Humble Beginnings
The original incarnation of what is now a multi-billion-dollar multimedia franchise juggernaut.

Works where the original was some gag idly doodled on cocktail napkins, and the "sequel" was a multi-million dollar Hollywood project.

These may be considered a Spiritual Successor, Surprisingly Improved Sequel, Adaptation Expansion or More Popular Spin-off, and cause Adaptation Displacement or Sequel Displacement, depending on what you consider a sequel, successor, adaptation, and original.

See also Ascended Fan Fic.


Anime and Manga

Comic Books


Live-Action TV
  • The Addams Family started as a loosely-connected set of cartoons by Charles Addams in The New Yorker with recurring unnamed character designs. Until the proposal to create a show based on them, Addams had never even thought of them as named individuals.
  • The (mercifully) short-lived sitcom Cavemen, based on the "So easy a caveman can do it" series of Geico insurance commercials.

  • "Get Happy" began as a short vamp that Harold Arlen improvised while substituting for Fletcher Henderson as rehearsal pianist on the 1929 Broadway musical flop Great Day!. The chorus director, Will Marion Cook, told Arlen to turn it into a popular song, and it indeed became the Breakthrough Hit of his songwriting career.

Newspaper Comics
  • Dilbert started out as a unnamed recurring character drawn on the whiteboard of Scott Adams' cubicle while working as an engineer at Pacific Bell.
  • Garfield Minus Garfield, which started as a riff of a Memetic Mutation of Garfield (inspired in a thread on the Truth and Beauty Bombs forum about the Garfield Randomizer), and eventually got its own published book by the syndicate, with a commentary essay by Jim Davis.

  • The Reduced Shakespeare Company began as a Renaissance Faire act doing a twenty-minute abridgement of Hamlet. Over the better part of a decade, this developed into a full-length theatrical work, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).
  • Forbidden Broadway began as a cabaret act with a cast of only three, including both Gerard Alessandrini and the pianist (who had to be replaced at the last minute, causing some worry since no piano part had been written out). They could hardly keep up with the costume changes.

Video Games

Web Animation
  • Homestar Runner, which now has its own professional video game series and cameos ranging from songs in Guitar Hero to an Easter Egg cartoon in a Macromedia program, started as a children's book made in a college afternoon and put together at Kinko's (see here).

Web Comics
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja started as Chris Hastings' user name on the Something Awful Forums, which he decided at the last moment to change from Dr. McNugget. He then drew a panel of what said doctor would look like, then used the doctor as the premise of a comic he drew for his art degree.
  • Axe Cop is written by a six year old, but drawn by a professional.
  • The Nuzlocke Comics originally started out as the sketchings of a Self-Imposed Challenge on a Pokémon run. It utilised stick figures with a storyline that didn't really deviate from the original game for the first season, but, come the next season, there's a noticeable improvement in the artwork and formatting, the storyline becomes much more substantial, and the Pokémon themselves were much better characterised. The challenge itself has also become extremely popular among others, inspiring many other Nuzlocke comics, prose and further creative pursuits in turn.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court began as a picture Tom Siddell drew of a pink-haired girl in a drab school uniform. He only chose that subject for his picture because it fit the marker colors he had on hand. These days, Gunnerkrigg Court is Tom's sole source of income.
  • Gigi DG publicized Cucumber Quest's humble origins as part of an April Fools' Day gag in 2014. For the day, she revamped the site as Kukobu Quest, featuring her own art and writing from ten years prior.
  • morphE began as a weekly World of Darkness game between the four creators. The game spanned for two and a half years and spawned the plot of the comic. The weekly game itself was spawned from a one-shot test game the lead creator ran with a larger pool of friends. There was no intent to expand the one-shot to a full campaign, nor to adapt the outcome. The story just kept growing.
  • The first xkcd strips were doodles from Randall Munroe's notebooks.

Western Animation
  • The Simpsons, originally a crudely-drawn series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, has gone on for more than 20 seasons and has spawned a merchandising empire, several video games, a movie and ride. The characters themselves were knocked out in the waiting room where Matt Groening was going to meet with executives. Originally, he was going to pitch a show based upon his comic Life in Hell, but he realised at the last minute that he might lose the rights to his own characters, so he quickly sketched a family based upon his own family.
  • Trey Parker and Matt Stone's first short "Jesus Vs. Frosty" was done as a student film. Their second short was made on a budget for a Fox network executive... so he could use it as a video Christmas card to send to his friends. After months of underground circulation via bootleg tapes and the Internet, Comedy Central decided to hire them to expand this into South Park.
  • The genesis for Phineas and Ferb came one night when Dan Povenmire was at a restaurant and drew a triangle-headed boy and decided to build a show around him. It was sixteen years before the show actually got picked up. The show's villain first appeared in an ad for Middlefield Cheese, an Ohio Amish cheese company in 2004.
  • Beavis and Butt-Head was originally just a short on Liquid Television. Likewise Ćon Flux. Celebrity Deathmatch appeared on the show's Spiritual Successor Cartoon Sushi.
  • Mike, Lu & Og grew out of a Russian animated short by Mikhail Aldashin about island natives being introduced to modern conveniences. The execs at Cartoon Network thought it would be a good premise for a series and hired Chuck Swenson (fresh from Klasky-Csupo) as head writer and Mikhail Shindel as producer to develop the series in collaboration with Pilot Studio in Moscow, with Swenson creating the redheaded tomboy to serve as the central character.
  • The Boondocks started out as a college newspaper strip before being nationally syndicated and eventually getting a popular television series.

  • Adobe Flash, originally a small vector animation system based off a tablet computer drawing program by an Aldus spinoff later acquired by Macromedia. With its browser-embeddable Flash (originally FutureSplash) player, the introduction of ActionScript (Javascript with the Serial Numbers Filed Off,) and especially its late addition of bitmapped video, by the time Macromedia was acquired for Adobe, Flash had become the most popular browser-based content delivery medium.
  • Wiki Magic.
  • Memetic Mutation.
  • Yahoo!!, which began in 1994 as a student project on the Stanford University site. As did Google.
  • IMDb started as a list of actresses with pretty eyes.
  • eBay began because the creator's girlfriend had some Pez dispensers she wanted to sell.
  • Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie began developing the UNIX operating system on the PDP-7, an underpowered minicomputer. Before development moved to the PDP-11 and added text-processing applications that made Bell Labs take more than an experimental interest in UNIX, it was little more than a set of utility programs supporting a port of Space Travel, a game Thompson had originally written for a more powerful mainframe while working on MULTICS.