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15 Anime Characters Who Are Morally Ambiguous

Updated September 29, 2019 5.3k votes 1.4k voters 25.6k views15 items

List RulesVote up the enigmatic characters whose motives can't be easily classified as good or bad.

While anime villains are capable of profoundly unsettling acts of treachery, not every antagonist is easily understood as good or evil. Some characters are constantly oscillating between sides, and following up horrible deeds with incredible acts of kindness. Others exist in a perpetual gray area, as they commit atrocities in the name of an unarguably noble cause. Morally ambiguous anime characters are complex, multi-dimensional figures who keep viewers guessing (and arguing) about their true intentions.

  • L is a world-class detective who's been solving seemingly impossible cases since he was eight. One of the keys to his success is his reliance on unethical deduction tactics — such as torture — to get suspects to divulge information. Perhaps the most extreme example of L's methods comes when he makes Light Yagami's father pretend like he's going to murder Light and Misa, just to see if they'd use Light's power over life and death to save themselves.

    On the one hand, L gets results, and his work saves lives. On the other hand, he disregards human rights to achieve his goals. It's hard to know what to make of L, and that's part of what makes Death Note so interesting.

    Is this character morally ambiguous?

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    Decim — Death Parade

    Death Parade is a series about people who believe in objective morality. Decim is an arbiter, which means it's his job to decide which souls are reincarnated, and which are condemned to oblivion. He discerns this by watching how the recently deceased react to elaborate, sadistic games.

    As the series progresses, Decim realizes he cannot accurately judge human behavior using crass and violent methods, which means he can no longer properly do his job. Watching Decim struggle with moral ambiguity both within himself and within the souls he judges is fascinating. 

    Is this character morally ambiguous?
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    Elias Ainsworth — The Ancient Magus' Bride

    Photo: The Ancient Magus' Bride / Wit Studio

    Elias Ainsworth of The Ancient Magus' Bride is a part human, part fae mage who often uses his powers to helps others. He's kind to Chise, and gives her a home where she can learn magic from him. However, Elias also has a dark side. He only becomes involved in Chise's life after he buys her at an auction.

    On top of that, he often obscures his intentions and his violent past, which involves consuming human flesh. Can Chise trust him? Should she love him as much as he does? It's hard to know.

    Is this character morally ambiguous?
  • The titular character of Princess Mononoke is Lady Eboshi's mortal enemy, but that doesn't mean the leader of Irontown is bad to her core. She's definitely power-hungry, and is willing to destroy the environment and turn gods into demons to maintain her grip on her settlement. However, she also dedicates her life to helping the less fortunate. Before she gained power, she was enslaved, so she's deeply empathetic to the poor and downtrodden.

    She's specifically invested in helping women, and provides femmes in need with employment and shelter. Eventually, she even agrees to stop destroying the forest. If your loyalty lies with the Forest Spirit (who Eboshi shoots dead), then the head of Irontown is the film's main antagonist. However, if you empathize with the humans, she's a paragon of virtue. 

    Is this character morally ambiguous?