Anime isn’t just about heroes protecting the world and fighting villains. Sometimes, we see central characters who lack heroic attributes in a story. We call them anti-heroes. They aren’t necessarily villains or even heroes, for that matter. Anti-heroes play a major part in the story, where they literally do whatever they want. Some are psycho, hurting people unnecessarily, while others are those who claim to fight for the better of the world by committing bad deeds. Regardless, no matter the reason, a bad deed is still unforgivable. However, anti-heroes in anime are still much loved by the audience, just as they love heroes.
But their selfish tendencies and unethical deeds make them easy to confuse with villains. The thing that makes anti-heroes different from villains is their redeeming qualities, and they are someone the audience root for, even after having so many flaws. But if we think about it, even the noblest characters have a dark side to them. We love seeing characters like Luffy and Naruto in action but seeing anti-heroes like Light Yagami, and Ken Kaneki gives us more thrill. With that in mind, let’s have a look at our list of the 15 most memorable anti-heroes in anime that everyone can’t help but love and root for.
1. Sebastian Michaelis – Black Butler:
Sebastian is one of the main protagonists of the series. This demon butler is a perfect butler devoted to his master Ciel Phantomhive. He faithfully serves Ciel and carries out his every order. Not only that, Sebastian smoothly runs the Phantomhive household as the head butler. Being a demon, Sebastian does not sleep, and he often spends his nights fulfilling his duties. He also protects Ciel from any potential danger. He sounds like a perfect butler, right? Well, he’s not.
Sebastian Michaelis is a demon who has a contract with Ceil Phantimhive. After his parents’ death, Ciel sold his soul to the demon and offered him a contract where Sebastian can consume his soul if he helps him get his revenge. Ciel’s parents were murdered in an elaborate plot during the power struggle in England. The young boy manages to survive the attack only to sell his soul to the demon. Since then, Sebastian takes the form of a butler and starts working for him.
Sebastian’s only goal is to fulfill the terms of the contract and consume Ciel’s soul. So he helps Ciel in every way possible. Nonetheless, he is a callous and sadistic demon who ruthlessly attacks others on Ciel’s orders. He even puts Ciel in danger for amusement, only when he knows he can save him. Regardless, we still love this demon butler and his antics.
2. Revy – Black Lagoon:
Rebecca Lee, nicknamed Revy, is the main female protagonist of Black Lagoon. She is a loud, rude, and considerably aggressive person who exhibits a wild temperament. Revy uses more foul language than any character in the series and is a heavy smoker and drinker. Despite that, she can show humor and be talkative when she isn’t angry. Not only that, she is a merciless and sadistic killer who kills anyone at the slightest provocation.
However, it is shown in the series that Revy uses violence as a coping mechanism for her own psychological issues. She has emotional scars due to her verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in the past. Due to being abused by those in power, Revy has also developed an obsession with power that causes her dominative and merciless nature. Behind the facade of a ruthless killer and savage person, Revy hides a profound lack of inner-strength and fear of her powerlessness that she felt as a child.
The series later suggests that Revy actually hates the person she has become and doesn’t know how to change. When Rock begins to confront her for her maniacal antics, she slowly realizes her flaws and begins to wonder who she really is. Her tragic past and the changes in Revy’s personality because of that makes her one of our favorite anti-heroes in anime.
3. Scar – Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood:
The scar is an antagonist turned anti-hero in the reboot series of Fullmetal Alchemist. He is an Ishvalan survivor of the Ishvalan Civil War. The Ishvalans were pacifists and had a strong belief in their God. The military slaughtered the innocent people of Ishvals for an elaborate scheme, and Scar lost his parents and brother in that genocide. His brother had a vast knowledge of Alchemy and Alkahestry. After Scar’s brother died to protect him, he gave Scar his left arm that follows the deconstruction phase of alchemy. The Ishvalans considered alchemy as unnatural and a taboo to their religion.
Since the war ended, Scar hunted many State Alchemists and killed whoever he could find. His path of revenge goes against the teachings of his homeland. Because of committing murder and using alchemy, he committed many sins and forsake his given name. Ishvalans believed their names to be a gift from God, and since Scar had committed so many sins, he believed he is now unworthy of his given name.
However, Scar wasn’t a maniacal killer. He only did what he thought was right. He believed himself as an agent of God and passed divine judgment on those who destroyed his homeland. Unfortunately, his hatred led him to attack Edward Elric, who had nothing to do with the war. But Scar still tried to kill him. Later in the series, he changed for the better and helped Edward and the others against the Homunculi. Scar had deep compassion for his people deep down, hinted at earlier in the series, but it only surfaced in the later episodes. Even after the epilogue, he helped Mustang reestablish order in Amestris and regain Ishval.
4. Alucard – Hellsing:
Alucard is the main protagonist of the Hellsing series. He is a vampire and works for the Hellsing Organization that hunts vampires and other supernatural forces. Alucard is not any ordinary vampire; the series implies that he is the strongest vampire alive, making him the strongest character in the Hellsing series. He was formerly a human who changed into a vampire more than 500 years ago.
Alucard can take on any appearance he desires. However, he typically appears as a tall adult man who seems to be around 45. He is ruthless in the killing, and he only finished his target until he completely disables and humiliates them. Alucard belittles his opponents and taunts them before he kills them. Despite his antics, he does have some humanity left. Alucard is capable of shedding tears and showing affection to those who are dear to him.
However, underneath his arrogance and cruelty, he hides a sorrowful part of him envious of humans. He respects humans who endure until old age before they die because he was unable to do that. Alucard wishes to die as a human or a mortal, and he often expresses that wish. Not only that, he disgusts the vampires who hunt humans without any reason or purpose. As a human, he had a great belief in God. But due to his tragic past, he believed that his God had abandoned him, so he abandoned God in turn. He then drank the blood of his scorched and besieged homeland and became a vampire. Fortunately, his hatred of God decreased over the years, and he believed that it was his own hatred for the people who hurt him that made him lose everything.
5. Guts – Berserk:
Guts are the main protagonist of the Berserk series. He is a mercenary who travels from company to company and is always fighting. The series describes him as a pessimistic man who doesn’t make friends. He will kill hundreds of people without any remorse. Guts developed this type of personality due to his sufferings as a child and numerous betrayals.
However, Guts still harbors a strong sense of justice and compassion. He is willing to fight for the right thing and condemning Griffith for betraying everyone’s trust. Being a normal human, his strength to carry and wield a sword of such magnitude makes him a grandmaster with unparalleled skills. Guts possess qualities like persistence and resilience. Through his countless trials, he always perseveres and continues to prevail against unfavorable situations.
6. Light Yagami – Death Note:
Light Yagami is one of the most popular anti-heroes in anime. He is the protagonist of the Death Note series. Before discovering the Death Note, he was an intelligent high school student. Being the son of a police officer, Light developed a strong sense of justice. He was popular in school and adored by his family. However, his sense of justice quickly becomes twisted after he finds the Death Note. He starts believing that the world is rotten and the only way to change is through Death Note.
The light goes on a killing streak, writing the names of criminals in the Death Note and making them die in a way he wishes. He earns the nickname “Kira” due to his mass murder. His main goal is to rid the world of injustice with the use of Death Note. He believes only honest and kind people are worthy of being alive. However, through the continuous use of Death Note, Light develops a ruthless personality, and he would do anything to achieve his goals, even if it means hurting the innocent.
The light didn’t hesitate to use Misa Amane’s feelings for him to his own advantage. He manipulated her and made her do his bidding. However, that’s not the worse. He killed L, who considers Light his friend, even after knowing his secret. Also, Light killed his father to keep the others from finding out his truth. Nonetheless, the series portrayed Light as an idealist, someone who will anything to defend his idea of justice. It wasn’t until his death that he realized that he could’ve done things differently and truly regretted his actions.
7. Vegeta – Dragon Ball Z:
Hot-headed, arrogant, and prideful, Vegeta was the Saiyan Saga’s major antagonist in the Dragon Ball Z series. He was once a ruthless killer and Frieza’s subordinate. His character in the series evolves from an antagonist to an anti-hero and then to a hero. During the Frieza Saga, we saw his past and the reasons for his antics. After the destruction of planet Namek and Frieza’s defeat, Vegeta has nowhere else to go, so he starts living at Bulma’s home.
Until the World Tournament Saga, we saw Vegeta obsessed with power and his immense desire to surpass Goku. He starts fighting alongside the Z fighters during the Androids Saga. However, his reason to fight those villains was anything but noble. Being an elite Saiyan warrior, Vegeta lived to fight. His pride crumbled when he saw a commoner Saiyan being much stronger than him. Vegeta only fought those villains to prove that his powers are superior to Goku’s. During his fight with Android 18, he didn’t even hesitate to kill an innocent truck driver.
However, we saw changes in him when Cell almost kills Trunks, and an infuriated Vegeta madly charges towards the villain. During the World Tournament Saga, Vegeta wreaked havoc and killed many innocent people to convince Goku to fight him. Yet, he also sacrificed himself when he realized no other way to defeat Majin Buu. Even after that, he fought alongside Goku till he saw that Majin Buu is defeated once and for all. Vegeta also has a tragic past; being a proud Saiyan prince, he and his father were often humiliated by Frieza. After Frieza destroyed his planet, Vegeta bore immense hatred for him but could never take revenge because of Frieza’s unparalleled strength.
8. Spike Spiegel – Cowboy Bebop:
Cowboy Bebop is a classic sci-fi and comedy anime with Spike Spiegel as its central character and one of the most popular anti-heroes in anime. He is a former member of the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate who was born on Mars. He left by faking his death after falling in love with a woman named Julia. After leaving the Crime Syndicate, he became a bounty hunter and partner of the Bebop captain, Jet Black. However, Spike’s rival from the Syndicate Vicious, who is also in love with Julia, seeks to kill him during his adventures.
Spike is an indifferent and lazy person who spends most of his time on the Bebop watching Tv or sleeping. His past still haunts him, and he considers that since he “died” once, he doesn’t have any fear of death. Although the world seems cowboys are heroes, Spike is far from the concept of a hero. His sarcastic personality and indifference towards the people close to him make him a typical anti-hero. Spike never bothers to protect anyone if it doesn’t interest him.
He throws himself into action, regardless of the damage it causes to the people and buildings. Also, he doesn’t show any hesitation or moral scruples to kill someone. Yet, despite all this, he is actually kind-hearted and cares for others, though he doesn’t admit it. He doesn’t take advantage of helpless people by taking more money from them, and he also feels sympathetic towards those who have lost someone important in their lives.
9. Sasuke Uchiha – Naruto Shippuden:
Sasuke probably has the most conflicting effects on the audience among all anti-heroes in anime. Fans can’t hate him because of his tragic past and can’t like him either because of his foolish antics. His elder brother Itachi was his idol, and Sasuke grew up looking up to him. So, after Itachi slaughtered the Uchiha clan, Sasuke dedicated his entire life to vengeance. During the original Naruto series, he makes friends with Naruto and fights alongside him on missions.
However, after finding out a way to become stronger with the village’s traitor Orochimaru’s help, Sasuke leaves the Leaf Village and joins him, becoming a rogue ninja. Despite Kakashi, Sakura, and Naruto’s efforts to stop him, Sasuke disappoints everyone by leaving with the criminal. During the Naruto Shippuden series, he developed indifference towards the other members of Team 7 and even tried to kill them. He finally avenges his clan by killing Itachi, only to later find out about his brother’s sacrifices that Itachi made to protect him.
After being manipulated by another Uchiha, he joins a terrorist organization that Itachi was a spy of. Instead of following Itachi’s wish to lead a respectful life, Sasuke wishes to destroy the village that ruined his brother’s life. He plans to start a war against the Leaf Village. However, before he could do so, the Fourth Great Shinobi War started, and Sasuke joined it, claiming no one will destroy the village instead of him. Later on in the series, he begins to fight for the good, and after he plays a major part in winning the war, he fights with Naruto. The match ends in a draw, and Sasuke adopts his brother’s ideals, saying he will atone for his sins by protecting the village from the shadows.
10. Ken Kaneki – Tokyo Ghoul:
Ken Kaneki is a former human who was turned into a man-eating ghoul after an accident. Before the series’s events, he was a bookworm and an optimistic eighteen-year-old boy who wishes to go to a prestigious college. However, his life changes drastically when a doctor transplants ghoul’s organs inside him after an accident, making him an artificial ghoul. Unlike other ghouls who can turn both their eyes red and black, Kaneki can only turn his left eye like that.
During the first season, Kaneki has a hard time accepting the truth and joins up with the owner and member of Anteiku. They all help Kaneki deal with his transformation and starts to care for him like a family. However, later in the first season, a maniac ghoul Jason, kidnaps him and tortures him for pleasure. Jason mercilessly tortures him for ten straight days, breaking him physically and mentally. During that time, Kaneki remembers his past, where his mother always beats him over his littlest demands.
A ghoul becomes strong after going through that kind of pain, and that’s what happened with Kaneki. His hair turns white and nails black, and he becomes one of the strongest ghouls in the series. He leaves Anteiku and joins the same terrorist organization that tortured him. After the first season, he becomes cold and ruthless. However, he was only doing what he thought was the best way to protect his friends. Even though Kaneki committed many crimes under the organization, deep down, he remained the kind and compassionate Kaneki. Even months after the torture, he often loses control and acts like a maniac, repeating the words he said while being tortured.
11. Mugen – Samurai Champloo:
Mugen is one of the main protagonists of the Samurai Champloo series. Unlike Jin, the other protagonist of the series, Mugen is a rude and temperamental person. His lewd, vulgar, and unhinged behavior make him an anti-hero in the series. Mugen loves fighting and doesn’t follow the typical sword fighting style. Rather his unorthodox fighting style includes bits of all martial arts forms, making his movements extremely unpredictable for his opponents. He is a quick learner, and once he sees an interesting move, he tries to incorporate it into his fighting style.
Mugen is an extremely competitive person and wouldn’t refuse any challenge. He also has a swordsman’s pride and would rather die fighting than beg for his life on his knees. Despite his rude behavior, Mugen can accept people as his comrades, even though he claims he doesn’t want to. Jin and Mugen are arch-rivals for most of the series. However, later he begins to respect Jun and says he doesn’t want to kill him, putting an end to their rivalry.
12. Tanya von Degurechaff – The Saga of Tanya the Evil:
Tanya is the main protagonist of the series. Originally living a life of a salaryman who was murdered in 2013, he was reborn as a young girl in an alternate version of Europe during the late Interwar period. At the age of nine, Tanya joins the Empire’s Mage troops and becomes the Second Lieutenant. She showed great talents, strategies, and ruthlessness, making her a useful asset to the Empire and a threat to their enemies. She graduates from the War College as one of the 12 knights, earning the title of von.
Tanya has a very complex personality, having both superiority and inferiority complexes. Tanya is cold and calculating, using others as objects for her own advantage. However, this type of ruthlessness allowed her to increase through the ranks in the military rapidly. She is not only power-hungry but also cruel and sadistic. She disapproves of failure and disobedience from subordinates. In the first episode of the series, Tanya purposely arranges two insubordinate soldiers’ deaths under her. Tanya’s personality doesn’t have any positive traits to speak of and one of the cruelest anti-heroes in anime.
13. Greed – Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood:
He is the embodiment of the greed of the series’ main antagonist, “Father.” As his name suggests, he likes luxury and pangs of hunger for power, money, women, and status. During the series, we get to see two Greed. One was in earlier episodes of the series, where he confronted Edward and his brother, hoping to learn how to attach his soul to a suit of armor. He had chimera friends who fought for him. However, Wrath shows up and slaughters all his friends. After that, he takes Greed to Father, where he gets turned into a philosopher’s stone, again returning to Father’s body.
The second Greed was forced in the body of Ling Yao, a prince from a neighboring nation. Since then, Ling and Greed shared the same body for a few months. Despite his desire for power and money, Greed is shown as a compassionate and kind being. Even though he was a homunculus, he parted ways with them several decades ago and followed his own path. He rescued few people, who were turned into chimeras against their will, and started living with them. Even after his reincarnation in Ling’s body, he shows immense grief for his friends’ death after he regains his memories.
He fights alongside Edward and the others on the “Promised Day” to save Amestris. Greed dies for a second time because of Father, and while Ling tried to save him by holding on to his soul, Greed tricks him into letting his guard down and punches him. As a result, Ling loses hold of him, and he ends up being sucked. Greed did that to save Ling so he won’t end up getting sucked too. After that, Greed also said that it was the first time in his life that he ever lied.
14. Angelo Lagusa – 91 Days:
Angelo Lagusa is one the most underrated anti-heroes in anime. He is the protagonist of the 91 Days series. As a child, he witnessed his parents and brother’s murder on his birthday. Due to that, he harbors a deep hatred for his family’s killer. He receives a mysterious letter from an anonymous man who claims to be his father’s friend and joins the man o avenge his family’s death. He plans to track down the murderers and kill them.
His childhood trauma results in him being a cold and cynical man wearing a neutral face. He rarely shows emotions, and his landlady says that he is so creepy that she doesn’t know whether he is alive or not. Angelo is knowledgeable and often manipulates others to his own advantage. After he finally takes revenge and kills his family’s murderers and the mafia family, he still doesn’t find solace, and days he just as empty as before.
15. Lelouch Lamperouge – Code Geass:
Lelouch is also one of those tragic anti-heroes in anime who fight for the good of the world by committing bad deeds. He is the main protagonist of the series and was exiled from the Empire. He is the 11th prince of the Holy Britannian Empire, and his real name is Lelouch vi Britannia. Lelouch starts using the alias Lelouch Lamperogue after his exile. He is a knowledgeable person who often shows himself as a sociable and easygoing student. However, beneath that facade, he hides his true nature.
He gains the power of Geass, allowing him to manipulate others’ minds and control their actions. He then assumes an alternate identity, “Zero,” and starts being a mask-wearing revolutionary. His main goal is to help the powerless individuals suppressed by those in power. Lelouch is willing to sacrifice anything or anyone to change the unfair world. He wishes to form an ideal world, and for that, he killed many people and committed many crimes.