The trouble with writing about the afterlife is that it's the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns. How do you write about something that nobody who is alive has ever seen, nobody who is dead can explain, and that might not be comprehensible to a living person?
One way of handling it is to divide the afterlife into sections; this here's the bit you're in immediately after you die, which is somewhat familiar. Over there is the afterlife proper, which we're not going to talk about. The story only concerns itself with the nearest part of the afterlife; when characters move on to the afterlife proper (often by Going Into The Light), they exit the story. Only Mostly Dead is relatively easy to fix if the soul is still in the chamber. Once it moves on, it's most likely impossible.
Sometimes the near, familiar part of the afterlife overlaps the living world, so that the deceased can walk around seeing how life goes on without them. (See Near-Death Clairvoyance.) Whether they can interact with the living depends on the story.
If the afterlife includes something like Christianity's (and Egyptian Mythology's) idea of judging souls to sort them between heaven and hell, then this stage may be the stage where the judgment is made, and the soul waits for the verdict and is possibly able to say or do something to influence how the verdict turns out. This stage may be called Purgatory, although it doesn't necessarily have to involve the purging of sins.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
- In Naruto, everyone in Konoha ends up there because of Pain's onslaught. You see Kakashi there, and his dad's there, too, due to his regrets. Pain's revival ability is able to bring back everyone in this antechamber, but he can't revive Jiraiya because he already passed through.
- The Afterlife in Angel Beats! is in fact an antechamber created for the souls of children who died feeling unfulfilled so that they can leave behind their regrets and fears and move on. People who do so disappear, and it's never made quite clear where they go, but it wouldn't be at all unreasonable to assume that they are going to the "true" afterlife, whatever that may be. Another conclusion is that they're reincarnated. The Stinger supports the latter interpretation.
- The Hazama ("Great Between") in the Manga incarnation of Black★Rock Shooter. The job of the eponymous character is making sure troublesome souls move to afterlife proper, because if they don't, they will nag other souls into their false afterlife. Such false afterlife is usually horrifying, as expected from the troublesome souls.
- This is one possible theory of what's going on in Haibane Renmei. The main characters are Winged Humanoids called "Haibane" with no memories of their pasts. They live in an isolated village where no one, human or Haibane, is allowed to go past the tall walls surrounding it. Eventually, each Haibane goes through a "Day of Flight" where they Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. Haibane that take too long are forced to lose their wings and halos. They live in isolation away from everyone else as the Toga.
- There's a two-layered afterlife antechamber in Hell Girl. The first layer is a hellscape filled to the brim with ironically familiar, nightmarish visions and experiences that the Victim of the Week is dragged through when they are condemned to hell. The second layer does away with all familiarity and is instead an eerily surreal river covered with floating lanterns and a great, pulsating jellyfish-thing with a cross-formation on its body hovering in a completely black sky above as the victim is ferried towards the gate of hell.
- People who've just died in Gantz tend to view the hotel room they end up in as an antechamber or waiting room, before they move on to the afterlife. Subverted slightly because no one's actually dead - and assuming they complete the missions laid out before them, they're allowed to return home. Hardly anyone actually makes it, though.
- Daily Life with Monster Girl: Lala is a Dullahan who can access the Afterlife Antechamber at will. She first became interested in the protagonist because he kept showing up there (due to the Amusing Injuries inflicted on him by the other monster girls), only to repeatedly recover and come back to life. Later in the series, she puts this to practical use by knocking him unconscious whenever she wants to have a private conversation with him.
- The setting of Death Parade is Quindecim, a bar where two recently deceased, amnesiac people arrive at the same time. Decim, the barkeep, has the two play a game with each other to restore their memories and expose their true selves. From there, a visitor is either sent to be reincarnated or sent to Hell.
- In some DC Comics, this is referred to as 'the Realm of the Just Dead'. Deadman hangs out there a lot.
- A particular story from DC/Marvel had a rich, ruthless (never named) businessman suddenly find himself in the "limbo" afterlife with someone saying they have to "get in line". The businessman finds the line and sees a tall elevator shaft vanishing up into the clouds. "An elevator to Heaven!" he thinks. "They don't know here that I only gave all that money to charity in order to avoid taxes! Ha ha!" He tries to bribe his way to the front of the long queue. The white-suited officials seem puzzled but agree (while ignoring the money, unnoticed by the businessman). Naturally, it turns out that in this case the trope crosses over with Hellevator.
- The Area of Madness in Shade, the Changing Man is part of a much larger and less easily defined place, where Shade meets the ghost of Roger, Kathy's dead ex-boyfriend, then the Angels and Devil. The Land of the Dead is the part of "The Area" described as 'the antechamber to the afterlife'.
- Hexed: The Shade is essentially this, a point where all souls go before crossing over. Some chose to stay longer due to circumstances. Crosses over with Eldritch Location.
- In the Pony POV Series, there's the spirit realm that exists between the mortal world and the afterlives, Pony Heaven and Pony Hell, which are respectively ruled by (and are) The Father of Alicorns and Havoc. The spirits of the recently departed end up here before Mortis or one of his thestral children show up to escort them to their final destination. That said, Mortis is nice enough of a guy that he'll let good souls stay here to wait for still living loved ones to join them before moving on to Heaven together (like what happened with the G2 Mane Cast and their families). Also, this place doesn't seem to have a fixed appearance — it defaults as either a void or walking invisible amongst the mortals, or they can recreate realistic copies of places they enjoyed in life to spend time in while waiting.
- TD mistakenly thinks he's ended up here in The Non-Bronyverse story TD the Alicorn Princess, after he gets blasted by the Elements of Harmony. However, it turns out that Celestia can actually escort him there if he desires, to which he rather quickly declines.
- In the tale Strandpiel by A.A. Pessimal, one set of supporting characters are in fact dead. Word of God says there was an immediate difficulty in explaining why they were still hanging on around living members of their family, up to a century after demise. Pessimal chose to explain this as (i) giving them something to do; (ii) the novelty of having a living family member - a witch - who they could actually talk to; and (iii) given the disparity between the number of people who are dead and the number actually being born into the world every day, reincarnation is not a given. There is a long, long, waiting list and they're still working their way up it. So looking after the living from the Afterlife gives them something to do in the meantime.
- Here Comes Mr. Jordan and its remake, Heaven Can Wait. When Joe Pendleton dies he ends up in a place that looks like a Fluffy Cloud Heaven but isn't: it's an intermediate stop on the way to Heaven. He eventually gets sent back because it wasn't his time to die.
- Poltergeist. When some people die they get lost or otherwise fail to Go Into the Light and end up haunting the living.
- The Albert Brooks film Defending Your Life. You go to Judgment City, where you hang around until it's your turn to look at scenes from your life in front of a biunal and defend what you did. If you pass you Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence; if you fail you go back and try again in a new life. Fail often enough, and they "throw you away".
- Casper. Being a ghost means that you have unfinished business on Earth; once that's cleared up you go on to the next stage.
- Beetlejuice. The afterlife, being part of the Celestial Bureaucracy, has a waiting room where the dead are processed and the waiting time helps them realize that they really are dead.
- In A Matter of Life and Death, airmen shot down in combat find themselves in a huge building lit with heavenly light where they are greeted and allowed to sign in. American flyers are thrilled that there's a Coke machine. There is a hugely poignant moment when there's this exchange:
Flyer: Home was never like this.
Flyer 2: Mine was.
- In The Heavenly Kid, the protagonist dies in a "chicken race," and winds up in "Mid-town." He has to ride the Mid-town train before going "Up-town." He is on the train until his case work comes up, which takes about 18 years Earth-time. Seems he left a pregnant girlfriend and their son is following the same path as he did. When he offers to go "Down-town" in his son's place, it earns him the place Up-town.
- In Purgatory, a gang of robbers on the run after a bank job end up in a small, off-the-map town called Refuge. The town turns out to be a form of, well, Purgatory, inhabited by dead people who weren't really bad but did some bad things. If they can live peacefully in Refuge for ten years without giving in to hatred or temptation, they get to board a stagecoach and go on to the proper afterlife. Fail, and they get tossed down to Fire and Brimstone Hell.
- In the Discworld series, The Grim Reaper comes to take the souls of the dead, but it is never shown where he takes them; if anyone asks, he refuses to give any hints, saying that the only way to find out is to go and see for oneself. Sometimes, the newly-dead will be depicted having a conversation with Death at the place where they were killed, before fading away to wherever they are going; other times, more commonly in later books of the series, the point of view will follow the dead person as they see the world fading around them and find themselves on an empty plain, which they must cross to reach the afterlife proper (which, in accordance with the trope, is never depicted).
- In Small Gods, Death tells Vorbis "At the end of the desert you will be judged." When Brutha dies, he hears the same thing and asks Death "At which end?" In reply, Death smiles.
- In Going Postal, Anghammarad decides that the featureless desert is his afterlife, because there is nothing to do there and therefore he, who was created only to work, is now free.
- In the Old Kingdom series, death is like a river running through a series of caves, the last of which opens out under what looks like, but isn't, a sky full of stars. That's as far as any character goes; anybody who goes on from there never comes back. Undead raised by necromancers are always souls from within the caves, either because they died recently and hadn't finished the journey or because they deliberately lingered in one of the caves in hope of finding a way back to the land of the living.
- In Remember Me by Christopher Pike, the newly-dead hang around invisibly in the land of the living until they're ready to move on. The narrator of the book is dictating her story to a living person just before she moves on herself, so she has not yet learned, and thus can't reveal, what happens next.
- The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis has the Civic Center in the middle of The Grey Town/Hell, the first place that damned souls go after they die. From there, they can choose to remain in Hell so that they can eternally bicker with their neighbors or board a bus to visit the border Heaven and decide whether to accept God's invitation into paradise.
- In The Night Angel Trilogy after Kylar dies for the first time (and every other time) he wakes up in an antechamber, with only The Wolf for company.
- In Animorphs, when Rachel dies, she ends up there, and talks to the Ellimist about the events of her life. When she asks what happens next, she is cut off, and the perspective switches to someone else.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry Potter dies, he ends up in a cleaner, emptier version of King's Cross Station. It's more or less stated that this is only how it appears to him, as Dumbledore is surprised when he mentions it aloud. His options are to return, or to go "on", which is not described. There's also the ghosts, who did not cross over either because they had unfinished business or (in Nearly-Headless Nick's case), they were too afraid of what might be waiting on the other side, and are now stuck on Earth for some unspecified amount of time.
- Aunt Dimity seems to occupy an area like this, especially when she's communicating with Lori. In some instances, notably in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, she writes of making inquiries among other spirits who have passed beyond, giving the impression that said spirits aren't immediately available for consultation.
- In Ghost Story, Harry Dresden has just saved the day as a ghost and gets to see his friends before he goes on. Subverted in that the readers see what happens after he moves on as well: he gets resurrected by his very ticked-off boss, who isn't going to let a little thing like a messy assassination keep her from getting her money's worth.
- In Mick Stevens' Poodles from Hell, a dead cartoonist's spirit channels through a living one to describe the afterlife. Right after you die you go to rest and think things over in a typical small workplace break room — couple of tables and chairs, napkin dispenser, coffee and soda machines.
- In Before I Fall, Samantha Kingston dies in a car crash and, immediately after death, is forced to relive the last day of her life in a "Groundhog Day" Loop for 7 days, and "dies" in the same car crash in most of the loops . Once she figures out how to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, she goes into the light and says something to the effect of, "I'll let you see what the afterlife is like for yourself".
- The Young Wizards series has Time Heart, shown in books 1 and 2 where Nita and Kit visit there and see those allies of theirs who recently died. Book 8 uses it as a kind of Cliffhanger when Dairine goes into Roshaun's afterlife antechamber and sees no one.
- In Book 7, on Alaalu, death isn't the same as it is everywhere else and the souls of the dead enter into an antechamber located in a magically created mythological center of the planet.
- The Halls of Mandos function like this in The Silmarillion—both human and elven (and possibly dwarven and orkish) souls end up here after death, but it's not the ultimate destination for either. Elves arrive in Mandos and remain there for a time (and it can be a very long time if Mandos feels that they did things worthy of punishment), but eventually reincarnate (though reincarnated elves rarely return to Middle-earth, Glorfindel being one of the only known exceptions). Human souls stay in Mandos briefly, then go... somewhere... else. The fates of the souls of other sentient beings after arriving in the Halls is left uncertain, if they go there at all.
- Susie's personalized heaven in The Lovely Bones, an idealization of her teenage life, is explicitly described as this, with the understanding that there is a real "Heaven" which she ascends to late in the narrative which can't really be understood by the living.
- In The Atomic Blood Stained Bus, some of the dead end up in a pub called The Halfway House, but there is an implication that there's lots of them.
- In The Night's Dawn Trilogy, those unable to accept death and move on are sent to The Beyond, where the dead souls leach off each others memories, and while they can turn wish into reality they are stuck in a hellish limbo existence. The rift that separates the universe from the Beyond is sometimes broken, leading to the dead streaming through, possessing the living through torture; many alien civilizations collapsed when they were overwhelmed by their own dead. The Naked God reveals that those in the Beyond are taking The Slow Path to the end of the universe, while those who moved on are waiting there to form the Omega Point and start the universe anew.
- Mistborn: The Cognitive Realm acts as this on Scadrial. When someone dies, their spirit appears in the Cognitive Realm, and the bearer of the Shard Preservation appears to usher them into the Beyond. However, this is not the land of the dead. There are three Realms: The Physical Realm, the Cognitive Realm, and the Spiritual Realm. Living people exist primarily in the Physical Realm, but parts of them are in all three. So when their physical body is destroyed, they are left as a "cognitive shadow" in the Cognitive Realm. It is perfectly possible for a living person to travel to the Cognitive Realm, and is in fact the standard method of interplanetary travel in The Cosmere.
- While we find out less about it, a similar arrangement is apparently in place on Nalthis, as the Returned vaguely recall meeting someone after they died, being shown a Bad Future and being offered the chance to come Back from the Dead to avert it. The place where they are offered that choice is presumably the Cognitive Realm (and the entity offering it to them can be theorised to be the bearer of the Shard Endownment).
- The dead in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga may not pass directly on to heaven or Raka, staying in a ghostly inter-realm if they have something holding them to the land of the living. In Shadow and Flame it turns out Blaine McFadden's father Ian and Commander Profokiev (the warden of the Penal Colony Blaine was sent to for killing Ian) stayed behind hoping to kill Blaine, and the shade of Blaine's younger brother Carr has in turn stayed behind to protect Blaine from them. Blaine's necromancer ally Tormod banishes Ian and Profokiev to Raka.
- In Thursday Next, when you die you end up at a truck stop/petrol station with a diner. One can return to the living from here, but one can also cross a footbridge into the great beyond, from which return is impossible.
- In Lincoln In The Bardo When you die you go into the bardo. You don't know you are dead and you have to find accept that. When you stay there for too long your bodyparts will enlarge. This will be based on your life. At certain times there will come chariots that will try to get them to move on. But the ghosts will think it's a trap.
- In literature/Witch And Wizards You have the shadowlands. This Is a realm that connects the entire world of the living. It is where half lights live. People who are not dead and not a live. The half lights can come out of the shadowlands but if they stay out to long they will fade away. If you get lost in the shadowlands as human you become a zombie like creature. Also when you die of magic you can go back if the one who killed you is murdered. There is a river that brings you further but the bridge is broken. The river is uncrossable. Until the third book the fire where Whit repairs the bridge
- The Twilight Zone (1959)
- "The Hunt". A man dies and ends up on the Eternity Road. He's told about the two possible destinations, Heaven and Hell, but you never actually see them.
- "The Passersby". A long column of dead soldiers walk past a mansion on the way to their final destination.
- Mash episode "Follies of the Living - Concerns of the Dead". The ghost of a dead soldier wanders the camp and eventually finds a group of other ghosts traveling along the road to the afterlife. Almost certainly
a ripoff ofbased on "The Passersby".
- Being Human (UK): First you go through a door, then there's a hallway (which leads to rooms where people relive their past sins), beyond that there's a few waiting rooms, and then...? Apparently there's "men with sticks" at some point too.
- The Crow: Stairway to Heaven had one in the form of a bridge where Shelly waited for Eric. When you crossed it you moved on to the afterlife.
- In the final season of Lost, the ending revealed that the flash-sideways alternate universe was actually this.
- In Steambath people with "a story to tell" spend time in a steambath attended by a Puerto Rican attendant named Morty (aka "Morte" or Death) who claims he is really God.
- CSI NY Mac was in one in 'Near Death' that looked a lot like the lab.
- Due South called this the Borderlands. It was cold and snowy and a lot like the Canadian tundra in winter. Fraser went there during the time he took a substance that put him into a hibernation type state in 'Dead Men Don't Throw Rice'.
- Ashes to Ashes turns out to be a purgatory created and modeled by Gene Hunt specifically for dead police officers who had a premature and traumatic death. The actual heaven and hell are not seen, only their entrances (The Railway Arms for Heaven and a Hellevator for hell).
- In the first episode of the Fox series Second Chance Charles Russell dies and goes to be judged; he's found too bad for Heaven and too good for Hell. He is given the opportunity to go back to earth and try to give his teenage self a nudge in the right direction - a "second chance" if you will.
- The Underworld in both old and new World of Darkness is like this. There's an unknowable afterlife that souls (human ones, anyway) are supposed to go to, but ghosts can loiter around the place indefinitely, and Wraiths can scheme against one another to get a place in the hierarchy of the dead. In the old version, it's a place of infinite horrors, in the new, some part of it are kind of cozy.
- The Forgotten Realms setting has the Fugue Plane, where the dead are sorted into afterlives by the god of the dead (Kelemvor as of the year 1372 Dalereckoning). Though for people who worship the god of the dead himself, it's the final stop, as is the case for the False (betrayers of their patron deity, who are punished according to the nature of their offense) and the Faithless (naytheists, who are entombed in the wall encircling the capital of the plane).
- In Pathfinder, the Boneyard doubles as this and The Underworld. Everyone comes there for at least a while to be judged and assigned their proper afterlife, but those of the correct alignment are assigned to the Boneyard itself.
- In Carousel, after Billy dies, he goes to what is explained to be "the back yard of heaven," where stars are hung on a celestial clothesline. He is not permitted to enter there even through the back gate, but he is given the chance to return to earth for one day.
- The afterlife in Our Town is implied to be this.
- In King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, you can access several stages of it. Namely, a player will most likely see it first upon his death, but in a twist, for a player taking the long path, it's actually possible to come there alive and challenge Death. You can see several stages, the surface where lost souls wander, along with ghouls, and the Underworld proper leading to Death's throne and the Sea of Souls.
- The setting of Grim Fandango is the Land of the Dead, which is vast but still only the lead-up to the real afterlife, the Ninth Underworld. What lies beyond the entrance into the Ninth Underworld is unknown and unknowable, and nobody who goes through ever comes back; the game ends when the protagonist goes through. The Land of the Dead contains an entire city of people putting off the final step, either because they were evil in life and have reason to suspect the afterlife is going to be unpleasant, or because they've got some tie back to life (like family they want to keep an eye on), or just because they find the irrevocable step into the unknown inherently off-putting. One character, Membrillo the coroner, has decided that there is no way out, and the Land of the Dead is hell, where he is punished by living a shadowy, unreal, yet all-too-human existence.
- The Realm of the Lost in Guild Wars 2 is where the souls of those who died in a shocking or traumatic manner end up, losing their names and memories of their lives and purposes. They need to recover these before they can be assessed by the Judge of Grenth and be sent on to their reward or punishment. You end up there yourself when the rogue god Balthazar kills you, but you manage to return to life by, with the Judge's consent, slaying a soul-eating demon and using the life energy it stole to reanimate your body.
- In Dante's Infanzia, Heaven can be found just outside of Limbo across the narrow path. You fall off the narrow path and you wind up in Hell.
- In The Order of the Stick, the dead Eugene Greenhilt is pissed because the Blood Oath he swore leaves him stuck waiting in the antechamber. What is seen of the other side applies to some extent as well: the Lawful Good afterlife takes the form of a mountain, arranged by altitude in layers of increasingly abstract pleasures. Souls are expected to go to the level they wish, then climb higher as they get bored and seek greater enlightenment. The lower levels are relatively mundane, and are all you get to see.
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja has purgatory, which is a restaurant where everyone eats all their sins. There is one waiter. Service is terrible.
- In The Dragon Doctors, Kili the shaman describes the afterlife as being a place that cannot be accurately described whatsoever by the living, since it is not a paradise for the living, but a paradise for the soul. We see the Spirit World many times but never someone's final resting place.
- Near the end of It's Walky!, characters killed by the Martians reunite, along with Ruth and Dina, in a bizarre void that Ruth insists is Purgatory, and more rational characters a shared sink of severed consciousness before it's claimed by entropy. The technology exists to retrieve the minds of people in this state, but they remember none of it.
- Second Empire: Pleasantly insane Dalek warrior Grexzol dies taking out countless enemy Daleks, and awakens in a bright-lit void to find his old platoon in its entirety had patiently waited for the death of its last member so all of them could go into eternal glory together. He even gets his toy back as the platoon Disappears into Light.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold, episode "Dawn of the Dead Man!": When you die, you hang around the world of the living, invisible and inaudible, until you are called to Go Into the Light. What's beyond the Light is not shown, and it's stated that once you go into the Light, there's no returning.
- In the ThunderCats arc "Trials of Lion-O", when young hero Lion-O dies suddenly, his Amulet of Concentrated Awesome, the Spirit Stone, activates to force him to go on Adventures in Comaland. He wakes up in a metaphysical waystation where Spirit Advisor Jaga awaits to provide exposition about Lion-O's impending Vision Quest and open the gateway to his Mental World. Once Lion-O is finished there, he travels back to the antechamber for another talk with Jaga.
- In Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, there's the Sitting Room, which is described as the boundary between life and the afterlife.