anti hero archetype featured

April 21, 2022

Anti Hero Archetype: The Fundamental Guide


Even if an anti-hero archetype is not to be mistaken for a role model, anti-heroes frequently experience the same sense of justice that a typical hero could feel. In fiction, an anti-hero archetype is a character that is fundamentally broken and conflicted, with a shaky moral compass.

However, it is precisely this fault that lends them realism, complexity, and, at times, even likability. Generally speaking, an antihero is a central figure that does not possess the attributes that the audience would connect with a traditional hero. This is why a pragmatic anti-hero is needed in certain stories.

Anti-heroes are enigmatic protagonists—complex individuals who have a shadowy aspect to their personalities and actions. An antihero is a character who, although having a damaged façade, a history of poor judgments, and even a questionable moral code, is ultimately guided by positive motives. Are you ready to know this archetype better?

We’ve got you covered! In this article, you’ll know more about:

  • How anti-heroes differ from the traditional heroes
  • The difference between an anti-hero to an anti-villain
  • Applying heroic acts and character development to one’s own life
  • Unlocking literary realism with anti-heroism and questionable deeds

What is an Anti-Hero Archetype for you?

As the name implies, an anti-hero archetype is a person who does not possess some of the typical characteristics of a classic hero archetype, such as courage or morality. Despite the fact that their efforts are ultimately honorable, they do not always behave in the best interests of others.

An anti-hero archetype is a person who lacks the conventional heroic attributes of bravery, courage, and morality, as well as the exceptional ability and strives to succeed for the greater good that is associated with heroes. As a result, the antihero is still the main character of the story, but he serves as a counterbalance to the typical hero paradigm.

Originally from Ancient Greek, the term antihero means “against,” while the word “hero” signifies a “protector or defender,” as the prefix “anti” denotes. The fact that Superman, or any other heroic hero, always does the right thing for the right reasons provides a certain level of comfort.

However, there is something captivating about a morally ambiguous protagonist who occasionally does the right thing, and only occasionally for the right reasons – such as Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones. Consider what an anti-hero is and why they’ve become so popular in fiction by delving a little more into the definition of the term.

What is the difference between an anti-hero to an anti-villain?

Despite the fact that the two archetypes are easily mistaken, the difference comes down to the fact that the anti-hero is a character that does the right thing, but not always for the right reasons — and who lacks many of the attributes that we have learned to anticipate from traditional heroes.

The anti-villain is someone who commits the wrong actions, but their motivations are usually honorable — or at the very least sympathetic. We don’t generally link anti-villains with the attributes we associate as being associated with “evil guys.”

Ultimately, if you’re not sure if a character is an anti-hero or an anti-villain, ask yourself the following question: who does the story want readers to cheer for? If a character has moral ambiguity, it is likely that they are the anti-hero. The anti-villain is most likely the ethically ambiguous character who stands in their way.

What is the difference between an Anti-Hero Archetype and a Villain-Protagonist?

Few literary works have been written successfully from the viewpoint of the main character who is entirely irredeemable and morally repugnant.  Some notable exceptions include Humbert Humbert from Lolita, Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, and Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr. Ripley, to name a few examples.

If you’ve read these works until the finish, you’ve probably found yourself on tenterhooks, waiting for the protagonist to be brought to justice. These characters are referred to as “Villain Protagonists” in the literature. They vary from antiheroes in that the author deliberately avoids providing readers with a reason to root for them.

Anti-heroes are characters who are morally ambiguous, yet who we are nonetheless encouraged to root for. A villain protagonist, on the other hand, is a “bad guy” who also happens to be the main character in a narrative.

What are the types of the Anti-Hero Archetype?

#1: The Classic Anti-Hero

Confidence, courage, fortitude, intelligence, attractive appearances, and exceptional fighting prowess are all characteristics of a fictional hero that can be found in fiction. The Classic Anti-Hero is the polar opposite of all of these characteristics: self-doubting, scared, worried, and weak in battle abilities.


Character arcs for anti-heroes are generally characterized by their ability to overcome personal weaknesses in order to defeat the adversary. This type of anti-hero does not necessarily exist on the grayscale of morality; rather, they merely violate the expectations of readers on what constitutes heroism.

#2: The Knight in Sour Armor

When it comes to morality, this hero does a fairly excellent job. Despite the fact that they know what is right and wrong, they are often cynical and do not believe that they can make a difference in the larger scheme of things. They are also referred to as “reluctant heroes” since they do not feel compelled to join the fight against the villain and are more concerned with carrying out their own agenda. It is inevitable that the Knight in Sour Armor will join the conflict, but only when they believe their personal interests are at risk in the outcome of the battle.

Han Solo is a wonderful example of this type of character. Han Solo is a mercenary who is largely motivated by his personal gain at the beginning of the Star Wars franchise’s story. He only agrees to assist in the rescue of Princess Leia because he has been promised a substantial reward by Luke Skywalker.

Han refuses to stay and aid in the assault against the Death Star, believing that the Rebel Alliance is doomed from the start. In the aftermath of his departure, Han returns to the climactic Battle of Yavin, just in time to hear Darth Vader say, “could you not?” In the end, his return helps Luke to safely destroy the Death Star in a safe manner.

#3: The Pragmatic Anti-Hero

We’re now beginning to delve a little deeper into the murky waters of the middle ground. Overall, the Pragmatic Anti-Hero might be thought of as a slightly more sinister variant of the Knight in Sour Armor. They are both, to a certain extent, self-centered and apprehensive about taking on the role of hero.

However, whereas the Knight in Sour Armor is known for being slow to enter combat, this Anti-Hero is more likely to act quickly if they see wrongdoing. The most significant difference is that the Pragmatic Anti-Hero is also willing to engage in some unethical behavior in order to achieve their objectives.

#4: The Unscrupulous Anti-Hero

We’re still in good spirits about our intentions and goals, but we’ve walked into some very muddy seas in terms of behavior. Because of their cynicism, the Unscrupulous Anti-Hero’s motivation to do good is typically clouded by past traumas and a desire for vengeance. Most of the time, they bring down a nasty villain — someone who “had it coming to them.”

When faced with the prospect of bringing this individual to justice with as little blood on their hands as possible, the Unscrupulous Anti-Hero Archetype might turn savage, sometimes even taking pleasure in the acts of violence they have deemed “necessary.”

#5: The Hero Only in Name

Despite the fact that this Anti-Hero Archetype fights on the side of good, their motivations and values are unquestionably bad. They might be morally bankrupt or downright malevolent, and the only thing that makes them redeemable is the fact that they aren’t quite as bad as the antagonist. If only one point of view is presented, the “Villain in Name Only” can be categorized as the hero; conversely, if the story is not presented from the hero’s point of view, the “Villain in Name Only” can be classified as a villain.

Walter White from Breaking Bad is a fantastic example. Throughout the series, Walter White tells himself that he is simply doing it to help his family. While this is initially true, Walter’s ultimate purpose is his desire to rebel against his own mortality. His moral bounds crumble as the lines between “Walter” and “Heisenberg” — his hidden, meth-dealing identity — blur.

Mourning individuals, strangling a child, and witnessing his business partner’s girlfriend’s demise, Walter White may have been the series’ adversary if recounted by Hank or Skylar. Walter begins the episode as a good person: a kind, albeit unfulfilled, parent. His anti-heroic journey begins with his first foe: cancer. Walter’s enemy is cancer, and viewers may sympathize with him as he fights it to the death.

Antihero Examples:

#1: Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is a genius or, as he is described in the BBC modernization, a “high-functioning sociopath,” — who gets bored rapidly. Solving crimes allows him to put his exceptional brain to use in a productive manner. While Holmes may be moved by the idea that his work helps to bring about justice, he is mostly motivated by the novelty and challenge of solving cases.

At the end of each day, Sherlock contributes to the fight against crime. It doesn’t matter whether he is doing it for selfless motives or not; he has dedicated his life to bringing criminals to justice, and he does so in honorable ways. To varying degrees, different versions of Sherlock show his empathetic side; some of these depictions enable the audience to see emotional ties between Sherlock and the crime he solves.

#2: Michael Scott of The Office

Occasionally, Michael makes life extremely difficult for his coworkers at the Dunder-Mifflin paper mill. Throughout the film, he is constantly distracting them with his need for attention and validation. As a result, he ends up making some very questionable decisions that can cause harm to others in order to appear as a hero — you could even classify his need to be liked as the tragic hero’s fatal flaw.

Let’s not forget about the way he handles Toby, who is clearly in distress. While Michael may be tremendously egotistical, clueless of the impact his decisions have on his employees, and downright unpleasant at times, he has a good heart and cares about (most of) the people who work for him and for whom he is responsible.


When faced with significant downsizing, he fights for the survival of his branch and the employment security of those who work there. Viewers root for Michael and pray for his continued self-improvement because he has moments of kindness (such as the bird’s funeral) and because he has moments of kindness.

#3: Tony Soprano of The Sopranos

Tony Soprano has been labeled as an “anti-hero” for a variety of reasons, including being a murderer, robber, con artist, and extortionist, to name a few. In the criminal underworld, he is known as the capo di tutti capi (the “boss of all bosses”). The human side of Tony can be seen in a variety of ways, aside from the fact that he is the main character of the television series.

Things like his unwavering love for his family, his kindness to his friends, and the occasional pang of guilt or moment of vulnerability allow viewers to see Tony’s true self. It is the fact that his adversaries are shown as being far more evil and nefarious than he is, however, that secures his standing as an anti-hero.

#4: Severus Snape of Harry Potter

Severus Snape was not a hero in the traditional sense. He may have died a hero, to be sure, but he was no hero in his own right. He demonstrated to us that he was neither a villain nor a villainous figure. Severus Snape was what we call an Anti-Hero in the Harry Potter universe.

An antihero is a protagonist that lacks the characteristics of a traditional hero, such as idealistic vision, heroism, or morality. Anti-heroes may at times be the individuals who do the ‘right thing,’ but they frequently do so for the ‘wrong reasons’ and because it promotes their own self-interest rather than because they are motivated by moral principles or ideals.

#5: Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby

The lack of agency that an anti-hero possesses prevents them from fulfilling their objectives. The author describes him as “someone who upsets the reader with his vulnerability while yet being sympathetically depicted, and [and] emphasizes the frailties of humanity”. Anti-heroes are relatable characters whose lack of agency prevents them from reaching their goal, and characters such as Jay Gatsby.

An antihero is a central figure who does not possess conventional characteristics that would characterize them as “good.” Despite the fact that he appears to be a wonderful person, Gatsby obtained his fortune by illicit means, he lied to Daisy about his identity, and he maintains an adulterous relationship with her.

Final Word:

We are the main character in our own story. The Anti-Hero Archetype is often a misunderstood, morally grey character that literary realism covers very well.

Do you fall under the Anti-Hero Archetype?

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