Anti-Hero Archetype

What is an Anti-Hero Archetype?

An anti-hero is a person who is not like a traditional or conventional hero figure. Yet, he is a leading character in the storyline and appears from the beginning to the end. Although it seems that an anti-hero is a person who must be against the hero of the story and that he is a secondary character, it is entirely a false impression. In fact, he/she just lacks some of the conventional qualities of a hero, such as courage, ethical commitment, or idealism. Rather, they have some flaws such as selfishness in certain circumstances, rudeness, or even a little bit of bullying.


Anti-Hero terminology comprises two different words “anti” which means against, and a hero, which is a towering personality having exploits in his/her career to boast about. It seems that the term demonstrates contradictory meanings. It was first used in 1714 in the work Rameau’s Nephew by Denis Diderot in 1761 or 1774. There is no definite date. The book was originally in French. Later, the term was used for Byronic heroes based on the ideals of Lord Byron, a popular English poet.


The term anti-hero as an archetype has undergone various transformations during its long history after it was first used by Diderot in his book. New forms of anti-heroes emerged in the 19th century, such as the Gothic double. Later Dostoyevsky’s Note from Underground presented another type of anti-hero that is entirely different from the main concept. This anti-hero later transformed further through the publication of Huckleberry Finn in 1884 by Mark Twin. It also changed in the next century in 1915 with the publication of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Absurd dramatists, existentialist writers, and the postmodern period have further popularized this term with different archetypes presented in different works.

Character Traits of Anti-Hero Archetype

Anti-Hero archetypes are generally very complex characters due to their having good and bad qualities and equal proclivities to do good or evil. They are not only cynical but also highly intellectual and sometimes defy the formal laws and morals. Their intentions, however, stay always good as they undergo internal struggles between good and bad. The realist approach often brings them to the point of feeling remorse at their own misdeeds even if committed in the way of doing good. They use mostly unorthodox methods to achieve their ends. That is why they are called anti-heroes.

Types of Anti-Hero Archetype

Based on these character traits, anti-hero archetypes have three major types as follows.

  1. Practical Rebel Anti-Hero Archetype: Such types of anti-hero archetypes follow the classical heroes. However, they rebel against the existing ethical frameworks. Yet their intentions are always good.
  2. Immoral Anti-Hero Archetype: Such types of anti-hero archetypes are often self-centered and take their own interests into view before doing anything. They are cynical and view the world through that lens. Yet their intentions are still good even when crossing the boundaries of morality.
  3. Heroic Villian Anti-Hero Archetype: Such types of anti-hero archetypes near villains in features as well as deeds but their actual intentions are always good. They do not want to harm others or their social fabric. Therefore, they stay anti-hero archetypes and do not become villains.

Difference Between an Anti-hero and Villain or Antagonist

The major difference between an anti-hero and a villain is that both have the power as well as the intention to commit bad deeds or do good. However, the anti-hero archetype either commits evil to bring good or avoids it, while a villain always commits evil with intentions. The second difference is that an anti-hero crosses a line that he has set for himself only when he sees it inevitable for the greater good of the world. However, a villain does not consider any such line prohibited and crosses even the most sacred lines without any qualm. The third difference is that an antagonist intends to thwart the tasks or intentions or works of a hero, while an anti-hero does not do so and always helps a hero if there is any.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

The Millenium by Steig Larsson and David Lagercrantz

Steig Larsson’s series, The Millenium, features Lisbeth Slander as a female anti-hero. She does not seem a girl when she becomes furious after she sees incessant attacks on her people as well as on her. She displays the qualities of an anti-hero when she does everything that falls outside the existing moral framework as the police are after him, suspecting her of the murder of Svensson and his girlfriend. Even David Lagercrantz also involves Lisbeth in such acts, and yet her intentions are always good. Therefore, she is a good anti-hero example in literature.

Example #2

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

Although Robin Hood does not seem to be a villain, he is not a hero either. He is rather a good example of an anti-hero who robs other people and gives that wealth to the poor. This way of helping the poor seems good but still, it is immoral as well unethical as the rich have had to pay without undergoing a fair trial. Therefore, Robin Hood seems an anti-hero who commits a bad deed of robbing the people yet harbors good intentions of helping the poor section of his people. Despite this, he breaks the laws, an act that is not considered legitimate.

Examples in Movies

Example #1

Orange is the New Black by Laura Prepon

This Netflix series has been prepared by Laur Prepon, presenting the character of Alex Pearl Vause. She is a fictional character. She proves her forthrightness as well as pragmatism as she is arrested for running a drug cartel with her lover, Champman. She passes the rest of her days in the prison with him, demonstrating her wit as well as vulnerability. Due to her leading role in different seasons of the series, she is termed an anti-hero as she has good intentions, but she does not commit good deeds.

Example #2

Batman, DC Comics, by Dylan Clark

Although Batman fights against the Riddler for killing the city mayor and others and chases him after he leaves specific messages for him after every murder, he defines laws at several points. He mostly comes to these points when Riddler forces him. His motivation, actually, comes from his own grief; the death of his parents. That is why he is called an anti-hero and proves a good example to refer to.

Examples in Comics

Example #1

Punisher from Marvel Comics

This fictional anti-hero appears in Marvel Comics, created by Gerry Conway and John Romita with Ross Andru. Although the title suggests that Punisher wants to punish those who commit crimes, he is also involved in all types of crimes, and yet his intentions are always good. His one-man war against crimes makes him a hero, but due to these flaws in his character, he has been termed an anti-hero.

Example #2

Wolverine from Marvel Comics

Although termed a super hoer, Wolverine is an anti-hero who fights against the Weapon-X program and yet comes down to applying his ferocity due to being an animal. Although his intentions are always good, he has been termed an anti-hero as he has almost all the anti-hero features given above. He has also appeared in several Marvel movies such as Marvel, Ultimate Marvel, and X-Men series but has appeared as an anti-hero.