Variant Power Copying is the practice of duplicating powers or abilities in a different way than the original ability worked. In other words, they copy a variation of the ability and not the original one.
This trope applies to works where "powers" are associated with a character or group, and are rare to see other people have. In works with martial arts, this can refer to techniques or abilities unique to a school or clan. However, due to differences in the learner's personality, innate gifts, field of expertise, etc., they learn to use the ability slightly differently. Or, because they lack access to the original source of the power, they have to find another way to achieve a similar effect.
For example, if a Beast Man has a Healing Factor, the duplicator gets the same powers using Nanotechnology, sometimes based on data gotten from the original character. Or someone with Shock and Awe powers who got their abilities through some sort of accident or mutation, which inspires some sort of mage or witch to come up with their own electric spells.
This is a Sub-Trope of both Awesomeness by Analysis (doing something awesome by learning how it works) and Power Copying, and a a subtrope of Meta Power as it deals with other powers. It can also overlap with Sufficiently Analyzed Magic, if one method of using the ability is magical and the other is mundane. Also a Sub-Trope of Effective Knockoff.
- Early on in the story, neither Sasuke nor Naruto can do Rock Lee's Front Lotus attack combination, so they make new versions. The Front Lotus kicks an opponent in the air and then uses a Spinning Piledriver to smash an opponent on the head. Sasuke's variation is the Lion Barrage, which copies the initial kick (the only part of the Front Lotus Sasuke had seen at the time) but instead kicks them all the way down. Naruto's variation (a copy of a copy, since he based it on the Lion Barrage) is the Naruto Uzumaki Barrage, which uses clones to perform the multiple attacks and falling attacks, since he lacks the skill to do it normally.
- Naruto's signature move, the Rasengan, was created by the Fourth Hokage as an imitation of the destructive energy balls used by Tailed Beasts - due to the different properties of human and Tailed Beast chakra, he had to add its signature spinning to hold it together. Kakashi's Chidori (a technique which gives him an electrified Razor-Sharp Hand) was in turn developed while he was trying to create a lightning-based version of the Rasengan. Later in the story, Naruto gains proper control over the Nine-Tailed Fox's chakra and combines the energies of a Tailed Beast Ball with his Rasengan techniques to create a hybrid "Tailed Beast Rasengan".
- This is actually the default way of "copying" other mages' spells in Lyrical Nanoha: instead of taking spell formulas over verbatim, a mage usually adapts one of their own spells to emulate the effects of the one they want to learn. Two of Nanoha's students have "inherited" her signature spells in this fashion. Subaru developed her own Divine Buster from scratch after seeing Nanoha use it, and while the original spell could be used like a Sniper Rifle, Subaru's is more of a Short-Range Shotgun. Likewise, when Teana learned Starlight Breaker (a Finishing Move which concentrates mana from the surrounding area into a Divine Buster to boost it to Wave-Motion Gun levels) she did so by applying Nanoha's mana-gathering technique to her own Crossfire Shoot.
- One Piece:
- In Thriller Bark arc, by virtue of merging the gigantic zombie Oars' shadow with his own, Gekko Moria the shadow-man can manipulate Oars' shadow to shape-shift his body (think shadow puppets, but in reverse), including copying the moves of Luffy, the Rubber Man.
- In Fishman Island arc, Luffy, with his Haki and Gear Second, can emulate his brother Ace's signature Fire Fist attack (called Gomu Gomu no Red Hawk) even though Ace is a flame user and Luffy isn't.
- Katakuri at one point copies several of Luffy's attacks, with "improvements" such as creating multiple arms for his gattling, and making his elephant gun even bigger than the original.
- In Kuroko's Basketball, while Kise can normally just rely on standard Power Copying when replicating ordinary techniques, he often has to resort to this trope when copying the techniques of the Generation of Miracles. For example, while he doesn't have the Emperor Eye, he can replicate its effects closely enough with the observational skills and reflexes he uses to copy opponents in the first place.
- Each inheritor of One for All in My Hero Academia is stronger than the last, and Izuku Midoriya has crossed a threshold where the insane strength of the quirk devastates his body. At first he only uses it as a Desperation Attack, but he gradually develops a fighting style vastly different than his predecessor in order to mitigate the new drawbacks, for example, focusing on heavily armored kicks rather than All Might's signature punches.
- Ragnarok, a cyborg clone of Thor, uses electronics to simulate Thor's Shock and Awe and Weather Manipulation powers. His copy of Mjolnir also uses remote control signals to fly around and return to him.
- Iron Man's suits usually have this ability, such as being able to copy Captain America's fighting moves by replicating them and then performing the motions, or copying Magneto's abilities using orbital satellites that can absorb electro-magnetic energy, or copying Venom's symbiote by using nanomachines that approximate the symbiote's biological abilities.
- In the "Amazo Virus" arc of Justice League (2011), Dr. Armen Ikarus, Patient Zero to the virus, develops the ability to replicate organic variations of any powers he sees. This includes growing wings to replicate flight, and having his eyes mutate to replicate heat vision, among others.
- This was the original idea of the Connor Kent Superboy: he wasn't a true clone of Superman, but rather an attempt to create something about as close as science could manage. Consequently, instead of the standard Kryptonian Combo Platter Powers, he has "tactile telekinesis", normally one of Superman's Required Secondary Powers: he can manipulate objects telekinetically, but only if he's touching them or they're at very close range. So he effectively has Super Strength, flight, and invincibility to physical harm (he can lift himself up, lift objects, or repel them when they'd touch him), but with a lot of extra caveats (he's not invulnerable to anything he can't affect telekinetically, but he also has the ability to disassemble an object just by touching it). Later on, this would be retconned and he started developing traditional Superman powers, but writers occasionally remember his original powerset.
- Echidna can make clones of parahumans she captures, and each one has some variant of the original template's powers. Skitter's clone, for instance, has powers over rats, while a Grue clone has the ability to use his shadows to teleport.
- Upperhand, a minor character, can copy the powers of any person near him, but the output is replaced with crushing gravity. For instance, if he copied a person who throws fireballs, he would gain the ability to throw orbs of gravity.
- A variation is displayed by most Tinkers given focus in both Worm and its sequel, Ward. Through observation of parahumans within their vicinity, a Tinker can get an idea of something within their specialty that takes inspiration from the relevant parahuman.
- In A Certain Magical Index, Accelerator has the power to change the direction of any force within a short distance of his body - this gives him the ability to launch objects at horrendous speeds by touching them, as well as a passive Attack Reflector field which makes him almost impervious to harm. Saiai Kinuhita and Umidori Kuroyoru are survivors of the Dark May Project, an experiment in boosting the powers of young espers by grafting Accelerator's thought patterns onto their own - as a result their original wind-based powers were modified into a layer of invisible "nitrogen armor" around Saiai's body, and destructive "nitrogen lances" fired from Umidori's hands.
- Valkyrie's power copying in Skulduggery Pleasant can give her a better version of the magic she's copying. The only example we get is when copying a healer's ability, she's able to heal injuries that he wouldn't have been able to.
- Kamen Rider:
- Recent series' have done this in the annual Crisis Crossover movies, leading to the current heroes wearing variants of their usual armors now based on their predeccesors, and occasionally the other way around, as well.
- Kamen Rider Zi-O does this as the primary gimmick, being the only method by which the villains' Evil Knockoff Monster of the Week can be defeated (at first, anyway).
- Rosenkreuz Stilette Freudenstachel: Freudia, the protagonist, primarily is An Ice Person. She can't copy actual abilities like her friend Spiritia does, but she can emulate the powers of the fellow Magus she defeated using his ice powers. For example, her Weissteufel technique is her creating a field of cold air that slows down enemies, taken from Sichte Meister, the Time Master magus.
- Street Fighter:
- This is how Divergent Character Evolution and Shoto Clones work in the series. Ryu, Ken, Gouken, Akuma, Dan, Sean and Sakura all have the same basic moves (Shoryuken, Hadouken and Hurricane Kick), but all of them do the moves differently from each other. Even Sagat learned his Tiger Uppercut by copying elements of Ryu's Dragon Punch.
- Zangief developed his Spinning Piledriver by watching Mike Haggar perform his Spinning Lariat, and he also copied the Lariat as well. Then, Mike Haggar got him right back by stealing the piledriver, but that was more or less regular copying instead.
- In Street Fighter V, Karin Kanzuki's Story Mode has her suddenly master one of the Kanzuki-ryu school's greatest arts, which allows her to repel enemies using nothing but her Battle Aura. This trope is Played for Laughs when Zangief sees her do this and (because Zangief's style is based entirely on his muscles) he learns how to vibrate his body at just the right rhythm to achieve the same ability. Karin's steward, Shibasaki, is awestruck by Karin's achievement, but dumbstruck that Zangief can do it in such a crude manner, too.
- Ed was trained by Balrog, and uses his own variations of similar moves like his rushing attacks, using Psycho Power to propel himself instead of his own muscle. He also has variations of Bison's Devil Reverse ability, except his version kicks upward before coming down with a secondary attack.
- Menat was trained by Rose and uses her Soul Throw and Soul Reflect abilities. However, Menat's versions utilize her Crystal Ball rather than a scarf like Rose. Menat also has her own version of Rose's Soul Satellite which, instead of surrounding her with active orbs which make enemies hesitant to attack, do nothing to the enemy while inert but can be activated separately to force the enemy to defend or to extend combos.
- Mega Man X: while X is capable of regular Power Copying, Zero goes with this instead, emulating whatever technique the boss has with his Z-saber to accomodate his close-range style.
- In [PROTOTYPE] and [PROTOTYPE 2], while the Player Characters develop powers that are very similar to the beings they take them from, they each have their own variations. For instance, the blade or claws are similar to, but distinct from the sources, with James Heller's take on the former being even akin to a combat knife, similar to his military background.
- In Grrl Power Varia gets powers that are similar, but not identical to those whom she touches. For instance, Harem allows her to teleport alongside her, while Jiggawatt has lightning abilities but gives Varia magnetic control instead.