Like no one ever was!
To catch them is my real test,
To train them is my cause!"
To Be a Master is the Series Goal behind about 70% of all shonen manga and anime. Sure, Mecha Show, Harem Show, Sentai and the odd detective story are all okay, but if you really want to strike a winning story formula for audiences, To Be a Master is the winning way to go. In fact, this is so prevalent that sometimes the demographic term "shonen" is used to refer to this genre, due in part to the success of Naruto and Pokémon.
The setup is deceptively simple: In a World... where everything else revolves around one thing — Card Games, pirates, ninjas, anything — a young lad (or lass in some cases) in his/her teens (or younger), usually an Ideal Hero, will set out on a quest to, well, To Be a Master of whatever their world deems important, be it Monsters, Card Games, guardians, sweets, or even fashion...
The Myth Arc will invariably involve The Chosen One meeting one or more True Companions along their way and snobby Rivals, defeating goofy Villains and Worthy Opponents, and having a go at 'getting' the girl (or boy).
The only catch? They'll be lucky if they achieve this goal in the next fifteen years (although there are also cases where attaining mastery isn't that far off). To Be a Master is such a successful format that these weekly TV series sometimes tend to drag on for years (especially if it's really, really popular) in an effort to exploit as much as possible out of the show. We're all suckers for starry-eyed youths who fight to accomplish their dreams, so expect Loads and Loads of Characters and a strict Sorting Algorithm of Evil to keep feeding new 'challenges' to our hero week after week (year after year). Throw in the inevitable Tournament Arc and levelling powerups and we're ready to go!
Apart from sports manga, where the ultimate goal is to win some sort of trophy, the usual reward in 'To Be a Master' consists of a title, something along the lines of "The World-Theme King" or "The World-Theme Master," that is acknowledged by literally everyone in that world- and brings a set of privileges with it, hopefully the power to make your dreams come true. If there is a title, important plot points will be who held the title before and the fact that it can only be gained under special circumstances, such as being a designated candidate to take part in a worldwide tournament. Otherwise, the main character will likely just want to make their dreams come true, even if there isn't any kind of title.
Depending on the series' setting, the hero's opponents may not necessarily be evil, and are simply after the same prize that The Protagonist is... They may become a Designated Antagonist when they oppose the hero, but nothing prevents them from becoming friends and allies if he beats them, or they beat him/her. Prominent rivals may even get A Day in the Limelight episodes that develop them 'beyond' simply the hero's latest opponent and may even get a Belated Back Story.
The story may not even ''end'' when the hero becomes a Master. Becoming the best is one thing, staying the best in this world is another. Masters can face any number of challengers out to take their title for themselves, or even just up-and-comers who want to test their skills or build a reputation by taking them on.
Named after a Pokémon song used in the Pikachu's Jukebox segments of the dubbed versions of the Pokémon anime, called "2.B.A. Master". Also the name of the album that the English theme song itself was released on.
See also Gaming and Sports Anime and Manga, which often overlaps with this.
- The dolls in Rozen Maiden all wish to become the new Alice, but there's only one way to do so.
- Vagabond, which tells the tale of Miyamoto Musashi's journey to become Unrivaled Under Heaven. He quickly earns the title only to realize it means NOTHING.
- Bartender is a subversion. The main character has already travelled the world and been apprenticed to the most famous and skilled masters of his craft in the world by the time the manga begins. When it begins, he has come to the conclusion that he has learned everything he can, and is ready to set out on his own.
- Discussed in Daily Lives of High School Boys skit High School Boys and Manga. Hidenori noticed how common this trope is in manga and the fact that they are not.
- The Platinum Princess in Petite Princess Yucie.
- The one to bring the Revolution in Revolutionary Girl Utena.
- In this case, the "long running" and "unobtainable" parts are implicitly justified. Not only does Akio not intend anyone but himself to obtain the power, but his methods are horribly flawed (horrible and flawed separately) and he just keeps going at it every time the previous iteration of the duels fail.
- A Tournament Arc was introduced in Love Witch which would award any wish to the winner, even if it contradicted regular witch rules. Ai is all over this, and the story looks like it's heading in the direction of To Be a Master... but then the manga got canceled before she could even enter.
- In Attack No. 1, an early volleyball anime, the goal is naturally to win, but every girl on the team covets the No. 1 jersey, which is basically the title of MVP.
- Aim for the Ace! is all about this trope.
- The main character of Swan wants to be a star ballerina.
- In Yumeiro Pâtissičre, Ichigo decides to go to St. Marie Academy so she can learn to be a pastry chef and recreate the strawberry tart her grandmother always used to make for her.
- Fist of the North Star is sort of an Unbuilt Trope when it comes to this, in that the ultimate goal of the main antagonist Raoh is to be the best martial artist ever, and become powerful enough to conquer even the heavens. This leads to him becoming an evil, power-hungry tyrant. The Hero Kensihiro himself simply wander the Earth as the current inheritor of the Fist Of the North Star and protects the weak and defenceless. He has no desires other than passing on the technique as is his duty as the Inheritor. It's hinted at that Raoh's orphaned son will eventually become the next inheritor towards the end of the series.
- In One Piece, this is the stated goal of Luffy, who wants to become the Pirate King, and Zoro, who strives to become The World's Greatest Swordsman.
- The Hokage ("Fire Shadow", in other words, the head ninja of the main character's village) in Naruto. The title character originally had this goal because he wanted respect and thought it would easily solve all his problems. Since the Invasion of Pain, Naruto has gained a slightly more realistic idea of the position and becoming Hokage has instead become simply one (probable) step towards his new goal: world peace.
- Orochimaru became a villain prior to the start of the series because of his desire to learn all jutsu in the world. The problem is that certain justsu are limited to members of specific bloodlines, making them impossible for him to learn under normal circumstances.
- Naruto's own son, Boruto, is a rare inversion, at least initially. He starts out his series gifted with talent that would make others jealous, but doesn't have an ounce of ambition beyond "beating my dad at this or that"—and even that he doesn't take too seriously. It's not until later into his Genin career, during the Chuunin exams, does he actually find a purpose in life, inspired by Sasuke of all people.
- The King of Shamans in Shaman King. Yoh wants to become Shaman King so that he can lead a life of luxury and relaxation. His arranged fiance also wants the same things. Oddly enough, they work HARD (Though Anna frequently has to bully Yoh to do so) for the ability to lie around all day.
- The King of Games or Duel Champion in Yu-Gi-Oh!. Note that in the original series and in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, it wasn't the protagonist who sought the title of the best player as his primary goal (though they got it anyway, and pretty early on)note . Yu-Gi-Oh! GX and Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, however, follow the more traditional format with a hero whose explicit goal is to become the next King of Games/Duel Champion. Also averted in Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V, where Yuya's goal is to entertain others with his Action Dueling.
- The King of Mamodos in Zatch Bell!
- The title of "Pokemon Master" in Pokémon. In practice, Ash's usual goal throughout the anime is to be the champion of the current region's Pokemon League. Succeeding in this might cause Ash to consider himself a Master, which is why he's never won even once in the entire series. While he has grown into an Ace Trainer in his own right as the series has gone on — he beat all the Frontier Brains, who are said to be at least as strong as the Elite Four — he still sees himself as nowhere close to his real goal of being a Pokemon Master. The fact that "Pokemon Master" is a nebulous concept already doesn't really help.
- In Pokémon Special, this is the goal of at least one protagonist per generation, in some way or another. Those that specifically want to be Pokemon Masters are Red and Green. Others that do the gym challenges and/or the battle frontiers are Sapphire, Emerald and Platinum. The ultimate Pokemon catcher would be Crystal, completing all the Pokedexes she is given minus the legendaries. The one who wants to be the best Coordinator is Ruby, who competes with Sapphire to see who can be a master first. Lastly, the concept is parodied with Diamond and Pearl, whose goal is To Be a Master of the Boke and Tsukkomi Routine.
- Black wants to be a Pokemon master as well. In fact, this is all he ever thinks about. His mind is so one-track on his goal that he needs his Munna to eat away at his dreams when there's a more immediate problem.
- Pretty much every sports series out there will have victory in one or more Tournament Arcs as the goal:
- Negi in Mahou Sensei Negima! wants to be a world-class mage like his father.
- Several of the duelists in Duel Masters want to become "Kaijudo"note masters.
- Asta, the protagonist of Black Clover, wants to become the Wizard King.
- 666 Satan (released in the U.S. as "O-Parts Hunter") has an unusual one for the main character Jio Freed. He wants to gain respect...by Taking Over The World!
- Many weapons of Soul Eater attempt to become a Death Scythe, the weapon used by the series' god of death.
- Subverted as of Chapter 63 when Soul Eater finally eats a witch's soul and becomes a death scythe. This isn't the end of the story at all: attaining the rank actually leads to more responsibility and more challenges, rather leaving the impression that in the wider scheme of things not much has changed. A curious take on something that was presented as the series' goal, to see Soul appear to be one of many in the same position (there are, after all, Weapon students around the world).
- Furthermore, in end of the manga it's declared that as part of the truce between the DWMA and the Witches, there won't be any more Death Scythes.
- Spoofed in Rune Soldier: Louie is a magic-user who trains to be a consummate master...of hand-to-hand combat.
- Mobile Fighter G Gundam, everyone's fighting to put their colony in control of the Earth by Gundam gladiatoral conflict.
- Gundam Build Fighters is basically a typical Merchandise-Driven toy-series with this premise: The heroes Sei and Reiji want to become champions in a model battling tournament with a model Sei built and Reiji pilots.
- The sequel, Gundam Build Fighters Try has three new heroes with three individual goals to become the best at their particular hobby, which translates into them teaming up for a Gunpla tournament:
- Fumina wants to be a Gunpla Battle champion
- Sekai wants to be a martial arts master.
- Yuuma wants to be an award winning model builder.
- The Bees in Letter Bee, are trying to become Head Bee, the most skilled of the Bees who often works in the capital(living in the capital in and of itself is a great privilege). Gauche Suede in particular wants to become Head Bee in order to get money to heal his younger sister Sylvette's legs. However, this is a subversion, as it ends up not being the main point of the story.
- Yakitate!! Japan: All about being the very best at baking bread.
- Hikaru no Go actually averts this; Hikaru gets into the game of Go just for the fun of it, and just happens to be in the running for the best player of his generation (the fact that he wants to be a worthy opponent for the prodigy Akira also helps). Hikaru himself acknowledges that he is part of the eternal search for "Kami no Itte" (literally, "Hand of God", but often translated as "Divine Move"; both refer to playing a perfect game) but this goal is more spiritual than something that can actually be achieved.
- In a very twisted way, Death Note is exactly this: a young, idealistic protagonist wants to be God. In terms of being a 'Master', you don't get much higher than that.
- Angelic Layer, even if it starts the main character out with unexpectedly showing off her talent at the game.
- Millie in Lost Universe wants to be the best in the universe - at everything. She is allegedly already the best shot and best cook (Despite the fact that she somehow manages to destroy the kitchen every time she cooks). She has no particular reason for wanting to be the best other than to boost her already excessive ego. Fortunately, the anime is about Kain and Canal, not Millie.
- Hajime no Ippo (Fighting Spirit in the West) features Ippo, a young man who desires to be first Japanese Featherweight Champion, and then World Featherweight Champion. He's been trying since the early 1990s.
- Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Vivid, where the characters aim to be the Inter-Middle Champion and declared the strongest 10-19 year old across all dimensions.
- Subverted in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple. Kenichi is training to be a master of.. well ALL the martial arts, but instead of training for the purpose of becoming a master, he trains in order to prevent people picking on him and to be able to protect his loved ones.
- Being a deconstruction of the Fighting Series Played for Laughs, Muteki Kanban Musume deconstructs this trope: No one of our protagonist wants to be the best at their jobs, but all they want to be the biggest The Bully in all town
- Even though technically a Manhua, Cyber Weapon Z is pretty much the quintessence of this, with the goal of the Southern Shaolin temple being to spark the new stage of humanity's evolution.
- At the start of Dragon Ball Goku wants to become the strongest fighter on Earth and fight powerful opponents. He achieves this goal when he's a teenager. After learning that he's an alien and is pitiful weak compared to the true monsters in the universe, he refocuses his goal to becoming the strongest in the universe. And then he learns that there are beings in and outside of the universe who are much stronger than the strongest people he already knows, he is still aiming to become stronger than all of them.
- Harry James-Potter-Evans-Verres of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality wants to become the most powerful wizard in existence and rewrite reality according to his will. And with both of the current contenders for the title being his mentors, he just might pull it off.
- Extensively discussed in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines. Many trainers aspire to become Pokémon Masters, but each has different goals and definitions about the term. Some want to become League Champions or Elite Fours, others want to wind Grand Festivals, and others want to catch as many Pokémon as they can (often of a specific type, for those who want to be specialists). A retired trainer-turned-novelist named Casey Snagem even considers that a trainer who has eight badges could qualify as a master.
- Star Wars: Much of Luke Skywalker's character arc in the films can be summed up as "Luke trains to become a Jedi Knight like his father." Much of the rest of his character arc centers around learning about his father. While he starts training early in A New Hope, he doesn't officially become a Jedi Knight until the end of Return of the Jedi, just before confronting the Big Bad.
- This character arc is mirrored somewhat by Anakin Skywalker's arc in the prequel trilogy. He leaves his homeworld to train to be a Jedi in the first film, and by the end of the third film, he has become a Dark Lord of the Sith.
- This is the driving motivation for Eddie Felson throughout The Hustler — it's not enough that he's already a great pool player, he must defeat Minnesota Fats and have Fats acknowledge him as the best.
- Light And Dark The Awakening Of The Mageknight: No, it's not The Protagonist but Alsono who wants to become the greatest knight and claim the title of "King of the Light".
- The Spirit Thief: Josef wants to become the best swordsman in the world, as he believes that this is the only way he'll ever be worthy of wielding the Heart of War, world's most powerful sword. At the end of the second book the blade gets fed up with this and tells him to just pick it up and use it already, as he's wasting a valuable resource.
- Looking beyond personal rivalries and angles, this is the ultimate goal of most pro wrestlers, claiming the top spot as the world champion (or maybe world tag team/parejas champions or tercias champions, etc). Which title that IS, is another issue entirely as there hasn't been a unified world title since the 60's, with the most prestigious non tag team titles of the new millennium being owned by WWE (The WWE World Heavyweight Title), NJPW (International Wrestling Grand Prix World Heavyweight/Junior Heavyweight Title or Intercontinental Title), AJPW (The Unified Triple Crown Championship), CMLL (World Welter Weight Title, which reigns above heavyweight thanks to El Santo and or the Universal Championship, which is a tournament but close enough since it includes champions of all weight classes with the winner getting an honorary belt), AAA (Mega Champion's Belt) and ROH (ROH World Title).
- The underlying goal of almost every wrestler ever. As Triple H once put it, "If you're not here to be champion, you're in the wrong place." That said, there are more than a few wrestlers who don't seem to be in the right place, by Trips' standards, such as the rest of Evolution, whose ambition appalled him or The Shield, who in his mind existed to protect his preferred champion.
- This is the goal of countless Real Life athletes who dream of winning the gold medal, the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the green jacket, the Stanley Cup, or whichever other award is given for their sport. You don't have to be a pro to do this either, since many high schools and colleges will pursue their own championships just as rabidly as any big league athlete, if not more so.
- Basically the whole motivation behind professional fighting sports. To be a champion is the ultimate symbol of ability. With the belt comes the money and fame that gives even more incentive to be the champ.
- The Maiden of Light in La Pucelle Tactics.
- This is subverted rather nastily as it turns out that, despite what Prier thinks, "Maiden of Light" is the Chosen One instead of a title to be earned. And the only "perk" is that you have to end up making a Heroic Sacrifice.
- Probably explains her later career shift to Overlord. Quite possible as polar opposite a job as you can get without becoming the Dark Prince.
- This is subverted rather nastily as it turns out that, despite what Prier thinks, "Maiden of Light" is the Chosen One instead of a title to be earned. And the only "perk" is that you have to end up making a Heroic Sacrifice.
- Kingdom Hearts:
- Played with due to Nomura still working out the plot at the time and what "Master" actually means not being defined at first. At first, Sora looks to be the chosen Keyblade master - then it turns out it should have been Riku, but he went Rival Turned Evil. Then Kingdom Hearts II shows they can both wield Keyblades, and so can Kairi. Later games show there's a difference between being a Keyblade user and a Keyblade master, the latter being more of a formally-recognized title.
- This is blatantly done in the prequel Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep as Aqua, Terra, and Ven all share a dream to become Keyblade Masters. The story starts with Terra and Aqua taking the "Mark of Mastery" exam (before they even go on any world-saving adentures). Aqua passes, while Terra doesn't, and from then on his main goal is to redeem himself by finding Master Xehanort. What he doesn't know is that Xehanort sabotaged him in the first place.
- In Dream Drop Distance, Yen Sid puts Sora and Riku through a more elaborate Mark of Mastery exam. As they're largely self-taught, he considers them unprepared to face the return of Master Xehanort (even though they've saved the universe twice). After Xehanort turns it into a life-or-death struggle, *Riku* is given official Master status while Sora isn't.
- Blatantly done in the Pokémon games. Sure, you prevented the destruction of the entire world. But you haven't beaten the game until you've become the League Champion.
- And won the Master Rank Super Contest in all five categories. And Caught Em All.
- Even then no one recognizes your achievement,and the last champion still has to fight you. Though this is averted in Red/Blue and their remakes (FireRed and LeafGreen), where you are proven to be the Champion, but you still fight your rival.
- The Championship uses a nonlethal form of Klingon Promotion. You become Champion by defeating the incumbent champion (your rival in Red/Blue and its remakes (and Green and Yellow), Lance in Gold/Silver and its remakes, Steven in Ruby/Sapphire, Wallace in Emerald, Cynthia in Diamond/Pearl and Platinum, and Alder in Black/White). The Elite Four just test if you're qualified to fight the Champion at all (or in pure gameplay terms they serve to sap your Pokemon's strength and make the final battle harder). Even after the Elite Four you're still a challenger until you knock off the current Champion. And even after you beat the Champion, most people act like you didn't.
- Averted in Sun and Moon, as you are canonically the first person to challenge Alola's Pokemon League, and become its first ever champion (though you still need to battle Kukui after defeating the Elite Four). From that point on, NPCs in the world will refer to you as the Champion. Challenging the Pokemon League subsequent times will result in you having to defend your title from other challengers, including major story NPCs and trainers that only appear in this context.
- Pokémon Black and White double subverts the champion part. Instead of having you fight the champion for the main story, the leader of the villain team actually beats the previous Champ, raises a giant castle near the Elite Four area, and thus proceeds to a Boss Rush for the main ending, with you first fighting the version legendary that you can catch, then fighting N, who uses a team of the other version legend and 5 other set Pokemon, and finally fighting Ghetsis, who turns out to be the real villain. Still, the post story also lets you rematch the Elite Four, who then have you fight the actual Champion (this is the double subversion part), along with (outside of the Unova Pokemon league overall) Cynthia and Shigeki Morimoto.
- Deconstructed by your rival Cheren from the same games. Over the course of the game he slowly learns that being the best for purely the sake of it is completely pointless. Later Reconstructed when he seeks out a reason to be the best and, two years later, becomes a gym leader.
- As a Blood Knight, this is Ryu's goal in the Street Fighter series. Others have more pragmatic goals, like revenge, money, fame, conquest, finding someone to kill them...
- In Growlanser 2, Wein's goal is to become an Imperial Knight. Whether he accomplishes this depends on what branches of the story you take. And even if he gets the title, the plot has long since moved on to more important matters, like the fate of the world.
- The Kid goes on quite possibly the most insane To Be a Master quest of all time for one reason: "I Wanna Be the Guy!"
- Laharl's quest to become an Overlord in the first half of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness.
- Travis Touchdown's quest in No More Heroes is to be the greatest asssassin. Of course, the whole thing is quite thoroughly deconstructed. For starters, Travis is a deluded Otaku Blood Knight who may qualify as a Villain Protagonist, and the entire thing is a con set up by Sylvia.
- Homeworld 2 has an ancient prophecy about the three Great Hyperspace Cores awakening Sajuuk, the god of destiny and creation (actually, a big-ass ancient starship hidden in a black hole cluster). Supposedly, the one who unites the Three will get to be the Sajuuk-khar, Manipulator of the Great Maker. When Karan Sjet first hears about it while running from the Vaygr, she deduces that Makaan must also know about it and seek to acquire both the Bentusi and the Hiigaran core. Naturally, the world is doomed if he succeeds so she decides to beat him to it. The thing is, by doing that she accidentally fulfilled the prophecy herself and became the Sajuuk-khar — which proved really useful when Hiigara was attacked by Planet Killers whose armor was impenetrable to every weapon except Sajuuk's Wave Motion Gun. With the ship also activating an ancient hypergate network spanning the galaxy and having the most powerful weapons & hyperdrives of the known universe, she was practically worshipped as a living goddess (her people never became atheists during their troubled history).
- Choro Q HG 4, you and your rival work the ways to become the best racers.
- The unstated goal of Elite is to achieve the eponymous "Elite" rating. As the game is one of the first ever examples of a Wide Open Sandbox, nothing particularly compels you to spend the relevant time Level Grinding to achieve this, but legitimately doing so earns some bragging rights.
- This is the basic goal of the Punch-Out!! games. The new Wii game takes it to the next level-after Little Mac wins the championships, he's then forced to defend his newly won titles against disgruntled opponents looking for a rematch. They've uped their game, so he has to prove he deserves the title. After that, he realizes there's nowhere to go but down, and goes out with a bang.
- Fossil Fighters toys with this. You are trying To Be a Master—and you become one! In fact, you become one only about halfway through the game. However, as it turns out, there is still a lot more going on despite your mastery, and you will have to actually use your master's skills.
- Summon Night: Swordcraft Story - The first Swordcraft Story game's overall focus is mostly about becoming a "Craftlord", which is basically a "Master" of weapon crafting/fighting. There's still a plot and antagonist, but the game doesn't end until you become Champion. The game's two successors still retain this trope to some degree, but it's downplayed quite a bit compared to the first.
- Live A Live's modern chapter. Four words: -Strongest in the World-.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! Capsule Monster Coliseum, Yugi wants to become King of Capsule Monsters, and nobody will stand in his way.
- When not saving the world in Yu-Gi-Oh! Nightmare Troubadour, you're trying to become the next King of Games.
- In Moco Moco Friends, Moco has lofty dreams of being the Charisma Master, the most powerful Plushkin master in the world.
- The goal of Ace Fishing and its numerous imitators is for the player to become a fishing master.
- In Rastan, Rastan narrates at the end of the arcade version: "This is only part of my long story—only a part to become a king."
- The protagonist in Golf Story wants to be the world's best golfer.
- Rikochet of ˇMucha Lucha!. His ambition is to become the greatest of Luchadores.
- Katara's goal in the first book of Avatar: The Last Airbender was to master Waterbending. She succeeds at the end of said book.
- Ōban Star-Racers: The winner of the titular races gets to be the Avatar. The thing is, everyone in the races believes that the prize is the granting of whatever they wish.