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Decoy Protagonist

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Guess which one is the main character.note 

"Long ago on a planet long forgotten by time, a young hero was born, a righteous Saiyan warrior who would bring peace to the galaxy. This... is not his story."
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So you've got your hero. They practically have a giant neon sign over their head that says they're a hero. It might be subtle, but it's fairly obvious you've found the person who'll save the day, get the girl/guy, and live a long and hap — what the? Did they just get bitten in half by a mutant T. Rex?

Some books, films, or games like to mix things up and throw viewers for a loop by revealing that the Standardized Leader isn't The Hero. This can be very dramatic; there are few more effective ways to showcase Anyone Can Die than taking out the apparent protagonist. (Plot Armor? What Plot Armor?) It can also be used comedically, revealing that the person who thinks they're the protagonist is just a glorified bit player. Sometimes the Decoy Protagonist will turn out to be the antagonist.

Intro-Only Point of View frequently is used to emphasize their importance before The Reveal.

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What happens next is the person we perceive as The Lancer, Side Kick, or even a fringe loner takes center stage as the real protagonist (maybe even Hero). Usually they reveal a much greater level of personal integrity and strength of will than previously thought.

Note that this does not necessarily involve the death of the initial protagonist, although that is often how this trope expresses itself. If the target dies, they're often a Sacrificial Lion. If the character truly was The Hero (but not the protagonist, maybe), see Take Up My Sword. Also see Dead Star Walking. Compare Quickly Demoted Leader, when the secondary character does the heavy lifting only for the hero to take control.

In video games, this can overlap with And Now for Someone Completely Different; compare First-Person Peripheral Narrator, where the narrator is obviously not the protagonist. For the villainous version of this trope, see Disc-One Final Boss.

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Contrast Passing the Torch, Red Herring Shirt, Disc-One Final Boss, The Unchosen One, Supporting Leader, Non-Protagonist Resolver.

Not to be confused with Supporting Protagonist, which is simply that the focus is on another character than the hero, or Fake Ultimate Hero, who doesn't appear to be the protagonist.

As this is frequently a Death Trope, beware spoilers:


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Despite featuring an Ensemble Cast, Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys has Kenji Endo at the center of the story for the first five volumes or so, when he apparently dies in an explosion. One Time Skip later the focus shifts to his teenage niece Kanna as she attempts to finish what he started. However, in a surprising twist, Kenji comes back at the start of the third act.
  • Takashi of All Rounder Meguru is clearly the star of the prologue, and his storyline is the heaviest and most dramatic element of the series, but Meguru's the one with his name in the title.
  • Arachnid begins with Kumo the assassin kidnapping an orphan named Alice to make her into his apprentice. She soon comes to respect and regard him as her father, only to be forced into a fight to the death because Kumo actually wanted her to kill him and inherit his abilities.
  • The first chapter of Arata Kangatari and its debut cover page on the magazine it's serialized in would have you believe that Amawakuni Arata is the main character, but he isn't - it's Hinohara Arata, who's not even on said cover.
  • Area D: The first chapter of the series starts by following Soutaro and only much later introducing Jin, who seemed to become the Deuteragonist or his Mentor, after that, however, it's clear that Jin is the real protagonist and Soutaro is just a member of the main cast.
  • Attack on Titan:
    • Subverted with Eren. He's maimed and eaten in the first major battle while trying to save his friend Armin, which seems like the perfect start to a Stuffed into the Fridge scenario to motivate the more skilled Mikasa or stir then cowardly Armin to heroism, until it's revealed that Eren is a Titan Shifter and escapes; this becomes a major plot point.
    • In a way, he is this to Historia. Not only is she the true heir to the monarchy of the walls; but the very powers Eren possess rightfully belong to the Reiss bloodline to begin with. Meaning his powers were meant for her. This leads to his Heroic BSoD as he starts to think himself as worthless and in the way of what should have been Historia's quest of slaughtering Titans and not his, until she snaps him out of it.
    • Although subverted again in regards to Historia- if she'd gotten the powers he has, she'd have become possessed by the will of her ancestor, forced to abandon any quest of killing titans, and probably would have erased the memories of anyone who knew about her powers to ensure the cycle continued. In a way, Eren having these powers saved Historia, and allowed her to become a hero of her own.
    • In an overall sense, even after coming back as a Titan, Eren has been mostly out of focus and he mostly seems to serve as The Big Guy and the MacGuffin Super Person. The cast seems to function more in an ensemble with plenty of different view points just as important (if not more) as Eren's.
  • Baccano!:
    • Played with as Carol insists that Firo is the protagonist because he's "main character-ish." Given the deliberately disjointed nature of the series (in the anime anyway, the source books are much more chronological), as well as the ridiculously huge cast of "main" characters, she manages to be completely right and way off the mark at the same time.
    • If one defined "main character" based on screen time alone, Isaac and Miria would fit. They are also the only ones to show up in every single timeline (except for in 1711).
  • In Basara, everyone thinks that a boy named Tatara is The Chosen One—he fits the prophecy to a T—until the king he’s supposed to overthrow hears about him, rides in, and takes his head from his shoulders. Tatara's twin sister Sarasa, who grew up in her brother’s shadow and has basically been forgotten about by almost everyone, rises up to take his place. Literally.
  • Aaaaand while we're on Urasawa, Billy Bat now has the death of Kevin Yamagata, after which Kevin Goodman takes over as the true protagonist.
  • The sequel to Black Butler sets up Alois Trancy and Claude Faustus as the new Master and Butler duo, until Sebastian comes back, and Ciel is brought back to life. All in the first episode. After all of the marketing A-1 Pictures has done for Alois and Claude, it turns out that it was done to hide the fact that Sebastian and Ciel would be returning. Bravo.
  • Blassreiter: This guy got a lot of screen-time. He's great. His life is wrecked, but he should not give up. He got The Virus but clearly has enough of Heroic Willpower — look, he doesn't kill when even non-infectee could be tempted a lot! He must be the protagonist! Right?.. Oops, he turns out to be but one more deadman, who just kept the horror scenes of imminent Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot Apocalypse from being looked upon as A Million Is a Statistic.
  • Waku from Bokurano is presented in a way that couldn't be mistaken for anything other than the classic Hot-Blooded shonen Kid Hero. At least until he dies after piloting the robot in the second episode (first volume of the manga).
  • In Nobuhiro Watsuki's Crescent Moon in the Warring States, the protagonist is actually Isshinta, not Hiko Seijuro as many readers believe.
  • In The Daughter of Twenty Faces, the audience is lead to believe that the main characters are the crew of sympathetic thieves that Chizuko hooks up with. Then comes Episodes 6 and 7, where most of the thieves are killed and Chizuko is sent back to Japan. It's there that we meet Chizuko's real supporting cast; Shunka and Tome.
  • Gohan from Dragon Ball is this to his father, Goku:
    • In the Buu Saga, it's established that Gohan has taken over his father's role as the key protector of the world (as the finale of the Cell Saga supported). In the manga, the beginning of the Buu saga even starts off with Master Roshi saying that the series will continue "just a while longer" with Gohan as the main character, while in the anime, the intro and outro sequences for the Buu saga focuses on Gohan as the lead protagonist. A good chunk of the Buu arc either focus directly on Gohan or a good amount of side-character stalling while Gohan trains on the Kai Planet to awaken his dormant powers, presumably arriving at the last minute to save the day much like how Goku was previously portrayed. However, Gohan ends up being absorbed by Buu, leaving his father to take over as The Hero once more for the remainder of the arc and even into the next series.
    • Gohan seemed to regain, at least, a solid Deuteragonist status during the Universe Survival saga, being made The Leader of his team, getting a lot of buildup to the regaining of his powers, and even being the one to finish off Universe 10 in a big character moment for him. One of the Universe Survival E Ds even ended on the note of him and his father standing side by side and charging forward. When the saga actually gets down to the U7 vs U11 endgame, however, after a single episode he's eliminated while fighting Dyspo due to Frieza's running out of stamina to keep up the cage, necessitating that he takes himself down with him as the endgame continues to focus on Goku, Vegeta, Frieza, and most shockingly 17. After defeating Universe 10, he didn't have all that much to do until that point, either, besides team up with Piccolo to defeat Universe 6's final members.
  • In Dr. Stone, the series starts following Taiju Ooki, a hot-blooded yet dimwitted high school student who wakes up thousands of years in the future after every human was turned to stone, only finding his friend the hyper-intelligent Senku, who plans to rebuild society with his immense knowledge of science. After two volumes and freeing Taiju's love interest and the main villain, Taiju goes undercover in the latter's group and the manga now focuses on Senku as he shows a village of cave-people various forms of science.
  • From the same author of Baccano!, Durarara!! has Mikado Ryuugamine who may look like he's the protagonist because he was the focus for the first episode. You might be thinking "huh, so we get to see Ikebukuro from the eyes of a Naïve Newcomer". Until you see his biggest secret. Word of God says that Celty is the protagonist of the series, not Mikado.
  • Emerging: Since she appears on the cover and since the first chapter revolves around her, it's very easy to mistake Akari for the series' protagonist. She gets infected with the disease at the very beginning of the story, and from then until the very end does nothing except lying in her hospital bed looking miserable. Her family doctor becomes the hero.
  • The demon-hunting squad you're introduced to in the first episode of Ga-Rei -Zero-. They're all distinctive, have some interesting chemistry and seem like a skilled bunch. They all die. At the end of that very same episode. They were included on promotional material.
  • Genma Wars opens with a young man named Katsu fighting in a tournament to join the Genma tribe and manages to win, but then his father the Maoh King arbitrarily executes him For the Evulz. The poor dude doesn't even make past two minutes before dying. The series is about the the king's other children and given Katsu isn't featured in the opening credits, it makes sense he is the Decoy Protagonist.
  • Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin started out with Daisuke as the protagonist and was your typical A Boy and His X story. Eight episodes in it had a Genre Shift when the attention changed to his dog, Gin, and Gin ran off to join a pack of feral dogs. Daisuke doesn't appear again until the tail end of the series and is nowhere in the sequel anime.
  • Goblin Slayer infamously has the Greenhorn Trio. After giving each a backstory and a little characterisation, they set off with Priestess on their first goblin hunt... and they get horrifically slaughtered. The male fighter gets ripped limb from limb, the female wizard is stripped and molested while she lies dying from a poison stab wound (and eventually has to be euthanized) and the female monk is pinned down and gang-raped (she survives the encounter but it's made abundantly clear from the look she has that her adventuring days are over). Priestess is rescued by the titular Goblin Slayer, the real protagonist of the story, and falls in with him.
  • Henrietta is very obviously the main character for Gunslinger Girl. As the series goes on however Triela is given noticeably more and more spotlight while Henrietta becomes more of a side character. Henrietta is in fact the second major girl to die and Triela is the last.
  • In Jewelpet Kira Deco!, Retsu seems like the typical hero: he's Hot-Blooded, he's the leader of his Sentai team, he's front and center, he gets the color red, he's the first to introduce himself. But it's Pink, The Chick, whom the story revolves around.
  • Giorno Giovanna is technically the lead of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Vento Aureo, but he's only the focus of the story at the very beginning and very end, and spends the rest of the time just being another guy in Bruno Bucciarati's gang while Bucciarati himself gets most of the spotlight. Jolyne is also the JoJo of Part 6, but it's Emporio, the Sole Survivor of Jolyne's party, who faces and defeats Big Bad Pucci at the end of the story.
  • In Joker Game, everyone thought Lt. Sakuma would be the protagonist, largely owing to his personality being a fairly standard one in works portraying the WWII era. However, he disappears from the story after episode two, having refused Lt. Col. Yuuki's invitation to join the D Agency, and is only mentioned again once in passing. Inasmuch as this series has a protagonist, it's probably Lt. Col. Yuuki.
  • Keyman is the title character in Keyman: The Hand of Judgement, but he gets killed by the end of the first chapter. For the rest of the story we follow wDetective Alex, an anthropomorphic T. rex, as he tries to solve the murder case.
  • At the start of Kill la Kill, you're lead to believe a simple male student is the main protagonist. However, he serves only two purposes story wise- to demonstrate how the Goku Uniforms work, and to display how dangerous Gamagoori is. Once he's out of the picture, we're quickly introduced to our main character, Ryuko.
  • Legend of Galactic Heroes has two main characters: Reinhard von Lohengramm of the The Empire and Yang Wenli of The Alliance. While Yang Wenli IS the most important character of the democratic cast, he's assassinated three-quarters of the way through - completely changing the dynamic of the show. Yang's protégée Julian succeeds him in the last season while Reinhard is a protagonist throughout.
  • For the majority of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, Shinn Asuka was clearly the main character. He got the most focus, piloted the titular mobile suit (the Destiny Gundam), and was front and center on promotional art. However, towards the end he was effectively Demoted to Dragon and either Kira Yamato or Athrun Zala, members of the cast of the prequel Mobile Suit Gundam SEED take center stage. Athrun could be the true main character of the show, as he has the most screentime out of the three main characters and the TV Movies were narrated from his perspective. However, official sources still identify Shinn the main character all the way through the series.
  • While we're on the subject of Naoki Urasawa, Richard Braun is this for Monster. Not an entirely straight example, because he isn't this way for the series as a whole, just for an arc that takes up volumes 5-9. Still for that arc, this trope definitely applies.
  • Talentless Nana: In the very first chapter, we're led to believe that Nanao Nakajima is the protagonist and title character; he doesn't seem to have any talents or powers as the title states and we get an in-depth look at his backstory. By the end of the chapter, he is killed off by the real protagonist, Hiiragi Nana.
  • The prologue episodes of Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse follow Yui Takemura, before episode 3 switches to Yuuya's viewpoint.
  • One Piece:
    • Paulie in the Water 7 Arc. The Straw Hats have come to Water 7, home of the world's best carpenters, in search of a shipwright for their crew, and Paulie happens to be the best shipwright at the largest shipwright company on the island. He has a very well-devolped fighting style involving the use of rigging ropes and the amusing personality quirk of being constantly in debt. We learn of a better shipwright, Franky, who supposedly betrayed the company, but he's set up as the arc's villain, making it a surprise when, as the arc proceeds, he receives a tragic past, a connection to the series' Myth Arc, and a quirky fighting style of his own. Guess who ends up joining?.
    • Vivi also counts as a Decoy Crew member. She travels and adventures with the Straw Hats for over three story-arcs, is even given her own theme song and commercial eyecatcher, but at the end of the day it's the previous villainess Nico Robin who joins as they leave Vivi behind to rule her country. Now that's a plot twist.
  • And back to Urasawa, Pluto tells the story mostly from Gesicht's point of view for the first six volumes - up until his murder. Epsilon and then Atom take on the mantle of the hero, though Gesicht's memories play a role in the final confrontation against Pluto.
  • The first episode of Popotan starts out with Daichi discovering the real protagonists' mansion as he explores a field. He walks inside... It's dark, and lit only by a Christmas tree... Suddenly, "UNA!" He runs into the hallway, having been startled by Unagi, and runs into the bathroom door as Ai comes out wearing only a towel. It's from here on that we meet all the real protagonists as he frantically attempts to flee the house. He is present during the last minute of the episode, after the girls leave, but is only ever seen again in episode 7 (as an adult, except for flashbacks) and the last episode (when Ai travels back to the time she and her sisters first met him).
  • Psycho-Pass has Shinya Kougami heavily featured in the promotional videos and openings as if he's the protagonist mostly ignoring Akane in favor of featuring him with Makishima in photos. While he's still the main character alongside Akane, he takes quite a backseat to her, who grows significantly more as a character and ultimately receives the most spotlight.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica:
  • Puella Magi Oriko Magica, had an odd case. For starters, the title character isn't even on the cover of the first volume. In fact, it's an Antagonist Title; Oriko is the villain. The real protagonists, at least in the first volume, are Kyouko and Yuma, the girl who actually was on the cover. Mami functions as a secondary protagonist. And then in the second volume, Homura becomes the protagonist.
  • The First Episode of Shiki follows Megumi as the central character and her life around the village. She's dead by the end of the episode
  • Sket Dance begins with Teppei's first day in his new school and meeting the eponymous Sket-dan. Then the chapter ends and he never appears again aside from a few cameos.
  • In the second "season" of Takemitsu Zamurai, a bandit leader named "Glass-eyed Tetsuzo" is set up to be the new antagonist after landing in jail. Unfortunately he's Too Dumb to Live and kicks previous antagonist Kikuchi awake. The next morning, Tetsuzo is found with his head twisted off and Kikuchi is now the owner of a pretty marble, which he eventually uses to burn the prison down and escape.
  • This trope is played with in the first season (Question arcs) of Higurashi: When They Cry where the central protagonist switches from character to character. It is only in the second season (Answer arcs) where it is revealed that the real main character is actually Rika Furude.
  • Some viewers didn't realize Kamina wasn't the central protagonist of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann until his death in Episode 8. It turns out that Simon is the main character.
  • Double subverted in The Tower of Druaga. Neeba is shown to be the leader of his group early on with Jil showing up as a mysterious badass... who then gets knocked out within five seconds of first encountering an enemy and has a sort of goofy flashback for most of the first episode about how his journey started... which turns out to be a dream while the rest of his party saves him. His brother, Neeba is seems to be the real hero, for much of the early show. Then his brother turns out to be the Fake Ultimate Hero, and the second arc supplants him with Jil.
  • Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-:
    • For the first dozen volumes of the manga and all of the anime, the series seems to be a typical shounen series about strength and determination, centering on typical shounen hero Syaoran with the other characters in supporting roles. However, that changed when Syaoran turned out to be a clone and puppet of the Big Bad, splitting off from the party and going to wreak evil havoc. At that point the focus of the series switched to former motivational love interest Sakura, at least until SHE died several volumes later.
    • Clone Syaoran can still be considered to be the main protagonist for the first half.
  • In Vexille, the first half of the movie is spent with Vexille, who's part of a force that's about to stage a covert operation against an isolationist nation. The second half of the film reveals the protagonist to be Maria, a character who wasn't introduced in the first half. Indeed, pretty much everything Vexille was trying to do didn't matter at all. Maria's the one who knows what the stakes are, has devised a plan to thwart the villain, and has gathered together a group of people to execute said plan. She has a direct and personal connection to the villain, as well as people on her side who she has to work against to gather resources and manpower to pull off her scheme. The story in the second half continues to be told from Vexille's point of view, yet her main contribution is to have things explained to. And to pilot the Mecha.
  • In The World Is Mine, we meet the two Villain Protagonists Toshiya and Mon driving down the highway, with Mon having sex with a flashy-looking high school girl. She describes herself to the audience as if she'll be the protagonist ("My name is Miho, seventeen years old, love sex!") and is then pushed out of the car into oncoming traffic. The real female protagonist is a plain-looking girl and one of the few people that Mon doesn't want to rape or kill (Mon actually curls up into her lap and falls asleep like Berserker Rage Ranma).
  • In Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou Yumiko has the focus in the First Episode until its shown that Koyomi is The Main Character.
  • Yuru-Yuri:
    • A running joke is the 'main character' Akari worrying constantly about her complete lack of screen time, character traits, and presence. Although she leads the opening segment, she's always interrupted, ignored, or distracted by something. Once or twice, she only appears to tell the audience that she won't be in the rest of the episode.
      "I'm Akaza Akari and I'm still the protagonist!"
    • Toshino Kyouko claims to be the true protagonist.

    Audio Plays 
  • In the first episode of the children's audio series, The Hanna Jo Stories, it appears that Edward is being set up as a potential main character for the series. But at the end, it turns out that it is actually Edward's brother Allen (who had only a small part in the first episode) who ends up traveling with Hanna Jo and becoming the series' second lead. Edward remains simply a recurring guest star.

    Comic Books 
  • Like a lot of comics, Neil Gaiman's Black Orchid lampshades Bond Villain Stupidity. Unlike most, the Mook really does shoot the main character in the head. He doesn't know that she can regenerate, but he sets her on fire to be absolutely certain she's Deader Than Dead. Given this is on the second page of the first issue, it's a good thing Me's a Crowd.
  • Department of Monsterology:
    • A non-fatal example: we are initially introduced to Emma Hampton and Team Challenger and are led to believe that they are going to be the main protagonists (with The Hero being the Naïve Newcomer Emma Hampton). However, after their initial scene, one of them mentions Team Carnacki who then become the main protagonists, with Team Challenger being Demoted to Extra afterwards.
    • The two body-jumping villains appear to be set up as the Big Bad Duumvirate, or at least as major antagonists. They ultimately turn out to be Decoy Antagonists, and are defeated by the end of the initial story arc.
  • Similarly, Gaiman's The Sandman gave us a Decoy Antagonist with Roderick Burgess, the warlock who imprisons Dream in the first issue. He seems to be set up as the Big Bad, or at least as a major antagonist. Then it turns out that the first issue spans 70 freakin' years. By the end of issue #1, Burgess has died of old age, and his son Alex is a harmless, senile old man. After Dream escapes, he leaves him in a permanent nightmare and never sees him again.
  • Shakara:
    • The comic begins with a human thinking he's the Last of His Kind after the Earth is destroyed. He's killed on page 3 by a much larger alien right before the real protagonist, Shakara the Avenger, is introduced.
    • A later issue introduces two tomb raiders who team up to find the lost treasure of the Shakara homeworld. After facing many perils, they're unceremoniously shot by Buggerian mercenaries.
  • Used to great effect in Origin, in which it turns out that the kid who looks like a young Wolverine, is nicknamed "Dog", and has the surname "Logan", isn't the one who grows up to be Wolverine. The real young Wolverine is actually James Howlett, who starts out as a sickly rich kid living in a manor house in Alberta—though Dog is heavily implied to be his half-brother (and may or may not be connected to Sabretooth in some way).
  • The Mask comics is a very good example of this. Stanley may be the first person to wear the Artifact of Doom but he is not the main character. It is debatable after the 2nd series of books whether the wearer of the mask is the main character or if it is Kellaway (the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist). And Big Head is just the Big Bad.
  • The first Azrael miniseries begins with what appears to be the title character being shot and killed in the first few pages. As it turns out, this was the main character's father and the mantle is a Legacy Character. Batman himself also serves as one, as despite having top billing in the original miniseries and having most of the focus for the first half, he is captured halfway into the story by LeHah and the remainder of it focuses on Azrael joining forces with Alfred to rescue him.
  • James Robinson's Star Man series had a similar opening with a superhero being killed in the first two pages, only for his brother to take up the mantle.
  • In a third act switch, Archangel Cameron in Archangels: The Saga. He's the main character for the first seven issues and for the epilogue of the 9th, but in Issues 8 and 9, the famous archangel Michael is summoned by God to issue the Big Bad's final defeat and he becomes the new focus character.
  • In the Ultimate Marvel universe Ray Connor, the kid who takes up the Daredevil identity after the death of Matt Murdock. We're given an issue dealing with his origin and background and the book makes it seem like he's being positioned as a major character in the mold of previous Legacy Characters...but then at the end of said issue, he gets bitten by a vampire.
  • Transformers: Wings of Honor: Follows Metalhawk's group (with The Hero being the Naïve Newcomer Dion), and Onslaught's in their war against the growing Decepticon uprising lead by Deathsaurus. In the final few comics, Onslaught's team reneges, and kills half of Metalhawk's team, with Dion defeating their combined form. Then the protagonist switches to Magnum, the leader of the Elite guard which Onslaught and his men wiped out. He and the rest of the survivors, including Dion, fight Deathsaurus and beat him. Deathsaurus turns out to be a Decoy Antagonist, and is beaten and overthrown by the true antagonist Megatron. Megatron leads an attack on the Autobots, fatally shooting Dion and Magnum. Alpha Trion takes them, and rebuilds Ultra Magnus from one of them, while the other dies, and Ultra Magnus welcomes the true hero of the war, Optimus Prime.
  • In Noob, being the player whose Day in the Life is shown at the beginning doesn't guarantee being the focus for the rest of the comic.
  • Innocence Lost tells the story of X-23's creation, and provides the groundwork for how she became the Broken Bird Dark Action Girl she's best known as. However Laura herself is not the main character, and in fact isn't even born until roughly halfway through the book. The story actually focuses on Dr. Sarah Kinney's attempts to create her, the events that lead to her decision to free Laura from the Facility, and her accidental death at Laura's hands.
  • The Bojeffries Saga introduces us to the titular family through the eyes of a rent collector trying to get back rent from them. He gets turned into a geranium plant at the end of the first arc.
  • Double Subverted by Black Science. First, the perspective shifts from Science Hero Grant to Action Hero Ward when the former is put out of commission. Then, after Ward is killed, the perspective shifts back to Grant... who is himself killed off two issues later. The real protagonist so far seems to be Kadir, who was introduced as a stock Corrupt Corporate Executive villain.
  • Runaways, though focused on a team, set up the leader Alex Wilder as the overall protagonist of the series. He was the one who lead the other kids to discover their parents were supervillains as the Pride, helped the team acquire/discover their artifacts and powers, was made to look like he'd be an official couple to Nico Minoru, was the Audience Surrogate as the only member with no powers or special gadgets, and led the overall charge to end the Pride once and for all. Then, as it turned out, Alex was loyal to the Pride the whole time, and was plotting to use the others to fulfill his plans to undermine the Deans and the Hayeses, the two non-humans that planned to betray the others, and actually succeeded... only to be killed off not long after by the Gibborim. For the record, this was at the end of the first arc in a series that has ran over fifty issues. Afterwards, there's not really a protagonist, though Nico fits closest as the new leader.
  • Steam Wars makes us think that it'll focus on the Luke Skywalker Expy, Beauregard Baron, will be the main character. In truth though it's actually the Princess Leia Expy, Duchess Imoen.
  • Bitch Planet #1 follows Marian Collins as she is transported to the titular prison for "non-compliant" women...until her death at the end of the issue, which brings the real protagonist of the series into focus.
  • Southern Bastards builds up Earl Tubbs as the protagonist of the series for the first few issues, focusing on him being the only man to stand up to crooked Coach Eustass Boss and his cronies. He's killed by Boss at the end of the first storyarc, who takes over as the Villain Protagonist of the whole story.
  • The DC Rebirth era Superwoman series was promoted as a series following the New 52 Lois Lane after she got some of the New 52 Superman's powers. She dies at the end of the first issue and the real central character is Lana Lang, who got a different powerset.
  • Curse of the Mutants is a storyline revolving around the X-Men as they fight against vampires lead by Dracula's rebellious son Xarus, who lead a coup to depose him. However, the prologue of this event doesn't follow any X-Man, but rather Dracula's other son Janus, who observes the coup up close and attempts to defy his brother to no avail. He doesn't have anymore relevance in the plot beyond the prologue, not appearing again except in a short supporting role, as the X-Men are the real focus of the story.
  • Reborn opens with Harry Black being murdered by a crazed shooter and his soul being transported to a fantasy afterlife realm where he and others fight against the forces of darkness. The focus then immediately changes to his widow Bonnie, who is the comic's actual protagonist.
  • Über: Patrick O'Connor has all the markings of The Hero, being a brave American soldier that volunteers for the process to become a super soldier and fight against the Nazis just like Captain America. He then goes up against Sieglinde and gets killed in the most horrible manner imaginable. Due to the Anyone Can Die nature of the story, no character whom the audience may feel like is the protagonist seems safe.
  • The 2016 Venom series opens with a former soldier named Lee Price becoming the new Venom after encountering the symbiote. Lee serves as the protagonist for the first arc, after which he is arrested and stripped of the symbiote, who remerges with Eddie Brock.
  • Bloodquest has a particularly tragic and brutal example of this trope: Leonatos is the leader of the Blood Angels' squad on a quest to retrieve their chapter's relic after it was lost. He pulls a Heroic Sacrifice to save the last two remaining members of their group so they could return the relic while he stood behind in the Daemon World to make his last stand. The two survivors - Lysander and Cloten - become the new protagonists and embark on a quest to rescue Leonatos... Who is revealed to have been possessed and turned to Chaos.
  • Raptors: Vicky Lenore is the actual protagonist, but Drago and Camilla are featured on all the covers and are basically a Spotlight-Stealing Squad.
  • Green Arrow has a unique case for its second volume that began in 2001. For most of the first storyarc, "Quiver," the reader is following the newly resurrected Green Arrow, but with a large chunk of his memory removed, as he doesn't remember anything since his "Hard Traveling Heroes" period with Green Lantern. As it turns out, we've only been following Oliver's Soulless Shell, while his soul elected to remain in the afterlife. It isn't until "Quiver's" final chapter where Oliver's soul returns to his body and he's truly back in both mind and body.
  • Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers series begins with a member of the original Seven Soldiers, the Vigilante, forming a new team consisting of himself, a new Whip, Gimmix, Boy Blue, Dyno-Mite Dan, and I, Spyder (a seventh member "got cold feet"). They all die at the end of their issue, paving the way for the real protagonists: Shining Knight, the Guardian, Zatanna, Klarion, Mister Miracle, Bulleteer, and Frankenstein.
  • The first issue of the Peter Milligan / Mike Allred era of X-Force introduced an entirely new cast of characters, with the main PoV character being the team's leader Zeitgeist. All but two of the team were then violently killed off at the end of the issue, including Zeitgeist, establishing the Anyone Can Die dynamic that the run would have.

    Fan Works 
  • In 72 Hours, Nick Savini and Tamyra Carpenter are set up as the protagonists and main couple...up until the fourth chapter, where Nick unwittingly blows himself up and Tamyra gets shot in the heart.
  • Marty in No Antidote. He's only really there to tie the Pokemon in his team (including the real protagonist, Bulbasaur) together.
  • Connor Russell in the Slender Man fic By the Fire's Light starts as our first viewpoint protagonist, but dies in short order. He ends up being replaced by Detective Carl Rourke and Mira Grolinsky.
  • Broddigan "Longbow" Quarles from What Lies Beyond the Walls is set up as being the story's main viewpoint character, and there's even a good chunk of information given about his background. Then a weasel comes by and slices his neck open while he's sleeping before the first chapter's even one-third of the way finished.
  • The End of Ends focuses on Beast Boy for a while before he runs away and gets killed. Then it focuses on the Titans and Doom Patrol in their fight against Count Logan who, to hardly anyone's surprise, is actually Beast Boy.
  • There is an entire community of Harry Potter fanfic authors out there who believe that Harry Potter himself is actually the Decoy Protagonist of the series, and that the True Hero of the story is Hermione Granger. They refer to Harry as a "front kick" (that is, a sidekick who is presented as the hero), and are huge fans of the Ron the Death Eater trope, usually making Ron Weasley either stupid, evil or stupidly evil.
  • The 91st Annual Hunger Games does this. Initially it opens up focusing on Wesley Togsiala, before Act 2 opens up and the POV suddenly shifts to his sister Aveline. Given the nature of the Hunger Games, it's no mystery as to why this happens.
  • Pokémon Story: Sinnoh Journey: Dawn is the focus character for the first couple of characters. Then, the focus suddenly shifts to Aaron. Ash gets a little bit in his three-part battle with Aaron. All in all, the story spends more time developing time Aaron and then Ian. If that disappoints you, the sequel should help.
  • Team 8: Kurenai is often the viewpoint character early on, the mentor of the titular team, and her actions and guidance drive and direct much of the plot, but Naruto and Hinata soon take up more focus, especially after Kurenai's death in Chapter 20.

    Films — Animation 
  • A deleted opening for Atlantis: The Lost Empire was actually going to make a team of Vikings the main characters of the movie. Cue the Leviathan sinking their ship, killing said Vikings, and causing the Shepherd's Journal to float away into the Atlantic Ocean...
  • The first few minutes of Delhi Safari follow Sultan and his family of leopards. But he's killed off very quickly by hunters, which triggers the real protagonists into heading to Delhi.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks appeared to have Twilight Sparkle as the focus, both for the film's promotional material and in-universe to other characters. However, the film ultimately follows Sunset Shimmer, who saves the day in the end. Sunset would go on to be the focal point character for the remainder of the Equestria Girls franchise. This is joked about in the film's commentary, where the writer notes that earlier drafts gave Sunset little importance, before she realized Sunset's character arc would be more interesting than a standard "Twilight saves the day" story.
  • Both Tom and Jerry in Tom and Jerry: The Movie. Their new human friend Robyn Starling is the actual main character.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24's final season plays with this: after transitioning to Villain Protagonist, Jack still played a central role in the season's plot, but the show actually gave focus on Chloe while his screentime notably became more limited in the final episodes, making the real hero of the season her. This even comes into play after Jack's Heel–Face Turn in the series finale, as he is wounded and spends most it offscreen being held captive while Chloe's efforts to expose the season's conspiracy and eventually save him are given the greater focus.
  • Season 15 of The Amazing Race had Zev & Justin, who, when compared to similar editing of teams in previous seasons, appeared to be set up for a run late into the race, including a burgeoning rivalry with Maria & Tiffany, that is until they lost a passport in leg 4.
  • Black Mirror: In "USS Callister", Daly is initially the focus and we are seemingly meant to empathize with his plight as another sad sack pining for a girl he lacks the nerve to approach and bullied by his peers. Once the digital version of Nanette awakens, it becomes obvious she is the real protagonist, and Daly is the monster she and the crew must overcome.
  • New viewers watching Blake's 7 might assume the thoroughly likeable Varon (Blake's lawyer) and Maja (Varon's wife) are going to be major characters, as they have a lot of screen time, and spend much of the episode attempting to help Blake. New viewers would be wrong in this assumption.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In the very first episode, a student named Jesse McNally was introduced along with Xander and Willow. Jesse had been friends with the two for years and looked like he would be part of the main cast, but is turned into a vampire and staked by the end of the pilot. Joss Whedon apparently wanted to include him in the opening credits to make his death more shocking, but the executives wouldn't allow him to spend the money.
    • The Mirror Universe episode "The Wish" begins with Cordelia accidentally overwriting the universe with a very dark alternate continuity. You'd expect that the episode would centre around her cleaning up the mess she caused... but she dies half-way through the episode, and the rest of it is solely about the mirrorverse characters until their own actions cause the timeline to be corrected.
    • Tara, a recurring character since season four, was finally promoted to regular cast member in season six... and was killed in the same episode where she first appeared in the opening credits.
  • In Angel, Doyle was part of a Power Trio with Angel and Cordelia, was the team's link to the Powers That Be, appeared in the opening credits, had several episodes based around him, and appeared to be at the start of a long character arc related to coming to terms with his half-demon heritage. He died by Heroic Sacrifice halfway through season 1, and was replaced by Wesley.
    • This may been a case of Real Life Writes the Plot. Scuttlebutt was that he was terminated due to his drug addiction causing problems with the filming. Joss Whedon likes to claim it was planned, but there are some disputes to this point and he may have just been putting on a nice spin to protect the actor's reputation.
  • Channel Zero pulls this in the Butcher's Block season. At first, it's pretty obvious that Alice is the heroine, being seemingly the only one aware of the strange things happening in town and trying to save her sister Zoe as she's corrupted by the Peach family. But by the time of the season's climax, her own fears of her encroaching hereditary insanity cause her to give into the Peaches' temptations and join them; meanwhile, Zoe is able to ultimately resist those same temptations, emerging as the true heroine of the story.
  • Fans of the Chris Gethard Show were told Random Messenger Bag would undertake a Hero's Journey, defending Chris from a full hour of attacks, to the point where Chris actually referred to him as the Mr. Baggins to his Sam Gamgee. In fact, Messenger Bag betrayed Chris when given an opportunity for more screen time, leaving him to fend for himself while handcuffed to a chair. Messenger Bag was in fact on a villain's journey, Chris is the true hero.
  • The pilot of CSI centred around Holly Gribbs, only to have her get shot in the end and die in the next episode.
  • While she doesn't die, having Sgt. Thomson turn out to have been the killer in the first episode of Death in Paradise is a perfect example of this trope. It turns out the woman the police have suspected for half the episode is, in fact, an undercover detective, who begrudgingly joins the team after the case is wrapped up.
  • Desperate Housewives Zigzagged this trope in regard to Mary Alice Young: The pilot episode begins with her having a long monologue that details about her life... only for her to commit suicide at the end of it and reviewed to us that she is the narrator while the main characters are her fellow housewives and friends. However, her death is the Driving Question of the first season of the show. Later seasons turned Mary Alice into the narrator because her storyline has wrapped up at the end of the first season but she still pops up here and then to further the other housewives' stories.
  • Doctor Who: In "Bad Wolf"/"The Parting of the Ways", the Doctor meets a young woman named Lynda Moss and takes a liking to her, even giving her an offer to come on the TARDIS. Given the title of the second half of the two-parter, new viewers who remain unspoiled could be forgiven for assuming that she was going to replace Rose. She doesn't.
  • The first episode of Flashpoint introduces Team One, the ensemble main cast of the show — except that at the end of that episode, one member of the team is promoted to Sergeant and given his own team, and never appears on the show again. It's his replacement, Sam Braddock, who becomes the seventh regular cast member.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • As with the book, the series opens with several rangers of the Night's Watch who end up getting killed or executed by the second scene.
    • Eddard Stark appears to be the show's main protagonist. He's played by the show's most famous actor and the plot centers on him more than any other character. However, he dies at the end of the first season, causing the drama to fracture into a large number of plot lines, each with their own protagonist.
    • Robb Stark after his father, whom George R. R. Martin admits he killed to subvert the standard revenge story.
    • Viserys Targaryen and Khal Drogo are Decoy Antagonists.
    • George R. R. Martin's leaked outline for a first draft of the series reveals that he intended from the start to have five central characters: Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Bran Stark, Danaerys Targaryen, and Arya Stark. It is not currently known which of these characters, if any, will play the most prominent role in the endgame of the series. Melisandre seems to believe that either Jon or Danaerys will serve as Azor Ahai and find a way to defeat the army of the dead, though Bran is also likely to fill this role and fans still theorize that Tyrion or Samwell Tarly could eventually be revealed to be the true protagonist.
  • Gotham: Jerome Valeska is introduced and clearly set up to develop into the arch-villain of the Batman universe The Joker. Then he's suddenly killed off shortly after the start of Season 2.
    • And then season 2 ends with a villain experimenting with bringing people back from the dead, and trailers for the second half of Season 3 suggest he might be returning. Either way, it's made clear that his deeds were highly inspirational, making him the proto-Joker even if he never became the Joker himself.
    • He gets better and officially returns, essentially as the Joker in all but name and starts his rivalry with a pre-Batman Bruce Wayne... and then in Season 4 he's finally Killed Off for Real, after engineering a plot to drive his brother Jeremiah insane, allowing him to become the true Joker.
  • Hurlan in The Heart She Holler was the Protagonist from the beginning, but this is changed in 'The Comening' when he is Killed Off for Real, and Hershey becomes the new Mayor.
  • House of Cards (US):
    • Zoe Barnes is the deuteragonist of the first season, with the story focusing almost as much on her journalistic career as it does on Frank Underwood's rise to power. When Underwood becomes Vice President of the United States at the end of Season 1, and Zoe finally begins to piece together the clues about his involvement in Peter Russo's death, one could assume that the next season would feature her as the Hero Antagonist to Underwood's Villain Protagonist. Nope. Underwood throws her in front of a subway train in the first episode of Season 2.
    • It's then Double Subverted when Zoe's love interest Lucas Goodwin becomes an Ascended Extra in Season 2, and seems poised to replace Zoe as the Hero Antagonist as he gets involved with underground hackers and sets out to expose Underwood's corruption. Also nope. He doesn't even make it halfway through the season before he's sent to prison for cyberterrorism after his hacker ally betrays him to the FBI.
    • And then again with Rachel Posner, who gets a hefty amount of screen time during season 2 and build up in season 3, who is seemingly the one remaining piece that could threaten Frank Underwood. And then as before, she is killed and Frank's trail grows ever colder.
    • The Final Season does this with Doug Stamper of all people. He is positioned as a Villain Protagonist who might make a Heel–Face Turn to stop Claire Underwood. Instead, he helps Claire destroy her last remaining enemies, only for Claire to kill him, eliminating the final loose end and getting away with all of her crimes.
  • Lexx:
    • An early episode begins with a man drifting through space in a small shuttle, playing a radio message which details his backstory and the plight of his home planet "Gworim". Then the Lexx runs him right over, and nobody even notices due to his comparatively small size.
    • In the very first episode Brian Bostwick play Thodin the leader of the rebellion. He would have been the obvious hero if it had been the type of story to have that sort of thing.
  • Jack from Lost was originally meant to be one of these, played for the single episode by a big-name actor- Michael Keaton being a top choice- to reinforce the audience's assumption that he was the main character. Executives decided that the audience would feel betrayed and tune out if he was promptly killed. Thus, Jack was made the actual leader of the group and a regular, thus necessitating a cheaper actor.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus:
    • Played with in the "Up Your Pavement" sketch. It starts as the intro to a television show about a pair of happy-go-lucky homeless people, who are abruptly run over by a James Bond-type international crimefighter and spy. The sketch then quickly features a renowned surgeon, a Royal Navy Admiral, his daughter, a flasher, and the chairman of Fiat Motors, then goes through about a dozen random, tenuously-related people before finally setting on a legendary RAF fighter ace of World War II...and the story of the men who flew with him.
    • Similarly played with in the "Science Fiction" sketch (about giant blancmanges from the Andromeda Galaxy). Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Brainsample are introduced as if they were the focus of a sport-sketch but they're immediately abandoned for one about Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever. Then they show up at the end: turns out they were responsible for the destruction of the blancmange at Wimbledon.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 viewing of Time Chasers Mike and the robots voice their desire that Nick be an example. After a few scenes, they begin hoping that Nick will cross paths with a new character who turns out to be the real star.
    Crow: This... is not our star, is it? I will not accept this as our star, sorry.
  • The Office: when Michael Scott left the series, his initial replacement was DeAngelo Vickers, who was very similar to Michael and played by frequent Steve Carell collaborator Will Ferrell. He only appeared for four episodes before disappearing after a total physical and mental breakdown.
  • Oz's Dino Ortolani, a young Italian mafioso who's introduced as the "sponsor" of series protagonist Tobias Beecher in the pilot episode. Roughly half of the pilot's plot is devoted to him, heavily hinting at a character arc involving his struggle with his own violent nature and his relationship with his family on the outside. But then he's abruptly burned alive by his enemies at the end of the episode, hammering home the fact that Anyone Can Die in Oswald Penitentiary.
  • Revolution: Ben Matheson in the pilot from this new series. The show spends the first several minutes centered around him and you would think he would become the main character who ends up knowing how the blackout started and trying to atone for his sins. Instead, he gets shot before the first commercial break, and his daughter steps in as the real protagonist.
  • Multiple layer example in the first episode of Saul of the Mole Men. The opening credits feature the S.T.A.R. Team, who promptly die seconds later in a meteor shower. Following are the replacement credits for Johnny Tambourine... who is a complete moron. Then the opening credits for The Molemen (as a funny sitcom)... and finally the real credits for Saul himself.
  • In The Shield's first episode, Captain Aceveda asks new detective Terry Crowley to go undercover in the Strike Team and gather information on Vic's criminal activities. Crowley appeared to be set up as a Deuteragonist or Hero Antagonist, and appeared in the opening credits and advertisement for the show, suggesting he would be a main character. He is shot and killed by Vic at the end of the pilot, although his death does start off the years-long chain of events that results in Vic's fall.
  • Byung Hee in Shut Up Flower Boy Band, who was killed at the end of the second episode. He was played by a well-known actor, had a Love Interest, got the most screentime, and was the lead singer of the band. The focus shifts to guitarist Ji Hyuk.
  • Stargate:
    • Stargate SG-1 has a non-protagonist example: Kawalsky was only character from the film to return aside from Jack and Daniel, in addition to being made the head of SG-2. He gets more screentime in "Children of the Gods" than Teal'c (who went on to be in the most episodes of any cast member) and was played up as being a regular character in the show. Unfortunately, he gets taken over by a Goa'uld at the end of the pilot and dies in the second episode.
    • Colonel Sumner from Stargate Atlantis.
  • Star Trek: Discovery: Captain Georgiou dies in the second episode. The series really isn't about her and the starship Shenzhou. It's about First Officer Michael Burnham, aboard the Discovery.
  • Non-death example: The Thick of It begins with a minister entering his office, greeting his staff, and getting ready for a meeting with Malcolm. Then, in the meeting, Malcolm suddenly forces him to resign. Quick cut, and the new minister (and the show's protagonist) appears. Basically, rather than Anyone Can Die, this is Anyone Can Be Sacked.
  • The Wire features an extended example: in the first season, D'Angelo Barksdale is the POV character for the criminal side of Baltimore, as McNulty is for the cop side. However, he's killed off early in the second season, while McNulty lasts through the entire show and other criminal figures step into the spotlight. This seems natural, as Baltimore drug dealers tend to live short lives.
  • Z Nation pulls this twice in one season. First Hammond bites it, then Garnett takes a bullet to save Murphy.

    Music 
  • The music video for "Weird Al" Yankovic's "White and Nerdy" (parody of Chamillionaire's "Ridin'") started out with two black gangsters riding a car (in reference to the music video of "Ridin'") before they meet a nerd mowing his lawn. From there, the focus was on the nerd.
  • The promotional video for Orange Range's "O2" (the first opening of the second season of Code Geass), is also this. The story follows a Samurai in love with his lord's Geisha and having a secret relationship with her, with the band members guest starring as a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits just going about their everyday lives. The samurai saves her the first time from a group of thugs through some quick thinking, but when actually forced to fight, he didn't possess the strength to save her. It fell onto the band to save them ala Big Damn Heroes and using a variety of skills from their careers (Hiroki's a thief with Super Speed, Yoh's a skilled ronin, ect.) The video ends with Orange Range as the heroes and implies that the geisha broke it off with the samurai afterward, since he wasn't her Knight in Shining Armor after all.
  • The first two verses and choruses of "Sk8er Boi" by Avril Lavigne center on a girl that rejected the titular character, but when the bridge comes around, it's revealed that the singer is actually the protagonist and also the boy's girlfriend.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • Acts of the Apostles at first focused on the Apostles particularly Peter before switching to the exploits of Paul in chapter 13.
    • There are two Books of Samuel, which feature the prophet Samuel. He dies before the first one is over; the books are mainly about King David, whom Samuel appoints on God's command.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The D&D adventure Vecna Lives! famously pulled this one. The players start in the roles of the Circle Of Eight, the most powerful archmages in the world— guys who have spells in the rulebook named after them. But the very first encounter is a Hopeless Boss Fight, all the archmages end up dead, and the players must switch to a less-powerful backup team and still save the day.

    Theatre 
  • Lead actors in ancient Greece often preferred to show off their versatility by switching among multiple roles, so there are many Greek tragedies in which a particular character is at the center of the action for the first third or half of the play, only to die or disappear and be replaced by a new character (who would have originally been played by the same actor in a new mask).

  • In the classic Greek Antigone, the titular character seems to be our main until... Well, she is a Tragic Hero. Creon, the only character to have appeared in all of the Theban plays, takes the spotlight. Ergo, trope is Older Than Feudalism.
  • The Book of Mormon begins with charming, handsome Elder Price setting off to change the world with Elder Cunningham as his Plucky Comic Relief sidekick. By the end of Act 1 Price has abandoned his mission and Cunningham decides to step up and lead the people. Price still remains a main character, but the action is more focused on Cunningham's actions from then on.

    Toys 
  • Jaller was one of these twice in BIONICLE—once for Takua/Takanuva (in-universe more than to the audience, since everyone else thought that he was The Chosen One aside from himself and Takua), and the other for Matoro. The first time, he got killed (but got better), and the second time was something of a subversion as Matoro performed a Heroic Sacrifice, causing the real hero to die instead of the decoy.

    Webcomics 
  • In the first chapter of Gosu, a martial artist (who looks strikingly similar to Gang Ryong) is released from prison for an impressive feat and continues to be the focus of the chapter until he gets taken out by the leader of a group of bandits. Cue the revelation that it was the tubby delivery boy who is actually Gang Ryong! A curb-stomping quickly ensues.
  • Zig-Zagged with John in Homestuck. Even though the focus of the story changes constantly and he's absent through most of the story (as the focus shifts to other characters or even his own companions), later events in the story have put him back in the spotlight, and characters will often refer to him as the de facto protagonist of the story even though he keeps getting put in the background of everyone else's plans and actions that drive the story.
    • Played straight with Jane, who was set up to be the Tritagonist of the post-Scratch session. In the end though, the one who ends up being more involved with the main plot is Roxy.
  • In Mitadake Saga, we're initially led to believe that Zaraki Yagami is the protagonist. He's the first character we focus on and the first chapter is about him getting a weapon to defend himself with. Then, just as he's done so, he suddenly drops dead of a heart attack, showing the real protagonist, Zero Nanaya, the true weight of the situation.
  • Shin-Wu from Noblesse plays a red herring until the supporting protagonist Raizel shows up. While Shin-Wu is still prominent in the Noblesse S lite novel, he has been relegated to the background of the comic as comic relief and Distressed Dude.
  • While Schlock Mercenary is named after Schlock, and he's usually involved, he's receded a fair bit into the background, with the actual protagonist role typically going to a human character (Tagon, more often than not). It's notable that on the comic's Character page, he's something like a third of the way down the page, despite, again, being the title character!
  • Tessa, the leader of Team Alchemical in Sleepless Domain. The end of Chapter 2 and Word of God reveal that the actual protagonist is Undine. While Tessa remains a side character, the transition is made clear as the titles of chapter 3 onward are water-themed, in line with Undine's Making a Splash powers, and Tessa is later shown in a seat in the center of her classroom because, as the Alt Text explains, "window seats are for main characters."
  • Invoked in Sluggy Freelance here
    "What is this? A sci-fi thriller or a goofy buddy movie?"
  • In Sonichu, it seems like Sonichu would be the main character, but the attention quickly shifts to the creator Chris Chan himself. Almost every adventure Sonichu and his friends go on is something that happened in Chris's life. The comic is basically a big metaphor for how Chris wishes he could go back and do things differently.
  • Played straight in Tails Gets Trolled. Sonic the Hedgehog shows up as the friend of the title character, as one might expect, just as one might expect. The story is mostly told from his perspective, and four chapters later, he gets his head ripped off.

    Web Original 
  • In Just Another Fool, there is Logan. After a while, he goes missing and his friend Josh takes over the blog. Then Logan returns... but now, he's gone just a little unhinged.
  • The prologue chapter of The Pirates Covered in Fur takes place on an island away from the story's main setting and follows a goat who's trying to prevent Captain Lyle and his pirates from stealing a dangerous weapon. She's killed at the end, and the pirates acquire the weapon despite her efforts.
  • The first entry in the Smirvlak Trilogy, Smirvlak's Stone, mostly focuses on Nickolas Corveel as he tries to strengthen his bond with his estranged brother, Gnekvizz. Along his journey, Nick learns how to be a Combat Pragmatist, he grows closer to his brother, discovers that the world can be both beautiful and despairing, and even goes as far as killing the Disc-One Final Boss. Then it's revealed that Gnekvizz was Evil All Along, and shortly afterwards, he murders Nick, thereby illustrating that Nick had no bearing on the trilogy as a whole.
  • The first chapter of T.O.T. focused entirely on Mark and Maximus Slade. Mark is also the one who informs his friends about the werewolf and that they're in trouble. Mark is also the one who got the police involved (or tried to at least). Mark is also the one who receives a large amount of development, and the story is written to set Maximus to be Mark's Arch-Enemy, and that he'll ultimately be the one who saves the day. Despite all of this, Mark is killed two-thirds of the way into the story, and is surprisingly the first main character in the story to die.

    Web Videos 
  • The sequel to Cool Guy Has Chill Day begins with new character Mr. Funk doing similar things to Cool Guy in the original, and plays a sweet saxophone solo... then Cool Guy shows up and kills him about halfway through the video, proceeding to bury his body to his Leitmotif.
  • Hero House has an extremely elaborate example, with Nightwing serving as the main protagonist throughout all of season one. This all changes, however, due to his murder
  • Marble Hornets had Jay, who was shown as the main protagonist for 80 out of the 87 entries. Wanna know what happened in the 80th entry? He was shot and killed by Alex. For the remaining entries, Jay's "sidekick" Tim had to take the reins and settle the conflict once and for all.
  • hbomberguy believes this to be a failing of Fallout 3 (relevant portion of his review): both the pre-game hype and in-game narrative holds the player up to be important (and their choices of great consequence), but in the end they end up being more of a spectator to the player's father, and he feels annoyed at having been lied to.
  • Smosh's series, Part Timers, began with the manager, Lori, introducing the newly hired ascended fanboy Scooter to his new job at Pork E. Pine's. Scooter gives a small speech about how he's thrilled to be working there... And then he is very promptly killed when Ian accidentally hits him in the head with a ski ball. The next scene has Lori bringing in the new employee, Pete, who becomes the main character throughout the series.

    Western Animation 
  • The Æon Flux short "War" is built around this trope. It begins by following Aeon Flux, who is quickly shot to death. The story then follows a quick succession of new "protagonists," each displaying typical lead character traits before getting unceremoniously killed. According to Word of God, it's meant to be a commentary on how easily audience sympathy can be manipulated; each new protagonist is on the opposite side of the war than the one before.
  • In Castlevania (2017), Trevor Belmont is given top billing as the main protagonist since he is the last member of the Belmont family who were Dracula's old enemies. Though Trevor still remains an important character, Alucard gains more prominence due to having a more personal investment in the conflict since he is Dracula's son. Ultimately when it comes to the final battle, its mostly between father and son with Trevor being barely acknowledged, and it's Alucard who gives the killing blow to Dracula at the end with Trevor just finishing the job.
  • Played in a similar manner for Rufus in The Dreamstone with the pilot episodes establishing his role as assistant to the Dream Maker and having Took a Level in Badass to stop Zordrak. While some early episodes still play with this idea, the spotlight slowly drifts towards the Urpneys and Rufus' competence and pathos dwindle in favor of making him a Hero Antagonist no more significant than the other residents of the Land Of Dreams.
  • King of the Hill:
    • Subverted in the episode "Aisle 8A". Bobby is the main character for the first act, then the focus shifts to Hank for the second act, and finally back to Bobby in the third act.
    • "Hank and the Great Glass Elevator" starts with Hank dealing with the guy's antics in a trip to Austin for Bill's birthday, then it's set up for the episode to focus on him when he moons Ann Richards (It Makes Sense in Context). After this, Bill take the blame and the rest of the episode focuses on him.
  • Mickey Mouse in Pluto's Judgement Day. Despite the short claiming that Mickey is the main character, it's actually his dog Pluto that is the main focus of this short. Mickey actually punishes Pluto for chasing a cat around his house, and as a result the dog starts to have a nightmare about him going to Hell.
    • In fact, Mickey ends up being this in a lot of his shorts due to the supporting characters being more popular and having personalities that work better for comedy.
      • An extreme example of this is the cartoon Donald and Pluto. According to the opening titles, it's a Mickey Mouse cartoon, yet he is nowhere to be seen! (It can be assumed that it takes place in his house, but that's pure conjecture.)
  • The Simpsons does this regularly. Often the episode starts out with a plot that seems to be going one direction, but then a side detail creates a new plot that may focus on different characters. For instance:
    • The episode "A Milhouse Divided" starts out centered on Milhouse's parents' divorce, but when Homer and Marge begin to have similar marital troubles, the narrative changes to revolve around them instead.
    • In "Blood Feud," when Mr. Burns is dying, only Bart has a matching blood type to transfuse to save him. Later, Bart is sent only a thank you note and Homer steals the rest of the episode when he objects to Mr. Burns' minimal reward and sends an insulting letter to his boss. From then on, Bart becomes nothing more than his dad's sidekick, and doesn't do anything significant except for a prank call to Moe's Tavern.
  • Titan Maximum did this with the promos, where both Spud and Gibbs were shown as part of the cast. But in the first episode, Spud was Killed Off for Real and Gibbs had a Face–Heel Turn. Their team roles on the actual show were taken by The Hero's younger brother and the monkey.
  • Promotional artwork for Transformers Prime showed a team of six Autobots. One of them, Cliffjumper, was the star of the comic released before the show debuted, and was also announced to be voiced by fan-favorite Dwayne Johnson. The first five minutes of the show follow Cliffjumper as he finds the Decepticons have arrived on Earth...and then he gets stabbed through the chest by Starscream. The other bots end up being a traditional Five-Man Band.
  • From episode 1, Xiaolin Showdown sets up Omi as The Hero. For awhile, this is undoubtedly the case; his face is in the logo, he is the most skilled, gets the most attention, and gets the most opportunities to save his teammates. As the series goes on, he still gets the most attention (including special training from Season 2's Big Bad), plus the ego to show for it and the most Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! moments, so that by the start of Season 3 he's the one being saved, and Raimundo is The Hero in all but name. Subtly played, but quite a few viewers saw the finale and Raimundo being named team leader coming a season away.
    • The Alternate Continuity sequel series, Xiaolin Chronicles also begins with a focus on Omi, but the show ends on a story arc that sees Kimiko as the first Xiaolin Dragon of their generation to become a Dragon Rider, using her new powers to save the day.
  • A Family Guy episode began with Meg getting Brian to take the SATs for her only for him to fail. The shift of focus to him is lampshaded by an extra.
    "Thank God! I thought this was gonna be a Meg-centric episode."
  • Wander over Yonder: Craig McCracken mentioned in an interview that he feels the show is really about Lord Hater.
    He's the character that has the most to learn over the course of this show and is the one who most needs to grow. [...] I mean, Wander has some flaws. But he's really the guy who's guiding Hater to his future or wherever he's going to end up.
  • This trope is part of the premise of Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero, with the titular character and his friends having the job of "heroes" in any given dimension where the ones who are supposed to inhabit the roles are unable to accomplish the task.
    "Wherever good is threatened, heroes rise to the challenge and always save the day! Except when they don't..."
  • Total Drama: in the second season, the first episodes are heavily Trent and Gwen-centric, and the two are even captains of their teams...but by the seventh episode, they are both eliminated from the show.
  • The Venture Bros. appears to focus mainly on the adventures of Hank and Dean throughout the first season. However, they (or rather, their clones) are killed in the first season finale, and the show revolves around a large ensemble cast from that point forward. Though even during the first season, the show focused more on their father Rusty Venture and his life as a scientist/former boy adventurer.
  • When the Day Breaks: The rooster seems like he'll be the protagonist, as the cartoon opens with him getting ready and starting his day. But he's killed less than a third of the way through and it turns out that the real protagonist is the pig, who has to deal with her feelings after seeing the rooster killed by an oncoming truck.
  • In the Canadian short Hot Stuff, the caveman who received first is thought to be the main character, but then he dies halfway through and passes on the fire to future generations.
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender: It's easy to be misguided into thinking that Lance is The Hero, seeing as he gets a lot of focus in the very start of the first episode and is the first one to obtain his lion. However, this is soon proven wrong as the show is much more of an Ensemble Cast, with the protagonist role often leaning more towards Keith and Shiro.

Alternative Title(s): False Protagonist

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