If there are heroes, then there are also criminals and underground syndicates who roam the streets to spread fear and commit intolerable acts of theft and robbery—or worse, abduction and murder.
These beyond-the-law characters help make many anime series packed with action and full of good-versus-bad scenes, or filled with mystery and suspense as they spark mind-bending investigations.
Despite being hunted by the law, thief-like criminals aren't always villains. They may be trapped by circumstances or they may have noble intentions behind their actions, perhaps reminiscent of Robin Hood.
Whether as protagonists or villains, here are my picks for the best anime thief and criminal organizations and why they're so great.
16. Monster Association (One Punch Man)
Ruled by King Orochi, the Monster Association consists of over 500 monsters and lives as an organization created to overthrow heroes.
The group's main goal is to create a place for monsters and eventually rule over humans by eliminating heroes and the Hero Association who are in charge of protecting the people.
15. Oracion Seis (Fairy Tail)
Consisting of six powerful wizards, Oracion Seis was a Dark Guild led by Brain's other personality, Zero. Like any criminal organization, they exist to create chaos among the other wizards and guilds.
Their objective is to obtain Nirvana, a dark magic that has the ability to turn light (good) into dark (bad)—and once dark magic is under their control, they can turn all other guilds into dark guilds.
14. Eye of the Midnight Sun (Black Clover)
The Eye of the Midnight Sun is a group of mages that rivals the mages of Clover Kingdom. They are led by Patolli, whose soul resides inside the body of the captain of the Golden Dawn Squad, William Vangeance.
After an incident that annihilated all elves, Patolli's consciousness woke up in a human body years later and swore to bring destruction to humans. To do that, he must revive the rest of the elves using the magic stones.
Posing as the Golden Dawn Squad captain during the day, Patolli can move easily with the help of a few revived elves and several rogue mages.
13. Black Organization (Case Closed)
Black Organization is the main antagonist of the series Case Closed and is responsible for turning Shinichi Kudo into a child with the drug APTX 4869. Its members are given names of alcoholic beverages, including Gin, Vodka, Vermouth, and Bourbon.
They hide a darker plan using crimes as cover-ups, and are responsible or involved in many of the main cases that Conan needs to solve. The Black Organization was also the main reason why Conan always got his hands into Kogoro Mouri's cases, hoping that some may lead him to them.
12. Union (Noblesse)
The Union is a human organization ruled by Elders, rivaling the Nobles that reside in Lukedonia. Among them are clan leaders (who betrayed the Nobles) and the werewolves (who are near extinction).
Most of the Union's activities are research experiments to create a body with superhuman abilities. They use living humans as specimens, ready at their disposal, of which only a handful survive.
As the research nears perfection, the human Elders themselves modified their own bodies and planned to rule the world by declaring war against the Nobles, who provided protection for humans for centuries.
11. Nami (One Piece)
Nami is the third to join the Straw Hat Pirates and became the navigator of the crew. But before that, she was a member of the Arlong Pirates, led by Arlong, taken in by force to draw a map for him. He then gave her a deal: buy the village back and free the people for 100 million berries.
At a very young age, Nami learned how to face the danger of stealing goods and money just to survive and accumulate the money needed to save her villagers. Sometimes, she can get away safely with a few scratches, having just a wooden baton for her protection.
Even though she's now a member of the Straw Hats, she's still the well-known "Cat Burglar" and steals from the ships of their enemies, making her responsible for the loot raids and fundings of the crew.
10. Ban (The Seven Deadly Sins)
One of the members of Seven Deadly Sins who owns the title of "Fox's Sin of Greed," Ban is the kind of thief who can steal your heart. Literally.
Ban grew up in the streets and fed himself with the food he stole, with his small body being beaten by the townspeople. He was taken by Zhivago, a werefox who taught him how to steal in silence.
Ban developed his skill and gained a powerful ability which he named Snatch, which can steal his enemy's weapons, organs (like Melascula's hearts), skills, and abilities (to level up on his own).
9. Kaito Kid (Magic Kaito 1412)
Kaito Kid (also known as the Gentleman Thief or Phantom Thief) is the protagonist of the manga series Magic Kaito who also makes appearances in Case Closed.
In his own series, he steals gems with famed histories and later returns them if they aren't the Pandora Gem he's searching for. He plans to find the Gem to prevent the villains who killed his father from acquiring eternal life, as the Pandora Gem is believed to grant immortality.
In the Case Closed series, he makes appearances disguised as some of the major characters (like Shinichi Kudo or Professor Agasa) in cases that involve gems or anything else he's searching for.
8. Arsene Lupin III (Lupin the Third)
Arsene Lupin III and his gang are the main characters in the Lupin the Third anime series, who are famously known for their heists and performances, including disguises and impossible escapes.
His group includes Jigen Daisuke (a sharpshooter), Goemon Ishikawa XIII (a swordsman), and Fujiko Mine (Lupin's love interest).
7. Port Mafia (Bungo Stray Dogs)
Port Mafia is an underground organization with Ogai Mori as its current head. They are involved in many crimes and black market negotiations and are said to be the lead crime syndicate in their area of operations.
Port Mafia has "gifted" members that include Akutagawa, Chuuya, and Ogai himself. Later in the story, they work together with the Armed Detective Agency to save their turf—and even their leaders who are infected by a gift-inflicted virus.
6. League of Villains (My Hero Academia)
League of Villains is an all-villain organization initially created and led by All for One, then later by Tomura Shigaraki. Much like the Monster Association from One Punch Man, the League of Villains plans to overthrow society and take control using their Quirks.
The group consists of powerful Quirk users like Tomura Shigaraki (Decay), Toga Himiko (Transform), Kurogiri (Warp Gate), and Dabi (Cremation). The League also consists of the mindless but muscular Nomus, who are corpses brought to life by their experiments.
5. Aogiri Tree (Tokyo Ghoul)
A single ghoul is already big trouble. But an organized group of rogue ghouls who want nothing but to wreak havoc? Yeah, that's going to be huge trouble—more than anyone can handle.
Aogiri Tree is a terrorist organization of ghouls founded by Eto, the One-Eyed Owl. They aim to stand against the Doves of the CCG and to create a world where ghouls can live freely.
However, they grow so powerful that their existence becomes a threat not only to the CCG, but to other ghouls who aren't part of their organization, which backfires on them somewhat.
4. Vash (Trigun)
Vash the Stampede technically isn't a thief or even a criminal. However, destruction and chaos seem to follow him and cause damage wherever he goes—and he's always caught red-handed at the scene of the crime for something he actually didn't do.
He's accrued a bounty of $$60 billion (that's right, sixty billion double dollars) on his head, causing him to be hunted by two insurance officers.
Vash was the first to have such a huge bounty and everyone wants him—dead or alive—so he lives his life hiding as if he were a real criminal.
3. Team Rocket (Pokémon)
Throughout the many years of Pokémon, there's only one group that has never left Ash's side: the infamous Team Rocket.
While Ash has said goodbye to several friends and he's always meeting new companions, Team Rocket stays the same and they're always there, pursuing their dastardly goals.
Their almost-perfect schemes and traps and disguises can catch Ash off-guard and endanger Pikachu, but Ash is always determined to save his friend—and it usually ends with Team Rocket blasting off again.
Without Jessie, James, and Meowth, the Pokémon anime series would be far less fun and interesting, which makes them some of the most interesting anime thief characters.
2. Akudama (Akudama Drive)
The main characters of Akudama Drive are high-ranking criminals called Akudama. They each have their own specializations and are widely known for the crimes they've committed.
Except for "Ordinary Person" and "Hoodlum," the rest of them have prison sentences longer than any normal human lifespan. In fact, the shortest sentence among them is 300 years.
Initially, they have no connection with each other, but they must work together to finish a high-paying mission. As they collaborate, they turn into one of the best criminal groups in anime.
1. Laurent Thierry (Great Pretender)
Laurent Thierry is another "gentleman thief" type character, except he's more than just that—he's an international con man who's extremely smart and charismatic.
His world-class skills are enough to fool lesser con men, and he even pursuaded small-time con man Makoto Edamura into working with him. They're part of Team Confidence, a group of con artists.
Thierry's targets aren't just random guys, though. They're corrupt big shots who are drunk on power and riches. His scams and schemes reveal the dirtiness behind his targets, and that makes him one of the best anime thief characters for the ages.