Manipulative anime 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 doing so, they often destroy the trust and bonds that once existed between friends, family, and alliances.
These manipulative characters tend to be products of their own dark pasts, driven in various ways to reach their own goals even at the cost of those around them. And when a character is too smart, they can't help but control everyone—because they know what's best.
Of course, even though manipulative characters are easy to hate, it's also easy to be impressed by their intricate plans and superhuman tactics. They are, after all, the source of so many twists and turns.
From psychotic villains to ingenious heroes, here are my picks for the best manipulators in anime and why they stand out.
20. 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.
19. 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.
18. Abel Walker (Mashle: Magic and Muscles)
Abel Walker from the Lang House of Easton Magic Academy is the leader of a secret organization called Magia Lupus. He's a powerful three-line mage who possesses the magic attribute called Marioness Magic.
His magic perfectly mirrors his manipulative personality because he can literally turn people into puppets to be used and controlled with strings. What's worse is that he can rob them of their magic, which he can then use to power himself up.
As a leader, he despises weak members and will just get rid of them or use them as lifeless puppets with no remorse (as seen when he almost turned a two-line mage into one of his puppets).
17. Madara Uchiha (Naruto Shippuden)
While Obito Uchiha manipulated Nagato for his own purposes, what he didn't realize was that someone was pulling his own strings.
The legendary Madara Uchiha 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 tragedy.
16. Black Zetsu (Naruto Shippuden)
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.
15. 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 Devil Fruit ability called Ito Ito no Mi, 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.
14. Sōsuke Aizen (Bleach)
With Sōsuke 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.
13. 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. Then, when people start investigating his murders, he creatively kills those 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.
12. Lelouch vi Britannia (Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion)
In Code Geass, some people have supernatural abilities called Geass. Our protagonist, Lelouch vi Britannia, 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 that very command. Obviously, this is the perfect ability for someone who's 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 abusing those who are close to him.
11. Makima (Chainsaw Man)
Makima's cold and silent demeanor is what makes her character so darkly disturbing. What's even darker, however, is that hidden behind her angelic face is an eerie and manipulative persona that no one—neither human nor devil—can resist.
She can make anyone do her bidding and use anyone as pawns for her plans, even if it would cost them their lives.
Later on in Chainsaw Man, it's revealed that she's the reincarnation of Control Devil, one of the powerful devils in the series. Interestingly, this devil resembles the fear of being controlled and manipulated.
10. All For One (My Hero Academia)
All For One is truly the worst antagonist in My Hero Academia. He's a powerful nemesis who has tons of stolen abilities ready at his disposal, making him one of the most formidable in the series.
What makes him even more problematic is how manipulative he is. He's willing to throw away the lives of allies, enemies, and even civilians just to get what he wants (such as when he wanted to get his hands on his little brother's special ability called One For All).
From Shigaraki and Lady Nagant to Midoriya and the rest of the wielders of One For All, he toyed with so many lives.
9. 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 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.
8. Magane Chikujōin (Re:Creators)
In Re:Creators, Magane Chikujōin is a character from 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 to do her bidding using only her words. And you can see how that'd be a huge problem in Re:Creators, which centers on a war between so-called "creators" and "creations."
7. 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.
6. William James Moriarty (Moriarty the Patriot)
As the story's anti-hero, William James Moriarty uses his wisdom, deception, manipulation, and cunning to fight against the injustices of the corrupt society he lives in.
Between his carefully planned schemes and his great acting skills, he can deceive his targets with nothing more than words, which eventually leads to their demise.
Even from a young age, he was seen as a villainous manipulator (like when he and his brothers burned their house down to a crisp... along with his adoptive family).
5. Laurent Thierry (Great Pretender)
What makes a great con man? Well, for Laurent Thierry, he only needs his skills in deception and his cunning mind.
However, he isn't the type to target innocent victims who are just minding their own business and living their lives. Instead, he prefers to target big shots who acquired their riches in dirty ways.
And Laurent Thierry isn't alone. He has several comrades by his side, including Makoto Edamura who once tried to con him but failed.
4. Naruto Uzumaki (Naruto Shippuden)
I know that including this character on this list might be controversial. He's obviously the good guy protagonist and he has a moral code, so he wouldn't ever manipulate anyone to do his bidding.
However, Naruto Uzumaki does belong on this list because he's proven that not all fights are won through brute force or immense power. He has defeated several powerful foes using his infamous "Talk no Jutsu," which causes his enemies to have changes of heart.
When done well, it can enhance the drama of an arc and lead to heartwarming scenes of reconciliation and redemption. But from the opposing viewpoint, it's like Naruto has deceived and manipulated them using little more than flowery words and false hope.
3. Kenjaku (Jujutsu Kaisen)
While Mahito would be a perfect fit for this list, I'm going to highlight Kenjaku instead. He's a thousand-year-old curse user who now resides in and uses the corpse of Satoru Gojo's only best friend, Suguru Geto.
Behind his friendly facade, he hides the cunning personality of a top-tier manipulator. He thinks of his comrades as his pawns, exemplified when he mercilessly absorbs Mahito to acquire his Curse Technique: Idle Transfiguration ability.
What makes him so troublesome is that he can transfer his consciousness—or rather, his whole living brain—into someone. With this, he can take on new identities throughout the years, all while manipulating others (like the Kamo Clan and the Cursed Wombs).
2. Eren Yeager (Attack on Titan)
Big spoiler for Attack on Titan if you aren't caught up!
Near the end of the series, there's a huge plot twist that sheds light on how Eren Yeager was able to influence and manipulate events that led to the acquisition of the Founding Titan and the eventual Rumbling.
While all Titan Shifters can see the memories of 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 memory connection, leading the plot to develop as it did.
1. Johan Liebert (Monster)
While aforementioned characters like Illumi Zoldyck and Lelouch vi Britannia might use their abilities to manipulate people, Johan Liebert of Monster does it differently.
Johan Liebert has no supernatural powers; instead, he uses nothing more than knowledge and deceitful words to psychologically torture and traumatize his victims.
Some have lost 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.