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Fighting a Shadow

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"I'm human! She's just a pissy cloud!"
Anya, Anya's Ghost

So you think you're hot stuff, eh? You actually did it, you punched out Cthulhu. You drove the Hit Points of that Physical God, Demon, or Eldritch Abomination down to zero, and it vanished.

Unfortunately — he's coming back. You see, what you killed was only part of him. The physical part that was inhabiting our universe at the time. His reappearance isn't coming Back from the Dead. It's regrowing a fingernail. This is how Powers That Be can occasionally take things into their own hands without breaking Da Rules.

This isn't to say there wasn't some accomplishment here. At the very least, he's gone for now. In some cases this can mean peace for years. And in some...days. Better spend that time researching a way to make him Deader than Dead or at least find a way to seal him in a can so that he can't rise again to threaten the world.

Sometimes, especially in Video Games, you aren't even that lucky. This can be used as a variation of Hopeless Boss Fight so that The Battle Didn't Count, or Heads I Win, Tails You Lose. A very difficult boss that you aren't expected to defeat is presented to you. If you lose, the plot goes on with your loss, but if you win? "HAHAHA! That was only my shadow!", and then the real boss waves his hand, and you lose, anyway.

On the other hand, in most Tabletop and Video Games, you do this all the time, as from the perspective of the gaming world you are effectively a being from a higher dimension that has created / taken possession of a character to go on adventures / rampages, and no matter how gruesomely or thoroughly your character may be maimed or destroyed, it is impossible for anyone or anything in-game to physically harm the real you at all and you can return to life as your gaming avatar (or a completely different one) in a matter of seconds if you so desire.

There are four main types:

  • The being's original form is incorporeal and the body is merely a (possibly replaceable) tool that allows it to interact with the physical world. This version counts as a form of immortality, especially if the incorporeal form is Nigh-Invulnerable to other incorporeal beings.
  • The being exists simultaneously in this world and beyond; it really is "dipping" into 3-dimensional space. These tend to look and act very strange.
  • Its awareness is mostly in the form it's taking in this universe; the death of this body merely returns it to its origin point like a rubber band being let go; effectively, the body is just a form of remote control. These types tend to be vulnerable to being made Deader than Dead if killed at said origin point.
  • A more mortal villain may also get in on this act through the use of ensorcelling their actual shadow into an effective Body Double, through Self-Duplication, or through more scientific means of making a clone or Hard Light duplicate of themselves. Unlike a normal Body Double or Cloning Blues clone, however, these are characterized by being effectively a remote-control body, and not a separate character with an independent will of their own. See: Actually a Doombot.

Not to be confused with fighting someone named Shadow, or with fighting a Shadow Archetype.

Not related to (but sometimes achieved by) Casting a Shadow, and definitely not related to Loving a Shadow. Also see: As Long as There Is Evil, Soul Jar, Possessing a Dead Body. The inverse of this trope is Synchronization where killing one part kills the rest. Compare Actually a Doombot, Worf Had the Flu, Backup Twin, Cloning Gambit, and Robot Master, Decoy Getaway and Faking the Dead.

This is partially a death trope; examples may be spoiler-y.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The 3-dimensional bodies of Tenchi Masaki, Washuu, Tsunami, and Tokimi in Tenchi Muyo!, are just shadows of their true hyperdimensional selves.
  • D.Gray-Man:
    • Road Kamelot seems to be a mix of the two first types. It is unclear what her "real body "looks like but it is kept in her own personal dimension. She states that "she's here but she's not here". Her physical body appears to be basically immortal but at the same time this is implied not to be a simple projection but to be also "herself". At some point this physical body was reduced to ashes but she was back perfectly well 10 minutes later.
    • The trope also applies to all 14 Noah clan members: If their current body is slain, a random human will simply "awaken" as the killed Noah (appearance, memories and all) after an indefinite amount of time. This is because every human born after the Flood are descended from the original Noah clan, making them all potential host candidates.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi:
    • The demons behave much like those from Dungeons & Dragons. Negi has a spell that can kill a demon permanently, but it's implied something very bad would happen if he were to cast it.
    • Evangeline uses her "Boss"-level powers to freeze and completely shatter the Demon God that was released during the Kyoto Arc. Nevertheless, Konoka's father and the other priests still had to reseal it; presumably it would regenerate otherwise.
    • Albireo Imma uses a more or less indestructible magical projection of himself to guarantee himself a spot in the finals of the Tournament Arc. The only ways to defeat it are to dismiss the projection, or attack his physical body (which is several miles away). Nobody except Kaede (a ninja who uses similar body replication techniques) figures out what he's doing, and admits that she can't really do anything about it.
    • Later in the Magic World arc, Fate's minions use this to taunt Jack Rakan and Konoka after trapping them in their pocket dimension. Unfortunately for them, they were close enough for Chamo to spot them.
  • The Heroic Spirits in Fate/stay night are permanently etched into a spiritual domain called The Throne Of Heroes; their "deaths" in any one particular Grail War aren't permanent. In fact, one hero actually attempts to commit suicide by Time Paradox just to get away from existing. It's implied that even that wouldn't work.
    • Not just implied, he was trying to kill his past self on the off chance that if he were the one to kill himself, the paradox MIGHT just be big enough that he'd be erased. But the "himself" he was going to kill wasn't even going to grow up to be him. Confusing.
    • Speaking of the Nasuverse the backstory describes several entities known as Aristotles/Ultimate Ones/Types who are a limited sort of Type 2. Even if their physical bodies are destroyed, they still, in a way, exist, and possibly can reform their physical bodies.
  • One Piece: As shown in the page image, Gecko Moria uses his own shadow to play this trope literally, invoking Type III; the shadow acts as a Body Double, fighting in his place. It really can't be "killed"; Moria can control its shape at will anyway, so breaking it apart doesn't faze it. Moria can even teleport and swap places with the blasted thing!
  • In the Sailor Moon manga, after Demand destroys Wiseman, it is revealed that he was but an avatar of the Death Phantom, who has become one with the planet Nemesis.
  • The D-Reaper from Digimon Tamers was capable of existing in and absorbing both the digital and physical worlds by creating an unlimited number of mega-level "Agents" alongside a red mass called "The Chaos". Destroying dozens of either barely slowed it down.
  • In Umineko: When They Cry (When The Seagulls Cry), this is the case if Beatrice and Battler die on the chessboard since their souls exist elsewhere.
  • In the heavily video game-influenced Beet the Vandel Buster, an immensely powerful Vandel (monster) is defeated by the main character, but it turns out that he was only the "shadow" of the real one, who is, incidentally, trying to become the next The Dragon to the incarnation of evil itself.
    • It should be noted that ANY Vandel can use this trick, and while the shadow may be weaker, the shadow of an extremely powerful Vandel is much more than even an experienced buster can handle.
  • Type one used straight and played with in Neon Genesis Evangelion: the twelfth Angel, Leliel, appears as a floating, apparently unkillable orb over Tokyo-3, disappearing and reappearing at will. Turns out its "shadow" is the real angel.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, the Book of Darkness is like this: every time it is physically destroyed, it respawns somewhere else in the multiverse, ready to devour another planet. The Big Bad's "Evil Plan" includes sealing the Book in magical ice for eternity... along with its current Master. Team Nanoha, however, finds a better solution: separate the Defense Program responsible for regeneration from the rest of the book and destroy it. Even so, however, the Defense Program would have regenerated somewhere within days, had Reinforce, the Master Program of the Book, not committed Suicide by Cop. The Battle of Aces shows a What If? scenario of what would have happened, had the Defense Program been allowed to regenerate.
  • The Anti-Spiral from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann seems to be something like this. Possibly an collective conscience in a shadowy form.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Teitoku Kakine becomes like this when his consciousness becomes one with the Dark Matter he creates.
  • Free from Soul Eater manages to do this by projecting a hologram of himself to stall Death the Kid and Black☆Star, firing a real Magic Eye Cannon at them before they can see him and exploiting his Complete Immortality and ability to No-Sell most attacks to sell the illusion. When Death the Kid realizes that he's just tanking ranged attacks but avoiding melee ones (to avoid giving himself away,) he quickly figures out what's going on.
  • Dragon Ball Z: The Return of Cooler: Cooler's remains merged with the Big Gete Star and sends mechanical avatars, his army of Meta-Coolers, to fight the heroes.
  • In Dragon Ball GT, General Rildo's consciousness inhabits all metal on his planet. If he is destroyed, a new body is formed from the surrounding metal.
  • Cross Ange: Embryo hides in another dimension and uses avatars to interact with the world, so his avatars can quickly heal themselves and automatically reappear if killed. He is finally killed when the heroes are able to enter his dimension and kill his real body.

    Card Games 
  • In Chaotic, Aa'une, leader of the M'arrillian tribe, can exist as a weak projection than can still fight but once the player has fulfilled the necessary requirements he or she can flip over the card and Aa'une will become a Game-Breaker. Hence this card is an extremely powerful yet fragile Glass Cannon.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, the Three Eldrazi Titans, Emrakul, Kozilek, and Ulamog, are powerful incorporeal entities who reside in the Blind Eternities that exist between the planes of the Multiverse. Whenever they find a particular appetizing plane, they project extremely powerful physical 'shadows' to wreck havoc and consume. One of the key elements of Sorin, Nahiri, and Ugin's plan to seal the Eldrazi was to trap them in their own shadows using Ugin's mastery of colorless magic.
    • And then in Oath of the Gatewatch Jace and Nissa managed to find a way to force Kozilek and Ulamog to fully incarnate themselves inside Zendikar. At which point Chandra dealt with them in the same way she deals with everything else .
      • Its strongly implied (by Ugin and then by Emrakul herself), that this will have significant consequences, as the Eldrazi are important to the destruction and renewal of planes. Without Kozilek and Ulamog, Emrakul is unable to fulfill her function, and allows herself to be sealed within Innistrad's moon.
    • In the actual game, this is represented by an ability on the Eldrazi Titans (and a few other transcendental creatures, like the Elemental Incarnations) that shuffles them back into their owner's deck when they die, so while they can be dealt with, they will be back if the game goes long enough. However, this ability is sneakily used as a drawback, as they don't leave behind a corpse to reanimate.

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU: Mister Mxyzptlk, Vyndktvx, Qwsp, Bat-Mite, and other imps really exist in 5-dimensional space, beyond what 3-dimensional beings can perceive. "Destroying" their bodies in this realm is a laughably trivial inconvenience for them.
  • Rockslide from X-Men may be the poor man's version of this. His consciousness is some kind of disembodied psychic spirit that controls the mineral pieces of his body (which can explode and reform from nearby earth material at will).
  • Superman:
    • In Superman: Brainiac, Supergirl reveals that every other time Superman fought Brainiac in the past of the Post-Crisis universe, it was a remotely controlled robot probe or some other technological method.
    • Our Worlds at War: Superman first battles Lord Imperiex, only to find that he was battling a probe that reports to the real Lord Imperiex who is big enough to threaten the entire universe.
  • This happened to Atomic Robo in the Shadow from Beyond Time arc, where the titular creature, an Eldritch Abomination that existed outside regular spacetime, kept coming back. It wasn’t simply that it kept returning every time Robo defeated it, but that its body intersected multiple time periods, like fingers dipping into a river. Eventually, Robo meets with his fellow time displaced selves inside of the shadow and they detonate a quantum bomb that destroys the creature at all points in time simultaneously.
  • Final Crisis reveals that Darkseid has been doing this for years, in order to Retcon decades of Villain Decay and justify his defeats in other stories. The real Darkseid is far more powerful and dangerous. Of note, it has been stated several times over the decades that this is what he's got going, not just in Final Crisis. Grant Morrison is just the one who remembered that he could do this, while many other writers seem to have forgotten. As an aside, the avatars of Darkseid in previous stories seem to be more like clones than this trope, since they specifically say they are not Darkseid and often talk about him in the third person (and not the way Darkseid usually does), to the point where they say they are not as great as him. Though in all other senses they are Darkseid and naturally still consider themselves superior to everyone else, and still think and act and behave like he does. The real Darkseid, for the record, was stuck on the Source Wall for millennia, and had never shown up before Final Crisis except in flashbacks to his younger, usually less powerful self. Also a deconstruction in a sense: the true, platonic form of Darkseid is so absurdly large and powerful that it was capable of destroying the universe just by falling on it in its death throes. Fighting a shadow means you are fighting one of the weakest fragments of that thing and have no chance against the real article.
  • Nekron, as of the Blackest Night can inhabit any dead body animated by a Black Lantern ring. He's only defeated after the heroes resurrect Black Hand, who's serving as his anchor. This banishes him back into his realm.
  • The Dark Judges of Judge Dredd can take any dead body as their vessel. Destroying it only releases their ethereal form, which is completely invulnerable and can only be contained. The closest anyone ever got to permanently disposing of them was when an angel threw their leader into hell for his crimes—he was later freed by his two witch-demon allies.
  • In the Darker and Edgier Space Ghost comics, Zorak has this ability. His species is a Hive Mind with him as the leader, so if Zorak is killed, his essence will take over one of his brethren, which will then physically turn into Zorak.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Batman came up with a way to beat Wonder Woman using a remotely directed chip to get her to fight simulated battles against an equal opponent who never tired. He figured her body would quit before she did.
    • Wonder Woman (1942): The first time Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman kill Ares, Steve believes him finished once and for all. Diana corrects him: since Ares is the God of War, he cannot be slain by mere mortals and any physical form is just a fragment. All he suffered was a temporary defeat and diminution of his power.
    • Wonder Woman (1987): When Diana fights Circe to get to Themyscira to confront her mother the fact that Circe's power is reduced and the witch quickly leaves the fight clues Diana into the fact that she was facing a construct designed to make people think Circe is still around in her normal capacity, in order to hide whatever Circe is currently up to.
  • In Mighty Avengers, a fragment of Shuma-Gorath was summoned and tried to establish a beach-head to bring in the rest of it. The Mighty Avengers still needed to empower and summon a god of their own to defeat it.
  • Despite being the title villain, Ultron himself doesn't appear in Age of Ultron, only avatars leading his armies.

    Fan Works 
  • In Waking Nightmares, an attempt by the RED mercenaries to find out what happened to the BLU team draws the attention of their world's counterpart to the Big Bad — The Slenderman — who proceeds to slaughter them despite their efforts, even one-shotting the ubercharged (and thus invincible) Demoman and Medic. It's not until Medic accidentally empowers Heavy's weapon with Harmony that they defeat him... and are told that no, that was just a very minor aspect of his true self.
  • In Webwork, Jade ultimately gets around the problem of her pregnancy pains all but crippling her during battle by learning how to transfer her consciousness into a specialized Gumo Khan whenever she needs to leave her lair for an extended period, thus not exposing her physical form at any point. However, there are downsides, such as the fact that whenever that particular Khan is "poofed", it takes the rest with it.
  • One of the components of Corona and Princess Luna's Nigh-Invulnerable status in RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse. Not only are their physical forms spectacularly durable, if they are badly enough injured they can chose to simply discorporate and merge with the sun or moon to regenerate (though healing in this fashion would take them out of the picture for years, or even decades).
  • The Bridge:
    • Bagan's minions Enjin, Doragon, and Mizu are but avatars of the true beasts who inhabit Bagan's body and can be re-summoned if destroyed, though this takes time.
    • Destroyah seemingly locates and kills the real Giranbo out of her army of clones, but it turns out this was an avatar as well. Her true body was her house, which then turns into her true Kaiju form. The only way to kill her is to eradicate every trace of her.
    • In the past, Wysteria killed the Windigos' physical bodies, but these were just avatars of their spirits. It will take a while for them to make new avatars; meanwhile, their spirits can possess people's bodies.
  • In the Pony POV Series:
    • The Pantheon can project Avatars of themselves into mortal reality, and are thus unharmed if something happens to it. Even ones incarnated in the mortal Realm can produce additional ones, and even Cadence has learned how to do it, though out of the Princesses Luna is the best at it. In fact, in general the Concepts are this whenever they manifest in the mortal world, as destroying their physical body just sends them back to the spirit world, though they only get one 'life'.
    • Draconequi have their own variant of this where they can separate off full versions of the animals composing their body to act as extensions of themselves.
    • Nyarlathotrot, an Outer Concept, is a unique case as he has many Avatars, and destroying them generally only succeeds in ticking him off, each one is somewhat independent rather than simply being a form he takes to manifest, but still part of the collective.
  • In Kaiju Revolution, [spoiler: Biollante's main body is located on Skull Island, but she can use her spores to created temporary bodies to fight with simultaneously. She's also able to alter the forms and abilities to better fight her opponents. To fight Godzilla's raw power she uses an enormous Prime body to overwhelm him, she makes a flying spore form to even the playing field with Rodan, to defeat Anguirus she crafts an aquatic algae body to take advantage of his lack of swimming prowess and smother him and to counter Kong's agility she uses a Godzilla-like melee body to battle him]].

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Forbidden Kingdom, the monk is actually an enchanted hair off Monkey's head, attempting to reclaim his magic staff while he's Taken for Granite.
  • In In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, the evil wizard Gallian puts his consciousness inside an armored warrior. Every time his avatar is slain, he just laughs and uses a new body to fight.
  • Little Nicky is the son of the Devil, and if killed while on Earth, which happens a lot, he goes back home to Hell.
  • In Dogma Metatron states that God's mortal incarnation must have been kidnapped and kept alive because if he were killed he'd just go back to Heaven.
  • In The Matrix, the Agents are computer programs working for those running the Matrix, so there's no reason they should stay dead. If you actually manage to kill one by the rules of the simulation, the "body" reverts back to the human it was originally and the Agent program claims a new host (out of anyone still plugged into the Matrix). Conversely, while humans plugged into the Matrix are technically "shadows" as well, Your Mind Makes It Real is in effect so if you die in the Matrix, you still die in the real world.
    • Double Subversion when Neo destroys Smith at the end of the first movie, seemingly for good by destroying his code itself but ultimately only causes him to become more powerful in the next movie (instead of taking over a host when he's "killed", he can turn anyone and everyone he touches inside the program into another copy of himself, even if they are another program or not hardwired into the Matrix). It's unclear whether his ability to defy true deletion is a general rule (any agent so inclined could come back the way he did) or a property specific to Smith because of how he "died" or who killed him (just like Neo, he defies the laws of the Matrix to return to life when he should have died). Smith himself does manage to take out all the other Agents by infecting literally everyone in the Matrix, though whether this destroyed their programs or simply left them without any more bodies to use is unclear.
  • In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the most dangerous thing about Ultron is the fact that his digital consciousness is spread out among his legions of Mecha-Mooks. During the Final Battle, the Avengers know that they have to destroy each and every one of them in order to ensure his defeat.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Ego is a giant disembodied brain embedded in the core of a planet he built with his Mind over Matter abilities. The human form he uses to interact with others is similarly constructed and he can make a new one in minutes if necessary.
  • Ghosts of Mars: The evil Martian ghosts are intangible. While it's possible to resist possession, destroying their current host body only delays them. The heroes actually attempt the Nuclear Option, which is ultimately proven to be an inadequate solution.
  • Played with in Surrogates, where humans have started living out their lives through remote controlled robots that they pilot while asleep in their own home, allowing them to go out into the world in faster, stronger and more durable bodies and engage in suicidally risky behaviour because if they "die", they can just buy a new body. The plot of the movie is that someone has figured out how to kill people through their surrogate, thus subverting this trope, and it also deconstructs it as the mere fact of everyone having a surrogate causes people to become agoraphobic, vain and narcissistic, makes it easier and more tempting to commit serious crimes (especially if your surrogate looks nothing like the real you), and in the original comic the loss of access to surrogacy even leads to people committing suicide as they can't handle living without one anymore.

  • In Book 10 of the Lone Wolf series, The Dungeons of Torgar, driving Demonlord Tagazin to Endurance 0 does not kill him; it just sends him home. In fact, the Remake of the series feels obliged to point out that even if you roll a One-Hit Kill with the Sommersword, no, he's not dead. You can fight him on his home turf in a later book, The Deathlord of Ixia, where he can be destroyed permanently.
  • In the final book of the Blood Sword series, the "direct" path to Storming the Castle is guarded by the Demon-lord, Tirikelu; a Shout-Out to the author's other work. Direct fighting it is likely a Hopeless Boss Fight, but if you somehow do it...
    • "By dint of tremendous luck and courage, you succeed in destroying the demon's earthly form. It vanishes. From what you know of demonology, it will not be able to manifest itself in the mortal world again for another hundred years. Of course, if your quest ends satisfactorily, then no demon will be able to appear in the mortal world ever again."
  • Standard Operating Procedure in the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks for Demon Lords and Archdevils.
    • Demon Princes Ishtra and Myurr can either be directly fought with the right abilities or weapons or their Summoning Ritual be reversed; but that just sends them home.
    • The Big Good at the end of Tower of Destruction has to take steps so the Big Bad Relem doesn't just go after you again after you beat him.
    • The Shadow Warriors play from [[Literature/Legend of the Shadow Warriors]]. Defeating them in battle will only make them go away for a few hours, where you will likely fight them again later on, unless you complete a side quest teaching to rip off their masks, which will still only banish them, but for years instead of hours. Only detransforming their master will stop them permanently. And since there master is an embodiment of death, defeating him in battle will result in him getting up unharmed and the book mocking your efforts.

  • In The Tale of the Five series by Diane Duane, there is one day of the year where one can kill the Shadow but it returns immediately the day after and is said to be a waste of time.
  • The Lone Power of the Young Wizards series exists mainly outside of time, so the protagonists usually have to be satisfied with only ever defeating the fragments of It which are inside of the timestream. Sometimes, however, the defeat has a metaphysical component which has a permanent effect on the Big Bad.
  • Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings universe:
    • Sauron. It may take 2-3 millennia for him to come back, but only destroying the One Ring will permanently kill him (and even then he'll persist as a powerless spirit).
    • All the Ainur (the Fantasy Pantheon of Middle Earth) are like this; their physical bodies are compared to clothing, to be put on and cast off at will.
    • Zigzagged with Morgoth, who became so obsessed with ruling the physical world that he became bound to a single physical body, unable to cast it off like the other Ainur. It worked the other way as well: he was so intimately involved in the creation of the world that "the world is Morgoth's Ring" and he can't be truly killed until the end of the world itself. (Upon defeat, the other Valar cut off his hands and feet and threw him into the Void to await the final battle and the end of the world.)
  • Crowley is annoyed at getting shot in Good Omens, as "getting a new body was like getting a pen from a particularly bloody-minded stationery department". Fortunately it was with paint-balls.
  • In the second book of Simon R. Green's Secret Histories, Daemons Are Forever, the "Loathly Ones" who are possessing humans are only fragments of the "Hungry Gods" invading our reality.
  • Mother of Learning: Throughout the final month, Zorian's magical simulacra skirmish several times with Red Robe's simulacra, typically having the upper hand due to their sturdier construction, but ultimately both types of simulacra are expendable.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the monsters and gods are almost impossible to truly kill. Monsters dissolve into sand and pop back up after awhile. The time depends on the monster ex. Mrs. Dodds came back after a few days but some take lifetimes. This is played with with gods in the sense that a god's essence is rarely all in one place. When it IS, they take on their true immortal form, killing any mortal looking at them, but if the greater part of their essence is trapped, they are powerless.
  • In the Cthulhu Mythos, all of Nyarlathotep's physical forms are merely avatars (or "masks" as they are sometimes called). He is the personification of the soul of the Outer Gods, so whether he actually has a real body at all is never quite clear. Yog-Sothoth (who is one of the aforementioned Outer Gods) is also an example of Type 1 of this trope, as the form in which he manifests is merely the portion of him that intersects that particular point of space and time (Yog-Sothoth exists simultaneously in all points of space and time, or rather, everything exists simultaneously WITHIN HIM.)
    • There is a prophecy in the mythos that Cthulhu himself will be destroyed in the future. But he has planned for this; and his daughter Cthylla will give birth to him again.
  • In Magnus, the title character ends up battling one of these.
  • Many supernatural beings (such as demons) are like this in The Dresden Files; ordinarily when summoned, their spirit arrives in the mortal world and creates a construct body, and if that body is killed, the spirit is simply sent back to the Nevernever (essentially, the supernatural dimension that exists alongside the mortal world). They can be killed permanently in the Nevernever itself, if they enter directly into the mortal world in their true form (as opposed to a construct body), or with certain powerful spells and weapons.
    • Notably the thirty Fallen Angels are bound to thirty silver Roman coins, yes these ones, who put part of their mind into the first person who takes up a coin and tempts them with power, forcing to use their malevolent powers. Generally people succumb to the shadows of the Angels in their minds and lose their humanity. When Harry becomes the bearer of Lascielnote , what's called her shadow lives in Harry's mind and he battles her temptations and sometimes illusions. He eventually wins by lasting so long, the shadow is no longer just an extension of Lasciel but her own entity and own name, Lash.
  • In James Swallow's Blood Angels novel Black Tide, Rafen goes up against Fabius Bile — or rather, several version of him. In the epilogue, we learn that the genuine Bile survived elsewhere and Rafen's acts have only hindered him, some.
  • Some of Stephen King's later works imply that IT is Not Quite Dead after all. IT can never truly be destroyed because IT is an extradimensional entity like the Turtle. All they did was kill its physical form. Logic suggests that, having experienced death, It grew fearful (or at least cautious) of the Losers and only projected Itself into their world again once they were gone, their bond finally used up and forgotten forever. Even if It IS somehow truly gone, there's the implication that some of the eggs It laid were left intact, so glimpses in later works may be It's children...Really, it's only a sweet ending for the Losers' Club. Sure, It won't go after THEM anymore but it's far from dead and gone.
  • In the Paradox Trilogy, this is the nature of the Eldritch Abominations called phantoms. While phantoms have physical bodies which can be seemingly wounded, their true nature is incorporeal beings of pure plasmex. No amount of physical damage to their bodies can kill them, not even complete nuclear immolation; so long as their plasmex remains, their bodies will simply reform.
  • Worm:
    • An interesting variant occurs with Oni Lee. Whenever Lee teleports, his new body is formed at the target destination and his old body continues on for several seconds before dissolving into carbon ash. But those seconds can be a long time in combat...
    • There's also The Siberian, who is eventually revealed to be a projection created by William Manton.
    • This is the case with Scion/Zion too. His humanlike Chrome Champion appearance is A Form You Are Comfortable With; his true form is a transdimensional Sufficiently Advanced Alien whose size is measured in landmasses, meaning that any damage that manages to get through his No-Sell can be quickly "patched over".
  • In The Spirit Thief, the problem with fighting Lord of Storms is that his human form is just a shell he's using to communicate with people and use objects; his true form is the hurricane that follows "him" around.
  • Downplayed in Dragaera with Physical Gods. Killing the local manifestation of a god isn't at all lethal — it's almost certainly not even the only manifestation it's operating through at the time — but it does bar the god from appearing in that region again. The area affected varies: one was "killed" in a small country, while a particularly Jerkass God has all his worshipers on the planet massacred before his death and can no longer affect that world.
  • The Stormlight Archive: This is why fighting the Fused singers is so difficult. The Fused are created from the souls of the ancient singers who first waged war against humanity, reborn through the generations by stealing the bodies of common singers, and when they die their spirit simply goes back into the storm and can steal another body within days. The Heralds were able to slow this down by sealing the Fused in Damnation with the Oathpact, but with the Oathpact broken the only other way to stop the Fused would be to exterminate the singers down to the last child.
  • In Carpe Jugulum, the Kingdom of Lancre has been taken over by vampires. To enforce compliance and maintain a puppet ruler, they suck just enough of the blood of King Verence to make him a hapless figurehead with no power to resist. When he is rescued and taken to a place of safety, it is seen that he has two shadows. One is the embodiment of the poison injected into him by the Vampyrs. Recognising this, a battle ensues with the Shadow and it is conclusively killed with a crossbow bolt - a stake - through where its heart might be, leaving Verence his own man again.
  • Firefight: As part of Regalia's hydrokinetic powers, she can shape full-color duplicates out of water and see and speak through them. This means that, unlike most High Epics, the key to killing her is not finding her weakness but figuring out where she's hiding her real body.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Stranger Things season two's Mind Flayer creates a Type Four, taken almost literally. Destroying the avatar by disconnecting it from the brain is simply an inconvenience, as the Mind Flayer's real shape of a living shadow is tethered in another dimension.
  • Ultraman Gaia: This is the signature ability of the Mezards, a race of jellyfish-like kaiju from another dimension. XIG first encounters them when what appears to be a giant jellyfish attacks New York. It is unable to be hit by their attacks, but Gamu realizes that what they're fighting is just a projection and they have to somehow draw out the real thing from its home dimension. The first Mezard is dispatched pretty quickly after they figure that out, but the two Psycho Mezards and the Queen Mezard compensate for XIG's familiarity in dealing with them with potent psychic abilities for the former and a vast intellect for the latter.
  • Buffyverse:
    • The First from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an incorporeal evil entity, capable of taking the form of anyone who has died. It can fight by "merging" with a willing host, granting said host incredible strength and durability. Only one such host is seen during the series, with The First remarking that Caleb was "The only one strong enough to be my vessel." His death at Buffy's hands seems to irritate The First, but causes no real damage to it.
    • Angel has another example. The Senior Partners (The Wolf, Ram and Hart) are ancient demons who pull the strings behind the evil law firm that bears their name. They never appear physically, and are described as "eternal" and "in another dimension." In the second season, one of them manifests in a demonic body which Angel is able to destroy. Though not stated outright, its strongly implied that this merely forced the partner back to its home dimension.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise had a mundane version of this in the season 4 three-parter "Babel One", "United" and "The Aenar", which sees the Andorian and Tellarite races being terrorized by an enemy ship that each side believes is under the control of the other as it is able to disguise itself. The audience sees that it is actually being controlled by the Romulans and their pilot, but it is only at the end of the first episode that we learn that the bad guys are actually on Romulus itself and the "ship" is really a drone remote controlled from light-years away.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Jesus from Christianity and the Avatars of Vishnu from Hinduism both are said to have been the divine taken physical form. The deaths of their physical bodies did not kill their divine selves too. Indeed, Vishnu had ten Avatars, reincarnating every time Evil rose in the world and then accepting death each time once his purpose was fulfilled. Simply trying to define the Jesus/God connection is bound to result in argument, though.
  • The concept of an immortal soul, either via reincarnation or a one-shot afterlife, implies that this is the case for humans or indeed all mortal beings, plant or animal.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • There is a template for avatars to the gods. The more powerful deities manifest more than one avatar at the same time, and killing one may only hinder the god itself for a time.
    • Demons, if killed in the physical plane, are often merely said to be sent back to their home dimension. In some cases, it takes a hundred years or some MacGuffin to return, but it's not permanent. Drizzt Do'urden once killed such a demon, and the being scoffed at him. A human might be dead by old age and safely in the afterlife by the time the demon returned, but an elf has a good chance of still being around in the turn of a century or two.
    • 3rd Edition introduced the concept of "aspects", which are really just weaker versions of avatars.
    • Immortals in Classic D&D also use this strategy when entering a world. Immortals are portrayed in Classic D&D as being beyond any kind of mortal power to take on (they are completely immune to all mortal magic and cannot be harmed by any but the most powerful mortal weapons, which do only minimal damage to them) and if by some miracle you manage to take one out on the mortal plane, all you've managed to do is send him back to his home plane. And no one, not even another Immortal, can enter an Immortal's home plane without his express permission.
    • Mortals can get in on the action, too. "Simulacrum" is a spell that lets you copy a character, although this copy will be significantly (specifically, half the hit dice) weaker than the original. A magic-user can easily copy himself to create a watered-down version of a personal avatar that will obey his every command.
    • Somewhat like the example with Outsiders, the Astral Projection spell sends the targets' souls into the Astral Plane. If they travel to another plane, they form physical bodies when they arrive, but killing that body simply drives the soul back into the original body waiting in suspended animation where the spell was originally cast. To actually kill the characters, either their original bodies must be destroyed, or the nearly unbreakable silver cord connecting the body to the soul must be severed.
    • Berbalangs have this as their entire gimmick, being able to astrally project duplicates of itself. In 4e, they can make these duplicates explode.
    • Many of the Elder Evils are so vast and powerful that fighting the actual things is either suicidal or flatly impossible, and the beings actually given stats in the eponymous sourcebool are only fragments, often replaceable ones, of the actual thing — Atropus's aspect, the Leviathan's manifest dreams, a tiny sliver of Pandorym's mind. Often, these shadows are by themselves some of the mightiest, most dangerous foes the players will ever face in the game.
    • All this combined makes it a common strategy to have one or all of the above be the final bosses of published adventures, since many writers are understandably shy about killing off the primary NPCs of the setting, and most of the time, their stats only exist as a challenge to the Lord British Postulate. A few good examples include Expedition to the Demonweb Pits, which features a Boss Rush against a whole mess of mid-level Demon Prince Aspects, or Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk, which concludes with a battle against weakened Mirror Universe versions or simulacrums of the Company of Seven.
  • The Summon Monster spells of Pathfinder, as with Dungeons & Dragons, function on this principle. A summoned creature is essentially projected onto the battlefield from their home planes, and killing the summon only returns them home no worse for wear, and depending on the circumstances of their summoning may be augmented in some way. This is explicitly in contrast to a called creature, which is physically teleported from their home plane to fight or serve.
  • The White Wolf game line Scion makes use of the Titans as enemies; here portrayed as various primordial or elemental concepts (like darkness, or fire, or fertility) existing as semi-conscious entities the size of entire dimensions. The Titans, being so alien as to not be able to interact directly with the world in any meaningful way, create various Avatars to deal with problems. This is how the plot explains the existence of multiple primordial titan stories from different pantheons (Surtr, the Norse fire giant king, and Prometheus being two titans associated with fire are actually two Avatars of the Greater Titan of Fire, Muspellheim). Suffice to say, the literal avatars of fire or light or water are extremely powerful. Also, if one successfully KILLS one (actual death, not just reforming-later-death) it irrevocably alters the nature of the concept represented by the Avatar. Killing the Frost Giant Ymir wasn't a great idea as it caused the Ice Age to instantly end and flooded most of the world.
  • In another White Wolf game, Exalted, you have the Primordials, titanic beings that created the setting. Each one doesn't truly exist as a whole, but they have Jouten, which range from Worldbody Jouten, such as the Demon City which is exactly what it sounds like, to Humaniform Jouten, also exactly what it looks like, each of which is an incarnation of their self-hood. Further down, you have their whole hierarchy of souls, a Fetich Soul and its peers the other Third Circle Souls, which are themselves made of souls, Second Circle, and those have minions - which aren't souls - First Circles. Kill a First Circle, there is more where that came from. Kill a Second Circle, that will make the Primordial hurt. Kill a Third Circle, you change the nature of the Primordial. Kill the Fetich Soul and you totally destroy the Primordial. However, it will then reform into something else, which can be very bad, such as was the case with the Lidless Eye That Sees when its Fetich was killed, becoming the Abhorrent Prophet Unimagined, who fell into a deep slumber and cannot be reawakened or he will permanently bind everything to the future he sees.
  • Warhammer / Warhammer 40,000:
    • Daemons behave like the D&D ones, as their physical forms are merely manifestations of their warp-based nature. Destruction of their physical form merely send them back to the warp. If you go to its roots, every daemon is effectively an avatar of its respective god, with some of their personality depending on how strong it is (the Greater Daemons are effectively embodiments of the gods' overall personalities, but with their own sentience, while the Daemonic Beasts are effectively mindless), and can be absorbed back into the gestalt whole at a whim. So you aren't so much fighting the shadow of the daemon as the shadow of the god in millions of different avatars (which shows just how powerful the Dark Gods are, considering the strength of your average daemon). On the other hand, the Daemon Princes, who were once mortal, can considered to be this trope played straight - their bodies are comprised of warp energy and, if defeated, they are forced to return to the Warp for a few millenia while they pull themselves together enough to reconstruct their bodies.
    • The C'tan Stargods can be considered a variant of this. They are immense Energy Beings that normally absorb radiation from stars and are unable to interact with physical objects. The Necrontyr gave them bodies of living metal in which they could manifest and interact with mortals. Destruction of the body does no harm for the C'tan but prevents them from doing much until they get built a new one.
    • The Eldar Avatar of Khaine, despite its name, isn't quite an example of this. It's an animated construct that houses a fragment of the Eldar war god's essence.
    • Should the Swarmlord die, the Tyranid Hive Mind has all the data to rebuild it when it feels like it, complete with all previous memories and experience.
  • Demons in Feng Shui are the same way. Killing one only sends him back to the Underworld, though if one kills a demon in the Underworld, then the death is permanent.
  • In GURPS: Fantasy the god Tiamut exists like this. The avatar of hers presented in the book has Unkillable 3 so that if it dies the body vanishes until it returns unharmed with the next spring rain. Meanwhile her real body is half the matter in the universe.
  • Changeling: The Lost has the True Fae work like this; it's revealed in a book late in the line that the forms the Gentry take on Earth are known as "Titles", and most Gentry have more than one. They're most commonly seen on this side of Arcadia as Actors, but they can be Realms (little pocket dimensions), Props (items of great power) or Wisps (armies of hobgoblins). The Gentry constantly battle against one another for more Titles, and the only way to truly kill one of them is to make your way back to Arcadia and smash the crap out of every one of those titles. However, if they're truly capable of such an emotion, the True Fae hate losing one of their Titles (it's the equivalent of a mortal losing a limb), and if one of their Titles — particularly an Actor — is in danger of being destroyed, they will often offer extremely powerful oaths to avoid this fate.
  • Likewise, the Exarchs (essentially, omnipotent god-beings) of Mage: The Awakening are capable of projecting aspects of themselves across the Abyss into the Fallen World, where they take more-or-less physical form. These soul sheaths, or "Ochemata", are still absurdly powerful and are quite capable of doing things like wiping out entire cities.
  • Arkham Horror:
    • The above-mentioned Nyarlathotep. The Crawling Chaos is simultaneously a possible Ancient One, a possible Herald, and five to ten separate monsters (depending on expansions.)
    • Yog-Sothoth is time and space itself, you fight it in game as an Ancient One, a Herald (the Lurker at the Threshold), and every gate in the game.
  • KULT subverts this: Archons and other superbeings can have multiple incarnate avatars and it take less than one day to create a replacement when one is destroyed. However, getting killed hurts and, if several incarnates are killed in short period, the pain can actually kill the being.
  • In Nomine: If the corporeal vessel/body of a celestial (angel/demon) is killed, the celestial will re-awaken near its Heart in the appropriate celestial realm: Heaven for angels, Hell for demons.
  • Spirits in the Fate World Frontier Spirit are entities far beyond human comprehension that dwell within the depths of the Otherworld. But they have several "facets" in the upper levels of the Otherworld that appear to be individual beings to the mediums who contact them, and are actually just extensions of their parent spirits. Facets can be "killed" in physical conflicts, but they come back after the next major milestone, and somewhat detached from their parent spirit.
  • The Director in CthulhuTech is not Nyarlathotep but only one of its avatars, of which it has at least one more on Earth. Even if you could somehow kill the Director (and it's far from certain that even that is possible) it would be unlikely to do any real harm to the Crawling Chaos itself.
  • In Pathfinder a slain fiendish demigod simply respawns at the heart of its domain. If it's killed a second time before a year has passed that death will stick, but they're extremely cautious during that period, so finishing it off for good generally requires invading its lair and fighting through the army of minions it throws in front of itself, on top of beating it again with the additional powers it gets from being in its realm.

    Video Games 
  • Albion:
    • You fight and defeat a man turned into the avatar of Kamulos, the God of War, who reverts back into his human form at the end. If Kamulos is actually a separate entity (the game is a bit ambiguous about the existence of gods), he probably survives.
    • You can fight and destroy Ned, the powerful android that the spaceship Toronto communicates through. That won't destroy the AI, obviously. And there are secretly a lot of "Neds". The actual housing of the AI is indestructible.
  • An interesting variation occurs in Chrono Cross where the Dragon God is just the part of a bigger entity that exists outside time. When you kill the physical manifestation, it gloats that all it has to do is reform with its main self; however it's then revealed that its main self was killed by the Time Devourer long ago.
    • This is also the reason you can't just destroy the Time Devourer. It will simply switch to/from a different timeline/dimension where you didn't kill it and try again. Now you know how frustrated the computer feels when you're Save Scumming.
    • There is also the battle in Vipor Manor, where you seem to fight Lynx and are mocked by the original right after.
  • City of Heroes takes this Up to Eleven, with Nemesis, who is rarely the real nemesis in a fight, and usually turns out to be a robot decoy.
  • Dota 2 has the Fundamentals, beings from "a far upstream plane, where the fundamental laws of the universe have found sentient expression." They can't be killed, as the form slain is only a part that is inhabiting this plane, as stated in Wisp's lore. The two eponymous Ancients, the Dire and Radiant, were feuding Fundamentals that were banished through the stars and eventually caught by a planet's gravity well, eventually shattering their moon prison and raining down upon the earth. They can't be destroyed forever, only weakened, allowing their rival to regain power for a while until the fallen is strong enough to rival it and spark another war. Heroes that are explicitly stated to be Fundamentals are Chaos Knight, Keeper of the Light and Enigma, heroes that are implied to be Fundamentals are Wisp and Ancient Apparition.
    • The Ancients also have the ability to bring any hero that has fallen for them back from the dead, meaning that, in a way, every hero is this trope.
  • Dungeon Keeper has vampires that just respawn with their level decreased by one in their bed if they are killed. Unless it is a priest that kills them or they are at level one.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • The Daedric Princes possess Complete Immortality and thus, cannot truly be "killed". All you can do, even if you are a full-blown Physical God or even Akatosh himself, is slay whatever physical form they have taken and banish them back to Oblivion, where they will reform. While they have been beaten, battered, and even fundamentally changed, nothing in the setting has ever been able to actually kill one. This is also true for lesser Daedra, though they tend to be much easier to slay.
    • This is also the case for the Daedric artifacts associated with the Princes. You can destroy or otherwise unmake them, but they will always reappear somewhere else in Tamriel after a few years, usually per the will of their associated Prince.
    • In Morrowind, you must defeat Dagoth Ur at the end of the main quest. In your first battle against him, he can be slain, but his body disappears and reappears in the next room. This time, he is at full blown Physical God power and cannot be killed. (Instead, you must sever his ties to the source of his power, the Heart of Lorkhan, which kills him for good.)
    • In Skyrim, the Big Bad is Alduin, the legendary draconic Beast of the Apocalypse divinely tasked with "eating the world" so that it can be remade anew. The Dragonborn must fight him twice, first atop the Throat of the World. After this defeat, Alduin retreats to the Nordic Warrior Heaven of Sovngarde, where he consumes the souls of the recently dead (which, due Skyrim's Civil War, there are plenty to be had) in order to grow more powerful. The Dragonborn must pursue him there and fight him once again in order to actually defeat him. (And given that the Dragonborn does not absorb Alduin's soul, the implication is that he will return to fulfill his duty at the appropriate time.
  • This is the case with the antagonist Sin from Final Fantasy X, who always comes back after a period of tranquility that has come to be known as "The Calm". In this case, it's a scam to make people think Sin is immortal, it's because the very method being used to "defeat" Sin actually fuels its reincarnation and return. What infected it then infects the Final Aeon that "killed" it.
    • Your first fight against Omega Weapon turns out to be just a shadow of the real thing, which is further into the cave.
  • SNK's Fu'un Series games (Savage Reign and Kizuna Encounter) feature King Lion as a playable character. Of course, he's actually just a shadow of the real boss character King Leo. Indeed when you beat King Lion in SR, Leo mocks you before challenging you himself.
    King Leo: Hahahaha! Did you really see all of the King?! He's just a shadow! Now you will know who's the strongest!
  • Explicitly stated what The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is to Gozer in Ghostbusters, hence it being banished in the first movie, "killed" in the 2009 game, then implied to be killed again by Ivo at the end.
  • In Grim Dawn, the Aetherials are a race of extradimensional spirits who are invading the world of Cairn to claim it as their own. They do this by possessing the bodies of living creatures - ideally willing, intelligent, and living hosts. Killing the host doesn't harm the Aetherial at all beyond angering them, and the one possessing Warden Krieg explicitly says that while the player can destroy his body, you cannot truly kill him. The sole exception to this rule is if the Aetherial's host is trapped in a magical ward, in which case killing the host destroys the Aetherial as well.
  • A few cards in Hearthstone have 'Deathrattle' effects that simulate this trope. When Astral Tiger or Malorne is killed, it shuffles itself back into it's owner's deck, while Anub'arak will spawn a 4/4 Nerubian before returning to it's owner's hand. White Eyes gets shuffled back into the deck, but when he's drawn he's got twice as much stats.
  • Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories: The party fights the ruler of Castle Oblivion, Marluxia, in what basically feels like a standard form of fight of all the other Organization XIII members. After the battle, it turns out that they were just fighting an illusion.
    Donald: Is he gone?
    Marluxia: You could say that. However, what you destroyed was merely an illusion of me.
  • League of Legends: Nocturne is summoned to the material world due to a fluke involving a Nexus near someone being attacked in their sleep. The Summoners chained Nocturne to this world, fearing that dispatching him would ok simply return him to the dream realm he occupied before.
  • Legacy of Kain: You get to be this guy when you play as Raziel. Raziel is a creature of the Spectral Realm, so when he appears in the Material Realm (where most of the story and gameplay takes place), that is just a new body he creates every time he reaches full power. Every time you die in the Material Realm you simply show up in that same spot in the Spectral Realm, and either suck souls to regenerate your health or simply wait for it to happen on its own; once you reach full health you just need to find a portal and you can return to the physical world (and since time in the spectral realm effectively stands still, whatever killed you may as well have thought you just teleported). Die in the Spectral Realm and you will return to the Abyss, and can continue on from there.
  • The Superboss Faust in The Legend of Dragoon first appears to be totally immortal, with Dart commenting that nothing works against him. To actually fight Faust, one must find all the Stardust and give it to Martel, then use the Vanishing Stone dispel the illusion.
  • Demon Lord Zouna (aka Malix) from The Legend of Valkyrie. When Kurino aka Whirlo beat him in his game, it turned out to just be a shadow. When Valkyrie herself gets to him at the end of her first game, she has to fight multiple shadows that keep spawning until he drops the Key of Time, which she takes and uses to seal him up again.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • Ganondorf appears to be the "physical body", while Ganon is the inner demon essence and a physical manifestation of Ganondorf's true power and rage. As is declassified in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Ganondorf's existence is due to the dying curse of Demise, the God of Evil and Greater-Scope Villain. This same curse also affects Link and Zelda, forever trapping the three wielders of the Triforce in an eternal cycle of reincarnation and making the death of any of the three meaningless in the long run.
    • The Blight Ganons in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While Calamity Ganon himself is sealed away in Hyrule Castle, he was still able to send these Mechanical Abominations made of his essence to take control of the Divine Beasts.
  • In Lost Dimension, when you first meet The End, Nagi tries to shoot him, but he's not really there, he's just sending a projection of some sort. You don't actually get to meet the real him until, well, the end.
  • The first fight against Ghaleon in Lunar: Silver Star Story is one of these, and his attacks are even suspiciously repetitive. When the reveal is made, cue a domino cascade of going From Bad to Worse when the real one turns up...
  • The Reapers from Mass Effect seem to use this trope combined with People Puppets to fight targets planetside. This trope is played straight only really in the second game, however, as killing the supercharged Collector drones doesn't damage Harbinger at all. With the Saren Husk, however...
    Harbinger: You only damage the vessel; you cannot hurt me.
    • That's because Harbinger is using a proxy - the Collector General - ostensibly to avoid what happened to Sovereign.
  • Mega Man X: Sigma becomes this, after he becomes The Virus; eradicating his current body, his viral self is still intact. Erase it, and a backup copy will pop up later in a new body. It takes killing him on the moon to finally destroy him, supposedly because his viral form will just fade away to nothing with no other robots to infect there. Unfortunately, by that time, an entire army of New Age Reploids were made, all supposedly programmed with a chip containing the DNA of every Old Age Reploid, including Sigma...
  • In Persona 2: Innocent Sin, the last battle is against an avatar of Nyarlatothep, the Crawling Chaos, who laughs at your efforts and kills a beloved character to prove a point. The semi-sequel, Eternal Punishment, allows us to drive him off, although true to this trope, it isn't permanent.
  • Persona 3 explicitly names its foe thus: Nyx Avatar. The battle is long, gruesome, and difficult, and yet the enemy shrugs off all damage and calls forth the undefeatable being it is a mere fragment of: Nyx, Death itself.
  • In Persona 4 Ameno-sagiri is something like this for Izanami.
    • Same goes for Kusumi-no-okami: killing her gets rid of the fog but doesn't deal with the actual problem. Even Izanami herself is just the shadow of Izanami-no-Okami, who can't be defeated by the party under normal circumstances - knock her down to zero health and she just starts spamming an instant-kill attack which kills the target so hard they can't be revived. Only the full potential of the Wild Card - said to be infinite - is actually able to take her out, and even then her power just passes to a new being. Good thing the new Izanami-no-mikoto actually quite likes humanity.
  • If you kill the god Pluto in Phantasie II, he comments on how that didn't accomplish much and he just has to get a new body. You do have his attention now, though. The same goes for killing other Gods like Zeus which oddly enough doesn't permanently annoy them outside of the initial battle.
  • Phantasy Star Online 2 uses this as an in-story justification for the repeating nature of raid bosses. Whenever a major enemy is defeated in the plot, they inevitably leave behind echoes of themselves or get cloned by some external means to continue menacing the heroes.
  • Wraith, the repeating Mid-Boss of Phantom Brave is merely a shadow of the true evil, Sulphur. His class is specifically "Dark Avatar."
    • Killing Sulphur merely sends him back to the "X-Dimension." The Magenta Core can summon him no matter how many times he gets sent back.
  • Hydreigon in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity is actually a Nature Spirit known as the Voice of Life, who's taken a temporary physical form as a Pokemon for the sake of protecting the world. His body ends up getting totally annihilated by Kyurem, but this only serves to keep him aiding the heroes in the final battle, as he returns good as new in the ending and laughs off what happened.
  • In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, it's revealed that this is how the titular Pokemon interacts with the world- rather than the real Arceus, any Arceus that appears in battle, be it the ones received from events or indeed, the one you fight at the very end of the game after capturing every Non-Mythical Pokemon in Hisui, are mere pieces of the original Arceus.
  • Midway through Shin Megami Tensei II, you fight against YHVH, aka God. Except it's not the real one, it's just a false image unconsciously created and empowered by the archangels. In the end, you fight the REAL one, even on Law. And even if you win, He says He will not truly be defeated - as long as there are people praying to him, he will return. The other game He appears in has Him state that He's part of a much greater being who will constantly revive Him. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse reveals that part of that is true - He is part of a larger being. However, this larger being hates YHVH with a passion and has been working to stop Him.
    • The same holds true to any demon or god in the series. Killing them doesn't stop them from showing up in any of the other games, or even later in the same game. Often it gives you the right to summon them as Mons, provided they're not the Final Boss of the game.
  • Square Enix games like to get into this action, as part of a The Battle Didn't Count bit.
    • Often, killing a summoned creature just sends them back where they came from, and, depending on the game mechanics, may give you a new summon spell.
    • In one mission in Final Fantasy XI, you get to fight with Professor Shantotto. Win, and "Shantotto" will turn into a doll, only for the real Shantotto to reveal that you'd been fighting with a doll she magic'd into life. She pulls the same trick in Dissidia; when she loses, she turns into a doll, rather than just collapsing like the other characters. Her death quotes range from giving the opponent a B-, to the doll talking in a Creepy Monotone before turning back.
      • Also, the prime and summoned avatars.
      • Also Pandemonium Warden, one of the game's two (previously) unbeatable superbosses. When engaging him, he will disappear, then manifest himself as a randomly-selected boss from the Treasures of Aht Urghan expansion. Kill him, he will disappear, then reappear as another boss, and he will do that nine times, gradually moving up the scale from salvage bosses, to beastman kings to high notorious monsters. Only when all those manifestations have been defeated will he appear in his "true form" to face the players fighting him. And even if a group manages to "kill" him, his parting monologue strongly implies he does not truly die.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics A2 has a few creatures you don't actually defeat, but just prevent from entering Ivalice. One boss battle was against merely the hand of a demon that was sticking into the space between worlds, and it was still several times bigger than your characters. "Killing" it just closed the gap it was using to enter your world.
    • Julius in Sword of Mana has a literal shadow of himself that often does dirty work that he's not available to perform in person. However, it's apparently not remote controlled, given that it actually asks Julius a favor shortly before the final battle. The heroes still act like they're talking to Julius, though, which is somewhat confusing.
    • Kefka of Final Fantasy VI fame was a fan of this technique, using it to taunt and ultimately defeat General Leo.
    • In Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth manages to do this in a number of ways, though he doesn't have any inherent quality of always surviving death. The first times you see him in the game (when you can't fight him, and the characters wouldn't be up to it anyway), it's actually not his real body but Jenova's stuff, so killing it almost certainly would not kill him. When you finally get to him for the Final Boss fights, you have to kill two physical One-Winged Angel forms in a row. After that, he was still hanging out in The Lifestream or something and pulled Cloud in to a mental battle. Even after being defeated, he still refuses to be dispersed in the Lifestream like a normal dead person, but instead eventually (in Advent Children) sends out three avatars (who are separate persons from him) to look for what's left of Jenova. When they find it, one of them uses it to transform into Sephiroth, whom Cloud kills again. But even that isn't enough as it's possible that he might even time travelled back to the past from the beginning of the game in order to alter destiny and undo his defeat.
      • The Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts is apparently a more straightforward example, an embodiment of Cloud's inner darkness who will always return after being defeated by him. Cloud's fighting his own shadow, in a way. Okay, maybe it's not that straightforward.
    • In Final Fantasy XIV, the Ascians are incorporeal spirits who interact with the world by possessing human bodies. While lesser Ascians will perish if their current body is destroyed and there are no corpses around for them to possess, the red-masked overlords are more resilient, and the loss of their bodies is at worst a temporary inconvenience.
  • The Orz in Star Control are heavily implied to be like this. If you can figure out their dialogue. Fortunately, you can destroy their ships just fine if you have to.
  • In StarCraft II, the hybrid, when killed, will regenerate by siphoning power from trapped protoss. Legacy of the Void reveals that this is how Xel'Naga interact with the material realm. If their body in the material realm is killed, their essence and spirit simply return to the Void, to their real bodies; you have to actually travel into the Void Between the Worlds and kill their real selves there to put them down for good. In the Epilogue arc of that game, the Terran/Zerg/Protoss alliance does just that, killing Narud and Amon once and for all after their physical-realm bodies were killed by Kerrigan and the Protoss fleet, respectively.
  • Hausen and Saizou from Treasure of the Rudra, you do get to kill them later in their true forms.
  • The Shadowlords in Ultima V. Each attack a different town each day; corrupting the minds of those who live there and killing the plant life. Even if one manages to "kill" one in normal battle (which in itself is very, very hard) they reform immediately; as they're really aspects of the Shards of Hatred, Cowardice, and Falsehood. Only a specialized ritual involving their True Name; the Shard they correspond to, and the Flame of the Opposite alignment can destroy them permanently.
  • Vampyr has the Red Queen, an outworldly entity that is the mother of all vampires and the game's final boss. When Jonathan kills Harriet Jones, the source of the Skal epidemic, the Red Queen emerges from her body and attacks Jonathan. However, its explicitly noted he is fighting her avatar and after she is defeated, she shrugs it off and is convinced by her son Myrddin to go back to slumber, but not before ensuring her eventual return.
  • Warframe: The titular Warframes are actually the shadows in this kind of scenario. They are not the Tenno like you’re led to believe; they’re semi-robotic Remote Bodies that the Tenno use to interact with the world. The real Tenno are a group of human children called Operators who gained the Power of the Void after exposure to it through an accident involving FTL travel. They spend most of their time stashed away in a safe location and in stasis, controlling their Warframes through their psychic powers. In the “Second Dream” quest, Hunhow and the Stalker figure this out and try to attack the Operators directly, figuring it won’t matter how many Warframes they kill if the Player Characters can just jump to new ones.
  • As part of a particularly long quest chain in World of Warcraft, you summon the Avatar of Hakkar in the Sunken Temple and trap his essence into some egg thingy as requested by some troll. You can do this as much as you like as he gives you a scroll to keep summoning Hakkar, saying it weakens his true form. A nearby dwarf continues the chain and you learn that actually, you've been making Hakkar stronger by summoning his avatar repeatedly. Woops! Eventually, you do kill the true form of Hakkar, but that happened later than this quest line was introduced. And it's really not settled yet if he's actually dead or was basically just banished again.
    • According to some quests, demons in the Warcraft universe work like this too. If this is true, presumably the reason Archimonde and pals haven't come back is because it takes quite a while for a powerful demon to regenerate.
      • This is somewhat backed up by the demon "pets" that players of the warlock class can summon. Whenever they "die" (usually by being defeated in battle against either an AI enemy or a player from the opposing faction in PvP), they are apparently simply banished back to whatever demonic dimension they originate from the same way they are when the warlock actively dismisses them. The warlock brings them back by just casting the summoning spell again without needing to use any kind of resurrection technique like a hunter does for their animal pets.
    • According to The War of the Ancients book trilogy, Sargeras was already disembodied at the end of the War of the Ancients, when the portal he was using to enter Azeroth imploded while we was inside (as opposed to him getting disembodies only after he possessed Mediev, the last Guardian, and got killed before he could transfer his spirit back to his body). In that case him appearing on Azeroth as an avatar would fit this trope.
    • One of the endgame boss fights in Wrath of the Lich King involves beating back the mouth of Yogg-Saron as he begins to emerge from his earthly prison.
    • In the Cataclysm expansion, Ragnaros, who was killed by players as the first end boss of WoW 1.0 will make a reappearance, his original death being ambiguously a "banishment".
      • Elementals, same as demons, are considered "Outsiders", and return to their home plane upon "death". Hence the second appearance of Ragnaros in Firelands.
    • All the above said, Eternals can be killed if they're destroyed on their home world or plane, As Ragnaros learned the hard way at the end of the firelands, when he's been confirmed by Word of God to be permanently dead.
    • The final boss of the 5-man dungeon "Darkheart Thicket" fits this trope, as said boss is literally the "Shade of Xavius", a satyr who has been harassing the player all throughout the zone where the dungeon is located. The proper encounter with Xavius only happens as the last encounter of the "Emerald Nightmare" raid, as Xavius cannot use his powers outside of the Nightmare at all.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! Reshef of Destruction, the final dungeon is protected by illusions of Espa Roba, Bonz, Weevil, Rex, Mako, and Mai. To defeat them, you have to fight their real selves and gain their special cards.

    Web Animation 
  • Unsurprisingly, this is a pretty good ability in DEATH BATTLE!, and beating a character that has it takes some special abilities — if it's at all possible.
    • "Thanos VS. Darkseid": The fact that Darkseid only visits other universes as an avatar thwarts Thanos's first attempt to use the Infinity Gauntlet to wish him out of existence; he just reappears.
    • "Sauron VS. The Lich King": While the Lich King's Plague of Undeath has a serious effect on Sauron's body, it doesn't really matter because (since the fights use the characters at their peak ability) he's able to discard his body, exist disembodied, and create a new body at will.

  • In the early webcomic Argon Zark, when Zeta deletes the monster Badnasty Jumpjump, the robot Cybert comments "alias deleted". The real Badnasty is still present.
  • Parodied by RPG World. The Big Bad knows that the band of heroes is going to storm his fortress, so vacates it and leaves a Shadow of himself behind to fight them. The good guys know that it's just a Shadow, but Hero insists on defeating it anyway.
  • In Digger, when Shadowchild meets with and eats a shadow of Sweetgrass Voice.
  • As a Dungeons & Dragons lich, Xykon of The Order of the Stick is like this- if his body is destroyed, his soul will simply retreat to his Soul Jar and create another one, rendering him nearly impossible to kill. Of course, it made things a lot harder for him when his Soul Jar went missing, but then it was found again.
  • Petey did a bit of this with holospheres in Schlock Mercenary, although the third hologram transmitter was also rigged as a bomb, following Petey's "three strikes"note  policy.
  • Angels in Kill Six Billion Demons are Energy Beings from the Void Between the Worlds who inhabit magical armour to exist in the physical world. Defeating one only forces it back to the Void, although the trip can trigger their Resurrective Immortality and leave them in stasis for what can be a very long time.
  • In Jack Sins respawn in Hell when their head is removed. For the titular character this is much less of an inconvenience as his job pretty much gives him a free pass between Hell and the mortal world.
  • The Krawlni in To Save Her are of the 2nd type. When they appear, only cross-sections of them can be seen, as they exist in at least 5 dimensions or more. When one character angers a Krawlni, not only is it a Curb-Stomp Battle, but it goes after their parallel selves as well. They gave other species Mover technology, allowing 3D species to move between parallel dimensions, a major theme of the webcomic.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Avatar's existence is mostly in the spiritual world; and reincarnates into one person at a time. This trope is actually inverted when in the Avatar State; by pulling all of itself into the physical world, the current Avatar wields tremendous power, but if they should die while in the Avatar State they'll have no way of reincarnating.
  • Big Bad Van Kleiss of Generator Rex was originally human, but his consciousness now resides in the nanites that infuse both his body and the area around his stronghold- which means that even if he's "killed", the nanites can just generate a new body for him straight from the ground.
  • DC Animated Universe:
    • Brainiac in Superman: The Animated Series. Even the smallest piece of him contains his complete consciousness- and he always has a back-up copy of himself stored somewhere. As such, he's one of the few opponents Superman will use lethal force on, because the Brainiac you can kill is always just one part of the whole.
    • This is illustrated very creepily in the Justice League episode "Twilight", where Hawkgirl smashes Brainiac to pieces, apparently killing him- only for the team to be immediately surrounded by dozens of Brainiacs, all of which are identical extensions of the central consciousness. Yikes.
    • However, after that, only a small fraction of him survived in nanobot form inside Lex Luthor, and the rest seemed to be his equivalent of spiritual essence. When the former was destroyed, a fragment remained, but it was powerless and seemed to be genuinely dead. The latter was fully reformed in the Grand Finale, but only as part of a resurrected Darkseid. His personality is now totally subsumed by the latter, and the latter was destroyed, and even if he comes back, currently this Brainiac can be considered Deader than Dead.
      • And yet, Brainiac 5 must've come from somewhere. Not to mention the episode in Superman The Animated Series where he came from the very far future indicating that the ending of the Grand Finale didn't get rid of him, to destroy Superman before he even learned about his powers.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes: Lord Boxman's robots don't really fight the heroes personally, they're using disposable, mass-produced shells that hold their minds; whenever something destroys one of their bodies, their consciousness just instantly downloads into a new one. This gets demonstrated in the first episode when Boxman seemingly kills an injured Darrell for failing him, only to casually continue their conversation once Darrell's new body is brought into the room.
  • Transformers:
    • The death of anyone who is considered to be a "multiversal singularity" is considered to be this, so don't count Unicron, The Fallen, or Vector Prime out just yet. Mind you, it is an All There in the Manual thing and within their series, there is nothing to hint their survival - when shown to be completely destroyed. (Blow Unicron up but leave the head? He'll be back.)
    • To specify, they are both extremely hard to actually kill rather than weaken, and, once you do actually kill them, it doesn't stick. They've long since learned the ins and outs of cross-multiversal existence, and periodically spend time in reverse-time universes, which basically allows them to save their e Spirit game and resume from there when a physical body kicks it, as the consciousness just jumps to the concurrent body in the reverse-time universe, which retroactively becomes their "true form", despite having been a past/future self a few minutes ago. So, essentially, they revive themselves by telling causality to suck it.
    • As of the comic "Another Light" Multiversal Singularities no longer exist as a concept, and every version of any Multiversal Singularity character is now their own entity rather than this trope.
    • In Transformers: Prime, Unicron is Earth, and attacks the Autobots using stone avatars of himself. The first one gives Optimus a bit of trouble, but is ultimately blasted to pieces...only for Unicron to immediately form dozens of replacements.


Alternative Title(s): Projected Avatar