In some modern day settings, the normal human members of either side will use guns, and often with less than stellar accuracy, regardless of allegiance. Combined with the idea that guns are easy point and click weapons, how do you set apart your ranged combat hero with no cool looking superpowers?
Why, give them a bow and arrow, of course! Not only will it prove that they're a lot better shot than everyone else, but are cool under pressure as well. Usually, the coolness factor will be ramped up by giving them all sorts of neat arrows that'll come in handy for any situation they might encounter. And of course, their arrows will always be more effective than guns. Crossbows can fit this trope as well, though they're not quite as cool.
Unlimited supply of arrows often included. A common trope in comics.
Before the widespread adoption of breechloading rifles, the trope had some accuracy. The crossbow replaced the longbow, and the musket, the crossbow, because while the replacement weapon was inferior, it was also much easier to train people to use it. It literally took a lifetime of training to create a skilled longbowman - with another skilled longbowman to train him. An old phrase about training longbowmen is: Start with his grandfather. However, the breech-loading repeating rifles invented during the 19th century matched the longbow in range, accuracy, and rate of fire, and a moderately healthy man could learn to use one in a manner of weeks of simple instruction.
Close relative of the Archer Archetype, sometimes overlapping it, though one can exist without the other. This trope regards situations where someone manages to make a bow and arrows a better choice than other, more modern weapons like guns. Often, a hero (or villain) who follows the Straight and Arrow Path can be pretty dangerous with his fists as well.
Subtrope of Archaic Weapon for an Advanced Age. Also related to Guns Are Worthless. Name not to be confused with No Arc in Archery.
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In Sailor Moon, Sailor Mars attempts this, but the show's formula means she seldom actually wins a fight on her own.
Played with in One Piece. In a world where every pirate seems to carry a pistol and the Marines use rifles, the marksman of the Straw Hat Crew is a deadeye with a slingshot. Which, the particular weapon apart, keeps him pretty much within the trope: with the modifications (see below), his slingshot is better than most firearms, and he has the training.
There is an archer among the Regulars of the second test in Tower of God. He manages to kill a few enemies, but in turn is taken out by Levin and his sniper rifle. So this trope gets subverted pretty quickly.
Where to begin? As mentioned above, this is a common trope in comics, though that's really putting it lightly. There's pretty much an entire sub-class of heroes known as archers.
DC's Green Arrow and his Marvel counterpart, Hawkeye, including the variant where the archer is also good in close combat, the second Green Arrow, Connor Hawke, is one of the six best martial artists in the DC Universe.
And the Avengers briefly had another archer in their ranks, Yondu of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Also, the original Hawkeye later took up the identity of Ronin, a close-combat fighter.
See also Celestial Archer of the Great Ten, who was probably intended to fill the traditional superteam role established by Green Arrow and Hawkeye.
In a subversion of this trope, the Ultimate version of Hawkeye ditched the bow and arrows for guns, and manages to be just as accurate with them.
Also from Marvel: the female Young Avenger who currently uses the name Hawkeye and a former user of the name Hawkeye who briefly went by the name of Golden Archer before receiving the original Hawkeye's permission to use his codename again.
DC also has its complement of archer characters, including Speedy (the original now operating under the name Red Arrow, as well as his replacement), Shado, Arrowette and, in a villain example, Merlyn. There's also DC's Alternate Company Equivalent and Distaff Counterpart The Huntress, Helena Bertinelli, and her Pre-Crisis self, Helena Wayne, one of Gotham City's local vigilante, as well as one of the key members of The Birds of Prey.
Another villainous example is the Spider, formerly of Quality Comics, who replaced the Green Arrow in the post-crisis version of the original Seven Soldiers of Victory and only fought crime to eliminate competition. His sons, the second Spider and Spyder, are another villain and an anti-hero, respectively.
Golden Age hero the Arrow was the first superhero to use archery as his primary gimmick. First appearing in 1938, he was actually one of the first superheroes. Now in the public domain he currently appears in the Project Superpowers series from Dynamite Entertainment.
Another early example that predates the more famous Green Arrow was Fawcett's Golden Archer. The name being the same as the GA Captain Ersatz from Squadron Supreme is likely a coincidence.
Even Rob Liefeld had to get in on the act— his series Youngblood had Shaft, who used a high-tech gravity-catapult longbow because he thought it looked cooler than a gun. In later series, he's not above using guns depending on the situation, but still strongly prefers the bow because he considers it to be irrevocably his "thing".
In G.I. Joe, Storm Shadow is shown to have carried a bow into Vietnam, which he uses because it happens to be quieter than even a silenced gun. He's considered the best archer in the world in the Marvel G.I. Joe comic. The second-best is Zartan, who uses technological aids to achieve high accuracy.
Sonya Savage in the later series of Danger Girl. She manages to make a bow seem like a sensible choice in a setting where most of your foes are toting automatic weapons (or worse).
The professor in Diary of the Dead was killing zombies at 50 feet and farther with bow and arrow.
Blade Trinity has Abby Whistler using a bow and arrow as her weapon of choice against vampires.
Rambo, definitely. Including high-explosive arrowheads.
Likewise, Arnie's powder-headed arrows from Predator.
Inara, in the final fight sequence of Serenity was to have used a bow and arrow, but it didn't look right in the final cut, so was digitally replaced with a sort of bolt gun. Which explains the apparently weird firing mechanism of that gun. They only did the replacement on the close-ups, though, so she's still got the bow in long shots.
Justified in The Avengers. Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, uses a bow because his variety of arrow heads come with secondary functions that a bullet could never have, such as explosive, second stage projectile, and grappling. Barton is also an impeccable shot with his bow, as shown by him casually hitting a moving target while looking the other way. He does use a sidearm in the beginning of the film however.
Brenda from the 1984 vigilante film Savage Streets uses a crossbow and some bear traps to deadly effect against three of the members of the vicious street gang responsible for raping her sister and murdering her best friend.
Rudy of The Monster Squad similarly uses a crossbow loaded with wooden stakes against the female vampires during the final battle.
Mack of Louis Lamour's Last of the Breed very capably uses his bow to defeat any number of armed Russian soldiers. He was a perfectly capable gun user when he got his hands on one. His use of the bow was a combination of its increased stealth, the fact that it could be made on the fly (Mack being on the run from a Russian gulag and crossing Siberia), and that it brought him closer to his Native American heritage.
Yeoman from the Wild Cards universe is the setting's premier Badass Normal, capable of taking on superpowered opponents wielding nothing more than a bow. Or less- he's a master martial artist and has killed with just a bowstring.
The second Yellow Four of Choudenshi Bioman. Oh sure, she could use the standard issue blaster that everyone has, but perforating Mecha-Mooks with arrows looks cooler.
In The Walking Dead, resident redneck Daryl is usually seen preferring his crossbow to firearms. This makes sense as ammunition for guns is becoming scarce and the crossbow has less chance of alerting other walkers.
Oliver Queen, The Hood, in Arrow. He justifies it later, explaining that the bow represents self-control, over the chaotic nature of a gun, though the real reason he uses a bow is that's the weapon he learned to use while trapped on an island for five years. Because of his signature color and MO, this is combined to make people believe he's a modern day Robin Hood.
And before Arrow, Smallville's Ollie didn't shy away from his trademark bow. As his live action debut and as it was going for a more fancy, Batman-esque take on him, instead of his usual longbows, Green Arrow made use of Compound Bows (which have the advantage of being easier to fire with) and handheld crossbows, which included such features as grappling gun mechanisms for him to get about. He tended to use the bow for surprise attacks, stronger threats, or for non-attacking purposes, and use the crossbow when shooting at people, due to the fact he could use non-lethal boltheads with this one that the bow wouldn't allow.
In Haven, Dwight Hendrickson wields a crossbow, which weirds the others out. This is out of necessity because his Trouble makes it so bullets are attracted to him, so he can't use a gun.
Following the Archer character type, City of Heroes has the powersets Archery and Trick Arrows, both used by Manticore. It's at least on par with the Assault Rifle powerset.
The Trick Arrow powerset stacks its powers into the most powerful debuffing set in the game, making it highly desired against Giant Monsters and Arch Villians.
When placed in a First-Person Shooter, the bow or crossbow can pretty much be counted on to be as powerful as a sniper rifle, such as the scoped crossbow in the Half-Life series, which uses red hot lengths of iron rebar for bolts.
Vagrant Story's Ashley Riot introduces himself to Sydney Losstarot by way of a crossbow bolt to the chest. Of course, Ashley is trained in a multitude of weapons, and had approached at range in order to arrest Sydney. When the latter wouldn't go peacefully, and rushed Ashley with a sword, thunkk came the bolt and Sydney was sent flying backwards from the impact. It came as quite a shock when Sydney stood up and pulled the projectile out...
Might and Magic has a class called, well, Archer. They specialize in the Bow and, in MM 6&7, Alchemic magic.
In the Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Reimi uses a bow. Unusually for the trope, the game takes steps to justify/Hand Wave it: she took an archery class as a curiosity, and was initially on the ship as a Bridge Bunny, not for her weapon skills. It's only after it's discovered that the alien wildlife is immune to the standard-issue railgunsnote They sense the electromagnetic energy of the firing sequence and brace, older weapons have no such systems that she starts backing Edge up in the field.
Dan Blackmore's Servant Archer in Fate/Extra, meanwhile, has a Yew Bow as his Noble Phantasm. Considering he's Robin Hood, it is appropriate.
The Sniper of Team Fortress 2 can use a bow and arrow instead of his Sniper Rifle. The bow has slightly lower base damage, but charges to maximum damage much faster than the gun in question. It fires in an arc and there's a definite delay between the arrow leaving the bow and landing on the target, so using it successfully is seen as a matter of luck rather than skill. The "arrows from nowhere" bit is averted, as he can only carry about half as many arrows as sniper rifle rounds.
The Medic can equip a Crossbow (with healing bolts). There's only one shot per clip but it reloads so quickly, is more accurate, and looks so much cooler than the Syringe Gun that it's worth it.
In Chrono Trigger, Marle uses a crossbow and Lucca a gun. Somewhat justified in that Lucca's an inventor, but then there's the fact that every shop seems to sell guns for Lucca, the party time travel to the future where guns are common, and it's not particularly likely that archery is a part of Marle's princess training. (Of course, it helps that Marle's a Rebellious Princess, and Japanese princesses were often trained in bow archery for both self defense and character building reasons.)
In Ninja Gaiden, Ryu's main ranged weapons are either shurikens or a bow and yet he can still kill mooks armed with machine guns as well as helicopters, though it's better trying to use your speed to close the distance and attack them in close quarters than it is to try and shoot them with your bow.
The advertising campaign for Crysis 3, a game set in 2047, puts quite a lot of emphasis on the new bow weapon and its arsenal of Trick Arrows.
Somewhat justified, in this case, as it's the one weapon that Prophet can use while cloaked.
In the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider, Lara Croft's most iconic weapon in the game is her hunting bow, which begins as a makeshift longbow and ends as a professional sports bow. She has access to a nice assortment of guns as well, but for most of the game the bow is preferable due to its relatively high damage output and the fact that it's completely silent (stealth greatly helps in keeping Lara alive), whereas her other weapons make quite some noise.
Riley from We're Alive was trained as a pro archer and prefers to use a bow since it's quiet and doesn't alert the zombies.
Worm has two superheroes who are known for their crossbows:
Despite living in the 22nd Century in a city that's the heart of the robotic revolution, the Angry Archer of Transformers Animated still uses a bow and trick arrows (albeit with some sort of robotic gauntlet on one hand). While he's hardly the most competent of supervillains, he does manage to put them to good use.
Young Justice also has, as a main character, Artemis Crock, a character not known for this in the comics, who still takes use of it anyway. There's also Francis Barton, Hawkeye's son in Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow.
Modern crossbows are gaining some currency among police and special forces for a number of reasons: because of the way many ballistic vests work, subsonic weaponry like crossbow bolts or arrows can pierce them; they're not nearly as loud and can make for a silent kill if need be; they have more nonlethal ammo options; and they can be fired at a target with a bomb strapped to them without risk of detonation, a real concern with suicide bombers today.