The typical white-collar worker at the bottom of the ladder. In America, they'd be called "peons", "office drones", or "wage slaves"; but in Japan, they call them salarymen.
The essential ingredients for the proper Salaryman include a charcoal grey (or funeral black) suit with proper necktie, a briefcase, glasses, and usually a receding hairline if they're not outright bald. After a night's revelries, a carton of carryout food becomes part of the setup. Add a sake bottle and a Necktie Headband and he becomes the "drunk salaryman" stereotype.
Salarymen are usually portrayed in ways similar to White Collar Workers in American programming; stuck in dull jobs with irritating employers and little chance of advancement. However, as a whole, they tend to be more optimistic. They also have an unfortunate tendency, encouraged by both the Japanese work ethic and their employers, toward both workaholism and alcoholism. Some all but ignore their family in pursuit of their job, going drinking with office-mates after (unpaid) overtime, going home to sleep for four hours, then getting up to do it all over again.
Frequently in Cyber Punk this class of character is referred to as a "sararyman" (or "sarariman" - same thing, different spelling), a Recursive Translation playing off the fact that Japanese has no equivalent of the English letter "L". This was a reaction in the late 1980's to the notion that the Japanese were apparently taking over the world financially, and Westerners were suddenly encountering these mid-level types in daily life. In more recent works, the term is from time to time applied to any worker regardless of origin, who follows this optimistic hyper-dedicated philosophy. Salarymen also have quite the niche market in Boys Love works.
As a protagonist, this is essentially the same character as the Ordinary High-School Student — shining example of Japanese conformity ripe for a life changing transformation at the hands of an extraordinary event/individual/robot. The difference is that the salaryman's disproportionately extensive Back Story doesn't need to be crammed into elementary and middle school. That, plus high school kids don't constantly worry about getting fired. Using him in this way isn't exceptionally common, as these types of stories sell better with younger high school protagonists and supporting cast, even if the target audience is older.
Compare to Office Lady, the Distaff Counterpart (of sorts) to this trope. Contrast the Western equivalent, the Workaholic, whose life is even bleaker and his compromise with his work is tighter.
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Anime and Manga
Tanaka "Gabriel" Oji from Black Heaven is a typical salaryman now, but in his youth he was the frontman for the eponymous heavy metal band. Then the plot comes and kidnaps him periodically to play down an alien invasion.
In Dai-Guard, the main character is a salaryman who gets to pilot a giant robot.
In Kodomo no Omocha the elder Hayama, Akito's father, is the extreme workaholic type until Sana arranges a special intervention.
Black Lagoon: Rokuro "Rock" Okajima was originally a salaryman until he was kidnapped by the other main characters (a group of mercenaries/pirates) and his company tried to have him killed. He quits and joins his kidnappers.
Ichigo's father in Tokyo Mew Mew is an ordinary salaryman with dreams that Ichigo denounces for being practically impossible. She, of course, is a Magical Girl and prefers an average life.
Raizo in Living Game starts out as a random salaryman. Eventually his company goes out of business and he has to work construction instead.
The whole premise of the anime Dai-Guard is actually the phrase "office workers saving the world" (by means of the protagonists and their corporate-owned giant mecha). This status does nothing to help their paychecks, of course.
Shin's father Hiro in Shin Chan is a stereotypical put-upon salaryman. It's implied he's an outside salesman.
"Kaishounachi" (not his real name, but an epithet roughly translating to "Useless Bum"), boyfriend of Ebichu's owner the O.L., in Oruchuban Ebichu (Ebichu Minds the House).
In REC, Matsumaru is an ordinary salaryman (he's an up-and-rising copyrighter who pitched a couple of successful advertising campaigns for a snack-food maker, and was made to work even harder for that) who falls in love with an aspiring voice actress.
Hyouryuu Net Cafe: The main character seems to be one.
Ataru's dad in Urusei Yatsura is the typical Salaryman: working long hours and worrying about the mortgage, especially since his house is routinely destroyed.
The protagonist of Yume De Aetara, Masao Fuguno, is a stereotypical salaryman trying to do his way as a salesman. Unfortunately, his extreme changes of mood, and the fact that those changes are tied to how his relationship with his love interest is going, conspire against his success.
Konata from Lucky Star once wonders why drunk salarymen always have to carry a bottle of sake and have their tie around the head.
The first time Karin Maaka uses her vampiric abilities, she does it on a salaryman in the park after school. Kenta Usui (her love interest) stumbles upon her on his way home, and thinks that she's trying to put the moves on him.
An entertaining recurring character in Gantz Abridged is Joe Salaryman, father of the Salaryman family. Not to be confused with Niles Trustfundman.
Shinshi in Patlabor was a salaryman before joining the SV2.
After the Big Bad Yoshikage Kira switches bodies in the later part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure part 4 he is forced to assume his new identity's role as one of these, not that he's particularly happy about it.
Albireo of .hack//AI Buster. AI_Buster_2 reveals that his eventual collapse at work was explained as overworking, rather than what actually happened (Data Drain).
One half of the main couple in Little House with an Orange Roof is Shotaro, whose utter dedication to his work caused his ignored wife to leave him and his two sons. When he winds up having to share a home with a woman and her two daughters, he begins to re-evaluate why that was so important to him.
Planetes' premise can be accurately described as Salarymen IN SPACE. Debris Section's manager and assistant manager moreso than the rest of the cast, as they only rarely go on actual jobs, and are much more aware of corporate politics than the rest of Debris Section.
Only in the anime, though. Manga is much more cosmopolitan and doesn't center on the corporate antics that closely.
In Angel Densetsu, the hero's father is a salaryman, and like his son, is a nice but scary looking guy. In Dad's case, he wears sun glasses because he's light sensitive/in an attempt to look less scary, and coupled with the mandatory shirt and tie, the end result is that everyone assumes he's a Yakuza member.
Nitori's father in Wandering Son is one but lacks any traditional stereotypes other than often being out late at a bar.
Well Spoken Sonic Lightning Flash of The DCU's Super Young Team knows that when he's an adult he'll have to get a real job along these lines, so he's dedicated himself to enjoying his adolescence as much as possible.
Heroes: Hiro Nakamura and his friend Ando are typical salarymen living in Tokyo until Hiro discovers his superpowers. However, the trope is subverted when we discover that Hiro's father is actually the CEO of the company he works for. Hiro is only working a menial job in the hope that he will overcome his scatterbrained personality and become a fitting heir to the company.
In Kamen Rider Blade, BOARD was effectively destroyed in episode one and all the Riders are fighting for themselves. In the Blade World shown in Kamen Rider Decade, BOARD is still up and running and all the Riders are employees of BOARD. Tsukasa, the titular character, calls it "Kamen Rider... Salaryman!"
In all the Sailor Moon continuities Usagi's father "Kenji-papa" works in journalism, in the manga and anime he's a magazine editor and seems to have enough spare time to see his family on a daily basis. However in Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon he barely appears, being a newspaper photographer with a very salaryman like lifestyle. The only time he's seen on screen is in the direct to DVD special act when he manages to make it to his daughter's wedding.
They are mentioned in the Utada Hikaru song "Keep Tryin'": "Even if your darling is a salary man, that's okay, if there's love" are the translated lyrics.
In the first game, one of the levels features a salaryman named Ichiro who grows to the size of Ultraman by putting his tie on his head like a Hachimaki, in order to save his daughter for a giant blue mouse. It's just that kind of game.
There's also the guy applying for a job interview in the sequel, Moero Nekketsu Rhythm. While he's technically not (yet) a salaryman, his stereotypical suit + glasses outfit is a giveaway.
The Japanese Engineers of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 play on elements of this, including refrences to quirky office fitness programs for wage-slaves (it's the given excuse for the Japanese engineer's ability to sprint). In keeping with the imperialistic nature of Japan in the game, fluff describes them as being looked down upon for being just regular workaholics rather than battle-ready combat workaholics.
The original backstory for Skullomania from Street Fighter EX said that he was a Salaryman who suffered a nervous breakdown, but recovers after dressing in a costume for a childrens' party at his boss's behest, and ends up quitting to become a Kamen Rider-like Super Hero.
In the game Karoshi and its numerous sequels, you are a googly-eyed little 8-bit salaryman trying desperately to kill himself. The point in each level is to die in Ludicrous Gibs fashion at the hands of one of the conservatively placed deathtraps littering the vaguely office-themed and less-than-vaguely threatening environment. In a hilarious inversion from Everything Trying to Kill You, the world is trying to keep you alive for its own malicious amusement.
One of the zombies in Plants vs. Zombies has this appearance, using an open newspaper as a shield. Once the newspaper is destroyed by your plants' attacks, he gets angry (the game's bestiary says he was working intently on a Sudoku puzzle) and runs toward your house at a faster movement speed than the one at which he was running pre-paper shred. However, when the paper's gone, he has about the same health as your standard zombie and will go down quickly before your plants.
The Unassuming Local Guy and Annoying Reveler enemies from EarthBound. We can also assume that Ness' dad is one, as he always seems to be at work.
The Businessman and Office Lady trainer classes in Pokémon Black and White are based on this.
Salary Man Champ is based upon salarymen trying get as high in career ladder as they can.