The fact is, barbarian heroism has the advantage of a certain clear, solipsistic simplicity; any itchy kid can take up a big sword, pull on a loincloth, and set out to carve his way to glory, and some turn out to be good at it (or just lucky).
No, this isn't about a WWE wrestler.
The Barbarian Hero is the ancient-era Badass, armed with muscles upon muscles and a variety of very sharp bladed objects, whose job it is to kill lots of monsters and kick lots of ass. While he seems to favor Cool Swords (the bigger, the better) he's more likely than other heroes to have An Axe to Grind, Carry a Big Stick, Drop the Hammer or Flail Epically. A Mighty Glacier, or even a Lightning Bruiser, he's able to defeat wizards and giants despite having no magical abilities (in myth, this was often ascribed to divine ancestry). One of The Oldest Ones in the Book, but seems to be coming back into style recently.
This type of character seems to lean more toward the Anti-Hero side of the scale, and he may be the white sheep of an Exclusively Evil Barbarian Tribe. If he is modelled in any way on Genghis Khan, it generally means he will end up becoming King By His Own Hand and generally an example of Modest Royalty. His enemy will often be a Sorcerous Overlord: both an overlord for him to be anti-authoritarian against and an Evil Sorcerer for him to be physical and brave against to emphasise the ideal of combined physical and mental mastery.
Very common trope in popular culture and folklore ever since the Antiquity, and has lately been enjoying a revival.
Part Truth in Television before modern age, for less than intuitive reasons: usually "civilized" urban classes, despite having guaranteed access to better food, schooling and military training, suffered dearly for other flaws of lesser affluent societies than ours. Such as inbreeding pushed to ridiculous levels from King (out of choice) to commoners (out of lack of affordable transport to seek a mate outside village or city) and chronic diseases due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions (like tuberculosis, dysenteria or skin diseases). The barbarian might have had a nasty, brutish and short life due to everyday violence and the need to provide for himself in face of danger, but at least he was far from everyday filth and crowding.
- Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian is the most famous of the Barbarian Heroes and the Trope Codifier, and versions of the character have appeared in every medium, from the original short stories to later novels (new books are still published), several comic book adaptations, the adult-oriented comic magazine Savage Sword of Conan, a live-action television show, a children's cartoon, video games, and three feature films.
- Additionally the character has inspired an entire genre of imitators, ranging from silly Groo the Wanderer to more serious fare like Red Sonja (a female Barbarian Hero).
- In some ways Conan is an Unbuilt Trope. At least the original Howard version who only rarely wore a loincloth (usually to cast off excess weight when he planned to climb something) and was substantially more intelligent and articulate than the stereotype.
Anime and Manga
- Guts from Berserk definitely has a lot of Conan in him, especially in his younger days (Griffith has more than a little Elric of Melnibone in him, thus covering the whole spectrum). Word of God is that Guts is more directly based on Rutger Hauer's character in the movie Flesh and Blood (more mercenary than barbarian). Either way, don't piss him off if you value your life.
- Conan more often than not was a mercenary, so it's not like you can't have two for the price of one.
- The European comic Den has a nerdy Earth male Trapped in Another World where he becomes a musclebound warrior and Chick Magnet. Also likes to be naked.
- Red Sonja
- Claw The Unconquered
- Marvel Comics's Arkon, from his own perspective (and that of his home dimension Polemachus); in-story Values Dissonance means he most often acts as an antagonist to mainstream Earth's superheroes.
- Just about every character in The Warlord comic book. Travis Morgan, a USAF officer from modern-day earth, enthusiastically adopts the lifestyle when he is stranded in Skartaris, eventually becoming its greatest hero.
- Parodied in Thrud The Barbarian, a comic strip that used to run in White Dwarf magazine. Brawn-to-brain ratio indicated by giving him a huge body and a grapefruit-sized head.
- Cerebus was a direct parody of the Barry Windsor-Smith drawn Conan comic books for its first 50 issues.
- Slaine who appeared in 2000 AD.
- Hulk often has shades of this, but most particularly when he was on the sub atomic planet K'ai and later the alien world of Sakaar.
- His son Skaar is a proud example of this, even getting nicknamed "Conan" when he arrives on Earth.
- Marvel's Incredible Hercules.
- Korrek from Man-Thing.
- Ironjaw, from the eponymous comic from the long-defunct Atlas/Seaboard comics. The main character was a barbarian with an iron lower, well, jaw. He didn't get a lot of girls, especially since it was cancelled after 4 issues.
- DC's Arak, Son of Thunder was a Native American whose canoe was washed out to sea as a boy, where he was found and raised by Vikings (they name him Eric, which he at first mispronounces "Arak," and the name sticks). He eventually winds up in the court of Charlemagne.
- Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew had a time traveling canine named Bow-Zar the Barkbarian.
- A monologue describing Marv in Sin City mentions he'd probably be right at home in a role like this. Unfortunately, Marv had the rotten luck of being Born in the Wrong Century where barely civilized, gigantic muscled men with honour codes and propensities for violence are in less demand.
- Also, Frank Miller himself has described Marv as "Conan in a trench coat", making him a rare modern-era barbarian hero.
- Various forms of barbarians appear in Capital One commercials. Whats in your wallet?
- D'Leh from 10,000 BC.
- Amathea (Lana Clarkson) from Barbarian Queen, but not in the sequel.
- Kain (David Carradine) from The Warrior and the Sorceress, a Barbarian Hero version of Yojimbo.
- Mace (Jorge Rivero) in Conquest, easily the most psychedelic Barbarian film ever.
- Deathstalker (Rick Hill) in Deathstalker, but not the sequel (where John Terlesky's Deathstalker is more of a Loveable Rogue or perhaps Magnificent Bastard).
- Mathayus in The Scorpion King.
- Yor, the Hunter from the Future. He's the MAAAAA-AAN!
- Dar from The Beastmaster.
- There's a lot of these in Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
- Cohen the Barbarian is a Deconstruction: as he was never defeated but also can't hold down a steady job as king of any of the kingdoms he conquered, is still barbarian hero-ing in his eighties. His Silver Horde included an eclectic bunch of ancient-but-still-mighty warriors, and an aged geography teacher.
- Nijel the Destroyer, who is over six feet of rippling skin and bone with long underwear under his loincloth.
- The entire race of Nac Mac Feegle, with the possible exceptions of the gonnagle and the kelda.
- The Colour of Magic specifically notes that the Disc's hub is swarming with these types, the two appearing prominently in that book being Bravd (a parody of Fafhrd, below) and Hrun, who are both described as standard models if only slightly more intelligent than the norm.
- There's even a bar for them in Ankh-Morpork, where brawls have a scoring system, and calling yourself "[Name] the Invincible" is considered a form of suicide.
- Fafhrd in Fritz Leiber's stories, although he's kind of a subversion since he was trained as a skald (a singer of poetry) among the Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Vikings he came from and thus has a higher voice and more sensitivity than most of these characters.
- Would that make him a Bard-barian? ...Sorry.
- Kull the Conqueror. One of Robert E. Howard's earlier characters, and would later form the foundation of the man who would become Conan.
- Lin Carter's Thongor of Lemuria novels.
- Grignr from The Eye of Argon (if we use a rather loose definition of 'literature'.)
- Almost every Alom feudal lord in Yulia Latynina's Wei Empire cycle. Especially from the Whitefalcon line, which gives us two especially awesome and Badass Barbarian Heroes - Marbod Whitefalcon in "100 Fields" (who once slaughtered the population of a castle from the inside, while unarmed and naked) and Kissur Whitefalcon (see the Crowning Moment of Awesome entry under literature) in "Wizards and Ministers" and "the Insider".
- Wulfgar, from the Drizzt novels. He actually comes to find that he can't get along in "civilized" society with the rest of the Companions of the Hall, and goes back home to Icewind Dale.
- Beowulf from both the myths and The Movie, although he's actually relatively civilised and wears lots of pretty armour.
- In Jack L. Chalker's River of Dancing Gods series, middle-aged truck driver Joe finds himself reborn in a fantasy world as Joe, the Barbarian! With a mighty sword...Irving!
- The Death Dealer, a novel series based on a series of Frank Frazetta paintings.
- Speaking of Frank Frazetta, the 'modern' depiction of barbarian hero with rippling muscles and oily long hair is essentially his creation, especially thanks to a cover he painted for Robert E. Howard's Conan, copied and/or referenced often by many others afterwards.
- Parodied with Conan the Librarian.
- Achiles in The Iliad is almost the Ur Example.
- Karsa Orlong of The Malazan Book of the Fallen is what happens when this trope meets a whole lot of Values Dissonance and gets dropped into a more traditional fantasy setting. Karsa's not "evil" per say, and certainly sees himself as a Barbarian Hero, but his casual attitude towards rape, murder, and theft do not make him popular with a lot of people in universe. And oh yeah, he thinks that wiping out civilisation is the best way to save humanity from itself.
- Liane the Wayfarer, the protagonist of the eponymous story in Jack Vance's Dying Earth series is a subversion. He's actually a lot like the original Conan, being a cunning Adventurer Archaeologist type, except that he's really more of a villain. He's arrogant, utterly amoral, and has no problem with killing innocents.
- Paul Atreides in Dune after Going Native.
- John Jakes, later famous for his historical novels, had Brak the Barbarian, circa 1968.
- Parodied, like so many other Fantasy tropes, in Mary Gentle's Grunts!. Lord Blond Wolf, is a northern barbarian; complete with wolf-fur boots and cloak, huge blond braids and a really big axe. However, he's only 2' 7".
Live Action TV
- Ensiferum's Wanderer depicts a figure very reminiscent of characters like Conan (With bare hands he has taken many lives/He's had a hundred women by his side) or Guts (But when sun sets and the cold arrives/With crushing solitude in the darkness of night).
- Manowar loves this trope.
- Rhapsody of Fire has the Nordic Warrior in their Emerald Sword Saga.
- Older Than Dirt: Enkidu from The Epic of Gilgamesh. Even Gilgamesh qualifies (despite not technically being a "barbarian" since he came from what was then the most civilized culture on Earth—which wasn't very, back then), especially when he goes out on his wilderness journey.
- Heracles. (Though as with Gilgamesh it's worth remembering that as the son of Zeus and Queen Alcmene of Thebes he has a civilized background in the myths. He ends up wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion later in life not just because it looks cool, but because it's arguably better armor than he could get otherwise.) But he carries a club instead of a blade.
- It's the bronze age, so swords aren't primary weapons yet. And he's superhumanly strong; a sturdy club with decent reach (fashioned from a tree he uprooted himself, if memory serves) may actually make more sense than an axe or spear that could get stuck. He's also explicitly a superb archer.
- The skin of the Nemean Lion could not be pierced by any arrow or spear, so Herc beat it to death with a club, then skinned it using its own teeth/claws. While he is usually depicted with a club, in various myths he used different weapons depending on what he was fighting (sword and torch for the Lernaean Hydra, arrows for the Stymphalian Birds, etc.).
- Bhima, the third Pandava brother in the Mahabharata. He's not The Hero either - his two older brothers are Yudhisthira, The Captain of sorts and paragon of morality and ethical compass to all five brothers, and Arjuna, an outrageously skilled warrior of all forms and a borderline metaphorical god of archery. Bhima just fits here because of his temper and absurd levels of strength (notably ripping apart a man in half by the crotch) and stamina (survived being poisoned just because of his size, and was subsequently nursed to health by the Nagas - increasing his power another tenfold).
- Common trope in Norse Mythology
- Arguably Samson, one of the Judges of Israel. Among his exploits were killing lots of enemies bare-handed, ripping apart a lion bare-handed (and then eating the honey of the bees that took up residence in the carcass of said lion), burning down enemy fields by tying torches to the tails of foxes, killing hundreds of Philistines with just the jawbone of an ass (and then dropping a Bond-style one-liner immediately afterward), picking up the gates of an enemy city and just walking off with them, and finally, collapsing a heathen temple, killing hundreds of Philistines along with himself as one final act of holy badassery.
Table Top Games
- The Barbarian class in all editions of Dungeons & Dragons.
- In 4th Edition Barbarian is one of the "Primal" classes, making it more spiritual in nature, as well as giving some "magical" gimmicks; a high level barbarian may literally turn into a volcano.
- As Exalted is Trope Overdosed, there must of course be examples of this. The most prominent is Yurgen Kaneko, the Bull of the North. Yurgen was an old barbarian warlord who followed the ways of his people and walked out into a snowstorm when it became clear he was getting too old for the battlefield... and while out there, he was chosen by the Unconquered Sun to be one of his great heroes and kick ass in his name. Right now, he's currently giving the Realm one hell of a hard time defending its holdings.
- First Edition suggested that the vast, vast majority of Lunars were such heroes, devoted to smashing the pillars of decadent civilization and bringing humanity back into the toughened fold of the world. This did not meet with much popularity, so it merely became a option for Lunars trying to find an alternative to the extant model of society (and it says a bit that the signature Lunar who's biggest on barbarism, Ma-Ha-Suchi, is just using his "experiment" as a reason to get back at the world 'cause he's not the prettiest anymore).
- Barbarians of Lemuria lives by this trope.
- Rastan is one of the most well-known and archetypical arcade examples, though there are plenty more.
- Both Player Characters in Magic Sword, although Player 1 (Alan) moreso.
- The hero of Black Tiger (who may or may not be be named Black Tiger) is another example.
- Kratos from the God of War games seems to fit the trope, though he's really more of a Heroic Sociopath.
- The Black Whirlwind from Jade Empire is somewhat like this, mixed with Boisterous Bruiser and Ax Crazy. Virtually all his stories end up with him killing everybody in the vicinity, and it's mentioned that, like Marbod Whitefalcon above, he once stormed an entire castle, alone and naked.
- Not to mention drunk.
- To be fair, 99% of what the Black Whirlwind does is apparently done under the influence.
- Many Atari ST games in the late '80s and early '90s had barbarian protagonists, with Targhan, Torvak the Warrior, and Barbarian being prime examples.
- Simon Belmont was depicted this way in his early appearances, as basically Conan with a whip. In fact, the figure and pose of Simon on the original Castlevania cover is taken directly from a Frank Frazetta painting. He's received several [dead link] redesigns since then, but even at his most bishonen-y, Simon still looks like he could rip you in half with his bare hands, unlike many of the later Belmonts.
- Subverted in the case of Gabriel Belmont. He was originally intended as one, but Hideo Kojima advised the production team to refine him to appeal to players better.
- Minsc from the Baldur's Gate series.
- There was to be a Human Barbarian Origins Arc for the Player Character in Dragon Age Origins, but it was removed from the final product because the developers thought its story was not on par with the rest of the origins.
- Barbarian is one of the available classes in both Diablo II and Diablo III.
- The Warrior from the Gauntlet (1985 video game) series fits this trope perfectly. Though the Red variant in Legends and Dark Legacy is the standard version, the other three colors offer different costumes.
- "Grognak the Barbarian" appears as a fictional comic book character in Fallout 3. Finding Grognak comics and reading them will increase your Melee Weapons skill in the game.
- "Barbarian" was a playable class in Ultima III: Exodus. In a subversion of the trope, it was actually the worst character to play the game with, since the game system was very reliant on magic. As in an entire party of Squishy Wizards would get you a lot further than one of Barbarians. That said, an all-Barbarian party is one challenge for the game.
- Rau from The Mark of Kri and Rise of the Kasai is basically Polynesian Conan (the stereotype, not the original). He's even directly addressed as "Barbarian" instead of his name sometimes.
- Gogan, from The Legendary Axe for the TurboGrafx-16.
- Played with in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years: The Man In Black is a toweringly huge man, very strong with very high HP, extremely muscular, a Badass Long Hair, who wears only a kilt and cowl and wields a BFS—heck, said BFS is even called the Cimmerian Blade. However, since he is also Golbez, Anti-Villain of the previous game and Cecil's brother, he is extremely intelligent, highly proficient in magic, and at heart a very good man.
- The main character of NieR in the Gestalt version of the game. In the Replicant version, he's instead a Bishonen.
- In the 1987 side-scrolling fighting game Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior the player controls a barbarian hero on a quest to save a beautiful princess from an evil wizard.
- Ax Battler from Golden Axe, with expys Stern Blade in Revenge of Death Adder and Kain Grinder in Golden Axe III.
- Barbarian is a playable class in the MMORPG Age of Conan. Interestingly, this game makes the barbarian a rogue class with stealth skills rather than a brawling warrior archetype like most games do, as Conan was a thief in a lot of his stories.
- Rose Sub in Trio the Punch is practically a Captain Ersatz of Rastan.
- The short-lived Barbarian Moron series, pretty much Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- In American Barbarian, the title hero and his family.
- In Exiern Typhon-Knee was a typical loin cloth wearing, sword-swinging, over muscled, misogynistic barbarian hero and fully committed to living down to the stereotype. However in the first few panels of the strip a run-in with the Evil Wizard Faden gave him a Gender Bender and now as Tiffany she is struggling to reconcile her views of women and previous adventuring with her new state. It does seem that being a woman has bumped her IQ up a few points though.
- Parodied in Dave the Barbarian, where the main character is a wimp (with a wimpy name) and prefers not to fight, though the image is accurate.
- Played straighter with his little sister Fang. Who is not a monkey!
- Korgoth from Korgoth of Barbaria is a deadpan parody of the trope, specifically parodying Thundarr and Conan.
- Thundarr the Barbarian.
- Darkwolf in Fire and Ice is a straight example of the trope.
- One of the stories in Heavy Metal concerns a nerdy kid who gets transported to a fantasy world in the body of a musclebound barbarian (and the voice of, for some reason, John Candy) named Den.
- An episode of The Fairly OddParents featured Timmy getting transformed into a barbarian thanks to Jorgen.
- The Dungeons and Dragons TV series had Bobby become this.
- He-Man is a strange variation. He spends half the time as a Conan the Barbarian type hero and the other half in his secret identity as Prince Adam, who's closer to King Arthur than to this trope. He switches back and forth with a Captain Marvel type transformation, "By the Power of Grayskull", and fights alongside other Barbarian heroes in the Cyberpunk Barbarian Arthurian World that is Eternia. However, his sister, She Ra Princess of Power, has basically no trace of this trope. Claims that He-Man was based the Conan movie are false.
- Superman actually became one of these briefly in the episode of Justice League, 'Hereafter,' after having been transported to the distant future, where humanity had long since been wiped out, with only Vandal Savage remaining. A red sun hung in the sky, rendering Superman powerless, leaving him to venture forth through the wilderness with only his natural strength (which is still nothing to sneeze at), his wits, a sword he forged himself from an iron bar, and a pack of wolves that followed him once he killed their former pack leader.
- Parodied in Word Girl with the villain Nocan the Contrarian, a barbarian warrior who speaks in opposites.
- Alexander the Great bears more then a few traces of this trope. His personal hero was Achilles, his goal in life was to win glory and become known as a mighty warrior (his own words). And his conquests look less like a monarch carrying out a carefully planned Realpolitic and more like a raider on a rampage, or even like a Great White Hunter on a safari. On the other hand he was cultured and trained by the best scholars. His teacher was Aristotle, in fact; and whenever he found any interesting items on his conquests, he would send them back to his teacher to study.
- Most prominent Viking warriors qualify.