Follow TV Tropes


Tone Shift

Go To

Over time, works can change in tone. A formerly episodic comedic work can become a dark political satire with a strong plot arc. Or a dark work about a future dystopia can become a lighthearted adventure series.

This can be a deliberate shift in tone that was planned all along, it can be done deliberately because of a perceived advantage to the new tone (almost always financial), or it may be an unplanned and almost accidental shift over time.


This is especially true in episodic media, such as Live-Action TV, Comic Books or Web Comics, where their long-running status and, in the first two cases, changes in writing teams can cause marked changes in tone over time.

This also frequently appears when remaking or re-imagining older media for a modern audience.

Changes to tone are not always permanent, but in order to qualify, they must be long-lasting. A single dark episode in an otherwise light and fluffy show is not a Tone Shift.

A Super-Trope to:

  • Ascended Fridge Horror: An ambiguously and/or subtly disturbing aspect of a series becomes more established and/or overt.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: A work contains a lot more graphic violence.
  • Bleached Underpants: A work clearly intended for adults is given an adaptation that is more kid-friendly and eschews the original's mature content.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: A light, comedic work becomes darker and more dramatic.
    • Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: A dark, dramatic work becomes more episodic and comedic.
    • Cerebus Rollercoaster: A work repeatedly shifts between mostly light and comedic and mostly dark and dramatic.
  • Darker and Edgier: A series gets darker undertones over time or when a sequel/reboot/alternate continuity is noticeably darker (i.e. more violent, more sexual, more bleak themes) than its predecessor(s).
  • Denser and Wackier: A work becomes more convoluted and zany.
  • Filibuster Freefall: A body of work becomes an Author Filibuster.
  • Genre Shift: A work strays far from its original concept as it progresses.
  • Going Cosmic: A work begins to incorporate more philosophical and theological themes.
  • Gut Punch: A single moment makes a work considerably darker.
  • Hotter and Sexier: A work takes on a lot more sexual over- and undertones.
  • Advertisement:
  • Issue Drift: A work becomes political.
  • Kinder and Cleaner: A work removes some or all of the cursing in a future installment.
  • Lighter and Softer: A work becomes more lighthearted and kid-friendly.
  • Ruder and Cruder: A series entry is more profane than the those before it.
  • Tamer and Chaster: A work reduces the amount of sexual content.
  • Younger and Hipper: A work's characters are retooled to be younger.

Compare Genre Shift and Mood Whiplash.


  • Full House started with some family-friendly undertones but otherwise a run-of-the-mill sitcom. Over time, it brought the family-friendly aspect more and more to the forefront until they were dropping Aesop anvils every episode. Complete with heavy Flanderization and a continual feed of new child actors.
  • Roseanne started out as a very witty sitcom with elements of Kitchen Sink Drama with a good deal of Character Development, until behind the scenes drama derailed the entire show into A Denser and Wackier farce of its former self AND a heavy-handed Melodrama subject to Mood Whiplash. The last season plays like one long Gainax Ending, especially with its Tear Jerker—hence why it was Retconned after the reboot and rebranding as The Conners.
  • The first two games in the Max Payne by Remedy Entertainment series were noir tales in the style of John Woo set in The Big Rotten Apple, and featured a lot of references to respectively Norse Mythology and Paradise Lost, had rather cartoonish enemies whose chatter which often functioned as comic relief, used graphic novel sequences in lieu of cutscenes, and had a story that was often self-referential and even bordered on Self-Parody a couple of times. Enter the third game by Rockstar Games, which is based rather heavily on Man on Fire and is set in Brazil, features enemies who deliberately are incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't understand Portuguese, and even then their dialogue is clearly not meant to be comical in any way, has normal cutscenes which are again based heavily on Man on Fire's visual style, and while the game sometimes does become self-referential, these moments are fewer and further in-between and are relatively downplayed.