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The Atoner

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This is why you don't want to take the Atoner for granite.

"Long is the way, and hard, that out of Hell leads up to Light."
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Once, there was a major villain named Bob. He committed every crime one could think of, and he did it with a song in his heart and a skip in his step. Then, something happened to make him ''see'' the horror of what he was doing. He realized how much pain he had caused, and he set out on a personal quest to try to make it right.

The Atoner is an evil character who has realized the error of his ways, possibly wants to make amends, and has decided that they will do so via heroic deeds. Simple imprisonment won't do, because it does nothing to make recompense for what he's done wrong. Besides, he still has all these amazing skills and resources from the Bad Old Days—wouldn't it be better to use them for good?

The problem is, Bob often has to wrestle with the temptation to return to his old ways, along with the massive guilt built up over years of carefree evil. Also, said previous villain skills usually involve killing people in very messy ways, which can result in karmically harmful situations. Other times Bob's evil side won't go down without a fight, and manifests itself as an Enemy Within. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that morality isn't a book that can be balanced—no amount of babies saved now will bring Bob's past victims back to life. The Atoner usually realizes that "Redemption is the path, not the destination" and continues for the rest of his life.

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Sometimes 'the rest of his life' is short because Redemption Equals Death. Generally the only Atoners who avoid this are main characters who are already in the atoning stage by the series' start. Atoners often end up as Knights in Sour Armor. Those who believe redemption inherently equals death may well become Death Seekers.

A subtrope of this is "Assassin Wants To Quit." Stories involving them allow us to cheer on the assassin as they battle their former employers using the same murderous skills they honed during their previous career. Atoners sometimes go on a Redemption Quest in order to atone. If their deed of atonement is especially painful, it may overlap with The Penance.

Would-be Atoners who are not sincere are trying to Buy Them Off. Not to be confused with The Aloner, though they can both coincide if the character is trying to atone for killing off everyone else on the planet. And especially not to be confused with The Stoner (unless they turned to drugs to cope with their guilt). The Atoner may face rejection and hatred from those who don't believe he's reformed, which is Reformed, but Rejected, and more importantly, he must be careful not to run into the Heel–Face Door-Slam. In some instances, however, there are characters who will acknowledge The Atoner's change of heart, but do so in a grudging manner. The Atoner must also beware of one character who actively seeks to end his path to redemption.

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The success rate of atoners depends on where the work sits on the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism. In more idealistic works, or at least ones that posit that people can change for the better, atoners may have a greater chance of success, as proof that no matter one's actions may have been in the past, it's always possible to change for the better and do good.

Genuine atoners have a high chance of becoming The Woobie, especially if they were an Anti-Villain in the first place. See also, Be All My Sins Remembered, where they continue to suffer a guilt complex over their past misdeeds. Contrast with My Greatest Failure—instead of a formerly evil character turning from their past, a good character feels the need to atone for not preventing a bad outcome (regardless of whether they could have changed anything). The Atoner may have experienced Go and Sin No More.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Film—Animated 

    Film—Live-Action 
  • In the The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter originally interprets Uncle Ben's death as something he needs to atone for, ruthlessly hunting down the criminal responsible for killing him. It's not until he saves a bunch of people from falling to their deaths, specifically a small child, and realizes that the Lizard was Doctor Connors, that he shifts to acting more like an actual hero.
  • Ulfric in Black Death. As it is likely that he had been at the battle of Crecy, where their opponents had been slaughtered instead of being given a mercy strike. He does give one to the woman accused of being a witch.
  • In By the Sword, Suba is this by training himself back into Master Swordsman shape so that he can teach the helpless students, encourage good behaviors in them, and correct the Maestro's, Villard, behavior before he becomes just like him.
  • Cruel and Unusual: Edgar, after he finally realizes his sins.
  • Dark Blue:
    • After Bobby is coerced to kill an innocent man, he breaks down until he confesses his crimes to his cop ex-girlfriend Beth and her superior.
    • After Eldon Perry gets his partner killed, he atones for his crimes at his promotion ceremony by exposing all the corruption taking place under Jack Van Meter inside the department.
  • Commissioner Gordon becomes this in The Dark Knight when he realizes Harvey Dent and The Joker were right about the extent of the corruption in his unit and, had he listened, it wouldn't have resulted in corrupt cops kidnapping Dent and Rachael, disfiguring the former and killing the latter. It only lasts until Two-Face kidnaps his family, but until then the sheer desperation in his voice shows how responsible he feels and how obsessed he is with rescuing Harvey:
    Gordon: Dent is in there with them! We have to save Dent! I HAVE TO SAVE DENT!!!
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • Bruce Wayne/Batman is a big case of this. After behaving like a ruthless and careless vigilante, misjudging Superman badly, almost killing the Man of Steel and having an indirect part in his death in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, he vows to form the Justice League to protect the Earth in Superman's absence, and does everything he can to accomplish this with the help of Diana/Wonder Woman in Justice League.
    • Suicide Squad: Diablo initially refused to use his powers, out of remorse for killing his family using them.
  • In Dracula Untold, Vlad is portrayed as attempting to live a peaceful life with his family, and leave his days as Vlad the Impaler behind. Then the Ottomans arrive (again) and his attempts at a peaceful life become all for nought.
  • GoldenEye: Alec Trevelyan straight up asks James Bond, "...if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect." 007's attitude throughout Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day (specifically his desperate attempt to resuscitate Jinx) indicates that this statement has left him pretty rattled.
  • High Plains Invaders:
    • Sam turned himself in when he realised that one of his train robberies caused the death of 10 people. He was prepared to hang for his crimes, but when the alien invasion granted him an unexpected reprieve, he turned his skills to keeping as many people alive as possible.
    • Jules becomes this once he realises that it was his experiments with uranium that brought the Bugs to town. Abigail even tells him to stop feeling sorry for himself and find some way to redeem his miserable soul. Jules takes this advice to heart and spends the rest of the move trying to do just that.
  • Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road states that trying to rescue the Wives from Immortan Joe is an attempt at redemption. We never learn exactly what she is attempting to redeem herself for, but given the highly savage and misogynistic culture of the Citadel, it's likely all the extra horrible things she probably had to do to attain the rank of Imperator.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Tony Stark, Natasha Romanov and Bruce Banner. Tony and Natasha have legitimate sins to make up for (he was a selfish weapons dealer who didn't care that the collateral damage from the military-industrial complex's freewheeling use of his weapons caused hundreds of civilian deaths; she was a cold-blooded Russian spy and assassin, presumably working for ex-KGB operatives, who also indiscriminately killed hundreds of people, including numerous civilians and, by implication, children). Bruce, however, involuntarily turns into a destructive, mindless monster when he gets angry due to an experiment gone wrong, and all the deaths he's caused happened when he wasn't in his right mind, but that doesn't stop him from blaming himself or even trying to kill himself to rid the world of the Hulk.
    • Also, Clint Barton became one after being freed from Loki's Brainwashed and Crazy mind control. In his case it's particularly noteworthy considering the only reason Loki enslaved him was due to his skill (making him a valuable pawn) and because he had 'heart', yet he still feels responsible despite having no control over himself. His first request upon being freed was to know exactly who and how many innocent people he killed while under Loki's thumb. Natasha shuts that down at once, telling him firmly not to think about the consequences of things he is obviously not responsible for.
    • In Thor: Ragnarok, Loki is guilty of various severe crimes outlined in the previous movie by his father, Odin. He later expresses regret and helps evacuate Asgard alongside his brother Thor, The Hulk, and Valkyrie from the rule of his and Thor's evil sister, Hela.
  • Captain Mendoza in the film The Mission used to be a cold-blooded officer who ordered the slaughter of many Guaraní natives, until he killed his brother in a fencing duel. He then went as far as climbing up a waterfall with a huge bag filled with Spanish armor tied to his back. Then he joined Father Gabriel and the Jesuits.
  • In Outlander, Kainan reveals that he had helped hunt the Moorwens to the brink of extinction, and that he considers his family's death Karmic Retribution. He doesn't have any qualms about killing the Moorwen that got loose in Norway, but he decides afterward to sever ties with his homeworld and stay with the Vikings.
  • Pain and Gain: Paul became one after his first stay in prison, and is very uncomfortable with the plan the whole time; the guilt actually seems to be what causes him to fall off the wagon and start doing cocaine again. He becomes one again when he's sent back to prison at the end. Ed even says he seems to embrace it.
  • Pitch Black:
    • Fry. At the beginning of the movie she tries to sacrifice her mostly civilian crew to save herself, despite the fact that her captain points out that the crew are supposed to put themselves last in crisis. At the climax, she tells Riddick that she would die for the others, and eventually loses her life saving Riddick.
    • Riddick might also count, as he appears to be ready to turn over a new leaf at the end, saying: "Tell them Riddick's dead. He died somewhere on that planet.".
  • In Purgatory, this describes everyone in the town of Refuge, though Lefty Slade fails.
  • The reason Nick joins the R.I.P.D..
  • Joshua Rose in Savior becomes this after being forced to realize that he's lost his humanity.
  • In Seven Swords, Fu's introduction proves him to be a heroic Old Master, and his sole purpose throughout is to save lives—which is hard for other characters to accept, having had personal experiences of him as an imperial executioner and torturer.
  • The work Lamont does as The Shadow is so he can atone for the suffering he caused as the ruthless drug lord Ying Ko.
  • Solomon Kane of Solomon Kane was once a savage and ruthless mercenary. After an encounter with a demon and learning of his potential damnation, he pursued first a path of pacifism to cleanse his soul and then a path of righteous battle to cleanse the world.
  • In The Sunset Limited, Black is an ex-con who served his time for murder and found God, and now wants to help people.
  • X-Men Film Series:
    • X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Chris Bradley after leaving Team X.
    • The Wolverine:
      • Wolverine goes to Japan to face his guilt for killing Jean Grey and to receive help from an old friend who might have the means to remove his Healing Factor and make him mortal.
      • Harada ends up as this near the end of the film.
    • X-Men: Days of Future Past: Ian McKellen invokes this while discussing his character in the "Double Take: Xavier & Magneto" documentary.
      McKellen: The Magneto that you see with me is a man of conscience, and a man with an unhappy life behind him. He's come through a great deal, and isn't taking on single-handedly, or even with the help of his Brotherhood, society as a whole. He's joined up again with his old friend, Professor X, and together, they're going to try to move things forward.
    • X-Men: Apocalypse: This is how Michael Fassbender perceives Erik Lehnsherr at the beginning of the story, as reported by the May 2016 issue of Cineplex.
      "He works in a steel factory, but he's not using his powers. I thought that was kind of interesting that he's doing honest manual labor. Penance is a bit extreme, but he's sort of left his world domination days behind him."
  • William Munny in Unforgiven really tries to be one of these; in his youth, he was a vicious, cold-blooded killer of an outlaw who only mended his ways when he married a saintly woman. After she dies, he struggles making a living as a hog farmer and trying to raise their two children until an old friend comes along to offer him a bounty on two cowboys who mutilated a young prostitute and went unpunished. When the trope is subverted and Munny's finally forced to come out of retirement, it's not pretty.

    Music 
  • "The Man Who Would be King" (named, but not based by book-movie) by Iron Maiden.
    Destiny, no good to hide away/Penance now will be his only way/Understand, no good to run away/Penance now will be his saving grace
  • "The Noose" by A Perfect Circle.
    I'm more than just a little curious/How you're planning on going about making your amends/To the dead
  • "What I've Done" by Linkin Park
    I'll face myself/To cross out what I've become/Erase myself/And let go of what I've done
  • "Working My Way Back To You" by The Four Seasons, about an abusive ex-boyfriend who sees the error of his ways too late and is now trying to win the girl back, unsuccessfully to date.
  • "Awoken" by H8_Seed and Glaze
    I've stoked the fire, seen more pain than you can know/The tears of the broken have washed away my soul/Pushed by desire to change the way my stream will flow/Now I've awoken, and I'm taking back control
  • The song "Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin focuses on a father who is far too busy with his work to connect with his son. By the time the father has the time (i.e. the son has grown up), he tries to reach out to his son and atone, but by then, his son is, like his father, far too busy.
  • "I'll Be Good" by Jaymes Young is about a man who wishes to atone for his bad behavior in the past.
    I'll be good...
    For all of the light that I've shut out/For all of the innocent things that I doubt/For all of the bruises and all of the tears/For all of the things that I've done all these years/For all of the sparks that I've stomped out/For all of the perfect things that I doubt
    I'll be good/I'll be good/And I'll love the world like I should/Yeah/I'll be good/I'll be good/For all of the times I never could

    Mythology 

    Play By Post Games 
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, Omaroch becomes this after he breaks free from the dark god Mardük's control. He sees it as his fault that his sons ended up on a dark path, and he was partially responsible for the birth of the Godslayer who shattered the world's continents. He wants to atone for his past actions and hopes to be able to set things right again even if it means sacrificing himself to achieve that goal.
  • Sinestro is this in the World of Heroes roleplay, with interesting consequences.
  • Several characters in Dino Attack RPG:
    • Amanda Remous used to be a ruthless assassin and mercenary who was nearly borderline terrorist. After reuniting with her brother, she began to regret the things she did and joined Dino Attack Team, striving to redeem herself of the crimes she committed.
    • General George Ogel used to be the ruthless general to Evil Ogel's Skeleton Done armies. However, when he reunited with Talia Kaahs, he had a Heel Realization and decided to make it his goal to redeem himself.
    • George Brown was a young man who got caught in the wrong side of the realist-idealist feud, and later provided information on Cam O'Cozy and volunteered for a campaign in the hopes of redeeming himself.
    • Blaire Darkling tried to do this, leaving behind his life as the dangerous criminal Matthew Vherestorm and tried to redeem himself by working for Paradox, an organization devoted to researching the Maelstrom to help Nexus Force defeat it. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out, as this ultimately landed him in another organization, XERRD, which went on to create the Dino Attack apocalypse.
  • In the Campus Life RPG, Mewtwo is revealed to have abandoned the family of cloned Pokemon he created when threatened by Team Rocket. He now spends time developing inventions to improve the lives of people in third-world countries, and has a bad case of Chronic Hero Syndrome.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Antonio Banks turned Montel Vontavious Porter. His wrestling career is atonement, as he was arranged to enter the sport by his corrections officer in an attempt to keep him from going back to prison. It worked, and while it's still real, this element of his on set persona virtually disappeared when he was hired by WWE, up until the Miz decided to mock him for it out of the blue. Up until then the most he ever got accused of being was "New Money."
  • ODB and Jacqueline, in their quest to get their TNA contracts back, though ODB was always a face in TNA, even when she wasn't supposed to be. They were contrasted by Traci Brooks, who said they should just accept TNA has moved on and wasn't going to use them, like she had.
  • Money hungry Steve Corino and railroad spike wielding fiend Jimmy Jacobs willingly spent 2011 trying to atone for their sins and strove to be good from now on. Then Kevin Steen had to come and ruin it.
  • Jeff Hardy was this in late 2011 in TNA. After being completely stoned off his guard in the Victory Road 2011 main event a few months earlier, he came back to apologize to the fans and was asking for forgiveness from the other wrestlers for this. His road to redemption was completed as he defeats Austin Aries for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship in Bound For Glory 2012.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Arkham Horror's "Dunwich Horror" expansion adds Diana Stanley as a playable character. She joined the city's exclusive Silver Twilight Lodge and learned to her horror that they plan to awaken an Eldritch Abomination into the world. Diana is now the mole in the cult planning on thwarting them—granting her bonuses the closer they get to succeeding.
  • Every player character in Demon: The Fallen is a demon, one of those who fought against God and the angels in the War of Wrath. In modern times, there's a faction called the Reconcilers, who have asked themselves, "What if we really were the bad guys?" They work to either undo their sins and return to Heaven, or, if that's impossible, to at least fix the damage they did to the world all those years ago.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook Fiendish Codex II introduces the Hellbred, former evildoers who repented of their actions before they were condemned to Hell, but too late to gain entry to the heavens. The good deities reincarnate them into fiendish-looking bodies to give them one last chance to prove their search for redemption is genuine, and since only the greatest of heroic deeds will free their souls from damnation, the Hellbred throw themselves into their quests with zeal and desperation.
  • The Loyalists of Thule in Hunter: The Vigil have an Ancient Conspiracy-wide Guilt Complex, and it rubs off on its members. Why? Oh, nothing, they just helped the Nazis in World War II and they largely believe themselves responsible for the Holocaust as a result. Yeah, they have issues.
  • One of the two main paths for Abyssal Exalted is to become this, make up for their dark deeds in the service of the Void and work their asses off to avoid spontaneously combusting from Resonance. If they can pull it off, they become Solars, without the Great Curse that messed up so very much of the First Age. The potential impact of this remains to be seen.
  • In the world of In Nomine (an ongoing War between Heaven and Hell), it is possible for a demon to redeem and join the ranks of the angels, fighting to undo the evil they once supported. Just remember that old habits can be hard to break...
  • This is the background of Magic: The Gathering Legends card Pavel Maliki.
  • The Apok class from the Wormwood setting from Palladium Books centers on people who were thoroughly evil who nevertheless realized the depths of their evil and due to that devotion to atoning for their past evil (and immersion in a Lifeforce Cauldron) they become transformed into powerful agents of good who're 100% devoted to good and cannot be corrupted by any means and are immune to the most horrific of sights and corrupting influences due to their unbreakable devotion to good.
  • Here's a canonical tale from Pathfinder: Some years before the setting's current time, a fourteen-year-old Street Urchin named Seelah stole a paladin's helm, intending to pawn it for food money. Later, the paladin died of a blow to the head. Seelah, consumed with guilt, returned the helm with the intent to commit suicide on the paladin's funeral pyre. Instead, she was taken in by the order and became the iconic paladin.
    • The Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path features a succubus called Arueshalae who decided to peek in a dying priestess of Desna's dreams and got caught red-handed by Desna, who decided to give her a chance and awakened her soul, and ever since she's been struggling to change her nature to become a force of good - her first action was to save a child that found themselves in the Worldwound, and which might eventually become one of the AP's heroes. When the PCs find her, Arueshalae is a few tasks away from full redemption.
  • The Asilos of The Splinter are an entire race of atoners. They're incapable of letting go of their past and are primarily driven by the desire to repent for their sins by doing good.
  • Some Dwarfs in Warhammer may find themselves unable to fulfill an oath, and so to assuage their honor join the Slayer cult, dyeing their hair red, eschewing armor, grabbing an axe, and throwing themselves at the worst monster they can find to either kill it or be killed by it. (Un)successful ones may graduate from Troll Slayers to become Giant Slayers, Dragon Slayer, or even Daemon Slayers.
  • In Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Dark Angels are a Space Marines chapter that refers to themselves as the Unforgiven, because during the Horus Heresy a portion of their force turned traitor out of pride or confusion. This being 40k, their method of atonement is to hunt down these Fallen Angels and "redeem" them by torturing them to death, and it's hinted that perhaps the original Dark Angels were traitors themselves who were sitting out the Horus Heresy until a winner emerged.
    • Cypher, one of the Fallen, seems to be seeking redemption and may or may not be the key to the salvation of the Dark Angels, if not the Imperium as a whole. Naturally, the Dark Angels are intent on putting him down.
    • Inquisitors can add Penitent Witches to their retinues, as psychic lightning rods that can absorb psychic attacks that would otherwise hit the Inquisitor.
    • The Sisters of Battle field units of Sisters Repentia, who have decided to atone for some real or imagined failure by stripping down to a few strategic scraps of prayer-inscribed parchment, grabbing a two-handed chainsword, and charging at the enemy.
    • The planet Krieg went through a rebellion that resulted in five hundred years of civil war and the self-inflicted atomic cleansing of its surface. To atone for this lapse in loyalty, the Death Korps of Krieg now commits to the bloodiest sieges and most horrific meat grinders in the galaxy.
    • The ancient Eldar empire became so decadent and depraved that it created the Chaos God Slaanesh, so the Craftworld Eldar who survived it live extremely regiment and spartan lives to avoid the mistakes of the past. The Dark Eldar for the most part continue the old traditions, but some will have a Heel Realization and leave Comorragh for new lives among Exodite societies, Harlequin troupes, or simply as hermits, mercenaries and corsairs. Which may not sound like much, but considering what kind of stuff the Dark Eldar do, it's a really big improvement.
  • The tale of Gagagigo, one of the very few instances of continuity within the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game, shows the tale of a lizard warrior who once hungered for power, and, after the Marauding Captain takes an attack for him, becomes this. Unfortunately, he would ultimately lose his morality after becoming a cyborg.

    Theater 
  • In Pokémon Live!, Delia tries to be this to protect Ash from knowing her troubled past with Team Rocket.

    Toys 
  • In BIONICLE, Brutaka is treated as one: sent to the highest security prison in this verse, sent to a suicide mission as probation, then welcomed back in the Hero Secret Service. The big surprise is that his best friend Axonn, who had to stop him when he betrayed, is another, according to the Atlas.

    Visual Novel 
  • In the second Fragment's Note, this is what inspires Yukitsuki to go into psychology and to a lesser extent help Kyoichi with his own psychological problems.
  • In Hatoful Boyfriend Sakazaki Yuuya is midway between this point and My Greatest Failure. When he was very young someone killed his father to marry his mother, and would have killed his unhatched brother. Yuuya hung on to it and switched it with his new half-brother's egg so his brother would survive, then smashed the new egg. This action weighs heavily on him years later and is something he's unable to ever forget, though he's fully accepted it and what it means, and so he tries endlessly to do good and save people.
  • Mamiya Shinzo in Kara no Shoujo. He went insane and turned his lover int a model for a fresco by cutting off all her limbs and putting her into a large black egg. When he regained his sanity, he absolutely repented and felt the fresco was a horrible horrible thing, but by then it was too late and worse, there was no real way to atone for it.
  • In Kiss of Revenge, Issei Sezaki is haunted by a mistake he made during a during a routine operation which led to the death of his patient. He's spent the more than ten years since the incident devoting himself to the patients of his hospital and doing everything humanly possible to give them and their families the best of care; the nurses are used to seeing him pulling all-night research sessions when not on call, and he keeps a notebook filled with the details of every patient he fails to save, keeping the guilt fresh. When confronted by the daughter of the patient he accidentally killed, he takes it even further, making a public confession of the mistake and deciding to quit medicine entirely, and going so far as to offer to kill himself if that's what it will take to make amends.
  • Little Busters!: Mio holds a huge guilt complex for forgetting Midori, her imaginary friend turned real from childhood, after her parents sent her to therapy and gave her medication. Her route even involves her giving up her entire existence so that Midori can live instead of her. It's even sadder in that in the real world, Midori doesn't actually exist—she only appears in the game because that's part of the world Mio had the boys create.
  • This is a running theme in the Parascientific Escape series. The villain of each game realizes their evil and attempts to make up for it. In fact, the villains of the first two games turn themselves in to jail and do go on trial! Misaki, villain of the first game, is found Not Guilty due to coercion and is allowed to go free. Tsukiko, villain of the second, is guilty but is eventually allowed to live under house arrest on the grounds she serves as a spy for Yukiya.
  • Grisaia no Kajitsu:
    • Yuuyi has quite a few things that haunts him from his past, and it's obvious he has done things he regrets to this day. Throughout the novell he wonders numerous times whether he even deserves a peaceful life, let alone happiness.
    • Amane feels this especially towards Yuuji. She has this in general, living with survivors guilt as the sole survivor of a terrible accident. However when the same person's brother shows up in her school, whom she was force to leave behind, that feeling quadruples.
    • Yumiko's father Michiaki becomes this after being defeated, wondering where his life went utterly wrong and realising that he can no longer feel empathy for the people he hurt.

    Webcomics 
  • In City of Reality, it's revealed that the Manumitor, who made it his mission to undo the transformations made by the psychotic magical supervillain Hinto Ama, is actually Hinto Ama herself, attempting to undo the damage she has done. Until someone she cares about gets hurt, she absolutely refuses to use her powers, relying on technology instead, and tries to kill one of the heroes who is stuck in a transformed state, feeling that death is better than being trapped in such a form.
  • In The Dreamland Chronicles, why the dwarf king insists on winning the More Hero Than Thou dispute.
  • El Goonish Shive has Abraham, an ancient wizard. In his (relative) youth, he created the Dewitchery Diamond, a magical artifact intended to remove terrible curses like lycanthropy. However, when he finished making it, the diamond had the rather severe drawback of splitting a cursed individual into two bodies, the original and an embodiment of the curse adept at spreading the curse to others. Faced with his greatest failure and unable to destroy the diamond, Abraham swore an oath to God that he would dedicate his life to killing these cursed forms, which were generally vicious and powerful monsters.

    Fast forward to modern time, and he awakens from self-imposed suspended animation, sensing that the diamond has been used again. He learns that Elliot Dunkel (one of the major good guys in the story) had used the diamond to cure himself of a Magitek Gender Bender, not realizing that doing so would create Ellen, an Opposite-Sex Clone with a perfect copy of his memories. Abraham is horrified to learn that the latest cursed form he's sworn to kill is an innocent teenage girl, but he feels compelled to go through with it.

    In the end, Nanase (Elliot's ex-girlfriend / Ellen's current girlfriend) is able to convince Abraham not to murder Ellen, reasoning that following the letter of his oath would violate the spirit of his oath, since it was made with the intention of protecting innocent people. When Abraham returns to his suspended animation, it's clear that his idea of atonement is very different, although his flair for the dramatic remains the same. He currently provides the page image.
  • In Endstone, Jon tackles a Guardian no one has ever survived in search of salvation.
  • The main reason the FreakAngels protected Whitechapel was to atone for ending the world.
  • General Protection Fault's Trudy fits this trope to a T. She goes from relentlessly controlling others to her own ends, even seducing a man to run over romantic rival Ki's father, and almost taking over the world, to relatively normal worker for GPF.
  • In Jack, becoming The Atoner is an option for souls imprisoned in Hell and is actually a valid way to eventually escape the confinement and reincarnate on Earth. Even one of the Greater Demons—Jack—is inclined this way. As a punishment for obliterating the human race he was made the Grim Reaper and forced to encounter every death thenceforth. Although, as an additional punishment, he was denied the memory of his sins at his own request just before dying, he still tries his best to give whatever comfort possible to the unfortunate hellbound souls.
  • An example of "Assassin Wants To Quit" is Marilith. And she wants to quit with her former hostage.
  • Rumisiel in Misfile. He wasn't a Big Bad, but it was his screw up and chronic drug/alcohol addiction that caused Ash and Emily's problems. Started off somewhat half heartedly, but has begun to get serious about his role.
    • Vash is a much more serious example.
  • MSF High: After causing a giant war and nearly taking over the galaxy, the Legion surrendered, apologized, and became these. Exactly why has not yet been explored.
  • In Not a Villain, the main character Kleya is one. She wants to become a hero to atone for her previous actions as the leader of the hacker group "Deconstruct Me", where she is implied to have been responsible for The End of the World as We Know It.
  • The Order of the Stick
  • Vaarsuvius becomes one after his/her discovery of what the Familicide spell she/he cast did.
    • This strip suggests that Roy is also one of these after Durkon becomes a vampire.
  • In Our Little Adventure, Emily claims that Julie is this, to distract from her real quest.
  • In Rain, Brother Arthur has a FtM brother. He wants to help out Rain and Rudy because of the issues he caused his brother when they were younger.
  • In Slightly Damned Sakido qualifies.
    Sakido: Iratu and I went on to live in Hell. Darius trusted us to take care of our little brother, but we just threw Buwaro away. If you are reading this and I am no longer around, then I've gotten what I deserved.
  • Subverted in Sluggy Freelance: In "That Which Redeems", the talking sword Chaz tells the story of one of his previous owners. This man committed many atrocities, but then had his eyes opened to their evil by a sage. He turned to god for atonement—and what he ended up doing to make amends was to go on a bloody crusade in the name of this god to kill unbelievers. Be careful who you let define "good" for you...
  • After his attempts at global domination in ancient Egypt fell apart in a battle against Suras(/Zeus) in Wayward Sons, Kronos escaped, and wound up alone in ancient China, where he was taken in by a family of simple farmers. He would later use his powers to protect them from bandits, and all looked set to begin again... But Kronos had learned from his past failures, and vowed to create an empire of peace this time around.
    Huang: What you did to those men... You must be a god!
    Kronos: Once I might have let you believe that... But I've learned my lesson. I'm not a god. But I am your friend!
  • Lamar of We Are The Wyrecats becomes this after K.A. leaves the team.
  • Yoon Sung of Welcome To Room 305 is trying to atone with his twin sister Yoona for acting terribly homophobic in high school after learning her secret. Unluckily for him, it's not simple because she is very self hating about her sexuality and in denial of it.
  • Zebra Girl: Jack. He blames himself for what happened to Sandra, and for what happened during the Maginet mini-arc. Ever since the Maginet he is doing everything he can to become a better wizard, in the hopes that the tragedies which befell his friends and wizard comrades never happen again.

    Web Original 
  • Both the brothers in Aaron in different ways:
    • Adam has been a frequent screw-up for years, and it's implied he drove his parents mad (and Chris by extension) with all his antics. He's now trying to put his life back together.
    • Chris was close with his brother but ended up leaving for college in England, and essentially neglecting their friendship. After realising what his brother was going through, he's now trying to make amends.
  • William Griffin of KateModern performed frequent dangerous medical experiments on unwitting girls on behalf of the Order, but then decides to try to bring the Order down.
  • In Metro City Chronicles, Penitente began his superhero career because his mother and brother were injured by gang rivals during his youth.
  • In SynthOrange's Let's Play of Princess Maker 2, after Lizzie ends up dying in a fight with the God of War, Gendo Ikari (who plays the role of the girl's father), in a fit of Heroic BSoD, decides to try and reconcile with his other kid... by playing a Shinji-raising sim game.
    Cube: ...and he keeps ending up with Kaoru? Maybe if you sent him for more sports training-
    Gendo: NO! He's there too, and that just ends up with them both in the showers!
  • Some agents in the Protectors of the Plot Continuum are former badfic authors hoping to undo the damage they've done to the multiverse, or ex-DIS who returned to the PPC when given the chance.
  • Yanagi in Canvas 2 after stealing the main character's painting five years ago.
  • In Marvels RPG, Ant-Man created Ultron, Iron Cross is a former Nazi-Super Soldier and Synch accidentally burned down his school when his powers first manifested. All are trying to atone for their pasts to some degree.
  • In Red vs. Blue, Agent Washington, formerly of Project Freelancer, becomes this after working with the Meta against the Blood Gulch Crew. Exemplified when Locus tries to give him a Not So Different speech.
    Washington: I know I used to be a real piece of shit, but at least I am trying to do something about it.
  • JJ Sturn from Survival of the Fittest version four, although he wasn't quite as extreme as many examples listed here: He was a giant asshole especially towards women, although he did have his own share of more unpleasant actions.
  • In his "Top 11 Fucks-Up List", The Nostalgia Critic wearily concedes that he'll die for his sins.
    • In To Boldly Flee he yearns to atone for the death of Ma-Ti in Suburban Knights and thus sacrifices his own life at the end to allow Ma-Ti's spirit to move on.
  • The main character in The Wanderer's Library story Communion. Unfortunately, he's past forgiveness.
  • Whateley Universe: Several, most notably Eldritch. However, the most striking example is probably Unverziehen ('The Unforgiven'), a former Waffen SS officer who spent the time since the war trying to atone for German war crimes:
    Unverziehen was an enigma to most people, the insanely potent warper had been a member of the combat arm of the German SS, and had not been privy to the war crimes of Auschwitz, Dachau, Sobibor and other places. The man and Caitlin [Eldritch, formerly Eric Mahren] shared something similar: guilt. He felt responsible for what his country did during the war, and though her crimes paled in comparison to what the Nazis had done during that war, the A-List hero, who still could not forgive himself, hadn’t physically committed any of the crimes he bore the shame of.
  • In Worm, Bonesaw i.e. Riley becomes one of these after having a Heel Realization during the time she spent out of Jack Slash's direct control.
    • Glaistig Uaine also becomes one at the end of the series, again with a Meaningful Rename to Valkyrie.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • Prince Zuko in the third season by joining Team Avatar as a firebending instructor.
    • Jeong Jeong deserted the Fire Nation navy ten years before the story began.
    • Having a career as a Fire Nation general, Iroh counts as well.
    • Jet during the second season before his ultimate fate.
    • By the end of the first season of The Legend of Korra, Tarrlok, a former Smug Snake with a massive Dark and Troubled Past... and the brother of Big Bad Amon/Noatak.
    • Another one we have from The Legend of Korra is Wan. Through Wan's story we learn the reason the Avatar exists. Wan, originally an ordinary human, interfered with a battle between the spirits of light (Raava) and dark (Vaatu). The result is Vaatu being released into the world and unleashing darkness and chaos. Wan eventually seals Vaatu after mastering the power of the elements and fusing his spirit with Raava, creating the Avatar Spirit and saving the world. However, there is still darkness in the world. After spending his entire life trying to fix his mistake, Wan expresses guilt in being unable to rid the world of darkness in his lifetime. Raava allows Wan to reincarnate, granting him more time. This begins the Avatar's cycle of reincarnation.
    • And it seems that Hiroshi Sato in Season 4 has become one.
  • The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes!: Following the Skrull Invasion, Captain America, who was one of the first to be replaced and his image was used to try and convince humanity to surrender, became something of this as he tried to regain the trust he lost. Kind of an unusual example, being that he had nothing to do with the event he's atoning for and he's just as much a victim as any other Skrull victims. The world hasn't forgiven him for... having a total stranger pose as him while he was trapped on a spaceship.
  • In Batman Beyond, Terry McGinnis is a mild atoner. He was something of a juvenile delinquent before meeting the now-retired Bruce Wayne, and sees being the new Batman as a way to make up for that.
    • Zeta, star of the spinoff The Zeta Project, has elements of this- a former assassin robot who gained free will and doesn't want to kill anymore. When he finds other robots of his type, he tries to stop them.
    • Mr. Freeze/Victor Fries in "Meltdown." Upon getting a brand new body, Fries genuinely seemed to want to make things better this time around. After being targeted in an assassination attempt by a man that he once wronged, he refuses to press charges against the man and instead decides to start a charity named in his late wife's honor to repay the victims that he had harmed in the past. Unfortunately, his new body soon begins breaking down and reverting back to its old state...
  • Tetrax of Ben 10, as revealed in Secret of the Omnitrix. Also Kevin in Ben 10: Alien Force.
  • Count Dracula himself is this in Drak Pack, acting as mentor and boss to the teenage heroes against the forces of O.G.R.E. in order to help make amends for his evil past.
  • DuckTales (1987) has Fenton Crackshell / Gizmoduck. Whenever he screws up, he will frantically do whatever it takes to set things right, although he often makes it worse until he ultimately succeeds.
  • Both Ingrid and the titular protagonist of Fillmore! were delinquents. Now they're respected members of their school's Safety Patrol. The series treats them similarly to ex-criminals who became police officers.
  • In Gargoyles, the Magus trapped Goliath's clan in stone form after he mistakenly believed their attack got Katherine killed. The guilt he felt would dominate the rest of his life. He devoted himself to protecting the clan's next generation and never made his feelings for Katherine known as she fell in love with Tom. Goliath himself bears no grudge against him and is simply grateful that the Magus protected his clan's children.
  • A woulda-been third Jungle Book film would have actually turned Shere Khan from a Knight of Cerebus in the second to this.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
    • Princess Luna is definitely one, trying to live down her 1000-year legacy as Big Bad Nightmare Moon. Mind you, her public relations need a lot of coaching from Twilight Sparkle, but she makes a real breakthrough. "Do Princesses Dream Of Magic Sheep" reveals she went so far as to create a monster called The Tantabus, which is essentially a small ghostly G-Rated Freddy Krueger, to punish her with horrific nightmares every single time she slept.
    • Trixie starts out as an insufferable blowhard and rival for Twilight Sparkle who later turning to the dark side after acquiring the corruptive Alicorn Amulet. Once Twilight frees her from the amulet's spell, Trixie becomes apologetic (albeit still a pompous Jerkass) and leaves her with a fireworks display to start her atonement.
    • Discord—the manipulative trickster, of all characters—manages to pull a Heel–Face Turn after becoming friends with Fluttershy, and swears to use his powers for good... most of the time. He makes good on his word by settling into a sort of Trickster Mentor role for the Mane Six, giving underhanded assistance while remaining as mischievous and obnoxious as ever.
    • Starlight Glimmer, the twisted Cutie Mark hating-dictator and Big Bad of Season 5, pulls a Heel–Face Turn when Princess Twilight Sparkle offers her hoof in friendship and makes Starlight her own student. Starlight's first act of atonement was returning to Our Town from the Season 5 premiere to make things up with the townsponies.
  • Subverted in an episode of The Simpsons. Mr. Burns, after losing his fortune and learning about ecology from Lisa, is determined to turn his life around and rebuild his fortune doing good works. Unfortunately, Mr. Burn's idea of "doing good" involves raping and pillaging the environment in an even worse way than he had as the CEO of a pollution-causing nuclear power plant. (Lisa then is forced to admit that Mr. Burns is just naturally evil—and when he tries to be good, his twisted sense of morality makes him even more evil.)
    Mr. Burns: I don't understand. Pigs need food. Engines need coolant. Dynamiters need dynamite. I provide it to them at a tidy profit: and best of all, not a single sea creature was wasted. You inspired it all, Li'l Lisa.
  • South Park reveals that Freddy Krueger is this, since apparently he murdered all those teenagers in the 1980s because the U.S. Government told him it would help with the Cold War and is now ashamed of having been a government lapdog. He even has a wife and kids now, but reluctantly decides to help save Stan and Mr. Mackey when they get trapped in a dream.
  • Steven Universe: The Crystal Gems themselves are atoners for their entire species. In "The Return", Greg says that their leader, Rose Quartz, led a rebellion against her own kind to drive them off Earth for doing something horrible to it, and that the surviving rebel Gems have dedicated themselves to atone for what their people have done, but they just can't seem to forgive themselves.
  • Dinobot, in Transformers: Beast Wars. Only a little, but more and more as it gets further into the second season, culminating in his Redemption Equals Death.
  • Wander over Yonder: Major Threat was once a feared galactic overlord, but thanks to a Heel–Face Turn by "Tumbleweed", he now dedicates his life to setting right all of the wrongs he had done, and bringing out the good in other villains.
  • Raimundo of Xiaolin Showdown spends some time as this after temporarily defecting to the Heylin side, resurrecting Wuya, and even winning... then sealing her all over again. While he definitely goes out of his way to make up for this, it takes Call Backs all the way to Season 3 before he finally becomes Shoku Leader in the finale.

Alternative Title(s): Atoner

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