Sam Winchester: Yeah. Good luck killing Death. (beat) Remember when we used to just...hunt wendigos? How simple things were?
A sub-trope of the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. That trope is about when individual villains become So Last Season as the heroes start facing new, more powerful enemies. This trope is about when this happens to an entire breed of villains.
For example, suppose there's a TV series called Spirit Hunters where a team of paranormal investigators travel around the country fighting malicious ghosts. This lasts them for two or three seasons, but after a while the ghosts start to get a little dull and repetitive, so the writers decide to shock the audience and have what looked like an ordinary haunting turn out to be a demonic possession. The demon adversary is more vicious, more dangerous, and has lots of cool Hellfire special effects surrounding it. The audience loves it.
So, as the series goes into season four, the Spirit Hunters start facing more and more demons, maybe even fighting against a demon Big Bad. It eventually gets to a point where there are only a couple episodes each season dealing with ghosts; the rest of the time it's demons, demons, demons. And stay tuned for the season finale, where our heroes fight Lucifer himself!
Congratulations ghosts, you've just been replaced by bad guys with a higher Villain Pedigree.
Since the examples on this page necessarily detail most of or the entire run of their series and what villain later gets replaced by whom, beware of spoilers.
- Particularly obvious in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, since the nature of the Big Bads changes with each part of the story. In Part 1, "Phantom Blood", the Big Bad is vampire Dio Brando, who's created an army of zombie Mooks. In Part 2, "Battle Tendency", vampires have been relegated to Mook status, while the Pillar Men (the creators of vampires, and far more powerful) take on the role of main antagonists. In Part 3, "Stardust Crusaders", Dio (still a vampire) returns as the Big Bad, but almost all of his vampire abilities are ignored in favor of a new fighting system based on "Stands", and almost all of his underlings are humans who also possess the Stand ability. And from Part 4 onward, vampires and all related beings are completely absent, with human Stand users being the only villains.
- At the start of Dragon Ball, pretty much all villains were either wild animals or human beings (well, human beings and whatever the hell Pilaf was). However, starting with the Demon King Piccolo arc, there were pretty much no human characters left who could give Goku a challenge, so Akira Toriyama made all future Big Bads demons, aliens, androids, or something equally inhuman. Almost any conflict between Goku and a human martial artist after that point is a downright humiliating Curb-Stomp Battle.
- Ordinary hollows are the worst threat in the early stages of the story. Then this is ramped up when it's revealed there are giant versions of hollows called Menos Grande that only the Royal Guard are supposed to handle. Turns out Rukia's textbooks were wrong: any high seated officers can handle Menos Grande if they're Gillian level and captains and lieutenants can handle Adjuchas levels. Only the Vasto Lord level of Menos Grande gives captains trouble.
- The Espada were modified arrancar of post-Menos Grande level, introduced to make the threat of the shinigami captain in the Soul Society arc look minor by comparison.
- The Vandenreich threat has been introduced in a way that makes the previous Espada threat look extremely weak. It's even lampshaded in-universe when one quincy captain easily defeats some Aizen's arrancar and complains that Aizen's followers were weak.
- Likewise, in Buso Renkin, the original monsters were human-eating monstrous homunculi. Eventually it got to the point where our heroes could beat a whole horde of them and still have enough energy to face the Big Bad and hold their own. It was at that point that no new homunculi characters were introduced, and the villains became humans with Buso Renkin themselves, and way more fighting experience.
- The Magical Girl type Monsters of the Week in Lyrical Nanoha were quickly regulated to easily-dealt-with distraction status by the half-way point of the first season as the series moved to battles against other mages and knights, armies of Anti-Magic-protected Mecha-Mooks, and different kinds of Super Soldiers. When one such monster showed up in the first Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers Sound Stage, it was treated as something for the rookies to practice what they learned in training on.
- Mai-HiME starts with natural Orphans as the basic monsters, then progresses to Searrs-made Orphans, then Searrs troopers proper, before culminating with each other.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: The first arc features Beastmen as the main antagonists piloting their mecha. After Lordgenome is defeated and the Beastmen make a HeelRace Turn, the Anti-Spiral steps up as the main antagonist, and he uses Eldritch Abominations to combat the heroes.
- Superman, as well as most other superheroes created during The Golden Age of Comic Books, started off their careers fighting ordinary human criminals, Nazi soldiers or even just factory owners who didn't treat their employees right. Having a superhero fight an equally powerful supervillain was originally a rare, though very exciting, event. It wasn't until the Silver Age that superhero/supervillain conflicts became the staple of superhero comics.
- Some of the Silver Age villains that Daredevil fought have been forgotten or turned into a Harmless Villain when Daredevil became Darker and Edgier in the 80s, especially when Bullseye and Kingpin became Daredevil's Arch-Nemesis. Some villains like Mr. Fear and Purple Man have been updated to fit this new Dark Age, but others, especially Stilt-Man, have been left behind.
- Lone Wolf: The Drakkarim, fierce evil warriors wearing death masks, are more or less the same power level throughout the series, but Lone Wolf keeps getting better and they become less and less able to oppose him. In the "Kai" books, a single Drakkar can put up a good fight. In the "Magnakai" series, Drakkarim are only a real challenge if they attack in a group. In the "Grand Master series", they're completely out of their league: the only Drakkar that can still put up a fight against Lone Wolf is their War God in Book 20, and Lone Wolf can still kick his ass and throw him into a lava pit.
- When Timothy Zahn kicked off the Star Wars Expanded Universe, his bad guys were Imperials trying to recover the territory lost to the Rebellion/New Republic after the Emperor died. Almost the entire Bantam era has, as its villains, the remains of the Empire, as well as occasional offshoots. A few times strange aliens were fought instead, and nearly every author felt they had to spring a Superweapon Surprise, but it was nearly always New Republic versus Empire. In the Hand of Thrawn duology which capped the Bantam era, the battered but proud Imperial Remnant signs a peace treaty with the New Republic. Stories set before that point may still have Imperial villains; stories set past that point may have offshoot Imperials, but these days there are fewer books with either. Now strange new aliens are the go-to bad guys, from extragalactic sadistic masochists to hiveminded bugs controlled by evil burn victims to, most lately, Cthulhu. Again, there are exceptions like all Clone Wars and earlier books, and one series had a civil war, but strange new Scary Dogmatic Aliens seem to be the current menace.
- And Sith- mustn't forget the Sith. They really started out as extra special, extra dangerous villains, but now they're everywhere- Legacy and Legacy of the Force had Sith Big Bads, while Knights of the Old Republic and Fate of the Jedi have Sith among their villains in various ways (not to mention anything set during the clone wars or the Galactic Civil War will have Darth Sidious/the Emperor as Big Bad by default). Of course, the Sith are certainly Scary and Dogmatic, even if they aren't all aliens, so they could also be said to fit in with the above as well...
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Angel:
- Buffy was never limited to just fighting vampires, but, for the first couple seasons, vampires were the Big Bads and represented a serious threat to Buffy. The third season changed this by having a non-vampire Big Bad who used vampires as minions. By the fourth season, the series could have been accurately renamed Buffy the Demon Slayer, with vampires simply one of many demon species (and pretty low on the demonic totem pole at that). During the last three seasons, there were usually only a couple vampire-centric episodes each year; the rest of the time these formerly main villains were used as punching bags whom the good guys could kill off when nothing important was going on. The last season made a nod towards the title by having the villain command a legion of, essentially, super-vampires. After the first one they were still pretty easy to kill.
- In the Angel "season 6" comics, Angel doesn't know why he still carries a stake after W & H sent LA to Hell. "Remember when vampires were our biggest problems?" Wesley retorts that vampires were only their biggest problem when Angel himself went bad.
- Charmed changed its Villain Pedigree fast. When the series started, while many different kinds of supernatural villains would turn up, the principle baddies the Charmed Ones were supposed to face were warlocks, evil witches who steal the powers of good witches. However, by the end of the very first season the main warlock antagonists had been killed off, and a pair of demons ended up taking center stage during the season finale. Warlocks would still appear after this, but far less frequently as time went by, while demons would appear more and more often. By the end they made up something like 90% of all bad guys on the show.
- Warlocks were heavily featured for the first three seasons of Charmed but by the end of the 8 seasons, warlocks hadn't shown up since two seasons before.
- When Doctor Who began, many of the stories centered around the TARDIS crew landing in an otherwise ordinary Earth setting and lacked any real Sci-Fi elements beyond the TARDIS crew; for example, the first serial dealt with one member of a tribe of cavemen trying to usurp power from another. After the first couple of Doctors, however, such human villains were largely displaced, and every storyline was obligated to feature some sort of alien presence or something, though human Corrupt Corporate Executives, Mad Scientists, President Evils and General Rippers continued to pop up and still do.
- Smallville, for a long, long while, kept its villains limited to two simple categories: normal human beings (usually with access to Green Rocks), and people who were granted superhuman abilities by those Green Rocks. It wasn't until the fourth season that a few villains started turning up with non-kryptonite based abilities. This jumped up a notch in season five, when Brainiac (an alien-built robot) was made the Big Bad and a few evil Kryptonians showed up to hassle Clark. The number of alien adversaries has only increased from there, with meteor freaks, once the staple villains on the show, reduced to a handful of appearances. However, since the alien baddies are usually able to go toe-to-toe with Clark physically, rather than getting taken down with one punch, most fans haven't complained. Particularly as the sheer number of people in this small town who gained superpowers was making it implausible that people wouldn't learn Clark Kent was from Smallville and immediately think: I wonder if he has superpowers.
- Stargate SG-1 First there's the Goa'uld, who have their own Sorting Algorithm of Evil. But eventually they lose place to more formidable villains like The Replicators or The Ori, by the end of the show the Goa'uld are almost finished and a Goa'uld plot is more seen like a minor break from bigger story arcs involving meaner villains.
- With Supernatural, the example in the trope definition is a spot-on description of what happened to the Demons in the series.
- When the series began, Demonic Possession was a pretty big deal, and just one demon caused them considerable grief. By season 4, demons still cause them grief, but only the leaders. The bog-standard "black-eyes" are hardly the threat they were before. Ghosts, moreso.
- In season 5, the demons have had this happen to them with Angels having a higher Pedigree. The new Big Bad is then a Fallen Angel (rather, THE Fallen Angel) and there's all those other angels trying to bring about the end of days.
- Season 7 goes yet another step further, retiring angels to replace them with even older, angel-killing Leviathans, so the pedigree goes: Ghosts < Demons < Angels < Leviathans. Though the Leviathans eventually turn out to be a subversion of this trope, as despite their hype their main abilities seem to be limited to shapeshifting and Nigh-Invulnerability, and they have a Weaksauce Weakness in the form of borax. Despite being able to kill the Angels (or at least the weaker ones), they're almost certainly weaker than the also nigh invulnerable, face-melting, reality-warping, time traveling, dead-resurrecting, dimension teleporting celestials, and if it weren't for the below-mentioned one-hit-kill knife, would probably be rivaled by demons. If the angels weren't busy dealing with the aftermath of their civil war, they'd probably still be running the show on Earth. It also gets straight-up inverted at the end of season 7, as the Demons dispatch the entire Leviathan army by themselves in short order after the Winchesters killed the Levi leader.
- Season 11 introduces a villain who genuinely upstages the Angels, namely God's destructive "sister" Amara/The Darkness. She is virtually omnipotent and possesses every power he does and more, to the point where even Lucifer (one of the few Archangels left) is forced to team up with the Winchesters to stand up to her. However, killing her is not an option, since this would destroy reality.
- There's also the manner in which demons are disposed of. In the early seasons, the brothers have to do lengthy exorcisms to get rid of one, and that only sends it back to Hell for a time, free to come back anytime. The McGuffin in the first season is a special, unique gun that can kill a demon permanently. The catch is that the gun has only 6 bullets - the brothers can't afford to miss. It's the only thing in the world that can kill a demon. They tell us so. Repeatedly. That is, until they're given a knife that does just that, whenever they want. And shortly thereafter the gun gets modified to fire as many bullets as they like. It gets even worse when Sam learns how to exorcise or even kill a demon with his mind. Demons were retired for Lucifer after Sam killed the first and presumably one of the, if not the, most powerful demons, by pointing at her. Yeah, they kind of had to switch up at that point. Lampshaded when, in the season 4 episode "In The Beginning", Dean goes back in time and is called crazy for suggesting they try to kill a demon. By season 4, Dean and Sam had already racked up a considerable demon body count.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, humanoid enemies like goblins, orcs, and kobolds only remain challenging for the first few levels (unless they have class levels or belong to Tucker).
- Tabletop systems using point-buy statistics or a challenge-rating chart are usually doing it specifically to avert this trope. After all, no one's going to rush out to buy an expansion manual or module where the opponents are already well below the player characters' level.
- This is a common trope in video games in general. The new areas that the player goes through usually bring with them new types of enemies that may gradually replace the ones of previous areas.
- Kingdom Hearts:
- Kingdom Hearts I begins the series with The Heartless, shadow creatures that are Always Chaotic Evil and destroying worlds in order to devour hearts and create more of themselves. They are all lead by a human-shaped Heartless who is the game's Big Bad.
- While The Heartless are still around, the next three games in the saga, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts II, and Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, all deal with the Nobodies, more powerful creatures that are seeking hearts in order to become human again. The different types of Nobodies are led by Organization XIII, a group of human shaped Nobodies who are the Big Bad Ensemble for this trilogy.
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep introduces the Unversed as main enemies because the game is a prequel. They come complete with their own human-shaped Unversed leader...who is The Dragon to the fully human Big Bad. Both can also wield the Keyblade, the same special weapon as the protagonists, meaning they themselves become a fourth pedigree to the series.
- In the mediocre Warhammer 40,000 FPS Fire Warrior, you start out fighting Imperial Guardsmen. After some point you start going up against Space Marines. Later still, with an Enemy Mine in place, you move on to Chaos Space Marines and other servants of Chaos. You won't be fighting any more Guardsmen by then.
- Also in the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, Orks are at the bottom of Dawn of War's totem pole.
- Similarly in the strategy game Rites of War your Eldar will first fight some Imperial units, but eventually they'll ally with you to fight a Tyranid invasion.
- In the Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, the player starts by fighting the villain's simple mercenary armies. However, in the second half of the game the mercenaries are replaced by monstrous Elite Mooks from the villain's own race who can phase in and out of matter.
- In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night when the player gets to the inverted castle and is vastly more powerful, many of the regular mobs are actually the bosses from the first castle.
- While The Order of the Stick has kept the same Big Bad and Dragon for its entire run (so far), the level of enemy Mooks has gotten raised, with Xykon replacing all of his goblin soldiers with the stronger, more militant hobgoblins. Justified by the fact that between the Order itself and the Dungeon of Dorukan exploding, Xykon probably lost most, if not all, of his goblin army. Also justified in terms of plot mechanics — since the heroes are gaining XP and getting stronger every time they fight, the mooks they're pitted against have to get tougher too, or the whole balance of the world will be thrown off.