The tragic hero is a longstanding literary concept, a character with a Fatal Flaw (like Pride, for example) who is doomed to fail in search of their Tragic Dream despite their best efforts or good intentions. This trope is rare on television, perhaps because watching someone fail once teaches a lesson, while watching them fail every Tuesday gets boring — though that didn't stop shows like Arrested Development or the so-inappropriately-titled Good Times, no matter how hard they Yank the Dog's Chain. It is more common in Mini Series and anime dramas, where the program's entire run can be dedicated to one or more Story Arcs that lead to the Tragic Hero's ultimate failure. You'll most likely find this in the Theatre, where the trope was born and codified.
A Tragic Hero can work as an antagonist or a protagonist. As an antagonist, his goals are opposed to the protagonist's, but the audience still feels sympathetic towards him.
By the time a Tragic Hero antagonist is defeated, the protagonist himself feels sympathetic to the Tragic Hero, and a little bad about having to capture him. It is acceptable and common to defeat a Tragic Hero antagonist by stopping him from achieving his goal, but otherwise letting him go free. Tragic Hero antagonists are rarely killed, except when death is seen by the Tragic Hero himself as an honorable end which is preferable to capture. Tragic Hero protagonists die more often than not (except for William Shakespeare's, who all died).
The origin of the term itself is a slight case of Newer Than They Think. It's usually attributed to Aristotle and his Poetics, but it really comes from Renaissance Italian and French commentators on Aristotle, who elaborated on his very general ideas about character through a humanistic lens (Aristotle only says that seeing a prosperous person fall is a good source of pathos, and that it's more pathetic to see a not-entirely-bad person suffer due to a mistake than to see wholly good people suffer for reasons beyond their control). That said, Aristotle's favorite tragedy, Oedipus the King is a good example of this trope, so the trope itself is definitely Older Than Feudalism.
Compare with Classical Anti-Hero, Protagonist Journey to Villain, Fallen Hero. Compare the Jerkass Woobie, a Jerk with a Heart of Gold whose Fatal Flaw is their mean streak. Compare Tragic Villain and Hoist by His Own Petard for the villainous counterparts. Contrast Byronic Hero, who has numerous, celebrated flaws. Contrast Karma Houdini, a villain who gets away with their evil deeds.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
The noble yet vicious Lelouch and the idealistic but deluded Suzaku from Code Geass. Both had to abandon their principles to finally bring peace to the world.
Utena Tenjou of Revolutionary Girl Utena seeks strength and nobility not for her sake, but to save another person whom she cannot even remember. However, the enemy she faces is vastly older, more powerful and more sophisticated than this 14-year-old girl and manipulates her handily, turning her into the Tragic Hero through the final third of the series. (Even so, Utena manages to pull off a win against him — confusing and puzzling, but a win nonetheless.)
Most of the cast of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Notable are Gendo, whose inability to relate people other than his "dead" wife leads him to destroy humanity as we know it in order to meet her again, and SEELE whose belief that humanity is unable to help each-other deal with their flaws is their flaw. Shinji is, surprisingly, an aversion: he ultimately overcomes, or at least learns to live with, his flaws and by doing so gives the rest of the cast, and humanity at large, the chance to do the same.
Kikyo and InuYasha, in regards to how their insecurities allowed Naraku to turn them against each other, kill Kikyo and make Inuyasha sleep for 50 years.
Harry McDowell and Brandon Heat from the Gungrave anime are tragic heroes. This is a rare case where both protagonist and antagonist are tragic heroes. Harry McDowell, in his search for power so that he will never have to lose anything, ends up becoming a power-hungry Bloody Harry and kills his best friend Brandon Heat, turning Brandon into Beyond the Grave. The guilt over killing his best friend makes Harry slowly lose his sanity. On the other hand, Brandon Heat, who is loyal to the fault, cannot bring himself to stop Harry even when he knows Harry is obviously going down the wrong path and ends up getting killed. In a way, Brandon is also responsible for the deaths of his other loved ones as Brandon's death causes Harry to hunt down those whom Brandon holds dear (as Harry reasons that those people "took Brandon from him"). At the end of the series, after destroying each other completely, both Brandon and Harry realize that the only time they were truly "free" was when they lived in a slum with three other friends (whose deaths led Brandon and Harry to join the Millenion in the first place) and decide to take the only way out: killing each other.
Ends very differently in the videogame— Harry allows Grave to kill him, and Grave survives the ordeal. His only concern at that point is Mika's protection, so he leaves the city with her.
In closer detail: has a noble motivation and is of high status as an elite Vanquisher of the Isayama line, suffers a Fate Worse than Death: what little part of her consciousness is left is aware of the horrible things she's doing, but is unable to stop herself, and comes back to lifetwice only to do the same again, even though she explicitly states she never wanted to come back, and is destroyed by her Fatal Flaw, which is either her inborn hatred, or her almost exclusive love for Kagura.
Arguably, Lucy from Elfen Lied. By the end of the anime, she even admits that both Diclonii and humans are too proud to surrender and live peacefully with each other.
Interestingly, Kamina from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann fits the concept quite well. His overweening sense of determination & over-the-top Hot-Blooded-ness are integral to his success, yet in the end are what leads to his untimely death. Also, Lordgenome and even Rossiu to a degree.
Oskar von Reuenthal from Legend of Galactic Heroes is one of the greatest examples found in anime, even if he's not the protagonist. A Broken Ace who is almost as ambitious and brilliant as Kaiser Reinhard - He could become a great ruler, if he weren't simply outshone by Reinhard. Over the course of the series, his conflicting loyalty, ambition, jealousy, his traumatic past and especially his pride eventually lead to his downfall after he is forced into committing treachery. It should be mentioned that he never really became a villain right until the end, despite it all.
Mikael from Tenshi Ni Narumon. Overall good-willed, but terribly misguided and with immense issuses of self-denial. His obsession with becoming a full angel blinded him to other people's feelings/opinions and led him to undertake pretty harshful and questionable actions. In the end, he did realize his wrongdoings and although it was implied that he will probably never become such angel as he would like to be, he eventually got recognized as a decent... 1/3 of an angel? Or something like that.
Unrequited love was the catalyst – not the cause – of Sayaka's downfall in Puella Magi Madoka Magica; what really pushed her over the edge was her righteousness. As a coping mechanism, she tried to become a hero who would uphold ideals. She believed in justice, but her growing resentment made her shift from protecting the innocent to punishing the wicked. When Sayaka realizes how she had come to contradict her earlier aspirations, all the hatred turns inward. It is precisely because of her unyielding nature that her spirit shatters. Unable to forgive this transgression, she inflicts her own punishment: a curse unto herself. From her Soul Gem hatches a mermaid-knight, a being representing the love and righteousness that she had once valued.
It's worth a note that the series itself is a nod to Goethe's Faust, and that Homura's character parallels the tragic hero of that story. In it, Faust's ambition leads him to make a deal with the devil, and Homura's deal with Kyubey is a reference to this. She earns a little bit more sympathy, though, since she's doing it to save Madoka. Even though the series touches on the idea, Rebellion Story really develops on Homura's role as a tragic hero, and is basically about her fatal flaw causing her descent into villainy. Ultimately, her undying love for Madoka and persistence to create what she deems a "perfect world" is what makes it a tragedy, and even though she's doing it all for good reasons, she becomes a Satanic Archetype. By the end, we're all left wondering if this is Faust or Paradise Lost
Played with, with the eponymous character of Naruto, who faces tragedy after tragedy throughout his life, but he tries his best to avoid this fate.
Guilty Crown: Shu Ouma seemingly evolved into this, but it's implied that he's been one all along. His Fatal Flaw is kindness. He went through many betrayals, and completely shattered after Hare's death. And that is his Start of Darkness.
Morpheus, or Dream of the Endless, from The Sandman. His pride, his stubbornness and his fanatical devotions to his own duties as the aspect of Dream constantly conspire to make his life(?) an eternal mess. In the end, he has to choose between changing or dying, and as it turns out, he is unable to change himself enough.
Spider-Man, oh, so much. Doesn't matter how much he struggles he can make only a small difference, but never to truly end his crusade. This is why we can empathize with him: as human beings we control little beyond our own actions.
Almost half of the X-Men have tragic backgrounds, such as Cyclops who can't control his powers, his love life in shambles, and accidentally killed his mentor/father figure.
Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars was a Tragic Hero in the prequels. He was a hero of the Republic, got the girl, helped win the war, and saved his Master a number of times. His Fatal Flaw was the fear of losing those he cared about, which fed a hunger for power to prevent it from ever happening, and that eventually turned him into the ever-popular Black Knight Darth Vader.
His main Fatal Flaw was the desire for control- a concept that had evaded him his entire life. As a slave he had no control over his life and neither did he as a Jedi. His fear of death and the death of his loved ones is a representation of his need to control EVERYTHING even what should be uncontrollable (i.e death). This flaw is tucked away for much of the prequel trilogy with only odd mentions (He mentions a couple of times to Padme how he wants to control the galaxy) but fully reveals itself in the OT where Vader is the epitome of Tyranny and Order. With all his loved ones dead or now his enemy all the man has left is his intense need for Control.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The title character is a barber trying to get revenge on Judge Turpin for raping his wife and taking his daughter away from him. His Fatal Flaw was his tendency to take things at face value and his willingness to trust someone he really shouldn't have regarding his wife, and as a result, he unknowingly kills his wife, who has become a beggar woman, just before finally taking vengeance upon Turpin.
Eddie Felton from The Hustler definitely qualifies for "tragic"; whether he is a hero is another matter. His ambition to beat Minnesota Fats leads him to become The Unfettered that endangers everyone else around him.
Harvey Dent/Two-Face from "The Dark Knight". He starts out the film as an honorable hero of Gotham nicknamed Gotham's 'White Knight'. He is uncompromising and risks his life for the criminals of Gotham to be put away. However, his Fatal Flaw is his illogical love for Rachel, which is shown when he would rather he die than Rachel, despite all the innocent people who are relying on him and all the criminals who would get put back onto the streets. This is what ultimately corrupts him, in contrast to Bruce Wayne who wasn't corrupted despite loving her too. After her death at the hands of The Joker he turns into a cop killing murderer, using a coin flip to determine who lives or dies regardless of morality or other factors which would have affected his decisions before. As Batman states at the end of the film 'he (The Joker) wanted to prove that even someone as good as you could fall'.
In Dark Blue, Eldon Perry is the type of corrupt Cowboy Cop who caches very bad criminals, but he also frames suspects, is excessively violent and a casual racist. However, he comes from a long line of cops in his family who raised him into their beliefs. His wife leaves him and takes their son because they're both terrified of him, and most cops outside of his corrupt friends are disgusted by his behavior. He ultimately chooses to expose his own shady dealings to do one last good thing before his days are over. The film ends as he watches over a burning Los Angeles with remorse.
Eddard Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire, who actually did keep his nobility of spirit to the end... and it killed him. Nearly every major character in the series could qualify as well, particularly Robert Baratheon, Catelyn Stark, and Robb Stark.
Mack Bolan, The Executioner, from the series of novels by the same name. He knows he can't kill every Mafioso, but he sets out to get as many as he can. In the end, he ends up faking his death and going to work for the government.
David Eddings considers (Bel)Zedar of his Belgariad to be a tragic hero, although he's really more of an Anti-Villain.
In the Harry Potter series, both Sirius Black and Severus Snape can very much be considered tragic heroes.
Sirius actually suffers from his fatal flawsseveral times. His hot headiness is what got him framed for murdering his best friend, causing him to serve several years in Azkaban. Later on, his behavior towards Kreacher ends up playing a pivotal role in the lead up to his death.
Also Dumbledore. In his youth, his love for Grindelwald and lust for power made him help with his plans to rule the world, until his sister tragically died/was killed somehow during the duel between Grindelwald and the Dumbledore brothers. And a year before he died, Albus had brought upon himself a curse when, in an act of impulsiveness, he had failed to remember that the Resurrection Stone was a Horcrux when he put the ring on, because he wanted to see his dead sister again.
Lily Bart from The House of Mirth. Her fatal flaw is her inability to recognize how vain and materialistic New York high society is.
Jake from Animorphs. Being the leader is tough when you need to make decisions that cost you the respect of everyone around you.
All the Animorphs qualify, just with different flaws, all driven by fear: Jake’s is the impossibility of being the leader they need when he’s just a child and there are often no right choices he can make, the fear of making the wrong call and gettignt he others killed. Marco’s is his fear of failure: he can't stand other's pity, he can't bear to fail with regards to his mother, he can't bear the thought of how his dad would disintegrate if Marco was killed, ect. and that drives his ruthlessness and cynicism. Rachel’s is rage, and a fear of helplessness. The fear that they might lose the war. Cassie’s is a moral panic, the realisation that to save the world they might become that which they fight, a fear of doing evil. Tobias, who has never fitted in anywhere, it a fear of failing the rest of the team, the one family he has ever really known, and the creeping realisation that even before the war is over, there is no place for him in the world after it. Ax is his pride in his race, and the shattering of those illusions, the fear of the reality that the Andalites are in fact almost as bad as the Yerks in many ways.
The Dragon (Rand) from The Wheel of Time series is doomed to eventually fail, as the goal of the Big Bad is to destroy the Pattern and the Wheel of Time, and the Wheel of Time will keep cycling until that happens.
Húrin and Túrin Turambar are the prime examples. The former defies Morgoth and is punished by having his whole family cursed with bad luck, and is forced to watch their fates. The latter, his son, kills his best friend, loses all his companions to treachery, causes the sack of his new home, abandons his love to death, falls in love with his own sister whom he had never seen before(and is stricken with amnesia), is pursued by a powerful dragon, and when he finally manages to kill it, the dragon reveals his sister's identity to him, causing him to commit suicide. Said sister (Niënor Níniel) then proceeds to commit suicide upon discovering her brother's identity and corpse. Húrin himself finally commits suicide after waiting with his wife in her dying hour at the site of their children's suicides.
Raistlin Majere from the Dragonlance Legends trilogy is even called one of these in the Annotated Legends.
Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart is a prime example of this. His father is a titleless debtor, he gets exiled because he accidentally killed a man, his son leaves him for a life as a christian, he gets imprisoned by said christians, and he eventually hangs himself in shame.
House definitely fits the bill—his addictive personality may make him a genius, but he continues to hit new levels of rock bottom each season.
Assuming his eventual downfall or assassination, Tony Soprano is probably the biggest example of a tragic hero in modern television. He actually wants to be a good person, a good father and a good husband, and he tries hard, even getting flashes where you hope he'll improved (such as when he realizes that the stripper Frankie just murdered was the same age as his daughter), but is incapable of overcoming his own narcissism, shortsightedness and lack of empathy. And the fact that he's, you know, a mob boss.
Craig Manning from Degrassi The Next Generation is smart, charming, artistic, sensitive, romantic, and a perfect gentleman. But he inevitably breaks the heart of everybody around him, and himself, due to his Fatal Flaw — he is thoughtless, rash, and grandiose (eventually revealed to be due to bipolar disorder).
Ashley Kerwin is responsible, hard-working, and the most decent of all the popular kids. She is slowly destroyed by bad luck, unscrupulous rivals — and most importantly, by her own bitterness from all she goes through. (Perhaps inevitably, she and Craig wound up as Star-Crossed Lovers.)
In a similar vein, student Rick (who had pushed his girlfriend into a rock, leaving her in a coma) underwent anger management before going back to school, and genuinely tried to be a nice person... which failed, because essentially the entire school hated him for what he had done before. It got to the point that, after being dumped on with goo at an event Carrie-style, he took a gun to Degrassi and shot a fellow student in the back, paralyzing him, then threatening to kill one of the main characters before dying in a struggle with another student, Sean, over the gun. After his death, he was given a Lonely Funeral.
Six Feet Under, where characters and plot action alike were primarily defined by the tragedies they encompassed.
More than you can shake a stick at in Heroes, but perhaps most notably Isaac.
Pick anyone you like from Supernatural, but the two main characters' flaws are different flavors of desperation (Sam's obsession and Dean's devotion). Or maybe the same flavor—desperation for approval from an absent father—given different focuses based on their roles in the family.
Dean's so desperate to have a family that he has no sense of self-worth outside of it. His reason for living is so that he can protect his little brother; his perfect fantasy is a world where he's worthless (but most everyone else is happy and his mother is still alive); he's been Driven to Suicide by guilt and loss from his father sacrificing his soul for him and his brother dying just for starters.
Dean is so focused on his brother that he doesn't want Sam to sacrifice himself even if it's the only way to avert the Apocalypse, and he gets called out on it:
Bobby: ...What exactly are you afraid of? Losing? Or losing your brother?
Sam is so desperate to not be the failure and freak he always felt like and avert Bad Powers, Bad People that he believes demon Ruby when she tells him he's The Only One who can save the world. He allies with and has romantic liaisons with Ruby, getting addicted to the consumption of the demon blood that fuels his ability to do something seemingly good, exorcising demons with his mind and without hurting the hosts. It also makes him feel in control and (overly) confident. He lies to his brother repeatedly, and after Dean calls him a monster while he's high on demon blood, nearly kills Dean in their fight before leaving with Ruby to kill Big Bad Lilith.
Londo Mollari in Babylon 5 is a definite example of a tragic hero; while at first he seems to be a self-absorbed drunken buffoon, he is a true patriot who really does want his people to rise up from their malaise. He ultimately does lead the Centauri to glory, but the price he pays is too high, and he dies first.
Lennier was a faithful and devoted servant who never seemed to ask anything in return. But his Fatal Flaw was a jealousy he barely admitted to himself.
Captain Benteen on the hour long Twilight Zone episode On Thursday We Leave For Home. For years he lead a colony of people stranded on a hot, desolate planet. He helps them survive, holds them together and gives them hope for a rescue. When a spaceship finally arrives to take them home to Earth everyone is overjoyed including him. However Benteen feels the power he once had slipping away. When he learns that many of the colonist don't want to stay together when they return to Earth he becomes angry. He tells them that Earth is a horrible place and tries to destroy the ship. He refuses to go on the spaceship which will not return and chooses to stay. Only when he sees the ship leave does he realize he wants to go back home to Earth.
Frank Sobotka of The Wire just wants to make sure the Baltimore stevedores are going to stay in business. Unfortunately this means keeping slightly unsavory company...
Satoru Toujou from Kamen Rider Ryuki is this. Being a participant in the Rider War, his desires to use the promised wish to become a hero. This obviously becomes problematic when he winds up killing the people closest to him simply to achieve that wish. Shiro Kanzaki counts to some extent as well.
Ryubee Sonozaki of Kamen Rider Double. Despite being the lead antagonist, he's a Tragic Hero in true Shakespearean fashion. His Fatal Flaw of ambition ultimately results in the utter destruction of his family's happiness and unity and costs him his mind and his life. As much of a monster as he was, his final moments, which he spends in his burning, crumbling house laughing like a madman and reminiscing about the good times he had with his family before his Fatal Flaw took over drive the tragedy home.
In some extent Gaius Baltar in the Battlestar galactica 2003 serie (not in the original ones, where Count Baltar is more of a Manipulative Bastard ): he actually has a LOT of Fatals Flaws , the main of which would be pride and overconfidence. However, he strives to protect humanity (and therefore the fleet) from utter destruction on numerous occasions.
Even more so, Lt Felix Gaeta develops into a Tragic Hero antagonist, whose fatal flaw was...well, it's complicated. Not his idealism itself, but the way it crushed into bitter despair and anger after a series of brutal betrayals by his fellow and superior officers, and what it led him to do - even though from some perspectives, mutinying to defend the survivors of New Caprica from a second Cylon occupation enforced on them by their out-of-touch supposed protectors was an entirely valid, even laudable, choice of action.
Stefan Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries. Stefan makes endless sacrifices by saving people and because of this, he often has to give up his morals and his humanity to do so. For example, Stefan at the end of season two was desperate to save his brother, Damon from dying from a fatal werewolf bite. In order to get the cure so that Damon could live, Stefan sacrificed himself to Klaus, turned off his humanity and became a Ripper in order to get the cure for Damon, protect Elena from Klaus and protect the entire town of Mystic Falls.
His actual fatal flaw, though, is a complete inability to understand or embrace the concept of moderation; when he's in love, it's completely obsessive desperate love. When he's killing, he's doing it basically non-stop and incredibly violently. When he likes his brother, he'll do anything for him; when he doesn't, he shuts him out completely. His intentions are almost always good; his actions are about fifty fifty.
Walter White from Breaking Bad is a textbook example. Walt is a genius-level chemist (restricted to a job far below his skill level), loving father, and all-around good person at the start of the series. Diagnosed with lung cancer, his own pride drives him to refuse handouts from anyone else and deal with the issue on his own terms. As time goes on, his decisions drive him further down a dark path, draining him of any morality. By the time he realizes just how far he's fallen, the only things left for him to do are humble himself and make amends before dying.
Classical Mythology had too many tragic heroes to count. There is the story of Oedipus who was cursed to marry his mother and kill his father, Prometheus, Orestes.
Oedipus was mostly guilty of trying to fight his fate (and being a bit too harsh on murder and incest, since the punishments he gave himself were the punishments he said he would give to anyone who killed the king), running away from his adoptive home after an oracle said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and then later when another oracle said he should stop pursuing the former king's killer and they got in a fight, the oracle revealed that Oedipus was the killer, and that he married his mother.
Prometheus accomplished his mission, stealing fire for mortal man. And tricked the Gods as to which parts of animals the humans were to sacrifice. It's just... you know... he pissed off the Jerkass Gods in the process of helping humanity. So Zeus chained him to a rock and had an eagle eat his innards. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Since he's immortal. Hercules breaks him free. Eventually, after centuries. If anything, it counts as a Heroic Sacrifice.
Speaking of, Hercules could go on this list as well. Those famous 12 Labors? Penance, for being driven into a berserk rage (by HERA) and murdering his own family. Then he gets another wife, who gets kidnapped by a centaur named Nessus. Herc shoots him with a poison arrow (dipped in the Hydra's blood). Dying, Nessus tells her to rub his blood on Herc's clothes if she ever thinks Herc is being unfaithful, and it will tell the truth. Blood that is now laced with the Hydra's poison. It goes as well as you would think.
It's worse in Euripedes' version. After he has completed all 12 labors, he comes home to save his family from being killed by a tyrant king and all is well, right? Nope, Hera sends a goddess named Madness who hesitantly drives Hercules mad. During Hercules' madness, he thinks that he's killing Eurystheus and his family, when in reality he's killing his own and it takes Athena to stop him before he can kill his adopted father. Hercules is left a broken man and leaves his home of Thebes, knowing he cannot stay.
Karna from The Mahabharata. Abandoned at birth by his mother who later became a queen, mocked often for his common origins by the Princes and for his high origin by his mentor who cursed that he should forgot all the things he learned from him for disguising himself as a brahmin rather than the warrior that he was, the Dragon to the Big Bad Duryodhana and halfbrother to the Heroes, the Pandavas. He dies because he actually had a sense of honor and that killed him in the end.
Many of William Shakespeare's protagonists, of course. Some of the best examples are Brutus, Othello, and Hamlet.
If fact, if the title is a main character's name they tend to bite it by the end. Tragically.
Macbeth potentially being an exception. He comes NEAR the ultimate repentance of the Tragic Hero... but pulls out of his Villainous Breakdown and goes for broke.
Importantly, Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes have Fatal Flaws specific to their situation. Put Hamlet in Othello and Desdemona will live. Put Othello in Hamlet and Claudius will be killed in the first act.
David Mamet's play Oleanna. A university lecturer about to get his tenure, with a loving wife and a payment on a house going through, decides to help a female student falling behind in his class. He makes a few off-the-cuff, inappropriate comments to the female student (he says "I'm not your father" in response to her wanting to be told want to do, he relates an anecdote about the rich copulating with less clothes on to the student), only to be told by the student in the next act that she's having him done for sexual harassment because of his comments.
Arthur Miller intended to create the "modern tragic hero" in his legendary play Death of a Salesman. Previously, it had been generally thought by literary critics, academics et al. that for a character to be a tragic hero he must fall from a great social height- ex. Brutus in Julius Caesar. Miller, however, argued for years that Willy Loman was a tragic hero who fell not from the height of social position but from the height of his aspirations and self-delusions. Eventually, Miller admitted that Loman's character was pathetic, not tragic because he stubbornly failed to learn anything from his fall and thought maybe he would have achieved his goal if he had focused more on Willy Loman's son, Biff.
In The Crucible, John Proctor definitely qualifies as a tragic hero, and his fatal flaw would be either his temper or his pride depending on who you ask.
If your name is the title of a Greek play that is not a comedy, you fall under this trope and have an high chance of dying.
Seymour Krelborn of Little Shop of Horrors is brought down by his desire for Audrey's love; he makes a Faustian Bargain of sorts with the plant to win her love. It turns out to be a Senseless Sacrifice: turns out Audrey loves him all the same, even without the fame brought by the bargain.
Elphaba "My road of good intentions lead where such roads always lead..." No matter how hard she tries to do what's right, she cannot win.
Inspector Javert of Les Misérables is a man on the side of good and law, but so inflated with extreme self-righteousness that, when confronted with criminal Valjean's nobility he has no choice but to kill himself (damned if I live in the debt of a thief, damned if he's free at the end of the chase).
Kratos of God of War was tricked into killing the only two people he ever loved and the Olympian gods refused to get rid of his memories of this, even though he killed Ares, which they wanted. He's a total asshole, but still sympathetic - an apt hero for a game based on Greek mythology.
Kratos is a Tragic Hero because for all the impressive feats he manages, he himself is never able to get over the trauma of killing his own family. It is his love for his family that prevents Kratos from becoming a monster, but at the same time, it's due to that love that Kratos is unable to get over his feelings of guilt and is slowly driven insane. Kratos starts working for the gods because they promise to free him from his nightmares, but as time goes on, it becomes apparent that 1) the gods do not have the power to take away his guilt and 2) the gods only view him as a pawn. In this regard, his ignorance towards the Gods' anger (or causing the said anger) is rather understandable.
The Metal Gear series is all about these characters.
The first two Metal Gear games cast protagonist Snake as a tragic hero, who rapidly realises he doesn't actually care about his orders, is being exploited by his bosses and manipulated by the villains, who together constitute his only friends and family.
He's press-ganged into doing it all again in Metal Gear Solid, but in the end, he gets to disappear and chase after his own goals.
Of course in the end, they do manage to earn a happy endingof sorts. The world is a better place when all is said and done, so they didn't really fail. The main characters get a shot at happiness too: Meryl and Johnny get married, Campbell can finally start to bond with his daughter Meryl, Raiden/Jack is reunited with his lover and their son for a chance to begin anew as a family, Big Boss finally dies in peace knowing that the world will no longer suffer from his mistakes, and though Snake/David will only have months to live he can do so as a free man for the first time in his life. He doesn't have to fight anymore.
The Illusive Man in the Mass Effect series is a villainous example. A Well-Intentioned Extremist to the max, he's one of the few people in the galaxy with the knowledge, resources, and charisma to stand a chance of defeating the Reapers. Unfortunately, his pride leads him to getting too close to Reaper technology, turning him into nothing more than an obstacle for Commander Shepard to deal with.
Sigurd of Chalphy in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War starts out as an upstanding if not idealistic young man on a mission to rescue his childhood friend, but due to events he had little to no control over he loses the woman he loves, is branded a traitor and forced to flee his homeland. It all culminates in his supposed ally Arvis of Velthomer having stolen said wife for his own and burning Sigurd alive. Arvis himself was being played by an even bigger bastard,but that's no excuse for what he did. nearly twenty years would pass before Sigurd would finally be avenged.
Taro Namatame of Persona 4, who started throwing the main characters into the TV out of a misguided belief that he was actually saving them from the true murderer (his Shadow represents his delusions of himself as a savior). If the player manages to convince the others that he's innocent, Namatame will have a My God, What Have I Done? moment upon realizing the consequences of his actions.
The Nameless One is a perfect example of a tragic hero. The happy ending for the game ends with him choosing to pay his penance and undergoing torture for eternity.
Neverwinter Nights 2 has Ammon Jerro. Originally a kindly, eccentric court magician, once he learned about the King of Shadows, he decided to take it upon himself to combat him in order to protect the world. However, as time went on, his determination to defeat the King of Shadows slowly became a dark obsession, and he gradually began to lose himself, taking more and more extreme measures to defeat the King. These ultimately resulted in him selling his soul to the Abyss in order to gain an army of Demons under his command, and began a rampage throughout Faerun in order to obtain the shards of the only weapon that can harm the King of Shadows, perfectly willing to kill countless people that (knowingly or not) stand in his way. It's not until he accidentally kills Shandra, his own granddaughter, in a blind rage that he realizes how far he's fallen and how much his actions have harmed both the people he had sworn to protect, and most importantly, himself.
The expansion Mask of the Betrayer had Akachi, who led a grand crusade to tear down the Wall of the Faithless, where those who refused to worship a god were assigned to suffer for eternity. He did so to rescue the woman he loved, who died without dedicating herself to a God, and he was almost certainly doomed to fail from the start. As a consequence, he became the spirit eater.
Grommash "Grom" Hellscream is one from the Warcraft series. He lived his life as a proud, strong Orc warrior and Chieftain of the Warsong Clan. His Fatal Flaw was his loathing of weakness in both himself and his Clan. This weakness claimed his mate and caused her death. To try and subvert the weakness, he drank the Demon Blood that Gul'dan offered, beginning the corruption of the entire Orcish race. In the end, he redeemed himself and his race by slaying the Demon Mannoroth who's blood they drank.
Tirion Fordring of Warcraft helps an orc who saved his life, and is in turn branded a traitor, has all his powers taken away, has his family leave him, and generally becomes a classic tragic hero. Also a subversion, because the powers were not theirs to take, leaving him ultimately as the founder of a new and less Jerk Ass order...
Harpuia in Mega Man Zero wants a world in which humans and reploids can live in peace. Too bad he's so blinded by pride that he can't see the truth. For extra irony, his goal makes him Not So Different from the leader of the Resistance. Becomes subverted in later games when he's capable of differentiating between a rebel and a psychopath and turns his wrath on the latter first.
Merrill wants to restore the lost heritage of the Dalish Elves, but is willing to mess around with extremely dangerous Blood Magic and a dangerous artifact called the Eluvian to do so. Her entire clan, including mentor Marethari, considers this a Very Bad Idea, but she's convinced that it's worth the risk and they'll understand when it's over. Marethari ends up sacrificing herself to keep Merill from getting possessed, and the rest of the clan may turn on her depending on dialogue choices.
Anders wants human mages to be able to live free of Templar oppression, and becomes less and less picky about how this will come about as time goes by. By the last act of the game, he's become The Unfetteredand carries out a terrorist act specifically to force a confrontation and destroy any chance of compromise.
Litchi Faye-Ling in BlazBlue is haunted by her guilt over not preventing her friend Lotte Carmine to turn into Arakune. Therefore, she set herself to save him from this horrible fate, still a good intention no matter what, even at cost of sacrificing her own well-being and eventually, unwillingly signed up for NOL and being pitted against her former friends, with minimal knowledge about how bad NOL was because her friend's uncooperative attitude for her plight and the fact that she is corrupted on her own and it's slowly claiming her. All because she cared so much for who she calls 'friends' and her inability to forgive herself for that one incident. That was her Tragic Mistake, the one she sought, Terumi gave the solution by observing Arakune which would keep him intact as she 'wanted', but Terumi, like the malicious Troll he is, never mentioned that doing so destroys his chance to be restored into Lotte due to the nature of the observed, thereby making all of Litchi's efforts trying to be Lotte's savior completely pointless, all because of her own guilt, love and impulsiveness.
Captain Martin Walker in Spec Ops: The Line. He genuinely hopes to do the right thing: Save the people of Dubai. However, he quickly found out that things in Dubai is harsher than what he thought, but he insists on pushing on and intervening to make things better. It was these things, along with his inner desire to become a hero, that forced him to commit atrocities like accidentally bombarding innocent people with the horrific white phosphorus bomb, stealing water supply from the innocent people and dooming them to die. In which comes along his next Fatal Flaw: he refuses to blame himself, despite subconsciously thinking that he did wrong things, causing him to snap, hallucinating and blaming it on his superior that he was trying to 'rescue' in the first place, John Konrad. Once he reached Konrad's supposed place, he found out that Konrad is Dead All Along and all the Konrad voices and taunts he was hearing was his own hallucination and he was instead a Villain Protagonist that doomed Dubai because he wanted to be a hero when he never was, with actions like those, and everything really was his fault.
Siegfried Schtauffen from the Soul Series could be deemed one. Roaming the land for a weapon strong enough to defeat his father's murderer, Siegfried's tragedy is that he himself was the murderer, his broken mind deluding him into chasing an imagined enemy. When he finally acquires his prize, the Cursed Sword Soul Edge, the Evil Sword is able to utterly consume his fragile psyche, completely transforming him into an extension of the sword itself; the demon-knight Nightmare. Following the events of Soul Calibur 2 and the sword's defeat, Siegfried is finally able to regain enough of his mind back to break the sword's control and reclaim his identity. Finally confronting the crimes he commited both as a man and as a vessel for the sword, he sets out on a quest of atonement.
Jin Kazama from Tekken. He is the son of Jun Kazama and Kazuya Mishima, and lived happily with his mother Jun until he was 15 and an evil entity named Ogre attacked his forest home in Japan and after the attack, his mother was nowhere to be found and declared missing. Jin then sought out his grandfather Heihachi Mishima to train him to take down Ogre once and for all, Jin unaware of his grandfather's ulterior motives. At the age of 19, he entered the Third King of Iron Fist Tournament where he managed to finish off Ogre and avenge his mother, but soon afterward, was gunned down by the Tekken Force, with Heihachi making the killing shot on his own grandson. Soon afterwards, Jin's Devil Gene awakens and lays waste to the Tekken Force and slams Heihachi through a wall and flies off into the night. It is then from this point onward that Jin becomes to loathe the name of Mishima and everything associated with them, even to the point of unlearning their fighting style and taking on traditional Karate. Jin strives to put an end to his accursed bloodline once and for all, if the Devil Gene within him doesn't completely dominate him first.
Ryu from Street Fighter. Despite his kind nature, he is a very troubled and conflicted man. His master and adopted father Gouken was killed by his brother Akuma, and worse of all, Akuma is constantly trying to egg Ryu into giving into the Satsui no Hadou, Ryu resisting each time. In his first Street Fighter tournament, he made it all the way to the end, only to lose to Sagat. Unable to cope with losing, he gave into the Satsui no Hadou and gave a Metsu Shoryuken to Sagat, branding him with his signature chest scar and swearing revenge on Ryu. Ryu is always at a constant inner struggle with himself: Should he continue to resist the Satsui no Hadou, or give in as Akuma suggests?
Also from the Street Fighter Series, Cody Travers. While it is not actually seen in the games, multiple games tell the story of his downfall, which occur after the ending of the original Final Fight (which he is also a [[Protagonist]]). Cody and his friends go out to save his girlfriend from the Big Bad in Final Fight. On the way, he beats up a corrupt cop named Edi, who later arrests the hero for assault in battery. Next, his girlfriend dumps him, and leaves the country to study abroad. Afterwards, he is let out of jail and tries to get revenge by fighting criminals outside. He gets arrested again, and becomes addicted to fighting within prison. He then eventually breaks out, and joins the Street Fighting cast in their tournament(s). After all these events, he usually claims that he will never be the hero again, and often states that all he has left is fighting (which he often exclaims is pointless).
To expand upon this one: Archer used to be Shirou, who was eventually the winner of the Fifth Holy Grail War. After the war, he continued to pursue his ideals by becoming a hero, and he continuously saved people. At one point, in order to save a few hundred people, Archer made a contract with the world. Now with his new power, he continued to be a hero. However, he was used as a scapegoat to all the catastrophes that occurred due to the face that he never talked because he had nothing to talk about, and he never asked for a reward because for him, the sole act of saving people was his reward. After dying and becoming a Counter Guardian, he found himself going against his ideals. Instead of saving people, he was forced to kill them because his duty as a Counter Guardian was to end the threat to humanity at the source, which was people. He found himself betrayed by his ideals, and became cynical and bitter, with his only solace the hope to be summoned into the Grail War, and kill his past self so he could end the pain of being betrayed by his ideals. Just like dear old dad, Kiritsugu. So much so that the very sentence in the beginning of Fate/Zero that describes Kiritsugu also describes Archer.
Other heroic spirits in the Fifth Grail War are Tragic Heroes in their previous lives. Caster and Saber are some examples.
Shizune Hakamichi of Katawa Shoujo is deaf, and as such, has had difficulty making friends. She sets out to do things to make people happy so that they will like her, but her competitive personality and occasional difficulty avoiding coming off as abrasive drives away the rest of the student council, including her cousin Lilly. The only person who stays on is her close friend and interpreter, Misha, who has unrequited love for Shizune, and Shizune, unfortunately, ends up taking Misha's presence for granted. Much of Act 4 of her route involves her coming to terms with her flaws and taking steps to address them, such as making amends with Misha, who has been becoming distant from her.
Many of the people we see in Mandatory Roller Coaster view themselves in this light. Whether or not they truly are is open to interpretation.
Redcloak in Start of Darkness. His goal: improve the goblin race's lot in life. Initially merely a Well-Intentioned Extremist, his Fatal Flaw turns out to be the "sunk cost" fallacy, which Xykon ruthlessly exploits. By the end, he's incapable of ever betraying Xykon, because if he does, he'll have to face the fact that he killed his own brother - and allowed many other goblins to die - for no good reason. He does have his moments of "redemption", such as when he reaffirms the value of other goblinoids even if they aren't his race of goblin.
Vaarsuvius seems to have recently arrived in this role, partly as a result of fan-diagnosedPost Traumatic Stress Disorder. V's Fatal Flaw is Pride in magic, and an increasing inability to admit failure at a task and requiring the help of others. This leads to selling (leasing, technically) Vaarsuvius's soul out to fiends and refusing to give up the resulting power after the rescue of V's threatened mate and children, as "I have so much to do". Vaarsuvius's exact words were actually "I still have to fix everything", but the subsequent attempts to do so have allowed V to realize the mistake made without dying like so many tragic heroes. Sadly, this bit of wisdom is unlikely to be much help with fixing V's family life. The aftermath has cemented V's status; after a severe case of Break the Haughty and his/her mate filing for divorce, V is acting like an elf with not much left to live for.
Miko Miyazaki was a self-righteous headcase paladin who was the most powerful paladin in the Sapphire Guard. She was severely anti-social; her only friend was her horse. As a consequence the Sapphire Guard would send her away on long missions so they wouldn't have to put up with her. She believed that she was an incorruptible force of goodness and justice. She could not accept that she may be wrong or have made a mistake, and believed that if she believed something, it had to be true. Then she killed Lord Shojo in a psychotic breakdown, after believing that Lord Shojo betrayed the Sapphire Guard, when he really wanted to protect the sealed rift from the forces of evil. As a result, she had fallen from grace and lost her paladin powers. When she tried to gain redemption by destroying the sealed rift to try and stop Xykon and Redcloak from taking it, she instead destroyed the seal to the rift and was brutally bisected, and told by Soon Kim's ghost that "redemption was not for everyone". Possibly the real tragedy with Miko was that she could never find redemption, as she died before it could've been achieved.Word of God was a bit more positive, saying that Miko "may have achieved redemption."
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: Dr. Horrible manages to be both this AND a Villain Protagonist. His hesitation in killing Captain Hammer allows Hammer to break his death ray and then try to use it. The resulting explosion sends Hammer away whimpering, but kills Penny, causing Horrible to went Jumping Off the Slippery Slope into complete supervillainy. His Fatal Flaw is that he will do anything to gain fame and approval, even compromise his own beliefs. His hesitation is caused by conflicting influences.
The Brain, of Animaniacs spinoff Pinky and the Brain, who is doomed to failure every episode because of his tragic flaw, Genre Blindness. His plans have been shown at points to be purely power-hungry, but he's also shown to be wanting to rule the world because he thinks he can do a far better job (that appears to be Pinky's position at least — and considering the intelligence level of the world as depicted in the show... he could be right). In the historically inaccurate episode of "Freakazoid!" (where he travels back in time), it was shown as much in an alternate time-line where he's president of the U.S.A. and things seem to have worked out pretty well. He is unable to anticipate the wacky hijinks which will inevitably result from the fact that this is a Warner Brothers cartoon, and so inevitably either Pinky's bumbling or his own carelessly chosen reactions end each plan in disappointment. In one episode, a prognosticative observation shows a future elderly Pinky & the Brain still locked in their labmouse cage, still plotting to Take Over the World.
Oddly enough, Danny Phantom becomes one in an alternate universe of the show. Danny Fenton gains ghostly powers and decides to use them to protect his town from the ghosts and menaces threatening it. The twist however, is that his friends and family are killed in an explosion, leading his arch enemy Vlad to take him in. Far MORE twisted is that in a procedure to rip out his humanity from his ghostly half, the ghost half ends merging with Vlad's ghost half, murdering Fenton, and beginning a ten year rampage around the entire world and succeeding. Oh, and it was HIM that caused his family and friends' death! The fact that he's exists outside of his own alternate Bad Future is just a matter of when he will break free from his containment. Or would if not for Executive Meddling.
Rusty Venture from the Venture Brothers. In a show that the creators have described as being about failure, Rusty may be a sometimes brilliant scientist, but his flaws- the biggest of which is his inferiority complex regarding his father- often hold him back while his brother manages to attain great successes.