"The most terrible thing in the world is that everyone has their reasons."In some stories, the good guys are squeaky embodiments of shiny goodness that fight bearded stage magicians who cackle a lot. Then again, sometimes you have stories where your caped crusaders largely go up against the misguided and distraught. Other stories might have the pragmatic freedom fighters against a government who alternately sing orphans to sleep or murder their kittens. Still other stories have the world's mightiest, most murderous, most-pants-wettingest "heroes" you've ever seen against a guy who made entire worlds into slave-states for profit and kicks. Then you have stories that don't fit into any category like this. Rather than discrete groups or distinct moral systems, you have a sliding scale, and all groups and characters fall somewhere between "Hero" or "Good" at the furthest extreme and "Villain" or "Evil" at the other extreme. In most cases, the people closest toward the "Hero" end of the scale will be the main characters, but they're usually not perfect (and they can become even less perfect as time goes on). Their opponents fall further toward the "Villain" end of the scale, more often than not, with some that are so close to the Villain end that they don't really have any heroic qualities. In short, none of the groups fit cleanly into the White-Gray-Black categorization, as all of them do things both good and evil with varying degrees of frequency. This generally makes for more dynamic stories, as you're never sure if the heroes will stay on the straight and narrow or villains will keep wreaking havoc. See also Shades of Conflict and Sliding Scale of Anti-Villains. When you've got a specific group to which this trope applies, you've got a Four-Philosophy Ensemble. Compare The Good, the Bad, and the Evil along with White and Grey Morality. Contrast Evil Versus Evil, where nothing is good or morally ambiguous about the characters. Also contrast Good Versus Good where nobody is truly evil.
— Octave, The Rules of the Game
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Anime and Manga
- Attack on Titan becomes this as the story develops, contrasting strongly with Eren Yeager's original view of the world as Black and White. The story fully explores the themes of He Who Fights Monsters, with heroes ranging from the idealistic to the pragmatic and villains that are complex individuals driven by understandable motivations.
- The Asterisk War: Only the protagonists and Sylvia are in the White area of morality. Several characters like Claudia are willing to use underhanded means to achieve noble goals. Others like Irene and Orphelia used to be good people until they were forced into villainy by circumstances beyond their control. The Integrated Enterprises Foundation is a power-hungry Mega Corp. that keeps entire countries in poverty simply because it's profitable to them.
- The manga version of Chrono Crusade. Azmaria, Mary Magdalene and most of the members of the Magdalene Order are clearly heroes. Rosette's very heroic, but has a number of vices and character flaws that get the best of her; Chrono is kind and gentle but has a dark past (including formerly being one of the villains); and Satella is mostly concerned with her own goals but still shows empathy towards others. The Sinners, although being the main villains, are mostly in the gray, from Joshua (who is devoted to Aion because the demon horns on his head are making him lose his mind, but who has understandable and occasionally noble motives) to Shader (who hates violence and expresses remorse for her actions but goes along with Aion because she believes in his ideals) to Aion himself, who is a Well-Intentioned Extremist. The closest to the actual "villain" scale are the other demons, who are either beasts who take pleasure in attacking humans or soldiers sent to kill the Sinners and whoever gets in their way—but some of these are somewhat sympathetic, since many of them are simply aliens stranded on a strange planet who are struggling to survive and believe in a lie perpetuated for generations. The morality structure is explained by the mangaka as being inspired by the idea that people aren't born evil, but become evil through their selfishness.
- Code Geass: There is one genuinely, unquestionably good person, Euphemia, (Shirley is debatable, because while she is certainly kind-hearted and sweet, she is only concerned about her own feelings and school life while all hell is breaking loose outside, so she can come across as somewhat self-centred). At the same time, there is one genuinely, unquestionably evil person, Luciano Bradley. Every other character falls somewhere in between, with most of the "good guys" being flawed and somewhat hypocritical, and most of the "bad guys" being either fiercely nationalistic or a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
- Taken to extremes with the main character, who can be convincingly argued to fall under any moral alignment depending on the situation.
- Date A Live: Characters range from idealistic heroes (Shido and his allies), the cynical but well-intentioned (Origami and the AST), Anti-Villains (Kurumi) and the supremely evil (Westcott).
- Death Note has a pretty wide variety of character morality-wise, and who is truly good and truly evil is often discussed by the characters and a major plot point. Some of the characters do mostly good things for selfish motivations while others do terrible things with noble purposes in mind. Pretty much any character that declares themselves completely good is portrayed as misguided or near psychotic and good luck trying to establish with any certainty who are the anti-heroes and who the anti-villains, towards the end of the story the triumphant character even makes a reflection about the subjective nature of good and evil.
- Dragon Ball where many of the protagonists are former villains who change sides after meeting Goku.
- Dragon Ball Z takes this further. Many characters (such as Piccolo, Vegeta, and Android 18) start out as evil and never truly become good (at least compared to the villains that they and the other protagonists fight), but they are still accepted as allies of the characters who are actually good. Characters like Goku seem to have no problem associating with them, so long as their actions don't threaten anyone. And then of course there are the irredeemable villains like Frieza and Cell.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: The Elric brothers and Winry are the most purely heroic characters; the heroes from the State Military are more gray, being former war criminals who want to atone for their sins; Greed and Scar are fairly sympathetic antagonists until they become Anti Heroes; there's Barry the Chopper who is the Token Evil Teammate for the State Military heroes- he's clearly Evil; finally, the other villain characters are definitely very far down toward the evil extreme of the scale (Shou Tucker and "Dr Goldtooth"). And even one of the worst villains is spared. Then of course we get Kimblee.
- Gantz has this, as the hunters are very different in terms of morality, ranging from an Ideal Hero like Katou to a Sociopathic Hero like Nishi. The same applies to the aliens, as they are pacific (until attacked) in the early missions, but more hostile kinds of aliens appeared later on.
- One Piece is a huge example of this. The protagonists are morally ambiguous pirates that are motivated by self-interest and personal goals rather than any abstract moral considerations, but tend to do good anyway by defeating more evil pirates (or marines) that happened to do something to offend them. Other pirates can be anything from Chaotic Good adventurers to Selfish Evil jerkasses. Likewise Marines can be anything from legitimate heroes to guys who just want a check to well-meaning extremists to Knight Templars. One Piece characters have all kinds of varying motivations and alignments - it very much depends on the individual person rather than what group they belong to, which is quite realistic.
- Pandora Hearts is all over the place. This trope becomes most distinct after it's revealed that Jack isn't the squeaky-clean hero everyone believed him to be but rather a Tragic Villain driven to insanity by his love for Lacie. Furthermore, Oswald/Glen isn't the Manipulative Bastard Big Bad he's been portrayed as but an endearingly socially awkward Well-Intentioned Extremist who hasn't handled being betrayed one too many times by those close to him so well. And that's only two of the characters.
- Despite being the protagonists of the show (as well as priestesses), the Sybillae of Simoun have moralities that are all over the range. On one end, you have the innocent Limone and the truly and actively good Rodoreamon, Yun, and Morinas. Then there are the more ambiguous Paraietta, Mamiina, and Dominura, and the self-absorbed and venal Floe. The romantic leads Aaeru and Neviril and the nations of Argentum and Plumbum are a little hard to place, while the Defense Minister of Simulacrum is decidedly at the bottom of the proverbial drain.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V eventually divulges into this when the Myth Arc interdimensional war was revealed. Sort by factions and individual characters, we have: White (the You Show Duel School, Yuya, Yuzu and Gongenzaka) vs. Lighter Grey (Yuto plus Selena) vs. Darker Gray (the Big Good LDS, Kurosaki and Yuya's Berserker mode for kicking only assholes) vs. Black (the heartless Academia). Yugo and the Synchro Dimension didn't appear enough to sort into these shade of conflict while a few of the Asshole Victims are just Jerkasses. Sora seems to go from Dark Gray to Black with a few Pet the Dog moments, before beginning a Heel–Face Turn due to a Heel Realization. Unusual for a YGO franchise because it focuses on a lot more characters at the same time than its predecessors, allowing for more shades of conflict during one arc. More amazingly, the anime has a change in genre and in morality within only about 30 episodes, impressive for a Shonen series.
- There's also some work put into showing how characters who do evil things think and why they do what they do. Sora and Dennis both have a lot of humanizing traits. Serena shows the mentality that leads people to becoming Black, since she wanted to be a soldier until she stopped to consider that her victims might be innocent. Sora suffers from a bad case of Fantastic Racism, but is shown to have grown up with no friends, trained not to ask questions and obey orders unquestioningly, and starts thinking for himself and avoiding commands once he makes real friends for the first time in his life, and begins to have a Heel Realization. In fact, all the characters from Academia are either Trapped in Villainy which leads them to despair and Then Let Me Be Evil, or see themselves as Proud Warrior Race Guys with Undying Loyalty to their leader, even the nastier characters like Yuri. Speaking of Yuri, it becomes clear that his twisted personality is a result of being raised as a monster by a man who, due to preconceived notions, saw him as a "demon" and rewarded him for doing evil, which was the only time someone paid personal attention to him. Kurosaki is a genocide survivor and a Shell-Shocked Veteran trying to rescue his friends and family, who has become paranoid and ruthless due to all he's lost. Reiji's invasion of privacy and ruthlessness has saved the lives of the three LID students and enabled him to ensure that his dimension isn't caught by surprise and destroyed the same way the Xyz dimension was. Duel Chaser 227 became a Corrupt Cop in order to avoid poverty. Most of the Tops actually believe the lie that they are equals and friends with the Commons, when they're actually the oppressive ruling class in a Crapsack World. The Commons are starving and manipulated by their oppressors Bread and Circuses, but while the crowd can be nasty every individual member that we meet is genuinely nice or has a Hidden Heart of Gold somewhere. Shinji truly believes the only way to change the system is through a violent revolution and his rebellion gets swallowed by Black and White Insanity, but ultimately pull a mass Heel–Face Turn. Jean-Michel Roget is just a greedy bastard, although he tries to justify his actions to himself by claiming Might Makes Right. Kaito is in the same boat as Kurosaki, except every member of his family was killed, whereas Kurosaki still had his sister, and Kaito thus pushed everyone away to avoid being hurt- causing him to become He Who Fights Monsters even more than Kurosaki. Edo feels Trapped in Villainy, and once he finally breaks out of it he manages to abuse the aforementioned Undying Loyalty of the Academia soldiers to convince his subordinates to get the soldiers in Heartland to pull a mass Heel–Face Turn. Leo Akaba doesn't think that anything in the four dimensions really "counts" and just wants to get his daughter back, but he goes far beyond Well-Intentioned Extremist, fucks up royally in the process, and refuses to listen to any perspective but his own. Even Zarc was pushed to the edge by his need to fulfill the sick desires of his fans, as well as the implications that he had ability to understand the pain of duel spirits when everyone was forcing them into battle.
- Amazingly, a few Disney movies have this morality scale:
- Frozen makes use of this as part of a Genre Deconstruction of the typical Disney fairytale. The only true heroic characters are Princess Anna of Arendelle (who, as a Deconstruction of the typical Disney heroine, suffers a few What An Idiot and Wrong Genre Savvy moments), Kristoff (who's gruff and standoffish, but turns out to be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold) and Olaf (as a living symbol of the bond between the two sisters). Queen Elsa, a Deconstruction for the Evil Queen archetype, is a Dark Magical Girl of Mass Destruction who can create sentient life and declares herself Above Good and Evil. But she soon suffers a severe case of Power Incontinence that plunges her country in an Endless Winter that she eventually learns how to lift and has one Trauma Conga Line after the next. Anna and Elsa's parents, serving as a deconstruction for the typical Missing Parent, are just regular people who are Unwitting Instigator of Doom by isolating Elsa (and Anna) from the rest of the world for so many years. The trolls, despite their best intentions, are rather vague on their instructions and caused the above misunderstanding on the part of the Arendelle royal family. The Duke of Weselton is a Not-So-Harmless Villain who is very egocentric but he is a Well-Intentioned Extremist who wants to save Arendelle from the winter Elsa cast (if only for selfish reasons). And then there's the Deconstruction of Prince Charming, Prince Hans who is a manipulative would-be usurper but has, according to Word of God, a Freudian Excuse.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame, despite (or perharps because of) its Disneyfication from the source material, which ran on Gray and Grey Morality. Quasimodo and the Archdeacon are the only truly good characters in the movie (and even the former has several Let's Get Dangerous! moments). Esmeralda is a Knight in Sour Armor. Clopin and the gypsies in general are Unscrupulous Heroes. Phoebus is a Pragmatic Hero in sour armor who later has a Heel–Face Turn. The crowd of Parisian citizens start off as a bunch of bullies that mock Quasimodo, but end up siding with the heroes when Frollo goes too far and accept Quasimodo at the end. Even Judge Frollo, for all his nastiness, sociopathy and monstrosity, is given a very humane and relatable moment in his Villain Song "Hellfire."
- Mulan. The heroine is nice, loves her family, and saves the country, but gets an Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving speech for it. Her closest companions are a selfish attention-seeker with a conscience (Mushu), two mundane jerks who get better (Ling and Yao), and a guy who is so unbelievably nice it's a wonder he ever made it to hero of war status (Chien-Po). Her authority figures include several mostly nice but not perfect people, several good-but-hard people, and two people who are just flat-out mean, one of whom—Chi-Fu—is bad enough that he operates as a civil antagonist. And her one enemy with real characterization is outright sadistic to the point he deliberately slaughters a village of civilians including children, and yet is the only character in the movie who never expresses surprise at a woman fighting him or brings up her gender as a negative.
- Zootopia, as a film exploring prejudice, shows varying degrees of prejudice among characters: Judy tries to be anti-prejudice but has some implicit prejudices of her own she needs to overcome. Nick lives up to the "sly fox" stereotype and is cynical about animals' abilities to overcome them because he tried and failed to in his backstory, but eventually does, thanks to Judy. Bogo is unwilling to budge on his preconceived notions until he sees results, at which point he does so unapologetically. Clawhauser is not malicious in any way but still stereotypes Judy out of innocent ignorance and then immediately apologizes for it. Judy's parents are kind, well-meaning people, who are openly prejudiced against predators, especially foxes but get better thanks to Judy. Gideon Gray is shown as a kid attempting to reinforce predator superiority but has grown out of it as a young adult. Lionheart leads a type of affirmative action program to get animals into non-traditional jobs but treats his own small animal assistant mayor like dirt and was willing to kidnap several animals to protect himself from being a victim of prejudice. Bellwether is sweet and friendly, attempting to raise Judy up while trying behind the scenes to systematically tear all predators down, and willing to turn against Judy when she refuses to do the same. And Gazelle has reached a level of enlightenment few can.
- Neil Gaiman's The Sandman was notable for dealing in multiple stories with highly gray, conflicted and deeply disturbed characters who are across the morality spectrum. Gaiman was also quite wary about invoking Karmic Death and Laser-Guided Karma and as such a number of individuals who do bad, evil, and horrible things end up surviving and going unpunished. The protagonist, Dream of the Endless, is a primordial concept who has Blue and Orange Morality and a Code of Honour but he's also prone to jealous acts of cruelty, Disproportionate Retribution and much of his story-arc is about learning some humility. Most of his family are of a similar nature. The most likable, sane and "normal" of his family are Death and Destruction.
- Watchmen demonstrates this trope. Each of the major characters is based around a different system of morality, and the conflict between these different moral outlooks drives much of the story.
- The Comedian is a Nihilist who sees the world as nothing but a joke, and just doesn't care about right or wrong, Rorschach is an Objectivist and a moral absolutist, incapable of seeing the world in any terms other than Black and White, Dr. Manhattan is so alienated from the human experience that the very concept of morality escapes him, and Ozymandias favors a utilitarian ideal of doing good to build a better society, by any means necessary.
- What demonstrates this trope is that none of the characters are truly consistent to their ideas. The Comedian's facade of cynicism shatters utterly and he turns out to be a lonely, self-loathing wreck who is truly pathetic on the inside. Dr. Manhattan, the most seemingly misanthropic of the superheroes, gives the ultimate Humans Are Special speech in the book. Ozymandias and Rorscharch follow an Hourglass Plot: they at first see each other as being a guilty liberal (Ozymandias) and a fascist (Rorscharch). The morally absolute Rorscharch, who once justified Harry Truman's Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is stunned when Ozymandias launches a similarly brutal attack using the same justification. This time Rorscharch takes the opposite tack and denounces this action, willing to die rather than uphold this facade.
- Within the X-Men, Xavier, Cyclops, Wolverine and Cable all have different ideas about when its right to cross certain lines. To say nothing of when people like the White Queen or Magneto himself join the group. There are the outright villains like Apocalypse and Mister Sinister or the Sentinels, but much of the drama of the stories' most famous arcs deals with internal divisions and inner conflict, most painfully during the The Dark Phoenix Saga where the X-Men, the Shi'ar Imperium, and Jean Grey have differing and believable reasons and arguments, and the only resolution is tragedy.
- Prison Island Break, a Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic, takes place in a prison, and almost all the characters are morally dubious criminals, including those Sonic allies himself with. The most obvious exception is Big Bad Mephiles.
- In The Legend of Total Drama Island, most of the cast are varying shades of gray, but the following are notable and/or representative:
- Black: Chris, the host. He shows a callous disregard for human life.
- Near-black: Heather, the alpha bitch. She seems to enjoy her antagonist role a little too much to be a “gray”; but unlike Chris, she draws the line at the prospect of bloodshed.
- Dark gray: Duncan, the juvenile delinquent. He’s an experienced knife fighter and tends to view girls as objects, but he has too many Pet the Dog moments to be a “black”.
- Neutral gray: Chef Hatchet, Chris' aide. He’s a textbook Punch-Clock Villain. He understands and accepts the role of hardship in separating the game's contenders from the pretenders, but when approached with proper deference he can sometimes be persuaded to give the petitioners more help than his duties require or even technically allow, although he won't do anything that would affect the course of the game.
- Light gray: Katie and Sadie, the co-dependent clones. They’re friendly, loyal and supportive, but are also willing to get their hands dirty to get what they want.
- Near-white: Courtney, the Muskies' nominal leader. She is well-meaning and compassionate, but is also willing to do what she thinks she must.
- White: Bridgette, the granola girl. She’s almost incorruptibly pure and is the only contestant known to have mourned the dead interns from the beginning.
- 1632: The heroes range from almost pure heroism to rather questionable, the antagonists range from evil to people who could be heroic under slightly different circumstances and/or are just victims of Values Dissonance.
- Artemis Fowl is pretty much this for the first few books then leaning towards Black and Gray Morality towards the End. The Kitchen Sinkers are mostly Artemis (even towards the end) and the Fairy Counsel. The villains are pretty much black morality after book one. That is if you don't count Artemis.
- The Chathrand Voyages: There are so many plots and counter-plots going on that this is bound to happen. The three heroes need to constantly reassess who they can trust depending on which evil plot they're fighting at the moment.
- In Chung Kuo, there are some very upstanding characters on both sides, who rub shoulders with pure villains.
- Daniel Suarez' Daemon and its sequel FreedomTM. Apart from Roy Merritt, who earns immortalisation as a genuine embodiment of justice, the reader's perceptions of who the good guys and bad guys are is constantly changing.
- The Dresden Files: At the furthest extreme of the Hero end we have Michael Carpenter, the Fist of God, who only fights monsters, has a grand total of one recorded instance of swearing in the series proper (which was in a side story), and is all around about as wholesome as a person can be. Slightly away from the good extreme would be the majority of the series other heroes e.g. Harry Dresden, he's a generally upstanding guy with a massive case of Chronic Hero Syndrome, but isn't above a bit of pragmatism if it's necessary. More towards the middle of the scale is The White Council which is made up of plenty of Knight Templar Jerkasses, but has methods which are shown to oftentimes be necessary. The main representative of dark grey is John Marcone, who is a ruthless crime boss, but ends up joining forces with Dresden more often than opposing him and will not tolerate any violence against children. And when it comes to his usual criminal activities, he believes, as characters of his type often do, that crime's going to exist no matter what, and it's better than it be controlled by someone like him than descend into every-gang-for-itself warfare. As for the monsters of the setting, we have any one the supernatural villains, e.g. the Skinwalker, a terrifying and sadistic monster whose true form's mere sight is enough to send Harry into a Heroic B.S.O.D.. To top it off, we even have Blue and Orange Morality in the form of the fae, whose Winter Court guards the universe against monsters from Outside, who don't enter reality so much as parasitize it, and whose Summer Court protects the universe from the Winter Court. On top of that, we find that Winter has the ability to be logical and stay its hand when it's best to in the long term, while Summer is more prone to going off half-cocked (and when a fae as powerful as the leaders of the courts does that, we can be talking armageddon.)
- Brandon Sanderson's Elantris. Furthest toward the Hero end, you have Sarene, who's upstanding but can be a little deceptive. A little further away from the Hero end, you've got Raoden, who resorts to some practical tactics. On a good deal toward the Villain side, you have Hrathen, but he shifts further toward Hero before the story is done with. All the way down at the Villain end, you have Dilaf.
- Harry Potter is somewhere between this and Black and Gray Morality. The Death Eaters are pretty consistently on the black side, but the protagonists can vary from saints to assholes.
- In David Weber and Linda Evans' Hell's Gate series both Sharonans and Aracans are a hodgepodge of good, bad and in between, although Arcana in general has many factions with different goals (some gravitating towards the morality scale extremes), while Sharona is more unified and thus more uniformly (a lighter shade of) grey.
- Horus Heresy has their characters all over the map. On one side, there's Sanguinus, the Messianic Archetype of the piece, with Vulkan and Loken not too far behind, as both have blind spots in their consciences. Closer to gray, there's most of the "good"-aligned characters and some villains, like Noble Demon Magnus, who all have good intentions but a healthy dose of pragmatism. Some loyalists, such as shockingly brutal, but undyingly loyal Azaellon are in the deeper grays along with most of the traitors, including Horus himself, while series' resident Hate Sink Erebus occupies the deepest black. And then there's the Emperor, with whose morality your guess is as good as ours, and Chaos Gods, who run on Blue and Orange.
- Present in Madeleine L'Engle's A House Like a Lotus, with the addition that even one person is never completely good or evil. It basically boils down to "people are complicated."
- Les Misérables is also a book with Loads and Loads of Characters that are, morally, all over the map. The character who does believe in Black and White Morality, Inspector Javert, is no worse than Lawful Neutral but believes with all his might that Law = Good and anyone who breaks the law is evil forever. In this light, he continually tries to arrest Jean Valjean, a petty crook who skipped parole but did a Heel–Face Turn and made good. When Valjean's selfless virtue finally proves Javert's mindset wrong, the resulting cognitive dissonance makes him throw himself off a bridge.
- Överenskommelser by Simona Ahrnstedt covers the entire scale of morality. White morality is represented by Beatrice (a good but still flawed Ditzy Genius) and Sofia and Johan (who are close to being flawless). Grey morality is represented by Seth (a Jerk with a Heart of Gold), Jacques (Seth's equally morally ambiguous friend) and Vivienne (a Good Bad Girl). Black morality is represented by the three (!) abusive misogynistic villains.
- Betvingade has a similar set-up. White morality is represented by Illiana and a few minor characters. Grey morality is represented by Markus and his friend Stellan. Black morality is represented by most of Illiana's family members, and by Roland Birgersson (a sociopathic murderer).
- The Riddle Master Trilogy: Morality ranges from Actual Pacifist Morgon though even he spends most of the second book hunting someone down with express intent to kill them, pragmatic but still very good-aligned Raederle, very grey Deth, whose actions verge on Necessarily Evil sometimes but whose intentions are good, pretty damn awful Ghistelwhchlohm, who is the type to Mind Rape someone for a year to get a piece of information, and the shape-changers, who verge on Blue and Orange Morality.
- J.R.R Tolkien's Middle-Earth, especially in The Silmarillion. On the heroic side of things you have most of the more noble characters like Frodo, Eärendil and Beren (though, even they aren't immune from making mistakes and moral lapses) and most of the Valar who always mean well but often make misguided choices. All the free peoples vary greatly, with morally ambigous characters like Thingol, Malgor, Túrin, Mîm, Fëanor, Gollum, and Thorin hovering in the middle and with Morgoth and his directly corrupted minons at the evil extreme. However, the moral compass of the series varies between each story, with The Lord of the Rings mostly (though not completely) revolving around Black and White Morality while Black And Grey dominates The Children of Húrin and The Hobbit (with shades of Grey and Grey Morality in both).
- Given that A Song of Ice and Fire has Loads and Loads of Characters and no clear heroes or villains, it's no surprise that the morality spectrum comes in about a thousand shades of gray. You've got extremely honorable, well-meaning people like Ned Stark and Brienne of Tarth, bastards like Gregor Clegane and Ramsay Bolton, and more Anti-Heroes and Anti-Villains than can be listed. Among the "anti-"s, fans can't even agree which ones of them are anti-heroes and which are anti-villains. It's largely a matter of perspective.
- Justified in the Realm of the Elderlings series. The Six Duchies folk, the Bingtowners, and the Outislanders all have very different standards of morality, depending on their previous histories, and even those groups are not morally homogenous, with each individual character bringing their own reasons and morals to the story.
Live Action TV
- Deadwood uses this to some extent; much of the early part of Season one casts the character of Al Swearengen as the most morally corrupt character in town. That is, of course, until Cy Toliver shows up, who quickly quickly steals the spotlight as villain most evil. Al is made to look almost a hero as the result. This is possibly subverted however, as the show in general uses the morality kitchen sink, and both Cy and Al do indulge in purely "good" acts on occasion. And then George Hearst shows up in season three, a wealthy sociopath who cannot abide things not going his own way and sets about turning Deadwood into a Company Town.
- Game of Thrones: Or rather, white and black plus a thousand shades of grey. Between Ned Stark on the one hand and Ramsay on the other, every one of the Loads and Loads of Characters has his own unique shade of grey.
- Kamen Rider Ryuki is a rare Toku example note . Shinji Kido/Ryuki and Tezuka Miyuki/Raia are unambiguously good, if not flawed in their reluctance to fight against the other Riders. While Ren Akiyama/Knight and Shuichi Kitaoka/Zolda are both portrayed sympathetically and are more often than not Shinji's allies, they're still complicit in the Rider War's continuation, making them land mostly in the grey territory. Most of the other Riders such as Takeshi Asakura/Ouja and Satoru Toujou/Tiger fall into the evil category, and even Shiro Kanzaki can be argued to be within a very dark shade of grey.
- LOST. Most of the characters are Anti-Heroes or Anti-Villains. The show's Big Good is still a Manipulative Bastard who is the embodiment of Good Is Not Nice, and the Big Bad is ultimately given a rather sympathetic motivation (although by the time of the show's main events he is still unmistakably at best an Anti-Villain). There are only a few characters who could be considered unambiguously good or unambiguously bad (Martin Keamy, Locke's father) characters, but the distinction between good and evil is still there, even if the viewer's perception of which characters are which is constantly changing.
- From the directors of the above mentioned Lost is Once Upon a Time. On one end of the spectrum you have people like Prince Charming as the heroic, noble and sacrificial if not sometimes pragmatic hero. And on the other, you have people like Peter Pan and the Black Fairy, manipulative evil bastards (or bitches) who only cares about themselves. However, in between you have everyone else, including several villains like Regina and Gold who are on a road to redemption, villains like Cora who slowly became worse despite sympathetic beginnings, and The Messiah who's also an Anti-Hero.
- Orange Is the New Black doesn't have even one character who is simply good. Even the nicest, most moral characters, like Poussey or Fisher, have distinct moral flaws. And this isn't limited to the prison walls - some of the most selfish and mean people in the series have never set foot inside a prison. Things are the most grey when it comes to the main characters, who constantly slide on the scale between Anti-Hero and Anti Villian - most notably Piper.
- The main cast of Legends of Tomorrow runs the gamut from do-gooder "boy scout" heroes like Ray, to Pragmatic Heroes like Sara, to well-intentioned but often selfish characters like Rip, to seemingly villainous characters with a hidden good side like Snart, all the way to Mick Rory, an unrepentent thief, murderer, and arsonist who only joins the team's ostensibly heroic mission because he likes the company and because it gives him lots of opportunities to indulge his violent tendencies.
- The100 makes sure that black, grey and white are represented among all of the three main groups (sky people, grounders and mountain men). Clearly good characters, such as Clarke and Lincoln, can do or turn a blind eye to terrible things, and act selfishly. Monsters such as Pike and Cage are still shown to care about their people. And most characters are just grey (Lexa, Jaha), conflicted (Finn,Dante Wallace), or bounce all over the range (Murphy, Bellamy).
Table Top Games
- Dungeons & Dragons and spin-off Pathfinder in most of its settings has this. There may be a necromancer who is repeating Mengele's work on his victims, a paladin who spends all his days feeding the poor and treating the sick when not rushing off to battle nasties like the necromancer, amoral thieves who just look to make a quick coin clipping purses in the market, well-meaning but ruthless knights who seek to put down the aforementioned thieves without realizing their oppressive lords have beggared the people, and a cult to a god of chaos and magic whose followers Blue and Orange Morality pushes them to do things no one understands. Really, the limitation is the player's and GM's imagination and their willingness (or not) to have certain things in their game. They may even be in the same Adventure Town. Newer, more "mature" games often aim at the more limiting Gray and Gray or Black and Gray morality.
- While most of the Old World of Darkness has Black and Gray Morality, Changeling: The Dreaming and Mage: The Ascension follow this trope.
- Most Changelings are Seelie dominant and generally good, but not necessarily supremely virtuous. Most Unseelie fae are still decent folks. Some Seelie and a few Unseelie are so old-school knightly they might as well be D&D paladins. Seelie and Unseelie villains alike range from operatic Harmless Villain to ruthless Pragmatic Villainy to cannibalistic Blood Knights to Eldritch Abomination-worshipers.
- Mages as individuals are usually trying to achieve good ends. The main conflict is Romanticism Versus Enlightenment, with the Romantic Traditions embracing old school mysticism and trying to awaken humanity and the Enlightened Technocratic Union trying to empower humanity For Science!. Then there are the Eldritch Abomination-serving Nephandi and the insane-as-all-Hell Reality Warper Marauders. The conflict started with the Traditions clearly being morally superior to the Technocrats, but the Technocracy got a little Character Development later on and it became very hard to say either side was right. Individual mages in each group were all over the map, while the Marauders are very much Blue and Orange Morality and the Nephandi are a faction serving evil masters.
- While all Table Top Role Playing Games allow you to make a character who is anywhere on the map, different games have within their "default" tone different views. Please consider a game's "normal" tone and not what players might decide to do. For example, you could play a completely virtuous character in Shadowrun, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a dark and grimy cyberpunk world where amoral mercenaries work for backstabbing corporations and inhuman spirits.
- Wicked adds a dimension of moral gray to The Wizard of Oz. Elphaba (the Wicked Witch) is a Well-Intentioned Extremist and Tragic Hero who is trying to destroy the Wizard's apartheid regime; the Wizard himself is a sad and lonely old man and Windmill Political who desperately wants to be loved and uses Oz's talking animal population as an "other" to unite the Ozians against an enemy and in adoration of him; while Glinda is a Stepford Smiler and Attention Whore who becomes the Wizard's propaganda tool, which she rationalises as giving people hope and someone to look up to. All of them are fairly sympathetic and none of them are evil, but they all make bad choices and all have their regrets.
- Hoo boy does BlazBlue have this going on in later games. It was initially seen as a Black and Gray Morality conflict at first, but then the plot and characters got fleshed out significantly so now its pretty hard to pin down who's a clear cut hero or villain. Most cast members are mostly motivated by their own personal interests rather than concepts of "Good" or "Evil", and they tend to fight when these interests clash with one another. The cast ranges from the idealistic, to cynical but well meaning, to the sadistic sociopaths.
- City of Heroes has Praetoria, which was assumed at first to be a standard Mirror Universe. Then we find out in Going Rogue that Praetoria is actually very much this. The members of the Resistance and Loyalists alike are scattered all across the morality spectrum.
- Dragon Age: Origins has shades of this. The only wholly villainous faction are the Darkspawn and even they become more sympathetic in Awakening. Dragon Age II takes it even further to the point that there is no Big Bad responsible for everything going wrong. Every major faction in the game is sympathetic to some degree and all of them are partially responsible for the Downer Ending. The games do have a few truly heroic and truly monstrous people, but they have surprisingly little impact on the setting as a whole.
- The Elder Scrolls series as a whole fits. In each game, individual quests, quest lines, and characters can have moralities all over the various scales. Naturally, the choices of the player determine where on the scale the Player Character falls. This can range from the purest Knight in Shining Armor to a thieving, murdering psychopath. The main quests of each game (and major expansions) are typically such that, even if you are playing as an "evil" character, you won't be able to continue that lifestyle unless the Big Bad (who more often than not is seeking to bring about The End of the World as We Know It) is defeated, giving a player character of any morality a good reason to defeat said villain.
- Fallout: In addition to the Karma Meter, several games in the series have used various forms of Alliance Meter to add complexity and allow the player to have a more complex reputation in the game. Starting with Fallout 2, the generic reputation stat was split up and tracked on a town-by-town basis, with additional epithets that had a more universal effect on the player's reputation. Following Fallout 3 and it's return to a conventional Karma Meter, Fallout: New Vegas returned to the complex Alliance Meter, in addition to (and separate from) the Karma Meter it retained.
- The main factions in Fallout New Vegas are also this, with the Legion being a very dark grey and the NCR and Mr. House competing to be the lighter shade of grey faction in comparison. Meanwhile the Yes Man ending where the Courier takes power can range from darker than a Legion ending to also much lighter depending on the Courier's actions and Karma.
- Far Cry 4 initially appears to be a straightforward La Résistance vs a dictator story, but things get complicated fast. The Big Bad Pagan Min is indeed a brutal despot, but he is also genuinely Affably Evil, and later on you learn that his hatred for the rebels is a Papa Wolf Roaring Rampage of Revenge writ large against the scum who murdered his infant daughter. Several other villains have Even Evil Has Loved Ones and Morality Pets on their side. On the other side, the rebels are The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized types, and whichever of the two rebel leaders one survives to the end succumbs to He Who Fights Monsters and becomes little better. And Ajay yourself? That's anyone's guess.
- The Geneforge series. There are anywhere from two to five factions the player can join in each game. With the possible exception of 2's Barzites and 5's Taygen, they pretty much all have arguments in their favor. While the world itself is more about Gray and Grey Morality, the individual sides play out this trope. The Well-Intentioned Extremist tends to be the most common type in each, but they all have their share of saints and monsters, and everything in between.
- Kingdom Hearts, particularly in its later installments, is surprisingly dependent on this trope for a Disney property. Sora's pretty close to the hero extreme (though he's more personally-motivated than he seems), while the Disney villains actually come from 'verses with Black and White Morality. The grey areas range from Roxas (whose lack of memories sometimes leads to a sense of Ambiguous Innocence) and Riku and Axel (who are so devoted to their friends that they'll shoot whatever dogs are necessary to save them) to DiZ (who works for the same end as the good guys out of a need for revenge) and Organization XIII (which, in itself, has everything from the apathetic Demyx to the Evil Overlord Xemnas).
- Because it's a game by Obsidian (formerly Black Isle), it should come as no surprise that Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords features this trope pretty significantly. If the player should choose to be Light Side, then s/he and his/her group are fairly close to the Hero extreme. A little further away from the good end, but hard to say by how much, would be the Jedi Council, who are shown to have good intentions but be seriously flawed in their execution of them. Further toward the Villain side, you would have Darth Traya. Then, practically sitting on the Villain extreme, you have Darth Sion and Darth Nihilus, with the second one the most non-Heroic, most Villainous person in the game.
- While the first Mass Effect had this to an extent, the second game features it a lot.
- Furthest toward the hero end, we have Paragon Shepard. There's also Legion, who is... strange, to say the least, but seems to be Lawful Good, and Jacob, who seems to be a good man who's just involved with bad people.
- In the middle, we have Miranda (who has her moments), Garrus (who is a decent person but rather doesn't like criminals and takes retribution a little too far at times), Mordin (who will happily do bad things to stop even worse things happening), Samara (who lives by a mostly good code of ethics but follows it quite closely), and Thane (who is a kind-hearted assassin who only kills bad people).
- On down toward the villain end, you have Zaeed, a rather unpleasant mercenary with no empathy, Jack the convict, and Grunt the violent krogan Super Soldier. Renegade Shepard also fits in here.
- Even closer to the far end, you have the surprisingly charming Illusive Man, and Morinth.
- And at the bottom are the Reapers, who plan to assimilate everyone useful and kill the rest. Although the argument could be made that they are beyond the morals of the "lowly organics."
- Don't forget the Blue and Orange Morality of different cultures, most obviously the geth. For this reason, Legion's loyalty mission has one of the most contentious choices in the game.
- The Medieval II: Total War mod, Thera is a standalone mod set in a Low Fantasy After the End scenario with a bunch of Fantasy Counterpart Culture factions duking it out. They all morally run the gamut between white, black and every shade of grey, with the majority falling into grey.
- The closest there is to a good guy is Avalon, which is basically Arthurian England which places the protection and prosperity of its people as its ultimate priority, with all citizens and the king under the rule of law. That said, they still maintain close ties with the brutally dogmatic Inquisition, and they have a very backwards view of things like scientific development.
- A very good example of a morally grey faction is the Uruk Dominion. Basically, they're a city-state reminiscent of Isengard, which came to be after a Gladiator Revolt. It's the only place in the world where the Uruks, Ly Kan and Reptarri are truly free, and their long-term goal is to free the other members of their oppressed races. But not so fast. They breed vast armies of warriors using breeding facilities, using human women, ones that the Uruks have captured and enslaved themselves.
- Probably the closest this game has to a bad guy is a tie between the Warriors of Kukulcan or the Grand Duchy of Dracule. The former is an unholy mix of a Mayincatec Religion of Evil and The Horde, united and driven by the worship of the god Kukulcan and their hatred of everyone else. The latter is basically Transylvania under the rule of Vlad the Impaler, with all the brutality, corruption, barbarism, brutal kings and harsh lifestyles for the common folk turned Up to 11.
- Overwatch might look like it's a cheery good vs evil showdown, but it runs deeper than that, everyone HAS their reasons to fight. If there is a scale of comparing the characters, they would be divided to the 100% heroes, the Anti-Hero, the neutral heroes, the Anti-Villain, and the 100% villains.
- League of Legends was more black-and-white early on with its underlying Demacia (good) vs Noxus (evil) backstory, but it has become far more complex over the years, with Demacia being rewritten as a Lawful Neutral kingdom with occasional Knights Templar tendencies and Noxus developing into a Social Darwinist culture that values honor as well as strength. Individual characters can fall anywhere on the scale regardless of origin, and include various shades of Martial Pacifist, Anti-Hero, Well-Intentioned Extremist, and Card-Carrying Villain. Add a few Eldritch Abominations into the mix alongside Blue and Orange Morality spirits to round out the cast and you have a rather complex scale with characters falling all over the place.
- Shin Megami Tensei: This is usually how the games start: humanity has been plunged into a terrifying environment where the End of the World as We Know It is either looming on the horizon or is a very recent memory, all manner of mythical beings are running rampant, and a bunch of humans of varying personalities, backgrounds, and degrees of morality and idealism are just trying to stay alive, with finding a solution to the mess an ever-present (but often secondary) concern. Then Law and Chaos-aligned beings start pressuring the heroes to take a stance. By the third act, almost everyone will have taken a side and demand you do the same. Should you choose neither, you end up as one of the few sane people in an Evil Versus Evil scenario.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic is shaping up to be an example of this. From what we know so far, it's just as possible to play a Light sided Sith as it is to play a dark sided Jedi, and a number of characters on both sides are morally grey.
- However, let it be known that "Light Side" and "Dark Side" are very different concepts for Imperial characters and Republic characters. At worst, a dark sided Republic character will be a Token Evil Teammate, generally they'll be Anti-Heroes. On the other side, Light sided Imperials are generally Anti-Villains of various degrees, with the best being Type IVs, devoid of villainous actions, but still on the "bad side."
- The smuggler (Republic) Dark Side story ends with you seizing control of a massive interstellar pirate fleet through murder and betrayal, then using the "distraction" of the climactic good-versus-evil battle of the other storylines to loot and then raze most of the starports in the galaxy in an orgy of murder, rape, and pillage. Additionally, the only person to make any kind of attempt at non-murder conflict resolution in the Jedi Knight storyline is a Sith officer, who ends up nobly sacrificing himself for morality while the actual player, Light Side or Dark, takes the easy and bloody way out. I'd say they've got the Grey and Gray Morality covered pretty well.
- And the goal of one of the Sith lords on Korriban is the fantasy equivalent of curing cancer.
- However, let it be known that "Light Side" and "Dark Side" are very different concepts for Imperial characters and Republic characters. At worst, a dark sided Republic character will be a Token Evil Teammate, generally they'll be Anti-Heroes. On the other side, Light sided Imperials are generally Anti-Villains of various degrees, with the best being Type IVs, devoid of villainous actions, but still on the "bad side."
- Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines has multiple plot shakers vying for the possession of the Ankaran Sarcophagus: the Camarilla formally led by the ruthless but intelligent slimebag LaCroix (but a much Older and Wiser Tremere traditionalist Maximilian Strauss pulls the Camarilla strings behind the scenes), the moral pragmatist Nines Rodriguez leading the rebellious Anarchs, the mysterious newcomers Kuei-Jin, and the Sabbat, who are so evil, you can't side with them under any circumstances. And then there is Jack, who seems a friendly enough Anarch at first, but turns out to have been behind the whole Ankaran Sarcophagus scheme the entire time and gets away scot-free in the end.
- World of Warcraft: There two main kinds of conflict, roughly corresponding to player-vs.-player and player-vs.-environment play: The Horde vs. Alliance (PVP) is Grey and Gray Morality, a conflict maintained mainly by jerks and ordinary people failing to see things from the other faction's point of view, and the occasional truly bad apple spoiling everything further for everyone else. For example, some of the humans of the Alliance are appalled at the city of Lordaeron having been transformed into an undead hive with rivers of slime, whereas the Forsaken undead living there could point out that as survivors and rebels against the Lich King's plague of undeath and often former inhabitants of the kingdom, they certainly have a claim to their rebuilt city. (But they're also obsessed with trying to poison everyone else.) The other type of conflict is of both factions against destructive, wholly evil forces like the Lich King's Scourge or the Omnicidal Maniac Legions of Hell of the Burning Legion. (Mind you, the Lich King had a bit of a personality conflict himself, and the Burning Legion's founder was driven by an extreme case of Utopia Justifies the Means.) Some organisations opposing such threats, such as the Argent Dawn/Crusade, are clearly good, whereas the otherwise similar-ish Scarlet Crusade is a pretty much unambiguously evil Knight Templar organisation.
- Chronicles Of Elyria, will have characters on a spectrum of good and evil, helped by the fact that much of the conflict will be between political entities with no obviously evil faction. Of course, some players are likely to become the more sophisticated version of griefers, even if they will have to evade the authorities.
- Zero Escape Trilogy has recuring themes including Hidden Depths and What Are You In The Dark and most characters tend to be morally complex individuals. While there are few clearly good people(Seven, Luna, Diana) and few clearly bad people (Hongou, Dio) almost everyone is varrying shade of grey with motivations ranging from "save everyone" to "save people i care about" to "save myself" with a few people with higher goals thrown in for good measure, as well as varrying degrees of ruthlesness and moral standards in pursuing those goals. Even the same character can be morally different depending on the situation and player's choices.
- The Nexus Clash lore is largely about deconstructing Black and White Morality. The series presents itself as Black vs White vs Grey, but the seemingly all-important Karma Meter is a charade set up by the most belligerent angelic and demonic deities to force people to take sides and reward their followers solely for keeping the conflict going. Even the angels are divided into zealots who fall easily into Knight Templar territory and more conciliatory angels whose kindly ways make them vulnerable to a Pacifism Backfire. Much of the roleplaying in this setting revolves around trying to find a definition of good and evil that doesn't just play into the pantheon's warmongering hands.
- Comes with the the territory of being based on the Dungeons & Dragons alignment system in The Order of the Stick. You have good characters doing good things because it's the right thing to do (Roy mostly), bad people doing bad things for a greater good (Redcloak kind of), bad people doing bad things for amusement (Belkar, more or less, though he becomes...somewhat better), characters operating on something more resembling Blue and Orange Morality than anything else, and some fiends doing bad for the greater good... of bad (Xykon). And then of course there's Vaarsuvius and Familicide.
- In Roommates, well, technically there are forces of good and evil but those are generally A) too busy stalling eachother. B) Not allowed to (directly)interfere with the free will of people. So the main characters include a chaotic jerkass trickster with Blue and Orange Morality and It Amused Me attitudes and an extremely disillusioned Lawful Neutral ex-cop, and this is just the beginning.
- Sinfest. Satan is definitely evil, if affably so. God isn't evil but definitely a jerk, his son however is definitely good, the Dragon neutral and Buddha somewhre technically neutral but nice. The mortals are all over the place.
- Homestuck has this in spades. The kids are more or less good, and the underlings are more or less antagonistic, but once you hit Hiveswap things start getting complicated. Trolls are various shades of gray, ranging from sweet little Nepeta to Kanaya's Good Is Not Soft attitude to Base-Breaking Character Vriska and her Heel–Face Revolving Door tendencies to Eridan's straight-up Heel–Face Turn in a last-ditch attempt at survival, carapacians are really more of a Grey and Gray Morality than it seems at first, the Horrorterrors just want to be left alone, Doc Scratch is Affably Evil and really just Lord English's pawn anyway, cherubs are just plain weird, and one could even argue that even Lord English can't really help what he's doing, since he's evil by nature, and the only other choice he ever had was for Yaldaboath to kill him. Just try and keep track of all that.
- Any online roleplay is prone to this, due to the number of creators. Destine Enormity has a wide variety of good guys and bad guys on both sides. The sides are more divided by the Order Versus Chaos axis than anything else, but even that's an informal OOC distinction.
- There Will Be Brawl uses this a lot. Farthest towards the "Hero" side would be Luigi and Red, who genuinely want the best for the Mushroom Kingdom and its inhabitants, and work to solve the mysteries in the show without resorting to more extreme methods like Mario or Link. Characters closer to the "Villain" side are people like Wario, who's only out for his own self-interests, then Zelda who forcibly attempts to usurp the Kingdom's power, and finally Kirby at the most extreme, who just likes killing people and sowing fear among the populace.
- The Whateley Universe does this in spades. Start with the heroes of Team Kimba. They range from the 'I don't even want to hit people' attitude of Phase to the 'I had to slaughter a hundred bad guys to rescue people' switch of Tennyo to Bladedancer, who killed an ordinary family man in cold blood to prevent a possible Bad Future. The villains are all over the place too. Supervillain Dr. Diabolik is apparently a great father, and his children have said he only does the things he does to advance mankind.
- Worm is full of this. Each faction has their own ups and downs; the superheroes range from genuine Nice Guys and literal and metaphorical Knights In Shining Armor to having sociopaths and glory-seekers among their ranks, while the villains range from For the Evulz sadists and Take Over the World types to several examples of Justified Criminal and Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, and in one case an unrepentant Neo-Nazi who presided over race crimes gives his life for the sake of his city.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, most of Team Aang is unequivocally good and the most powerful members of the Fire Nation are power-hungry imperialists, but almost everyone else falls somewhere in between. Ba Sing Se turns out to be a Crapsaccharine World, and the Northern Water Tribe has some pretty sexist moments. The rank-and-file and civilians of the Fire Nation are more often misguided patriots than outright evil. You could make a decent argument that the whole series is a subversion of the Always Chaotic Evil trope.
- The Sequel Series The Legend of Korra takes this even further. There are some outright evil characters, but all of the series' major villains are Well Intentioned Extremists who genuinely believe that they are making the world a better place. While Korra and most of her allies are unquestionably good, a major part of her character arc is rejecting Black and White Morality and understanding that her enemies can have worthwhile ideas.
- Goof Troop's cast contains an optimistic Nice Guy who only causes problems by accident, a cynical Nice Guy who is harmless except for a few Beware the Nice Ones moments, a Mama Bear who wants the best for everyone but is ruthless in enforcing it, an High School Hustler who spends half his time going out of his way to help his friends and family and the other half taking them for granted, a Bratty Half-Pint who also shows sympathy when it's needed, and a Jerkass who can also be a Papa Wolf when the situation calls for it. Morality of minor characters are not quite this nuanced, but still cover a range from "completely good" to "outright evil" with many places in between.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic features characters from all over the moral spectrum, where the absolute majority fall within the grey middle-zone. In the case of the heroes or "good guys" in general, this is usually facilitated by Mr. Vice Guy, and most of the villains are Not Evil, Just Misunderstood. Princess Celestia and King Sombra are two notable exceptions, from different ends of the moral scales.
Truth In Television
- ANY large group of people will invariably have members of all moral and ethical stances