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From Nobody to Nightmare

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"He was always such a… little man. This was finally something that made him feel big."
Fox Mulder, The X-Files ("Pusher")

A Sister Trope of Start of Darkness that involves a non-badass normal taking numerous levels in badass, whether instantly or over the course of a story, thus becoming essentially nothing but a giant walking, talking bucket of Nightmare Fuel.

Through a series of unlikely coincidences, or through accidental or unknowing actions on the part of the heroes themselves, or as a result of things which should never have happened — and in most alternate timelines don't happen, but just barely by the skin of their teeth, do happen — someone who might have stayed an insignificant nothing is transformed into a nightmare that grows and grows, absorbing the power to rend civilizations to dust and bring universes to their knees.

For some reason, it seems that From Nobody To Nightmare villains are always more powerful, terrifying, deadly, and threatening than your typical Diabolical Mastermind. In scenarios where the villain rose by their own effort, this often a case of I Did What I Had to Do, Jumping off the Slippery Slope, and maybe a few Angst Nukes thrown in for good measure. This may owe itself to the shock value of the idea that anyone and anything can become the Big Bad under the right circumstances; it's much more comforting to believe that only long years of Card Carrying Villainy could possibly breed that kind of person.


Compare the Diabolus ex Nihilo. If the character was already a bad guy previously but never a serious one, it's Not-So-Harmless Villain. Heroic versions may still find themselves wondering, "Dude, Where's My Respect?". (Or becoming He Who Fights Monsters.) Frequently, the details of this process are uncovered in the villain's Start of Darkness. Also see Who's Laughing Now?, Malignant Plot Tumor, and Magikarp Power.

Note that being a villain is not necessarily a requirement for this trope, even though most who fit the trope are. Anyone who is feared or dreaded by someone (even if the "someone" in question is the cruel and tyrannical government that the heroes oppose) can qualify. In such a case, the inverse trope is Villain Decay.



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    Fan Fiction 
  • In a Wander over Yonder fanfic, You Just Had to Destroy that Planet, Jōshō (a Reality Warper and main character) was just a married man living in said world making weapons for villains with his wife, Jihi. Said villains (except Lord Dominator) decide to raze his planet in search of a rumored ultimate weapon killing Jihi in the process. Jōshō snapped and decided to actually bust out said weapon. With it, he slays the villains, breaks Wander with talking, and now traveling the multiverse as a villain who wants to see the world suffer. To add insult to injury, he gains Dominator as a girlfriend. And he's training her in his fighting style.
  • In Dungeon Keeper Ami, the heroes view Ami in this light. She's actually more of an outside context stealth hero. However, subtle foreshadowing indicates that The Corruption might become a problem at some future point, and cause Empress Mercury to play it straight.
  • This is pretty much the whole point of the Superfriends story The End, where the Legion of Doom become far, far more tormented, horrific and powerful beings than their previous laughably incompetent selves.
  • Nyx is an intriguing variant... she is forced to become Nightmare Moon in a physical sense, but doesn't really act evil at all, even though everypony expects her to.
  • The Pony POV Series has Princess Gaia, a Reality Warping Mad Goddess who seeks to make the world a utopia by brainwashing everypony into a state of perpetual happiness and turning everypony into foals (because they are happier that way, of course!) Just who did this powerful enemy use to be? Fluttershy! The shy, timid little mare who wouldn't hurt a flea and is literally terrified of her own shadow!
    • In the grand scheme of things, this is also what happened with Discord. Twice, actually! He was always a reality warping spirit, but of his entire race he was the weakest, and was slightly nicer than later in life. Then, in the Alicorn/Draconnequi war he both discovered his love of sadism and increased his power by eating his brother. Then he was reborn on Equestria, with no memory of his past existence, and became an odd but ultimately kindhearted being. Then his original personality resurfaced, and he became the Big Bad from canon.
    • Film Critique (aka the Pegasus Despot) from "Gaiden: 7 Dreams/Nightmares". Before the collapse of G2 society, he was just some fat nerd. Afterwards, he got his hooves on the Blue Shard of the Rainbow of Light (Laughter), which not only gave him the ability to control ponies, but also to restore power to his city, which allowed him to become its Evil Overlord. Then Patch shows up and steals the Shard back from him, leaving him to his Karmic Death at the hooves of his previously-brainwashed harem, begging like the pathetic little nobody he was.
    • Dark World has another example similar to the first: The Nameless Passenger, the mysterious entity manipulating Twilight and her friends, turns out to be her Nightmare self, Nightmare Paradox. Twilight was never a nobody, but she was just an ordinary unicorn; the version of her that became Paradox is a Knight Templar Mad Goddess who's become Eviler Than Thou to Discord, trapping him in a "Groundhog Day" Loop as an eternal torment and not caring at all for the billions of beings she manipulates and condemns to non-existence in order to continue said loop.
    • Chrysalis started out as a little Zebra in a small village in the middle of nowhere, then became vampiric monster, draining everypony she could get dry of their love but still remaining little more than a local menace until she became a slave to Queen Cocoon, considered so low on the pecking order she was only good for entertainment. By the end of her Origins Episode, she's killed off the Changeling Queen and taken over the hive, becoming the Big Bad level threat she's known as.
  • In Fallout: Equestria, the Ministry of Arcane Science was seeking a way to quickly end the war with the zebras by turning normal ponies into an army of alicorn super soldiers. Unfortunately, the balefire spells hit the facility at the same moment the first test subject was lowered into the Impelled Metamorphosis Potion vat, causing a pair of telepathic twins to also fall into the vat and merge with her. The result was an Eldritch Abomination that was capable of transforming others into alicorns and absorbing their minds, starting with Twilight Sparkle, her 'creator'. Who was the test subject? A washed-up former illusionist named Trixie.
  • Five hundred years before the events of My Little Alicorn, Kuchen was originally the eccentric son of a pair of bakers. Then one day he literally landed on Celestia's back, and impressed her enough with his knowledge that she made him her student. Over the years, he proved himself to be an excellent researcher, so the Princess had him research Alicorns so she could find a way to bring Nightmare Moon back earlier and expel her from Luna without the Elements. And then a combination of a very bad judgment call on Celestia's part, and him discovering Luna's journal, eventually drives Kuchen to try and better the pony race by turning everypony into Alicorns. By the time Celestia finally stopped and killed him, he had slaughtered entire villages, created the Seapony race, killed his best friend and used his skin as a blanket for his Tome of Eldritch Lore, and to top it off, possessed his wife and children so that someday, he would be able to possess them and get revenge on Celestia.
  • Equestrylvania has the Creepy Mortician Dirt Nap. An outcast among ponies because of his special talent for burying the dead, he grows to hate the rest of Ponyville in turn. When he stumbles across Dracula's minions searching for one of his body parts, they sense the emptiness in Dirt Nap and offer him a purpose and a chance for revenge against those that scorned him. He accepts and becomes the host for the demon Aguni, before proceeding to burn down most of Ponyville.
  • In The Wizard in the Shadows Harry is technically already a nightmare - to the bad guys. He proceeds to become an even bigger nightmare. First, he's an eleven year old muggle raised kid. Then he becomes The Chosen One and a general badass. After his unwilling long term stay in Middle-Earth, he's a Knife Nut, a Master Swordsman and the terror of every bad guy short of Sauron himself - who is noted as being wary, though not in a personal sense, of what Harry is capable of - and has people speaking his name in tones of awe/fear from the tip of Northern Middle Earth to Far Harad.
    • In the fic itself, he proceeds to ramp it up even further, wielding Physical God level powers (though he was being powered up for those incidents) and is revealed to be a low level Reality Warper he disregards the basic laws of magic. And yes, only his finite power levels and lack of comprehension of exactly how powerful this makes him stops him being a total Game-Breaker.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! The Thousand Year Door: Redux, the Shadow Queen was originally a starving, penniless, malnourished beggar until a Deal with the Devil made her a cruel tyrant and powerful dark sorceress with goals of world domination.
    • The same could be said for Lyrius, who was simply a teenage boy and a resident of a city in the path of her demonic army, who would have been slaughtered just like everyone else had he not had the courage to stand up to her, thinking he had nothing to lose. She was in no danger, but the display impressed her enough to offer him a place by her side which he accepted. He later became one of the most dreaded warriors of the Emperor of Shadow, and feared by the Queen's subjects almost as much as they feared her.
  • Arguably the Oogakari from Yet again with a little extra help. From what we've been shown through character profiles, before coming in contact with their benefactress they were just plain old run of the mill mortals, who have since chosen the names Shadow, Waltz, Crypt, Scabbard, and Ghost, but now are credited as The Second Origin, The Red Flood, The Devil's Collection, The Legacy's Prophet, and by far the worst The God of None respectively. Mainly though they are a nightmare to all who know them, but more in a hilarious way rather than a scary one, mostly.
  • Future Devastator in The Measure of a Titan began as a chemical engineer in Gotham who barely understood how his powers worked. When The Joker murders his wife and blinds him he begins to obsess that repeatedly throwing crazy metahumans in jail doesn't solve the problem as they easily break free. He goes up into the mountains for a few months, and when he returns he single-handedly levels Arkham Asylum and kills everyone inside. He then goes on to become the most dangerous mercenary in the world, specializing in metahumans, and becomes capable of single-handedly killing the Titans in a four-on-one-battle.
  • The Rise of Darth Vulcan has the titular character: Ted was originally just a common teenage Jerkass, until he found the Alicorn Amulet and was transported to Equestria. Now, he's an Evil Sorcerer who can fight the Mane Six and the Princesses evenly, leads a vast army of Diamond Dogs, changelings, Equestrian criminals and outcasts of every stripe, and minotaur mercenaries, and has declared himself the absolute ruler of the Everfree Forest.
    • Artful Dodger, Vulcan's apprentice and one of his Co-Dragons, also counts. Before he met Vulcan, he was just another street urchin criminal. Now, after some magically induced level-ups in badass, he's one of the most dangerous beings in Vulcan's army, with a fearful reputation amongst them, and even has his own minions now.
  • Pagan Vengeance: Juvage was the son of a minor chieftain in Lithuania. By the end of the story he's leading a bloodthirsty Army of Thieves and Whores, killed Genghis Khan in personal combat, defeated the Mongols, the Russians and the Teutonic Knights.
  • Because of his utter lack of backstory, there are numerous stories that make King Sombra this. One such example is The Umbra King. In it, Sombra was little more then an ordinary unicorn who lived on the outskirts of The Crystal Empire. But when arctic timberwolves killed his family (they nearly killed him, too) he, desperate to live again, found The Nightmare Gem and merged with it, leading him to become the tyrant he is now.
  • Friendship Is Magical Girls: Snails starts as one of Those Two Bad Guys to Sunset Shimmer in the Magic Arc, until she sacrifices him to Chrysalis to appease her. This leads to Snails being transformed into the Royal Drone Eskarrg, who acts as Chrysalis' Dragon in the Loyalty Arc.
  • Fallout: Equestria: Starlight has the Sins, seven ponies (well four ponies, one zebra, one donkey ghoul, and one minotaur) who were transformed and given great power through dark magic. All of them qualify, but none more so then Sloth... ...Better known as Cranky Doodle Donkey.
  • Combined Perspectives, a fic prequel to Steven Universe, depicts Pearl as a Shrinking Violet of low rank, who was fleeing Homeworld authorities when Rose found her. Millennia later, she has become a Master Swordswoman and experienced strategist who's defeated countless gems in battle.
  • Suzaku Kururugi of My Mirror, Sword and Shield was a Ordinary High-School Student Happily Adopted by Britannian scientists, Cecile and Lloyd and accidentally Time Travels too far back in his attempt to prevent his adoptive father's death and ends up in the War of Ascension. Suzaku ends being hired as eye candy for Emperor Lelouch and ends up being Emperor Lelouch's loyal and feared Dragon, the White Death who can take down the Black Knights and the Knights of Round single-handedly. All to in sure the proper timeline and a peaceful future.
  • Implied in "In Her Memory". Zentashin rose from slavery to become a powerful Sith Lord, only to watch his lover die. It's implied that he wades through a lot of corpses to see her death avenged.
  • We Are What We Are has Starshot. Downplayed in that he was Starswirl's nephew, but he starts out as just another one of the Dazzlings victims. He's now the Big Bad, and come chapter 46, and he's coming damn close to getting his revenge.
  • Shinra High SOLDIER has Julia Nakahamou, who starts her life as the daughter of a very poor family and spends years of her teenagehood being completely terrified of her parents and allowing them to abuse her in spite of her tremendous powers. Once she is drafted into the Shinra army however, she almost immediately becomes its amoral and arrogant Commander, with genocide and arbitrary executions (through torture) as her favorite solutions to problems.
  • The Difference One Man Can Make shows us Harry Potter landing in Westeros - North of the Wall - equipped with his wand, the clothes on his back and a travel bag. Less than five years later, he managed to gain authority over tens of thousands of Free Folk, founded two cities, threw the bases for an entire civilization and is known as the Witch-King-Beyond-the-Wall in the Seven Kingdoms and Essos.
  • In Ambience: A Fleet Symphony, Franklin Roosevelt Kevinson, the former admiral of the first-generation Shiratsuyu-class, was originally just some two-bit lieutenant who got chosen to play the role he got. In chapter 293, Sanford says that both he and Big made the mistake of thinking that Franklin would be just an indignant but ultimately powerless nobody once his part came to an end. Little did they expect that he would make his return as a superhuman cyborg, admiral to the first American shipgirls and a major player in the coup against President Blackwood.
  • In The Sage's Disciple, Crow is this to the rest of the 4th Holy Grail War participants as he literally appeared out of nowhere, leaving them with nothing to work with aside from what he lets them see. He and his Servant Caster have really lived up to the nightmare part by disarming Gilgamesh of all of his weapons, a feat that left the King of Heroes catatonic for several hours.
  • Pokémon Reset Bloodlines has a sidestory centered on Twenty Gyarados Bill, who is cited as the reason for the six active Pokémon limit. It depicts how he started as a simple crewman in a fishing boat who was always mocked by everyone for being useless, even given a Magikarp as a mock gift, being called as "the Magikarp of humans". Needless to say, he took this comparison to heart and decided that he would become the Gyarados of humans to get revenge on everyone who laughed at him, becoming the terror of coastal Johto.
  • Escape From the Moon: Doa/Spliced Genome was just an independent biochemist researcher consultant before she became a war criminal with a death count in the billions.
  • Life Ore Death mixes this with Mook Horror Show for Ferris, as the villains know almost nothing about her. She has no history, being from another dimension, but after she signed up with the Justice League she trounced the Light's top enforcer and wrecked several plots, to the point that they make a new plan just to learn about her.
  • The Makings of Team CRME: Cinder Fall is one of the major antagonists of RWBY and caused a massive amount of destruction with her actions. My Name Is Cinder shows that she was the little girl Cinder Autumn Stark and was continually abused by her mother. While the Stark family was rich, they were not known much outside of the elites. However, the story shows her getting on her way to becoming the diabolical Cinder Fall.
  • Apotheosis: Midoriya Izuku went from a bullied quirkless kid to the worst supervillain Japan has seen since All for One in little over a year, all thanks to the Infinity Gauntlet.



    Professional Wrestling 
  • Triple H started off in WCW as just another long-haired meathead(who wasn't even that meaty) with a silly Wrestling Doesn't Pay gimmick during a time when these gimmicks were a dime a dozen. He got squashed by The Ultimate Warrior during his first WrestleMania match, then the curtain call happened... But by 1997, he was randomly paired up with fellow long-haired Kliq member Shawn Michaels to form D-Generation X. From there, he would go on to marry the boss's daughter both in storyline and in Real Life, win both world championships over a dozen times, and become one of Professional Wrestling's nastiest tyrants, earning himself monikers such as 'The King of Kings' and 'The Cerebral Assassin'.
  • Jimmy Jacobs started his career off in Ring of Honor as a jobber in fuzzy boots, then as a lovesick emo-teen. Then he snapped, formed the viscous Age of the Fall stable. Since then he was a major player in the S.C.U.M faction and became the Big Bad in Chikara as the leader of the Flood (he was later revealed to be The Dragon).
  • The Miz. When he first appeared on television in the summer of 2006, it was merely as the obnoxious emcee for that year's Diva Search (which Layla El won, by the way). He eventually started wrestling, but almost everyone (except for Michael Cole, which Cole himself would Lampshade years later) thought of him as a joke who had only been offered a contract with WWE because he'd been on so many reality shows. (Outside of Kayfabe, of course, he'd been the second-place contestant on Tough Enough, which did him no favors with the fans since the fan voted contest winner was unceremoniously booted from the WWE) He remained essentially a "curtain-jerker" for his entire first year on TV, even getting eliminated from his first Royal Rumble Match after only seven seconds! It was only after he was drafted to ECW on SciFi in the summer of 2007 and paired with John Morrison in a heel tag team that he started to emerge as something resembling a threat. Fast-forward three years and several titles later, and suddenly Miz is "Mister Money in the Bank" and eventually "the most must-see WWE Champion in history!" And, of course, "Awesome."
  • The WWE NXT season one rookies were just some wet-behind-the-ears, fresh-out-of-training nobodies — maybe something someday, but for now not worth much. Then they banded together to form The Nexus, and completely tore apart Monday Night Raw. For a few months after that, they were "the biggest threat WWE has ever faced" — bigger than The Alliance, bigger than the nWo, bigger than the McMahon-Helmsley Regime, you name it. Ironically, their undoing came when Daniel Bryan, the only rookie who actually had a good amount of experience before coming on NXT, and who had been expelled from the group for showing remorse, joined the WWE wrestlers in the fight against The Nexus.
  • Mark Henry spent the better part of 15 years as a midcarder, best known for his angle with Mae Young, and was considered an oft-injured bust who the WWE only hung onto to justify the untold millions they (over)paid him. When the company was short on monster heels, they turned to Mark Henry to see if he could fill that role finally. With strong booking that had him decimating upper midcarders and main eventers alike, coupled with a rejuvenated Henry in the ring and on the mic, he was able to finally be convincing as one of the most dangerous men in the company, if not THE most dangerous.
  • Cody Rhodes made his WWE debut back in July of 2007 as a generic babyface who teamed up with veteran Hardcore Holly to win the World Tag Team Championships later that year. But Rhodes would turn on Holly at Night of Champions in June of 2008 by revealing himself to be Ted DiBiase Jr.'s mystery partner. Both DiBiase and Rhodes would spend the rest of 2008 to early 2010 as Randy Orton's Legacy henchmen who did all of Orton's dirty work. By spring of 2010 when Legacy disbanded, many experts predicted that DiBiase would be the breakout star of Legacy while Rhodes would be stuck in WWE Superstars-land. But it would be Rhodes who would become one of the WWE's top heels as well as one of the longest reigning Intercontinental Champions while DiBiase faded to obscurity.
  • AJ Lee started off as the adorable, nerdy Geek Goddess who won the crowd by being tiny, cute, and easy to relate to. Once she hooked up with Daniel Bryan, her popularity grew... and then he dumped her and she lost her mind, turning her into the crazy Wild Card who brutally abused her former best friend, won the Divas Championship and held on to it for longer than anyone before her, running right over the top of the other Divas in the process.
  • Kenny Omega was a Fun Personified kid best known for pretending to Hadoken people during matches. Then he joined the Bullet Club and reemerged as "The Cleaner" a Psycho for Hire brought in to take out all of the wrestlers in New Japan's junior heavyweight division. He then ascended even further up the ranks after AJ Styles left at Wrestle Kingdom 10, now the new leader of the Bullet Club, he has become one of the strongest wrestlers in the world, being the first gaijin to win the G1 Climax and is now the US Champion of NJPW as well as gaining mass amounts of media coverage for his matches against Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11 and Dominion 6.11.
  • Bray Wyatt. Originally Husky Harris, filler for CM Punk's iteration of the Nexus, he later on became "possessed", now the Ax-Crazy leader of a backwoods cult, who may or may not be the vessel for the devil himself.
  • As an unusual heroic example (or straight example, depending on how you feel about his career), the big man himself, John Cena. Cena's first appearance as a pro wrestler was on a Discovery Channel show called Inside Pro Wrestling School, which caught on camera his first day as a wrestler-to-be. He eventually evolved a rather corny gimmick called "The Prototype" (basically a Terminator-pastiche that derided everyone on their physique, building on Cena's past as a bodybuilder), which he kept up until he made his WWE main roster debut against Kurt Angle in 2002 (at which point he began using his real name). Anyone watching back then would have brushed this guy off as another face in the crowd, not expecting him to become the biggest thing the industry has ever seen since the days of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Cyric of the Forgotten Realms was originally a rank-and-file thief in his guild, then an ordinary if somewhat amoral and greedy, mercenary. After the Time of Troubles he became the Prince of Lies, the Black Sun, the Mad God, the Lord of Three Crowns; an evil god even when compared to other Greater Evil deities, who controls the portfolios of Murder, Lies, and Strife (and for a while Death, Tyranny, and Intrigue as well). And the title "mad god"? That's an understatement. He makes Lloth look sane.
    • The Archdevil Bel is probably one of the greatest examples of this. He started out as an ordinary lemure, a weak pile of goo that doesn't even have an intelligence score, and went all the way up the promotion chain until he overthrew his boss and became the Archdevil of the first layer of hell. True, it's the lowest ranking Archdevil there is, but tell him he's not a nightmare to his face and he'll probably kill you and use your soul for some evil deed.
      • And he's not even the only one. According to the second Fiendish Codex, ALL devils are like this, except for the few who are fallen angels or such.
    • Orcus deserves special mention too. Legend says he was originally an evil mortal, who ended up in the Abyss as he died, as a lowly manes. But he was cunning, and over several millennia, worked his way up, becoming stronger and evolving into more powerful demons. Presently, he's a demon lord, and is not only the number two - or three, depends on who's talking - ruler in the Abyss, he has more mortal worshippers than any other demon, possibly making him the one closer to gaining true godhood - his stated goal - than any other demon.
    • Rust monsters. Originally, a cheap toy that looked sort of vaguely lobster-like that Gary Gygax picked up once. After a few editions, the bane of player characters everywhere for their habit of eating all your ridiculously expensive magic weapons and armour.
  • In Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, ANYONE who gets possessed by a daemon becomes a nightmare. If it's properly bound...
    • The Tau in the latter. When the mighty Imperium of Mankind first discovered them, they were no more than a simple plains-dwelling race that had barely mastered fire. Fast-forward six thousand years and they've assembled a multi-species empire capable of standing against the might of an Imperial crusade and defeating a Tyranid splinter fleet without a single lost vessel. However, they're still small-time on the galactic scale, controlling maybe a hundred worlds compared to the Imperium's one million. The main reason they've been able to survive is because they're located in the arse-end of the galaxy and generally not seen as a major threat to the Imperium (they managed to hold off a crusade for a time, but had the Imperium not been forced recall its forces to combat the Tyranids, they'd have been crushed eventually).
    • This could also apply to the Necrons in their own time (at least prior to 5th edition), who went from an insignificant, short-lived race orbiting a dying sun to an endless army of immortal killing machines possessing the most advanced starships in the setting.
    • Asdrubael Vect, the supreme overlord of Comorragh, started out as nothing more than a slave. He managed to escape slavery and became a gang leader, and then slowly amassed power until his forces were powerful enough to be noticed by the noble houses that ruled the Dark City (though he did make sure to not become powerful enough to be seen as a threat by them). Eventually he manipulated events to cause the death of the leaders of the three biggest houses and leave their forces depleted and confused, then used the opportunity to seize power for himself.
    • Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka, now the most feared and powerful Ork Warboss in the galaxy, an Ork who brought a Hive World to its knees. Nine years before the "present", he was just a random thug who suffered a head injury and started hearing the voices of the Ork gods.
    • Every post-Heresy Space Marine and Chaos Marine. To become a Space Marine you need to be selected from the population of the Marine homeworld or a world it often recruits from. Every Power Armor-clad, genetically engineered killing machine of the Imperium was once a teenage boy on one of any backwater planets, a lot of them Death Worlds or Feral Worlds. These kids are badass, no doubt, but in the Imperium of a million worlds and trillions upon trillions of citizens, not so impressive.
    • Arkhan The Black from Warhammer Fantasy began as a wastrel from a minor noble house. Known for his gambling and whore mongering, he earned the nickname "The Black" due to his poor dental hygiene. After becoming a follower of Nagash he became the second most powerful necromancer in the world, commanding such fear and dread that none dared to approach his remains after his death. His title The Black went from an embarrassing nickname to The Magnificent.
  • The "Gagagigo" series of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards tell the tale of a cute little Gigobyte's eventual transformation into the insane cybernetic monstrosity Gogiga Gagagigo.
  • In Exalted, this is often part of the backstory of Abyssals and Infernals. Infernals are offered their Exaltation by the Yozis after a deep, personal failure, and Abyssals only get the chance to become Abyssals when they're at death's door. The Prince of Shadows is a particularly good illustration of this trope as it applies to Abyssals.
    • The previewed Infernal for third edition, Basphomy in Verdigris, was a Tengese political pawn with nothing two years ago. Now she's a rich hedonist...who turns into an eyeless dragon when the time comes to fight.
    • The Scarlet Empress herself; an officer of the Shogunate of decent background but no particular widely known reputation, who became the most powerful person in Creation when she took control of ancient defense systems and drove back an invasion of The Fair Folk. This actually formed part of the early basis of Lookshy's defiance; the commander of the Seventh Legion wrote to the Empress saying he knew nothing about her, suggesting that she lacked the credentials to take such a lofty title.
  • A frequent factor in Betrayal at House on the Hill. That cute little boy who collects bugs? Just discovered a nest of Big Creepy-Crawlies and thinks they're so cool he's just gotta feed his new friends fresh meat. That sweet little girl with the teddy bear? Stumbled across a gateway to hell. The possibilities go on and on...
    • This trope can take place not only in the plot, but in the mechanics. Most games revolve around a haunt, or a time when some player turns on the others. The traitor and the others compete to fulfill different, opposed goals. Character stats in the game can go up and down. A character might start with only modest physical or mental stats, pass a few checks, Take a Level in Badass, find a magical item for a further buff...and then wind up betraying the rest of the players while easily the most powerful character in the game.
  • Delta Green features a few amongst the more human antagonists. One was once just a guy learning how to play guitar from some random drunkard. A pretty teenager from Ohio. A health food magnate. Dirt encrusted war orphans, one of them missing an arm. All of them viciously insane, completely amoral and enslaved to the will of powerful and dangerous alien entities.
  • Yawgmoth from Magic: The Gathering. He started out as an ordinary medic and eventually became a god-killing Multiversal Conqueror Dimension Lord Eldritch Abomination. His Start of Darkness is because unlike everyone else, he wasn't a healer he was a surgeon, who wanted to know how deep the rabbit hole went.
  • One of the planets of the Screaming Vortex in Black Crusade is a dismal wasteland where nothing can be built, populated by permanently depressed people. However, the inhabitants of the planet all harbour deep resentment and unspeakable desires that they're unable to act out on their bleak homeworld, and if taken off fromt he planet and allowed to finally act out their desires, they tend to become some of the most merciless and feared mortal followers of Chaos.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade has the Antediluvians, creators of thirteen vampire clans. They used to be mortal men and women, until they were embraced by their sires. Their first nights were no different than fledgings of modern nights, trying to distract themselves from the Beast Within and scavenging anything that slips through the fingers of their sires and their sire, Caine, until Gabriel/Uriel's prophecy came true and Antediluvians struck down their sires. Now? They are one of the most ancient horrors in the World of Darkness. There is only one thing that they remember about being a human, and that is hunger. They are closer than most to godhood, and they have been planning to reach that stage for many millenias. When they show their faces once again to the world that so desperately wants to forget them, the end of civilization will come, and they will feast on not just their descendants, but also the world. Saulot, however, might have been a good guy, or not.
  • Prior to Kahless the Unforgettable being codified as a Warrior Messiah Jesus by Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, FASA's Star Trek Tabletop Role-Playing Game released a supplement on the Klingons (it was heavily influenced by John M. Ford and his novel The Final Reflection). In it, Kahless was a ruthless warrior who, despite his talents, opted for a position in military research for the shaky coalition of generals that controlled Klinzhai following the last great war of planetary unification. This seemingly career-limiting choice of a dead-end position kept him from being a target in ongoing factional strife. More importantly, it let him create a research program on matter/antimatter reactions that gave him both an orbital Doomsday Device (which he used to force the coalition to name him Emperor) and the ability, via warp drive, to channel his people's ambitions toward the conquest of the stars. In the meantime, of course, anyone who he didn't trust (a rather large number) was mercilessly hunted down.
  • Quite a few characters in the Old World of Darkness crossover game Midnight Circus were noted for their inauspicious backgrounds prior to seizing power in the circus.
    • Ringmaster Devyn Cavendish got his start in life as a lowly street urchin in 15th century Florence, having been raised by his uncle after his father - a priest - abandoned him to avoid a scandal. However, all that changed when he Awakened and the Celestial Chorus found him; for a while, he was a promising apprentice... and then he happened to get hold of certain forbidden texts confiscated from Nephandi mages. Seduced by their power, he left his chantry and went off in search of the author - and the rest was history.
    • Being a thinly-veiled Expy of Josef Stalin, Jerigif Sacha AKA Koba the Clown was also destined for seminary school before dropping out and starting a life of crime - as part of a subversive comedy group. Following a run-in with a Silent Strider werewolf, he found himself unexpectedly possessed by a Bane - but somehow retaining enough free will to use its powers for his own ends. Not long after, the once-lowly clown joined the Midnight Circus.
    • Few Circus folk start off any lower than the Cone of Flesh: beginning life as a random blob of fat gathering in the Seventh Generation's fomorach pits, it unexpectedly achieved sentience and began eating the fomori that were supposed to be emerging from the pit... then the scientists who went to investigate... and then the security team that went looking for them. Following its escape and recruitment by the Circus, the nine-foot-tall cone of rancid blubber has ascended from an exhibit at the Museum of Oddities, to the King of Freak City and the terror of all who dwell there.
  • Pathfinder's Ileosa Arabasti was always cruel, petty, and manipulative, but as a glorified trophy wife with less smarts than the average peasant, she was too weak and cowardly to actually do anything that bad. Then she found the Fangs of Kazavon, which gave her a significant boost to her abilities, and the courage to act on her ambitions, turning her into one of the Inner Sea's most brutal and depraved tyrants. Over the course of Curse of the Crimson Throne, she goes from a low-level aristocrat to a 20th level, Devil-bound bard with enhanced ability scores and two incredibly powerful artifacts.
  • Some of the villains in Sentinels of the Multiverse are a drug dealer who mutated into a horrible rat monster (Plague Rat), a thief who turned into a serial killer, became superhuman after responding positively to Super Serum and later made a Deal with the Devil (Spite), and most notably, a goth teenager who found an evil mask (the Matriarch), who is most notable because she has a difficulty rating on par with Iron Legacy, who is basically an evil Superman.
  • Heather Duke from Heathers starts out as a Beta Bitch consistently silenced by Alpha Bitch Heather Chandler, and appeared rather meek compared to the person protagonist Veronica refers to as a "mythic bitch." When describing Heather Duke, Veronica even comments about how she seems to have no discernible personality in comparison to the other Heathers. However, after Heather Chandler's death, Heather Duke takes over as the new Big Bad of the school and is arguably even worse despite lacking the charisma to strike other students with the same feeling of fear that Heather Chandler did. She goes so far as to spread false rumors in order to completely smear Veronica's virtuous reputation, where as Heather Chandler had merely threatened her with social isolation.
    Visual Novels 
  • In the Ace Attorney series, Joe Darke was an ordinary office worker, until he killed someone with his car. This led to a chain of events that made him an infamous Serial Killer.
    • The beginning of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has Miles Edgeworth. He's known as the Demon Prosecutor who is said to do whatever it takes to get his guilty verdict, including forging evidence (though Case 1-5 verifies that particular rumor was untrue) and who never lost a case before going up against Phoenix. It's later revealed though that Edgeworth used to be a perfectly normal kid, albeit one very interested in being a famous defense attorney. Character Development in later games makes him less of a nightmare, though.
  • Fate/stay night's Sakura Matou goes from the cute girl with a jerk brother who gets kicked out of all the routes early, never does anything important, Cannot Spit It Out and more Shrinking Violet traits to an all powerful dark mage with the exact magic traits needed not only to be able to be the host of the (sort of) devil, but also express its power. And also to keep her mind (to a certain extent). Oh, and she can eat Servants or corrupt them as she pleases, have an immense Healing Factor and a bunch of other nifty moves. The one thing it doesn't do for her is improve her self image, causing her to believe that Rin (her sister) doesn't care about her (Rin's rather cold statements don't exactly help matters...), and to worry that Shirou might abandon her for Rin.
    • Avenger/ Angra Mainyu too. Started off as just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill Mesopotamian villager. After being randomly picked to be a scapegoat for 'all evils of the world' he ended up being summonable for the Holy Grail War, but even there he was still pathetic, being one of the weakest Servants imaginable. However his spirit then went inside the Grail where he made a wish to truly become the manifestation of evil for revenge on humanity, and that's the reason the Grail has been corrupted ever since.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry: All the secondary antagonists/ironic members of the main set of True Companions.
  • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Akane goes from being a sweet little girl to masterminding a second Nonary Game to get revenge on the four men that caused her death, as well as to get Junpei to show her the solution to saving her life.
  • Super Danganronpa 2: The students of Hope's Peak Academy's 77th class (excluding Chiaki) were all fairly normal, if somewhat messed up, high school students before they became members of Ultimate Despair. Afterward, they were responsible for the murders of their families and friends, terrorism, coup d'etats, wars, the massacre of countless innocents, and even destroying their own bodies through self-inflicted mutilation. The finale anime describes them as million-class murderers.
    • Hajime Hinata takes the cake among the cast, starting off from someone with no talent being selected by Hope's Peak for an experiment. Said experiment erased his memories and personality to make him multi-talented for the sake of creating Ultimate Hope... but the aftereffects made him a prime target to become the Ultimate Despair, triggering The End of the World as We Know It.

  • In Drow Tales, Quain'tana would be this from the perspective of the Blue Blood Sharen clan. She started out as a lowly orphaned Street Urchin, forced to steal food in order to survive and nearly dying at the hands of a Sharen dragon knight over it. But in time, she was able to build up enough power to become their bitterest foe for authority and survived all of their attempts to crush her. By the end of the Time Skip, she overthrows their reign over the city-state of Chel and completely topples their sense of reality.
  • In Theres Something About Tails, Tails gets possessed by a soldier from another universe and turns into a badass.
  • Several centuries before the start of Tower of God, Hoaqin was originally just an ordinary Regular from the 10 Great Families. After fusing with his siblings to become more powerful and taking on the guise of White, he climbed up the Tower, became a Ranker and eventually became one of the most infamous and feared FUG Slayers in the history of the Tower. His crimes and actions were so severe it took the efforts of the Zahard Princesses to put him down for good. Or so they thought...
  • In 8-Bit Theater, as it turns out The Onion Kid becomes Sarda, Reality Warper extraordinaire.
  • Karnak from Dominic Deegan was a human orphan raised by orcs. Through a Heroic Sacrifice to save Miranda Deegan, he was transformed into a semi-demon and gradually slaughtered his way up the ranks to become the only Demon Lord in Hell.
    • Most Infernomancers in the series fit this trope as well. And Necromancers. And maybe Siegfried. Yeah, Mookie sort of loves this trope.
  • Jack Noir of Homestuck starts out as just an unwilling Obstructive Bureaucrat in the kingdom of Derse, but ends up becoming the comic's Disc-One Final Boss after killing the Black Queen and takes the prototyping rings for his own use.Takes a whole another level when he successfully kills an entire universe
    • Eridan Ampora is a competitor for fastest jump from Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain to a serious threat with his plan to join Jack, the murders of his love interest and best friend, and causing the extinction of his species. Right after pathetically thanking said best friend for being the only person to show faith in him.
    • For straight-up old-school shiver-inducing terror try Gamzee's about face. He starts the comic as an unimportant Flat Character based on a parodic Deconstruction of a Insane Clown Posse video - an attempt to imagine what a character holding the beliefs implied in the video would actually be like (a Monster Clown with a tough upbringing, but also a sweet-natured, totally chill, Stoner Love Freak who is probably the nicest person in the comic). The fanbase loved him and produced gag fanworks based on him, which made it all the more hilarious when he was described as "the most important character in Homestuck", and then flipped out and started murdering all the other trolls due to a religious crisis.
    • ...and now we have Aranea Serket, whose whiplash-inducing Face–Heel Turn is enough to break one's neck. Making it worse? The action that put her over the Moral Event Horizon was "healing" Jake's emotional trauma, allowing him to use his powers against everyone else in the session on her behalf—against his will. And the fallout? Considering he's :a Page of Hope, explicitly stated on several occasions to be one of the most powerful classes, not exactly pretty.:Her actions end up causing the failure of the entire original timeline, needing a large scale multiversal retcon to fix.
    • And finally, in an exceptionally spectacular example: Caliborn. He was little more than a brat on trapped on a room, but ended up turning into the ultimate omniversal terror, ruler of paradox space, and unquestionable master of time; the all mighty Lord English
  • The Order of the Stick
    • On the prequel book Start of Darkness, Redcloak goes from a cleric initiate to vessel of his god's will and earthly power simply by donning his mentor's Crimson Mantle.
    • His master, the Dark One, started off as a regular purple-skin goblin before becoming a powerful warlord, and eventually a god.
    • Xykon goes from being an unfocused thug with no real long-term goal other than just wanton murder and destruction to an undead monstrosity that threatens the entire world.
    • Tarquin was once a small-time adventurer who tried to set up his own nation on the Western Continent. However, he joined together with his old friends and engineered a conspiracy which controls most of the Western Continent. He is now the de facto ruler of the Empire of Blood, as well as the other two Western Continent superpowers
    • The Snarl started out as a tiny piece of creation that embodied the pantheons' disagreements over how the universe should work. It was so insignificant that the gods either didn't notice or didn't care about its existence. Then it got bigger and meaner to the point that it could curbstomp entire pantheons. It is now supposedly the greatest threat to all existence, with the entire series revolving around efforts to control or seal it.
  • Pretty much the main story arch of Zebra Girl. the series began when a random magical accident transformed an ordinary tech support specialist into a demon with a soul. From those humble beginnings, she has gradually lost her humanity by inches, and has spent the past several months of the comic gleefully and unrepentantly terrorizing the inhabitants of her hometown as the living embodiment of fear. Basically, she has become a better-looking version of Freddy Krueger. With longer claws.
  • Coyote of Gunnerkrigg Court believes that etheric beings like himself only exist because of human belief. Assuming his theory is true, he was once an ordinary coyote until a delirious dying human saw him as a deity.
  • In El Goonish Shive, this is why the government puts so much effort into maintaining The Masquerade that keeps regular people from realizing magic exists (and, more importantly, how easy it is). Ordinary jerks with just a taste of magic can turn into psychotic monsters.
  • (Mostly) heroic example in Schlock Mercenary: Petey, near the beginning of the comic, was merely the AI of one of many of the Ob'enn warships, and thus just an assistant to a race of Omnicidal Maniac koala-like bears. But he proved to have both unparalleled tactical genius, a fondness for baryonic life as a whole and a bit of a god complex. All of this together led to some complex trickery on his part to take over his own ship, and later employing our protagonists in a variety of missions to spread his influence further, along with making some tactical advancements of his own. By the latter chapters, he's become the closest thing to a god the setting has, the commander of the greatest known fleet in existence, and the Milky Way's self-appointed protector.
    • A similar example, including the (mostly) heroic part, is LOTA. He was initially built as a longshoreman, albeit an overengineered one, built with off-the-shelf tank parts and his AI built by one of the greater experts in the matter. But still, a longshoreman. Some skillful maneuvering, journalist call-outs and colony-saving later, he ended up in charge of the entirety of the Credomar station, with millions of (now happy) humans to rule over and one of the galaxy's most dangerous weapons at his disposal.
  • Guilded Age has Penk, who starts out as a drummer and herald with strong ideals but not much else, and then becomes an avatar of his god, gaining increased strength, resilience, and senses, and takes on leadership of the World's Rebellion's response to the Gastonian Peacemakers.
  • Girl Genius has Baron Wulfenbach. While not quite nobody, Baron is one of the lowest ranks possible in Europe, and his family historically ruled a single town without much invasion of anyone else. His greatest personal claim to fame was essentially as a recurring sidekick for the two legendary heroes of the era. He disappeared for a few years, during which time the heroes disappeared (maybe killed), attacks from their arch-enemy the Other had left Europa in ruins. By the time he came back, all the good he accomplished with his heroic friends was in shambles and every Mad Scientist on the continent was running around trying to kill or conquer each other again. He dealt with this by rolling up his sleeves and conquering the entire continent in a matter of years. Then he held it all together for decades with a delicate balance of soft-touch and iron-fist policies summed up as "Don't make me come over there".

    Web Original 
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog goes this route with the main character. In the prequel comic released, he was merely a geeky kid who was inspired by a Mad Scientist's moment of triumph to be a Supervillain (albeit one with good aspirations). He consistently remains unsuccessful at impressing his superiors and is eventually shoehorned into a situation where he must commit a murder or be executed for incompetence. Eventually with the accidental murder of Penny, the girl he loved, he becomes a true supervillain in both position and personality.
  • Survival of the Fittest provides plenty of opportunities for (mostly) normal high school students to become multiple murderers. J. R. Rizzolo, in particular, went from being a regular guy who liked playing Guitar Hero to a sadistic, deceptive loony who offed his former classmates without a trace of guilt.
  • Coyle Command found its origins as a laundromat. Its leader, Coyle Commander, had the job of opening and closing it every day.
  • Cute swamp monster Theodora, from roleplaying podcast Dice Funk, goes from a bit character in the previous season to a main character in the next one...a main character in Faustian service to a God of Abominations. By the time the other characters realize that she's Not So Harmless and sweet, Dora has become the living avatar of a dark god and sacrificed everything she's cared about on that god's altar. Worse yet, she accomplishes exactly what she'd set out to do, killing dozens and trapping thousands of innocent people in a Fate Worse than Death inside of ironic hells that they can no longer escape. Ever.
  • League of Legends has Jericho Swain, the Master Tactician. His first record of being known in Noxus was when he walked into an infirmary with a severely mangled leg. No one but Swain (and maybe his bird) knows what happened, and he walked off afterwards with nothing but a cane in hand, refusing magical treatment, going off to join the Noxian military. Instead of being turned away for being a cripple, he tore his way through the ranks as a commanding officer, being promoted when demotions were asked for, and being decorated after nearly every battle. And even now, he still walks around with a cane.
  • Frequently used in The Gungan Council for villains. Better examples would be characters that managed to fly under the radar for a year or two before everyone realized how nightmarishly involved they were in all of the galaxy's problems.
  • A host of kids in the Whateley Universe who are nothing until somewhere around the age of fourteen they manifest as mutants. Deathlist, most feared hero killer in the world, started out as an ordinary schoolboy.
  • The Questport Chronicles: The Fellowship never finds out who the mage who destroyed Questport is or where he came from. No one had heard of him until after the cataclysm.
  • The Queen of Pain from Orion's Arm, an Eldritch Abomination that was once a perfectly normal cat.
  • That Guy with the Glasses:
  • The heroine of Tired Fairy is originally just a joung woman from a middle-class family, going on university vacation. Then she finds the Sphere of Power, an ancient artifact that can kill averybody and destroy anything the wielder wishes (think Death Note on steroids). By the end of the first book, she is de-facto in control of the world.
  • After two online users, ghettofinger and GirlVinyl were kept from creating a Wikipedia article about a certain someone, they went on and created their own wiki so they could get away with it. The result: The infamously offensive (and Nigh Invulnerable) Encyclopedia Dramatica.
  • You, in Cookie Clicker. At the very start, you can't even bake a decent cookie, with the ones you do make being unappealing even to the neighbourhood raccoon. Several gazillion cookies later, you've established a baking empire spanning several galaxies, have opened dozens of portals to universes made of cookies, baked with antimatter, unravelled time itself, and bribed elder gods, all with these same cookies that are now unimaginably good. And it all started with one click from someone who one day felt like baking some cookies.
  • Several of the most feared Villains in A Practical Guide To Evil.
  • Cobra Kai: All the Cobra Kai students started off as meek, bullied kids with some form of disability, and ended up feared, ruthless martial artists. However, the standout is Eli, who went from trying to hide in his clothes to a berserker whose capacity for aggression and brutality frightens even the other members of Cobra Kai.
  • Taylor Hebert from the web serial Worm is a depressed fifteen year-old girl that's the victim of heavy bullying. Roughly 1,680,000 words later, she has been an infamous Supervillain/Warlord, a renowned Superhero, a voice at the table when The Illuminati discussed their response to the impending apocalypse, a dimension-hopping Physical God of total mind-control ability. Then she peacefully retires at around nineteen years old.
  • Madness Combat: Tricky the Clown starts out as a random Mook in the Sheriff's employ, but then assimilates reality-warping technology and becomes the setting's most enduring villain. As of Expurgation, he's reached Humanoid Abomination status as "The Thorn in Reality's Side".