I’m not really here to discuss what makes a great anime villain or antagonist. I don’t believe there’s any single answer to that. You can have ones that are just downright evil and despicable with their menace carrying them to the top where they loom over as a powerful and intimidating force not to be reckoned with. And you can also have ones who act great as foils or opposites to the hero or protagonist, and are endearing for their charisma and complexity. The important thing in every case is that they’re believable to the viewer. I can buy into these characters because they’re interesting or sympathetic or just too entertaining to question otherwise.
(Dis)honourable mentions go to: Cell from Dragon Ball Z, Orochimaru from Naruto, The Major from Hellsing, Medusa Gorgon from Soul Eater, Ladd Russo from Baccano!, Sensui from Yuu Yuu Hakusho, Kiryuin Ragyo from Kill La Kill and a few others that are slipping my mind at the moment.
Wrath / King Bradley from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
“You clearly have nerves of steel. But, I’d say you still have much to learn about the world.”
I should really say all of the Homunculi in Brotherhood, since together they form quite the well organized antagonist front. But I feel like Bradley deserves a special highlight for being so damn badass and intimidating! The man took out a tank with a sword for GAR’s sake! Previously human, and a soldier who’s trained most of his life, it’s no wonder Bradley is so skilled, but who would expect him to have such class covered in an awesome cordial veneer. Also two swords – awesome. He doesn’t even use alchemy, and he still seems to have the advantage in all of his fights!
He’s a grown man (quite old too – so even more badass) and a leader – a corrupt one who has ruled with both wrath and deception. And despite his wrath he generally appears calm surprisingly pleasant, and has been shown to display both sympathy and compassion to others, as well as a frequent sense of humour. Everything about his character from his appearance (eye-patch included) to his mannerisms and the way he carries himself (keeping up his facade with ease) all the way to his fighting prowess showing just how badass he can be when he lets loose and shows just how wrathful he can be.
Izaya Orihara from Durarara!!
“I am who I am and there is nothing wrong with that. The days continue like they always have, bringing neither excessive desire nor despair, nothing’s changed. Yet I’m overwhelmed by this sense of fulfillment. I’m over here, you’re over there. If I’m your savior, then you’re mine.”
A cunning and intelligent information broker (sounds and looks a lot cooler than it actually is, I imagine) with a birdseye view over the city of Ikebukuro. Perhaps one of the most interesting antagonists on this list, in that he just wants to see how people react to his machiavellian schemes. What I find fascinating about Izaya is that he treats people as pawns, yet claims to love humans. Hmm.
What’s his end-game then? He already has power, money, and great fashion sense, so he can’t be doing it for any of that. And it doesn’t seem like he’s doing it for fame or glory either, so what could it be? For sheer amusement. That’s it. Izaya doesn’t just love humans, he finds their lives and actions deeply fascinating and entertaining. He literally treats playing with their lives like a game – as seen when he has monologues and dialogues about his plans while playing with cards and chess pieces for his own made-up games.
That’s not all though. If he can foresee an (boring) outcome being highly probably, he might mix it up and make things more interesting by adding an obstacle or two or making the right (wrong) phone call for someone else to intervene and liven up the situation. Izaya is not someone who possesses any supernatural ability like Lelouch’s geass. No, he is human, a smart, fast and agile one, but still human, and still capable of being injured or killed at any given moment – especially when he has Shizuo Heiwajima on his tail, among a growing list of enemies.
I mean the guy has his hands on people, not just in person, but both online and over the phone. He hides what people want from their sight, keeps secrets, lies and deceives at every turn, but does so with such a convivial aura that you almost cheer for him just because he draws you in and makes you want to know what will happen as much as he wants to know what will happen.
Basically, Izaya is a douche and the ultimate troll. He believes the entire city is in the palm of his hands and the lives of everyone within it dance to his whim. And for a long time, you can hardly disagree with that notion, considering everyone’s life has been affected by him in one way or another – usually for the worst. What makes him so damn terribly awesome to me is how he uses his intellect and manipulative persuasion to throw everything into chaos and trigger domino effects of reactions in the process, but does so with this childish glee and jovial enthusiasm.
Shogo Makishima from Psycho-Pass
”I think the only time people really have value is when they act according to their own will.”
Definitely one of the most interesting points of discussion an antagonist has had to offer in anime, Makishima is more than his ethereal appearance and unmerciful, unapologetic personality shows. Extremely intelligent, widely cultured, and deeply philosophical, this pure psychopath carries himself as a suave elite and a dangerous anomaly in the sci-fi world of Psycho-Pass.
An incredibly charismatic genius capable of earning the admiration and loyalty of many, and an outlier to the Sibyl System, Makishima’s goal is that of a driven and relentless idealist. A humanist who wants nothing more than for people to be free, but for all the wrong reasons. He’s more keen on bringing out and seeing the crueller, more savage side of humanity than collapsing Sibyl because it’ll break people free for the better. He wants to unleash the worst aspects of human nature and bear witness to people causing others harm and suffering, or as he states himself he wants to see “the splendor of people’s souls”. You can extend this line of thinking as a big reason for why he reads and enjoys dystopian literature so much, as well as him using such texts as sources for quoting his beliefs.
Makishima is deliciously diabolical. Every scene with this guy is just so chilling, because his greatest gift lies in his persuasive speech and ability to manipulate people. He feels separated from society because the Sibyl System fails to recognize him (which may have led him down this path of crime with the goal of destroying the Sibyl System), and also sees the Sibyl System and the humans living under it worthless and disdainful for their dependence – believing that these are people who have given up their free will. He wants people to look carefully at themselves and observe what their motives are, what direction their life is heading and force them to live through their own free will. I think all of this (and much more) is what makes Makishima such an interesting and compelling antagonist.
The Count from Gankutsuou
“Everyone has a sword within their hearts; the purer the heart, the sharper the sword.”
I’d like to give this one special applause for his seiyuu, Nakata Jouji’s stellar performance, delivering the most epic and charming of sweet-talking, revenge-seeking antagonists I’ve seen in a long, long time. Without such a strong talent backing this most beguiling and extremely patient of master manipulators, I don’t think I’d have had such a captivating time watching him gradually and magnificently see him dish out his cold revenge. Easily one of the greatest antagonists I’ve seen in anime.
(Younger) Toguro from Yuu Yuu Hakusho
“I was only being a professional, though I was hoping you’d provide me MUCH MORE ENTERTAINMENT THAN THIS!”
It’s such a rare and delightful treat to get a villain this awesome that not only looks cool, but also has a deep and largely hidden pathos. Toguro is one intimidating badass of a character. This is one extremely powerful dude. He quite literally embodies the belief he stands for – absolute strength. When he first shows up and throws around Yusuke like a ragdoll, you can tell the level of difference in power between the two is oceanic. Yet he allows Yusuke to live with an ultimatum that he enter the Dark Tournament where they will fight again, only this time for real, and after Yusuke has gotten much, much stronger. You see right off the bat that there’s more to Toguro than it seems. Really, there’s no other villain I can think of that is quite like him.
With his extremely large and bulky physique, deep voice and piercing attitude (and those sunglasses), Toguro remains quite the overbearing presence from his introduction to his conclusion in the show. And though his decision in letting Yusuke live may seem odd at first, once his motives and origin are made clear his characterization is suddenly made a hundred times more awesome. He may not have won the dark tournament, but he won best anime antagonist for me.