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"One, two, Freddy's coming for you"... again, and again, and again...

"If you continue with the villain as the center of the story, which is certainly the Nightmare paradigm, you simply have to introduce a new set of victims every time. And after a while that becomes quite repetitive when you have no real story continuity except the villain. So then you sort of have to continue to concoct things like Freddy's youth or Freddy's this or that...but I think it gets stretched thinner and thinner."
Wes Craven, discussing the potential pitfalls of this trope.
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A franchise linked by a recurring villain. The heroes and the locations may change or be dropped, but the central link remains the villain. The villain is frequently the Big Bad of the franchise and most or all of its installments, though this doesn't have to be the case to qualify for the trope.

This is not the same as a franchise with a Villain Protagonist, which may introduce a whole new set of heroes with each installment, but usually keeps the villain as the protagonist.

This trope is very popular with the Slasher Movie genre, probably because the heroes can die off in the end without ruining the series. Often though, the villain will appear to die at the end, to allow closure to the series if another one is not made. The End... Or Is It? ending optional. Naturally, Joker Immunity is in full force. There are a few iconic horror heroes, like Dr. Van Helsing, but they're usually a lot less prominent and iconic than their respective villains. Ash Williams may be the only real exception.

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The trope's idea started with Pulp novels and villains like Fu Manchu or Fantômas.

If the franchise is named after the villain, do not confuse this with Antagonist Title. If the villain themselves appears as a mascot, they are a Mascot Villain. While the recurring villain in a Villain-Based Franchise usually features as the Villain Antagonist in the individual installments rather than as an outright Villain Protagonist, they are still the overarching main character in the series as a whole, disqualifying them from this trope.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Time Bokan series has the most focus on the villains than the heroes.
  • Although most of the Puella Magi Madoka Magica spin-off works have at least something to do with the protagonists of the main show, this is not always the case. For those works, the presence of the Incubator Hive Mind aka Kyubey is by necessity what links them together, as they have to be there to make the characters Magical Girls and manipulate them into falling to despair, which is the focus of the franchise.
  • The plot of Monster is driven by its titular Big Bad, Johann Liebert, for whom said nickname is very well-earned.
  • Paranoia Agent does have recurring heroes and side characters with their own story arcs, but the show never focuses solely on one of them, while every single episode focuses at least somewhat on Li'l Slugger/Shonen Bat, the serial assaulter. (As well as fictional character Maromi, because it's eventually revealed that they are basically the same thing, or at least connected phenomena.)
  • Tomie, by Junji Ito, is this kind of series. The only truly recurring character across the various story arcs is Tomie herself, a seemingly demonic teenage girl whose very presence causes other people to fall madly in love with her and eventually kill her, over and over again.

    Comic Books 
  • Following the Brightest Day event, the Superman-based title Action Comics was retooled to star Superman's Arch-Enemy Lex Luthor, even being billed as Lex Luthor's Action Comics. This lasted about a year and followed Luthor's quest at godhood, which culminated in him actually getting it only to lose it when a condition of the godhood was that he couldn't use his new power to harm Superman.
  • The BBC attempted to give the evil Daleks from Doctor Who their own spinoff in The '60s, but all it ended up amounting to were a few Dalek comic books.
  • The Joker had a short comics series of his own in the 1970s, and Eclipso had an ongoing one in the 1990s. While radical in their day, villain-based series have since gotten more common.
  • Similar to Action Comics above, the Spider-Man books took a stab at this after a storyline in which Spider-Man villain Doctor Octopus successfully pulled a Grand Theft Me on Peter Parker, resulting in the book being retooled into Superior Spider-Man. As with Lex above, the reset button was eventually pushed on this, but Marvel milked a couple of years worth of stories and plenty of outrage sales out of the stunt.
  • The Tomb of Dracula comic, of course.

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • Disney Villains. Most animated Disney films that failed at the box office will inevitably become this.
    • When The Black Cauldron failed, the Horned King became the only character from the film to ever appear in the merchandise.
    • Although 101 Dalmatians did fine at the box office, this has definitely happened with Cruella de Vil. Since the original release of the animated film, she's become a Breakout Character of the franchise. When the 1996 live-action film came along, Cruella de Vil was treated as the starring role and the central character, with Glenn Close's name written in big letters on all the posters, and the 2021 prequel was outright titled Cruella. There's also a Broadway musical, and again Cruella (played by Rachel York) was treated as the starring role.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 

    Multiple media 
  • Scream
    • The franchise became one with its TV adaptation. While the films on their own are not an example of this, featuring several recurring characters in addition to Ghostface (itself an identity worn by different people in each film), the only thing linking the TV series to the films is the presence of a killer named Ghostface who wears a white mask and black cloak, uses a hunting knife as a Weapon of Choice, and taunts victims through Harassing Phone Calls before attacking them. It was especially the case with the reboot Scream: Resurrection, which not only brought back the original Ghostface mask from the films (the prior two seasons used a different mask due to copyright issues) but also brought back the original voice of Ghostface, Roger L. Jackson, while remaining in a wholly separate continuity.
    • Interestingly, Scream's in-universe counterpart, the Stab series, is an example. The Stab movies were initially based on the events of the Scream films (specifically Gale's True Crime books about them), but after the third, Sidney sued to stop them from using her story as further inspiration for lurid slasher flicks. And so, starting with Stab 4, the Ghostface identity became the only recurring character.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Kaiju Big Battel's Big Bad Dr. Cube is also the most recognized figure in the promotion. This is partially because his helmet is the logo. Though he eventually dies.
  • The Fuyuki Army promotion was a bit of a mixed bag. The intent was pretty clear, given that it was an FMW spinoff and the wrestler it centered around, Kodo Fuyuki, was on his way to a Tyrant Takes the Helm plot in FMW, but fans who better knew Fuyuki for his work in All Japan Pro Wrestling were likely to cheer for him.
  • WCW tried to do one with the nWo, to turn it into its own brand. However, people started to view the nWo as boring invincible villains at the time, so giving them their own show where surprise, surprise, the nWo won every match, turned out to be a turn off to many viewers.
  • WWE Raw from 2002 until 2005 with Triple H.
  • While the joshi fed GAEA was active, Mayumi Ozaki waged a personal war against it and founded an "Oz Academy" in 1998 to train new wrestlers to help her in this cause. When Chigusa Nagayo opted to discontinue GAEA and retire however, Passing the Torch to Meiko Satomura, Mayumi turned the Oz Academy into its own full-fledged promotion to rival Meiko's GAEA successor, Sendai Girls.
  • Kai En Tai, a power stable with the humble origin of menacing Michinoku Pro Wrestling later expanded into the United States via ECW's bWo Japan, which lead to one half of the stable's Dream Chasers Tag Team, TAKA Michinoku, founding a "KAIENTAI Dojo" in Puerto Rico during the year 2000. A year after ECW closed, TAKA returned to Japan and started running his own shows with the students from said dojo.
  • The Apache Army, a promotion primarily made up of former FMW wrestlers that primarily invaded other promotions while FMW was inactive.
  • Los Perros Del Mal, a Card-Carrying Villain Power Stable who operated in CMLL and AAA, later founded their very own wrestling promotion, named after themselves, Perros Del Mal Producciones. They remain the bad guys even on their own show.

    Video Games 
  • The Ape Escape series has a different Kid Hero each game, but evil genius monkey Specter is always the villain.
  • Castlevania is linked by its main villain Dracula. This even extends to the Sorrow games, which are set in the future after Drac being Killed Off for Real. Who is the player character? His reincarnation!
  • Diablo is based upon the eponymous demon lord, who always seems to return to threaten the fate of the world. Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 bring in the other six Great Evils for some scheming of their own, but Diablo's still the one to take center stage by the end.
  • The Far Cry series, starting from the third game, began angling its advertising around each installment's villain, emphasizing their charisma and sociopathy. Their popularity is so great that by Far Cry 6 an entire DLC is centered around getting to play as the villains of the third to fifth games.
  • The Five Nights at Freddy's series has a different protagonist for (almost) every game, but the villains are always animatronics and ocasionally humans, but the award has to be given to Freddy Fazbear or William Afton.
    • Freddy Fazbear is of course the titular character, who has the biggest amount of counterparts and appears in every game, no matter if he's withered, a hallucination, or a dream.
    • William Afton, on the other hand, kickstarted the entire franchise and has been linked to every single entry in the franchise (with one, non-canon exception). While he took the role of the Big Bad in only three games (and he's part of the Big Bad Duumvirate in one of them), he's without a doubt one for the entire series, with every single event being linked to him. Not to mention his Joker Immunity, a contrast to Freddy, who's been Killed Off for Real as early as the third game and had different counterparts replace his role.
  • With the exception of the fourth game (though they still influence the plot to a degree), Resident Evil centers around the Umbrella Corporation and its successors.
  • The heroes asking the question cycles depending on the series, but they're always asking the question "Where in |the World/America/Time/Hell/etc.| is Carmen Sandiego?"
  • SHODAN is so synonymous with the System Shock series that the second game featured her on the cover despite her mere presence in the game being a massive spoiler at the time. Years later, SHODAN's voice would be one of the very first things revealed for the third game.
  • In one way or another, the main stories of the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series seem to revolve around Geese Howard. By the time The King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match comes around, he's also present in that as a secret boss, out-bossing a considerable cast of SNK Bosses. Also, in Capcom vs. SNK, Geese is Ratio 6 when fought as a boss, since you fight him twice as Ratio 3, when the highest a character goes in the game, Akuma (Gouki) as a secret character, is Ratio 4.
  • The most iconic characters in the Tekken franchise are Heihachi and Kazuya Mishima, who alternate between the roles of Big Bad and Villain Protagonist depending on the game. Heihachi is the only character to be playable in every instalment, and appeared as a Guest Fighter in Soul Calibur II, while Kazuya represents the series in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
  • Every Kingdom Hearts game in the Dark Seeker Saga (Kingdom Hearts to III and every spin-off or side game released in-between) is linked by Master Xehanort, an elderly Keyblade master who just won't stay dead, and his many incarnations. He's even the Villain Protagonist of Dark Road, and his influence lingers beyond the saga's events in Melody of Memory. Whether a new villain will antagonize the next several games or if the series will move on to one-off villains is yet to be seen.
  • The Mother/EarthBound series is a special case. None of the heroes ever return, but the Big Bad from the first one reappears in the next one, in which a Dragon for him is introduced. The third one then features only The Dragon from the second one, since the original Big Bad was killed in the second game. A couple of characters (how many exactly depends on the player) from the second game appear, though, and Ness, the hero from it, is referenced a lot.
  • The Tale of ALLTYNEX of course focusing on the malevolent A.I. Alltynex.
  • Twisted Metal: While Monster Clown Needles "Sweet Tooth" Kane is the Series Mascot, in-game he is only one of many playable drivers. Narrative-wise, the most important character in Twisted Metal is Calypso, the nefarious host of the tournament, as some version of him is always present, being the common link between all of the drivers' stories.
  • The main focus of the First Encounter Assault Recon series is its resident Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl/Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds Alma.
  • In its final years, the arcade division of Irem produced several post-apocalyptic action games whose only real link was the villains, a terrorist organisation know as the "Dark Anarchy Society". The games part of this universe are (in order) Air Duel, Undercover Cops, Fire Barrel, In the Hunt and Gunforce II.
  • The Donkey Kong series is an interesting case. The title character starts out as a villain in Donkey Kong (with Mario aka Jumpman as the hero), reappears as Distressed Dude in Donkey Kong Jr. (with Mario as the villain) and again as a villain in Donkey Kong 3 (with Stanley as the hero). Later he becomes the hero in the Donkey Kong Country series and several other games. Meanwhile, the protagonist from Donkey Kong, Mario, got his own spin-off series named after himself. Donkey Kong reappears as a villain in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, but this time his opponent Mario is in every one of the games.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 


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