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Celestial Bureaucracy

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"Heaven isn't full but the car park is. Since 1993 blessed souls have been driving around looking for a space."
Loads More Lies to Tell Small Kids

A character shuffles off the mortal coil to join the choir invisible. They travel through the Tunnel of Light and come out to find... a numbered ticket dispenser and a long line.

Welcome to the Afterlife Bureaucracy. Many movies have shown the afterlife to be just an extension of the bureaucratic nightmare that plagues the living anytime they have any dealings with an official agency, complete with "Now Serving XX (XXXXXXXXXXXXXX...)" signs, waiting rooms and obstructive bureaucrats, or at least severely overworked ones. But if the departed hope to get their Final Reward, they had better make damn sure all the "i"s are dotted and the "t"s are crossed.

Expect Hell in particular to be portrayed like this, because after all, for many people, dealing with the bureaucracy is its own kind of Hell.

Chinese mythology views heaven and the afterlife as a bureaucracy patterned on their own governmental systems (or was it the other way around?), and ruled over by the benevolent Jade Emperor, making this idea Older Than Feudalism. As a result of extensive cultural exchange between Japan and China that has made this trope especially common in Anime and Manga. Judgement of the Dead is usually involved.

A Sub-Trope of Crazy Workplace. May overlap with Hell of a Heaven or Mundane Afterlife. Do not confuse it with the video game series Dept. Heaven. May overlap with Don't Fear the Reaper.

As this can be a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ah! My Goddess's Heaven is full of celestial sysadmins. The episode where Belldandy gets demon powers plays up this trope.
  • Hotori dies and finds the Japanese Heaven is like this in And Yet the Town Moves.
  • Edaniel describes the afterlife like this in Bizenghast.
  • Black Butler seems to have one too. This may be an homage to Yami no Matsuei.
  • Bleach: Soul Society is run this way, with authority from the (absentee) Soul King delegated to the (civilian) Central 46, which in turn commands the (military) Gotei 13. The bureaucracy has been in place for at least 1000 years and is just about as crusty and hide-bound as you'd expect. It's not an exaggeration to say that a good 75% of all the nonsense that goes down in Bleach is because of Soul Society being poorly governed. In the second half of the series, this is slowly changing as the Gotei becomes more open, and as Kyouraku makes reforms in the wake of Yamamoto's death.
  • Descendants of Darkness is based upon this trope. The main characters are all dead people who serve as bureaucrats for the Afterlife Bureaucracy.
  • Dragon Ball: An ever-expanding heirarchy of gods exist in the various universes who help lord over the realms and make sure things are running smoothly, including in the afterlife. However they do tend to fall hard into The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything and The Worf Effect, meaning it's often left to the protagonists to meet and defeat any conflicts that arise.
    • King Yemma is in charge of judging the souls of the dead, determining whether they go to heaven or hell. He's actually a real figure from Asian mythology, but what makes him this trope is that his role is portrayed as a literal desk-job, with paperwork and pen-pushing and everything. In a sci-fi twist, Yemma attends to aliens from other planets as well.
    • Each world has a Kami, meaning "god", although the FUNimation dubs make Kami their given name and their title changed to Guardian of Earth. They answer to the Kaio (Kaiō; "Lord of Realms") of their quadrant, who answers to the Grand Kai. Above the Grand Kai are one or more Supreme Kais (Kaiōshin; "Divine Lord of Realms"), who watch over the universe as a whole. The number of Supreme Kais to a universe appears to be variable; most universes appear to just have two (generally an elder and an apprentice), but Universe 7 had five at one point before a monster attack left them with a single Incompletely Trained one.
    • It is later revealed that the Supreme Kais are the 'Gods of Creation' and balanced by a 'God of Destruction,' who destroys old worlds and such so new ones can formed. They are technically equal in "rank" to the Supreme Kai, but given that they are in general much more powerful than the Supreme Kai, in practice the Kai will usually defer to the God of Destruction. The God of Destruction is attended by an Angel, whose job it is to take care of them and train them. Angels also happen to be far more powerful than the Gods of Destruction, generally making them the single most powerful beings in a given universe. In the DBZ universe, (said to be the 7th Universe), the God of Destruction is Beerus, and his Angel is known as Whis.
    • At the top of the hierarchy is Zen'O, "King of All" ("Grand Zen'o the Omni-King" in the English dub). He also has an Angel for an attendant, who is referred to as the Grand Priest. Unlike the Gods of Destruction, whose Angels are more powerful than they are, Zen'O is noted to be far more powerful than the Grand Priest is.
  • Hozuki's Coolheadedness is about the bureaucracy of (Buddhist) Hell. They even have paid holidays for their employees.
  • Saiyuki, being based on a classical Chinese novel, has an extensive version. Particularly of interest is Saiyuki Gaiden, set mostly in the heavenly realms and where most characters are Celestial Bureaucrats of one form or another.
  • YuYu Hakusho; Yusuke's first reaction to reaching the afterlife is to ask "Is this the stock market?" His unexpected heroic death causing problems for the bureaucracy is actually the entire catalyst of the series. Because no one expected him to pull a random selfless act and die, there was no place for him in the afterlife, and he was offered a chance to be resurrected instead. In exchange, he becomes the "Spirit World Detective," overseen by King Yama's son, Koenma. In the manga, it turns out that the bureaucracy is actually corrupt, with King Yama framing demons for violent crimes in order to maintain the Spirit World's control over the Demon World.

    Comic Books 
  • In Afterlife Inc a con-artist named Jack Fortune dies, discovers an afterlife in chaos, then takes over and runs it like a business. The road is hell is paved with good intentions, but Jack's doing pretty well in building a kinder, caring afterlife. So far.
  • The DCU:
    • Back in 1942, back before DC Comics absorbed all of their characters, Fawcet Comics debuted Kid Eternity, a young hero who was the victim of the first celestial clerical error in two million years. After his grandfather’s boat is torpedoed by a German U-boat, he ends up in Eternity (the name for Heaven here) where he finds out he isn’t supposed to die for 75 years. Fortunately, this is a Celestial Bureaucracy that is big on restitution; they not only grant him life, but incredible super-powers (including the ability to summon both historic and fictional characters to aid him) and as further largesse, appoint the portly desk jockey (“Mr. Keeper”) who made the error to act as his partner. The duo fought crime and Those Wacky Nazis for about eight years, but Kid Eternity never had the Popularity Power he needed to be a hit, although he has had a few guest appearances since then. (And ironically, if he does indeed ever want to become A-list, he has to hurry; his 75-year reprieve is almost up!)
  • In Dylan Dog there are multiple "Hells" in the afterlife, some looking like a classical Dantesque caves of eternal torture, others more peaceful and heaven-like (it's even suggested that life could be a Hell and death is only a way to get from one Hell to the other). There's a Hell dedicated to the archive of the deaths that happen in London that resembles the Obstructive Vast Bureaucracy from Brazil.
  • The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael: Purgatory/limbo is a wasteland where the souls of the formerly living wait in line at the bank of a river guarded by demonic horsemen before receiving judgment by The Ferryman, who will take them to their final destination.
  • The depiction of Hell and the Norse Afterlife seem to work this way in Ninja High School.
  • In Valérian, the celestial hierarchy based on planet Hypsis appears to be an extremely capitalist enterprise. Each pantheon's position in the hierarchy is determined by the gross national product of the planet it oversees, and it's possible for the enterprise to fail, which leads to stripping divinity and immortality from the pantheon's members, and banishing them to the infernal depths of the Point Central to work off their debts, as happened to one Mr. L.C.F. Sat. The members of the Earth's pantheon, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are a dilapidated business near collapse, and harassed by their colleagues over the Earthlings' habit of meddling with the affairs of others.

    Fan Works 
  • Dragon Ball Z Elsewhere: The Other World bureaucracy is...less than efficient. The Big Bad is released due to a bureaucratic screw-up, while another screw-up allows Dr. Gero to keep the enhancements he had when he was alive. North Kai is particularly incensed about the latter one.
  • The Haunted Mansion and the Hatbox Ghost Fan Verse has a Reconstruction version of this trope. Though the ghost realm, worldwide, is a rather lawless mess, the Haunted Mansion itself has a bureaucracy through the Ghost Relations Department, and ghosts have to fill out all sorts of forms to be allowed to haunt the house permanently. The Ghost Host, a self-described stickler for paperwork, imposes it on the other spooks, much to their annoyance.
  • Mr and Mrs Gold: The Underworld seems to have shades of this. Lines of people waiting to get onto Charon’s boat (with proper payment of course), an intercom voice instructing them what to do, etc.
  • Music Of The After: The Land of the Dead has one, but unfortunately for Rebecca, they can’t find any of her undead relatives on her American side, and she doesn’t know any relatives on her Mexican side, forcing Hector to act as her caretaker.

    Films — Animated 
  • In the animated short film Heavenly Appeals, a reformed devil presents his appeals case to an obese angel guard at the gates of Heaven, only to be cruelly denied and have his documents thrown away. The angel further torments him by using a lever to make him bounce up and down on the stone platform he's sitting on, only to fall off his own cloud when he chokes on a donut. After hesitating, the devil saves the angel and they sit together on the cliff...and then the angel shoves the devil off. But the devil is saved when he grows a pair of angel wings and a halo off-screen. He joyfully enters the gates of Heaven, while the angel's wings disappear and he grows horns as he's cast down into Hell.
  • Hades' realm in Disney's Hercules approaches this: though the place where the afterlife go is a chaotic swirling pool of ghosts and goo, when the dead enter Hades, a little sign clicks in: "1000001 served."
  • Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio: We don't see a lot of the afterlife, but the Black Rabbits use a clocking-in machine like stereotypical blue collar workers when they're off work and there's mention of paperwork confirming Pinocchio's decease.
  • Pixar:
    • In Coco, there's a small team of immigration agents whose job is to help those in the Land of the Dead going to see their descendants (and stopping anyone who's not on their family's ofrenda), or coming home with gifts and offerings.
    • Soul contrasts the friendly counselors (all named "Jerry") who help new souls in the Great Before develop their personalities before going to Earth with Terry, the ornery accountant who tabulates the souls going into the Great Beyond. And when they notice an anomaly in the count, Terry goes out of their way to drag Joe's errant soul back to the conveyor belt. In the end, the Jerries shift a bead on Terry's abacus while they're not looking and give Joe a second chance at life as a reward for helping 22.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Horn Blows At Midnight: This infamous Jack Benny flop has Benny's character dreaming he's in a Fluffy Cloud Heaven featuring an elaborate bureaucracy and orchestras of angels from multiple planets. Benny's assigned to end the planet Earth by blowing his titular trumpet...Hilarity Ensues.
  • Beetlejuice. The afterlife is a waiting room and a surreal office building staffed by the ghosts of people who committed suicide. The newly dead are assigned case workers who give limited guidance, and the dead are expected to read The Handbook for the Recently Deceased immediately upon their death (not that anyone comes out and tells them to read it, it’s just expected).
  • Defending Your Life has an afterlife of prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, and a huge legal tangle.
  • A Matter of Life and Death, known in the U.S. as Stairway to Heaven.
  • Here Comes Mr. Jordan features bungled soul reaping by an officious (psychopompous?) angel known only as 7013, as part of a rather airline-esque afterlife.
  • In The Time of Their Lives (1946), after the curse that prevents Patriot Horatio Prim from ascending to Heaven is lifted, he is still excluded — because Heaven is "Closed for Washington's Birthday."
  • The Tooth Fairy: Not afterlife, but still (usually) invisible to humans.
  • A Life Less Ordinary saw heaven as this, complete with archangels as harassed middle-managers.
  • The Adjusters in The Adjustment Bureau are supernatural beings in charge of human destinies... and they dress like '50s office clerks and work in what appears to be a huge chancellery.
  • Nick's introduction to the R.I.P.D. takes place in an office, outside of which are walls full of filing cabinets as far as the eyes can see.
  • The Japanese film Afterlife is set in an Afterlife Antechamber where the newly-dead are put through a formal process to prepare them for eternity.
  • The Jam Handy short Out of This World is about angel-like and demon-like characters who are actually file clerks who share an office tracking the sales numbers for bread salesmen. They perform a minor Job-like bet on a random bread salesman to see if he'll keep up good sales technique after somebody makes fun of him for it, simply out of boredom.
  • It's a Wonderful Life has shades of this. Angels are divided into classes (Clarence, for instance, is a Guardian A2—Angel, Second Class), and to "advance," a particular soul needs to successfully perform duties and thus gain wings and more celestial powers. These duties are apparently assigned in a rotating order, with angels getting turns ever few centuries or so. Even prayer is implied to work this way—the film opens with dozens of people praying for George Bailey, and two high-ranking angels remark that they'll have to send someone down because of the high numbers.
  • The afterlife in Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds is organized like a bureaucracy. King Yeomra oversees all of the Hells and decides on the order in which a soul will face the Hells. The gods of each Hell judges souls, with guardians acting as defense lawyers and prosecutors on the other side. There are different levels of guardians and prosecutors, with each gaining a promotion if they succeed. There are also rules and regulations that govern how guardians and prosecutors can operate.
  • Hellraiser: Judgement: Hell, or rather the Stygian Inquisition within it, is portrayed as very bureaucratic. New arrivals are interviewed by The Auditor, who puts their sins to paper, which are then eaten by another demon (The Assessor), and finally judged by the Jury. If found guilty, the Butcher and the Surgeon finish the sinner off. Pinhead and his Cenobites are part of a different faction of demons (The Order of the Gash) dedicated to pleasure and pain as an end in itself, and only rarely get involved with other matters.
  • Orpheus: For murdering Eurydice and taking her to the underworld, the princess (an angel of death) has to face a tribunal consisting of some weary-looking bureaucrats. She's basically let off with a warning. For making an unauthorized entry into the afterlife to get Eurydice, Orpheus is forbidden to ever look at her again, with her having to go back if she does.
  • Parking (1985) has a dreary Underworld based on the metro, and Orpheus accidentally dies due to a clerical error which is corrected once he meets up with Hades.
  • In Monkeybone comatose people are kept in "Down Town" until Death, from her office building, doesn't send a reaper to give an "Exit Pass" to those who are free to go and return to the living world.
  • In Shredder Orpheus, Orpheus enters Hades' Underworld to find a gloomy office setting adjacent to his broadcasting network. Apollo and Calliope work in the memory-processing department and are tasked with erasing incoming souls' memories via a magic paper shredder.
  • In Spirited (2022), aside from the afterlife being like a musical with song and dance numbers happening all over the place, it contains the department dedicated to redeeming one selfish person every Christmas. This is run like a mortal office job with a staff of assistants who do the investigation and prep work that the Spirits of Christmas need to play their parts. And after Clint Briggs dies performing an Heroic Sacrifice, he quickly gets to work expanding the department to cover more holidays.
  • In Toothless, Limbo is a desert waiting area where souls are judged worthy or not, with professions such as dentistry being considered detrimental to entering Heaven.

  • Three social workers are driving together to a social work conference when they are killed in a car crash. They end up approaching St. Peter in heaven, where they will each have to tell him what they did with their lives, so that St. Peter can determine whether they go to heaven or hell.
    The first social worker says, "I worked for the county welfare department. It was a really hard job and I was overloaded with clients, but I did help some people living in poverty to get necessary services." St. Peter thinks for a little bit, types into his computer for a little bit and says, "OK, you can go to heaven."
    The second social worker says, "I worked for Child Protective Services. It was really hard and depressing work, but I helped some children get out of abusive homes." St. Peter thinks for a little bit, types into his computer for a little bit, and says, "OK, you can go to heaven."
    The third social worker says, "I worked for a managed care company. I was very well paid and had a nice cushy office, and I really saved that insurance company a lot of money!" St. Peter thinks for a little bit, types into his computer for a little bit, and says, "OK, you can go to heaven, but you can only stay for three days."

  • Divine Misfortune: While it's implied that The Time of Myths was a free-for-all, the Court of Divine Affairs was established to keep the gods from destroying the world out of vindictiveness, vengeance or sheer boredom. They also help enforce the rights of their mortal followers to a minimum (albeit while still being lower than gods in the cosmic hierarchy) and dually punish gods who threaten the world.
  • Inferno (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle): Hell is run by an infernal variant, staffed by lost souls as well as demons. The wall of Dis is staffed by a vast organization of damned bureaucrats from across human history, and human soldiers take the place of the original's centaurs in guarding the violent in the Seventh Circle of Hell.
  • Slayers: The monsters have one; all we really know about it is that Xellos, despite being more powerful than any of Shaburanigdo's lieutenants (he was apparently created specifically for the War of the Monster's Fall), ranks well below them.
  • The main setting of Keys to the Kingdom is one. It's not an afterlife, but it is the heart of creation and was created as a Cosmic Keystone and to observe and document everything that happens in reality. It doesn't function very well, mainly due to corruption and incompetence.
    Arthur shut his eyes for a moment. He couldn’t believe he was being told about an accounting problem in the epicentre of the universe, in the House on which the entirety of creation depended for its continuing existence.
  • Lemegeton Clavicula Salomonis, or Solomon's Key. This foundational text of Western occultism/magic presents a very complicated government of demons that can be summoned to do the magician's bidding. Dukes, Princes, Generals, Viceroys, and many others hold rank and administer specific functions in Hell.
  • Given it was written in Qing dynasty China it's not surprising that a number of stories in Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio feature the Heavenly Bureaucracy. In one, a newly deceased man takes the Celestial court's exam and is awarded a post as god of his city, but refuses on the grounds that he needed to care for his ailing mother. His examiners are impressed by his show of filial devotion and grant him a sabbatical leave until his mother dies of old age and he's free to assume his divine position.
  • Les jeux sont faits (The Game is Up or The Chips Are Down depending on the translation) by Sartre, written in 1943.
  • Tom Holt's Here Comes The Sun is entirely based on this trope. For example, a complaints form consists of a pure, 24-carat gold slab several acres in area, which is filled with so much bureaucratic crap that the actual complaint needs to be chiseled in microscopic writing in a millimetre-wide spot.
    • Holt loves this one. In Paint Your Dragon, Hell is portrayed as a bureaucracy, and Chardonay is explicitly referred to as Management.
  • C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters is one of the earliest English-language examples (though he acknowledges a 17th-century example in the prologue), featuring a Diabolical Bureaucracy (given the focus of the book, readers never learn what heaven is like). In this case, Hell's bureaucracy was created by taking what Lewis saw as good qualities, such as a sense of humor about oneself, and seeing what was left.
  • The Dark Heavens series is based around ancient Chinese mythology, and hence contains numerous references to the celestial bureaucracy, with one character complaining about how much paperwork his quarter of heaven requires.
  • Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, is built on this trope from start to finish. Crowley and Aziraphale treat their respective work— infernal wiles and heavenly intervention— like boring quotas that just need filling in between the real fun, which only Earth can provide. Both are frustrated with orders from higher-ups (or lower-downs) who know all about paperwork but nothing about how sinning and saving is different in the 20th century than the 14th.
  • The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson features the Bardo (the afterlife of Tibetan folklore), which, in reflection of the growing influence of China in the living world, is gradually taken over by the Chinese Celestial Bureaucracy.
  • In Inferno by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle, which is a modern re-imagining of Dante's Inferno, Hell is one big, strange bureaucracy whose motives the protagonist puzzles out during the course of the story.
  • The Wish List features Saint Peter griping about how computer programmers never get past the Pearly Gates, so he has to do all of his records manually. The staff of Hell dread being reassigned to somewhere even worse than they already are.
  • Mark Twain's Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven includes a part where he lands in an alien heaven and has to deal with the bureaucracy to get to the heaven for Earth.
  • Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series has one of these. Part of the new Death's personal problems with the system is that babies born of rape or incest are automatically set at the half-good half-bad line, meaning any stillborns or crib death babies are automatically sent to purgatory to become office accountants. (Until he fixes it.)
  • In Journey to the West, there is even a list in the underworld dictating who goes there. Guess whose names Sun Wukong crosses off when he storms in.
    • An entire chapter revolves around someone's soul accidentally being sent back to Earth in another body due to a bureaucratic screw-up.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Job: A Comedy of Justice plays with this concept.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians:
    • The Underworld in Percy Jackson and the Olympians is victim to this. There's a long wait for departed souls, and Charon really wants to have a pay-raise.
    • Even the EZ-Death line is backed up in The Last Olympian. Those with special circumstances, which is everyone else, are put on the very slow Attendant On Duty lines.
  • The Kushiel's Legacy novels give Chi'in people this version of the afterlife, since they are a stand-in for Chinese. But the very good people get to skip the bureaucracy.
  • Andrei Belyanin:
    • Heaven in Andrei Belyanin's My Wife Is a Witch duology is run by a bureaucracy. The protagonist's personal angel Ancifer has to file daily reports on his charge's activities. In the second book, it is revealed that Hell has decided to adopt a similar system, and his demon Farmason is not at all happy with all the deadlines and reports in triplicate.
    • Belyanin's On-Call Demon novel has a similar premise. The protagonist is a demon named Abifasdon whose job involves collecting on the souls of people whose Deal with the Devil has expired (although, he still has to get an invitation to come in). His wife also works there but in the Temptation Department. She uses her demoness wiles to trick (usually) male clients into signing such deals. Usually, her clients will sign the deal for a night with her, which Abifasdon doesn't mind (sex with a human is meaningless to a demon). Abifasdon's best (and only) friend is an bodybuilding angel, whose job frequently requires him to kick Abifasdon's ass if the client whose soul Abifasdon has come to collect on has suddenly decided to repent or has connections "upstairs".
  • Hell, in Johannes Cabal the Necromancer. This is apparently fairly recent, as the obstructive bureaucrat to end all obstructive bureaucrats who... "improved" things had only arrived in the mid-1800s. This is Played for Laughs, used to set up at least two impressive moments for Cabal, and one heartwarming scene (a rare thing, in that book).
  • Michelle Scott's Lilith Straight Series depicts hell as an enormous office building with industrial, gray carpeting, flickering fluorescent lights, and labyrinthine hallways. The Devil is a Bad Boss whose Beleaguered Assistant is constantly buried under paperwork.
  • Discworld:
    • This trope taken to its logical extreme perfectly describes the Auditors of Reality, who are essentially bureaucrats who oversee the minutiae of the Magical Underpinnings of Reality. Unfortunately for all sapient life, they despise anything resembling creativity or individuality, since it increases the amount of paperwork they have to do.
    • Discworld's Hell - at least during Astfgl's stint as Demon King in Eric - is also portrayed as a literally soul-grinding bureaucracy, with the torment of pushing a rock up a hill being replaced by the greater torment of listening to the associated Health and Safety regulations, and the ancient ledgers being replaced by modern filing cabinets. While this does have the desired effect on the damned, the demons have to suffer it right along with them. When the demons finally have enough of all this they do what any bureaucracy would do in the situation - promote Astfgl to a position where he doesn't actually have any responsibility, and give him a very nice office and a speaking tube that doesn't connect to anyone.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's "Leaf by Niggle", the protagonist is a bit casual in preparing for his demise, so he is assigned to a sort of purgatory. After he learns to be better organized, the entities in charge send him on further.
  • Implied in the earlier chapters of The Atomic Blood-Stained Bus, and then shown outright when Garfield and Algernon go to the offices of the gods and deal with the receptionist and security angels.
  • Journey to Chaos: The grim reapers of the Abyss are organized into ranks and governed by laws and customs. Their scythe is the symbol of their office. For instance, Reno Grade is a third class trainee reaper whose scythe is blood red while Modil Pera is a first class senior reaper and carries a sycthe with a gold blade.
  • The Detective Inspector Chen series features a bureaucratic afterlife based on Chinese mythology.
  • In Atharon, Avatars for different magical professions make one of these. Things get messy quickly whenever live mortals need to interact with them. Dead souls are ok, it's all in the days work for the Avatars.
  • The premise of You Are Dead (Sign Here Please) is the protagonist runs afoul of the bureaucrats who run the universe by being the first person in history to refuse, upon the end of his natural life, to sign his 21B (Decedent Acknowledgment and Waiver of Liability) and therefore becoming immortal until such a time as he can be tricked or cajoled into doing so. Bureaucracy in the world of the novel turns out to be not only essential to anything happening over a certain size, but also the literal meaning of life. As the universe expanded and grew more complex, the original bureaucrats created life on Earth, culminating in humans with immortal souls who could enter the afterlife upon death and help out with all the paperwork that was piling up.
  • Tad Williams's The Dirty Streets Of Heaven series has angels and demons divided into specific jobs within specific geographical areas. Protagonist Bobby Dollar (angel name Doloriel) is assigned as an advocate, or someone who argues for a soul's admission into heaven, facing off against a demon who advocates for the soul to go to hell based on their life and actions therein.
  • Isaac Asimov's "The Last Trump": Archangel Gabriel must show junior seraph Etheriel the paperwork for the Act of Ascendancy they're here to announce/enact. Acts countersigned by the Chief cannot be revoked. Meeting the Chief is to be done by appointment, and there's a six-winged cherub who acts as his secretary.
  • The titular institution from The Ferryman Institute is the first of many supernatural institutions made to escort the souls of the departed to the afterlife. As mankind grew in size, not only did the Institute have to grow, but Death began creating other competing agencies to compensate for the workload.
  • In the Bulgarian short story On The Other Side by Elin Pelin, St. Peter has to whip out a tome ("numbered, bound and sealed by God's hand") to convince a recently passed old man that he belongs in Heaven, not Hell.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dead Like Me features a character who gets turned into a grim reaper and joins the bureaucratic mess of being a psychopomp. One episode (the cut scene episode) explicitly lampshades this.
  • The Underworld as depicted in The Middle Man is a giant office building with files in the back room and a Deadpan Snarker at the desk position.
  • In an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, "The Tale of Station 109.1", the main character is mistaken for a dead person at their local Celestial Bureaucracy. The clerk there, played by Special Guest Gilbert Gottfried, tells him "I don't make mistakes! When I was alive, I worked at the Department of Motor Vehicles!"
  • A Turkish series called Ruhsar plays with this: Essentially, the afterlife is mentioned (since the audience never sees anything beyond the "lobby") to adhere to the traditional standards Heaven and Hell. But they are both managed by a Celestial Bureaucracy. Some episodes revolved around the Bureaucratic nature of the afterlife such as the titular character working in a "Heaven Modernisation Committee" or having run-ins with the Obstructive Bureaucrat Angels after accidentally violating a regulation.
  • An episode of Murder Most Horrid has The Grim Reaper complaining endlessly about this. They gave her a makeover because they thought she was too grim for modern customers.
  • Supernatural:
    • Heaven is like this, at least for the Angels (human souls are all inside their own Matrix-like fantasy worlds). The main hall where the Angels congregate looks like a white, ordane office, and Zachariah can be one scary-ass careerist.
    • Hell, under the Crowley regime, is also like this. It's just one long, shabby waiting line. He changed it to this in "The Man Who Would Be King" because he noticed that too many people sent to Hell were masochists that were Too Kinky to Torture, but everybody hates waiting in line.
    • The (current) Grim Reaper takes Dean to her office in "Advanced Thanatology", which resembles a large hallway lined with dozens of bookshelves detailing mortals' fated deaths. Apparently, as shown in "Byzantium", the back room is occupied by Anubis, who became one of Heaven's "contractors" aeons ago.
  • Deliberately invoked by the Ferengi in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; since the Ferengi Hat is being cunning, and placing wealth above all else (including family), this is how the Ferengi view whatever they have in place of heaven; and they strive to get to their Heaven (or, as they call it, The Divine Treasury). Basically, they believe that when a Ferengi dies, he meets the Blessed Exchequer, who reviews his life's finances. Those who have earned a profit in life get to enter the Divine Treasury to bid on a new life in front of the Celestial Auctioneers. Those who haven't are doomed to spend eternity in the Vault of Eternal Destitution.
  • In Horrible Histories, the Stupid Deaths skits often reference an afterlife bureaucracy, for example Death talks about how big his workload was during the bubonic plague, or tells someone whose death he views as insufficiently interesting (or stupid) to "get back in the Boring Deaths line."
  • The Promised Land comes off this way in Doctor Who. Characters who have (apparently) died in-story appear in a garden or a gleaming white hallway to give their statements to Missy or her assistant Seb.
  • The Magicians (2016): In a variant, the Underworld is a nice version of this trope, especially considering everything else is a Crapsack World. Dead souls find themselves in what looks like a pleasant hotel lobby, with friendly staff ready to help them make the transition as smoothly as possible, along with an orientation video from Hades and pamphlets promising newcomers that they're (probably) not going to Hell. There are miniature paradises filled with mundane things people might enjoy like bowling while they wait to be sorted into their final afterlives, and the only real rules are that souls without shades are quarantined, and you're not allowed to interact with other souls if you were culpable in their deaths.
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch has elements of this with the Other Realm, the home of all witches and magic users. One episode reveals that there's a gigantic list of rules that must be followed, to the point where a mage is assigned to the role of Official Rule Keeper just to tell people about what laws they're breaking. In another, Hilda and Zelda must go to the YMCA—that's "Yikes! Magical Crisis Association"—to help Harvey out of a jam, and end up waiting in line for hours as they try to fill out the proper forms and deal with a less-than-helpful staff.
  • The Good Place: Every single action in your life is given a score managed by accountants. Even trivial things like buying a trashy magazine (bad) or eating a healthy sandwich (good). When you die you need a very high positive score in order to get into the titular Good Place while everyone else goes to the Bad Place. The scoring system however is infamously convoluted and at times nonsensical with a mention in season 3 that only the accountants have full knowledge on how the system works (for example, that healthy sandwich is worth less points on a baguette, because it makes it more French). Outside the neighborhoods, everything (at least on one side) is run like a company complete with board meetings, climbing the corporate ladder, approaching work like a day at the office and coffee breaks, while another side is run by a committee so hidebound that it's going to take them 1,400 years just to form the committee to investigate a complaint.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Dead Run", Johnny Davis begins working as a truck driver transporting condemned souls to Hell. Within hours, he discovers that many of the damned don't deserve to be there. For instance, one woman was too self-centered in life, one man only saw the dirt in life and not the beauty and another was an atheist. After the souls riot, Johnny is brought to meet the Dispatcher, who has the final say on who is sent to Hell because the Boss abdicated responsibility long ago. The Dispatcher explains to Johnny and he is instituting "time honored Biblical standards" in holding the departed souls to a high standard. He sees it as his duty to combat the "secular, intellectual propaganda" of the modern age and ensure that pornographers, heathens, atheists, humanists and others receive the punishment that they deserve. Johnny is disgusted and helps a draft dodger, a junkie, a librarian who fought against banned books being removed from the shelves and a young gay man escape to Heaven.
  • The short-lived 1994 series Heaven Help Us has a couple dying in a plane crash on their honeymoon. They're met in a hotel by Mr. Shepherd (Ricardo Montalbán) who explains they've "fallen through the cracks". It seems that they died just as one second was being added to the cosmic clock. Also, their plane went down exactly halfway between Houston and Scottsdale, and the "manager" of each city assumed the other guy was handling it ("they have both been severely disciplined.") Thus, it's impossible to tell if the couple belongs in "the up place or the down place" and are being given a chance to decide by becoming semi-angelic figures helping others in need.
  • Doubles with Mundane Afterlife in Miracle Workers (Season One). After you die, you become an angel working at Heaven Inc., which runs the whole world, with departments running from the Department of Dirt to the badly understaffed Department of Answered Prayers, to the now defunct Department of Mammoths.
  • Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell envisions Hell as a (literally) soul-sucking cubicle farm, with Satan serving as a Corrupt Corporate Executive.

  • Part of the plotline of Jethro Tull's 1973 Concept Album, "A Passion Play", concerns something of a Celestial Bureaucracy involving one "G. Oddie And Son" running Heaven as bureaucratic office managers. This theme would have been carried over into the next year's proposed film project which became the "WarChild" album.
  • In the Hungarian song Penitencia by Zorán, the protagonist meets God, which is depicted as a job interview. He eventually fails and is sent back to Earth.
  • "The Afterlife" by Paul Simon
    You got to fill out a form first
    And then you wait in the line
  • "Alleluia" by Dar Williams tells the story of a dead rebel without a cause who feels out of place in Heaven, which is sort of like a school or community center, with planned activities, etc. In the lyrics of the bridge, a "guidance-counselor"-like God says, "how could this be, that's really odd / I guess I'll have to check my records, silly me, you know, I'm only God."

    Mythology and Religion 
  • In The Aeneid Aeneas travels through the underworld to Elysium, where he finds his father, Anchises — who is numbering souls on a tablet. So he's pretty much got a clipboard and is taking the names of everyone in Heaven.
  • Traditional Chinese religion took this concept and ran with it.
    • For starters, their head God is literally an Emperor (The Jade Emperor), and the afterlife is run like the Old Chinese Empire, with the Emperor, his courtiers, various ministries and their respective ministers handling various departments regarding celestial/mortal life, and governors (with the Mortal Chinese Emperor being governor of the Mortal world)
    • This is primarily the reason why the Chinese believed the Emperor had the "Mandate of Heaven." Just as an Emperor would appoint a Governor, then probably the Jade Emperor mandated that the Mortal Emperor be governor of this world. Additionally, this too is why Chinese don't really put much stock in Royal Houses. Governorship of a Province in Imperial China was not hereditary, and therefore the Mortal Emperor's governorship of this world isn't either. Hence Heaven can withdraw the "Mandate." How do they know a mandate is withdrawn? By the simple matter of the Emperor being incompetent/corrupt, whereby it is the peasants' right to remove him, and replace him with either another noble house, a commoner, or even a foreign conquering barbarian as with the case of Kublai Khan and the Manchus.
    • Everyone in the Jade Emperor's Afterlife Empire becomes the God of his associated job/responsibilities. The Jade Emperor's cook? God of the Kitchen. The Palace Guards? Gods of Guarding/Gates/doorways. Hell, if the Celestial Empire upgraded, some of The Jade Emperor's webmasters might be Gods of Webmastering or something.
    • Mortals are often "hired" too. Some scholars believe Zao Jun (The Kitchen God) was an actual person in early Chinese history, possibly some chef with god-tier skills. The Ancient Chinese must have believed the Gods would want such a bloke to feed them.
      • This is occasionally a cause of Odd Job Gods. For instance Guan Yu, a street vendor who rose to become a great general, became Guandi, god of war... and of bean curd sellers.
    • The most prominent of the celestial bureaucrats was Wenchang Wang, the god of officials, examination candidates, and military officers. Students often prayed to him before taking one of the phenomenally hard Imperial Examinations, and religious philanthropists honored him by not wasting or misusing paper with writing on it. Additionally, Lord Wenchang is responsible for keeping the Cinnamon Ledger, on which everyone's deeds and the rewards/punishments due are recorded and changed accordingly.
    • The Chinese Place of Judgement resembles an Ancient Chinese Court of Law/Justice, with Yen Lo as the Lord/God of Judgement. Funnily, depictions of judgement by the Imperial Chinese features Yen Lo, in traditional judge's attire, seated on a desk cluttered with paperwork. He is surrounded by supernatural bureaucrats, record-makers, plaintiffs, jury, and even demonic lictors (court of justice guards).
    • The soul of the departed? Well, obviously the defendant, against a Mirror that plays instances of specific actions in his life. What's more, you get to have a supernatural lawyer! Who knows the laws of heaven, and unlike in most religions, you can argue your way out of a sentence in Chinese Hell. And Chinese Hell (as Heaven and Hell are one in the Chinese Afterlife) resembles, again, an Old Chinese torture chamber/prison, whereby you serve your (exceedingly brutal) punishment for a given amount of time (not unlike the mortal penal system), and then you're released either in the afterlife or you get reborn.
    • In China it's a common custom to burn offerings known as Hell Bank Notes. They're meant for the deceased to spend in the afterlife.
    • It's also amusing to note that a number of Chinese and Indian near-death experiences include being informed by clerks that there has been a "clerical error" and "someone else with your name was supposed to die today."
    • Ghosts in Chinese mythology sometimes are similar to western ideas, haunting their place of death due to an unusual death and clinging on to some connection with the world of the living. Some ghosts, however, are assigned to haunt on earth by the heavenly bureaucracy in order to inspire proper respect for the dead.
  • There is a Christian image of Heaven where St. Peter works the Pearly Gates, sitting at a high desk and letting people in based on the information in some great book (or, more recently, computer). God or Jesus will sometimes fill this role. However, this depiction of Heaven is merely a pop-cultural thing, it doesn't appear anywhere in the religion itself. The origin of the meme is probably that in the Bible, the names of all saved souls are said to be written into a "Book of Life" that God uses as a sort of roll of honor — and even that is probably more symbolic than literal.
  • In Egyptian Mythology, in order to gain a eternal life in the paradise, there's are a huge number of prerequisites to fill, as you need to be mummified, prayed to, have a tomb with a name and food tribute made by your loved ones just to be judged, in which you need to have an unimpeachable life to avoid having your soul eaten by a chimera, and after that, there's still a very long and dangerous journey to reach paradise.
    • There was even several gods associated with bureaucracy. Including Ma'at (The bureaucracy of law and order through her aspect as the goddess of truth), her husband Thoth (The bureaucracy on a cosmic scale as one of the creators of the universe, including the concept of writing) and their daughter Seshat (goddess of bureaucracy in general, especially in regards to record keeping).
  • In Gnostic works, the Archons are pretty much this, being heavenly agents with a complex hierarchy that deal with the souls after they die. Unfortunately, they eat said souls. The Aeons are also a complex hierarchy, but they don't deal with the souls that manage to transcend the Archons.
  • The Qur'an: Islam, every part of a sentient being's (djinns are included) afterlife is managed by angels. For instance, every single human has two angels sitting on their shoulders to write down their piety and sin. After the Kiamat (End of the World), everyone will be in purgatory, where they have to go through several trials, which will be made either easier or harder based on those angels' reports. Afterward, the reports will be publicly announced to everyone who has been gathered, whereupon it will be decided how long they're going to stay in hell. Yes, according to some interpretations of Islam, everyone's going to hell at first, where the angels — not Satan — will torture them based on the sins they've committed. After repenting for their sins, the person will be removed from hell and gain eternity in heaven, where the same angels who tortured them become their steadfast companions and servants.

  • This trope is a mainstay of Less is Morgue. Evelyn describes purgatory as being like the DMV, another character is forced to fill out mountains of paperwork before being assigned to his afterlife, and The Grim Reaper uses a mobile app - that he can't even begin to understand - to judge the spirits of the deceased.

  • In The Odyssey of Runyon Jones by Norman Corwin, a nine-year old boy traverses the cosmos, pleading with its various department heads for info concerning his dead dog who has been sent to "Curgatory."
  • The central premise of Old Harry's Game, a workplace comedy set in Fire and Brimstone Hell. Heaven is apparently even more of a mess from what is seen in-story, since Satan is slightly less of a Pointy-Haired Boss than God.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The pantheon of Kara-tur, the Forgotten Realms' fantasy counterpart to East Asia, is actually called the Celestial Bureaucracy.
    • The Nine Hells of Baator has an Infernal Bureaucracy centered around the damnation of mortal souls, which requires a good deal of paperwork and a special breed of devilish bureaucrats. Mortal souls that arrive in Baator are marked based on which devil managed to tip their alignment to Lawful Evil, and shuttled off to the plane's different layers depending on which archdevil will ultimately take credit for their damnation, where they will be tortured for spiritual energy and transformed into a new devil at the bottom of the infernal pecking order. There's a court system where mortals who signed a Deal with the Devil can try to argue their cases and get out of an infernal contract, and though the devils will provide free legal counsel, they'll also do their best to prove that a mortal's other actions in life damned them for unrelated reasons. Devils compete viciously with each other to fill their damnation quotas and earn promotion to a more powerful form of Baatezu - demotion is feared more than oblivion because it's humiliating and agonizing, while at least oblivion is painless. Throw in "soul futures" trading, spiritual loan sharks trading a few souls now to a desperate devil for the promise of more souls later, devils competing with each other for rights to the most productive soul harvesting territory on the Material Plane, "lateral demotions" of dangerous underlings into forms of devil ill-suited for soul collection and thus further promotion, and archdevils trying to poach talent from each other, and the whole thing comes across as a dark satire of corporate politics.
  • Exalted includes a Celestial Bureaucracy, and player characters may be part of it. However, it differs from most examples of the Trope in that, while it runs Creation (the mortal world), it has little to do with the afterlife of mortals beyond filing the requisite paperwork to ensure the process of their Reincarnation goes smoothly (assuming that mortals don't have some strong attachment to their former lives, since actual lingering ghosts don't fall under the Celestial Bureaucracy's jurisdiction, which turns out to be a pretty significant crack to fall through).

    The Celestial Order, as it's called, also has a bit of a problem with unemployment. This is partly a holdover from a time when Creation had been subjected to a series of cataclysms, and thus Heaven shut their doors to prevent the massive influx of gods whose jobs and homes in the mortal world had been destroyed. When it turned out Creation had survived after all, Heaven was also left with the difficult task of working with and around the Spirit Courts, local unions formed by gods and elementals who realised that they had been written off by the higher ups.
  • Feng Shui has the traditional Chinese Hells, and it mentions in one sourcebook that the evil imperial eunuch sorcerers of 69 AD are trying to contact and bribe the eunuchs of the Heavenly Court. They haven't succeeded yet, and they think it's probably because they haven't come up with a big enough bribe.
  • In Nomine features a form of bureaucracy for both Heaven and Hell. Heaven is ruled by the Seraphim Council, and also has Dominic's angels running around checking for heresy. Hell has Asmodeus's demons enforcing the rules of "The Game", but cheating is often encouraged.
    • It's been said of the setting that both Heaven and Hell are feudal bureaucracies, but the Devil is, quite literally, in the details.
  • Invisible Sun has the Pale Sun, the realm of ghosts and the dead, play host to a surprisingly byzantine bureaucracy holds sway and strictly regulates everything from construction to marriage.
  • Ironclaw: In the first expansion Jadeclaw, Zhōngguó, being not merely a Fantasy Counterpart Culture but even sharing a name with China, believes in a celestial bureaucracy. And one of the sample characters is a dragon who was fired from his job in the weather department for sleeping on the job and causing a flood, as shown in this comic.
  • In Pathfinder, this is the Boneyard, a cemetery like plane where the goddess of death Pharasma sits in judgement of the recently dead, and sends them onwards to the appropriate afterlife. The lines are quite long, but the whole thing is efficiently managed by the Psychopomps, True Neutral outsiders who run the place and handle the paperwork. Why all this is necessary is uncertain, as Pharasma is also the goddess of prophesy, and supposedly knows the ultimate fate of every soul anyway.
  • Scion has a game extension dealing with the Celestial Bureaucracy. The main Chinese gods are featured and may be chosen as parents of the player characters. The second edition promotes the Chinese gods to a main pantheon, but changes the name to Shen. They still very much remain extremely bureaucratic, and because of it, Chinese Scions become immune to earthy ones.

  • Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit alludes to this; the ghost of the male lead's first wife refers to filling in a bunch of forms so she can come back to haunt him when he hosts a seance at his house.

    Video Games 
  • Afterlife (1996) is entirely based off this concept - The player has to plan out both heaven and hell to be, respectively, as pleasant and torturous as they can be. The game includes workforce management (angels and demons), bank loans (the currency is pennies from heaven, with the banks of heaven and hell offering different terms), placing development zones (for the seven deadly sins), and a dry, worldly demon in a business suit as one of your advisors.
  • Atlantis: The Lost Tales: In the sequel(Atlantis II in Europe, Beyond Atlantis outside Europe), while traveling in ancient China the player enters Hell to acquire an item, discovering it is a bureaucracy run by bored demons. The lost souls of those who died trying to cut through the red tape still wander the area.
  • In Death and Taxes the player character is a Grim Reaper charged with maintaining the balance of life and death for a small town, through paperwork. Departments exist for the death of all things - from plants to animals to humans to stars to galaxies.
  • In the Death Jr. series, Death is the CEO of the corporation that handles the afterlife. The bureaucracy happens later (endless queues of souls, reams of forms) when Bureaucracy, the fifth horseman of the apocalypse, tries to take over.
  • The celestial realm of Dept. Heaven is, ironically enough, one of these; from the glimpses the players get over the series, it is a strictly hierarchy-based realm controlled by a small council who are the gods' proxies, particularly in Riviera, where the gods are in absentia. And thanks to the series' villain, the system is corrupt as all get-out, too.
  • The main character of Grim Fandango is an employee at the Department of Death, which guides souls to the afterlife. It's a post-mortem travel agency.
  • What we see of Hell in Guacamelee! is a huge law firm called "Devil's Advocates", full of accountants and motivational posters. Of course the Devil's office is at the top of the building.
  • In Hades, which focuses on Greek mythology, many of the Chthonic gods have roles that contribute to running the Underworld and managing the souls of the dead. Charon ferries dead souls down the River Styx (after Hermes delivers them to him), Hypnos keeps track of new arrivals, and Hades himself decides where the dead will be placed, determines any punishments, and listens to their claims. Meanwhile, Thanatos is in charge of delivering the souls of those who died peaceful deaths, and the Furies punish those who committed particular crimes in life. Despite the focus on the afterlife, it's still very much a bureaucracy with a lot of paperwork involved; there's even an administrative office that Zagreus can gain access to (and he even tried to work there himself, with disastrous results).
  • Have a Nice Death (2022): It's a roguelike platformer where the The Grim Reaper has outsourced soul collection and become a CEO of a company processing souls, Death Inc. , unfortunately the department heads have staged a hostile takeover and Death has to get the company back.
  • Jade Empire, being set in a fantastic equivalent of Imperial China, has its own Celestial Bureaucracy which is played for comic effect.
    • In one instance, a minor god assigned by the bureaucracy to tabulate the karmic effects of the player's actions appears to him/her, in order to complain about all the work you've caused him to have to do. In fact he was overwhelmed and demoted to finance, where he now tries to show his superiors how efficient he is by acting as your private store. Having taken up his new role he actually seems rather happy, and flavour lines has him pitying the poor sap who got his old job.
    • He's not the only member of the Celestial Bureaucracy helping you out. Far from it. Turns out Mad Scientist Kang the Mad is the minor inventor's deity Lord Lao who was slumming it on Earth with a case of amnesia.
    • Black Whirlwind apparently has an entire department dedicated to recording all his karmic disruptions. And so do you, after the aforementioned minor god's disruption.
    • The whole problem of the game started when the Brothers Sun defeated and imprisoned the deity in charge of rain... who also was in charge of escorting the dead to their rest. Yes, it saved the Empire in the short term. In the long term? Nice job breaking it.
  • King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow: The standard game over which you have to actually deal with without dying if you want the Golden Ending.
  • In The Legend of Kyrandia III: Malcolm's Revenge, Malcolm arrives in the lobby of such a bureaucracy and is made to wait in line behind a Captain Ersatz of Elvis Presley before he is able to progress to Hell.
  • Heaven in Neon White has lobbies, kiosks, put-upon secretaries, strict regulations, and long waiting times.
    Neon White: Look, I expect this much from the DMV, but I'm not waiting four hours for my stupid mission in HEAVEN.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2: Death, in the Dark Waters fan campaign, is portrayed as a long-suffering bureaucrat who forgives your in-game deaths because he's too busy with paperwork to bother processing you into the afterlife.
  • In Sam & Max: Freelance Police, Hell looks like a regular office building with cubicles and the like. It can be assumed that bureaucracy is also implemented there.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV has the player, on dying in battle, arriving at the shore of the Styx... to find that Charon is so far behind on the paperwork that it will take uncountable eons before he gets to the front of the line. It's gotten so bad that Charon now actively requests bribes so that souls can return to the living world and keep him from having to file a report on yet another soul. (He even lets you put one resurrection on a tab, though as soon as you can pay he'll take it out of your pocket.)
  • The Blue Kingdom in Sunless Skies is the region populated by the deceased and oh boy is it a bureaucratic nightmare. There are specific statuses for both the dead and the rare living beings adventuring through this kingdom: Ephemera are the dead waiting to pass through Death's Door, Yoked are deceased which are servants of the Kingdom, Antedeceased, which are the not-dead-yet, and the Invisible, which are devoid of any statuses (a "bureaucratic nightmare" according to the Carious Official). There are a phenomenal amount of Courts held by various animals (Apes, Hummingbirds, Whales, etc) each with a very specific area of influence, and the queues to have an audience with them are ludicrously long. And don't get started on all the protocols that have to be followed in that realm. It can get so bad that it is highly advised to hire a Litigator to guide you while in there.
  • The Underwhere in Super Paper Mario. The demons here are referred to as D-Men, wear business suits, and are constantly concerned about keeping everything on schedule.
  • Touhou Project loves this trope. At one point, hell's budget is dangerously in the red, and so it opens up stands in the world of the living in an attempt to balance the books. Hell itself has the rather amusing title of "The Ministry of Right and Wrong" and they publish guidebooks.
  • In World of Warcraft the souls of the recently deceased are collected by Kyrians and brought before the Arbiter who assesses the soul's life and assigns them to the appropriate realm. Each realm of the Shadowlands has its own directive to pursue in service of the Shadowlands as a whole, such as Bastion training new Kyrian and Maldraxxus acting as the military.

    Visual Novels 
  • 10 Days with My Devil: The Romance Game has human death and reincarnation managed by demons, responsible for making sure that humans meet their fated deaths and that their souls are transported to heaven, and angels, who cleanse the souls of dead humans and reincarnate them into new lives. The two races are each ruled by a king and keep track of the fates of humans using an electronic database.
  • Tyrion Cuthbert: Attorney of the Arcane: The Court of Azathoth, the place where Tyrion and Eris appear when he pledges to dispute the Blood Pact that Celeste has with Eris. They're all taken to a higher plane of existence to argue their respective cases.

  • The forces of cosmic evil are this in 8-Bit Theater. At one point Black Mage's patron mentions that having him take over Hell is an unacceptable form of apocalypse because there's just way too much paperwork.
    Black Mage: Evil has middle management?
    Unnamed Evil God/"Darko, Dark God of the Dark": Are you kidding? That's all we are.
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja plays with this; purgatory is an infinite diner where-in the dead must eat dishes symbolizing/made-from each of their sins before they can move on to the next (as yet unseen) stage of the afterlife. The real kicker? There's only one waiter in the whole place so the service is just terrible; people that've been there for centuries are still on the bread basket.
  • Angel Moxie: The realm of the Higher Authority, which the characters answer to, turns out to work like this. Appeals to the Authority are handled by a receptionist who manifests as a squirrel.
  • The Art of Monsters has a bureaucratic heaven based on Chinese mythology. One of the characters is hauled in front of a tribunal for her misdeeds, while another gets given a job in a celestial library and a fancy hat.
  • Hell Inc: Hell, Inc. is a weekly webcomic about the demons who work at Hell, Inc., the massive corporation in charge of running Hell. The story follows Doug, a low-level office drone, as he tries to eke out whatever happiness he can from the nightmare world he calls home. Other than being in Hell, the office environment is only slightly more soul-crushing than normal.
  • The angels in Holy Bibble have offices, councils, rules, etc...
  • Housepets! is said to have a celestial bureaucracy when Pete is tried for altering Joel/King's fate by turning him from a human into a dog. The eventual charge was "complicating matters in the celestial bureaucracy."
  • Irregular Webcomic! features a hierarchy of Deaths, who are periodically demoted, promoted, or fired by the Head Death. Each one is in charge of a particular cause of death, such as Insanely Overpowered Fireballs, Choking On A Giant Frog, and Being Wrestled To Death By Steve Irwin. One memorable storyline involved all of the Deaths going on strike.
  • Misfile is based around a filing error within the celestial bureaucracy that genderswaps a boy and erases the past two years of another girl; the human world has been altered to accommodate the change and they are the only ones who remember how their lives should be. The lack of leadership and increasing chaos after God left caused one archangel to snap and try to usurp power using the bureaucracy's own incompetence to mask his assassinations. The main characters kill him before he can retcon humanity, but leave the bureaucracy permanently changed...
    • ...Which leads into sequel series Hell High. After another major filing error causes birth rates to increase in Hell, especially in the infertile human damned, both sides agree to a compromise, creating a school meant for Hellborn to earn their first chance at a life on Earth.
  • The Order of the Stick. This being a Dungeons & Dragons-based world, Death Is Cheap for adventurers (they get raised pretty regularly), so there are "fast track" procedures for repeat customers.
    • Said "fast track" is a literal Revolving Door.
    • The part of the afterlife where the more numerous recent dead who worship the Southern Gods go on death has a long line. Although that was after a pretty major battle.
      • The Lawful Good afterlife (and possibly other afterlifes) is up a mountain, but the line to get in is in a different astral "place" depending on who you worshiped. It's like they've turned Heaven into the DMV...
    • Somewhat unusually for this trope, and despite the Deva's insistence on doing things by the book (see the trope picture), she's actually quite easygoing on Roy instead of being Lawful Stupid about it.
    • The evil afterlife seems more corporation-styled, with the Three Fiends acting like they're running a start-up company (which, in a way, they do) and worrying about the presentation they have to give to the "lower-downs" and how they haven't had time to clear their inbox all week. Cut to a huge inbox being filled with deceased evil people, including some of the soldiers the heroes are busy killing.
  • Rhapsodies has the Department of Minor Nuisances, which is in charge of things like missing combs and traffic lights. Though when they are behind on various accounts they may resort to drastic measures.
  • White Dark Life inverts this, Hell is the Bureaucracy, Though it's still a horrible place for sinners.

    Web Original 
  • In CollegeHumor's "God's Boss Craig", God is not in charge of heaven. He has a boss named Craig.
  • Knights of Jebalot has the Afterlife Office, with Clerks to send souls to the Paradise Suites or Hell floors. One even complains that murders are "a lot of paperwork." And this bureaucratic nightmare leads to problems, like souls escaping, an Eldritch Abomination they're supposed to keep locked up going unnoticed for decades, and more.
  • The animation Mortys is about The Grim Reaper (who happens to be a woman) being buried in the paperwork of administering the dead people. Her son wants her to use computers to be more effective.
  • Purgatony is an office comedy web series about bureaucrats in purgatory who determine whether the newly deceased will go to heaven or hell.
  • The web novel A Trickster's Tail featured a "Department of Classifications" in Part 14. The protagonist, realizing this appears to be the processing hub for the afterlife, asks the clerk why it's so empty.'

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: While the original Adventure Time series didn't go too much into how its deities worked, the sequel miniseries Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake explored more of it and revealed that it is an especially corrupt and dysfunctional one. Gods regularly neglect their duties or abandon their posts altogether, give special treatment to mortals they like, hold vendettas, engage in nepotism, and sometimes even try to overthrow each other. It is so bad that the system has to employ god auditors whose sole responsibility is keeping the other gods in line and even then the god auditors can also be just as corrupt like Scarab when he decides to shirk his duties to pursue Fionna, Cake and Simon in order to take Prismo's position as the wishmaster. The Top God in charge of the whole system is Prismo's mysterious boss.
  • In the American Dad! episode "The Most Adequate Christmas Ever", Stan dies and is sent to Heaven, where he demands a "Second Chance" at life. This process, it turns out, requires a courthouse trial, with Angels using victories in cases to decide their hierarchy. Stan winds up with Michelle, who hasn't ever won a single case, and thus, lacks even angelic wings.
  • Big Mouth: It turns out that the Hormone Monsters work for "Human Resources — We Manage People" (presented by Acura), which manages all stages of human life. There is a Childhood Office, Department of Puberty, Center for Adulthood, Geriatrics and Bureau of the Dead. Nick, Andrew and Jessi find their way here when Tyler accidentally leaves a portal open.
  • In the "Shroud of Wally" episode of Dilbert, Dilbert is briefly killed and discovers that the afterlife is identical to his cubicle at work. Naturally, his engineer coworkers have one major concern:
    Alice: You're telling me that the afterlife is a stinking CUBICLE?
    Dilbert: I'm just telling you what I saw.
    Loud Howard: How fast was the Internet connection?
    Dilbert: I don't even know if it had an Internet connection.
    Wally: Well, this raises many troubling questions about the Afterlife. First, how do you get your software upgraded?
    * beat*
    Wally: I guess it was just the one question.
  • In Eek! The Cat, cats have life cards to show how many lives they have left. Eek was once tricked into taking the file of a bad cat and got sent to hell. Once the mistake got fixed, he regained all his lives.
  • There's a bit of this in Garfield: His 9 Lives. After losing his ninth, last life (in the future; modern-day Garfield is life eight), Garfield and Odie come before God, and Garfield successfully argues that his last death was unfair. God then asks which life he was on.
    Garfield: You mean... you don't keep track?
    God: Normally I do, but our computers are on the blink right now.
    • Garfield then claims it was his first life, wrangling a full nine more lives for both him and Odie.
    • However, there are hints that Heaven doesn't actually work like that, and God's just making up an excuse to show favoritism.
  • The original pitch of Jimmy Two-Shoes stated that reason why Jimmy was in Miseryville in the first place was that after he was hit by a bus and died, an administrative error by the powers that be sent him down instead of up. Whether or not this is still the case in the final cut of the show is unknown.
  • Tom and Jerry: The Heavenly Puss cartoon depicts the entrance to Tom's heaven as a gate before the Heavenly Express train. Cats that have just died wait in line before being admitted by the gatekeeper. Tom tries to sneak past, only to be told that he can only ride the train if Jerry signs a Certificate of Forgiveness first. Tom is given just one hour to go back to Earth and persuade Jerry to sign the document. Of course, it turns out it was All Just a Dream.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Diabolical Bureaucracy, Afterlife Bureaucracy, Infernal Bureaucracy


"You Both Have All Nine Lives"

After losing his final life, Garfield (alongside Odie) meets his creator, and tells him that he feels he was unfairly cheated out of his life. God agrees, saying he can have his life back, and thanks to a computer issue, Garfield is able to finagle nine more lives for himself and Odie.

How well does it match the trope?

4.88 (16 votes)

Example of:

Main / BargainWithHeaven

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