Recursive Canon

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
(Redirected from Recursive Fiction)
On Wednesday nights, Goku likes to watch Dragon Ball.

When a work or set of works that appeared to stand on its own in Real Life turns out to be fiction Very Loosely Based on a True Story in its greater universe.

Occasionally, the producers of a new production in an existing universe want to tie it in with the current real life present, but face the problem of trying to get people to believe it's set in the real world when they obviously have the fictional product right before them.

So: Why not make that explicit? Simply make the series itself a fictionalized account of the real.

The problem this causes is that you're left with several onion-like layers of canon: That presented in the original show, and that presented in the new show presenting the original show as fiction, and of course, that of the actual real world.

This often leads to Retcon or Rashomon Style, and may even allow the characters to criticize the author or the work itself. More casually they may jocularly inform the audience or the Audience Surrogate that it's not quite how it really happened, and that the story you've been reading contains some stretchers, to be sure.

This trope is related to the Literary Agent Hypothesis with a touch of Retcon and Story Within A Story for good measure. In the case of a fictional character being the cause of a real-world or alternate canon event, see The Gump. See also Celebrity Paradox.

Often overlaps with Literary Agent Hypothesis. Because there seems to be some confusion between Recursive Canon and Literary Agent Hypothesis, the distinction is as follows:

  • If the work is claiming that it was created/transcribed/retold by one of the characters in real life, then that is a Literary Agent Hypothesis.
  • If the work is claiming that some or all of itself exists in its own reality (perhaps as a work of "fiction"), then that is a Recursive Canon.

In a particular Mind Screw, if the author is not going for clarity, the work of fiction may actually create the rest of the work, or the world of the work may "exist" inside it; this is a version known as Transfictionality. The real version of the characters may discover the fictional version of the real work, or vice versa. The author may even imply that the fictionalized version is no more fictional than the outer layer, or that both shows are fictional to each other in a stable fictional loop.

Compare with Recursive Fanfiction, where a work of fanfiction becomes so popular it starts spawning its own fanfiction, and the levels are now of fandoms rather than verses.

A subtrope of Recursive Reality. See also Daydream Believer, Rashomon Style, Mutually Fictional, Who Writes This Crap?. Not to be confused with a Recursive Cannon that shoots Recursive Ammo.

Examples of Recursive Canon include:

Anime and Manga

  • The anime Super Dimension Fortress Macross has a movie version, Do You Remember Love, which the producers later explained away as a propaganda video made by UN Spacy to portray the events of the TV series in a better light. The deaths of certain characters are made far more heroic, the love triangle made far more romantic, and in general, UN Spacy comes out smelling a lot better than in the TV series.
    • It helps, of course, that in the movie those UN Spacy officials are already dead...
    • Kawamori has said that, in reality he considers neither TV show nor movie to be the definitive record of events, but interpretations meant to fit rules of the given medium.
  • Digimon Tamers establishes early on that a version of the Digimon franchise exists in the world, which is later revealed to have been created after a group of bankrupt computer scientists sold to a toy company the designs and concept of, you guessed it, the prototypical digital life forms they created which evolved to become the real Digimon and associated world which form the premise of the series. Merchandise exists of said franchise, most prominently the card game, and it's implied that an anime series starring an Agumon as the lead exists (which is not Digimon Adventure, no matter what the dub would have you believe).
    • One must wonder where Digimon Frontier fits in. There's no mention of such things, but a Wormmon toy is seen at a store in the human world.
  • Death Note has an unusual version of this - the pilot chapter mentions that a manga was written based on the "real story" it tells (well, mostly on the concept of the Death Note itself). This leads to a scene where Ryuk passes a poster for the live-action Death Note movie.
  • In The Tower of Druaga, they spend an episode trying to reach the top of a 60 floor tower inside the tower they are in. The main hero is controlled by the other characters, as if they are playing the The Tower of Druaga arcade game. One character even has a walkthrough for the tower.
  • Similar to the Macross example, the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha movie is revealed in the movie Sound Stages to be a film being produced by one of the planets in the Nanoha universe, with Nanoha and Fate helping as technical advisors.
  • A Plica movie was made while the comic strip was still going, leading to a couple of comics about Plica and Mari going to see the movie, which is ostensibly about them. No real in-story explanation is offered for this (presumably it's just because the mangaka wanted to make sure her readers knew about the movie).
  • In Lupin III vs Detective Conan, Kogoro Mouri mentions a Lupin III comic, suggesting the franchise exists in the Detective Conan Universe (as do, apparently, the actual characters).
  • An Arab monarch is a fan of the Lupin III television series, so he is not surprised when the Lupin gang shows up in his country on the 2nd anime.
  • In a more unusual example, SD Gundam G Generation posits that Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is a television drama aired in the UC 0090s, possibly with input from the people who lived the event ilke Michel. Interestingly, this is done primarily to justify the existence of space-use variants of Shiro's Gundam Ez8, by suggesting that the show was so popular the writers extended the storyline beyond what really happened.
  • The Gundam manga Ganota no Onna reimagines Char Aznable as an Office Lady in present day Tokyo, with much of the show's cast appearing in some form or another. Despite this, Mobile Suit Gundam is treated as an actual anime within the show, with Utsuki and Amuru (the Expies of Char and Amuro) portrayed as massive fans of the franchise.
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni takes this and runs with it to the Nth degree. By the end of the series, it's a story about a story about a story about a game about a story about a game about some message bottles about a game about a murder. And there are probably a few layers forgotten there as well.
  • In the third season of Sonic X, when Chaotix show up and need to be brought up to speed on what's been going on, they steal a bunch of Sonic X DVDs and watch every episode up to that point.
  • The Sailor V anime exists within the universe of Sailor Moon which isn't exactly recursive canon because there never was a Sailor V anime. Sailor Venus DOES however sometimes read her own comic book which plays the trope straight.
    • Sailor Moon manga also appear (but in brief cameo roles) as does the magazines that ran Sailor V and Sailor Moon (and parodies there of. Ran Ran instead of Run Run)
  • Done within the same series with Martian Successor Nadesico. The Nadesico crew enjoys watching Gekiganger III, and affectionate parody of old Super Robot shows. All is fine and well until the 14th episode, where the show becomes an episode of Gekiganger III watching their favourite show, Martian Successor Nadesico. It gets even more confusing when the show ends off with it being an episode being watched by the crew of the Nadesico.
  • In Lucky Star, magazine covers with the series' characters were often reproduced in-story, and in one case the characters discussed the series' (Real Life) promotion event in Akibahara--Konata recommends Cosplay, Kagami disliked it was much too Pandering to the Base, and Konata answer that Kagami should accept the fact that Muggles won't read that anyway.
  • The Monster Rancher anime started with Genki being an avid fan of the game series and being sucked into the world.
  • In one of the Fullmetal Alchemist OVAs set roughly 100 years in the future from the end of The Movie, we see posters for The Movie all over the place.
  • In one of the Higurashi no Naku Koro ni manga arcs Akasaka writes a book based off the events of the arc.

Comic Books

  • The Silver Age Flash series portrayed the Golden Age Flash's adventures as merely being a comic book series. It was not until much later that the two actually met, revealing the GA Flash's comics to be a fictionalized account of what happened on another Earth.
  • The 1980s revival of The DCU's Blackhawk showed the original 1940s series to be a comic book rendition of the team. Weng Chan, the Chinese member of the team, understandably complained about the Unfortunate Implications of his portrayal as the stereotypical caricature "Chop-Chop".
  • In Neil Gaiman's Sandman, it was discovered that the previous DC superhero named Sandman had been living a delusion in a dream dimension created by two denizens of Morpheus' realm.
  • In Cigars of the Pharaoh, a sheik recognizes Tintin from having read all about his adventures, showing a copy of one of the books. The book was originally Tintin in America, but in the later color editions it was anachronistically changed to Destination Moon.
  • In both Spirou and Fantasio and Gaston Lagaffe, the characters work on the staff of the magazine that publishes their adventures, Journal de Spirou (later Spirou Magazine, now simply Spirou). Consequently, the comic exists within its own world, and Spirou is occasionally recognized as its hero. In early stories by Jijé he would meet members of his own fan club, and in Alerte aux Zorkons a sniper refuses to fire on him and Fantasio (hanging from a Spirou-shaped advertising balloon) because he used to read the comic as a kid.
  • Marvel comics exist within the Marvel Universe. In universe they are stories as told by a Marvels Comics, some with the cooperation of the superheroes themselves and some only Very Loosely Based on a True Story. In at least one instance She-Hulk is seen reading an actual issue of The Savage She-Hulk. This is further complicated by the fact that She-Hulk's second series has No Fourth Wall, though, so she is one of a few characters who could have been reading something published by Marvel Comics or by Marvels Comics. Also, her third series claims the second one was Mutually Fictional.
    • In a Fifth Week Event, the company published one-off issues of the Marvels Comics versions of most major titles, depicting how they are viewed in-universe. For some characters, like Captain America, the recursive canon version was almost indistinguishable from the usual comic, except that his secret identity was a secret. For others, like the X-Men, who have been pariahs in-universe for most of their history, they couldn't very easily be treated like superheroes. So instead, a backstory was made up for them, which supposed that they were a top-secret government project of paroled mutants, sort of like the Thunderbolts turned out to be.
    • In a truly meta turn of events, Steve Rogers, who was a freelance pencil artist for awhile in his civilian identity, was hired by the in-universe Marvels Comics company as the new penciller for Captain America!
    • Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway, a law firm specializing in superhuman, metahuman and mutant law, keeps a complete archive of Marvel comics from the 1930s on as historical records that can be used in lawsuits.
    • Hilariously applied in one Fantastic Four where Herbie (who replaced the Human Torch in the animated series) was introduced into "mainstream" Marvel. The cartoon was stated to be an in-universe show detailing the team's exploits, and the members had to sign release forms for their likenesses to be used. The Torch wasn't there - likely fighting evildoers as heroes do - so they needed a replacement character.
  • Similarly, in the Astro City universe, companies publish comic books based on the in-universe superheroes. The most popular comics are the ones officially licensed by the heroes, but some will take news events and embellish the circumstances. Comics for "fictional" heroes (Batman, Superman, etc.) also exist, but don't sell as well.
  • In Gilbert's stories in Love and Rockets Volume 2, Fritz stars in a gangster film Very Loosely Based on a True Story about the life of her own mother Maria, causing a rift between herself and her sister Luba. Gilbert later launched a series of graphic novels that purported to be adaptations of films in which Fritz had appeared in-universe.
  • In one Paperinik story he explains to a captured petty thief how he can afford being a superhero: he tried being financed by the city, but became shackled by bureaucracy, and he tried get corporate sponsorship (Scrooge McDuck, of course) but that also got in the way of actual, y'know, crimefighting. So in the end he sells the right to publish stories about himself to Disney, which finances his gadgetry and whatnot. Then it gets meta by way of Rule of Funny; the thief uses Donald's blabbering to escape, and he turns to the reader and, basically, says: "Please don't tell Disney Comics about this screw-up!"
  • In some Archie Comics, the gang can be seen reading their own comic book. The fact that they aren't disturbed by seeing themselves and their stories in print is probably because they're actually aware that they're comic book characters.
  • Lampshaded in an issue of The Authority in which the team traveled to an alternate universe in which they encounter the comic book series they appear in.
  • One issue of Teen Titans had them explaining to Impulse why he couldn't just release their real names to the public. He wonders why not since they're all in the Teen Titans and Justice League comics he's holding. Superboy points out that those aren't their real names. Which confuses Impulse as he's been calling Superman Dirk for months.
  • The Teen Titans animated series is apparently an actual TV show in the DC Universe, as evidenced by a poster for the cartoon being present in Irey West's room in an issue of The Flash.
  • Similarly, an issue of Teen Titans had the kids briefly watching an episode of Tiny Titans.
  • Writer Tom DeFalco famously wrote a scene featuring Ant-Man watching an episode of the maligned 90's Fantastic Four cartoon and then complaining about how awful it was.
  • Judge Dredd occasionally gets weird about this. 2000 AD exists in Dredd's world, and is a controlled substance. 2000 AD is best known for running the Judge Dredd comic strip.
  • Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew takes place in a dimension called Earth-C, an alternate version of our world (not the DC Universe). Team leader R. Rodney Rabbit is a penciller on Justa Lotta Animals—who he later discovers are a real superhero team and shut down the title for violating their trademarks!
  • Very frequent in British Humour Comics like The Beano and The Dandy with characters frequently shown reading their own comic.


  • The commentary track to the DVD release of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension is written under the assumption that the film is a fictionalized account of real events. The commentators go so far as to constantly explain how the events depicted differ from "what really happened", or make comparisons between Peter Weller's portrayal and that of the "real" Buckaroo.
  • Russo's Return of the Living Dead movies assume that the film Night of the Living Dead is a Hollywood adaptation of a true story, on which the later movies are based. Romero's sequels, on the other hand, are set in the same fictional universe as the first film.
    • There's also a 2006 remake of Night that has characters watching the original film on TV.
  • The 2005 movie Bewitched is based around the conceit that witches are real, but that the 1960s TV series was fiction. Hilarity Ensues when a real witch is cast in a remake of the TV series.
  • The movie version of Double Dragon features an actual Double Dragon arcade machine in the background of one fight scene.
  • The 2002 adaptation of The Time Machine when Alex travels to the future to research time travel, the librarian offers him a copy of The Time Machine by HG Wells, as well as the 1960 George Pal film.
  • Gremlins 2 has a scene where the Gremlins attack Leonard Maltin while he's giving a bad review to the first film. Then again, this is also a movie where the film is torn in half by the Gremlins, and Hulk Hogan has to threaten the Gremlins into re-starting the movie. (This was different in the original theatrical release. The film overheats, the Gremlins make shadow puppets on the screen, and then the "usher" comes in and yells at them until they restart the film.)
  • In 10 Things I Hate About You characters mention studying Shakespeare and admiring him, which is quite an odd thing to do in a Shakespeare adaptation. If they had studied the works of Shakespeare, then they would probably realise that their situation was extremely like the one in The Taming of the Shrew; and they might also note that some of them share the same name with their characters in the play.
  • In Beware The Blob; the pseudo-sequel to The Blob, a man actually watches "The Blob" on TV as it attacks.
  • The characters in Halloween III: Season of the Witch' watch the original Halloween on TV. Helps that Season of the Witch is a sidestory that doesn't feature Michael Myers.
  • In Rumor Has It..., the main character discovers that the movie The Graduate was based on her grandmother.
  • Hilariously lampshaded in Spaceballs when the bad guys watch a tape of the movie they're currently in to learn where the good guys are headed. They end up stopping the tape at the exact same scene.
    • They then fast-forward to learn what's about to happen. If only they'd continued and learned they couldn't win, this would not have happened.
    • Agreed on possibly avoiding, but what they actually did was rewind a bit to find where the main characters had landed.
  • Similarly, in Blazing Saddles, once the action has broken out of the Western set into the real world, the lead characters go to a movie theatre which is showing...Blazing Saddles.
  • Rosencrantz, in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, makes a paper airplane (among other things) out of... pages of Hamlet.
  • Hellboy mentions in The Movie that he absolutely hates the comics, as they always get his eyes wrong.
  • The 1990s film The Saint hints that the Leslie Charteris novels exist within it, and that the film hero was inspired by and is consciously imitating the prose character.
  • 47, the main character of the movie Hitman, which is based on the computer games of the same name, comes across two teenagers playing the first game of the series.
  • The So Bad It's Good Narm-fest Silent Night, Deadly Night, Part 2 has an interesting example of this. The first movie features Ax Crazy Billy Chapman, who dresses as Santa Claus and kills people. In Part 2, Billy's little brother Ricky Caldwell (they changed the family name for some reason) narrates his rise to insanity. During this time, he and his girlfriend go to a movie that is, in fact, the original Silent Night, Deadly Night; his girlfriend even describes the plot of the movie to him.
  • In The Muppet Movie, Dr. Teeth and Electric Mayhem are able to rescue the other stranded Muppets because they have a copy of the movie's script.
  • The Watchmen graphic novel appears in the background of one scene of the Watchmen movie.
  • In the hospital scene near the end of Twilight, one can see the movie's previous scene playing on the TV.
  • Apocalypse Now contains a nice reference to its source material, Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Colonel Kurtz reads from Eliot's 'The Hollow Men', which contains the epigraph 'Mistah Kurtz - he dead!'; he is reading 'From Ritual to Romance' and 'The Golden Bough', which Eliot mentions as two texts underpinning 'The Waste Land', whose epigraph was to be 'The horror! The horror!'. Both quotations are, of course, from the original Conrad.
  • Subverted in Last Action Hero, Danny is sucked into his favorite movie where he ends up befriending detective Jack Slater, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Danny's universe (and ours), and when they go into a video store together, Danny sees a poster for The Terminator, starring Sylvester Stallone.
  • The Beastmaster II: Portal Through Time features a scene were our heroes drive past a movie theater showing Beastmaster II: Portal Through Time.
  • The Wizard Of Speed And Time involves the protagonist trying to sell his script for a movie which is... the one we are watching. To further shatter the Fourth Wall, the crooked producer is played by Jittlov's partner, who turned out to be... a crooked producer.
  • The Tron arcade game exists in Tron: Legacy, but was created in the film by Kevin Flynn and released by Encom; real merchandise from the first movie shows up in the film as merchandise of the game.
  • The film Wes Craven's New Nightmare is about the actors from the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie being targeted by the "real world" Freddy Krueger. The film ends with Heather Lagenkamp reading the ending of the script for New Nightmare, which describes how she's reading the ending of the script for New Nightmare.
  • Peter Jackson's King Kong plays with this a little. A Mythology Gag about a "Fay, doing a picture with RKO" and being directed by a "Cooper" (references to Fay Wray, the original Ann Darrow, the company that produced the original 1933 King King, and it's Director, Merian C. Cooper) whilst the events of the film are taking place, one scene from Denham's film as being almost identical to an interaction between Ann and Jack in the original, as well as the stage show with Kong being very similar to the sacrifice scene from the original film, right down to the identical music and depictions of the Skull Island natives. This almost seems to imply the original 1933 film was a Hollywoodised version of real events in-universe.
  • As part of a Viral Marketing campaign for the first film, Michael Bay's Transformers is referred to in the Sector Seven Alternate Reality Game as a counter-information campaign by the titular organization, to cover up leaks and real events involving the existence of Cybertronians by presenting them as fictional. It even goes so far as to say Hugo Weaving is secretly a Sector Seven agent, who doubles as an actor and was put into the film (as Megatron's voice) to ensure the cover up went smoothly. It also suggests that the original G1 TV series was another such campaign.
  • Played with in the opening of Twilight Zone the Movie, in which a couple of guys driving down the highway play TV trivia games, and then discuss The Twilight Zone classic episodes that'd scared them as kids. One then turns into a monster and eats the other, and the Twilight Zone's theme music starts playing.
  • The fictional lore of The Smurfs in our world proves to be actually true in the 2011 live-action movie, and the Smurfs try to find it because it contains the spell that can return them to their world.
  • Cars featured automobile versions of past Pixar films, but what would their equivalent of Cars be?
  • Captain America: The First Avenger. Captain America starts off as purely a propaganda character played by an actual super soldier. The real life iconic comic featuring Captain America "socking old Adolf on the jaw" also exists in universe as an adaptation of his live show. He also stars in a series of WWII movie serials as his character, all before actually becoming a war hero.
  • At the beginning of "Pootie Tang" we see Pootie, famed athlete/martial artist/movie star/etc, being interviewed by Bob Costas, who then says we're going to see a clip from Pootie's new movie. What follows is, basically, the whole movie—until the very end, when we return to the interview, with Costas commenting that that's the longest clip he's ever seen.


  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hermione receives a very old copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a traditional book of wizarding fairy-tales. Then, when The Tales was published for real, it created this trope twicefold. One one hand, the book appears as a translation from the original runes made by Hermione, accompanied by a set of notes on the tales written by Albus Dumbledore, with J. K. Rowling only adding a foreword and some notes for us Muggles' benefit. And on the other hand, it mentions "the seven volumes of Harry Potter's biography", thus making the HP books real in their fictional universe.
  • In Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography, it was strongly suggested that the A Series of Unfortunate Events books exists in the eponymous universe. In addition, the Lemony Narrator is himself a character of the books - which he dedicates to his deceased beloved, Beatrice. When you really think about it, the whole idea sounds rather stalkerish.
  • Thursday Next has this in spades. Two different fictional versions of Thursday - i.e., the character we observed in earlier books - play a role in the fifth book of the series.
    • On top of that, the Thursday Next series is mutually recursive with the same author's Nursery Crime series, in that each book is fictional within the context of the other.
    • Its more that that: The Thursday Next books are fictional in her own universe (as part of the in-universe "Bookworld") as well existing as in the real world, but First Among Sequels mentions a book in the series that doesn't actually exist in the real world. In the end, she ends up wiping out this book in the Book World to remove her evil fictional duplicate, which also explains why the book doesn't exist and never has existed in the real world. So not only are the Thursday Next books recursive in the Thursday Next books, but they're recursive in the real world. Or something.
  • "You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly."
  • Interview With The Vampire is stated in its sequels to be published by the character Daniel Molloy inder a pseudonym. Indeed, the second book begins with villain Lestat reading it and claiming he was horribly misrepresented by Louis, the book's narrator.
    • Actually, all the books are also published in that universe, acting as memoirs for the vampires. In Queen of the Damned, a side character mentions reading the previous two books.
  • Philip Jose Farmer wrote a famous series called World of Tiers, set in a Multiverse that included our own universe. These books were used to create "Tiersian" psychotherapy in the real world. Farmer then wrote another book, Red Orc's Rage, in which a fellow undergoing said psychotherapy actually travels to the Tiersian universe.
  • The Number of the Beast by Robert A. Heinlein is confusing. It starts out with only modern canon weirdness, as the main characters visit worlds they know are fictional (like Oz). Then they meet up with a character from an earlier series by the same author, they know he's fictional and then he reveals that they are too, since he only knew where to meet them by reading their stories. The first of which was this book.
  • In Bret Easton Ellis' Lunar Park, a character from American Psycho shows up, holding a copy of American Psycho to talk to Bret Easton Ellis, who wrote American Psycho, about murders inspired by American Psycho.
  • The Neverending Story is a novel in which the main character, Bastian, finds a copy of the novel, The Neverending Story, and begins to read it. Bastian finally realizes that the story is more than just a story, when he gets to the part where a character in the book starts retelling the story word-for-word from the beginning—and starts not with the first chapter of the story within the story, but with the beginning of the exterior story: the one you're reading, in which Bastian is the main character.
    • This actually makes it a three-leveled Recursive Canon: the character of the internal story that does the retelling is an old hermit who is writing down the internal story in a book, while it's happening. A book within a book within a book, and all three are the same book.
  • In Diana Wynne Jones's Archer's Goon, this is briefly the case for the main story. How does this come about? Because Hathaway thinks that Quentin's words must be recursively fictional (i.e. that whatever Quentin writes as fiction turns out to be real), and consequently replaces Quentin's confiscated typewriter with one that is rigged to do exactly that. This allows Quentin, eventually, to manipulate reality by typing what he wants to happen.
  • House of Leaves has one of the central characters reading a book called, yes, House of Leaves, which certainly appears to be the same one that the reader is holding in their hands. Of course, this character exists only within a documentary which doesn't appear to exist in the narrator's universe and may or may not have been entirely invented by another character, presumably meaning that House of Leaves the book exists within the documentary's universe but not within Johnny Truant's universe, at least until it's written down by Johnny, which doesn't happen until well after the documentary would have been made, assuming said documentary and its participants actually existed, and... I don't even know.
  • Middle-Earth:
  • The epilogue of Wolves of the Calla. Just...that epilogue. And it causes Callahan to have a Heroic BSOD.
  • In Gene Roddenberry's novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it is asserted that the original Star Trek: The Original Series was a dramatization of the actual adventures of the Enterprise and that certain things were exaggerated or distorted for dramatic effect. This was Roddenberry's way of distancing himself from elements in the original series that he was unsatisfied with due to budgetary or technical limitations (for instance, after the Klingons were redesigned in the movie, Roddenberry told Trek fans to pretend they'd always looked that way.)
  • A character in one of Enid Blyton's Secret Seven stories asks about Five Go Down To The Sea, part of another series by the same author. (This Troper is unable to confirm that any Famous Five book refers to the Secret Seven, however.)
  • The Oz books are an interesting case; L. Frank Baum always included a "note to his readers" in the beginning of each book, and in the first few books he talks about writing the book, even thanking children for the ideas they've sent him, but gradually he begins talking about Oz more as if it's a real place, and he's just recounting events as they were told to him by Dorothy. In later books, new visitors to Oz, such as Betsy Bobbin and Trot, are familiar with the land of Oz and its inhabitants from having read the previous books.
    • In Yankee in Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson, this trope is especially notable. Tompy is not only familiar with Oz from having read the books, but at the end starts reading the book in which Jinnicky, who he had met in this story, first appeared.
  • In the Virals series, the spin off to the Temperance Brennan novels (adapted into the Bones TV series), the protagonist Tory Brennan is Temperance "Bones" Brennan's niece who gets canine abilities in a Freak Lab Accident. She mentions watching Bones with her father despite actually interacting with Bones herself.

Live Action TV

  • War of the Worlds reveals that the 1938 Radio Drama was part of a government disinformation campaign to cover up a real invasion. The 1953 film, on the other hand, is in-continuity.
    • It also acknowledges that the original H. G. Wells novel on which the radio drama was based exists in-universe. This is feasible because the 1953 movie has practically nothing in common with the book beyond a few broad strokes that could credibly be coincidence.
  • The original Star Trek: The Original Series television series, featuring the starship NCC-1701 Enterprise, was so popular that a massive write-in campaign convinced NASA to name the first real-life space shuttle OV-101 Enterprise. Much later, when Star Trek: Enterprise (a prequel to the original Star Trek) was created, there were several almost-explicit references implying that the NX-01 Enterprise was indeed named after the space shuttle. Let's recap: the fictional NX-01 was named after the real OV-101, which was named after the fictional NCC-1701, which was named (in-universe) after the NX-01. The mind boggles.
    • While the NX-01 may have been named after the OV-101, in Star Trek canon the OV-101 is named after CV-6 USS Enterprise, the WW 2-era aircraft carrier.
      • It gets really weird if you know an original proposed name for OV-101 was "Constitution". Which would mean that the Constitution Class USS Enterprise NCC-1701 was named for the NX-01 Enterprise which was named for the OV-101 Enterprise...which was, (arguably), a Constitution Class shuttle, named after the Constitution Class USS Enterprise NCC-1701.
  • Borderline example in Doctor Who's 25th anniversary serial Remembrance of the Daleks, which is a sequel to the original pilot episode and is set in the same place and time; at one point we hear a BBC continuity voice announcing the time and date the first episode of "a new science-fiction serial" was broadcast—it's cut short just before the name of the series is actually dropped.
    • The Expanded Universe novels mention a show named Professor X that ran from 1963 to 1989, which may be it.
  • The opening scene of the short-lived sitcom version of Ferris Buellers Day Off explained that the movie was a fictionalized retelling of the real Ferris Bueller's life, with the "real" Ferris (Charlie Schlatter) criticizing Matthew Broderick's portrayal of himself.
    • And, if Wikipedia is to be believed, took a chainsaw to a cutout of Broderick.
  • The ARG The Lost Experience acknowledges Lost as a fictional TV series which incorporates "real" elements such as The Hanso Foundation and the Widmore family.
  • In an episode of Mad TV, you can actually see an extra reading an issue of Mad Magazine.
    • In another episode, House (played by Michael McDonald) is actually watching an episode of Mad TV. It features Stuart (played by Michael McDonald) causing him to remark that he looks just like him.
  • Sliders has a variation. In the finale, the group slides to a world where a "seer" has been watching them psychically across the multiverse. He turned the visions into paintings, books, and ultimately, a live-action TV show that looks vaguely familiar...
  • There is a Nick Verse that exists with various Nickelodeon shows due to a not so great approach to keeping continuity, including Drake and Josh, iCarly, Victorious and several other shows.
  • MacGyver did this accidentally. In Thief of Budapest there are Russian spies filming the actions of the heroes. Moments later, they review the tapes. A careful viewer may notice: they're just watching the show, with the same dramatic angles and close-ups!

Newspaper Comics

  • The 1908 musical adaptation of Little Nemo was advertised on posters displayed in several strips. One strip had Nemo recreating the Valentines scene "like I saw in the show," and discovering that he's standing on stage behind an orchestra pit. The Dancing Missionary and Gladys the cat, characters created for the theatrical production, also made occasional appearances in the strip.
  • The logo box of one Garfield strip [dead link] is Garfield reading the newspaper comics, with the very logo box on the front, causing a Droste Image.
  • Similar to the above, one very early FoxTrot Sunday strip had the strip's title panel on a newspaper Roger was reading.

Tabletop Games

  • In the New World of Darkness, Frankenstein's Monster was the first of his Lineage of Prometheans. When he tried to create a "bride," he ended up making a horrific monstrosity in human form. One way the "bride' got revenge was by telling Mary Shelley a story that painted him in the worst possible light, thus spawning Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus.
    • Similarly, every vampire in London was scrambling for a while to find out who spilled the beans on Dracula to Bram Stoker.
      • The funny thing is that the novel isn't even remotely accurate beyond "Vlad the Impaler became a vampire after his death." The events described in it are a complete fabrication, and the vampires are attributed with traits they don't have in the World of Darkness.
  • The Dresden Files RPG is stated to exist in the universe of the novels, having been written by Harry's friend Billy for the same reason that Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, to spread information about monsters and their weaknesses to the common man. The game book is filled with margin notes from Harry, Billy, and Bob, and the implication is that it's a Roman à Clef, but this isn't the final version and so none of the names have been changed yet.


  • Older Than Steam: In Hamlet, Polonius mentions that he played Caesar in Julius Caesar. Possibly also an Actor Allusion if the same (original) actor played both roles... Or, given that most plays at the time (including Shakespeare's) were retellings of earlier tales, Polonius's reference could've been to some earlier playwright's version of Julius Caesar.
  • Lampshaded in Steve Martin's adaptation of the 1910 farce by Carl Sternheim, The Underpants. Gertrude says that she has just seen a comedy by Sternheim; when Louise asks if she should see it, Gertrude says "Wait until it's adapted."

Video Games

  • Tron 2.0 states that the events in the original Tron movie happened, and then the rights to the story were sold to Disney, who made a movie about it. The opening scene of the game begins with the main character playing an old Tron arcade cabinet. A second Tron arcade game is rigged to an archaic modem and used by Alan to hack into the system, create Mercury, and try to contact Jet.
  • The Myst video game series is based — or so Canon claims — on the actual journals of the characters, but the games are heavily abridged versions of the "real" events, and starring a faceless, sexless Stranger instead of the as of yet unnamed real character. This was taken further with the release of URU, which tells the story of modern-day archeologists exploring the caverns of D'ni, and even further still in Myst V, which tries to specificise some events hinted at in URU. It was finally taken to the Kayfabe level, where Cyan Worlds employees often present the idea that all of the Myst series, including Myst V and URU, exist as fictionalized accounts of real events.
  • Video game example: The 'plot' (such as it is) of We Love Katamari is driven by the idea that, following the success of the first game, Katamari Damacy, the stars (that is, the King of All Cosmos and the Prince) have become hugely popular, and must therefore answer requests from adoring fans. Things get sillier when the King convinces himself that he owes his huge popularity to his stylish, captivating chin.
  • Hideo Kojima's Policenauts is referenced in Metal Gear Solid in a poster in Otacon's lab, where it is implied in one scene that Policenauts is an anime that Otacon watches. Nobody seems to bring up the fact that Meryl Silverburgh has the same name, likeness, and occupation of a character in Policenauts.
  • In Duke Nukem 3D, a Duke Nukem arcade cabinet can be found in the first level, and has on it his appearance from the previous platformer games. Using it provokes the quip "Hmm... don't have time to play with myself."
    • Likewise in Duke Nukem Forever, we find out that the first level of the game is a recreation of the final boss from 3D, and when the level is over, we pan out of a TV screen to see that Duke himself is playing a video game based off himself, all while one of the game developer's spokeswomen was... shall we say... "helping herself" to him while he was playing.
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door an NPC gushes about this new game he has called "Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door". If you talk to him in the middle of the game he says he already beat it and the ending is amazing.
    • In addition, the ending sequence mentions that Flurrie and Doopliss are performing a play based on the events of the game... but since the battle system is itself "onstage", it's implied that you might be playing the play. Which means that the play refers to itself...
  • Similar to the Paper Mario example, one NPC in EarthBound wonders if EarthBound has been released yet.
  • The first person shooter Metro 2033 has several copies of the book Metro 2033 as well as posters for the book scattered around the place. Would makes sense that it was a popular book after the apocalypse though, seeing as it predicted the whole damn situation everyone is in.
  • In City of Heroes there are pinball machines of the game.
  • It's actually a plot point in Day of the Tentacle that Doctor Fred never saw a penny from "the video game based on his family."
  • One cutscene from Stinkoman 20 X 6 showed Stinkoman playing... ...Stinkoman 20X6.


  • Narrowly averted by Darths and Droids.
    • With layers upon layers... in the note on that page is a link to a screencap comic based on Harry Potter, which looks like a version of the comic, down to the note that has a link to a screencap comic based on The Sound of Music, which looks like a version of the comic, down to the note that has a link to a screencap comic based on the X-Men, which has a link...
  • MS Paint Adventures pushes new boundaries for this trope. There are four separate webcomics, or "adventures", on the site: Jail Break, Bard Quest, Problem Sleuth, and Homestuck. There's also an entity known as the Midnight Crew. The relationship between the five is a little complicated, to say the least.
    • Problem Sleuth, Bard Quest and Jailbreak seem to take place in the same universe.
    • John, The Hero of Homestuck, owns video games with the same titles as the first three adventures. It is unknown if these games are associated with the fictional that exists within that universe.
    • The Midnight Crew were introduced in a series of non-canonical extra commands for Problem Sleuth. Several characters in Homestuck go to, where there is a Midnight Crew adventure going on. Moreover, Jade checked it at a time when it was concluding an intermission which seems to be a variation of Homestuck and didn't seem to notice.
    • After the end of Act 3, Homestuck, in turn, began a Midnight Crew-themed intermission. In it, Spades Slick of the Midnight Crew - using a computer which once belonged to John's dad, no less - went to and found... Homestuck itself.
    • At the end of the intermission, it is revealed that the Midnight Crew intermission is part of the Homestuck story with direct ramifications on it. So... the whole thing's a little complicated.
    • It's ultimately quite simple though now that Andrew Hussie is actually a character in story; he's got time and space warping walls that he watches people with and so he can violate what we'd consider normal.

Web Original

  • In Half in the Bag, Mike Stoklasa acts as the creator of the Plinkett reviews in episodes where they screen the Episode I review at conventions, despite the fact that a different Plinkett exists in their universe. In the RedLetterMedia teaser videos, Mr. Plinkett (who seems to be the same Plinkett as the review universe) calls Half in the Bag "our new review show," and he also acknowledges the existence of Mike and Jay (calling them frauds). In both the HitB universe and RLM teasers, Feeding Frenzy is acknowledged as a work of fiction, despite featuring yet another version of Harry S. Plinkett.
  • The reviewers of That Guy With The Glasses encounter all sorts of crazy stuff in their videos:
But all this is forgotten in the annual Massive Multiplayer Crossover film featuring them all, where it appears that the characters actually live in (more or less) the real world; Nostalgia Chick, Linkara, Spoony et al really go by those names, and are employed by TGWTG to make the videos on the site.

Western Animation

  • In the universe of The Simpsons, Futurama is a fictional TV show. Conversely, in the universe of Futurama, The Simpsons is a fictional TV show, thus plunging these universes into an infinite regression of fictionality.
    • It should be noted that both universes did crossover with each other in a comic book story, where they noted that they were fictional to each other. Similarly, Radioactive Man is also "real" in one universe and has crossed over to Bart Simpson's world (at least the Bartman versions.)
      • Additionally, Bender got a scene with the Simpsons in one of the episodes that predicted the characters' futures.
    • This is done similarly in, of all places, The DCU and Watchmen. In a few throw away lines a news vendor and a retired superhero in Watchmen make references to old Superman comics and in the DCU proper The Question at one point reads a copy of Watchmen and recognises Rorschach as a Captain Ersatz of himself!
      • "Behind the Mask" has the first Night Owl mention he got the idea for his costume from the Blue Beetle, of whom he is a Captain Ersatz.
    • In another Simpsons comics crossover, "When Bongos Collide," it is established that Itchy and Scratchy are fictional cartoon characters within the Simpsons universe - but still has them appear as flesh-and-blood characters! The story resolves this inconsistency by having the space aliens Kodos and Kang (who themselves were originally fictional characters in a story told by Bart to Lisa in his treehouse before their in-universe Defictionalization) come to Earth and use a....trans-temporal reality thingee to cause Itchy and Scratchy to materialize out of the Simpson family TV set and become "real" beings! Later in the crossover, Bart (as "Bartman") uses the same device to materialize Radioactive Man actor Dirk Richter out of the 1950s TV show to ask for his help, only for Richter to tell Bart that Radioactive Man is fictional and that he's a real person playing him. Undeterred, Bart simply materializes the "fictional" Radioactive Man out of one of his comic books, and this RM really does have superpowers.
  • In Marvel's New Universe, Marvel's main universe is fiction.
  • The Ghostbusters films exist in The Real Ghostbusters universe as a retelling of actual events. Cartoon Peter Venkman notes that Bill Murray looks nothing like him. Toys from the TV series, however, show up in Ghostbusters II and the video game, which is noted as Canon to the movies. So the cartoon is a retelling of events in the movies which is a retelling of events in the cartoon which is oh dear I've gone crosseyed.
  • The Smithsonian/US Presidents episode of This Is America, Charlie Brown had the characters go to the museum and look at an original Peanuts comic that can be found in the museum, as well as information about the Apollo 10 modules (that were nicknamed "Charlie Brown" and "Snoopy").
  • Star Wars: Clone Wars has a Retcon to imply that the episode/scene/five minutes with Mace Windu was an in-universe cartoon later drawn by the kid watching the whole scene, in an attempt to account for Mace Windu's abilities being turned all the way Up to Eleven.
  • In Mega Man Legends, the video game store in Apple Mart apparently stocks the game Mega Man Legends.
  • In "Stage Door Cartoon," Elmer Fudd sits down in a theater for a screening of Looney Tunes.
  • In an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Grim can be seen watching Codename: Kids Next Door, but come The Grim Adventures of the KND they exist in the same universe.
  • An episode of the Transformers Generation 1 cartoon has a brief shot of a movie theater playing Transformers: The Movie. The events of which movie happened 20 years after the episode in question! Would have spared them a lot of losses if the Autobots bothered to check it out.
  • In the Garfield and Friends episode Badtime Story, Wade gets Roy to leave so Wade can finish the story by telling him "Your favorite TV shows on". Roy's reaction "Garfield and Friends? Oh my gosh! I can't miss it this week. We'll finish this later. Bye!" We later then see Roy at his house, saying "Hey, wait a minuite! This isn't Saturday morning! Garfield isn't on!".
    • Also, at the end of Secrets of the Animated Cartoon, the U.S. Acres characters all gather up to watch Garfield and Friends.
    • In The Lasagna Zone, Garfield, Trapped in TV Land, begs Odie to change the channel, but Odie mistakingly knocks the remote off the armchair, causing it to break and the channel to change endlessly, resulting in Garfield running in place through several different screens. One is Booker and Sheldon standing in a field, and another is the title card of the earlier episode Sludge Monster.
    • Averted: In Garfield's Halloween Adventure, when Garfield is flipping through TV channels at the beginning, one is a Jim Davis-drawn pig in a cartoony field. One may be tempted to think it's Orson and that he's watching Garfield and Friends, but this special predated it by 3 years.
  • The opening theme of Arthur showed DW reading an Arthur book and watching Arthur on TV.

Arthur: (on TV) Hey, DW!
DW: Hey!!!
Arthur:(falls off the screen screaming, the title falls apart below him)


  • Some Chick Tracts contain Chick Tracts being used to convert people, in tracts that are supposed to be converting people.