[[quoteright:250:[[Comicbook/AnimalMan http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/i-can-see-you_1163.png]]]]
[[caption-width-right:250: Oh crap, hide!]]

->''"I see it all now! There's a reason we're all weirdos who make strange food! We're in...a CARTOON!"''
-->-- ''WesternAnimation/{{Chowder}}''

A specialized form of BreakingTheFourthWall. Fictional characters suddenly come to the realization that they are fictional characters living in a work of fiction. As you can imagine, this is often a terrible shock. How would you take it if you suddenly learned that you, your family, your friends, and your '''''entire universe''''' are all fake, and that everything you've ever said, done or thought was the product of someone else's imagination? Thus, characters who experience this trope seldom take it well. Popular in comic books and among writers who want to wax philosophical.

Compare TomatoInTheMirror and DreamApocalypse. See also RealWorldEpisode, FourthWallObserver, and MediumAwareness.

Not to be confused with TrumanShowPlot, in which the characters are real, but the world is fabricated.

'''This is often used as TheReveal, so beware of spoilers.'''



[[folder:{{Anime}} and {{Manga}}]]
* ''Anime/TheBigO'': You may not be able to tell by the confusing finale, but this was the true secret of Paradigm City: [[spoiler: the reason nobody remembers what happened prior to 40 years ago is because they didn't ''exist'' prior to 40 years ago.]]

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* The sci-fi comic ''[[ComicBook/TwoThousandAD 2000 A.D.]]'' once ran a Creator/MarkMillar comic about a man who suddenly realizes he's in a comic, and it will soon end. He decides to make the best of his time left by going in a nihilistic rampage ("It's not really murder, you understand. None of these people have names.") It ends with the man being arrested and pointing the reader out to one of the policemen. He turns around in horror, screams, and grabs on to the panel border with tears in his eyes. "Oh God! Please don't turn the page...Please, read it again!"
** Brian Azzarello would later pay homage to this story in his ''Doctor 13: Tales of the Unexpected'' miniseries.
** This was also parodied in a [[TheSimpsons Simpsons]] comic book, where Sideshow Bob revealed this fact to his prison guards. The scene ends complete with panel-grabbing.
* A common [[EpilepticTrees epileptic tree]] is that this happened to SelfDemonstrating/TheJoker, causing him to GoMadFromTheRevelation. He has no problem killing innocent people because he knows they're not "real", and he does it entertainingly because he knows the audience will appreciate it.
* Creator/GrantMorrison's ''Comicbook/AnimalMan'' memorably did this in a full-page panel, which provides the current page image. He often goes to "Comic Book Limbo," where all the no-longer-used comic characters live, and meets his creators. But whenever he leaves, he loses all memory of the visit.
** Creator/GrantMorrison was punished for this by having his AuthorAvatar (codename: The Writer) drafted into Franchise/TheDCU Suicide Squad.
* Superboy-Prime from DC Comics flips this around. He loses the real world (ours) and ends up going more then a bit nuts in the realms of comics that used to be fake to him.
* ''Comicbook/TheSimpsons'' "Treehouse of Horror" comic "Immigration of the Body Snatchers" ends this way. After a parade of {{Shout Out}}s to twist endings from ''Series/TheTwilightZone,'' ''Film/PlanetOfTheApes1968'' and even ''Creator/MontyPython,'' Sideshow Bob shouts that none of it is real and they're all just ink on paper. Everyone laughs at him... until he points to the surrounding panels and to the reader.
--->'''Homer:''' If I don't exist...does that mean I can't eat doughnuts?
* ComicBook/{{Deadpool}} has known for years about the man with the typewriter, but in ''ComicBook/DeadpoolKillsTheMarvelUniverse'' he [[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin does something about it]]. After killing the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe, he then travels through the multiverse and walks into the Marvel office where the writers are discussing what Deadpool will do next in ''Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe''. [[TakeThatMe He kills them]] while they are talking about him killing them in the comic. And then he turns to you, the reader.
* In issue 15 of the ''WesternAnimation/{{Muppet Babies|1984}}'' comic book, Gonzo accidentally casts a spell from a magic book, [[LeaningOnTheFourthWall trapping the Muppets and their world in a comic book]]. The only way to undo the spell is to make the reader laugh. Things go FromBadToWorse for the gang once Animal starts chewing on the panel borders...

[[folder: Fan Works]]
* In ''{{Blog/Moonstuck}}'' Woona realizes everyone reading it at one point

* ''Film/StrangerThanFiction'' plays with this trope. Harold Crick starts hearing a voice narrating his life - accurately and with a better vocabulary - and realises he's a character in a novel and the course of his life is at the mercy of the author, which in this case is bad news. However, at the same time he is real and lives in the same universe as the author.
* John Trent in ''Film/InTheMouthOfMadness''. At the end of his stay in Hobb's End, Trent meets with Sutter Cane, the horror writer who created the town through his books. Cane reveals that Trent is in fact one of his characters. Trent refuses to accept this, exactly how Cane had written him.
* ''Film/{{Spaceballs}}'' features a scene in which Dark Helmet asks to watch a VHS copy of ''Spaceballs'' in order to find out what to do next. [[RecursiveReality He ends up watching himself watching ''Spaceballs''.]]
* Half the plot of cheesy Schwarzenegger film ''Film/LastActionHero'' revolves around this, with fictional police officer Jack Slater not only having to face the repercussions of being transported to the real world, where the physics of his overblown action film world do not apply, but eventually even bumping into the actor who plays him. HilarityEnsues. Naturally, Slater does not take any of it well.

* A couple of characters in the later ''Franchise/TheDarkTower'' books by Creator/StephenKing do this. Callahan angsts over it while some get pissed at the author for killing off their friends.
* The whole point of the ''Literature/ElephantAndPiggie'' book, "Literature/WeAreInABook"
* Pretty much the whole point of ''Literature/SophiesWorld''.
* In "The Grimm Legacy" one character, in a conversation about a machine that can convert things into different versions of themselves, asks if they could be converted into fictional characters. Another asks how they know they haven't been.
* A large portion of the plot of ''Literature/MyFavoriteBandDoesNotExist'' revolves around main character Idea Deity being aware that he is in a novel.
* TheReveal at the end of {{Creator/Bernard Werber}}'s ''Gods'' cycle of books is that the characters were fictional all the way. At the end, thanks to some AppliedPhlebotinum, they turn themselves into photons who travel just behind the surface of the pages of the book, and at one point one of the characters bounces against the "wall" of the page, creating an impact seen as a dot by the reader. The hero doesn't take this well, but his philosophical mentor is rather happy to learn he's effectively immortal, as he'll live again every time someone reads the book.
* ''Literature/APackOfLies'', a short story collection by [=Geraldine McCaughrean=], has a frame story about a man in an antique store telling prospective customers improbable tales about the histories of the items on sale. As the book progresses, the other people who work in the store start noticing oddities and inconsistencies, and eventually discover that they themselves are just characters in a story.

[[folder:{{Live-Action TV}}]]
* A ShowWithinAShow example from ''Series/StarTrekTheNextGeneration''. The Moriarty character from a SherlockHolmes reenactment miraculously learns that he's not only a fictional character but that he's a computer generated recreation of said character.
** In a later episode he (Moriarty) does the same thing for his computerized girlfriend Regina.
* In the ''Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer'' musical episode "Once More With Feeling" Anya notices the sudden lack of a fourth wall in their apartment:
--> "It's like we're being watched. Like there was a wall missing from our apartment, like there were only three walls, and not a fourth wall."
* Parodied in a Creator/{{TBS}} commercial for ''Series/TheBigBangTheory''. Sheldon and Leonard are sitting in their living room trying to remember what show comes on before ''Series/{{Conan}}'' on TBS. Before they can look it up, though, Creator/ConanOBrien bursts into their apartment, looks at the Fourth Wall, and exclaims that the two ''can't'' learn that they're in a sitcom. Sheldon's response?
-->'''Sheldon:''' We're in a ''sitcom?!''
** In another ad, Sheldon wants to know why the TBS logo is in his Chinese food. Leonard tells him to ignore it because they aren't supposed to know they are on TV.
* In ''Series/HikoninSentaiAkibaranger'', the {{Otaku}} heroes realize their status as fictional characters living in a show when [[spoiler:a series of increasingly blatant cases of ExecutiveMeddling start piling up.]] Being GenreSavvy enough, they realize that [[spoiler:their true enemy is the production staff itself, intending to terminate the show early, and decide to combat them by averting and subverting all the EndingTropes they can. They fail, however, to extend their story for even one episode.]]
* At the end of the ''Series/MastersOfHorror'' episode "Valerie on the Stairs", Rob ignores Valerie's pleas that she can't exist outside the house, only for her to vanish. Shortly afterwards Rob realizes that ''he'' is a fictional character as well and everything he did was written by the boarding house residents. He dissolves into a pile of written papers, the last line of which is "And so it came to pass that Rob Hanisey never became a published author".

[[folder: Music]]
* In the music video for Denki Groove's "Mononoke Dance", [[spoiler: after a terrifying night at a ''{{yokai}}'' dance party, the biggest shock comes when the guy realizes he and his girlfriend are just crudely-animated papercraft puppets.]]

[[folder:Newspaper Comics]]
* The ''Comicstrip/{{Dilbert}}'' strip for [[http://www.dilbert.com/2011-10-20/ 10/20/2011]] plays with this: After the PointyHairedBoss tells Dilbert to change lines on a page to dotted lines because they were "not made of ink," both glance toward the reader with comments about things they were not meant to know.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* ''[[http://www.kongregate.com/games/EddyParanoia/inquisitive-dave Inquisitive Dave]]'' begins as a side-scrolling adventure game, but [[spoiler: after the evil wizard Zardolph is defeated,]] he comes back with the knowledge that their entire world is just a video game, and this knowledge had given him the power to [[spoiler: escape the game and become a virus, destroying every system "because only through chaos can they know true freedom!"]] This leads to [[spoiler: a final confrontation with him at the top of his tower, where the trick to beating him is to hide in an alcove his magic can't reach and refuse to fight back. As a villain character, the point of Zardolph's existence is to fight the hero, so if the hero doesn't fight him, his existence is redundant. Thus, he disappears]]. After the credits, the creators reveal [[spoiler: to Dave that Zardolph hadn't really escaped their control; it was just a test of Dave's lateral thinking.]]
** This LetsPlay ''[[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1RpEs_GTy0 video]]'' explains that [[spoiler: the whole point of the game was for the amusement of the audience, and it is pointed out that the system and the player are being watched. The player is given his freedom from the game, and the video watcher is called a voyeur. From the perspective of the watcher this seems like ''[[http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/posts.php?discussion=12982154780A08060100&page=0 Breaking The 5th Wall]]'' as the player and audience are separate entities.]]
* One of the dream sequences in ''VideoGame/MaxPayne'' has Max realize he's in a comic book/computer game. In the course of the dream he observes that each of these revelations are "Funny as hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of." Upon awakening, he says that the drug-fueled dream left "dark stains on my soul that would never come off." As a confirmation of this, he observes in the game's sequel that "when I slept, my dreams were nightmares."
* There's a secret ending in ''VideoGame/TheNamelessMod'' where the player character learns he's just a character in a video game. He addresses the player and decides he's actually pretty cool with it, as giving people pleasure isn't a bad vocation. He'll see you next time you want a New Game.
* One of the endings to ''VideoGame/TheStanleyParable'' has Stanley, wandering through a seemingly endless loop of rooms, start realizing the video game nature of his world, which is started with him questioning why he couldn't see his body when looking down. The original mod has Stanley realize he's in a video game, while the HD remix downgrades it to the more realistic assumption that he's dreaming.
* ''VideoGame/{{Undertale}}'': If you play as a complete and unrepentant sociopath who slaughters mooks, guards, small children, heroes, TV stars, and anyone else stupid enough to get in your way, you'll awaken the demon overlord [[spoiler:Chara]] from the sleep of the dead with your violence. They'll call you out on defining their purpose through every EXP you ever earned. Then they'll attack ''you'' with such force that ''the game screen fills up with DPS-nines and the entire underground dies''. [[spoiler:''And they'll never go back to sleep'']].

[[folder:Visual Novels]]
* The whole premise of ''[[VisualNovel/RedactedLife [redacted] Life]]'' is that the main character realises that he's in a video game and is trying to escape it.
* In ''VisualNovel/DokiDokiLiteratureClub'', this is the reason why [[spoiler:the game starts to deteriorate and the characters start behaving oddly]] during Act II. [[spoiler:Monika became self-aware at some point and realized that she and the other club members are fictional characters in a romantic visual novel, and is messing with the game's code in order to make direct contact with the actual player.]]

[[folder:Web Comics]]
* The entire premise of ''Webcomic/KidRadd.'' The title character already knew he was a video game character being controlled by a player, but still had no idea there was a universe beyond his game.
* All of the characters in ''Webcomic/OneOverZero'' know that they are fictional and constantly [[ContemplateOurNavels Contemplate Their Navels]], pondering subjects such as whether they exist and whether they will continue to exist after the author stops writing the comic. The comic has NoFourthWall to speak of, however, the trope comes into effect when the characters' "personal fourth walls" break.
* ''Eyebeam'' has a version that was combined with AllJustADream, [[http://eyebeam.com/toons/index.php?num=85 these]] [[http://eyebeam.com/toons/index.php?num=86 three]] [[http://eyebeam.com/toons/index.php?num=87 strips]].
* {{Deconstructed}} in ''Webcomic/CaptainSNES'', where video game characters Touched by a particular EldritchAbomination realize that they're video game characters... and don't [[FreakOut take]] [[StartOfDarkness it]] [[FallenHero well]] [[MoreThanMindControl at]] [[YouBastard all]].
* An ''Webcomic/{{xkcd}}'' strip features this, when the subject of [[http://xkcd.com/429/ this man's]] daydream realizes the truth and it all goes OffTheRails.
* Done in [[http://www.sinfest.net/archive_page.php?comicID=3886 this]] ''Webcomic/{{Sinfest}}'' comic.
* Characters of ''Webcomic/CyanideAndHappiness'' have this sudden awareness in [[http://www.explosm.net/comics/375/ this one]].

[[folder:Web Original]]
* One of the [[http://scp-wiki.wikidot.com/sandrewswann-s-proposal proposals]] for the nature of [[Wiki/SCPFoundation SCP-001]] is that [[spoiler:it is the collective of writers and editors of the SCP Foundation website itself, portraying them as careless or malevolent gods who rewrite reality at a whim. [[TheFourthWallWillNotProtectYou And the Foundation have prepared countermeasures to kill the authors if it becomes absolutely necessary]], even though they're aware this may destroy reality.]]
** It's implied that [[http://www.scp-wiki.net/scp-2786 SCP-2786]], a being that can jump between different narratives and insert itself to solve every plotline quickly like a kind of MarySue, finally realized during containment that not only were the "universes" it was entering works of fiction, its reality ''itself'' was also a work of fiction (the above SCP-001 is linked), and thus it's nothing but a fictional character. It's also implied this realization ''[[DespairEventHorizon completely broke the entity]]''.
* In ''WebAnimation/RWBYChibi'', one short has the girls encounter one of the silhouetted background characters that were prominent in Volume 1. They mention how creepy they are, how they never seem to talk to them and how some of them look like them, in which we see a Ruby version who bashfully waves hi to them.
** Episode 6 decided to break the fourth wall's legs when [[spoiler:Chibi Pyrrha]], whose canonical counterpart was gruesomely KilledOffForReal at the end of Volume 3, shows up and Chibi Nora telling everyone that "Nothing. Bad. Ever Happened. ''Ever''."

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* The above quote from ''WesternAnimation/{{Chowder}}'', who is able to notice it because an overdose of "Brain Grub" grants him superhuman intelligence. He then uses his mental powers to make the show smarter, turning it into a boring intellectual program.
* ''WesternAnimation/TheFairlyOddParents'': Done In-Universe, when Timmy wishes the Crimson Chin out of his comic and shows him he's fictional, he suffers a HeroicBSOD. When he's returned to the comic, every panel is just him sucking his thumb in a fetal position. After Timmy gives him a pep talk about how his actions still matter to the people living in his world, the Crimson Chin continues his superheroic and retains MediumAwareness in following appearances.
* ''WesternAnimation/ToyStory'': Buzz Lightyear finally realizes he's a toy, and not the character the toy is based on, when he sees a commercial advertising him. The "real" fourth wall is never touched, though.
* ''WesternAnimation/TheAmazingWorldOfGumball'':
** "The Signal" centers on Elmore experiencing numerous anomalies that turn out to coincide exactly with a number of television signal interruptions. Just before Darwin and Gumball can conclude they're ''also'' on a TV show, another jump sends them to an EverybodyLaughsEnding, which seems to have taken them off the topic.
** Rob, after spending time in a metaficitonal PhantomZone for bad ideas and [[TimeTravel travelling through time]] (and the show's credits) via television remote, realizes the world he lives in isn't real. This makes him [[ArchEnemy despise Gumball]] even more, as Rob concludes Gumball being the hero is why he became a villain, and that he could be whoever he wanted [[HostileShowTakeover if he got rid of Gumball]]. (Gumball actually went to the Void twice and also heard Rob explain Elmore wasn't real, but remains ignorant of such because of VictoryGuidedAmnesia experienced after both incidents.)