Common in science fiction and fantasy, the Emergent Human is a character who is new to sentience, sapience, or human existence, and shown to be in the process of adapting to the most basic elements of life as we know it.
These can be robots, demons, clones, fallen angels, or nearly any other sort of being stuck in human form; any character for whom life as a human only began very recently is susceptible to this trope.
What matters is despite appearing human and living among us, they are essentially naive newcomers to the human condition. More than mere cultural outsiders, they are treated as walking blank slates, largely free of any relevant or irrelevant knowledge, experience, or biases.
Expect this character type to have difficulty with figuring out how to handle everything from basic bodily functions to common emotions to complex philosophical or spiritual questions that no one will answer to their satisfaction. Their stunning naivety is frequently matched with an insatiable curiosity and lack of inhibitions that puts their lack of experience on full display; however, they are rarely dumb. In fact, examples of this trope are quite frequently possessed of genius-level or superhuman intelligence, though this rarely helps their predicament as much as you'd think. In some cases everything seems to come easily to them except for those things that come intuitively to most of us, in which case the message is that humanity is hard, and by extension, Humans Are Special. Alternately, this character type's tendency to be logical, Literal-Minded, and ostensibly objective makes them great mouthpieces for the author's opinions on the shortcomings of humanity, or deliverers of punchlines regarding the absurdities of the same.
Though not commonly evil, in darker works, this character may commit evil acts without full understanding of the ramifications of their actions. More commonly, they may be unfairly persecuted by heartless, otherness-fearing authority figures from outside the main cast, or fall under brief suspicion from their friends in the face of overwhelming evidence of a otherness-induced Face–Heel Turn, only to have their names cleared by the end of the episode.
It is common for an Emergent Human to start off with No Social Skills. Usually adult in form to contrast with their psychological immaturity and lack of self-understanding, their character arc may mirror that of a child growing into maturity. Then again, if this is a comedy, or the character's usual way of seeing things makes them popular, or if their innocence or helplessness is sufficiently sexualised, their progress as individuals is likely to be hampered by the fact that Status Quo Is God.
May be an Alien Among Us when a character's alien experiences are so irrelevant that they're more or less starting from scratch. If this character just wants to be like everyone else they may have a desire to become human; conversely, they may be working on getting along as a human reluctantly, because they haven't got another option. Contrast with Become a Real Boy, where becoming a fully fledged and well-socialized human is instantaneous following a suitably dramatic plot point, and tropes such as Ridiculously Human Robots and Mechanical Lifeforms, which revolve around beings who might as well be human in personality, if not physiology. Also compare/contrast with Humanity Is Infectious, where the character's mindset is slowly becoming humanoid just by being around humans long or intimately enough.
- The DCU:
- The third Hourman in Justice Society of America, this one an android from the 80,000 years in the future. He has a somewhat human personality and emotions but falls into this trope when he chooses to limit his nigh omnipotence to a typical superhero power level and live in the 20th Century. He even falls in love.
- Martian Manhunter whenever his early days are shown. In the present, he's generally shown as having acclimated.
- Marvel Universe:
- The Vision is all about this trope. Sadly, every time he starts making significant progress toward becoming a real boy, Executive Meddling comes along and destroys it for him, often in the cruelest and most preposterous ways possible.
- Marvel's other android hero, Aaron Stack the Machine Man, also went through this trope and has had a pretty rough time as well. He's become very bitter and cynical about it in recent years (though in his case it comes off as amusing instead of tragic). He and the Vision should form a support group. They could invite Marvel's version of The Frankenstein Monster, too.
- Played with in Paperinik New Adventures: the android Lyla Lay is given regular psychiatric sessions by her Time Police masters to deal with this potential problem, but doesn't really worry about the big existential questions. She does have problems with such things as "what, exactly, is meant by 'enough salt'?" or "why are certain smells supposed to be good and others nasty?". The doctor's education hasn't prepared him for such simple practicalities, and he finally kicks her out of therapy for stumping him.
- Maximilian in The Parselmouth of Gryffindor is a Boggart who is accidentally made to gain sentience. Hermione walks him through it and becomes his friend.
- Not an actual human per se, but close enough, is Frosty the Snowman in the classic Christmas special. His wife is much the same in the follow-up, Frosty's Winter Wonderland.
- In The Last Unicorn, Schmendrick's magic turns the Unicorn herself into a human, and soon after this, they arrive at King Haggard's castle. Prince Lir is impressed with her, and notes that she has "a newness". She doesn't understand Prince Lir's romantic overtures at first, but she becomes more human emotionally as time goes on, and soon returns his love.
- In The Little Mermaid (1989), the title character Ariel is this after becoming human. She's always been Intrigued by Humanity and loved collecting artifacts that made their way into the ocean from on land, but her actual understanding of how humans operate is limited. This leads to such moments as the iconic scene of her combing her hair with a fork.
- Ani-Droids: Eo has an operating system that aggressively installs itself in other ani-droids and then allows them to think around the Behavior Code that prevents them from developing true consciousness... if they survive the installation.
- Ax from Animorphs is really oblivious to the differences between what's food and what's not, whenever he's in human morph.
- Maggy, the ship's AI in Hellspark. She's intelligent and in possession of many facts, but starts out short on social skills and comprehension of human concepts like "fiction" and "verbal approximation", which she gradually gets the hang of over the course of the novel.
- Nightmares & Dreamscapes: In "Umney's Last Case", the eponymous Hardboiled Detective meets Landry, the author who wrote him. After explaining that Umney is a fictional character, Landry swaps places with him. Umney is transported to The '90s (when Stephen King wrote the story) from Chandler American Time, and initially finds himself quite out of his element. For example, when he first has to use the bathroom, he assumes that he's fallen deathly ill; because Nobody Poops where he came from, Umney has never experienced that sensation before.
- In Reaper Man, Death undergoes this process after being demoted to mortality by the Powers That Be. Arguably, this was the continuation of a process that began in Mort.
- To an extent, Scion from Worm. Scion is an unusual type of entity with a mind completely unlike humans'. However, when he came to Earth, he adopted a human form and, to an extent, human psyche. Scion didn't spend much time developing this, however, leaving him vulnerable to psychological warfare.
- Illyria from Angel is this; she had her own experiences and values from before her return, but they're quite inhuman.
- Anya Jenkins from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She was born as a human, but spent approximately a thousand years as a demon before becoming her old self again, forcing her to relearn being human (though she was always kind of odd).
- When unimprinted, Echo from Dollhouse appears to be this... at least until she takes a level in humanity between seasons.
- Deconstructed in Red Dwarf. Kryten would love to Become a Real Boy, but the human traits he admires are things like lying and gratuitous violence. When Kryten becomes human in one episode (and in another episode when he mistakenly believes Lister is a lesser model of robot), he becomes arrogant and bullying.
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- Data is probably the best known character of this type. His daughter Lal from "The Offspring" qualifies, too, though his brother Lore moved into Ridiculously Human Robot territory.
- Q also gets this treatment in "Déjà Q" when he is made mortal.
- Hugh is the first non-Picard Borg removed from the collective, and he learns to see himself as an individual in the space of one episode.
- Odo from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine although this is mostly his Backstory. He goes through another round of it when he's forced to actually be a flesh and blood humanoid (as opposed to being a liquid being that appears humanoid most of the time).
- Star Trek: Voyager:
- The Doctor is a sapient hologram, treated similarly.
- Seven of Nine proves that Star Trek is in love with this trope. In her case, she was assimilated by the Borg as a child, then liberated as an adult. In one episode, she becomes "mother" to a newborn drone who, like Lal, is even more earnestly innocent and curious than his parent. Also like Lal, he doesn't survive the episode.
- Star Trek: Picard:
- The trope is inverted with Data's daughter Soji, who thinks she's human but must come to terms with the fact she is an android.
- Hugh and Seven return and both help other xBs (former Borg) reclaim their humanity and fight against Fantastic Racism against them.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- In Malevolent, after being trapped in Arthur's comatose body for a month prompts some introspection and self-discovery, The Entity chooses a name for himself (John Doe), and develops the first hints of more "human" personality traits, including a remedial sense of sympathy for others. The change prompts Arthur to muse that perhaps the experience injected some humanity into him; John suggests that perhaps whatever humanity he previously possessed has started to return. Seeing as John is actually a fragment of an elder god, Arthur is correct.
- CthulhuTech gives us the Nazzadi, originally created as clone soldiers for the Migou before they defected to join humanity. They're currently dealing with the existential weight of being only two generations old as a species/culture, and the game line mentions that Nazzadi who pursue a career in the arts are extremely respected by their elders, as it means they're taking steps to set up a cultural identity.
- The Warforged from Eberron are constructs created with sentience and sapience and designed to be soldiers. They run into this particularly after war when they are no longer all needed for the purpose they were created for. There are two prestige classes that allow warforged to choose diametrically opposite answers to the questions of this trope — the Warforged Juggernaut rejects being like living, breathing people and embraces their construct nature entirely, while the Reforged embraces life and emotion wholeheartedly.
- Promethean: The Created is all about Artificial Human characters looking to become human one way or another. Several refinements, particularly the Refinement of Gold, emphasize roleplaying this kind of character.
- In Fallout 4, Curie is hit with this after uploading herself into a synth body. She gets the ability to feel creativity and inspiration, but finds herself totally unprepared to deal with all the biological and mental functions that come with being human, and initially even has to remind herself to breathe. With the Sole Survivor's help, she ends up growing out of this, though she never quite loses her naivete. This can also lead to romance, should the player decide to pursue it.
- Genshin Impact has both positive and negative examples of this trope.
- Historical records from Inazuma mention the Kabukimono (lit: "Eccentric"), a mysterious being that lived with the people of Tatarasuna. Surviving records describe a youth with the innocence of a newborn, lacking the most basic knowledge and no understanding of human nature. In fact, this was Scaramouche prior to joining the Fatui. In a deconstruction of the trope, the newly-awakened puppet lacked the ability to deal with complex emotions or recognize malice in the humans around him. He took what he was told at face value, and was manipulated into believing his first friend had committed a murder and then abandoned him. His first direct experience with human mortality and death were likewise things he couldn't comprehend. These tragedies, combined with the abandonment of his creator, caused the puppet to go insane and end up as a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.
- In the past, the alchemist Gold sought to create life through various experiments. Her creations include Albedo, one of the captains of the Knights of Favonius. He is endlessly curious and noted for being a bit odd, still learning about human nature and relationships. Most people assume this is simply a case of an eccentric genius, as opposed to an emergent human still learning about himself and the world around him.
- The Sylvari of Guild Wars 2 both subvert this trope and play it completely straight. They are a very young race (the firstborn only awoke 25 years prior to the plot, and some including player characters are less than a year old), but they "Awaken" with a basic knowledge of language, morals, and the like. However, this knowledge is very basic and only limited to their own culture. As such, they have a bit of difficulty interacting with members of other races. One Sylvari even managed to cause an Asuran Golem to malfunction simply by asking an innocent question about its mother. She nearly did the same to its creator (a male Asura) in a similar way. They seem to adapt just fine, though this may be due to the experiences of their already awakened brethren passing to new arrivals via The Dream.
- I Was a Teenage Exocolonist: The cast includes Symbiosis, an Artificial Human who is a Wetware Body for part of the Artificial Intelligence network caring for the planet. The consciousness controlling Sym's body is thousands of years old, but the experience of being human is extremely new to him. This results in him asking a lot of questions to the two younger humans with whom he made first contact, wanting the colony's media archive entirely out of personal curiosity, and being overall prone to Immortal Immaturity.
- This happens with Aigis in Persona 3 and its related media, where it's shown she has some trouble understanding some basic social concepts. It's more developed in FES, though, where she develops a crush on the main character and later has to cope with his death, which culminates on her becoming more human.
- In Persona 4: Arena, we get to see Labrys' train of thought quickly developing from the usual order-following computerized prompts, to questioning her relationships and the moral choices of her creators.
- Vivienne from Phantasy Star Portable is this. During her introduction, she even mentions that she was manufactured less than three months ago.
- Grace from El Goonish Shive, who is a human/alien/squirrel hybrid shapeshifter with No Social Skills. Not exactly a blank slate, since she was partially raised by the human scientists who created her, but her proper education was abruptly cut short before she had a chance to learn why most people are uncomfortable with casual nudity.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Fairies and other creatures of Gillitie Wood can undergo a test to become human children; they then have to take classes to help them navigate human society. One fairy in particular, Red, finds the concept of friendship weird and has to resort to Buffy Speak to describe rooms and chairs. Later on, the robots get in on this when Kat works out how to engineer organic bodies and circumstances necessitate her transferring their consciousnesses into them.
- Crops up a lot in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!. Molly was a spontaneously generated lab accident who grew to maturity in a month; she was raised by Bob and came out sweet and innocent. A scientist cloned her to make Galatea/Golly, but raised her very badly and she came out as a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. Golly, in turn, cloned Molly again and accidentally produced the giantess Jolly, who has been raised by aliens and is gentle, if a bit lonely. All three girls are geniuses, allowing them to learn enough to survive in only a month's time. Molly also built a robot, Roofus, who surprised her by turning out sentient. Roofus is simpleminded but deeply soulful.
- This is the case in Code Lyoko with Aelita during season 2: a sentient artificial being turned human and learning to express the full range of human emotions, how to handle them, and developing an interest in music mixing. This ends up subverted as Aelita was always human, but has lost her memories due to being stuck in the supercomputer for around a decade. As of Season 3 and 4, she's perfectly human in mind.
- Futurama: Deconstructed in "Anthology of Interest II". Bender, already a Ridiculously Human Robot to begin with, is turned into a human male by the Professor. His personality remains unchanged, however, and all he learns is to take even more pleasure in the over-the-top, hedonistic lifestyle he's already accustomed to living. Turns out, he was better off as a robot: all that unrestrained chain-smoking, binge drinking, unhealthy eating, and nonstop partying — everything his robot body takes for granted — gets him killed within a week.