Protagonist Journey To Villain
"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 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
. Compare and contrast Start of Darkness
, where a previously established villain's backstory is revealed. Contrast Redemption Quest
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Anime and Manga
- Black Lagoon, As the series goes on "outside" character Rock, who is quickly turning into something else. The opposite is true of Revy, who has actually eased up thanks to Rock's optimism.
- 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 happens to Michi in Osamu Tezuka's original Metropolis manga.
- 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 ostensibly being Obito and all.
- 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 an 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.
- 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.
- Mirai Nikki, turning The Woobie into... well, something else entirely.
- 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.
- Chirin No Suzu has this happen to Chirin. A cute little lamb grows up and turns into a murdering demonic ram.
- 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.
- This trope is the body of the story in Ga-Rei -Zero-.
- 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.
- 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.
- Shinn Asuka of 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.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica episodes 3-8 count as one for Sayaka, of all people.
- As of the The Rebellion Story, the entire series retroactively becomes one of these for Homura.
- 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...
- Tales of the Jedi: Dark Lords of the Sith is about how Exar Kun and Ulic Qel-Droma turn to The Dark Side.
- Watchmen has this as a subplot for Veidt.
- 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.
- The Star Wars prequels are pretty much Anakin Skywalker's fall from grace. The original trilogy is, of course, his journey towards redemption.
- Harvey Dent/Two-Face in The Dark Knight.
- Page quote, Foreshadows his own future and ends up having this as his character theme.
- 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.
- 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.
- Although a lot of the credibility of how villainous he really was is thrown in doubt by the end of the film considering that the film's multiple POVs, none of which are actually Mark's but of the ones testifying against him, are most likely biased. Discussed by Mark and his lawyer in the last scene.
Mark Zuckerberg: I'm not a bad guy.
Marylin Delpy: I know that. When there's emotional testimony, I assume that 85% of it is exaggeration.
Mark Zuckerberg: And the other fifteen?
Marylin Delpy: Perjury. Creation myths need a Devil.
- In a similar vein, Pirates Of Silicon Valley focuses a lot on Steve Jobs' transformation from a counter-culture child of The Sixties to a hard-driving Bad Boss who's consumed by his ambition and drives away his friends. He gets better.
- Washizu in Throne of Blood. Since the film is based on Macbeth, this is not a surprise.
- Kane in Citizen Kane.
- 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 on a good note with no indication that Mathias will become evil.
- 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.
- 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.
- Andrew 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.
- When Max became Mad Max. Max, (a post-apocalyptic MFP officer) having lost his best friend, wife and only child (and dog), loses any concept of law and order and takes matters into his own hands - with a sawn-off and possibly the last V8 Interceptor in Australia.
- Wicked is the Wicked Witch of the West's descent into madness and evil.
- Gingema's Daughter, first book in Sergey Sukhinov's Emerald City series, is about the adventures of Corina, originally an ordinaly, if somewhat lazy, girl. She starts her way as undertudy 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 Crap Saccharine World: there is food for free and low taxes, but do 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.
- Fëanor's whole arc in The Silmarillion is his descent from hero to Anti-Hero to psychotic, obsessive Villain Protagonist.
- So is Maeglin's, though he of course had the excuse of being caught and tortured by Morgoth.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- The titule character of Angel has this. A couple of times.
- Breaking Bad has had four and a half 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. 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. Worse is how he drags Jesse 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 stated that his goal with Walter is to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface.
- On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow gets pushed on the journey to villainy in season 6.
- Morgana from Merlin. Woobie Well-Intentioned Extremist 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.
- Cesare Borgia 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.
- His sister, Lucrezia (with whom he shares a good deal of Villainous Incest subtext) does this on a lesser scale. She's ultimately a good person, but is still quite the manipulative bitch with a mean streak.
- 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 .
- Season 5 of Sons of Anarchy (and possibly the whole series) is very much about this for Jax Teller.
- In Babylon 5 Londo Mollari's arc is basically his descent into this trope and then his struggle back out again.
- 24 as a whole does this for Tony Almeida, Allison Taylor, Renee Walker, and Jack Bauer; 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 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.
- 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.
- 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, 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 in his wake that would ultimately lead to him becoming the infamous Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
- In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Gabriel goes from being a holy warrior to Dracula himself.
- 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 begins heading down this path through Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm. He will become the final boss of the next expansion, Mists of Pandaria.
- 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".
- The Metal Gear prequel games - MGS3, Portable Ops, Peace Walker, 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 The Phantom Pain, taking place ten years before the original Metal Gear, completes his fall by making him a revenge-driven, self-confessed "demon."
- 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 Lone Wanderer's story in Fallout3 can become this.
- 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.
- In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, the entire game serves as this if you choose the True Demon Ending.
- 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.
- Perhaps more upsetting is the fact that this trope is in effect for the player as well. Walker's assumptions that he is the hero of his own power fantasy who can save the day as long as he keeps pushing forward are supposed to mirror those of the player, even while both Walker and the player have to perform darker and more morally grey actions to achieve their goals.
- 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.)
- In the aptly titled Descent Into Darkness campaign of Battle for Wesnoth, the protagonist is an apprentice mage who starts to delve into black magic to protect his hometown from raiders. It doesn't end well.
- Dark Souls: The Dark Lord Ending is treated like this by Kingseeker Framt (and presumably Gwyndolin). The truth is... more complicated.
- 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.
- Pretty much the entire point of Errant Story, as Ian Samael ... changes over the ten-year run of the comic. (Of course, it wasn't entirely his fault.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog serves this purpose for the title character.
- 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.