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Nowadays, an Anti-Hero is usually thought of as a Badass, bitter, misanthropic, violent, sociopathic, angry person (see Nineties Anti-Hero). However, this is actually a recent invention. For much of history, the term antihero referred to a character type that is in many ways the opposite of this.
In Classical Mythology and earlier mythology, the hero tended to be a dashing, confident, stoic, intelligent, highly capable fighter and commander with few, if any, flaws. The classical antihero, as the title suggests, is the inversion of this. Where the hero is confident, the antihero is plagued by self-doubt. Where the hero is a respected fighter, the antihero is mediocre at best. Where the hero gets all the ladies, the antihero can't even get the time of day.
In short, while the traditional hero is a paragon of awesomeness, the classical antihero suffers from flaws and hindrances. The classical antihero's story tends to be as much about overcoming his own weaknesses as about conquering the enemy.
As time has gone on, this portrayal has become increasingly popular, as readers enjoy the increased depth of story that comes from a flawed and conflicted character. Hence, the classical antihero has to some extent replaced the traditional hero in the minds of readers as the idea of what a hero should be. It is nowadays rare to find a hero who does not have at least a little of the classical antihero in him.
- Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion, who saves the day several times in spite of all the mental problems.
- Rock (and Benny) from Black Lagoon. The same can't be said for the other members of the Lagoon Company, though, who are pretty much Villain Protagonists.
- Nozomu Itoshiki of Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei. AKA Mr. Despair, he is constantly attempting suicide and angsting about the most ridiculous of things. Interestingly, he isn't an example of This Loser Is You, as he's very good looking, intelligent, and comes from a very wealthy (if bizarre) family. In fact, the irony of his character is that he acts the way he does despite having these advantages.
- Tatsuhiro Satou of Welcome to The NHK is a highly unstable NEET who places all of the blame for his highly unstable life on a conspiracy organization known to him as the NHK.
- Renton Thurston in Eureka Seven, who eventually graduated into a proper hero.
- In Twentieth Century Boys, Kenji starts as this.
- Yukiteru Amano of Mirai Nikki starts out as as one.
- Kei Kurono from Gantz. He gets better.
- The protagonist of The Tatami Galaxy, who is something of a Zetsubou-sensei Expy, and is described in some promotional matterials as a "not-so-lovable loser".
- Saji Crossroads, Shinji Ikari's Expy of sorts, during the second season of Mobile Suit Gundam 00. He gets better.
- Usopp from One Piece is pretty much this in the beginning and mostly in the Water 7/Enies Lobby arc.
- Mr. Satan from Dragon Ball
- Vincent Law/Ergo Proxy of Ergo Proxy early on. He gets better and advances to a Type II.
- Kou Uraki of Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory.
- Akitsu Masanosuke from House of Five Leaves is a classical anti-hero, being an overly humble samurai with no self-esteem.
- Natsume from Natsume Yuujinchou is a Socially Awkward Hero with no self-confidence about people and a tendency to alienate what friends he does make by constantly lying to them to avoid causing a fuss.
- Rodney Dangerfield's entire shtick.
- Early Spider-Man, explicitly designed to be the first superhero with personal and internal conflicts besides super-villains and criminals.
- Dylan Dog.
- Dave from Kick-Ass.
- Donald Duck
- Wikus van der Merwe of the film District 9.
- Most of the protagonists in Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse qualify.
- Sgt. Neil Howie in the original version of The Wicker Man.
- Napoleon Dynamite.
- The portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network teeters between this and Villain Protagonist.
- The eponymous character of Monty Python's Life of Brian, which makes all the funnier the fact that he is repeatedly mistaken for The Messiah.
- Megamind in the movie of the same name. Yes, he's a supervillain, but he's our protagonist and he fits this to a T, especially as his character *ahem* develops through the movie.
- Evelyn Waugh's first novel, Decline and Fall, has Butt Monkey protagonist Paul Pennyfeather who is one of these in the way he is rather a pushover taken advantage of by the other characters.
- Discworld's Rincewind as an inept wizard and Dirty Coward/Lovable Coward who is the Butt Monkey of the universe. He's noticed it himself.
- The narrator of Notes from the Underground is one of these, as is Franz Kafka's Josef K-.
- Gilbert Norrell of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, while a skilled magician, is a humorless and petty character who is far from evil enough to be an Evil Sorcerer, but also far from sympathetic (or interesting) enough to be a traditional hero.
- John Le Carre's spymaster George Smiley is like this as a contrast to James Bond, living in the more cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, and as opposed to Bond being stylish and a Chick Magnet, Smiley dresses poorly and is a cuckold.
- Lily Bart from Edith Wharton's House of Mirth. Let's see: fails at anything and everything she tries her hands at? Check. Only ever succeeds at alienating the few people who genuinely do care about her? Check. Is a whiny, insufferable Jerkass with an entitlement complex bigger than Brazil? Check. Dies at the end? Check.
- Lola from Kit Whitfield's Benighted is pathetic, self-loathing and self destructive, turning away from or turning on anyone who might help her.
- Mick "Brew" Axbrewder from Stephen R. Donaldson's Man Who series, a self-pitying alcoholic who makes Thomas Covenant look like Binky the Clown.
- Linden Avery in the second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant trilogy. Becomes a more standard heroine in the third trilogy. Stephen Donaldson is very fond of taking classical antiheroes and transforming them.
- Flinx of the Humanx Commonwealth series. He just wants the universe to let him be. Too bad he's The Chosen One and The Call Knows Where You Live, not to mention that he has a hidden romantic streak and a not-so-hidden streak of curiosity that constantly gets him into trouble.
- Amir, the narrator of The Kite Runner starts out as a coward hiding from his past but grows throughout the story and is redeemed to become a 'true' hero.
- David Levin of Everworld. He improves as time goes on.
- Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre.
- Jason of the Argonautica.
- Dave Lister, Cat and Arnold J. Rimmer from Red Dwarf start out like this, although Rimmer is both a neurotic loser and a smeghead. Lister once goodnaturedly described himself as a "bum", while Rimmer would call him a lazy slob. Cat was vain, self-centered to the point of callousness, and not very smart... not surprising given that his species had evolved from a single, pregnant female housecat 3 million years ago (imagine the inbreeding), and even other cats considered him a moron. All three became more competent in the course of the series, but they never quite lost their essential quirks, their good qualities (such as Lister's selflessness and sense of fairness) merely became more pronounced. Or, in the case of Arnold Rimmer, who had no redeeming qualities, Rimmer had a run-in with his Alternate Universe counterpart "Ace" Rimmer.
- Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman. A little, pathethic man, broken by his chase after a dream that isn't true.
- Woyzeck from the eponymous play is considered the first true Antihero, as opposed to the classic tragic hero.
- Everyone but Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross qualifies, but with particular attention paid to Shelly Levene.
- Hamlet was conflicted and emotional before it was cool.
- Travis Touchdown, of No More Heroes, a porn-obsessed Otaku without anything resembling a social life. He's also an Evil Antihero, however, eagerly slaughtering opponents and rarely showing any remorse for his killings.
- Raiden is largely considered to be this in Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty, though he becomes more of a Jerkass Antihero in Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots.
- Lester the Unlikely from the SNES game of the same name starts out as such a wimp that even turtles scare him. He does become more heroic about halfway through the game, however.
- Almaz from Disgaea 3 Absence of Justice.
- Cloud Strife of Final Fantasy VII, although he pretends to be a prick.
- Commander Shepard can show shades of this in Mass Effect 2 given the potential to fail multiple loyalty missions and get most of your squad killed through poor choices during the suicide mission.
- This grows more obvious in Mass Effect 3. Shepard grows increasingly distraught and frustrated over his/her inability to do significant damage to the Reapers and save everybody. After the fall of Thessia, Shepard briefly goes through a Heroic BSOD and teeters on the verge of the Despair Event Horizon; even Paragon dialogue options are cynical.
- James Sunderland of Silent Hill 2 is easily one of these.
- Megatokyo's Piro probably fits. He's getting better, though.
- Raimi and Kamimura from Broken Saints.
- The "Knights of Good" from The Guild, except Tinkerballa.
- Aquerna, of the Whateley Universe. She is one of the Whateley Academy Underdogs, with laughable powers that make her a campus joke. She has self-esteem problems, and is no longer welcome in her own home since she turned into a mutant. Her combat final story and her Christmas story are all about her personal life and her personal problems, even if some action intrudes into the plot.
- Scooby Doo and Shaggy.
- Philip J. Fry from Futurama.
- Cody and Sierra Total Drama World Tour. First season, Cody was a standard hero, but developed less heroic traits in the third season.