After being defeated by Kenshin, Sanosuke adopts this view as well. After his group the Sekihoutai were persecuted by the government, he's become a bit more cynical noting the arbitrary labels of good and evil, yet still resolves to protect the weak from oppression.
Hiko, Kenshin's mentor, is just as cynical as Saitou. He berates Kenshin that yes, the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu successor is meant to protect the innocent and uphold justice, but as a warrior unbound by political prejudices, not a political tool. He knows the age of the swordsmen is over, and is quite bitter about it.
In the Tsukioku-hen OVA's we meet Kenshin's other two mentors, Kogoro Katsura and Shinsaku Takasugi. They were not exactly happy with how the soon-to-be Imperial Japan was developing, and they weren't shy about letting their unhappiness show either.
Kazuma Kuwabara of YuYu Hakusho seems like the only character in the series who both recognizes how truly nasty people can be, and still fights to do right by them.
Dr. Tenma from Monster is of the aforementioned first personality type.
Gundam Wing: Duo Maxwell is outwardly a cheerful goof, but inside he's experienced the horrors of war first-hand when his adoptive home was destroyed pointlessly by the military (and before that when he was a street urchin). In spite of all this, his ultimate goal is to bring peace to the world, and he's glad to be the Grim Reaper—"It’s a lot better than being the hero of a massacre!"
Near the end of the 1st season of Gundam 00 Neil Dylandy expresses his Knight in Sour Armor attitude that he has hidden deep inside with these words: "You people, are you satisfied with this world...? I'm not, and I hate it...!" And right then, he dies.
Homura Akemi. For someone who knows how the world works and that with kindness comes naïveté, courage becomes foolhardiness, and dedication has no reward, she has a particularly strong ideal and hope in protecting Madoka, even if it means sufferingan endless recursion of time for it.
In the finale, Madoka. She sacrifices all semblance of her own identity to change the Magical Girl system. She creates a new world where suffering runs just as rampant as ever, acknowledging good cannot exist without evil. And why? Because, by God, Magical Girls deserve to die happily anyway, and she's willing to become the embodiment of hope itself in such a despair-filled world.
Sayaka Miki. After learning the firstAwful Truth of becoming a Magical Girl and having a heart-to-heart with Kyouko who tells her that she is better off battling witches for her own rewards than to protect others, she still chooses to continue to stay a hero. However, when her Locked Out of the Loop friend Hitomi admits to having also been in love with Kyosuke and gives her a day to admit her feelings, which she can't due to the nature of the truth, her ideals begin to gradually shift more and more until she becomes a witchherself.
Smoker from One Piece is a Lawful Neutral one: He seems to realize how many marines, especially the higher ups, are corrupt and follows his own idea of justice instead of the absolute justice that is proposed by the most higher ups. Yet, despite being constantly screwed over by his own bosses and his allies, he keeps being a marine and hunts pirates. He's a example of the second type.
In Hayate the Combat Butler, Hayate and Hinagiku both qualify. Hayate is seen to be extremely cynical due to his horrid childhood, especially in the manga, but simply can't help but help people he sees in need. Mostly. If he's particularly annoyed with someone (ex: The SC Rangers, Fumi) he will try to avoid getting involved with them but after getting roped into it anyway he always does his best to actually help out. Hinagiku is in a similar position, as past experience has also left her quite cynical to the point where she's more likely to snark at a villain's motives than actually be surprised. Nevertheless, she is a steadfast Ally of Justice (with a legendary sword or two to prove it) who will leap into action to protect others. Both also have a shared trait of helping others even when it would be a detriment to themselves.
Robotech: Rick Hunter goes from being a pacifist to an ace pilot and The Captain everyone revolved around in The Sentinels. By the time of the New Generation segment, it is said that the order to use Neutron-S missiles on Earth came directly from Admiral Hunter (yes, confirmed to be the same Rick Hunter from the Macross Saga). Albeit a Salt the Earth tactic was practical but it would have killed millions of humans along with hopefully destroying Reflex Point (Invid headquarters). The comic book Prelude To Shadow Chronicles attempts to Lampshade this not only by making it appear to be a committee decision he acquiesced to but he also states "I was an idealist in my youth, but...". Rick did have to deal with the betrayal of General Edwards (in this SentinelsRetcon, Rick is noticeably hurt by Edwards' betrayal indicating that he was at one time a trusted friend), the near death of Lisa Hayes Hunter and the miscarriage of their baby. And there might be the difficulties associated with Minmei who just can't keep herself out of trouble.
Vegeta from Dragon Ball was this during the Android and Cell Arc. He was more willing to fight with the good guys once the Android Arc began but was still very bitter, angry and hostile towards the Z-Fighters, especially Goku. And his elitist view on how a Saiyan should be never changed even if it went against his own son's wishes and even if it created more problems than solutions as far as the plot went.
John Hartigan is probably the last good cop in Basin City, up until his forced retirement. He doesn't have much to show for it. Except the knowledge that he did the right thing, and a friend who stays by his side no matter what.
Elizabeth Rose is a possible saviour of Junessa, yet tends to think of the world around her in a negative light.
DC Comics' Hans von Hammer, the Enemy Ace, retains his "Knights of the Sky" view of air combat (refusing to, for example, shoot down an opponent who is out of ammunition) despite how much the realities of war challenge his ideals.
Matt Murdock in Daredevil may be one of the best examples in comics. He's put through the emotional ringer a dozen times over and his life always seems to get worse when you think it can't possibly decline further. Its so bad the poor guy can barely muster the energy to brood. Despite this, he struggles on and refuses to ever give up on saving people.
Grimjack is this on a good day (on the bad ones, he's Ax-Crazy.) This is actually discussed at one point.
Lillian Seffington Perhaps in the shadows, the dividing line has between Good and Evil has become difficult to see
Grimjack Balls. There are standards. If you can't see one, you make one and stick too it come hell or high water — until you see a better one.
Leonardo: "You're one of us now, Breech, and we're a family full of good people."
Breech: "You don't pay much attention when I fight, do you?"
The only thing the protagonist of Dragon Age The Crown Of Thorns lacks is the attitude, but everything else fits in with the trope. He knows full well, and always did, that the world is full of liars and backstabbers, but he is determined to keep trying to make it a better place as long as worthwhile things (like the potential of the younger generation) continue to exist. Of course, he's trying to make sure the world itself keep existing at the moment.
In every Fanfiction Mr. Evil has used his Original Character Fredi Heat. He shows absolutely no care for people in general, and many of his own teammates appear to even be scared of him. But he always does what's right, despite his dislike for doing so.
Gandolfini: "Naruto-sama doesn't know it, not many dare to call him that to his face but his actions on missions has earned him the moniker Black Paladin among the wider mage population because of his actions. He always fights what for what is right regardless of the rules and protocol, hence the Paladin, but his methods and results are rather... disturbing and he usually dresses completely in dark colours, hence the Black."
A number of Kur0kishi's fanfic have Naruto as a mix of this and Jerk with a Heart of Gold. As taken from their profile directly:
Amethyst Love is about a Naruto who has found something more important than those ideals.
Broken Faith was about a Naruto who has abandoned those ideals as childish but slowly learns to see that maybe, just maybe, being idealistic isn't all that bad after all.
Caliburn Initiative is about Naruto that held onto his ideals. The problem was that the environment he is in has changed. His ideals are NO LONGER RELEVANT.
End Game is about one who has forgotten those ideals.
[[Sekirei Unwavering Sky]] is about one whose ideals have changed along with the environment but the core principles never changed.
Adam Jensen knows as a repeatedly demonstrated fact that he lives in a Crapsack Galaxy. But he gets up and kicks the crap out of pimps, serial killers and assassins because he's not going to just accept it.
David Anderson is determined, almost desperately so, to continue fighting the good fight in a galaxy whose systems seem constantly out to test and betray his faith in them.
Edward Grey was broken by his experience in Akuze, and while he came back still heroic, he's quick to opt for the Kill 'em All option against slavers, xenophobic lynch mobs and other criminal scum.
Detective Hard Boiled of Starlight Over Detrot. His city is a vertiable hive of crime and he knows it - but that doesn't stop him from fighting tooth and nail for it.
Tech from Tech 10 Rebooted has basically given up on people and the law, but fights as hard as he can for what he sees as justice.
In Yu Gi Oh: The Thousand Year Door Redux, Francesca almost crosses the line into this in the Final Battle. When Sophia's attack leaves the Queen mortally wounded, Fran briefly considers simply stalling during her turn to let her bleed to death, but she refuses to do something so underhanded, offering her foe a chance to surrender (which the Queen refuses, Defiant to the End). When the Queen is able to assume her true form and recover, Fran briefly curses herself for changing her mind. ("I could have just took my time and stalled a minute ago…" she laments. "A few minutes and she would have bled to death, but NO! I had to be some goodie-goodie hero who believed all that stuff about “don’t sink to her level” and “you’re a better person than she is!" Fortunately, Andy appears in spiritual form and tells her to Get Ahold Of Yourself Man (complete with a Dope Slap) and she comes to her senses.
In Sleepless, Minuette is getting increasingly cynical as the story progresses. The same thing happens to Dr. Stable in the first sequel, Thirsty.
Shrek is crude, hot-tempered and cynical, but nearly always manages to do the right thing, especially for people (and donkeys) that have proven they're able to see past the idea of "big, stupid, ugly ogres."
Woody becomes this in Toy Story 3, in that he knows full well that going back to the daycare is suicide, not to mention the difficulty in helping his friends escape and making it back home before Andy leaves for college. The logical thing to do would be to try and go home alone. No points for guessing what he decides to do.
Chatter Telephone and Chuckles the Clown; the former had been stuck at Sunnyside for years but used his knowledge of the place to (try to) help the other toys escape, and the latter saw some of Lotso's rather despicable actions firsthand, and told Woody about this to warn him of Lotso's true nature.
Film — Live Action
Jöns from The Seventh Seal. You won't find anyone fitting to the trope more closely than him. His being a squire, not a knight is pretty much the only difference.
When you think about it, isn't this the sort of role John Wayne often plays? He is usually a Boisterous Bruiser as well but he is often this.
In High Noon, Marshall Will Kane tries to raise a posse to fight off four gunmen led by an ex-con who had previously made all their lives miserable before Kane threw him in prison. You'd think the population of an entire town would be able to take on four men. Only an old, one-eyed drunk and fourteen year old kid would help Kane (and he refuses them, since they wouldn't have much use in a gunfight). Everyone, who would rather live in fear than risk their lives to protect their own freedom, money, and dignity, tells Kane to leave town. He ends up taking on the gunmen by himself, then abandons the town in disgust.
Han Solo definitely becomes one of these by the end of Star Wars: A New Hope, and fills a Sour Supporter role for the rest of the Original Trilogy. In stories of the Expanded Universe, it's seen that before the original trilogy was once fairly idealistic, though never to the point of being wide-eyed.
Although MacGregor is fairly consistent throughout the film Rob Roy in standing by his own code of honor, he does have a moment of doubt after his money is stolen, his property ransacked, his wife raped, his brother killed, one of his clansmen shot and he himself has narrowly escaped being lynched. He starts believing that he should have gone against his principles by lying and saying that the Duke of Argyll was a Jacobite to avoid all the hardships he and others went through. His wife makes him see sense.
In Dragonheart, Bowen (who is a knight in a real sense) goes through this twice. He has to go against (and ultimately abandon) his quest to kill all dragons when he has finally killed all but one of them and is forced to strike up an alliance with said sole survivor and become a con artist. He then goes on to questions his own codes of honour when he discovers that his pupil, the young King Einon did not have his nature poisoned by Draco's tampering with his heart but merely exploited Bowen for his skills in swordsmanship and became evil of his own volition.
William Somerset in Se7en keeps trying to retire because he finds the world horrible and his work demoralizing. He frequently sermonizes bitterly about how horrible the world is. Yet he can't find it in himself to quit.
Sheriff Bell in No Country for Old Men is this at the beginning of the movie. The events of the movie are too much for him and he bitterly retires.
Pamela Landy in The Bourne Series is the only CIA operations chief who actually seems to be in it to do the right thing.
Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Since his brother's death he's loathed Toons but ends up helping one anyway.
Monk:Citizens of the Five Points! Mr. Bill Cutting is attempting to draw me into an argument that would no doubt end in bloodshed and the compromising of my office! What do ya think? Should I engage and silence this relic of the ancient law? Or shall I be your chosen voice, in a new testament, in the New World! (silence) There you are, Bill. The people have spoken. The very notion of violent reprisal be-numbs them.
The title character in RoboCop has nothing to live for, and as the film series progresses, seems more aware that his creation was only a publicity stunt, but his sense of duty and spirit for justice keeps him going. (Well, that and his ineluctable programming.)
The Wild Geese: Rafer Janders, one of the mercenary lieutenants, tried to be a freedom fighter but became disaffected when the liberators he fought for turned out to be dictators just as repressive as the ones they deposed - a new mission rekindles a little of his doused idealism.
Olive Penderghast in Easy A is an extremely Deadpan Snarker, but she is willing to let her reputation be ruined to rescue a friend from bullying, preserve her favorite teacher's marriage, and otherwise help people.
Gordon: In a town this bent, who is there to rat to anyway?
Batman himself counts as this. He watches his parents gunned down in front of him, the woman he loves is killed (and then he finds out that she loved someone else more than him), the Knight in Shining Armor he hoped would let him retire had turned insane, the city he had fought so hard to protect has vilified him, he has seen the worst humanity has to offer, he spent eight years in seclusion, three separate psychopaths have tried to destroy the city he swore to protect, he gets the shit beaten out of him and is tossed into a prison described as "hell on Earth" and is forced to watch his city turned into an anarchic prison... and yet he is still a staunch idealist who believes that Rousseau Was Right, that people are worth saving, and refuses to kill anyone.
Several incarnations of James Bond, especially Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig's versions. The latter is a self-described "half monk half hitman" who describes murder as his "employment," but still holds onto his ideals of patriotism to his country and loyalty to allies, especially to his boss, M.
Jon Snow believes wholeheartedly in his father's beliefs about goodness and decency and all that, but being a Heroic Bastard, he finds it easier to make compromises for the greater good than the rest of his family. Not that he likes doing it.
Daenerys Targaryen as well.
Ned Stark is a bit of an idealist, but still believes the world sucks and most people don't care for anything—but HE keeps trying and does not compromise. He's right on both counts and it gets him killed.
Adding the Hound to this page would involve unwisely calling him a knight. However, his armour is made of the purest citric acid. Even he would cop to that.
There's also Tyrion Lannister, who's snarktastic and has contempt or hatred for most of those around him (because they either assume he's a Lannister and think he's untrustworthy, or see that he's ugly and short and assume he's evil), but he truly tried to do what was best for the kingdom. He also showed his concern by designing a special saddle for Bran after his fall and went back to Winterfell to give the design, although he knew he would not be much welcome there.
Jaime Lannister surprises himself by gradually regaining principles to sarcastically defend and believe in after years of trying Then Let Me Be Evil after believing in anything being inherently good failed him the first time. The process is spotty, but, dammit: he's going to give it a shot, and sod the consequences!
Sturm Brightblade of Dragonlance has watched the Knights of Solamnia he grew up idolizing turn into earnest failures at best and corrupt monsters at worst. He has the darkest sense of humor of any of the main cast outside of Raistlin, and yet he is truer to the knights' code than most of the knights who were actually given full status.
"I looked down at the chessboard. The move with the knight was wrong. I put it back where I had moved it from. Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn't a game for knights." — The Big Sleep
Terry Pratchett often writes like this, especially in Discworld. Sam Vimes may well be the ultimate Knight in Sour Armor ("as soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn't measure up."). Granny Weatherwax is a fairly good example as well; Witches Abroad alludes the idea Granny was a good candidate for a "bad witch," until her sister took up the role and she had to balance it out. Granny's adamant belief in Right and Wrong over anything else is predicated on the fact that neither of those necessarily involve what someone (including herself) would like to do.
Lord Vetinari also counts, as seen from his speech in Unseen Academicals. ("Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.")
Vimes is also literally a sour knight, having been elevated into the ranks of nobility against his wishes (he feels it makes him a class traitor).
Karrin Murphy of The Dresden Files is one of these. Her lawfulness causes her to threaten to throw the book at Harry more often than she'd like. She also gets angry when an archangel uses her as a mouthpiece when she takes up one of the Swords of the Cross.
Karrin Murphy is changing, she's being forced toward a change in worldview by the realization of the cold fact that the law, which she idolized (almost literally) in early books is just simply inadequate to deal with the reality of the world as she has come to know it. She's also begun to realize just how much Harry was protecting her, even when she angrily insisted she wanted no such protection, now she knows she needed it...and resents that fact.
In Blood Rites, when Harry looks upon Murphy with his Sight, she appears as an angel, but one that has been covered in blood and soot and is bearing terrible wounds - a direct contrast to the more idealistic image of a pure angel in shining white clothes that she appears as in Grave Peril, four books earlier when she is still an idealistic cop who hasn't had her faith in the law twisted and abused.
Donald Morgan is also ultimately revealed to be one. For a long time he just seems like a nasty, abusive JerkassKnight Templar, but over the course of the series it is gradually revealed that the he really does believe in the White Council's laws, and most of nastiness comes from being a tired, bitter man who has spent his entire extended lifespan fighting the forces of darkness.
Harry himself has elements of this trope. He can be pretty cynical, but he always tries to do the right thing.
Councillor Arfarra in Yulia Latynina's Wei Empire Cycle started out as a Knight Templar. By the first large novel, he became sourly disillusioned in The Empire and somewhat penitent, but soldiered on trying to reform it, ultimately failing despite doing some good in the process. Then he became even more disillusioned in the very foundations of the Empire, and spent twenty-five years in exile. Then he got dragged back unto the political scene, and very reluctantly took control, this time just trying to keep the whole thing running and to avoid having the world drowned in blood in a horrible civil war. He sort of failed due to circumstances far beyond his control, but kept relentlessly looking for ways to at least marginally improve the situation right until finally dying from old age.
Severus Snape allies himself with people like Harry (whom he doesn't like), Sirius Black (who has hated and mistreated him since the day they met), and Dumbledore, who, in spite of affection, uses him ruthlessly. He's also the only one of the heroes who is willing to get branded as a traitor by making a huge sacrifice for their cause (namely, Albus Dumbledore).
Dumbledore's brother Aberforth is this as well. He tells Harry point blank that he thinks it's a lost cause. He still shows up to fight in the end.
Arkady Renko, from the series of novels by Martin Cruz Smith.
Stephen Donaldson protagonists tend to be big fans of sour armor. The titular lead of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant novels turns this trope Up to Eleven, stubbornly persevering even though he knows everything he does will be turned into disaster by the Big Bad.
Which is to say that, while he threatens to do a lot of horrible things, he only actually does some of them. In the last book of the Tamuli trilogy, he does nothing to prevent one of his allies from setting a man on fire and imprisoning him forever in a frozen moment, where nothing moves. So not only will that man burn forever in the space between every second, he'll be forever alone as well even if he did find some way to douse himself. Of course, the first thing that man did was try to jump in the nearby lake... which was as solid as the ground at the shore due to time not moving. It's demonstrated elsewhere in the series that that kind of frozen moment means it's impossible to move anything not provided exemption like the man in question.
Meyer Landsman of The Yiddish Policemens Union is certainly one of these on top of being a Defective Detective—a cynical jackass, but feels personally compelled to close his investigation instead of let it be shelved as a cold case for bureaucratic reasons.
Winston Smith in 1984. He joins the Brotherhood knowing full well that he won't see any change in his lifetime and that he will be killed for it eventually. Too bad the Brotherhood doesn't actually exist—it was set up by the government as a way to entrap Thought Criminals. Maybe.
1st Sgt. Welsh in The Thin Red Line, who lacks faith, ideals, patriotic fervor and any interest in either medals or career advancement, yet keeps on fighting due to a sense of duty (and because he's good at his job).
Gawyn Trakand from The Wheel of Time series swears an oath as prince to protect his sister to the death and yet she not only makes his childhood a hell with her antics, she runs off in the middle of training in the White Tower two times leaving him behind. This comes to a head when Gawyn decides to support a coup against the Amyrlin and slays his own teachers from his frustration to help but later helps the Amyrlin escape. The guy just can't catch a break and it doesn't help later when in the middle of Dumai Wells his men are surrounded and getting killed. Cue Min dropping the bomb on him that his sister is in love with Rand and the emotional turmoil must be unbearable.
In the play "The Dragon" by E. Schewartz we have Lancelot The Travelling Knight:
Lancelot: I was injured lightly nineteen times, severely eleven times and deadly five times, but I'm so light a soul that I'm still alive.
In Altered Carbon, Takeshi Kovacs seems to be an inversion of this; a life-long cynic, Kovacs has slowly but steadily gained an idealistic side, strongly influenced by the philosophy of his homeworld's revered revolutionary leader and Knight in Sour Armour Quellcrist Falconer. However, his particular status has left the cynicism deeply ingrained, with the result that he seems to strongly resent his idealistic side and reacts with a Snark Knight schtick that ranges from convincing to desperate.
Typically in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Luke Skywalker is quite idealistic. But in Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, the Big Bad makes him mentally experience an eternity after the heat death of the universe in an attempt to break him and get him ready for a Grand Theft Me. It doesn't entirely work, but when Luke gets out, he's made deeply cynical, believing that everyone's life is waste, saving someone wasn't really saving them because that would just prolong the brief interval. All striving leads to nothing, and everyone who talked about duty and honor and love was just using him. He doesn't want to believe it, but he does—and he makes the very conscious decision to act exactly like he did before, like when he trusted in these airy concepts and believed lives were worth saving, in the hope that he can fall back into the dream and become the mask. Later he sees a very Mind Screw-y vision that relieves some of that cynicism, though, so he's not a sour knight for very long.
In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, a demon's mentor, warns him about these. "Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
Ironically, he occasionally takes the tone of a Knight In Sour Armour himself, finding that his goal to corrupt humans is tedious whenever it fails but believing that it "must win in the end".
In C. S. Lewis' "The Silver Chair", part of The Chronicles of Narnia series, the "Marsh Wiggle" named Puddleglum is perpetually pessimistic and always believes the worst is about to happen, yet is staunchly and resolutely (and usefully) on the side of good throughout the story.
Dedicate Rosethorn from the Circle of Magic series qualifies. She's very much a sarcastic and irritable Cynical Mentor to Briar, but she has given up a normal life in order to help the poor.
Garrett from the Garrett, P.I. series describes himself like this.
Haymitch from The Hunger Games. He just wants a world where no more children can be tortured from being forced to kill each other.
Katniss too, especially after she fully accepts her role as "the Mockingjay".
Johanna and Finnick also qualify.
The Hallow Hunt: Ingrey is actually rather youthful for a Bujold protagonist, but the tortures he endured—meant to help him control the wolf-spirit he harbors—made him "frighteningly self-controlled" not to mention dour and sarcastic. His love interest lampshades it:
"Now what makes you grow grim?" Ijada demanded.
Her lips twisted in exasperation. "To be sure."
DC Grant in Rivers of London tries to be idealistic even though he knows it is all going to end in tears.
Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird is utterly and correctly convinced that, because of Maycomb County's inherent racism, Tom Robinson cannot escape being convicted for a crime he didn't commit. Atticus still does everything in his power to get Tom acquitted, and treats it as the most important case of his entire career despite the reaction from the people of Maycomb County.
Jayfeather from Warrior Cats doesn't believe in the way the Clans work, the ideals of StarClan, or the Warrior Code. Despite this, he vows to fight for the Clans until long after the day he dies, will never give up on saving anyone, and devotes his whole life to protecting his Clan.
John D. MacDonald's Travis Mc Gee as Florida's premiere salvage consultant is this trope personified.
Brian Duffy of Tim Powers' The Drawing of the Dark starts sour, and only becomes more sour as the story progresses, but never loses his desire to do the Right Thing, despite serious temptation.
In Melisa Michaels' Skyrider series, Skyrider is cynical, taciturn, snarky, and anti-social, but when the chips are down, she knows she's the best, and often only, person for the job, and reluctantly picks up her metaphorical lance. Again.
Patrick McLanahan from Dale Brown books. The world never gets permanently better, an awful lot of people are Ungrateful Bastards at best, hostile and traitorous at worst, and his friends and family keep dying violently, but he keeps fighting to make the world better nevertheless.
Mitch Rapp of the Vince Flynn books
Song at Dawn: Dragonetz came back from the Second Crusade as one of these; disillusioned of the Church and haunted by his deeds. If you ask him what he thinks about the knight's oath to 'protect the weak' he'll tell you it's a 'suicide oath'. However, he still possesses faith in God and the idealism that he can make the world a better place.
I sometimes fancy myself an evil which exists to oppose other evils[...] on that day when the world is completely cleansed of evil, then I, too, will go down into darkness, swallowing curses[...] But whatever. Until that time, I shall not wash my hands nor let them hang useless.
Jimmy Gage star reporter for SLAP! magazine and hero of Robert Ferrigno's Flinch and Scavenger Hunt who is pretyt much the only serious reporter for a magazine that is halfway between Vanity Fair and a tabloid. His investigative reporting usually only ends in partial victories but he continues to fight the good fight. His cop girlfriend Jane Holt qualifies as well.
Tsovinar of Glory in the Thunder literally sets her hopes and dreams on fire after accepting they can never come true, and wonders aloud why she even bothers intervening for the good of others, but she just keeps doing it.
Nero Wolfe's assistant Archie Goodwin responds to most of the world's frustrations with a sarcastic, cynical quip, but as Wolfe perceptively notes deep down he's quite the knight-errand. For all his snark, it's not hard to provoke him into rushing out headlong in order to do someone a good deed — particularly if the someone needing the good deed doing is a pretty young lady.
Seth Hammerstaal, who's the male protagonist in Överenskommelser by Simona Ahrnstedt, is a very cynical man, who does many stupid things. But still, he never stops believing that you should always do the right thing.
Blake Thorburn of ''Pact is a formerly homeless man who has seen much of the worst that humanity has to offer, from beatings to events so traumatic that he refuses to elaborate on them, and sees himself as a fundamentally broken person, but he expresses his faith in the inherent goodness of humanity nonetheless, as there exist many people whose good actions outweighed the bad and helped him when he needed help. He therefore strives to do the right thing, even though, as a hereditary diabolist, everyone expects him to fall to villainy and most supernatural creatures despise him.
Scott of Hobgoblin can't stand most of his classmates, but when Fergus goes crazy and starts killing them, he steps up to fight because it's what a hero should do plus it's his chance to actually live out a mortal battle. Afterwards, he still can't stand his classmates.
Live Action TV
Game of Thrones: Ser Loras Tyrell becomes this in Season 2 after his lover King Renly Baratheon is murdered. It's even shown symbolically, as his once spotless suit of armour (which practically made him look like a walking mirror in Season 1) is now somewhat tarnished.
Brienne of Tarth also undergoes a similar transition when she fails to protect Renly, whom she harboured feelings for, from a monstrous Living Shadow.
The Hound, much like his book counterpart, especially after leaving King's Landing during the Battle of Blackwater Bay. After that, pretty much anyone he meets who talks about fighting in the war gets this line:
The Hound: "Fuck the king."
Max Black of 2 Broke Girls. She basically had to raise herself and her mother. If something needed to be done Max got it done. Her attitude fits this to a T. She is seen to be able to do the right thing when it all comes down to this.
Marcus Cole has one of the darkest wit of any characters on the show, knows his way around the station's criminal underworld, and yet acts like a knight of the round table.
Also Michael Garibaldi, a jaded cop who joins Sheridan's extremely idealistic rebellion unhesitatingly. It's worth noting, however, that he eventually leaves said rebellion specifically because he's cynical. And no, Bester didn't intend for him to do that.
By the end of the series, Ivanova.
Sara Lance to a certain extent. Her family thought she was dead and she spent years away from her home trapped on an island, training, and being forced to kill. She considers herself the furthest thing in the world from a hero. Despite this, she's willing to risk her life to check on her family, protect women that she has never met from assault, and run into a burning building to save a baby.
Most people involved with the government in 24 seem to believe this. Despite their constant sacrifices to save America, even Redshirt agents seem to realize that their victories are Pyrrhic at best, and rarely make attempts to mask how jaded they are.
Prior to the first season, Jack Bauer probably was not. After Terri dies because of Jack's job and having to face down the reality that saving lives and Obstructive Bureaucrats do not mix, his armor gets mighty sour.
Lee Adama is this at times in a sort of contrast with the Honor Before Reason driven Helo. Both believe in rules and the system, but Lee is more willing to bend the former to save the latter.
Lawyer Romo Lampkin is this way, as he has the cynicism of the disillusioned idealist. We never get to hear why he hated Lee's grandfather, a famous criminal defense attorney, so it's difficult to say. Lee's grandfather was revealed in Caprica to have gotten through law school funded by the Tauron mafia and in the very first episode bribes a judge to get off mobsters, among other things. He apparently got a lot better, but there were probably lots of reasons to dislike him.
Tigh, being a rough and gruff Sergeant Nasty, is the most prominent example of this troupe
As is Starbuck. He can be very cynical at times, especially when it comes to the law system. He also smokes, gambles and courts women on a daily basis when he's not in his Viper. When he is, he's most at home blasting away as many Cylons as he could. He does have moments of idealism, though, as shown when he protects a group of warrior kids from the Cylons while stranded on a planet in which nearly everyone else is wiped out.
Apollo can be this at times as well, especially towards the Council. Given that they were responsible for their long-time enemies blowing up all twelve of their homeworlds, it's not all that jarring.
Dr Cox of Scrubs is a cynical, angry, egotistical man, who firmly believes everyone should get the best treatment possible and often tries to stop injustice in the system. Indeed, many a Dr. Jerk could be described as this. Why do you think they're doctors?
"Chicks, money, power, and chicks." As said by Cox in "My Bed Banter and Beyond". In the same breath, he admits that he doesn't get any of that.
Angel. Hell, the entire cast of that show could fall under this, especially Angel and Wesley. Angel's philosophy is stated by Angel himself in the Season 4 episode "Deep Down." "Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It's harsh and cruel but that's why there's us. Champions. It doesn't matter where we come from, what we've done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be. You're not a part of that yet. I hope you will be. I love you, Connor. Now get out of my house."
Summed up beautifully (it's the show's mission statement) in the final episode, when Gunn is helping Anne unload supplies for her teen homeless shelter from a truck on a day when the world might very well end:
Gunn: "What if I told you that none of it mattered? That the world is controlled by forces much more powerful than we are, and that those forces will never, ever let things get better? What would you do then?"
Anne: "I'd tell you to finish getting those supplies off that truck and take them inside."
Giles becomes one at some point in the show's run (certainly by the finale of season 5, when he kills Ben to kill Glory), probably around the time the Watcher's Council fired him for refusing to endanger Buffy's life. Joss Whedon seems to enjoy the trope.
Almost every single good cop in The Wire knows that their objective is ultimately a futile effort, and that the city of Baltimore is in far more disarray than they could possibly hope to rectify. However, this sure as hell doesn't stop them from trying.
Colby from Survivor, who said the game he first played in 2000 was outdated and gone, being one of the few players (other than Coach and Rupert) who was Honor Before Reason.
Mal Reynolds of Firefly. He lost his faith in God and humanity in one fell swoop, but when presented with the choice he goes out of his way to do the right thing.
Raylon Givens in Justified. His work requires him to get his hands dirty and costs him in his personal life but he doesn't opt to leave again.
Derek Reese from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. He's a miserable man who was once a young boy playing baseball, then suddenly, got thrust into the apocalypse. He will spend every last ounce of energy, and stop at absolutely nothing including murder, in order to fight the coming cybernetic invasion, simply because no matter how hopeless it gets, it's not just the right thing to do...it's the ONLY thing to do.
Dean and Sam in Supernatural have a good, bitter rant about this to a side character at one point season four's "Wishful Thinking."
Dean in particular fits this trope from the beginning; see Season 2's Houses of the Holy. Sammy starts off more hopeful but, well, it's Supernatural.
Castiel, starting in Season 5 and especially in Season 6.
Most of the characters on Criminal Minds have been this at one point or another. (Except Garcia, and even she has her borderline moments.) Derek Morgan explicitly gave voice to it near the end of 4x25/26, "To Hell And Back." pointing out that however many unsubs they catch, the world always produces more. He wavered on whether to leave- except that he didn't, giving truth to the Trope.
The exception being Jason Gideon, who seemed like one for a while, and then abandoned the team in 3x01 because the awfulness of the world had overwhelmed him.
James "Sawyer" Ford and also, ultimately, Benjamin Linus from LOST.
In Doctor Who, the Ninth Doctor refers to Humans as "stupid apes," but saved Earth again and again.
In fact, every incarnation of the Doctor has been this to some extent or another, but it's become much more evident in the revival, he usually manages to hide it well with his humour and childlike excitement. This is a man who has seen all of time and space, he knows full well that there is no final victory, and that evil will never be totally stamped out, but he keeps fighting all the way, because he's the Doctor, and it's what he does.
Sirens has Stuart (and possibility Ash) who after years of dealing with drunks fighting every Saturday in the street and the general lowest ebb of the human condition are fed up with the world. But given half the chance they'll crawl through broken glass or climb the side of a building to help those that need it.
Nick in New Girl is filled with bitterness, anger, cynicism and self-loathing but is still a great friend and almost always does the right thing even as his life keeps getting progressively worse.
Derek Hale in Teen Wolf is a prime example of this. He's even got the In-Series Nickname of being a "sourwolf" to add to the characterization.
After being on Degrassi enough seasons you either end up here or Jade-Colored Glasses, just a fact of life for teenagers. Best examples for this side of things would be Spinner, Darcy, Jimmy, Marco, Sav, Clare, Alli, and Jenna. The series is abundant with drama and cruelty for them, but they still believe no matter how the world sucks... it's what they have and it's worth it to not give up. But the world unquestionably sucks, they are all more than clear there.
The third season and (to a lesser degree) the fourth season of Enterprise did this to Captain Archer. He's so upbeat, excited and optimistic about exploring the galaxy in the first two seasons, continuing to get blindsided by all the pre-federation bullies. When the Xindi Weapon devastates Earth he not only takes a level in badass but his attitude switches to be even colder throughout the entire third season. He mellows a bit in the fourth but still exhibits this when the going gets tough.
Rust Cohle from the first season of the HBO Anthology series True Detective is a straight up nihilist, thinking that human consciousness was a mistake and that humanity should voluntarily stop breeding and die out. He is also a tireless fighter for what's right no matter the personal cost.
The Norse worldview basically consisted of a largely amoral universe where bad things happened to good people and everything ended in death. Yggdrasil was eaten by serpents from below, and deer from above, and even the Aesir would die at Ragnarok. Until then, the Aesir weren't entirely good guys either. Nevertheless, the warrior's code was to fight the good fight and the mythology is riddled with examples of standing and fighting even when death is inevitable, because that's the right thing to do.
On the other hand, Thor was viewed as the protector of Midgard and friend of Men, the Good Guy fighting giants to protect the Aesir and humans alike. Most stories focusing on him tend to be far more upbeat, with Thor overcoming challenges after much fun is made at his expense.
In the Dragnet radio dramas (as well as the later remakes), Sergeant Joe Friday sometimes trades his shining armor for sour mail when exposed to particularly bad cases of social decay.
Harry Nile in The Adventures Of Harry Nile. A former Chicago cop who wound up retiring after seeing widespread corruption in the force, and almost murdered a crime boss in order to get out of debt before working as a private investigator instead. Yet despite just how much of the seedy side of society he's seen, the guy's own humanity is his greatest asset, and he cares for his clients.
David occasionally takes this tone as well in the Old Testament (notably in Psalm 22).
A common character type in Warhammer 40,000, especially among the Imperium of Man. Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt is perhaps the most prominent example, a genuinely selfless, courageous, and noble hero who is becoming deeply bitter and cynical towards the Imperial Guard command structure. Major Elim Rawne of the same series quite arguably worked his way into this trope from the other direction-he started as a ruthlessly cynical, self-serving bastard, and remains a ruthlessly cynical bastard-but one with a very tarnished and deeply hidden heart of gold. Commissar Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, projects this at times... because his reputation (and possibly he) would be shot if anyone knew how he actually is.
Dungeons & Dragons brings you the Grey Guard Prestige Class. Paladins who tend to fall early and often for breaking their code in the pursuit of genuine Good (not making the job quick and easy) are sometimes approached by the knightly equivalent of the CIA. The abilities they pick up take the 'goodness and light' of the Paladin and turn it into 'goodness and Bad Cop interrogations.'
The Paladin class itself flirts with being an example of this even before one takes the Gray Guards into account, especially in a setting where the government is harsh or totalitarian. It's pointed out in the Book of Exalted Deeds that when faced with a choice between Law and Good, a true Paladin will always choose the latter (the Paladin's code in the book has a loophole about "Legitimate" authority for this reason).
As the Ravenloft setting is bound to eat your average Knight in Shining Armor for breakfast, it's home to quite a few of these instead, striving to hold back the darkness. The game-setting's knights of the Circle function more like vigilantes or undercover operatives, keeping their heroic deeds under the darklords' radar.
Shadowrun being what it is, most established characters with a strong moral compass fall under this category. A near-embodiment of this trope, however, is Captain Chaos.
Cassandra in Code Twenty One is a good example. She decides to work in mental health because she wants to make a difference and over the years adhering to the system's rules makes her feel embittered and less hopeful about the world.
In Man of La Mancha, Don Quixote might be this; he has a skewed perception of the world as a beautiful, marvelous place when it clearly isn't, but he indicates that, even when he knows the world is a dire mess that has little hope of elevation, he will fight on. When he converts Dulcinea to his cause, she becomes a full-fledged Knight in Sour Armor.
Miguel de Cervantes, or at least his character here, is more this than Don Quixote (although the two are described as being closely related) because Quixote seems to be more truly mad. Cervantes specifically gives a speech saying that he has seen evil in the world, but that it has convinced him even more that it is important to do good. People "asking not why they died, but why they had ever lived" for example.
Kiina from BIONICLE. She's a tough, Lad-etteAction Girl who is dissatisfied with her planet as it is, and believes that there are other, better worlds out there. Naturally, everyone thinks she's nuts. Then, when she turns out to be right, she suddenly morphs into a Genki Girl. She got better.
Squall Leonhart from Final Fantasy VIII veers between this and just being a Jerk Ass (later revealed to be Jerkass Façade because Love Redeems.) Especially notable beause doing the right thing, for him, means not only fighting for a world he might not think is worth fighting for (most of the game, anyway), but also serving the forces which have forbidden him from exercizing his free will for his entire life. (Though, to be fair, he has been strung along most of the time because he doesn't know what he would do otherwise)
Kratos Aurion in Tales of Symphonia fits this like a glove. He started out as an idealist alongside Mithos Yggdrasill who just wanted half-elves to be accepted, and then became what we see in the game.
Colette: Our weapons are love! Genis: Justice! And... Kratos: Sigh...hope.
Jolee Bindo in Knights of the Old Republic has rejected the Jedi Order as hypocritical and hidebound, but he hasn't rejected his moral center.
Carth Onasi fits the trope as well. He's closer to good on the Karma Meter than the Jedi in your party, but his capability to trust in the good of others has been torpedoed by personal tragedy. He's vocally suspicious regarding the player character and the entire situation; that suspicion eventually turns out to be eerily dead-on. The comics, set a few years before the events of the game, make it clear that his entanglement with Revan wasn't the first time he found himself involved in a Jedi scheme and cover-up.
Sakura Wars: Yoneda's introduction to Ogami says it all:
Yoneda: "A hero? No kid; I'm just a filthy old bastard who got badges for murdering a lot of people."
Garrus from Mass Effect falls into this, especially in the second game. He starts a vigilante group on Omega to help combat the crime, corruption, and decay of the station, and admits that he knows he wasn't really making a big difference; for all of the irritation he gave the mercenary groups after him, Omega was a pisshole when he started and was a pisshole when he left. And he fights on anyway.
Shepard can be played like this, if you act douchey in dialogue but ultimately do good things. If you have a Colonist background, the Asari consort says as much, 'detecting a sadness behind your eyes'.
At the end of the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, Liara will ask Shepard how s/he's doing. If you choose the right dialogue option, Shepard will vent about how tired s/he is of dealing with Cerberus and the Council treating him/her like s/he's nuts. But in the end s/he keeps going because s/he wants to give people the chance to change for the better.
Shepard: People are messy, awkward, sometimes selfish and cruel. But they're trying, and I'm going to make sure they have a chance.
By Mass Effect 3, Shepard has embraced this trope and taken it Up to Eleven. S/he vocalizes at MANY points in the story his/her doubts that anything s/he does is actually going to win the war but s/he never stops going.
Javik could also be turned into this, depending on Shepard's choices.
Keldorn and Jaheira from the Baldur's Gate series have shades of this, the former being a 60+ year old paladin and the second a very cynical Harper (a secret society devoted to spreading good).
In Metal Gear, Solid Snake is arguably the best example in gaming. He's cynical, jaded, world-weary, really couldn't care less about being seen as a hero or a legend, and doesn't believe he'd make a difference to the future ("I'm not as arrogant as that."), but he continues to fight because no one else can or will.
Snake:"I'm no hero. Never was, never will be. Just an old killer, hired to do some wet-work."
His papa, Big Boss, is another example until his Face-Heel Turn, particularly after being forced to kill the Boss.
The Boss herself is, knowing that a soldier's calling is not something they can decide for themselves but must be heeded regardless, though she takes it better than her protégé or Solid Snake do (she's learned to suppress the "sour" and accept things as they are).
Also a natural fit for an elf Grey Warden—humans have been bastards to you, your family, and your race for longer than they can remember, and don't exactly feel guilty about it. The game demands that you save the mostly human kingdom of Ferelden, re-unite it under legitimate political authorities, and generally leave it a much stronger and more powerful nation than it was before you entered the picture. One bit of dialogue has an NPC thanking you for saving the kingdom, and one of your responses is along the lines of "I'm saving my people from the Blight. Your kingdom can burn for all I care."
His fellow tank warrior Aveline from the sequel also fits; she's a world-weary widowed soldier and cop who's seen a lot of bloodshed and suffering and whose goal is to protect her friends and keep what order she can in the world.
Neverwinter Nights 2: Casavir also behaves like this sometimes. Just try asking him about the circumstances of his first exit from Neverwinter.
Ryudo from Grandia II fits this trope to a tee, in reaction to the original title's protagonist, Justin, who was an idealist with a strong wanderlust — almost Sonic the Hedgehog in human form. In the sequel, Ryudo is a misanthropic mercenary who wants nothing more than to escort his charge (a sickeningly cheery do-gooder, Elena) from A to B and collect his reward. He's also a bit of a smartass, always ready with a sarcastic remark. The game goes down the usual JRPG paths, peeling back the onion to expose Ryudo's reasons for distrusting everyone and everything, and revealing his kinder side from time to time.
Cole MacGrath from inFAMOUS. If you finish the game with good karma, he ends up as Empire City's savior, but the final scene has him musing about his isolation (given that his girlfriend is dead and his best friend's betrayed him) and wondering how long it will be before the city turns against him. Unfortunately for him, he knows that there's something big and powerful coming, and he's the only one that can stop it. He's not happy about it at all.
Hash from Live A Live. After defeating the demon king, he was heralded as a hero, but the very nature of human beings continued to disgust him much to the extent that he faked his death and hid out in a cabin in the mountains, only being convinced to help Oersted save humanity again because despite his hatred, he knows that it's the right thing to do. When he dies, he asks Oersted to believe in his friends and not become bitter like he did. Unfortunately, Oersted's own adventure eventually pushed far beyond merely being bitter.
By the "Heart of the Swarm" Kerrigan herself joins him there.
Marshal Leigh Johnson of Red Dead Redemption is a bitterly jaded old man who nonetheless remains Lawful Good throughout the game (though by the epilogue he moves as far away from Armadillo for his retirement). John Marston has similar tendencies when he decides to help out people (mostly Bonnie and Luisa), to the point that Abraham Reyes refers to him as a "romantic trying to be a cynic".
Shadow the Hedgehog eventually becomes one. He went from fighting against the world, to fighting for himself, to fighting for the world. Pretty much his only reason for this is because a little girl told him to before she died. It took Shadow a while to remember that, but when he did, the bad guys began wishing he was still one of them. When one of the villains tries to bring Shadow over to his side by telling him that the world will turn on him one day, Shadow simply responds by saying he'll fight like he used to.
Gerald Robotnik. Since he's an old guy, he can't really fight, but he knew that humanity was good and deserved saving. So what did he do? He created an immortal, powerful hedgehog named Shadow to protect humans, despite that Shadow pretty much hates humans, calling them "pathetic" at every chance he gets.
Bonus for Gerald in that he pretty much hates humans just as much as Shadow, although this may be because the aforementioned little girl was his granddaughter, and her death made him go insane, considering how she'd been killed because experiments to save her had been considered too dangerous. However, when he was sane, he reveals to Shadow that he built the gigantic gun on the ARK station to actually save the Earth from an alien attack that would happen 50 years later, while Shadow previously thought that he had built it to destroy Earth. Guess who pulls the trigger?
Taken to another level by Resident Evil 6 where Chris starts to drink heavily on a near daily basis after seeing most of his men get slaughtered on a mission they were on. Chris starts to believe that nothing he does will change anything. but it takes some bonding time with his partner, Piers, to get Chris back to his fighting spirit and shed the sour armor.
Gabriel Belmont Castlevania: Lords of Shadow also qualifies. As his mentor Zobek tells us, he could have given up all hope of saving the world because he has done so many questionable deeds—which he himself admits so. However, something in his mind still forces him to continue on—bitterly ...
Even after becoming Dracula, the sequel reveals that he still fights for the world despite his hatred of it. Specifically by being the apex predator that keeps other more evil but less powerful villains in check.
Max Payne. His entire family murdered, his best friend killed, and both the good sides and the bad sides of the city trying to kill him. He even contemplates leaving the city early on, becoming a fugitive, but quickly decides that he'd rather see things through to the end. He ends up paying for it pretty harshly, though.
Garrett from Thief fits this role well. He's a completely unrepentant criminal who acts as though he has nothing but contempt for others, his surroundings, and the whole corrupt, depraved pit that is the City and the world he lives in - most of the time. But there are hints that Garrett cares more than he'd ever want to or admit when he witnesses cruelty against almost anybody, especially the poor and already down-trodden, and even people who've tried in the past to kill him. (Possibly because it's a really, really long list.)
Lightning in Final Fantasy XIII is a female example. She does believe in doing what's right, but the world she lives in is so messed-up she has very little "right" to believe in and she bitterly laments her fate as a cursed l'Cie.
While we're on the subject of Final Fantasy XIII, how about Sazh and Oerba Yun Fang? Sazh's only desire is to see his son again and he's willing to turn himself in to see his son one last time before he is executed. Vanille is what keeps him going. The same is said for Fang when it is revealed that she was a Pulse l'Cie before the start of the game along with Vanille and cracked Coocoon's shell as Ragnarok. By extension, the entire main cast if you go by their backstories and their cursed fate as a l'Cie. Even Genki Girl Oerba Dia Vanille who lied to everyone about being a Pulse l'Cie so she could help them. Had she not lied at all, things would have gone differently.
In L.A. Noire, Herschel Biggs and Jack Kelso are both perfectly aware of and disappointed in the state of the Los Angeles, and how little of what they do is actually meaningful. They try their damndest anyway. Protagonist Cole makes the shift from idealist to sour knight over the course of the game, despite his attempts not to, thanks to the corruption and politics endemic in the LAPD.
Manuel Calavera of Grim Fandango is a cynical man who claims to only look out for himself. When he joins the LSA and heads out across the Land of the Dead to search for Mercedes, he claims it's only because she is his ticket to the next world. However, he does thaw somewhat over the course of the story, as particularly evidenced by his relationships with Meche, Glottis, and the Angelitos. As Grim Fandango was based on several Film Noir classics including Casablanca and Double Indemnity, this characterization fits the milieu perfectly.
Several characters in Fallout: New Vegas qualify for this. Rose of Sharon Cassidy is a hard-drinking and somewhat surly woman who also happens to have a strong moral code, being the one character who will specifically complain about the player's Karma Meter if it gets incredibly low. Also, there's Colonel Hsu and Chief Hanlon of the NCR, who despite being personally against the war (especially considering the fact that their commander, General Oliver is a Glory Hound and General Failure) do what they can for the sake of the soldiers
Orion Moreno and "Cannibal" Johnson are also good examples, especially Orion. Both were former members of the Enclave. At the destruction of their oil rig, the New California Republic dismantled the Enclave, seeing them as too great a potential threat to ignore. Decades later, the NCR finds itself up against Caesar's Legion, a group of totalitarian slavers. Moreno sympathizes with the Legion, unable to forgive the NCR for defeating the Enclave, which he considered the last remnant of the old America (and he's kind of right). Johnson supports the NCR, seeing their democratic government to be in the spirit of the old America and preferring them to the brutality of the Legion. Both men can be convinced to join the final battle—but serving the wrong side will require a very difficult Speech check—Johnson will abandon you rather than fight the NCR, and Moreno will try to kill you—after donning his Powered Armor and hefting a minigun.
Cody from the Final Fight, and later Street Fighter series is a perfect example. In Final Fight, he was a straight out Hero, who fought the Mad Gear Gang to rid his city of them and rescue his girlfriend Jessica. Along the way he beats up a corrupt cop named Edi, who later has him arrested for assault in battery. While in prison he develops an addiction to fighting, and when he gets out, walks the streets looking for the slightest provocation to fight. After he is thrown back into prison, his girlfriend leaves him and travels to Europe, her father Haggar is all but through helping Cody, and only his best friend Guy still believes in him. by the time of the Street Fighter series, he believes that he is no longer a hero, and that the only purpose he has left in the world is to fight, which he frequently tells everybody is meaningless. However, he still has some desire to protect the world, as he breaks out of prison to seek out villains like Bison and Seth to defeat, and his theme implies he wishes to relive his glory days of heroism, but has convinced himself it is too late.
Most of the SL-9 crew in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. They're demoted, fired, and generally jaded but still want to find the truth of what happened to Neil Marshall.
Other characters with traits along these lines include Rose Lalonde and Sollux Captor.
Oddly enough, Davan and some of the other main characters of Something Positive sometimes come across like this. They live in a Crapsack World and are completely aware of it, but they'll go to great lengths for each other.
A running theme in Sluggy Freelance is our heroes running into situations that almost make them this trope, but eventually resulting in them keeping their idealism, especially as they meet characters who embody it. The best example of this kind of character would have to be the aged alternate version if Riff in the 4-U City arc, who has been tirelessly working to fix his doomed world for decades while knowing that the dystopia he's ignoring is causing the citizens to suffer. By the time he meets another human being for the first time in ten years he's one giant ball of bitterness. Seeing that possible future causes Riff to reaffirm his idealism during that arc, but even he ends up landing in a balance between idealist and cynic most of the time.
Riff: "The sound of children playing in the streets for the first time in decades. Hate that sound. But I know it's a good thing."
Genie from Aladdin: The Series becomes this in one episode. He agrees to help the Muktar, a member of a genie hunting, magic sensing race that is considered the mortal enemy of all genies. The reason? If he does so, the Muktar will free his friends Aladdin and co., who have been captured and trapped in a magical locket. At one point the Muktar is attacked by a plant creature, and Genie seizes the opportunity to snatch the locket and run away. However, because he is a good guy, his conscience forces him to turn around and save the Muktar from the plant creature. Later he is betrayed by the Muktar and sold out to Mozenrath, a sorcerer who hired the Muktar to catch Genie. After being imprisoned in a crystal, he angrily says to himself "I could have run away, but noooooo, I'm a GOOD guy!" Later the Muktar turns around and saves the protagonists, including Genie, from Mozenrath, but the point still stands. Sometimes a good character will be disgusted with itself for doing the right thing when amorality could have paid off so much more.
Ratchet from Transformers Animated has seen what the worst of war can bring out of the Autobots as a medic and mentor to Omega Supreme. Yet, not even his Grumpy Bear attitude can completely jade his loyalty for his people. Overall, the series' theme seems a bit more sour than any other Transformers series.
Silverbolt became one in Beast Machines after being reformatted, as a result of trying to reconcile his established Knight In Shining Armour personality with the fact that as a Vehicon, he enjoyed murder, mayhem, and general evilness.
South Park has Kyle, a young boy who knows most of the things he will do won't change anything, especially his sociopath of a friend Eric Cartman and the idiot town of South Park, but he keeps doing good deeds regardless because it's the right thing to do.
Tron has developed a very nasty case of this (along with Good Is Not Nice) in TRON: Uprising, after being betrayed, damaged, and left for dead. He's very gruff towards Beck, but for good reason; he wanted to talk the kid out of it, but since the younger Program isn't going to quit, he'll try to harden Beck so that he survives.
Warhawk (a member of the Justice League in the future time period of Batman Beyond) is very much like this, along with Good Is Not Nice, sharing both traits with Big Barda, who is also a member at this time.
Buttercup of The Powerpuff Girls is the Blood Knight of the trio and can act like this a lot, seeing as she represents the Spice aspect of Professor Utonium's original recipe.
Worth spelling out that Swift was the Dean of Dublin Cathedral, thus a high official in the Anglican Church of Ireland, which at the time believed that all Catholics would go to hell. (And it gets better - the Deanship was really a political appointment, so he was not just going against the policy of the Church, but of the State as well.)
The official philosopher of this view must be Joseph de Maistre, who wrote in his St. Petersburg Dialogues:
The philosopher can even discover how permanent carnage is provided for and ordained in the grand scheme of things. But will this law stop at man? Undoubtedly not. Yet who will kill him who kills everything else? Man! It is man himself who is charged with slaughtering man.
But how can he accomplish this law, he who is a moral and merciful being, who is born to love, who weeps for others as for himself, who finds pleasure in weeping and who even invents fiction to make himself weep, and finally, to whom it has been said that whoever sheds blood unjustly, by man shall his blood be shed?
Søren Kierkegaard, considered the first Existentialist philosopher, basically described his Knight of Faith as a somewhat more poetic version of this trope. Like both nihilists ("aesthetic people") and those who resign themselves to the afterlife (the "knight of infinite resignation"), he knows that pursuing an unreachable goal in this world is cynically absurd/meaningless (if it's impossible to reach someone you love, the vast majority would just give up), yet in contrast to them he does anyway as a way of making his life even more meaningful.
Abraham Lincoln spent most of his life, especially the American Civil War, severely depressed over the nature of the country, particularly the South, and he fought to keep it together anyway.
George Orwell, who despite the grimdarkness of most of his works remained adamant that Democracy and Socialism were worth fighting for (and got shot through the neck doing so—in the Spanish Civil War—yet somehow survived).
Kent M. Keith, "The Paradoxical Commandments":
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Be good anyway.
Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
People need help, but may attack you if you do help them. Help them anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
Dmitri Shostakovich, a bitter Soviet composer who refused to become a propagandistic servant to the totalitarian state of Soviet until the end.
Gleen Greenwald, a Salon columnist and former civil rights attorney who, despite being a Deadpan Snarker, firmly believes in civil liberties.
The politician Dennis Skinner sounds like this sometimes.
War poets such as Siegried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen subverted this trope slightly in the sense that they wrote about hating war whilst continuing to serve as soldiers (since they would still have viewed fleeing as treacherous and cowardly). Rudyard Kipling played it a little straighter in the sense that he likewise took on a less jingoistic tone in his poetry after his son died in battle, but he continued to view the concept of besmirching soldiers or the war effort as little better than treason.
History will remember Ludwig van Beethoven as a bit of a grump. He did not like people, it seemed, but he still produced music that celebrated the finest qualities of both man and divinity, like the famous vocal exert of Ode To Joy.
Secret letters found to belong to the late Mother Teresa, a renowned symbol of religious compassion, revealed that she had suffered a crisis of faith in the existence of God that lasted 50 years of her life, beginning the same year she began her work helping the poor in Kolkata which continued unabated until her death in 1997.
Many long time International Humanitarian Aid workers who have worked in the developing world fall into this category too.