In Naruto, The Power Trio of Nagato, Yahiko and Konan is cornered by Hanzo, who has young Konan as his hostage. Either Nagato had to kill his best friend Yahiko, or refuse and let Konan die. What happens in the end? Yahiko takes the third option: commiting suicide by grabbing Nagato's hand, which held a sharp kunai, and stab himself with it.
The Chuunin exams in one of the first arcs plays this slightly differently: the point of the insanely-hard test is to force the student ninja to cheat, so either they get caught cheating and are kicked out, or they prove their ninja skills by cheating without getting caught. Naruto turns in his test completely blank, and Sakuraworks out the answers herself. Both of them pass because they were never caught cheating.
While he rarely lets enemies limit his freedom to just two options, the Crazy AwesomeMagnificent Bastard Lelouch Lamperouge in Code Geass constantly turns the tide of seemingly lost engagements by doing what nobody would expect of him, i.e. always taking the hidden "third" option.
In Tower of God, the Ranker Quant is at one point put in a bind by his examinees, being told to either hand over the badge of the It or let the hostages, other examinees, die. He tells that they can try and draw blood, but the moment they do, everybody will die. By his hands.
The ending of Darker than Black leaves Hei with the choice whether to envelop Hell's Gate — and Japan with it — in his quantum powers, allowing the Contractors to exist without fear of interference but isolating Japan from the rest of the world (and possibly killing off every non-contractor inside), or do nothing and let the humans destroy Hell's Gate, killing off the other Contractors and returning the world to normal; this choice is Hei effectively choosing whether to be a Contractor or a human. He decides to pick 'both'; his personae, combined, ruin the weapon intended to destroy Hell's Gate. This breaks the masquerade in the process and leads to an open human/Contractor coexistence.
Used in an episode of Trigun involving two lovers on the run from a slaver caravan. Said caravan is en route to a fortified city which will only grant entrance to travelers with a special key, which happens to be tattooed on one of the runaways' arm. The protagonists are faced with two options: help the couple elope, thereby stranding the caravan outside the city and condemning its inhabitants to slow death by starvation, or return them to the caravan, forcing them into a life of slaving and/or slavery. Instead, Vash fakes the runaways' deaths, thus allowing them to live free and sparing the caravan from responsibility for losing the key - nobody is going to blame them for the Six Million Double Dollar Man's actions. The trope is explicitly claimed in Nicholas Wolfwood's closing monologue: "All along I thought there had to be a sacrifice, but there was another answer: Vash the Stampede".
In a later episode, in response to a nasty Hostage Situation that is clearly a trap for all concerned, Wolfwood initially favors rushing in as the only course of action that will leave any of them alive. However, he adds...
Wolfwood: I know a guy who whines and cries until he finds a way to save everyone. A man who takes a stand, though it scars him from head to toe. And he's right here.
This is in fact Vash's standard policy in a hostile situation - try to find a way to let everybody live. At one point he suffers a Heroic BSOD when he can't figure out how to save everybody in time and is forced to kill the bad guy before he can harm anybody else. When he finally snaps out of the Heroic BSOD he promises that next time he'll find the third option.
This, combined with an examination of pacifism, is the Central Theme of the story. In the backstory, we see a moment when Vash and his twin Knives disagree over how to save a butterfly from a spider's web. Knives simply crushes the spider, while Vash complains that he wanted to save both. Knives points out that this policy would only result in the spider starving anyway. This is the essential conflict: Knives maintains a monoperspective realism about the relationship between humans and his race, while Vash idealistically seeks an alternative that allows everyone to benefit.
Examined as the subject of ⅓'s episode of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, though focusing on everyday third options. You know, the ones where you cannot make up your mind in a choice between two desirable options, and ends up choosing a third, undesirable option instead, and then ends up regretting it later on... Everyone together now: I'M IN DESPAIR!! BEING TROUBLED WITH CHOOSING SOMETHING AND ENDING UP SELECTING A THIRD OPTION HAS LEFT ME IN DESPAIR!!
While Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is fond of the heroes choosing difficult options, Episode 26 has a moment when the Anti-Spiral re-explains the consequences of using the Spiral power, then asks Simon if he is willing to destroy the universe for a "fleeting emotion." Simon grips his controls, glares through his star-glasses and declares he will save them both: the girl and the universe. Then he destroys the enemy by blasting through space and time.
This was a common tactic of Gon, the Kid Hero of Hunter × Hunter. In particular, in the beginning, the three heroes find that Only Smart People May Pass through town on their way to the Hunter Exam, in the form of a purely hypothetical Sadistic Choice that must be answered immediately with an "A" or "B" response. The two Kid Heroes figure out, by carefully examining the rules for loopholes and using their Super Senses to hear someone that got a "right" answer screaming in the distance, that silence is the real right answer, as no such decision should be taken so lightly. They then have to explain this to The Watson, who only passed because his moral outrage initially stunned him into silence for the duration of the time limit - outrage because no such decision should be taken so lightly. Later, in one of the official rounds of the tourna- I'm sorry, I mean Exam, this trope is played much more straight. Having picked up another hero and a by-then-revealed Lovable Traitor, and progressing down a timed dungeon of trials on a strictly all-or-none basis, they are told they must choose between leaving two people behind (presumably the Lovable Traitor and one close friend and take the short path to victory, or all run out of time together taking the long path. Gon, being All-Loving Hero, refuses either, and since the doors are right next to each-other, he gets them to open the door to the long path, and work together with the LovableTraitor to dig through the wall to the short path.
In Rave Master, the main character had to choose between killing his girlfriend or dooming the whole of time to destruction at the hands of her out-of-control powers. Haru instead elects to Take a Third Option, sealing Ellie's powers to stop the threat and spare her life; his Well-Intentioned Extremist opponent, having failed to consider such an alternative due to his eagerness to Shoot the Dog, is broken down in defeat. This trope also played a part in a Prophecy Twist that foresaw the scenario, but lacking appropriate context, implied that Haru really did Shoot the Dog.
Gash in Gash Bell is given the choice of either saving a friend and dooming the rest of the world or letting the friend die and save the world from the threat. He takes the third option of first saving his friend, then the world.
In Cowboy Bebop, Spike is given the choice of surrendering or watching a mook put a bullet in Faye's head. Considering Spike is known to be a gunslinger of godlike ability, and that he's pointing a gun straight at said mook's head, you'd think they'd have foreseen his taking the third option...
Near the end of Case 6 of Ghost Hunt, the main cast finds out that the haunting is being caused by a a curse that the students of a school unknowingly put on the vice-principal. There are only two ways to end the haunting: allow the curse to complete, thus killing the VP, or turn the curse back on the students, possibly killing all of them in the process. At first it seems like Naru is going to take the latter of those two options, but then he takes a third option: he has Lin create effigies of all of the students, and those effigies are destroyed when the curse 'turns back on the students'.
In Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Earth is caught up in an inter-galactic war. Tylor is put in command of the whole fleet, ready for the big face-off with the approaching enemy fleet. All-out conflict seems inevitable, and no-one is sure whom will come out the victor. When the time comes, he gives one order - "Full speed ahead". The enemy commander, Dom, who's Tylor's Worthy Opponent, gives the same order. Members of both sides are screaming at them to order the attack, all while the ships get closer and closer to each other. Their respective flagships get close enough for them to physically see each other, and Tylor goes to the window. Standing there, he sticks out his hand, as if to give the order to attack, and Dom does likewise. Gun batteries are readied. The tension is unbearable. Then Tylor slowly and deliberately salutes the enemy commander, who, seeing his plan, returns and holds the salute until their fleets pass harmlessly by. War averted, both sides win.
Al of Fullmetal Alchemist does this when Kimblee asks him which option he and Edward will choose: getting their original bodies back or saving the world. Al asks why they can't do both, and goes on to explain that striving for what shouldn't be possible is the road to progress. Kimblee turns right around and deconstructs the trope by suggesting that, if the third option exists, there must then be a fourth option: fail in both their goals.
This comes up again in one of the most recent chapters, post 250, where Setsuna having lost, more or less, to the crazy swordswoman who's got a crush on her, believes she may actually have to give up on happiness, or leave protecting Konoka to others. she fails to notice, and it fails to interrupt her inner conflict, when a weapon comes flying out of a nearby fight. she slices with weapon in half without even breaking stride, leaving dear Konoka standing in awe. Konoka then proceeds to berate her, convinces her to make up her mind, and then we finally get the kiss we've all been waiting for. well, most fans have been waiting for...
In Gundam Wing, Heero Yuy given the choice to either give Wing Gundam to his enemies or have them slaughter everyone in the colonies by a Lady Unewho's in full puppy-kicking mode. What does he do? He calmly steps out of the cockpit, says his mission in life is over and pushes the self-destruction button, destroying his Gundam and almost killing himself in the process. That way Une won't have the Gundam, but she won't be able to kill the colonists due to the intervention of her leader Treize.
Gundam SEED and its sequel, Gundam SEED Destiny, has the patented method of resolving the wars of the Cosmic Era by building up another faction that proceeds to wipe the galaxy with the original sides.
Kazuki is faced with the choice to either use the white kakugane on himself and save his own life, or use the white kakugane on Victor and save the world. With Papillon's help he comes up with a third option of simply making another white kakugane and saving them both, but the white kakugane doesn't work entirely on Victor. So obviously he comes up with the fourth option of sending them both to the moon and supposedly killing both of them.
In Bleach, Zangetsu gives Ichigo three options. "Do you want to fight? Do you want to win? Or do you want to live?"
In the filler Bount arc, thanks to Mabashi, Orihime has to either attack a mindcontrolled Rukia or take a potentially fatal beating from her. Hisagi openly tells her that she'll have to fight Rukia, and Rukia herself begged Orihime to kill her before she was taken over, but there's no way Orihime would kill one of her friends... She decides to give Rukia a Cooldown Hugand activate her healing/barrier powers as she does so, managing to save Rukia eithout either attacking or letting her attack her.
It's speculated that Byakuya subtly invoked the trope in his last fight against Ichigo, at the end of the Soul Society arc. If he wins said match, his adopted sister Rukia will be executed and the promise he made to protect her (to his dying wife, Rukia's biological sister) will be broken, which will emotionally destroy him. If he openly loses the fight, his whole clan will be dishonored because he will have broken the law for personal gain and worse, broken a promise to his parents to uphold the law. So what does he do? Byakuya shows up, fights Ichigo, and then throws the fight at the very last moment, letting Ichigo win. That way Ichigo and his friends rescue Rukia and everyone thinks Byakuya did what he could to protect his honor. (And then comes The Reveal so everything else is forgotten, but Byakuya couldn't know that.)
In the "Land of Adults" chapter of Kino's Journey, a little girl (a younger Kino) is given the choice between death and a brain surgery that will render her a cheerful slave to her job. Hermes offers her a third option: escape and become a traveler.
Subverted in the original Yu-Gi-Oh!. Crazy-Prepared Dark Malik sets up the Yugi v/s Brainwashed and Crazy!Jounochi duel in such a way that there can't be a third option to take. If one wins, the other dies by being thrown into the sea with his feet cuffed so he'll drown. If one tries to forfeit to help the other, both will die. If someone else tries to interfere from the outside, a girl (Anzu) taken hostage and strapped to a seat near to the arena will be crushed to death by a HUGE metal box dangling over her head. How did this end up? Yugi still takes a third option: debrainwashing Jounochi and willingly setting himself to die. Then Jounouchi takes his as he manages to save Yugi and set himself to die. Either Jou's sister Shizuka (in the anime) or Kaiba (in the manga) rescue him. Oh, and Kaiba saves Anzu right before Jounouchi almost perishes, since she had saved his brother Mokuba earlier.
The video game adaption adds a simple option: Draw.
Ending a duel in a draw is also one of the only ways that both duelists in an Orichalcos duel can escape with their souls intact. (Apparently, however, Dartz's most important henchmen already knew that.)
Played more straight in the final duel between Yugi and Yami Marik, where Yami Marik sets up a dark game where the winner would lose the soul of their host; however, unbeknownst to everyone but Yami Marik, Yami Marik could live without his host persona. This is foiled when the original Marik finally gains the spiritual strength to switch places with Yami Marik, and then peacefully surrenders the game, eliminating the evil personality for good.
Happens in Akagi where Akagi wins a mah jongg game by making what would appear to be a stupid, illogical move. When asked to explain himself, he says "I'm not limited by your reasoning".
Sailor Moon will find a way to save everyone, specifically in the anime. Even when every other soldier is captured, she's beaten to a pulp, and the ONLY way to save the world is to give the bad guys what they want, Usagi will use the power of love, the power of friendship, or straight-up luck to save the world and her friends—and usually the bad guy, too.
Although this is heavily subverted in the Manga - Sailor Cosmostries to take a third option by traveling to the past in the guise of Chibi-Chibi and convincing her past self to destroy the Galaxy Cauldron and the newborn Eldritch Abomination inside it. This is shot down when Sailor Moon realizes that destroying the cauldron won't actually fix anything - said Abomination would be destroyed, yes, but the scenario would just repeat elsewhere. So no matter what happens, millions will die in a war against an invincible enemy....yay?
She still does take a third option, by purifying the Cauldron of Chaos' influence rather than destroying it or letting it remain as is. It's not a perfect solution as even that won't eliminate Chaos permanently, but it's better than the alternatives which would leave Chaos entirely unchecked, or similarly set him back temporarily and doom the galaxy to a slow death.
Prunus Girl: Ambiguously-crossdressing Aikawa puts Maki on the spot about what gender he regards him as by giving Maki a choice of two candies to feed him—to turn him into a boy or girl (respectively) in body and soul. Maki feeds Aikawa both.
Attempted in Shitsurakuen. When Sora rescues Tomoko, Tomoko asks to be released back into slavery as she doesn't trust Sora's protection. Sora thinks about the situation and transfers Tomoko to a male accomplice for safety. The accomplice is actually the Big Bad in disguise. Oops.
At the climax to the "Chapter of Egg" in Princess Tutu, Kraehe has capturedPrince Mytho and challenges Tutu to a competition to win the affection of Mytho's feelings of love. What Kraehe is counting on is the fact that if Tutu confesses her love for Mytho, she will disappear. This is Princess Tutu, the show where the main character routinely uses her magical ballet dancing to accomplish her goals, so no points for guessing what happens next.
In Saint Seiya, a rather beaten up Pegasus Seiya is cornered by Dark Action Girl Ophicus Shaina and Silver Saint Crow Jamian. Problem is, he's holding Saori Kido in his arms and cannot fight directly since they're atop of a cliff and she'll inevitably get hurt. The enemy says: "Either fight us or hand us the girl". What does Seiya do? He asks Saori if she trusts him, she says she does, and then they hug and jump off the cliff together. Since it's late at night, Shaina and her partner cannot go for them; Seiya is unconscious for quite a while, but he manages to buy time for himself and Saori.
Seto no Hanayome has the young mermaid Sun saving an Ordinary High-School Student Nagasumi's life, but upon doing so and letting him see a glimpse of her - she broke the code of secrecy between merpeople, and their existence will be revealed to humans. To keep the secret, either Sun or Nagasumi must die... but Sun demands Nagasumi to marry her instead so neither of them will be executed.
In YuYu Hakusho, Doctor Kamiya uses his powers to infect the city with a horrible plague. He informs Yusuke that the plague will disappear if he dies or is knocked unconscious, since he is maintaining it with his powers. Doctor turns out to Feel No Pain, making it impossible to knock him out. Doctor orders him to choose: break his Thou Shall Not Kill creed, or watch as the innocent people die horribly. Yusuke punches him into the sky, knocking him out of range and unable to maintain the plague.
The trope doesn't apply uncut. In the uncut version, Yusuke actually does land a blow that stops his heart, but Genkai revives him with a chest compression. Still, it's enough to break his psychic territory, and although Yusuke is relieved Doctor Kamiya was revived, Genkai assures him that in his case (a policeman's dilemma), deadly forcewas justified.
In Ep 4 of Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Battler is given a choice between killing the person he loves most, himself, or everyone else on the island. But since he doesn't have anyone that he loves, he elects Beatrice to that spot and chooses her. This is pretty ironic considering he marries her in Ep 6.
Almost at the end of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Madoka Kaname is in a very tight spot. If she doesn't become a Magical Girl, Walpurgisnacht destroy the Earth. If she does, then she'll become Kriemhild Gretchen, and she will destroy Earth. For worse, two Magical Girls have died, one became a witch and had to be killed, and the only one left is seriously injured and maybe about to become a witch. What does she do? Madoka does become a Magical Girl...and uses her wish to erase all witches from existence. Which completely changes the Magical Girl System and either prevents them from being born or peacefully mercy kills the ones that already exist before they can become witches. Oh, and it makes Madoka Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence.
Attempted earlier by Hitomi Shizuki. She's very troubled, emotionally speaking: she has feelings for a guy named Kamijou, but she knows that her old friend Sayaka does too. Will she just go "I Want My Belovedto Be Happy" and give him up without a fight, or talk to him about her own feelings, completely bypassing Sayaka's? The girl then decides to follow the trope: she explains the situation to Sayaka and tell her to confess to him first, while also warning her that if she doesn't do it, she will tell Kamijou what SHE feels. However... Hitomi doesn't know that Sayakahasher ownproblems... and then, it gets worse.
Happens in Vinland Saga, when Askeladd is blackmailed by King Sweyn with the following command: "You either kill Prince Canute or we will invade your beloved Wales". What does he do? Reveal his identity, kill Sweyn, and allow Canute to kill him, knowing that Canute will grow into a Reasonable Authority Figure and protect Wales.Magnificent
In a hentai manga Power Play by Yamatogawa, the protagonist, who is a reincarnation of Evil Sex King, is given a freedom of chosing which Heroine will stay with him, and drain him of the power everyday for the rest of his live, so he won't awaken as the Evil Sex King. He chooses his former familiar who is actively trying to awake him, convincing the heroines that he will stop her from trying to unseal him.
In Windaria Veronica is torn between a vow to her late mother to protect her kingdom and her love for the prince invading her kingdom. The solution? Kill him and then herself.
In Spirited Away, Chihiro is given a pen of pigs and must choose which of the two among them are her parents in order to free them and herself from the spirit world. Her choice? Her parents aren't there. Counts as Fridge Brilliance as the scene has a double meaning that says that her parents are not pigs and Chihiro is human, not just a mere animal.
In SHUFFLE!, when Asa and Rin are faced with either having the half-demon girl Asa use her demonic powers freely despite her psychological blocks about them or have her keep them bottled in until they kill her, what do they decide? Since Asa refuses to use her abilities for her benefit, Rin takes a knife and injures himself gravely to force her use them to heal his wounds. That way, Asa releases the magical energy that endangers her own life, and she does this to save Rin instead of harming herself and others.
In Mawaru-Penguindrum, Masako is given a very odd Sadistic Choice: she and Mario have to eat potentially poisoned food as a test from her grandfather Sanbei, who is possessing Mario's body. If she chooses the harmless dish, Mario will eat the harmful one and die; if she eats the poisoned food, Mario will win but end up as his grandfather's Soul Jar and puppet. How does this end? With Masako eating both dishes. She ends up in a coma that lasts several days, but saves Mario from Sanbei's soul's control.
In One Piece, during the Arlong arc, Nami asks Luffy and crew to leave the island and not interfere with her business. Luffy does not want to argue with Nami, but he does not want to leave the island either, so he goes to sleep in the middle of the road.
It's not so much a third option, but a fourth option. When you first come to the New World, there are three islands that you can go to: Risky Red Island, Mystoria Island, and Raijin Island. Luffy was planning on going to Raijin Island, which Smoker anticipated, because its needle on the Log Pose is the one shaking most violently. However, Luffy and the crew evade Smoker and Tashigi, due to a timely distress call and pure chance as to where their ship landed from their underwater trek; they go to an island the Log Pose didn't even register. Thus began the Punk Hazard arc.
In the Grand Finale of Solty Rei, Roy Revant gets the Sadistic Choice of having to choose which of his daughters, bio-child Rose or adoptive kid Solty, will he save from Ashley, the Big Bad. What happens? Roy chooses... to shoot his own arm so he won't have to take Ashley's options. Ashley counterattacks and wounds Roy, but by that time Solty has managed to free herself and attacks him too.
Kenichi Shirahama from Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple takes one to save Miu Furunji from Junazard, who has gotten her Brainwashed and Crazyand has pit her against Kenichi himself. Instead of seriously harming or killing her in self-defense or letting her beat him to death before she can even recognize him, he decides to smash the helmet she's wearing, which enhances the brainwashing. It sorta works as Miu snaps out of it, realizes what's going on and stops attacking Kenichi... though not completely, as there's a high possibility of her being mentally re-taken.
In Kare Kano, when Arima confesses for the second time, Yukino is very troubled over her inability to give him a proper reply. Will she reject him definitely? Will she openly accept his affections? She chooses to reach down and grasp Arima's hand into hers during a student council meeting.
In You're Under Arrest!'s first season, Natsumi breaks her arm and Nakajima breaks his leg while trying to catch the rogue officers that cause accidents. They don't want to stay aside in that very difficult case, but at the same time their physical injuries would make them loads. So they invoke the trope via getting a specially outfitted motorbike that lets both of them drive, since Nakajima is in charge of the steering wheel and Natsumi manages the pedals.And they rock at it.
In Claymore, the eponymous women are able to tap into their Superpowered Evil Side to gain speed, strength and various supernatural powers. However, surpassing their limit will cause them to transform into a Complete Monster. During the "Carnage in the North" storyline, an extremely powerful Awakened Being is laying waste to the Claymores assembled there, and Clare realizes she can't defeat this opponent without exceeding her limits. Rather than give in and transform completely, she only allows her legs to change, thus granting her the speed she needs to save her friends.
Taken by Ranka in the Vampire Princess Miyu OAV. She must transform her lover Kei into a doll to sustain herself or lose him to Miyu who has her eyes set on him and wants to drink his blood. What does she do? Since she loves Kei so she neither wants to make him a mere puppet nor lose him to Miyu... she transforms him into a Shinma instead. That way they stay together forever in the Darkness, and it doubles as a last laugh to Miyu.
Lampshaded right afterwards by Himiko, who tells Miyu that she lost in the end, not as a shinma hunter or a vampire, but as a woman. Miyu at first denies it since she technically did win (the Shinma were vanished), but when Himiko adds the "as a woman" bit, she can't bring herself to speak up and just leaves with Larva.
In Suzuka, the lead female Suzuka takes one when her boyfriend Yamato gets upset upon learning that she wants to visit her dead boyfriend's grave one last time, which he sees as a reluctance to truly let go of her past. Instead of complying to his demands and deny herself the chance for closure, or just go there without his input and risking a bigger fight, she calmly asks Yamato to come with her in the cementary trip.
In Yes! Pretty Cure 5, Karen finds herself overwhelmed by the various clubs - their stuff is worn out and they want replacements now. Unfortunately for everyone, Karen isn't part of an Absurdly Powerful Student Council and approaches the headmistress for more money. The headmistress urges her to find a third option, which she does - taking the old gear from each of the clubs and re-purpose them for the others.
Terry Grandchester takes one in the Boarding School arc of Candy Candy, when he and Candy are tricked into meeting up in the night and caught, which means Candy will be expulsed and Terry punished. Between throwing Candy under the bus to save himself and taking all the blame which will ruin his future, the person decides to call out his father (one of the school's benefactors and basically the only reason why he hasn't been kicked out already) and willingly drop out of school so he can pursue his actualt dream of being a succesful actor.
A person taking another is vital to the plot. Rather than taking over the leadership of the Andree clan despite his inexperience and the opposition of the older members who see him as Just a Kid or refusing to be the leader and thus leaving the family at the mercy of said older members, William Albert Andree decides to create the fake identity of The Patriarch, Grand-Uncle William Andree, who will become He Who Must Not Be Seen. That way the younger and more problematic members will believe they're under the thumb of an older man so they won't rebel, and at the same time the older members won't be "embarrassed" and "bossed around" in public by a man barely in his 20's/30's.