So Bob's parents aren't around. What happened to them? You tell me. What happens to Bob? He lives with his aunt/uncle, of course. Sometimes a cousin or two will be thrown into the mix. This trope usually occurs when a character's parents are completely absent (as in, not part of the story in any way), missing, secretly the Big Bad, or established as dead.
If this trope happens in an adventure story, expect the aunt/uncle to be keeping secrets about the parents, or who/what their niece/nephew really is. Also, expect them to die fairly early on in the story to get the hero motivated.
It's an easy way to graft characters to an already-existing dramatic family, and have your old characters (and hence the viewers) be/get emotionally attached to them. The advantage for the writers might be that it's OK to be more distant from aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews than it is from parents and children. If it's a sitcom, expect the new addition to be a Cousin Oliver. If it's used in a soap-opera setting, expect the niece or nephew to be a troubled but attractive teen, who can stir things up without breaking any existing characterizations.
This trope can also be used in reverse, to apply to a person besieged with nieces and nephews in their life. In these cases it is often used to allow plots in which canonically single characters fulfill a parental role without significantly changing their character. Strangely enough, nephews in these situations often look and act like clones of their uncles, in defiance of everything we know about heredity.
The non-animated cousin of Chaste Toons.
Not to be confused with Nepotismnote Which comes from the Latin word for "nephew" and referred to the practice of Medieval Popes favoring their "nephews" (who were in reality their illegitimate children).
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Froot Loops has a toucan and his three nephews as its mascots.
Aizawa Yuuichi, protagonist of Kanon, starts the story by going to live with his aunt because his parents are leaving home for an extended period of time and would rather have him live with Akiko until graduation than be home by himself.
In Aishiteruze Baby, Yuzuyu, whom the protagonist Kippei is saddled with raising, is technically his cousin, but given that her mother, Kippei's aunt, is basically the same age as his older sister, it's more of this trope.
In the comics his parents turned out to have been S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who were killed by the second Red Skull. In the Ultimate universe, they were geneticists killed when Eddie Brock Sr. experimented on himself with the anti-cancer Symbiote the Parkers and Brocks created, becoming the first Venom and crashing the plane they were on. The 1990's animated series had Peter Parker's parents being spies, who were actually not dead, but in Russia.
The trope also kind of applies to Mary Jane Watson, who for the first two decades of her fictional existence only had her Aunt Anna as a relative. It was then revealed that her mother is dead and that she was very much estranged from her abusive father. (The 1987 wedding ceremony by the way was performed by MJ's Uncle Spencer).
Benjamin Grimm a.k.a. the Thing was raised by his Uncle Jacob. It was often implied that he was also raised by Jacob's wife, Ben's Aunt Petunia, until a 1980s John Byrne story revealed that Petunia was an attractive brunette, much younger than her husband, and about Ben's age.
The only known relative of Hulk supporting character Rick Jones is his aunt.
The Duck family: Scrooge McDuck is uncle to Donald Duck, who is uncle to Huey, Dewey & Louie. Not a parent among 'em. Scrooge's sister Hortense and husband Quackmore Duck is eventually revealed to the parent of Donald and Della Duck, the mother of Huey Dewey and Louie. They were first depicted long after the other characters were, and, in any case, are obscure enough to have made no appearances outside of Disney Comics.
Mickey Mouse also has two nephews, Morty and Ferdy. Daisy Duck meanwhile has three nieces, named April, May, and June. Goofy has an Insufferable Genius nephew in the comics named Gilbert.
Although Goofy is also the only actual parent; he has a son named Max.
In the comics, Gyro Gearloose and Donald's cousin Fethry Duck also have nephews. Yes, it's a trend, Disney prefers nephews to children.
Huey, Dewey, and Louie are a particularly odd case in that, in their first appearance in 1938, they did have a mother, Dumbella, who was Donald's sister, and they were explicitly just visiting. They never left, and by 1942 Donald was shown onscreen listing them as dependents on his tax forms.
Some German Donald Duck fans have even up with a theory that in Duckburgh it is simply the done thing to have children raised by their uncles (or aunts) instead of their parents, and coined the technical term Veronkelung ("uncling") for it.
Korky the Cat from The Dandy is often seen with his three nephews.
Inverted by Little Dot, who had such a severe case of Aunt/Uncleism that there was a long-running comic series dedicated to them.
Subverted in ClanDestine. Aspiring superheros Rory and Pandora Destine were raised by their Uncle Walter and grandmother Florence... who turn out to actually be their (much) older siblingsposing as their uncle and grandmother. Until Walter explained what was really going on, they sure looked like an instance of this trope...
In the Archie Sonic the Hedgehog comics (and the Saturday morning cartoon, but the comics have had more opportunity to really explore it), Sir Charles Hedgehog is better known as Uncle Chuck, erstwhile guardian of Sonic the Hedgehog, famous inventor, and purveyor of the finest chili dogs on the planet Mobius. Early on in the comic it's just accepted as fact that Sonic's parents were casualties of Dr. Robotnik's enslavement program the same as everyone else's parents, and Chuck was for whatever reason the important relative. Later on it explains that Chuck is, in fact, the reason he has Nephewism in the first place; when he was forced to test his roboticizer on his gravely injured brother, he discovered that the machines his patients turned into had no will of their own (which made it rather unviable in its intended purpose of extending the lives of the injured and infirm). This sent him spiraling into depression and he abandoned the project, allowing Robotnik to swoop in and steal it for his takeover scheme.
This occurs in Werewolf by Night: Jack's mother remarried her late husband's brother, meaning he is his children's stepfather as well as uncle.
A really wonderful Veronica Mars/House crossover fic posited that Logan was House's nephew, and he went to live with him after his dad was arrested for Lilly's murder. Canonically, he became legally emancipated and started living in a hotel suite.
This is generally a popular trick in crossover fics, as the Relatively Flimsy Excuse is often the only one that can explains why characters from two different canons should give a damn about one another.
Interestingly, the prequel movies reveal Owen to be Anakin's stepbrother whom he only met as an adult (and for all we know, only once). Some early drafts/novelizations actually have Owen as Obi-wan's brother instead.
The film version of The Wizard of Oz doesn't even offer the books' token reference to Dorothy's parents.
Orphaned Gillie Evans from Tiger Bay lives with her aunt Mrs Phillips.
Nowhere Boy is the Real Life story of John Lennon as a teenager living with his Aunt Mimi. Re-connecting with his mother and finding out what happened to his father are major plot threads in the movie.
Dorothy in the Land of Oz series. One of the books does verify that her mother was Uncle Henry's sister; he makes the internal observation that his niece is "a dreamer, as her dead mother was".
The ever-aunt-afflicted Bertie Wooster is an interesting example, because while his parents are established as dead, their deaths are never used as plot devices. Since this is a comedy series, they could just as easily have been written off as absent. This is exploited in Fan Fictionall the time.
Also Miss Marple, who has nieces and nephews in plenty. She is even explicitly unmarried ("Miss").
Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings adopted his cousin/nephew Frodo (at age 21; before, he'd lived with his other relatives). Justified in that almost all Hobbits seem to be rather closely related.
King Théoden adopts his nephew Éomer and niece Éowyn after their parents die. They live with their cousin Théodred until he also dies, and Éomer becomes heir to the throne.
Likewise, Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit is the guardian of his nephews Fíli and Kíli, who are also his heirs since he doesn't have any children. Their mother is still alive, though.
Harry Potter is nominally the nephew of the couple he lives with. In practice, he's more the unpaid overworked abused servant with nowhere else to go than a family member. Dumbledore arranged for him to live there so he wouldn't learn about the whole "Boy Who Lived" thing until he could have some perspective - and because he needed Harry to live with a family member as part of a magical protection, and Petunia was the only candidate.
Subverted in Codex Alera, at first it seems like Tavi's aunt and uncle will play the role of the typical "Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen" and die early on to get Tavi's heroic journey started. Actually They remain major characters and Tavi's aunt turns out to actually be his mother. It's worth noting that unlike most nephewism couples, Tavi's aunt and uncle are brother and sister, rather than husband and wife.
Also subverted in His Dark Materials, in which the man Lyra has been lead to believe is her uncle turns out to be her father.
A common plot in the Goosebumps series was for the protagonist to be palmed off with an aunt and uncle while the parents made a flimsy excuse to disappear - usually just long enough for the protagonist to encounter the ghost/vampire/werewolf/mummy/whatever horror made up the subject of the book. The best (or worst) example is probably Werewolf Skin, where Alex apparently has to live with his aunt and uncle indefinitely because he even starts going to the local school. And we never once hear where his parents are!
Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series, does this... twice. First, when Alex's parents die, he gets sent to live with his Uncle, Ian Rider, and when he dies, he gets to live with Jack Starbright, who isn't actually family, subverting the trope, the second time.
The Belgariad employs this with Garion being raised by his "Aunt Polgara", in actuality, his great-great-great-etc-aunt, sister to his royal ancestor some 3000 years ago.
The Finneys of Sharon Creech's novels Walk Two Moons and Absolutely Normal Chaos seem to take in cousins as necessary: in the latter book, Carl Ray is looking for a job, and in the former, Ben's mother is explicitly out of the picture due to being in a mental institution. Where his father is in this isn't made clear.
In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Edmund and Lucy are left to live with their aunt, uncle, and cousin Eustace while their parents and elder siblings are traveling.
Prince Caspian was also raised by his uncle, Miraz, who'd secretly murdered his father to claim the crown. While Caspian's paternal grandfather had presumably died when Caspian's father became king, the absence of his mother or of his maternal grandparents is not explained.
In Dolphin Island by Arthur C. Clarke, the main character begins his adventure by stowing away on a transcontinental hovership that's made an emergency landing where his home—this act made guilt-free by the conveniently uncaring (and immediately forgotten) aunt and uncle he lives with.
In Paris in the Twentieth Century. Michel lives with his aunt, his father's sister. So he is trapped with Monsieur Boutardin who consider him a shame for his artistic qualities, like his father.
Live Action TV
Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote has no children, but loads of nieces/nephews. Grady Fletcher is the only real repeater among them, but it's explained in more than one episode that he is actually her adopted son; after his parents died when he was very small, Jessica and her late husband Frank raised Grady essentially as their own.
Used to the point of overdose in Are You Afraid of the Dark?? A large number of the protagonists were either living with aunts, uncles, and grandparents or visiting for the weekend, summer, holiday, etc. Used as a way for the kid to stumble into the episode's inherent weirdness without having people wonder why they had lived beside it for years and not noticed it before.
Used at least twice on Desperate Housewives, first with Edie's nephew and then with Carlos and Gaby's niece.
Jess on Gilmore Girls. His mother's inability to deal with him is the reason he was sent to live with Luke in Stars Hollow in the first place. She does eventually show up in town
The Dukes of Hazzard. There were five regular Duke cousins (three originals, two temporary replacements). None of them were siblings. All of them mentioned being raised by "Uncle Jesse" with no sign of any of their parents around. What happened to Jesse's 5 brothers and/or their wives?
The writing off of the replacement cousins introduced yet another sibling to Jesse as they leave Hazzard to go help an aunt who is also not a parent to any of the five, either.
At least one set of parents (Luke's) were killed in a fire.
Family Affair. Mom and Dad died, leaving Buffy, Jody and Cissy to be raised by Uncle Bill and his manservant, Mr. French.
Eleventh Doctor companion Amy Pond was raised by her aunt, saying that she "doesn't have a mum and dad." This turns out to be a plot point - her parents were Ret Gone by the space-time anomaly in Amy's house.
Classic series companion Sarah Jane Smith was also raised by her aunt.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, of course. He has a Disappeared Dad while his mom is alive and well in Philadelphia (and comes to visit occasionally); she just sent him to his aunt and uncle to keep him off the streets and out of trouble. His dad did show up, for one of the most emotional episodes of the series. Here's the climax.
In Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger, Ryouga has been the adoptive parent figure to his niece Mai for most of her life, since her parents were killed when she was a baby.
Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger has Nossan living with his sister and young niece after his brother-in-law's death some time previously. Word of God states that the writer originally envisioned the character as an older man with a wife and daughter, but the executives said no so this trope came into play instead.
Many Police Procedural episodes in which children's parents wind up murdered or jailed end with the tearful child being placed in the custody of an aunt or uncle.
The American sitcom Bachelor Father (1957-62) was about bachelor attorney Bentley Gregg who raised his adolescent niece Kelly after her parents died in an automobile accident.
Merlin's mother is still alive on Merlin, but he lives with his uncle Gaius anyway.
Shining Time Station has a lot of its adult protagonists matching this trope: Stacy Jones is aunt to Matt and Dan, Schemer is uncle to Schemee, and Billy Twofeathers is uncle to Kit.
JB King is also uncle to his bullying nephew Buster in the episode "Bully for Mr. Conductor".
Ginny Johnson mentions her nephew and his wife in the episode "Billy's Thanksgiving".
In 1982, Happy Days added K.C. Cunningham, Howard's niece.
Elena and her younger brother Jeremy from The Vampire Diaries both live with their aunt Jenna. Their parents died in a tragic car accident relatively recently before the events of the show.
Full House has a mild example in that the girls' Uncle Jesse helps their father raise them after their mother dies. They also have family friend Joey as a father figure and occasionally call him Uncle Joey, even though he isn't blood-related.
Zipper Harris in Doonesbury, who matriculated to Walden College to fill the empty niche left by the graduation of his uncle, Zonker Harris.
The title character of the strip Nancy lives with her aunt, Fritzie Ritz, who was actually the original title character of the strip.
Robin the Frog in The Muppet Show, nephew of Kermit the Frog. Robin's father was referenced once on the shownote Robin wanted to sing "They Call the Wind Maria", but Kermit was wanting him to sing "I'm Five"; when Robin refused, Kermit said "forget it", and Robin threatened to get an agent and a lawyer; Kermit trumped this by threatening to get his father; additionally, one episode of Muppet Babies (in which he appears as a tadpole) established that his mother is Kermit's older sister. So he has parents, somewhere, but they're never seen.
Bobo's Uncle Travelling Matt in Fraggle Rock — the only family relationship established between any Fraggles.
In Charleys Aunt, Mr. Spettigue has a niece, Amy, and a ward, Kitty. And of course, Dona Lucia has a nephew in Charley.
Mame Dennis and her nephew, Patrick in Mame, Auntie Mame, and Travels with my Aunt. He's an orphan, so the cause of the nephewism isn't unknown, but Mame still has a case of it. It's hinted that Mame is really Patrick's biological mother.
In the stage musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (and the 1967 film adaptation), J.B. Biggley, the president of the World Wide Wicket ("WWW") Company, employs his nephew, Bud Frump, in the mailroom of the company. This is where the protagonist, J. Pierrepont Finch, is sent to work. Frump uses his relationship to Biggley as license to bully the others in the mailroom. This is especially true regarding his treatment of Finch, whom he quickly realizes is a real go-getter whose drive for success may trump his nephewism. Just prior to the end of the play, when WWW's chairman of the board, Wally Womper, threatens to fire everybody in the company — including (especially) Biggley and Frump — Finch sings the show-stopper song "Brotherhood of Man" in an effort to change Womper's mind. (In the lead-in to the song, Finch tells Womper "we're all brothers," to which Biggley adds "some of us are uncles.") Womper relents and retains everybody except Frump, who vows revenge.
Ashley of Another Code gets raised by her aunt due to her dad's perpetual absence.
Persona 4's main character (whose canonical name is Yu Narukami) gets sent to live with his uncle for the duration of the game because of his parents travels for their work.
Likewise, Naoya of Devil Survivor (like Persona, part of the Shin Megami Tensei series) is the Hero's cousin, who was raised by his aunt and uncle (the Hero's parents) and treats the Hero like a younger brother.
Link, in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, lives with his uncle. As it's eventually explained, they are all that remains of the bloodline of the Hylian Knights. The manga gives a backstory to the absence of Link's parents.
Dragon Age II has a minor example of this if the game is played using an imported save in which Alistair was made king in the first game. He has a brief cameo alongside Bann Teagan, whom he introduces as "my uncle. Sort of." They're not related - Teagan was actually the uncle of Alistair's deceased half-brother - but Teagan and his brother Eamon are the closest thing Alistair has to actual relatives and they helped to raise him.
Partial subversion in Girl Genius-in flashbacks, Agatha is being raised by her uncle, Barry Heterodyne, because her parents have disappeared, but by the time the story begins, Barry's gone missing too, and she's being raised by her foster parents Adam and Lilith Clay (better known as Punch and Judy, construct sidekicks of the Heterodyne Boys).
Last Res0rt has the Vaeo family with Vince, his daughter Cypress, and his nephews/ her cousins, Nathaniel and Damien. It's been heavily implied so far that the Vuelos Incedent killed off Cypress's mother and Nathaniel and Damien's real parents.
Up until The Reveal in the series finale, Hey Arnold! was a case of this, since all you knew for sure was that Arnold was living with his grandparents. We never (canonically) found out the kid's last name for crying out loud!
Jackie Chan Adventures has the eponymous grown Jackie living with Uncle, who is shown to have raised him. In the first episode, they are given care of Jackie's niece, Jade, who, despite having living parents in Hong Kong, spends the rest of the series and after with her uncles. Jade's parents show up exactly once at the end of season two.
Popeye has four nephews that appear in several Popeye cartoons: Peepeye, Pupeye, Pipeye and Poopeye.
The 1960 short "Popeye's Junior Headache" gave Olive Oyl a niece named Deezil.
Time Squad: Buck Tuddrussel tries to explain that Otto is his nephew to his ex wife who is of higher rank. She doesn't believe him, knowing that Larry had admitted to her that he was kidnapped/adopted.
Young Justice starts out with the well-established Kid Flash, who is The Flash's nephew by marriage. When the team is formed, they add Miss Martian, the Martian Manhunter's niece in this continuity. Later, Green Arrow brings his niece, Artemis, to the Team. (Which is when Robin lampshades it) Played With because Artemis isn't really Green Arrow's niece; she just doesn't want the Team to know who her real family is.
Billy Batson is also being raised by his "Uncle Dudley", though Word of God says that he's really just an Honorary Uncle. For that matter, we could throw in Red Arrow and Guardian, who only think they're nephew and uncle: they're actually both clones of the original Roy Harper.
Most fans just say that Cadance is adopted (the canon side-story Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell states that Cadance was an orphan found by some village-folk). The S3 premiere supports that, as it shows that regular ponies can become princesses without having to be related to the existing royalty.
In Blueblood's case, most fans claimed that he is indeed a nephew of either Celestia or Luna, but he's so far descended from them that it's easier to just forget all the "great-great-great..." and just call him "nephew". As of "Hearth's Warming Eve" and the revelation that there was a unicorn kingdom in place that preceded Celestia and Luna's rule, it's possible that he's simply a prince because he's a descendant of that line, which isn't related to Celestia and Luna at all.
In The Ticket Master, Rarity explicitly states that she hopes to meet Celestia's nephew, Prince Blueblood, at the Grand Galloping Gala. It does leave open the great-great-great... possibility, but sets them more solidly as relatives.
Many medieval Popes had 'nephews' that they were close to. The thing was, as often as not, said 'nephews' were the pope's unrecognized illegitimate children. Innocent VIII was the first to actually recognize his bastard children. This is where the term nepotism comes from, since Popes frequently appointed their nephews (both actual nephews and "nephews") to high-ranking Church positions, even when said nephews were clearly unqualified, and nepos is Latin for "nephew".
Most real life custody arrangements do have either grandparents or aunts/uncles assuming custody if the parents die, followed in likelihood by unrelated godparents, whose express purpose is to raise the godchild in the event of the death or incapacitation of the child's parents.
This trope may have started just after the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918. A LOT of bachelor aunts and uncles suddenly found themselves having to care for their nieces and nephews.
In some matrilinear cultures, the mother's (eldest) brother plays a much bigger part in the raising of a child than the father. This concept is known as an "Avunculate". Some theorize that this may have roots in evolutionary biology; since a father can never be 100% certain his children are truly his, it makes sense for him to also invest in the children of his sister since they are guaranteed to share some of his DNA through his sister.