There are 197 countries recognized by the United Nations or, in the case of 2 we included, the majority of the UN. I took a look at each country’s cultural history and pop culture to determine the most iconic hero to come from each nation. Sometimes the country does not have many fictional characters so they honor folks heroes. Whenever possible, I selected a character that appears more than once and that has been exported in some form of media to the rest of the world. Here are the first 25%.
Malalai of Maiwand is a national folk hero of Afghanistan who rallied local Pashtun fighters against the British troops at the 1880 Battle of Maiwand. She fought alongside Ayub Khan and was responsible for the Afghan victory at the Battle of Maiwand on 27 July 1880, during the Second Anglo-Afghan War.
An eagle-man who fights against the Serbs.Shqiponja was born in 1997. Shqiponja gained a second life under the pencil of the comic book artist Gani Sanduri who said that his “comic has no longer connection with politics and is not directed against members of other nationalities in Kosovo or elsewhere, and especially not against Serbs”. He battles a lot of drug mafia folks now.
Meursault, an indifferent man who epitomizes Albert Camus’ ideas on existentialism may seem an odd choice but he’s a character from Algiers by an Algerian-born writer. The Stranger is probably the best known novel about an Algerian character by an Algerian.
Since it is a micronation (Europe’s 6th smallest) nestled between France and Spain, it does not have a large publishing industry. There are a few authors from Andorra and a few books set in Andorra, but nothing that’s entered the worldwide pop culture lexicon. However, I like the character of Maribelle from the story The Land of Right Up and Down by Eva-Lis Wuorio. Maribelle wants to attend the Fiesta of Our Lady of Meritxell, but is too far to travel without a horse. But if Maribelle and her friend can help a foreign lady find a rare butterfly, maybe they can go. Set in the mountains of Andorra, a tiny mountain country between France and Spain which is truly ‘right up and down.’
Angola has a fairly high illiteracy rate but their public TV is well-funded. A lot of their shows involve someone being comedically rude or ignorant and getting their comeuppance. Among the most popular is Sidonio from the sitcom Conversations Between Neighbors.
Antigua and Barbuda: There are cultural stories about the first European governor of Antigua, Edward Warner and his wife. Her name is lost to time but apparently she was kidnapped by the native Carib and Edward rescued her and one of their two children. Some of the Antiguan stories have her falling in love with her Carib captor.
El indio Patoruzú (The Patoruzú Indian) is one of the most important and influential characters in the Argentinian history. Created in 1928 by Dante Quintero, he appears in a story where Spanish conquerors were seen as mighty giants provided with an unique strength. Quintero drew hundreds of stories for almost 40 years. Since the 1940s, El indio Patoruzú became an icon in the Argentinian pop culture.
A fascinating runner up is El Eternauta is Juan Salvo, an Argentinian husband and father whose family survive a sudden snowfall that wipes out much of humanity. They fashion survival suits and learn extraterrestrials accidentally caused the problem, which soon leads to global war. Juan accidentally activates a time travel apparatus that separates his wife and child into different time streams. He becomes El Eternauta (the Eternity Traveller) constantly searching for his family.
David of Sassoun is the main hero of Armenia’s national epic Daredevils of Sassoun, who drove Arab invaders out of Armenia. It comes from an epic poem dating back to the 8th century and has been retold many times.
Mad Max has had four very successful movies. A fairly quiet loner with a reluctant moral streak who wanders the post-apocalyptic desert.
I would argue that Freder from Austrian-born Fritz Lang’s silent film masterpiece Metropolis belongs here because the film is such a cultural touchstone and has been remade and remixed so many times. Freder isn’t the most iconic element (that would be Rotwang’s robot) but he is the hero of the piece.
Drongo is a counter-terrorism operative, employed by secret service. He has great analytical and problem solving skills. The character’s name comes from Drongo bird, which frequently attack much larger birds to protect their nests. The primary focus of the character is thwarting terrorist attacks on the USSR, especially Azerbaijan. He’s been in both books and TV by Azerbaijani writer Chingiz Abdullayev.
It’s tempting to list Calico Jack, a pirate also known as Jack Rackham, a real pirate who was based in the Bahamas. But he was real. A Bahamian fictional hero is Jack. Jack constantly rescues ladies and children and he’s a trickster. His foil is B’er Debbil who has a magic rooster and donkey. But he’s stupid and overconfident and constantly defeated by Jack.
Gilgamesh, from the ancient Summerian epic poem, is a type of folk hero. Two thirds god and one third man he was sort of a jerk of a king that goes on a quest and meets the gods and becomes a hero.
Himu is a very popular character by writer Humayun Ahmed. Himu is a guy in his late 20s/early 30s that doesn’t have a job and doesn’t shave. He likes to walk bare foot. He cons people to make them act stupid. There’s a beautiful girl in love with him but Himu obeys his late father’s orders to avoid all human desires.
The Heartman appears in Barbados’ folklore as a man who carves peoples hearts out (especially those of disobedient children) and gives them to the devil. Some claim he has no heart of his own and this is why he takes people’s hearts. I guess he’s sort of an anti-hero but he pops up in the growing comic book scene of Barbados these days.
Ilya Muromets is a folk hero of Slavic legend, a sort of wandering knight. The son of a farmer, he couldn’t walk until age 33 when two wandering pilgrims healed him and gave him superhuman strength. He has been featured in many novels and films since the 10th century.
Accompanied by his loveable dog Snowy, Tintin goes around the world having adventures that are translated into dozens of languages. The series deftly mixes slapstick humor with intelligent social commentary.
Belize is a hodge podge of cultures but has deep roots in Mayan folklore and mythology. Hunahpu and Xbalanque are known as The Hero Twins, born to a virgin mother. They were very popular and they were great at the ball game Poc-a-Toc and also defeated several gods including a journey to the underworld filled with traps.
The Edo people of Benin have a story about the first Oba of Edo. Osa N’Obuwa (God, the creator) sent his sons to earth and gave them each a gift (wealth, knowledge, wisdom) until it was his youngest son’s turn. He ended up choosing an old snail shell out of the lame stuff that was left. The sons all got in boats but there was no land to dock at. The youngest son poured the snail shell upside down and it made the water solidify and become land. Osa N’Obuwa declared this land was Edo and the young son was the first king of the land and his brothers traded with him to have a place to stay.
King Gesar has a miraculous birth, a despised and neglected childhood, and then becomes ruler and wins his (first) wife ’Brug-mo through a series of marvelous feats. In subsequent episodes he defends his people against various external aggressors, human and superhuman. Instead of dying a normal death he departs into a hidden realm from which he may return at some time in the future to save his people from their enemies. The versions of the Gesar epic collected in Bhutan, in publication since 1979, are projected to run into some 31 volumes.
Super Cholita is a plus-sized woman comic book hero. She has a strong stance against corruption. Her power of flight, derived from a Tiwanaku temple, and her garb, inspired by Bolivian history, is enough to make her visual design a fairly progressive creation.
Bosnia and Herzegovina:
Mirsad was the son of a general of the Yugoslav army.But when the war began he gained superpowers and became Bosman. Like Shqiponja, he originally killed a lot of Serbs.
In mythology, Heise is a half-god half-man who wanders with the Bushmen tribes and is an expert trapper. He also makes mountains and trees from parts of his body. But that is also a mythology shared with Namibia and South Africa. Mma Precious Ramotswe is the main character from British writer Alexander McCall Smith’s series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. So it isn’t homegrown. But it is popular with 13 novels and an HBO TV series. It’s about the first female detective in Botswana and the locals have embraced the character for being a positive role model and showcasing their country in a positive light.
Monica is a 7-year-old, strong and decisive girl, who does not tolerate impertinence, but at the same time, has her moments of femininity. She lives with her parents, has a little dog called Ditto (Monicão), and does not let go of her blue stuffed rabbit called Samson (Sansão). This rabbit, which she loves so dearly, is also a weapon against boys. She’s been in comics since 1963 and has also had movies, TV shows, toys and video games based off of her and her supporting cast.
Awang Semaun is a hero figure in Brunei, recounted in many epic poems and has featured in comic books and movies more recently. He’s a warrior, one of 14 brothers. A bit of a hot-head. One time he caught a gigantic archer fish that gave him super strength. There’s a lot more to him, depending on the story. He makes mistakes and learns lessons.
“Protecting the city at night, sleeping like a log all day. But no one knew his true identity. That’s why people call him Super Spiro!” Created by Bulgarian artist Nedelcho Bogdanov, Super Spiro is a satiric superhero fighting against weird villains in the streets of Sofia.
Yennenga, was a legendary princess, considered the mother of the Mossi people of Burkina Faso. She was such an amazing warrior that her father, the king, refused to let her marry, even though that’s what she wanted. He locked her up but one of the king’s horsemen helped Yennenga, dressed as a man, escape on her stallion. Eventually she encountered a great hunter, married and had a son that founded the Mossi Kingdom.
Samandari is a trickster folk hero who heaps scorn on those in power. In one story he runs up a tree and pisses on the king.
Nho Lobo is a trickster wolf who really is the one who always gets tricked.
A lot of the oldest mythology comes from Cambodian interpretations of Buddhist stories, focusing on princes and kings. They began to focus on stories about the everyman when French collonialism took over in the early 1900s but by the 50s, the dictator Pol Pot persecuted intellectuals and worked to get rid of Buddhism and “superstition.” These days, some of the interest in the old Buddhist stories is returning. One old oral story is about princes Vorvong & Sorvong who get exiled by an evil stepmother and deal with supernatural animals and giants and stuff like that.
Enzo Kori-Odan is a hero from a new video game, Cameroon’s first. Enzo is the ruler of Zama – a diverse country free of an imperialist past but now threatened by a coup. The story centers around Enzo and his wife Erine, and their fight to regain the throne. The hero’s power comes from the collective energy of his ancestors, a force known as the Aurion.
Nelvana of the Northern Lights is an iconic Canadian creation. She is Canada’s first superhero and, being first published in 1941, debuted earlier than Wonder Woman. She is an Inuit whose human mother married Koliak the Mighty, King of the Northern Lights. Nelvana draws her power from these Northern Lights.
Central African Republic:
Ngosa is a young girl who has to brave the river and touching the python god of fertility in order to save her mother, who is sick and ailing from the drought. A traditional myth called “The Guardian of the Pool.”
There is a myth of a nameless woma who becomes free by truly being herself. An elephant hunter found a big woman sad and crying because she lost her “good clothes” and he married her. They had many large children. One day, when there was no food to be found in the house, she was searching and came across his hidden elephant hides. She put one on and returned to being an elephant in the wild.
Mirageman was originally released as a movie and since then it has became one of the most popular action heroes in Chile. Maco Gutiérrez, a martial arts fan that works as a bouncer, is lonely because all his family was murdered by a criminal gang. One day Maco decides to take justice by his hands and takes down a group of robbers that were breaking inside a house. He also rescues a woman that was about to be raped, who turns out to be a famous reporter. He begins a career as the superhero Mirageman.
Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King, is one of the main characters from the classic 16th century Chinese story Journey to the West. It’s a strong Buddhist tale that also has a lot of comic adventure in it. While Xuanzang is the main character, Sun is arguably the most popular. He continues to be adapted into comics and movies today.
El Profesor Super O (The Super O Professor) is a Colombian animated series that tells the adventures of El Profesor Super O, a hero that helps people to avoid committing idiomatic mistakes. A popular educational cartoon.
This small island of Africa was colonized by Arab people and has variations on their old myths. The king and prophet Solomon was given power over jinni (genies) by God. Solomon sent a jinni to deliver a ring to his wife. The jinni dropped the jewel, which formed a great circular inferno. This became the Karthala volcano, which created the island of the Comoros.
Congo, Republic of the:
Mwindo, born as a full-sized boy, is an unwitting threat to his father, a Chief whose heart is corrupted with greed and hatred for the son who will grow to take his place. Mwindo journeys on a quest to battle enemies and overcome obstacles, to triumph and forgive, to bring his people compassion and the richness of joy.
Congo, Democratic Republic of the:
Artist Barly Baruti has many popular comics. One of his most recent is about a Central African guide who helps the Belgian army against the Germans during World War II. He goes by the codename Mrs. Livingstone.
Pedro Albarán is the protagonist of Assault on Paradise, one of the most popular novels to come from Costa Rica. Pedro escapes from the Spanish Inquisition to Costa Rica. The book follows his misadventures among the colonial army, the Church, and the Mayan natives, as he dallies with women and witnesses the Mayan struggle against their colonial oppressors.
Aya of Yop City is a series of comics that follow the lives of many different people living on the Ivorian coast. All of the characters are connected by the main character, Aya, as she assists and helps them through their various dilemmas and daily issues. Aya is completely uninterested in the expected task of finding a husband. The stories focus on issues of honesty, loyalty, family and community. It’s been translated into English by Drawn & Quarterly in the U.S.
Super Hrvoje was magically transformed into a stone-man by accident. Whenever the blood of innocents is spilled on an ancient Croatian rocky ground, Super Hrvoje transforms into a stone man, making him almost invulnerable. He can then shoot stones from his hands at supersonic speed and merge with rocks or dive into a rocky ground like into a river. Super Hrvoje was created with an intention to be a Croatian version of Captain America, during the Croatian war for independence from Yugoslavia. Therefore, in the comic, he is fighting Yugoslavian/Serbian army and paramilitary.
Even though it was written by American author Earnest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea is a very important piece of fiction about Cuba. It follows Santiago, an old fisherman who has had 84 days of bad luck and finally catches a break. It was awarded the Nobel prize, the gold medal for which sits in the famous shrine to Our Lady of Charity at El Cobre, the Caribbean version of the Virgin Mary who is Cuba’s patron saint.
A local legend specific to the island of Cyprus involves their mythical hero Dhiyenis Akritas. He once lept across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to help Cyprus from invading Saracens. When he landed, his fist left an impression which became the Five Finger Mountains, a notable location in Cyprus.
Pérák is among the oldest European superheroes. Maybe THE oldest. Under his nickname “the Springer”, he was an urban legend during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II. In the decades following the war, Pérák has also been portrayed as a Czech superhero. “The Springer” was said to leap out from shadowy alleys and startle passers-by. Oral tradition suggests that some of Pérák’s leaps were of an extraordinary magnitude, including the act of jumping over train carriages.
Arno Olsen reads comics and decides to be a superhero. The next day at school he exposes himself to an “accident” in physics class that gives him super powers. He is then given a superhero license by the superhero license office in Copenhagen and begins to fight crime and Count Scroogeness as Dukse Drengen. He has interesting weaknesses: he can’t tolerate red sausage, green soda or added food products.
Africa’s 8th smallest nation produces very little literature. But local author Abdourahman Waberi wrote a popular novel, Transit. The book follows Bashir – an scruffy, adolescent ex-soldier who has nicknamed himself Binladen. Bashir’s scathing attacks on politicians and the ruling elite are “uncluttered by formal education” according to one review.
Super Dominica is a Kalinago (tribe native to Dominica) super heroine with powers based on the indigenous people’s rich history and culture. A nice children’s book by Dominican artist Albert Pierre.
Lolito Flochón was a middle class laborer who supposedly found the bones of Christopher Columbus. The president was so excited he granted Lolito whatever he wanted. Lolito said he wanted to lead the annual carnival celebration and it was granted. Before this, there were two parades: one for the upper class and one for the lower class. Lolito united them.