These are figures of such widespread use in the fantasy genre, and within fiction in general, that one hardly needs to elaborate on them. Their fame stands alongside heroes, wizards, warriors, gods, devils, dragons, fairies, and all the rest. They’ve traditionally been the final villain of the story, the last boss, the overarching threat behind all the rest, the ultimate puppeteer of humanity’s destruction, the big, bad, evil guy. Of course, recent trends have been casting them a more favorable light, often in some comical fashion, but, still, they remain the demon lord.
The details on the demon lord’s background can vary, just as with any other character. In particular, their power can spring from any number of sources. They might be powerful by nature, from the very beginning, or maybe they inherited their power from a predecessor. Perhaps they have become powerful through their own efforts, working for and earning it. There are many who, like other heroes and villains, gain their power by some twist of fate, some encounter with an otherworldly being, going from an ordinary underdog to being overpowered as they access some ancient or futuristic power.
In all of these cases, however, being powerful, and using their power, is, on some level, deliberate. They go out and do things which change the world, and they know very well how powerful they really are. They are the demon lord.
But what about someone for whom their almighty power is… accidental?
What if it’s so accidental that even they themselves do not know of it?
I recently stumbled onto a manga online entitled, I’m Really Not the Demon God’s Lackey. There’s a good deal of action, intrigue, and cosmic conflict, but the most central figure of the story is one Mr. Lin Jie, a humble keeper and seller of books. He’s a bibliophile, the very definition of such, and fancies himself as something of a soul-healing life coach, as well as a fairly capable salesman. He uses many manipulative tricks of conversation to assist his customers and secure his income from them. These tricks include speaking vaguely, guiding the direction of the conversation, offering support and encouragement, that sort of thing. He’s good at his job, but the normal conversations that he has with normal people to give them normal books to solve their normal problems… is not nearly so normal as he thinks it is!
Mr. Lin is from our world, but he managed to stumble onto a genuine ritual in which he was able to gain access to all the books in the world, in exchange for leaving our world and going to the land of Nokin in another. From the very start, his customers have been among the most powerful individuals in this world, and not only does his manner of speaking vaguely make it seem like he knows far more about their situation than any random mortal should, but the guidance he gives them is exactly what they most need to resolve a crisis at hand, though he’s actually talking about something else entirely. Most especially, the books he hands out aren’t what he sees them as: they’re spell books and grimoires filled with all sorts of forbidden and powerful knowledge the likes of which could drive someone mad, but which he happens to consistently give to exactly the right person at exactly the right moment.
Thus, his customers believe him to be more than he is – or, at least, more than he realizes he is – as some omniscient and all-powerful puppeteer of fate, to whom they give their undying loyalty. Elves, werewolves, knights, black mages, and more come to revere him practically as a deity, kind but possessing terrifying power. He redeems souls, turns the world on its head, and everyone who dares to challenge him or his people soon meets their final destiny. He is, by most every measure, a demon lord.
And he doesn’t know it.
Mr. Lin is an accidental demon lord.
True, common sense, courteous, and yet threatening.
I have to praise the author for how they are able to conjure up so many situations in which circumstances just keep aligning so perfectly that all of these intelligent people never catch on. Not Mr. Lin, not his customers, not anyone. Or, at least, not yet. It is absolutely hilarious to behold, really, and speaks to a very important truth about our tendency to make erroneous assumptions and to make idols out of ordinary people.
Be careful what you worship.
But it occurred to me as I was reading, I have actually seen this before. Not necessarily exactly like this, nor for such a prolonged period of time in the plot, and certainly not so masterfully, but I have seen the general idea of an “accidental demon lord.” Heck, I’ve seen it several times in anime alone, just in the last few months. That’s why I was able to come up with the phrase so quickly and easily.
It’s not a new thing for stories, including anime, to approach the questions of people and power. What do they do with power? What do they do when they quite suddenly have a great deal of power? How do the people around them react? What happens when they did not intend to have such power, or even fail realize that they have it? Most especially, what happens when other people think that this individual has more power than they really do?
In most cases, however, the possession and use of that power is, once again, deliberate in some way.
Death Note follows a young man who gains one otherworldly ability and immediately tries to become a god, reshaping the world in his own image. Kamichu and Kamisama Kiss are more light-hearted in their approach, but both feature girls who suddenly find that they are goddesses, having received the mantle of such due to some trickery by the previous gods. The lead of Demon King Daimao is forced to become a demon lord no matter his own will, but he certainly takes control of the situation he’s been driven into.
And there are more overpowered heroes and villains than you can shake a stick at.
A young boy hilariously thinks that he is weak when he is actually quite strong in Suppose a Kid from the Last Dungeon Boonies Moved to a Starter Town. An immortal witch finds herself nearly godlike in power, stronger than even the legitimate demon lord, in I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level. Both of these leads are, quite accidentally, far more powerful than the people around them, but where the latter realizes her strength, and uses it on occasion, the young boy is just too dumb and short-sighted to ever figure out that, yes, he is, in fact, a one-man army.
Which goes into the question of how one can not only become a demon lord-like figure by accident, but also remain that way without noticing. Most stories give up on keeping their central character oblivious, and instead opt for everyone else being so instead. Perhaps it’s just easier to portray the masses as unwitting, rather than the individual, or maybe it’s an effective means of getting an unfortunate individual swept up in the currents of other people’s expectations, forcing them to improvise constantly.
The titular Notorious Herbivorous Dragon is widely believed to wield tremendous power because he’s lived for five thousand years. The rumors steadily insist that he is old and strong and the very right hand of the demon lord himself. In truth, he got to be so old by hiding away from everything that can hurt him. So, when the local villagers offer a young girl to him as a sacrifice in exchange for his protection, he has to get a bit creative as his every insistence falls on deaf ears. In order to resolve the situation and resume his normal life, he has to play along a little with what people say about him.
This backfires gloriously when the girl who was offered to him turns out to be freakishly powerful. She accredits her awakened strength to him and drags him along on her quest to save the people and kill the demon king. In order to protect her, and protect everyone around her from any madness-induced rampages, he has to keep playing along with what she believes. On the bright side, she manages some impressive mental gymnastics, entirely on her own, in order to keep whatever she sees in accord with her preconceptions.
Still, the dragon finds himself suddenly and accidentally in charge of a very powerful being who reveres him almost like a god, all because his initial scheme backfired.
In a similar way, the titular Tanya of The Saga of Tanya the Evil has her overall schemes backfire on her all the time. She always intended to get herself assigned to a nice, safe position in her military’s headquarters, far away from the front, but instead she keeps getting assigned the most dangerous missions of all. When she gets seriously hurt, they give her a medal and a new assignment testing dangerous equipment. When she cultivates contacts in logistics, her mental acuity shines so much that she is given a special mission. When she tries to slow things down so she can keep herself out of battle for as long as possible, they speed up. And when she tries to be as terrifying and intimidating as possible, in order to convince her recruits to quit, she succeeds in scaring them witless, but they take it the other way and obey even her most extreme commands, lest they suffer something worse than simply being killed.
All she wanted was to be safe, just long enough to die of old age, and instead she has to fight a world war practically single-handed. She didn’t want command, she didn’t ask for it, but she got it.
Tanya and the dragon, however, at least have something deliberate to their actions, even if the people around them vastly misunderstand. I can think of at least three more recent instances where the “accidental demon lord” in question was only accidental for a little while before embracing their role, and with the understanding of those around them.
There’s Rimuru Tempest, from That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. He didn’t mean to become the leader of an entire nation of monsters, nor to lead an international alliance, and certainly not to become a literal demon lord. He started simply by protecting a small, ravaged clan of goblins. He took in a few wolves who had been enemies, invited some dwarves to join them, and things started snowballing when he gave a place to the last refugees of an oni tribe, aided some besieged lizardmen, conquered the orcs, and began treating with dryads, beastmen, and other demon lords. Effectively, he led the coalescing of a new nation, a new civilization even, from various disparate parts. And then he was surprised when his new people chose him as their leader. He accepted, though, and soon went from being an accidental leader of various monsters to a deliberate one.
Makoto Misumi had a similar journey, albeit much more swiftly, in Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy. Being transported to a fantasy world, and blessed by a god with great power, he soon found himself befriending orcs, dwarves, lizardmen, and more, including a lich, a dragon, and a gigantic spider. He is so powerful that he can go toe to toe with some of the mightiest figures walking this world, and even overwhelm armies like a one-man natural cataclysm. Like Rimuru, he took part in the creation of a small nation made up of various monster races, and they look to him as their leader. Also like Rimuru, he was reluctant and surprised, but accepted the role as they wanted him to.
And then there is the sorcerer lich, Ains Ooal Gown, in Overlord. He’s probably the most deliberate of these three. He rules the denizens off the Great Tomb of Nazarick, and he never once hesitated to do so. He and his companions built the place and created all those who dwell there, and he was the leader of them all even then. It was perfectly natural for him to continue in that role even when the game he was playing turned into something real, and he took this responsibility seriously. What he did not expect was for his followers to revere him so much that his every word would be taken as gospel truth. An offhand comment becomes their driving purpose, and as they set off to conquer the world, Ains ends up being the last one to know about it. Still, he very much accepted this and has rolled with it since, willingly engaging in many monstrous acts, such that he is quite definitely a true villain now, albeit one with occasional flashes of sentiment.
One may notice a recurring theme here involving isekai. Ains, Makoto, Rimuru, Tanya, and countless others are all transported across worlds in one fashion or another. This, too, makes a certain amount of sense, because how better to explain how one can accidentally become such a prominent leading figure in these societies, than for them to be complete strangers to the world? They don’t understand all of the ramifications of their actions because they are operating with great power and influence before they truly understand how this new world works.
That’s what happens with Mr. Lin, who misunderstands almost every situation to a degree which is nothing short of spectacular (and hilarious). Of course, in his case, that is the bare minimum of what he is not understanding about his current situation.
Mr. Lin’s ignorant, but incredibly fortunate, behavior can be compared and contrasted to Mitsuha Yamano, of the recent anime, Saving 80,000 Gold for My Retirement in Another World.
Mitsuha is another isekai protagonist, but, unlike most, she can move between worlds with ease. She uses this to set up a shop selling modern conveniences to the people of a fantasy world, who are at first very confused by everything she offers. These things are wonders to them, practically magic, and she’s just doling them out to anyone who can pay. She also starts making connections with local adventurers, various noble families, and even the king. She uses these connections, as well as her own resources, to both help those who come to her in need, and utterly destroy those cross her, all with a great deal of skill.
It would not surprise me too much if people start looking to Mitsuha as a queen or even a goddess, albeit one who seems to prefer a quiet existence. One could say she’s almost an accidental leader, even more so than most of the others.
Like Mr. Lin, she runs a shop and uses modern knowledge to help others, and she leaves her enemies devastated in her wake. Unlike Mr. Lin, she does not try to lay low, and she is aware of the status of the people she forms relationships with. She knows she has people’s love, loyalty, friendship, and respect, as she studies and learns quickly about the world around her. Though she is still heedless, rather than unaware, of some of the ripples she is causing. Unlike Mr. Lin, who sits in the eye of a storm which is upending the world around him, completely unwitting.
Looking over all of these characters, a pattern begins to form which defines what makes for an accidental demon lord.
- They are often an isekai transplant.
- They have some sort of great advantage over others – raw power, knowledge, political connections, etc.
- They assist those in need – even Ains did that at first – and are repaid with undying loyalty.
- Their enemies tend to be utterly defeated, either by them or by circumstance which makes it look like they did it.
- The armies they can command may vary, but are typically diverse, mighty, and terrifying to behold.
- They are, for varying amounts of time, completely unwitting about the effects they are having on the world, and how others see them, which typically involves more extreme emotions like devotion on the one hand or terror on the other.
With these criteria in mind, I present a most perfect pair of accidental demon lords from the most recent anime seasons.
Hiraku Machio is the star of Farming Life in Another World. He died in our world and was given a new body in a fantasy world, where he wants to be a farmer. He’s also given what he dubs “the almighty farming tool,” as it appears in his hand any time he needs it, it becomes any sort of tool he needs, and it does some incredible things like make whatever crops he envisions spring up from the ground without needing any seeds for it. With this, he grows whatever he wants, cuts down trees with one chop, and builds himself a home in the middle of the woods.
As Hiraku goes about this, he befriends some of the demonic creatures nearby, including wolves, a giant spider, and some extremely large bees. His home expands and becomes a village with the arrival of people from the outside, including vampires, angels, elves, oni, beastmen, lizardmen, and more. (another example of ruling over the coalescing and birth of a new, diverse community) When a dragon invades his home, threatening his people, Hiraku steps up with a resolve to protect them, and his almighty farming tool becomes a magic spear of such devastating power that he single-handedly destroys the dragon within two hits. This draws attention from the outside world and, soon after the village’s official founding, in which Hiraku is unanimously elected as mayor, demons and less hostile dragons are visiting for purposes of trade and maintaining friendly relations.
Very friendly relations.
It cannot be overstated how much officials from the surrounding territories want to maintain absolutely friendly relations.
As one often does when antagonism would invite swift and certain destruction.
See, Hiraku is surrounded by incredible, formidable people. The vampires, angels, and dragons especially have infamous reputations, but even without them, their neighbors generally don’t want to mess with the elves, demon wolves, and demon spiders, and that’s before even taking everyone else into account. Oh, and that’s besides Hiraku himself, who can conjure a spear with which he can slaughter even the most formidable of dragons without breaking a sweat. It is explained to the audience that his “almighty farming tool” is actually the replica of a mystical spear which would normally drain its user’s life force, but Hiraku’s new body has extremely high vitality and rapid recovery. Thus, he can cut down trees which should be impossible to cut down, build a cozy home in a forest that’s called the Forest of Death, magically grow any crops he wants, and annihilate the occasional uppity dragon.
Put Hiraku at the head of all of these fearsome figures, and it’s small wonder the local government is so hilariously terrified. And he has no idea.
He crosses off all of the criteria, with flying colors, to be a demon lord entirely by accident.
Finally, what may well be the most popular example: Cid Kagenou, aka Lord Shadow, from Eminence in Shadow.
He is a particularly strange case, somehow both a deliberate and an accidental demon lord at the same time; deliberate in that he chooses to be one, and accidental in that he really doesn’t know that he’s doing so.
They spend most of the first episode showing who Cid was in our world, before he died and was reborn in a fantasy one. He was always very clever, ruthless, and lived in his own little world. The reach of his influence was limited in our world, but once he was reincarnated with a godlike amount of magic, he became practically a force of nature unto himself. He is obsessed with living out his personal fantasies, including the use of two alter-egos, one of which is nothing more than a background character, and the other of which secretly moves the entire world from the shadows. Thus, he maintains a dull public image while creating a secret organization, Shadow Garden, comprised of young women of various fantasy races. He rescues these girls from a terrible fate and they aid him in battling their oppressors, the Cult of Diablos, to liberate the world from their clutches and to stop the resurrection of the demon itself.
And he did all of this by accident.
More specifically, he did it all within the grip of a delusion that it’s all pretend. He’s aware of real things and real events, and incorporates those into his delusion, but he’s basically an incredibly lucky madman of epic proportions.
Cid helped people, sometimes deliberately, and sometimes without knowing what he was doing. The first time he saved a girl from possession, and the grotesque mutation which results from such, he was just experimenting. He’d found a blob of living flesh that he could anything at all to, and stumbled onto the secret of undoing what had been done to her by complete accident. He spun a story that he made up on the spot, never suspecting it to be true, but it was. She took it all as true, verified it with her own research, and built Shadow Garden up from nothing. They took the knowledge which Cid shared from his life on Earth and used it in a variety of ways to build a multi-faceted empire in the shadows, with which they have waged war on the Cult. Said war shakes their entire civilization as surely as any calamity.
To the women of Shadow Garden, Cid is practically a god, though he knows nothing of it. He also knows nothing of all the other women who fall for him, excusing everything with further delusions. He does whatever he wants, and the world is dragged along in his wake, as he shows off his immense and terrifying power, but his madness is such that he still thinks it’s all fun and games, even when he utterly destroys his enemies in brutal, merciless, horrible ways.
So, he’s not quite as accidental a demon lord as Mr. Lin, but still!