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From Zero to Hero

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"He was a no-one! (A zero, zero!)
Now, he's a honcho! (He's a hero!)
Here was a kid with his act down pat!
From zero to hero
In no time flat!
Zero to hero!
Just like that!
— "Zero to Hero", from Hercules

It's a trope that's as old as storytelling itself, and most likely exist until the very last story is told: a character starts out from humble origins to become a hero. It's not difficult to see why this is such an enduring storytelling pattern: it's at once an underdog story, a story of personal growth, and a variation of what may be the archetypal storytelling formula. It also allows us to see a bit of ourselves in our so-called "zero" and imagine that we, too, could aspire to greatness should we ever have the opportunity. Stories such as these not only entertain us; they also give us hope.

The From Zero to Hero trope is a variation on The Hero's Journey: it describes stories in which a person of humble beginnings answers the Call to Adventure, grows as a person and as an agent of change, succeeds at their journey, and comes back the victorious hero. In some cases, they may even become the Big Good of the story.

There are three essential components of this trope, although each allows for large amounts of variation:

The Humble Beginnings: The "humble beginning" is a defining part of this trope; you can hardly have a "zero to hero" plot without a "zero." For the purposes of this trope, "zero" describes a character who begins the story with a very low station in life. They may have been born into abject poverty, or they may belong to a maligned racial, religious, or social demographic. They may begin with no real allies or social connections, or they may simply be a loser in the game of life. Whatever the case may be, the "zero" begins the story lacking the resources or the abilities needed to achieve their ultimate goal. It's through the journey that these resources and abilities are gained.

The Journey and the Heroic Act: For this story pattern to take place, the character must also have a journey to complete, and an ultimate goal to achieve. They must be given obstacles to overcome, new skills to learn, and opportunities to grow as a person. The journey doesn't necessarily have to be a physical one involving miles of travel, it's merely a term that describes the zero's progression towards hero.

In the end, the hero must achieve their ultimate goal, which generally culminates in the "heroic act" — the action or series of actions that brings about the hero's victory. While the ways in which this plays out can vary wildly, the "heroic act" does have to be of sufficient difficulty and sufficient importance to elevate the hero's value in the eyes of others. They must stop seeing him as a "zero" and start regarding him as a "hero".

The Rising Hero: As the name "From Zero to Hero" implies, the zero cannot remain a zero at the end of the story. Their reward doesn't have to involve massive wealth — this isn't a Rags to Riches story — nor do they necessarily have to have a "Happily Ever After" kind of ending. They do, however, have to end the story in a better state than the one they began with. While there are all manner of ways to subvert or otherwise play with this story pattern, for the example to be played completely straight, the hero's standing in life must be in some way improved as a direct result of their journey.

While the terminology used in this description may suggest that this trope is exclusive to epic fantasy quests, that's really not the case. From Zero to Hero can encompass all kinds of stories: for example, it can also apply to an impoverished child's journey to become a champion athlete, or an untested young scientist's years-long quest to find a cure for an awful disease. It describes a story's structure or pattern; its subject matter is limited only to the author's imagination.

Extremely common in Trapped in Another World stories. May involve The Prophecy, Divine Intervention, The Chosen One, or becoming Legendary in the Sequel. May enlist the Farm Boy, The Chosen Zero, or the Ordinary High-School Student as the protagonist. May overlap with Humble Hero if the character still remembers their origins. Often involves Took a Level in Badass, and/or becoming a Self-Made Man. See also Giving the Sword to a Noob, Let's Get Dangerous!, Messianic Archetype, and To Be a Master.

Compare Jackie Robinson Story, a related trope specific to racial minorities, as well as You Go, Girl! and "Gender-Normative Parent" Plot for gender-specific versions. Compare and contrast Rags to Riches, where a character rises from their initial position by making a lot of money. Contrast From Nobody to Nightmare, this trope's villainous equivalent; Experienced Protagonist, who completely averts the "zero" portion of this trope; and Born Winner, who may be the Privileged Rival to our "zero".

Not to be confused with My Hero, Zero, which is about characters who are literally named "Zero" or variations of it.

As this is an Ending Trope covering the entire arc of a story and/or character, spoilers are a given and will be unmarked from this point forward. Read on at your own risk.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Asta from Black Clover is seemingly the only person in the setting who cannot use magic. Despite this, thanks to his handicap he manifests his own grimoire that lets him wield Anti-Magic swords, allowing him to fight other mages and join a Magic Knight Squad. Through the Black Bulls, he defeats enemies of the Clover Kingdom and hopes to one day become the Wizard King, the strongest Magic Knight in the kingdom.
  • Aichi Sendou from Cardfight!! Vanguard starts the story as an Extreme Doormat with no friends who is frequently bullied by his peers — to the point that he had to change schools. Over the course of the series, he grows into a confident young man with great leadership skills, many close friends, and is hailed as Asia's Vanguard Champion.
  • Dragon Ball tells the story of how Goku, a carefree young boy living in the wilderness, ends up getting pulled into many adventures of stopping villains from taking over or destroying the world, which eventually leads him to become the most powerful hero in the universe.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • The series is ripe with these characters. Aside from all of the protagonists of the fifth and sixth parts going from petty criminals and thugs to heroes that take down Physical Gods, the series has Robert EO Speedwagon; a guy who starts out as a street thug, but after meeting Jonathan he exploits his Rags to Riches status to support and aid the Joestar line for over a hundred years.
    • Initially being a little, kinda wimpy guy, Koichi Hirose from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable shows that after gaining his Stand he actually has some backbone, and keeps getting more moments of badassery.
  • Akko from Little Witch Academia (2017) dreams of becoming a magnificent witch who spreads happiness, but she lacks the magical prowess. She frequently goofs and looks even more incapable next to her highly skilled rival Diana. However, she goes through lots of training and manages to spread happiness with sheer positivity, even learning to master the legendary Shiny Rod which comes in handy when saving the world.
  • Nanoha from Lyrical Nanoha starts off as the youngest daughter to a family of bakers growing up on an Insignificant Little Blue Planet. The revelation that she had great potential in magic (along with several years of Training from Hell) eventually resulted in her becoming a celebrated hero throughout the multiverse, with In-Universe movies having been made about her exploits.
  • In My Hero Academia, Izuku Midoriya starts off as a Quirkless teen who can only dream of becoming a hero in a world full of them. After being recognized by his lifelong idol, All Might, he gains the powerful quirk One For All, giving him a chance at becoming the number one hero. Although he has to keep training his newfound power, he gets plenty of opportunities to fight villains and save others.
  • Naruto starts out almost completely untalented and overconfident, but once he finds his friends, he realizes what it means to be a hero and fights to protect them.
  • One Piece:
    • Monkey King Lite Luffy once was a loud, ambitious kid from a small village in the East Blue ocean, which is commonly regarded as "unremarkable" compared to the other big seas in the world. He then forms the Straw Hat Pirates with only a small crew (all of whom have their own humble beginnings) and proceeds to make a name for themselves as they venture between islands in search for the titular One Piece. Post Time Skip, the crew is considered one of the most infamous, especially as they have tangled with at least 2 major governmental facilities, and Luffy having a very high bounty.
    • Luffy's foil Koby was much the same way. He started out as just a random kid who was the first friend Luffy made on his journey when he rescued him from a life of slavery, and aspired to be a hero like him but on the opposite side as a Marine. Thanks to Training from Hell from Luffy's Marine grandfather Monkey D. Garp, he becomes a Captain with Charles Atlas Superpower and Ki Manipulation equivalent to early post-Time Skip Luffy. Same goes for Koby's partner-in-crime Helmeppo, who started out as his enemy and was a powerless Spoiled Brat but Took a Level in Badass alongside him.
  • While Saitama in One-Punch Man starts out as a would-be salaryman with no real goal in life, he realizes he wants to be a hero and starts training like mad. However, when he finally reaches his goal, being able to lay waste to any villain or monster with a single punch due to his ridiculous strength, he becomes really bored with this. Subverted in that, despite his heroism, nobody recognizes his feats and sees him as a very plain hero, even though he is anything but. Though admittedly, he does still look like an average guy and acts like one when he is not fighting.
  • Ash Ketchum from Pokémon: The Series starts out with his ambition To Be a Master, but his knowledge and skills are clearly sub-par. Fortunately, his Determinator spirit and The Power of Friendship help him grow into a truly competitive trainer and prove himself The Chosen One on multiple occasions, eventually allowing him to win the Alola League and become a champion before eventually becoming the World's Best Warrior.
  • Tsunayoshi Sawada from Reborn! (2004). At school all his grades are zero, he is impossibly clumsy, smaller than everyone in his class, has no out-of-school activities whatsoever (unless you count reading manga and playing video games), has absolutely no friends, and is berated both by his mother (though that was toned down in the anime) and at school. He even gets stuck with the nickname "Dame-Tsuna". By the end of the series he has obtained amazing power, is an expert in combat, has a very wide circle of friends and allies that would die for him and has managed to defeat his setting's Eldritch Abominations, among other deeds. No improvement in his grades though.
  • Lint begins Rise Of The Outlaw Tamer as a nobody D-Rank adventurer. Less than a month after meeting A-Rank adventurer Belina, he is a renowned B-Rank Dragon Tamer with an absurdly powerful Battle Harem who can hit well above his stated weight class.
  • Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann starts out as a digger in an underground village, when he gets a hold of a mecha. Continuously getting inspired by big bro and mentor Kamina, this leads to his journey above ground, where he begins to fight Ganmen on his way to Lordgenome. The levels of greatness keep piling up until Simon and his allies are fighting in galaxy-sized mechas.

    Comic Books 
  • Chlorophylle: The main character starts as an incredibly conceited idiot who has to be rescued repeatedly and appoints himself the leader of La Résistance. But when Anthracite's army of black rats attacks with overwhelming force, he proves to be a brave and resourceful leader.
  • Dave Lizewski, aka Kick-Ass, who is just a comic book-loving nerd donning a homemade suit and goes out to fight crime... only to have his ass handed to him. However, over the course of his endeavors, he slowly becomes more adept at the vigilante hero thing. It also helps that other people look up to him for the stand he takes towards crime, with some even getting inspired to do the same.
  • Spider-Man was just a scrawny teenager named Peter Parker until he was bitten by a radioactive spider. Gifted with a platter of spider-based powers, he eventually becomes one of the most recognized (if not always respected) superheroes in the world.
  • Similar to Spider-Man above, Static was the victim of bullies. He gained super powers during a gang brawl.
  • Ultimate X-Men: When she was first introduced, Kitty Pryde was just an average teenage girl, and when she joined the X-Men it was under the strict condition of being there only to train in using her power so that she doesn't phase to the subway trains by accident, with superhero battles completely forbidden. By then, she was the Naďve Newcomer Ascended Fangirl. By the time the comic book was ending, she became a guerrilla leader and then the leader of the last remaining mutants, and in Cataclysm: The Ultimates' Last Stand she saved the planet by using her power (and a little help from SHIELD to become a giant) to disrupt Galactus' machines.

    Fan Works 
  • All Assorted Animorphs AUs: In "What if Tom was infested by a member of the Yeerk Peace Movement?", Tom started out as a lowly slave and Aftran started out as a lowly grunt, but together they're valuable allies to the Animorphs. Eventually, they're promoted to Visser One and decide to reform the empire from within.
  • The Flash Sentry Chronicles: Several of the heroes started out with almost nothing before getting to where they are now.
    • Flash Sentry, the titular character himself, started out as an orphan living on the streets of Canterlot all by himself, forced to steal from local restaurants to get enough food to survive. But then he eventually met Twilight and was taken in by her family and made Grand Hoof's apprentice. Now he is known as a hero who has helped save Equestria multiple times and has achieved his life goal of becoming a Royal Knight.
    • Trixie comes from a long line of successful unicorns that can be traced all the way back to Starswirl the Bearded. But she ended up dropping out of the Manehatten School of Magic, which her father was a teacher at, because she couldn't meet their expectations. She ended up becoming a showmare and traveling from city to city, boasting about her great "abilities", or outright lying in some cases, in order to get the praise her father never gave her. Her life eventually changed for the better when she met and befriended Flash, which eventually led to her becoming Princess Luna's personal student.
    • Soarin started out as a very weak flyer, but dreamed of joining the Wonderbolts once he saw them perform. Nobody supported his dream though, not even his own parents, but he never stopped training. He eventually entered and won the Best Young Flyers Competition and got to meet his personal hero, Wind Rider, who encouraged his dream, and he got his cutie mark from it. In the Present he is now second-in-command of the Wonderbolts and one of the best flyers in all of Equestria.

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • Hercules: The titular character might be a scrawny kid who is an outsider, but being a son of Zeus, he was born with tremendous strength. After the then-amateur hero defeats the Hydra, Hercules starts taking levels in badass in a montage (set to a song with the same name as this trope) and becomes a renowned fighter of monsters and celebrity hero.
    • Quasimodo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, started as a deformed infant almost thrown into a well by the villain. He's rescued by the archdeacon but kept as a recluse in the belltowers of Notre Dame. Quasimodo ultimately rescues Esmeralda and repulses an assault on the cathedral by the villain's mooks. He ends the film being carried on the shoulders of grateful Parisians and hailed as a hero.
    • Mulan comes from a respectable family, but she struggles to fit in and conform to traditional gender roles; the local matchmaker even publicly declares she'll "never bring [her] family honor" because no man would want to marry her. After disguising herself as a man to join the army, Mulan works hard to become a good soldier and ends up saving China from the invading Huns, with the Emperor himself bowing to her out of respect, along with everyone else.
    • Oliver & Company starts out with a giveaway kitten in a cardboard box. Evening rain destroys the box, leaving this kitten a street urchin. He happens upon Jenny Foxworth, who adopts him and names him Oliver. When she falls into the clutches of the villain, Oliver is the first one of Fagin's crew to make an insane leap between speeding vehicles to effect Jenny's rescue.
    • Jim Hawkins from Treasure Planet starts out as a busboy at his mother's inn near a mining colony. That is, until Jim commits just one more infraction, whereupon he'll be sent to juvenile hall. Jim gets the Call to Adventure upon receiving the MacGuffin from the dying pirate Billy Bones, which triggers The Hero's Journey to the fabled Treasure Planet. There, a Booby Trap threatens to finish everyone, but Jim Hawkins's MacGyvering allows the RLS Legacy and all aboard to Outrun the Fireball to safety. The story concludes with Jim Hawkins feted at the inn as an enrollee in the Maritime Academy.
    • Wreck-It Ralph is That One Boss in his game, for which he's exiled to the brick pile off-screen. However, Ralph also saves the Sugar Rush game from an invasion of Cy-Bugs (which he himself caused by trying to become a hero), eradicating the Card-Carrying Villain in the process. Ralph's heroism results in being welcomed back gladly in his own console.
    • Zootopia:
      • Judy Hopps travels from rural Bunnyburrows to Zootopia, aiming to become a police officer. Judy soon earns the ire of Chief Bogo, who demands that Judy solve the Otterton case or forfeit her badge. Verily, Judy actually resigns when her thoughtless remarks spark civil unrest in the city. She makes good after a "Eureka!" Moment and exposes The Chessmaster behind the spate of predators going savage. Judy later welcomes her newest partner to the ZPD as commencement speaker.
      • Nick Wilde used to be a cynical Con Artist living off of stolen money. Then he helped Judy expose an evil mastermind and saved Zootopia. Now, he's an officer of the law with a badge!
  • DreamWorks Animation:
    • The film Home (2015). The main character, Oh, went from being universally disliked by all of the other Boov, to being elected their leader. And all it took was saving their entire race.
    • How to Train Your Dragon: Zigzagged in the original with Hiccup. He is the son of the chieftain, but his lack of bloodthirst and strength isolates him from the rest of the village. However, these traits prove incredibly useful for approaching and studying dragons, which allows him to solve his tribe's dragon crisis.
    • Kung Fu Panda: The chubby kung-fu fan Po suddenly gets the title of Dragon Warrior bestowed upon him, and the movie shows how he begins to train to be deserving of that title. He subsequently makes good on it several times over.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Movie: Mario goes from a struggling plumber who a lot of people don't respect to becoming the hero of both Brooklyn and the Mushroom Kingdom with his father's full respect, alongside his brother. Ironically, he never aimed to be the hero to begin with, he was merely going along Princess Peach's plan to save Luigi, but he did step up to the plate after he achieved his goal, without a second thought.

    Films — Live Action 
  • The titular hero from Captain America: The First Avenger enters the movie as a scrawny, weak kid from Brooklyn with poor health, but he really wants to be a soldier. Then, a doctor sees something in him and puts him through the Super Soldier program, giving him superhuman fitness. Donning a suit and a shield, he ends up kicking lots of Nazi ass and saving even more people.
  • Ash of Evil Dead is a rather famous example in the horror genre, whose Action Survivor status eventually gets him promoted to full on action hero.
  • The titular character from Happy Gilmore is a wannabe hockey player who gains fame and recognition for becoming a working class champion for golf.
  • Fred O' Hare from Hop is the Black Sheep of the family. His father adopted an Asian girl as a replacement offspring for Fred. Fred is such a slacker that he nearly botches a house-sitting gig, and arrives late for a job interview, both of which were effectively gift-wrapped for him by his older sister. However, when Fred crosses paths with the renegade rabbit E.B., he discovers a passion for spreading Easter joy, and undergoes a Training Montage for the purpose. Fred will ultimately rescue the Easter Bunny from a coup d'etat by The Starscream, and earn his place as co-Easter Bunny. Fred's fluency in Mandarian Chinese and his knowledge of Asian customs also lets the Easter holiday permeate the Chinese market, which heretofore had been impenetrable.
  • Russell Casse from Independence Day, after having served in the Vietnam War, has been living a marginal existence in a camper as an alcoholic crop duster. After the invading aliens have eradicated most of Earth's best fighter pilots, Russell offers his services, and flies an F/A-18C Hornet at the huge alien warship. Russell actually makes a Heroic Sacrifice by flying directly into the muzzle of the Beam-O-War, which causes the alien ship to overload and destruct. Russell's heroics are remarked upon by the President.
    Russell: Hello, boys. I'm ba-a-a-ack!
  • Daniel LaRusso from The Karate Kid, being a target of bullies, encounters a gifted teacher in karate, by whom he is taught the martial art so that he can finally stand up for himself in a fight.
  • Looney Tunes: Back in Action sees both Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck attempt to thwart the Card-Carrying Villain from using an Artifact of Doom to turn Earth's population into monkeys. Throughout most of this adventure, Daffy has been The Load and The Chew Toy. However, once Marvin The Martian takes Bugs Bunny out of the fight, it's Daffy in his Duck Dodgers guise who monkey-wrenches the satellite. Back on Earth, Bugs Bunny even mentions that Daffy was the hero, though Daffy presumes this is a case of Pronoun Trouble and disputes it.
  • The Matrix: After learning that he lives inside a virtual world and that he is the One to lead humanity to salvation, Neo becomes adept at kung-fu and bending reality (inside the Matrix), turning into the franchise's main hero.
  • In Spider-Man, this part of Peter Parker's backstory is explored. Originally, he was just a nerdy teen with everyday problems. After being bitten by a genetically manipulated spider, Peter gains superhuman abilities and uses them to become the titular crimefighter. Every citizen in Queens, New York loves him (except for J. Jonah Jameson).
  • Star Wars:
    • Luke Skywalker. Growing up on the sand planet Tatooine with his aunt and uncle as a Farm Boy, one day he encounters two droids who are carrying a message that's a call for help from Princess Leia, the leader of a rebellion against the powerful and evil Galactic Empire. After having found retired Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke goes on a journey to save her, while learning about the ways of the Jedi and the Force, all leading to him going up against Darth Vader and freeing the galaxy of Emperor Palpatine's regime.
    • Rey, the daughter of two nobodies that left her behind, lives on a sandplanet collecting scrap metal when one day she encounters the droid BB-8. From there on, she becomes involved with the Rebellion, fighting against the First Order, who wants to take over the galaxy. She also turns out to have a great affinity for the Force, a mystical power used by the legendary Jedi.
    • Also, Finn, who at first didn't even have a name (going by a number instead), before joining the Rebellion and playing import roles, which includes his big involvement in the plan to take down Starkiller Base. And he becomes the co-general of the Resistance alongside Poe by the climax of The Rise Of Skywalker, personally taking down the General of the enemy fleet.
  • Terminator: In the main continuity, Sara was just a waitress working her way through community college, but after her first encounter with a T-800, she travels the world gaining combat experience, and becomes obsessed with giving birth to the leader of the human resistance. Her son, Jon Connor starts out as a juvenile delinquent, but after he, Sara and a reprogrammed T-800 destroy a T-1000, they go to live in Mexico where Sara dies, and Jon drops off the Grid. When he goes back to the U.S. Jon becomes an anonymous drifter making a living either by working odd jobs or by stealing, but after a T-850 tells him he marries Katherine Brewster, the daughter of an high ranking general, and become leaders in the resistance after surviving Judgment Day, they set out to stop it, only to learn that Judgment Day was inevitable. Decades after Judgment Day, Jon is a low ranking officer in the human resistance, but after the high command is killed he accepts his role as their leader.

  • Lone Wolf: Although the titular character is a member of the Magic Knight Kai Order, he starts as a bumbling apprentice who in the first edition became the Sole Survivor by accidentally knocking himself out, and whose first adventure consists in merely surviving long enough to warn his king of the danger. By the end of the series, he's become not only the head of the Order who saves the world many times over, but a cosmic warrior who can casually kill a god on his way to more important battles and eventually a Greater-Scope Paragon in the sequel series.

  • Animorphs
    • The entire main cast qualifies, being ordinary teenagers before blundering through a construction site at the wrong time and ending up as Earth's only resistance against the Yeerk invasion. In the epilogue of the series, they're considered war heroes, though only Marco really capitalizes on it.
    • Prince Elfangor, the hero who gave the Animorphs the power to morph, started out as a lowly cadet who kept getting his ass kicked in combat training. By the end of The Andalite Chronicles, he's loved and respected as a hero throughout the Andalite military.
    • Aldrea, formerly the daughter of the disgraced Seerow, was expecting to spend the rest of her days Reassigned to Antarctica with the rest of her family. Then the Yeerks show up and she ends up leading her own resistance movement; after teaming up with Dak Hamee and Going Native, she soon ends up as one of the Hork-Bajir's folk heroes.
    • By far the greatest example of this has to be the Ellimist: originally an unmotivated gamer with no ambitions in life, a series of cataclysmic disasters sees him become the leader of a Dying Race, then a genius Mind Hive inhabiting a Sapient Ship, then an entire fleet - and then the nearest thing this setting has to God and the Animorph's most powerful ally.
  • In Earth's Children, Ayla goes from an orphaned outcast to a widely respected and admired healer and shaman, who helps many people in various ways; in the fourth book she even helps save a whole tribe from a tyrannical leader and restores order.
  • The Elminster Series: The titulat Elminster went from an unlucky boy farmer to becoming The Arch Mage and one of the most powerful heroes of the world of Abeir-Toril.
  • The eponymous protagonist of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August starts out as the Child by Rape of an Impoverished Patrician and a maid, is brought up in poverty by said patrician's gardener, has one brief stint of action during World War II, before inheriting his adoptive father's position and spending the rest of his life in obscurity, ultimately dying of cancer in the early 2000s. However, after finding himself blessed with Born-Again Immortality via "Groundhog Day" Loop, Harry becomes an adventurer, a journalist, a scientist, a secret agent, and ultimately the last hope of the Kronus Club and the human race - over the course of multiple lifetimes. For good measure, because of the nature of his immortality, Harry always begins his latest life with the same lowly status he had the first time around.
  • Harry Potter, a short boy living with an abusive family, receives a letter from a half-giant who informs him that he is a wizard, enrolls in the magic school Hogwarts, and learns that he is already incredibly famous in this wizarding world. From there on, he runs into several adventures and becomes a talented wizard, in a story leading up to his final confrontation with the dark wizard Voldemort.
  • Being from one of the poorest districts, Katniss Everdeen volunteers for The Hunger Games to protect her younger sister, having to fight for her life and getting tangled in a political game.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Frodo, a normal hobbit living in the peaceful village of the Shire, gets a ring obtained by his uncle Bilbo in The Hobbit. After learning it is an Artifact of Doom smithed by Sauron, this hobbit, accompanied by the Fellowship, goes on a long and dangerous journey so they can destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom, which they succeed at.
  • Mistborn: The Original Trilogy:
    • Sazed is a Terrisman, which means he is a born servant, meek and obedient, and castrated to boot. Over the course of the original trilogy, he becomes more and more important for the protagonists, until by the end of Hero of Ages he becomes Physical God and uses his extensive knowledge to save the world.
    • Vin is an street child, a literal Daughter of a Whore, as her mother was a skaa prostitute (skaa are the setting's oppressed working class, treated like cattle by the nobles). In Mistborn she defeats Lord Ruler, who has oppressed Scadrial for generations, which by itself would make her a hero. But that's only the beginning — by the end of Hero of Ages she saves the world, kills a god and dies heroically in the process.
    • Spook is another skaa urchin, although at least he has a home, as he was taken in by his uncle. He is the youngest in Kelsier's crew (apart from Vin), speaks in an almost unintelligible street slang and while he has Allomantic abilities, they give him only heightened senses. This also makes him open to insidious whispers of the setting's Big Bad Ruin but he finally comes to his senses and saves the people of Urteau. He is also Legendary in the Sequel — in Wax and Wayne he is called Lord Mistborn and his street slang is treated like Latin in our world.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • During the first arc, the main character starts as a normal, young house cat named Rusty. By the end of the series, he's saved all four Clans several times, and has become the first kittypet-born leader in the Clans' history.
    • In the second arc, an ordinary young cat from each Clan (plus two tagalongs) go on a quest to learn what the Clans must do when humans destroy their home. They end up saving all the Clans during this (as well as the Tribe on the way), and most of them ultimately end up in high-ranking roles in their Clans.
    • The third and fourth arc follow Lionblaze, Jayfeather, and Dovewing from kithood to being the saviors of the Clans when the Dark Forest invades.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Good Place: This is the arc of at least the first two seasons. Eleanor starts off as a scrappy scammer in telemarketing, with no interest in academia or helping others. When she dies, Chidi has to help her learn philosophy so that she may improve herself so that she might get into the Good Place. She eventually becomes good enough to get into The Good Place (and opts not to go), the leader of the team that figured out nobody had entered the Good Place, and convinced the Judge to reevaluate the state of the Good Place.
  • Power Rangers:
    • The original Zordon Era (Mighty Morphin to In Space) begins with five ordinary teenagers being recruited to combat the forces of evil. The In Space crew (which is not the same one from Mighty Morphin) went from being replacements for the previous team (also not the same one from Mighty Morphin) to being the ones who defeated every single Big Bad of the Zordon Era.
    • Power Rangers Lost Galaxy: The Red Ranger Leo is first introduced being denied entry to the space colony of Terra Venture due to not having a passport. He isn't even the one who pulls out the Red Quasar Saber - that was his brother Mike who gave the saber to Leo before seemingly dying. Despite his less-than-ideal start, Leo ultimately rises to the occasion and becomes the leader of the Power Rangers.
    • Power Rangers: Dino Thunder: Conner, Ethan and Kira are high school students of very different social circles who are bonded by their fight against evil.
    • Power Rangers S.P.D.: The B-Squad Rangers go from a team of bickering rookies to the saviors of Earth.
  • Smallville explores Clark Kent's journey from awkward and confused teenager to the hero the world will know as Superman.

  • Lampshaded in the 1943 song "Johnny Got a Zero" (also known as "Johnny Zero"), which tells the story of a boy whose classmates taunt him as "Johnny Zero" because of his failures in school. When he becomes a World War II fighter pilot, "Johnny Zero" is lauded as a hero for his success in downing enemy Zero planes.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Jesus Christ, according to The Bible and Christian belief. Born to a teen mother in a stable, raised by a carpenter, and the member of an ethnic group that was subservient to a large empire, Jesus became known as the "King of the Jews" and the Messiah, savior of man. He became a symbol of resistance to the empire (sort of) and inspired the world's largest religion, who regard him as the Son of God.

  • The Adventure Zone: Balance: The Director started off as the record-maker of the IPE, writing down everything the other more active members were doing. It was only through the Stolen Century that she became the proactive, decisive leader she would become.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The One Ring: Adventurers start the game as nobodies and might have even more hardship in their Background. If they distinguish themselves in deed, they can end their career as high-ranking, well-respected public figures whose heroics are recognized far beyond their homelands.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Many of the starting careers are the dregs of society, but player characters who survive the Early Game Hell can rise to eminence and renown — even a peasant farmer can become a powerful noble, a Wizard Lord, or a mighty champion.

    Video Games 
  • The Ace Combat franchise has the Player Character start off as an anonymous low-ranking fighter pilot, but as the game progresses, allied units will start breathing a sigh of relief now that their premier ace pilot is here to provide air support, while the enemy side will either see the pilot's arrival as an Oh, Crap! moment or, if it's an enemy ace, as a Worthy Opponent.
  • Battle for Wesnoth: The protagonist of Northern Rebirth, Tallin, starts out as a slave to the orcish rulers of the Dwarven Doors. Over the course of the campaign, he rallies fellow slaves to free themselves by exploiting their master's conflict with a new orcish alliance, allies himself with various races of the northlands, and finally leads said alliance to defeat the orcish one. At the end of the campaign, his allies decide to become a formal entity named Northern Aliiance and unanimously elects Tallin as their leader.
  • Bethesda Softworks games, in addition to the Elder Scrolls series below, uses this trope extensively.
    • Most Fallout games utilize this trope, with an average person ascending to savior/scourge/wildcard of their region of the Wasteland. The numbered series protagonists (the Vault Dweller, the Chosen One, and the Lone Wanderer) fit this trope absolutely to a tee. An exception is Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, where you're already a trained Elite Mook before the game begins.
    • Played With in Fallout: New Vegas, where you're a traveling Courier (who are generally known to be badasses, to survive constant travel in the Wastes). Even the Courier, however, fits the spirit of this trope due to the Reputation mechanic of the game, where you go from being completely unknown and dismissed by every faction and tribe in the Mojave to the main entity that every side seeks to either recruit or destroy at all costs.
  • The backstory to Doom 1993 is the Marine was sent to Mars as a punishment posting, watching the researchers of the United Aerospace Corporation do science-y stuff. Once things get dicey with the UAC's dimensional teleporters, the Marines head to Phobos to check on things. A Space Marine Is You gets left behind to guard the shuttlecraft with only a pistol while the rest of the squad goes in for a looksee. After some gunfire and screaming, the radio goes silent. The lone Marine must now fight his way through hordes of hellspawn to get back home. "Hell at last plays fair ..."
  • Dragon Age: Origins: Zig-zagged depending on the selected origin of the Warden. The Human Noble and Dwarf Noble origins give the player a chance to start out at the top, the other origins are much humbler by far. They include a newly-graduated mage with no prestige, a simple Dalish hunter eking out a living in the forests, a City Elf living in a Fantastic Ghetto at the mercy of bullying humans, or a Casteless Dwarf struggling to support your prostituted sister and alcoholic mother by working as a legbreaker for the Carta. Regardless of your origin, the end of the game will see you known and celebrated throughout the world as the Hero of Ferelden, to the point that in the DLC, bandits will fling themselves off cliffs rather than fight you.
  • Dragon: Marked for Death: The protagonist starts off reviled and looked down upon by almost everyone due to being a member of the Dragonblood Clan, but over the course of the game wins the respect and admiration of most people.
  • Every game in The Elder Scrolls series has the Player Character become one of these in both the main story and faction quests (although since its a sandbox game you can go From Nobody to Nightmare as well), generally Because Destiny Says So (although how much each character's mentioned in the sequels vary).
    • Arena: You go from a random (but loyal) Imperial guardsman to the Emperor's savior.
    • Daggerfall: You begin as an acquaintance of the Emperor and go on to decide who gains control of a Lost Superweapon.
    • Morrowind: You begin as an Imperial prisoner the Emperor's sent in. You're the Neverine, the reincarnation of an ancient hero (although it's implied you might have taken on the role by being a hero rather than destined for it).
    • Oblivion: You start off as a common criminal in a cell. Then you meet the Emperor, witness his assassination and go on to become the Champion of Cyrodill.
    • Skyrim: You pick a bad time to cross the border into a wartorn Skyrim and come within a hair's breadth of being executed after being mistaken for an enemy. You turn out to be The Dragonborn and must prevent The End of the World as We Know It, as well as decide the outcome of the civil war.
  • Fate/Grand Order: The Protagonist is mentioned to be an ordinary boy/girl with an ordinary life, who didn't know anything about magecraft until they're scouted by the Chaldea Organization to be one of the potential Masters (i.e those who control Servants); even as they're detected to have very high Master aptitude, they're noted to be lacking in magic potential. They become the only hope for saving humanity after the Big Bad's "incineration of humanity" in the prologue; with limited initial knowledge and resources, they and Chaldea have to stop the Big Bad's plans and somehow undo what he did. They're awkward about the whole thing at first, but over time they've become proficient to the point that by the final scenario, the Big Bad is finally taking them seriously, and in one of the "bonus scenarios" one of the new minor villains is appalled on how an average joe like the protagonist could beat the Big Bad by himself.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV, the Warrior of Light is some nobody adventurer that came out of the woodwork among many identically capable individuals who began their journeys at the same time. But the Warrior soon becomes a famed god-slayer, a One-Man Army, and eventually the World's Best Warrior, thwarting the villains' plans at every turn. Archbishop Thordan found this out the hard way, explicitly planning around the Warrior's intervention only to still be slain after he became a primal. All he could do at that point was be terrified and ask what they were as he dies.
  • Guild Wars 2, depending on your character choices. If you play as a Human (Street Rat or Commoner) or Charr, you start of as an ordinary, lower-class citizen or low-ranking soldier, but over the course of the game rise to become commander of the Pact, slayer of the Elder Dragon Zhaitan, and save the world multiple times. If you play as a Norn or Asura your background averts the Zero aspect of the trope, as you start as the winner of the Great Hunt and a recognized genius respectively.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Admiral Steven Hackett was born to a single mother and orphaned at age 12 when she died in a plague. He enlisted at 18 and after four years of volunteering for high-risk missions, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He spent the next 30 years working his way towards Admiral. In Mass Effect 3, he becomes the de facto leader of humanity during the Reaper War.
    • Commander Shepard can have one of three origin stories, each of them perfectly ordinary by the setting's standards. They then go on to lead the entire galaxy to victory over the Reapers, and the epilogue of Mass Effect 3 reveals that "the Shepard" is remembered and respected for thousands of years afterward.
  • Metroid: Samus Aran began life as just a colony kid on a mining planet, until she was three years old when Ridley led the Space Pirates in a massacre of her colony, which killed her parents and left her the only survivor. The Chozo adopted her and raised her to become a galactic protector. After Ridley and his Space Pirates essentially killed off the Chozo, she dedicates her life to bringing an end to the pirates, especially Ridley. Following her initial adventures, Samus has come to be seen as The Dreaded by the Space Pirates and a Living Legend by everyone else, whose exploits are so incredible that many common soldiers don't even believe she exists.
  • Subverted and parodied in Peasant's Quest. The hero, Rather Dashing, is a humble peasant who dwells in a thatched-roof cottage. He swears to save the land by slaying the dragon Trogdor who has been menacing the countryside and goes on an epic quest. Rather Dashing completely fails at his goal, and gets burninated to death in the final boss battle.
  • Persona 5: The Player Character goes from misunderstood delinquent to the world's savior.
  • This trope is namedropped with the unique ability of the Pokémon Palafin, which is based on traditional comic book superheroes. When first sent out into battle, Palafin is virtually indistinguishable from its pre-evolved form Finizen, save for the heart-shaped crest on its underbelly, and, aside from its serviceable Speed, has somewhat poor stats. This is referred to as its 'Zero form'. However, when it is switched out (either manually or with the Flip Turn attack) and subsequently brought back into battle, Palafin takes on its 'Hero form', which changes its appearance to look more like a superhero, and boosts up its offensive and defensive stats (especially its frightening physical attack, which eclipses that of many legendary Pokémon).
  • Sun Haven has the player character, known as the Farmer. They initially start out taking over some dilapidated and untended farmland. By following the main story line, however, they eventually become a diplomat who manages to broken a peace treaty between Sun Haven and the isolationists Ne'lvari and Withergate, ending countless centuries of hostilities, and going through Herculean trials all over the regions with or without ever getting into combat. Such feats include retrieving valuable magical minerals from the depths of dangerous wildernesses; deciphering a lost ancient language and piecing together the clues to rediscover an intentionally Hidden Elf Village; breaking through an ancient and powerful magical barrier and infiltrating a massive monster metropolis; and either putting up a king's ransom to satisfy Dynus the Moon Dragon, or fighting him in single combat until he yields and recognizes them as an equal.
  • The Volunteer from XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a mechanical example: every soldier in the game is recruited as a level 1 newbie with no special qualities, but in the final act, one of them will become the Volunteer, i.e. the most powerful human psychic on the planet who sacrifices themselves to thwart the ongoing alien invasion.
  • At the start of Yakuza: Like a Dragon Ichiban Kasuga is a 42 year old bottom barrel ex-Yakuza who after a disastrous reunion with his former boss is dumped on the streets of Ijincho with nothing but a bullethole and the clothes on his back. By the end of the game he not only manages to gather a group of loyal friends from all circles but becomes a fringe politician and potentially a local captain of industry who becomes a champion of the poor and disenfranchised as well as a major thorn in the side of the Governor of Tokyo.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: The Reds and Blues of Blood Gulch start out as two squads of Armed Farces assigned to a box canyon in the middle of nowhere. Through a combination of dumb luck and their own stupidity, they stumble upon evil plots, which they manage to resolve through a combination of dumb luck and scrapping together their few braincells to win. This eventually escalates to their saving the Planet Chorus and becoming celebrated heroes.

  • Darwin Carmichael Is Going to Hell: For much of the story, Darwin Carmichael is a Loser Protagonist who's stuck in a dead-end job in New York City, constantly being tormented by his wacky friends. At the end of the comic, he ends up stopping the apocalypse and saving the world through a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Looking for Group: Pervasive Butt-Monkey and Failure Hero tendencies aside, Cale'Anon starts off as naive and ditzy, but very slowly awakens to his destiny as a hero — ending the war with Legara and re-establishing the lost city of Kethenecia.
  • Oglaf.
    • Subverted with the titular character, a humble shepherd boy who is apparently The Chosen One and destined for greatness, but he never realizes his destiny due to being illiterate and thus unable to read the prophesies.
    • Also, the Blowjob King starts off as an ordinary low-ranking soldier and adventurer. After being cursed to be the best at blowjobs, he uses his skill to save the kingdom from invaders, ending the war and becoming king. Later on, he also saves the kingdom from a guy whose sexual powers are causing destruction.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10 started out as Ben Tennyson, a regular 10-year-old boy with a normal life. Then, while going on a road trip with his grandpa and cousin, he encounters the Omnitrix, a watch that can transform him into 10 different aliens with different superpowers. From then on, Ben was no longer a normal kid with a boring life; now he's a hero who saves the day 24/7!
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: It's revealed that Numbuh 1 used to be just a normal kid, to the point where Numbuh 5 had to hack into the Kids Next Door database in order to give him a passing grade to get into the organization. By the end of the series, he's become the single greatest Kids Next Door operative on the planet.
  • Danny Phantom has shades of this (which is to be expected of something reminiscent of Spider-Man). Danny Fenton is a unpopular freshman who gains ghost powers and has to fight against the supernatural.
  • Gary from Final Space starts out as a loser and eventually goes on to save the entire universe.
  • Hercules: The Animated Series: The titular character might be a scrawny kid who is an outsider, but being a son of Zeus, he was born with tremendous strength. Hercules is a hero-in-training still in "geek god" mode, before his "Zero to Hero" transformation. In addition, Hercules: Zero to Hero is a direct-to-video follow-up to the 1997 animated feature released on 1999, serving as a package film combining three episodes of Hercules: The Animated Series as flashback segments.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: The Mane Six started out as six ordinary foals — unbeknownst to them united by the same incident. Twilight becomes Princess Celestia's personal student, and then when they form a bond of Fire Forged Friendship, they go on to save the world multiple times, and Twilight Sparkle becomes the Princess of Friendship.
  • Steven Universe: Lars Barriga started as a lazy, surly slacker, barely trying unless it personally interested him, who wanted to be respected and enjoyed by his peers but went about it the complete wrong way due to his own insecurities; the one thing he had a serious passion for was cooking, but he never showed it in fear of being looked down on. The final season forces Lars into a situation where he learns to be brave in spite of his fears, taking charge and becoming a confident Hero of Another Story who does what he loves no matter what other people think.
  • Transformers: In many continuities where his origin is explored, Optimus Prime is shown to come from humble beginnings before he rises as the leader of the Autobots. These include being a dock worker, a washed out cadet and a "data clerk".

Alternative Title(s): Zero To Hero