Just like bodies, no two examples of body swap fiction are exactly the same. They can range from the macabre to the quirky or cringe-worthy to brilliant.
While there are many examples of great body swap fiction, or stories that feature body switching/identity switching, there’s definitely a select few that shine brighter than the rest.
What Is Body Swap Fiction?
A Body Swap is typically seen in science fiction or fantasy, where one character’s consciousness is swapped for another character’s consciousness, resulting in displacement in one another’s body. It’s commonly used to illustrate themes of compassion and understanding or to highlight disparity in social classes or ethnic groups.
How Does Body Swapping Work in Fiction?
For those not familiar, a classic case of body swap fiction is the one-to-one exchange of bodies between two people. However, it can occur a number of ways with multiple variations.
The usual circumstance is Person A embodies Person B and vice versa. Example: Freaky Friday.
Another take on the genre is where Person A embodies Person B without Person B going anywhere. For example, Quantum Leap or Being John Malkovich.
Recent stories like Altered Carbon have used the idea to effectively show reincarnation in recycled or cloned bodies. That would be an example of Person A embodying a vacant Person A-2. The characters in Altered Carbon, especially the rich ones, essentially swap bodies with themselves. What’s more, these body swaps happen routinely.
Watch Our Video Essay on Body Swap Fiction
Our Picks for the Best Examples of Body Swap Fiction
Let’s take a look at our picks for the best stories of all time in this unique sub-genre, whether its from movies, TV, books, comic books, anime, or games.
7) Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Who Are You (TV – 2000)
Season 4, Episode 16 of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer deals with the aftermath of the previous episode of the series. Faith, the edgier, more hate-filled slayer created by a cosmic loophole in the “slayer laws,” and Buffy switch bodies via a magical device given to Faith by her evil sugar daddy, The Mayor of Sunnydale.
Faith, now in Buffy’s body, watches as Buffy, in her old body, gets carted off by the police in a delirious state. She uses the first few minutes of the episode to establish her awkwardness in Buffy’s body. Clearly, she’s not used to someone wholesomely hugging her.
Still in the main slayer’s body, Faith then proceeds to do lots of scandalous and criminal stuff, including a weird pseudo-sexual encounter with Spike. Then, she meets Buffy’s friend Willow, and also encounters Willow’s girlfriend Terra for the first time. Terra and Willow get suspicious of Faith and try a ritual to discover the truth.
Buffy, in Faith’s body, manages to escape her little side adventure and finds Giles, Terra, and Willow. Together they move to a church where vampires, emboldened by Adam (big bad of this season), have taken civilians hostage.
Long story short, Buffy and Faith defeat the vampires. Then, Buffy uses one of the ol’ body swap spells to send their minds back to the right body. Back in her own body, Faith flees the scene, and Buffy is left to deal with the bad taste the whole experience brought to her already complicated life.
Why It’s Good
The use of a body swap spell switches the souls of two people at opposite ends of the spectrum between chaotic and lawful alignments, to borrow from tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons.
It’s not really a matter of good and evil, as Faith eventually shows that she has the capacity for good, just no real sense of morality to guide it. When she lives as Buffy, the circumstance thrusts her into a world where she is loved, nurtured, and valued. This informs her conscience, and she is able to see causality, responsibility, and what it is to love.
Even if she is still afraid of those things when she swaps back and the credits roll, the swaps have had an effect and clearly change the rogue slayer.
At the end of the day, this body swap story stands out as a great example of how to properly use and examine the theme of “living in another person’s skin.”
6) Your Name (Anime – 2016)
Separated by miles, and unaware of the existence of the other, Taki and Mitsuha have been dreaming of the other’s life, only to find out that their dreams are reality, and they regularly exchange bodies after they go to sleep.
At first it’s a shock (understandably), but as they begin to come to terms with the fact that they are in fact in another person’s body, they begin to try to find one another. When the swaps stop happening suddenly, Taki goes searching for Mitsuha only to find a crater where the Tiamat comet split and destroyed the place where Mitsuha lived three years ago.
Taki learns that their lives have been running three years apart. If he’s going to save the one he loves, he must find a way to get a second chance. Through cosmic shenanigans, the two exchange bodies the day before the comet hits. Taki forms a plan with Mitsuha’s friends to save the town’s inhabitants.
Why It’s Good
There are many reasons why this anime is good besides its quality animation, solid plot, and heart-wrenching themes of love, sacrifice, and second chances.
Though many stories combine these ideas, none have done so quite the same way as Your Name. The result is a story that grips you harder in its control the longer the story continues.
More so than other stories in this article, this anime integrates the concept of time, connections, dreams, and other metaphysical concepts to create something truly unique in the sub-genre.
5) The X Files: Dreamland (TV – 1998)
From Season 6, Episodes 4 and 5, this fantastic example of body swap fiction is called Dreamland. In this two-parter, Mulder’s mind gets inadvertently switched with an Area 51 employee named Morris when an experimental aircraft using alien technology crash lands in the Nevada Desert.
What follows is a comedy of errors so tense and, at times, hard to watch where Mulder bumbles through the daily routine and marriage of a man he knows nothing about. Meanwhile in Mulder’s body, Morris methodically dismantles Mulder’s work and life bit by bit, even going so far as to have Scully suspended when she tries to investigate.
Things go south and it is revealed that there is a leak at Area 51. Suspicions fly around causing Morris, Mulder, and Scully to coordinate to try and reverse the process before both lives are ruined. Even after a successful caper in stealing and analyzing the data from the flight recorder, there is no way to send the two back to their own bodies.
Both men seem to try to accept their new lives until the next day when Scully discovers that a gas station that had once burned down was now fully restored and the attendant had no knowledge of the event ever taking place.
Time had begun to “snap back into place like a rubber band,” and in the final race to the finish, the teams originally at the crash find their way back to the desert. At last, everything gets restored back to the night Mulder and Scully were caught.
Why It’s Good
The X-Files version of body swapping does something many other versions do not. They swap the lives of two people in disproportionate situations.
While Morris is placed in a position of youth, pedigree, and relative freedom, Mulder is forced to watch as Morris’s life falls apart in his absence. His marriage is failing, his kids hate him, and his job is so closely scrutinized that there’s zero room for error. Mulder wants nothing more than to return to his body while Morris is all too happy to remain in Mulder’s body and “rebuild” a more perfect version of his life.
This creates a great source of tension to carry the narrative where simply switching places to cause a hilarious conundrum would not.
This episode also marks a rare occurrence of someone in this situation actively try to improve the life of the person within whom they have dwelt. The stinger at the end where Mulder has to check to make sure he’s walked into his own apartment after Morris did some cleaning is both hilarious and a great callback.
4) Superior Spider Man (Comic Books – 2013-2014)
In this series, written by Dan Slott with artwork by Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos, and Giuseppe Camuncoli, Dr. Otto Octavious (Dr. Octopus) manages to pull the ol’ body swap with Peter Parker (Spider-Man) via a super shady consciousness-controlled robot.
Peter (inside Octavious) is left to die as his body is now old and frail from being thrashed by Spider-Man and the other Avengers over the years. Ock (inside Peter’s body) is granted access to all of Peter’s memories, and this forces him to turn over a new leaf.
He decides to become a “Superior” Spider-Man, besting Parker in every way, though I cannot speak to his ability to party, as Peter was probably always going to be better in that regard.
In the end, Octavious realizes that he can’t fill Peter’s shoes and simply erases his mind from Peter’s body, allowing Peter’s suppressed consciousness to regain control and claim the mantle of Spider-Man once more.
Why It’s Good
We like this series for many reasons. It explores body swap fiction unlike many other representations of the genre. The story goes deeper into the psychology and burdens placed upon those who are swapped.
Rather than take a comical approach to a typically wacky trope, Dan Slott wrote a tale with both a dark and introspective theme. One swap victim has to deal with the ever-encroaching fear of death and hopelessness brought about by his change, while the other one has to shoulder the weight of the responsibilities and trauma placed upon him by his actions and come to terms with the fallacy of his innermost thoughts and feelings of superiority.
Comic books are in a unique place to bring long-handled stories with recognizable characters and thought-provoking concepts to the masses. Superior Spider-Man is one of the best for showing the industry how that is accomplished.
3) The Great Keinplatz Experiment (Literature – 1885)
In this short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), a professor by the name of Alexis von Baumgarten uses his varied knowledge of science to venture into the world of “mesmerism” in an attempt to legitimize the study of souls and hocus pocus.
He stays at it for years attempting to prove the existence of the soul and map its properties through many varied experiments. It’s the science community equivalent of trying to make Dotera seem like a legitimate company.
His student, Fritz von Hartmann, is a young, strapping and perfectly fratty boy who happens to have the hots for the professor’s daughter, Elise. It’s this love-sickness for the professor’s daughter that leads Fritz to allow the professor to subject him to all kinds of experiments.
Eventually, Professor Baumgarten asks Fritz to help him with his greatest experiment, taking one another’s souls out of their bodies with mesmerism and letting them chat. Sort of like a super weird, old-school bluetooth between souls. Fritz agrees as long as he has permission to marry Baumgarten’s daughter.
The bargain is struck. In front of a live audience, the professor inadvertently switches their souls. Hijinks ensue.
Why It’s Good
In this version of body-swapping, the method of exchanging bodies is explained by pseudo-science. Not unlike a Star Trek episode trying to explain away its mysterious deus-ex moments with “tachyons.”
That’s not necessarily a pro, but it’s familiar in its attempt to at least try to be plausible.
In addition, the two parties remain unaware of the switch. This suggests that the soul is more connected to one’s sense of self than the body and its five senses… or that mirrors were very rare in the era this story was released.
Either way, Doyle’s short story is one of the earliest examples of body swap fiction in literature that is easily found on the internet for your viewing pleasure. Far from perfect, the language is hard to wrap your tongue around at first, but it’s well worth it.
2) Chrono Cross (Game – 1999)
It’s nearly impossible to summarize the entirety of this game due to its branching storylines. It’s all based on what characters you select to recruit along the way. Plus the game’s sheer scope is massive.
The important things you need to know are that the main character, Serge, mysteriously crosses over to a parallel universe. What’s more, he died 7 years ago in this universe. He’s being hunted down because the main antagonist, Lynx, believes him to be the “Assassin of Time, The Chrono Trigger.”
Serge, along with his companions, spend the majority of the first act running from Lynx’s allies General Viper and his Acacia Dragoons and trying to reach an area called Fort Dragonia. After receiving the water dragon’s blessing, Serge and his allies are able to enter the fort where Lynx and General Viper are waiting. It is at this point that Lynx betrays Viper, and then switches bodies with Serge using the Dragon Tear.
It is later revealed that Lynx needed Serge’s body in order to cross over time and dimensions to eventually reach an artifact called The Frozen Flame. This artifact possesses power over time and the ability to grant wishes. After more shenanigans, and working with the other dragons to regain his form, Serge goes to face Lynx.
Why It’s Good
There’s much more to the story. More plot twists, more headaches. But we’ll save you from all that and refrain from spoiling a now 20 year old game by focusing on the body swap and its ramifications on the story.
While in Lynx’s body, Serge receives much different treatment. Not because he’s in the body of someone “evil” but because he is now what the game calls a demi-human. A demi-human is a being like a human, but possesses some beastly, or otherworldly quality. It turns out that humans have been a bit “specist” toward these demi-humans. As a player, you would never have known had you not experienced it.
It resembles our problems with racism in the real world where only those affected by it seem fully aware of its existence.
Secondly, after swapping bodies, players must interact with characters that would otherwise be enemies. This allows you to glean knowledge about them and their plights. And it’s in a way that would never have been possible had Serge simply stayed in his own body. It forces the narrative to weave a much richer tapestry than your run-of-the-mill “save the world” adventure.
The best body swap fiction seeks to make the swap itself become a spoke for the narrative to spin around, rather than simply using it as a single plot device.
In Chrono Cross, the focus never lands on the swap itself. Instead, its focus is the implications surrounding it. For example, Lynx uses Serge’s body to cause a rebellion. He also requires it to further his schemes later in the game by opening a specific door keyed to Serge.
1) Face/Off (Movie – 1997)
An FBI agent, Sean Archer, acts on a six-year-old grudge against his arch nemesis. That foe is terrorist Castor Troy. Archer tracks him down and finally apprehends him. But not before Troy reveals that he has planted a bomb somewhere in the city.
Before Archer can get any more information, he’s brained and falls into a coma. Archer’s team, seemingly desperate for ideas, suggest that Archer assume Troy’s identity. How? An experimental face transplant. That way he can learn the details from Troy’s partner, Pollux.
The transplant takes place. Archer (in Troy’s face) tries to convince Pollux that he’s Troy. Meanwhile, Troy wakes up from his coma and discovers he no longer has a face.
We’ve all been there.
Honestly, we think Troy takes it like a champ. He phones his gang and has them force the medical team to transplant Archer’s face onto him. Afterwards, he has the team killed so that no one knows the transplant happened. The bomb plot gets hastily dealt with. Pollux willingly gives up the information and makes Troy Archerface a hero.
Things escalate from there with both men assuming the other’s lives for better or worse. Troy (in Archer’s face) mingles with the FBI agents and Archer’s family. Meanwhile, Archer works on breaking out of prison and getting in good with Troy’s gang mates. One of which is Troy’s baby mamma, Sasha, and his son, Adam.
Troy learns of Archer Troyface’s infiltration of his gang and orchestrates a raid which causes the death of Pollux. Archerface is reprimanded by the director. Then, he reprimands the director… by killing him.
Troy Archerface becomes the new acting director and makes plans for the old director’s funeral. Archer Troyface convinces his wife, Eve, that he is her husband. The two of them hatch a plot to apprehend Troy at the director’s wedding, which goes horribly awry. Because, of course it does.
Why It’s Good
Love it or hate it, Face Off is interesting not only as a piece of body swap fiction but also as a choice piece of acting on the part of both leads.
It’s not every day you see an actor playing another actor… playing them. While the plot gets convoluted, the film makes up for it with great action scenes, set-pieces, and the off-the-wall acting of Nick Cage.
We always knew crazy was his default state.
This movie also marks the only body swap on this list potentially thwarted by a blood test and plastic surgery. Take that for what it’s worth–it’s a novel idea.
Body Swap Fiction Honorable Mentions
Freaky Friday (Movie – 2003)
Mother and daughter exchange bodies when their minds swap due to a freak accident. Classic.
While not the most intelligent example of fiction with a body swap, the list would be remiss if it did not include this movie. It’s probably the most recognizable film as a part of this body swap sub-genre.
Freaky Friday (2003) is a remake. In fact, the film has been remade several times. Each feature a different mechanism that swaps the the unwitting bodies. Each retains the same story beats and deliver the same theme of “if you want to understand someone, walk a mile in their shoes.”
And while Freaky Friday is far from perfect, it more than makes up for it in name recognition and longevity.
On that note, we wonder how Lindsey Lohan is doing right now? We bet she wishes she could swap bodies with Jamie Lee Curtis again.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Movie – 2019)
The Jumanji pseudo-sequal-semi-reboot is a more modern take on body swap fiction.
While it doesn’t swap a single body in the strictest sense, each characters’ mind inhabits a new body to control within the game world. Their consciousness and mannerisms carry over to their new persona. That’s a big part of what made this movie so damn fun.
It didn’t smash any box office records or appease the fans of the movie’s namesake. But it presents a decent popcorn movie with adventure and hilarity in equal measure. A new story, Jumanji: The Next Level, is on the way. So the folks behind the helm have another chance at getting this body swap action/comedy perfect.
Besides, admit it, you’d go see any remake as long as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was in it.
Body Swap Fiction Conclusion
Stories featuring the exchange of bodies tap into a lot of deep feelings and desires. Who hasn’t wanted to change into someone else? At least for a day?
Walking a mile in someone’s shoes, whether they’re friend or foe, is the very definition of compassion. This theme is just one reason why this sub genre continues to flourish. In these stories, two characters swap more than just body and mind. One swaps lives with another.
With the prevalence of body swap fiction, we most certainly missed a few gems, because we tried to select just a few of the very best. But no one’s perfect. Let us know on our Facebook page, what’s your favorite example of fiction with body swaps?