If there is a hero, there will be a villain. If there is good, there is bad. The two coexist like the Yin and Yang. Anime does a brilliant job at portraying the villains, particularly because most of them give the audience a view into the real soul behind the bad, how circumstances pushed them to the edge until they became the most terrifying version of themselves, or what it is they believe in so firmly that they want to achieve their objective at any cost. Villains serve not only as a foil for a hero’s journey pushing them to their ultimate potential through their wrongful ambitions but also represent the core message that a series is trying to deliver by contrasting the two ideological aspirations. There are different kinds of villains for different purposes: some are put in to portray a larger-than-life message, some are just plain barbaric and cruel. This list however does not contain the anti heroes – like Light Yagami. It is the shounens that usually showcase a wide variety of antagonists with equally interesting backstories, but nonetheless, let’s have a look at some of the most widely acclaimed villains of today.
Muzan Kibutsuji from Demon Slayer
One of the best written villains as of 2022, and his character art bearing a striking resemblance to Michael Jackson, Muzan Kibutsuji is the primary antagonist in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba. This is the Demon King himself; the creator of all demons in existence by assimilating his blood in them. He creates the Twelve Kizuki, an organisation of the 6 Upper Moons and 6 Lower Moons, who happen to be the strongest demons in existence. The beauty of this series is, every single Moon has their own heartbreaking back story starting with Muzan himself. Almost a thousand years ago, Muzan was suffering from a terminal illness and the doctor attempted to cure him but instead, accidentally turned him into a demon because he missed the ingredient Spider Lily flower. Today, his only goal is to kill all the Hashira and destroy the Demon Slayer Corps organisation who have demon slayers out to kill Muzan and his demons. His second objective is to find the Spider Lily flower so that he can truly achieve immortality by conquering the fear of sunlight. Muzan has the ability to control all those who have his blood depending on the amount they have injected in them. Being the King, he is the most powerful demon alive who has stayed undefeated in the course of a millennium. In the final arc to bring him down, almost all 5 Hashiras sacrifice their lives until he finally succumbs to sunlight spurting out all his blood at Tanjiro who becomes the next Demon king for the next few chapters.
Megicula from Black Clover
This is one of the highest ranking devils in the tree of Qliphoth that has contracted with Vanica Zogratis, a member of the Dark Triad in the Spade Kingdom. This granted her the ability to use up almost 70% of the devil’s power and when the First Gate to the Underworld opens, she is able to use up to 100%. Primarily known for cruel experimentation with magic on human beings just because it finds them interesting and amusing, Megicula has immense magical powers manifesting through the Curse Wanding Magic. She uses it to generate high-ranking curses which can be used to literally kill any living thing. The Curse of Megicula is a fatal curse to those directly affected by it and even those who speak of it causing them to die within a year of being cursed. Megicula curses Acier Silva for wounding Vanica and left her bed ridden; Years later it is her daughter, Noelle who defeats Megicula, stabbing it through the heart and claims victory over the evil.
Sukuna from Jujutsu Kaisen
The strongest curse spirit in all of Jujutsu Kaisen universe, Sukuna is undisputedly hailed as the King Of Curses. The story goes that during the Golden Age of jujutsu over a thousand years ago, Sukuna himself was a gifted human sorcerer. His rivals gave their all to defeat him and in the process, he ended up becoming a Cursed Spirit so strong that he could not be destroyed. Due to this, his cursed remains were sealed away in the form of 20 indestructible fingers, preserved in grave wax. Through time, they continued to grow in power and became ever powerful. When Itadori Yuji ends up eating his finger in a desperate attempt to save his classmates, Sukuna gets reincarnated into his soul. As a demon, he is a special grade cursed spirit and has 4 arms and the same face as his host. Portrayed as sadistic, immoral and cold hearted personality, he even compared the slaughtering of women and children as pathetic maggots crawling around. Sukuna is very aware of his mammoth powers and proclaims superiority over all cursed energies and sorcerers because of it. He has no main motive other than taking over dominance in Yuji’s body and consolidating all 20 of his fingers in Yuji, hoping to incarnate with a physical body in the process.
Anti Spiral from Gurren Lagann
Arch enemy to Lordgenome, this is both the leader and the physical manifestation of the Anti-Spiral consciousness after they sealed themselves away to purge their race of the Spiral Power. They are primarily responsible for Lordgenome’s madness. Their highly advanced technology grants them immense powers, which appears as a sort of red energy. They are able to manipulate the laws of physics and quantum mechanics, however they feel to intimidate their victims. They seal away Team Dai Gurren in the Multiverse Labyrinth, and created the Granzeboma in the final battle against Team Dai Gurren. Their ultimate goal is to inflict absolute despair and use the Granzeboma to crush his Spiral foes. A notable quirk of the Anti-Spiral is that it will never resort to its full godlike power in battle. While their intentions may have started out for the good, it is the ruthless execution and dictatorship over the Spiral lifeforms that make the Anti-Spiral evil beyond all hope of possible redemption.
Sosuke Aizen from Bleach
Former Captain of the 5th division in the Gotei-13, the series takes the most unexpected plot twist when Aizen is revealed to be the primary antagonist. His one goal is to become the new Soul King which took him years of careful planning to get close to achieving. He carefully manipulates everyone into killing all members of the Central 46, to move Rukia’s execution date closer because she had the Hogyoku concealed in her. He implants suspicion within the Soul Society members to repel Ichigo and question his position as substitute Shinigami. Aizen uses his Zanpakuto to make everyone believe that he has died and uses Gin Ichimaru to cause inner turmoil among the Captains also. He leaves a Soul Society with his followers, Gin Ichimaru and Kaname Tosen only to later wage a war against the Shinigamis with a whole army of Arrancers. He himself says that he does not have any morals as they restrict his capabilities. Aizen could have been one of the best anime villains of all time had he been able to activate his bankai and play a bigger role in the final arc. His charisma and intelligence along with his cruelty and manipulative nature make him a key element to the series.
Madara from Naruto
Madara Uchiha appeals for the first time as a major antagonist in the series. Although from a young age, he wanted to create a peaceful world where nobody would need to die. In his adulthood, he founded Konohagakure alongside Hashirama Senju in order to create this desired peace. However, he turns evil when Black Zetsu manages to alter a message of warning to the Uchiha Clan and after the death of his brother, Madara become cynical and vengeful holding a grudge towards the Senju Clan. He becomes convinced that there is no real peace. The Eye of the Moon Plan was his brainchild. Although he didn’t go exactly as he planned, the end goal remained the same for all involved- to project the Infinite Tsukuyomi over the moon to trap the entire world in an illusion. He believed that this would save mankind from destroying itself at the price of robbing free will.
All For One from BNHA
This is the overarching antagonist in the Boku No Hero Academia series. He is the leader of the League of Villains, and All Might’s arch nemesis. After his second consecutive defeat at the hands of All Might, he was imprisoned in Tartarus, which he managed to escape. His one and only motive is to steal the Quirk, One For All, the only power that opposes him. He is single mindedly focused on destroying the 9th wielder of One For All, Izuki Midoriya to complete his plan. For this purpose, he is shaping Tomura to become his new vessel, using the hatred he has for One For All to steal him and remake his own powers to eventually conquer the whole world.
Dwarf in the flask/Father from FMAB
Referred to as ‘Father’ by the other Homunculi ‘children’, he is a lead antagonist in the Fullmetal Alchemist series. He is the progenitor who created all the other homunculi a.k.a. “sins” and is himself the oldest Homunculus. Father has been created with the essence of the Eye of the God – that exists on the other side of the Gate – along with some of Van Hohenheim’s blood mixed in. This explains his striking resemblance to Edward Elric’s father. While inside the flask, he is kept in a cavity beneath Central where he resides along with his children with tons of pipes leading to the cement throne that he sits on, attached to his spine. When he absorbs 50,000,000 souls from the land of Amestris, he takes on the form of a void-like cyclops, this black gas-like actual form resembles the Eye. He has no form of his own. Father inherited extensive knowledge from the Eye and only Truth itself can exceed it. His sole objective is to become superior to the human race which in his eyes, is the “divine order” of the world. Father remains unseen during the majority of the story. He is the secret builder of the nation of Amestris, only to sacrifice its entire population to pry open the Gate of Truth and become the new God and achieve immortality.
Blackbeard from One Piece
Currently one of the Four Emperors, Blackbeard, a.k.a. Marshall D.Teach, is the Admiral of the Blackbeard Pirates. He is the only character in the One Piece universe to have the ability to wield the power of two Devil Fruits. Once a member of Whitebeard Pirates 2nd Division, he became one of the most hated antagonists when he slays Whitebeard during the Summit War of Marineford and stealing his devil fruit, Gura Gura No Mi. He then goes on to defeat the Whitebeard Pirates and taking over the majority of Whitebeard’s territories. Blackbeard continued to rob, plunder, hold passengers as hostages, and kill numerous innocent people. It’s even said that some of his frolics of wickedness were so extravagant, almost as though he wanted his men to believe that he was the devil incarnate himself. His looks too add on to him being an in general evil character. His personality seems to be a mix of courage and cowardice, high intellectual combined with stupidity: like he can mold himself to deceive people in whatever way he likes as per the situation. He managed to deceive the Marines by joining the Seven Warlords of the Sea in an elaborate attempt to gain access to Impel Down, in order to find new crewmates. He is exceedingly power-hungry and greedy and his only aim is to become the next Pirate King. He is one of the main antagonists of the Marineford Arc, the Summit War Saga, and the remainder of the One Piece series.
Meruem from HxH
The most powerful offspring of the Chimera Ant Queen and the King of the Chimera Ants, Meruem comes off as cruel, violent and aggressive when he is first introduced. He is the primary antagonist of the Chimera Ant arc in the HxH series. This character is one of those villains that you happen to grow a soft spot for; he even has a soft side for those who are clever and yet obedient. The reason why he is the villain is because he wants to takeover the world and kill those who are too scared to agree to serve him. As the series progresses, he battles with his identity as a half-human and half-insect, questioning the nature of violence and strength as true power. He even falls in love with Komugi who is a human woman, straying away from his initial superiority about his own species. As a villain, he kills and cannibalises any Chimera Ant that he deems disrespectful. Yet, he has profound respect towards the strong when he compliments Neferpitou for surviving an attack without incurring much damage. His character arc goes through a complete development as he grows mature and honorable with time, adept to learning and understanding the world, a rarity among villains.
The popularity of anime’s characters is highly crucial for the success of any series, which includes both the protagonist and villain. Usually, the most beloved ones are the villains that have interesting backstories like Akaza the Upper Moon 3 or a hero with insane powers like Gojou Satoru. However, for a villain to be loved, he has to be created so well that his character arc and development through the series either makes him so hated that he grows infamous or so loved that he becomes far more popular than the protagonist himself like Uchiha Itachi or Sukuna.