Heroes are all well and good, but when it comes to great anime, there’s almost always an iconic villain bringing them to new heights.
That’s why we’re here today to rank the top 20 best anime villains of all time. (*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*)
20. Mother Isabella (The Promised Neverland)
While The Promised Neverland‘s Isabella might not have had the longevity of other anime villains on this list, she managed to make just as much of an impact in the time she had.
The overseer of the Grace Field House, Isabella cares for and cultivates some of the Demon World’s most valuable human cattle children.
She does so by treating the children in her care to an idyllic life full of love and affection, all the while keeping them ignorant to the truth of their existence.
Should they learn the truth, she outwits and torments them into submission with mind games and, when necessary, physical violence, all of which she views as true love due to her own upbringing.
At her core though, this fact is what keeps her low on this list. Raised as a cattle child herself, she never imagined a better life and was beaten into accepting her fate. It’s tragic for sure and makes her far less hatable by the end of her turn as the antagonist.
19. Bryan Hawk (Hajime no Ippo: Rising)
Belligerent, lazy and disrespectful, Bryan Hawk is everything Hajime no Ippo fans learned to tolerate about series regular Takamura cranked up to 11.
Presented as Takamura’s barrier of entry to the world championship, Hawk revels in disrespecting his opponent and the sport at every turn. He slacks off on his training, attacks civilians at his leisure and takes pride in offending everyone around him.
Worse yet is that he has the talent to back it up. As soon as someone is provoked by his antics, he quickly strikes them down with his natural strength and skills, laughing like a madman all the while.
It’s all strikingly similar to Takamura’s own bad behavior but taken that last step toward too far. As a result, it’s hard not to be wrapped with anticipation episode to episode as Takamura slugs it out with the smug bastard.
At the same time though, his tenure is short-lived. Yes, it was almost a given Takamura would have to beat him for the story to continue, but in the grand scheme of things, he becomes a footnote.
It’s a bit of a bummer, but he still manages to make a sizable impact in the time he has.
18. Ryô Asuka (Devilman Crybaby)
The sociopathic yin to Akira “Devilman” Fudo’s empathetic yang, Ryô Asuka is everything his friend is not.
Caring only for Akira and driven by his own self-interests, Ryô revels in manipulating, killing and otherwise hurting others because it’s what he wants and thinks is right.
For most of the series, this means dragging Akira and the rest of humanity into his unexplainable desire to reveal the existence of demons. This, in turn, sparks paranoia and carnage on an untold scale when he succeeds, all of which he barely bats an eye at.
Shortly thereafter, the reason behind this is revealed: Unbeknownst to Akira or even himself, Ryô is Satan and wished for nothing more than humanity’s extinction. Upon realizing this, he confronts his friend, believing it’s what he wants more than anything.
It’s downright evil, but also a little sad given the outcome. It’s not until after he succeeds that Ryô realizes Akira meant more to him than this goal.
Not only that, but he is punished by God to relive the mistake for eternity, constantly revived and set to repeat the same mistake.
It’s tragic, to say the least, and even if it makes him appear a bit hopeless in his endeavors, it certainly cements him as a symbol of evil that’s hard to forget.
17. Gendo Ikari (Evangelion Series)
A frequent contender and even winner of “Worst Anime Dad of All Time,” Gendo Ikari symbolizes everything someone shouldn’t aim to be as a father or person.
After abandoning his son Shinji following the loss of his wife, Gendo gets back in touch with him once he realizes Shinji is the key to piloting the EVA Unit 01 and fighting off giant alien monsters known as Angels.
Despite Shinji’s opposition to the idea and the danger he would be put in by piloting it, Gendo pressures him until he agrees. From there, he keeps up this emotional abuse to keep Shinji in the cockpit, slowly wearing away at the boy’s psyche.
Worse yet, it’s revealed he didn’t even care about saving the world. Instead, he wished to sabotage an evil plan by his superiors and reshape the world in his own image, sacrificing Shinji in the process.
Or at least, that’s the best idea most viewers have of his ambitions. Like the series he’s in, his plans can be a bit vague, and his final plot comes almost out of nowhere only to fail just as fast.
As a result, he’s easily one of the most self-serving anime villains around, with his poor parenting skills only worsening his image with time.
16. All for One (My Hero Academia)
Absolute power corrupts absolutely, or at least it did for My Hero Academia‘s big bad All for One.
Blessed with the quirk to steal any person’s superpower and use it as his own, All for One used his abilities to take over the world and establish a near-insurmountable regime.
He then maintained it with his sharp intellect, outwitting his opponents with devious plans.
Innocents were killed or left to live in fear, all while the world sunk into chaos most thought inescapable. They would have stayed that way too, if not for All Might and his mentors’ efforts to topple him.
Even after being defeated though, his plans remained in motion. Now, however, they centered around torturing those who defeated him.
So far, this has taken the form of raising the grandchild of All Might’s mentor into a villain and helping him form a league of Villains to disrupt the peace made in his absence.
Really, all that holds him back from ranking higher is the fact that he still has room to improve. With the series ongoing and his life still unextinguished, there’s no telling what else he has in store for the world of heroes.
15. Annie Leonhart (Attack on Titan)
The first villain proper of the Attack on Titan series, Annie Leonhart introduces humanity to a new type of threat far more terrifying than ravenous Titans.
A double agent sent into the walls with the mission of wiping out humanity, Annie has the ability to become a titan herself and uses it to lay waste to the Scout regimen once they get too close to escaping the walls.
It’s not as simple as eating them either. Privy to her human intellect even when transformed, she’s able to see through their strategies to smash, skewer and slaughter any that come at her without a plan or plot armor.
Outside of her Titan form, she’s just as terrifying. Armed with hand-to-hand combat training from her father and exceptional skills with ODM Gear, she can kill her enemies before they even realize she’s a double agent.
Amid it all though, she remains oddly apathetic to it all. Granted, she has good reason to be – her actions have killed thousands, and she’s been told so since a young age – but it goes to make her appear all the more heartless as a result.
In the end, she does end up being defeated by humanity and forced to seal herself away in carbon crystal, but even now she stands as the bar the series’ following anime villains are compared to.
14. Johan Liebert
Monster is the kind of series that lulls viewers into comfort before dropping the hammer, so it’s little surprise its villain Johan Liebert does the same.
Unassuming in almost every regard, Johan is typically ignored or forgotten by most everyone he meets. Sure, some may have a passing memory of seeing him here or there, but he’s otherwise able to blend in and disappear at his leisure.
This is exactly what he prefers though. A psychopath raised as a secret government operative since birth, he escaped his captive life and sought to use his skills on the world’s populace in secret.
Sometimes, this means manipulating others into helping him commit murders. Other times, it means toying with their weaknesses and emotions until they’re pushed to the brink, going mad or killing themselves.
He does this all from the shadows, and almost as soon as his twisted games are over he vanishes again to avoid detection.
He may not have any grand ambitions or overarching evil plot for the world, but that only serves to make his behavior all the more twisted and off-putting.
13. Frieza (Dragon Ball Z)
A space tyrant that embodies the concept of Shonen Power Creep, Frieza has made his mark as the de facto villain of the Dragon Ball universe time and time again.
Armed with legions of soldiers and a nearly unparalleled potential to become more powerful, this cruel alien emperor revels in proving his might. He crushes the strongest warriors of a planet for leisure and destroys civilizations on a regular basis.
This includes the powerful Saiyans, who after cowering into submission were annihilated in an instant on the off chance one of them could have stood up to him.
Worse yet is that this brutal strategy proved effective. Blessed with natural strength and talent for growth, he easily mops the floor with most any enemy he comes across, transforming and becoming more powerful at his leisure.
As a result, no one has a hope of defeating him… Until he meets the Z Warriors. After that, he’s killed time and again, caught in a constant struggle against them to regain his superiority.
It does diminish his terrifying ambitions a little, but given that he continues to spread his terrible influence across galaxies while this happens, it’s little wonder he remains the series’ worst threat and an iconic anime villain.
12. Sōsuke Aizen (Bleach)
Cunning, calculated and always privy to a back-up plan, Sōsuke Aizen is the definition of a scheming mastermind.
Initially portraying himself as one of Bleach‘s more pacifistic Soul Reapers, this evil genius hid his ambitions of overthrowing the order of the Soul Society and escalating his own powers for nigh on decades.
All the while, he planned and plotted meticulously for every outcome and possibility. Even the birth and arrival of Ichigo Kurosaki comes as little surprise to him, with his plans factoring in his arrival to use the wild card to his advantage.
This admittedly escalates to the point of being convoluted and a stretch at times, but more often than not it distinguishes him as a true threat to the protagonists’ strategy of making it up as they go along.
In the end, it’s only through the entire cast of characters coming together against him that he’s taken down. Even then he’s only detained, with his powers too great to fully extinguish.
This leaves him to sit in solitude for eternity, watching the Soul Society continue to march on and plotting his next great vie for power.
11. Char Aznable (Gundam)
Char Aznable encapsulates a lot of what an anime villain is and should be, and has for basically the entirety of the Gundam series’ decades-long existence.
A master mech pilot with near-superhuman abilities, Char commands those around him with an almost supernatural presence. Those below him are rapt in deep awe and respect, while those he faces are overwhelmed by his confidence and skill.
He puts this to good use too. In the short time he serves as a pilot for the Principality of Zeon, he skyrockets to the top of the ranks, gaining prestige and power in abundance.
This is all done toward the completion of his own goals and ambitions, most of which end in the double-crossing of those who wronged him in and his family years before.
It’s all a little stock and straight forward by today’s standards, but for its time – and especially for the Gundam series – it works wonderfully. Amid all of the war-time drama, Char emerges as a rogue player who controls and uses the conflict as he pleases.
It’s no surprise, then, that almost every villain in the series has sought to imitate him. He remains iconic and retains his reputation as an unforgettable antagonist.
10. Younger Toguro (Yu Yu Hakusho)
For the Younger Toguro, all that ever mattered was power.
An unmatchable martial artist and demon hunter in his youth, Toguro was consumed by his fear of growing old and feeble the longer he lived.
This fueled his decision to betray humanity and wish for immortality and eternal youth from demons, joining the ranks of that which he once despised and hunted.
What followed were years of terror and torment at his hands, his strength unmatchable by all that he encountered. Humans and demons alike fell by his hands, all as he reveled in his eternal strength.
To be sure, his motivations are a little lack-luster compared to other villains. Where others seek to destroy the world, he settles for worthwhile opponents, often times sparing those he beats in the hopes that they’ll become stronger.
And yet, this makes him all the more enthralling as a villain. His motivations are clear, his goals are understandable and his threat is undeniable.
He’s a near perfect enemy for the series’ protagonists, an obstacle to their progress, a foreboding specter of their own weaknesses and insecurities, and a warning of what could befall anyone if they were ever consumed by their fears.
9. Dio Brando (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure)
Given how over the top Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure can be, it’s little surprise that it gave birth to one of the most over-the-top and bombastic anime villains of all time.
Originally the son of a shameless criminal, Dio Brando was raised under one core belief: Do whatever ensures your own survival. Abiding by this creed, he lives only for himself, stealing, killing and doing whatever it takes to get ahead.
These aren’t generalities either. In the first few episodes of the show alone, he throws a dog into a furnace, poisons his adoptive father for his inheritance and nearly unleashes a vampire horde onto 19th century England to advance his own ambitions.
And that’s only at the start of the series. Using his vampiric powers, he survives for generations and kicks off a new threat to the world over a century later; and, while he’s at it, unleashes the power of stands upon the world.
Really, his only downfall is that he’s always overconfident. Instead of dealing with the Joestars and their allies immediately, he always gets caught up in the theatrics of his plots and pays dearly for it every time.
Still though, when he takes center stage as the series’ villain, it’s hard not to be enraptured by his antics and absurd sense of ambition.
8. King Bradley (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
Though he may have only been the pawn in his Father’s plot, King Bradley proved the better anime villain of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and beyond.
Raised from birth by the Homunculus Father for the position of Amestria’s ruler, Bradley’s abilities were enhanced past the point of super-human by injecting him with the Philosopher’s Stone.
This boon granted him with the all-seeing eye, allowing him to see each and every detail around him whether he was negotiating with political opponents or dodging bullets on the battlefield.
However, this came at a cost. Gone were every other emotion in him except wrath, which he utilized to rule the country and expand its influence.
Ishvala and so many other nations were trampled and stamped with ruthless efficiency, all for the sake of his Father’s greater ambitions.
And yet, beneath this baleful demeanor, an unnervingly human personality resided. Where the other Homunculi looked down on humanity, the remnants of it left within him respected and envied what he once was and never could be again.
As a result, his eventual defeat is both vindicating and somber. For all of his evil deeds, he managed to hold onto some humanity to the end, souring the victory of the series’ protagonists ever so slightly.
7. Madara Uchiha (Naruto Shippuden)
The epitome of a shinobi warrior, Madara Uchiha embodies the spirit of his age as well as the defiance of outdated mindsets refusing to fade away.
Raised in an age of war and conflict, Madara embodied everything he needed to be to survive the world around him. Fast, cunning and privy to god-like ninjutsu, he crushed almost all who came up against him.
This served him well enough during times of war, but when the world turned to peace, he found himself at odds with others on how to achieve it.
Where they sought to let people strive for it themselves, he sought to use his power to force them into submitting to his views on how peace should be achieved.
This led to his falling out with his allies, his defeat by their hands and his eventual plot to rule the world through an endless jutsu, all while he manipulated and crushed any who opposed him.
Needless to say, he served as a great enemy for Naruto and his allies; or at least, he did while he served as the main antagonist.
Once he was outdone by the series’ “true” big bad, his ambitions and presence were diminished a bit, if only because his plans fell apart because of the trope of a bigger and badder anime villain being in the shadows.
For the time he was in control though, Madara proved himself an anime villain on par with the best of them and established the highest bar for Naruto’s long list of enemies.
6. Hisoka (Hunter X Hunter)
Everyone in Hunter X Hunter is searching for something, and though his pursuits may be twisted, Hisoka is no different.
A devious killer and master Nen user, Hisoka is driven by his desire to find and kill strong opponents. Be they young children or master criminals, he’ll pursue them to the ends of the Earth with a bloodlust on par with a wild predator’s.
Likewise, he doesn’t care what happens to himself or others in this pursuit. Mass civilian casualties, the loss of his allies or even the loss of his own limbs barely phases him, so long as he gets to fight with someone that tests his limits.
As a result, he more often than not embodies chaos incarnate, wreaking havoc in his pursuit of battle and leaving a mountain of corpses behind him.
Needless to say, this puts him at odds with the series’ protagonists at regular intervals. Not only do Gon and his friends fit the bill for what he seeks, but they often take on enemies that prove to be exactly what Hisoka is looking for.
And yet, this also serves to make him all the more interesting.
Where other villains might strike out at the protagonists and heroes immediately, Hisoka schemes, allies himself with and double-crosses people regularly, always finding the best angle to work in order to reach his goals.
He may not be a world-ending anime villain with seismic ambitions, but he’s undeniably interesting to see at work.
5. Gilgamesh (Fate Series)
While the Holy Grail wars are meant to be fought by heroes of legend, Gilgamesh certainly makes the case for legendary villains being in the mix as well.
An ancient king who desired to own everything he could get his hands on, Gilgamesh is driven by greed and his own interests at any given moment.
This includes when he is summoned to fight in the Holy Grail War, with his “master” only able to control him by the barest definition of the word.
Worse yet, he’s vastly more powerful than most any other contender in the war. Able to summon weapons from his vault of possessions, he can rain down death in an instantaneous, bloody storm of destruction.
As a result, the life or death struggle everyone else sees themselves in is little more than a passing distraction for him. Instead, he bides his time and amuses himself with battle, confident he’ll come out on top.
This leads to his eventual downfall, but right up to that point it’s hard not to believe he’ll get away with his arrogance. He’s an anime villain that embodies overpowered adversaries and remains a near indomitable force to his dying breath.
4. Bondrewd (Made in Abyss)
Made in Abyss may be filled with Lovecraftian horrors out for flesh and blood, but they’ve got nothing on this sociopathic monster.
Acclaimed as one of the Abyss’ most renowned explorers, Bondrewd embodies the deepest depths one can go to in order to survive the Abyss. No option is too inhumane, no length is too drastic to take and no boundary is to be left uncrossed.
Case in point: He uses humans as test subjects for his research on the Abyss’ curse and effects, turning even children into pain-ridden lumps of flesh in the pursuit of ways to uncover the pit’s secrets.
As a result, he’s spoken of in hushed whispers and dire warnings to the protagonists, his influence felt even hundreds of thousands of feet above the facilities he commands.
On one hand, it’s easy to hate such a self-interested monster. Several dozen, if not hundreds of people, have suffered by his hands, and more still will continue to suffer as time goes on.
On the other hand, he simply found a way to do what every character in the show wishes to do. By whatever means necessary, he survived the Abyss’ horrors and struggles to continue to do so.
It’s a tough line to walk, but Bondrewd does it with a horrifying beauty, and with more to be seen of him in the series’ future there’s no telling how much higher he could rise – or lower he could sink as an all-time great anime villain.
3. Shogo Makishima (Psycho-Pass)
In a dystopian future where crimes are determined before they’re even committed, Shogo Makishima poses the ultimate threat.
An anomaly that the system can’t detect, Makishima is able to commit crimes without detection. This includes theft, conspiring to attack someone and even cold-blooded murder.
He’s not shy about using this to his advantage either. Inquisitive as to why he is this way and determined to bring down the Sybil System, he tests the limits of his “gift” by orchestrating events that throw the world around him into chaos.
It’s for this reason that he temporarily brings down the digital law enforcement programs, driving all of Japan into a state of frenzy and panic as crimes are committed by anyone and everyone with little to no consequence.
It’s devious, to say the least, but it becomes unnerving when the core drive of his actions – freeing people up to make their own decisions again, without surveillance – becomes clear and, most terrifyingly, logical.
He’s the type of anime villain who found the worst way possible to try and improve the world, and for all of the pain and chaos he causes, there’s a horrible, lingering question left behind: Was there some good and truth to what he believed?
2. Light Yagami (Death Note)
When someone’s goal is to become a god through murder and deception, chances are they’re a pretty insidious anime villain, and Light Yagami is no exception.
A young man with a genius intellect, Light stumbles upon the Death Note at a young age and quickly realizes its power to kill anyone is no joke.
Instead of getting rid of it though, he hatches a plan. He’ll kill everyone he deems a criminal, becoming the ruler and god of the new world he creates.
It’s a fine idea on paper – at least in terms of ridding the world of crime and suffering – but in execution, this ambition quickly corrupts him worse than he already was.
In addition to criminals, Light also manipulates and kills almost everyone around him he deems a threat. Policemen, investigators and even his own family fall victim to his plotting, all while he continues to advance his plans.
The worst part is, even after he’s brought down for his crimes, he gets his wish. Some in the world idolize him for his actions, making him a person of worship long after his death.
1. Griffith (Berserk)
Griffith did nothing wrong; at least, not by his own drives and ambitions.
A peasant who grew to become the leader of his own mercenary band, Griffith was a self-driven man who pursued his desires with unparalleled efficiency.
No matter the situation or obstacle, he found a way to overcome them, whether that meant facing down an army of thousands or assassinating a country’s leaders.
All the while, he amassed a legion of friends and followers who would follow him to hell and back, caring for him as much or more than he cared for them.
As a result, they were dragged down with him when his ambitions saw him imprisoned, tortured and maimed. They cared little though, risking life and limb to save him and help him salvage a life with what he had left.
That wasn’t enough for Griffith though. When given the option to become a demon and continue the pursuit of his dreams, he whole-heartedly accepted it; even though it came at the cost of sacrificing the lives of each and every one of his friends and allies.
So yes, Griffith did nothing wrong by himself. By everyone else though, he did them the worst of injustices, and continues to do so with each breath he takes as arguably the worst anime villain of all time.