Become a Real Boy

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Well, I just think that the concept of chi might be a little hard for her to grasp. She's not the descendant of a long line of mystical warriors, she's the descendant of a toaster oven."
Anya, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Bargaining, Part One"

So, you've got your Artificial Human grown in the tank, or just put together your Robot Girl with an assembly kit. Unfortunately, your creation is not a ridiculously human robot, and thus, predictably, they have all the emotional range of a tuning fork. Robo Speak is a common manifestation of such emotional paralysis.

Not to worry, though! While in reality, socialization and emotional stability are the product of years and years of interaction with other people, in the world of fiction, all a robot or Artificial Human needs to become a functioning, well-balanced, emotionally resonant member of society is the proper life-altering event.

Much as any protagonist generally works out any personal issues and neuroses they may have over the course of an otherwise unrelated story, any emotionally-stunted individual, or creature conventionally incapable of emotion, will discover what it means to be human in their journey alongside the other heroes. That this may defy their programming, their lack of a soul, or other such assumed limits is entirely besides the point—it appears robots and clones are socialized like real people, only much faster.

Often, such a journey involves extreme violence and the simplistic black-and-white morality of "them vs. us". The fact that this bears no resemblance whatsoever to daily life almost never comes up. (One can only imagine the difficulties such characters will encounter when they are placed within a situation where you can't solve any problem with the proper application of violence.)

One also has to wonder if any such individuals later regret their humanization. Humanity Ensues, of course.

This is a common Anime plot, and also appears in a number of Western Movies.

Compare Pinocchio Syndrome. See also Just a Machine. A Living Toy born out of Love Imbues Life may seek this.

Contrast Mechanical Lifeforms, who start out with the same emotional range as their organic counterparts. Contrast Trans Nature, for when the creature trying to become human wasn't an artificial human.

Examples of Become a Real Boy include:

Anime and Manga

  • Despite Astro Boy being frequently compared with Pinocchio, he himself rarely expresses a desire to become a real boy (which is somewhat ironic, considering he was originally a Replacement Goldfish for a real boy). In fact, on the few occasions he does get upgrades to become more human-like, he ends up regretting it and comes to the conclusion that being the best robot he can be is more important than being more like a human. This trope is played somewhat straight in the story of Zolomon's Jewel in the manga, which features L-44, a robot who signs up for a dangerous mission that ends up costing him his life because he wants to earn enough money to pay for a nanomachine treatment that will supposedly turn him into a human. Also subverted in that the villain of the piece is trying to steal the titular jewel so he can pay for an operation to become a cyborg.
  • Chobits
  • Subverted in Dragonball Z in regards to Android 18. When Krillin wishes to Shen Long for her to become fully human, he is unable to, so Krillin wishes for the bomb in her body to be removed instead. Technically, 18 (and 17, her twin brother) is a cyborg, so her human parts are intact (hence, Marron), whereas Androids such as 16, 19, and number 8 from the original Dragonball, are purely robotic.
  • In the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, as part of the world becoming "normal", Yuki goes from The Stoic Robot Girl to a regular Shrinking Violet human girl. This was, in fact, a result of Yuki's spontaneous development of emotions, since she was responsible for altering reality in the first place.
    • She did it exactly because she had no emotions from the start, which made her confused, angered and angsty, that the reaction was a rampage of highest degree. At least that is what Kyon tells us.
  • Subverted in the anime Ergo Proxy, where the robots who become self-aware do typically come to regret it; in fact, the most common reaction to Becoming A Real Boy is a violent psychotic breakdown from crash-course existential angst and the inability to reconcile their new sapience with a lack of life experience.
  • Subverted in Mobile Suit Gundam 00. As an Innovator, Tieria Erde was created to be a tool in Aeolia Schenburg's grand plan for humanity. Over the course of the series he falls in love, gains a surrogate family, and learns to follow his own will instead of blindly obeying his creator. Yet eventually he stops living in denial about his true nature, and sacrifices his biological body in order to upload his consciousness into the supercomputer VEDA. In the end, Tieria finds fulfillment as a thinking, feeling, fully sentient AI, rather than as a human.
  • Jiro in the anime Kikaider is motivated by an incomplete concience circuit to try and achieve what his creator envisioned as what is required to be "human." However, the ending of the story twists what the audience might expect as the final goal of Jiro, and states that Jiro succeeds in becoming "a real boy" when he becomes capable of killing the opposing Mad Scientist who tried to turn him into a heartless killing machine. In other words, humans must be capable of both good AND evil, and they must possess free will.
  • Aiko from Magical Pokaan longs for a human body. She almost gets it at one point.
  • Chachamaru from Mahou Sensei Negima goes through this rather quickly, as she already has the emotions programmed in; she just doesn't know what they are called. This is because she's approximately two years old and her "parents" are a Mad Scientist and a vampire, not the most ideal choice for social role models. She's amazingly well-adjusted regardless.
    • She later goes through it again, briefly angsting over whether or not she has a soul. Turns out she does indeed have a soul, as evidenced by the fact that her Pactio with Negi worked. She did have to, ahem, work a little harder for it than normal though.
  • Seira in the Pure arc of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, more so in the manga, has to journey along with Lucia (at least in spirit) and learn the different aspects of love before she can be "born". This is asked of Lucia before Seira's heart is shattered and absorbed, and even as she gets them back on a cliche journey, Seira continues to observe and gain the feelings she needs.
  • Ghost in the Shell is all about the nature of the "human self" and what remains of it when the original body and brain gets increasingly replaced by cybernetic machines and computer programms. In the slighty dystopian future most characters strugle with maintaining their "humanity" in a society based on apathy, indifference, and decadence. In Stand Alone Complex they are contrasted with the Tachikoma, which are completely mechanical beings with purely digital AIs that never had a soul to begin with, and completely subvert this trope. They are fully aware that they are machines and incapable of having a "ghost", which makes the nature of the "human self" all the much more fascinating and interesting to them. They are almost constantly debating amongst each other about the unique nature of humans, which can not be defined scientifically and therefore lies completely outside their own experience. But at the same time their personalites are defined by the amazement and curiosity about the world, their child-like joy of life, compassion and self-sacrifice that people have mostly lost, making them much more human than the actual humans, but are completely oblivious about it.
    • There's also Kim in Innocence, who regards machines as perfect and wants to eventually become like one. It's very complicated.
  • Saati of A.I. Love You runs off a feedback function that works with her interface (environment), so she continuously learns more. And she wants to be like a real girl for Hitoshi. In the last volume, Hitoshi, upon seeing her bleed from an injury, explains that she basically has become human, because she wanted to be one. However, Saati decided to return to being an A.I. to rescue her siblings.
  • Arguably the entire point of Key the Metal Idol. However, the trope is subverted and deconstructed, like many others in the series, when it is revealed that Key is a human the entire time.

Comic Books

  • The Marvel Comics character, The Vision, has fluctuated in his emotional state many times over the years. Usually a writer will get him to nearly Become a Real Boy and a later one will reverse. Usually this is done by destroying the android's body and rebuilding him.
  • In Fables, the Pinocchio story is a Be Careful What You Wish For. He became a real boy. And he has remained a real boy for the hundreds of years since then. Now he wishes he was a real adult.
  • Amazo, the Red Tornado and the android Hourman have at various times tried to become more 'human'.
  • One Silver Age Superman story had Sufficiently Advanced aliens transform one of Superman's robots into a superpowered flesh-and-blood human being with free will, but the robot ended up Heroically Sacrificing himself to save the day before the story's end.


  • Steven Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
  • Short Circuit: Johnny Five.
  • The various Terminator protagonists in Terminator 2 and 3.
  • Used and eventually subverted in the Child's Play series. The premise of the first film is a serial killer who uses voodoo to transport his soul into a children's doll. For most of the series, he's trying to find another body to jump into. However, in the fifth film, he discards the idea. He decides that as "Chuckie" he's become an icon and that he never needs to worry about getting sick or old.
    • One of the reasons he wants to Body Surf to begin with is that the more time he spends in the body of the doll, the more human he becomes, so he's effectively undergoing this trope against his will. In the first film he's thrilled with his new body, until he gets shot and realizes that he can still be hurt and even bleed.
  • In the movie adaptation of "Adventures of Electronic", the titular robot wants this. In the book he just wanted to overcome the limits of his programming.
  • In Barbie, the heroine's desire is to be human. Her creator eventually grants her wish.


  • Arguably, this trope can be applied to the original Hans Christian Andersen-authored The Little Mermaid. Though not an artificial life form, she is excessively different from us; Andersen's mermaid would live for five hundred years and then dissolve into sea foam, having no afterlife of any kind. Her ongoing wish, even prior to her falling in love with the prince, is to become a human and acquire an immortal soul.
  • The main character in Isaac Asimov's Bicentennial Man is a big exception—the process of humanization takes decades.
  • Obviously, this originates in Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio, making it Older Than Radio. In Chapter 25 Pinocchio wants to grow up, but the Fairy tells him he can't grow without first becoming a real boy.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's titular Stranger in a Strange Land suffered Parental Abandonment on Mars as the infant survivor of the first human exploratory mission. Having been Raised by Natives (who are Starfish Aliens), he has to learn everything from scratch to relate to humans when the next mission comes along, after he's already a grown man.
    • Dora, Lazarus Long's ship's AI in Time Enough for Love, desperately wants to gain a human form. Her motivation is that she's fallen in love with Long and wants to be a real woman to be with him.
  • Data actually becomes a real boy in one of the Star Trek: The Next Generation tie-in novels, Jean Lorrah's Metamorphosis, in which mysterious aliens turn him into a living breathing being; he feels some emotions, mourns Tasha, falls in love, and gains weight from eating too many chocolate sundaes before a Reset Button makes it all go away.

Live-Action TV

  • Kyle in Kyle XY manages it over the course of months. He didn't know anything at the start, even how to speak, but because of his advanced mind he picks it up relatively fast.
  • Kai from Lexx died and spent thousands of years as a re-animated corpse. In a subversion, he has little care for the idea of returning to life, and Xev is the one who entertains fantasies of Kai becoming alive, going so far as clinging to obvious stretches ("Kai did something unexpected! That's a sign of life!") until she learns better and accepts it. Subverted hard in the last season when Kai wins a Deal with the Devil to be brought back to life, but the devil goes back on the bargain and leaves him dead only to make him alive later, mere minutes before an event that would not destroy undead Kai, but that no living human could possibly survive. Double-subverted in that Kai doesn't have a death-wish, per se, but welcomes true death after spending six thousand years only halfway there.
  • Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation is an exception—his socialization takes place over the course of years and he clearly has great difficulty with it at times, yet eventually becomes an essentially human personality. In fairness, he was built to be that way.
  • Subverted in the character of Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager, who was born human, but assimilated by the Borg as a young girl (and her parents were killed by the Borg). Many years later, as an adult drone, she is forcibly separated from the Borg Collective by the crew of Voyager and most of her cybertech implants removed against her will. She is told she is now safe and free and can be with her people again. Unfortunately, the Voyager crew doesn't grasp the fact that Seven (at least initially) thinks of the Borg as "her people". At one point Seven even asks Captain Janeway if she actually is allowed to choose between staying or going back to the Borg, and what if she tries to be human but later finds out she hates it? (It is made fairly clear that Seven will not allowed to return to the Borg even if she wished to do so.) Does this not make Janeway precisely the same as the Borg, abducting an individual and "brainwashing" it? Janeway (and the script) evade the whole moral dilemma by simply pretending that Seven's initial wish to return to the Collective is merely due to her Borg drone programming, ergo she does not have free will and Janeway benevolently has to decide for her, but surely Seven will thank her later. Predictably Seven does eventually accept her new existence (after all, the Voyager crew are the Designated Heroes standing for freedom and individualism, while the Borg symbolize the evil of collectivism and fanaticism) and tries to simulate some human interpersonal emotions such as smiling (with mixed results), but in an interesting twist, Seven never feels entirely comfortable as a human and states that she has no desire to become fully human again, as she considers her nanite-augmented brain and body superior to those of humans and is currently exasperated with the emotionalism and "silliness" of other crewmembers. She feels she has more in common with the Vulcan officer Tuvok, being coldly logical herself. Seven is one of the few characters who dare to openly criticise Janeway's decisions.
    • And then there was the sudden Last-Minute Hookup of Seven with Chakotay in the series finale, because apparently the writers decided Seven couldn't possibly feel complete without a strong male shoulder to lean on.
    • This trope is lampshaded by the Doctor in one episode. He mentions that he once considered trying to become like a human, but realized early on that being a hologram is far better.
  • Lampshaded in a host segment to the Mystery Science Theater episode "I Accuse My Parents," when Tom wants to become a real live boy, so Crow paints him "nude" color.

Tom: Snips and snails and puppy dog tails! That's what Tommy's made of!
Joel: Yeah, really.
Crow: Um, no. Paint, actually.
Joel: But, Tom, why do you want to be a real-live boy? There are billions of real-live boys on Earth. There's only one Tom Servo.
Tom: I want to run, and jump, and skin my knees!
Crow: You don't have any legs.
Tom: I want to catch frogs down at the old swimming hole.
Crow: Your arms don't work.
Tom: I want to experience a world of emotions and feelings.
Crow: You'll get beat-up because you're a freak.

  • Space1999 had an episode where humanoid robots wanted to learn emotions in order to be able to use violence and kill off their creators. One of them finally did in the end , and in doing so destroyed them all.
  • Parodied humorously in Angel, where the Blue Fairy comes and turns Spike into a 'real boy' in Angel's coma-dream in "Soul purpose".
  • In the season six episode, "The Unnatural", of The X-Files, Josh Exley is a gray alien shapeshifter who has disguised himself as an African-American minor league baseball player in the 1940s. When his secret is discovered, he explains that his race doesn't understand fun and don't have a word for laughter, and he needed to pretend to be human for that. When he is ultimately killed by the relentless alien bounty hunter, he inexplicably bleeds red human blood.


Tabletop Games

  • Promethean: The Created plays this both ways: the New Dawn does get rid of the inherent problem of Disquiet, so the now-human Promethean can interact with humans. However, it's a common occurrence for Prometheans to lose all memories of the Pilgrimage upon obtaining mortality, which carries its own set of problems.

Video Games

  • Tio in Grandia II is an automaton with essentially no free will and no emotions. When she is told that she is free to go wherever she pleases, she doesn't understand the concept and tags along with the group. Of course, this all changes when Mareg dies. Conveniently, this also gives her a new special move in combat.
  • Aigis in Persona 3, which is the crux of the story for The Answer in FES. After being repaired of her injuries from her battle with Ryoji, Aigis finds her own humanity toward the end of 3, but in The Answer it is revealed that Aigis slowly rekindles her urges and will of losing the side of humanity and the penalties a living being must face upon the protagonist' death. Her will and wishes to remove her side of humanity manifests as Metis, whom is known as her "sister" who doesn't want to be left alone. At the end, the sisters reconcile and merge into one being, returning all of Aigis' humanity.
  • Teddie in Persona 4. He's a cartoon character living in the TV world, but wants to join the rest of the cast in the real world as a human. He doesn't go through the typical sudden-onset humanity that is typical of the trope, though, due to his being a manifestation of human emotion.
  • Totally subverted in Phantasy Star IV, where the androids of the party, Wren and Demi, are both hundreds of years old (Wren is actually closer to a thousand years old) and perfectly happy being androids with feelings, having presumably awakened to their emotions some time ago. Some fans speculate that Wren actually built Demi as a companion for himself, which is why she's small, cute, and more emotionally developed despite being some six hundred years younger than him.
    • Subverted more directly with Rika, an artificial humanoid; the player can watch her slowly grow up over the course of the game (including a childish phase and a know-it-all adolescent phase, before arriving at maturity). At one point, she even describes the difference between being informed of things and encountering them in the real world, but none of the things she counts among them are romantic love, and in fact her first experience with displays of human emotion is mourning the death of Alys.
  • Done in Super Robot Wars: Original Generation 2. New main character Lamia Loveless is a cyborg spy for a villain group. She was taught how to socialize and everything, but aside from that, she is supposed to, like all 'W Numbers', lack a personality due to intentional programming. Unfortunately for the bad guys, all the W Numbers seen obtain a personality of their own, even if it only causes them to sacrifice themselves to save their masters...
  • KOS-MOS from Xenosaga skirts with this trope on and off, but eventually she becomes humanized, albeit through a somewhat supernatural mechanism.
  • The motive of most members of Organization XIII in Kingdom Hearts is to get their hearts back. The leader, though., wants to become a "great being." They are a bit unusual in that they were once human and want to be human again, rather than being artificial and wanting to become human.
    • The Riku Replica in Chain of Memories definitely qualifies, even more so in the remake. Being a clone of a main character who's had his memories altered into making him think he's the real deal when the truth comes out and he encounters the person who he's a replica of he goes as far as trying to kill them so that he can get out of their shadow and become his own person.

Web Animation

  • In an episode of Red vs. Blue, Sarge needs to steal Andy the bomb from the Blue Team so that he can translate the orders from command Lopez has stored on his hard drive, which against all logic are in extremely poor Spanish, just like Lopez' regular speech. So what's he do? Gets Caboose to turn his back and then replaces Andy... with Lopez. Caboose turns around and joyously cries, "Andy! You've Become a Real Boy!" Lopez is not amused. When Sarge realizes the fundamental barriers presented by the laws of physics (i.e., the inability to interact with something that isn't there), he pulls the same stunt with Lopez and a skull. CABOOSE is not amused, and mourns Andy's "death".

Web Comics

  • Practically every single robotic or otherwise artificial character in an RPG undergoes this process. The webcomic Adventurers! spoofed this trope—about to be struck by a devastating attack, the character Spybot is told by the villain that he should be feeling terror, if he had learned emotions over the course of the adventure.
  • In Freefall, ALL of the humanoid or smarter A Is were designed to do this (through neural pruning). The people who mass-produced the robots to build their colony's infrastructure, however don't realize this. To quote one of the robots: "Millions of robots walking off the job to pursue their own interests? Yes. I would describe that as a problem."

Web Original

  • Played with in the case of Penny Polendina from RWBY. A Robot Girl, she's convinced she's not a real girl even though she demonstrably has a soul. Ruby has to reassure her that even though her construction is mechanical, that doesn't mean she isn't "real". Taken one step further in Volume 8 when, to free her of a Computer Virus which is trying to make her self-terminate, Team RWBY uses a divine artifact to give her an actual flesh-and-blood body, leaving the virus behind in what was now a mindless mechanical shell.

Western Animation

  • Played straight at the end of Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation. After Dark Heart learns how to care, he notices in a hand mirror that his eyes have changed color and shouts "I'm a boy! A real boy!"
  • Played with very dark humor in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. When Pinocchio and the old guy are stuck in the whale, Billy is also eaten. The Old Guy, thrilled to have a human companion, begins to act as if Billy were his real son. Pinocchio, out of jealousy, decides that the only way to become a real boy, is to eat Billy, and get his soul. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Disney's Film of the Book Pinocchio.
  • Parodied in Shrek 2 where Pinocchio gets his wish but...well, Easy Come, Easy Go.
  • In the second episode of Mighty Orbots, the little grl robot Oh No gets her wish granted to be a real girl by the episode's Mini Boss. Unfortunately, Oh No is necessary for the Mighty Orbots robot to combine ...
  • Played straight at the end of Duck Tales the Movie Treasure of The Lost Lamp, when the Benevolent Genie of the lamp gets his own wish granted.
  • During The Simpsons' episode "Krusty Gets Kancelled", his rival show is hosted by a ventriloquist and his puppet Gabbo. When their show collapses, we see a newspaper subheading reading "Gabbo to have 'Real Boy' operation".
  • Invoked and deconstructed on Big Guy and Rusty The Boy Robot. While a race of alien machines are trying to become organic creature, supposedly to replace their long dead creators, Rusty can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to be a robot.
  • This is the wish of Phineas and Ferb character Norm, as expressed in song.