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Experienced Protagonist

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This character's story only begins (specifically at the start of the first work of a series) after they have finished their training, have attained most of their power, and made a name for themselves. They may even be a Living Legend or be Famed In-Story. The audience may only learn of their Back Story in a prequel, short flashback, or have it be mentioned orally, if they even learn of it at all. Usually the conflict they end up placed in is one specifically in their area of expertise or where their knowledge and training can be adapted to new uses. Some of their back stories are learned from All There in the Manual.

Because the protagonist is often also the Audience Surrogate, they are often a newcomer to the setting and have to learn everything and develop their skills - whether for fighting or whatever else the story focuses on - from scratch. When Experienced Protagonist is used instead, the Audience Surrogate may be a supporting character or a Deuteragonist.


Contrast Ordinary High-School Student and Farm Boy, who are complete novices, Rookie Red Ranger who is a novice compared to the others on his team, and Child Prodigy and Skilled, but Naïve protagonists, who are young and inexperienced but are quick learners. Contrast The Mentor, who is experienced and skilled but is usually tasked with teaching the protagonist, rather then being one themselves.

Note that for video game characters, even if they are touted as being experienced or powerful, the trope is functionally averted if their level and abilities in the game are ordinary and average. If this is the case, such examples go under Overrated and Underleveled.

For all examples, please list exactly what skill, training, or experience the character has when the story begins.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Testament of Sister New Devil: In most other animes of this genre, the moment Mio and Maria reveal their true nature as devils and attempt to brainwash Basara would be the moment the hapless protagonist is cowed by his decidedly not-normal new siblings: instead, Basara reveals that he's the strongest one in the room at that point. Whereas Mio can barely control her powers at will and Maria is an average-strength demon, Basara is already an experienced Hero who effortlessly blocks Maria's attack and terrifies the two of them into backing down.
  • Slayers starts off with Lina Inverse as an already powerful sorceress.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Himura Kenshin is a war veteran, has been an accomplished swordsman for over a decade, and is a strong contender for the best swordsman in Japan by the time the series starts.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward and Alphonse Elric are already experienced alchemists who have been working for the Amestris military for three years when the story begins. The first anime adaptation in particular provides several episodes worth of flashbacks.
  • In Trigun, Vash the Stampede is a Really 700 Years Old expert gunslinger with a tremendous bounty on his head.
  • Both Kiritsugu Emiya and Saber in Fate/Zero. Kiritsugu is an expert magus killer who is returning to his old job after a ten-year hiatus. In Saber's case, being famous (or infamous) as a powerful warrior is a prerequisite for being summoned as a Heroic Spirit.
  • Berserk: The anime and manga begin with the Black Swordsman Arc when the protagonist Guts is already an expert demon-slayer and one of the greatest master swordsmen in the world. Even in the Golden Age film trilogy which introduces him as a fifteen-year-old mercenary, he has already been training since age six and fighting since age nine, and has gotten so strong that he is able to defeat a famous and dreaded opponent like Bazuso the Grey Knight. In all versions the Training from Hell that he went through as a kid in order to get that way is shown in flashback a good deal after his introduction to the audience as a character.
  • Koko's bodyguards in Jormungand (The majority) are veteran from various police and military forces. Jonah is an exception, although he had combat experience as a child soldier in West Asia.
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit begins with Balsa being an experienced bodyguard. A flashback reveals her deceased master, Jiguro, began teaching her at age 12. By the time she was 16, Balsa could already fight better than the men in their area, and spent the next twelve years honing those skills.
  • Sword Art Online:
    • Kirito was a beta tester of the eponymous VRMMO. His knowledge of the game's mechanics give him an edge over other players at the game's launch, and allows him to adapt to other VR games fairly quickly.
    • By the time the "Fairy Dance" story arc begins, Suguha Kirigaya has been playing Alfheim Online for some time, allowing her to mentor Kirito when he joins.
    • Sinon has been playing Gun Gale Online for long enough by the start of the Phantom Bullet arc that she has made a name for herself as one of the deadliest sharpshooters in the game.
  • Shanon and Raquel Casull of Scrapped Princess are a powerful Sword and Sorcerer duo, right from the start, and tasked with safeguarding their adopted sister, Pacifica. They were genetically engineered that way to ensure Pacifica would be well protected.
  • In Spriggan, some of the protagonists who are Spriggan operatives such as Yu Ominae, Jean Jacquemonde and Tea Flatte are experienced in combat in their respective fields with Ominae being an ex-black ops child soldier commando for the US Army.
  • Sagara Sousuke of Full Metal Panic! is a Child Soldier who has several years of combat experience in Afghanistan. Kurz Weber was a mercenary who fought in many countries and Melissa Mao was an ex-American Marine before the three worked together in Mithril.
  • By the time the events of Black Lagoon start, the Lagoon Crew in Roanapur are experienced in handling cargo work in Southeast Asia, which sometimes does lead in to hijacking ships if needed to. Dutch and Revy are experienced fighters, with either bare hands or small arms while Benny is familiar with hacking thanks to some of his years in university before he was forced to drop out. While Rock is new to the crew, he is familiar with the business world, as well as fluent in several languages that he is heavily involved in Lagoon business, though Hotel Moscow takes advantage of his language skills.
  • Gintoki at the start of Gintama is a war veteran and has already retired from fighting against the aliens.
  • Rintaro in Dragons Rioting starts his journey into high school after ten years of rigorous martial arts training have turned him into an extraordinary badass, even by the standards of the Action Girl-packed school he's found himself enrolled in.
  • The eponymous warrior general in Rain is already an established Living Legend who is rumored to be invincible. As a child, he was helpless when his childhood friend and her grandmother were murdered by bandits. He then swore to become the strongest man in the world so that he would always be able to protect others. By the start of the series he's already become a Master Swordsman who wields an Infinity +1 Sword who also possesses Super Strength and magic taken from a dragon he slew.
  • Fairy Tail: While Lucy is relatively new to the world of guilds, Natsu on the other hand has already established his reputation as a destructive fire mage known as "Salamander".
  • The Prince of Tennis: By the time the series begins, Ryoma Echizen has earned several titles in America as a skilled tennis player, at least for his age group.
  • The titular character of Toriko is one of the "Four Heavenly Kings", the four best Gourmet Hunters of their generation, having great strength, high skills and much knowledge end experience from the start. That's why there is Komatsu as the Audience Surrogate.
  • Shinichi Kudo from Detective Conan is already a famous Amateur Sleuth from the start and he has solved many crimes and mysteries before the beginning of the story.
  • In The Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Deadly Sins are already established Living Legends within the setting at the start of the series.
  • Alucard from Hellsing is an insanely powerful vampire who personally commanded armies and fought in battles even as a mortal. The centuries since then have only made him stronger. This makes him markedly different from the antagonist vampires he encounters, who tend to be "young" and unused to calling on their abilities in combat.
  • Souma Yukihira from Shokugeki no Soma has 12 years cooking experience from working in his family restaurant before he enters the first high school years of Tootsuki Culinary School.
  • Spike Spiegel and Jet Black from Cowboy Bebop are characters with skills and pasts from the very start. Spike was a head enforcer for a huge gang and Jet was a notorious police officer nicknamed "The Black Dog" for his tenacity.
  • The heroes from Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, the chosen warriors must be among the best in the world.
  • Ryu Sasaskura, the protagonist of Bartender was already a renowned bartender with the title of "Glass of Gods" when the story starts.
  • In Yuri!!! on Ice, the protagonist Yuri Katsuki has been figure skating since he was very young. He's now in the twilight years of his career without too much international success, but he is still Japan's top skater and is actually extremely talented when not crippled by his extreme performance anxiety.
  • Arawn of Tears to Tiara is a thousand-year-old recently awakened Fallen Angel who is virtually immortal, rather strong, in possession of holy magic, a skilled swordsman, and a war veteran who leads the good guys, serves as The Mentor to Deuteragonist Arthur, and is one of a few characters who know anything about what is really going on.
  • Tatsuya Shiba from The Irregular at Magic High School is acknowledged as one of the best magicians of his generation, being an expert in several fields of magic, an accomplished fighter and tactician and several high-ranking students at his school defer to him, if only out of respect. His most powerful attack has the equivalent strength of a tactical nuke.
  • Ayato Amagiri from The Asterisk War is already an expert in melee combat, not to mention his natural magical energy is so huge his sister placed as seal on him to prevent his body from tearing itself apart. Very quickly he becomes the best fighter at school; and in the first tournament, he doesn't really become stronger, he just remembers techniques his sister taught him to win the current fight.
  • Lux Arcadia from Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle is the legendary Black Hero that once defeated the Arcadia Empire. By definition, that makes him the best warrior of his generation, but he keeps that under wraps to prevent political backlash.
  • Kousei Arima from Your Lie in April is a former Child Prodigy who was Famed In-Story for his piano genius until he experienced a breakdown at a concert 2 years ago. Much of the story involves him regaining his ability to play, as well as the reaction of the music world and his Unknown Rivals to his return to the scene.
  • Among the freshmen joining Kitauji High School's band in Sound! Euphonium, Kumiko Oumae, Reina Kousaka and Sapphire Kawashima all have years of experience under their belts with their instruments and all readily make the cut for competitions. In the former two's cases, they handily beat (most) of their seniors in skill.
  • The main party in Delicious in Dungeon have already gone on several dungeon expeditions, with the leader Laios having studied a lot about the dungeon's ecosystem and food chain.
  • By the time the story begins, Momonga in Overlord is already at max level, equipped with a plethora of powerful items, and the leader of one of the most powerful guilds in YGGDRASIL. When he's pulled into another dimension alongside with the headquarters of his guild (and all of its powerful created NPCs, who are now fanatically loyal to him), he is already all set to become, well, exactly what the name of the franchise implies.
  • Ditto for Diablo in How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord - max level with a set of powerful items, including a ring that reflects all magic back at the caster.
  • Trinity Blood has Abel Nightroad, who is an veteran Vatican agent and a centuries-old powerful vampire with a lot of experience under his belt.
  • Downplayed in Yu-Gi-Oh!. When Yugi Muto is introduced, he's already a fair and knowledgeable duelist, but he's still mostly a hobbyist who's never competed in a tournament. That quickly changes...
  • In Initial D, Takumi Fujiwara is already a racing-caliber driver when the series begins, with five years of experience driving his trusty AE86 Trueno; this is demonstrated at the end of the first episode when he easily beats Keisuke in an improptu race and later in the same arc when he does it again in a proper race. His Character Development primarily comes from him having to adapt to a racing environment, rather than the tofu delivery runs that his father Bunta sends him on as part of secretly training his racing abilities.
  • Some sports related anime features a protagonist that was either a part of a successful team/club, is a famous player during middle school, or belonged to a family of sports practitioners as part of their backstories. More direct examples are:
    • The eponymous heroine of Saki introduces herself as one who can play mahjong, but pales in comparison to fellow student Nodoka Haramura, a former junior high champion. It is later revealed that Saki has been playing mahjong since she was a little girl and her skills far outshine even Nodoka's as the mahjong club president points out that breaking even in points three times is not something even professionals can do deliberately.
    • Tetsuya Kuroko and Taiga Kagami of Kuroko no Basuke are already experienced basketball players prior to the start of the story. Taiga got his experience from playing in America while Kuroko was part of The Generation of Miracles.
    • Miho Nishizumi of Girls und Panzer was a member of Kuromorimine's tankery team before she transferred to Ooarai high school. When the school needed to re-establish their tankery club, she was chosen as their new commander. Miho's experience in tankery goes beyond that of Kuromorimine, as she comes from a family of tankery practitioners known for its strictness and winning tradition.

    Comic Books 
  • Sonic the Comic: By the time of the first issue, Sonic is already an established hero who has thwarted Robotnik not once, but twice.
  • The Disney Ducks Comic Universe set in the Paperinik New Adventures continuity all have these:
    • Being a continuation of the "Classic" Paperinik stories, Paperinik New Adventures have Donald already experienced as a superhero. The new enemies may be more than he's used to deal with, but his past experience allows him to adapt fast.
      • This actually becomes a plot point in the first issue of PK2: his well of experience working for Scrooge is what allows Donald to land a job for Starcorp.
    • In Double Duck, Donald proves himself an amazing spy thanks to the immense experience at everything needed for it he acquired as Paperinik, dealing with his creditors (openly stated to be the source of his amazing lateral thinking, going adventuring with Scrooge, and actually having been a spy in the past (the PKNA crossover "Time Crime" mentions the PIA, Scrooge's Private Intelligence Agency that Donald works for from time to time).
    • In the most obscure part of the continuity, the Junior Woodchucks "Master Story", Duckburg's Junion Woodchuck troop already has experience dealing with the unexpected due many adventures going awry (and there's no recruit involved), with Huey, Dewey and Louie having more than everyone except possibly the troop leader due having gone on adventures with Scrooge. Hence them adapting remarkably quickly to the Alien Invasion.


    Films — Animation 
  • The Incredibles starts with Mr. Incredible as a famous superhero. Much of the plot involves how he deals with being forced underground, then getting a chance to get back in the game.
  • Zootopia: Technically an Experienced Deuteragonist, but Nick Wilde knows pretty much everything there is to know about the city of Zootopia and its criminal underbelly, having lived there making a living as a small-time con artist for about 20 years. This is contrasted with main protagonist Judy Hopps, a rookie cop who has lived in the city for less than a week.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Blade Trilogy: By the time of the first film, Blade is already a skilled Vampire Hunter and The Dreaded to the vampire community.
  • DC Extended Universe: Bruce Wayne/Batman started his crime-fighting career a good 20 years before the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which he is introduced. From certain dialogue and scenes we know he already defeated the Penguin, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, KGBeast, and other members of his Rogues Gallery, and went through at least one Robin.
  • Pacific Rim starts off with Raleigh already being a pilot who has to be The Mentor to a new partner.
  • The James Bond films, from Dr. No through Pierce Brosnan's Bond character, had 007 established as an ace agent who could do incredible feats and was at the top of his savvy and game. It was only the three Daniel Craig-as-Bond movies that showed a new 007 making rookie mistakes, paying a price, and learning from them. Even then, he still demonstrates an impressive set of skills and level of physical fitness that he already possessed, which - if it follows the rough canon of the series - he got from being Cambridge educated and spending time in the Navy (possibly as a commando), amongst other misadventures.
  • Dom is already an accomplished dream thief at the beginning of Inception, the plot is about all the baggage he's accumulated over his years in the profession. He even serves as The Mentor to the Audience Surrogate.
  • Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark is already an experienced and capable Adventurer Archaeologist who has survived the events we would later see in Temple of Doom.
  • Dirty Harry: Callahan has already served long enough on the force to earn himself a reputation as an infamous Cowboy Cop before the film begins.
  • The Die Hard series starts off with John McClane as a seasoned New York cop.
  • Every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie has him as a pro at kicking ass by the time the opening credits end.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has two of the three protagonists as aging sword fighters.
  • This is especially true for action flicks that are vehicles for aging action stars. John Wayne went through this in later years and The Expendables series revolves around this idea.
  • Too Big to Fail is about a financial crisis, and the man who solves the crisis isn't some low level banker or bureaucrat, but the US Treasury Secretary himself. Hank Paulson's previous job as CEO of a major investment bank is mentioned multiple times in this movie ... just in case you forgot that!!
  • Van Helsing has the eponymous character already an accomplished monster hunter whose reputation precedes him even in the distant and remote Transylvania.
  • In all Underworld (2003) films but the prequel, Selene has already spent centuries hunting Lycans and is considered to be one of the best Death Dealers out there.
  • By the time he is introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker had been slinging web and fighting crime as the Spider-Man for long enough to pop up on various YouTube videos. He also built his own web-shooters and jury-rigged a costume to help focus his senses before Tony Stark gave him his iconic (and technologically enhanced) Spidey suit.
  • Newt Scamander, The Hero of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is introduced while he's on a worldwide journey to learn about various creatures so that he can write a book about them.

  • Eddard "Ned" Stark in A Song of Ice and Fire has been a powerful lord of his keep for 15 years, a Master Swordsman, and a former war veteran.
  • Conan the Barbarian is like this. Even in "The Tower of the Elephant", where he is about 17, he's already had considerable experience although Howard described him in a letter as "more daring than adroit at thievery, and has yet to earn a reputation among other followers of his profession." "At the age of 15, he received his baptism of blood at the siege of the border city of Venarium, between Gunderland and Cimmeria."
  • Cordelia of the Vorkosigan Saga is a bit over 30 and is The Captain of a ship in the Betan Astronomical Survey when we first meet her. Betans have very high standards of education, so it's actually more impressive than it sounds. Her experiences (especially herding a bunch of scientists) help her when she is put into the high political circles of Barrayar.
    • Her husband, Aral Vorkosigan, has already done what he is most famous for when we meet him: plan and execute the strategically flawless invasion of the planet Komarr as the youngest Admiral in Barrayaran history.
    • Conversely, the main character of the Vorkosigan Saga is introduced to the reader in-utero.
  • Cazaril in The Curse of Chalion is about 35 and has experience as a courier, a castle warden, courtier, and captain (also beggar, galley slave, and other non-conforming jobs). However, he entirely lacks experience as a tutor for a princess (though he does find it's somewhat akin to training a young officer), and even less as a saint.
  • At the start of the Iron Druid Chronicles, Atticus is already over two thousand years old, has crafted a defensive amulet than makes most spells bounce off him, and can call in favors from everything from elementals to werewolves to goddesses.
  • The first Ciaphas Cain novel "For The Emperor" has the title character already an experienced Commissar and reknown war hero. Though there are short stories set before it detailing things like his first command and how he lost those fingers.
  • In Honor Harrington's first novel, On Basilisk Station, she has already commanded one vessel and is starting on her second. And has been out of the Academy for well over a decade. Still, her XO has some trouble taking orders from her as she looks like a teenager, despite being over forty.
  • Shai, protagonist of The Emperor's Soul is one of the best Forgers in existence - that's exactly the reason she's forced to attempt Impossible Task.
  • Kelly and Amber, the point-of-view characters of The Crush, are professional soldiers who're considered some of the best in their trade. Other rangers and civilians are sometimes starstruck by them, but also disappointed and resentful that they've gone completely downhill in the last year.
  • William Laurence starts the first Temeraire book as a decorated thirty-something Royal Navy captain with his own warship as he leads a boarding action from the front, discovers a French vessel's unique cargo, and winds up stuck with the latter. Much of his subsequent Ensign Newbie status is due to a combination of what he must unlearn and Interservice Rivalry.
  • Kyousuke in The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign is a veteran summoner, one of the most skilled in the entire world. He's been in the business ever since he was ten years old.
  • Generally speaking, this is common in action-adventure novel series, with characters such as Jack Reacher, John Rain and Mitch Rapp already possessing incredible skillsets and combat prowess in their first appearance. Often, their origins are explained in later novels.
  • Ye Xiu in The King's Avatar is a veteran in the Glory game (having played it since the game's conception ten years prior to the start of the series) and is a three-time consecutive championship winner for Excellent Era in the pro gaming scene.
  • Jason Grace of The Heroes of Olympus is already skilled with a sword and knows the (Roman) names for many of the Gods and monsters they encounter along the way, although he isn't sure why. It's eventually revealed that he's not the son of Greek God Zeus, but his Roman counterpart Jupiter, and is from not Camp Half-Blood, but Camp Jupiter, the Roman camp on the West Coast.
  • In Dirk Pitt Adventures and its spin-offs, the protagonists are already experts in their fields when we're introduced to them - Pitt himself has years of experience with diving and is a veteran of the Vietnam war, Juan Cabrillo is running his own, Black Lagoon-esque mercenary company when he's introduced, Isaac Bell is a renowned investigator, Kurt Austin is a leader of a NUMA special tasks team, and the Fargoes are professional treasure hunters.
  • In The Machineries of Empire:
    • Kel Cheris has the rank of a captain when she's introduced, although she's an infantry captain, which puts her in the position of a newcomer when she's tasked with leading a fleet.
    • Shuos Jedao is a more straightforward example, having won countless battles for the Hexarchate by the time him and Cheris cross paths.
  • Dora Wilk Series and its spin-offs:
    • The eponymous protagonist of Dora Wilk Series is already an accomplished police officer and an occasional problem-solver for her city's supernatural community at the start of the first book, so switching to being an Occult Detective comes easily to her.
    • Nikita of The Girl from the Miracles District has been a professional assassin for several years before the story starts.
    • Like Dora, Witkacy of Shaman Blues is a veteran cop (he was even Dora's partner for years before she left the force), which is why he gets involved in the plot in the first place.
  • This is one of the key character traits of Geralt, the eponymous protagonist of The Witcher series. As The Last Wish opens, he is already a highly-trained monster hunter with an unspecified number of decades of both professional and life experience behind him, and we never actually get to see him at any time (outside of a few sketchy flashbacks) when he wasn't a grizzled, grumpy Knight In Sour Armor.
  • In Villains' Code, the Experienced Deuteragonist is Ivan Gerhardt, a retired Supervillain once known as Fornax, now enjoying his regular day job as a middle manager. He's pulled back, when he's asked to mentor the protagonist, an Unskilled, but Strong aspiring supervillainess Tori Rivas (who later starts going by the moniker Hephaestus).
  • In Orconomics, Gorm Ingerson was once a well-known hero, now spending his time drinking his sorrows away and passed out in a ditch. The events of the book is his big chance at a comeback.
  • Dag Redwing, as of the beginning of The Sharing Knife books, had already worked his way up to Company Captain on the harshest front of his people's war against the malices, lost everything that mattered to him on a battlefield in the far north, and spent about two decades dodging command responsibilities as he tried to kill as many malices as possible before being reunited with his wife.
  • Tooi in The Reunion With Twelve Fascinating Goddesses already gained the power of the twelve goddesses and defeated the Demon King before the start of the story. He revoked his contracts with the goddesses and returned to his own world, only to be summoned back at the start of the series. While he initially lacks his incredible power, he still has the skills he built up, and once he regains his contract with one goddess (at the end of the first book) he immediately regains his One-Man Army status.
  • Eurico the Presbyter: The title character is a priest-turned-knight who is extremely talented and skilled in combat due to having fought in many battles before the start of the story and he only became a man of the cloth because of a broken heart and unfulfilled romantic reasons, but shows that he is still capable of fighting when pushed into action.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer is already an established Slayer at the start of the TV series. Though we do see her starting out in the original film.
  • Iris has Kim Hyun-jun and Jin Sa-woo as veteran commandos with the South Korean Army's 707th Special Mission Battalion before being assigned to the National Security Service.
    • Athena: Goddess of War has ex-National Intelligence Service agent Lee Jung-woo, a veteran intelligence agent, assigned to the National Anti-Terror Service.
  • In Person of Interest, John Reese and Sameen Shaw have combat experience from serving in the US military and having participated in black ops operations in the past before Finch recruited them. Finch, for his part, has been an expert hacker when he started from his high school days. Fusco and Carter have been veteran officers with the NYPD, the latter having served in Iraq as an interrogator. Root has a mix of hacking experience and was a killer for hire for years before she joined up, getting her first indirect kill as a teenager.
  • Senior Inspector Chin Hon-to in Tiger Cubs is an experienced police officer in the Hong Kong Police Force with the rank of Senior Inspector while being one of the most known officers in the force's elite anti-crime/terrorist unit, the Special Duties Unit.
  • Both leads of Intelligence (2014); Gabriel Vaughn is a former Delta Force operator with five tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Riley Neal is a former Secret Service agent who was on the US President's detail.
  • Defiance has Joshua Nolan, a grizzled veteran of the Pale Wars with nickname (The Butcher of Yosemite) and enough of a reputation that other important individuals can identify him.
  • In Vikings Ragnar is an experienced warrior with enough of a reputation that he can easily recruit a crew of seasoned warriors for his new raiding venture in the west.
  • All of the captains in the Star Trek series count. All of them had to rise up through the ranks and have exemplary records before being given their ship or station. Kirk has multiple decorations for valor, Picard fell into command of the Stargazer and held onto it for quite some time, Sisko was XO of a ship and principal designer of the Defiant before commanding Deep Space 9, Janeway was an accomplished science officer and Archer was a respected warp test pilot (a 22nd century Chuck Yeager). While not a Captain, Commander Michael Burnham was a seasoned first officer due for her own command until she was stripped of rank and imprisoned for mutiny.
  • Similar to the Star Trek shows it pays homage to, The Orville brings us Captain Ed Mercer, an officer described by one Admiral as "exemplary," despite his career hitting a speed bump due to his emotional state after a divorce a year previous.
  • On Babylon 5, Commander Jeffrey Sinclair was a decorated pilot and squadron commander, and should have made Admiral by the time the show takes place based on that and his pedigree. That said, he went missing during the final battle of the Earth Minbari War, and could not recall what happened. Under the circumstances, he was reassigned to Mars and his career stalled for years.
    • His replacement, Captain John Sheridan, is similarly a decorated officer and unlike Sinclair, had a solid reputation as a renowned war hero. References are made to his past assignments as a first officer aboard a heavy cruiser during the Earth Minbari War, a time spent stationed on Mars, and his time as a commander of a Destroyer patrolling the edges of human territory.
  • NCIS: Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs has been with the service for over a decade as of the pilot, and before that was a Marine Corps sniper. Similar things can be said of the spinoff protagonists, G. Callen and Dwayne Pride, who have extensive experience in covert ops and law enforcement respectively.
  • Sam and Dean of Supernatural spent most of their childhood and adolescence learning to hunt monsters from their father (somewhat unwillingly on Sam's part). Even in the Pilot they're pretty casual when discussing the Monster of the Week.
  • In Legends of Tomorrow, Rip Hunter is already a seasoned Time Master by the time he recruits the Legends. As for the Legends themselves, Sara Lance (White Canary) has years of combat experience as an assassin and a vigilante. Carter Hall (Hawkman) has millennia of combat experience thanks to his reincarnation with Kendra Saunders (Hawkgirl) not far behind. Ray Palmer (the Atom) has some experience fighting criminals and villains, as do Jefferson Jackson and Martin Stein (Firestorm). In Season 2, Amaya Jiwe (Vixen) joins the Legends, having already spent years on another Super Team (Justice Society of America) fighting Nazis.
  • One of the three protagonists in Timeless, Wyatt Logan, is a member of Delta Force, having plenty of combat experience in hot spots around the world.
  • Hercules from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys is already a famous hero. Even during the prequel/spin-off series Young Hercules detailing his earliest adventures, he had his own share of heroic deeds.
    • Likewise, his enemy-turned-ally Xena is also an skilled fighter in her own spin-off show. Justified since the show revolves around her attempts to atone for her crimes as an evil warlord.
  • The first few episodes of Black Lightning revolve around the titular superhero getting Back in the Saddle, after having been a Retired Badass for a while. When he comes back, it inspires a Mass "Oh, Crap!" amongst the bad guys.
  • Switch (1975): Frank MacBride is a retired bunco cop who was one of the best in the department. Pete Ryan used to be a skilled con man.

    Video Games 
  • In Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, if you start a New Game+, you get different dialogue in the first mission, where your Wingman mentions he "heard stories about you" and makes a comment based on your Karma Meter carried over from the previous playthrough.
  • Commander Shepard is established as an experienced officer at the start of Mass Effect: their Multiple-Choice Past establishes them either as a War Hero who repelled a slavery raid singlehandedly, the Sole Survivor of a thresher maw attack, or a Ruthless soldier who sacrificed most of their unit in a battle against batarians. They also have already gone through a Training from Hell to get their N7 credentials, establishing them as one of the most skilled human soldiers alive.
  • Dead Rising
    • Frank West has experience in combat before being thrown into the midst of the Willamette outbreak. He's covered wars, y'know.
    • Chuck Greene, from Dead Rising 2, has some experience slaughtering zombies under his belt, having survived an outbreak in Las Vegas that claimed the life of his wife and resulted in his daughter's infection.
  • Dante from Devil May Cry series, from the very start (the third game, that is), he had been a professional demon hunter (albeit with lots of debt). The very first scene of him has him fending off a minor demon invasion in his workplace without much effort.
  • Hiryu from Strider is established as a Special A Rank assassin, and is the youngest to achieve it before beginning his story.
  • Kratos from God of War starts off the game as a seasoned Spartan warrior.
  • In the Metal Gear series, Naked Snake (aka Big Boss) and Solid Snake are experienced special forces operatives who were subsequently involved in FOXHOUND after being assigned to the unit from the Green Berets. Played With in that new players still have to be guided through things, so in every game the protagonist has a support crew talking to him through comms and explaining incredibly basic facts that he'd either know about already or should have been able to quickly deduce (it gets pretty meta in that this is even incorporated into the plot).
  • A number of Fire Emblem's protagonists fall under this trope.
    • Sigurd of Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War starts as an extremely strong unit in a promoted class (Knight Lord) in contrast to every other protagonist of the series, including his son and nephew.
    • Ephraim of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones also qualifies as he is an experienced soldier who is first seen leading an assault on an enemy fortress with only a handful of men, but is also infamous for his Leeroy Jenkins tendencies (he comes out on top, but the people don't particularly like him for it).
    • Ike is this in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, having established himself during the events of Path of Radiance as the legendary warrior who ended the reign of the tyrannical King Ashnard.
    • Chrom of Fire Emblem Awakening has combat experience thanks to his vigilante work as leader of the Shepherds, an unofficial but well-recognized task force with the goal of routing bandits and evildoers within Ylisse's borders.
  • Otto Baynes, the English protagonist of Uncharted Waters: New Horizons, starts the game at sailing and combat levels 10 and 12, respectively (where most other protagonists start at 1/1), and has a nobility rank from the start (where others have to work hard to even get an audience with a monarch). In-story, this is justified by him being chosen as an agent by King Henry VIII on a top-secret government mission—not something you would entrust to a newbie captain.
  • Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten has Valvatorez, an ex-tyrant who willingly lost most of his power after a certain encounter with Artina. His Lancer (or Dragon, From a Certain Point of View) Fenrich may also qualify as this.
  • Subverted in Final Fantasy VII, Cloud is a mercenary-for-hire at the start of the game, but is established as a former SOLDIER, Shinra's elite Super Soldier program. The game integrates this into its tutorial systems, Cloud instructing inexperienced NPCs on gameplay concepts instead of them instructing him. The subversion is that Cloud's supposed experience doesn't carry over into gameplay where he is not any stronger than the other characters, which makes sense because he never actually made SOLDIER, and all his memories as such are fake.
  • Final Fantasy IX has half of the cast with some kind of experience before the game begins. Zidane is a thief who is very good at stealing and sneaking around thanks to being taught by his mentor and father figure Baku. Steiner is a knight captain that is very skilled in swordplay, which helps him serve his nation of Alexandria. Amarant is a mercenary that took on many jobs for people before and thus he has quite a bit of combat experience. Freya is a Dragoon and has experience in combat with a spear and jumping, something she very likely picked up from her first love, Sir Fratley.
  • Bioshock Infinite: Player Character Booker DeWitt is a hardened ex-Pinkerton Detective and US Army veteran.
    • Likewise, Jack, the Heroic Mime protagonist of BioShock, is very familiar with guns and plasmids as a result of having been a genetic experiment created and raised by the Big-Bad Ensemble to take down Andrew Ryan.
  • Halo: The playable protagonists have all been elite veterans serving in the UNSC or Covenant militaries, even the youngest of the bunch like the Rookie and Noble Six. In particular, the Master Chief has spent nearly all of his 40+ years of life fighting for the UNSC, the Arbiter is a former Covenant Supreme Commander who's over 67 years old, and Jameson Locke used to be one of ONI's most elite agents.
  • Pokémon Colosseum: Wes is not a newbie Pokemon trainer like the main series protagonists are. He already has two Pokemon in their mid level 20s, both who evolve by friendship so it's likely he's owned them for a while. He's a former member of Team Snagem as well.
  • Altair in the original Assassin's Creed is introduced as a star assassin, though his supposed experience helps him very little after he is demoted and stripped of all of his equipment a bit later in the game.
  • Assassin's Creed III: Decoy Protagonist Haytham is already a Master Assassin Or is he? at the start of the game. When you finally get to control Connor, he's already proficient enough in hunting that the Justified Tutorial is him teaching his friend and even without Assassin training he can still handle trained redcoats.
  • In Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Edward Kenway is already a hardened privateer-turned-pirate even before he puts on the Assassin robes.
    • Ditto for Adéwalé in the Assassin's Creed: Freedom Cry DLC, who has already been an Assassin for several years (and even longer as a pirate) before washing up on Saint-Domingue.
  • Samus Aran of Metroid fame was trained as a Chozo warrior (and physically enhanced) after being orphaned, as well as trained as a soldier by the Galactic Federation. Her Modular suit of Powered Armour helps too.
  • Most of the protagonists in the Resident Evil series are this, coming from a military or law enforcement background (e.g. the first game's protagonist were S.T.A.R.S members). The main aversions being the Resident Evil Outbreak spinoff series, (which focuses on the normal citizens of Raccoon City during the Zombie Apocalypse of the first three games), the second game (Leon being a rookie cop and Claire being a civilian, albeit the sister of one of the S.T.A.R.S team from the first game), and the seventh game (Ethan Winters is just a civilian with at best basic firearms experience, though his wife Mia is a trained mercenary and does fit this trope more). Jake Mueller is an experienced mercenary and Sherry is an experienced agent with the Division of Security Operations after years of being in custody of the American government before Resident Evil 6 begins. Piers was an ex-commando before he was recruited to be in the BSAA when the events of the tie-in manga "Biohazard: Marhawa Desire" start.
  • Spec Ops: The Line Martin Walker had served with the US Military in Afghanistan before he gets sent to Dubai. Not that his experience helps much.
  • Lieutenant Commander Schultz begins Warship Gunner 2 as an experienced Wilkian naval officer; the tutorial has him being tested on his navigation and gunnery skills, before assuming his first command.
  • Alex Mason begins Call of Duty: Black Ops as an experienced Marine who's recruited by the CIA. In Call of Duty: Black Ops II, his son David "Section" Mason is already a US Navy Commander and a member of SEAL Team Six, leading his own squad, when his story starts.
  • In pre-reboot Tomb Raider, outside of a few flashbacks, Lara is implied to be a highly experienced adventurer right from the start of the series. The reboot averts this by being Lara's first adventure.
  • In contrast to most Tales Series protagonists, Yuri Lowell has already joined, trained with, and left the Imperial Knights by the start of Tales of Vesperia. Stat-wise, he still begins from scratch, but he's at least established as a skilled fighter and got his Bodhi Blastia and Repede from the experiencenote . That said, he fully admits to not knowing much about how the world work and his Brilliant, but Lazy attitude (until Character Development kicks him out of it) makes him at first apathetic to improving himself further than dealing with the local Goldfish Poop Gang.
    • Lloyd Irving and Cless Alvein are both established as trained swordsmen with their background, Lloyd having taught himself to fight with two swords and Cless getting trained by his swordsman father in his school.
  • Alpha Protocol has an interesting use of the trope. On your first playthrough, Mike Thorton can have one of five backstories. Four of them have Mike already experienced in some way, whether it be decorated in the armed forces (Soldier), having years in covert operations (Field Agent), demonstrating remarkable field work (Tech Specialist), or being a globetrotting Freelancer. This experience is reflected in a higher number of base skill points. The fifth class is Rookie, which unlocks new dialogue options and certain bonuses, but gives Mike fewer skill points to start with. Only beating the game as a Rookie unlocks the Veteran background for a New Game+, which has Mike already a member of a similar agency to the eponymous one prior to his seeking them out; he has more skill points and unlocks more dialogue options from the beginning.
  • Certain Links from The Legend of Zelda are continuing their stories from a previous installment (usually in a new land), such as the one from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link being the same Link from the first game, but going on a new quest to awaken a (different) princess. The Link from Breath of the Wild is one of these despite not having starred in a previous game; before being caught up in the adventure, he was already a knight. Specifically, he was Princess Zelda's personal bodyguard, and had quite a good deal of practical experience in battle.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog is implied to have been fighting Dr. Eggman since before the series begins with the original game.
  • Splinter Cell: Sam Fisher was already an experienced Navy SEAL before joining Third Echelon, and in the first game had been doing his job for some time before the plot.
  • In The Godfather II, Dominic is already established as Aldo's Underboss when the game starts.
  • Several Grand Theft Auto protagonists:
    • Tommy Vercetti from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is already a notorious murderer who is exiled to Vice City specifically because of his past misdeeds.
    • Niko Bellic from Grand Theft Auto IV is a veteran of the Yugoslav War and had already done gang work before reaching Liberty City.
    • All the three playable characters of Grand Theft Auto V are former or current criminals.
  • The male protagonist of Fallout 4 differs from all the other protagonists of canon games in the Fallout franchise, in that he is already an accomplished soldier and veteran of the Alaska reclamation campaign against the People's Republic of Tyranny. His wife - not so much, as she is primarily a lawyer in private practice before the bombs fell. A military or government agency background is only implied due to her skills matching her husband's.
  • NieR: Automata has A2, a YoRHa veteran who deserted long before the story starts and is in fact a Super Prototype to the current generation of combat androids. She's killed everyone that's tried to hunt her down including previous iterations of 2B and 9S and cannot be said to be on the losing side of any fight and in fact only dies to 9S in Ending D due to her hesitating after remembering 2B's Dying Wish. Otherwise, she straight up beats him in Ending C, even when he pulls out his hacking tricks.
  • Spider-Man (PS4): By the time the game begins, Peter Parker is 23 years old and has been Spider-Man for 8 years.
  • In Medal of Honor: Vanguard, the protagonist, Corporal Frank Keegan, fought against Vichy France in North Africa, during Operation Torch, before the events of the game take place.
  • A favorite of the Dishonored series. Corvo is already the Royal Protector of the Empress and easily fights off the first assassins sent to kill the Empress, despite their magical leg up. In the DLC, Daud is already an extremely experienced assassin and user of the Outsider's powers. In the sequel, Corvo has years of Royal Protector/Outsider's Mark experience and has likewise been training his daughter Emily in the same way (sans powers). The third game, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, has Meagan Foster/Billie Lurk, a powerful assassin and ex-protege of Daud.
  • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III, Rean Schwarzer starts the game already a war veteran with at least 3 wars in his belt, compared to his previous self in the past two games where he was a newbie and who had to fight for his place. He is later joined by Estelle Bright and Lloyd Bannings in Cold Steel IV when three of the four protagonists finally meet up with one another.
  • Vagrant Story: Ashley Riot is 29 and already the best Riskbreaker that the VKP has, yet still has to acquire his abilities in the time honoured tradition. Or not. Due to suffering from Multiple-Choice Past, he's relearning them due to explicitly stated Repressed Memory. Or maybe not; no one really knows. That includes Ashley, for all he cares about the specifics.
  • In Tachyon: The Fringe, Jake Logan is an experienced mercenary pilot, which is why the tutorial is framed to look like Jake testing a new training instructor.
  • In Nexus: The Jupiter Incident, Marcus Cromwell has fought in the war between IASA and the mega-corporations prior to being hired by SpaceTech to command one of their corvettes.
  • Much of the cast of Rakenzarn Tales makes references to adventures akin to what happened in their original media and are working as their original professions or as heroes for hire by the time you run into them.
  • Most of the characters in Overwatch have some experience in combat. Many are former members of Overwatch (including Tracer, Winston, Soldier: 76, and others) while others got their combat experience elsewhere (D.Va is a South Korean mecha pilot, Doomfist is a high-ranking member of Talon, Zarya fought against the Omnics in Russia, Brigitte fought as Reinhardt's squire, etc.).
  • Dragon Age: In the games where you can pick your background, some options already present you as this:
    • A Dwarf Noble/Commoner Warden in Origins are already experienced fighters and in the former's case, they are already a military leader at the start.
    • A Warrior/Rogue Hawke in Dragon Age II was a member of the Fereldan army and a veteran from Ostagar.
    • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, a Qunari Inquisitor is said to have been one of the best sellswords of their company, while a Dwarf Inquisitor is an seasoned enforcer of the Carta.
  • In Vampyr, Jonathan Reid is a doctor who is no stranger to combat due to having served as Combat Medic during World War I.
  • Arnice of Nights of Azure is a Holy Knight of the Curia with several years worth of experience, and had come from another assignment before she arrived in Ruswal at the start of the game.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Sunrider, The Hero, Kayto Shields, is a trained Captain by the beginning of the story.

    Web Original 
  • In We Are All Pokémon Trainers, quite a few characters happened to have been experienced trainers long before joining the story proper. Tagg for instance had already been a trainer for about nine years.
  • In Chrono Hustle Jack is new to time travel, but an experienced con artist. Melinda is an experienced TRD agent who knows her way around the time stream.

  • The titular character of Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger often gives the impression that he's been a Ranger for a few decades, especially whenever he lectures his AI partner/cadet Omnibus. In sharp contrast to the ancestor he shares a name with as portrayed in his own comic. In one arc he discusses a mission he was on fifty years earlier, though due to his species' long natural lifespan and longevity treatments he's still in his prime.
  • The Dragon Doctors all start off the comic as possibly the world's best team of magical doctors: Goro's an ex-military combat surgeon who can chop anyone apart and sew them back together again, Sarin the Wizard is a supreme transformation specialist, Mori is a 170-year-old super-smart magical scientist, and Kili is the most sensitive shaman in the world. Their real journey is one of character development rather than skill development.
  • Allison/Mega Girl from Strong Female Protagonist has already served as, and retired from being, a Superhero. The series flips back and forth between her emotional struggles in trying to enjoy a "normal" life, and flashbacks detailing her time as a caped hero.
  • Heroes Inc. is a sprite comic that features a team of protagonists from SNES games; within the comic, the games in which each character has been featured are considered canon to the comic as well, so when the team is formed at the beginning of the comic, the characters are already quite experienced from their own prior adventures.
  • Commander Badass of Manly Guys Doing Manly Things is, at the start of the story, a long-time soldier with plenty of battles under his belt. He's also presumably been running the agency that the comic is centered on for a while.

    Western Animation 
  • In Young Justice, several of the protagonists such as Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad are experienced superheroes who made their career as sidekicks with the official Justice League superheroes like Batman, Flash and Aquaman. Averted with others, like Superboy, Miss Martian and Artemis, who begin their superhero careers during the story.
  • Much like the above example, Robin and Beast Boy in Teen Titans are veteran superheroes (albeit being recognized as sidekicks) by the chronological start of the series while the other members of the team only begin their superhero careers upon meeting the rest of the cast. They're all this after the first episode though (seen when a kid with a prosthetic arm recognizes and idolizes Cyborg).
  • Ben 10: Alien Force took place five years after the Original Series, allowing the show to follow an older, more experienced Ben. The sequels toned that down though.
  • DuckTales (2017): Both Scrooge and Donald have had decades of adventures under their belts (well, if they wore belts) and frequently show their adventuring and fighting chops to their nephews when trouble arises.
  • DC Super Hero Girls 2019: At the start Wonder Woman is already a seasoned superhero with hundreds of years worth of training and experience.

Example of: