Anime heroes may hog the spotlight, but anime villains are the ones who keep the story going and spice everything up. And once you start exploring the world of anime, you’ll find that there are actually lots of villains who are interesting, complex, and even sympathetic.
What drives a character to become a villain? We often assume that villains just want to make the heroes’ lives miserable, but it’s not always that simple—especially in a top-quality anime series.
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Sometimes a villain is just a badass who doesn’t have deep motivations, like Hisoka of Hunter X Hunter. Sometimes a villain wants something and will do anything to get it, like Zagred in Black Clover.
And then there are those who have noble intentions but go about things the wrong way, or they’re manipulated by higher powers. Here are some of the most sympathetic anime villains!
10. Lelouch vi Britannia (Code Geass)
The outcast prince Lelouch vi Britannia—who possesses the power of a Geass to control minds—is actually the main character of Code Geass, but acts very much like a villain in many ways.
He lived his life as an ordinary citizen of Japan, all while being used as a political hostage and pawn. He opposes the tyranny of the Holy Britannian Empire that’s led by his father. Rebellion against tyranny is itself noble—but Lelouch uses unsavory tactics.
With his power, Lelouch can issue commands to people while making eye contact, and those commands last for a lifetime. Under his code name Zero, Lelouch works to free his country from its tyrants—by abusing his power to take away free will.
9. Akatsuki (Naruto)
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Akatsuki is a deadly group of world-class rogue ninjas from many different nations. The group’s main goal is to bring world peace, but they aren’t afraid to wreak havoc and kill anyone who gets in their way.
Led by Yahiko, Nagato, and Konan—who were all students of the great teacher Jiraiya—Akatsuki walks the path of restoring peace and balance to the world’s nations, but every member is distracted by their own personal goals and desires.
When Yahiko is killed, Nagato thirsts for vengeance, which makes him vulnerable to manipulation by Madara. He’s convinced that the only way to true peace is by putting the entire world under an illusion.
8. Kirito Kamui (Psycho-Pass)
Kirito Kamui is the main antagonist of season two in Psycho-Pass. He has a modified body that’s composed of 184 children, which makes him undetectable by the Dominator (a device that can measure the stress level of a person, which is called Hue).
Despite the disturbing backstory, Kirito isn’t your typical evil anime villain. He helps people from the shadows by spreading tips on how to control their Hues, thus undermining the Dominator’s power.
Kirito’s ultimate goal is to see how far a Dominator can go, and that’s what makes him a villain—because his unconventional tactics lead to many lives that are unnecessarily sacrificed.
7. Stain, the Hero Killer (My Hero Academia)
Chizome Akaguro (also called Stain, the Hero Killer) is one of the antagonists in My Hero Academia. He has a Quirk that can paralyze anyone for a certain period of time by consuming their blood.
Stain is someone who has a strong sense of duty, believing that there is only one legitimate superhero: All Might, the man who saves people with a smile. Stain believes all others heroes are only in it for money and fame, which tarnishes the image of a hero. So, he kills them.
6. Charlotte Katakuri (One Piece)
Charlotte Katakuri is the second son of Charlotte Linlin, an Emperor of the Sea. He was noted to be the second strongest in their army, next to his mother. This badass brother of many siblings was defeated by Luffy in a twelve-hour battle in the mirror world.
Though being one of the strongest, he always uses his strength and power to protect his siblings and his family, to prevent the kind of bullying that happened in the past with Brullete.
He’s also a man of honor, which was seen during his battle with Luffy when he stabbed himself to keep the duel fair after his opponent was hit by a numbing needle fired by one of his sisters.
5. Tsukasa Shishio (Dr. Stone)
Tsukasa Shishio is a high school student, a fighter, and a brother. He earns money at a young age by fighting, to pay for his little sister’s medical bills. It wasn’t a pretty world for him.
Funny thing about Tsukasa: he was turned into a statue 3,700 years ago when a strange phenomenon struck Earth and petrified all of humankind, turning them into stone statues.
Now, he’s been turned back into a human—and he believes it’s time to cleanse the corruption of old humanity by destroying all the remaining statues of the people from old.
4. Hanami (Jujutsu Kaisen)
Hanami is a special-grade cursed spirit who’s first seen rescuing his defeated comrade from Gojo Satoru. He’s one of the villains in Jujutsu Kaisen who possesses the ability to control his natural surroundings.
At the core of his motives is the fact that he only wants what’s best for the Earth—and he thinks he must protect the Earth by eliminating humankind, whose activities are slowly destroying nature.
3. Charlotte Linlin (One Piece)
Charlotte Linlin (also called Big Mom) is the main antagonist of One Piece’s Whole Cake Island Arc. She possesses the ability to turn non-living things into living things by giving them a part of her own soul.
She’s the only female Emperor among the four Yonkos, and she’s the captain of Big Mom Pirates. Her dream was to create a place where all races can coexist in peace—except for the giant race.
Charlotte Linlin hires a scientist to experiment and figure out how to turn average humans into giants. This experiment causes a lot of damage, and many children were sacrificed to make this impossible ideal world of hers.
2. Zeref (Fairy Tail)
Zeref was introduced as the most badass wizard in the Fairy Tail world. He uses dark magic, and has even created demons that wreaked havoc and caused despair in many nations.
He wasn’t always evil. When an unfortunate event kills his family, he tries to bring his brother Natsu back to life by using all sorts of magic, in which he was cursed with immortality in the process. On top of that, the curse also causes all those who are close to him to suffer.
1. Light Yagami (Death Note)
Light Yagami is introduced as the main character of Death Note, and we expect him to be the hero of the story. But when he stumbles across a Death Note and gains the ability to kill anyone he wants, we start to wonder whether he’s the hero or the villain.
With his newfound ability, Light plans to eliminate all the evil people of the world: murderers, rapists, corrupt politicians, etc. He’s a vigilante who wants to bring peace to the world by killing anyone who steps outside of his own ideas of right behavior.
As noble as that might seem, the detective L doesn’t think one person should have that kind of power—so he works to uncover the identity of Light Yagami and bring him to justice.