In any anime, any genre, a good antagonist almost always steals the show.
Although not always, they often provide the driving force, and are a huge part of what make the anime something notable. As great as a protagonist may be, part of that greatness is certainly derived, from the extent to which the antagonists push them to their limits. Through the villain, the story is pushed to higher stakes, the plot becomes something worth being invested in, and our interest as watchers increases. And, honestly, there’s quite a lot of villains that meet these criteria- lots of them are done really, really, really well.
That being said, I’d like to talk about some of my personal favorite villains that fit the bill- the five villains that, in my book, encompass what villains in any anime should be.
1. Yami Bakura (Yu-Gi-Oh!)
Okay, this choice is a bit more out of the way, perhaps, but let me explain myself.
Apart from being a nostalgic villain from my childhood, I genuinely enjoy what Yami Bakura does for the original Yu-Gi-Oh! series. Bakura appears on a consistent basis throughout all five seasons of the original show, as an on and off villain. Taking over the body of friend to the gang, Ryo Bakura, he would always have the same thing going for him. He’d appear every so often to do something villainous, disappear, and come back, all with the same smug demeanor, and the same confidence that whatever happened, he would win in the end. Fast-forward four seasons, and man, he shows that his confidence wasn’t for nothing. Ending up as the big, final boss for Yugi and the gang to defeat, Yami Bakura proved himself an intimidating, formidable opponent for the gang to defeat.
What made Yami Bakura great in my eyes was his unwavering confidence- as how as how the series DELIVERED on that confidence. Perhaps it was his maniacal voice, the fact that he turned out to be the main villain of the entire series, or maybe it was his creepy, demented facial expressions. For whatever reason, Yami Bakura was really the first villain to cement himself in my brain as one of the best. His hammy personality, delightful, undead and darkness themed decks, as well as his general confidence and cunning made him, in my opinion, the best villain of any of the nostalgic anime out there.
2. L (Death Note)
Let’s be honest here, L was basically 75% of why we watched Death Note.
L’s eccentric behaviors, genius-level intellect, and contrasting views with series protagonist, Light, made Death Note (well, its first half) one of the most thrilling anime of all time. Light always appeared so far ahead of everyone- the police, his friends, his adversaries, that L’s consistent ability to keep up, and at times, surpass Light, stood out even more. From deducing Light’s location in Japan, to deciphering the mystery of the Death Note before anyone else, L provided a constant challenge, one that, honestly, made the L vs Light rivalry one of the most well-known, quality conflicts in all of anime.
Not to mention, L had huge amounts of personality. His unique sitting position, to his obsession with sweets, his odd speaking patterns, all of it combines to create a character that, despite having little to no concrete history, captured the hearts and minds of all those who watched Death Note. L, despite being the antagonist by definition, was certainly the good guy- and a great one at that.
3. Frieza (Dragonball Z)
Going all the way back to a CLASSIC foe, Frieza was, for many, the first truly terrifying villain of anime.
Intimidating, powerful, seemingly unstoppable, Frieza became a truly iconic villain, thanks to his part in the story of Dragonball Z. He was, in many ways, the antagonist that pushed Goku and the gang the most. Delivering ruthless beatdowns onto Vegeta, Gohan, Krillin, committing multiple genocides without a second thought, you could feel both Frieza’s power, and his huge distance from anything resembling morality. Pushing Goku to his limits and beyond, he was an antagonist that, unlike any of the others on this list, in many ways, simply felt unbeatable.
Frieza was the ultimate obstacle- a final boss if you’ve ever saw one. Of course, Cell, Majin Buu, they both provided huge challenges in their own rights, but Frieza’s absolute ruthlessness, and above-it-all demeanor was pervasive: proven from his very first introduction. Combined with his transformations, which (for the most part) all look intimidating, and sleek in their own way, his hammy narcissism and his immense power made the Namek arc of Dragonball Z one of the high points of the series for many, many people.
4. Johan Liebert (Monster)
Now we’re getting to an antagonist who, in many ways, has been lauded as one of the best in all of anime: Johan Liebert.
If Frieza’s the villain who believes he’s perfect, Johan is the one who, quite honestly, has achieved that perfection. A genius in all points, charismatic, good looking, seemingly perfect in any sense, Johan is a villain that feels implacable- but in a different way than any other villain before, and after. Acting on his nihilistic beliefs that life does not mean anything, he kills, murders, and through it all, remains a static force- one that has his own, unknown motivations, a force that is simply unstoppable.
Johan is a monster, plain and simple. There are antagonists that are humanized, like L, antagonists whose purpose is to provide a challenge for the hero, like Frieza, and antagonists that serve to simply create an entertaining plot, like Bakura. However, Johan serves a different purpose- almost like he was meant to represent the depths of evil himself. He shows just how ruthless, just how villainous, a villain can really be. And throughout it all, he’s engaging- an intriguing personality to see at work, despite knowing the horrors he is instigating. Johan is a one-of-a-kind antagonist, and from a narrative standpoint, potentially the best anime has to offer.
5. Father (Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
Father is an enigmatic being- older than any human, a mystical existence, shrouded in mystery, Father is the schemer, the one who wishes for power, and perhaps something more.
In any medium, there’s something to be said for a sense of mystery. It’s like a good Sherlock Holmes novel, or some old-fashioned mystery movies- finding out who is responsible for the events behind the scenes is interesting, thrilling, and, potentially, a great moment for whatever story you’re experiencing. To me, Father is like that: powerful, mysterious, with motivations that actually remain unknown to our protagonists, he is, in my mind, perhaps the best thematic villain on this list.
Father is an antagonist that, despite not directly existing to fight with any of our main characters, serves a larger purpose than that. He is ruthless in his own right, despite not showcasing it, and he sacrifices anything to get what he wants, but doesn’t really brag about it. Rather, Father, in many ways, feels like an independent being, as summation of the messages of Full Metal Alchemist. Powerful, both in-universe, and thematically, he is an example of how a series of build up can make an antagonist hugely successful, rather than the other way around.
Basically. This was a bit of a complicated rant, but Father is a great, great villain- one that feels powerful, almost other-worldly, but in the end, does a great job of testing everything that the heroes have learned throughout their journey. He’s just, overall, one of the best.
So: do you guys have any villains you love, that stick out in your mind? Comment down below your favorite antagonists of anime!