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     Tropes Applying To The Eight Geniuses

The eight genius military advisors who are students of Sima Hui 'Shuijing' (commonly translated as 'Water-Mirror'), a famous teacher who educated many famous strategists in the previous decades. Their abilities far surpass the common men of this age, and thus their service is much sought after. Whichever warlord faction, no matter how diminutive, is chosen by one of the Eight will soon become a competitive force in the race to conquer and unite China. Once a Genius has chosen a lord, he will take off the mask and uniform (which was designed identically with the purpose of hiding their respective identities) and leave the school.

So far the revealed Geniuses are: Yuan Fang, Xun Yu, Jia Xu, Guo Jia, Zhou Yu, Pang Tong, Zhuge Liang. The Eighth has made very few appearances in the series, and his identity has fueled much fan speculations. Of the Eight, five have picked a master: Yuan Fang who serves the Yuan clan; Xun Yu, Jia Xu and Guo Jia who serve the Cao clan; lastly Zhou Yu who serves the Sun clan. The Sixth Pang Tong and the Seventh Zhuge Liang have expressed their approval of a lord (Liu Bei) but only the latter has joined up, though they are both collaborating with Zhou Yu on what will become the Battle of Chibi.

Below are tropes applied to the Eight Geniuses:

  • Anti-Hero: The 2nd and 7th Geniuses share many traits of Type II (they have the Heroic Spirit and the will to do good, yet are undoubtedly influenced by the world they live in enough to dispense with any positive outlook), the 3rd and 6th Geniuses are arguably Type III, while the 4th Genius is a straight Type IV. The 1st Genius, who started out as a standard anti-hero, later develops into a Byronic Hero/villain of sorts.
  • Badass Finger Snap: Seems to be the new fad among the four participants of Guandu.
  • Chessmaster Sidekick
  • Cool Mask: Will drop this when they join side with a warlord.
  • Crazy-Prepared: It's part of their job description.
    • Xun Yu's motto is "Eons of cultivation for one moment of utilization".
    • Special mentions go to Yuan Fang with his long-term plans for the Northern conquest, Guo Jia for planning for the Guandu showdown 20 volumes before it officially takes place, and Pang Tong for delaying his graduation to gather warlords for an all-out campaign against Cao Cao.
    • Even as he lays dying, Guo Jia still actively schemes to thwart Sima Yi's predicted insurrection and prevent Zhuge Liang, Pang Tong and Zhou Yu from kicking Cao Cao's ass in Chibi. Which in the end turns out to be a subversion of the trope - he knows that he cannot plan for every scenario after his death, so his best bet is to let his successor do the job in his stead. The successor is Sima Yi.
  • The Dreaded
  • Dwindling Party: Most of them are historical characters, and as more than a few died untimely deaths in real life, this trope is a given.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Each of the Geniuses' debuts, many of which are also loaded with hints about the kind of man they will turn out to be.
    • In his hostage rescue mission in Luoyang and the subsequent encounter with Lu Bu and Huo Xiong, Yuan Fang showed himself to be a master of Xanatos Speed Chess, extremely charismatic and resourceful in managing and coordinating the men from many factions in Guandong alliance. He also casually sacrificed a few hundred innocent people to save the hostages and barely batted an eyelid at killing his own betrothed (admittedly, one he does not love) to save his own skins. That his meticulous plans and Xanatos Speed Chess were all taken down by his opponents also foreshadow that to this Genius Failure Is the Only Option.
    • Xun Yu inspired the remnant Taiping soldiers, who just moment were dowtrodden beggars living on the army's leftover rations, to take up their arms and fight for his new lord Cao Cao. He turned out to be a great administrator who rules with mercy and kindness in order to foster the people's strength.
    • Jia Xu took on Lu Bu with a Badass Boast and wiped the floor with his ass using not an army, but just two men's heads.
    • Guo Jia killed thousands of innocent people just to show that he means business with his 'Darkness ideology' and proved himself an opponent far above the level of chessmasters that Liaoyuan Huo and Liu Bei are used to deal with.
    • Zhou Yu ended Yuan Shu's hinderance to Sun Ce's southern conquest by tricking all his men into fighting each other.
    • Pang Tong's debut nearly costs Cao Cao and Sima Yi, two major protagonists at that point, their lives. Awakening the Sleeping Giant and There Is No Kill like Overkill indeed.
  • Garb, Hat, Mask: Their identical uniform, designed with the purpose of making it impossible for people to tell them apart.
  • Good is Not Nice: Given how the Geniuses' shared goal is the ultimate peace for the people and how their acts have stabilized the country's condition, they certainly are a force of good. However, all of them - even the "good guys" like Xun Yu - consider manipulating, deceiving, betraying and/or sacrificing some hundred thousands of lives legitimate means to the accomplishment of said goal. This trope is averted with Yuan Fang, who eventually slips into the territory of an Evil Genius and puts his efforts into something else entirely.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Many of their victims got what was coming to them.
  • Living Legend
  • Manipulative Bastard: Any of them can be seen as both by the people they manipulate and the people their manipulations benefit, but so far Guo Jia and Yuan Fang take the cake.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: To put it in Yu Ji's words - "In terms of bringing chaos, how are the Eight Geniuses different from the Ten Attendants?"
  • Take the Third Option: Many of them choose this if you look on the basis their teacher's comment and advice which states "Only Sun Jian and Cao Cao are worth serving for."
    • Pang Tong choose Liu Chong, a royal relative who is stronger than Liu Bei, and, after Liu Chong assassinated, Liu Bei himself.
    • Zhuge Liang choose Liu Bei after long years of inactive life.
    • Jia Xu choose to fight for Dong Faction (most other genius choose to fight for lords who oppose Dong Faction)then Zhang Xiu later Cao Cao.
    • Eight Genius chooses his own oath-brother and lord of Guiyang, Zhao Fan.
  • The Heavy: Ravages fully embrace the 'pivotal, game-changing figures' treatment that Romance of Three Kingdoms gave to the Eights' historical counterparts (minus the fictional Yuan Fang), and tune their already massively Historical Badass Upgrade-d importance in said novel up to eleven and beyond. Over the course of the story, the Eights' personal designs and schemes sweep the political arena clean of rogue players, give rise to the warlord founders of the Three Kingdoms and pretty much set the stage for the country's segregation in the next fifty years. Once they properly show up, the hitherto main characters (Sima Yi and Liaoyuan Huo) are delegated to Supporting Protagonist status and their filthy rich, politically influential merchant clan as a whole suffer the fate of Decoy Protagonist. Sima Yi in particular tend to find himself embroiled in the Eights' machinations to his great detriment and has to actively scheme (and often fails) to get even with them or grasp control of his situations... and until the Eighth is revealed, it may be presumed that Sima Yi won't break out until Zhuge Liang is the last Genius left.
  • The Man Behind the Man
  • The Plan: Of which they're the undisputed masters.
  • The Strategist
  • They Just Don't Get It: All of them have invoked this at least once, because the guys on the receiving end usually don't have the foresights and brilliance to understand their schemes.
  • To Win Without Fighting: To show off how brilliant they are, each Genius has pulled this off at an earlier point in their career.
    • In the Battle at Hulao Gate, Yuan Fang tricked the Guandong warlords into using up their remaining rations, sacrificing their best generals and facing Lu Bu all on their own, while his army beat a silent retreat. This move gave the Yuan a good start in conquering the northern lands.
    • Xun Yu gained the loyalty of remnant Yellow Turban troops for Cao Cao by refusing to sharing Cao Cao's war rations with them and thereby showing that unlike other warlords of Guandong alliance who freely distributed indispensable rations to show off their generositynote , his lord who could not afford to waste resources was the only one devoted to fighting Dong Zhuo and the only one who might actually try to quell the chaos.
    • In the showdown against Lu Bu at Chang'an, Jia Xu sacrificed his lords twice to lure Lu Bu into a false sense of security and fall into his trap. When the dust settled, Lu Bu barely managed to escape with his life and Jia Xu's army entered Chang'an with ease.
    • In the first Xuzhou campaign, Guo Jia ordered his men to massacre tens of thousand of civilians to frighten the surrounding citizens into moving to Xuzhou and thus eating up Xuzhou's rations; by this method he took over ten cities for Cao Cao.
    • In the Rise of Sun Ce arc, Zhou Yu achieved this for Sun Ce by setting up two of Yuan Shu's generals and Liu Biao against each other by clever manipulationnote  and counter-intelligence. Thanks to him, Sun Ce could march to the Eastern region unhindered while his two archenemies continued to fight and wear each other down.
    • In his debut, Pang Tong manipulated his students and three other warlords to launch a campaign against Cao Cao. The plan eventually broke down, but Pang Tong's chosen lord Liu Chong, with his force intact and his army morale strong, could start expanding territory.
    • Zhuge Liang managed to drive off Cao Cao's forces from Xuzhou with no army on his own by teaming up with Sima Yi to outwit Guo Jia. In the aftermath of Chibi arc, he pulled another over Zhou Yu, waiting until after Zhou Yu & co. had schemed tooth and nails to pull off the fire attack that finish Cao Cao's fleets on the river and drove Cao Cao to retreat via Huarong Path to mobilize his army on Cao Cao's heels. He correctly predicted that there would be a flood immediately after the fire, which would block both Cao Cao's retreating path and Zhou Yu's incoming army, leaving Cao Cao ripe for his taking with Zhou Yu unable to intercept.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: They all aspire to bring an end to the endless wars, and are more than willing to wage more wars to achieve it. Yuan Fang breaks out of this tradition when his motives become somewhat more personal.
  • Tyke Bomb: Yuan Shao believes Shujing picked the seven Geniuses after Yuan Fang in order to prevent the all-around talented and remorseless Fang from conquering China in the future.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Since once a Genius has chosen a warlord he will stick to his master's cause to the bitter end, and the lords are much more content to eliminate each other than band together and rebuild the country, the Eights and their mentors are well-aware that it's only a matter of time until they turn against each other. Though, it's still up to them whether to treat the other classmates courteously despite their political difference or go on full annihilation mode against each other for their lords' sake. The decisive moment of Breaking the Fellowship comes when Yuan Fang personally orders attacks on the three Geniuses in Cao Cao's camp during Guandu, signaling that their friendship has been brought to an end. Yuan Fang's death at the hands of Guo Jia's mole is lampshaded as a foreshadowing for the fates of the rest. And true enough, prior to Chibi, Jia Xu contemplates killing Zhuge Liang if he doesn't take a hint and sides with Liu Bei... while Zhuge Liang himself is the presumable culprit behind the luring away of Hua Tuo and thereby Guo Jia's death.

    Yuan Fang

The First Genius. A member of the prominent Yuan clan, Yuan Fang's primary goal is to expand his clan's territory in the north, and acts as First advisor to the clan leader Yuan Shao. He is Yuan Shao's illegitimate son, but since his brilliance far surpasses his three half-brothers (Yuan Shao's legitimate sons), Yuan Shao inwardly acknowledges Yuan Fang as the true heir and spares no efforts to strengthen his position within the clan; he even kills Yuan Fang's childhood sweetheart to force him into a marriage he wants no part of. Although Yuan Fang never truly forgives his father for this, over the years he starts to relent to Yuan Shao's plans, and gradually manifests the ambition to take over the clan and overthrow Imperial Han. The course of the story also observes Yuan Fang's transformation into a ruthless man unhesitant to eliminate anyone in his way, even his former classmates.

He was killed at the end of the Battle of Gushi vs. Cao Cao (year 200) by Yang Qing, a confidante who turned out to be Yang Xiu, Guo Jia's mole and the son of his father's former political rival. Shortly after, Cao Cao and the three Geniuses concealed his death and disposed of his body in secret, thus further aggravating the situation on Yuan side as they were left with no competent leader and uncertainty over Yuan Fang's fate. The truth did not reach Yuan Shao until 202 and his close subordinates some times later, and by then his faction had mostly dissolved.

  • The Ace: Oh boy is he ever.
  • Animal Motif: The crane.
  • Badass Bookworm: He and Zhou Yu are the only ones among the Eight Geniuses who are both strategist and general (and not even Zhou Yu has acted in the capacity of Frontline General until Chibi, which Yuan Fang has, multiple times), giving him a definite advantage over armchair tacticians like Guo Jia. The author also goes to extensive length to show off his broad knowledge of old military treatises, in the midst of battles no less.
  • Beat Them at Their Own Game: Displayed in all its glory in Guandu. He beat his three underclassmen, each of them a genius, in their playing fields - Xun Yu was stuck dealing with countless insiders in the court and the Cao clan that Fang has planted beforehands, Jia Xu was delayed by the insurrection in Runan he was supposed to have taken care of thanks to Fang's incitement, Guo Jia got his ass handed to him right in their first battle on account of Fang's sheer superior tactical genius, and Sima Yi the spy was tricked by Fang's counterintelligence gambit and brought back a sacrifical mole. But he just also happens to be a classic example of winning the battle but losing the whole war, since Guo Jia already planted a mole by his side waaaaaaaaaaay back then, who is now his most trusted confidante. Who killed him as soon as the Battle of Guandu is over.
  • Big Bad: Of the Guandu arc, as was canonically dubbed by the author in an interview.
  • Break the Cutie: All he ever wanted was to not give a damn about his father's Evil Plan and live out his life with the woman he loved. Cue said father killed the girl and jump-started his Start of Darkness.
  • Break the Haughty
  • Calling the Old Man Out
  • Canon Foreigner: Ravages of Time is far from a literal adaptation of the records or novelization of the Three Kingdoms era, but Yuan Fang is one of the few major characters in this Manhua- and the only genius- who you won't find in the history books or The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: With Xiao Cha, the daughter of a local landlord under Yuan Shao's authority. Sadly, with her lowly status and the unlikely prospects of their marriage providing Yuan Fang with the political prestige he needed, Yuan Shao perceived them as an Unequal Pairing and pushed him into a betrothal with Sun Jian's daughter Sun Shu by killing Xiao Cha off.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Thanks to his army's massive number advantage, one's almost always guaranteed. But the elimination of Guandong alliance, the pre-Guandu anti-Gongsun Zan campaign and the entire Guandu arc show that it's his brilliant strategies that win half the fight.
  • Dragon Ascendant: His real motive behind the whole campaign against Cao Cao, moreso than removing a sizeable obstacle to his clan's Southern conquest, is to murder his father and half-brothers and legitimately succeed Yuan Shao.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: He's the true architect of all invasions against the Guandong warlord and is promoted to commander-in-chief of Yuan clan during Guandu arc.
  • Death by Genre Savviness: He was the only one who's ever seen through Sima Yi's Fake Defector scheme, and it backfired horribly for him.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Sorry Yuan Fang, this time Sima Yi is not The Mole.
  • Due to the Dead: After it was recovered, his body was properly taken care of in a funeral pyre arranged by Xun Yu, Guo Jia and Jia Xu. Bittersweetness ensued as they reflected on what Yuan Fang's ending foreshadowed for the future of the Eight Geniuses and bid him farewell, their enmity entirely burned away by the fire.
  • Dying Alone: He still dies happy, because in his Dying Dream he gets to see his sweetheart Xiao Cha and dies in her embrace.
  • Doomed by Canon: Word Of God states that Fang was specifically created to "spice up" his (self-admitted) boring Guandu arc and fated to disappear after this arc ended.
  • Evil Costume Switch: For over 30 volumes he always dresses in white. Comes Guandu and he starts to wear black robes.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: The man who burned his army's rations then literally and fatally stabbed him in the back, costing Yuan Fang his victory in one fell swoop, is Yang Qing/Yang Xiu, a subordinate in his closest circle and one that according to his teacher, he's grown to trust even more than his childhood friends.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: For all his brilliance, his plans go up in smoke without an exception.
  • Family Extermination: The fates of the warlords of Guandong faction at his hands. In the battle of Guandu, this is his plan for his father, three half-brothers and Cao Cao, by luring the first three to gather in one place and the last one in another, then burning them both up.
  • Gone Horribly Right: He prepared for the takeover of the clan by inciting hostility among the potential heirs, Yuan Tan and Yuan Shang, to wear their forces out. When he is no longer around to keep them in check, the tension escalates to uncontrollable height and leads to the clan's defeat.
  • Jerkass: Seriously, between him and Guo Jia, Guo Jia is the lesser of the two devils.
    • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Many (if not all) of Fang's schemes involve him making moves which seem to be in his allies' favors, but turn out to be backstabbings of the most vicious kind in disguise and make Lu Bu look tame in comparison.
    • I Shall Taunt You
    • Kick the Dog
    • Took a Level in Jerkass: And he continues to take them throughout the events that lead to the Battle of Guandu. By Guandu, he's a full-fledged Jerkass Ice King, and becomes Cao Cao's, the three Geniuses' and Sima Yi's most dangerous opponent to date.
  • Light Is Not Good: White-haired, white-robed, and a backstabbing patriacidal-fratricidal Chessmaster.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: His own lover was a victim at his father's hands to facilitate his engagement with Sun Shu, and Sun Shu nearly becomes a victim at his hands because he can't wait to get out of it.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: During a few months that we never got to see, he turned the Guandong warlords against each other and obliterated all but one of them. Gongsun Zan's final defeat at his hands got the same treatment, and apparently the entire ordeal was bad enough to mind-break the once-proud warlord, drove him to murder his family, commit suicide, and curse Fang as the "demon king" in his last breaths.
  • Out-Gambitted: By Guo Jia when it comes to planting The Mole.
  • The Plan: His crowning ones are the Guandong faction vs. Dong Zhuo arc in which he ultimately turned every defeats of the Guandong faction, mainly suffered by other minor warlords, into critical strategic advantages for his clan. In the Battle of Guandu, he pulls another, on an infinitely more epic scale, that can give Pang Tong a run for his money. Had it succeeded, it would have resulted in the simultaneous removal of his greatest obstacles (his father, half-brothers and Cao Cao), the union of Yuan clan and the victory against Cao Cao's faction. And note that in the events after his death, it was revealed that he had even accounted for the probability of his plans being foiled, and had calculated so that even then, there would be no harm done to him and his opposing factions would shoulder all the blame.
  • Parental Favoritism: Yuan Shao favors him the most out of all his sons, as he considers Yuan Fang the most capable of them all.
  • Preacher's Kid: Invoked as Type 2 - he's supposed to be the immoral bastard son that overthrows the three-generation-loyalist tradition of Yuan clan that Yuan Shao, his father, advocates. Yuan Shao himself is a straighter example of the trope.
  • Pride Before a Fall: He was first introduced as the mastermind behind the Guandong hostage rescue mission and his plans performed outstandingly enough until Dong Zhuo and Lu Bu successively countered all of them, and then Sima Yi topped it off by countering Dong Zhuo and Lu Bu with a well-timed move from a well-planted mole - Liaoyuan Huo. It happens again in the climax of Guandu, and this time it's a literal, fatal fall.
  • Resigned to the Call: He's never really that interested in taking over the Yuan clan (or China, for that matter) but due to circumstances and Yuan Shao's manipulations, gradually yields to this idea.
  • Smug Super: He looks down on Sun Tzu's teachings and its learners, and will not give up a chance to tell them how much better his choice of military teachings are. Backed up. He knows the Feng Hou Eight Diagram Position formation, and if you've read the novel or watched the movie and are aware of its fame as Zhuge Liang's invincible formation, you know shit's coming.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: With Xiao Cha.
  • The Starscream: To Yuan Shao, and it's no secret between them.
  • Start of Darkness: The death of his sweetheart Xiao Cha and Yuan Shao's admission to having killed her to secure his political future were how it all started. However, it's also important to note that his transformation into The Unfettered didn't happen overnight, but came to only as he learns to look past his contempt for Yuan Shao and embrace the old man's ambition.
  • The Mourning After: Years after Xiao Cha's death, he still frequents her grave and forbids Yuan Shao to ever come there.
  • Teen Genius In a flashback, a teenage Fang was shown beating Sun Jian and his generals in a mock game of battle, with Sun Jian's side using Sun Tzu's tactics.
  • Too Clever by Half: Big time, and he pays dearly for it. When Sima Yi offered to be his mole and assist the Yuan clan from inside Cao Cao's ranks, he immediately knew Sima Yi is playing the Fake Defector card again, and employed appropriate countermeasures. What he failed to take into account is, Guo Jia had sent Sima Yi precisely because he actually counted on Yuan Fang to make that deduction and focus on handling Sima Yi, while the true Mole, Yang Qing, was able to operate without inhibitions. The results? Thanks to everyone's attentions completely being diverted to Sima Yi, Yang Qing successfully burned the Yuan army's rations and assassinated Yuan Fang, ensuring a decisive victory for Cao Cao.
  • Tyke-Bomb: One that Yuan Shao had prepared for the takeover of Yuan clan and China. Later became a Laser-Guided Tyke-Bomb when Fang chose Shao to be among his first victims in the wake of his master plan. Not that Yuan Shao himself minded; in fact, when he first awoke, Yuan Shao wondered if he had instead been left alive to witness the culmination of Fang's success.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: He practically tears the Yuan clan apart with the devious schemes to supplant his brothers and the pacifist faction led by Tian Feng, yet remains very popular to other clansmen and military commanders thanks to his record-breaking military successes.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Has a remarkable talent for it; as shown in Luoyang arc, where he outwitted Huo Xiong and got this close to assassinating Dong Zhuo simply by continuously improvising new gambits on the spot (even if they all proved futile to counter Lu Bu) and in Guandu arc, where he saved the morale of Yuan army after they lost Yan Liang and Wen Chou by reorganizing the formation in a single night and kicking Guo Jia's ass with the Feng-hou Eight Triagram formation.
  • Worthy Opponent: Feels this way about Zhuge Liang (in terms of being one of the Eight Geniuses), Cao Cao (in terms of being a tactician) and Sima Yi (for having outplayed Yuan Fang himself, Lu Bu and Dong Zhuo in the hostage rescue arc). In the third case, this opinion also compelled him to name Sima Yi even higher on his hit list than Xun Yu or Guo Jia who was more instrumental to Cao Cao's war effort. It almost ended fatally for Sima Yi, who was not expecting an attack coming from this direction, if not for Lu Xun's timely rescue.

    Xun Yu

The Second Genius. Xun Yu's true strength is diplomacy, but he's as well-versed in warfare as any of the other Geniuses. From the beginning days of Cao Cao's faction, his benevolent ministry, as opposed to Guo Jia's 'Darkness Ideology' in military affairs, has helped fortify Cao Cao's rule. Thus stems his nickname, 'Zhang Liang', a homage to a famous advisor who aided Liu Bang in the construction of the Han dynasty.

Unlike Guo Jia and Jia Xu, the two Geniuses whose aim is Cao Cao's eventual rule, Xun Yu works toward the restoration of Imperial Han. Believing Cao Cao to be the only one able to achieve this, Xun Yu pledges his loyalty to him, even after Cao Cao's ambitions manifest in Guo Jia's favor. Xun Yu's greatest feats to date are the recruitment of thousands of Yellow Turban's troops and the Emperor's capture, both of which have contributed monumentally to Cao Cao's faction, elevating him to the status of most influential warlord of the land.

  • Ambadassador: With his nephew Xun You.
  • Badass Pacifist: He's the Nice Guy of the Eight Geniuses who prefers to settle things without bloodshed. Not killing and decimating everything in his way like Jia Xu or Guo Jia can make it harder for him to get things done, but it doesn't mean his strategies are any less incredibly effective.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: After all. he slapped Sima Yi hard enough to turn Sima Yi's head all the way around for being a money-hungry warmonger, and he totally led Cao Cao by the nose during the entire Emperor rescue arc in volume 19. People don't cross Xun Yu for a reason.
  • Break the Cutie: By Cao Cao's massacre of innocents in the first Xuzhou campaign at Guo Jia's behest, and by Yuan Fang who shot him on sight in the very first battle of Guandu arc, but he got over both fairly quickly.
  • The Conscience: During a rare occasion he acted as a field commander, he tried to rein in Cao Cao's Blood Knight attitude in his advances on enemy troops.
  • Distress Ball: Gets hit with this more often than the others. He gets kidnapped at the beginning of the second Xuzhou campaign (the one against Lu Bu) then gets shot at the beginning of Guandu campaign by orders of Yuan Fang.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: A rare good example: although Cao Cao is his chosen lord, his true loyalty is with Emperor Xian (Liu Xie) and Cao Cao is merely the means by which to support the young and powerlessnote  Emperor against the treacherous warlords, by pairing — and subordinating — Cao Cao's hegemonic economic and military power with the Emperor's political backing, making Cao Cao an "able minister" to help unite and administer the country. Cao Cao gets over the realization of this intent fairly quickly thoughnote . His trust pays off not just in the immediate aftermath of the Emperor-escorting arc, but years later when Guandu is going so badly for the Cao army that even Cao Cao's clansmen in the imperial court (as opposed to his relatives in his army such as Cao Ren) abandon him, the Emperor still stands for his cause since Xun Yu successfully convinces him to continue supporting Cao Cao.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: He's the good one and Guo Jia's the bad. The way Cao Cao handles this situation also serves as a reconstruction of the trope: he does not listen to either exclusively but instead relegates them to positions they can perform best (Guo Jia commands his troops and Xun Yu manages court politics), so besides their initial conflict there's almost no instance where the two clash.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Again: Lots of people hate Sima Yi, but he is the only one who ever slapped him during a span of 40+ volumes. Also, it turns out that Xun Yu set up the escape of Emperor Xian (Liu Xie) from Li Jue and Guo Si, with Xu Huang as his "insider" in Yang Feng's camp: first leading them all right into the path of Cao Cao's army to intercept them, then afterwards Xu Huang lures Yang Feng (now without the Emperor) right to where Xun Yu is waiting... with his henchman already aiming a bow and arrow at Yang Feng:
    Xun Yu: Only arrows, Man Chong, work against corrupt vassals!
  • Let Guo Jia Die Happy
  • Long Haired Prettyboy
  • Noble Top Enforcer: His people skills and merciful policies are the reason Cao Cao is so popular with the soldiers and people he conquered.
  • Pet the Dog: Has more moments of this than all of the other Geniuses combined. Hell, it's his official role in Cao faction.
  • The Plan: The Emperor escorting arc in volume 19.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: He forgives Guo Jia's heinous deeds and concedes to his ideals just before Guo Jia dies.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: With Guo Jia at first, since his generous nature simply does not go hand in hand with Guo Jia's habit to massacre millions in his plan. It was quite one-sided as Xun Yu did most of the teeth-clenching while Guo Jia was totally cool with it. Their partnership significantly improves over time, though. And they reconcile just before Guo Jia dies.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: Cao Cao's adoption of Guo Jia's vicious military strategies shocked him into shutting himself away (and being absent for the most part of Xuzhou campaign), but several volumes later he still turned up to help Cao Cao out of a pinch against Lu Bu and Chen Gong.
  • The Social Expert
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Nine volumes after the incident, he still chided Cao Cao for his approval of Guo Jia's massacre of Xuzhou.

    Jia Xu

The Third Genius. A friend of the Fourth Genius Guo Jia, Jia Xu is a fervent believer in the 'Darkness ideology', the belief hailing actions of utmost cruelty, rather than of benevolence, as the ultimate mean to pave way for peace and prosperity. This causes his rupture with the way of justice Shuijing taught, which he deems obsolete, and his premature graduation from the school of Shuijing. He has a positive opinion of ruthless and cunning warlords who have the will to wage wars to bring peace to the people.

During the course of the story, Jia Xu has served various lords. He was particularly loyal to Dong Zhuo, the Imperial Prime Minister whose inhuman reformist method was the closest to his ideal. After Dong Zhuo died in Lu Bu's usurpation, Jia Xu joined forces with Dong Zhuo's son-in-law Niu Fu and successfully overthrew Lu Bu. Since then he's expressed the intention to join Cao Cao and secretly kept in touch with Guo Jia, but still stayed with the remnants of Dong Zhuo's faction and then Zhang Xiu. When Cao Cao's expedition against Lu Bu began, Jia Xu returned and played one of the vital roles in Lu Bu's eventual elimination.

  • Avenging the Villain: After Lu Bu killed Dong Zhuo and Li Ru then blamed the death of the former on the latter, he joined force with Dong Zhuo's other son-in-law Niu Fu to exact revenge.
  • Badass Boast: This guy has a reputation for claiming to accomplish impossible feats with minimal forces and backing them up in ways you cannot believe. In fact it's gone to the point that even saying it alone is sufficient to scare off his opponents.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Believes Cao Cao is favored by Heaven, and it's his fate to serve such a man.
  • Brutal Honesty: Just like his other incarnations.
  • Butt-Monkey: Because he's Surrounded by Idiots until he joins Cao Cao, who simply wouldn't take his good advice; he nevertheless gets the last laugh.
    • He falls into this position a lot in Chibi, which is perhaps inevitable as Jia Xu has to take up Guo Jia's mantle to be the chief strategist and tactician just in time for the battle that Cao Cao is Doomed by Canon to fail.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Crossed it when his lord Dong Zhuo and his sworn brother Li Ru died in Lu Bu's usurpation, having not heeded his advice.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: To Guo Jia, who was too depressed about his declining health to put his tremendous talents to good use; it helped Guo Jia get over it and join Cao Cao's side.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Guo Jia. Probably not coincidentally, this makes for one of the more popular pairings in the Chinese Ravages of Time fandom.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: To avenge Dong Zhuo and Li Ru He helped the kind of Li Jue and Guo Si take over Chang'an and approach the young, defenseless Emperor. About ten volumes later, the once prosperous Chang'an could barely hold together, civilians were starved to death and took turns robbing the palace. The Emperor had to escape from the city with court officials, and Li Jue and Guo Si has turned on each other, having dismissed Jia Xu long before.
  • Paranoia Gambit: In Guandu arc, when the joint attack from Liu Bei and Yuan Fang's loyal Taiping troops backed him into a position where his troops could not assist his lord, he vowed to destroy Liu Bei in ten days, invoking the old Badass Boast which preceded his legendary defeat of Lu Bu at Chang'an. It was enough to hold Liu Bei in his place for days, enough time for him to mobilize his troops and get back to the battlefield.
  • Pet the Dog: After his departure, Jia Xu remained on good terms with Zhang Ji, the only decent leadership figure left in the Dong faction, and accepted Zhang Ji's last request to take care of his hotheaded nephew Zhang Xiu, though it might have had at least something to do with his intention to stabilize the southern front (Zhang Xiu's base) for Cao Cao.
  • Pride Before a Fall: At the climatic battle of Chibi, he thinks he's got Zhou Yu had when he's successfully finished all of Zhou Yu's moles and tricked Zhou Yu into engaging his superior fleet, which far outnumbers the Sun ships and is armed with tactics Zhou Yu are not prepared for. But it turned out that: 1) absolutely none of his plan to counter Zhou Yu's espionage means anything when Sima Yi and Zuo Ci themselves are out to foil him and 2) even when outnumbered and outprepared, Zhou Yu is still the mightier Genius on the water. Underestimating his underclassman's capacity and his own men's treachery ends up costing Jia Xu this battle.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Because for revenge against Lu Bu or not, surely no-one who prioritizes reason will help Li Jue and Guo Si conquer Chang'an and leave the Emperor in their control.
  • Thanatos Gambit: His trademark move, which thrice has overthrown Lu Bu. And he didn't even use it the third time, he merely made Lu Bu believe so.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Like Guo Jia, a proponent of this trope.

    Guo Jia

The Fourth Genius. He's praised as the 'King of strategic decisions', a nod to his ability to account for virtually every scenarios possible in his plans. Like his close friend Jia Xu, Guo Jia is also a proponent of the 'Darkness ideology', which hails actions of utmost cruelty, rather than of benevolence, as the ultimate mean to pave way for peace and prosperity. This, while perpetuates his fame as Cao Cao's 'darkness', also strains his relationship with his upperclassman and comrade Xun Yu.

Much to Guo Jia's despair, he is afflicted with a terminal illness (possibly tuberculosis) which dooms him to a premature death. Guo Jia has long since resigned himself to fate, reluctant to enter anyone's service, until Jia Xu persuades him to join Cao Cao, a warlord they both deem worthy of serving. As Cao Cao's right-hand-man, he plays a vital role in expanding the influence of Cao faction, which grows vigorously and quickly equals that of the Yuan clan.

He finally succumbed to his illness and died in 207, by then having already fulfilled his wish of annihilating the Yuan clan and uniting the North for Cao Cao.

  • Adaptational Badass: All the Geniuses are this to some extent, but Guo Jia is especially favored with this treatment. His deeds were impressive in the origial novel but nowhere near as numerous and magnificent as they are in Ravages, where almost every status-changing victory of Cao Cao can be credited to him.
  • Adaptational Villainy: He sure as hell wasn't a genocidal freak, knight-templarish brainiac, general jerkass and resident evil genius in Cao Cao's camp back there.
  • Animal Motif: The crow. It has a deeper meaning than the obvious association with death, though, which isn't elucidated until much later.
    • Creepy Crows: His appearances in earlier volumes are sometimes followed by a flock of crows, and a volume cover also portrayed him surrounded by crows.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Demonstrated it in his encounter with Liaoyuan Huo and Liu Bei in Xuzhou. When Huo staged the arrival of backup troops and tried to assassinate Guo Jia to force Xiahou Dun to lift the siege on his mountain, the experienced Xiahou Dun fell for it immediately but it took Guo Jia less than a few seconds to call Huo out on this bluff and sic Xu Chu on him. Again when he came up against Liu Bei soon after, he correctly assessed the force of Liu Bei's troops just by counting the number that Liu Bei brought with him.
  • Call-Back: He dies in the exact same way Jia Xu told him he should during his first appreance in volume 10 - he serves Cao Cao and by extension, the country, until his last breaths and passes away in peace, even though by then he's become known as an atrocious murderer for a lifetime of honoring Necessarily Evil philosophy.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: What his partnership with Sima Yi boils down to. He passed it on to Cao Cao.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The darkness embodiment of the Eight, and the most selfless martyr for "the greater good" among them so far.
  • Determinator: Incurable Cough of Death and delibitating illnesses generally don't stop Guo Jia, unless his body gives out first.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: In his dying breaths, he was comforted by Xun Yu, who made peace with him, acknowledged the righteousness of his brutality and the magnitudes of his sacrifices (having chosen to become Necessarily Evil to aid Cao Cao in his world conquest) and died in Xun Yu's arms.
  • The Dragon: To Cao Cao.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Hammed his way into the plot by declaring the country is beyond saving except through the worst and cruelest means, then encouraged Cao Cao to frame an innocent administrator as a cause for war, and carried himself with indifference to other's scorns and ridicules through the whole thing.
  • Four Is Death
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: He's the bad one to Cao Cao.
  • Graceful Loser: At the end of their showdown at Xuzhou, which ended with Sima Yi and Zhuge Liang's victory, Guo Jia saluted Sima Yi as an acknowledgement of their plan outgambitting his, the so-called 'King of Strategy'.
  • Heroic RRoD: Guo Jia's frequently on the verge of collapsing due to a weak constitution; to the point bad weathers during marches are almost universally lamented by other officers since they only worsen his conditions. In Guandu, he manages to defy this and remains on his feet throughout the campaign (likely thanks to the adrenaline). He eventually dies from a combination of overwork, terminal illness and his doctor Hua Tuo's absencenote  while he's laying out plans for the Jing conquest.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Ultimately made out to be one, given his goal and the monstrous deeds he pulled to its accomplishment.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Rocky as their partnership might be, Guo Jia genuinely wants to protect Sima Yi, as he appreciates Sima Yi's extraordinary talents and is well-aware that with regards to his capacity to be a "hero in peace", Sima Yi is not so different from Cao Cao after all. And it's not a good idea to immediately get rid of the one person who can think on the same page as Zhuge Liang when Guo Jia himself is about to die and Zhuge Liang is teaming up with Pang Tong and Zhou Yu to kick Cao Cao's ass hard in Chibi.
  • Jerkass: Even his officers and colleagues can't stand him sometimes, those cold-blooded murders of innocents being one of the many reasons. He can be worse, if you happen to be Sima Yi.
  • I Have Your Family: His strategy to keep Sima Yi in reins.
  • Knight of Cerebus: His appearance not only triggered a bloody Face–Heel Turn for Cao Cao, who would soon end up as the second Evil Chancellor after Dong Zhuo, but also started a chain of event that led to the public exposure of Sima clan's ties to the Crippled Legion and Sima Yi's forced surrender to his blackmail and financial extortions.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: When Hua Tuo was lured away by Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi and failed to return to his side in time to treat his deteriorating conditions, Guo Jia mused to himself that since he'd killed so many peole he must have run out of saviors. This is later shown to be partially true: Chen Deng, a major ally and friend of Sima Yi, still resents Guo Jia's massacre of Xuzhou innocents so much that even when he's on the verge of death, he asks Sima Yi not to bring Hua Tuo back and is contented that he gets to bring Guo Jia to hell with him.
  • Meaningful Name: His style name 'Fengxiao', meaning 'to uphold filial piety', resonates with his characterization at several points in the story. His first advice to Cao Cao (start a campaign on Xuzhou in the name of revenge for Cao Cao's father who actually died of an illness) was a word play on this style name, and his animal motif - the crow - is a rare breed of bird with the habit of feeding its parents, which is therefore a loving and filial bird, and thus perfectly sums up the core of Guo Jia's existence - a martyr who, sacrificing his name and health, dies serving the country.
    • One of his last thoughts is "Oh, my country"; the characters for "country" are actually guo jia.
  • Moral Event Horizon: His first advice to Cao Cao was to massacre tens of thousand of people in the first Xuzhou campaign. Xiahou Dun called both him and Cao Cao out (since by Dun's own admission the ruler of Xuzhou, Tao Qian, is decent and noble) and Xun Yu gets sore with him for a long time. And it prompted an outraged Zhuge Liang into action.
    • He also ordered the murder of Liu Bei's firstborn with the intention of keeping Guan Yu from returning to Liu Bei's side out of shame. Even Cao Cao was somewhat unsettled.
  • Out-Gambitted: By the combined efforts of Sima Yi and Zhuge Liang in volume 13.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Whenever the subject of his conversation with Sima Yi turns to the nebulous motive of the latter in joining Cao Cao (which they both know to be of a starscream-y nature), expect a lot of this. One can tell from Sima Yi's expression and his internal dialogue that this really gets under his skin.
  • The Plan: Two for Lu Bu, both occurred in the Xuzhou campaigns. Also the Battle of Guandu, which was basically a game of tit-for-tat Xanatos Gambit between him and Yuan Fang. He won.
  • Properly Paranoid: Regarding Sima Yi, which sparks an implicit antagonism between them.
  • Refusal of the Call: At first, because he believed his illness would kill him before he could accomplish anything. He got over it after Jia Xu gave him a pep talk about how he should try to live his life to the fullest, instead of waiting it out.
  • Secret Test of Character: The real nature of almost every dickish move he pulls on Sima Yi: he needs to know that Sima Yi's (facade of) loyalty will last at least past Chibi.
  • Shoot the Dog: He takes it upon himself to be the 'darkness' of Cao Cao and see to it that Cao Cao becomes the villain who conquers the world, leaving Xun Yu to be the 'light' of Cao Cao to set him up as the hero who saves the people, which means he will not hesitate to do this if it's required of him. In one instance, he willingly executes an officer who has merely established contact with his brother (who serves in Yuan Fang's army) and for the records has strongly rebuffed his brother's offer to become an informant, only to make sure there can be no loose ends.
  • Thanatos Gambit: The details are currently unknown, but it appears to concern nipping Sima Yi's usurpation in the buds and countering team Zhou Yu, Pang Tong and Zhuge Liang in Chibi.
  • The Extremist Was Right: Extreme and uncalled for his cruelty might be, Guo Jia still takes most of the credit for Cao Cao's two most illustrious victories. When he hears it from Xun Yu, he dies a happy man.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized
  • The Unfettered: Word Of God says his capability to make hard decisions is why Guo Jia is the worst one to deal with out of the Eight.
  • Undying Loyalty: He already planned several gambits to save Cao Cao's life in his future defeat at Chibi, and most of them were conceived around the time he was about to die.
  • Unusual Eyebrows
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Any means. To give you an idea of the extremes he will go to - dude is not above genocide and infanticide.
  • While Rome Burns: Has a memorable moment in his debut, when he looks on in victorious glee at Tanxian, the city he just tricked into sending away their entire defense troops, cutting off their supply line and being burned up in their barricade.
  • Workaholic
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: To Sima Yi after the Battle of Guandu. But it turns out to be another, and this time final, Secret Test of Character for Sima Yi.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: To prove that even Guo Jia has some qualms about fighting his former classmates to the death, he did not like it when Cao Cao commented that from an outsider's perspective the fight between him, Xun Yu, Jia Xu and Yuan Fang (basically in-fighting between former classmates) in the Battle of Guandu was a delightful sight to behold.
  • Your Days Are Numbered
  • Zero-Approval Gambit: Pulls this on Cao Cao and himself to effect drastic, but real, changes in the realm.

    Zhou Yu
"Heaven is not dead. He is just forging a magnificent clan."

The Fifth Genius. Of all the Geniuses to have made an appearance, Zhou Yu's goal strays the furthest from their common ideal: rather than striving to bring peace to the land, he pledges loyalty to his sworn brother, Sun Ce, and dedicates his genius to the resurrection of the fallen Sun clan which may or may not imply his intentions to found the future Wu kingdom independent of Imperial Han. For this, he's disliked by the Seventh Genius Zhuge Liang, who likens him to Sima Yi, another man of staggering brilliance but seemingly without noble ambitions.

Zhou Yu's strength lies in troop deploying and counter-espionage, the later of which was the basis for his ingenious scheme to turn Yuan Shu's men against each other, tremendously diminishing Yuan Shu's force. With his aids, Sun Ce was able to escape safely to the Eastern region and embark on his conquest to regain the old glory of his family. As of now, the Sun clan has essentially unified the land east of the Changjiang (aka the Yangtze River) and by the prelude to Chibi has joined the fray as a still-rapidly rising power.

  • Arranged Marriage: With the second daughter of Qiao family, one of the richest families in Eastern region, whose sister is set up for his sworn brother Sun Ce.
  • Badass Boast: Of being undefeatable in naval warfare. The one time Jia Xu attempts to test it, Zhou Yu completely toasts him and his fleets.
  • Badass Bookworm: He's also an admiral and is implied to be trained in combat, as shown in an instance where Taishi Ci was going for Sun Ce's throat but was promptly stopped by Zhou Yu at dagger's point. At one point during the Cao vs. Yuan war in the north, Yuan Fang mentally laughed at Guo Jia's battlefield appearance and remarked that he and Zhou Yu are the only two warriors among the Eight Geniuses.
  • Big Brother Mentor: To Sun Quan, after Sun Ce's death.
  • Brains and Brawn: The brains to Sun Ce's brawn. Kind of zigzagged in this case, as Sun Ce being Sun Ce, Zhou Yu even admits that sometimes he fails to catch up.
  • Cool Mask: A telltale sign of what's going on is the fact that he's the only one to keep the mask and hatnote  and keep full Water-Mirror Genius garb once he's picked a lord... too bad for that "lord", Liu Xun, that Zhou Yu was merely faking it and hiding his brotherhood with Sun Ce; he doesn't drop the mask until he's escaped into Sun Ce's camp.
  • Crying Wolf: When his health deteriorated in the middle of a campaign, the Wu army announced his death every day to desensitize the impact of his potential death. When he really died, nobody believed the announcement and stability was maintained.
  • Do Not Go Gentle
  • Identical Stranger: To Sima Yi were it not for their eyebrows and hairstyles, and it doesn't go unnoticed in-universe.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Sun Ce, his sworn brother.
  • The Lancer: To Sun Ce.
  • Long Haired Prettyboy: The original among the Eight Geniuses, "Beautiful Zhou".
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: His main motivation is helping his sworn brother Sun Ce rebuild the Sun clan and restore its rightful government of the southeastern region. Needless to say, the patriotic Zhuge Liang doesn't approve of him anymore than he does Sima Yinote .
  • Pimped-Out Armor: In the naval battles of Chibi, all strategists actively working on the frontline have acquired battle gear for Rule of Cool and practical reasons, but Zhou Yu takes the cake by appearing on Wu's flagship with a gorgeous set of armor.
  • Secretly Dying: A while into the Jingzhou campaign, he's struck down with an unnamed illness. It's implied that this illness, on top of being injured with a poisoned blade by Guo Huai, is what finally kills Zhou Yu during this Thanatos Gambit below.
  • Taking You with Me: He uses himself as bait to lure the Cao army, Wang Shuang and Guo Huai into a fire pit trap during the Jingzhou campaign. He perishes in the fire (although he already succumbs to his illness before that), and while Cao Cao and his top retainers live, the Cao army takes yet another huge blow that ends their ambition to annex Jingzhou.
  • The Mole: Played this once to help Sun Ce by acting as Liu Xun's advisor, albeit still in full "Water Mirror Genius" garb with his mask.
  • The Plan: The "Rise of Sun Ce" arc.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Sun Ce's halberd, which he now wields instead of his old sword.
  • Unusual Eyebrows
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Even as he allies with Zhuge Liang in Chibi to defend Jiangdong, Zhou Yu & co. still pull many questionable moves in his lord's favor to the potential severe detriment of Liu Bei's war efforts, mainly revolving around "who gets Jingzhou" when the storm is over. Which include but not limit to his passive-aggressively trying to recruit Zhuge Liang, a (suspected) deliberate sacrifice of central defense spots to Cao Cao to hold back Liu Bei from mobilizing his army to retake Jingzhou, his support of Sun Quan's unsavory design on Liu Bei's marriage to Sun Shu, and so on.
  • World's Best Admiral: It's emphasized over and over again in-universe that in naval warfare, no military force in existence stands a chance against Zhou Yu's fleets. As far as we've seen, he can back this up. In an interview, the author confirms that Zhou Yu is his No. 1 strategist, while Lu Bu is the No. 1 warrior.

    Pang Tong
"Strategy, as they say, amounts to only one type."

The Sixth Genius. With his extraordinary power of devising chained strategems, he's hailed as the 'Fledgling Phoenix' (鳯雛; Fèngchú), one of the two titles conferred on the best of the Geniuses only (the other being 'Crouching Dragon', conferred on the Seventh Zhuge Liang). Regardings his principles, Pang Tong is considered a ruthless utilitarian whom even Jia Xu considers himself inferior to. He's close friend with Zhuge Liang, who shares his dream of restoring the era of Imperial Han and yet seems to advocate more benevolent methods. Thus, people believe that he favors Liu Bei but he actually supports Liu Chong, a more powerful warlord also related to the Imperial family. The chain stratagem he sets up upon joining Liu Chong, which involves several prominent warlords in a surprise all-out extermination of Cao Cao's faction, soon pushes Cao Cao into deadly predicaments and nearly claims his life. This also brought about the demise of the Sima clan, marking one of the most significant plot development in the story. After Liu Chong was assassinated by Sima Yi's assassin, as of now he prefers to stay out of the power struggle and observe the going-ons. Still, Liu Chong's death and a private talk with Liu Bei made him change his opinion, and he seems to support Liu Bei now.

  • Adaptational Attractiveness : While he's not quite the Bishōnen many of the other geniuses are, he's a far cry from the hideous Gonk he's historically recorded and popularly portrayed to be.
  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant: The most spectacular example to date, bordering on plot-triggering. Until Pang Tong came his way and plotted the sacrifice of Sima Yi's family, Sima Yi didn't even think about joining Cao Cao's team, not even when Cao Cao was extorting his family for money.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Word Of God says it's only for scary effects, though.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The one he used to solve Dong Zhuo's puzzle and earns the title of Fledgling Phoenix, by connecting several characters from a thousand meaningless ones to form a sentence. It speaks a lot of his talent for uniting warlords with independent motives into a mighty force against Cao Cao.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: A lecture on the way of strategy, which he used to repeat for three days and none of his students understood. Later they took it to heart and acted accordingly to aid him in a grand scheme to kill Cao Cao and undermine his faction's influence.
  • Cool Teacher: He's one for a very good reason.
  • Creepy Good: With heavy emphasis on creepy, as in "creepy-looking"note  - even Jia Xu thinks Pang Tong's brains are not his only frightening asset. Pang Tong himself knows this too.
  • The Dreaded: Guo Jia and Xun Yu need only consider the improbability of an anti-Cao Cao alliance between rival factions and neutral warlords with no mutual interests to point out it's him who's behind the scene. At which point they put aside their hostility to team up to save Cao Cao, because Pang Tong was just that good.
  • Enemy Mine: He doesn't think the least bit favorably of non-Loyalists like the Sun clan's Sun Ce, as Zhou Yu notes, but still joins force with them because he hates Cao Cao even more.
  • Facial Markings: Used in place of the traditional depictions of Pang Tong as outright ugly.
  • Fauxshadow: The prelude chapters to Chibi introduced him joining Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang for drinks with the implication that this three-man team would whoop Cao Cao's ass in the upcoming arc. Instead, he's absent from most of the actions and only has one significant appearance.
  • FrameUp: On one hand, he goaded Lu Bu into sending Xiao Meng after Cao Cao. On the other hand, he paid Liaoyuan Huo to do the same. This leads to Cao Cao believing Sima Yi was behind the assassination and forces Sima Yi to raise a real mutiny, despite staunchly being against this idea in the first place.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Historically he's an ugly guy and traditionally depicted as such, but in Ravages of Time he is nothing short of the coolest looking of the Eight Geniuses.
  • I Fight for the Strongest Side!: Why he picked Liu Chong over Liu Bei at first, and why he allied with the Sun clan - the one faction left with any chance of opposing Cao Cao at all in the eastern region - in the Chibi arc.
    • He still refuses to officially join them though, that's why Zhou Yu had to turn to Zhuge Liang to get at least one of the reputed duo with world-conquering capacities - Crouching Dragon and Fledgeling Phoenix, as claimed by their teacher - on the Sun side.
  • Insufferable Genius: Was one to his students, mostly due to the way he taught them and how none of them could understand anything he says. When they did, though, he successfully united their factions under one goal: to kill Cao Cao, and none of them had any apprehension or hesitation in following his advice to the letter.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: His scheme triggered the ruins of Sima clan, which gave Sima Yi the incentive he needed to stop being Brilliant, but Lazy and join Cao Cao's faction, what Pang Tong wanted to avoid in the first place.
    • Sima Yi's intent is to pave his own path to usurping Cao Cao one day, so that works against both him and his archnemesis Cao Cao.
  • The Plan: Look at what he does to Cao Cao on his debut. You do not want to mess with this guy.
  • Put on a Bus: Despite various foreshadowings of him being a key player in Chibi arc, Pang Tong leaves the Sun clan prematurely with Zhuge Liang after Liang figures out he really does not want to serve Sun Quan and convinces him to join Liu Bei. He does not reappear for the rest of the arc.
  • Red Baron: "Fledgling Phoenix".
  • The Cake Is a Lie: He persuaded Sima Yi, Liaoyuan Huo and (indirectly, through Lu Bu) Xiao Meng to start a mutiny in Cao Cao's home base and assassinate him to put an end to Cao Cao's insatiable extortion of the Sima clan's money. Turned out he couldn't care less for the mission's success and actually meant for it to be the bait for a bigger divide-and-conquer strategy attempted on the Cao's army.
  • There Is No Kill like Overkill: The scope of that gamebit pileup he pitched against Cao Cao is unbelievable. Long story short, he manipulated two estranged members of the Crippled Legions (an assassin squad with a reputed 100% success rate) into a mission to assassinate Cao Cao. Then he sicced a horde of powerful warlords including Zhang Xiu, Lu Bu, Liu Biao, Liu Chong, Yuan Shu (each of them a formidable opponent to Cao Cao in their own rights) and several minor ones on Cao Cao's isolated troops. For good measures, he persuaded the Sima clan to cut off the ration supply (by threatening to blame said assassination attempts by the Crippled Legion members on them) and raised a mutiny in Cao Cao's home base. It was calculated so that however the events tured it would still work in his favor, and if all failed, Cao Cao's main force would have dwindled enough so that Pang Tong's lord, Liu Chong, could take on him evenly. It took Cao Cao's incredible good lucks and the combined efforts of his best generals to keep him alive, then Xun Yu, Guo Jia, Cheng Yu have to step into the picture to keep the damages down and break the stratagem. And everything is only over when Sima Yi came back from near death to deliver the final blow to Pang Tong's gambit by having Liu Chong assassinated.
  • Underestimating Chessmastery: Comments aloud "what an idiot''" in front of Zhuge Liang about Liu Bei, who at this time had yet to take his level in jerkass and was naive enough to jump at the chance to carry out the orders of the puppet Emperor against a much stronger Yuan Shu. He changes his mind somewhat, after meeting Liu Bei in person and seeing for himself that Liu Bei's kindness actually serves as camouflage for his ambitions.
  • Wicked Cultured: Quotes Confucius incessantly.

    Zhuge Liang
Click here to see his unmasked face. 

The Seventh Genius, holder of the prized title "Crouching Dragon" and supposedly the best of the Eight. He's shown to be an upright individual who places great ethical value in loyalty and patriotism, and holds like-minded men like Liu Bei in very high regards. His stated goal is to restore the rule of Han, which he sees as an exemplary act of anti-segregation made for the sake of future generations. Due to his dissatisfaction with the way selfish warlords ruin the country with civil wars, he has declined to choose a master and opted to live as a reclused teacher in Shuijing's military school.

In anticipation of Cao Cao's looming Southern conquest following the fall of Yuan clan, Zhuge Liang has officially joined Liu Bei.

  • The Ace: Like the traditional depictions, he's skilled in whatever his other classmates specialize in - warfare, politics, occultism, etc. - enough to predict and manipulate events without even stepping out of his abode. In one record-breaking instance, he managed to give correct predictions to the results of 16 consecutive battles, just by hearing reports from the battlefield alone. This led his teacher to comment that he had finally seen a god after half a lifetime spent teaching.
  • Cassandra Truth: In the first Dong Zhuo arc, he was the first of the Eight to suspect that Dong Zhuo was secretly preparing to leave the capital and had to solve a puzzle to prove it to everyone. With the exception of Sima Yi (who also arrived at the same conclusion some time prior), everyone dismissed him. Only Yuan Fang believed him and managed to alter his plan for the Luoyang hostage rescue operation just in time.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Any other Genius might be absurdly skilled at Crazy-Prepared, but Zhuge Liang definitely stands out as the champion. You think he stayed a recluse in Jingzhou for 20+ volumes because he was still undetermined whether to work for Liu Bei or not? Nope. He bid his time in Jingzhou for eleven years just to study and figure out its highly irregular weather patterns, to come to the conclusion that in the aftermath of the fire attack in Chibi (which would not happen for another decade), there would be a flood and massive snowing succeeding the fire. Comes the batle proper, Zhou Yu, not knowing this, allows Zhuge Liang and Liu Bei to chase after Cao Cao first after his defeat by the burning ships on the river to wear out Cao Cao's defense. He only realizes his mistake when the weather changes, bringing the flood that block Cao Cao's pathway and the Sun army's route. By then, Cao Cao is completely at Liu Bei's mercy and Zhou Yu, for all his schemings, did not get to reap the fruits of his efforts. In other words, Zhuge Liang did not fight the war, but managed to win the entire battle.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: The battle he witnessed between Liu Bei and Yuan Shu in volume 22 shook his adherence to morality when seeing its conflict with bloody, unprincipled reality up close. However, the long period of reclusion in Longzhong seemed to have helped him resolve his doubts and by the beginning of Chibi Zhuge Liang returned with renewed determination to follow principles in his quest to serve Liu Bei.
  • The Dreaded: He's implied to be the best of the Eights way before he gets involved in anything big, and his winning the title of Dragon is only an icing on the cake. Small wonders the first thing that Guo Jia and Jia Xu try during the preparation stage for Chibi showdown is making sure he cannot get involved, even via killing him if necessary.
    • Why did Guo Jia let Sima Yi live, even planning for the ambitious and treacherous merchant to succeed his post at the expense of his upperclassmen Xun Yu and Jia Xu? Because he knew Zhuge Liang'd never agree to fight with Liu Bei in Chibi if he was not absolutely certain that he would win that battle. And the only one with any possibility of bailing Cao Cao out of whatever life-or-death circumstances that might ensue would be Sima Yi, a man who had demonstrated the ability to think on Zhuge Liang's level and, in fact, had been in allegiance with him for God knows how long.
  • Foreshadowing: For his future career:
    • Despite excelling in many subjects, he's allegedly not as good at evaluating people as his upperclassmen Xun Yu and Guo Jia are/were.
    • It's said that only two of the Eight Geniuses study and prefer the Feng Hou formation to Sun Tzu's. One is Yuan Fang, and you get no points guessing who the other is.
    • And of course, "full devotion until death".
  • The Faceless: Fans have been so longing to see what he looks like since volume 3 that his unmasking has achieved a memetic level of inducing manic rage and speculation, especially when the author used a fan and a rice bowl in place of the mask. The author finally showed mercy and relented forty-four volumes later.
  • Good is Not Nice: Right off the bat, even before he made his formal appearance on the scene and unmasked himself, he was pulling the strings in the Jing succession conflictnote , with Xu Shu as his "man on the ground" and luring Hua Tuo away with a false report of Sima Hui/Shuijing's illness: this latter scheme had the double effect of Hua Tuo no longer mitigating Guo Jia's illness so that he succumbs to it, and Hua Tuo's inoculating those people of Jingzhou that he encounters against the upcoming malaria season, meaning they won't take the losses from illness that Cao Cao's invading northern troops will.
  • Heroic BSoD: In volume 12, when he found the mountains of corpses Guo Jia and Cao Cao left behind their army's rampage, it shocked him to the point "[he] want to cry... but [he] have cried them dry" and led to his temporary alliance with Sima Yi and Liaoyuan Huo to stop Cao Cao from taking Tanxian. Then he got another in volume 22, where he watched a battle and felt let down with the state of the country. This time it prompted his retirement and delay in choosing a lord, which span a good two hundred chapters until when he finally meets Liu Bei and declares for him.
  • Informed Ability : While Zhuge Liang is meant to be the strongest among the Eight Genius, some fans found his performance lacking so far. Often, it is down to Zhou Yu or Han Ze declaring how strong Zhuge Liang is, while Zhuge Liang's strategies seem to be pedestrian, when compared to what Guo Jia had done for Guan Du, or to what Zhou Yu had prepared for Chibi. Averted in the sense that the strongest stratagem is to win without fighting. So far his stratagems at Hua Rong were all built on top of what Zhou Yu has done, and he is getting maximum effect just from the flood and the hailstorm alone. It might be simple, but it is extremely effective.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: During said Heroic BSoD in volume 22, he recalled Sima Yi's theory of aiding the wicked strong to powers and overthrowing him, which would supposedly spare the people of years of wars and power struggles, and reluctantly found it more reasonable than the chaos ensuing before him.
  • Kill Steal : Done to Zhou Yu. Zhou Yu had burnt his fleet, sent his trusted generals Huang Gai and Han Ze as double agents (and almost getting them killed), and put the life of Lu Xun and Lu Meng in danger for the chance to beat Cao Cao. Just when he was about to catch up with Cao Cao at Hua Rong, Zhuge Liang sealed off the entire valley just by waiting for the rainstorm that he knews was coming, and that nobody saw coming because Zhou Yu had Lu Meng set fire at Hua Rong, and the smoke was obscuring the sky. Even worse, Lu Su thought of letting Liu Bei to enter Hua Rong so that Liu Bei would weaken Cao Cao first. In the end, Zhou Yu had spent tonnes of effort only to have Zhuge Liang reaping the harvest instead.
  • Let No Crisis Go to Waste: He takes advantage of Jingzhou's political struggle to advance Liu Bei's status.
  • Lured Into a Trap: His famous historical debate with Jiangdong scholars to persuade them to join Zhou Yu fighting Cao Cao turns out to be manipulated by Zhou Yu so that he will be persuaded to join Sun clan. Zhou Yu even gets his older brother Zhuge Jin to show up. He doesn't recognize Zhou Yu's intention until just before the debate starts, but willingly walks into it anyway.
    • In later development, Zhuge Liang revealed he purposely went into Zhou Yu's trap, to see if Pang Tong was present. If Pang Tong, wasn't, it meant that he likewise rejected Zhou Yu, so now Zhuge Liang had a chance at recruiting him.
  • Meaningful Echo: Drops one on Sun Quan and Zhou Yu, blood brother and sworn brother of the original speaker Sun Ce: "So wouldn’t it be easier to handle problems when they’re all lumped together?"
  • No-Sell: Zhou Yu summons a horde of Jiangdong's most celebrated and persuasive scholars and even Liang's older brother to the historical debate to coerce him into recognizing Sun Quan as the head of anti-Cao alliance. He shoots their proposition down by naming Liu Zhang instead.
  • Parental Substitute: To Liu Shan. He's in charge of the boy's education and, for most of Liu Shan's screentime, notably much closer to him than the boy's own father Liu Bei.
  • Red Baron: "Crouching Dragon".
  • Rivals Team Up: With Sima Yi in volume 13 to stop Guo Jia's total annihilation of Xuzhou's last line of defense. They weren't rivals at any point before this, but Zhuge Liang already disliked the guy enough for his amorality and questioned Liaoyuan Huo over his willingness to serve such a man.
    • As of Chibi, the team-up has returned as they're implied to be cohorts in luring Hua Tuo away to cause Guo Jia's death due to lack of treatment. Later on, they seem to have made some deals behind the scene, as Zhuge Liang reveals to Zhou Yu when he convinces Zhou Yu to make a move in Sima Yi's political favor.
  • Smug Super: We have yet to see an on-screen example of this but if Guo Jia is to be believed, this guy once compared himself to Guan Zhong and Yue Yinote . In case the metaphor is lost on anyone, it's like an American president comparing himself to the Founding Fathers.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: With Sima Yi in several occasions.
  • Symbol Motif Clothing: His robe is strewn with pattern resembling dragon scales.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Well, its envoy Liaoyuan Huo does have good tracking skills.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: By the beginning of Chibi, his mask is not the only possession of his righteous self that he has gotten rid of. Being one of the main architects of the anti-Cao resistance in Chibi, he kickstarts this act with orchestrating Guo Jia's death with Sima Yi and pulling the strings in the succession conflict within Jingzhou's Liu clan.
  • Undying Loyalty: One of the many virtues he advocates.

    The Eighth Genius 

true!Zhao Yun

The last of the Eight Genius. There has been much debate over who is the last Genius, and theory abounds. So far the things we know for certain about him are:

  • He's not Lu Xun, who appeared to save Sima Yi in volume 35, went on to join the Sun clan and there was no mention whatsoever about him being one of the Eights.
  • He's not Wei Yan or Deng Ai, or any Lu Bu-type Genius Bruiser fighters. Those theories lost much of their credits with Yuan Fang's claim that among the Eight Geniuses only he and Zhou Yu are generals, and Deng Ai showed up in chapter 404 as a little boy trying to kill Taishi Ci. This is actually partially averted - the Eighth is very much capable of holding his own in a physical fight. And this reveal does not completely Retcon Yuan Fang's claims, since he can receive martial arts training without being a field commander.
  • He's not Xu Shu, who turned up in chapter 376 as Zhuge Liang's agent.
  • And he's not Lu Su either. That guy only just showed his face in chapter 397 as Zhuge Liang's stand-in strategist for team Liu Bei.

Which severely shortens the list of tropes we can attribute to him to:

  • Catchphrase: "Choose" and the variation thereof.
  • Dual Wielding
  • Duel to the Death: With Zhao Yun. After his oathbrother surrendered to and he refuses to join Liu Bei's camp.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: He's never been revealed to the readers without the company of at least one other Genius, in mask and all, so it's pretty much impossible to tell which one is him, much less who he is. And note that as far as we can tell, he has only appeared three times in 48 volumes.
  • Mr. Exposition: He becomes a recurring character in Chibi only to explain to his teachers (and the readers) about the strategies of each sides, without shedding his mask.
  • One-Steve Limit: His surname is Zhao and little name is cloud (Yun), same with one of Liaoyuan Huo's aliases.
  • Shoot the Dog: He murders Lady Fan when it is apparent that Huo has no intention of letting Zhao Fan go. His action also has shades of You Have Outlived Your Usefulness to it - it is apparent from her shaken reactions that Lady Fan still has feelings for Huo, so her capability as a Femme Fatale is compromised and sparing her may only leave more loose ends.
  • Sole Survivor: He, his oath-brother, Zhao Fan, and Lady Fan are few remaining Zhao Clan. The same Zhao Clan who adopted Liaoyuan Huo and served Xu Lin.
  • You Killed My Father: It's not revealed yet if he and Zhao Fan hold grudges for Liaoyuan Huo, Sima Clan, and/or Handicapped Warrior. But it's already revealed the latter are responsible for demise of Zhao Clan who served Xu Lin.