Media consumers often expect heroes to be ethical, honest paragons of virtue that defend those that can't protect themselves and punish people that abuse their power to oppress others. Even against enemies dead-set on causing indiscriminate destruction and calamity, a proper hero will often look for a solution that ends the conflict as cleanly and quickly as possible.
It's one thing to have a moral code, but how one acts on it is the line that divides regular people from heroes. It's more than superpowers and combat experience; it's about the courage to stand by one's conviction under pressure. Fighting the weak is the epitome of cowardice, and there is little room in a hero's heart for cowardice.
10 Superman Rarely Ever Goes All Out (Superman)
As one of the strongest beings in the universe, it stands to reason that Superman could easily destroy anyone or anything that dares endanger Metropolis's peace. However, he doesn't do that for that very reason. His greatest asset is that he doesn't need to use all his strength to defeat his enemies; his fights are more like slaps on the wrists than full-on brawls.
His greatest strength isn't his ability to fly faster than light or throw meteors back into space, but his optimism and belief that people and things could get better. So, whenever Clark Kent suits up and throws another criminal in prison rather than vaporize them, it's out of compassion, not negligence.
9 Mark Has An Unbreakable Will (Invincible)
Not many people can say they postponed the wanton genocide of their home planet from their homicidal alien father, but Mark Grayson surely can. Going by the superhero moniker "Invincible," young Mark has to struggle to juggle everyday teenage life and the responsibilities of heroism. Only someone with ironclad willpower can endure such a hectic lifestyle.
Mark is a protector over all else; he will risk getting himself killed if it means defending those weaker than him. The same can be said for those who mean him harm. Whether taking Todd's punches because they don't hurt or fleeing, as opposed to fighting, an angry Martian horde, Mark will always choose to be the bigger person.
8 Optimus Prime Leads By Example (Transformers)
One would think that the destruction of one's home world is grounds for holding grudges. However, the wise and selfless leader of the Autobots doesn't see it that way. As a leader, the others look to him for guidance, so Optimus Prime must keep his cool to make the best decisions.
As the one leading the charge against the Decepticons, Optimus is the last one expected to have any form of empathy for his enemies. It's the opposite, in fact, for former foes who may have reformed. He doesn't find joy in violence, setting him apart from Megatron. The undisputed face and protagonist of the Transformersfranchise is as strong physically as his sense of justice.
7 Ben Tennyson Has Better Options (Ben 10)
In Ben 10, he started his hero career as a selfish and immature child. But, by the end, Ben Tennyson has grown into a better man and hero as time passed, learning what kind of responsibility comes with the power on his wrist.
In the past, Ben would have no problem using the Omnitrix for pranks and stopping petty crimes. Instead, he saved his best efforts for the forces of Vilgax and many other foes he would later face. His growth in maturity over the years becomes more evident as the series goes on, guided by good morals and a strong sense of justice. With over ten different transformations to choose from, he has over ten solutions to any given situation.
6 Blake Knows What Powerlessness Is Like (RWBY)
Blake Belladonna, the reserved member of Team RWBY, has lived a life of turmoil under the heel of racial oppression. She began her journey on the warpath as an up-and-coming member of the White Fang before realizing that the once peaceful organization she grew up under was gone.
Her experience with being treated as inferior makes her more sensible and empathetic to those seen as weak. Her weapon and fighting style reflect this, with a knife and pistol tied together with a ribbon while relying on evasive maneuvers and afterimages to confound and eventually overwhelm them. The lethal parts of her weapon are reserved for monsters, robots, and powerful human enemies. Otherwise, trickery and escape is her strategy.
5 Aang Is A Hardline Pacifist (Avatar)
If there's one person in both the mortal and spirit worlds a person can trust to keep the peace, it's the Avatar. It helps that Aang, the last of the air nomads, sticks to his teachings and adheres to a strict practice of nonviolence.
Avatar: The Last Airbender's protagonist has never wavered in his drive to find peaceful solutions. Even when facing down Fire Lord Ozai, he finds a method that allows him to spare his life. Suffice it to say, he's not the type of kid to bring his spiritual wrath down on someone, even if they deserved it. He's a pure soul in the truest sense of the word.
4 Goku Treasures A Fair Fight (DBZ)
The Saiyans of Dragon Ball Z are a proud warrior race, as often stated by Vegeta. Most Saiyans would have no problem attacking those they deem inferior, which is another way that Son Goku is the shining exception to the rest of his people.
Goku may be oblivious and aloof sometimes, but no one can deny that he is a good person at heart, even to his enemies. Everyone remembers the moment when he gave Frieza energy before leaving Namek, and the time he handed Cell a senzu bean, but that's just the kind of guy Goku is. If he's not fighting anyone at their full strength, there may as well not be a fight at all.
3 Knuckles Doesn't Fight Dirty (Sonic the Hedgehog)
Knuckles the Echidna, in nearly every piece of Sonic the Hedgehog media, is among Sonic's more reserved allies. Stubborn and naive, Knuckles prefers using his brawn rather than his brain to solve his problems.
Despite that, he has a sense of honor passed down to him by his long-departed clan. He tends to lose his temper when the things he cares about are threatened; specifically the Master Emerald he was sworn to protect. While he may be hot-headed and brash, he's also honest to a fault. Knuckles has a code to abide by, and it will take more than a short fuse for him to break it.
2 Leonardo Is More Samurai Than Ninja (TMNT)
The oldest of four brothers, responsibility comes to Leonardo whether he likes it or not. Fortunately, he also happens to be the most mature, having voluntarily taken up the mantle as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles leader. His noble spirit, reminiscent of a noble warrior from medieval Japan, was instilled in him from a young age, and he hasn't wavered from this duty since then.
Under the tutelage of Master Splinter and through trial and error, Leonardo grew into an adept fighter and competent leader for his brothers. He follows the warrior code to a T, as cheap tricks don't come easily to him. All four turtles have their strengths, and discipline and technique are Leo's.
1 Spear Fights To Survive (Primal)
The world of Primal is ruthless, violent, and mysterious. A reflection of our planet at the dawn of life, with every living thing out for blood, just surviving is nearly impossible for a human. Yet, despite that, Spear and his dinosaur companion named Fang have not only survived at times but thrived.
The pair have fought and killed many people and animals throughout their travels, usually creatures much bigger than them. Whenever they harm something weaker and smaller, it's only as a means of self-defense or hunting. They fight as much as they need to, avoiding fights to the death if given the option.
NEXT:8 Villains From TV Series Who Won't Fight Anyone Weaker Than Them