Children in their formative years have a lot of imagination. They also need guidance, support, love, and companionship. And stimulation for their imaginations.
Happy, precocious children who are bored or just have more imagination than their parents can keep up with will dream up an imaginary friend - or even more than one.
In cases when the parent is physically present but emotionally and mentally a Missing Mom or Disappeared Dad; or when the child is abused or orphaned or otherwise put through upheaval — they cope by creating a friend from their imagination to keep them company.
The imaginary friend can be a Parental Substitute, confidante, playmate, and sometimes protector (especially if the child has mental issues). If the child has Powers, then their Imaginary Friend, if a genuine product of the child, is bound to be slightly more... substantial than usual.
In darker stories, sometimes the Imaginary Friend is a ghost or extradimensional entity who may not have good and kind intentions toward the child. These can be a variation on Our Ghosts Are Different. Sometimes it's just a manipulative or Jerk Ass adult preying on the child's imagination and innocence and pretending to be imaginary, counting on adults not believing the child if the child does happen to speak on it.
There are also the odd adult occasions of an adult imaginary friend turning up or hanging around. Sometimes this becomes a Split Personality.
Occasionally, though, the person who conceived of the imaginary friend is an adult rather than a child. In these cases, it is usually a part of already-existing madness or else one of the warning signs of the character's Sanity Slippage.
Finally, it qualifies as Truth in Television, as many children (and adults) in Real Life have or have had imaginary friends. Some authors discuss their characters as if they're Imaginary Friends.
However, as mentioned in the source of the quote above, imaginary friends are becoming a thing of the past. Possibly to due widespread pop-psychology, many believe now that having an imaginary friend is an indication of mental illness. Which isn't true, considering that studies have shown that children do realize that imaginary friends are creations of their own minds.
Related to I Just Want to Have Friends as the reason imaginary friends are made. Contrast with Imaginary Enemy and Not-So-Imaginary Friend.
The revelation that one of the characters is an imaginary friend is sometimes used as a major plot twist, so beware of spoilers.
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In Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, Yozora has an imaginary air friend she calls "Tomo-chan". She talks to it as if it were real, which surprises Kodaka when he first sees her at school. She later references Tomo-chan again when they sing karaoke, which Kodaka says she shouldn't be counting her air friend as a second person.
The 1979-80 series Kujira No Josephina (Josephina The Whale) is about a boy in Spain who went on adventures with his imaginary whale. In the last episode, the boy eventually grew up and said goodbye to Josephina...yeah.
The series itself, by the way, was based on a Spanish children's book Adios, Josefina (Goodbye, Josephina).
The manga Noramimi features existing "imaginary friends" (similar to Foster's Home, below) labelled "mascots", who stay ("freeload") with a child until they grow up, and move on to another kid afterwards.
The cutesey mascot Maromi from Paranoia Agent who speaks to Tsukiko seems to be quite imaginary, but is a whole lot more dangerous. Somehow.
Short version: She's a manifestation of all the paranoia and frustration in Tokyo, with the "active" end being Shonen Bat. The ultimate plot is to make everyone vent their worry into merchandise with her image, and then yank it away, causing the paranoia to spike to the point it turns physical and hits the city like a moving tidal wave.
Alternate Interpretation: She was an imaginary friend specific to Tsukiko who gave her comfort and shielded her from the world that was often mean to her because of her behavior as a Cloud Cuckoolander (this is likely the function the original Maromi, a pet dog, served for Tsukiko before it was run over). When Tsukiko grew up and made Maromi for an advertising company, the effect of providing comfort and acting as an emotional crutch spread, which is why it sold so well.
In Bleach, Lilynette was this to Starrk, before Aizen stepped in and gave Starrk an upgrade in his powers, allowing him to give her a real form.
Or the other way around. They've been together for so long that neither of them can remember which one is 'real', so it's possible that Lilynette created Starrk.
Sorta used with Yukio, who as a child used his powers to create imaginary friends that looked like his neglectful parents.
Ninja Ninja, Afro's foul mouthed, perverted, jive talking imaginary friend from Afro Samurai was thought up because Afro's entire adoptive family was murdered by a band of thieves and he created him so he wouldn't be completely alone. He is also the polar opposite of Afro, no one else can see or hear him but he can get hurt and once he accepted responsibility for their deaths he let go of Ninja Ninja allowing him to be killed in his place and letting vanish from his life, although he returns in the movie.
England in Axis Powers Hetalia is assumed to have these- subverted in that they're actually fairies that only he can see. Its revealed that other nations (apart from America) go to his house they can see them too.
One story written by certified madman Grant Morrison implied he might be both.
In Doom Patrol, the Reality Warper Dorothy Spinner had a group of disturbingly surreal imaginary friends and, because she had psychic powers, they could actually affect the world around them as though they were real people who just happened to be unpercievable by any sense. She had some who were good, who she used to help her be a superhero, and some who turned out to be evil, who she killed with an imaginary gun.
The Savage Dragon features She-Dragon, who, in a parody of She-Hulk's No Fourth Wall tendencies, had five or so imaginary friends, who many issues later turned out to be real people trapped in another dimension with a psychic link to her.
John Wayne in Preacher. He first started appearing when Jesse Custer was a child in need of a means of coping with his Evil Matriarch grandmother's abuse, and would occasionally show up during Jesse's adulthood as well.
Jesse belives that at one point, Wayne conveyed information that Jesse himself could not have known. Jesse never figures out the full reality of Wayne, but considering the cosmic powers thrown around...
Robin from the Belgian comic book series Sarah And Robin. He used to be the imaginary friend of Sarah's grandfather before she met him and he became her only friend. He borders on Not-So-Imaginary Friend since he can interact with the world around him (like grabbing objects or opening doors), even though only people that believe he exists can see him.
Chocolat: Due to her mother's being on the run, the narrator has one constant friend, Pontouf who is a kangaroo. It isn't until the end of the movie, after her mother decides to settle in the town, where we see Pontouf from the child's point of view, hopping away to have his own adventures. "I didn't miss him."
Jack Flack in Cloak & Dagger was the father figure to the kid whose Disappeared Dad was one of those "present but not here" types. Interestingly, it was implied that a version of him had been the father's imaginary friend as well; also, when the kid rejects Jack Flack out of horror for the real violence to which he's just been exposed, Flack starts to die, and says "I hate this part ... leaving when they stop believing." All this suggests that "Flack" does have some sort of independent existence.
It's also interesting that Jack Flack is played by the same actor as the dad, suggesting the hero that his son had always believed him to be, despite everything. The final line just tops it off: "I don't need him, anymore. Dad. I've got you."
Drop Dead Fred is about a girl who had her imaginary friend locked in a jack-in-the-box by her mother, and lets him back out by accident after she grows up. Apparently he still exists because she still needs him.
How Imaginary or Not So Imaginary he really is is pretty open to debate. The film tries to have it both ways.
In Fight Club, Tyler Durden turns out to be an imaginary friend.
In A Beautiful Mind, Nash's college roommate, the little girl, and the CIA agent are just a part of John Nash's imagination.
The movie Troll 2 also features the (long-dead) Grandpa Seth being mistaken for an imaginary friend of the child.
In Everything You Want, Abby, the protagonist, creates an imaginary friend named Sy as a way to cope with the emotional abandon by her perpetually traveling parents and her incapability to relate with other human beings derived from the above. Sy grows with her until adulthood and becomes her model and her perfect boyfriend. Abby is content with the situation, until she mets a classmate and begins to fall in love with a real person for the very first time...
Tomás in El Orfanato (AKA The Orphanage), he is actually a ghost.
In Un Sussurro Nel Buio (aka A Whisper in the Dark), the boy's imaginary friend is the ghost of his brother who died as an infant before he was born.
In the Disney Channel Original Movie Don't Look Under the Bed, imaginary friends become boogeymen if the child stops believing in them too soon.
The giggly, bald Cajun guy in The Machinist turns out to be a figment of the protagonist's guilty conscience. And the airport waitress/single mother the protagonist chats with turns out to be a manifestation of the mother whose son he recklessly killed with his car and fled the scene. The son of the "waitress" is a manifestation of the boy the protagonist killed.
The first of The Amityville Horror films has Jodie, a pig-like creature that's the imaginary friend of the little girl member of the Lutz family; at one point in the film the girl's mother Kathy hears her talking to Jodie in her room, goes inside and is told Jodie left through the window. Looking outside, the mother sees a demonic face with red eyes staring back at her. In the 2006 remake Jodie is reimagined as the spirit of one of the murdered members of the Defeo family, instead of a (presumably) demonic entity.
In the Kevin Costner film Mr. Brooks, the eponymous character is urged to commit his killings by "Marshall,"(William Hurt), who acts as his id, as well as an extremely close companion who both friendlily taunts him and comforts him in times of despair. Interestingly, many of Brooks' secret talents and mental skills, such as his Living Lie Detector ability and cunning attention to detail, seem to manifest especially through Marshall.
Brazilian movie A Mulher Invísivel features an imaginary lover, the "invisible woman" of the title.
Reyeb for Malik in Un Prophète by Jacques Audiard. Remarkably friendly (if mysterious) considering Malik murdered him.
The TV Movie 'Invisible Child'.
Donnie Darko's "friend" Frank is considered imaginary by his doctor, even though Donnie's convinced that he's real.
In Paper Man, Ryan Reynolds plays the superhero imaginary friend of the main character, a middle-aged failed writer.
In the 1961 British film Hand in Hand, Rachel has always had a "pretend sister" and asks her opinion about everyday things.
The third Paranormal Activity film shows that the demon terrorizing Katie and Kristi initially introduced itself to Kristi as an entity named "Toby," who the rest of the family assumed to be just an imaginary friend.
The movie "Sunday at Tiffany's", based on a book by James Patterson. Jane's imaginary friend Michael left her life on her 10th birthday. Twenty years later, on the eve of her birthday and her wedding, he shows up again—this time as a corporeal adult. Neither of them have any idea why he suddenly showed up out of nowhere or what his mission is. Michael falls in love with Jane, who is initally very resistant to his naiive, innocent view of her and the world. Eventually, she realizes she isn't satisfied with how her life has gone since Michael left, and that she loves him...just as he has to leave again. Or does he?
There's a sequence in Brooks' World War Z involving a pilot talking over the radio to another person who got her safely out of a zombie-infested area. Or was she talking to anyone at all...?
In the Bagthorpe series of children's books by Helen Cresswell, the youngest cousin, Daisy, has an imaginary friend called Arry Awk (the name comes from a folksong). Daisy is a strange child who has fads, such as setting things on fire and burying sausages in the garden, and she blames Arry Awk for all her misdeeds.
The short story "Thus I Refute Beelzy" by John Collier, in which it's strongly implied the child has summoned up a demon.
In Andrew M. Greeley's God Game, a man's computer affects a fantasykingdom (and the people around him) and characters from the game start appearing to him to ask for plot changes.
One of the only Kevin Henkes books populated by humans is Jessica, a picture book about a girl whose best friend is imaginary. The girl is initially reluctant to start kindergarten due to fears of leaving Jessica, but eventually befriends a classmate who happens to share the name.
In Anne Tyler's Earthly Possessions, the narrator's daughter has an imaginary friend "Selinda" for whom a place must be set at the table; after a while, the daughter sits in Selinda's place and insists that she is Selinda, and that the daughter is the imaginary friend. She is always referred to as Selinda from then on.
In Chocky by John Wyndham, Matthew's "imaginary friend" turns out to be actually an alien.
Lola in the Charlie and Lola children's book/TV series has an imaginary friend by the name of Soren Laurenson. This would be one of the cases where the kid with the imaginary friend is perfectly happy and well-adjusted, she just has a somewhat overactive imagination.
Sort of the point of the end of The Lace Reader: Towner's best friend as a child was her twin sister, Lyndley, who committed suicide when they were teenagers. Lyndley was really her twin Lindsey, who died at birth. Much of Lyndley's fictional traumatic childhood was based on Towner's real past.
The novel The Other. The narrator and his twin brother deal with a host of calamities. The narrator has no brother, and he's a murdering sociopathic monster.
In the novel Chocolat, the protagonist's daughter has an imaginary friend who is a Kangaroo.
In The Graveyard Book, Scarlett thinks that Bod is her imaginary friend until she meets him again when she becomes older.
In Patricia A. McKillip's contemporary novel Stepping from the Shadows the narrator's "ugly sister" turns out to be her alternate personality. And this was published at least a decade before Fight Club.
The "Dumarest of Terra" books Haven of Darkness and Prison of Night by E.C. Tubb involved a world where daily flares of stellar radiation induced detailed hallucinations of dead acquaintances, friends and enemies alike. Extensive conversations often occurred with these "ghosts."
The Gone-Away World is weird about this. The main character was the imaginary friend of The Ace, serving as the inspiration and motivator for all his deeds, and became real as the result of Applied Phlebotinum. His memories are a hybrid of what really happened and what The Ace visualized as happening, along with a few things that never happened (for instance, he thinks he's married to the woman who the original actually married.) Just to hammer in the weirdness a little more, it's heavily implied that the narrator is the imaginary friend of both The Ace and a wizened old kung fu master who really likes tupperware.
In John Varley's The Golden Globe, protagonist Kenneth "Sparky" Valentine's imaginary friend turns out to be a symptom of a disassociative personality disorder caused by years of suffering at the hands of his abusive father, Kenneth Sr.
J.D. Salinger's story "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut" is about habitually drunk wannabe socialite Eloise's lost afternoon spent with a close friend half-remembered acquaintance, to whom she happily relives moans about their Glory Days in college. Her daughter Ramona seems to have little purpose in the story other than to demonstrate how Eloise neglects her. Ramona—insisting her friend Jimmy Jimmereeno is corporeal—makes room in bed for him (which annoys her mother). No need to use spoiler text, as this short story—like most of Salinger's—is anti-climactic. (Perhaps—after "A Perfect Day for Bananafish", and "Teddy"—Salinger felt he'd written enough jarring endings for a lifetime.)
In the Discworld novels, when Agnes Nitt was young, she used to blame things that went wrong on "the other little girl". "The other little girl" is now Perdita; somewhere between a Split Personality and the part of your mind where all the thoughts you don't dare think go. And she and Agnes don't get on.
Earlier, in Small Gods, desert-dwelling religious hermit S.T. ("Saint") Ungulant has an imaginary friend called Angus. Because the small gods of the desert don't miss an opportunity to latch onto anyone's belief, even a delusional crackpot's belief in his imaginary friend, Angus is "real" enough to hit a lion over the head with a rock.
In Snuff, it's revealed that Sam Vimes' son has an imaginary friend named Mr. Whistle, "who lived in a house in a tree but was occasionally a dragon."
Anne of the Anne of Green Gables series starts out having two imaginary friends: her reflection, whom she imagined was another little girl who lived in an enchanted world, and another little girl named Violetta, based on an echo she heard in a meadow near a home she grew up in. Marilla does not approve, and tells her it will be good to have a real friend to replace her imaginary ones.
In the sequel Anne of Avonlea, one of Anne's students, Paul Irving, has some imaginary friends that he collectively refers to as the "Rock People".
In the book Magic for Marigold, also by L. M. Montgomery, Marigold has an imaginary friend named Sylvia.
A teenage example: near the end of The Basic Eight, Flannery discovers that her best friend, Natasha, is a figment of her imagination.
In the short story "Faithless Margaret", an old woman has an imaginary companion by that name who takes bus rides with her. Then the pair meet an old man who has an imaginary companion named Arthur. In the final scene the old man and woman ride the bus sullenly apart, angry and bereft — Margaret and Arthur apparently hit it off and now ride the bus together, abandoning their respective people.
In Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Changeling, both Martha and Ivy have imaginary friends when they meet; Martha's is a protective lion, and Ivy's is Nicky, a Native American boy. Ivy's baby sister Josie sees and chats with all sorts of people, at least one of whom may actually be a ghost.
Adam Gopnik's Bumping Into Mr. Ravioli is an essay about his three-year-old daughter and the elusive Charlie Ravioli, who was apparently so busy that they rarely had time to do more than "grab lunch" or chat for a minute on the phone. Mr. Ravioli even had a receptionist who said "He's in a meeting right now, may I take a message?"
Life Among the Savages, Shirley Jackson's essays based on her family, describes a shopping trip with her son, daughter, and her daughter's seven daughters, all named Martha, whom Joanne has adopted after their real parents killed each other.
The main character in Anthony Boucher's "Mr. Lupescu" pretended to be an imaginary friend - a fairy godfather, to be specific - so that he could shoot the father of the kid the pretense was centered on, get off scot free and marry the mother.
Harry Morgan on Dexter is a pretty good reminder of how disturbed Dexter actually is.
Played very darkly on LOST. Hurley's best friend while he was in a mental institution was Dave, a bad influence who encouraged Hurley to overeat, try to escape the hospital, and other bad ideas. Hurley only started improving after he accepted that Dave wasn't real, rather a manifestation of his darker impulses. We learn all this in flashback during an episode where Dave shows up on the Island. He tries to convince Hurley that the island, not him, is the hallucination, and tries to prove it by pointing out all the unlikely things that have happened to Hurley since he left the institution.
However it gets more complicated when it turns out that Hurley can see and interact with the spirits of the dead, meaning that Institution!Dave could very well have been real. Also, the Big Bad of the series turned out to be capable of taking on the form of those who had died, creating another possibility for the identity of Island!Dave.
An SNL sketch featured an "imaginary friend-off" competition, which had guest star Fred Savage talk about his imaginary friend Mike Podium.
Star Trek: Enterprise. In the Mirror Universe episode, Mirror Archer is furious to discover his alternate universe self is a famous explorer, as Mirror Archer has yet to be assigned his first command. As Mirror Archer sinks into resentment and paranoia, his alternate self keeps appearing, taunting Mirror Archer into greater acts of ambition and recklessness.
A long-running gag on Sesame Street was that everyone thought Mr. Snuffleupagus was Big Bird's imaginary friend. This idea was dropped in 1986 by revealing Snuffleupagus to the adults once the producers decided it might lead kids to think Adults Are Useless and therefore might not believe a kid's "unbelievable" story about, say, molestation..
Of course, since Snuffy was real I think you could technically categorize this as an It Was Here, I Swear.
Supernatural, "Playthings": Two little girls, Tyler and Maggie, are shown playing, and it's implied that they're sisters. It's only revealed later that Maggie is Tyler's imaginary friend and the other characters can't see her. She turns out to be the ghost of Tyler's great-aunt, who died decades ago in the same house.
The producers of Teen Wolf have set forth that Greenberg, the student Coach Finstock yells at often, may or may not exist. He's never been shown onscreen, at any rate.
In Space Cases, Suzee is presumed to be Catalina's imaginary friend. Then a Negative Space Wedgie brings Suzee out from another dimension and places Catalina in that dimension.
Tales from the Crypt— in "Operation Friendship", it's an adult nerdy video game designer with an imaginary friend. Their relationship sours when the man starts dating a psychologist and the imaginary friend, in fear for his existence, tries to turn the man against her. In the end, the imaginary friend takes over his body.
Medium— in "Night of the Wolf", this is how Allison realizes that her daughter Bridget has inherited her psychic powers— she starts playing with an invisible friend who turns out to be a child's ghost.
Charmed used the evil version of an imaginary friend; in this case, it was a demon trying to turn Wyatt evil. Like many Charmed episode titles, this one consisted of a pun; it was called "Imaginary Fiends."
In Monty Python's Flying Circus Dinsdale Pirahna was perfectly normal . . . except that he was convinced that he was being watched by a gigantic hedgehog named Spiny Norman. Normally, Norman was wont to be about eight to ten feet from snout to tail, but when Dinsdale was really depressed, Norman could anywhere up to eight hundred yards long.
In the Sci-Fi show The Invisible Man, one episode features a little girl who's witnessed a murder and only wants to talk about it to her imaginary friend. Cue the protagonist pretending to be him.
On The 4400, a Muggle who took Promicin to get powers ended up with an imaginary friend who gave him seemingly prescient instructions.
On Huff the title character imagined and developed a good friendship with a Hungarian composer.
On 7th Heaven, Ruthie had an imaginary friend named Hoowie for a good part of the first season; he even had part of an episode's plot focused on him when she claimed Simon "sat on him and squished him".
House went a somewhat dark route with this trope near the end of Season 5, as House starts hallucinating that Amber, a.k.a. "Cutthroat Bitch" is following him around at all times. House knows it's got to be a hallucination and ends up taking advantage of the relationship, seeing as Amber represents "an all-access pass to [his] own subconscious." That is, until Amber's arrangements for Chase's bachelor party result in him going into anyphylactic shock due to an allergy House would've known about... which leads to him wondering why he would possibly want Chase dead. It gets worse, much worse, as he starts to lose his grip on reality and ends up getting committed to a mental hospital at the end of the season.
In Ghost Whisperer the title character is aware some children can see ghosts. The child of a storekeeper on the same square as her antique store, Dylan, appears to have the full-fledged medium gift, and his mother reacts poorly to her son talking to people who aren't there.
An episode of the Weird Al Show has Weird Al talking about his imaginary friend. Who is standing there the whole time, trying to prove he's a real guy.
Played with in Doctor Who. Young Amy Pond's first meeting with the Doctor has such a profound effect on her, that as she grows up, he becomes a part of her play, almost as if an imaginary friend. To the point of four psychiatrists trying to tell her he's not real. However, as it turns out, he's real — very real. And recognized by everyone Amy knows, from the days of childhood play.
"Hello, everyone! I'm Amy's imaginary friend... but I came anyway."
There was an episode of the 1980's The Twilight Zone where a dad scoffs at his son's imaginary friend, then is shocked to realize that he can see and hear the friend as well.
The non-supernatural interpretation of the Bones episode where Booth is trapped on a soon-to-be-sunken navy ship is that "Parker" is his Hallucinatory Friend rather than a ghost. This presumes that the obstacles Parker helps Booth get past were also hallucinations brought on by his brain tumor, and he was really just stumbling around at random below deck.
A The Sketch Show sketch took this to an over-the-top degree. The sketch concerned a psychiatrist running a group therapy session to persuade people that their imaginary friends weren't real; her patients were a guy who used his imaginary friend as a cover for alcoholism, a lonely and lovesick woman, and a guy who thought he himself was the imaginary one. At the very end of the sketch, it turns out the psychiatrist was actually addressing an empty room.
The A-Team has Murdock's invisible dog, Billy. At the end of one episode, it appears that Billy actually knocks Murdock over and drags him along the ground.
In one episode of Boy Meets World, Man Child Eric makes an imaginary friend version of his former mentor Mr. Feeny to help him with his college work. At the end of the episode the imaginary Feeny convinces him that he has the skills to do well without him so Eric lets him go.
In an episode of The Nanny, Gracie is traumatized when Fran unwittingly "kills" her imaginary friend, going so far as to hold a funeral for her (burying her in a shoebox containing Fran's favorite boots). After talking with a family counselor though, Gracie admits that she'd been looking for an excuse to get rid of her imaginary friend anyway, since she created her shortly after her mother died, and Fran's presence was filling that void in her life. Fran is touched, but she still isn't happy about having to sacrifice her boots.
Holly Walsh: I don't think many people give their imaginary friends surnames.
Lee Mack: He's one of the few...
Robert Webb claimed in series 5 that he had so many imaginary friends he formed an imaginary gang.
WWE's R-Truth has a person who he consults that he calls "Little Jimmy"
During a Daily Show report on "Imaginary Black on White Crime," Wyatt Cenac says at one point that all of the imaginary friends he grew up with are now "either dead or in jail" thanks to a terrible "imaginary public school system that has failed a whole generation of imaginary youth."
In an episode of 30 Rock, Tracy randomly refers to Dot Com, one of the show's regular characters, as his "imaginary friend". Dot Com tries to point out that he's not imaginary, but Tracy keeps interrupting and telling him to stop talking since no one can hear him anyway.
In Jessie Zuri has at least one imaginary friend, Millie the Mermaid. Used as a plot point in one episode when Jessie assumes her new friend, Nana Banana (Joanne Worley) is imaginary.
In The Strange Case of Arthur Conan Doyle, Doyle, between writing "The Final Problem" and The Hound Of The Baskervilles, meets a man called Seldon, who wants to write his biography, and in doing so forces him to confront the shadows of his past. It eventually transpires that Seldon is a manifestation of his guilt over his father, and is also Sherlock Holmes himself.
Interestingly, Niles Crane in Frasier is revealed to have had an "imaginary protegé" during early childhood, who he blamed for wetting his bed and running away. The name of this imaginary protegé... Sheldon.
Anthony from Doc Martin, an invisible 6-foot squirrel.
Martin from Moone Boy has Sean Murphy. All the other children have them as well and the imaginary friends are capable of interacting with each other and even have a bar they all hang around in.
The Haunting Hour: In "My Imaginary Friend", Shawn has an imaginary friend named Travis who quickly becomes all too real and dangerous. Shawn's older brother David convinces Shawn that he has outgrown the need for imaginary friends, which dispels Travis. Sadly, David was also Shawn's imaginary friend all along. And Shawn has to let him go as well.
Neil Diamond's "Shilo", wherein a boy develops an imaginary friend to help him cope with a dad who just doesn't have time for him - and then, years later, when a woman enters his life but proves just as distant, he cries out for his old friend, who no longer shows up.
Shilo, when I was young, I used to call your name; when no one else would come, Shilo, you always came... come today.
Freezepop did an album called "Imaginary Friends", including a title track about a girl who meets a mysterious man, who happens to be imaginary.
The title character of "Whiskey Man" by The Who is the imaginary friend of an alcoholic. It's heavily implied that the friend disappears forever after the narrator is locked away in a mental hospital.
Snow Patrol's "Favourite Friend" is interpreted by some as being about one of these.
Reel Big Fish's "My Imaginary Friend", either taken literally or possibly about a real friend who "doesn't come through in the end" as the singer says has to "find a real one".
One The Far Side cartoon features a father being held up in the air by an invisible grasping fist while his young son announces "Big Bob's tired of you saying he doesn't exist!"
Calvin and Hobbes is built largely on playing with this trope. Watterson has gone on record saying that the "true" nature of Hobbes - imaginary friend or doll that comes to life - really doesn't concern him. In any case, though, there's definitely a lot of weird blending of the two interpretations, like Hobbes taking periodic baths in the washing machine or the time Calvin somehow got tied to a chair.
Changeling The Dreaming had a story in which some of the Changelings survive through pretending to be the imaginary friend of a child gifted with vivid imagination.
Furthermore, there are chimera, beings of the Dreaming that can interact with changelings but which are invisible to ordinary humans.
Another RPG based entirely around this: Monsters And Other Childish Things - The imaginary friends are real, in fact they are manifestations of beings from beyond the veil with incredible power which just happen to latch onto children as their medium into the real world.
Hilariously and disturbingly deconstructed in Mr. Marmalade. The title character is the imaginary friend of a five year old girl named Lucy, taking on the appearance of a short tempered workoholic who has a problem with pornography, cocaine and beating up his assistant. This contrasts with the plant imaginary friends of the character Larry, though Larry is somewhat suicidal.
The South Coast Repertory children's play Imagine is about a lonely boy with an imaginary friend. The boy meets an unimaginative girl, and lends her his imaginary friend. This goes well until the boy gets trapped in a sort of Imaginationland, causing the imaginary friend and the girl to journey there to rescue him. At the end of the play, the imaginary friend says goodbye to the two friends, who no longer need him, and disappears for good.
The play The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of is about an adult who never outgrew his imaginary friend.
Dr. Cid in Final Fantasy XII subverts this. In his early appearances in the story he's often seen talking to someone who isn't there, even when he's in a room with other people. Others largely seem to ignore this because, well, he's a Mad Scientist, which pretty much makes him contractually obligated to be screwy. Later, however, it's revealed that his imaginary friend is really Venat, a god-like being who's pretty much been pulling the strings on the story all along.
Dark Seed 2 pulls the full Fight Club, revealing that Mike Dawson's friend Jack is really the shape shifter and Mike's Dark World counterpart, meaning that the two of them are really the same person. Or something
Manhunt 2 does this with Daniel and Leo which isn't that surprising as Leo, who is somewhere between imaginary friend and alternate personality, always seemed to be the one talking Daniel into dangerous decisions as opposed to really doing anything.
In Call of Duty: Black Ops, Mason has Viktor Reznov as an imaginary friend, as a result of Dr steiner's experiments on him. It is heavily hinted so when no one else could see or interact with Reznov. The player could even shoot through him during the mission.
The Sims 3 adds in these as large, doll-looking things.
In Winter Voices the player can choose a feat that gives the main character one. The friend is a named character that she can talk to who will help battle the other manifestations of her troubled mind.
In Deadly Premonition, York often converses with his imaginary friend Zach about everything he does, from investigations to 80's B-movies. In the end, it's revealed that Zach is a split personality, specifically the original personality of York who retreated into an Eldritch Location after being traumatized by the Big Bad. York is actually the true Imaginary Friend manifested in order to protect Zach.
In Mark Of The Ninja, Ora, the ninja chick that guides the protagonist throughout the game turns out to be a hallucination brought on by his tattoos.
In MySims Agents, there's a girl, Clara, whose friend, Taylor, thinks Clara's kraken friend is imaginary. He's not, but given that Clara's had two other friends that she fully acknowledges are imaginary (and don't like Taylor much), this is understandable.
Higurashi: When They Cry: Rika Furude, who is regarded by some as a prophet, had a childhood imaginary friend named "Oyashiro-sama", which is coincidentally the name of Hinamizawa's guardian god. (This is only briefly referenced in the anime, in Meakashi-hen, but is more explicitly spelled out in other material). Oyashiro a.k.a. Hanyu is real, though no one else can see or hear her until Matsuribayashi-hen.
A rather creepy example comes from Chaos;Head, where Takumi experiences regular delusions of Seira, the lead character from Blood Tune. Seira tries to encourage his hikikomori habits every time she appears. In the final episode she is one of the last opponents he faces as he goes off to rescue Rimi. After he defeats her and continues on his way, the discarded Seira figure says "I've been dumped..."
When she was young, Mio from Little Busters! wasn't very good at making friends and was quite lonely. To ease her sorrow, she created a friend for herself. Who then turned out to be real, even if no-one else could see her.Or not. Given the nature of the world Kyousuke created and Kurugaya's comments, it seems highly likely that Midori never actually existed and that Mio really was always hallucinating.
Homestar Runner has Brett Bretterson, So-And-So's imaginary boyfriend from Teen Girl Squad.
Strong Sad also had an imaginary friend as a kid named Scotty Titi, to which Strong Bad responded by drinking three gallons of Blue Drink and making up Frishy Freshy Dragon Man. Strong Bad discusses the phenomenon of imaginary friends in general in the email, claiming that "insane parents made imaginary friends illegal for kids to have" since he was a kid, largely because of the creepy names they always have.
Count Your Sheep. The twist is that Katie's mother Laurie can also see her imaginary friend, because he was the mother's imaginary friend when she was a child.
The boy Laurie hated could also see him, and grows up to marry her and be Katie's father... and then gets sick and dies, but not before leaving Ship a whole bunch of messages to give to Katie and Laurie at the appropriate times.
Laurie's parents can also see and hear the imaginary friend, but actively deny his existence. By contrast, Laurie's sister believes he exists, but can't see or hear him.
Until she got pregnant herself. At which point she became able to see him. Her new baby can see him as well.
When Laurie was going into labor she asked Ship to call the ambulance, implying that the ambulance crew could hear him over the phone.
It's a Weirdness Censor thing. Ship's had conversations with people over the phone before; the trick is to keep them from figuring out they're talking to a sheep. (Laurie's parents seem to be in the position where they have to rationalize this away consciously rather than unconsciously.)
Mr. Pingoo of Star Bored is strongly hinted to be Ham Luca's imaginary friend.
The Imaginaries is about new residents of the extradimensional limbo that imaginary friends go to when their creators don't need imaginary friends anymore.
Garfield in Garfield Minus Garfield is portrayed as Jon's imaginary friend who we the viewers can't see, making Jon often appearing to be talking to and arguing with himself.
Drowtales creates the unusual case where the audience is an imaginary friend of one of the characters! This makes it some sort of subversion?
Dreamless Eleanor is upset and wonders why she can't have imaginary friends when her mother is allowed to. The thing is, Eleanor's friend is a real person. He just happens to live in Japan and have a psychic connection to her that she can only see while sleeping. The same was true for her mother but her mother rejected rather than embraced the connection and had a breakdown as a result.
Kay And P Kay has an imaginary friend, a skeleton by the name of Peaches, or just P. Thing is, Kay is now in college.
Stairwell has an imaginary friend as a main character. The roll is filled by a manifestation of main character Norman's brain.
There exists a scary series of fake videos on Youtube about a ghost in a house's pantry that is a young girl's imaginary friend Mabel. It is generally under "Pantry Ghost", though a few of the videos that focus on "Mabel" are not actually in the pantry.
Gaia Online has an evolving item called "imaginary friend", featuring various types of strange creatures (and a robot) that correspond to the colors of the rainbow.
Mirrorfall has a fairy court that organises imaginary friends for troubled children (in particular victims of abuse or neglect).
Teen Titans: One girl had an imaginary friend who was invisible to those she didn't trust. It was the expression of her telekinesis. Expression of telekinesis in this case being a gigantic teddy bear with razor sharp claws and fangs that beats the shit out of a French gorilla. As she puts it, just because she imagined him doesn't mean he's not real.
Goo, on the other hand, just has more imagination than is good for anybody, and is literally an imaginary friend factory.
Generally ignored (except as a lampshade) is the fact that Foster's residents actually exist, although the kids they were created from are not shown to have any special powers.
Fairly Oddparents Timmy had an imaginary friend he called Imaginary Gary, but when he got Cosmo and Wanda (and therapy) he abandoned the figment...to the figment's immense displeasure.
In the second season of Code Lyoko, Aelita is plagued by nightmares of of wolves, some of which involve a strange, elf-like creature fleeing from them. Eventually, she and her friends find a doll that resembles this elf (with the key to a bus station locker that holds Franz Hopper's journals) which she recognizes as "Mr. Puck". For some strange reason, the doll makes the nightmares go away, giving her more pleasant dreams of Mr. Puck. The doll is eventually revealed to have been a gift from her father, likely why it helps her feel safe.
The Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Who Let The Ed In?" revolved around Ed's imaginary friend Jib... who was apparently real enough to pummel Eddy.
That same show has Plank, Johnny's Companion Cube, though again his status as "imaginary" is often left up in the air.
In one episode, The Powerpuff Girls had to fight an imaginary friend who was causing trouble at school. They defeat him by imagining a friend of their own to beat the snot out of him.
DeeDee of Dexter's Laboratory has an imaginary friend called the Koos-A-La-Goop-A-Goop. Dexter has also met him, but was so Not Now, Kiddo about Koosy's presence that Koosy was banished forever, and only then did Dexter realize how much he missed the figment.
DeeDee is also Koosy's imaginary friend, as revealed when she went to his world.
He shows up for Bubbles in Powerpuff Girls, though the butt-kicking imaginary friend the girls create later thinks he's kind of annoying.
In Arthur, his little sister D.W. has an imaginary friend named Nadine who at times seems to be smarter than her.
In the '80s special Puff The Magic Dragon and the Incredible Mr. Nobody, an excessively creative boy named Terry creates an imaginary friend named Nobody (since nobody was his friend). Since his creative talents got him teased by his peers and weren't understood by his teachers, he starts to tell everyone that Nobody was responsible, and eventually he comes to believe that his talent was actually all from his friend. After his father tries to explain that Nobody isn't real, Nobody vanishes, so Terry goes on a quest to find him, aided by Puff. With Puff's help, Terry realizes that he and Nobody are one and the same, and he embraces his talents.
Played for laughs in South Park, Chef has an imaginary friend called Foo Foo the dinosaur who turns out to be Loch Ness trying to getting $3.50 from Chef's father again.
In Kim Possible, Ron's pet mole rat Rufus is named from his imaginary friend as a child.
Played with in an episode of The Simpsons where everyone becomes convinced that Homer, feeling unappreciated, has invented an imaginary friend. In fact, his friend is real, and the reason nobody ever saw him is a series of insanely Contrived Coincidences.
Also played with with Lisa and Milhouse: Lisa knows a lot about Jewish culture because she had a jewish imaginary friend, and Milhouse had an imaginary friend named Walter who tried to murder him several times.
Kinga from Polish animated series Hip-Hip and Hurra has an imaginary firend - a potted flower named Adelka. Not only can Kinga hear what Adelka is talking, but in the second season she spends all of her free time trying to entertain her (including taking Adelka to cinema and ice skating). At one point she even throws her a birthday party.
In The Mighty B! Bessie has Finger, her left index finger. When she sprains Finger in a competition, her right index finger, Finger's French Cousin Fingaire, shows up — but he is not a nice finger, and Finger has to defeat him in combat.
In Kingofthe Hill Bill has alluded to creating imaginary friends for himself because his regular friends don't often listen to him and are unsupportive.
One episode of Family Guy introduces Lois' long-lost brother, who was put in an insane asylumnote Supposedly because he witnessed his mother having sex with Jackie Gleason as a child. Lois thinks he's perfectly normal...until he starts talking about an imaginary wife. Of course, this being Family Guy, they play around with it a bit: at one point, Stewie jokingly suggests leaving a cucumber on the couch where "she" is sitting and seeing if it pickles. A couple of scenes later, Lois finds a pickle on the couch.
In an episode of Almost Naked Animals, a head injury reunites Howie with his childhood imaginary friend, Platymoose. Turns out Platymoose is a Jerk Ass who just wants to annoy all of Howie's friends.
In one episode of All Grown Up!, Dil makes an imaginary friend. Tommy and co. tease him for being too old for imaginary friends... until Dil's imaginary friend somehow manages to become one of the most popular kids in school. Until he gets run over by a lawnmower, when some of Dil's friends actually start mourning for his imaginary friend.