The Sorcerous Overlord is probably one of the most common variations of Evil Sorcerer due to the strong themes that come out of having a single hero or small Ragtag Bunch of Misfits against a ruler whose power comes from a vague, nebulous and potentially ever-pervasive source. The Sorcerous Overlord can always have a number of devices to keep inserting their presence into the plot: Magic Mirrors, evil animal minions, setting up magical warriors. Every element of the overlord's realm can be a more direct extension of themselves (with inherent Exclusively Evil) and they can come up with various ways of sending a threat against them. They also make good foils for the musclebound hero who fights through mainly physical stabbing-meaty-things-with-pointy-things methods. On the other hand, this can make it hard to explain why there are any limits on the sorcery when fighting the hero.
See also Magocracy. Contrast Court Mage, where a magic-user is a ruler's advisor rather than the ruler themselves, and Emperor Scientist, who has science instead of magic. (However, Sorcerous Overlord and Emperor Scientist are known to overlap quite often.)
Anime and Manga
- Kulan Gath from the Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja comics.
- Most of Conan's foes, actually.
- Doctor Doom is a fusion of this trope and Emperor Scientist.
- Dormammu is this trope, as he is an Evil Sorceror as well as being a demonic god-tyrant, Pure Magic Being and Dimension Lord. Unlike other examples he both draws on magical beings for power and is a magical being whose power is drawn upon. His sister Umar also fits this, though she has fallen victim to Shapeshifter Mode Lock and appears to be a handsome young woman.
- Darkhell was this in the country of Shiar, with some Emperor Scientist aspect. He lost the place after the Legendaries defeated him for the first time however, and remains an mere Evil Sorcerer in most of his latter appearance.
- Thulsa Doom in the Conan the Barbarian movie. He's obviously magical what with the turning into a snake, the snake arrows, and the More Than Mind Control, but sometimes you get the feeling that he's really best defined by being the opposition to the sword wielding Barbarian Hero.
- Palpatine and several Dark Lords of the Sith in Star Wars
- Lord of the Rings - Sauron
- Also, the Witch-king of Angmar often acted as this, ruling his own independent realms with little direct oversight from Sauron. Saruman tried, but it didn't work out for him...
- Clark Ashton Smith liked this one. Maal Dweb is the incarnation of this trope. Malygris is this without the muscle-bound hero. Ossaru was this in the backstory of The Tomb-Spawn.
- Galbatorix from The Inheritance Cycle
- The Shadow Lord from Emily Rodda's Deltora Quest series. He arrived as a mere Evil Sorceror, now he rules the shadowlands formerly known as Piria with designs on adding it neighboring land of Deltora to his domain, which has the ports he can use to spead his evil to other lands.
- The Warlock Lord, Brona, from The Sword of Shannara.
- Emperor Ariakas from Dragonlance was a somwhat unusual Magic Knight flavor of this - challenge him, and he can best you in a duel, char you to a crisp, or some combination thereof.
- Emperor Otha of Zemoch from The Elenium, also head of the local Religion of Evil. He's also completely sedentary and dumb as a post, but he makes up for it with his magical power and being the head of the single most powerful nation in the world. Of course, he's still answerable to his god...
- Vond the warlock from Lawrence Watt-Evans's novel The Unwilling Warlord is a non-evil version. Vond gains access to tremendous magical power and easily conquers several small kingdoms, creating an empire. But Vond is not a bad ruler: for example, he helps peasants to grow crops with his magic. He mostly plays with his warlockry, spends time with his harem (assembled without any coercion), and delegates the "boring stuff" to the ruling council. And then it gets kinda doubly subverted, when the Calling - every warlock's bane - catches up with him...
- The Black Company series by Glen Cook is chock full of these guys and gals, with the most prominent being the Lady (in the present day) and the Dominator (in the backstory, though he tries to claw his way out of the "grave"). There're also some former Sorcerous Overlords - specifically, most of the Taken seem to be this - who were enslaved by the more powerful ones. Always a Bigger Fish, indeed. It helps that magic-users tend to live longer and be the opposite of Squishy Wizard.
- Emperor Ma'elKoth from The Acts of Caine books fits this to a tee.
- Elric of Melnibone. He's somewhat less evil than is usual for the trope.
- Gavin "The Prism" in The Lightbringer Trilogy.
Mythology and Religion
- Queen Himiko in Japanese Mythology had a dash of this. She was a shaman-queen of Yamataikoku, the land that would become Japan. Legend says she ruled her people with magical mind-control, or something to that effect.
- In Warhammer Fantasy Battle the dark elves are ruled over by Malekith the Witch-King, a Tin Tyrant who requires a magical suit of armor to give him strength after an encounter with holy fire.
- Dungeons and Dragons
- Birthright has both independent rulership and unrestricted use of magic available only to the characters of divine bloodlines, so occasionally this happens. The balancing factor is that sum of magic power and economical power of each province is constant (unless its populated by the elves, and they are up to ear-tips in worse problems), but collecting more different specialized provinces obviously solves this.
- In Forgotten Realms Manshoon used to be the leader and creator of the Zhentarim until he was Demoted to Dragon by his lieutenant Fzoul. Who isn't a wizard, but an incredibly powerful priest.
- Thay is The Magocracy supposed to be ruled by a council of equal Zulkirs, but after the seat of Zulkir of Necromancy was taken by Szass Tam, eventually he dominated the whole thing.
- Dark Sun has every single city-state of Athas ruled by a Sorcerer King (or Queen). Who are horribly evil, every single one of them: they get to be where they are now because each was a general of the older crazy and even more magically apt overlord, tasked with genocide, and when about to outlive their usefulness, banded together, betrayed and disposed of their master first. Their wars greatly contributed to sucking all magic out of the world in the past, turning it into a blasted wasteland. They tend toward Pragmatic Villainy, however, and some are even liked by the general populace -- at least the part of it that doesn't happen to be slaves with prospects of being worked to death, sacrificed for more lifeforce-consuming magic or killed for entertainment.
- The Overlord, eventually. You start off as an armour plated warrior but to advance and gain more power and to fit more stereotypically into the Evil Overlord mode you can gain magic powers.
- The Old Overlord, possessing the Gandalf stereotype wizard who killed him, is a more straight example.
- Arthas Menethil, the Lich King from World of Warcraft, qualifies. Combination of one of the most powerful necromancer and death knight? The world is screwed (if he can get up from his throne, that is...).
- Queen Azshara, once queen of the night elves, described as the most powerful mortal mage to ever live. Her people loved her, but the only person she considered worthy of her was the leader of the Burning Legion whom she attempted to bring to Azeroth. Now she rules over the naga, plotting her revenge.
- Magus from Chrono Trigger, until his Heel Face Turn.
- The Emperor from Final Fantasy II is a textbook example.
- Final Fantasy in general loves this. Out-and-out examples include Golbez, Exdeath, and Ultimecia, with other characters depending on your definition of an empire.
- Shao Kahn from Mortal Kombat, to the point of being the Evil Counterpart to Raiden, who is a god. Shinnok also has shades of this, though he is a fallen Elder God who just seems to have a bit of a sorcerous theme going on.
- The Magic Emperor in Lunar: The Silver Star and its sequels.
- Evil Lord Drokmar from Magic Sword.
- The Legend of Zelda features Ganon, whose magic abilities, which mostly derive from the Triforce of Power, are more or less divine. There's also Vaati; while his overall power, as pertains to both magic and dominion, pales in comparison to Ganon's, he makes up for it by making greater actual usage of magic in combat.
- Dragon Quest IX has King Godwyn, ruler of the Gittish Empire. He experimented with draining the magic power of Celestrians as power, and he is an extremely competent mage. Even his normal attack seems to have at least some sort of magical element to it.
- Xykon in the Order of the Stick can be considered this as he's an Evil Sorcerer, leads the nomadic goblins/hobgoblins and started the strip holed up in an impressive cavern system containing one of the lynchpins of the universe. He recently became a more classical overlord when he conquered Azure City, though he's reluctant to just sit there and rule it in typical overlord fashion.
- Mozenrath in Aladdin: The Animated Series is the perfect example of this. He is the ruler of the land of the black sand, he has powerful magic, and his schemes usually involve conquest or becoming more powerful in some way to facilitate said conquest. Aladdin fits the role of the muscle bound protagonist with his, as Iago put it, "two fisted ways." Note that in this particular example, the sorcerous overlord and the musclebound protagonist sort of form a yin yang. Mozenrath is not completely incapable of defending himself in a physical confrontation, and Aladdin has the Genie and his magic to help him. The reason for this might be due to Word of God stating that the original plot of the third Aladdin movie was to reveal that Mozenrath was Aladdins brother
- Skeletor - similar set up to Thulsa Doom - big guy with loincloth and sword fights weird villain with powers that vary Depending on the Writer.
- Just about every villain in Thundarr the Barbarian. As if a character with that epithet was going to face anything else.
- Prince Phobos from WITCH. Unlike many of these examples, though, his primary opponents are also magic-users.
- Master Cyclonis from Storm Hawks.