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"We've got lightning guns. We can do anything."
Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time

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In Real Life, for electric current to flow there must be a difference in electrical potential. There must be negative and positive termini for current to flow between. Not so in fiction. Quite often, it will be possible for some device or some person to simply fire a lightning bolt more or less straight forward toward another presumably electrically neutral object, with no sign of building up charge separation beforehand. It is rare to see lightning weapons or electricity-based Elemental Powers that have electricity behaving the way it does in Real Life.

This trope is primarily about electric weapons or attacks that appear to throw electricity around as if it's some sort of branching laser beam, rather than a system of electrons moving in response to electric potential, and sometimes hitting multiple enemies simultaneously. Aversions are electric weapons or attacks that actually follow the rules of how electricity works.

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When this is an actual gun, it can be regarded as a cooler version of the basic Ray Gun or flamethrower. No matter how outlandish the idea is, adding Nikola Tesla as (the inspiration for) the creator will immediately suspend any disbelief a reader may have.

Science shows like Mythbusters and others have explored the possibility. The general consensus is that it's possible in a couple of ways, but requires so many conditions/complications that the idea of creating a practical one is virtually zero.

Recently there have been a few examples of lightning gun technology deployed in real life, though it obviously doesn't function the same as in fiction.


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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Bleach Bount Assault on Soul Society arc, episode #108. During his final battle with Ichigo, Jin Kariya reveals that his doll's control over wind allows it to generate and throw lightning at his opponents. He wears it on his arm and points it at Ichigo while shooting lightning bolts at him.
  • Misaka Mikoto from A Certain Scientific Railgun. She is an electromaster, which is a nice way of saying "someone who can generate electricity and use it". Her powers revolve around electricity, and magnetism, and her most basic attack is blasting someone with electricity to unconsciousness. And since all espers are low-level reality warpers, she can completely ignore the laws of physics if she focuses on the electricity. In one episode, Mikoto happens to be near a power station, and she accidentally caused a city-wide blackout because her gathering of electricity accidentally caused the power station to overload.
  • Averted in Darker Than Black in which the main character's electricity attack must be used through conductive material.
  • As his name suggests, RaiRyu from GaoGaiGar. He also lends his power to his combinations GekiRyuJin and GenRyuJin.
  • Great Mazinger's Thunder Breaknote  and Grendizer's Space Thunder; when partnered up in Super Robot Wars, they gain a combination attack called the Double Lightning Buster. In the Mazinkaiser OVA, Shin Great Mazinger has a more powerful version which SRW dubbed the Double Thunder Break.
  • During a fight with Rakan in Mahou Sensei Negima!, Negi temporarily transforms into lightning primarily to boost his speed. This much is Hand Waved through the magic system, but then it subverts part of the usual fault: Rakan is able to sense the momentary charge up of energy and counterattack accordingly.
  • In Mission: Yozakura Family, Kyoichiro gives Taiyo a gun that shoots lightning instead of bullets that can be used as a direct attack, disable enemy electronics, and destroy incoming projectiles by frying them before going into for hand-to-hand. Even when he does use it to injure someone, he usually fires it at near point-blank range even though it can hit things farther away due to the potential for collateral damage. That said, unless it's being played for drama, the worst the gun does to people is Harmless Electrocution.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED's Lightning Strike (from the MSV line) is not actually an example; despite the name, its main weapon is actually a high-powered railcannon. However, in Gundam SEED Delta Astray, the Earth Alliance obtains and modifies a Lightning Striker so its railgun can also recharge MS' batteries at a distance.

    Comic Books 
  • Used frequently throughout Atomic Robo, as evidenced by the page quote. They gather electrical charge and amplify it to "obscenely dangerous levels through an even more dangerous process."
  • The Millenium Falcon temporarily gets one in Dark Empire II after finding a floating city ruled by a cyborg Jedi that basically a floating head and torso in a metal sphere in some Space Clouds. Comes in use against Boba Fett later.
  • In the 1970's Polish series Gods From Outer Space, the Ancient Astronauts had handguns that fired a lightning-like zigzag beam — how they aimed with any accuracy is a mystery.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: The Uranians have guns that shoot out jagged bolts of electricity. Unfortunately for them Di can deflect these projectiles with her bracelets just as easily as she can regular bullets.

    Film 
  • Battle in Outer Space. The Ray Guns the Earth forces use appear to shoot bolts of electricity.
  • One of the Prawn weapons in District 9 is a Lightning Gun that appears to home in on targets and completely splatters them all over the surrounding scenery.
  • First Men in the Moon (1964). The Selenites have a large crystal-tipped cannon that can fire lightning bolts. They use it to kill a huge caterpillar-like monster.
  • The Ghostbusters use a very specialized version of this trope for their Proton Packs (guns that fire very specific charged particles to weaken and trap ghosts).
  • The Matrix features guns that fire lightning bolts as common weapons in the real world.
    • Not as cool as it sounds. They are somewhat effective on the sentinels due to instantly stunning them but it takes quite a few seconds of continous fire to fry one. And sentinels are never alone.
    • They'll do a number on a person, though, but that's not what they were designed for. Humans in the real world are all supposed to be on the same side.
  • The Running Man. Dynamo's "Electrical Launcher".
  • In Silent Night, Santa kills Bratty Girl with a cattle prod.
  • In Stardust, lightning is captured to use in this way. In the movie Tristan uses captured lightning to attack a witch. It doesn't go very straight, though, and behaves a bit more like real lightning.
  • In the 2005 film version of War of the Worlds, the Tripods use electron particle beam weaponry.

    Literature 
  • In Ball Lightning, the Thunderball Machineguns fire electrified...structures but is considered firing lightning.
  • The Clanker Tesla Cannons from Behemoth, a cluster of Tesla coils tipped with long spines, which makes it look like a radio array (the illustration, however, looks like a square-barreled cannon). It's designed to shoot down airships by simulating a lightning strike and set their hydrogen alight.
    • The sequel's eponymous Goliath is a supercharged version, designed to sync up with Earth's electromagnetic field, and is powerful enough to set the air on fire. At least, that's what Tesla was convinced it would do.
  • Brian Gragg aka "Loki Stormbringer" from the Daemon books uses the Laser-Induced Plasma Channel weapon (aka "electrolaser" or LIP-C) to kill folk.
  • Damsels of Distress: Jen has electric powers and uses them to charge her electrobolter, a gauss gun that fires small metallic particles that channel electricity in between them, making it look like the gun shoots lightning.
  • Dust of Dreams, book nine of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, has the K'Chain Nah'Ruk who wield weapons whose descriptions put them very close to tesla coils. They generate enough electricity to enable them to shoot lightning at their enemies.
  • In the novel The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, Lightning Guns make an appearance under the incredibly cool name of "Soul Stealers."
  • In Heart of Steel, Alistair uses one of these to incapacitate Cyborg!Jim. He calls it the Jovian Stormcaller.
  • In the Magic Ex Libris series, the Hero Isaac has one of these starting with the second book. It has six settings, from "stun" to "make a dinosaur extra-crispy". Or, you know, a Dragon make of mining equipment...
  • The Wunderland Treatymaker from Man-Kzin Wars is a Kill Sat-scale, double-barreled version of a Disintegrator Ray. It wouldn't fit this trope, except that Known Space Disintegrator Rays work by making all the atoms in the target temporarily positive ions. There is also a variant that makes all the atoms in the target negative ions. The Treatymaker had one barrel of each type. Correspondingly, when it was fired, a thirty mile long bar of lightning flowed between the two points where the beams touched the planetary surface.
  • In the Paradox Trilogy, charge throwers are lightning guns designed to be non-lethal anti-armor weapons. They shoot bolts of electricity which pass straight through Deflector Shields and short out Powered Armor.
  • In The Salvation War, demon tridents can be charged to fire ball lightning (nagas are powerful enough "mages" to do so without a trident). Late in the Hell war, a deceased Nazi helps Belial build an artillery-style "great trident" which is much more destructive, but it never sees battlefield use. It's explicitly noted that only the Hell dimension's slightly more permissive physics allow this; when human-made generator-powered tridents are later tested, units made in Hell have a range of over a mile, whereas identical units made on Earth just arc to ground.
  • The Great Race of Yith from H. P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Out of Time are described using lightning guns. How exactly they work is not described, but apparently they look kind of like old-fashioned cameras.
  • The Scepter of the Ancients in Skulduggery Pleasant fired lightning. Then again, it was black, magic lightning...
  • Bolters in Super Minion. They fire electrified projectiles, and are a go-to for killing things that can regenerate from normal wounds.
  • Lin Carter's Thongor of Lemuria novel Thongor Fights the Pirates of Tarakus. Thongor's fleet of floaters (air boats) is armed with a weapon that fires lightning bolts, the energy for which is stored in sithurl crystals.
  • In Victor Appleton's Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle, Tom Swift creates a weapon that fires a concentrated charge of electricity like a bullet. The charge could pass through any material: it took effect at a pre-set range from the rifle.
    • True Story: The modern day Taser gets its name from an acronym of this example (Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle). Apparently the inventor was a fan.
  • In the Dale Brown books from Warrior Class on, Tin Man Powered Armor suits mount electrodes that can fire electric blasts over a distance. No attempt is made to explain how it works. Possibly the softest element in the series.
  • Averted in The Wheel of Time - magic users are capable of creating lightning, but it really does work by moving electrons to build up a large negative charge in one area and then releasing it. As a result, Mat is still vulnerable to Rahvin's lightning at the end of book 5 despite his Anti-Magic medallion. The backstory mentions "shocklances" that were once in common use and were implied to work with this principle (probably combined with Boom Stick).

    Live Action TV 
  • The Initiative in season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer used these to fight demons.
  • The Green Hornet episode "Invasion from Outer Space". The "alien" Vama can throw lightning at opponents using a battery-filled belt.
  • The Mythbusters, while testing the myth of using water to increase a taser's range, created one of these by firing a large squirt gun from inside a Tesla coil.
    • Another show set out to recreate sci-fi themes tried to create a lightning gun. While they were able to create a rudimentary one using ionized gas, it was large, clunky, short ranged, and could only be used in a specially conditioned room.
  • Stargate SG-1 has Zats, snake-shaped handguns that fire stun lightning.
  • Warehouse 13 has a gun that shoots an electrical pulse.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Battlelords of the 23rd Century supplement Lock N' Load: Weapons and Tactics has weapons called "Thunderbolt Generators" that fire bolts of lightning.
  • The Lightning Gun in Bleak World deals shock damage.
  • Call of Cthulhu.
    • The Yithians (Great Race) often have lightning guns. In the Fragments of Fear adventure "Valley of the Four Shrines" one of the Yithians has one.
    • The Stars Are Right! supplement, adventure "Music of the Spheres". The Mi-Go have an electric rifle that throws a bolt of electricity.
    • Terror from the Stars supplement. The Mi-Go have a "electric gun" that fires a bluish bolt of sparks that does damage, causes muscle spasms and can cause death.
  • Castle Falkenstein. The Steam Age supplement introduces the Lightning Hurler (more formally, the Focussed Electrical Discharge Cannon). It fires a lightning bolt as far as the horizon that can burn its target to ashes. It's even capable of destroying the walls of a fortress.
  • The Champions supplement Gadgets! has an Electric Gun that fires lightning bolts.
  • A standard weapon produced by Nockers in Changeling: The Dreaming. Inserting a metal rod into a ball of pure technology, then poking the ball of technology with a stick causes lightning to shoot out of the rod. A small stick can thus be attached to a trigger of something that looks like a gun, with the metal rod in the barrel.
  • The Dark Conspiracy supplement Darktek has the "E.T. Stun Gun". It fires a laser to ionize the air, then discharges an electric current that followed the ionization path, much like the real-world electrolaser.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, blue dragons have electric breath weapons and shocker lizards shock their prey.
    • Also weapon enhancements that deal electricity or lightning damage can be applied to ranged weapons that then deal the damage via the ammunition.
    • Likewise Wands of Lightning, which can cast Lightning Bolt spells.
    • Javelin of Lightning, a classic item that on hit creates a lightning bolt blasting everything behind it.
    • In the Planescape adventure Doors to the Unknown, the units of the world of Logicus behind the Third Door have lightning guns.
    • Cygnar in the Iron Kingdoms has them too.
    • White Dwarf magazine #28 adventure "Counterstrike". The Ralkans are based on the Martians in H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. They have 80 foot high tripod fighting machines with lightning guns that can fire a lightning bolt up to 1/2 mile away.
  • Games Workshop games:
    • Warhammer 40,000
      • Necron tesla cannons and Staffs of Light function as these. Justified, mainly in that the Necrons are so technologically advanced compared to other civilizations, even after millions of years of hibernation!
      • The forces of the Adeptus Mechanicus make use of rare and powerful arc weaponry in battle. Powered by ancient batteries, some of which predate the founding of the Imperium, these arcane weapons fire bolts of electrical energy that are able to fry an organic target's brain or destroy a vehicle's controlling circuitry in an instant.
      • The Xenarch death-arc is one of the more exotic alien weapons available to characters in Inquisitor. Produced by a mysterious race from the Northern Rim of the galaxy, the death arc utilizes highly advanced charge cells and capacitors to fire multiple bursts of electrical energy, each of which hits as hard as a long rifle lasgun.
      • The Zzap gun is one of the orks' most powerful weapons, some of which are even used on spaceships.
    • Warhammer has the somewhat unstable Skaven Warp Lightning Cannon, which fires magical lightning bolts of massively variable potency. Additionally there is the warp-lightning spell that Skaven warlocks can use, and a number of lightning-based attack spells in the Lore of the Heavens, which can be used to call down bolts of lightning from on high.
  • GURPS
    • The main game has electrolasers. However these are merely stunguns that don't need a wire. Electrolasers are actually in development, see Real Life.
    • Wild Cards. One of Modular Man's Shoulder Cannons can be a lightning gun.
  • Members of Task Force VALKYRIE in Hunter: The Vigil can get their hands on the MJOLNIR Cannon, a man-portable electrolaser; a more powerful vehicle-mounted version also exists. It's mentioned that these weapons have a tendency to attract real lightning bolts during thunderstorms.
  • Iron Kingdoms: In Warmachine, the Cygnar army uses a lot of electrical weaponry (both melee and ranged) to the point that it's practically their hat. Most of their lightning-based ranged attacks are short- or medium-ranged, and they also have some electrical spells such as Chain Lightning. A few units from other armies can also use electrical ranged attacks, such as the Retribution of Scyrah's Electromancers.
  • Leviathan: The Tempest: The primary weapon of the Marduk Society, since lightning is one of the Tribe's banes.
  • Rolemaster campaign setting Shadow World. The underground insectoid creatures known as Krylites have devices that can throw lightning.
  • In Scion, the Level 6 Sky Boon Levin Fury lets a character fire lightning bolts as projectiles. In the canon fiction, there is even a scene with a signature character doing just that.
  • Space 1889. The Moon Men have weapons that can throw lightning. The Lightning Cannon and the Electric Rifle are two possible inventions in the main book.
  • Steve Jackson Games' Toon. The "Mektoon" section of the Tooniversal Tour Guide has a Lightning Cannon as a possible mecha weapon. It's a cannon that fires a Lightning Bolt. It doesn't just damage an enemy Mek but can fry its computer and controls as well.
  • The undead aren't so fearsome when you have access to Galvanic weapons like the Van Haller Lightning Gun and its big brother, the Van Haller Death Ray (which lives up to its name) in Unhallowed Metropolis. In the supplement, Unhallowed Necropolis there's even a Lightning Gun that is powered by souls.

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    Western Animation 
  • Master firebenders in Avatar: The Last Airbender, such as Iroh, Azula, and Firelord Ozai don't use actual guns, but fire off lightning bolts in a very similar fashion. Zuko, Aang, and Iroh can also catch lightning and redirect it. The "physics" behind it - separating negative and positive ki - is very reminiscent of polarizing the air or targets as several above weapons do.
  • Cartoon Network Groovies episode "Jabberjaw". At one point the villain slithers toward the heroes firing a weapon that shoots bolts of electricity.
  • Filmation 1960's cartoons
    • The Adventures of Batman series episodes
      • "Partners in Peril". The Penguin's umbrella shoots out a lightning bolt to fry a police communications console.
      • "My Crime Is Your Crime". The Penguin uses a trick rack of pool cues that fire a bolt of electricity, knocking out the Dynamic Duo.
    • Superboy series episodes
      • "Superboy's Strangest Foe". Two aliens use lightning pistols to destroy a railroad trestle.
  • In Gargoyles, a lighting gun eventually becomes the weapon of choice of Macbeth and his underlings. After the Gargoyle Griff manages to steal one, it becomes his weapon of choice as well.
  • In The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, Kovacs uses a Steampunk variation to shoot the creature when it attacks Jasper. Electricity guns are apparently commonplace. There are even advertisements for them on the website.
  • The New Adventures of Jonny Quest: In "Warlord of the Sky," villain Dragna's Mooks carry rifles that fire bolts of electricity. This is in addition to them being able to electrocute people by touch.
  • Unagi of Sushi Pack frequently throws electricity at his opponents, and in one episode he was able to target random objects (he'd gained the ability to turn them into living things).
  • In TaleSpin's Five-Episode Pilot, it's noted that the Air Pirates have been recently raiding cargo planes for bizarre things like fishbowls and other assorted items while leaving behind valuables; one of these is the red crystal that Baloo's plotline revolves around, a seemingly worthless stone that turns out to actually be a tiny electrical generator. Eventually, one of Sher Khan's scientists puts together all the clues and realizes that Don Karnage is using the stolen supplies to build a Lightning Gun, but it's too late to stop the Iron Vulture from attacking Cape Suzette with it.
  • Grune from ThunderCats (2011) has a mace that doubles as one of these.

    Real Life 
  • Not quite the same thing, but the electrolaser comes close. And made into a weapon care of the U.S. Army. The electrolaser design has the potential to scale right up. Making an ionised beam of air a significant length just by blasting away with a laser is possible, but currently impractical due to power requirements. On the other hand, the world of nonlinear optics brings up the phenomenon of 'light filamentation', a high intensity pulse of light that generates a long, thin trail of plasma. Possible applications suggested by the discoverers include triggering lightning discharges.
  • And then there's this guy.
  • An electron beam that could be considered close to a lightning gun — which would make every functioning vacuum tube in existence a little lightning factory. It can generate a lightning on shutdown, if the transferred charge cracks back through a path of conveniently ionized air. Relativistic electron beams self focus in air. This means that if combined with an electrolaser type system to aim them, you could make a long range and highly accurate lightning weapon that would also produce a hazardous amount of beta radiation (so you wouldn't want to hold one if you weren't very well armoured).
  • Close contact tasers will arc electricity across the electrodes, so it's kind of like a lightning gun. A ridiculously-short-range lightning gun.
    • Long range tasers were designed as a defictionalization of this trope. The inventor read the story "Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle" as a kid and thought that it would make a great stun weapon. The end result was less flashy, but affordable with current technology.

 
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