A wave of democratisation swept across the developing world from the 1980s onwards. However, despite the momentous transformation that this so-called ‘Third Wave’ has brought to formal political structures in regions ranging from Africa to Asia to Latin America, only a limited number of countries have succeeded in establishing consolidated and functioning democratic regimes. Instead, many of these new regimes have become stuck in transition, combining a rhetorical acceptance of liberal democracy with essentially illiberal and/or authoritarian traits. This article analyses the emergence and key characteristics of these ‘hybrid regimes’ and the challenges of democratic deepening. It suggests that, because a broad consensus to uphold democracy as the ‘only game in town’ is lacking, hybrid regimes tend to be unstable, unpredictable, or both. The article concludes by arguing that a deeper understanding of the problems besetting these regimes helps to provide a more realistic assessment of what these incipient and fragile democracies can be expected to achieve.