But sometimes it becomes something more. It becomes a symbol, an icon, an emblem... a mascot. This is about characters that weren't conceived originally as mascot for a movement of any type (social, musical, political, etc.) but were chosen by their fans or followers as one, being part of many fanarts, music videos and even cosplays.
Sub-Trope of Mascot (which is this but for Product Placement), Kitchen Sink Drama and Audience Reactions. Usually overlaps with Germans Love David Hasselhoff, being the character targeted as mascot from a different country. Not to be confused with Gushing About Characters You Like where a few people call it a mascot instead of a bigger group. See also Icon of Rebellion and The Voice of a Generation.
Compare Intellectual Property Religion.
- Mac Tonight was a moon-faced mascot for McDonald's that was part of an advertising campaign to promote night-time orders of food. The character ended up becoming a meme on YTMND, where he was dubbed "Moon Man" and text-to-speech programs were used to have him utter nonsense raps and racist spewings. By The New '10s, Moon Man became a symbol for the alt-right movement and new videos were made where he raps about supporting white supremacy and police brutality.
- Future Funk, the upbeat/danceable sub-movement of Vaporwave, has the anime from The '80s and The '90s as important part of their aesthetics. Of all characters used from these decades, Lum from Urusei Yatsura is often considered as the mascot of Future Funk, using mostly clips of the 80s anime where she's dancing and appearing in every music video or reference to this music genre. But she's not the only one. Usagi Tsukino from Sailor Moon (the 1992 anime) is also considered as a mascot, especially thanks to MACROSS 82-99's album SAILORWAVE, one of the foundational albums of Future Funk.
- Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is very popular in Chile. When the social movement started on October 2019 against the president Sebastian Piñera, Inosuke Hashibira became the mascot of the movement, having A LOT of fanarts of him battling police and being part of the movement as another Chilean, even having his own place in the national emblem◊. As a way to support Chile, other fellow Latin American countries like Bolivia and Peru (also in conflict with their governments) adopted the series' other protagonists as their mascots◊.
- Although the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games already have their own mascots (one for Olympic Games and one for Paralympic Games), Japan anyway has chosen anime characters as "ambassadors" of these games. These characters are Son Goku, Naruto Uzumaki, Luffy D. Monkey, Astro Boy, Doraemon, Shinnosuke "Shin" Nohara, Sailor Moon, Jibanyan and Maho Girls PreCure. Originally Nintendo's Mario and Pikachu were also included, but they were cut off the final announcement for unknown reasons.
- And about anime characters as unofficial mascots, Tsubasa Ozora from Captain Tsubasa was (and still is) one for the Japan national football team, even appearing in the 2002 FIFA World Cup made along with (South) Korea. In 2014, also Pikachu was chosen as the mascot of the team.
- Doraemon had been this as well, being already selected before as anime ambassador for the world.
- Voltes V is big in the Philippines because it was banned there by a since-ousted president, who is often claimed to have found its themes threatening - The Other Wiki has more details.
- The Argentinian comic strip Mafalda has been chosen noneless by UNICEF (United Nations' children protection area) to represent Children's rights worldwide. The comic strip has been labeled as "Peanuts with politics", and Mafalda herself represents the children's voice and left a mark not just in Latin America but the rest of the world, reason more than enough to be chosen by UNICEF as their fictional representant.
- Pepe the Frog, a character from Matt Curie's Boys' Club comic book became famous thanks to The Internet, being a famous Memetic Mutation during the end of the Turn of the Millennium and beginnings of The New '10s. However, in 2016 Pepe became a symbol for Alt-Right movements and Donald Trump supporters, being dismissed by a lot of people, even for Pepe's creator. Recently his image was "saved", being used by protesters in the Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests as a symbol of liberty and resistance, this time supported by Curie.
- The Punisher's skull insignia has been co-opted by a few police departments and military units thanks to his no-nonsense approach to stopping crime and his background as a war veteren. Gerry Conway, who created the character, criticized this practice as the Punisher was meant to be a violent vigilante and a representation of the failures of the justice system.
- V from V for Vendetta is something of a half example. His mask has certainly become an icon for a wide variety of social movements (and even Anonymous identifies with it) but it's typically labeled as a "Guy Fawkes mask." While this is technically true, V for Vendetta codified the look of the Guy Fawkes mask. Full V cosplays are rather rare at protest, but not unheard of.
- An example In-Universe occurs after Arthur kills (first in self defense and later with a purpose) the three employeers of Wayne Enterprises (seen by witnesses being done by an unknown guy dressed as a clown), which is seems by the unhappy society as an act of rebellion against the system, being various protesters wearing clown masks in later manifestations.
- The film itself not just treat the mental illness as a serious issue, but the social unconformity that can lead into a massive riot against their own rulers if it's not treated well. With this issue in mind, most of the recent social movements in different countries like Hong Kong, Lebanon, Ecuador and Chile now have the figure of Arthur Fleck a.k.a. The Joker as a symbol for these protests, even seen various cosplayers in the middle of the manifestations in diverse cities of these countries, being compared as the "new" Guy Fawkes.note
- There're gay men in the US historically referring to each other as "friends of Dorothy", where the Dorothy in question is the one from The Wizard of Oz.
- The character of Neo and in general The Matrix franchise made enough impact to create, more than a movement, a religion. As you read, this is what "Matrixism" (or "The Path of The One") is about, founded through The Internet and being a tendency during the Turn of the Millennium.
- Manny Heffley from Diary of a Wimpy Kid became the face of an anti-police brutality movement on TikTok in 2020, with people drawing or painting graffiti of Manny's head next to leftist slogans. "The Manny will not be televised" became a rallying cry, based off the Gil Scott-Heron poem "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."
- In regards to Mafalda, Dustin the Turkey, an Irish puppet who's also a TV presenter and a known figure in Ireland, is also a UNICEF ambassador.
- Gritty, the mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers NHL team since 2017, has been embraced as a mascot for left-wing protest groups. They see him as a scruffy, weird-looking, working-class hooligan symbolic of the absurdities of modern life, and as a retort to the use of Pepe the Frog by alt-right activists. For left-wing Flyers fans especially, refashioning him as an Icon of Rebellion is also a way to stick it to the Flyers' management.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Supporters of Donald Trump sometimes depict him as the God-Emperor of Mankind, which started from a satirical parade float.
- Other Alt-Right leaders worldwide followed this tendency and also became Memetic Mutation based on Trump's version. One of the most known versions is in Chile, where Alt-Right politician Jose Antonio Kast (also known by oppositors as KKKast and directly called as "nazi") has his own version of this meme as the "God-Emperor Kast".
- Mei from Overwatch became a symbol for Hong Kong's protest for democracy in response to pro gamer Ng Wai Chung (aka "Blitzchung") speaking out in support of his native Hong Kong at the Hearthstone Grandmasters streaming event, resulting in Blizzard Entertainment (which Chinese tech giant Tencent owns 5% of) revoking his winnings and title. A surge of Fan Art depicting Mei as a protester followed in hopes that getting one of Blizzard's characters, who is Chinese herself to boot, Banned in China (similarly to how Winnie-the-Pooh is banned for memetic comparisons to President Xi Jinping) will further expose and scrutinize Blizzard and China for their unethical actions.
- Not exactly the character itself, but Pikachu also appeared as one of the mascots of the 2019 Chilean protests, in the form of a costume. The backstory is very innocent: a woman's child took the cellphone and bought various products from China, one of them being an adult sized Pikachu costume, then the conflict started and in October and when the "biggest march of Chile" happened, the woman opted to go as Pikachu, dancing during the protests and bringing joy and hope to the rest of the people and became a symbol until today. She's already know as "Baila Pikachu" (Dance Pikachu) and even has her own Instagram account.
- Sylveon has become a symbol of transgender pride and trans rights, due to its color scheme being similar to the trans flag, having a feminine appearance despite its male-slanting sex ratio, and evolving from the more masculine-looking Eevee.
- Touhou Project's Momiji has become a pro-Trump symbol, thanks to a memetic image◊ of the character wearing a MAGA hat.
- SpongeBob SquarePants became an unofficial mascot for youth protesters in the Middle East during the Arab Spring.
- Steven Universe: The title character and, in general, all the Crystal Gems have been marked as emblems in the LGBT community. Some also consider Steven an icon against the traditional and stereotypical norms of masculinity on the Internet and believe him to be an example to the new generations.
- Stitch became a minor LGBTQ+ mascot on June 26, 2015 when the Supreme Court of the United States declared in a 5-4 decision that same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marry in the United States as guaranteed by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Since the date of the decision matched Stitch's experiment number when written in the MDY date format that the U.S. uses (6/26), this led to the original film's openly gay co-writer/co-director Dean DeBlois to share a drawing of Stitch waving a rainbow flag and Lilo's rag doll Scrump waving a flag with the gold equal sign on a navy blue square logo of the Human Rights Campaign, which led to other Stitch fans doing the same, sometimes with other characters including other experiments. Now every "Stitch Day" on June 26, there will be Fan Art of Stitch celebrating LGBTQ+ pride or there will be an LGBTQ+ symbol added somewhere in the artwork.
- The title character of Winnie-the-Pooh, specifically the Disney version, was used by Chinese internet users to mock their president, Xi Jinping, because of the similarities with the character, usually getting photos of the president and compared with Pooh's poses. This was the reason that usage of this character in political context was Banned in China, and Chinese people who are against Xi Jinping still use Pooh's image as a symbol against Chinese government in general and their unfair laws.