The universe just isn't kind to The Cutie. For all their sweetness, idealism, love, and innocence, authors seem obsessed with putting them through all sorts of horrific violence, trauma, and loss. Eventually they are broken inside, an Empty Shell of what they once were.
So... what happens next?
Sometimes their hopeful, caring nature is forever lost. Sometimes they snap. They may start on a path of darkness. They might even try to bring the world down with them. Or they may just wither up and die.
But other times... the writer lends them a kinder hand.
Whatever the case, the poor thing is lifted up out of their hopeless situation, and started on a path to healing. As they recover, they start to look more alive. They make genuine smiles, recover hope, may stop Self-Harm, and start to show their sweet, lovable traits once again.
Note that this doesn't necessarily mean The Cutie is unchanged. The traumatic experience may have caused them to become wiser or more practical, stronger, more assertive, or even dangerous. But at their core, they are still the sweet, lovable character they once were.
In other words, they are a Cutie again.
The reasons for this trope are pretty obvious: The Cutie draws the adoration of the audience, and breaking the Cutie triggers their horror and sympathy. So naturally, satiating their caring, sympathetic feelings by patching up the Cutie will especially inspire the audience's affection and satisfaction.
Alternatively, a broken character may have not necessarily been a Cutie previously (assuming that their past isn't unknown or forgotten), but as they recover they nevertheless start to display sweet, caring, lovable traits. This character may be a jerk or a cynic who becomes more kind, idealistic or cheerful, but they could also be a Blank Slate who has yet to be shown some goodness and hope. Either way, this variation can have a similar satisfying effect on the audience's sympathy: as the character recovers, they exhibit adorable traits that draw affection. In other words, they heal into the Cutie.
Compare Iron Woobie, Stoic Woobie, Determinator, and Plucky Girl, for when the character refused to break to begin with, or The Pollyanna, for when the character is simply unfazeable. If a Cutie never really heals, they may become a Broken Bird.
Unmarked spoilers ahead!
- Guts from Berserk, is a Byronic Hero with serious issues, as a result of being raped by one of his adoptive father's men during his childhood. The only exceptions are his Love Interest Casca and his more-or-less brother Griffith, and even Casca almost got strangled to death during their first time together due to Guts flashing back to what Donovan did to him. During his stay with the Band of the Hawk, Guts did appear to be getting over this, as he became more chummy with his comrades and became more trusting of others close to him. Then the Eclipse happened. You can guess what state Guts reverted back into. Guts' issue with people has a lot to do with his trust in others, not just a single traumatic physical experience. After his time with Casca, Guts really doesn't talk about his childhood after that, but after the Eclipse, he goes back to hating being touched. It goes to show how much he felt betrayed by a man that he trusted, the second time in his life. After the Eclipse he makes new comrades that he places trust in and he learns that there's hope Casca can regain her sanity. Because of this he seems genuinely happy again, aside of the hatred he has toward Griffith and the Godhand.
- Ai Haibara, real name Shiho Miyano, of Case Closed is a former member of the criminal organization Conan is hunting and creator of the drug that shrank both he and herself to the size of first grade schoolchildren and killed everyone else it was used on. She's introduced still reeling from the death of her older sister early in the story and guilt over the creation of the drug, making her standoffish and reclusive. Her time as Haibara gradually opens her up, as she reciprocates the friendship of her classmates, even allowing Ayumi to use her first name, becoming a more active participant in their games when she had always given a hard pass before, and overall becoming a happier, if not necessarily cheerful, person than she started as.
- Code Geass has C.C. who first shows up as The Stoic Broken Bird immortal who is so broken from her long centuries of life and torment as a "witch" that her goal at the start is to do anything and everything to die, including use the lead Lelouch as her "tool" to die with. Over the course of her relationship with Lelouch she starts to defrost, developing a Vitriolic Best Buds relationship and slowly healing. By the end, C.C. is able to smile genuinely and find value and happiness in her immortality thanks to Lelouch's impact on her.
- In Kemono Jihen, Kabane was emotionally stunted from years of abuse from his Evil Aunt, whom his parents entrusted him to before vanishing. He's an Extreme Doormat who is perplexed when he's shown basic decency and struggles to grasp concepts like love and pity. He slowly becomes more open, talkative, and emotional while working at Inugami's detective agency, which provided him with the familial affection he's lacked for most of his life.
- Kotoura-san: This trope essentially describes Haruka Kotoura's character arc: the show starts with all events lining up to Break the Cutie seemingly as much as possible, and the majority of the plotline is a depiction of her slow, steady return to being a Cheerful Child. It is depicted above.
- Little Witch Academia: Akko is heartbroken when she learns that Chariot stole her magic during her childhood, crippling her ability to use magic. However, some encouragement from Diana and the care of her friends gets her back on her feet, and she later reconciles with Chariot.
- Lyrical Nanoha:
- Fate was introduced in the first season as a broken Love Martyr towards her incredibly abusive mother, and gets even more broken when she finds out that she's a clone and her mother has hated her since the moment she was born. Fortunately, she manages to get unbroken after Nanoha befriends her and Lindy adopts her. By the time of StrikerS ten years later, her emotional scars have all but healed.
- An even more blatant example is Lutecia Alpine, who goes from an emotionally-stunted Dark Magical Girl in StrikerS to an outgoing Genki Girl in ViVid, thanks to being reunited with her adoring mother and mostly acquitted of crimes she was forced into.
- Monster: Eva ordering coffee. For context, she's a careless alcoholic for most of the series. Her changing her order from scotch to coffee marks the first step toward her recovery.
- My Hero Academia:
- Deku himself as a Cheerful Child was an ecstatic fanboy of All Might, but was brokenhearted to find that he would probably never get a quirk, dashing his dreams of becoming a hero. He is regularly mocked and bullied in his class for not having one, and when he meets his idol, he is told again that he should give up. When he acts to rescue his former bully, he is chastised by the public for rushing in without a quirk, and gives up on his dream. However, All Might, moved by his selflessness, decides to choose him as the next vessel for his quirk, and Deku's journey to finally realizing his dream begins.
- Eri is introduced as a quiet, traumatized little girl after accidentally killing her father and being tortured by the Yakuza to make anti-Quirk bullets. Izuku and Mirio make it their personal mission to make her smile again, and using friendship, treats, and The Power of Rock finally help her to become the Cheerful Child she was meant to be.
- Naruto himself had a lot of breaking moments from the outset. First, his father sealed a demon inside him as the only way to save their village. His parents are dead, and he grows up ostracized by the entire village. He battles with the power inside him for control, which if unleashed could destroy all he loves. Later, his best friend decides to turn on him and tries to kill him and their other teammate, tries to destroy his village, and everyone is trying to get him to kill said best friend. He's hit with the deaths of Jiraiya and Kakashi, near-death of Hinata, destruction of Konoha, and having the truth of the ninja system quite brutally explained to Naruto. However, thanks to a few well-placed flashbacks, Jiraiya's book, and care and support from his loved ones, Naruto recovers every time. Not to mention, a few good Deus ex Machina.
- Hinata Hyuga was abused by her harsh father and the rest of her family from childhood, and she lost her rightful position as heiress to the Hyuga clan because they mistook her kind, gentle nature for weakness. Her cousin Neji, who was supposed to protect her with his life, grew up to hate her for nine years, and he ends up brutally attacking her (both physically and verbally), to the point of almost killing her, in the Chunin Exams preliminaries. Her familial shame resulted in a huge inferiority complex and crippling shyness, which tragically persisted up until she met Naruto when they were children. Seeing Naruto's enduring optimism and determination inspired her to keep trying, and eventually she gains the respect of her family. Naruto himself comes to admire and care for her, and the two earn their happy ending together.
- End of Evangelion: After an entire movie of Break the Cutie for all characters, Asuka and Shinji in particular it's implied they find peace together in an apocalyptic world. At least, Asuka manages to break Shinji out of his insanity and stop him from killing her. There's also the camera focus on their hands being a few inches apart implying that all they need to heal is to show warmth and concern to each other, which Asuka did when she caressed Shinji's face with her hand and Shinji cries into her chest implying that he's sorry for all he did to her.
- One Piece: Nico Robin is initially a Broken Bird ex-villain with a Dark and Troubled Past that, in essence, makes her unable to form strong bonds with anyone. After joining the Straw Hat Pirates because she has nowhere else to go, adventuring with them, a Rescue Arc that shows her past in detail, and the crew declaring a war with the World Government just to get her back, she realizes that there's a place for her after all, and from that point she becomes a genuinely happy person. A clear indication of this, seen starting with the following story arc, is Robin referring to her crewmates by name when, before, she had only ever used titles or nicknames.
- If Cross Ange gave the main character the worst period of her life throughout the twenty-five episodes, then the fanfic Angelic Resonance does the exact opposite. The opening arc shows that even after losing her friends and her title, no matter what kind of crisis Angelise is in, the Bureau is always there to support her. This makes her path to maturity smoother and far more hopeful than the hell she endured in her first days at Arzenal. Bonus points for her seiyuu playing another famous character also subject to this trope.
- Team 8 takes what happened to Naruto and Hinata in canon and takes it Up to Eleven. Naruto is shown to be significantly insecure about the Nine-Tails and the treatment from the villagers, while Hinata is borderline suicidal in her aspirations. Kurenai realizes that putting the two together on a team could set them both on a path to healing, and so she takes on Naruto. The fic then largely follows their journey together to heal and grow past their difficulties.
- Astro Boy was built by Doctor Tenma to replace his dead son Toby. Astro inherits Toby's vast intelligence and upbeat nature, but soon finds that his dad cannot accept him as a substitute for his dead child. Astro runs from home and finds himself on the surface, where he tries to find friends and a new life, but he finds that robots on the surface are treated as mere property. When his identity as a robot is revealed, he is rejected, and decides nothing matters anymore, willingly turning himself in to the President Evil. Doctor Tenma decides to shut him down, but then changes his mind, accepting Astro not as Toby, but as his son nonetheless. Astro embraces his role in the world as a hero, and gains family, friends, and thankful admirers.
- Sawyer from Cats Don't Dance seems like a snide and cynical secretary to talent agent Farley Wink. Woolie later reveals to protagonist Danny that Sawyer came to Hollywood brimming with talent, only to discover that she'd be relegated to the chorus because she's a cat. "The spotlight will never be on fellows like you and me, and it's foolish to think otherwise," Woolie laments. Nevertheless, Danny succeeds in drawing out the lithe dancer in Sawyer during an impromptu jam, and later, displays her chanteuse skills during the climactic finish. One cute kitty unbroken: check.
- Dumbo, the adorable elephant mocked for his big ears, is separated from his mother, and accidentally ruins a circus performance, becoming an object of scorn. Then with the friendship of a mouse, some crows, and a magic feather, he makes you believe an elephant can fly and is reunited with his mother.
- Frozen: Royal sisters Anna and Elsa go through a lot of hardship, what with them being separated for 13 years due to Elsa's Power Incontinence. It only gets worse when Elsa accidentally creates an eternal winter everywhere and fatally freezes Anna's heart. Then Anna is betrayed by Hans, who deceives Elsa into thinking that she killed her. Then he tries to kill her, but Anna rescues her. Anna's Act of True Love thaws her heart, the two are reunited, and Elsa realizes she can undo the eternal winter. As it turns out, love is the ultimate salve for cuties.
- Inside Out is the story of the Cheerful Child Riley who has a hard time dealing with moving to San Francisco, and her emotions that try to guide her through it. Joy tries to keep her a Stepford Smiler, but it eventually becomes too much for Riley, who has a breakdown in class. An accident separates Joy and Sadness from Headquarters. Without them, Riley falls into a depression, and the other emotions cannot guide her. However, Joy realizes Sadness is the key; it is through sadness that one can work through their brokenness and heal. After a tearful confession to her parents, Riley overcomes her depression, and is able to know joy and emotion again, while also becoming a more mature person.
- Lilo & Stitch are neither straight examples of The Cutie at first; the former was a bit too bratty, and the latter far too destructive. However, much of this is born out of the former's naivete and the latter's programming. As the two realize the consequences of their actions and the gravity of their situation, they become quite saddened and broken indeed. In the end, they nevertheless find their happy ending together, to become a caring, loving, adorable family.
Stitch: This is my family. I found it all on my own. It's little and broken... but still good. Yeah. Still good.
- Judy Hopps starts as an optimistic, idealistic rabbit who dreams of being a police officer, but gradually finds reality isn't nearly as easy as dreams. While she does eventually become a cop, she is largely patronized in her position, and is even nearly fired twice. When unearthing the dark events involving predators in Zootopia, she inadvertently causes chaos in the city, is estranged from Nick, and despondently resigns her job. However, realizing the truth of the plot in the city, and receiving forgiveness from Nick, gets her back on her feet to save the day.
- Nick Wilde in his youth received a stinging lesson in Fantastic Racism from the Junior Ranger Scouts, which left him with little sympathy for his fellow mammals. However, seeing rookie officer Judy Hopps about to have her dream trampled, Wilde intervenes and takes a genuine interest Judy's missing mammal case. Together, they not only find all fourteen missing mammals, but identify the Big Bad behind their disappearance. At the conclusion, Nick becomes the newest police officer of Precinct One, Zootopia. He's still snarky in a friendly, playful way, but definitely un-broken.
- The Bible:
- Job was a good, righteous man with much wealth and a large family. When the devil argues to God that Job is only good because of his circumstances, God permits him to take away all Job has, and later to afflict his health. In his harsh circumstances and despair, Job curses his own birth, but refuses to renounce God. In the end, God restores Job's fortunes.
- Jesus Christ himself was a wise, loving, caring teacher and a good friend. Then the Pharisees conspire to have him crucified, and on the cross he takes on the wrath of God Himself. Jesus knew this would happen; the distress of it caused him to sweat blood, and the event itself moved him to ask "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Then after three days in the grave, Jesus is resurrected and brings salvation to all mankind.
- Speak: Melinda starts refusing to speak, turns to Self-Harm, and her grades go down the toilet after she is raped over the summer. The book depicts her gradually crawling out of a hole, turning to art as an emotional outlet and therapeutic way to help heal before she gains the courage to speak again and tell her story. She also looks to the works and poster of Nice Girl Maya Angelou for a source of hope.
- Warrior Cats: After Cinderpaw is hit by a car, leaving her leg permanently crippled, she slips into a depression, feeling worthless over the fact that she can never become a warrior - she even comments after the camp is attacked that she wouldn't have minded if she'd been killed in the battle. Her spirit recovers after Yellowfang has her help out in the medicine cat den and eventually makes Cinderpaw her official apprentice.
- Archie Kennedy in Horatio Hornblower starts as a Pretty Boy and Plucky Middie who is tormented by a sadistic bully, but is happy to be transferred to a frigate Indefatigable commanded by the fabulous Captain Pellew. Then his abuser gets on the "Indy" as well, Archie has a seizure during a boarding party, his friend must club him to preserve the stealth, said bully unties the boat he's in and Archie goes M.I.A. He resurfaces in Spanish prison where he decides to starve himself to death. His friend nurses him back to health and they get out of the prison. He returns to the "Indy", gets promoted to Acting Lieutenant, panics during their next mission, but manages to recover. In the next series, Archie's the 4th Lieutenant aboard HMS Renown and is awesome: self-assured, competent and compassionate. The Cutie who has found his strength and confidence.
- Nashville: Juliette is shown to be making real strides towards overcoming her post partum depression and even gains the love of her life (Avery) back. Subverted tragically when she's implied to be killed in a plane crash on the way to meet Avery and her baby
- Orange Is the New Black
- Several characters have bad pasts and end up in prison but for some prison is a place where they actually heal. In Soso's case, she was close to suicide until Poussey saved her and developed a genuine friendship with her. In Poussey's case she was becoming an alcoholic to stave off emotional pain, and once she becomes close to Soso it seems to stop. Their relationship is very sweet and heartwarming and fans find themselves rooting for the two. It's made that much sadder when Poussey is killed during a riot. Though, there's a scene in the finale of the season where we see Poussey wandering around New York and smiling towards the camera implying she'll be okay after all.
- Piper and Alex hit a lot of ups and downs in their relationship and individually. However, the end of season 4 has them making peace with each other and Red finally welcoming Piper and Alex to her family group. It's implied they are each other's Living Emotional Crutch and they Desperately Craves Affection so their renewed relationship with each other and their "family" gives them strength.
- In Three Days Grace "Never Too Late" a lady gets sent to a psychiatric hospital for reasons implied to be because of depression and PTSD as a result of sexual assault in the past. She's shown walking towards the light away from her hospital bed at the end, looking much more peaceful.
- Linkin Park's music video for the song "Crawling In My Skin" depicts a girl in a abusive relationship who puts up walls around her (shown in the form of crystalization taking place around her) In the end the crystals retreat implying that she fought her demons.
- Subverted with Blance of A Streetcar Named Desire. Her relationship with Mitch turned out to be just what she needed and while they hug and kiss she states "Sometimes there's God so quickly" implying Mitch to be her salvation from her sad past. However, Stanley proceeds to reveal her half truths to Mitch making Mitch wash his hands of her and then Stanley rapes her which further costs her her sanity.
- The world of Cave Story is not kind to its cast of cute characters. Notably, Curly Brace is a friendly, upbeat girl who takes motherly care of a group of rabbit-creatures, but loses all of them to the Mad Doctor. She then makes a desperate attempt to help the protagonist fight back, and is forced to sacrifice herself to save him. With some Videogame Caring Potential and a good deal of Guide Dang It!, you can change the ending and bring about this trope. When Quote initially saves her, she's left an unresponsive amnesiac, but after her memory is restored, she remembers her and Quote's original mission, and returns to her former self.
- Final Fantasy VI: Terra Branford was enslaved from childhood under the Gestahlian Empire, and grows up without love and care. When she is recruited by the party, she has no memory of her past, and struggles with the idea of love. However, her experiences with the party and discovery of a group of orphans turn her into a Mama Bear and Friend to All Children with a great deal of hope and idealism.
- In the Jak and Daxter series, main character Jak starts off as a Cute Mute 15-year-old boy before one day ending up captured by Baron Praxis and Erol, and being tortured for two years, eventually escaping as a vengeful but still attractive young adult. In spite of what happened, Jak remains a Wide-Eyed Idealist, but almost crosses the Despair Event Horizon in Jak 3: Wastelander when Veger banishes him; Jak is so crushed at this betrayal, that he harshly rejects Ashelin's offer to return to the city. But by the end of the game, he's back to being an idealist hero, and even rejects joining the Precursors because he doesn't want to leave his friends behind.
- A literal example would have to be Sora from Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance where his hearts ended up getting brutally shattered thanks to Young Xehanort's attempt turn Sora into a Xehanort clone but after Riku and the others managed to save him from getting turned into one, Riku dove into Sora's heart and expell the darkness that is within him, causing him to return back to his happy self once more.
- Kingdom Hearts III also has another literal case, where Ventus is revived after Sora finally unlocks the Power of Waking.
- A similar case within the Fan Works section can be found in Super Robot Wars X. Way before Ange developed into a misanthropic person thanks to the situation surrounding her, she met Wataru and just couldn't find any reasons to belittle him. Further interactions with Wataru (and the X-Cross) made Ange's development take a much more positive route while staying true with her show's plot.
- The Ace Attorney series introduces Maya Fey when she discovers the bludgeoned corpse of her sister, and is then immediately arrested as the prime suspect for her murder. It's only when Phoenix Wright is there for her as both her attorney and her friend that she's able to regain the silly, fun-loving personality that comes to define her for the rest of the series.
- Oceanfalls starts with both a literal and an actual one when Nino encounters Five, a mere child. As it turns out, Five was sickly and under the care of a number of friends, but the Evil Prince forces them to abandon her and make her undergo a horrific transformation, a fate common for monsters considered weak. By the time Nino finds her, she's a bloody mess crying and clawing her own skin off. Nino's Healing Hands patch her up and, with love and care from him and Aria, Five recovers and shows her sweet, adorable nature again. That said, it's quite clear that the world isn't quite done bringing misery, and there are a lot of hardships left ahead for her.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: The blithe Aang went through a lot of trauma after waking up from a 100-year sleep, to find all his loved ones dead and the world locked in a horrific war, but he rarely let it show much... until he loses Appa. Come "The Serpent's Pass", he shuts down and stops responding to the concerns of his friends. However, seeing Katara help a couple deliver a baby named Hope gets him out of his funk.
Aang: I thought I was trying to be strong. But really I was just running away from my feelings. Seeing this family together, so full of happiness and love, it's reminded me how I feel about Appa ... and how I feel about you.
- Boundin' is the story of a graceful sheep who loves to dance and perform for the other animals. But one day the sheep is shorn of his wool, laughed at, and falls into depression. Then one day comes along an old jackalope, who encourages him to get back on his feet, and teaches him to bound. The sheep recovers to his old self, with a good deal of contentment and optimism.
- Given the inherently cute and optimistic nature of the show, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic does this through all the drama a lot:
- All of the main characters have a turn at breaking; usually, it happens because the aspect of their lives symbolized by the markings on their flanks has been called into question. This is the root cause of so many pony breakdowns that the fandom has dubbed it "Cutie Mark Failure Insanity Syndrome". Then they eventually gain answers to their problems and recover.
- Pinkie Pie in "Party of One" reverts to her depressed, straight-haired state previously seen in "Cutie Mark Chronicles" when she thinks her friends don't like her or her parties anymore. Then she learns that they are planning her a party and bounces back.
- In "The Return of Harmony", even though Twilight isn't brainwashed directly, she still gets hit with this. Discord reunites her with her friends after he's finished breaking them. The result is Twilight being treated like dirt by her beloved True Companions and having no idea what's happening to them. By the time the corrupted Fluttershy verbally assaults her, the poor girl has been broken as well. It gets so bad in the second episode that she turns gray without brainwashing. What helps her recover is the friendship letters returned from Princess Celestia.
- Pinkie breaks again in "Baby Cakes", where she suffers all sorts of indignities trying to prove she's responsible enough to look after the Cakes' new foals. After Pound Cake (a pegasus) and Pumpkin Cake (a unicorn) start manifesting their respective powers of flight and magic and making even more mischief, the Element of Laughter herself finally breaks down into hysterical bawling. Then the two kids work to amuse Pinkie Pie, perking her back up.
- In "The Last Round-up", Applejack's inability to win a single blue ribbon or earn any prize money for Ponyville breaks her so hard that she can't face returning to Ponyville since she feels she has let everyone down. Her friends reassure her that they care for her no matter what.
- Fluttershy gets broken hard in "Hurricane Fluttershy". In fact, it happens three times! First is when Rainbow Dash trying to get her to join in making the tornado brings up a pretty brutal bullying incident from her foalhood. Second is when some ponies laugh at her wing speed test, sending her running off as she cries her eyes out. And then, after she gives it her all to improve her performance by training extensively, she takes the test again only to find out that the improvement she's made isn't nearly enough and once more runs off in tears. In the end, she ultimately still tries to help out with the tornado, and overcomes her fears. She receives praise from Dash and all the ponies, reverting her back to her old self, but with a good deal more confidence.
- The Mane Six in "Magical Mystery Cure". Twilight inadvertently causes her friends' cutie marks - and destinies - to be switched, and her friends are unable to cope with the jobs they now believe they were always meant to be doing. Seeing her friends break down leads Twilight to tears herself, until Spike helps her remember just how important her friends are to her, giving her the spark of inspiration she needed to fix the problem.
- Pinkie is still being mentally tortured in season 6. In "The Gift of the Maud Pie", she (consensually) trades her beloved Party Cannon for a rock pouch (a gift for Maud). Pinkie can only speak in a quiet, depressed voice with her head hung in despair, until Maud and Rarity force the trader to make the switch back.
- Lapis Lazuli from Steven Universe undergoes a long process of healing; Steven makes a strong effort to talk with her in "Ocean Gem" and makes progress when he heals her wings, and she returns the ocean back to Earth. After Jasper approaches her in "Jail Break", she urges Lapis to fuse with her, with Lapis initiating the fusion with Jasper to keep them at the bottom of the ocean. After spending some time adjusting to Earth, it takes quite a while for her to eventually accept Peridot and the other gems as friends, gradually overcoming her grudges and helping the other Gems to defend Earth.