Even a dead guy can make it in the world if he's got himself a college education!
A lich is an undead sorcerer, often one who seeks immortality or power above anything else, and became undead as the price he had to pay. Typically, his soul is stored elsewhere in a Soul Jar, at times called a phylactery, which must be destroyed before he can be fully defeated. In other fiction, the Soul Jar is optional.
A lich's physical appearance can range from near-normal, to zombie/corpse-like, to completely skeletal, which usually depends on the lich's age. Because of their skill at magic, liches tend to be among the most powerful and dangerous type of undead (if not the most powerful and dangerous type of undead, barring perhaps old Grim himself) in settings where they exist. May overlap with Sorcerous Overlord.
Something resembling the concept goes at least back to Koschei the Deathless from Russian Mythology and Tales. He was a gaunt, skeletal villain whose "death" was hidden in a needle inside an egg. To kill him without his coming Back from the Dead, one must destroy the needle. He was also an Evil Overlord, a powerful sorcerer, and a great fighter. Basically, the only thing that distinguishes him from a lich is that he is very good at using his BFS.
The word "lich" is derived from the Old High German word "lih" or "lika" for "corpse" (in modern and slightly-archaic English, graveyards are still occasionally called "lichyards") and was used in reference to (sometimes undead) corpses by Clark Ashton Smith in the 1930s. Dungeons & Dragons, inspired by this, used the word specifically to mean an undead sorcerer with his soul stored away. The influence of D&D on fantasy literature and on Video Games has spread the term to some degree, although it's still not a standard term and there are plenty of undead sorcerers in media that are never called liches. (Equally, there are cases where the creature is called a lich but is just a walking corpse, if the author thinks that "zombie" sounds anachronistic or inaccurate.)
It's pronounced to rhyme with "witch".
See also Necromancer, a sorcerer who has actual powers over the dead. The tropes can overlap.
But hey at least they get to be girly, sparkly Liches and not a gross undead one, right? Well sure, unless for some reason they're distanced from the Soul Gem for too long. In one route of the Madoka PSP game, Sayaka's soul gem is misplaced for a long time. By the time it's returned to her, her body has already begun to rot. This normally wouldn't be a problem due to her Healing Factor, but unfortunately she runs into Kyosuke, her crush, shortly after waking up... and the result isn't pretty. Poor girl.
Sailor Moon villain Wiseman/Death Phantom is heavily related to the Lich, being a powerful sorcerer with only glimpses of a skull to his true face. Taken even further in the manga when you learn the planet Nemesis itself is his Soul Jar.
In Gold Digger, Gina and Britanny's kindly grandfather got caught in a magical accident that corrupted him into the undead Lich King.
Hellboy killed Rasputin early on in his adventures, but it didn't do much good since the sorcerer had the foresight to bury half his soul in the roots of Yggdrasil. Arguably a safer hiding place than on board the Voyager...
For a heroic version of this, the superhero team The Elementals might be considered this. All four members died due to one of the four classical elements. However to stop an evil wizard from unleashing a giant magical vortex, the lords of these elements "resurrect" these four individuals and empower them with incredible magic potential. Unfortunately the newly made Elementals didn't understand that all four of them are actually wizards and instead only really use the specific elemental abilities they have (one did achieve his potential after a face-heel turn). Their "resurrection" was only partial, the Elementals are undead rather than fully alive. When they're not in combat or training, they tend to be aimless and living in a fog, requiring other people to take of their regular wants. Normal humans can only stand being near them for a short amount of time since they can instinctively sense the Elementals' undead nature. The plus is that being undead makes each of the Elementals extremely hard to kill and unaging.
Films — Animated
Rasputin in Anastasia is a pretty straightforward example, except for lacking a real drive for immortality or power above all else, which were more a byproduct of his quest for vengeance than his main objectives. He was already a powerful sorceror before he made his Deal with the Devil, but he became undead upon selling his soul (not after he went to Limbo; he loses all his flesh when he gives up his soul, and restores it with the powers he gains).
Technically, Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street is a sort of "astral lich". He definitely would qualify as a powerful sorcerer, with an appearance that screams "undead", and killing him tends to involve some rather unusual methods, most often dragging him onto our plane, and, even then, nobody has ever managed to kill him permanently. An easier parallel is that Freddy is some sort of ghost or a demon (he is in service to nightmare demons after all).
The Craft Sequence features the Deathless Kings. Some of them are literal Kings (and queens and other). Some of them are Lich CEOs or Lich Chancellors. They play most lich tropes pretty close, being fleshless sorcerous skeletons. The first major twist is that they don't come about through some dark ritual— "lich"dom (they're Not Using the Zed Word) is just a natural part of a Craftsperson's lifecycle. The second is that there's nothing inherantly evil about them— though the culture of the Craft is shot through with a wide Nietzchian streak that doesn't serve very well as an ethical basis, so a hefty proportion of them are non-inherantly evil anyway. Some of them like to experiment with alternative bodies. Stone statues is quite popular.
The Ringwraiths from The Lord of the Rings are possibly the most famous examples next to Voldemort. Particularly unusual since, rather than being bodies without souls, they're essentially all soul - that is, they're completely invisible and can only be harmed by magical weapons or beings.
Voldemort in Harry Potter is a pretty straightforward example. He split his soul into 7 pieces with successive murders, and stored each one inside a Horcrux. When his Killing Curse backfires and kills him, he remains stuck in the mortal world as "less than a ghost", yet unable to die. Eventually, one of his followers helps him to create a new body (although whatever he then becomes, it is doubtful it can truly be called human), and he gets back in business.
The lazar from The Death Gate Cycle are something of a cross between liches and zombies. Their souls are not stored in Soul Jars but rather have partially separated from their bodies, an excruciatingly painful process that drives most lazar completely Ax-Crazy, and the bonds between soul and body can only be severed by an immensely powerful spell that only three mages (in a series chock-full of magic users) were ever able to cast. All lazar seen were originally necromancers in life, but it's unclear if that's a requirement or not.
Rare non-villain example: In the Garrett, P.I. novels, the titular detective is advised by the Dead Man, the ghost of a Loghyr (a near-legendary race of geniuses) that haunts its own corpse. Nominally one of the good guys, the Dead Man didn't choose to become a lich — it's just what happens when Loghyr die — but he shares their near-indestructibility, and has Psychic Powers on par with conventional liches' magic.
In Winner Take All, from the Hawk & Fisher series, a political candidate is protected by Mortise, a wizard who'd died defending him from magical assassination. Unlike most examples, Mortise's lichdom is a temporary state, and he's forced to hide out in an ice-filled cellar to avert his body's slow and painful decomposition.
Note that other books in the same continuity (like Down Among the Dead Men) use "lich" to refer to zombie-like animated corpses.
In The Colour of Magic, Liessa Wyrmbidder's father Griecha is a wizard-king whom she murdered, but who hangs around in his dead body until one of his children proves strong enough to claim the throne. How he accomplished this feat isn't specified, but the high level of ambient magic that permeates the Wyrmberg probably helped.
In The Death Of The Necromancer, "lich" is the word for a corpse animated by a necromancer to do his bidding, in a usage that deliberately shies away from D&D's influence and goes back to the original archaic term.
Liches exist in The Riftwar Cycle, but have never played a huge role — Recurring Boss Leso Varen has dealt with them, but while he's a necromancer who uses a Soul Jar, he isn't one himself, since he steals living bodies to inhabit rather than animating dead ones.
The Dragaeran Sethra Lavode is a vampire upwards of 250,000 years old and has been studying sorcery all that time, allowing her to become the most powerful magic-user in the Empire. Given that standards for what constitutes "powerful magic" in Dragaera are a bit higher than in most settings, "most powerful" means "on casual speaking terms with a few gods," who rely on her to keep certain greedy Starfish Aliens out of the Empire when they can't.
Mercedes Lackey brought Koschei back for her book Firebird (Lackey), only it was his heart, and it was hidden inside a magically fast duck hidden inside a magically fast rabbit locked inside a magic chest at the top of a magically tall tree guarded by a magical mechanical dragon.
Koschei (here spelled "Katschei") was also the final villain in the first Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms book, again it was his heart, he's later mentioned again in the third, which is actually primarily based off Russian folklore.
Kerrigor in the Old Kingdom series became a Greater Dead Adept, the in-universe equivalent. He can never be banished entirely to death as long as his body still exists. Also, he has a staggering amount of power even across the Wall, because he's one of the royal family, and therefore one of the great Charter Bloodlines.
Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series has the dyrmagnos, which are the ultimate result of the use of necromancy/dark magic: the body deteriorates, leaving a desiccated husk animated by a strong, evil intelligence and wielding very powerful magic. Even dismembering cannot completely incapacitate one of them. Of the two cases seen thus far, one has been divided in many pieces that were dispersed, the head being put into a metal casket and dropped in the deep sea, while the other was still able to nearly kill one of the main characters after being cut in two.
The novelization of Descent Into The Depths Of The Earth has a lich (standard AD&D type, as it is an AD&D novel) as a major mid-novel foe. He doesn't last very long, but he does yield a few handy magic items that come in very useful for the rest of the series.
In Desmond Warzel's short story "Same-Day Delivery", the narrator turns out to be an undead wizard, and so probably qualifies, though no Soul Jar is mentioned.
Morthűl the Charnel King from The Goblin Corps by Ari Marmell. He's not so much undead as a powerful wizard who has affixed himself between life and death using powerful magic. His Soul Jarcomes in two parts: a crown that lets him possess other bodies, and his dragon, a demon whose immortality Morthűl has been using to sustain himself.
The titular character in Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray could be considered a lich, under a loose definition of the term.
In the First and Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, an extinct but incredibly feared and magically powerful class of beings called the demondim are frequently namedropped, and were the creators of the ur-viles and their waynhim offshoots. The Last Chronicles reveals exactly what the demondim were, and it turns out they were like this. Themselves creations of the Viles, the demondim were sentient, reanimated dead with immense magical power (described at one point as "corpses with the puissance of Lords"). Though they didn't apparently use soul jars, their spirits could hop from one corpse to another if their current vessel was damaged beyond repair. However, for all their power the demondim apparently hated their unnatural existence, and when the Ritual of Desecration hit, they remained on the surface of the Land and passively allowed themselves to be destroyed.
Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood seems fond of using liches (mostly of the (A)D&D varieties discussed below) as various supporting characters in his novels. They're almost never recurring characters, though, as even those few who don't suffer from spontaneous cases of Undeath Always Ends shortly after introduction are generally not revisited.
Played with in Ready Player One where the litch duels challengers on an arcade console.
In The Dragon Crown War series, Chytrine is served by a Quirky Miniboss Squad of undead lieutenants (some of whom are deader than others) known as the sullanciri or "Dark Lancers". Though they all have magical abilities, most of them are more warrior than mage; however, one of them, Lord Neskartu, is a spectral archmage who was recruited post-mortem and fits here rather nicely.
Live Action TV
Davros from Doctor Who is mostly dead, is kept alive by dark means, turns people into servitor monsters, and is an Omnicidal Maniac to boot. Additionally, he has survived things that are supposed to be unsurvivable (although the Daleks' gunsticks may have been part of a Thanatos Gambit, which is another common lich pattern) multiple times, is able to modify his body extensively, apparently has multiple bodies (or at least REALLY convincing puppets)...
Also, for a time when The Master was Out of Continues, you had him existing in undead-like fashion (second incarnation was a vastly decayed body, fourth was as a Puppeteer Parasite who continually burned out his host, causing his body to decay as the film went on). This is also the cost of his immortality, in a way (in the sense that it's the price of not allowing himself to die). He has always sought power above all else, but this forced him to seek immortality in the form of restoring his ability to regenerate in The Movie. There are also elements of this in his sixth incarnation's return (Came Back Wrong, resulting in powerful abilities, and Glamour Failure resulting in a skeletal appearance at times). One of the Expanded Universe books even gives Koschei as his name before it was "The Master."
In Lost Girl, a lich (pronounced "lick") is a species of flesh eating fae from Ancient Egypt. Despite their unusual origins, they do share traits with more traditional liches. They've transformed themselves into quasi-undead creatures in order to extend their already impressive fae lifespans, and maintain living phylacteries.
Mythology and Religion
One villain in Slavic folklore, Koschei the Deathless (Koshei basically means skeleton) is a lich by any other name (as stated above). While some incarnations made it possible to destroy Koshei by other means (like dropping him into a river of fire) the most notable incarnation makes his Soul Jar a needle, hidden inside an egg hidden inside a duck hidden inside a hare hidden inside an iron chest buried under an oak tree on an island in the middle of the ocean. Notably the hare will try to run away, and the duck will fly out if said hare is killed, so Koschei is probably the lich who put the most security on his Soul Jar ever.
Eberron has a whole religion, called "The Blood of Vol", that is devoted to attaining eternal life. Most of the members seek to do this by becoming undead. Naturally, there are spell casters in their ranks.
A "Demi-lich" in the game first appeared in the infamous module Tomb of Horrors and is a lich that is so old that its body has decayed to uselessness, but has such great powers that this doesn't stop it. Nothing is left of a demi-lich but a skull (or other skeletal part) jammed full of jewels containing slowly digesting souls.
The 3e Epic Level Handbook featured the closest a demilich ever got to being non-evil with the owner of an extra-dimensional library containing every spell known. Said lich is nothing more than a hand (with jewel phylactery fingers) who works endlessly to scribe every new spell discovered into the organization's Codex, for the purpose of preserving the knowledge. She only really gets violent if you interrupt her for a trivial reason.
Vecna, the evil god of Undeath and Secrets, gained godhood by becoming a lich, but stupidly gave his lieutenant a sword that had a piece of the god's soul in it (making it inherently evil) and thus the lieutenant, Kas, betrayed Vecna by stabbing him in the left eye and cutting off his right hand. They... haven't gotten along since then. But it makes for an awesome divine symbol.
Speaking of the Tomb of Horrors, the Big Bad in that module was called Acererak. If Vecna was the most powerful lich on Oerth, then clearly, Acererak was a close second. At least one story says that this half-fiend worshipper of Orcus was once Vecna's apprentice.
Dungeons & Dragons also has something called a dry lich, which is basically a powerful mummy. It's the final result of the Walker In The Waste prestige class, so a player character can become one.
Though, compared to other Liches, they don't regenerate their body: they have to possess the corpse of a reptile (preferably a dragon) of appropriate size.
Want to know how to make an illithideven creepier? Make it a lich. Illithid liches, also known as alhoons, are hated and feared even by other illithids because 1) they use magic which is normally taboo in illithid society, 2) undead are very difficult for illithids to detect via psionics, 3) they reject the illithid way of life, and 4) they are hideous undead abominations.
Forgotten Realms has Thalynsar the Ulithautarch. It's an ulitharid... who became an alhoon... and also merged with a dying Elder Brain, inheriting most of its knowledge and Psychic Powers. Absorbing remnants from thousands of illithids' minds didn't exactly improve its sanity, so now it thinks that's the best way to go for its whole species.
Not to mention the Lichfiend, an undead demon/devil whose soul is held by a Demon Lord or Archdevil instead of a phylactery. While this is theoretically safer than the traditional method, it gives their master the power to destroy them with a thought if they become disloyal. Unlike most examples, fiends are already immortal so the transformation is usually done for power alone.
Spelljammer/2E introduced the Archlich, which is basically a good aligned version of the lich. 3rd and 4th edition also have rules for letting a player turn into one.
The main difference between an Archlich and a normal lich (besides alignment) was the method they used to get immortality. Normal Liches made a deal with an evil god to become undead, while archliches did it by being really, really good at magic. Later editions made the rituals more vague, allowing normal liches to do it by themselves.
2e also had the Baelnorn, elves that turned into a special, good-aligned variant of liches to safeguard areas or items important to elves, or to be able to keep their wisdom passing on past even an elf's lifespan.
Eberron also has the Undying Court of Aerenal, usually good-aligned positive energy undead who lack phylacteries and are susceptible to a metal known as targath.
Although not as common as the classic horror monsters, liches do exist in the Ravenloft setting, where known lich variants include psionic liches, elementalist liches (from 2E), the vassalich (basically an undead servant), and at least one NPC bardic lich.
The 3.5 supplement Libris Mortis - Book of Undead has a bardic lich halfling posing as the castle's friendly, helpful and cheery cook.
Death Knights are basically a Magic Knight version of a lich. Even way back in 2e, the implications were clear, what with them being fully sentient, ensouled, skeletal undead that were hard to permanently kill and which had such magical abilities as Fireball and Power Word: Kill. Outright admitted in 4e, which even made the source of their immortality the fact that they had bound their soul into their weapon. The trick is, smashing the weapon while they're "alive" barely slows them down, and if you don't destroy it after you kill them, they just come back, so it's not the weakness you might expect.
In addition to conventional liches, the Mystara setting also includes one Glantrian wizard who was inadvertently turned into one by his overuse of the Dangerous Forbidden Technique known as the Radiance.
One setting included a very detailed society of evil wizards, one of whom was actually a lich pretending to still be alive. He just needed to be very careful to make sure that he still seems to take meals, and use the Preserve Food and Drink spell on his body weekly (the duration of that spell). Unfortunately, he occasionally forgets, and so has developed an unfortunate, if faint, odor...
D&D also has the Gray Shiver, a mundane spider which gains a fragment of a destroyed lich's power and intelligence after nesting in its skull.
Warhammer provides us with some examples of liches (n.b. the singular of "liches" in Warhammer is "liche", not "lich") who don't have a Soul Jar - the liche-priests of Khemri, an ancient mortuary cult that learned the secrets of necromancy and managed, after several generations of study, to preserve themselves as liches and cheat death. Their skills came into their own when the rest of their destroyed civilization was raised as undead by the Great Spell of Awakening. There is also at least one example of a wizard who was so absorbed with his work in the lab, he "didn't notice when he died", becoming a liche purely by accident.
Nagash, "The Great Necromancer" is also an example, having become undead through a combination of great magical power and Heroic Willpower when his body died in the desert. By his looks he is clearly a liche (though constant exposure to Green Rocks has made him over 9 feet tall) and behaves as such but doesn't seem to have a Soul Jar. Even so, even cutting him up with Infinity+1 Sword and burning the remains to ash failed to kill him for good.
Warhammer's liches don't follow the Soul Jar trope as a matter of course, but in Nagash's case his spirit clung to the world in a similar fashion thanks to the persistence of his severed hand - cut off during his battle with Alcadizaar and overlooked - and his Crown of Sorcery. The Crown, in particular, was imbued with much of Nagash's power when he created it, and he is much weakened now he no longer possesses it. Whether he made it specifically as an insurance policy against his death is unclear however.
Heinrich Kemmler is actually known as "The Lichemaster", although Nagash is his boss. He is mostly famous for his pimpin' wizard hat and the massive amounts of destruction he has caused.
The Lich Lords of Cryx in WARMACHINE are otherwise your typical liches (ie. skeletal undead spellcasters), except with added Steampunk. Since the Cryx are piratical raiders, this technically makes them Pirate Zombie Robots. Which is awesome.
Led by the love child of Godzilla and Cthulhu no less, oh and it's only a matter of time until they throw in some ninja.
As an effectively undead psyker, the God-Emperor of Man in Warhammer 40,000 bears not a few similarities to a lich.
The Blood Angels Librarian Dreadnoughts also resemble liches. A Dreadnought is essentially an undead Humongous Mecha and a Space Marine Librarian is essentially a wizard, so it's pretty much an undead wizard in a weaponized coffin.
Dragon Dice features the lich as a playable undead unit - it is the most powerful spellcaster available to the faction, and is also capable of melee combat.
Mage: The Awakening features a Left-Handed Path known as the Tremere Liches, whose origins lie in a bunch of vampires trying to diablerize a bunch of mages and the whole thing going horribly, horribly wrong. They're not technically undead, but they become functionally immortal by consuming the souls of others.
A supplement for Ars Magica included notes on how to become a lich. In a world where most mages create longevity potions anyway (as each "adventure" was a season or ten long, characters rapidly got older in a long-term campaign), such an enterprise wasn't going TOO much further. However, the execution was odd - instead of becoming undead, the character effectively replaced his failing organic bits with inorganic bits, effectively becoming a magitek cyborg and eventually a golem type.
Magic: The Gathering has twoenchantments that turn you into a lich, making you impervious to damage, though you die immediately if your opponent manages to remove the Lich enchantment. There are also a small handful of Lich creatures, almost all Blue and/or Black Zombie Wizards. The most straight example is probably Phylactery Lich, which must choose an artifact you control as a phylactery in which to hide its soul when you play it — it cannot die as long as the phylactery exists, but dies instantly if it's destroyed.
Fighting Fantasy doesn't explicitly have liches, but some of the characters have heavy features of them, especially Zanbar Bone in City Of Thieves, described in a later Universe Compendium as "more than half undead himself".
If you're an Abyssal Exalted, you can become one with Immortal Malevolence Enslavement. Normally, dead is dead even for Exalted, but this Charm even allows you to quip "I'll be back" if you meet your (temporary) demise. The drawback of this charm is that your soul is too tightly bound to the Neverborn for you to ever seek redemption, and you'll inevitably fall into Oblivion if you ever meet your Final Death.
Pathfinder has the standard Liches and Demiliches, but it also has Bones Sages, liches from the dead planet Eox, survivors of a self-inflicted Apocalypse.
The Grave Knight is a variant of a Dungeons & Dragons Death Knight, mostly because the Death Knight is product identity. The Grave Knight's armor serves as its phylactery, making it a Magic Knight version of the lich.
The ultimate Big Bad of the "Shattered Star" adventure path is the Clockwork Reliquary, which is essentially a lich/golem hybrid containing the soul of the wizard who founded Thassilon, a now-lost empire of the past. It's essentially a somewhat distorted human skeleton encased in a massive crystal, which is fitted into an arcane clockwork apparatus (tripodal legs, four arms) for locomotion and defense. So sort of an undead wizard in a weaponised coffin, live the above Space Marine example.
Liches in the Warcraft universe are former mages or warlocks turned Undead. The first round of Liches were Ner'Zhul and his Orcish Warlocks and Death Knights (which is why Liches in WC3 have those huge fangs; they're Orcs), Death Knights in the second war were the corpses of Azerothian knights from the first war animated by the soul of a dead Warlock. Human mages can also be turned into Liches, the most obvious example being Kel'Thuzad. Death Knights in the third war are undead Paladins with their souls sucked out, hence why Arthas turned into one. The Lich King (the 'second' one formed by merging Arthas with Ner'Zhul, not to be confused with just Ner'Zhul, who was also the Lich King) is therefore the body of a death knight combined with the mind of a lich with his soul bound to his sword, making him somewhat of a combination of the two. It's complicated.
While this is usually not important, liches in World of Warcraft do have phylacteries, though they CAN be slain without destroying the phylactery. However, it is mentioned they may come back if the phylactery is left untouched. Back in vanilla World of Warcraft, a quest involving the phylactery of Kel'Thuzad has the player character pull a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero by selling it to an Argent Dawn member (who later turns out to be a Scourge spy) instead of destroying it, and for Wrath of the Lich King Naxxramas indeed returns as a level 80 raid, complete with Kel'Thuzad.
It's also mentioned that what is ostensibly the lich's body (the skeletal, adorned upper body with the strips of cloth flowing down to about ground level from the hips) isn't actually their body from when they were alive, and is instead merely a physical form projected by the phylactery. As such, even destroying the body to a ludicrous extent won't matter when it comes to keeping the lich dead.
While his power seems to be demonic in nature rather than undead, a warlock in the Goblin starting experience will come back to life repeatedly if his Soulstone is not destroyed. (Of course, since every player passing through his cavern has to kill him to progress their own story, he respawns in a minute's time even then.)
Gruntilda in Banjo-Tooie could be considered a kind of lich, given that she fits the idea of a very magically powerful intelligent undead. She has an instant-kill spell, for God's sake! AND she wasted away into a skeleton under that rock inbetween the games, and yet she's still moving, fine and dandy. "Determinator" doesn't even begin to describe it, especially in Nuts & Bolts, where she shows up as nothing but a head.
The original Final Fantasy I has the Lich as the boss of the Earth Cave; a powerful spellcaster capable of using some devastating magic. The later games, however, merely borrow the word for any undead mook; the only time this trope is in effect is in the rare cases when the original Lich makes a Bonus Boss appearance.
His successor Scarmiglione in Final Fantasy IV is also a clear Lich, too. Like the original Lich, Scarmiglione is the undead fiend of Earth, and he is able to use magic effectively.
Common villains in Battle for Wesnoth, this turns out to be a central point of Descent into Darkness.
Also simply one of the two final advancement choices for a Dark Adept unit that makes it past the Dark Sorcerer/Sorceress stage (the other being the Necromancer), so it can potentially show up in general play if the Undead faction is involved and the game goes on long enough.
Liches aren't necessarily evil in the Exile/Avernum games (one was even created from a war hero to guard a demon's tomb in the aftermath of a battle), but most of them are egotistical psychopaths. A possible variation on liches might be the Crystal Soul, souls immobilized inside crystals that can only talk and cast spells.
In Ultima I the evil wizard Mondain can survive being repeatedly killed as long as his phylactery is left untouched. The monsters the game calls liches, though, have no similar phylacteries evident. It's unclear how smart they are, but they are powerful and dangerous. They appear as merely floating skulls, so they look more like AD&D's Demiliches.
Ultima Underworld 2 even has non-wizard liches — a quadrumvirate of warrior, wizard, assassin, and one more as a hidden Bonus Boss. The warrior is the leader and the most dangerous.
Pious Augustus, the chronologically first playable character in Eternal Darkness, becomes a "lieche" due to the "magick" of the Ancients. The artifact isn't a traditional phylactery, though, as it's mainly through the magical protection from the Ancient's link to the universe that grants him undeath and magical power. You still have to destroy it to get him vulnerable again, though.
One of the major villains of Guild Wars Prophecies is a lich necromancer, transformed during the Cataclysm of Orr by Abaddon.
In Might and Magic VII, it's possible for sorcerers in your party to undertake a ritual to become liches, complete with Soul Jars. Liches also show up as part of the Necropolis army in the Heroes of Might and Magic games, both as heroes and units; however, they don't require Soul Jars — their use of necromancy allows them immortality, while also eating away at their vitality until they're reduced to emaciated living corpses.
Magic-users had the option of becoming liches in Might and Magic 7 through 9. The process was always quite complicated, and the main payoff was access to the top dark magic powers. It didn't give any particular immortality (it grants immunity to Body magic and removes age as a factor, but otherwise you're no more protected from death than any other character) — though this might be because they games vary between indicating that the soul jars are only needed for the process (with the souls then put back in the body) or that liches have to carry their soul jars with them.
In Might and Magic Heroes VI, lichdom is achieved by replacing all of the blood in your body with the venom of the Mother Namtarru, the embodiment of the creator goddess Asha's nightmares. If you remain a lich for a long time, you eventually become a vampire.
Liches are a recurring high-level undead enemy in The Elder Scrolls series. They shoot off a lot of magic but are otherwise fairly straightforward to fight. They do not use their Soul Jar in any important manner.
Of course, Oblivion has a necromancer oh-so-slowly changing himself into a lich; if you steal his Soul Jar, he instantly drops dead. An in-game note states this is the origin of the old wife's tale about the Soul Jar being a lich's weakness. After the transfer is complete, a lich can discard the item with no ill effect.
The Eight Dragon Priests in Skyrim are Nordic versions of liches. These powerful undead dragon worshipping sorcerers can be found in various tombs and barrows and one Dragon roost. The return of their master Alduin has stirred them from their ancient slumber.
In the Dawnguard DLC, in order to enter the Soul Cairn, the Player Character has to technically be dead. As such, they have to choose between becoming a vampire (if they aren't one already) or becoming a semi-lich, having part of their soul trapped in a phylactery which must be retrieved later, lowering their stats (thankfully, the process can be reversed).
Quan Chi of Mortal Kombat is an arguable example — he's not entirely undead physically, but he did rise from the Netherrealm in sorcerer form (after being an Oni) and isn't exactly the most lively-looking man in the world with his white skin and sunken eyes. The unnaturally deep voice doesn't help.
Liches appear in Total Annihilation: Kingdoms as a Tarosian unit. They follow the characteristics for other undead units in the game (can't be turned to stone, fade away on destruction without leaving a body), can cross bodies of water by floating above them, and their weapon is a life-draining wave of energy that can also damage your own units in the vicinity.
Liches are uncommon enemies in Vagrant Story. They're Glass Cannons: They can actually be easy to defeat if you attack them enough times before they can get a spell off, but said spells can be devastating. Liches are some of the only enemies in the game who know Radial Surge, a light spell. In Vagrant Story, the main character gains resistance to elements the more he's attacked by those elements, but light spells are extremely rare and so the main character is likely to have absolutely no resistance to it. It's entirely possible for a Lich with a high-level Radial Surge to kill you in one shot.
Vagrant Story's liches are a subversion of the way liches are traditionally portrayed, in that they gain their powers and immortality from a Deal with the Devil rather than a Soul Jar, and the game treats them as evil-type enemies (akin to demons) rather than undead.
EverQuest has Lucan D'Lere, Venril Sathir, and Miragul.
Lucan was a human Paladin who betrayed his god, was stripped of his holy powers, and found a way to turn himself into a lich, in which form he now rules over the city of Freeport with an iron fist.
Venril Sathir was an Iksar necromancer who once ruled over the Iksar empire. His pursuit of power and knowledge led him to become a Lich by inhabiting the body of one his own sons many years after he had died. He currently rules over the Sathirian Empire on the continent of Kunark, as well as forcing all the Iksar rulers who took over after him to become his own vassals. They are fully aware that he is forcing them to work for him against their wills.
Miragul was an Erudite necromancer who only wanted to learn all the world's knowledge and master all forms of magic. As he grew older, he realized that his body would soon fail and he would die, so he created a lich body to transfer his soul into so he could continue his studies. Unfortunately, a miscalculation caused the ritual to go wrong, and his soul was transferred into the phylactery and not into the lich's body just as his body died.
Most of the Ogre Battle series features Liches, both as enemies and playable units. They do look quite desiccated/skeletal, and are usually dark-aligned. But you can actually make Holy-element Liches. The Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors system means that they'll hit harder against dark Liches, but will also take more damage from their dark spells.
Usually, getting one requires an upgraded Wizard character of low alignment, plus several extremely rare evil artifacts. As the trade-off, though, they receive multiple castings of the most powerful multi-elemental spells around. Having one in any unit is usually enough to decimate all comers.
Liches in Rift are towering skeletons with their ribcages showing out of their robes, hovering slightly over the ground, and having wings made of bone. Necromancers get Lich form as their end talent; neither of these cases seem to use phylacteries.
Kingdom of Loathing's Misspelled Cemetary contains lihces, which do not look very much at all like traditional liches. The Cyrpt also contains slick lihces, dirty old lihces, and senile lihces (who performed the requisite dire rituals to become immortal accidentally, while trying to make some breakfast). There is a Giant Lihc Mini-Boss; who can be killed instantly if you destroy a "plus-sized phylactery" during battle with it. It is not difficult to defeat without doing so, though, and it never appears again even if you kept the phylactery intact. It also has a Dracolich.
Arx Fatalis has them filling a mini-boss role, much like the Ultima games. In Arx, they're ghostly entities (who can manifest from piles of bones) rather than the still-animate bodies of sorcerers.
One of the bosses in Majesty The Fantasy Kingdom Sim is the "Liche Queen", who uses powerful dark magic and can summon undead minions. The flavour text doesn't mention any Soul Jar, but it does explain that she used to be a high priestess of Krypta whose mind snapped when a ritual to increase Krypta's power backfired. Presumably, that's what turned her into a lich.
Lichdom is the ultimate skill in Necromancy in Lusternia. The Necromancer dies, but rises again as an archlich - with increased strength and intelligence, a freezing aura, and the ability to bestow a lesser version of lichdom upon non-Necromantic allies. Nihilist priests fit the Evil Sorcerer mould and like the idea of immortality: elite ur'Guard troopers are mainly in it for the increase in power, becoming Death Knights in the process.
The form of cheating death used by Toyosatomimi-no-Miko and her coterie in Touhou resembles lichdom. They swap their soul into an inanimate object, which takes their form when they 'die'. Not exactly undead, though, so much as confusing heaven into thinking that they've died. Their awakening even follow the standard "evil necromancers stir up from their millennial sleep in their forgotten tomb and threaten the life of decent people" plot.
The player character in Fallout: New Vegas at least briefly becomes a technological example of this in the DLC "Old World Blues." Upon being transported to the Big Empty, the Courier’s brain is promptly scooped out of him or her and deposited into a jar, after which it sends and receives data using a wireless connection to its dismembered body via "The COILS of NICOLA TESLA!" that had been placed in the Courier’s head. Despite player “death” still resulting in a game over, it can be argued that the Courier is alive and kicking until someone or something comes along and mashes up their brain wherever it’s stored in the Big Empty. That the Big Empty is absolutely full of lobotomized “skinvelopes” also makes the Courier’s body easily replaceable.
Baldur's Gate 2 has several liches as dangerous high-level opponents, and two demi-liches appear as bonus bosses (Kangaxx the Lich in Shadows of Amn, and an unnamed demi-lich in a tomb that is a side area of the Bonus Dungeon of Throne of Bhaal.) You never have to seek out their phylacteries though.
In Lords Of Magic the Lich is the legendary creature for the Death faction, made through the transformation of a necromancer. It can reach level 12, otherwise attainable only by faction lords, has the largest mana pool in the game, and strong attack and defense and the ability to enter defense mode, averting the Squishy Wizard issue most mages suffer.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks features Skeldritch, the Ancient Demon. He wears a Cool Hat (viking helmet to be precise) and specializes in spitting up rocks. You need to deflect and load the rocks onto catapults so they destroy Skeldritch's rib cage, and finally knocks the helmet off so you can stab the gem embedded in its skull.
Lobelia in Duel Savior Destiny is essentially a lich, though her body is as beautiful as it was when she died. She's still quite undead, however, and has ceased to age. Her soul is contained in her body, but this is because it's free to jump out, meaning physical destruction still is not really enough to kill her.
In DisciplesII, The Undead Hordes have liches as their mass-attack magic units. Male necromancers can become liches and later archliches (one of the most powerful mass attacker units in the game). The Undead mage hero unit, the Lich Queen, is a female necromancer who went through the process of becoming a lich. In the expansions, Mortis takes her revenge on Gallean by raising fallen Elves as pale vengeful undead shadows of their former selves. The former Elves hold nothing but resentment for the Elves and their god Gallean. In a particularly vicious move, she even does this to their son after he is slain by demons. The sight of his undead son cursing him for letting him die a horrible death enrages Gallean to the point of madness.
League of Legends features the lich Karthus. He was captivated by the moment between life and death and voluntarily chose to enter a permanent, skeletal, undead state at the Shadow Isles. Karthus is a lategame-oriented, sustained damage mage notorious for having an ultimate that strikes all enemy Champions regardless of range for large magic damage. His passive, Death Defied, lets him cast spells (albeit standing still over his corpse) for no cost for 7 seconds...after he dies. This is *much* better than it sounds—Karthus is known for having absurd damage output lategame, and 7 seconds of that for free in the middle of a teamfight is more than enough to decimate careless foes. His Soul Jar isn't known (and he can be "killed," albeit very easily resurrected), although if he has a Soul Jar it might be the Shadow Isles themselves.
The original campaign has the crystal wyrm Nolalothcaragascint, a dragon who was hired by the ancient elven kingdom of Illefarn to kill the King of Shadows. Nolaloth actually came pretty close, injuring the King badly enough to force it to withdraw to the Astral Plane, but he was killed in the attempt. Illefarn transmuted his heart to crystal and bound his soul to it.
In Mask of the Betrayer, Rammaq is a demilich who fought alongside Akachi when he rebelled against Myrkul, and will join you in the invasion of the Fugue Plane in the endgame. Since it was a Titan in life, even as a floating skull it's ten feet tall.
Storm of Zehir has an alhoon as a Bonus Boss. It is meant to be an encounter for epic-level characters and is about the only reason to keep grinding after you beat The Very Definitely Final Dungeon, which is doable at level 18.
8-Bit Theater has the Lich as he was in the original Final Fantasy: an undead sorcerer. He managed to seal his soul in the Earth Orb, a powerful magical objects that controls the Earth itself, until Thief expels it by invoking anti-pollution laws. He is then dragged down to Hell thanks to Black Mage, but manages to replace him as the ruler of Hell, until the Lich is briefly summoned back to life by one of his son's former allies. Black Mage then promptly utterly destroys him.
In their store, Penny Arcade has a shirt that says, "Life's a lich, and then you never die".
In Unsounded, Duane is an interesting subversion. One, he's a quiet, lawful scholar who's been blackmailed into escorting a brat of a child. Two, there are indications that his raising was done to him. If he has a phylactery, he certainly doesn't know it.
Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic is D&D based, so it features a lich named Lewie (short for King Lewstrom VII). At first he was portrayed as an Affably EvilHarmless Villain (a trait he shared with many of the characters) who would gladly lend you some of his skeletal minions to help with your gardening, and was fond of saying "Curses!" when annoyed. However, once he got his hands on an artifact that allowed him to summon his death goddess, he became a Not-So-Harmless Villain.
In Angel Of Death, a community of around 2,000 liches exists. They can shapeshift between a human form and that of an 8-foot tall corpse, and have copious amounts of magical power. Most horrifying of all, these liches must devour the soulsof the living on a nightly basis, or else their starvation will drive them into a frenzy likely to kill hundreds of people.
The Lich from Adventure Time is a nigh unstoppable Big Bad who's unconsciously trying to find a way out of being a Sealed Evil in a Can. It's implied he was the result of a human being directly hit with a demonic nuclear bomb, and as a result wishes to end all life.