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"When any guard wakes up, I'm usually long gone."
Garrett, Thief (2014)
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The Phantom Thief is a special class of criminal. An elusive and fantastic thief who can be long gone before the victim even knows what hit him. Just as likely to be an antihero as a villain.

There is no single set model of the Phantom Thief, but they usually have some of the following characteristics.

Bonus points given if the character is known for being a Sharp-Dressed Man sporting a Cool Hat (especially one reminiscent of nice-looking yet out of style fashions). This is particularly common in Japanese media, stemming from the popularity of Arsène Lupin in Japan. The Japanese word for it is Kaitou.

Compare Gentleman Thief and Classy Cat-Burglar, both of which can overlap with this trope. If part of their motivation is the thrill of stealing, then they may have Sticky Fingers. See also Loveable Rogue and Anti-Hero. Does not require that the thief in question be an actual phantom, though such a character can still fit this trope. And it definitely does not refer to a thief who steals ghosts.

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Examples:

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  • The McDonald's Hamburglar, although he steals hamburgers rather than jewels or artwork.

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Black Rose in Ashita no Nadja. He's really Keith Harcourt, the older twin brother of Francis Harcourt who walked out on the family after his mother died.
  • The Nezumi Kid from Akazukin Chacha. He comes into conflict with Chacha and her friends when he steals the Graduation Stamp needed to enable the students to graduate.
  • Kaitou U of Butt Detective is a poop-themed thief.
  • The Kisugi sisters trio in Cat's Eye.
  • And in Tsukasa Hojo's next work, City Hunter, you have Kasumi Asou alias Thief n°305, who comes from a line of women phantom thieves.
  • The Man of Twenty Faces from Clamp School Detectives (and his own manga; note that the manga was inspired by a Gentleman Thief by the same name from earlier books, movies, and television).
  • Kaitou Ace from Codename: Sailor V, although he's also the Mysterious Protector and the Big Bad.
    • Tuxedo Kamen is very much based on Kaitou Ace, and steals objects that he hopes would return his lost memories. He drops the thief aspect completely and becomes a full-on hero after getting them back.
  • Loser from Dimension W, although he never actually steals anything...because he's actually targeting illegal coils hidden inside art pieces.
  • More obviously, Dark from D.N.Angel, although he steals cursed items to get them uncursed.
  • Dorian Red Gloria, Earl of Gloria (more commonly known as "Eroica") from From Eroica with Love is a successful art thief who leaves behind ransom cards signed with his catchphrase: "From Eroica with love. Good luck."
  • Psiren of Fullmetal Alchemist. The people of her city don't really want her caught - it's an Expy of Venice and will soon slide underwater, so she's the only thing keeping people coming.
  • Played with in Ghost in the Shell when the Major is Cash Eye. A false thief created to trap a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • Part of the backstory of Gosick involves a St. Marguerite Academy graduate named Maxim, who went on to become a criminal known as Phantom Thief Kuiaran. A major plot point in Episodes 4 and 5 involves a New Transfer Student named Avril, who turns out to be Kuiaran's successor. It's revealed that she kidnapped the real Avril and disguised herself as her in order to pull off a heist at the Academy.
  • In the Boys' Love manga Gorgeous Carat, main character Ray is also known as Phantom Thief Noir.
  • Called out to, but not really played right with Fumi and Sharna of Hayate the Combat Butler.
  • Gaitou, the thief in Kaitou Alice, only appears in dreams and steals the darkness inside of people's hearts.
  • The Boys' Love manga Kaitou Game revolves around a phantom thief who is literally known as the Phantom Thief and the nobleman's son he falls in love with.
  • Saint Tail from Kaitou Saint Tail is a Magical Girl style thief who uses Impossibly Awesome Magic Tricks to steal back property that was already wrongly taken. Notably, she only leaves calling cards to taunt her Kid Detective crush—and as disguised love letters.
  • Robas from Kiba, who becomes the thief "No Face" because he's bored and wishes for a challenge. It's also hinted he may be trying to help out his family financially, since their fortune is somewhat on the rocks.
  • The Kindaichi Case Files has Kaitō Shinshi ("Lady Thief"), a mischievous femme fatale. She's one of Kindaichi's 2 recurring elusive rivals, along with Jigoku no Kugutsushi ("Hell's Puppeteer"). Unlike the manipulative homicidal maniac Jigoku no Kugutsushi, she's only involved in fun, lighthearted thievery. She can also be likened to a Classy Cat-Burglar type.
  • King of Bandit Jing: The titular character himself; legends claim he can steal the very stars from the night sky- and he proceeds to live up to his Impossible Thief status; conceding once- to monument which he admits he doesn't have a pocket big enough to fit. He tends to forgo full disguises as his youth usually works as is; he also enjoys leaving the classic calling card from time to time which all carry his symbol of a black cat face wth wingding eyes.
  • Lupin III is based on Arsène Lupin; both titular characters are famously uncatchable and both pretty much fit all of the listed criteria for this trope, with the half-Japanese character being the grandson of the famous French thief.
  • Kaitou Kid (literally known as the Phantom Thief Kid) from Magic Kaito and Detective Conan. In Magic Kaito he had a lot of Lupin homages, including the indefatigable Nakamori for Ganimard and Hakuba Saguru popping over from England in place of Sherlock Holmes.
  • X in Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro. Unfortunately, those aren't his only crimes...
  • Phantom Renegade of Medabots steals rare medals in order to keep them out of the wrong hands. He would actually do a pretty good job, if he didn't clumsily lose them right after gloating over his successful heist.
  • The hero of Mouse and his three female colleges, all of whom pose as normal teachers when not out thieving.
  • Hailing from Mysterious Joker is its titular character whose embodies this trope in-universe. His rivals and mentor are also this.
  • In Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok, Freyr (in his first episode), because every Great Detective needs a rival.
  • The protagonist of Nishikida Keibu wa Dorobou ga Osuki is "Kaitou Jack", a thief who steals outrageous things and world treasures.
  • In One Piece, Nami can steal practically anything without anyone noticing (as seen in the Drum arc). However she prefers to brag.
  • Maron/"Jeanne" from Phantom Thief Jeanne is considered to be this, as whenever she purifies a piece of art, it disappears.
  • Phantom Thief Pokémon 7 is about a, well, Phantom Thief in the world of Pokémon.
    • The anime has an episode where Team Rocket imitates an historic thief called the Black Arachnid. Of course, they get their butts kicked.
  • Twenty Faces from Kigitsu Katsuhisa's one-shot manga Phase 20.
  • Odoren from Pretty Cure All Stars Haru no Carnival portrays himself as this. His actions… make it less so.
  • One of the earliest examples is probably Osamu Tezuka's Rainbow Parakeet, whose unusual name comes from his mastery of disguise & ability to mimic voices.
  • Shadow Lady has Aimi Komori that crosses paths with De-Mo, a resident of the Demon World who forcefully introduces her to the magic eye shadow that transforms her into Shadow Lady, a Classy Cat-Burglar that becomes the focus of a police task force led by Bright Honda.
  • Star★Twinkle Pretty Cure features the cat alien thief Blue Cat, whose civilian identity is the famous idol Mao. Later on she fully becomes a Cure, Cure Cosmo.
  • Le Bled from Steam Detectives. Also known as Phantom Thief Le Bled!
  • Time Bokan series "Kaitou Kiramekiman". Set in the near future, the main character are a couple of young thieves named Kiramekiman. Secretly, the goal of Kiramekiman is actually noble, since they are only stealing certain objects in order to maintain peace in the future.
  • Kaitou le Vin is about a Five-Man Band of thieves who travel the world under the name “Phantom Thief Levain” in order to steal rare wines.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Fiction 

    Film 

    Literature 
  • Arsène Lupin is the Trope Codifier.
  • Fantômas, an anarchist whose crimes (supposedly) stem from a disdain for modern civilization. Unlike Lupin, he is a cruel, manipulative psychopath with no qualms at all about murdering people and framing the innocent to face the guillotine for his crimes. His titles include "The Man with a Thousand Faces", "The Lord of Terror", "The Master of Crime" and "The Genius of Evil."
  • The Saint is a modern day Robin Hood-figure who targets corrupt politicians, warmongers, and other low life, and leaves a "calling card" at his crimes - a stick figure of a man with a halo over his head. He's slightly darker than most examples, however, as he is willing to ruin the lives of the "ungodly," and even kill them, if he feels that more innocent lives can be saved.
  • The Gray Ghosts in the Shadowleague books.
  • Conina from Sourcery once stole some diamonds from a thief who had himself absconded from a jewellery shop having swallowed them. She's actually a phantom thief illegitimate barbarian hairdresser.
  • The titular character of the German gangster spoof series Dickie Dick Dickens has traces of this, being a Chicago gangster in the 1920s who uses trickery, charm and his impossibly well-honed skills as a pickpocket to reach his goal. His son, Donald D. Doberman, is an even clearer example of the trope.
  • Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats:
    He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
    For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity's not there!
  • Comus from the Ellery Queen short story "The Dauphin's Doll" in Calendar of Crime.
  • The Bishop from A Stainless Steel Rat is Born is a retired Phantom Thief. His crowning achievement was stealing shipments of cash from the local equivalent of Fort Knox: a sealed crate of money leaves, but when it arrives at the destination, it contains only a single chess bishop. The Stainless Steel Rat himself is rather more physical: it's a rare crime that doesn't involve guards winding up on the wrong end of a gas grenade or a karate chop, something the Bishop calls him out on.
  • Ishimaru Kouta of Zaregoto is supposedly one of these, although we never see her in action.
  • Deconstructed by Anthony Ryan's Draconis Memoria series. The dastardly Moonlighter was a decent thief, but he got away with it because the upper class loved scandal. Half his exploits were concocted by bored upper-class and sensationalist news (and a smutty novel, apparently), and he never even stole half of what he was accused of. When the Blood Cadre actually got on his case, he was caught very quickly.
  • In The High King's Tomb (Green Rider series #3) by Kristen Britain, the character Xandis Amberhill, an impoverished nobleman, becomes the Raven Mask to restore his fortune, following the example of his grandfather, the original Raven Mask.
  • The Fiend with Twenty Faces(Kaijin Nijū Mensō), the phantom thief created by Japanese mystery writer Edogawa Ranpo, was heavily influenced by Arsène Lupin, and the occasional rival for Kogoro Akechi, the private detective created by the same author.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Kamen Rider
    • Kamen Rider Decade: Kamen Rider Diend is actually named has Daiki Kaitou, but he's only partway to being a full-fledged Phantom Thief. He has the "theft of valuable objects" and "uses trickery and illusions" bits down but his personality boils down to "real-life Troll" for his victims (especially Tsukasa), and he steals not out of a sense of social justice but because he enjoys it (though that's just his assertion, in truth it's because he's trying to fill the void left behind by his brother being brainwashed by a crime boss).
    • In Kamen Rider Kabuto, Tadokoro's team create their own Phantom Thief, 'Shadow', to lure out a Worm that targets criminals.
    • Kamen Rider Drive has Zoroku Tojo who was one in his youth, but time was not kind to him until he found Cyberoid ZZZ.
  • Il Ji-Mae: "Don't worry, I can steal anything. After all, I'm Il Ji-Mae."
  • Parker on Leverage is this, but she's also crazy and more than a little unsettling due to her lack of understanding for basic social norms. Her mentor, Archie Leech, is this as well, and a Gentleman Thief.
  • Super Sentai:
    • In Tokumei Sentai Go Busters: One episode in the last half of the series features Kaitou Pink Buster, a rich woman who steals wearing an outfit based on the Go-Buster's out of transformation uniform, and becomes attached to Red Buster. In the Alternate world Dobutsu Sentai Go-Busters, her counterpart, Pink Cat, is His sister.
    • The first of two eponymous teams in Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger is a trio of heroic thieves. As their name implies, they're styled after Arsène Lupin, and they target the intergalactic crime syndicate Ganglar in order to steal back a set of artifacts he originally gathered.
  • Spider-Man (Japan) has two examples - one who gets kidnapped by the Iron Cross Army and hypnotized into committing crimes in Spider-Man's name, and one who retired five years ago after stealing a highly valuable jewel to look after his orphaned grandson.
  • Choukou Senshi Changéríon, another obscure non-franchise Toei tokusatsu hero show, features a guest star named Phantom Thief Kuroageha in episode 25.
  • The heroines of the Girls x Heroine! series Secret X Warrior Phantomirage! are thieves who steal corrupt Gyaku Jewels and purify them.

    Music 
  • The Momoiro Clover Z song "Kaitou Shojo" is all about this, although they're more interested in stealing your heart than stealing jewels.
  • There are many VOCALOID songs featuring this trope, most notably:
    • Phantom Thief F's Scenario ~Mystery of the Missing Diamond~ by Hitoshizuku-P×Yama△, a song about a theft of an expensive diamond during its auction on an extravagant passenger ship. The song features ten vocalists playing different parts.
    • The Phantom Thief Chat Noir by yukkedolce, where a phantom thief rescues a girl he was falsely accused of kidnapping.
    • Piano x Forte x Scandal by OSTER Project. The Project Mirai/Diva Arcade video portrays MEIKO (or any of the available vocalists) as a glamorous, elegant thief stealing an expensive necklace and running away from the police. Fittingly, all the modules designed for this song have the name "Phantom Thief" followed by the name of the VOCALOID.
  • Super Junior's music video for Black Suit is about the group planning to steal a suit at an auction, only for somebody else to get it before them.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • Pathfinder has a rogue archetype literally named phantom thief. Described in flavor text as a career choice for aristocrats looking for excitement in their lives and breaking into the most secure places just for the thrill of it and often leaving a nice calling card behind rather than stealing anything, it removes the sneak attack, trap finding and trap sense class features to instead give massive bonuses to the use of skills, even more class skills and skill points to spend and more options for rogue talents, making the phantom thief archetype the ultimate skill monkey and infiltrator.
  • Shadowrun has a philosophy in campaign and character design called "mirrorshades" that fits into this category. In a "mirrorshades" campaign the emphasis is on legwork, laying down preparations and heavy use of skill-based characters like the decker and the mage's noncombat magic: The end result is turning a run into a puzzle scenario where not a single shot is fired and the victim of the run has little more than thirty minutes' downtime in their security cameras as a clue as to who stole their MacGuffin. Knowing whether your GM intends to run a "mirrorshades" campaign, its opposite, "pink mohawk", or something in-between can often be important to players.
  • Gord the Rogue from Greyhawk, who steals for the challenge (and because he loves treasure).

    Video Games 
  • Phantom Thief Jade from 24-ji, Kimi no Heart wa Nusumareru ~Kaitou Jade~ is an enigmatic and charismatic gentleman thief clad in a silk hat, and cloak, who has been plaguing the home belonging to the Chairman of Hakuou Academy for the last half a year, stealing only treasures containing his namesake.
  • Ace Attorney:
  • Trilby epitomizes this trope in The Art of Theft. He continues to be one in the Chzo Mythos, though he soon finds his chosen vocation can be stressful.
  • Cookie Run has Roguefort Cookie, a jewel thief who can disguise themselves as other characters.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has the Gray Fox, who people believe can slip through doors and become invisible. And no one knows who he is, because he's wearing a cursed Daedric artifact that strikes the wearer's name from history.
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake has the Guardian Angel of the Slums, stealing from the rich and giving it to the poor. Her identity is later revealed to be the old lady Mireille, who then convinces Cloud, Barret, and Tifa to steal from Don Corneo's secret stash in a sidequest and help out the people from Sector 7 whose houses and livelihood collapsed from the plate falling. Cloud then posits that they've also become phantom thieves after the sidequest.
  • The newly-introduced Trickster class in Fire Emblem Awakening, a promotion of the standard Thief, is literally described as a glamorous phantom thief. Its members are capable of using healing staves as well as swords.
  • Granblue Fantasy has two flavors of phantom thieves in the form of Chat Noir and Nightsmoke.
    • Chat Noir is the classic Gentleman Thief and Master of Disguise who is famous for announcing his heists beforehand. His rival is Barawa who is treated like a Great Detective, despite being actually a Dumb Muscle with a Hypercompetent Sidekick in the form of Sarya. Chat Noir lives in his fame, so much that he will also try to assist Barawa and the crew if a villain of the week is using his name.
    • In contrast, Catherine, aka Nightsmoke, is a strictly professional Classy Cat-Burglar who takes on requests of her clients. Her rival is Detective Rick, who also happens to be a regular in her daytime job as a café waitress. Catherine prefers anonymity and places value in completing her client's requests, but she also has her brand of justice, such as destroying her original target if it could be used as a weapon for evil.
  • Skye from Harvest Moon DS Cute is widely known as "Phantom Skye". He doesn't seem to steal for any other reason other than for the fun of it (or, should you choose to woo him, to meet with the player). But Skye steals because he wants to make really good curry. The items he steals are ingredients and other people's curry dishes (to taste them).
  • Anzu, the heroine of the Visual Novel Kaitou Apricot, becomes the titular thief at night. Her mission in the game is to steal someone's heart.
  • The protagonist of Kaitou Z ~Anata to Heart o Nusumimasu~ an antique shop owner who moonlights as a gentleman thief and uses hypnotism to aid his thefts.
  • In Let's Kaitou! Nusumi Kei!? -Ano Ko no Heart no Nusumikata, Oshiemasu♪-, Tomoki seeks to become one of these, so he enrolls in the famous thief school Kaitou Gakuen, and ends up in the same group as Ai, a descendent of Arsène Lupin.
  • Phantom Thief Butterfly from LiEat. They even have “phantom thief” in their name.
  • Risa Atago from Lightning Legend: Daigo no Daibouken is a famous one in Kyoutou Village, although she simply does it because it's fun.
  • The Black Foxes of Love Letter from Thief X, who also serve as possible Love Interests for the protagonist.
  • Love Nikki - Dress Up Queen has Sapphires the Phantom Thief from the Pigeon Kingdom, whose outfit can be purchased with Association Coins. He is described as an "elegant and handsome" Sharp-Dressed Man who "is in fact, a thief!" The outfit comes complete with his Warning Letter Calling Card.
  • MapleStory gets one as a playable character, unsubtly named Phantom.
  • Kasumi Goto of Mass Effect 2.
    I'm the best thief in the galaxy. Not the most famous.
    • She would lampshade leaving notes and signs of her robberies by saying her partner/lover Keiji got her out of the habit.
  • Neeshka from Neverwinter Nights 2, although certainly interested in money, mostly sees burglary as a sort of competitive game, taking delight in difficult heists.
  • Ginka, the heroine of Onna Kaitou Silver Cat, is a member of a local SWAT team who moonlights as a phantom thief named the Silver Cat.
  • The Shy Bandit from Paper Mario: Color Splash styles himself as one, though his getup is somewhat lacking.
  • The protagonists of Persona 5, known as the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, are an interesting twist on this trope. Going by appearances, they seem to fit the classic Phantom Thief archetype; all members are either a Gentleman Thief or Classy Cat-Burglar, uses excessive amounts of stealth in their heists, and even send calling cards to their victim before beginning their heists. What really differentiates them from standard Phantom Thieves is that they're less thieves and more Internal Reformists; embarking on a Journey to the Center of the Mind and effectively triggering a forced Heel-Face Turn by stealing the manifestations of evil people's desires. In doing so, people normally untouchable by the law are brought to justice, making them a mix between Internal Reformists and Cowboy Cops.
  • Phantom Thief Silver Cat: Ginka, the Silver Cat. It's even in the title.
  • Hoopa, a literal phantom thief, is capable of using its portal rings to hide away the treasures it stole.
    • Which apparently include entire islands and legendary pokemon. Hoopa would also classify as an Impossible Thief.
  • Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure gives us the aptly named Phantom R, a thief known for stealing priceless works of art... only to return them days later without a scratch. The Police always fail to catch him, even after they spot him in the act. Then again...
  • The Sly Cooper franchise is built on this trope, covering each and every point detailed above; even the Japanese name for the series is "Kaitou (Phantom/Wonder Thief) Sly Cooper".
  • In the Thief series, Garrett is a classic Phantom Thief and Anti-Hero, though he steals for his own gain as well as for the thrill of it. The higher difficulty levels impose a code of honor (no killing humans; zombies and the like are fair game). The Fandom takes it further still, with a common Self-Imposed Challenge being the Ghost run - a playthrough in which Garrett gets in, steals everything not nailed down, and gets out again without anyone even suspecting he was ever there. To clarify, Ghosting means leaving no evidence anyone was there. No unlocked doors (lock them again), nobody looked round and asked "What's that noise?", no broken windows, no doused torches (in Thief 2, which this is very popular for, re-lighting torches is easy) and definitely nobody injured or killed. The only difference is all the loot is gone.
  • Trails Series has Bleublanc, a baron from Erebonia and one of Ouroboros' agents. He has appeared throughout the Liberl, Crossbell, and Erebonia arcs, testing the heroes by stealing priceless jewelry and giving it back once they've passed his test, and sometimes even helping them. His modus operandi includes stealing items that hasn't been appreciated as much by their owners.
  • Wario: Master of Disguise features Wario becoming one of these using a magic wand he took from a real phantom thief. The game's original title, Kaitou Wario the Seven, is clearly meant to suggest both Lupin the Third and the Fiend of Twenty Faces (since seven is actually how many costumes Wario has, besides the basic thief).

    Web Comics 
  • Geist from Heist. He lives in a superhero universe and only his former clients even know he exists.
  • The unknown rook (thief) in Snow By Night, who goes after objects having to do with hearts. Even the other rooks are baffled by this person. Turns out the thief is Snow By Night, a manitou with magic powers, which explains why she is so hard to find.
  • Phantom Thief Kiara of Aware (it's in her name).

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Chameleon in Super Secret Secret Squirrel is this kind of thief, specializing in classic art. His preferred style is to enter a museum in the daytime and hide as a character in one of the paintings to scope the area out, then sneak out with the art at night when the guards aren't watching. He has a Weaksauce Weakness in abstract art, as he has problems comprehending it and consequently has a hard time hiding within it.

Alternative Title(s): Kaitou

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