"You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain."The Protagonist's Journey to Villain is a plot in which the protagonist, who starts out well intentioned, turns into a monster. In other words, it's the making of the Villain Protagonist. Sometimes this plot can be backstory, perhaps overlapping with Start of Darkness. For example: Bob, the happy idealist and doer of good, loses his morals through a series of battles with evil, and becomes just the opposite of what he once was. He is now a cruel, amoral evildoer. However, note that this descent into evil has to be the focus of the plot, or at least a very important plot point. A mere mention that a bad person was once good is not enough for this trope. This trope is about the journey to evil, not the traveler (Bob), nor the destination. This is the primary arc in many a Tragedy, which usually ends with the death of the hero-turned-villain as its source of audience catharsis. This is a subtrope of Fallen Hero, in that this is the journey of the Protagonist. Related to Tragic Hero, He Who Fights Monsters, The Paragon Always Rebels, Face–Heel Turn, Became Their Own Antithesis. Compare and contrast Start of Darkness, where a previously established villain's backstory is revealed. Compare Big Bad Slippage, where a character, may or may not be the protagonist, becomes the Big Bad over the course of the story. Contrast Redemption Quest. SPOILER WARNING! In many cases, the mere fact that this trope applies to a work can be a spoiler. Read at your own risk.
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Anime and Manga
- Berserk devotes much of the Golden Age arc to the relationship between Guts and Griffith, and focuses on the factors which would ultimately lead Griffith to betray Guts and become his number one enemy.
- While Black Butler started with Ciel already as a Villain Protagonist, many chapters show him getting progressively worse.
- Black Lagoon: As the series goes on, "outside" character Rock is quickly turning into something else. The opposite is true of Revy, who has actually eased up thanks to Rock's optimism.
- Code Geass chronicles Lelouch and Suzaku's descent into villainy, if only to save the world.
- Death Note is this for Light, though arguably very, very briefly. He starts off just killing dangerous criminals, but it's only a few episodes before he convinces himself that since his intentions are noble, and the police are trying to stop him, it's perfectly acceptable to murder them as well; to top that off, at this point he's already dripping with gleeful smugness every time he outsmarts a bunch of honest cops, or in one case, the widow of an honest cop he murdered. And from there, things go From Bad to Worse.
- This is played with in Kannazuki no Miko. Chikane, being rather attracted to Himeko who already seems interested in someone else, begins to go a tad conflicted. This reaches a head when one of the Orochi Heads uses her desires for Himeko to try and kill her in a scene that remains one of the most well known...for reasons. As a result, Chikane has her way with Himeko, steals Ogami's Orochi mech, kills the other Orochi Heads and awakens Orochi herself. Where the 'played with' part comes up is that Chikane never became evil, she was doing a Batman Gambit to get Himeko to kill her for the world rebirth ritual to be complete and in order to push her far enough to summon a god by herself since a memory of her old self implanted a hatred for said god in the back of her mind. Ultimately, Chikane saved everyone at the cost of her own happiness, but the ending in both the manga and anime suggest that she was given what she wanted in all of her lives but never got.
- Mahou Sensei Negima!: It appears at some point that this may be the fate of poor Negi, who starts the series as a Stepford Smiler brought on by a Dark and Troubled Past. As he and his students become involved in magic and the magical world, he begins to put his students in trouble and he blames himself for everything. In the Magic World arc, things get worse and he learns Black Magic. Now struggling with The Corruption and the danger of becoming a inhuman demon, it's only his True Companions preventing the jump off the slippery slope while his enemies and his master want to push him over the edge. Though whilst his master would rather he were evil, they don't want him mindless. Unlike the enemies.
- This happens to Michi in Osamu Tezuka's original Metropolis manga.
- Mirai Nikki, turning The Woobie into... well, something else entirely.
- Shinn Asuka of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny starts out as a standard Jerk with a Heart of Gold. As the series progresses, his anger issues begin to consume him entirely and he becomes The Berserker, and eventually an antivillainous Brute following The Reveal that his boss has been The Big Bad all along. He gets over it after his defeat. Arguably it's a good thing he progressed in this way, because he unknowingly worked for the Big Bad all along and when consumed with anger he becomes a much less effective fighter and ended up being defeated relatively easily by his former mentor Athrun despite previously establishing himself as the superior pilot of the two.
- A good half of the plot of Naruto focuses on the slow decline of Sasuke from angsty-but-loyal to full on villainy and the titular character's (thus far unsuccessful) attempts to stop this.
- The slow descent ended the instant Tobi got his claws into Sasuke. With a bit of egging on by the master manipulator, Sasuke dives headlong off the slope; even his teammates who had suffered under Orochimaru were stunned by his sudden swerve into open murder.
- Tobi would know all about this trope, with his being Obito and all. He knew exactly how to move Sasuke along that path, because Madara did the same thing to him.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica episodes 3-8 count as one for Sayaka Miki, of all people.
- As of the movie Rebellion, the entire series retroactively becomes one of these for Homura Akemi.
- Ringing Bell has this happen to Chirin. A cute little lamb grows up and turns into a murdering demonic ram.
- Shakugan no Shana: Sakai Yuuji goes down this road because he's sharing a body with the Snake of the Festival inside Reiji Maigo.
- In the end, this trope is subverted in the final light novel. While incredibly ruthless, Snake of the Festival Yuji ultimately turns out to be the Big Good, permanently saving the day so to speak by ending the Forever War and providing a world for Crimson Denizens to exist without devouring humans' Power of Existence, furthermore allowing the Flame Haze to finally lay aside their weapons.
- The infamous martial arts manga Shamo is about a boy who kills his parents, goes to prison, gets raped, and then carries on to become the most psychopathic martial artist ever conceived.
- Initially in Sun-Ken Rock, Ken is okay with having a small gang that can pass up as posers thinking way too big, but as things goes Ken's influence actually creates a parallel state. He becomes a big shot, a true criminal in real life standards by owning corrupt casinos, idol agencies and real estate companies. That's where Ken starts doubting himself, being rather careless about rivals trying to destroy or seize his empire, as he thinks it could be for the best.
- The Warrior Cats Expanded Universe manga The Rise of Scourge is about how a cute little kitten named Tiny became Scourge, ruler of BloodClan and Evil Counterpart to The Hero Firestar.
- Syaoran from Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE- starts as a really Nice Guy who is devoting his life to restore the memories from Sakura. However, in the middle of the series he is revealed as an Artificial Human who loses his heart at the hands of his own creator resulting in his Face-Heel Turn. He manages to redeem himself in the series' end though.
- Also Fai, to a degree. Before Acid Tokyo he starts off as the cheerful and slightly ditzy "mother", generally having a good time. Turns out he is one hell of a Broken Bird that is also a spy for the Big Bad. Also turns into a huge ass and starts going down the slippery slope towards insanity after Tokyo. Gets better post Dark and Troubled Past-reveal and Kurogane pulling a Heroic Sacrifice for him.
- The first half of the third season of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX is this for protagonist Judai. He doesn't remain a villain for long, but comes out the situation an almost completely different character.
- In the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game this happens to Gagagigo who started his carrier as the little and cute Gigobyte and fights along with Eria the Water Charmer. As the grown-up Gagagigo he eventually left her and someday he fought Freed the Brave Wanderer, ended up being trapped in another dimension. He met Marauding Captain and fought against Inpachi, who later appeared again as Blazing Inpachi; the Marauding Captain took the bullet, which inspired Gagagigo to do the same for one of the Captain's men during the war against Invader of Darkness. Later, in hope to defeat Invader of Darkness, he asked the Mad Scientist Kozaky to make him stronger who rebuild his body to the corrupted Giga Gagagigo. When he fought against Freed the Brave Wanderer again in his native dimension, he got his own attack reflected and lost. Obsessed to continue gaining strength to defeat his rivals, he continued his rampage and eventually transformed into Gogiga Gagagigo and truly lost his soul.
- The following story (which is "written" many years after his transformation) inverts his dark development as he fought Freed the Brave Wanderer again, finally overpowering him, but Marauding Captain appeared and protected him, before Gogiga Gagagigo gave him the finishing blow. Instead of following his corrupted instincts, Gogiga Gagagigo understands Marauding Captain's actions, and forsakes his quest for power. Thus, he finally becomes the strong warrior of justice he once sought out to be, Gagagigo the Risen.
- Irredeemable is about a Superman Expy called the Plutonian who loses it and starts lashing out. Part of the book involves looking at how he got to that point. And some of his former teammates seem to have started down that same path while trying to stop him...
- The entire The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck series captures Scrooge's development through life, how his experiences and hardships shaped him from an optimistic youth to the money-hungry villain he was in his debut, and his eventual redemption. If you pay particular attention to the portraits of the main albums, he gets progressively meaner with each portrait until he ends up a broken old man.
- Tales of the Jedi: Dark Lords of the Sith is about how Exar Kun and Ulic Qel-Droma turn to The Dark Side. It's a much shorter trip for Kun, who had serious anger issues and a bit of Fantastic Racism all along.
- Watchmen has this as a subplot for Veidt.
- Winter Soldier: The Bitter March has Ran Shen already unsure of the morality of Cold War era SHIELD, finally be tipped over the edge by Nick Fury shooting one dog too many and ruining the Winter Soldier's attempted Heel–Face Turn.
- The "Barren Earth" backup feature in Warlord was effectively this for Jinal Ne'Comarr, who started out just wanting to defend earth from the Qlov. By the time "Barren Earth" became an independent miniseries, Conqueror of the Barren Earth, Jinal was determined to conquer the world by force. Interestingly, Jinal is the hero of the story.
- Arawn: The entire comic is about Arawn relating his life story to explain how he went from an ordinary human to the demonic Evil Overlord of the underworld.
- In Code Geass: Mao of the Deliverance, Mao's frustration, growing insanity, and desperation twist him into a much more manipulative and brutal person. Later chapters, however, appear to hint at a moral recovery.
- In Death Note fanfic Fade, L turns progressively worse after he gets his hands on a Death Note, containing a part of the story of Kira's rise to power.
- The Darkness Series: Harry Potter and the Descent Into Darkness. It's Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Harry is embittered by the abandonment of his friends following the fiasco with the Goblet of Fire and allows the horcrux access to his mind. He finds comfort in his new imaginary friend who guides him to Salazar Slytherin's Library in the Chamber of Secrets for guidance on how to survive the tournament.
- This quite amazing fanvid about the Tenth Doctor of Doctor Who . The scariest part is that the song (which is also an example of this trope) actually does fit his canon personality to a T.
- Tristan Winter (formerly known as Harry Potter) in the The Jaded Eyes Series begins his journey into villainy when he's six years old.
- Happens to Simba in The Lion King Adventures. Starting with the deaths of Mufasa and Sarabi in The Master Plan, Simba changes throughout Series Five from a hero into a fearsome killer. It turns out in The End that the Writer was manipulating everything around him in order to make him evil. However, upon realising this, Simba changes his ways, eventually killing the Writer and saving the entire universe. He goes back to normal from then on.
- Child of the Storm occasionally notes how both Magneto and Loki went down this path and managed to turn away. It also hints that, unless he's careful, Harry could potentially follow the same path and become something far worse than Magneto ever was. It's not a likely possibility, but it's there.
- The Vow has the Start of Darkness of Lord Shen included for the first part of the story.
Films - Animation
Films – Live-Action
- Andrew Detmer from Chronicle, although in his case it'd be more of him not willing to be a whipping boy to those who have constantly abused him. He starts the movie with an abusive father and a terminally ill mother, then he gains telekinetic powers through an alien device. Andrew becomes something of a Social Darwinist and uses increasingly destructive means to lash out against his bullies and provide for his mother, until he finally snaps and becomes an insane Omnicidal Maniac who lays waste to Seattle.
- Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane goes from being a muckraking journalist to a megalomanical narcissist who's only interested in running his newspaper empire.
- Harvey Dent/Two-Face in The Dark Knight. The page quote foreshadows his own future and he ends up having this as his character theme.
- Assumed within the plot of Dracula Untold, with Vlad III calling himself Son of the Dragon, and eventually calling himself Son of the Devil by the end. However, it's also a Subverted Trope, as he gains a lot of humanity over the course of the film, to the point of seeing his past massacres as the Impaler as disturbing, and killing his entire vampire army so as to protect his son.
- Falling Down: An interesting version where not only does the protagonist Bill Foster aka D-Fens become "the bad guy", but the roles are also reversed with his Hero Antagonist Detective Prendergast, who initially seems like a forgettable side character. Foster starts the film by lashing out at the societal annoyances he sees around him, but his actions become increasingly bolder as he takes an entire restaurant hostage to complain about the bad food, blows up a construction site, and causes several deaths. By the time that Foster and Prendergast come face to face and Foster realizes that he's the bad guy in all this and the Decoy Protagonist, it comes as a shock to the audience who were identifying with Bill up until then.
- The protagonist in Gate of Hell is a noble, brave samurai. He falls in love with a lady-in-waiting at the emperor's court and asks for her hand, only to find out she's already married. He doesn't take "no" for an answer, and by the end he is a homicidal villain.
- The Godfather trilogy is all about Michael Corleone's transformation from White Sheep of a crime family to its ruthless leader, and subsequent doomed attempts to atone. Initially he's not supposed to be involved in the family business at all, as his father genuinely wants someone in the next generation to leave their criminal past behind, but Michael is drawn in in order to protect him from assassination and ends up being the only real candidate to succeed him. He starts out promising his wife that he too intends to make the family legitimate, and his justification for everything is that he's protecting his family. But it turns out he thinks the best way to do that is by consolidating his power and taking out all his enemies in one fell swoop, who happen to include his brother-in-law. The second movie takes the paradox further — now the enemies he's wiping out are a terminally ill man who's no threat to him anyway and, famously, his own brother, and in the meantime his coldness and the violence that surrounds him have driven his wife and children away. The third film has him as a tragic figure realizing that he can't undo what he's done and that the future of the family is out of his hands, and eventually receiving the ultimate poetic punishment: seeing his daughter killed by a bullet meant for him.
- The Spaghetti Western Faccia a Faccia has a mild-mannered Boston professor turn into a ruthless criminal over the course of the film.
- The entire scope of The Human Condition is this, which sees Kaji go from an idealistic hero to a cynical demoralized drifter.
- I Shot Jesse James features an odd example, as it's a villain becoming good before going bad again. Robert Ford starts out as just another outlaw, who then tries to go straight and get married. However, frontier society repeatedly shuns and shames him for killing Jesse James, eventually leading to his final bout of madness when his girlfriend decides to leave him.
- My Best Friend's Wedding is a rom-com variation of this, although the film is clever enough to hide it under the usual Julia Roberts tropes for the first half of the film.
- Pirates of Silicon Valley focuses a lot on Steve Jobs' transformation from a counter-culture child of The '60s to a hard-driving Bad Boss who's consumed by his ambition and drives away his friends. He gets better.
- It was originally assumed that this would be the plot of The Scorpion King, as the prequel to The Mummy Returns, but the film ends with Mathias still the hero. The only indication that he'll eventually become a villain is a single reference at the end that his future won't necessarily be happy. Word of God later retconned Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns into Mathias's Identical Grandson.
- The Star Wars prequels as well as Star Wars: The Clone Wars are pretty much Anakin Skywalker's fall from grace. The original trilogy is his journey towards redemption.
- The Social Network. It shows Mark's slide from average nerd to a possible Corrupt Corporate Executive due to one mean streak too many. Around the end of the film, he realizes his mistakes, but has somewhat realized he's gone too far to fix them, and tries to make some amends by friend requesting his ex-girlfriend who he insulted over the course of the film.
- Washizu in Throne of Blood. Since the film is based on Macbeth, this is not a surprise.
- Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He starts off as our main character, but our allegiance gradually switches to his partners as he comes down with Gold Fever and eventually goes bad.
- Travis in Taxi Driver is a more ambiguous case. He starts out alienated, and then by the end he attempts to assassinate a senator (though, admittedly, he fails) and kills three people, two of whom were complete strangers. Interestingly, because he is never tied to the former, no one else in the story actually sees him as such.
- X-Men: First Class revolves around Magneto seeking revenge for the murder of his mother and his increasing acceptance of mutant supremacy.
- The Ruling Class is a very peculiar case as the main character, Jack Gurney is from start to finish completely insane. He starts however with the harmless delusion of being Jesus Christ and a loving God who wishes goodwill to everyone. Then they give him a rather nasty breaking speech that completely shatters his emotional world and the keystones of his world view. He crosses the Despair Event Horizon and almost becomes and empty husk of a man. But then his willpower facilitates another identity from zero, in accordance with his new grim understanding of the world. And thus Jack aka Jack the Ripper was born. He was cured alright...
- Gingema's Daughter, first book in Sergey Sukhinov's Emerald City series, is about the adventures of Corina, originally an ordinary, if somewhat lazy, girl. She starts her way as understudy of Gingema, then runs away to travel with her wolf companion. She lives by different families, usually helping them magically in secret. But gradually, she decides that Being Good Sucks since everybody bothers you with requests, and being feared is as important as being loved. She deceives the Woodsman to do her bidding by pretending to be the daughter of his former sweetheart, and ultimately manipulates him into deposing the Scarecrow, thus becoming the ruler of Emerald city. The rulership she establishes is a Crapsaccharine World: there is food for free and low taxes, but cross Corina in any way and you are dead or turned into a small animal. By the second book, she kills Ellie's parents and becomes a fully-fledged villain.
- In Livy's The History of Rome, which is a record of real events (though entirely based on legend for the earlier parts), embellished where the author felt it necessary, this is a major theme for more than a few of the kings and consuls of early Rome.
- The Horus Heresy has done this for Horus, Fulgrim and Lorgar and Alpharius Omegon.
- The Lightbringer Series does this with Liv, and also provides a fitting quote for this trope itself: "Idealists mature badly; they either become idiots or hypocrites."
- In the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, this is the supposed backstory. A thousand years ago a champion, the 'Hero of Ages' rose up to defeat an (unspecified) evil known only as 'The Deepness' but upon his victory he took possession of the world as its Lord Ruler.
"For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the "Sliver of Infinity", reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible."
- The heroes of this story find an old logbook written by the man who would become the Lord Ruler which shows how he began his quest as a humble, earnest man trying to save the world. In the end the truth becomes far more complicated as the Lord Ruler's motivations are slowly revealed throughout the trilogy. The short version is that the hero, Alendi, was duped by prophecies being altered by Ruin, an Omnicidal Maniac deity trapped in the Well of Ascension who would be released if the hero reached the Well and "released" the power. When the scholar who originally prophesized the hero learned the truth, he had his allies pose as guides and murder Alendi when he reached the Well. Then one of the guides named Rashek took the power in the Well and kept it, keeping Ruin trapped and becoming the Lord Ruler. He was driven insane over time by Ruin, becoming a Well-Intentioned Extremist Evil Overlord.
- Breakfast of Champions puts a spin on this. From the get-go, it's a Foregone Conclusion that Dwayne Hoover will become a lunatic who will savagely assault several people. However, despite providing in-verse reasons for his change from a loving, charismatic man to a violently unhinged brute, it's ultimately because the author, Kurt Vonnegut made it so.
- This is the plot of the first three novels of The Reynard Cycle. Reynard begins the series as a Loveable Rogue. By the end of the third novel he has morphed into the Big Bad. And he did it all for love.
- Fëanor's whole arc in The Silmarillion is his descent from hero to Anti-Hero to psychotic, obsessive Villain Protagonist.
- Michael Swanwick's thematically-paired novels The Iron Dragon's Daughter and Jack Faust are Deconstructor Fleets that demonstrate how SF/Fantasy genre wish-fulfillment fantasies end up turning the protagonists into Omnicidal Maniacs. The former has a female protagonist and targets Land of Faerie and Changeling Fantasy tropes, while the latter has a male protagonist and targets hard-SF "competent man" tropes.
- The Transformers: TransTech story "I, Lowtech" is the first-person perspective story of a Corrupt Corporate Executive trying to figure out why he seems to no longer be in his real body. While he was not exactly good to start off with, he was (technically) law-abiding and never caused direct harm. Until a combo of his first violent act done in self-defense and nobody taking his claims of a body swap seriously makes him realize Evil Feels Good/Evil Is Easy and causes him to start going insane and degenerating into a rampaging serial killer who kills just because it's convenient/for revenge.
- Well of Darkness, first book of The Sovereign Stone Trilogy, provides the origin story for Dagnarus, his lover Lady Valura, and his Dragon Shakur (though admittedly, Shakur was pretty evil even before he met Dagnarus). The subsequent two books deal with them as main villains.
- Wicked is the Wicked Witch of the West's descent into madness and evil.
- The Shining. It starts off with Jack being a happy family man, albeit with a dark past, until the influence of the hotel drives him to madness and monstrosity.
- Nineteen Eighty-Four combines this with The Bad Guy Wins, as The Party successfully brainwashes Winston into becoming another one of their drones before killing him.
- Yarvi starts out The Shattered Sea as a teen Guile Hero who while somewhat more ruthless than your unusual YA protagonist of this type, is still a good guy. After he loses a POV in the second book, he comes off as a more sinister figure and enacts some morally questionable plans, but since they work out for the best, he seems like he still might be the same old Yarvi. However, by the end of the third book, Yarvi is more or less the Big Bad and is a ruthless schemer worse than those he opposes, and is willing to sacrifce his loved ones and everyone else to satisfy his obsession with revenge and self-validation.
- This is Geder Palliako's arc across The Dragon's Path, the first volume of The Dagger and the Coin. Initially introduced as a bumbling, nerdy young knight from a minor noble family, the realization that he was set up to take the fall for his country's failed occupation of a captured city state (when taken in tandem with his Fatal Flaws of a Lack of Empathy when it comes to his big plans and a penchant for Disproportionate Retribution when he feels he's being mocked) drives him to his first atrocity, and he spends most of the rest of the book vacillating between saying I Did What I Had to Do and My God, What Have I Done?. Then he meets a creepy cult of spider-worshippers who have decided Geder is their Dark Messiah who will lead their religion in conquering the world, and who have the powers to make him believe it too. By the middle of the second book, Geder is well on his way to full Evil Overlord territory.
- The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor deals with how Philip Blake/The Governor became what he is. Needless to say, it isn't what you were probably expecting.
- The first nineteen or so arcs of Worm describe how Taylor went from a bullied schoolgirl with dreams of being a superhero to Queen of the Brockton Bay underworld. That said, the trope is subverted after that, when Taylor quits the Undersiders to join the Wards, believing, based on Dinah's predictions, that this is the best way to save the world. Double Subverted later, when speaking to another villain who has committed atrocities in the name of saving the world, where she says that she would take it all back if she could, as the price was too high.
- Taylor's not the only one, either. Alexandria's Interlude shows her progress from an innocent teenager dying of cancer to one of the most powerful superheroes on Earth to an "ends justify the means" tyrant with good publicity.
- Despite the name, it appears that Heroes Save The World will be featuring at least a couple of these.
- 24 as a whole does this for Tony Almeida, Allison Taylor, Renee Walker, and Jack Bauer himself; with Tony's arc following through in season 7 and Taylor, Walker and Jack going through this by the final season. By the time it's over, none of them are that much better than the terrorists, either by willingly aiding them, endangering innocent people to selfishly enact revenge on them rather than mete out any true justice, or both. Though in the case of the latter three they do ultimately see the light by the end.
- The title character of Angel has this. A couple of times.
- In Babylon 5 Londo Mollari's arc is basically his descent into this trope and then his struggle back out again.
- Mitchell goes through this throughout the seasons in Being Human he starts off as a genuinely good guy, fighting his addiction. Then after Herrick is temporarily killed off by George, he becomes the leader of the Vampires in Bristol and manages to convince most, if not all of them to let go of their blood addiction...then their gathering place is bombed by a person he trusted. He then crosses the Moral Event Horizon and kills 20 people in a train. Then instead of trying to redeem himself, he sinks further and further into depravity and keeping secrets during Season 3.
- Cesare Borgia from The Borgias is a perfect example of this (which makes sense, as he, historically, was the inspiration for Michael Corleone. He starts out as The Dutiful Son, a reluctant priest who would do anything to protect his family. Over the course of two seasons, he grows into the Magnificent Bastard who would inspire Machiavelli's "The Prince"... and murders his brother, thus destroying his relationship with his parents.
- Breaking Bad has arguably become the modern-day codifier, with five seasons made entirely of this. Walter White starts out as a decent, law-abiding and substantially sympathetic character, who clearly loves his wife and children and is driven into a "victimless" crime in order to pay the bills after he's diagnosed with late-stage cancer. Then he spends four long seasons falling deeper and deeper into villainy. It's explored from every angle, always giving Walter some excuse or justification, until the viewer finally notices that Walter is enjoying all of this. He willfully dives back into the criminal world at every opportunity even when given real chances to get out, abuses every connection ruthlessly to get what he wants, and leaves a massive trail of bodies in his wake culminating in the destruction of many innocent lives, and the ripping apart of his family. Worse is how he drags his partner, Jesse, down with him, first giving the messed up kid a real sense of self worth, and then systematically taking away so many of the things that he loved. Vince Gilligan said that his goal was to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface.
- On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow gets pushed on the journey to villainy in season 6. though she's already well on her way by mid-season 4 with her continuing attempts to use magic for control over others, the lack of any real consequences for her actions, and the lack of deterrents against her using magic for whatever she wills. Her villainy really culminates with the mind-rape/rape of Tara mid-season 6 and total refusal to acknowledge that what she did was wrong and why. Everything after that (killing Warren, trying to kill Buffy et al.) is just follow-up.
- Played with in Doctor Who, especially with Seven and Ten, the most scheming and manipulative of his incarnations. The threat of the Valeyard has hung over everything the Doctor has done since Six, and the Doctor has done some truly horrible things for the sake of what he thinks is right, up to and including genocide (of his own people, yet), and Big Finish has done a couple of alternate continuity audio dramas of the Doctor gone bad note .
- More specifically, the final stretch of Series 9 ("Face the Raven"/"Heaven Sent"/"Hell Bent") covers the Twelfth Doctor taking this journey when No Good Deed Goes Unpunished for him. A plot to capture him hatched between Ashildr and the Time Lords, people who owe their lives to him, inadvertently leads to not only his capture but the death of his companion Clara. Imprisoned in a gigantic torture chamber after this, alone save for the Monster of the Week and thus without any kind of Morality Chain, he undergoes a Sanity Slippage as he lets his anguish overwhelm him and emerges a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds who risks the safety of the entire space-time continuum just to get Clara back. In the end, he repents of his understandable but unacceptable behavior, and returns to his best self when he has his memories of her wiped relieving him of the anger and grief that drove him to extremes. He is a noble healer once more, though beyond his sacrifices it's clear he'll have to deal with the fallout of his actions for years if not centuries to come — starting in the Expanded Universe comic book story Supremacy of the Cybermen in which his choice to exile Rassilon rather than imprison or kill him inadvertently leads to the cyborgs gaining the ability to time travel.
- Morgana Pendragon from Merlin. Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds to manipulative, chronic smirker.
- Lex Luthor's journey from good to evil in Smallville is the most prominent plot, second only to Clark's journey to Superman, in the first seven seasons.
- Season 5 of Sons of Anarchy (and possibly the whole series) is very much about this for Jax Teller.
- The German World War II drama Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter has Friedhelm, who starts out as a compassionate if somewhat cynical new Wehrmacht recruit, and is gradually transformed by the horrors of war into a Sociopathic Soldier who willingly carries out brutal reprisals against suspected partisans and civilians.
- This is one plot line of the fourth season of Supernatural. Sweet, heroic Sam just wanted to save his brother from hell and fight demons, especially Lilith, who was trying to kickstart the Apocalypse. So he started using his demonic psychic powers to exorcise demons and save possessed people. He even manages to stop Samhain from destroying a town and shattering more of the seals on Lucifer's cage. Despite his brother's dire warnings, the audience has a hard time condemning his intentions right up until it's revealed the powers come from drinking demon blood. By the season finale, he's so addicted to the power that he abducts a possessed woman, forces her into a trunk while she pleads for her life, murders her, and drains her body of blood, kills Lilith, and inadvertently lets Lucifer walk free. Much of the fifth season involves his painful search for redemption.
- Tyrant is very likely this, given that the harmless-looking Western-educated pediatrician protagonist is based on harmless-looking Western-educated ophthalmologist Bashir al-Assad.
- Wolf Hall frames the career of Thomas Cromwell this way. He starts off as a man with a rough past who finds a job doing legal work for Cardinal Wolsey. He has many sympathetic qualities, a loving father and husband, a Self-Made Man who is loyal to Wolsey until the end and Nice to the Waiter besides. He enables Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn and enacts policy with efficiency and ability. But when Henry turns on Anne, Cromwell is motivated not only by the lesson of Wolsey's fate but because he sees an opportunity to avenge the men who (indirectly) caused Wolsey's death and then jeered it. He orchestrates the Kangaroo Court and uses the whim of a tyrant to avenge a long-ago insult—the final scenes of the series indicate that he's well-aware of what he's done and is not particularly happy about it.
- Happens to William in Westworld during The Reveal of the show's three concurrent timeframes in "The Well-Tempered Clavier", of which William is involved in two. The 30 years in the past time frame follows him as a milquetoast and heroic young man roped into a company trip with his business partner and brother-in-law Logan. After spending several days being berated by Logan for his heroism when Logan only came there for the debauchery, as well as being forced to do progressively more morally dubious things and culminating in a Breaking Speech from Logan that shatters his worldview, William ruthlessly slaughters an entire camp of Hosts and threatens to kill Logan if he doesn't follow his orders. Cut to the present day, and we see William has become a long time patron of the park known only as the Man in Black who ruined his marriage and devolved into a violent, raping sociopath in his quest to find the true meaning of the park.
- One of the best examples of this would be Macbeth. He starts off as a noble person and good guy – a hero returning from war in triumph. But ambition which was fueled by his wife and the witches turn him into a monster.
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. A barber framed and transported for life for a crime he did not commit by a corrupt judge who wanted his beautiful wife for himself. He returns to London, finds out what happened to his wife and daughter in the meantime (though he turns out to have been lied to about the former by Mrs. Lovett, who led him to believe that his wife was dead), and seeks revenge against the judge, leaving a trail of blood and death of innocents in his wake that would ultimately lead to him becoming the infamous Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
- Othello starts out as a noble and good, if a bit daft, leader, but Iago takes advantage of his jealousy and manages to get him to murder his own wife in cold blood.
- Hamilton follows Alexander Hamilton as he goes from an idealistic, eager revolutionary to bitter, pragmatic politician who is forced to play the game and throw others under the bus in order to protect his reputation and gets what he wants. He eventually has a Heel Realization following the death of his son, who was killed trying to defend his father's honor in a duel, and is a more sympathetic character for the rest of the show.
- Battle for Wesnoth: In the aptly titled Descent Into Darkness campaign, the protagonist is an apprentice mage who starts to delve into black magic to protect his hometown from raiders. It doesn't end well.
- In Kingdom Hearts, Riku has good intentions at first, but turns to evil when Maleficent convinces him Sora has betrayed him. He redeems himself over the course of the next few games in the series, though.
- In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Gabriel goes from being a holy warrior to Dracula himself.
- Dark Souls: The Dark Lord Ending is treated like this by Kingseeker Frampt (and presumably Gwyndolin). The truth is... more complicated.
- Frampt claims this before the fact, but after the Dark Lord ending he bows to the player and greets them as the new Dark Lord along with the other Primordial Serpents, suggesting that he either changed his mind or was lying the whole time.
- Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes can be considered this if you have Lilli stab Dr. Marcel in the ending. (The narration phrases it in terms of her becoming The Unfettered, but notes that she did in fact just kill a worn-out old man who was completely helpless and at her mercy.)
- The Lone Wanderer's story in Fallout 3 can become this.
- Basically, the whole point of Far Cry 3. In the end, it's up to you to decide whether Jason Brody is redeemable or not; - in an almost comical defiance of the page quote above - if he chooses to stay on the island and embraces it's warrior-culture, he dies a villain. However, if he chooses to leave with his friends, he lives as, an incredibly traumatized yet redeemable, hero.
- Heroes of Might and Magic's first Heroes' Chronicles campaign details the rise and fall of Tarnum, a barbarian whose only goal is to free his people from the tyrannical rule of the Bracadan wizards to re-establish the glorious barbarian empire of old. Throughout the campaign, various events cause him to grow more paranoid and ruthless, with the tipping point being his poisoning of all his generals, whom he suspected of treachery. He is eventually ended by King Rion Gryphonheart, the first Erathian king, in a Combat by Champion. The remaining campaigns detail his redemption after he is not admitted to the barbarian afterlife. His final redemption comes in the barbarian campaign of Heroes of Might and Magic IV, where he guides a young barbarian named Waerjak in uniting the scattered tribes in a story mirroring his own, minus this trope.
- The Metal Gear prequel games - MGS3, Portable Ops, Peace Walker, Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain - are this for Naked Snake/Big Boss. MGS3 kicks off his Start of Darkness when he is forced to kill his old mentor/Parental Substitute, the Boss, as part of a Government Conspiracy, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, taking place ten years before the original Metal Gear, completes his fall by making him a revenge-driven, self-confessed "demon."
- In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, the entire game can serve as this to the Player Character depending on what ending you choose.
- In Spec Ops: The Line this happens to both Col. John Konrad and Capt. Martin Walker. They both came to Dubai hoping to help but Konrad and his 33rd battalion ended up committing ever greater atrocities on the inhabitants of Dubai under the pretense of maintaining order while they evacuate the city, which eventually lead Konrad to commit suicide once he realized what he had done. Walker and his Delta squad came to look for the remnants of the 33rd but ended up killing every single one of them and most of the locals. In one of the endings, the events of the game have driven Walker so deep into insanity that he massacres the US army rescue party that came looking for him. In another, he has a belated Heel Realization and kills himself. Or Walker can have that belated Heel Realization... then defy the trope in another ending and decided to live and go home, facing and attempting to pay for his crimes even at cost of becoming a broken Shell-Shocked Veteran.
- An interesting example happens in Harvester. While Steve has the option of going around and killing the entire town, the ending reveals that the entire town of Harvester is a literal Murder Simulator trying to turn Steve into a Serial Killer. The player has the option of playing this trope straight, or defy it.
- Sarah Kerrigan's plot-arc from Starcraft could basically be described as "heroic moral center" to "Brainwashed and Crazy Dragon" to "Big Bad in her own right".
- Tales of Destiny: Leon's Side in the remake is Leon's journey from cold-hearted Anti-Hero into Defrosting Ice King, into forced villainy and death.
- Jin Kazama in Tekken 6. Regardless of his reasons for doing it, he plunged the entire world into war and nearly cruelly executed his uncle (it's not like he wasn't enjoying it) based on selfishness and a theory. Jin himself recognizes what his actions have turned him into, even though he's the only one who could have done what he did.
- The alliance campaign of Warcraft 3 does this with prince Arthas and the Trauma Conga Line that leads to him becoming The Lich King.
- To a lesser degree we have Illidan, Sylvanas, Maiev Shadowsong, Kael, and Grom Hellscream, though admittedly several of these became Anti Villains while Grom redeemed himself via Heroic Sacrifice. Really, it would be easier to list the Warcraft characters that don't follow this route.
- In World of Warcraft, Grom's son Garrosh began as a seemingly good-natured Orc, tormented by the sins of his father. As his personal story continued he became increasingly brutal and veered further into General Ripper territory, culminating with his being the end boss of an entire expansion pack following a pogrom against all non-Orcs and his attempts to steal the power of the Sha.
- After clearing the first seven scenarios of Live A Live, you play the penultimate Knight Chapter that tells about the origins of Odio. After all the stuff Oersted goes through, he decides to renounce his humanity and become the Demon King Odio.
- Assassin's Creed: Rogue details the journey of Colonial Assassin initiate Shay Patrick Cormac from member of that order to becoming disillusioned with it after attempting to reclaim a Precursor artifact causes a massive earthquake that devastates the city of Lisbon and leaving it rather violently, ending up a member of the Templars, becoming responsible for the devastated state of the Assassin Order at the beginning of 3 and killing one of the key characters from 4.
- This is pretty much the context for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!. Here, Handsome Jack, previous Big Bad of Borderlands 2, is shown as a small-time Hyperion manager trying to save millions of lives from Zarpedon. At one point he even laments that innocent people are suffering because of Hyperion's war with Dahl's Lost Legion, stating that having problems with Hyperion is one thing, but the people on the moon don't deserve to suffer. The player gets to watch Jack slowly descend into the amoral, self-centered, enormously unethical and downright villainous behavior that we get to see by the time of Borderlands 2.
- Unlike most cases, though, it's ambiguous if Jack is becoming a worse person, or just taking advantage of the situation to get enough power that he doesn't need to hide who he is any more. There's also the fact that at this stage he has already enslaved his own daughter, used the remains of a dimensional beast to secretly create a Wave Motion Gun, and pretty much kickstarted all of this to claim the contents of a Vault for himself alone.
- Pretty much the entire point of Errant Story, as Ian Samael ... changes over the ten-year run of the comic.
- The other person on the receiving end of the same power-up actually went the other way, from a fairly antisocial and useless character to an active force for good. So the story is at least heavily implying that it was, in fact, Ian's own inability to deal with his issues that screwed everyone.
- The protagonist of Zebra Girl slowly goes insane following her transformation into a demon. Her drive to become human again slowly fades away the longer she remains in that form.
- She finally DOES become human again when she betrays her friends, but it comes at the cost of being trapped in an alternate dimension. Whether she comes to terms with her humanity remains to be seen, since she still has doubt after being trapped in that form for so long. At the resolution of the plot arc, she's seen to embrace her semi-former humanity AND her demonic essence, regaining her demonic form and abilities while rekindling her human compassion.
- Schtein's arc in String Theory.
- Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog serves this purpose for the title character. Although it's more of an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain Protagonist's Journey To Not So Harmless Tragic Villain.
- In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, the general opinion is that this started for Terry "Mister America" Benedict when he testified during the McCarthy hearings as a friendly witness.
- There's also The Dove's slow descent from street-level hero to serial killer, all in the name of fighting crime.