Their morals, their code; it's a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down these, uh, these civilized people? They'll eat each other.
—Joker, The Dark Knight
Not to be confused with The Corruption, which is more of an impersonal force, this character's primary role in the story is to bring out the worst in everyone around them. Often, their ultimate goal is getting the hero to do a Face Heel Turn.
They fulfill this role willingly and knowingly—perhaps they are doing it For the Evulz, or because they are a Complete Monster and seek validation by dragging others down to their level. Perhaps corrupting the hero advances their own agenda in some obscure way. Or maybe they just think that Humans Are the Real Monsters and are trying to prove it.
In any case, do not expect these guys to get a whole lot of development themselves—they are less characters in their own right than they are the metaphorical devil on someone else's shoulder given physical form. If they do get much Character Development, they will probably be a Shadow Archetype for the character they are trying to corrupt. Expect them to be very smooth and clever, though precise competence level will vary.
This character will almost always be a serious villain, though they can be parodied by being made particularly inept. If they're not the Big Bad, expect them to still be an important villain with a lot of screen time—this trope doesn't work too well if you can't interact with the characters you're corrupting.
Do not expect these guys to pull a Heel Face Turn; they are more likely to go into a Villainous Breakdown if they are definitively rejected. If they fail, it will probably be because they cannot comprehend good. Perhaps they want to rule with the hero, though this is by no means a universal trait, and not everyone who makes that offer is an example of this trope. May offer a Deal with the Devil at some point, but is just as likely to use mental and emotional manipulation to force their victim's hand without any sort of formal bargain—see Hannibal Lecture and Break the Cutie for some favorite tactics.
Sometimes the Corrupter cares more about turning the hero than his own life, and invites them to Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred.
Can be of any evil alignment; a Lawful Evil who wants a new minion, a Neutral Evil with selfish motivations, or a Chaotic Evil who just likes screwing with people. If it turns out that it was all a Secret Test of Character or otherwise necessary, see A Chat with Satan.
Closely related tropes are Manipulative Bastard and The Chessmaster. See The Vamp or Lady Macbeth if female and, if successful enough, Magnificent Bastard. Will often overlap with an evil Warrior Therapist, an Evil Mentor or Treacherous Advisor. See The Corruptible for the typical victim of this kind of villain.
- The Shoulder Devil is a literal version of this trope, though these days is one more likely to be played for comedy.
Anime and Manga
- Johan Liebert, the eponymous Monster.
- In Tower of God, Grace Luslec Mircea is this to 25th Baam, to the point he adopts his name and become Jyu Viole Grace (Jyu Viole, adopted by Grace). In a way, the Tower itself, a Genius Loci, corrupts it's inhabitants with the promise of having everything you wish for at the top.
- Orochimaru when he was still alive was one of these as well.
- Danzo also acts as an indirect example given all the people who he has caused to make a Face Heel Turn through his actions.
- It is implied that Zabuza had a similar effect on Haku, though Haku never saw him as anything other than a loving master.
- In the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist, Lust's job is to be The Corrupter who tempts desperate alchemists into seeking the forbidden knowledge of how to make Philosopher's Stones. Envy also ends up creating Wrath by tempting the nascent homunculus with incomplete Philosopher's Stones.
- Pasder and the Zonderians in GaoGaiGar, and the Primevals later on.
- Naraku from Inuyasha frequently tries to corrupt the hearts of the heroes; sometimes this is for a practical purpose (usually corrupting the Shikon Jewel), while sometimes it's just for the sake of evil. At one point, he tries to force Kagome to choose between killing the priestess he has mind-controlled (which would allegedly both condemn the priestess to hell and corrupt Kagome's heart for killing her knowing that) or being killed by her; at another, he tries to get Sango to kill an innocent little girl in order to kill him, which is also the only way to save her love interest's life (only Naraku wouldn't have died anyway because she was only talking to an illusion of himself).
- The Beast from Berserk. The Berserkerverse's resident super-powered evil Hell Hound entity that dwells within our main character, this mean puppy constantly tries to egg Guts into killing his friends - especially Casca, who is the only person who stops Guts from becoming a sociopathic killing machine. However, the Beasts wants this to happen in order to take over Guts' soul, so whenever he gets the chance, whether Guts is emotionally fragile from longing for intimate affection from his lost love or mentally vulnerable from wearing the berserker armor,the Beasts tells Guts a range of hideous things: that he doesn't really love Casca anymore and only uses her experience as way to fuel his hate for Griffith, or that he enjoys being a heartless killing machine because it gives him power. The Beast comes in and out of the picture, but always reminds Guts that it'll be back...
- Despite being the Big Bad, Dakki of Houshin Engi counts as this. One of her Paope gives off a sent that eventually drives men to her side and makes them devoted slaves. Mix in her own skills at manipulation with just her looks and words and you have a nasty combo to deal with. Just look at the Emperor. He starts off normal and many chapters in, gets turned into a human paope weapon that is barely aware of who he originally was. And she's been doing this for hundreds of years as well.
- Soul Eater has Asura and his Clowns as well as Medusa.
- Darkseid, being the God of Evil of the DC Universe, has played this role from time to time. The one he bragged about to Eclipso? He once visited New Genesis long before he took on the mantle of Darkseid and saw a beautiful young boy, pure and innocent. With little more than words and the death of a pet bird, Darkseid twisted the youth and gave him a new name -- Desaad.
- In All Fall Down, Phylum becomes this to Pronto, thanks to a booby-trapped voice-box that gives poisonous advice.
- In Hellblazer, Nergal attempted to corrupt a young John Constantine by disguising himself as a boy and offering him a cigarette. John took the cigarette and Nergal privately gloated that he had started the boy down a path of corruption. Then he noticed that John had managed to steal the entire pack from him when he wasn't looking. The two eventually become archenemies.
Films -- Animation
Films -- Live-Action
- Many versions of the Joker have shades of this, though the one from The Dark Knight is perhaps most explicit about it.
- Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars is a classic example, particularly in Revenge of the Sith (where he is very successful) and Return of the Jedi (not so much...).
- Most Sith Masters in the Star Wars Expanded Universe are like this too, particularly when recruiting apprentices.
- Grudge song, the fourth of the Female Prisoner Scorpion films, features a desperate attempt by the protagonist to do this to a calm, earnest Buddhist inmate in order to cause enough havoc to escape from Japan's equivalent of death row.
- The Un-man from Perelandra, which is fitting, since he's Satan possessing a human, in a sci-fi setting.
- Sang-drax from The Death Gate Cycle, who is basically evil incarnate (or rather, a piece of it) and feeds off of hatred, fear, and suffering—convincing mortals to do evil is his equivalent of popping a frozen dinner into a microwave.
- Calesta from the Coldfire Trilogy.
- Sauron—not so much in The Lord of the Rings, but definitely in the Downfall of Numenor chapter in The Silmarillion—stripped of all other resources, his last resort is to corrupt the entire Numenorean Empire and then sit back and watch their civilization spectacularly implode (unfortunately on top of him). He also corrupted the nine mortal kings who would later become the Nazgul.
- Grima Wormtongue corrupted king Theoden.
- Who was in turn corrupted by Saruman who was corrupted (somewhat indirectly) by Sauron who was corrupted by Melkor. Suffice it to say Tolkien was fond of this trope.
- Grima Wormtongue corrupted king Theoden.
- Explored in detail in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis.
- The point of Agatha Christie's Curtain. The person displaying this trait is actually an extremely timid person on the surface, taking revenge on others for being physically weaker than them this way.
- The unnamed demon from Terry Brooks' Running With the Demon and the changeling from its sequel A Knight of the Word. The demon in particular seeks to corrupt all of humanity as part of The Void's plan.
- Randall Flagg in The Stand, who is very much a Devil-figure in the novel and
onemany of Stephen King's most diabolical villains.
- I, Lucifer, a novel written from the devil's perspective, details his various efforts to corrupt mortal souls.
- Ruin from Mistborn isn't exactly encouraging people to be evil (he considers himself Above Good and Evil), but he does work to make them more destructive, which usually amounts to the same thing. Even the heroine was one of his pawns, at least for a while and without knowing it.
- First Mate Cox in Nation. He makes other people like himself.
- The Big Bad himself, Kullervo, from Companions Quartet by Julia Golding, has this kind of effect on others having been able to convert the Seagullls, Cassandra Lang, and the Chimera amongst others.
- Lord Voldemort recruited Quirrell this way, and presumably some other followers as well.
- Cersei Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire is this to her brother Jaime. He isn't the nicest person anyway, but where she is concerned his moral compass (such as it is) basically shuts down completely.
- Lashiel's shadow in the Dresden Files fills this role, although Harry corrupts her, for lack of a better term, more than she does him, and in the end she pulls off a Heroic Sacrifice for him.
- In Lucifer's Hammer, Sargent Hooker and his cannibal army qualify as this. People who they capture are forced to choose between helping to kill and eat other captives, or be killed and eaten themselves. Once they've done this, most don't ever feel they can go back, so they survive by committing themselves to their new comrades. (An interesting example, because we get to see how the army becomes corrupted, then becomes the The Corrupter in order to gain new recruits.)
- Berys in Tales of Kolmar managed to become Archchancellor of the College of Mages through demon-summoning, and regularly when seeing students and established healers frustrated by their limits he would offer them greater power in exchange for a lock of hair and the promise of aid when he needed it. Of course he never tells them that said aid takes the form of sudden Demonic Possession and their magic feeding his, whenever he wants it.
- In the third season of Ashes to Ashes, this is the whole motivation of Jim Keats. He wants to see Gene Hunt brought down and, resenting him for bringing good police officers under his sway, plans to turn the others against Gene. It seems like he may have a point... then he grows into more of a Shadow Archetype of Gene Hunt, just as brutal but considerably more evil, and he becomes an almost Satanic figure. Then he becomes an actual Satanic figure, as it's revealed the whole reason for his corrupting of the others was so that he could lure them down to Hell. It's that kind of show.
- Méléagant in Kaamelott (seasons 4, 5 and 6). Who or what he is stays unclear, but it is hinted he's incredibly ancient. With a mix of guile and carefully-used magic powers, he works at corrupting Lancelot even further than he already was, and push a depressive King Arthur toward suicide.
- Mr. Morden on Babylon 5, who is introduced by going around the station asking the ambassadors "What do you want?". His job under the Shadows is to find pliable people that he can tempt into a Deal with the Devil by making them accept Shadow aid.
- Darkseid and his minions Godfrey, Granny Goodness, and especially Desaad fulfill this role in Smallville's tenth season, turning the entire world against the JLA while strengthening their own power in the process.
- Earth-2 Lionel did this to Lex, Tess, and Clark in his home universe, and tries it on Alexander when he makes his way to Earth-1.
- On Burn Notice, Larry's goal in life is to get Michael to cross the Moral Event Horizon and then go into business with him.
- A number of demons in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, including Moloch the Corrupter.
- Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother is a Played for Laughs version, especially towards Ted, and is constantly trying to get Ted to become more like him. However, when he's not doing this, Barney is a genuinely good friend.
- The aliens in The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, by way of suggestion.
Myths & Religion
- Unlike most of Corrupters, Ceraphim from The Lord of Darkwood actually doesn't get a lot of screen time. Ceraphim is the Dragon-in-Chief of the story (real Big Bad is a world destroying idiot god Sealed Evil in A Can). Acting through others is a point of pride for him. Normally when faced with a hero he tries to corrupt them, and if that proves impossible, tries to corrupt the hero's supporters into killing the hero. When neither of these worked against Lord Darkwood as his last act before being banished, Ceraphim killed Darkwood's Father Figure to cause Darkwood pain. What a Sore Loser!
- This was the entire character of Sean O'Haire's last[when?] WWE gimmick—he'd pop up to try and convince folks backstage to turn heel, in between vignettes urging ordinary people to do things like cheat on their wives simply for kicks.
- This is the current[when?] character for Kane, as he's attempting to get John Cena to "embrace the hate", and presumably, turn heel.
- Gargauth, a literal god of corruption from the Forgotten Realms world.
- The Followers of Set from Vampire: The Masquerade consider it their holy mission to tempt others into vice and sin.
- Shedim from In Nomine are this trope; an alternate name for this particular type of demon is "Corrupters". They accomplish their corruption by Demonic Possession and driving their hosts to do things of escalating levels of evil every day, and the host thinks it was their idea in the first place.
- Iago of Othello who feeds the title character's jealousy about his wife until it destroys him, just because he can (yes, he was passed over for a promotion, but it's generally accepted that his actions are too incredibly disproportionate to the slight for it to be his underlying motivation).
- Also the Three Witches of Macbeth, who are there just to start the title character's headlong rush down the slippery slope
- Lady Macbeth has some elements of this. See the trope for details.
- Arguably Cassius in Julius Caesar who persuades Brutus to join the conspiracy to kill Caesar by poisoning his mind and telling him that Caesar wants to make himself a dictator. However, there is debate other whether Cassius himself actually believes what he tells Brutus.
- Mephistopheles, the Big Bad of Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark. Especially towards your followers...
- While Chaos is the Big Bad of Dissidia Final Fantasy, he is just as much a victim of the Groundhog Day Loop as everyone else. His dragon Garland, on the other hand, remembers every iteration of the cycle and always pushes Chaos into waging war on Cosmos.
- Mephiles in the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog game fills this role, or tries to. He tries to tempt Shadow into turning evil again to "help Mephiles" in a desire for revenge, when all Mephiles actually wants to do is destroy everything. He also manipulates Silver into getting him to kill Sonic, which sticks for most of the game until Shadow convinces him of better. Luckily, it turns out Shadow is the only character with a clue. At the end, Mephiles basically goes "fuck this" and takes matters into his own hands, and kills Sonic.
- If you're playing Light-Sided, Kreia can definitely be this in Knights of the Old Republic, viciously berating selfless actions, inflicting Mind Rape on your companions, and encouraging you to "use" and "discard" everyone like tools to advance yourself.
- "Master User" J. D. Thorne in Tron 2.0 was a User sent into Cyberspace without the necessary protocols to keep him stable, turning him into a living computer virus that seeks out Programs and twists them into Z-lots.
- Molag Bal the Daedric Prince of Domination in The Elder Scrolls games. He's even called The Corrupter in-universe.
- Most of the overtly evil Daedric Princes dabble in this role in one way or another, relishing every chance to turn a mortal (particularly a Hero) to their way of thinking.
- Xana from Dark Messiah of Might and Magic spends the entire game trying to convince Sareth to accept his demonic heritage, all the while making pretty blatant come-ons and innuendo (she is a succubus after all). She also tries to convince him to not free the Demon Sovereign, and instead claim the Skull's power for himself, with her at his side of course.
- Skelter Helter and Pizza Batt Jr. try to be this towards Travis in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, making him feel the pain he made them feel and become a monster just like them. They fail at killing the remaining friends he has, however, and also sort of forgot that Travis was already pretty corrupt to begin with.
- When Adachi tried this in Persona 4, the main cast pointed out how childish and pathetic his view points were. He does not take it well.
- The IFCC from The Order of the Stick, who may have a behind-the-scenes Evil Plan going on, but are also just as interested in claiming souls as any other fiends.
- Doc Scratch from Homestuck is this for an entire species, turning the Trolls of Alternia from Perfect Pacifist People into the ultimate Warrior Race.
- Anakin is this in Darths and Droids, particularly focusing on Palpatine in a reversal of their roles from the source material. Unfortunately for him, he succeeds a little too well with Palpatine...
- In Sinfest, Baby Blue accuses the Sisterhood of this.
- The Gungan Council has many Sith, like Darth Apparatus, tempting Jedi to the dark side.
- The Nostalgia Critic has been established in-universe and out as a horrible influence on people. Problem is, he doesn't know he's doing it and he's the one who usually ends up getting killed, raped or otherwise hurt in some way.
- Slade from Teen Titans, especially in Seasons One and Two.
- Darkseid from Superman: The Animated Series has elements of this, though he has bigger plans than just turning Superman to his side.
- Nerissa from W.I.T.C.H. has elements of this, though she's unusual in that she's a Well-Intentioned Extremist—it's just that she's also a big-time control freak and finds people's moral flaws to be an easily-exploitable weakness she can use to control them.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Azula fits this. While she doesn't bring down someone who was good, she did corrupt her brother Zuko right before he could complete his Heel Face Turn at the end of Season 2. Despite their uncle's protests he joined her. Though he did eventually make up for it with a real Heel Face Turn in Season 3.
- Azula also manages to turn the Dai-Li against the Earth Kingdom.
- From the 2010 French Animated Adaptation of The Little Prince, the Serpent is this trope in its purest form. His modus operandi is to compel the most important person on every planet to indulge into their whims, with always disastrous results for their world. Naturally, he attempts it with the title hero too, trying to convince him to return to Asteroid B612 and leave the Serpent free to corrupt people.
- Cartman from South Park is exceptionally adept at pulling along otherwise decent, if not potty-mouthed kids into his horrible schemes. Usually happens to Butters and Kyle.
- "Crack Baby Athletic Association" has Cartman corrupt the normally morally uptight Kyle to the point that Stan calls Kyle on sounding just like Cartman.
- Chase Young from Xiaolin Showdown spends almost the entire second season working to corrupt Omi and convince him to join the forces of evil.
- Third season introduces Hannibal Roy Bean, the one who successfully corrupted Chase.
- Wuya successfully turned Raimundo against his friends by offering him power and respect after he felt snubbed by Master Fung near the end of the first season. Hannibal tried to corrupt Raimundo again but failed miserably.
- Discord from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic does this to most of the Mane Six for fun and to keep the Elements of Harmony powerless. When Fluttershy proves immune to his mind games, he throws a hissy fit and forcefully brainwashes her anyway.