20 of the Greatest Anime Villains

Antagonists Abound

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10. Lil’ Slugger
Series: Paranoia Agent (2004)
Category: Existential Antagonist

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Lil’ Slugger is no simple villain. He is, in the purest sense of the word, a meme—an idea or belief which percolates from one person to another, infecting the collective subconscious like a virus. Lil’ Slugger is a boogeyman, a monster birthed from the primordial psychic soup of fear, anxiety, repression and malaise that defines the modern age. We, the viewer, are first introduced to the being known as Lil’ Slugger when he attacks Tsukiko Sagi, the “protagonist” of Paranoia Agent, in the first episode of series. From there, Lil’ Slugger becomes a constant throughout the revolving anthology of series’ thirteen episode run, preying on the emotionally compromised mental states of his victims while simultaneously “freeing” them from the psychological weight of their respective burdens. What we later come to learn in the series’ finale is that Little Slugger frankly never existed. He is the creation of Tsukiko herself, a paranormal boogeyman resurfacing from her childhood and substantiated into reality by collective ennui of the 21st century zeitgeist. Lil’ Slugger is a larger-than-life antagonist because he is simply that: the mass hysteria of the modern world filtered through the anthropomorphic shell of a social virus. Superstition is a powerful force that, when concentrated within a society, can take on a life of its own. In the words of Francisco Goya, “The sleep of reason breeds monsters.”


9. The Anti-Spirals
Series: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (2007)
Category: Existential Antagonist

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Okay, now bear with me here—according to the first law of thermodynamics, energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can merely be transferred from one form to another. The second law states that, as energy is exerted within a closed system, that energy will inevitably dissipate and become irretrievable. This dissipation is roughly understood and defined as “entropy.” It follows then that, if the universe itself is a closed system, no matter how seemingly inexhaustible and expanding, the exponential diffusion of energy will inevitably outpace the size of that system, rendering the universe a cold lifeless place incapable of sustaining itself. In the fiction of Gurren Lagann, The Anti-Spiral was created to avert an even more perilous entropic state known as “The Spiral Nemesis,” safeguarding the capacity for life at all costs. Even at the cost of life itself. The Anti-Spirals are a consortium of sentient races who combined to create a multi-dimensional hive-mind to systematically cull whole civilizations whose “Spiral energy” exertion threatens to accelerate the universe’s entropic destruction. The Anti-Spirals wield considerable power in bending, though not breaking, the fundamental forces of universe to their whim, be it by trapping Team Dai-Gurren inside an extra-dimensional pocket of space, or even dueling in gigantic mechas atop whole galaxies. Their efforts at muting life for the sake of survival, however, are little more than an exercise in futility, a death rattle dissipating into the indifferent vacuum of space.


8. Kyubey
Series: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)
Category: Existential Antagonist

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Kyubey is an incubator, a species of cat-like entities with advanced technology. The incubators’ motivations aren’t that far off from that of the Anti-Spirals, though their methods wildly diverge. Rather than exterminating species who happen to punch above their weight class, the incubators’ solution to the problem of entropy is to transform the universe’s closed system into an open one, redirecting a renewable source of energy from outside the universe back into our own. This energy is generated through emotion, and since Kyubey’s species is incapable of expressing emotion, they go out in search of a species that is. In the fiction of Madoka Magica, that species is humanity, though more specifically, adolescent human girls. The incubator’s answer is this: enter into contracts with young girls by granting their “wishes” in exchange for them becoming “magical girls,” pitting them in battle against “witches” while cultivating their emotions to be harvested into energy. Simple, right? The catch is that this energy has its own entropic lifecycle, with magical girls transforming into witches after their potential has been depleted, ensnaring them in a cascading cycle of pain and death fueled out of adolescent naïveté. Kyubey’s contracts are bargains worthy of Mephistopheles, entrapping human souls and pumping them for fuel until depleted and discarding them with equal dispassion. Eventually, this process will culminate in the death of the human race itself, with Kyubey’s species then proceeding to move on to the next species capable of producing emotions. What’s worse is that Kyubey, itself an entity incapable of expressing or understanding emotion, sees nothing wrong with exploiting a species’ hopes and fears to its benefit. To incubators, emotions are merely a subset of branching hypotheses through which to follow through to a favorable conclusion. It’s one thing to wipe out whole species with cataclysmic disregard, but it’s another to groom them for slaughter and have the inherent cruelty of that act be totally lost on you.


7. Sibyl System
Series: Psycho-Pass (2012)
Category: Existential Antagonist

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It’s a common maxim that at the heart of every utopia lies a dystopia. It follows then that every dystopia in and of itself represents a failure of the human imagination to create a society that reconciles the complexity of human motivations within the inflexibility of bureaucracy. Utopias are sustained through two impossible, contradictory criteria: that everyone is willfully complicit in the status quo, while allowing others the potential to exist outside of that status quo. In Psycho-Pass, that status quo is the Sibyl System. An autonomous computer network which gauges each individual’s susceptibility to criminal intent, the Sibyl System acts as the governing authority of 22nd-century Japan, handling all administrative and punitive responsibilities throughout the country. Though championed as a perfect, impartial A.I. designed to uplift the condition of each member of its society, the Sibyl System is in reality a computerized hive-mind of sociopaths who, existing apart from the system’s judgement, view themselves as the essential purveyors of it. There’s something to be said of society run by murderers, inflicting their collective cruelty onto an unsuspecting populace under the auspices of not only impartiality, but empathy. Some would argue that Shogo Makishima is the series’ primary villain, but would he even exist or be enabled to do what he did were he not brought up under Sibyl’s control? With the society of the Sibyl System now wholly dependent on the deliberate cultivation of psychopathy, the so-called “philosopher kings” are now running the asylum. Kyubey’s cruelty originated from a macro-level indifference which accompanies a cosmic perspective. That the Sibyl System, a system founded by humans, was able to emulate that cruelty presumably with the best of intentions is a chilling scenario, to say the least.


6. The Major
Series: Hellsing: Ultimate (2006)
Category: Quintessential Sociopath

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It seems a tad … well, on-the-nose to include a literal nazi among a list of anime’s most notable villains, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, Hellsing’s eponymous Major warrants mention here by dint of his sheer depravity alone. A former first lieutenant of the SS, the Major was hand chosen by the Fuhrer himself to head an occult project designed to create super-powered vampire soldiers that would deliver World War II into the hands of the Reich. Fortunately his plans were foiled by the nosferatu Alucard and his partner Walter Dornez, who destroyed the Nazis’ vampire facility, forcing the Major to flee into the jungles of Argentina to continue their research. The Major emerges decades later in the modern world as the head of Millennium, a clandestine fascist organization founded with the intent of waging a world war with the intent of fulfilling Hitler’s goal of a “Thousand Year Reich.” The Major’s goals, however, are somehow far more unhinged than that. Despite being an impassioned orator and uncompromising strategist willing to sacrifice countless soldiers, the Major himself had no especial loyalty or passion for the cause of Millennium.His sole obsession is to plunge the world into an unending conflict to the point of endangering not only the lives of others but also his own. The Major’s leadership of Millennium, his decades espousing the genocidal ideology of fascists, and subsequent war against the Hellsing organization, the Vatican, and the entire world serve only as a pretext to satiate his insatiable bloodlust. The Major is one of anime’s insidious villains, a charismatic, nihilistic sociopath driven purely by his sadomasochistic death wish.


5. Shinobu Sensui
Series: Yu Yu Hakusho (1992)
Category: Quintessential Sociopath

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The predecessor to Yusuke Urameshi, Yu Yu Hakusho’s protagonist, Shinobu Sensui was the former acting spirit detective chosen by Koenma to safeguard the border between the living and spirit world. Gifted from a young age with heightened spiritual sensitivity, Sensui was a stalwart defender of humankind whose strength and charisma inspired admiration in allies and adversaries alike. Sensui’s fatal weakness was ironically his greatest strength; his unerring moral compass between right and wrong. Purpose-driven to the point of obsession, Sensui believed that humans were purer than demons who, by their nature, were considered an scourge worthy of being extinguished. That is, until he witnessed the Feast of Human Vices, a bacchanalian celebration consisting of humans torturing and executing demons in the cruelest methods imaginable. Sensui snapped, killing everyone in attendance as his mind splintered in the wake of his guiding philosophy being upended. Sensui retreated into reclusion, manifesting several split personalities each with their own host of unique powers, resurfacing only years later with a plot to destroy the world he had once swore to protect. His partner Itsuki said it best, “[Sensui] can be violent, courageous, spiritually pure, and even fragile.” He is a paragon of some of humanity’s greatest qualities, combined with an unwavering cause for justice. All of which make him a compelling antagonist and villain.


4. Shou Tucker
Series: Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009)
Category: Quintessential Sociopath

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Had they existed in the same universe, Shou Tucker might have been one of the many humans to convince Shinobu Sensui that through their example the species was beyond saving. Though far from the primary antagonist of Fullmetal Alchemist, Tucker has earned notoriety as one of the series’ most depraved characters solely to the credit of one unforgivable act. When Ed and Alphonse Elric first meet Tucker, he’s an affable if bookish alchemist living alone with his daughter Nina, working with the state to pursue his research into chimera hybrid alchemy. But beneath his genial demeanor lies a well of desperation. Two years prior to his appearance, Tucker and his family had lived in abject poverty before earning his State Alchemist License on the back of his findings producing a chimera capable of human speech. Tucker’s wife had left him just before this development, leaving him as the sole caregiver to Nina. With his yearly assessment test impending and his superiors pressuring him to produce results or be cast out, Tucker recreates that single heinous, heart-wrenching act of two years ago. When Ed and Alphonse discover that Tucker had managed to produce another successful chimera, they soon realize the bitter truth: Tucker transmuted his daughter’s body and soul with that of their family dog, sacrificing her to a life of agony and confusion. When pressed, Shou flies into a fit of hysteria, claiming his daughter’s life as a necessity to the furtherance of scientific knowledge. “All advancements have a price … when you have the power to do something, it’s hard not to try.” Shou’s depravity is a painful reminder to Ed and Alphonse of their own sacrilege and a chilling, personal depiction of what barbarous acts one is capable of committing if only to be justified by a supposed “greater good.”


3. Gendo Ikari
Series: Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
Category: Quintessential Sociopath

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Don’t say it. Wherever you are right now, I know exactly what phrase just popped into your mind now as your eyes glanced across this entry. “Gendo Ikari did nothing wrong.” It’s a joke, I get it. Or at least I get it as much of one can. In the vein of saying “Hitler did nothing wrong,” it’s a memetic mantra that has gained traction among fans of the Evangelion series for its brazen darkness and declarative simplicity. But like so many other memes, it’s metastasized from a benign bit of shock humor into a terrifyingly genuine appeal to devil’s advocacy. So in the interest of setting the record straight, allow me, in no uncertain terms, to summarize what exactly Gendo Ikari did wrong. Gendo Ikari, of sound mind and clear conscience, was actively complicit in the premature instigation of the biblical apocalypse, resulting in a near extinction-level event that caused the death of nearly two-thirds of the human population. Furthermore, this prompted the re-awakening and advent of the “Angels,” a colossal species of proto-human creatures compelled by instinctual programming to eradicate the last remnants of humanity at all costs. And that’s just taking stock of Gendo’s transgressions on a macro-level. Gendo emotionally neglected his son Shinji, estranging himself from him for over twelve years, only to offer him up as a sacrificial pawn in his bid to artificially bootstrap humanity’s ascent into evolutionary godhood so that he could be reunited with his dead wife. And before you say, “Oh, well at least he loved his wife,” Gendo’s interim solution to her absence is to clone her DNA into a harem of emotionally dependent albino ingenues who share a dogged infatuation for their creator. And that’s not even mentioning the horrific emotional abuse and mental manipulation he inflicts on Dr. Ritsuko Akagi and her mother Naoko. Gendo Ikari’s actions are proof of not only love’s capacity to overcome any obstacle, but to make monsters of us all.


2. Griffith
Series: Berserk (2016)
Category: Quintessential Sociopath

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Griffith is what would happen if Robert Greene and Ayn Rand co-wrote an anime character. A common-born man whose supernatural beauty and charisma inspires desire and devotion in both women and men alike, Griffith is also a masterful tactician and swordsman of near-unparalleled skill. Leader of the Band of the Hawk, Griffith’s undefeated status as “The White Hawk” earned him favor among the nobility of Midland, especially with that of the King’s daughter, Charlotte. All of these feats were achieved towards a singular aim: to assert himself to the throne of Midland, remaking the kingdom in his own image. But this was not to be. In truth, Griffith is the product of a centuries’ old eugenic plan orchestrated by the God Hand, a cabal of extra-dimensional cenobite-like beings who rule over the physical world in the stead of some yet greater, unknown evil. Sheltered from any true obstacle his entire life, Griffith was unknowingly groomed to become one of their own, but only after all hope for his mortal dream had been utterly destroyed. Ignorant of the supernatural privileges bestowed upon him, Griffith nurtured a casual contempt for anyone whom he had deemed subordinate to his whims since youth. As such, despite being the beloved leader of the Band of the Hawk, he ultimately views his comrades as a tolerable means to an end. “They are my able soldiers it’s true, they are dedicated comrades who sacrifice themselves for my dream so that it might be real. But that does not make them friends [….] For me to call a man my friend, he must be equal to me in all respects.” Griffith does not befriend allies; he collects them. This callousness ultimately culminates in the Eclipse, to this day one of the most heart-wrenching moments in all of Berserk, wherein Griffith sacrifices his entire mercenary troupe to be feasted on by a host of demons in order to anoint his ascension to the head of the God Hand. Griffith is the perfect foil to Berserk’s Guts—two men whose battle against one another epitomizes the thematic struggle between fate and self-determination. Make no mistake, Griffith is a villain of Luciferian proportions.


1. Johan Liebert
Series: Monster (2004 – 2012)
Category: Quintessential Sociopath

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We’ve covered a wide assortment of eminent and inimitable villains on this list. From popular mainstays to emissaries of entropy, sentient memes and sadistic sociopaths, to literary archetypes and infernal demi-gods—we’ve run the gamut of some of the foulest adversaries to ever grace the medium of anime. So it only stands to reason then that the final inductee of this list, or of any list of anime’s top villains, would have to be a particular type of monster to reign in hell above all others. Dear reader, Johan Liebert is that monster. The product of a clandestine eugenics program founded to create a “übermensch” intended to lead all of humanity, the boy who later come to be known as Johan and his sister were subjected to unspeakable cruelties by their handlers. An uncompromisingly cruel and violent sociopath, Johan’s outward exterior is nonetheless that of a generous and soft-spoken young man with a naturally affable personality. Caught being the split of two dissociative personalities; one sadistic, the other helplessly empathic, Johan’s talent for persuasion is best exemplified in one of his most favorite hobbies: grooming serial killers. Johan possesses an intuitive, almost preternatural ability to identify the latent neurosis of psychopathic personalities, ingratiating himself with them, beguiling them, until finally manipulating them to commit acts of violence on his behalf through a combination of equal parts intimidation and seduction. Johan is a character often compared to Light Yagami, the protagonist and villain of Tsugumi Ohba’s supernatural mystery series Death Note, or even Griffith from Kentaro Miura’s aforementioned Berserk series. But the crucial, defining difference between Johan and latter is substance to the claim of his supremacy. Despite all that he was able to accomplish over the course of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster — manipulating over fifty people to kill one another through suggestion alone, framing the man who saved his life for murder, operating a massive money laundering operation at the heart of Germany, and coordinating a shadow network of killers to do his bidding— Johan has no special abilities to speak of, save for intelligence. No magical notebook capable of killing anyone whose name is written in its pages, no unholy totem gifting him with the blessing of divine fate, nothing. He is a human being, no more and no less, and that is precisely what makes him so terrifying. He exemplifies best the key idea which has guided the vetting and order of this list: that evil, far from being a vast and inhuman concept, is intimate. He is a spider, weaving a web of criminality and chaos wherever he goes. He is, without question, a monster.

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