antagonists, villain, anime

Top 8 Best Anime Antagonists Who Weren’t Actually Villains

Antagonist doesn't mean villain.

While many antagonists in anime stand in the way of our hero’s goal or journey, that doesn’t necessarily make them all evil. In fact, a lot of characters that start off as villains never had bad intentions, eventually joining or aiding the good guys in the fight.

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We’ve put together a list of the best of those foreboding foes that actually turned out not to be so bad after all. Here are the seven best anime antagonists that weren’t actually villains.

***Minor story and character spoilers for the anime below***

Weng Kong – Ping Pong the Animation

Best Anime Antagonists Who Weren’t Actually Villains

From the moment he lands in Japan, Weng Kong has the look and air of a cocky asshole. He knows he is good at ping pong and doesn’t care who gets in his way as long as he wins and accomplishes his goal. 

On the surface, he definetly comes off as antagonistic in his actions because of this mindset, especially given how he looks down on people despite being sent to Japan as punishment for losing. 

After Weng suffers a devastating loss to a dominant local player, his feelings of shame and resentment cause him to reflect on his actions. Eventually, the Chinese transfer learns that there is more than one way to fly, taking a different path that leads him back to where he wants to be. 

Danjuro Tobita (Gentle Criminal) – My Hero Academia

Best Anime Antagonists Who Weren’t Actually Villains

In My Hero Academia, superpowers are the norm, as 80 percent of the population has them. To keep order, only those who have a license can use them without fear of repercussions for breaking the law. 

This structure is bound to create villains out of those that either want to use their natural abilities without handicaps or those not gifted enough to use their powers accordingly.

Though he proved to be intelligent in time, Danjuro Tobita fell into the latter class of villains in My Hero Academia, failing to do well in school and even causing a citizen’s death by interfering with a licensed hero. 

Even when he did turn out to be a villain, his crimes never harmed anyone, thus the name Gentle Criminal. He becomes an antagonist to Deku simply because he wants to achieve his goal, which isn’t an evil one at all.

Danjuro Tobita is a sad case of what can happen in a society where even the best intentions lead you down a difficult road. 

Thorkell the Tall – Vinland Saga

Best Anime Antagonists Who Weren’t Actually Villains

antagonists, villain, anime

Thorkell the Tall has one hell of an imposing entrance in Viland Saga, as he mangles a handful of Danes with a single ax throw from hundreds of feet away. Just a few moments later, he is fighting protagonist Thorfinn in a battle to the death wielding a massive tree stump, all with a joyous smile on his face.

Yet, while there is no doubting the man is insane, he is never truly the villain. Thorkell is simply a Viking of honor who has fun fighting and tends to act evil only when people dishonor the code of battle.

Thorkell is essentially the Goku of Vikings in the Viland Saga series. All he really wants is a good fight, even if it’s a bit brutal.

Lordgenome – Gurren Lagann

Best Anime Antagonists Who Weren’t Actually Villains

While I wouldn’t call Lordgenome a great guy in regards to his actions in Gurren Laagan, you can’t necessarily call them evil or villainous either. 

At the outset of the show, it seems like the Spiral King created Beastman to drive humanity underground for no other reason than he could, even though he’s human himself. After this antagonist is defeated during the first act, though, we learn that he did everything to protect the world from a bigger threat. 

While he may have acted tyrannically, losing himself in the process, his intentions were for the good of humanity. Lordgenome even goes out of his way to earn redemption, proving he isn’t so different from Kamina and Simon.

Meruem – Hunter X Hunter (2011)

Best Anime Antagonists Who Weren’t Actually Villains

villains, anime, antagonists

As soon as animals are born, their survival depends on acting on their instincts. Doing so means finding nourishment and protecting themselves by any means necessary. 

In Hunter X Hunter, the Chimera Ants are born as high-functioning animals, wielding high intelligence and a power known as Nen at their fingertips. Meruem is the strongest of all of them, born so powerful that no one can oppose him. 

As such, it is no surprise that Meruem’s goal is as simple as conquering and ruling as King. As time goes on, the King of the Ants slowly learns what it is to be human, showing that he was mostly acting on his animal instincts ever since he was born.

Teruki Hanazawa – Mob Psycho

Best Anime Antagonists Who Weren’t Actually Villains

British historian Lord Acton once said, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” For the case of Teruki Hanazawa, a gifted middle school Esper, power was all he ever knew. 

Teruki is so naturally powerful throughout the formative years of his life that he ends up molding his personality around it. This attitude leads to a cocky and brash nature that makes him come off as villainous when introduced as an antagonist in Mob Psycho. 

It doesn’t take long for him to pick on the wrong person, though, as Mob humbles him after going into a rage. From that point on, Teruki not only acts as a friend to Mob but also discourages others from going down the same path he initially took, doing his best to atone for his previous arrogance. 

Isabelle – The Promised Neverland

Best Anime Antagonists Who Weren’t Actually Villains

villains, anime, antagonists

It’s hard to imagine anyone who threatens children with violence for wanting to leave as anything but villainous, but hear me out when it comes to Isabelle. 

Introduced initially as the caretaker for the protagonists of The Promised Neverland, Isabelle’s attitude toward the orphans is simultaneously affectionate and extremely loathing. She does anything to keep them from escaping, literally monitoring their every behavior like a prison warden, serving as the main antagonist at the start. 

The twist is in everything Isabelle was shielding them from in the outside world. She hoped to provide them a confined life of comfort, instead of exposing them to the harsh realities of the savage world of The Promised Neverland.

Aoi Todo – Jujutsu Kaisen

At first glance, Aoi Todo really does kind of come off like a villain in Jujutsu Kaisen. He’s ripped, cocky, and has a pretty intimidating scar on his face that just screams, “I’m probably a bad guy.” Combine this with the fact that he completely beats the crap out of Megumi the first time we meet him, and it’s safe to say that our first impressions of this Jujutsu Kaisen character aren’t that great.

Yet, despite these antagonistic traits and actions, it isn’t long before we see that Todo just has a really odd personality and code of conduct when it comes to dealing with other Jujutsu Sorcerers. This is best on display when it comes to what happens during the Goodwill Event.

Despite being told to kill Yuji Itadori, Todo actually ends up befriending, teaching, and protecting the Jujutsu Kaisen protagonist, even fighting side by side with him to take on the special grade curse Hanami. Like Thorkell the Tall, this character is just another big guy that loves fighting and really hates it when people don’t have similar mindsets or beliefs as him.

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Andrew McMahon
Andrew was Twinfinite's Features Editor from 2020 through until March 2023 and wrote for the site from 2018. He has wandered around with a Bachelor's Degree in Communications sitting in his back pocket for a while now, all the while wondering what he is going to do for a career. Luckily, video games have always been there, especially as his writing career progresses.