The extreme end of No Social Skills — a feral child has lived isolated from human contact from a very young age, and has little or no experience of human care, loving or social behavior, and — crucially — human language. These individuals are not just bad at social interaction; they are so limited that they are effectively wild animals who happen to have human form. And not the friendly talking kind, either.
Characters who are raised by fictional animals are usually much better off than these kids: If a Wild Child was literally raised by animals, it will be painfully obvious that those animals were no substitute for real parents, with the child showing markedly animalistic behavior, such as a tendency to bite anyone who crosses their gaze wrong or who intrudes into their personal space, or never having learned to walk upright. Sometimes this can be played for comedy, with less harmful behaviors like inappropriate sniffing or choosing to "mark" territory.
In Real Life, "feral children" are a blessedly rare phenomenon, and almost always the result of parental abandonment, neglect, and/or abuse. What exactly happened to them while they were out of contact with normal human culture? Is their odd behavior caused by lack of social contact, or did they have pre-existing developmental problems already? In real life, feral kids are almost never rehabilitated.
Growing up in a jungle can lead to a character becoming the very different Nature Hero or Jungle Princess. Raised by Wolves is a subset of this. Compare with Raised by Orcs. Not to be confused with the 2008 film of the same name, which is actually about a Bratty Teenage Daughter.
A recent series of car commercials explores a lion-man, raised in the Serengeti by lions before being discovered by zoologists and brought to North America. However, the damage has been done—he seems to be completely feral. Then he sees a Ford Focus in the parking lot of the research center...
Anime and Manga
Keenan (Ikuto) from Digimon Savers is a type of this... Only he slightly knows how to act around humans because Digimon act sociable to each other. He still uses Tarzan-like language though (even though Digimon speak flawless English/Japanese).
One of the plays Maya performs in Glass Mask is an extended deconstruction of this trope. In The Forgotten Wilderness Maya takes the part of a girl who was raised by wolves, then later captured and used as a side-show attraction until taken in by a professor who wanted to restore her to humanity. This series itself naturally approaches the trope from the far end. Although Maya has no real trouble learning to move on all fours, the challenge is getting to the point where she appears wild, as in someone who's never been exposed to human body language, never mind social conventions.
Age of Heroic Age is a subversion: he acts a lot like a wild child, having no comprehension of manners, personal hygiene, numbers, etc. and spends a great deal of his time goofing off in the garden or finger painting. However, as it turns out, he was raised by none other than the Golden Tribe themselves, is one of the few characters who fully grasps the situation of the war, and makes some astonishingly mature decisions (given his usual behavior) throughout the series.
The feral girl Sapphire from Pokémon Special fights wild Pokémon with her bare hands, has refined senses of sight, smell, and hearing, is a bit socially awkward (though she does have regular human contact), and even has fangs and claws. When she was introduced she actually had clothing she made out of leaves◊.
In Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl Adventure, Professor Rowan deliberately had Hareta raised by Pokémon, with just enough human contact to learn to speak and wear clothes. As a result, Hareta can do several feats that humans normally can't, such as chewing through trees.
There's also Tobo/Tommy, from 'The Kangashkhan Kid' in season one of the anime twice in the manga. He fell out of his parents' helicopter and was raised by Kangashkhan in the Safari Zone. But he can still speak when Ash and co come around. In the original Japanese, he rather infamously asks Misty if he can nurse from her. In the end, his parents join him with his adopted family.
Kouya from The Twelve Kingdoms was raised by a youma after his parents abandoned him during a famine. Until he was taken in by Atsuyu, he couldn't really speak.
Karu-Sil, a member of the enemy Sinestro Corps in Green Lantern, qualifies for this trope, since she wound up with a pack of predators after her parents were killed in a minor tribal conflict. She assimilated to her new companions a little too well.
The French Graphic NovelPyrénée is about a girl raised in the mountains by a bear.
Another French comic series, Sillage (Wake in English) begins with its heroine Nävis (Navee in English), the sole survivor from a wrecked spaceship, growing up wild with a big tiger-like companion on a jungle planet. The spinoff series Nävis (not yet translated into English) tells of her early childhood, when she was also being looked after by the ship's only surviving robot.
The Amphibian from Supreme Power. Her mother tried to drown the both of them after seeing her malformed baby, but the Amphibian took to life underwater pretty well, living there into her early 20s before ever being discovered. She's incapable of speech, but can communicate telepathically. She also responds to anything she preceives as threatening with violence. Oh, and, as you might've guessed, she doesn't wear any clothes.
Another aquatic example: the British comic character Fishboy is, as the name suggests, raised by fish and learns how to breathe underwater. Really.
The Black Condor is a human man who was raised by condors. Who taught him to fly (yes, without wings). And then he became a US Senator. I swear I'm not making this up.
Subverted by Teon a.k.a. Primal from Generation Hope. He acts as if he's Hope's pet dog most of the time, rarely says anything but "fight", "flight", "eat", "mate", and "woof", and does horribly on intelligence tests, but then he aces them when she offers him a snack, and when his parents sue the X-Men for custody of him, he takes the stand and gives an eloquent speech convincing them to drop the suit. It turns out he had a normal human upbringing and was actually a computer geek before his mutation turned him into a being of pure instinct concerned primarily with survival and mating.
The mutant superhero/supervillain Wild Child was living on the streets after his parents threw him out, and then was experimented on by the Secret Empire. All of which left him not very socially adjusted, but how feral he is varies considerably Depending on the Writer and how he's treated.
His Age of Apocalypse counterpart was basically a wild animal Sabretooth kept on a leash.
In Mutant X, the Alternate Universe versions of Wolverine, Sabretooth and Wild Child are living as a pack in the Canadian wilderness.
A group of feral children appeared in an issue of Hack Slash. A scientist had collected them together and tried to raise them to fit in with human society. They're all under 12, and all but Romulus is incapable of human speech. The experiment goes well enough until a drug treatment that was supposed to help their rehabilitation along instead caused them to regress into more and more aggressive, primal behavior. Eventually they kill and eat their foster father.
Older Than Dirt: Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh lived in the wilderness without human contact, but he was already an adult by the time Gilgamesh met him. He was turned into a civilized man with sex and beer. Those Mesopotamians sure had their priorities straight!
In Classical Mythology, Atalanta was abandoned and nursed by a bear before hunters discovered her.
The American tall tale of Pecos Bill.
There's a tale (of unknown veracity) of an Egyptian Pharaoh who supposedly ordered two children to be raised without anyone speaking to them in order to see what language they would start speaking. Yeesh. Supposedly, they said the word "becos", which meant "bread" in another local language (Phrygian), but which sounded very similar to the sounds made by sheep nearby, which the infants could hear through the window.
Romulus and Remus were famously raised by a wolf. This did not impede their future career as the founders of Rome.
One origin for the German folk character Knecht Ruprecht claims that he was one, taken in by St. Nicholas.
To a degree, Rickon Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire, as a consequence of losing his whole family, forming a mental bond with a borderline-feral wolf and having a amazon Wildling for a nanny.
Briefly mentioned in the Doctor WhoEighth Doctor Adventures novel The Crooked World. On a cartoon planet, Fitz accidentally causes a young woman who, being The Ingenue on a planet of characters fit for a children's cartoon, suffers from Virginity Makes You Stupid, to write to the Delivery Stork and ask for them to be brought a child. The stork, however, has trouble tracking him down, gets tired, and accidentally drops the baby in the jungle, but is reassured by the thought that the child will be raised by wolves.
The titular Firekeeper in the Firekeeper series, beginning with Through Wolf's Eyes. She's the only survivor of a group of colonists lead by the member of the royal family into some far distant wilderness, having been rescued and raised by large, easily man-like intelligence 'royal wolves'. Her conflict is how the king has lost all his other heirs and sent men east to search for survivors of the disastrous failure at colonization. They find her, with the proper hair color(red), the roughly proper age for it to have been possible for her to be his daughter, and her having his personal dagger (Which was a symbol of his rank/royalty), and take her away to 'civilization'. Ironically, however she isn't even related to the prince - she's the child of some lowly gardener.
Big Alice Eyesore in The War Between The Pitiful Teachers And The Splendid Kids is raised by hyenas after her child psychologist parents forget/abandon her at a wild animal park and decide that the hyenas are better equipped to deal with Alice and her all-canine teeth. Her parents eventually return for her when she's about 11 or 13, but after learning that child psychology doesn't work on hyenas they abandon her for good at the horrible school where the story takes place. By the end of the book, Alice has been brought back from the dead (cryogenically frozen/coma?) and returned to her hyena family. She is the only kid who hasn't been forcibly aged or driven underground. She achieves a symbolic victory by climbing the highest tree in the park and declaring herself leader of her pack.
The title character in Roy Meyers' Dolphin Boy is raised by dolphins thanks to a whole string of ContrivedCoincidences. First of all he is born with the mutant ability to hold his breath for long periods of time and survive greater depths than normal humans, and then his parents are killed in an explosion that causes him to be blown into the water just as a pod of dolphins arrive, one of which just happens to be a recently-bereaved and lactating mother...
The raised-by-dolphins idea is done much more realistically in The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse. The protagonist is raised along with another feral child and begins making progress, possibly due to her somewhat older age when she was orphaned. However, she regresses when she is unable to adapt to the many rules of human society, and returns to her dolphin pod at the end.
Parodied in How To Be A Superhero, in which being raised by wild animals is given as one of the possible origins. The authors then present the story of a child raised by oysters, then reveal at the end that he drowned 20 years ago and the oysters never noticed.
The titular character from the short story Wolf Alice by Angela Carter. She is raised from infancy by wolves and captured by a hunter who kills her "mother", then given to a group of nuns who attempt to domesticate her. They eventually decide she cannot be integrated into society and instead send her to live with a mysterious werewolf/vampire called the Duke. Though she performs some basic human behaviour, she never learns to speak.
Ketrin, featuring a bisexual teenage feral child raised by lupinoids (basically wolves) — who finds himself Taken for Granite and worshipped as a god by superstitious and very horny villagers.
It later turns out he isn't the only feral child. The lupinoids have been busy.
In the short novel The Pack, the mysterious new kid at the school was raised by wolves from a young age (note: not from birth. He had a human mother for several years prior to living with the wolves). He's learned to adapt well enough, but he can be extremely quirky and eccentric at times, and was a textbook example when he was first found.
In Tale of the Troika by Strugatsky Brothers giant squids are sentient and very long-lived. As the squid Spyridon tells, their adults were wiped by pandemic around 14th century and the young ones grew unsupervised, which explains their bad behavior through much of recent human history. This segment is absent from the censored version used by translators.
The girl Amara in KnowledgeofAngels was raised by wolves, and is therefore used as an experiment to prove that knowledge of God is something one is born, not raised, with. The experiment proves inconclusive.
Manimal (being about well... a man who can change into animals) naturally played with this trope, though the Wild Child is an adult. The feral woman only speaks in wolf-like noises, including howling in distress when the cell she was locked in caught on fire, and at one point looked as though she's deciding between eating the food she stole, or the animal she just stole it from. Her hair had some real stylish bangs for someone raised by wolves.
There was a made-for-TV movie that became a short-lived TV series called Lucan, in the late seventies that was about a boy raised by wolves for the first ten years of his life, then by research scientists for the next ten. He struck out on his own and had to deal with human society while using and controlling his wolfen instincts and physical gifts.
The Pretender episode "Wild Child". A feral girl is found near a wood pile, and Jarod poses as a psychiatrist to figure out her story.
The girl (Jarod names her "Violet") was in a plane crash as a young child, and was the only survivor. A psychologist from a nearby university found her shortly afterwards. Instead of helping her, he set up a bunch of video cameras so he could study her behavior of how she survives in this environment.
There was an episode of Gunsmoke with a wild child, a young girl. I cannot recall the details of the plot, in which Miss Kitty somehow befriended the girl, who was then captured by some not-so-nice people who planned sell her for money. If the little girl hadn't made noise on the way through Dodge, and attracted Festus's attention, they might have gotten away with it.
"Snow-Hen of Austerlitz", by Rasputina, is about a girl whose blind old mother thinks her daughter is a bird. The girl is kept with her mother's other pet birds, and learns to behave like them.
Newspaper and Magazine Comics
In a few Garfield strips, Jon Arbuckle dates a woman who was raised by wolves. Although she usually seems to have assimilated well into human society, she does occasionally exhibit such behaviors as trying to gnaw off her own leg because her shoe is pinching her foot.
Garfield played with this trope at least one more time. The titular tabby climbed a tree and met a cat that had been raised by squirrels.
The primarch of the Night Lords, Konrad Curze a.k.a. Night Haunter, wasn't raised by anything. He was not the most stable primarch, though, and grew up into a terrifying hybrid of his namesake and Batman.
Dark Angel primarch Lion El'Jonson spent the first ten years of his life alone in a jungle before being discovered by humans. He turned out as well-adjusted as the setting allows, if a bit taciturn and secretive. He never spoke of his experiences in the wild.
Though it was suggested in Gav Thorpe's Angel of Darkness that he grew paranoid from the experience.
Second edition Dungeons & Dragons had this in one of the splat-books as an option for some players.
In RATZ, a reimagining of the Pied Piper fairytale, the town's problem is not actual rats but a whole gang of feral children, who communicate in their own language and hiss when startled. They also steal other children.
Gau of Final Fantasy VI was abandoned by his father at a very young age and had to survive alone on the Veldt. He speaks broken English, and usually moves around on all fours, but otherwise is never shown to have any trouble fitting in with the rest of the party.
Unfortunately, Gau's wild nature only really comes up in three places: his dialogue ("Gau! Gau!"), his in-battle specialty (Rage, which allows him to copy monsters' skills and abilities), and an optional cutscene where his father is finally found and the party does their best to clean up his manners and appearance. Gau's father doesn't recognize Gau, but does compliment him (he must have cleaned up nicely) and say that his "father must be proud".
Yet another Final Fantasy example occurs in the Crystal Chronicles Ring of Fates. Gnash, a Selkie boy, is found living alone in the woods and joins the party. He can communicate in broken English, but he also talks to animals and tends to judge things by how they taste.
One episode has Donnie finding a girl similar to him in the jungle who was raised by leopards.
"Cub" from Little Bear is essentially a bear version of this, acting more like a wild animal then the other Funny Animal bears.
In She-Ra: Princess of Power the episode, "Wild Child," of course. The child in question was physically stronger and faster than other children in her age group, could talk to the wolf-like creatures that adopted her and for bonus points, was a ship-wrecked princess.
Amala and Kamala are possibly the most famous account, despite being ultimately revealed as a con.
Genie the Wild Child is a very tragic case. Just reading about her horrific childhood at the hands of her awful father, the attempts of numerous doctors and therapists to rehabilitate her (often using conflicting methods), the fact that some people wanted to use her to gain fame (whether it was to prove the legitimacy of the "critical period of language acquisition hypothesis", or arrogantly believing that rehabilitating her would make them "the next Anne Sullivan), being put in the middle of a massive debate of ethics regarding human experimentation, and her extreme difficulties with adjusting to a normal life makes her an enormous woobie. According to an anonymous private investigator, she's currently living in a home for developmentally disabled adults, still has a hard time verbally communicating, but is good with sign language, and seems to be reasonably content and happy.
Particularly when you realize that, according to this website, she met her father, the cause of her abandonment and upbringing with the stray dogs that lived near her childhood home. To quote the article, "Several weeks ago, another distinctly canine trait showed itself. For the first time since her ordeal, she met her father, and she forgave him completely."
There are several apocryphal stories about various rulers, including e. g. the medieval Emperor Frederick II and King Frederick II of Prussia having children raised without motherly care, taking infants from their families and giving them to caretakers who were instructed not to cuddle or talk to them. All the babies supposedly died.
Possibly died. The experiment ended when the people conducting the experiment found that ""the children could not live without clappings of the hands, and gestures, and gladness of countenance, and blandishments." This can be taken to mean the children died, or that the natural inclinations of children to smile, wave, hug, and otherwise be affectionate could not be repressed.
A variant of the story - which goes back at least to Herodotus' Histories - has the caretakers not being allowed to talk to the babies because the monarch wanted to discover the original language of humankind that way. (Some later versions have the language turn out to be Hebrew).
There's an experiment with baby monkeys where the monkeys were offered two "mothers": one made of wire which offered food, and one made of warmed terrycloth and offered comforting arms but no food. Every single baby monkey consistently chose the mother's arms over the food — even if it meant they had to go hungry. I would easily believe those babies died, even if their basic physical needs were met.
They survived. They simply clung to the warm, welcoming mothers until they got hungry, went to the food-providing mothers to get a meal, and then came right back to the terrycloth mother.
There are many examples of allegedly "feral" children recovered from the wild in real life. However, it is virtually impossible to definitively say how long they have actually been living in the woods. Children raised in isolation demonstrate a lack of socialization that looks like autism or Asperger's syndrome — but there is also the suggestion some of these children may have had developmental problems before being abandoned.
The term "environmental autism" has been proposed for what happens to these children, particularly in Dani Lierow's case. I don't think it's accepted medically though, partially due to the once-common practice of throwing out/abandoning family members who might be showing signs of mental illness.
The 18th century medical literature discussed several such feral children, most of whom never learned to speak, wear clothes or adapt to society and ended up in mental asylums. There are a few such "wolf children" in existence even today, ranging in age from a man in his 40s to a teenage girl. Most of them were orphaned children in Eastern European states which were part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics prior to its collapse in the 1990s. Some claim to have actually been raised by wild dogs or wolves in the woods. The good news is, the modern-day wolf children have learned language and adapted to life among people, even though the girl still refers to herself as a wolf not a human.
In 27 May 2009 , A 5-year-old Russian girl found in a filthy apartment imitating the cats and dogs. Officials said the girl had feral characteristics and barked like a dog, lapped food off a plate and seemed to have been "raised" by the animals. Following This news
A Russian boy was found in 2007 after apparently having lived with wolves/wild dogs. He feared humans and acted like a dog. Unfortunately, he escaped soon after being found.
Kaspar Hauser is of the most famous historical examples. Showing up in a town apparently able to say nothing but "I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was" and "Horse!" He had a letter written by his supposed caretaker addressed to the commander of the local military post requesting that he be made a soldier or executed. Originally thought to have been feral, he later learned to speak and write, and claimed he was raised locked in a small room like an animal; only being let out when he was sent into town to deliver his letter. Possible subversion in that there were significant inconsistencies in his story and manner, the handwriting on his caretaker's letter matched his own, and he quickly developed a reputation as a habitual liar. Some experts of the time, and many modern researchers, considered him to be a fraud and a swindler, possibly mentally ill or developmentally disabled; and that he could not have survived the childhood conditions he described.
Here is the story of Lauren Atkinson, who has been confined by her birth mother and his common-law husband in a closet and who was took out only to be raped and tortured, leaving her with disabilities similar to those suffered by Dani Lierow, minus the mutism.