Shonen anime villains make for some of the most fascinating figures in their genre. They generate the challenges the heroes must endure, create a sense of danger and suspense, and reveal the dark underbellies of seemingly peaceful anime worlds.
But which of these villains rank among the best of the best? With so many great options, it's hard to narrow it down to just a few. Some are great because they have deep, sympathetic backstories that perfectly explain their motivations and make it difficult to hate them, like Ultear Milkovich from Fairy Tail. Others, like Frieza from Dragon Ball Z, are irredeemably evil monsters who you just can't stop watching. Villains who force heroes to rethink their world, like Pain from Naruto, are fascinating too.
Every great shonen villain brings something different to the table. The one thing they all have in common is that they're indispensable when telling a great story.
Hisoka has one goal, and one goal only: to enjoy himself through combat as much as possible. Morals are completely irrelevant to him, which means he's just as likely to help out the heroes as he is to oppose them.
That's what makes him such a great villain - he's impossible to predict and fascinating to watch.
Meruem starts out so vicious that he literally slays and eats his own kind (chimera ants) if they fail to show him total deference. He sees himself as nearly flawless, and his incredible strength backs up his viewpoint. That arrogance and cruelty begins to dissipate when he meets Komugi, a young blind girl he forms a bond with through playing a game called Gungi.
This unlikely connection serves to deepen Meruem's character and makes him a much more interesting villain.
Pain is a great villain because he forces the protagonist to empathize with him. He wants to wreak havoc on Konoha because he endured a childhood that was marred by conflict, and he wants everyone else to experience the loss and devastation he did. Essentially, he's motivated by raw hurt and a drive for revenge.
Naruto forgives everyone, even those who hurt him badly, but fighting Pain forces him to understand revenge as a motive. This proves to be a crucial lesson for him as he attempts to understand his vengeance-seeking best friend and rival, Sasuke Uchiha.
Sometimes, the best villains are the ones who take you by surprise. Sōsuke Aizen pretended to be a loyal member of Soul Society, but he was actually plotting its downfall the whole time. When he reveals his true evil face, it's a total shock, but it shows exactly how devious (and therefore delightful) Aizen is.