Villains or bad guys are the sole sources of tension in an anime and that’s why they can break or make a thrilling premise. ‘Dragon Ball Z‘ is one of the greatest anime out there with the most likable protagonists but would it still be the same without Vegeta or Frieza? And not to mention, ‘Death Note‘ would not even exist without Kira.
Every great anime, especially Shounen, deserves to have a great villain as much as a hero. The traits of a good hero are pretty straight forward and anyone can easily identify him/ her. But what does it take to be an unforgettable villain? Let’s find out by looking at the motives, personalities, and backgrounds of each of the bad guys mentioned below. Though these shadowy figures are known for their badassery, they are the testaments to the fact that you may not always root for the heroes of an anime. You can watch several of these best anime villains on action on Netflix, Crunchyroll or Hulu.
10. Light Yagami (Death Note)
“This world is rotten, and those who are making it rot deserve to die. Someone has to do it, so why not me?”-Light Yagami
More often than not, we automatically find ourselves rooting for the heroes of an anime. But every once in a while an antagonist comes along and we can’t help but admire him/her. Light Yagami, also referred to as Kira, is more of an anti-hero than a typical villain from ‘Death Note.’ But contrary to that, if you consider L to be the good guy then for obvious reasons, Light completely fulfills the role of an antagonist. Initially, during the anime, Light’s reasoning towards bringing an end to all crime by killing criminals seem justified to a certain extent. However, as the story progresses further, his pride and conviction towards becoming a modern god grow and he even kills innocents who come in his way.
For some reason though, despite knowing that he was wrong I found my self rooting for—albeit half-heartedly—for Light. His strong sense of justice that he initially portrayed and his noble visions of a perfect world somehow stayed with me all the way till the end and I kept convincing myself that he could be right. But then again, a character who can be considered to be fairly good must show empathy of some sort. But Light, being the typical psychopath that he is, shows none of that, making him an almost perfect anime villain.
Read More: Anime Like Death Note
9. Bleach (Sosuke Aizen)
“The Sosuke Aizen you knew…never existed, to begin with.” -Aizen
Like Kira, Sosuke Aizen in the master of manipulation who believes that he is way above all others. He appears to be a very soft-spoken, well-respected leader who is also looked up to by many. But all of it turns out to be a mask that he uses to cover his manipulative nature. He stops at nothing and believes in killing anyone who comes in the way of his ambitions.
What makes him different from most other villains is that he always steps back and lets others do all of his dirty work, not because he is scared to do it himself but because he believes in not wasting his time on trivial tasks. Most Shounen villains hold this idea of mass destruction but Aizen uses his intellectual strategies and allows everything to unfold at its natural rhythm, pretty much like in a board game, because he knows that he’ll always have the last move in the game.
Read More: Anime Like Bleach
8. Madara Uchiha (Naruto Shippuden)
“When a man learns to love, he must bear the risk of hatred.” – Madara Uchiha
Out of all the villains in ‘Naruto,’ Madara is the most remarkable one for most viewers. Throughout the anime, there are several instances where he actually proves that the man cares only for his own people. It’s just the intuitive path that he decides to walk on makes all of the difference.
He was just on his quest to make everyone happy by putting them under the Infinite Tsukuyomi. Though he was known for a lot of bad deeds, in the end, he just wanted a world without misery and war. The only difference between him and Naruto’s character is the free will of Naruto choosing a heroic path towards the realization of his ideologies while Madara opts for a darker road to reach the same goal.
7. Johan Liebert (Monster)
“Tell me, what do you think is the ultimate fear? I really thought I’d already reached the darkest of the dark, but then, ahead of me, I beheld a darkness even greater still.” -Johan Liebert
One must be the evil incarnated to be the bad guy in an anime that is titled ‘Monster,’ and well, that’s exactly what Johan Liebert is! If you think Hannibal Lecter is the “OG” of all serial killers, then think again because Johan Liebert’s gruesome feats of brutality will send chills down your spine. He once killed all the co-workers of the surgeon who cured him and he even finished off all the members of his adoptive family. While at a German Military Training Program, he once manipulated the instructors and students into killing each other!
After a point of time, he becomes so infamous for all of his murderous deeds that almost all serial killers start looking up to him as a leader and even bid him while he goes on to kill all of them. He became so evil later that even a Neo-Nazi party approached him once and asked him if he would want to be the next Adolf Hitler. He didn’t like the idea of being someone else and just to get the party off his back he massacred all of its members! Probably one of the coldest villains out there in the anime world who is indeed the best manifestation of the word “monster.” Hail, Liebert!
6. Envy (Fullmetal Alchemist)
“You humans don’t make any sense to me. You throw away your lives for nothing.” – Envy
Now, Father and Dante are two amazing villains from the ‘Fullmetal Alchemist‘ series but Envy is simply more interesting than the two of them combined for his multilayered and complex persona. One thing that made Envy stand out was that his powers were never overly exaggerated like the other villains. He has his own set of insecurities that often reflected on all his evil deeds that he ever committed, making them even more believable.
It seemed like his biggest fear was to be looked down on and every now and then he felt vulnerable about his stand in a particular situation. He would lash out and show his villainous side just to mentally feel good about himself. In the end, despite all the things he did, many fans even cried because of how bad they felt for him.
5. Vegeta (Dragon Ball Z)
“There’s only one certainty in life. A strong man stands above and conquers all!” – Vegeta
Now I may be a little biased towards ‘Dragon Ball Z‘ villains because, you know, the fanboyism is real with that one. But anyone who has followed DBZ atleast through the ‘Saiyan saga’ and the ‘Feiza Saga’ will know how beautifully Vegeta starts transforming into a hero from being the shadowy anti-hero. In the Saiyan Saga, Vegeta is nothing but a cold-blooded killer who comes to Earth with the sole purpose of destroying the planet. But he is later impressed by Goku’s strength and decides to put his intentions of destroying the planet on hold. This rivalry between him and Goku further extends up till ‘Dragon Ball Super.’
Not until the Frieza Saga, we somehow start seeing a much better side of Vegeta when he betrays Freiza and unknowingly, protects Gohan and Krillin. But he still remains cold and downright wicked at times. He later loses to Frieza and on his death bed cries as he pours out how terrible his past was. Now, this might even contradict what I mentioned earlier about villains not being empathetic because that’s exactly what makes Vegeta a significant villain. Later he even sets out to raise a family and becomes a loving father which completely contrasts his personality as a villain, or rather the archetype of a villain. But if you come to think of it, Vegeta is actually the perfect antagonist for DBZ because he is more like a dark mirror of Goku.
Read More: Best Dragon Ball Super Spoilers
4. Naraku (Inuyasha)
“I am not going to kill you. I am going to break you.”- Naruko
Narako may not be the one who represents the epitome of villainy on this list, but he is indeed the biggest sadist of them all. It’s almost like you hate him so much as a character that you actually start loving him. He is the kind of bad guy who will make no attempts of killing the protagonist right away, instead, he believes in slowly torturing his enemies by bleeding them out to death. He is also a master manipulator of other people to make things done for him. There are instances where he manipulates two lovers into hating each other and he even convinces a little boy to kill his own family.
Throughout the series, there is this underlying “feel” that somehow Naraku is in control of everything as he always finds a way to make the lives of the protagonists as miserable as possible. He even makes clones of himself and coldly discards all of them after they have served their purpose. There is just something very annoyingly appealing about his character, which is the key of his enigmatic persona.
Read More: Anime Like Inuyasha
3. Shishio Makoto (Rurouni Kenshin)
“In this world, the weak are the sustenance of the strong. The strong live, the weak die.” -Makoto
Makoto was once a pawn of the Japanese government. But later, he went out to destroy a whole nation using all the skills that he had acquired over the years while working as an assassin. Most other characters in this list might have had a few light moments from time to time but everything about Makoto is pretty dark.
He wanders like a mummy with bandages all over his body. He also has an insanely good network system with spies who are located in every corner of the city. After being literally burnt down by the government, he just wanted to see the entire country burn down to the ground. It is said that after dying, he even tried to take over hell all by himself!
2. Griffith (Berzerk)
“In this world, some people born are like keys that move the world and exist having no connection to the social hierarchy established by man.” -Griffith
As a normal person, if a friend ever left you, what exactly would you do? Probably move on ahead with the rest of your life trying to forget what happened. But Griffith from the anime ‘Berserk‘ does not take it too well when Guts leaves his mercenary group. To seek revenge for the betrayal, he sacrifices the life of all the other members of the group only to become a powerful demon. After this, the first thing he does is rape Guts’ pregnant lover in front of him and does it in such a horrifying way, that even the baby later ends up being deformed. ‘Berzerk’ is by far one of the most disturbing anime of all time and Griffith is the most wretched and twisted antagonists ever.
1. Esdeath (Akame ga Kill!)
“It’s only natural for the weak to perish. The weak are destined to lie beneath the boots of the strong. If that angers you, overcome your deficits.”-Esdeath
Most villains usually have one dominating personality trait that eventually determines the whole genre of an anime. For example, Light Yagami is far more intelligent than almost all the characters in ‘Death Note’ which makes the anime a psychological cat and mouse game. Similarly, in a Shounen like ‘Akame ga Kill,’ the power of a villain plays a major role in determining how significant the character truly is.
Almost throughout the anime, there are several instances where Esdeath not only proves to be stronger than other villains but in her true form, she radiates more power than most heroes as well. She is able to use her strong magical relic to freeze gigantic monsters with ease. She is not exactly the main antagonist of the anime but is still able to establish herself as a locus of villainy in the plot. And that’s only because of how every viewer knows that she is going to give the heroes a very tough time.
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