open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Hiro Hiyorimi of Princess Resurrection - much more so in the anime version, where he's generally completely incapacitated while Hime and the others take down the Monster of the Week.
- Yukiteru of Future Diary frequently slipped into this, often sitting back and letting Yuno or someone else (like Akise) solve his problems for him for entire arcs at a time. He got better once he was broken and subsequently Took a Level in Badass.
- Defied in Fate/stay night, where Shirou constantly tries to be important to combat even though Saber is clearly far stronger. He eventually succeeds, and in one timeline becomes Archer.
- The main character in the anime adaption of Agatha Christie's works is somewhat of a Mary Sue, who rarely has any important roles beyond finding Red Herring clues. She does get A Day in the Limelight when she substitutes a one-shot character who plays a crucial role in the novel that arc was based on.
- Minato of Sekirei starts out this way, but later on begins to be a bit of a planner. It can't really be helped considering he is the heart in a series of super powered Action Girls. He also winds up taking notes from Seo and accompanies his Sekirei in their missions as support. Plus, as an Ashkabi, if he dies, so do all 6 of his Sekirei.
- Madoka Kaname from Puella Magi Madoka Magica until very late in the series, despite being the main character mostly seems to around to be tortured and for other characters to rescue. As in, the very last episode. In the previous timelines, however, she kicks massive amounts of ass. Note that she's being kept in this role by Homura Akemi, who has very good reasons.
- Yuri from Alien Nine. She really only cries and has nightmares during the whole series.
- Italy from Axis Powers Hetalia. So much. Germany acts as his baby sitter. Lampshaded as the title Hetalia comes from the Japanese words for 'useless' and 'Italy'.
- Played with in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Shinji isn't a Useless Protagonist but a number of other characters, including Shinji himself, view him as this. It's a major part of the crippling inferiority complex Shinji has.
- Remove Misuzu from AIR and all it would do is remove her arc.
- In defiance of the Harem Anime convention mentioned above, Issei Hyoudou of High School Dx D quickly realizes how useless he is compared to the rest of Rias' team and how his Sacred Gear is more valuable than he is, resulting in a minor breakdown and some early Character Development. Over time, he eventually becomes The Champion to Rias, and a much more competent individual with a personal stake in the plot.
- Mobile Suit Gundam AGE: Kio Asuno, the protagonist of the third story arc, might as well be the king of this trope. His constant pleas for understanding always fall on deaf ears, his refusal to kill enemy pilots enables them to go on and kill supporting characters, and he refuses to ever see the writing on the wall. In the end the only time Kio manages to convince someone to see things his way involves Mind Rape. There's a reason he's considered the worst Gundam protagonist of all time.
- Surprisingly, Michael in The Prayer Warriors Battle with the Witches. His mission at Hogwarts is to obtain the four keys to Dumbledore's office, as well as any information of Dumbledore's connection to the British government and/or involvement in planning an attack on Christians. His attempt to get information through Ginny fails when she is killed, and he only succeeds in retrieving her key from her corpse, while Ebony kills Harry and Ron, and gets Hermione to give her the fourth key. Dumbledore is killed by a nameless Prayer Warrior, Harry is killed (again) by a Bolt of Divine Retribution, and the plotline of finding information about Dumbledore is forgotten.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured films with characters who would qualify.
- Puma Man: While the title character does fight a number of villains, he's aided by his Hypercompetent Sidekick, Vadinho the Aztec priest, a Badass Normal who tells him what to do and holds his own without any of Puma Man's super powers. This aspect of the film was highlighted by the related episode.
- Mark English, the protagonist of Devil Doll. After spending the entire movie investigating the proceedings, the situation resolves itself without his help.
- Agent for H.A.R.M.'s protagonist Adam Chance's main contributions to the narrative are killing Mooks, getting tricked, and failing to save the day. In the end his greatest contribution was taking out the villain's mooks so that the aging elderly scientist could finish the villain off himself.
- Jason from The Forbidden Kingdom. He's the protagonist of a Kung Fu film—starring alongside Jackie Chan and Jet Li—yet even after his Training from Hell, he's only capable of beating enemy mooks. That's what happens when you're the stand-in for the priest in a retelling of Journey to the West...
- Buscapé in City of God. Though he meets and talks to several of the characters (and get in danger more than once) he doesn't interfere in any ways with the conflicts of the gangs, or even in the plot. He is meant to be nothing more than a witness of violence, and a narrator. His character is completely neutral: he doesn't act violent, but doesn't do anything against Ze Pequeno either.
- James Bond
- Goldfinger. Aside from seducing Pussy Galore - ensuring the army was still alive to foil Goldfinger - and killing Oddjob, 007 gets foiled at every turn. And regarding the villainous plan, the nuclear bomb is stopped by an anonymous armyman, and Goldfinger causes his own death by firing a gun inside an airplane (which in the book, was done by Bond himself).
- The Man with the Golden Gun. Other than retrieving the Solex Agitator and killing Scaramanga, Bond doesn't really accomplish anything throughout the film. Albeit at least retrieving the Solex Agitator was Bond's original mission.
- Tragically justified in Leaving Las Vegas. Ben Sanderson, after losing everything thanks to his alcoholism, decides to drive out to Las Vegas and drink himself to death. While there, he befriends a kind prostitute named Sera, who's wrapped up in a situation with her pimp and the gangsters sent after him. The whole film, Ben's too drunk and suicidal to improve his or Sera's circumstances, not even after she ends up gang-raped. After he finally dies, she's left all alone.
- Poor Sherlock Holmes adaptations tend to flanderize Dr. Watson into this role. In the original stories, he was of above-average intelligence (despite not being as brilliant as Holmes) who was vital to helping Holmes solve his cases; in many adaptations, he is instead made a useless idiot whose only purpose is to give Holmes someone to explain everything to.
- Sheriff Bell in No Country for Old Men. In both the book and film, he serves more as the role of narrator than a protagonist.
- Winston Smith of Nineteen Eighty-Four is a brutally justified version of this trope. All he gets to do as the hero of the piece is keep a diary and have an affair before being arrested, tortured, and brainwashed, but the Totalitarian state he lives in considers these very serious offences.
- Bella Swan from Twilight. What little actual action there is is performed by other characters; Bella mostly just hangs out and watches as people compete for her attention, fight each other, debate whether or not to fight each other, etc. Bella doesn't even watch that much.
- Wilbur from Charlotte's Web. His job is to get his life saved by Charlotte. (Later, however, he takes steps to preserve Charlotte's eggs, acting as a surrogate parent to three of her children and many subsequent descendants.)
- Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory does nothing to earn his happy ending except not be as awful as the other four kids. Adaptations of the book recognize this and try to flesh out his character and give him more to do.
- There may very well be no more useless a protagonist than George Dower of K.W. Jeter's Infernal Devices. His very existence is what kicks the plot in motion, as his father, a Legacy Character that George himself barely knew, was apparently a mad genius who devised all manner of clockwork wonders, many of which are highly sought after by numerous parties. His father now dead, George has inherited his watch shop, despite being no good at mending watches, and because of this, he becomes the target of, among others, the crazed remnants of Cromwell's "Godly Army", a strange race of fish-like creatures, a prostitution ring, a pair of thieves, a mysterious dark-skinned man, an elderly mad scientist who literally wants to destroy the world, and multiple lascivious women. All while doing absolutely nothing except what he can to preserve his life. Rarely does he show any pluck, and at no point does he morph into a noble hero. He never does anything to help anyone else, except very reluctantly, and usually because he hopes it will help to save him, as well. He is, from beginning to end, The Millstone.
- Xuanzang from Journey to the West. While he's technically the main character, most of the legwork is done by his escorts, as Xuanzang himself is completely incapable of combat. Not surprisingly, most adaptations focus on Sun Wukong the Monkey King rather than the relatively dull Xuanzang.
- The works of Franz Kafka make such a brutally effective use of this that he might as well be the trope namer. His stories often have protagonists who have next to no agency in how the events unfold. This is not even necessarily because they actually lack any real power, but because they are unwilling to take action due to fear, uncertainty or (misplaced) faith in organizations and proper procedure.
- Revolution: Charlie Matheson is supposed to be the hero of the story, but for a while, she didn't really do much except to get Miles Matheson back into the game of fighting. In fact, Miles has had to save her several times. Justified Trope, because she is only a twenty-something-year-old with no real combat training. She did receive combat training in the episode "The Song Remains the Same", and she led a mutiny to help a scientist and his family escape from the Monroe Republic and the Georgia Federation in the episode "The Love Boat". It remains to be seen if and when she'll turn this into a Subverted Trope.
- The main character, Todd, from Todd and the Book of Pure Evil is this in season 1. He joins the gang solely to try and bang Jenny, and spends the season getting stoned, being a jerkass, and contributing absolutely nothing while his friends save the day. He gets a lot better in season 2.
- Snake from Metal Gear Solid 4. When you think about the story as a whole in the game, most of what he tries to accomplish ends up failing and when he does succeed, it's only because someone else planned it and did all the actual heroics, reducing Snake to nothing but a glorified delivery boy.
- Dave in Maniac Mansion leads the charge to rescue his girlfriend Sandy from Dr. Fred's clutches, but all he is is an Item Caddy. Every other character has a skill they can lend to the cause on top of carrying items, even Jeff with his measly ability to repair the telephone.
- In Jonny Quest, evil foreign governments, multi-national corporations, and billionaire supervillains send henchmen in droves to steal from Benton Quest... there's not much that protagonist Jonny, a young child, can actually do about any of this. He's pretty worthless in most episodes, sometimes making things worse; but one way or another, it's either Benton Quest or Race Bannon who saves the day. Later adaptations would avert this trope, however.
- Despite having a huge array of cybernetic enhancements, Inspector Gadget usually manages to accomplish very little while his niece and dog solve every problem along the way. Unlike most of these examples, this was intentional and Played for Laughs. And possibly justified in that he keeps a helicopter in his brain cavity.
- The Dreamstone tended to swerve between Rufus and Amberley as Hero Protagonists or the Urpneys as Villain Protagonists. Neither managed to accomplish much. Rufus and Amberley were The Fools at best and Inspector Gadget-level Invincible Incompetents at worst (see above), while the Urpneys were Harmless Villains doomed to failure at their goal. Rufus and Amberley at least Took a Level in Badass during later episodes however.