Black Mage: I'm dead, so this is some kind of egoscopic projection of my self? Lord of Hell: Correct, but I hardly see what— Black Mage: So without any fleshy meats to slow me down, how long do you really think it'll take me to usurp your entire kingdom? [Beat Panel] Lord of Hell: I have the entire legions of Hell at my command. Black Mage:Enjoy it while you can, skippy. — Eight Bit Theater
Even when there's no Clerics around to cast a convenient revive/resurrection spell, even when All Deaths Are (otherwise) Final ... some customers are just too tough to stay in the afterlife after they've checked out of the land of the living. Hell is supposed to be the ultimate prison, but can any prison be truly called escape-proof?
There are a few ways in which this can happen:
Took Over: Satan doesn't want the guy in Hell because the guy will freakin' TAKE OVER. Or maybe he already has — Hell needed a change of leadership anyway, and this guy provides it! Exactly what happens to the previous boss often isn't explored, but whatever the case may be, the Big Bad just got bigger.
In Fusion Reborn, thanks to Janemba imprisoning the Other World Check-In Station, breaking down the borders between the world of the living and the world of the dead, every single villain the Z-Fighters have ever faced escape Hell. However, while the heroes have trained and become far stronger in the meantime, the villains haven't, making dispatching them far easier.
In Dragon Ball GT, it happens again, this time thanks to Dr. Gero and Dr. Myuu opening a portal as part of their plot.
In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, a trap sprung by Rudger after Yusei defeats him sends him falling into the Old Momentum generator, and he ends up in a hellish place where he is assaulted by the spirits of everyone who was killed in Zero Reverse. Fortunately for him, one of these spirits is his father, who helps him escape.
In the manga adaptation of the Kirby series, Kirby dies and is sent to Hell after eating all the food in Heaven. There he defeats the Devil (played by Nightmare) and makes Hell more "fun", with attractions such as a mountain-of-spikes ring toss and a lake of boiling red wine instead of blood. This becomes obnoxious and Dark Mind is relieved when Kirby leaves (somehow by holding on to the tongue of Gooey).
In Martian Successor NadesicoShow Within a ShowGekiganger III, Jou suddenly appears from Hell in the final episode, piloting Gekiganger III and giving Gekiganger V a Gekigan Blade to perform a final attack to destroy all evil. Akito officially makes this the worst episode of the bunch and drives home the fact that using the series (any series) as basis for life is pretty dumb
Doctor Doom was such a badass, he fought his way out of Hell in Triumph and Torment, managing to get his ally Doctor Strange out with him.
Wolverine has been sent to Hell in the first story of his recent ongoing series. He managed to escape with the help of Alpha Flight member Puck, who was there for some reason. Puck ended up taking over Hell after he and Logan killed the devil. He later gives up his position to get back to life and save his teammates.
In Comicbook/Aquaman;Near the end of PAD's run, Triton has killed Poseidon and is kicking the crap out of Aquaman and friends. Aquaman lets Triton kill him, so he can get to the afterlife. Once there, he decks Charon, rallies the souls who didn't have boatfare, jacks Charon's boat, runs Charon over with his own boat, storms the literal Gates of Hell, cuts off one of Cerberus' heads, marches right up to Pluto and demands Poseidon back, ultimately convincing Hades with a very solid Batman-Gambit. On his way out, Cerberus is back, and Aquaman has just one word for the titanic guardian of the underworld: "Stay."
Ironically, in the Dark World, that timeline's version of Fluttercruel has to fight off a Thestral that tried to escort her to Pony Hell after Rarity killed her, feeding it it's own wings, then possessing Sparkler. Since, as stated below, Chaos Verse!Fluttercruel also ended up having to escape Oblivion (with her father Discord's help), this means every known Fluttercruel has done this at least once.
Happens as well in the spin-off Pony POV Series Chaos Verse. Discord goes to Oblivion in "Not One Of A Kind" to save Fluttercruel and makes it back out again.
John Milton of Drive Angry breaks out of Hell to rescue his granddaughter. Toyed with, as after he finishes this, he is willingly taken back without a fight. Though he comments that he'll break out again.
Jirel of Joiry, the first pulp fantasy heroine, fought her way out of Hell. Repeatedly, in several variations.
Incarnations of Immortality: When Satan tricks Mym, the Incarnation of War, into Hell to keep him out of the way while he enacts his plans, he successfully leads a revolt.
This is how really powerful undead are created in the Old Kingdom series. The farther down into the afterlife they fight their way back from, the stronger they are when they pop out and find a body to possess.
At the very least, he qualified as having done this in The Divine Comedy - At several points, references to the Harrowing of Hell are made by residents, and Dante sees the level of destruction that was done by Jesus at a few points.
Satan himself had to escape from Hell before he could truly rule it in Milton's Paradise Lost, doing so by making a bargain with Sin and Death, who had been placed there to guard the exit.
In the fifth book of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Percy and Nico go 'downstairs' to take a dive in the River Styx. When Hades finds Percy, he is pretty pissed. Using his new badass upgrade, Percy hacks through the legions of the Underworld and ends up threatening the lord of the dead.
Even better in the sequel series The Heroes of Olympus. Nico di Angelo manages to escape Tartarus in "Mark of Athena", and later Percy and Annabeth fall down there as well. They fight through the Greek mythological hell pit and manage to escape! It's as terrifyingly awesome as it sounds.
In Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey, the main character is a modern-day magician, betrayed and sent to hell where he kills countless demons in the fighting pits until he is recruited as an assassin of demon lords and ultimately escapes. The book begins when he first returns to earth, looking for revenge.
Live Action Television
In season 2 of Supernatural, John Winchester seizes the opportunity to claw his way out of Hell when the Hell Gate opens.
Buffy does this in the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though as hells go, this one was more like Satanic factory than eternal fire, and it did have a simple two way door.
Hercules was such a badass, he actually went to Hell (well, the Underworld, which was Hell for anyone who done something bad) to cause trouble on his own, got away with it, and may have done so twice.
The first time he didn't have a choice. His Twelfth Labor required him to kidnap Cerberus and bring the hound back alive. Hades let him try on one condition - he had to do so unarmed. He actually did it. (And compared to what Hercules did to a lot of other monsters, Cerberus got off lucky.) While he was there, he rescued his cousin Thesus, who Hades had bound to a chair along with someone else as punishment for trying to kidnap Persephone. (Theseus was only guilty by association, so Hades was willing to let him go.)
The second time - though this is isn't always agreed upon - was when he wrestled Thanatos to save the soul of Alcestis, a brave woman who sacrificed herself so her husband could live. (This may have actually happened on Earth and not the afterlife, but since the myth always claims that Thanatos had already taken Alcestis' soul, it is possible.) Whatever the case, Heracles was successful this time too.
Gustav Mahler's first Symphony details the life of a hero, including his funeral in the third movement. The final movement is him fighting his way out of hell to ascend to heaven.
This may be possible in the D&D-Setting Eberron. The first stage of the afterlife (no one knows about what comes after you've faded away there) is simply another plane. A plane that will quickly sap you of the will necessary to leave it and has lots of powerful guardians, but a regular plane nevertheless. And considering the setting's pulpy larger-than-life attitude towards heroes...
D&D 4 has this as one of its Epic Destinies. Most destinies can cheat death in some way, but perhaps the coolest variant is the Dark Wanderer. At a certain level, he can travel within 24 hours to any location from any other location - explicitly including the afterlife.
This is how the Kuei-jin are born.. They are souls condemned to the Thousand Hells who've fought their way back into their (or sometimes, someone else's) bodies, only to become a sort of chi vampire.
In the New World of Darkness, death masters and archmasters are famous for kicking down the doors and walking back out with reinforcements after they've technically (due to previous fiddling with death/life/time magic) or actually (with pure death magic, cheating and willpower) died.
Sigmar Heldenhammer in Warhammer fantasy battles did this when he entered the afterlife (which isn't really hell) was attacked by an army of daemons, summoned an army of spirit warriors and got out.
While never actually entering the realm of chaos Volkmar the grim was tied to a demon banner and carried around by a demonic legion, he breaks lose and slaughters demons with his magical chains.
Inverted in Cave Story. You've just penetrated through Hell, killed what is basically Wizard-Satan, and then... Balrog jumps into hell (he's known for an unexplained ability to get anywhere) to rescue you in the nick of time, to fly away, onto the Good Ending! Huzzah!
In Final Fantasy VII Sepiroth comes back after refusing to die and return to the planet.
Kratos did this in God of War, and again near the beginning of God of War II - although that time, he wasn't really ALL the way down there before he turned around and clawed his way back out again.
God of War: Chains of Olympus had him do this with the Greek equivalent to hell and heaven, though this was a semi-deliberate act, since he was charged by the gods to find Helios (god of the sun), and Hades was where his search led him. It fits, instead of being just a To Hell and Back scenario, as he's killed by Charon shortly after arriving.
At least in the first God of War, this is justified because Kratos has the blessings of the gods, including Hades himself, as all the Olympians are united that Ares must be stopped. Presumably, Hades allows Kratos to leave if he can make his way to the border with the mortal world. Plus, even in real Greek mythology, several heroes walk in and out of Hades.
And let's not forget the Barbarian King, who beat up the guards of hell with his giant hammer and rode out the gates on his fleshy fire horse. I don't care if he is the man who made Kratos what he is today; I felt sorry having to send him back to Hades.
Kratos does this once again in God of War III, this time making sure to kill Hades. By this point Kratos doesn't even seem remotely concerned about finding himself dead; it's not like it has ever bothered him yet.
Godot in Ace Attorney claims that he has 'come back from Hell to do battle' with Phoenix Wright. Given the potential for ghosts and spirit channeling in the series, he might well be telling the truth. Although he actually just came out of a five year poison-induced coma.
The Marine from Doom gets honorable mention here. He dies at the end of the first episode. Three episodes later, he finds a portal back to Earth as the ending text says he was "too tough for Hell to contain".
Moreover, in the sequel the Marine goes back to Hell and puts the lord of evil, as well as Hell itself, out of business for good, wondering afterwards where bad people go when they die.
A way to do Level Grinding in the old Mac game TaskMaker. When you die, you have to make your way through a fiery maze in Fire and Brimstone Hell without your weapons back to the living, while avoiding respawning devils. ....however, you get sent to Hell if you "cast a spell" with a swear word in it. (Or use an item like a Hell Scroll or Adam's Apple that Randomly Drops). Ironically you get to keep your weapons in this case, and you can fire a weapon through the fire "walls" and the devils don't go through them. If you hit a devil with a boomerang enough times, they'll die....
In the first Wild ARMs game, Metal Demon (in this case, it refers to a cyborg alien) Boomerang is killed defending the heroes by his fellow Metal Demons. But he comes back in the Monster Arena as a Bonus Boss. He explains that he fought his way from Hell. In the original, he turned his patron deity Guardian of Desire into a sword, in the remake it's summon magic like the other Guardians.
This is how the first and second Kid Icarus games start — Pit has fallen into Hades and must fight his way back up.
Playing as a Lost Soul in the Rogue Like "TOME", one has to fight their way from the Halls of the Dead. It's...very unlikely that you succeed, but if you do, you'll be WELL on your way to leveling up enough to beat the game.
Scorpion initially fell under version 2, when he made a deal for revenge. Since then, however, whenever he dies, he just claws his way back out, presumably under version 1, with knowledge of the path out that he was given before. Johnny Cage is a special version. He didn't so much claw his way out of hell as he followed Scorpion out once.
In Legend of Mana, the player character has to fight their way out of the Underworld each time they go there (though the last "obstacle" is just a friendly Shadole who offers you a free ride back to the world of the living), and also manages to prevent a Big Bad from making his takeover of the place permanent.
An interesting heroic case in Super Paper Mario: Mario and friends are thrown into the afterlife, and Mario fights his way in the Underwhere to find his brother Luigi. Queen Jaydes, who is not actually an evil person, allows them to return to the living world, and the duo continue to Chapter 7, which is... you guessed it, the afterlife again; but this time Mario and Luigi have to find Bowser, who is imprisoned in the Underwhere, and Peach, who is somewhere in the Overthere.
The player characters in Guild Wars Nightfall sort of do this in the Realm of Torment. While they do not try to fight their way out at first, they do fight to free some spirits, and find some help against the Big Bad. They eventually succeed at defeating, and replacing, the bigBad, replacing him with a non-evil version, making this also an example of Taking Over
Ryu Hayabusa of Ninja Gaiden is an interesting example. His clan being responsible for preventing hell from taking over, he spends a lot of time fighting his way INTO hell and BACK OUT again.
AmmonJerro from Neverwinter Nights 2 is implied to have done this after having been killed in a battle with the King of Shadows many years ago. It helps that he already had several demons from the lower hells under his control, though.
To quote Sarevok from Baldur's Gate, "I swore I would scratch and crawl my way back into the world of the living, and I. HAVE. DONE IT!! HAHAHAHA". Not mention getting killed TWICE before doing this.
Team Fortress 2: in Halloween of 2011, a second boss monster was introduced called MONOCULUS! who had the power to drag nearby players into the underworld. Luckily the underworld is only about 100 square feet, and if you can reach the exit before your health is drained (or before victims on the other team kill you) you escape back to the mortal realm with full health and temporary invincibility, damage, and speed buffs.
Arguably happens in Minecraft whenever you venture into the Nether
In Narbonic, the minor character Seth is dragged into hell by a visiting demon. Several years later, he returns when a gate is opened into the beyond. Apparently, he's picked up SEVERAL levels in badass on the way. Not to mention a really big axe.
While she wasn't in "Hell", Morganna, the mystical Big Bad of the webserial The Descendants managed after falling into Faerie. She mustered an army by defeating and cowing various creatures until she had a big enough army to challenge the local demons — who decided to cut a deal with her.
Not technically Hell, but in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Dr. McNinja fights his way out of the afterlife by double-teaming Death with the dual manifestations of his doctor and ninja personas.
Parodied in Problem Sleuth, where upon dying, characters are sent to the Afterlife (where they play various board games with Death), which they can simply open the door to and return to the land of the living, no "Fighting your way out" required (although Bumblebee Prof. gets sent to a different afterlife that doesn't seem escapable, and a more traditional Fire and Brimstone Hell is shown at some point). Later on, the door gets blocked, preventing any further escapes.
Got A Job
Anime & Manga
Little Miss Badass Ai Enma from Hell Girl. During her dying breath, she cursed the villagers that sacrificed her and her parents to their moutain gods. That same night, she came back to life and burned the whole village down, killing everyone in it. After that, she was sent to hell, and the Lord of Hell forced her to take the job of Hell Girl or else she and her loved ones would suffer in hell eternally. The job comes with a powerful set of powers, and over the course of 400 years she gains enough mastery of it to be able to confront the Lord of Hell, as seen in the end of Season 1. She manages to get off the job at the end of Season 2... and after a complicated set of events, takes the job back at the end of Season 3.
Occasionally this has happened to a Ghost Rider, though not usually by their own will in the main series, such as with John Blaze and Zarathos. In the Ultimate Universe though, being the Devil's bounty hunter is the Ghost Rider's default.
The man who would become the Saint of Killers from Preacher went to Hell for shooting through a hostage — but his hatred was so cold that it froze the flames to ice. The Devil couldn't stop his hatred — so instead, the Angel of Death, who was never really cut out for being The Reaper, makes a deal: the man will become the Saint of Killers, taking over the Angel's job, and leave Hell in order to serve as Heaven's enforcer. The Angel's sword is melted down and forged by the Devil into a pair of Walker Colt revolvers that will never miss, never inflict anything less than a lethal wound, and never have their hammers fall on empty chambers... And thus, the Saint of Killers is born. As he leaves hell, he kills the Devil himself!
As well as all the angels in heaven, Genesis, and Almighty GOD to boot!
Fridge Logic: Isn't a Deal with the Devilsupposed to be a convoluted, hard to grasp contract that is anything but airtight and can be interpreted in any number of (in)convenient ways?
Anton Arcane from Swamp Thing. He brought several other damned souls out with him, although it's unclear if they were likewise allowed to return, or just hitched a ride to sneak out.
In JLA: The Nail, the Joker returns from Hell, complete with new infernal powers, to try to drag Batman back with him. He almost did, too, except... well, he's Batman.
Batman was saved by the spirits of Robin and Batgirl, who due to the break down in the dimensional barriers also were freed long enough to rescue their mentor and break him out of his Heroic BSOD over their tortured murders before his eyes. It was also in the sequel, Another Nail, that that occurred.
Happens as a major plot point in the 1990's Vampirella, where Vampirella is killed and ends up in Hell, which is fortunately ruled by her mother Lilith, who gives her a mission to fight vampires on Earth just before she is killed. (This was a mild retcon, since Lilith was recently killed, but this implied that she had been in Hell all along and didn't get there recently.)
In Kenneth Oppel's Silverwing series, the cannibal bat Goth is sent back to Earth to re-teach the living cannibal bats about Cama Zotz. May be a slight inversion in that he's not quite sent back by Zotz himself, just told about the two living bats in the Underworld so that he can kill one to take the life into himself and live again.
In Anne Rice's Memnoch the Devil, Lestat is given a tour of the history of mankind and the afterlife, including Heaven and Hell. In Hell, the Devil (Memnoch, in case you missed it) offers him a job as his "right-hand man/vampire". Lestat declines and runs screaming out of Hell.
In Dilvish, the Damned,Roger Zelazny's half-Elvish hero Dilvish inadvertently interrupted a dark ritual. The sorcerer performing it turned his body to stone and banished his soul to Hell out of annoyance. He got out, but only with help.
Live Action Television
In Brimstone, a tough-as-nails cop who went to Hell, for the cold-blooded killing of the man who had raped his wife, is allowed to return to earth to hunt down 113 damned souls who've escaped from Hell...
Subverted when Dean takes a job and spends ten years torturing souls in Hell, except that a) he doesn't get to leave, b) he's gone through thirty years of torture himself, already, and c) it scars him for life, what with it being the most incredibly angsty show on earth.
This is how demons are created on the show however - essentially anyone who goes to hell will eventually end up with a job there, as their humanity is stripped away and they become a demon. Dean just got yanked out before he could get proper job security. The quality of the position is pretty directly based on how badass the person in question is; Hell is a pretty Asskicking Equals Authority place, and the only person with a guaranteed spot, Satan, is both out of circulation and an archangel, meaning he outranks the rest of them so totally he could probably ash the whole place alone.
Legend of the Seeker, unlike the source material, has Banelings as dead people the Keeper allows back into the realm of the living, provided that they kill at least one person every day. The first day they don't, he takes them back.
The Manowar song "Dark Avenger" is the story of a man who was horribly wronged by local village elders, and eventually killed. When he enters Hades, the "Gaurdion of Lost Souls", (voiced by Orson Welles) offers him a job. The man is equipped with a magic blade which was forged in brimstone and tempered in the tears of the unavenged dead, as well as a pitch-black horse with flaming eyes to carry him back to Earth the Guardion tells him to "seek payment, not only for thine own anguish, but vindicate the souls of the Unavenged". The song than is told by the Dark Avenger's perspective, which he mostly spends listing the fates of his targets.
In Warhammer 40,000, during the events of the Horus Heresy, a World Eaters Space Marine known as Khârn racked up an insane body count during the final siege of the Imperial Palace on Terra. He was killed during the battle, but Khorne, the Chaos God of war, blood and carnage, was so impressed by his showing that he brought Khârn back to life so he could continue to spill blood and collect skulls. It should probably also be mentioned that Khorne isn't particularly concerned about whose skulls Khârn collects, hence his nickname of "The Betrayer"
Typhus and the entirety of the Death Guard are another example. Stricken down with a terrible plague on their way to said final siege of Terra, the entire legion of disease resistant super soldiers is struck down by Nurgle... until Typhus makes a deal. Nurgle restores them to life, with the caveat that they will never be free of their diseases and must spend all of eternity bringing Nurgle's plagues to others.
And just in case you were thinking that was it, Lucius the Eternal of the Emperor's Children has a similar story. Renowned for both his arrogance and sadism, he was eventually slain, but his god, Slaanesh, approved of his debauchery so highly that he returned him to life, with the curse that anybody who dares kill Lucius will, if they take any pleasure in the deed whatsoever, be transformed into Lucius that he may live again.
The character of Ahriman is slightly similar to the above three examples; however, when Tzeentch picked him to be his herald of Change, he simply 'arranged' matters into giving Ahriman a lifestyle that suited him — just like he did when he brought the rest of his legion into his fold centuries earlier. Having a Magnificent Bastard for a patron deity will do that to you.
Many of the Primarchs of the Traitor Legions; after fleeing into the Eye of Terror (Hell on Earth... in Space) they were "promoted" to Daemon Princes.
In the Dungeons & DragonsPlanescape setting, when you die, you become a petitioner on the Outer Plane most suited to your alignment, and lose all memories of your previous existence. However, many petitioners who are sent to Baator (Lawful Evil Hell) and the Abyss (Chaotic Evil Hell) are selected (essentially at random) to join The Legions of Hell as the diabolic or demonic equivalent of privates. From there, it is theoretically possible that if the petitioner is both evil enough and Badass enough, then he or she could eventually rise up the ranks to become an Archdevil or Demon Lord. This is rare, but possible: the demon lord Orcus began his career as a lowly dretch, and he's now the second or third (depends who you ask) most powerful being in the Abyss.
In Exalted, the Solars of the First Age were killed off in the Usurpation because many of them had become mad, monstrously inhuman tyrants, the rest weren't far behind, and they were getting worse. The ghosts of thirteen of them are now the Deathlords, one of the most dire threats contemporary Creation has ever known.
In the Shard known as Burn Legend, Yamajin come about when an Akuma is killed and proves him or herself worthy to the Yomi Kings in the Thousand Hells. They get spiffy new moves, including the option to go One-Winged Angel, at the trivial expense of having their presence in an area gradually taint it with Hellish energies. But hey, who cares about that when you can hit like a tank?
Also shows up as a possible option in Return of the Scarlet Empress for the Scarlet Empress herself. In this option, the Empress dies, but the Neverborn were so impressed with her that they decided to turn her into a Deathlord when she became a ghost. This isn't the only option, however. See "Other" for the other option.
All player characters in Geist The Sin Eaters are this version of the trope. They are pacted and merged with super-ghosts because they were too hard-assed, too willful, or just insufficiently partied out to stay dead. And now they get to take it out on non-superpowered ghosts.
Kain from the Legacy of Kain series struck a deal with a necromancer to escape hell, and was returned to Nozgoth as a vampire for it.
And in the sequel Soul Reaver, his childe Raziel strikes a similar deal with the Elder God and returns as a soul-devouring apparition.
And then Kain does it again in Defiance, after Raziel rips his heart out. This time without anybody's help.
Kid Icarus gives us Medusa. Goddess of Darkness, completely wasted, hot as hell and gets kicked there. Then she allies herselves with the forces of Hades themselves and traps Pit - giving him a chance to pull a type 1 (see above).
Subverted in Kingdom Hearts II; Hades offers Auron out if he kills Hercules. His response?
Auron: This is my story and you're not part of it.
Hades: Did you forget who you're talking to! I am the Lord of the dead!
When The Infernomancer (aka 'TIM') is sent to Hell by the white magic of Gregory Deegan, he strikes a (new) deal with Karnak to return to the land of the living. Actually, Karnak was bluffing, but TIM didn't know that...
Lord Siegfried Gunther Aern Damaske von Callan (or Siggy) dies killing the Royal Seer and immediately becomes the lieutenant of Karnak, who had moments before killed every high level demon in Hell, so high-quality damned souls were in high demand.
Karnak himself, who was a human who averted a war in hell by attacking the Demon of War. He was carried down to hell, became a Demon Lord and eventually after another hell war, King of Hell. The storyline has basically been ignored since then.
Karnak did another in which he and Siegfried had a hugely dramatic fight which he ended by doing Grievous Harm with a Body using Siggy as an Epic Flail and a Breaking Speech, after which Siggy was reduced to a scorched, weeping shell of a thing and Karnak had an epiphany marked by a paraphrase of Rorschach's famous "you're all trapped in here with me" line. There were great revelations and the first redemption of a soul from Hell in extant memory. As an unintended side effect of Karnak's big speech and provoking his epiphany.
Incidentally, we learn here that Karnak didn't grab Siggy just because he was handy and came into circulation then—Karnak has huge personal beef with the Damaskes. If Siggy's father hadn't decided to massacre his (adopted) clan for fun on the pretext they were holding a human youth prisoner, he'd have been comfortably at home chomping boiled-to-hell roots when the portal to Hell opened, and unavailable for Heroic Sacrifice as The Atoner. Lord Siegfried got to Hell on his own due to being a violent ass who learned hate from his father and murdered orcs to amuse said father when he was a teenager, as well as due to betraying one of his best friends with the other months before he died when keeping faith with them was pretty much his only shot at redemption...but, you know, we kinda liked him.
In an odd preemptive version of this trope in Darken, the main character, Gort, dies on the first page, killed because he cut a deal with Mephistopheles to serve him in exchange for a mortal victory, and then he needed to die so Mephistopheles can put his mark on him before being sent back.
The titular character of The Karnak Hates Everything Show is the ruler of Hell, having taken that title from the previous ruler, Ohmdalar. In one plotline, a mysterious portal forms, confusing the hell out of the cast until Ohmdalar comes ripping through and takes the place back, banishing Karnak to the void. In a wonderfully-executed double example, Karnak eventually comes back through the same portal, then proceeds to instantly reclaim power using the unstoppable force of a legal document.
The Sins in Jack sort of count... they've all done horrific things in life that apply to one of the Seven Deadly Sins, so in hell, they become an embodiment of each one. The titular protagonist is Wrath, while his enemy Drip T. Rat, a serial rapist and murderer, is Lust. Hell still finds ways to punish them all via Ironic Hell.
Slade in Teen Titans. Then he goes back down into the depths of Hell to steal back his soul.
In The Boondocks, the spirit of Colonel H. Stinkmeaner was released from Hell by Satan (After training himself against Satan's demons, in the process somehow gaining sight and "three-stick nunchucks"), and possessed Tom Dubois to exact vengeance upon the Freemans for killing him. Honestly, this entry could be listed as either "Got a Job" or "Kicked Out" because Satan almost did just that after Stinkmeaner kicked his ass and called him a "Bitch-ass nigger". Offering him a job was the more sensible way to get him out of his hair.
There was once a collection of Looney Tunes shorts, all of them involving Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam, that were put together with story connecting them. The connecting story went as follows: After being sent to Hell after being outfoxed by Bugs, Sam was offered a chance to go back, so long as he sent Bugs there to take his place. After trying and failing several times, Sam got sick of it, and decided he'd rather stay in Hell.
Anime and Manga
In Magical Pokaan, Yuuma is kicked out of Hell after deciding that, since she won't die, she might as well enjoy herself and become extremely obnoxious towards the demons supposed to torture her.
In Saint Seiya Phoenix Ikki mentions that the creatures of Hell don't want to her about him (after coming back from it)
Lobo, sort of: when he died, Hell protested so much that Heaven took him in, but after five minutes of wild parties, massive damage to angels and property, and corrupting anyone in sight, he was sent to Hell... Where he proceeded to kick the devil and all his demons out first, and accepted leaving only when Heaven brought him back to life.
Harley Quinn. In her own title, she was killed and sent to Hell, but was banished from the place due her focus on joy and love. (Clearly, in a place where you're supposed to "Abandon All Hope", the staff doesn't like having someone like that around.)
Also in The DCU: Karnevil for annoying/freaking out the demons by constantly pointing out better torture methods, and The Joker for being the Joker. The villainous Dr. Light was also kicked out after his death in Suicide Squad.
The Saint of Killers from Preacher applies here as well. His hate-filled heart was so cold that it literally froze over the fires of Hell and the devil was unable to break him. He simultaneously got kicked out and got a job. Oh, and on the way out, when Satan threw an insult at his back, The Saint shot and killed the devil himself.
...did he really think a few thousand years on Earth could have changed Zirah? ...[Hastur had] forgotten... that they had kicked Zirah out of Hell because they hadn't wanted him there. Because everybody was scared of him.. The way Zirah's face, oddly angelic even after the Fall, had looked in the light of the flames. How he'd curl his lip whenever there was a particularly juicy bit of torture going on, and then absent-mindedly tear out some sufferer's voicebox because its screaming was getting on his nerves. Beelzebub, saying, "Fuck, make Zzzzirah go up. Bloke givezzz me the williezz."
In the second The Prophecy, Satan decides that Gabriel would cause too much trouble in Hell and kicks him out. "Only room for one of them."
Legends say that Captain Barbossa was so evil hell itself spat him back out again. The legend likely arose from the fact the he and all his crew look like skeletal zombies under the light of the full moon. Amusingly enough, Barbossa is revived from death in the second movie, so one could say that hell indeed spat him back out.
Rango: When told to "go to Hell," Rattlesnake Jake replies, "Where do you think I come from?"
Subverted in one of the Tiffany Aching books. The Nac Mac Feegles arrive at the river Styx (or Discworld equivalent) and the ferryman doesn't want to take them into Hell because they were such a pain the last time they were there. But since they're the best six-inch-fighters you'll ever find, he ends up taking them anyway.
Sinner, a character from the Nightside novels, was kicked out of Hell because his presence was ruining the ambiance. He'd sold his soul for true love, found out once he got to Hell that his beloved had been a heartless succubus, yet he still loved her and was satisfied with his lot... so satisfied, it made a mockery of Hell's purpose.
The subversion of this trope is the whole point of the the poem Tomlinson by Rudyard Kipling. The eponymous character is kicked out of first Heaven, and then Hell, not because he's too evil for hell to bear, but because he's never actually done anything, good or evil, in his life.
"Do ye think I should waist my good pit-coal on the hide of a brain-sick fool?"
The traditional song "Killieburn Brae" tells the story of a wife who is taken off to Hell by the Devil. On arriving, she sets about all the little devils with her stick, so the Devil carries her back to her husband "...for the likes of herself [they] would not have in hell."
Alex: After being sent to Hell in the "It's a Wonderful Crisis" arc, Alex and Clive are kicked out of Hell making a GFC-sized mess of Hell's Soul Market. The Devil and an archangel undo all of the events starting with Cyrus's suicide so that Alex and Clive never end up there in the first place.
Jack, as in Jack O'Lantern. After being refused entrance to Heaven, the legend states that Jack tried to enter Hell, but for what he'd managed to do to the devil while alive, he was refused entry. (According to some versions of the legend, Satan was apparently scared he'd trick his way into running the place.) Given that he's barred from both eternal destinations, he wanders the earth, his path lighted by a coal he takes from hell. (Usually is given, sort of 'here, take it, now GET OUT!') The coal, of course, is the light for the titular lantern.
According to one version, the first thing the bodhistava Guanyin did upon her first death is to start preaching. Immediately she was converting demons and sending them to the Western Paradise. Lord Yama, the boss down there, was afraid she'd empty the place and told her to go back to world of the living.
JR "Bob" Dobbs, leader of the Church of the Sub Genius, has died many times, and has escaped from Hell every time. How many times? He's returned to life so often, every day of the year is his birthday.
Once again in Narbonic, Mell ends up in Hell after getting kicked out of Heaven. It takes her a whole week to get kicked outta THAT place...
Seth, one of the main characters of Sorcery 101 was - according to one myth about his background - kicked out of hell SPECIFICALLY because they were afraid he might take over...
J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, of the Church Of The Subgenius, went to Hell after he was "assassinated" in Dallas (mainly because he'd never been baptized as a child.) Once in Hell, he seduced and bedded Satan's bride — giving Satan a "second set of horns" — and was kicked out of Hell. As he has nowhere to go after dying this gives him a form of Nigh-Invulnerability — and necessitates that he be followed by an elite guard of churchgoers to keep him from getting baptized by accident.
In South Park, Saddam Hussein, through a sexual relationship with Satan, makes various attempts to take over the world and/or Hell. Eventually, he is kicked out, but sent to Heaven as punishment. He continues his scheming from there.
Which (since Saddam was dead years earlier in South Park continuity than in Real Life) led to the US seeing Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction... in Heaven.
Well where was he supposed to go - Detroit?
In SpongeBob SquarePants The Flying Dutchman kicks SpongeBob out of Davy Jones' locker 30 seconds after arriving there, due to his constant blabbering.
Done beautifully in one episode of Animaniacs. The Warner siblings end up in Hell when they take a wrong turn, and subject it to their brand of mayhem. After they freeze the whole place, Satan literally kicks them out.
"Do you have any idea how long it takes to get the pilot lit?!?"
After dying, Shishio Makoto of Rurouni Kenshin declared his intent to overthrow the King of Hell. Depending on how you interpret it, Shishio may or may not have succeeded in this endeavor when he visits the catatonic Kenshin in the latter's living hell during the Jinchuu arc.
The scenes with Shishio and Yumi on the heaps of skulls in Hell are the only supernatural content in the series not filtered through someone's consciousness. There are a couple of ghosts that could be hallucinations, but Shishio going off to conquer Hell is just shown, like anything else that happens.
Subverted in Dragon Ball Z, when Dabura dies. King Enma is afraid that if he is sent to Hell (as he rightly SHOULD be, considering his sins), he'll just end up growing stronger from it. (After all, the main characters use being dead as a training arena often enough.) In an effort to improve him, King Enma sends Dabra to the most peaceful part of Heaven. Later in the series, Dabura is seen again, and has turned into a character so peaceful and loving that the protagonists are actually creeped out by him.
And at the end of Dragonball GT Piccolo had died, but is later seen in Hell, bringing order to the endless chaos and protecting Hell's leaders, becoming more of an authority figure than they ever were.
Nobel Kale takes over hell after slaying Mephisto and Blackheart then sends Dan Ketch back to Earth, releasing him from his Ghost Rider duties.
When Doctor Doom was dragged down to Hell, Reed Richards undertook an elaborate plan to pull him back out before he took the place over, which he estimated would have taken a matter of weeks.
There was a DC miniseries called Human Defence Corps about a bumbling everyman in a military group who deals with JLA-style emergencies. Their first adventure is against vampires (nebbish everyman takes one for the team). Their last adventure involved going to Hell, taking down the Devil, then using the now-vampiric bumbler to institute a regime change.
As of the Captain Britain and MI:13 Annual, Meggan. She led a band of rebels and then helped forge them into a new country in order to spread hope in Hell.
Christopher Rudd actually manages to go from damned soul to sextoy for the nobility of Hell into one of the nobility himself and eventually ruler of Hell in Lucifer.
Stagolee, the "terrible mucker" currently hunting Lee Wagstaff in Bayou.
Lady Death was originally a mortal woman named Hope who made a bargain with a demon to renounce her humanity and serve Hell if the demon rescued her from death. Arriving in Hell, she discovered a civil war was raging. Lady Death led an uprising against the Lords of Hell. During the final battle, Lucifer cursed her never to return to Earth while the living walked. Lady Death swore an oath that she would circumvent Lucifer's curse by exterminating all life on Earth. Lady Death finally ended Lucifer's control over her by casting him through Heaven's Gate (a place where evil cannot go), and in doing so became the new ruler of Hell.
In the Redwall fanfics by Quinlan of Redwall, the first Big Bad, Hardin, is dead by the end of the first story. Then, in the latest, we find out he overthrew Vulpuz as the Lord of Hellgates.
In the simply epic The Avengers fanfic named Legends, the one who has taken over hell is Doctor Doom. He's naturally pissed when he sees his killer, Arcade, arrive. His proposed punishment? A millennium of torture until the new Deadpool arrives to hand him over to Dormammu.
In Tanith Lee's Death's Master, the Queen of Hell (or "Innerearth") was a human queen, Narasen, who owed Death 1000 years of servitude. However, she was too much of a queen to act as anyone's servant, and Uhlume, lord of Death, instead abdicated much of his role to her. He decided he liked roaming the Earth, but the inhabitants of Hell want him to come back and relieve them of Narasen's harsh rule.
This is technically what Supernatural's Crowley did, in incredibly slow motion with a few hundred years of bureaucracy, backstabbing an otherwise Machiavellian business after the 'get a job' one. He died, went to Hell, became a demon, worked his way up the ladder to head of purchases, survived the demises of pretty much every other major demon in Hell in the countdown to Apocalypse as all Lucifer's faithful raced into the fray to assure his victory...and then defected to Team Free Will and helped seal the head honcho back in his cage and save the world. In the absence of significant competition he promptly established himself as King of Hell. Three seasons later, after angering pretty much every other being more powerful than himself that still exists, he still holds this position. Rather responsibly, too. "This isn't Wall Street, this is Hell. We have a little something calledintegrity!"
Tom Smith's Sheep Marketing Ploy is a song covering a supposed series of horror movies named Death Sheep following Fenton, a sheep who takes over Hell after being pulled down there by Lucifer.
Now he's standin' at hell's door With a bad attitude and a .44 The devil said, "What's up man, now what you come here for?" He said, "Man, let's just get to it" He said, "I always heard that you were the bad one There's a few places I ain't been, a few things I ain't done You got your pitchfork and I got my gun..."
In the Hindu Vedic tradition, Yama, the lord of the dead, is said to have been the first mortal who ever died, giving him his office by right of seniority... and that, of course, makes this Older Than Feudalism.
Smug SnakeEvil Genius Roland Kingworthy attempts this in season 5 of Old Harry's Game, bringing the demons onto his side with his effortless charm. Satan talks his army out of attacking, and Roland immediately claims he was attempting to expose the treacherous demons. Satan doesn't believe a word of it, and has an abyss he's been saving specially...
Satan: I never trust anyone who puts that much effort into his effortless charm.
In most Dungeons & Dragons settings, Asmodeus is the Overlord of Hell, but some sourcebooks suggest that he was not the first. A few Planescape sourcebooks about Hell mention the "Ancient Baatorians", creatures that ruled Hell before he came along and exterminated most of them. The Elder Evils sourcebook says that this was definitely the case, claiming that Asmodeus' predecessor was an Eldritch Abomination named Zargon and giving playable statistics for him. (Which, given that it is possible for him to be killed by mortals, suggests that his power has greatly degenerated since Asmodeus kicked him out.) Pathfinder goes all-out and states that Asmodeus unseated Lucifer himself to rule hell.
Hidetsugu of Magic The Gathering's Kamigawa block is an interesting example. Unlike some examples of this trope, Hidetsugu charged into hell in the first place to give the All-Consuming Oni of Chaos a piece of his mind after it chickened out after O-kagachi soundly defeated it. He isn't heard from again until the end of the book, where he shows up, gives a respectful greeting to the Plane's new guardians, and demonstrates that he's absorbed his former master's essence by dealing out a much needed comeuppance to the Chessmaster behind the whole mess.
In La Pucelle: Tactics, Prier can become a Demon Overlord if she goes too far deep into the Netherworld and kills the present one. She appears as such in the Disgaea series as a Bonus Boss. This is apparently based on a legend in Japanese mythology where one will become a youkai (demon) if they "bathe in the blood of 1000 youkai."
Similarly, in Makai Kingdom, the backstory of Seedle, the Overlord of the Underworld, is that he was once a Samurai who got lost down there - and ended up taking over the place. Actually, he was killed by a woman he was about to rape, but he still took over. Said woman was burned at the stake for killing a "hero" but she also took over her own Netherworld after her death.
In Disgaea 2 it's revealed that the "God of Demon Overlords'' got so powerful from killing hundreds of other Demon Overlords that she started becoming an Eldritch Abomination. To escape this fate, she gave herself Easy Amnesia and reincarnated herself.
Happens in Disgaea 3 if You kill the final boss with just human Almaz alone, he becomes an Overlord, in style much like Prier. The Final Boss himself is an "Evil God" due to being a Hero who killed countless Overlords.
Also occurs in Disgaea 4 if you lose to Fuka during your battle with her. She decides to take over the Netherworld before she takes over the human world, and enlists the defeated Valvatorez and Fenrich as her servants in the process.
Occurs in another Atlus game, Catherine. If the player has made Chaos choices for the duration of the game and answered all of the final questions with freedom in mind, he asks Catherine, a succubus, to marry him... And she agrees. He wakes up in Hell the next morning and decides to strap on a sword and start killing demons wearing nothing more than his boxers... And eventually grows so powerful that everybody knows who he is and he uses Catherine's father (himself a powerful demon) as a seat. While he's making out with the guy's daughter and several other succubi.
In Final Fantasy II, killing the Emperor the first time doesn't particularly help, he takes over Hell and returns to Earth, raising Hell's capital from the earth to serve as his new base. In the remakes, it turns out this is the "evil side" of his soul doing the work - the "good side" ascends to Heaven and takes over that, too.
The novelization even depicts the Emperor meeting Satan after he dies; who is about to take his soul; so the Emperor kills him.
The game's manual states that Mortal Kombat's Shinnok became ruler of the Netherworld by deposing Lucifer, which is probably the only reference to Judeo-Christianity in the entire series.
Also, Noob Saibot (who is, of course, the original Sub-Zero, resurrected under Quan Chi's control as a 'Revenant' warrior) has this as his Arkade Ending in Mortal Kombat (no, the OTHER one) - with his powers boosted by Quan Chi in order to assassinate Shao Kahn, he is able to break free of Quan Chi's control, and make a secret deal with the rival Realm of Chaos. After the Realm of Chaos severely weakens the Netherworld in a surprise attack, Noob Saibot seizes control and becomes the new King of Hell...
The Sengoku Basara version also claims to have taken over when he returns to the mortal realm in the third game. In his case it's questionable whether he was truly human to begin with, even the first time around.
Beautifully subverted in BloodRayne, the backstory of which says that Satan became the ruler of hell, by usurping the throne from the game's villain Belial.
The dream match of the Samurai Shodown series (Tenkaichi Kenkyakuden) pits you for a final stage against a Demon-possessed Gaoh, who has apparently taken over Hell by abusing his demonic power. The first picture that greets you before fighting him is him stomping the head of Lucifer.
If your daughter in Princess Maker 2 is skilled in magic and fighting but has a lot of sin, she'll eventually kill the Lord of Darkness but end up taking his place.
The protagonist of the original Diablo becomes the Dark Wanderer in the sequel after losing his battle of wills to contain the evil by embedding Diablo's soulstone in his forehead, eventually being entirely possessed and mutating into Diablo Himself. Something very similar happened with Tal-Rasha and the Lord of Destruction, Baal.
When the Hidden Fun Stuff in Dwarf Fortress gets unleashed, it usually spells the end of a fortress. But some fortresses not only beat back the demons, but take the next step and launch a full scale invasion of Hell and take the place over, such as what happened in Waterburned, the succession game hosted on This Very Wiki.
In Odin Sphere, afer Odette is slain by Gwendolyn and Armageddon begins the Halja release King Gallon and pledge themselves to his service since Odette's death has left them bereft of a master and Gallon is the most powerful being in the underworld. Gallon leads the armies of the dead in an omnicidal campaign against the living, fulfilling his role in Armageddon as one of the Five Disasters.
Black Mage of Eight Bit Theater managed to pull this off when he was killed by Lich. But since he's the universe's Butt Monkey, it didn't last very long...
To be fair, he's so evil that when he first arrived, they were going to build a whole new section of Hell just for him, but without his mortal body, there was no way they could contain his incredible power, so he ended up taking over and was so evil that even the Demon Lords and Archdevils were terrified of him. Luckily they managed to stuff him back into his body when his back was turned. Lately, whenever his Butt Monkey status leaves him dying, he is happy because he gets to take over Hell again. Of course, due to that very same Butt Monkey status, he's also healed or otherwise resurrected before he has the opportunity to pass on.
White Mage: A great disturbance in the order, as if a million voices cried out to say "Oh shit."
Matoya: Stupid Light Warriors must've broken my crystal. I keep asking for lotto numbers and all I get is "The destroyer is manifest."
In Dominic Deegan, Karnak fell into Hell after fighting back the Demon of War, Dal Balor, several years before the beginning of the webcomic. Though he was mostly involved in small-time evil, his badassery jumped to epic levels during the War in Hell arc. In a few days, Karnak rips through thousands of Mooks with a bloodied sword, an in-depth knowledge in demonic spine removal and no shirt on. After a quick detour due to bad weather, Karnak travels to the top of a mountain, kills several demon lords, destroys all the souls of the Chosen and subsequently nukes Hell. At the end of the arc, Karnak turns from a lower demon lord with no followers left to the only demon left standing. He becomes the King of Hell due to the lack of adequate competition.
Even more impressive considering he's not even a real demon.
Well he is, at least, distinguished by being alive. And as the Demon of Wounds, the line between living and dead appears to be vague for him.
Since then there were several reveals and he had an epiphany, declared he wasn't trapped in Hell with the damned so much they were trapped in there with him, and closed off Hell to implement his unspecified new policies. He sent Miranda a goodbye projection first.
Incidentally, while accepting that you deserve to be in Hell and repenting and abjuring your old crimes utterly is apparently the only way to even get back into samsara circulation from Hell—as grass, no less—in this setting, it is currently somewhat unclear whether Karnak was damned for some hidden fault or not. Mookie does have double standards in favor of women's rights, but a jealous betrayal of his best friends he regretted within minutes which did no one any permanent harm is literally the worst thing he ever appears to have done before jumping.
Perhaps he earned his place there afterward—he was alive, if in Hell, as he became a demon, but at this point he's done loads to earn it. Before Character Development, we had no reason not to loathe him. (Mind you, if the people I cared about most in the world had gone on to be happy together after I threw myself into Hell for at least one of them, and then talked to and about me when I Came Back Wrong the way Miranda and Donovan do to Karnak in his first appearance, I'd do everything I could to hurt them, too.) Karnak is a Magnificent Bastard, a Deadpan Snarker, and an impressive Determinator, but he is long since an absolute bastard.
Points for Karnak's name being an old orcish term for the Morning Star.
Happens in Head Trip when Mal falls in love with the Devil Guy. She attacks Satan so they can be together.
Actually, that was a fanfic Mal was reading. It horrified her.
In the most recent story of The Gods Of Arr Kelaan, Ronson is trapped in hell. His weapon, the rubber mallet, semi-inadvertently kills Satan... and Ronson gets stuck with the job.
Referenced in Grim Tales From Down Below - during a flashback to the days of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Mandy outright states that she doesn't mind in the least that Grim will eventually take her - she knows that she's going to hell, but she's already planning how to take over when she gets there. As it turns out, however, she doesn't have to kill anyone to become the Empress of the Deadlands - she marries into the position instead.
ThisPress Start episode has Count Vile rather humorously beaten Satan in a duel (via slipping on banana peel and getting a ring out) and claimed his right to rule Hell.
Vile: Hey Vlad... guess what I just did!
Some Downfall parodies feature Hitler winding up in hell, and it's usually implied that he's now running the place.
On The Simpsons a church carnival had a mirror that showed what people would look like in hell. While it showed Lisa in rags and being tormented by fire, it showed Corrupt Corporate Executive Mr. Burns in a crown and flowing robe, and eating a human head. "Excellent!"
In Ugly Americans it appears that Satan is not one being, but a title for position that has been filled many times in history by different demons. Exactly how this is done is not known.
Anime and Manga
Hao Asakura from Shaman King got past the seventy five Lords of Hell and gained the ability to resurrect the dead and reincarnate himself at will. He did this while living.
Ninin Ga Shinobuden parodies the hell out of this in episode 5, simultaneously lampooning almost every aspect of this trope. Onsokumaru gets killed and sent to hell, where he meets some ninja ogres. He becomes their leader. They then attempt to invade heaven on the pretense of delivering a pizza, but the people in heaven are so annoyed by him that they kill him again, sending him back to earth.
Mukuro Rokudo uses the 'Six Paths of Reincarnation' which gives him six different skills. In the anime, he claims that he had gone through all six paths to Hades, thus granting him six different skills. (In the manga, he states that he had six past lives instead.)
The eponymous Jack of Fables makes a deal with the devil to the effect that when he dies he won't go to hell. He assumes that means he'll automatically go to heaven. He's wrong, and is doomed to spend eternity wandering as a headless corpse. He gets better -by making another deal with another devil. It doesn't end there. Related to a form of the old Jack O'Lantern story.
Subverted and inverted in Sandman, when Morpheus goes to Hell loaded for bear, to release an ex-lover he'd damned out of petty spite millennia ago. When he gets there, Lucifer has emptied Hell of all the damned and diabolical and formally abdicates, peaceably leaving Morpheus with the Key to Hell.
The Olympics plot of DC Nation. A combination of a Chekhov's Gun placed with Troia and a Type 1 starts a big battle. Troia triggers the Chekhov's Gun and it summons a horde of fallen allies to rocket up from the underworld and join the brawl. Everyone from former Teen Titans (including Wild Card Terra, who decides to betray Hades!) to Easy Company...even a cadre of 9/11 First Responders. Leading the horde is Hawkman. Arsenal is on his left. Nightwing is on his right, announcing the entrance with a very loud "TITANS TOGETHER!" and a narration joke about literally being a Bat out of Hell.
In the Fullmetal AlchemistContinuation fic, the Elemental Chess Trilogy, Roy Mustang becomes extremely ill in the second part. He doesn't die, but when Edward Elric pays a bedside visit, he asks if he's died and gone to hell. Ed invokes the trope by retorting that hell wouldn't want Roy if he died, because he'd probably take over.
In Broms The Devils Rose the protagonist and antagonist are both this. The former was employed to hunt the latter who broke out, bringing the souls of three killers with him.
There's the curious cases of the ghosts in the third His Dark Materials novel. First off, the place they are escaping is really more like an especially hellish (because it is so damn... boring) version of Limbo. Secondly, the ghosts the reader is primarily concerned with are indeed Bad Ass, but they are also good guys. Anyway, they turn out to be the ultimate fighting force against an army of Eldritch Abominations.
Dante in The Divine Comedy simply walks through hell. (Debatable example: he has a safe-conduct from God, which is used in a number of cases to get past demons. Also, he has a guide who's a magician capable of commanding demons and damned souls in his own right.)
Near the end of Elminster in Hell, the eponymous epic-level wizard gets rescued from Hell by his lover Alassra Silverhand. The Simbul herself inverts type 1, blasting her way into Hell.
Live Action Television
Connor from Angel seemed to be partway between fought out and took over. On the one hand, he left at the first opportunity. On the other, he was being called something like "The Destroyer, Bringer of Pain and Death" by the demons that came out of the portal first in an attempt to get away from him.
Dean Winchester was dragged out of Hell by Heavenly forces. The angel Castiel "gripped him tight and raised him from perdition". Also, while down in the pit, everyday he was offered a chance to escape the torture he was subjected to if he would inflict it on others. After 30 years, he takes the deal, and spends 10 years as a torturer, beginning to enjoy it as an outlet for his anger issues. Slightly different in that while his return was related to the job in question, he was not sent back on Hell's terms.
Sam also miraculously escapes Lucifer's cage because Castiel raises him, but unfortunately misses his soul. The soul is later rescued by Death and inserted into Sam's body, but it's almost completely broken by Lucifer's endless torture.
In Reaper, it's Sam's job to capture souls who had escaped hell and bring them back to hell. Exactly how they escaped isn't revealed until later in the series: the demon Gladys was helping some escape.
Myth and Legend
After Emperor Nero died, it was rumored that he wasn't dead but hiding in Parthia and would return to conquer Rome. In some versions of the story, however, he had died, but would return anyway.
The escape of Lord Soth (formerly of Dragonlance) from Ravenloft, is quite possibly the weirdest case of this trope ever. He escapes from Ravenloft (essentially, a trap for various 'darklords') by not giving a crap. To elaborate: Soth basically accepts that he deserves to be tormented by the Dark Powers and admits his failures. He refuses to rise to anything they present him with, be it despair or hope; eventually, realising that it's pointless to keep him around since he won't respond to anything they do, the Dark Powers release him from Ravenloft.
In the Exalted adventure book Return of the Scarlet Empress, there are a few options for what happens if the Empress herself dies. One option is that her ghost ends up running La Résistance in the Underworld and fighting against the Deathlords with an army of holy-powered ghosts under her command. For the other given option, see "Got a Job."
Valkia the Bloody, a Warriors of Chaos character in Warhammer, entered the Realm of Chaos to present a demon's head to Khorne, only to die along the way. Khorne got so pissed off that she'd died before he wanted her to that, in an extremely rare turn of events for a Chaos God, he resurrected her and reshaped her to be a guide for the souls of worthy Chaos Warriors.
Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark has multiple endings. Chapter 3 centers around you breaking out of Cania, the eighth circle of hell, and if you have his True Name several interesting options open up with the Big Bad, its lord Mephistopheles. You can order him to wait tables at a tavern you're planning on opening, to turn control of Cania over to you and be your lackey, or to rule it with you as a partner. A good-aligned character is more likely to either order him back to Cania and never return, or order him to die.
Painkiller: the player slays through hordes of demons in limbo, goes down to the bottom of Hell killing Lucifer's four generals and Lucifer himself. Then in the expansion - with a little help from Eve - he fights his way out and kills the demon now ruling hell who has manipulated him into killing Lucifer and is offered the chance to rule with Eve. Which he promptly refuses...
The Reincarnation flash series of Adventure Games shows that escaping hell is actually really easy since it just require taking a portal back to the human world. The player is an imp tasked by "Luke" to find the "reincarnies", find proof that they're still evil (they always are) and Make It Look Like an Accident.
Mass Effect 2 opens with the Player Character being killed (after a Heroic Sacrifice). Cerberus brings him/her back to life via pioneering and very expensive medical procedures. While Shepard doesn't remember what happened while dead, even Garrus invokes this trope in one conversation when talking about Shepard: "Hell, the Collectors already killed you once, and all they did was piss you off. I doubt they'll succeed a second time."
Asura from Asura's Wrath climbs up a massive tower in the underworld four times. The first time it takes 12,000 years, and the second time takes only 500 years. The third time he gets killed he comes back in a couple of days, and the fourth time he's on his feet in a couple of hours. Rage is a hell of a motivator.
Kyril from Heroes of Might and Magic VI does a type 1, 2 AND 4 all at the same time. After walking alive into Sheogh, the local equivalent of Hell, to bodyguard an angel, he is betrayed and used as a bargaining-chip, his soul sold to one of the local Arch-Devils. Enraged, he fights his way out, conquering a significant territory in Sheogh on the way, and forming a reluctant alliance with the Arch-Demon he was sold to, ensuring that when he bursts back unto the surface, he does so at the vanguard of a horde of demons. He even finds himself attracting further demonic allies even after that point, solely due to his ever-increasing badassitude, since demons follow the rule of Asskicking Equals Authority.