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Signature Series Arc

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We understand Signature Scene as that one scene everyone remembers about a film, either "No, I am your father" or King Kong atop the buildings fighting off against planes. A way for people to remember this scene is thanks to Popcultural Osmosis, Shout-Outs and countless parodies of said scenes.

However, in long-running franchises, you can get something a bit more than this. Addition to singular moments that fans gush over, you get fans recommending an entire Story Arc as representing the pinnacle of the work. Maybe it's when the series starts to grow the beard and the transition was done masterfully. Maybe it's a fantastically written story that was just never topped afterwards. Maybe it isn't the greatest, but it's still the one that gets adapted into other mediums the most. Or maybe elements of that arc just happen to be the most merchandise-friendly, so even non-fans end up seeing it everywhere. The last one is the most probable.

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Note that this is not always be a good thing. Despite being a beloved segment of the saga, many of the work's future flaws could stem from this well-regarded storyline as a result of the writers trying to replicate its success, so watch out.

Sub-Trope of Signature Scene, as this is more about an entire arc and not a single scene. After all, a particularly good scene may still be in a trainwreck of a story. When a series' Signature Series Arc is its first arc, you also have a case of First Installment Wins.

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Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Ask any fans of Berserk which is the most famous saga in the series, and they will all respond to you with the following: "GRIFFITH!!!"—which of course refers to the Golden Age Arc. This is the saga that showed Guts's Dark and Troubled Past that fully developed him from the generic antihero he was to the complex character everybody loves, and it introduced Love Interest Casca and the master of the Moral Event Horizon Griffith. In addition, the finale of the Golden Age Arc, also known as the Eclipse, is still regarded as one of the most horrifying sequences in all of manga. This is the only consistent saga to be adapted in almost all adaptations.
  • Bleach: The Soul Society Arc is the most famous and beloved arc of the series, and is generally seen as the moment where Bleach Grew the Beard. Not only did the arc introduce the Shikai and Bankai forms of Soul Reapers note , but featured genuinely nail-biting tension in the battles between the protagonists and the nigh-invincible Gotei 13. And to top it off, the finale of the arc revealed the Big Bad Aizen, who had one impressive villain debut.
  • Blue Exorcist: The most beloved arc by fans is the Illuminati Arc, for The Reveal that Renzo is a double agent, its dive into Nightmare Fuel territory, a memorably detestable villain in Gedouin, and its Bittersweet Ending.
  • Digimon Adventure: The Tokyo/Eighth Child Arc, which stretches roughly from Episodes 21 to 39, is the most popular arc due to moving the action from the fantasy realm of the Digital World to modern Tokyo, leading to some thrilling moments as Digimon wreak chaos in "our" world, plus the seven Digidestined's frantic search for their eighth member before the arc's Big Bad Myotismon finds them himself. The arc's popularity may be why Myotismon was brought back in Digimon Adventure 02 as the Greater-Scope Villain responsible for everything bad that ever happened.
  • Dragon Ball Z: While the series is pretty well known for all the events that transpired in the life of Son Goku and his friends, the Namek Saga is the one saga the series is most familiar with. Not only was it the saga that introduced Breakout Villain Freeza, but is also the one which introduced the world to the Trope Codifier for Golden Super Mode: the Super Saiyan. The saga has been adapted in almost all the video games, it has been reanimated at least twice in Dragon Ball Z Kai and a special of Dragon Ball Super, and is the one with the most countless parodies (including the infamous "Namek time" for the series' Arc Fatigue).
  • Gintama's version of this trope is the Benizakura arc, the series' first major serious arc in a mostly comedic series beforehand and the major introduction of Gintoki's archenemy Takasugi. This arc was so popular that it was the first thing done for the franchise's live-action debut.
  • Hunter × Hunter:
    • The Chimera Ant arc, which many consider the high point of the series in terms of action and storytelling, and even something of a modern classic when it comes to Shonen story arcs. It's known for its length, the complexity of its main villain, the twists and turns of its plot, the way it handles complex themes and adds a lot of moral ambiguity to both sides of the conflict, and its large cast of characters, most of whom receive extensive development over time. The Chimera Ant King Meruem in particular is considered one of the best villains in the series.
    • The Yorknew City arc, which introduces the popular Phantom Troupe and gives Kurapika his signature Nen chain abilities. Much like the Chimera Ant arc, it's seen as a standout of the series.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has been going on for more than thirty years by now, but its most famous and beloved arc (at least in Japan) is still Stardust Crusaders. There are numerous reasons for this, such as its incredible amount of meme-worthy moments, Memetic Badass protagonist and Big Bad, several famous catchphrases, as well as the fact that it was the first JoJo arc to move outside the manga medium (with two OVAs and a video game). However, the most likely reason for its widespread fame is that it is the first part of the series to include Stands, which later became the most iconic part of JoJo.
  • Made in Abyss has the Idofront/Fifth Layer Arc, which isn't surprising considering this is the arc that features Bondrewd as its main antagonist and introduces the fan favorite Prushka, not to mention marking the Point of No Return for the heroes and therefore giving it a much more climactic edge.
  • Mob Psycho 100
    • The Keiji Mogami Arc is widely regarded as the pinnacle of the series thanks to its much Darker and Edgier tone, massive amounts of Character Development for Mob, and a fantastic climactic battle against Keiji Mogami, who is probably the most popular villain in the series by a long shot. Not even the arc dealing with the Big Bad managed to be this popular.
    • Before that, the Teruki Hanazawa Arc is often cited as the changing point from the series from being "One Punch Man 2.0" to its own unique identity.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • The Sports Festival Arc, which was considered the point where the series grew its beard by fleshing out Shoto and Ochaco's characters and its well-done fights.
    • The Hero Killer Arc, for introducing fan favorite villain Stain and being the first major battle Izuku fought and won.
    • The Hideout Raid Arc, which is fondly remembered for the battle between All-Might and All For One, as well as being a major turning point in the story where All-Might retires.
  • The Chunin Exams arc of Naruto. It's an early arc that introduces several characters who would go on to become staples of the series (such as Rock Lee and Hinata), and sees a lot of character development for Sasuke and Sakura, before transitioning the ongoing plot of Naruto into the wider conflict between Konoha and Orochimaru, and then turning the focus onto Akatsuki.
  • One Piece:
    • The events between the Straw Hat Pirates arriving to Sabaody and the Time Skip, generally known as the Paramount War. This included massive expansion of the setting and lore, shocking answers to several long-running questions about many of the characters followed by all new ones, introductions of numerous new characters whose existence has only been vaguely hinted at before, outright deaths of two major characters in a series that used to have a reputation of nobody ever dying outside of flashbacks, a massive reconfiguration of the status quo, revelations of the portions of Luffy's past that have never been seen before, and the single biggest Darkest Hour in the entire series, as Luffy reaches just this side of the Despair Event Horizon over the disappearance of his entire crew due to his own actions, his utter and complete failure in his mission to attack Impel Down and Marineford, and the death of his brother Ace. This was the biggest sequence of Wham Episodes in the series and its events have affected the world the series takes place in to this day, with the sheer high stakes having still not been topped despite taking place back in 2010.
    • Before that was the Alabasta arc, which was the longest and had the highest stakes up to that point, with an entire kingdom on the line, a cruel and memorable cast of villains in Sir Crocodile and Baroque Works, and scenes that are now considered iconic moments for the franchise, like the Straw Hat crew's secret salute to Vivi.
    • Between them were the subsequent Water Seven and Enies Lobby arcs, together forming another fine candidate for "best arc in One Piece."
      • Water Seven was the point when the series turned seriously Darker and Edgier, coming right off the heels of Luffy's battle with Aokiji, the first unqualified defeat for the Straw Hat Pirates since Zoro's duel with Mihawk back in East Blue. The arc itself has the greatest internal crisis of the crew until Sabaody, when an argument over the fate of the Going Merry leads to Usopp leaving the Straw Hats while at the same time Robin seems to have betrayed them for an opaque Government Conspiracy. Before Paramount War, Water Seven was seen as the series' Darkest Hour for a very good reason.
      • The plot threads of Water Seven then culminated in Enies Lobby, a Rescue Arc bringing in major upgrades to most of the main characters' abilities. It gave us more iconic moments such as Luffy ordering for the World Government's flag to be shot, boasting that he's perfectly willing to take on the entire world to defend a single member of his crew. It also brought in some long-awaited Character Development for until then utterly mysterious Robin, with a flashback to her childhood that also revealed some horrific truths about the history of the world. In this, Enies Lobby caused the fandom's perception of the World Government and the Marines to shift from adversaries to enemies.
  • For Pokémon, no matter how many sequel series get made, the original Kanto arc always remains the one that is most remembered. Combined with First Installment Wins, this also has to do with the franchise's well-known use of the original 151 Pokémon.
  • The Promised Neverland is usually described as a Genius Thriller of super-intelligent kids trying to escape from an evil orphanage with only their wits as weapons. But that part is only the first four-and-a-half volumes; after that the story moves to the outside world and the heroes' goals become much larger in scale, with more fantasy elements. Despite that, the first arc is generally considered the most memorable for its tension, numerous twists, and beloved antagonists (Isabella and Krone).
  • Saint Seiya: Out of all the sagas in the series, the one everyone remembers is the Twelve Houses saga, which fully introduced the Breakout Characters of the Golden Saints, and has been reanimated into multiple mediums, including a CGI film and a foreign remake.
  • For Sword Art Online, the Aincrad arc is easily the most iconic arc and the one the series is most heavily associated with, which is a case of overlapping with First Installment Wins.
  • For the original Yu-Gi-Oh! it's the Duelist Kingdom arc, which officially transitioned the manga to a card battle series, directly tied the card game to Yami Yugi's past and expanded the series' lore, began its heavily serialized multi-chapter arcs, and introduced several characters, such as Pegasus, Mai, Weevil, Rex, and Bandit Keith, who would make reappearances in multiple series as well as video games, which subsequently adapt many elements from the arc. The fact that the better known anime skipped directly to Duelist Kingdom for the beginning also helps contribute to this since it was many people's introduction to the franchise, allowing it to also mix some First Installment Wins for fans of the show.

    Asian Animation 
  • The most popular Story Arc in Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf might be Great War in the Bizarre World. It's one of the show's first attempts at a long story and one of the most memorable. The characters from this arc are still popular to this day.

    Comic Books 
  • The Avengers:
    • For the Roy Thomas era, it's the Crimson Cowl/Ultron two-parter, the Skrull-Kree War. The former for introducing the major recurring villain of the Avengers, and the second being one of the first cosmic stories in Marvel that placed the Avengers at the center of it.
    • Then there's the story arc in Avengers #211-230 that shows the downfall of Hank Pym as he slaps his wife, humiliates himself, gets divorced, expelled from the Avengers, framed from a crime and imprisoned, and then framed again as an accomplice before overturning and defeating the Masters of Evil by himself, and taking responsibility for his actions. This story which was strongly serialized redefined the Avengers group dynamic, and made them flawed and conflicted heroes, and it is also for better and worse, the defining story of Hank Pym and Ant-Man.
    • In Roger Stern's lengthy run it's definitely Under Siege, where the Masters of Evil go big like never before and infiltrate and take over Avengers mansion and imprison and/or decommission many Avengers making Earth's Mightiest Heroes the underdogs as they take back their headquarters.
    • In modern times, important story arcs include New Avengers, Secret Invasion and in Jonathan Hickman's AvengersInfinity and "Time Runs Out".
  • Batman: The Dark Knight has been defined and redefined multiple times in multiple styles by different artists and writers across the ages:
    • "Strange Apparitions" by Steve Englehart was one of the first lengthy serialized arcs in a Batman title (very rare at DC at the time since they preferred one-and-done stories). It also deepened Bruce Wayne as a character, created a new dynamic with his Rogues Gallery and reinvigorated Gotham as an active background rather than static setting.
    • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One by Frank Miller. The former is an AU story that famously, according to the writer, "gave Batman his balls back", while the latter (which is in-continuity) is cited as Batman's definitive origin. Both comics produced some of Batman's most iconic images of the character, setting, supporting cast, rogues, and gadgets and were often reproduced in adaptations.
    • Knightfall, Batman: No Man's Land and Batman: Hush were likewise era-defining story arcs, introducing a number of notable villains, character moments, plot threads, and story ideas cited by later authors and in adaptations.
  • Daredevil remains indelibly defined by Frank Miller's legendary run which produced many great stories such as The Elektra Saga and especially Daredevil: Born Again which is for many the Daredevil story and one of the greatest stories ever put out by Marvel.
  • DC Comics:
    • DC is particularly famous for Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Trope Namer for Crisis Crossover and Red Skies Crossover. Never before had comics seen so many characters assembled (some even from other companies after they'd been acquired by DC), seen stakes so large, or had consequences so dire. By the end of the story, TRILLIONS of people are dead, including several fan-favorite heroes, and the entire history of the DC Universe had been forever altered. It's telling that this event is one that has had sequels or revisits several times, in stories like Zero Hour!, The Kingdom, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, Flashpoint, DC Rebirth and many, many others.
    • The other defining series arc for DC in The '80s is from one of their lesser titles, Swamp Thing. This was Alan Moore's first ongoing gig for a major comics company and his extended run on the character was not only the definitive run for Swamp Thing but was also a watershed for DC since its Genre-Busting of supernatural, horror, crime, superhero, and environmental politics as well as its high literary appeal led to the development of DC Vertigo. In Moore's Swamp Thing significant story arc include "The Anatomy Lesson" and "American Gothic" (which introduced John Constantine, who became a significant Breakout Character in his own right).
    • 52, a year long miniseries that focused on the lesser known DC superheroes, a story arc that spanned all fifty two weeks a year (i.e. a new issue every week) is also cited as a landmark story for recent DC Comics.
  • Fantastic Four by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee had many notable stories but the most famous arc is undoubtedly The Coming of Galactus.
  • Marvel Universe:
    • Civil War remains Marvel's biggest-selling event. It completely altered the status quo of the Marvel universe while also defining the characters and stories of several key players for more than a decade.
    • The Infinity Gauntlet. While hardly the only major story involving Thanos or the rest of the Cosmic Marvel lineup, it is by far the most memorable largely because it allowed every character to shine, including every hero, the Big Bad Ensemble, and several cosmic deties. But it is an especially Establishing Character Moment for Thanos, who gets cemented as a Magnificent Bastard with complex motivations and interesting character flaws. This arc has been adapted to video games (perhaps most notably Marvel Super Heroes) and a big part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
    • Secret Wars (1984). The first major event comics and best-seller. It provided many iconic story and character beats and likewise introduced elements such as the Symbiote costume of Spider-Man that led in turn to Venom—a character who has since become a major successful spin-off character. It also led in turn Secret Wars (2015), a spiritual sequel that was likewise a landmark storyline for Marvel in The New '10s.
  • The Mighty Thor:
    • In the Lee-Kirby era, there was Tales of Asgard, Ego the Living Planet, and Mangog.
    • In the Walt Simonson era, there are two major story arcs, The Balladof Beta Ray Bill and The Surtur Saga.
    • In Jason Aaron's run it's the opening "The God Butcher/Godbomb" 12 issue story arc running in Thor, God of Thunder.
  • Shazam is defined by The Monster Society of Evil, the first serialized story arc in superhero comics which introduced the iconic villain Mister Mind.
  • Spider-Man, being a long-runner, has many iconic Story Arc across its publication history:
    • During The '60s, and in Lee-Ditko Spider-Man, it was definitely "If This Be My Destiny—" or The Master Planner Saga (ASM #31-33) where Spider-Man lifting tons of machinery is still one of the most oft-featured, oft-reproduced images across comics history. Then from The '70s, there's The Night Gwen Stacy Died, a story arc that is single-handedly credited with not only ushering in The Bronze Age of Comic Books, but in slowly introducing Darker and Edgier stories into comics in general.
    • During The '80s, The Saga of the Symbiote, i.e. the lengthy story arc that spanned Spider-Man's acquistion of the Symbiote black costume to the first appearance of Venom in ASM #300 is also highly iconic. Other landmark stories include Kraven's Last Hunt, and, more controversially, The Clone Saga—not so much for its quality but for its proverbial impenetrability and confusion.
    • For Ultimate Spider-Man, it's the opening 12 issues known as "Powers and Responsibility" and "Learning Curve". The other famous arc is "Death of Spider-Man" and its aftermath which led to the rise of Miles Morales.
  • For Doctor Strange, it is without question The Eternity Saga which really defined the weird ethereal cosmic-mystic side of Stephen Strange.
  • Most of Superman's most famous stories in the earlier eras tend to be one-shots or two-parters rather than serialized stories. But Post-Crisis, he got many story arcs that can be considered an example of this trope, such as The Man of Steel, The Death of Superman, and All-Star Superman.
  • X-Men:
    • Giant Size X-Men by Len Wein is cited as the real beginning of the X-Men as we come to know it. This introduced an entire new team of mutants as the X-Men with brighter more individualistic costumes (over the bland two-color uniforms that preceded it) and greater diversity than before. The likes of Wolverine, Nightcrawler and others were introduced in a flash and despite coming in so late immediately became the Spotlight-Stealing Squad.
    • Chris Claremont, who followed on from Wein's run, also wrote many of the central and defining moment of the franchise, working with both John Byrne and Dave Cockrum. This includes The Phoenix Saga and The Dark Phoenix Saga as well as Days of Future Past.
    • Age of Apocalypse was likewise a defining X-Men story from The '90s and one of Marvel's most famous and iconic events.
    • House of M is another defining story famous for its shocking ending which altered the status quo in a way that Marvel and X-Men have yet to recover from in the comics.
  • The first two volumes of The Ultimates written by Mark Millar were a Tough Act to Follow for every writer who worked on the series afterward, including Mark Millar.
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    Literature 
  • The original series of Warrior Cats combines this with First Installment Wins. It contains the most well-known characters and is highly influential in the fandom's fanon.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Babylon 5 is generally remembered for or even as The Shadow War, its longest arc by far. The Shadow War arc stretched all the way from mid-season one "Signs and Portents" to early Season 4 "Into the Fire". With the Earth Alliance and Minbari Civil Wars sharing the remainder of Season 4, and various smaller arcs (many of which pertained to the aftermath of The Shadow War.) making up the remainder of the series.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer has its "Evil Angel" story arc that comprised Season 2 and saw heroic vampire and love interest Angel end up losing his soul and become the main villain. It proved to be the show's Growing the Beard moment for turning the show's formula on its head, as well as introducing major characters, not the least of which included Spike, and planted seeds that would set up Angel's spin-off down the line.
  • Power Rangers:
  • Supernatural is most well known for its "stop the apocalypse arc", which started in Season 4 and really came to a head in Season 5 — the introduction of biblical themes (after previously focusing on smaller-scale creatures such as cryptids) and fan-favourite characters like Castiel, Gabriel and Lucifer permanently changed the show, and are widely considered to be the best written seasons. It made such an impact that new viewers are often very surprised to find out that angels are treated as non-existent and dismissed as silly for the first three seasons.

    Video Games 
  • For the Batman: Arkham Series, the second game, Batman: Arkham City, is the most remembered for being where the series transitioned to a full Wide Open Sandbox and became its own lore separate from any previous continuity, expanded its cast with its own takes on both the Bat-Family and the greater Batman Rogues Gallery, and showed it wasn't afraid to leave the comfort zone of the status quo by enacting several big name changes, most famously killing the Joker off for real during the endgame.
  • Fate Series:
    • Fate/Grand Order has a Myth Arc that consists of several independent storylines, but when it comes to the most memorable Singularity, the fans would answer either Camelot or Babylonia, both mainly penned by Kinoko Nasu himself. The two chapters are where the main plot points of the Myth Arc take the front seat, reduced amount of filler battles that plagued previous chapters, boat load of awesome, funny, horrifying, sad, and heartwarming moments characteristic to the Fate series' prose give both veterans and newbies of the series alike a good look at the expanded universe that is the Nasuverse.
    • In fact, those two Singularities were so popular with fans that when the creators held a survey over which ones fans wanted anime adaptations of, they received the most votes out of every Singularity. As a result, Babylonia would received an anime called Fate/Grand Order - Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia in 2019 and Camelot would receive a movie duology called Fate/Grand Order - Divine Realm of the Round Table: Camelot, wth the first movie to release in 2020.
  • In The King of Fighters, the best known arc is the Orochi Saga that started with KOF '94 (also known as the Rugal Saga and prologue of the arc) and ended with KOF '97. note  This arc is the base of the series where major characters of the series are presented (mainly Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami) and the most known not just by KOF/SNK fans, but Fighting Game fans in general, which also overlaps with First Installment Wins.
  • For the Mega Man X series, a handful of the games tend to stand out among the rest:
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is often remembered for the plot of the Dr. Eggman's Death Egg, the introduction of Sonic's sidekick and best friend Tails, and the debut of Super Sonic if you acquire the 7 Chaos Emeralds.
    • Sonic 3 & Knuckles is well-known for the continuation of the Death Egg story from Sonic 2. The game also introduced Knuckles, who started off as The Rival to Sonic before joining his side near the end, and the Master Emerald, which can—in a locked-on playthrough—turn the Chaos Emeralds into Super Emeralds which can then turn Sonic into his Hyper Form. This two-game arc is one of the reasons why Sonic fans consider Sonic 3 & Knuckles the best game of the series.
    • Sonic Adventure 2 is well remembered for the introduction of Sonic's arch-rival and dark counterpart Shadow, and also Shadow's Character Development from a revenge-driven villain to a hero who would ended up sacrificing himself to save the world. This in turn would make him so popular with the Sonic fandom that he was brought back in Sonic Heroes. The game is also remembered for the dark and complex storyline which is split in two perspectives — Hero (Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles) and Dark (Shadow, Dr. Eggman, and Rouge), with the Last Story being unlocked after clearing them.

    Western Animation 
  • Season Four of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, to the point where the movie basically adapted the finale almost plot point for plot point (with a few world-building additions, as well as nixxing Discord).
  • For the DC Animated Universe, it is either the Justice Lords two-parter of the original Justice League, or its more or less direct sequel, the Cadmus arc in Unlimited. The former pits prime universe's heroes against their eponymous unfettered AU counterparts and forces them to draw the line that separates heroism from extremism. The latter builds upon that by having The Government realize that the League going the Justice Lord route is the single biggest threat to humanity and pitting Good vs. Good in a Myth Arc spanning two seasons and culminating in one of the most epic finales of the whole DCAU.

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