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Took a Level in Cynic

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"In every cynical person there is a disappointed idealist."

The character gave the world their love, their care, their trust, and, in return, was somehow back-stabbed, deceived, taken advantage of, used. Some of their old optimism breaks, and they take it to heart that they should not trust others so easily. There is, however, a readjustment in expectations on how the world works towards the pessimistic, not an outright surrender, and not necessarily a change in methods either (an incorruptible character may choose to be a Doomed Moral Victor rather than adjust their methods) or even a change in attitude (The Pollyanna is perfectly aware of living in a Crapsack World, yet refuses to let it bring them down), let alone a Face–Heel Turn, as any Anti-Hero can attest. The Knight in Sour Armor is a classic example of an idealist who remains so at heart despite having taken several levels in cynic.

A Broken Pedestal can result in this; in a meta sense, the character perceives all of humanity to have failed to live up to his expectations, and revises them accordingly. The cause of the event is the Cynicism Catalyst. The result is usually the acquisition of Jade-Coloured Glasses. Can result in a Broken Bird, or, worse yet, a Despair Event Horizon. See also Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!. See also Innocence Lost.

Contrast The Anti-Nihilist, Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers! and Took a Level in Idealism.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Ciel Phantomhive from Black Butler was a Cheerful Child when younger, but after his parents died and became enslaved for a year, he became grim and brooding just like in the present day. He's basically Bruce Wayne if Alfred were a demon and the Waynes were a Black Ops. dynasty.
  • Occurred to Ryuuken Ishida in the backstory of Bleach, when the dark secrets of the Quincy that he was idealistic about the future of hit him all at once, killing both his wife and past love interest/cousin.
  • In Code Geass, Lelouch acquires this at age eight, when his mother is murdered and his sister crippled in what may be a court intrigue, about which his father the Emperor does nothing. When Lelouch calls him out on this, his response is to send the kid over to an enemy country as a hostage and bargaining chip. Not long after, he invades the country that is hosting his own child, in a very bloody war. No wonder the kid ends up the way he does.
  • All three of the main cast in Cowboy Bebop had such an event horizon long before the plot starts; they were all betrayed by a close friend or a romantic partner, and as a result have closed themselves up to the world. It takes them a long time to learn to care about each other, but, in the end, that's not enough to save them.
  • In The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, a few days of interacting with Haruhi Suzumiya is enough to wear Kyon down.
  • Deconstructed in Dragon Ball Super. During the Tournament of Power, Toppo of Universe 11 becomes more and more crushed as the Pride Troopers are eliminated and those he considers "evil" remain standing. When Freeza attacks him and destroys his uniform, Toppo decides to screw all that and embrace the power of a God of Destruction. When he battles Vegeta after pummeling Freeza and Android #17, he mocks the Saiyan Prince for his promise to Cabba and boasts that he threw away all of his morals as "unnecessary". Vegeta is so incensed at that that he powers up and overwhelms Toppo, calling him out for his stupid way of thinking.
  • Kaze no Stigma: Following the death of his love interest as a sacrifice for a demon, Kazuma Yagami went from being a Nice Guy to being a cold and brutal Anti-Hero who wouldn't allow anyone to get close to him emotionally, even his own younger brother.
  • In Lapis Re:LiGHTs, Ange was a sweet, innocent, and delicate girl who was always polite, generous, and has never said an unkind word to anyone—outside of her close friends and groupmates in the witch/idol unit Ray, anyway. Three years later at the present day, she now goes by Angelica, much taller, with more mature figure, and a far more cynical view of the world, acting in very crude, rude, and even violent manners, though it's mostly towards her new friend and partner, Lucifer.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion's entire cast have had theirs before the plot even starts (well, almost; one of them gets it over the course of the series, and the resulting change in loyalties is crucial to the ending of the story). Some of the relevant moments were revealed in-story, others in supplementary materials.
  • Psycho-Pass: Initially, Akane Tsunemori was your typical Wide-Eyed Idealist. After all the crap she went through, involving her best friend's death and learning the truth of the Sibyl system, she has become a battle-driven and jaded veteran.
  • Flashbacks reveal that Homura from Puella Magi Madoka Magica started the series as cheerful, klutzy, and a Wide-Eyed Idealist. Repeated failures to save Madoka in timeline after timeline caused her to slowly withdraw her faith in the world, turning into The Stoic character she is today.
  • Naruto:
    • Sasuke Uchiha ends up taking several of these, falling all the way down to omnicidal insanity and looping back into being an Anti-Hero and wishing to become the ruler/protector of the village, deciding that he will do better than his predecessors.
    • He's got nothing on Obito, who went from being a carefree, happy-go-lucky kid to wanting to force the entire world into a dream world because he saw hope and peace as laughable concepts.
  • The Rising of the Shield Hero: After all the shit that the asshole royalty (with the two sole exceptions being Queen Mirellia and Princess Melty, though both were busy at the time with cleaning the enormous mess just waiting to be ignited due to the remaining bumbling royals summoning all Cardinal Heroes to Melromarc alone instead of one hero for each country to fight off the Waves of Catastrophe as was agreed upon by all four countries initially that is happening not just in Melromarc, but the entire world) did to Naofumi after his first day (which already showed bad signs for the Shield Hero before it even ended), is it any wonder he transformed from his former happier self to his now cold-hearted/armored-self?
  • Mikeala of Seraph of the End used to be an incredibly optimistic and cheerful kid... at least until his plan to save his "family" gets them all killed and he's forced into becoming a vampire and being separated from his best friend for years. Oh, and he also learns that humans may not be a whole lot better than the vampires. Suffice to say that his current self is a very jaded and self loathing pessimist who trusts no one.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman made it his life-long mission to personally fight crime because of his parents' murder, which he witnessed as a child. Depending on continuity, this causes young Bruce "grow up in a big hurry" into different degrees of cynicism:
  • Runaways: This happens to just about everyone (except Gert who was a horrible cynic from day one).
    • Nico goes from being naive and trusting of just about everyone to very closed off, cautious, and suspicious. She also becomes progressively more snarky as the series goes on.
    • While Chase always had some issues to begin with, he still managed to come across as an irreverent Jerk Jock and when paired with his cynical girlfriend, came out looking like the positive one. His world view becomes less bright when grieving Gert and in Avengers Undercover goes back on his promise not talk about the events of Avengers Arena because everyone knows what happened anyways and from where he was standing that meant Arcade already won.
    • While present! Molly is mostly her hyperactive, happy to face the universe self, future! Molly from Battle of the Atom hits the Despair Event Horizon after President Dazzler is killed and becomes evil, abandoning her childhood belief that she could be a hero and save everyone despite who her parents were.
      • The trope is later Enforced and then Subverted by the reveal that Molly and the other future Brotherhood members are the mind-controlled pawns of Future!Xavier and have had their personalities altered by him.
    • Karolina is mostly unchanged, but more willing to acknowledge anyone is capable of evil or having bad things happen to them and is, like her teammates, much less naive and trusting than at the beginning of the series.
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Ratchet, who was originally shown with a bad case of Chronic Hero Syndrome, has become this, what with the events of the last several years, and the fact that his hands are beginning to seize up. He's become much grouchier and snarkier as a result.
  • In 2008 storyline Way of the World, Supergirl fights Aftermath, a villain who used to be a normal person who thought there were good and bad people and bad things only happened to bad people. Then he got crippled when Superman fought Doomsday, and decided his outlook was a lie and his duty was to bring the so-called heroes down.
    Aftermath: Once upon a time the world was simple. There were heroes and there were villains and bad things only happened to bad people. And then Doomsday came. "Luckily", I survived the attack, but by then I'd come to realize—that sometimes the bad can even afflict the good. And that while we may believe in heroes, there really is no such thing. But why couldn't everyone else see that?
  • In crossover storyline Escape from the Phantom Zone, Psi does not want to believe Supergirl's claims of wanting to help her due to a lot of people abusing and manipulating her after claiming to be invested in her welfare.
    Psi: Cadmus said they'd help me— They lied. Xa-Du said he could help me— He lied. Now you're here to help me? Why the Hell should I trust you?
  • Firefly: Brand New 'Verse: Zoe was already a hard edged military woman, but losing Wash in The Movie and struggling to keep the rust bucket Serenity flying while Mal is M.I.A. and arguing with her daughter has made her wonder if there’s still good in the verse. She does seem to decide there’s still some at the end of the story.

    Comic Strips 
  • Before becoming famous for writing The Berenstain Bears series of children's books, Stan and Jan Berenstain did a comic strip series about parenting. A common theme was the differences in how certain situations were handled between the first child and the sixth child. Here are a couple of examples:
    • The first child gets a huge, professionally decorated birthday cake with his Overly Long Name spelled out in frosting. The sixth child gets a prepackaged cupcake for his birthday, with the father saying, "Hey, you said you wanted chocolate!"
    • When the first child's goldfish dies, the family holds an elaborate funeral for it. When the sixth child's goldfish dies, it gets tossed into the toilet.

    Fan Works 
  • In Amazing Fantasy, Mary Jane was initially excited about dating a superhero after learning that Peter is Spider-Man. But the constant stress of worrying about whether he's going to come home every night and his constant absences wore at her until she finally filed for divorce. She refuses to even discuss superheroes in the house and yells at May when she decides to become Spider-Girl.
  • Blood Moon: Four years of prison and one killing later, poor Katara has completely lost her innocence and childhood.
  • In Child of the Storm, Harry had a mildly cynical streak to begin with, but it mostly manifested as wry self-awareness. Then Forever Red happened. The result is him swinging rapidly from sweet and idealistic kid to someone who's innocence is gone. Thoroughly embittered and massively traumatized, he lies to and both actively and passively manipulates his friends when it's convenient or he deems it necessary (the two overlap a lot), has a Hair-Trigger Temper and very little patience with rules (something he sometimes uses his powers to demonstrate). He's also not above using intimidation to get what he wants. The rest of the second book is his Mental Health Recovery Arc, and eventually, he settles on the view that "cynicism is a good way to survive, but a bad way to live," becoming a determined Knight of Faith and much kinder, consciously reeling in on a lot of his more anti-social tendencies. Thanks to a time-travel facilitated Time Skip between books 2 and 3, and a fair bit of self-care, he's a considerably gentler and warmer person again. However, it's acknowledged more than once that he is not, and never will be, the sweet and innocent kid he once was. He's okay with it. Not everyone else is, however.
  • Sonic in Entropy and even more so in its sequel Chaoskampf. Both fics portray an ongoing struggle against the forces of darkness and have tons of Mind Screw. A combination of horrible events (including the deaths of his two closest companions) and a Cryptic Conversation churn Sonic from being the hero we all know and love who fights on to save the world out of fun and genuine vigilantism to one who only fights out of obligation. He feels the world keeps piling on the hurt time and time again, as it seems like no matter what he does, he can't seem to control and get the outcomes he expects to happen. It eventually comes to a point where the only person he really cares about anymore is Amy, who's gone through equal amounts of trauma but still fights for the world's salvation because, well, it's Amy.
  • Tonks in For Love of Magic managed to keep some level of idealism for years, but events conspire to slowly erode it away until she's a Broken Bird. While things like learning that the DMLE doesn't actually pursue people who rape Muggles greatly lessened her idealism, the straw that broke the camel's back was Voldemort taking the Weasley family hostage, then launching a massive attack on London. After failing to save the Weasleys and the catastrophic damage done to London, Tonks listlessly states that they should have ignored the hostages, as they would've died anyway, and it'd teach Voldemort not to bother using hostages against them.
  • Harry Potter in the backstory of The Havoc Side of the Force learned to stop helping people out of the goodness of his heart because they will inevitably take advantage of his kindness. As a result, he's a far more cynical and bitter (though still benevolent) mercenary who refuses to do anything for free. Notably, early in the story, Harry rescues over a hundred slaves from the Hutts and uses his good deed as a bargaining chip when the ship he receives as payment for a related job is given back stripped of its shields, weapons, and engine upgrades.
  • After Izuku manifests his powers in Jade Lightning and confesses to his mother just how hard he has it, Izuku becomes far more bitter and stoic than his wide-eyed canon counterpart. He tries and fails to keep to himself - his new friends comparing him to Todoroki and calling them "Ice Kings" - and Izuku takes every opportunity to bait Bakugo, usually around the time when Aizawa catches Bakugo causing him trouble. He also seems to no longer look up to All Might, taking the time during the Sports Festival Award Ceremony to reveal to him who he was and rubbing it in his face just how wrong he was about him.
  • The Judgement of the World (5Ds): Yusei was apparently much more laidback and upbeat in his previous life, a personality that Stardust Dragon now has. In the present, though, he tends to be quite stoic and morose due to growing up impoverished and discriminated against and knowing that his father was partially responsible for Zero Reverse, an explosion that killed thousands, orphaned many of his friends, and left countless survivors scrounging in poverty.
  • Mean Rabbit: After Miruko saves Izuku from the Sludge Villain, she bursts the bubble on his optimism, helping him to see that his Quirklessness isn't the only obstacle keeping him from becoming a Pro Hero. He also has to deal with a society that sees him as practically worthless... and had him all but convinced of that same thing. Izuku sets out to prove society wrong, becoming more cynical and far less accepting about all the obstacles thrown in his way.
  • Downplayed with Izuku in My Hero Academia:Hero Time, when he lost some of his idealism when he fought the corrupt Pro Hero Captain Nemesis and realized how many Pro Heroes were just glorified criminals. Despite this shattered faith, Izuku's heroism never wavered and he continues to use the Omnitrix to help people.

  • My Abominable Monster Classmates Can't Be This Cute!: In this RWBY fanfiction, Salem's prisoner, Summer Rose, has evidently become very cynical and given up hope of being rescued over the years she's been locked up and had her Grimmified, amnesiac daughter repeatedly wheeled in front of her. She acts acrid when she realizes who Jaune is, and she makes it clear she doesn't have any faith that he can beat Salem's plan for her daughters.

  • In A Prize for Three Empires, Carol Danvers decides she can't trust the Avengers when they allow Marcus take her away without realizing she was being mind-controlled by her rapist. Later, she quits the X-Men when they let Rogue, who nearly killed her, join. She becomes so jaded that she decides to leave Earth for a while.
  • Downplayed in Quirk: Incubus. While Izuku's personality is more or less intact, he has developed a crude and rather dark sense of humor.
  • Lisa Lavender in A Rabbit Among Wolves wanted to be a hard-hitting investigative reporter who acted as a beacon of truth in the world. Then she wrote her first big story, one exposing a major corporation for exploiting their workers to the point of multiple ambulance calls weekly and firing someone for having a heart attack at work. Lisa's editor refused to publish it and fired her, with said corporation forcing her to sign several NDAs. Ever since, she just writes sensationalist pieces.
  • Still Stand in the Sun: Years of cruel imprisonment in the Fire Nation has left Katara devoid of all her former innocence and hope.
  • In Thieves Can Be Heroes!, Izuku spent his entire life clinging to his dream of becoming a Pro Hero after being declared Quirkless. He finally breaks down in tears during his second night at Cafe Leblanc as he realizes that it's impossibile after being labeled a criminal for trying to help a woman who was being sexually assaulted. He regains most of his optimism and cheer after he realizes that he could use the Metaverse to help people, but his time at Shujin makes his worldview more cynical, as he sees Kamoshida abusing his students with impunity, showing that even the Heroes that Izuku looked up to his entire life haven't solved all of society's ills. This is what motivates him to take matters into his own hands and right the wrongs that Heroes like All Might can't.
  • Tashigi in This Bites! becomes considerably more jaded throughout the story as she learns the atrocities the World Government has committed. By the Enies Lobby arc, she's not shocked or disgusted any more, merely angry.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Though overworked and underpaid as a waitress, Sarah Connor still harbored hopes for a brighter future in The Terminator. Then Kyle Reese spelled out a horrid, brink-of-doom future with the Terminator as proof. By the sequel, Sarah has developed enough cynicism to stockpile weapons and munitions galore in caches dotting the Western seaboard for her son John to use against Cyberdyne's machines.
  • 12 Years a Slave's protagonist, Solomon, takes one level after another, often one with every unfair, brutal beating. Most of his fellow slaves are already over the Despair Event Horizon. But he keeps a sliver of hope, and it pays off, as the people who knew him and cared about him went to great lengths to rescue him. Nevertheless, the fact that he never obtains reparation for the horrible suffering he's been dealt, cannot possibly have helped his view of this world.
    • More specifically what made many black people at the time very cynical was precisely the fact that a fair number of powerful people were actually speaking up for total equality: but their voices got silenced in the name of "compromise" and "unity". The first drafts of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments were much more radical than what was actually passed: with the infamous exception for prisoners in the 14th Amendment having been added late in the revision process. Indeed, this tendency understandably makes many marginalized people of today very cynical. A very good account of how this happened can be found in The Impeachers.
  • In the first trilogy of the Transformers Film Series, Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, was a firm believer in humanity's potential for good, and held a strict Thou Shalt Not Kill policy towards them, even if they antagonized him and his team. By Transformers: Age of Extinction, years of his kind being hunted down by humans has caused Optimus to lose much of his faith in them, to the point where he will not hesitate to kill humans in self-defense.
  • In Tomorrowland, Frank undergoes this, changing from an optimistic child who builds a jetpack because he thinks it will inspire people to do great things to being a bitter recluse who has his house filled with traps and laughs at Casey for being so naive as to think seeking out Tomorrowland would be a good idea. The change seems to have been caused by learning Athena - who he was very strongly attached to - is actually a Ridiculously Human Robot, inventing a machine that basically shows when the end of the world is coming, and then being kicked out of Tomorrowland for it. His time with Casey does seem to help him, though.

  • In The Alice Network, Eve, pretending to be “Marguerite”, parrots René’s cynical views to show that she’s learning from him, while at the same time Eve grows up considerably in real life. She begins the book not quite innocent, but still somewhat naive, and by the end is bitter, cynical, and broken.
  • Just about all of the Animorphs, except for Marco who was always somewhat of a cynic. Initially, they all had firm limits, lines that they absolutely would not cross, but as the war progressed, they made increasingly hard and morally grey decisions, believing that they were doing what was necessary.
  • Arya and Sansa Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire start the series as naive and idealistic, but their father's beheading only kickstarts chains of events that will result in disappointment after disappointment for both of them. By the fourth book they've both acquired Jade-Colored Glasses. The result? Having both given up on their initial idealism, Sansa is now learning to manipulate people in order to come out on top, while Arya is graduating to Professional Killer levels.
  • In Discworld, this trope probably happened to every character in their earliest childhood, except maybe for Captain Carrot, and some nice characters who are too dumb to know better; everyone takes an extremely cynical view of the people around them, and the ways to prosper in this world, and the straight heroes usually range from Good Is Not Nice to Knight in Sour Armor to Dirty Coward-Cowardly Lion to outright Pragmatic Villainy, which in a world of Stupid Evil comes off as actually benevolent. This is interesting because the stories themselves are very idealistic, with few if any Karma Houdinis, and fair retribution to all good and evil deeds.
  • In Harry Potter, Harry has horrible stuff happen to him every year, but in his first few years at Hogwarts, he still bounces back and has a tendency to believe that everything can turn out all right and trust the teachers for help. As the series goes on though, people he's close to actually start to die, things aren't nicely fixed by the end of each book, and the adults he previously trusted are either corrupt or well-meaning but unable to do much. Of note is how the later books, particularly the last one, show his crumbling trust in Dumbledore. A younger Harry sees Dumbledore as an impressive authority figure who can solve any problem. When he gets older, Harry is forced to accept that not only is Dumbledore not always in control and always know what's going on, but had a history that was about as far from noble and heroic as one could get.
  • Lady Centipede from The City Without Memory used to be a gentle, kind girl. Then she was kidnapped by a forest robber who forcibly married her. Initially she tried to influence her husband and instill some good in her children, but by the time of the novel’s plot she’s given up on it completely, is tired of everyone and just wants to be left alone. Her good heart, as a couple of Pet the Dog moments show, is still there somewhere… only very deep down.
  • In The Mental State, 'Zack' has a much darker view of the world than 'Zachary'.
  • Star Wars Legends has a fresh-faced young surgeon, Doctor Kornell "Uli" Divini, first appear in the Medstar Duology as a nineteen year old minor prodigy expecting to serve the Republic Medical Corps for a few years, mainly operating on clones, and then get back to some other practice. He's next seen twenty years later in Death Star, having been hit with a stop-loss order and forced to continuously serve The Empire, sometimes in non-surgical capacities when there aren't enough internal meds doctors. Uli repeatedly muses that his patients, those who recover, are pretty much all going to go back to either being worked to death or committing (or ordering) atrocities, and believes that by this point in his career he should be largely retired from surgery and married with children, but feels helpless and resigned. But when he's tasked with treating Princess Leia of Alderaan after Darth Vader tortures her, Uli is struck by her continued defiance and moral clarity, even moreso when the Death Star is used on her homeworld, and joins an effort to escape the station on the grounds that risking being killed for desertion is better than continuing to serve evil. At the end of the book, to his own surprise, Uli's resolved to join the Rebel Alliance and help them in any way he can.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Breaking Bad, this is all part of Jesse Pinkman's Trauma Conga Line, on one hand, and Walter White's increasing acquisition of badass credentials, although his Start of Darkness was much earlier than that.
  • In Doctor Who, the nicer and more benevolent The Nth Doctor is, the more the universe tends to test him with Break the Cutie Trauma Conga Lines: the Fifth and Eighth doctors are especially egregious examples. The Time War, however, may have been the most traumatic event for him, but it's not clear whether the trope is played straight or subverted: he becomes more jaded, but also feels a stronger obligation to help others and do the right thing. There's also the matter of the Timey-Wimey Ball involving some changes in how things were experienced. And, well, he's the Doctor; an enigmatic Mood-Swinger, it's often frankly hard to tell how he feels about stuff.
  • The Flash: The wife and Dragon of the Big Bad of Season 4 was initially extremely hopeful of humanity and technology. She was also horrified at her husband's Evil Luddite beliefs. Then a group of Kenyan warlords slaughter a peaceful village just to get their hands on a piece of technology she has invented to help the villagers. Suddenly, she claims that her husband was right all along, that technology inevitably leads to evil actions.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Sansa Stark starts an idealistic young lady who desires to marry a handsome young prince, namely Joffrey Baratheon, and live life in the south, particularly King's Landing where she had heard about songs and poems of dashing knights, beautiful ladies, and handsome nobles. She gets her wish to live south and gets engaged to Joffrey when her father agrees to do so (albeit for other purposes). Then she finds out that Joffrey is not the charming prince she thought he was, but a monstrous, evil boy, who, upon becoming king by his father's death, has her father beheaded, despite promising mercy, and she is made a hostage in King's Landing. She also finds out that Joffrey's mother, Queen Cersei, is not a kind woman, but a cruel, manipulative, misanthropic alcoholic, who, while giving some genuine Pet the Dog moments to Sansa, loathes everyone and loathes being a woman. Then after being potentially engaged to a person she believes a dashing knight (who, as she never finds out, is homosexual), is forced to marry a not-so-handsome dwarf, though by no means ugly. Then her brother and mother whom she is estranged from by her prisoner status, are brutally massacred, all eventually leading to her losing faith in the gods her parents and household taught her to worship. And that's still not the end of that!
    Sansa: To come here, to the capital... To see the southern knights and their painted armor and King's Landing after dark... all those candles burning in all those windows... I'm stupid. Stupid little girl with stupid little dreams who never learns!
  • In The Mentalist, Grace Van Pelt is the team's resident Wide-Eyed Idealist. That is until the Season 3 finale, when her fiancé Craig O'Laughlin turns out to be working for Red John and tries to kill her, forcing her to shoot him dead. She's... somewhat more jaded and aggressive after that.
  • Person of Interest: John Reese wasn't exactly an optimist in the first place, but he still believed in the work he was doing and found life-affirming purpose in saving others... Until a dear friend of his was killed, and he went from that to thinking all his efforts were just delaying the inevitable.
  • Subverted in The Sarah Jane Adventures. When we first catch back up with Sarah Jane on Doctor Who she's still a bit bitter about the Doctor leaving her behind and is no longer the wide eyed, impressionable young women she was in the classic series. This manifest in the first episode of SJA as her being really cold to her new neighbors and coming across a straight up Distaff Counterpart to the Doctor. At the end of the episode she softens, noticeably regaining her humanity by adopting Luke and accepting her neighbor Maria's help. She stays Older and Wiser, but becomes a bit more open with people and shares a very idealistic view of the wonders of the universe and the creatures that inhabit it.
  • Sherlock and his brother Mycroft appear to have had such a moment very early in their childhoods, where they internalized that "caring is not an advantage", to the point that they both think of themselves as sociopaths (which they aren't). It takes Sherlock a lot of time, and being given a lot of love, to learn to allow himself to care about others again.
  • In Torchwood Gwen is recruited in part because she's The Heart and spends her first few episodes calling her teammates out because they really don't seem to care about the human aspect of their cases and ignorantly believing Everybody Lives is a possibility. By Torchwood: Children of Earth a good portion of the team is dead, she's pretty quick to catch on that Humans Are Bastards, and she believes the Doctor won't show up to save them because sometimes he must look at Earth and turn away in shame.
  • In both the Comics and Television adaptation, the main group of survivors in The Walking Dead gradually become more and more dehumanized as the apocalyptic crisis becomes the new norm and find that the greatest threat to their survival are other Humans rather than the undead.

    Multiple Media 
  • MonsterVerse recurring character William "Bill" Randa implicitly took one inbetween his younger appearance in the Monarch: Legacy of Monsters TV series, and his older appearance in the Kong: Skull Island film, possibly as a result of the death of Keiko. In his younger appearances, he's an idealistic and cheerful young man who is awed by the monsters and is disgusted when the military want to bomb Godzilla without learning anything about him. In his older appearance, he's a bitter and manipulative bastard who wants to expose the existence of Kong and Skull Island to the government so that they'll wipe the creatures out, because he believes it's the only way to keep humanity safe from destruction, and he's willing to go to ruthless extremes to achieve that.

  • In Poets of the Fall's "Nothing Stays the Same," the singer describes facing disillusionment after conversing with supposedly respectable people.
    I've talked to the men of high regard
    In rooms ever white and my soul grew dark by their words
    Softly sweet as kissing lips
    A kaleidoscope of no consolation at all

    Video Games 
  • Absinthia: Stray became a king at some point, but became bitter and jaded due to outliving his friends with his elven lifespan.
  • Alice: Madness Returns:
    • Alice has become a Broken Bird after her insanity returns and ruins her life. She almost got over the loss of her family, but her therapist,Dr. Bumby believes that she requires more psychiatric help and forces her to undergo more therapy with him. She eventually realizes that her therapist is the Big Bad and kills him, resolving her main issues. However, she hasn't fully recovered just yet.
    • To a lesser extent, the Mock Turtle as well. He goes from the lovable ally in the first game to a depressed resistance fighter after he loses his job as conductor and fights for the safety of Wonderland.
  • Villainous example in Batman: Arkham Knight: Scarecrow has gone from the Ax-Crazy Giggling Villain he was in the first game to a stoic Soft-Spoken Sadist who never laughs even once. He's very likely darker because of his near death experience from his encounter with Killer Croc and humiliating defeat from Batman prior to that. However, because of his new cynical viewpoint, he's become way more cunning than he was previously, and now aims not to simply kill Batman, but to utterly break him and hold him up for the entire world to see, destroying him as a symbol of hope in the eyes of the people.
  • Devil May Cry: The death of their mother had a very polarizing effect on the Sons of Sparda. While Dante eventually becomes more of a Knight in Sour Armor, Vergil plays this trope straight adopting the belief that "Might controls everything. And without strength, you cannot protect anything. Let alone yourself."
  • This is kind of a game mechanic in Dragon Age: Origins: at different points of the plot, you can choose to "harden" your two token idealistic companions, Alistair and Leliana, via dialogue, which makes them much more tolerant towards more amoral actions you can take later on (and incidentally, makes Alistair a better king). In both cases, the catalyst is a betrayal, by family and by a mentor, respectively. Of course, you can just as well reaffirm their inherent idealism instead.
  • During the one and a half-year Time Skip between The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II and III, Rean Schwarzer becomes much more jaded. Being forced to fight in the wars of annexation for Crossbell and North Ambria has given him a first-hand look at how the empire's government operates, giving him the Jade-Colored Glasses necessary to quickly see through their machinations. He's also far less trusting of the local Dominion than other series protagonists were, seeing him as yet another behind-the-scenes figure with a secret agenda that he has to deal with.
  • The Walking Dead: Since the death of those precious around her, Clementine loses most of her childhood innocence and becomes a colder person, and this becomes worse as the series progress.

  • Looking for Group: Cale is very idealistic, innocent, and naive at the beginning of the comic, but he starts to become more cynical after he's forced to kill a child in the past to maintain a Stable Time Loop. Similar events that come afterward only serve to make him become more and more on the cynical side on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism as the comic continues.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: In the very first segment of the Just Before the End Distant Prologue, that takes place in Norway, the Rash is officially a fast-spreading but non-lethal sickness. Because of this, the characters act quite light-hearted about it, treat Iceland temporarily closing its borders to avoid an epidemic on its soil as a bold move that only a few countries in the world can pull, and consider that an ongoing storm that has already broke the only road may be more than enough to isolate their village. The following segments take place in Denmark, Finland and Sweden, with each making it more and more obvious that the Rash is actually a very bad case of The Plague. There is a small Time Skip between the Sweden and Iceland segments, which is shown via a Photo Montage of the characters from the four non-Iceland countries bracing themselves for the Rash. The most radical change of tone compared to the actual segment comes from the two Norway photos: the characters previously taking the Rash lightly are now seen setting up chainlink fences with barb wire and learning how to use rifles.

    Web Original 
  • After years of being a bouncy Wide-Eyed Idealist, Chester from Bum Reviews seemed to give up and hit the cynicism pretty hard after The Nostalgia Critic died.
  • In her Fallout: New Vegas Let's Plays, Rainbow/Queen Latifah, became more willing to solve problems with violence and stealing supplies, after Veronica and Rex died.
  • Jamie in Twig is kind and gentle up until he suffers a Loss of Identity, forcing him to go on without many of his memories. After reading his journals from before, he decides to be more wary of the world than he used to be, not wanting to make the same mistakes. This sets him up to become a Defrosting Ice King to his friends.
  • In Noob, Arhtéon started out with a backstory where he used Real Money Trade because of a Can't Catch Up situation with a guild that eventually went on to become the best of the game. After the incident, he ended up being the Reluctant Ruler of the game's worse guild and spent years being the optimistic one regarding their progress. However, a couple of bad events happen close to each other around the end of Season 4: his first love pulling a virtual ruanaway bride on him and his guild proving to be unable to function smoothly in his absence. These, combined with lingering resentment against his former guildmates, give him a much grimer outlook on his life and the people he had been hanging around with. Unfortunately, this does not combine quite well with the one positive piece of karma he got by the time of Noob: Le Conseil des Trois Factions: he's basically in charge of finding a way to end the divine conflict that causes a big part of the game's story and destroying the planet that serves as the setting is one of the possible means to do this.

    Western Animation 
  • This was the backstory of Billy from Adventure Time: he came to believe that heroism is a sucker's game, as fighting off evil would always result in a new evil taking its place. It takes Finn and Jake learning a personal aesop to break him out of that shell of cynicism.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Katara spends the first two seasons of the first series giving inspirational speeches about hope and love, welcoming new members of Team Avatar with gentle but firm compassion as seen with Toph. After Prince Zuko royally betrays them by claiming to be a better person only to let Azula hit Aang with what should have been a fatal shot of lightning, betray his uncle, and rejoin Fire Nation nobility, she is the last to trust him when he claims to have made a Heel–Face Turn for real this time, smacking him in the face when he attempts to surrender to them; in fact, she's the only member of Team Avatar that threatens to "end" his destiny if he ever hurts Aang again or shows the slightest hint of betraying them. On top of that, she almost kills her mother's murderer.
    • Kuei was an Unwitting Pawn for Long Feng but a Reasonable Authority Figure when Team Avatar showed him proof of the Fire Nation war and that Long Feng had been lying to him. He promised, as a Wide-Eyed Idealist, that he would help fight in the war and provide the support to protect his people. Then Ba Sing Se fell, and Kuei was helpless to prevent it; to make matters worse, he blabbed to a disguised Azula about the Day of the Black Sun invasion, which ended up thwarting the Gaang's plan to beat Ozai while he was powerless. In the subsequent comic series, he's understandably not trusting Zuko as Fire Lord considering it was Zuko's fault that Ba Sing Se fell, and wracked with guilt about how his naïveté and ignorance caused his people to suffer. Katara has to help talk Kuei down when Zuko's miscommunication about dismantling Fire Nation colonies nearly leads to Kuei restarting the war, believing that Zuko is betraying them again.
    • Toph Beifong was never a Wide-Eyed Idealist to begin with, but by the time she meets Avatar Korra, she has become a hardened, reclusive old woman, and now believes that the Avatar isn't needed anymore, because no matter what good they do, evil and injustice never give up. Not helping matters is her younger daughter became a criminal and Toph chose to sacrifice her morals to burn up Suyin's arrest warrant and exiling her from Republic City, even though Suyin attacked her own sister in an attempt to resist arrest. Lin thinks this is very rich of her mother to be so cynical considering Toph founded the Metalbending police. However, seeing her family in danger — and her elder daughter giving her a "The Reason You Suck" Speech about how Toph was concerned more about her ego and brusqueness rather than being a parent— gave her more faith in those who are willing to continue fighting and sacrificing themselves for loved ones.
  • Batman Beyond: Subverted; Bruce Wayne becomes a grouchy, depressed old man with no hope in the world after realizing that his actions as Batman has done nothing to change Gotham for the better. But in all honesty, Bruce was pretty grouchy and cynical long before getting old. Luckily, Terry takes on his mantle and the series begins.
  • The Boondocks' protagonist Huey Freeman starts off very cynical, but also proactive and hopeful in improving things for the better. By the third season, though, it's clear that he's given up hope, and he's resigned himself to let the rest live on in blissful ignorance.
  • In Central Park, Season 2 "Of Course You Realize This Means Ward", when Owen first met Ward as a kid, he was optimistic, telling him that they need to care about nature and the Earth. But after the nature center Ward worked at was converted to a VR arcade after it lost its funding, Ward lost hope for the world and became a hermit who lives off the grid, believing the world's already lost. After Owen's song, Ward's still jaded about the world, but grateful that Owen was able to inspire the children to care about the planet, and inspired Ward enough to take a stroll in Central Park before he leaves.
  • DuckTales (1987): As shown in "Once Upon a Dime", Scrooge McDuck started his career trusting enough to be scammed more than once. By the start of the series, he's a cynic. One of the points of the story is his friends and family sending him through a level in idealism; while he remains more guarded than some of the others, he learns there are some people he can rely on and opens up to them.
  • Gargoyles: When we first meet the Wyvern Clan, Goliath is shown to have faith that, despite humanity's bigotry toward gargoyles, the two races can make lasting peace with one another, and that humans only scorn his kind out of fear and lack of understanding. Losing most of his family, being cursed into stone sleep for what he thought would be forever, and then waking up to find himself in a new country and a new era, did some significant damage to his overall optimistic outlook and left him convinced that he could never trust humans again; Xanatos' manipulations didn't help either. Fortunately, Elisa helps Goliath realize that there are still some humans who can be trusted after she risked her life for his, and his faith is restored.
  • The Owl House: After learning she indirectly played a role in Belos' rise to power and therefore is in some way responsible for the Day of Unity, Luz Noceda becomes cynical and depressive, seeing her actions in only the worst light. In a literature class, she starts projecting her issues onto the hero of a book, exclaiming that none of the good he did mattered if he still got people hurt and therefore should have never been born.
  • Samurai Jack
    • After season five's fifty-year Time Skip, the now-ageless Jack has lost all hope of killing Aku and going back to the past after decades of constant failure along with Aku destroying all remaining time portals to prevent Jack from ever completing his original objective and is even willing to abandon a village in need and only goes to help them after hallucinations of those he couldn't save chastise him, they are all dead by the time he gets there.
    • Funnily enough, Aku himself has been affected by the stalemate and due to the fear of Jack's magic sword constantly hanging over his head (though he has no idea Jack had lost it), he doesn't come out of his palace anymore and can no longer find any joy in the evil he does. He will only come out once he gets news that Jack is dead, or (which actually happened) gets news of Jack no longer having his sword.
  • The Simpsons: In the episode "In Marge We Trust", it's revealed that when Reverend Lovejoy first showed up in Springfield, he was a go-getting down-to-earth pastor who wanted to "rap" with his parishioners. Then, Ned Flanders started bugging him all the time, wearing him down until he just stopped caring about anybody. "Luckily, by then it was The '80s, so no one noticed."
  • While Sofia the First is still a kind, caring person who will do anything to help other people that she loves, she has also become a more cautious, less naive person who often feels she should go things alone. The reason for this is because of the many times where trust was either broken or nearly broken from people who have betrayed her in some way, not to mention how she's becoming a protector, meaning more responsibility and more adventures.
  • TRON: Uprising: The title character definitely leveled up here. Watch the 1982 film and/or play the Space Paranoids level of Kingdom Hearts II. Then keep in mind that character shocking his apprentice unconscious so he could pursue revenge and pinning down the enemy who tortured him is the same character that's trying to convince the Tower Guardian that Master Control can be defeated or hugging Sora, Goofy, and Donald goodbye.
  • Rick and Morty: Morty Smith adventures with Rick have slowly shaped Morty into a more apathetic person. See Seen It All section. From "The Ricklantis Mixup", this is a development exclusive to the main Morty, like all other Mortys that actually have Ricks tend to fall in line and act as the usual optimistic sidekick. The first Rick they meet since destroying the Citadel even calls out the main Morty on being unusually aggressive and outspoken.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Took A Level In Cynicism


Ward Doesn't Bother Anymore

Dr. Ward Wittlinger was optimistic about protecting and caring about the environment and inspired Owen to do the same. But after the nature center Ward worked at was converted to a VR arcade after it lost its funding, Ward lost hope for the world and became a hermit who lives off the grid, believing the world's already lost.

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Main / TookALevelInCynic

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