Much like the comic book industry, anime is famous for its long line of heroes and idols that fans love to see overcome challenges, and, better yet, defeat some of the most infamous villains. However, as cathartic as it may be to see Son Goku or Naruto Uzumaki victorious, one should never ignore the plights and stories of the powerful anime villains whose own stories build the backbone of some of anime’s best stories.
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However, plenty of anime villains don’t ever change sides or get their own, life-changing ending. Many are left to die, suffer, or get lost in obscurity, with their own dreams and wants being left in the dust. While there can only be so many victors in anime, plenty of anime villains arguably deserve more than they got.
10 Monster – Johan Liebert
Johan Liebert is the lead conspirator behind a pseudo-Nazi organization and the main villain of one of the best single-season anime series ever. After Dr. Tenma saved his life when he was a child, Johan dedicated the rest of his life to wreaking as much havoc as possible, torturing people, killing people, and weaving complex conspiracies that would overthrow Europe. In so many ways, Johan is meant to be the ultimate villain, and the story does its best to try to paint him as pure evil.
With that in mind, it’s also important to note how Johan, prior to birth and throughout his life, was being groomed by eugenics and child experiments, as well as enabled by various vengeful individuals to be as hateful and monstrous as he was. Even if he was born a “monster,” it’s not as if the world did a lot to make him otherwise.
9 Gurren Lagann – Lordgenome
As quintessentially arch as Lordgenome may appear, he wasn’t just the ruthless tyrant that Gurren Lagann’s first half made him out to be. He was a warrior who had spent much of his life fighting against the Anti-Spirals, and, after countless battles, he found that there wasn’t much hope for humanity against the ensuing threat.
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In an effort to give humanity the best chances of survival, he tried to protect them by keeping them underground. Though he resorted to force to ensure his rule, Lordgenome deserves the benefit of a doubt here given that few if any people before him and Simon could even just survive the galaxy’s greatest threats.
8 The Promised Neverland – Sister Krone
While Isabella was the The Promised Neverland’s introduction to how cold and calculating the Mamas could be, Sister Krone was her aid (and rival) in keeping the kids in check when Emma and co. started learning about the real world. Countering Isabella’s cool demeanor, Sister Krone was overtly vicious and competitive, finding some joy in the children’s defeat.
As despicable as she was, she and Isabella were also victims of the overlying system. They had to choose long ago whether or not to be food or volunteer to give birth and prep children themselves. While Isabella had a sort of redemption arc, Sister Krone was punished earlier on for her failures.
7 Naruto – Madara Uchiha
While Madara Uchiha is seen as Naruto’s big bad, he was hoping to use his Infinite Tsukuyomi for peace. Madara has had to fight for his life and that of the Uchiha Clan ever since childhood, losing all of his siblings to war. Despite the stormy relationship between the two characters in the anime, he worked alongside Hashirama Senju to create the Village Hidden in the Leaves in an effort to end all conflict but came to realize that war was always inevitable for humanity.
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In so many ways, Madara was right; and while his execution was filled with bloodshed and his own plan being part of some grander conspiracy by Princess Kaguya, who can really knock the guy for trying to save people from the same fate as his siblings?
6 Fairy Tail – Zeref Dragneel
Zeref Dragneel has possibly the worst deal out of any anime villain—or any person in history. After losing his family, particularly Natsu, to a dragon attack, Zeref studied magic to try and revive them, only to get punished by Fairy Tail’s presumed god, Ankhseram, with the Contradictory Curse, i.e. the cruelest curse of all time.
With it, Zeref became immortal but would inadvertently kill everything near him that he loved. This forced Zeref to either live in isolation or shut off his heart to all things. Zeref was not just made a villain; in order to save the world, he had to be.
5 Akame Ga Kill! – Esdeath
Though Esdeath was championing a totalitarian empire, she couldn’t care less about her rulers, let alone anything else but killing and fighting. Her father trained her since childhood to believe that “The strong live, and the weak die,” going as far as to enable her more sadistic tendencies.
Given that Esdeath’s mother was killed by a Danger Beast, Esdeath’s father was trying to toughen her up for a cruel, dangerous world, a world that would eventually kill him and the rest of Esdeath’s village. An upbringing like that and seeing one’s entire village die could very well convince many to survive and fight at any cost, especially in Akame Ga Kill!’s eat or be eaten world.
4 From The New World – Squealer
Despite what children are taught in this world, queerats in From the New World are not descendants of mole rats, but are actually humans born without psychokinesis who’ve been malformed and made subservient by humans with psychokinesis. Squealer just happened to see the seams of his existence and led the queerats to rise up against society, though he did commit various atrocities doing so.
In the end, Squealer lost his battle, made virtually no change to the queerats’ situation, and was sent to “Eternal Hell” for trying to free his people. Squealer certainly deserved more, but he got less than nothing.
3 My Hero Academia – Gentle Criminal
While it’s easy to track Gentle Criminal’s popularity among My Hero Academia fans to his theatrical personality and fight with Deku, what really sold him further than other eccentric characters was his backstory. As cathartic as it has been to see Deku fulfill his dreams, he is an exception to a long line of other kids who have been disenfranchised and abandoned by the way the world makes heroes.
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Gentle tried to do good when he was young, but, in so many ways, he was told by his teachers and society that he couldn’t. Unlike Deku, he didn’t have any benefactors to help him on his path or an exceptionally powerful quirk befitting of an MHA hero to set him apart. Depressed and lost, Gentle turned to crime as his only means of finding fame and purpose in the world.
2 One Piece – Donquixote Doflamingo
While it’s debatable as to what pure evil truly is, there’s no denying that One Piece’s world did little to make Doflamingo a better person. Born a Celestial Dragon, Doflamingo was raised with the World Noble’s vindictive sense of entitlement. When his family left Mariejois, they were made to become the punching bags for angry villagers sick of the Celestial Dragon’s torment.
When Doflamingo tried to call the Dragons for help and forgiveness, they coldly denied him. Practically raised to be cruel, betrayed by those closest to him, and hated by virtually everyone in the world, Doflamingo really could’ve used a hug.
1 Akira – Tetsuo Shima
While many will just remember Tetsuo for his unbridled violence, one shouldn’t forget that Tetsuo never shot first. The other Espers were afraid of Tetsuo losing control of his powers and tried to kill him. In an act of self-defense, Tetsuo fights back and only begins his infamous rampage in an effort to find Akira, the supposed source of the attacks against him.
Prior to gaining his powers, Tetsuo was just another disgruntled youth who was abandoned by his parents and found himself at the bottom of his biking gang’s pecking order. Here, Tetsuo was never given a chance to forgive and wasn’t exactly raised to do so in the first place, instead allowing his powers and his anger to literally consume him in a hideous mutation.
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