The Death Seeker is a character who wants to die, but for whatever reason isn’t willing to commit outright suicide. The TVtropes page has a good summary:
At some point in the past, some characters have had a traumatic experience, found themselves dishonored, committed a crime they could not repay, or lost everything worth living for. For whatever reason, rather than turning to suicide, they went off seeking battles to fight, hoping to find an enemy who would kill them, and achieve an honorable, heroic, awesome, or otherwise acceptable death, sometimes going as far as outright surrendering and offering their life to their enemies.
I’ve written a surprising number of these characters, but more often than not they end up living instead of dying. Quite often, they have a mentor who used to be a death seeker themselves, who makes them promise to find a reason to keep on living.
Escapist fiction is fun, but I like to read stories that are meaningful as well. The two are not mutually exclusive. When the protagonist is a death seeker, the question “what is worth living for?” tends to be a major driver for the story.
One character who’s very much on my mind right now is Mara Soladze from Sons of the Starfarers. A refugee turned marine, she has a traumatic experience in Comrades in Hope that very nearly pushes her over the despair event horizon. She can’t just give up and die, though, because there are people depending on her. As she climbs up the ranks from first mate, to captain, and finally to commodore, that tension never goes away.
Probably the biggest difference between a death seeker and someone who’s simply suicidal is that the death seeker is looking for something to die for. They’re much more likely to make a heroic sacrifice or go out in a Bolivian army ending.
But if something is worth dying for, isn’t it also worth living for? That is ultimately the question.