9 Anime Where The Villain Outshines The MC

L's Eccentricities Make Him The More Compelling Character In 'Death Note'

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. 

1. ‘Hunter X Hunter’ Has Villains With Moral Complexities

'Hunter X Hunter' Has Villains With Moral Complexities

Hunter X Hunter has an excellent cast of characters, so it’s a wonder that the villains can sometimes outshine the already pretty cool protagonists. Gon is in some ways a typical shonen protagonist, but he’s also better at strategizing than most. He can be easy to ignore, however, when Hisoka Morow is around. 

Hisoka is a fantastic villain because he’s so absurdly evil that it’s hard to feel any emotions about him other than stunned. He’s completely lacking in compassion for other people and will readily betray former allies if he thinks it will be more entertaining to do so. Sure, it’s great to have villains with consciences, but it’s also nice to have villains that revel in pure evil. 

On the flip side, there’s Mereum, a Chimera Ant who starts out just as arrogant and cruel as Hisoka, but who forges a friendship with a young blind girl named Komugi. He dies before he ever has the chance to fully redeem himself, but his transition from a selfish person to someone with compassion and empathy is wonderful.

2. The Villains Of ‘Naruto’ Have More Depth Than Naruto

The Villains Of 'Naruto' Have More Depth Than Naruto

Naruto Uzumaki is a typical shonen protagonist. This isn’t inherently bad, and both the character and his series did help to define the genre. Nevertheless, Naruto is far from the most fascinating character in the anime.

The villains in Naruto do some reprehensible things, but they are fascinating figures nonetheless. They’re presented as fully-formed individuals with a range of motivations, which makes it easy for viewers to empathize with them. Few people can hear the full explanation for Itachi killing off the members of his clan without understanding his motives.

Meanwhile, it’s hard not to loathe the villain who put him up to it, Danzo – while simultaneously being fascinated by his role in Konoha’s complex political system. Madara is breathtakingly cruel, but also hard not to admire for his sheer power, as well as his ability to transcend human limitations.

Nearly every villain is far more interesting than Naruto, and the show could be improved by spending more time on them. 

3. Vegeta Of ‘Dragon Ball Z’ Experiences More Emotional Development Than Goku

Vegeta Of 'Dragon Ball Z' Experiences More Emotional Development Than Goku

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. 

4. L’s Eccentricities Make Him The More Compelling Character In ‘Death Note’

L's Eccentricities Make Him The More Compelling Character In 'Death Note'

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.  

5. Izaya Orihara Of ‘Durarara!!’ Is Funny But Deeply Manipulative

Izaya Orihara Of 'Durarara!!' Is Funny But Deeply Manipulative

There’s some debate in the Durarara!! fandom about whether the true protagonist is Mikado Ryūgamine or Celty Sturluson, but most tend to go with Mikado.

Mikado isn’t a boring character, but many people would call Izaya Orihara their favorite. Izaya is an underground information broker who loves manipulating other people in order to test their reactions and learn about the human race, which he claims to love.

Both hilarious and mysterious, Izaya makes a major impact on the show that the naive Mikado, whose goal is to make his own life less boring, can’t really hope to compete with.

6. Sōsuke Aizen Of ‘Bleach’ Is A Bigger Badass Than Ichigo

Sōsuke Aizen Of 'Bleach' Is A Bigger Badass Than Ichigo

Ichigo Kurosaki is a complicated character who develops over multiple episodes, but neither his emotional arc nor his increasing supernatural abilities make him as compelling as some of Bleach’s villains – particularly Sosuke Aizen.

Sōsuke pulled a fast one on Soul Society by pretending to be a loyal member, only to stage a coup and betray everyone in pursuit of power. He’s cruel and manipulative, easily persuading his underlings to risk their lives for him. 

But Aizen isn’t just a brainiac who’s good at getting into people’s heads – he’s also a fierce swordsman with incredible powers – including a shield that kills anything that comes near it, and actual, honest-to-god immortality.

That’s one impressive villain – and a more compelling character than Ichigo.

7. Shougo Makishima Of ‘Psycho-Pass’ Is Fighting For Freedom

Shougo Makishima Of 'Psycho-Pass' Is Fighting For Freedom

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. 

8. Johan Liebert Of ‘Monster’ Raises Haunting Questions About Why People Kill

Johan Liebert Of 'Monster' Raises Haunting Questions About Why People Kill

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.

9. ‘Pokémon’ Villains Change Over Time

'Pokémon' Villains Change Over Time

If you’re a Pokémon fan, your favorite character probably isn’t Ash. He doesn’t grow or change over time, his goals aren’t especially interesting or different from those of the people around him, and he consistently fails at the things he’s trying to accomplish.

The villains are far more interesting. Team Rocket’s bumbling antics and upbeat attitudes contrast well with their genuinely tragic backstories. Their boss Giovanni is the archetypal man in the shadows stroking a cat with a sinister look on his face. Even later characters like N make you question the whole premise behind Pokémon. 

The villains carry the anime in a way that Ash Ketchum just can’t.