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Power Degeneration

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"The transformation neutralizes the effects of the chemotherapy. [...] But not the cancer. Because cancer is just another part of me now."
"Your trip to the sun exposed you to critical levels of stellar radiation, more raw energy than your cells are able to process efficiently. Apoptosis has begun. Cell death. There can be only one outcome, even for you."
Dr. Quintum, All-Star Superman

Imagine cancer, that slow insidious death that kills you from the inside, but which is also intrinsically you; it is a body eating itself, and unable to heal. Now imagine that cancer can grow faster whenever you do what you're best at: dancing, painting, coding software, kayaking. This is what happens to characters with Power Degeneration.

The causes can vary. It may be that the process used to make the Clone, Half-Human Hybrid or genetically enhanced character with Super-Soldier powers had an inadvertent (or intentional) design flaw (or "birth defect") that slowly reduces their lifespan, limiting their lives to years or months. Other times it's related to having somehow gained superpowers. Maybe it was thanks to Psycho Serum, or the machine/amulet that gave them their powers was broken. Lastly, the powers may just inherently damage the body when used, either as a mystical price or because they are not designed for human use (or rather, the body wasn't given the Required Secondary Powers to handle using the primary ones). Whatever the case, the result is the same: acute "hardware failure" as the body tears itself up from the inside. If they're lucky, they won't cause a Superpower Meltdown that takes out the city.

This last case might be survivable, provided the powers only hurt the owner when used. But it often happens that merely possessing them accelerates the process of aging or the decay. By not using their Super Mode or magic powers they can live normal lives... but The Call Knows Where You Live, so this is rarely an outright option.

The former scenario is usually incurable; it's so hard to Find the Cure! that an entire series can be based around it. The reason is that the clone, hybrid or GM baby would have to fundamentally alter themselves to not be what they are, either by fixing the flaw or becoming plain humans. This can involve finding a geneticist who can make a gene therapy capable of repairing their DNA, a magic ritual that rids them of their human/non-human half, or somehow completely excising what separates them from baseline humanity and being Brought Down to Normal. These people have a very good reason for wanting to be normal.

While the character is afflicted with Power Degeneration, their body will also visibly decay in one or more stylized ways.

Faced with all that, is it any wonder some characters choose to use a less than savory alternatives to extend their life? They might steal the Life Energy of others, discover You Are Who You Eat, or transfer their sickness/symptoms onto others.

See also Clone Degeneration, Harmful Healing, Possession Burnout and Cast from Hit Points. Subtrope of Blessed with Suck. Contrast Fuel Meter of Power and Power-Upgrading Deformation.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • As incomplete Dhampyr, the Schiff in Blood+ need the blood of a vampire queen to stabilize, otherwise they turn to crystal. Yes, crystal. The ailment is called the Thorn.
  • This happens to almost every character in Ceres, Celestial Legend whose ten'nyo powers are awakened, aside from the heroine and a few who get killed in other ways before their powers can kill them. It seems like they live longer the stronger their powers are, but actually using said powers seems to shorten their lifespan considerably.
  • Chrono Crusade has an interesting variation of this. When Chrono uses his powers, he doesn't suffer any sort of decay — Rosette does, as they're powered by her soul. In the best circumstances, she's only expected to live until thirty. Since Chrono has a Bodyguard Crush on her, he's not really happy about this.
  • Some of the Contractors of Darker than Black fall under this. People whose 'remuneration' is irreversible can only use them a limited number of times. Most notably, this includes the shape-shifter who grows older every time she uses her power, eventually dying from old age because of it, and Amber, who could reverse or stop time, but became younger every time she used it, eventually fading from existence altogether.
    • Shion in the second season is typically in a wheelchair due to his remuneration. He eventually dies from using his power to copy the entire planet.
  • In Death Note, humans can acquire the ability to see people's names and lifespans at the cost of half their own life.
  • In D.Gray-Man, anyone with a parasite-type Innocence tends to have a much shorter than average life expectancy, even outside of the whole "constantly fighting freaky-ass monsters" issue. Considering that this includes the hero, it's no wonder he's The Woobie.
  • In Dragon Ball, King Piccolo claimed that his lifespan shortens when he uses his full power or produces an egg. We never really see this since Goku takes him out shortly after he does the former and the latter is his last act before dying. He'd also eliminated that issue shortly before his death, as he had wished for eternal youth.
    • In Dragon Ball Super this happens to Fusion Zamasu. One of his components had Complete Immortality thanks to the Super Dragon Balls, but one was mortal (thanks to using his wish to switch bodies with Goku). When fused, his immortality was downgraded from 'completely invincible' to 'you just have to hit him really really hard'. And as the heroes start landing hits hard enough to affect him, his healing factor goes out of control and starts replacing damaged body parts with monstrous gelatinous purple versions.
  • Lucy gets a particularly horrific version of this late in the manga of Elfen Lied. Using her vectors results in entropic backlash that causes her body to melt.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), using the Philosopher's Stone for Grand Theft Me causes alchemical degeneration of the new body. This process is slow, but increases in speed the more times you've done it. Hohenheim, who's been more sparing, was able to stay in his current body for at least twenty years without much visible decay, while Dante had her bodies starting to degenerate after mere months.
  • Gakuen Alice has Persona, whose "Mark of Death" Alice is able to rot and eventually kill anything he touches, including himself. He uses 10 or so power limiters to keep his ability under control, and if he removes even one of them, his own Alice will infect him.
  • As a half-demon with an Unstoppable Rage Super Mode, Inuyasha will eventually get stuck in that form unless he keeps the sword Tessaiga by his side at all times. All things considered this works well in his favor since the sword also gives him many powerful attacks his Unstoppable Rage couldn't match.
  • In K, anyone chosen to be a King must constantly keep a sense of balance and mental stability in order to maintain control over their immense power. Failure to do so will result in a literal Sword of Damocles falling on them and killing them and everyone else around them. This happened to Mikoto after the murder of one of their friends. As a result of their loss of power, their hand started becoming charred black and their Sword decaying. Eventually, after killing Tatara's murderer, another King, their Sword of Damocles almost falls on them (which would have triggered a Super-Power Meltdown) if not for Reisi's Mercy Kill.
  • In Macross Frontier, V-Type microbes allow the infected to communicate with Vajra, but they are also slowly kill their brains. Now there are medications which, while not able to heal it, can strongly slow down the process and give the infected more time to live, but Sheryl refuses to use them as she needs a stronger Vajra link for the good guys to win...
  • In My Hero Academia, when Midoriya first acquires "One for All", he can't regulate it because he kept thinking of it like a trump card, which led to his body not being able to get used to it. Every time he uses it at full power (which is every time at first), he tears muscle and breaks bone. At one point, he injures his hand so severely that even Recovery Girl can't help him fully recover, leaving the hand permanently warped and scarred.
    • It turns out that Midoriya is one of the lucky ones. During a discussion with the shades of the former holders of One For All, they reveal to him that the Quirk weighs down heavily on the body of a holder if they already possess a Quirk of their own. Only one holder of One For All died of natural causes, Hikage Shinomori, at the age of 40, with literal cracks appearing on his body beforehand — and he only held the Quirk for 18 years. All Might held it without issue for much longer because he was Quirkless, which may be why he chose the similarly Quirkless Midoriya to succeed him rather than anyone who already had a Quirk, like Togata.
  • Yoite of Nabari no Ou pretty much defines this trope.
  • Whenever Naruto releases enough of the power of the Kyuubi, an aura surrounds him that actually eats away at his body. Due to the super-regeneration that the Kyuubi also grants him, his cells are forced to split ahead of their biological schedule to overcome the damage — basically super-aging to heal himself, shortening his lifespan in the process. Earlier on, Tsunade also demonstrated such regeneration.
    • The Mangekyo Sharingan causes progressive vision loss and eventual blindness. The only way to avoid this is by replacing them with the eyes of another Mangekyo Sharingan wielder, ideally a blood relative, as Sasuke did with Itachi's and Madara did with Izuna's. A notable exception to this rule is Obito, who despite using his single Mangekyo's unique ability constantly for over a decade seemed to suffer no obvious vision loss compared to how Kakashi using the companion eye's ability for comparatively less time commented on how he was going near-sighted in that eye, though it's implied he found a loophole via the flesh grafts of Hashirama Senju, which provide a Healing Factor.
    • Danzo's Sharingan-covered arm experiences this when he utilizes its ability to escape death. Each usage causes one of the Sharingan to go visibly blind. He checks them periodically in battle to see how many uses he has left.
  • In One Piece, the Psycho Serum steroids that Hody Jones and his gang took to power themselves up had the downside of cutting their lifespan down by a large amount. In this case, it caused accelerated aging to the point that a short while after their defeat they're seen as ancient and decrepit old fishmen too powerless to do anything.
  • Tsukune, in Rosario + Vampire, erodes a little bit of his soul every time he uses his superpowers.
  • Suffering from this is a major issue for numerous characters in Snow White and Seven Dwarfs. For Ken, using his ability causes an accumulation of poison, bringing him closer to death each time, and for Souichi and Souji Ushio, they respectively de-age and age rapidly thanks to usage of their powers.
  • Black Star from Soul Eater has his soul slowly eaten away at whenever he uses Tsubaki's Demon Blade mode. When Black Star's soul wavelength attack on Kid fails, Sid explains that it is because his current inferiority complex about his strength has weakened his soul. We see just how well Black Star gets over this, when following Arachne's Kishin transformation his soul wavelength becomes strong enough to hold back the witch's insanity, aiding Soul and Maka's musical intervention.
  • Grove in Vampire Hunter D is in the latest stages of this. His repeated use of his astral projection power has wasted his body away to almost nothing.
  • In The Vision of Escaflowne, the Cat Girls Narya and Erya undergo an experimental procedure to enhance their luck in battle. Unfortunately, it turns out that there's some sort of conservation of luck mechanic in play, and their good luck is balanced out by catastrophic bad luck, causing them to become sick and die. A sort of equal and opposite reaction. Considering that the person who invented the procedure is Sir Isaac Newton, he really should have seen it coming.
  • In Witchblade it is an inevitability that all who are equipped with and use a Witchblade or Cloneblade will eventually but gradually crack and crumble into ash. To make things worse, it is impossible to remove a Witchblade without slicing off your hand and wrist with it.
    • Note that nobody actually tries this in the show, and it's possible even taking the hand off wouldn't save you.

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU:
    • In the alternate universe presented in Batman: Holy Terror, the Commonwealth tried to replicate The Flash's Super-Speed powers. Only two of the test subjects got useful speed powers, but one of them is prone to exploding and then reconstituting himself, while the other, just a kid, has ended up with accelerated aging and is likely to die within a few weeks.
    • Firestorm (DC Comics): The original Killer Frost gets ice powers that she eventually learns are causing her to age at a vastly increased pace. She... doesn't take the reveal well, with the resulting rampage resulting in her death when she tries to drain Firestorm of his inner heat.
    • The Flash: At one point, Wally West a.k.a. Kid Flash starts slowing down with each use of his powers. However, during the tail-end of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Firestorm is able to save him in the nick of time from the Anti-Monitor's energy blast, but the blast ends up saving him from his degeneration, though sticking him at "speed of sound" running levels — which suits him just fine as he takes up the mantle of the Flash.
    • Great Ten: Immortal Man-In-Darkness is a pilot bonded to the Dragonwing, an extremely advanced living fighter plane. Each flight of the Dragonwing takes a year off of the pilot's life. The government doesn't have a problem finding willing pilots — piloting the Dragonwing is considered a great honor, and there are plenty of pilots waiting in reserve eager for their chance even though they know the price.
    • A Mind-Switch in Time: If people transformed by villain Euphor use their powers until overexerting themselves, their bodies start degrading until dissolving into pure energy.
    • Robin (1993): Strader Pharmaceuticals develops a drug that's meant to give the user super-strength but has the unfortunate side-effect of slowly breaking down their bodies, killing them horrifically and painfully.
    • Superboy (1994): Due to Agenda's experiments, Superboy's powers start failing him along with his body, with his use of them rapidly increasing the rate at which his body is falling apart. After realizing what's going on, he still uses them to rescue those stranded in a storm until he can't move any further. He spends the next several issues of his own book and Superboy and the Ravers non-active on a table, and then in a Healing Vat while his body falls apart and scientists scramble for a way to save him.
  • Marvel Universe:
    • In one Captain America storyline, Cap's Super Serum actually breaks down and starts taking his body with it.
    • During Dark Reign, Carol Danvers has this issue to the point that her energy powers cause her to just explode.
    • In one Fantastic Four storyline, the powers of the Fantastic Four turn out to be examples of this; the same exposure to cosmic radiation that gave them their powers is slowly killing them. Subverted later when it turns out that the degeneration was caused by a kind of overload from having the powers of their parallel universe counterparts covertly transferred into them. They're healed by having the excess powers restored to their rightful owners.
    • Generation X: Chamber has an explosive power that blew off his jaw and upper chest prior to joining the team. Using his power slowly widened the explosive area, he near literally had part of his face and chest "on fire". Averted in that his body is technically a dead husk already and his mutation actually turned him into an Energy Being that's animating it but has no idea how to reconstruct it.
    • New X-Men: Academy X: Gentle can temporarily increase his muscle mass to gain Hulk-level strength, but the strain on his body causes him seizures. His power is held in check somewhat by vibranium tattoos, but since his powers get stronger with every use, eventually the tattoos won't work and and his powers will kill him.
    • In Son of M and Silent War, it's established that terrigen crystals can give superpowers to non-Inhumans, but they're unstable. Depowered mutants get uncontrolled versions of their powers they might survive, but humans have an inevitable mortality.
    • Spider-Man: The process that transformed Mac Gargan into the Scorpion was a risky and experimental one. The radiation treatment and gene therapy made him more powerful, but it also messed up his own genetics. The reason he keeps wearing his suit is because the suit helps prevent his body from further degenerating. The Venom Symbiote was also able to arrest the damage during Gargan's stint as Venom.
    • Thor (2014): Every time Jane Foster transforms into Thor, all poisons are purged from her body, which unfortunately includes the chemotherapy drugs she needs to treat her cancer. Effectively, she dies a little more each time she picks up the hammer, but refuses to stop protecting the world as Thor even as it kills her.
    • The Ultimate Spider-Man iteration of Venom had a symbiote that's more of a parasite than truly symbiotic. Eddie Brock has two choices: consume other people's life force, or have his own consumed by the symbiote. He goes with option A.
    • Due to the poisonous nature of Adamantium, Wolverine's skeleton and claws slowly kill him on those occasions when his mutant powers are disabled. And he can't use the claws, either, for obvious blood-loss-from-the-hands reasons.
    • X-Man: Nate Grey suffers from an intentional version throughout the vast majority of his series, since he was created by the Age of Apocalypse version of Mister Sinister as a weapon to kill Apocalypse, and Sinister didn't want said weapon hanging around once it had done its job — hence the genetic flaw which leads to frequent cases of Psychic Nosebleed, one or another of his powers switching off, and potentially a burn-out that would take out half the planet. In the end, he gets a genetic brand that stabilizes his powers.
    • In the alternate universe presented in X-Men Forever, it's revealed that mutantkind isn't the much-ballyhooed next step of human evolution, but something of a dead end — their mutant powers are slowly killing them in a process called "Mutant Burnout" that will kill them by age 50.
    • Synch has the ability to copy the abilities of any nearby mutant, but only when nearby. When he's brought back after death in X-Men: The Krakoan Age, something about the resurrection process enhanced his abilities so now he can use any ability he's ever copied regardless of proximity, but doing so makes him age rapidly.
  • Every time Monster Girl from Invincible uses her power (to change into a superpowered monster), she gets younger. It's eventually determined that it's due to her body being reconstructed incorrectly.
  • Warren Ellis developed a pulp-style detective character named Simon Specter who invented a drug that would enhance his intelligence and perception speed for approximately 12 hours, followed by a 24-hour crash and the loss of a week of his body's lifespan.
  • In Stormwatch: Team Achilles, one antagonist has Super-Empowering as one of his abilities, but the people he empowers eventually burn out and die.
  • This trope is the entire premise of Strikeforce: Morituri. Human volunteers went through a dangerous process to earn superpowers so they could combat Alien Invaders. Catch is, the process was guaranteed to kill them sometime within the next year after gaining their powers — in some cases, mere days after.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Spinel from Cleaves, Cuts and Cracks suffers from a severe case of this. Everytime she uses her powers, her gem crack worsens. Pushing even further causes her body to fall apart.
  • In the Pokémon: The Series fanfic DNA, Ash Ketchum suffers this from his Chosen One powers. He has two months to live the last time we see him.
  • In The One With The Angelic Face, after the vampire Angelus is physically separated from the now-human Angela, the gang determine that Angelus is now becoming a pure vampire demon, which grants him increasingly greater strength (albeit with minor 'issues' like having trouble reverting to his human features on occasion), but with the cost that he will eventually become a pure demon and be unable to exist on this plane.
  • The main character of the Mass Effect 2 fanfic Pariah suffers from this. Whenever she uses her biotics it inflames the tissue of her lungs, causing her to cough blood. In the second to last chapter, she performs a Last Stand and uses her biotics until she's curled up and choking on her own necrotic lung tissue. She killed the bastards, though.

    Films — Animated 
  • All-Star Superman: After getting a lethal level of solar exposure from flying too close to the sun, Superman gets a massive power up... and will eventually turn into an Energy Being.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Roark is the Devil's avatar, but as he is a mere human, his body is slowly breaking down. Use of his powers accelerates the breakdown, like when half of his face rots after turning Carrigan into Blackout. He compares himself to a flamethrower made of paper mache. The Devil's plan is to transfer his essence into Danny, a Half-Human Hybrid who would be able to better handle his power.
  • The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Prince Koura ages considerably (at least a decade) each time he uses his powers of black magic.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Iron Man 2, continuing use of the Iron Man suit accelerates Tony's palladium poisoning. Tony's got one of the worst cases ever. Living is killing him. Either take the palladium arc reactor out of his chest and die of cardiac failure or leave it in and watch his body wither away as it poisons his bloodstream. JARVIS points this out without hesitation.
    • Thor: Love and Thunder: After being diagnosed with cancer, Jane Foster seeks out Mjolnir as a last-ditch effort to cure her. While it gives her the power of Thor and makes her healthy while she's using it, the transformation puts a massive strain on her body that's only worsening her condition.
  • In Star Wars, excessive use of the dark side of the force, particularly force lightning had this effect on Darth Sidious, turning him from a relatively healthy if somewhat elderly man into a decrepit monster with winkled grey sagging skin, rotten teeth, and burning yellow eyes. That particular instance was due at least in part to Windu blocking the lightning right next to Sidious' face, reflecting some lighting into his face and damaging it.
  • X-Men: Magneto builds a machine that can turn humans into mutants, which he tests on Senator Kelly and grants him Rubber Man powers. Unfortunately, the mutation is completely unstable and Kelly literally melts alive shortly after he manages to escape.

  • In the Croak series, the Big Bad learns the hard way that overusing their ultimate power degrades the body.
  • In Dagger-Star by Elizabeth Vaughan, Ezren Silvertongue gets infused with a massive amount of Wild Magic. Not only is the magic difficult to control, but it is described by some mages as "eating away at him" and will eventually kill him. Even when he doesn't use it, his health slowly declines. In the next book White Star, the heroes put Anti-Magic chains around each arm, which relieve his symptoms, but the magic turns out to be too powerful and it builds up until the chains are destroyed. In the next book Destiny's Star, Ezren releases all of the wild magic to deal with the bad guy, and it turns out the wild magic was sentient and just wanted to be free. Ezren comes out of the experience restored to full health.
  • Bean from the Ender's Shadow series has a genetic enhancement that gives him super intelligence because his brain continues to learn and develop at a the fast pace of a young child's brain. The problem is that his body also keeps growing, putting him on a course to suffer from giantism and die of heart failure as a young adult.
  • The Final Reflection features a Klingon assassin who was modified to be four times faster than normal. This causes him to age 64 times faster, so he has to be stored in cryo-suspension between missions. Making things worse, the excessive cryo tends to blank his memory, so he basically has no identity or past.
  • In Flowers for Algernon, the operation that turned mentally challenged Charlie into a super-genius is only temporary. In the second half of the story, his intelligence rapidly deteriorates until he is at least as impaired as he was when he started out. To make matters worse, there's a good chance that his mind will keep on deteriorating until he dies — after all, that's what happened to the mouse they tested it on.
  • The premise of Goldmage is that each colour of mage pays a price for using their power. For example, red mages gain complete knowledge of people they touch, but the more people they do that to, the more they forget everything else, even their own names in the end. Gold mages are the only ones who don't visibly deteriorate, but will eventually just drop dead early from using their powers.
  • In Jade City, jade grants a suite of superpowers to people in physical contact with it, but requires years of training and exposure therapy to handle safely. If someone carries more than they can handle (which is any at all, for most people), they can become addicted to the sensation and go insane from "the itches" — one proficient jade user bit off a bit more than she could chew and ended up flaying her own arms with a cheese grater.
  • Kiln People revolves around the various effects of "dittoes", golem-like copies of individual humans that only last for 24 hours but can have their memories downloaded into the original. As their time starts to run out their bodies begin turning back into clay. Note that they can be preserved by stuffing them into a fridge. The hero's girlfriend does this with a fresh copy in case he gets lonely.
  • The dilemma in the book series Magic or Madness. Either you use your magic and die at a young age (somewhere between your teen years and maybe age 45 at the outside if you're sparing about it, you die when the magic runs out), or you don't use it and go insane.
  • A minor superhero in Soon I Will Be Invincible is mentioned to have undergone this. His powers slowly killed him and drove him insane, driving him to attack his old team-mates, while his previously invisible forcefield degenerate, becoming weaker, blue and tainted with ozone.
  • Using a Soulcasting fabrial in The Stormlight Archive apparently transforms your body into living stone. Or causes vines to grow on you, or causes you to slowly dissolve into smoke, depending on what you regularly soulcast things into. Radiant Soulcasters so far do not exhibit this effect.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: The genetically engineered super-soldier Sgt. Taura has incredible strength and fast reflexes, but was not made to last. She was deliberately engineered to have a short lifespan and die quickly once she started showing serious signs of age. The Fleet doctor has slowed her metabolism and bought her a few more years.
  • 18-year-old Janie in the books Wake and Fade by Lisa Mc Mann. Janie has the ability to see other people's dreams. Unfortunately, she can barely control it. In Fade, one of the longest living "Dream Catchers", as people with that ability are called, leaves Janie a journal. Apparently, Janie will lose her eyesight and the use of her hands by the age of 24. She will only be able to see in dreams.
  • Male channelers (read: magicians) in The Wheel of Time. The male half of One Power, saidin, was tainted by the Dark One, so that now all the male channelers unavoidably will go mad. The few that survive the madness and avoid being caught then start rotting while alive... That is, until Rand manages to cleanse the saidin.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A male nurse on The 4400 had the ability to cure genetic defects in utero, but random mutations appeared in his own DNA.
  • Cordelia in Angel was being slowly and painfully killed by her prophetic visions. Humans are incapable of hosting the visions for long without dying. For her, the solution was to turn her part demon. The upgrade came with other perks; being Demonically Possessed by one of the Powers That Be was not one of them.
  • At the end of Season 4 of the new Doctor Who, Donna is given the consciousness of a Time Lord, but the strain is too much for a human brain and it starts killing her, so the Doctor has to wipe her memory of all the time they spent together and leave her on Earth.
  • Heroes:
    • Mohinder's transformation in Season 3.
    • Hiro's powers give him a brain tumor.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Kamen Rider Agito: Kamen Rider Gills has this as a consequence of being a failed candidate to become Agito. He dies from his degeneration, revives, dies from it again, then eventually resurrects a second time with his powers stabilized enough to prevent degeneration from killing him a third time.
    • Kamen Rider 555: Nearly all powers come with degeneration in this series. By default the Orphnochs have only a few years to live after getting their powers. The Faiz Driver cuts it down to a few months, the Kaixa Driver cuts it down to a few seconds for all but a lucky few. The Delta Driver doesn't cause accelerated degeneration, but it has other drawbacks. The Orphnochs are desperately searching for the mythical Orphnoch King because he's the only thing that can cure degeneration.
    • Kamen Rider Den-O: The Zeronos Driver has a roundabout way of causing this, as each transformation erases the user from a random other person's memories. The mechanics of time travel in the series are such that things only exist because they're remembered, so erasing everyone's memories of you will cause you to cease to exist. The Big Bad has a similar ability involving ripping out chunks of his own history to summon monsters, causing him to become steadily more physically and mentally unstable as he ceases to exist in more and more time periods.
    • Kamen Rider Kiva: Kivat the 2nd can make anyone into Kamen Rider Dark Kiva, giving them the powers of a vampire king, but a normal human will die from the strain of a single transformation, with the biggest Badass Normal of the setting managing three. His son Kivat the 3rd can presumably do the same thing, since they're otherwise equal in power, but he's comfortably partnered with a dhampir who can safely use his power as the titular Kiva.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: During the final quarter of the series, Graphite willingly infects himself with the Gamedeus virus in order to gain Gamedeus's powers. Even though Graphite himself is a living virus, Gamedeus is so much worse that Graphite's left riddled with Tainted Veins and increasingly compromised health, although his power level in battle does also skyrocket as he'd hoped.
    • Kamen Rider Revice: This happens to anyone who uses the Demons Driver, although the rate at which it happens to each user is inconsistent and multiple incompatible explanations for why it happens are offered throughout the series. One explanation claims that any Driver would cause degeneration in a human user, and it only doesn't affect the main trio because they're the biological children of a powerful demon lord. Whatever the reason, by the end of his tenure, the first Demons user is outwardly in his mid-late 20s but has the health of an 80-year-old man.
  • Happens to a human prize fighter in an episode of Lost Girl — it's said that the Fae-derived serum that allows him to Hulk Out will cause his internal organs to explode if he hulks out one more time.
  • In Mutant X, Gabriel Ashlocke is the first of the so-called "New Mutants" (all mutants are called "New" in the show, for some reason). Unlike the others, he has Combo Platter Powers from all four of the categories (elemental, feral, molecular, psionic) and is insane to boot. However, as revealed by Adam, his body is slowly breaking apart due to all these powers together. Ashlocke's final attempt to save himself involves awakening an ancient sorceress, but the interference of the titular team results in Ashlocke exploding and taking his base with him.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): The episode "Blood Brothers" has a scientist accidentally develop a serum that appears to give people (and monkeys) a Healing Factor (a monkey took a dose of cyanide without a problem). His brother, the Corrupt Corporate Executive, refuses to reveal the miracle to the world but uses it on himself to cure a hereditary disease. However, the scientist then realizes that the serum doesn't give you healing powers after all but merely forces the cells to use up all their energy on healing, leaving behind a withered husk. His brother is destined to spend the rest of his days on life support.
  • In Sanctuary, John Druitt's teleportation causes his cells to break down, and is also responsible for the brain damage that turned him into a homicidal maniac. It was later revealed that he had actually been possessed by an Energy Being, and that's what drove him insane. Though, the more often he uses his power, the more control it has over him, so this might be a double subversion.
  • In Stargate SG-1, any human who uses an Ancient Repository gains all the knowledge of the most advanced species ever to walk the galaxy, as well as some nifty extras if they stick it out long enough. However since human minds aren't advanced enough to handle it this comes at the cost of overclocking their brain to the point of rapid mental degeneration and death. It's implied that anyone other than Jack wouldn't have survived even a few days. Daniel had Merlin's consciousness downloaded into him, but Merlin specifically gauged the amount of information he imparted so that a human mind could handle it. Besides, Daniel has ascended before and came back, same as Merlin.
  • A variation with Rodney in Stargate Atlantis. Instead of having knowledge downloaded into his brain, his brain gets overclocked by a different Ancient means. And yes, he also learns Healing Hands, Telepathy, and Mind over Matter abilities, and is able to tell Carson how to save him at the last moment. After this, he's back to his old annoying self and stuck with discoveries and inventions that he made while near-Ascended but way beyond even his understanding.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Late in season 7, Odo discovers that he's been infected with the deadly Morphogenic Virus afflicting the other Changelings. Worse still, "Tacking Into The Wind" reveals that shapeshifting only accelerates the disease's progression, and as Odo has been helping Kira and Garak in their efforts alongside the Cardassian resistance, he's had to assume dozens of different shapes over the past few weeks - leaving him a flaking heap of Body Horror by the start of the episode. Of course, Odo being Odo, he refuses to let his imminent death keep him from work, and continues shapeshifting until he has to be hospitalized.
  • Supernatural:
    • In late Season 6 and early Season 7, Well-Intentioned Extremist Castiel has taken on a multitude of souls from Purgatory and powered himself up enough to kill Raphael and stop him from re-starting the Apocalypse. However, Castiel gets Drunk on the Dark Side and declares himself the new God. As he goes on a smithing rampage, his vessel begins to decompose, and Death remarks that he is not God but a mutated angel. Eventually, Castiel reaches out to Sam and Dean for help to return the souls inside him to Purgatory. They succeed, but they don't count on the Leviathans staying inside Castiel.
    • In Season 9, Dean takes on the Mark of Cain, which gives him enough power to kill Abbadon, but it causes him to become violent and eventually become a demon. He's restored but the mark causes him to struggle with sanity most of Season 10.
  • The X-Files: The teenage Super Speedsters in the episode "Rush" have a decent number of Required Secondary Powers, but their bodies are still gradually breaking down from the stress. An X-ray of one shows the sort of damage normally found in people who've played professional football for 15 years.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Chaos magic, an alternate form of spellcasting in Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 — that can coexist with the standard form of spellcasting — is incredibly flexible and can become ridiculously powerful when used well, is limited by self-inflicted nonlethal damage that only full rest can remove with every spell cast and carries a huge price in the form of an inherent risk to fail every cast (even when Min-Maxing to death, it's hard to reduce this chance under 1/20), and every failed spell has a chance to permanently apply a random harmful condition to the caster, eventually resulting in a form of death no one can be brought back from. A chaos caster tends to be a Crutch Character for this reason : ridiculously powerful and versatile at first but gets weaker and weaker with each stage of corruption, and with a high chance to die for good before the rest of the party.
  • The Magic: The Gathering card Unstable Mutation grants the enchanted creature a significant power spike... that becomes less significant every turn, and after three, it actually starts to get weaker. The lethal aspect of this trope comes in when you realize that the -1/-1 counters will eventually reduce Toughness to 0, and unlike Power 0, creatures with 0 toughness die.
  • Princess: The Hopeful: When embodied in a Vessel, the Golaenu have access to various powerful abilities known as Reprisals. However, each Reprisal irreparably erodes the Vessel's integrity, eventually causing it to catastrophically fail.
  • In Rifts, one character class is "Juicers", who wear a drug-injection rig and whose lifespan is about five years. Also, Crazies are people who have had their brains rewired to gain psychic powers but eventually lose their sanity.
  • Chaos Dwarves from Warhammer can use magic thanks to their allegiance to the dark god Hashut. However, dwarves are not magical creatures and were never intended to use magic; as such, Chaos Dwarven sorcerers will find their bodies slowly turning to stone the more they use their powers. Eventually, after succumbing completely, the sorcerer's petrified body will be taken to their capital, where similar "statues" line the streets.
  • Warhammer 40,000
    • Psykers get a double-shot of awfulness: not only does the act of using their powers leave the potential of letting a Warp daemon take over their body and open a Warp Rift with their mind, but many of the granted abilities take a severe toll on the body, leaving them exhausted, injured through strain and sometimes dead from the brain literally tearing itself apart. How to avoid this and still be a functioning psyhic? Heavy cybernetic augmentation, or "soul binding" which tends to do things like pop your eyeballs and kill all your emotions. All things considered though, this is a small price to pay to potentially be an incredibly powerful being in an unbelievably brutal and unforgiving galaxy.
    • The Thunder Warriors' augmentations gave them incredible power. A single Thunder Warrior is to a squad of Space Marines what a Space Marine is to an Imperial Guard squad. Their augmentations also drastically reduced their lifespans. It's not clear whether this was a flaw or an intentional expiration date the Emperor added to ensure that the powerful but unstable Thunder Warriors wouldn't outlive their usefulness.

    Video Games 
  • BlazBlue:
    • It's revealed in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift that Ragna's fake Azure Grimoire (which is really a piece of the Black Beast) will consume him if he unleashes its full power too often. This is probably why he was so reluctant to use it in Calamity Trigger. Given how liberally he uses his, one has to wonder if Terumi was already consumed by his own Azure Grimoire (confirmed equally counterfeit in Chronophantasma).
    • Due to the abundance of seithr in the modern age, the use of ars magus and ars armagus has its own risks as well — some of the worst including outright physical collapse (wherein the body disintegrates completely and the soul is absorbed into the Boundary through the nearest cauldron). Not only does Terumi use this to liquidate the Kagutsuchi NOL branch in Continuum Shift, but opening every cauldron in the world during the climax of Chronophantasma does this on a worldwide scale, with a very small fraction of the pre-Doomsday population surviving even after Kushinada's Lynchpin is activated.
  • In Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, Ryu links with the Dragon Odjn. This grants Ryu the power to change into an nigh invincible draconic being but each use of his dragon powers brings Ryu closer to death (represented by the D-Counter). Even worse, the D-Counter still rises throughout the game even if Ryu never uses his powers.
  • Crisis Core:
    • Genesis has a defect in his creation, and slowly gets white hair and has his red jacket go ashy throughout the game. As the game goes on, Genesis' copies show the same degeneration. Beating the shit out of Genesis's One-Winged Angel form results in him getting better.
    • The same thing also happens to Angeal and his copies, including Lazard.
  • The Grey Wardens of Dragon Age: Origins are required to drink the poisonous blood of darkspawn during their initiation rite; if they survive, this makes them better able to fight the darkspawn (and able to sense them at a distance). However, some recruits die during the initiation, most recruits suffer from nightmares and increased appetite, and all Grey Wardens have shortened lifespans: "thirty years to live, give or take" from the time of initiation. The Wardens don't tell new recruits about any of this, because they believe almost nobody would join if they knew, and that their mission of protecting the world from the darkspawn is more important than their lives. The actual truth is worse. Thirty years, give or take, isn't how long it takes for the Taint to kill them — it's how long it takes for the Taint to turn them into ghouls. Any Warden that lives too long is doomed to become just another mindless creature of the Blight.
  • In EXA_PICO, Third Generation Reyvateils suffer from this due to their human bodies not being capable of withstanding the Towers' energy coursing through them. Therefore, they can live up to 20 years without applying a trimestral dose of life extending medicine, and even then, if their partners aren't keeping tabs on administrating said medicine in a timely manner past a certain age, it's possible they won't get past their 40s.
  • "Charged" creations in the Geneforge series are infused with so much energy that they constantly lose health each round. In exchange, they're significantly more powerful than the normal versions and cost only a little more essence.
  • Metroid Prime 3: Corruption:
    • This happens to Samus; the more bosses she defeats, the larger her Phazon generating tumor grows, to the point where once you reach Phaaze and are forced into permanent hypermode the gunship no longer acknowledges her as Samus.
    • The other hunters succumb to this under the hand of Dark Samus. All of them (Samus included) are affected by Phazon infestation but only Samus manages to stave off its mind-decaying effects long enough to end the war. The others succumb to it and turn antagonistic towards Samus, forcing her to put down her former allies.
  • The Nasuverse must like this trope because it also happens to Shirou in Fate/stay night in all three routes from using magic above his level, particularly in Heaven's Feel when he gets Archer's arm grafted onto him. Interestingly, rather than merely physical corruption there is also mental corruption, and he starts to lose memories and the ability to form coherent thoughts.
  • It's revealed in NOISZ that the NOISZ you've used the entire game consumes your soul from usage. The NOISZ Beasts suffered a similar fate due to theirs being Flawed Prototypes.
  • In Phantom Brave the power that originally banished Sulphur called "Psycho Burgundy" will kill its user if it's used too often as it burn it user's soul.
  • Soul Series: In Tira's ending in Soulcalibur IV, Nightmare's body can no longer withstand its own power. Tira clings to him, tearfully begging him not to leave her alone. He doesn't.
  • The True Runes of the Suikoden series are an unusual case. If they aren't used, the Runes halt the aging of their bearers, rendering them effectively immortal. However, the True Runes are the Pieces of God in this setting, and are understandably difficult for mere mortals to control. With some of the more volatile True Runes, such as the Rune of Punishment and the Sun Rune, insanity and death are almost inevitable. It doesn't help that the Runes seem to have minds of their own, and seem to somehow manipulate their Bearers into situations where they have to use the Runes' power.
  • Happens to Shiki in Tsukihime where using his magic eyes that can see death stresses his brain from it attempting to understand what it's not supposed to. In addition to repeated use of his eyes, simply having them shortens the user’s lifespan to the point that they will eventually be forced to gouge them out if they want to avoid dying young.
  • Deathwing's skin in World of Warcraft is split open by his inability to contain his power, which threatens to destroy him entirely. He solves this by riveting plates of the strongest metal he can find directly onto his body to keep it in one piece, and as one might expect, is in constant agony. By the time of the Final Battle with him in Cataclysm, the combination of getting those plates ripped off by the heroes, getting shot with an Artifact of Doom, and his ensuing Villainous Breakdown causes him to effectively melt into a raging monstrosity whose head and neck still looks draconic, but is now sporting Combat Tentacles made of molten liquid from his misshapen body.

  • Ysengrin from Gunnerkrigg Court suffers from a somewhat logical version of this: He has the power to control wood and spends all his time with his body encased inside man-shaped armour made from animated wood. As a result his natural body has atrophied from disuse, to the degree that he is barely able to move outside the wooden armour. In addition, the Power at a Price nature of borrowing one of Coyote's powers means his body shakes uncontrollably at times.
  • The main characters in Panthera. Their Super Serum was developed from a failed attempt at a cancer cure, and while it granted them awesome Voluntary Shapeshifting, it also basically turned their entire bodies cancerous. They only have a couple years to live, unless they can find or invent a cure.
  • Colin from Two Keys appears to suffer from this. Whenever he uses magic he ends up getting the Black Eyes of Crazy and blood starts pouring from his orifices. It's implied that his sigils are used to facilitate his magic as well as seal in his powers in some way. It's still unclear why.

    Web Original 
  • In the Red Panda Adventures, this is why none of the government super-soldier programs wanted Mr. Amazing.
  • This happens to Sans in the penultimate episode of Glitchtale Season 2 "Animosity" where using his Special Attack "Gaster Blastermination" a second time against Betty to counter the first attempt she stole with Rhabdophobia caused the Determination in his body to make him melt enough for him to die shortly after overpowering Betty.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, the main characters get superpowers. However, the powers will eventually kill them if they overuse them. Unfortunately, they're using them obtusely, and the Teen Genius who discovers the side effects and can reverse it becomes a Hulk-like figure.
  • Batman Beyond:
    • Bruce Wayne spent most of his life training to become a Badass Normal vigilante. All of the wear and tear that comes from that has caught up with him in his old age: any physical exertion exhausts him, he requires medication for a heart condition, and he needs a cane to walk around thanks to an old leg wound.
    • "The Winning Edge" shows that Bane's super-steroid Venom causes this. A lifetime of Venom use has left Bane a comatose and broken man dependent on Venom and hooked up on life support 24-7.
    • "Heroes" shows three scientists who gained superpowers in a Freak Lab Accident. It turns out that their transformations are slowly killing them and driving them insane.
  • All the clones in Danny Phantom easily dissolve from too much excessive power use. That's because they were stepping stones to the Perfect Clone. Danielle, the one before the Perfect Clone gets lucky as Danny eventually stabilizes her.
  • The Darkwing Duck episode "Going Nowhere Fast" has Darkwing gain Super-Speed as a result of being hit with a time-accelerating weapon by Negaduck. When he uses his newfound power, he does everything at a faster rate, including aging faster.
  • In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2021), Prince Keldor failed a Secret Test of Character when he tried to take the power of Grayskull and was cursed with the power of Havoc. The Havoc ate away his left arm and left a Skeletal Appendage and would continue to consume him little by little if left unchecked. Keldor spent ten years in a stasis shell to try and heal, reawakening to try and take the power of Grayskull in a desperate attempt to undo the damage. Eventually he choses to embrace the power of Havoc, stabilizing his condition so his life is no longer at risk, but is mutated by the power into Skeletor.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Aang's Avatar State kept him sealed in an ice cocoon for 100 years. This drained his long-term vitality, and he died when he was only 66.
    • Korra experiences a form of paralysis and difficulty using Bending after Zaheer captures her and tries to poison her by implanting a liquid metal into her bloodstream. She remains physically impaired following the battle and even after she is detoxified. It continues to worsen her strength until she encounters Toph Beifong, the inventor of Metalbending, and she's able to draw out the hidden traces of metal that even skilled Metalbenders could not, rendering Korra perfectly healthy.
  • ReBoot: After fusing with a broken Glitch, Bob's overuse of his new powers would eventually result in total fragmentation (aka death). This is shown as Bob becoming transparent and staticy. Bob is able to delay the process by consuming extra energy shakes to hold himself together. This problem gets fixed when Bob separates from Glitch.

    Real Life 
  • Doping: you get better in sport, break records, win the love of the crowds... and overexert your body while developing drug addiction and shortening your lifespan. Enjoy your glory.
    • Blood doping, which is the process of removing some of your blood, allowing your body to make more, and then injecting the blood back into your body. Why? Well, more blood means more oxygen is carried from your lungs to your limbs, which lets you push yourself harder. Oh, but it greatly increases your chances of a heart attack or other painfully destructive type of infarction. Have fun and be safe!
  • Exhibition shooter Ed McGivern developed arthritis in his hands — perhaps age-related, but pulling triggers several million times couldn't have helped.
  • Performing at impressive levels in any of a multitude of activities takes its toll on the body. Running is bad for knees, boxing leads to brain damage, rock musicians lose their hearing, studying contributes to eye problems, having a great sex life means exposure to awful diseases, and mountain climbers plummet to their doom... it's hard to be awesome without harming yourself in some way.