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Black-and-Gray Morality
aka: Black And Grey Morality

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When your bad guy is this bad, almost anyone can become a good guy.
Megan: Wait! You're my hero!
Wade: No, no, no, no, no. That I ain't. [narrating] Nope, never will be. I'm just a bad guy who gets paid to fuck up worse guys.

Often in fictional media, the protagonist/antagonist conflict takes the form of the shining knight who smells of flowers and has holy light shining from his every orifice versus the very fount of all evil who Eats Babies as a hobby and Kicks Dogs as a profession.

In an effort to portray "realistic" conflicts, writers often introduce flaws in their heroes and redeeming qualities in their villains.

These can be deeply unsatisfying. Movie-goers want a hero to celebrate and a villain to vilify. But if both sides have flaws and redeeming qualities, how do they know which is which? How can a writer create such a satisfying world without making it all impossibly unrealistic?

It's simple: leave the job half-done. Only the white gets removed, leaving behind a Crapsack World populated by people who each have their own forms of imperfection. Without the option of becoming the saint the world needs, newcomers of this world are stuck between the choice of supervillainy and faulty heroism. This is the essence of Black and Gray Morality, where the morals of characters can range from somewhat good to pure evil.

Obviously, the heroes of such settings tend to be antiheroes. In such a world, any characters who appear to be good in any way will eventually be revealed as a Knight Templar in disguise, a Dark Messiah inches from the edge, or a deeply flawed Anti-Hero. And if there are any genuinely good characters on the show, they'll quite likely either 'come around' to The Dark Side, die horribly, remain a figure of perpetual mockery or, if very lucky, grow a protective shell of cynicism.

A good litmus test for this trope is as follows:

  1. Do the protagonists regularly get away with ruthless or amoral actions?
  2. Are they still unquestionably painted by the author as being "on the right side?" By virtue of the other side being worse? (Whether the audience agrees or not does not matter.)

If so, it's a classic case of Black and Gray Morality.

As always, it is important to remember that Tropes Are Tools. It can be taken to an extreme, where the choices are between Pure Evil and Good Because the Writers Say So. This can make the protagonist difficult to sympathize with and lead to Too Bleak, Stopped Caring.

An alternative method would be to have one side be of A Lighter Shade of Grey against the black, so while the heroes are flawed and may have to do some questionable things for the greater good, they wouldn't try to indulge into unnecessary morally questionable actions. Beware though, as this could lead to a downplayed form of Black-and-White Morality.

For serious cases where both sides are so black there are no more shades of grey among them anymore, see Evil Versus Evil.

See also Shades of Conflict, Grey-and-Gray Morality, Black-and-White Morality, Crapsack World, Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. The inverse is But Not Too Evil. Contrast with White-and-Grey Morality, where everyone has some nobility to them, and Designated Hero, which is what happens when the story portrays a side as White when the audience sees them as Gray (or Black). Compare World of Jerkass if both sides are assholes.

If there are 'true' heroes around along with the 'kinda bad' and 'very bad' characters described above, it's The Good, the Bad, and the Evil. Coming from the opposite side is A Lighter Shade of Black, where an Evil Versus Evil conflict is left with one mildly sympathetic side by not making them as unrelentingly evil as their opponents, while both factors are still anywhere from rather consistently dangerous to plain evil. A heightened version of this is Sympathetic Villain, Despicable Villain, where the mildy sympathetic becomes very sympathetic and may be capable of redemption, especially in comparison to the unambiguously evil.


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Other examples

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    Comic Books 
Examples by creator: Examples by work:
  • 2000 AD in general tends towards dark heroes facing even worse villains.
    • Nemesis the Warlock verges on Evil Versus Evil. Big Bad Torquemada, leader of the human race (in the Nemesis universe, basically the Imperium of Man in an antagonist role), is a psychotic genocidal religious fascist god-dictator pledged to exterminate all non-human life — but Nemesis himself, who's essentially Satan, has done things like openly lust for genocide right back at humanity and, at his worst, intentionally kill a school bus full of children. Afterwards, he doesn't even seem to understand why it was a bad thing to do. Meanwhile, Nemesis' uncle Baal has a hobby of vivisecting humans and performing Mengele-ish experiments on them and his son Thoth hates and wants to destroy everything, including his father. Nemesis' allies, the ABC Warriors, are also extremely morally shady, given they've conducted massacres and frequently display genocidal urges towards humanity as well.
    • Depending on the Writer, Judge Dredd. He can be written in many different ways depending on the tone of the story (dramatic, comedic, horrific, etc.), but some of Dredd's actions can be very questionable. At his root, he's a Knight Templar Judge, Jury, and Executioner, so he can go from heroically taking down violent criminals to ruthlessly crushing democratic protestors without shifting gear. And his enemies have included a genius Serial Killer, an apocalyptic President Evil, a warmongering Soviet military junta, a deranged head judge who wanted to execute the whole city, and an undead Omnicidal Maniac.
    • Shakara: Shakara is a remorseless killing machine who has taken billions of lives in his never-ending quest for vengeance, but his enemies are an alliance of Always Chaotic Evil species led by an Omnicidal Maniac.
  • The 300 comic miniseries has the Unreliable Narrator describing the Spartans as "the ultimate good guys"... who are just as insane and bloodthirsty as their Persian enemies, who are only worse for being a gigantic horde bent on destroying and enslaving everyone on their path. The comic starts out mostly like this: The Spartans are ruthless and have moments of cruelty, but treat each other with respect and are steadfast in the defense of their beloved homeland. Their biggest sin is killing envoys (which actually happened). Xerxes is unquestionably a sinister ruler, and although the Persian side isn't really shown to be evil, they are absolutely merciless in their conquest. By the end, the Spartan side is shown in a considerably better light, while the Persians have been reduced to faceless cannon fodder. The movie is much closer to Black-and-White Morality.
  • The Authority are the world's only hope against some of the worst villains imaginable, the kind of bastards who love to create mass genocide just for kicks. The Authority members themselves are borderline sadistic towards evildoers, and sometimes "authoritarian" conquerors if they don't approve of a nation's government.
  • In Back to Brooklyn, Bob's a mobster, the cops use racial slurs, but the villains are really bad.
  • This trope is flipped on its head in Birthright: in one hand you have the decisively Obviously Evil God-King Lore, who rules the world of Terrenos with iron fist and has designs to merge it with Earth. Against him are five mages that have set themselves up as barriers to prevent him from conquering Earth, but seldom are heroic or selfless: at best, they are reclusive or selfish (one of them was more interested in preserving her wealth and privilege) and at worse, exceedingly brutal Knights Templars who will kill innocents without hesitation if it serves their ends. What makes this trope unusual is that the main protagonist is a Anti-Villain serving Lore (the biggest evil in the conflict who wants to cause chaos and destruction) as his enforcer instead of fighting against him, making the mages (who want at least want to preserve the world) very, very loose hero antagonists.
  • Black Moon Chronicles: Wismerhill is and friends are primarily self-interested warlords (starting out as basically an all-Chaotic-something D&D party), but the Big Bad Haazheel Thorn (who they worked for during most of the series) is an Evil Sorcerer and Omnicidal Maniac.
  • Countdown Presents: Lord Havok and the Extremists is a clear example of this. The Villain Protagonist Lord Havok and his teammates are all portrayed as hellbent on taking over their planet, but they're each given sympathetic backgrounds and it's implied that life under their rule may be less dangerous in stark contrast to the way their world is when the story begins. In contrast, the so-called heroes of Angor (what America is referred to as) are all extremely unsympathetic and amoral, save for Blue Jay, who is the Token Good Teammate of the Meta Militia. Americommando is by far the worst, a boozing, womanizing drug addict who makes a deal with Monarch to get at the Extremists by allowing Monarch to destroy the home bases of the individual members of the Extremists, effectively murdering hundreds of innocent people.
  • In The Department of Truth, the Department's job is the make sure that Conspiracy Theories remain as dangerous ideas rather than dangerous reality, but they achieve this through gaslighting, assassination (even with bystanders perfectly willing to cooperate) and carefully selecting what should and should not be "normal", an agent of Black Hat trying to indoctrinate Cole by pointing out how they are trying to control the world by controlling the "truth". However, the alternative is to let the public's imagination run wild, the potential changes to reality resulting in monsters, Nebulous Evil Organisations of every ideology and temperament running the world, astrological anomalies and other potential world-ending scenarios.
  • Fallen Angel in some ways. On the "black" side is the Hierarchy, the people and demons who run the city of Bete Noire, where the book takes place. The "gray" comes from Liandra, a cynical, consistently tipsy fallen angel who serves as a court of last resort, and is willing to do anything, including torture, in order to fulfill her missions. Among her sometime-allies are the city's major drug dealer, the snake from the Garden of Eden, and a man who may or may not be Hitler.
  • In Harbinger, Flamingo and Torque are happy to mooch off of Peter's mind-control abilities in order to steal money and cars and stay in hotels for free. And Peter's pretty brutal to his enemies, either mind-wiping them or sentencing them to lives of torment and insanity if he's angry enough. The only really "white" member of the team is Zephyr.
  • Lucifer is like this, but oddly, not The Sandman (1989), which is more Grey-and-Gray Morality. The main character is, ya know, Satan, who is caught between The Legions of Hell and the angels of heaven, who soon turn out not to be very nice either.
  • Marvel Universe:
    • The villains tend to be straight up bad guys most of the time, while the heroes genuinely heroic and noble tend to have infighting, personal problems and personal issues that gets in their way half of the time. Some of them tend to have bad publicity such as Spider-Man and the X-Men. The Ultimate Marvel universe taken this aspect and cranks it alllll the way up.
    • The Punisher (especially The Punisher MAX, which was mostly written by the aforementioned Garth Ennis): Frank Castle is a sociopathic, cruel, Knight Templar, Blood Knight, mass-murdering Vigilante Man, but is constantly pitted against the worst sorts of people — Serial Killers, Serial Rapists, Western Terrorists, The Mafia, Human Traffickers and many, many other types among them. Most Punisher villains neglect fancy costumes or entertaining gimmicks and don't seem to even have any character traits besides malice, greed, sadism, and selfishness, justifying his Pay Evil unto Evil approach to the Negative Zone and beyond. Garth Ennis writes the character as 100% aware of this, often repeatedly stating that his only reason to continue living is to punish those worse than himself.
  • The Multiversity: The conflict in Mastermen #1 ends up being this, concerning the New Reichsmen and the Freedom Fighters.
    • With the exception of Overman, none of the New Reichsmen had anything to do with Hitler's original plans and thus aren't concerned with what happened during World War II. But it's blatantly clear that they will still uphold the way of life Hitler established, feel absolutely no shame or guilt about how their paradise was built on the deaths of billions, and hold "under people" in contempt. Overman, for his part, feels incredible guilt and shame for what happened, but feels that he has no way to make it right after going so far. He actually betrays the New Reichsmen by lying about the Human Bomb's ability to generate explosions while held captive in the Eagle's Nest.
    • The Freedom Fighters do commit terrorist acts and have help from Doktor Sivana in terms of technology leading up to the total destruction of Metropolis as the beginning, but because they want Overman and the system he helped put into power to answer for the unspeakable atrocities and genocide that made it possible. There's also the fact that each of the Freedom Fighters represents minorities that the Nazi Party is still persecuting and trying to destroy.
    • To make this conflict even more murky, representatives from both groups are called upon in the final issue of The Multiversity to help battle the forces of the Gentry.
  • The Secret Six are a group of Anti-Villains who have a tendency to fight other, more evil supervillains. Interestingly, their stories tend to more lighthearted than most superhero stories set in The DCU.
  • The Shadow is Good Is Not Nice at best and more often a merciless Unscrupulous Hero, but his foes deserve every bit of wrath they receive.
  • Star Wars: Legacy has the Fel Empire and Darth Krayt's Galactic Empire. The Fel Empire was a reorganization of The Republic spearheaded by Jagged Fel, a veteran of the Vong War and the Second Galactic Civil War, and his wife, Jedi Master Jaina Solo. Their Hegemonic Empire shared many characteristics with Darth Sidious' Galactic Empire including some xenophobia (albeit to a much milder extent than its predecessor) and valuing power above all else, but the Fels were ultimately Reasonable Authority Figures who set constitutional limits on their power and were loyal to the Light side of the Force to the point that their Gray Jedi bodyguards had orders to kill them should they ever irrevocably fall to the Dark Side. After they were overthrown by Krayt after a century of peace, the galactic citizenry immediately went back to suffering under the same harsh dictatorial conditions and genocide they had under Sidious.
  • Suicide Squad is the poster comic for this. It's about supervillains who have been captured and recruited into the U.S. government to go on most probably deadly missions for the good of America.
  • In V for Vendetta, the titular V is an anarchist Unscrupulous Hero fighting to bring down a fascist British government. While some individuals within that government are given depth and pathos, the ruling party's explicit devotion to Nazism and their running of death camps puts them firmly in the Black.

    Eastern Animation 
  • The protagonists in Aachi and Ssipak are black market drug runners who don't care about the carnage around them and simply want to exploit a hooker for money. At least Ssipak is in love with her. Aachi just tends to be annoyed with having to save her life all the time. The villains are worse in that they are willing to kill and force the hooker into labor.

    Fan Works 
  • The New Earth Government from Aeon Natum Engel and Aeon Entelechy Evangelion is much, much more ruthless than its CthulhuTech counterpart, and the Migou have a very good reason for invading Earth.
  • Alexandra Quick runs on this about half the time (usually whenever John Manuelito is involved). The rest of the time it's Grey-and-Grey Morality.
  • In Amazing Fantasy, the side-story “Musutafu 2099” runs on this. The “good guys” of the setting are the Resistance who’s run by Doctor Doom who basically just wants to establish his own world-wide dictatorship and the Omni subdivision who regularly employ Police Brutality. On the other hand, they are also facing Alchemax who are run by All For One that have utterly wrecked the planet and ruin lives on a whim. Kyouka Jirou is Spider-Woman and is resisting against the system, but she might be just a pawn in both players’ schemes.
  • Ambience: A Fleet Symphony: Damon is caustic, rude and violent, and he won't shy from acknowledging it. However, he will go to great lengths for his subordinates and innocents, and his targets usually deserve what they get. Between the predations of the bandits and private sovereignties, the neglect-at-best the Feds and other surviving governments have for anyone who isn't a fat cat, and the sinister goals of the Inner Circle and Abyssals, the villains can and do much, much worse.
  • A Young Girl's Guerrilla War: The Japanese resistance groups fight to free their country from foreign occupation but are far from upstanding and often fight dirty to achieve their aims, harboring many who are perfectly happy to target civilians to make a point. The Britannians meanwhile view the “Elevens” as second-class citizens and conduct cultural genocide to Honorary Britannian ethnic groups and are more than willing to commit large-scale massacres and humanitarian crises to pacify unruly regions.
  • Bad and Worse: The conflict between Voldemort's forces, the Ministry of Magic, and the New Watcher's Council is between terrorists, a variably corrupt Ministry, and a number of Unscrupulous Heroes who will do anything to protect the innocent. Both the Ministry and the Watcher's Council are certain Voldemort is evil but think the other is too with each wondering whether Voldemort is the lesser of two evils or the greater.
  • Can One Change Fix All of RWBY?: One side of Ozma and Salem's war wants to set off Remnant's judgement day which will spell the destruction of Remnant, for entirely selfish reasons; while the other side wants to stop that from happening via working with morally-dubious people and employing very sketchy methods.
  • Child of the Storm plays with this trope, having originally opted for Black-and-White Morality with a touch of Moral Myopia and general Early-Installment Weirdness that the author has since tried to iron out:
    • The villains are pretty solidly villainous, running the gamut from your standard villain to those who are reluctantly evil at best - the Winter Soldier is shown to be a brainwashed victim, while the Red Hood is a textbook case of someone who fell under the wrong influence, needing only to have his eyes opened and be offered another option, and Maddie was someone who was brainwashed from birth to be a Living Weapon, given a purposefully skewed moral education for the purposes of More than Mind Control, and just needed to be shown the way out.
    • The heroes, the Avengers primarily, are the good guys. However, this is a team with Natasha, Clint, and Loki on the roster. Thor, Tony, and Bruce aren't people to cross, either. Most of them are spies or soldiers of some sort, most have a Dark and Troubled Past with red in their ledger, and they have the skills to match. Even Steve, whose status as The Paragon is both gleefully lampshaded for comedy value and treated with respect, is capable of being ruthless. The team as a whole has rules of engagement, with Thor explicitly noting that he normally sticks to non-lethal tactics on Avengers duty, while those with the dark pasts usually make their reputations work for them rather than getting nasty, making them a fairly light shade of grey.
      • However, they're much more lax about those rules, and get much darker, if things get personal. And as Loki spells out very politely in the sequel, those rules only apply while they're 'on-duty'. When they're off, so is the Morality Chain, and they tend to be morally much closer to the similarly Reformed, but Not Tamed Magneto. Even Wanda Maximoff, who rejects everything her father was, is, if pushed, capable of doing things like dissolving Sinister. Granted, he deserved it, and it didn't keep him down long, but even still... And with examples such as Bucky and their concealment of just who he used to be has more than a faint whiff of hypocrisy about it, something that's addressed (it's not necessarily right, but for various reasons - including that Bucky would not get any kind of fair treatment - it is necessary. Carol, who brought it up, isn't happy, and all indications are that it will backfire spectacularly).
    • Another 'hero' is Peter Wisdom a.k.a. Regulus Black, Agent, later Director, of MI13 - Her Majesty's Spooky Secret Service. He's completely onboard with the idea of torture, oubliettes for disposing of politically inconvenient persons, blackmail, manipulation of all and sundry (including a young Warren Worthington who he successfully manipulates into becoming exactly what he feared his metal wings would make him - a killer), using morally ambiguous combinations of technology and magic to resurrect James Bond as his Winter Soldier equivalent, take effective command of the important elements of the Ministry of Magic in the sequel, influence (if not dominate) the muggle British government, and bluntly stating that if he deemed Harry a sufficient threat to Britain, he would personally shoot him in the head. To the faces of Thor and Sirius, Harry's father and godfather - the latter of whom is Wisdom's brother.
    • It also speaks volumes that the setting's Big Good, Doctor Strange, is a ruthlessly manipulative schemer who's an Anti-Hero and Well-Intentioned Extremist desperately trying to make up for his greatest failure on his good days, while covering it in a mask of snark and charm. And on his bad days, he's an unfettered and possibly insane Anti-Villain, who sadly lampshades the He Who Fights Monsters trope, considering his actions Necessarily Evil. However, even at his worst, he is in opposition to the likes of Chthon, Shuma-Gorath, Gravemoss, Surtur, Dormammu, and above all, Thanos, and he's relieved that his former student and successor Wanda isn't like him, as well as making a point of setting up the more classically good Gorakhnath (a colleague and former mentor of his) as an Anti-Role Model for his new student, Harry.
    • As time goes by, the Avengers' attitude and inclination towards moral relativism starts to rub off on Harry, especially with all he's put through. This only gets worse after he starts spending more time around Doctor Strange. The narration all but states that this is not a good thing, and it is addressed - mainly by Strange, who doesn't want anyone to turn out like him. Nevertheless, the rest of the younger generation, for the most part, tends towards a lighter shade of cynicism too.
    • That said, the narration also makes the point that there are unambiguously genuinely good and kind people in the world - chief examples being Sir Michael Carpenter, Clark Kent, Charles Xavier, Cedric Diggory, Gorakhnath, Jean Grey (even with her temper), and even Harry, once he shakes off the darkness from what he's been through. And the story is ultimately optimistic, with the emphasis that people can and do choose to do the right thing.
  • Christian Humber Reloaded has this, although which side is black and which is gray depends on whether you're willing to accept the author's perspective that Vash is supposed to be a hero. One way of seeing it is that Vash is a highly ruthless yet effective Anti-Hero who fights against villains who are arguably more consistently malicious, despite killing many innocent people himself. Alternatively, Vash is the Villain Protagonist, and his enemies are less of a threat than he is, if only because the story doesn' touch on their evil deeds.
  • In Chrysalis Visits The Hague, this seems to be very much in effect. Both the Equestrians and humans are in equal parts jaundiced, smarmy and secretive (though nominally well-intentioned) in their attempts to successfully prosecute Chrysalis, whereas the queen herself is... well, Chrysalis.
  • In some The Conversion Bureau fics, both sides are far from paragons of virtue. Who occupies the grey side and who occupies the black side depends on the writer. This is most visible in The Palladium Wings where the Humans are mostly a bunch of vicious Sky Pirates but Celestia is cruel, xenophobic, power-hungry, warmongering sociopath hellbent on genocide.
  • CWCollateral: A Tale of the Resistance: Yes, the regime under Chris Chandler is full of corruption, and the EHPF are the living embodiment of police brutality, but the PVCC isn't above committing horrific war crimes against the Chus, like repeatedly murdering their young.
  • In the Ace Attorney fanfic Dirty Sympathy, Apollo and Klavier are good people but will go through any length possible to free each other from their abusers. Klavier frames his brother for murder he assisted in committing and would have killed Phoenix Wright if Shadi Enigmar hadn't tried beating Olga Orly. Apollo tries to manipulate Machi into killing Daryan, but manages to cover up Machi's murder of Romain LeTouse and pin the blame on Daryan. But Daryan is a Dirty Cop who has the police force in his backpocket and Kristoph is an Amoral Attorney and a Bad Boss with many connections who both threaten them with death and can get away with their murders.
  • Embers (Vathara) has Zuko, who admits he's 'no good at being good,' even in the original series and is willing to hang Aang out to dry, and he isn't going to even try to prevent a genocide of his own people because even he admits that they deserve it. Then there's Aang, who is well-intentioned but does a lot of stuff that should have killed him and his friends in the series: Hanlon's Razor is true because ignorance can do just as much damage, or more, as malice. The closest thing to an unambiguously good guy may be Kuei, who still ordered the Dai Li to set fires in civilian homes, traps in streets and so on as part of the Ba Sing Se resistance because this is war and he's the Earth King. In contrast to them, there's Azula, who deserves her own content warning, but still has nothing on the Big Bad and his allies, whose plans constitute a Zombie Apocalypse and horribly painful deaths in the works for anyone unlucky enough to survive the various genocidal wars they've stirred up over the millennia.
  • In Event Horizon: Storm of Magic, the Company is an amoral and ruthless MegaCorp that thinks nothing of bribing politicians and judges to look the other way, encouraging war to break out in the Seven Kingdoms in order to sell weapons to both the Starks and Lannisters, and blackmailing or even murdering anyone who gets in the way of what they want. They're openly imperialistic, dismissing the inhabitants of all the worlds as barbarian savages, "purchasing" their land, and exploiting them for their own profit. Everyone from the UN to the natives of the worlds recognizes this. However, they also bring modern technology that vastly improves the lives of the natives (e.g. medicines, fertilizer, trains), introduce modern values and ideas (e.g. human rights and equality, public education, finance), and generally try to uplift the natives to a higher standard of living. Also, when you consider that the Company's opponents are some rather nasty folks like the White Walkers, Mordor, and Chaos, suddenly they don't seem so bad.
  • Exoria has the nation of Valent conducting a surprise invasion of both Hyrule and Gerudo. It is implied through the Exoria Files, however, that neither Hyrule nor Gerudo are exactly "white", though, and hints have been dropped insinauting that Valent may have a very good reason for launching a continent-wide invasion.
  • The Hetalia: Axis Powers fanfic Family Ties starts out seemingly Grey-and-Gray Morality—most of the combatants don't want to be there and the only really major offence is the sneak attack and consequent hijacking of Northern Ireland. It rapidly darkens, however, with Russia and China torturing Scotland into unresponsiveness, New Zealand being tortured through solitary confinement, and the "good guys" torturing Ukraine and starting a nuclear war.
  • Callidus Dominus and the Malphan Empire in Game of Doctors. They can be ruthless but try to be benevolent dictators, on the other side is the ruthless Virmok Empire which is attempting to take control of the Malphan's Galaxy through invasion and are far more brutal. The Doctors end up helping the Malphans. This is pointed out in Chapter 8.
  • Kaiju Revolution: Godzilla is a protector of Earth, but he's also a vicious, destructive predator who'll devour other kaiju that aren't even harming anyone. His Arch-Enemy King Ghidorah on the other hand, is a sadistic destroyer who intends to wipe out all life on Earth.
  • In Miraculous: The Phoenix Rises, our heroes include a convicted stalker who's an aloof jerk, an Academic Alpha Bitch, a troublesome thug, and his cynical friend who's a reluctant hero. Then again, virtually every villain they face (normal or paranormal) is a Knight of Cerebus Hate Sink.
  • In the My Brave Pony: Starfleet Magic series, Starfleet does lots of questionable things and has a superiority complex, plus they save planets in exchange for obedience. But their foes are all violent conquerors and destroyers. Except for some strawman rebels.
  • Paradoxus:
    • While the characters trying to avoid their dimensions succumbing into chaos have committed plenty of questionable deeds for the greater good's sake, most of them don't indulge in unnecessary carnage or gratuitous cruelty for personal gain/enjoyment. Justified since they have been hardened (or already were) from the horrors of the dimensional war they are waging and fighting in. Doubly justified in that they are losing the war and, thus, cannot go through the idealistic route of helping and saving everyone. Furthermore, a few of these characters have had to thread among power-hungry, influential political figures. These 'good guys' are also deeply flawed individuals.
      • As per World of Warcraft's tradition, Sylvanas, Galadwen, and Iladris look down on other races, especially humans.
      • The Tyrannus Division prioritizes the mission's goal over basically everything else. Deviating resources to save every goddamned victim is deemed as a waste (there are too many of them and the personnel is too scarce) that won't help win the war. Most of the cast belongs or is associated to this military branch.
      • Nymph precognition unveiled to Queen Daphne not only about Bloom and Stella's deaths, but the inevitability of the matter. She, along with Flora of all people and Galadwen, used that knowledge to pull the strings on Trisha, Altalune, and Stacy's lives so thoroughly that the main plotline and several secondary ones happened because of them! If that doesn't scandalize you, keep in mind Altalune and Trisha (especially Trisha) suffered A LOT due to their manipulations, even to the point of getting part of their traumas because of that.
    • However, the characters pointed out as the villains of the story have gone as far as to:
      • Eudora killed two women (Bloom and Stella) she had nothing personal against in front of the former's kid daughter just to get rid of the threat the latter represented. Furthermore, Eudora Would Hurt a Child and left said child with a life-threatening injury and unnecessarily deprived of her mother.
      • Eudora has unleashed an Undead Plague so vile both the original Scourge and Sylvanas' Blight pale in comparison. All semblance of self-identity is utterly erased (interpret it as your soul is impossible to recover by any means), the victims die even more painfully, and the environment's life is sucked out faster and more perniciously than any previous strain hitherto conceived. And she unleashed it on dimensions (which includes several planets) never impacted by the Plague in the first place.
      • The Council of Rocalucce is so rotten to the core it's entirely to blame for much of the conflicts in the story (interplanetary, terrorist, and civil wars alike) — including Eudora's devastating impact on Magix. Nearly all of the Councilors abuse the immense power they've stockpiled for selfish gain and have bribed, blackmailed, and threatened their way out of prison several times. Many of them are rapists, slave traders, and pedophiles as well.
  • The war against Voldemort in Princess of the Blacks plays out this way. Jen is a Black Witch who cares about her friend and family and has been ordered to kill Voldemort by Death. The Order of the Phoenix tends to be obstructive due to Dumbledore's With Us or Against Us policy. And the Ministry is clearly not playing with kid gloves this time around and come down like a sack of bricks on anyone suspected of ties with the Death Eaters. But all of them are better people than Voldemort and his followers.
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction Prison Island Break turns canon heroes into prison convicts, pitted against the Senior Corrections Officer Mephiles, and Mad Scientist Doctor Robotnik. The canon heroes have been turned into murderers, rapists, terrorists, and Mobsters. It even borders on A Lighter Shade of Black. Even if you consider a character like Silver a Woobie of sorts, he's still a first-degree murderer.
    • Mephiles is only maintained as the villain by being the only one so far to stomp over the Moral Event Horizon.
  • Professor Arc: The conflict between Jaune and Cinder. The latter is a vile sociopath willing to commit murder and mayhem for personal gain. The former has lied his way into a teaching job, has made deals with criminals, and is willing to manipulate his co-workers, but nevertheless, wants to protect his co-workers from Cinder's machinations.
  • The Rise of Darth Vulcan: Darth Vulcan is a Jerkass criminal who has made lives of the Ponyville residents a living hell. But he does a have a code of honor, and his other opponents, like Big Boss, Chrysalis, and Sombra make him into a saint. Averted with his conflict with the Mane 6. They do make mistakes in dealing with him, but they are trying to protect themselves and are in fact trying to save Vulcan from the power he is abusing.
  • Shattered Reflection: In stark contrast to the original. Aside from a few exceptions (namely Chrom, Lissa, and Emmeryn), everyone on the Shepherds and the forces of good have plenty of characteristics that could be considered unflattering, at best. Most of them are racist, judgmental, fanatical, or just plain old stupid. Nonetheless, they at least have moral centers to balance out their flaws and are genuinely seeking to do good, even if they don't always get it right. Unlike the Big Bad Grima.
  • Shortest War Ever: The USS Bajor observes a nuclear standoff on a prewarp planet between two Space Filling Empires. The Alliance for Global Unity is the de facto empire of a single kingdom whose people live in poverty and whose ruling class have mostly fallen for their own propaganda, while the People's Syndicalist Dominion is a People's Republic of Tyranny that uses single-list yes-or-no balloting to simulate free elections, and the Alliance's intelligence chief, a Sarcastic Devotee, openly says their new Puppet King in a state bordering the Dominion is just as bad as the overthrown pro-Dominion leader. Eleya places faith in the fact that a wave of popular uprisings is starting to actively reject the whole system, assuming the two power blocs don't nuke the whole planet into oblivion first.
  • This trope basically comes with The Hunger Games territory, and Some Semblance of Meaning is no exception. Naturally, the story is full of examples of Children Forced to Kill. The only difference is that some (like the majority of the Careers...though even some of them have character depth) take great pleasure in shedding their opponents' blood, whereas others (Vale, Fen, even former Career Obsidian aren't so fond of the way that the Capitol is forcing them to kill their fellow human beings. (That doesn't mean that, if someone is trying to kill them, that they won't kill them first, though.)
  • Sonic X: Dark Chaos pretty much runs entirely on this. On one side you have a slave-holding, repressive, reactionary empire run by The Legions of Hell — that nonetheless does many good things for its people. On the other side are the Angels, who are The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized at best. And God and Satan Are Both Jerks, "Satan" being a scheming chessmaster, and "God" being a fundamentalist Ax-Crazy sociopath. And then there's the malevolent Eldritch Abomination, the genocidal two-tailed android fox (and his legion of cannibalistic android clones), omnicidal Abusive Precursors, the Metarex, and of course Dr. Eggman just to make things even more shitty. Even several of the lighter characters are quite grey—Eric and his friends eventually resort to piracy in order to replenish their supplies. Several of the saner Angel leaders aren't clean either; Jesus holds some very...questionable views on homosexuals, though he's depicted more sympathetically than his fellow Angels.
  • Star Wars vs Warhammer 40K: Despite having been founded with the goal of spreading democracy across the cosmos, the Galactic Republic has its share of problems, including rampant corruption, cultural stagnation, and bureaucracy. Their armed forces use cloned humans who possess free will as slave soldiers, their military leaders (including Jedi generals) are disturbingly comfortable with committing outright war crimes to achieve victory, and their current elected head-of-state is secretly a Sith Lord scheming to impose a totalitarian dictatorship. It is still vastly superior on a moral level to the Imperium of Man, a Martyrdom Culture of religious fanatics who believe they have a Manifest Destiny to conquer the universe and exterminate all non-human life in the process.
  • Thousand Shinji sees Shinji doing nasty things in defence of or as revenge for wrongs done to his friends, but compared to what Gendo or the SEELE men have done he is much preferable. Also, he does not damage innocent people and he has displayed some sympathetic traits, so he is an Anti-Hero or Anti-Villain.
  • The Uplifted series is the epitome of this trope in Mass Effect fanfics. Of the two protagonists one of them. Joachim Hoch, is a Waffen SS Officer who is not shy about his viewpoints, charming and kind on the one hand, and violent in the other. A classic Anti-Hero. His Quarian counterpart and eventual lover, Hanala Jarva, is manipulative, lying, and brutal. The Quarians ally with the Nazis, because they would make the best shock troops when the time comes to retake Rannoch. While it is true that the Quarians plot a coup against Hitler, their motives are again less than pure. The Allies? Not as bad as the Nazis, but they would turn on the Quarians the first chance they get. Somewhat justified given that the fic is set during World War II.

    Myth and Religion 
  • The Bible can be depicted this way in fanon, see God and Satan Are Both Jerks, with either side depicted as the "gray".
  • Classical Mythology rules this trope. Unlike Norse Mythology, the gods aren't even contrasted with anything particularly terrible, they're just generally dicks who happen to be in charge (Zeus, fittingly, epitomized this, being a violent rapist and Manipulative Bastard but also powerful enough to defeat all the other gods combined). Well, some were alright—but you never hear about them, because the Greeks generally considered any story that doesn't involve both sides of the conflict being colossal jerks to be one not worth telling.
  • The Kori No Tatakai in Japanese Mythology is a battle between two groups of Youkai: the evil-type Kitsune and the neutral-type Tanuki.
  • Any version of Robin Hood. Yes, he and his Merry Men were thieves and robbers, but the people of Nottingham were being overtaxed and Robin Hood was simply giving back the money to the poor so that they could live. In the Disney version, Little John even questions the morality of what they do.
    Little John: Hey Rob, I was just wondering are we good guys or bad guys? I mean our robbing the rich to feed the poor.
    Robin Hood: "Rob"? That's a naughty word. We never rob. We just... sort of borrow a bit from those who can afford it.
    Little John: "Borrow"? Boy, are we in debt!

  • About the only positive thing you can say about Andrew Johnson in 1865 is that he opposed succession in his native Tennessee, and remained loyal to the Union. Edwin Stanton and his cause of opposing Johnson are clearly on the right-side of history, but his isn’t above using questionable methods and underhanded tactics to achieve his goals.
  • Welcome to Night Vale: Night Vale is filled with unambiguously evil tyrants and Eldritch Abominations, but even the nicest people there tend to have very skewed perceptions of what is "good" from having spent so long in a Lovecraftian dystopia. Cecil Palmer, the main character, is generally benevolent by Night Vale standards, yet reacts with indifference to things like his interns getting killed, deliberately started a lynch mob to punish Telly the barber for cutting off his boyfriend's beautiful hair, and routinely berates Steve Carlsberg because he tells his daughter truths about Night Vale that she's not legally supposed to know.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Historically rare in the annals of pro wrestling (except for some Values Dissonance, such as "all-American" wrestlers attacking communist Russian wrestlers from behind and getting cheered for it) until the dawn of Super World Of Sports in 1992, where the main conflict was between Revolution (a faction led by Genichiro Tenryu consisting of All Japan migrants) Palaestra (a faction led by George Takano made up of New Japan migrants) and the evil Geki Dojo ("led" by manager KY Wakamatsu). Revolution vs Palaestra was Grey vs Gray, and either versus Geki Dojo was Grey vs Black.
  • The so called "Attitude Era," which occurred roughly between 1995 and 2000. The trend was arguably kicked off by Shawn Michaels, who despite being a weaselly, self-centered, preening Jerkass, was so funny and charming as the leader of the D-Generation X faction (not to mention arguably the best in-ring performer in the world at the time) that fans cheered for him anyway; it certainly helped that his greatest nemesis, the Canadian Bret Hart, was playing a Foreign Wrestling Heel at this time. But the Trope Codifier for the ages was undoubtedly "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the very epitome of the rebel-as-people's-hero. Though Austin never truly reformed his bullying, obnoxious ways from when he was a heel, his courage and charisma won the respect of WWE fans far and wide.
    • Prior to D-Generation X, the nWo initially had this effect on Nitro. Wrestlers that were previously clearly-defined heels, such as the Giant and Harlem Heat, were portrayed as almost-faces because, as mean-spirited and under-handed as they were, the nWo were simply that much worse.note  Harlem Heat cheated to win the titles? Big deal, Hollywood Hogan publicly humiliated and beat down Brutus Beefcake - whom he still considered to be his best friend - just to prove a point to Ric Flair before their title match, then sprayed Ric Flair in the eyes with spray paint during said match.
  • Today, aftershocks of the Attitude Era can still be felt, albeit more in TNA than in WWE. Perhaps the best examples are "The Viper" Randy Orton, an outright Sociopathic Hero, and "Asshole" Mr. Anderson, a modern-day Stone Cold.
  • The Tercias Title belt feud between Los Rabiosos and Legio in the World Wrestling League started as merely A Lighter Shade of Black, in that while Los Rabiosos weren't arsonists, two thirds of them were still thugs who claimed to only care about money, and the one who did claim to value loyalty was a hypocrite who betrayed La Rabia. But then that hypocrite was abducted and traumatized by Spectro, Kronya, and Vassago, while those thugs were found to be participants in volunteer work and charity, making this trope come into play in time for the match with the belts on the line.
  • Face does not mean "good guy" and heel does not mean "villain", even though you will occasionally see the terms being used interchangeably, even on this very wiki. A face/baby face is pretty much anyone who is regularly cheered for, and heel simply means to turn on the fans. It often looks like the faces are all good and heels are all bad, but just as often the fan favoritism will ignore morality and pandering.

  • In Agrippina, Agrippina is the Evil Matriarch in the story, but other characters, save for Otho (who is more a pawn than a player), are far from being the paragons of virtue. Claudius is a weak-willed adulterer, Poppea is a manipulative flirt, Nero is a Royal Brat and tyrant in the making, and Narcissus and Pallas are Professional Butt-Kissers.
  • In Anne of the Thousand Days, Anne considers that, though Henry is having her executed on trumped-up charges, she herself has sent men to equally unjust deaths.
  • The Crucible: John Proctor is willing to take a stand against religious fanaticism, but is a gruff jerk and has an affair with a teenage girl. Reverend Hale desperately tries to minimize the carnage but fails miserably. The Salem courts are full of crazy people willing to kill anybody accused of witchcraft. And all the madness is manipulated by Abigail Williams, a sociopath willing to destroy the entire town because Proctor dumped her.
  • Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta is about a Jewish merchant who seeks vengeance against the corrupt government of Malta because they essentially stole all his property. We might feel sympathy for Barabas's victims if it weren't for the fact that most are Machiavellian opportunists or hypocrites. The only purely good characters in the play are Barabas' daughter and her fiancé. Things don't end well for them.
  • Shakespeare's Othello: Iago is a Card-Carrying Villain (at least to the audience) but Othello is easily tricked into suspecting his wife of infidelity and killing her by Iago, who essentially uses Othello's grey morality as a weapon for his evil.
  • Thrill Me: Nathan has helped steal, burn down buildings, and murder a 12-year-old boy. However, he appears to have largely done this because he got swept up in Richard, who set up the crimes and dealt the killing blow to the boy. We see Nathan express remorse for the boy's death. We see Richard express remorse...for getting caught.
  • The True Art Is Angsty approach was rather prevalent in early- to mid-20th century opera, resulting in Type IV/V anti-heroes who are only sympathetic because they're in an extremely Crapsack World. Alban Berg's two operas (Wozzeck and Lulu) are as bleak as they come, and Lulu borders on Evil Versus Evil—even the music is atonal, to drive home the feeling of despair. Some of Benjamin Britten's operas also qualify, such as Peter Grimes.

  • 8-Bit Theater: The only good characters of the four or five heroes are an impossibly stupid dullard and a kind woman who is crippled by the fear of doing anything wrong. The other three are an Ax-Crazy Omnicidal Maniac, a mentally-disturbed Munchkin, and a ruthlessly selfish Magnificent Bastard. The king of the most powerful nation in the world is even more stupid than the aforementioned dullard, and may very well be mentally retarded. On the villains' side, we have a LARP-ing emo vampire, an ex-pirate captain (who is also very stupid), a comically-incompetent warlord (who's been very slowly getting better), a dark elf who is quite possibly the most stable and levelheaded of the entire cast, and a nigh-omnipotent jerkass wizard who is actually the Future Badass self of the local Chew Toy. And it's all Played for Laughs.
    • Best demonstrated here by what the Light Warriors planned to do once their mission was accomplished.
  • Everyone in Ansem Retort is either completely evil or somewhat good but has something keeping them from being completely white. Case in point: Namine, who tries to be the moral voice of authority, but is part of Zexion's administration (which has had no less than five sex scandals—at least one of which Namine arranged—and three murder scandals) and occasionally does drugs. She is also still dicking around with Sora's memory, further removing her from the moral high ground—and ensuring that his moral high ground stays happily in Cloudcuckooland, where it can't affect anyone else and is effectively neutralized. Anyone that could be considered "white" usually ends up killed or, like Sora, incapacitated.
  • The Bedfellows: Fatigue is an air-headed Butt-Monkey and Sheen is an Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist.
  • The main gist of Brawl in the Family's Ode to Minions. No matter how evil the villains or noble the intentions of the heroes, that doesn't change the fact that the heroes universally win by massacring the enemy army en masse—and those soldiers, while they may be working for evil, still had homes, families, and friends that they're taken away from.
  • In Consolers, the characters are all personified video game companies, and while some of them, like EA and Konami, are clearly shown as more "evil" than others, most of them don't always act in completely "moral" ways when it comes to making profit as a company.
  • The various groups in Cry 'Havoc' are black and grey. The mercenaries kill for money with even the most moral of them shooting fallen enemies, the demons they battle are trying to escape their morality by slaying the mercenaries, and the werewolves are just trying to survive, even if they destroy the human race in the process.
  • In Cthulhu Slippers, the main characters are either well-intentioned idiots, mutants, or self-serving sociopaths. Compared to Nyarlarthotep, however, they're shining examples of kindness and light.
  • In Cwynhild's Loom, both Cwynhild and Ezekiel Nightingale establish early on that they are willing to do whatever is necessary to advance their causes. While Cwynhild is the protagonist, she makes no qualms about killing people who are a threat to her.
  • EVIL: Being a university for villains, pretty much the entire main cast are explicitly evil, with the exception of Trevor, who isn't particularly good, either.
  • Girl Genius is an example, albeit not a perfect one, as the core conflict that's driven the story so far (Agatha vs. Klaus) is Grey-and-Gray Morality. However, aside from Team Agatha, Team Klaus, and Othar, most of the factions that have gotten into the game are evil to a lesser or greater extent. And then there's the Other.
  • Hero Killer: Ihwa's goal is to kill anyone related to the murder of her sister, which she suspects to be from within the Hero Clan. To do this, she relies on aid from The Nameless and their unscrupulous leader Engen, but the Hero Clan are no saints either. They sanction callous and even murderous heroes who harm innocent civilians in their supression of any opposing forces, and often go to brutal measures to keep the control they have over most of the world.
  • Lackadaisy's main characters are gangsters who run an illegal alcohol joint. Murder, ambiguous innocence and deception follow.
    • Yet most of the cast are still lovable and goofy anthropomorphic cats.
    • It's incredibly easy to forget that what the characters are doing is crime, or that they're even doing anything wrong. Many "Would it be a Heel–Face Turn or a Face–Heel Turn?" ponderings ensue.
  • Lighter Than Heir: Neither Steinbech nor Zamora are really upstanding countries, but the former is shown to be less brutal than the latter. Steinbech holds racist attitudes towards Zamorans, used firebombs on them in the last war, and during the current war handed power from a freely elected parliament to a military dictatorship. However the Zamorians perform grisly human experiments in an effort to produce super soldiers, assassinated the Steinbech Prime Minister, and attacked Steinbech cities unprovoked.
  • Looking for Group has elements of this. While Legaria is definitely portrayed as villainous, the heroes aren't very nice people themselves. Especially Richard.
  • The Baker Street Irregulars of Mayonaka Densha, while not bad people per se, aren't above killing their enemies or breaking into homes in the name of justice. And the villain, Jack the Ripper, for some odd reason, seems averse to actually killing them. This is even lampshaded by Hatsune at one point.
    "You know, for the quote unquote good guys, we sure do...break into a lot of places"
  • Miss Guillotine: While most of the antagonists are unambiguously terrible people, those who are on the side of good are still very flawed people, especially Callie. Even nice people like Julie and Sarah have unintentionally caused harm. And that's not to mention that not everyone in the magical girl posse aren't completely bad.
  • Outsider: Humanity is very close to being swept into an interstellar war between the Loroi and Umiak, and is faced with a tough choice of which side is best to join, as neither is appealing. The Umiak are imperialistic and enslave everybody they come across to feed their demand for ships and munitions. The Loroi, on the other hand, have many willing allies and treat them fairly and diplomatically, but this is undercut by their military having a "join us or die" mentality, having twice committed xenocide against neutral or Umiak-aligned species. The main character, in a flashback, is interviewed by his future commanding officer shortly before graduation, with the "who should we join" question posed to him. He chooses the Loroi, using the Umiak's imperialism as his justification. He also notes in a monologue in the comic's prologue that humanity is not looking for the side which shares or acts most accordingly with human values, but the side which is most likely to win since aligning with the loser will almost certainly result in extinction.
  • Player Killer Girls: Every bully, drug dealer, pervert and criminal are black to the PK Girls grey. The PK girls aren't villainous but aren't heroic either since they're just as violent as the antagonists. The most heroic of the PK girls is Amari(Joy-Chan), Hima(Despair-Chan) and Yumi(Melody-Chan). The former defeats her foes with kindness but the last two defeat their foes with violence but its out of self defense, while other PK girls are more than eager to use violence to solve their problems.
  • Schlock Mercenary, certainly. There aren't a lot of well-paying jobs the "heroes" won't take, and those are generally due to personal grudges (see their reaction to any request from Xinchub) rather than morals. That said, they never come off as Villain Protagonists; in nearly every storyline, following the money either puts them on the most sympathetic side surrounded by state-sponsored ideologues or they managed to find a way to fulfill their contract without doing anything too bad. Or, sometimes, finding some way to get hired by someone else to take out their Bad Boss at the same time. They consider those some of the best days. Even better if they can still collect payment from their original boss.
  • Suicide for Hire: Nobody in this world is nice, and those that are die horribly. So, for that matter, do the ones that aren't.

    Web Original 
  • In a similar vein, the The Anglo/American – Nazi War timeline pits the Western Allies, who have slipped right into the cynical side of the sliding scale due to almost a decade of brutal, no-holds-barred total war, and after it, do pretty shady things just to maintain world peace. Of course, they were right up against Nazi Germany, who have had a decade to stew in their insane ideology and the description of what they do]] to conquered Europe since winning the 1939-1943 war makes for utterly terrifying reading and worse, all of it is what they planned to do in real life.
  • In Big Bad Wolves: Moral Event Horizon, the protagonists are members of a group of cannibalistic werewolves who choose to feed on long dead prisoners. One of them, Michael, plans to kill an unrepentant rapist and murderer, in order to feed the group, and tries to convince the Villain Protagonist to help kill him. She declines, citing the group's rule of Never Hurt an Innocent but he kills him anyway in the belief that he was way worse then them.
  • In DEATH BATTLE!, it's killed or be killed, no in-between. Characters who are heroic or normally avoid killing are also not given any special treatment.
  • This is one of the primary themes of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. The protagonist is the villain, who stalks his love interest and wants to Take Over the World so he can put an end to all of its pain and misery without having a real plan for how; the hero is the antagonist, who uses his powers to bully everyone into conforming to his notion of what a True Hero should be like and uses the love interest to make the protagonist jealous; and the only truly good character gets killed.
  • In Filthy Frank: The "good guys" have their ringleader, Frank, who has admitted to raping animals for fun, as well as Pink Guy who also advertises violence to animals. The rest of the housemates are varying shades of bad or worse. The closest thing they have to an antagonist is Lord Chin Chin, a Humanoid Abomination who takes "chromosomes" for whatever reason.
  • In Half-Life but the AI is Self-Aware, in one corner you have the Science Team, a group of dangerously unhinged and amoral weirdos who range from merely odd to downright psychotic who, whether accidentally or intentionally, kill any civilians they run across without fail, and even Tommy and Gordon, the most traditionally heroic of them, have moments of amorality and Ax Craziness, but have redeeming qualities, genuinely care about each other, and will at least try on occasion to save the civilians they run across, even if they always fail and wind up killing them themselves. In the other hand, you have the US Military, a bunch of idiots whose strategies consist of killing every civilian they run across and even their own men and may have sold out humanity to an Eldritch Abomination, the aliens, who are Always Chaotic Evil and attack everything on sight for no reason, and the Big Bad Benrey, a delusional Eldritch Abomination Mad God who also acts like a total Jerkass and tries to destroy the world because he didn't get to play on the PlayStation Plus.
  • In Jreg, Ancap is a sleazy businessman who purchases child sex slaves and owns recreational nukes, in addition to being a wealthy snob, and he is the only one of the extremists who refuses to kill his moderate counterpart.
  • InThe Frollo Show, nearly every major character is a bitter, rude and neutral individual. The titular protagonist is widely considered to be one of the most despicable villains ever to appear in a Disney film, as well as an extremely perverted, manipulative and brutish person on the show, but he also saves Paris from a horde of zombies, and he heroically sacrifices himself to destroy a nuclear device his Arabian cousin was planning to detonate over America (he gets better). His best friend Gaston is an arrogant, childish Jerk Jock who blasts a guy's head off for giving him 9.8 instead of 10 points in a contest. Panty and Stocking are... well, Panty and Stocking. The people they fight are, amazingly, even worse than they are.
  • In The Insane Quest of Unfathomable Randomness, it quickly becomes apparent that the members of Smoosh are not so much heroes as they are bystanders caught in the middle of a petty fight between two selfish gods. While their enemy, Segami, destroys planets, harms innocents, and causes mayhem to accomplish his goals, their leader, Nintendoki...destroys planets, harms innocents, and causes mayhem to accomplish his goals. The only real thing that sets Smoosh apart from their enemies is the fact that they realize when Nintendoki is telling them to do something wrong.
  • In The Iron Teeth web serial, while a goblin will never be a pillar of the community, when Blacknail joins up with Herad's outlaw band he begins to travel a darker path. There are however no good guys to compare him to in this story. Everyone is at best grey.
  • Kickassia has a president just minding his business being overthrown by a crazy idiot who becomes a dictator—and the latter, who is the protagonist, ends up fighting his comrades, who aren't much honorable themselves and try to take over when they think the Critic's died from their beating.
  • The Kindness of Devils is filled with all sorts of shady characters, but most of the heroes and their allies are heroic, despite their tendency to eliminate most of the villains. At best, they have a Dark and Troubled Past, and at worst, they're an Anti-Hero. As for the villains, almost all of them are some kind of Omnicidal Maniac, a Serial Rapist or killer, a deity trying to gain god-like powers via mass murdering, someone who craves wanton destruction, and so on and so forth.
  • The Legatum universe has no heroes, and you'll be lucky to find someone who's purely innocent before someone spitefully kills them. The best one can hope for is to come across a self-serving Jerk with a Heart of Gold or some kind of anti-hero who doesn't harm innocents. At worst, one will come across a warlord longing to murder all of his or her enemies, a genocidal maniac, someone who wants to destroy the world, or some kind of serial rapist or serial killer who isn't above killing children.
  • Lobo (Webseries): While there are evil criminals around, Lobo loves to have sex, swear a lot and do violent acts.
  • The Curse Of Maraqua plot of Neopets has two groups of pirate armies crashing against each other. While Garin himself is not the nicest guy in Neopia, he helps defend the new city of Maraqua against the even worse Captain Scarblade.
  • The Nostalgia Chick's trailer plays this for laughs and describes the Dark Nella Saga as a battle between evil and "slightly less evil". (Dark Nella being evil and the Chick only being slightly less.)
  • On the evil side of Pretending to Be People, we have a featureless black ooze that devours all it can catch, as well as a sadistic Humanoid Abomination mob boss. Opposing them we have three incompetent cops and several shady organizations, one of which has been confirmed to have used unwilling participants as part of an eldritch ritual.
  • In the Alternate History.Com timeline Reds!: A Revolutionary Timeline, the UASR is presented in a more positive light than most of the other governments of the time, but it is far from perfect. Its abuses include the setting up of kangaroo courts and the execution of potentially innocent civilians (though nowhere near on the scale of Stalinist Russia). Given that their primary enemies are a military junta that suspended the US Constitution and the rogue's gallery of petty fascist groups they drum up to support it domestically, and Those Wacky Nazis in foreign affairs, though...
  • The SCP Foundation is an organization that captures supernatural entities (terrible monsters and mere abnormal humans alike) and keeps them imprisoned, doing research on them. Also they use convicted felons (or innocents, in times of duress) to do the dangerous labors and conduct lethal experiments. The whole D-Class-Staff is killed and replaced every month or so. However, all this is just for security, to keep the unspeakable horrors they have captured inside their confinements. Various Groups of Interest also make the Foundation seem reasonable by comparison, such as two cases of Religion of Evil, an organization that prefers to destroy anomalies, a splinter Evil Counterpart, an anomaly-dealing corporation and a group of Mad Artists whose creations usually mangle or murder people.
  • From the website "": while the green stick figures are Always Chaotic Evil Butt Monkeys, the blue stick figures aren't exactly good guys either.
  • In Strange Little Band, the protagonists are thoroughly unpleasant people and almost seem like Villain Protagonists. Then you meet the Antagonists, and you realize who the "heroes" are.
  • The Tails Series has very few heroes in it. Most of the characters are morally shady anti-heroes and fall on the gray side of the scale, or they're a self-serving bystander of some kind. The villains, meanwhile, are rapists, terrorists, murderers, sociopathic mercenaries, cartel leaders, blood knights, etc.
  • While are heroes in the Three Seven Tenverse are nice people, even the angelic Alex is perfectly willing to kill when the time calls for it. However, they’re up against the Devil himself, along with a bunch of other monstrous entities bent on humanity’s destruction.
  • The timeline presented in Twilight of the Red Tsar has this twofold.
    • While the Soviet Union under the increasingly senile and psychotic Joe Stalin is unquestionably evil, America isn't too innocent with Eisenhower using nuclear weapons on Chinese towns, and Nixon passing laws limiting freedom of speech for anything connected to Communism.
    • This is most evident during the Sino-Soviet War. The Red Army is a truly odious group, slaughtering countless Chinese civilians and unleashing nuclear and biological weapons, while Mao causes famine and political repression out of his own pride. The forces opposing these two are the Yellow Banner, a group of Taoist zealots who deal opium and create an oppressive government, and Chiang Kai-Shek's Taiwan. The neighboring countries in Asia, however, are none too welcoming to the millions of starving and diseased Chinese refugees arriving on their shores, forcing them into slums and occasionally starting riots.
  • The Twins (2022): Lucas is an intelligent, sadistic, and manipulative bully who constantly tells on Lake and sometimes lies about the latter to make himself look better. But by the end of the film when Lucas has been accidentally runover, Lake remorselessly disposes of Lucas’ body, without calling the cops, and decides to forever impersonate his dead brother without the rest of the world knowing. In the end, neither of the twins are good people.
  • World War II: The Allies are not above strategic bombing of civilian targets and other war crimes, as covered in the "War Against Humanity" series, but their enemies are the Axis powers of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan who each have massive laundry lists of crimes against humanity.

    Western Animation 
  • Beavis And Butthead: The eponymous duo are selfish, amoral, and perverted, but their antics are rather tame compared to the people they are against, such as Buzzcut, Todd, Crazy Old Farmer, Harry Sachz, and the Grimes couple from Do America.
  • Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: The episode "Vicktor, The Spoils" invokes this. The nation of Zarkovia is beset by rebels. The prince, disgusted by his father's lack of force against the rebels, uses the braindead body of Dr. Vicktor to attack Ben's team and imprison his father. The king escapes, and uses Ampfibian's powers to transfer his mind into Dr. Vicktor's body. He then reveals that he was biding his time, waiting for the perfect moment to crush the rebels. Ben and co. defeat and immobilize King Vicktor, and the prince demands they hand him over. Gwen points out the prince's mind-controlled soldiers, asking "If the prince is a bad guy, who are we here to help?" Kevin suggests the rebels, but Gwen replies "Who's to say they're better then anybody else?" In the end, Ben destroys the prince's mind-control device, allowing the soldiers to choose their own sides, and the group decide not to interfere, and simply let the conflict run its course.
  • The Emperor's New School: Kuzco might be a jerk and a total narcissist, but he's far from being a villain and deep down has a heart. Yzma on the other hand is actually evil, not that she's very good at it.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: Sure, the protagonists are often Jerkasses who make other's lives a living hell, but the antagonists are outright Card-Carrying Villains out to take over the world.
  • Family Guy sometimes even addressed in territories of Evil Versus Evil.
  • Futurama:
    • On the one side, we have:
      • Power-mad tyrants (Mom, Nixon, Lrrr)
      • Violent criminals (Roberto, the Robot Mafia, Santa, Bender)
      • Corrupt scumbags (Leo Wong, Zapp Brannigan)
      • Amoral crackpots (Farnsworth)
    • and on the other side:
      • Fry, whose heart is in the right place but whose lack of intelligence often screws things up for everybody,
      • Leela, who is usually on the right side of the conflict but is often short-tempered, violent and egotistical,
      • Zoidberg, who exists mostly to be a punching bag,
      • And Hermes, who does exactly what he's paid to do and nothing more, often regardless of personal ethics.
  • Generator Rex: Sure, E.V.O.s will cause untold mayhem if not for Providence. But Providence is headed by White Knight, who treats his own men as expendable and clearly has some Fantastic Racism going. He's a dick to the few good E.V.O.s and absolutely ruthless about exterminating the bad ones. Of course, curing them doesn't always work, and containing them isn't always feasible, so he's not entirely without ground.
    • Invoked by his relationship with Evil Counterpart Black Knight, who's a lot nicer to underlings, but instead of killing E.V.O.s, experiments on and borderline enslaves them. She's also a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who will Mind Rape anyone who acts against her, and, unlike White, cares more about personal power than solving problems. In way, this event led White to become kinder as a result, even going as far as to revoke the termination order on Rex by the end.
  • Gravity Falls has many extremely shady characters as heroes, the biggest example being the unabashed petty criminal Grunkle Stan. However, their enemy is quite literally a demon.
  • Invader Zim: Zim is a completely evil alien invader with plans to conquer Earth and exterminate humanity (even if he is ridiculously bad at it) and is no less callous and selfish when dealing with his own kind either, to the extent that his people sent him to invade Earth just to get him out of the way. Dib is trying to save the world but is also needlessly antagonistic and mostly seems to want to save the world just so he can get respect as a great hero. Dib also looks down on other people for their stupidity.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: How the conflict between Horde Prime and the First Ones is ultimately presented. Horde Prime is pure evil, but it's revealed his opponents did some pretty morally ambiguous things themselves to counter his conquest. That Glimmer nearly walked down the same path to save her friends and home lets you know just how desperate their situation may have gotten.
  • The Simpsons:
    • On one hand, you have:
      • (At worst) A monstrously evil businessman with (at best) a skewed moral compass (Mr. Burns)
      • Much more likable but just as bad businessmen (Hank Scorpio, Aristotle Amadopolis)
      • Violent criminals (Snake Jailbird, Sideshow Bob, Fat Tony and his gang)
      • Amoral, corrupt scumbags and/or incompetent authority (Mayor Quimby, Chief Wiggum, Lionel Hutz)
      • Smarmy, self-important parasites (Kent Brockman, Reverend Lovejoy, Roger Meyers Jr., Artie Ziff)
      • Nihilistic punks (Dolph, Jimbo, & Kearney, the kids from Shelbyville, Shauna)
      • Soul-sucking obstructionist nags (Helen Lovejoy, Agnes Skinner, Patty and Selma Bouvier, Lindsey Naegle)
    • And on the other hand, you have:
      • A father who gets so stupid he can easily endanger someone's life (Homer Simpson)
      • Smart, good-hearted idealists who have a laundry list of bizarre psychological and emotional issues and are prone to horrendous breakdowns (Lisa Simpson, Marge Simpson)
      • Scientists and doctors with dubious credentials (Dr. Nick Rivera, Dr. Julius Hibbert, Dr. Marvin Monroe, Professor John Frink)
      • Benign, often nice guys too weak, gullible, restrained, and/or petty to ever do any lasting good (Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, Milhouse Van Houten, Lou)
      • Loose cannons with the capacity to do both good and bad (Bart Simpson, Nelson Muntz, Moe Syzlak)
      • Ordinary schmoes who are harmless most of the time but can be extremely underhanded and crafty (Waylon Smithers, Carl Carlson, Eddie)
      • World-weary drones beaten down by years of misery and resigned to their dismal fate (Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Edna Krabappel, Sideshow Mel)
      • Bitter cynics (Krusty the Clown, Comic Book Guy, Abraham Simpson, Miss Hoover)
      • Has-beens struggling to find a purpose in life (Troy McClure, Ranier Wolfcastle, Drederick Tatum)
      • Punching bags (Arnie Pie, Hans Moleman, Martin Prince, Gil Gunderson, Kirk Van Houten, Jack Marley)
      • Clueless dopes (Lenny Leonard, Barney Gumble, Cletus Spuckler, Otto Mann, Ralph Wiggum, pimply-faced teenager)
      • Assorted weirdos, freaks, and lunatics (Superintendent Chalmers, Groundskeeper Willie, Crazy Cat Lady, Jasper, Cookie Kwan, Captain McCallister, Duffman)
      • A mostly innocent, but somewhat violent baby (Maggie Simpson).
  • South Park, so. Freaking much. One of the reasons why Stan, Kyle and Kenny are the good boys, is because the enemies and/or antagonists are much worse.
  • Total Drama can be this at times depending on who hasn't been eliminated yet, but this was especially apparent in the third season, where most of the comic relief characters were eliminated before the merge, and Owen was eliminated right after the merge. While Alejandro was still clearly the main antagonist of the cast, most of the rest of the post-merge contestants had played that role in the past, and if they hadn't, they still constantly butted heads with the others. This reached its peak during the finale, where Heather was cast as the hero despite playing Alejandro's role in season one.
  • While the main heroes Transformers: Animated are good people, the overall Autobot/Decepticon conflict is frequently shown as one morally-flawed group fighting an outright evil one. They have a general phobia of organic lifeforms, Ultra Magnus is OK with lying to the public if he thinks it will protect the peace, someone like Sentinel Prime is a high ranking officer while Optimus is a space bridge repairman, and they won the great war by creating an Autobot as a superweapon and making him deliberately unintelligent so he doesn't question his own destructive actions. Meanwhile the Decepticons are universally hostile to all other forms of life, are more than happy to manipulate potential allies and scrap them when they finish serving their purpose, and field test WMDs in populated civilian territories out of petty revenge.

Alternative Title(s): Black And Grey Morality, Gray And Black Morality, Grey And Black Morality