For many Series, especially Video Game ones, the various incarnations are only vaguely related to each other. The works may take place on different worlds, feature entirely different characters and have very different stories. In fact, it's only the name of the work that connects it with the previous ones at all...
Only usually it isn't. Most Non Linear Sequels will have a character, theme, monster, or item that is emblematic of the series and remains constant. Note that this is often not the same character, theme, etc. Sometimes only the name will remain the same. Sometimes there will be a character "inspired by" the original much like a Spiritual Successor. In all cases the recurring element is not tied to a particular world, but simply shows up in each installment of the series.
This does not cover gameplay similarities, as those go without saying.
See Recurring Riff for music examples, and Mascot Mook for the enemy monster version of this. Also see Mythology Gag, which is where a single work has a reference to another, but there is no example that covers an entire series.
Anime and Manga
- Douglas Coupland's books recycle small elements in different ways:
- The name of a minor character may become the name of a major/main character in a later book. Lisa is a recurring name for minor characters.
- Backpacking across Europe (and making fun of it) has come up in multiple books.
- The various Discworld novels take place in wildly different parts of the eponymous world, with different casts, in different time periods—but they all have the same Death. (Well, except during Reaper Man.)
Live Action TV
- Pretty much everything about The Crow and its sequels. The basic plot is always the same (Protagonist is killed by bad guys, along with someone else close to him, revenge ensues) and all the protagonists' names reference crow or raven (Draven, Corven, Corvis, Cuervo). Note that the first two are (very) loosely connected, with one recurring character, although played by a different actress.
- All Power Rangers and Super Sentai seasons involve a Five-Man Band (or occasionally a Power Trio) Color Coded for Your Convenience, Transformation Trinkets activated By the Power of Greyskull, Calling Your Attacks, Ass Kicking Poses, attacks by Mooks and the Monster of the Week, the Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever fought with Humongous Combining Mecha, and (except for most of Sentai's early years) a Sixth Ranger. Add the Rookie Red Ranger for Rangers and the Super Mode for both shows in recent years (for the whole team in general in both and Red Ranger-specific ones in Rangers).
- Kamen Rider's omnipresent elements are a belt as the Transformation Trinket, a flying kick as the Signature Move, and a Cool Bike. Other common-but-not-universal bits include a Scarf of Asskicking, insect-themed armor (both mostly in the early years), a Second Rider, and a Swiss Army Hero with multiple forms (both mainly in the later years).
- Final Fantasy has several:
- Someone named Cid, often involved with airships or technology;
- Summon monsters (Ifrit, Shiva, and Bahamut are the only ones who are in every single game);
- Common monsters like Bombs, Behemoths, and Cactuars, and recurring bosses like Omega and Tiamat;
- Crystals, often which have some great importance to the world the game takes place in.
- Not to mention Square Enix are making a whole mini-series where they play an important role: Fabula Nova Crystallis
- Chocobos and moogles.
- Gilgamesh shows up in many games, though playing very different roles each time.
- In an odd case, a character named Gogo, who is a mimic and dresses colorfully, is in both Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI; they're different characters though.
- The money is always called Gil (at least once the translations got consistent).
- Starting with Richard from Final Fantasy II you can expect someone to have the surname "Highwind". There's a good chance that said character will be a Dragoon (or at least have abilities evocative of the class). And if not, still expect some kind of nod to the name.
- Starting with Final Fantasy VI, there's a recurring weapon (usually a Infinity+1 Sword) that goes by the name of Ultima Weapon. Other notable equipment that tends to resurface are the Genji and Onion sets of armor, Excalibur, Gungnir, Longinus, Muramasa, Masamune, Godhand, and Excalipoor/Excalipur, among others.
- The English-based spell naming convention, as well as the [Element], [Element]ra, [Element]ga, [Element]ja nomenclature system for tiers of elemental and curative magic, like Fire, Fira, Firaga, or Cure, Cura, Curaga, Curaja. (Once again, the translations didn't quite get this at first.) Reinforcing the point, sometimes status-effect magic will use the "-ga" suffix do denote spells that affect all members of a group. Likewise, the ultimate white and black magic spells are often Holy and Flare, with Meteor and Ultima sometimes superseding the latter in rare occasions.
- Inventory nomenclature. You will always heal with Potions, always recover MP with Ethers, always revive fallen comrades with Phoenix Down, and always hoard Elixirs, Megalixirs, and X-Potions till the final boss.
- Wild ARMs:
- Take place on a world called Filgaia.
- Generally star a blue-haired hero.
- The victory music, though different in every game, is always called "Condition Green!".
- The money is always called "gella".
- Many games that Yasunori Mitsuda worked on have a track called "Kokoro", which is a soft, simple tune, often played as a music box. The tune itself is different in each game.
- The two When They Cry have a supporting character, some themes, and being a Groundhog Day Loop All the Myriad Ways Murder Mystery in common.
- Shin Megami Tensei: Although the vast majority of the Demon Compendium is always transplanted from game to game wholesale, the only demons that always appear in all games, and always with the exact same appearance, are Atlus' mascot Jack Frost and its close relatives.
- The Demon Summoning Program, the very basis of the Digital Devil Saga/Shin Megami Tensei franchise itself, appears in Megami Tensei I, Megami Tensei II, Shin Megami Tensei I, Shin Megami Tensei II, Strange Journey, Devil Summoner, Soul Hackers, and Devil Survivor.
- The Sanskrit and Japanese-based spell naming convention as well as the tiered scale system: Agi, Bufu, Zio (weak,) Agilao, Bufula, Zionga (medium,) Agidyne, Bufudyne, Ziodyne (severe) for the three indispensable elementals; Hama and Mudo for Expel and Curse (or Light and Dark) One Hit Kills; Raku/Taru/Suku-nda/kaja for buffs and debuffs, and the prefix "Ma" for multi-target vs. single-target spells (Mazionga, Masukukaja.)
- Demon (or Persona) fusion to improve your forces has been the core and purpose of every single game in the franchise since the very first one.
- Breath of Fire always stars a blue-haired hero named Ryu, who has some kind of power involving dragons (usually transforming into them).
- The MOTHER series has the Franklin Badge and, for the last two, the Mr. Saturns.
- Kingdom Hearts, being created by Square Enix, has some of the attributes from Final Fantasy as well e.g Moogles, summon monsters, as well as the spells Fire, Blizzard and Thunder.
- Mega Man:
- The protagonists are colored blue, armed with chargeable Arm Cannon, able to do Mega Manning and are called Mega Man in some way (Zero from his series is an exception).
- For the Classic Timeline: There's Mettaurs (or some variation thereof), as well as the infamous Spikes of Doom.
- The Expys of Roll: Alia, Ciel, Prairie, Roll Caskett, Mayl and Roll.EXE and Sonia/Harp Note.
- There's almost always 8 copiable bosses to beat.
- It's Dr. Wily yet again??! - Sigma later would follow his trend.
- The Legend of Zelda: The "Link" and "Zelda" characters are, excepting for the direct sequels, different people in each game (they just happen to look exactly alike and wear the same clothes and have the same name).
- And Ganon tends to be, but isn't always, the final villain (including in games you weren't expecting him to be in).
- Rupees are always the main Hylian currency, and in some cases the Global Currency.
- Since The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, birds have been a large part of Hyrule's overall motif.
- Some connection between Link and the Royal Knights tends to show up a lot (mostly in backstory, though The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks actually had him pretend to join).
- Fallout and Harold.
- No protagonist has ever been without their Pip-boy.
- The Pokémon RPG series has numerous. Some of them deviated from over the course of the series, some are subverted (Black and White in particular plays on those elements a lot)
- You start in a small town, where you live with your mom. You meet your rival, a Pokemon Professor (named after a tree) gives you one of three starters - Grass, Fire and Water, and your rival gets the superior type. Then you get five pokeballs, a Pokedex, and a mission to catch 'em all (with a tutorial on how to do so).
- A rival, usually male and friendly, whom you face multiple times across the region. (Two in V, one boy and one girl.)
- You can get a Potion somewhere early. You get obligatory Running Shoes in III and later. You also get a Bicycle later on, which is essential because it gives you access to Cycling Road.
- Pokemon School.
- Old, Good and Super Fishing Rods, except in V where only the Super Rod is given.
- Some company that sells pokemon merchandise.
- Exp. Share is often given to you by such company.
- Alternatives to such merchandise (such as items that decrease friendship and heal, soft drinks that increase it and heal, a local speciality...)
- Some sort of a communication device.
- Town Map.
- Recurring items list is way too long to be listed here, really.
- Over the course of the game you defeat eight gym leaders. Each leader specializes in a type. Once defeated, they grant you a TM containing their most powerful Pokemon's best move, as well as a badge granting the ability to control traded 'mon up to a certain level and/or the ability to use an HM move outside of battle. (HM Surf is midgame, HM Fly usually too)
- Oh, hey, the road here is closed. Get a badge first.
- You are too weak to pass. Get a badge first.
- Once you defeated all gym leaders, you deal with the iconic legendary mon of this version, then proceed to beat the Elite Four. There's four trainers with type affinities fought in succession, followed finally by the champion who does not have a full type affinity. Then tadaa, Hall of Fame and postgame. Champion time == expect subverted expectations.
- In V, this is altered significantly. You fight the Elite Four, then the version mascot, then the villain team leaders, and then you have to fight the Elite Four again to reach the champion.
- You get access to new locations when you hit postgame.
- There's a villainous team which you stop in their tracks. They usually use poison-types, and their leader is a man (however there's often a woman amongst high command)
- People will offer you to trade mon over the course of the game.
- There's an area similar to the Battle Tower from Crystal.
- And now for the long, long list of recurring pokemon locations and categories (Insert Black and White Expies where appropriate)
- Starters as previously mentioned.
- Cave full of Zubats. Geodudes, too.
- A Pikachu expy, if not Pikachu itself.
- Pseudo legendaries - avaliable lategame, evolve really really late, stat sum of 600 in their final form.
- Dragon-type pokemon are lategame usually.
- Magikarp Power pokemon. Not necessarily Magikarp itself.
- A legendary trio. Two since III - mascot trio and normal trio. Three in V, one of which is actually a quartet.
- A legendary duo, except in V as there are three trios.
- Legendary Mew expy - 100 in each stat. Possibly more of them.
- Fossils. You get one of two fossils, you can revive them later. All fossils are part-Rock type.
- Fire Emblem will always star a sword-wielding hero attached to a noble or royal house who has blue or otherwise unnaturally-coloured hair. In the hero's service will be a pair of cavaliers, one red and one green, and they will normally be assisted and advised by a veteran knight of questionable use.