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These are the tropes which have been handed down from the ancients.
These are the tropes our forefathers gave their lives to defend.
These are the tropes we use and take for granted every day, oblivious to their true significance.
These... are the Tropes of Legend!'

Note: TV Tropes is currently unable to play music from the web page. For optimum viewing experience, hum "Thus Spake Zarathustra" while reading below.Alternatively 

Here is a list of the most widely-known and oft-referenced tropes we have on this entire site. If you’re new to TV Tropes, this list will provide a good basis for understanding our… erm… unique vocabulary.

On the other hand, if you’re a veteran troper and you still aren’t familiar with all of these entries, this list might prove to be quite informative.

Most of the individual mediums have their own special vocabularies and tropes — see those sections for details. A few examples from each have propagated beyond their home subcultures.

See also Trope Overdosed (for the equivalent in shows), Omnipresent Tropes, TV Tropes Glossary, Canonical List of Subtle Trope Distinctions, Pothole Magnet. For Tropes Of Legend by sheer numerical weight, see Overdosed Tropes.


  • Action Girl: Female action heroes are popular even if they are just the Token Girl.
  • An Aesop: The moral of the story. If it seems like people are frequently critical of these, it's because they tend to be anvilicious.
  • Affably Evil: Villains that are genuinely genial and polite.
  • All There in the Manual: Information not actually mentioned within the work, but only found in other material related to it.
  • Alpha Bitch: The "queen bee" in a high school setting who makes the protagonist's life hell.
  • Anti-Hero: A hero who uses decidedly unheroic tactics and/or has a bad attitude.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Any technical explanation of a plot device, no matter how complicated or smart-sounding, that is practically synonymous with "works by magic".
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Finishing a list of terrible things with an innocuous one, sometimes humorously implied to be somehow just as bad as the rest.
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  • Author Appeal: Inclusion of story elements partly or totally because they relate to some interest, fetish, or kink of the author's.
  • Ax-Crazy: A character who is psychologically unstable and clearly a danger to others.
  • Back from the Dead: A character was dead but they're better now.
  • Badass Normal: A Badass without Magic and Powers in a world where these exist.
  • Batman Gambit: A plan based on manipulation, derived from others' predictable behavior.
  • Berserk Button: Something that sets off a seemingly normal person into rage and fury.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Push the buttons of a nice character too much, and they may break out in anger even scaring the Big Bad.
  • Beyond the Impossible: Breaking the story's internal logic, either accidentally or deliberately.
  • Big Bad: The bad guy behind all the other bad guys. The single most-linked trope on this site.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The good guys arrive just in time to save the day.
  • Big "NO!": Shouting "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!", usually in frustration or despair.
  • Bishōnen: A pretty boy from anime/manga.
  • Bittersweet Ending: An ending that mixes happiness and sadness, such as victory at a high cost.
  • Black Comedy: Comedy based on serious topics, like murder or rape.
  • Blatant Lies: Obvious untruths. Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Body Horror: Deeply disturbing anatomical anomalies of all sorts.
  • Brainwashed: A character is hypnotized into doing something against their will, but that something isn't necessarily violent.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: A character is hypnotized into attacking or destroying someone or something against their will.
  • Break the Cutie: A sweet, lovable character is put through hell.
  • Buffy Speak: A fouled-up explanation of something by someone intelligent enough to understand it but not articulate/mature/educated/attentive enough to describe it, usually using overly simple language construction. A bit of a self-demonstrating title for the trope.
  • Butt-Monkey: A character who becomes the butt of every joke or otherwise goes through hell, Played for Laughs.
  • Continuity Nod: A reference to a previous event.
    • Call-Back: Said previous event is brought back with plot relevance.
    • Mythology Gag: An oft-humorous reference to a previous work, either in the same franchise or by the same creators.
  • Call to Adventure: The adventure comes to find the hero.
  • Canon: Plot, characterizations, and story elements that actually happened.
    • Fanon: Canon that isn't — plot, characterizations, and story elements that did not officially happen, but that the fans believe is sufficiently supported or implied by what did to "count".
  • Captain Obvious: A character stating the blatantly obvious.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: A character who takes pride in his evil nature and even openly gloats about it.
  • Catchphrase: A phrase constantly said by a character.
  • Character Development: Change in characterization over the course of a narrative.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: A character who has superhuman-like abilities after extreme training.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A story element that is inconspicuously introduced now, but becomes extremely significant later.
  • The Chessmaster: A character who creates complex schemes in order to manipulate situations in their favor, and gets involved into various events to make said schemes work.
    • Manipulative Bastard: A character (villainous or otherwise) who gets what he or she wants by manipulating other people.
    • Magnificent Bastard: Chessmaster + Manipulative Bastard, with a lot of charisma to boot. They can manipulate about everyone else to reach his goal and get away with it. This archetype usually is, well, a bastard, and yet we still love it.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: A character who has a spacey personality and, while not necessarily (though often) stupid, usually lapses into odd Non Sequitur sayings or actions.
  • Comically Missing the Point: A humorous situation where someone completely fails to realize what it is the other person is trying to convey, despite how obvious it is.
  • Composite Character: A character combining traits and plot-lines that two (or more) had in the source material.
  • Crapsack World: A place which is really horrible to live in.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: A death that is both unique and horrifically painful.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: A completely one-sided fight that could potentially descend into a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Damsel in Distress: A female character who continually needs others to rescue her.
  • Darker and Edgier: The tendency of shows to try to give themselves a new feel that is darker and edgier. Usually involves trying to add more angst, more violence, or more rage from the characters, and putting them into more dangerous situations.
  • Dead Horse Trope: A trope that has been so overdone, analyzed, and mocked that its different varieties or parodies have had to be classified and given names. (Most cliches are simply Discredited Tropes.)
  • Deadpan Snarker: A very sarcastic character. Real original.
  • Deal with the Devil: A character trading their soul or a similar substitute in exchange for benefits.
  • Deconstruction: Playing a trope in the way it would supposedly work in the real world, usually as criticism.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Repetitively repetitive repetition that is repeatably repeated on repeat.
  • Determinator: A character who never gives up.
  • Deus ex Machina: An unlikely or poorly-written element inserted into the story to specifically fix a narrative problem.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When a character pulls a slight offense to another, and the other plots a revenge taken Up to Eleven.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Is this suggestive of anything else other than what it actually is? And by that, we generally mean something sexual.
  • Downer Ending: No happy ending here — everyone dies or at least lives on unhappily.
  • The Dragon: A character who represents the penultimate challenge to the heroes, acting as a gatekeeper to the Final Battle.
  • Driven to Suicide: Events lead a character to kill themself.
  • Ear Worm: Someone gets a song stuck in their mind.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Incomprehensible aliens or demons from beyond, like Cthulhu.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Civilization or life (or sometimes the entire planet) getting destroyed.
  • Epileptic Trees: Wild, off-the-wall fan theories and speculation about a show's murkier plot points and characterizations.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: A case that has a villain reject another, terrible villainous deed due to his/her dislike for it.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: When the title tells you almost everything about something; for example, the film Snakes on a Plane. Also used for Trope Launch Pad entries that are exactly what they say on the title of the suggestion.
  • Executive Meddling: When a work is altered solely because the higher management of the company wants it to be changed.
  • Expy: Short for "Exported Character", this is a character who is a deliberate and unambiguous copy of a different earlier character from another work. (Unfortunately, it is frequently misused; a number of tropers tend to use it to label characters that are merely similar in some ways and not intentional copies.)
  • Fan Nickname: A name given to a character by fan communities.
  • Fanservice: Material added to please the fans. Traditionally, this meant anything a casual viewer might not get, but now almost always means titillating or sexual content.
  • Faux Symbolism: Inclusion of various unnecessary religious, philosophical, and historical allusions with the purpose of lending an air of sophistication to a work.
  • Finagle's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Due to itself, often mis-attributed as "Murphy's Law."
  • Five-Man Band: A stock heroic team with five characters whose characterizations and interactions with each other fall into specific different and balanced roles.
    1. The Leader: The one you can count on to take charge of the team's operations. Often overlaps with The Hero.
    2. The Lancer: The equal and opposite of the Leader (i.e., if the Leader is spirited and friendly, the Lancer will be serious and aloof). Often overlaps with The Rival.
    3. The Big Guy: The brawn of the outfit who does the heavy-lifting and heavy-hitting.
    4. The Smart Guy: The brains of the outfit who can think his/her way out of any jam.
    5. The Chick: The one who rounds out and unifies the team. Usually the most feminine of the bunch, and oftentimes The Heart and/or The Face.
  • Flanderization: Simplifying formerly complex characters by magnifying one of their character traits and making it their sole defining characteristic.
  • Foil: A character who highlights another character's trait(s), usually by contrast.
  • Foreshadowing: A moment that hints at what will happen later in the story.
  • The Fourth Wall: The metaphorical wall between the characters and the audience. Most fictional characters have no idea that they're in a story.
    • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Exceptions to the above. Scenes where characters demonstrate they are aware of the audience and the fact that they're in a story.
    • No Fourth Wall: Series and characters for which breaking the fourth wall is the rule, not the exception.
  • Freudian Excuse: When the writers give an explaination on why a certain character (such as a villain) is the way they are (e.g., when he was a child his father would beat him).
  • Freud Was Right: Characters see sex where it isn't.
  • From Bad to Worse: Just when you thought it couldn't possibly get any worse... it does.
  • Genki Girl: A ridiculously energetic female character.
  • Genre Blindness: A character makes mistakes that indicate they have never seen anything related to the genre they're in, and they never learn from their experience; e.g., "characters splitting up while exploring a haunted house" is one of the most recognized uses of the trope out there, indicating Horror Movie Genre Blindness.
    • Genre Savvy: The opposite of the above; a character has an understanding of tropes relevant to their situation and uses their genre knowledge to their advantage.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The act of sneaking seemingly obscene or vulgar material past network censors and/or Moral Guardians.
  • Gilligan Cut: A character protests vehemently against doing something crazy and absurd, and the very next scene has the character doing just that. The very first trope on the wiki.
  • A God Am I: A delusion where someone thinks oneself to be a god or universal ruler.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Heroes who are rude and unpleasant despite their noble and benevolent intentions.
  • Gorn: Gratuitous and graphic violence that can be described as "gore porn".
  • Hand Wave: A brief explanation is offered that isn't actually an explanation, but gets the question out of the way so the story can work.
  • Happy Ending: The dilemma is solved, and everyone lives on Happily Ever After.
  • Heel–Face Turn: When a character switches sides from bad to good.
  • Heroic BSoD: Some horrible event shocks the hero and makes him incapable of anything for a while.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: A character makes a great sacrifice to save others.
  • The Hero: The main character who is the hero of the story or other media, resolving to defeat the Big Bad.
  • The Hero's Journey: The standard story formula, starting with the Call to Adventure.
  • Hilarity Ensues: The consequences of a character's actions in a comedy show.
  • Hot-Blooded: In shonen anime, everyone fights with BURNING PASSION!
  • Ho Yay: A scene or event between two characters of the same gender which implies sexual tension between them.
    • Foe Romance Subtext: Same thing, but between foes (not necessarily of the same gender)
    • Les Yay: Ho Yay which is specifically between two female characters
  • Humongous Mecha: Giant humanoid robots, usually from anime or manga.
  • Idiot Ball: A metaphorical object held by a (normally reasonable) character which causes them to create a central plot conflict out of their own stupidity.
    • Idiot Plot: A plot that only functions by all of the characters acting like idiots.
    • What an Idiot!: Similar to the Idiot Ball, this is when a character deviates from what most would describe as simple common sense.
  • Jerkass: A character who is offensively obnoxious.
  • Just in Time: Salvation that arrives just in time to create a sense of suspense.
  • Justified Trope: The work offers an explanation for the use of an otherwise illogical trope; can be anything from a Hand Wave to a perfectly reasonable explanation.
  • Karma Houdini: A character who gets off scot-free despite committing immoral actions (usually a villain; heroic examples are often YMMV)
  • Kick the Dog: An act done or statement made by a character in order to garner hate from the audience and illustrate their unlikable inner nature.
    • Pet the Dog: A kind act reveals that an outwardly mean character is tender and caring inside.
    • Shoot the Dog: A morally gray deed caused by a character against his own wishes just because it needs to be done for the sake of everyone else.
    • Moral Event Horizon: A deed so cruel, evil, and despicable that it irrevocably damns the character in the eyes of the audience.
  • Kill 'Em All: Just about every character dies, main cast or not.
  • Killed Off for Real: A character dies and doesn't come back.
  • Knight Templar: A character convinced of his own righteousness even when crossing the line and committing villainous deeds.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: A character pointing out that he's saying a Double Entendre, if you know what I mean...
  • Lampshade Hanging: When a writer acknowledges to the audience that a plot event is implausible or that they are using a trope. In the wiki, frequently used as a verb; e.g., "lampshading" or "lampshaded".
  • Large Ham: When an actor plays a role with scenery-chewing gusto.
  • Lighter and Softer: The exact opposite of Darker and Edgier. Trying to throw in cuter, happier, and often funnier parts to tone down the franchise and its characters.
  • Love Triangle: A relationship involving more than two people (sometimes as many as it can). Can take many forms.
  • MacGuffin: A physical object, the pursuit of which drives the plot; but the purpose of the object is irrelevant to the plot.
  • Mad Scientist: A character who exploits science for fun and profit.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: The "Rules of the World," a set of rules and themes that make the whole universe believable as long as they follow consistency. Breaking them can destroy the audience's willingness to accept the story.
  • Masquerade: Weird things exist, but for some reason have to be hidden from the general public. The story thus takes place in "the real world" but with a supernatural undercurrent.
  • Meaningful Name: A name with a deeper meaning, which is no coincidence.
  • Memetic Mutation: Things (usually phrases) that are repeated and parodied everywhere, to the point where they become fads. Mutation comes in when the aspect being repeated is not representative of the series or character as a whole.
  • Mind Rape: A mental trauma to the point where it's similar to rape.
  • Mind Screw: A confusing plot so wrought with symbolism and psychological drama that it's hard to say for sure what actually happened.
  • Moe: A form of adorable cuteness that inspires a nurturing instinct in the audience.
  • Mood Whiplash: A sudden change in the mood of a work.
  • Mooks: Minions. The enemy's weak, nameless foot soldiers who exist to be defeated en masse by the heroes.
  • More Dakka: Firing far, far more bullets than are actually necessary.
  • The Movie: A movie-length installment of a series shown in the cinemas.
  • Muggles: The "normal" people who exist outside the unusual, extraordinary, supernatural, or paranormal events taking place in the plot.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Trying to turn mundane scenes into great events using special effects or other stylistic means of direction. (Formerly known as "What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?")
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: In fiction, evil people have evil names.
  • Nice Guy: A character who is kind and polite.
  • Nice Hat: Highly impressive Cranium Coverings.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: It went From Bad to Worse, and it's the hero's fault.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Combining two or more cool things makes the whole more awesome than the sum of its parts.
  • Nintendo Hard: A video game that is very, very difficult.
    • That One Boss: A video game boss who is considerably more difficult or frustrating than the rest of the game's bosses.
    • That One Level: A video game level that is more difficult or frustrating than the rest of the game's levels.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: A character acts clueless to make others underestimate them.
  • Obviously Evil: A villain whose appearance makes no attempt to hide their evilness.
  • Oh, Crap!: The moment at which characters realize that they are completely and totally screwed.
  • The Oldest Ones in the Book: Tropes that really have been handed down by our ancestors.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: A villain bent on destroying all that exists.
  • One-Winged Angel: A character (usually the Big Bad) suddenly turns into a monstrous super-human creature when unleashing the full extent of their power.
  • Only Sane Man: The only character who notices the weirdness in a comedy.
  • Played for Laughs: Using a (usually non-comedic) trope for comedy.
  • The Power of Love: When love makes some supernatural plot event happen.
  • Precision F-Strike: An unexpected use of swearing for emotional impact.
  • Pun: Wordplay involving similar-sounding words. Tends to be done as lamely as possible for maximum groan inducement. Commonly used by a Mr. Report Siht in means both cruel and unusual.
    • Stealth Pun: A pun whose punchline is implied, but not stated outright.
    • Visual Pun: Similarly, a sight gag that hides a pun in it.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Speaking! With! EMPHASIS!
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: A familiar story, premise, or cast placed into a different (often fantastical or bizarre) context.
  • Redemption Quest: The journey for heroes who REALLY screwed up.
  • Redshirts: The Good Counterpart to the Mooks; expendable, anonymous foot soldiers whose only purpose is to add emotional gravity to the story by being casualties in battle. Frequently killed off to show that a situation is dangerous without having to put one of the main characters at risk.
  • Refuge in Audacity: So over-the-top and/or bizarre that it can't be considered offensive.
  • Retcon: The act of portraying previously established canon information in a different way (sometimes even contradicting previous canon) to propel the current plot. Short for "retroactive continuity".
  • Rule of Cool: If something is cool enough, it doesn't have to make sense.
  • Rule of Drama: Something added because it's necessary to create a conflict.
  • Running Gag: A joke that recurs throughout the episode or series.
  • Sarcasm Mode: Marking online text to indicate sarcasm.
  • Saving the World: The fate of the entire known world hangs in the balance, with the protagonists on one side and world domination (or Destruction) on the other.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: When a character can ignore the rules because he can afford to pay away any consequences.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: A villain or evil force is locked away to prevent their escape. Usually breaks free.
  • Sequel Hook: An ending or dangling plot thread that just asks for a follow-up.
  • Sequelitis: The unfortunately common occurrence that a sequel fails to live up to its predecessor.
  • Serious Business: A frivolous or commonplace activity that the characters take more seriously than they should, and which forms the premise of the show. Sometimes extended to everyone in the fictional world.
  • Shout-Out: An affectionate reference or nod to another property that the author enjoyed.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The idea that all stories need to answer one question about the nature of reality. The proper way to approach the conflicts in the plot is then derived from this conclusion. The question is something like "What best defeats evil? The Power of Friendship, or a bullet between the eyes?"
  • Smug Snake: A character who wants to be a Magnificent Bastard but lacks magnificence.
  • Stable Time Loop: When an event caused by a time traveler is integral or responsible for the time travel in the first place. Most commonly, a time traveler goes back in time to try and prevent an event, but ends up inadvertently causing it instead.
  • Stalker with a Crush: A character noted for their obsession with another character.
  • Status Quo Is God: Each episode ends up with the protagonists roughly where they started, since change would mean that anybody who missed this episode would be lost. If they become rich at the beginning of the episode, they will lose the money by the end, and so on. Decades worth of shows, especially sitcoms, lived by this. Averting this has become increasingly common over the years.
  • Story Arc: A series of stories which gradually moves a greater story along.
  • Sub-Trope: A more specialized form of another trope, but which is distinct enough to be its own trope.
  • Subverted Trope: A story sets up a trope to happen and then yanks the rug out from under the audience by doing something with it that is different from their expectations. (Often referred to as "subverted" or "a subversion".)
  • Take That!: Whenever a work of fiction knocks something that the author dislikes.
  • Techno Babble: A complex or intelligent-sounding explanations that's meant to convey the appearance of technical depth to the story universe, but that doesn't have to make any sense whatsoever.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Use of excessive force.
  • They Fight Crime!: Got interesting characters? Need something for them to do? Something they can repeat endlessly?
  • This Loser Is You: The tendency for shows to make their heroes whiny, idiotic so-and-so's, since that's what they think viewers sympathize best with.
  • Title Drop: When the name of a work is spoken only once within the work, but in a particularly epic fashion.
  • Too Dumb to Live: A character who puts life and limb at risk by doing things that any sane human being would know better than to do.
  • Token: A character included in a work in order to check off a demographic box.
  • Took a Level in Badass: A formerly weak character becomes a badass.
  • True Companions: Friends as close as family, and just as protective.
  • Truth in Television: When a trope turns out to have a counterpart in Real Life.
  • Tsundere: Females whose temperament runs both hot and cold.
  • Understatement: Saying that, for example, the tropes on this page appear occasionally on TV Tropes.
  • Unexplained Recovery: A dead character is restored to the status quo with no explanation whatsoever.
  • Up to Eleven: Reach the top, and go one step beyond. As in, "on a scale of 1 to 10."
  • Viewers Are Morons: The attitude often taken by producers, dumbing down shows or removing more complicated story elements to appeal to a wider audience.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The moment when a villain suddenly snaps and loses his cool, sometimes becoming extremely pissed off and/or sometimes going crazy, even Laughing Mad. Often done when the tables have turned on his plans.
  • What Could Have Been: Elements the authors thought about adding to the story but ultimately never did, usually but certainly not always with the implication that it would have been better had they included them.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: A hero is called on his morally ambiguous or directly evil actions by characters in the story.
  • Wham Episode: An episode where things take a shocking turn, usually leading to major plot changes.
    • Wham Line: A phrase that, once delivered, hits the audience like a heavy blow.
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: The viewers' willingness to accept the story. The story doesn't have to conform to real world physics or logic, necessarily, but it does have to play by the rules it sets for itself (which are often referred to as "internal logic").
  • Word of God: Any statement made by the authors to clarify confusing or controversial parts in a series. The name is because their statements are (usually) taken as final and absolute.
  • Writer on Board: When the writer hijacks the story's previously-established plot and characterizations in order to make a political or moral statement.
  • Xanatos Gambit: A plan designed to succeed regardless of the outcome—there are two or more possible outcomes to a plan, and you ensure that you win no matter which one happens.
    • Gambit Roulette: A plan that relies upon improbable coincidences and things the planner could not possibly know, but works anyway.
  • X Meets Y: Stock show pitch — the premise is a combination of two well-known and well-liked things, with the hope that the new thing is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Yandere: This person's crazy about you. Often literally.


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