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Traumatic Superpower Awakening

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"All I have to do is think about how the androids killed Piccolo and Krillin. [...] And then suddenly... the dam breaks."

Tattletale: It's called the trigger event. Researchers theorize that for every person with powers out there, there's one to five people with the potential for powers, who haven't met the conditions necessary for a trigger event. You need to be pushed to the edge. Fight or flight responses pushed to their limits, further than the limits, even. Then your powers start to emerge.
Regent: Basically, for your powers to manifest, you're going to have to have something really shitty happen to you.

When a character has latent powers or potential, there are three standard ways to unlock it: hit puberty, find a mentor to train them, or just have something really, really bad happen to them. Any form of trauma, physical or mental, can do the trick, but emotional blows are the most prevalent. The death of a loved one is especially common.

Severe trauma tends to release inhibitions that keep hidden potential in check. Strong emotions, most especially rage, work best. As such, the form of the awakening tends to be violent, even, in extreme cases, explosive.

With superpowers, once the bottle is opened, it can't be sealed again. The awakened one will typically need to seek training to control their new powers, so that their every emotional outburst won't trigger a new disaster. A period of How Do I Shot Web? will follow, and learning to control one's emotions or face inner demons is typical.

This tends to coincide with Puberty Superpowers. Puberty is the most likely general time for powers to show themselves, but the specific incidence of the awakening will tend to be a traumatic one. There might be several minor uses of power, resulting from less serious emotional events, before the big push comes that makes the character fully aware of their potential.

A way this happens is when a power awakens by someone harming themselves in some way, causing them to be dramatically wounded and might leave them confused as it how exactly did the powers activate.

Not to be confused with Die or Fly or Defence Mechanism Superpower. Die or Fly occurs when superpowers awaken in response to a life-threatening situation, which isn't exactly the same as trauma (in the cases of purely emotional trauma and seeing others in danger, for example). Defense Mechanism Superpower is when, regardless of when the powers were discovered or attained, they can only be used in dangerous situations (which might not always be life-threatening). See also Angst Nuke and Came Back Strong, which are very extreme variations on this. If the superpowers attained are related to the cause of the trauma, it's an Adaptive Ability. Contrast What Have I Become? for inverse cases where the appearance of superpowers is the traumatic event.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • AKIRA: Tetsuo's god-like psychic abilities start to manifest after a motorcycle accident that almost killed him and Takashi.
  • Attack on Titan:
    • The first time Eren Yeager utilizes his Titan Shifting ability is after losing two of his limbs and being swallowed by a Titan.
    • Eren would later activate The Coordinate, the ability to control other Titans after witnessing his Parental Substitute Hannes get devoured by the Smiling Titan, the same one that ate his mother at the beginning of the series. Eren unwittingly uses it to command the other Titans in the area to devour the Smiling Titan.
    • This is how Mikasa Ackerman awakened her superhuman abilities when Eren was about to be killed by her kidnapper and is revealed to be the activation process for the members of the Ackerman clan, of whom Mikasa and Levi are the only surviving members.
  • In Black Clover, mages with prior training and/or natural talent can gain new spells representing their Character Development when having intense resolve in dire situations: Noelle learns the offensive Sea Dragon's Roar to save her friends after seeing Vetto crush Kahono's throat and overcoming her mental block of not harming others, Vanessa gains the Red Thread of Fate — a power to make fate favor her close companions — when a controlled Asta is about to kill Noelle, Asta enters a more berserk, powerful Black form when enraged by Dante stabbing Gauche with a giant sword.
  • Blue Exorcist ultimately kicks off thanks to this happening to the lead Okumura Rin. Rin gets threatened to be carved up (burned by a hot pipe in the anime) by a demon-possessed delinquent he previously "fought" (aka knocked back with one punch) and thus pulling out his Blue Flames in response, due to realizing he really was going to kill him. It then goes on to top it as Rin ends up deliberately breaking the seal that keeps him from being a true half-demon in response to being tossed into a Gehenna Gate by his "father" who possessed his foster father (and ultimately killed him in the process).
  • This is often how the Digimon achieve their Champion and Ultimate forms in the Digimon franchise, when their human partner is in danger or everything seems hopeless against the enemy, one of the most notable examples is Gatomon becomes Angewomon for the first time after Myotismon kills her best friend Wizardmon.
  • Dragon Ball: This is pretty much a standard for the Super Saiyan transformation. These include:
    • In the Frieza Saga of Dragon Ball Z, Goku was able to break the Super Saiyan barrier after his best friend Krillin was blown up in a sadistic fashion by Frieza, who then proceeded to threaten his son.
    • Alternate Future Gohan claims he achieved the Super Saiyan form when the androids killed Piccolo.
    • Speaking of Future Gohan, Trunks from the same timeline in Dragon Ball Z: The History of Trunks becomes a Super Saiyan when he saw Gohan's dead body as a result from fighting the androids (pictured in the main page).
    • Gohan's initial transformation was not quite this trope, as he got his father to fight him at full power which forced him past his Rage Breaking Point. But his powerup into Super Saiyan 2 was triggered by the kindhearted Android #16 getting destroyed by Cell after he made a Rousing Speech to Gohan (made more tragic that, as a fully mechanical creature, #16 couldn't be revived).
    • Vegeta would eventually become a Super Saiyan due to pure rage and despair at his own wounded pride when he realized he would never be as powerful as Goku, which for him, was as bad as the distress other Super Saiyans went through.
    • Bardock went Super Saiyan this way in the special, Episode of Bardock after Berry took the bullet for him. Which, incidentally, started the Super Saiyan legend in the first place.
    • Dragon Ball Super pulled a Decon-Recon Switch with this trope. After Vegeta helps Cabba, a Universe 6 Saiyan, go Super Saiyan by lying and threatening to kill his people, Cabba teaches two other Saiyans, Caulifla and Kale, having pinpointed a purely technical method of doing so without inflicting trauma. However, it proves to be inefficient as Cabba is unable to go past the first stage and Caulifla achieves Super Saiyan 2 for a brief moment but is unable to recapture it without Goku pushing her limits. Inadvertently blending the methods backfires horribly when Kale taps into her jealousy and self-loathing and goes all Broly on everyone. It isn't until they fight in the Tournament of Power that the trio end up using the original method to break those barriers and achieve more power (or in Kale's case, control).
    • This is how Broly gained the form in this manner in Dragon Ball Super: Broly after seeing the dead body of his father and being led to believe by Frieza he accidentally died during his battle against Goku. Interestingly this was actually an invoked example by Frieza no less after remembering the first example with Goku above.
    • This is why Vegeta and Gohan are absolutely stunned that (present) Trunks and Goten are aversions: they both managed to achieve Super Saiyan off-screen with no trauma whatsoever. Vegeta even lampshades this:
      Vegeta: When was it that the pride of the Saiyan race was reduced to a child's plaything!?
    • In Dragon Ball GT: A Hero's Legacy, Goku Jr. becomes a Super Saiyan when Lord Yao injures a bear that he had befriended.
  • Elfen Lied: Lucy was bullied by children and when they killed her dog, she killed them all with her unseen (until then) power of invisible vector arms.
  • Fairy Tail:
    • A flashback shows Erza first using magic after seeing a friend die.
    • Natsu transforms into the demonic E.N.D. after seeing the seemingly lifeless body of Lucy and goes on a rampage in search of Zeref, thanks to the homing instinct to find and kill his creator/older brother. Thankfully she turns out to be okay, and is in time to help Erza stop Natsu and Gray from fighting to the death.
  • Fist of the North Star: Muso Tensei, an ultimate Hokuto Shinken technique that cannot be taught, is a secret technique one awakens to when one takes upon them the sadness and trauma of his friends and their techniques. Kenshiro was able to learn this technique after seeing so many allies and former enemies die. Raoh, the series' Big Bad, obtains this by the revelation that the woman he tried to force to love him is dying of radiation sickness, and finally discovering the emotion of true sadness at witnessing this tragedy. But his is much weaker than Kenshiro's years of witnessing the deaths of so many friends and rivals.
  • Interestingly in the anime Flip Flappers, both Cocona and Papika have activated their transformations after seeing the other in danger — Cocona after witnessing Papika get trapped under the frozen lake, and Papika after Cocona and Uxekull are about to be submerged in lava.
  • In Fushigi Yuugi, Nakago's power first awakened when he witnessed Kutou soldiers raping his mother. Because he couldn't control his powers yet, he ended up accidentally killing her as well as her rapists.
  • Newtype and other similar power in Gundam multiverse are usually triggered the moments the users are put in tight situations or suffering from traumatic experiences. For example, Gundam X's villains at one time intentionally leave their pre-awaken Newtype subordinate behind to fight the heroes alone, knowing that doing so will allow him to reach his inner-power.
  • Inuyasha:
    • Kagome unwittingly uses the power of the magic Jewel of Four Souls which is inside her body to blast a demon which attacks her. Ultimately subverted, since the Jewel is released from her body almost immediately afterwards, meaning she no longer has that power. (Though this sequence of events does lead to her discovering and being trained in other latent powers.)
    • Inuyasha himself awakens to his demon form after Tessaiga is destroyed by the demon known as Goshinki.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
    • Diamond is Unbreakable: Each Act of Koichi's echoes was unlocked during a stressful situation. Act 1 was when he saw his mother and sister held hostage by Tamami Kobayashi's Lock through their guilt. Act 2 was when he was held captive by Yukako Yamagishi and Act 1 wasn't enough to defeat her (and he gets an additional scare when Act 2 molted out of Act 1 and he thought his Stand was irrevertibly damaged). Act 3 was when he left alone to fight against Kira's Sheer Heart Attack since Jotaro was injured protecting him.
    • Stone Ocean: Weather Report caused to his Stand to develop a dangerous coherent ability with his outrage towards Pucci for indirectly getting him nearly killed and causing his lover to commit suicide, which forced Pucci to steal Weather's memories to prevent his usage of Heavy Weather.
    • JoJolion: Jobin's Stand, Speed King, manifested in his early childhood for the first time during an attempt by a school bully to kill him by dousing him with gasoline and setting him on fire.
  • In Lost Song, Finis after technically losing her power by unknowingly killing her own Love Interest, she crossed the Despair Event Horizon and sings the song of extinction. She uses this song to bring to earth a meteor shower that destroys the world.
  • Invoked in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's when the Liese Twins disguise themselves as Nanoha and Fate, tell Hayate that her illness is incurable and fatal, and slaughter Vita in front of her on Christmas Eve; all so she'd unlock the power of the Book of Darkness.
  • Magu-chan: God of Destruction: When Izuma was young, Uneras shocked him into awakening the magic power she bestowed on his family by claiming she was his mother, then immediately explained it was just a joke.
  • My Hero Academia revolving around a world where Everyone Is a Super, this naturally tends to happen to a few unlucky fellows:
    • When Tomura Shigaraki's Quirk first awakened when he was a child, he accidentally killed his entire family with it; which is even more Harmful to Minors since his Quirk is to Make Them Rot. He only has fragments of memories left from the event, but the shock of learning about it when he was a child caused the poor boy to Stress Vomit.
    • Eri discovered her Quirk when she accidentally rewound her father out of existence with it. This caused her distraught mother to disown her, leading to her ending up under Kai Chisaki's "care".
    • Downplayed with Kirishima. He accidentally activated his Hardening ability as a child while rubbing his eye; thankfully the eyelid took the damage, leaving a faint scar. As a result, it took him a while before he came to like his power.
    • It's mentioned that Quirks can occasionally evolve due to trauma or great need. Shigaraki had been subconsciously repressing the full potential of his Quirk (he can decay things that he didn't touch directly if they're touching something else he decayed) because of his childhood trauma, but remembers it when fighting the MLA. Himiko undergoes a true evolution in the same battle, when she discovers the ability to use the Quirks of the people she has shapeshifted into.
  • Naruto:
    • Naruto first gained access to the Kyuubi's chakra after seeing the (apparent) death of his best friend.
    • From the same story arc, Haku discovered the full extent of his powers when his father tried to kill him.
    • This is typical for the Sharingan. While the first form may also activate in Die or Fly situations, the advanced "Mangekyou" version requires severe trauma; So severe in fact, that the most reliable way to awaken was considered to be murdering your best friend. One notable aversion is Sarada, whose Sharingan awoke from the joy of finally getting to meet her father.
      • Sasuke activated his Sharingan for the first time when he was scared out of his wits due to Itachi killing their family.
      • The Second Hokage explains that when an Uchiha feels strong emotions, it causes their brain to generate a unique type of chakra. This chakra mutates the eyes into Sharingan. It's just that the strong emotions tend to be grief or rage (though given how ninjas were often Child Soldiers and War Is Hell and the generally emotionally composed nature of Uchiha, does frighteningly explain why negative emotions are usually the trigger.) The process is also detrimental to an Uchiha's sanity, clearly showing the downside of a superpower that's awakened by severe emotional trauma. Those who awaken the Mangekyou Sharingan tend to be insane, emotionally broken, or both. This, far more than the actual power of their eyes, is why the Second Hokage considered the Uchiha so dangerous.
    • It was initially believed that Nagato got his Rinnegan when he saw his parents die when they tried to defend themselves against soldiers who were just looking for supplies. It was later revealed that Madara Uchiha had awoken the Rinnegan, but due to extreme old age was in no position to use it. While Nagato was still a kid, Madara transplanted his Rinnegan into him without Nagato's knowledge. Later, Tobi made Nagato think that the Rinnegan marked him as the reincarnation of the Sage of the Six Paths while engineering his Start of Darkness.
    • Naruto and Hinata's youngest daughter, Himawari, awakened her Byakugan when her favorite stuffed toy was accidentally torn apart by her older brother, Boruto.
  • In Omamori Himari, Yuuto's secret power, Light Ferry, which turns anything he wields, such as a small wooden branch, into an incredibly powerful weapon on par with the best swords out there, is activated when he attempts to quell Himari's Unstoppable Rage after the latter witnessed him getting mortally wounded by Ageha. He is unable to activate it later when he has a practice match with Shizuku, who had no intentions of truly hurting him, and she even points this out to him.
  • In One Piece, this is one of the methods of attaining Haki.
    • Coby awakened Kenbunshoku Haki this way. And so did Usopp with the same, who suddenly found himself able to perfectly perceive auras in the middle of aiming a do-or-die snipe across an entire island with enemies bearing down on him; he made that shot.
    • Donquixote Doflamingo first got his Conqueror's Haki by telling the angry mob in the process of lynching his whole family he'd kill them instead.
  • This is the main premise of +Anima, where people (usually children) receive animal-based powers when subjected to extremely harsh conditions, intense fear, and life-threatening dangers.
  • The Rising of the Shield Hero: The Curse Series are a more powerful variants of the Legendary Weapons. However, the Cardinal Heroes who wield these weapons must experience extreme psychological trauma in order to unlock the Cursed Weapons. Early on, after losing a rigged duel due blatant cheating on part of Motoyasu & Malty, and having his one companion being forcefully taken away from him, Naofumi, the titular Shield Hero, unlocks his Shield's Curse Series, giving him the Wrath Shield. Later, the Three Heroes would also unlock their own respective Curse Series following the Spirit Tortoise Incident.
  • Rosario + Vampire:
    • A variation occurs during Ruby's introductory arc in the anime; when Ruby critically injures Tsukune, Moka is so enraged and grief-stricken at this that Inner Moka actually bypasses the rosary's seal without Tsukune removing the rosary beforehand. Afterwards, together with an equally furious Mizore and Kurumu, she proceeds to kick Ruby's ass. This doesn't happen in the manga at all, and it is established during the whole manga that Inner Moka cannot be released while wearing the rosary, except via Lilith's Mirror.
    • In the manga, when Moka saw the apparent murder of her mother Akasha by the hands of her eldest sister Akua, Moka's Shinso blood was unleashed.
  • Sailor Moon:
    • Sailor Moon fully awakens as Princess Serenity when Tuxedo Mask takes a near-fatal blow for her. In the 90s anime she even unlocks the power of the Silver Crystal and uses it against Zoisite.
    • In the manga and Crystal, Chibiusa's power as Sailor Chibi Moon awakens (and breaks the brainwashing Wiseman inflicted on her) when she sees Sailor Pluto die after breaking the final taboo and stopping time. In the 90s anime, Endymion and Neo-Queen Serenity break her brainwashing, which does temporarily enable her to use her time's Silver Crystal, and her transformation into Chibi Moon happened offscreen.
  • In Sasami: Magical Girls Club, a hidden power within Sasami activates for the first time after their club advisor Washu decides to quit. Everyone, including the witches, are dumbfounded at how she was able to manifest such powers, as even they were unable to do it. It shows up again throughout the show, and later her True Companions are able to use the same ability due to The Power of Friendship with Sasami.
  • That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: At the climax of Volume 13, the leader of the Eastern Empire's Armored Division, Calgurio, pushed to the brink from watching his entire division be slaughtered by the forces of Tempest and realizing he has only himself to blame for his arrogance, triggers an Awakening into a Saint and unlocks the power of his God-class equipment, becoming a warrior whose power could rival a True Demon Lord. This then becomes deconstructed when he immediately fights Diablo and realizes that his body isn't used to his new power nor has his armaments properly synched with him, with Diablo even lamenting that if he had more time he might have been a true Worthy Opponent. Volume 14 then reveals this was the whole point of sending the Armored Division to attack Tempest with incomplete info by the Emperor and his highest advisors. They intended for most of the million-strong Armored Division to be killed off so that the trauma would push the strongest/highest-potential combatants past their limits and Awaken, with two undercover agents nearby to get the newly-Awakened warriors out, as such warriors such warriors would be more than worth the losses. A similar precedent had been followed during the Empire's "failed" offensive against Veldora in the distant past. Unfortunately for the Empire, only Calgurio actually lived long enough and became sufficiently traumatized to Awaken (the rest ended up dying too fast to have their revelation) and all Empire combatants ended up slain and then revived Brought Down to Badass by Rimuru.
  • In Tiger & Bunny, Lunatic's power manifested when he tried to stop his father from beating his mother.
  • A very tragic subversion takes place in Tomorrow's Joe. Kim Yong-bi has a particular advantage over other boxers in the bantamweight division: he can't really gain weight, due to a mental block regarding eating. The massive downside is that said block comes from an horrifying incident in his past: as a starving youngster and Korean War survivor, Kim beat a man to death over food, and he turned out to be his long-lost father.
  • Shiki in Tsukihime gains his Mystic Eyes of Death Perception as a result of his near death experience as a child.
  • In Unlimited Fafnir, several characters go through these right before learning to control their powers, or being able to summon something even more powerful to defeat the Monster of the Week.
  • Yona of the Dawn: Zeno is completely immortal, doesn't age, regenerates from any injury, can grow scales that are impervious to any attack... the problem is, these only trigger if he's taking damage that warrants it, and does nothing to stop the associated pain.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V, Yuya experiences a Heroic BSoD when Kachidoki gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech. Further torment immediately leads to him becoming Awakened for the first time.

    Comic Books 
  • Avengers Academy has most of the kids, except for Reptil and Finesse, manifest their powers in such a way, with the crowning example probably being Striker manifesting his to fend off his child-molesting manager.
  • Adam Warren's run as writer of Gen¹³ introduced Leslie, a.k.a. "Trauma Queen", a member of another Secret Project Refugee Family who had a variation of this trope: she was able to use her memories of traumatic experiences to activate a wide variety of superpowers. In Warren's last issue, Leslie invoked the memory of when one of the secret project's scientists proposed inflicting more intense trauma on her to make her more powerfulnote .
  • Deliberately averted in Ms. Marvel (2014), where Kamala Khan gains her powers through a peaceful communion with the Terrigen mists, and it's treated as an almost religious experience. G. Willow Wilson wanted to dispel the notion that all superhero origins have to be tragic or horrifying.
  • PS238: The superhero power couple Sovereign and Ultima Powers are trying to invoke this on their Muggle Born of Mages son Tyler and have sent him to the titular Superhero School in the hopes of something traumatic happening to him. Tyler is, understandably, less than pleased.
  • Superman:
    • In the Elseworlds story Superman: Speeding Bullets, where Kal-El is adopted by Batman's parents Thomas and Martha Wayne, young Kal-El/Bruce Wayne's first manifestation of his superpowers is using his heat vision to kill the mugger who killed his adoptive parents.
    • Supergirl's friend Thara Ak-Var had been under great pressure even before Superman rescued Kandor from Brainiac and enlarged the Kryptonian city. When Brainiac stole Kandor, she became separated from her parents forever. She was adopted by her best friend's family, but they treated her as a nutjob only because she is religious. Then she starts having incomprehensible visions and developing strange powers, and her family will not help her out because they think she is a deluded fundamentalist. Then she fails at her job as security chief, her adoptive parent is killed, her adoptive mother becomes a cold monster, and her best friend declares her friendship over. Thara quits her job and starts hunting General Zod's spies down, even though she is branded as a traitor to Krypton because she is protecting the very humans who hate her because of her Kryptonian lineage. Then the very villains who invaded Kandor and killed her father frame Thara for his murder and several more terrorist acts. In The Hunt for Reactron, Thara manages to convince her ex-friend of her innocence, but Kara continues to put her down constantly because of her beliefs and her inability to protect her father Zor-El. Then, Reactron, the villain who murdered Zor-El, attempts to murder both Kara and Thara's soulmate. Thara finally snaps, becomes the incarnation of Flamebird thanks to her fit of rage, and completely trashes Reactron.
  • This is common in X-Men. Puberty Superpower is more widely applied.
    • Jean Grey first used her powers when her friend Annie got hit by a car and died in her arms, with Jean telepathically connecting with Annie in her final moments.
    • Rogue accidentally first used her powers when she kissed a boy she liked, draining him of his memories and energy and leaving him in a coma.
    • A variant with Mercury, whose abilities just started one ordinary morning, meaning that a high-school cheerleader dissolved into a metallic goop on her bathroom floor out of nowhere.
    • Magma was thrown into a volcano.
    • Sunspot's power first emerged during a football game. The racist opposition started beating him up for being mixed-race and black, causing his Super-Strength to manifest to defend himself.
    • In an issue of Ultimate X-Men, a poor kid woke up one day to find himself apparently totally alone in his house. He wanders around town, looking for anybody, but it all seems deserted. It turns out that he had gained the ability to uncontrollably dissolve any living matter within several hundred yards of himself — starting with his parents, ending with his entire town. Wolverine (protected by his Healing Factor) finds him terrified and hiding in a cave, then does what he can for him.
    • Invoked with the Ritual of the Crucible in X-Men (2019). To cut a long story short, whilst the resurrection process of Krakoa can be used to undo the mass depowering caused by Wanda and her "No More Mutants" decree, the simple fact is that the number of ex-mutants wanting to undergo that process would overwhelm Krakoa's infrastructure if they were all done at once. Instead, would-be restorees must undergo the Crucible; a Duel to the Death with Apocalypse, who verbally castigates them all the while, and giving them every opportunity to back off, be healed, and return to their human life. Only those willing to fight on until Apocalypse deems satisfactory are killed and then revived as true mutants again. Understandably, more than a few people find this appalling, and after the Trial of Magneto mini-series, Wanda uses her death and passage through the mutant resurrection process to create 'the Waiting Room', a.k.a. 'the Eldritch Orchard'. All that a depowered mutant needs to do is step through the gate into a mutant heaven and then be put in the resurrection queue (it also picks out every mutant that never manifested their gifts or was lost before Cerebro came online).

    Fan Works 
  • The children of Ben and Kara, Ken and Jen, can gain new powers through this in Ben 10: Unlimited, but in different ways.
    • Jen has to undergo massive emotional stress and be completely consumed by an emotion to get new powers, and gains Way Big's cosmic ray after being exposed to Scarecrow's fear toxin.
    • Ken has to undergo massive physical stress and be critically injured or near death to gain new powers, and gains NRG's radiation blasts after being almost fatally poisoned by Cobra.
  • Harry, in Child of the Storm has a slightly puzzling variant — his Psychic Powers are woken up by his falling/mass psychic assault by Dementors in the first Quidditch Match of 3rd Year (though the Phoenix gave them a nudge). However, they stay more or less dormant, with a brief flare up in chapter 44, and for a while, they turn on (to an extent) whenever he gets angry or stressed. By chapter 60, he's using them comfortably and gets stronger very, very quickly. It's also implied that they were responsible for some of the things attributed to accidental magic as a child.
    • Jean Grey likewise had a very traumatic power manifestation, when her best friend was hit by a car and killed at the age of six. It registered on a global scale and nearly killed her.
    • Wanda discusses this trope in chapter 40 of the sequel, Ghosts of the Past, indicates that it's relatively common (citing her own example in the process), and notes that how powerful the manifestation is tends to be an indication of how powerful the person is going to become.
  • Fates Collide: Ruby Rose first awakens her Silver Eye powers when she becomes incredibly stressed out and possibly has a concussion after taking a beating from Archer. Unlike canon, her Silver Eyes unleash a Reality Marble.
  • Justice League of Equestria: Rainbow Dash's superpowers are unlocked after she suffers from a case of Kryptonite Poisoning.
  • In The Lightning Strike, Skye's Inhuman talents are awakened a year in advance of when they were triggered in canon after her soul is nearly absorbed by a Dementor (although she only realises it when losing self-control during a session of passionate sex with Harry).
  • Discussed in Miraculous Escalation, as Taylor compares akumatization to how Trigger Events happen in her home universe.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, a strong emotional trigger (like a traumatic experience) can activate one's Metahuman abilities. But there are notable exceptions or even inversions to this rule.
    • Tsuyu Asui suddenly developed her ability without any sort of emotional trigger, transforming her into her current frog-like appearance without any warning.
    • Mashirao Ojiro grew his tail after winning his first karate tournament at six years old. He complains that the sheer pain of suddenly sprouting a new appendage should have given him another power.
  • Ruby Rose awakens her Silver Eyes in Chapter 23 of Remnant Inferis: DOOM when she sees Yang almost crushed to death by the Master of Erebus, causing her to unleash her powers and melt off the demon's flesh with a blast of holy light.
  • Remnant of a Worm: Taylor unlocks her Semblance after learning about Brian's death. As it creates clones that copy her actions, she interprets it to mean that her own soul is telling her that she can't change.
  • In The Silver Raven, when a slitherbeast was just about to kill Lilith, Nero, in blind rage, awakened his Devil Bringer and promptly crushed the beast with his new appendage to save his mother.
  • Tattered Capes Under a Shattered Moon: The way that both Parahuman abilities and Aura/Semblances are usually gained following intense stress leads Defiant to fear that the latter is also caused by Entities.


  • Break the Wheel: Sasha gains the ability to Cut while trying to clear her way through a group of assassins to reach Grime, who was mortally wounded right before her eyes.


  • The Hurricane: Laurel awakens the Canary Cry while trying to save Shado from being murdered by an insane Slade. According to Word of God, her metagene was activated thanks to the numerous strange chemicals found in the abandoned Japanese submarine where the Mirakuru was found and Ivo's lab on the Amazo that she came into contact with, combined with absorbing some of the mystical energy emitted from Lian Yu. Slade's attempt to kill Shado via choking her to death served as the emotional trigger that forced it to finally express itself in the Cry.

Danny Phantom

Dragon Ball

  • What If Gine Went With Goku to Earth?: Gine witnesses her son get shot by one of Freeza's Death Beams, triggering her transformation into a Super Saiyan. She proceeds to curb-stomp Freeza until he manages to power up to 50% and seemingly kills her... which causes Kakarot to ascend as well and take over the fight.
  • What if Goku Was Born A Half Angel?:
    • After Super Buu uses Hakai on Goten, making it impossible to bring him back with the Dragon Balls, Goku is so enraged that he combines Super Saiyan 3 with Super Saiyan Blue.
    • Goku also manages to fully unlock his Angel powers after witnessing his mother's murder by the Knight King.
  • In What If Goku Won Against Master Roshi?, Goku transforms into a Super Saiyan after Raditz saves him from one of Frieza's attacks, dying in the process.
  • What If Raditz Turned Good?: In the Bad Future, Future Trunks and Future Ranch both become Super Saiyans after Future Gohan is killed, wrecking the surrounding area in their grief.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

  • Tony Stark in The War Is Far from Over Now shows the occasional sign that he hasn't been completely cured of Extremis during the Civil War arc but it's not until he witnesses the tape of his parents' murders that he fully manifests it... by breathing fire on Steve and Bucky.

Miraculous Ladybug

Mob Psycho 100

  • In A Breach of Trust, Ritsu's psychic abilities awaken after his brother Mob mysteriously disappears.


My Hero Academia

  • Antithesis: Two Sides Of A Coin: Ochako's Quirk evolved after her parents died, transforming her into an esper capable of lifting significantly more weight.
  • Ignited Spark: Izuku's Quirk, Spark, manifested when Bakugo attempted to hurt Ochako, which caused a massive electric explosion that injured Katsuki, Inko and destroyed the park surrounding them. Despite Ochako's assurance that he is not a bad person because of, the incident led to Izuku completely give up on his dream to become a hero.
  • In Quirk: Incubus, Izuku discovered his quirk when his English teacher Mr. Taya targeted him for molestation, his quirk's first manifestation having been forced upon him, with Izuku allowing repeat offenses for the power boost.
  • Normally a person's quirk kicks in in early adolescents. In Turning a New Leaf, Izuku's quirk doesn't kick in until his early teens when he sees Bakugo being held hostage by the Sludge Villain.
  • In Waiting is worth it, Izuku's telekinetic quirk awakens when he is accidentally pushed off a bridge and breaks his back, crippling himself for life.
  • What it Means to Be a Hero: Himiko's Quirk evolves after witnessing a Noumu almost kill Izuku, enabling her to use all of her classmates' Quirks.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

  • A possibility for unicorns in the Triptych Continuum. Anypony who attempts to find new magic in desperate circumstances has the chance to come up with a spontaneous working: the odds are somewhat improved for those acting from the heart of their mark. But it's only a chance, and most of the other options work out to 'fully uncontrolled magic surging into the world.' It's the closest thing unicorns have to a chaos effect, and those who don't touch their dream just might die all the faster.


  • The Echo Remains, But The Song Is Not The Same: Shikamaru's desperate desire to protect his teammates Naruto and Sasuke from Haku causes him to catch Haku's shadow bare-handed, without consciously activating the kagemane or any other jutsu.
  • Exploited in Son of the Sannin. After Sasuke is forced to stab Naruto in order to Beat the Curse Out of Him, Obito tricks him into thinking that the wound was fatal, causing him to awaken his Mangekyo Sharingan. Obito had planned on taking it for himself, but reinforcements show up before he gets the chance and he's forced to retreat. The concept is also deconstructed by the fact that if an ability is unlocked with trauma, the ability itself would become a Trauma Button.

One Piece


  • Common Sense: Butterfree awakened Psychic Powers after finding out that he failed to save his mate. And the first thing he did was use them on those responsible.
  • Hyphen:
    • According to Astra’s grandfather, the only way a Kirlia can evolve into Gardevoir is by going through intense stress. The Ancestor had a trial wherein she put any Kirlia interested in evolving through intense trauma to induce evolution, though very few ever saw it through. Astra's parents were among those who were successful, but with the Ancestor's disappearance and Astra's parents passing, there are no Gardevoir remaining in the village.
    • Astra's Treecko, May's Torchic, and Brendan's Mudkip all evolve during the battle against the Exploud patriarch of Rusturf Tunnel after getting knocked around for a bit.
  • Pokémon Reset Bloodlines: Bloodliners often start manifesting their powers in life-or-death situations. An example is Misty: at age seven she fell into the Cerulean Gym's pool and almost drowned, and just when she was thinking that maybe she was better off dead (due to the way her family always treated her), her powers kicked in allowing her to breathe inside the water.

Rosario + Vampire


  • In My Abominable Monster Classmates Can't Be This Cute!, this is standard for Grimm hybrids, as awakening their Aura causes them to re-experience their suppressed humanity all at once. Ruby, being the Token Heroic Orc, manages to awaken her aura peacefully, but Blake breaks down sobbing in horror (a state she later calls the 'real her', and equates to being seen naked), and Weiss goes completely berserk.
  • Service with a Smile: Aura is a Soul Power that must be "unlocked" by someone with unlocked Aura in order to make full use of it. In extremely rare situations, someone can unlock their own Aura when their life is in danger; it's generally assumed this is where unlocked Aura came from in the first place. After Jaune is mugged and beaten halfway to Hell, Cinder unlocks his Aura so that he'll heal faster, but everyone tells the police that Jaune unlocked his Aura on his own because it's technically illegal to unlock someone's Aura outside of very specific circumstances.

Teen Titans

  • Our Own League:
    • Superboy discovers his telekinesis when one of Brainiac's robots Mind Rapes him with his worst fear: returning to life as a lab rat and having his memories of his newfound family erased. Desperation to escape the imaginary pod activates the latent power and shatters the robot.
    • Subverted for Aqualad. The first time he used his hydrokinetic powers (in a way too big to be a coincidence) was when he saved his cousin/foster sister from drowning. While the event started out terrifying, realizing he could Walk on Water and control the rain turned fear into euphoria.

    Films — Animated 
  • Invoked by Threshold in the Gen¹³: The Movie. He tortures Grunge and Roxy partly because he wants to make them go Gen Active, though he also claims he's doing it because he likes it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • This happens to the main character in Kung Fu Hustle: after he is beaten to within an inch of his life, his chi flows are unblocked, and his potential to become the Greatest Kung Fu Master the World has Ever Known is suddenly realized.
  • In the film version of Matilda, Matilda's telekinesis first displays itself when her father rips up her library books and tries to force her to watch TV with the rest of the family.
  • In Ninja Assassin, Raizo gains an 11th-Hour Superpower after Mika is stabbed by Lord Ozunu, and he gains the same type of Flash Step Lord Ozunu used prior.
  • Happens twice to Will in Sky High (2005), once when he's defending his friends from Warren and again when Royal Pain throws him off the side of the school.
  • A variant in Spider-Man. Though Peter gains all of his powers at once from the radioactive spider bite, he originally has a very difficult time using them, particularly the web-swinging. However, when Uncle Ben is shot and a grieving Peter tries to chase down the killer for revenge, he finds that Le Parkour is too impractical to catch up to the getaway car, leading him to perfect the web-slinging technique that he uses from then on as a superhero.
  • X-Men Film Series:
    • X-Men: First Class: Erik Lehnsherr is originally only able to use his powers when extremely angry. The first two times, it involves maternal separation.
    • X-Men Origins: Wolverine: James Howlett's awakening occurs when he stabs his father's killer to death.
    • Deadpool (2016): Ajax's Weapon X project invokes this by torturing its victims until they either die or awaken their mutant power. Deadpool himself unlocks his Healing Factor through this process after spending days trapped in a pod that makes him feel like he's suffocating while giving him just barely enough air to keep him alive.

  • Air Awakens: Vhalla's Awakening as a Windwalker comes at the moment when she is pushed from the palace spire. She has to recover for a week.
  • The Belgariad:
    • Garion comes into his power this way. Though he is sensitive to sorcery for a while, and his first (unconscious) use of it was to heal a brain-addled man, he first deliberately uses his power against a man who has just slapped his Aunt Pol, and kills him when he learns that the same man killed his parents in the same way.
    • Aldur invoked this for Belgarath by telling him to move a large boulder. When Belgarath became so frustrated that he shouted at the boulder to move, it did. Upon meeting another sorcerer in the Malloreon who gained his powers similarly, the main characters suppose this is the typical way for it to happen, and that it also explains why there are so few sorcerers around. If the gift tends to come in a fit of anger over something, the first thing he'll probably do is wish the object of contention out of existence, inadvertently breaking the one ironclad rule of sorcery: never unmake something, which is punished by the caster being unmade instead. In other words, maybe all too often someone's first act of sorcery is also his last.
  • Beware of Chicken: Pi Pa awakened as a cultivator due to the trauma of seeing her mate, Chun Ke, suffer a debilitating injury at the hands of Chow Ji. This may be why her cultivation is Void-aspected.
  • While a rather softer version then most, The Boy who was as hard as Stone has Joe undergoing this after taking a beating from bullies.
  • Happens to Kaiku and other members of the Red Order in The Braided Path. Strong fear (or arousal) causes their powers to ignite, setting everything around them on fire. Given people are likely to get burned in the process, it's obvious why this awakening is particularly traumatic.
  • This is the case in Brennus, mixed with Puberty Superpower. Manifestation is in response to a traumatic event, and often manifestation itself is just as if not more traumatic than the triggering event. Interestingly enough, the Brennus Files article on the subject noted that, while exceptionally rare, an overwhelmingly positive experience can cause a Manifestation just as easily as a negative one. One of the most powerful Metahumans, Elysium, manifested while dancing with the love of her life.
  • Codex Alera: Odiana first came into her watercrafting abilities when she was gang-raped by slavers. Unfortunately, since watercrafting gives you a sixth sense for the emotions the people around you are experiencing, it made the trauma even worse.
  • The Cosmere:
    • Mistborn:
      • Allomantic powers only manifest themselves following an intense trauma, which is usually a near-death experience (not always, though, as Kelsier, one of the main characters, came into his powers after watching his wife get beaten to death). Noble houses often severely beat their children to try and force "snapping".
      • In later books, Snapping is caused automatically by "mist-sickness", which by design only affects unSnapped Allomancers, and just badly enough to Snap them.
      • Word of God is that the primary reason that Vin learns Allomancy so quickly is because she Snapped at birth. Even though she didn't know what she was doing, she was using Allomancy before she could walk.
    • The Stormlight Archive:
      • It is explicitly stated that only those who are "broken" can form a Nahel bond and become a Surgebinder. However, this process is usually far slower and less obvious than in Mistborn. What happens is that spren find people with broken souls and slip into the cracks, shoring up their soul and granting them Surgebinding in the process. While Surgebinders will use their powers instinctively, it usually starts as healing oddly quickly or having arrows always hit their shield instead of them. It takes something big for them to draw enough power to realize what is happening.
      • A cult known as the Envisagers thought that they could force themselves to become Radiants by invoking this. They would frequently put themselves in near-death situations to see if a spren would come to rescue them. Being unaware of how the Nahel bond worked, this tended to result in their deaths. Ironically, when one member of the group reported them to the local authorities, hoping that they could get some kind of mental help for their cult insanity, the local ruler had them all executed as heretics.
  • In one Deryni short story, an 11-year-old boy's healing powers are triggered when his cat is severely injured.
  • Dune:
    • A ghola's memories can be restored by inflicting psychological trauma.
    • In Heretics of Dune, Miles Teg gets Spider-Sense and Super-Speed after being tortured.
    • In the prequels, Norma Cenva's latent Mind over Matter powers are awakened while she's being tortured by the Cymeks. The resulting mental blast is several orders more powerful than that utilized by the other Sorceresses of Rossak and literally disintegrates her body. Fortunately, she uses her new powers to create a better body for herself atom-by-atom.
    • Technically, any Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother becomes this way by ingesting poison and hoping that her body will metabolize it into a substance that will transform her. They do train for many years, practicing an intricate form of body control, learning to speed up and slow down their own metabolism and adjust it as needed, before taking that particular test.
  • In The Girl from the Miracles District, berserkerism is unnoticeable until the person carrying the gene goes through major physical or emotional trauma, whereupon it manifests and becomes a perpetual problem to keep in check. It doesn't necessarily show up right away — Nikita mentions that she only turned berserk a day after she'd been rescued from her father, when she had nightmares about what'd happened.
  • Harry Potter initially used his unfocused, underage magic in times of distress. This seems to be a common way for magic to appear in the setting, but not universal: contrast Voldemort, whose powers manifested as ways to manipulate and hurt people.
  • Heralds of Valdemar:
    • In the Last Herald-Mage Trilogy, the protagonist, Vanyel, has his Gifts triggered when his lover/soulmate commits suicide, after using him to help power a Cool Gate spell. The backlash of Tylendel's power, released by his death, burns open all of Vanyel's mental channels at once.
    • In Brightly Burning, Lavan's Firestarting Gift was starting to come through as a normal Puberty Superpower, but being tortured by older students at a Boarding School of Horrors forces it to full power prematurely.
  • In Hurog, Ward has some weak magical ability, but lost most of it when his abusive father almost killed him. He regains it when a supernatural entity attacks his sister and won't let go. This makes him angry, which unlocks his magic.
  • In A World Just Right: Johnathan Aubrey was just a normal kid until he survived a plane crash that killed his entire family, and gave him horrible scars on his face that alienated him from the rest of his classmates. Lucky for him, this somehow gave him the ability to create other worlds with entirely different parameters as he sees fit, which he can enter at will. It's revealed by the end of the story that other people who've suffered trauma get this power.
  • InCryptid: Sarah, who already has telepathic Puberty Superpowers, goes into a coma after giving a Covenant strike team Laser-Guided Amnesia and spends five years recovering. Once she feels fully recovered, it's revealed that she was actually undergoing her "instars", a kind of Evolution Power-Up that turns her into a Johrlac queen, capable of tearing holes between dimensions.
  • Labyrinth of Reflections:
    • Divers most commonly acquire their rare gift under extremely stressful circumstances, such as when your friend is dying in the real world and you have to exit Cyberspace right now without using any common devices.
    • The associated short story "Transparent Stained Glass Windows" reveals that the Russian government is working on a secret project aimed at creating Divers using a virtual prison as a cover. Their goal is to induce traumatic experiences in the inmates which mirror the reason for their imprisonment. The project is a failure, though.
  • Legacy of the Dragokin: This is how Benji activates his dragokin powers at the very end of the story when he leaps to his mom's defense.
  • In Matilda, the eponymous girl's telekinesis first manifests when she grows uncontrollably angry over being (loudly and violently) accused of something she did not do.
  • In Renegades, the prodigies who don't gain their powers at birth usually acquire them due to a traumatic event. Several examples are given:
    • Ruby gained her Body to Jewel power when looters attacked her family's house and she swallowed a bag of jewels to keep them out of their hands.
    • Oscar gained Smoke Out when he nearly died from smoke inhalation in a house fire.
    • Leroy became a Poisonous Person when a fellow student who hated him poured various acids on him.
    • Nova is an interesting case, in that she could induce Forced Sleep since she was born, but only became The Sleepless after witnessing the death of her family.
  • The New Management: Mentioned in Chapter 8 of Quantum of Nightmares as "traumatic origin events":
    runaway activation of hitherto untapped abilities, spontaneous amplification of existing talents
  • A major plot point in The Precipice is Grace gaining her powers. Autumn mentions she got sick before she experienced Catabasis — the awakening of her powers. Grace was also sick for a prolonged period (not that it slowed her down). However, Grace also mentions that a moment of extreme stress is theorized to catalyze the event. Being sick is a symptom proceeding Catabasis, but some kind of stressor or trauma is what gives you powers.
  • In StarCraft: Ghost: Nova, the titular character is unaware of her enormous potential for Psychic Powers, and her wealthy father goes to great lengths to keep it a secret, lest his daughter be taken away to the Ghost Academy. She knows that she is somehow able to sense what other people are feeling but can't explain it. However, when a group of rebels infiltrates her parents' penthouse mansion and kills them in front of her, her Mind over Matter powers manifest in a rather spectacular manner. The transparent dome over the penthouse is completely shattered by her mental blast that also kills anyone in the vicinity but her. That dome is, apparently, rated to withstand a direct nuclear strike. However, she never uses her power to that extent again. It's heavily implied that Nova is much more powerful than even Kerrigan, at least until Kerrigan becomes the Queen of Blades.
  • The second time Henry's time travel ability manifested in The Time Traveler's Wife was when he was involved in a car accident. If he hadn't time traveled, he would have been killed.
  • Touch (2017) is a deconstruction of this: in this world, people only seem to get powers this way, and our main characters are all grappling with issues as a result. The main character, James, was raped by a stranger, while his friend Caspar got powers due to his Abusive Parents trying to invoke this trope. It's noted that more benign examples exist, though, like breaking a bone in a less traumatic way.
  • Void Domain: After Eva loses her eyes, she gains an alternate method of sight.
  • Wearing the Cape: Ever since The Event, if someone is in an incredibly stressful (and especially life-threatening) situation, they can "break through," gaining superpowers sufficient to deal with the situation, based on what they consider an appropriate response. Natural disasters often cause Breakthroughs, as do supervillain attacks, and the military was happily surprised to discover that basic training has a small chance to trigger a Breakthrough — though they also created an optional, much more brutal program with a higher success rate. There are also "origin chasers," people who deliberately put themselves in dangerous situations in the hopes of breaking through. They typically end up as a statistic right next to the suicides, but it does occasionally work.
  • In The Wheel of Time, those who have the "spark", the more powerful manifestation of the ability to "channel", and who haven't been trained in channeling by someone who already can, will typically begin channeling unconsciously in their mid-to-late teens, and it will usually manifest itself during either a traumatic situation or when they wish to do something suitable for one who is angsty in general. For many, this takes the form of an eavesdropping weave or something similar. For one of the main characters, Nynaeve, it is an extreme sickness of a friend that leads to her unconsciously forming a healing weave.
  • In the Wild Cards universe, traumatic events can lead to the xenovirus Takis-A activating. Of course, being born is a pretty traumatic event, which is why a lot of people turn their card right at birth, but it is not uncommon for people to turn into during adolescence as well. Purposefully causing stress to a carrier is considered a penal offence.
  • In one of the short stories in The Witcher book The Last Wish, a queen hires Geralt to kill a monster (actually a cursed prince) to stop him from marrying her daughter. When she nearly succeeds, it turns out that the princess is really in love and is an untrained source — and so everyone must forget their differences and fight together to get her powers under control.
  • Worm provides the page quote.
    • The vast majority of capes acquire their powers after experiencing some sort of severe trauma, and typically they will develop a power somehow related to whatever situation they are in (physical traumas usually result in physical powers, while mental usually trauma results in mental powers, for instance). This has some interesting results, like cape demographics skewing toward women and people from bad parts of the world, as well as resulting in a balance of more Villains than Heroes since nearly everyone with powers has been failed by society and wants some payback.
    • Second-generation capes, the children of first-generations, at first appear to have an "easier" time with triggers, such as from waking up alone after sleepwalking or due to a rough foul in a basketball game. In actuality, first-generation capes will tend to have dysfunctional family lives due to their trauma and powers which will in turn put their children under high levels of stress for most of their lives. Glory Girl, for example, was desperate to prove herself to her parents and triggered after the foul when she realized her parents weren't even paying attention. As at least one member of the fandom has observed, “easier” does not mean “easy.”
    • Additionally, those who already have powers can experience a second trigger that improves their powers or removes some of their limitations. These require another extremely traumatic event, typically similar to the first trigger. Apparently Third and Fourth triggers are possible, but are very rare. It's also possible to Trigger twice in a row, due to a continued traumatic even or other reasons, which is what happened to Taylor. The overwhelming and disturbing sensations of suddenly sensing all the nearby insects with their new powers was so traumatic they triggered again.
    • There's another way trauma can awaken new powers: if a parahuman's power is tied to a body part, losing that body part causes the power to adapt. An example would be Valefor, as after Skitter blinded him with maggots, his Hypnotic Eyes power evolved into a Compelling Voice.
    • It turns out that there's a completely justified reason for this mechanism, or at least a logical one. The Entities need data on each superpower-granting shard they release, and concluded the best way to get that data is in combat. The shards are thus engineered to only activate when the host is in extreme danger, increasing the chances that they'll end up in situations where the host will be fighting or will be psychologically-damaged enough to go out and cause trouble and thus start fighting.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Angel episode "Untouched", Bethany, the girl with telekinesis, had it awakened when she was abused physically and sexually by her father. It also flared up when someone threatened her in an alley early in the ep.
  • In The Finder, Walter's powers of deduction are purportedly because of a few bumps to the head that occurred during military service.
  • First Wave: In an early episode with a Ukrainian telekinetic, a government agent tells Cade that her powers first awakened when a heavy cart fell on top of her father. She lifted the cart off him with a thought.
  • Gen V:
    • When her blood powers first manifested, Marie was having her first period and lost control over them, which accidentally killed both of her parents.
    • Cate's parents never touched her again after she told her little brother in annoyance to go into the woods and never come back, unaware this would be the moment her Compelling Voice started so he did just that, with them never finding him afterward.
  • Haven: "Troubles" usually emerge after traumatic events.
  • Impulse (2018): It takes being date raped to awaken the teleporting powers in Henry.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In the episode "The Revelations of Becka Paulson" (based on Stephen King's short story of the same name), Becka, an ordinary housewife, accidentally shoots herself in the head with a small-caliber pistol while cleaning house. The trauma to her brain gives her Psychic Powers and makes her more intelligent as well.
  • Tidelands (Netflix): Cal is nearly drowned, and as a result, discovers her siren powers.
  • WandaVision: Though Wanda previously became empowered through the Mind Stone, she reached the true potential of reality-warping power when she became overwhelmed by her grief over losing Vision.

  • Within the works of Paul Shapera, traumatic events (such as flinging oneself off a cliff, being chased by a death cult, or stuck within the Hall of Mirrors in a demented carnival) are how Posthumans awaken their Reality Warper abilities, allowing them to exert a degree of control over the universes (called Narratives due to the Metafiction aspect of the whole thing) within the various Concept Albums. That being said, Reality Warping Is Not a Toy is in full effect, if Posthumans try to push a narrative too hard, it can tear, resulting in a horrific sound as an entire universe is destroyed.


    Tabletop Games 
  • In Aberrant, triggering superpowers is called an "Eruption", and considering the fact that it's White Wolf we are talking about, there are quite a lot of people who obtained their powers in the midst of something dangerous. One piece of fluff text in the core rulebook is a variation of a suicide hotline's pamphlet that explicitly asks people to not do suicidal things in the hope they will Erupt, even.
  • Zig-zagged in Mage: The Awakening, where people can Awaken as mages in a rare moment of clarity where they see past mundane reality and touch the Supernal Realms of magic. For the lucky ones, this can be a peaceful or even joyful moment; for the rest, well, Near Death Experiences are a fairly common source of Awakenings. "Banishers" get it even worse, suffering Awakenings so nightmarishly traumatic that they instinctively despise all things magic. Archmages can actually induce Awakenings with the right magic, but those aren't great for the target's sanity either, though interestingly in those cases it's the Awakening that causes trauma rather than trauma that causes an Awakening.
    • Klagen, Neid and Grimm typically go through this in Genius: The Transgression, with Klagen Catalyzing in grief, Neid from ostracism and Grimm in rage. Sometimes it's directly related to the event, and other times as a result of whatever bit of Mad Science they put together while dealing with it. Klagen tend to be the Only Sane Man in their groups; Grimms do not, and neither do Neids.
  • In the lore of Magic: The Gathering, one in every million sentient beings in the Multiverse is born with a "Spark", or the potential to become a Planeswalker. Igniting that Spark and actually becoming a Planeswalker is sometimes the result of an epiphany after years of meditation and preparation, but is more likely to occur as the result of physical, emotional, or psychic trauma.
  • Common in the Old World of Darkness as well:
    • Werewolf: The Apocalypse: Whenever possible, the Garou make sure they identify likely candidates to hold the werewolf gene and keep watch over them. But for the Lost Cubs that slip through the cracks, the First Change generally means abrupt transformation into a frenzied monster and waking up surrounded by shredded corpses. It's even worse for the Ratkin, who have a heavier Wyld-infusion; it's so common for Ratkin to retreat permanently into insanity that they have two entire Aspects covering it: the Munchmausen, who regress into childlike fantasy, and the Twitchers, who are Grimdark even for the World of Darkness.
    • Mage: The Ascension: Some mages Awaken in circumstances that send them straight into Marauder-hood, wrapping themselves in a bubble of permanent delusion that shields them from Paradox. Their madness taps into their magic, causing reality itself to warp to match their delusions.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 Gaiden Game Dark Heresy, this is the result of choosing the "Nascent Psyker" background package. The player has psychic powers building up, locked away in the back of their brain, waiting to spill out in an uncontrolled fashion in a moment of high stress. Given that this is 40k, this tends to be a Bad Thing. The description uses the words "death sentence" to describe this package for a reason.

    Video Games 
  • Asura's Wrath: Asura finds the lifeless body of a girl who resembled his daughter after a bombardment attack. Overcome with despair and rage, he unleashes it all in the form of Berserk Asura.
  • BlazBlue has this with Ragna. Terumi locked his Azure Grimoire from activating, and it was mostly a one sided fight for Terumi. Just as he was about to finish Ragna off, Lambda/Nu jumped in the way and took the blow. She then gives her powers to Ragna, resulting in him getting the "Idea Engine" merging with his Azure Grimoire which makes it's powers closer to complete. He then proceeds to wipe the floor with Terumi.
  • Ryu in Breath of Fire IV gains the ability to transform into a dragon early on in the game, but for the first half of the game he only has access to his weakest form, Aura. He unlocks several more shapeshifting powers, including a breath attack for Aura and a much more powerful Kaiser transformation, during a scene which involves Captain Rasso massacring a village of innocents and being forced into a Seemingly Hopeless Boss Fight with a monster that beats him and his friends to within an inch of their lives.
  • Exploited in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, as Celia's plan to draw out Soma's potential to become Dracula, the series's equivalent to Satan, involves staging the murder of his beloved right in front of him. Should he fall for it, Celia gets more than what she bargained for.
  • Devil May Cry series:
    • In Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening, Dante unlocks his Devil Trigger ability after losing a fight with his brother Vergil, who then steals the amulet that Dante keeps as an heirloom of their dead mother and impales Dante on his own sword.
    • In Devil May Cry 4, Nero has two such awakenings. Nero's first awakening happened offscreen when a demon attack had Kyrie in grave danger, and his shoulder injury resulted in awakening his Devil Bringer hand. The other awakening happens in-game, when Nero is almost killed by Agnus and his Angelo and Gladius demons, resulting in the resurrection of Yamato and the unlocking of Nero's own spectral Devil Trigger, a Fighting Spirit that is very reminiscent of Vergil, who is revealed to be Nero's father in the fifth game.
    • Devil May Cry 5:
      • When Dante has a light bulb moment and realizes that the Rebellion can fuse his human and demon halves, he impales himself with it and absorbs the Sparda, obtaining his Sin Devil Trigger and Devil Sword Dante.
      • Near the game's ending, Nero, shaken by the realization he has blood relatives in Dante and the recently-resurrected Vergil, realizes that the two are about to kill each other and either way, he'd lose a member of his new family, and it reminded him of his guilt from losing his adoptive brother Credo in the previous game. The emotional peak he reaches from this makes his devil powers truly awaken, regrowing his severed arm and unlocking a true Devil Trigger.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins it seems mages can awaken their power if they are faced with strong emotions. For example, Wynne set one of her bullies on fire.
  • Psycho Mantis of Metal Gear Solid had his powers fully awaken after he accidentally read his father's mind and learned just what he thought of the young Mantis (his father hated him, blaming him for his mother dying while giving birth to him), bringing Mantis to believe his father was going to kill him. He doesn't remember much of what happened after that mind-reading, but whatever happened resulted in the destruction of his entire village.
  • In ESP Ra.De., Yusuke's psychic powers manifested when he was a child, but he kept them supressed until years later when goons from the evil Yaksa organization slit his friend's throat in front of him, prompting him to awaken his psychic powers and go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Final Fantasy IV:
    • Rydia is an inversion; she has an innate talent for magic, but the trauma of watching her village being burned to the ground makes it difficult for her to use fire spells.
    • In response to his parents deaths, Edge is enraged at Rubicante, the Archfiend Edge deemed responsible. In his anger, Edge unlocked his Flood and Blitz Ninjutsu techniques.
  • Fire Emblem Fates:
    • The death of the Avatar's mother in a Heroic Sacrifice causes the Avatar enough anguish to transform into a dragon and stays like this until the end of the chapter, when their best friend Azura manages to get to them at great risk to herself.
    • In the Avatar's child Kana's Paralogue, Kana (barely a pre-teen) is so terrified when their living place is invaded, and the Avatar gets attacked right in front of them, that they also transform into a dragon. They don't recover until the end of the chapter, either, and cannot remember what happened, so they're shocked when the Avatar explains what took place.
    • In the Heirs of Fates DLC stage, a male Kana also transforms into a dragon after his home is completely destroyed, his family is murdered, and he and other children are thrown in a sort-of Deadly Game. Again, he remains a Dragon for the whole chapter and cannot recall anything when he recovers.
  • inFAMOUS: Second Son Eugene does this to ward off some bullies in high school after one of them pushes it too far and knocks his laptop out of his hands.
  • Lang in Legaia II: Duel Saga only awakens his origin, Galea, after being beaten to the point of near-death by a monster living at the top of Mt. Gabel
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Princess Zelda's powers awaken for the first time after Calamity Ganon's return, which killed her father and the Champions and destroyed the entire kingdom and when Link was at death's door and was about to be killed right in front of her by a Guardian.
  • This is apparently how superpowers work in the Life Is Strange universe:
    • In the first game, Max's ability to rewind time is triggered when she sees her best friend Chloe (although she doesn't know who it is at the time) get shot. In Episode 2, she manages to freeze time entirely for several minutes in response to seeing Kate jump off the dormitory roof.
    • Life Is Strange: Before the Storm: Although it's an Ambiguous Situation and it's never wholly confirmed whether she has powers, Rachel's seeming ability to manipulate elements manifests in a small blaze in a trash can becoming a full-blown forest fire moments after she catches her father apparently cheating on her mother. Later on, during an argument with her father, all the candles on the dinner table briefly blaze up when she becomes particularly angry.
    • Life Is Strange 2: Daniel's telekinetic abilites awaken when his father gets shot in front of him.
    • Alex's empathy powers in Life Is Strange: True Colors are shown to have manifested due to traumatic events throughout her childhood, including her mother's death, her father abandoning her and Gabe, and the cruelty she endured in the foster care system.
    • In the tie-in comics, Tristan's invisibility powers come to him when his friend gets fatally shot during a drug deal gone wrong, allowing him to evade the killers. Pixie's ability to see into different timelines first manifests in her early childhood when she's nearly hit by a car and experiences the deaths of some of her alternate selves.
  • In Mass Effect 2, when Jack is discussing her past as a test subject for Cerberus' biotic engineering program, she mentions that the scientists intentionally tried to invoke this through torturing her, believing that pain could allow her to bypass mental barriers and become a stronger biotic. She doesn't know if it actually worked or not, considering all of the other horrific tests and treatments they put her through, and she destroyed most of their work when she escaped, so the truth would never be known.
  • In the prologue of NEO: The World Ends with You, Rindo awakens his psyche ability to jump into the past the moment he sees Fret crushed by a truck.
  • The Outer Worlds: Your Tactical Time Dilation abilities are said to be a side effect of being stuck in cryogenic sleep for about sixty years longer than expected, coupled with the dubious chemicals Phineas Wells gave you in order to help you survive the awakening process.
  • In the Persona series, obtaining your Persona involves either being in mortal danger from Shadows, or accepting your Shadow Archetype as part of you, and sometimes even both.
    • The casts of Persona and Persona 2 awaken their Personas when they experienced an extreme physical, mental or emotional reaction, like seeing a hospital full of people die to zombies or watching a woman burn alive.
    • In Persona 3, Persona awakenings come from accepting the prospect of mortality but also not wanting to die. Personas are summoned via an Evoker, an fake gun that's designed to invoke a fear of death to temporarily manifest your Persona.
      • This game also introduces the concept of artificially awakened Personas, Personas forced to manifest by painful human experimentation, and are hostile to their users.
    • In Persona 4, every Persona-user save for the protagonist and the killer awaken their Personas after being tormented by their Enemy Without.
    • In Persona 5, the heroes each awaken to their Persona after being faced with the fact that their enemies are irredeemable scumbags who won't go punished because their victims refuse to stand up to them, enraging them enough that their Shadow Archetype comes to them with a Dare to Be Badass speech.
  • Imu from Senran Kagura in the Hebijo story mode of Shinovi Versus only manages to activate her Root of Calamity when she sees her sister take a bullet for her, getting beat up by the culprit and realising that the culprit is going after her best friend Miyabi next.
  • In the original Suikoden, the main character comes into possession of the Soul Eater rune, a powerful rune that, true to its name, devours the souls of those its used on. Throughout the events of the game, the rune becomes stronger (thus unlocking more powerful spells) by devouring the souls of people who are especially close to the protagonist; first, his loyal caretaker/bodyguard, then his own father, and finally, his best friend, who, as the former owner of the rune, sacrificed himself by forcing the rune to take his soul in order to prevent the Big Bad from using him as a hostage to take the rune for herself.
  • Trials of Mana:
    • Kevin unlocks the ability to shapeshift into a werewolf when he's attacked by his pet wolf cub, Karl, and he's forced to kill him in self-defence.
    • Angela has a less-violent example of this trope. The first time she shows any sort of magical talent is after being told that she's going to be a Human Sacrifice for a forbidden spell. After that, Angela inadvertently teleports outside of the castle where she resides.
  • In Undertale, you trigger one on the Genocide Route. When you split Undyne in half with a single strike, she gains enough determination to protect her friends that she transforms into Undyne the Undying.
  • In Valkyria Chronicles, the descendants of the eponymous Valkyrur only awaken their dormant powers when put into near-death situations, overlapping with Defence Mechanism Superpower. The Dragon Selvaria Bles awakened her powers by stabbing herself when Imperial Forces invaded her village when she was young. As for the playable Valkyria, Alicia's powers are only awakened when Faldio, who had figured out she had Valkyrur blood when she was able to unlock the Barious Ruins, covertly snipes her prior to the Battle of Naggiar due to the situation reaching Godzilla Threshold as a last-ditch effort to stop Selvaria.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Maya had started training for her latent spirit-channeling abilities, but was too young to host a spirit until she saw Redd White — the man who murdered her sister not only nearly getting away scot-free, but also seeing Phoenix giving up.
  • In Wicked Willow, a brush with death awakens the protagonist's before-unknown magical powers, kicking off the plot.
  • In Chaos;Head, special individuals known as Gigalomaniacs must go through deep trauma in order to experience the level of delusion necessary to summon a DI-Sword, a weapon which allows one to alter the fabric of reality via their delusions.

    Web Comics 
  • In Autumn Bay, as part of his awakening to magic, Ghoul catches a glimpse of everything (due to a sorcerer's natural connection to the Akashic Records). This traps him on his own memories and puts him in a short coma.
  • In El Goonish Shive this is known as an Angst-Induced Awakening, or, less seriously, an angst-splosion.
  • In FreakAngels it turns out that "near-death" experiences amplify the Freak Angels' powers and unlock new ones. For example, Arkady is capable of teleporting because of that drug overdose in her teens. Turns out that actually dying will do the trick as well, and this may in fact have been what happened to Arkady. It definitely happens to three other main characters before it occurs to them to try and find a less traumatic method.
  • In Girl Genius this is typically how Sparks awaken. Most Sparks end up killed by their own breakthrough devices or burned at the stake as witches by an angry mob. Many simply go mad and destroy everything in their vicinity. It's also suggested that a breakthrough can be triggered by strong emotions, like being upset over death of a loved one. Gil notes that Agatha’s breakthrough was very peaceful compared to other Sparks. Because it wasn't one. Agatha is the child of two already rather powerful Sparks and had her breakthrough about a decade ago. Her paternal uncle, a powerful Spark in his own right, outfitted the girl with a Spark-suppressing device to hide her in plain sight. Agatha's official breakthrough was a slow gradual loss of the device's effect.
  • In Last Res0rt the existence of souls is scientifically proven, quantified in "sterling", people with more or less than a sterling's worth of soul can tap into it for magic but most people are born with a stable sterling soul that can't be tapped. However, a severe trauma can "shatter" a sterling soul, after which one can attempt to pick up the pieces and transform into a djinni-si, though if they die before piecing themselves back together they rise as a zombie. Vampires are a specific type of djinn-si whose soul-shattering and transformation are facilitated by an existing vampire.
  • Narbonic: Mad Scientists tend to awaken to their full potential due to a variety of factors. Danger is a big one, as is the laughter of fools (typically "those fools at the Institute"), but almost anything can be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Helen herself snapped at an Italian bistro and caused more destruction than two other examples who snapped in a college chemistry lab and a hospital. ("That was simply a killer pesto, wasn't it Narbon?")
    Helen: Many mad scientists also credit Mom for their awakening.
    Dave: Mommy issues are that common?
    Helen: No, my Mom, specifically. She gets around.
  • In The Order of the Stick Prequel, Start of Darkness, Xykon's talent for sorcery first manifests itself when, as a 4-year-old child, he finds the corpse of his dog, Barky. His grief causes him to accidentally cast an Animate Dead spell, which resurrects Barky as a zombie, much to his delight.
  • Becka in Shadowgirls.

    Web Original 
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged uses the aforementioned examples from its source material for Goku, Future Gohan, Future Trunks, and Gohan's second transformation, but throws in some twists for others:
    • Gohan's first transformation into a Super Saiyan occurs while he's training with his father, and Goku exploits Gohan's inability to dodge by firing an attack directly at him. Realizing that he's all alone and no one will save him leads to Gohan transforming out of desperation to deflect the blast.
    • Gohan's transformation into Super Saiyan 2, while more faithful to the source material, is also the culmination of the constant bullshit and unintentional abuse from his father and adult friends over the course of the series.
    • Played for laughs in Episode of Bardock Abridged. It's not a Heroic Sacrifice that triggers Bardock going Super Saiyan, but the realization that his story's plot involves Time Travel.
      Bardock: Of all the STUPID! (wham!) ASININE!! (wham!) SHARK-JUMPING BULLSHIT!!!
    • Vegeta also turned Super Saiyan the same way he did in canon — rage and anger and despair over never being as good as Goku — though the process by which he did so was... far less refined.
  • RWBY:
    • Ruby's silver eyes are hinted to be special when Headmaster Ozpin remarks upon them before accepting her to Beacon Academy. The traumatic events of the Volume 3 finale reveals what is so significant about them. When Ruby witnesses her friend Pyrrha being murdered by Cinder, a blast of silver power bursts from Ruby's eyes, leaving her unconscious for days and Cinder maimed for life. Ruby learns that silver eyes is an extremely rare trait on Remnant and every person who has them will become an extremely powerful warrior who possesses the ability to use the power of light to destroy the Grimm. In Volume 6, Ruby finally meets an elderly silver-eyed warrior who teaches her how to harness and control her power; together, they learn that their power comes from the God of Light, who also had silver eyes and the ability to destroy the Grimm with light.
    • Ren's Semblance gives him the ability to mask the emotions of others, effectively hiding them from Grimm, who are attracted to negativity. Flashbacks in Volume 4 reveal that Ren's Semblance only awakened when the Grimm destroyed his village. With his parents killed and everyone dying around him, the intense panic and stress of the situation triggered his Semblance, enabling both him and Nora to survive the massacre.
    • Played for laughs in Volume 4 when Taiyang describes Yang's Semblance as a temper tantrum; when Yang gets angry, her hair catches fire and she's able to channel attacks into increased strength and power. Taiyang comments that her Semblance was discovered the day he took her to the hairdressers for her very first hair cut.
    • After five volumes of trying to figure out what his Semblance is, Jaune finally awakens it during the traumatic events of the Volume 5 finale. To spite him for managing to crack her mask, Cinder impales Weiss with a spear in a deliberate recreation of Pyrrha's death and leaves her for dead. Panicked and tearful, Jaune's Semblance kicks in to empower the dying Weiss's Aura, supercharging her Aura's ability to heal her injuries. When Nora initially mistakes his Semblance for healing, he realizes that his power is the ability to amplify Auras.

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: In the second season finale; "True Colors", Anne awakens a Super Mode from her connection to the blue gem when the grief and rage from Sprig's supposed death by King Andrias pushes her over the edge.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • In the first series, Aang is forced into the Avatar State when he is either in mortal danger or experiencing emotional trauma. A major focus of the story is him learning to control that power and to only use it when he wants to.
    • In The Legend of Korra, Korra only manages to unlock her airbending after being captured and de-bended by Amon.
  • The Batman: Minor villain Francis Grey, a watchmaker who built and repaired clocks and watches for a living, stole a gold watch from his employer as a desperate attempt to pay off his many debts. During his getaway, he accidentally caused a series of Disaster Dominoes that resulted in massive property damage. This bumped up his prison sentence to seventeen years. During his incarceration, he was forced to fix the broken clocks around the prison. Being constantly surrounded by clocks made Francis think of all the time he was losing in prison. He claimed he could literally see it passing him by. Eventually, he had mental breakdown and developed the ability to rewind time. Despite much practice, Francis was only able to rewind time up to twenty seconds, meaning that he couldn't go back far enough to undo his original crime. After his sentence concluded (during which his wife left him and wouldn't let his son visit him in prison), Francis built a gas bomb that went off at midnight on New Year's Day, killing Batman, Robin, Batgirl, and half of Gotham. However, Batgirl had tracked down Matt Grey, Francis' son, who arrived just before the bomb exploded. Matt also perished in the gas. The grief of losing his son gave Francis enough strength to return to the moment before he stole the watch, allowing him to make the right choice this time.
  • Invincible: After his near-death experience thanks to Battle Beast, Black Samson manages to regain his powers after the doctors defibrillate him several times to bring him back to life.
  • A Miss Mallard Mystery: The episode "Rickshaw to Horror" is about a man being hit by a rickshaw (which the driver is left pretty upset about) and gaining the ability to predict upcoming disasters. It turns out that said predictions were just a distraction so he could engineer the theft of a priceless gemstone.
  • A fairly mild example occurs in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Young Twilight Sparkle has to take an entrance examination to get into the School for Gifted Unicorns. She repeatedly fails the magic test which has been set up for her, leading her to become increasingly nervous, tense, and embarrassed. Then a large explosion — the sound of Rainbow Dash's first Sonic Rainboom — occurs in the distance. Getting startled by the sudden noise when she is already strung tight as a wire triggers an enormous burst of random magic to burst from her horn.
  • Parodied on South Park, when Cartman wakes up from coma due to a head injury, he fakes psychic powers in "Cartman's Incredible Gift".
    • Played with at the end of the episode. Kyle tries to convince the police that Cartman's psychic predictions are inaccurate, but the police refuse to listen to him, so Kyle gives himself a similar head injury, then after waking up in the hospital, pretends to have psychic powers now so the police will listen to what he's figured out with actual detective work. Afterward, Kyle can't convince the police he was faking it, then gets fed up with all the other fake psychics in the room and screams for them to stop... causing a light bulb to explode.
  • Downplayed in Young Justice (2010), when a now-adult Black Canary mentions that her first Canary Cry nearly deafened her entire first-grade class. She spent a period after that trying to never talk again.


Eugene Sims

Eugene's powers manifested just as bullies were all over him.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / TraumaticSuperpowerAwakening

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