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It's not bad enough to have just one plane of eternal torment. Many times, Hell has multiple layers, with those layers being tailored toward punishing certain kinds of evil, and the ones further down holding even more horrible punishments than the upper layers. Fire and Brimstone Hell is usually just one of the lesser levels; sometimes they really get creative.

Often, Heaven will have a number of layers as well, corresponding to varying degrees of holiness and/or purity.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Circles of Hell include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Dragon Ball, Hell seems to have a number of layers.
  • Yu Yu Hakusho, where Younger Toguro requests to be sent to the last circle of hell, which is 10,000 years of torture for 10,000 cycles until his soul ceases to exist.
  • One Piece: Although the real 'Hell' hasn't been seen, the strongest prison in the One Piece world is based on this, having each layers of prison floors a hell, (ie: Level 2 is 'Beast Hell', level 5 is 'Freezing Hell and etc..)
  • It's unclear if the Shinigami Realm in Death Note actually works like this. We don't see enough to call either way.
    • It wouldn't matter anyway, in Death Note all humans cease to exist after death, according to the Shinigami themselves. Despite its appearance, the Shinigami Realm is not actually Hell.


Comicbooks

  • Spawn features ten spheres of hell. They're distinguished from one another more by their native fauna than by their prisoners.
  • DC's crossover Underworld Unleashed used this model for Neron's hell.
  • The X Men went into Hell once to save Nightcrawler's soul. It resembled Dante's Hell.
  • Mephisto's Hell is intentionally modelled after this, to intimidate the damned mortal souls who end up there.


Literature

  • Older Than Print: Dante's Inferno isn't the Trope Maker, as it's based on some apocryphical scriptures, merely the Trope Codifier for the West. (It's often not mentioned that Dante's Heaven and Purgatory are built in a similar way.)
  • Midkemia in The Riftwar Cycle is sandwiched between seven hells and seven heavens, though it is pointed out that whether a plane is heaven or hell is subjective to the individual (i.e. Midkemia would be considered the First Heaven to someone from what they consider the First Hell, and vice versa). Also, it may go further up and down; it's merely that once you reach the seventh layer either direction, human minds are no longer capable of comprehending what's going on.
  • Invoked, naturally enough, in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Inferno, which is a 20th century take on Dante.
  • In Jodi Picoult's The Tenth Circle, Daniel, one of the main characters, creates a comic book about traveling through the circles of hell to rescue his daughter. It reflects off the struggles he's having at home.
  • In the Incarnations of Immortality series, both Heaven and Hell possess different circles/regions. Where you end up depends on what kind of person you were in life. In Heaven you go to different circles if you were a philosopher or a military leader. In Hell people who litter (yes) are forced to pick up litter in the freezing cold without any clothes until they've picked up as much litter as they contributed to, directly or indirectly, in life.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero in Hell, there are regions to Hell. Worse, there are Hellwinds which will blow you back to the appropriate place, even if you're a visiting still alive mortal.


Live-Action TV

  • Referenced by Shepherd Book in the Firefly episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds."

 Book: If you take sexual advantage of her, you're going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.

  • An episode of Angel had a characer trapped in a suburban stlye part of hell and Angel had to bust him out. Spike tagged along and told him that there's more than one Hell such as a "Freezing Hell".


Mythology and Religion

  • Maya Hell is divided into levels.
  • The Hells of Buddhism are where people with particularly bad karma are reborn. They must live, die and be reborn again and again in whatever hell they're in until they have worked off all of their bad karma, which can last for many kalpas (eons) on end depending on which hell they're reborn in, with Avici, the lowest hell reserved for those who commit one or more of the five unforgivable offenses in Buddhism, being the longest in duration.
  • The mix of Buddhism and local beliefs in East Asia has made Hell the Worst Bureaucracy Ever.


Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons and Dragons has The Abyss, which is alternately claimed to consist of 666 or an infinite number of planes.
    • In DnD they had multiple layers for pretty much every afterlife, from the Seven Heavens of Celestia to the Nine Hells of Baator.
    • The Planescape setting expands a bit on the nature of the Hells. In addition to eternal torment (because, what, that's not bad enough?), it's possible for someone to sell their soul to either demons or devils, which then results in being cannon fodder in the unending Blood War when you die. And as if that's not bad enough, you're pretty much regenerating cannon fodder, doomed to a cycle of existence that involves dying again and again and again...after you're already dead. It pretty much sucks.


Videogames

  • Nippon Ichi, particularly Makai Kingdom and Disgaea not only has The Multiverse, but multiple Netherworlds; occasionally warring on each other; much like the Dungeons and Dragons version; but most are not nearly as Grimdark.
  • Dantes Inferno, natch. Since it's based on the Trope Codifier, they sure couldn't miss this one.
  • The Civilization IV mod Fall From Heaven has six circles of hell, one for each evil God/Goddess (except one, who was originally good). Interestingly, hell in that universe isn't so much a prison for the wicked as it is a factory for the creation of demons to eventually wage war back on the outside world of Erebus. Each circle represents some aspect of evil to be cultivated in the inhabitants to turn them more and more demonic. There's even a circle of hell that mimics Erebus, designed to trick would-be-escapees of hell into giving up and returning to the other levels.
  • Act III of Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark takes place in the frozen wastes of Cania, the eighth circle of Hell in the D&D cosmology.


Webcomics

  • Ctrl+Alt+Del, like Dante, gives nine circles, but they're for the different types of bastard you encounter in MMOs. Griefers are forever spawn-camped, Ninja Looters roll a 1 on every drop, and so on.
  • Circles exist in And Shine Heaven Now's version of Hell. There's one specifically for people that get in the way of Integra's mission. Committing that sin takes precedent over any other sins the human or vampire may have committed (explained as because she's on a mission from God, fighting her is akin to fighting God).
  • In" Hell Lost" Dante is revealed as being mistaken: they are not circles, in fact, but ledges that step down to the Frozen Plain described by Milton, where both a frozen lake and one of fire can be found.


Web Originals

  • The Onion has an article with the headline "Tenth Circle Added To Rapidly Growing Hell". Corpadverticus, the realm of Total Bastards, is built to contain publicists and lobbyists, media whores, and awards-show hosts.
    • Niven and Pournelle just stuck those types in Malebolgia with the rest of the flatterers (wallowing in shit).
      • They also added a second anus to them, which eternally flows with shit. It's right below their tongue (Spouting shit).
  • The Seven Levels of Pun Hell.
  • Barely anyone gets into Heaven in Bartleby Tales, so the first level of Hell was converted into the closest thing Satan could make to Heaven. The second (where the story is set) is A Hell of a Time, helping people deprogram from a life spent following God's mindless taboos. The third through sixth are like purgatory, and only the seventh is a proper Ironic Hell (for people who're really, really evil.)


Western Animation

  • Futurama and all the levels of Robot Hell.
  • Parodied in God, the Devil and Bob. The Devil gets so wrapped up in his competition with God over Bob's soul (and, by extension, the fate of Earth) that his underlings turn the fourth circle into a luxurious golf course. When he finds out, he decides to show them what a tough course really looks like.
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