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Shapeshifter Default Form

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Robert Patrick before and after signing a deal with Apple.

Fuzzy: Uh... You could take your real form if you want. I mean, I'm cool with it.
Jess: This is my real form, dummy.
Fuzzy: But I thought...
Jess: That I'm a giant slug monster, right? That may be the packaging, dude, but this is who I am. You get the difference?
Fuzzy: So, like, you identify as a smoking hot babe?
Jess: Nah. The smoking hot part is just the shape-shifter bonus.

A Shapeshifter (or a Master of Disguise or Master of Illusion) can look like anyone, and sometimes anything. But most such characters will have a regular form that they usually appear in.

This is either because they like that particular appearance, because they need to present themselves in a consistent (or more normal) appearance for the sake of others, or it's simply because that's what they and/or their species normally looks like. It usually depends on how their particular style of Shapeshifting works.

For more practical reasons, this is just easier to draw. Or it's implemented so that a single actor can be cast in the role.

The only time this might be a problem is when a shapeshifter is an assassin or otherwise working in espionage. Their enemies have seen the face of the shapeshifter, yet they remain using that same appearance in everything. This is rarely addressed; it is assumed to be part of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

There are also variations regarding the nature of shapeshifting within the fiction itself. There might be mass displacement or other limitations.

Of course, in the real world an individual has many options, either superficial (clothing, cosmetics and jewelry) or intensive (plastic surgery and tattoos), to appear as their "preferred self-image." It certainly isn't unlikely that a shapeshifter would have the same desires.

There are usually two types of Default Forms:

  • True Form: The default shape is simply the shapeshifter's actual appearance. This is often the case if the character is a member of a shapeshifting species or if the shapeshifting has some limitation, like how long the character can be transformed.

  • Preferred Form: Their appearance is the form they like best. They may have a natural appearance that is too alien or too brain-melting (or just too expensive) to be practical for human interaction; such shifters often become humanlike in most cases. Oddly, few shapeshifters capable of this option seem to have the energy to go for their most powerful form as their Default.

Some shifters can use a combination of the two. Compare A Form You Are Comfortable With, Sleep-Mode Size, Super Mode, Morphic Resonance, and (of course) This Was His True Form. Tends to go hand in hand with Coconut Superpowers. Contrast Appearance Is in the Eye of the Beholder, which doesn't necessarily shift deliberately and can look like different things to more than one person simultaneously, eliminating the need for a preferred form. A Morph Weapon is a usually non-sapient example in which its "default" form is its original/not-in-use appearance or the one its wielder prefers using.


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Examples of True Form:

    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball: While Oolong and Puar can assume any shape they want, their default forms are a short, anthropomorphic pig and a strange creature that looks like a fusion between a cat and a bat respectively.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S: The only enemies who've seen Due's default form don't live long enough to squeal about it. At least, until Zest proves to be too much for her and promptly kills her to avenge his friend, Regius.
  • Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid: Played with. The human forms that the dragons normally appear as are their true forms just as much as their draconic forms. It's explained as it being what their essence would look like if they were born as humans.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi: Albireo Imma's artifact allows for shapeshifting to a wide variety of people, including Gateau Vanderburg, Takamichi and Asuna's teacher and Nagi Springfield. But the robed appearance is what he really looks like.
  • One Piece:
    • Mr 2 Bon Clay can only use his most advanced techniques in his default form, because they require perfect knowledge of his body's strengths and limits.
    • Most users of Zoan fruits typically use the human form as their default form... because it is a default form from before they gained their powers, after all; so it's a True form either way. Chopper is only one of two pulling off a preferred form, using his hybrid form as a default form, and he even reverts to it when losing control of his powers for some reason, despite others becoming their original form in such circumstances.
  • Rosario + Vampire blurs the line between True Form and Preferred Form. All monsters have a "human form" that they usually operate in. How drastically different this is from their true form varies wildly; some, like Kuyo and Nagare, are blatantly inhuman in their monstrous forms, while others, like Kurumu and San, are humanoid with extra appendages, and still others, like Mizore and the Shuzens, have only the slightest hints of monstrosity in combat. Which one seems to require extra effort varies not only from monster-to-monster but also from person-to-person; Moka's and Kaluha's vampyric forms are locked under their rosarios under normal circumstances, whereas Koko needs to exert herself to start looking different from normal.

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU:
    • The Batman character Clayface is a Blob Monster in his default form. Batman: The Animated Series explains that shapeshifting is an acquired skill, or "muscle tensing", so he can't just constantly be in another form.
    • Durlans like the Legion of Super-Heroes' Chameleon Boy have a default form as a bald orange humanoid with pointy ears and a pair of antenna. Those whose families were badly affected by the fallout from the "Six-Minute War" have essentially lost their default and instead look like a shifting writhing inconsistent mass of brown and grey tentacles in their "default" form, and have more trouble with Shapeshifter Baggage in general. Nol Lapp from Wonder Woman (1987) is a Durlan who was enslaved by the Sangtee Empire and subsequently very rarely uses her default form and even then only when in the company of those she trusts. She instead presents herself as one of the Durlans made unstable by the Six Minute War, looking like a bunch of tentacles in a cloak.
    • Martian Manhunter. The familiar alien "superhero" form in the comics is actually a slightly more human-like version of his true appearance, which is kind of playing with this trope.
    • All of the Endless in The Sandman (1989) can change their looks at will, but they all have default appearances they stick to when they're among other immortals.
    • Beast Boy in Teen Titans, when not in animal form, generally takes his natural form, a human male (albeit one with green skin).
  • Marvel Universe:
    • The Skrulls often hang around in their normal forms even when there's no real reason to do so. The Skrulls believe they are superior to all other forms of life, a very good psychological reason to assume their natural forms whenever possible, much like the way someone who has to wear a uniform they consider demeaning for their job probably takes it off in their spare time. Apparently, it can also be uncomfortable for them to remain in an assumed form for too long at a time. In one Fantastic Four story, Lyja makes an excuse to her date to take a short break and rest a few minutes in her default mode, because her human form gives her a headache.
    • Courier, a shapeshifter who most often appeared in the pages of Gambit (1999), is an interesting twist on this. Courier's default form started off as a man, but after being melted (while impersonating a woman) and reconstituted by Mister Sinister, became a woman permanently.
    • Mystique of the X-Men. Interestingly done in X2: X-Men United, where Rebecca Romijn played Mystique in disguise — sans makeup. From X-Men 3, it seemed like the X2 no-makeup appearance would be her normal human appearance, except with dark hair.
      • In X-Men: First Class, Mystique could almost be considered to be true form and preferred form. Her original form is the blue skin and red hair we all know and love, but she spends most of her time as Jennifer Lawrence, much like Rebecca Romijn sans makeup in X2. The fact that, like Clayface, she has to continually put effort into shifting, coupled with the final abandonment of her "regular human" disguise tips her into true form by the movie's end.
      • She basically has 2 default forms. Blue-Skinned when her mutant powers are working, and normal human when de-powered. Basically, her Human Default Form is her exact look with normal skin and eyes.
    • Young Avengers: Hulkling has a true form and, technically, two preferred forms; he's equally comfortable in his true form and his battle form, and can be seen lounging in the latter nearly as often as the former:
      • True and Preferred: His Kree heritage gives him his default form, as evidenced when Kl'rt uses technology to force Teddy to revert to his original form in order to prove to Teddy that he's truly a Skrull... and Teddy stays exactly the same.
      • Preferred: His preferred form during a fight, after he stops patterning himself after the Hulk, is quite reptilian in appearance. He keeps his blonde hair, but gains green and possibly scaly skin, armored shoulder plates, and claws. He also frequently grows leathery dragon-like wings when he needs to be airborne.

    Fan Works 
  • Hakkōna and Kaitō Kokoro: Kiku's base form is that of a nekomataneko, a mix between human and nekomata. In other words, his true appearance is that of a human with cat ears and twin tails.
  • In With Strings Attached, George's default form is sort of true form: his 21-year-old body with any changes he might have made to himself, like a new hairstyle. However, since he has no time limit or stress in other forms, he will cheerfully stay other things as long as he feels like it.
  • Vow of Nudity: Spectra's default form is a young woman entirely lacking any sort of pigmentation, giving her skin, hair, and eyes a ghostly-white look. Unlike most D&D changelings, she very rarely changes from this form due to her cursed necklace making impersonation almost impossible, meaning she largely only shapeshifts on request or to change her arm into different tools.

    Films — Animation 
  • Hades' minions Pain and Panic from Hercules can assume any shape and voice they wish. Their default forms are a fat pink demon and a skinny blue demon, respectively.
  • In Turning Red, the default form of Mei and her female relatives is human, but if they are in giant red panda form and get knocked out, they remain in panda form until they wake up and return to a calm emotional state.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Skrulls are green, pointy-eared humanoids when they're not impersonating anyone. If they die while disguised, they revert to their natural forms.

    Literature 
  • In Masques, Aralorn is a half-human shapeshifter, whose default form is human. She doesn't seem to routinely change her appearance. However, other shapeshifters seem to make themselves supernaturally beautiful, just because they can. Aralorn is comfortable with her real face, and after she took the form of a beautiful woman, reverts to normal.
  • Played against in Larry Niven's "What Good Is a Glass Dagger?", wherein the true form of werewolves is the wolf form, not the human form.
  • In Octavia Butler's Wild Seed, the character Anyanwu takes on different identities when moving from place to place, and is able to change her race, gender, and even her species. In private or with someone who knows her secret, she reverts to the form of a beautiful, petite twenty-year-old African woman. This is the original body she had before her mutant abilities first developed.
  • All users of Andalite morphing technology in Animorphs have a default form which they must revert to if they wish to take on a new animal form. There is also a time limit to how long one can remain morphed; exceeding this time limit results in Shapeshifter Mode Lock that not even reapplication of the morphing tech can fix. Tobias falls victim to this early in the series, becoming trapped as a red-tailed hawk; later in the series he regains his ability to morph thanks to the Ellimist, but now has the hawk as his default form.
  • Given a twist in Tais Teng's SF short story "Gekleed in Twijfelachtig Vlees" ("Dressed in Doubtful Flesh"). Problem solver Percy d'Arezzo (y Mac Shimonoseki) is hired by a shapeshifter who has forgotten his true form. Percy proceeds to take litmus tests for a baffling gallery of shapeshifter species in an attempt to solve the problem by elimination.
  • In The Bartimaeus Trilogy, spirits are described as having both a true form and a preferred form. All demons have a default form, but they generally do not assume it on the mortal plane because they look slightly repellent (hell, even some spirits prefer not to see each other’s true forms). Instead most spirits generally refer back to a form most humans are comfortable with, whatever happens to match their preferences and history best. For example, Bartimaeus defaults to imitating Ptolomy out of respect.
    • Adding to the complication is the varying ability of shape shifting between spirits. Many spirits are simply too unimaginative to take on complicated forms, while stronger spirits wind up with a Red Right Hand or other signs of Morphic Resonance since their power is too much to contain.
  • The Were Hunters in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series can change into a specific animal.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Kull story "The Shadow Kingdom" the Master of Illusion Snakemen are really reptilian headed men.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Boggarts are rumored to have a true form, except nobody knows what their true form actually looks like; the instant a Boggart is spotted, it immediately transforms itself into something else. The only person who might know, is Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, as he was able to see inside a dresser one was hiding in, thanks to his magic eye. Sadly, he doesn't say whether it has a true form, or just looks like the thing he happens to fear most.
    • Tonks, a Metamorphmagus, is also a mild true form example. It appears that she changes her hair dramatically for day to day wear, but rarely changes the shape of her face or her eyes, which is how Harry consistently identifies her.
  • In Consider Phlebas, Horza, a member of shape-shifting race of alien mercenaries, spies, and assassins averts this trope pretty hard. When he's picked up by a salvage ship after being left adrift in space, he immediately begins modeling his form on the hulking Jerkass captain (he had been in the form of an old man from his last assignment) anticipating the need to kill and replace the man down the line, which would be easier if he already had the body copied and then could just change his face when the time was right. He does revert to a true form after dying, but a disturbing dream sequence earlier in the novel suggests that he might not have even recognized that face in the mirror (he may have been a different member of the same race who lost himself in impersonating Horza for an assignment a long time ago
  • In Mistborn, the true form of the shapeshifting Kandra race is a big blob of tissue that essentially resembles a giant amoeba. They very rarely use this form, however, since in order to take the shape of someone or something a Kandra first has to ingest the one thing they can't turn into- a rigid skeleton. There's some crossover with preferred form, since although Kandra normally use the bones of whatever individual they're replicating, among themselves they use artificial skeletons called True Bodies that set a preferred shape for that Kandra, and are often fantastically inhuman.
  • Galaxy of Fear has two Shi'ido, alien shapeshifters. Their default Shi'ido forms are gray-skinned and humanoid but with unusually long fingers. Young Shi'ido are born looking like this. The villainous Shi'ido spends more of his screen time in other forms, the heroic one usually looks like himself and explains in The Brain Spiders that having his own form and identity is important because otherwise he could lose himself.
  • While the titular Eldritch Abomination in Stephen King's It has a Preferred Form it often takes among humans (a Monster Clown, see below under Preferred Form), It also has a True Form, a giant cosmic spider which is connected to something called the Deadlights. While the spider form is implied to be something of A Form You Are Comfortable With (not that it's particularly comfortable) because You Cannot Grasp the True Form, it is the only form that can actually be killed and the form It reverts to when hurt, so it fits the spirit of the trope.
  • Shapeshifters of Monster Hunter International look like human form bread dough with glazed eyes. But they do have some kind of internal skeleton.
  • All sorcerers in The Belgariad are able to alter their forms with few limits, though in practice they tend to only transform into animals. Nevertheless, this trope, combined with a Double Standard about personal appearance, explains why the male sorcerers have all looked like old men for thousands of years, whereas female ones look young and beautiful: they have an idealized concept of how they should look, and subconsciously transform into that image.
  • Aeon 14: Sera's default form after gaining her morphable artificial skin shows her unclothed with deep red flesh.
  • Sacred Eclipse in Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle normally appears as a girl with silver hair and blue eyes; the appearance of its creator, the imperial princess Arshalia.
  • Red Dwarf: At one point in Last Human, Lister is given a Symbi-Morph called Reketreben, who is capable of shifting into other forms to fulfill one's desire. Her shapeshifter default form, after she fails to satisfy Lister through shape-shifting, is eventually revealed to be that of a androgynous humanoid with a black and white matrix colour scheme.
  • In The Priory of the Orange Tree, the immortal sorceress Kalyba can appear however she wishes to. But her natural form is identical to Sabran IX, the present queen of Inys. Kalyba founded the royal line a thousand years ago.
  • In The Wolves Of Elementa, hybrids do not look like mixes of their parents; instead, they can take two forms representing their maternal and paternal lines of ancestry. For example, the Water/Fire hybrid Nautilus can look like either a Water Wolf or a Fire Wolf, but his patient and unobtrusive nature means that he prefers the former.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Farscape episode "Thanks for Sharing", a shapeshifting Corlata has been impersonating the daughter of Kanvia's sovereign in order to keep an eye on Moya's crew. It's actual form is crimson red and reptilian.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Kamen Rider Blade: The Joker Undead's true shape is that of a cockroach-like monster, but he prefers to shapeshift into the Human Undead whenever outside of battle, or the Mantis Undead, also known as Kamen Rider Chalice, whenever fighting.
    • Kamen Rider Kabuto: Any given Worm can shapeshift into any human, but almost all of them pick just one target and stick with their shape whenever possible. This goes double for the Native Worms, most of whom are much more frequently recurring cast members than their more antagonistic cousins.
    • Kamen Rider Decade: The title character himself is a shapeshifter capable of transforming into any other Rider, with his natural form serving as his default.
    • Kamen Rider Build: Evolt's true form of a vaguely snake-like alien doubles as his One-Winged Angel form, as shown in flashbacks to his home planet before he got his powers. His preferred form, however, is that of the human he was possessing at the start of the series, to the point of continuing to use it even after he no longer needs a host.
  • Red Dwarf: The episode "Camille" has the crew come across a Pleasure GELF named Camille who is capable of appearing as one's dream partner. After this is revealed, she reverts back to her default form — an amorphous green slimy blob with an eyestalk, which Kryten does not mind at all.
  • Space: 1999: The second season featured a new regular character Maya, who was able to transform into any lifeform for up to an hour.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Whom Gods Destroy", Lord Garth is a human being who learned the ability to shapeshift. His default shape is his original (human) body.
    • In "The Dauphin" from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Wesley Crusher falls in love with a woman named Salia who appears to be a teenage girl, but is actually an allasomorph, a type of shape-shifter. He goes to see her as she's about to beam off the Enterprise and she tells him that she has to assume her real form before transporting and asks him to leave because she'd prefer to him remember her as she was. He, however, chooses to remain behind and see her true form, which turns out to be a pillar of shimmering light in vaguely humanoid form.
    • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Security Chief Odo is a shape-shifter. He has a default humanoid appearance that he uses during his everyday activities but must revert to his natural state as a gelatinous liquid after holding that form for 16 hours. Others of his species (usually referred to as the Changelings or the Founders) have the same natural form, though the need to revert to it is implied (and was stated by Word of God) to be limited to Changelings inexperienced with their shapeshifting abilities, such as Odo. Indeed, most Changelings live as a vast sea on their homeworld.
  • Supernatural:
    • The Trickster, although he's been shown to be able to assume other forms (Doctor Sexy, the guy he dropped in a wormhole) tends to stick with the one played by Richard Speight Jr.. That form actually consisted of the entirety of his first appearance, sans wardrobe changes. As he's actually the Archangel Gabriel it's not explained if this form is the visage of his vessel, as all other angels require. It's certainly not his actual true form, as an unmasked angel is an eye-burning, ear-splitting Brown Note.
    • In the first season, episode six centers around a shapeshifter who changes into the shape of civilians in order to murder and torture their family members so that the people he imitates get arrested for the crimes. While we never see his true shape (although we see a blurry version while he is shedding the skin of a civilian), when disguised as Dean he tells Becky that "he" thinks the shapeshifter is simply a very ugly human who evolved to have the skin-changing ability. However, this is neither proved nor disproved in the rest of the episode.
  • The X-Files: The Alien Bounty Hunter first appears in "Colony" in the form of a Russian pilot played by Brian Thompson. While he can take on any form, he is most often seen in the appearance of the pilot. It isn't until "The Unnatural" that his true form is revealed to be that of a Grey alien and that he was using his current human template as far back as 1947... long before the events of "Colony". It's further revealed that there may have been more than one ABH, but that they all have the same 'default' appearance, since Mulder sees a number of Greys after being abducted and they all have the same human form.

    Myths & Religion 

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted, each Lunar has three "default" forms: their original human form, their totem animal, and their Divine Beast Transformation. When their Anima Banner reaches a certain level, they are restricted to these three forms. Their patron, Luna, is an odd case; all forms are said to be "true" to her (so long as they were never beings that equalled her in power), but her central identity is evoked by a specific form (a humanoid feminine figure in a night sky-colored cloak), albeit one whose face is constantly shifting through endless appearances.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The vast majority of shapeshifting creatures and classes follow this trope, like the Dragons, Doppelgangers, Changelings, Phasms, etc. They have a true form which they will automatically return to in case of death, if entering an Anti-Magic Zone, or if affected by some specialized spells (like force shapechange) or weapons (like the shifter's sorrow two-bladed sword).
    • In the case of the changelings of Eberron, one of the three philosophy (the Reality Seekers) are based on this. They remain in their natural forms most of the time. Changelings are particularly unusual in that, unlike their Doppelganger counterparts/ancestors/relatives, they actually have not only a default form, but a default gender as well; changelings are born genderless, become male or female early on in life, and don't gain the ability to assume the opposite gender until adolescence.
  • Monte Cook's World of Darkness: A Demon can assume any humanoid form or forms it wants for up to an hour before reverting to its mind-strainingly awful true form for at least the same amount of time. Even that true form isn't the Demon itself, only a construct to anchor its spirit in the material world.
  • Warhammer/Warhammer 40,000: Tzeentch's Changeling subverts this, as it doesn't even remember what its original form looks like. Tzeentch knows, of course, but he's not telling...
  • Although most are represented in the process of mimicking a creature, many shapeshifters in Magic: The Gathering are shown as an inform mass of goo.

    Video Games 
  • Jenova from Final Fantasy VII has two. When it was first uncovered from a 2000-year-old tomb, it resembled a white-haired woman. It remains stuck in this shape (sans a few body parts) after being put in a holding tank and later frozen. Jenova mostly appears like this in flashbacks; for the majority of the game, it is disguised as Sephiroth.
  • Druids in Warcraft, although some have been shown to have given in to feral instincts after staying in one form for too long.
    • Worgen, playable in World of Warcraft, eventually learn how to freely change between their new wolven forms and human forms. The Worgen form however is their new default form, enough stress or adrenaline will cause them to revert into their bestial forms.
  • Fire Emblem has Manaketes, who are basically humans with wings (and even that depends on which game you're playing). They need special stones to access their dragon forms. Later games reveal that the dragon forms are their true forms, and that the special stones are a Power Limiter: Without them, Manaketes tend to go a bit... nuts due to their power.
    • Xane is a Chameleon class unit who can transform into another unit but reverts to his default form after five turns.
  • Doopliss in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has his default form he reverts to when defeated or not transformed into something else (which looks like a Bedsheet Ghost with party hat), as do possibly the Duplighosts in Paper Mario 64 and Mimi in Super Paper Mario.
  • In Sonic Heroes, after Metal Sonic captures Chaos's data and becomes liquid metal a la the T-1000 Terminator, he chooses to take on a larger, spikier, eviler-looking form based on his original form. When he's defeated though, he reverts to his very first form.
  • Touhou Seirensen ~ Undefined Fantastic Object's Extra boss Nue Houjuu is a Master of Illusion youkai who exploits the fear of her true form. Her true form is better described as a Japanese teenager with messy crow black hair and strange wings. She is also known as the energy ball midboss in Stage 4 and 6.
  • It's debatable whether Alex Mercer of [PROTOTYPE] would be considered to have either a true form or preferred form to fit this trope. He does use his appearance before being infected as a default form, this form being the one he assumes whenever the player deactivates all disguises and powers. However, it's later revealed that he's not actually the "real" Mercer, but the Virus itself after consuming Mercer and assuming his shape and memories. So in that regard the player-controlled Mercer never really had a real original form to begin with; the closest we see would technically be either his black and red tendrils or the brilliant red goop the virus was while inert in its vial. His successor in [PROTOTYPE 2], James Heller does use his a true form, however.
  • A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky: The shapeshifters that infested the Green Heart have a default form of a "hideous snake lady", in Yvette's words.
  • Several characters in Disgaea 4 have shapeshifting abilities, though it's so downplayed you might not even realize it unless you watch some of their attacks. For example, Valvatorez is apparently a humongous black dragon, but chooses to walk around looking like a skinny teenager. He used to look older than he does now. It's not entirely clear how powerful their shapeshifting abilities are, however, meaning they may just have a single convenient human form to move around in and their true forms.
  • The Pokémon Ditto looks like a pinkish blob in its true form, until it turns itself into whatever Pokémon it's battling.
  • Averted by the Changelings in Monster Sanctuary, whose sprite shows them shifting constantly between the forms of other monsters, never settling on a unique appearance. Even their Monster Compendium illustration only shows them in the form of another monster.
  • Rengoku: All ADAM units when the lose the equipment or are being restored default to the appearance of a naked man with Tron Lines.

    Webcomics 
  • Aurora (2019): Gods can reshape their incarnations with effort, but the most comfortable way for them to appear is in their 'true form', set by the way others view their domain.
  • Myan's real form in Cat Nine is well, a cat. Since her collar's the one who allows her to transform, she'll revert back to a cat if it gets taken off.
  • Beyond the End: While it's unclear which is the default form, Hal's default form is either his humanoid form, or his lion form. The lion form is the one he takes when he's exhausted, but the humanoid one is the one he spends the most time in.
  • For El Goonish Shive shapeshifters this seems to be the main way they're shown. The default forms are also said to be most powerful. Raven is shapeshifted most of the time, but returns to his real face when fighting and later uses an illusion for disguise when he expects to need all his power. There may be some debate as to which one is the actual default/normal form for Grace: human/squirrel with Cute Little Fangs is seen more often than the three-tailed spiked squirrel of death mode, as the traits of her strongest parent species are said to be inactive. They also include ability to mix in acquired forms as well, thus after being turned into a half-hedgecat she sometimes adds hedgehog spines to hybrid forms as well.
  • Jymre from Hitmen for Destiny usually appears as human, but in his real form he is a weird-looking alien (see here).
  • April Fools' Day from Holiday Wars has a default form where he looks like a scruffy punk from the 80's.
  • Dangerously Chloe: Played with. Succubi can shapeshift into any form they want, though their default form is always very attractive. When Teddy gains Chloe's shapeshifting powers temporarily, he immediately turns into a copy of Chloe. After all, he has her powers, but not enough control to choose a different form.
  • Oglaf's shapeshifters are ugly grey-purple masses of goo with black eyes. They also can't tell when they're disguised, leading to a Flock of Wolves problem when they assassinate a king who turns out to have been a shapeshifter as well.

    Web Original 
  • In SCP Foundation, SCP-1536 ("Doppelgängers") is a species of "things" that replicates things it sees. SCP-1536's True Form is a large brown beetle 35 centimeters long and 15 centimeters wide with two legs on each side of its body.

    Western Animation 
  • Jake from Adventure Time defaults to the form of a large (roughly half human-sized) bipedal dog. He basically looks the same as his non-shapeshifting parents and biological brother. His powers have severe limitations: he can't change his surface coloration, he appears to need to retain eyes, nose, mouth, and ears, and he occasionally mentions having internal organs which can be rearranged but not done away with altogether. He's something of a halfway point between a Voluntary Shapeshifter and a Rubber Man. "Skyhooks II" ends with his true form reset to a tall, blue, five-eyed monster, and he suffers Power Incontinence until he's able to restore his yellow dog form in "Abstract". It's unknown if the aforementioned color limitations of his powers have been permanently removed.
  • In The Amazing World of Gumball, Penny (Gumball's girlfriend) used to hide herself in a peanut-shaped shell. In "The Shell", she is revealed to actually be a shapeshifter fairy-like creature. In her default form, she has a yellow body, antlers and wings. In every transformation, she has a pair of antlers.
  • Debuting in Batman Beyond before his series, Zeta is an infiltrator robot who uses holograms to assume the identity of anyone he was supposed to Kill and Replace. He has a form without holograms, but as his dilemma was that he Grew Beyond His Programming and developed a psychological identity, he also (usually) takes the same appearance unless he has to hide his identity or assume someone else's identity, fitting both the True and Preferred form of this trope.
  • Ben 10: Ben's Omnitrix only allows him to change form for a set period of time — afterward, he changes back into his normal form. In the future of the Ben 10 episode "Ben 10,000", he unlocks the master code removing the time limit, and he instead chose the really fast XLR8 as his default form because he'd basically decided to never stop working. His younger self showed him that he should change back to human occasionally. In the Ben 10: Ultimate Alien episode "Ben 10,000 Returns", Ben's future self has unlocked the humans ultimate form, meaning he can stay human, but use the powers of all the aliens.
  • On his downtime, Klone from Blackstar usually looks like a statuesque humanoid with gray skin, white hair, and elfin features. That this is also the form he wears when he is knocked unconscious by the Overlord's minions seems to indicate it's what he really looks like.
  • Master shapeshifter Amorpho from Danny Phantom is really a faceless ghost in a black trenchcoat/hat.
  • In The Fairly OddParents!, nearly all of the magical creatures have true form Default Shapes.
  • In the Futurama episode "A Bicyclops Built for Two", Alcazar courts Leela and other aliens by shapeshifting to resemble a male of their species. When Fry and Bender blow Alcazar's cover, Leela and his other wives beat him up until he reveals his true form: a 3-foot alien cricket.
  • In Generator Rex, the default form of Jack Scarecrow is that of well... a scarecrow-like guy with red eyes.
  • Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series: The villainous Chameleon was in reality a rather skinny, green lizard with big bulging eyes.
  • My Life as a Teenage Robot: Jenny Wakeman can reconfigure herself for nearly any situation. When she isn't fighting, she's a 600-pound Ridiculously Human Robot high school student. Preferred form sneaks in at times, as it's never clear how much (if any) mental effort it takes to keep a gadget "loaded" and Jenny would rather pretend to drink milkshakes with her neighbors. Plus, some of her powers crop up once and never again, while her rocket engines and arm blasters are used in nearly every episode.
  • The villain of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's Season 2 finale is Chrysalis, Queen of the Changelings, who dramatically reveals her true form (the same general shape as an alicorn pony, but with hole-punched legs and various insectoid characteristics like dark, chitinous skin, antennae, and a set of transparent, fluttering wings) once she is outed as an imposter. The rest of her invading army have a similar default appearance.
  • The Owl House:
    • Vee is a Greater Basilisk, a serpentine creature with a fishlike tail, who can transform into a human. After her true nature is revealed, she ends up hanging around the Noceda house in her natural shape much of the time.
    • Luz's Palisman eventually hatches into a "snake-shifter" named Stringbean. Stringbean's default form is a snake with cat-like ears and a bulb at the tip of her tail, but she can shapeshift into any creature, with some limitations (she can't grow any bigger than she already is, she retains her original color pallette, and some of her features, like her cat-ears, cat-like smile, and tail-bulb, remain no matter what form she takes).
  • When he isn't on the job or pulling a prank, Hordak's master spy Imp from She-Ra: Princess of Power is usually seen in something of a cross between a blue piglet and a bat. It's actually rather cute. Since he's never been rendered powerless, it can't be stated for certain that this is his default mode, but it's probably a safe bet.
  • Teen Titans (2003):
    • When not in animal form, Beast Boy appears as a male teenager with green hair/skin, pointed ears, and a prominent lower tooth.
    • Madame Rouge's default form can be described as The Baroness and The Vamp (might be a preferred form — it's never said if it's her true form or merely a preferred one).

Examples of Preferred Form:

    Anime & Manga 
  • Bizenghast: The Tower Guardians are a combination of both types, since both their animal-like form and their human form are their real forms. They are put in with preferred form because they spend the most time in whichever form they like best, with Edaniel liking his animal form and Edrear preferring his human form.
  • BNA: Brand New Animal: Most beastmen treat their human form as their default form but Michiru is stuck in a Little Bit Beastly tanuki form for the first three episodes, and even after she learns to resume her human form (and half a dozen other shapes) she finds that maintaining it is "like walking in high heels" so spends most of her time in tanuki form.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • Envy has both a true form and preferred form. Their preferred form manifests as an androgynous teenager with feminine attire and unusual hair that resembles the leaves of a palm tree. They choose to keep this form because they thinks it's cute. Their true form varies depending on how many souls are imprisoned in its Philosopher's Stone. When many are still in there, it's an elephant-sized, vaguely reptilian creature with four arms and legs, covered in screaming faces. When all the souls have been released/expended, Envy is reduced to an almost embryonic version of its larger form that can't shapeshift until it's regained enough biomass.
    • In Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), his true form is different, and is instead revealed to be the dead son of Hohenheim and Dante. He despises his resemblance to the father who was never there for him and so only assumes the form once before transforming into a giant snake.
  • Hellsing: Alucard. He states multiple times throughout the series that "My form is of no concern to me", or anything along those lines. Basically, he doesn't care what he looks like, just that he needs an appearance.
  • Inuyasha: When we first hear about Naraku, it's like shapeshifting was going to be a significant part of his arsenal, and it was how he'd gotten the drop on Miroku's grandpa, Inuyasha and Kikyou. However, within the series, his mask is always worn until he takes on the form of a certain feudal lord, impersonating him for that two-parter... and from then on, that's the face he always has, whatever he may be doing with the rest of his body. The idea of turning into one of the cast and kindly asking whoever has the jewel shards if he might hold them for a moment never seems to occur to him, probably because of the five main cast members, at least two could sense that he was a demon and at least one could tell they smelled different.
  • The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer: The eleventh golem Maimakterion has a true form (resembling a giant meat bun with eleven eyes), but swiftly assumes a preferred form of a young boy of about 12 years. He initially takes it on just to pass as human, but it eventually becomes the default he prefers to return to as he develops more of his own sense of personhood.
  • Monster Musume: Doppel prefers to look like a naked dark-skinned girl with long prehensile white hair that always conveniently covers her naughty parts. And while she calls herself a doppelganger, her true form is hinted to be more like Nyarlathotep, the crawling chaos of the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Nyaruko: Crawling with Love!: Most of the story takes place on Earth, so most of the alien characters stick with human form; however, it's implied that they prefer this anyway, because Earth's pop culture is loved throughout the galaxy. The title character claims to be Nyarlathotep the Crawling Chaos from the Cthulhu Mythos, but sticks with the form of a beautiful human girl with silver hair and emerald green eyes, claiming that it's just one of her thousand different forms (and the easiest on the eyes). While the stories that do leave Earth sometimes show more alien creatures, there are still plenty who stick with human forms even out in space; Nyarko in particular is shown in a Flash Back to use her human appearance going all the way back to her childhood.
    • Note that in the anime adaptation, Nyarko never actually shape-shifts (unless you count her Henshin Hero transformation), only jokingly threatening to do so; the original light novels contained a scene where she morphs her face into that of a Nanoha Expy in order to prove to Mahiro that she's really an alien.
  • One Piece:
    • Chopper is a Zoan-type Devil Fruit user, mostly stays in his small human-reindeer form, which he calls "Brain Point", as it is the form he does his best thinking in. It's also his cutest form.
    • Morgans is also a Zoan-type user who prefers to stay in his albatross-human form.
    • The Jailer Beasts from Impel Down's warden staff are all Zoan-type users who stay in their beast-human forms all the time, to the point that their nicknames all start with "Mino-". They are so immersed in that lifestyle that they act more like beasts than humans, unlike the other two example above.
  • Slayers: The Mazoku can appear to be anyone or anything they wish to, they just have "default" human forms so that they can be recognized by people they want to be recognized by. On one occasion a Mazoku took the form of the default form of another Mazoku to act as bait for Lina and co, who were trying to track the other Mazoku.
  • That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: Rimuru's initial and true appearance after reincarnating is an adorable blue slime. After assimilating the dying hero Shizue Izawa per her Last Request, he regained a human form that resembles hers as his default, with gold eyes and light blue hair. Notably, when he first manifests in this form he looks like a short-haired child version of her, but as he grows stronger the body steadily grows older with greater height and longer hair to match.
  • To Your Eternity: Fushi takes to using the Nameless Boy's form by default in order to honor his memory and final words to remember him forever. Even after attaining a myriad of useful forms, Fushi admits that he feels he identifies with the boy's form the most.

    Comic Books 
  • Xavin, a Skrull in Runaways, was originally sexless, but when (s)he began a lesbian relationship, his/her female human form became the default, though like all Skrulls, (s)he will revert to skrull form if rendered unconscious. Karolina later determined that Xavin's "true" self was the female body s/he reverted to when they were being romantic, because that was the form Xavin took when s/he temporarily stopped focusing on her physical form while arguing with Karolina.
  • Martian Manhunter: M'gann M'orzz, a.k.a. Miss Martian. Her preferred default is the green-skinned redhead usually seen in the Teen Titans comics, with her true form being one of the monstrous White Martians. Some comics have suggested that the real difference between Green and White Martians is purely psychological. Green Martians are peaceful, philosophical types, so they adopt a non-threatening form. White Martians are savage warriors, so they adopt a more monstrous form. Theoretically, a White Martian who defected to the Green camp would naturally adopt the true form of a Green Martian (and vice-versa), but this has never been demonstrated in the comics.

    Fan Works 
  • The Pony POV Series has Loneliness, Trixie's Enemy Within. During Twilight Sparkle's trip into Trixie's mind, Loneliness takes multiple forms, but her most commonly used one is Morgan, Trixie's mother. There is no indication that this, or any of the other forms she takes, are her true appearance.
    • In Shining Armor's side story, Reznov's story of Makarov suggests "Makarov" is simply this for something called the Shadow of Chernobull that a Hooviet experiment accidentally released from Pandora's Box (the Draconequus, not the myth) who took on the role of the Super-Soldier the Hooviets had tried to create.
  • The demonic One-Eyed Black Cat in the Haunted Mansion and the Hatbox Ghost Fan Verse is always shifting a bit, but he generally appears as a black feline with only one good eye. Its proportions and its level of ghostliness greatly vary.
  • Atlas Strongest Tournament: Aurelia seems to prefer Scootaloo's form as a disguise. In fact, she keeps using it even after the changeling plot is uncovered, something Scootaloo herself lampshades.
  • The Undocumented Features story "Hunter Rose" has a subplot blurring the lines between the Preferred Form and True Form versions of this trope. The UF-verse incarnation of Hyatt from Excel♡Saga had her trademark symptoms because she was actually a member of the same species as the Martian Manhunter, who had taken an illegal and very unreliable treatment to change her default form to 'human'. After being critically wounded and saved by someone inexperienced with their healing powers, Hyatt ends up with her True Form changed to a green-skinned version of her chosen form (ala Miss Martian); she still chooses the human form as her Preferred Form.
  • Starfall (Star vs. the Forces of Evil): Mimi the mimic spends much of her time in the form of Marco's old friend Jackie. She learned the forms of a few of his old girlfriends when she was sent to seduce him, and then just kept it after. When Prince Kevin goes to Earth, he's rather surprised to see his sister's friend just hanging out in a restaurant, but it turns out she's the real Jackie.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Aladdin: The Return of Jafar, due to becoming a genie, Jafar naturally has the ability to change into anything he desired. He decides that he prefers to stay in the form of his human appearance after realising that his true form scared his new lackey Abis Mal to the point of becoming a gibbering mess. He eventually uses his true genie form during the Final Battle (essentially like a non-video game version of a One-Winged Angel.)
  • In Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation, Big Bad Dark Heart was a being who could change into nearly anything. While his true form was that of a sinster red cloud, he mainly stayed in his disguised form of a human boy. After undergoing a Heel–Face Turn, he ends up becoming an actual boy.
  • Coraline: The Beldam usually wears the guise of an idealized version of her intended victim's mother in order to trick them into sewing buttons in their eyes and forfeiting their soul. As Coraline grows wise to the scheme, her spell over the other characters gradually wears off, revealing she also has a True Form — a spider-like, skeletally thin Humanoid Abomination with mechanical sewing-needle hands.
  • A What Could Have Been from Encanto: During production, they floated the idea that Camilo's default form was actually this, so that, when everyone loses their gifts and he resumed his "true" form, nobody would recognize him. The idea was scrapped because it distracted from Mirabel's emotions during that scene.
  • Igor: Jaclyn is usually seen in her "Dr. Schadenfreude's Girlfriend" guise, though she changes into other doctors' girlfriends, thanks to a set of shapeshifter pills. Her actual self is a hunchback.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The aliens (the ones in the silver jumpsuits) in Galaxy Quest were actually tentacled beasties, prompting an onlooker to exclaim "Oh, that's just WRONG!" when one's tentacles become visible as she embraces and smooches a human crewmember. Their default forms were humans, with Vulcan-esque hair styles.
  • IT from It (1990) and It (2017) can take the form of people's fears in order to scare his victims (preferably children) so he can eat them afterwards. His preferred form is a clown named Pennywise, while his true form is something incomprehensible to the human mind, with the closest thing to said real form being a giant spider.
  • Loki of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is revealed in Thor to be under a glamour that hides his true form — a blue-skinned Frost Giant. Since Loki thinks of himself as Asgardian and hates his true species, he keeps the glamour on afterward.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy Krueger possesses near-limitless shapeshifting abilities in the dream world, regularly using it to impersonate other people or even inanimate objects. While he can assume any form he desires, he prefers to appear as his post-death burnt self, presumably to scare his victims. His "real" form, if any, are his skeletal remains.
  • In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Kirk and McCoy are aided in escaping from a prison asteroid by a chameloid, whose default appearance is that of the lovely Iman. When Kirk questions whether that's her true form, she responds "I thought I would assume a pleasing shape."
  • The Terminator franchise had the lanky Robert Patrick police officer T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and the supermodel Kristanna Loken Terminatrix T-X in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Their true appearance is a liquid metal blob and an endo-skeletal robot, respectively. They also play with this trope with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but with his voice, rather than his form. He can imitate anyone's voice, but most of his lines are said in a thick Austrian accent. Catherine Weaver of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles spends most of her time in a form played by Shirley Manson. She's also pretending to actually be the person whose form she's wearing, so she would retain that one. According to a deleted scene from the 3rd movie the "Ahnold" voice of the T-800 series is it's default voice setting. Based off an apparent Austrian programmer who helped design what would become the basis for them off a soldier (also played by Arnold) who had an annoying southern accent that the Military Leader running the project didn't like, so he used the soldier's appearance but subbed in his own voice.

    Literature 
  • The titular djinni of The Bartimaeus Trilogy is a shapeshifter, but his preferred form is that of his former master, Ptolemy. He takes the form as a way of remembering his old friend, and as a mark of respect. It's also noted that his shapeshifting has a very strong Egyptian bent in general (Ptolemy was Egyptian, just to be clear). For example, if he becomes a cat, its a desert cat. If he needs to be an insect, it's a scarab beetle.
    • Other spirits also have a few regular fallback forms—Faquarl favors the form of a chef, for example.
  • Sang-drax of The Death Gate Cycle usually appears as either an elf lord (when he wants to be charming) or a giant snake (when he wants to be Nightmare Fuel). Neither is his true form, but the snake is implied to be the closest he can get to it without breaking the brain of whoever he's talking to.
  • In the Garrett, P.I. novels, shapeshifters fall under preferred form. It's mentioned that one of the unnamed shifters takes on the looks of a soldier he fought with during the war, several decades before the current story and a few months before the entire group of shapeshifters pull a Face–Heel Turn.
  • In the Hurog series, Oreg is quarter-dragon. Both of his forms are his real forms, but he seems to prefer the human for everyday life — probably because of the hands with opposable thumbs.
  • The eponymous Eldritch Abomination from the Stephen King novel It takes many forms within the course of the story (usually the worst fear of the person it's antagonizing at the time), but its favorite form is that of a Monster Clown with balloons called Pennywise.
  • Murder for the Modern Girl: Guy Rosewood's preferred form is that of a thin, gray-eyed man in his early twenties with blonde hair so light it's almost colorless and his face was designed to be unremarkable. He despises his true form which is eighteen, has brown eyes, dark hair, high cheekbones, square chin and narrow nose, but thanks to Ruby, he comes to embrace said form and makes it his new default appearance later on in the book.
  • In Paranormalcy, Lend's true form basically a water being, however his default form is a teenage boy, in order for him to go to school like a normal person.
  • The Gys-Voolbeerah of the Perry Rhodan universe were an interesting case of this due to having actually forgotten the original form of their species. As a result, an individual's 'default' form was generally what they felt comfortable with at the time, often inspired by past impersonations.
  • The aliens from Roswell High would be this type. Although, they do seem to have an automatic human shape as a kind of default adaptation.
  • The Valar and Maiar of J. R. R. Tolkien's Silmarillion (in particular Morgoth and Sauron) lose their ability to walk around as "unclothed spirits" if they invest too much energy in a form. In the latter case, they assumed human form, tall dark and terrible and after being wounded or killed off too many times, lost the ability to shapeshift into a pleasing appearance.
  • In the 15th Dresden Files novel, Skin Game, the character Goodman Grey is defined as a shape shifter in practically his first mention in the book. Grey's appearance is that of a standard suit for most of the action, and it seems as though he is very comfortable in this form. From what we learn later, however, this observation remains to be confirmed. Grey turns out to be a Naagloshi Scion.
  • Spice and Wolf: Holo's true form is that of a giant wolf, but most of the time we see her in the form of a young girl with wolf ears and a tail, as her true form is terrifying to people who aren't used to it, and would attract unwanted attention.
  • Chytrine of The Dragon Crown War usually appears as an ethereal, somewhat-elvish looking woman of great beauty and indeterminate age, though she can take on other forms as well, up to and including a dragon. It's eventually revealed that she's a hybrid of urzrethi (a race of shapeshifting humanoids) and dragon (also shapeshifters in this setting) so what she actually looks like - or if she even technically has a "true" shape in the first place, getting shapeshifting from both sides of the family tree and all - isn't specified.
  • The Child-Goddess Aphrael of The Elenium prefers to appear as a young Styric girl wearing a white smock. She chooses this form because she loves the affection it brings her and makes people easier to manipulate. Her true form is a supernaturally beautiful woman which she prefers to keep hidden; it is only briefly glimpsed when she must assume it to perform a spell.
  • In Borgel, Freddie's true form is a monstrous, Cthulhumanoid Grivnizoid, but as a shapeshifter he most of the time presents as a small old man.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel: The members of the Ra-Tet. Mesektet took on the form of a little girl.
  • Frobisher in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe. He's a shapeshifter, but is usually in the form of a large talking penguin simply because he likes it.
  • Heroes:
    • Master of Illusion Candace is in preferred form when she's knocked out, and true form when she's killed. Even though in the latter, another illusion that she'd cast disappeared. Good job, Internal Consistency guys.
    • Another character was capable of imitating other peoples' appearance; possibly that of anyone he came in contact with. We never got to learn how his ability worked or what he actually looked like before he got brain-fingerbanged, care of Sylar. Wait... Oh, Crap!...
  • In My Parents Are Aliens, the aliens are capable of shapeshifting but spend most of their time in default human forms (if the intro sequence is to be believed then their true forms are some sort of green blobs). Interestingly, Sophie is not particularly good at morphing, and this was used as an excuse when her actress was changed in later seasons. She supposedly morphed into the new form offscreen and then got stuck that way, before eventually deciding that she preferred it.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • Q has a default human form that looks like actor John de Lancie, usually dressed as a Starfleet captain, with no particular reason given for choosing that appearance in particular other than wanting to be recognized. Taking on the appearance of a Starfleet captain at least is probably to piss Picard off. One assumes that the Q don't even have what we'd consider a "physical" form, the closest we ever see is a diamond flash of light. They apparently have some non-visual way of recognizing each other, as John de Lancie's Q recognizes another Q (played by Corbin Bernsen) in human form as the particular Q the latter is, and further recognizes the Q who takes the name "Quinn" on Voyager as who he is.
      • Likewise, the Allasomorphs hang around in humanlike forms while visiting the Enterprise; they are eventually revealed to be Energy Beings in their true forms.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
      • Odo defaults to a humanoid form with a smooth, largely featureless face. The reason given is that he's not very good at imitating human or Bajoran features. Presumably he could make a closer approximation than he does considering that he can imitate almost everything else perfectly, but it would fall into the Uncanny Valley so he sticks to his distinctive appearance.
      • Later, the other changelings, most notably the Female Changeling, default to a face that looks similar to Odo's when dealing with Alpha Quadrant species and wishing to be correctly identified as changelings. Unlike Odo, they can imitate "solid" species perfectly when they so choose.
  • The Ultraman: Towards the Future episode, "Tourists from the Stars", have a shapeshifting alien couple, Ryugulo and Veronica, visiting Earth, where Veronica spends the whole movie in her human form (which is that of her actress, Orianna Panozzo). Ryugulo on the other hand have a bit of Fantastic Racism towards humans, hence spends the whole episode as inanimate objects like benches, dustbins, and a hot-dog cart before finally turning into his true form, a quadrupedal horned alien monster and going on a rampage after mistaking Veronica to have an affair with the human Charlie.
  • In V (1983), the alien invaders took on human form to disguise their true reptilian nature (as well as their intentions to cannibalize the human race). Oddly, the aliens continued to maintain their human appearance long after the jig was up. (It's possible the human suits had some sort of protective factor against the environment, but it also conveniently kept half the cast from having to don expensive alien makeup before shooting.)

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Eberron, the changeling philosophy of The Passer is based on this part of the trope: pick an identity from a common race and stick to it, never letting anyone find out your true race, and essentially turning your back on your kind to become a member of your new race.
  • Changelings in Rifts have a true form default form, but since they are usually so hated they never use it when they can help it. Every Changeling NPC described in a Sourcebook has a "Favorite" form they use for an unofficial default when around friends.
  • Justified Trope with Changeling, a Mutants & Masterminds NPC, a Grue from an alternate universe where the Grue race is far more friendly than the basic universe. She takes the form of a blonde human, because of the Alterniteens telling the alternate universe Grue race that the other Grue are bad.

    Toys 
  • BIONICLE:
    • Krahka. Her toy is actually a combination of all six Toa Metru toys, and is the final form she took in The Darkness Below as her One-Winged Angel. Outside of that, in the books she actually prefers to appear in Toa Metru Nokama's form for interacting with others. She has no known real form.
    • The Makuta, mainly because their real form is Pure Energy contained in armor.

    Video Games 
  • Subverted with a minor character in City of Heroes, a shapeshifter working for the Malta group who is theorized to have forgotten what he originally looked like. (Of course, this was mostly so the developers could just use existing models to represent him.)
  • The Elder Scrolls series has the Daedric Princes, divine spirits who retained their Complete Immortality by choosing not to participate in the creation of Mundus, the mortal plane. As immortal spirits, they can manifest in whatever form they wish. Most tend to stick with one fairly consistent (and often humanoid) form in order to deal with mortals more easily. A few are known to change gender between appearances, while Peryite prefers the form of a green dragon in mockery of the Aedric Top God Akatosh) and Hermaeus Mora forgoes anything humanoid for a full blown Eldritch Abomination preferred form.
  • The protagonists of Mega Man ZX Advent are both true form and a variant of preferred form; their shapeshifting is linked to a Transformation Trinket, so their true form is what they are when they're not using it. The game itself, however, enforces the use of a specific powered form when entering cutscenes or speaking to NPCs.
  • Decoy Octopus averts this slightly in Metal Gear Solid - and much more thoroughly in The Last Days of FOXHOUND. In MGS, he's only ever seen 'in disguise', and the only way you know what he 'actually' looks like, is from an old photo from his personal file. In TLDOF, he's also almost always in disguise - usually as one of the other characters - and when he's transferred to the spiritual realm, he shows up as an invisible man in a trench coat, remarking that he doesn't actually think of himself as looking like anything.
    • Or was he never there to begin with?.
    • However, The Last Days of FOXHOUND does use preferred forms for Decoy Octopus: when we first meet him he usually disguises himself as Ocelot, but after Liquid Snake takes a level in badass Octopus switches his default form to being Liquid.
  • Persona 2: Nyarlathotep appears as both Jun's father Akinari Kashihara and Tatsuya Suou, mostly to troll his enemies.
  • Double from Skullgirls has a default form of a shapeless blob of body parts, which she flashes into throughout fights, and turns into after defeat. In cutscenes and pre-fight bows, she seems to prefer the appearance of a slightly pregnant looking nun with black irises.
  • Super Paper Mario: Mimi has the default form of a green, blocky little girl. This is not her true form, which is some sort of horrible spider-monster-thing.
  • Warcraft: Many dragons use a humanoid form (usually high elves) while interacting with mortal races. In World of Warcraft, players may meet a Bronze Dragon known as Chromie in her Gnome form in several locations, and it is not until the end of a high-level instance that she actually appears in dragon form, and even then only briefly. Krasus in the novel is a similar case, though he prefers his original form. Finally, the raid boss Nefarian is encountered several times in human form. In the real fight, he remains in his human form while setting a horde of dragonkin upon the raid before finally transforming into his real form.

    Webcomics 
  • Cassiel from Misfile usually uses her school-girl form on earth, even when it would make more sense to take a different form to avoid detection. The implication is that she is just too lazy or too unimaginative to come up with another one note .
  • Jess from Sam & Fuzzy is a ten-foot slug with shapeshifting. She spends most of her in the form of an attractive woman in her twenties, though she is capable of taking many different forms, including a "sexy dancing toaster" at one point.
  • Mimic from Rusty and Co. can technically takes the shape of any "inanimate" object, but he's most commonly seen as a treasure chest with a large, toothy mouth and red lips.
  • In Yokoka's Quest, Copycat usually copies other people's appearances and powers, but has a form that he describes as having "my actual face, I came up with it myself!", though his true form presumably resembles a regular vulture.

    Web Original 
  • Critical Role: Frumpkin, Caleb's familiar, is a fey spirit and can thus take any small animal form. He prefers to be a cat though, and gets noticeably grumpy when Caleb turns him into something else. Caleb also continues to refer to Frumpkin as "my cat" even when Frumpkin has a different form.
  • Whateley Universe:
    • Jello is technically a Shifter/Exemplar, but her BIT is basically a blank slate. Her default form resembles some kind of peat jelly.
    • Jimmy T. doesn't really seem to have a default form, or default gender, either; he is in Hawthorne cottage because, while he has good control while awake (even if it is sometimes a bit painstaking to get it just right), his dreams cause him to shift unpredictably at night, often into an ameboid puddle. The form he had the most trouble maintaining? His original body.
    • The Super Villain Dragon Queen is an illusionist who uses them to make herself a sexy seductress. Her default form is a dumpy middle-aged shrew.

    Western Animation 
  • Dragons in American Dragon: Jake Long are usually in human form for convenience, even when they aren't upholding The Masquerade. The draconic form is stated to be their true form, and thus the one an illusion/transformation-dispelling potion forces them into. What's odd is that they can and usually do interbreed with humans in human form, even having fully-human descendants whose own children can be dragons.
  • Batman Beyond: Inque had a broadly human-shaped "combat form" that had a white blot on a featureless face and her hands were barbed whips or some other weapon. When in a peaceful mood she would take on human features, which is assumed to be an approximation of her human appearance before the mutation serum was used on her, as she is still made of Ominous Obsidian Ooze. Otherwise she looked just like a blob of ink.
  • Danny Phantom: Bertrand is really a green blobby ghost, but he frequents in his human form the most.
  • Gargoyles: All members of The Fair Folk are shapeshifters, but each has one form they prefer. Their true forms, however, are so obscure that Word of God is even they don't know the true form of their species.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: Nergal Junior usually takes the shape of a short boy with a washed-out complexion and black hair; the form of the first kid he approached and asked for friendship, but rejected him, causing him to attack in rage. His true form, which is never shown onscreen, is apparently unimaginably horrifying, so much so that he is extremely sensitive and self-conscious about it. However, in a later episode, he takes on a grotesque, monstrous form several times to scare people. With its bumpy black skin, tentacles and other features which were shown in partial shots of his true form, this is arguably the first appearance of his actual form onscreen.
  • Justice League: Like in the comics, Martian Manhunter's form is a more human-like version of his true alien form. More than anything he did it to put the minds of the rest of the league at ease when he first meets them, knowing they will be more comfortable with a human-like appearance where they can read his expressions, and he just keeps it for the remainder of the series with the implication being he's more or less fine with any outward form. He also has a preferred human form that he always assumes when masquerading as a person, which is the same generic square-jawed man in a trench coat. He eventually gets another preferred form when he leaves the league to pursue a life of his, that of an elderly Chinese man married to a human woman who apparently knows of what he really is.
  • NIMONA (2023): The titular character is all but stated to lack a default form, but the shape she commonly assumes is that of a short, teenaged punk girl.
  • While Vee from The Owl House has a non-human natural form, when socializing with others, she has settled on a human shape with a few elements evocative of her inhuman form, such as fluffy hair with blue highlights resembling the blue fringes on her floppy ears.
  • Samurai Jack: Aku uses a towering and demonic but vaguely humanoid shape as his preferred form. His true form however is nothing more than a seething, amorphous black mass of pure evil. Literally.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Double Trouble is a shapeshifter who appears as a reptilian elf. However, it is implied that this is the way they want to be, and whatever they really look like is unknown. It's been stated by Jacob Tobia and Noelle Stevenson they don't know what body Double Trouble had at birth, but they know who they are and they're Double Trouble no matter what form they take.
  • South Park:
    • In the episode "Cancelled", an alien greets the boys in the form of Stan's father. He explains that this is A Form You Are Comfortable With but they think that's stupid because its reminiscent of Contact. When Najix takes its true form, they scream and quickly ask it to go change into something else. They then spend a few moments going through possible forms (including Santa Claus, Saddam Hussein, Don King, and Frank Sinatra) until they decide on a taco that craps ice cream.
    • Parodied in "Something Wall Mart This Way Comes", when the boys, trying to destroy the new Wall Mart, find a white haired man in a white suit who says he is the Wall Mart, and can take on many forms. He then puts on several hats to find A Form You Are Comfortable With, and when they destroy the 'heart of the Wall Mart' (a mirror), he says he will change into his true form... and rips off his mustache and jumps around.
  • Steven Universe plays with this. The show features Gems, a race of aliens with the ability to shapeshift. While their physical forms are "hard light projections" — their gems are their real selves — said form is how they interact with the environment, and each one has a default form. However, when they're extremely injured, they must retreat into their gems to heal, at which point they have a chance to change their default forms when they regenerate, though the changes that can be made are minimal (substantially being a change of their default clothing). Attempts to make larger changes to the True Form causes problems with stability. Only one gem in the series, Rose Quartz, was able to regenerate with a very different body and no such problems, but this purely due to her power as a Diamond and a bit of Loophole Abuse; she shifted her mass from height to girth, going from very tall and thin to shorter and stout, being short enough as a young Diamond to convincingly imitate one of her Quartz soldiers this way.
  • Transformers: A Transformer's "real" form is a robot, so it's the preferred form whenever a character spends more time in their alt mode.
  • Young Justice (2010):
    • Miss Martian defaults to a green-skinned version of her civilian, human identity. It's eventually revealed that she developed it based on an old sitcom that she watched on Mars. "Image" also reveals that she's ashamed of her real form, which is a White Martian, not a Green one. The series would go much deeper on Miss Martian's self identity that by the end of season four, her human "disguise" is treated as her true self since she felt more comfortable in that form.
    • Beast Boy usually takes a form halfway between a human and a monkey, but this seems to be personal preference, since he turns into his normal human form (except for still being green) on one occasion.
    • At the end of the series it's revealed that Martian Manhunter's default form isn't his real form either since Green Martians are identical to White Martians except for the coloring.
  • The Zeta Project: Zeta is a robot built for infiltration, who could don virtually any holographic disguise, but favored a dark haired man in a purple trench coat. This is actually explored in the first episode; Ro takes him to a fitting room and helps Zeta create a 'default' appearance designed to minimize suspicion. Before that, his default form was a middle-aged man wearing grey, or as Ro put it "Joe Robot".

 
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"Irrevocable Shackles"

Leela is rescued from marrying the scumbag Alcazar when Fry and Bender reveal he's trying to marry five different women on the same day.

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