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An Invincible Incompetent is a hero who defeats powerful opponents, despite having very little skill or ability. Frequently, they keep this up for years, heroically gaining almost no power as they progress, so as to make their constant victories even more impressive.
The method by which they do so differs. Some win on sheer, blind luck. Others know exactly when to say "Let's Get Dangerous", or intelligently exploit a major weakness of their enemy before returning to their previous state. Many get by on the efforts of mentors and other side characters. However they do it, it makes them effectively invincible, despite being largely incompetent.
This trope caters to audiences who like to identify with the "weaker" side in any conflict. A downside is Villain Decay; it is hard to present a villain as a credible threat if they repeatedly fail to stop the bumbling hero.
Despite the clear comedic applications of this trope, it is just as often played for (relatively idealistic) drama, with the audience expected to root and identify much more with an outclassed hero.
Anime and Manga
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: Katsuya Jonouchi (Joey Wheeler) perpetually comes from behind to win. Granted, everyone does this, but Joey never seems to be picked as a favorite to win anything, despite several finals showings.
- In the Irresponsible Captain Tylor nobody can decide if Justy Ueki Tylor is this or he's just that good but prefers to look like it.
- Inspector Clouseau of The Pink Panther series is a shining example, combined with Bat Deduction in that his profoundly stupid and illogical actions often save him and/or destroy his attacker and/or solve the case he's supposed to be working on. Many skilled assassins try to kill him, but Clouseau inevitably survives by some absurd accident, almost always unknowingly killing the assassin(s) in the process. All for the sake of Rule of Funny, of course.
- Harry Potter: Harry may be the highest-functioning version of this possible, given his constant victories despite rarely being noted as exceptionally gifted at any type of magic outside of Defense Against the Dark Arts and flying, and fully half the time defeating the villain either by accident or through the actions of another.
- Harry himself is perfectly aware of this. He resists Ron and Hermione's attempts to get him to teach them in Harry Potter because of this trope.
- Rincewind, from Discworld, is noted for trying to run away from the plot action, yet invariably winning somehow.
- Ciaphas Cain: Has a dark and dramatic take on a protagonist who attempts to run away from the action yet always ends up winning.
- The difference being that he is actually competent, or he would not have survived very long.
- Craig Shaw Garnder's "Ballad of Wuntvor," satirizes the concept. Within the work he refers to the trope as the "Eternal Apprentice".
Live Action TV
- Get Smart: Max Smart, who once disarmed an atomic bomb by getting his tie stuck in the timer.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Sabrina went seven years without ever learning even one or two simple spells she could reliably not mess up. Notable in that there usually was no villain except for her mastery of this trope alternately causing and fixing problems.
- Power Rangers RPM: Ziggy the Green Ranger is several leagues behind the other Rangers in fighting skills - and not just the ones on his own team, but just about every other Ranger, period - but he manages to bumble his way through fights, providing support for his teammates rather than drag them down.
- Doctor Who: The Doctor. A two thousand year old, time traveling, regenerating alien from outer space, The Doctor is usually more competent and durable than most humans in the show. Against rivals like the Daleks and Cybermen, however, he physically stands very little chance, admitting, to a fleet of enemy starships, "look at me, no plan, no weapons worth a damn" before using their knowledge of his past, mostly luck-driven victories against them to delay their attack.
- Mikey Whipwreck was the epitome of this trope in ECW. Despite going for months on end without managing to land a single offensive move, Mikey somehow managed to wrack up an impressive winning streak due to coincidental outside interference or just sheer dumb luck. This culminated with him winning the ECW Television Title and successfully defending it for a while, despite his numerous attempts to vacate the title.
- Scooby Doo has this trope in two flavors:
- Shaggy and Scooby always seem to end up finding the weekly monster despite their cowardice, laziness, and complete lack of investigative skills.
- Despite the inevitable failure of Fred's convoluted traps to catch the monster, the monster usually ends up trapped by the end of the episode anyway.
- The later shows and movies, though still often playing on this trope, gave the gang a bit more of a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass cred, displaying more acts of genuine competance and bravado.
- Rufus and Amberley from The Dreamstone, outside a few early episodes, rarely showed any true individual strengths or competence, yet defeated the Urpneys time and time again, due to dumb luck, a stronger ally intervening or the Urpneys basically defeating themselves for them. This is an unusual variation, since the Urpneys themselves are incredibly pitiful Harmless Villains and usually something of Villain Protagonists, however the Noops rely so little on their own skills to win against them that the former actually come off as more competent than them the odd time their lucky streak ends.
- Inspector Gadget: Gadget thwarts Doctor Claw again and again, almost solely on the strengths of his Hyper Competent Sidekicks or well timed slapstick bumbling. On the very rare occasions he gets a clue what's going on however, he is shown to be surprisingly competent.
- Jonny Quest: Jonny is pretty powerless through the show's whole run, and is constantly being plucked from danger by his father and Race.
- Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes: While Johnny and Ben are often reasonable fighters they are a lot more effective against Dr. Doom by accident in one episode, dodging missiles because they're fighting each other and using a two pronged attack because they couldn't agree on a plan.
- Coop of Megas XLR somehow manages to win completely impossible situations out of sheer luck.