Manipulative and cunning characters often have what it takes to be among the most hated characters in anime fandom.
It's not just that they're usually arrogant, but they rarely play fair. They go beyond established rules of social conduct and treat everyone around them as pawns in a game. In doing so, they often destroy the trust and bond that once existed between friends, family, and alliances.
Such manipulative characters tend to be products of their own dark past, driven in various ways to reach their own goals even at the cost of those around them. When a character is too smart, they can't help but control everyone—because they know what's best.
Of course, even though manipulative and cunning characters tend to be hateful, we also can't help but be impressed by their intricate plans and superhuman tactics. They are, after all, the source of so many twists and turns in most anime series.
From psychotic villains to ingenious heroes, here are our picks for the most manipulative and cunning anime characters who stand out.
13. Kichimura Washuu (Tokyo Ghoul)
Kichimura Washuu was first introduced as a minor character, but later turned out to be the primary antagonist of Tokyo Ghoul.
He's known by several other names, including Furuta and Souta, and he also has Rize's Kagune implanted in him that allowed him to become a One-Eyed Ghoul like our protagonist Ken Kaneki.
While he initially appeared clumsy, weak, and strange, he was later revealed to be quite a dark character. His nihilistic point of view drove him to toy with everyone around him, both humans and ghouls.
12. Cain Madhouse (To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts)
If it weren't for his greed for power, the story of To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts would've ended peacefully with Hank killing all the Incarnates as planned. But Cain Madhouse had more sinister ideas up his sleeve and betrayed his friend, unleashing all the Incarnates on the world.
His plan was to rule the land with fear and power, manipulating his former allies-turned-monsters to do his evil bidding. And it worked! He became the leader of a band of powerful, fierce, yet uncontrollable monsters that wreak unspeakable havoc everywhere.
11. Uchiha Madara (Naruto)
While Uchiha Obito manipulated and used Nagato for his own purposes, what he didn't realize was that someone was pulling his own strings.
The legendary Uchiha Madara set Obito down a path that he himself paved, and Obito foolishly went along because he was easily tainted after his emotional devastation by the death of his love interest, Rin.
Unbeknownst to Obito, it was Madara's plan all along! Everything was a stage prepared with Rin, Kakashi, and Obito as the actors in this tragic story.
10. Black Zetsu (Naruto)
The aforementioned Uchiha Madara had a long-running evil plan that spanned several generations of Hokage to bring to fruition. But just as Obito was unaware, Madara was also blind to the one manipulating him.
For many generations, Black Zetsu had been working a plan to bring his master back to this world—and it was a plan that started way back during the era of the Sage of Six Paths, Hagoromo Otsutsuki.
Not only did he exploit the hatred within Indra's heart to make him stand against his family, but he also altered the written teachings left behind by Hagoromo for future generations, which directly led to Madara's misinterpretation and misguided direction.
9. Donquixote Doflamingo (One Piece)
Doflamingo, one of the Seven Warlords, rules Dressrosa. At first glance, Dressrosa is a peaceful country where everything goes smoothly, but it houses its own dark secrets under Doflamingo's reign.
Using the strings from his Ito Ito no Mi ability, he manipulated the country's king and armies like a puppeteer, forcing them into a killing spree.
In response, Doflamingo took down the "rogue" king and made himself look like the savior of the country and its citizens. That's the true reason why Doflamingo is known as the hero of Dressrosa.
8. Sosuke Aizen (Bleach)
With Sosuke Aizen's revelation during the Fake Karakura Town Arc, we found out that he's the one who put everything into motion and designed a stage for Ichigo in the way he wanted it to be.
He was the one behind every major event in Bleach, from Kisuke Uruhara getting exiled to the execution of Kuchiki Rukia. He even faked his own death so he could keep pulling strings from the shadows!
His Zanpakuto perfectly fits his cunning personality: the Kyoka Suigetsu that allows him to create illusions and manipulate his target's senses. He also treats his Espadas as disposable pawns, as shown when he discards and kills them when he doesn't need them anymore.
7. Light Yagami (Death Note)
The Death Note is a supernatural notebook that's designed to kill anyone whose name is written within it.
It was originally meant as a tool for shinigamis (death gods), but when Light Yagami stumbles upon one, he starts using it to kill criminals—and when people start investigating, he creatively kills people to cover his tracks.
He'll stop at nothing to cleanse the world of its impurities, even if it costs him his friends, family, and the lives of innocent people.
But the utter hypocrisy of it all is that his powers, schemes, and exploits make him nothing more than "just another murderer"—not so different from the very people he wishes to purge.
6. Lelouch vi Brittania (Code Geass)
In Code Geass, some people have supernatural abilities called Geass. Our protagonist, Lelouch vi Brittania, is one of those people—and he has the Power of Absolute Obedience.
With his Geass, Lelouch simply needs to make eye contact with someone and speak a command. His victim has no say in the matter and is forced to enact the command. Obviously, it's the perfect ability for a manipulator.
Lelouch's Geass complements his strategic mind, making him a formidable opponent. Much like Light Yagami in Death Note, Lelouch in Code Geass claims to use his power for the greater good, even if it means manipulating and even abusing those who are close to him.
5. Malty Melromarc (The Rising of the Shield Hero)
Looks can be deceiving, and Malty Melromarc is the most infamous example of this in anime. Anyone who's seen The Rising of the Shield Hero knows about Malty and her evil schemes.
Our protagonist, Iwatani Naofumi, was summoned to this world to serve as the Shield Hero. Malty is the one responsible for his downfall and the troubles he inevitably faces.
She's pretty and cunning, which means she knows how to use that to her advantage—and she can easily get people to believe her stories and support her. She isn't skilled in anything else, so it's how she makes up for it.
4. Magane Chikujoin (Re:Creators)
In Re:Creators, Magane Chikujoin is a character in a light novel who emerges from its pages as a "creation."
She has an ability called Infinite Deception of Words, which allows her to bend, influence, and alter reality with nothing more than a lie. Even without activating her ability, she's skilled at convincing others with her words.
And you can see how that'd be a huge problem in Re:Creators, which revolves around a war between "creators" and "creations."
3. Illumi Zoldyck (Hunter X Hunter)
Illumi Zoldyck isn't someone who'd ask you to believe in him, to side with him, or even fight for him. He'd rather use his sinister Nen ability to force you to do whatever he wants you to do.
His Nen ability is called Needle People, and he simply needs to pierce his special needle—imbued with aura—into the skull of his target. At that point, the victim becomes a mindless, zombie-like servant that has no choice but to follow orders or die trying.
2. Eren Yaeger (Attack on Titan)
Big spoiler for Attack on Titan, if you aren't caught up!
Near the end of the story, there's a huge plot twist that sheds light on how Eren Yaeger was able to influence and manipulate events that led to the acquisition of the Founding Titan and the eventual Rumbling.
Whereas all Titan Shifters can see memories from their previous inheritors, the Attack Titan can uniquely see memories of future inheritors. We now know that Future Eren manipulated Grisha in the past using that connection of memories, leading the plot to develop as it did.
1. Johan Liebert (Monster)
While people like Illumi and Lelouch use their abilities to manipulate people, Johan Liebert of Monster does it differently. He has no supernatural powers; instead, he uses nothing more than knowledge and deceitful words to psychologically torture and traumatize his victims.
People have been known to lose their sanity just by talking to him, and some were even driven to commit suicide. He's the worst kind of person you'd encounter in real life, and he's truly the titular character of the series.