also there's a subplot regarding her saccharine childhood innocence driving the warden mad because he's lost his. Then his inner child breaks out of his body and tries to kill her throughout the episode.
- The Simpsons : Patches and Poor Violet, who appear to have been transferred to Springfield from Dickensian London.
- Max from Capitol Critters who watched his family get gassed to death.