Follow TV Tropes


Byronic Hero

Go To
His soul is as turbulent as the sea.
"There's a good man within you, Arthur, but he is wrestling with a giant. And the giant wins, time and again."

The Byronic Hero is a character notable for being sullen, withdrawn, hard to like and hard to know, but usually possessing a rich inner life and a softer side accessible only to a special few.

This type of character was popularized by the works of Lord Byron, whose protagonists often embodied this archetype (though they did exist before him). This trope gained prominence during Romanticism. Sometimes an Anti-Hero, others an Anti-Villain, or even just a Villain, Byronic heroes are charismatic characters with strong passions and ideals, but who are nonetheless deeply flawed individuals who may act in ways which are socially reprehensible because he's definitely contrary to his mainstream society. A Byronic hero is on his own side and has his own set of beliefs which he will not bow nor change for anyone. A Byronic hero is a character whose internal conflicts are heavily romanticized and who himself ponders and wrestles with his struggles and beliefs. Some are portrayed with a suggestion of dark crimes or tragedies in their past.


The following traits are very characteristic of Byronic heroes and may be helpful in identifying them:

  • Is usually male (though female examples aren't unheard of) and is always considered very attractive physically and in terms of personality, possessing a great deal of magnetism and charisma, using these abilities to achieve social and romantic dominance. One mark against him personality wise, however, is a struggle with his own personal integrity.
  • Is very intelligent, perceptive, sophisticated, educated, cunning and adaptable, but also self-centered.
  • Is emotionally sensitive, which may translate into being emotionally conflicted, bipolar, or moody.
  • Is intensely self-critical and introspective and may be described as dark and brooding. He dwells on the pains or perceived injustices of his life, often to the point of over-indulgence. May muse philosophically on the circumstances that brought him to this point, including personal failings.
  • Advertisement:
  • Is cynical, world-weary, and jaded, often due to a mysterious Dark and Troubled Past, which, if uncovered, may reveal a significant loss, or a crime or mistake committed which still haunts him, or, conversely, that he may be suffering from some unnamed crime against him.
  • He's extremely passionate, with strong personal beliefs which are usually in conflict with the values of the status quo. He sees his own values and passions as above or better than those of others, manifesting as arrogance or a martyr-like attitude. Sometimes, however, he just sees himself as one who must take the long, hard road to do what must be done.
  • His intense drive and determination to live out his philosophy without regard to others' philosophies produce conflict, and may result in a tragic end, should he fail, or revolution, should he succeed. Because of this, he is very rebellious, having a distaste for social institutions and norms and is disrespectful of rank and privilege, though he often has said rank and privilege himself. This rebellion often leads to social isolation, rejection, or exile, or to being treated as an outlaw, but he won't compromise, being unavoidably self-destructive.

Vampires are often written as this kind of character, as a way to romanticize (and humanize) an otherwise disturbing creature. This is quite fitting, as Lord Byron himself was the inspiration for one of the first pieces of vampire literature, The Vampyre, by John William Polidori, Byron's personal physician. Oftentimes, to highlight their signature brooding aura, a Byronic hero will be compared with creatures that have dark, supernatural connotations, with demons, ghosts, and of course, vampires, all being popular choices. Love Tropes are often involved with this character, but almost always in a very cynical, existential way. Don't hold your breath waiting for The Power of Love to redeem him; these characters are more likely to fall victim to Love Makes You Crazy, Love Makes You Evil, or at the very least Love Hurts (unless he pairs up with The Ingenue, in which case you have a Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl pair).

He has a tendency to be The Unfettered, rejecting the morals imposed by society to accomplish his goals, and may overlap with the Übermensch, who shares the Byronic hero's sense of rebellion and superiority. Similarly, he could also be a Pragmatic Villain, as the two follow their desires without care for others, but nonetheless, have no interest in outright evil. He may actually acknowledge that his actions are evil, but state that there's no way to accomplish his goals otherwise. More overlapping tropes include Utopia Justifies the Means, which, like a Byronic hero's style, may be immoral or villainous acts in the name of some higher cause which would otherwise be a positive goal. The Lovable Rogue shares the Byronic hero's charisma, likability, and tendency to break the law.

They are quite often a Draco in Leather Pants, often in-universe as well, due to the magnetic All Girls Want Bad Boys appeal of this character. Frequently, a large part of their characterization involves being a Manipulative Bastard, a Deadpan Snarker, Crazy Sane, and/or Tall, Dark, and Snarky, perhaps with an Awesome Ego. A great number will also be Rebellious Spirits. In a Four-Temperament Ensemble, they will almost invariably be the Melancholic.

Not to be confused with a Classical Anti-Hero, a Tragic Hero or a Tragic Villain. Classical anti-heroes have many flaws but without any violent or sociopathic traits that Byronic heroes have. Tragic Heroes suffer from a specific sin in particular, which is treated as their Fatal Flaw, and are often well-intentioned or otherwise blameless. While both characters may ultimately be defeated by their flaws, the Tragic Heroes and Tragic Villains tend to suffer more for them in the end and include An Aesop. However, it's not unheard of to see characters who are both Byronic and Tragic heroes or are both Classical antiheroes and Byronic heroes.


    open/close all folders 

    Film — Animated 
  • Elsa from Frozen, is a female example. She causes all the problems faced by her sister and her kingdom in the movie. But she is Not Evil, Just Misunderstood and emotionally fragile. Her legendary "Let It Go" song is essentially an anthem to a Romantic sort of Existentialism — she is letting go of the conventions of society that have shackled her and her abilities.

  • Cradle of Filth gets a LOT of mileage out of this trope. Including having a song based on the life of Lord Byron, that features Ville Valo of HIM. In an interview, it was explained that Dani Filth considered Ville Valo to be the embodiment of the modern day Byronic man which is why they wanted to feature him in the song.
  • Iced Earth has a song about "Frankenstein":
    A man of wealth and a genius mind / A slave to passion and his morbid side
    Robbing graves of the newly dead / Erratic tendencies, a troubled mind
    I will create in my own image / If God can then why can't I?
    No thought of the consequences / I've got to know the meaning of life.
  • Most popular songs by The Who seem to employ this trope in their narrator's POV. In addition to the above example, "My Generation", "Black Widow's Eyes", "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere", "A Legal Matter", "I Can See For Miles", and the main character Jimmy Cooper in Quadrophenia.
  • "Divide" and "Stronger On Your Own" by Disturbed give off this vibe, with the narrator being intelligent, passionate, conflicted, determined, cynical, self-destructive, and charismatic.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • While the Pogo Goof Jimmy Jacobs may not have seemed like it at first, learning he was a fanboy of The Barbarian, The Berserker and Kevin Sullivan was not a good sign. Jimmy has since shown jealous, spiteful and lustful tendencies as well seeming to suffer from hubris at times. He is not above self-criticism or attempting to improve himself though, such as when he started dating Lacey he wanted to make sure their relationship would not be based on lust.
  • Hey tropers, if you want the perfect example of a troubled, angry, sometimes selfish anti-hero who can be extremely destructive to himself and everyone else, and regularly faces the consequences for it but survives...GIMME A HELL YEAH!!!!!!note 

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine, Leonardo De Montreal runs down each point on the checklist, to the point where his heroism is at least fifty percent based on how much better he is than anyone else. Raised in an abusive orphanage, suffered long-term emotional isolation, literally and figuratively ripped his heart from his chest, and spent a year at the Bleak Academy (which is a metaphor for bleak enlightenment when it's not a metaphor for death). He avoids sleeping for long periods of time lest his nightmares drip out into the world, requires the Mechanism of Original Sin to have a facsimile of conscience, and is metaphysically incapable of having friends or equals. He gains extra XP for ranting at length about his superiority. On the other hand, he's also personally replaced the source of all light and hope in the universe.
    • Lord Entropy II similarly does the brooding loner with a complex history and extreme passions. Lord Entropy the First had something similar going on in Nobilis, with the noteworthy exception of romance: he was metaphysically impossible to love.
  • In Exalted, Abyssals and Infernals are the most likely characters to be in this category, though it can happen to the other types as well. Sulumor, the 2E signature Malefactor, was abandoned by her tribe and the Spirits of the Desert. After her prayers to the Unconquered Sun gave no result, she instead cursed him with such vehemence as to attract Cecelyne's interests. Now she plots revolution among those who betrayed and abandoned her, creating a new society in her path.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Jace Beleren has a lot of these traits, though he does start moving out of them after some Character Development, especially during the Ixalan Storyline. Dark and Troubled Past? He can't remember anything from before he was fifteen, and things since then have not gone well. He's a prodigy mind mage, but that just leads to him being Afraid of Their Own Strength due to how destructive mind magic can be if he screws it up. He's one of the most politically powerful individuals on Ravnica, but it's a position he never wanted and constantly worries about screwing up. Thankfully, the events on Ixalan gave him a much-needed confidence boost, and helped him finally make peace with his past, not least because he can remember all of it again.

  • Melchior Gabor of Spring Awakening: an intelligent, charming, enlightened youth who is ahead of his time and deeply troubled by his repressive society and his own developing urges as he comes of age.
  • Although most of William Shakespeare's characters are Tragic Heroes, a couple of his characters also qualify as Byronic heroes, such as Macbeth and Hamlet. Shakespeare's plays were written before Paradise Lost, and long before the days of Lord Byron.

  • Homestuck
    • Vriska Serket from Homestuck is a rare female example. It's clear she's playing for the good team, but her past is filled with a lot of questionable things, and her tendency to make tough calls nobody else is willing to make is best represented through her iconic monologue.
      "I only ever wanted to do the right thing no matter how it made people judge me, and I don't need a magic ring to do that. You don't have to 8e alive to make yourself relevant. And you don't have to 8e a good person to 8e a hero. You just have to know who you are and stay true to that. So I'm going to keep fighting for people the only way I ever knew how. 8y 8eing me."
    • Eridan Ampora fits the mold quite well. Reality Ensues and he accidentally alienates his friends.
    • Dirk Strider in both the alpha and beta timelines is a good representation of this, with Bro being the textbook example of what happens when this sort of personality is given complete control of another person without any sort of accountability. Meanwhile, his alpha incarnation shows his internal conflict through his interactions with Lil Hal.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Vaarsuvius is an arrogant, condescending Elf Wizard with a taste for ultimate arcane knowledge and power, and is very long-winded and verbose in speech. Despite this, V is dedicated to stopping the forces of evil, does care quite a bit for their teammates, not above indulging a bit of silliness, and even has a family. Another unique example is that rather than a Dark and Troubled Past, they have a Dark and Troubled Present. We have making a deal with some fiends to gain ultimate arcane power to save their family from a vengeful black dragon (whose son V killed during an earlier story arc) and the fallout over their priorities would lead to their partner suing for divorce and full custody of the children. V then proceeds in committing one of the greatest evil acts in recent history by casting Familicide, an epic level spell that kills the dragon and all its family, comprising over 1/4 of the black dragon population... and the Draketooth line of humans, a family that reproduces by seducing strangers and stealing the children, and due to the nature of Familicide, V not only kills the family of the target, but the family of the families... resulting in literally thousands dead with a single word. Vaarsuivius then went on to battle Xykon but lost due to hubris, managing to narrowly avoid death at his skeletal hands. The reason why Vaarsuvius accepted the deal with the fiends in the first place? Because the alternative would mean asking his comrades and his master for help, which would mean admitting in failing again (V's attitude has taken a sharp turn due to guilt over their failure in Azure City and Haley, their closest friend, being trapped there). Ultimately, while V is improving on attitude and humility, they still carry a great burden over their decision, as one strip cuts to V looking forlornly at a picture of Inkyrius, clearly missing their former mate.
    • On Team Evil, we have Redcloak, who is leading a Rage Against the Heavens plot to bring equality to the Goblin people on behalf of their god, as well as being an Übermensch who follows his own moral code, and is highly intelligent and witty. He also has a Dark and Troubled Past: His whole town was killed by Azure City paladins and he was forced to raise his baby brother on his own. He would then learn about the goblin people's fate of being cannon fodder for other races upon taking the Crimson Mantle and thus would try and fulfill his god's wishes to overturn this. Eventually, he has to kill his younger brother (by this point, middle to old age for goblins, so in 50s) to prevent him from killing Xykon. Xykon then crushes Redcloak's spirit on how Redcloak is dependent on him to justify all the sacrifices and atrocities committed so he does not have to feel the weight. While Redcloak has improved a bit, he still has not come to the same sort of conclusion as V has and that his motivations also come from the fact he hasn't changed from the angsty teenager he was when he first put on the Crimson Mantle (literally, since the Mantle provides quasi-immortality through prevention of aging.)
  • Bun-Bun from Sluggy Freelance, while normally just a Sociopathic Hero, becomes increasingly Byronic during "Holiday Wars" and "Oceans Unmoving". The only part of the Byronic template that he doesn't fit is the brooding part. If Bun-Bun ever gets in a brooding mood, he just beats someone up instead.
  • In Templars of the Shifting Verse Augustus is a man wrapped up in his own thoughts and loneliness, he is reckless and uncaring about how his actions might not be the best course.

    Web Original 
  • The Nostalgia Critic is an impulsive cynic who has a Trauma Conga Line backstory. He wants to be good, but his self-hate and temper keep getting in the way.
  • Agent Washington in Red vs. Blue. Cynical, bitter, charismatic, tragic backstory, and relentlessly dedicated to getting retribution for the terrible things that have happened to him.
  • RWBY: Raven Branwen, mother of Yang Xiao Long, is one of the most conflicted characters in the series, straddling the line between Anti-Hero and Anti-Villain; she stubbornly tries to escape from the Secret War between Salem and Ozpin after being worn down prior to the story by the Awful Truth that lies behind the war, but it always finds its way back to her. While powerful and charismatic enough to lead a bandit tribe, she's repeatedly called out on her cowardice and hypocrisy, something she never gets to properly defend even though she claims she's been through so much more than anyone has a right to. This creates conflicts with her family and their allies in Volumes 4 and 5. When she attempts to grab the Relic of Knowledge by the end of Volume 5, it comes at a great cost, and her daughter Yang, whom she abandoned at birth for mysterious reasons, chews her out on it, noting that it would go against everything Raven stood for up until now. For this, Raven breaks down and flees out of regret, leaving Yang to take her place as the one who takes the Relic to become Salem's next target.
  • In the Whateley Universe, Brigand is a classic Byronic hero, complete with a tragic backstory that he attempts to avenge, despite the way this distances him from society's laws. However, in a superhero world, this makes you a supervillain.
  • Taylor/Skitter in Worm. She possesses all of the Byronic traits except for charisma, but it can be said that she develops this in (intense) spades later.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Zuko has several traits of a Byronic hero: conflicting emotions? Check. Poor integrity? Check. The status of exile? Big ol' Check. It's, like, his thing. A troubled past? Very much so. Pride? Big problem he has to deal with. He's also a loner, "prone to Melodrama", and as for intelligence... well, Aang says that he's smarter than people give him credit for.
    • Jet is a good example of this as well. Having lost his home and family to a Fire Nation raid, he becomes an accomplished freedom fighter determined to stop the Fire Nation at any cost.
  • The title character of BoJack Horseman is a deconstruction of this. He's self-centered, introspective, troubled, reflexive, impulsive with a Dark and Troubled Past, Troubled, but Cute status and Reclusive Artist shades. But instead of coming off as charming, mysterious and tragic, his demeanor gives the impression of him being arrogant, vain, pathetic and abrasive with no one being interested in digging deeper, and when they do, his issues prove to be too much to handle.
  • In The Boondocks, Huey Freeman is defined by his cynicism and intelligence, being aware of an apparent "white supremacist power structure" and having several accounts of radical activism and domestic terrorism under his belt in his efforts to tear it down. His Byronic nature was more pronounced and played for laughs in the comic strip, where his pessimism often frustrated the few people who could be considered his friends. He's more well-rounded in the animated series since this version of Huey is a Composite Character of him and his best friend of the comics, who serves as his straight man.
  • The concept was also alluded to in Danny Phantom: When Danny is trying to hide the fact that he's fighting a ghost, an editor for a woman genius magazine makes this observation:
    "Messy, reclusive? Those are the signs of a true genius! If only he was a woman..."
  • Family Guy:
    • Stewie comes off as a parody of this type, being an antisocial Gadgeteer Genius Enfant Terrible determined to Take Over the World. The parody aspect comes from him being a baby whom few see for who he truly is — and the ones who do aren't taking him seriously.
    • Brian has grown into a straighter example, even though he's a dog. Highly intelligent and troubled, he struggles with the possibility of having done nothing meaningful in his life, but he's hindered by his ego when he puts a great deal of effort and seems to suffer from an inferiority complex as a result of being... well, a talking dog (which may explain the ego bit.) He and Stewie come to be Foils for each other, ultimately having the closest and most closely-examined interpersonal relationship in the series. Stewie often is the one who keeps Brian in check yet also views Brian as his confidant and when Brian journeyed to Stewie's head to stop a monster in his nightmares, it turns out that Stewie is busting Brian's chops because he holds Brian in such high regard.
  • Hey Arnold! has Helga G. Pataki. "Helga on the Couch" shows just how a combination of Parental Neglect and peer pressure made her into the tough-as-nails Loving Bully she is today, compelled to antagonize the very person she pines for. She's also far more astute than even she knows, and her talents and inner turmoil have inspired some incredible poetry.
  • The Brain from Pinky and the Brain is equal parts genius and insane, forever trying to Take Over the World yet always foiled by his own oversights.
  • Regular Show:
    • Skips has some traits from this, most notably in his backstory (appropriately set in the early 19th century, when Skips was known as "Walks"). He came to meet his "immortal circle" after his behavior got him expelled from his previous school. His only romantic relationship occurred here, and ended tragically.
    • Mordecai to an extent. While he acts like The Slacker most of the time, he also wants to prove his worth in the world and will do anything to prove he's not a waste of life. He's also a true artist has an appreciation for the obscure stuff, initially very nervous when talking to Margaret and uncomfortable during group photos (barring when he's not in the middle of having fun or such). He also has a very conflicted romantic life; he can't seem to decide between his two Love Interests, and when he's heartbroken, he falls into heavy lapses of Angst. Despite this, he still tries to do the right thing and in the series finale, manages to Earn Your Happy Ending with the rest of the group, he doesn't end up with either of the two mentioned ladies, but settles down with a fellow artist who is a bat woman.
  • Rick from Rick and Morty. There are minor hints here and there that Rick has a pretty troubled past. He is also moody, cynical, and very passionate about his science. However, while his scientific habits may not be self-destructive as much as they are outwardly destructive, his drug habits most certainly are, and he occasionally shows cracks in his narcissism that betray a strong self-loathing. He's also caused similar damage to his family, namely his daughter Beth and his grandson/traveling companion Morty. In fact, Morty himself may be slowly becoming one.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Bart Simpson is a cynical rebel who has far more potential than he's given credit for, but with his teachers and parents showing him little-to-no faith or support when he was little, he decided to take pride in his status as an underachieving bad boy. However, there are moments when his mask slips and he becomes very angst-ridden over his own failings.
    • His sister Lisa is the poster girl for Intelligence = Isolation and often opposes the moronic people of Springfield over her beliefs and causes. She's implied to suffer from depression, and her struggles with pride show whenever something provides competition over her intelligence and talents.
  • South Park: Stan Marsh has endured a lot of anguish from the idiotic citizens of South Park (let alone his father), to the point that his growing cynicism and depression was the subject of a particularly heavy two-parter. He is incredibly impassioned when he takes up a cause, and as close to Tall, Dark, and Handsome as the art-style will allow him and still being the everyman.
  • In Steven Universe, the Crystal Gems (barring Steven, since he wasn't born then) are varying degrees of Byronic, having fought a war in rebellion against the totalitarian Homeworld, and while they cherish and defend the Earth, they also remain aloof to its people. Pearl is brainy and skilled yet also has the most easily wounded pride, and is still struggling to move past the death of Rose Quartz and the fact that Pearls are a Slave Race in Gem hierarchy. Amethyst is the most uncouth and rebellious, due to the circumstances of her creation making her feel as though doesn't truly belong anywhere. Garnet seems to be the least troubled, as she has to be strong and in control to bear The Chains of Commanding, and it took her a while to come out of her stoic shell. Despite this, all three are becoming much less Byronic. Garnet has become more open and comfortable, Amethyst is happy with herself and Pearl is slowly moving on while also becoming closer friends with Greg, the man Rose chose over her and Steven's dad.
    • Steven himself struggles with this in Season 1's "Full Disclosure", where Jasper is defeated and Beach City is saved, and after having a chat with Ronaldo, Steven erroneously thinks it would be for the best to withdraw from Connie, which causes her to worry intensely about Steven and she challenges him to tell her about the break-up in person instead of indirectly communicating through cell phone texts; Steven ultimately relents when he sees that Connie could have ended up sad and friendless, and ultimately decides to still be friends with her.
    • We can now add Lapis and Peridot to this. While neither are official members, they both have some damage. Peridot started out as a prideful and surly being while having hidden a complex for being a second generation Peridot and thus inferior to her predecessors and reliant on gadgets. She ends up stuck on Earth, knowing of the doomsday trap for it (though that is no longer an issue.) As of now, she is discovering her own powers and viewing Earth as her home. Lapis meanwhile endured more hardship and trapped in a cracked state for centuries. She doesn't have much loyalty to anyone except Steven and she endured being fused with Jasper to use her as a punching bag (in a not-too-subtle allegory for toxic relationships.) While she has brightened up a bit and befriended Peridot, she is the most prone to being moody and sullen and it's clear that she doesn't wanna fight anymore.
    • Jasper can be seen as a Byronic Villainess, a skilled and powerful Homeworld soldier with a firmly ingrained belief that the purpose of all Gems is to serve the Diamond Authority. The Byronic aspect becomes apparent with The Reveal that Rose killed her leader, Pink Diamond, leaving her emotionally hollow, self-loathing, and determined to seek revenge.
    • Rose Quartz herself can be seen as this with The Reveal that she was Pink Diamond and faked her own death.. Her rebellion was started, in part, because Pink preferred slumming it with lower-class gems, and the death of Pink at the hands of Rose was very much a selfish move on Pink's part since she thought it would be more exciting to live the role of Rose permanently and was blind to the repercussions of her choice to do what she did.
  • Sym-Bionic Titan: Lance fits this almost to the point of parody. He's Tall, Dark, and Handsome, an aloof Chick Magnet has a Dark and Troubled Past, and is a near godsend on the battlefield.
  • Dr. Rusty Venture of The Venture Bros. is a bitter, miserable, savvy Deadpan Snarker super-genius with an incredibly traumatic childhood as a former boy adventurer.
  • Superboy in his Young Justice incarnation. he suffers from Cloning Blues and an increased temper as a result of being the clone of Superman and Lex Luthor. His initial aloof relationship with Superman doesn't help, but he gets a lot better over time as seen in Season 2.
    • In season 2, it seems he passed the torch to Miss Martian. Once the bubbly moral center, she has become much more pragmatic in her psychic power usage and it led to her's and Superboy's breakup. She is crushed by guilt when she attacks Aqualad only to discover he is a Reverse Mole and she realizes what she's become.

    Real Life 
  • Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. A sensitive, deeply troubled man who struggled with illness, addiction, and depression.
  • Kanye West. The best example of a Byronic rapper. Arrogant, rebellious, charismatic, moody, outspoken, and deeply troubled. Also one of the unquestioned all-time geniuses of hip-hop, making engrossing, innovative, and meaningful work both as an rapper/lyricist and as a producer (remember, before he released a single album on his own, he was part of the team that produced The Blueprint). He's constantly saying things that land him in trouble. The best example would be the VMA incident with Taylor Swift. The loss of his mother and multiple other tragic events in his personal life put him on a downward spiral leading up to that incident and in the aftermath, he disappeared from the public eye only to come back a year later with the triumphant album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, where lyrically he is equally both arrogant and self-critical. In almost every interview he has given in the past few years he has challenged social norms and the way society forces people to have low self-esteem.
  • deadmau5 is one for Electronic Dance Music. While he's one of the most iconic artists in the scene, he's also gained a reputation for his arrogant and sour attitude. He tends to speak his mind, which often ends up getting him into beefs on Twitter. He also described himself as a "friendly dickhead" on a Reddit Ask Me Anything thread.
  • Janis Joplin. A hard-drinking, hard-living, self-destructive woman with a voice that could melt your heart.
  • Jim Morrison, the iconic, leather-clad poet and baritone singer whose short life was riddled with controversy, and whose self-destructive lifestyle lead to his death at a young age.
  • Ozzy Osbourne, another singer with a controversial lifestyle troubling him personally, but nevertheless shows genuine awareness to the rotten world through his voice.
  • John Lennon, another rock star with a controversial lifestyle. He distinguished himself as the "smart-ass Beatle", stirred up quite a shit-storm with his political activism (most especially his rallying up young people in their opposition to The Vietnam War), apparently had a rocky relationship with his second wife, had a heroin addiction for a number of years, made no attempt to hide his propensity for mean-spirited put-downs, and expressed his cynical worldview through his lyrics both during and after his years as a Beatle. He was also violent and abusive in his younger days, the memories of which tormented him later in life: "I will have to be a lot older before I can face in public how I treated women as a youngster."
  • Ludwig van Beethoven, the big 'B' himself... where to begin? Not only was he a direct contemporary of Lord Byron himself, but he was also a quintessential Byronic hero, with such defining traits as:
    • Being an emotional wreck and no less than contemplating suicide over losing his hearing (which was apparently incited by the explosive bombing of Vienna by Napoléon Bonaparte). He nevertheless wrote an entire symphony in honor of Le Petit Caporal in 1804, believing him to be the great revolutionary liberator of Europe...then tore that symphony's dedication to shreds upon learning that Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor (screaming "So... he is a tyrant like all the rest!") and re-titled that symphony from "Bounaparte" to the "Heroic Symphony composed to celebrate the memory of a great man." He commented that he "wrote the music for this sad event seventeen years ago," upon learning of Napoleon's death in 1821 (with shades of John Lennon's "Elvis died when he entered the army" comment).
    • He believed fervently in the ideals of the Enlightenment and in the equality of Human Beings (to the point where his Ninth Symphony is a literal Ode to the concept in which "All men become brothers"). And he wept upon being turned around at the conclusion of said Ninth Symphony's premiere, being neither able to hear the music itself nor the audience's thunderous applause.
    • He refused to defer to authority or aristocracy, citing, "There have been a thousand Princes, but there is only one Beethoven." He walked right through a Duke and his entourage, who greeted him casually, while his contemporary literary companion/idol Goethe stepped aside and deferred to them with his hat off. Beethoven afterward rebuked the man—for whom he only had “the greatest veneration and an inexpressibly deep feeling for your glorious creations,” having set 18 of his texts to music (with two more to follow), and who made him so happy that he "would have gone ten times to death for this great man"—by saying, "I waited for you, respect you and admire your work... but you show these people too much esteem."
    • He refused to perform if requested casually (such as at soirees and such) AND stopped his performances dead if people didn't pay attention (diva much?). Ultimately, he got an Archduke to decree that the "Usual Rules of Court Etiquette" did not apply to him.
    • He also wore his hair as wild as any member of The Rolling Stones ever did.
  • Michael Jackson. Jackson had a drive to be the world's top entertainer like nobody had before him. In 1982, he released the biggest album of all time — Thriller — and wanted his next two albums— Bad and Dangerous — to top it, but neither of them did. In his prime, Jackson was a lithe, handsome young black man with an amazing voice, even more amazing dance moves, and a dependable hitmaker, penning several #1 hits. Jackson had an almost obsessive desire to help children—a possible result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father—and often donated to charities and opened his ranch/amusement park to inner city kids who couldn't afford Disneyland. However, Jackson's controversial choreography (he often grabbed his crotch), love of juvenilia, penchant for publicity stunts, and addiction to painkillers and plastic surgery, caused many to see him as yet another music industry weirdo, and this dichotomy came to a head when Jackson was accused of molesting a young boy in 1993. From that point forward, he appeared to suffer from severe depression, his lyrics became angrier, and he was increasingly viewed as irrelevant. On the eve of a comeback/farewell tour, he was found dead in his home of an overdose of a drug typically used as a sleeping agent in hospitals.
    • Whether or not Jackson molested children is a matter of dispute, however not only do many people believe it to this day, but it likely put a bad taste in some peoples' mouths whether or not they felt it was true. If the allegations were true, it trumps all other "Byronic" aspects of other pop/rock/r&b stars, but if it is false, it would certainly qualify as a tragic downfall of someone who was passionate about helping children, but mired in a lifestyle others saw as suspicious.
    • Jackson's obsession with youth may not have belied his cynicism but was reputed to be very paranoid about his safety, and his Signature Song "Billie Jean" betrayed his cynicism about groupies, by telling a tale about a young woman who claimed that Jackson fathered her son. In his 1995 album ''HIStory: Past, Present And Future, Book I" many of the songs display a cynicism about the media.


  • Lord Byron himself, naturally. He was surrounded by scandal in his own lifetime — womanizing, possibly man-ising as well, and rumors of incest with his half-sister to boot.
  • Lord Byron was also something of an admirer of the deposed Napoléon Bonaparte, considering him to be the epitome of a Romantic heronote  — a persecuted, flawed, and ultimately lonely genius.
  • A whole lot of Russian writers were Byron fanboys, and gravitated towards this to some extent or another, both in real life and in writing. Griboyedov, Lermontov, and some others come to mind, as well as simple socialites such as Tolstoy-Amerikanets.
  • Branwell Brontë, the brother of the Brontë sisters. An intelligent, passionate young man, he had high aspirations of becoming a famous poet before his life took a downward spiral into alcoholism and drug use, resulting in his early death. It is believed that he inspired several of the violent, brooding characters in his sisters' novels.
  • Vincent van Gogh. Being born exactly one year after the death of his 6-months old brother and having been given his name, Vincent was constantly reminded of his status as the "second Vincent" by his family's insistence on going to see the first Vincent's grave every Sunday. This led to him developing a very acute sense of alienation and solitude throughout his life. Intensely self-critical and leading an incredibly precarious life, Vincent Van Gogh was made even more Byronic by his extraordinary artistic genius, undying love of humanity and absolute unwillingness to compromise in his art to make money. Suffering from loneliness and mental illness, his gruesome suicide cements his status as one of art's great Byronic painters.
  • Christopher Hitchens. A brilliant, caustic, blunt, and uncompromising author, Hitchens was most well-known for his attacks on organized religion. However, this is far from the only controversy surrounding his political career: he started out as a socialist but broke away from the movement in the 1990s, and even then he described himself as a Marxist until the day he died. He defied liberal expectations again by supporting the Iraq War and (reluctantly) supporting incumbent President Bush, *then* wholeheartedly supported Barack Obama in the 2008 election. And he once said that men are generally funnier than women. An alcoholic and a chain smoker, he died in 2011 due to esophageal cancer.
  • The Marquis de Sade. A controversial libertine whose works and philosophy landed him in asylums and prisons for much of his adult life. His works, which explored the dark side of the human experience like no other before him, often featured and provided sophisticated philosophical arguments for, among other things, murder, rape, incest, parricide, homosexuality, sodomy, abortion, promiscuity, blasphemy (at a time when these were considered taboo), and a number of sexual acts involving extreme degradation and sadistic behavior. Called pornographic, blasphemous, and perverted, his writings were censored and banned for more than a century after his death. Living a life of constant scandal, Sade was rebellious, hot-tempered, manipulative, and in letters to his wife, often expressed his contempt for what he saw as a society of simpletons. Brilliant, irreverent, and once called "the freest spirit who ever lived," the "Divine Marquis" was the eternal outsider. Notably, he was opposed to the use of capital punishment during the Terror.
  • Hideaki Anno. Among the most influential but at the same time controversial figures in the anime industry, Anno has struggled through multiple episodes of depression, most notably the one in the early 90s, and has had a heavy disdain for the existing status quo of the anime industry at large. His life's work Neon Genesis Evangelion sums him up very accurately.
  • Mari Okada. Among the most prolific anime writers in recent years on par with Jun Maeda but also one of the most polarizing. She grew up in a rural town with a single mother (her father cheated on her and ran away) and spent most her early life shut in the house, unable to deal with the pressures of the outside world. Okada's delinquent behavior reached a breaking point during her middle school years when her mother tried to murder her for her conduct but was restrained, driven to tears afterward. At school, Okada was mercilessly bullied, causing her to frequently skip school and confine herself to her house, unable to deal with her anxiety disorder. Her two most notable works The Anthem of the Heart and Anohana sum her up perfectly.
  • Richard Nixon. Intelligent and charismatic? Check. Cynical? Check. Brooding? Check. Passionate? Check. Intense drive that led to a tragic end? Check. As a complex, deeply flawed, and ultimately lonely man, he fits the role well. Well, except for the physically attractive part.
  • Robert Downey Jr.. A deeply talented, clever, and charismatic man forced into the spotlight from a very young age who struggled with the incessant attention and later, his own drug issues. For many years, his career seemed to be in an irreversible downward spiral due to his frequent arrests and inability to stay sober. Unlike most of the other Real Life examples, Downey Jr. eventually overcame his self-destructive behavior and has since found his way back onto the path of mainstream success, beginning with his portrayal of Tony Stark (an above-listed Byronic hero).
  • John Kricfalusi. By far one of the, if not the most controversial cartoonists of this generation, John K. is undoubtedly a talented artist, yet possessing very narrow ideas and beliefs on what makes a good cartoon, as shown by the disdain for other well-liked cartoons he expressed on his blog. His high standards led to the Troubled Production of The Ren & Stimpy Show; he was very hard to work with, constantly missed deadlines, and was rarely satisfied with the finished product. Despite how groundbreaking and beloved Ren & Stimpy is, John K. has little success getting work nowadays due to his infamously difficult reputation.
  • Florence Nightingale. Intelligent, passionate, and moody.
  • John Rozanski, better known as The Mysterious Mr. Enter. He has Asperger's Syndrome and a Dark and Troubled Past involving Abusive Parents and an apathetic, narrow-minded school system. He struggles with his own passion, admitting to having difficulties taking criticism and pursuing Fleeting Passionate Hobbies, is surprisingly erudite and insightful, and has made his disdain for society's double standards and biases very clear at several points.
  • Martin Luther. He described himself as "stormy and turbulent", was very cynical (especially when it came to organized religion), rebelled against the Catholic Church, and had enough intelligence and charisma to pull it all off.
  • George S. Patton (AKA "Old Blood and Guts"), Warrior Poet and general in the U.S. Army during WWII, could be considered a Byronic hero: flamboyant, rebellious, courageous, intelligent, charismatic if controversial, and with Blood Knight tendencies which he acknowledged. Patton cursed like nobody's business and had little tolerance for soldiers complaining of "battle fatigue," evidenced by his slapping at least two soldiers suffering from PTSD in front of doctors. He liked to lead from the front lines, was a staunch fatalist and believed he was a warrior in several past lives. He was also terrified of dying and being forgotten by history and survived the war only to die just afterward, in an auto accident at the age of 60.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche could be considered one. An idiosyncratic philosopher out of step with the times, he committed himself to write about art, ethics, culture, and politics in an era he came to regard as superficial, self-satisfied, and slowly losing its foundations as religion was losing its sway in society. Despite going insane in his final years, and with only a small circle of friends who held interest in his work at the time, Nietzsche's ideas and philosophy, while hotly debated in terms of accuracy and merit even now, nevertheless has influenced modern society to a significant extent.
  • Maximilien Robespierre. Almost mono-maniacally dedicated to the People’s sovereignty and the defense of the Nation. Sensitive to the point that, before the Revolution, he physically became ill for a week when while serving as a judge, he had to condemn a man to death, and in the early days of the Revolution tried to abolish the death penalty entirely; he would later send even his best friends to the guillotine because he thought it was the right thing to do for France. Nicknamed “the Incorruptible” by his enemies, and not in any kind of ironic fashion. Possibly asexual but more likely suffering from something akin to love-shyness, he was one of the few Revolutionary figures not to be slandered as some kind of sexual deviant, because no one would believe it. He kept with him at all times the works of proto-Romantic Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
  • Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, Robespierre's best friend and fellow member of the Committee of Public Safety was considered during his life by his peers to be an exceptionally talented and prodigious person, who also had a ruthless streak. He was the youngest member of the National Convention and absolutely unknown until 1792, and would die in 1794, and yet in a career less than two years, he had a reputation for being one of the best orators of the Revolution, an incredibly intelligent administrator and organizer, co-authored the Constitution of 1793, and served as The Political Officer for the Army of the Rhine bringing them Back from the Brink, and would also fight alongside his troops in battle and acquit himself well. He was also ruthless known for executing aristocratic generals because of actual and perceived failure, giving speeches denouncing the Girondins, the Hebertists and Dantonists to the guillotine, with his colleague Bertrand Barere noting that, "He had a brain of fire and a heart of ice", and yet displayed Undying Loyalty to Robespierre, sticking with him even when it wasn't politically expedient, and at the night of Robespierre's downfall, amazed his captors with his total calm and composure in face of death. Historians generally see him as a figure of exceptional potential and ability, with some such as Jules Michelet (who disliked Robespierre) noting that had Saint-Just lived longer, Napoleon might have been averted:
    R. R. Palmer: This young man is one of the mysteries of the Revolution. He shot briefly across it, his time of prominence lasting less than two years, a flaming personality whose youth had been anything but promising, but whose mature years had he lived to attain them, might conceivably had rocked the world.
  • Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is a textbook example. A multimillionaire Chick Magnet who was often emotionally distant, intensely driven and passionately devoted to opposing both distinct status for his home province of Quebec and Quebec's separation from Canada, often uncaring of convention and popular opinion (whether support for Quebec nationalism or opposition to the promotion of French elsewhere in Canada), known for a long career as a public intellectual before going into politics and his flamboyant style (everything from wearing ascots and sandals in Parliament when everyone else wore suits to the Iconic Item of a rose in his lapel), Trudeau was passionately loved by some Canadians and passionately hated by others. His legacy is extremely controversial, but his impact on modern Canada is undeniable.
  • Vince McMahon fits this trope to a T. He's shown himself to be: An incredibly driven visionary who's crushed almost all his competitors and helped make wrestling into a cultural phenomenon; an obsessive loner Workaholic who sleeps only a few hours a night and structures his entire life around running his company; an obsessive Control Freak who micromanages every aspect of his company, even to the point of directing ring announcers during live shows; a Determinator who does what he wants and doesn't give a damn what his many, many critics have to say about him; a mercurial employer who can vary between being a very Bad Boss and a very supportive father to his workers; and a Non-Idle Rich man who will personally test out safety equipment and repeatedly get into brutal matches despite his advanced age, all to entertain the fans.

Alternative Title(s): Byronic Heroine


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: