A breakout character is a character in serial fiction other than the intended main character who becomes a more prominent, more popular, discussed, and/or imitated individual. The series from which the breakout character springs may be in the form of a novel, magazine, television series, comic strip, game or combination.
- Pinky and the Brain (voiced by Maurice LaMarche and Rob Paulsen) on the Emmy Award-winning series, Animaniacs. The two Acme lab mice gained so much popularity than all the other characters (especially Yakko, Wakko and Dot) of the show, they later received their own spin-off show focusing solely on them.
- Porky Pig was the first "official" Warner Bros. cartoon character. First appearing in 1935's I Haven't Got a Hat, Porky was intended to be a sidekick to the much-forgotten Beans the Cat. Due to being the first major star of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Warner Bros. was very exciting about the stuttering pig, that Porky proved much more popular than Beans, causing him (along with the rest of his co-stars) to be written out within just one year, while Porky remained prominent for decades to come. Tex Avery (and Bob Clampett, two years later) decided to focus on Porky Pig, receiving his first starring role, The Blow Out, released in 1936. However, these Porky Pig theatrical cartoons marked the birthplaces for these future Warner Bros. cartoon stars, like Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.
- Daffy Duck first appearing in 1937's Porky's Duck Hunt, Daffy was merely one of the many ducks Porky Pig was hunting. However, he would end becoming even more popular than Porky himself, soon starring in a series of his own shorts, starting with 1938's Daffy Duck and Egghead.
- Bugs Bunny made his debut in 1938's Porky's Hare Hunt. As the movie audiences really loved him, Bugs Bunny became so popular, that Tex Avery give Bugs his very first starring role with his Oscar-nominated masterpiece, A Wild Hare, released in 1940. With his prankishness personality, he quickly became the franchise's most popular character, and remains the leader of Looney Tunes today. Due to his massive popularity during WWII, Bugs finally became the official mascot of Warner Bros., as well as one of America's most popular cartoon characters.
- Foghorn Leghorn debuted in 1946's Walky Talky Hawky as a supporting character to the main character of the short, Henery Hawk. However, due to being a loud-mouthed rooster with his Southern accent, Foghorn quickly became more popular to the point he became the main star of his shorts, with Henery as the supporting character instead, quickly becoming one of the iconic Looney Tunes characters.
- Tasmanian Devil (aka Taz) Tasmanian Devil (aka Taz) first appeared in 1954's Devil May Hare. Edward Selzer doesn't like the Taz character, telling Robert McKimson not to create more cartoons involving the monstrous marsupial, believing he was too ferocious and too nasty for children, and that parents would dislike him. However, after three years with no new Taz cartoons, Jack Warner asked Edward Selzer what happened to Taz. It is believed that Edward Selzer changed his mind only upon being informed by Jack Warner that Taz was a massive hit with audiences. He then saved Taz's career when he told Selzer that he had received "boxes and boxes" of letters from people who loved the Tasmanian Devil, and wanted to see more of him, forcing Robert McKimson to create four more Taz cartoons, until Warner Bros. closed down its cartoon division in 1964. Taz became much more popular later on through merchandising and even getting his on show in the form of Taz-Mania. It may come to as a surprise to some fans that Taz only appeared in 5 of the Golden Age-era theatrical cartoons.
- Scrat from Ice Age quickly rose to become the iconic character in the franchise. Due to his popularity he even went on the star in his own series of short films.
- Jessie the Yodelin' Cowgirl first appeared in Toy Story 2. Due to her popularity, Jessie is officially considered "the most legendary Epiglottis Goddess", becoming the iconic character in the Toy Story franchise, as well as the official mascot of Pixar. Jessie finally got her first starring role, Toy Story of Terror!.
- Bullwinkle J. Moose was voiced by Bill Scott on Rocky and His Friends (for first two seasons of the series). Although the TV series was originally named after Rocky the Flying Squirrel, it was Rocky's dim-witted (and much larger) sidekick, Bullwinkle J. Moose, who got most of the jokes while Rocky served as straight man. By 1961, the series had been renamed The Bullwinkle Show, a title that appears for last three seasons of the series.
- The Minions from the 2010 film Despicable Me were loved by audiences and fans everywhere so much, they quickly became the most popular characters in the franchise, as well as serving themselves as one of Universal Studios' most popular cartoon characters, and stars in several short films, as well as their very own feature film.
- Stewie Griffin (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) on Family Guy. Creator Seth MacFarlane stated that he was very surprised that Stewie turned out to be the show's breakout character, and that this required him to write stories centering on him.
- Little Audrey first appeared in Santa's Surprise, released in 1947. She is a little girl who lived in Manhattan in New York City. Little Audrey was a favorite among the all-American men, and is aimed to primarily male adult audiences. Due to her massive popularity, Little Audrey is officially considered the first all-American tomboy, becoming the official mascot of Paramount Pictures; but she was acquired by Harvey Comics in 1959.
- Shaun the Sheep. Starting out as a supporting character in the Oscar winning Wallace and Gromit film, A Close Shave, Shaun then got his own successful show in 2007 as well as his very own Oscar nominated feature film in 2015, quickly becoming one of Aardman's iconic characters.
- Elmyra Duff from Tiny Toon Adventures. Elmyra Duff is so popular, she quickly became the iconic character of the series. Due to her massive popularity, Elmyra is finally got her very own show, but this time with Pinky and the Brain.
- Stacy Hirano from on Disney's Emmy-nominated cartoon show Phineas and Ferb. She is lazy, underachieving and hyperactive teenage girl, who loves to hanging out with boys, goofing off, playing jokes and having fun, and she had her zaniest, tomboyish personality. Stacy also loves playing video games, because she is a video gaming expert. Due to her massive popularity, Stacy is officially considered the hottest Japanese teenage girl in the universe, becoming the iconic character of the series. However, Put That Putter Away is the only episode that Stacy had her starring role.
- Tinker Bell. Originally the fairy sidekick of Peter Pan and supporting character of the 1953 animated Disney film, Tinker Bell became so popular, she went on to become one of the most iconic characters of The Walt Disney Company, with her own franchise and series of films. She also has been represented as a symbol of 'the magic of Disney'.
- Woody Woodpecker first appeared in the 1940 Andy Panda short, "Knock Knock", but Woody ended up becoming a global success, and the audiences loved him. Universal Studios and Walter Lantz are so thrilled with the zany woodpecker, that Woody Woodpecker not only became so popular with the all-American moviegoers, but he was also a favorite among the US soldiers. Since Woody was immediately rewarded his own solo series of cartoon shorts the following year, Walter Lantz quickly decided to blocked Andy Panda's popularity. Due to his massive popularity during WWII, Woody Woodpecker finally became Walter Lantz's most legendary megastar, as well as the official mascot of Universal Studios.
- Timon and Pumbaa (voiced by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella) from The Lion King became so popular, that they finally got their own TV show, its own movie, and have tons of fan art dedicated to them, far more than Simba, Nala, Mufasa, Scar, hyenas Shenzi, Banzai and Ed, Rafiki and Zazu get.
- Felix the Cat was originally conceived as a one-shot character for the film Feline Follies, which was made solely because another animator was tardy with his work for the Paramount Screen Magazine, and Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer agreed to fill in with a cartoon of their own. Felix's debut was so well liked by audiences that it immediately took off as a hit, graduated to his own standalone series and became one of the most iconic and influential cartoon characters of all time.
- The Chipettes from Alvin and the Chipmunks. After their first appearance in the '80s cartoon, they have become so popular and get more and more screentime overtime in the series becoming regular characters. Now Brittany, Jeanette and Eleanor are the iconic characters in the franchise and appear in all media.
- Marceline the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson) from Adventure Time first appeared in the twelfth episode of season 1 Evicted!. Since then, she quickly became one of the most popular characters of the show, among fans, and got her own miniseries during the show's seventh season.
- Yogi Bear became the most popular character on The Huckleberry Hound Show that he quickly got his own show.
- Donald Duck made his first appearance in the 1934 Disney Silly Symphony cartoon, The Wise Little Hen, but as he garned so much popularity, he later rose to fame by making his breakout performance in 1934's Orphan's Benefit alongside life long rival and friend Mickey Mouse, which also introduced his temperamental comedic timing. Donald Duck finally got his first starring role, Orphans' Picnic, released in 1936; however Donald Duck received his own series of theatrical cartoon shorts.
Anime and manga
- Syaoran Li of Cardcaptor Sakura. Originally a secondary character, Syaoran became a more prominent friend (and later love interest) for Sakura Kinomoto, with some later episodes revolving more around his perspective than the title character. Like Sakura, Syaoran also provided the basis for several other CLAMP characters, many of them just as (or more) prominent than the former. Syaoran Li is so popular, that he quickly became the iconic character of the series. In the Nelvana's English adaptation, Cardcaptors, he is renamed Li Showron and he is introduced in the first episode. He is also called a "Cardcaptor".
- Asuka Langley Soryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Asuka Langley Soryu was a favorite among the adult male, as well as the all-American men. Her popularity during this era led to her becoming an global cultural icon, as well as the official mascot of Gainax.
- Mikoto Misaka from A Certain Magical Index is quickly became more popular, that she even got her own spin-off series, A Certain Scientific Railgun.
- Krazy Kat evolved from an earlier comic strip of series artist George Herriman's, The Dingbat Family, which started in 1910 and was later renamed The Family Upstairs. This comic chronicled the Dingbats' attempts to avoid the mischief of the mysterious unseen family living in the apartment above theirs and to unmask that family. Herriman would complete the cartoons about the Dingbats, and finding himself with time left over in his 8-hour work day, filled the bottom of the strip with slapstick drawings of the upstairs family's mouse preying upon the Dingbats' cat. This "basement strip" grew into something much larger than the original cartoon. It became a daily comic strip with a title (running vertically down the side of the page) on October 28, 1913 and a black and white full-page Sunday cartoon on April 23, 1916. Due to the objections of editors, who considered it unsuitable for the comics sections, Krazy Kat originally appeared in the Hearst papers' art and drama sections. Hearst himself, however, enjoyed the strip so much that he gave Herriman a lifetime contract and guaranteed the cartoonist complete creative freedom.
- Nero from The Adventures of Nero by Marc Sleen was originally introduced as a side character in the series De Avonturen van Detective Van Zwam, where Detective Van Zwam was the main protagonist. From the first Van Zwam story on, Het Geheim van Matsuoka ("Matsuoka's Secret") (1947) readers reacted more enthusiastically to the dumb, lazy, vain and stubborn character Nero than the more noble and clever Van Zwam. So, from "De Hoed van Geeraard de Duivel" ("The Hat Of Gerard the Devil" (1950)) onward the series was named after Nero instead.
- Popeye first appeared 10 years into the run of Thimble Theatre, a comic strip started in 1919 by E.C. "Elzie" Segar for the King Features Syndicate. The strip initially focused on Olive Oyl, her family, and her boyfriend Ham Gravy. Segar introduced Popeye as a sailor hired by Olive's brother Castor to facilitate a single adventure. When the sailor character disappeared from the strip afterwards, Popeye fans demanded his return, and the series later became Thimble Theater, Starring Popeye. Due to his popularity, Popeye finally received toys, feature films, video games, books and even a series of theatrical cartoon shorts.
- The Smurfs were originally supporting characters in Peyo's comic series Johan and Peewit in 1958. The popularity of the little blue men led to them getting their own series a year later, which was subsequently followed by massive merchandising, a television series and various other productions.
- Smurfette first appeared in 1966. Due to her massive popularity, Smurfette finally became an global icon, becoming the true main protagonist of the franchise. As Smurfette's popularity increased, this era led to her becoming the official mascot of Peyo Creations.
- Inspector Jacques Clouseau, Peter Sellers' character in the Pink Panther film series, was originally conceived as a supporting character to David Niven's gentleman burglar Sir Charles Lytton in the film that launched the franchise, but quickly became the main protagonist.
- Aldous Snow, Russell Brand's character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
- Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp's character in Pirates of the Caribbean, initially was written as a supporting trickster character to Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Depp's performance and the character proved popular enough to warrant Jack Sparrow's promotion to protagonist of the series by the fourth film.
- Carson Beckett, portrayed by Paul McGillion on Stargate Atlantis, was introduced in the pilot episode, originally intended to be an occasional guest star for scenes requiring a doctor. His character was an immediate hit with the fans from inception, and Beckett earned his own episode halfway through Season 1. He was upgraded to a regular in Season 2, becoming one of the six main characters and appearing in 15 episodes of the season. Despite his popularity, however, the character was killed off at the end of Season 3, which led to outrage among his fans, who campaigned so heavily for his return that the character was written back into the series a year later. He became a recurring character once again during the show's fourth and fifth seasons.
- Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) on The Office was originally signed to appear in 10 episodes during the show's second season. Realizing that Andy had similarities to a character they were thinking of creating, the producers gradually merged the two. Bernard became a regular in the third season when the Stamford and Scranton branches were merged and, by the end of that season, was the only character from the former season who was still in the show. In the eighth season, Andy replaced Michael Scott as the regional manager of the branch when Steve Carell left the show.
- Mr. Blobby on Noel's House Party was, for a brief period in 1993, a British cultural phenomenon, albeit one that garnered much negative reaction and national embarrassment as time passed.
- Castiel (Misha Collins) on Supernatural is noted for originally being conceived for a short six-episode story arc at the beginning of the show's fourth season. By the time the fourth season came to a close, not only had the character quickly become a favorite amongst fans, but he was subsequently upgraded from his previous supporting status to a series star alongside the show's main protagonists Sam Winchester and Dean Winchester from the show's fifth season onward.
- Sandra Clark (Jackée Harry) on 227. The series was originally intended as a vehicle for Marla Gibbs. Harry's character, however, proved to be a breakout success.
- Elmo (voiced and operated by numerous puppeteers, but primarily by Kevin Clash from 1984 to 2012) on Sesame Street, he joined the cast of the children's show in the late 1970s. Originally a supporting character, Elmo's popularity among the show's younger fans rose in the 1990s, which led to him receiving his own segment within the show, "Elmo's World", and becoming a major marketing icon.
- Fonzie (Henry Winkler) in the American sitcom Happy Days began as a fringe character, but quickly evolved into the focal point of the series. His character became the best friend to the main character, Richie Cunningham, displacing Potsie Weber's status as best friend. Winkler's billing in the credits rose to second (he refused to appear above Ron Howard, the star) and then first after Howard left the show to pursue directing. At one point, network executives hoped to retitle the show Fonzie's Happy Days.
- K-9 (John Leeson and David Brierly) in Doctor Who, was a robotic dog who served as the Doctor's companion from 1977 to 1980. Following the character's departure, he appeared in the pilot for the aborted spin-off series K-9 and Company. He later appeared in three episodes of the revived series of Doctor Who, made appearances in the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, and is now the central character of the spin-off series K-9.
- Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver) in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, was originally created as a supporting character, the best friend of the titular character Dobie Gillis, when the series began in 1959. By 1960, Denver had graduated to co-lead and Maynard was given the bulk of the comedy material, with Dwayne Hickman's Dobie as the straight man. * Dobie Gillis was Denver's first professional acting job, and the breakout success of the Maynard character led to Denver starring in Gilligan's Island after Dobie ended in 1963.
- Elijah Mikaelson (Daniel Gillies) on The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, was originally brought in as a minor threat for the main characters and as a way to introduce villain Klaus. He was then supposed to die after six episodes. However, the character became so immensely popular that the writers changed his storyline, revealing him to be Klaus' brother. He became an important ally to the main characters and continued to recur on the show. Gillies then brought the character over to the spin-off The Originals, where Elijah has become one of the main characters.
- Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) on 24. Rajskub's character first appearing during the third season of the series and initially appeared as a recurring character throughout seasons three and four before being promoted to a series regular in season five and continued in that role until season eight as well as reprising her role in 24: Live Another Day. By season six, Rajskub had become the second-billed cast member after lead actor Kiefer Sutherland and has second most appearances of any character after Jack Bauer. During her tenure on the series, Chloe becomes one of Jack's closest friends and allies and is considered a "fan-favorite" and has been included in AOL's list of the "100 Most Memorable Female TV Characters".
- Elka Ostrovsky was portrayed (by Betty White) on Hot in Cleveland. White was originally offered a guest role in the pilot episode, but her popularity prompted the producers to give her a permanent lead role.
- Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) on The Golden Girls, was the mother of lead character Dorothy Zbornak (Beatrice Arthur), and was originally written as a one-off character for the pilot. However, her blunt wisecracking became a signature of the show, to the point where she became a core member of the cast, replacing a gay chef named "Coco" who only appeared in the pilot. Petrillo would go on to appear in The Golden Palace and Empty Nest, with the character ending its run at the end of Empty Nest in 1995.
- Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) on Arrow was introduced as an IT consultant at the main character's company midway through the first season. She quickly became a fan favorite and was made a series regular for the second season, with DC comics re-imagining her character for the New 52 as a facsimile of the live-action one
- Spike (James Marsters) on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was originally intended to be a villain for a few episodes, but the character became recurring through the end of the second season, then a main character in the fourth season. He appeared regularly through the end of the series, then appeared as a main character during the final season of Angel.
- Spock (Leonard Nimoy) on Star Trek was the only character to be carried over from the original pilot to the second. Series creator Gene Roddenberry was pressured by NBC to drop the character from the second pilot, then later to keep the character in the background. Spock's popularity grew, and NBC soon reversed its stance, encouraging more focus on the character. Spock appeared in every episode of the original series, the animated series and the original cast movies.
- Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) on How I Met Your Mother. Over time, Stinson became a scene-stealer and has been credited for much of the show's success.
- Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) on Parks and Recreation. Originally a background character, he soon became what critics called the show's "secret weapon," and he quickly became a scene-stealer, noted for his frequent deadpan comedy and machismo.
- Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) on Family Matters was originally a one-shot character during the show's first season in 1989. He became so popular that he became a regular cast member from season two forward, practically synonymous with the series.
- Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) in Gossip Girl was the series' most critically acclaimed character, earning mainstream media recognition from Forbes, Rolling Stone, Variety, and numerous other periodicals. The character was acclaimed as having "stolen the spotlight" in the first season. Her wardrobe garnered real-life coverage from fashion outlets, and she has been cited as a trend-setter outside of the show.