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"Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."



"This boy's name is Yusuke. He's 14 years old, and is supposed to be the hero of our story...but oddly enough, he's dead."

Yu Yu Hakusho, episode 1

Sometimes, the end of the road is only the beginning. Well, it is if the cast is Dead to Begin With.

This trope covers stories set partially or wholly in the afterlife, a genre sometimes known as "Bangsian fantasy". Whether the characters are hanging in Fluffy Cloud Heaven, Struggling to survive against Hideous Demons in a Fire and Brimstone Hell, ghosts stuck on the mortal world, mortals who are Trapped in Another World before their time, or whatever, they're here to answer the question "Now that we're dead, what do we do for an encore? Unless, of course, they have another question: "Who Dunnit to Me?, and how can I stop them from murdering anyone else?"

Expect The Grim Reaper, either as a guest star or as one of the main characters.

Compare Dead All Along and First-Episode Resurrection. Characters who are Dead to Begin With may be susceptible to Ghost Amnesia. Not to be confused with Posthumous Character, which is a character who is dead when the story begins and is shown only in flashbacks. Or with Dead All Along, which is a plot twist. Or with You Are Already Dead.

Not to be confused with My Death Is Only the Beginning, where an established character's death brings about a whole new set of machinations.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Dead to Begin With include:

Anime and Manga

  • Bleach, especially the Soul Society arc. The main character and most of his (initial) friends aren't dead, though.
    • A common (and until recently very plausible) fan theory, though, was that the main character does in fact die when Urahara is restoring his powers, since his Soul Chain was cut in the process. And that since then, Ichigo has been using his own corpse the way a normal Soul Reaper uses a gigai, and doesn't know the difference. Since he normally has the modsoul Kon (who was specifically designed to animate corpses) use his body when he's not in it, the lack of a pulse wouldn't be noticed either. This theory was made quite a bit less likely after Ichigo lost his powers again. A 1-year Time Skip shows that he's aged normally, which a corpse presumably couldn't do.
    • Going to play devil's advocate and say...not entirely true...the theory is still sound because he was technically HALF dead to begin with thanks to his dad. So Ichigo has always been a unique case from the start one could argue. He could just be a really rare case that as long as his soul is still in his body after he lost his powers-that all he needs to stay alive and keep the body to move and his dad has obviously done. And he probably is in a gigai...still.
  • Yu Yu Hakusho starts with a boy. The boy's name is Yusuke. He's 14 years old, and is supposed to be the hero of the story, but oddly enough, he's dead.
    • He dies again later.
    • Technically Kurama died before the story started, too, and Hiei pretty much dies in a storyline toward the end. Kuwabara only ever has near-death experiences, and once he fakes it. It's just a thing these guys do.
  • In Gantz, an alien sphere kidnaps the souls of people who have just died, gives them new cloned bodies, outfits them with futuristic battle suits and high-tech weaponry, and forces them to battle monsters and aliens that secretly live among humans. If the hunters are killed by their prey (which happens frequently), they stay dead unless other players pay the Gantz sphere to "resurrect" them by making new clones - again.
  • In the first episode of Shakugan no Shana, Yuuji finds out that he's a Torch; a temporary replacement for the real Yuuji, who has been killed and consumed by a Rinne. Under normal circumstances, he would be erased from existence entirely once his flame burned out. However, he happened to carry a Treasure Tool within him called the 'Reiji Maigo',[1] which replenishes his Power of Existence at every midnight, meaning that, even if his real self is dead, his Torch still carries on.
  • Schwarzwald from The Big O.
  • Angel Beats! is set in the afterlife.
  • The protagonist of Linebarrels of Iron who mysteriously awoke covered in blood halfway through the episode after a giant mecha landed on him is told that he's already dead at the end of the first episode.
  • Fujiwara no Sai, one of the leads and the plot instigator of Hikaru no Go, has been dead for approximately a thousand years. He's only been really conscious for like twenty of them, though. He needs a host consciousness.
  • Much of the cast of Haibane Renmei are suspected to be dead upon entering the town of Glie, in a form of purgatory.

Comic Books



Masbath: Is he dead?
Ichabod Crane: That's the problem. He was dead to begin with.



  • The term "Bangsian fantasy" comes from the works of early 20th-century author John Kendrick Bangs, whose Associated Shades series conjectured on the afterlives of famous dead people.
  • Ray Bradbury's famous short story "Mars is Heaven" played on this, with a Karmic Twist Ending.
  • Janet Morris and several other SF writers created the Heroes In Hell series, a dozen books chronicling the post-mortem exploits of everyone from Gilgamesh to Yuri Andropov. Since many of the writers were military-SF specialists, the deceased characters spent lots of time shooting at each other with contemporary army hardware.
  • Philip José Farmer's Riverworld books start with the main cast dead.
  • Richard Matheson's novel What Dreams May Come
  • He wasn't the main character of A Christmas Carol, but we must remember that...

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

  • The main characters of The Brothers Lionheart die about 10 minutes in. Turns out that the afterlife (Nangijala) is very much like life, to the point of having their own after-afterlife (Nangilima). The story ends there, or they might end up in the after-after-afterlife.
  • Ubik by Philip K. Dick is all about this.
  • The Wish List by Eoin Colfer is about a girl who is exactly 50% good and 50% evil, so she's sent back to Earth when she dies and has to do good deeds in order to try to get back into heaven (mostly by helping the old man she was robbing when she died complete the titular wish list).
  • Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin—Liz is hit by a car at the beginning. She wakes up on a boat not knowing where she is. She is going to Elsewhere (a.k.a. Heaven), where you age backwards until you are a baby and then you are reincarnated.
  • Everlost by Neal Shustermann—Nick and Allie die when their respective cars collide. They become Afterlights, which is when the souls of children (ages 5–15) don't get to Heaven where they were going, because they lack the sense of direction needed. Afterlights roam the earth until the end of time, but they can be sucked into the center on the earth when they stand on living ground.
  • Variant in Discworld: The Nac mac Feegle believe that this world is their Valhalla, thus explaining their riotous behaviour as they've already got to paradise...
    • In Reaper Man, Windle Poons' storyline concerns his posthumous experiences as a zombie.
  • A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin begins with the protagonist waking up two years after his death.
  • Somewhat inverted in a child story Land of Oblivion: the protagonists are pretty much alive, but they are Trapped in Another World, where everybody else they encounter is actually a dead person from our world.
  • In The Dresden Files book Ghost Story, Harry has been shot down by a lone gunman and must solve his own murder.
  • All human characters save the narrator in The Great Divorce.
  • The great majority of the characters in Paul Kelly's 'War Beyond the Veil' series, beginning with 'The Lost Brigade'.

Live Action TV

  • Dead Like Me never goes into the afterlife per se, but all the main characters are Grim Reapers... sort of. They collect the souls of the dead and send them to whatever it is that's after life. In the meantime, they have to work for a living, so to speak, like normal people and attend to their reaper duties before they can die for real.
  • The Japanese television series Sukai hai (known as Sky High in English) starred Yumiko Shaku Izuko, the Guardian of the Gate to the afterlife who helped victims of violent death decide whether to forgive and be reincarnated, or return to earth and take revenge, thereby damning themselves to Hell. It spawned a big screen prequel.
  • Brimstone involves a deceased cop making a Deal with the Devil to catch 113 souls that had escaped from hell.
  • The Lexx crew were the first living people ever to stumble across the human afterlife — a twin planet system tucked away in the bleakest part of a sparsely populated universe — and spent a whole season trapped in its orbit.
  • Ashes to Ashes: The setting turns out to be a police officers' purgatory. (Don't say you weren't warned about spoilers!)
    • And so, retroactively (though it was apparently planned from the start), Life On Mars.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel tend to combine this with Death Is a Slap on The Wrist, due to the sheer number of characters whose deaths did not prevent them from continuing on. Spike (among others) hangs a lampshade on this one.
  • In the case of the American version of Being Human, Sally starts off dead and confused about how she died. As the story progresses, she eventually finds out how she died, as well as a few perks of being a ghost.
    • As was the case with Annie, from the English version of the show. In various episodes, Annie also would meet people who were already dead. Usually these people were introduced to teach Annie some skill regarding her ghost state. One episode also had a zombie girl, who was dead but still stuck in a rotting body.


  • Source engine / Garry's Mod machinima "Ghosts" is about someone shooting himself then going on a half-hour trip.

Tabletop Games

  • White Wolf visited this trope a few times: in Wraith: The Oblivion, the characters were ghosts, stuck in the Underworld until they Transcended or fell to Oblivion. In Orpheus, the PCs were members of the Orpheus Group, a corporation that discovered ghosts were real, and that living people could project themselves into their world - and being a corporation, naturally tried to make a profit out of it. It... didn't work out.
    • And then there's the forthcoming[when?] Geist: the Sin-Eaters, where the characters die, then get better.
    • In Exalted, the Underworld is a place anyone can visit, though the majority of the natives are ghosts. Campaigns set in the Underworld are an explicit option.
    • Plus, all those vampire characters are also somewhat slightly dead too.
  • Lost Souls and Spookshow were also small press rpgs where the PCs were ghosts.


  • Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit offered the infamous hypothesis that "Hell is other people". Turns out it's actually more of a tacky hotel.

Video Games

  • The adventure game Grim Fandango takes place in an afterlife based on the Día de los Muertos, Aztec mythology, and Film Noir. Oddly, it works.
  • For most of the cast in Valkyrie Profile 1 and 2 the plot starts once they've died.
  • The game Shadow of Destiny (also known as Shadow of Memories) begins with the murder of the protagonist. He is resurrected and sent back in time, only to die many, many more times before he can discover who is trying to kill him and why.
  • One level into Geist, your character is "killed" and spends almost the remainder of the game as a body-snatching ghost. Still partially subverted, as your actual body isn't dead yet.
  • The Nameless One of Planescape: Torment is very much dead to begin with. Several times over. The exact timeline is very difficult to say, but the clues in the game implies that he's been dying repeatedly for up to a few thousand years (it suggests that he knew Lum the Mad) by the point in time that the game begins.
  • In The World Ends With You you start off dead, and are playing "The Reapers Game" to come back to life. Initially, the developers make this look like a case of Never Say "Die", making it that much more shocking.
  • In the PC game The 7th Guest, you start off knowing that everyone in the game has died, and you have to piece together the clues to find out what happened and why. This is more complicated than it sounds, since you are the titular seventh guest, you are also dead, and only by completing the game can you save yourself from damnation, because your soul was sold.
  • Yuyuko Saigyouji from Touhou Project. The protagonists have to figure out a way to stop her in her own home turf—The Afterlife (sort of).
  • Painkiller. You die in a car accident and then hunt demons in purgatory and hell. With shotguns and stuff. And a gun that shoots shurikens and lightning.
  • World of Warcraft, if you roll a Forsaken Undead and/or Death Knight. Your death occurs before you begin playing. If you play a Forsaken Death Knight, you died 2 times. Once as a human, then as a Forsaken.
  • Knights in The Nightmare, and how. With the exception of the protagonist, death is a requirement to be recruited; hell, it would be easier to list cast members who aren't dead when you meet them.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a borderline example. The bad guys remove Zelda's soul from her body; most people can't see her soul and her body is lifeless. The plan is to then house a monster's spirit in her body and thus control Hyrule.
  • Final Fantasy X's Auron.
  • The protagonist of Revenant.
  • The Revenant mod for Neverwinter Nights and the Dark Avenger mod for Neverwinter Nights 2 both revolve around the deceased player character trying to work out the circumstances surrounding his/her death.
  • Sissel from Ghost Trick. Though he's not the dead guy he thinks he is.
    • And Ray, who we first meet as a ghost possessing a lamp. And Yomiel.
  • Ash in Phantom Brave. All of the other Player Mooks are dead to begin with too, since Marona's ability is to see and recruit ghosts to her side.
  • In Rule of Rose the entire cast, including your beloved Canine Companion are Dead to Begin With, and the purpose of the entire plot is for the protagonist Jennifer to come in terms with it.
  • In Prototype you begin the game playing as an amnesiac named Alex Mercer. You later find out that Alex Mercer died before the start of the game, and the character you're playing as is actually the sentient virus that took his form.
  • In the first Legacy of Kain game, Kain is murdered in the first playable scene, and spends the rest of the series as a vampire. In Soul Reaver, Raziel had been killed, brought back as a vampire, and then killed again before the game itself actually begins.
  • In Dark Souls, the player character died some time before the start of the game, but because they are marked with the Dark Ring, they come back to life every time they are killed. And they will die. A lot.

Web Comics

  • Muertitos revolved primarily around four kids living on a planet full of deceased souls, where death is a lot like life, only more so, and everyone's been turned into assorted creatures from mythology and folklore.
  • Slightly Damned‍'‍s Rhea Snaketail suffers from this; she gets better. Kind of. She doesn't seem particularly upset by this for very long though. "Whatever. I'm getting used to dying."
    • When she died, her marginally negative karma got her sent to the boring-but-harmless Ring of the Slightly Damned, which is where she met her ally Buwaro.
  • DDG starts with Zip's arrival in the afterlife as a gameshow contestant. Genderbending hilarity ensued.
  • Mnemesis plays with this and Ghost Amnesia.
  • During the intermission of Homestuck featuring the Midnight Crew versus The Felt, the Felt members Crowbar, Matchsticks, and Quarters have already been killed by the Midnight Crew. Due to the various time and space manipulating powers of the Felt, however, Crowbar still winds up fighting Spades.
    • Jade's Grandpa and Aradia were both killed before the story began. However, due to Weird Time Shit and ghost-hood, Grandpa was able to save John from some monsters and pick up his granddaughter's dead body, while Aradia becomes one of the most important characters in the troll's session and later comes back to life and ascends to godhood.
      • Jake's dreamself was similarly killed before the start of Act 6.
  • Jack has this as the central premise. All the recurring characters are dead, and the comic takes place mostly in hell.
    • Though most of the minor recurring characters lived until at least the middle of their introductory arcs. Jack himself and the other sins and angels were dead long before the first arc however.
  • Demon Candy Parallel can be considered this since it takes place in Hell, but Johnathan isn't dead, but would have been if he wasn't turned into an incubus.
  • Dusk Till Dawn starts with the protagonist being murdered and going to Fluffy Cloud Heaven (sortof)
  • Thistil Mistil Kistil starts off with Coal entering the afterlife and, since he died in battle, he doesn't seem unhappy about it.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • This was the original pitch of Jimmy Two-Shoes. The first episode would have had Jimmy hit by a bus and end up in Miseryville thanks to an error in the Celestial Bureaucracy. Whether or not this is still the case is vauge, but all things considered quite likely.
  1. translated to the 'Midnight Lost Child'