Who are the best anime villains? They say a story’s only as good as its villains, and while we’re not quite sure that’s entirely true, we do know that one of our favorite things about anime, in general, is how over-the-top and wild the villains can be.
All of the best anime series and best anime movies have great villains. But let’s be honest: there’s definitely a pecking order of antagonists of manga-based origin. While there are plenty of quality characters, there are also thin stereotypical cut-outs, fan service figures, and annoying henchmen too. You sometimes have to search for the dastardly diamonds around the evil ruble, especially when it comes to new anime. But that is why The Digital Fix is here to help!
So, who’s the best at being bad in anime form? Well, we’ve been through all of our favorite shows, including Dragon Ball, One-Punch Man, Demon Slayer, in order to work out who we think are the best anime villains.
15. Isabella – The Promised Neverland
The Promised Neverland is one of the darkest story concepts around. So it makes sense that the manga and anime’s main antagonist, Isabella, stands out as a top-tier baddie. Also known as ‘Mom,’ Isabella is the caretaker of Grace Field House orphanage. She appears kind and caring at first, but she is actually a master manipulator who essentially grooms all the children who’ve been tasked with slaughtering demons.
Isabella is immensely intimidating psychologically. And her abuse of abandoned children is pretty much as evil as they come. However, what makes her captivating and complex is her backstory. We learn that her personality is a result of her own childhood trauma of being raised in an orphanage. It doesn’t excuse her actions, but it is fascinating to see her past and gives her a level of depth that pushes the entire anime to new heights.
14. Johan Liebert – Monster
Unlike most of the larger-than-life and super-powered villains on our list, Johan Liebert is an ordinary man. Instead of supernatural forces, he is just an extraordinarily cruel human with a talent for manipulation and corrupting others around him. Serving as the main villain in the hit anime Monster, Johan is truly terrifying for one simple reason, though: he has a death wish.
That is right; here is a character who isn’t afraid of death and wants others to die, too. He is as nihilistic as they come. His primary goal is simply to destroy, and what’s more, his way of getting rid of his victims is to make their lives so terrible that they take their own lives. Pretty scary, right? Johan is also largely a mystery, which is another notch in his villain belt. The reason for his actions is largely unknown, and his backstory is packed with childhood trauma, which lets you try and piece together some thin sense of purpose to his adult self.
He may be nightmare fuel, but this monster is also wildly entertaining and is perfectly written to lead a dark thriller series like the anime Monster.
13. Griffith – Berserk
Griffith’s reveal as an anime villain was one of the most brutal journeys any viewer can go through, which makes him a no-brainer when it comes to earning a spot on our list. When we first meet him in Berserk, Griffith is by no means a baddie.
In fact, he was a tragic hero. Orphaned as a kid, Griffith always dreamed of a better life and eventually founded a mercenary group. In the beginning, he’d do anything for his men, including selling his own body to finance the group. His sacrifices and combat skills earned him the love and respect of all his comrades.
But everything changed after he made a deal with a demon for more power. Griffith ends up sacrificing his men in a brutal display. He abuses the very victims he once saved, and he ultimately turns into a monster. His betrayal was heartbreaking, and his transformation into a villain all the more dark and sinister because we saw that he once had morals and a goodness to him.
12. Shou Tucker – Fullmetal Alchemist
Shou Tucker isn’t the main villain in Fullmetal Alchemist. Hell, he’s not really a physical threat to the Elric brothers. What he is, however, is an absolute scumbag who, in one of the most disturbing scenes in Fullmetal Alchemist, is revealed to have fused his daughter with a dog just to maintain his privileged position as a State Alchemist.
While villains on this list have committed mass murder and destroyed entire planets, few anime characters are as callous and vile as Shou, a man willing to sacrifice his own innocent flesh and blood for fame and fortune. We’re not alone in hating Shou. Writer Hiromu Arakawa clearly despises him, as well as he’s the only character and villain in any of the Fullmetal Alchemist ‘In Memoriam’ omakes listed as going to hell rather than heaven.
11. All for One – My Hero Academia
Some anime villains are evil not because they believe in some grand purpose that brings them into conflict with our heroes but instead because being bad feels good. All for One from My Hero Academia is this type of villain, a bad guy whose plans are literally inspired by the ostentatious villainy of comic book bad guys.
As such, like The Joker and other iconic villains, he can’t be reasoned with or convinced to change because he’s a hedonist with no allegiance to any cause other than his own whims. This makes All For One the perfect foil for our favorite My Hero Academia characters, who are more selfless and principled.
10. Pain/Nagato – Naruto
Some villains are on this list because they’re wonderfully hateable (we’re looking at you, Major), but others are here because, for lack of a better word, they’re incredibly cool. Pain, the leader of the Akatsuki in the anime series Naruto, is one such villain.
With his unique rippled eyes, multiple body piercings, and black cloak, Pain – or, to use his proper name Nagato – is basically a teenager’s idea of what a badass looks like, so it’s unsurprising he’s a lot of people’s favorite Naruto characters.
It helps that he’s unbelievably powerful, described in the series as a shinobi god who uses a unique fighting style that uses five separate bodies, each of which has its own powers and abilities. Is Pain the deepest of anime villains?
No, like a spoiled teen, he wants to hurt the world that hurt him, but he gave us one of the series’ best fights, and the mystery surrounding his identity makes up for his slightly adolescent philosophy.
8. Garou – One Punch Man
Everyone loves a trier, and few anime villains try as hard as poor Garou. Garou’s a martial artist who’s desperate to become the most powerful monster in the world so he can unite humanity against him. There’s just one problem, he’s in a gag anime and exists to be shit on by the various pro-heroes in the world of One-Punch Man.
Still, his indomitable spirit and huge ego mean he’ll never give up on his goal (even if Sitama barely knows he exists). If you liked Garou in season 2, make sure to watch One-Punch Man season 3. Trust us, Garou’s growth in the new series should be ‘cosmic’.
7. Muzan Kibutsuji – Demon Slayer
Not to be mean to heroes, but everyone knows that villains have the best drip, and few villains can compete with the sheer swagger of Muzan Kibutsuji. I mean, just look at him.
He’s a ruthless demon king who wears a shirt and tie and uses his arms as deadly flesh whips. What’s not to love? Out of all the Demon Slayer characters, Muzan stands out because his power is seemingly limitless. In Demon Slayer season 3, we learned how he became the first demon and that he has always been a baddie. When he was a human, he killed a demon he kills, and once Demon Slayer season 4 comes around, he will murder again.
6. The Major – Hellsing Ultimate
One thing we can all agree on is that Nazis suck. What’s worse than Nazis? Supernatural Nazis with an army of artificial vampires. What’s worse than supernatural Nazis with an army of artificial vampires? The guy leading those nazis and vampires, aka The Major from the horror anime Hellsing Ultimate.
Seriously The Major sucks (nope, that’s not a vampire pun). He’s a literal trash person who was good friends with Hitler. He exists to be a hate sink, exemplifying every trait that society has taught us is wrong. He’s a racist, murdering sociopath with nary a scrap of empathy.
So why have we included him on this list? Well, because he wins. Yes, The Major manages to complete his goal of killing Alucard and proving to himself his own humanity. Even when Integra kills The Major, he dies with a smile, believing himself vindicated. What a bastard.
5. Eren Yeager – Attack on Titan
Eren Yeager started life as an idealistic hero who wanted nothing more than to defeat the Titans and see the ocean. That young man is long gone, though. His optimistic spirit burned away by the fire of war.
All that’s left is a cold, calculating warmonger who’s willing to commit horrific war crimes if it means saving his own people. Eren’s a warning about the corrosive nature of hate. It doesn’t just hurt your enemies but also your friends, family, and even yourself. Can Eren be redeemed? We’ll have to watch Attack on Titan season 4, part 3, to find out. In the meantime, take a look at the best Attack on Titan characters.
4. Donquixote Doflamingo – One Piece
Donquixote Doflamingo’s proof that you don’t have to be the series’ final villain to be the show’s best villain. Like all the evil doers in the world of One Piece, Doffy’s the antithesis of the hero Luffy. He’s cruel, callous, and we never see him eating meat (a great sin in the eyes of Luffy).
Still, with his String-String Fruit and immaculate sense of style (where did he get those shades?), it’s impossible to deny that Doffy is one of the more memorable One Piece characters.
3. Yagami Light – Death Note
Great villains are the heroes of their own stories, and few anime characters fit this description, as well as Light Yagami. Light genuinely believes he can make the world better by killing criminals with his magical notebook.
What starts as a noble campaign quickly becomes a murderous bid for self-protection as Light convinces himself he’s the god of a new world who must be protected at all costs.
2. Frieza – Dragon Ball Z
Dragon Ball has had plenty of memorable villains. From Emperor Pilaf all the way to Jiren, it feels like Akira Toriyama had an endless parade of fiends marching through his head, yet the most evil of them all is, without a doubt, the galactic overlord Frieza.
Frieza’s a murderous and brutal bully who uses his overwhelming unnatural power to dominate the galaxy. The only thing bigger than Frieza’s power level is his ego, which is why it’s so cathartic when Goku finally becomes a Super Saiyan and mops the floor with the tyrant.
Even after his death, Frieza loomed large over the series, and it’s why the next big villain, Cell, was figuratively and literally a Frieza clone. This eventually culminated in Toriyama just giving in and resurrecting Frieza once and for all so that Goku and Vegeta would finally have a nemesis worthy of them again.
1. Vicious – Cowboy Bebop
As the leader of the Red Dragon crime syndicate and a veteran of the brutal Titan war, Vicious is a bloodthirsty and sadistic killer with no patience for his underlings. He acts as the opposite of Spike Spiegel, with both characters sharing the same disdain and indifference for the world around them. The distinction between them comes from their moral code, and Vicious eventually meets his end at the hands of Spike.
But, up until his death, Vicious had been a brilliant and memorable villain. Truly one of the greats.
For more on anime, check out our guide to the best Dragon Ball Z characters, or if you want to know what’s next for Goku and Vegeta, we have a guide to Dragon Ball Super season 2. Or, check out our guide to the One Punch man season 3 release date and Demon Slayer season 4 release date.