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Protagonist Journey to Villain

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"It took me twenty years to strike it rich because I always played it square! I've decided to adopt new methods now!"

"You were right about me all along, Mr. Kent. I am the villain of this story!"
Lex Luthor, Smallville

The Protagonist's Journey to Villain is a plot in which the protagonist, who starts out well-intentioned, turns into a monster. In other words, it's the making of the Villain Protagonist. Sometimes this plot can be backstory, perhaps overlapping with Start of Darkness.

For example, Bob, the happy idealist and doer of good, endures a Trauma Conga Line, loses his loved ones and his morals through a series of battles with evil, and becomes just the opposite of what he once was. He is now a cruel, immoral evildoer.

However, note that this descent into evil has to be the focus of the plot or at least a very important plot point. A mere mention that a bad person was once good is not enough for this trope. This trope is about the journey to evil, not the traveler (Bob), nor the destination.

This is the primary arc in many a Tragedy, which usually ends with the death of the hero-turned-villain as its source of audience catharsis.


This is a subtrope of Fallen Hero, in that this is the journey of the Protagonist. Related to Tragic Hero, He Who Fights Monsters, The Paragon Always Rebels, Face–Heel Turn, Became Their Own Antithesis. Compare and contrast Start of Darkness, where a previously established villain's backstory is revealed. Compare Big Bad Slippage, where a character who may or may not be the protagonist becomes the Big Bad over the course of the story, or Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome, where the "journey" happened off-screen between installments and at best might be elaborated upon. Contrast Redemption Quest.

SPOILER WARNING! In many cases, the mere fact that this trope applies to a work can be a spoiler. Read at your own risk.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Attack on Titan has the entire series focused on Eren Yeager's journey to become the Big Bad of his own series. Eren begins his journey mentally unhinged but antiheroic, then learns to grow up but develops a grudge against all the corruption he finds in society, and when he learns just how far the corruption reaches and how long it has been going on he snaps; he has a well thought out, carefully considered plan that is outright villainous even with its idealistic aims. Though exactly what is going on remains ambiguous. Over the last several months leading up to his attack on Liberio, he was secretly conspiring with Zeke's group and a rogue element within the military itself. Since being brought home, he has refused to explain himself to his old friends and even threatened them with his powers. As Paradis braces for a potential retaliation from the rest of the world for Eren's attack, his actions have also inspired a xenophobic movement that seeks to unseat the current government and restore the old Eldian Empire. With Commander Zackley's assassination coinciding with Eren breaking himself and his followers out of prison, the nation is a powder keg with Eren being set to oppose his former comrades. Finally, Eren manages to reach the mental world of the Titans, speak with the first human to ever be oppressed by them, and gives her free reign to do whatever she wants. Including the choice to destroy the entire world by stomping on everyone with an army of freshly awakened Titans. Which was Eren's plan all along, to kill all non-Paradisians using the above-mentioned Colossal Titans.
  • Berserk devotes much of the Golden Age arc to the relationship between Guts and Griffith, and focuses on the factors which would ultimately lead Griffith to betray Guts and become his number one enemy.
  • While Black Butler started with Ciel already as a Villain Protagonist, many chapters show him getting progressively worse.
  • Black Lagoon: As the series goes on, "outside" character Rock is quickly turning into something else. The opposite is true of Revy, who has actually eased up thanks to Rock's optimism.
  • Code Geass chronicles Lelouch and Suzaku's descent into villainy, if only to save the world.
  • Death Note is this for Light Yagami, though very, very briefly, and is more like a jump than a journey. He starts off just killing dangerous criminals, and initially is seized with fear and guilt over it, but in five day's time he's not only completely gotten over it, but has written more names in the notebook than Ryuk has ever seen one human do. It's only a few episodes before he claims that since his intentions are noble, and the police are trying to stop him, it's perfectly acceptable to murder them as well; to top that off, at this point he's already dripping with gleeful smugness every time he outsmarts a bunch of honest cops, or in one case, the widow of an honest cop he murdered. And from there, things go From Bad to Worse.
  • This is played with in Destiny of the Shrine Maiden. Chikane, being rather attracted to Himeko who already seems interested in someone else, begins to go a tad conflicted. This reaches a head when one of the Orochi Heads uses her desires for Himeko to try and kill her in a scene that remains one of the most well known...for reasons. As a result, Chikane has her way with Himeko, steals Ogami's Orochi mech, kills the other Orochi Heads and awakens Orochi herself. Where the 'played with' part comes up is that Chikane never became evil, she was doing a Batman Gambit to get Himeko to kill her for the world rebirth ritual to be complete and in order to push her far enough to summon a god by herself since a memory of her old self implanted a hatred for said god in the back of her mind. Ultimately, Chikane saved everyone at the cost of her own happiness, but the ending in both the manga and anime suggest that she was given what she wanted in all of her lives but never got.
  • Haruko from FLCL and its sequels, particularly if you believe that Alternative is a Stealth Prequel. In that series she's friendly and, aside from some Memetic Molester behavior, doesn't really do anything villainous. FLCL has her ambiguous for most of the season before turning her into the Big Bad, while Progressive has her at her most antagonistic.

    Card Games 
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game this happens to Gagagigo who started his career as the little and cute Gigobyte and fights along with Eria the Water Charmer. As the grown-up Gagagigo he eventually left her and someday he fought Freed the Brave Wanderer, ended up being trapped in another dimension. He met Marauding Captain and fought against Inpachi, who later appeared again as Blazing Inpachi; the Marauding Captain took the bullet, which inspired Gagagigo to do the same for one of the Captain's men during the war against Invader of Darkness. Later, hoping to defeat Invader of Darkness, he asked the Mad Scientist Kozaky to make him stronger, and Kozaky rebuilt his body and turned him into the corrupted Giga Gagagigo. When he fought against Freed the Brave Wanderer again in his native dimension, he got his own attack reflected and lost. Obsessed with gaining strength to defeat his rivals, he continued his rampage and eventually transformed into Gogiga Gagagigo and truly lost his soul.
    • The following story (which is "written" many years after his transformation) inverts his dark development as he fought Freed the Brave Wanderer again, finally overpowering him, but Marauding Captain appeared and protected him before Gogiga Gagagigo delivered the finishing blow. Instead of following his corrupted instincts, Gogiga Gagagigo understands Marauding Captain's actions and forsakes his quest for power. Thus, he finally becomes the strong warrior of justice he once sought out to be, Gagagigo the Risen.

    Comic Books 
  • Irredeemable is about a Superman Expy called the Plutonian who suffers a complete mental breakdown and flips from hero to villain in a superpower-assisted spree killing. Part of the book involves looking at how he got to that point. And some of his former teammates seem to have started down that same path while trying to stop him...
  • The entire The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck series captures Scrooge's development through life, how his experiences and hardships shaped him from optimistic youth to the money-hungry villain he was in his debut and his eventual redemption. If you pay particular attention to the portraits of the main albums, he gets progressively meaner with each portrait until he ends up a broken old man.
  • Tales of the Jedi: Dark Lords of the Sith is about how Exar Kun and Ulic Qel-Droma turn to The Dark Side. It's a much shorter trip for Kun, who had serious anger issues and a bit of Fantastic Racism all along. Qel-Droma, on the other hand, is first subjected to The Corruption while trying to infiltrate a Sith cult, then ends up killing his own brother and becoming The Dragon to Kun.
  • The Batman Vampire trilogy basically looks at Batman's descent from hero to anti-villain as he battles Dracula and his vampire minions while becoming a vampire himself. In Red Rain, his only victims are feral vampires who are no longer human before he confronts and kills Dracula himself, while in Bloodstorm the vampires he kills are still reasonably human in appearance but Batman nevertheless kills them all once sure that they will go on to kill and feed if he doesn't stop them. After suffering a serious Sanity Slippage by the start of Crimson Mist, Batman has regressed to a feral Anti-Villain state, killing basically all of his traditional rogue's gallery, only prevented from being an outright villain because everyone he kills was unquestionably a killer themselves.
  • Watchmen has this as a subplot for Veidt.
  • Winter Soldier: The Bitter March has Ran Shen already unsure of the morality of Cold War era SHIELD, finally be tipped over the edge by Nick Fury shooting one dog too many and ruining the Winter Soldier's attempted Heel–Face Turn.
  • The "Barren Earth" backup feature in Warlord was effectively this for Jinal Ne'Comarr, who started out just wanting to defend earth from the Qlov. By the time "Barren Earth" became an independent miniseries, Conqueror of the Barren Earth, Jinal was determined to conquer the world by force. Interestingly, Jinal is the hero of the story.
  • Arawn: The entire comic is about Arawn relating his life story to explain how he went from an ordinary human to the demonic Evil Overlord of the underworld.
  • Green Lantern: Hal Jordan's descent into madness after the destruction of Coast City, which eventually led to him taking the name Parallax and annihilating the rest of the Green Lantern Corps in order to claim the powers of Oa for himself was one of the largest and best-realized examples of this trope. Then Parallax was retconned into a quasi-demonic spirit of fear...

    Fan Works 

  • SyxxFox's Rogue Fox Armageddon Soul series in the old shelves of the depleting Star Fox fanfiction archive, has the beloved titular character Fox falls into alarming depths of deep depression that manipulates his broken-heart into bitter resentment at the abandonment of his friends and the refusal of accepting his apology from Krystal after the Anglar Blitz. The result? He fakes his death and commits a crime that sends him to a clandestine government's operation called Slaying Silence aka Project Slayer, a military plan intent on creating supersoldiers out of the hardened-souls of lowlifes and thugs as a countermeasure for Corneria's safety. Ironically, the time he spent there only darkens his heart before he eventually loses it once he is sent on assassination missions, becoming cruel and cold-hearted. It worsens when Krystal crosses his path again as "Kursed" (which happens in one of Command's endings) and the clash results in him becoming more sadistic and vengeful (and hateful towards Krystal) as he eventually becomes an illegalist after defecting with his newfound lover and team. The next story "Spare Your Soul" is even darker because he literally obliterates Corneria in an act of vengeance soon afterward. And though he is defeated in the sequel, it is heavily implied by both the readers and author himself, that he will return seeking revenge once his forced servitude to repay the souls he took in his path of destruction ends, starting with Krystal and eventually his father.
  • In Code Geass: Mao of the Deliverance, Mao's frustration, growing insanity, and desperation twist him into a much more manipulative and brutal person. Later chapters, however, appear to hint at a moral recovery.
  • In Death Note fanfic Fade, L turns progressively worse after he gets his hands on a Death Note, containing a part of the story of Kira's rise to power.
  • The Darkness Series: Harry Potter and the Descent Into Darkness. It's Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Harry is embittered by the abandonment of his friends following the fiasco with the Goblet of Fire and allows the horcrux access to his mind. He finds comfort in his new imaginary friend who guides him to Salazar Slytherin's Library in the Chamber of Secrets for guidance on how to survive the tournament.
  • This quite amazing fanvid about the Tenth Doctor of Doctor Who. The scariest part is that the song (which is also an example of this trope) actually does fit his canon personality to a T.
  • Tristan Winter (formerly known as Harry Potter) in the The Jaded Eyes Series begins his journey into villainy when he's six years old.
  • Happens to Simba in The Lion King Adventures. Starting with the deaths of Mufasa and Sarabi in The Master Plan, Simba changes throughout Series Five from a hero into a fearsome killer. It turns out in The End that the Writer was manipulating everything around him in order to make him evil. However, upon realizing this, Simba changes his ways, eventually killing the Writer and saving the entire universe. He goes back to normal from then on.
  • Child of the Storm occasionally notes how both Magneto and Loki went down this path and managed to turn away. It also hints that, unless he's careful, Harry could potentially follow the same path and become something far worse than Magneto ever was. It's not a likely possibility, but it's there.
    • It becomes significantly more likely after his encounter with the Red Room, transformation into the Red Son, and then willing transformation into the Dark Phoenix.
  • The Vow has the Start of Darkness of Lord Shen included for the first part of the story.
  • The Makings of Team CRME: Cinder's character arc in this series is basically the story of how she became the monster she is in the show. She goes from pitiable abused little girl to vengeful young woman, from that to manipulative power-seeker, and from that to full-blown megalomaniac. Her fall is not a pretty one.
  • Team Four Star's playthrough of Dragon Ball Xenoverse, shows the adventures of their character Dumplin before he becomes their universe's version of Mr. Popo.

    Films - Animation 
  • Sunset Shimmer of the My Little Pony: Equestria Girls spin-off universe of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic inverts this. She is the Big Bad of the first film, the Deuteragonist of the second, and finally The Hero from the third film, going forward.
    • Though on a smaller level, Sunset's pictures of her as Princess of the Fall Formal show her progressing from "genuine and innocent" to "condescending and entitled" to "outright power-hungry".
  • Megamind is an Inversion of this trope. The titular character, whom started out as a villain due to past experiences and growing up with not having the best role models or life experiences. Only throughout the events of the film (some of the events being of his own fault) he slowly begins to become a superhero and takes Metro Man's place as Metro City's main hero.

    Films – Live-Action 
  • Andrew Detmer from Chronicle, although in his case it'd be more of him not willing to be a whipping boy to those who have constantly abused him. He starts the movie with an abusive father and a terminally ill mother, then he gains telekinetic powers through an alien device. Andrew becomes something of a Social Darwinist and uses increasingly destructive means to lash out against his bullies and provide for his mother until he finally snaps and becomes an insane Omnicidal Maniac who lays waste to Seattle.
  • Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane goes from being a muckraking journalist to a megalomaniacal narcissist who's only interested in running his newspaper empire.
  • Harvey Dent/Two-Face in The Dark Knight. As he says himself, a hero could end up live long enough to see himself as a villain, foreshadows his own future and he ends up having this as his character theme.
  • Assumed within the plot of Dracula Untold, with Vlad III calling himself Son of the Dragon, and eventually calling himself Son of the Devil by the end. However, it's also a Subverted Trope, as he gains a lot of humanity over the course of the film, to the point of seeing his past massacres as the Impaler as disturbing, and killing his entire vampire army so as to protect his son.
  • The Spaghetti Western Faccia A Faccia has a mild-mannered Boston professor turn into a ruthless criminal over the course of the film.
  • Falling Down: An interesting version where not only does the protagonist Bill Foster aka D-Fens become "the bad guy", but the roles are also reversed with his Hero Antagonist Detective Prendergast, who initially seems like a forgettable side character. Foster starts the film by lashing out at the societal annoyances he sees around him, but his actions become increasingly bolder as he takes an entire restaurant hostage to complain about the bad food, blows up a construction site, and causes several deaths. By the time that Foster and Prendergast come face to face and Foster realizes that he's the bad guy in all this and the Decoy Protagonist, it comes as a shock to the audience who were identifying with Bill up until then.
  • Arguably the case for Abigail in The Favourite, as she starts out a kind-natured Fallen Princess, who was previously a Lady before her father gambled away all the family fortune, including Abigail herself, so she sets out to join her cousin Sarah at Queen Anne's court in hopes of getting it back. However, as she is sucked into the world of politics and is abused consistently by the staff, Sarah and the Duke, Abigail adapts to their cruel, underhanded ways alarmingly quickly, going from playing nice around Queen Anne as an antidote to Sarah's personality, faking tears when people push her too far, drugging Sarah's tea, seducing a Lord, marrying him and then all but dumping him once she gets her title back. Her cruelty finally culminates in getting Sarah officially banished from Court and intercepting her letters to the Queen, leaving Anne heartbroken, blatantly cheating on her husband in front of him, and finally stomping on one of Queen Anne's beloved pet bunnies (whom she views as surrogate children) until she nearly kills it. Queen Anne is not amused.
  • Seth Brundle in The Fly (1986) starts as a sweet, brilliant scientist... then, in the midst of a drunken bender in the wake of a romantic misunderstanding, he makes a Tragic Mistake with his teleportation project and ends up unknowingly merged with a housefly on the molecular-genetic level. The resultant mutation is a Slow Transformation from the inside-out that not only turns him into a walking Body Horror but slowly erodes his human morals and reason. Realizing that he's becoming "an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it", he turns his still-devoted lover Veronica away because he knows he will hurt her at some point if he doesn't. Alas, it's only afterward that he learns she's pregnant with his child, and between this and his desperate hopes to retain some of his humanity he kidnaps her before she can have an abortion, gruesomely maims the ex-lover who comes to rescue her with corrosive vomit, and then tries to forcibly merge himself with her and their unborn child, during which his final One-Winged Angel transformation takes place and he becomes a monster in every possible sense. His plan fails and renders him a Clipped-Wing Angel, and Veronica ends up killing him at his voiceless request. (One reason the film was financed by a production company rather than by 20th Century Fox directly was because executives weren't sure this trope would appeal to audiences of The '80s.)
  • Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning not only ended with "Jason Voorhees" revealed to be a copycat killer, it also implied that Tommy Jarvis, the protagonist of both this film and the previous one, had been left so traumatized by his ordeal that he had snapped and become a killer himself. It culminates in a Bolivian Army Ending where he sneaks up on the Final Girl Pam with a knife while wearing a familiar hockey mask. The negative fan reception to this film, however, caused the filmmakers to drop that story in the next film, Jason Lives, which revealed the ending of A New Beginning to be a hallucination.
  • The protagonist in Gate of Hell is a noble, brave samurai. He falls in love with a lady-in-waiting at the emperor's court and asks for her hand, only to find out she's already married. He doesn't take "no" for an answer, and by the end, he is a homicidal villain.
  • The Godfather trilogy is all about Michael Corleone's transformation from White Sheep of a crime family to its ruthless leader, and subsequent doomed attempts to atone. Initially, he's not supposed to be involved in the family business at all, as his father genuinely wants someone in the next generation to leave their criminal past behind, but Michael is drawn in in order to protect him from assassination and ends up being the only real candidate to succeed him. He starts out promising his wife that he too intends to make the family legitimate, and his justification for everything is that he's protecting his family. But it turns out he thinks the best way to do that is by consolidating his power and taking out all his enemies in one fell swoop, who happen to include his brother-in-law. The second movie takes the paradox further — now the enemies he's wiping out are a terminally ill man who's no threat to him anyway and, famously, his own brother, and in the meantime his coldness and the violence that surrounds him have driven his wife and children away. The third film has him as a tragic figure realizing that he can't undo what he's done and that the future of the family is out of his hands, and eventually receiving the ultimate poetic punishment: seeing his daughter killed by a bullet meant for him.
    • The subplot for Part II is a flashback detailing how Michael's father Vito started out as a poor immigrant orphan, turning to crime after being fired to feed his family, and rose to become one of the most powerful Dons in the nation.
  • The Hand showcases Jon's dark descent from cartoonist and family man into madness, violence and perhaps murder (depending on whether you believe the Evil Hand actually exists or is just a product of Jon's delusion).
  • The entire scope of The Human Condition is this, which sees Kaji go from an idealistic hero to a cynical demoralized drifter.
  • Joker (2019) details a version of The Joker's, starting from a man who suffers from mental illness and is ostracized by society and going through his path to becoming Batman's archenemy.
  • If you consider her a villain rather than a feminist icon, Valerie Solanas in I Shot Andy Warhol.
  • I Shot Jesse James features an odd example, as it's a villain becoming good before going bad again. Robert Ford starts out as just another outlaw, who then tries to go straight and get married. However, frontier society repeatedly shuns and shames him for killing Jesse James, eventually leading to his final bout of madness when his girlfriend decides to leave him.
  • Let Me In has a very tragic example with the main character Owen, who starts the story off as meek boy being horribly abused by bullies at school, neglected at home, deeply lonely and showing signs of snapping from his situation. And that's before he meets the vampire, Abby. By the end of the film he's run away with her, accepting her vampiric nature completely and regardless of whether she turns him into a vampire as well, or just uses him as her caretaker, he'll be living a violent life until he dies.
  • Mean Girls is a comedic take on this, exploring how a seemingly normal, sweet, and kind teenage girl like Cady Heron can transform into an Alpha Bitch without even realizing it. Her quest for revenge against Regina George winds up dragging her down to Regina's level as she employs the same underhanded tactics that Regina did to ruin the lives of countless girls who crossed her, eventually culminating in a "The Reason You Suck" Speech from her friend Janis who realized what Cady had become. The third act is about Cady's Heel Realization driving her to claw her way back from her villainy and become the protagonist again.
  • My Best Friend's Wedding is a rom-com variation of this, although the film is clever enough to hide it under the usual Julia Roberts tropes for the first half of the film.
  • Pirates of Silicon Valley focuses a lot on Steve Jobs' transformation from a counter-culture child of The '60s to a hard-driving Bad Boss who's consumed by his ambition and drives away his friends. He gets better.
  • The Queen of Black Magic: Over the course of the film, Murni goes from innocent woman to lynching victim to vengeful sorceress to trying to slaughter the entire village before finally sacrificing herself to achieve redemption.
  • The Ruling Class is a very peculiar case as the main character, Jack Gurney is from start to finish completely insane. He starts however with the harmless delusion of being Jesus Christ and a loving God who wishes goodwill to everyone. Then they give him a rather nasty breaking speech that completely shatters his emotional world and the keystones of his world view. He crosses the Despair Event Horizon and almost becomes an empty husk of a man. But then his willpower facilitates another identity from zero, in accordance with his new grim understanding of the world. And thus Jack aka Jack the Ripper was born. He was cured alright...
  • It was originally assumed that this would be the plot of The Scorpion King, as the prequel to The Mummy Returns, but the film ends with Mathias still the hero. The only indication that he'll eventually become a villain is a single reference at the end that his future won't necessarily be happy. Word of God later retconned Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns into Mathias's Identical Grandson.
  • The Social Network. It shows Mark's slide from average nerd to a possible Corrupt Corporate Executive due to one mean streak too many. Around the end of the film, he realizes his mistakes, but has somewhat realized he's gone too far to fix them and tries to make some amends by friend requesting his ex-girlfriend who he insulted over the course of the film.
  • The Star Wars prequels as well as Star Wars: The Clone Wars are pretty much Anakin Skywalker's fall from grace. The original trilogy is his journey towards redemption.
  • Stoker documents India Stoker's spiral from a polite and mostly harmless (if a bit creepy) teenage girl, to a murderer. This is largely thanks to her relationship with Uncle Charlie.
  • Travis in Taxi Driver is a more ambiguous case. He starts out alienated, and then by the end he attempts to assassinate a senator (though, admittedly, he fails) and kills three people, two of whom were complete strangers. Interestingly, because he is never tied to the former, no one else in the story actually sees him as such.
  • Washizu in Throne of Blood. Since the film is based on Macbeth, this is not a surprise.
  • Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He starts off as our main character, but our allegiance gradually switches to his partners as he comes down with Gold Fever and eventually goes bad.
  • X-Men: First Class revolves around Magneto seeking revenge for the murder of his mother and his increasing acceptance of mutant supremacy. He also persuades Charles' foster sister Raven (aka Mystique) to follow along with him so she can be accepted.
  • Remus in the Italian movie Il Primo Re. At the start, he and Romulus are just two shepherds who love each other. Then a flood of the Tiber kills their flock and leaves them to be captured by the Albani to be sacrificed, and during their escape with other perspective victims he becomes progressively crueler, before snapping and turning to murder and burning down the village he had tried to settle in when the Vestal kidnapped from Alba prophetizes that the one who will found an empire will kill his brother, and at the end Romulus has to kill him to protect the villagers, fulfilling the prophecy in a way neither brother nor the Vestal had expected.
  • In The VVitch, Thomasin starts the film as a pious Puritan who's trying her best to help her family survive out in the wilderness. Then the plot happens — the family is terrorized by supernatural activity, resulting in a Witch Hunt where the main suspect is Thomasin herself. By the end, Thomasin's been forced to murder her own mother in self-defense, everyone in her family is dead, and she's alone in the middle of nowhere with no food and no means to provide for herself, and winter is on its way. So she signs the Devil's book and joins the witches' coven, because it's her only hope for survival.

  • Breakfast of Champions puts a spin on this. From the get-go, it's a Foregone Conclusion that Dwayne Hoover will become a lunatic who will savagely assault several people. However, despite providing in-verse reasons for his change from a loving, charismatic man to a violently unhinged brute, it's ultimately because the author, Kurt Vonnegut made it so.
  • The title character in Stephen King's Carrie (and its film adaptations) is a kind-hearted, but socially outcast teenage girl who spends the first half of the book getting slowly beaten down and pushed to her Rage-Breaking Point by her classmates, the school faculty, and even her own mother. The second half is about the massacre she commits as a result when what happens at the Senior Prom makes her snap.
  • This is Geder Palliako's arc across The Dragon's Path, the first volume of The Dagger and the Coin. Initially introduced as a bumbling, nerdy young knight from a minor noble family, the realization that he was set up to take the fall for his country's failed occupation of a captured city state (when taken in tandem with his Fatal Flaws of a Lack of Empathy when it comes to his big plans and a penchant for Disproportionate Retribution when he feels he's being mocked) drives him to his first atrocity, and he spends most of the rest of the book vacillating between saying I Did What I Had to Do and My God, What Have I Done?. Then he meets a creepy cult of spider-worshippers who have decided Geder is their Dark Messiah who will lead their religion in conquering the world, and who have the powers to make him believe it too. By the middle of the second book, Geder is well on his way to full Evil Overlord territory.
  • The Empirium Trilogy: Rielle's storyline is about her transition from being the long awaited, beloved Sun Queen to the long feared and widely hated Blood Queen, traitor of her kind.
  • Gingema's Daughter, the first book in Sergey Sukhinov's Emerald City series, is about the adventures of Corina, originally an ordinary, if somewhat lazy, girl. She starts her way as an understudy of Gingema, then runs away to travel with her wolf companion. She lives by different families, usually helping them magically in secret. But gradually, she decides that Being Good Sucks since everybody bothers you with requests, and being feared is as important as being loved. She deceives the Woodsman to do her bidding by pretending to be the daughter of his former sweetheart and ultimately manipulates him into deposing the Scarecrow, thus becoming the ruler of Emerald city. The rulership she establishes is a Crapsaccharine World: there is food for free and low taxes, but cross Corina in any way and you are dead or turned into a small animal. By the second book, she kills Ellie's parents and becomes a fully-fledged villain.
  • In Gormenghast, the titular castle, a massive rambling city-state, is also an oppressive social structure where people are locked into their social roles and even their occupations from the moment of birth. No social mobility is possible and nobody has ever seriously tried to challenge the system. That is, until the advent of a kitchen scullion called Steerpike, who tires of being bullied and overworked in the dungeon kitchens. Escaping from the kitchens, Steerpike literally and metaphorically makes his way up in the hierarchy - initially by physically scaling the outside of the Castle. At first, he is a romantic hero who arouses the reader's sympathy. But little by little, his ambition to rise to the very top and supplant the ruling Groan family takes over, with deceptions, manipulation, and finally murder in support of his goal. The boy hero becomes a murdering villain, slowly but surely, across the course of two books.
  • In Hekla's Children, a fantasy-horror novel by James Brogden, the story starts off as protagonist Nathan Brookes investigation into the discovery of a body in a bog and his quest for redemption in an incident 10 years ago that led to the disappearance of 4 students under his supervision. Much later in the story, he's revealed to be a Decoy Protagonist and through a millennias-old Time Loop is actually the monster that started the whole mess in the first place and then another character is revealed to be the true Chosen One.
  • Despite the name, it appears that Heroes Save the World will be featuring at least a couple of these.
  • In Livy's The History of Rome, which is a record of real events (though entirely based on legend for the earlier parts), embellished where the author felt it necessary, this is a major theme for more than a few of the kings and consuls of early Rome.
  • The Horus Heresy has done this for Horus, Fulgrim and Lorgar and Alpharius Omegon.
  • Michael Swanwick's thematically-paired novels The Iron Dragon's Daughter and Jack Faust are Deconstructor Fleets that demonstrate how SF/Fantasy genre wish-fulfillment fantasies end up turning the protagonists into Omnicidal Maniacs. The former has a female protagonist and targets Land of Faerie and Changeling Fantasy tropes, while the latter has a male protagonist and targets hard-SF "competent man" tropes.
  • The Lightbringer Series does this with Liv, and also provides a fitting quote for this trope itself: "Idealists mature badly; they either become idiots or hypocrites."
  • In the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, this is the supposed backstory. A thousand years ago a champion, the 'Hero of Ages' rose up to defeat an (unspecified) evil known only as 'The Deepness' but upon his victory, he took possession of the world as its Lord Ruler.
    "For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years, the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the "Sliver of Infinity", reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible."
    • The heroes of this story find an old logbook written by the man who would become the Lord Ruler which shows how he began his quest as a humble, earnest man trying to save the world. In the end, the truth becomes far more complicated as the Lord Ruler's motivations are slowly revealed throughout the trilogy. The short version is that the hero, Alendi, was duped by prophecies being altered by Ruin, an Omnicidal Maniac deity trapped in the Well of Ascension who would be released if the hero reached the Well and "released" the power. When the scholar who originally prophesized the hero learned the truth, he had his allies pose as guides and murder Alendi when he reached the Well. Then one of the guides named Rashek took the power in the Well and kept it, keeping Ruin trapped and becoming the Lord Ruler. He was driven insane over time by Ruin, becoming a Well-Intentioned Extremist Evil Overlord.
  • 1984 combines this with The Bad Guy Wins, as The Party successfully brainwashes Winston into becoming another one of their drones before killing him.
  • This is the plot of the first three novels of The Reynard Cycle. Reynard begins the series as a Loveable Rogue. By the end of the third novel, he has morphed into the Big Bad. And he did it all for love.
  • Yarvi starts out The Shattered Sea as a teen Guile Hero who while somewhat more ruthless than your unusual YA protagonist of this type, is still a good guy. After he loses a POV in the second book, he comes off as a more sinister figure and enacts some morally questionable plans, but since they work out for the best, he seems like he still might be the same old Yarvi. However, by the end of the third book, Yarvi is more or less the Big Bad and is a ruthless schemer worse than those he opposes, and is willing to sacrifice his loved ones and everyone else to satisfy his obsession with revenge and self-validation.
  • The Shining. It starts off with Jack being a happy family man, albeit with a dark past, until the influence of the hotel drives him to madness and monstrosity.
  • Fëanor's whole arc in The Silmarillion is his descent from hero to Anti-Hero to psychotic, obsessive Villain Protagonist.
  • The Transformers: TransTech story "I, Lowtech" is the first-person perspective story of a Corrupt Corporate Executive trying to figure out why he seems to no longer be in his real body. While he was not exactly good to start off with, he was (technically) law-abiding and never caused direct harm. Until a combo of his first violent act done in self-defense and nobody taking his claims of a body swap seriously makes him realize Evil Feels Good/Evil Is Easy and causes him to start going insane and degenerating into a rampaging serial killer who kills just because it's convenient/for revenge.
  • The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor deals with how Philip Blake/The Governor became what he is. Needless to say, it isn't what you were probably expecting.
  • Well of Darkness, first book of The Sovereign Stone Trilogy, provides the origin story for Dagnarus, his lover Lady Valura, and his Dragon Shakur (though admittedly, Shakur was pretty evil even before he met Dagnarus). The subsequent two books deal with them as main villains.
  • Wicked is the Wicked Witch of the West's descent into madness and evil.
  • The wolf-dog protagonist in The Wolves of Paris began as a tragic puppy who lost his innocent views after a month, turning into a bloodthirsty, vicious and irredeemable dog who eats livestock and eventually human flesh for food.
  • The first nineteen or so arcs of Worm describe how Taylor went from a bullied schoolgirl with dreams of being a superhero to Queen of the Brockton Bay underworld. That said, the trope is subverted after that, when Taylor quits the Undersiders to join the Wards, believing, based on Dinah's predictions, that this is the best way to save the world. Double Subverted later, when speaking to another villain who has committed atrocities in the name of saving the world, where she says that she would take it all back if she could, as the price was too high. Taylor's not the only one, either. Alexandria's Interlude shows her progress from an innocent teenager dying of cancer to one of the most powerful superheroes on Earth to an "ends justify the means" tyrant with good publicity.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24 as a whole does this for Tony Almeida, Allison Taylor, Renee Walker, and Jack Bauer himself; with Tony's arc following through in season 7 and Taylor, Walker and Jack going through this by the final season. By the time it's over, none of them are that much better than the terrorists, either by willingly aiding them, endangering innocent people to selfishly enact revenge on them rather than mete out any true justice, or both. Though in the case of the latter three they do ultimately see the light by the end. Counting sequel series, the former eventually does as well.
  • The title character of Angel has this. A couple of times (although to be fair to him, one of these was deliberately provoked by his enemies, another was the result of manipulation by their enemy, and the final time he was trying to trick his opponents to infiltrate them.
  • In Babylon 5 Londo Mollari's arc is basically his descent into this trope and then his struggle back out again.
  • Mitchell goes through this throughout the seasons in Being Human he starts off as a genuinely good guy, fighting his addiction. Then after Herrick is temporarily killed off by George, he becomes the leader of the Vampires in Bristol and manages to convince most, if not all of them to let go of their blood addiction...then their gathering place is bombed by a person he trusted. He then crosses the Moral Event Horizon and kills 20 people in a train. Then instead of trying to redeem himself, he sinks further and further into depravity and keeping secrets during Season 3, focusing on trying to save his own life and keep his role in the massacre secret, which concludes with him outright asking his friends to kill him so that he won't become a monster again.
  • Boardwalk Empire starts out with Nucky Thompson already long established as a Corrupt Politician and mastermind behind a criminal operation which soon turns to bootlegging when Prohibition legislation is passed. However, much of season 5 focuses on a younger version of Nucky growing up in Atlantic City and his turn to criminality to advance himself by making a Deal with the Devil with the Commodore to contrast with the present day collapse of Nucky's empire.
  • Cesare Borgia from The Borgias is a perfect example of this (which makes sense, as he, historically, was the inspiration for Michael Corleone. He starts out as The Dutiful Son, a reluctant priest who would do anything to protect his family. Over the course of two seasons, he grows into the Magnificent Bastard who would inspire Machiavelli's "The Prince"... and murders his brother, thus destroying his relationship with his parents.
    • His sister Lucrezia (with whom he shares a good deal of Villainous Incest subtext before they eventually have sex) does this on a lesser scale. She's ultimately a good person but is still quite the manipulative bitch with a mean streak.
  • Breaking Bad has arguably become the modern-day codifier, with five seasons made entirely of this. Walter White starts out as a decent, law-abiding and substantially sympathetic character, who clearly loves his wife and children and is driven into a "victimless" crime in order to pay the bills after he's diagnosed with late-stage cancer. However, by the end of the first episode, he has already brought someone near-death, and before the first season is over, he has already turned down legitimate means of business, because his main motivator is his Pride. The show's creator Vince Gilligan said that his goal was to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface.
    • From there, he spends four long seasons falling deeper and deeper into villainy. It's explored from every angle, always giving Walter some excuse or justification until the viewer finally notices that Walter is enjoying all of this. He willfully dives back into the criminal world at every opportunity even when given real chances to get out, abuses every connection ruthlessly to get what he wants, and leaves a massive trail of bodies in his wake culminating in the destruction of many innocent lives (inevitable given his meth business), and the ripping apart of his family. Worse is how he drags his partner, Jesse, down with him, first giving the messed up kid a real sense of self-worth, and then systematically taking away so many of the things that he loved.
    • By the end of the series, Walt is either directly or indirectly responsible for more deaths than everyone else in the series combined, two characters who hate each other can agree that Walt is figuratively the devil, and everyone in his family, his partner, and most of his business associates, have wanted him dead at some point.
    • Similarly, the prequel Better Call Saul chronicles the journey of an ex-con and aspiring and hopeful lawyer Jimmy McGill to the criminal lawyer Saul Goodman, who willingly throws in with criminals like Walt and Mike just to earn some extra money, and is very evident in comparison with Jimmy and Saul in Seasons 1 and 6. In Season 1, Jimmy swore off all connections with the cartel after almost getting killed by Tuco and tried to fight for the elderly being defrauded by their residential company, whereas by Season 6, Saul has used the elderly to just to bump off a potential competitor from the bar association, created a scheme to defraud Howard and HHM just for petty vengeance even when Howard himself was willing to forgive him and bring him to HHM, and tricked the entire jury into releasing the very guilty Lalo Salamanca, enabling him to cause further murders.
  • On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow gets pushed on the journey to villainy in season 6. though she's already well on her way by mid-season 4 with her continuing attempts to use magic for control over others, the lack of any real consequences for her actions, and the lack of deterrents against her using magic for whatever she wills. Her villainy really culminates with the mind-rape/rape of Tara mid-season 6 and total refusal to acknowledge that what she did was wrong and why. Everything after that (killing Warren, trying to kill Buffy et al.) is just follow-up.
  • Cobra Kai: The series is in many ways defined by this trope.
    • Inverted by Johnny Lawrence. After being the bully in The Karate Kid (1984), he is the protagonist this time around and is actively trying to better himself by battling alcoholism and teaching bullied kids to stand up for themselves. He is still a drunken, sexist, foul-mouthed Jerkass with his head stuck in the past, but he is definitely working on being a better person.
    • Daniel LaRusso, meanwhile, is also stuck in the past, and uses increasingly immoral methods to fight the resurgence of Cobra Kai, since he firmly believes that the modern Cobra Kai is exactly as bad as the one that Terry Silver indoctrinated him into in The Karate Kid Part III, and refuses to believe that Johnny has changed and that John Kreese was the reason Cobra Kai was the haven for bullies it was.
    • The series ultimately proves that while Daniel may or may not have been justified, he was right. Johnny's students take to the least savory parts of the Cobra Kai ethos with the zeal of converts, and by the end of the second season, Johnny drinks himself into a stupor when he finds out first-hand just how brutal and ruthless his students are. Though he fails to realize that unlike Kreese, Johnny is mortified at what he's turned his students into and wants to put a stop to it. His failure to recognize that creates a new set of problems.
    • In season 1, Johnny's son Robby Keene goes to work for Daniel to spite his father, and despite his original ulterior motive, Robby grows to appreciate Daniel's faith in him and turns against his miscreant friends. Robby becomes Daniel's Miyagi-Do karate student and flourishes under this tutelage, coming in second place to Miguel Diaz in the All-Valley Tournament. In the second season, Robby continues to train under Daniel and begins dating Daniel's daughter Sam. But he's insecure about Miguel's constant efforts to reconnect with Sam, and things come to a head in the season finale when Sam cheats on him with Miguel and Miguel throws this in Robby's face during the school brawl. An enraged Robby kicks Miguel over a railing, leaving him paralyzed while Robby spends season 3 in juvie. Kreese then takes advantage of Robby having fallings out with both Daniel and Johnny to get under his skin, getting Robby to buy into the Cobra Kai mentality. The final straw is when he catches Sam having an intimate moment with Miguel and she steps in to stop Robby from attacking him, prompting Robby to go to Cobra Kai and throw his lot in with Kreese.
  • Played with in Doctor Who, especially with Seven and Ten, the most scheming and manipulative of his incarnations. The threat of the Valeyard has hung over everything the Doctor has done since Six, and the Doctor has done some truly horrible things for the sake of what he thinks is right, up to and including genocide (of his own people, albeit only to stop them doing worse to the entire universe), and Big Finish has done a couple of alternate continuity audio dramas of the Doctor gone bad note .
    • More specifically, the final stretch of Series 9 ("Face the Raven"/"Heaven Sent"/"Hell Bent") covers the Twelfth Doctor taking this journey when No Good Deed Goes Unpunished for him. A plot to capture him hatched between Ashildr and the Time Lords, people who owe their lives to him, inadvertently leads to not only his capture but the death of his companion Clara. Imprisoned in a gigantic torture chamber after this, alone save for the Monster of the Week and thus without any kind of Morality Chain, he undergoes a Sanity Slippage as he lets his anguish overwhelm him and emerges a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds who risks the safety of the entire space-time continuum just to get Clara back. In the end, he repents of his understandable but unacceptable behavior and returns to his best self when he has his memories of her wiped relieving him of the anger and grief that drove him to extremes. In fact his overall Myth Arc reverses the journey some Doctors had as he starts out grumpy, secretive, insensitive, and ruthless (it's heavily implied he outright kills his first major opponent, the Half-Face Man, although it's clear he doesn't have other options), but "dies" as one of the kindest, most loving Doctors of all. He even gets his memories of Clara back shortly before regenerating. His last line — "Doctor, I let you go." — is even the inverse of Ten's "I don't want to go."
  • Game of Thrones includes this as the final Plot Twist. Where Daenerys Stormborn completes her ascension into the Big Bad right before the finale.
  • This trope is the whole point of Hannibal. Hyper-empathetic, anti-social FBI profiler Will Graham is manipulated by Hannibal Lecter into becoming a killer.
  • In The Hollow Crown: The Wars of The Roses, Richard of Gloucester (later Richard III) starts as honorable young man fighting for his family's claim to the throne, but the murders of his father and younger brother, the brutality of war, his incompetent older brothers, and the fact that he can never lead a normal life because of his deformities lead him to become a ruthless, backstabbing, cold hearted swordsman who kills his way to the crown, cares for no one and dies alone in the battle of Bosworth.
  • This trope serves as the premise of Kamen Rider Zi-O, the Milestone Celebration series for the Heisei era of Kamen Rider. Sougo Tokiwa’s dream is to be the greatest king in history and he succeeds fifty years becoming Oma Zi-O, a demon king responsible for the Bad Future shown in the Cold Opening. Due to Oma Zi-O's strength at that point and time being far too terrifyingly powerful for anyone to challenge directly, multiple factions go back in time to 2018 in order to prevent the rise of the tyrant - for better or for worse. The only question in present time is whether or not Sougo can actually defy his seemingly set path and change the future without giving up his dream or succumbing into villainy. Gets Played With in the finale. While he does end up becoming Oma Zi-O, this is just a temporary state as Sougo sacrifices this power to repair the timeline and bring all of this friends back to life.
  • Morgana Pendragon from Merlin. Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds to manipulative, chronic smirker.
  • Once Upon a Time: Nimue is initially introduced as Merlin's lover, but her anger at Vortigan sends her on a foolish and self-destructive path to defeat him, which ends in her becoming the first Dark One.
  • Lex Luthor's journey from good to evil in Smallville is the most prominent plot, second only to Clark's journey to Superman, in the first seven seasons (after the seventh season Lex was left crippled in a disaster that temporarily depowered Clark, leaving him a Dark Lord on Life Support until an alternate version of his father made a Deal with the Devil to restore Lex to full health).
  • Season 5 of Sons of Anarchy (and possibly the whole series) is very much about this for Jax Teller.
    • E.Z. Reyes in Mayans M.C. goes through an accelerated and far worse version of the same character arc. In Season One he's a former golden boy and new Prospect to the Mayans forced to go undercover and inform on them to earn a pardon for his wrongful murder conviction. Over the course of the first season he makes an increasing slips further into the criminal lifestyle, to the point he choses to remain with the Mayans after his record is expunged. As a full patch he makes a number of moral compromises to protect himself, his older brother and the club, including killing several people for real, but generally remains a sympathetic Anti-Hero. The turning point is mifdway through Season Four where he murders his innocent ex-girlfriend to prevent her informing on his brother and becomes utterly cold and ruthless. He executes his prison mentor in cold blood, seizes control of the Mayans, aligns himself with his former Arch-Enemy Miguel Galindo and leads the Mayans into an all=out war against the So A.
  • This is one plot line of the fourth season of Supernatural. Sweet, heroic Sam just wanted to save his brother from hell and fight demons, especially Lilith, who was trying to kickstart the Apocalypse. So he started using his demonic psychic powers to exorcise demons and save possessed people. He even manages to stop Samhain from destroying a town and shattering more of the seals on Lucifer's cage. Despite his brother's dire warnings, the audience has a hard time condemning his intentions right up until it's revealed the powers come from drinking demon blood. By the season finale, he's so addicted to the power that he abducts a possessed woman, forces her into a trunk while she pleads for her life, murders her, and drains her body of blood, kills Lilith, and inadvertently lets Lucifer walk free. Much of the fifth season involves his painful search for redemption.
  • Tyrant is very likely this, given that the harmless-looking Western-educated pediatrician protagonist is based on harmless-looking Western-educated ophthalmologist Bashir al-Assad. Ultimately proven correct when the series was unexpectedly cancelled at the end of season 3. By that point, Bassam al-Fayeed rules the country of Abuddin with an iron fist, has lost or driven away many of the people he cared about, and knowingly plunges the country back into war to destroy the Caliphate insurgent army who killed his daughter. He did turn out to be his father's son.
  • The German World War II drama Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter has Friedhelm, who starts out as a compassionate if somewhat cynical new Wehrmacht recruit, and is gradually transformed by the horrors of war into a Sociopathic Soldier who willingly carries out brutal reprisals against suspected partisans and civilians.
  • Happens to William in Westworld during The Reveal of the show's three concurrent timeframes in "The Well-Tempered Clavier", of which William is involved in two. The 30 years in the past time frame follows him as a milquetoast and heroic young man roped into a company trip with his business partner and brother-in-law Logan. After spending several days being berated by Logan for his heroism when Logan only came there for the debauchery, as well as being forced to do progressively more morally dubious things and culminating in a Breaking Speech from Logan that shatters his worldview, William ruthlessly slaughters an entire camp of Hosts and threatens to kill Logan if he doesn't follow his orders. Cut to the present day, and we see William has become a long time patron of the park known only as the Man in Black who ruined his marriage and devolved into a violent, raping sociopath in his quest to find the true meaning of the park.
  • Why Women Kill: Alma increasingly becomes more malevolent as soon as she buries Mrs. Yost in her gardens. Her dream to just be in the garden club motivates her actions the most moving forward, as she is unwilling to let anything ruin that to the point of theft. However, her breaking point is when Rita's Disproportionate Retribution shuts her out of her dream club. Eventually, her opinion is Murder Is the Best Solution as shown with the murders of Carlo and Isabel just to keep her garden club position, as even Bertram knows her true reason for murdering the latter.
  • Wolf Hall frames the career of Thomas Cromwell this way. He starts off as a man with a rough past who finds a job doing legal work for Cardinal Wolsey. He has many sympathetic qualities, a loving father and husband, a Self-Made Man who is loyal to Wolsey until the end and Nice to the Waiter besides. He enables Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn and enacts policy with efficiency and ability. But when Henry turns on Anne, Cromwell is motivated not only by the lesson of Wolsey's fate but because he sees an opportunity to avenge the men who (indirectly) caused Wolsey's death and then jeered it. He orchestrates the Kangaroo Court and uses the whim of a tyrant to avenge a long-ago insult—the final scenes of the series indicate that he's well-aware of what he's done and is not particularly happy about it.

    Religion and Mythology 
  • In Norse Mythology, there are quite a few myths starring Loki as a Guile Hero for the Aesir. Then he orchestrates the death of Balder, his motives for which are open for interpretation, and confesses to the crime while giving every other god "The Reason You Suck" Speech at a party. After that he gets rather painfully imprisoned, and is destined to lead the army of Helheim during Ragnarok.
  • In The Bible, David goes down this path. Despite being the runt of his father's litter, David becomes God's chosen one and he replaces Saul as Israel's king. For a time David brings prosperity to Israel, and he is renowned as a hero by basically everyone in his country. David eventually lets the power get to his head, and he indulges in every kind of pleasure he can think of. One day David spots a woman named Bathsheba taking a bath, who was the wife of an officer in his military, and he falls madly in love with her beauty. Knowing that he can't steal Uriah's wife, David conspires to put him in a risky battle, hoping that he will be killed so he can take Bathsheba for himself. David goes through a long period of guilt over the remainder of his life, suffering the death of a child with Bathsheba, losing favor with some of his royal court, and finally ending a rebellion hosted by his son Absalom who died in battle. David believes very strongly that these misfortunes were God's punishment for his sin, and he spends his old age seeking forgiveness from God. Even though David fell from grace, the Bible notes that Solomon — the son of David and Bathsheba — brings even greater prosperity to Israel than even his father did.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Horus Heresy series discusses the events that ultimately lead to Horus betraying the Emperor, such as his brush with death where the Chaos Gods appealed to his repressed ambitions.

  • One of the best examples of this would be Macbeth. He starts off as a noble person and a good guy – a hero returning from war in triumph. But ambition which was fueled by his wife and the witches turn him into a monster.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. A barber framed and transported for life for a crime he did not commit by a corrupt judge who wanted his beautiful wife for himself. He returns to London, finds out what happened to his wife and daughter in the meantime (though he turns out to have been lied to about the former by Mrs. Lovett, who led him to believe that his wife was dead), and seeks revenge against the judge, leaving a trail of blood and death of innocents in his wake that would ultimately lead to him becoming the infamous Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
  • Othello starts out as a noble and good, if a bit daft, leader, but Iago takes advantage of his jealousy and manages to get him to murder his own wife in cold blood.
  • Hamilton follows Alexander Hamilton as he goes from an idealistic, eager revolutionary to a bitter, pragmatic politician who is forced to play the game and throw others under the bus in order to protect his reputation and gets what he wants. He eventually has a Heel Realization following the death of his son, who was killed trying to defend his father's honor in a duel, and is a more sympathetic character for the rest of the show.
  • Ebenezer explores how Scrooge became the cold-hearted miser he is at the start of A Christmas Carol.

    Video Games 
  • Battle for Wesnoth: In the aptly titled Descent Into Darkness campaign, the protagonist is an apprentice mage who starts to delve into black magic to protect his hometown from raiders. At the start, he's learned to summon basic zombies, the use of which gets him rejected by his hometown. By the end of it, he's wiped out the raiders, but he's also become one of the most powerful liches Wesnoth has ever seen and spends his centuries killing off heroes who had thought to slay an infamous lich lord.
  • In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Gabriel goes from being a holy warrior to Dracula himself.
  • Cry of Fear does a twist on this trope, where it's revealed that the Simon you're playing as is a projection of himself in his therapy journal. By the end, the Simon we are playing as is an Enemy Without of the real one no different from the psychos he's killed.
  • Dark Souls: The Dark Lord Ending is treated like this by Kingseeker Frampt (and presumably Gwyndolin). The truth is... more complicated.
    • Frampt claims this before the fact, but after the Dark Lord ending he bows to the player and greets them as the new Dark Lord along with the other Primordial Serpents, suggesting that he either changed his mind or was lying the whole time.
  • Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes can be considered this if you have Lilli stab Dr. Marcel in the ending. (The narration phrases it in terms of her becoming The Unfettered, but notes that she did in fact just kill a worn-out old man who was completely helpless and at her mercy.)
  • The Lone Wanderer's story in Fallout 3 can become this.
  • Ditto for The Courier in Fallout: New Vegas. You might start out as someone helping communities and stopping raiders. But when you get dragged into the main plot, some paths will require you to take awful actions, like betrayal and mass murder to proceed.
  • Basically, the whole point of Far Cry 3. In the end, it's up to you to decide whether Jason Brody is redeemable or not; - in almost comical defiance of the page quote above, if he chooses to stay on the island and embraces its warrior-culture, he dies a villain. However, if he chooses to leave with his friends, he lives as an incredibly traumatized yet redeemable hero.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic's first Heroes' Chronicles campaign details the rise and fall of Tarnum, a barbarian whose only goal is to free his people from the tyrannical rule of the Bracadan wizards to re-establish the glorious barbarian empire of old. Throughout the campaign, various events cause him to grow more paranoid and ruthless, with the tipping point being his poisoning of all his generals, whom he suspected of treachery. He is eventually ended by King Rion Gryphonheart, the first Erathian king, in a Combat by Champion. The remaining campaigns detail his redemption after he is not admitted to the barbarian afterlife. His final redemption comes in the barbarian campaign of Heroes of Might and Magic IV, where he guides a young barbarian named Waerjak in uniting the scattered tribes in a story mirroring his own, minus this trope.
  • The Metal Gear prequel games - Snake Eater, Portable Ops, Peace Walker, Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain - are this for Naked Snake/Big Boss. Snake Eater kicks off his Start of Darkness when he is forced to kill his old mentor/Parental Substitute, the Boss, as part of a Government Conspiracy, and The Phantom Pain, taking place ten years before the original Metal Gear, completes his fall by making him a revenge-driven, self-confessed "demon."
    • Phantom Pain alone is fueled on this trope as a figurative interpretation of one of the more canonical story interpretations. The game has a hidden "point" system where the player is assessed as more evil for doing certain deeds, some of which are crucial to the plot. But if a player goes all in, the shrapnel in Snake's head becomes a devil horn, and he becomes stained in the red blood of allies he has betrayed and enemies he has needlessly killed. By the end of the game, Snake looks in the mirror, and disgusted by what he sees, shatters it. As he walks away, turning his back on the man he once was, his organization's emblem on his shoulder has changed from the Diamond Dogs one he had throughout the game, to the Outer Heaven one from the game in which he is the villain.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, the entire game can serve as this to the Player Character depending on what ending you choose.
  • In Spec Ops: The Line this happens to both Col. John Konrad and Capt. Martin Walker. They both came to Dubai hoping to help but Konrad and his 33rd battalion ended up committing ever greater atrocities on the inhabitants of Dubai under the pretense of maintaining order while they evacuate the city, which eventually led Konrad to commit suicide once he realized what he had done. Walker and his Delta squad came to look for the remnants of the 33rd but ended up killing every single one of them and most of the locals. In one of the endings, the events of the game have driven Walker so deep into insanity that he massacres the US army rescue party that came looking for him. In another, he has a belated Heel Realization and kills himself. Or Walker can have that belated Heel Realization... then defy the trope in another ending and decided to live and go home, facing and attempting to pay for his crimes even at cost of becoming a broken Shell-Shocked Veteran.
  • An interesting example happens in Harvester. While Steve has the option of going around and killing the entire town, the ending reveals that the entire town of Harvester is a literal Murder Simulator trying to turn Steve into a Serial Killer. The player has the option of playing this trope straight or defy it.
  • Sarah Kerrigan's plot-arc from Starcraft could basically be described as "heroic moral center" to "Brainwashed and Crazy Dragon" to "Big Bad in her own right". But by the time of Amon's war, she comes back around to a heroine once more, strong enough to kill the God of Evil.
  • Tales of Destiny: Leon's Side in the remake is Leon's journey from cold-hearted Anti-Hero into Defrosting Ice King, into forced villainy and death.
  • Jin Kazama in Tekken 6. Regardless of his reasons for doing it, he plunged the entire world into war and nearly cruelly executed his uncle (it's not like he wasn't enjoying it) based on selfishness and a theory. Jin himself recognizes what his actions have turned him into, even though he's the only one who could have done what he did.
  • Jack Boyd from the This Is the Police series is one of the most severe cases of this. In the first game, he's governmentally corrupt, but still morally sound in trying to do the right thing and make a solid living by the end of his tenure, even if he's unable to due to his superiors screwing him over at every turn. Between being forced to work with the mafia, to Robespierre leaking out potentially doctored files detailing supposed wrongdoings of Jack, to Mayor Rogers firing Jack despite saying he wouldn't, Jack is left with absolutely nothing by the end of the first game, leading to him abandoning Freeburg and fleeing to Sharpwood in the sequel. After fending off an assailant, he's taken into custody and strikes up a deal with Sheriff Lilly to help her run the department, and because she's an Extreme Doormat who has a hard time running the department, Jack uses this opportunity to explain that he's free to do whatever he wants because Lilly's helpless without him. After a scuffle for position of co-sheriff with Britt Carter, a plan instigated by Liam Henderson to get Jack killed, and Jack's old colleague Lana telling him to turn himself in, Jack hits the Despair Event Horizon, leading to his soul being fully corrupted by Forest Spirits. Once he's gone from a Jerk with a Heart of Gold to a full-blown Corrupt Cop, he ends up crossing the Moral Event Horizon by killing everyone who ever knew his real identity; even ones who supported Jack to the end, such as Emma and Moreno.
  • The alliance campaign of Warcraft III does this with prince Arthas and the Trauma Conga Line that leads to him becoming The Lich King.
    • To a lesser degree, we have Illidan, Sylvanas, Maiev Shadowsong, Kael, and Grom Hellscream, though admittedly several of these became Anti Villains while Grom redeemed himself via Heroic Sacrifice. Really, it would be easier to list the Warcraft characters that don't follow this route.
    • In World of Warcraft, Grom's son Garrosh began as a seemingly good-natured Orc, tormented by the sins of his father. As his personal story continued he became increasingly brutal and veered further into General Ripper territory, culminating with his being the end boss of an entire expansion pack following a pogrom against all non-Orcs and his attempts to steal the power of the Sha.
  • In Live A Live, the penultimate chapter turns out to be a condensed version to fit with the "short story anthology" nature of the game's plot structure. As it turns out, it's actually detailing the Big Bad's Start of Darkness and tying all the previous, heretofore seemingly-unrelated short stories together. The chapter's focal character is Oersted, once a hero to his kingdom. Oersted is tricked into killing the king, which sees him branded a traitor and outcast, and he's even believed by many to be the demon king. To make matters worse, it's revealed that his best friend, Straybow, orchestrated the whole ordeal to get revenge for Oersted always delegating him second-fiddle. To top things off, after having been betrayed by his former friend and adventuring companion, Princess Alicia, the woman he was in love with, was Driven to Suicide by Straybow's death at Oersted's hand, having fallen in love with him instead. After losing everyone and everything dear to him, Oersted says that, if people already believe him to be the Demon King, he might as well be one, and so he becomes the Demon King Odio.
  • Assassin's Creed: Rogue details the journey of Colonial Assassin initiate Shay Patrick Cormac from a member of that order to becoming disillusioned with it after attempting to reclaim a Precursor artifact causes a massive earthquake that devastates the city of Lisbon and leaving it rather violently, ending up a member of the Templars, becoming responsible for the devastated state of the Assassin Brotherhood at the beginning of III and killing Adewale from Black Flag.
  • This is pretty much the context for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!. Here, Handsome Jack, previous Big Bad of Borderlands 2, is shown as a small-time Hyperion manager trying to save millions of lives from Zarpedon. At one point he even laments that innocent people are suffering because of Hyperion's war with Dahl's Lost Legion, stating that having problems with Hyperion is one thing, but the people on the moon don't deserve to suffer. The player gets to watch Jack slowly descend into the amoral, self-centered, enormously unethical and downright villainous behavior that we get to see by the time of Borderlands 2.
    • Unlike most cases, though, it's ambiguous if Jack is becoming a worse person, or just taking advantage of the situation to get enough power that he doesn't need to hide who he is anymore. There's also the fact that at this stage he has already enslaved his own daughter, used the remains of a dimensional beast to secretly create a Wave-Motion Gun and pretty much kickstarted all of this to claim the contents of a Vault for himself alone.
    • Borderlands 3 confirms that he was always an asshole (because of his grandmother's abuse), but he used to be a high-functioning asshole and a loving father, until his life was ruined when a bandit kidnapped his daughter, and when she used her powers in self defense, she accidentally burned her (mute) mother to death. From there, it kind of snowballed as Jack kept his daughter imprisoned so she couldn't turn siren-psycho, only to eventually turn psycho himself. For extra ambiguity, it turns out that Tyreen's father did the opposite of what Handsome Jack did to Angel, teaching her about all the fun vault-hunting adventures she would have with her powers once she became an adult. That didn't turn out well.
  • In Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion, Livia Cassianus is a good person trying to serve her country. Over the course of the campaign, she falls in love and grows to accept her new role as the Unexpected Successor. However, her lover's Heroic Sacrifice at the end drives her over the edge, resulting in Livia becoming the ruthless Scarlet Empress by the time the sequel rolls around, in large part responsible for the sorry state of the Empire.
  • Taking the non-canon path in both Knights of the Old Republic games will be this for the PC.
  • As with the Knights of the Old Republic example above, taking the Dark Side paths in the Dark Forces Saga games Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II and Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy will turn the games' storylines into this for their respective player characters. This is particularly true of Jedi Knight, where Kyle's descent into darkness is determined by the totality of the player's actions throughout the game - slaughtering noncombatants, delving too much into Dark Side powers, etc. - whereas Jedi Academy presents players with a single, discrete choice to go light or dark.
  • This trope applies to both Nier and NieR: Automata. In the first, Nier only sees the shades as mindless killing machines, and he's right at first, about the ones near his village that were exiled for their violent degeneration. Then he invades a shade stronghold to find his daughter/sister, and the peaceful shades, unable to communicate, are forced to defend themselves when he assumes they are a threat. This cycle of assumption and revenge escalates until he has committed genocide against the shades and killed a living Cosmic Keystone, dooming both shades and "humans" to extinction. In Automata 9S passes the Despair Event Horizon after realizing that the Machine War is not only pointless but that Yorha was created to keep the war going and then be disposed of. Grief-stricken after the death of 2B, he decides to get revenge on A2 and destroy humanity's remaining data to "solve everything".
  • Fallen Hero has you play as the former hero Sidestep, who's on their inexorable way to a villainous career, but just how far you fall is entirely up to you.
  • Total War: Warhammer III has Prince Yuri Barkov of Kislev, who you play as in the tutorial campaign. At first a heroic and beloved prince of Kislev, he sets out to learn why the bear god Ursun hasn't ended Kislev's winter with his roar. In the course of his campaigns, he learns it's because the Daemons have captured and are slowly killing Ursun, and sets out to free him, in the process however, he starts to take more callous and cruel actions, as well as becoming more vicious and abrasive towards his men in pursuit of his goal. By the end of the final tutorial mission, Yuri has turned into a vicious monster himself who doesn't hesitant to kill his own beloved brother and offer his skull to a Daemon of Khorne to bridge the way to Ursun's prison, and when confronted with the bound Ursun, he's so far gone that Bela'kor's words convince him Ursun is to blame for all of his misfortune and he shoots Ursun with a chaos-tainted bullet, mortally wounding him. After doing that and being blasted away by Ursun in retaliation, the dying Yuri calls out to the chaos gods for more power and they grant it to him, transforming him into the Chaos Undivided champion known by his title of God-Slayer.

  • Pretty much the entire point of Errant Story, as Ian Samael ... changes over the ten-year run of the comic.
    • The other person on the receiving end of the same power-up actually went the other way, from a fairly antisocial and useless character to an active force for good. So the story is at least heavily implying that it was, in fact, Ian's own inability to deal with his issues that screwed everyone.
  • The protagonist of Zebra Girl slowly goes insane following her transformation into a demon. Her drive to become human again slowly fades away the longer she remains in that form.
    • She finally DOES become human again when she betrays her friends, but it comes at the cost of being banished to an alternate dimension. At the resolution of the plot arc, she's seen to embrace her semi-former humanity AND her demonic essence, regaining her demonic form and abilities while rekindling her human compassion.
  • Schtein's arc in String Theory (2009).
  • In El Goonish Shive, based on what Pandora tells him, Tedd thinks that without his friends he might have taken the same path as Lord Tedd, one of his Alternate Universe counterparts who turned evil.

    Web Original 
  • Played for Laughs in Allison Pregler's reviews of Charmed (1998), due to the protagonists' Designated Heroism and her own Alternate Character Interpretations.
    "I just got it. This show was actually playing us the whole time! The villains were the heroes, and the heroes were the villains! This was all leading to an Anakin Skywalker moment! We're presented with protagonists with massive power, destined for greatness, and the potential for immense good. However, slowly but surely, we're watching their downfall, leading up to the creation of three Darth Vaders. Out of the most unlikely circumstances, their own protege and her sister, raised by evil, must rise up and save the world. I should have seen it coming. Goodness gracious, Charmed, you Magnificent Bastard! You played me for a fool, but you were pulling the strings all along!
    "Or maybe this show is just fucking moronic, you choose."
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog serves this purpose for the title character. Although it's more of an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain Protagonist's Journey To Not So Harmless Tragic Villain.
  • Soviet Womble's Random Arma 3 Bullshittery Part 9 is this, telling the story of a resistance groupnote  fighting against the Russians, and slowly becoming more and more evil. Especially noticeable with Soviet, who acts as the most consistent Token Good Teammate throughout the whole thing, believing that they should be fighting for freedom and democracy, and is horrified by the some of the stuff his fellow players do, but by the end he's so worn down that he joins in using civilians as human shields during an attack on the Russian base.

     Western Animation 
  • The core of Arcane is the story of how a fairly innocent child named Powder turned into the psychotic anarchist Jinx.
  • In episode 4 of What If...? (2021), it presents an Alternate Universe where Doctor Strange lost his girlfriend instead of the use of his hands. In his grief, he has spent centuries absorbing mystic beings to gain enough power to reverse Christie's death. In the end, he kills his Good Counterpart and destroys the universe he once vowed to protect.
  • The short-lived cartoon Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones? would have been one of these if it hadn't been canceled so early. It was supposed to end with the titular protagonist leading a robot rebellion to wipe out humanity.