Most anime draw a distinct line between heroes and villains. Even if the villains receive a redemption arc or if the heroes empathize with them, there’s still a clear distinction so that the audience views one group as pure evil and the other as inherently good.
Other anime series, however, blur the lines between them. They challenge the notion that villains are always inherently evil and heroes always have stellar motivations. They recognize that the world does not exist in a strict, black-and-white dichotomy. Instead, they welcome the idea of a morally ambiguous grey area where complex characters can thrive.
10/10 Berserk’s Protagonist Is A Brutal Antihero
Guts from Berserk is the perfect example of a gritty seinen antihero. In many ways, he inspired the ones who came after him. Berserk, as a whole, challenges the idea of eternal optimism and even implies that life never gets better, no matter how hard somebody tries. By extension, Guts challenges the idea that being the ultimate do-gooder means that everybody will come to his side, so he doesn’t do that.
Guts lives in a morally ambiguous sphere where, though he’s killing terrible people, he does awful things to them before dealing the finishing blow. The audience cheers for him, but not without a sense of guilt. Guts’ story cemented him as one of anime’s best-written antiheroes because he doesn’t change his behavior to make other characters or the audience more comfortable.
9/10 Akame Ga Kill! Stars A Group Of Killers Who Get Rid Of Criminals
Akame Ga Kill!’s cast isn’t supposed to be interpreted as a bunch of do-gooders getting rid of crime. After all, they’re a group of brutal assassins whose job requires them to get their hands dirty to bump off criminals who their corrupt government let slip through the cracks.
However, they don’t even kill every dangerous criminal since they only care about eliminating crime when the price is right. Akame Ga Kill! celebrates violence, but only because its gritty world-building calls for it.
8/10 Death Note’s Light Yagami Appointed Himself God Of The New World
Death Note was one of the gutsiest shonen series since it bridged into territory that others in the genre wouldn’t dare. In a time of the power of friendship and heroes who don’t challenge the status quo, Death Note introduced Light Yagami, a highly intelligent high school student who appointed himself God of the New World after receiving the titular Death Note.
Light started out only killing criminals, but grew increasingly twisted and paranoid as L and the police force started closing in on him. He used everyone as pawns and eventually killed everybody who got in his way, including his father.
7/10 Code Geass’ Lelouch Commits Evil In The Name Of Eradicating It
One of the most important moments in Code Geass was when Lelouch admitted that he commits evil deeds to eradicate the evil that others commit. Lelouch did many horrible things throughout Code Geass to avenge what he lost under a tyrannical government.
Lelouch exploited whoever he could to get his way and fight against the Britannian Army. However, it’s a mistake for anybody to think that Lelouch is a true ally, even if he brings them in under the idea that they’re rebels with a cause. Lelouch kills friends or foes, depending on whoever is in his way.
6/10 Psycho-Pass Questions The Definition Of Justice
Psycho-Pass is a glimpse into the twenty-second century where the Sibyl System is the arbiter of justice. It determines every citizen’s potential to become a threat through a series of psychological evaluations. With these, it estimates the likelihood of whether or not someone will become a criminal.
Akane, the protagonist, realizes that the system is inherently flawed. However, she wants to enforce the law, so she’s stuck between turning a blind eye or standing up for what she thinks is right.
5/10 Terror In Resonance’s Sibling Duo Commits Terrorism To Expose The Truth
Terror In Resonance stars Nine and Twelve, a sibling duo who commit terrorism in the name of exposing the truth about Japan’s corrupt government. Directed by Shinichiro Watanabe and produced by MAPPA, Terror In Resonance is a cerebral exploration of a society held hostage by the fear of another terrorist attack breaking out.
Nine and Twelve’s reign of terror resulted in societal changes up to the highest levels, with the Japanese government rewriting their constitution to account for their destruction and the U.S. government stepping in to make an even bigger mess out of a pre-existing disaster.
4/10 Tokyo Ghoul’s Ken Kaneki Has An Eye-For-An-Eye Mentality
Tokyo Ghoul is too often chalked up as fodder for edgelords and emo kids, but there’s meaningful social commentary found in the series. Ken Kaneki is a case study into the dichotomy between monsters and humans. While many anime series explore the man-versus-monster battle, Tokyo Ghoul turns it into an internal struggle. Kaneki is a half-ghoul, so he’s isolated from both humans and other ghouls.
By the same token, he’s the only one who can understand both sides. Kaneki started out as a soft-spoken kid who feared his own shadow but became much colder after enduring ten consecutive days of brutal torture at Yamori’s hands. Kaneki made Yamori pay for everything he did, essentially taking on an eye-for-an-eye mentality.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood unpacks and delves into many complicated topics, but the lines between hero and villain blurred themselves after Winry and Scar’s backstories were fully revealed. Scar was running on pure spite alone and vowed to eradicate alchemists and Amestrisians. He woke up disoriented after an arm transmutation and killed the doctors tasked with taking care of him.
In a tragic twist of fate, those doctors just happened to be Winry’s parents. Now, Winry was motivated by the same sense of revenge, loss, and confusion as Scar after he woke up without his brother. Their fight came to a head when Winry struggled to pull the trigger. Scar was depicted as the ultimate evil, while Winry was introduced as a pure-hearted hero. Both facades were broken by the end of their fight.
2/10 Bungou Stray Dogs Unites Heroes & Villains Over Their Mutual Love Of Yokohama
Other series blur the line between heroes and villains in gritty settings where everyone is always pitted against each other, but Bungou Stray Dogs does the opposite. It forces its supposed “bad guys” to work alongside “good guys” to defend the city they all love so much, Yokohama.
Members of the Armed Detective Agency have a history with members of the Port Mafia, and one of the best moments in the series was when the Port Mafia’s Akutagawa teamed up with Atsushi to defeat the Renewed Guild’s leader, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, before he crashed the Moby Dick into Yokohama and blew up the city.
1/10 It Pays To Be Bad In Attack On Titan
Attack On Titan is the epitome of a series where viewers can’t tell who’s a hero or villain until it’s too late. In the beginning, Reiner, Bertholdt, and Annie betrayed the Survey Corps since they were Marleyan operatives. By the end, Eren Jaeger went from an anti-hero to a downright murderous villain when he started The Rumbling. At that point, the Marleyan Warrior trio teamed up with their former friends in the Survey Corps to stop Eren’s reign of terror before it was too late.
The Marleyans and Eldians have been feuding for centuries. The war never ends, with both sides committing unthinkable atrocities and coming to see each other as enemies. However, they still managed to find allies in one another when it was time to team up against a greater evil.
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