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Dysfunction Junction

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"I'm not sure why the Light Warriors worry about obstacles or monsters standing in their way. They are nothing compared to the obstacles and monsters within the party."

What's your malfunction?

A character with flaws is more interesting than a character without flaws. Ergo, a cast of characters with flaws is more interesting exponentially. QED.

Normality is boring and unartistic. An easy way to crank up drama is to supply everyone with a tragic past, screwed-up family history, other significant psychological issues, or some combination of the three. When Dysfunction Junction comes into play, good parents can be as common as penguins in the Sahara, instead turning out to be neglectful, smothering, unfeeling, abusive, misguided or dead. And let's not even get into the rest of the family.


The resulting prevalence of personal trauma often stretches suspension of disbelief and is a leading cause of Cerebus Syndrome. If done poorly, this is a one-way ticket to Wangst territory, and as so many attempt to smother the series with dysfunction, Deus Angst Machina is a frequent result. If done well, you get a large number of interesting, sympathetic, flawed characters, and their interactions with each other gradually reveal the multiple sides to each of them. More realistic (i.e. not Flanderized) portrayals of this trope can even help the audience understand and cope with their own dysfunctional lives, especially with regards to issues that are typically glossed over in mainstream society.

This trope often goes hand in hand with There Are No Therapists, Trauma Conga Line and dramatic Crapsack Worlds. Big, Screwed-Up Family can be a justification for this trope. When all or nearly all involved parties are insane, you have a Cast Full of Crazy. Royal families are particularly prone to this, as are cops and detectives. The Dysfunction Junction is the natural habitat of the Jerkass Woobie.


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    Comic Books 
  • Betty Ross with her father. It has developed more and more of them.
  • With few exceptions, almost all of the X-Men have tragic pasts, poor childhoods, dead parents or all three. This is compounded by the series' use of Expansion Pack Past, which tends to add on progressively more tragedies in the character's personal history the longer the series goes on, continually "revealed" to the audience whenever a character is focused on. Some of this is retooling to more clearly explain the animosity of mutants rejected by society, but a fair bit has existed from the team's earliest days.
  • Watchmen comes close; the only superheroes in it that are pretty well-adjusted are the two Nite Owls and the second Silk Spectre. They have some of their own baggage too, but they're generally pretty normal people (Nite Owl II, in particular, is ultimately a mildly depressed guy who feels most comfortable and meaningful—personally and, uh, sexually—in superhero mode, a major step up from a mainstream hero like Batman).
  • On Runaways, the unifying aspect of the group is that everyone had super villain parents.
    • Joss Whedon's run added Klara, a twelve-year-old abused child bride from 1907.
    • Aside from Klara, Whedon's run dials this trope back a bit; surprising, considering he usually gleefully subjects characters to as much as they can take and then some. Quite a few of the Runaways actually come out better or no worse off from their adventure. Chase gets new weapons and manages to move on from Gert's death, resisting the temptation to go back in time to save her. Xavin manages to overcome his/her gender issues. Nico gets a new staff and powers (kind of like Willow). Molly remains unchanged. About the only one messed up further is Victor; he falls for a new girl, Nico dumps him, and new girl doesn't go with him back to the present. One gets the feeling Whedon didn't like Victor.
  • The Doom Patrol. To descend into just how screwed up everyone in that group's roster is would take up the whole page.
    • To give you a taste: The team roster for Keith Giffen's run includes a man whose brain was preserved by putting it in a robot, an off-kilter Energy Being with identity issues, a former B-Movie actress with low self-esteem whose ex-husband is a telepathic stalker, a girl with 64 multiple personalities, and an amoral bastard of a Mad Scientist who treats losing his legs as an inconvenience.
  • It's not exactly dwelt on, so it's easy to forget the Avengers have included an alcoholic ex-prisoner of war with recurrent relationship issues, a man who once woke up to the news that his best friend was dead and it was several decades in the future, a man who struggled with race and class issues all his life and was jailed for a crime he didn't commit, a brainwashed and surgically altered killing machine who works constantly to suppress his savagery, and a former brainwashed terrorist who was experimented on by her father while in a coma, to name just a few.
  • Three words: The Bat Family. We might as well just say Gotham is Dysfunction Junction. Just living there practically counts as an angsty past.
    • Bruce Wayne's parents were shot dead in front of him when he was eight. He dealt with this by repressing his emotions, dressing as a bat to fight crime, and reguarly inducting children and teenagers into his basement cult.
    • Dick Grayson's parents were killed in front of him when someone sabotaged their trapeze act. He was taken in by Bruce, an emotionally distant billionaire, who would later sack him as Robin and kick him out when he became old enough to disagree with him. Bruce would then replace him with Jason, further straining their relationship. Later, after they've made up, Bruce is killed. This forces Dick to become Batman (something he's never wanted to do) and take on Damian so that the kid didn't return to the League of Assassins, damaging his relationship with Tim in the process. Bruce eventually returns, but soon after Damian dies, followed swiftly by Dick himself being unmasked, killed, and resuscitated. Whilst he's emotionally broken from the aforementioned events, Bruce kicks the ever-loving shit out of him until he agrees to go undercover at Spyral, something he really doesn't want to do because it involves telling everyone he loves that he's dead. When he returns, they're all mad at him as he predicted and the fact that Bruce beat him up until he agreed to do it is never brought up (possibly because Bruce had amnesia at that point). The fact that this guy is so well-adjusted is, frankly, a miracle.
    • Barbara Gordon used to be a gymnastic crime fighter until she was shot and paralyzed by The Joker to break her dad.
    • Jason Todd, whose parental issues include thinking himself The Unfavorite because Batman didn't avenge his death at the hands of the Joker, worded thusly: "I'm talking about killing him. Just him. And doing it... because he took me away from you." Before meeting Bruce he rarely saw his biological father, a criminal who cycled into and out of prison until his boss (Two-Face) finally offed him, and Jason had to look after his mom as she died, likely due to drug abuse. His biological mother, without any remorse whatsoever, later lured him into a trap set by the Joker and calmly looked on as he was beaten within an inch of his life.
    • Tim Drake, whose parents are dead (including step parents and fake ones). Said parents were also neglectful towards him. When Jason Todd, who Tim idolised, returns from the dead, he tries to kill him. Then, towards the end of his run as Robin, a frankly ridiculous number of his friends and allies died leading to him becoming a far more angsty character than he was when he started out. Damian then turns up and tried to prove himself to his father by murdering Tim, because how else would a child assassin prove themselves? Then Bruce seemingly dies, Dick takes Damian on as Robin, effectively forcing Tim out of the role. Everyone then proceeds to treat Tim like he's crazy for insisting that Bruce is alive...not that he has any evidence to support his claim given that it's essentially the last hope of a grief-stricken, depressed teenage boy.
    • Stephanie Brown, aka the Spoiler! Her father was Cluemaster, a third-string Batman villain who was a Riddler rip-off. So when she was growing up, her home housed a steady stream of criminals, her dad was in and out of jail, and her mom was addicted to prescription drugs. Her father used her in his various plots, once getting her kidnapped and put in danger of death as part of an elaborate trap for Batman. During high school she got pregnant and ultimately made the heartbroken decision to give up her baby for adoption. She became Robin, was fired for doing the job, and promptly accidentally started a massive gang war that killed hundreds of people and ended with her nearly dying at Black Mask's hands. When she was able to return to Gotham she found her boyfriend (Robin) still loved her but felt betrayed that she left him thinking her dead while all his family and close friends died in quick succession, and then continued to lie to him after her return so finally joined the ranks of those who told her to stop acting as Spoiler. Since she has become Batgirl and begun a relatively well-adjusted life as a college freshman while her mother (now off drugs) works a steady job at a hospital.
    • Cassandra Cain who was raised in The Spartan Way to be the world's greatest assassin and wasn't even taught how to read or talk.
    • Damian Wayne is the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul. He was raised in the League of Assassins but rejected their ways in favour of working with his father and Dick Grayson as Robin. His mother responded by disowning him and, eventually, sending his clone to kill him. He got better. Being the only Batfamily member to be forced on Bruce Wayne rather than chosen, he's extremely insecure of his place. Trying to hide this with arrogance only makes him more unpopular within the family.
    • Some universes also include Huntress as a member, whose parents were shot dead in front of her when she was eight.
    • And that's without counting the myriad of traumas and psychoses behind almost all the Batman villains.
  • Jesse Custer has familial issues and then some, although not what you would expect.
    • His parents were fine, upstanding people who did not balk at showing their love. Sadly the same did not hold for his maternal grandmother, who in her attempts to control Jesse's upbringing kept him and his parents hostage from an early age on, and had his father murdered for attempted escape. His mother was later to suffer the same fate, for attempting to intervene when Jesse was to be punished by being left to stew in his own feces and urine, with no nutrition, in a submerged coffin, for a week. For using a swearword in anger against her personal henchmen, who had recently murdered his puppy.
  • The Teen Titans. It's arguably more of a support group for superpowered teens than an actual team of superheroes. Considering how many of them have died and/or gone insane, it doesn't do a very good job.
  • While Astro City typically avoids this trope (due to its idealistic nature), it is played straight with the Williams brothers during the aptly-named "Dark Age" story arc. After seeing their parents gunned down during a super-hero fight, Royal becomes a jaded petty thief, while Charles becomes a By-the-Book Cop who gets shot In the Back by Dirty Cops; the two eventually become vigilantes in a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against their parents' killer. They abandon their quest after realizing what they've become, and retire to run a chartered fishing business instead.
  • X-Statix had this essentially as its core premise — this was a team of celebrities, not heroes, and as such, extremenote  personalities clashing is to be expected. But to go into detail: the Orphan has an adversarial relationship with the Anarchist, who in turn is bitter rivals with the Spike. Phat and Vivisector don't get along with anyone except occasionally each other. El Guapo disrupts the team when it starts to gel, the Mysterious Fan Boy's naivety grates on everyone but forces them to at least pretend to like each other, Venus Dee Milo draws flak from fans and the media, which lessens her stock among the team members themselves, and Dead Girl is just... weird. U-Go Girl is probably the only one who functions semi-normally within the group.
  • Can somebody say "Todd Casil" also known as Squee? His parents explicitly state on several occasions "I wish you'd never been born," his neighbor is a homicidal psychopath, and he has a 1-sided friendship with the son of Satan!
  • The Fantastic Four were actually a groundbreaking feat in superhero comics because of this trope. Before their creation, it was unthinkable for a superhero team to have such blatantly dysfunctional interpersonal dynamics and depressing personal issues. Not including all the crap that they go through after they get superpowers, from the very beginning the group includes a guy whose entire normal life was ruined by getting turned into a giant, hideous rock monster who can't hide his identity. And as for screwed-up backstories, they have the guy whose former friend hates him with such a blinding passion that every single thing said friend has done in his career as an evil, world-dominating Magnificent Bastard can be traced back to his obsessive desire for revenge.
    • In Ultimate Fantastic Four their issues are so bad that the team eventually falls apart and Reed becomes Ultimate Doctor Doom.
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye gives us the crew of the Lost Light. Almost half of the crew suffers from extreme mental, social, and personality disorders. Rodimus is a self-loathing Glory Hound, Ultra Magnus is Super OCD, Drift is implied to be suffering PTSD, Swerve is a Stepford Smiler who feels like he doesn't have any friends, Tailgate is a Phony Veteran who secretly hates himself, Cyclonus has difficulty forming emotional attachments, Trailbreaker is an alcoholic, Chromedome is constantly depressed and has suffered the Cartwright Curse four times, and Whirl is literally insane. Even the Only Sane Man, Hoist, has a traumatic past that has left him with a crippling phobia of being alone. Just to top it off? They only have one therapist... who might have just as many issues as the rest of the crew, if not more.
    • Elsewhere, there's the Wreckers. Aforementioned Whirl isn't even the worst example present. There's three ways of leaving the Wreckers: Death, dishonourable discharge and dementia. There's Sandstorm, who went insane after the war and started killing people he thought had escaped justice, Guzzle, who only joined so he could murder Kup, and then went insane and started violently killing enemies, Impactor, Megatron's former drinking buddy who caused the big guy's Start of Darkness, and got thrown in prison for summarily executing all of Squadron X, and Roadbuster, who used to be a drill instructor who heard a voice telling him to push his trainees to the point of death, sometimes even giving them a nudge over the edge. And those are just the big names.
    • Then there's the Dinobots, or, as they were originally called, the Dynobots. Originally formed before the war, Grimlock and Slug met when they were both in the brig for pissing off theri commanding officers (Slug having shot his). After teaming up with four other misfits, Swoop, Sludge, Snarl, and Skar, they became a black ops unit that was highly effect in spite of Slug's insistence that they not be an actual team. Things were actually going well for them until an op looking for terrorist lead to an encounter with viscous cyber-morphic predators that resulted in the death of Skar and the other five being left with unstable, uncontrollable altmodes of those same creatures. When the Cybertronian government decided to use them to study Skar's dynamic altmode adaption program rather than cure them, so they went on the run, feeling betrayed. They wound up rallying to help Optimus Prime when he called for everyone to rise against the Decepticons, but by then their altmodes' aggression was starting to seriously affect them and they turned to crime as a means of earning enough money to purchase passage off Cybertron before they became a danger to innocents. They ended up receiving help from the Autobots and joined the team, but even upon being cured they still stayed vicious Blood Knights who committed numerous war crimes during the war. Against orders, they chased Shockwave to Earth, and Grimlock set up a dead-man's switch on their ship without telling the others, which caused it to fire on the battlefield as they fought Shockwave. This triggered a volcanic eruption that buried them all in lava. When they were dug out in the present day, the others confronted Grimlock over this, who defended himself by saying that yes, of course he did it because the Dynobots are a bunch of vicious amoral bastards who do that sort of thing. The others agreed that that was a valid reason. They could barely function while the war was raging and there was an actual need for a group that "does the things that allow heroes to stay heroes", once the war's over they're left without a purpose in life and unable to function in normal society.
    Grimlock: We watch each other's back, we stick together through thick and thin, and no one ever tells us what to do!
    • And then there are the Scavengers, who were at exactly the bottom of the Decepticon hierarchy while there was still a Decepticon hierarchy. Fulcrum is a paranoid coward, Crankcase seems to have a form of anxiety, Krok suffers from trauma and is in severe denial, Misfire is just kind of nuts, Spinister is delusional, paranoid and violent, even he is a genius with his hands, Grimlock is brain-damaged, and cons4eva is a renegade Dire Wraith.
  • The Punisher:
    • All together now: Frank Castle's family was accidentally murdered in a Mafia shootout, Frank has been killing criminals ever since as punishment... for them or himself, as he was thinking of leaving his family due to his PTSD and newly-discovered Blood Knight tendencies.
    • Strangely enough, many of the villains get dysfunctional backstories as well, despite rarely making it to the end of the book: Nicky Cavella was manipulated into murdering his family (and repeatedly raped) by his aunt, a creepy homeless guy living in a pile of corpses had to eat his way out of his morbidly obese mother when she had a heart attack and fell on him, Barracuda's sociopathy comes from his being unable to find and kill his abusive dad, the Kingpin had his abusive dad eaten by rats and underwent Prison Rape...

  • Everyone in Eagle Vs Shark, from the possibly-autistic Jared, cripplingly-shy Lily, Jared's family still scarred by his brother's suicide...
  • Almost everyone from the Spider-Man Trilogy films, ranging from Peter, Mary-Jane, Doc Ock, Norman and Harry Osborn, Eddie Brock, and Flint. Aunt May and Uncle Ben were perfectly fine and normal folks, and May copes rather normally after Ben's death. As for Dr. Octavius, he was a happily-married well-adjusted scientist until his No OSHA Compliance Combat Tentacles went crazy.
  • This idea is deconstructed in Mental. The movie is about Shaz, a violent, drug-using ex-mental doctor. In order to wrangle up a team to get a shark that killed and ate her daughter, she finds five kids: The loneliest, least talented, and most mentally unstable children in all of Australia with a recently rehabilitated mother who went to hospital after believing her husband won Wheel of Fortune and bought tons of furniture, and an unfaithful father who hasn't eaten dinner with them since Coral, the eldest child, tried to kill herself by jumping off the roof and landing on his car while he was pulling in, knocking him unconscious for five minutes, and tricks them into her scheme. However, it all falls apart when the children realise that they are sane (well, Michelle has legitimate schizophrenia, but reacts well to the medication); in fact, everyone who Shaz presented as insane was actually sane, just to different degrees, but all of them were huge assholes who simply presented Hollywood archetypes of these illnesses (with one of them eventually committed after a combination of OCD and racist attitude causes her to go on a violent rampage), and Shaz was simply suffering from mental illness caused by the death of her daughter. The same goes for her ex-husband, who simply wants her to suffer for being such a horrible mother.
  • All the kids in The Breakfast Club came from dysfunctional families, and this is what directly or indirectly got them all Saturday detention.
  • The Avengers has its eponymous team. Everyone but the SHIELD agents has some kind of disorder or other issue.
    • Count Steve as well. The world he knew is gone, everyone he knew and loved is dead, and he seems to spend most of his time pounding on punching bags while plagued by war flashbacks, hinting that he's most likely suffering from combat-related PTSD. Also it's implied that he was conscious at least when he began thawing from the ice.
    • Also Black Widow was taken from her parents and trained from early childhood to be an assassin who spent years as an outright villain. And Hawkeye, who even at the movie's beginning was hinted at being an eccentric loner, was so thoroughly violated and Mind Raped over the course of the movie that if he didn't have any major issues before, he sure has them now.
    • However, all the Avengers put together can't touch the Royally Screwed Up pile of Sibling Rivalry and aristocratic familial politics that makes up Thor's family life, including the fact that his little brother tried to assassinate him to steal his throne, tried to genocide an alien race, and even conquer Earth.
  • In the 2011 film Warrior: Paddy is a lonely recovering alcoholic, Tommy has PTSD (and a lot of chips on his shoulders) and Brendan has inferiority and abandonment issues.
  • Eddie and Sarah in The Hustler bond with each other over their various dysfunctional pasts.
  • Every single film by Lars von Trier, even in the television show Riget, where it's Played for Laughs.
  • Same for Jean-Luc Godard, who uses this to alienate his audience.
  • In A Nightmare on Elm Street, the adults are almost all neglectful and condescending at best, to the point that they serve as the secondary antagonists to Freddy himself. Abusive Parents are the norm in Springwood, and the teenagers are so used to it that by the time the fifth movie rolls around, one scene has them casually commiserating over their controlling parents. This series is one of the more realistic treatments of this trope, since their situations aren't too far detached from young people in real life. But importantly, the films take the teenagers' concerns seriously, while the adults that talk down to them are seen as in the wrong.
  • Up to Eleven and Played for Laughs in Tropic Thunder, where every actor struggles with issues.
    • Tugg Speedman is a washed up, egotistical action movie star, whose attempts at breaking out of his genre have created some of the biggest bombs in movie history.
    • Kirk Lazarus is an uber-talented Australian Method Actor who actually dyes his skin black so he can play an African-American soldier, and spends the movie seemingly convinced he is black (much to the chagrin of the actually black Alpa Chino), and then suffers a short identity crisis.
    • Jeff Portnoy is a drug-addicted comedian who spends much of the movie in withdrawal, and literally begs to be tied to a tree.
    • Alpa Chino is hiding in the closet.
    • Kevin Sandusky is probably the most down-to-Earth of the actors, but he is a No Respect Guy for most of the movie, and none of the actors can even remember his name.
    Kevin Sandusky: The insecurity level with you guys, IS RIDICULOUS!

  • Played for laughs in "Six-Pack" by Three Dead Trolls In A Baggie: the singer's father is a drunkard, his mother is a whore, his sister is a drug dealer, and the singer himself is schizoid.
  • Exaggerated and also played for laughs in "My Home Town" by Tom Lehrer: although the singer has no complaints and is actually rather nostalgic for his home town, it is apparently completely populated with crazies, perverts, and psychos.
  • Done seriously in "La Historia De Juan" by Juanes. A kid was abandoned by his mother, is abused by his father, and lives on the street alone and unloved, sleeping in a cardboard box. Then he dies.
  • Gorillaz: Murdoc suffered a thoroughly unpleasant childhood at the hands of his father, his brother, and various school bullies, and if he's telling the truth he "hit puberty when I was eight and lost my virginity to a dinner lady when I was nine and I've been in a bad mood ever since". He grew up into a Satan-worshipping drunkard who takes out his frustrations by verbally and physically tormenting 2D. 2D, as if being raised with a Punny Name like "Stu Pot" wasn't bad enough, suffered from migraines and at least one severe head injury in childhood. Then he was run over by Murdoc and spent a year in a coma, which he came out of when Murdoc ran him over again, leaving him with missing front teeth, fractured eyeballs, and worse migraines. Later on, he managed to father ten illegitimate children. Russel watched his friends die in a drive-by, and ended up possessed by their spirits. He was understandably traumatised, and only got worse when the actual Grim Reaper retrieved his best friend Del's soul, to the point that he ended up having a nervous breakdown in Ike Turner's basement. Noodle, meanwhile, was amnesiac when they found her, and later discovered that she was in fact a genetically-engineered Tyke Bomb super soldier. Regardless of that, she seems to be the only semi-well-adjusted band member untill she gets dragged into hell and replaced by an Axe-Crazy cyborg with issues of her own, that is.
  • Played for laughs in "Neighbourhood" by Space, where the neighbours include a family of thieves (although the house is empty because they've all been arrested), a serial killer vicar and a man who thinks he's Saddam Hussein.
  • Referenced in "Polarize" by Twenty One Pilots.
    My friends and I have got a lot of problems.
  • "The Kids Aren't Alright" by The Offspring is about a group of high schoolers who grew into dysfunctional or impoverished adults.
    When we were young the future was so bright.
    The old neighborhood was so alive.
    And every kid on the whole damn street was gonna make it big in every beat.
    Now the neighborhood's cracked and torn.
    The kids are grown up but their lives are worn.
    How can one little street swallow so many lives?

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Peanuts is famous for getting away with having a cast of relatably dysfunctional characters defined by insecurity, unrequited love, and failure despite being a comic strip from The '50s starring a bunch of kids. Charlie Brown is painfully aware of his inability to succeed in anything, Snoopy is often off in a flight of fancy, Sally is an apathetic little airhead, Lucy is a crabby fussbudget who thinks the world owes her, Linus, despite his philosophical intelligence, gets picked on for odd traits such as needing a Security Blanket, Schroeder barely does anything beyond playing Beethoven's music, Peppermint Patty often falls Asleep in Class and, despite being a rough-n-tumble tomboy, worries a lot about her appearance and femininity, and Marcie is woefully naive about anything beyond academics.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The titular Exalted, thanks to the Great Curse.
  • Changeling: The Lost, in part due to what The Fair Folk did to everyone before the game began. At worst, the Spring Court are desperately throwing themselves into distraction to avoid coping with the pain, the Summer Court are endlessly angry and want to fight the immortal mad gods that made them, the Autumn Court throw themselves into the weird powers they picked up as a result of cosmic abuse, and the Winter Court would like it very much if you did nothing to draw their attention. And that's not counting whatever Loyalists or Privateers that may be lurking in secret...
  • Burning Wheel requires you to spend resource points during character generation to acquire significant relationships. You get discounts for various aspects of said relationships, including having them be hateful, forbidden, and/or family. Thus it's not unusual to have a party full of family dysfunction.
    • More significantly, the con demo scenario "The Gift" is about four Elves sent as emissaries to the crowning of a new Dwarf prince, who has three close advisors. Except the Elves start by making an immense diplomatic faux pas. The eight premade characters, all PCs, have widely differing attitudes and goals. One is a broken-down alcoholic. Two are on the verge of catastrophic meltdown, one from too much Dwarven Greed and one from too much Elvish Grief. The often disastrous results are a lesson in dysfunction critical mass.
  • Bliss Stage, what with all the adults but one having vanished, imminent alien attacks, and a bunch of teenagers way over their heads knowing that they are dead at 18.
  • For some reason, this trope is heavily involved in the formation of some — if not all — Player Character groups in any tabletop game, ever. It's almost never "A bunch of folks good with {weapons/skills in use} that like to go treasure hunting and killing things for profit because they're good at it." The mage is power mad and/or Blessed with Suck, the warrior/soldier is haunted by past battles or trying to reclaim honor, the priest only turned to religion after tremendous personal tragedy, etc. etc. etc.
    • Moreover, point build systems encourage this to happen, as by picking flaws and misfortunes — say, being an orphan — the player gets bonus points to spend on the character's stats.
  • Warhammer 40,000: For what it's worth the dysfunction junction is just the beginning of how to describe the relationship between the Emperor and his sons the Primarchs.

    It can also be argued that the universe is this trope on a massive scale.
  • Heavily and deliberately averted in Teenagers from Outer Space - no matter how wacky an alien you might be, you come from a perfectly normal suburban family.
  • BattleTech: in each faction, at least one or more member in it has some serious issues, or is bat-shit crazy. The great houses tend to have one member who ends up being a tyrant or worse.
  • Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine: Of the eight archetypal characters for the Glass-Maker's Dragon campaign, six have some kind of psychological hang-up. Natalia had her hope carved out of her along with her weakness during Training from Hell in which surviving for long periods on ice chips was a regular feature; Jasper is cut off from her true home and marooned among people with strange habits like sneezing; Entropy II's father was a grade-A evil bastard who he may have killed, and distrusting your memories is stressful enough without having to cope with seeping mutagenic blood from your hands; Leonardo is a lonely, broken genius whose life has been a fairly nonstop parade of suckage from a young age, struggling with a self-assumed responsibility that may be too heavy for him to bear; Seizhi is stressed out about not being properly real; and Miramie is just stressed out in general and has to deal with her past life being an enemy of the world. About the only ones who are relatively stable are Chuubo, who is heavily implied to be an Amnesiac God and is struggling with great power he is really bad at using sensibly, and Rinley, who defies rational explanation. Thankfully, most of them are just dysfunctional enough to produce interesting storytelling possibilities without being quite messed-up enough to be dangerous.

  • Between them, the dancers in A Chorus Line have neglectful, emotionally abusive or absent parents, deaths of family members, sexual molestation, and bullying, and the poverty, unemployment and constant risk of injury that come with their chosen career.
  • Half of the main cast of RENT has AIDS or HIV, and that's not even getting into the drug addictions, poverty, suicide of friends and constant relationship problems many of them have to deal with.
  • None of the principal characters of Chess are well-adjusted. Freddie is an arrogant jerk with a Freudian Excuse. Florence was separated from her father and home country at an early age. Anatoly is not a happy Russian at the start of the show, and abandoning his wife for Florence and defecting to the West only causes new problems for all of them.
  • Hamlet. His uncle killed his father and married his mother. His mother may or may not have been in on this. Thanks to him, his girlfriend Ophelia has been rendered either insane or suicidal. With a good dose of Alternate Character Interpretation, he himself is either insane, suffering from an Oedipus complex, or both. That's not even getting into the more minor characters.
  • Road. Inhabitants are universally poor and frustrated, often alcoholic and usually from dysfunctional families. Suicide, domestic violence and prostitution are all covered by the end of the first act.

    Visual Novels 
  • The most normal person in A Profile is the girl that alternates between cold and aloof and a shrinking violet at the drop of a hat. Things just get worse from there, though on the surface everyone at least looks normal.
  • This is a given for CROSS†CHANNEL, which takes place at a school for the emotionally disturbed. (Interestingly, a lot of the characters are twisted variants of recognizable archetypes — a Tsundere, an Emotionless Girl, etc.)
  • The premise of Family Project. All the main characters are there precisely because they have messed up lives, families and are all generally on the edge of homelessness. The various issues vary drastically in seriousness and some also make things worse for everyone else. Such as Chunhua's escape inciting a war between mafia groups and the house being burned down as a result in every route.
  • Katawa Shoujo has many characters with disabilities, yet in most cases, their greatest issues are either unrelated or not directly related to their disabilities.
    • Hisao suffered his first heart attack just as a girl he loved confessed her feelings, was later hospitalized for months with nobody visiting him besides his parents, and upon getting out, he left completely embittered and cynical.
    • Emi not only lost her legs in a car accident, but also lost her father and as such, does not let people close to her.
    • Hanako was severely scarred and lost her parents in a house fire, her mother shielding her from the fire. She was abandoned and cruelly treated by her friends for her scars, resulting in her becoming withdrawn, as she saw most people who didn't show her contempt to be pitying her.
    • Lilly was left behind in Japan by her parents for six years, and according to Akira (who drops her carefree facade when talking about this), Lilly's blindness was a major reason for this. She developed the facade of a "perfect", collected mother figure (mostly toward Hanako), which gives her difficulties in expressing her own desires.
    • Rin struggles to be understood by others as an artist, and worries about whether she will have to choose between success and being herself.
    • Shizune wanted to make friends by helping people, but her deafness and competitive personality resulted in her driving most of the rest of the Student Council away.
    • Even Misha qualifies. She made a Love Confession to Shizune, but while Shizune rejected her, she kept her around as a friend, causing Misha pain, and in Shizune's route, she has to watch as Hisao gets closer to the girl she loves. It's also implied that she was bullied for being gay in the past and that she has some suicidal ideations.
    • Some minor characters also qualify: Yuuko shows signs of depression, has troubles managing her extremely busy life and blames herself for everything, while Mutou is a Reasonable Authority Figure, but is quite socially awkward and struggles at getting the attention of anyone who isn't Hisao. The less said about Kenji, the better.
    • Fanfictions trying to emulate routes for other girls also tend to apply the same treatment to them, making their personal flaws the basis of the conflict, along with Hisao's own shortcomings.
  • Name a main or supporting character in the Nasuverse (besides Taiga, but in a couple more games, I wouldn't be surprised) that does not have a major personality disorder. Some examples from Tsukihime:
    • Filling the "normal" niche in the main cast is Hisui, who completely represses her emotions and has a pathological fear of being touched by men (although she did it in her sister's place).
    • Arihiko, support character and comic relief, got a very tragic and traumatic Backstory in Kagetsu Tohya.
    • Satsuki has no tragic backstory that we know of. The in-game story makes up for it.
    • Isn't it nice when one of the most well balanced characters in the series is an 800-year-old vampire with less life experience than a teenager, no friends or family and who lives only to kill vampires? Arcueid does have the worst backstory, she just doesn't let it get her down.
    • Averted in a way in Fate/hollow ataraxia. While all the horrible stuff that happened in Fate/stay night is still canon, people have dealt with all of it.
  • In Sharin no Kuni, Kenichi is a stepford smiler atoner, Sachi's day has been cut in half and she has a gambling addiction, Touka's family is horribly broken, Natsumi is severely emotionally scarred and Ririko has vanished from the storyline until you find she has the Maximum Penalty, a fate worse than death. Kyouko, Isono and several others have similar nasty backstories. Which means everyone but Houzuki, which is probably actually especially Houzuki.
  • Almost every in Suika either has a traumatic past or is secretly crazy or ends up so by the end of the chapter they star in. The final chapter is Lighter and Softer, but elements are still present.
  • Key/Visual Arts games naturally involve this, being Utsuge. For example, in Little Busters! we have:
    • Komari, who is troubled by recurring dreams of a brother she doesn't remember. Eventually it turns out that said brother did exist, but he died when she was young, an event which traumatised her so much that she repressed the memory. Anytime she sees death or blood, they're triggered over again and she undergoes a Heroic BSoD.
    • Haruka, who is regularly bullied to tears by the School Disciplinary Committee, and is part of a Big, Screwed-Up Family of epic proportions.
    • Kud, who is one-quarter Japanese and has lived all over the world, and so struggles with finding a place for herself and being treated like just a Funny Foreigner by her fellow students, not to mention the idea of living in the shadow of her successful mother.
    • Kurugaya, who is a competent, intelligent Action Girl and all-around Ace...except for the fact that she's quite lonely, and has lived her life drifting from one event to another without ever feeling real emotion.
    • Mio, who is totally isolated from basically every other human being, almost to the point where it seems like her existence itself is fragile. Which results from a huge guilt complex she holds over forgetting an imaginary friend turned real (or did she?) when she was a kid, resulting in her wishing that Midori had lived instead of her.
    • Rin, who underwent some vague scary experience when she was very young, causing her to become very nervous and distrustful of strangers right up until high school.
    • Riki himself, who has to deal with his parents dying when he was young, his narcolepsy (which the game does go to some lengths to point out really isn't just a cute flaw but a seriously limiting disease), and having to deal with helping out everyone else with their problems in their routes.
    • And everyone has to deal with the bus they were taking for their school field trip driving off a cliff and leaving them all bar Riki and Rin with fatal injuries. Only after a lot of pain and hard work are they able to change the situation enough that Riki and Rin are able to save them, albeit still with heavy injuries.
  • The When They Cry franchise has plenty of this:
  • Just about every character you can name in Nameless - The One Thing You Must Recall - is deeply traumatized and, in bad ends, nearly every guy can become violently and dangerously disturbed.
  • Rarely does a student in Danganronpa not have either a bullying problem, serious family issues or a certain level of insanity (probably why Toko Fukawa is thought to represent the series so well since she qualifies for all three). Makoto Naegi, the protagonist of the first game, sticks out by how utterly normal his existence is, making him by-far the most approachable of the 15, and even he's long-suffered under a case of teetertottering luck. Hajime Hinata of the second game meanwhile has a different sort of problem: he's so incredibly average (in his own eyes) that it's taken a toll on his self-esteem.
  • The overall tone of Ace Attorney may belie it, but several of the main characters are packing some seriously sad backstories, often tied to the Always Murder nature of the series and how many of its characters are related to That One Case.
    • Manfred von Karma is an Amoral Attorney obsessed with his perfect win record, to the point that Gregory Edgeworth causing him to lose for the first time results in von Karma murdering him, framing the wrong guy for fifteen years, and traumatizing his young son forever (the DL-6 incident). Von Karma adopts young Miles, and passes on much of his own philosophies onto him and his daughter Franziska, resulting in them being proud perfection-obsessed prosecutors. In fact, accepting that he was a bad man and moving past his teachings is a great part of both of their character developments. Speaking of DL-6, Maya and Mia lost their mother in the aftermath of it, which also disgraced the family.
    • The Feys are a dysfunctional clan. Because of the long history of enforced Single Line of Descent causing the "weaker" sibling to be forced into a branch family, an Evil Aunt jealous of the main family's prestige and scheming to get rid of them is not uncommon. In fact, Maya's aunt Morgan aims to do this through her prodigious daughter Pearl. It's also mentioned that the matriarchal culture of the family results in many unhappy marriages, such as Morgan's two mentioned ones.
    • Athena's mother Metis was emotionally distant, and little Athena grew up lonely. Come the UR-1 incident, and she witnesses and is suspected of her mother's murder at the age of eleven, causing Simon Blackquill to take the heat for her and be jailed for seven years, being exonerated a day before his scheduled execution. She's repressed most of her direct involvement in the incident in the present day, and the cast has to talk it out of her to progress in the trial.
  • Grisaia no Kajitsu: No matter how much the principal insists on Mihama Academy being a normal school, an institution like that can only be as normal as it's inhabitants, of there is only 6, and they are most certainly an odd bunch. In fact a prerequisite of getting into Mihama is having "comlicated cirumstances", which usually means dark pasts and the great amount of psychological issues caused by them.
  • Every character in Doki Doki Literature Club! has some serious underlying issue, from Natsuki's tsundere tendencies which are probably thanks to her abuse and neglect at the hands of her father, to Yuri's awkwardness and inability to socialize as well as her habit of cutting herself, and even the chipper and carefree Genki Girl Sayori is simply using that as a mask to hide her crippling depression that eventually drives her to suicide. Not even Not Love Interest Monika is safe, only her dilemma is a lot stranger: namely that she's been driven to madness and despair due to a combination of possessing Medium Awareness and knowing that she's a fictional character in a dating sim, and the fact that she loves the player but doesn't even get a route of her own.

    Web Original 
  • The Binder of Shame by Al Bruno III details possibly embellished accounts of many play sessions with a bunch of socially inept, incredibly messed-up and/or horrible people. The cast, given Meaningful Names to protect the author, includes:
  • Tales of MU:
  • Protectors of the Plot Continuum have to be a little abnormal in order to function at all. Agents include common-or-garden Cloud Cuckoo Lander types, berserkers, drunkards and prescription-medication addicts, characters theoretically incapable of feeling emotions at all, and so on. They may or may not be entirely normal by the standards of their home continua, if said continua run on different standards of normalcy.
  • Let's see what we have in Ilivais X...
    • Iriana Estchell, our not heroic in the slightest protagonist who combines Shinji's ridiculously low self-esteem with Rei's repressed stoicism. In fact, she amplifies those, refusing to believe herself as a person simply because she was altered to not really be intended for a person, and fighting her conflicting emotional engines because she doesn't want to expose the squishy and vulnerable little girl within. And then there's her whole disabled puberty and several rape incidents and Long Lost Sibling Rivalry and somewhat unsuccessful attempts to control everyone around her so as to feel like she has some control and a ton of other crap she's constantly dealing with, all by the age of 17.
    • Mille Chanteau, her Love Interest who's addicted to physical intimacy and is a bit conflicted about why she's so into Iriana (who likely directly manipulated her to feel that). Also has had tons of weird relationships with older guys, certainly gaining a complex from that seeing as she's only 14 and it tends to ruin any and all attempts at friendship with others. While she is easily one of the most optimistic characters in the story, it's obvious that she has absolutely no idea how to communicate with anyone without sex, and thus is extremely dependent on Iriana, who provides the only emotional relationship she's ever had. It's VERY abusive, yes, but she's so starved for heart-felt affection that she doesn't even see that part.
    • Sura and Essen, having to deal with their above friend slipping slowly into insanity. Essen views Mille as a mom (seeing as she's the Team Mom and all), and therefore is somewhat upset that she's prioritizing a psychotic girl they just met over her friends she's known for a while. Sura sees excellent military potential in her, and so is somewhat upset that she's following the orders of a psychotic girl they just met over the faction they belong to and her equally-ranked friend and ex. It's relatively justified that they're worried they'll similarly fall into acting that way. Especially given how the normally reserved Essen didn't hesitate to voice his opinion when Iriana didn't have any clothes on.
    • The Specialized Weapon Units all have their own deal. Ashe believes people only care about her body, Arteya is sure he's outside natural laws due to being an Aztec, and Sycine has a copious amount of Gayngst going on.
    • The GEKICOM Team is emotionally Flanderized, with emotional engines acting to make them extremist and single-minded.
    • The four STRUQ sub-pilots have issues with the fact that individually they're useless, and when combined they have no real control.
    • The Iberian commanders are dedicated to their countries that technically don't exist anymore, so they're obsessed with preserving dead cultures.
    • The other three Phonos Weapons are little more than Wetware CPUs with the body still attached. Not only that, but their minds are reduced to being fuelled on their given emotion alone, disallowing them to feel anything else.
    • And really, everybody else who isn't that nameless one-shot Mission Control guy from the very beginning.
  • Most of the characters on That Guy with the
  • 80's Dan: the wacky adventures of a cocaine-addicted manchild, his anal-retentive landlady, his asshole robot roommate, and the mutually-loathing married couple who live next door.
  • Demo Reel. Two people who have committed war crimes, a self-destructive Former Child Star who lost his mother to suicide, a woman whose uncaring parents sent her on camping trips with her sexually abusive uncle, and an Only Sane Man with a family who hates him because he exposed his father as a criminal. Notable because, unlike the rest of TGWTG, all of that is Played for Drama.
  • Filthy Frank: A Downplayed example, everyone in the show are a bunch of messed up individuals who may or may not have several disorders. The closest to functional human beings are jerkasses who have trouble acting like decent human beings.
  • All of the Outcasts in Tasakeru have their hang-ups. Having a Dark and Troubled Past is a prerequisite for becoming one.
  • Team Kimba of the Whateley Universe. Generator manifested while her father was trying to beat her to death. Phase was thrown out of his family and turned over to a Mad Scientist for experimentation that he barely survived. Tennyo was poisoned by her yougner brother and can't go home because a team of assassins is after her. Lancer manifested on an Army base and his brother ratted him out to the local mutant haters, leading to a battle against a heavily armed anti-mutant squad and a tank. Fey's parents are separated and she had the humiliation of slowly turning from a nerdy guy into a sexy redhead over about a year. Bladedancer's mom is dead and her dad has been captured by the Demon Lord of Fiery Immersion. Carmilla is the result when her mom was impregnated by a demon, she had to kill her mom when her mom started turning into a Deep One, and then she died... and turned into Carmilla.
  • Everyone in Red vs. Blue, from the teamkilled ghost with ex-girlfriend problems to the sycophantic cyborg with daddy issues, and that's not even getting into the Freelancers, who are a whole special bundle of issues... or the AIs and their creator, with the dubious honor of being the most messed up people on the show. About the only people who don't seem to have problems are Caboose (who's too stupid to realize he has problems) and Donut (who's... just Donut). Needless to say, this is largely Played for Laughs... except when it's not.
  • Just about every major character in Worm has severe mental hangups, or acquires them over the course of the story.
    • Justified as many of the characters seen are capes and trigger events occur when a person without anyone to rely on is pushed to their brink physically and emotionally. The superpowers gained at this point often reinforce the mental issues they're suffering and the need for secrecy further isolates them. A major reason villains outnumber heroes is that the system has already failed them by the time they gain powers.
  • The Bay 12 Katawa Shoujo Roleplay. Some of the students have their own issues, in addition to their disabilities. It comes with the territory.
  • SF Debris' alternative character interpretation of many Star Trek characters tend to exaggerate dysfunctional traits that are somewhat present in Trek canon. Of special note is Harry Kim, whom he described as "Mount Everest for psychologists." Harry is the namesake for two units of measure: the "Kim," which is the measure of sexual trauma applied per cubic meter/second; and the "metric-Kim," which is a measure of personal shame.
  • When you look past all the cartoonish whimsy, the cast of Homestar Runner is pretty messed up:
    • By far the biggest and most well-known example is the walking dysfunction that is Coach Z. His "more than two problems" includes poverty, poor hygiene, alcoholism, general creepiness, and a weird accent.
    • The eponymous Homestar Runner is a brainless Cloud Cuckoo Lander who holds down an office job one day and attends kindergarten the next. His utter disconnect from the world around him has led him to do some rather insensitive things and not even notice.
    • His on-again off-again girlfriend Marzipan is a self-righteous Granola Girl who runs a bizarre new-age kindergarten class that she doesn't fully deny as being some sort of cult.
    • The household of the Brothers Strong is so bitter that the Homestar Runner Wiki feels the need to record anytime one of them cracks a smile. To start with, Strong Bad has a Small Name, Big Ego, and his greatest pastime is answering the Fourth-Wall Mail Slot.
    • The Cheat, Strong Bad's lackey, gets frequently kicked around by him, both figuratively and literally.
    • The eldest brother Strong Mad is a Dumb Muscle No Indoor Voice Terse Talker.
    • The youngest brother Strong Sad is a dumpy emo sad sack due to years of getting picked on by his older brothers.
    • The King of Town has a tendency to eat everything in sight when he's not trying pathetically to get popular and liked.
    • The only characters who don't come off as maladjusted in some way are Pom-Pom (being The Ace who is Out of Focus), Bubs (If you look past the fact that he sells cheap crap at outrageous prices), the Poopsmith (since no-one knows anything about him due to the Vow Of Silence he's taken long ago for unknown reasons), and Homsar (Who is just incomprehensibly weird).
  • The entire RWBY team have varying burdens and issues from their past.
    • Ruby and Yang lost their mother, Ruby's mother Summer, at a young age and Yang later finds out her own biological mother disappeared shortly after Yang's birth.
    • Weiss implies she has a bad relationship with her father and wants to redeem her family's name. She also seems to have Middle Child Syndrome and has a tense relationship with the other members of her family as well, with the exception of her older sister.
      • There's also an implication that Weiss's mother is an alcoholic, for that perfect storm of misery.
    • Blake has a strong desire to atone for her time in White Fang.
    • Close friends JNPR are no better.
      • Jaune is considered a failure by his family, one with a long tradition of badassery, and has no self confidence.
      • Pyrrha is cripplingly lonely due to her celebrity status, is too self-sacrificing for her own good, and Cannot Spit It Out.
      • Nora and Ren are both orphans who for many years had only each other to rely on.
    • Some of the adults similarly have it bad as well.
      • Taiyang's first wife left him without a word and his second wife went missing (presumed dead) after a mission.
      • Qrow and Raven were raised by a tribe of bandits who Qrow describes as "killers and thieves".
      • Additionally, Qrow is an alcoholic who can't be around people because of his Semblance.
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device has its share:
    • The Dark Angels' ruling clique must've stayed in charge only by the power of luck: Azrael is paranoid and panicky, Asmodai is a teary-eyed Drama Queen and Belial is hilariously violent.
    • The Primarchs are shaping up like this: Magnus is a half-daemon Insufferable Genius with a massive Inferiority Superiority Complex stemming from being bullied by his brothers and father, Rogal Dorn hides for ten thousand years under his father's nose because his magic pain glove told him too and clearly has suffered some brain damage, Leman Russ is a battle-loving viking who's obsessed with wolves and has spent the last ten thousand years give or take drunk and pranking helpless daemons in the Warp, Vulkan is an incredibly cheery soul who sees the ghost of one of his dead brothers following him around that he constantly rebukes and has constant spazz-outs where he starts talking Orkish, and Corvus Corax is a depressed mess who sees the same ghost and agrees that he's worthless.
  • Camp Camp: The main trio seem to have messed up home lives. Max outright states his parents left him at camp so they wouldn't have to deal with them, Nikki offhandedly says that her mom regularly lies to her, and Neil plans on lying to his father about his time at camp so his mother will try to buy back his love. Nurf, another one of the campers, claims that society made him a monster because he was suspended after he chewed a pop-tart into the shape of a gun and is also implied to have a messed-up home life. The camp staff aren't much better, the owner is of dubious moral character to put it lightly (He's on the run for offences bad enough for shoot on sight to be a reasonable response, and his summer home includes a lab full of sickening experiments and a torture sex dungeon), David can't or won't accept reality, Gwen appears to have had all her spirit crushed out of her by the weight of the world and the Quartermaster is... um, well, it says a lot when "being the bad guy from every horror movie ever" is the most normal thing about him.
  • The Mighty Nein of Critical Role. We have:
    • A homeless wizard with PTSD from killing his own parents while brainwashed
    • A goblin girl who's outcast from society and from her own tribe, which had her work as a torturer's assistant, and is seeking to permanently change her own appearance
    • A circus tiefling with intense retrograde amnesia
    • Another tiefling who seems happy but clearly has issues from being trapped in her mother's brothel for most of her life
    • A half-orc who was bullied so severely as a child that he cut off his own teeth, and recently was in a boat accident that killed his mentor
    • A monk with No Social Skills who grew up in an abusive home; the best thing that ever happened to her was being kidnapped by monks
    • A mysterious aasimar barbarian who's only hinted at having a mysterious, and possibly bloody past; at least one other close friend of hers has died in the past.
  • My Little Pony: Totally Legit Recap: The Mane Six, as lampshaded by the ending of "Every Little Thing She Does".
    Starlight: Look dudes, whatever Twilight and her stupid friendship lesson say, I know I'll probably never be a part of your clique and I'm okay with that. I mean, I'm a crazy bitch who's barely capable of casual social interaction.
    Mane Six: Yep, you sure are. And that's why you fit right in.