Follow TV Tropes


Dem Bones

Go To
"A walking skeleton, the basic frame of the human body, can inspire more fear in the common man than an excessively armed soldier or knight."
Jacob Deegan, Dominic Deegan

Animate beings constructed from ossific material in their entirety are a very common form of The Undead in video games, but much rarer in other media, to the point where, as an object of fear, they have become slightly camp. They're cousins to the Zombie in spirit, but remain explicitly separated in the public consciousness by the lack of flesh and other juicy bits. A likely explanation for their ability to see and hear, not to mention move without any muscles, and indeed their status as Perpetual Motion Monsters is a necromancer used Functional Magic to raise and operate them. Thus, these creatures are firmly inhabitants of Fantasy works. You might know them as skeletons. We call 'em "Dem Bones".

And wouldn't you know... There's a skeleton inside you right now! ... Of course you don't actually count, 'cuz you have flesh and organs over those bones. Anyway...

There are human, non-human, and weirder variants, and in 99% of their appearances, they're enemy Mooks. Their prevalence in Role Playing Games is owed to Dungeons & Dragons, which established them as the slaves of necromancers. When they aren't Mooks, they're usually liches, which are much nastier, because they tend to be powerful mages. Skeletal spellcasters who are not liches are rare (in cases where "skeletal spellcaster" isn't the outright ''definition'' of a lich, that is), but not nonexistent.

Often enough, Dem Bones are reused in the same game à la Underground Monkey. Expect, in the spirit of a Zombie Minotaur, to find double-category monsters, like a skeletal mammoth or dragon. Many games have even tougher skeletons that are colored red. This could be because the red ones are a little more skilled and covered in the blood of hapless adventurers who couldn't best them.

A prominent variation is a being composed of just a skull without a body. In this case, their ability to attack may be a simple bite, or through magic spells. They may or may not also have the power to defy gravity to compensate for the lack of legs. As trope examples indicate, there are a noticeably greater number of friendly talking skulls compared to the rare Friendly Skeleton.

In video games, skeletal foes will often attack by throwing bones. One cannot help but wonder where they get dem bones from. Some versions are difficult to harm with ordinary swords or arrows, but can be dealt with using blunt weapons or magic. But be warned: many have the ability to pull themselves back together after you knock them apart.

In Mexico, Dem Bones are called Calacas and are associated with the Day of the Dead holiday much the same way bunnies are associated with Easter, making them less common as stock spooky elements (they tend to be more comedic). It helps that said calacas are made of sugar and chocolate.

See also Skull for a Head and Stripped to the Bone. May or may not be prone to dancing. A unique example is The Grim Reaper, so ubiquitous it's its own trope. If the Skeleton is friendly and/or comical, it's a Friendly Skeleton. See also Bad with the Bone if bones are used as Improvised Weapons, and Ballistic Bone if they're used as Abnormal Ammo. A Walking Ossuary is when bits from multiple skeletons are assembled into a single chimeric whole.

If the skeleton is really a robot, see SkeleBot 9000.

Example subpages:

Other examples

    open/close all folders 

  • As Bones Coffee would imply, every label has a depiction of at least one human skeleton on it. Apparently, they are all the same skeleton, aptly named "Bones."
  • An advertisement for Pillow Cube features a talking skeleton that is used to demonstrate how the product supports side sleepers better than a normal pillow.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: In Episode 2 of the Black Swordsman Arc, "The Brand", the evil spirits attracted to Guts' Brand Of Sacrifice possess the skeletal corpses of warriors who died at an old battlefield and use them to attack. The Skull Knight also appears to be an armor-wearing undead skeleton, although since he is the most powerful known being opposing the Godhand, he is actually the closest thing the series has to a Big Good.
  • Bleach: Barragan Luisenbarn turns into a skeleton dressed in a crown and robes upon releasing his zanpakuto, and his original form before becoming an Arrancar was a mighty Hollow, possibly even a Vasto Lorde level, in the form of a similar skeleton. This is to symbolize his power over old age and decay, which lets him rot other people into skeletons. The dead kind.
  • Buster Keel! has the skeletal army summoned by Jack Bone.
  • In Delicious in Dungeon, walking skeletons are a type of monster that can be found in the titular dungeon. They occur when a dead body is possessed by a wandering spirit and, because the ghost inhabiting it isn't the right one, the flesh rots off.
  • Digimon Adventure: SkullGreymon is giant, freakily shaped dinosaur skeleton that launches fish-looking rockets from its back. SkullGreymon is one of Greymon's evolutions and it returns in Digimon Adventure 02.
  • Fairy Tail ZERØ: The dragon skeleton of Blue Skull is an example of this. Once under the Sirius Orb's influence, it ultimately becomes a Dracolich.
  • Horohoro from Galaxy Express 999 episode "The Skeleton's Song"; after having his heart broken by the woman he was in love with, he slowly lost one part of his body every time she betrayed him until he was reduced to a living skeleton with a hole in place of his ribcage.
  • The Keeper Wants to Build a Zoo in Another World, so He Tames Monsters: Two kids, Mensh and Gwena, accidentally awaken a bunch of murderous skeleton warriors, only to be saved by Merou, Ikuhara, and Cerberus. According to Merou, they're manifestations of magic rather than animated human bodies. A Gashadokuro appears as well.
  • Docky from Midnight Horror School, while not a real skeleton, is a plastic skeleton. Also a majority of the school's faculty are living skeletons.
  • Morborgran of Negima! Magister Negi Magi, the massive, Multi-Armed and Dangerous, skeletal demon member of the Canis Niger bounty hunters in the Magic World. He's actually a pretty friendly guy, though with a bit of a complex about his appearance.
  • One Piece: In the Thriller Bark arc, the Straw Hats meet Brook, who's eaten a Devil Fruit that lets him come back to life once. But due to the fog in the area he was in, he got lost on his way back to his mortal body. By the time he found it, it was nothing but bones. Although initially freaked out by his own appearance, he eventually adapted and grew a habit of making puns about it. Constantly. He also came to discover that being a skeleton has surprising advantages over being made of flesh, such as making him a lot faster and lighter. He eventually joins the crew as their musician and second swordsman.
  • In RWBY (2015), the body of the Cephalopod looks like a giant horned skull.
  • Shiro from Shakugan no Shana. His true form, though, is a Bishōnen.
  • Used by a Faust VII in Shaman King, quite drastically - in his fight against the main character, he insisted it be held on a Western (Christian) graveyard, where the dead were not cremated, so he could use their skeletons to launch a mass attack at our protagonist. On top of it, he carried his deceased wife's skeleton under his clothes and used it as a secret weapon.
  • Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke: As she keeps exhausting her powers against Sasuke during the final battle, Yakusha transforms from someone who at least appears human into a decrepit old woman and then into an animated skeleton that ultimately falls to pieces when she gets a dagger in the skull.
  • Similar to the above, we have the title character from the Manhwa Skeleton Soldier Couldn't Protect the Dungeon.
  • The title character from Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san is drawn as a skeleton (an entire one, not just a Skull for a Head like the title indicates). He isn't literally a skeleton though, he's a human in an entirely mundane setting.
  • Admiral Perry, the Big Bad of Space☆Dandy. He first appears as a flaming skull with a body composed of stars, though later episodes show that he has bony arms as well.
  • Skeldon from The☆Ultraman is a skeletal carnivorous dinosaur kaiju.
  • Dokuro Skull of The World God Only Knows is this after having cast away her flesh to create New Hell.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! Ryuji Otogi used a few skeletal monsters in his Dungeon Dice Monsters game, including The 13th Grave and Dark Assailant. (Unfortunately, the card game equivalents of these cards are pretty bad.)


    Asian Animation 
  • In the Motu Patlu episode "Bhoot Bangla", Motu and Patlu go to a mansion that is said to be haunted and, sure enough, among the things they find in it are walking, talking skeletons. They're actually being controlled by Jon the Don in an attempt to scare the duo.

    Card Games 
  • In Magic: The Gathering, skeletons are closely tied to the "regenerate" mechanic. Most creatures with the Skeleton creature type have an ability that allows them to keep fighting after they've been destroyed, a tradition that began in the very first expansion with Drudge Skeletons. (Ordinary undead minions that don't regenerate are typically classified as regular Zombies instead.) Skeletal Grimace has a ghoulcaller pointing out that everyone has a skeleton inside them already...and there's no real need to wait for someone to die first before controlling it. The card grants a minor power and toughness boost to the enchanted creature and a "regenerate" mechanic just like that of skeleton creatures'.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, there is the Wight archetype. Originally, this was nothing more than Skull Servant, a Joke Item at best, as it was weak and had no real function (aside from a few Fusion Monsters who were equally bad) but eventually, cards were introduced to make it playable, like King of the Skull Servants, The Lady in Wight, Wightmare, and Wightprince.

    Comic Books 
  • Fairly common in pre-Comics Code horror, to the point where David Hajdu's The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read! contains an entire essay on their usage and associated tropes. Hajdu's observation is that they typically appear to avenge their own deaths with as much poetic justice as possible.
    Unlike the zombie, skeletons are neither "natural" (staggering like a living person) nor "unnatural" (staggering despite mortal wounds), but are abstractions from a body. They are, in fact, traditional allegorical images — from the medieval memento mori. They are symbols sprung to life and strangely able to manipulate the material world. The uncanniness of the skeleton in this regard is not to be underestimated.
  • In Agents of Atlas, the organization fights mobile skeletons so much it borders on a Running Gag.
  • Bill & Ted's Excellent Comic Book: Death is a skeleton because Evan Dorkin didn't see any stills from the Bill & Ted movies until he was a third of the way through the comic and it was too late to redraw.
  • In Bizarrogirl, Supergirl suffers several nightmares where her enemy Superwoman, her parents and all deceased Kryptonians turn into walking, rag-wearing skeletons and try to drag her down into Hell.
  • Zigzagged with Ghost Rider, whose skeleton form is largely Depending on the Artist. In more than a few comics, only the head is a burning skull and rest is normal, see 1,000,000 BC Ghost Rider. Yet the majority of the time the riders e.g Johnny Blaze have their bodies become skeletons as well as revealed by Clothing Damage or the Marvel Swimsuit Special.
  • In the Superman story The Jungle Line, the Man of Steel is attacked by the skeletons of some species of mammoth-like Kryptonian beast during one hallucination.
  • In The DCU event Blackest Night event, black power rings re-animate dead characters, typically making them look like slightly-decayed versions of their former selves. The body of Boston Brand, aka Deadman, however, had been dead so long that his Black Lantern version is little more than a skeleton with a black version of his costume stretched over it. In some stories (most notably, Kingdom Come), Deadman's ghostly form also appears significantly more skeletal than usual.
  • Conan the Barbarian: In "The Valley of the Howling Shadows" (The Savage Sword of Conan #118, November 1985), Conan and his followers meet a group of talking and walking skeletons. The skeletons are the nicest and friendliest characters in the entire story, but their dialogue creeps Conan out. They claim that Conan looks familiar to them, suspect that they have seen him before, and ask him whether he is related to them through their families. They also indicate that they would like to know him better. Conan retreats quickly. Notably, for most of the scene, the skeletons pay no attention to the other characters present.
  • The Crawling King contains plenty of illustrations of living skeletons. From one of a frog riding a dog skeleton, to a story of a woman whose skeleton leaves her body.
  • In The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #33-34, an Evil Sorcerer raises a skeletal army of Viking warriors to kill Indy, or—at the very least—keep him occupied until the soccer's evil ritual is completed.
  • Mr. Bones, a man whose body is invisible except for his skeleton, has been a recurring Infinity, Inc. villain, before his Heel–Face Turn, at which time he briefly joined Infinity Inc. Currently he's the morally grey Director of the Department of Extranormal Operations.
  • In the Alternate History of The Manhattan Projects, the Freak Lab Accident that killed physicist Harry Daghlian in our timeline instead turned him into an irradiated skeleton stuck in a radiation suit. It also wasn't an accident.
  • Mr. Crypt is a comedic example. He is a sentient skeleton who gets into various mishaps from dealing with vampires to running away from angry villagers to facing island natives.
  • Pierre Tombal: In this Black Comedy comic book about a gravedigger at his local cemetery all dead bodies are living skeletons who spent their afterlife on the cemetery and are treated as residents. Usually they spent their activities underground.
  • In Pretty Deadly, the entire story is being narrated by Bones Bunny, a skeletal bunny. In addition, Death is a skeleton (not with a human skull, but rather an animal one).
  • In Seconds (2014), the Seconds restaurant employs some walking, talking skeletons when reality starts to break apart.
  • In one crossover, Savage Dragon and Hellboy fought the undead skeletons of pirates while inside of a giant sea monster.
  • Similarly to Mr. Bones, Tom Strong had a minor villain named Charlie Bones, a gangster with invisible flesh who was supposedly the first villain Tom fought after coming to the USA.
  • In Tragg and the Sky Gods #9, the Necromancer Ostellon, Master of the Living Bones reanimates the skeletons of the tribe that used to inhabit the caves that Tragg's tribe have just moved into and uses them to attack Keera
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Vol 1:
      • When Artemis, Diana's predecessor as the Amazon's champion, is "revived" by Circe she comes back as a vengeful walking skeleton clad only in the scraps remaining of her armor.
      • The henchmen the Adjudicator created as manifestations of his will modeled after the Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Judgment In Infinity were each skeletal figures wearing cloaks.
    • Vol 2: When Hippolyta is confronted by her guilty conscience she faces a skeletal Diana accusing her of killing her by siphoning her power to Artemis in order to ensure Diana didn't win The Contest. This did end up getting Diana killed, which was precisely what Polly was trying to prevent after having a premonition that Wonder Woman would die.
  • Yorick and Bones: Yorick, one of the protagonists of the comic, is a magically-resurrected skeleton who was dug up by Bones.

    Fan Works 
  • Crowns of the Kingdom has the skeletons on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which come to life and attack the heroes.
  • The Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Smurphony Of The Night" has Empath and Smurfette dealing with an army of Smurf skeletons brought to life in order to stop them from escaping Castle Smurfenstein.
  • Key antagonists in the battle on the Plains of Death in With Strings Attached. Paul loves them because destroying them doesn't compromise his Actual Pacifism].
  • The vampiress Velanna from Sixes and Sevens uses halberd-wielding skeletons reanimated from the bones of her meals in one of her attacks against van Helsing and Victoria.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Cauldron Born in The Black Cauldron. In the book, they were more like zombie bodybuilders.
  • In The Book of Life, both La Muerte and the Spirits of the Dead are based on calacas, skeleton figures which are decorated on The Day of the Dead, specifically the ones made out of candy. In particular, La Muerte’s overall design in particular is inspired by the iconic La Calavera Catrina of Mexican culture.
  • Similarly, in Coco, the inhabitants of the Land of the Dead are walking, talking, clothed skeletons with colorful facial markings like those found on sugar skulls. They can detach their bones from their bodies with no ill effects and their body parts can move independently even when not attached to their bodies.
    • Lampshaded when one of the customs officials in the Land of the Dead is allergic to Dante, the Mexican Hairless dog:
      Miguel: But, Dante doesn't have any hair!
      Skeleton: And I don't have a nose, and yet here we are. [sneezes]
  • Corpse Bride. The inhabitants of the Underworld are either zombie-like or skeletal. Not that that makes them any less fun to hang around.
  • The B-17 segment of Heavy Metal has the Loc-Nar reanimate dead crew of the B-17 as skeletons, melting away the flesh in the process, which have Super-Strength and crave human flesh. Its influence spreads to a Derelict Graveyard on an island, reanimating the pilots' bodies to corner the B-17's pilot in a Bolivian Army Ending.
  • A Gashadokuro appears in Kubo and the Two Strings. It guards the Sword Unbreakable, which is embedded in his skull, along with dozens of regular swords. Removing it causes the Gashadokuro to fall apart.
  • The Last Unicorn: A talking, wise-cracking skeleton appears.
  • A lot of animate skeletons appear in Monster Mash (2000).
  • Jack Skellington, of The Nightmare Before Christmas is, well, a skeleton. He's the hero, so that's OK.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Movie: Luigi gets chased by a horde Dry Bones shortly after he lands in the Dark Lands. And later, when Bowser reveals to his troops his plans to marry Peach, one Koopa soldier makes the unfortunate mistake of asking "What if she says no?" He gets roasted by Bowser's fire breath and turned into a Dry Bones for his trouble.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Fine Art 
  • Medieval and early Renaissance artwork often featured images of skeletons dancing with the living, known as a danse macabre or "the triumph of death". Belgian painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted a landscape with an army of skeletons attacking a country village.
  • José Guadalupe Posadas is the man who started the "calavera" trend in Mexico. What is often confused by people as Dia de los Muertos symbolism is actually a harsh social critique against the higher social classes that seem to not realize that they're going to die. Eventually this art form evolved and merged with Dia de los Muertos itself, portraying more than just rich skulls but also every Mexican out there.

    Food & Drink 
  • During the Halloween season, Cheetos has their white cheddar flavored "Bag of Bones", whose four shapes are a straight bone, skull, rib cage, and hand/foot.
  • A skeleton could be assembled with 15 interlocking pieces of Fleer's "Mr. Bones" candy.


  • A skeleton walks into a bar and says "Give me a beer — and a mop."

  • Horrorman and Horako from Anpanman. Horrorman's a pretty nice guy (at least, when he's on the heroes' side) and Horako's a sweet little girl... even though her imagination has a tendency to go over the top and she's actually a sea princess.
  • The Asterisk War: Gustave Malraux, an Enemy Summoner who specializes in beasts out of Classical Mythology, uses "dragons' teeth" to summon the Spartoi as they were depicted in the film Jason and the Argonauts. They're no match whatsoever for Kirin Toudou, who has added techniques to deal with multiple enemies to her repertoire.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy has Honorius, a powerful and murderously insane Afrit. Instead of manifesting himself in a physical form like most magical creatures, Honorius' essence is instead infused into the skeleton of the long-dead magician president Gladstone. He basically acts as a "living" security system against people trying to pilfer the mage's tomb, who open it up only to see the skeleton spring up and brutally obliterate them.
  • The hermit's ghost in The Castle of Otranto.
  • Bruce Coville's Book of... Monsters: The title character of Kokolimalayas, the Bone Man is a giant skeleton.
  • In "Clubland Heroes", one of the Splendid Six's adventures involves an army of skeletal warriors animated by a geas.
  • The Osteomechs from Dark World Detective. They use advanced computers stored in their skulls and micro tractor/pressor beams as muscles. Strong as hell, but very light.
  • The Death Mage Who Doesn't Want a Fourth Time: The appropriately named Bone Man is one of the first undead our protagonist creates, and while at first he's not much stronger than the average skeleton, in time he grows to be one of the deadlier fighters under Vandalieu's command. Funny thing is his skeleton was possessed by mice spirits who were given human-level sentience.
  • There's a "very old zombie" in Terry Pratchett's Discworld book The Last Hero who is basically a skeleton. Additionally, Death uses a living horse because he hates having to keep wiring the skeletal one together.
    • Not to mention, Death (and by extension, the Death of Rats) is a skeleton. Thankfully, he's a pretty nice chap.
    • And now there's Charlie, the Department of Necr- Post-Mortem Communications' resident skeleton, who's been there "forever".
    • In Reaper Man, the New Death rides a skeletal horse. After Bill Door defeats this upstart and reclaims his position as Death, Miss Flitworth decides to keep it, because any hay it "eats" just falls through its ribs to the stable floor, making it cheap to feed.
  • In Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm Queen of the Dead, Francis starts terrorizing L.A. with his undead army of empowered skeletons.
  • The Dresden Files is borderline - there's Bob the Skull, a spirit who lives inside a skull, but it is merely a casing, and Bob leaves it when he needs mobility. When a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton was reanimated in book 7 "Dead Beat"; the higher quality a reanimated being, the more life-like they appear. (broadly)
  • Sid is a walking, talking skeleton in Family Skeleton Mysteries.
  • Inverted in the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories: "Lankhmar Ghouls" are perfectly normal, living, breathing humanoids who just happen to have invisible body tissues—except for their bones.
  • Forest Kingdom: In book 2 (Blood and Honor), early on, Jordan and his escorts are confronted by Bloody Bones, a Transient Being in the form of a nine-foot, bloody (and blood-drinking) skeleton. Luckily, the knight Gawaine has an Anti-Magic axe that allows him to dispatch the monster, and they plan to dump the skull in a body of water some distance away to ensure he can't come back.
  • De Griezelbus: The driver of the Griezelbus is a skeleton named Beentjes. While initially he appeared to be a creation of Onnoval, he is later revealed to be his formerly living best friend.
  • One of the most infamous monsters encountered by Sun Wukong and company in Journey to the West was the White Bone Demon, a living skeleton creature who impersonates innocent humans. Wukong sees through each disguise easily thanks to his powers, but Xuanzang is fooled and eventually banishes Wukong after one too many "innocents" are killed.
  • Kingdom's Disdain: Mad Crossbone's "bone boys". He and Cardinal achieve infamy by having them pull their chariot.
  • In the first book of The Kingdom Keepers series, one of Maleficent's tricks is bringing the fake T-Rex fossil at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to life in an attempt to do away with Finn and Philby.
  • Bone constructs are everywhere in the Empire of necromancers of The Locked Tomb series, but are the Ninth House's specialty.
  • A Mage's Power: There are many skeletons in the sewers beneath Roalt and they are animated by a combination of ambient mana and lingering spiritual power. Dengel suggests that they are the remains of past adventurers, and stupid people on dares. Eric has to blow them up to stop them.
  • Mermaid Moon: Baroness Thyrla has prolonged her life by many years by stealing the remaining lifespans of other people, including her mother, her uncle, her husband, and all but one of her children. She keeps the bones of her victims in her bedroom, where they can speak and have limited movement. They act as her advisors.
  • Nine Goblins: The cervidians, magical creatures which resemble animate deer skeletons, are very similar to this. Except they're specifically noted to still be ALIVE somehow, the bones held together with a fine organic webbing. They're not actually evil, but are distinctly sinister and are drawn to magical disturbances.
  • In Overlord, main character Ainz Ooal Gown is a skeleton — a Lich, to be more exact. Well, to be even more exact, he is a regular guy permanently stuck in the body and world of his video game character, but that's beside the point. Of course, as a godlike Necromancer Sorcerous Overlord, he also has legions of skeletal minions at his beck and call.
  • During the maybe-maybe not Dream Sequence in Pet Sematary, the deadfall separating the sematery from Little God Swamp becomes a huge mass of writhing, tangled skeletons.
  • A number of animated skeletons, including a skeletal dragon, appear in Pillars Of Pentagarn, the first D&D-based gamebook.
  • The Andre Norton novel Quag Keep, which was based on Dungeons & Dragons.
  • The Rifter: The walls at the convent of Umbhra’ibaye are strung with bones who are issusha’im: women who’ve been stripped of their flesh but kept alive, with charms carved on the bones. This somehow gives them the power to see through time, seeing multiple possible futures as well as (maddeningly) the lives that they might have lived if they hadn’t been turned into issusha’im. The Payshmura use the issusha’im’s soothsaying to avert future events that they don’t want. It’s a Fate Worse than Death, but at least it’s possible for them to take on flesh again, which is a considerable improvement, if they escape Umbhra’ibaye. Ji, a talking dog, is an issusha who took the body of a dog and is now a leader of the Fai’daum. She’s centuries old and has very powerful magic as well as soothsaying abilities. Laurie was taken partway through the issusha-making process and they used the blood of her own baby to create the enchantment. She’s now part-flesh, part-walking skeleton. Understandably mentally unstable, she’s been using those enchantments herself, but only managing to create "hungry bones", monstrosities patched together from human and animal bones which thirst for blood.
  • Roys Bedoys: Maker dresses as a skeleton for Halloween in “Let’s Go Trick-or-Treating, Roys Bedoys!”.
  • In the first installment of Samhain Island it is revealed that Vanessa Vargas is a skeleton, more specifically the esteemed Santa Muerte.
  • From Skeleton Knight in Another World, we have Arc, a gamer whose avatar is an armored knight who happens to be a skeleton.
  • Al Sarrantonio's Skeletons involves a post-apocalyptic story where all of the dead (including the newly and antique dead) rise as skeletons surrounded by ghostly flesh and clothing.
  • The titular character of the Skulduggery Pleasant books is a centuries old living skeleton. The secondary protagonist, when being introduced to the supernatural for the first time, actually points out that he has no muscles to move with or lungs to speak with and asks how he works. He is rather disgruntled and gives the simple answer "it's magic". Later on, she wonders if he can whistle without lungs (he can). He's also entirely unique, with how he ended up like that being a long running question. The answer is that Skulduggery was naturally magically ambidextrous, with vast potential as a Necromancer as well as an Elemental. The necromancer who discovered that potential took the chance to install a failsafe in the Red Right Hand of Skulduggery's arch-enemy so it wouldn't quite kill him, because he was curious to see what would happen. The answer was an extremely angry living skeleton turned necromancer better known as 'Lord Vile'.
  • The eponymous character of Bruce Coville's "Young Adult" novel The Skull of Truth is completely immobile, but telepathic. He's also Yorick from Hamlet. For real, yo.
  • Solomon Kane: In "Rattle of Bones", the skeleton of a murdered sorcerer returns to exact vengeance on the man who murdered him.
  • Sweet & Bitter Magic: Arwyn has an army of skeletal animals under her control who she uses while hunting down criminal witches. They are incredibly creepy and very frightening to Wren.
  • Mary in Trash of the Count's Family uses non-human bones to create Mix-and-Match Critters for use in battle.
  • In User Unfriendly, one of the enemies the heroes face is a giant rat skeleton.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel The Killing Ground, Togandais has an animated skull — with glowing eyes — bringing him books in the library.
  • The Boneys in Warm Bodies are zombie skeletons.
  • There are living skeletons in Xanth. Some are the spirits of people who starved to death while their minds were trapped in the Gourd Realm. Others are their descendants. All of them need to acquire a part of a soul to spend much time in Xanth proper.

    Live-Action TV 
  • All That had Dead Spice in the "Spice Boys" skits. He was literally just a skeleton in clothing that never did or said anything, although he does move his arms a few times and it's implied he really is alive. At one point the fans are happy when they manage to steal one of his arms.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In "Tabula Rasa" a spell causes the Scooby Gang to lose their memories. Anya begins to try various spells in the hopes of reversing it, at one point conjuring up a skeletal swordsman which Giles fences with, all while shouting at Anya to 'try another book'.
    • In "Gone" after Buffy reveals to her friends that she's been turned invisible, she picks up a skull and works the jaw to mimic what she's saying.
  • Pierce hallucinates these during a Mushroom Samba in the Community episode "Introduction to Statistics".
    Pierce: "Those floating Mexican skeletons are right! My life is over!"
    Jeff: "Well, when we go to floating skeletons with our problems, we get what we pay for, don't we?"
  • In the fourth season finale of Game of Thrones, The Children, the Wights that attack Bran & his party beyond the Wall have only their bones left.
  • The Goodies. In one episode the Goodies are operating their own hospital. Graham gets a patient to step behind an X-Ray screen, which naturally displays his skeleton. The skeleton then walks out from the other side of the screen, causing Graham to flee in terror (this scene is included in Title Sequence).
  • In Living Color!. Jim Carrey riffs how the cast of Star Trek: The Original Series are getting too old for the movies. Captain Kirk calls for Bones to come to the bridge, only to find he really lives up to his name this time.
    Skeleton in a wheelchair: Dammit Jim, I'm a corpse not a doctor!
  • I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson: "And it was also the night that the skeletons came to liiiiife!"note 
  • One of Jeff Dunham's more popular characters is Achmed the Dead Terrorist, an incompetent terrorist who was blown up by his own bomb. This reduced him to little more than a cranky, complaining skeleton, with his only surviving human features being angry yellow eyes, Big Ol' Eyebrows, a scraggly goatee, and a disheveled turban.
  • Geoff Peterson of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, clad in a suit, mohawk, and The Price Is Right name-tag.
  • For Halloween in 2006, Late Night with Conan O'Brien broadcast an already-aired episode in 'skelevision', with Conan, the band, the guests and the audience all appearing as skeletons operated by puppeteers.
  • In the Merlin episode "The Tears of Uther Pendragon", Morgana raises skeleton warriors to fight Arthur and the Knights of Camelot, who are already in battle against (human) invading forces.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Season 1 gives us Bones, who was the first monster the Rangers fought. Season 3 gives us Rita Repulsa's halfwit brother Rito Revoltonote , who's based on Gasha Dokuro from Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, who's in turn based on an actual creature in Japanese folklore described in the Mythology and Religion folder.
  • Monster Warriors: Von Steinhauer unleashes a gang of animate skeletons upon Capital City in "Last Ride of the Skeleton Crew" and "The Skeleton Crew Rides Again".
  • A segment from Mr. Wizard's World has him turn himself into a skeleton...through what is called a Pepper's Ghost, an image created in a dark room by switching the lights over from himself onto a skeleton seen reflected on a large pane of glass.
  • Bonapart the skeleton from Owl/TV.
  • Readalong: One of the characters introduced during the show's run was Mr. Bones, a skeleton who would sing songs in the style of "Dem Bones".
  • St. Bear's Dolls Hospital: In one episode, Nurse Penny found a living skeleton in a closet at the hospital, and assumed it was a patient that the staff had been ignoring. She became very concerned about the visiting inspector seeing it and assuming that the staff haven't been doing their job properly. When the inspector does see the skeleton, however, she clears up that the skeleton's a piece of teaching equipment.
  • In the episode "Hollywood Babylon" of Supernatural, the monster for the horror movie being filmed is a skeleton in a suit holding a fraternity paddle surrounded by a chainsaw blade.
  • Zelda from the original Svengoolie and Zalman T. Tombstone in Son of Svengoolie. Both are floating skulls. Zelda had '80s Hair (despite being from the early 1970s).
  • Ultra Series examples:
    • One episode of Ultraman had a Monster of the Week named Seabozu, a skeletal dinosaur-like creature that accidentally ended up on Earth when a rocket passing through the Monster Graveyard brought it back. Unlike most, it was completely harmless as it only sought to return to its grave and eternal rest, so Science Patrol had to help it get back into space.
    • Return of Ultraman had Stegon, the animated skeleton of a sauropod-like kaiju from the Mesozoic that went on a rampage after its grave was disturbed by construction workers.
    • Mudon from Ultraman Cosmos was an animated dinosaur skeleton that sought to reunite with its lost child after millions of years of separation.
    • Ultraman R/B: The first monster of the show is Grigrio Bone, a red skeletal kaiju. Unlike the other three mentioned above, this one is a hostile and dangerous monster.

  • Alice in Chains's song "Them Bones".
  • The song "Spooky Scary Skeletons" by Andrew Gold, best known for its association with the "2spooky" meme, is about how the eponymous skeletons will torment you. The song is a very good example of the erosion of the skeleton as a source of horror.
  • Camille Saint Saens' well-known Danse Macabre (1874), a symphonic poem describing skeletons rising from their tomb to dance. Notable for having introduced the xylophone in European Music, to imitate the rattling of the bones.
  • The children's song "Ghost of John" describes the titular ghost as a skeleton:
    ♬ Have you seen the ghost of John?
    Long white bones and the rest all gone
    Wouldn't it be chilly with no skin? ♬
  • Chiodos' Bone Palace Ballet (and the subsequent re-release The Grand Coda) features two of these on the cover.
  • A visual example in the video for Grateful Dead's "Touch of Grey", where the band are portrayed by skeletons up until near the end.
  • Another one with some dancing (and even moonwalking) ones toward the end of the Jacksons' "Torture".
  • A skeleton does the "rap" in Rush's "Roll the Bones".
  • Parts of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" have some skeletons with helmets and shields.
  • The Trope Namer is the spiritual song "Dem Bones."
  • Creature Feature's song in American Gothic called 'Dem Bones' - no, it is not a joke.
  • "Bones" by The Killers.
  • Megadeth's mascot Vic Rattlehead is a skeleton who sees no evil (blindfolded), hears no evil (ears are closed with metal caps) and speaks no evil (mouth clamped shut).
  • Pet Sematary by The Ramones mentions dancing skeletons and rattling bones as some of the many graveyard horrors the singer wishes to avoid becoming.
  • One interpretation of "Where Your Eyes Don't Go" by They Might Be Giants is that it refers to your skeleton.
  • Averted by The Axis of Awesome with "Skeleton Man" who is part man, part skeleton. Like everyone.
    Benny: Right and which part's the skeleton part?
    Benny: What, you mean like inside him?!
  • The eponymous parade from the My Chemical Romance album The Black Parade contains some of these among their number, one of whom is featured in the album cover.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible had the story of Ezekiel and the Valley of the Dry Bones that came to life and inspired the Trope Namer "Dry Bones"/"Dem Bones" song. The trope-naming song is based on a Biblical incident involving Ezekiel, who was told by God to create an army of these things with a prophecy. The Bible is surprisingly metal, in places. The bones are immediately given flesh and souls during their resurrections, instead of being a literal skeleton army like those created by Ray Harryhausen.
  • The Gashadokuro from Japanese Mythology is a super sized version of this. This monster is created from collecting the skeletons of people who have died en masse without getting a proper burial (usually from famine, disease, or warfare). It is known to bite the heads off humans it encounters and to be forewarned of by a ringing in the ears. They often grow up to 15 times larger than a man.
    • The Hone-onnanote  creates a look of a beautiful woman, based on how she looked when she was alive, to get close to her chosen lover and drain him of life so they can be together forever. The problem is it only works on him and everyone else sees a man flirting and caressing a rotting corpse.
    • Another skeleton youkai is the Kyokotsu, a spectral skeleton formed from the spirits of those whose remains were simply thrown into wells instead of receiving a proper burial or committed suicide by throwing themselves into a well. They like to leap out of wells to scare people or place curses on them.
    • The Bakekujira is the animated skeleton of a whale feared as a harbinger of disaster for coastal villages, forever seeking vengeance against the humans that killed it.
  • The Pakahk from Cree mythology, similar to the Gashadokuro, are the animate bones of people who died from starvation. They have a chilling cackle, but sometimes they will help people with healing or hunting.
  • The Pauguk from Ojibway mythology, is a phantom with a skeletal appearance and eye sockets filled with balls of fire. It hunts people, often warriors, with invisible arrows or clubs.
  • Kokolimalayas from Modoc myth is the Bone Man, a giant skeleton who destroyed a village, drank of the river and left the earth barren, then went to sleep for a time. Eventually, after reawakening, he is destroyed by Nulwee, the boy who inadvertently revived him, and the rains return, allowing the people to return as well.


  • Fesxis from Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues is an otherwordly being whose appearance is noted to be similar to a human skeleton with a doe skull. The actual composition of her body seems closer to chitin than bone.
  • Exploited in Nan Quest. The Pilgrim looks like an example of this, but is actually just a squishy human wearing a costume — precisely because it makes people assume they're an invincible skeleton. It works, too — players occasionally made suggestions that would have actually worked, such as strangling him with his own noose, only to be shot down by other players saying something to the effect of "He's a skeleton, are you crazy?"

    Tabletop Games 
  • Captain Bones Gold is a boardgame in which you have to acquire gold doubloons while avoiding having it stolen by Captain Bones, a skeletal pirate who lives inside a treasure chest.
  • The Dark Eye: Skeletons are a very common type of undead, routinely created by necromancers who want cheap, plentiful troops without having to put up with the decomposition, clumsiness and bad smell of zombies. They are quicker and more agile than the walking corpses, although they're vulnerable to blunt weapons as these can shatter their bones.
  • Dragon Dice: Skeletons are one of the basic undead troop types — they move faster than zombies, but do less damage and are less capable of absorbing damage.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • A variety of skeletons exist, displaying different levels of power and intelligence. They're usually the result of spellcasters using necromancy, but a few have been known to spontaneously awaken in places of evil. Usually. Of course, there are also liches and their variants (archlich, baelnorn, banelich, master lich).
    • The Basic Set of the first version of D&D had 4 kinds of golems, one of these was the Bone Golem which was a skeleton with 4 arms.
    • The Dracolich is an undead evil dragon that has combines the powers of a dragon and a lich. While their description does not specifically say they have to be skeletal, most are depicted as such.
    • While most settings are full of undead, Forgotten Realms is especially fond of this theme and has the remarkable collection of unusual bones. For example, there lived — until she tried to raid a big temple of the god of wizardry, that is — Tashara of the Seven Skulls, who seduced and tricked into becoming spellcasting flying skulls (under her control) seven archmages, one after another. There's even one city openly ruled by floating skulls (no, not Tashara's seven). Realms is also the origin of the baelnorn and banelich.
    • Eberron: The setting's "evil, schmevil" attitude (it subverts the Always Chaotic Evil trope hard) means that a nation like Karrnath can have a significant portion of its army composed entirely of skeletons, and nobody thinks any differently about them because of it.
    • Planescape has "mimirs", recording devices shaped like metallic skulls.
    • Ravenloft: The original products had a number of variants of this trope, such as archer skeletons whose ammo turns into more skeletons, or giant skeletons (enlarged human bones) that toss fireballs from the green flames ablaze inside their ribcages. Arthaus's Van Richten's Guide to the Walking Dead has guidelines for customizing the Obedient Dead with all sorts of creepy abilities.
    • The Demilich is a lich who had decided to leave his/her phylactery and use astral projection to learn from other realms. All that's left is a weathered skull or skeletal hand that skill can dish out a world of hurt by sucking the souls of anyone who bothers them or summoning Demiliches, six inch tall/long magic roaches with Skull for a Head. By the thousands.
    • Apart from the lich, D&D featured many other skeletal sentient undead, like the Death Knight (skeletal warrior), the Huecuva (skeletal divine spellcaster), or skeletal Ancient Dead (variant of the Mummy from the Ravenloft setting).
    • It should also be noted that, in 3rd edition anyway, just about anything with bones that isn't already dead can be turned into Dem Bones through application of the Skeleton template. This includes everything from normal humanoids, to dragons, to bizarre aberrations with bone structures such have never been seen by mortal eyes.
  • Godforsaken: Skeletons are the most common servants of Crumellia the necromancer. Some are human, many belong to the extinct sapients that once ruled Flevame, many more are animal, and quite a lot resemble nothing that ever lived and were likely created by Crumilia as macabre works of art from bits and pieces of other things. For the most part they are little more than mindless automatons.
  • Kings of War uses skeletons in much the same role, in much the same army, alongside the slightly less expendable, slightly better-dressed skeletons known as Revenants.
  • LEGO Games: Skeletons are among the minifigures you can find in Monster 4. You use them as wild cards; they act as one of the monsters you are placing in a row. The game's official description says the monsters play with the skeletons, implying sentience.
  • Mage: The Awakening has these as a variation on the standard Animate Dead spell. The corpse's connective tissue and some of its flesh is transmuted into razor-edged metal plated around the bones (giving it damage resistance and a better attack) and it rips its way out of the rest of the flesh. It was invented by a member of a Black Metal band whose bandmates promptly declared the spell to be metal as hell.
  • Mazes and Minotaurs: Skeletons serve as mooks.
  • Rattle Me Bones, a game where you must remove accessories from a pirate's skeleton in a way that doesn't move its limbs too much, otherwise he'll RATTLE AND SHAKE!
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Floating servo-skulls — although they're robotic rather than undead.
    • Not to mention the Necrons. No really, don't mention them, they aren't this trope. They are robots shaped like skeletons that function as Soul Jars for an ancient alien race.
  • Warhammer Fantasy: Skeletons are the basic grunt troops of the undead armies, serving the factions of Vampire Counts and Tomb Kings. The Vampire Counts use skeletons as expendable meat(bone?)shields, and that's about it. The Tomb Kings are an army of nothing but skeletons, with some mummies, animated statues and ancient, immortal priests to taste.

    Theme Parks 
  • These are seen in several of these at attractions in Disney Theme Parks, including in Phantom Manor, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones Adventure, and The Great Movie Ride. More cheerful versions are in the Mexico pavilion at EPCOT. The skeletons in the original Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland were real (arguably adding to their creepiness if you knew this), as replica skeletons at the time were not advanced enough to look realistic and old. They were obtained from a medical center and later received burials, with replicas taking their place in the ride. Supposedly, one real human skull still exists in the ride (attached to the headboard, above the skeletal pirate captain, in the grotto sequence), but Disney will neither confirm nor deny this.
  • Plenty of animated skeletons can be seen inside Europa-Park's Haunted House ride, "Geisterschloss".

  • LEGO features skeleton minifigures in various series, primarily in LEGO Castle, LEGO The Lord of the Rings and Ninjago.
  • Pose Skeleton created by Re-Ment is a series of miniature skeletons along with various accessories, they're far smaller than Revolectech Skeletons, however they're as flexible as the latter, capable of wielding LEGO weapons and they're so lightweighted that they can be lifted by Figma at ease.
  • Revoltech once made the action figures of Skeleton Warrior from Jason and the Argonauts, the Revoltect joints on them are perfect for making stop motion movie, exactly what Ray Harryhausen made. It Makes Sense in Context, certainly. The Takeya series also has Japanese skeleton and its brother, Skeleton Samurai.
  • A majority of the characters in the Treasure X toyline are skeleton treasure hunters that need to be unearthed from a sandstone and pieced together, along with a buried treasure.
  • Vitruvian H.A.C.K.S. note  series created by Boss Fight Studio features several skeletons warrior figures with Greek motif.

    Web Animation 
  • The Black Cat's Lair: Skelly is a walking skeleton wearing only a bonnet.
  • Dreamscape:
  • Tricky from Madness Combat become a giant dragon-skeleton thing in Expurgation, he also spawn an army of black skeletons who later sports his clown haircut. Tricky himself looks like one of these skeletons mook while in Auditor's hell except he wears the halo and has glowing eyes.
  • Lewis from Mystery Skulls Animated is a suit wearing skeleton ghost with magenta fire for hair.
  • The Sock series features a gigantic skeletal hell being that walks on its two arms. In Empire of Sock, we see there are multiple of them.
  • In True Tail, Eldritch the Necromancer has an army of skeletons that are on green fire!

  • El Goonish Shive: Grace encounters some skeleton NPCs during the "Fantasy Wasteland" storyline.
  • Endstone: Grave Robbing rouses one.
  • Girl Genius: A group of Martellus' knights are stripped to the bone by an attack which animates their remains to be loyal servants to the user.
  • Helvetica's entire cast is this, although none of them are sure why.
  • Homestuck: In the Alpha kids' void sessions, the Underlings — normally living fantasy monsters — take the form of animated skeletons that haunt the session's graveyard planets. After they're killed, the bones just reassemble, making them almost impossible to permanently kill.
Monster in the Darkness: How did you get them to look exactly like Xykon?
Redcloak: I didn't. They're human skeletons, I put a blue robe on them and called it a night. Heck, I had to put those colored pendants on them just to tell them apart.
  • Our Little Adventure is set in an RPG Mechanics 'Verse and has both regular mindless skeleton minions and the Bone, skeletal undead who retain the minds and skills they had in life. Some of them are extremely unhappy about this.
  • Talk With Monsters, based on D&D, features a hero that scoffs at having to fight skeletons, maintaining that skeletons are not dangerous—they're what you get when you take a normal guy and remove things. In the dungeon, however, he sees the error of his ways: "Gaah! Super-pointy elbows!"
  • Unsounded's Duane Adelier is a rare heroic example: a former rector and family man who died six years before the story begins and continues to inhabit his body via unknown means, which he hides with heavy clothing and glamours. His mind and his formidable magical skill are intact but his body decomposes at the normal rate; his tongue and eyes are magical prostheses and he scavenges pieces from cadavers to replace limbs that get too damaged. He strips the meat off those pieces for his own comfort: feeling them rot is really unpleasant for him.

    Web Original 
  • Shows up a few times throughout the course of The Adventure Zone: Balance:
    • Kravitz's skeletal form, which is supposedly what inspired The Grim Reaper mythos throughout the planar system which includes our world, as well.
    • The Red Robe is a spectral skeleton that stalks the Tres Horny Boys throughout their adventures, from "Petals to the Metal" to "The Suffering Game". This is actually Barry Bluejeans's lich form, see below.
    • All liches have a spectral, skeletal form that appears when they are killed or otherwise removed from their bodies, such as via the Animus Bell. It is also visible in the Ethereal Plane. Edward and Lydia both show theirs off in "The Suffering Game", and Lup is in hers when she returns in "Story and Song". Barry's is shown throughout most of the series as the "Red Robe".
    • The skeletal pirates that the Tres Horny Boys, Davenport, and Kravitz, Barry, and Lup team up to take down in the San Francisco Live Show.
  • On the virtual pets game Neopets, the old Pirate Kiko was one of these.
  • The review and comedy series, Professor Shadow has the reoccurring character, Joe. A gun crazy skeleton with an immature sense of humor.
  • YouTube Pooper Ricesnot specializes in making videos about skeletons, especially the skeleton from the advertisement for the '80s board game "Rattle Me Bones".
  • SCP Foundation has several skeletons, including the sad and scary case of SCP-3114. It's an animated skeleton and kills and skins any human or humanoid creature it comes into contact with and tries to wear it. When exposed to a simple border collie, 3114 was friendly to the dog and they played together for two hours before the dog was removed without incident. When exposed to an articulated skeleton for medical teaching, 3114 approaches and seems hopeful for a moment and then dejected when it realises the skeleton isn't alive. Finally, when it obtains a cadaver that fits perfectly and attempts to interact with a D-Class prisoner, it reacts with no hostility and even tries to hug him; when the (very disturbed) D-Class is recalled, 3114 stares at the door for a moment and then tears the skin off and kicks it into the corner and then lies down to "sleep" for several days before returning to its old behaviour. 3114 is just a confused and frustrated creature desperate to belong.
  • The Tumblr ‘Skeleton War’.
  • Skull Trumpet. Doot doot!
  • In Episode 5 of Jemjammer (aptly titled "Ghost Ship"), The Kestrel encounters a ship crewed by animated skeletons.
  • The Onion depicts some Stupid Archaeologists believing that they have uncovered a village of skeleton people.
  • What is a Skeleton's favorite snack?note 


Alternative Title(s): Skeletons, Our Skeletons Are Different


Bedsheet Clone

While at a golf course, Danny encounters a ghost wearing a bedsheet. However, it turns out to be hiding a horrifying secret.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / BedsheetGhost

Media sources: