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Imaginary Enemy

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Darien Fawkes: C'mon, didn't you have an invisible friend as a kid?
Bobby Hobbes: I had invisible enemies.
The Invisible Man, "Ralph"

The Imaginary Friend is a common trope in fiction, in which it bears little resemblance to the counterparts in Real Life (after all, that would be boring, like real amnesia). Imaginary friends in fiction can be holograms, spiritual projections, ghosts, psychological conditions, stress or injury related psychosomatic conditions, even split personalities. And because it is more entertaining, sometimes they aren't very friendly, or are actively malign towards their host/audience, or perhaps friendly to their host alone, and dangerously less so to everyone else.

Often they serve as a plot device to drive the person crazy, torment them, tempt them, or subvert their beliefs and actions in some way. Sometimes representing deceased people or perverted versions of people known by the victim, such as murder victims. Examples are not quite the level of Enemy Within, in that they do very little to actively harm the host and rarely exert any kind of physical control. Also, the host most often will not tell anyone, or at least keep the information with a select few, knowing that they won't be believed (insane asylums are no place to be alone with your imaginary enemy).

Sometimes, Your Mind Makes It Real, and the more you believe in the enemy and the more strongly you fight it, the more dangerous it becomes. See also The Killer in Me, Enemy Within and Enemy Without. This trope is not related to Unknown Rival.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • A Cruel God Reigns: Jeremy and Ian both see Greg, who haunts their lives long after his death. For Jeremy, this is especially true, and he is often physically affected by Greg's "prescence."
  • Higurashi: When They Cry has this as a major plot point. The first arc reveals that when Rena wasn't living in Hinamizawa, she reported footsteps behind her and thought someone (or rather, Oyashiro-sama) was watching her all the time. This also happens to Keiichi and especially Shion. Paranoia of this sort is actually a symptom of the Hate Plague, which can also make innocents seem creepy/trying to kill you. Subverted in that the shadowy presence watching people is usually Oyashiro/Hanyuu, she is just not evil.
  • Soul Eater: In the anime adaptation, Stein sees some visions of Not Quite Dead villain Medusa, eventually leading to a temporary Face–Heel Turn.

    Comic Books 
  • Doom Patrol: Dorothy Spinner's main power is that she has imaginary friends who can affect the world in some very non-imaginary ways. Unfortunately, that includes The Candlemaker, who's not a nice person...
  • Imaginary Fiends: The Vertigo Comic series is set in a world where inter dimensional beings latch parasitically onto the minds of children to draw sustenance from their emotions in the guise of their imaginary friends. Some fade with time as the interest of their charges wanes, others get more greedy and grow stronger, eventually moving onto drawing fear out of multiple hosts.
  • Justice League of America: Played for Drama in JLA: Tower of Babel. It's revealed that Batman has created contingency plans to destroy every other member of the Justice League in case any of them ever go bad — and then Ra's al-Ghul steals and implements them. Since Wonder Woman lacks the Kryptonite Factor of other heroes, the Caped Crusader instead develops a VR chip that will make her hallucinate an endless wave of imaginary enemies. Batman knows that Diana will never willingly give up a battle; the imaginary attack will eventually force her body to shut down because her mind won't.
  • The Transformers (IDW): Starscream has finally achieved his ambition of becoming ruler of Cybertron, but finds himself haunted by a hallucination of the late Bumblebee who tries to force him to do thing he never would... like become a wise and just leader who acts for the greater good. It's eventually revealed that Bumblebee isn't nearly as imaginary as Starscream thinks.
  • X-Men:
    • Sage develops a split personality named Diana Fox, who repeatedly fought with her and tried to take over her body.
    • Legion has made a number of imaginary people to keep him company and take away the pain and confusion. The only problm is his mutant power not only makes them real, but also gives them superpowers. Most of them are not nice people.

  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: Dr. Caligari appears to be the main villain, but there's actually No Antagonist.
  • Drop Dead Fred is about a grown woman's childhood imaginary friend coming to life. He means well, and comes through for her in the end, but until then he just serves to make her already awful life that much more stressful.
  • Fight Club has the narrator being manipulated and ultimately tortured by Tyler Durden, a Split Personality formed by his subconscious trying to get him to live his life. Ultimately he destroys Tyler by shooting himself (nonfatally) in the head, proving he can accept his own death.
  • The Fisher King has the Red Knight that torments Parry. Inspired by the appearance of his murdered wife's body.
  • In Mr. Brooks, Earl Brooks is both driven and tormented by his alter ego Marshall.
  • Mulholland Dr. has the scary-looking person behind Winkie's.
  • Psychos: Norma's two friends, Sasha and JJ, compel her to commit horrible atrocities against her abusive father with harsh verbal abuse.
  • Secret Window: It turns out that the killer is a cross between this and a Split Personality of the main character.
  • The Seven-Per-Cent Solution: It turns out that Professor Moriarty being an evil criminal mastermind is a drug induced fantasy of Sherlock Holmes's.
  • In Starkweather, Charlie is tormented by a manifestation of his darker impulses known as as 'The Dark Man' (or 'The Mentor') who calling him weak and pathetic and goading him into killing to prove himself a real man.
  • The Korean horror film A Tale of Two Sisters has this as its biggest plot twist. Until the ending, the stepmother was never in the mansion. The little sister was also not there, because she died long before the film started. The big sister is crazy and imagined herself in three different roles after her release from the mental hospital.

  • Bone Chillers: The book "Strange Brew" eventually revealed that the source of the magic spellbook was Tori's imaginary friend, who wanted to keep her brand of 'fun' going forever.
  • Discworld: A minor example is Perdita, Agnes Nitt's "the part of you that wants to dance naked in the rain". Perdita isn't exactly malevolent, but is constantly putting Agnes down. She's actually referred to as "an imaginary enemy" in Carpe Jugulum.
  • Don Quixote fights an unending stream of foes, all of them existing only in his delusional mind. Chief among these is Friston the magician, an imaginary character who Quixote imagines as the thief of his books and the enchanter of the windmills.
  • The Dresden Files: In multiple books, wizard Harry Dresden has regular visits from a fallen angel, Lasciel, after Harry briefly touched a Roman denarian coin inhabited by Lasciel. Only Harry can see the fallen angel, and she appears to Harry to tempt him and offer him power. In the book Dead Beat, Harry has periodic encounters with another character, and only late in the story does Harry realize that the character is actually Lasciel and only he can see her.
  • In the ballad "The Erl-King" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a boy feels he is pursued by a supernatural entity which his father cannot see, and which wants to take him away to a supernatural realm against his will.
  • Goosebumps: The "best friend" from My Best Friend is Invisible often gets the main character in a lot of trouble out of boredom, and of course no one will believe his wild stories about an invisible friend. Then the ending reveals that the main character is actually an evil alien who only looks human and the invisible friend is a scared human boy who survived the invasion of his planet by becoming invisible.
  • The plot of The Lightbringer Series hinges around a Noodle Incident called the Battle of Sundered Rock that happened some fifteen years before the series began. Courtesy of a liberal amount of Black Magic used at said battle, one of the major characters walked away with one of these. Dazen Guile thought that he defeated his brother, bound him, and stole his identity, secreting Gavin into a secret prison only he knew about. A reveal in a later book reveals that the black luxin left Dazen's perceptions altered and Gavin dead, with the "Gavin" who was a viewpoint character in the first book actually being an elaborate fantasy on Dazen's part.
  • In Mistborn, Vin always hears the memories of her long-gone brother Reen telling her she can't trust anybody. It turns out that the voice she hears is neither imaginary nor her brother. It's the Big Bad, Ruin, who's apparently fond of this particular con.
  • Appears in The Musicians by Andrzej Sapkowski when humans try to be bastards too hard for their own good.
  • New Jedi Order: Tahiri spends several books haunted by visions of Riina, the Yuuzhan Vong personality brainwashed into her earlier in the series. It's eventually revealed that, thanks to the incomplete nature of the brainwashing (and likely Tahiri's connection to the Force) that Riina has become an almost entirely seperate entity still attached to Tahiri's mind and soul. Since Tahiri can't get rid of Riina without destroying herself in the process, she ends up merging with her instead.
  • The Turn of the Screw has Peter Quint, although the story is ambiguous as to whether he is in fact imaginary.
  • The Wheel of Time: Rand al'Thor is driven to distraction by the voice of an insane Lews Therin Telamon (his past life) in his head, bordering on becoming an Enemy Within at times.
    • Of course, Lews Therin sometimes argues that Rand is the imaginary one. These are Lews Therin's more lucid moments.
    • It's eventually revealed that Lews Therin's voice was never real at all, being instead a function of Rand's progressive Sanity Slippage and his refusal to accept Lews Therin as part of himself. After he does so at the end of book twelve, he basically absorbs Lews and has access to his memories, but remains one personality.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Gaius' fantasy Six in Battlestar Galactica (2003). Strangely, Six later begins seeing an imaginary Baltar, and Baltar begins seeing an imaginary himself. Then it turns out that they're just "angels" trying to prod humans and cylons down a path that won't lead to Eternal Recurrence.
  • Several characters are tormented or assisted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer by the First Evil.
  • Criminal Minds: In one episode, the Unsub of the week has three hallucinated 'friends' as a result of his paranoid schizophrenia. Said hallucinations incessantly heckle and insist he should stab various people to death. Sadly, the Unsub complies because the adrenaline from stabbing is the only thing that allows him to overcome his insomnia.
  • Dans Une Galaxie Près De Chez Vous: Off-handedly mentioned that Brad is such a jerkass even his imaginary friend tried to strangle him.
  • Farscape: John comes close to being driven crazy by a mental clone of Scorpius (whom he names "Harvey"), on behalf of a chip in his head. Towards the end of the series, the clone becomes more of a confidante and sounding board than anything else, however.
  • The Haunting Hour: In one episode, a kid named Shawn creates an imaginary friend named Travis, who forces Shawn to do bad things, and eventually tries to kill his brother David.
  • Highlander: Near the end of Season 5, Duncan is tormented by Ahriman, a demon only he can see, who likes taking the form of old enemies Duncan has killed. In the Season Finale he ends up confusing Duncan to the point of accidentally killing his friend and pupil Richie Ryan, causing a "What Now?" Ending ending. In the next season he faces Ahriman alone, and ends up defeating him through a combination of conversation and poking ballet.
  • House: House's hallucinations of Amber turn out to be this when it is revealed that "she" gave him a wrong diagnosis on purpose.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus: In the sketch about the Piranha Brothers, Dinnsdale is haunted by Spiny Norman, an giant imaginary hedgehog, who was normally twelve feet long, but could be up to eight hundred yards long if Dinnsdale was depressed.
  • Red Dwarf: In the episode "Confidence and Paranoia", there's a discussion of how every human being has the two titular imaginary enemies inside their head: Confidence telling you that you can do anything (even if you can't) and Paranoia telling you that you're bound to fail (even if you aren't). Unfortunately, this discussion occurs while Lister is suffering from a mutated Your Mind Makes It Real disease, so they don't stay imaginary long.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: In the Mirror Universe episode "In a Mirror, Darkly", Jonathan Archer discovers that his counterpart in the other universe is a famous starship captain, and for the rest of the episode gets taunted by his imaginary counterpart, who constantly implies that he'll never amount to anything.
  • Supernatural: In the seventh season, Sam begins hallucinating that Lucifer (the Big Bad of season five) is tormenting him as a result of having his soul mangled in Hell. Even though this Lucifer is a hallucination, and Sam knows he's a hallucination, he still manages to cause quite a bit of trouble, including invoking Schrödinger's Butterfly and nearly tricking Sam into shooting his brother Dean. The hallucinations get worse as the season progresses, until finally Sam has a mental breakdown and can't even manage basic functions like eating and sleeping. Castiel saves Sam by transferring the hallucination to his own mind. Being an angel, he eventually recovers.
  • Tales from the Crypt: "Operation Friendship" features a lonely man who keeps his imaginary friend into adulthood. Said friend isn't too happy when he gets a girlfriend. He ends up disposing of the man and taking over his life.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin is known for his (sort of) imaginary friend, but his imagination is enormous enough to accommodate other characters as well. The monsters under his bed, while not specific recognisable individuals, are collectively an imaginary enemy to him. They are always trying to eat him, but are harmless in the sense that it's inconceivable to think of them ever succeeding. His mother once suggests to him that they're a case of Your Mind Makes It Real (or at least that's how he understands her saying they're imaginary), but just because he tried to stop believing in them didn't mean they stopped believing in him. Said imaginary friend, Hobbes, fights with Calvin a fair amount, including pouncing on him every day when he gets home from school.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One of the main uses for illusion spells in Dungeons & Dragons. The Phantasmal Killer that causes target to face its worst nightmare and die of horror on the spot. For extra fun, on the Ethereal illusion/phantasm effects has a chance to be permanently materialized, and this includes monsters (now free-willed). Including Phantasmal Killer spells, of course.

  • Man of La Mancha: As in the source material, Don Quixote fights a variety of non-existent foes. However, in the play, Dr. Carrasco takes advantage of Quixote's belief in the Knight of the Mirrors. He appears before him as the Knight and he and his attendants bear huge mirrored shields, and as they swing them at Quixote, the glare blinds him. The Knight taunts Quixote, forcing him to see himself as the world sees him: a fool and a madman. Don Quixote collapses, weeping.

    Video Games 
  • In Batman: Arkham Knight, Batman is tormented by a Joker hallucination. He starts off simply bullying Batman and making snarky comments, but over time he gets more and more malicious and in-your-face until eventually he begins to take over Batman's mind. Prompting the Journey to the Center of the Mind final level.
  • In Dead Space 2, Isaac is frequently beset by vivid hallucinations of his dead girlfriend, Nicole. If he doesn't resist them, they will make Isaac kill himself.
  • Manhunt 2 has Danny implanting the personality of Serial Killer Leo into his head as an experiment, but the Pickman Bridge malfunctioned, explaining how he could see and talk to him. Ultimately, depending on how brutal the player is in executing enemies, either Danny is able to destroy Leo or Leo takes over Danny's body.
  • In Paranoiac, the possibility is brought up that the monster stalking Miki might be a delusion created by her guilt over failing to save her aunt Yuriko from killing herself, but it is ambiguous as to whether this is the case.
  • Spec Ops: The Line has the character John Conrad. He turns out to be a manifestation of Walker's internalized guilt, added to his possibly pre-existing PTSD from Afghanistan. The real John Conrad died long before the game began.
  • Until Dawn: Zigzags between friend and enemy. Segment where the player aka Josh interacts with his psychiatrist start out with the psychiatrist being at times critical, supportive, and most often creepy towards Josh. Finally, he becomes horrified at Josh's actions, and antagonizes him over the pointless harm and pain he is causing them. As Josh's anti-psychotic medication loses effect and he keeps slipping farther into madness (and if certain choices are made, such as fearing Zombies) the psychiatrist's appearance begins to decay as he rots.

    Web Comics 
  • According to the MADEMOISELLE boardgame, Kimiko Ross of Dresden Codak could only create these instead of imaginary friends.
  • Zimmy from Gunnerkrigg Court sees monsters and other "things that ain't supposed to be there". If left untreated, her hallucinations become real.
  • The Nightmare Witch takes place in a world full of these given life by creative children. The main character's imaginary enemy is an uncontrollable mass of hands that painfully transformed anything it touches into an extension of itself.
  • Haley of The Order of the Stick has dozens of these: every aspect of herself from self-doubt to desire-for-comedy to latent-bisexuality. Some of them are benevolent, but they all annoy her.
  • Original Life features a creepy anthropomorphic cigarette (who is also smoking a cigarette) representing smoking withdrawal symptoms.
  • Subverted in Sluggy Freelance, where the images of Kiki and Jaya torment Bun-bun for abandoning them (they're okay, but Bun-bun doesn't know that). Telling them off in Card-Carrying Villain fashion cheers him up immensely.
  • Something*Positive: Kharisma may or may not have one in the form of Fluffmodeus (on both counts: its reality is questionable, and it's just as likely to help her as to offer sociopathic advice).
  • Whomp!: Ronnie's self-esteem issues manifest as Motivation Dude, who torments him to no end.

    Western Animation 
  • The Fairly OddParents!: Timmy once had an imaginary friend named Imaginary Gary. He wished Gary to life, only for Gary to turn on him after years of neglect.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: In a world where all imaginary characters are real, some turn out this way. Some examples are Berry, Duchess, Bendy and World.
  • Looney Tunes: In Stupor Duck, Daffy Duck thinks there is an arch-villian on the loose, but he simply overheard him ranting on a fictional tv show.
  • The Powerpuff Girls once had to face an imaginary friend of a classmate that went rogue and had powers in the real world. Being unable to see or confront him, they had to concoct an imaginary friend of their own. Their combined brainstorming created a bunny lady scientist with a pretty dress and combat boots.
  • In Reboot, Megabyte left a hologram of himself in The Core to taunt Bob as he was trying to prevent the system from crashing.
  • The Simpsons: In one of the Treehouse of Horror specials, Lisa's imaginary friend began killing random people and pinning their deaths on her out of anger for moving on. She is defeated when Lisa forcibly forgets her, causing her to disappear once again.
  • In Teen Titans, Robin is taunted (and almost killed) by an illusion of Slade in the episode "Haunted".

    Real Life 
  • This Cracked article describes schizophrenia in terms of this trope. To quote the article:
    "I won't speak for all schizophrenics, but for the most part, we don't like our voices. Why would we ever do anything simply because those jerks told us to? Think back to your middle school bully — how would you respond if he tried to talk you into committing horrible crimes, but couldn't threaten you bodily harm (because he himself had no body — for the purposes of this example, your middle school bully is a ghost). You'd tell him to fuck off and leave you alone, or at least run away."

Alternative Title(s): Imaginary Enemies