"I know Darth Vader's really got you annoyed,Let's face it — some Big Bads are popular enough that it might be a bad idea to kill them for real. Because of this, even though the good guy usually beats him, the villain always finds a way to come back. It's a specific form of Contractual Immortality, which could be for any one of a number of reasons:
But remember if you kill him then you'll be unemployed"
But remember if you kill him then you'll be unemployed"
— "Weird Al" Yankovic, "Yoda"
- The villain is so popular and lucrative that getting rid of him risks losing the fans' interest in the franchise. This is especially true in a Villain-Based Franchise or works where defeating the villain is the Series Goal, so killing off the villain will effectively end the series.
- The story exists in Comic-Book Time, so even though it seems like the villain has been active for a long time, we're really seeing a short reign of terror stretched out over several installments.
- The installments are in Anachronic Order and the villain's death has already been established or shown; logically, he'll survive any story that occurs before then chronologically.
- The villain is a real person Ripped from the Headlines who isn't dead yet; this is rare nowadays, but you see it often in Wartime Cartoons, where the characters fight Adolf Hitler but can't kill him because he hasn't died yet in Real Life.
- The villain is very heavily identified with a particular hero, and their exploits are thus part of the hero's overall story. This is what happened with the Trope Namer, the Joker; he's so influential to Batman that killing him off would essentially rob the series of a big part of its identity, even if it could continue in theory without him.
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Anime and Manga
- In Pokémon, James and Jesse of Team Rocket try something villainous Once per Episode and always fail, but they're always back to try again. This in spite of them occasionally being last seen in situations where No One Could Survive That!, only to be right back at it next episode with no explanation as to how they survived. Over time, their consistent failure to do anything meaningful has led to Villain Decay, so on the rare occasions that Ash actually bothers to tell the authorities about them, they're not considered a priority (at least compared to their more villainous teammates). They're also very adept at escaping custody. Their boss Giovanni shares this immortality, surviving Mewtwo's destruction of Team Rocket's headquarters without so much as a scratch in Mewtwo Strikes Back.
- InuYasha was infamous for its repeated use of Naraku, who's the only antagonist still causing trouble after several hundred issues, despite half of feudal Japan wanting his head. Author Rumiko Takahashi knew the fans wouldn't believe he would be gone unless he was Deader Than Dead, so Kagome wishes what was left of his spirit out of existence along with the Shikon no Tama.
- The three main bandits in Koihime†Musou. Simply why can't the Black-Haired Bandit Hunter just kill them?
- In Bleach, Aizen was the Big Bad for about 400 chapters. His eventual defeat left room for a vague comeback because he's not dead, only De Powered, partly because he actually has complete immortality.
- Orochimaru from Naruto just won't stay dead or sealed, even if he can be Put on a Bus for quite long periods.
- Monster's sequel Another Monster shows that Johan Liebert is still inexplicably active.
- The end of MW shows Michio Yuki is still around.
- Katsuhiko Jinnai and the Bugroms from El-Hazard: The Magnificent World always ran away so they could return in future installments.
- Yami Bakura consistently comes back from defeat. By the Duelist Kingdom arc, he is believed to have been sent to the card graveyard, but he takes over Mokuba's body, gets banished again, and comes back a second time at the end of the arc. Yami Marik banishes his soul to the Shadow Realm in the Battle City arc, but he returns to normal when Marik is defeated. In the last arc, multiple versions of him return as the Big Bad; only here is he finally destroyed for good.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's has Divine, Aki's Evil Mentor. His confrontation with Dark Signer Carly ended with him plummeting about thirty stories from the top floor of the Arcadia building; somehow, he survived, and appeared in a later episode, only to be swallowed by Earthbound God Ccarayhua. Word of God claims that, despite not appearing again, he survived that too, recovering along with the other victims of the Earthbound Gods, but that doesn't mean he was a Karma Houdini; he was quickly caught by Sector Security and hauled to jail.
- Hao from Shaman King has been defeated and killed in ages past over and over; not only does he keep coming back, but he also retains his knowledge from his previous lives and grows more powerful each time. Even at the end of the series, after becoming the Shaman King, he's not turned good, but merely been convinced to wait a bit and see how humanity is doing, instead of just killing everyone outright.
- If any villain in Digimon deserves this designation, it's Myotismon. Like the vampire he resembles, he just refuses to stay dead. After being blown to little bits by Angelwoman, he returned as VenomMyotismon. Then he was torn apart by WarGreymon, only to return in the Sequel Series as MaloMyotismon. And of course, being a Digimon, he Took a Level in Badass with each evolution, as if he needed it, having defeated the DigiDestined multiple times even in his original form.
- Referenced in The Two Sides Of Daring Do. Apparently, Yearling's audience complains about Ahuizotl having Joker Immunity. It's also justified with the real Ahuizotl; he's actually immortal and can't die.
- Soul Eater: Troubled Souls gives Medusa Gorgon Joker Immunity. She survives expulsion from Rachel’s body via Majin Hunter by using the same spell she used to live in her battle against Stein and Spirit. Now, she is the Arc Villain of one of the fic's darkest Story Arcs. This woman refuses to stay dead.
- Ask Ernst Stavro Blofeld survived death at least three times. He survived getting his neck apparently snapped when it hit a branch while he was bobsleighing, being in the middle of his oil rig lair while it burst into flames, and being dropped down a factory's chimney from a helicopter while wheelchair-bound.
- As many Slasher Movies are part of a Villain-Based Franchise, their protagonists tend to have severe Joker Immunity. These include Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Michael Myers of Halloween, Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th, and Chucky from Child's Play (who explicitly references his immunity in Bride of Chucky, gloating that he can always come back from death). In fact, the ending of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was altered to ensure that Freddy survived (which really pissed off Wes Craven). Discussed in The Monster Squad where the dad is confused by how horror movies keep having all these sequels when the last one was said to have killed the villain once and for all.
- James Bond:
- Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me is Made of Iron and routinely survives otherwise catastrophic disasters by just dusting himself off. This allowed him to survive for Moonraker, where he underwent a Heel–Face Turn.
- Live and Let Die has voodoo master Baron Samedi thrown into poisonous snakes, only for the film's last shot to show him laughing on the engine of Bond's train.
- Ernst Stavro Blofeld appears to die twice; in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, he comes back in the same movie. He was technically killed off in For Your Eyes Only, but only to resolve a legal dispute; he came back decades later in Spectre, where Bond refuses to kill him when he has the chance and has M arrest him instead.
- Most kaiju have this ability, Godzilla being the best example. Future appearances had him dropped into lava, or blown up by some super-weapon. He always returns to menace Tokyo (and other cities) again. However, the continuity for Godzilla movies is loopy at worst, tenuous at best. The original monster killed by the Oxygen Destroyer often stays dead, and it's an all new mutated monster attacking this time. Or time traveling aliens messed with history. Or they abandon all notion of the '54 Godzilla existing and that Godzilla is the first encounter (as in Shin Godzilla).
- Although comic book villains are very prone to lose their immunity in film adaptations, this hasn't happened to Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; he's survived all four films he's appeared in, despite faking his death in both Thor and Thor: The Dark World.
- Suicide Squad (2016) has the Trope Namer himself, the Joker, appear to die when his helicopter is shot down about halfway through the movie. To absolutely no one's surprise, he shows up alive and well in the final scene.
- The Doctor Mabuse films apply this trope to the extreme. Mabuse dies in The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse; the rest of the movie concerns an insane and possessed psychologist enacting his plans. In the '60s films from Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse onward, he dies in seemingly every installment but comes back for each sequel. When he finally dies for real in The Terror of Dr. Mabuse, he comes back as a ghost in the next movie.
- In Flash Gordon (serial), Ming the Merciless had the annoying tendency to not stay dead. In the first movie, he supposedly fakes his death by walking inside a crematorium, but they Never Found the Body. In the second movie, he is trapped inside a chamber and bombarded with death rays, and the characters are sure he's dead this time (and his body is now shown to the viewer), but in the third movie, he inexplicably returns to life once again. Flash finally finishes him off by crashing a spaceship into his tower while he's locked inside it.
- The Chronicles of Narnia:
- C. S. Lewis manages to subvert this trope in Prince Caspian, where the villains' plan to resurrect the White Witch fails after all. The movie played this up even more.
- In The Silver Chair, a villain shows up who appears to be the White Witch resurrected, but it's uncertain whether it's really her; nobody was left at the end of Prince Caspian to follow through on Nikabrik's plan, but she was the last member of her race (by her own doing), so it's not as if she could conceivably be a different witch.
- In Warrior Cats, Tigerstar takes this to the logical extreme, since he keeps appearing even though he dies in the first series. However, his limited interaction with the living world makes him much less of a threat then when he was alive, and his involvement in the earlier books of tPoT was somewhat lacking. Eventually, after four series, they do manage to finally make him Deader Than Dead.
- Averted in the Magic: The Gathering novels for the Ravnica setting. The leader of House Dimir (Ravnica's Big Bad) was actually arrested and killed at the end of the first book. But this bites the heroes in the butt in the third book, when it's revealed why Ravnica has experienced a rash of major disasters: because the complex system running the world was dependent on having a Big Bad.
- In the Harry Potter books, the Series Goal is to defeat Lord Voldemort, so obviously he can't be killed until the end of the last book. All of the heroes' prior encounters with him are just trying to avoid getting killed.
- Artemis Fowl and Captain Holly Short will stop being tormented by Opal Koboi when readers stop finding her mania amusing. And considering all she's survived so far, it doesn't look like that world's most insane pixie will be going anywhere any time soon. In the final book, she finally gets a rather nasty death in which her black magic essentially eats her from the inside out.
- Visser Three (or, after his promotion near the end, Visser One) in Animorphs ended at least two books in some kind of highly ambiguous, possible-death situation only to reappear in later books.
- Downplayed by Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events, as he is rarely in explicit danger; what he repeatedly avoids is arrest, which serves the same goal as ordinary Joker Immunity. The straight form of this trope is subverted in The End, where he dies in the thirteenth chapter of the thirteenth book, and there's still one chapter left.
- The Man in Black (a.k.a. Richard Fannin, Randall Flagg, Marten Broadcloak, etc.) from The Dark Tower seems to have a form of Joker Immunity. He always turns up again even if defeated, and none of the protagonists are able to kill him. Mordred, however, gobbled him up because he was hungry, effectively ending his immunity.
- Black Company has Soulcatcher, chronic backstabber, who cannot be killed off no matter what the villains try despite being their primary source of grief. Similarly, the Limper can escape or survive punishment from both the good guys and the bigger villains, until it stops being funny and he's Killed Off for Real.
Live Action TV
- On Farscape, off-and-on Big Bad Scorpius was only supposed to be part of a two-episode arc, but he ended up becoming very popular and kept returning, even after being shot and buried on screen. The show also started making a point of how he's a Crazy-Prepared Magnificent Bastard, which helps explain how he keeps surviving. He even earned a Promotion to Opening Titles after we learned that he's actually a Well-Intentioned Extremist with an enemy in common with the heroes.
- Doctor Who:
- The Master may be a Time Lord, but he should still be dead by now. In the 80s, he would start getting into apparently fatal situations at the end of each story. He was seemingly killed off in "Castrovalva" (trapped in a dimensional implosion), "Planet of Fire" (burned to a crisp), in the Made-for-TV Movie (sucked into the Eye of Harmony), in "The Last of the Time Lords" (dies in the Doctor's arms, refusing to regenerate), and in "Death in Heaven" (vaporized); none of them stuck. He died twice since the show's revival; both times, the fan response to the character was so strong that he survived them both, despite the second time showing him or rather her being vaporized. The Doctor knows he's got immunity, too; he never believes he's really dead even when he sees it with his own eyes.
- The Daleks rival the Master for the number of times they've been "killed off completely"; it's happened seven times to dateIn order: , with none of them sticking. They're very analogous to the Joker, as they're the Doctor's defining villains (Russell T. Davies has said you basically can't have Doctor Who without the Daleks) and the Doctor has a strong moral code that would make him hesitant to wipe out an entire race. That said, he really hates the Daleks, he has pulled the genocide trigger before, and he has been known to fly into a rage when he rediscovers them (such as in "Victory of the Daleks", when he finds them apparently behaving as docile British weapons wandering around World War II-era London).
- Davros, the Daleks' creator, was genuinely intended to suffer a permanent Karmic Death at the end of his first story by the writer and then-showrunners. This turned out not to be permanent, and since then he's survived apparent death at least once. Russell T. Davies responded with a Shrug of God when asked if he had survived the ending of "The Stolen Earth"/"Journeys' End", which was later conclusively answered.
- The Cybermen are frequently killed off or otherwise sealed away, though due to severe Anachronic Order of their stories and multiple factions of Cybermen this can muddle things incredibly. It's justified on their part; even if the Cybermen themselves are wiped out, their technology can convert or assimilate something else into a Cyberman, which can multiply from there. The Twelfth Doctor said that Cybermen "evolved" on multiple planets independently, and were inevitable once a human population in dire straits reached a certain level of technology.
- The spin-off Class has a subversion. The team's greatest enemies and major recurring villains are Corikanus and his legions of Shadow Kin. The first time they're beaten, the Doctor himself drives them back to their planet. The second time, it's April who beats their King, takes his title and drives them back to their planet. The third time they show up, it ends with their entire planet getting imploded and the entire Shadow Kin race being rendered extinct. Human teenagers are a lot less strict about pacifism than an ancient Time Lord, especially when you start killing their parents.
- On Heroes, Sylar seems to have the universe bending over backwards to keep him alive, largely because he's a very popular character. He was originally intended to be killed off at the end of Volume 1, but since then he's survived:
- Being technically killed off at the end of Volume 3, only to appear at the start of Volume 4 without so much as a Hand Wave (which came eventually but was pretty stupid).
- A kill squad getting the drop on him in the Volume 4 opener, only for them to inexplicably use tasers instead. What's particularly dumb is that they had discussed beforehand how to make him Deader Than Dead.
- Getting knifed in the back of the head in the penultimate episode of Volume 4. He survived that by getting back up right away, which completely violates the show's established rules of regeneration. They Hand Wave this by saying that he shapeshifting in a way that moved "the button" that turns the brain off — which implies that he shifted his brain stem to his rear end or something.
- Getting knocked unconscious in the Volume 4 finale, which gives the heroes a single chance to end him for good. They blow it when Angela and Noah order Matt Parkman just to erase his memories and force him to assume the life of Nathan Petrelli, whom he had Killed Off for Real. This lasts for four episodes before Sylar reverts to his old self.
- Not one, but two Heroic Sacrifices in Volume 5, neither of which work. Nathan's involved jumping off a building; it was undone before he even hit the ground.
- On MacGyver, Murdoc the Assassin keeps "dying" in over the top ways (dying in a collapsing building, diving off a mountain after cutting his own rope, plunging into a fiery pool after being electrocuted, carelessness with dynamite, drowning in a flooded mine shaft, driving a Jeep off of a cliff). But even though he's pronounced dead each time, they never find his body and just rationalize that he couldn't possibly have survived that. It's never adequately explained how he just keeps surviving certain death. After a while, MacGyver starts to assume that if there isn't a body, Murdoc will turn up to try to kill him again, an expectation that's the cause of increasing tension as time goes on.
- Several villains from Buffy the Vampire Slayer evade death repeatedly, including Spike, Dru, and Darla (who technically dies about four times over the course of Buffy and Angel, but only the last one takes).
- Apophis is like this in the early seasons of Stargate SG-1. When they finally manage to make his death stick, Anubis takes on the mantle.
O'Neill: Son of a bitch! Someone's gotta teach that guy how to die.
- Ben Linus from Lost is too adored by the fanbase to get rid of. He lies, manipulates, and murders to his heart's content. He's tried to kill Locke so many times we lost count, and he succeeded in season 5. He's killed (directly or indirectly) four main characters by the end of the show. Despite this, Sayid is the only one to actually try to kill him — but Ben is a child when he tries, so the attempt not only fails, but is also implied to make Ben what he is today.
- On Smallville, Lex Luthor has been shot, stabbed, and mindwiped. He's had the Fortress of Solitude collapse on his head reducing him to an Evil Cripple, and he's been blown up in a truck explosion shortly afterwards. The series concludes with his resurrection from the dead, which was of course, a Foregone Conclusion. It's been suggested, but not outright confirmed, that his immunity derives from his Green Rocks-given ability.
- "Dead Larry" Sizemore of Burn Notice, partly because of his badass spy skills and his relationship to The Hero, partly because he's just too cool to kill off. In the season 5 summer finale, it looked like death had finally caught up with him. Then a newspaper article said that two people had been found dead. There were three people in that building.
- On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Weyoun is killed off at the end of his very first episode. The character proved popular enough to bring him back, but they did so by cloning him; we eventually meet five different clones of Weyoun throughout the show's run.
- Multiple episodes of Merlin end with Morgana unconscious or incapacitated, yet Merlin and the other good guys never take the opportunity to finish her off, despite the tremendous damage she has wreaked.
- James Horton in Highlander seems to die twice, but comes back both times. The first time, Joe got him to a hospital; as his brother-in-law, he didn't want to stand and watch him die. Macleod finally did off him for real the third time.
- On Alias, both Julian Sark (whose constant escapes eventually become a Running Gag) and Arvin Sloane (who, at one point, manages to survive his own execution) enjoy this immunity.
- In The Walking Dead, the Governor kept coming back after a number of seemingly fatal defeats. His immunity is eventually revoked in the Season 4 mid-season finale, where he is Killed Off for Real during another attack on Rick's group at the prison.
- Zig-zagged with Moriarty in Sherlock. He manages to survive the stand-off in the Season 1 finale, but is apparently killed in the Season 2 finale; most expected this death to stick, seeing as he was Killed Off for Real in the Sherlock Holmes story it was based on. However, he ends up returning in the Season 3 finale, which surprised everyone in-universe, and Sherlock is convinced he's still dead and it's just a very elaborate recording. In the season 4 finale, he suddenly shows up, and his scene goes on for several seconds before we realize it was set five years previously; the show is playing on the audience's expectation of his Joker Immunity.
- Jerome Valeska on Gotham, who might well become the series' incarnation of the Joker, is stabbed through the throat and dies. He gets better a season later, which is even more of a hint that he might someday become the Joker.
- Wo Fat in the original Hawaii Five-O always got away at the end of the episode, to the point that the series finale was, and could only be, McGarrett hunting him down to arrest him personally— except the final shot shows he has a file in his shoe. Similarly in the reboot.
Principal Skinner: He's gradually getting away, Chief.Chief Wiggum: Ah, let him go. I have the feeling we'll meet again, each and every week. Always in more sexy and exciting ways.
- It's Wo Fat's notorious Joker immunity more than any other that's being parodied in The Simpsons "Spin-Off Showcase" segment "Chief Wiggum, P.I.", in which Big Daddy escapes very slowly.
- In the Arrowverse, the one villain who simply will not die is Eobard Thawne, aka the Reverse-Flash. True other villains in the franchise have come back via resurrection. But Thawne is unique in it doesn't matter how many times he's the victim of a RetGone, he'll always find a way back. It seemed like his luck finally ran out when the Black Flash finally caught up with him, only for Thawne to turn up on Earth-X working with the Nazis just for kicks. When Barry comments on this, Thawne handwaves it via the Timey-Wimey Ball.
- The song "The Cat Came Back" plays the trope for laughs (and named its own trope in turn). The feline nuisance will come back no matter what anybody does to get rid of it. Some versions have the cat actually die eventually (for reasons almost entirely unrelated to the owner's attempts to dispose of it), only for it to come back as a ghost.
- Played for laughs in "Scary Song", by the Frankenstein Drag Queens from Planet 13:
The boogeyman only wants to take your life
Can't kill him off, he'll just come right back in Part 2.
- In Norse folklore, Thor repeatedly battles the Midgard Serpent, yet prior to Ragnarök it always escapes.
- In Egyptian Mythology, Set is spared the full wrath of Horus when his mother Isis takes pity on him, and he is allowed to flee. Thus, in the Egyptian mythos, evil could be defeated temporarily, but never permanently.
- The Mark of Cain in The Bible is often interpreted as having given him Joker Immunity. In the text itself, however, God never states that Cain won't be killed; just that if he does, whoever responsible is going to get a Fate Worse Than Death.
- The Undertaker is the embodiment of this trope in the world of Professional Wrestling. During his career, he has been locked inside several flaming caskets, been buried alive, had his career ended following high profile matches, and at least once died and ascended to Heaven. Despite this, he always returns, once Mark Callaway's nagging injuries have recovered or his holiday time is up. Promos for his match against Mark Henry at Unforgiven 2007 explicitly billed him as "The Man Who Can't be Destroyed".
- Edge is a Heel who made a name for himself by always coming back (and being a Karma Houdini in the process); not even Hell can stop him.
- Vince McMahon, being the owner of WWE both in Kayfabe and in Real Life, naturally gave himself Joker Immunity which only he can revoke. This makes him extraordinarily powerful, especially given that he can revoke any wrestler's own immunity as well. In-Universe, he's survived such events as limo explosions which allow him to take breaks from television in real life. As he plans to run the company until the day he dies, it's unlikely we'll ever see him revoke his own immunity.
- Subverted by Kaiju Big Battel; they really did kill off their Big Bad and Series Mascot, Dr. Cube. People thought he might have Joker Immunity when he came back thanks to Time Travel, but it was later revealed that this Cube was an impostor wearing his helmet.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- The tarrasque embodies this trope as the memetic "nigh-invincible monster" of the game. It takes a Wish spell on top of massive damage and disintegration to make them stay dead. With Wish gone in fourth edition, the description of the tarrasque outright states it to be impossible to kill permanently without launching it into outer space. One campaign setting is dedicated to its functional immortality; the one civilization that did defeat it uses it as a never-ending food source (which also mutates them horribly, but whatever).
- Strahd von Zarovich has his own personal Revolving Door Afterlife. He's played the starring role in two 1st Edition modules, a pick-a-path book, an entire 2nd Edition campaign setting, and a 3rd edition hardback adventure; in most he winds up destroyed at the end, yet it never seems to take. Ads for the hardback actually urged 3E gamers, "This time, make sure he's DEAD dead!"; yet the Count's back 'gain in 4E, for a board game and appearance in Open Grave.
- The Quori in Eberron are designed to have Joker Immunity. They are spirits possessing mortal vessels, so the host's death does not kill the inhabiting Quori. Their actual bodies live in another plane of existence which cannot be reached by normal planar travel. This makes them an ideal enemy to throw repeatedly at the party.
- Numerous characters in Warhammer 40,000 can and have been killed, but due to the general nature of the Warp, this is rarely permanent.
- Eldar Phoenix Lords live on within their armor, their spirit inhabiting the next person who wears it until they are killed.
- Lucius the Eternal (and most probably other Champions of the Chaos Gods) is effectively immortal, as anyone who kills him becomes him, becoming yet another person trapped within his armor.
- The Daemon Princes and Greater Daemons (also present in Warhammer) can never be killed, only banished to the Warp where they can be summoned again.
- The Tyranid Swarmlord can die, but if it does, its consciousness will be reabsorbed into the Hive Mind and stored until the Swarmlord is needed again.
- Kharn the Betrayer was actually killed during the Siege of Terra by imperial forces, but Khorne deemed him too worthy of a champion to slip into the realm of the dead and granted him a perpetual body. No one has been able to kill him since.
- In Warhammer, Vlad von Carstein had a magic ring that would allow him to resurrect every time he was killed, so no matter how many times the Empire thought they put him down, he and his undead hordes would return. Unfortunately for Vlad, his son Mannfred betrayed this secret to the Empire, who sent a master thief to steal the ring before Vlad was destroyed for real during the Siege of Altdorf.
- In Magic: The Gathering, the nation/world/culture/force of Phyrexia has Joker Immunity. It affected the storyline of most of the game's sets and was the unambiguous villain of a dozen of them. When it looked like they were finally defeated for good, one single drop of oil on Mirrodin was enough to ultimately turn that world into New Phyrexia. Worse yet, any plane Karn has been on is potentially infected.
- In Rippers, the Count is given a handwaved escape from the climax of the book, temporarily fooling the heroes into thinking he was slain while really misting himself as he was staked. Apparently, having another vampire lord rise to villainy wouldn't have proven sufficient motivation for the Harkers to form a group of hunters in the setting.
- The Servitors of the Apocalypse in Deadlands. The designers, understandably, didn't want PCs making things difficult by slaying them all, so they made up the most difficult quests possible: e.g. Stone can only be re-killed by the bullets that killed him (which are in him), and Reverend Grimme can only be killed by his original magic stick (which he threw into the sea and is not the one he carries).
- The card-based version of Marvel Super Heroes has a section in the rules acknowledging that only lame, unmemorable villains actually die, and otherwise it goes down a list of possibilities to explain how a villain who seemingly died in the campaign is back later.
- Kingdom Hearts:
- Axel seems to die toward the end of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, only to come back in Kingdom Hearts II (albeit with significantly reduced screentime), seemingly die in the prologue, then come back again and actually die at the end of the game when Sora travels to the World That Never Was. He was scheduled to actually die in the prologue; his popularity with the fans bought him some extra time. He returns in 3D, now going by his old human name of Lea.
- The main villain, Xehanort/Ansem, is very hard to get rid of. Sora kills his Heartless in the first game, but Chain of Memories makes it clear that he's still bumping around inside Riku's mind. He returns in Kingdom Hearts II with his Nobody, Xemnas; Riku also takes his form, having somewhat lost his battle with his Darkness. Both are defeated by the game: Xemnas is dead for good, and Riku is back to normal. However, according to Word of God, this just means his Nobody and heart will merge to form a whole person again (like Axel/Lea), and Xehanort will eventually be back for another round. The prequel game Birth by Sleep reveals that he's been doing this for a while now, having stolen Terra's body after being defeated for the first time.
- Maleficent is killed in her dragon form in the first game, but when her pet Diablo brings her cloak to the three fairies their sheer terror of her is apparently enough to resurrect her. She then does the same for Oogie Boogie. The really confusing case is Ursula showing up again.
- Carmen Sandiego can't be caught, at least not for long, no matter which medium she appeared in. The kid's game show came the closest; if the contestant won, she would be captured, but she will have freed herself by the time the next game starts.
- Bowser from the Super Mario Bros. series seems to enjoy complete immunity to death. Otherwise it's very hard to explain how he comes back from being melted to a skeleton in lava, getting crushed beneath a giant wedding cake, or falling into a star, or any of the other crazy things that have happened to him. Sometimes, though, it's really weird:
- In Super Mario Galaxy, which provides the "thrown into a star" example, Bowser ends up apparently dying for real, except the entire universe gets sucked into a black hole, resulting in a Big Crunch and a new Big Bang, which recreates the universe — including Bowser.
- Super Paper Mario reveals that he's one of the four heroes (along with Mario, Luigi, and Peach) who are destined to stop Count Bleck from destroying all worlds. Near the end, when Bowser is seemingly crushed, Peach says she isn't worried about him because he isn't easy to get rid of and has survived worse. She's right; he just crashed through the floor.
- In New Super Mario Bros. 1, Bowser is seemingly killed three times over the course of the game and has to be brought back to life each time.
- In Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, you are actually tasked to save Bowser from otherwise certain death by activating his body's desperation Hulk Out.
- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door lampshades the phenomenon; during the stages where you play as Bowser, he has infinite lives.
- In the Star Fox series, rival team Star Wolf is more resilient than any villain, always coming back from defeat for another shot at you — sometimes in the same game. They've survived things other than defeating you; in the default ending of Star Fox Command, Star Wolf flies into an acidic ocean to attack the enemy base and come back in one piece. The only exception is Star Fox: Assault's Corneria level where Fox rides on Wolf's wing, where he will die if you fail to protect his ship.
- InThe Legend of Zelda, Ganondorf/Ganon continues to appear in the series, no matter how many times he gets killed. It happens often enough to name a trope about situations where a new Big Bad turns out to just be a patsy for a resurrected Ganon. It's even a plot point; although Link and Zelda are Legacy Characters and the different games have different Links, the Ganon in each game is the same entity.
- In Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, the goal is to prevent his minions from resurrecting him; his ability to do so has been a plot point ever since.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time shows Ganondorf's origins and explicitly doesn't kill him off at the end of the game; he's sealed in another dimension for until The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword explains his ability to do this as his being part of a curse on Link and Zelda — and all their descendants — by original Big Bad Demise.
- Gilgamesh from Final Fantasy V has survived everything from getting tossed into the void to detonating himself on an enemy. He has appeared in half the games in the series (with a few retcons) in almost all of them, he gets his ass handed to him by the main party and apparently recovers enough for the next game where the cycle restarts again. Despite all this, the series usually depicts him as utterly incompetent (explaining why he loses all the time).
- In Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth has died a total of three times so far, but he keeps coming back for more. The novellas Lifestream Black and Lifestream White deal with the specifics in further detail; as long as Jenova cells exist in some way on the Planet, Sephiroth can use their shapeshifting powers to craft a new body for himself. Besides that, as long as he can maintain his sense of self to avoid dissolution, The Lifestream can never claim him and he'll float around the planet for eternity trapped between life and death. Sephiroth's penchant for avoiding death has carried over to the spin-offs: in Kingdom Hearts II and Dissidia: Final Fantasy, he's defeated but isn't killed, because only Cloud is capable of killing him.
- M. Bison in Street Fighter can't stay dead. Akuma's iconic Dynamic Entry moment in Super Street Fighter II Turbo, where he pulls the Raging Demon on Bison, was retconned away, as Street Fighter IV: The Ties That Bind shows Bison killing himself to avoid capture at the hands of the heroes. Even then, his soul hovers around post-mortem until a suitable replacement body can be made (much like the aftermath of Alpha 3), leading to his inclusion in the events of Street Fighter IV. In his next chronological appearance, Street Fighter V, his current body appears to show signs of degradation (again, like in Alpha 3) and Bison seemingly dies at the end of "A Shadow Falls" following his battle with Ryu. However, the Capcom Fighters Network profile for "Phantom Bison" (Bison's consciousness manifested through Psycho Power whenever his body is destroyed) as well as the individual story mode for Ed, one of Bison's potential hosts, indicate that he's still around even after the fall of Shadaloo.
- Revolver Ocelot, the only surviving boss from from Metal Gear Solid, went on to plague Snake in every subsequent game. In his second appearance, he evades doom by wearing a kinetic shield, making him literally immune to bullets. The prequel focused on his early career in Spetnaz, so you can assume he's safe in this outing; but even then, Hideo Kojima can't leave well enough alone, lobbing bullets, bees, rockets, explosions, planes, and who knows what else at poor Ocelot. He survives everything, even a few tight scrapes with Big Boss himself, who consciously spares Ocelot's life (as he feels a certain kinship with a fellow "Son of The Boss"). Ocelot finally dies in Metal Gear Solid 4.
- Doctor Robotnik/Eggman from Sonic the Hedgehog hasn't even been in prison for his crimes (except for the one time he broke in deliberately), so he's always back to fight the heroes in the next installment:
- Most games have him surviving otherwise inescapable explosions with little more than Amusing Injuries. Most egregiously, his Death Egg burst into flames and crash-landed on Angel island in the climax of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but Sonic 3 reveals that he started work on his next scheme almost immediately after that.
- Shadow the Hedgehog seemingly subverts his immunity; in three possible endings, it's implied that Shadow broke his neck after defeating him. A Double Subversion when these endings were subject to Cutting Off the Branches.
- Played with slightly in the Archie comics adaptation. In the Endgame arc, Julian Robotnik is indeed killed by his vengeful minion and nephew Snively; twenty or so issues played with the concept of other villains and problems following his defeat, only for a second Robotnik from an alternate timeline to enter and take over from his position. This Robotnik would later take the modern "Eggman" form seen in later games and continues being the Big Bad to this day.
- Mega Man:
- Dr. Albert W. Wily from Mega Man (Classic) always avoids total defeat. When Mega Man finally lands his ass in prison, he easily breaks out of it (albeit six months later). In Mega Man 7, Mega is literally a trigger-pull away from killing Wily once and for all, but when Wily brings up the First Law of Robotics (a robot must never harm a human), he hesitates just long enough for Bass to save him. In Mega Man 8, after Mega's apparent sanity break, Wily never actually gets cornered, so Mega doesn't get to try killing him again (Duo takes care of things, keeping Mega from a final blow). Mega Man 9 apparently has Mega back to his Thou Shalt Not Kill attitude for no readily apparent reason, but then, considering he lost his charge shots and his slide ability, it's no wonder he's lost a few other things.
- In the Mega Man X series, Sigma keeps getting killed — sometimes he dies twice in a single game. But as he's a sentient computer virus, and there's all sorts of robots for him to take over, he won't ever stay dead (though he sometimes doesn't return with all his mental faculties intact, as infamously seen with the "Zombie Sigma" in Mega Man X6 after stretching himself thin during the Eurasia Incident). His immunity is finally revoked in Mega Man X8, where he's blown up on the Moon, finds that there's nothing to take over on its barren surface, and dissipates harmlessly and somewhat anticlimactically. Zero-era supplemental materials pour (more) salt on the wound by having X use the Mother Elf, a "Sigma Antibody Program" created from Zero's data, to completely eradicate the Sigma Virus, deleting Sigma's existence (and finally ending the Maverick Wars) for good.
- In the Mega Man Zero series, Doctor Weil/Vile's Joker Immunity is explicitly part of his ability set; he has eternal life and Nigh-Invulnerability (through regeneration) as punishment for his earlier crimes. He appears to be really dead in Zero 4, but his remnants pop up again as the driving threat of the Mega Man ZX series, Model W.
- Ridley in the Metroid series has appeared in every game in the series except for Metroid II: Return of Samus, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and Metroid Prime: Hunters. Interestingly, he's usually The Dragon rather than the Big Bad (literally, in his case), and gamers have noticed that in most of his defeats, they Never Found the Body. That said, he's also Samus' Arch-Enemy more than any other Big Bad (including Mother Brain), as he is personally responsible for the attack that destroyed Samus' homeworld and killed her parents. Also, the games are in Anachronic Order, so in some instances his survival is a given no matter what you do to him. In internal chronological order:
- He is seemingly Killed Off for Real the first time you fight him in the first Metroid (and in Metroid: Zero Mission).
- His next appearance is in Metroid Prime as Meta Ridley, implying that he survived with the help of robot tech; in that game, the player never actually sees him die. He appears to be "killed" at the start of Corruption, only to return as Omega Ridley, the guardian of the Pirate Homeworld Leviathan. Players noticed his shadow flying away for a sneaky split second.
- The remake of Metroid II, Metroid: Samus Returns has him show up as the true final boss of the story. His Meta Ridley armor is mostly cast off, but he still maintains some - mostly on his along his spine, wings, left arm, and right leg. It's theorized that his Phazon exposure as Omega Ridley helped heal the organic parts of his being, hence why he's almost fully organic again here - a form known as Proteus Ridley.
- He next appears in Super Metroid, apparently in his original form after having finally healed enough to cast off his Cyborg Prosthetics entirely. Word of God points to his defeat in this game as the point where he's Killed Off for Real, but that doesn't stop him from showing up in future games.
- In Metroid: Other M, a cloned Ridley appears, gets wounded by Samus, and is consumed by the Metroid Queen. He dies a lot faster than the original did. This game also speculates that the original was very good at playing dead, implying his continued survival.
- The clone's drained, frozen husk turns up in Metroid: Fusion, where he is consumed by an X parasite; you fight him as Ridley-X. As this is an X parasite mimicking Ridley, it's about as powerful as the original but explicitly isn't him; the boss's inclusion (as is the suspiciously Super Metroid-like area he appears in) is likely just Fanservice.
- Eliphas the Inheritor of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War is supposed to be dead in Dark Crusade, but due to his popularity, he was inexplicably resurrected for Chaos Rising. He gets killed there to then he's resurrected again. The same happened to the wonderfully hilarious Gorgutz, who canonically didn't win any of the campaigns he appeared in, but keeps getting away; he hasn't shown up yet in Chaos Rising, but there's no evidence he's dead either.
- SNK's Geese Howard is an odd example; in the continuity of The King of Fighters, he's alive and well, but in his home continuity of Fatal Fury and KOF's own Alternate Continuity, the Maximum Impact series, he's dead. And even then, he's appeared in games where he's canonically dead in the form of "Nightmare Geese", a much more powerful "spirit" version of his normal self.
- Monkey Island's Ghost Pirate LeChuck always finds a way to come back for every new game, despite explicitly dying at the end of almost all of them; as the Voodoo Lady notes, true evil can never be destroyed completely. The first game implies that he was undead to begin with; he gets revived by voodoo as an explicit zombie for the second game, and in subsequent games, he becomes a demon who can escape the pirate afterlife. For his part, Medium Aware protagonist Guybrush knows that LeChuck can't die because they need him for the sequels; in The Curse of Monkey Island, he begs LeChuck not to kill him because he's also necessary for the sequels (and to prove his point, asks LeChuck if he's ever heard of Bobbin Threadbare).
- In the Crash Bandicoot series, Dr. Neo Cortex has survived numerous supposedly inescapable demises; then, again due to the series' slapstick nature, this is par for the course for the series' Rogues Gallery, which includes the Evil Twins being eaten by Evil Crash in Crash Twinsanity). It helps that Cortex and a lot of other villains are Iron Butt Monkeys.
- In the first No More Heroes, Travis Touchdown slices Destroyman in half; this doesn't stop him from returning in the sequel as two separate people (New Destroyman) with cybernetics replacing the missing halves.
- Zig-zagged with Dracula in the Castlevania series. He spent most of the series being defeated and resurrected over and over again, before finally being defeated off-screen in 1999 — and then being reincarnated as Soma Cruz in Castlevania: Chronicles of Sorrow. It's hinted that he gets stronger each time he returns. It's enough to discourage at least one member of the Belmont family, who tries to refuse to fight him (only to learn the hard way that he can't).
- Mara Aramov from the Syphon Filter series gets headshot twice, but survives until Dark Mirror.
- Mortal Kombat, being a game populated with bad guys whom you defeat in particularly gruesome ways, naturally gives nearly everybody Joker Immunity. The most egregious is Big Bad Shao Khan's survival in the reboot; The Hero Liu Kang punches straight through him and all his lieutenants surrender, but the next scene shows Shao Khan limping back to his throne and announcing his next evil plan. It takes the Elder Gods' intervention to get rid of him at the end of the game, but Mortal Kombat X implies he's still alive and kicking: one set of Mirror Match dialogue for Ermac suggests the emperor's soul is now part of the myriad collection of fallen warriors comprising Ermac's being.
- King K. Rool in Donkey Kong Country has survived getting blown up, punched through windows, attacked by sharks, falling into a volcano, electrocution, destruction of his home country (by his own actions), and just getting beaten up by the Kongs over the course of many games and spin-offs, but he keeps coming back for more.
- Averted in Deus Ex, where nearly every boss can be killed before the big confrontation. Sometimes they can be killed while they are still aligned as friendly and through surreptitious and underhanded ways.
- Executioners' Final Boss, Cannibal Ed Bujone, survives his defeat (a Taking You with Me destruction of the factory) purely because Word of God said he's the developers' favorite character. He has a particularly Unexplained Recovery when he surprises the heroes as they celebrate their victory in a fine restaurant.
- Kane from Command & Conquer has survived from the 1950s to the 1990s without aging, survived an Ion Cannon strike, and a metal pole to the chest, all while manipulating the Scrin into invading Earth.
- Albert Wesker from Resident Evil. He gets impaled by a Tyrant in the end of the first game, but it's just used to activate the virus that he injected himself early on that gave him his powers. In 5, he manages to survive from Jill's Heroic Sacrifice. That is, until he dies for real in the end.
- In House of the Dead, Caleb Goldman continually comes back, even in the fourth game. However, it becomes a subversion when it turns out that his appearances are just flashbacks and recorded messages. Similarly, the Magician has also returned several times as a Bonus Boss, solely because of his popularity.
- BlazBlue's Big Bad Hazama not only has Joker Immunity, he even resembles the Joker with his green hair and maniacal laughter. He's explicitly dead, but is kept alive by people's hatred of him. And as it's a Fighting Game series, leaving him off the roster will just attract the fans' ire. Specifically:
- In BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma, he's hit by Hakumen's Time Killer, which should theoretically eliminate his future lifespan until the heat death of the universe. His boss Izanami also seems to just want to leave him to die. He comes back from this with no explanation.
- In BlazBlue Central Fiction, he gains a third form by hijacking Hakumen's armor unit (which originally belonged to him in the first place). Ragna finds a way to yank the soul out of that unit and evaporate it from existence. This implies that the other two units (or at least Terumi) have had their immunities revoked, as this is resolves a major plot point for Ragna. That said, Hazama is still probably okay as long as he doesn't antagonize Ragna again.
- Wild Dog from the Time Crisis series. Despite being blown up in every game you fight him, he always comes back for more. Lampshaded by Alan and Wesley in the third game:
Wesley: Wild Dog?!
Alan: Don't you ever die?!
- Rocket Knight Adventures: Although the Big Bad always dies at the end of each game, Axel Gear does not.
- Any Star Wars video game in which you fight against Darth Vader, either in his TIE Fighter or a lightsaber duel, Vader can't be killed. In games that depict the Battle of Yavin (the 1983 and 1998 games), Vader's TIE fighter can be shot and hit but it will spin out of control; or after his hit points are depleted, he will veer off. Vader's wingmen can still be killed with one shot, however. You aren't told explicitly that you won the lightsaber duel with Vader in the 1998 game, but when he runs out of hit points he does acknowledge that "The Force is strong in you but... you are not a Jedi yet."
- The title villain of the Diablo series has already returned from defeat twice, and it's a safe bet that he will have Joker Immunity for as long as the series lasts. Firstly because the lore suggests that he cannot be destroyed, only imprisoned. And secondly because Blizzard would have to rebrand their rather Villain-Based Franchise.
- Both used and averted in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, which is partially inspired by Batman. Certain villains won't seem to die at the end of the story arc despite the Doc not considering prison an option for his foes, including Ronald McDonald, Dracula, and King Radical. However, in the "DARE" arc, which was more inspired by 80's action movies, the villain dies NOT!, and Doc shows no mercy toward pirates.
- Oasis from Sluggy Freelance fits this trope perfectly, regularly returning from the dead. The comic even lampshaded the trope after another of her deaths. "Yes, a dynamic character with a proven ability to return from certain death falls from a great height leaving no sign of a corpse? Yeah, We'll never see her again."
- The cast of Adventurers! are aware of this trope. When Khrima's fortress is destroyed in an accident fairly early in the strip, Ardam asks Drecker if he thinks they've seen the last of him. Then they both burst out in laughter.
- Jack Noir/Spades Slick of Homestuck. We have seen four different incarnations of the same Archagent, and the only time one of them was seen dead was in an averted timeline. Andrew Hussie even goes so far as to somehow rescue Spades Slick from the destroyed A2 universe and nurse him back to health in an as-of-yet unspecified location.
- Played literally with the revelation that Gamzee cannot die, not because he's God Tier, but because he's a clown.
- Inverted in Crushed The Doomed Kitty Adventures. As MMORPG characters, the protagonists can't be permanently killed; they just respawn at the nearest temple. Villains and monsters, however, have but one life to live. The first Big Bad's plan is permanently undoing this, allowing the villains' greater numbers to win the day.
- In Scandinavia and the World the countries are naturally hard to kill; however, this is really done with Nazi Germany, a nation that "lived" for twelve years but still comes back to scare the crap out of Germany.
- Dr. Insano from The Spoony Experiment arguably becoming a Breakout Villain for Channel Awesome as whole, has made a number appearances in other reviewers' shows as well as his series of origin, and his popularity and Laughably Evil nature means it's unlikely he'll ever be killed off. Even Noah Antwiler departure from Channel Awesome hasn't removed him.
- Atop the Fourth Wall
- The series' original Knight of Cerebus Mechakara, whose introductory arc ended with him getting turned to scrap, only for him to rebuilt by Lord Vyce and sent after Linkara and destroyed a second time; the episode's commentary by Lewis Luvhaug stating he had plans to use him again in the future. Sure enough, Mechakara returned in To Boldly Flee with no explanation for his recovering, Word of God being he regenerated with the magic coin. In short, it's unlikely he's finished.
- Likewise Lord Vyce; Linkara originally abandoned him in a parallel dimension, only for Vyce to turn himself into living data and infect Linkara's Robot Buddy Pollo. After getting Thrown Out the Airlock, he spends several real-world months uploading himself into Comicron-1note , making it look like Linkara's benevolent A.I. Nimue was going HAL-9000 on him. Nimue gets restored and apparently deletes Vyce in a Battle in the Center of the Mind, but the end of the episode reveals that Vyce downloaded himself into the body of one of his Mooks and escaped. At this point the immunity gets lampshaded by an angry Linkara, who rants that he's spent the last five years dealing with this villain and he's sick of it.
- Jack Slash from Worm. It's actually a secondary power that even he doesn't know he has. He's able to subconsciously communicate with other Para-humans passengers which allows hims to both manipulate their worst urges in order to turn them into monsters like him and alerts him to attacks by other para-humans. Between this, and Siberian and Bonesaw making him Nigh Invulnerable he is able to survive for 2 decades as an Ax-Crazy mass murderer carving his way across North America. Even at the end of the story he's not technically dead.
- Ask That Guy with the Glasses. Ask That Guy has had a fatal heart attack, passed out from drinking his own blood, shot himself in the mouth, and been erased from existence by Doug Walker. He's always back by the next scene. Until the finale, that is.
- SCP-682 of the SCP Foundation, as the entire point of 682 is that any attempt to kill it (or even send it to another universe) will fail.
- In action shows geared towards kids, the hero rarely kills, for obvious reasons, allowing villains like Dr. Drakken from Kim Possible or Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget to be let off the hook every time.
- Well, that, and both of the listed villains (among others, of course) are masters of Villain: Exit, Stage Left! and the Cardboard Prison, assuming they even get directly involved to start with. In fact, the closest Gadget ever came to apprehending Dr. Claw was likely the show's humorous opening sequence (and even then, it was a booby-trap left by the villain).
- And in the case of villains like Dr. Drakken, or Dr. Doofensmirtz from Phineas and Ferb, they can be a bit bumbling and comical, if not pathetically incompetent, and have someone else do the dirty work for them. Killing them would be unreasonable because they are Affably Evil.
- In another case with Mumm-Ra in Thunder Cats, he's shown that the Ancient Spirits of Evil's power can allow him to survive As Long as There is Evil.
- Interestingly Disney seem to have granted this to Shere Khan of The Jungle Book (despite being killed by Mowgli in the original novel). The Disney animated adaption and its sequel are among the very few films in Disney Animated Canon to omit a Disney Villain Death, while he is about the only villain not to be killed off in the live action adaption. He is also a recurring Anti-Villain in TaleSpin and Jungle Cubs.
- Instead of being sent to jail, most Batman villains are sent to an easily escapable insane asylum.
- One episode of Batman: The Animated Series featured a guard at the asylum fired for his (relatively minor, all things considered) abuses of the prisoners. He then quickly became an incarceration-themed Knight Templar supervillain called Lock-Up.
- Then there was "Judgement Day", where a new vigilante called the Judge was giving more severe punishment to criminals, and actually trying to kill them. Batman pressures a politician who was helping the Judge, saying that the Judge would kill someone eventually. The politician fires back, saying that the people of Gotham just would not care if Two-Face, or Killer Croc or any super-villain gets killed off as opposed to being sent to a Cardboard Prison they'll just escape from. He gives Batman due credit, but he reiterates that the people want something permanent.
- Clay Face has had at least 2 on screen deaths only to get back up later.
- In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Harley Quinn was assumed to have perished in her final battle with Batgirl; even the now elderly Barbara Gordon doubted she could have survived. Turns out, she did (maybe hanging out with the Joker taught her a few things) but the experience did cause her to retire from crime permanently.
- In Batman Beyond, the villain Mad Stan points out how he'll just break out of prison and keep coming back over and over after Batman foils his latest terrorist bombing, prompting Batman to beat him to death. It was really Barbara Gordon getting a hallucination from the villain Spellbinder; Mad Stan was alive and returns in another episode.
- That said, the series has a startling tendency to avert Joker Immunity a number of times, mostly because Terry is unable or unwilling to save villains from themselves, most notably the returning members of Bruce's Rogues Gallery: Mr. Freeze, Bane, Ra's al Guhl, and ironically the Joker himself in The Movie. It's subverted with the new generation of the Royal Flush Gang, who go through more Villain Decay with each appearance until they completely fall apart.
- The most notable exception to that rule is Inque; Terry actually said "She's been dead before" at one point ("Inqueling").
- Averted with Professor Milo in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, who is eaten by his abused lab rats after being turned into cheese by the Spectre. Played straight with most recurring villains.
- Vilgax from the Ben 10 franchise. He's been strapped to a missile, thrown into the void of space, trapped in another dimension, and had a spaceship explode in his face three times — but the squid-faced bastard just keeps coming back. Even in the future, when future Ben tore Vilgax to pieces and froze what was left, Vilgax was quickly revived and no less dangerous. Naturally, this is frequently subject to Lampshade Hanging.
- Ernie the Giant Chicken on Family Guy always returns for another round of his eternal blood feud with Peter Griffin, despite having suffered a twenty-story fall (although Peter himself survived that), been eviscerated by an airplane propeller, suffered massive cranial trauma, and being set on fire WHILE being impaled up the anus by a giant spike.
- Deconstructed in-universe in the fifth season of Samurai Jack. Fifty years in a zero-sum game have utterly ruined both Jack and Aku; Jack has grown cynical and broken from fifty years of being unable to kill Aku (losing his magic sword along the way doesn't help), whereas Aku has gone increasingly insane and depressed from being unable to kill Jack no matter how many minions he has to throw at him. Aku has basically withdrawn and let his horde of minions do the fighting, in the hopes that one of them gets lucky or that time can do the job... except that Jack's temporal displacement and/or additional Time Travel have rendered him immortal, meaning one of them has to bleed out for the stalemate to actually end.
- Psycho from Max Steel. The man has been blown up, infected with a deadly fungus while trapped in a burning building, thrown into space, and he always comes back. To his credit, Max Steel is savvy enough to not question it and just deal with him whenever he shows up.
- Albert W. Wily's immunity is even more noticeable in the Mega Man Ruby-Spears cartoon than in the games; his Skull Castle is incredibly conspicuous and immovable, yet the military never once tries to attack it. To add insult to injury, he and his robots slip out of Mega Man's grasp every single episode, no matter how close he was to finally apprehending him. It's a wonder Mega hasn't snapped yet.
- Metalocalypse's Doctor Rockso the rock n' roll clown. He does cocaine. He is also the only known friend of Toki who did not die before the episode was over.
- Dr. Doofenshmirtz constantly blows up with his inventions but is never seriously hurt. Some of the time, Perry the Platypus will save him when he is falling, but most of the time, he has terrible things happen to him and just lives. Of course, killing or even injuring Doofenshmirtz in a show like Phineas and Ferb would hardly be a good idea.
- ReBoot's Megabyte has this in spades. He's in a city that doesn't have the capacity to delete him, protected by a Guardian who doesn't want to (Except for that one time.), and has a much more powerful sister who, despite having ample capability and opportunity to do so, doesn't. Even when they finally manage to get rid of him, he comes back, with whole new powers, and his sister conveniently taken out of the picture not long before.
- The Simpsons
- Sideshow Bob, but that's mainly a case of Cardboard Prison. Well, that, and, as he explained to Edna Krabappel on a date once, he's never actually successfully killed anybody (Mrs. Krabappel looks more than a little disappointed to hear this). This is mutual, as when Sideshow Bob had the chance to finally kill Bart, he can't do it because he's grown accustomed to his face, owing his very existence to hating him.
- Mr. Burns is an apt representation of the trope with his constant polluting, corporate greed, and mere belligerence. Part of the reason that he is still around is due to making a deal with the devil.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Foregone Conclusion means that any character that's alive in existing material set after the series will survive, but it's most noticeable with Count Dooku and General Grievous, as no matter what attempts any of the protagonists make to catch or kill them, they always survive.
- In Teen Titans, Slade plays this one straight, but with surprisingly good in-story justification. In the first two seasons, he's The Chessmaster, so the Titans never actually face him directly until the season finales. Season one gives him a Villain: Exit, Stage Left!, but season two (seemingly) averts this trope by actually killing him. His only appearance in the third season is as a hallucination tormenting Robin, and he's specifically resurrected to serve as The Dragon by season four's new Big Bad, Trigon. As a result, this is clearly a case of the writers wanting to keep the villain around because they like him, but it's always justified in-story (which is actually somewhat surprising, seeing as the Teen Titans team used plenty of tropes without bothering to justify them with anything but Rule of Cool).
- The Shredder/Oroku Saki/Ch'rell from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) has survived so many instances where he was thought dead, only to come back, that even when he actually does seem to be Killed Off for Real in Turtles Forever, Splinter still doesn't doubt the possibility of survival. Even before his permanent death, when he once suffered a Disney Villain Death, in which he was left inside an exploding building after his exo-suit was disabled, the Turtles don't doubt he survived and display no surprise when he returned. His appearance in the season 3 finale "Exodus" had him Put on a Bus, in the form of leaving him on a remote ice asteroid light years away from any hope of rescue, likely intended to permanent, and he still returned.
- Most of the villains from The Venture Bros. fall firmly into this category, but Henchmen 21 and 24 really stick out because of the relatively short lifespan of henchmen in the series. It's even lampshaded by them and The Monarch on numerous occasions, with the duo taunting a rookie that he will die on the mission and they won't which, sure enough, he does), and The Monarch pointing out that their best talent is their rare ability to not get killed on missions.
- Although they've never come close to actually dying, Winx Club's Trix seem to be masters of returning from impossible situations. They get turned into children at one point, but are their regular ages in their next appearance; they get trapped in an alternate reality in the end of the second season (with the items used to open the portal connecting the Magical Dimension to the one they're trapped in destroyed), but are somehow pulled out between the second and third seasons, with the season three premiere featuring them escaping imprisonment within the FIRST FIVE MINUTES; and in the fifth season, they start out imprisoned underwater without their powers (how they ended up in this situation hasn't been explained yet), and are released and have their powers restored by a prisoner shortly after he meets them. Not to mention that they've outlived a god (Darkar), an immortal (Valtar), and the spirits of their ancient evil ancestors (the Ancient Witches) with seemingly no ill effects except the loss of whatever power boost was given to them by their previous master. It's obvious that the reason for being the only villains that haven't been Killed Off for Real and to appear in multiple seasons is their massive popularity.
- Adventure Time: Despite Finn's claims that he'll "slay anything that's evil", not once in the entire show have Finn and Jake even tried to kill The Ice King (unless you count briefly pondering whether or not to let Ice King save himself in "Ricardio the Heart Guy"). You could make the argument that Ice King is more deranged than outright evil, but Finn doesn't know that until late Season 3.
- Sylvester the Cat accidentally gets gunned down by the firing squad intended for Tweety at the end of "Rebel Without Claws." Sylvester rises as he breaks the fourth wall:
Sylvester: It's a good thing I've got nine lives. With this army, I'll need 'em!
- On Danger Mouse, it's never clear about Baron Greenback's fate after one of his vehicles or contraptions explodes on him, but he eventually lives to see another day. In "Statues," he is pursued by the statue of Monsieur Smaquing Lippes who wants to make a dish of frog's legs out of him. The ungodly off-screen groan indicates he succeeded.