The Soulless

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I need a soul, Ralph. Any soul. Yours.

When people use the phrase "soulless monster," they usually mean the person they're referring to isn't acting like a (decent) human being, not that they actually lack a soul and are a monster.[1] In fiction, some characters really are soulless, and often act like monsters because of it.

When a character loses their Soul, they normally become a listless Empty Shell or transform into The Heartless; The Soulless, however, are active, rational, and still recognizably human in almost every sense. They just lack a soul. The Soulless is motivated by one thing only: getting a soul. Any old soul will do, but frequently they want their own soul back for sentimental reasons. Much like a type 2 case of Came Back Wrong, problems arise because the character is no longer bound by ethical (and sometimes natural) laws and demonstrates a disturbing Lack of Empathy (and sometimes a lack of survival instincts). A Nice Guy will break fingers, The Cutie will just break, and even the Friend to All Living Things will rampage through a petting zoo if it brings them closer to their goal. While a soulless character doesn't necessarily become a soulless killing machine, sanity and humanity don't fare very well without one. Even if both of these traits are independent of the soul and don't suffer in its absence, most Soulless characters have a change in worldview that does erode their good nature.

If they do get it back, expect a reaction along the lines of "My God, What Have I Done?!" as the backlogged ennui catches up with them. At least, they can get better.

Things can always get worse, of course. For some people, the loss of a soul enables them to freely jump headfirst down the slip and slide of The Dark Side, or simply smile and carry on as if nothing happened... and kill anyone who disagrees. Like an appendix, it was just a useless organ weighing them down. If the world is lucky, its absence will be felt before long. The Love Interest leaves them because they aren't treated the same (and their kisses no longer bring joy), they don't feel happy at a friend's birthday, or sad at their father's funeral. What they do feel is a keen emptiness that gnaws on their conscious mind like an ever-growing black hole slowly syphoning a star's outer layers. With any luck, they'll try to get their soul back using mostly moral means.

Examples of The Soulless include:

Multiple Media

  • Vampires are typically said to have no souls, having lost them along with their morality. This is often stated to be the reason they have no reflection.
  • Zombies are usually depicted as soulless, mindless creatures.
  • When a Ridiculously Human Robot is depicted seriously, there is often debate over whether it even can have a soul. The Trope Just a Machine often overlaps.

Anime and Manga

  • The Homunculi in the Fullmetal Alchemist anime.
    • Subverted in the end.
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, according to Beatrice, furniture is like this, including Shannon, Kanon, and Genji. Presumably not Kumasawa though.
  • Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle has an instance of something that is not technically alive (a clone of the protagonist... magical clones do not count as "alive" in this series) gaining a soul anyway. Without said soul (or a fragment of someone else's soul), that being was devoid of any personality or morals, and single-mindedly pursued its main objective in a manner not unlike the Terminator.

Comic Books

  • Stalker, a short lived Sword and Sorcery title from DC Comics, was about a warrior that sold his soul for immortality. In order to get his soul back, he had to abolish all war in his homeworld and slay the supreme deity.
  • Also from DC Comics is Sebastian Faust, the son of sorcerous bad guy Felix Faust. His dad bartered away his own soul for power, but when he needed more and the demon wouldn't renegotiate the first deal, he sold Sebastian's soul. He seems to get along fine without it, though he did feel relieved to get it back during a Crisis Crossover—only to have to lose it in order to set things right.
    • The (kind of) silver lining for Sebastian is that the demon Nebiros screwed over Felix by granting Sebastian the power instead. As his Meaningful Name would suggest, Felix has a bad habit of making Deals With the Devil that leave him worse off in the long run.
  • In Blackest Night, it turns out that Nekron doesn't have a soul, which makes him conveniently immune to the Spectre's power.
  • In the short lived "Warlock and the Infinity Watch" Marvel series, villain Count Abyss sold his soul for power and set in motion a complicated scheme to steal Adam Warlock's soul gem. It works until he is forcibly given the soul of a good and just person.
  • In Secret Six, Ragdoll was born without a soul, something highly valued in Hell; only a handful of beings since the beginning of time have been born like that. Like Sebastian Faust, being soulless doesn't seem to have had any impact - Ragdoll is the comparative 'white sheep' of a family of utter monsters.
  • Lyla Miller of X Factor has recetnly demonstrated the ability to bring people back to life, in addition too Knowing Stuff . The only problem is they come back sans their soul, resulting in them feeling next to no joy from anything, and being a little bitter. This was first used on formerly Fun Embodied Guido, and the worry she had done this to Jamie after he "died" and woke up nearly caused Monet to kill her/leave the team.
  • Ghost Rider villain Master Pandemonium sold his soul to Mephisto in exchange for demonic powers. He claims that the star-shaped hole in his chest is the result of this.


  • The premise of Cold Souls is that people can put their souls into storage to be freed from the burden of having a soul, or can even get a soul transplant. When Paul Giamatti first has his soul stored, he feels light and happy but turns into an insouciant Jerkass who can no longer act.
  • The horror movie "Chiller" was about a man who is reawakened from cold Suspended Animation, but Came Back Wrong, and started engaging in evil behavior, including rape. A priest states that this is because he's technically "dead" and his soul is now gone.
  • In the rather good Mortal Kombat (the first one anyway), the soul-stealing Shang Tsung is described as such.

Liu Kang: All those souls and you still don't have one of your own. I pity you, sorcerer.

  • The Fabrication Machine in Nine was, according to its creator, flawed because it didn't have a soul. When it's reactivated, it promptly tries to fix itself.
  • In one of the Godzilla films the big guy comes back as an undead white eyed monster possessed by evil spirits of dead WW 2 soldiers. Kananko explicitly said in interviews that the pure white eyes means either Godzilla had his soul exorcized by the evil spirits or he never had one to begin with.


  • It is repeatedly reiterated in Arcia Chronicles that Orcs don't have a soul, although what exactly that means is unclear. In fact, their apparent soullessness results in them being much more noble and goodhearted than humans and Elves, since they "only have one life."
    • Making this a rather spectacular subversion of the stereotypical Exclusively Evil Orcs.
      • They aren't particularly more goodhearted, and they still are roped into serving the first Big Bad. Also, Exclusively Evil Orcs are a subversion by the current point, thanks to every fantasy writer trying to be "original."
  • Subverted in "The Fisherman and his Soul" by Oscar Wilde, in which a young fisherman is magically separated from his soul, which takes on human guise and travels around without him—and the fisherman is largely unaffected, while the soul becomes a typical "soulless" monster-in-human-form. It's explained that this is because the fisherman still has a loving heart, while the soul is both literally and metaphorically Heartless.
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer spends his eponymous book trying to regain his soul.
  • The protagonist of Soulless by Gail Carriger was born without a soul, but she does not find her condition troublesome. She studies philosophy to compensate for her natural lack of morals, and uses reason instead of spirituality to be a good person. Souls in this universe are a quantifiable possession—those who have large amounts, such as artists and musicians, are more likely to survive the transition into werewolf or vampire, while those who have none at all, such as the protagonist, can actually neutralize others' powers when in physical contact with them.
  • In Arthur Machen's novella "The Inmost Light," a man removes the soul of his wife, who takes to acting inhumanly. It is implied that something else has taken the soul's place.
  • Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, to an extent. Because of all the Horcruxes he made, very little of his actual soul remains inside his body, which seems to have been largely responsible for the sociopathic but self-controlled Tom Riddle's degeneration into the Ax Crazy Voldemort.
    • It's worth noting that people who are actually soulless, as opposed to mostly soulless, are basically empty husks in the Harry Potter verse, with no memories, personality, or consciousness.
  • The demons in Terry Brooks' The Word and The Void trilogy, are former humans who sold, lost, or otherwise gave up their souls to The Void. They're Chaotic Evil sociopaths prone to casual murder and Mind Screw, and who exist only to destroy all of creation. Since they were once human, they blend in easily among their former compatriots, and depending on how long they've been without a soul, and just what sort of other deals they've made with The Void, they may also manifest other powers, ranging from spellcasting to Shapeshifting to mind control.
  • In one of the short story sketches in Jostein Gaarder's The Ringmaster's Daughter, there are exactly 12 billion souls in the world and that they are recycled. Going over this number results in people being born with a "Lack of Soul Disease," which they never recover from. This gets the Catholic Church to start promoting the idea of birth control.
  • Individuals in Scorpion Shards whose souls have been eaten function as p-zombies. They act exactly like ensouled people, and many of them aren't even aware they're soulless (insofar as the term "aware" can be applied to a creature defined by its lack of awareness.) They're harmless, but the main characters usually kill them as a form of Due to the Dead.
  • In The Case Of The Toxic Spell Dump, exposure to arcane contamination can cause infants to be born without a soul. The condition is called "apsychia", and is considered a birth defect; while it doesn't necessarily make a person into a Complete Monster, it's suggested that this alternate Earth's counterpart to Hitler was apsychic, and therefore felt free to commit genocide because he'd never have to pay for it in Hell.
  • In The Dresden Files, most intelligent beings do not have souls. This includes both the Red and Black Court vampires, as well as the Fae. This doesn't automatically make them evil...but it does make then inhuman and apparently coincides with a lack of true free will. In this setting, faeries can be compelled more easily than humans and it's not illegal to do so, and they are more bound by their nature than humans (creatures of habit, in other words) and unable to change it the way humans can reinvent themselves. The White Court 'vampires', on the other hand, appear to be basically a kind of human being, and they most certainly do have souls, and apparently free will (though this is somewhat limited by the fact that they share said soul with an unintelligent but very hungry demon). Angels (Fallen or otherwise), invert this trope- they're all soul, with bodies being temporary and incidental to their being (though Fallen sometimes possess humans).
  • Explored in Warbreaker because of how the magic system, Awakening, is powered by Breaths, a form of mystical energy everyone possesses and is considered analogous to the soul in-universe (though per Word of God, a Breath seems more like part of a soul). Everyone is born with one breath, but they can be given away- someone who holds a lot has various innate supernatural abilities, and using Awakening requires a pretty large supply. To the Austrist religion, a Drab (someone with no Breaths) is conisdered to have suffered A Fate Worse Tha Death, while to the state religion of Hallandren, it's seen as no big deal. Word of God puts it somewhere in between- a Drab's humanity is still intact in all meaningful ways he or she retains identity, memory, personality, and such, but they are more irritable, more prone to sickness, and have duller senses.

Live-Action TV

  • Vampires in Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have no souls. Instead a demon takes up residence in the body, having all the original person's memories and seemingly believing themselves to be that person. Essentially a human soul is replaced with a demonic one, but retains the same mind.
    • Angel is usually the exception, his soul having been returned to him as the result of a curse, causing him to realize the repercussions of the atrocities he had committed and remain in anguish over them forever. He himself can lose it again if certain conditions of his curse are met (Perfect Happiness). When his human soul departs, the demon is able to take over again and really enjoys being let off the chain in a Complete Monster kind of way. As the series progressed, he actually fit this trope less well because they started playing up the duality of Angel and Angelus as separate consciousnesses, with Angelus trapped within Angel as long as a soul was in place.
    • Also, the Angel episode I've Got You Under My Skin reveals what happens when a human is born without a soul. The boy ended up being possessed by a body snatching demon. He responded by imprisoning it within him and tried to burn his family alive. When it was exorcised the demon let itself be killed, more afraid of the void inside the child than death.
      • More like the boy was a complete sociopath, and the demon explained this condition in terms of him not having a soul. Possibly soullessness is either the cause or a side effect of all sociopathy in this Verse.
  • Tales from the Crypt: In one episode, an amoral scientist extracts the soul from the body of his morally conscious assistant and places it in a jar. The body comes back a soulless monster and proceeds to torture the scientist with his own implements since there was no soul to hold him back.
  • In Season 6 of Supernatural it's revealed that people without souls no longer need to sleep, are resistant to some magical effects, and lose all empathy. Their normal goals seem to remain intact.

Newspaper Comics

  • We've yet to see a soulless individual on-panel in Candorville, but apparently it's common practice for at least one secret faction to feed children's souls to monsters—the resultant shells are still capable of following orders, and can easily be trained as assassins.

Tabletop Games

  • Every. Single. Promethean. The imbalance of being a soulless homunculus makes every Promethean emotionally unstable and at odds with humanity. Though they never had one to begin with, they can create one for themselves when their pilgrimage succeeds. If they live that long, anyway.
    • This has some interesting theological implications. One of the books in the line states that some Ulgans are rather enthusiastic about creating new Prometheans - after all, every time a Promethean completes the Pilgrimage, it brings a new soul into the world. (Most, however, note the rate of attrition and keep their expectations minimal.)
  • Also from the New World of Darkness, all Fetches and True Fae in Changeling: The Lost lack a soul, and the vast majority are none the nicer because of it.
    • Most of the fetches are none the worse either, making this an intriguing example. Fetches are composed of a shred of the Changeling's shadow and whatever happens to be lying around; the shadow-shred is described as being, in-universe, a metaphor for a little wad of the Changeling's soul- Fae being what they are, metaphors work just as well as the real thing. One Fetch Echo (power) is the ability to rip the shadow (and thus, the soul) from someone else and eat it to restore lost health. The victim gets better after a scene.
    • Changelings themselves aren't too sure if they have souls - when one is dragged into Arcadia, it feels a lot like something gets torn out of you, and no one is sure if they ever get it back. Those changelings who completely lose it and turn into homicidal maniacs are called "the soulless" for a reason - the opinion of the rest is that they didn't find their souls on the way home.
    • The page picture is of a Fetch Spawn, the child of a fetch, born without even the shadow fragment of a Changeling's soul that the Fetch parent has. They are scary.
      • And as part of White Wolf being Magnificent Bastards, you can't just kill a baby you know is a Fetch's and avoid the whole thing-it's just as likely, if not more so, that they actually were born with a soul, leading to a spooky but otherwise normal Fetch Child...who are spooky because they see through Glamour, and open gates to the Hedge by just existing. Oh yeah, and they're inherent weapons against the True Fae, so if you meet a Fetch's son that seems to have a conscience/inkling that other people exist, by God's sake keep him alive!
      • If you can even detect or hurt the bugger. Fetch-Spawn are insanely hard to see unless they want to be (which, given that they're unemotional murderers, is not often), and are not only immune to magic, but can drain it with a touch.
  • Yet again from the nWOD, the Illuminated from Genius: The Transgression are described as having had their souls burnt away to nothing by the light of Inspiration within them. Some of them act likeyou expect, others act even MORE strangely.
  • The Necrons of Warhammer 40,000 are this trope. And the worst part is, they are not even treated as the worst faction in the universe (although one of the strongest contenders for the position). The forces of chaos are the complete opposite and still manage to be at an at least equal level to the Necrons in nastiness. This being Warhammer 40000, however, raping, killing, murdering, maiming and burning your enemies does not even begin to describe the situation. Point should however be noted that Chaos, Complete Monsters incarnate, actually fear the necrons somewhat due to their soulless nature.
    • Pariahs and blanks, humans who don't register to psykers (and in fact disrupt psychic powers), are generally considered to be humans born without souls. The Necrons can turn pariahs into more of their own, which does lend some credence to the theory.
    • The Necrons technically still have souls—souls trapped in their undying metal shells. It's just that after millions of years of dormancy and poor maintenance in mechanical bodies the Necrons are little more than automated killing machines. The souls are still there but they about as important to the Necrons as a human appendix.
      • According to the latest 40k edition, it's not their souls so much as a computer recording of them. Which is part of why they're so craaaazy, since their programming/memories/'souls' have decayed due to all the rezzing.
      • As a whole, the Necrons qualify more for status as empty shells than anything else. They are not crazy in any sense of the word, rather ruthless, cold and calculating.
  • The explicit premise of Dead Inside, where the player characters all start out having lost their souls through various means. All Dead Inside are impaired when it comes to social behavior, because their lack of soul makes it harder for them to feel emotions, but they're not stunted to the point they're completely amoral (well, not all of them). The setting and rules explicitly maintain that acting in a moral, positive manner can encourage the regrowth of a soul, while amoral bastardry will destroy what little you have left, though if you're lucky and clever you can trade or steal soul from others and keep doing whatever you feel like doing.
  • In the Ravenloft setting:
    • This is true for nine out of ten citizens of Barovia who are not Vishanti. The soulless ones seem human for all practical purposes, but they are, in effect, born out of the consciousness of Barovia's ruler, the Darklord Strahd von Zarovich. He subconsciously causes these loyal subjects to come into being to feed his massive ego. Soulless Barovians are dour, grim, cynical folk, who can experience no emotions except fear; while not cowards, they learn from childhood to fear the night and "That Devil Strahd" as they call their king. As a vampire, Strahd cannot draw nourishment from drinking the blood of soulless Barovians, and if a soulless Barovian leaves his domain, he or she fades away into nothing. The few with souls are more energetic and emotional, and seem to be part of the curse that made him a Darklord. When one of them dies, his or her spirit is trapped in Barovia for years - possibly decades - before being reincarnated in a body that resembles the one they previously had. The reason for the soulless Barovians is actually easy to discern; the souls of the original residents of Barovia can never go to any afterlife, and are instead reincarnated endlessly; however, after many centuries the population has grown, and more children are born than there are souls available. This is why Strahd is constantly tormented by women who look exactly like Tatyana, the woman he loves but can never have. They all are Tatyana given new life.
      • This is expanded in the 5th Edition, where this phenomenon is not unique to Barovia. Any Domain with positive population growth spawns soulless citizens, their presence endlessly reminding the Darklords of their crimes and failures, causing them to be tormented by their doubt and self-loathing.
    • Also in Ravenloft, Tindal, The Amazing Soulless Man, a barker at the Carnival. He has no reflection or shadow; while his memory of the event is a little vague, he claims his soul fled from him due to a magical experiment gone wrong. In truth, he has it backwards; he is the escaped soul of an Evil Sorcerer named Tindafulus who botched one of his diabolical spells. Oddly, Tindal is a far more benevolent person than Tindafulus is.
  • Magic: The Gathering features a zombie literally called the "Soulless One".

Soulless One: Surrender your soul to me!

Video Games

  • Four certain someones in Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn lack souls at one point, and feel "empty."
    • Also, two of those are Complete Monsters (though they're pretty much stated to not have been that nice when they still had their souls, they actually managed to become worse when losing them), and one gains something similar to Unstoppable Rage due to losing it (and... other factors).
  • Nobodies, including Organization XIII, in Kingdom Hearts II are The Soulless... well, technically they're heartless (but not The Heartless). It's Complicated. Anyway, being generally ruthless, they want their hearts back because they feel empty/incomplete. It is a matter of much debate whether or not they even still have emotions- the game itself says one thing, the fans disagree. At any rate, whether or not they have emotions, the games make it pretty clear that they lack empathy.
    • Word of God says the three components of being are heart, soul and body, and Nobodies have two of these. So technically they aren't soulless, they're really just (at least theoretically) emotionless.
    • It's worth nothing they do suffer a great deal of physical change inversely dependent on their strength. Strong-willed people retain their human form. For the rest of them, they're lucky if they can avoid becoming Dusks.
  • Happens to Colette for a short time in Tales of Symphonia. She lacks emotions entirely. She follows the group because they seem willing to defend her. She reacts violently to aggression, to the point that the very heavily-armed and futuristic army won't dare touch her. And to top it all off, she literally kicks a dog.
  • The Darkspawn of Dragon Age are soulless monsters in every way. They are literally soulless making them convenient vessels for an Archdemon to possess if it's slain. They also happen to be savage, vicious, and rape-happy Complete Monsters.
  • The Soulless Gods in Lusternia. The only tangible difference between they and The Elder Gods is that by the time the Elders were made, the Anthropomorphic Personification of Creation had figured out the knack of creating souls. The net result? The Soulless are Cosmic Horror Omnicidal Maniacs who relentlessly devour the souls of all other living things in an attempt to feel less empty.
  • The Collectors of Mass Effect 2. In the words of Mordin: "No glands, replaced by tech. No digestive system, replaced by tech. No soul, replaced by tech."
  • In the first Baten Kaitos, one fortune teller notes she can't sense Kalas's inner magnus. Latter conversations reveal that it's just a very different soul (The fortune teller is noted as looking for red blood and not noticing blue blood) caused by his Artificial Human status.
  • In Mortal Kombat 3, this is the stated reason Sector and Cyrax were unaffected by Shao Kahn's invasion and theft of all mortal souls in the Earthrealm. Becoming cyborgs made them soulless machines with nothing for Shao Kahn to take. Oddly, this is not true for Smoke, but he still remains unaffected by Shao Kahn's spell.

Web Comics

  • In Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures, the offspring between a Fae and any other race will always be a soulless shell called a Husk. It's alive, but devoid of any consciousness, and it always dies young. This is because the Fae population only has a set number of souls, and an old Fae has to die before a new one can be born. Husks represent one of the few limitations that the near omnipotent Fae cannot overcome no matter what: they cannot create new souls. The Fae aren't happy about this and they always try to find a way around it—and they always fail.
  • Combined with Beast Man this is what the humanoid fae in Drowtales sees the goblin races as due to not having an aura. In practice they are more like Muggles without any technical advantages.
  • The word "soul" is never used in Homestuck, but Aradia fits this trope in every way but name when she first appears. Stops once she gets some semblance of a body back, but her reaction isn't so much My God, What Have I Done? as a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.

Web Original

  • Robert Brockway's EXTRA! Mario Lopez has no soul! portrayed Mario Lopez as this, while a drugged and drunk Cracked reporter followed him around after asking him to drop the act and just "be himself". It started with absolutely all expression leaving his face, and culminated with him breaking into an old children's hospital so he could eat feathers from the beds on which children had died.
  • A rare heroic example: Gireon Arkiof from Chaos Fighters: Chemical Warriors-RAKSA. He doesn't even want his soul back. This is lampshaded when Mifrent lamented why people with souls mostly fight against themselves and with a chapter titled Soulless Hero VS Soulful villain.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons: Bart Simpson sold his soul to Millhouse for $5. His breath didn't fog glass, automatic doors didn't open for him, dogs growled when he passed... No evil acts, though.
    • Though he did get desperate enough to try and take Ralph Wiggum's soul.
  • Solomon Grundy from Justice League started off as a villainous, gray Hulk Expy. Then in the episode "The Terror Beyond", Grundy learned his own backstory—that he was a zombie and had no soul. Once he realized this, regaining his soul suddenly became Grundy's first priority.
  • In Transformers: Beast Machines, Rhinox, the Genius Bruiser and Reluctant Warrior in Beast Wars, undergoes a Face Heel Turn and becomes an example of this trope in Beast Machines. When Rattrap inadvertently discovers that Rhinox's spark has been removed and reprogrammed into evil general Tankor, he makes a plan to simply reprogram the Tankor out of him, reverting him to the happy good guy that was a shining example of all the Maximals represented. Optimus Primal decides that because Rhinox says he actually prefers being the evil thing he has become, it would would make the Maximals just like Megatron to to force him to change back.
  • Xiaolin Showdown - One of the big bads, Chase Young, turned to the Heylin (evil) side after Hannibal Roy Bean convinced him to drink the Lao-Mang Soup, which not only made him immortal and very powerful but drained him of his soul.

Real Life

  • A related philosophical term is p-zombie, though of course no modern philosopher uses the word "soul".
  • Some clinically depressed people don't feel sad so much as completely numb.
  • Psychopaths (that is, people who meet the clinical definition of the word) often produce this effect. Consider Ted Bundy. Or look Karla Homolka in the eyes.
  • There was a man who got in a car accident and was unhurt, with the exception of a microscopic part of his brain touching his skull. This part of his brain got damaged, and from then on, he could feel no emotions at all, negative or positive. His rational thought, intelligence, senses, and motor skills are still unharmed (which is why he hasn't gone crazy—he knows nothing good comes of it), but he's now, for all intents and purposes, a Ridiculously Human Robot.
  1. * (well, a literal as opposed to a figurative one, anyway)