"When any guard wakes up, I'm usually long gone."The Phantom Thief is a special class of criminal. An elusive and fantastic thief who can be long gone before the victim even knows what hit him. Just as likely to be an antihero as a villain. There is no single set model of the Phantom Thief, but they usually have some of the following characteristics.
— Garrett, Thief (2014)
- Steals items that are not merely very expensive but often priceless: fine art, unique gems, historical artifacts.
- Leaves a Calling Card for the intended victim.
- Is a Master of Disguise.
- Uses trickery and illusions to escape undetected.
- Has a rival in the form of a Great Detective or a stubborn police inspector.
- Has a strict code of honor, ranging from refusing to commit murder to outright announcing heists in advance.
- Steals for reasons other than personal gain, such as personal challenge, being a Troll or vigilante justice.
- May or may not actually break the laws of physics or the common sense altogether to achieve their goal.
- Is meant to be either admired by the audience or at the very least respected for their wit, audacity and adherence to self-made rules.
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- The McDonald's Hamburglar.
Anime and Manga
- The Black Rose in Ashita no Nadja.
- The Kisugi sisters trio in Cat's Eye.
- And in Tsukasa Hojo's next work, City Hunter, you have Kasumi Asou alias Theif n°305, who comes from a line of women phantom thieves.
- The Man of Twenty Faces from Clamp School Detectives (and his own manga; note that the manga was inspired by a Gentleman Thief by the same name from earlier books, movies, and television).
- More obviously (and recently) Dark, from D.N.Angel, although he steals cursed items to get them uncursed.
- Psiren of Fullmetal Alchemist. The people of her city don't really want her caught - it's an Expy of Venice and will soon slide underwater, so she's the only thing keeping people coming.
- Played with in Ghost in the Shell when the Major is Cash Eye. A false thief created to trap a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
- In the Boys Love manga Gorgeous Carat, main character Ray is also known as Phantom Thief Noir.
- Called out to, but not really played right with Fumi and Sharna of Hayate the Combat Butler.
- Time Bokan series "Kaitou Kiramekiman". Set in the near future, the main character are a couple of young thieves named Kiramekiman. Secretly, the goal of Kiramekiman is actually noble, since they are only stealing certain objects in order to maintain peace in the future.
- Hailing from Kaitou Joker is its titular character whose embodies this trope in-universe. His rivals and mentor are also this.
- Saint Tail from Kaitou Saint Tail is a Magical Girl style thief who uses Impossibly Awesome Magic Trick themed skills to steal back property that was already wrongly taken. Notably, she only leaves calling cards to taunt her Kid Detective crush.
- Maron/"Jeanne" from Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne.
- Robas from Kiba, who becomes the thief "No Face" because he's bored and wishes for a challenge. It's also hinted he may be trying to help out his family financially, since their fortune is somewhat on the rocks.
- The Kindaichi Case Files has a female example with male name "Gentleman thief/Kaitou Shinshi".
- King of Bandit Jing: The titular character himself; legends claim he can steal the very stars from the night sky- and he proceeds to live up to his Impossible Thief status; conceding once- to monument which he admits he doesn't have a pocket big enough to fit. He tends to forgo full disguises as his youth usually works as is; he also enjoys leaving the classic calling card from time to time which all carry his symbol of a black cat face wth wingding eyes.
- Lupin III is based on Arsène Lupin; both titular characters are famously uncatchable, with the half-Japanese character being the grandson of the famous French thief.
- Kaitou Kid (literally known as the Phantom Thief Kid) from Magic Kaito and Detective Conan. In Magic Kaito he had a lot of Lupin homages, including the indefatigable Nakamori for Ganimard and Hakuba Saguru popping over from England in place of Sherlock Holmes.
- X in Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro. Unfortunately, those aren't his only crimes...
- Phantom Renegade of Medabots steals rare medals in order to keep them out of the wrong hands. He would actually do a pretty good job, if he didn't clumsily lose them right after gloating over his successful heist.
- In Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok, Freyr (in his first episode), because every Great Detective needs a rival.
- In One Piece, Nami can steal practically anything without anyone noticing (as seen in the Drum arc). However she prefers to brag.
- Twenty Faces from Kigitsu Katsuhisa's one-shot manga Phase 20.
- Phantom Thief Pokémon 7 is about a, well, Phantom Thief.
- One of the earliest examples is probably Osamu Tezuka's Rainbow Parakeet, whose unusual name comes from his mastery of disguise & ability to mimic voices.
- Shadow Lady has Aimi Komori that crosses paths with De-Mo, a resident of the Demon World who forcefully introduces her to the magic eye shadow that transforms her into Shadow Lady, a Classy Cat-Burglar that becomes the focus of a police task force led by Bright Honda.
- Le Bled from Steam Detectives. Also known as Phantom Thief Le Bled!
- Arsène Lupin the Trope Codifier.
- Fantômas, an anarchist whose crimes (supposedly) stem from a disdain for modern civilization. Unlike Lupin, he is a cruel, manipulative psychopath with no qualms at all about murdering people and framing the innocent to face the guillotine for his crimes. His titles include "The Man with a Thousand Faces", "The Lord of Terror", "The Master of Crime" and "The Genius of Evil."
- The Gray Ghosts in the Shadowleague books.
- Conina from Sourcery once stole some diamonds from a thief who had himself absconded from a jewellery shop having swallowed them. She's actually a phantom thief illegitimate barbarian hairdresser.
- The titular character of the German gangster spoof series Dickie Dick Dickens has traces of this, being a Chicago gangster in the 1920s who uses trickery, charm and his impossibly well-honed skills as a pickpocket to reach his goal. His son, Donald D. Doberman, is an even clearer example of the trope.
- Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats:
He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity's not there!
- Comus from the Ellery Queen short story "The Dauphin's Doll" in Calendar of Crime.
- The Bishop from A Stainless Steel Rat is Born is a retired Phantom Thief. His crowning achievement was stealing shipments of cash from the local equivalent of Fort Knox: a sealed crate of money leaves, but when it arrives at the destination, it contains only a single chess bishop. The Stainless Steel Rat himself is rather more physical: it's a rare crime that doesn't involve guards winding up on the wrong end of a gas grenade or a karate chop, something the Bishop calls him out on.
Live Action TV
- Kamen Rider Decade: Kamen Rider Diend is actually named has Daiki Kaitou, but he's only partway to being a full-fledged Phantom Thief. He has the "theft of valuable objects" and "uses trickery and illusions" bits down but his personality boils down to "real-life Troll" for his victims (especially Tsukasa), and he steals not out of a sense of social justice but because he enjoys it (though that's just his assertion, in truth it's because he's trying to fill the void left behind by his brother being brainwashed by a crime boss).
- Il Ji-Mae "Don't worry, I can steal anything. After all, I'm Il Ji-Mae."
- Parker on Leverage is this, but she's also crazy and more than a little unsettling due to her lack of understanding for basic social norms. Her mentor, Archie Leech, is this as well, and a Gentleman Thief
- In Tokumei Sentai Go Busters: One episode in the last half of the series features Kaitou Pink Buster, a rich woman who steals wearing an outfit based on the Go-Buster's out of transformation uniform, and becomes attached to Red Buster. In the Alternate world Dobutsu Sentai Go-Busters, her counterpart, Pink Cat, is His sister.
- Trilby epitomizes this trope in The Art of Theft. He continues to be one in the Chzo Mythos, though he soon finds his chosen vocation can be stressful.
- Neeshka from Neverwinter Nights 2, although certainly interested in money, mostly sees burglary as a sort of competitive game, taking delight in difficult heists.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials & Tribulations, Mask☆DeMasque (yes, complete with the star) is a Phantom Thief - and he's your client. Your high-strung, flighty client. The same case gives us his self-declared Ace Detective rival, Luke Atmey. Guess what: he really isn't. Further guess what: he really is but he didn't commit the theft in question - that was Atmey, who was responsible for putting him up to most of his previous heists and was using this one as an alibi. It's an awesome moment when you get the loveable little bastard cleared of all the crimes he actually did commit, almost by accident.
- Ace Attorney Investigations:
- The game has another in "The Great Yatagarasu", a sort of Intrepid Reporter version of the Vigilante Man. The Yatagarasu has two odd quirks compared to other phantom thieves. First; the Yatagarasu doesn't steal much that's tangible. Rather, the thief makes off with evidence of dirty dealings and makes them public. Secondly, the Yatagarasu doesn't actually send calling cards to the victim beforehand. Rather, the victim doesn't know that their info was even stolen, until it shows up on the news, having been delivered to the authorities alongside a calling card. Actually, there's three of "him", all Cowboy Cops. One however is The Mole planted in the group to keep them away from a smuggling ring. They are Byrne Faraday, Detective Tyrell Badd and Calisto Yew (She's the mole.)
- Related is Kay Faraday, who claims to be the new Yatagarasu though she doesn't actually ever steal anything. Bonus points for managing the unlikely combination of Highly Visible Phantom Thief.
- In the Thief series, Garrett is a classic Phantom Thief and Anti-Hero, though he steals for his own gain as well as for the thrill of it. The higher difficulty levels impose a code of honor (no killing humans; zombies and the like are fair game). The Fandom takes it further still, with a common Self-Imposed Challenge being the Ghost run - a playthrough in which Garrett gets in, steals everything not nailed down, and gets out again without anyone even suspecting he was ever there. To clarify, Ghosting means leaving no evidence anyone was there. No unlocked doors (lock them again), nobody looked round and asked "What's that noise?", no broken windows, no doused torches (in Thief 2, which this is very popular for, re-lighting torches is easy) and definitely nobody injured or killed. The only difference is all the loot is gone.
- Skye from Harvest Moon DS Cute is widely known as "Phantom Skye". He doesn't seem to steal for any other reason other than for the fun of it (or, should you choose to woo him, to meet with the player). But Skye steals because he wants to make really good curry. The items he steals are ingredients and other people's curry dishes (to taste them).
- Kasumi Goto of Mass Effect 2.
I'm the best thief in the galaxy. Not the most famous.
- She would lampshade leaving notes and signs of her robberies by saying her partner/lover Keiji got her out of the habit.
- Wario: Master of Disguise features Wario becoming one of these using a magic wand he took from a real phantom thief. The game's original title, Kaitou Wario the Seven, is clearly meant to suggest both Lupin the Third and the Fiend of Twenty Faces (since seven is actually how many costumes Wario has, besides the basic thief).
- MapleStory gets one as a playable character, unsubtly named Phantom.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has the Gray Fox, who people believe can slip through doors and become invisible. And no one knows who he is, because he's wearing a cursed Daedric artifact that strikes the wearer's name from history.
- The newly-introduced Trickster class in Fire Emblem Awakening, a promotion of the standard Thief, is literally described as a glamorous phantom thief. Its members are capable of using healing staves as well as swords.
- Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure gives us the aptly named Phantom R, a thief known for stealing priceless works of art... only to return them days later without a scratch. The Police always fail to catch him, even after they spot him in the act. Then again...
- Hoopa, a literal phantom thief, is capable of using its portal rings to hide away the treasures it stole.
- Which apparently include entire islands and legendary pokemon. Hoopa would also classify as an Impossible Thief.
- The protagonists of Persona 5 are this. But rather than anything tangible, they steal the "hearts" of corrupt people.
- The Sly Cooper franchise is built on this trope, covering each and every point detailed above; even the Japanese name for the series is "Kaitou (Phantom/Wonder Thief) Sly Cooper".
- Bleublanc from The Legend of Heroes Series is a thief from Erebonia who steals for poor people, at least according to literature you can find in that country. Outside of that, he creates mischiefs with series of burglaries across Erebonia in which he leaves Calling Card giving multiple clues to locate where the stolen goods are, something that our protagonists have to handle. The things he steal varies from valuable goods to impossible things like his ultimate goal; Stealing hope. His title as member of Ouroboros is literally Phantom Thiefnote .
- Cassidy Cain of Grandmaster of Theft is a phantom thief in her criminal alter ego.
- Geist from Heist. He lives in a superhero universe and only his former clients even know he exists.
- The unknown rook (thief) in Snow By Night, who goes after objects having to do with hearts. Even the other rooks are baffled by this person. Turns out the thief is Snow By Night, a manitou with magic powers, which explains why she is so hard to find.