Make sure to eat your enemy's heart, to gain his courage! His rich, tasty courage.
—Professor Farnsworth, Futurama
The Cannibalism Superpower is the ability of a person, mutant, monster, demon, alien, Eldritch Abomination, etc; to absorb super powers from other characters by eating them. Sometimes this also allows the user to take the character's memories or physical appearance too. Obviously, this is a power more suited to super villains, since eating people implies killing them. Please note however, that this trope is not limited to comic books or villains (granted that would make for a pretty strange hero).
This is what happens when Brain Food mutates into something squickier. It's a mixture of All Your Powers Combined with I'm a Humanitarian. Thinking of it another way, it's Power Copying as a Lovecraftian Superpower. Also see Wendigo.
Anime & Manga
- In Dragon Ball Z, Cell gains power by absorbing people, so he has a habit of depopulating entire towns. More importantly, he gains a massive upgrade, both in terms of power and physical appearance, by absorbing each android.
- Majin Buu gains abilities, and even character traits, from every being he absorbs. This became a plot point when it was revealed that he had previously absorbed the Grand Supreme Kai and gained his innocent nature. That was the only thing keeping Buu from going completely berserk.
- The ninth of the Espada in Bleach has a power to assimilate devoured foes. This allows him to assimilate another Hollow, which could itself assimilate shinigami. Unfortunately, this was the very Hollow which possessed Rukia's mentor, and gave him access to his memories and allowed him to seriously Mind Screw her. Other Hollows also get stronger by devouring other souls, but Aaroniero is the only one who also gains their special abilities.
- In Hellsing, the soul of someone consumed by a vampire becomes that vampire's familiar. The vampire has access to their abilities and can summon the familiar at will.
- Episode 19 of Neon Genesis Evangelion has a berserker Unit-01 eat the corpse of Zeruel, in the process gaining its S2 Engine, theoretically allowing it to generate infinite amounts of energy from nothing.
- In Inuyasha, both Naraku and Moryomaru have devoured demons in order to become stronger. Inuyasha's sword, Tessaiga, is also capable of absorbing the aura of a powerful demon by devouring its blood as explained when Inuyasha would obtain the barrier shattering form of the sword.
- In Blood Plus, the chiropteran queens and chevaliers can take on the appearances of people whose blood they've drank.
- Taken to more literal extremes in Betterman, where the seeds the titular hero devours to take on his monstrous superpowered forms are grown out of dead bodies.
- Touched upon lightly in Spice and Wolf. To trigger her transformation from Cute Monster Girl to Big Badass Wolf, Holo has to either eat fresh wheat grains or human blood. She prefers the wheat option but if she has to use the blood the amount needed is nowhere near lethal.
- Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle has Clone Syaoran eating Fai's eye to gain the latter's magical powers.
- Aptom of the Lost Numbers makes his first appearance as a humble Voluntary any-Shape shifter, who takes on the Guyver alongside his True Companions. After the Guyver kills his two best friends, he's taken back to the lab and experimented on until he gains the power to physically merge with and assimilate other Zoanoids.
- The only way immortals of Baccano!! can die is by absorbing one another by placing the right hand on the subject's head, which also transfers their memories and knowledge. Although the victim is not literally ingested, the process is referred to in-series as "eating" or "devouring", and some fans have used the term "alchemical cannibalism" to describe it. One alchemist developed a weaker elixir that would make people just immortal enough to be vulnerable to his "cannibalism", but unable to eat anyone themselves.
- The aptly named Gourmet in Yu Yu Hakusho has this as his power.
- Deadman Wonderland has Mockingbird, who copies other people's abilities by consuming some of their blood. Preferably. It doesn't have to be blood, but even he finds living up to this trope a little icky. Not that it stops him.
- In Tokko the Phantom hunting siblings Itto and Mayu can gain the powers of phantoms by eating them after they kill them.
- In the manga of Fullmetal Alchemist, Pride can absorb abilities/knowledge from those he "eats." He demonstrates this first with his "brother" Gluttony and later uses it with Kimblee and the gold-toothed doctor. However this is a double sided blade as he also gains their negative attributes like Gluttony's bottomless hunger.
- They're not eaten in the conventional sense of the word, but most Digimon in Digimon Tamers get stronger by "absorbing the data" of other Digimon they kill. (Digimon with human partners are unique in that they can grow in power without doing this.)
- In Marvel Zombies, some of the titular super-zombies eat Galactus - and gain the ability to travel to other planets and eat them.
- They start eating planets when they arrive on the Skrull Homeworld in Fantastic Four.
- Everyman, initially from the 52 series at DC Comics, can assume the shape of any being he's consumed a sample of. Since Lex Luthor was the one approving the power he got, giving "eats people" to a guy named Hannibal was probably deliberate.
- This is the entire premise of the Image Comics title Chew: the main character is a police officer who gets psychic impressions from everything he tastes. Everything. His boss thinks it's hilarious sending him to lick blood off a crime scene floor, nibble on a corpse, or even take a bite of some "whatsit" left in a bank vault.
- In the Savage Sword of Conan comics, Conan encountered a Cannibal Tribe who believe they can become invincible for a short time by "eating the moon", which they accomplish by devouring the flesh of a Human Sacrifice bathed in moonlight. They're absolutely correct, though their invulnerability may be powered by belief. Conan defeats them by "slaying" the moon — he releases a cloud of smoke from a special pellet, which completely obscures the night sky.
- The Saurians in Sigil (and the one who appears in Negation) take on beneficial attributes of whatever creatures they eat, including physical and mental traits and even information. Having long ago become the apex predators of their homeworlds, this power was forgotten and rediscovered when they went to war with humans and decided not to waste the corpses of their fallen foes.
- Jeepers Creepers has The Creeper, who has eaten so many hearts that he has become Nigh Invulnerable.
- Hannibal Lecter invokes this to Will, at least in the newest film; "Such a brave boy. I think I'll eat your heart...".
- The Puppet Master II used this in one instance as humor the guy somehow got the voice of a boar ... not sure about the rest of the franchise.
- The entire point of Ravenous. Cannibalism can heal you from otherwise fatal wounds and makes you become stronger. The downside is that it's extremely addictive.
- This seems to describe the title creature of The Thing quite well.
- In District 9, there is a gang leader who eats the dead bodies of prawns to gain their powers. May not count since it doesn't show any sign of working. (Though not for lack of trying.)
- In Godzilla, Orga attempts this on Godzilla, when he bites the Big G himself, absorbs some of his powers, before he tries to swallow Godzilla whole. It doesn't end well for him.
- In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Human Nature (which was later adapted for the TV series, but without this aspect), one of the members of the Family is a shape-shifter who can imitate any animal he's eaten part of, including humans. If he does it while they're alive, he can also gain their memories.
- The H.P. Lovecraft story The Picture in the House:
"They say meat makes blood an' flesh, an' gives ye new life, so I wondered ef 'twudn't make a man live longer an' longer ef 'twas more the same - "
- The Wild Cards novel Down and Dirty brings us Deadhead, an insane Ace who can access the memories of the dead by eating their flesh. The memories are vague unless he actually eats their brain, but they're strong enough that he no longer eats animal meat.
- Ghouls in The Throne Of Bones have this ability, and consider it hilarious when one of their own number gets temporarily overwhelmed by absorbed memories, thinks it's human, and freaks out to find itself in a graveyard full of monsters.
- In Animorphs, Visser Three's twin and rival, Esplin 9466-secondary, manages to survive without Kandrona rays by finding Controllers, killing their hosts and eating the Yeerks out of their brain. Even knowing his brother, the Animorphs were horrified.
- In Joe Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy, the Eaters gained magical power (such as shape-shifting) by eating human flesh, and breaking the Second Law.
- In The Runelords series, the Reavers gain the attributes of whatever they eat. They can even gain knowledge by eating brains, allowing them to hand down racial memories by eating their dead. If a human eats a Reaver brain, they will also gain this knowledge.
- Parodied in G.K. Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill, where an extreme British nationalist who preaches cannibalism of non-British people discovers, to his horror, that this trope is true, and therefore he is now slowly turning into an Italian organ-grinder (which is apparently the only type of edible foreigner he could find in London).
- Labyrinths of Echo has an old belief among the capitol wizards that eating someone more powerful gives a boost of personal power, though non-specific. At least Juffin, being raised in very different traditions, swears that it's a superstition, but this illustrates what was considered acceptable in the Age of the Orders. Juffin himself, however, both drank blood of other people and gave others his blood to drink to confuse magical senses, and this worked.
- The late days of Mad Fishmonger involved some experimentation in this area. Drinking the blood of well-rested people staved off his desire to sleep for a while, but eating them didn't help.
- In Terry Pratchett's Nation, Mau mentions to Daphne that there are cannibals who might raid their island, and who believe in this. Daphne shudders at the thought of the Raiders eating her. Mau replies that the men wouldn't eat her ... they'd feed her to their wives, "so that they become beautiful."
- Later, though, one of the cannibal elders praises Daphne's intelligence and says in a bizarrely polite way, "I would like to eat your brains."
Live Action TV
- The X-Files had people who ate other people sometimes because they believed it would expand their life.
- They didn't just believe it extended life, it actually did, by some supernatural or other agency. But there was a weakness in it, their founder always warned them against 'turning on each other', which of course eventually did happen.
- Well, that, and one of their victims had kuru.
- There was also the man who gained super-stretching powers by eating people's livers in the episode "Squeeze."
- They didn't just believe it extended life, it actually did, by some supernatural or other agency. But there was a weakness in it, their founder always warned them against 'turning on each other', which of course eventually did happen.
- Averted in Heroes, where Sylar acquires other people's superpowers by slicing their head open and studying their brain. When asked if he eats the brains, he says "that's disgusting". The reason this trope being averted is noteworthy comes from the longstanding fandom Fanon that he did gain people's superpowers by eating their brains, which was eventually Jossed because the writers (who had considered it) thought it was too silly.
- This was the premise of the Fear Itself episode "Eater".
Table Top Games
- Warhammer 40,000 arguably the kroot and most likely some harsher things
- Tyranids sort-of do this. The Hive Fleets use genetic material from harvested lifeforms to improve the Tyranid organisms.
- Something everyone always seems to forget about Space Marines is one of their implants that make them super-human: "The Omophagea" allows a Space Marine to learn memories of a foe they've just eaten. Of course, most people forget that Marines can spit acid as well, so I suppose it's not so surprising.
- The Kroot can do it too, and built their life style around hunting and eating good prey. Some tribes prefer to eat Orks and become tougher, others eat fast prey and become better runners, etc. They are guided by the Shapers - Kroot born with the gift to "try" genetic makeup and determine whether it's desirable or not for the tribe, as such their duty is to lead their people's development and avoid defects and dead-ends (which mostly means the next generation turning into stupid beasts - the Kroot keep descendants of some unfortunates like this as hounds and mounts).
- Dungeons & Dragons has Aboleth (retains memories of every eaten victim—as well as those of its mother, meaning that they remember the entire history of their species), some shapeshifters and even mongrelmen (their offspring may grow some body parts of the devoured creature, like horn or antenna).
- Then there are fiends:
If a maurezhi kills and eats a victim, it gets the deader's memories and experiences. Xanxaost has seen hezrou general beat and imprison their baatezu enemies and then stand aside and let a maurezhi go to work. This sometimes gets them secret plans for the Blood War. This usually gets them lots of stupid things the baatezu have in their heads.
- The earliest D&D example is the brain collector, an Expert D&D monster which acquired spellcasting powers by consuming the brains of spellcasters. The Hivebrood hivemind, another CD&D monster, could do the same thing for any class ability, and also share these acquired powers with other members of its Hive.
- In both Vampire: The Masquerade and Vampire: The Requiem, there is the heinous crime of Diablerie, wherein you can boost your Generation/Blood Potency (and thus your power in general) by devouring the blood and soul of another vampire. The downside is, it leaves inky black stains on your soul (which others can read like a book), and you can expect a quick and brutal Final Death if you're caught. Plus, some powerful vampires may remain conscious through the process and later devour the Diablerist's soul from the inside.
- Vampire: The Requiem introduces the bloated Macellarius bloodline, fittingly nicknamed "The Gluttons" due to their universal belief that a gut is still considered high class. Oh, and they also eat people. Hailing from ancient hedonistic Rome, these vampires are master gourmands, doing anything for a fine taste, even with the knowledge that they'll have to throw it up later due to being a vampire (they enjoy the vomiting, though, since it means they can taste it one more time). Naturally, they have an intense love for human flesh, and can suck vitae out from it, and their unique bloodline discipline, Gustus, entirely revolves around eating raw meat, from storing consumed chunks in their bodies to be converted to vitae to vomiting acidic blood to being able to steal stats from their victim.
- Lunar Exalted are capable of assuming the appearance (and a few abilities) of animals by consuming their hearts after a ritualized hunt. With the right powers, they can extend this ability to humans, other Exalted, and even gods, demons, ghosts and raksha. They can also acquire powers to decrease how much of a being they need to eat, and even give others the ability to assume their appearance by consuming some of their blood.
- Having the Regeneration power in Underground requires a character to subsist on a cannibal diet. As the game's setting is such a Crapsack World as to contain cannibal fast food joints, this is Played for Laughs.
- Magic the Gathering has the Mimeoplasm, which eats (exiles) two creatures in graveyards, making it a copy of one with +1/+1 counters equal to the other's power.
- There's also Experiment Kraj, who upon waking stole every piece of cytoplasm on the plane, which basically killed and mutilated anyone who used Simic's bioaugmentation products. His card implies this also gave him the powers of whoever he mutilated.
- In Conquering the Horizon, by dissecting and eating creatures Evelyn can gain a thorough understanding of how they work and use those creatures adaptations in new bodies she makes. During a near death experience she gained better control of her mental state, which she used her to simulate the mind of someone she dissected and consumed and then talked to the simulation. After that she was able to functionally resurrect the person by creating a new body and stuffing the simulation into it via Hive Mind link.
- Kirby, in a practical approach to Mega Manning. He's so cute, most people haven't even considered the fact that his abilities and behavior are about what you might expect from a baby Eldritch Abomination.
- Notably, Kirby doesn't actually digest the beings he eats; he can spit them out again later, losing whatever power he had absorbed.
- Digital Devil Saga has this as the theme of the game. You gain Atma by devouring your enemies, which is spent on gaining Mantras that give you new powers. Hunt-class powers grant you extra Atma, explicitly because they allow you to eat your foes more efficiently. These powers have names like "Devour" and "Feed Frenzy".
- Genesis Rising, a little-known RTS, has the player building ORGANIC STARSHIPS that can acquire abilities by feeding off enemy organic starships that have been beaten to a pulp. If by chance you "kill" the enemy ship, you can still consume it but you won't gain any abilities. Talk about extreme recycling ... IN SPACE!
- Homeworld: Cataclysm has an entire faction devoted to consuming ships (and their occupants) to achieve that kind of goal.
- Prototype, devouring people can give you access to their abilities, memories, and skills—so you learn how to fly a combat helicopter by eating a pilot, learn how to effectively use military weapons by eating Drill Sergeants, and unravel the Government Conspiracy by eating the brains of anyone with even a TANGENTIAL relation to it.
- Paxton Fettel from the FEAR franchise. It may or may not allow him to read his victims' memories (he certainly can either way).
- In Nethack, eating certain corpses could give you superpowers, stat buffs, or kill you horribly.
- In Deadly Creatures, this is how the scorpion and the tarantula acquire new environmental skills—by biting off the heads of creatures that have the skills they need. The tarantula eats a black widow and a lizard to gain the ability to web-jump and climb upside down, respectively, while the scorpion eats another scorpion and a mantis to learn how to dig and cut through grass.
- In Metroid, Ridley's near-immortality is Handwaved by him devouring enemy corpses for biomass. He's not hesitant to rub the fact in an orphaned Samus's face.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, if the player eats President Kimball, Caesar, Mr. House and The King, they get a perk known as "Meat of Champions" that gives you their "power" (Kimball's Strength, Caesar's Intelligence, House's Luck and The King's Charisma) whenever you eat humans.
- Touhou has a few examples:
- In Imperishable Night, several of the Youkai in the player teams suggest to their human counterparts that they eat the immortal Mokou Fujiwara's guts/liver, saying that a human eating an immortal's guts would grant them immortality as well. Yuyuko, on the other hand, considers eating Mokou's guts herself despite being a youkai, just because she thinks it'd be tasty.
- Utsuho Reiuji, a corpse-eating hell raven youkai first encountered in Subterranean Animism gained her power over nuclear fusion by swallowing the body of a yatagarasu (a divine crow with powers of the sun). In Reimu and Suika's encounter with her, Utsuho expresses a strong desire to eat Reimu as well.
- The first three SaGa games, i.e. Final Fantasy Legend I, II, and III, has the Monster race. They had set skills and stats, but could change into a another monster by eating Meat dropped in battle.
- Yoshi does this with koopa shells, a lot. Red ones grant him the ability to breathe fire, blue ones grant him Flight, yellow ones let him make small earthquakes when he lands, and flashing shells grant all three. If Yoshi is red, blue, or yellow, any koopa shell will grant him that power.
- Except Yoshi only has those powers as long as he has the shell in his mouth. If he swallows it or spits it out, he loses the power.
- Quina, the Blue Mage from Final Fantasy IX learned new spells by eating monsters that could cast them.
- The Rataka in Knights of the Old Republic believe this to be true for their species, eating the dead warriors of tribes they conquer. The tribe that still practices it even ask the player to kill a group of Mandalorians and bring back the leader's head as a meal for their war-leader.
- In Kid Icarus: Uprising, The more enemies a Guttler eats, the stronger and larger it grows.
- In the (Very NSFW) Chocolate Milkmaid, the titular character has this, which is what results in her becoming Chocolate Milkmaid in the first place. The flashback showing when she was told about this ability makes it clear that she was suitably squicked by the implications. Fortunately for her, it turns out that body fluids work just as well.
- Sevink from Geist Panik is a Wendigo, meaning he can die once for every person he eats (dead or alive) and continue living. It helps that he's a Blood Knight, which allows him to fight through the pain of constantly dying and grants him access to plenty of dead people. Oh, and he's one of the good guys.
- Bob of Captain SNES is a rare (probably) heroic version. To his credit, the first time his ability is revealed, he states that he dislikes using it.
- Exterminatus Now has Team Pet, Chao they eventually called Blasphemy. Chao!
- Butch in Chopping Block is intermittently convinced he has this, although it's been repeatedly proven that he doesn't actually gain anything from eating people.
- Carmilla of the Whateley Universe absorbs all the knowledge of the people and things she eats. Since she's a baby Great Old One, she's probably eating their souls too.
- Futurama, as seen in the quote above.
- Also in this line, after a computer scan finds a "rectangular mass" in Hermes's colon:
Hermes: "It's a calculator. I ate it to gain its power."
- There are beliefs such as eating your foe will give you his strength or courage. In fact, the word originally meant "strong man" and was used by tribes that believed this.
- There is a statue in Tarabuco, Bolivia commemorating a victory of the native Quechua people over their Spanish conquerors. The statue shows a Quechua with an Axe Crazy face standing over his defeated Spanish foe. The Spaniard has a gaping hole in his chest and the Quechua is eating his heart. Keep in mind this is a statue...fully painted...in the town square...and was built by the Quechua...recently...as in the past 10 years.
- The Iroquois were known for doing this with their more respected (read: worthy of being absorbed) prisoners of war.
- In South Africa, it is believed that eating the flesh of human albinos will confer superpowers to the eater (which inspired the District 9 example, above).
- The superstition is actually far more common a bit northern parts of Africa. Medical science is in somewhat better state in South Africa than in much of the continent.
- Just to really drive they point home: Yes, this does mean that there are people living in the 21st century Africa who chop up and cannibalize other humans because they believe it will give them magic powers. Not a myth, not some kind of racist blood libel, literal truth. There is literally a black market for human albino meat!
- Generally creatures who eat poisonous organisms (whether plant or animal) need to be highly resistant to the poison in question, and some of them just go on and reuse the acquired poison for their own defence.
- You don't need to look further than the potato beetle. Its larva is red, as typical for creatures who rely on the predators being unwilling to try and eat them. That's because it smears itself in its excrements, that contain unprocessed poison from its food - nightshade and related plants with toxic upper parts. And most potential predators indeed don't want to deal with this sort of crap.
- Going a step further would be assimilation of still-living parts with an useful function.
- Kleptocnidae. Hydra got stinging cells with enough of poison to stun a little fish. A flatworm eats hydra, assimilates stinging caps without discharge and not digests them, but incorporates as is. Then a predator tries to eat such a flatworm and finds out it hurts a lot. This was observed for stinging cnidarians ranging from hydra to jellyfish as the sources and a variety of eaters up to slugs adding more "zap" to their skin or transferring kleptocnidae into their tentacles to use more offensively.
- A species of sea slug also exists that gains the ability to photosynthesize from the algae it eats.
- An article from many decades ago called "Kill Them and Eat Them" suggested that was the way to deal with alien visitors. The killing part was presented as very rational: their very presence will disrupt our society and if they report back to their people then they will invade us. Sounded extreme but sensible. So why eat them? "To gain their power."