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A Karmic Thief is a thief who steals from people for selfish reasons, but only steals from people that are portrayed as being unlikable. Their targets will usually be wealthy, corrupt, or more often than not both at the same time. Expect a few Kick the Dog moments just to make you really not like the victim. The target might even be a criminal himself, who made his fortune by stealing, scamming, or extorting money from the poor, the middle-class, or even sympathetic rich people.
The Karmic Thief's actions are "justified" because they're being done to someone that is seen as deserving it. This turns the thieves into heroes for whom the audience can cheer more easily. If the thieves are themselves poor, the story might contain implicit themes of class conflict.
A Karmic Thief will never steal from those who are poor and honest. However, unlike a thief who is Just Like Robin Hood, a Karmic Thief is not interested in charity through giving away all their ill-gotten-gains to the poor.
This is a Sub-Trope to Caper Rationalization and is often a case of Pay Evil Unto Evil. Compare also to the Lovable Rogue, where the emphasis is on the likability of the thief rather than the idea that all his victims deserve their fates.
Anime and Manga
- In Lupin III, Lupin's schemes mostly focus on him stealing something from someone rich and powerful. It is usually obvious from the beginning that his targets are corrupt, tyrannical, or exploitative. Even when they seem initially seem nice or affable, they will be eventually be unveiled as evil.
- At one point, Artemis Fowl chooses to focus his efforts solely on stealing from the wealthy and corrupt. However, he explicitly says he is not aiming to be Just Like Robin Hood.
- In Not a Penny More, Not A Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer, a group of people who have been swindled by a con man band together to steal from him exactly the amount he took from them.
- Arsène Lupin's first theft was from a family that had been paying his mother an unfairly low wage for the work she did.
- The Stainless Steel Rat refuses to steal from anyone but rich corporations that are insured against theft, though once he is recruited by the Special Corps, he turns his skill against various villains.
- Moist von Lipwig from Discworld claimed himself to be this trope, more than once. In the light of that we get to know about his career, his pretensions appear a little hollow, though.
"The worst I ever did was rob people who thought they were robbing me ... Okay, I robbed a couple of banks, well, defrauded, really, but only because they made it so easy" — Making Money
- The team from Ocean's Eleven target two unscrupulous casino owners and a thief.
- The film Tower Heist involves a Wall Street banker being targeted by the workers in his penthouse building.
- The Sting is about Con Men scaming a corrupt cop who murdered one of their fellow con artists.
- The band of highly-skilled hijackers and bank robbers in Michael Mann's Heat. They only target high-value targets like precious metal depositories, banks and corporate money vans. Robert De Niro's character invokes this directly during a bank heist by telling everyone they're holding hostage "This isn't your money. Your money is federally insured."
- The crew of career criminal protagonists in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels decides to rob the much nastier gang of thieves who happen to live to next door to them to get themselves out of massive debt. Ironically, the profits they plan to steal from their neighbours are themselves being stolen from a group of drug dealers.
- Dog and his band of unpleasant thieves who're the neighbors mentioned above only steal from other criminals — mostly drug dealers.
"When they're not kicking puppies or picking the peanuts out of poo, they rip unfortunate souls off of their hard-earned drugs."
- In Serenity Mal Reynolds and crew take a job which involves stealing a corporate security payroll. It's a job hurting The Alliance from a probably corrupt corporation, so they're Jerkass Victims, but Mal has no intentions of handing out his crew's cut to the poor. Well, except that the poor and the crew of Serenity have a lot in common.
- The crew from Hustle make money for themselves through conning people who earn their ire.
- The Rogues is an American television series that appeared on NBC from September 13, 1964, to April 18, 1965, starring David Niven, Charles Boyer, and Gig Young as a related trio of former conmen who could, for the right price, be persuaded to trick a very wealthy and very unscrupulous mark.