Anime heroes may hog the spotlight, but anime villains are the ones who keep the story going and spice it all up. And many anime villains are deep, interesting, complex, and 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-notch anime series.
Away from your usual anime villains are those who have deeper, noble intentions. They have the right idea but they go about things the wrong way, or they're manipulated by higher powers.
Here are our picks for the most sympathetic anime villains who actually had good intentions but fell astray.
15. Lelouch vi Britannia (Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion)
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.
14. Akatsuki (Naruto Shippuden)
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.
13. 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.
12. 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.
11. 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.
10. 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.
9. Hanami (Jujutsu Kaisen)
Hanami is a special-grade cursed spirit who's first seen rescuing his defeated comrade from Satoru Gojo. 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.
8. 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.
7. 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.
6. Conrad Leto (Black Clover: Sword of the Wizard King)
Conrad Leto is the 27th Wizard King of the Clover Kingdom and the predecessor of Julius Novachrono.
He's a powerful mage who has a very overpowered magic attribute—the Key Magic—that allows him to open and close magical doors, which can store other magics and use them as his own.
Just like Asta, he aims for a world where everyone stands equal, whether they have mana or not. However, unlike Asta, Conrad's views have been tainted by revenge, grief, and resentment.
While he still wants to create a better world, he plans to do it from scratch: a total rebuild in which he would seal the souls of everyone and release only those worthy of the new world he creates.
5. Soo-Won (Yona of the Dawn)
In Yona of the Dawn, many people enjoy living under the rule of the peace-loving emperor of the Kouka Kingdom. But there are those who oppose the pacifism of the king.
Soo-Won killed the emperor and assumed the throne to end the kingdom's pacifism and to make the kingdom stronger and more prosperous, like it was before the reign of Emperor Il.
4. William Moriarty (Moriarty the Patriot)
William Moriarty is the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes in this story, and his acts of villainy are central to the plot. He often leaves behind a crime scene that ends up being a big mystery for Holmes to solve.
However, despite the crimes he commits, William Moriarty actually has noble intentions behind his schemes.
In creating and orchestrating his different crimes, his main objective is to use these crimes to oppose the inequality brought about by the oppressive and corrupt upper-class nobles.
3. Eren Yeager (Attack on Titan)
Eren Yeager started as a typical shonen protagonist, but later on, he became the villain of his story. Now, even his friends and those dear to him need to stop him before he brings his plan to fruition.
Spoilers below for Attack on Titan!
As it turns out, the Eldians—especially the ones from Paradis Island—are considered monsters. As long as this discrimination against them exists, Eren knows that his race will always end up oppressed. Any peace will always be temporary.
With the "Rumbling," he plans to save the Eldians of Paradis by flattening the lands beyond the walls and giving them a future without suppression, free to roam the lands as far as they want.
2. Zeke Yeager (Attack on Titan)
Whereas Eren wishes for the people of Paradis to be free, Zeke Yeager wants to rid the world of titans altogether. To do this, he wants to get his hands on Eren and the Founding Titan inside him.
He aims to eliminate the entirety of the Eldian race—known as the Subjects of Ymir—and eradicate them from the face of the world, which would make all titans extinct.
His goal is to use the power of the Founding Titan to make all the Subjects of Ymir infertile. And while his euthanasia plan might have noble underpinnings, it's far from ideal.
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.