Script written by Jonathan Alexander
Top 20 Anime Villains Who Had Justifiable Motives
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Anime Villains Who Had Justifiable Motives.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the anime antagonists who were driven by understandable reasons. Be warned, there’s a few spoilers up ahead.
Who’s your favorite morally-gray anime villain? Let us know in the comments below!
“Dr. Stone” (2019-)
Growing up, Tsukasa had to give everything just to keep his sister on life support. So, when a surge of global petrification turned most of humanity into stone figures, he didn’t see it as a curse. No, he saw it as a chance for a clean slate. Out with the old, tired reliance on technology, and in with a pure, untainted way of life. Now, admittedly, going around shattering the remains of an entire generation is a bit excessive. But, you can’t exactly blame Tsukasa for harboring so much resentment towards modern society. After all, it never gave him a reason to believe anything else.
“Dragon Ball Super” (2015-18)
On paper, Universe 11’s victory in the Tournament of Power means the utter obliteration of everything Goku knows and loves. But, it’s nothing personal. Only one universe can make it out of this fight alive. It’s not Jiren’s fault for trying to save his people, even if it does doom Goku and the others. If you want to start pointing fingers, the Omni Kings are the real villains here. They planned the tournament, set the stakes, and then proceeded to watch it all go down like some kind of sick reality show. Jiren’s just playing to win, and as they say, don’t hate the player. Hate the game.
#18: Takano Miyo
“Higurashi When They Cry” (2006) & “Higurashi When They Cry: Kai” (2007)
Tragic backstories can only do so much, but damn, Takano’s is hard to resist. Her adopted-father, Hifumi, was the only person who treated her with any kind of respect. Unfortunately, he didn’t receive the same from his peers. When Hifumi died as the laughing stock of the scientific community, Takano vowed to complete his research on Hinamizawa Syndrome by any means necessary. Including mass murder. In Takano’s eyes, society had never given her or Hifumi mercy. Why should she give it to them? To be fair, Takano does make some rather “killer” headway on her adopted father’s research. It just so happens that her invaluable progress comes at a very high price.
#17: Thief King Bakura
“Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters” (2000-04)
For all the good Yugi’s done with the Millenium Items, it will never outweigh what it cost to make them. Turns out, the golden artifacts were created by massacring the entire village of Kul Elna. Well, almost the entire village. A young Bakura was spared from the bloodshed. But, considering he had to see everyone he loves die, that’s not as kind as it sounds. Since Bakura then gets possessed by the vengeful spirits of his village, you could say he really knows how to hold a grudge. And honestly? We get it. If we had to sit through that kind of torment, we’d want to destroy the Millenium Items, too.
#16: Daki & Gyutaro
“Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” (2019-)
Before they were Upper Rank Demons, these two siblings were just kids trying to scrape by. They worked, they struggled, and they cried, and to show for it, Daki and Gyutaro were left to die in the street. That is, until a demon came around and gave them a second chance. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? With new, demon-blood coursing through their veins, Daki and Gyutaro doled out payback to any mortal who dared cross their path. Their methods aren’t anything close to what you’d call “charitable.” But, there’s something to be said about the fact that they didn’t start this fight; they’re just ending it.
“Naruto: Shippuden” (2007-17)
For what it’s worth, Nagato tried to handle things peacefully, and all it did was cost him his parents, his best friend, and his morals. In the heartbreak, Nagato realized that the only way to usher in peace was to show the world what real suffering looks like. And he was more than willing to do the honors himself. This time, under a new name: Pain. Look, it’s impossible to feel bad for the Akatsuki leader after everything he did to Jiraiya and Konoha. And yet, deep down, Pain wants the same thing as everything else. The only difference is how far he’s willing to go to get it.
#14: Suguru Geto
“Jujutsu Kaisen” (2020-)
Curses come from the negative emotions of mortals. Suguru Geto argues that if you remove those humans from the equation, you naturally get rid of all the curses, too. And, what’s more, you’re left with a society that’s been culled down to sorcerers, and sorcerers alone. It’d be a good plan if it didn’t involve murdering every mortal on the planet. But, for Geto, that’s a fair tradeoff. He’s seen the vile things humans are capable of, and doesn’t think they’re worth saving anymore. Plus, there’s an argument to be made that, by eliminating curses now, you’d save lives in the long run. Geto may be radical, but he has some good points.
#13: Lord Kagemitsu Daigo
Let’s get the big one out of the way. Did Daigo sacrifice his firstborn to demons in the name of glory and fame? Yes, absolutely. But, the results don’t lie. Daigo’s people flourished under his new rule; that’s an objective fact. The thing is, he needs the demons’ influence to keep it that way. If his son were to ever reclaim his body, the entire nation would fall into ruin. Daigo isn’t fighting his kin for pride, he’s doing it for the sake of his people. Say what you will about him as a husband, a father, and an overall human being. But, you’ve gotta admit Daigo’s a pretty decent leader.
#12: Zeke Yeager
“Attack on Titan” (2013-)
The Yeager family knows better than anyone that the power of Titans shouldn’t be in the hands of humans. Since that curse falls upon the Eldians, most people are content to kill them off and call it a day. But, Zeke has a better plan. With Eren’s help, he could sterilize the Eldians, allowing their race to die out without any more bloodshed. In this world, dying from old age is the best anyone could ask for. While the story frames Zeke as an antagonist, in reality, his plan would probably save the most lives. That doesn’t absolve him of his many, many sins, but it does put them into perspective.
#11: Gendo Ikari
“Neon Genesis Evangelion” (1995-96)
Nothing says true love like trying to restart reality. And that’s just scratching the surface of Gendo’s actions. In the name of his dead wife, he lied, cheated, stole, killed, and more. Still, it’s difficult to feel anything other than pity for the guy. The loss of his beloved clearly consumed his soul. So, when the Human Instrumentality Project gave him a chance at a reunion, he wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way. Not even humanity’s existence as we know it. In Gendo’s defense, the shifty SEELE organization truly believed Human Instrumentality was for the best. Even if Gendo disagreed, he wasn’t acting out of malice. Only grief.
#10: Shogo Makishima
In this alternate reality, the Sibyl System acts as the judge, jury, and executioner. Capable of determining a person's crime coefficient before any actual wrongdoings are carried out, this law enforcement enterprise shapes Japan's entire civilization. Despite embodying the cruelest traits imaginable, Shogo Makishima lives free of Sibyl's scrutiny, a fact that convinces the villain to destroy the obviously flawed system. Basically, Makishima's goal is to liberate the nation from Sibyl's authoritative control and force people to start scrutinizing their own behavior. If it was not for all the senseless murder, Makishima would be almost inspirational.
“My Hero Academia” (2016-)
Improving society, one dead pro hero at a time! Garnering a reputation as a violent vigilante, Stain detests the way society has commercialized and cheapened the concept of a hero. In the villain's mind, All Might is the only one who embodies the altruistic and pure traits required to be accepted as a true hero and believes that everyone else is only interested in using their Quirks to gain power, fame, or riches. Determined to eliminate fake heroes, Stain seems aware these actions are undoubtedly wrong; however, the villain believes such measures are necessary for the greater good.
#8: Shishio Makoto
“Rurouni Kenshin” (1996-98)
Appointed as Kenshin's successor by the Meiji government, Shishio Makoto assassinated anyone deemed to be a threat to the regime. The swordsman was invaluable during the Boshin War, but the government realized Shishio knew too much and needed to be eliminated. Burned alive by the samurai's so-called allies, Shishio, somehow, managed to survive. Understandably upset by this turn of events, Shishio dedicated the next decade to plotting the government's downfall. Now, in all fairness, Shishio was always ruthless, sadistic, and power-hungry; even if the betrayal never occurred, the villain might have still eventually tried to seize the throne.
“Puella Magi Madoka Magica” (2011)
What is a magical girl anime without an adorable mascot? As a deconstruction of the genre, "Puella Magi Madoka Magica" subverts expectations by villainizing the sentient plush toy who originally endows the girls with magical powers as a way to fight Witches. Belonging to an emotionless species known as the Incubators, Kyuubey's true goal is to transform magical girls into Witches, as this produces a great deal of energy that can be harnessed to postpone the universe's destruction. Kyuubey is beyond detestable, but the Incubators are genuinely striving to protect everything.
#6: Shinobu Sensui
“Yu Yu Hakusho” (1992-94)
A former spirit detective, "Chapter Black Saga's" antagonist rigidly believed in one universal truth: humans are innately good while demons are born evil. Driven by this narrow world-view, Shinobu Sensui thoughtlessly slaughtered countless demons, but this all changed when the Black Angel stumbled upon a ritual where humans pointlessly tortured demons for entertainment. Unable to accept this revelation and overwhelmed by guilt due to possibly killing numerous innocent demons, Sensui's mind shattered into various personalities as a means to cope. On the surface, Sensui wished to trigger the apocalypse, but the villain's true goal was to seek atonement by dying at the hands of a demon.
“Gurren Lagann” (2007)
Stuck between a rock and never-ending waves of powerful aliens seeking to eradicate humanity, the Spiral King decided to prioritize salvation above anything else. As long as the last few remaining colonies remained underground, the Anti-Spirals agreed to not completely wipe out humanity; consequently, Lordgenome established a tyrannical army to slaughter anyone who pierced through to the surface. During "Gurren Lagann's" initial episodes, the Spiral King comes across as a power-hungry dictator desperate to subjugate any and all people; by the end of the series, Lordgenome is regarded as a valuable ally in the war against the Anti-Spirals.
“From the New World” (2012-13)
This Monster Rat is the living embodiment of "do not judge a book by its cover." Taking place in a universe populated by a tiny portion of super-powered humans who outlasted everyone else, "From the New World" boils down to a war between humans and suppressed creatures known as queerats. As the leader of the revolt, Squealer talks about craving equality for all races but believes such a feat cannot be accomplished if humans were allowed to live. The anime's final episode reveals queerats are actually ordinary humans whose DNA was forcibly mutated, and Squealer wished to destroy a cruel regime built on lies.
#3: Light Yagami
“Death Note” (2006-07)
Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that is before a magical death-granting book is added to the equation. The son of a detective and loved by all, Light Yagami sought to use the Death Note's powers to forge a world free of crime or injustice. Initially, the protagonist only writes down the names of people deemed to be evil; putting aside whether such a decision should be left to a teenage boy, Light's utilitarian motives steadily subside in favor of ruthless self-preservation. While Light manages to significantly reduce the world's crime rate, this outcome was achieved by instilling wide-spread fear rather than promoting a sense of justice.
#2: The Principality of Zeon
“Mobile Suit Gundam” series (1979-)
Despite regular comparisons to the Nazis, this nation's initial goal was essentially the complete opposite of an oppressive regime. Succumbing to a heart-attack seconds before announcing the Autonomous Republic of Munzo's liberation from the Earth Federation, Zeon Zum Deikun inadvertently leaves the nation in the hands of Degwin Zabi, who eventually announces the Principality of Zeon's independence and declares war on the Federation. Degwin's methods may have been questionable, but the dictator's son was responsible for truly pushing Zeon into villainous territory. Seeking to destroy all human life on Earth to make room for the nation's so called superior race, Gihren was even compared to Hitler by Degwin.
“Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” (2009-10)
Craving justice for a cruel civil war that led to the slaughter of an entire nation, the serial killer's hatred is perfectly understandable. Identified by an X-shaped facial wound, Scar sought retribution against State Alchemists, who were responsible for the vast majority of deaths during the Ishlavan Civil War. While the villain's efforts may have been driven by grief, Scar exterminated State Alchemists without discrimination and the serial killer's actions hardly benefited the remaining Ishvalan refugees. But, if anything this act of revenge has some grounds of justification for the Ishlavan survivor.