The Epic

An epic is a long story centered on a heroic character that describes a series of exceptional events, similar to and suggestive of epic poetry. There are numerous epics in fiction and storytelling. Epics are majestic depictions and capture impressive struggles, such as stories of war, adventures, and other efforts of great scope and size over long periods of time.

Form is mostly limited to literature and theater, and includes.
  • Epic Poem (also known as classic epic)
  • Epic Narrative (also known as modern epic)
  • Epic Movie (more broadly defined, includes film adaptations of the literary epic as defined here)
    • Battle Epic (sub-trope, when a movie is focused on war or a battle)

Some basic guidelines:
  • A longer-than-average story that...
  • ... Is wide in scope (not just one battle or skirmish, but a country-wide/planet-wide/galaxy-wide war or catastrophe) and...
  • ... Follows one hero, group of heroes or bloodline, who...
  • ... Strive to achieve a particular goal or complete a quest, in the course of which they...
  • ... Commit extraordinary deeds and...
  • ... Have multiple (three or more) separate adventures in the course of their quest or journey.

The classic epics had their own guidelines:
  • Starting In Medias Res, usually later having The Hero explain via Flashback How We Got Here
  • "Invocation of the Muse" (formally asking one of the Muses to help the author live up to the task of doing the story justice, or achieve whatever goal they have in mind for it)
  • A trip to the Underworld

Can be divided into a few different subgenres. The divisions also come in two flavors, Form and Subject (may be subtropes/genres). Both forms can be divided by subject:
  • Heroic (one person, may include companions, but focused on the person)
  • Familial (follows a particular lineage)
  • and National (follows the history of an entire nation, not common)

Not to be confused with the modern bastardization of the term just to mean "awesome."

This is a distinguishing characteristic of Space Opera and High Fantasy, in that both are the Epic versions of Science Fiction and Fantasy respectively.

Please do not add an example without ensuring that it first meets the criteria.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • AKIRA, both the manga and the film.
  • Attack on Titan: A company of brave soldiers fight the people-eating giants who terrorize humanity and pursue the answers behind the horrifying mysteries of their world. It is basically a Heroic epic focused on Eren, but places major emphasis on his companions in the survey Corp., especially Mikasa and Armin.
  • Baccano!: A group of alchemists are granted immortality by a demon, and after being betrayed by one of their own they travel around the world in search of other immortals while leading a life of crime and encountering a large cast of other violent and unusual criminals in a tale that spans several decades, but mostly takes place in America during the Prohibition era.
  • Basara
  • Berserk: In a world where fate is controlled by demonic forces, a warrior seeks the cure for his lover's insanity and revenge against the friend who betrayed them in exchange for godlike power. It fits the Heroic epic mold, being a long story about the multiple adventures and great deeds of Guts and his companions. As an added bonus, the manga and anime both begin In Medias Res and all versions include at least one trip to the underworld—or rather that universe's equivalent.
  • Bleach: A teenager is given the power of a shinigami and uses it to aid an organization dedicated to cleansing souls of evil and helping them pass on to the afterlife.
  • Bubblegum Crisis
  • Claymore: In a world where monsters called Yoma prey on human and only a new special breed of female warriors can fight them, one of these warriors, Clare, seeks revenge against the creature that robbed her of a person she cared deeply about. The story starts off In Medias Res, following Clare in her missions and development as a person, it then grows to follow the adventures of group of survivors as they slowly understand that in their world things are not as they appear, and their actions will ultimately determine the fate of all of their own comrades and the land they live on.
  • A Certain Scientific Railgun
  • Code Geass: Upon being granted a supernatural power to control people, a young genius takes control of the resistance movement to liberate Japan from The Empire.
  • The Dagger of Kamui: One of the earliest ninja epic of the genre.
  • Death Note: Granted a supernatural notebook that will cause the death of whoever's name is written in it, a young genius plots to rid the world of criminals while the world's greatest detective attempts to end his reign of terror. A Heroic epic about a Villain Protagonist with elements of Tragedy.
  • D.Gray-Man
  • Dragon Ball: The life and times of the greatest warrior the world has ever seen.
  • Devilman
  • El-Hazard: The Magnificent World
  • Fairy Tail
  • Fate/stay night: The adopted son of a magus is forced into a seven-way battle for the Holy Grail between mages controlling resurrected heroes of myth and legend. A Heroic epic focused on Shirou and his companions.
    • Fate/Zero: The story behind the tragic events of the Fourth Grail War, which set the stage for those of Fate/Stay night. This prequel decisively broadens the story into a Familial epic as a major theme is how the descendants of the Fourth War's participants inherited their parents' powers, conflicts, curses, and ideals.
  • Fist of the North Star
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Two disfigured brothers search for a way to undo their mistakes of the past, only to be engulfed in a massive political conspiracy.
    • Also the 2003 anime, which has the same basic premise but goes in a different direction halfway through.
  • Getter Robo
  • Hellsing: With the most powerful vampire of all at their side, an elite government organization protects England from supernatural threats and goes to war with vampiric Nazis trying to take over the world.
  • Hunter × Hunter
  • Inuyasha: A high school girl falls into a well that transports her to Feudal-Era Japan, where she meets the titular Inuyasha, who travels with her and a group of other allies to find the scattered shards of the Shikon Jewel before the demon Naraku can obtain them.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: A mighty hero studies a secret art in order to kill an undead vampire, setting in motion a multi-generational epic. This is definitely a Familial epic, as it follows a bloodline of heroes through history with each story focused on a different member.
  • Kill la Kill: A rebellious young woman equipped with a sentient power-enhancing uniform challenges a tyrannical student council president, seeking answers about the murder of her father.
  • Legend of Galactic Heroes: Two heroes and a supporting cast of hundreds find themselves on opposite sides of a war that will determine whether mankind will be ruled by democracy or autocracy — and the choice isn't as clear-cut as it may seem on the surface.
  • The Legend Of Mother Sarah: A strong and determined woman travels a post-apocalyptic wasteland, searching for her lost children in the midst of a catastrophic war. Despite the theme of family it is basically a Heroic epic focused on Sarah.
  • Magi – Labyrinth of Magic
  • Mahou Sensei Negima!
  • Mai-HiME: A deconstruction that analyzes what happens when the once-perfect Magical Girl is burdened with the tragic-flaws of mythic heroes.
  • Most full-length Gundam series fall under this.
  • Heavy Metal L-Gaim
  • The Mazinger franchise, with all their sequels and spin-offs throughout forty years, definitely fits:
  • Monster: A Japanese brain surgeon in Germany seeks to kill a young man whose life he once saved, who has grown up to be a deceiver and killer as terrible as the Antichrist.
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
  • Naruto: A young ninja strives for greatness, and in the process is embroiled in a conflict that will decide the fate of the world.
  • Neo Human Casshern
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: After the apocalypse, a group of children are involuntarily charged with defending the remnants of the human race from alien beings seeking their destruction, or so they think...
  • Noir
  • One Piece: A young adventurer embarks on a quest to seize the greatest treasure the world has ever known, and in the process involuntarily joins the world's most-wanted list.
  • Panzer World Galient
  • Princess Mononoke: Tainted by a demonic curse that will end his life, a wise prince struggles to end a war between the deities of the forest and the humans of Irontown.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Approached by a creature who offers to make her a magical girl, an ordinary girl is plunged into a destructive cycle of suffering, tragedy, and despair that determines the fate of the entire universe.
  • Record of Lodoss War
  • Robot Romance Trilogy
  • Red Photon Zillion
  • Ronin Warriors
  • Rurouni Kenshin: After losing everything in a war that changes Japan forever, a wandering swordsman vows never to kill again and settles down in a dojo thats fallen on hard times, finding friends, love and a new home for himself while dealing with his past and stopping rebels who seek to overthrow the current government.
  • Sailor Moon
  • Saint Seiya
  • Science Ninja Team Gatchaman
  • Scrapped Princess
  • Soul Eater: Three masters and their shape-shifting human weapons fight the ultimate embodiment of madness.
  • Soul Hunter: A young Immortal on a quest to defeats and seals rogue immortals on human world and in doing so, involves in a plot that could changes the fate of the entire planet.
  • Strike Witches
  • Tekkaman
  • Tenchi Muyo!
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: A timid boy granted the key to a unique mecha grows into a hero who will liberate humanity from its oppressors through sheer willpower and passion.
  • Trigun, especially the manga.
  • 20th Century Boys
  • Vinland Saga: The story of a young viking hell-bent on revenge for his fathers murder, until he stands before nothing.
  • Kemono no Souja Erin
  • Ushio and Tora
  • Utawarerumono: National epic of Tuskuru, under Emperor Hakuoro.
  • YuYu Hakusho: A juvenile delinquent dies, then gets brought back from the dead to help the afterlife solve paranormal mysteries and defeat powerful demons.
  • Zambot3

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 

    Film 
  • Avatar: a human soldier is granted control of an alien body to in order to learn their culture, but decides to take up the aliens' cause against human colonialist ambitions.
  • The Birth of a Nation
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy
  • Gladiator: A general betrayed by a depraved emperor fights as a gladiator to save Rome from his tyranny.
  • The Godfather
  • Hero
  • Indiana Jones: An adventurous archaeologist opposes corrupt 20th century dictatorships seeking to use powerful artifacts for nefarious purposes.
  • Interstellar fits this to a T. There's even a journey to the underworld through a black hole.
  • Inception is also an epic in the classical sense. It even deals with a hero on The Homeward Journey. The in-media-res opening, the three adventures, a symbolic journey to the underworld in the last act: it's all there. Chris Nolan seems to know The Epic like the back of his hand.
  • Kill Bill
  • Lawrence of Arabia: An eccentric Englishman leads the Arabs against the Ottomans during World War I in pursuit of fame, and glory, and a state the Arabs can call their own.
  • The Lion King: A young lion seeks to avenge his father's death and reclaim his birthright as king.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Adapted from Literature.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • The Matrix
  • Once Upon a Time in China
  • Patton: A brilliant and egotistical general leads U.S. forces in World War II, helped by his great talent and hindered by his flaws.
  • Starship Troopers
  • Star Wars: The destiny of the galaxy is determined by the conflict between one mystic order representing good and another representing evil. Taken individually, the Prequel and Original trilogies are the epics of Anakin and Luke Skywalker, respectively. Taken as a whole, the series is a Familial epic of the Skywalker family.
  • The Ten Commandments

    Light Novels 

    Literature 

    Live-Action TV 

    Manhua 

    Music 
  • Food For The Gods by Fireaxe spans three discs, and is just a few minutes under 4 hours long. It follows the history of religion throughout the centuries.
  • Moira, which was deliberately written to resemble classical Greek epics.
  • Coheed and Cambria's entire discography.

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS has a number of potential epics for The Gamemaster to work with in its various Sourcebooks some of which are quite well done. Several are suggested in the sample campaigns. In Vikings one can replay any saga or make up one's own. There is even a mythic campaign theme in which Loki escape's and threatens to bring about Ragnorak before its time. In Traveller Sword Worlds there is 100 Parsecs which is about the journey of a group of Sword Worlders to set up a new civilization in which the Sword Worlder way of life may be preserved far in the reaches of the universe. One can also do the original founding of the Sword Worlds which is an intensely powerful theme. Intersteller Wars is in a way a "national epic" of the Terran Confederation. In fact some Gurps ideas are so good that it is a tragedy that they were never taken in hand by a writer worthy of them. Hopefully one is waiting.
  • Exalted is epic in a modern, bastardized meaning— but it can also be played as a classical Epic. It can be personal, following a Solar and his close friends. It can be national, following a Threshold nation guided by various Lunars who are in a master-apprentice chain. It can be generational, following a lineage of the Dragon-Blooded as they fight various enemies of Creation.
  • Warhammer 40,000
  • Werewolf: The Apocalypse : A twist on the classic werewolf myth, wherein the titular monsters are actually Holy Warriors of Mother Earth fighting to make the world a kinder and gentler place.

    Theatre 

    Toys 

    Video Games 

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 


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