Since the essence of good storytelling is interesting conflict, and the conflict usually calls for an interesting villain, often the quality of the villain can make or break a story. Having a villain who is a protagonist, or morally complicated, or somewhat sympathetic, is a powerful way to make a story interesting. Many of the villains on here are "affably evil", that is, despite sometimes doing bad things, the audience still can find them likeable.
In anime, often the best shows have the most fantastic villains or the most complicated morality. So, here are my ten favorite anime villains:
10. The Toguro Brothers - Yuyu Hakusho
In Yuyu Hakusho, Urameshi and friends face down a lot of tough demons with cool powers. Topping all of these, in my opinion, are the Toguro brothers. The matches between Team Urameshi and Team Toguro make up the final showdown of the Dark Tournament, which I feel is the strongest story arc in the show.
Through facing down Younger Toguro, Yusuke is tested emotionally as well as physically in a brutal way. As the stakes get higher and Toguro goes on a bloodthirsty rampage to try to draw out Yusuke's spirit energy so he can beat Yusuke as a worthy foe, almost every character is psychologically affected very deeply by the fight. Through this part of the show, the true character of everyone is tested, even that of Keiko and the other spectators.
Elder Toguro is creepy and parasite-like, and thoroughly indestructible, leaving only Kurama who is smart enough to take him out. You think the fight between Elder Toguro and Kurama is the greatest part of the Dark Tournament, but then you see Yusuke duke it out against an increasingly powerful Younger Toguro, and you will be on the edge of your seat!
These villains also have an interesting backstory. I also liked Younger Toguro's aftermath story after he is defeated, even though it was sad. Since he has a history with Yusuke's sensei Genkai, his story was very emotionally captivating as well as painful.
Overall, the Toguro Brothers have everything you want in a villain; complexity, toughness, determination, and a savage ruthlessness that makes them interesting to watch.
Honorable Mention: Sensui (also in YYH)
Also mentioned often among anime fans' favorite villains, Sensui is a psychologically complex dude with an interesting past, which is similar to Yusuke's past. He was also once a Spirit Detective, but he developed sympathy for the demons he was hunting and defected to their side. It is revealed by Koenma, the prince of Spirit World, that Yusuke was chosen to succeed him mainly because they knew Yusuke was not as complex of a thinker and would not question the moral ambiguities of Spirit World policy; he would be obedient.
I have no idea how they came to the conclusion that Yusuke would be docile, but he certainly does have a loyal heart. A lot of people like Sensui because of his psychological complexity, and I do too. But the reason I didn't choose him for the main spot is that his story arc I feel is less strong than the Dark Tournament arc. I also feel like Younger Toguro felt more threatening to the protagonists, and brought out more of their emotions, than Sensui did, even though his henchmen and followers made for a few interesting episodes leading up to the big showdown between him and Yusuke.
I also felt like Sensui's past seemed more angsty for the sake of angst, while the Toguro back story felt more genuine and real. But this was a tough call, and I acknowledge that YuYu Hakusho is definitely a series that is chock full of excellent villains who are well written.
9. The Female Titan - Attack on Titan
For reasons I talked about in a previous hub, I think that Attack on Titan is not a great anime per se. But one thing it does well is having cool and interesting monsters. The coolest and most interesting of these big humanoid monsters called titans is the mysterious female titan. Unlike the slow, lumbering, unintelligent regular titans, she possesses quick reflexes and a sharp mind. Furthermore, her presence is alarming to even veteran titan-killing soldiers; because ordinarily it was thought that titans had no evidence of sexual reproduction. This asks questions about the titans that the anime (as of now anyway) leaves unanswered, but they are interesting to ponder nonetheless. So, the female titan not only poses the greatest physical threat in the whole show besides the unusually tall Colossal Titan, she also fuels inquiry by the characters into the mysterious origins and biology of titans.
8. Queen Beryl - Sailor Moon
Queen Beryl makes the list because every scene she's in is dynamic and intriguing. She has a regal presence on screen that really makes her live up to her title of queen. She can be sneaky and clever at times, but is usually just dramatically over-the-top, in a fun way. She's passionate and intense, but also smart. (Plus she looks super cool!)
Through the first story arc, Queen Beryl causes the Sailor Scouts to learn their first lessons in friendship and working together. She ends up inadvertently drawing out their inner strengths, which is a cool thing to watch in both the original Sailor Moon and the recent update, Sailor Moon Crystal. When I think of "classic female villain archetype" I definitely think of Queen Beryl, who seems very similar to the bad queen from Snow White. But you know, kind of sexier.
Honorable Mention: Kaorinite (also in Sailor Moon)
Later in the series, we are introduced to Kaorinite, who works for the mad scientist Dr. Tomoh. She plants evil Daimon pods in everyday objects, which create female-shaped monsters with powers themed around whatever object it is. This gets a little weird and slightly tiresome after a while. But, Kaorinite's final fight against Sailor Moon and the others is one amazingly good story arc that is worth checking out, even if it means sitting though some episodes before that where they're stuck fighting somewhat silly Daimons put in objects including art supplies, volleyballs, motorcycle tires, and pool equipment. Basically, whatever the subplot of the episode, and the life of the target girl of the episode, revolves around. Since this got repetitive, I didn't give Kaorinite the spot. But, Kaorinite has a lot of good qualities that make her fun to watch as a villain. I loved her spunky personality and the way she seemed to truly take delight in what she was doing. Plus, though weird, her prehensile hair and ability to float in midair make her pretty cool whenever she appears.
7. The Original Team Rocket - Pokémon
They slide on a slippery slope between being actual villains (although they're comically incompetent at that) and being more like aloof allies to the protagonists. I think the idea behind them is to show the way older teens pick on younger kids, but they're not really that evil and are often either funny in their stupidity or heartwarming in their redeeming qualities shown. At any rate, this trio is entertaining, always a blast to watch. Get it?
Also, when you learn the back stories of these characters, including Meowth, you come to like them even more. And hey, their bumbling attempts at Pokémon theft challenge the main characters to become better at what they do.
6. Seto Kaiba - Yu-Gi-Oh!
Another villain that sometimes ends up as an ally to the protagonists, Seto Kaiba is the definition of a cool villain. Being rich helps, but he's also very intelligent and technologically savvy. When you realize the complicated childhood reasons for his actions, you can even grow to admire him. He passionately chases after whatever he wants and does not easily take "no" for an answer, and he does not easily admit defeat, either. It's also a joy to watch any time that he duels; he has a good eye for strategy in the game, making him a very worthy foe for Yugi.
Like a Boss
5. Kyubey - Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Although it's debatable whether Kyubey is technically evil, because he is an alien and does not comprehend human concepts of morality. However, he is definitely the source of a lot of the suffering in the show; and without lying directly, he can be very manipulative and deceptive.
Kyubey is cool because he certainly represents a dark and interesting twist on the whole "adorable team mascot talking animal" thing that shows up in a lot of anime. Kyubey pretends to be on the girls' side, but has his own hidden agenda that he knows is not served by revealing his true intentions or what truly happens to the girls who make contracts with him and become magical girls. He may think that this is the only way to save the universe, but the later events of the show and the movie Rebellion turn out to prove him wrong.
4. Light Yagami - Death Note
A personal favorite of mine because I found him so attractive, Light Yagami is a similarly complex and morally ambiguous villain. As the protagonist of the show, we see into his head and his reasons behind every move.
He slides down from innocent, promising young college student to egotistical, murderous maniac through the course of the show, but I never stopped sympathizing with him, even after he did some very questionable things. Light Yagami started out wanting to use his power for good; the problem is, the nature of the Death Note is that its power seems to corrupt the user, gradually driving them all mad with almost a frenzied pursuit of their darkest desires. Is he, as L says, just another kind of serial killer? Or would his plan have worked if L had simply backed off? Would it have been worth it, to live in a world without crime? Is a totalitarian planet such a bad thing if the dictator in charge is so darn sexy? Mm...
3. Lord Shishio and Miss Yumi - Rurouni Kenshin
I'm a big fan of Rurouni Kenshin, and I think these two make up the most exciting and interesting story arc in the series. Kenshin and pals face a lot of tough warriors, but for Kenshin, Shishio represents the one man that only he can defeat, and is probably the only person who causes Kenshin to doubt himself.
The Juppon-gatana (lit. "ten swords") are Shishio's team of elite fighters. Each one of them brings impressive skills to the table, from flight to superhuman hearing to that thing Kamatari did where she spun a chain and scythe around a lot. Anyway, the battles were intense, and all main characters had to participate in the fight against them to the fullest of their abilities, with their limits being tested.
Shishio and Yumi also have a surprisingly beautiful relationship and touching back stories. Basically, they are able to look past how society sees one another and see each other with the eyes of pure love. They both need each other because they have both been chewed up and spit out by society. That's what makes them such interesting villains. It doesn't hurt that Shishio is also both formidable in combat and terrifying to behold when he gets going.
2. Legato - Trigun
While Knives, Vash's evil twin brother, is the original and biggest villain of the show, Legato seems to be the one that messes the most with Vash's emotions and gets inside his head the most. Like Shishio, Legato is terrifying to see in action; and not only in a fight, but the way he massacres innocent lives just to lure Vash out is very unsettling to see.
Legato also uses Vash's compassion as a weakness and turns it against him, making it so that Vash's hesitancy to kill Legato only means more and more people are going to die. Younger Toguro acted similarly to this, but Legato more directly threatens Vash's friends and other people he cares deeply about. It's a game of painful psychological torture, and Legato "wins" if he dies just as much as if he does not, and he knows it.
1. Nui Harime - Kill La Kill
Kill La Kill is an excellent anime series, mainly because it has such great villains. In addition to Ragyo and Satsuki, worth an honorable mention, Nui Harime tops this list by having everything that made the other villains on it so cool, such as:
- An interesting back story and complexity (although not quite as many sympathetic qualities as some of the others or as much redeemability)
- The coolness factor, her clothes and her abilities are unmatched in the show
- Her terrifying prowess in combat
- Her ironic cuteness, like that of Kyubey (don't let the girly outfit fool you!)
- Her ability to push the protagonist's buttons and psychologically unravel them.
So as you can see, Nui Harime definitely embodies the essence of a cool anime villain. She's almost indestructible, and iron-willed, but always grinning and laughing, as if being such was mere child's play.
Like Queen Beryl, she captivates viewers with her energetic presence in every scene she's in. Like Younger Toguro or Legato or Shishio, her fight against the protagonist is the fight that defines the series, and the fight that is the most amazing spectacle therein.
Peter griffin on February 26, 2019:
I must say that the most evil anime villain would be the annoying kid from polar express
Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on September 10, 2015:
I have only seen a few episodes of Bleach and Fushigi Yuugi because I lose interest in long-runners often due to all the filler and just because there are so many shows I'm interested in that I'd rather drop a long-runner and catch a newer show than the other way around.
But I agree with you on YYH, it was very hard for me to just pick one YYH villain and both the Toguro Brothers and Sensui get to the main characters psychologically in interesting ways. I think I just preferred the Dark Tournament arc to others, a lot of fans did. That arc seemed like the main drama of the story, with the later arcs simply part of the buildup to the big resolutions in the end of everyone's story. The Sensui arc has a lot going for it though, like Kuwabara being more useful and the role of Spirit World being critically examined.
neilencio on September 10, 2015:
I'm glad you made Sensui an honorable mention. He was my favorite antagonist in a series full of well-written villains. Something about him makes you feel really lonely about the character, especially when they revealed that he's terminally ill. I'm also quite fond of his friendship with Itsuki, and the fact that he basically spared him on a whim and he still ended up as his only loyal companion in life.
YYH really knows how to craft their villains. There are straight evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil antagonists, but they're mostly portrayed as idiots. The ones worth following are layered - Yomi, for instance. Out of the three demon lords, he was the one who shouldn't rule over Makai, but he's not completely unsympathetic as a character. You actually have to feel sorry for him after what Kurama did.
Anyway, nice list. I agree with your choices. Although I would have added Fushigi Yuugi's Nakago and Bleach's Aizen to it.