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"Try to imagine a Hitler or a Vlad the Impaler or even the nasty old man at the dump who steals people's cats and buries them alive. Now imagine those guys but strip them of all their limitations. No bodies, so they never die or run down or get tired. Give them literally all the time in the world. Imagine that malice, that stupid hate just burning on and on and on like an oil well fire."
David Wong, John Dies at the End

Every ghost is different, and not just in the "every snowflake is unique" sense. Each spectre has their own reasons for being Barred from the Afterlife, largely dependent on their life's Unfinished Business or circumstances of their death. When you get right down to it, though, all ghosts can pretty much be lumped into two groups: the "I've got Unfinished Business" type and the "Kill the living" sort.

Type A are very kind and friendly. They will never actually be proactive in getting things done to end their undeath; it's always about scaring the people inhabiting their house into exhuming their hidden-after-the-murder corpse, or investigating the strange disappearance of their family, or whatever it is their ectoplasmic tuchus is unable to do. Though it will likely be a weaker spirit and limited in its ability to influence the world, it's always vague, cryptic mumblings rather than "My name is Mary Jones and I was murdered; my body is buried under the garden shed. Please take my bones to the graveyard so that I can have a proper burial." Even if it has the ability to speak or use writing, it will rarely ever convey information directly or help out the investigations it started with more than a random clue.

Type B will be forces of pure, motiveless evil whose thirst for bloody death will be forestalled only by their sadistic desire to cause as much psychological anguish beforehand as possible. If there's anything resembling a human mind in them still, it will likely try to recreate scenes of debauchery they enjoyed in life, kill anyone nearby in anger at their death, possess the house residents to pretend to live, or otherwise make the people in the place turn on each other. Malicious and intelligent ghosts will likely let one or two residents get away or call for help to make the party bigger.

These ghosts tend to have one of two Power Levels: weak and overwhelming. The weak will use Fright Deathtraps to kill, and illusions and nightmares to cause mental anguish. They might have enough telekinesis to cause a Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts-type roundabout death, but rarely are capable of directly harming victims. The overpoweringly powerful ghosts will graduate to Made of Evil entities that can control the environment, toss cars, induce heart attacks directly, avoid all harm and otherwise give even The Ghostbusters a run for their money.

See also Whodunnit to Me?, when the deceased is actively trying to solve their own murder.

And that is the extent of Hollywood's representation of the living and body impaired. Any other type of ghost will likely be of the "random" variety without the emotional anguish to cause a ruckus. In mythology, it's often accepted that you either go to a good afterlife or a bad afterlife unless you've got some sort of axe to grind, so a spirit that isn't needy wouldn't remain as a ghost.

Don't confuse this for when a character's goal is to become a ghost — that's more along the lines of My Death Is Just the Beginning.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Fuuka, Fuuka Akitsuki doesn’t pass on until she is able to fulfill her and Yuu’s goal of performing at the Budokan together with their band.
  • A good part of the plot in Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day comes from Meiko/Menma having one of these but not being sure of what it actually was, so she and Jintan have to search for a way for her to remember and follow through it (and get their other friends in line so they can help too). It has quite the repercusions too, as deep down Jintan fears that if he grants Menma her wish, she'll leave him forever and later their common friend Poppo tries to help but cannot do so, which hurts him quite a bit. Menma's goal was actually to help Jintan how to cry and show emotions again, which she had promised to Jintan's now-also-dead mother Touko when both were still alive.
  • Subverted in Cardcaptor Sakura. Touya finds a girl who looks like Sakura and is stirring mischief around. He believes at first that it's Sakura, yet soon he realises with his Psychic Powers that she ain't Sakura... and then he thinks it's a ghost who has taken a human form and goes along with whatever plan she has as he wants he to fulfill this. She's actually a Clow Card who's doing mischief to pin it on the real Sakura, but once Touya confronts her and asks her what are her Ghostly Goals (which unmasks her to him), she shows remorse and allows herself to be sealed by Sakura.
    • Played straight in the first OVA. Sakura and co. are troubled by the ghost of Madoushi, Clow Reed's ex-girlfriend, who, having been (involuntarily in the English dub, voluntarily in the original) sealed in an alternate dimension, is waiting for Clow Reed and does not realize that both of them are long dead. Eventually, by offering a "No More Holding Back" Speech, Sakura gets her to move onto the afterlife, and Madoushi apologizes for causing so much trouble.
  • Corpse Princess does have actual ghosts bound to the world by regrets, but the important thing are the shikabane themselves. Ghosts are tied by weak attachments and couldn't resurrect their corpses, shikabane could. Upon raising themselves, they seem to have something of a period before turning into horrible monsters that will do anything to fulfill their attachments to the world (ie:disembowel someone who gets in the way of their dream to keep singing) during which females can apparently become contracted and stay mostly human.
  • Examples of each type are encountered and dealt with in Ghost Hunt.
  • The plot of the manga Hanada Shonen Shi - after being hit in the back of his head, the titular character gains the ability to see ghosts, all of whom want him to fulfill their unfinished business.
  • Comes up in Haunted Junction, specially in the episode involving Hanako-chan and her wish to spend a whole night with her rock star boyfriend hearing him sing the song he wrote for her
  • Often used in Hell Teacher Nube, where the lead is an exorcist and schoolteacher who frequently finds himself aiding the ghosts he's supposed to exorcise so they can go to Heaven.
  • Hikaru no Go: Hikaru's possessor and later mentor, Sai, is a ghost who has a goal to keep playing Go, and more precisely reach the Divine Move(a.k.a The Hand of God).
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable has Reimi, a teen girl who was gruesomely murdered 16 years ago and wants to bring her murderer to justice. Her murderer was the Stand User and local Serial Killer Yoshikage Kira, plus fellow Stand User Rohan Kishibe decides to help her since he almost was killed by Kira too, but she saved him.
  • Mobile Fighter G Gundam has the Gundam for Neo-Egypt, piloted by a mummy what was taken over by DG Cells... made from a once-famous fighter who fell victim to Explosive Instrumentation during his last fight, and retains enough of the original's conscience to seek for the fight that his death denied him. Neo China's Sai Saici, the grandson of his rival, gives him such a fight once he stops panicking over the whole "ghost" deal; when the DG Cells try to take over the corpse again, Domon steps in and destroys the remains so it won't revive again.
  • There are several ghosts with goals in the Ranma ½ manga and anime. For example: a ghostly headmistress of an abandoned girls' school who wanted someone to steal her underwear; the anime-only ghost Kogane, who is cryptic about what she needed Ranma and Akane to find because she didn't remember what it was herself; Bakeneko, usually translated as the "Ghost Cat", who wanted a bride; and others.
  • School Zone has almost entirely Type 2 ghosts. With the twist that they're only Type 2 because the school's rumors paint them as such — because everyone else has forgotten who they really were and what they really wanted, so have they. They can move on if someone remembers them, although this only happens to one of the ghosts before the manga's end.
  • Marnie from When Marnie Was There befriends Anna, her granddaughter, to help her become more friendly. She wishes she could have spent more time with her in life and wants to help her with her abandonment issues.
  • A few of the pre-Genre Shift, manga-only arcs of YuYu Hakusho involve this sort of thing:
    • One involves a student who committed suicide after the pressure of his entrance exams got to be too much. To atone, he's trying to help two friends who are being forced to compete for a scholarship. One gets a little jealous and accidentally invokes some kind of occult spell, and her friend comes pretty close to getting killed.
    • There is a part where the one girl is trying to find the other, and the ghost does tell her exactly where to go, but since he's a ghost, she only hears him subconsciously, and thinks "Maybe I should go this way..."
  • The eponymous spirits of Ayakashi Triangle continue to exist so long as they fulfill some specific purpose. Usually it's an open-ended task they can do indefinitely, but some are aiming for something they'll accomplish and then cease existing.
    • Omokage are doppelgangers that try to fulfill the desires of their creators, and will disappear if they accomplish them (or at least appear to). They lack self-awareness, and so aren't conflicted about seeking their own death.
    • The Lost House is a spirit formed by the experience a Happily Married couple had in their home. Once they moved out, it became desperate to see them again, to the point of forcing visitors to reenact the couple's memories. Once shown a projection of the couple it instantly faded away, though it's noted it would have eventually done so regardless.

    Comic Books 
  • Talia in Brody's Ghost tells Brody that she's been locked out of heaven, and can't get in until she performs a life-task—a very good deed. But in reality, this is a con so that he'll help her track down her murderer, and she intends to have him choked to death just like he did to her.
  • Michael in Cyrus Perkins and the Haunted Taxi Cab died in Cyrus' taxi, and is stuck haunting it until the mystery of his murder is solved, and he has the peace he needs to move on.
  • The Wraith originally seeks vengeance for his and his brother's murders, and then goes on a general quest for justice.
  • Through the Woods, an anthology of horror comics, has a story called "A Lady's Hands are Cold", where a young woman put into an Arranged Marriage with a rich man hears a ghost singing sadly at night in the manor and soon learns that her husband murdered his first wife, cut her body into pieces, and has hidden them throughout the mansion. One day while her husband is out, she goes through the manor, finds all the pieces of first wife, and reassembles them, tying the pieces together with ribbons. At that point the first wife acts like a Revenant Zombie and reveals that she was a Love Martyr for the husband and is still obsessed with him, and seeing the young woman standing there in dresses and jewels that were once hers, the reanimated first wife seems to assume the girl is at least partially responsible for the husband killing her, and attacks the second wife. Only after the second wife just barely manages to escape and flees the manor does the first wife instead turn her anger and desire for vengeance on the husband who killed her.
  • Wonder Woman: Black and Gold: "Beyond the Horizon" has Diana helping lay to rest the ghost of a young girl who died in the late 1880s. She and her siblings had been held hostage on the ship and had gradually died off while she desperately tried to find a way back home. She only rests and returns to her form as a young girl rather than a sea monster when Diana comforts her and tells her she kept her baby brother alive long enough that he was rescued and brought home.

    Fan Works 
  • From Gensokyo 20XXV, we have a subversion in the form of poltergeists that function similarly to ghosts, though. As far as goals go, they are merely emotions from the repressed memories/emotions and they have to be calmed.
  • We have this in the fanfic The Girl in the Pink Dress with the titular girl, named Nui Harime. Her goals seem to be more or less type A, as she just simply wants to go outside, which is to say be free from her room, where she had passed away of illness, and neither is she inherently malicious, nor was she trying to be. When her goal is met, she thanks the family she's haunted before reincarnating.
  • In Pony POV Series, the only recurring ghost is Ruby, though others do exist. Ruby's goal is simple and ironic: to get Sunny Town to finally accept what they did to her, seek forgiveness, and finally be able to pass on despite the fact they murdered her.
  • Mortified: Obsessions are a key element of this story, though they're more complex than just this. For example, most sapient ghosts have more than one (as a rule, the more intelligent a ghost is, the more Obsessions they have), though there's usually a "main" Obsession, as well as a tendency for ghosts to be obsessive in their behavior in general. That said, ghosts have full control of how they fulfill their Obsessions, so a seemingly malevolent Obsession can be turned to good ends, and vice versa.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Apparitional: The ghosts haunting Freeling State Penitentiary want revenge against the prison's former doctor for the torture and pain he put them through in life. We learn at the end of the movie that Mr. Gaffney was the doctor.
  • In Crimson Peak, the first ghost Edith sees is her mother, shortly after her death. This one is of the benevolent variety, attempting to warn her about Crimson Peak. It fails because Edith doesn't know what "Crimson Peak" refers to until after she and her new husband have arrived at the eponymous manor. The ghosts she encounters within the manor are of the benevolent variety: they are the spirits of the previous victims of the Sharpe siblings and their purpose is to warn Edith of their murderous intentions and prevent them from claiming any more victims. They accomplish their purpose, and the ending implies that they will depart for the afterlife, along with the ghost of the redeemed Thomas Sharpe It’s up in the air what type Lucille’s ghost would become but it’s likely she’d fall into type B.
  • All Mitsuko from Dark Water wants is for her Mommy to stay with her. Forever and ever.
  • The ghost in The Devil's Backbone wants his murder uncovered. He ends up avenging it himself.
  • Just about every ghost the Ghostbusters ran into was the second type, out to cause destruction or random mischief. The animated series (both of them) had some of the first type, who just wanted to rest in peace, but often couldn't due to other ghosts or even human interference.
    • However, in the movies, the "marathon athlete ghost" seemed only focused on his training. Maybe he thought he had to prepare for some race.
      • Same for the first ghost portrayed, i.e., the ghost of the librarian, who scares the protagonist only when they try to capture her. The 2009 video game gives her some backstory, and a reason for her haunting: She was courted by Ivo Shandor, a Gozerian ritualist, who only got close to her to get his hands on some rare books about Sumerian artifacts. When she discovered his intentions, she was understandably angry, and Shandor murdered her...along with several others, to cover it up.
    • The first movie subverts this trope more than anything. The Big Bad is an ancient God, and Zeddemore muses that the ghosts are actually souls who return from beyond the grave sensing the incoming Armageddon.
  • In Gothika, the ghost wants revenge... and justice for her rape and murder. So she killed the doctor, using his wife's body, then led the wife to find out about the husband's atrocities, saving another girl, and revealing her circumstances to her family. Then she killed the doctor's accomplice. Not bad for a ghost, don't you think?
  • The Japanese horror film Ju-on and its English remake The Grudge have the ghosts act as an instrument of a curse. The rage and horror of the events surrounding the house have coalesced into a supernatural maelstrom that has its previous victims materialize to murder anyone who moves into the premises. So while Kayako is technically of the second type, it's not quite of her own free will.
  • In The Ghost Goes West, Murdoch Glourie must defend his honor by making a McLaggen humble himself before Murdoch, so he can ascend to the afterlife.
  • La Llorona: Neither Type A nor B. La Llorona's vengeance is completely justified.
  • In Topper, the married couple killed in a car crash figure out that they weren't good enough in life, and must do a good deed to be admitted to heaven.
  • The ghosts in The Orphanage are mostly interested in helping the Haunted Heroine find her missing son, as she was their childhood friend. She does uncover their murders, but they don't really care about that bit. They're really nice ghosts, for all that they will haunt your nightmares forever.
  • An odd blend of these two is Samara in the 2002 adaptation of The Ring. She creates a tape that kills viewers in seven days unless it's shown to others not to get justice, but just because she wants to be heard... and kill people. Additionally, the sequel The Ring Two suggests that since Rachel is the only one who sought her out and listened to her (and, briefly, sympathized with her) Samara sees her as her new mommy, and goes as far as possessing Rachel's son Aiden (himself a very, very Creepy Child) to fulfill her needs. It's implied that letting Samara stay with Rachel could have stopped the curse, if not for Samara's deadly opposition to being taken away from her.
  • In the Thai horror film Shutter, Natre is a blend of both types. She is seeking revenge for her rape at the hands of her lover's friends, and betrayal by said lover when he chose to protect her rapists instead of her, and then dumped her after she became suicidal. Throughout the film, she seeks only to menace her former lover, Tun and make his life a living hell, but leaves clues for his girlfriend Jane.
  • The ghost in What Lies Beneath is a combination of the two. She's hostile to her murderer Norman but keeps dropping clues and hints to Claire.
  • Subverted and played straight by The Sixth Sense. The first ghost to whom young Haley Joel speaks specifically tells him what she wants him to do, but most others don't even know they're dead and so have no effing clue what they're doing or want other than a vague jealousy of the living that manifests as hurting Haley. And rummaging through kitchen pantries, apparently.
  • The ghosts in 13 Ghosts and the remake, Thir13en Ghosts, exist in the house because they were specifically trapped by the professor. They largely act as the second type of ghost, although this may be because the majority of them were the victims or perpetrators of violence and their unfinished business is to continue that violence.
    • The fact that the house they're trapped in is only making them more angry and aggressive certainly doesn't help things.
      • In the original, though, they ultimately turn out to be more harmless eccentrics who like scaring people than real murderous spectres. In the end, they actually save the day by killing the Amoral Attorney who is planning to kill for the inheritance.
  • The first option is the entire premise behind Ghost (1990).
  • Most of the ghosts in Ghost Ship are a mix of Type 1 and Type 2 (leaning heavily towards Type 2), but luckily for the protagonists, the lone girl ghost that is more strongly Type 1 is on their side.
    • It's explained that "souls without sin can't be marked", and being marked by the evil ghost collector antagonist is what makes the ghosts try to kill the living. The young girl being without sin makes sense, but the adult captain being helpful seems a bit more of a stretch.
  • Nicely inverted in Ghost Town. Ghosts think they're still hanging around because they have unfinished business... except the Greg Kinnear character who has no idea what's keeping him tied down. Turns out it's not the ghosts who have trouble letting go, it's the people they left behind. Which, if you think about it, rings very true.
  • Casper featured a self-proclaimed "ghost psychologist" who operated under the assumption that ghosts were people with unfinished business, basically making all of them type one. Despite (apparently) never having met a real ghost before entering the title character's house, he seems to have been right. That said, ghosts can still be huge dicks who get off on scaring folks, as Stinky, Stretch, and Fatso can attest.
    • Also made pretty much explicit by how the Big Bad of the film was defeated; while a ghost and having apparently succeeded in stealing the treasure she spent the entire movie going after, she is forced to "pass on" after being tricked into admitting that she no longer has any unfinished goals.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy Krueger was originally a mix of both types, but after killing the children of everyone involved in his death, became strictly Type 2.
  • The ghost in Korean film Dead Friend (a.k.a The Ghost) is a mix of both types. It had unfinished business to attend to... but not before killing off most of the film's cast.
  • The Big Bad of The Frighteners is a powerful Type B. The Plucky Comic Relief ghosts aiding the protagonist are hinted to be aversions, actually being stuck on earth for no clear reason until being forced into the afterlife by the aforementioned baddie (serving the role of a Grim Reaper).
  • The 2012 version of The Woman in Black is a Type B, especially once you discover why she was killing the village children. And killing Arthur and Joseph after the return of her son was just the icing on the evil cake.
  • The ghost in the 1999 version of The Haunting (1999) is strictly type B, especially the fact that in his days as a textile tycoon he kidnapped children from his mill and killed them so they could be his "eternal family". He's also probably one of the most powerful ghosts encountered next to the villain in the The Frighteners, with the additional ability to animate statues, saturate the walls in blood, and turn his own mansion into a Genius Loci. The ghostly children who died, on the other hand, are kind and friendly. They are Type A.
  • In Grave Encounters, the hospital seems to be a malevolent entity filled with ghosts of type B. Considering it was a mental institution, most of the ghosts simply don't know any better than evil because they didn't know anything but insanity in life.
    • In its sequel, Grave Encounters 2, the hospital seems to be specifically B, and may be alive in its own right, with the goal to have other unwary people enter its doors just to torment them horribly. From crushing a skull to painfully slow electrocution, the hospital has no limits.
  • The Uninvited features Type A and Type B in the same house. Carmel turns out to be Type A, trying to protect her daughter Stella from harm, while Mary is the evil Type B trying to lure Stella over the cliff.
  • The ghosts in Jasminum are Star-Crossed Lovers - they want to be Together in Death.
  • In Death Spa, Catherine's spirit is attempt to drive her former husband Michael to suicide so her joins her in death.
  • In Slaxx, the titular pair of killer jeans turns out to be an example of Type B that's possessed by the ghost of a 13-year-old Indian farm laborer named Keerat, who died in a workplace accident. Keerat, who blames Western consumerism for enabling the horrific labor practices of Canadian Cotton Clothiers that got her killed, wants justice for her death and to expose to the world how she died, specifically telling her story to Libby and Shruti so that they will go public with it. When Craig tries to cover it up, to the point of killing Shruti to silence her and trying to do the same to Libby, Keerat singles him out for the most horrific death in the film.
  • A Wakefield Project: The ghost of Nathan Cross wants one thing, and one thing only: to kill his intended seventh victim who managed to escape him back when he was alive. His cheating ex, Chloe.

  • In the Betsy the Vampire Queen series by Mary-Janice Davidson, the title character can see ghosts, who have a rather wide variety of goals. The first one she met, a little girl, wanted to be with her mommy (a vampire, who willingly killed herself on finding her daughter's ghost). Others are rather more comedic—one just wanted her son not to name his unborn daughter after her.
    Betsy: Why not?
    Ghost: My name is Theodocia.
    Betsy: Oh, God. I'll let him know.
  • Both varieties averted in 10 A BOOT STOMPING 20 A HUMAN FACE 30 GOTO 10. The ghosts of ordinary people are able to behave intelligently and carry out reasonably rational tasks and conversations, and the celebrity spirits have ascended to almost godlike powers.
  • Bruce Coville's Book of...:
    • Bruce Coville's Book of Ghosts: Squire Beal in The Pooka is doomed to remain a wandering spirit until he can free the title character of its chains (or rather, have someone else do it) and bring it back to its late master.
    • Bruce Coville's Book of... Ghosts II:
      • Discussed in George Pinkerton and the Bedtime Ghost. The titular character and his (self-appointed) assistant decide that the mysterious child spirit haunting a family's house must have some form of unfinished business, but they can't imagine what a small girl could possibly want so much that she won't move on. It turns out that she died before her parents could finish reading her The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and she refuses to enter the next life until she finds out what happens.
      • Call Me Ghost is about a spirit who can't remember what happened to him. With some help from the owner of the house he haunts and the woman's niece, they eventually discover that he suffocated to death in an unfinished secret room in the basement. Finding his bones and laying them to rest is the key to freeing him from the earthly plane.
  • Older Than Feudalism: "To Sura" from Pliny the Younger's Epistolae (2nd century CE) is cited as the Ur-Example of the Paranormal Investigation trope, and features the ghostly apparition of an old man who haunts an Athenian manor and leads Athenodorus to a spot in the yard before vanishing. Upon having the magistrates conduct an excavation in said spot, they uncover chained human remains, and after these are exhumed and given a proper burial, the ghost no longer appears.
  • The Dresden Files book Grave Peril has a variation with the Nightmare; a ghost so powerful that Bob (a spirit of intellect who's pretty strong himself,) is terrified of it, and the border between the living and dead had to be disturbed by torturing other seriously dangerous and powerful ghosts simply to make it possible for the mighty Nightmare to cross over. It becomes clear fairly early on that it wants revenge on the (good people) responsible for its (richly deserved) end, making its goals a combination of both types of this trope; they are focussed and directed (Type A) but are directed at good people and take the form of protracted and deliberate sadism with a lot of Revenge by Proxy and collateral damage along the way (Type B). However, we later discover that the imprisoned evil sorceror whose ghost it is committed suicide in a pre-planned ritual precisely to create a ghost that would take revenge on those who imprisoned him. Considering most dangerous ghosts in fiction simply want to take revenge for what killed them, the fact that the man actually killed himself to take revenge gives an idea of the sort of malice and cruelty the Nightmare shows.
  • Family Skeleton Mysteries: Sid's is apparently to be there for Georgia, since she needed him and still does.
  • The titular Jedi Ghost of Galaxy of Fear: Ghost of the Jedi appears for some time to be type B. Only Tash can see or hear him, and he sends her painful GET OUT messages. Actually he's type A. He was killed by Darth Vader and the library he guarded was burned; since then an evil scientist has set up a trap there, and the ghost, who feels too much like a failure to pass on, can't help them, though he still tries. Tash, being Force-Sensitive, is the first person to be able to detect him, but she's not good with the Force yet, so it's all vague. When she finds her calm place he's able to communicate specifically and in detail with her.
  • Ghosts of the Titanic: When Kevin Messenger and his family come to the Seaton Estate at Shearwater Point in Nova Scotia, Kevin starts seeing a Type A ghost who constantly asks "Where's Michael?", "What has become of my precious boy?", "Does he weep for me in the green-black deep?", "Does he walk on land, searching for me?", "How will he know me?", and says "Well may you sleep, robber of the dead, thief of a lost boy's past...". Said ghost haunted Angus Seaton since he took the purse of a dead woman from the Titanic. Said ghost then took to haunting Kevin, and only Kevin, in the present. Turns out, the ghost is a woman named Annie McConnell, who was the mother of a baby named Michael. When the Titanic sank, the two got separated, and Annie drowned not knowing if Michael survived or not. Kevin helps her figure out that Michael survived and was adopted by the Messenger family, and grew up to be the father of Kevin's father. The haunting stops once Kevin figures all of it out.
  • In E.W. Hildick's Ghost Squad (1984) series of juvenile mysteries, most ghosts are Type A, although the goals in question aren't necessarily specific ones; the ghost may just be too concerned about a person, place, or thing to leave it behind. Type B ghosts are called "Malevs", and several of them are antagonists in various books.
  • In The Girl from the Well, the ghosts of murder victims are tethered to their murderer until he dies. This leads to some becoming vengeful spirits of murder, forsaking their own chance at passing on in order to grant release to other bound souls.
  • In The Haunting Of Cassie Palmer by Vivien Alcock, Cassie inadvertently summons up a sinister-looking ghost named Deverill, who keeps trying to teach her how to use her powers to take revenge on her enemies, offers her hidden treasure, and generally acts in a way that makes it seem like his goal is to tempt her to evil. When she gets up the courage to ask him what his true intentions are, he admits that he really doesn't have any, except to avoid being sent back; he was only trying to guess what her goals were, based on his past experience of the kind of person who went in for summoning ghosts, and help her with them so she'd find him useful and keep him around. Cassie eventually finds a way to help him move on.
  • Just After Sunset: "The Things They Left Behind" has a variation. The protagonist, an office worker named Scott, is surprised to find random knickknacks—a conch shell, a whoopee cushion, a ceramic statue of Alice sitting on a mushroom, etc.—appearing around his apartment, and recognizes them as belonging to his coworkers. It's gradually revealed that Scott worked in the World Trade Center and took September 11, 2001 off by playing sick, and faces tremendous Survivor's Guilt as a result: all of the other employees in his office died, and he thinks the objects are there as punishment. However, Scott ultimately realizes that what his coworkers' spirits truly want is for him to return the items to their friends and families, which provides the ghosts, their loved ones, and Scott himself a sense of closure.
  • Some ghosts in Lockwood & Co. vanish after a goal is completed - Annabelle Ward after killing her murderer, the old man in the apartment after leading his family to his hidden fortune, the witch's ghost after her confession is found. Lucy's theory is that most ghosts have some unfinished goal, but they're so dangerous that waiting around to find that out really isn't practical.
  • The Mediator: Ghosts in general in this series are stuck in a state of And I Must Scream and are unable to move on, unless they contact a mediator to help them fulfill their goals. These usually involve passing on a message of some sort, while others are considerably more hostile in what they want.
  • The Priest, the Scientist, and the Meteor has dinosaur ghosts out for revenge, because humanity didn't share its ice cream with them.
  • Return of the Living: All ghosts on Earth dutifully follow what they refer to as their personal "definitions" as they haunt a place of their choosing, and must stick to it lest they lose their form and become a formless, identityless "wisp" in a sort of Death of Personality.
  • In The Ring, Sadako Yamamura wants to use her haunted tape to impregnate ovulating women to create a clone army of herself that eventually takes over the world. From then on, she's able to use her hermaphroditism to reproduce asexually and make the entire human race into duplicates of her.
  • When the Angels Left the Old Country: The rebbe's ghost needs Uriel to tell his family of his passing so they can say Kaddish for him within a month of his death, or he'll turn into a dybbuk. Uriel waits too long for Little Ash on Ellis Island, and the rebbe becomes a dybbuk as predicted.
  • The various ghosts in Wyrd Sisters are unable to move on until their unfinished business has been resolved. In the case of Verence, this means getting revenge on Felmet and seeing his son on the throne. It's implied that most of the others have been haunting the castle for so long they've forgotten what their unfinished business is. And it's probably mostly getting revenge on a murderer who's actually one of the other ghosts, so it's all a bit pointless.

  • Camoflage by Stan Ridgeway is a Ghost Story about a PFC in Vietnam who runs into a man nicknamed "Camoflage" who helps him fight his way out of an ambush and escorts him to his camp, along the way demonstrating an immunity to bullets and an ability to swat them away. It turns out that "Camoflage" had died the night previous, and his Dying Wish was to have run a rescue op.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark? features this a few times.
    • The ghostly girl in "The Tale of the Lonely Ghost" only wants to be reunited with her mother, who just so happens to be the nanny employed by the protagonist's aunt.
    • "The Tale of the Frozen Ghost" has the ghostly boy searching for his jacket. When the protagonists return it to him, he reveals the key to where a robber he foiled hid some stolen money.
    • "The Tale of the Shiny Red Bicycle" reveals that Ricky's ghost was unable to pass on because he wanted to repay Mike for trying to save him from falling into the raging canal. Warning him about the danger Mike's younger brother is in on the same bridge he died on allows him to repay the favour and say a final farewell to his best friend.
    • Discussed by Megan, right before "The Tale of the Walking Shadow". The ghost in this story initially appears malevolent but only wants to complete his role as Macbeth, which he was unable to do due to dying on stage.
  • Being Human (UK): Annie's main goal in the aftermath of her death is to drive away anyone who tries to move into her house. But then George and Mitchell move in and, being more than human themselves, can see her and treat her as a third flatmate. She spends the rest of the season trying to find out why she's still in the world. And making cups of tea.
  • Being Human (US) has Sally simply trying to figure out how she died. During the first season she subconsciously tends towards Type A, although she does try to veer into Type B territory to take revenge on her murderer but can't find it in herself to follow through with anything.
  • Ghost Whisperer: Mostly the first group; the latter only appear in arcs.
  • Supernatural: A mix of both.
  • Dead Last has the main characters cursed with the ability to see ghosts, and thus responsible for helping them figure out how to pass on.
    • The same for the Hulu series Deadbeat, starring Dead Last's Tyler Labine in a different role.
  • An interesting variation was Tru Calling. Tru worked in a morgue, and her encounter with a "ghost" consisted of a body suddenly pleading "Help me." Tru would then suddenly find herself a few days in the past, with no other clue as how to help the tortured soul.
  • Smallville: The ghost of a girl buried in the walls is unable to pass on until she kills her murderer.
  • Charmed (1998):
    • In "Dead Man Dating", Piper falls for the ghost of a handsome Chinese-American man. She and the sisters must help him with two goals: punish his murderer and retrieve his (the dude's) lifeless body before the Chinese spirits of the dead come for his soul. They succeed, and after a tearful goodbye, the girls watch him cross the bridge to the afterlife.
    • In "Ex Libris" a classmate of Phoebe's is killed by a demon. Once the demon is defeated everyone is surprised to find that Charlene's ghost isn't moving on as they expected. It turns out she was meant to stick around a little longer to help resolve Prue's B-plot by scaring a local store owner into admitting that he murdered another young woman. Once the man confesses, Charlene is finally able to move on.
  • Averted by Bob in The Dresden Files, though in the books he's "a spirit of intellect".
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) introduces us to a character named Dane. He appears in the episode "Dead Man's Shoes", or rather, when someone puts Dane's shoes on, they become possessed by his ghost and aren't aware of any of their own actions. An unwitting homeless man steals the shoes off of a dead body in an alley and becomes Dane. He eventually heads to a bar and asks for Tequila with a cube of sugar in it. His drink of choice. In doing so he captures the attention of a crime boss (Particularly the one who killed him after deciding he didn't want a partner anymore) and asks to speak with him in private. After a short conversation, "Dane" ends up gunned down. He makes it clear that he'll keep coming back until he's killed the Crime Boss and dies. Asked who the stranger was, The boss nearly says it was Dane but stops himself and has the body dumped in an alley, where another homeless man stops to admire the nice shoes...
  • Friends: One of Phoebe's massage clients dies on her table and Phoebe becomes convinced the woman's spirit is possessing her. She speaks to the woman's husband to find out if she had any Unfinished Business that Phoebe could try and take care of. The only thing the husband can think of, besides hitting on Phoebe, is that his wife wanted to "see everything". Phoebe attempts to fulfill this by going to different tourist spots but nothing works until she attends Carol and Susan's wedding. As the officiant begins the ceremony Phoebe cries out in the old woman's voice "now I've seen everything!" before slumping and declaring the woman has finally gone.
  • October Faction: Steve remains bound to the world due to his regret over his last meeting with Phillip, as well as Phillip's own inability to get over Steve's death.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Edition 3.5 held a campaign module called Ghost Walk which allows players to return as ghosts in the City of Manifest that, depending on the way they died, gain different powers and abilities.
    • D&D being what it is, all editions have a pretty large selection of different more-or-less ghostly undead, which aren't necessarily easy to tell apart at a casual glance. Most of them, naturally, are of the "kill the living" type.
    • And then there is Ravenloft. All ghosts in Ravenloft should be constructed as unique individuals who cannot be put to rest until their goals or reasons for remaining have been taken care of. Several NPCs in the settings are ghosts, many with quite intelligible motivations. Of course, the setting is Gothic Horror; the ghosts are nearly invariably evil Type B's, and many of those with "kill the living" as their motivation actually have a plan much more effective than "sit in a creepy tomb and wait for adventurers to wander by." There are a few exceptions, such as the Laughing Man, a harmless ghost who joins fishermen, tells bad jokes, and scares away the fish.
  • In Pathfinder there are no random ghosts. They can be good, neutral or evil, but they all have a specific purpose that prevents them from moving on to the afterlife. Reducing their HP to zero in combat will just cause them to rejuvenate in a few days time; the only way to permanently get rid of them is to fulfill their goals.
  • Ghosts in Unknown Armies (cosmic-level spoilers) come in two basic varieties: "revenants", whose method of haunting is determined by what they held important in their life (e.g., ghouls are ghosts of people obsessed with death, and appear near those who are about to die) and "demons", who seek to possess people in order to experience life again and/or take care of unfinished business. As the corebook puts it, if a demon wants to collect every Pokemon card, you'd better not have a tight grip on that Charizard.
  • Wraith: The Oblivion and Orpheus from the Old World of Darkness use both types of ghosts. Type A tends to be ghosts with low or no willpower who are doomed only to repeat their death until they are destroyed, forged, or manage to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. Type B are encompassed in Spectres, ghosts who have completely given themselves over to Oblivion. The majority of ghosts, however, have unresolved passions and emotional attachments, but typically don't seek to resolve them, finding other things to do with their afterlife.
    • In the New World of Darkness, ghosts are the echoes left by the departed, and their goals vary widely. Some will leave when their foremost desire is fulfilled, while others will require the destruction of their anchors before they move on. The book Ghost Stories has several examples: the ghosts in The House of Count Magnus are vicious murderers who can only be escaped, while Isaiah in Holy Ghost will leave if his murderer begs forgiveness from his father, or if his former parish makes an honest effort to improve. It also justifies the "only cryptic clues" problem - communicating with humans is nearly impossible for the dead, and the two powers that allow it don't give them many words to do it with.
    • Geist: The Sin-Eaters: In 2E this is a defining characteristic of your character; the PC's are people who died and would have become ghosts, and had they not made a bargain with a Geist to come Back from the Dead. Now, you're character's abilities are defined by what would have been their Ghostly Goals. For instance, the Abiding died feeling like they didn't achieve their goals and are now more driven than ever to do so, while the Kindly died feeling guilty for something and want to become The Atoner.
  • In Little Fears Nightmare Edition, all monsters have goals like these, not just ghosts. Most of them actually have Type A goals, and if the children help the monster resolve them, they'll be "purified" in some way — turning back to normal, ascending to the afterlife, or just leaving their would-be victim(s) alone and going away. Others have goals that squarely fall into Type B, and accomplishing them will only turn them into something worse.

    Video Games 
  • The more zealous Forsaken in World of Warcraft are usually like this, much to the dismay of their still-living allies.
  • The ghosts in Luigi's Mansion are usually type 1 'unfinished goals'-like, since many of the portrait ghosts are doing what they did in life. The bosses such as Bogmire, Boolossus and King Boo, as well as every other ghost in the Mario series are simply 'kill the living' type.
  • Played with in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, where Rapp Scallion, who owned a hot dog stand in life, asks you to...go check to see if he left the gas on in his Hot Dog Stand before he died.
  • The ghosts in Guild Wars are mostly Type B (sometimes with some aspects of Type 1s).
  • The ghosts in Jade Empire are usually Type Bs, whether they wanted to be or not (since their souls can't pass on for story-related reasons, they eventually go mad and start attacking people). Several Type 1s are involved in quests, though. This is not dissimilar to actual Chinese and Japanese ghost stories.
  • The ghosts in Calling are one or the other... or both. Some ghosts, like Kyoko and Chiyo's husband, are genuinely nice and want to help. They can't communicate but they get their message across (though confusingly). Other ghosts, like the three school girls, are just trying to kill you but they are also scared which explains that their attacks are simply out of fear instead. Then there are the ghosts that seem nice but turn out to have their own agenda. And then there's Reiko who's been trying to kill everybody out of revenge.
  • The ghosts in The Tale of Orpheo's Curse are Type 1s who avert non-proactive bits for the most part. Most of the time, they tell the main characters everything they know about the curse, in plain language; unfortunately, they're still studying the curse and only have limited information. They do tend to be cryptic about immediate puzzles, though.
  • In Ghost Trick, you play as Sissel, who has recently died; his goal is to find out how he died and why. The form he takes is actually Yomiel's body, and Yomiel himself has a goal of getting revenge on the people who he blames for his death. Sissel turns out to be a cat who was Yomiel's only friend during the ten years following Yomiel's death; Sissel couldn't remember who he was or how he died because he had taken Yomiel's form instead of his own.
  • In Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land every quest is a ghostly goal. Everyone in the game, including yourself, is already dead because of the Flash in the backstory. The questgivers vanishing after their quests are finished is the first hint of this.
  • In Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, the girl at the Strange House traps you with moving furniture and asks you to take the Lunar Wing to Cresselia at the Marvelous Bridge, since she can no longer go there.
  • In Hatoful Boyfriend, Nageki Fujishiro's route ends with him recovering from his Ghost Amnesia and realizing that the heroine being his friend and helping him feel like part of the student body was what he needed— which, unfortunately for their romance, means it's time for him to move on. In "Bad Boys' Love", his goal instead seems to be helping Kazuaki recover from his (Nageki's) death.
  • The children's ghosts in Five Nights at Freddy's are trying to avenge their death by the Purple Man... though they'll kill any other night guard that's working at the pizzerias in the meantime. The fifth night mini game in Five Nights at Freddy's 3 shows that they were able to extract revenge on their true killer, and thus move on to the afterlife... though by doing this, they ironically make their murderer the exact same thing they were.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the king of Hyrule and the deceased Champions are unable to rest while Ganon continues to exist, and give Link whatever aid they can. The former is also specifically The Atoner, as his strict parenting hindered his daughter Zelda's awakening of her powers, while the latter provide Link with Vancian Magic abilities that they once used in life. After Ganon is defeated, they are satisfied and ascend into the heavens.
  • Haunting Starring Polterguy: Poltergeist Polterguy is a mix between type A and B. His main motivation is to take revenge for his death and freak out the Sardinis, but towards the player he's genuinely friendly and does not mean any harm. In the end, he temporarily switches back to his human form (with no indication that he ever aimed for this), just to become a ghost again. While taken by surprise, he seems to be fine with this.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In Morrowind, you can meet several ghosts throughout the game from both "Types". The friendly ones give you quests to return lost items or to bring justice to their killers in order for them to be at rest. The malevolent ones need to be put to rest by force.
    • In Oblivion, the Forelorn Watchman is a benign ghost who only wants his mortal remains unshackled from the ship's hold where mutineers imprisoned him, and Disappears into Light when his wish is granted.
    • Recurring character St. Jiub the Eradicator can be met as a spirit in the Soul Cairn in Skyrim's Dawnguard DLC and is very much a Type A. He offers a sidequest which involves recovering the lost notes he needs to write his opus, telling the tale of his rise and atonement from being a prisoner at the beginning of Morrowind to earning his status as a saint. Once finished, he'll ask you take it back to the mortal world so his legend may live on.
  • The one ghost we sort of encounter in The Secret World haunting the Black House in Kingsmouth is violently temperamental and savage, and quelling her is part of a quest. It turns out that she was lynched by the townsfolk on false charges and just wants her ashes to be scattered in the sea so she can finally escape the town that persecuted her. The mission debriefing flavour text for the Templar faction implies that all ghosts in the setting are similar:
    Richard Sonnac: Consider there are billions of people. The simple math of the violent and unfair end produces thousands of lost souls, lingering. Mercifully, many have slim powers over reality, or are less antisocial in their mourning. But all wait for a fairer rendering of justice than they received in life.
  • Fable: Nostro, the founder of the Heroes' Guild, lingers as a ghost because he died an ignominious death by poison. He and the spirits of his sworn companions finally move on when the Player Character defeats them all in honourable combat, a proper (albeit belated) Hero's death.
  • Golf Story: The ghost at Oak Manor designed and built the entire golf course, but then died before he got a chance to play on it, so he makes you do it in his place; first with the "junior" course and then the real one.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers has shared quests for the different roles, each of which revolve around hunting down Cardinal Virtues, those essentially being the ghosts of the First's previous Warriors of Light. Each one is revealed to be mindlessly performing some act related to a goal they worked towards in life:
    • Dikaiosine hunts down people who come into possession of certain jewelry, killing them and stealing the jewelry in question. In life he was Branden, a knight of Voeburt and protector of its last princess before he was forced to Mercy Kill her rather than let her become a mindless beast. The jewelry he hunts for as a Cardinal Virtue had belonged to the princess in question, so he's simply continuing to protect her possessions.
    • Andreia shows up at random hunting grounds, turning anyone who happens to be there into more sin eaters. In life she was Renda-Rae, a hunter who looked for the most fearsome beasts to hunt, having joined with the Warriors of Light but slipping away from them to hunt a particularly dangerous mark for fear that the rest of the Warriors would be killed by it. As a Cardinal Virtue she's now simply recruiting more hunting partners to relive her hunts.
    • Phronesis wanders the desert of Amh Araeng, randomly opening portals into the void from which no one caught in them can escape. In life he was Nyelbert, a mage bred and trained from childhood for the purpose of opening portals to other worlds together with another named Taynor, until one day when Taynor was accidentally sucked into a portal he opened. Nyelbert spent the rest of his life trying but ultimately failing to pull Taynor back out from the void, and as a Cardinal Virtue he is still opening those portals to try and bring his friend back.
    • Sophrosyne shows up at random in Kholusia, reviving sin eaters that have been slain. In life she was Lamitt, a dwarf who left her village to learn how to cure a deadly disease, succeeding with ancient Ronkan magic only to be immediately banished from the village in question because she took off her helmet in the course of her adventure, which was against the village's rules; those dwarves she cured, in protest, decided to exile themselves as well, since they'd all taken off their helmets at some point or another while locked up in a cave to keep the disease from spreading - the sin eaters she now revives as a Cardinal Virtue are specifically those who had once been the other dwarves she'd saved.
  • The titular Spooky of Spooky's Jump Scare Mansion eventually reveals her motivations for creating her house of ghouls at the climax of the game: she wants to scare everyone by any and all means necessary, ostensibly because she hates being called "cute". The Doll House elaborates with further context: Spooky was originally an ordinary, innocent girl who simply liked to scare people for fun and struggled to be taken seriously due to her cuteness, until one Halloween, she unknowingly scared someone with violent PTSD, who shot and killed her in a blind panic. Her current ghost form is evidently a mangling of these motivations, overriding anything originally moral or innocent about her in life.

    Web Animation 
  • Manga Soprano: Erica's ghost was determined to seek for something in her mansion and requested Kanade's help. Turns out it was a time capsule she and her father buried when she was a kid, and when Kanade read the letter from her father, she finally ascends.
  • Lewis of Mystery Skulls Animated is technically a mix of both types as he both wants to reconnect with his girlfriend Vivi, a fairly benign goal, and kill his former best friend Arthur for killing him (who was possessed at the time by a malicious entity and heavily implied to not be in control at the time but Lewis doesn't know this).
  • The boy's "imaginary friend" in Missing Halloween is revealed to be a Type A in the end. She was a little girl who died alone in the middle of a forest after her leg got caught in a bear trap, and all she wanted was for someone to find her body.

    Web Comics 
  • The ghosts in A Girl and Her Fed share a common goal of protecting America. They don't necessarily agree on how to best do so...
    • Their power depends on how famous/iconic they are. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin are therefore heavy hitters, but they're both dwarfed by Abraham Lincoln, of whom Washington says "Those forces which define power in our world ... he channels them. He might as well be made of them." Despite being definitely on the "overwhelming" side of the power scale, he has no real goals himself and just allows others to use his power without discrimination. This is a very bad thing, because the people who are making the most use of it are Not Nice.
  • In Concession, Miranda's sole goal seems to be to use her twin brother to take revenge on their older brother for killing her (assuming he actually did).
    • After Melusine is killed by her own brother (and this time, it clearly happens, on-page), she too becomes a vengeful ghost. At the comic's end, it's noted that she really isn't Melusine anymore, and the same was true of Miranda.
  • In a one-shot Nodwick strip, one ghost refused to rest until what was taken from him was returned. The item that was taken from him was a rake that he loaned to his neighbor.
  • In a tragic turn, one poor ghost in Sheldon's universe seems destined to hang around until it can see the second season of Firefly:
  • The Whispering Woman whom Regan encounters at the dream party in Emily Carroll's The Hole the Fox Did Make turns out to be the ghost of the girl her mother drowned when they were both in high school. They were fighting over the boy who became Regan's father. Not surprisingly, the Whispering Woman wants Regan.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: The deceased Luteran Pastor needs to stick around until all the Rash-transformed souls belonging to her fellow Christians have reached the afterlife. Since many of these souls are stuck in one location and need to travel to a specific place to get help in doing so, this may take a while.

    Web Original 
  • Parodied in this video from Cracked. Apparently the ghost haunting the family knows who killed her; however, they're too busy worrying about the husband's annoying brother to notice. By the end of the video, the ghost is satisfied just to be rid of him.
    Husband: So... you, um... you know who killed you?
    Ghost: Oh, yeah, I don't even really care about that anymore. I just, y'know, had to get outta there.
  • A vague example occurs in Schizophrenic Doll, though it seems the ghost in question desires a new body that isn't a doll but, rather, someone who looks very much like the one she had before, only more adult, and is moving her soul from the doll to Toki's body. However, it is clear she is an angry spirit.
  • In SCP Foundation SCP-1337 is mismanaged from being a Type A into a Type B. The ghost of a murdered woman repeatedly hitchhiked to her graveyard and left behind a possession the driver would feel compelled to return to her parents, which would then vanish. Rather than trying to find out how to set her to rest, they just told her parents they were trying to and had SCP agents patrol the small area where she was active so they'd be the ones picking her up. Then the researcher in charge of the project decided that killing her parents, demolishing her old house, and destroying her grave marker would leave her without anywhere to go, and remove the relatively minor inconvenience caused by her activities. Unsurprisingly, this instead resulted in one royally pissed off ghost, who after butchering the researcher responsible, expanded her range and shifted from harmlessly hitching rides to killing people who didn't stop for her.


Video Example(s):


Origin of the Flying Dutchman

SpongeBob SquarePants's version of the Flying Dutchman is more a Peek-a-Bogeyman Ghost Pirate than anything else, but there is one episode that gives him a similar backstory: his body was used as a window display, and thus never got a proper burial, cursing his spirit to forever wander the seas.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / FlyingDutchman

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