Just because an anime character happens to be the protagonist of a show doesn't mean they’re the most interesting person to focus on. Sometimes the most fascinating character is a compelling villain, the one trying to upset the status quo by introducing some calculated destruction.
Some series have a multitude of horrifying anime villains, and it’s hard for the protagonist to even compare. Naruto turned Itachi Uchiha from a blood-thirsty villain into one of the most empathetic characters in anime history. Let's be real, Naruto Uzumaki has nothing on Itachi.
Other times, a single villain makes a more memorable impression than the main characters - Dilandau’s arc in Escaflowne is far more dramatic than Hitomi’s.
It’s not that these protagonists are bad, it’s just that the villains are better.
- Photo: Toei Animation
Though the DBZ fandom's affection for Goku is somewhat deserved, he's far from the best thing about the series. That's because he doesn't undergo a whole lot of character development over the course of the series.
His cheerful, competitive, and clueless personality remains roughly the same from start to finish, even though he's had plenty of meaningful experiences - including his own death - that ought to have changed him a little.
The show's cast of villains is a lot more interesting - especially Vegeta. Vegeta goes from being a hardened murderer with no empathy for others, to someone who is committed to serving others and bettering himself - all while maintaining the basic core of his original personality.
That transformation is fascinating because it constitutes genuine character development, inspired by the plot. Goku will always be Goku, and while that's not inherently bad, he just not as engaging as Vegeta.1,719415Is this a superior villain?
- Photo: Production I.G.
Akane Tsunemori starts off as a naive employee of the Public Safety Bureau, a police organization that arrests or kills people who have been labeled potential criminals. This organization keeps the populace docile and obedient, while failing to stop real crime, and labeling trauma victims as potential threats.
Tsunemori ultimately becomes a principled and capable badass, but she’s always had one flaw that makes her hard to connect to - though she disagrees with her organizations ultimate goals, she continues to work within the system and uphold its rules.
This is why Shougo Makishima, the villain of the series, is infinitely more compelling. He's willing to go to extremes to try and overthrow this oppressive system. Yes, he kills for his principles, but Akane kills for an organization she doesn’t support.
Makishima isn't morally flawless - some of his violence is less strategic and more cruel - but his arc remains compelling nonetheless.680133Is this a superior villain?
- Photo: Madhouse
It's possible to classify Light Yagami as a villain, but for the sake of argument, we'll define the villain as an individual who opposes the main character. In Death Note, this translates to L.
Light Yagami is a sheltered teenager who receives a magical notebook that allows him to kill anyone whose name is written inside. Though Light's intentions are arguably good at the start - he wants to eliminate criminals in order to build a more peaceful world - Light is frighteningly naive, and he ignores the social root of criminal behavior.
As the series progresses, he stops caring about being a good person, and devolves into megalomania. His downfall is interesting to watch, but it's also depressing and a little predictable.
L, the antagonist who is trying to stop him, is a totally different story. Far from predictable, L's behavior is so outlandishly weird that it's surprising on a second or even a third viewing. But he's more than just his eccentricities - he also possesses a brilliant mind, and just enough hints at a severely repressed emotional life to be fascinating.
You'll end Death Note knowing more than you ever wanted to know about Light, but you'll continue to think about L long after the viewing experience is over.1,636466Is this a superior villain?
- Photo: Madhouse
Dr. Tenma isn't a bad character by any means, but at its heart, Monster isn't really about him. Actually, it's about the villain, Johan Liebert.
Johan is a serial killer who Dr. Tenma began tracking after his career was destroyed when he chose to save Johan's life over a crooked elected official's.
Though Dr. Tenma struggles with questions about the value of an individual's life, it's the show's exploration of Johan's complex motivations that truly carries the story. Both characters are memorable, but Johan will haunt you where Dr. Tenma likely won't.37297Is this a superior villain?