A character that can be described as perfect in some or every way. A being that's at the top of the Evolutionary Levels. They're basically the purpose of life itself, but what they are tends to vary.
Some works have them as gods, others can only describe them as totally incomprehensible entities, others state that the most adaptable creature would have this title, and in others still, it's nothing more than a simple yet hardy cockroach. A formerly normal person might even become one, usually through some form of enhancement, or going One-Winged Angel. Paradoxically, a being without limits, or one that has limitless potential, may qualify as well.
A variant has the character be at the top of a specific type of life, instead of being the apex of all life as we know it. For example, a perfect human, dog, tree, predator, machine, alien, magical entity, etc.
Another (more realistic?/downplayed) variant has the character simply have the peak abilities of the type of lifeform it is. Something like a human that excels at all mental and physical tasks.
The concept is most often lampshaded by having the being turn out not to be really perfect or invincible, or turning against its creators (especially if it's a villain in the story). Just because someone believes himself or herself perfectdoesn't mean they actually are.
There is an incredibly high chance that their appearance looks human(ish); sometimes the transformation to this ultimate form will make them look human even if they previously lost their humanity along the way or were never human to begin with. This is frequently lampshaded as well; everyone imagines the Ultimate Lifeform to be infinitely beautiful and attractive, and while it may in fact be "perfect" it got that way from so many Power Upgrading Deformations that it's become an Eldritch Abomination by dint of ugliness.
The theory of evolution pretty much disproves the concept in Real Life as adaptation is usually triggered by adverse conditions and forms will stabilize once those conditions have been overcome, not to mention that multiple generations are required for the adaptation to complete via natural selection. However, there have been claims that certain species or people do indeed fit the description so adding examples to that section is perfectly fine.
See also the ‹bermensch; it's a matter of interpretation how closely these concepts overlap, but there are those who conflate the two.
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Anime and Manga
From Fullmetal Alchemist, Father's final form had the power of God. Unfortunately for him, the power put too much strain on his body, eventually rendering him vulnerable to counterattacks.
Cell from Dragon Ball Z, a bio-engineered creature made from DNA harvested from the greatest fighters in the series up until that point considers himself to be this, and says so in as many words.
Tentei (The God of the Heavens) in The Twelve Kingdoms; the rulers and officials of kingdoms can err, but this guy certainly can't.
Szayelaporro Grantz from Bleach calls himself the ultimate, perfect being because he has a phoenix/Alien-like system of death and rebirth, but you can bet Mayuri proved him wrong. Gruesomely, and with a "The Reason You Suck" Speech about perfection being the enemy of a scientist.
Sosuke Aizen, after he obtains the Hogyoku, claims to be the ultimate, if not perfect being, Then Ichigo defeats him in two blows and the power rejects him.
Aaroniero Arruruerie boasted that since he gains the powers and memories of any creature he eats, as well as the powers and memories of anything they ate, he has the potential for endless evolution. Proven wrong with fatal results when Rukia stabs him through the head.
Betterman: Kankel is described as the final stage of evolution, so much so he has the nickname of "Best Man". His ridiculously powerful abilities help back this claim up.
Interestingly, he's also a sentient form of cancer.
Ireul from the TV series also heavily fits with the adaption part of this trope.
All the angels tried to become this by absorbing Adam.
Heavy Metal LGaim: The Big Bad of the series, Emperor Oldna Poseidal fits this description since he's virtually immortal.
The Pillar Men from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure are referred to as the ultimate life forms. One of them, Cars, becomes the real ultimate life form when the Red Stone of Asia removes his vulnerability to sunlight and allows him to replicate the abilities of all other life forms.
Word Of God says that, in One Piece, if an animal eats their corresponding Devil Fruit, then they would become the perfect specimen of that species. There is a Human fruit, which makes the eating animal a werehuman, and would enlighten a human being.
Mewtwo in the Anime more than matched the trope, and has a lot of personality traits similar to Shadow.
The X-Men villains Vargas and Apocalypse both make claims to be this. Decades earlier, Magneto genetically engineered a being called Alpha the Ultimate Mutant who had a pretty strong claim as well (he turned against Magneto, transforming him into a child so he could have a second chance at life.)
In Buffy Season 8, the sentient dimension Twilight considered itself to be this, since it was created by the universe to replace the old Earth dimension.
Captain America is considered to technically not have any superpowers, but instead operates at humanity's maximum potential. He's as smart, as strong, as whatever as any human can possibly be; back it up with decades of military experience and he's more than a match for any actual superhuman.
This is what Doomsday was created to be. Its abilities and instincts all lend themselves to the goal of being the ultimate survivor, including, unfortunately, the instinct to seek out and kill the strongest creatures it can sense within its environment. Even worse, due to the trauma of being killed and resurrected countless times, Doomsday sees everything as a threat that needs to be killed.
The Archie Comics' version of Shadow the Hedgehog counts, but is not the Trope Namer like his game counterpart. He's much more like a Trope Codifier, which is strange considering he's literally the same character.
In Armored Core From The Ashes, the 'Demon' project, of which the protagonist was a subject, was an attempt to create these; impossibly fast and strong (as in able to catch bullets in mid-flight, more intelligent than almost any human alive, and incredibly devastating NEXT pilots. The only subject to survive was Sebastian Thermidor, grandfather or the protagonist and the program's instigator. He went insane, but had two sons, Joshua (who would later change his last name to O'Brien) and Berlioz. Joshua used a lifetime of mental training to lock away his powers so that he couldn't use them; Berlioz went completely insane, but he too had two sons, Maximillian and the protagonist, Mikhael, known to most as 'Ghost'. Pretty much the entire family was slaughtered by Mikhael on a massive worldwide killing spree. As it turns out, their key failure was that their emotions had far too much sway over them, leaving them emotionally overloaded and unable to feel anything through the haze of emotions they had. With the exception of Joshua, who managed sealed his abilities away to stop them from affecting him, all acquired God Complexes and killed millions; the protagonist himself, accepted as possibly the most morally righteous of the family, killed a hundred million people to achieve his objectives after turning against his masters. So, in the end, the Demons were a textbook case of Gone Horribly Right - perfect beings, but precisely because they were perfect, they became incredibly flawed.
This also appears to be what the Hooviets were aiming for in the Super Soldier project that led to Makarov's creation. Since the Shadow of Chernobull was feeding off of the Hooviets' desires when it was released, it's worked hard to make itself/Makarov into this trope for them.
Andromeda Strain: The titular entity adapts to any situation almost instantly and proves itself to be virtually unstoppable. Even able to feed off the energy of a nuclear blast.
Though in the book it turns out that the infection is curable by hyperventilating, and it mutates into a benign form anyways.
Evolution: The basic bacteria that create the alien creatures are described as the most powerful life form. Of course, no one takes this seriously until one grows to the size of a city by absorbing vast amounts of napalm. It turns out to have a Weaksauce Weakness, though.
It is heavily implied that Anakin Skywalker may have served as this, and that his creator was in fact Darth Plagueis and to a certain extent Darth Sidious (the latter apparently having manipulated the former into creating him among other things).
"Of all the monsters I have created, I still regard Darth Vader as something of a minor masterpiece. No, he was not an entirely alchemical creation, but he was my monster nevertheless. Even though he failed to live up to his full potential, there was much pleasure in transforming Anakin Skywalker from a bright-eyed, tousle-headed youth into the greatest Jedi killer of all time. Yes, he ultimately turned against his Master, as monsters sometimes do, but that was my fault, not his. Given the opportunity to create Vader again, I would, and with zeal."
The Types (Type-Moon, Type-Mercury, etc.)/Aristoteles in Angel Notes. Each of them is the ultimate life form of their respective home planet or satellite, even if said celestial body doesn't support life (anymore).
In the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons, the branch of the technocore dubbed the Ultimates are working towards the creation of an Ultimate Intelligence.
In The Last Continent, the heroes encounter the God of Evolution, who, despite not understanding what the deal is with sex, believes he has achieved the ultimate life form. It's a cockroach.
In the Science of Discworld, the Lecturer in Recent Runes designs what he claims will be the ultimate survivor for Roundworld: a mile-long limpet that could survive a cometary impact (aside from a direct hit on the limpet itself). Ridcully poo-poos the idea, as the limpet will inevitably starve to death once it gets too big to feed itself.
Nietzsche proposed in his book Also Sprach Zarathustra that humanity needed to evolve into what he termed the ‹bermensch (Super-man); that humanity was merely a transitional evolutionary phase between apes and this perfect form of man. Those Wacky Nazis picked up on Nietzsche's theme with their idea of an Aryan master race.
Azathoth in H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos is quite possibly this. It is an extra-dimensional that simply exists, mindlessly, dreaming realities in and out of existence randomly. It exists almost like some kind of vast, incomprehensible amoeba which, when you think about it, means it started as an amoeba that could do nothing and now exists as an amoeba that can do anything. If things like Azathoth even evolved of course, they are Eldritch Abominations after all.
Namtar of Farscape seeks to be this by grafting genetic traits of other species onto himself.
The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Threshold" subverts the "looking human" thing - Paris & Janeway get advanced evolution and end up looking like salamanders. Later subject to Canon Discontinuity though.
The objective of the Borg of Star Trek: The Next Generation is to attain "perfection", both by augmenting their own bodies cybernetically and by assimilating the biology and technology of other cultures.
Species 8472 is also described by the Borg as the perfect lifeform.
The Q from Star Trek consider themselves this to some degree. They are for all intents and purposes omnipotent and know everything. They consider most if not all other species beneath them and have transcended anything humans can comprehend. It was even implied they might have evolved to their current state.
If not God, then in the religions that believe in him, Jesus was sent to Earth to be the spiritually perfect human and take on the punishment that we mere mortals had earned for ourselves.
Behemoth and Leviathan were created as the ultimate land-dwelling and sea-dwelling lifeforms respectively, said to be so huge and powerful that only God himself could tame them. Some sources also add Ziz.
InDungeons & Dragons 3rd edition, creatures can have the "paragon" template, an incredibly powerful modification that reflects beings who represent the highest natural potential of their species. Such beings may be some sort of "original" form of the species, evolutionary end point, or other ideal. It is not necessarily anthropomorphic; any type of creature may be a paragon.
Creating the ultimate life form was the secret goal of the Simic Guild from Ravnica. Their Experiment Kraj was actually meant to spiral out of control.
The "Chaos Effect" line of Jurassic Park toys had the Ultimasaurus, a genetically altered monster created from Tyrannosaurus, Velociraptor, Triceratops, Ankylosaurus, and Stegosaurus DNA to create the ultimate predator.
Averted with the super mutants in the Fallout series. The FEV virus does make them highly resiliant, 10 feet tall, immune to radiation and disease; except for the critical flaw that they're completely sterile due to the FEV virus mistaking the half chromosomes required for reproduction as damaged DNA and "repaired" it.
The final boss of EVO Search For Eden purports to be a human, the ultimate lifeform. Bolbox is actually a massive single-celled amoeba-like creature, with a bunch of alien evolution-steroid rocks jammed in it.
This only gets stranger when dealing with the implications that Uranus, in some fashion or another, is related to Uriko (most likely either a clone or Uriko from the future); Uriko sported the exact same powers when she was the Final Boss back in the first game and is hinted to have the potential to be the strongest Zoanthrope in-universe.
In Mass Effect 2, you actually have three of the "peak lifeforms" on your squad. Miranda is genetically engineered to be the perfect human; basically a female Australian Captain America with biotics. Jack was brutally experimented on to created the ultimate human biotic; the experiments were a success. Grunt, like Miranda, was genetically engineered to be the perfect specimen of his species, in his case, krogan. This came with several neural imprints that allowed him to be "born" with full combat training.
Amusingly, the Vorcha actually fall under this category, as because of their natural ability to perfectly adapt to new environments within a single generation, their species hasn't had to evolve at all in millions of years. Of course, they're viewed as little more than vermin by the other races and only live until the age of 20.
Mass Effect 3 introduces a Walking Spoiler one in the form of the Leviathans. They consider themselves to be the "Apex of organic evolution" in their own words and are the closest thing the setting has to a genuine organic Eldritch Abomination. Given that they conquered the entire galaxy in their heyday, their pride is not entirely unjustified. It is a little undermined though by the fact that a creation of their's Turned Against Its Masters and built the first Reapers out of them.
Psaro's Roaring Rampage of Revenge against humanity in Dragon Quest IV leads him to seek the "Secret of Evolution," which allows him to achieve a monstrous One-Winged Angel form with which he intends to exact his revenge against the world. In the PS1 and DS remakes, it's revealed that one of his own henchmen manipulated him so that he could obtain the Secret of Evolution himself.
Krystalak from Godzilla Unleashed wants to become this by absorbing all of the power the crystals are giving off. Also applies to your monster if you collect all seven of the crystal Power Surge abilities, their powers make your monster the ultimate being on Earth and you prove it by defeating six-to-eight opponents in the appropriately-named "Tyrant" final stage.
Each Big Bad in the House of the Dead series (The Magician, The Emperor, The Wheel Of Fate and The World), was wrongly supposed to be this by it's creator.
This is the general goal of the creature stage of Spore. There's even an achievement for it, called Max Power.
The Brethren Moons in Dead Space 3. These massive moon-sized creatures are the ultimate Necromorphs and live only to consume all organic life in the universe. The Markers are the tools they use to manipulate entire races into offering themselves up as a buffet.
Played with in Starcraft. The Protoss are said to have "Purity of Form" while the Zerg have "Purity of Essence". The Zerg Overmind (and apparently the Xel'naga) believed that combining the two would result in an Ultimate Life Form. However, in Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm, the Zerg in charge of mutations and evolution, Abathur, dismisses the idea as an impossibility. Abathur states instead that "perfection" is an ever-changing, fluid concept which can be chased but never attained, and depends on the situation and circumstances.
In The Dragon Doctors, such a thing exists, as an infectious, infinitely-adaptable fungal parasite called the Crax that consumes you from within and turns you into a nearly-invincible monster. The entire species is collectively one Crax, as it has a hive-mind, and it turns out that it used to be a human being named Preston Chang who turned himself into the thing so he could live forever by eating everything. He's thwarted in the Spirit World, but attacks Kili mentally again in a later chapter called "The Ultimate Life Form." It eventually turns out that the real Crax has evolved in response to the spiritual attack by getting rid of its weakness—the spirit of Preston Chang himself. He's dead, just a ghost haunting Kili, and when she realizes this she crushes him easily, after he had spent the entire chapter recounting all the horrible things that have happened to her in order to break her will. The doctors mention that the ultimate life form is not the ultimate eating machine, but the ultimate survivor. Since the chapter established that Kili has survived being touched by Death itself and multiple catastrophes, that implies she's the titular Ultimate Lifeform.
SCP-682 of SCP Foundation fame arguably fits this by virtue of being able to survive anything. If there is something that can permanently kill the beast, the Foundation hasn't found it yet or is too afraid to try it. The "arguably" part is due to the possibility that 682 may not technically be alive as humans understand it. One researcher in the termination log referred to it as an "unliving, undying intelligent monster".
Superjail: Combaticus fits into this trope very easily.
Ben 10: Alien Force subverts this with the Highbreed. Although they are apparently smarter and obviously MUCH stronger than almost all other life forms, that's not the reason for their Fantastic Racism. For all their power, the process of reproduction is something they're losing the ability to do.
And Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, Ben can now evolve his aliens to their final stage in their evolutionary form. Word Of God stating that it is a simulated result of each alien being taken to a worst case scenario and the final result of millions of years in that scenario.
An episode of Animaniacs features the ultimate life form, known only as Toe (yes, he's a giant toe), who claims that, in a million years, they will look just like him. Truly, Toe has no apparent weaknesses except that he always needs someone to do his cuticles.
Project GKR was meant to be one. It doesn't quite take: he's stolen before his final mental programming can be completed, and what we get is Geeker - an idiot with Power Incontinence.
Tardigrades, also known as "Water Bears", are notorious for being able to survive extreme conditions. To elaborate, they can withstand low temperatures close to absolute zero, high temperatures at 151 degrees celsius, and radiation (even more so than cockroaches), and can even survive for up to ten days in the vacuum of space (Heck, some of them even reproduced while in space). Even though every currently existing species has adapted the ability to survive in its surroundings, tardigrades survive in these conditions that go well beyond them (Although most in part thanks to cryptobiosis).
Apparently, jellyfishes of the species Turritopsis nutricula are biologically immortal; although they can die of disease or being eaten, they are able to thwart dying of natural causes by periodically returning to the infant polyp stage. Theoretically, there could be T. nutricula in the oceans that have lived there since the species first evolved.
One Discovery Channel program about dinosaurs had a paleontologist point out that even the biggest, strongest, fastest, healthiest Tyrannosaurus rex of all time would still be rated as a complete failure, by evolutionary standards, if it never managed to pass on its genes to another generation of T. rex babies. In other words, evolution itself subverts this trope, because only reproductive success matters to it.
As animals have lived in the ocean much longer than they have on land, and as the ocean is less susceptible to environmental change than land, many species of animals in the ocean have remained more or less the same for very long times, even by evolutionary standards. These species have effectively reached a 'practical pinnacle' of evolution, where any deviation from the usual is almost guaranteed to be a step backwards in terms of the species reproducibility. This highlights the reality of any "perfect" organism, that it is only perfect within its niche.
The Horseshoe Crab is an excellent macroscopic example of such living fossils; having remained mostly unchanged for the last 200 million years. Unfortunately it seems that they've finally met their match in Humans, who catch them for use in medical experiments, animal feed, and rather cruel-looking specialty recipes. Those, coupled with pollution and habitat destruction, horsecrab populations are declining.
Sharks are another prominent example, not changing much in millions of years.
The Ginkgo tree is another living fossil that can be thought of as almost an Ultimate Life Form, in that it is hardy in a wide variety of climates, from cold mountains (the last wild population was from Tibet), has no insect pests, is virtually immune to most known plant diseases, and is extremely tolerant of air pollution. The Ginkgo's only problems as an Ultimate Life Form are that it has (compared to the flowering plants) a rather inefficient method of reproduction (in that male trees use the wind to send pollen to the female trees' exposed unfertilized ovaries), an extremely slow growth rate (a Ginkgo needs to be at least twenty years old before it will display sexual characteristics), and mildly toxic seeds that are protected by an apricot-like covering that has an abominable odor (depending on how ripe and which strain, the "fruit" can smell like stinky markers, or cat vomit) that are only attractive to brave squirrels and elderly Asian women.