Unique Protagonist Asset

"What makes you so special?"
Red Skull to Captain America, Captain America: The First Avenger

Being the protagonist of a story has its perks. You escape all manner of danger however slim your chances, win the love of your life, hang out with some pretty cool people, don't have to answer for most of what you do, achieve your goals simply because Prophecies Are Always Right, and almost always get a Happy Ending.

However, one final perk may be having that one thing that makes you specially enabled in your quest to resolve Conflict, and that is your Unique Protagonist Asset. While the chosen one is a nice trope all on its own, a UPA goes beyond vague concepts like "destiny" and "fate" and provides a logical In-Universe reason why it's our protagonist and not just anybody that saves the day.

It also helps with suspension of disbelief: suddenly, the idea of a group of teenage friends saving the world where militaries and governments isn't so ridiculous if you consider the former having knowledge, equipment, training, or powers that simply make them much more capable than the professionals. Why they don't share this knowledge, or try to replicate the equipment, is another issue altogether.

It can be anything. Material objects such as weapons, clothes, or tools count. Knowledge counts. Abilities such as superpowers, Le Parkour, Improbable Aiming Skills, and Implausible Fencing Powers count. Vehicles can count as well, as can any special modifications these vehicles may sport. Literally anything can count as long as it fits these three criteria:

  • The asset must be unique, endowed upon an individual, but there are four exceptions to this rule:
    • The first exception is if the protagonist has the same kind of asset as everyone else, but has a much better version of it than everyone else has (i.e. everyone in the setting is packing heat, but the protagonist has a modern assault rifle while everyone else has muskets).
    • The second exception is when the protagonist has the same kind of asset and to roughly the same degree as many people off-screen, but the story puts him/her around people who don't have the asset or have it to a lesser degree. See Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond.
    • The third exception is when there are villanious characters who have the same asset; in this case, the UPA may not have been so much as an asset to make the protagonist a conflict-solving machine so much as to make the protagonist even be able to compete with the antagonist in the first place.
    • The final exception is when the protagonist and his/her companions all share an asset, but there are other groups/cast herds/ensembles/bands of characters that don't have anything special about them.
  • The ability must be relevant to the story's Conflict in some way. Puzzle solving skills in a mystery novel are this trope, combat prowess in a romantic comedy is not (at least in general). However, this asset does not necessarily have to directly lead to the conflict's resolution (i.e. the protagonist has a powerful Super Mode that helps out in combat, but the villain is defeated by a Deus ex Machina instead). The ability must also be noticeably demonstrated. Informed Ability, Off Screen Moment Of Awesome, and implied cases are not true examples.
  • The character must be the protagonist, or at the very least one of the primary characters on the protagonist's side. Minor characters do not count. While antagonists may have special assets used to cause conflict in the story, the nature of conflict-causing abilities and the way they are used is often of a different nature than many special assets protagonists have.

Compare The Gift for when this is a talent. If Mooks have this ability, they would be called Superpowered Mooks. May overlap with Road Runner PC if this ability is superior mobility and the protagonist is in a video game, as well as Protagonist Power-Up Privileges the main character acquires their UPA instead of having it right from the start. Possibly the reason why someone is a Born Winner. Almost every superhero within the context of their own stories has a UPA, although shared universes containing dozens or even hundreds of other supers cast a shadow on this trope as it somewhat violates the third criterion.

Compare Standardized Leader where the protagonist is rather generic in terms of ability.

This usually comes standard in a Japanese Spirit story.


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     Anime & Manga 
  • One Piece: The King's Disposition Haki is considered the rare form of Haki that only appears randomly on people, whereas everyone else can learn the other 2 common forms of Haki. Our protagonist, naturally, has access to said rare Haki.
  • Naruto: The titular character is not just a Jinchuriki like 8 others, he's also one to the strongest Tailed Beast, the 9-tailed Fox.
  • Gundam: In several of the series, the protagonist (or protagonist team) is the only one in possession of the eponymous machines, starting from the original Mobile Suit Gundam—often, it is a Super Prototype. Gundam Wing, Turn A Gundam, Gundam 00, and Gundam AGE all follow this pattern.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Touma Kamijou has the Imagine Breaker, a right hand that cancels out powers and enchantments, making him able to defeat incredibly powerful characters that no one else can. It is later established that there can only be one Imagine Breaker in the entire universe.
  • Attack on Titan is about soldiers, meaning everyone is a member of the Red Shirt Army, but each of the 104th trainee corps members have something special that sets them apart from a mere Red Shirt. The Survey Corps's "Levi Squadron" are all unique too. To give specifics, The Protagonist Eren is The Determinator In a World where Hope Is Scary, Mikasa has Super Strength, Armin is The Strategist, and Levi is the World's Best Warrior. Long story short, If you spot a quirky character with even just decent combat ability, chances are, that guy's got S-grade Plot Armor.
  • Early in Dragon Ball, while it is established that martial arts prowess and superhuman physical abilities are not uncommon, for much of Dragon Ball, Goku is one of two known people in the entire world (the other being Master Roshi) who can utilize the powerful ranged energy attack known as the Kamehameha.
  • Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA: Illya and Miyu are Magical Girls, allowing them to enter the Mirror World and engage the Class Cards.

     Fan Works 

     Film — Animated 
  • In How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup is the only person riding a Night Fury. No one else has one. In How to Train Your Dragon 2, it's speculated that Toothless may very well be the Last of His Kind, justifying the trope.
  • The Furious Five from Kung Fu Panda subvert this trope, being set up as master martial artists who go out to defeat the movie's villain but suffer a Curb Stomp Cushion. Po, however, plays this trope straight (albeit subtly) in that his special ability is to learn extremely rapidly when food is a motivation.

     Film — Live-Action 
  • Superman in Man of Steel is the only non-villainous character with superpowers.
  • Batman throughout the The Dark Knight Trilogy stands out due to his ninja training, martial arts prowess, and gadgets.
  • Neo from the The Matrix is the one to end up with Matrix-warping powers at the end of the first film.
  • Peter Parker from The Amazing Spider-Man has superpowers with only the main villain having powers as well.
  • Subverted in A Beautiful Mind. At first, we are made to think John Nash is a genius mathematician who is the only person skilled enough to crack Russian spy codes, but it turns out he's just insane and it is all part of his mental illness. Double subverted when he uses his genius intelligence to realize that his hallucinations are not real, thus curing himself.
  • The titular character in Captain America: The First Avenger is the only successfully created super soldier in existence (Red Skull took a prototype of his treatment which is why he has a Red Skull). Interestingly, Erskine believes that what makes Steve so special is not the treatment that gave him his powers but the strenght of character that he showed even before it.

  • In Venus Prime, Sparta was trained from birth and surgically altered to become the epitome of human intelligence and skill.
  • Temeraire: A lot of things wouldn't happen if Temeraire wasn't a particular breed of Chinese dragon who (a) had a reason to visit China and see how dragons are treated differently elsewhere and (b) was basically a prince. Cue Laurence getting caught up in all sorts of international intrigues and going Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right as a result of new perspectives.
  • Tortall Universe
    • Daine of The Immortals has an unprecedented amount of wild magic, allowing her to communicate with (and eventually turn into) just about every animal. This proves to be critical to winning the Immortals War, as animals make great spies and she can communicate with non-humanoid immortals.
    • Beka Cooper of Provost's Dog can speak to lingering ghosts and hear the sounds that collect in dust spinnersnote  at street corners. This leads directly to the Dogs cracking a decade-old serial murder case in the first book and materially assists her investigations in the next two.
  • Circle of Magic In the first quartet, the kids' ambient magic and subsequent bond allows them to survive and then deal with the threats they face—without their ability to combine their magic, Gold Ridge Valley would have burnt to the ground and Rosethorn would be dead, among other things.
  • As explained in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Big Bad Voldemort forged a connection between himself and Harry Potter deeper than any two wizards had ever been connected before; the most prominent of which is the fact that he inadvertently made Harry one of his Soul Jars, giving Harry some of his own abilities.

     Live-Action TV 
  • In Dollhouse, Echo has something in her spinal fluid that allows her to retain memories from her imprints.
  • In the 1950s The Adventures of Superman TV series Superman is the only person with superpowers we ever see (and by implication the only one on the entire planet).
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer is gifted with superhuman abilities as a Slayer.

     Video Games 
  • God Hand: the player character Gene has the titular God Hand that gives him the fighting chance against the crooks in the game. Though it's revealed later that one of the bosses, Azel, possesses the other God Hand (the left one, to be specific). Mirror Boss ensues with the two.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II, the Jedi Exile is one of the few surviving Jedi and the only one who's actually still Jedi-ing in public rather than hiding or working secretly. This attracts all sorts of enemies, particularly the Big Bad Duumvirate that is the primary threat to the Republic. Also, the Exile draws their Force powers from other people, allowing them to make Force bonds really easily, which results in most of the party being Force-sensitive and thus potential new Jedi.
  • In the text-based RPG Mobile Armored Marine, you are the only person with Powered Armor on your mission.
  • In 'Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars, The Hero has the ability to generate a power ether field. This allows him to lead a team into the Labyrinth to hunt the source of the monsters. Before he was around, the Disciples were forced to wait outside the labyrinths and kill monsters as they came out.
  • In Watch_Dogs, the main character has a hacked cell-phone which gives him access to much of the city's infrastructure. While the police can access some of the infrastructure, they cannot control as much and have to call into Mission Control to do it, while you can do it much quicker.
    • Aidan's Bullet Time effect is also unique to him. In-universe, it represents his quick reflexes.
  • Faith in Mirror's Edge has Le Parkour on her side, and possibly Super Strength as well (seeing as how she can take out a fully armored police officer in only a few hits).
  • Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine: Captain Titus has an innate resistance to warpcraft that is never really explained in-game.
  • All the main protagonists of the FEAR series have a Super Reflexes power (either from the start or as a Second Hour Superpower) which manifests as a limited ability to enter Bullet Time and is implied to be possible thanks to Psychic Powers.
  • The player characters in both Persona 3 and Persona 4 have the ability called "Wild Card," letting them change their Persona at will.
  • The Player Character of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a Dragonborn, a rare individual who can permanently destroy the otherwise immortal dragons by consuming their souls. Seeing how Skyrim is currently under siege by the dragons, the Dragonborn represents the only hope its inhabitants have of beating them back.
  • The Player Character of Dragon Age: Inquisition is sucked into the Spirit World at the start of the game and branded with mark that lets them quickly close even the largest breaches between reality and the Fade, which The Legions of Hell are using to invade. Since the Inquisitor is the only one with such power, they are instrumental to defeating the demons. Eventually, they gain the ability to perform a Limit Break that opens a rift to suck demons back into the Fade and does heavy damage to everyone in a certain area.
  • Rico in Just Cause has a grappling hook gun, which makes vehicle hijacking easy, enables Rico to reach high places, offers both ranged and melee attack options, and can be combined with a parachute to achieve Not Quite Flight.
  • John Marston from Red Dead Redemption has Dead Eye Targeting, which slows down time and enables the player to aim and shoot at a practically superhuman level. His son in the epilogue also has this ability.
  • Super Mario Bros.: Mario was at first distinct due to the fact that he could jump (unlike the Goombas) and could run relatively faster than his enemies.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog, of course, is THE Road Runner PC, with the unique ability of insane running speed.
  • In Forbidden Arms, Ichirou wields Mumei, a demonic sword that is powered by Blood Magic.
  • In The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, William Carter is the only XCOM agent who can analyze the battlefield in an instant, give orders to the other agents on the fly, and react to enemy actions with nigh-superhuman speed. It's actually an Etherial named Asaru who is controlling Carter like a puppet and using its psychic abilities to augment its chosen human vessel. Near the end of the game, one of three other characters exhibit the same abilities (as Carter forces Asaru to leave him, resulting in Asaru finding another vessel).
  • There's no real reason a random cop from Jersey can use Bullet Time, fly through the air without hurting himself or shrug off waves of bullets by popping pills other than he's the protagonist.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Fate/stay night, Shirou Emiya is by no means a great Magus. However, his ability to replicate swords plays a very large role in the story, varying based on the route; common among all the routes is that his ability allows him to at least temporarily fight the very superhuman Servants head-on, something that even first-rate Magi like Rin can't accomplish.

     Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, the Avatar alone is capable of mastering all four elements. Every other bender can only use one.
  • The heroes of Super Why! help the helpless heroes of other stories through the ability to change stories by directly altering the text of the books they enter.