The Byronic Hero is a character notable for being sullen, withdrawn, hard to like and hard to know, but usually possessing a rich inner life and a softer side accessible only to a special few.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.
- 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.
They are usually the typical Archetypes of Masculinity and Feminity due their shown aspects. See also :Masculinity Tropes and Femininity Tropes for more informations to be a Archetype of the certain gender.
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Le Visiteur du Futur: Despite his comedic quirks, the Visitor is a cunning, driven, morally ambiguous, arrogant loner with many self-critical moments. Zigzagged when it comes to charisma: many people dislike him after they meet him, because of his arrogance and overall Jerkass behaviour, but he has won about as many people to his cause, if not more after Joseph broadcasts his speech about his original world to Henry. Similarly, while he has a very cynical view of people, thinking that no one would pass a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for success to save a world they won't even live to see, he can be pretty optimistic when it comes to his goal, believing that he can correct this timeline's bug by himself.
- 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.
- 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 socializing with workers and soldiers in the persona of Rose to the isolation of ruling over them as Pink, especially after untold millennia of emotional abuse from her older sisters. The death of Pink Diamond at the hand of Rose Quartz was intended to drive her sisters away from the Earth forever, but she didn't expect they'd launch a final, parting attack. One which destroyed or horrifically mutated every Gem (rebel or otherwise) left on the planet. Despite her rosy demeanor and pride in saving the Earth, she was haunted by in her role in provoking this and her inability to heal the victims, only to collect them and keep them safe in hopes that someday a way to help them could be found.
- 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.