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WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic

Central theme, the most important thing.

Central theme, the tie that binds together.
Daniel Amos, "Central Theme"

What the story is about; a philosophy, a message, an idea at the heart of a story.

Stories were first told for two reasons: Entertainment and Education. Gilgamesh was the story of a hero who kicked ass and took names, but it was also a celebration of the culture that produced it, one of the first. In essence this is what separates reality from fiction: Real Life has no central theme, no message or great meaning, save the ones that we transpose on it ourselves.[1]

On that note, be wary of seeing messages where there are none.

Different from An Aesop in that the Central Theme is often a question rather than a direct precept. For example, "The Power of Friendship" or (even better) "The struggles of sustaining The Power of Friendship in a cold, harsh world" are themes in that they are questions or issues that the author wants the reader to think about, whereas "The Power of Friendship will ultimately overcome all obstacles" is An Aesop in that it is a lesson or conclusion the author wants the reader to take away from the work. Of course, there can be a fine line between them, and the central theme can and often is used to develop and deliver the Aesop, but they are not strictly speaking the same; the reader may disagree with the author's Aesop, but the work will still be about the Central Theme whether they disagree or not.

A good place to start thinking about the theme of the work is the conflict it depicts; what is the overall conflict of the work, where is it stemming from, and what questions does this conflict give rise to?

Go to Analysis to get a more detailed explanation of the central theme of a work, or even to add your own insight. Make note of being wary of seeing messages where there are none.

Examples of Central Theme include:



  • Kino's Journey - Is there any underlying point to the stories, any unifying concept? Perhaps. It could be seen as an extended lesson in the law of unintended consequences.
    • H. L. Mencken said, there is always an easy solution to every human problem: neat, plausible, and wrong. That is really the theme of this series. Each place that Kino visits, there was a problem which was solved by adoption of a solution which was neat and plausible and far too simplistic. And in each case we eventually learn why the chosen solution was wrong.
  • Serial Experiments Lain is at is core, an exploration of the impact of the information age on the human soul. At a time when the internet was only just getting off, it foretold a future where Everything is Connected. It explores the concept of a Technological singularity, "Close the World, Open the Next"
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion is a 26 episode critique of the Otaku lifestyle and deconstruction of the conventions of Humongous Mecha anime, ironically, it itself set new conventions to replace the old. One of the most analysed anime in existence, as the wikipedia page will attest, it is generally accepted today that the religious symbolism in the anime are largely meaningless.
    • Not completely meaningless per se, but it's not quite as deep as most people think it is. Unless the person thinks it does, then it will be, because the entire series was Walrus called Paul.
    • A third interpretation is that Neon Genesis Evangelion is a work whose depth is an example of Applicability. It is precisely as deep as the observer wishes it to be.
    • You are better than you think you are.
    • A parent's love isn't something one has to earn.
    • The complex nature of human relationships; people musn't isolate themselves. On the other hand, the Hedgehog's Dilemma: how people hurt themselves when trying to maintain relationships.
    • Responsibility and how people deal with it.
    • Love is also a major theme; all the characters are motivated by a desire to love, and be loved in return.
  • Voices of a Distant Star - Does physical distance matter for two people in love? What if she's in another city? Country? Continent? Star System? Einstein said "The great distances between the stars is nothing compared to the infinite distance between human hearts", and this movie tries to prove him dead wrong.
  • Monster - Can any human being be considered a monster, totally beyond redemption? Is it wrong to take a life, even to save others? It explores these questions right to the logical conclusion, then leaves it to the viewer to figure it out.
  • Cowboy Bebop - You can never outrun your past. Even the Spoof Aesop from episode 10 works into this concept. 'Don't leave things in the fridge', if you're curious.
    • Samurai Champloo, it's Spiritual Successor, has a similar theme. Or maybe it's "sometimes you need to let go of the past". Or some combination of both.
    • Cowboy Bebop, The Big O, Karas and Tiger and Bunny all seems to have the same central message - you can live neither by clinging to the past, nor rejecting it to blindly march towards the future. Each explores it in a different way - in Karas it takes form of conflict between tradition and progress; in Tiger & Bunny it's the clash between different brands of heroism with new ones claiming the old to be outdated as well as Barnaby's breakdown once he finds out his memories are fake; in Cowboy Bebop it's contrast between Spike's inability to let go of his revenge, Jet's ability to confront and deal with his, and Faye's problems with amnesia; and in The Big O it's constantly showing that even disconnected from his past, man will still build on his future on it's legacy. Apart from that, some of them have additional central themes they explore:
      • Karas - the relationship between The Cowl archetype and the city he protects.
      • Tiger and Bunny - relationships between co-workers. Racism can be defeated.
  • Death Note - Power corrupts. Also, the substantial meaning of justice in a world of Black and Gray Morality.
  • Paranoia Agent - You can't be a child forever.
  • Princess Tutu - You can control your own destiny.
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind - It is better to try to understand what we do not know about rather than to fight against it.
  • Kiki's Delivery Service - Growing up isn't so bad; in fact, it can be wonderful.
  • Princess Mononoke - Can there be peace between man and nature?
  • Sonic X - While there is no real overarching theme, in the first season one message conveyed seems to be that friendship can last forever, even if two friends are apart.
  • Dragonball Z - The series gets a lot of flak for its Sorting Algorithm of Evil, but Self Improvement IS the main theme of the series. "Just because you can blow up a planet, you shouldn't declare yourself perfect; there is always someone out there better, so never stop trying to better yourself.
    • Word of God confirms this.
    • Redemption is a mayor theme, as seen in both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z with all the reformed villains, including those who weren't Big Bads.
  • One Piece:
    • The true definition of family: Who you're born or who you choose.
    • What does Justice actually mean?
    • Is just existing a crime by itself? and Has a person been born to be alone?
    • Journey vs. Destination
    • Inherited Will
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: Is it possible to be both an archetypal prince and female at the same time? Can someone like Utena who wants to be a "prince" also yearn for her own prince without contradicting herself?
  • Naruto - Two major themes: "The old must make way for the new" (thus, all immortals to appear are villains) and "How far can a person go to save someone who doesn't want to be saved?". The second could also be expanded into the more general "How can you save the world from itself?".
    • Furthermore, the second can be expanded into "How much suffering can a person feel without turning his/her back on the world?", as seen with all the Big Bads.
  • Blood Plus - Family is made up of people who love each other in spite of their faults, not blood relations.
  • Chrono Crusade - According to Word of God, "the idea of time running out." The bonds between people also seems to be a major running theme (Moriyama indicated in an interview that he felt that one of the themes was the relationship of the two main characters, and there's three pairs of siblings that are very important to the plot.)
  • Code Geass - Do the ends justify the means?
    • Is it always a good idea to know the truth?
  • Trigun is about the plausibility of true pacifism, especially in a very harsh and inhospitable world. This is best exemplified by the analogy in the anime of a butterfly caught in a spider's web: the Plants, a race of engineered Winged Humanoids represent the butterflies, as they are enslaved by the humans in order to make the planet habitable. Knives' plan is to wipe out the humans/spiders and save the Plants/butterflies, whereas Vash's hope is to come up with an alternative that allows everyone to coexist.
  • Afro Samurai - Two in one:
    • What is the real meaning of power?
    • Can revenge ever be justified?
  • The Ghost in the Shell franchise - What does it mean to be human?
  • Magical Project S: Hiding our true feelings is bad and the Power of Love/Friendship.
  • Seto no Hanayome: Loneliness.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Equivalent Exchange, Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, War Is Hell, also atoning for past mistakes and how humans -and human-like entities- strive for reach godhood and the consecquences of that ambition.
  • Gun X Sword: Which is more important: world peace, universal contentment, and the common good, or the freedom of the individual to pursue happiness according to his or her individual dreams and desires?
  • Bokurano: Face Death with Dignity
  • School Rumble: Your life can be changed by someone you never expected.
  • Rurouni Kenshin: Atoning for past mistakes.
  • Hell Girl: Evil Is Not a Toy.
    • Is it possible to hate someone so much that you would sacrifice everything you are and everything you will become to destroy them?
  • Great Teacher Onizuka: Teachers and students are not meant to be enemies.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Altruism is about paying the price, not reaping the rewards.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: War is hell. There are good people on both sides of a conflict. People can't just sit on the sidelines during war. Elitism must be fought by compassion. Many of the series both in the Universal Century and Alternate Universes tackle most of these themes.
  • Gurren Lagann: Keep moving forward and go do things that are impossible.
  • Fist of the North Star: Does might always make right?
  • School Days: The things, terrible things, people will do for love.
  • Sailor Moon: Evil never dies but neither do the ones who fight it.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya: Everyday is an adventure as long as you are with friends.
  • Welcome to The NHK: It's easy to feel lonely and worthless but it doesn't have to be that way.
  • The Kindaichi Case Files: The central theme varies between volumes but the main one that stretches around the entire series is no matter how someone has wronged you in the most horrific way possible, murder is never the solution.
  • Giant Robo: The Day The Earth Stood Still - Can happiness be achieved without sacrifice? How can a son honor his father's legacy?
  • Towa no Quon - it is our emotions that makes us human.
  • Twentieth Century Boys: How childhood fantasies should stay as just that.
  • Un-Go - When truth collides with good of the society, which is more important?
  • Berserk: What would people be willing to give up to improve their lives?
  • Golden Boy: Never underestimating an idealist.
  • Pokémon: Striving to be the best in whatever one does.
  • Ah! My Goddess: Staying together through thick and thin.
  • Clannad: Family is the most important thing in life.
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Don't ever distrust your friends. No matter what you're going through, The Power of Friendship can save you.
  • Digimon Tamers: What is the line between fiction and reality? and What is the price of technology?
  • Angel Beats!: No matter any tragedies that have happened in life, you can always change and move on.
  • Kidou Tenshi Angelic Layer: Not everything has to be Serious Business.
  • Inuyasha: Choices. Everyone sooner or later must make one.
  • Detective Conan: Everyone deserves justice, even someone who doesn't seem to deserve it.
  • Angel Densetsu: Never judging a book by its cover.
  • Ranma One Half: Duality. The face one shows to the world and the other kept hidden.
  • Lyrical Nanoha: As Erica Friedman notes, the entire Nanoha-verse is the story of creating one's family for one's self. Family is something beyond just the community one is born into; it is something one forms and gathers out of love as one moves through life.
  • Wedding Peach: The reconciliation of the good and evil that resides in everyone.
  • Akira: The anger and frustration of youth.
  • Magic Knight Rayearth: No person, no matter how strong, can do everything by themselves.
  • Chobits: Is man starting to prefer technology over interaction with real people?
  • Fruits Basket: Making human contact.
  • Busou Renkin: What will you do with the new life given you?
  • Fushigi Yugi: How a journey changes heroes and the people left behind.
  • Popotan: Parting from friends is a natural part of life, but friendships can still live on in memories. Quite similar to the above mentioned Sonic X, in that regard.

Comic Books

  • Watchmen: What kind of person would dress up in a costume and beat up bad guys?
    • And what would the world be like if they did so?
    • You don't need to be super to be a hero.
    • Also, explicitly, "Who watches the Watchmen?" (Who protects the people who protect us? And if they go wrong, how will we know, and who'll protect us from them?)
  • Transmetropolitan: Society has and will alter beyond all recognition, therefore any code of morality is but a product of its time. Technology will open vistas undreamed of, The Singularity will come and go, but the core problems of human society will never change. All societies have and will always have social underclasses, and people will always be apathetic. "Bread and Circuses", as the Romans noted, rule the day. It will always be easier to make assumptions about a person based on Race, Caste and Creed.
    • And, by Word of God, the idea that it will always be the people willing to stand up and raise their voices who will change society.
  • V for Vendetta: What does it mean to have freedom? What price is it worth?
  • Rogue Trooper: War Is Hell
  • The Sandman: All things change, all things end. Neither of these is terrible. And there is always more to everything (and everyone) than you expect.
  • Nemesis the Warlock: Humans can be bastards, but doesn't have to.
  • The Incredible Hercules: What does it really mean to be a god?
  • Irredeemable: How far a man has to go to become trully irredeemable?
  • Planetary: The world is wonderful and we should do everything we can to stop anyone who wants to make it mundane and boring.
  • The Dark Knight Returns: Do you have to operate outside the law to bring justice or become enslaved by it?
  • Spider Man: With great power comes great responsibility; what it means to have power and to use it in a socially and morally responsible way.
    • This theme can be said to apply, to varying degrees, to almost any superhero story in some shape or form.
  • Fantastic Four: The nature of family.
  • Judge Dredd: The law, no matter how harsh, really is there for your protection.
  • From Hell: The fundamental interconnections that exist between everything and everyone, and how a serial killer is both a product of society and culture as a whole and something which goes on to shape that society further.
  • Lex Luthor: Man of Steel: Might even a monster be convinced he's the hero of his own story?
  • All Fall Down: Bad things happen. You *deal* with them, because they won't magically be reversed.
  • Scott Pilgrim: Fighting for the one you love.
    • On a more serious note, learning from the mistakes of your past, accepting your flaws and becoming a better person instead of repeating the same mistakes all over again.
  • Batman: How the traumas of the past affect the choices we make, and thus how they shape us into the people we are in the present.
    • In particular, it has been noted that practically every member of Batman's Rogue's Gallery either reflects a part of Batman himself and / or like him as a over-arching trauma that has shaped their lives ever since—except where he has used his trauma to make himself a better man and to defend the innocent to try and prevent what happened to him from happening to others, they have succumbed to despair and evil and use their traumas as an excuse to hurt others.
  • Superman: What it means to be a hero, a good person and an inspiration to others—and how these three qualities are not necessarily the same.
  • Global Frequency: The extraordinary things that ordinary people can do if given the chance and resources to do them. Also, how no skill or ability is truly worthless, and how even the most seemingly trivial or obscure forms of knowledge can, if applied in the correct setting, do amazing things.
  • Wonder Woman: The conflict between the desire for peace and how it may be sometimes necessary to fight in order to ensure it.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The ugliness that can be found lurking under the skin of popular culture and, by extension, civilization itself.
  • X Men - Choosing to do the right thing, even when faced with prejudice and injustice. More specifically, having to choose between using your abilities to help mankind and using them to rebel against an oppressive establishment.
  • Kingdom Come: What exactly are the differences between the The Cape and the Nineties Anti-Hero?
  • Captain America: Is truth, justice and the American way old-fashioned?
  • Astro City: The ordinariness of the extraordinary.
  • 300: No one man is above anyone else.

Fan Fiction



  • Harry Potter: Love is what makes us strongest. Prejudice and bigotry are bad. Everybody has to die eventually.
    • For her part, J. K. Rowling says that the central theme is death: "The theme of how we react to death, how much we fear it. Of course, I think which is a key part of the book because Voldemort is someone who will do anything not to die. He's terrified of death. And in many ways, all of my characters are defined by their attitude to death and the possibility of death."
  • Freakonomics claims to be an aversion - instead of one unifying theme, it has about half a dozen, listed in the introduction. However, they could be summed up as "Knowledge is power". Also, "People are stupid." The sequel Super Freakonomics claims that the real theme of both books is that people respond to incentives ("Incentives matter" is their phrasing) but they don't always respond in ways that are obvious or manifest.
  • Talking about The Epic of Gilgamesh - Nothing lasts forever.
  • Casabianca: Innocence of youth and loyalty to authority (especially parental) even in the face of imminent death.
  • The Belgariad and the Mallorean aim for two key points: friendship and faith. The former is exemplified when it's pointed out that the Light is always spread across many people while the Dark always works alone; the latter comes to the fore when it's made clear that the primary job of the heroes is ultimately to replace a god.
  • Brave New World: The conflicts between 'happy' ignorance and 'unhappy' intellectual curiosity; can living a purely hedonistic and carefree existence truly be called living?
  • Coraline: Don't expect your creations to obey you just because it was you that made them. (This applies especially if you're a parent.)
  • Pet Sematary: It is better to let go of departed loved ones than to try to bring them back. Or as King himself put it, "Sometimes, dead is better."
  • Wuthering Heights: Can revenge truly give one peace of mind?
  • A Christmas Carol: Long as there is life, there is hope.
    • Redemption; specifically, what causes a man to harden his heart against the world, and what it takes to redeem him.
  • The Cthulhu Mythos: Humanity is small and inconsequential in the larger universe. The stories written by Lovecraft himself also tended to focus on Mans Hubris and the inevitable disasters that it leads to.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Honor is meaningless in an honor-less world.
  • Lord of the Rings: Even those imagined insignificant can change the world.
  • The Elric Saga: Order Versus Chaos and how too much of either is bad.
  • Ivanhoe: All Love Is Unrequited.
  • 'Kidnapped: Some causes are just lost. Fight the battles that you can actually win.
  • Les Misérables: Whether a single evil act can damn a good man or not.
  • Conan the Barbarian: The fine line between civilization and savagery.
  • Lord of the Flies: The loss of innocence. Or: Man's not inherently good.
  • The Great Gatsby: Is the American Dream really all it's cracked up to be?
    • Or, alternatively, all the money in the world won't make people love you.
  • Madame Bovary: Life is no fantasy.
  • Moby Dick: The dangers of pursuing an unwinnable quest.
  • Sherlock Holmes: There is no mystery out there that cannot be solved with the application of logic and empirical thought.
  • The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: The duality at the heart of man and the conflict between his loftier aspirations and his base desires.
  • Catch-22: The fundamental insanity of war.
  • Pride and Prejudice: Never judge a book by its cover.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: The hypocrisy of the "nobility".
  • Gullivers Travels: How Earth is a Crapsack World and it's inescapable.
  • Heart of Darkness: The evils of colonialism, no matter how pretty its dressed up.
  • Don Quixote: The world doesn't run on Black and White Morality. Anyone who thinks himself a hero has got to be mad.
  • The Bible is made up of several books with its own themes.
    • Genesis: God trying to get His plan for salvation right.
    • Exodus: Only through God's law can man have true freedom.
    • Leviticus: The rituals and ceremonies emphasize the gap between man and God.
    • Numbers: Faith can win over even the most difficult challenges.
    • Deuteronomy: Man can overcome his sinful past and bring about a redeemed world.
    • Joshua: The Promised Land is a paradise long as God's people keep it that way.
    • Book of Judges: The cycle of sin in which God's people is stuck.
    • Book of Ruth: Undying Loyalty.
    • Books of Samuel: God's special calling to man and whether or not we can do it.
    • Books of Kings: Earthly kings come and go but God is man's true sovereign.
    • Jonah: You can't run away from your true purpose. The Call Knows Where You Live
    • Song of Songs: Love that was once lost can be found again.
    • Ecclesiastes: What should we really be searching for in this short life?
    • Esther: Never Kneel Before Zod. Remain Defiant to the End
    • Job: The nature of human suffering. Why do bad things happen to good people?
    • Amos: The true worship of God not centering on ritual but on compassion for the less fortunate.
    • Hosea: Israel's faithlessness in God presented as real adultery.
    • Isaiah: How God controls history.
    • Jeremiah: It Sucks to Be the Chosen One
    • Lamentations: The destruction of Jerusalem as a metaphor for the ruined love between Israel and God.
    • Ezra and Nehemiah: How Israel mends their city and their relationship with God.
    • Daniel: How God helps His people survive and prosper even when they are defeated
    • Psalms: The different times man calls to God.
    • Proverbs: Wisdom being the most important thing a man must have.
    • The Four Gospels
      • Matthew: Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
      • Mark: Jesus as the savior of the world.
      • Luke: Jesus as the friend of the needy.
      • John: Jesus as the fulfillment of God's work of salvation.
    • Book of Revelation: The triumph of good over evil and the creation of a new world.
  • Sense and Sensibility: The conflict between the emotional sides of our personalities and the rational sides, and the importance of achieving a workable balance between both in order to find happiness.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four: Why do governments sometimes end up enslaving their people?
  • Animal Farm: The dreary cycle of old tyrannies being replaced by new.
    • Tyranny is not something that is confined to one country or another. It can happen anywhere.
  • The War of the Worlds: The consequences of ruthless, uncaring imperialism on those subjected to it.
  • The Time Machine: The consequences and evolutionary directions of a society organised according to a strict class system.
  • The Princess Bride: The nature of stories and what effects they can have on the real world.
    • Also, the conflict between the idealistic worlds of fantasy and the struggles of reality, and what can happen when the two start to mix.
  • Peter Pan: Childhood is fleeting so cherish those memories well.
  • Dune: How the descendants, and eventually the entire universe, reckons with a man's legacy.
  • The Grapes of Wrath: The conflict between people and the systems they operate within. Also, what constitutes family, and what causes them to thrive or collapse.
  • The Man in the High Castle: The nature of reality; is the world around us merely a dream?
  • Frankenstein: The terrible consequences of playing god.
  • Robinson Crusoe: Man's need for companionship.
  • Interview with the Vampire: Isolation. How one can be alone even in a never-ending sea of people.
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: The untamed spirit of youth.
  • The Catcher in The Rye: Growing Up Sucks.
  • James Bond: The lack of difference in the method used by the Designated Hero and the Card-Carrying Villain.
  • Alice in Wonderland: Growing Up Sucks but not growing up is worse.
  • The Odyssey: Man overcoming the forces of nature with his intellect.
  • The Wizard of Oz: The power that resides in all of us.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Pure Is Not Good.
  • I Am Legend: Man's ability to adapt to his environment.
  • Volsunga Saga: Being a hero is megacool, but it also sucks immensely. Or: Heroes don't lead happy lives.
  • Crime and Punishment: Does anyone have the right to pass judgment on their fellow men?
  • The Idiot: Is there a place left in the world for kindness?
  • The Road: Day to day survival as the greatest victory of all.
  • The Divine Comedy: What reward or punishment awaits you in the afterlife?
  • The Three Musketeers: Dedicating your life to a cause larger than yourself.
  • The Pillars of the Earth: The legacies parents leave for their children.
  • Emma: Never assume you know what's best for other people; you may not even know what's best for yourself.
  • The Green Mile: You can't help someone that doesn't want to be helped.
  • Lensman: War always changes. The most powerful tool in warfare need not be a weapon.
  • Jaws: The predators who take advantage of people in everyday life.

Mythology and Folklore

  • Arthurian Legend: Despite the lofty dreams and ideals of humanity, baser instincts (lust, greed, vengeance, distrust) will inevitably destroy Heaven-on-Earth.
  • Norse Mythology: Heroism in the face of defeat.
  • Classical Mythology: The folly of Pride. The eternal struggle between parent and child..
  • Buddhism: The search for inner peace and contentment.
  • Aztec Mythology: How nothing good in the world comes without sacrifice.

Tabletop Games


Video Games

  • Planescape: Torment - You Can't Fight Fate. The Nameless One may save and redeem his companions, entire civilizations and even his enemies, but in the end he simply can't save himself.
    • Arguably the entire theme is classic existentialism: You can't change fate or your circumstances, but you can change the way you respond to these circumstances.
    • Most themes in the game (including whether it errs on the side of Screw Destiny or You Can't Fight Fate) depends on how you play it and personal interpretation of the ending. However, one of the larger ones, one that links in with the Arc Words ("What can change the nature of a man?") is that of Change. What changes, what doesn't, and whether anything can't.
  • Super Paper Mario - The Power of Love, any and all love. All the bosses represent some form of perverted love, and all the characters showing genuine love end up redeemed. Almost every NPC talks about or shows some form of love, whether it be romantic love, friendship, familial, even love for the environment.
  • Metroid - Isolation and self-reliance.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog CD - Technology is not inherently evil as long as mankind does not misuse it. The Bad Future shows us a portrait of a world overrun completely by technology but Good Futures illustrate technology and nature co-existing in harmony, making for a better Little Planet.
  • Sonic Adventure 2 - A common motif in this game seems to be misunderstanding. For example, Sonic is mistaken for Shadow and wrongly arrested. Shadow misunderstands Maria's final request and nearly destroys humanity instead of protecting it as she wanted him to.
  • Sonic Heroes- The supah awesome power of TEAMWORK!
  • Sonic and the Black Knight - Who Wants to Live Forever?
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 - A question often asked in this game is whether or not one person should suffer for the good of the world. Since Elise is used as a living seal for Iblis the world is safe from destruction, but she obviously suffers from it and has to force herself not to cry so as to not release the god through her tears. After being confronted about it by Amy, Silver wonders whether or not it's right to kill Sonic to save the future and later on in the story Silver is reluctant to seal Iblis inside of Blaze thus sending her into another dimension and out of his life even though doing so will keep the world safe. At the end of the game, when Elise has to blow out the Iblis Flame to stop it from ever existing, she is hesitant to do so since that will erase the meeting between her and Sonic. She even cries, "I don't care what happens to the world!" She has to choose between herself and everyone else.
  • The Fallout series: Even After the End people will still try to kill one another.

  War...war never changes.

    • Via Word of God, the series' other central theme is that you need to let go of the past. In New Vegas in particular there is a direct correlation between a faction's evilness on the karma meter and how tightly they cling to the values of the past.
    • Fallout: New Vegas has a theme beyond that, and a different one for each DLC. In the game overall, it's that all power is a gamble (appropriate for Vegas) and small things can tip huge scales.
      • In Dead Money: Obsession is a cage. (Begin again, let go.)
      • In Honest Hearts: We're all tribes in the end and family forgives no matter what, so long as you admit that you went wrong.
      • In Old World Blues: The Wasteland may be harsh, but the Old World was no kinder. Look to the future - not for something better, but to make it better.
      • In Lonesome Road: One person with one careless action can leave unimaginable scars, and the power of symbols - particularly flags.
  • Once Final Fantasy started to develop genuine plots, it began to look at themes:
  • Chrono Trigger - The actions of even a few can change the future in a significant way.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • Metal Gear Solid has several themes interwoven through the series:
  • Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories: The nature of memory seems to be observed in this game. All kinds of memories are observed, from Sora's true memories to the fake memories of the Riku Replica. The game even seems to suggest that even false memories can be of importance.
  • Ever since the jump to 3D, the Grand Theft Auto series has been about betrayal and revenge. Claude's motivation throughout Grand Theft Auto III appears to be revenge on various people for betraying him, in particular Catalina. The reverse idea - loyalty to your True Companions - figures strongly into the plot of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas.
    • Grand Theft Auto IV: how much does your past weigh in your future? every character has one mistake they regret and try to fix it in some way or another. most importantly is the American Dream still alive?
  • Red Dead Redemption: Everyone eventually pays for what they've done.
  • Left 4 Dead is interesting in that the theme - The Power of Friendship - is almost entirely told through gameplay, e.g. committing traitorous acts such as running away from your team will draw a tank or hunter to you, getting you and probably everybody else killed.
  • Persona: You can't run from yourself. Doubles as the core theme to the Persona series as a whole.
    • Persona 2: How rumors affect reality. Personal responsibility for making the world what it is and what we want it to be, and the consequences of failing to take responsibility.
    • Persona 3: No matter what, hope for the future. Nothing is ever truly hopeless.
    • Persona 4: Is the truth attainable? Can one successfully dispel the fog of deception?
  • Pokemon:
    • In general, all games share a major theme: if you are part of, or leading, a team, see your partners as True Companions and draw strength from one another, rather than as a means to an end. Pokemon are not tools of war.
    • Pokemon Red and Blue - The consequences of using science to manipulate nature.
    • Pokemon Gold and Silver - Traditions and values of old. Another major thread appears through the Sprout Tower sage's lesson, the ambitions of Team Rocket, the true answer to the trial in the Dragon's Den, Karen's words before the Final Boss battle, and Silver's Character Development: the truly strong are those who do not pursue strength.
    • Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire - Balance in the environment.
    • Pokemon Diamond and Pearl - Is it worth to strip humanity of the characteristics that make them essentially human for the sake of a better world?
    • Pokemon Black and White - The conflict between truth and the ideals that justify them.
    • Pokemon X and Y - Beauty, and the cost of it.
    • Pokemon Sun and Moon - The role of family, and its influence on identity and one's potential.
  • The World Ends With You: To truly live, you have to reach out to the world.
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni: Because of love, we are able to see things that we could not see before. But because of love, we also see things that shouldn't exist.
    • What is "the truth"?
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Poor Communication Kills, Sinners must atone for their sins and not blame someone else for them.
  • Bioshock: No philosophy or vision of greatness, however well-intentioned, long survives contact with human flaws.
  • Quite unusually for an over-the-top, uber-silly action game, Sengoku Basara 3 has a fairly downbeat one, seeming to be about how all the fun times and glory days are either over and done with or coming to an end. Instances include Mitsunari's total anguish over the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Motochika constantly muttering "those days are long gone", Oichi degenerating into a Psychopathic Woman Child, Yoshihiro still fighting despite knowing his generation's practically over, the lack of well-known characters from previous games due to plot purposes... oh, and being set at the very tail-end of the Sengoku period is a fair indicator. Still, considering the plotline about Tenkai attempting to ressurect Oda Nobunaga and succeeding, maybe it is telling us that it's better to move on.
  • G Senjou no Maou: In this world, there are only those who use money and those who get used by money.
  • Dragon Age: No victory comes without great cost, known or unknown. Or, alternatively, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Or, alternatively alternatively, our duty is determined by the circumstances of our lives, but we have a choice in how we fulfill it.
    • Dragon Age II: Sometimes all sides share the blame for a terrible situation, and there isn't a Big Bad. Alternatively, mistreating people in fear that they are dangerous will make them dangerous, because you've given them good reason to hate you. Or: when do the needs of the many justify harming the few, and who decides?
  • Prince of Persia (at least the Sands of Time sub-series): Every action has consequences. You can't evade them forever.
  • Beyond Good and Evil: Question everything. Never take truth for granted.
  • Command and Conquer Tiberium: Will you embrace change or resist it?
  • Command and Conquer Red Alert: Is there really a better world than what we have now?
  • The Reconstruction: Scope; the necessity to understand all sides of the story and the full truth before one can make the correct decision, and the danger of jumping to conclusions. However, you must acquire the necessary knowledge without also losing sight of what is truly important.

 "How far back must we stand before we can see everything ahead? And...does that mean we must lose sight of what was closest to begin with?"

  • Thief: You can only run from your responsibilities for so long.
    • In addition: At some point, all causes, movements and systems will fall prey to corruption. The greatest danger any of them face is always, always from within.
  • Legacy of Kain: Take a Third Option. There's always one somewhere.
  • Warcraft 3: The evils of Fantastic Racism.
  • Legend of Heroes VI: No one person, no matter what they've done in the past, no matter what they've done with their lives, is completely beyond love and redemption. Any life can be given meaning so long as you're willing to reach out to a person.
  • The Civilization series: What does it take to raise an entire civilization from nothing to greatness?
  • Ace Attorney: The truth will always make itself known.
  • Batman: Arkham series: How far can a man be pushed until he breaks?
  • Mass Effect: Can a single person change the fate of the galaxy?
    • Also the fact that sometimes, no matter how hard you try or how well you think you're doing, you can never get a flawless victory. Sacrifices must be made, and you can't save everyone.
    • And actions that you take, no matter how small or insignificant, can come back to haunt (or help) you later. We are the summation of our choices.
  • Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant: Do you have free will? Does anyone? Does mankind? Or is it all destiny, preordained long ago?
  • Rise of Legends: In the end, is there any difference between magic and technology?
  • Starcraft: The destructive quest for perfection.
  • Tenchu: The need to exercise power wisely and responsibly.
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent: How far one is willing to go for redemption.
  • Mortal Kombat: How the world is worth fighting, killing and dying for.
  • Sim City: What it takes to run a city efficiently (or inefficiently).
  • Twisted Metal: Pursuing your dream at any cost.
  • MadWorld: Humans Are the Real Monsters, and this isn't about to change any time soon. All you can really do is is stiffen your spine and keep going.
  • Dark Souls: Fire, death, what beauty means in the Crapsack World of Dark Souls, and ultimately, Humans Are Good.

Web Comics

  • Gunnerkrigg Court is, at heart, all about balance. The Court and the Woods; Magic and Technology; Reason and Passion; Dark and Light. Everything ends up needing a balance, which the main character Annie is slowly becoming. Also: Violence is occasionally a necessary evil, though it should be used sparingly.
  • Homestuck: As always, friendship prevails.
  • A recurring idea in the Walkyverse is hypocrisy. It's most obvious in Character Development, where someone will realise they've been acting hypocritically, but it also shows up in smaller ways - Mike's favoured technique for inducing suffering is pointing out when someone is being hugely hypocritical (usually by painfully enforcing their own logic), one-shots in Shortpacked tend to focus on hypocritical fan logic, etc.
  • The Order of the Stick: Teamwork and trust are key to victory - the more people trust each other and are willing to cooperate, the more effective they are, even bad guys. People who cannot afford trust their allies such as Lord Shojo, think they don't need others to solve their problems like Miko or V in "Don't Split the Party" arc or just want to do what they want, not thinking about their teammates like Belkar get in trouble. Also, Deconstruction of Dungeons and Dragons stereotypes by putting them in contrast with a realistic racial conflict.
    • Also, the nature of power, and what it means to use this effectively and wisely; a recurring thread through the plot is characters who are supposedly more powerful being undone by their supposedly weaker opponents, through the application of creativity and intelligence and the exploitation of unforeseen flaws and weaknesses.
  • Goblins - inversion/deconstruction of Dungeons and Dragons Fantastic Racism - just because some races are aligned as "evil" or "monsters" doesn't mean that humans and other player races are any better.

Western Animation

  • The Venture Brothers is about failure, and failed expectations in particular. The setting is a failed Used Future take on the Space Age ideals, Rusty Venture and Billy Quizboy are failed child geniuses, and almost every episode is about how some experiment crashed and burned.
    • The detail they go into is amazing - one character, Pete White, is a failed super-scientist. He lives in a trailer, the typical home of failures. The trailer itself is on bricks, meaning it can't move like trailers should. Near his home is a billboard informing the viewer that the trailer is the only house of a planned subdivision. The character is a failure, his home's a failure, and the ground his home is standing on for miles around is a failure.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: War Is Hell, and forgiveness, love, friendship and compassion win out over spite, hatred and fear in the end. A friend may become an enemy, but an enemy may also become a friend. Destiny is choice - and choices must be made, not put off.
    • The Legend of Korra: Attaining balance, whether it be in an individual, a city, or the world. Recognising one's own strengths and weaknesses, and by doing so, adapting to your personal environment and situation.
  • Moral Orel: Just because kids are prone to mistakes doesn't mean grown ups are any better.
  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Friendship is a powerful force that can connect all of us and lets us accomplish far more then we can achieve on our own.
    • And the second season adds: But that doesn't mean it's easy.
  • Invader Zim: Humans Are Morons. Amazing that we have not been invaded.
    • Luckily the aliens are morons too. Word of God points out that anyone with the Irkens' miraculous technology and average intelligence could conquer the Earth in no time. Zim, on the other hand, is continuously thwarted by his own ridiculous plans, a complete lack of common sense, and a ten-year-old social outcast; the aliens in "Abducted" are utterly brainless. One could argue that Invader Zim contains a subtler theme that technology makes us stupider because we no longer have to think.
  • Lion King You cannot hide or run from your past forever. You'll have to face it soon.
  • The Toy Story series as a whole: Growing old and confronting your insecurities and mortality.
  • The Simpsons: Family will always stand by you and accept you for who you are, no matter how much you fight, how different you are, or how crazy you drive each other.
    • For Springfield in general: Everyone in the world is unique and seems a little insane to everyone else. You won't make them change. Get used to it.
  • The Fairly Odd Parents: Be Careful What You Wish For.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man: Everybody makes mistakes. it's important to acknowledge when you did wrong and learn from it.
  • Meet the Robinsons: Letting go of the past and moving forward.
  • Allen Gregory: Screw the Rules, I Have Money
  • Futurama: Loneliness. Difference. Some ideas remain familiar even after the world has changed enough to become unrecognizable. No matter how different and isolated you are, you can always find common ground with people if you look for it.
  • Monsters, Inc. A man discovers his profession is unethical.
  • Disney's The Legend of Tarzan TV series: A young man must balance his responsibilities to his family, his new wife, and the jungle he protects.
  • Dexters Laboratory: The refusal to accept failure.
  • The Incredibles: What does it mean to be extraordinary?
  • An American Tail: Searching for a new home.
  • Phineas and Ferb: The productive things you can do in your spare time.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Nobody is perfect, and that is a good thing. Always seek beauty in everything, even those called "meaningless".
    • The Power of Love and The Power of Friendship, and how these two virtues can accomplish better than one can expect.

  1. This last sentence is, however, by no means a universal belief; just look at the vast array of religions in the world for that. And that's all we'll say on that subject.