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Tragic Hero

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"The truly tragic kind of suffering is the kind produced and defiantly insisted upon by the hero himself so that, instead of making him better, it makes him worse and when he dies he is not reconciled to the law but defiant, that is, damned. Lear is not a tragic hero, Othello is."

The tragic hero is a longstanding literary concept, a character with a Fatal Flaw (like Pride, for example) who is doomed to fail in search of a Tragic Dream despite their best efforts and good intentions. This trope is rare on television, perhaps because watching someone fail once teaches a lesson, while watching them fail every Tuesday gets boring — though that didn't stop shows like Arrested Development or the so-inappropriately-titled Good Times, no matter how hard they Yank the Dog's Chain. It is more common in Mini Series and anime dramas, where the program's entire run can be dedicated to one or more Story Arcs that lead to the Tragic Hero's ultimate failure. You'll most likely find this in the Theatre, where the trope was born and codified.

A Tragic Hero can work as a protagonist or an antagonist. As an antagonist, their goals are opposed to the protagonist's, but the audience still feels sympathetic towards them.

By the time a Tragic Hero antagonist is defeated, the protagonist feels sympathetic to the Tragic Hero, and a little bad about having to capture them. It is acceptable and common to defeat a Tragic Hero antagonist by stopping them from achieving their goal, but otherwise letting them go free. Tragic Hero antagonists are rarely killed, except when death is seen by the Tragic Hero as an honorable end which is preferable to capture. Tragic Hero protagonists usually die, but that depends somewhat on the tastes of each era (they always die in Shakespeare, but ancient protagonists would often suffer a Fate Worse than Death and/or be left to wallow in their pain instead).

The origin of the term itself is a slight case of Newer Than They Think. It's usually attributed to Aristotle and his Poetics, but it really comes from Renaissance Italian and French commentators on Aristotle, who elaborated on their very general ideas about character through a humanistic lens. Aristotle only says that seeing a prosperous person fall is a good source of pathos, and that it's more pathetic to see a not-entirely-bad person suffer due to a mistake than to see wholly good people suffer for reasons beyond their control. That said, Aristotle's favorite tragedy, Oedipus the King, is a good example of this trope, so the trope itself is definitely Older Than Feudalism.

Compare with Classical Anti-Hero, Protagonist Journey to Villain, Fallen Hero, Hero Antagonist. Compare the Jerkass Woobie, a Jerk with a Heart of Gold whose Fatal Flaw is their mean streak. Compare Tragic Villain and Hoist by His Own Petard for the villainous counterparts. Contrast Byronic Hero, who has numerous, celebrated flaws. Contrast Karma Houdini, a character who gets away with their misdeeds.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan. The boy who sought freedom ultimately ended up being the least free of all. As hinted to in chapters 130 and 131, where he was on the verge of breaking down over his realization that the future he sees is unchangeable, that he was meant to commit a horrific, irredeemable act (and then die for it under the hands of the woman he loves) — apologizing to Rhamzi after he saved the boy from his assailants, knowing he will just die in the Rumbling. In the end, he is killed by Mikasa after making himself the enemy of the entire world and after the Rumbling that killed off 80% of the world.
  • Ash from Banana Fish. It's brought up to him several times in the series that he's fighting a losing battle against mafia don Dino Golzine, and that his attachment to Eiji is a Fatal Flaw that endangers both of them. In the end, it's not Golzine who kills him, it's a friend of Chinese gangster Sing. Eiji survives the series, but is shown to never really get over the death of his soulmate.
  • Saya Kisaragi of Blood-C. Throughout the show, she has been brainwashed and gaslighted. Even though she finally kills the guy who tormented her in the movie, it turns out that said guy is in love with her and everything that he did is for her survival, regardless that he tormented and killed a lot of people along the way.
  • Code Geass:
  • Cyberpunk: Edgerunners has David and Lucy, the two main protagonists and the series' Official Couple who have to carve their way through the depravity and violence of Night City to stay together. Unfortunately, it's David and Lucy's own choices that lead to their downfalls. David refuses to believe that he's succumbing to cyberpsychosis and ignores all the warnings he receives in favor of the idea that he's special. Lucy goes on a one-woman crusade to protect her boyfriend and fails to disclose to truth of which she's actually doing to anyone (including David). The choices they make ultimately result in the deaths of David and nearly everyone they care about.
  • Poor, poor Chiaki Nanami of Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School. She's very similar to The Hero, Makoto Naegi, in that they're both sweet, optimistic individuals who serve as The Heart and hold The Power of Friendship in high regard. What separates her from him is that she lacks his luck, and as such she can't escape the consequences of such an attitude in Danganronpa's dark setting (even he barely avoids them). Not only does she fail to succeed in any of her goals, her one big attempt to be The Hero ends in her classmates being brainwashed into evil and her being tortured to death by the sadistic Junko Enoshima. The series basically lets her think she's building up to greatness before slapping her in the face with Surprisingly Realistic Outcome as brutally as possible.
  • Digimon Tamers has Impmon/Beelzemon, whose desperation to be able to digivolve like all the other Digimon drove him to making a Deal with the Devil and nearly crossing the Moral Event Horizon. Unlike most examples, though, he gets a chance to redeem himself, although he believes he never can.
  • Arguably, Lucy from Elfen Lied. By the end of the anime, she even admits that both Diclonii and humans are too proud to surrender and live peacefully with each other. One could also call Lucy a Tragic Hero who mutated into a Tragic Villain thanks to the horrors that are her life and/or her inherent nature.
  • Yomi of Ga-Rei -Zero- has a noble motivation and is of high status as an elite Vanquisher of the Isayama line, suffers a Fate Worse than Death: what little part of her consciousness is left is aware of the horrible things she's doing, but she is unable to stop herself and comes back to life twice, only to do the same again even though she explicitly states she never wanted to come back, and she is destroyed by her Fatal Flaw , which is either her inborn hatred or her almost exclusive love for Kagura.
  • Guilty Crown: Shu Ouma seemingly evolved into this, but it's implied that he's been one all along. His Fatal Flaw is kindness. He went through many betrayals, and completely shattered after Hare's death. And that is his Start of Darkness.
  • Harry McDowell and Brandon Heat from the Gungrave anime are tragic heroes. This is a rare case where both protagonist and antagonist are tragic heroes. Harry McDowell, in his search for power so that he will never have to lose anything, ends up becoming a power-hungry Bloody Harry and kills his best friend Brandon Heat, turning Brandon into Beyond the Grave. The guilt over killing his best friend makes Harry slowly lose his sanity. On the other hand, Brandon Heat, who is loyal to the fault, cannot bring himself to stop Harry even when he knows Harry is obviously going down the wrong path and ends up getting killed. In a way, Brandon is also responsible for the deaths of his other loved ones as Brandon's death causes Harry to hunt down those whom Brandon holds dear (as Harry reasons that those people "took Brandon from him"). At the end of the series, after destroying each other completely, both Brandon and Harry realize that the only time they were truly "free" was when they lived in a slum with three other friends (whose deaths led Brandon and Harry to join the Millenion in the first place) and decide to take the only way out: killing each other. Ends very differently in the video game — Harry allows Grave to kill him, and Grave survives the ordeal. His only concern at that point is Mika's protection, so he leaves the city with her.
  • Mikael from I'm Gonna Be an Angel!. Overall good-willed, but terribly misguided and with immense issues of self-denial. His obsession with becoming a full angel blinded him to other people's feelings/opinions and led him to undertake pretty harsh and questionable actions. In the end, he did realize his wrongdoings and although it was implied that he will probably never become an angel as he would like to be, he eventually got recognized as a decent... 1/3 of an angel? Or something like that.
  • Kikyo and Inuyasha, in regard to how their insecurities allowed Naraku to turn them against each other, kill Kikyo and make Inuyasha sleep for 50 years.
  • Maria no Danzai: Mari Nagare was once a happily married housewife and mother; now, she is a woman who was destroyed by a tragedy that happened to her family and could've been a great and happy nurse.
    • She had a great relationship with her husband and a loving relationship with her son. Mari had a tragic past where; she grew up an orphan and was bullied in school, but the kindness of a nurse at her school allowed her to overcome her past. Mari dreamed of being a nurse to follow in the footsteps of the nurse who helped her, but she put those dreams on hold with no regrets to be a mother to her son, whom she loved greatly.
    • Unknown to her and her husband, her son was bullied terribly by satanic thugs, and eventually, he was killed in a prank gone wrong with her witnessing her son's death. A police investigation revealed to Mari and her husband that her son committed suicide because of abusive parents, leaving her devastated and blaming herself for her son's death. Then Mari learned the truth that her son was tortured and killed by monstrous bullies whom her son referred to as demons, and the reason he kept quiet about it was that he did not want to worry her while he was gathering evidence to turn them in.
    • Mari snapped and swore revenge on her son's demons that took them away from her; she swore that she would not just get revenge on them because that would be too easy for those demons, she plans to give them judgment and ultimately destroy their lives related to their sins before killing them. Mari threw away her life, divorced her husband, changed her name to Maria Akeboshi, had plastic surgery, and two years later became the nurse at the bullies' school to exact revenge.
    • It is shown that Mari has been completely destroyed by her son's death and takes no joy and taking revenge on the bullies even though they showed themselves to be 100% completely scumbags that deserve their lives to be destroyed and deserve to be killed. It also shows that Mari became the exact kind of nurse she always wanted to be: the students widely regard Maria to be a saintly woman to whom they can always go when they're in trouble, whether they are physically ill, need sex advice, or simply need a space safe from bullies. And while Mari has a genuine joy in helping students, she knows that it will not last.
      • Had the tragedy not happened, Mari could've been a genuinely good nurse who would've been joyfully helping students and being a good mother. Instead, because of monsters that took her son away, Mari has been reduced to a broken, empty serial killer who, while wants to help the students in her care and is killing monsters, has no delusions that she is a good person nor does she take any joy in her vengeance, with it implied that her vengeance will cost her her sanity and life.
  • Most of the cast of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Notable are Gendo, whose inability to relate to people other than his "dead" wife leads him to destroy humanity as we know it in order to meet her again, and SEELE whose belief that humanity is unable to help each other deal with their flaws is their flaw. Shinji is, surprisingly, a subversion: he ultimately overcomes, or at least learns to live with, his flaws and by doing so gives the rest of the cast, and humanity at large, the chance to do the same.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica:
    • Unrequited love was the catalyst — not the cause — of Sayaka's downfall; what really pushed her over the edge was her righteousness. As a coping mechanism, she tried to become a hero who would uphold ideals. She believed in justice, but her growing resentment made her shift from protecting the innocent to punishing the wicked. When Sayaka realizes how she had come to contradict her earlier aspirations, all the hatred turns inward. It is precisely because of her unyielding nature that her spirit shatters. Unable to forgive this transgression, she inflicts her own punishment: a curse unto herself. From her Soul Gem hatches a mermaid-knight, a being representing the love and righteousness that she had once valued.
    • It's worth a note that the series itself is a nod to Goethe's Faust, and that Homura's character parallels the tragic hero of that story. In it, Faust's ambition leads him to make a Deal with the Devil, and Homura's deal with Kyubey is a reference to this. She earns a little bit more sympathy, though, since she's doing it to save Madoka. Even though the series touches on the idea, Rebellion Story really develops on Homura's role as a tragic hero, and is basically about her fatal flaw causing her descent into villainy. Ultimately, her undying love for Madoka and persistence to create what she deems a "perfect world" is what makes it a tragedy, and even though she's doing it all for good reasons, she becomes a Satanic Archetype. By the end, we're all left wondering if this is Faust or Paradise Lost. Another reason that Homura will never succeed is because she would do anything — even die — to protect Madoka, and Madoka would do the same for Homura. The series' plot is shaped by their continual, endless sacrifices on behalf of the other person.
    • Really, all magical girls are this by Kyubey's design; the whole point of the system is to extract humanity's despair as energy to keep the universe running.
  • Utena Tenjou of Revolutionary Girl Utena seeks strength and nobility not for her sake, but to save another person whom she cannot even remember. However, the enemy she faces is vastly older, more powerful and more sophisticated than this 14-year-old girl and manipulates her handily, turning her into the Tragic Hero through the final third of the series. (Even so, Utena manages to pull off a win against him — confusing and puzzling, but a win nonetheless.)
  • Interestingly, Kamina from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann fits the concept quite well. His overweening sense of determination and over-the-top Hot-Blooded-ness are integral to his success, yet in the end are what leads to his untimely death. Also, Lordgenome and even Rossiu to a degree.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, Ken Kaneki trades one Flaw for another over the course of the story. He originally rejects his Ghoul half, clinging to his humanity and idealism to the extent that he is rendered helpless. Eventually, he concludes that his kindness is actually weakness and abandons his humanity in order to become strong enough to protect everyone. His quest for power, however, causes him to isolate the very people he seeks to protect and slowly destroys his sanity. He's eventually snapped out of this destructive spiral when Touka unleashes a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, mocking him for acting like a "tragic hero" and calling him selfish. But by then, it's too late and he loses control of his Superpowered Evil Side before being struck down by Arima. The sequel reveals he survived, but has become an Amnesiac Hero in the service of CCG.
  • Subaru Sumeragi of X/1999. His entire life came crashing down when he found out that the man he loved is actually a serial killer who murdered his twin sister later on. It doesn't help that when he finally killed him only to find out that this was due to his sister's last spell which caused him to deflect from the final blow and whatever Seishiro's last words to him were really broke Subaru.

  • Alexandre Cabanel's The Fallen Angel: Lucifer, once God's brightest angel, lies defeated and resentful after his jealousy toward human beings and power-hungry tendencies drove him to fight (and lose) a war against Heaven.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Batman is eaten up by guilt for not being able to save his parents (even though he was just a boy) and he resolves to make sure this never happens to anyone else again even if it takes the rest of his life. And in some adaptations, it does.
  • Daredevil: Daredevil's been through hell since day one, his greatest foes actively sabotaging every good thing that ever happens to him (or occasionally doing it to himself) and has been through so many Trauma Conga Lines it's a wonder he can keep dancing them without ending it all, but he's still devoted to saving his city and believes that God will guide him to a better future. Matt Murdock is a Determinator to the end.
  • The Incredible Hulk: Bruce Banner is a quintessential example, as he is forced to become the Hulk due to his extreme rage (and the trauma of his past) which drives him to cause terrible destruction, but he's also a loyal friend and will always save the day when he's needed. Everyone who knows him knows he's Not Evil, Just Misunderstood, but that won't stop people like General Thunderbolt Ross from labelling him a monster and trying everything in their power to bring him down. It doesn't help that his threat level leaves everyone, even his allies wary of him, which alienates him further. Most of the time, the Hulk simply wants to be left alone.
  • The Multiversity: Overman from Mastermen #1, or he may count as a Tragic Villain depending on your point of view. He began as a Nazi Superman, but he's actually incredibly guilt-ridden over what he did in their name and realizes the world he created needs to be destroyed.
  • The Sandman (1989): Morpheus, or Dream of the Endless. His pride, his stubbornness and his fanatical devotions to his own duties as the aspect of Dream constantly conspire to make his life(?) an eternal mess. In the end, he has to choose between changing or dying, and as it turns out, he is unable to change himself enough.
  • Spider-Man: Peter Parker was a resentful young man who was given extraordinary powers on accident. He turned to normal human desires to exploit it for fame, but this caused a great tragedy when his prideful inaction lead to the death of his father figure Uncle Ben. As a result, while Peter will still try to improve himself, he's also struggling to live up to what he perceives as his everlasting responsibility given to him by his spider powers. But because of his anxiety, temper, problematic time management and fear, he will inevitably lose just as much as he gains on a year to year basis.
  • Watchmen: Rorschach dies trying to expose Ozymandias' mass murder plan to end the Cold War because he refused to compromise truth even in the face of total annihilation or seeing his own flawed nature.
  • X-Men:
    • Cyclops can't control his powers, his love life in shambles, and he accidentally killed his mentor/father figure.
    • Wolverine's life has been utter hell since a young age and he's been through so much horror he could make an anthology film about it (his time in Weapon X alone left him scarred for life). His Jerk with a Heart of Gold persona stems from the experiences of losing everyone he cares about and he dislikes forming attachments to others because it almost always ends in misery for him.
    • X-23, Wolverine's Opposite-Sex Clone/daughter, has had it even worse than her father. Yet astonishingly, she remains a dedicated hero.
    • Rogue is unable to touch anyone she loves or else their life energy will be completely drained, leaving her unable to truly be with anyone she cares for.

  • Star Wars The One Canon
    • Luke’s decision to exile himself and allow the Jedi to end in The Last Jedi is recontextualized as the end result of a long and seemingly endless progression of setbacks that have slowly consumed Luke’s life. After overthrowing the Empire, enduring Thrawn, Palpatine’s Dark Empire, Imperial Warlords, building a new Jedi Order only to be met with distrust by politicians, watching several students succumb to the Darkside, the Yuuzhan Vong, the Killiks, the death of Anakin Solo, Jacen Solo’s fall to the Darkside, the death of Mara Jade, Lumiya, Abeloth, Daala’s political plotting, and Ben Skywalker’s disappearance, his failure with Ben Solo and the seeming destruction of the New Jedi Order he worked so hard to build prove too much to bear.
    • Han’s return to smuggling is interpreted as him falling back on the only thing he feels he’s good at; in his own mind he’s failed as a father, since two of his sons fell to the Dark side and a third son was killed. And he feels he’s failed as a rebel leader because, after a lifetime spent fighting battle after battle to free the galaxy and keep it free, the idea of the Empire just won’t die.

    Films — Animated 
  • Wish: King Magnifico is a powerful king who once genuinely wanted to keep people safe and happy from the cruel reality and is beloved by all his subjects. But his narcissism and paranoia consume him to the point he's willing to do anything to remain in control over his kingdom including alienating his beloved wife and dabbling into forbidden magic. His flaws eventually turn him into a megalomaniacal tyrant and a classic Disney villain Hated by All.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Lowry from Brazil is Wrong Genre Savvy and believes he is a hero destined to overthrow what he thinks is an evil bureaucratic regime. He instead gets the woman he loves killed and he drives himself to madness.
  • Citizen Kane: All Kane ever wanted out of his life was to be loved... on his own terms. Lampshaded by Leland.
  • In Dark Blue, Eldon Perry is the type of corrupt Cowboy Cop who catches very bad criminals, but he also frames suspects, is excessively violent and a casual racist. However, he comes from a long line of cops in his family who raised him into their beliefs. His wife leaves him and takes their son because they're both terrified of him, and most cops outside of his corrupt friends are disgusted by his behavior. He ultimately chooses to expose his own shady dealings to do one last good thing before his days are over. The film ends as he watches over a burning Los Angeles with remorse.
  • Harvey Dent/Two-Face from The Dark Knight. He starts out the film as an honorable hero of Gotham nicknamed Gotham's 'White Knight'. He is uncompromising and risks his life for the criminals of Gotham to be put away. However, his Fatal Flaw is his unwillingness to compromise to greater ideals. After his love interest Rachel Dawes is killed in a plot by the Joker, his outrage at his perceived loss of power and love to go against the cruelty of the world causes him to embrace a new philosophy of using chance to determine the justness of mercy to others. He turns into a cop-killing murderer, disregarding motivation and outside factors to their actions. As Batman states at the end of the film, "[The Joker] wanted to prove that even someone as good as you could fall".
  • Maximus from Gladiator just wants to go home after years of military campaigning but he makes the mistake of accepting Emperor Marcus Aurelius's plea to help restore Rome into a republic again. Things fall apart for him from there.
  • The Human Condition: Kaji's flaw is his idealism, and his soul is crushed by the realities of general human morality.
  • Eddie Felton from The Hustler (1961) definitely qualifies for "tragic"; whether he is a hero is another matter. His ambition to beat Minnesota Fats leads him to become The Unfettered that endangers everyone else around him.
  • John Hammond in Jurassic Park. His ambition and determination were what allowed him to achieve the incredible success he has and to fund groundbreaking scientific breakthroughs (resurrecting dinosaurs) but also cause him to believe he can overcame any obstacle (including said dinosaurs breaking out in a storm) through sheer persistence and dismiss anything which goes against his goals.
  • In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Tom Doniphon is actually the man of the title and a man perfectly adapted for survival in a lawless culture of violence, respected by all, even his enemies. He has a sense of justice that won't allow him to let the strong to victimize the weak, and his own heroism ultimately brings about his undoing and destruction. Tom could have let Liberty Valance kill Ranse Stoddard, which in turn would have let Tom keep his girl. Instead, he commits murder to save Ranse, with the certain knowledge that he would also lose his girl. By his own hand, he destroys his own hopes and dreams. That which gave his life meaning is gone. He lets Stoddard take all the credit, which leads to a successful political career, while Tom wanes into a nobody, a dissipated life, a forgotten man.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • Don Diego De La Vega, the original Zorro in The Mask of Zorro. He loses his family and his home on the last day of Spanish rule in Mexico and he is sent to prison. He escapes, trains a new Zorro and kills Rafael but died in the process.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child: Amanda Krueger in life was a poor nun who suffered horrific sexual abuse at the hands of a bunch of maniacs, and was later forced to have a child she didn't want. Haunted by her abuse and what her son turned into, Amanda later hung herself after Freddy was let off on that technicality. In death, Amanda's unable to properly move on due to her suicide and has tried to do what she can to mitigate the carnage Freddy unleashes. She eventually has to seal Freddy back inside of her, but the last seen of the two in the film is of Freddy trying to escape as she screams in agony while holding him back.
  • Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars is a Tragic Hero in the prequels. He is a hero of the Republic, gets the girl, helps win the war, and saves his Master a number of times. His main Fatal Flaws are the fear of losing those he cares about, which feeds a hunger for power to prevent it from ever happening and eventually turns him into the frightening Black Knight Darth Vader, and the desire for control, a concept that had evaded him his entire life. As a slave, he had no control over his life and neither does he have control over his life as a Jedi. His fear of death and the death of his loved ones is a representation of his need to control everything, even what should be uncontrollable (i.e., death). This flaw is tucked away for much of the prequel trilogy with only odd mentions (he mentions a couple of times to Padmé how he wants to control the galaxy), but his need to control everything fully reveals itself in the original trilogy, in which Vader is the epitome of tyranny and order. With all his loved ones dead or now his enemy, all that the man has left is his intense need for control. The Force Awakens puts a twist on this: to the Dark Side-affiliated Kylo Ren, Vader, not Anakin, was a Tragic Hero whose Fatal Flaw was his compassion for his son, which resulted in his death.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: The title character is a barber trying to get revenge on Judge Turpin for raping his wife and taking his daughter away from him. His Fatal Flaw was his tendency to take things at face value and his willingness to trust someone he really shouldn't have regarding his wife, and as a result, he unknowingly kills his wife, who has become a beggar woman, just before finally taking vengeance upon Turpin.
  • The eponymous band of This is Spın̈al Tap who are unable to walk away from the rock star life even when age is catching up to them.
  • The Wicker Man (1973): Howie, whose honor and morals make him a perfect sacrifice to the Wicker Man.

  • Animorphs: All the Animorphs qualify, just with different flaws, all driven by fear:
    • Jake's is the impossibility of being the leader they need when he's just a child, there are often no right choices he can make, and making the wrong call could get the others killed.
    • Marco's is his fear of failure: he can't stand the others' pity, he can't bear to fail in regard to his mother, he can't bear the thought of how his dad would disintegrate if Marco was killed, etc., all of which drives his ruthlessness and cynicism.
    • Rachel's is a fear of helplessness, of them losing the war, and a moral fear of doing evil, born from the realization that to save the world, they might become that which they fight.
    • For Tobias, who has never fit in anywhere, it a fear of failing the rest of the team, the one family he has ever really known, and the creeping realization that even before the war is over, there is no place for him in the world after it.
    • Ax's is the fear of the reality (after his pride in his race is shattered) that the Andalites are in fact almost as bad as the Yeerks in many ways.
  • Jerry Renault, the main character in The Chocolate War, is a rare Young Adult Literature example. His hamartia is when he participates in the raffle/boxing match at the end to get revenge on the Vigils.
  • The Emigrants gives many of its characters a tragic ending, but still, Robert is the real Woobie, who seems to never be allowed to catch a break during his whole life. He is the Bookworm and "dreamer" of the main cast, who never was able to fit in with the sturdy hard-working farmers around him. From a modern point of view, the best thing would have been to send him to school somewhere to get an education. Alas, his family is struggling farmers in the mid-19th century, so nobody seems to even consider helping him with becoming anything but a farmhand. And to add to all the misery, his master is a nasty sadist. It is during this hard time, that Robert is introduced to his only friend Arvid. But otherwise, his life at this point is just like a nightmare. He decides to run away from his cruel master, and he plans to follow his brother Karl Oskar over to America. But not even leaving Sweden means that things become better for Robert. His romance with Elin is cut short before it really even starts, and he never seems to be able to get near another girl. He sets out to find gold, but he only has to experience things like watching Arvid die a painful death and losing the gold he did find. And just a short while after he returns to Karl Oskar's new farm, he is found ill and dies from yellow fever. And he's only in his early 20s at his death, because he's from the "wrong" social class to be what he really is: an intellectual, who could have had a good career within any field of his choosing with the right education. But it was never meant to be...
  • Mack Bolan, The Executioner, from the series of novels by the same name. He knows he can't kill every Mafioso, but he sets out to get as many as he can. In the end, he ends up faking his death and going to work for the government.
  • Fate/Apocrypha: While she is on the villains' side, Atalanta actually fulfilled this role: She loved children and wished for nothing more than a world where children were loved. She got summoned into a world that is nothing like what she dreamed of, the children she wished to protect (forming Jack the Ripper) turned out to be beyond salvation, and chose to be exorcised by Jeanne d'Arc than saved by her own ways. Her love for children and her anguish at their passing drove her into madness and despair. She coped with hating Jeanne, attempting to kill her and, in the process, discarded her reasoning and humanity to turn into a monster capable of killing Jeanne that had to be Mercy Killed by her friend Achilles, and he died from it too, but at the very least he succeeded to bring her humanity back before dying. In the end, Atalanta's love for children proved not only to be her most apparent noble trait, but also the biggest cause of her downfall.
  • Fate/Zero's first line really says it all about Kiritsugu: Let us tell the story of a certain man. The tale of a man who, more than anyone else, believed in his ideals, and by them was driven into despair. Kariya Matou also went as far as to sacrifice his life to protect someone and ultimately fails.
  • The titular Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby. His Fatal Flaw, or harmartia, is his refusal to accept reality and to let go of his idealized vision of Daisy and his dream of recreating the past with her as if the last five years hadn't happened, leading to his undoing when she rejects him. His perepeteia occurs during his confrontation with Tom during which Daisy is frightened into backtracking, and his anagnorisis is the realization that she will never leave Tom to be with him. Gatsby's amazing ability to dream big and work toward his dreams is ultimately wasted on something that can never be realized.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Both Sirius Black and Severus Snape can very much be considered tragic heroes. Sirius actually suffers from his Fatal Flaws several times. His hot-headedness is what got him framed for murdering his best friend, causing him to serve several years in Azkaban. Later on, his behavior towards Kreacher ends up playing a pivotal role in the lead-up to his death in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
    • Also Dumbledore. In his youth, his love for Grindelwald and lust for power made him help with his plans to rule the world, until his sister tragically died/was killed somehow during the duel between Grindelwald and the Dumbledore brothers. And a year before he died, Albus had brought upon himself a curse when, in an act of impulsiveness, he had failed to remember that the Resurrection Stone was a Horcrux when he put the ring on, because he wanted to see his dead sister again.
  • Lily Bart from The House of Mirth. Her fatal flaw is her inability to recognize how vain and materialistic New York high society is.
  • Oskar von Reuenthal from Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a Broken Ace who is almost as ambitious and brilliant as Kaiser Reinhard. He could become a great ruler, if he weren't simply outshone by Reinhard. Over the course of the series, his conflicting loyalty, ambition, jealousy, his traumatic past and especially his pride eventually lead to his downfall after he is forced into committing treachery. It should be mentioned that he never really became a villain right until the end, despite it all.
  • Michael Henchard, the title character of The Mayor of Casterbridge, stands apart from most of Thomas Hardy's doomed protagonists in that his downfall is almost entirely his own fault. His short fuse and immense Pride cause him to make bad decisions throughout his life, from selling his wife and infant daughter at auction in his youth to firing his talented business manager out of envy at his popularity, which ultimately cause him to lose his business, his fortune, his family, and finally, his self-respect, leaving him to die alone and miserable.
  • In The Mental State, Zachary becomes a Sociopathic Hero after being forced to watch as his girlfriend was raped, terrifying her into running away from him by attacking those responsible and then getting thrown in prison for his attack. It is little wonder that he is as cold and brutal as he is.
  • Les Misérables:
    • Jean Valjean has Chronic Hero Syndrome born of a Guilt Complex he never shakes off. The epilogue implies his grave hasn't been visited in a long time. All readers can hope for is that his example was passed down to Cosette and Marius.
    • Inspector Javert is on the side of good and law, but he is so inflated with extreme self-righteousness that, when confronted with Valjean's nobility, he has no choice but to kill himself.
  • Winston from Nineteen Eighty-Four wants to bring down the Party but it's implied the Party purposely creates dissidents like him to justify its tyrannical rule.
  • The Silmarillion is made of these; though, since it mostly follows characters exiled for rebellion, it's kind of a prerequisite.
    • Húrin and Túrin Turambar are the prime examples. The former defies Morgoth and is punished by having his whole family cursed with bad luck as he is forced to watch their fates. The latter, his son, accidentally kills his best friend, loses all his companions to treachery, causes the sack of his new home, abandons his love to death, unknowingly married his own sister, is pursued by a powerful dragon, and when he finally manages to kill it, the dragon reveals the truth of the siblings' relationship. Said sister, Niënor Níniel, is driven to despair by this revelation and jumps off a cliff to her death. Túrin, feeling responsible for her death, subsequently follows as he falls on his own sword. After Húrin is released, he reunites with his wife in her dying hour at the site of their children's graves. Húrin then goes to the great ocean to drown himself, a way to die without a marked grave, which he feels he does not deserve. Feel-good novel of the century.
    • Maedhros is somewhat of a tragic hero turned villain. If not for his father's Oath, he could have been a hero. He was a royal-born powerful warrior and a skilled diplomat, classic traits of a hero among Tolkien's works. Among his more anti-villainous to straight-up villainous brothers, Maedhros is presented as "the good one", as he refuses to take part in the Teleri ship burning and prevents his brothers from starting fights. But, ultimately, he too fell to darkness because of the Oath. Maedhros is driven to violence twice in the (failed) pursuit of the Silmarils. Because of the violent kinslayings, the Silmarils deem him corrupt. When Maedhros finally gets his hand on a Silmaril, it burns him (as the Silmarils burn those who are evil or corrupt), and he is Driven to Suicide by the pain.
  • Tales of Dunk and Egg has the likes of Baelor Breakspear, who is accidentally killed defending the honor of a hedge knight, Eustace Osgrey, who loses his wealth and sons in his quest to win back his ancestral home, and even Egg, whose eyes are opened to the plight of the common folk, only for his reforms to fall flat and for himself to be considered a tyrant by his nobles once he becomes king. He, his son, and Dunk then die in a fire blamed on his efforts to hatch dragon eggs, and he enters the annals as another lunatic Targaryen.
  • Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart was basically written by Chinua Achebe to follow the classical Greek pattern for a tragic hero. At the start of the book he is one of the most prosperous and respected men in his village: He's a champion wrestler, has three wives and eight children, has lots of wealth in yams, and has a solid place in the community that he earned by working very hard. His father was a lazy weakling who preferred to loaf around and play music instead of taking care of his family and farm; In order to get rid of his father's shame, Okonkwo tried to be the exact opposite in every way. His Fatal Flaw is that he overcompensates for his underlying insecurity by being emotionally distant and overly concerned about everybody thinking he's manly, which leads him to make impulsive mistakes. For instance, he is given a boy called Ikemefuna, who was a political hostage from another village, to take care of, and for three years, he raises him like his own son. When he's informed that the village had decided to kill the boy, that person warns him to take no part in it himself, but he does it himself because he's afraid to be thought of as weak. Subsequently, he gets exiled because he accidentally killed a man, his son Nwoye converts to Christianity (for which Okonkwo disowns him), and, after unsuccessfully trying to start a rebellion against the British colonial government, he hangs himself in shame.
  • The Dragon (Rand) from The Wheel of Time series is doomed to eventually fail, as the goal of the Big Bad is to destroy the Pattern and the Wheel of Time, and the Wheel of Time will keep cycling until that happens.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Jack Bauer of 24 is every bit as fanatical in protecting the country as the terrorists trying to destroy it. His obsession with justice proves harmful to himself and others, and ultimately almost leads to setting off World War III because of his obsession with avenging the death of Renee Walker.
  • Several members of the Bluth family from Arrested Development count (Maeby, George-Michael, Oscar and Tobias certainly do), but special mention should go to the main character, Michael Bluth, George-Michael's father. He's a genuinely decent man and single parent (his wife died of cancer) who is constantly trying to be a good father to his son and goes to great lengths to ensure the security of his family, but more often than not, he'll find himself caught up in something worse than it was before because he has an unfortunate need to keep everything in line. His family constantly making things worse or starting new problems he feels obligated to fix doesn't help either. The worst part is his devotion to his family and controlling nature is the only thing that stops him from leaving all the chaos behind and starting anew with his son.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Londo Mollari is a definite example of a tragic hero; while at first, he seems to be a self-absorbed drunken buffoon, he is a true patriot who really does want his people to rise up from their malaise. He ultimately does lead the Centauri to glory, but the price he pays is too high, and he dies first.
    • Lennier is a faithful and devoted servant who never seems to ask anything in return, but his Fatal Flaw is a jealousy he barely admits to himself.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • Gaius Baltar actually has a lot of Fatal Flaws, primarily his pride and overconfidence. However, he strives to protect humanity (and therefore the fleet) from utter destruction on numerous occasions.
    • Even more so, Lt Felix Gaeta develops into a Tragic Hero antagonist, whose fatal flaw was...well, it's complicated. Not his idealism itself, but the way it crushed into bitter despair and anger after a series of brutal betrayals by his fellow and superior officers, and what it led him to do — even though from some perspectives, mutinying to defend the survivors of New Caprica from a second Cylon occupation enforced on them by their out-of-touch supposed protectors was an entirely valid, even laudable, choice of action.
  • The Blacklist season 5 had Tobias Reuther who was the head of an anti-terrorism squad. The Task Force helps him but they find out that the terrorist he's been searching for has been dead for a while. The terror attacks blamed on the terrorist was orchestrated by the CIA for various national security reasons. Tobias tries to stop another attack at an army base but the Task Force was forced into stopping him.
  • Walter White from Breaking Bad is a textbook example. Walt is a genius-level chemist (restricted to a job far below his skill level), loving father, and all-around good person at the start of the series. Diagnosed with lung cancer, his own pride drives him to refuse handouts from anyone else and deal with the issue on his own terms. As time goes on, his decisions drive him further down a dark path, draining him of any morality. By the time he realizes just how far he's fallen, the only things left for him to do are humble himself and make amends before dying.
  • Degrassi: The Next Generation:
    • Craig Manning is smart, charming, artistic, sensitive, romantic, and a perfect gentleman, but he inevitably breaks the heart of everybody around him, and himself, due to his Fatal Flaw — he is thoughtless, rash, and grandiose (eventually revealed to be due to bipolar disorder).
    • Ashley Kerwin is responsible, hard-working, and the most decent of all the popular kids. She is slowly destroyed by bad luck, unscrupulous rivals — and most importantly, by her own bitterness from all she goes through. (Perhaps inevitably, she and Craig wound up as Star-Crossed Lovers.)
    • In a similar vein, student Rick (who had pushed his girlfriend into a rock, leaving her in a coma) underwent anger management before going back to school, and genuinely tried to be a nice person... which failed, because essentially the entire school hated him for what he had done before. It got to the point that, after being dumped on with goo at an event Carrie-style, he took a gun to Degrassi and shot a fellow student in the back, paralyzing him, then threatening to kill one of the main characters before dying in a struggle with another student, Sean, over the gun. After his death, he was given a Lonely Funeral.
  • In Doctor Who, the Twelfth Doctor becomes this over the course of Series 9. The Doctor's long-standing, personal duty to save everyone and anyone he can has long been problematic due to Chronic Hero Syndrome. By the end of this season, it is warped by centuries of loss, grief, and self-pity into a selfish need to save them no matter what — if it means going to extreme measures, defying the fates and the wishes of those he's saving, he'll do it, damn the consequences. A snowballing series of events begins in "The Girl Who Died" as he saves a young Viking girl, Ashildr, by turning her into a functional immortal. Centuries later, in "Face the Raven", she collaborates with the Time Lords to capture him — a trap that inadvertently leads to his beloved companion Clara's death. In "Heaven Sent", immediately afterward, he is trapped in a torture chamber, his grief fresh; consumed by rage and anguish, he fights his way out of it over billions of years. In "Hell Bent", his Tragic Dream is revealed: he will do anything to save Clara from her death despite its risks to the entire universe, having become The Unfettered because he just can't take the pain anymore. In the end, the first step in restoring things to rights is not only losing Clara again, but losing his memories of her, and he realizes this is only right and proper punishment for his selfishness. He lives to be the Doctor another day — a sadder, wiser man, free to be his best self again.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Stannis Baratheon's terrible acts to make himself king are all supposed to be for the best since he is The Chosen One destined to save the world from the White Walkers , but he's just a tool. His dependence on Melisandre's blood magic proves to be his undoing, as he loses his principles, his army, and his family. His sacrificing his daughter to temporarily lift the snows was so the Stark coalition army can defeat Ramsay Bolton. Stannis, however, loses his battle and dies ignominiously.
    • Prince Doran Martell is an Actual Pacifist striving to keep Dorne out of war. He and his son fall victim to a coup by his brother Oberyn's paramour and daughters. They plunge Dorne into war but lose their lives anyway.
    • Septon Ray and his community of refugees are massacred for refusing to help renegade members of the Brotherhood without Banners.
    • Ned is a straight example in that his values, character, and morals all lead him to his death — if he had done otherwise, he would not be the same person. He absolutely will not commit or condone the heinous action of killing a child regardless of the political benefit. In the end, Ned is killed by the cruel whims of the same child that he had intended to spare from Robert's wrath. Another example in regard to Ned is that — out of love for his sister Lyanna and his nephew Jon — he lies to everyone that Jon is his illegitimate son to protect Jon from the Baratheon regime. This action causes strain in Ned's marriage to Catelyn, leading to Jon being raised under somewhat difficult circumstances, since — though Ned raises Jon in an otherwise loving family — Catelyn resents Jon for being her husband's son by another woman and there is nearly nothing Ned can do about this situation, as he needs this cover story to protect his nephew and keep him safe.
    • Despite Catelyn's efforts to see her children safe, she spends her final days knowing Sansa is a captive of the enemy, knowing Arya is missing, and believing Bran and Rickon are apparently dead. When her firstborn son is killed right in front of her, she gives up all hope.
    • Robb's initial success at rallying the forces of the North is cut short because, like his father, he's unable to follow through on the political compromises needed to strengthen his victory. This results in a series of errors which make him vulnerable to betrayal, culminating in breaking his marriage pact to the Freys and marrying for love.
    • Tyrion's open animosity towards Joffrey really comes back to bite him when he is tried for Joffrey's murder. When Jaime offered him a chance to falsely confess his guilt in order for Tywin to spare him and send him to The Wall, Tyrion refused and demanded a Trial of Combat out of pride and anger, which nearly gets him killed and forces him into exile.
    • Jon Snow, the Heroic Bastard, kills Daenerys the woman he loved to save a realm which hates people like him. His idealism is seen as unsuitable for the morally bankrupt world of Westeros and he is sent into exile. He is condemned as a villain despite doing the right thing because of Westeros' prejudice against illegitimates like himself.
  • Detective Tim Bayliss from Homicide: Life on the Street. He's a gentle, compassionate man, but his sense of empathy, inability to accept himself for who he is, and his violent rage cause him no end of trouble, especially since he refuses to acknowledge or deal with the latter two. It eventually leads to him snapping and killing a suspect, for which he is so overwhelmed with guilt that he confesses to his best friend Frank Pembleton - and vows to shoot himself if Pembleton doesn't turn hi in.
  • House definitely fits the bill—his addictive personality may make him a genius, but he continues to hit new levels of rock bottom each season.
  • House of the Dragon has King Viserys I Targaryen, a good but fundamentally flawed man who simply wants to bring peace to his kingdom and family and ensure the Song of Ice and Fire that Aegon the Conqueror foresaw comes to pass. However, he's ailed by constant setbacks, some of which are brought upon by both his increasingly declining health and his own poor decisions, the biggest of which is his willful ignorance that Princess Rhaenyra's children are bastards. It's made even more tragic when he does manage to unite his divided family once more, but his delirious Deathbed Confession to Queen Alicent all but ensures the awful events that will follow.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Satoru Toujou from Kamen Rider Ryuki is this. Being a participant in the Rider War, his desires to use the promised wish to become a hero. This obviously becomes problematic when he winds up killing the people closest to him simply to achieve that wish. Shiro Kanzaki counts to some extent as well.
    • Ryubee Sonozaki of Kamen Rider Double. Despite being the lead antagonist, he's a Tragic Hero in true Shakespearean fashion. His Fatal Flaw of ambition ultimately results in the utter destruction of his family's happiness and unity and costs him his mind and his life. As much of a monster as he was, his final moments, which he spends in his burning, crumbling house laughing like a madman and reminiscing about the good times he had with his family before his Fatal Flaw took over drive the tragedy home.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Taiga Hanaya/Kamen Rider Snipe was called this trope verbatim in prequel special Episode Zero. Betting all he had on saving a patient caused him to run right into Kuroto's scheme and led to his downfall. He became obssesed with destroying all Bugsters at all costs, endangering patients and fighting others riders. He somewhat recovered while hanging out with Nico Saiba, but then became so devoted to protecting her he would rather die than fail. All these actions have a common denominator — Taiga's hard head. Once he sets out to do something, there are only very few things that can stop him.note  Flawed with pride and a faulty moral compass, he aims for a good cause, but not necessarily by good means.
  • Miguel Alvarez from Oz. He genuinely wants to reform and get a better life, but his impulsiveness and his various enemies conspire to constantly make things worse for him, not to mention that the universe itself seems to be actively out to get him.
  • Reese and Finch of Person of Interest save people as atonement for failing someone they love. Both are convinced they will die lonely deaths.
  • In Six Feet Under, characters and plot action alike are primarily defined by the tragedies they encompass.
  • The Sopranos: Assuming his eventual downfall or assassination, Tony Soprano is probably the biggest example of a tragic hero in modern television. He actually wants to be a good person, a good father, and a good husband, and he tries hard, even getting flashes where you hope he'll improve (such as when he realizes that the stripper Frankie just murdered was the same age as his daughter), but he is incapable of overcoming his own narcissism, shortsightedness, and lack of empathy. And the fact that he's, you know, a mob boss.
  • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds reveals that this is Captain Pike's fate if he tries to avoid the accident that leads to the deaths of two cadets and his own Fate Worse than Death. His attempt to seek a peaceful solution to a standoff with Romulans in an alternate future unintentionally leads to decades of brutal war with the Romulan Star Empire, and Spock's death.
  • Pick anyone you like from Supernatural, but the two main characters' flaws are different flavors of desperation (Sam's obsession and Dean's devotion). Or maybe the same flavor—desperation for approval from an absent father — given different focuses based on their roles in the family.
  • Paul Woodrugh of True Detective is a very sympathetic version, as his Fatal Flaw is his inability to accept his own sexuality in his attempts to reintegrate into normal society after the war and carry on his life. This continues haunt him up till him dying, being willing to walk into what he knows is an ambush than then his secrets get out. It comes as worse, as by this point, he is the only one of the heroes with several reasons left to live.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): Captain Benteen in the episode "On Thursday We Leave for Home". For years, he leads a colony of people stranded on a hot, desolate planet. He helps them survive, holds them together and gives them hope for a rescue. When a spaceship finally arrives to take them home to Earth everyone is overjoyed including him. However, Benteen feels the power he once had slipping away. When he learns that many of the colonist don't want to stay together when they return to Earth he becomes angry. He tells them that Earth is a horrible place and tries to destroy the ship. He refuses to go on the spaceship which will not return and chooses to stay. Only when he sees the ship leave does he realize he wants to go back home to Earth.
  • Stefan Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries. Stefan makes endless sacrifices by saving people and because of this, he often has to give up his morals and his humanity to do so. For example, Stefan at the end of season two was desperate to save his brother, Damon from dying from a fatal werewolf bite. In order to get the cure so that Damon could live, Stefan sacrificed himself to Klaus, turned off his humanity and became a Ripper in order to get the cure for Damon, protect Elena from Klaus and protect the entire town of Mystic Falls. One of Stefan's fatal flaws is his inability to understand or embrace the concept of moderation; when he's in love, it's completely obsessive desperate love. When he's killing, he's doing it basically non-stop and incredibly violently. When he likes his brother, he'll do anything for him; when he doesn't, he shuts him out completely. His intentions are almost always good; his actions are about fifty fifty.
  • The Wire:
    • Jimmy McNulty, Lester Freamon and Bunny Colvin just want to be cops. Be good guys. Protect the community and arrest the criminals. They are unable to do this because of constant political pressures and moral ambiguity.
    • Frank Sobotka just wants to make sure the Baltimore stevedores are going to stay in business. Unfortunately this means keeping slightly unsavory company...
    • Gus Haynes is an honest newspaper reporter who notices that his colleague Scott Thompson is plagiarizing his stories. He is demoted because the higher-ups don't want to be implicated in a possible scandal. The only upside is that his place has been taken over by another honest reporter, Fletch.
    • Randy Wagstaff informed the police about the dead people that Marlo has been stashing in the empty slums. His foster home is burned in retaliation in and he is sent to a group home where he is beaten as a snitch. He toughens up and refuses to talk to police again.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Classical Mythology had too many tragic heroes to count. There is the story of Oedipus who was cursed to marry his mother and kill his father, Prometheus, Orestes.
    • Oedipus was mostly guilty of trying to fight his fate (and being a bit too harsh on murder and incest since the punishments he gave himself were the punishments he said he would give to anyone who killed the king), running away from his adoptive home after an oracle said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and then later when another oracle said he should stop pursuing the former king's killer and they got in a fight, the oracle revealed that Oedipus was the killer and that he married his mother.
    • Prometheus accomplished his mission, stealing fire for mortal man. And tricked the Gods as to which parts of animals the humans were to sacrifice. It's just... you know... he pissed off the Jerkass Gods in the process of helping humanity. So Zeus chained him to a rock and had an eagle eat his innards... every single day, since he's immortal. Hercules breaks him free — eventually, after centuries. If anything, it counts as a Heroic Sacrifice.
    • Speaking of, Hercules could go on this list as well. Those famous 12 Labors? Penance, for being driven into a berserk rage (by Hera) and murdering his own family. Then he gets another wife, who gets kidnapped by a centaur named Nessus. Herc shoots him with a poison arrow (dipped in the Hydra's blood). Dying, Nessus tells her to rub his blood on Herc's clothes if she ever thinks Herc is being unfaithful, and it will tell the truth. Blood that is now laced with the Hydra's poison. It goes as well as you would think.
    • It's worse in Euripedes's version. After he has completed all 12 labors, he comes home to save his family from being killed by a tyrant king and all is well, right? Nope, Hera sends a goddess named Madness, who hesitantly drives Hercules mad. During Hercules's madness, he thinks that he's killing Eurystheus and his family, when, in reality, he's killing his own, and it takes Athena to stop him before he can kill his adopted father. Hercules is left as a broken man and leaves his home of Thebes, knowing he cannot stay.
  • The eponymous Gilgamesh from The Epic of Gilgamesh, who for all his accomplishments could not save his friend's life but learns the lesson that it is through deeds that one gains true immortality.
  • The Mahabharata: Karna was abandoned at birth by his mother, who later became a queen, was mocked often for his common origins by the Princes and for his high origin by his mentor who cursed that he should forget all the things he learned from him for disguising himself as a brahmin, the Dragon to the Big Bad Duryodhana and half-brother to the heroes, the Pandavas. He dies because he actually had a sense of honor and that killed him in the end.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer has Aenarion the Defender, the greatest Elf warrior-king, who expelled Chaos from the world, leaving only a trickle of their original power to menace it. He was only able to do this by using the Sword of Khaine, the most powerful Artifact of Doom in the game, to avenge his family's death. Aenarion dies and the sword's curse comes to fruition when he fathers the future Witch-King Malekith. It also turned out he didn't need to use the sword because his children had actually survived.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Emperor came so close to conquering the whole galaxy for humanity but his callous treatment of some of his Primarchs turned them against him, sparked the greatest civil war in human history and left The Emperor and his Imperium as decaying husks of its former self.
    • The whole Eldar race must die so their saviour god can be born but Slaanesh devours Eldar souls so they choose to live as long as possible even if it means the threat of near extinction.
    • This was Magnus the Red's Start of Darkness. He found out about Horus' betrayal, and attempted to use chaos sorcery to inform the Emperor about it as fast as possible. Unfortunately, this also messed up Big E's top-secret webway project, and he ordered Leman Russ to apprehend Magnus and his legion. Horus changed these orders behind his back to killing the Thousand Sons (which Russ, never having liked that red-skinned nerd, didn't question). Faced with the extinction of his legion, Magnus made a deal with Tzeentch, solidifying his position as a traitor primarch. Just as Tzeentch planned.

Examples by author:
  • Many of William Shakespeare's protagonists, of course. Some of the best examples are Brutus, Othello, and Hamlet. If fact, if the title is a main character's name, they tend to bite it by the end — tragically. (Macbeth is a potential exception. He comes near the ultimate repentance of the Tragic Hero... but pulls out of his Villainous Breakdown and goes for broke.) Importantly, Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes have Fatal Flaws specific to their situation. Put Hamlet in Othello and Desdemona will live; put Othello in Hamlet, and Claudius will be killed in the first act.
Examples by work:
  • Bare: A Pop Opera tracks main character Jason's story as he struggles with sexual identity and his Fatal Flaw of fear.
  • In The Crucible, John Proctor definitely qualifies as a tragic hero, and his fatal flaw is either his temper or his pride, depending on who you ask.
  • Arthur Miller intended to create the "modern tragic hero" in his legendary play Death of a Salesman. Previously, it had been generally thought by literary critics, academics et al. that for a character to be a tragic hero, he must fall from a great social height — e.g., Brutus in Julius Caesar. Miller, however, argued for years that Willy Loman was a tragic hero who fell not from the height of social position but from the height of his aspirations and self-delusions. Eventually, Miller admitted that Loman's character was pathetic, not tragic, because he stubbornly failed to learn anything from his fall and thought maybe he would have achieved his goal if he had focused more on Willy Loman's son, Biff.
  • Seymour Krelborn of Little Shop of Horrors is brought down by his desire for Audrey's love; he makes a Faustian Bargain of sorts with the plant to win her love. It turns out to be a Senseless Sacrifice: it turns out Audrey loves him all the same, even without the fame brought by the bargain.
  • In David Mamet's play Oleanna, a university lecturer about to get his tenure, with a loving wife and a payment on a house going through, decides to help a female student falling behind in his class and shows that he is a little too wrapped-up in himself to stop making everything about his experiences and his personal matters. He makes a few off-the-cuff, inappropriate comments to the female student (he says "I'm not your father" in response to her wanting to be told want to do, he relates an anecdote about the rich copulating with less clothes, which granted he himself dismissed as bull, on to the student), only to be told by the student in the next act that she's having him done for sexual harassment because of his comments. It gets much worse from there...
  • Elphaba in Wicked. "My road of good intentions lead where such roads always lead..." No matter how hard she tries to do what's right, she cannot win.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • Desmond Miles has been used by Abstergo and the Assassins as a pawn for most of his life because of his strong connection to the Isu (which according to his father only one in ten million have) and he spent much of his youth running away from those he loves just for a chance to live a normal life. And once he does find a proper reason to fight, he's manipulated into performing gruesome acts "for the greater good".His Heroic Sacrifice at the end of III' turns out to be All for Nothing, as it was part of Juno's plan from the beginning, even if it did save countless lives.
    • Some of Desmond's ancestors fit the bill:
      • Altair ibn La'Had was a Syrian during the era of the Crusaders who was sent on a wild goose chase to find the Pieces of Eden (losing his First Love in the process) and was betrayed by his former friend Abbas for simply telling him the truth about his father (who betrayed Altair's family and killed himself in front of him). His mentor also turned out to be Evil All Along and was forced to kill him, turning many of his followers against him. His beloved wife Maria and youngest son Sef were killed by Abbas' men and his only surviving son Darim and he were forced to leave Masyaf for twenty years, during which he became obsessed with the Isu artefacts (and it's heavily implied Dementia was beginning to set in). He died a regretful man who wanted to ensure his successor assassins did better.
      • Ezio Auditore, perhaps his most famous and revered ancestor and an Italian Renaissance noble was forced to watch as his father and brothers were hanged by the Templars (of whom one was a trusted ally) and was thrust into the life of the assassins, leaving behind his old life and his girlfriend Cristina (and ''that's'' a whole other story). He spent years avenging them and training to become grandmaster of the Florentine Assassins, but he soon found out his own purpose was simply to convey a message to Desmond through Isu technology. While he found peace in the end, he has many laments that his life has never truly been lived by him, rather the assassins.
      • Connor Kenway was a Native American during the American Revolution. He found his mother burning alive and was scarred by the event, leading to his hatred of Charles Lee, whom he believed to be responsible. However, it also gave him an unwavering view of creating a true and just world as he grew up, and this uncompromising drive became his pain as he refused to stop until everything was fixed. He faced prejudice for his heritage, his friends turned against him because of Lee and he was forced to kill his Templar father Haytham Kenway. To make matters worse, he discovers that George Washington, the man he fought so hard for, was the one truly responsible for his village's sacking as a child, leaving him completely disillusioned.
    • Of all the historical assassins, Kassandra of Sparta is probably the most tragic, befitting a woman from Ancient Greece. She has been hunted by the Cult of Kosmos her entire life and her own (adoptive) father Nikolaos threw her off Mount Taygetos as a child after she failed to save her baby brother. She became a mercenary and began a quest to find her long-lost mother, but (depending on player choices) it may not end well at all. To really twist the knife, her husband Nataka was murdered and their son Elpidios was kidnapped by the Order of the Ancients and she was forced to give Elpidios over to his grandfather, knowing they would never stop hunting him or her. And that's without getting into all the shit she goes through in-game, especially in the DLC.
  • Litchi Faye-Ling from BlazBlue is haunted by her guilt over not preventing her friend Lotte Carmine to turn into Arakune. Therefore, she set herself to save him from this horrible fate, still a good intention no matter what, even at cost of sacrificing her own well-being and eventually, unwillingly signed up for NOL and being pitted against her former friends, with minimal knowledge about how bad NOL was because her friend's uncooperative attitude for her plight and the fact that she is corrupted on her own and it's slowly claiming her. All because she cared so much for who she calls 'friends' and her inability to forgive herself for that one incident. That was her Tragic Mistake, the one she sought, Terumi gave the solution by observing Arakune which would keep him intact as she 'wanted', but Terumi, like the malicious Troll he is, never mentioned that doing so destroys his chance to be restored into Lotte due to the nature of the observed, thereby making all of Litchi's efforts trying to be Lotte's savior completely pointless, all because of her own guilt, love and impulsiveness.
  • Both mage party-members (besides Bethany) in Dragon Age II.
    • Merrill wants to restore the lost heritage of the Dalish Elves, but is willing to mess around with extremely dangerous Blood Magic and a dangerous artifact called the Eluvian to do so. Her entire clan, including mentor Marethari, considers this a Very Bad Idea, but she's convinced that it's worth the risk and they'll understand when it's over. Marethari ends up sacrificing herself to keep Merill from getting possessed, and the rest of the clan may turn on her depending on dialogue choices.
    • Anders wants human mages to be able to live free of Templar oppression, and becomes less and less picky about how this will come about as time goes by. By the last act of the game, he's become The Unfettered and carries out a terrorist act specifically to force a confrontation and destroy any chance of compromise.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Sigurd of Chalphy in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War starts out as an upstanding if not idealistic young man on a mission to rescue his childhood friend, but due to events he had little to no control over he loses the woman he loves, is branded a traitor and forced to flee his homeland. It all culminates in his supposed ally Arvis of Velthomer stealing said wife for his own and burning Sigurd alive. Arvis himself was being played by an even bigger bastard, but that's no excuse for what he did. Nearly twenty years would pass before Sigurd would finally be avenged.
    • Edelgard von Hresvelg in Fire Emblem: Three Houses embodies this during the non-Crimson Flower routes in the game. In every other route, even if she takes the role of an antagonist, she is fighting against the corruption of the Church of Seiros and to bring freedom for humanity from Rhea, the Immaculate One, who abuses her power as the archbishop. Even though you defeat and ultimately kill Edelgard when you oppose her, her war resulted in society finally changing itself for the better, where Fódlan is still unified, and the Church of Seiros undergoes changes as a result of the war bringing enlightenment to many characters, including Rhea herself. Even those who slither in the dark are weakened heavily as a result of the war. What really makes this character qualify is the fact that she could've lived if she was more willing to compromise in regards to who was allowed to rule the continent, as shown when certain characters offer to spare her life.
  • Kratos of God of War was tricked into killing the only two people he ever loved, and the Olympian gods refused to get rid of his memories of this, even though he killed Ares, which they wanted. He's a total asshole, but still sympathetic — an apt hero for a game based on Greek mythology. For all the impressive feats he manages, he himself is never able to get over the trauma of killing his own family. It is his love for his family that prevents Kratos from becoming a monster, but at the same time, it's due to that love that Kratos is unable to get over his feelings of guilt and is slowly driven insane. Kratos starts working for the gods because they promise to free him from his nightmares, but as time goes on, it becomes apparent that 1) the gods do not have the power to take away his guilt and 2) the gods only view him as a pawn. In this regard, his ignorance towards the Gods' anger (or causing said anger) is rather understandable.
  • Cole Phelps from L.A. Noire is an honest cop and by far the game's most moral character. However, he suffers the Fatal Flaw of making impulsive decisions. Some of the impulsive decisions Cole makes include hiding in a sugar loaf field (causing everyone including his friend to die), ordering Ira Hogeboom to clear an enemy cave (that turned out to be a hospital full of innocents), and having an affair with Elsa (the latter of which would ruin his reputation). This flaw later ends up killing him when he decides to save Kelso from drowning and refuses to take Kelso's hand.
  • The Last of Us Part II: Ellie's need for revenge on Abby and her friends for killing Joel, which is implied to be an extention of her guilt for not forgiving Joel for killing the Fireflies in the first game before it was too late, costs her everything. After the initial revenge mission to Seattle fails to kill Abby and leads to Jesse's death and Tommy receiving brain damage from being shot in the head, Ellie still can't let go of her obsession, driving her girlfriend Dina to leave with Dina's son JJ, whom they had been raising together, as well as costing her her trusted switchblade and two fingers, and in the end, she can't go through with killing Abby anyway. The game ends with Ellie returning to her and Dina's farm to find it abandoned, and attempting to play the guitar Joel left her, only to find she can no longer do so thanks to her missing fingers.
  • Raziel from Legacy of Kain is an Unwitting Pawn despite wanting to be free to make his own choices. In the end, he lets Kain kill him so he can fulfill his destiny.
  • Kazuma Kiryu in the Like a Dragon series is ultimately one. Despite him wanting to live a normal life with the people he cared for his reputation has only attracted danger to the people he is close to with most of them being killed. By the end of his saga, he is forced to fake his death to protect the ones he cared for.
  • Little Goody Two Shoes: Elise Liedl is this in most routes, including the one canon to Pocket Mirror. She starts out as a poor village girl living in a village she hates because of what she sees as a populace of dumb hicks, and dreams of living in a fancy castle with maids. She gets the opportunity when she learns of a wish-granter who lives in the local woodlands, as long as she passes various trials. In the process, she falls in love with one of three girls at her village. But the deal is quickly revealed to be dangerous and untrustworthy, with multiple characters, including the minions of the wish granter, openly telling her the deal will screw her over. Yet her greed obscures these blatantly obvious red flags, and if she chooses not to back out at the last second, she ends up being responsible for her love interest's horrific death and eternal damnation as a Golden Maiden. While her wish of a luxurious life is granted, it involves a miserable, loveless marriage with the fear of her second-born child's fate hanging over her. In the ending canonical to Pocket Mirror, Elise becomes overprotective in her desire to protect her children, the one remaining joy in her life, only for it to severely backfire; her son Henri voluntarily joins Ozzy out of contempt for his family, and her orphaned daughter Goldia ends up languishing for years in a mental hospital. Even her old friend Lebkuchen coldly ends their friendship upon their reunion. In the end, she dies a broken woman with her soul consigned to an unknown fate, harboring only the slimmest hope that Goldia might eventually guard her soul and regain her sanity.
  • Live A Live: Oersted, The Hero of the Middle Ages chapter, which becomes available after completing the other chapters. The chapter has a Save the Princess plot with a tragic twist. Oersted had won the princess's hand in marriage in a tournament, set off to rescue the princess after she was kidnapped by the Lord of Dark, and gathered a group of True Companions to aid him in his quest. The Hero who defeated the previous Lord of Dark had passed on his sword to him. However, Oersted never rescues the princess, and duped by an illusion, strikes his own king down, resulting in him being falsely branded the Lord of Dark himself. This sets off a chain of events which derails his Hero's Journey and ends with him crossing the Despair Event Horizon. Unable to overcome the weakness of his heart, he loses faith in humanity and willingly takes up the mantle of the Lord of Dark, Odio.
  • Fain in the Backstory of Lusternia. The Elder Gods faced a Hopeless War against the Soulless. Knowing that the Soulless devoured Elders and lesser Soulless alike to increase in power, Fain and his followers pioneered an elixir made from fallen Soulless essence, fighting fire with fire. The side-effects caused the other Elder Gods to reject its use, so Fain and his followers continued drinking it in secret. They turned the war around single-handedly. But as The Dark Side Will Make You Forget, Fain — and his followers — became steadily more monstrous. They were exiled by the other Elders while on the cusp of victory, derailing and dooming the entire war effort. By the time of the game, Fain's twisted in appearance and motivation, and harbors an insane grudge against the world.
  • The Illusive Man in the Mass Effect series is a villainous example. A Well-Intentioned Extremist to the max, he's one of the few people in the galaxy with the knowledge, resources, and charisma to stand a chance of defeating the Reapers. Unfortunately, his pride leads him to getting too close to Reaper technology, turning him into nothing more than an obstacle for Commander Shepard to deal with.
  • Harpuia in Mega Man Zero wants a world in which humans and reploids can live in peace. Too bad he's so blinded by pride that he can't see the truth. For extra irony, his goal makes him very much like the leader of the Resistance. Becomes subverted in later games when he's capable of differentiating between a rebel and a psychopath and turns his wrath on the latter first.
  • The Metal Gear series is all about these characters.
    • Both the first Metal Gear game and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake cast protagonist Snake as a tragic hero, who rapidly realises he doesn't actually care about his orders, is being exploited by his bosses and manipulated by the villains, who together constitute his only friends and family.
    • He's press-ganged into doing it all again in Metal Gear Solid, but in the end, he gets to disappear and chase after his own goals.
    • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty casts newcomer Raiden in a similar, but more Shinji-esque exploited hero role.
    • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater puts Snake's progenitor, Naked Snake, through the wringer to explain his turn to villainy, in an interesting contrast to Snake's own decisions. Being forced to kill his Mentor (who was also like a mother to him) for the sake of political bullshit between the USA and USSR caused him to lose all faith in his country. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker shows the full Face–Heel Turn, as being manipulated by both nations, betrayed by his friends and shown how little the US cares for its soldiers has him determined to build an entire nation of soldiers who will plunge the world into Forever War if it means they'll always have a place in it.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Snake is still a free man, but he has only months left to live. Of course, in the end, they do manage to earn a happy ending of sorts. The world is a better place when all is said and done, so they didn't really fail. The main characters get a shot at happiness too: Meryl and Johnny get married, Campbell can finally start to bond with his daughter Meryl, Raiden/Jack is reunited with his lover and their son for a chance to begin anew as a family, Big Boss finally dies in peace knowing that the world will no longer suffer from his mistakes, and though Snake/David will only have months to live he can do so as a free man for the first time in his life. He doesn't have to fight anymore.
    • Even the Greater-Scope Villain is one of these guys. Major Zero founded the Patriots in an attempt to unify and bring peace to the world. Thanks to his own paranoia, misjudgment, and sheer cynicism, he ended up creating the Patriot AIs, who would go on to create a world driven by constant, pointless proxy wars. He realized this, but by then it was too late — his own human-run Patriots had allowed Skull Face to come to power and lobotomize Zero, leaving him a vegetable Puppet King until he was one day killed by the friend he had driven away. The friend, it should be noted, he protected from his own organization.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2:
    • Ammon Jerro. Originally a kindly, eccentric court magician, once he learned about the King of Shadows, he decided to take it upon himself to combat him in order to protect the world. However, as time went on, his determination to defeat the King of Shadows slowly became a dark obsession, and he gradually began to lose himself, taking more and more extreme measures to defeat the King. These ultimately resulted in him selling his soul to the Abyss in order to gain an army of Demons under his command, and began a rampage throughout Faerun in order to obtain the shards of the only weapon that can harm the King of Shadows, perfectly willing to kill countless people that (knowingly or not) stand in his way. It's not until he accidentally kills Shandra, his own granddaughter, in a blind rage that he realizes how far he's fallen and how much his actions have harmed both the people he had sworn to protect, and most importantly, himself.
    • The expansion Mask of the Betrayer has Akachi, who led a grand crusade to tear down the Wall of the Faithless, where those who refused to worship a god were assigned to suffer for eternity. He did so to rescue the woman he loved, who died without dedicating herself to a God, and he was almost certainly doomed to fail from the start. As a consequence, he became the spirit eater.
  • Taro Namatame of Persona 4, who started throwing the main characters into the TV out of a misguided belief that he was actually saving them from the true murderer (his Shadow represents his delusions of himself as a savior). If the player manages to convince the others that he's innocent, Namatame will have a My God, What Have I Done? moment upon realizing the consequences of his actions.
  • In Planescape: Torment, the Nameless One is a perfect example of a tragic hero. The happy ending for the game ends with him choosing to pay his penance and undergoing torture for eternity.
  • Captain Martin Walker in Spec Ops: The Line. He genuinely hopes to do the right thing: Save the people of Dubai. However, he quickly found out that things in Dubai is harsher than what he thought, but he insists on pushing on and intervening to make things better. It was these things, along with his inner desire to become a hero, that forced him to commit atrocities like accidentally bombarding innocent people with the horrific white phosphorus bomb, stealing water supply from the innocent people and dooming them to die. In which comes along his next Fatal Flaw: he refuses to blame himself, despite subconsciously thinking that he did wrong things, causing him to snap, hallucinating and blaming it on his superior that he was trying to 'rescue' in the first place, John Konrad. Once he reached Konrad's supposed place, he found out that Konrad is Dead All Along and all the Konrad voices and taunts he was hearing was his own hallucination and he was instead a Villain Protagonist that doomed Dubai because he wanted to be a hero when he never was, with actions like those, and everything really was his fault.
  • Siegfried Schtauffen from the Soul Series could be deemed one. Roaming the land for a weapon strong enough to defeat his father's murderer, Siegfried's tragedy is that he himself was the murderer, his broken mind deluding him into chasing an imagined enemy. When he finally acquires his prize, the Cursed Sword Soul Edge, the Evil Sword is able to utterly consume his fragile psyche, completely transforming him into an extension of the sword itself; the demon-knight Nightmare. Following the events of Soul Calibur 2 and the sword's defeat, Siegfried is finally able to regain enough of his mind back to break the sword's control and reclaim his identity. Finally confronting the crimes he committed both as a man and as a vessel for the sword, he sets out on a quest of atonement.
  • Street Fighter:
    • Despite his kind nature, Ryu is a very troubled and conflicted man. His master and adopted father Gouken was killed by his brother Akuma, and worse of all, Akuma is constantly trying to egg Ryu into giving into the Satsui no Hadou, Ryu resisting each time. In his first Street Fighter tournament, he made it all the way to the end, only to lose to Sagat. Unable to cope with losing, he gave into the Satsui no Hadou and gave a Metsu Shoryuken to Sagat, branding him with his signature chest scar and causing him to swear revenge on Ryu. Ryu is always at a constant inner struggle with himself: Should he continue to resist the Satsui no Hadou, or give in as Akuma suggests?
    • Cody Travers. While it is not actually seen in the games, multiple games tell the story of his downfall, which occur after the ending of the original Final Fight (which he is also a Hero Protagonist). Cody and his friends go out to save his girlfriend from the Big Bad in Final Fight. On the way, he beats up a corrupt cop named Edi, who later arrests the hero for assault and battery. Next, his girlfriend dumps him, and leaves the country to study abroad. Afterwards, he is let out of jail and tries to get revenge by fighting criminals outside. He gets arrested again, and becomes addicted to fighting within prison. He then eventually breaks out, and joins the Street Fighting cast in their tournament(s). After all these events, he usually claims that he will never be the hero again, and often states that all he has left is fighting (which he often exclaims is pointless). However, by the time of Street Fighter V, Cody has managed to at least keep his internal demons in check enough to convince the people of Metro City he's a changed man, and eventually win the Mayor elections. But while he does take his new job seriously, his quotes on the game clearly show this Nihilistic Tragic way of thinking is still buried inside him. Time will tell if he actually manages to fully conquer it.
  • Jin Kazama from Tekken. He is the son of Jun Kazama and Kazuya Mishima, and lived happily with his mother Jun until he was 15 and an evil entity named Ogre attacked his forest home in Japan and after the attack, his mother was nowhere to be found and declared missing. Jin then sought out his grandfather Heihachi Mishima to train him to take down Ogre once and for all, Jin unaware of his grandfather's ulterior motives. At the age of 19, he entered the Third King of Iron Fist Tournament where he managed to finish off Ogre and avenge his mother, but soon afterward, was gunned down by the Tekken Force, with Heihachi making the killing shot on his own grandson. Soon afterwards, Jin's Devil Gene awakens and lays waste to the Tekken Force and slams Heihachi through a wall and flies off into the night. It is from this point onward that Jin begins to loathe the name of Mishima and everything associated with them, even to the point of unlearning their fighting style and taking on traditional Karate. Jin strives to put an end to his accursed bloodline once and for all, if the Devil Gene within him doesn't completely dominate him first.
  • Warcraft:
    • Grommash "Grom" Hellscream lived his life as a proud, strong Orc warrior and Chieftain of the Warsong Clan. His Fatal Flaw was his loathing of weakness in both himself and his Clan. This weakness claimed his mate and caused her death. To try and subvert the weakness, he drank the Demon Blood that Gul'dan offered, beginning the corruption of the entire Orcish race. In the end, he redeemed himself and his race by slaying the Demon Mannoroth who's blood they drank.
    • Tirion Fordring helps an orc who saved his life, and is in turn branded a traitor, has all his powers taken away, has his family leave him, and generally becomes a classic tragic hero. Also a subversion, because the powers were not theirs to take, leaving him ultimately as the founder of a new and less Jerkass order...

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa has several of these amongst the cast, given the heavy focus on character flaws. Their cases tend to be the saddest.
    • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc has Mondo Owada, a Badass Biker whose main flaw is his reckless temper, which leads to him knocking protagonist Makoto out when the poor guy tries to stop an argument he's having with Byakuya. It makes him the culprit of chapter 2 when poor Chihiro accidentally presses his Berserk Button and gets bludgeoned to death. Mondo was in a blackout rage (plus under severe stress because of Monokuma threatening to reveal his dark secret) and didn't mean to, but he can't fix the mistake as Chihiro is still dead.
    • Fuyuhiko from Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is an inversion. He starts as an asshole, then has his moment where his flaw (vengefulness) almost ruins him (he nearly kills Mahiru for supposedly being in on his sister's murder), but Peko steps in and takes the blow for him (she kills Mahiru instead and gets executed for it), and the loss of one of his very few loved ones for his own mistake pushes Fuyuhiko to get Character Development and ultimately survive.
    • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony has several: Miu Iruma, whose Ultimate Inventor talent would make her a Game-Breaker on the protagonists' side, but who can't overcome her paranoia and work with others (leading her to attempt to murder Kokichi to escape), Gonta Gokuhara, a sweet gentleman who's unfortunately Super Gullible (leading to him being easily deceived by Kokichi into murdering Miu), and Kokichi Oma for being unable to tell a straight truth to save his life (leading to him being heavily mistrusted even when he genuinely is being helpful, and his own death by suicide to save Maki, who attacked him with poisoned darts when she thought he was part of Ultimate Despair — he wasn't, and he told her that honestly, but since he's such a liar, she didn't believe him).
  • Archer from Fate/stay night. His Fatal Flaw, ironically enough, was his idealism. To expand upon this, Archer is an alternate Shirou who also fought in the Fifth Holy Grail War. As an adult he continued to pursue his ideal and saved many people. However, because he was so focused on his ideal, he rarely spoke to people and never asked for rewards, so he became estranged from them and was finally falsely blamed and executed for starting a war he had attempt to stop. Before he died, he had made a contract with Alaya to save a hundred lives and became a Counter-Guardian on dying. He had hoped to continue saving lives with this role but was instead tasked with killing humans who threatened the continued existence of humanity. Feeling that his own ideal had betrayed him, Archer became bitter with his only hope being to cause a paradox that would erase his existence. Notably the same sentence used to describe Kiritsugu is also used to describe Archer.
  • Shizune Hakamichi of Katawa Shoujo is deaf, and as such, has had difficulty making friends. She sets out to do things to make people happy so that they will like her, but her competitive personality and occasional difficulty avoiding coming off as abrasive drives away the rest of the student council, including her cousin Lilly. The only person who stays on is her close friend and interpreter, Misha, who has unrequited love for Shizune, and Shizune, unfortunately, ends up taking Misha's presence for granted. Much of Act 4 of her route involves her coming to terms with her flaws and taking steps to address them, such as making amends with Misha, who has been becoming distant from her.

  • Many of the people we see in Mandatory Roller Coaster view themselves in this light. Whether or not they truly are is open to interpretation.
  • There are a few in The Order of the Stick:
    • Redcloak in Start of Darkness. His goal: improve the goblin race's lot in life. Initially merely a Well-Intentioned Extremist, his Fatal Flaw turns out to be the Sunk Cost Fallacy, which Xykon ruthlessly exploits. By the end, he's incapable of ever betraying Xykon, because if he does, he'll have to face the fact that he killed his own brother — and allowed many other goblins to die — for no good reason. He does have his moments of "redemption", such as when he reaffirms the value of other goblinoids even if they aren't his race of goblin.
    • Vaarsuvius seems to have recently arrived in this role, partly as a result of fan-diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. V's Fatal Flaw is Pride in magic, and an increasing inability to admit failure at a task and requiring the help of others. This leads to selling (leasing, technically) Vaarsuvius's soul out to fiends and refusing to give up the resulting power after the rescue of V's threatened mate and children, as "I have so much to do". Vaarsuvius's exact words were actually "I still have to fix everything", but the subsequent attempts to do so have allowed V to realize the mistake made without dying like so many tragic heroes. Sadly, this bit of wisdom is unlikely to be much help with fixing V's family life. The aftermath has cemented V's status; after a severe case of Break the Haughty and his/her mate filing for divorce, V is acting like an elf with not much left to live for.
    • Miko Miyazaki was a self-righteous headcase paladin who was the most powerful paladin in the Sapphire Guard. She was severely anti-social. Her only friend was her horse. As a consequence, the Sapphire Guard would send her away on long missions so they wouldn't have to put up with her. She believed that she was an incorruptible force of goodness and justice. She could not accept that she may be wrong or have made a mistake, and believed that if she believed something, it had to be true. Then, she killed Lord Shojo in a psychotic breakdown, after believing that Lord Shojo betrayed the Sapphire Guard, when he really wanted to protect the sealed rift from the forces of evil. As a result, she fell from grace and lost her paladin powers. When she tried to gain redemption by destroying the sealed rift to try and stop Xykon and Redcloak from taking it, she instead destroyed the seal to the rift and was later brutally bisected, and told by Soon Kim's ghost that "redemption was not for everyone". Possibly the real tragedy with Miko was that she could never find redemption, as she died before it could've been achieved. Backstory revealed in one of the prequel books also points toward her personality being a direct result of a corrupt mentor. Word of God was a bit more positive, saying that Miko "may have achieved redemption".

    Web Originals 
  • The Brave New World Universe: Sasha in Tech Adventures. He starts out as a paralyzed girl that needs a robot to do everything for her, then after he is Chosen, is constantly injured nearly to the point of death, which eventually caused his mind to fracture after a particularly horrific battle. It's basically the entire plot of the story. Which ultimately culminated with a Heroic Sacrifice to stop an army of supersoldiers using his powers to take over Africa. He's so tragic that when his mind is about to be broken by Mindwurm, the evil mind raper says it will actually be a blessing, Sasha's hopeful side, the last part of his mind not in hiding, agrees with him and stops fighting.
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: Dr. Horrible manages to be both this AND a Villain Protagonist. His hesitation in killing Captain Hammer allows Hammer to break his death ray and then try to use it. The resulting explosion sends Hammer away whimpering, but kills Penny, causing Horrible to went Jumping Off the Slippery Slope into complete supervillainy. His Fatal Flaw is that he will do anything to gain fame and approval, even compromise his own beliefs. His hesitation is caused by conflicting influences.
  • Agent Carolina from Red vs. Blue is a highly competitive woman who soon becomes the best Super-Soldier in Project Freelancer. But then someone better, Agent Texas, shows up, and Carolina's pride and desire to be the best lead to her becoming bitter, angry and only focused in solving her inferiority complex. This indirectly causes the deaths of some of her friends, as well as Carolina getting close to dying at points. It gets worse due to her upbringing: Carolina's mother died when she was just a child, leading to her father becoming absent as all he thought about was reviving his wife... which leads to him creating Project Freelancer, meaning Carolina's outstanding skills were partly to get approval from a cold and distant father. And the dead mother was revived in way through... Tex!
  • RWBY:
    • Pyrrha Nikos is a very powerful fighter whose skill has isolated her from the people around her and made her feel that she has to live up to their expectations regardless of what she herself wants. During Volume 3, she's asked to become the Fall Maiden, a process that is necessary to protect a dangerous power but that will fundamentally change her, and struggles against her own desire to say no and her feeling that she has to do it because of who she is. With her unable to communicate with her team, her mental state rapidly declines until her Accidental Murder of Penny Polendina, triggering the Fall of Beacon and leading to Cinder claiming the power herself. In the end, her guilt and her feeling of obligation drives her to go up against Cinder alone even though she knows it's hopeless and die in a Senseless Sacrifice.
    • General Ironwood genuinely believes in the fight against Salem and will do anything to protect Atlas, but his hero complex makes him increasingly authoritarian, paranoid, and incapable of trusting anyone else. He refuses to learn from his mistakes, turns on his own allies when they criticize him, and falls apart when he learns that Salem can't be killed and thus his strategy of overwhelming force is hopeless. In his determination that he alone knows what's best for Atlas and stubborn refusal to listen to others or accept his own flaws, he becomes as big a threat to it as Salem herself, falls prey to her manipulations, and ultimately dies alone after being Forced to Watch Salem walk away with the Relics he tried so hard to keep from her, crushed beneath the weight of his fallen kingdom that he tried so hard to hold up alone.

    Western Animation 
  • Fern from Adventure Time is a textbook of this trope. As someone who began to be a hero, his depression grew progressively and he blamed himself after failing to protect Ooo from the elemental curse. His subsequent redemption and death in the Grand Finale makes his whole storyline even more tragic.
  • Amphibia: Marcy Wu is revealed to be a nerdy Nice Girl who Hates Being Alone, and tricked her best friends to steal an Artifact of Doom, hoping that it would send them into another world, so she wouldn’t get separated from them, after receiving the news of moving out of state, due to her father’s new job. Not only it fails spectacularly twice, but her actions unintentionally put the entire multiverse in danger and nearly killed her because of it. It gets worse as the Big Bad manages to take over her body, turning her into Darcy.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender.
    • Jet's parents were killed and his village was destroyed when he was eight. He became the Well-Intentioned Extremist leader of a group of rebels who tried and failed to destroy the village the Fire Nation was occupying. He tried to move on and become a refugee, but was brainwashed for speaking about the war, and ultimately is killed the instant he breaks free from the brainwashing (see: Redemption Equals Death).
    • Prince Zuko also spends most of Season 2 and late Season 1 as this — until he succeeds in getting his honour back, discovers that he really didn't want it after all, and sets out to join the Gaang. He ends up becoming to subversion of the trope, ending his story with him becoming the new Fire Lord with friends and loved ones surrounding him and kickstarting a new era of peace
  • The titular character of Bojack Horseman struggles to find happiness, dragged down by horrible decision-making skills, Pride, a short temper, and selfishness.
  • Oddly enough, Danny Phantom becomes one in an alternate universe of the show. Danny Fenton gains ghostly powers and decides to use them to protect his town from the ghosts and menaces threatening it. The twist, however, is that his friends and family are killed in an explosion, leading his arch enemy Vlad to take him in. Far more twisted is that in a procedure to rip out his humanity from his ghostly half, the ghost half ends merging with Vlad's ghost half, murdering Fenton, and beginning a ten year rampage around the entire world and succeeding. Oh, and it was him who caused his family and friends' death! The fact that he's exists outside of his own alternate Bad Future is just a matter of when he will break free from his containment... or would, if not for Executive Meddling.
  • The eventual fate of the DC Animated Universe version of Batman from Batman: The Animated Series is this. While Batman is one the greatest heroes of his time, and was a dedicated philanthropist, he allowed his relationships with the people who loved him the most (and whom he loved in turn even if he didn't show it) to fall apart because of his failure to save a partner from becoming a killer. Because of this by Batman Beyond, he ends up a lonely recluse. God knows what would have become of him if Terry didn't show up, which makes it all the more tragic.
  • DuckTales (2017): Della Duck, the triplets' mother, had an incredibly classic tragic downfall prior to the series' premiere and actually set the stage for the pilot episode's status quo. Della had everything going for her: heir to the richest duck in the world, a massive mansion to live in with servants at her beck and call, three children on the way, a storied adventuring career at the ripe old age of 20-something, and was getting a rocket ship for her birthday. In classic Tragic Hero fashion, it was all taken away from her by her Fatal Flaw when she took said rocket for a joyride.
    • Her hubris kept her from turning back when she got caught in a cosmic storm.
    • Her impulsiveness caused her to get into a fistfight with an alien, kicking up so much dust that a rescue party could not see her crash site.
    • In a fit of anger, she tore apart the ship's instruction manual when she saw that Gyro had insulted her in the margins.
    • And to top it all off, she had to spend the entire time chewing Black Licorice Oxy-Chew to keep herself alive.
  • The last I Am Weasel episode reveal both Weasel and Baboon to be this. Weasel was always the less popular of the duo despite his name being in the title. Baboon's popularity hinges only in his being a Chew Toy and he is destined to always fail in everything.
  • The Legend of Korra has one in Wan, the first Avatar. After defeating Vaatu, he spent the rest of his life trying to broker peace between the different tribes of humans (Also a way to atone for unwittingly releasing Vaatu in the first place). He failed, but his death started the Avatar Cycle.
  • The Woodsman from Over the Garden Wall carries a lantern containing his daughter's soul, and spends his days harvesting Edelwood trees to keep it lit, only to discover that his daughter was never in the lantern to begin with, and he's unknowingly been harvesting souls to keep the Big Bad alive. A subversion of the trope, he overcomes his flaws and snuffs out the lantern and is reunited with his daughter in the end.
  • The titular hero of Samurai Jack is forced to endure a hell lot of hardship and misery. Although born into luxury and safety as a Japanese prince, Jack's happy childhood ended when the demon Aku burned his city to the ground and separated him from his beloved parents. While living in exile as a nomad, Jack trained and prepared to eventually return home and get his just revenge on Aku... only for the demon to send him on a one-way trip to a dystopian future world (ruled by Aku himself), thousands of years later. Jack tries to find a way back to the past to set everything right, only for Aku to thwart ALL of his attempts to return home, leaving Jack to be stranded in Aku's miserable hellhole for another 50 years. Driven to madness and sorrow by all the evil and violence he has seen, Jack is only moments away from killing himself (which he seriously attempts though fails to do). Jack does eventually succeed at his goal of returning to his own time, killing Aku for good, and reuniting with his family... only to pay the unexpected price of losing his first (and so far only) girlfriend. Though at least he can finally move on with his life in peace...
  • South Park:
    • Kyle Broflovski serves as the moral voice of reason in his otherwise chaotic town always striving to do the right thing and convince others to do the same. However, he suffers from one particular Fatal Flaw, his antagonism towards Cartman. While Cartman has more than earned Kyle's ire, Kyle can take this rivalry too far to the point where beating Cartman is more important than doing the right thing. This can lead to Kyle to endanger the lives of his friend and loved ones as "Douche and Turd" and "Fatbeard" both shown, prevent Cartman from receiving a greater comeuppances like in "Le Petit Tourette", punish Cartman for things he actually didn't do, like in "Skank Hunt", and inadvertently give Cartman ideas that would worsen the situation, like in "Buddha Box". It gets to the point when a girl he likes rejects him for Cartman and later becomes his Distaff Counterpart, he goes on a moral crusade which leads to him getting the President to nuke Canada.
    • Eric Cartman actually becomes this in "Post-Covid" two-parter. In order to change the Bad Future, Cartman is forced to risk losing his wife and children. Cartman is understandably against this and initially tries to prevent Stan and Kyle from fixing the future but he is eventually convinced by his wife to help Stan and Kyle in changing the future even if he does risk losing his family. Sure enough, after Cartman helps Stan and Kyle fix the future, not only does Cartman indeed loose his family, but he becomes a Crazy Homeless Person whose completely alone and miserable in the new future.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Lapis Lazuli's traumatic past hangs heavy over her character arc and feeds her self-sabotaging nature. As much as she's been hurt by others; her cynicism, anger, and a combination of selfishness and self-hatred sabotage any of her attempts at getting better. When she traps herself with Jasper inside of Malachite it's clear that as much as she wanted to save Steven, there were many other easier ways, and she went with this one purely so she could have someone to drag down with her. Upon realizing the Diamonds will be returning to Earth, Lapis uproots her home and abandons Peridot and Steven, some of the few people to connect with her, stranding herself in a lonely prison of her own making.
      "I was so sure the Diamonds would destroy my new home, that I did it myself. It's like I'm back inside The Mirror, except I put myself here."
    • A big part of Rose Quartz's arc is breaking down the pedastal she'd been placed on by other characters to show. In many ways Rose was the kind, compassionate leader everyone remembers as but in other ways she was lonely, guilt-ridden, and consistently sad. It was revealed that she was Pink Diamond, having broken away from the other Diamonds to free Earth and liberate the Gems on it. In doing so she ended up compiling problem after problem upon the Crystal Gems as they ultimately could neither win the war, nor save any of the Gems corrupted by it. Much of the rhetoric she spoke about the evils of the Diamonds was her guilt talking and making her want everyone to hate Pink, aka herself, just as much as she did. To quote Rebecca Sugar:
      "Rose is her own worst enemy — literally, she fought herself. The way she felt about herself caused so much pain for everybody around her, especially the people who loved her and the people she wanted to love. One thing I find really interesting is that the way she idolized everyone around her was very sincere. She thought everyone around her was so much better than she was. So people would be drawn to her, Gems would be drawn to her, and I don’t know if they would necessarily realize that she was worshipping them, which was compounding her own sadness at the feeling that she couldn’t connect with them. It was a tragedy."
  • Rusty Venture from The Venture Bros.. In a show that the creators have described as being about failure, Rusty may be a sometimes-brilliant scientist, but his flaws — the biggest of which is his inferiority complex regarding his father — often hold him back while his brother manages to attain great successes.
  • Wakfu: Nox turns out to be an antagonistic type as his motivations are revealed, and when his efforts are All for Nothing. He's insanely and utterly driven to succeed at any cost in reversing time so he can bring back his dead family, with the added justification that if he succeeds in his goal it'll also Ret-Gone all the atrocities he's ruthlessly committing on other to get there. The Bad Guy Wins, but it turns out all his 200-year-long efforts were doomed from the start, as all the wakfu he collects (which includes part of one of the most potent sources of wakfu in the world) are only enough to reverse time by twenty minutes. Though no-one but the audience knows at the end why Nox really did what he did, even Yugo feels bad upon witnessing his Villainous BSoD and lets him escape, at which point, Nox dies as a Self-Disposing Villain.


Alternative Title(s): Tragic Heroine