We all know about sidekicks who deserve their own series, but some supporting characters actually become big enough that they succeed and become main characters. Whether by getting their own spin-off or forcibly toppling the previous main character from their throne and wresting control of the series, these characters leave sidekick status behind and get the spotlight for themselves. In some cases, they actually end up eclipsing the previous main character in popularity, to the point no one care much about them or the original work anymore. Ouch.
So let’s talk about some of these breakout stars- be sure to mention any favorites that didn’t make the list in the comments!
Xena, originally from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
Many more people have heard of Xena: Warrior Princess than they have Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, despite the fact that Xena is a spinoff of the original show, which is pretty impressive. Xena first debuted in the Hercules episode “The Warrior Princess” as a villain, but quickly had a redemption arc.
The original plan was to kill her off at the end of her third episode in the series, "Unchained Heart", but when the studio decided to do a spin-off of Hercules, they decided Xena was the best choice, as she was so popular with audiences. This turned out to be the best decision the showrunners ever made.
Xena became a cultural phenomenon, far eclipsing Hercules in popularity. She is an icon from feminist fans and woman-loving-women fans and Joss Whedon and many other creators have given her credit for being a trailblazer for female action heroes. Xena even has a dwarf planet named after her (with a moon named Gabrielle) and her costume is in The Museum of American History.
Mikoto Misaka, originally from A Certain Magical Index
A Certain Magical Index is an entertaining but fairly-by-the-numbers light novel, manga and anime series- our luckless hero, Toma, has incredible powers and approximately 500 girls in love with him. One of those girls is Mikoto Misaka, a powerful electro-master with a quick temper. Her popularity quickly took off and she got her own manga and anime, A Certain Scientific Railgun, revolving around her adventures with her gal pals as they fight the various villains that threaten their city. The Railgun anime ended up selling much better than the Index anime (though the Index light novels are still top sellers) and was generally better critically received.
Honestly, for me it’s easy to see why Misaka’s anime would be more popular than Toma’s- she’s allowed to be much more flawed than he is and the series shows her developing as a character and slowly learning to work with and trust other people more, while Toma always has to be the super powerful guy who saves the day by himself.
Blade, Originally from the Tomb of Dracula
Blade, the vampire hunter, was originally just a supporting character in the comic book series The Tomb of Dracula, first appearing in issue #10 in 1973. He didn’t get his own comic book series until 1994 with Blade: The Vampire Hunter (though he got some one-shots and co-starring roles before this).
While many superhero characters who get solo titles start out as supporting characters in other titles, Blade is definitely one of the bigger examples because Blade starred in a film series, starting with Blade, the 1998 film and stretching on for two more films: Blade II and Blade Trinity. There are talks to have another Blade film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Blade also a 2006 live action television series, an anime one shot, and has appeared in several video games and cartoons. In the end, he completely overshadowed the series he originally came from in every way.
Oscar of The Rose of Versailles
The Rose of Versailles is known for being a tale about Marie Antonette’s crossdressing bodyguard, Oscar- the movie adaptation is even called Lady Oscar. But originally, the series was supposed to be focused on Marie Antoinette herself, not her bodyguard. Riyoko Ikeda, the author, intended for the series to be a biography of Marie Antoniette and she is the heroine of the first few chapters, but Oscar’s popularity and readers wanting to see more of her caused Ikeda to switch to Oscar being the main character. Later adaptations, like the anime, have the first episodes focus more on Oscar to mark her main character status from the beginning.
Nanoha Takamachi, originally from Triangle Heart 3
The anime series, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, which combines the magical girl and mecha genres and tells the tale of a girl named Nanoha discovering her magical powers and affinity for weapons, is reasonably well known and popular enough to get several spin-offs and to get remade into a movie series.
What is not as well -known is the game Nanoha originated from, an eroge (pornographic) game called Triangle Heart 3. It was the third in a series of games focused on love triangles between two guys and one girl. Nanoha was a minor character completely removed from the conflict of the game due to her youth. She was a magical girl in a mini-scenario on the merchandise CD Triangle Heart 3 ~Lyrical Toy Box~.
Though it has some extremely questionable focus on underage semi-nudity, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is not pornographic like the game it both originated from and soon eclipsed.
Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck
Donald Duck was originally a supporting character in a 1934 short called The Wise Hen, but really took off when he became Mickey’s rival and starting appearing regularly in Mickey Mouse Cartoons. He got his own movie series in 1937 and soon had an entire “Donald Duck Universe” going. This was especially prominent in comics, where he got several series focused on him. He also developed quite a supporting cast.
Scrooge McDuck first appeared as a supporting cast member for Donald in a 1947 issue of Four Color Comics. He became so popular he was given his own series, Uncle Scrooge, and became the main character of the animated series Duck Tales.
Phil Coulson from the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Phil Coulson, a somewhat fanboy-ish SHIELD Agent, was originally a very minor character in Iron Man, but continued to appear in other Marvel movies. He became especially popular with fans after his pivotal death scene from The Avengers and then the character was revealed to be alive and made a main character in the TV series Agents of SHIELD. Phil’s popularity caused him to appear in other continuities as well. He’s a main character in the Marvel Comic S.H.I.E.L.D and has appeared in cartoons like Ultimate Spider-Man, as well as video games.
Agent Carter from Captain America
Peggy Carter, based on the original comics character, appeared as Captain America’s love interest and supporting character in the first Cap movie and got a one shot special titled Agent Carter as a bonus in the Iron Man 3 DVD. The special was so popular she soon got her own television series, also called Agent Carter.
Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King
Timon and Pumbaa are the main character Simba’s comic relief sidekicks in The Lion King, but they receive much more fandom attention than the main characters of the movie do. As a result, Timon and Pumbaa have been the main characters of several spinoffs. They starred in the midquel movie, The Lion King 1 and ½ and also starred in their own animated series, Timon and Pumbaa.
Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
The villain of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent, is one of the most popular Disney villians. The Mistress of All Evil is just delightfully cool. As a result of her popularity, she’s made appearances in several canons, from video games to live-acion TV shows like Once Upon a Time. She got her own self-titled live-action movie in 2014, which told the story of Sleeping Beauty from her point of view and portrayed her as a sympathetic anti-hero rather than villain.
Miles Edgeworth from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
The rival prosecutor from the Ace Attorney games, Miles Edgeworth (known as Reiji Mitsurugi in the original version) was at first intended to be a unlikeable character, but he turned out pretty sympathetic and really caught on with the fandom, in part thanks to his tragic backstory and deep bond with the main character, Phoenix/Ryuichi. Developer Shu Takami decided to make him a little cuter and even nerdier thanks after being inspired by a fancomic and he played a prominent role in sequel games, even becoming the player character in the third game for a bit.
He eventually got two spinoff games that further expanded on his backstory and focused on his investigations as a prosecutor, though only the first one was released in the States, titled Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgworth.
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