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Supernatural Suffocation

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"You breathe when I allow it. The air in your lungs obeys my every whim. You would be wise to do the same."
Storm, "Worlds Apart, Part 1"

Suffocation isn't usually an especially fast or efficient method of killing someone — a typical human can last for several minutes before succumbing to oxygen deprivation, and will likely attempt to free themselves all the while, growing more aggressive and desperate as their air runs out. As such, suffocation is usually only a useful combat option in very situational circumstances. Some characters, however, possess skills that render this kind of kills a much more viable murder or combat method, most often by allowing them to supernaturally cause someone to no longer to be able to breathe.

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Supernatural suffocation appears foremost as an application of Elemental Powers. It is often associated with water control, especially when it comes with true hydrokinesis — if you can move water with your mind, and the other person can't, there's little stopping you from covering their mouth and nostrils with water or making the liquid flow directly into their lungs. Trapping someone in a giant orb of water is a particularly common variation. After that, all you need to do is sit down and wait for your foe to run out of oxygen. Similarly, air powers can lend themselves to this — if you can move air from place to place, for instance, you might also be able to empty out a foe's lungs.

Rarer versions make use of other substances, such as by burying someone in a non-porous solid matter. Someone with the Power of the Void might also be able to create hard vacuums around targets. A Deadly Force Field can block breathing, or at least limit someone to a very small air supply. This may also manifest as a form of Psychic Powers, typically by having a telepath convince you that you can't breathe or an angry spirit that died of drowning or suffocation causing the living to experience their own torturous death.

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Drowning and suffocation are not fun ways to go. They're miserable, slow, and terrifying, and as a result, these powers are mainly the territory of villains and otherwise evil figures. In cases where this is just one application of a broader power set, the villains are typically going to be the ones to come up with or to want to use this specific application. When this is specific, self-standing power, it's going be very rare for a hero to turn up whose superpower is just to fill people's lungs with water or suck them dry of air.

Compare and contrast Psychic Strangle, accomplished by telekinetically squeezing the trachea and/or carotid artery, as opposed to forcing something unbreathable to either plug or invade the airways.


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Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: A pair of Bount twins in the anime arc use their water-based dolls to create masses of water around the target's head to drown them.
  • Darker Than Black: April's contractor ability is water manipulation. In the first season, her role is essentially to provide the Elemental Baggage for her partner November 11, who can freeze water. However, in the second season, she gets her chance to shine, first by her powers being uniquely suited to take down a Contractor, and then almost killing the first season's protagonist by enveloping his head in water. Unfortunately for her, her Making a Splash abilities don't really cut the mustard against his Shock and Awe ability...
  • Digimon Xros Wars: Splashmon, one of the generals of the villainous Bagra Army, can use a Bead Drown attack that consists of it concentrating moisture out of the air to form a sphere of water around his opponent's head.
  • Dungeon master wants to sleep now and forever...: Keima's favorite technique for killing powerful monsters in Dungeon Battles is to create a horde of small creatures and control some of them to climb up the monster's body and jump into its throat.
  • Fairy Tail:
    • Juvia Lockser, who can use her own body into powerful water, has a magic spell that allows her to trap opponents in an orb of water that cuts off their oxygen supply.
    • The Etherious Demon Torafuzar weaponizes this with his Curse Tenchi Kaimei, creating a massive wave of black water that he floods his surroundings with. One of the side effects of this arrangement is that the lack of oxygen makes it difficult for the target to fight a literal Shark Man who can move freely through the water. And even on the off-chance they don't suffocate, the poisonous nature of the water Torafuzar is immune to will kill them anyways from exposure if they stay in longer than five minutes. The only way Gajeel is able to save his friends is to take Torafuzar down before its too late. When the Spriggan 12 member Bloodman attempts to repeat this with the very same curse, Levy who barely survived this technique counters by creating a hole in the ground with her magic to drain the water away.
  • Jojos Bizarre Adventure:
    • In the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders OVA, N'Doul's Stand, Geb, mixes itself with water from a canteen, then forms a bubble around Polnareff's head, almost drowning him despite Jotaro's attempts to punch the water away with Star Platinum. Fortunately, Avdol uses Magician's Red to evaporate most of the water before Polnareff suffocates.
    • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean, the minor antagonist Thunder McQueen is a severely suicidal man whose Stand, Highway to Hell, copies any injury he inflicts upon himself onto another person. When he tries to drown himself, the Stand turns into a liquid blob that wraps itself around Ermes' nose and mouth, suffocating her until she manages to stop him from drowning.
  • MÄR: Snow faces off against a Gonk looking girl named Emokis in the fifth round of the War Games. In the last few moments, she pulls out a new ARM named Undine, who controls water and covers Emokis body in a bubble of it. Snow tries to get her to surrender, but Emokis is too prideful and nearly drowns due to her stubbornness. Luckily for her, Undine deactivates the power after Emokis loses consciousness, knowing that Snow didn't want to kill her, giving Snow the win.
  • Naruto:
    • Utakata's bubble-based fighting style includes the Drowning Bubble Technique, where he traps an opponent's head in a large bubble and waits for them to drown.
    • Suigetsu, who can turn himself into water at will, will sometimes gather parts of his liquefied self around an opponent's head to asphyxiate them.
    • Kisame Hoshigaki has a technique called "Water Prison Shark Dance Technique" that traps himself and his opponent(s) in a huge sphere or dome of water while he fuses with his sword. One of the side effects of this arrangement is that the lack of oxygen makes it difficult for the target to fight a literal Shark Man as they attempt to futilely escape the large body of water.
  • One Piece: One application of Caesar Clown's "Gas Gas" Devil Fruit power is to deprive everyone else around him of oxygen, suffocating them.
  • Soul Hunter: One of the enemies that Taikoubou faces has a paopei (magic artifact) that controls water, which she uses to create a permanent, inescapable water bubble just large enough to engulf his head.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Udo Jin-e captures Kaoru to lure Kenshin out and paralyzes her with a glance from his Evil Eye, gloating that she only has a few minutes before she asphyxiates and Kenshin's only chance of saving her is to break his Thou Shalt Not Kill oath. He very nearly does until Kaoru manages to break out of the spell by sheer willpower.

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU:
    • New Wave, who was the leader of the villain team the Masters of Disaster, can turn her entire body into water and drown her opponents.
    • Robin Series: Monsoon uses her water manipulation powers to drown people, and nearly drowns Tim by trapping him in water in a Bludhaven alley. If Tim hadn't been accompanied by members of Shadowpact at the time he'd have died with no way to defend himself.
  • Marvel Universe:
    • Spider-Man: Hydro-Man, an Elemental Shapeshifter supervillain who can turn himself into water, has this as his preferred combat technique. During a battle, he typically turns parts of himself into water with which to fill his foes' respiratory tracts or simply fills the room they're in with, well, himself until they drown.
    • X-Men: Storm has all-encompassing control of weather. On occasion, she's put her control of air pressure to use to deny her opponents their breath.
  • PS238: Poly Mer has used her Rubber Man powers to suffocate someone by allowing herself to be inhaled.

    Fan Works 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Keepers, who all have control of their dungeons' environments, can, with enough magic, teleport in or create water to fill a room. Ami's only thought of doing so once, when faced with an unstoppable enemy, but didn't carry it out because she assumed him to be immune to drowning.
  • Soul Eater: Troubled Souls: Submerging people under huge amounts of high-pressure water is the one ways Cancer Lucrenian knows how to kill people with water.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Dark Tower (2017): The Man in Black often kills people by using his Compelling Voice to order them to stop breathing. They drop on the spot, but the command obviously takes some time to finish them off.
  • The Last Airbender: Admiral Zhao meets his end when a trio of waterbenders simply walk up to him and encase him in a large bubble of water until he drowns, and then simply drop his lifeless body to the ground.

    Literature 
  • Children of the Red King: Dagbert Endless and his father possess the Endownment of "Drowning", either through more traditional water manipulation to flood a place or filling the air with a thick salty atmosphere which makes victims struggle to breathe.
  • John Barrington Cowles: An unaddressed curiosity is that Kate Northcott's former fiances all drowned. William Prescott certainly dies from drowning, Archibald Reeves's insanity-induced alcoholism is a major factor in his body giving up, and John Barrington Cowles's death is a toss-up between the fall off a cliff and drowning in the waves below. This recurrence has an equal chance of being Kate's MO, of being a manifestation of her true nature's influence, or of being all mere coincidence.
  • Forest Kingdom: In book 2 (Blood and Honor), this is how King Malcom was murdered — his daughter Gabrielle used air magic to draw the breath from his lungs.
  • The Name of the Wind: Early in his magic training, Kvothe Sympathetically binds the air in his lungs to the air around him, hoping for Super Breath. However, Sympathy runs on Equivalent Exchange, so he starts to suffocate because his lungs can't shift the greater mass of air; he almost dies before he can break the spell.
  • "The Spider (1908)": Clarimonde's method of killing her victims once they're her puppets is to have them hang themselves and die from suffocation. During their death struggles, she crawls into their mouths for undisclosed purposes, although it's hinted she gets her nourishment from them during this moment.
  • Stormsong, by C.L. Polk:
    • The villain is revealed to have committed murder by using Sympathetic Magic to force the victim to stop breathing. Grace wins the victim's father's cooperation, despite their enmity, by pointing out how hideously slow and cruel a death it was.
      "It took three minutes... three minutes where she was terrified. Three minutes where she saw her death coming and couldn't do anything to stop it."
    • When they confront each other, Grace turns the tables by fine-tuning her Weather Manipulation power to suck the air out of the villain's lungs, briefly staggering them.
  • Whateley Universe: In "Dorms of Our Lives", Tidestriker, who can control water, spits a mouthful of water in Derek's face and causes it to stay there, creating a mask of water plugging his nose and mouth.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Mind of Evil" sees the "Keller Machine", supposedly an experimental treatment designed to cure criminals of their malignant tendencies. As the Doctor discovers to his horror, it's in fact an extremely dangerous alien mind parasite that feeds on the negative impulses in the brain and can kill people by making them physically experience their worst fears. Early in the storyline, it kills one of the scientists who fears water by making him experience drowning at sea while he's on dry land.
    • In "The Shakespeare Code", the witches plunge a Voodoo Doll with the victim's hair sample attached into a barrel of water, causing the poor victim to spew water from his mouth and start drowning. The witches then finish him off with a needle to the voodoo doll's heart.
  • The Lost Room: When the canteen is opened, a person in its vicinity becomes unable to breathe.
  • Misfits: One episode has a villain of the week with the power of "lactokinesis", or control of dairy products. One of the things he does is to manipulate cheese in people's digestive systems to choke them to death.
  • Supernatural: As the nature of a vengeful spirit's death impacts their powers in unlife, spirits who drowned or whose death was connected to water may possess the ability to drown living people. Sam and Dean have faced several examples during their career:
    • "Dead in the Water" features the spirit of Peter Sweeny, who drowns people by literally possessing the black lake water he died in and forcibly traveling into people's lungs or using the water to hold them under. He goes after the families of the two men who accidentally drowned him as a boy.
    • "Red Sky at Morning" features the ghost of a sailor who appears every thirty-seven years to go after those who killed members of their own family (he was hanged by his own brother for attempting mutiny) and executes his victims by making them drown on dry land.
    • "Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie": At the end, Dean defeats Howard, who is killing people by bringing their worst fears to life, by using the same spell to summon the spirit of Howard's younger brother who drowned under his watch whilst they were both children. The angry ghost kills his brother by making him experience his own death.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Pathfinder:
    • Linnorms are evil dragons who can lay powerful death curses on their killers, and some aquatic linnorms have curses that make their slayers very susceptible to drowning.
      • A fjord linnorm's death curse causes its killer to lose any ability to breathe underwater, to become unable to use magical aid to do so and to hold its breath for any length of time and without intense nausea.
      • Gare and shoal linnorms' curses cause any liquid their targets to drink to pour directly into their lungs, potentially drowning them on dry land.
    • The Breath Weapon of a void dragon drives the air out of its targets' lungs and causes them to suffocate for several rounds.
    • Nereids are aquatic fey who can fill a victim's lungs with water at a touch, preferably a Kiss of Death. If their victims fail their saving throw, they fall unconscious in one turn and die in three.
    • Kurobozu are undead monks who feed on people's breath, non-lethally suffocating their victims and exposing them to a Mystical Plague.
    • Yurei can cause a victim within fifty feet to suffocate for up to three combat rounds, which can knock them unconscious or kill them at worst. To add insult to injury, when they regain their breath, they cough up something nauseating like a tangle of wet hair.
    • Sarglagons, also known as drowning devils, are aquatic fiends that can cause their enemies' lungs to spontaneously fill with water.
    • The Suffocation spell renders a target unable to breathe for up to three combat rounds, which knocks them unconscious with one failed saving throw and kills them with three. The much more powerful Mass Suffocation affects more targets and lasts substantially longer.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay:
    • One spell in the Lore of Shadow conjures up Tendrils of Darkness to strangle the target for as long as the spellcaster concentrates, first forcing them to try to resist the effect every turn, then starting to deal progressively greater damage after they succumb.
    • One of the potential effects of a catastrophic Magic Misfire is that the spellcaster is unable to breathe for one to ten minutes.

    Toys 
  • BIONICLE:
    • The Kaukau Nuva, the Mask of Underwater Breathing, can do this by sharing its power with others in the vicinity before withdrawing the power, but the Toa consider this immoral to do.
    • Gali Nuva briefly did this against Hakann during their initial battle on Voya Nui by encasing his head in a water sphere. Hakann briefly and noticeably panicked as his lungs filled with water before he reminded himself that he had defeated and killed other Toa of Water in the past and used his heat vision to evaporate the water sphere.
    • It's possible to do this with the Vacuum power, which was noticeably weaponized by Makuta to defeat Voporak since no amount of elapsed time will create air where there is none and even an Implacable Man like Voporak needs to breathe.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • Spirit Hunter: NG: The Urashima Woman's cause of death was drowning, and so as a spirit she's gained some control over water. In particular, she can make her victims feel like they're drowning even without water present.

    Webcomics 
  • Unsounded: Anadyne the spellwright's signature trick is to condense atmospheric moisture over someone's face and hold it there until they suffocate. It's not only cruel but slow and inefficient compared to other magic — her one known victim needs to be immobilized by someone else and still gets rescued before she can kill him.

    Web Original 
  • Mortasheen: Stingg, an entity whose powers revolve around the production and delivery of a seemingly endless variety of poisons, includes in her repertoire a toxin whose effects simply cause the victim's lungs to rapidly fill with fluid.
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-1812 is Earth's second moon and appears to simply not exist to people that haven't had it pointed out to them. Those aware of it, however, will perceive its pronounced tidal effects upon the ocean and have been known for drowning in seawater that isn't there to anyone else; most coastal cities are a death sentence to people in the know, who will drown in absolutely nothing in the middle of the street.

    Web Videos 
  • Smosh: In "REAL DEATH NOTE!", Ian gets ahold of an actual Death Note that causes people to strangle themselves to death when he writes their name down in it.

    Western Animation 
  • The Legend of Korra: The season 3 Big Bad Zaheer weaponizes airbending in a far more lethal way than we've ever seen: he executes the Earth Queen by drawing all the air from her lungs and letting her suffocate.
  • Steven Universe: Lapis Lazuli, who has hydrokinetic abilities, nearly drowns Steven and Connie by trapping their heads inside giant blobs of water.
  • Teen Titans: Aqualad tries to down Speedy using his hydrokinesis during their round in the "Tournament of Heroes".

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