When it comes to movies, TV shows, and comic book characters, there is nothing that beats a good story of a person changing their ways to become a better version of themselves. While we all like a good character development arc, nothing truly beats a redemption arc. But what exactly is a redemption arc?
A redemption arc is a part of a fictional story wherein a character finally makes up for the mistakes that they made in the past to perform a series of actions that help develop the story in the best way possible. In essence, a redemption arc is a character’s atonement for past sins and mistakes.
The beautiful part about a redemption arc is that everyone can relate to it. Everyone in the world has made a mistake at some point in their life, and that makes a redemption arc so relatable to the common person. It makes us believe that, no matter how much we messed up in the past, we can still become better versions of ourselves, and that is why it should be a good idea to talk about redemption arcs.
What Is a Redemption Arc?
The best types of stories about different fictional characters in movies, TV shows, anime, or comic books all have different character arcs that tell different types of journeys. Everyone knows that the best fictional stories are supposed to develop the characters into better versions of themselves as they encounter different scenarios and events along the way of their unique journeys. And one of the best types of stories is the redemption arc. But what exactly is a redemption arc?
A redemption arc is basically a part of a fictional story wherein one of the characters essentially redeems themselves from a past mistake that they made. It tells the story of a character that once wronged other people in the past but ultimately performs a huge action or a series of actions that allows them to make up for the mistake that they once made.
In essence, a redemption arc is sort of an atonement that allows a character to change for the better while also allowing the story to progress towards where it should be steered to. And everyone loves a good redemption arc.
Redemption arcs usually come in different forms. Some redemption arcs happen gradually, as the character ends up experiencing different types of events that help change their perspective. There are redemption arcs that can happen in an instant, as one big event ultimately allows the character to wake up and change their ways. Whatever the case may be, we know that we are suckers for a good redemption arc.
The reason why redemption arcs are almost always great parts of a good story is that it is relatable to the common person. We know for a fact that no one in the world is perfect, and that means that everyone has committed a mistake at one point in their lives. Those who truly admit that they have committed a wrong or a mistake in the past can relate to what redemption arc characters have gone through, and that is why people love redemption arcs.
Some of the best movies, shows, novels, and comic books have redemption arcs that made us hate for a character at the start but ultimately made us some of their biggest fans. From all-time greats like Star Wars, the Avengers, Game of Thrones, and the Lord of the Rings, there are plenty of different characters that have experienced their own redemption arcs. And that is what we are here to explore.
Who Has the Best Redemption Arc?
While we do know that we love a good redemption arc, there are redemption arcs that stand as some of the greatest we have ever seen or read in movies, shows, and books. This is why we have a good list of some of the best redemption arcs in fiction.
1. Prince Zuko – Avatar: The Last Airbender
Arguably the best redemption arc you could ever see on any show is that of Prince Zuko’s. Those who grew up during the 2000s would know how Zuko is because he is one of the main characters of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is one of the greatest animated shows of all time. And you would also know that Zuko’s relationship with the protagonists did not exactly start off well.
Prince Zuko started off as a character hunting Avatar Aang, the main character of the series because he wanted to redeem himself to his father, the lord of the Fire Nation, and the very same person who banished him. However, as the story went on, Prince Zuko learned that redeeming himself to his father was not the most important thing in the world, especially considering that he was being guided by his wise and gentle uncle named Iroh.
With Iroh’s guidance and through the different trials and tribulations that Zuko encountered throughout the entire series, the once angry teenage boy eventually became an ally of the Avatar and was instrumental in defeating the Fire Nation during the final arc of the series. And what’s amazing about Prince Zuko’s redemption arc was that it happened gradually throughout three different seasons.
2. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader – Star Wars
You would have to live under a rock to note know who Darth Vader is. He is one of the greatest villains we have ever seen in the history of movies and one of the most iconic characters of one of the greatest movie franchises of all time, Star Wars.
While we were introduced to Darth Vader, the villain, back in Episode 4 during the 70s, those who have seen the prequel films released during the 2000s would know him as Anakin Skywalker, a good-hearted Jedi knight that fought for what he believed was right. However, Anakin was eventually corrupted by the Sith lord-turned-emperor Palpatine, who fooled into the dark side by seducing him with the power to save the ones he loved.
It was needless to say that Anakin was not able to save the persons he loved when he was lured into the dark side but he eventually did so at the end of his life. As Darth Vader, he committed the ultimate act of sacrifice by getting rid of Palpatine himself at the end of Episode 6 to save his son, Luke, who was dying at the hands of the Emperor. The sacrifice might not have made up for the heinous acts that he committed as Vader, but at least Anakin eventually did something right at the end of his life.
3. Jaime Lannister – Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is arguably the greatest television series of all time because of its engrossing storyline and its amazing ensemble of characters. One of the main characters introduced to us at the very start of the show is Jaime Lannister, the legendary knight and the spoiled son of one of the most powerful characters in all of the story.
At the start, there was no arguing that Jaime was an antagonist. Not only was he in love with his cruel and power-hungry twin sister but he was also willing to commit all sorts of heinous acts just so he could stay by the side of his twin. This included pushing off a young boy from a tower and murdering his own cousin.
However, as Jaime Lannister ultimately learned that he needed to fight for something bigger than himself, he redeemed himself for his past mistakes and went over to the “good” side after spending his entire life not truly living up to his potential as a good person at heart.
4. Loki – Marvel Cinematic Universe
There is hardly any character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as popular as Loki, who is the Asgardian god of mischief and the adopted brother of the superhero Thor. We know for a fact that Loki started off as a villain that wanted to take the throne of Asgard for himself all while attempting to kill his brother and overthrow his adoptive father. However, things eventually changed for villain-turned-hero.
Loki, as his and his brother’s story progressed, got a bit soft-hearted as he learned that he was always loved by his adoptive family. Thor always treated him like a real brother, both of his adoptive parents never really saw him as someone different from them. While he was still as mischievous as ever, Loki learned the value of self-sacrifice in his own mischievous way when he attempted to kill the supervillain Thanos to save his brother.
While Loki perished in the main timeline of the MCU, he was spared from his cruel fate in an entirely different timeline and even got his own spin-off series. In the Loki series, we got to learn more about the character and how he realized that he needed to be someone good instead of someone constantly chasing after glory.
5. Vegeta – Dragon Ball
One of the most popular anime characters of all time is Vegeta, who is widely regarded as the second protagonist of the hit anime Dragon Ball. And while Goku remains the all-time favorite protagonist, Vegeta himself has a huge number of fans because his character development has always been better than that of the main hero of the story.
Vegeta started off as a cruel villain who only wanted to become the strongest being in the universe. This was clear at the start of the Dragon Ball Z storyline when he attempted to kill Goku and take the dragon balls for himself to become the ultimate being in the entire universe. However, what ultimately changed Vegeta was friendship and love.
As the story progressed, Vegeta fell in love with one of the main characters of the story and even went on to become friends with the rest of the main characters. He still retained his somewhat cold personality, but he became someone willing to risk his life for the sake of his friends and family. And that made Vegeta a more complex character than even Goku himself.
Common Problems with Redemption Arcs
Even though everyone loves a good redemption arc, there are still some questionable aspects about the entire redemption arc gimmick, especially when the character’s story is poorly written. And this is where we look at some of the more common problems with redemption arcs.
Lack of Motive
The biggest problem about some redemption arcs is the lack of motive on the part of the character. Some redemption arcs don’t fully explain why the character wanted to change their ways or wanted to turn a new leaf in life. In some cases, the change is somewhat instant and doesn’t really explain why the character turned from evil to good in an instant. That is why a good redemption arc should always show what made the character want to change for the better.
Lack of Screen Time
Another problem with some redemption arcs is the character’s lack of screen time. A good villain-turned-hero should always be given just as much screen time as the main heroes themselves because you want to make sure that the character’s story is fleshed out and that they go through their own share of life-changing events. One case in point is Prince Zuko, who was clearly given enough screen time for his change of heart.
The Pasts Acts Remain Unforgivable
No matter how you look at it, things such as genocide, murder, and heinous acts are not something that you can easily forgive. While plenty of people who went through redemption arcs have committed such acts, a truly good redemption arc shouldn’t try to show that the character deserves forgiveness. Instead, it should show a willingness to change on the part of the character. Some acts just aren’t forgivable no matter how you look at them.
Again, forgiveness isn’t something that you should throw out all of a sudden just because a character actually did something right for once. A redemption arc wherein we are forced to forgive a character just doesn’t seem right. Sure, we get to relate to what the character went through but we should still accept that the character still needs to eventually make amends and pay for their past mistakes. Forgiveness should be gradual and organic rather than forced.
What Is the Opposite of a Redemption Arc?
A corruption arc is essentially the opposite of a redemption arc, and it is actually equally great because it proves to the viewers and readers that not even the most good-hearted people remain perfect. There are still some heroes that can end up getting corrupted when something they value more than their morals is put on the line. And we have seen a good corruption arc in Anakin Skywalker, who was corrupted to become Darth Vader but still ended up redeeming himself at the end.