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A Real Man Is a Killer

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"Time was you sent a boy off to war. Shootin' someone fixed him right up. But there ain't even no wars no more, thank you very much, Warren Christopher!"
Moe, The Simpsons

How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man? The world may never know, but one thing is for sure; at the end of one of those roads, he had better kill somebody.

The tradition of killing as an initiation into manhood is at least as old as ancient Sparta, making this trope both Older Than Feudalism and based in reality, not fiction. A fundamental tenant of the hunter-gatherer social order, but largely irrelevant today as a means of testing the mettle of a new member of the hunting troupe. Still, that doesn't stop many buttoned-down, work-a-day suburban fathers fearing their son will go astray if he doesn't go through this rite of passage (which his own ancestors may or may not have had to undergo themselves, at least in TV land).

Every once in a while, either because the society/organization is gender-blind or because someone wants to get in on the deadly fun, a woman will go through the same process, to mixed reactions... or no reaction at all if it were one of those aforementioned gender-blind societies/organizations.

A variation of this trope is for elite military forces to kill a man (an enemy or even a low ranking ally) as part of their initiation. Outside of the distant past, the twilight years of the Imperial Japanese Army, or a handful of the small and isolated tribes from over half a century ago, this is also largely a Discredited Trope today (except perhaps in cases where said troop is depicted as villainous, thereby avoiding Truth in Television considerations). A spin on the military angle involves spies who, in order to become full-fledged agents, are required to undergo "a final test"; this generally involves cold-bloodedly killing a target, possibly even one trying to surrender. Examples include James Bond (who per Casino Royale (2006) and the original novels needed to assassinate two people before attaining 00 status) and the 2010s versions of Nikita and Chuck, both of which included plotlines requiring lead characters to kill in order to advance.

Today, this trope comes with unfortunate implications, particularly in Real Life: If such a rite of passage was justified back in ancient times and still is in some contexts, it has now been Flanderized into a much less noble pursuit. It contends that reveling in violence or deriving pleasure from killing something/someone is the epitome of manhood and the definition of badassery. In fact, these days you are much more likely to see this trope inverted: A man is expected to kill in order to prove something, and his refusal to do so is what proves his moral integrity (in some cases, this could even provide him with an Androcles' Lion protector). It's only in places where there are legitimate targets for murder that we see anything like the original spin. Zombies, aliens, or other inhuman enemies? No worries, people will be expected to prove they are worth having along by mercilessly killing them. Other people, even bad people, not so much, though it still happens. Even in modern examples that play it straight, there is still a tendency in grittier works to expect the men, even those like doctors or confirmed pacifists, to join in on the aforementioned justified killing. If they do it's often treated as a moment of them outgrowing their cowardice, while such standards are not applied to the physically capable women of the group.

Even in military contexts, this has become a Discredited Trope. Modern psychological research implies that sane/normal men have very strong aversions to killing another human being. The studies of General S.L.A. Marshall showed that only 15% of frontline soldiers ever fired their rifles in combat, and only 2% aimed to kill. Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman has done research on killing in action, and he states that a sane and psychologically normal man must be especially conditioned for him to be able to shoot at the enemy, and most of the killing in action is done by indirect fire, machine guns, and exceptional individuals (i.e. psychopaths and "natural soldiers"). Unfortunately, this conditioning is also the Trope Maker for These Hands Have Killed. Truth in Television, especially amongst Vietnam War veterans, who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder in frequencies far exceeding those of the World War II veterans.

The concept of "blooded" versus "green" forces (a continuum, not either/or) is different: killing (or dying) is not required, but you must have remained and functioned with your unit for some time in combat before you start to be regarded as trustworthy.

Contrast Real Women Don't Wear Dresses and Badass Pacifist. Sometimes used in training The Spartan Way (not to be confused with literal Spartan training, which also required this). See also Deadly Graduation and If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Android Kikaider: The Animation uses this concept as a last twist out of the left field. To "become a real man", Jiro ends up becoming capable of killing and committing other evil acts, even if they are for good reasons, due to a fusion of his conscience circuit and an evil control circuit.
  • Battle Angel Alita has Zekka exaggerating it: In his mind, a real man is an Omnicidal Maniac seeking the power to destroy entire planets with his bare hands!
  • Black Cat can be seen as kind of a Spiritual Successor to Rurouni Kenshin in this sense; right up to the end, Train averts this trope by refusing to kill the Big Bad, even after said Big Bad gave him detailed instructions on how to do it and tried to explain that he couldn't be stopped any other way. Like Kenshin, Train is a reformed assassin.
  • Ringo Roadagain from the Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Steel Ball Run is a man entirely devoted to his philosophy of the "True Man's World". Basically, he thinks an honest duel to the death will inevitably make the winner become a better man. There's a good reason why he's so fixated on this ideal.
  • Daimos: Basically, this is what Miwa adheres. If a man is set to destroy/kill something, then he's a real man. When Kazuya, out of Despair Event Horizon with the information of Erika dying, steeled himself to destroy Balmlings, Miwa praised him, stating that it was truly how a real man would act. It landed him a punch in the face.
  • In the light novel/manga Legend (of Takano Masaharu), the final test to become an adventurer is to kill even the last one of a group of bandits to prove they can kill humans without hesitation if need it.
  • In Naruto, the Hidden Mist village used to be known as the "Bloody Mist" for this reason, as the final exam for pre-Genin under the 4th Mizukage was for students to pair up and fight to the death. The practice ended after the preteen Momochi Zabuza showed up and massacred every one of his classmates.
  • Rurouni Kenshin, working on Batman Logic, mostly averts this trope. However, the reason Kenshin avoids killing is because he was the cause of so many deaths in the past.
    • There's another twisted line of thought preventing him from killing, as he's convinced that taking a single life will turn him into a bloodthirsty killer, and this attitude never changes, even after his master tells him that Shishio wouldn't even be around if Kenshin wasn't so afraid of the "manslayer", who's merely a figment of his imagination. Despite this, fate seems to conspire to keep Kenshin from killing anyone.
  • Averted in Trigun. Killing people is serious freaking business and the hallmark of characters who are either morally ambiguous or just plain psycho. Even nonfatally wounding the villain is portrayed as a crippling-guilt-inducing act.
  • In Vinland Saga, this trope comes into play when the youngest son of a rich farmer wants to become a man. The farmer's housecarls quote this trope at him and tries to get him to cut down a pair of his father's slaves. The trope is deconstructed because it's readily apparent that the situation isn't particularly 'manly' (the slaves are restrained) and the boy is a bit of an Emo Teen either way. When he eventually does end up killing someone, it's by accident in a fixed duel he was intended to win so the king could accuse his father. He ends up horrified, looking at the man's corpse.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Marvel Alternate Universe Age of Apocalypse, Colossus is shown training young mutants for the fight against Apocalypse, expecting them to kill each other to ensure that only the very best remain.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise, Earth King Kuei decides that, after feeling betrayed by Fire Lord Zuko, he needs to prove to the world that he's a man. How? By starting a war!
  • Aversion: Batman has a strict 'no-killing' policy and his sticking to his principles no matter how much danger it puts him in is seen as proof of his manly character. A good example of this is during Knightfall when Tim Drake saw the sight of Abattoir plunging into molten steel. It traumatized him and, when Bruce found out, he's glad he was and told him to not let go of that revulsion to killing. In fact, Bruce Wayne is so steadfast in this conviction that he wins respect for it from the unlikeliest sources: even his martial-arts trainer, Lady Shiva, who taunts him for not living up to her standards by refusing to kill, admits that she won't execute him because she admires his courage in daring to disobey her.
    • In All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, Batman (In Name Only) trains Robin by locking him in the Batcave and forcing him to kill rats and bugs for food.
    • Cassandra Cain, later Batgirl III, cracked and ran away from her father after she killed a man as the final stage of her assassin training (she was around eight at the time).
  • In Cavewoman: Mutation, macho Jerkass Eddy declares "A man ain't a man if he can't kill his own food!".
  • The Eagles of Rome: As a boy, Ermanamer secretly tags along with his father Sigmar's band of warriors. He's almost killed by a warrior from a rival tribe, but manages to kill the attacker instead. Sigmar is furious, but also pleased that his son has become a man.
  • In Jew Gangster, Monk congratulates Ruby for being "in the big leagues" after he participates in the shooting of a baker, then gives him a gun as a gift.
  • Secret Six: Catman's abusive big game hunter father once forced his son (who was still a little boy then) to shoot a defenseless lion cub. He justified it to his wife using this trope.
  • In Star Wars Legends, there are a few comics focusing on the training of the Emperor's Red Guards. Part of this involves partners who have worked together all along killing each other in front of the Emperor to show their loyalty.
  • In Udon's Street Fighter comic, Juli's first mission is a test: kill her own mother.
  • Wanted: Wesley Gibson is trained to become a supervillain Professional Killer because his daddy was one before him. When he kills his first man by stabbing a broken chair leg through the guy's head, his trainer asks him how it felt. Wesley: "Like I just fucked Marilyn Monroe without a condom."
  • Inverted in Watchmen: Walter "Rorschach" Kovacs implies that he was just playing at the whole "masked avenger" schtick until he killed a child-murderer's pet/guard dogs. It's portrayed as the moment he finally lost his humanity.
    Walter: Shock of impact ran along my arm. Jet of warmth spattered on chest, like hot faucet. It was Kovacs who said "Mother" then, muffled under latex. It was Kovacs who closed his eyes. It was Rorschach who opened them again.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Wonder Woman (1942): Steve Trevor who is presented as the ideal man and prefers stealth and diplomacy and avoids killing when he can is contrasted with Mars who loves violence above all else and feels that such a trait is inherently masculine and those without it are feminine.
    • Wonder Woman (Rebirth): During a talk between Urzkartaga and Steve Trevor the evil god thinks that bloodshed and fighting are what it takes to make a real man happy, while Steve counters that a hearty good meal and loving partner are.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In The False Prince And The True, the king is told that his son was struck and didn't try to strike back and is displeased.
    'I suppose the prince had no arms with him, or else he would have used them?'
    'Yes, sire, he had arms; he always carries a dagger in his belt. But when he saw the blood pouring from his face, he went to a corner of the court and began to cry, which was the strangest thing of all.'
    On hearing this the king walked to the window and stood for a few minutes with his back to the room, where the company of young men remained silent. Then he came back, his face white and stern.
    'I tell you,' he said, 'and it is the solemn truth, that I would rather you had told me that the prince was dead, though he is my only son, than know that he would suffer such an injury without attempting to avenge it.'

    Fan Works 
  • Androgyninja's A Drop of Poison: Sasuke firmly believes this; he only starts to respect Sakura after learning that she's killed several enemies in self-defense. This newfound respect doesn't actually help their relationship at all, as he blithely dismisses all of his past insults and casual cruelty as 'no longer applying to her', and is shocked and confused to learn that she still considers herself to be civilian-born and proud of her heritage rather than viewing herself as a shinobi first and foremost.
  • Dagur in Dragons, Butterflies, And Who Knows What Else? seems to find the idea of killing a "demigod" as a one-way ticket to being the most feared and respected Viking in the Archipelago.
  • The Night Unfurls: Kyril defies this trope, as his conversation with Grace in Chapter 13 of the remastered version succinctly shows. Rather than a sacred calling or a way to prove one's manhood, to him, killing is not something to be glorified, but a chore meant to be endured. Grace remarks that this sort of thinking is what separates him and her deceased husband, who plays this trope straight.
  • Justified in The Pixie Of The Hidden Leaf. Prior to recommending them to participate in the Chunin Exams, Tanya takes Team 7 to a room in the Torture and Interrogation Department, having them kill prisoners who have already given up the needed information and are too dangerous to release. Her reasoning is to make sure her team is willing to kill when the time comes, which is almost an certainty in the life of a shinobi.
    Tanya: You must learn to kill. Not just in the heat of battle as a consequence of a too-strong attack, I'm talking about the conscious decision to end a life. Just like each of your blades and every jutsu in your arsenal, so is the act of killing itself a tool, one that must be utilized properly. You shouldn't grow to enjoy it. You don't even have to get used to it, even though it would be better. But either way, you must be able to recognize when it is necessary, and then do so without hesitation. That is my final lesson for you.
  • Ultra Fast Pony features a gender-inverted version, then immediately subverts it. Apple Bloom wonders when she'll get a cutie mark (a symbolic representation of a pony's calling in life, and a major milestone in growing up). Her older sister answers:
    Applejack: Oh, you'll get your cutie mark, when you kill your first pony. Or when you do pretty much anything else. The whole system's kinda vague, really.
  • Averted with the Actual Pacifist four in With Strings Attached and The Keys Stand Alone. In the latter book, George's stubborn refusal to participate in a battle even as a Courier really horks off Bayr, especially given the enormous deathly potential of George's shapeshifting ring:
    Bayr: Da gods know dat ring'ud make its wearah a real fawce in wah... whyn't dey givvit tuh summon who'd use it? Why'd dey givvit tuh a useless stick lahk you? A man widdout gumption... widdout balls... who'd let evil destroy everyt'ing, who'd let duh Animals rape women and buhn villages tudda groun' 'cause he's too flame-scoured pure tuh raise a han' agains' 'em!
  • Vow of Nudity: Fiora's werecat clan has a coming-of-age ritual where a young hunter must slay an axebeak and bring back a trophy in order to be considered a man.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Book of Life, Manolo's father won't acknowledge him as a grown man worthy of the Sanchez name unless he kills a bull during a bullfight. Note that Manolo is perfectly capable of confronting a bull, and could've dispatched it in the ring if he wanted; he just doesn't think a noble animal like a fighting bull should have to die just to entertain a crowd.
  • In How to Train Your Dragon, the people in Hiccup's tribe (men and women alike) are expected to kill dragons for a living, and thus they are considered useful in society only after they have proven themselves capable of slaying one. The plot kicks off when Hiccup manages to trap and incapacitate the then-most-powerful known dragon, but refuses to kill it when he realizes it has high sentience, intelligence (for an animal), and learning capacity, as well as a friendly demeanor.
  • Invoked by Mulan as she goes out of her way to maintain her disguise.
    Mulan (as Ping): But you know how it is when you get those, manly urges, and you just gotta kill something.
    • Also invoked in the Training Montage. That is, after all, why they were expected to "be a man".
    • By the end of the movie, Mulan has indirectly killed not only most of the Hun horde (via starting an avalanche that buries everyone but the Big Bad and Quirky Miniboss Squad) but eventually Shan Yu by setting him up to be blown up by fireworks. The movie doesn't really bring attention to this, and the Emperor focuses more on Mulan saving China instead of her individual actions, but by the measure of this trope, she's a "man" a hundred times more than most of the actual male characters.
  • In Pocahontas, shortly after the British make landfall, a band of scouts from the Powhatan Nation spy on them. The whites, however, draw the wrong conclusion and open fire, leading the Native scouts to fire back in self defense. In the chaos, Thomas nearly shoots Governor Ratcliffe, who is (understandably) irate at this, and yells at him to "learn to use that thing properly," because "a man's not a man unless he knows how to shoot."
  • Invoked in Rango, as one would expect of a film so rich in Western tropes. Rango transforms from The Fool into a Guile Hero, but doesn't fully develop into the standard Western "white hat" until he forces The Dragon who formerly terrorized him to realize that he's (now) willing to kill to save the townsfolk.
    Rattlesnake Jake: Or what, big man? You gonna kill me?
    Rango: (without emotion) That's just about the size of it.
  • Clayton from Tarzan believes this; when Tarzan has him at gunpoint he tells the hero to pull the trigger and "be a man". Tarzan fakes a gunshot noise and breaks the gun instead.
    Tarzan: Not a man like YOU!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Taken to its logical extreme. The dawn of man begins when apes figure out how to use bones as weapons and kill creatures.
  • Big Trouble in Little China: Lampshaded. Jack is embarrassed by having killed someone only for the first time and lies about it so as not to appear dorky to his male friends, who obviously aren't killers any more than he is.
  • The Bourne Ultimatum: It is shown that in order to be accepted into Treadstone, Bourne had to execute an unknown man in cold blood. This is less about making him a man, and more about making him a weapon: his attempts to determine why he's supposed to kill this man are constantly rebuked with the admonishment "you don't need to know". Treadstone is training assassins: the assassins don't need to know why they're killing someone, they just need to do it.
  • Casino Royale (2006): It is revealed that secret agents are only promoted to 00 status after assassinating two targets (killing without intention to or in self-defence/heat of battle doesn't apparently count, otherwise MI6 would be loaded with 00 agents). This is also a plot point in the original novel, in which Le Chiffre is James Bond's third target; the film suggests the first two targets are Bond's first kills ever, while the books are ambiguous on this point.
  • Cowboys & Aliens: Dolerhyde tells a story to a young boy named Emmett about his first march in the Army (as a boy not much older than Emmett). He tells Emmett that he ended up slitting a man's throat (a Mercy Kill) with the knife he gave the boy earlier and tells the boy that he needs to be a man with a clear implication that this means to be a killer. Emmett ends up stabbing an alien with the same knife.
  • Cry of the Banshee: Lord Edward Whitman believes this, and actually shows pride when his son Harry—whom he had always regarded as a weakling—kills his Torture Technician Burke in order to save the accused witch Maggie.
  • Dog Soldiers: A potential recruit for the UK special forces gets chewed out for not killing the dog set to track him in a field exercise. Ordered to shoot it after the exercise, he refuses to do so and is returned to his old non-elite unit.
  • Dredd: Rare female example. Anderson wants to be a Judge, but she clearly lacks the level of ruthlessness and emotional detachment necessary for the job. During the raid on the apartment, Dredd methodically eliminates every hostile while Anderson can't even fire a shot. She's more willing later on, but the true turning point is when Dredd orders her to execute a perp. After this, she's more sure of herself and Dredd's respect for her grows accordingly. By the end of the film, she's gunning down mooks almost as effectively as Dredd.
  • Full Metal Jacket: Subverted/Averted more than once. The first deaths are a Murder-Suicide. The other most notable death is when Joker stands over a sniper and debates for some minutes whether to kill her...and then he does. It's an anti-war film.
    • It makes more sense in context. Said sniper had killed three soldiers, and even tortured two of them with non-lethal shots to lure the others into her range. After she was shot the first time, she was alive, but was obviously helpless, asking them to kill her. While all the other soldiers wanted to leave her for the rats to eat her for revenge, Joker took her out of her misery.
  • Monster's Ball: Variation. Hank and his son Sonny are officers who work on Death Row and the story opens as the latter is about to participate in his first "last walk" of a condemned man. (The title refers to the party that used to be thrown the night before an execution.) However, Sonny loses his nerve and vomits during the walk. Hank is humiliated and furious and confronts him the next morning; the fight ends with Sonny committing suicide. The remainder of the film has Hank struggling with this loss (and notably, his own father chalks Sonny's fate up to weakness).
  • More Dead Than Alive: The Gunfighter Wannabe Billy Valance demands to know why he is being paid less to perform in the shooting show than Cain, especially as he is the better shot. His boss Mark Ruffalo curtly explains that he is just a kid who is a good shot, while Cain is the real deal, a veteran gunslinger who has killed men, and people will always pay more to see a killer. Unfortunately, this pushes the already unstable Billy over the edge.
  • Naked Weapon: Features a wide variety of pubescent girls being kidnapped from around the world and sent to a tropical island. After immediately killing anybody who says 'Yes, I wanna go home!', they spend the next 9-10 years in a nonstop boot camp teaching the girls everything there is to know about firearms, human anatomy, unarmed combat, and social interaction, honing them into the world's finest assassins. As a penultimate final exam, they are assembled in their barracks and told that they have two minutes to kill half their number or they will all die. In the actual final exam, they are forced to compete in a gladiator-style tournament until only one remains. However, their "performance" is so great that the Madam allows three to survive instead.
    • Which, if one gives it about a half-second of thought, really is a monstrously wasteful and inefficient way of training assassins, but alas, the Rule of Cool strikes again...
  • Nikita: In the film and its American adaptation Point of No Return, the main character has completed her training as an assassin. Her boss takes her out to dinner to celebrate and then reveals that it's actually a test: she has to kill a target and escape without preparation. The first episode of The 1990s Series has the same scenario, although it is subverted in that case as Nikita uses her ingenuity to avoid killing anyone (her first on-screen kill occurs a few episodes later with no fanfare, and by the end of the series, she'd grown comfortable with killing to the point of being shown delivering "safety shots" into the bodies of disarmed enemies, a case of a character becoming Darker and Edgier as a series progresses).
  • Noah: the climax has Ham, one of Noah's sons, kill Tubal-Cain to protect his family. After spending the preceding part of the movie convincing Ham that A Man Is Not A Virgin and Real Men Eat Meat, Tubal-Cain says his last words directly to Ham: "Now you are a man."
  • The Northman: This aspect of ancient Norse culture is repeatedly Deconstructed.
    • Amleth's initiation into the Berserker cult is treated as debasing himself rather than any cool moment. And Aurvandil's words about the Cycle of Revenge sound less like a Badass Creed and more like a curse being placed upon his son that guarantee he will die a violent death, which it kind of is. As a grown man, Amleth is basically a broken man running on autopilot, who looks uncomfortable all the time and the only times he actually manages to look happy is when he is with Olga.
    • Fjolnir's gambit to murder his brother and usurp the kingdom backfires on him when he is exiled in disgrace and winds up lord and master of a tiny village in the windswept and barren wilderness along with his family and a handful of soldiers. This settlement ends up being terrorized and ultimately destroyed by Amleth.
    • Thorir is reintroduced as a young man who loses a sparring match, and he never seems to get over it. He moves through the rest of the story trying and failing to reassert his authority and prove his manhood, even though his father clearly loves him all the same and thus he may not need to. But as a lad in a viking settlement, it is what is expected of him.
  • Pig Hunt: A major theme. John is an ex-soldier who hunts because it is a family tradition. Jake and Ricky are Good Old Boys who hunt because they enjoy it, and who look down on the 'soft' city boys who have never killed anything; with Ricky even saying it is cowardly to use a gun to finish off a wounded animal, and that you should use a knife or hook. Ben and Wayne are military fanboys who dress in combat fatigues but who have never killed anything, man or beast, and have to discover if they capable of doing so after they learn real life violence is nothing like a video game. Quincy is a Non-Action Guy who thinks hunting is macho bullshit and wants nothing to do with it.
  • Prince Caspian: Very deliberately inverted. When Caspian has his usurping uncle Miraz at his mercy, the older man almost compliments him for it, only to be surprised at his nephew's actions:
    Miraz: Perhaps you do have the makings of a Telmarine king, after all.
    (Instead of driving his sword into Miraz, Caspian yells and harmlessly stabs it into the ground)
    Caspian: Not one like you. Keep your life, but I am giving the Narnians back their kingdom.
  • Red Dawn (1984): Robert drinks the blood of the first deer he shoots, and notes he likes the taste (Truth in Television, by the way. It's an old tradition among deer hunters that you have to drink the blood of your first kill). He eventually ends up the most Ax-Crazy of the Wolverines.
    "Then you'll be a real hunter. My dad said that once you do that, there's going to be something different about you, always."
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera: This is Luigi Largo's philosophy of life. He considers himself his father's worthy heir because, of the three siblings, he's the only one who kills people on a regular basis ...but the trope gets played on its head: Luigi is by far and large the most childish member of the cast, even more so than an actual teenager.
  • Rogue (2020): Pata describes how killing a lion is regarded as the Rite of Passage to manhood among the Maasai, but confesses that he never completed the ritual because he not bring himself to kill something for a reason like that. Later, he kills Zalaam's second-in-command Masakh, the man who executed his family, in a Battle Amongst the Flames, he announces "At last I am a man" before expiring from his wounds.
  • Saving Private Ryan: Hinted at in the climactic battle scene, where it's implied that the private who breaks down crying and refuses to fight is a coward. Of course, this could be not so much because he doesn't want to kill as it is that his passivity is putting his comrades in more danger than they otherwise would be.
  • Starkweather: This is what Charlie's dark side (as manifested in the form of 'The Mentor') believes, and keeps goading Charlie into committing murders to prove his manhood.
  • Surviving the Game: Gary Busey's character relates a story of a dog his father bought him as a child...and had him kill with his bare hands later to prove himself a man.
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Leatherface/Thomas chases after the Final Girl with his chainsaw, his first murder on behalf of the Hewitt family. Sheriff Hoyt, the closest thing Thomas has to a father figure, stares after him with an expression bordering on paternal love and simply states "There comes a time when every boy becomes a man."
  • Unforgiven: Includes a character whose greatest ambition is to become a deadly gunslinger. After finally getting the chance to kill someone and prove his worth, he is shamed and broken by the experience, with Clint Eastwood's character delivering a speech about killing people that's enough to make anyone hesitate in pulling the trigger. In a deleted scene, the character ended up Driven to Suicide.
  • The Wasteland (2021): Near the start of the movie, Salvador tries to get Diego to kill the rabbit they were going to eat, but he just can't bring himself to do it, allowing the rabbit enough time to wriggle out of his grip. Lucia says Diego can wait to do it until he's older, to which Salvador asks her "how will he learn to be a man?".
  • After Marlo recruits Michael for his gang in The Wire, he has to commit his first murder, and is sent to walk up to a dealer, look him in the eyes and shoot.

  • Inverted among Axumites in Belisarius Series. The rite of passage was getting your first battle scar.
  • Played semi-straight in the children's book Blood In The Snow, by Marlene Shyer. The main character inherits a gun from his grandfather and his father makes it clear to him that if he wants to be a man, he'll have to learn how to shoot. Due to a traumatic experience involving a stuffed animal he owned as a kid being used for target practice, he trades the gun for a silver flute with a kid at school and endures the ridicule by his father. He later trades the flute back (it's apparently platinum-plated and therefore worth more than originally thought) for the gun so that he can put a fox out of its misery, the source of the blood of the title, and it's implied that making these hard decisions is what's made him a man.
  • Discussed in Brothers in Arms: Galen invokes this very concept when he tries to get his Tyke-Bomb Mark to kill Miles and Galeni, and Miles immediately shoots it down:
    Galen: You must learn to kill if you expect to survive.
    Miles: No, you don't. Most people go through their whole lives without killing anybody. False argument.
  • In A Brother's Price this is completely averted. When Jerin has to shoot someone, he is shocked rather than proud. Other characters with more military upbringing aren't as squeamish, but view killing as a necessity rather as something fun.
  • In Clan of the Cave Bear, this goes in the opposite direction for girls: females of the Clan are forbidden to hunt or use weapons, and female protagonist Ayla gets in big trouble when they find out she's been learning on her own.
    • However, played straight with the Clan in general - a boy becomes a man when he makes his first big kill.
  • In Dark Light, the second book in the Engines Of Light Trilogy by Ken MacLeod, the characters come to the planet Rawliston, where the population is divided into three cultures: "Christians" (Post-Industrial Revolution Victorians), "Heathens" (Autochthonous people with a cottage craft system capable of producing highly complex creations), and "Savages" (Hunter Gatherers who live on the outskirts of the actual civilization). The Heathens have a sort of gender-caste system, where gender is not determined by actual sex, but by conduct and career. The ritual to "become a man" involves the Heathens going out and killing a "Savage".
    • The gender-caste system is not unknown in real life - the Amerindian nations, for example, permitted 'berdaches' - usually men who lived as women, but occasionally women living as men.
  • Subverted in the Discworld novel Pyramids: during the mock assassination that features as the final exam of the Assassin's Guild, the protagonist convinces himself that his target is not a dummy but a person, possibly even one of his fellow candidates. He resolves to fail the test on purpose, but accidentally succeeds in killing the dummy.
  • In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel No Future, a (female) soldier tells Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart how, before her secondment to UNIT, part of her training was to raise a rabbit and then kill it. At the time, she thought she didn't mind, now she was a warrior (although she does mention crying herself to sleep later that night). The Brig's training makes her realize she did, and he tells her "Then they were bastards, Tennant, to order you to do that. What were they?"
  • Many gangster stories have the characters "make their bones" by killing two men. The Godfather is probably the most famous example.
    "I'm Moe Green! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!"
  • In Dragon Bones, this is played straight with Ward's father, who, not otherwise an affectionate father, did take his son on hunting trips. He also killed his own father on such a trip and died in an accident during a hunt. Averted with Ward, who likes riding, but doesn't consider it necessary to shoot anything to justify the trip.
  • The short story "Duck Hunt" by Joe R. Lansdale plays this for horror. A nebbish comic book loving scrawny teenager is forced to go on a duck hunt with his father and his father's friends to make him more of a man. After killing a helpless prisoner and drinking his blood along with the blood of the ducks, the teen starts acting "manly" and even cracks a joke about killing a man in cold blood. The other men laugh in good-natured camaraderie and promise to get him laid that night.
  • Subverted in Flashman and the Redskins where Flashman notes an Apache saying "Any fool can kill"; a real warrior is more respected for his cunning
  • In A Frozen Heart, a Tie-In Novel for Frozen, this is part of Prince Hans' family's philosophy. Early on in the novel, his brothers bully him for his initial unwillingness to kill people, while his father approves of their bullying and instead scolds Hans, saying "Westergaards are lions, not mice," treating Hans as The Unfavorite of 13 sons. This motivates Hans to become the ruthless murderer he is in the film.
  • James Bond:
    • Casino Royale, the first Bond novel, describes the two kills Bond undertook in order to be promoted to 007.
    • In No Deals, Mr. Bond, Bond is captured by KGB and put against four "Robinsons" on an island. They are condemned and desperate men whose job is to provide kill-or-be-killed training for the KGB and Spetsnaz, and they have been led to believe that if they can win these training exercises three times, they are free to go. In this case, Bond is their third exercise.
  • The Marines in Jarhead (including the author) are stoked up on the prospect of their first kill, which is directly compared to losing their virginity and becoming a real man.
  • The Killing Kind and The Reapers imply that Louis' first kill was something like this. He killed in defense of his family, and was recruited as an assassin pretty quickly after police suspicions first fell on him. This required him to leave home and take his first step into adulthood.
  • Used horribly in The Knife of Never Letting Go, where the evil Mayor of the main character's hometown killed all the women thirteen years ago, just after the main character's birth. He also instituted a tradition that, on their fourteenth birthday, boys have to kill another man, in order to be accepted into adulthood. They aren't told about this beforehand, and this is preferably somebody they have known their whole life. The main character, Todd, finds out and chooses not to go along with it. But then, a local priest, Aaron, wants to become a sacrificial target for Todd, who is the last boy born to their village. Aaron comes after him and to provoke him into murder him by killing or kidnapping several people he cares about.
  • In Lensman, the Arisians use this as an explanation for why Virginia Samms can't become a Lensman, despite appearing to be manifestly qualified. A Lensman has to be able to kill in cold blood, and a woman can't be a cold-blooded murderess like that; while it is mentioned that there will eventually be a woman Lensman, she would have to be a freak of nature. It's implied that the Arisians are lying. The real reason is that female Lensmen would screw up their Super Breeding Program. Clarissa Kinnison is actually no more ruthless than Virginia.
  • Subverted somewhat in The Lord of the Rings, in the paragraph where Faramir explains how he views the war against Sauron, not for glory but only to defend the Free peoples against a tyrant who wishes to devour everything. While the killing of Sauron's servants is seen as heroic and morally justified, it is never portrayed as masculine or a sign of having achieved manhood. Furthermore, while killing evildoers is good: one of the worst sins a character can commit is kinslaying. The definition of kinslaying is pretty broad: Fëanor is branded a kinslayer for killing random Telerin elves, not for cutting down his uncle by marriage Olwë. This even extends to kinsmen who are evil: hence why Aragorn calls on the Oathbreakers to kill the Corsairs. Aragorn is a Númenorean and so are the Corsairs, if he killed them he would be a kinslayer: but the Oathbreakers aren't Númenoreans.
  • In-Universe, Donaka from Man of Tai Chi definitely believes this. After a fighter refused to finish a defeated enemy, Donaka says "you're not a fighter... you're a rat" and kills him.
  • Blood Spider in Marvel's Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover believes that what should make him worthy of being the "true" Spider-Man is that he is willing to push everyone around and kill innocent people.
  • The Reynard Cycle: In the fierce northern country of Calvaria, this attitude has expanded to encompass women and well as men. You have to have killed at least two people in personal combat in order to have more than one child there. Always wanted to have a large family? Better become a Blood Knight . . .
  • Richard Marcinko's Rogue Warrior novels, allegedly based upon or inspired by his real-life Navy SEAL experiences, include references to missions being set up in such a way that new recruits will be forced to kill as a final test of ability.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has several characters suggest this. However, most of them aren't nice people. Arya and the squire Edric Dayne compare this, as Edric hasn't killed anyone by age twelve despite going into battle multiple times and Arya has. No one holds it against Edric and Arya is reminded how messed up her life is as a result.
  • The Stormlight Archive: The Alethi are a Proud Warrior Race who have degenerated into Blood Knights, so they venerate warriors and soldiers as the highest Calling there is. This causes problems for Kaladin, who wants to be a soldier like society says he should be, despite his father insisting that healing people is far more important. Kaladin eventually agrees with him... after he's become a soldier and failed to protect pretty much everyone he cared about.
    Lirin: There are two kinds of people in this world, son. Those who save lives. And those who take lives.
    Kaladin: And what of those who protect and defend? The ones who save lives by taking lives?
    Lirin: That's like trying to stop a storm by blowing harder. Ridiculous. You can't protect by killing.
  • In White Teeth by Zadie Smith, at the end of the Second World War, Samad insists that Archie must prove himself by executing the sick Nazi doctor they have captured. Archie disappears into the bushes with the prisoner. A shot is heard... and then Archie returns covered in blood. Not until nearly half a century later does Samad find out that the Nazi doctor survived, and that what he saw was Archie's own blood; the doctor managed to distract Archie long enough to grab his gun and (non-fatally) shoot him. When Samad realizes this, he is pissed.)
  • This is the belief of the Taya (a race of four-armed Heavy Worlder Human Aliens), the natives of planet Tayahat, in Mikhail Akhmanov's Wind Shadow. All men in their culture are warriors and must go into the lowland jungle to fight and kill. No fighting is allowed in the highlands, which contains villages and is home to the Taya women. Dick Simon is a human who was mostly raised by an old Taya warrior in their ways. He is not considered a man until his first foray into the lowlands and his first kill. The old warrior and his son even specifically mention that a warrior must kill (and every Taya man is a warrior).
  • In Wringer, this seems to be the motivation behind Pigeon Day and wringers in general.

    Live-Action TV 

In General:

  • In a number of TV series dealing with cops, and particularly rookie cops, an officer's first kill is sometimes implied to be a rite of passage, and an almost inevitable one. For example, Andy in Rookie Blue begins as a green cadet learning her craft, but it is not surprising that before the first season was half over her lessons included her first kill. Flashpoint similarly touches on this in two episodes in which a member of the team kills for the first time (simultaneously debunking an aspect of the trope that suggests members of such things as SWAT teams are already all experienced killers).
    • A related aspect of this is the fact that in many TV series dealing with FBI agents, CIA or other government agents, and cops, if the lead character(s) is not a rookie, then quite often it is implied, if not outright assumed, that they have already killed multiple people in the line of duty and thus are able to shrug off taking lives without an apparent second thought (a dramatic necessity if the writer doesn't intend for a storyline to be sidetracked; one reason why cops are able to stack up multiple body counts yet are rarely shown as being "desked" pending internal investigations in the midst of a storyline). In reality, the vast majority of law enforcement - and spies - go through their entire careers without having to fire a weapon at another human being. Note: this paragraph can apply to virtually every category, but is placed here because, historically, ongoing TV series are more likely to repeatedly place protagonists in deadly force scenarios, whereas films and novels often chronicle single "missions" or incidents.

By Series:

  • Alias: During the third season, details are learned about Sydney Bristow's "lost two years" during which she went deep undercover as an assassin named Julia Thorne. Sydney later arranged to have her memories of the mission suppressed, in part due to some of her actions which included killing an unarmed prisoner in order to prove her loyalty to her "new" employers (Sydney's first kill as an agent is never depicted or mentioned on screen, but is depicted in one of the spin-off prequel novels and is basically shrugged off by the character. On screen, her first obvious kill (as opposed to implied or "did she kill the guy or just knock him out" scenarios) actually doesn't occur until the first episode of Season 2.
  • The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Rise and Shine" is a Whole Episode Flashback about General Hale's history with HYDRA, which opens with her as a teenager at HYDRA Academy. To start with, there's a dog in her quarters that she's fond of. After a vaguely alluded-to "final test", there isn't. Daniel Whitehall asks her if she found it hard to sleep after the test, and she replies that the sound of the boys sobbing in the nearby rooms did make it a bit hard. Many years later, her daughter has to do the same thing and when she refuses, Hale shoots the instructor, who is the last member of "old HYDRA" anyway.
  • The flashback scenes in Arrow showing what happened to Oliver Queen during the five years he was presumed dead are mostly about how the spoilt celebrity playboy became the vigilante killer he is at the start of the series. Even after Oliver adopts a Thou Shalt Not Kill rule in Season 2, he acknowledges to his former mentor-turned-Big Bad Slade Wilson his role in making Oliver a killer when he needed to be one to survive.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): Stated outright by Head Six in the episode "Fragged" while talking Gaius Baltar into shooting Crashdown.
  • Beastmaster: Manly Man protagonist Dar is a deliberate subversion. Although he's hardly opposed to violence - and a skilled fighter, to boot - killing is rarely (if ever) his intent. Justified in that he comes from a tribe where respect for nature is paramount, and the tribespeople are implied to be vegetarians. One episode in the first season even sees him getting into spat about this very trope, with the other party firmly believing in it.
  • Blue Bloods avoids this rather thoroughly by leaving Jamie Reagan's first kill until the middle of season three and making it a Suicide by Cop. Jamie, already in the grips of These Hands Have Killed, is understandably horrified, and not once does anyone treat it as a rite of passage. During the same episode, his father Frank, the police commissioner, recounts a statistic that less than five percent of cops ever have to fire their service weapon outside the range, and only about ten percent of those shots are fatal. On the other hand, Jamie's first shooting, which was nonfatal, gets a passing treatment by the IA detective doing the routine shooting investigation, who sarcastically tells him to enjoy the paperwork.
  • Bones: Subverts this in an episode opening with a father and son out hunting. Dad is ragging on his son for liking shows such as Fashion Runway and tells the boy that if he wants to be a man he better act like one. Guess who screams and runs on finding the body of the week.
  • Burn Notice: Referenced in "Rough Seas" when Michael has to fake killing Virgil to keep the Ruthless Modern Pirates he's infiltrated from doing it for real. As his cover ID is a Non-Action Guy the pirates' leader reacts with:
    Gerard: Congratulations. You broke your cherry.
  • Chuck:
    • Uses this as a plot-point, where the titular Chuck is required to kill a target for the first time in order to become a full agent. It's also a Subverted Trope with Sarah, his CIA handler/love interest, who says that if Chuck goes through with it, he won't be the same man she fell in love with. Chuck ends up killing for the first time to save her life, but still retains his reluctance to use deadly force after.
    • Or so he thought.
    • Sarah's first kill is also depicted in this fashion.
  • Defiance: The Castithan culture has a variant. They acknowledge that not all men can be killers, and non-violent career paths are perfectly acceptable for men. Datak Tarr, despite being a murderous mob boss, is more than willing to let his son Alak pursue his own interests as a radio show host. However, once Alak ends up killing someone, Datak insists that he will have to take Datak's place one day, as a killer cannot be a radio show host.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Doctor's Daughter": Subverted when the Doctor, who has taken many lives in his time, gets into a philosophical debate with Jenny (his cloned daughter) over the morals of being a soldier, and later, when he has the opportunity to gun down a villain, describes himself as the man "who never would".
    • In "The End of Time", the trope is subverted when elderly Wilfred Mott, discussing his war experience with a mysterious Time Lady, is challenged by her when he confesses he never had to kill anyone during his service, to which he replies that he refuses to feel ashamed of this fact.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Stated by Theon Greyjoy in A Golden Crown.
    Theon: "In the Iron Islands, you're not a man until you've killed your first enemy."
    • Implied with Robert Baratheon. He was always battle-happy - even as a teenager - and his younger brother Renly comments on Robert's belief that anyone who hasn't been to war isn't a man (while going to war doesn't automatically equate with killing - especially for young boys serving as squires or some other non-combat role - the correlation is pretty strong, and Robert's personality is a clear indication that one leads to the other).
    • As the final step in their training, the Unsullied - elite slave soldiers considered by some to be the best infantry troops in the world - must go to the marketplace in Astapor, rip a baby from it's mother's arms, and kill it in front of the mother. The mother is then given a silver coin as compensation.
  • In the Italian series Gomorra - La serie, Don Pietro worries that he might go to prison and his son Gennaro will have to run their crime family. But he knows no one in the Camorra will accept a man as boss when he hasn't even killed yet. So Gino gets a junkie and hands Gennaro a pistol. Even Gennaro is hesitant to shoot a random guy he has no grudge against, and he makes a mess of it, so Gino has to inflict the Coup de Grâce and tells Gennaro to pretend otherwise. However It Gets Easier for Gennaro as the series goes on.
  • Generation Kill:
    • Mentions this twice — first with Trombley, who joined the Marines to kill people (and complains whenever he doesn't get a chance to shoot), and later when Person (the lead Humvee driver) gets a chance to shoot at the Hajji:
    Person: Look at me, Brad. I'm a man now, just like you... except I don't look like a faggot and talk all educated.
    • Unfortunately for Person, after this, "Fruity Rudy" happened to him.
  • Lost:
    • Sayid's brother, Omer, is told he must kill a chicken to be proven a man. However, Sayid kills it for him.
    • Mr. Eko also has this trope in his backstory. When he was a young boy, his brother was told to kill an old man of their village by a gang of drug smugglers. When his brother can't do it, Eko kills the man without hesitation and is taken by the gang. The implication is that the smugglers want to take the innocence of children by making them kill.
  • The Nanny: In this TV series, one of the aristocratic families Barbara worked for had a grandfather who refused to take part in blood sports. The reason was that his father felt he needed toughening up and so, on the boy's first hunt, he cut the stag open and shoved the boy inside the carcass.
  • NCIS:
    • Inverted Trope. DiNozzo and McGee would be reasonably capable of killing when necessary, and Gibbs is obviously an expert. However, Ziva, though she does have moments of ambiguity, is normally more open about her ability at killing people than any of the male characters and is quite proud of it. (Or so she claims.)
    • There is also the Episode "Probie" where McGee shoots someone, apparently for the first time, and spends the rest of the episode feeling horribly guilty about it. (Due in part to doubt as to whether he shot the right person.)
    • Later in the series, it's revealed that an early form of the agency, the NIS, sent probies on kill assignments to test their mettle (similar to the "red test" featured in Chuck).
  • Night Gallery: The episode "Clean Kills". A wealthy hunter tries to force his son to kill a deer by threatening to disinherit him.
  • Nikita: The 2010 updating establishes that for Division recruits to be promoted to field agent status (and ultimately survive their training), they must commit an assigned kill. The trope is subverted when Alex, Nikita's mole in Division, expresses that she's willing to do so to maintain her cover, but Nikita tries to avoid it in order to prevent her from becoming like herself. Ultimately, Alex ends up not being able to follow through with her assigned target. She does kill for the first time, but it is accidental, and the victim is framed post-mortem to make it appear as if he was the mole within Division, thereby winning Alex a bye on the actual kill test scenario. As the series progresses, and despite Nikita's efforts to avoid it, Alex does ultimately take the darker path and starts piling up the bodies.
  • The Pacific: Averted Trope interestingly enough with Eugene's character — he learns to kill and develops a hatred for the enemy while in the war ("I'd use my goddamn hands if I had to"), but upon returning home, finds he cannot even go dove-hunting with his father (which he had previously enjoyed) without a sense of panic and despair.
  • Revolution: Episode 2 includes a sequence where Charlie kills two men in cold blood, after her uncle suggests she doesn't have it in her (despite the fact she killed a few guys in the first episode, but that was in battle as opposed to cold-blood). Afterwards, her uncle shows her renewed respect, although in making it an Averted Trope, she doesn't feel that killing the men has made her a better person.
  • Silver Spoons: Ricky's grandfather takes him out hunting to "make a man" out of him.
  • In Star Trek: Voyager the Kazon don't consider themselves to be fully adult until they've killed somebody, whereupon they can add the honorific "Jal" to their names. Word of God is that the Kazon are based on Los Angeles gang bangers.
  • Supernatural: The Winchesters on one hand clearly believe this — Sam more unconsciously than Dean, since he has some pretensions toward normality — but, on the other hand, they strongly disapprove of killing humans, and even Dean is not too impressed by killing frivolously. Their resistance to killing humans is broken down somewhat over the years of war and the fact that the only way they have, most of the time, of killing demons (and that one angel) kills the hosts as well, and they use it without hesitating, but it's still not something they're willing to do without good reason. Humans aren't in their jurisdiction.
  • Played with on That '70s Show when the male cast all go hunting. Red is massively disappointed when Eric misses the shot at a 12-antlered stag, until Eric reveals that he flubbed the shot on purpose because he didn't want to kill it, and can shoot just fine. Turns out Red was mainly disappointed in Eric being a bad shot than him not wanting to kill something, which he says he can respect. In Red's case, it's more "A Man Is A Good Athlete". It becomes a moot point anyway when the stag comes back and Red shoots it, with Eric putting it out of it's misery.
  • Vera: Part of the killer's motivation in "Cuckoo". Tired of being 'the estate kid that everyone picks on', he allows himself to be bullied into murdering his brother: thinking a reputation as a killer would bring him fear and respect. Vera points out the insanity of this when she arrests him.

  • Joe Jackson's "Real Men" is a criticism of many masculine stereotypes, the final verse addressing this:
    Man makes a gun,
    Man goes to war,
    Man can kill and man can drink and man can take a whore
    Kill all the blacks
    Kill all the reds
    And if there's war between the sexes then there'll be no people left.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In The Bible, when Gideon captures Zebah and Zalmunna, Gideon tells his firstborn son Jether to put them to death with his sword, but Jether refused to do it because he was still just a youth. Zebah and Zalmunna goad Gideon to show his manliness by him putting them to death himself by saying "As the man is, so is his strength", and Gideon obliges.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The villain Lionslayer in Champions takes his name from (and gained his powers during) the ancient Massai rite-of-passage that required a boy to spear a lion.

  • Macbeth: The idea that a real man should do whatever it takes, including killing, to get what he wants is used by Lady Macbeth in order to convince her husband (Macbeth) to kill the king. It works. However, Macbeth's inability to handle the aftermath of the murder, and his descent into PTSD, paranoia and tyranny, form the rest of the play, showing the audience there's a difference between a real man and a sociopath.

    Video Games 
  • According to the novels, Ghosts in StarCraft have to kill someone as their final test. It's less a test about being a man, and more about efficiency (the most important Ghosts happen to be female anyway).
    • Liberty's Crusade has Kerrigan explain this in detail: a soldier pointed a gun at the head of one of her fellow trainees and she had to kill the soldier before he could pull the trigger. Mike immediately makes a connection between it and the death of Raynor's daughter, causing Kerrigan to lapse into a Heroic BSoD on the spot.
    • In Nova, the titular character (who is arguably a more powerful telepath and telekinetic than Kerrigan) gets recruited into the Ghost program (not that she has a choice, but she actually wants it), and her first task is to eliminate the man who ordered her family killed. She does it with no small satisfaction. After this mission, she is mind-wiped, like all Ghosts. Subverted in that she has killed before (well, she mind-controlled a guy to shoot his boss, but that still counts). She actually violates her orders and uses a gun to kill the target instead of her abilities, possibly as a form of poetic justice, since her parents were shot as well.
  • In Divine Divinity, you are told by one NPC that orcs don't consider each other real men until their first kill.
  • In Mass Effect 2, when investigating a murder, Shepard is told by the victim's business partner that the Eclipse mercenaries likely responsible have to make a kill to earn their armor. The merchant is probably referring only to the local group of Eclipse smugglers, since Eclipse operates across the galaxy as a legitimate security firm that prides itself on professionalism.
    • Also in Mass Effect 2 is the krogan Rite of Adulthood, where an adolescent krogan and any krant he might possess enter an arena and must fight a series of vicious predators, culminating in fighting a Thresher Maw. Killing the Thresher Maw isn't required; you simply have to survive being around it for five minutes. (Extra credit if you do kill it, but it's not likely.) Killing everything else that turns up, however, is necessary. In this case, the justification is probably the same as the old real-life version: if you're unwilling to kill something on Tuchanka, the something you didn't kill will almost certainly show you how it's done.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, initiation to Caesar's Praetorian Guards involves fighting someone to death in an arena, usually other Praetorians.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, Kate (who doesn't approve of her family's criminality) sarcastically tells Niko she's sure the thuggish things he does for work make him feel very strong. However, his reply is "Not really."
  • Gender inverted in BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea - Episode 2. Elizabeth learns that she was manipulated into killing Daisy Fitzroy so she'd have the resolve to drown Booker and end Columbia across every timeline.

    Visual Novels 
  • Averted in Aselia the Eternal - The Spirit of Eternity Sword. Yuuto makes it a point to never get used to what he is doing. Another character thinks that this makes him nice and angsty and therefore real protagonist fodder.
  • In Daughter for Dessert, this is the essence of what Mortelli tells Saul when physically threatening him. And he actually points his gun at the protagonist when confronting him about breaking into his office.
  • Double Homework:
    • Not quite, but Dennis’s father tried to raise him with killer instinct, and without any remorse for trampling on others for one’s own benefit.
    • The protagonist physically threatens Dennis to chase him away from Tamara.
  • In Tsukihime, the plot does not kick off or get truly interesting until the protagonist begins having homicidal impulses. Indeed, without at least one major 'death' racked up in any route, nothing would happen to propel the story or character development.
  • In Yo-Jin-Bo, Ittosai is a Blood Knight of the most bloodthirsty sort. Following his path reveals that his father trained him ruthlessly from a very early age in the art of swordsmanship and killing, then entered him in a tournament in which the victor was hired to kill a young lord. Ittosai couldn't go through with it because the boy reminded him of his little sister, which enraged his father (who then killed the boy himself).

  • In Bob and George, George constantly struggles about whether he can kill his Big Brother Bully Bob or not. By the end of the comic, George finally tries to kill Bob, but fails. Turns out, this was all part of a scheme by Bob and George's mom, both to toughen up George out of belief in this trope, and to convince Bob not to be such a Jerkass to everyone.
  • An important coming-of-age ritual among the wolves in Doc Rat is for the child to run with a pack and kill somebody. If they succeed, they are considered an adult in wolf society. If they fail or refuse, their entire family is dishonored, a Fate Worse than Death among wolves. This drives one of the comic's darkest and most dramatic storylines when Simon/Quarrydog finds himself torn between his realization that killing sentient prey is wrong and loyalty to his family. The Blutenstein clan ends up abandoning this tradition saving Quarrydog's life and soul, but at the cost of Alfon Blutenstein being unpersoned.
  • Drowtales: In an inversion of this trope — Drow are matriarchal, and roles such as ruling and fighting are taken up by women — there's a brutal display of the protagonist being ordered to kill a classmate if she wishes to be recognized as her mother's daughter and take her place as heir to their clan.
  • Thomil of Juathuur is considered spineless by other characters (especially Sojueilo) because he is a healer.
  • Homestuck: The trolls live on a Crapsack World where their worth in society is largely measured by their willingness (and ability) to kill others. (It plays with the trope, however, in that both genders are expected to be violent.) Vriska pretty much gave up on Tavros after he proved himself a coward who would desert a dying [wo]man, lacking the guts to either Mercy Kill her while she was bleeding to death or just plain kill her for crippling and manipulating him. Later, after killing him herself, she realises that not only does she regret it, but it's outright unheard-of among trolls for her to regret it to begin with. Averted partially with Equius, the most blatant example of Testosterone Poisoning in the comic, who happily fights sentient opponents but disapproves of hunting on the grounds that "beasts are to be looked upon with admiration".
  • Nerf This has just had a character say almost the exact thing:
    Taryn's Father: A man's hands aren't meant for hugging. They're meant for killing.
  • Meta example: a disturbing number of El Goonish Shive fans were openly dissatisfied with Susan's reluctance to kill an Aberration, listing several justifications as to why it was the logical course of action and why a little girl should've had no problem taking a (formerly) human life. There are a lot of sick people on the Internet.
  • Unsounded: The Ssaelit encourage their men to learn to fight and go to war, discourage men discussing their emotions and revere men who will use violence in the name of their faith. Their army is large and full of abuse given how many young boys are forced into it and left with no recourse while faced with older and more powerful superiors.
  • Thinking Too Much to Think Positively: "A Boy Named Sue" reinterprets the Shel Silverstein song by that namenote , showing that Sue's dad is positively delighted that he's become "a rage-filled shell of a man" rather than "some pansy doctor or lawyer". Sue isn't happy.

    Web Videos 
  • Billy had to do this in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog before he could enter into the Evil League of Evil. Mildly played with, in that he would presumably have been accepted for a really good robbery, or just something cool and threatening. Only an extravagant failure at both meant he had to resort to murder. Possibly his own. Contrast the first message from Bad Horse:
    A heinous crime, a show of force
    A murder would be nice of course...
    with the second
    There will be blood, it might be yours,
    So go kill someone. Signed, Bad Horse.

    Western Animation 
  • A comedic take on this was the topic of an episode of American Dad!. Francine and Steve revere Stan as sexy and awesome (respectively) because he kills people, while Hayley is upset. When it turns out that Stan hasn't killed anyone at all (all his kill credits were complete flukes with the targets dying in random accidents), Francine completely shuts down sexually, Steve openly defies him, and Hayley latches onto him. When Stan finally does get a killnote , everything Snaps Back to normal. The entire plot is played like a middle-aged man still being a virgin, too.
  • The Huntsclan in American Dragon: Jake Long has the tradition that only hunters who have killed their first dragon are considered full members. Genderflipped since it applies to both genders in principle, but whenever it becomes plot-relevant like in episode "The Hunted", it is always Rose, the girl Jake is in love with, that is ordered to kill him in his dragon form.
  • Averted in the finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, where Avatar Aang defeats Fire Lord Ozai without killing him. Some sections of the fanbase were unhappy about this, mainly because the solution that allowed him to do so seemed too out-of-nowhere.
  • Zig-zagged in Gravity Falls; Dipper Pines is angsting about not being A Man yet (as illustrated by his inability to get a start on his Carpet of Virility), until he discovers a tribe of Testosterone Poisoned "Man-otaurs" living in the mountains. Naturally, the final step in their initiation ritual is to hunt down and kill "the Multi-Bear". When he discovers that it's really a Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold, he refuses... and they kick him out in disgust. It's only when he relates the story to Stan later that it's pointed out that refusing to do something you disagree with in the face of massive peer pressure is pretty manly in itself.
  • Despite the fact that Negative Continuity pretty much undoes every rite-of-passage he's ever gone through, Bobby Hill on King of the Hill had to kill a deer to become a man. It looked like he wouldn't get a chance, since the limit for hunting licenses had been reached for the year and he would be left behind by his friends who all have a kill of their own (even Kahn JR.), but fortune smiles on him when he accidentally runs a deer over during a driving lesson Hank was giving him.
    • On the other hand, the roadkill incident may simply be a technicality for Hank, who had already accepted Bobby when he refused to take what they both saw as a cheap shot.
  • In Moral Orel, Clay took Orel hunting when he thought "it was time." After Orel couldn't shoot a helpless (and adorable) deer, Clay started drinking and ended up killing and eating a hunting dog before accidentally shooting Orel and leaving him to deal with the wound as he went to sleep. Orel was forced to kill a bear to save his horrible father, but when Clay woke up, he lied and told him Clay had killed the bear.
  • In Rocko's Modern Life, the passage into manhood for the Wolfe family was to bring an elk home for dinner. Heffer, naturally, misunderstands things and ends up bringing home an elk girl he met at a club and fell in love with.
  • In The Simpsons when Homer is worried that Bart might be gay, he takes him out to kill a deer because that will make a "real" man of him. Of course, it's an unmitigated disaster and Homer, Bart, and Barney end up being rescued by the rest of the family's new gay friend without having to kill anything. On the way to the hunting trip, the men ask Bart whether he's looking forward to it and Bart matter-of-factly comments that he's always considered the idea of a bunch of guys all alone in the woods "kinda gay." Cue awkward expressions and Homer defensively chiding Bart for his 'immature' attitude.
  • In the South Park episode "Volcano", Stan's Uncle Jimbo takes the boys hunting and is shocked when Stan doesn't want to kill the rabbit he has a chance to shoot. Jimbo is both surprised and disappointed in Stan, and Eric mercilessly teases him for it. Kenny, on the other hand, has no problems either shooting a whole magazine worth of ammo into a deer or drinking the gasoline for the fishing boat, which impresses Jimbo enough to label him a "dirty little bastard". At the end, Stan finally scores a kill — namely that of the friendly Bigfoot-like Scuzzlebutt, who was just being celebrated for saving their lives — and doesn't understand why Jimbo and the others are upset instead of proud. Trying to figure this out leads the kids to eschew hunting and go watch cartoons instead.
  • On Taz-Mania, Francis X. Bushlad wants to win his manhood (and the right to wear trousers) by killing a Tasmanian devil. Subverted in that Francis doesn't have to do this, as there are other and more peaceful ways to attain manhood in his tribe. Specifically, his other choices were performing a hostile takeover of a Fortune 500 company or accumulating a stock portfolio with a return of no less than 36% a year. However, Francis insists on forging his spirit in the tradition of his ancestors, and as such has vowed to hunt Taz.

    Real Life 
  • This is pretty much the raison d'etre behind conscription. (Besides raising humongous numbers of Cannon Fodder, of course).
  • Traditionally, a Maasai boy was supposed to spear a lion as a rite of passage shortly before his circumcision. Some still do, though it isn't actively encouraged anymore, as lions are now an endangered species.
    • Though it is referenced in a Star Trek novel in which Uhura spears a robotic lion in a simulated safari as a rite of passage.
  • In some Indigenous cultures, youths have to kill a deer or antelope to complete the passage into manhood.
  • American President Lyndon B. Johnson would require anyone seeking his political favor to join him on his Texas ranch where they would go "hunting" (actually, just sit in a blind while someone drove animals to them). If you wanted him to respect you as a man, you had to kill one.
    • In recent elections, pretty much every contender for the US presidency has had to have at least one picture of themselves in a blaze orange vest carrying a rifle or shotgun. Barack Obama, notably, is one of the few that hasn't pretended to be a hunter. On the other hand, Teddy Roosevelt (to name just one) was an example of a President who actually was a hunter with no pretence involved, and who moreover numbered dangerous animals like lions among his game.
      • Perhaps Dick Cheney's hunting accident has changed how Joe Public views politicians with guns.
  • In urban legend, any number of elite special forces teams (Green Berets, SAS, the Nazi SS, etc.) required as a final test of loyalty that the candidate kill a spouse, family member, or other significant personal relation. In a widely-circulated joke based on this tale, 3 agents are candidates, one has a fiancé, one is a newlywed, and one has been married for ten years. The first two candidates chicken out and can't pull the trigger, while the third says "The gun had blanks, so I had to beat her to death." (Or strangle, in some versions.)
    • There's an inversion in one variant: it concerns either the CIA or FBI, and Candidate #3 is a woman who has to kill her husband. Yes, the gun has blanks; yes, she beats him to death.
    • The more recent version of this is with American troops stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The story will be some version of an Iraqi or Afghan friendly nervously asking an American, usually a Marine, if they killed their wife, child, pet, or someone important. The response to the inevitable 'no' is 'but then how did you become a Marine?' Unlike the above, there's probably some truth to this one, but it's become enough of an urban myth that any specific instance one hears about probably didn't happen.
  • Japanese military training during WWII and the "China incident" took this to an extreme. Not only was the training extremely brutal, a Japanese soldier was not considered fully trained until he killed a prisoner of war with a sword or bayonet, often while the POWs were immobilized. Unfortunately, these deaths were not always as quick or clean as they should have been. There is many a story of a poor young conscript taking several minutes to finally stab his POW somewhere fatal.
  • In Ancient Greece, Spartan boys were sent out naked with only a single blanket to fend for themselves for a period of time, "living like a werewolf". Stealing and murdering Helots were the main (and traditional) ways to get food and protection against the elements, but any boy actually found killing a Helot was whipped (for being careless enough to get caught). Since the Helots outnumbered the Spartans by more than ten to one, the Spartans regularly killed off a large chunk of the Helot population to keep them in line. Killing wasn't required, only recommended, for the passage into manhood.
    • In a zig-zag the battle tactic considered most manly by all ancient Greeks, including Spartans, was to simply get into a big mass and walk forward into another similar mass in the assumption that the toughest mass would steamroll the others. In such circumstances, no one knew how many (if any) people they personally killed, or even cared much, but you jolly well better stay in the place your officer put you throughout the whole thing.
  • A British advert in World War I and World War II advised men (and boys) that they were not worthy of being a man unless they joined the army (to probably die in a trench in mud and illness).
    • Just about all mass conscription campaigns feature this trope. For example, during the The American Civil War, both sides tacitly supported campaigns of social humiliation for those who didn't volunteer. A notorious tactic in the Southern states was to leave petticoats on their doorsteps.
  • Depressingly, this is true in regions that have known mostly war for at least a generation or two, especially in places such as Somalia and Afghanistan, where for many people, war and killing has become the way of life. When children are raised to be fighters in a war that doesn't end, killing is the only skill they bring into adulthood, and it's their most important and readily useful (and often only) skill, along with the only one they can pass on. These kinds of wars are especially difficult to bring to a close because killing has become a livelihood by which men have come to define their adult lives, and peacetime means being unemployed, except if they jump to other conflicts as mercenaries or volunteers since there is no single second on Earth without any armed conflict somewhere. The Taliban and Al-Shabab are infamous examples of this, as their fighting force are mostly young men who have known only war for most or all their lives.
  • Kurt Vonnegut was known to tell the story of how his Uncle Dan came up to him and clapped him on the back after he returned from World War II, proclaiming "You're a man now!" The implication being that the only way for a boy to become a man was to kill people. Although Vonnegut had never had occasion to kill anybody during his military service, he had seen a lot of death and lived through the firebombing of Dresden, which was cited as one of the more horrific scenes from the European Theater. Imagine that you've just gone through the worst, most traumatic experience of your life, and before you've finished dealing with that trauma, somebody comes up to you and congratulates you on it. Yeah, Kurt hated the guy.
  • Aversion: While most cultures admire warriors, it is not nearly so common for executioners to be admired. So perhaps "real men kill people and things that are trying to make it difficult for them to be killed."
    • Special note goes to pre-Revolutionary France, where there were ten or so families that provided the executioners and who all interbred. Why? Because no-one else would associate with them.
  • Apparently, one reason the Zulu people were so feared in battle was that they had entire regiments of young soldiers who were not allowed to have sex until they'd killed a man. Some have interpreted that as not being allowed to be married and that fooling around was permitted.
  • The mining fields of The Wild West, as Mark Twain describes in the autobiographical book 'Roughing It': "... (I)n a new mining district the rough element predominates, and a person is not respected until he has "killed his man." That was the very expression used. If an unknown individual arrived, they did not inquire if he was capable, honest, industrious, but—had he killed his man? If he had not, he gravitated to his natural and proper position, that of a man of small consequence; if he had, the cordiality of his reception was graduated according to the number of his dead. It was tedious work struggling up to a position of influence with bloodless hands; but when a man came with the blood of half a dozen men on his soul, his worth was recognized at once and his acquaintance sought."
  • Although media coverage, and movies and TV shows, might suggest otherwise, a first kill is not considered a necessary rite of passage for most police officers. Indeed, the vast majority of cops will go through their careers never once having to fire their weapon at a person.
    • As a matter of fact, a police officer would do well to avoid killing a suspect. It not only prompts an investigation, but can lead to suspension of duty and even dismissal from the job if it's ruled unjustifiable. To say nothing of possible wrongful death lawsuits or psychological trauma. (And, particularly in some parts of the US, one's name being the centre of massive controversy. Indeed, there are many motivating factors in why police officers try to only pull the trigger as a very last resort, such as facing an immediate kill-or-be-killed/kill-or-an-innocent-will-be-killed scenario.
  • Criminal organizations do not exactly withhold "adult" status to those who haven't killed, but many have their own initiations or special prerogatives for those who have killed.
  • Along the same lines, there exists a social hierarchy in prisons. People who commit non-violent crimes (burglary, drug offences, white collar crime, etc.) tend to be fairly low-ranking, whereas people who commit violent crimes (assault, gang violence, murder etc.) tend to be a bit more higher ranking. The most respected prisoners tend to be people who have committed violent crimes against authority or government figures, like, say, cop-killers or terrorists (though a lot of criminals aren't crazy about the latter either). Zig-zagged in that those who killed children, pets and women (especially their wives or mothers) are regarded as the absolute lowest of the low, and much like sexual predators, they often have to be placed in isolated cells to avoid being killed or assaulted by other prisoners. (See, for example, what happened to the infamous Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer.) Hey, you have to draw the line somewhere, you know.
  • During the Cristero War in Mexico where rich spaniard descendants attempted to impose a religious rule, especially exacerbated after the government was implied at the kangaroo trial that led to jesuit Father Miguel Pro's execution, it was expected that any goverment employee, no matter their position, to "execute at sight" any Cristero they came across with. This could led to the aformentioned bureaucrat see a status improval for "coger gachupines"note  with better benefits or even rising in position within the government ranks.