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Humans Are Not the Dominant Species

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"On that day, mankind received a grim reminder. We lived in fear of the Titans and were disgraced to live in these cages we called walls."

For the last several thousand years, humans have been the dominant species on Earth. They've only gotten more dominant with time.

This trope occurs when that's not the case.

Humans exist, yes, but they live under the rule of another species. One common way this trope occurs is in Earth All Along works where animals evolve to the point where they challenge humanity for the dominant species.

Examples only count as this trope if the following apply:

  • It's on a relatively realistic Earth or Earth-like planet
  • It doesn't take place in prehistoric times before humans became the dominant species.

Compare to Vichy Earth, where alien invaders conquer Earth; Animal Is the New Man, where animals took over the Earth when the humans fall; and Robot War, for cases where it's machines that ascend mastery over humanity. Contrast with This Is My Human for when animals simply think that they're dominant over humans and Mistook the Dominant Lifeform, for when a non-human species is mistaken for the dominant species by an alien species.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: Humans have been nearly extinct for over 100 years, driven inside cities surrounded by massive walls that protect them from huge cannibalistic humanoids they call Titans. The main goal of the protagonists is to reclaim the world that has been overrun by these monstrosities. Only that's not the case at all. The people inside the city have all been brainwashed and then conditioned to believe that the rest of the world has been destroyed. In reality, the Titans were a weapon deployed in an ancient war and the rest of the world outside of the main setting is relatively fine. In fact, later on, the Titans on the entire island nation they inhabit are exterminated and the story becomes a battle between rival nations.
  • Fairy Tail
    • Zigzagged at least 400 years prior to the start of the series. Back then, dragons were said to be the dominate race before their massacre by human-turn-dragon Acnologia and often feed on humans. However, a later narrative showed this was more prevalent in the Western Continent Alakitasia, and one human and dragon kingdom in the Eastern Continent Ishgar was ruled by a human queen.
    • The alternate world Edolas shows humans in reverence to the cat-like Exceeds, who have god-like power to choose which humans can die. However, Edolas's human king Faust leads an uprising against the Exceeds. It is revealed the Exceeds' only magic is flight, and they protected themselves from persecution by pretending their queen's precognition is really her choosing when humans die rather than discovering their deaths.
  • Flower Girl in Dystopia: After an apocalypse destroyed the planet in the distant past mainly due to human causes, humans are no longer the dominant species on the globe except for the flower girl, while non-humans have become the ruling species. It builds the core of the story's Fantastic Racism conflict.
  • Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: Humanity hides from the kabane (zombies that develop iron-hard bones and transmit the infection by biting) within vast fortified cities, with armored trains providing the only means of transport and communication between cities. Unfortunately, the walls are by no means efficient at keeping the kabane out, so more than one city ends up falling to them. The Kabaneri are humans that have survived infection and have greatly increased physical abilities but now feed on blood, leading to justified mistrust from humans.
  • Versus (2022) has this as its entire premise, to the point that its Arc Words are "Like birds to insects, like snakes to frogs, like ███ to humans, to win against one's own natural enemy is completely impossible." The story is built around thirteen different worlds where humanity has been pushed to the brink by thirteen different threats, and it's established fairly early that the only chance it has for survival is to lure those threats into battle against one another and hope they survive the crossfire.

    Comic Books 
  • In a short story in the third volume of The Sandman (1989), "A Dream of a Thousand Cats", a housecat discovers that cats were once the dominant species on planet Earth, growing to enormous sizes while humans served their needs. But the humans grew resentful and, collectively dreaming together, created a world where humans are the dominant species and cats are their pets. A group of housecats now roams the Earth, spreading this gospel of their former glory and implore all cats who hear them to dream back the old world.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), hundreds of years ago, a species of aliens sent DNA bombs to kill all of humanity while saving the other species. Instead, the DNA bombs made humans "devolve" into a crueler, four-fingered species known as the Overlanders, while animals evolved into Funny Animals. Over the years, Mobians have become the dominant species while Outlanders and humans live in seclusion.

    Film — Animation 
  • Fantastic Planet has humans living in a Mouse World amid the giant blue-skinned, red-eyed Draags. Humans are called Oms (homme being French for man), and they are teased, tormented and killed by the Draags mostly For the Evulz. Young Draag Tiwa makes a housepet out of an Om named Terr, who also narrates parts of the story.
  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters: Humanity, after various wars and environmental degradation, found itself under siege by increasingly dangerous Kaiju, the most powerful of which was Godzilla. Not even the arrival of two alien races with more advanced technology manages to turn the tide. Many thousands of years later, when a failed colony ship returns to Earth, the entire ecosystem has evolved with highly dangerous animals and resilient plants that'll make resettlement extremely difficult. That some kaiju still exist makes it all but impossible. Haruo, who lost his parents to Godzilla's final attack, makes it his mission to give Earth back to humanity's dominion.
    • The first sequel, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle, shows that some humans did survive on Earth and evolved into the Hotua culture and subspecies under Mothra's protection. Despite lacking advanced technology, they are content with life and treated as civilized nonetheless. Seeing this and the questionable behavior of some of his compatriots, Haruo begins to doubt his convictions.
    • The final film in the trilogy, Godzilla: The Planet Eater, takes it a further step. Ultimately, Haruo and humanity's ambition is concluded to be folly. The old human-dominated civilization was not as good as some remember it, leading to unchecked pride and hubris that created the kaiju to begin with. Haruo, not wanting to alter the Hotua's more sustainable way of life, sees to the last of the old technology is destroyed at the cost of his life. In the epilogue, the Hotua are still thriving without dominance of the world, treating Godzilla the same way one might a hurricane or force of nature with dominion of the world.
  • The premise of The Good Dinosaur is that the dinosaurs never became extinct, and formed a primitive farming society. Humans are still animalistic, behaving mostly like dogs.

    Film — Live Action 

  • Destroyermen takes place in an alternate universe where the K-T extinction event never happened. As a consequence, the world is dominated by three or four other intelligent species, mainly the Lemurians (semi-humanoid primates, but descended from Madagascar lemurs instead of the great apes) and Grik (descended from therapod dinosaurs). The only humans in the setting are those that have crossed from our timeline over the centuries due to a recurring Negative Space Wedgie, or descendants of same.
  • In Dragaera, the Long-Lived, elf-like Dragaerans and their eponymous continent-spanning empire have been the dominant political and magical power on the planet for almost 200 000 years, while the human "Easterners" have a few small kingdoms of their own and are generally seen as second-class citizens within the Empire. Oddly, both species call themselves "human", a relic of the fact that the Dragaerans were created through genetic manipulation by the Jenoine Abusive Precursors.
  • The Hellequin Chronicles has it made quite clear that humans aren't even remotely the dominant species, with the various non-human species (most of which are closer to Human Subspecies) being far, far more powerful both individually and politically. Every political leader gets a 'First Meeting' from a representative of Avalon, the supernatural UN, which lays out exactly where they stand. More generally, All Myths Are True (mostly); while the old gods are really 'just' obscenely powerful nonhumans, they're all every bit as powerful as the myths would say and more, and they know it — even the nice ones who are polite to/respectful of humans tend to assume an inherent superiority, and there's a broad streak of Fantastic Racism. It's pointed that because of this, humanity will not take it well if they ever discover that they're not the dominant species... and they don't, as the My Liege faction, led by none other than King Arthur, demonstrates in their plans to Take Over the World through Avalon. Terrifyingly enough, they succeed.
  • The Human Aliens of Helliconia's eponymous planet were living under the rule of phagors who were better suited to the planet's cold climate. Then Helliconia's parent star got caught in orbit around another star, giving rise to warmer seasons when humans can rule over phagors instead.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, we are merely unknowing experimental test subjects being monitored and controlled by otherdimensional beings who assume the forms of white mice. A more profound question is how the dolphins got here and left, since they are also superior to us.
  • In The Laundry Files, humans are still the most populous species on the Earth, but are only the third-most powerful after the Deep Ones (who live in the depths of the oceans) and Chthonians (who live in Earth's mantle). The two species are bitter enemies, but don't have much contact with humanity on the basis that they live in totally separate biospheres and we don't have anything they want. The Deep Ones care just enough to periodically renew the treaty they have with every non-landlocked human country, which amounts to a list of things humans shouldn't do in the ocean unless they want to see the world's coastlines pushed a few hundred miles inland or worse.
  • The central premise of The Long Earth is that there are an infinite number of alternate-dimension Earths, but ours is the only one where humanity evolved. There some Earths where humanoid species (some resembling yetis or elves) have some primitive societies, but nowhere near as dominant as humanity.
  • In Of Men and Monsters, Earth was invaded and taken over by gigantic aliens generations ago, and humans survive as vermin, living in the insulation of their houses and stealing scraps of food and materials from them. The primitive tribes of humans all pay lip service to the idea that one day they will take the world back, but eventually the Aaron people, the most advanced human "civilisation" left, realise that even if they could, they don't know how to provide for themselves anymore. They instead decide to up sticks and sneak aboard one of the alien's ships, and spread out to infest every world in their empire to ensure their survival.
  • Overlord (2012): Humanity in the New World is far from the dominant race. Prior to the Six Gods' arrival, they were on the verge of extinction since they were easy prey for the rest of the New World's inhabitants. The Six Gods introducing Tier magic to the setting gave humans a fighting chance.
  • In The Pendragon Adventure, the planet Eelong is populated by two species, the Klee and the Gar (humans). The Klee are Cat Folk who rule the planet and keep humans as either pets or slaves, seeing them as no more than animals. The plot of Black Water involves the secret human city of Black Water, where free humans are secretly gathering and preparing to rebel against their Klee overlords.
  • Planet of the Apes has the astronauts Ulysses and Antelle explore a planet where humans live like animals, and civilized apes hunt them for sport or conduct medical experiments on them. The Twist Ending is different from the more famous film adaptation: the planet, Soror, is completely separate from Earth. However, when Ulysses escapes and returns to Earth, he finds that apes have conquered humanity while he was away, presumably just like they did on Soror.
  • Colin Wilson's Spider World series is set in a post-apocalyptic world where telepathic giant spiders and various insects are the dominant species.
  • Played with in Tailchaser's Song. According to the cat Creation Myth (which is true), the world was created by a cat for cats. Humans came into existence when one of the first cats beat and deformed a haughty prince into a "m'an". The world is now dominated by humans, however cats still think that humans are their servants.
  • In Tooth and Claw, Dragons and Humans share the planet — not always happily, but they've achieved an uneasy peace. Both have civilizations which have reached steam-powered technology and the basics of an industrial revolution. Neither one could reasonably be described as dominant — though the dragons certainly considered themselves superior and more civilized. The book doesn't really explore what humans might think of all this.
  • Wings of Fire takes place in a world where dragons rule over the lands. Humans, or "scavengers" as dragons call them, are considered an Endangered Species and only live in a few select areas. Originally, humans were more dominant, but that changed when dragons began creating kingdoms and living under queens. Most dragons look down upon humans and see them as weird, dumb, and mostly good for food or blood sports, but some of them (including most of the protagonists) think of humans as cute, and there are even a few cases of dragons keeping humans as pets.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Dinosaurs takes place millions of years before humans became the dominant species, so dinosaurs rule the earth while humans are primitive cavepeople.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Council of Wyrms setting is set on an extensive island chain known as the Io's Blood islands. These are entirely ruled by dragon clans, and while various species of humanoids also live on the islands they do so as vassals and servants of the dragons, who are also the playable characters. Other lands beyond the seas exist in the background and are known to be inhabited and ruled by humanoids such as humans and giants, but the focus of the setting remains first and foremost on the Io's Blood islands and their dragon rulers.
    • Downplayed, but still present in Eberron, as humans are dominant only on the continent of Khorvaire; Of the three other continents, Sarlona, where humans originated and are still the most populous race, has been mostly subjugated by the Inspired and their Quori masters, Argonessen is ruled by dragons and the relatively few humans there are mostly dragon-worshipping barbarians used by the dragons as a bulwark against intruders, and Xen'drik has only one human-dominated city and a few outposts, the rest of the continent being an immense wilderness inhabited by tribes of drow, giants, and various monsters.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • Naya, the jungle-covered shard of the plane of Alara that embodies Green mana, is inhabited by three intelligent races — humans, elves and the nacatl Cat Folk — in addition to an assortment of building-sized animals collectively referred to as the Gargantuans. In the distant past, the nacatl of the Empire of the Clouds were the undisputed rulers of the plane, with the elves becoming Naya's dominant power after the Empire's fall. In a very real sense, it can also be said that the true rulers of the plane are the Gargantuans, who travel the jungle as they please, trampling their way through any building or city they come across and with the intelligent races having very little ability to do anything about this. However and whenever one looks at it, however, humans have always been a rather unimportant race in Naya.
    • This is played to different degrees in the two incarnations of the plane of Tarkir.
      • In the original timeline, four of the five clans that ruled the plane were dominated by humans, with Tarkir's numerous other species — djinn and efreeti, the elephantine loxodon, goblins, the doglike ainok, orcs, ogres and the aven Bird People — being secondary in influence, importance and numbers to them. The exception to this was the Sultai Brood, a clan of necromancers, merchants and sorcerers who ruled the swamps and lowland jungles. The Sultai were firmly ruled by the serpent-like nagas and the rakshasa tiger-demons, who made up the clan's ruling class and chief sorcerers — the queen of the Sultai, Sidisi, was a naga herself. Within the Sultai, humans were strictly second-class citizens at best and chattel at worst.
      • In the new timeline, the clans were destroyed and replaced by the five dragon broods. In the wake of that, the dragons became the plane's undisputed and tyrannical rulers, while Tarkir's many humanoid races were all relegated to being the subjects and soldiers of the warring dragon clans. The one exception to this are, again, the rakshasas, whose unpredictable nature and sorcerous power allows them to maintain a degree of power and independence that the other humanoid races can't.
  • Ponyfinder: During the default present age, humans are scattered barbarians mostly living in small tribes and villages on the periphery of Everglow, and are otherwise only found in the Empire itself in small numbers as a result of their least pitiful settlements being absorbed within it. Averted, however, in the default future setting, where Everglow has long since crumbled and humanity has moved into the vacuum to become a dominant power.

    Video Games 
  • The third storyline of Fate/Grand Order, Cosmos in the Lostbelt, explores a few Alternate Timelines where humanity is not the sole dominant species in the titular Lostbelts. Each also acts as a deconstruction of this trope, because the Human Order (the concept of humans being the dominant species and progressing onwards into the future) is what sustains the main timeline of the game. All of these timelines where humans aren't the rulers of the Earth are slated for destruction precisely because humans don't dominate, and you have to let them be destroyed, otherwise the modern world will die instead.
    • Lostbelt no. 2, which takes place in Scandinavia in a timeline where Ragnarok never happened, has humans submissive to Valkyries and Giants. This is a deliberate design by the goddess Skadi who reigns over the land as she does not have the power to let humanity run wild without them getting eaten by giants while she's expending so much energy on keeping the human villages verdant to provide them food in this never ending winter that envelops Scandinavia, the giants tamed and stopped from simply rampaging into all human villages to eat them, and Surtr contained in prison. After Surtr is murdered, Skadi muses that humanity could now have the chance to expand and become dominant once more, but never gets that chance as she must be defeated by the protagonists in the hopes of restoring their original history.
    • Lostbelt no. 6, which takes place in Britain in a timeline where faeries are the dominant species and humans are mere chattel to be used by them. As the protagonists explore this England, the more bizarre it becomes as there is literally nothing else in this world besides this Faerie Britain yet faeries imitate modern humanity with their cities and activities right down to their modern names despite humans not being able to determine culture. It's revealed the reason this Lostbelt is ranked so highly in terms of divergence is because it originates from an extinction event 14,000 years ago that wasn't supposed to happen after six faeries screwed up on delivering the weapon intended to defeat the alien monstrosity rampaging across Earth, resulting in destruction of all land and extinction of 99% of humanity, gods, and all other forms of life. There was one human left as the priestess of the only god left, Cernunnos, who was used by the six faeries as a template for human clone People Farms for the faeries to use as their resources. Cernunnos was killed by the faeries to use his corpse as the foundation for Faerie Britain, with more faerie corpses used to expand the land. This is in conjunction with the reveal that modern Faerie Britain was not the original state of this timeline as faeries originally drove themselves and their human livestock to extinction from short-sighted infighting. The only reason faeries have become the dominant species is because Morgan le Fay from Proper Human History was summoned by a Master, scried the timeline's history, and then used Mental Time Travel to send her knowledge and memories of original human history and this timeline's history to her Alternate Timeline counterpart. Said counterpart used this knowledge to game history and become Faerie Queen of Britain, imposing faeries to take part in imitations of human culture and ensure their existence as the land's dominant species under her thumb. In effect, there is no possibility for humanity to ever have been the dominant species in this timeline. Both faeries and humans alike in the end are doomed for slaughter by the various Calamities, karmic punishers manifested to destroy Britain for the faeries' original sin of how they established themselves as dominant species, resulting in the eventual destruction of this land and its timeline.
    • Lostbelt 7, Nahui Mictlan, is ruled by intelligent dinosaurs, with humans apparently never evolving. It turns out that humans did evolve, but the point of divergence had them appear a hundred million years or so early, meaning they were around when ORT, Ultimate One of the Oort Cloud, came to wipe them out — it shows up too early in the proper timeline. Humanity is wiped out in a mass sacrifice to empower one of their own to defeat ORT. Mictlan is ultimately destroyed when ORT wakes up and moves to regain its heart, which is Mictlan's sun.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Round-eared humans play a generally marginal role in the setting. Most notable events in the series center around the pointy-eared Hylians, Sheikah and Gerudo, as well as the more clearly non-human races, while humans rarely produce notable individuals from their ranks. They're also relatively uncommon, and mostly inhabit territories on the edge of Hyrule and the known world.
  • Primal Rage: After a meteor strikes the Earth and causes a massive cataclysm, ancient deities (mostly resembling dinosaurs and giant primates) arise from an ancient slumber and conquer the world. Humankind regresses into tribes which serve these deities and becomes so primitive that they now refer to their planet as "Urth".
  • Sands of Destruction: On a sand-buried planet, beastmen rule the world while humans are the lower class. Naturally, beastmen prove to be huge bastards when they're on top - and the humans are also bastards because they'd rather destroy the world than live at the bottom of it.
  • Subverse: Played with — while humans are most certainly not the dominant race in the galaxy the game is set in (on account of recently arriving there due to a wormhole and having their new homeworld blasted to the stone age by the local dominant race, the Senu), it's never stated if this is the case in Milky Way galaxy.

    Visual Novels 
  • Hatoful Boyfriend is set in a post-apocalyptic future where a pandemic of a deadly form of bird flu nearly wiped out humanity. In response to this, the humans developed a counter-virus in an attempt to kill the birds that carried the disease. However, this new virus ended up giving the birds it infected human-like intelligence rather than killing them, leading to them becoming the dominant creatures on Earth as more and more humans died from the bird flu. The surviving humans, who developed a resistance to the disease, are forced to live apart from civilisation as hunter-gatherers.

    Web Animation 
  • Humans-B-Gone!: The planet Tricularia is dominated by giant insects and arachnids who, for the most part, regard "firegubs" (their slang for humans) as nothing more than pests.

  • Drowtales: The world is firmly dominated by the fae races (chiefly the nearly extinct elves and their descendants, the drow) who maintain their position thanks to being the only ones able to use magic, their ancient and advanced civilizations and, in the case of the drow, numbers. The other sapients — the various nations and ethnicities of the "goblins" (a collective term for humans and orcs), the catlike ferals, the driders and a handful of others — are unable to meaningfully compete with them on either an individual or national scale and are largely relegated to the sidelines both in-story and in-universe. The orcs and humans have had the surface world mostly to themselves ever since a magical apocalypse forced the elves underground, but they're still the regular targets of drow raids for slaves and resources, and easily pushed aside when the drow start recolonizing the surface.
  • This hasn't happened yet in Freefall, but Dr. Bowman, the resident Chessmaster, has already started a sociological experiment aimed at determining how well humans respond at being a minority.


    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time is set in the Land of Ooo, implied to be Earth After the End. For the first few seasons, Finn is the only human left, but as the show goes on, a handful of other human characters show up, and one supporting character is revealed to have been a human once. The Islands story arc in season eight reveals that humans have settled in a group of islands isolated from the rest of Ooo. They actually have extremely advanced technology compared to most of the rest of the world, but are too insular to attempt to retake the rest of Earth, or even let their own citizens leave.
  • Rick and Morty:
    • Subverted in "Lawnmower Dog". The viewer is led to believe that cyborg dogs have taken over the earth, usurping humans as the dominant species. Instead, it turns out that it was All Just a Dream designed to convince the leader of the dog rebellion that taking over the Earth would make them just like the humans, leading him to decide to colonize another dimension instead.
    • In "Juricksic Mort", it's revealed that some of the dinosaurs survived and became Ultraterrestrials colonizing the universe, before returning home and establishing a Vichy Earth. Humanity thrives under their benevolent rule, but quickly realizes that Victory Is Boring and want them gone.