In the delightfully philosophical—and sometimes backwards—world of anime, it’s sometimes the villains we want to root for. Sure, they’ve made some mistakes, woke up on the wrong side of morals, maybe even murdered a few people, but with eyes that make us swoon and backstories that make Shakespearean tragedies look like a joke, we can’t help but love them.
Let’s not get our lines crossed—there are definitely anime villains that are no-nonsense evil incarnate. Sugou Nobuyuki from Sword Art Online, better known as the sleaze bag and self-proclaimed fairy king Oberon, kidnaps heroine Asuna and puts her in a cage to forcibly make her his wife. There’s nothing lovable about this guy, or someone like Shou Tucker from Fullmetal Alchemist, who turned his own toddler into a chimeric monster “for science.” Gross.
But putting aside those jerks, anime is full of anti-heroes and villains-gone-soft (usually for love). Anime creators are hopeless romantics, or at least take great pleasure in challenging predispositions, and that’s often reflected in their ability to create villains audiences can relate to, perhaps even more than the heroes. Plus, like all the boy baddies from Diabolik Lovers, they’re just so pretty!
Like all of the mysterious boys who seek to help Amnesia’s nameless heroine regain her memory, Ukyo is tall, beautiful, and charming, but this guy is the only one of the six other men in the heroine’s life who wants her dead yet somehow still saves her from being run over by trains.
Granted, Ukyo’s diabolical laugh, maniacal knife wielding and wild eyes certainly outweigh that handsome face of his, but this villain is also sick with love, having been the heroine’s boyfriend in an alternate universe. Ukyo is psychologically tormented, as anyone would be seeing the one they love die over and over again. That, along with his own repeated deaths, produces his second personality, focused only on self-preservation.
But, throughout the story, Ukyo’s true self tries to break back through, and it’s that part of him we go crazy for.
Isaac “Zack” Foster (Angels of Death)
Zack, being one of the two main characters of the show, might be considered more of an anti-hero, if not for the fact that this guy is a serial killer. In fact, the only reason Zack initially agreed to help heroine Rachel escape from the strange mad-house-made-social-experiment was because she asked him to kill her afterward with his scythe, but as it turns out, Zack has a soft spot for Rachel and a surprisingly sound moral compass, despising murderers who manipulate their victims.
Zack also was put through the ringer as a child, being set on fire by his mother’s certifiable boyfriend and used as a grave-digging laborer by two nutty foster parents. Sure, he’s basically a murderous mummy, but his love for Rachel, sweet smile, and unintentional humor make him a favorite in our book.
Greed (Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood)
Stuck in the body of a virtuous prince named Ling Yao, Greed is one of the eight individual homunculi in the series and is the only one of the group who actually seems to have a conscience. Greed is first introduced with his gang of rescued chimeras, all of whom he saved from becoming military experiments.
Despite being selfish by nature and viewing his friends more as personal possessions, Greed viciously and passionately defends the people in his life and expresses no interest in being a part of “Father’s” plan with the other homunculi. Eventually, Greed even shares his powers and control over his body with Ling, joining forces with the Elrich brothers, becoming the group’s “Ultimate Shield.”
The older brother of the show’s hero Inuyahsa, Sesshomaru seems to always be in competition with his younger sibling, seeking to become even more powerful than their father and even going so far as to try to nonchalantly kill Inuyasha and Kagome. Having been raised by a stone-cold mother, Sesshomaru’s disposition isn’t much of a surprise.
But when Sesshomaru meets traumatized child Rin, who tries to offer him help when he’s injured in her village forest, he changes his lone-wolf tune and allows Rin to join him and his henchman Jaken on their journeys. Sesshomaru saves Rin many times, but the best by far is when he defies his own mother to bring Rin back from the underworld, saying that “Nothing I could have gained was worth losing her.” What a heartthrob.
Kurama Shinjirou (Kamisama Kiss)
We ask you, what better anime villain is there to love than a fallen angel-turned-pop star? It’s a cheesy take on rock and roll mixed with that dark and handsome emo vibe, but it’s both Kurama’s charm and hysterically embarrassing bad-boy behavior that makes him so adorable.
He might be arrogant, selfish, and have been planning to eat Nanami’s heart after discovering she was a Land God, but this charismatic yokai eventually leaves the dark side, prompted by Tomoe’s fox fire.
Villetta Nu (Code Geass)
Villetta was originally a Knightmare pilot for the Holy Britannian Empire—you know, the one that enslaved all the Japanese people. Villetta actively hates the Japanese—that is, until she falls for one of them after experiencing a bad case of amnesia.
While Villetta bears a strong loyalty to the antagonist groups in Code Geass and acts as a spy for Britannia, she’s a prime example of both a villain swayed by love as well as a powerful and independent warrior who masks her true intentions so awesomely it gives us goosebumps.
Guila (Seven Deadly Sins)
Seven Deadly Sins is a show that illustrates the sometimes backward storyline of anime, where the heroes are “Sins” and the evildoers are “Holy Knights.”
It’s pretty easy to hate a villain who doesn’t hesitate to kill a few children for the sake of an evil cause, but while the not-so-holy-knight Guila is certainly a venomous pest early on in Seven Deadly Sins, her intense desire to protect her younger brother and rescue her likewise manipulated father quickly helps her to see the light and makes us quick to forgive her. Well, that and the fact that she—though unbeknownst to herself—falls into a romance with a Sin.
Love wins, yet again, and it’s the unconventional romance we all live for.
The goddess of war is not the best choice to make when it comes to making enemies, but hero Yato managed to make it happen by slaughtering all of the antagonist’s Shinki under the orders of someone else. This, understandably, entices Bishamon to hold a lifelong grudge against Yato and, for most of season one, she continues to hunt him down for revenge.
While Bishamon is depicted as a strict and heartless warrior early on, whose large accumulation of Shinki begins to drive her to the edge of insanity, it’s later revealed that she is incredibly kind and continuously takes in Shinki to be a part of her family. In a way, Bishamon is a lot like Lady Eboshi from Princess Mononke, another misunderstood villain doing what she can to keep her people safe.
Jellal (Fairy Tail)
Jellal is not a character typically noted as a villain, since most are too busy rooting for him and Erza to get together, but Jellal is a villian—that is, if murdering people and causing massive destruction to bring back the world’s most evil Mage labels him as such. In the beginning, Jellal has little regard for human life and sees his mission, disturbingly, as a “game.”
But, thanks to Erza believing in the compassionate person he used to be as a child, Jelall gets a chance at redemption and eventually begins to seek to destroy all the world’s evil. Jellal also never misses a chance to come to Erza’s aid, but misses plenty of chances to kiss her, which is really his worst crime. We know you want to, Jellal. Just do it!
Ryuk in (Death Note)
Ok, we admit, he’s definitely not one of the best looking characters out there, but Ryuk is still a captivating villain. Despite being humorous to watch—his obsession with apples being a constant punchline in the series—Ryuk also has an intriguing fascination with humans. He’s pretty transparent, always thinking out loud and almost playing the role of the viewer. Ryuk is all of us anime fans, anxiously waiting around to see what Light has planned next.
While you know he probably has something sinister stored away in his back pocket, he’s too cool and funny to not be liked. He’s definitely a contrast to Light, who, while very pretty, is always getting on our nerves.
Liontari (Children of the Whales)
Beautiful, bonkers, and by far one of the most interesting anime villains, Liontari is unquestionably insane, and there’s few moments you actually see him be sincere about anything. But Liontari’s crazed laughter and twisted happiness comes from his unsuccessful attempt to rid himself of all emotions as a child, sacrificing that part of him to a being named Nous.
After years of being treated like an animal soldier and being shunned for this gift to see others’ hearts and feel intense emotions, Liontari obviously becomes increasingly unstable, laughing at horrifically killing others. But, every now and then, Liontari’s desperate desire to play with others like a normal kid break through, and our hearts bleed for him.
Are there any other lovable anime villains we missed? Let us know what cuddly criminals or amiable anti-heroes are your favorites!
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