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A Lighter Shade of Grey

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"Most humans are grey. And our job is to chastise the darker grey, correct?"
Bokurano, chapter 39 page 19

In conflicts that feature Grey-and-Gray Morality, neither side in the struggle is more "right" than the other due to both having well-justified goals that they accomplish by perpetrating acts of heroism and villainy.

At least, that's the way in works in theory.

In practice, either one side has more heroes than the other, or the writing portrays one side as, if not more "right," then at least more sympathetic.

The usual result is the story and struggle shifting tone, sometimes slightly, sometimes dramatically, making one side the heroes and the other the villains. Sometimes, to balance out this shift, authors will give the "good guys" opportunities to show their pragmatism, or they'll give the "bad guys" a chance to show off that they're not really that bad. How effective this is depends on a number of things, but suffice to say that it doesn't always work, in which case the tale continues to favor one group as "the heroes" over the other.

A Lighter Shade of Black is this trope's Evil Counterpart. Of course, this is NOT one of the 50 Shades of Grey. Compare Grey-and-Gray Morality, White-and-Grey Morality, Black-and-Gray Morality, and Morality Kitchen Sink. Contrast Black-and-White Morality, Evil Versus Evil, and Good Versus Good.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The main "Federation vs. Zeon" conflict in Mobile Suit Gundam (and the rest of the Universal Century) is much like this. The Federation as a whole was usually portrayed as being at worst a little corrupt and bureaucratic, while nearly everyone shown on the Zeon side (save Gihren) was portrayed sympathetically... Enough so that many fans forget that Zeon started the war by flooding a neutral colony with nerve gas and then dropping it onto an Earth city, an act that is stated in-universe to have killed millions of people, and sparked a war where before the first episode, 50% of humanity was killed. When Zeta Gundam showed elements of the Federation as the bad guys (and AEUG was full of ex-Zeon soldiers, even The Dragon from Mobile Suit Gundam being among them), works that came back to the One Year War era occasionally showed some Federation commanders as being outright General Rippers as well as the sympathetic ones.
    • Celestial Being in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 is definitely in the moral grey area: they are attempting world peace and unification, but their methods are essentially killing anyone who tries to start a war (or even promotes or prepares for war) in order to frighten people into non-violence. Their enemies are... well, the leading nations of the world, who are portrayed fairly realistically: a bit corrupt and doing a few heinous things behind the scenes, but not openly malicious or oppressive. They become less gray and more white once Ribbons steps up his game as the villain, though.
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes has a slight tendency towards this on a governmental level, insofar that for every corrupt and inefficient noble and inter-house spats shown in the Galactic Empire, the Free Planets' Alliance has three corrupt and inefficient politicians/military commanders breathing down Yang's neck and a civil war/complete breakdown of law and order every ten episodes. The first FPA politician who has both actual power and is presented at least partially sympathetically is the man who is forced to take over after the Empire besieges Heinessen and forces the former cabinet to surrender.
  • SlayersTRY, which gets really confusing 2/3 of the way through when it seems like everyone wants the same thing but are on different sides.
  • The two "villainous" factions in Neon Genesis Evangelion (Gendo and SEELE) are split like this. The plans of both involve The End of the World as We Know It and an Assimilation Plot. SEELE's plan is the more ambiguous one, but it involves forcing the Assimilation Plot on all of mankind and use it to ascend to godhood. Gendo's plans, on the other hand, are more personal, and mostly revolve around being reunited with his wife. Notably, he outright compares SEELE's goal to "death" and utterly rejects it on those grounds.
  • Jormungand is about an arms dealer who shamelessly calls herself and her organization evil, as the crew sells weapons to both sides to foster conflict and sales while gunning down anyone who gets in their way. However, besides their professions, the protagonists (bar perhaps the bosses themselves) really lack villainous or even amoral personality traits. The ex-military bodyguards in particular are as professional in their job as they would be in the military, and off-duty they are all fairly nice, sociable people willing to spare time from their breaks to teach a child soldier. On duty, they're all noted to relish killing a bit too much, but actually prefer sparing their enemies and avoiding psychotic murdering (in sharp contrast to enemy factions).
    • A Drugs Are Bad idea is in the background of "The Hill of Ruin" arc as a minor detail. Ugo, the team driver, was an ex-mafia member who was spared and subsequently recruited in a shootout because he looked in disgust at his boss paying Koko in drugs for her wares by recalling how his brother lost his life to drugs. Koko herself refuses payment in the present by ordering the execution of the entire proffering gang, with Lutz simply remarking that they weren't drug dealers.
    • Later, the crew goes to Iraq to rebuild an elementary school, although under the blunt pretense of raising PR for the company. Still, they were all disgusted when Excalibur, a hired PMC, gunned down a civilian for fun on the road; immediately afterward, Koko fired them.
  • Attack on Titan: The Eldia vs. Marley conflict is either this or A Lighter Shade of Black. It's not entirely clear yet. The former is run by a corrupt government that goes to extreme lengths to keep people from questioning the status quo or trying to venture outside the walls, even having people killed, and supposedly reigned as genocidal dictators for 1,700 years. The latter is a warlike superpower that keeps Eldians as second-class citizens, uses Child Soldiers, turns people into Titans and uses them on their enemies, and seeks to annihilate the Eldians in order to reclaim the fossil fuel beneath the island. The Eldians may not be saints, but they come off as better than the Marleyans.
  • In Black Clover, this is the conflict between the Clover Kingdom and the Elf Tribe. The main heroes are the Black Bulls, a group of Magic Knights much more moral than other squads, and the Wizard King Julius Novachrono, whose goal is to dismantle the social inequality within the stratified Clover Kingdom. That said, the kingdom is ruled by classist nobility who mistreat commoners, and many of the Magic Knights are corrupt, abusing their authority. Then there are the elves, a peaceful tribe massacred five centuries ago by humans who want to come back to life and get revenge. To accomplish this, the elves reincarnate into the bodies of, mostly, Magic Knights and try to kill every human in the kingdom. However, it's stated that what the Eye of the Midnight Sun did was wrong, with Yami calling out Licht for his justification. After the mastermind of the elf genocide is revealed, Asta tells Patry that although he understands his reasons, he cannot forgive him for killing Julius and endangering countless innocent lives. However, he has enough sympathy to convince Patry to atone for his mistakes. Tabata himself stated that he intended to portray the elves not as villains but more as antagonists.

    Comic Books 
  • Birthright: The Five are a ragtag group of mages from another dimension that are sworn to defend Earth from an extremely powerful entity that has taken control of their home. With that said, their members range from being selfish that are Only in It for the Money to Knight Templars that have no problem murdering innocents, and as a whole, the group is largely indifferent to collateral damage so long its to stop their enemy from invading Earth although, in order for him to do this, he has to kill each of the Five who serve as living barriers. It speaks volumes that the nicest member of the group is treated as a deadbeat parent to their family.
  • Civil War: Marvel's Civil War was intended to feature ambiguous morals and sides that were not really more right than the other. In practice, the authors seemed to have missed the memo and increasingly portrayed the Pro-Registration side as the bad guys, made especially bad by the fact that Tony Stark (the figurehead and commander of the Pro-Registration forces) commissioned the manufacture of an extradimensional KZ in a dimension referred to as worse than Hell and employed largely unrepentant supervillains to hunt down Anti-Registration heroes, in addition to the fact that the Anti-Registration side got almost no Shoot the Dog moments (and had Captain America, the Big Good of the Marvel Universe, as their own figurehead).And it really did not help that Spider-Man decide to quit the Pro-reg side to join Captain America. Let me repeat: one of the most unambiguous superhero of the marvel universe, who was on the Pro-reg side(meaning you could argue the SHRL was not as bad as it seems), decide to join Cap because of how awful the pro-reg side was. Any kind of pretention the story Had Grey-and-Grey Morality disapears at this moment
    • It also didn't help that every previous "superhuman registration" storyline (of which Marvel has done many) portrayed the idea as unambiguously wrong, often with thinly-veiled (or not veiled at all) references to Nazi concentration camps. Nor did they make more than a token attempt to explain how this registration act was different than the previous attempts, and perhaps worst of all, failed to even consistently describe the terms of the act.
  • The Flash: The Rogues, at least until DC Rebirth, anyway, were typically this next to other villains. They've outright been described in these terms, and frequently writers would have either Wally West or Barry Allen discuss with them and/or others where the Rogues stand exactly. Captain Cold once helped fight Blacksmith and also took on the Keystone City mob by himself, and both times he was portrayed as more-or-less an Anti-Hero who happened to be a career thief and a colossal Jerkass. However, the people he was opposing were serious organised crime types who were more or less serious monsters, or at least employing monsters.
  • Secret Six: Mentioned by Catman when the Secret Six fought the Doom Patrol. His reasoning was that, though the Doom Patrol were heroes, both teams operated in a grey area of the superhuman community, so they should let the Six go. It does not work, since though Robotman concedes that he and the rest of the Doom Patrol are close to the line, they are still on this side of the line and the Six are on the wrong side of the line.
  • V for Vendetta: The comic is something like this. On one hand, it's a struggle between a repressive fascist government which may nevertheless be humanity's last hope in a nuclear-holocaust blighted world, and a fanatical anarchist terrorist who has absolutely no qualms about blowing up buildings and killing people to get his way, and whose efforts may ultimately doom humanity. On the other, however, the government is genocidal (having wiped out racial minorities and the LGBT population, amongst others) and composed pretty much entirely of hateful, dysfunctional and irredeemable bastards, while V is an incredibly charismatic guy who only lost his sanity after said regime used him for experimentation fodder, and who we first see rescuing a young girl from government hired rapists, and who comes to happily admit that he's got no place in the better world he's trying to create. It's certainly not a black and white situation, but it's hard to argue that V doesn't come across as a hell of a lot more sympathetic than the Norsefire government.
    • As V himself puts it, he is the monster created by their monstrous actions.

    Fan Works 
  • The Conversion Bureau: While it's shown that the humans tend to commit morally questionable acts while defending their homeworld, and the ponies genuinely believe they are trying to help the humans, even if they are resorting to Mind Rape via the potions, the narration often tends to point out that the ponies are invaders and that the humans are justified in fighting back.
  • Played with in Dungeon Keeper Ami in an interesting manner. The world of Dungeon Keeper works under the principle of Black-and-White Morality and the Sailor Moon world is the same. However, due to circumstances, Ami (who bonded to a villainous artifact, but is a Heroine) actually creates shades of grey, both in the ranks of the villains, and the heroes. Cathy and Jered, for example, darken. Jadite on the other hand, lightens quite a bit.
  • Frigid Winds and Burning Hearts is supposedly an attempt to balance out Princess Celestia (who's had to do some very unpleasant things to keep Equestria from collapsing on itself) and Princess Luna (who wants Equestria to run itself and values freedom... but doesn't realize the price). However, the author is rather clearly on Luna's side, with Celestia being portrayed again and again as a tyrant and those under her as monsters, while Luna is the viewpoint character and all of the sympathetic characters are on her side. After a while, the grey unmixes into black and white (no pun intended).
  • Paradoxus:
    • The protagonist trio (Altalune, Trisha, and Stacy) is this in comparison to the true masterminds behind it all (Galadwen, Flora, and Daphne). All of them are on the side of the good guys and don't want Magix to be destroyed, but the latter three will bite the bullet and manipulate even their loved ones if that's what is needed to save their corresponding dimensions.
    • This trope is later subverted with Trisha, who goes from light gray to very dark gray (arguably even black at some points). Although, she remains surprisingly sympathetic.
  • In Tiberium Wars, even though the story is supposed to be about both sides equally, the author has admitted that he favors GDI over the Brotherhood of Nod, and the portrayal does reflect this; GDI characters have a few more scenes than the Nod side, and the GDI troops are portrayed as more sympathetic than their Nod counterparts, who generally come off as religious fanatics.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Watchmen, almost all the characters have perpetrated acts of murder, some are guilty of rape, and yet others plan nuclear scale destruction. Out of them all, the Watchman who comes out looking most like the good guy is Nite Owl (Dan Dreiberg) whose worst sin is being a little bit boring. Arguably, the one who comes out looking like the worst bad guy is the Comedian, whose killings, unlike those committed by Ozymandias, had no grander purpose than eliminating those considered a threat by the US government.
  • Eye in the Sky consists almost entirely of discussions and debate over whether they should drone strike a building where several wanted terrorists are at, and where two suicide bombers are getting ready, when there is an innocent little girl in the line of fire. The film presents both sides of the debate, and doesn't give credence to either line of thought, with both sides making good points. Ultimately they decide to bomb it, and the girl dies and the film makes it clear that this decision haunted everyone, showing that even though they did what they thought was right, it was still the least awful decision.
  • The Prestige, is about the rivalry between magicians Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, with both men going to morally questionable lengths to outdo the other. However, in the end, Borden comes off as the more sympathetic of the two when Angier frames Borden for his murder, has him sentenced to death and takes his daughter into his custody.
    • One of the Borden twins is an even lighter shade of grey as he is the only one out of the three protagonists who was the least interested in the rivalry and wanted to end the cycle of obsession.

  • Crest of the Stars subverts the usual portrayal of The Empire vs. The Federation as a Black-and-Gray Morality: the Four Nations Alliance is the Designated Villain, while the Humankind Empire Abh is the Designated Hero.
  • House Atreides in Dune is a good example of this trope, although Dune is only Grey-and-Grey Morality if you consider the 'other side' to ultimately include the Corrino Emperor rather than just being the Always Chaotic Evil Harkonnens.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire and its TV adaptation Game of Thrones, House Stark is basically a mixture of decent-if-naive and normal-if-cynical people, though (by virtue of kicking their ass in a war a while back) unfortunately have House Bolton fighting for their side, who are a bunch of power-hungry sadists. Their arch-enemies House Lannister, however, while having somewhat decent-if-cynical-and-manipulative people like Tyrion (and, possibly, Jaime, though he has done some really bad stuff), or Cersei's innocent younger children, are generally a bunch of ruthless, backstabbing, power-hungry assholes who are willing to put The Caligula on the throne if that is what keeps them in power, and employ evil psychopaths like Gregor Clegane without batting an eye. And while Tywin, the head of the House, may be pragmatic enough to know how to run the economy properly and keep the peasants happy and well-fed, he is still a monumental Jerkass who has entire families butchered and treats his children like dirt.
  • The Poor Man's Fight series by Elliott Kay is this in spades. While you are overall sympathetic to our hero Tanner, the books make very clear that many of the mooks he kills are not evil, perhaps just another young person trapped into military service by unfair debt like him. At the same time, many of his allies have noble goals, such as protecting their nation from foreign invaders who would ruthlessly exploit its people... but also gladly employ psychopathic killers and war criminals if they can help get the job done. Tanner is also a through and through Combat Pragmatist, and the foreign media portrays him a ruthless killer for doing such things as not giving a group of assassins that outnumber him 4-to-1 a chance to surrender before he gives them all brutal, and mostly lethal, take-downs, or blowing up an entire ship full of thousands of invasion troops before they realize the threat.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Despite the series' overwhelming Black-and-Gray Morality, characters like the Starks, Tyrion Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen are portrayed sympathetically despite their more heinous actions.
  • House of the Dragon: At the end of Season 1, there are two claimant monarchs for the Iron Throne, Rhaenyra Targaryen and her half-brother Aegon II (who's pushed by his mother and grandfather, he had no intent to become king otherwise). While some of Rhaenyra's actions were questionable and she's married to Daemon Targaryen (who orchestrated a bloody purge of criminals in King's Landing and murdered Rhea Royce), her faction (the Blacks) is so far painted in a better light than the Greens supporting Aegon (the Greens don't think Rhaenyra should rule Westeros because she's a woman and usurp the throne against the dead King Viserys' wish, Aegon is a serial rapist, the lords who join his side are opportunistic breakers of oaths, and Lord Larys, in addition to submitting Queen Mother Alicent to his creepy fetish, murdered his father and his brother to get where he is).
  • Supernatural is much less black and white as the seasons progress. Especially when you have angels whom are just as bad as the demons on the show. Maybe even worse. Sam and Dean in particular are the series' protagonists but at their worst can tend to fall into Knight Templar territory when backed against the wall and especially when either of their lives are at stake and is more than willing to put innocents lives at risk for the sake of their own. Yet they're mankind's only hope against supernatural threats that would have no qualms in wiping out humanity.
  • Joss Whedon's Dollhouse is all about this trope. In season one, you have Paul Ballard, dangerously obsessed FBI agent who is projecting his own fantasy onto Caroline, and on the other side you have the Rossum Corporation, admittedly involved in human trafficking, and in the middle, playing one against the other, a madman and Ax-Crazy whose insanity was, at least partially, inflicted upon him by the Dollhouse. In season two, the enemy is the Rossum Corporation's upper management, versus Adelle DeWitt and the rapidly self-aware Actives. Adelle crosses some Moral Event Horizons, but ends up being more sympathetic than her fellow co-workers simply by being less evil than the rest of the Rossum Corporation.
  • Very much the case on True Blood. Vampires publicly try to fit in with human society]], while utterly ignoring human law and morality every chance they get. They frequently commit murder, Mind Control people, imprison them, perform torture and engage in a wide range of other criminal behaviors. The main romantic leads of the series are not exceptions, but are not only hugely attractive to the heroine, but to the female fanbase at large. To keep this from becoming an A Lighter Shade of Black situation, efforts are usually made to make the vampire protagonists at least superficially appealing, while introducing enemies that seem to be much worse which they will help save the day from.
  • In Yes, Minister, both Hacker (an elected MP) and Sir Humphrey (an unelected civil servant) always have their own interests at heart when deciding government policy. However, Hacker, while not entirely free of venal self-interest (he's often willing to put 'what will get me re-elected' over 'what is the right thing to do' when push comes to shove) almost always ends up the most sympathetic of the pair; he's often at least aware of what would be best for the people, and will try to fight for a cause he truly believes is right. Sir Humphrey is just unashamedly amoral about achieving his goals, and even the more seemingly justifiable of them will usually be tinged with a hint of self-interest.
  • Within the protagonist group in The Walking Dead (2010) Shane is definitely the darker, pure survival-oriented Sociopathic Hero to Rick who thinks not only of the group but even of others outside the group and makes a conscious effort to cling to his morality.
  • The conflict between alternate universes was mostly portrayed this way in Fringe. It was often commented on by critics that the only reason viewers sympathized with the prime universe over the alternate is because the focus was on the prime universe (when the two sides declared a truce and audiences saw the alternate universe not trying to wipe out the prime, they became a lot more sympathetic). It should be noted that the origin of the conflict was a child abduction perpetrated by someone from the prime universe. To make it greyer, the abduction saved the child's life (and was initially meant to last only long enough to do just that before returning him).

    Pro Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech the Inner Sphere houses can be viewed this way, as they are fighting each other as they see themselves as the rightful heirs of the Sphere, and they don't want the other houses to eliminate them. Of course each house has its darker moments. The Federated Suns and the Lyran Commonwealth have leaders who put shame in the family name, most notably Katherine Stiener-Davion. While the Draconis Combine and the Cappellan Confederation have ruthlessly killed billions on a single planet when their leaders felt like doing it. The Free Worlds, on the other hand, have a long history of constant squabbling, and the true Thomas Marik formed the Word of Blake and orchestrated the destructive war known as the Jihad.
  • Warhammer: Age of Sigmar: The Grand Alliance Of Order, the de-facto heroes of the setting, are mostly this. While there are no shortage of genuinely good, heroic, and noble (as much as one can be in a Warhammer setting) heroes, there's also no shortage of violent, blood-thirsty, zealous, or just plain mercenary members. What unites them isn't compassion, goodness, or even a desire to save lives; it's a shared desire for civilization and law, and a common opposition to Chaos.

  • Despite the houses of Montague and Capulet being stressed as "alike in dignity" in the prologue of Romeo and Juliet, the Montagues come off looking a lot better in many adaptations, probably because they feature a lot less. Then again, in the original text itself the Capulets come off as a Big, Screwed-Up Family consisting of a warlike father, a weak-willed mother, a painfully naive daughter, and a dangerously Hot-Blooded nephew; meanwhile, Lord Montague does try to join the opening brawl but is relieved his son Romeo avoided it, and the main characters in his house are Wide-Eyed Idealist Romeo and Only Sane Man Benvolio. The most volatile non-Capulet in the play, Mercutio, isn't even a Montague- he's related to the prince. It's not hard to conjecture that the Montagues may be just as involved in the feud, but there's a strong chance of a much more functional private family life.

    Video Games 
  • In Final Fantasy Tactics, one side of the Lion War rallies behind Prince Goltana, the other behind Prince Larg, the church has got its fingers in the conflict, not to mention the Lucavi, and then there's your player group. Out of the two main sides involved in the war, those siding with Prince Larg come out looking more like good guys, in general, by virtue of not having Delita on their side. Out of all groups, though, the player's party comes out looking like the best good guys of all, but whether that's due to the main character's being played or being honestly virtuous is a matter of debate.
  • Both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas revolve around this conflict. It's less obvious in 3 as the Brotherhood act mostly as white knights, but are capable of doing very unpleasant things, such as murdering Ghouls on sight and killing civilians outside of Megaton. But not on the same scale as the Enclave who plan on killing anyone with even the slightest form of mutation.
    • Aside from the Legion, which is outright evil, Fallout: New Vegas has gray factions in the form of the New California Republic, Mr. House, and potentially a Good Karma Courier in the Wild Card Route. So choosing which is the lightest gray usually depends on the player.
      • The New California Republic is a diverse, wealthy, democratic, powerful, prosperous, and expansionist federation that greatly improves standards of living in any given region, but they are often greedy and corrupt. The most common complaint people have towards them is that they're just repeating the same mistakes of the pre-War government that led to World War III in the first place, which pales in comparison to the Legion's mass murder and House's Control Freak personality. A Good Karma NCR ending with the proper legwork ensures a happy ending for just about every faction and individual in the wasteland that deserves it.
      • While Mr.House is by no means is a nice man, he has no interest in actively persecuting the people of the Mojave and provided that they simply follow his rules and not remain a threat, he runs a prosperous resort town open to anyone for the right price. If one takes a harsh enough view of the NCR's problems with corruption and imperialism and believes Mr. House genuinely wants to help humanity, he has the means to do so. So choosing which is the lightest gray usually depends on the player.
      • A Wild Card Courier with good karma (or at least neutral) is someone who is willing to betray both factions out of a genuine desire to liberate the Mojave, even when that may end up sparking anarchy.
    • In Fallout 3's DLC The Pitt, the main conflict you must invariably choose a side in is a conflict between an Anti-Villain and an Anti-Hero. On the one hand there's Lord Ashur, who uses slave labor guarded by raiders to revive the steel mills in the ruins of old world Pittsburg, but who plans to free the slaves once The Pitt is its own superpower, as well as finding a cure for the sickness that turns the inhabitants of The Pitt into troglodytes. On the other hand, there's Werner, Ashur's former lieutenant who wants to free the slaves of Ashur's rule (and has the support of the people), but does it primarily so that he can rule The Pitt in Ashur's stead. Werner is in fact the one who brings in outside help (read: you) to tip the scales in his favor, and he conveniently fails to mention the whole "controlling The Pitt" thing, not to mention the cure for the trog disease is within Ashur's own infant daughter.
  • Madworld. Jack, by his own words, kills people rather than helping them and participates in a snuff competition, Death Watch. Leo's Dad organized Death Watch as a cover to show off his virus which, in the context of Death Watch all it did was clear out most of the innocent bystanders, cleanly overshadowed by THE FUCKING DEATH WATCH. And Leo is even worse, who helped with the plan For the Evulz. So naturally Jack kills them all with relish.
  • The Spectres from Mass Effect fall into this category, within their own organisation. Their Agents given full authority to do anything to get the job done, but exactly how far they go to accomplish their objectives is left completely at the discretion of any individual Agent. Hence the reason why it took over twenty years before Saren finally lost his Spectre status, and then only because Shepard was able to provide conclusive evidence of treason.
    • Lampshaded in Lair of the Shadow Broker, where Shepard berates Tela Vasir for betraying the Spectres by working with the Shadow Broker. Vasir throws it right back at them, that Shepard is working with Cerberus, so how are they different? Even a completely Paragon Shepard will list off their questionable actions to make it seem like they're going to Shoot the Hostage.
    • The Spectres arguably are this to the Asari Justicars. The Justicars are an ancient order that patrol Asari Space in pursuit of justice and adhere to a highly strict Code that dictates what they can and cannot do. This can allow them to kill anyone who gets in their way, including other law-enforcers, should they be foolish enough to try to apprehend them. This rarely happens.
  • In theory this is the portrayal of the Assassin's Guild that Assassin's Creed is seeking. Being a clan of assassins, it would be fairly obvious that they're doing a lot of murdering in their line of work but it is set against the backdrop of trying to stop the ingresses of the Templar Order, which seeks to put the world under its fist (as their namesake trope would suggest). However the reality is the Templar Order's doctrine is so obviously totalitarian that there's really no way anyone would agree the world would be better under them, making the conflict considerably more of the Black-and-Gray Morality.
  • King Foltest in The Witcher is regarded as an arrogant, sister-humping warmonger, but he ends up being one of the least morally repugnant leaders in the series as well as the most moral monarchs in the Northern Kingdoms compared to others such as King Henselt of Kaedwin, who is your standard Fat Bastard, as well as King Radovid of Redania, who is practically an Adolf Hitler stand-in by performing ethnic cleansing against undesirables (in this case magic users). Nilfgaard is ruled by Emperor Emhyr var Emreis, who is basically Fantasy Joseph Stalin by launching expansionist campaigns against any kingdoms that refuse to be forcibly absorbed into his empire, and happily executing his own courtiers and military high command if they fail him in the slightest.
  • In Tales of Berseria, the main characters go around destroying everything in their path and half of the party are anti-heroes of varying degrees. Their enemy, the Abbey, however, are a group of Well Intentioned Extremists attempting to wipe out free will in order to rid the world of Malevolence, which causes humans to become Daemons due to the effects of a curse placed on humans by the Seraphs of the Heavenly Realm who use very objectionable methods to achieve that end.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: The Republic are hardly saints, with Lawful Stupid, Holier Than Thou Jedi, crooked politicians, massive sentient rights abuses on Belsalvis, alliances with crime bosses and outright terrorists, and generals operating on Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto Us. However, the Sith Empire is a theocracy led by Ax-Crazy nutjobs (who can rape, maim, kill, and otherwise terrorize citizens and face zero legal repercussions), an army that wants to imitate the worst aspects of the Sith (including using civilians for live target practice), openly practice slavery and consider anyone who isn't Sith species, human, or Chiss as nothing more than a Slave Race...unless they are Force Sensitive (making the Ax-Crazy sorcerer cabal the closest thing to an actual meritocracy). The Mandalorians are only showing up for the paycheck and they don't consider the Sith Worthy Opponents. The Only Sane Employee (Imperial Intelligence) is left to mop up the mess as best they can. Oh, and the whole thing is led by an Omnicidal Maniac nutjob who wants to kill off all life on both side of the conflict to become a god.
  • In the Fire Emblem series:
    • Fire Emblem Fates has Hoshido come off as more sympathetic than Nohr in their conflict. While the playable characters on both sides are basically sympathetic, Nohr is the unquestioned aggressor, the true villains are hiding in Nohr's shadows, and all three of the legitimately evil characters (Hans, Iago, and Kotaro) are all aligned directly against Hoshido.
    • Claude from Fire Emblem: Three Houses freely admits that he's a slippery, scheming bastard who shouldn't be trusted, but come the Time Skip, he's actually the least morally compromised of the faction leaders: the others are a Visionary Villain who's willing to shed plenty of blood for her plans to come to fruition, a Sociopathic Hero who's consumed with fury, and the archbishop of a church that has lied to the people of Fodlan for goddess knows how many years. In comparison, Claude just wants to keep his nation out of their conflict. Fittingly he's the one main character who can potentially survive all four routes; in fact, the only route where he can die is Edelgard's, and only if you go out of your way to not spare him.
  • World of Warcraft: The Alliance and the Horde, being both examples of The Alliance, start out as equally gray in Warcraft III — both of them sport prejudice and self-righteousness and have committed their fair share of war crimes (such as creating concentration camps). However, both were born from the desire to protect Azeroth from the Legions of Hell and other powerful menaces and are a source of comfort for the races that comprise them. That is until Garrosh replaces Thrall as Warchief in Cataclysm and becomes more bellicose and radical in Mists of Pandaria. Unlike his predecessor Thrall, Garrosh is more ruthless, racist, and war-mongering who later orders the Horde to commit genocide. If you add to it that one of the Horde's more reviled factions, the Forsaken, get used as cannon fodder, get fed up, and start creating more of them (raising more Undead is always seen in a bad light)... It all culminates when the Forsaken's leader is crowned as the new Warchief and keeps doing more villainous acts. The Horde is only saved from falling into full black by the fact that both Warchiefs gradually lose the faction's approval and are ousted.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the conflict between Akane and Delta in the Zero Escape trilogy both sides have noble goals and a small graveyard of dogs shot on the path to these goals. However while the former tries to minimise casualties and collateral damage whenever possible, the latter tends to be excessively cruel and some actions like killing everyone except Diana in one of the endings of Zero Time Dilemma seem like pointless cruelty, making Akane a clearly lighter gray. The latter also literally shoots a dog at one point, for no particular reason whatsoever.

    Web Comics 
  • In Drowtales, it's Word of God that "There are no heroes or villains", but the Nidraa'chal clan is "the threat".
  • Terra operates on a whole spectrum of grey, with the Resistance on the almost-white side. They're an alliance of colonial militias and resistance groups using guerrilla warfare and assassination to put an end to a corrupt Forever War between two powerful empires and hopefully get a Fictional United Nations set up.
  • General Protection Fault has the ongoing feud between Fred and Trent. Both sides flame each other online and play pranks on each other, to the point at which Dwayne tells them that he won't hesitate to fire them if they don't shape up, but Fred is the more sympathetic of the two. While he abuses his newfound ability to force Trent to sexually harass Sharon, expose himself to Dwayne and a customer, and ultimately get arrested, Trent actually tried to kill Fred by spraying him with cleaning fluid. Just as Fred accepts Nicole's advice and abandons his plans to sue Trent for libel, Trent manages to find a lawyer who will believe him and serves Fred with a lawsuit.

    Web Original 
  • Ilivais X inverts the usual here: Iriana may have been horribly broken by the Aztec Empire, but her goal isn't REALLY to end the war and create a free society, it's to get revenge. Meanwhile, both empires have been at war with each other for centuries, but they're mostly not bad people, and they've maintained a society that works very nicely for the people in all that time.
  • The Solstice War the story goes into the heads of a lot of Ayvartans and Nochtish people but in the end the Ayvartans receive much more of the story's sympathy than Nocht, who are imperialistic invaders. However, the Ayvartan government is none too rosy either, being wracked with corruption and mismanagement.
  • SCP Foundation usually comes across as this compared to other morally grey Groups of Interest. While it's hardly a good organization, and somewhat frequently delves deep into Black morality, the Foundation's generally better than the Global Occult Coalition because they seek to contain anomalies rather than blindly destroy anything that's anomalous (Regardless of all the good/neutral or outright beneficial anomalies, there's a great number of Keters that would only be made more dangerous by any attempts to destroy them, and plenty of others that might be neutralized by attempted destruction, or you're just destroying the real-world items anchoring the anomalies to one area). And with the sheer number of extremely dangerous SCPs, the Foundation can usually come across as more sympathetic to human life than groups that are interested in more commonplace use of anomalies, such as the Serpent's Hand or the Church of the Broken God (both of which also have many points at which they are no worse than the Foundation in terms of morality.)

    Western Animation 
  • Played with in Justice League. In the show's earlier run, when it was simply known as Justice League, the show's heroes and villains were pretty unambiguous. Fast forward to the second part, entitled Justice League Unlimited. The heroes make some morally questionable choices, and the "villains" arrayed against them (Project Cadmus) are suddenly cast in a whole new light. In the end, though, Cadmus ends up disbanding due to its long streak of mistakes while the League sticks around, so they ultimately remain the "good guys" of the story.

Alternative Title(s): A Lighter Shade Of Gray, A Darker Shade Of Grey, A Darker Shade Of Gray