"All of you guys can do this awesome Bending stuff like putting out forest fires and flying around and making other stuff fly around... I can't fly around, okay? I can't do anything."In some fictional societies, nearly everyone is born with some kind of power or special ability. Except you. You're a powerless freak. Once you get old enough to realize what a loser you are (usually the teen years), cue the depression and whining. Maybe even a half-hearted suicide attempt if it gets really bad. "I Just Want to Be Special!", you say? Don't despair, young Hero! There is often a bright side to thinking you've been born devastatingly deprived....
— Sokka, Avatar: The Last Airbender
- Maybe you're just a "late bloomer". Your powers will arrive in due time, better late than never. Even if your powers aren't what you and everyone else was expecting them to be, The Call will usually toss in a bonus for its tardiness: You'll usually wind up with something far more rare and/or powerful than the ordinary, run-of-the-mill powers everyone else has.
- Maybe you haven't developed powers because somebody's been Screening the Call. Deliberately or otherwise, if this turns out to be the case you can't simply wait for it to arrive — you have to step up and take an active role to reclaim your birthright. The Call Left A Message, but it's up to you to RSVP.
- Sometimes you just won't get any powers. Period. But cheer up — living around other people with special powers may just give you what you need to become a Badass Normal, somebody too awesome to actually need superpowers in the first place.
- The powers may have an Achilles heel. Some drug or poison or form of radiation or disease that only affects the 'gifted.' If it disables all or most of the gifted, you and the other misfits will have to rise to the occasion.
- Or, in the worst case scenario, you'll ... just have to learn to live with being "different", being handicapped compared to everyone else with nothing you can do about it. Note that there's a very strong chance that this Aesop will be broken if you actually turn out to be a late bloomer after all (see the first point), with the message ultimately being presented as "all good things come to those who wait" instead of "you don't have to be special, to be special".
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Anime and Manga
- Rock Lee, a ninja who's completely incapable of using ninjutsu and genjutsu, but over time becomes a master of taijutsu. Lee's teacher/father figure Might Guy was almost as bad in his youth, being incompetent at ninjutsu and genjustu and thus focusing on becoming the greatest taijutsu master there is. The Big Bad of the series, who holds almost everyone else's abilities in contempt, says that Guy succeeded at that.
- Naruto himself, before the series starts. He is considered a outcast and a loser by everyone, he has the worst grades in the academy to the point of having failed the last two trimesters, and he cannot use the very basic "Clone Jutsu". And then the show/book starts...
- Nami of The Girl Who Leapt Through Space - she was overshadowed by her many sisters, so when Nerval offered her power she couldn't refuse.
- Kaze no Stigma gives us three of these, Kazuma Kannagi and Kureha Tsuwabaki both lack the powers of their clans (for different reasons) but gain different powers, while Misao Ōgami has her clan's powers, but weak, so she makes a Deal with the Devil to make up for it.
- Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S, the third season of Lyrical Nanoha, features a minor example: Teana (mistakenly) believes that she is the only one on the Riot Force 6 without special talents/powers and that she doesn't belong there. While it is true that she doesn't have special magic talents (barring her shooting and illusion spells), her exceptionally sharp mind and timing (and a Crossfire Shoot from Nanoha, and "held-back" punch from Signum, and a major Reveal from Shari... yes, Tea is stubborn like that) eventually make her a Magical Girl equivalent of Batman.
- This happens to Gohan in Dragon Ball Z when he fights Cell. Goku calls Gohan out to fight Cell, but much to Gohan's lament he can't willfully protect everyone, that is until...
- In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, cyber-augmented brains are as common as cell-phones, so being unable to have one puts you at a serious disadvantage. One of the characters in a novel had to wait until his late teens to get one, but by then he's in military school due to the social problems he had growing up.
- Toru of Iris Zero is a normal in a school where the majority of the people have vision related powers. His lack of powers is actually what has made him Awesomeness by Analysis Knight in Sour Armor
- This has Leo from Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's written all over it. Technically, he's been following the gang around since episode 5 and when everybody figured out they're Signers, he was left in the dust. However, it turns out he's just a late bloomer. Ironically, he evolved into a Signer. Makes Sense In Context Even in an episode, he's lampshaded this:
- Leo: I'm just going to be standing there, looking lame and cheering you guys on like, 'Go guys! You can do it!'"
- The main character of Break Blade, Rygart and his brother grew up without the ability to control quartz as all the other people in the world do. This power is basically the backbone of the technology in that world, so they're both left with manual farming as their main livelihood. For someone with a handicap that would mean he had no choice to walk through a desert on foot to answer a royal summons, Rygart lives with it pretty well. Because of this he's also the only one who can pilot an ancient golem.
- Tyler Marlocke from PS238 — no powers yet, but that doesn't mean his near-Physical God parents aren't going to keep hoping, and strong arm him into the superhero school in the hopes he'll get Touched by Vorlons, or in some other ways awaken latent powers, while there. The teachers instead start training him as a Badass Normal under a Batman Captain Ersatz.
- Inverted in an Ultimate Fantastic Four arc, where an alternate Ben Grimm puts himself on hold. The gist is that Time Travel creates an alternate timeline (the "Planet of the Capes") where an alien pill grants everyone on Earth super-powers... except for Ben Grimm, who decides not to take it because he's happy with himself just as he is. Various characters remark that he's the most well-adjusted person they know, which makes his current situation as the suicidally depressed Thing even more tragic. In that timeline, the pill ends up killing everyone who had taken it, leaving Ben to apply some more time travel to clean up the pieces. For bonus angst, the way the situation's set up means that he accidentally causes himself to get eaten by the local Clock Roaches and then die hundreds of years ago in an ancient Mayan Temple. On the bright side, he does get a Crowning Moment of Awesome when the Skrull leader comes to Earth with the ability to copy the power of any superhuman within a huge radius. However, Ben points out that if the only human left on Earth has no powers, than neither does the Skrull leader. Ben then proceeds to kick the now powerless Skrull's ass. Epically.
- Poor Paul goes through several weeks of this in With Strings Attached. He almost goes nuts with jealousy after the others all get magic and he's left powerless. Not one to sit around and accept his fate, he attempts to learn spells, but it turns out he can't cast them without collapsing. So he drinks and laments for a while, until the call finally comes through (the Fans come back from Winter Solstice Break) and he gets stronger magic than the others... though it comes with a healthy blessing of suck.
- Ironically, now that he's Nigh Invulnerable and tireless, he's not only able to easily cast the two spells he learned, but he can somehow boost them to do amazing things.
- Beth Lestrade is only fifteen in her first appearance in Children of Time. The Doctor leaves her behind, but not before promising he'll come back for her in a few years. Next time we see her again, she's seventeen and pretty much All Grown Up.
- Happy Feet. Mumbles is the only emperor penguin who can't sing, at all — and the only one whose Heartsong doesn't actually involve singing.
- The protagonist of Sky High: the son of the two most famous heroes in the city and entirely powerless himself until his powers activate and he learns he has the powers of both his parents.
- The protagonist of the Disney Made-for-TV Movie Up, Up, And Away: the son of the two most famous heroes in the city and entirely powerless himself and he stays that way for the duration.
- The Incredibles has an interesting example with Jack Jack, an infant child of a superhero family. The family seems to assume that he was born without powers, rather than consider that they had not developed yet.. though in a deleted scene, Violet activates her powers as a baby, which suggest that powers are 'on' from birth instead of developing slowly.
- Up, Up and Away! - pretty much the central plot of the movie.
- Bink of Piers Anthony's Xanth series is the only person without a magical talent. Although we find out Bink had a passive Magician-class talent all along, it was just hidden until another Magician — Trent — noticed it was negating his active Talent. It turns out that Bink has perhaps the most powerful Talent of all: he cannot be harmed by anything magical. And since in Xanth nearly everything is magical, his Talent makes him almost invincible. The reason it was hidden is that the Talent doesn't directly negate anything, but just shifts probability in his favor so as to avoid detection (which could result in somebody finding a nonmagical weapon to use against him. In his duel with Trent, though, he was attacked by such powerful magic that his Talent had to generate increasingly more improbable events to save him, thus allowing both Trent and Bink to figure out what was happening.
- Tavi in Jim Butcher's Codex Alera, in all of the senses above. In Alera, everyone has Elemental Powers due to spirits known as furies, which they normally bond with as children. Except Tavi, who's still stubbornly normal, which by Aleran standards is almost a physical disability. He resigns himself to living as a Badass Normal, but it turns out that his mom, Isana, deliberately stunted his powers to make him less of a target, since he's heir to the entire Aleran empire. As a result of his heritage, when they finally come in (15 years late) his powers are stronger than anyone else's... but he doesn't have anywhere near the skill to utilize them properly for years after due to his lack of practice.
- Lampshaded in Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn: Schmendrick's master Nikos becomes convinced that Schmendrick's total incompetence at magic is the result of an incredible power within him, and therefore makes him immortal so that he can live long enough to sort it out. Nikos was right.
- They have a name for this type of person in Harry Potter — a Squib.
- Neville Longbottom's family thought he was one until he was eight, when his grandfather pushed him out a window to see if it'd cause his powers to save him. Thankfully, they did.
- As well as the inversion: The muggle-born are witches and wizards from completely normal families.
- An interesting example with Petunia Dursley who was quite jealous that her sister became a witch while she didn't. Instead of learning to accept it, she becomes bitter towards the entire wizarding world (granted the fact that magic got her sister killed may have contributed) and badly mistreats Harry while raising him.
- In Shaman of the Undead, Ida's ghost seeing powers didn't manifest until she was 21, to great regret of her parents, both powerful wizards. For some time they were actually confident her gift did manifest and she was hiding it from them, leading to them putting her in bizarre Fly Or Die situations so that she'd be forced to use it. Thankfully, nothing permanent happened.
- Tekla actually suggested that it's not the case and Ida always had the skill, but her family house's wards were preventing the ghosts from coming, effectively Screening the Call.
- This is the whole point of Ordinary Boy. A town full of superpowered people, isolated so that they don't even know that other people in the world do NOT have powers, and he's... Ordinary.
- Joram of The Darksword Trilogy was born in a world where everyone has some innate magical skill, and he has absolutely none. He does a good job of hiding it for a while, and then hooks up with an outlaw group, discovers that his innate magical skill (and implicitly that of all other 'mundanes') is actually "technological affinity", and sets out to forge the Darksword, a weapon that consumes magic.
- Lirael of Garth Nix's Old Kingdom trilogy is a Daughter of the Clayr, a community of clairvoyant (mostly) women. Usually by the time a Clayr is fourteen, she has gained the power of the Sight and is considered an adult. Lirael, however, reaches nineteen without even a glimmer of precognition. (Also, she doesn't even look like any of the other Clayr, who are mostly blonde and blue- or green-eyed and tan easily — Lirael is pale with dark hair and eyes.) It turns out this is because Lirael is the daughter of an Abhorsen, a mage charged with the responsibility of laying the Dead to rest. (The Old Kingdom is constantly plagued with uprisings by the Dead and various evil sorcerers, so it's a full-time job.) Lirael therefore becomes the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, a successor to the current Abhorsen and her half-sister, Sabriel. She never gains the Sight, but due to her mixed heritage, she does get to be a Remembrancer, a mage with the ability to look into the past.
- No. 1 of Artemis Fowl was fairly old for his age, so to speak; he should have "Warped" and transformed from an imp into a full-fledged demon some time ago, but could neither build up the desire nor the requisite slime to do so. It turned out it was because he was a warlock, and warlocks never warp. It didn't help that bloodlust just wasn't in No. 1's nature, either. Imps usually warp into demons when they get really worked up about the idea of ripping something (usually humans) apart, so No. 1 being a naturally gentle spirit made this difficult.
- Happens to Gypsum LaZelle in A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Everyone in her family inherits powers from an early age, but she's made it to age 20 without getting any. When she finally does, it's the power of having to curse people. Frequently. Or else she dies.
- In British author Kit Whitfield's debut novel Bareback (Benighted in the US, for obvious reasons) around 99% of the world's population are werewolves. The remaining 1% are "normal" humans, derided as "cripples" and "barebacks" by everyone else, and are tasked with rounding up stray wolves on full moon nights.
- Aerin (from The Hero and the Crown) was born to the royal family of Damar, known for its heriditary magical abilities, but hers do not awaken until much later after her peers' do. Naturally, her gift is much more potent than theirs.
- Gair from Diana Wynne Jones's Power of Three is the only one of his siblings who doesn't have a Gift. His sister Ayna has the power of Asked Sight (if asked a question, she knows the answer even if it has yet to happen), his brother Ceri has two Gifts, Finding Sight and Thoughts (a form of transfiguration), but Gair is ordinary. He decides to become a wise man instead and later develops the rarest - and possibly the most painful - Gift of all, Sight Unasked.
- In Vampire Academy, all young Moroi have elemental magic since birth, but in their adolescence they "specialize" when one element of the four grows much stronger than the other three. Lissa, the protagonist's best friend, is gradually growing depressed because she still hasn't specialized at age sixteen, but we later learn that this is because she has specialized in spirit, a forgotten fifth element few people have nowadays, which involves uber-powerful abilities like Mind Control and raising people from the dead. Unfortunately for Lissa, side effects include mental instability.
- Temeraire starts out this way, sort of. Some breeds of dragons have breath weapons. Temeraire is identified as a breed which does not, and he is disappointed. At the end of the first book, we learn that the dragon expert misidentified his breed, and in an example of almost literal Deus ex Machina Temeraire actually can generate something called the "divine wind", a sort of supercharged roar which shatters wood, eardrums, and at point blank range even the earth.
- Stolen Voices, by Ellen Dee Davidson, has a protagonist like this. She'd reached the age of maturity for her dystopian society without developing a Talent (a superpower and/or activity she was supernaturally good at; for example, flying or being a Friend to All Living Things), but her synesthesia turned out to be a Chekhov's Gun. Midway through the book, the possibility's discussed that she has little bits and pieces of Talents because of the peculiar behaviour of a piece of Applied Phlebotinum in her presence, but she actually has some sort of Functional Magic based on controlling sound.
- Jenna in Magyk has no Magykal powers and is not particularly happy. Whether her backstory makes still sense in this context is best left unanswered.
- Adam is the only member of the Paladins who didn't get a power. He's also one of the extremely small number of people who are lutum informis, which means the toy maker is ineffective on him.
- Artemis Butler has it worse. He's also lutum informis, but in his case he needs the toy maker in order to survive. Thankfully, it's not completely useless on him, but he still spends an annoying amount of time getting modified just to stay ahead of his various disorders.
- In Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar novels, the Call comes in the form of a beautiful white horse(-like magical being). The not-Called or not-yet-Called deal with it in various ways. Princess Elspeth, who needs a Call in order to be the rightful Heir, spends her time lurking around the pasture... just in case.
- Jacinda's younger sister in Firelight. They both come from a tribe of humanoids who can take on a dragon-like form and gain special powers at the beginning of adolescence (such as the ability to turn invisible, breath underwater, etc.) Jace gets the rarest and most prized ability: to breathe fire. Tamra doesn't even get the ability to turn into a dragon.
- In Jennifer Roberson's Chronicles of the Cheysuli series, every man in the Cheysuli tribe bonds with a lir, a sentient animal companion that allows them to shapeshift. The protagonist of the fourth book, the half-Cheysuli Niall, is years older than the usual age for bonding and despairs of it ever happening. (Spoiler: it does.)
- "Shadow on the Moon", a later novella in Zenna Henderson's The People series, has Remy, who apparently has no Gift. The Gift is a special power that usually awakens at ten or twelve, and Remy is seventeen. He has no idea that his ability to visualize in three dimensions from an abstract blueprint or diagram is his Gift, because I Thought Everyone Could Do That.
Live Action TV
- Poor Amy Pond in Doctor Who has to wait fourteen years to travel with the Doctor (from around seven to her early twenties)... and he picks her up on the eve of her wedding. Though it's mostly due to the fact that the Doctor can't keep track of dates.
- Xander in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He complains about being powerless, but his very humanness is the only thing that stops Willow's rampage.
- Later, when the potentials are close to abandoning Buffy, his speech turns them from it. However, after he loses an eye in battle, they do abandon her. It's revealed his humanity is what's been keeping this volatile group together.
- In the final battle against Glorificus, he knocks her down by blindsiding her with a wrecking ball.
- Boom in Power Rangers S.P.D. would give anything to be a Power Ranger, but he flunked out of the academy. This season has fourteen Rangers (seven regulars, two one-shots, and five Psycho Rangers). Boom isn't among them. However, it's his undying faith in and support of the Power Rangers combined with his normal status that makes him the one to deliver an awesome speech in the finale that gets all the other people in S.P.D. to band together.
- In Exalted, the Realm of the Dragon-blooded functions like this. Not every child with the blood Exalts, but quite a few do. Therefore, those who do not Exalt tend to fall under the worst case scenario, unless they Exalt as a Celestial...in which case they get both the "better & rarer" powers and the instant enmity of their entire Empire.
- A temporary version of this trope is also a key part of Green Sun Prince Exaltations; namely, the person in question comes into a situation where they would normally receive their shard, but the Yozis' influence deliberately holds it back so that the person's actions without the boost may be observed.
- In Chrono Trigger, The Kingdom of Zeal was a society where, if you don't demonstrate magical talent at some point, they kick you out of the magical floating paradise and force you to live on the cursed Earth below. Magus was born there and actually had very powerful magic (something lost in the original translation), but he refused to use it as a child because of his Ax-Crazy mom.
- In Soul Nomad & the World Eaters, Odie has a massive inferiority complex due to this. He turns out to be the Black Sheep of a clan of powerful wizards who flunked out of the academy. In practice, he falls into the catagory of late bloomer, and is actually a powerful ally, albeit one who suffers from Cutscene Incompetence (implied to be largely due to said inferiority complex).
- Link in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, unlike all the other Kokiri, hasn't gotten his fairy yet. It later turns out this is because he isn't a Kokiri at all, and plays the Best For Last portion of the trope straight.
- In inFAMOUS, Zeke complains about this several times, but he gets used to it in the second game.
- Agatha Heterodyne thinks she's an incompetent who can't build anything that works, or even express especially strong emotions (according to the novel of the comic) without suffering debilitating headaches. Turns out her long-lost uncle and her parents were Screening the Call.
- The Page class in Homestuck works like this. Whereas all the other classes get fancy powers, Pages are described as consisting of nothing but untapped potential, meaning Pages are relatively pathetic until they hit a high enough level and become terrifyingly strong.
- Or, this being Homestuck, get gruesomely murdered first.
- The Heir class seems to work similarly, but Heirs are apparently guaranteed to reach the point at which their powers mature. Which, as noted above, can make a world of difference.
- In Worm second-generation capes tend to trigger easily and third-generation capes even more so. This leaves Theo, son of Kaiser and grandson of Allfather, a peculiarity. The Pure capes eventually suss out it's because Kayden and her friends were always there for him so he never reached the right state of mind to trigger. They abandon him to be captured by the PRT, where he eventually triggers.
- In Static Shock, Virgil has superpowers while his friend Richie doesn't. In season three, Richie also develops superpowers as a delayed reaction to the initial exposure to Bang Gas and repeated exposure to Virgil. Lampshaded:
Virgil: My clothes reek of the stuff! Maybe some of it rubbed off onto you!
- Sokka was speaking the truth at the time of the page quote. A quarter or more of all people in his world are, like him, without powers, but he is the only character among the main protagonists who isn't a bender and cannot become one. However, this only serves to distract the people around him from the simple fact that he is the only trained leader or warrior in the main group. His friends would be in deep trouble without his skills, and by the end of the series (actually, of that very episode!) he's packing a sword made of Thunderbolt Iron and is trained by a Master Swordsman. Although Word of God has it that like his sister, he actually did have Waterbending potential, but never realised it.
- The Cutie Mark Crusaders from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic are late-bloomers. They don't know what their talent in life is (despite it being pretty obvious to the viewers) and are looking around desperately to find one. This portrayal is probably unique in that Selective Obliviousness is the only reason they don't have it.
- Not to mention a generous helping of Aesop Amnesia making them forget the "take things slowly" lesson they've been served several times by now.
- Doubling down on the trope, there is also the fact that Scootaloo, in spite of being a pegasus, cannot yet fly - and it's hinted that she might never be able to do so.