Stuck in Their Shadow

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Shadows are in reality, when the sun is shining, the most conspicuous thing in a landscape, next to the highest lights."
John Ruskin

One character of equal importance to the plot is pushed out of the spotlight and stuck in the shadow of another character.

Distinct from Lesser Star, where equal credit is given for unequal work. In this trope, equal work results in unequal credit. Compare with Breakup Breakout: Two characters team up, then eventually split up. One makes it big, and the other is all but forgotten. Compare Overshadowed by Awesome and Always Second Best where the character in the spotlight really is better then the character in the shadows.

Examples of Stuck in Their Shadow include:

Anime and Manga

  • Kotetsu T. Kaburagi/Wild Tiger serves as an example in Tiger and Bunny's Show Within a Show, HeroTV. While they do about the same amount of work as a hero team, it's Barnaby Brooks Jr. that gets all the publicity, interviews, photoshoots, fans and credit. This is taken to its logical conclusion in the thirteenth episode when Kotetsu pulls a Batman Gambit that allows Barnaby to take down Ouroboros terrorist Jake Martinez, and the public completely ignores his contribution to the fight. He's naturally a bit annoyed by this.


  • Wayne's World is named after Wayne, however, Garth is no less important in the scheme of things, gets about equal screen time, and provides just as many memorable lines.
  • An in-movie example occurs as a running gag in Monsters, Inc.. Whenever Mike appears in the media he is always covered up by something, like the barcode of a magazine or the company logo in a commercial. (Meanwhile, Sullivan is always front and center.) Whenever this happens, Mike initially appears shocked but then talks excitedly about being in print/on TV, never even noticing the unfortunate circumstances.


  • Three Tenors have sometimes been referred to as Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, and "that other guy".
  • Ringo Starr of The Beatles may or may not be a example of this trope.
  • John Deacon of Queen is usually thought of as "the other one" compared to the more outgoing, Large Ham members of the band. Still, he penned several of their big hits, and contributed a certain je ne sais quoi to the songs he didn't write with his bass playing.
  • John Entwistle of The Who, regarded by many as the greatest bass player of all time, is certainly a lot better-known than the bassists of most famous bands, but still nowhere near as famous as Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey or Keith Moon.
  • John McVie, the bassist for Fleetwood Mac, is probably the least known member of the group in spite of being half of its namesake and one of only two members who have been in the band since it started, especially compared to singer-songwriters Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, original bandleader Peter Green and co-group namer Mick Fleetwood.
  • John Paul Jones, the bassist (noticing a theme?) of Led Zeppelin (arguably).
    • Though he did like being able to walk around cities without being recognized while the rest of the band couldn't leave their hotel room without being mobbed by fans, since most people didn't know what he looked like.
    • This is also a general philosophy of many bass players, that you should play in such a way that it provides a framework for the guitarist, singer, and keyboardist to do their stuff without distracting the audience. Essentially if you're doing your job well no one knows you're there, until you flub, disconnect from the mix, what have you, and then your absence is immediately noted. See this video of Franz Ferdinand.
  • Of "The Jackson Five", Michael Jackson was obviously the most famous. Ask who the other four members are, and most could get Jermaine, Tito, and Marlon. Poor Jackie Jackson.
  • Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert of New Order. Not as well known as front-man Bernard Sumner or Bassist Peter Hook, they even called their spin-off band "The Other Two."
  • On a more macro level, there's are entire swaths of musicians that aren't talked about. Who plays the instruments during a Backstreet Boys concert? Who wrote Celine Dion's hits? Who records, mixes, engineers Katy Perry and saves her via Auto-Tune? Does anyone even know? These people provide contributions to the music industry that are absolutely vital, but because they aren't pretty and don't sing, no one's ever heard of them.
  • Guitarist Andy Summers and bassist Stewart Copeland of The Police were largely overshadowed by bassist/singer/songwriter Sting. Oddly enough, whilst they didn't receive the same individual credit, the band as a whole was far more popular than Sting's solo career.
  • Operatic librettists. Traditionally, operas were written in two stages: a librettist would write the libretto (Italian: little book) containing the script and lyrics, and then basically hawk it out to a composer, who would set the whole thing to music. Also traditionally, the composer would be listed as the creator of the work, with the librettist listed as a secondary figure, and usually known only to opera buffs. There are only two well-known exceptions to this: Gilbert and Sullivan (W.S. Gilbert being the librettist) and Richard Wagner, who wrote his own librettos.

Video Games

  • Diddy Kong from the original Donkey Kong Country. He can do everything Donkey Kong can do, with the exception of defeating a specific kind of enemy (Krusha), and is even far superior in some aspects such as running faster, swimming more precisely, and making long jumps better. You could beat the entire game playing as Diddy alone and probably have an easier time of it. However, canonically, he's Donkey Kong's "wannabe sidekick" and didn't get his chance to shine until the sequel Diddy's Kong Quest, where he was in turn overshadowed by his newbie companion...
    • Dixie Kong in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest may be a little slower than her boyfriend, but other than that barely-noticeable detail, she surpasses him in every way. Not only is she a more precise jumper and swimmer, she can do the famous ponytail twirl, wherein she hovers do the ground slowly by using her long ponytail as a propeller. This game is a little fairer because it makes it crucial to play as either one character or the other at specific times, but it may also be worth mentioning that in her own game Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble, she was not surpassed by Kiddy Kong.
  • Banjo-Kazooie is a little weird about this. Ask anyone who the star is, and most will say it's Banjo, even though the titles of three out of five games also include his partner Kazooie. The second game, Banjo Tooie, opts for a silly title pun instead of recognizing the second lead's name (it's even lampshaded by Kazooie herself at the end of the first game), and Banjo Kazooie Grunty's Revenge mentions her name although she isn't in it for the first few worlds. Indeed, in the first two games, Kazooie's the one doing the majority of attacking and acrobatics when the two are teamed up, with Banjo mostly just doing the walking around and (in the first game) the Claw Swipe and Roll (the second game replaced the Claw Swipe with another attack by Kazooie and had Kazooie assist with the Roll).
  • Being stuck in the shadow of his father Cao Cao has been Cao Pi's story path since his debut in Dynasty Warriors 5; he doesn't get a break even in the crossover game, as the warriors of Wei are still more loyal to Cao Cao (who is outright presumed dead until near the end of the plot) than to him in the first game, and he has to share an uneasy spotlight with his father in the sequel (though in the final battle Cao Cao does officially hand the baton over).
  • Luigi has incorporated this into his character. Initially a Palette Swap of Mario, even after he underwent Divergent Character Evolution he failed to get a starring role in anything except the Luigi's Mansion series and the poorly received Mario Is Missing. The canon now portrays him to be just competent as his brother (albeit significantly more cowardly), but perpetually ignored for his contributions—even Bowser can't remember his name, referring to him as "Green 'Stache" and fixating on Mario as his greatest enemy. Super Mario World has this example: if you beat the game as Luigi (in 2 player), the first three words of text are "Thank you Mario" while Luigi is still on the screen.
  • Thanks to Dissidia Final Fantasy, Xande has become this in favor of Cloud of Darkness. This is despite Xande was the Big Bad for most of the game, while Cloud of Darkness was a Giant Space Flea From Nowhere that didn't appear to have much involvement until the very end.

Web Original

  • The FreddieW videos are made by both Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch, though Brandon's less heard of because Freddie's name is on the channel and stars in most of the videos.

Western Animation

  • The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Road Runner cartoons have an incredibly blatant example. It's all about Wile E. Coyote and his ridiculous plans for catching and eating the bird. He probably gets three times as much screen time as the Road Runner in every cartoon.
  • In both the book and film versions of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the story focuses more on the human detective, Eddie Valiant. In the book, he was Eddie's shifty client, and although he was pivotal to the story, the focus was clearly on Eddie and his investigations. In the movie, Roger gets the plot rolling, but after that his job consists mostly of hanging around with Eddie and acting goofy.
    • Even in his cartoons in-universe, Roger gets second billing behind Baby Herman, even though (like Wile E.) he gets the lion's share of the laughs.

Real Life

  • Frank James, Jesse James's brother, has become relatively obscure in modern culture and exists largely in Jesse's shadow, even though the two were equally infamous in the old west and committed their criminal acts as a pair. It turns out an alliterative name counts for a lot.
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels penned The Communist Manifesto together, but Marx is the only one directly associated with it (with Marxism being another name for communism), while Engels is unknown to many who don't study Marxism.
  • After one of the authors of Off White became a real life example of this trope, they tried to avert this by doing things like alternately posting pages on both their Deviant ART accounts.
  • Many kids with older siblings tend to feel this way, sometimes into adulthood.