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Monstrous Germs

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"Today, we will move out further and faster than ever! Any moment now, all 10,000 of us will be launched into the world at 100 miles an hour, armed with all our germy weapons, to attack the humans!" *evil laugh*
Staph Sargent, "Protect, Don't Infect"

Bacteria, viruses and other pathogens — invisible little organisms that make our lives miserable by causing diseases. Before the invention of microscopes, we did not know what they looked like. Now we know that both viruses and bacteria can have various geometrical forms that look vastly different from multicellular organisms.

However, fiction tends to largely ignore this. When viruses and bacteria need to make an appearance — for example, as part of a "Fantastic Voyage" Plot or in an encounter with Mega-Microbes — they will be portrayed instead as monstrous creatures. Whether humanoid, reptilian, insectoid or simply blob-like, they will have recognizable (although often mismatched) body parts such as jaws full of teeth, eyes (often in unusual numbers or at unusual places), limbs or tentacles, all of which would normally be found only on multicellular organisms. The reason for this is that Most Writers Are Human, and it's easier to portray germs similar to creatures that we immediately recognize as living and dangerous. If they are capable of talking, expect them to be Card Carrying Villains prone to Evil Gloating.

Almost always present as major antagonists in any case of Anthropomorphized Anatomy.

A subtrope to Artistic License – Biology. Often overlaps with its sister trope to Mega-Microbes — that one is about germs at the size comparable to humans, whereas this is about monster-like anatomical features found on them. Compare Seeker White Blood Cells, who will often engage in combat with these, and will often also get a similarly monstrous portrayal. Although the trope primarily covers biological microorganisms, computer viruses may get a similar portrayal in the case of a Contagious A.I.. Not to be confused with The Virus, which is a disease that turns its hosts into monsters. Also not to be confused with a person who is Terrified of Germs (although such a person will likely imagine germs as this trope).

Some portrayals go into the direction of Scare 'Em Straight, especially when aimed at children. Literally, who wouldn't want to brush their teeth every day to keep those scary little imps with their mining stuff away?


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  • Very common in advertisements for medicine and antibacterial cleaning products. Germs are portrayed as ugly monsters that the heroic product destroys.
    • In this commercial for the toilet cleaning product Toilet Duck, the germs are portrayed as green creatures hanging from the edge of the toilet, referred to as "grungies".
    • In this commercial for Lamisil, Digger the Dermatophyte is a very talkative creature who goes into Evil Gloating about how he digs under a person's nail.
    • In a variant of of this trope, commercials for Mucinex, a cold and flu medicine, portray the excess mucus that causes congestion as green, slimy creatures resembling anthropomorphic frogs.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Cells at Work! is about Anthropomorphic Personification applied to the human body at the cellular level. While the body cells all look human, bacteria are depicted more like monstrous, but humanoid aliens. Their designs are somewhat accurate, though, such as Staphylococcus bacteria having a skirt looking like a bunch of grapes. Though they're also depicted as being about the same size as the human cells or in some cases much larger, as depicting them at a realistic scale would mean they'd be dramatically smaller than the main characters and consequently wouldn't look very threatening. Viruses, on the other hand, are depicted as looking like hats that attach themselves to cells and turn them into basically zombies (as is seen in the influenza arc). The larger parasitic organisms look like exaggerated versions of the real parasites, and as the series continues, the pathogens become more monstrous in appearance. The Darker and Edgier spinoff Cells at Work! CODE BLACK continues with this tradition - gonorrhea is depicted as a tentacle monster, and a deadly strain of Streptococcus is depicted as a swarm of Hormagaunt-like beasts.
  • In the Pororo the Little Penguin episode "Viruses Are Following Me", Crong imagines viruses as looking like devilish versions of Pororo.
  • The main character of Moyashimon has the ability to see microbes. From his perspective they look like cute little anthropomorphic creatures even though he is aware that microbes don't actually look like that.

    Card Games 

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In the Don Rosa "Scrooge McDuck" comic "The Incredible Shrinking Tightwad", Scrooge and Donald are shrunk down to microscopic size due to the effects of a malfunctioning Shrink Ray, and are menaced by a horde of microbes, some of which have eyes, mouths or crab-like pincers.
  • In the Futurama comic "A Cure for the Common Clod", the germs are seen up close twice. The first time, they are still active but have "reached retirement age" and are doing old-people things. The second time, they are inactive and have X's for eyes. The sick people also sneeze up giant, green, blobby germs except for the mutants who sneeze antibodies.
  • Green Lantern: Before the beginning of Sinestro Corps War, Kyle Rayner's mother died by a strange and incurable disease, which makes him depressed, specially because he couldn't be there when she died. When he's kidnapped by Sinestro, he revealed that that the sentient virus Despotellis was responsible for the death of his mother, which also was part of Sinestro Corps. Broken and overcome with fear, Kyle is sent to the Central Battery of Qward where he is possessed by Parallax, becoming its new host. Despotellis is depicted as similar in shape to a bacteriophage, but with tentacle-like appendages.
  • Generally averted in Marvel Universe with all the face to face shrinking heroes get with microorganisms but a sentient virus from the microverse in an arc of Wolverine is depicted as having a whole lot of eyes and tentacles.
  • In Superman storyline The Unknown Supergirl, the bacteria fought by Supergirl in Mr. Malverne's bloodstream look like weird multi-limbed grey worms with furry heads, six eyes, antennae and beaks.

    Films — Animation 
  • How to Catch a Cold: Occasionally, germs are seen as a cloud of red dust.
  • In Osmosis Jones, germs are portrayed as humanoid creatures with mismatched body parts and often reptilian features. Thrax is a red-skinned humanoid with tentacle-like dreadlocks and a large burning claw on one of his hands. The Seeker White Blood Cells who fight against them look much more human-like apart from their blue skin. This trope is Played With, however, in that while most germs in the movie are criminals of various sorts, germs and body cells can be seen hanging around with each other in some of the more run-down districts, like The Liver.

  • Into the Jaws of Doom: The Hall of Incredible Science has a biology display where you might get attacked by a germ sample in a petri dish, which multiplies itself repeatedly until it's as large as the entire hall. Running into the germ monster is a guaranteed Game Over - every choice you make after that (fight it, flee from it, try to trick it, use an item...) ends with the germ swallowing you alive.

  • In the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book "The Third Wheel", chicken pox is spreading at Greg's school and he thinks Rowley has it. Then, he sees similar spots on Abigail and thinks she also has chicken pox, but it's just pimples. Greg later gets chicken pox and worries that he's got it from Rowley, although he thinks Rowley might have just had pimples. He is then seen imagining Rowley's germs as blobs with his face.
  • Discussed in the Dirty Bertie story "Germs!". Bertie is imagining what germs would look like up close and thinks that chicken pox germs would be spotty, cold germs would be green, etc.
  • In the children's book Germs, germs are portrayed as being able to talk and have technology and to seek to infect people.
  • In Germs, Germs, Germs the book is narrated by some talking germs who talk about their likes and dislikes.
  • In the Little Princess book "I Don't Want to Wash My Hands", the Maid tells Little Princess that while you can't see germs, they look "worse than crocodiles". Princess imagines them as looking like ugly creatures.
  • The Sick Bug: Discussed. A girl named Tess gets sick and we don't see the germs, but her mother describes germs as being silly creatures who deliberately get people sick and the reason why people recover is because the germs just give up.
  • In the children's book Sick Simon, a boy named Simon spreads his weird cold with throwing up as a symptom to his teacher and is informed about disease by three talking germs who boast about the symptoms they cause.
  • Sometimes You Barf portrays a flu bug as being a green blob monster that "finds" and "picks" the girl to infect her, then fades away as she recovers.
  • Vom Jörg, der Zahnweh hatte (German for "About George, Who Had a Toothache") is a German children's book about a boy who doesn't brush his teeth once and promptly gets caries. The caries is brought by a single, utterly ugly, green-skinned imp named the "Toothache Imp" that is a Card-Carrying Villain and Ax-Crazy towards Jörg's teeth. And carries a pickaxe.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: The evil space virus in "The Invisible Enemy" looks like the front end of a lobster. At first it is microscopic size and clones of the Doctor and Leela are shrunk to microscopic size to fight it. Then, after they escape and are enlarged to their proper size the virus follows them and is enlarged as well.
  • On Good Eats, bacteria that lead to food spoilage (and food poisoning), foul-tasting beer, etc. were portrayed as (variously) ugly sock puppets (in contrast to the cute yeast puppets), shaggy plush things, and reptilian finger puppets.

    Music Videos 
  • In the Preschool Popstars song "Wash Your Hands", the musical features germs as multicoloured blobs with faces and ganglia.


    Video Games 
  • A Baby Hazel game shows fuzzy germs with faces on a dirty toilet bowl.
  • Dr. Mario has the ever present trio of viruses, one blue, one red and one yellow Cephalothorax creature with eyes, mouth, hands and feet. Dr. Luigi introduces cyan and magenta variants, and Dr. Mario World introduces the green and purple ones.
  • Germ Squirmish, which is a game based on The Loud House, the germs are visible as sparkly green patches on the floor.
  • Mega Man X5: The Sigma Virus is a Contagious A.I. that flies around in form of purple foggy Sigma's head. The Zero Virus is a stronger, "mutated" variant of it that takes form of purple foggy Zero's original body.
  • Mega Man X6: The Nightmare Virus is a newer kind of AI virus that takes form of a Cyber Cyclops head and body made of double helices. They'll try to "infect" any rescuable Reploid in the levels; you have to rescue them before that happens.
  • Project Remedium is an FPS where you're a nanobot shooting virus infections inside a human body, with several gigantic germs as recurring enemies.

    Web Original 
  • Sneeze Safe portrays germs as having faces.
  • In this video for kids, the germs are portrayed as having faces, arms and legs, and "power" that they get by infecting people. It also portrays bacteria and viruses as being almost equal.
  • The website and video Protect, Don't Infect has talking germs who purposely make people sick.
  • In this video, when the germs are seen under a microscope, they are seen as blobs with eyes.
  • While this video gives accurate information, it portrays germs as having arms, legs, clothes and faces.
  • In The Petri Dish, some bacteria look like green blobs with faces, others look like red blobs with faces and legs, one looks like an orange blob, one looks like a tentacled purple blob with many eyes, and another looks like a fuzzy red blob. Viruses are usually green, but one is pink. The germs are also sapient.
  • Scrub Club has green, bipedal, lumpy germs that act like cheesy villains.
  • Subverted in an arc of Vexxarr where a couple COVID-19 viruses try to cope with the titular character's Bizarre Alien Biology. You almost feel sorry for them.

    Western Animation 
  • The Virus from The Amazing World of Gumball episode of the same name has flagella that are like limbs and give a humanoid build, three eyes, and his visible organelles act like a face.
  • Averted in Arthur, although Buster does imagine germs as having an Evil Laugh in the episode "Germophobia".
  • In the Baby Bus episode about brushing teeth, the germs are portrayed as little creatures who mine cavities into teeth if you don't brush them.
  • Curious George: "Toots" and two other germs called the "Germettes" are portrayed as humanoid germs who sing about making people sick, although perhaps explained in-universe because it was All Just a Dream.
  • In the Goofy cartoon "Cold War", the cold virus is depicted as a white humanoid with a straw hat and a large red nose. Not particularly terrifying, but still pretty far from the actual appearance of a virus.
  • In Il était une fois... la Vie, bacteria are portrayed as ugly blue humanoids and viruses as yellow, worm-like creatures, with faces that resemble the two human bully characters.
  • Ozzy & Drix, similarly to its parent movie, portrays the various bacteria and viruses as monsters. For example, the Starter Villain Scarlet Fever looks like a red reptilian creature with a serpentine body, green eyes, sharp teeth, and appendages around its neck.
  • In the Rick and Morty episode "Anatomy Park", which is essentially a "Fantastic Voyage" Plot in the body of a dying homeless man named Ruben, the various diseases are portrayed as hideous monsters who chase around the protagonists in an homage to Jurassic Park. Some at least show a resemblance to actual bacteria or viruses, but usually the wrong type (Tuberculosis is portrayed as orb-shaped when it should be rod-shaped, and E. coli, a bacterium, looks like a bacteriophage virus), and then there are the Hepatitis viruses that seem to be designed after the Rancor or the Cloverfield monster.
  • Rugrats: When Chuckie learns about germs, he imagines them as being like large monsters, but this is not portrayed as how real germs work.
  • In the "Journey of a Germ" song from Sid the Science Kid, the germ has a face and arms and sings about travelling from person to person.
  • In the Wabbit: A Looney Tunes Production episode "Computer Bugs", a computer virus that infects Bugs' computer looks like an orange Cephalothorax with Evil Eyebrows and four antennae. It brags and laughs as it destroys the software on the computer.

    Real Life 
  • Bacteriophages are known for their distinctive spider-like appearance, with their "head" rising above their "legs". Despite their monstrous appearance, bacteriophages are harmless to humans as they target bacteria - their complex structure was evolved to get past defensive mechanisms specific to bacteria by acting as syringes to inject genetic information in species-specific receptors.


Video Example(s):


Fire's Out

When Henry's pet dragon Doris contracts an illness called the "chimney flu" that could put out her fire for good, he wishes that he, his friend Fraidy, and his dog Margaret microscopic and inside Doris' body so they can deal with the germ responsible up close and personal.

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Example of:

Main / FantasticVoyagePlot

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