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Not-So-Cheap Imitation

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When a work or product is successful, the natural response by competitors is to imitate it. More often than not, these works are panned for that very reason. But then, there comes that one imitator that manages to exceed the expectations of the viewers. Not only are they considered good, but they actually manage to be more popular than the work they were imitating.

Causes of this include:

  1. The imitator improving on the flaws of the original.
  2. The original being divisive at best.
  3. For foreign works, it can be because one got more attention than the other due to No Export for You.

A Sub-Trope of Follow the Leader. Compare Dueling Works. Contrast They Copied It, So It Sucks!. May involve Derivative Differentiation. For In-Universe examples, see Effective Knockoff. For when a parody gets more popular than the original, see Parody Displacement. It can sometimes cause cases of "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Naruto has some notable similarities to Hunter × Hunter, mostly due to Masashi Kishimoto being friends with Yoshihiro Togashi. However, Naruto ended up being the more popular work (particularly in America) for a multitude of reasons. One was that Naruto didn't suffer from the same frequent Schedule Slip that plagued Hunter x Hunter. Another was because the first Hunter x Hunter anime from 1999 didn't reach American shores until nine years later, which was at the height of Naruto's popularity by then. The third possible reason was that the 1999 anime was Cut Short due to overtaking the manga rather quickly, and it didn't get a more proper adaptation until 2011. And while that adaptation saw a lot of praise towards the end of the 2010s, this was long after Naruto had already entrenched itself as a large franchise with various animated adaptations and spin-offs, video games, novels, and even a sequel series in Boruto.

    Comic Books 

  • Nabisco's Oreos were introduced in 1912, a few years after Sunshine Bakery introduced its chocolate sandwich cookie, Hydrox. However, after successfully rebranding itself as a more premium offering in the 1950s, Oreo overtook Hydrox in popularity, and became so dominant that the latter were eventually viewed by the public as the inferior imitation. The creator of the Oreo was likely overjoyed by this for a rather personal reason: the creator of Hydrox was his brother.
  • Coca-Cola attempted to invoke this trope with the New Coke. During The '80s, Pepsi was out-selling Coca-Cola, despite the former being introduced a decade later. In order to compete, the recipe for Coke was changed so that it would taste more like Pepsi, but that was about as effective as you might think. By pure irony, Coca-Cola sales skyrocketed when they brought back the original recipe.


  • The Hunger Games was published in a period where Young Adult Romance novels were all the rage after being sparked by Twilight. However, The Hunger Games ended up being more acclaimed thanks to better writing and characters, and ended up starting its own trend of young adult romances being within a Dystopian setting.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Weeds is a dark comedy series about a recently widowed suburban mom who becomes a drug dealer to support her family. If this plot sounds familiar, it's because you immediately thought of Breaking Bad, which is a crime drama with the same plot, except with a cancer-stricken suburban dad. While Weeds is considered a good show in its own right, by the end of its run, Breaking Bad was hailed as one of the greatest shows of all time. Apparently, Vince Gilligan was unaware of Weeds when he pitched Breaking Bad, and admitted that had he been aware of it, he wouldn't have pitched it in the first place.
  • Stranger Things was heavily influenced by the works of Stephen King, particularly It. In fact, this was because the Duffer Brothers were originally going to direct It (2017). Not wanting to let their vision go to waste, they reworked the concept into their own. While the 2017 It movie was highly successful, Stranger Things ended up being a huge Killer App for Netflix.
    • This influence was so strong that the 2017 It faced a lot of comparisons to Stranger Things upon its release (and it didn't help that the two productions shared an actor).

  • Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain admitted to being heavily influenced by The Pixies, even mentioning in an interview that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was his attempt at writing a song like theirs. Today, Nirvana are one of the most renowned bands of all time, whereas The Pixies - while not exactly obscure - are considerably less famous.

  • There are numerous companies which produce their own version of the Rubik's Cube and more often than not improve upon the mechanism used by Rubik's themselves. These "knockoffs" often turn faster and more smoothly than Rubik's brand cubes and sometimes include magnets for additional stability. It's gotten to the point that, among the speedcubing community, Rubik's brand cubes are considered to be among the lowest quality of cubes, with their only real advantages being their widespread availability and name recognition.
  • Auldey's clones of Tamiya Mini 4WD cars are noted to be of markedly better quality than the shoddier yet cheaper Tamiya copies from the likes of Jiada, Gokey and Heipao among countless others.

    Video Games 
  • Fortnite, shortly after its release, added a free-to-play Battle Royale mode as a response to the popularity of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. However, not only did the Battle Royale mode boost downloads for Fortnite and become so popular as to overshadow the title's original Save the World campaign, it even surpassed PUBG in popularity to become the face of the Battle Royale Game genre as a whole, much to Blue Hole's dismay. Being free-to-play was seen as a major factor in this, as well as the game being more polished than PUBG was at the time and having an artstyle that gave it more of a broader appeal (especially towards younger audiences). And this was before it started doing tie-in promotions with countless franchises like Marvel Comics and Star Wars.
  • Dragonball Fighter Z follows the success of tag-team Fighting Games like the Marvel vs. Capcom series (and in particular, the third game, some of the mechanics of which are also used in DBFZ), but is also critically acclaimed, has 2+ million sales and is often deemed as a new contender against the MVC series, especially in the wake of the disappointments aimed at Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite's problems.
  • DICE Studios created Battlefield 1942 in 2002, a well-received game featuring large-scale combat, the option to use vehicles and planes, and so on, all to capture command points to control the battlefield. The game was far from a flop, but then along came Pandemic Studios and Lucas Arts, who took the same concept, slapped a Star Wars skin on it, and named it Star Wars: Battlefront, which completely eclipsed 1942 in popularity. DICE did go on to grow Battlefield into a shooter that rivaled Halo and Call of Duty for several years as well. And when Electronic Arts acquired the Battlefront license, everything came full circle, as DICE were the studio chosen to develop Star Wars Battlefront (2015) and its sequel.
  • Depending on whom you ask, Stardew Valley is this to Harvest Moon (now known as Story of Seasons). It started out as a fan-game aimed specifically at Harvest Moon fans but became a Sleeper Hit upon release. This is largely because it has a PC release (thus allowing for modding), because it's on more consoles than the mainly Nintendo Harvest Moon franchise, and because it was under $20. While which series is better is up to debate, Stardew Valley has sold over 5x as much as the best selling Story of Seasons title.
  • Story of Seasons itself is a peculiar case. It's often mistaken for a Harvest Moon ripoff or Spiritual Successor, but it really is the same development team as the original Harvest Moon games, Marvelous, continuing the series under a new name and publisher. In fact, only the localization name changed—in Japanese the series is named Bokujō Monogatari (lit. Farm Story). Natsume localized the games, but in Japan they had always been published by Marvelous. Localization simply moved in-house when they set up a western branch. To make things more confusing, Natsume retained the rights to the Harvest Moon brand name and began producing their own titles using the same name.
  • Blizzard Entertainment has three such properties that can be considered this: taking the original ideas, sanding down the flaws for smoother gameplay, adding a certain flair and making it their own.
  • Guitar Hero looks an awful lot like Guitar Freaks before it, due to having the same core gameplay: Both games give the player a guitar controller and they must tilt the strum bar while holding down the corresponding fret buttons to hit notes that scroll vertically. But it soon became the catalyst for Rhythm Games as a mainstream genre in the West, featuring a lot of nuances to make the game appeal to a wide range of Western fans such as popular licensed songs, vivid background animations and characters, and full-length songs. While GuitarFreaks is by no means a crappy game, it's clear that both games are designed for different audiences.
  • Final Fantasy started out life as basically "Dungeons & Dragons for the NES", borrowing a lot of mechanics and monsters from it. It has since become one of the highest-grossing video game franchises in the world, with endless sequels, spinoffs, rereleases, and adaptations to non-game media.
  • Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune. When it was first released, one of the criticisms of it was that "it's just Initial D Arcade Stage, but for people with no skill." It ended up surpassing Initial D as the preferred arcade racing game precisely because of its lower barrier to entry and its critically-acclaimed Yuzo Koshiro trance soundtrack, and is one of the most popular arcade racing games today, especially in Southeast Asia. It helps that Maximum Tune has stuck with the same basic formula since the original game with incremental updates and upgrades every new version to keep the game fresh without alienating existing players, while Initial D's popularity started to dwindle after the third iteration due to changing game engines and physics with every new release. In fact, while Wangan continues to get releases in the Asia Pacific and Oceania, Initial D ended up becoming Japan-only after the fourth version of it.
  • Raiden by Seibu Kaihatsu was effectively released to cash in on the success of Toaplan games, featuring a lot of staple tropes of those games. It ended up being one of the most successful shmup series of the early 90s, becoming a mainstay of many Japanese and American arcades, with many shmup fans who grew up around that time speaking fondly of Raiden II's purple "Toothpaste Laser". Meanwhile, Toaplan went bankrupt in 1994.
  • Mobile Legends: Bang Bang is pretty infamous as being a mobile-based League of Legends clone, imitating plenty of character designs, game mechanics, and aesthetics, to the point that Riot Games sued Moonton thrice for copyright defamation (once in 2017 that ended with dismissal, a second in the following year alongside Tencent in China that ended with settlement, and again in 2022 TBD). In spite of this and animosity from western audiences, Mobile Legends holds astonishingly strong legs in Southeast Asia, especially in the Phillipines. This is in large part due to cultural preferences towards mobile games (PC gaming is generally seen as too elaborate and resource-heavy)note , with Mobile Legends also smoothing and simplifying the gameplay to be less mechanically daunting than the notoriously dense and obtuse League. Even after Riot finally realized that making an official mobile League port was viable and released Wild Rift internationally between 2020-2021, they were years late to the party, and Mobile Legends' preexisting foothold in the region as the MOBA of choice has allowed it to outperform its competition.
  • In the Groove is basically just a clone of DanceDanceRevolution, but nonetheless found a lot of success within the American and European rhythm game communities (sadly, no such luck in Japan) due to its higher skill ceiling that was then-unheard of in DDR and quality-of-life features. This may have worked against it, as Konami (which produces DDR games) would later sue Roxor (mainly due to selling kits to convert DDR dedicated cabs to ITG cabs) and acquire the rights to the game, ending it.

    Western Animation 

The counterpoint of Sturgeon's Law, that the 1% of everything that isn't shit is actually quite good, applies just as much to bootlegs as it does to legitimate products. A number of both bootlegged products and legally-permissible imitations are noted for their astonishing level of quality, to the point where it's easy to mistake said bootlegs for legitimate products. As for the legally allowed imitations, sometimes they can become a viable competitor to the product they were knocking off, and can even eclipse the original in popularity (most famously with Oreos, which started off as a knockoff of Hydrox cookies but have since become far more popular among consumers). Some examples of highly convincing bootlegs are as follows:
  • A Taiwanese bootleg of the Perfect Sessions Boxed Set for Cowboy Bebop exists that packages the series and 2001 movie— which is not actually included in the legitimate set— on three DVDs rather than the standard six. Apart from bitrate problems during particularly cluttered shots (e.g. the hyperspace sequences) and using a digipak instead of several keep cases in a box, the set is astonishingly close in quality to a legitimate product, to the point where it's commonly sold even on sites like Amazon as if it were genuine, with both buyers and sellers being none the wiser.
  • David Bowie:
    • A bootleg LP of The Man Who Sold the World floated around in the mid 70's that almost perfectly replicated the packaging of the original US release, aside from the speech bubble on the back being slightly too low. The audio is noticeably poorer quality, being sourced from a legitimate LP dubbed to tape then back to vinyl, but the bootleg was convincing enough to appear in bargain bins in mainstream brick-and-mortar retailers.
    • A number of other bootlegs exist for Bowie live shows and singles compilations that put an almost professional level of quality into the audio and packaging. One particular bootleg of a 1972 show in Santa Monica (appropriately dubbed Santa Monica '72) was so well-done that EMI eventually released it as a legitimate product in 2008, retitled Live Santa Monica '72.
  • The Dark Side of the Moo is a notable bootleg Pink Floyd compilation released in 1982 while the band were on hiatus. The bootleg has earned considerable acclaim from mainstream critics and for a while was one of the most accessible ways to get a hold of certain poorly-distributed singles and the studio version of "Astronomy Domine" in the US (as it was not included on the American release of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn). According to its anonymous creator, The Dark Side of the Moo was popular enough to continue selling well into the mid-1990's, long after vinyl as a medium went dormant pre-2007.
  • The GamBoy [sic], also called the GB Boy Colour ("Game Boy ''Boy'' Colour"?), is an unauthorized replica of the Game Boy Color noted for being a surprisingly accurate imitation of the original. Despite the speaker only using one audio channel (instead of doing a mono mix of both channels), the screen being slightly-stretched, and the IR port not being functional, the GB Boy Colour actually has a working backlight— something the legitimate GBC lacked. As such, many still consider it a good budget method of playing Game Boy and Game Boy Color games on "original" hardware without having to jump through hoops to make the screen visible in dim lighting (discounting the Game Boy SP, which did have a frontlight on early models and a backlight on later ones).
  • Prince's untitled black album was a popular source of bootlegs since its planned 1987 release got cancelled. Because a number of LP and CD copies from the planned 1987 run still survive today, they've been a common source for sufficient-quality audio on these bootlegs, and the album having an all-black cover makes it easy to imitate the original packaging. Even after Warner (Bros.) Records finally gave the black album an official release in 1994, high-quality bootlegs still circulate here and there.
  • The Ultra Rare Trax series of Beatles bootleg compilations became somewhat historically important specifically because of its quality, showing that remastering, when done right, could produce high-quality bootleg and official releases that could surpass the original LP copies.
  • Nintendo Entertainment System bootlegs:
    • The Dendy Jr. was a notable Taiwanese bootleg of the Famicom that became a sensation in Russia during the 1990's, when the country was still suffering from the fallout of the Soviet Union's dissolution and didn't have enough money to afford importing the genuine product. Despite the dubious nature of the games (illegally) released on it, the Dendy Jr. itself is considered one of the better and more faithful "Famiclones" on the bootleg market, especially by the standards of those made before Nintendo's patents on the Famicom expired.
    • The expiration of the Famicom's patents allowed for a number of higher-quality Famiclones to glut the market, as the system's technical specs could now be legally replicated and utilized to create better-quality alternatives to the original hardware. Some of these better-quality post-patent Famiclones include the Analogue NT and the AVS, both of which are compatible with both NES and Famicom cartridges and peripherals and natively support high-definition HDMI output.
  • A number of aftermarket Harley-Davidson crate motors and engine parts such as those from Alan Sputhe and S&S Cycle are of equal if not superior craftsmanship compared to the real deal, sometimes even improving on what Harley did especially with hot-rodded and those so-called "stroker" bikes with larger engine displacements than what Harley usually offers. One such engine part is a gear-driven cam assembly for the Twin Cam, whose chain-drive cam assembly is notorious for being an engineering failure due to the chain tensioners wearing out over time and fouling the oil pump. Harley tried to put a stop to this practice by suing S&S Cycle and Delkron, but by that time, the aftermarket crate motor industry is well entrenched and there's little Harley could do other than file patents for their newer engines.
  • Transformers toys are subject to considerable bootlegging, and while most are rather inferior, with low-quality plastic and primitive construction, some toys are notably superior to even official merchandise of the same size (the toy in the video is a scaled down Masterpiece Megatron, taking one of the most complicated, expensive, show-accurate renditions of the character and making it much more accessible).
  • Despite the infamy of Shoddy Knockoff Products made in China, copycat firearms made by Norinco and knife designs copied by M-Tech both have a reputation for surprisingly high quality. The former company is a military contractor, which explains why their knockoffs are better made than most.
  • Spanish copies of foreign firearms have this reputation. Spain's trademark laws made patents unenforcable for products not manufactured in Spain, encouraging domestic production, but at the same time Spains gun laws throughout most of the 20th century encouraged manufacturers to actually make quality products and not just grind out a few cheap guns to protect their patents. This led to a surprising variety of very good versions of nearly every firearm under the sun being made in Spain in the 20th century.
  • There has been some praise and high ratings over this unofficial plush toy of King Koopa from the old Super Mario cartoons.