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Breakout Villain

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All it took was one birthday party, and this li'l piece of cheese won over everybody who isn't part of the Freedom Fighters.
"I was a popular character and villain; seeing me again should drive up the viewers."
Mechakara, Atop the Fourth Wall

Not every hero has an Arch-Enemy... initially. Sometimes, though, a villain will be introduced who ends up being a Breakout Character in his/her own right, and thus a Villain of the Week becomes the villain of the series.

This can be caused by many things, from Writer Revolt, to unbridled fan response to the character, to the writers being blown away by the performance of the actor who shows up to play the role.

Note that this is the accidental creation of an archenemy, not Executive Meddling of "let's make an archenemy for X-character": a Breakout Villain is one who was meant to be a one-shot throw-away that, through fan/author/executive/all-of-the-above response became not only a staple villain, but the villain of the series.

In some cases, the character may never again appear in the original authors' stories, but because of the popularity of the character, subsequent authors or even the fans in general may make their parts bigger and more integral to the mythos in question, via subsequent stories, adaptations, or simply fanon.

Sometimes, these characters become antiheroes in their own right, with all the attendant risks. Other times, as indicated by the frequency of "Heel–Face Turn" in the examples below, they become outright heroes in their own right. Most often, though, they retain their wonderful Big Bad status. Can cross over with Hijacked by Ganon if they are turned into a Greater-Scope Villain overseeing a lot of plots seemingly masterminded by different villains.

Compare Ensemble Dark Horse, Spotlight-Stealing Squad. Contrast with Token Motivational Nemesis, a major nemesis who is killed off as soon as the first story arc ends, and Villain-Based Franchise, where the intent was there all along to make the franchise about the monster (usually in horror).


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  • In Cap'n Crunch commercials the pirate Jean LaFoote started off as Captain Crunch's arch-rival, but became so popular he got a cereal of his own, and he's the longest-lasting of the captain's villains by far.

    Anime & Manga 
  • A Certain Magical Index has Accelerator, who with his sheer creepiness, snark, creative use of the power to control vectors touching him and an insane cacklenote  was so popular among the fans that Kazuma Kamachi brought him back, albeit as a self-loathing, brought down to normal crippled Anti-Hero (Grade 4-5). He still is the most amazing character of the whole set.
  • Digimon:
    • Digimon Adventure has Myotismon/Vamdemon, who invaded the Real World in order to kill the Eighth Chosen Child. His story arc is generally seen as the best one of the series and is also the longest, taking up over a third of the show's length. Myotismon himself is the fan favorite villain from the Adventure continuity for being a Magnificent Bastard who Would Hurt a Child, his treatment of Gatomon/Tailmon and for generally being way stronger than any other villain seen so far: it took the combined efforts of Seven Ultimate level digimon and Angemon to finally finish him off. His popularity lead to him being brought Back from the Dead twice: Once as VenomMyotismon after his initial defeat which required WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon to take him down, then again as MaloMyotismon who possessed Yukio Oikawa and ended up being the Big Bad of Digimon Adventure 02. His defeat required the combined efforts of every digimon and Chosen Child in the world. Myotismon keeps making appearances in assorted media and even received a new evolution; NeoMyotismon.
    • Lucemon is most well known for being the Big Bad of the mediocre Digimon Frontier, but he's evolved into the most iconic Digimon amongst the Seven Demon Lords, and he keeps making appearances in assorted media after his debut, as opposed to the Warrior Ten who are mostly unused/underused. It's likely due to a mix of voice-acting (in Japanese, he shares a same voice actor as Frieza), his character design and an ungodly amount of Evil Is Cool.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Frieza/Freeza, despite being one of many Big Bads in the series, has practically become synonymous with the franchise — likely due to a mix of voice-acting, character design, a historical connection to the hero, and sheer monstrosity. He has been featured the most as the main villain of the video games, despite appearing at the series' overall halfway point and being much weaker than Cell or Buu. As if to cement this, he returns in the Toriyama-devised Resurrection 'F' and the Dragon Ball Super arc that adapts it, and he gets a humongous power boost as well. And he's not done there — he makes another comeback in Super's Universe Survival arc and is forced to work with Goku and his allies, before coming Back from the Dead for good!
    • Frieza's brother Cooler and the Legendary Super Saiyan Broly are Breakout Movie Villains who appear more than once in the DBZ movies and are the first to appear in the video games. Especially Broly, who appears more often in video games than any other movie villain, gaining more super forms that any villain in the series. He is so popular that Dragon Ball Super decided to make a character based on him, only female, thus making his transformation sorta canon. Super later went a step further by making Broly himself a Canon Immigrant in the Dragon Ball Super: Broly movie. Cooler got a consolation prize starring as one of the main characters in the Super Dragon Ball Heroes promotional anime, getting his own Golden Form.
    • Vegeta was originally going to just be the Big Bad of the Saiyan Saga, but he later performs a Heel–Face Turn and becomes the Anti-Hero and Deuteragonist of the series.
  • The Oracion Seis in Fairy Tail started out as Arc Villains whose relevance to the Myth Arc of the series was minor compared to their fellow major dark guilds Grimoire Heart and Tartaros. However, the group was quirky, had interesting powers, and filled with sympathetic enough members that several of them returned as villains for a Filler arc that eventually became canon, eventually blackmailed their way out of prison and made a Heel–Face Turn except Brain, who got killed by the group in suitable manner for using them like pawns, and finally ended up being officially pardoned for their crimes and allowed to be free men for aiding the country in stopping a mass invasion. In particular, Cobra and Angel got a majority of focus, with the former's status as a Dragon Slayer coming back to the forefront when the dragons and Acnologia becoming more important along with his relationship to his former-snake-companion-returned-to-human-form Kinana getting fleshed out while the latter being tied to Sabertooth's Yukino, her younger sister.
  • Great Mazinger has Ankoku Daishogun, The Dragon of the story and a Worthy Opponent to Tetsuya Tsurugi, who in the original series, only lasted roughly 3/4 through the whole show. However, he is popular enough that he got two movie adaptation that stars him as the main villain. There is a good chance that someone who never watched the original series did not know that he is actually not the Big Bad.
  • Medaka Box: Similar to Accelerator, Kumagawa Misogi was originally just a Token Motivational Nemesis, meant merely as a cautionary tale about Medaka's past. Before his actual debut, the only Arc Villains included a megalomaniac abnormal, and a ten-year old obsessed with justice. Once he debuted, he secured his position as the heroine's Arch-Enemy and eventually made a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Char Aznable from the first Mobile Suit Gundam series. Originally The Rival to The Hero Amuro Ray and a minion of the Principality of Zeon, he went on to become a mentor in the subsequent seasons, before snapping and becoming the Big Bad of The Movie. Since then, he's essentially become the face of the franchise, and every season onwards has a character modeled after him.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Kaworu Nagisa. Few villainous characters have appeared for so short an amount of time (approx. 12 minutes on-screen of the 24-minute episode), yet left such an impression on any one series. Since Kaworu's appearance, and death, in episode 24 of Evangelion, the fan response to his character has been so abnormally outstanding that Kaworu has appeared as a main character in nearly every subsequent incarnation/retelling/sidestory/etc. of the series, including the Evangelion manga series, Neon Genesis Evangelion: Angelic Days manga, games, and the Rebuild of Evangelion series. However, in a number of these adaptations, he isn't a villain, or at least is less of one than he was in the original show.
  • The Prince of Tennis: Hyotei was originally one of the Seigaku's arrogant rivals. However, their popularity and subsequent development allowed them to be faced a second time in the Nationals. The same treatment happened with Rikkaidai; their popularity meant that they would face Seigaku in the finals.
  • The Doronbo Gang from Yatterman of the entire Time Bokan franchise. The Doronbo Gang are the main character in the 1993 OVA where they overshadow the others villain groups. Later on they playable in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. And not only is the 40th anniversary anime for the franchise is about Yatterman, but has the descendants of the Doronbo as its main focus!
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Both Seto Kaiba and the card game, Duel Monsters (Magic and Wizards back then) were originally going to appear only once. Fans got interested, and sent a cavalcade of mail. Kaiba appeared again as the villain of an arc, and played a card game at the end. Fans went crazy. Then the Yu-Gi-Oh Duelist Kingdom Story Arc came out, one thing led to another, and before long, Kaiba was arguably the number-three character after Yugi and Jounouchi, and Duel Monsters was the focus of the series. If you tell someone who hasn't read the manga that Kaiba and Duel Monsters were originally one-offs, you may make their brain spontaneously combust.
    • Maximillion Pegasus reformed after being the villain of Season 1, but got to return as an ally to the heroes in Season 4. He then was one of only a small handful of original series characters to return in the spin-off GX, he got mentioned as a Mythology Gag in 5Ds, and appeared in the 10th Anniversary movie where his presence was central to the plot. Comparatively, the other major villains like Bakura and Marik are nowhere to be seen. Somewhat justified in-universe; while Bakura and Marik are just normal people, Pegasus is the creator of Duel Monsters and the owner of the company that makes the cards, so of course he'd be prominent in some degree as long as he's still around. 5Ds implied he's now dead, which is likely why subsequent spin-offs make no mention of him.
  • A very delayed case is Lord Death Man from the 1960s Batman manga. A one-shot villain in the manga, based on a forgotten one-shot villain from the Silver Age Batman comics called Deathman, he became so popular in the 2000s, after his story was republished in the translated Bat-Manga anthology, that he was introduced to the main DC universe in Batman Incorporated. A version of the character also appeared in the Batman '66 comic series set in the 1960s Batman TV continuity.
  • Raoh from Fist of the North Star eventually grabbed the title of the de-facto Big Bad for the first series and by the end he had the spotlight as a Villain Protagonist. Raoh was developed quite a lot more than many other villains in the series who often suffered from being heinously evil, sometimes with a tragic backstory tacked on right at the end. As such, Raoh has received more spinoffs than any other supporting character.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • While Dio Brando may act as the Greater-Scope Villain for the series as a whole, he only acts as the Big Bad of the series for Phantom Blood and Stardust Crusaders. Despite this, he continues to remain the series' most popular villain and one of its most popular characters, largely thanks to his status as the series biggest source of memes, to the point that even people who aren't familiar with the series know who he is. As a result, he continues to have a major role in most of the series' spin-off material.
    • Stardust Crusaders:
    • Diamond is Unbreakable:
      • Akira Otoishi may be the Part's Disc-One Final Boss, but beyond that, he doesn't have that much going for him in terms of the manga or anime. He's still popular enough to be a playable character in both All-Star Battle and Eyes of Heaven.
      • While Yoshikage Kira may be the Big Bad of the Part, he only shows up around the Part's midway point and is also the least relevant main antagonist to the series' overarching plot. Despite this, he's probably the series' second most well known main villain behind Dio, thanks to his interesting motivation and, like Dio, one of the series biggest sources of memes. He even managed to get his own spin-off manga.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica has Charlotte the Dessert Witch. Though she only appeared in one episode and was killed off by its end, her act of killing Mami sprung her to popularity levels none of the other Witches could have ever hoped to reach. She got so popular that the series revealed her identity as a Magi!
  • In Higurashi: When They Cry, though she's not a villain for most of the series, Shion is an iconic and often referenced antagonist character, making it on a lot of "top anime villain" lists too. It helps that the arc that focuses on her as a villain, in a series that's notoriously gory, is notorious for being the goriest storyline.

    Fan Works 
  • Pokémon Reset Bloodlines early on mentions off-handedly that the reason for the six-Pokémon limit for trainers is due to a criminal known as Twenty Gyarados Bill who terrorized the coast of the Johto region forty years ago. When the author opened up the door for others to write sidestories in the same universe, one of them took Bill and gave him a background, a Start of Darkness, a Freudian Excuse to go on his rampages, and his portrayal among readers was pretty well-received, making him perhaps the most popular OC villain in the Reset Bloodlines universe.

    Films — Animation 
  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • Fantasia: Chernabog. Introduced only in the closing segment of the 1940 musical, his terrifying and memorable appearance has led to him making recurring appearances ever since, almost always in the form of Greater-Scope Villain, and rarely without his signature theme.
    • Sleeping Beauty: Maleficent was, in the original story, nothing than a nameless catalyst (referred to as only "the 13th Fairy" or "the Dark Fairy" and never as a villain, the blame for the curse usually ascribed to the Beauty's self-absorbed and clueless parents for needlessly insulting one of the Fair Folk). The Disney adaptation has made it so that now Maleficent is widely considered to be among the coolest villains Disney has ever produced, and indisputably one of the most formidable, and has become one of the go to main villains for Disney whenever they do a serious crossover, such as in Kingdom Hearts and Fantasmic! She also got her own movie and a sequel to it.
    • Hercules: Hades, despite having no redeeming qualities whatsoever, James Woods' spirited portrayal of him made Hades one of the most iconic and popular Disney villains. He's even the star of the stage musical Villains Tonight! That has to say something considering the competition from other Disney villains.
    • 101 Dalmatians: Cruella de Vil. The 1961 animated version treated her simply as the villain, but the '90s live-action films were essentially a Villain-Based Franchise focused on Cruella. In fact, Cruella was the only human character to return in the live-action sequel. Of course, this was compounded by the dogs not talking in the live-action versions, although they still had Amplified Animal Aptitude. Ironically, the original book had a sequel in which Cruella only had a small role.
  • The Incredibles: According to a Behind the Scenes segment on the DVD, in an early draft of the movie, Syndrome was supposed to be just a minor villain who appeared and was destroyed in the movie's opening, but as the staff grew to adore the character and the story was reworked, he got promoted to main antagonist in the final film.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars:
    • Boba Fett. Boba Fett's presence in the movies was… minimal, at best. But oooooh, has he become a staple of Star Wars Legends.note  Much contention has been made over his survival after being ingested by the Sarlacc (Lucas says he died; Dark Horse Comics along with most fans say he survived), but his popularity cannot be debated. Boba Fett is, to most fans, as integral to the plot as any other characters- in some respects, much more important and likable to the series as a whole. Lucas' opinion later shifted to "Sure Why Not," and he actually considered adding in a scene of him surviving in the 2006 DVD of Return of the Jedi, not to mention he was supposed to kill Mace Windu in revenge for killing his father, instead of Anakin. Tellingly, Boba has a bigger role as a little boy in Attack of the Clones than he did as an adult in the original trilogy. His survival is later canonized when he returns for a major role in The Mandalorian (a series which owes its very existence to his popularity) before being promoted to his own show.
    • Captain Phasma. Similar to Boba Fett in the Original Trilogy, Phasma turned a lot of heads in the Sequel Trilogy with her striking chrome armor, deathly serious demeanor, and by being the franchise's first major (big screen) female villain. Outside of Kylo Ren she was functionally the "face" of the First Order, for lack of a better term (because you never see her face, get it!). Though just like Boba Fett, her presence on screen in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi barely cracks double digits in minutes. Playing off her popularity, her character and role was expanded upon in several tie-in comics and novels and the Star Wars Resistance TV show as a part of the new Star Wars expanded universe canon, delving into her backstory with the First Order, how she received her iconic chrome armor, how she survived and escaped from Starkiller Base, and her other villainous exploits around the galaxy for the First Order, again all of which being infinitely more badass than what she actually did on screen.
    • On a more comical note, a minor Storm Trooper FN-2199 (initially dubbed by fans as TR-8R) had a cool moment where he called Finn a traitor and showed off some sweet moves with a imposing stun baton before being shot by Han Solo. Immediately he became one of the most memed characters of Episode VII, and got a Funko Pop and Action Figure as well... (admittedly, mostly by adding the stun baton on to the standard Storm Trooper figure. Still looks cool.)
    • Emperor Palpatine. Aside from a cameo in The Empire Strikes Back and a few mentions in A New Hope, he only appears in the latter half of one OT film- Return of the Jedi. In it, he receives no name, no real motivation, no back story, and little screen time, despite clearly being the Greater-Scope Villain of the trilogy, being mainly a Satellite Character for Luke and Vader's development. But he was so popular for his portrayal of deliciously absolute evil and hate (as well as his major part in arguably the OT's best scenes, the throne room confrontation with the Emperor, Luke, and Vader) that he became a pop culture icon and one of the most famous villains in cinematic history. He went on to appear in a major way in every single film of the prequel trilogy as well as both the Clone Wars and Rebels shows. He's arguably the Villain Protagonist of the final prequel (Revenge of the Sith), such is his significance, and the main plot of the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars is detailing his rise to power. George Lucas even made sure to have the same actor who played him in Jedi (Ian McDiarmid) reprise his role for the prequels, much to said actor's surprise. He was even so popular he was brought back a second time for the capstone film of the Sequel Trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker (again played by McDiarmid) as the film's and, apparently, the entire trilogy's central villain.
    • Darth Vader counts as well. Since he's become such an iconic character, it's easy to forget that he actually had a relatively minor role in the original 1977 film: he only had 9 minutes of screen time, The Imperial March theme doesn't appear, he and Luke's father were clearly meant to be different people, and he spent most of the film as an enforcer for the real chief antagonist, Grand Moff Tarkin. It wasn't until The Empire Strikes Back dropped a certain revelation about Luke's parentage that he became the trilogy's premier villain, with Luke's battle with him (and his eventual redemption) becoming the crux of trilogy's finale.
    • Darth Maul, despite only appearing very briefly in the films, garnered enough popularity to be Saved by the Fans and appear as a major factor in The Clone Wars. He survived that too, and his Popularity Power was enough for him to return in not just Rebels, but Solo as well.
    • Admiral Piett was only supposed to appear The Empire Strikes Back, but Kenneth Colley's portrayal left such an impression on fans that they wrote letters to Lucas asking that he appear in the next film. Despite being killed off in Return of the Jedi, Piett is still quite popular among fans.
  • Agent Smith from The Matrix was originally supposed to be a Starter Villain, but due to his popularity with fans he was brought back and incorporated in the storyline of the next two films as the main antagonist.
  • Pinhead of the Hellraiser series was originally just one of several cenobites in the original film. He was even killed off in Hellbound: Hellraiser II. But Doug Bradley's portrayal of him made him very popular with the fans, and Pinhead today is the de facto villain of the series, and its mascot.
  • Jason Voorhees in the original Friday the 13th (1980) was just a dead Red Herring to his mother, the real killer of the film. Then, it was decided to bring him back in the sequel. By the end of the eighties, Jason had become a pop culture icon.
  • Star Trek
    • Khan started out as just another Villain of the Week for Kirk to defeat. He got to return in The Wrath of Khan as one of the series' most notable villains. He even got to show up in Star Trek Into Darkness as one of the main villains.
    • The Borg only really appeared in three episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (out of 178): "Q Who", "The Best of Both Worlds" (a two-parter), and "I, Borg"; the episode "Descent" also had a rogue cell of Borg under the control of another villain. In that show alone they were outnumbered in appearances by villains such as the Klingon Duras family, Lore, and especially the Romulans. Despite this, they were so popular that they became iconic for the franchise, and subsequently appeared in a lot of other media, including 26 episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, dozens of video games and novels, and the TNG film Star Trek: First Contact, which was the highest-grossing film of the franchise until the release of the Abrams reboot.
  • Though the first three John Carter of Mars novels form a loose trilogy, they don't really have a single Big Bad- the closest thing would be the Holy Therns, but they don't show up until the second book, and their leader Matai Shang doesn't put in a personal appearance until the third. For the film adaptation, both the Therns in general and Matai Shang in particular are Arc Welded into the first novel's basic plot, with the intention of making him the unquestionable Big Bad of the potential franchise.
  • Three Finger from the Wrong Turn series, the only character to appear in all films. In the original, he and his brothers had about the same amount of screentime, and Saw Tooth appeared to be the leader of the group.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Loki played by Tom Hiddleston has exploded in popularity as the villain in both Thor and The Avengers, becoming probably the most popular character in the universe after Tony Stark. In a poll published by USA Today on March 28, 2018, Loki was voted as the most popular MCU character.
    • Much later, Avengers: Infinity War had Thanos come along and steal the show. It's pretty much his movie with the Avengers themselves reacting to his plans, and the story focusing on his journey to achieving his goal. He's now widely considered to be one of, if not the best MCU villain.
    • Nebula, Gamora's antagonistic sister from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), started out mostly as an obstacle for the team to overcome who overall wasn't very important story wise. However, her complex circumstances and the performance by her actress lead her to have increasingly larger roles until she has one of the biggest primary arcs in Avengers: Endgame over characters who are full on Avengers.
  • Godzilla
    • The films first had King Ghidorah in this role. Originally brought for a movie to give Godzilla and Rodan a villain to work together against, his popularity led to him becoming Godzilla's Archenemy and Toho's most used monster aside from Godzilla himself, even appearing as villain to Mothra.
    • The second one was Mechagodzilla from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Originally just done using the idea of a robotic Evil Knockoff to Godzilla as Toho had done with King Kong, Mechagodzilla provided a much more serious threat than anything Godzilla had fought in years, which led to it becoming his most popular and iconic enemy aside from King Ghidorah, and since then every new Godzilla film series has included a version of it.
    • Despite being introduced in what is widely considered one of the worst films in the franchise, Gigan gradually rose to become one of the most iconic and endearing of Godzilla's enemies, probably only behind Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla in popularity. He became one of the main kaiju villains of Godzilla: Final Wars and a slew of appearances in video games, short films, and comics because of his highly distinct design and personality.
  • The Tremor family from Smokin' Aces were all killed off in the first movie, but they proved so popular that the second film became a prequel just so they could show up again.
  • James Bond
    • Jaws, the famed henchman with the steel teeth. He was originally supposed to die at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, but Richard Kiel's acting made him so likable that they changed the ending so that he survived when it turned out that the test audiences loved him. He returned in Moonraker, becoming one of the rare villains to appear in multiple Bond films, and would have returned in For Your Eyes Only too had the producers not ultimately decided to go for a more realistic Bond film. He has since become one of the most iconic villains in the franchise, appearing in multiple video games and even the James Bond Jr. cartoon, always as an Implacable Man that Bond must defeat through creative means.
    • Goldfinger could very well have become this, had he not been killed off at the very end of his movie. This didn't stop them from trying to find ways to bring him, or rather his actor Gert Fröbe, back. Some ideas that were proposed included revealing he had a twin brother, or having Ernst Stavro Blofeld be said brother and get plastic surgery to look like him.

  • The Headless Horseman from Washington Irving's short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The Horseman only had a very brief scene in the already short story just near the end (as in, 1 in a half pages of a story that isn't even 30 pages long), and it's implied that it might not even be a real ghost. In spite of this, the sheer mystique and inherent scariness behind the character ended up making it a horror icon on par with Dracula and Frankenstein, with numerous movie adaptations and modern day takes on the character coming out in the years since Washington Irving's story was published.
  • Sherlock Holmes:
    • Professor James Moriarty, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to be a one-time opponent of Holmes, and to bring about Holmes' demise. Though Doyle indeed wrote him as Holmes's Evil Counterpart, Worthy Opponent, Mirror Character, and Arch-Enemy for that one story, he came out of nowhere and got more than a passing mention only three times in Doyle's work — the story where he appeared, and apparently killed Holmes; and the following story, which brought Holmes Back from the Dead, and in this it's only Moriarty's men; a third story, written much later but set earlier, uses him as a Greater-Scope Villain. (Of course, Doyle didn't have much opportunity to use him a lot even if he wanted to, since unlike Holmes, he stayed dead.) Every author, director, fan, etc. afterwards, though, has made Moriarty the villain of Sherlock Holmes, lifting him to the point of mythical status among literary characters; to the modern viewer, it's inconceivable to have an original Holmes movie or television series with original Holmes mysteries without having Moriarty as the central, most important villain.
      • He is now so integral to the mythos that a subplot of the first episode of Sherlock, revolving around the mysterious and vaguely threatening figure who tries to get Watson to spy on Holmes, only works because the audience expects this to be Moriarty and thus be surprised when it turns out to be Mycroft Holmes. A later episode of the same series reveals that all Sherlock's cases so far were connected to Moriarty's schemes.
    • Another "villain" to become central to the Holmes Universe (i.e. original canon and adaptations), despite her one appearance, is Irene Adler, who is the only woman to ever outwit Holmes. In Doyle's stories, he does make a few fleeting mentions of her as one of the few people whom Holmes never beat — though hardly as many as one might be led to expect by adaptations. Also, the original situation in which she fooled Holmes was fairly simple, whereas adaptations may make her into another rival mastermind.
    • Fanon has retconned both Moriarty and Irene into the Holmes mythos. There is now a timeline of cases where Holmes clashed with Moriarty's organization, and it's a popular theme in homages and pastiches that Sherlock and Irene had a tryst during Holmes's absence after Reichenbach.
    • Colonel Sebastian Moran, Moriarty's right-hand man. The story that brought about Holmes's resurrection established that he was there when Holmes killed Moriarty, even spontaneously attempting to finish the job, then proceeds to become a Breakout Villain himself. One of the few characters that gets mentioned in several stories, despite only appearing in one, to the point where he's sometimes Watson's full blown Evil Counterpart.
    • Elementary does us two for one. Holmes' season one character arc and backstory was hinged on Irene Adler, and how he spiralled into drugs after she was killed by Moriarty. They became two very important ghost characters for most of the season, until the finale, when it's revealed that they are one and the same. Moriarty forged Irene's persona to distract Holmes, then bring about his downfall because he foiled her plans.
  • Arthurian Legend: Mordred. In the early mentions of King Arthur in Welsh mythology, Arthur was slain by Medraut, later to be known as Mordred. However, Medraut's importance in the mythos as a whole was almost non-existent, save for that he killed King Arthur. Other villains had come and gone, and it seemed that Mordred was intended to just be another, though the only one who finally got lucky (although Arthur slew him in the same action, so his luck is debatable). Ask anyone in modern times, however, who is the villain of the story of King Arthur, and the answer you will get is "Mordred" almost all the time (though Morgan Le Fay is another name that also comes up quite frequently, and is, coincidentally, another example of this trope). Mordred has become so integrated into the mythos of Arthur that it is unheard of to not include him in any story involving Camelot.
    • Modern depictions of Mordred usually bump him up to being King Arthur's son with Morgan, which has a number of neat effects. First of all, it ups his status from being a random evil knight into Luke, You Are My Father. Second, it gives him an actual motivation- he wants to be recognized as the rightful heir but Arthur refuses. Third, it makes Arthur the architect of his own demise, directly. Fourth, it ties him in with Morgan Le Fay, the other popular Moriarty of the series, so everything's wrapped up in a neat little package.
      • This is The Theme Park Version by way of the One-Steve Limit. Originally, Mordred's mother was Morgan's sister Morgause, which ends up giving him a supporting cast in the form of his (half-)brothers at court- Gawaine, Gareth, Gaheris, and Agravaine. In Malory, at least, they're a bit of a Five-Man Band. The earliest mention of Mordred is a reference to "The Battle of Camlann" where "Arthur and Medraut died". From the context (or lack of same), it's not even clear that they were on opposite sides!
    • The Welsh Triads include Mordred in a list of heroes. The first unambiguous mention of Villain!Mordred is in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (1100s). From there, Mordred got steadily more villainous: in Geoffrey he only speaks twice, in the Alliterative Morte Arthure (early 1300s) he's an angsty Worthy Opponent, in the Stanzaic Morte (late 1300s) he's distinctly worse, and by Malory's Le Morte D Arthur (1470s) he's all the way into For the Evulz. As Malory's is the only version most non-medievalists have read, that's the characterization that held.
    • In the end, calling Mordred a "breakout villain" is strange, to say the least. You go back far enough, and he isn't even a villain, but ever since Geoffrey brought him in his function has been constant: he kills Arthur. And, interestingly, that's all he does in most versions. He spends the entirety of Malory hanging around the background, getting constantly mentioned but never doing anything. A byproduct of the fact that there are no "tales of Sir Mordred" since all he ever did was stab his uncle and/or father in the back and try to force Guinevere into marriage.
      • Post Malory, however, there are some works that try to make Mordred into a full on Big Bad for the whole of King Arthur's story.
      • As stated before, Morgan La Fey is another example. She goes from healer who preserves Arthur's immortality, to minor level evil witch, to full blown Big Bad in a great many modern takes on King Arthur.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Sauron originated as a relatively minor villain from the earliest version of the legend of Beren and Lúthien, and the proto-Sauron was a giant cat. The character subsequently morphed into the Evil Sorcerer Thu, and from there into the demonic being known from The Lord of the Rings. In the process, he got promoted from one-shot villain to the God of Evil's Dragon to the Dragon Ascendant and Big Bad of the most well-known part of the mythology and the second most significant villain in the Middle-earth Verse.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Wicked Witch of the West, thanks to the popularity of the classic film, has become the most recognizable of Oz's villains and the Big Bad of most adaptations of the Oz series (i.e. the 1980s cartoon). In the original novels she only appeared in one chapter in the middle of the first book, during which she was Killed Off for Real; the closest thing the Oz books have to a Big Bad is actually the Nome King, who appeared in several books to cause trouble for the land of Oz. In particular, it's the 1939 film version everyone remembers. This is noteworthy because that adaptation actually changed the character quite a bit -The book Witch wasn't green, didn't ride a broomstick, and was not the Wicked Witch of the East's sister (though they were allied). But the success of the film has caused those traits to be adopted by many subsequent adaptations, even ones that are ostensibly based on the books.
  • Alice in Wonderland:
    • The Queen of Hearts only appeared in the last third of the first Alice book and wasn't really as much a villain as she was a temperamental yet comic battleaxe, whose executions were never really carried out. However, Alice spinoffs like American McGee's Alice, The Looking-Glass Wars and the 2010 Tim Burton film have made her the main villain, transforming her into an evil dictator who rules Wonderland with an iron fist and Alice's greatest nemesis. Oddly adaptations will also often combine the distinct, if thematically similar, Queen of Hearts and Red Queen characters into one when doing this.
    • Likewise, The Jabberwock, who only appeared in a poem in Through the Looking Glass where he was quickly killed, has become a significant villain in things like the aforementioned American McGee's Alice and Burton film, as well as a television adaptation in which it stalks Alice throughout.
  • Guy of Gisbourne originally appeared only once in the Robin Hood legend as a bounty hunter who gave Robin an extremely tough fight but was ultimately defeated and killed. He has overtime been elevated to The Dragon or even Big Bad status in retellings.
  • Conan the Barbarian: Thoth-Amon makes only a passing appearance in a few stories, but both comic adaptations make him Conan's Arch-Enemy.
  • Artemis Fowl: In the second book, Opal Koboi was part of a Big Bad Duumvirate with Briar Cudgeon, and was arguably more of a Doctor Girlfriend, as he was manipulating her feelings while planning to betray her. Then she returned as the main villain of the fourth book, where she killed Julius Root and established herself as one of the most vicious villains used so far. After that she became the closest thing to a Big Bad in the series, being the main antagonist in the sixth and eighth books. It's worth noting that the movie, while mostly based on the first book, gave her an Adaptational Early Appearance and promoted her to Cudgeon's boss.
  • Slappy of the Goosebumps series. He wasn't even the villain of the first Living Dummy book, but he went on to appear in all of the sequels, and many other books as well. Naturally, he was also the Big Bad of the movies.
  • Faction Paradox from the Eighth Doctor Adventures first appeared in "Alien Bodies", in which they were just one of the villains. They become the closest things to the Big Bad for much of the series and eventually got a spin-off, though set in an alternate continuity.
  • Graham MacNeill originally created Acting Captain Honsou as a one-off villain for Storm of Iron whose only real notable factor was being the most interesting of the recurring bad-guy viewpoints and the only one to survive to the end, after the other major Iron Warriors viewpoints were killed messily. Then he needed an Iron Warriors villain for Dead Sky, Black Sun and Honsou popped up. Since then, Honsou and his vendetta against Uriel Ventris have produced enough material for a second appearance as a major villain in the Ultramarines books plus a full Iron Warriors omnibus, and the introduction to said omnibus has MacNeill admit that Honsou has taken on a life of his own and is likely to be back for more at a later date.
  • H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu is only one of many Great Old Ones featured in his stories. It is neither the most powerful nor most frequently referenced deity in Lovecraft's works. However, because "The Call of Cthulhu" became Lovecraft's most popular work, Cthulhu became the icon of Lovecraft's fictional universe, to the point that it's called the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Jack Ketchum's The Woman originally appeared as one member of a cannibal clan in the novel Offspring and died at the end of it. Pollyanna McIntosh's performance in the film adaptation was so impressive the ending was changed as a way to allow the character to appear in future installments. The Woman later become the central character of her own novel and McIntosh would go on to reprise the character for two more films.
  • Despite being one of the most famous elements of the franchise, Cuca from the Brazilian children book series Sítio do Picapau Amarelo actually only appeared by the end of the book "O Saci", and while she was more dangerous and proeminent in the story than the other creatures from Brazilian Folklore Pedrinho and Saci had encountered by then, she was defeated rather easily, being wrapped up in vines while she was sleeping. The TV adaptations however, turned the alligator-headed witch into the main villain of the series and a recurring antagonist, causing most of the problems for the protagonists in the farm. Most subsequent adaptations continued to use the her as one of the main characters.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Law & Order: Criminal Intent we have Nicole Wallace, a.k.a. That Evil Aussie Chick. Now, this being a crime show, she doesn't get that many appearances, but if you can outwit Goren...
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Daleks: Despite challenging the TARDIS for the title of the most iconic element of Doctor Who, they were created in defiance of co-creator Sydney Newman's insistence on writing a non-traditional Science Fiction series which would avoid Bug-Eyed Monsters. This explains why they died at the end of their first story with no hint given that they might possibly return. Now these motorized pepper-pots have had more than twenty appearances and posed a threat to the Doctor exceeded only by other Time Lords and similarly Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
    • In turn, Davros, the creator of the Daleks, made such an impression in "Genesis of the Daleks" that all the remaining Dalek stories in the original series are basically Davros ones to some degree, with the Daleks largely reduced to his flunkies and rivals.
    • A lesser but still relevant example: The Autons. They appeared twice, in 1970 and 1971, but are still remembered as one of the Doctor's iconic villains. When the series was revived in 2005, Russell T Davies and co. were deliberating what classic Doctor Who-monster would be used in the first new episode to relaunch the series. The Autons were given that honor.
    • The new series has the Weeping Angels, whose first appearance didn't even have them fighting the Doctor directly, but after subsequent appearances they're on their way to joining the show's showcase of most iconic monsters.
    • Another lesser version is the Zygons, who only made one appearance in the Classic Series. Despite this they are among the most popular Doctor Who monsters and ended up being the main villains for most of the 50th anniversary special.
  • Lost:
    • Benjamin Linus, or rather actor Michael Emerson, was originally scheduled for a three episode stint in Season 2. His performance won the producers' everlasting affection and it was expanded to the rest of the season, and then into a regular in Season 3. If this isn't reason enough to include him, in Season 4 one of his fake aliases happens to be Moriarty.
    • Dean Moriarty, though, making this an On the Road reference, as well as a nod to Sherlock Holmes. (The character from On The Road was named as a reference to the Holmes villain, it still works as a reference to both.)
  • Sigfried from Get Smart was originally meant to be a one-time villain, but then popped up again a few times, and is now considered the main villain of the series, even appearing (well, In Name Only) in the 2008 feature film adaptation.
  • Cavil on Battlestar Galactica. In his original appearance, he actually seemed to be one of the nicer Cylons. Turns out he was lying about not supporting the genocide and was its main instigator. Then it turns out that one of the Cavils introduced was a nice Cylon not supporting the genocide, and the other Cavils introduced was the mastermind. Alas, The Plan...
  • Scorpius from Farscape was supposed to be a one-shot first-season villain but the performance was so effective that he returned and quickly usurped the then-Big Bad.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
    • Although Gul Dukat appeared in the pilot episode, he was never intended to be a recurring character...but Marc Alaimo just played him so well.
    • Weyoun is this as well. Killed off in his introductory episode, the creators quickly noticed the fan response to Jeffrey Combs portrayal of him. So, the Vorta were quickly rewritten to be a race of clones. Meaning they could bring him back as Weyoun 5.
  • Knight Rider: K.A.R.R. was originally a one-episode villain. He was introduced as K.I.T.T.'s Evil Counterpart and ultimately destroyed at the end of the episode. He was brought back in a second episode, "K.I.T.T. vs. K.A.R.R.", due to his popularity. Despite only appearing in two episodes, he's widely remembered as the heroes' Arch-Enemy and plays a prominent role in both the video game and the 2008 reboot of the series.
  • Murdoc the Master of Disguise assassin on MacGyver (1985). Originally a one-episode villain, his use of creative schemes and deathtraps made him a good foil for master-of-improvisation MacGyver himself, so they kept bringing him back about once a season (due to his Never Found the Body and Staying Alive tendencies), and he's now remembered as MacGyver's Arch-Enemy.
  • Sylar on Heroes was originally planned to be the series' Starter Villain, who would be Killed Off for Real at the end of the first season. However, due to the character's popularity with fans, he was made into a main character and "The Face of Evil" for the series, to the point that every following Big Bad ends up getting Hijacked By Sylar in their season's finale.
  • In Sliders, the Kromaggs (an evil Alternate Universe version of humanity that had evolved differently) eventually become this. Unfortunately it also marks the point where they become the Malignant Plot Tumor, since the show's original Walking the Earth appeal had to be down toned to make place for more action scenes.
  • Barabas, the Demon of Fear, was a Monster of the Week villain who appeared in the 13th episode of Charmed. He proved popular enough that the writers ended up bringing him back several times (about once every other season). He never became a seasonal Big Bad, but is probably the show's most frequently-occurring nemesis right behind the actual Big Bads.
  • Smallville: Lionel Luthor, Lex's Corrupt Corporate Executive Abusive Dad was originally meant to appear in only a few episodes of Season 1 as a way of making Lex's Freudian Excuse seem more poignant. Lionel was written into Season 2 as a major antagonist and Recurring Character, and became the Big Bad of Season 3. In the process he gained new dimensions to his character and his own Freudian Excuse becoming an Even Evil Has Standards Archnemesis Dad who was himself the product of Abusive Parents. He was later possessed by Jor-El and made a Heel–Face Turn, becoming a dark Mentor figure to Clark. Killed Off for Real in Season 7 by Lex, Glover and Lionel returned to the show in Season 10 as Earth-2 Lionel, an Eviler Twin of our Lionel, who was The Heavy for most of the last part of the show. In some ways Lionel, and not Lex as was originally intended, became Smallville's defining villain. Lionel, and Glover's portrayal of him, resonated so well that he was written into the comics as Lex Luthor's canonical (and deceased) father. While Lex had obviously always had a (deceased by the time of the "present day") father, this character had never had a consistent name or physical appearance and usually had no importance. But ever since Smallville, Lex's father is explicitly named "Lionel Luthor" and flashback scenes have depicted him as looking very similar to actor John Glover. A zombiefied, Black Lantern version of Lionel even showed up for revenge against Lex in Blackest Night.
  • Emilia Fox as Morgause from Merlin was only supposed to be around for a couple of episodes, but ended up being so integral to the episodes she featured in that the writers kept her around for longer.
  • Klaus from The Vampire Diaries quickly became this despite the fact his influence was originally not going stretch far into season 3, much less into season 4. However his character as well as the other Originals (Elijah gets a special mention as someone who was going to die within one episode), became very popular in addition to the writers just loving writing for them. Klaus is so popular he ended up getting his own spin off.
  • On the 1960s Batman series, the Riddler quickly came to be one of the Dynamic Duo's most popular adversaries, likely because of Frank Gorshin's amazing performance as the character.
  • On Stargate SG-1, Ba'al is obviously intended to be a villain of the week, but Cliff Simon's performance became a fan-favorite, particularly in later appearances where his character becomes very savvy.
  • On iCarly, Neville was originally going to be a one-shot villain, but he had since become a recurring villain out and the gang's Arch-Enemy. Dan Schneider even called him The Joker to Carly's Batman.
  • On Alias, Mr. Sark was originally just a gofer for the Season 1 Big Bad, The Man. He was such a hit with the fans that he became The Dragon in Season 2, then became the Dragon Ascendant to share the Big Bad role in Season 3, went back to being the Dragon in Season 5, and, in fact, eventually managed to be the only recurring villain on the show to make it all the way through the finale alive and free.
  • Dr. Miguelito Loveless debuted in the third episode of The Wild Wild West and ended up getting captured. But he made such a memorable impression (and his actor, Michael Dunn was good friends with lead Robert Conrad in Real Life) that he'd turn up again and again (his second episode would be the only other time he'd get captured) to become Jim West's undisputed archenemy.
  • Supernatural: Crowley was originally just a minor character aiding the Winchesters against Lucifer in what Eric Kripke intended to be the final season. After it continued beyond that, he was popular enough to come back and he's since become the show's most recurring and recognizable antagonist, eventually being promoted from recurring character to main cast in Season 10.
  • The Rogues Gallery of Mascot Mooks in the various entries of the Ultra Series always start off as a Monster of the Week in a certain show before becoming popular and iconic enough with the fanbase that they end up reappearing regularly in many later series (especially if the come from the early shows).
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
      • Raina was originally intended to be a minor villain, but the writers and fans found the character so entertaining that she was given a greatly expanded role in the plot, until pulling off a memorable Redemption Equals Death.
      • Grant Ward is an unusual case in that he was on the show as a regular from the pilot, but ostensibly as one of the heroes. Then around two-thirds of the way through the first season, it's suddenly revealed that he was a member of HYDRA and The Mole on Coulson's team. By Word of God, the point of the character was to add weight to the reveal HYDRA had taken over S.H.I.E.L.D. by having a close and personal betrayal amongst the main cast, there were no long-term plans for the character and as originally scripted he would have died in the season 1 finale. However, after seeing the impact the twist had on the show, the character's newfound popularity, and Brett Dalton's Creepy Awesome portrayal of Ward post-turn, they decided to keep him around as a recurring antagonist for season 2. Eventually he was killed off in season 3... Only for his body to come back possessed by the Greater-Scope Villain. And then in the S3 finale, his possessed body was blown up in orbit, finally stopping him from ever reappearing in the show... until in S4 the characters venture into a virtual alternate reality, and guess who's back again.
    • Agatha Harkness from WandaVision is one of the more popular MCU villains thanks to Kathryn Hahn's acting as well as her incredibly catchy Villain Song that went #1 on iTunes. Because of this, she is one of the few MCU villains to actually get their own Disney+ show as of 2021.note 
  • Arrowverse:
    • Malcolm Merlyn. He was obviously intended to be killed off at the end of the first season of Arrow, left for dead by Oliver. And then he showed up again in season 2, alive and well, without any real explanation. Then he got an even bigger role in season 3 as the Token Evil Teammate, culminating in him taking over the League of Assassins. Then, after losing that position in season 4, he spitefully joined forces with that season's Big Bad Damien Darhk. Then he showed up in Legends of Tomorrow as part of the Legion of Doom, slowly making his way back through the Heel–Face Revolving Door. His last proper appearance was at the end of Arrow season 5, where he sacrificed himself to save his daughter Thea's life.
    • Speaking of Damien Darhk, after dying at the end of Arrow season 4, he was also brought back to be part of the Legion of Doom on Legends of Tomorrow. And then he was brought back again the next season as the servant of Demon Lord Malus. His last appearance (so far) was in season 5 of Legends. Raised from hell to... raise some hell, he instead reconciled with his daughter and apologized to the Legends, before killing himself again with a soul-destroying sword.
    • The Reverse Flash. While he is the Flash's arch-nemesis in the comics, He was literally erased from existence at the end of season 1. That didn't stop the writers from bringing him back in season 2 via time travel. And again in season 3. And in season 2 of Legends of Tommorrow, where he was, again, erased from existence. Then he showed up (with barely a hand-wave) during the 2017 cross-over. He showed up in season 5 of the Flash and became the Big Bad again. His latest appearance, Post-Crisis, he's been reduced to the equivalent of a ghost trying to possess Nash Wells' body. Though the Reverse Flash's spirit was exorcised, no-one in-universe or out believes he's gone for good.
    • Jon Cryer's Lex Luthor on Supergirl seems to be one of these, helped by the fact that the actor seems to be having a ball with the role. He appeared as the Big Bad at the end of season 4 and was killed by his sister Lena... but was then revived by The Monitor to participate in the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. Where he literally wrote himself to be one of the saviors of the multi-verse. And made himself Supergirl's boss in the revived universe. Since then, he's been a regular on Supergirl season 5, scheming to gain even more power.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • The franchise has two peculiar inversions whose situations are virtually identical. Ankh from Kamen Rider OOO and Black Woz from Kamen Rider Zi-O were the Token Evil Teammate of the heroes and both were intended to become the final Big Bad of their respective seasons in the original plans for those shows, but their chemistry with the main cast and popularity with the audience led to them remaining on the heroes’ side by the end rather than making a full Heel–Face Turn.
    • Nobuhiko Akizuki/Shadow Moon of Kamen Rider BLACK is an example that's played straight, and easily one of the most popular villains in the franchise for his badassery and conflict with his stepbrother. His popularity popular he was brought back as the villain of a mini-arc in the sequel series Kamen Rider BLACKRX. He's also a frequent choice for the villain of crossover shows.
    • Kamen Rider Ryuki has Takeshi Asakura/Kamen Rider Ouja, who despite being a secondary villain was popular with fans for how crazy and formidable he was to the point where he's very close to being the Mascot Villain of the show and one of the faces for evil Riders in the franchise.
    • Kuroto Dan of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid was immensely popular for his hamminess and exaggerated god complex, to the point where he was not only brought back after his initial defeat, he served as the Big Bad of both a crossover miniseries and a trilogy of movies for Ex-Aid, and made a guest appearance in Kamen Rider Zi-O.
    • Evolt of Kamen Rider Build was quite popular with fans, so much so that in spite of everything he did, he not only comes back in the post-series movies he gets away completely scot-free in the end, presumably because he was too popular to kill off.
    • Shocker, the archetypical evil organization of the franchise, probably counts. They and their various monsters are about as associated with the franchise as the Riders themselves, and are popular enough to have made many reappearances since the original series in crossover films and stageshows. Compare that to the number of reappearances the Black Cross Army from Super Sentai (Kamen Rider's sister show) has madenote .
  • Super Sentai:
  • Servalan from Blake's 7 was only supposed to appear in one episode, but Jacqueline Pearce's performance was so popular with the staff and audience that she became the Big Bad.
  • Sir Henry Simmerson of the Sharpe novels only appears in 2 books, with a passing mention in a third. His live action version however, played to slimy perfection by Michael Cochrane, proved to be so perfectly hateable that he got to appear in 5 series adaptations.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • The only appearances of Satan in the Jewish Bible are in the Book of Job and 1 Chronicles in which he's simply a gadfly to God and tempts David respectively. Then in the New Testement he takes on a larger villainous role. Even here he only has a major role in the book of Revelation (which seems to call him the serpent). At some point, though, he came to be regarded as God's Arch-Enemy, and the same entity as the Serpent from Book of Genesis.
    • Simon Magus is a minor figure in Chapter Eight of the Acts of the Apostles who tries to buy charisms from Peter and is sent away with a flea in his ear. Popular legends turned him into a powerful Evil Sorceror who is the Apostles' Arch-Enemy and something of an Antichrist.
    • The Great Beast isn't really described in detail in Book of Revelation, and the word "antichrist" is used only in the Epistles of John, in which it's used simply to refer to generic opponents and rivals of Christianity. Practically everything about the Antichrist in popular culture comes from later legend and extrapolation.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • When Yawgmoth and the other Phyrexians first appeared, they were barely a footnote in the flavor of the Antiquities expansion; eventually, they morphed into the centerpiece of Magic's Rogues Gallery. After Yawgmoth's defeat, the Phyrexians made a comeback in the Scars of Mirridon block.
    • Nicol Bolas was one of the five elder dragons in Legends. Due to his card having a more powerful and unique mechanic than the others, he was reprinted 12 years later in Time Spiral and was one of many characters from the past to appear in its novels. While most of the old planeswalkers were either killed off or depowered in those novels, Bolas remained as a planeswalker. He appears again in the Alara block, and has since taken over the position of Big Bad from the Phyrexians.
  • Asmodeus of Dungeons & Dragons started out as a brief mention in 1st Edition as the ruler of Hell. Then 3rd put the spotlight on him in the Book of Vile Darkness, and he became one of its most popular villains as the game's Satanic Archetype. Recognizing his popularity, some of the last books of 3.5 featured Asmodeus heavily and let him get one over on the entire pantheon twice. When the game upgraded to 4th Edition, he jumped up from an archdevil to the God of Evil... and just to solidify it, Pathfinder featured their own version of Asmodeus as the God of Evil.
  • In Legend of the Five Rings Dragon Clan Champion Hitomi, who had been corrupted by the Obsidian Hand, was slated for a brief run as a main antagonist which would end in her lieutenant, Kokujin, killing and usurping her. Fan response to Hitomi proved so unexpectedly positive that she was retooled into more of an anti-hero who defeated Onnotangu, the Greater-Scope Villain of the setting and took his place as god of the moon.
    • For his part, Kokujin did enjoy a lengthy tenure as a memorable recurring villain for several more story arcs.

    Video Games 
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Bowser. Before Super Mario Bros., the portly plumber tangled with a lot of nasty foes. Donkey Kong, Foreman Spike, and random unorganized critters (though some did look similar to Koopas). But once Super Mario Bros. hit the scene, it was Mario's defining moment, and from that day forth, the Koopa Troop and its fearless leader would be his most prominent nemesis. This seems even more dramatic in America, where Bowser was in fact absent for a game before making a triumphant reappearance in Super Mario Bros. 3. In this case, it was the unforeseen popularity of the game that caused Bowser to become a Breakout Villain. The Koopa King has also got an increasing number of playable appearances; from being a party member in some of the RPGs; as the main character of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story and the Bowser-centric Bowser Party in Mario Party 10; and finally, to being a playable Capture enemy in the last segment of Super Mario Odyssey, marking the first time he's playable in a main series title.
    • Wario. The Super Mario Land games felt like Gaiden Games to the main franchise, and then part 2 featured this fellow, and the next one starred him, and he turned Anti-Hero. Since then he's been a mainstay of the Mario franchise.
    • You also have Wario's partner/possible brother Waluigi. He debuted in one of the Mario Tennis games, and since then has appeared in every spinoff game without fail, gaining loads upon loads of fans.
  • Resident Evil:
    • In the original PlayStation version of Resident Evil, Albert Wesker was just a standard horror movie stock character (the obligatory traitor who gets eaten by the monster in the end, Paul Rieser's character from Aliens). However, following his return in Resident Evil – Code: Veronica, he managed to pretty quickly be built up to be the Big Bad of the entire series over the course of the following decade up until his last appearance in Resident Evil 5.
    • Despite only appearing in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and dying in the same installment, Nemesis proved to be so popular that he made several appearances in crossovers and as downloadable content, such as in the Resident Evil chapter of Dead by Daylight as part of the 25th anniversary, making him one of the most iconic villains in the series behind Albert Wesker.
  • Metal Gear:
    • Revolver Ocelot in the original Metal Gear Solid was notable for being the sole surviving member of the renegade FOX-HOUND unit by the end of the story and a mole under the service of Solidus Snake, although there was not much to suggest that he was anything other than a double agent. Each subsequent entry in the series would reveal more about Ocelot's past and motives, having him shift from one allegiance to the next and outliving the main antagonist of each game until becoming the Final Boss himself in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. It should also be pointed out that he is the only character to appear in all the numbered Metal Gear games, and appears in 7 of the 11 canon games, behind Main Character Big Boss (who appears in 8, even if his appearance in Guns of the Patriots is something of a cameo) and outstripping The Protagonist Solid Snake (who only appears in 5).
    • Liquid Snake, the final boss from the first Metal Gear Solid game was so popular that his right arm was chosen as a replacement for Ocelot's instead of a robotic one. This in turn gives Liquid control over Ocelot's mind, eventually becoming Liquid Ocelot. He also appears as a child in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
  • Warcraft:
  • Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse was just a minor villain in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, being the man behind the Ubersoldats, with a strong disdain of the SS Paranormal Division. However, he made such an impact in said game that he was given major roles in Wolfenstein (2009) (eventual Big Bad after the death of Viktor Zetta) and as an even bigger and more present bad guy in Wolfenstein: The New Order, being a General of the Nazi army and the primary source of the Nazis' mechs and other super science. Even after biting the dust at the hand of B.J. his presence and influence is still felt in later games.
  • Diablo: Old game it may be, there are some bosses that becomes really memorable that they may end up getting re-used for future titles.
    • The Butcher is just the first boss of the game, but he's become nearly as iconic as Diablo himself as far as villains go, thanks to being the first really difficult enemy to contend with (and his "Aaah, Fresh Meat!" sound byte considered really terrifying for its age), so much that he returns in Diablo III with new designs and tricks, and is a playable hero in Heroes of the Storm.
    • Likewise, next in line of those bosses is King Leoric the Skeleton King. He also returns in III and in Heroes of the Storm. He's also popular enough by fandom to get included in Defense of the Ancients and Blizzard cared enough for his image, leading to the lawsuit against Valve and the latter ends up having to change their Skeleton King into Wraith King.
  • Dragon Quest
    • Bishop Ladja of Dragon Quest V. In the original SNES game, while he did have some presence in the plot, he was ultimately a minor villain who showed only a mild evil and dies less then halfway through the game. The remakes propel him into this, giving him a unique appearance, replacing King Korol with him as The Dragon, giving him much more screentime.
    • Nelgel of Dragon Quest X. After the game's first release on August 2nd 2012, he was the main villain responsible for the destruction of Tenton, note  forcing the game's Hero to reincarnate as one of the 5 races to stop him and avenge their hometown. Despite his defeat, however, he became pretty popular with fans of the series, culminating in him receiving appearances in spinoff games, such as the 3DS remake of Dragon Quest Monsters 2, and was represented by Nelgelas, one of the Past Masters of Dragon Quest XI. Hell, his game even has a side story from the 10th anniversary where the bad guys are trying to revive him with the Dark Key Emblems, despite the fact the Hero defeated him, which succeeds in the 4th chapter.
  • SHODAN was so much of a standout villain in the first System Shock that she was brought back for the second, in which she became one of the most legendary villains in gaming history.
  • Vergil, Dante's Aloof Elder Twin, from Devil May Cry. In his first appearance, he was simply a Brainwashed and Crazy servant of the game's Big Bad known as Nelo Angelo, although he made a good impression by serving as a challenging Mirror Boss several times over. Then, he reappeared in DMC3 (a prequel chronicling some of Dante's backstory and early demon-hunting days), giving players a glimpse of his more complex character quirks and motivations, revamping him into an even more challenging opponent that stands in Dante's way, and giving him a somewhat pitiable send-off of sorts. Needless to say, this not only made Vergil the most recurring boss in the series (with a total of 8 battles), but cemented him as the most recognizable villain as well. As such, Vergil joined the lineup of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 alongside Dante and Trish (herself something of a Breakout Character), much to the delight of DMC fans. Then his return in Devil May Cry 5 cranked the "Holy Shit!" Quotient up.
  • Metroid:
  • Live A Live: Oersted’s whole story and significance to the game’s overarching plot became the main attraction of the title in the opinion of many fans, due the extreme tragic nature of his character and what drove him into villainy; indeed, it is as Oersted is the reference of choice in Final Fantasy Legends and Theatrhythm Final Fantasy for smartphones to celebrate Live A Live’s 20th anniversary, a boss fight against him is the feature in Legends and a stage featuring Oesrted in the background in Theatrhythm with two songs from the game, Odio’s themes. It even culminated in him getting equal billing with the seven heroes when the 2022 remake for the Nintendo Switch had been announced.
  • The Materials in the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable games were originally one-dimensional Darkness of the Book of Darkness-based Evil Twin copies of the three Aces, and were unceremoniously destroyed by the end of the first game, The Battle of Aces. Except it turns out that the fans liked the Materials, so they were revived in the sequel, The Gears of Destiny, and had the game revolve around them, expanding their personalities, backstories, and importance. Oh, and they also got an official manga with them in the starring role. And they return in another Alternate Continuity as the main foreign rivals team of the Card Game-focused Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha INNOCENT, and again in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Reflection and Detonation. Not bad for Licensed Game Spin-Off villains who were supposed to just show up and get killed on their first appearance.
  • Mass Effect: Cerberus started out in the first game as just the minor Arc Villains of some sidequests. In the second game, their importance to the trilogy's main story expanded as they entered into a very contentious Enemy Mine situation with Shepard. By the third game, they were one of the main villainous factions, second in importance only to the Reapers.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Similar to Ridley, Metal Sonic was originally just The Dragon to Dr. Eggman, appearing only as a boss in Sonic CD, and just one in a long line of robotic ripoffs of Sonic. Eventually, his popularity skyrocketed to the point where he was made the Big Bad of Sonic Heroes. He's generally considered the second most prominent villain after Eggman himself.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • The original Organization XIII was intentionally presented as just the antagonists for Chain Of Memories and II. However, fans almost instantly became attached to the group thanks to their complex characters and sympathetic motives, spectacular boss battles, and their varied and overall enjoyable personalities, making it so that they more or less stole the show from every other character and became the most iconic group in the whole series as a result. Their popularity proved big enough that Square Enix made a whole game revolving around them in 358/2 Days, where each member becomes a playable character, with the game itself getting an manga adaptation, being one of the few games in the series to get one.
    • On to a more individual level, both Axel and Xigbar have had their roles expanded since their debut game thanks to their popularity. The difference is Axel evolves into something between an Anti-Hero and Anti-Villain before making a Heel–Face Turn into a straight hero with his own Keyblade, no less. Xigbar turns out to be the main Dragon for Xehanort and is also set to become the new Big Bad of the next saga after Xehanort's defeat, albeit in service of a Greater-Scope Villain.
    • To a lesser extent, Chernabog was so well received (being an awesome boss to fight, and having his own theme from Fantasia, Night on Bald Mountain, playing in the background) that he came back as a boss fight for Riku in Dream Drop Distance. His appearance is very close to a Heartless, and he has the privilege to be one of the only enemies in the KHverse to not have a entry in Jiminy's Journal, which only reinforces his aura and mystery.
      • Chernabog is an interesting case, as he was originally meant to be the final boss, before Ansem was created. However, the creators liked him so much, they kept him in, anyway.
  • From the Silent Hill series, Pyramid Head from the second game left such an impression on everyone that he's often seen as the series' mascot, of sorts. Despite the original nature of his character, he appeared in a somewhat different form in Silent Hill: Homecoming, and appeared in both of the film adaptations of the games.
  • Adachi from Persona 4 was just yet another antagonist in the series, but his Affably Evil personality and some memetic lines resonated with fans and he ended up slowly but surely making his way to major character status. First he was given a social link and his own ending in the game's remake, then he was given a major role in the Persona 4: Arena sequel and played an explicit role in defeating the main villain. He may not leave the Persona 4 verse, but he has gotten the most attention out of perhaps any other villain in the series.
  • Street Fighter has a handful of examples, some more arguable than others.
    • Most notably is the evil Dictator, M. Bison. Bison was originally meant to be killed off in his final canonical appearance, but by the time that happened he had already cemented his status as one of the most iconic villains in all of gaming, and had become extremely popular throughout both the games and other media for his unique style and twisted sense of humor, as well as for his immediately recognizable special moves. After sitting out on Street Fighter III, Bison made his triumphant return in Street Fighter IV, with Capcom utilizing his ability to store his soul in artificial bodies as an outlet to bring him back. Bison returns yet again in Street Fighter V, more unapologetically evil and megalomaniacal than ever. He's also made many appearances in crossover games, including non-playable cameos.
    • Another example is Akuma. He instantly made a huge impression on gamers with his debut, not only being the one to kill Bison in the first place but also for the shock and mystery he brought as one of the first hidden bosses in fighting game history. In his initial appearance, his portrait was covered in shadow and he didn't even have his name displayed. He returned in the Street Fighter Alpha series, where he would eventually make his first playable appearance in a toned down form. Since then, Akuma has become a massively popular character both for his mysterious, dark aura and for his Difficult, but Awesome fighting style that puts a homicidal new twist on Ryu and Ken's classic style, and of course for introducing the world to the Raging Demon, one of the most famous attacks in all of gaming. Akuma has since appeared in every single Street Fighter series to date where he almost always has a super-powered boss form as a hidden opponent, and you can count the amount of Capcom crossovers he's missed on two fingers. note 
    • Later on we have Juri Han, who made her debut in Street Fighter IV. Juri brings uniqueness all around to the series, as its first truly evil female character, its first Korean character and its first character to utilize Taekwondo. As a result, she's made the most guest and crossover appearances of any character from the IV series, having appeared in Project X Zone and Street Fighter X Tekken, and being the first IV newcomer to make an appearance in SF V, where she is a DLC character.
  • Final Fantasy has fantastic villains throughout the series:
    • In the original Final Fantasy, Garland is just a really weak Starter Villain who we only see in his Black Knight form for a brief period of time before he's killed off, with his corrupted form, Chaos, being more prominent as the true Big Bad. Spin offs and prequels have heightened Garland's influence, with him being an Adaptational Badass and The Heavy of Massive Multiplayer Crossover Dissidia Final Fantasy, appearing as a quasi-ally in Mobius Final Fantasy, and finally the prequel Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin has him as the protagonist and charts his Protagonist Journey to Villain.
    • In Final Fantasy III, the Big Bad was Xande, an Evil Sorcerer who wanted to destroy the Crystals to regain his lost immortality by stopping time. The final boss that appeared when he died, Cloud of Darkness, was a Giant Space Flea from Nowhere that was your typical Omnicidal Maniac. But the Cloud of Darkness was a more interesting, climactic boss with a striking design, which, combined with the game being a vague memory at best for most fans and the vagueness of the plot, meant that she was much better remembered. This became official with Dissidia Final Fantasy where the Cloud of Darkness is III's sole villain representative, even after the sequel adds to the cast.
    • Golbez is the signature villain of Final Fantasy IV and one of the most iconic villains of the franchise, far eclipsing the actual Big Bad Zemus in both popularity and prominence. Remakes of the original game, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, and Dissidia Final Fantasy, each devote a lot of time to expanding and growing his character.
    • Final Fantasy V produced not one but two of these. In the game itself, Big Bad Exdeath was seen as a fairly flat character in comparison to his outstandingly hammy Dragon, Gilgamesh, who as a result ended up traveling the Void and winding up in various other Final Fantasy games. And then came Dissidia Final Fantasy, where thanks to the power of incomprehensible battle quotes and hickory-smoked lines, Exdeath became a Sealed Meme In A Tree and went from one of the most-overlooked villains in the series to one who gave longstanding fan-faves like Kefka and Sephiroth a run for their money. It's unknown how attentive Square Enix was to his overnight surge in popularity, but given that VOID! jokes run abundant in Duodecim, it's a safe bet that they knew. On top of this, his control of the manikins led to the permanent deaths of every newcomer not named Gilgamesh or Prishe, as well as Team Chaos' victory in the 12th cycle.
    • Final Fantasy VI features Kefka, the Large Ham Monster Clown Dragon with an Agenda who goes From Nobody to Nightmare For the Evulz over the course of the game's runtime. Perhaps most notably, he's the first — and, until Final Fantasy XV, only — time The Bad Guy Wins: the entire second half of the game takes place After the End, in the "World of Ruin," and the protagonists do not Set Right What Once Went Wrong, but merely stop Kefka from pushing the world further over the edge.
    • In the animated sequel to Final Fantasy VII, main villain Sephiroth's last words are, "I will never be a memory." This may seem a bit Narmful... but the unabashed excitement and awe when Nintendo announced he would be joining the cast of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, despite FF7 itself being more than twenty years old at the time, proves that he had a point. Sephiroth is one of the most memorable villains to come out of the medium. Why? Badass Longcoat (Hell-Bent for Leather, Evil Wears Black); Katanas Are Just Better, used as a One-Handed Zweihänder; Bishōnen, in a time when Western audiences had not had much exposure to this trope; a Dark and Troubled Past which caused him to Go Mad from the Revelation; a (deservedly) famous Final Boss song; and, most critically, being a Hero Killer and causing the first — or at least most widely remembered — tragic Character Deaths in the medium.
    • The devs of Final Fantasy XIV intended for Zenos Yae Galvus, the primary antagonist of the Stormblood expansion to be completely unlikable. However, they failed miserably as he gained quite the following. Perhaps it was the fact that he is the first character in the story to completely outclass and knock the Warrior of Light on their ass. Perhaps players felt sympathy for the fact that his father showed zero concern or sympathy upon learning of his apparent demise, making the players wonder if his father had ever really tried to raise him to be a better person. It definitely helped his popularity when his (at first apparently) last words call the Warrior of Light his very first friend. Regardless, he gained quite the following, ending up as the first Villain rep for FFXIV in Dissidia Final Fantasy (2015). And whether it was due to his popularity or just the plan all along, he is revealed to have survived his death. He then becomes a reccuring villain, notably playing up his infatuation with the Warrior of Light and using him as a Meta Guy for the devs to lampshade and directly address why so many players loved (or hated) him.
      • And to top Zenos is none other than Emet-Selch, the main antagonist of Shadowbringers (which is also ironic considering Emet, in his possessed body of Solus yae Galvus, is Zenos' great grandfather). His initially flippant and patronising personality gives way to a deeply tired man who is committed to his cause, and despite having committed horrendous atrocities to meet his ends, he is genuine in his love for his people and his duty towards them. He spends time trying to (albeit sceptically) break bread with the Scions and helps them understand his perspective, and the final battle with the Warrior of Light is not a battle between good and evil, but of mutually exclusive fates that tragically cannot be reconciled. He is often considered not only one of the best villains in Final Fantasy, but one of the best in video game history by those who've completed the expansion.
      • He was so popular that his legacy continued into Endwalker, where you meet him in the past prior to the sundering of the world, and befriend him before he became an antagonist, even joining him as a Guest-Star Party Member in a dungeon! The final meeting between the Warrior of Light and Emet in Ultima Thule is bitter-sweet, where he shows no regret for his actions and refuses to live by the hands of his hated enemy Hydaelyn, but admits his methods were wrong and entrusts the fate of the world to you. It was as if the developers understood the reasons for Emet's popularity and wanted to give players closure with him.
    • In Final Fantasy XV, the true Big Bad of the game is Ardyn Izunia. Initially The Dragon to Emperor Iedolas in the game's early concepts, Ardyn evolved into the main villain: A scheming Magnificent Bastard with a fascinating backstory, terrific voice acting by Darin De Paul, incredible foresight and intelligence who also manages to be incredibly entertaining whenever he's onscreen and carries off the vast majority of his plans without a hitch. Ardyn quickly became a favorite of players to the point where practically nobody has complained about his massively expanded role and he's frequently cited as one of the best parts of the game.
  • Fire Emblem has a few examples throughout the series:
    • Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance gives us the Black Knight, and his true identity Zelgius. He is often considered the most popular villain in the entire series, with his only competition being Lyon and Arvis. Not only did he get to return in the sequel, he made it into Fire Emblem Heroes before many other iconic antagonists (and he even got a variant of his true identity), and is usually considered the Ur-Example for the series on how to judge a villain's overall quality. This even landed him on the role of Assist Trophy in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. For reference, in Fire Emblem Heroes "Choose Your Legends" event, he has consistently ranked among the highest characters in the series, and after his four different entry slots had their votes combined into two based on his true identity and his Black Knight appearance (previously they weren't so he ranked lower), he has since ranked among the top sixity, even getting into the top twenty 25.
    • Also from Path of Radiance, Oliver's great beauty won over the hearts of fans everywhere, even though he was unjustly depicted as a minor boss rather than the heroic protector of all things beautiful. He was so beloved that he was chosen to grace Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fire Emblem Heroes with his wondrous presence.
    • While always an extremely important character in Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 as the Noble Top Enforcer of the enemy and the toughest boss in the game, Reinhardt received a huge boost in popularity following his surprise appearance in Fire Emblem Heroes. Prior to his inclusion, Reinhardt placed 584th out of 791 units in the first Choose Your Legends Poll. In the second, he was 5th among the males and finished 11th overall, a full 574 spots higher. This would lead to him getting a variant when the Thracia banner came around, making him the only villain besides the Black Knight to get a variant.
    • Berkut of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia quickly became one of the series most popular villains despite his at the time relatively recent release. According to Fire Emblem Heroes "Choose Your Legends" 2 event, he ranked as not only the fifth most popular character from Echoes, but also the fifth most popular villain in the whole series (not counting characters introduced in Heroes, he would be the seventh) and managed to get nearly into the top fifty. While he went down several ranks in CYL 3 and 4, he ranks still among the top one-hundred characters in the series, and remains among the most popular villains. Notably, he received two different alts in 2019, both of him were very well received units. Being Tall, Dark, and Handsome, very tragic and having absolutely top-tier voice acting really helps.
  • Springtrap from Five Nights at Freddy's 3 was just the game's only animatronic at first, despite not even being Freddy Fazbear himself. However, he wound up becoming a fan-favorite, and reached almost the same heights of prominence as the main four animatronics of the series; getting a smaller iteration of him in Plushtrap in Five Nights at Freddy's 4, an appearance in all three novels, a cameo at the end of Sister Location, and he returned for Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria Simulator. It probably helps that via Haunted Technology, he's also the Greater-Scope Villain of the franchise.
  • BlazBlue: Originally an NPC in the first game, Hazama revealed his true colors at the ending as the manipulator of all of the events thus far, and goes on to become The Heavy in the second game. Despite being only one member of the series' large Big Bad Ensemble, fans loved his stylish design and fighting style as well as his Troll nature, and would go on to become a more prominent character in later titles. Word of God even considers him the unofficial fifth main character of the series. And many fans will admit to you that they only play this game because of him.
  • The Legend of Spyro: Malefor, the trilogy's Big Bad, became one of the most memorable parts of the game and proved popular enough to make his way into the franchise's future continuities, appearing in supplemental materials of Skylanders and having a major role in Skylanders Academy.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Vaati, the Big Bad from the "Four Swords" subseries and the only other recurring main villain besides Ganon, only appears in these games. Although not released in chronological order, the games depict Vaati, a former member of the Minish, who rose to becoming an evil who sought to take over the world before losing his memory and devolving to kidnapping beautiful maidens because they caught his fancy, once kidnapping Zelda to be his bride. However, a quick search on the internet shows that fans like him and want him to make a return. It's not uncommon to find fanfiction that plays up the wanting Zelda aspect to the point of being a Stalker with a Crush.
  • Ratchet & Clank: The maniacal Doctor Nefarious from 2004's Up Your Arsenal, who's basically a pastiche of cliche and over the top science fiction villains from the 60s. His zany, goofy, deranged and charming performances took a game that was merely funny to one that was laugh-out-loud hilarious every time he was on-screen, and he was the first villain in the series to get a backstory in the game he debuted in. Such was his popularity that more than a few fans considered Emperor Tachyon from Tools of Destruction to be a Replacement Scrappy rather than evaluating him by his own merits. Nefarious was eventually brought back in 2009's A Crack in Time after a tease at the end of Quest For Booty the previous year and was included as the fourth playable character in All 4 One in 2011. However after those later appearances, the fans began to grow weary of him, so he was put on the backburner and only appeared as the Arc Villain in the 2016 movie, before making a return in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart alongside the introduction of his Alternate Self, Emperor Nefarious.
  • Donkey Kong Country saw the debut of King K. Rool, who would become Donkey Kong's own Arch-Enemy and the Big Bad of the Donkey Kong Country series as a whole, to the point where he was brought back by sheer fan demand after a long 10 year absence.
  • Spyro the Dragon has Ripto, who originally debuted as the Big Bad of Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage!. He was originally intended to be a one-time villain in the vein of other antagonists Gnasty Gnorc and the Sorceress, but he proved to be such a beloved screen-stealer that he became the most iconic villain of the series, surviving his apparent death in Ripto's Rage! to return as the main Big Bad in Spyro 2: Season of Flame, Spyro: Attack of the Rhynocs and Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly as well as being used as the Spyro-representative villain in the crossover with Crash Bandicoot. In fact Ripto's become so popular and iconic that fans were baffled when Gnasty Gnorc was included in Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled instead of him.
  • The No More Heroes series has Destroyman. Originally one of a number of bosses killed in the first game with no afterthought, he was beloved for his fun fight, his psychotic, two-faced personality, and his Large Ham tendencies. As a result, he returned in the sequel in the form of New Destroyman, now as twin cyborgs since he was cut in half in the first game. What really solidifies his status as this, however, was the confirmation that he would be returning in the third game as an entire mass-produced army, which was then followed up with the guarantee that, if a fourth game was made, he would be in it, even showing art of what he would look like in that game. That's right; Destroyman is so popular he was confirmed for a hypothetical fourth game before the third game was even released, complete with a design.
  • The Borderlands series has Handsome Jack, who after his debut in Borderlands 2 managed to gain enough popularity to be the focus of the Pre-Sequel that details his rise to power (along with a Body Double as a DLC playable character) as well as being a major character in the form of a Virtual Ghost in Tales from the Borderlands. While his role in the base game of Borderlands 3 was mostly just a sidequest detailing his past, his presence became the focus of the "Handsome Jackpot" DLC (which brought back the previously-mentioned Body Double as a major NPC). He's so associated with the series that a collection that includes 2 and The Pre-Sequel! was known as "The Handsome Collection".
  • Like a Dragon: The series has many staple antagonist who are loved by the fan base, this includes: Daisaku Kuze from Yakuza 0, Akira Nishikiyama from Yakuza, Ryuji Goda from Yakuza 2 and more. The latter 2 are known for appearing in subsequent games besides the remakes of their debut titles, Nishiki in 0 and Ryuji in Yakuza: Dead Souls.
  • In the Robopon series, Dr. Zero was just one of many arc villains of the first game, with his plot mainly revolving around revenge on Prince Tail and the royal family while Cody kept getting in the way. He successfully completed his revenge quest to conquer Porombo Island and was seemingly killed after his defeat, but his design and general competence were so impressive the sequels brought in his previously-unseen brother who time traveled to save him, and Zero became the main antagonist for the second game.
  • When SNK created Rugal Bernstein as the final boss of The King of Fighters '94, they probably didn't expect him to become popular for his relentless, brutal difficulty and his sheer pride in being evil. As a result, Rugal has been a mainstay in the series' Dream Match Games as the ultimate threat (with The King of Fighters 2002 bringing in the lord of Evil Is Hammy seiyuus Norio Wakamoto to voice him), and ultimately became free DLC in The King of Fighters XV.
  • SHAME, a sapient virus and the Arc Villain of UK Sight Reading Tournament 8, started out as a loose expy of the GUILT pathogen in a storyline based on the Trauma Center series. Despite a cure being developed at the end of the story, effectively neutralising her as a threat, she proved to be a huge fan favourite, and come the first release of the NotITG engine she was chosen to be the mascot. Later modcharts would frequently include references to her and her boss stages too, and she even managed to appear in later UKSRT instalments, albeit as a harmless hallucination.
  • Initially, Galacta Knight appeared as a non-canon Optional Boss in Kirby Super Star Ultra, and supposedly died in said encounter. Then he appeared again in Kirbys Return To Dreamland, then again in Kirby: Planet Robobot, and yet again in Kirby Star Allies, and yet again in Super Kirby Clash as a True Final Boss. The creators have stated that his appearance is non-canon each time given he never appears in any mode except the extra ones (and Super Kirby Clash is an entirely non-canon side game), giving them the ability to give the fans more Galacta Knight.
  • Quan Chi from Mortal Kombat who originally appeared as a filler villain in the short lived Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm but after he made a canonized appearance in Mortal Kombat Mythologies SubZero, he's has been seen in every main game since Mortal Kombat 4. Even after his death in Mortal Kombat X, he still makes an appearance in Mortal Kombat 11 as an alternate skin for a few playable characters.

    Visual Novels 
  • Nasuverse:
    • Fujino Asagami became the most popular antagonist from The Garden of Sinners thanks to her cute design, tragic story, and interesting powers. She got her own side story in the epilogue, and made it into Fate/Grand Order as an Archer-Class Servant, making her the only Servant besides Shiki to not come from a Fate work.
    • Fate/stay night:
      • Gilgamesh is one of the most popular characters in the entire Nasuverse, despite only acting as the Big Bad for the Unlimited Blade Works route, appearing very late into the Fate route, and dying very quickly in the Heaven's Feel route. He was given major roles in Fate/ZeroFate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA, and Fate/strange fake and became the new playable Servant in Fate/EXTRA CCC, and in Fate/Grand Order his new Caster form is a major ally.
      • Saber Alter, despite only appearing in the Heaven's Feel route, would later appear in later Fate works, sometimes even as her own distinct character. Her design was used in Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA as the basis of the Saber Class Card, beating out her vanilla self. In Fate/Grand Order, she has an additional Lancer variant, two Rider variants, and Berserker variant; the Saber and Lancer variants appear as major antagonists in the story (with the former reappearing as a major ally), while one of the Riders was the star of her own event.
    • Fate/Grand Order:
      • The game features Jeanne d'Arc Alter, who originally appeared as a Ruler NPC. "Jalter"'s very concept as the Evil Counterpart of the already popular Jeanne d'Arc led to her becoming an instant fan favorite, and she was retooled into a very powerful playable Avenger. She got a Lancer form and a Berserker form, both acting as the main character of the event they debuted in, and the Avenger form remains one of the few Servants in the game with an alternate costume.
      • This trope itself is discussed in Fate/Grand Order in regards to the Archer of Shinjuku, AKA James Moriarty himself: specifically that the reason that he appeared so little in the original stories was that Holmes specifically had Watson downplay his role to prevent him from being too infamous.

    Web Animation 
  • Aitor Molina Vs.: Doctor Pandemia appeared as a cameo in a video by Celio Hogane before becoming the first recurring villain of the show.
  • Homestar Runner: Strong Bad, starting out as a foil for Homestar before breaking out with the sbemail segment and becoming the star of the website.
  • Retropokon: Darkpokon was a fanmade villain for The John Show who appeared in the third year anniversary special. That's the only time it was canon on the show, but it became so popular with its Narm that won a poll in Lawl of the Dead and became the 20th character.
  • RWBY: Roman Torchwick was originally just a small-time villain for the main characters to cut their teeth on, to the point that his first major scene had him running away from a fight rather than trying to take down the heroine. His classiness, his sarcastic wit, and his A Clockwork Orange-inspired character design lead to him becoming unexpectedly popular among the fans, so he Took a Level in Badass and became a recurring threat over the next couple of seasons, though still subordinate to the Arc Villain and Big Bad. His sidekick, Neo, who is based on a gender-flipped cosplay of him, also became extremely popular. They eventually got their own expanded universe novel where they take the Villain Protagonist roles.

  • MS Paint Adventures: The Midnight Crew started as noncanonical enemies in a handful of Problem Sleuth donation comics. In Homestuck, they became much more important, especially Spades Slick, who became one of the most active antagonists.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Nale was the only member of the Linear Guild originally slated to escape from the first battle with the heroes. However, fans really liked Thog, so Burlew decided to spare him and, while he was at it, Sabine as well, developing her and Nale's relationship into a case of Unholy Matrimony.
    • Similarly, Redcloak was originally going to be killed off fairly early on (his name was even envisioned as a pun on Red Shirt). Instead, he ended up surviving and being fleshed out, becoming one of the most complex characters in the story.
    • This trope is a key facet in Tarquin's Xanatos Gambit involving Elan. It's his contingency in case his Evil Empire plot is toppled. The legend of the hero who defeats him will serve to spread his own legend and inspire generations of new Evil Overlords to follow in his footsteps. As he puts it, "If I win, I get to be a king. If I lose, I get to be a LEGEND!" Elan ends up foiling said plan by just abandoning him in a desert, thus denying him the epic conclusion to their conflict that he wanted.

    Western Animation 
  • The main bad guy of the Popeye cartoons, Bluto, started off as a minor one-shot villain in the original E.C. Segar comics, only appearing briefly in a 1932 story. The Fleischer Studios cartoons upgraded him to recurring villain status, and this made him as iconic as Popeye and Olive.
  • Harley Quinn, everyone's favorite Villainous Harlequin Batman: The Animated Series. She was originally invented as a one-shot female henchmen to leap out of Commissioner Gordon's cake (the censors allowed The Joker to do it instead), and an overwhelming fan response turned her into a recurring villain and a Canon Immigrant into the comics. She even went on to be one of the few villains to Out-Batman Gambit Batman himself and come this close to actually killing him. In 2016, she became the breakout star of Suicide SquadMargot Robbie's performance as her was one of the few things universally praised about the otherwise divisive film, even managing to steal the show from the long-awaited cinematic return of The Joker himself.
  • Kim Possible:
    • Shego was originally "just a henchman" to Dr. Drakken, but later developed into a competent but unambitious villain who entertained herself (and the audience) with her incessant verbal jabs at Drakken and Kim. Drakken's own standing has also benefited from her popularity. Even though he gets out-shined by his own assistant on the popularity polls, it was thanks to their dynamic together that he became the second most important villain in the series.
    • Monkey Fist was originally just a crazed monkey-themed villain who happened to be one of the few villains Ron Stoppable could actually face. Over time, as Mystical Monkey Power became more prominent, so did Monkey Fist (effectively becoming Ron's Arch-Enemy).
  • In the original Mirage Comics version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Shredder was actually a fairly lackluster Starter Villain who managed to get himself Killed Off for Real at the end of the very first issue. In later issues a colony of sentient worms would take up the mantle of The Shredder (it's a long story), but even they only appeared in a few issues and played a rather minor role in the comics plotline. However, the 1980s cartoon adaptation made him the Big Bad, and he's been the Turtles' Arch-Enemy in every future adaptation of the series ever since. In Turtles Forever Mirage Shredder shows up for about 10 seconds before he's knocked off a building by the 1980s Turtles.
  • On Gargoyles the Archmage was originally only supposed to be a Villain Of The Week, but creator Greg Weisman liked David Warner's voice acting so much he decided to bring him back, making him the villain of the three-part "Avalon" arc through a Stable Time Loop and a couple Artifacts of Doom.
  • Gravity Falls: Bill Cipher started out as a one-shot antagonist in the first season: though his iconography was hidden in the background throughout, he was intended to be more of a Chaotic Neutral trickster than a Big Bad. But when it turned out the fans loved him, he got a promotion, and ultimately ends up as the greatest evil in the series.
  • Mad Stan from Batman Beyond was originally a one-shot joke villain thrown in to make Terry miss his date with Dana. The fans loved him, and he eventually became a regular member of the Rogues Gallery.
  • Negaduck from Darkwing Duck. After the Negaduck I episode, Tad Stones (the Show Runner) said he liked Negaduck and wanted him brought back for more episodes; this resulted in Negaduck II, who the fandom embraced as perhaps not just the most popular villain but the most popular character on the show, period. When the revival comic book came around, the writer has said that he intended to have a F.O.W.L. story for the second arc and a Negaduck story for the third arc, but sheer fan demand made him swap the order.
  • The Powerpuff Girls:
  • Plankton (and Karen) of SpongeBob SquarePants. According to Plankton's voice actor (Mr. Lawrence), Plankton "was only supposed to be in one or two episodes," but since Lawrence was a writer on the show, he wrote more episodes about him. After a while, Plankton and Karen got more time in the spotlight, and they were both promoted to the "Main Cast" in the credits of the 2004 movie. They have been the show's main villains ever since.
  • The Dreamstone, while Sgt Blob and his minions Frizz and Nug were always the consistant villains, they were merely mooks to the real Big Bad Zordrak initially, with the story designed with Rufus as the intended main character initially. Within a short duration of episodes, both the heroes and Zordrak were Demoted to Extra with Blob's men usually acting as Villain Protagonists. In later seasons Urpgor also gets larger roles and sometimes eclipsed even the other Urpney squad in screentime.
  • Chase Young of Xiaolin Showdown was originally a one-shot character- an Arch-Enemy to Master Monk Guan, himself originally a one-shot character. By the next season, he'd become the closest thing to a Big Bad for the whole show and remained that way for the rest of it.
  • Ben 10:
    • Charmcaster initially was introduced merely as a niece and sidekick for Gwen's originally intended Arch-Enemy Hex. In the end, Hex only got a few more appearances where he gradually became less and less important over the course of the franchise, while Charmcaster had several additional appearances, Character Development and became more of an Arch-Enemy to Gwen than he ever was. In the 2016 reboot, Hex is now one of Ben's enemies while Charmcaster, is Gwen's sole Arch-Enemy from the start.
    • Albedo was first introduced as a one-episode villain in Alien Force, who came back for the finale of season 3 and had a few appearances in Ultimate Alien. He was so popular the writers eventually ascended him to Big Bad for a whole story arc in Omniverse.
    • Malware was one of several new villains introduced in Omniverse, and quickly became the most popular of them all, generally being seen as being tied to the most well-received parts of the series and a competitor for Ben's arch-enemy despite having one series to appear in versus the multiple series that the other villains who compete for the title have appeared in (such as Z'skaryr, the aforementioned Albedo, and mutant Kevin).
    • Vilgax earned quite the popularity due to his badass fighting skills, menacing appearance, imposing roles as the main/true main antagonist of so many shows, Joker Immunity, fearsome reputation to the point where he even inspired fear in Ben himself, and Darkseid-level monstrosity. Though his popularity has waned in recent years due to being one of the tragic cases of Flanderization and Villain Decay, by the time the reboot has started, Vilgax has once again wowed fans with his menacing and dark presence. In fact, he was so popular that he was even considered to be the most iconic and recognizable villain in the entire franchise, even surpassing the aforementioned Albedo in infamy.
  • My Little Pony: Tirac from My Little Pony: Rescue at Midnight Castle was only a one-shot villain who got killed off in his premiere, but he became the most popular villain in the G1 continuity for being a surprisingly vile piece of work. Fast forward a few decades to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and his new incarnation became a Satanic Archetype and the antagonist for the fourth season's finale, as well as a major recurring villain in the final season. Similarly, Grogar from My Little Pony 'n Friends was a oneshot villain from a four-episode serial but was powerful and memorable enough to become the leader of the villains (or not, as it turns out he was actually Discord in disguise) in Friendship is Magic's final season.
    • For an internal example in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is Queen Chrysalis, who has become the series first recurring villain with three full-scale appearances to datenote . Though she's undergone some Villain Decay as of her third appearance, she's still a dangerous force to be reckoned with who's managed two subsequent Near Villain Victories that only failed due to sheer luck and outright spat in the face of any offers of redemption.
  • Transformers: Prime: Knock Out is one of the most popular characters on the show, his hilarious antics and vanity earned him a lot of fans, even amongst the show-runners. This probably contributed to him surviving to the end and pulling a Heel–Face Turn, and he even got immigrated to the IDW comics, debuting in The Transformers: Windblade.
  • In The Fairly OddParents!, Mr. Crocker originally was just a back-up villain, really no bigger than Francis. Since Season 7 onwards he seems to have replaced Vicky as the main antagonist, appearing in almost every episode, even if they have to make a side story for him.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door:
    • Mr. Boss was featured in a single episode in Season 1 as Numbuh 4's dad's boss at work and the primary villain of that episode. He was then used in a single episode in Season 2 with the sole purpose of gathering other recurring villains together for a theater meeting. From Season 3 and onwards, Mr. Boss would be used more often until he was the go-to character if a story needed a Villain Team-Up, and he would be much more active in his leadership role.
    • Count Spankulot first appeared simply as a punchline for one scene in which he showed up at the Treehouse, spanked the operatives, and fled, never to be seen for a long time. As the seasons went by, he became notable for being the one villain the main characters never defeated and was given Character Development as a Tragic Monster later on.
  • The Dark Princess in Rainbow Brite was originally the antagonist of the movie, with Murky and Lurky being the series' usual villains, but she was brought back for the final TV episode and became the main villain of every reboot of the series.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz started out as the antagonist of the B-Plot involving the boy's secret agent pet, Perry the Platypus. Before long, Doof wound up getting a lot more prominence, with heavier focus on his and Perry's battles, more manically tragic (and hilarious) backstories, a great deal of Hidden Depths, and an increased focus on his equally popular daughter Vanessa and his robot assistant Norm. He even got his own Twitter account, a weekly web series entitled "Doof's Daily Dirt" (for Alliterative Title), and a prominent role in the second season of Milo Murphy's Law. His voice actor, series co-creator Dan Povenmire, even does the voice every now and then for his followers on TikTok.

Alternative Title(s): The Moriarty Effect, Moriarty Effect