Popular anime characters are often noble heroes and nasty villains, but sometimes the best anime characters sit in the middle in the form of a compelling anti-hero.
Like anti-heroes in other mediums, anime anti-heroes can make for uniquely fascinating stories and developments, ones that usually involve corrupted heroes, empathetic villains, or nonchalant outlaws.
The anti-hero straddles the line between good and bad. And while we’re never quite sure which side he ultimately leans toward, what matters is that their journeys are interesting no matter how dark they get—and we get to see their humanity amidst their flaws.
The anime medium has given us all kinds of anti-heroes over the years. Here are our picks for the best anime anti-heroes.
10. Revy (Black Lagoon)
In a world as barbaric as the one in Black Lagoon, it’s not surprising that someone like Revy is tough as nails. While she’s skilled as a fighter for the Lagoon Company, Revy is irritable, cynical, and unhinged—and she only sees violence (and debauchery) as the way to solve conflicts.
Despite all that, Revy has a soft spot for crew member Rock. Though she sometimes bully him, she’s willing to protect him and rescue him from danger. But she always remains as the chain-smoking fighter whenever he’s around. Revy is one ruthless killer who never loses her cool.
9. Mugen (Samurai Champloo)
Regarding anti-heroes, those who break rules tend to be the most chaotic. But not Mugen! Mugen spent his entire life learning to master his sword by himself. He has no regard for societal order and he lives by his own code and his own way of confronting his enemies.
This outlaw gets a chance at redemption when the fearless Fuu asks him and fellow swordsman Jin to help her search for the “samurai who smells of sunflowers.” Besides his tough persona, we also see Mugen’s comical side and humanity on the way, making for one great traveling partner.
8. Tanya von Degurechaff (The Saga of Tanya the Evil)
Tanya von Degurechaff is an esteemed military leader in the Mage Corps. She has fought many battles for the Empire with her magical abilities and has led a legion of mages to overcome her enemies. And she never bats an eye at the moral implications that come from those wars.
Her ruthless control can be traced to her previous life as an abusive boss. But that wickedness also becomes Tanya’s downfall when she receives not just her most coveted promotion to Lieutenant Colonel but her next destination—a cautionary for anti-heroes without redemption.
7. Sasuke Uchiha (Naruto)
Sasuke Uchiha is one of the most fascinating characters in Naruto and Naruto Shippuden. His demeanor fits well alongside Naruto’s optimistic enthusiasm and Sakura’s motherly care. And through their rapport and comic timing, they work well as one team.
As a ninja, Sasuke proves himself worthy in his confrontation of many foes and his acquisition of many techniques. But ninja skills aside, it’s his backstory that makes him so enthralling.
Sasuke is the product of his clan’s dark and brutal history, which drove him to leave his friends and search out Orochimaru. Sasuke may have to walk many dark paths, but we still find ways to appreciate him.
6. Guts (Berserk)
Guts never sees a day where he’s not fighting. The mercenary jumps from one company to another, serving their wills as needed. His joining of the Band of the Hawk stirred up his morality to the point that it put him at odds with leader Griffith, pulling him to dark territory.
He’s the very definition of a Byronic hero: a warrior of sheer strength and skill, but gloomy and unable to fight for it. This is apparent in his relationship with Griffith, where their opposing ideals lead to ruin. But it also leads Guts to be a tragic but great anti-hero.
5. Light Yagami (Death Note)
Light Yagami sees himself as the purveyor of justice after he comes into possession of a notebook that can kill anyone by writing their name. He gets to label whom he thinks is unworthy to live. But this purpose brings him under investigation and corrupts his morality.
The very premise of the “Death Note” is disturbing enough, but to see that very notebook in the hands of a teenager who grows more unhinged is most disturbing. Yet we want to see where Light’s journey goes as a young vigilante, especially when he’s pursued by L.
4. Vegeta (Dragon Ball Z)
For fans who grew up with Dragon Ball Z, there are two characters who captured imaginations the most: obviously one being Goku, the other being his Saiyan prince rival Vegeta. Vegeta is haughty, ill-tempered, and dangerously fierce and aggressive in combat.
However, as the series goes on, Vegeta grows from being an outright villain into an anti-hero. His warpath against Goku eventually leads him to allying with Goku against greater foes in the universe. That, plus his many quirks and moments, makes Vegeta a legend in the realm of anime.
3. Lelouch Lamperouge (Code Geass)
Lelouch Lamperouge resides in a world run by ruthless empires and cruel warlords. In that world, he rises in rank as brilliant resistance leader Zero, who gains the power of the Geass to topple the forces of the Holy Britannian Empire, who has been taking over territories from his father.
In the war-torn world of Code Geass, only the strong and strategic stand tall. But to achieve that means brutality and ruthlessness. That’s how Lelouch is able to conquer the forces of the Britannian Empire—but in the process, he has to wrestle with his inner demons.
2. Alucard (Hellsing)
Alucard is a vampire of nobility. He was once Count Dracula until he was found by Van Helsing’s descendant Arthur.
Since then, despite his tiring immortality, he dedicates himself to fighting with the Hellsing Organization, who are opposed against other devious vampires and evil forces (like the Nazi battalion).
There have been many cool vampire characters in anime, but Alucard sits at the top for his supernatural abilities, his bloodthirsty bents, his fashion sense, and his cool weapons. His ends are noble but his means are truly violent—still, we can’t help but admire Alucard.
1. Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop)
Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter in a universe defined by bounty hunters. Along with his crew in the Bebop, he tracks down bounties to earn enough for the sake he needs to get by. Despite his skills and history, he’s too laid back and world-weary, with his mind scrambling on daily needs.
His entire persona is meant to be an unconventional (and more unlikable) take on bounty hunters. Yet Spike is a breath of fresh air in his depiction of modern-day outlaws and sci-fi anti-heroes—and he’s all the more compelling with his dark backstory with the Red Dragon Syndicate.