Mutants are, by general definition, organisms that have undergone a permanent change to their genetic structure relative to the norm for their species. Sometimes this results in a new race or breed, or even, as mutations accumulate over time, a new species (speciation), and sometimes it's a one-off that produces effects that don't breed true, or are (most commonly) so negative that they prevent the individual mutant from successfully surviving and breeding. Technically, any deviation in a person's genetic code from a "simple" combination of his parents' alleles would be a mutation. On average, human beings have 150 to 175 mutations each, the vast majority of which are undetectable. So technically, we're all mutants.
That's in real life.
Mutants in fiction follow this same basic idea (though normally portrayed in biologically implausible or impossible ways), but have a much wider variety of phenotype effects than Real Life mutations because of Hollywood Evolution. Fictional mutants are often Super Heroes, because "mutation" is a very easy way to get multiple power sets from a single Super-Hero Origin (this is why X-Men, the first major comic to have Loads and Loads of Characters introduced all at once, starred a group of mutants). Just as often, humans or other animals are mutated somehow into hideous Exclusively Evil monsters for the heroes to fight, or pitiful misunderstood freaks.
There are two different ways to use the word Mutant: it can refer to characters who were born with a mutation, such as most members of the X-Men. Marvel Comics, the storytellers that have to be the most specific about this kind of thing, refers to these as Mutants. The other definition is things that have had their genetic code changed after birth, whether by radiation damage, gene therapy, or a pandemic disease. Marvel calls these Mutates. Usually in fiction, these after-market mutations also alter germ cells and get passed on to the mutate's kids. For clarity's sake (and in accordance with the Mutant Registration Act), we keep the examples of these two different kinds of mutation separate.
- 1 True Mutants
- 2 Mutates
- The diclonii in Elfen Lied. A particularly creepy example, given that after going through the motions of persecution and acceptance, humanity exterminates them and this is considered a good thing.
- The idea that Newtypes in Mobile Suit Gundam are a result of evolution or mutation is gradually debunked as the metaseries goes on. In the earliest shows, however, they are implied to be humans adapting to living (and dying) in space by gaining enhanced senses and low-level Psychic Powers. All related tropes about mutants being exploited, persecuted, and persecuting back apply in full, as well.
- Sein of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha was revealed in the third Sound Stage of StrikerS to be one in addition to being a Cyborg. Unlike her sisters, she had an unexpected mutation when she was being born. This is the source of her phasing abilities.
- The Contractors and Dolls of Darker than Black probably count, being a Darker and Edgier take on the traditional comic books version, although other than the fact that they generally have a Meta Origin, there's no indication of whether or not any genetic difference exists.
- It might even be a subversion; it's mentioned offhand that some government research organizations assumed it was genetic, tried eugenics programs to get themselves a superpowered army, and failed miserably.
- This is the premise of the X-Men franchise. where mutations form the team's Meta Origin for Stock Super Powers ranging from the semi plausible to the blatantly absurd. Discrimination against Mutants and by Mutants (some of whom believe that they, collectively, are a step above humanity) is one of the work's constant major themes.
- The Dark Knight comic had a massive teen gang called the Mutants terrifying Gotham. The leader was probably the only Mutant who might actually be a mutant. Well, that or a plain old sociopath with filed teeth.
- An issue of the classic EC Comics horror/sci-fi anthology series Weird Science (not that one) had a story titled "The Loathsome" about a badly deformed little girl being raised in an orphanage. Her father, a US Navy sailor, had his own DNA damaged by exposure to radiation during an atom bomb test in the Pacific just prior to returning home and fathering her. A military doctor convinced him to give up the infant and tell his wife the child had died shortly after birth. The girl had no super powers and certainly wasn't evil, but was treated as a monster by her caretakers and the other orphans because of her severe physical deformities. The story was An Aesop (a heart-wrenchingly tragic one) about the perils of nuclear weapons and mistreatment of people who are "different." You can read it here.
- Paid homage to by Alex Ross with Maggie in Marvels (See above image.)
- The film Freaks which also contains a Real Life example since no makeup or special effects were used. The stars of this movie were sadly plagued with rare disabilities but were apparently happy and willing to travel with the circus and make a career out of it.
- The giant ants in Them! are an example, oddly enough. The radiation from nuclear testing didn't cause the ants to suddenly become gigantic; it was the offspring of those irradiated ants (along with their increased size, they emerged as adults from their eggs, with no larval or pupal stages in between. Another genetic quirk).
- The telepathic mutants in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes.
- Giant Exclusively Evil Mutants are a staple of older pulp science fiction, serving the same antagonistic purpose as goblins or trolls do in fantasy.
- Perry Rhodan used to feature a Mutant Corps (with generally Psychic Powers) especially in the early series, when they were one of Earth's few trump cards against a militarily superior universe. Over time, attrition took its toll (especially when the first-generation immortality phlebotinum became unavailable and the replacement was sharply limited in supply) and various countermeasures were introduced, but the few remaining mutants stayed on as main characters for a long time and occasionally a new one or two would show up. More recently, a wave of mostly teenage mutants appeared that could trace their origin back to mass genetic engineering on a particular colony world during the latest dark age of the galaxy; these were, however, also afflicted with a deliberate genetic flaw that would eventually trigger and kill them, and the eventual cure had the side effect of removing their powers as well.
- The Foundation series gives us The Mule, although the later novels retconned his origin.
- The escapism inherent in this trope was subverted as early as 1954, in Alfred Bester's short story "5,271,009." Here, the main character is put in a Lotus Eater Machine and experiences multiple juvenile fantasies, each of which is explained by "a mysterious mutant strain in his makeup that makes him different." On the other hand, the Espers (telepaths) of The Demolished Man fit the X-Men version very closely, including the idea of classifying them according to different levels of super power.
- The Vorkosigan Saga actually uses mutants correctly: instead of superpowers, you get horrible deformities! Due to intense radiation on Barrayar, children born with grotesque mutations were common, and mutants were usually killed at birth. This left a long-standing cultural stigma against all apparent genetic abnormalities, including intentional genetic engineering like the Quaddies and hermaphrodites as well as non-genetic birth defects like a cleft lip.
- Mutations on Barrayar came about because the initial terraforming group was trapped on the planet when the only wormhole leading to the system closed, and the population was not large enough to have sufficient genetic diversity (especially after the initial die-off), so they had major inbreeding problems, which caused continual genetic problems.
- Serroi in the Duel of Sorcery Trilogy. In this case, it means that she's tiny, green-skinned, and has what seems to be a pineal eye of sorts and Psychic Powers.
- Mutants born after a suitcase bomb goes off in New Jersey are the protagonists (and antagonists) of Tom De Haven's affecting novel Freaks' Amour.
- The Chrysalids by John Windham features a society (implied to be post-nuclear apocalypse) where mutants are a common occurrence. However, seeing as its a Crapsack World, they're immediately exiled or killed on discovery.
Live Action TV
- The Daleks of Doctor Who. And apparently the Thals, although they seem to have recovered by the start of The Dead Planet. Alydon [speaking of the Daleks] : "If they call us mutations... what must they be like?"
- The Thals are mutants, too. It's just that their mutations were beneficial, making them healthy and beautiful.
- The Thals are an interesting subversion. They initially mutated into creatures similar to the Daleks, but where the Daleks "stabilized" and stopped mutating the Thals continued, eventually coming full circle, mutating back into basically their original form.
- The Thals are mutants, too. It's just that their mutations were beneficial, making them healthy and beautiful.
- Heroes presents its Stock Super Powers as the product of mutation.
- The Thematic Rogues Gallery of Power Rangers Time Force.
- The X-Files regularly featured these as the Monster of the Week, including the liver-eating Eugene Victor Tooms, among numerous others.
- Sanctuary has Abnormals, which seems to cover mutants and mutates.
- Played for comedy and mixed with Lego Genetics in one episode of The Mighty Boosh. We are the mutant race! Don't look at my eyes, don't look at my face!
- Gwen Raiden from Angel has extremely high voltage, and over the years has discovered interesting uses with her powers. For example, sticking her hand in a laser grid, and taking control of the lasers without setting off the alarm. She stands out as this trope because she lacks demonic heritage or magical training like most powered being in this universe, she just developed it naturally. (Though the source of her power is never really examined and could in fact be supernaturally based. All that's really known is she gets struck by lightning a lot.)
- There was also a character named Bethany who had telekinesis, but that might be considered a Psychic Power instead. Again, precisely where the power comes from is not explained, but it's only present in people who suffer severe trauma.
- The main focus of Mutant X
- In Paranoia, Mutants tie with Commies and Traitors for the greatest threat to Alpha Complex. In fact, if you are a Mutant, you probably are a Commie Traitor as well. Unfortunately, every Player Character is a mutant. Please report to the nearest Execution Center, citizen.
- Being a mutant is just grounds for immediate execution. The only exception being if you are a 'registered mutant' in which case you just have to wear a bright yellow ribbon at all times, and might as well have "scapegoat" tattooed on your head.
- D20 Modern features rules for playing as someone with special mutant abilities.
- Gamma World had an After the End setting with mutated humans, animals, and plants.
- Mutant and Mutant Space were Swedish roleplaying games that spawned the Mutant Chronicles universe (despite the name, MC is not about mutants).
- However, Mutant has been re-released several time afterwards. It is, after all, Sweden's third or second largest domestic tabletop game. And for any reader who is confused; Mutant is not about mutants, but they sure as h*ll are an important part of it.
- Mutants and Masterminds uses this as a common 'origin story'.
- Warhammer 40,000's Imperium of Man views mutation as a scourge on the purity of the human race, and a threat to the very survival of the species. While the official stance on mutation calls for harsh measures, many worlds nonetheless have sizable mutant populations, who are either wretched outcasts scavenging an existence on the fringes of society, or used as highly-disposable slave labor or Cannon Fodder. However, some (dozens, though most are obscure, and manyused to live in only one place and died out) strains of mutants have stabilized into subraces the Imperium calls "abhumans," most notably Ogryns and Ratlings, who serve specialized roles in the Imperial Guard, and the psychic Navigator caste who are required for Warp travel.
- Mutants in Warhammer Fantasy Battle are usually killed at birth or killed later by the Witch Hunters, but those that do survive tend to retreat to the dark corners of the Old World and band together with similar misshapen outcasts. The beastmen are one such society, a successful "breed" of mutant that resembles a savage, bloodthirsty satyr.
- There's mutants in Exalted too. Mutants come in two main flavors, the bioengineered people created by the Solars in the First Age and the humans and creatures exposed to the Wyld at the edge of the world. The first are somewhat rational, physically predictable and still human in their way of thinking, the second... can vary widely in sanity and form.
- Oh, and there are people whose bodies are twisted by power places like demenses or the fact they have inhuman ancestry from gods, demons and other creatures...
- Palladium Games' After the Bomb, similar to the Fallout example below, has the Crash so effect human beings that they evolve into mutant animals. The Empire of Humanity places great stock in keeping the gene pool pure, but most of the planet is at least a little mutated.
- City of Heroes has mutation as one of the stock superpower origins.
- The Sai, the descendants of the humans in the soon-to-be-released game Stormrise have mutated in order to adapt to the extreme conditions after a experiment to change the climate of earth by mankind went horribly wrong, resulting in the mother of all storms and turning most the earth uninhabitable.
- In Nasuverse a lot of characters get their powers by being born mutants. In one of the side stories it is said that while such a person can turn the side of a battle, they typically don't survive said battle. And keeping these mutations in the next generation is a difficult task. A few families of the Demon Hunter Association managed to overcome these problems, especially Nanaya and Ryogi. Their powers were not particularly impressive, but they compensated this by being Badass Families.
- In Killzone the Helghast have evolved to suit the environment of their adopted homeworld, to the point that they require specialized breathing apparatus to visit other worlds. Complete with evil red eyes.
- In The Final Fantasy Legend, mutants (also referred to as espers in the remake of the second game) are one of the four (three in the first game) playable races. They randomly gain or lose traits after battles.
- X-Com Apocalypse has "Mutant Alliance" organization protecting the rights of... a bunch of big-eyed, physically frail but psionically strong folk. Of course, there's a reason for such specific traits: it's but a transparent euphemism for "Sectoid hybrid", as explained right in the description of said "Mutant Alliance".
- In UFO: Aftershock, there are two races, the Cyborgs and the Psionics, who are humans who were born with special abilities due to a genetic mutation caused by the Biomass. The Cyborgs' mutation allowed them to graft robotic implants onto themselves easily, while the Psionics developed Psychic Powers.
- Mutants in the X-Men style are the basis of the Whateley Universe. Some tiny fraction of the people who have the 'meta-gene complex' manifest as mutants, typically around age 14. Most of them - good, bad, or indifferent - go to Whateley Academy to learn how to use their powers and not get murdered by lynch mobs of baselines.
- Futurama features a society of downtrodden mutants with amusingly altered physical states (a girl with a pig nose and gills, a man with a third arm instead of an ear) forced to live in the sewers of New New York. None of them have superpowers, though (well, not from their mutations, anyway).
- The preponderance of evidence suggests that Britain's Queen Victoria was a genuine mutant. Many of her descendants inherited the allele for hemophilia from her, yet neither of her parents' bloodlines carry this trait, indicating that a random genetic mutation made her a carrier for this disorder. ...that assumes that all of her official ancestors were her actual ancestors.
- See the Film example on this page.
- Elizabeth Taylor was a mutant—not for her famous violet eyes, which were in fact an illusion (she had very deep blue eyes that appeared purple with the right lighting and makeup), but because she had two rows of eyelashes on each eyelid.
Anime and Manga
- The Zoanoids from the Guyver franchise.
- No human examples, but in the Acid Tokyo storyline of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, they spend a fair portion of their time fighting hideous, deformed monsters whom the survivors identify as 'mutants.' How having the world destroyed by acid raid resulted in animals mutating into three-headed spitting snakes or carnivorous earthworms the size of semis is never really explained.
- Spider-Man originally got his powers when the bite of a radioactive spider altered his genes. As it does.
- And Dr. Connors/The Lizard had a lab accident. So did Morpheus, at least in some backstories. Black Cat was injected with Super Serum.
- Untold Tales of Spider Man featured Batwing, who was originally a prepubescent boy. When he got lost in the Carlsbad Caverns and drank water polluted from illegal chemical dumping, he turned into a giant flying bat-creature.
- Incredible Hulk got mutated to his green self by a hefty dose of gamma radiation. He can switch it on and off...
- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in all their incarnations, as well as a large number of their allies and antagonists, are animals or humans mutated into Teenage Mutant Samurai Wombats.
- Strontium Dog has mutants all over the place due to strontium-90 fallout in the aftermath of a nuclear war. However, since this isn't America, only a tiny fraction of the mutates actually get powers - most are just disfigured.
- Likewise for Judge Dredd; both strips have mostly been written by John Wagner and Alan Grant for years.
- The Fantastic Four recieved their powers as a result of exposure to space-radiation.
- Milestone Comics' Static, probably better known in his animated form.
- Daredevil's childhood accident with radioactive/chemical/whatever waste blinded him, but also helped to enhance his senses beyond what would be possible for a non-mutate blind person.
- Despite Sin City being more realistic than most comic series, The Yellow Bastard could still very easily be considered a mutate. He underwent gene therapy in order to reattatch his lost body parts, turning into a yellow freak in the process.
- The Toxic Avenger!
- The Doom movie.
- Godzilla, Rodan, King Ghidorah (The 90s version at least), Biollante, or nearly every single giant monster applies here.
- The apocalyptic film Prophecies of Nostradamus / Last Days of Planet Earth featured several mutates (and a few Mutants as well) of varying stripes. One of the most frightening was a group of irradiated humans who became arboreal cannibals covered with cancerous sours. The film was banned in its native country of Japan due to the Unfortunate Implications regarding Hiroshima survivors.
- The film The Alligator People has...well, a man whose genes got mixed with an alligator due to Radiation.
Live Action TV
- Alex Mack, the title heroine and protagonist from The Secret World of Alex Mack, is a mutant who got her powers from exposure to the Applied Phlebotinum GC-161.
- The titular mutants (or mutts) from the Doctor Who episode The Mutants. In this case, the mutations turn out to be universal, and the effect of the planet in question moving into Summer.
- Mutation is rife in Warhammer 40,000 due to the corrupting influence of Chaos. Most Imperial citizens who suddenly sprout a third arm are promptly burnt at the stake, so it is Chaos worshipers who tend to survive to appreciate the "gifts" of their patron deity (or not). The Tyranids also routinely mutate their prey, dropping spores to send the plant life of a world into an explosion of growth, the better to harvest the planet's biomass.
- The Empire in Warhammer Fantasy Battle responds to mutations in much the same way as the Imperium in 40K.
- Fallout features radiation-altered mutants and bigger, badder Super Mutants as opponents wandering the wasteland After the End.
- There are also some humans with minor mutations amongst the human populace. The Slags in Fallout 2 are a group of humans who took shelter in subterranean caves and when they returned to the surface, they found out that their bodies couldn't handle living on the outside. Your own character can get a sixth mutated toe by stepping on the radiated goo in the Toxic Caves without protective boots, but you can pay a doctor to amputate it. A man in Gecko was scorned in Vault City and eventually exiled himself because of the way he was mistreated for being very radiation resistant. In Fallout Tactics, one of the enemy groups you fight against is the group of tribals called "The Beastlords", a group of tribals mutated by radiation near the caverns where they lived, which gave those tribals the ability to mind-control most animals near them, except humans and deathclaws.
- In Fallout 3, your Player Character can be bestowed a variety of mutations as you level up, ranging from simple radiation resistance, to having a Healing Factor while suffering radiation poisoning to being able to heal yourself via cannibalism. The last such feat that can be taken causes the PC to VIOLENTLY EXPLODE when s/he hits critical health, without actually hurting herself.
- Towards the end of Fallout 3, it is heavily implied that everyone in the District of Columbia, with the exception of Enclave personnel, has been mutated from radiation—but most of the mutations are so minor as to be unnoticeable. This theme was already present in Fallout 2, where it's outright stated that everybody in the world apart from the Enclave and the Vault dwellers has gotten various minor mutations due to the persistent background radiation. To the Enclave, who had just been terrified from discovering the ghouls and the super mutants, this was strong grounds for planet-wide genocide.
- The Zerg in StarCraft mutate captured samples of enemy races to assimilate them into The Swarm. Most notable in the game is their assimilation and alteration of future Big Bad Sarah Kerrigan.
- City of Heroes lists this power origin as "Science", as in the character got their powers in a scientific accident.
- The Forgotten in Command & Conquer are the result of the Brotherhood of NOD's human experiments with Tiberium, and each faction views them differently: the Brotherhood outright loathes the mutants, the shiners are nothing more than a convenient ally for GDI, and The Forgotten view themselves "a people of honor". Naturally, they always get shafted.
- In Master of Orion II, there's a tech called Evolutionary Mutation, which, as the name says, allows a one-time change to statistics of the race that discovers it.
- BioShock (series): The splicers were originally ordinary people who purchased injectible upgrades for their DNA when ADAM arrived on the market, gaining good looks, intelligence, even super powers... right before the side-effects of frivolous ADAM-usage started cropping up.
- In Septerra Core, the inhabitants of Shell 7 were mutated by the emissions of the Core, and are now a separate species known as Underlost. They look like xenomorphs with hard exoskeletons. Despite their fearsome appearance, they aren't crazy or evil.
- The Toxic Crusaders, a kiddiefied version of the very not-family-friendly Toxic Avenger franchise.
- Mutant League, loosely based on the videogames, posits a common origin for all the mutants; a huge toxic spill/explosion under the world's largest stadium on game day.
- Defenders of Dynatron City.
- The sewer Mutants in Futurama are people born and exposed to the large amount of sewage and waste created by 31st century society. These mutations usually result in humans with one area of their anatomy that's largely altered (like possesing a tentacle for an arm). Their similarity to Rubber Forehead Aliens is why Leela was able to pass for a functioning member of society until The Reveal.
- Well, three of them did. One of them survived to become a villain later.