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Classical Anti-Hero

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"Do those without doubt even exist? And if they do, does that lack translate to strength? I have come face-to-face with doubt time and time again. My own. As well as the doubt harbored within the strong. We struggle and doubt and struggle again. If abandoning such doubt is the way of the samurai then samurai I am not. For I refuse to leave such things behind. To the bitter end I remain nebulous and ill-defined. For that is who I am."
Yamada Asaemon Sagiri, Hell's Paradise: Jigokuraku

Nowadays, an Anti-Hero is usually thought of as (when people don't confuse the term as synonymous with villain) an angry, bitter, rude, often misanthropic, violent, and borderline sociopathic badass, but this is a recent enough development to be known as a '90s Anti-Hero. For much of history, the term antihero referred to a character type that is in many ways the opposite of this.

In classical and earlier mythology, the hero tended to be a dashing, confident, stoic, intelligent, highly capable fighter and commander with few, if any, flaws and even fewer real weaknesses. The classical antihero is the inversion of this. Where the hero is confident, the antihero is plagued by self-doubt. Where the hero is a respected fighter, the antihero is mediocre at best. Where the hero is brave and courageous, the antihero is frightened and cowardly. Where the hero gets all the ladies, the antihero can't even get the time of day.

In short, while the traditional hero is a paragon of awesomeness, the classical antihero suffers from flaws and hindrances. The classical antihero's story tends to be as much about overcoming his own weaknesses as about conquering the enemy.

As time has gone on, this portrayal has become increasingly popular, as readers enjoy the increased depth of story (and often relatability) that comes from a flawed and conflicted character. Hence, the classical antihero has to some extent replaced the traditional hero in the minds of readers as the idea of what a hero should be. It is nowadays rare to find a hero who does not have at least a little of the classical antihero in him.

See also Punch-Clock Hero. Compare Super Loser and Tragic Hero. Contrast with The Ace and '90s Anti-Hero, but see also Byronic Hero, who may or may not be a complex variation of a classical antihero. A sidekick to a classical hero that otherwise fits the role of the trope would be The Lancer.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Short, chubby, and no small amount a crybaby, Haruyuki Arita doesn't start out Accel World as anybody's idea of a hero. But by the end of the Dusk Taker arc, he is more than capable of dropping a villain like a bad habit.
  • Rock (and Benny) from Black Lagoon. The same can't be said for the other members of the Lagoon Company, though, who are pretty much Villain Protagonists, though after Character Development Rock becomes an Anti-Hero.
  • Denji, the titular Chainsaw Man, is immature, lecherous, and selfish, and only joins the devil hunting team to guarantee himself a comfortable life (and to hit on Makima). However, it's not hard to understand how he ended up like this, considering that he has spent his life not so much living as surviving trying to work off a back-breaking debt to the Yakuza, with zero positive figures in his life aside from his canine devil companion, Pochita.
  • Nobita from Doraemon is a total loser, a crybaby, and a lazy bum who prefers using tools to cheat than trying to improve himself, but he is naturally a kid with a gentle heart who can be brave and reliable when he needs to.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • Gohan. He tries to play the Ideal Hero when he is the Great Saiyaman, but he's much closer to this trope since he's often plagued with self-doubt in himself, has no real love for fighting outside of sport (which greatly affects his power), and often depends on his father and Piccolo to protect him when he screws up (which has cost them both their lives at one point). He still fights to protect the world, despite his shortcomings.
    • Mr. Satan tries to be an Ideal Hero to the citizens of Earth and everyone, save for the Z-Fighters, sees him as the savior of the universe. Truth is, Mr. Satan is an unapologetic Glory Hound who stole credit for killing Cell from Gohan. He is more often than not scared of fighting anyone stronger than him and will bribe others to throw fights so he can keep his reputation. At the same time, he does have a noble heart and will fight to protect others, even if it means risking his own life. He helps Goku and Vegeta kill Kid Buu by using his heroic status to get the people of Earth to loan energy for the Spirit Bomb.
  • Early on, Vincent Law of Ergo Proxy is very poor material for a traditional protagonist; he's shy, awkward, holds little social standing, and works doing a very dangerous job. He considerably bulks up his
  • Yukiteru Amano of Future Diary is a pretty textbook one, spending more or less the entire series on his back foot trying to simply survive.
  • The eponymous main character of Goodnight Punpun fits this to a tee; there's nothing particularly exceptional or admirable about him. He's a good person at heart, but is meek, withdrawn, depressed, and bad with people. The story is about his growing disillusionment with life and how this turns him into a progressively worse person.
  • Gundam:
  • Re:Zero:
    • Subaru Natsuki. Subaru, a gamer who had always wanted to be the hero in a fantasy world, is transported to an entirely new realm. However, his expectations are shattered when he realizes that he is not the center of the world and that everyone else is not just an NPC. He is faced with the reality that he is not special, and he struggles to cope with this newfound truth. Despite his disappointment, Subaru meets another protagonist in this world, a kind and powerful woman named Emilia. Despite his initial desire to treat her as an object of his desire, he begins to value her as a person and a partner. He chooses to put himself in harm's way to help others, proving his growth as a hero and becoming the knight that Emilia deserves.
  • My Hero Academia is loaded with these, being an homage to American super hero comics with more manga-esque character focus:
    • It's most obvious with its protagonist Izuku Midoriya; he's helplessly neurotic, socially awkward and at the constant receiving ending of bullying due to his Fictional Disability of not having a superpower in a world where Everyone Is a Super, yet is so obsessed with heroes and the idea of being one that this sheer passion and determination alone gives him the opening he needs to receive his Call to Adventure. It surprised absolutely nobody when the author revealed that his favorite superhero was Spider-man.
    • His mentor All Might is also an example, though its less blatant - while he presents himself in a very idealized, Superman-esque light, it's quickly revealed to be largely a facade he puts on in order to inspire others and hide his fear of failure. It's not that he isn't noble or genuine, he just knows it's what's best for the the burden he bears as the country's symbol of peace.
    • Endeavor's character arc turns him from a '90s Anti-Hero into one of these. He's hyper-competent at his job and is in some respects better than All Might (he does his own detective work and he proves a much better teacher to Izuku) and even at his worst he never neglected the 'saving people' part of his job, but his obsession with surpassing All Might (who has no idea Endeavor considers him a rival) turned him cold, bitter, and abusive to his family. After he gets a reality check, he starts trying to rebuild his personal life, but has a difficult time owing to his lacking social skills and some of the people he's hurt being unwilling to forgive him, creating the very real possibility that he will never be able to reunite his family and will have to live apart from them despite genuinely wanting to atone and make up for lost time as a father.
  • Akitsu Masanosuke from House of Five Leaves is a classical anti-hero, being an overly humble samurai with no self-esteem.
  • Ichika Orimura from Infinite Stratos is brave, honest, quick to forgive, always wants to see the good in people and puts the needs of his friends above his own. Unfortunately, he isn't very bright, always jumps into conclusions and gets his ass kicked on a regular basis. His attempts to save his friends usually end with his friends saving him instead.
  • KonoSuba's Kazuma Sato is lazy, sarcastic, self-serving, and not a little perverted, and mostly only acts either out of self-interest or to fix the mistakes of his party members (usually Aqua) lest they backfire on him (though often they still do). But when the chips are down he'll willingly (if not happily) sacrifice himself to protect others and defeat evil.
  • Natsume from Natsume's Book of Friends is a Socially Awkward Hero with no self-confidence about people and a tendency to alienate what friends he does make by constantly lying to them to avoid causing a fuss.
  • Rei Kiriyama from March Comes in Like a Lion starts the story rife with personal problems, socially detached, and barely able to take care of himself.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion:
    • Shinji Ikari manages to save the day several times in spite of all his self-doubt, angst, and neuroses.
    • Word of God describes Misato as this, too, but unlike Shinji, who is Resigned to the Call, she is much more proactive in looking past her Broken Bird issues and moving forward (particularly by the tail end of the series).
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica:
    • Homura used to be a Super Loser even with her Time Stands Still ability. Some traumatic cycles later, she's a badass Dark Magical Girl Anti-Hero with loads and loads of guns, and yet she's still losing... against Walpurgisnacht. Even with the universe's biggest literal Deus ex Machina, technically she's still losing Madoka.
    • Madoka spends most of the story struggling to cope with the horrifying things that happen to her friends, while being too scared to actually do much of anything. But she slowly overcomes her fears, and eventually summons the courage to become a magical girl in order to fix most of the tragedy.
    • Sayaka is probably the "strongest" example. She's determined to be a hero, but she's barely decent at fighting, extremely angsty and emotional, and mostly unable to gain the attention of her love interest (well, the male one, anyway). She eventually breaks down completely and becomes a witch.
  • Sota Mizushino from Re:CREATORS starts the series with low self-esteem, is more interested in anime and video games than on the real world and is burdened with the guilt of indirectly causing his best friend's suicide.
  • Sailor Moon has two examples:
  • Nozomu Itoshiki of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. AKA Mr. Despair, he is constantly attempting suicide and angsting about the most ridiculous of things. Interestingly, he isn't an example of This Loser Is You, as he's very good looking, intelligent, and comes from a very wealthy (if bizarre) family. In fact, the irony of his character is that he acts the way he does despite having these advantages.
  • The protagonist of The Tatami Galaxy, who is something of a Zetsubou-sensei expy, and is described in some promotional materials as a "not-so-lovable loser".
  • Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann started this way in a similar vein to Shinji, where he was constantly plagued by self-doubt and weakness with a major part of his relationship with Kamina being that the latter constantly tried to have Simon grow beyond it. He overcame this in episode 11, being one of the series' most iconic moments.
  • Tatsuhiro Satou of Welcome to the NHK is a highly unstable NEET who places all of the blame for his highly unstable life on a conspiracy organization known to him as the NHK. And yet he is ultimately a good-hearted person who wants to be a productive member of society, most of his angst stems from feeling he is unable to lead a productive life.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • Ruby Haze: The main character, John Scarlet. He's a normal guy who’s been ripped away from everything thing he knows and thrust into a massive conflict with powers he doesn’t understand, which has understandably left him a stressed out mess with severe confidence issues. He’s caught between being terrified of his own powers and being weighed down by the feeling that he simply just isn’t doing enough with them.
    Films — Animation 
  • Queen Elsa of Frozen. She was born with godlike ice powers, but most of her story is more about her learning to deal with her anxiety over controlling her powers and facing her mistakes than it is about facing any external enemy.
  • Hiccup Haddock from How to Train Your Dragon is physically frail, rubbish in a fight and would rather solve problems by talking than punching. As the son of a Viking chief, this leaves him about as out of water as a fish can get. Everyone worries what will happen if he ever has to become chief himself - not least Hiccup himself. And then he becomes the first and best Dragon Rider amongst the Vikings...
  • Vakama from BIONICLE: Legends of Metru Nui fits this to a T, though elements of it can also be seen in the books and comics of the first third of the Adventures saga. Of all the Toa Metru, he's the one most wracked by doubt that he can be a Toa hero, much less the leader of a group of headstrong characters such as themselves, at least in part because of how Toa Lhikan was captured by the Dark Hunters saving him. He struggles to come into his own mastering his powers and even when he does take charge, it's usually only in the heat of the moment and he's quick to pass off authority again, and he blames himself the hardest when Lhikan dies and Metru Nui falls into ruin. By the second half of the Adventures saga and shown in detail during Web of Shadows, he tries to compensate by becoming overly aggressive and reckless in leading the team, which gets them mutated into Hordika and gets him a whole lot of (not entirely undeserved) crap, and the stress of all of this failure coupled with learning he and his team might not have truly been destined to become Toa in the first place drive him full-on into temporary villainy. It's only near the end does he finally find a balance.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Outside of his game character, Ralph is an Anti-Hero of the classical/loser variety.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Lester Burnham from American Beauty is a Jaded Washout and Henpecked Husband to a wife who is cheating on him. The movie is about him growing a spine, quitting the job he hates and standing up to everyone who gave him hell.
  • Beau from Beau Is Afraid is a neurotic and extremely anxious man who's constantly filled with self-doubt. He is utterly pathetic but he isn't really a bad person either, and you can't help but root for him.
  • The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Despite being the movie's protagonist, he's an unemployed, drunken, stoned slacker and screwup. He's hopelessly out of his league when it comes to dealing with the Kudzu Plot he's thrown into, and in the end, very little of what he does ultimately matters. But, he doesn't care; "the Dude abides." For all his laziness, he doens't really wanna hurt anyone and cares for the well-being of a few people like Bunny.
  • Wikus van de Merwe of the film District 9. Before the incident that mutates him into a "prawn" alien, he's a racist Obstructive Bureaucrat with little concern for the aliens in District 9. But one accident causes his life to be targeted from all sides, and when only a prawn is willing to help him, Wikus is forced to grow up.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel depict Peter in a far more flawed fashion than the previous films, with him being far more temperamental, self-doubting, and with a bad tendency to make rash decisions without thinking about the consequences. The sequel toned this down by making him far more grown up and developed, but it's still there.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Spidey is portrayed as very much a kid in an adults' world (albeit that the actual adults are just as bad as he is in their own ways and consistently getting in over his head, to the point where in his first solo film most of his problems boil down to Tony grounding him after having to bail him out of a failed rescue.
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • Superman in Man of Steel. As this is Supes before he's came into his role as a superhero, he's far more self-doubting, angsty, and afraid of his powers than most depictions, and isn't quite as skilled in combat as previous versions, making him struggle to balance saving people and fighting villains, leading to more property damage than people would like.
    • Billy Batson in SHAZAM! (2019). Unlike his comics counterpart, who is a pure-hearted child, Billy is more of a cynical teen who is chosen by the Wizard out more out of desperation instead of worth. As a result, he starts out abusing his powers as an adult superhero to illegally buy alcohol, skip school, and show off his powers for fame. However, after Freddy Freeman calls out his recklessness and his foster siblings help him find his mother, Billy matures into a selfless, all-loving hero.
  • Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise. Especially pronounced in the first movie. The novelization expands on the notion that the crew of the Nostromo aren't exactly considered the cream of the crop. Ripley, in particular, is described as competent but "unimaginitive".
  • Officer Jong-goo from The Wailing is a fat, bumbling officer who can't get anything right, completely panics when he has to restrain a lone frail woman, gets no respect from his family or superiors, and according to one comment from his wife isn't exactly spectacular in bed either. It's only when his daughter falls victim to a curse that he has to Take a Level in Badass to try and save her.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World brings us Scott Pilgrim, a 22-year-old man living in Toronto with no job and no signs of pursuing higher education, who owns almost nothing in the apartment he lives in, has a history of emotionally hurting his exes, isn't dedicated or good enough for his mediocre garage band, and is dating a girl in high school, who he lies to so he can stalk another girl. His only "heroic" quality is that he can put up a good fight against the Seven Evil Exes of the other girl, but over the course of the movie realizes that he should be fighting for himself instead of the other girl.
  • Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat: The Movie. In the games, Liu Kang was a Shaolin monk who entered the Mortal Kombat tournament to for no other reason than to save Earthrealm. In the movie, Liu had left the Shaolin prior to the events of the story and only entered the tournament to avenge the death of his younger brother Chan at the hands of Shang Tsung. Liu is plagued by the guilt of not protecting Chan from Shang Tsung and doubts that he is worthy of being Earthrealm's champion (the latter flaw is what caused him to leave the Shaolin in the first place). His character arc has him overcoming both these obstacles to defeat Shang.
  • Dorothy Gale in The Wiz is a kindhearted school teacher plagued by self doubt and fear of life away from her Aunt Em’s house.
  • The Postman: The Postman starts out as an opportunistic coward and a cheat, with the first 90 minutes hammering it down to the audience what sort of man he is. His arc is growing into a brave hero who is virtually the opposite from how he starts off.

  • Evelyn Waugh's first novel, Decline and Fall, has Butt-Monkey protagonist Paul Pennyfeather who is one of these in the way he is rather a pushover taken advantage of by the other characters.
  • Bobby Marks from One Fat Summer is overweight, unathletic, lacking in self esteem, and rather shy. His story is about him coming to terms and overcoming those aspects of his character.
  • Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, who ultimately fails in his mission to destroy the One Ring and is increasingly haunted by the physical and emotional scars of his journey throughout the story and for the rest of his life. His older cousin Bilbo played a similar role in The Hobbit, except with less PTSD and more reluctantly-tagging-along.
  • Discworld's Rincewind as an inept wizard and Dirty Coward/Lovable Coward who is the Butt-Monkey of the universe. He's noticed it himself.
  • Gilbert Norrell of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, while a skilled magician, is a humorless and petty character who is far from evil enough to be an Evil Sorcerer, but also far from sympathetic (or interesting) enough to be a traditional hero.
  • George Dower Jr. from K. W. Jeter's Infernal Devices from the '80s (and its 2010s sequels which make up the George Dower trilogy), is a milquetoast, mediocre man who's constantly being saved by others and dragged into misadventures that he clearly wishes to avoid. Saving the day is either through the actions of someone else or because of who George is rather what he does (as the son of a mad genius inventor many of George Sr.'s inventions are keyed to the son's brainewaves]]. George does have a good excuse for being like that, his father deliberately married the most stodgiest, mundane and mediocre woman, so he could to beget a child who'd be the ideal type for mediocrity. Then the child would be a test subject for George Sr.'s experiments in aetheric sympathy.
  • Horatio Hornblower is a Royal Navy officer who, beneath his mask of confidence, struggles constantly with self-consciousness and fear of failure. Two failings which, ironically, make him one of the most diligent and capable commanders in the service. The sailors he commands respect him for his acumen, but Hornblower himself is far more likely to attribute his own successes to luck.
  • John le Carré's spymaster George Smiley is like this as a contrast to James Bond, living in the more cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, and as opposed to Bond being stylish and a Chick Magnet, Smiley dresses poorly and is a cuckold.
  • Lily Bart from Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. Let's see: fails at anything and everything she tries her hands at? Check. Only ever succeeds at alienating the few people who genuinely do care about her? Check. Is a whiny, insufferable Jerkass with an entitlement complex bigger than Brazil? Check. Dies at the end? Check.
  • Lola from Kit Whitfield's Benighted is pathetic, self-loathing and self destructive, turning away from or turning on anyone who might help her.
  • Mick "Brew" Axbrewder from Stephen R. Donaldson's Man Who series, a self-pitying alcoholic who makes Thomas Covenant look like Binky the Clown.
  • Linden Avery in the second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant trilogy. Becomes a more standard heroine in the third trilogy. Stephen Donaldson is very fond of taking classical antiheroes and transforming them.
  • Flinx of the Humanx Commonwealth series. He just wants the universe to let him be. Too bad he's The Chosen One and The Call Knows Where You Live, not to mention that he has a hidden romantic streak and a not-so-hidden streak of curiosity that constantly gets him into trouble.
  • Amir, the narrator of The Kite Runner, starts out as a coward hiding from his past but grows throughout the story and is redeemed to become a 'true' hero.
  • Jason of the Argonautica, despite being a hero and the leader of the expedition, is a fairly normal man, which causes him to suffer from Overshadowed by Awesome when compared to the other Argonauts (all of whom are heroes with unique abilities that stand them in good stead against the threats they face) and Medea. His own major contribution to the expedition is his ability as The Casanova, seducing Hypsipyle (the queen of a Lady Land) and Medea (the Big Bad's daughter) into assisting the Argonauts or joining them.
  • Billy Pilgrim of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.
  • Hank Thompson, the protagonist of Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston is this at first, a promising high school baseball player who wrecks his leg then , after a car accident where a friend of his is killed slowly spirals down into an alcoholic slacker, Then after inadvertently getting involved with conflicting criminal elements he levels up.
  • Elric of Melnibone is a cursed prince who ultimately fails to escape his doom, killing everyone he loves with his bloodthirsty sword.
  • A Mage's Power: Eric is a Shrinking Violet who freezes whether confronting monsters or his crush. When things go wrong, he blames himself. Tasio thinks it's tons of fun to guide him into a mercenary guild.
  • The Behemoth Roger Harding is failed graduate student turned librarian with No Social Skills, a cynical worldview, and an un-reciprocated crush on his best friend, whom he puts on a pedestal. Everything remotely heroic he does comes out of a reluctant and resentful sense of duty.
  • The Power and the Glory The Whiskey Priest protagonist is a deeply flawed example of his profession. He is an alcoholic, and a coward, and has even fathered a child. He is well aware of his flaws and his cowardice, which fills him with self doubt and guilt. He does nevertheless does remain a priest, and performs his priestly functions.
  • Danny, the protagonist of Dreadnought, is granted the powers of the eponymous superhero and spends most of the book convinced she doesn't deserve them.
  • Both Paul and Indira of Alien in a Small Town are guilt-ridden neurotics just trying to pull their lives together.
  • Brad Cohen of Repeat is a jaded, burned-out Loser Protagonist consumed with self-pity and saddled with a boatload of regrets over all the missed opportunities in his life. Once he starts reliving his life over the course of the novel, he's also revealed to have a selfish streak, being all too happy to pursue success and hedonism while allowing historical disasters to play out unopposed. As such, the climax of the novel features him finally overcoming these flaws in his character and learning to embrace the future instead of constantly brooding over past mistakes.
  • Technomancer by MK Gibson: Salem really doesn't want to be The Hero. He is lazy, irreverant, and concerned only with making enough money to get through the day. He actually has a Dark and Troubled Past that he's running away from and the above is just a cover.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dave Lister, Cat and Arnold J. Rimmer from Red Dwarf start out like this, although Rimmer is both a neurotic loser and a smeghead. Lister once good-naturedly described himself as a "bum", while Rimmer would call him a lazy slob. Cat was vain, self-centered to the point of callousness, and not very smart... not surprising given that his species had evolved from a single, pregnant female housecat 3 million years ago (imagine the inbreeding), and even other cats considered him a moron. All three became more competent in the course of the series, but they never quite lost their essential quirks, their good qualities (such as Lister's selflessness and sense of fairness) merely became more pronounced. Or, in the case of Arnold Rimmer, who had no redeeming qualities, Rimmer had a run-in with his Alternate Universe counterpart "Ace" Rimmer.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Shinji Kido from Kamen Rider Ryuki is pretty much a live-action expy of Shinji Ikari, a good-natured buffoon who, for the majority of the series, is the only Rider attempting to stop the other Riders from killing one another. He never succeeds and for most of the series is plagued by his inability to save the Riders from destroying each other.
    • Chihiro from Kamen Rider Amazons Season 2 is the franchise's biggest example, he's a Nice Guy and a good fighter in his own right who has faced several issues throughout the series, as he is plagued by his urge to eat humans due to his nature as an Amazon and his desire to regain Iyu's humanity. And it gets worse once he was revealed to be the source of the lysogenic Amazons outbreak, he considers himself as a monster and he was horrified of it after he killed the ones who tries to put him in stasis.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor was originally one of these. Pre-Who, space travel on TV featured handsome, youthful spacemen aligned with heroic, paramilitary forces. But the Doctor, at his core, is Jack Kerouac in space and time—a dropout from his own people who now just travels around like the '60s never ended. Also, in the William Hartnell days, Ian Chesterton was the male lead, and the Doc was a selfish anti-hero.
    • Averted by the Brigadier in ''Battlefield''. Like many of the companions, he knew he wasn't perfect but was more concerned about defeating the bad guys than his self image.
  • Michael Dugdale in Utopia is a rather hapless and borderline suicidal civil servant working for the UK's Department of Health and is blackmailed through various means by The Conspiracy into working for them to bring about a Sterility Plague. By the end of the series, he's broken into a potentially fatal quarantine zone to retrieve biological samples, stormed a Secret Government Warehouse with a shotgun and torched it, saved his wife and his marriage, brokered a deal with the conspirators to leave him alone and given a home to a little girl whose family was murdered.
  • Chernobyl portrays Professor Valery Legasov in deliberate contrast to the typical Science Hero. While the Science Hero is usually a good-looking idealist who always picks Good when it's time To Be Lawful or Good, Legasov is an ordinary man who's spent his whole life in a repressive society and isn't even the USSR's top expert in nuclear technology. Legasov is more vulnerable, makes scientific mistakes, and can show a surprising amount of moral cowardice. As the final episode notes, Legasov willingly engaged in underhanded tactics (such as stalling the careers of Jewish scientists) to advance his career and had a long history as a committed Party man before Chernobyl radically altered his perspective.

  • Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman. A little, pathetic man, broken by his chase after a dream that isn't true.
  • Hamlet was conflicted and emotional before it was cool.

    Video Games 
  • In Chicory: A Colorful Tale, both Pizza and Chicory are examples of this, as Pizza continually doubts their stance as a Wielder, and Chicory has to deal with her mental health issues. However, they both get better- Pizza becomes far more confident after they create their own brush, and Chicory at least starts to heal by the end of the game.
  • Dante the main protagonist of Devil May Cry and his successor and nephew Nero.
    • Dante is a sarcastic and often rude demon hunter who has difficulty associating with normal people due to his demonic heritage. Nonetheless, Dante has a big heart and takes his job as a protector of humanity from evil demons seriously and shows his compassionate side where it counts such as thanking Trish for helping defeat Mundus or talking Lucia out of committing suicide.
    • Nero is a self-loathing quarter-demon and couples uncle's sarcasm with a little more swearing. Despite this, he is devoted to his girlfriend Kyrie and is a more kind hearted person than he lets on.
  • Final Fantasy
    • Cloud Strife of Final Fantasy VII is a variation of this trope. Over the course of the game, he suffers from crippling self-doubt and insecurity, tons of angst and guilt, and as a kid, he was a loser and a failure. A deconstruction as his crippling lack of self-worth ends up making him mentally fragile thus he failed to achieve his dream of becoming a SOLDIER, and is susceptible to Mako poisoning, in contrast to Zack, an actual SOLDIER who is immune to its effects, leaving him an Empty Shell that has to be taken over by the Jenova cells or Sephiroth to be mobile, but reconstructed that by the end of the game, he learns to accept who he is, growing to be a capable leader and can resist Sephiroth's influence as shown in the Zero Effort Post-Final Boss.
    • Played Straight with Tidus from Final Fantasy X, Much of his development revolves around him overcoming this. He's plagued by his inferiority complex over his dad, is completely clueless about all the politics around him, and even considers himself the outsider of the group. Come the third act, he and Yuna end up having Swapped Roles, and Tidus declares himself the true lead.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Zelda is this in the memories, in contrast to most of her previous incarnations. She feels more and more unsure of herself as time goes on, is thought of as a failure by many of Hyrule's people, and is unable to develop her powers until it's almost too late. These factors lead her to resent Link initially, although they eventually bond.
  • Lester the Unlikely from the SNES game of the same name starts out as such a wimp that he'll refuse to drop off even short ledges and will initially run screaming from every new enemy, even tortoises. He does become more heroic about halfway through the game, however.
  • Mass Effect: Commander Shepard can be played this way in Mass Effect 2, as it's possible to fail multiple loyalty missions and lose squadmates if the wrong decisions are made. Regardless of player's choice, Shepard becomes this in Mass Effect 3, given that Shepard loses allies and fails some missions. The effect of holding the fate of the galaxy in his/her hands is very noticeable.
  • No More Heroes franchise:
    • Travis Touchdown, of No More Heroes, a porn-obsessed Otaku without anything resembling a social life. He's also a Nominal Hero, however, eagerly slaughtering opponents and rarely showing any remorse for his killings.
    • No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, meanwhile, deconstructs this by giving him more of a moral compass as well as an animal magnetism that puts him back closer to being a classical hero by the end of the game.
  • James Sunderland of Silent Hill 2 easily meets the criteria. He's a sweet man who still loves his late wife Mary and misses her dearly, but he's also nervous, unconfident, emotionally tormented, and to his shame, Secretly Selfish, as the emotional neglect and abuse he suffered from Mary while she was dying drove him to smother her with a pillow.
  • Tails in Sonic the Hedgehog, particularly around the Dreamcast era. Whereas Sonic is self-assured, confident, and a bit on the cocky, egotistical side, Tails is more restrained and uncertain whether or not he should defer to Sonic's heroism to solve a problem. He usually finds the strength and willpower to face the challenge alone but he frequently has to talk himself into the heroics whereas Sonic jumps in feet first with no second thoughts.
  • Captain Martin Walker for most of the beginning of Spec Ops: The Line comes off as one of these. His actions only cause disaster for both him and the people of Dubai. As the game goes on though it becomes more and more clear that he is actually a delusional Villain Protagonist desperately trying to be the hero of a situation far out of his control.
  • Super Mario Bros.: Though he more commonly plays the part of Sidekick than The Hero, Luigi could fit the bill insofar as being a Lovable Coward whose flaws are made more prominent than those of his Ideal Hero brother, Mario. In particular, the times he has to go it alone portray him without the series' trademark superpowers (which in his case are usually better than Mario's).
  • Theia - The Crimson Eclipse: Seth is a well-meaning person, but he has a Guilt Complex over failing to save his adoptive brother Aiment, causing him to wallow in depression and ignore the good he can do with his skills. His guilt complex crops up again when he wants to turn himself in to the authorities for killing his former comrades, who were tricked into thinking he's the emperor's killer.

    Visual Novels 
  • Lucas of Silver Crisis starts off as weak, too reliant on his friends in battle, and overall is considered a burden by Lucario. His constant losing streak and uselessness causes his already low self esteem to make him feel more and more worthless and pathetic, causing him to be overly cynical over the concept of Might Makes Right. However, he recognizes his lack of strength and works hard to overcome it at every chance he gets. He never loses his faith in others, his friends, and knows how important trust and the help of allies truly are, always working to help Lucario realize that. He eventually overcomes his weaknesses through Character Development.
  • Riki Naoe from Little Busters! starts out meek, passive, and overly reliant on his friends. The reason he's so dependent on them is because they were the only people there for him in the aftermath of his parents' death. It's gotten to the point where Riki is content living in the shadows of his friends. Throughout the heroines' routes, he goes through Character Development and becomes more self-reliant.
  • Phoenix Wright from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is this during his trilogy of games at the start. He is pretty consistently mocked, berated, insulted, and yelled at. And that's just the verbal abuse that he faces- he is also whipped, tasered, and dropped off a burning bridge. Through it all, he often relies on his mentor Mia Fey and on the helpfulness of the prosecution and detectives to stand any chance. By the time of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, he's become the mentor figure for the game and this is mostly dropped (though he's still quite prone to physical abuse).

    Web Animation 
  • Every main character in Red vs. Blue qualifies on a comedic level, but a dramatic example exists in Leonard Church, who is a hilariously bad shot, can't seem to accomplish anything, and, in particular, constantly fails in what seems to be the only driving force in his life: being with his ex-girlfriend, Tex.
  • Jaune in RWBY, who is the only main character not good at fighting and faked his transcripts to get into Beacon Academy. Most of his character arc involves resolving his shame over that. Incidentally, much of his interactions with Pyrrha exemplify how the two hero archetypes play off each other.

    Web Video 
  • Gordon Freeman in Half-Life but the AI is Self-Aware starts out as a comedic variant, but as the events of the series gradually cause him to go insane, he becomes a dramatic example, eventually graduating into an Unscrupulous Hero after snapping completely and giving in to his violent nature.
  • Matthew Santoro: Eugene, the clone of Matthew. Due to his clumsiness when Matthew sends him to sneak into the research facility to steal the antimatter so it won't destroy the world, he accidentally drops the jar of antimatter, killing him and Matthew.

    Web Comics 
  • In the series, For Love Nor Money, Eamonn Lees, who starts out as an idealistic but impoverished young boy, is driven to murder and eventually leads the life of a wanted criminal after escaping to America, forced into a despicable role against his wishes and making increasingly dire choices that ultimately cost him everything.
  • The post-scratch Kids in Homestuck eventually realize that, due to the symbolism of being in a void session, they are destined to simply sit around, get distracted by romantic subplots, and wait for the plot to continue without them.
  • Shigeo Kageyama from Mob Psycho 100 is very much this - he's lackluster in most mundane aspects of life; starts the series incredibly out of shape; and his strongest attribute, his incredible psychic power, is something he fears and tries to avoid using. He's shy, unsure of himself, emotionally fragile, and often relies on others for emotional support. However, he's also dedicated to self-improvement, inspires a number of other people around him, and is the strongest psychic in the setting so far.
  • Prequel's protagonist, Katia Managan, is severely lacking in any type of trade or social skills . She is constantly self doubting and insecure, and for the most part, most of her endeavors in the story so far have ended in failure. She's getting better but very slowly and not without a lot of effort on her part.

    Web Original 
  • Aquerna, of the Whateley Universe. She is one of the Whateley Academy Underdogs, with laughable powers that make her a campus joke. She has self-esteem problems, and is no longer welcome in her own home since she turned into a mutant. Her combat final story and her Christmas story are all about her personal life and her personal problems, even if some action intrudes into the plot.
  • Taylor Hebert, of Worm, a bullied teenaged girl with cripplingly low self-esteem, who finds her escape in going out in costume. Her power is relatively weak (the ability to control insects), and her main victories come from working with other parahumans instead of defeating her enemies alone. Worm is as much about her growth as an individual as it is about The End of the World as We Know It.
  • The Tales of Paul Twister: Paul Twister is portrayed as a strange mix of this and modern Anti-Hero. His "Paul Twister" persona is a snarky thief-for-hire whose soul has a bunch of chaotic Void power bonded to it, causing him to disrupt and destroy magic everywhere he goes, and when he's being Paul he deliberately plays up the badass image he's crafted of the personal... but he really doesn't like it; he only does it because it's one of the few ways he can make a living. The rest of the time, he's a geek from modern-day earth trapped in a fantasy world and he's in over his head. He doesn't like to fight, and tends to lose the few fights he gets into, almost every plan he makes blows up in his face and forces him to improvise his way out of the resulting mess, and being a 21st century guy in a Renaissance-tech-level world means he has very little in the way of useful skills, aside from the Twist. And yet for all his awkwardness and self-doubt, when the pressure's on, he'll find some way to use either science or trickery to save the day.

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Classic Antihero