Took a Level in Cynic

"In every cynical person there is a disappointed idealist."

The character gave the world their love, their care, their trust, and, in return, was somehow back-stabbed, deceived, taken advantage of, used. Some of their old optimism breaks, and they take it to heart that they should not trust others so easily. There is, however, a readjustment in expectations on how the world works towards the pessimistic, not an outright surrender, and not necessarily a change in methods either (an incorruptible character may choose to be a Doomed Moral Victor rather than adjust their methods) or even a change in attitude (The Pollyanna is perfectly aware of living in a Crapsack World, yet refuses to let it bring them down), let alone a Face-Heel Turn, as any Anti-Hero can attest.

A Broken Pedestal can result in this; in a meta sense, the character percieves all of humanity to have failed to live up to his expectations, and revises them accordingly. The cause of the event is the Cynicism Catalyst. The result is usually the acquisition of Jade Coloured Glasses. Can result in a Broken Bird, or, worse yet, a Despair Event Horizon. See also Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!.

Contrast The Anti-Nihilist, Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers! and Took A Level In Idealism.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Code Geass, Lelouch acquires this at age eight, when his mother is murdered in what may be a court intrigue, about which his father the Emperor does nothing. When Lelouch calls him out on this, his response is to send the kid over to an enemy country as a hostage and bargaining chip. Not long after, he invades the country that is hosting his own child, in a very bloody war. No wonder the kid ends up the way he does.
  • Flashbacks reveal that Homura from Puella Magi Madoka Magica started the series as cheerful, klutzy, and a Wide-Eyed Idealist. Repeated failures to save Madoka in timeline after timeline caused her to slowly withdraw her faith in the world, turning into The Stoic character she is today.
  • In Naruto, Sasuke Uchiha ends up taking several of these, falling all the way down to omnicidal insanity and looping back into being an Anti-Hero and wishing to become the ruler/protector of the village, deciding that he will do better than his callous, brutal predecessors.
    • He's got nothing on Obito, who went from being a carefree, happy-go-lucky kid to wanting to force the entire world into a dream world because he saw hope and peace as laughable concepts.
  • All three of the main cast in Cowboy Bebop had such an event horizon long before the plot starts; they were all betrayed by a close friend or a romantic partner, and as a result have closed themselves up to the world. It takes them a long time to learn to care about each other, but, in the end, that's not enough to save them.
  • Ciel Phantomhive from Black Butler was a Cheerful Child when younger, but after his parents died and became enslaved for a year, he became grim and brooding just like in the present day. He's basically Bruce Wayne if Alfred were a demon and the Waynes were a Black Ops. dynasty.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion's entire cast have had theirs before the plot even starts (well, almost; one of them gets it over the course of the series, and the resulting change in loyalties is crucial to the ending of the story). Some of the relevant moments were revealed in-story, others in supplementary materials.
  • Kaze no Stigma: Following the Death of his love interest as a sacrifice for a demon, Kazuma Yagami went from being a Nice Guy to being a cold and brutal Anti-Hero who wouldn't allow anyone to get close to him emotionally, even his own younger brother.

Comics
  • In Runaways This happens to just about everyone (except Gert who was a horrible cynic from day one).
    • Nico goes from being naive and trusting of just about everyone to very closed off, cautious, and suspicious. She also becomes progressively more snarky as the series goes on.
    • While Chase always had some issues to begin with, he still managed to come across as an irrelevant Jerk Jock and when paired with his cynical girlfriend, came out looking like the positive one. His world view becomes less bright when grieving Gert and in Avengers Undercover goes back on his promise not talk about the events of Avengers Arena because everyone knows what happened anyways and from where he was standing that meant Arcade already won.
    • While present! Molly is mostly her hyperactive, happy to face the universe self, future! Molly from Battle of the Atom hits the Despair Event Horizon after President Dazzler is killed and becomes evil, abandoning her childhood belief that she could be a hero and save everyone despite who her parents were.
      • The trope is later Enforced and then Subverted by the reveal that Molly and the other future Brotherhood members are the mind-controlled pawns of Future!Xavier and have had their personalities altered by him.
    • Karolina is mostly unchanged, but more willing to acknowledge anyone is cable of evil or having bad things happen to them and is, like her teammates, much less naive and trusting than at the beginning of the series.
  • Batman made it his life-long mission to personally fight crime because of his parents' murder, which he witnessed as a child. Depending on continuity, this causes Child!Wayne to "grow up in a big hurry" into different degrees of cynicism:
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Ratchet, who was originally shown with a bad case of Chronic Hero Syndrome, has become this, what with the events of the last several years, and the fact that his hands are beginning to seize up. He's become much grouchier and snarkier as a result.

Film
  • Inverted in Man of Steel: Superman being obliged by circumstances to kill the last of his Kryptonian brethren only results in him adopting a Thou Shall Not Kill code and becoming more idealisitic and fettered.
  • Though overworked and underpaid as a waitress, Sarah Connor still harbored hopes for a brighter future in Terminator. Then Kyle Reese spelled out a horrid, brink-of-doom future with the Terminator as proof. Sarah develops enough cynicism to stockpile weapons and munitions galore in caches dotting the Western seaboard for her son John to use against Cyberdyne's machines.
  • 12 Years a Slave's protagonist, Solomon, takes one level after another, often one with every unfair, brutal beating. Most of his fellow slaves are already over the Despair Event Horizon. But he keeps a sliver of hope, and it pays off, as the people who knew him and cared about him went to great lengths to rescue him. Nevertheless, the fact that he never obtains reparation for the horrible suffering he's been dealt, cannot possibly have helped his view of this world.
  • In the first trilogy of the Transformers Film Series, Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, was a firm believer in humanity's potential for good, and held a strict Thou Shalt Not Kill policy towards them, even if they antagonized him and his team. By Transformers: Age of Extinction, years of his kind being hunted down by humans has caused Optimus to lose much of his faith in them, to the point where he will not hesitate to kill humans in self-defense.

Literature
  • Just about all of the Animorphs, except for Marco who was always somewhat of a cynic. Initially, they all had firm limits, lines that they absolutely would not cross, but as the war progressed, they made increasingly hard and morally grey decisions, believing that they were doing what was necessary.
  • Arya and Sansa Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire starts the series as naive and idealistic, but their father's beheading only kickstarts chains of events that will result in disappointment after disappointment for both of them. By the fourth book they've both acquired Jade-Colored Glasses. The result? Having both given up on their initial idealism, Sansa is now learning to manipulate people in order to come out on top, while Arya is graduating to Professional Killer levels.
  • In Discworld, this trope probably happened to every character in their earliest childhood, except maybe for Captain Carrot, and some nice characters who are too dumb to know better; everyone takes an extremely cynical view of the people around them, and the ways to prosper in this world, and the straight heroes usually range from Good Is Not Nice to Knight in Sour Armor to Dirty Coward-Cowardly Lion to outright Pragmatic Villainy, which in a world of Stupid Evil comes off as actually benevolent. This is interesting because the stories themselves are very idealistic, with few if any Karma Houdini, and fair retribution to all good and evil deeds.

Live-Action TV

Video Games

Webcomics
  • Looking for Group: Cale is very idealistic, innocent, and naive at the beginning of the comic, but he starts to become more cynical after he's forced to kill a child in the past to maintain a Stable Time Loop. Similar events that come afterward only serve to make him become more and more on the cynical side on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism as the comic continues.

Web Original

Western Animation
  • This was the backstory of Billy from Adventure Time: he came to believe that heroism is a sucker's game, as fighting off evil would always result in a new evil taking its place. It takes Finn and Jake learning a personal aesop to break him out of that shell of cynicism.
  • The Boondocks' protagonist Huey Freeman starts off very cynical, but also proactive and hopeful in improving things for the better. By the third season, though, it's clear that he's given up hope, and he's resigned himself to let the rest live on in blissful ignorance.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Katara spends the first two seasons giving inspirational speeches about hope and love. After Prince Zuko royals betrays them by claiming to be a better person only to let Azula hit Aang with what should have been a fatal shot of lightning, betray his uncle, and rejoin Fire Nation nobility, she is the last to trust him when he claims to have made a Heel-Face Turn for real this time and almost kills the man that killed her mother in cold blood.
  • The Simpsons: When Reverend Lovejoy first showed up in Springfield he was a go-getting down to earth pastor who wanted to "rap" with his parishioners. Then Ned Flanders started bugging him all the time, wearing him down until he just stopped caring about anybody. "Luckily, by then it was The Eighties, so no one noticed."

Real Life
  • Real Life: This trope might as well be called "Loss Of Innocence"; there's a concerted effort to create a protected environment around children where the adults at least appear to be trustworthy. Then puberty and adulthood hit, and things are not so simple any longer. It can be quite a struggle, to keep one's spark bright through all that.

Alternative Title(s):

Took A Level In Cynicism