It might not look like a human or talk like a human, but it's still a human, at least by name. Even if they have Pointy Ears, a rubber forehead, or Psychic Powers — so what? So do all the other humans they know.
Basically, this is what you get when you call a smeerp a human.
So maybe you have an idea for a novel and want it to be original. Maybe you have seen too many stories with Our Elves Are Better or Our Monsters Are Different plots and want to make things interesting. Maybe you want to create a fantastical race but you don't want to just recycle the same ones that everyone else has already used.
The problem with making up an entirely new race is that it can be hard, especially since so many things have already been done before. This is probably why so many writers recycle the old races in the first place. Recycling old races also has the bonus of saving the writer the trouble of explaining things as much. Saying a creature is an elf, for instance, prepares the reader for the fantasy genre without the writer having to mention said genre, as well as drawing on preestablished conventions to allow the reader to quickly grasp what elves are like without having to devote quite as much page space to fleshing things out.
So what if you want the benefits of using a recycled race in a fantasy story but don't want to use elves or dwarves? What if you think that having a bunch of humanoid races who are called something not-so-human strains the Willing Suspension of Disbelief?
Well, you could just make up a fantastical race anyway and call them humans.
This trope is for when you want enough fantasy elements to make your story pop in your selected genre, but you don't want to make it as crazy as, say, Dungeons & Dragons. Maybe Middle-Earth is a little too racially divided, and you want your story to have a different feel.
It is important to note here that humans are the most common race used in fiction (probably because, well, Most Writers Are Human). Humans are usually considered to be the most mundane of all the other races, because to us, well, they are. In this sense, "mundane" is less about what is magical or not and more about what is "normal" or not.
Indeed, it might also be that a writer is tired of humans' hat always being that they're an average and unremarkable middle point between other fantasy races, or always like real-life humans even in fantastic fictional worlds, and wants to give them some special traits of their own.
It is also important to clarify what is meant by the word "human". Does the creature even have to look humanoid at all or does the writer have the right to call it human anyway, no matter what it looks like? This is made especially complicated by the fact that humans seem to be able to procreate with anything (Half-Human Hybrids, anyone?).
Ways to show that your humans are different:
- By making humans have superpowers. This is the most obvious one, but it can be harder than it sounds. It is not the same as "my human character found a fountain of youth and now lives forever." In order to qualify, the character has to have powers because they are human, not because they chanced upon a Mass Super-Empowering Event.
- By making humans have a different origin story/evolutionary path. So instead of saying that humans are primates you could say that they are crustaceans (or that their ancestors were). Notice that giving humans a different backstory as a species counts; but if it is events, rather than the humans themselves, that have changed, then it is just an Alternate Universe and not this trope. Also note that examples of this trope can lead to an Alternate Universe, but they are not exclusive to it.
- By giving humans a bizarre ability or weakness that they don't normally have in real life, such as an allergy to movies.
- Give humans a different way of thinking. You could make them Actual Pacifists or a Proud Warrior Race, to contrast with humans in real life, who do both. Or you could alter their brains to give them different abilities such as better memory.
- Give them unusual physical traits, such as cat ears or weird hair colors. You could also give them some kind of ability that has to be cultivated, such as Training the Gift of Magic or Supernatural Martial Arts.
Please note that this trope relies on the humans themselves, not any events surrounding them. Creating an Alternate Universe with Crystal Spires and Togas, for instance, does not make your humans different unless it is explained in-story that humans are Perfect Pacifist People who like to build utopian societies on a genetic level.
The opposite of Humans by Any Other Name. Contrast Human Aliens (aliens which appear indistinguishable from humans but are explicitly not) and Ambiguously Human (which is for when whether a character is human or not is not always explicitly mentioned in-universe). See the Not Quite Human index for a list of common traits that might make your humans different. Also see Humans Are Indexed for tropes about humans in general.
Compare and contrast Human Subspecies (which may or may not look like standard humans but are genetically related), Witch Species (which may be either of the above but are primarily distinguished by their ability to do magic where other people can't), and Bizarre Human Biology (which is about individual humans with strange biologies). See also Superpowerful Genetics, Randomly Gifted, The Gift, and Our Mages Are Different, although not all wizards (or Jedi, psychics, mutants, etc.) are necessarily human in the first place. Whether or not human-descended Mutants, Differently Powered Individuals, and Posthuman Cyborgs qualify or not tends to vary depending on the setting and specific example.
While it can be difficult to draw a hard line, generally this trope is only in play when a significant proportion of greater humanity is different, not just a few special individuals — The Chosen One or even The Chosen Many are not examples of this trope (although The Chosen People could be).
- In A Centaur's Life, all humans are a Little Bit Beastly or are Cute Monster Girls. This ranges from people with cat ears and tails, to centaurs, to merfolk who appear similar to real life humans until their legs merge at the knees. The explanation given was that in this version of Earth's past, six-limbed creatures became dominant instead of those with four limbs, giving humans diversity based on how that extra pair of limbs developed (whether that be extra legs for centaurs or wings for angelfolk). Highlighting the distinction, there are also anthropomorphic frog people, snake-like Antarcticans, and Starfish Aliens, but they are all explicitly not human.
- My Hero Academia: Prior to the beginning of the series, humanity began to develop "Quirks", natural superpowers that range from glowing to shooting fire to growing wings. Quite a few Quirks result in people having monstrous forms or animalistic traits. This radically changed the definition of what it meant to be "human", leading to a period of unrest and strife as people struggled to figure out what to do about Quirks. By the present day, 80% of humanity has a Quirk, while 20%, like protagonist Izuku Midoriya, are born Quirkless.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: Humans, like the Angels and EVAs, naturally generate AT Fields. They aren't strong enough to use as physical Deflector Shields, but are important because they're what keep humans' minds and bodies separate from each other. The Human Instrumentality Project is all about forcibly nullifying them all, causing humanity to merge together. In fact, the EVAs' ability to create AT Fields came from imitating and magnifying that of humans, hence why they turn out to be giant Artificial Humans themselves.
- In Nurse Hitomi's Monster Infirmary, humans undergo very dramatic, seemingly random changes during puberty; in the title character's case she went from two eyes to a single huge eye, there's also things like sprouting wings on one's back, gaining effective immortality, gradual shrinking, and many others. This makes the North American title something of a misnomer, which the author points out in one of the volume afterwards.
- One Piece humans have some potential bizarre traits even unrelated to Devil Fruit powers:
- Typical humans are of realistic height, but there are some around two and half to five meters high (Crocodile, Brook, Kuzan, Doflamingo, Katakuri, etc.), and some really big folk six to eight meters from head to toe, and often quite broad as well (Gecko Moria, Kuma, Whitebeard). These are distinct from giants, which are a distinct species in-universe — Word of God is that this is simply how height naturally varies in this world.
- The author's also stated it's common for humans to live to be 140 — or in Kureha's case, reach 139 without even slowing down.
- We've seen explicitly human characters who have simian facial features and even grow horns, apparently totally naturally. This may relate to how various "nonhuman" races like Giants and Fishmen are referred to as "tribes" and can interbreed with humans, implying they're very closely related.
- Besides their capability for Charles Atlas Superpower, willpower and just general power can seemingly affect biology in strange ways: Ace's mom held her pregnancy in for years through sheer willpower to protect him from people seeking to end his bloodline. One of the post-timeskip Admirals states he hasn't eaten in three years because it's too big a hassle, but he's apparently no worse for the wear.
- Marvel Universe: Humans are very different from Real Life humans thanks to the Celestials' experiments on their ancestors. All humans possess the potential to manifest superpowers if the right conditions are met. Different subspecies have different triggers:
- Eternals and Deviants are born with their powers: Eternals get immortality and the ability to manipulate cosmic energy (at the cost of constantly needing to vent off heat), and the Deviants get Lovecraftian Superpowers.
- The Inhumans were further messed up by Kree experiments, and now manifest random powers and mutations through exposure to Terrigen Mist in a process called terrigenesis. People descended from Inhumans who mated with baseline humans also have a chance of undergoing terrigenesis or dying.
- Mutants usually manifest their mutations at puberty, though a rare few manifest their mutations at birth. This is apparently due to an extra gene dubbed the X-gene. Certain outside conditions seem to be able to cause the X-gene to manifest more often in the human population — the detonation of the atomic bombs during World War II triggered a rise in mutant birthrates. It's also implied that every mutant is actually a Reality Warper who unconsciously alters reality in a different way.
- Baseline humans usually never manifest powers on their own, but exposure to certain (usually life-threatening) conditions can cause them to appear.
- In Strange Frame, humans have colonized the Jovian moons, resulting in many humans becoming genetically engineered to survive in the differing environments of the moons. Thus, there are now humans with furrier bodies or even extra limbs who are still considered humans.
- Star Wars:
- Humans, as well as all other living species in The 'Verse, possess "midi-chlorians", mysterious organelles which have some intricate connection to the Force. Or something like that — the old expanded universe has gone back and forth over what the role of midi-chlorians actually are, though the new Expanded Universe's current stance is that midi-chlorians act as a go-between for the Living Force and the Cosmic Force.
- The Legends continuity includes further details about humanity's nature and evolutionary history, which differs quite a bit from real life's:
- According to some material, humans evolved from a species known as the Kumungah that was native to Tatooine when it was still a lush and fertile world. Most of the Kumungah were killed off when the Rakata devastated Tatooine with an orbital bombardment as punishment for the Kumungah rebelling against their rule, but those who were off-planet at the time — mostly as Rakata slaves — survived and eventually evolved into the human species. Other Kumungah survived on Tatooine by hiding underground and eventually evolved into the Tusken Raiders and the Jawas, making the two species very close evolutionary cousins of humanity.
- Much later on, humans were among the first wave of sapient species to colonize the Galaxy after the old precursor empires collapsed. As such, due to the time it took for faster-than-light travel to be reinvented and for the disparate colony worlds to contact one another again, a truly impressive number of Human Subspecies of varying levels of divergence sprang up (other species had similar radiations, but the humans easily had the most). Star Wars aliens who look more than passingly humanoid are almost certainly humans themselves — if not Homo sapiens, then certainly still Homo.
- Anathem: While it's not clear exactly what physical features distinguish the "humans" of Arbre from the "humans" of Earth — there's a mention of cheekbones — it's enough that both can tell the difference at a glance.
- In The Culture, "human" is an umbrella term referring to all the species of bipedal, hairless apes (or non-primate ape analogues) that have evolved independently across the galaxy. While it's frequently glossed over and agents of the utopian Culture were able to move about on Earth with only minor modifications, detailed descriptions note that there can be enough differences in the height, proportion, skin color, and reproductive processes to qualify as Rubber-Forehead Aliens. Others have drastically altered their physical forms to the point where they're only considered human for the sake of legal and oral convenience, and some Culture expatriates have even gone on to join other species.
- The Death Gate Cycle: Humans have a natural affinity for mental and elemental magic, in contrast to the elves' affinity for Magitek and the creation of enchanted objects and the Sartan and Patryn's powerful probability-based magic. In something of a twist, this makes the humans, as a species, considerably more closely tied to natural life than the elves are — their mental magic, for instance, allows the humans of Arianus to tame dragons, which the elves cannot, while the humans of Pryan are better farmers than the local elves, who have not even mastered basic crop rotation.
- The Fifth Season: Humans have "sessapinae" in their brains that let them sense vibrations and seismic phenomena, a survival trait in the Death World they inhabit. Those born with the Functional Magic of orogeny can "sess" the exact composition of the earth for miles around, drain energy from their surroundings, and control seismic activity in the region.
- In the Hainish Cycle, by Ursula K. Le Guin, the Human Aliens on various planets that originated from visits by ancient Hainish starships and that are in the process of reuniting with one another have widely diverged. The variations range from minor — Cetians have far more hair than other humans, and people from Chiffewar are all bald — to major — current Hanish have complete voluntary control over fertility, and one of the five separate human species on Rocannon's World has wings — to literal magic in the form of telepathy.
- The Halfblood Chronicles: Humans are naturally suited for mentally-focused magic, such as illusions and telepathy, but have little in the way of magic pertaining to control of physical matter. This in contrast to the elves, who have considerable power insofar as physical magic and the creation of magical artifacts goes but cannot manage anything in the way of mental magic without the aid of artifacts. On those rare occasions where elves and humans produce half-elves, these possess the magic of both their parent species, making for potentially very powerful mages.
- Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men covers the history of humanity from the dawn of civilisation through a few billion years to the end of humanity when the Sun is destroyed (no Casual Interstellar Travel here). Given the length of time involved, multiple near-extinctions followed by hundreds of millions of years of evolution of non-sentient remnants, extensive genetic modification, and ultimately several wholesale migrations to different planets along with the modifications required to survive, the final race of "men" bears about as much relation to real humans as we do to grass.
- Lilith's Brood: By Adulthood Rites, the human race is Long-Lived on the order of centuries, resistant to disease, and sterile, thanks to genetic manipulation by the alien Oankali who rescued them After the End. All children that are born are human-Oankali hybrids.
- In The Silmarillion, humans and elves were similar races, created by Illuvatar and referred to as his children. At that time, humans were like elves in strength and stature, but this changed later as the world aged. The most crucial difference between elves and men was that men were mortal, and elves were immortal, as well as the destinations of their souls — elves linger in the physical world as spirits if killed, while human souls depart it entirely for Illuvatar's Halls.
- In Tailchaser's Song, humans are felines instead of apes. Or at least they are according to the "Just So" Story (which is confirmed to be true in many other respects). Long ago, a cocky prince named Ninebirds was deformed by Lord Firefoot. His tail was cut off, his fur was torn off, and his body was lengthened. Firefoot cursed Ninebirds' descendants to serve cats for all eternity.
- Babylon 5: Human history is relatively the same in this series as it is in real life, except one crucial difference: human history was actually tampered with by aliens (the Vorlons and the Shadows, to be precise). The Shadows were to blame for much of humanity's warlike nature, because they taught them to fight and kill in the name of progress as a species. Meanwhile, the Vorlons tampered with human genetics, trying to create human telepaths to fight the Shadows with. Sadly, humans became little more to either side than weapons to be used against each other.
- Stargate SG-1: After humanity discovers the Stargate, they learn that Earth was originally colonized by the Ancients, who later left the cosmos when they ascended. "Humans" as we know them are descended from the remnants of those who did not ascend. After a timeskip, it is discovered that humans eventually regain the old technology that the Ancients used, and end up with a similar society, although it is not clear whether they choose to ascend this time.
- Exalted: "Human" is defined more along metaphysical than biological lines — broadly speaking, if someone has a soul composed of two distinct parts (a "lower" or animal soul and a "high" or rational soul) and can become Exalted, they're human insofar as the setting's divine powers and metaphysics are concerned. In addition to the Beastmen, which resemble humanoid animals of various sorts, Creation's humans include the pelagothropes, the diminutive, hairless and panda-colored Djala and several other races, many tracing their lineages back to experiments done by the Solars during the First Age. Additionally, it's common for even "baseline" humans to have very peculiarly colored hair — blue, indigo and purple are common hair colors among the Western islanders, for instance, as are green in the Imperial Isle and fiery scarlet in the South.
- Dark Souls: Humans are a race of beings descended from the Furtive Pygmy, who created mankind by sharing fragments of the Dark Soul. Because of this, mankind has an inherent link to the dark, with "Humanity" implied to be fragments of the dark soul watered down over the years and maintaining mankind's human characteristics. When the first flame starts to fade, mankind becomes marked with the darksign, a curse that leaks Humanity out of humans cursed onto mankind when Gwyn branded the pygmys with fire in hopes of controlling the Dark and turning them into the Undead, unable to die and slowly wasting away until they become Hollows. Conversely, get too much Humanity, and you'll lose control and become a Humanoid Abomination like Manus. An alternative title for "the Age of Dark" is even called "the Age of Man."
- In Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2, humans are one of the five main races in Tyria, and while typical humans in most respects they play the roles elves usually do in fantasy settings. Humans are a race that was once very powerful but have now fallen into decline. They tend to shun technology and consequently are socially stuck in the past, especially the isolated human nations of Elona and Cantha in Guild Wars 2. They originally had a special affinity and respect for magic, due to it being granted to them by their gods, who brought humans to Tyria.
- Jak and Daxter: Jak's species has long Pointy Ears and natural hair colors in various abnormal tones, and some have technicolor skin. They're still referred to as humans.
- In Legend of Mana, the human race encompasses a wide variety of sapient beings: from the Little Bit Beastly to full on Civilized Animals, mythological creatures such mermaids and centaurs, and various others in addition to "ordinary" humans like the player character. Basically any sapient creature that isn't said to not be human such as Sproutlings, Faeries, or Jumi is human.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- Most games treat Hylians — Link and Zelda's kind, and the setting's "main" race — as a Human Subspecies. They're known for their long, elfish ears and their ability to "hear the gods" better than round-eared humans. Other than those differences, however, they're usually interchangable with non-Hylian, round-eared humans. There aren't any physical or social differences and they interbreed just fine.
- Two of the franchise's other recurring races, the Sheikah and the Gerudo, also strongly resemble pointy-eared humans, and their exact relationship with each other, humans and Hylians is never explained. They're effectively human in most respects, with the main differences being that the Sheikah are extremely Long-Lived and have Red Eyes, while the Gerudo are all women — a male is born among them only every century or so, and they normally have children by coupling with Hylians.
- World of Warcraft: Early in its history, the world of Azeroth was seeded by the Titans with a variety of species crafted from earth, rock and metal. These were later afflicted by the Old Gods with the Curse of Flesh, which turned many into creatures of flesh and bone that became the ancestors of several later species. In one ancient species, the giants, the Curse resulted in the Vrykul, who while still large and powerful were much smaller and fleshier than their stony progenitors. The Curse further affected the Vrykul, giving them even smaller and fleshier — and in their view stunted and weak — children. Many of these were killed, but some were raised in secret and hidden away in another continent to live their own lives, where they became the progenitors of the human race. While otherwise fairly normal (by fantasy standards), WoW's humans are technically the smallest species of giant in the world, and technically closer kin to hill-sized beings of living stone than to elves and dwarves.
- In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, just about any sapient race that isn't a Blade, Nopon, Titan, or Turkin is called human. Among these, the Ardainians, Leftherians, and Tantalese are straightforwardly human-like, but there are also the Gormotti Cat Folk, the somewhat crystalline Urayans, and the grey-skinned, Long-Lived Indoline, who are still considered human despite their drastic physiological differences.
- Earthsong: The titular planet is a temporary home to humanoid species from across the galaxy; humans themselves are vanishingly rare and have strong Psychic Powers, including Telepathy and mind control.
- Genocide Man is set in a future world that was ravaged by way of Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke and that now bans any form of "genetic deviancy". The Reveal that the One World Order genetically engineered the entire human race to be more peaceful and complacent via a Synthetic Plague that killed 1.5 billion people as a side effect doesn't go over well.
- Hero Oh Hero: Humans are able to use magic and can also randomly have strange hair colours (the latter typically being from being born in high magic areas regardless of if the person in question has any powers). The setting's elves are a race (in the non-Tolkien sense) of humans with green hair, skin and Green Thumb powers who're called "elves" as a slur by The Empire.
- Humans are unique in that they demonstrably possess a soul, which lets them access the Background Magic Field of the Khert and delivers their memories to the Khert upon death. Other sapient beings, such as the ancient Senet Beasts and the "Two-Toe" Lizard Folk, see this with some envy or consternation, not least because the dominant religion takes this as proof that Humanity Is Superior.
- Alterations to the Background Magic Field in the country of Alderode affect anyone conceived within its borders, causing them to be born into a People Of Hair Colour caste system that determines their appearance, magical potential, and lifespan.
- Humanity in Ben 10 might seem weak compared to some other species in the series, but they have some unique qualities to them. One is that they're one of the few species who are able to use mana and magic, although a few others are capable of it as well. Their other, more unique trait is that they can interbreed with any other intelligent species. Any. This includes things like Pyronites, who are literally lava people who live on a freaking sun. Nobody knows how or why they're capable of this, but a good chunk of humanity has at least some alien ancestry. However, it turned out that the supposed child of a human and a Pyronite encountered in the show was actually a full human who had some experiments done on him to infuse him with Pyronite DNA, then given Fake Memories of his parentage to cover up the existence of the group who experimented on him. So while a human and Pyronite offspring may be possible in theory, it probably isn't in practice.