Heroic Neutral

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Noah: So what are you gonna do? You're just gonna lock your doors and crawl back into your shell? You're one of the good guys, Matt. You have a responsibility. You're not a coward.
Matt: You know, some days... maybe you just can't save the whole world. Some days you're better off just getting your own house in order.


The defining characteristic of the Heroic Neutral is simple. They want to be left alone. This extends to close family and Love Interest. Occasionally it may even extend to people in their general vicinity, but past that gets into dangerous "meddling." They are determined and skilled to the teeth, but they just want to live out their lives in peace. Out there, the Forces of Good and Evil may be fighting to the death, but they don't care. He'll turn down Heroes-R-Us just like he turned down Villains R Us.

It is the job of the plot to make them care. Heroic Neutral tends to be called "Good" mostly because Evil is more likely to mess with them: kidnap their loved ones, threaten their home village, etc. And these types will do whatever it takes to return things to the way they were. Evil starts it, the Heroic Neutral finishes it. And they'll go right back to being left alone until some idiot again tries to mess with them.

Now, the biggest irony is that Evil can't seem to get it into its head that these people don't have to be a threat. Especially if said Neutral has shown more than enough power to kick their asses, this seems to indicate to Evil that they need to recruit or destroy them even more, because surely such power will oppose them eventually. So they preemptively strike, thus causing the very thing they were trying to prevent, because yes, now the Neutral will destroy them.

It can be Justified if the Neutral has already spent most of his life fighting the forces of evil, and now feels they've earned a respite. Needless to say, from the Neutral's perspective it can be rather irritating if the much younger heroes come running to you and expect you to solve all their problems for them. In this case, the Neutral's role may be to provide indirect assistance through some sort of Plot Coupon, a MacGuffin, serving as Mr. Exposition, etc. The protagonists still have to do the dirty work to save the day, but the Neutral has given them the things they need to do so.

Frequently a Retired Badass.

See Badass Bystander, I Just Want to Be Normal (but I'll gladly be abnormal long enough to kick your ass), True Neutral, Awakening the Sleeping Giant, and Villains Act, Heroes React.

Karmic Tricksters are often Heroic Neutral. May also be a Knight in Sour Armor. If this happens not just once or twice but continually, chances are they're a Weirdness Magnet. See Neutral No Longer for when they finally lose the neutrality.

Examples of Heroic Neutral include:

Anime and Manga

  • Kino, of Kino's Journey, is the episodic version. Kino doesn't care about fairness, or innocence, or revenge, or war, or any of that. The only rule : never to stay in one land more than three days. The plot and various Complete Monster and Bus Full of Innocents then work to provide reasons to get Kino's attention anyway. Averted, horribly, in some episodes where the plot fails and the Tethercat Principle or Inferred Holocaust get involved.
  • The entire on-screen side of good in the Tournament Arc Zoids: New Century Zero, especially Bit Cloud. We're told that there are people policing Zoid Battles and trying to shut down the Backdraft Organization, but we don't see them until very late in the series. It's only because Backdraft steals or attempts to steal their robots that the Blitz team gets involved, and it's not like the Blitz team are out saving lives or trying to help people in episodes Backdraft doesn't appear.
  • Seijuuro Hiko from Rurouni Kenshin would love nothing more than just be a potter and rest after all the fights he has been in his life. But once his "stupid pupil" Kenshin really needs his help, he'll call him an idiot... and then go give him and his True Companions a hand.
  • Jack Rakan in Mahou Sensei Negima. You can either pay him a huge amount of money or you can make friends with him (in which case he'll just charge you credit) if you want his help. Otherwise, he just doesn't care. Or so he acts. If it is an act or not is debatable.
  • Guts in Berserk develops into this over time. As messed up as he is, Guts truly cares about his True Companions and ends up inspiring other people to lead their lives with more optimistic outlook.
  • Akira Inugami of Wolf Guy Wolfen Crest. Doom Magnetism and speciesist attitude aside, the only time he intervenes in a situation is on the behalf of people he likes, which amounts to, AT MOST, five people.
  • The main character of Darker than Black only does his job because his superiors would have him hunted down and killed if he tried anything else. By the end of the series, it's pretty clear he'd much rather live as his Secret Identity than as the Badass assassin he is. It takes the Syndicate turning on him anyway and the discovery that they're plotting genocide to get him to act on his own.
  • Played with in A Certain Magical Index. You'd never know it to look at him now, but Accelerator used to be like this before the story started. Long before he joined the Level 6 Esper project, Accelerator was a frequent target of assassination attempts and unscrupulous researchers because of his tremendous psychic powers, and was forced to kill to protect himself. This simple desire to be left the hell alone eventually led him to join the Level 6 experiment, under the reasoning that, since his powers won't go away ,the only way to get people to leave him be is to become so powerful that the idea of fighting him is an absurdity. After Touma beats the snot out of him, he becomes a slightly more traditional example, being mainly concerned with Last Order and a small group of his closest associates.
  • Simon from Gurren Lagann is initially a Heroic Neutral character. Simon is labeled a coward earlier on because he would rather avoid conflict and fighting against oppression unlike Kamina and the others. Kamina later coaxes him out of this mindset.
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple: Kenichi really would just like to get closer to Miu, and maybe complete his training. It's just that the bad guys keep trying to beat him up.
  • This is a major part of Toru's philosophy in Iris Zero. Due to being an Un-Sorcerer, he was bullied when he was younger, and now prefers to maintain "minimal exposure". Were it not for his Chronic Hero Syndrome, it might actually work; the combination of the two has made him quite the budding Chessmaster out of necessity.

Comic Books

  • The X-Men are quickly becoming this to the rest of the Marvel Universe, most noticeably during the events of the Marvel Civil War. Of course, a community on the verge of extinction isn't likely to get very proactive about concerns outside their own community. However, the team is largely still composed of decent people, so if things really hit the fan, they'll pitch in regardless.
  • Every Sin City protagonist with the exception of Hartigan is a loner who would rather be left alone. Unfortunately, they always find themselves entangled in a murder mystery or have to help a friend in need.
  • Spider-Man's entire origin story is about this. All he wanted to do with his newfound powers was have fun and make some money. The murder of Uncle Ben was his Neutral No Longer moment.


  • The movie Commando. John Matrix just wants to live alone with his daughter. He doesn't want to stop the villains, but he doesn't want to join them either. To "convince" him, the villains kidnap said daughter. Oh, he's convinced to do something, all right...
  • The titular Stranger from Sword of the Stranger. He's just a ronin, with no concerns beyond his next meal... he even sealed his sword so it wouldn't get him into trouble again. But of course, that wouldn't make for a very good movie. Cue the drama, Morality Pet, Worthy Opponent, and Implausible Fencing Powers!
  • Lone Wolf and Cub: Leave the guy and his kid ALONE, already! First 100 assassins sent, died messily. Second 100 assassins sent, died messily. You'd think this MIGHT give the villains a clue; but no; they decided to "compromise" by telling him they'd leave him alone if they just killed his son.
  • Cloud and Vincent become this (thanks to Flanderization) in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Since isolation is a Bad Thing, the plot seeks to use the imagery of mobile phones to make them re-connect with everyone else.
  • In the films where Godzilla is portrayed as heroic, this is usually his motivation.
  • Rick Blaine from Casablanca, since he represents America at the beginning of World War II (see Real Life example below). His idealistic younger self fought alongside those resisting fascism, but the expansion of Axis authority and being suddenly abandoned by the love of his life made him cynical and apathetic. He doesn't take sides with the Vichy authorities, the Nazis or the resistance, until the plot of the film awakens the hero within. The German major, equipped with a full dossier on Rick, is Genre Savvy enough to be aware of this trope that he doesn't attempt to convert Rick, just keep him neutral. It doesn't work.
  • Sergeant Gerry Boyle from The Guard is this till the drug-smuggling ring starts messing around in his town with his people.


  • In his heyday, the wizard Nicodemus fought bravely against the forces of evil and thwarted their plans many times. Eventually he became tired of the struggle, and retired to Port Blacksand, where almost no one bothered him. Nowadays, Nicodemus hates being bothered by adventurers, especially if they expect him to solve all their problems for them, although he will provide indirect assistance if the threat is serious enough.


  • You'd think various spy networks and counter-intelligence agencies would figure out that Jason Bourne should be on their "Do Not Call" list by now.
  • The Ents in The Lord of the Rings. Almost aggressively neutral, it's not until Saruman's orcs start pillaging their forest that they even consider intervening in the War of the Ring. Even when they do, it's limited to neutralizing Saruman.
    • The Eagles are an even better example: they make it clear to Gandalf in The Hobbit that although opposed to evil in general, they are seldom willing to cooperate with Men (as they feed on flocks of sheep tended by Men and Men have attacked them for it). Which of course illustrates how ridiculous the common objection to The Lord of the Rings by casual viewers (why they didn't just get the Eagles to fly them in) is—as Tolkien himself put it, they are not Middle-earth's taxi service.
    • Beorn, in The Hobbit, also counts as this.
  • Waylander, one of the most popular characters created by David Gemmell.
  • Isana in the Codex Alera series doesn't really give a damn about the country or the government. But if you mess with her family, she will crush you. However, her opportunities to be neutral are restricted more and more as the series goes on and Tavi gets himself involved in bigger and bigger conflicts and she starts having to consider political repercussions.
  • Ciaphas Cain basically just wants to have a peaceful retirement on a quiet out-of-the-way planet, but the Imperium seemingly needs him all the time and of course his 'reputation' makes them call on him all the more often, a reputation that only grows every time they do. Of course when he's seemingly found his peace, the baddies always seem to come across the galaxy to find him.
  • Rincewind is not a hero. Rincewind is barely a wizard. Rincewind wants to be left alone and live a quiet life. Rincewind is a plot magnet.
  • Talon Karrde doesn't much care for all this politicking; he just wants to run his shipping business/smuggling ring in peace. When The Empire keeps threatening his crews, breaking business deals, and eventually tries to turn the other members of his smugglers' coalition against him, he takes it kind of hard.
  • A defining characteristic of Mat Cauthon in The Wheel of Time, if you hate battles, nobles and heroism, you're stuck with them. Eventually escalating to him being the prince of the biggest empire in the world... which they are all trying to fight off.
    • His childhood friend Perrin Aybara also fits into this, though he seems to be more at terms with being lord of his home valley in the latter parts of the series.
  • Lily Bard in Charlaine Harris' Shakespeare mysteries is just a cleaning woman, albeit one with a traumatic past and a black belt in karate, and would be happy to be left to that but friends, acquaintances and customers keep insisting on getting murdered around her.
  • The Postman's George Powhatan just wants to be left alone to run his farm and brew some good beer. In a mild twist on this trope, that would suit the villains just fine—if his settlement insists on its neutrality, it's in an ideal position to keep their opponents from linking up.
  • Many of the protagonists in novels by L.E. Modesitt Jr. are basically this; they almost never start trouble, but they always end up being the one to end it. If the bad guys would have just left them alone in the first place, then they wouldn't have had to hunt them down and kill them.

Live Action TV

  • In the first couple of seasons of Smallville, Clark Kent is like this. He just wants to marry Lana Lang and be normal Clark Kent, Kansas farm boy. Of course, destiny has other ideas...
  • Matt Parkman of Heroes is essentially this.
  • Captain Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly is a classic example. "There's a lot of fine ways to die. I ain't waiting for the Alliance to choose mine."
  • Seth Bullock from Deadwood is an interesting inversion. He's drawn into heroism not by his desire to be left alone, but by his inability to leave other people alone. You see it right from his first scene. Maybe his alignment is Meddling Neutral?
  • No. 6 in The Prisoner is this. All the events of the series are triggered by his resignation from a British Intelligence service. Of course doesn't even last until the end of the opening credits as he is gassed and kidnapped to "The Village" a dystopian prison.
  • Once Upon a Time: Emma was perfectly willing to pack up and leave Storybrooke, leaving her biological son with his adopted mother, but Regina and her chronic case of Villain Ball mixed with her inability to keep her mouth shut pushed Emma enough to stay put, if only to be a pain in the ass and look out for Henry.


Video Games

  • Zevran from Dragon Age: Origins starts at borderline Neutral Evil and moves to this by the end of the game assuming he falls in love with the main character, and the MC survives the game's events.
    • There's a lot of this going on in Dragon Age. Many of the origins have the Player Character as this (though obviously you can RP them any way you like) - The City Elf Warden just wants her family and herself to not get raped and murdered, the Dalish Elf Warden wants to not die of Darkspawn blood poisoning, and most of the others are sentenced to death or otherwise really just don't have a choice about joining the Grey Wardens. The other trainee Grey Wardens you'll meet are sentenced to death, or interested mainly in protecting family. Of the party members you can get, only Wynne, Leliana and maybe Alistair seem to be genuinely motivated by a pure desire to save the world.
  • In Dragon Age II, Snarky!Hawke's final rousing speech essentially equates to "Wake up. Save the World. Go to the Pub." Its actually the last bit that bothers them the most, as since The Hanged Man was wrecked, they will have to find another pub first!
  • In Mass Effect 2, it's learned that this is the true alignment of the Geth. The True Geth, that is (the ones you fought are the Heretics who split off from the main faction). Their war with the Quarians only came about due to the Quarians attacking them first after gaining full sentience and according to Legion as long as they're left alone Organics have nothing to fear from them. Which is good, because up until now you've only been fighting 5% of the population which are considered a serious threat in their own right.
  • Cloud, Vincent, Cid, Yuffie, Vincent and Red XIII all start as this in Final Fantasy VII. It's actually fairly common for Final Fantasy games to have their character start as this. Hell, only Tifa and Barrett start with good intentions, and even then Barrett's a Good Is Not Nice Anti-Hero.
  • Squall in Final Fantasy VIII is another example.
    • So's the entire cast apart from Rinoa. They're paid professional soldiers. Squall takes by far the longest to become genuinely heroic though.
  • Steiner in Final Fantasy IX starts somewhere between this and Lawful Stupid.
    • Amarant remains this throughout.
  • Shiki in Tsukihime, which is only really a plot point in Arcueid's route. When all is said and done, it turns out he doesn't even really care that much that the vampire is eating townspeople. At least, not enough to risk his own life. He just wants to help Arcueid. And in the 'official' ending and timeline, apparently whatever happened to Satsuki (It's rather vague) majorly pissed him off towards the Dead Apostle Ancestors.
  • Kylier from Yggdra Union. Because of her background and the way she grew up staring at the aftereffects of mass war, she finds the very idea of it abhorrent and really would rather not have anything to do with the war or the Royal Army. Except for the fact that Milanor, her Love Interest, is one of its members, and she just so happens to be extremely protective of him.
  • John Marston from Red Dead Redemption. A reformed outlaw who desperately wants to put his past behind him and live a quiet life on a ranch with his family. Needless to say, it ain't that easy for him.
  • Karel in Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade. Much different than his Blood Knight characterization in the prequel The Blazing Blade, but 20 years along with the death of your sister can have that effect on a person.
  • Shinjiro Aragaki of Persona 3. He makes it clear to both sides that fighting Shadows and the conflict between SEES and Strega have nothing to do with him, until Ken Amada is involved. That gives him a reason to fight again.
  • In Famous has elements of this, particularly at the beginning. Cole just wants to be left alone and to protect his friends. His villainous path actually starts with him deciding to screw over others so he can provide those closest to him with a reliable source of food.
  • The Boomers of Fallout: New Vegas have no desire to interact with the "savages" of the wasteland and anyone coming close to Nellis Air Base will have to deal with artillery shellings. Howeer if The Courier gets them on his/her side, then they will at least be willing to participate in the final battle specifically for the Courier's sake as well as a chance to take their brand-new B-28 Bomber out for a spin.
  • Inverted in Portal 2, by the end of the single player campaign, GLADoS gives up on killing Chell and decides she simply wants to be left in peace. the song Want You Gone is all about what it is to be Villainous Neutral.


  • Bun-bun from Sluggy Freelance is this all over. While he likes to kill and maim occasionally, just for kicks, mostly he just seems to stay at home and watch TV. However, time after time he'll rise up to fight the forces of evil, not because he wants to, but because the forces of evil manage to annoy him in some small way, like stealing the remote control to the TV or being in any way affiliated with telemarketing. Heck, a lot of the time the bad guys don't even actually do anything to Bun-bun; the other characters make up some sort of minor slight to get Bun-Bun into the fray, or take the more direct approach of offering him persuasive compensation (like briefcases full of money) if he helps. And God help us all when he does...
    • Torg in "That Which Redeems" is an interesting example in that he becomes this after attempting to lead La Résistance against the Demonic Invaders. It turns out the locals are such Perfect Pacifist People there is no chance leading them in resistance, causing Torg to decide to just to hide out living relatively happily with his new girlfriend and pet rabbit as long as they can survive.
  • The entire plot of Ciem 1 is about Candi being forced to shift her alignment from Heroic Neutral to Chaotic Good. Once Arfaas is ousted from Evansville, she settles for Neutral Good.
  • Ronson From The Gods of Arr-Kelaan, he's the god of Apathy and Beer and he doesn't care what most people do, but when people start to mess with his followers and/or friends, they quickly figure out one of the big reasons why the God of Apathy and Beer is the leader of the pantheon.
  • There are two things Hank Jacobsen of Indefensible Positions is likely to be doing at any given moment: talking about and/or having sex with animals, or telling other people to get off his land. He fights one antagonist faction when it invades that land, and fights the other antagonist faction when it attempts to kill his sister, but he never really joins the heroes, and he doesn't even participate in the final battle.
  • Arthur of Apple Valley frequently displays signs of this; after triggering a doomsday prophecy back in late 1999, he goes on a heroic adventure... briefly... then returns home and essentially ignores the entire prophecy for nearly another decade as reality falls apart around him. It's only after an army of furries from the dimension next door invade his home town and disrupt his television watching that his brother and girlfriend manage to coax him into even trying to set things right, and even then only just barely.

Western Animation

  • Bugs Bunny, and anyone else fitting the Karmic Trickster trope. Bugs is a little different in that he enjoys Disproportionate Retribution, but critically unlike the Screwy Squirrel, he will wait for someone else to start it.
    • In most of his cartoons, yes. There were a few really early ones where he was just a flat-out jerk, bothering people who hadn't done anything to him.
  • Metro Man in Megamind.
  • Shrek just wants to live in his swamp; and later settle down with this Princess turned Ogre. The plot views it differently.

Real Life

  • Technically, the USA remained neutral through the Second Sino-Japanese and World Wars until the Japanese Empire's simultaneous invasion of the US of American Phillipines and surprise attack upon the US Navy's fleet at Pearl Harbor. For many US of American citizens the attack seemed to come, as it were, out of nowhere. Hindsight tells us otherwise.
    • A good number of the Allied nations started off this way at the outset of WWII, including neutral countries (such as the Netherlands) which were invaded by Nazi Germany. Even France, Britain (and its commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.). The people of Poland and France didn't really want war with anybody, disillusioned as they were at the outcome of the the last big war.
    • Eh, depends on how you define neutral. See, for instance, the Lend-Lease program.
      • This is a rather peculiar incident where FDR Jumped At the Call, but Congress (The USA's equivalent of Parliament) and the general population didn't really care to get involved. The first two and a half or so years of World War II, FDR ran all kinds of Batman Gambits to provoke one of the Axis powers (first Germany, then Japan) into attacking the United States; Lend-Lease was originally one of these gambits, but Hitler was apparently too Genre Savvy to declare war (even when the US started destroying U-Boats in the Atlantic). The gambit that worked was an embargo on shipping oil to Japan (Japan relied on the United States for some 70% of its oil supplies); this made the (Imperial) Navy's 'southern offensive' look a whole lot more attractive, as the fleet would soon be quite literally grounded by fuel shortages. Thus the invasion of Malaya and the East Indies, and by extension the Phillipines and the attack on Pearl Harbour to dissuade the USA from getting involved in earnest.
      • Also remember that most Americans of the time viewed Lend-Lease as the best possible way to stay out of it, believing that if Britain and later the Soviet Union were defeated it would only be a matter of time before Germany turned its attentions elsewhere. What's more, re-armament was a way to get the economy going after the devastating domestic effects of the Great Depression.