“The Chosen One” is one of the world’s oldest tropes. Its roots stretch back to the epic heroes of millennia ago: a single soul is chosen by fate, magic, or gods to right the world. Often of noble legacy, they live a story more important than the everyman. Since their quest is so dangerous, Gods and fate step in to help out whenever the hero is in a pinch.
They are the only ones who can save us all.
This trope is just as popular today as it was in ancient Greece, Babylon, and India. Clearly, it appeals to people across all cultures and times. Maybe there’s a part of all of us that would like to be a chosen one.
However, a lot of modern stories take different angles on this trope. Rather than a straightforward tale of glory, writers twist this trope a little by asking questions. What about the people around the Chosen One, like their parents? What if the Chosen One goes dark? Why is the Chosen One chosen? Some stories even go full deconstruction on what it means to be the Chosen One!
With this in mind, let’s take a look at seven modern Chosen Ones. In doing this, we can see how creators keep this ancient trope fresh!
The “Chosen” Part: Izuku MidoriyaWhat makes a Chosen One, well, chosen?
In those ancient epics, the gods chose. In fantasies, fate or prophecies choose a person. Actually, they often make this selection before that person’s even born. The Chosen One then just so happens to have heroic traits and be a good enough person to fulfill their destiny. For example, Alina Starkov in Netflix’s Shadow and Bone is this type of Chosen One.
However, sometimes modern stories choose their heroes because of their heroic qualities. In Kohei Horikoshi’s My Hero Academia, Izuku Midoriya, or Deku, is actually chosen because he doesn’t have a superpower.
In a world where everyone has superpowers, Deku stands out. His lack of a “quirk” doesn’t make him less heroic. He still wants to save people. As a result, All Might, Deku’s idol and Japan’s top superhero, chooses Deku to inherit his superpower.
Choosing the Chosen One: Harry PotterJust because someone is selected by fate or prophecy doesn’t mean they’re just your run-of-the-mill hero. For example, Harry Potter’s considered “the Chosen One” because of a prophecy. However, is it really because of a prophecy or is it actually because of choices?
As Harry later learns, there were two boys who could fulfill the prophecy: himself and Neville Longbottom. Voldemort made Harry the Chosen One because Voldemort chose who to consider his enemy. He considered Harry his enemy because of Harry’s mother’s sacrifice.
Throughout the Harry Potter series, Harry is always helped by others. Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Snape, and in a key moment, Neville—they play just as much of a role in defeating Voldemort as Harry. This is, of course, reinforced by the fact that it is love between people and relationships, that is literally the most powerful magic in Harry Potter’s world.
The “One” Part: Buffy SummersNow that we’ve looked into what makes a person chosen, let’s look at the “one” aspect.
As a Chosen One, no one else will be able to relate. That’s a lot of pressure for anyone to handle. Considering Chosen Ones are usually teenagers, too, it’s a wonder most of them don’t go crazy from stress.
Maybe no story explores this pressure more than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy constantly struggles with the loneliness and fear being chosen brings her. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives her an identity and purpose. On the other, it isolates her and complicates her life.
She can’t tell her mom and gets in trouble at school because she has to pursue a higher calling.
When another Slayer comes to town in the form of Kendra Young (RIP) and then Faith Lehane, it shakes Buffy to her core. What does it mean if she’s not the only Chosen One?
However, throughout the show’s seven seasons, Buffy’s never been just one girl. Like Harry Potter, she’s always had her loved ones by her side.
It’s no wonder that Buffy’s finale is titled “Chosen” and features the Slayer saving the world by having her friend, Willow, cast a spell to make many other girls “chosen ones” too. No Slayer will face the world alone ever again.
Those Around The Chosen One: CiriNow let’s look at those around the hero. In The Witcher, the Chosen One doesn’t exist. They’re only prophesied to exist… eventually. Someday.
Instead of exploring the Chosen One proper, the story instead follows the Chosen One’s prophesied mother, Ciri. Of course, Ciri is a young adult, years away from having a kid. However, that doesn’t stop everyone from trying to control her.
She’s a child of destiny. They’re just going to make sure that destiny helps them out.
Her own father wants to abduct and marry her to ensure that the Chosen One protects his empire. (Yes, it’s as icky as it sounds). Elves from other universes kidnap her to ensure the Chosen One saves them.
All of this clearly takes a toll on Ciri. She has no say in her destiny. However, through Ciri’s adventures and trials, through her adoptive parents Geralt and Yennefer, she learns her own power and value. Her power and value aren’t dependent on something to happen in the future. They’re valuable to Ciri as she is in her own present day.
By the end of the story, we know Ciri’s in control of her own destiny, whether or not she ever has a kid. We’d actually say that Sapkowski not including that actual event is purposeful and powerful writing.
Chosen Ones Gone Bad: Anakin SkywalkerLet’s look at the prophecy part again. We’ll take a new angle: what if the Chosen One themselves chooses to go against a prophecy?
While Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars original trilogy is a pretty standard Chosen One, the prequels made his story a little more complicated. As it turns out, Luke wasn’t the original Chosen One…his father was.
Wait, no, that’s impossible! Except not.
Although the prequel’s explanations are not the most compelling, Anakin Skywalker was chosen by the Force. He’s even the result of a virgin birth, one of the most ancient tropes (hi Jesus). Of course, Anakin goes to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Vader. When Obi-wan Kenobi defeats him in Revenge of the Sith, he even shouts at his former friend:
You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the force… not leave it in darkness!
In the end, Luke shows his father he can still fulfill his destiny and save the galaxy far, far away. Vader’s final decision is to save his son. His choice has nothing to do with pressure or rules or prophesied “shoulds.” Instead, the only thing that fulfills destiny is that Anakin loves his son.
Love people. That’s basically all Star Wars is.
Anyways, Disney’s sequels tried to deconstruct Luke as the Chosen One only to backtrack and mess everything up.
When Mistakes Are Made: Daenerys Targaryen & Jon SnowShowing a Chosen One messing up doesn’t mean that they’re any less heroic…or, does it?
What if the point is asking those precise questions?
In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, there are a zillion prophecies floating about. You have the “Prince That Was Promised,” and you have Azor Ahai. These prophecies may or may not overlap.
In all likelihood, the books won’t give a straight answer to who is whom and what is distinct from what. Martin’s more interested in the gritty reality than in clear answers. In fact, he even puts contradictions deliberately into his works. Why? Well, because reality is confusing. People don’t always get all the answers they want, not even Chosen Ones.
In the books and the prequel show House of the Dragon, characters like Rhaegar Targaryen and Rhaenyra are very aware of the prophecy that a hero will come from their line. This certainly contributes to their feeling invincible and doing sketchy things in the name of bringing about a prophecy’s fulfillment.
Plus, you have characters who think they’re chosen when they’re not (Stannis Baratheon). This also leads to terrible things. Like, you know, burning your kid alive to save people only to find out it doesn’t work because you’re not that special.
In the end, most likely the prophecy is fulfilled by Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow (also a Targaryen). However, these characters, particularly Dany, will do terrible things with the very tools they need to save the world.
If she saves the world, does that make the pain of victims of other mistakes less valid? If her legacy won’t be as a hero except to those who love her, is she still heroic?
These questions get to the very heart of what it means to be a hero.
The Deconstructed: Eren JaegerHajime Isayama’s manga Attack on Titan probably takes the cake for the most thorough deconstruction of what it means to be the Chosen One. A masterful tragedy, Attack on Titan tells the story of Eren Jaeger, a boy who grew up just wanting to free others.
When it turns out his dad gave him a superpower to turn into one of the titans that oppress his people, he resolves to use his power to save his people.
Except, it turns out Eren’s not the Chosen One at all. His dad stole power from the royal family. He can’t even use it correctly because he’s not of the right family. Eren can’t use the power to its full extent on his own.
When Eren finds this out, he begs the royal family’s daughter, Historia Reiss, to kill him. He’s become so attached to the idea that he alone is the Chosen One that he can’t bear to live if he’s not. Historia refuses.
Seeing no options, Eren eventually uses his power to commit genocide. He murders children and destroys entire cities despite his loved ones begging him to stop.
In the end, Eren destroys the world more than he saves it.
However, Attack on Titan‘s message is more nuanced than “Chosen One bad.” Mikasa Ackerman, the girl Eren’s always loved who kills him to stop him, concludes in the series’ final scene that she’s glad he lived despite his murderous rampage. Even if he is a monster, she has to love him, and she’s glad for it.
What Does The Chosen One Offer Us?Of course, dozens of other Chosen One stories exist. Aang from Avatar: the Last Airbender. Korra from Legend of Korra. Percy Jackson from Rick Riordan’s books and Disney+’s upcoming series.
Whether played straight or pulled apart and examined, the trope remains popular for a reason. The Chosen One can be a fun escape fantasy. It can also encourage us to think deeper about what we consider heroic, the powers and limits of love, and the agency of people around us.