Ah villains. They can be so much fun to hate or really horrifying to watch depending on the circumstances and they usually don’t fail to entertain you over the course of a series. However, despite the fact that it’s generally easier to make a good villain than an interesting protagonist, making a villain that’s capable of leaving a lasting impression well after you’ve finished watching/reading something is easier said that done. So here’s a list of some of the most memorable villains in animation and manga who have earned their claim to infamy through their complexity, epicness, insanity and for just being a total prick.
*WARNING!!* I’m going to be going in depth on a few of these and that’ll include some potential spoilers so there you go
#10. Slade (Teen Titans)
Teen Titans runs though several central antagonists over the course of it’s five season run. Slade is by far the most remembered of them and for good reason. He’s a pragmatic and manipulative criminal mastermind whose end goals are pretty much a total mystery but for the first two seasons where he’s the main villain he’s out to find himself an apprentice to take up the reigns and he’ll do anything to achieve that end.
When he actually does manage to succeed in that goal at the end of those seasons though, he’s show to be ridiculously abusive and controlling and his abuse of his second apprentice Terra specifically, has some pretty disturbing rape like subtext to it (which can come off as weirdly ironic if you know what their relationship is like in the original comics). The guy is effectively the world’s most effective child predator and even in some of the later seasons it’s shown that even death isn’t enough to stop him from being totally creepy and obsessive.
#9. Eddy’s Brother (Ed, Edd n Eddy)
Eddy’s Brother makes exactly one appearance in the show during the movie finale, and even then he only really appears for about five minutes. However in those five minutes we get a fully fleshed out character and the only true villain of the show. Eddy spent most of the series proclaiming his brother to be a great guy and a total hero but when we finally meet the man we see get to see him for how he really is. As it turns out, he’s pretty much been physically abusing Eddy for his entire life (and if this doesn’t come off as that creepy to you keep in mind that Eddy is only 12 and his brother is at least somewhere in his 20’s) and is the cause behind Eddy’s mask of arrogance and his inferiority complex.
He’s also not show to be above harming other kids as well and it’s pretty heavily implied that the reason he works at an amusement park is because enjoys messing with children in general. The revelation of his depravity is enough to make the neighborhood kids (who were practically out to kill the Eds at that point) sympathetic towards Eddy and even the Kanker Sisters were disgusted by him. You know you’re bad if you can make borderline serial rapists look good.
#8. Freeza (Dragonball Z Kai)
Dragonball Z has a lot of powerful villains, but their usually know for their power rather than their actual villainy. Freeza however, is by and far the exception to the rule. He’s introduced as a power hungry evil overlord who wants to rule the universe and when he learns that his loyal servants the Sayains may someday produce a legendary “Super Sayain” who is the only being capable of defeating him, he proceeds to wipe out the entire race. While this is by and far his largest act of villainy in the series it’s far from his last as he ruthlessly annihilates the Namekians and Goku’s friends in his pursuit of immortality before finally being defeated by the very thing he feared.
What really puts him above some of the other major villains from the franchise is that he wasn’t created to be a menace (Cell) or is too naive/insane to understand what he’s doing (Majin Buu) and gleefully commits genocide of his own free will. Though he walks around with an air of politeness and pretends to act like a gentleman there’s no hiding the horrifying monster underneath (Oh and if you’re wondering why I mentioned Kai in the listing and not regular DBZ it’s because he came off a bit differently in the old Funi dub and the less said about Granny Freeza the better).
#7. Azula (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
The main villain of the series is established pretty much from the get go, but Azula stands out the most. Whereas her father, Fire Lord Ozai is a pretty generic evil overlord (his saving grace is being voiced by Mark Hamil) Azula is much more interesting to watch as she’s a lot more calculating and manipulative constantly staying one step ahead of our heroes and playing others to get what she wants.
Her most notable trait though is her need for dominance. So much so that it’s slowly revealed to be more of a instability than a weapon for her villainy as she constantly tries to keep people in fear of her so she can’t be betrayed, but when that fear is lost and she slowly loses those closest to her, she subsequently breaks down and we she how broken she truly is underneath it all.
#6. Shinobu Sensui (Yuyu Hakusho)
After going through several arc villains whose actions and motivations were pretty straight forward (though Younger Toguro was fairly interesting) Sensui brought something different to the table as his personality and motivations were much more complex.
As a child he grew up with a very white and black sense of morality with humans being good and demons being evil. Because of this he was recruited to become the Spirit Detective of Earth and hunt down criminal demons but he wasn’t prepared to learn that humans could be just as cruel-if not more so-than demons and subsequently went insane from that revelation. After viewing some of humanities greatest atrocities first hand through a video called “Chapter Black” (which is full of some of our greatest hits like the Holocaust and Hiroshima) he resolves to destroy humanity by flooding the human world with demons.
His insanity is largely masked by his suave and classy demeanor as he was one of the progenitors for more sophisticated villainy in later series made by other authors, but it makes him a more compelling character as the more we learn about him, the more we see just how unstable of a person he truly is. He’s ultimately a pretty tragic villain however as his fate could have been avoided and his real desire is something much more personal.
#5. Kumagawa Misogi (Medaka Box)
Being the anti-thesis of the main character in many ways, Kumagawa is the Joker to Medaka’s Batman and has the personality to match as he comes across as what would happen if the Joker had a love affair somewhere in Japan. Where Medaka is extremely talented and constantly trying to get people to better themselves, Kumagawa is a born loser and resolves to drag talented people down to his level. Though outwardly friendly, he constant trolls and deceives others through pragmatic-ism and underhanded tactics which generally makes him incredibly entertaining to watch.
Through it all though he remains surprisingly earnest about his desire to defeat so called “elite” people to the point where he could almost be completely heroic if his personality wasn’t so twisted. As a born loser his destiny prevents him from pretty much never being able to truly win the things he wants but even though he’s miserable he considers himself a beacon to other miserable people that there’s someone out there more miserable than they are and yet smiling through it all.
#4. Light Yagami (Death Note)
As he’s also the protagonist of the series, there are some who don’t really consider him to be a villain but his evil is established so thoroughly over the course of the series that it’s pretty much impossible to paint him as anything else. After picking up the Death Note and quickly learning that it’s exactly what its advertised as, he resolves to rid the world of evil and eliminate heinous criminals. This would seem like a pretty noble goal except for the fact that he’ll go to pretty much any means to achieve it. He constantly controls and manipulates others to get what he wants and he lives by trying to stay one step ahead of those who are after him.
While he generally remains pretty dedicated to his new world order project, his priority quickly becomes eliminating those who are in his way including his allies he’s more than willing to kill them if they present even the slightest threat to his goals. His biggest flaw however is his pride which eventually leads to his downfall, but by the time he gets there there’s pretty much nothing left of the man he used to be as he’s becoming nothing more than a ruthless criminal confusing himself with godhood and is called out as such. Though he’s much better remembered for his incredibly planning skills and genius rather than his heartlessness Light stands out as one of the most heinous villains in fiction.
#3 The Joker (DCAU)
There isn’t much I could say about the Joker that hasn’t been said already, but the Joker has been talked about a lot for a reason. If Batman is the personification of order and justice then the Joker is the pure embodiment of chaos and he pretty much runs with it. He commits atrocities and mass murder pretty much for laughs (the most infamous being in the Batman Beyond movie where he mind rapes and tortures Tim Drake for weeks just for the heck of it) but if he has any one true motivation it would pretty much be Batman.
As long as Batman exists the Joker will commit to his crime spree to see if he can eventually break good ol’ Bat enough to get him to actually killing him and without Batman his existence is without meaning as the Joker rarely directly tries to defeat him. One will pretty much never exist without the other and the Joker’s brand of crazy stands out in pretty much every incarnation of the character as he never fails to be horrifying and entertaining all at the same
#2. Hao Asakura (Shaman King )
As the main antagonist of the series and the evil twin of the hero, he’s successfully managed to avert most of the cliches that would be expected of that kind of character. Being the most powerful Shaman in history with mastery over the elements and even death itself, Hao’s main goal is to become Shaman King, the elimination of regular humans and the creation of a world only for Shaman after having a vision of humans eventually destroying the planet . Though this puts him at odds with our heroes he generally tries to remain pretty friendly with them while slowly manipulating them towards his own ends and much like with Sensui his exact motivations behind his goal are a bit more complex than the end goal itself would appear to be initially. While his anime counterpart (though still a very solid villian) doesn’t fully capture his character and abilties, his manga incarnation stands out a lot more for doing the one thing no shonen villain before him was ever able to:
*WARNING* EXTREME SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT
He successfully manages to become the Shaman King. In fact the final arc of the series isn’t even so much the main characters trying to stop him from becoming the Shaman King (they all pretty much acknowledge they can’t beat him) but to stop his end goal of wiping out humanity and while they kind of succeed in that department, they only convince him to delay it while they attempt to find a way to show him that humanity is worth saving. Of course that goal doesn’t seem to work out much either as the characters still haven’t quite found an answer well into adulthood. Perhaps their children in the sequel series Shaman King Flowers will fare better in convincing him (though considering he has them fighting on his behalf that seems unlikely) but for the moment Hao stands as pretty much THE most successful shonen villain of all time.
#1. David Xanatos (Gargoyles)
Xanatos is one of two main villains to the series, but he stands out not only above the other but over most villains in general. He seemingly starts out as an ally to the titular characters as he introduces them to the modern world a bit, but he’s quickly revealed to be using them for his own goals and they come at odds with each other before too long.
The thing that stands out the most about his villainy is how pragmatic he is. Even more so than villains of his archetype are generally expected to be. He’s almost always one step ahead of his opponents, generally having anywhere from one to several backup plans in place to ensure his victory and even in rare cases where he actually does lose he makes an honest effort to learn from those experiences never makes the same mistake twice. He’s also extremely careful to avoid many of the typical pitfalls villains of his archetype would normally make. He never tries to take anything personally (the one time he actually does kind of do something out of vengance it costs him), never attempts to go to any major extremes, and tries to stay on good terms with the Gargoyles rather than directly antagonize them so long as they aren’t an immediate threat to his goals.
However he’s well remembered for being a really great villain one of the things that makes him great is that while he does grow as a villain where most villains typically don’t he also grows as a person over the course of the series. His character arc, while generally subtle, is handled pretty well and by the time he gets to where he is at the end of the second season, it feels like he was always meant to go in that direction.
Demona is the other main antagonist of Gargoyles and while she doesn’t leave as much of a lasting impression as Xanatos, she’s still a pretty interesting villain. She’s the former lover of the protagonist Goliath and holds an undying hatred of humanity for the annihilation of their clan. While this seems pretty stereotypical as the show goes on her backstory is fleshed out bit by bit as see what drove her to the breaking point as how much of the tragedies she’s caught in are self inflicted. Her inability to take responsibility for the things she’s done is her greatest flaw, but it’s also part of the reason why she didn’t make the list(the other being I didn’t want to have two villains from the same series on it) as that whole schick can get a bit repetitive.
Sosuke Aizen (Bleach)
Much like Xanatos and Light above, Aizen is well known for being a master manipulator and a brillaint chessmaster in terms of planning as he goes through his scheme to take over the Soul Society and Earth, and his planning abilties are so over the top that even when the series goes downhill later on it’s entertaining to see what he’s mapped out next. However unlike some of the other chessmasters on the list Aizen is a bit one dimensional in terms of his goals and motivation and for all his scheming he’s defeated pretty anti-climatically
Ragyo Kiryuin (Kill la Kill)
Ragyo will likely go down in history as one of the worst anime parents of all time putting even Gendo Ikari to shame (sadly the only reason he isn’t on the list is he doesn’t technically qualify as a villain) as she physical and sexually abuses her two daughters and even casually attempted to dispose of one of them as an infant when the results of her experimenting on them didn’t go as well as she’d hoped. Oh and she’s also sold out humanity to an alien race of clothing monsters who want to take over the universe. She was actually extremely close to making the list but as she’s extremely recent it’s hard to say exactly how well she’ll stand the test of time and for all her epic villainy she isn’t really given an exact motivation for the whole selling out humanity thing.
Dio Brando (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure)
Dio grew up with an abusive alcholic for a dad but it’s pointed out pretty quickly that this is just an excuse on his part and he’s pretty much a total prick cause he wants to be. He makes his adopted brother Johnathan’s childhood a living nightmare, stealing his girlfriend’s first kiss and literally setting his dog on fire before eventually attempting to kill his stepfather and becoming a vampire in the process. He pretty much exists to be hated as he delights in his villainy and is hammy enough about it to avoid coming across as generic. Sadly for all his ham he’s just barely one-note enough to not make it on the list.
And there you have it folks. Some of the most memorable villains out there from child abusers to genocidal maniacs. I would have included movies in the list but doing so would have flooded the list with Disney villains and I’m pretty sure that’s been covered enough be others as is.
So thoughts? Comments? Let me know what you think.