20 Notable Anti-Hero Characters in AnimeThis post may contain affiliate links. If you buy something we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. (Learn more).
What makes an anime character compelling?
While we all love the stubbornly righteous and heart-warmingly idealistic anime characters that can do no wrong, I think we can all agree this isn’t the only character archetype that can keep our attention.
With the rise of morally flexible characters in anime, our thirst for relatable (albeit more dark and realistic) characters can be quenched pretty easily nowadays.
So then, who among the myriad anime characters offers admirable traits and motivations, but in turn, are also willing to break the conventions of morality for their goals?
And who among these anti-heroes stands out above the rest?
Let’s take a look at some recognizable anti-hero characters that teeter on that thin line between good, naughty, and downright evil.
Whoever said blood is thicker than water surely didn’t take demons and half-demons into account.
Despite being the main character’s half-brother, Sesshomaru (thinking that Inuyasha and his mother were responsible for his father’s death) has had an intense hatred for Inuyasha ever since his childhood.
This hatred eventually developed into a malevolent desire to kill his own brother for his Tessaiga — the blade he wished to receive from his father, but didn’t.
Which led to countless confrontations between them.
He’s also a proud demon, and more often than not he chides Inuyasha for not being a pure-blooded demon like him during their innumerable clashes.
As the series went on, however, we were able to see that he’s so much more than his hatred for his brother.
Surprisingly enough, he fell for a human girl that broke through that hard emotional shell of his, and it eventually changed him for the better.
You cannot become a ruler without a few bodies in your closet.
Being the (former) king of Sindria, the head of the International Alliance, the leader of the Seven Seas Alliance, and the president of the most powerful trading company in the world… Sinbad has no shortage of prestigious titles.
All this, however, came at a cost:
Once a young hopeful youth that traveled the world, he eventually grew up to be quite manipulative and arrogant, as he was later shown to not mind using underhanded tactics and methods that he himself hated as a child.
18. Yagami Light
Anime: Death Note
Say what you will about Kira, but you can’t deny he had good intentions when he started his crusade against the dark criminal underbelly of society.
Or so it appeared.
His crusade, despite its noble beginnings, eventually led him on a path of destruction and chaos — which in turn came at the cost of countless innocent lives — most of which he didn’t even seem to care about.
While his deeds indeed led to a significant drop in crime rate all over the world (and a complete stoppage of all wars), how he made it happen and the people that had to die for it makes you want to ask yourself the question we’ve all been asking in the end:
Was it truly worth it?
17. Yuno Gasai
Anime: Mirai Nikki
What would you do in the name of love?
Are you willing to kill your past self in order to live their life in their stead, Rick and Morty style?
While some might find this act morally reprehensible, Yuno certainly does not.
In fact, she finds very few things morally reprehensible when it comes to protecting and being with her soulmate, Yuki.
Cementing her peak yandere waifu status through her various acts of manipulation and violence, she’s far from the generic sweet pink-haired anime girl – and someone who you wouldn’t want to mess with.
16. Lelouch Vi Britannia
Anime: Code Geass
Power doesn’t corrupt.
It just makes a person more of what they already are.
This much is true for Lelouch, who’s dabbled in all sorts of questionable acts upon acquiring his Geass in order to achieve his grand goal — the Zero Requiem.
Becoming an abandoned child at an early age along with his crippled sister Nunnally, it isn’t all that hard to see why he became what he became.
While he was responsible for much of the tragedies that happened in the show, you can still very much see his essence at the end of his journey:
A visionary who wanted to create a world where everyone could live in peace, and without the threat of yet another war.
15. Rebecca Lee (Revy)
Anime: Black Lagoon
This is arguably one of, if not the most badass female anime character of all time.
Revy by herself is the bulk of the Lagoon Company’s destructive force.
Her philosophy in life revolves around the pursuit of money and power – which she most likely uses as a coping mechanism because of the horrifying amount of childhood trauma she suffered.
She’s a cold, ruthless, and sadistic killer that can fly off the handle at any moment — traits that made her perfect for the criminal lifestyle.
But thanks in no small part to Rock (who incessantly pushes her boundaries and her perception of the world) we’re able to see glimpses of her softer and more understanding side as the series goes on.
Well, not that soft now that I think about it…
But still, it’s an improvement, right?
14. Dr. Bofoi (Metal Knight)
Anime: One Punch Man
As the sixth highest S-ranked hero, Metal Knight has done a lot for the Hero Association.
Construction, weapons, R&D, Infrastructure repair — you name it, he’s done it all.
And by extension, all this has made the cities that don’t even have proper names because of how often they get destroyed, a bit of a safer place to live in.
But then again, it isn’t all that simple.
Strangely enough, he’s often missing – or even outright pulls out from dire situations whenever he pleases.
He salvages technology with no restraint for his personal use, and it’s somewhat obvious that his true motivations aren’t exactly altruistic in nature.
After all, the ever-cautious and elusive Metal Knight’s true intentions still remain a mystery – even to this day.
13. Seto Kaiba
Every Shounen’s main character is only as good as their rivals.
This much is true for Yugi Muto, who had the honor of being rivals with the ultimate rich boy himself, Seto Kaiba.
From kidnapping Yugi’s grandfather to nearly killing his opponents with his penalty games, there’s no shortage of moments in the early parts of the anime that’ll make you question his morals.
And as much as he’s obsessed with victory, no one can doubt his love for his brother, or how he improved as a character post-Yugi’s mind crush – eventually becoming a fan-favorite as the show went on despite his past antics.
Anime: Darker than Black
He’s not given the dark and foreboding moniker of “The Black Reaper” for no reason.
Originally a human who gained powers as a Contractor from unknowingly merging with her sister, Hei is a highly trained mercenary-assassin whose name is feared even by the most adept of Contractors.
With countless legends attached to his name that would make John Wick nod in approval, Hei had personally delivered countless souls to the other side without hesitation – even though he hated killing at a young age.
And as his story further unravels, it’s shown that he doesn’t mind upping his body count if it meant that he’d be one step closer to his goals.
Guts is the epitome of a tragic main character.
Oh, and pure unadulterated badassery.
The fact that he’s still standing despite all of the tragedies and messed up things he had gone through ever since he was a child is a testament to his character — an oft-callous, yet hot-blooded man with a nigh-unbreakable will.
While he would slaughter demons and humans alike without even batting an eye, his love for Casca (along with the bonds he forged with the companions he found on his journey) keeps his darkness grounded for the better.
All in all, Guts is a complex and well-written character that Kentaro Miura, rest his soul, graced all of us fans with.
Anime: Dragon Ball
Very few shows can turn someone who was once narcissistic, sadistic, and borderline homicidal into a likable character.
And fortunately for us fans, Dragon Ball did it – and did it very well.
While Vegeta still shows a sliver of his old callous and arrogant self in the later seasons of the anime, his overall behavior and character definitely saw a massive improvement compared to what he once was.
After all, he was the kind of guy that showed no hesitation when it comes to blowing up planets or wiping out a whole tribe of Namekians — all with a smile on his face.
Sometimes you do have to wonder what was it about Bulma or even Goku that made him change his ways and transformed him into the living meme of a character that he is now.
9. Itachi and Sasuke Uchiha
Who else oozes the strongest edgelord vibes in Konoha besides these two brothers?
Itachi, the older of the two, massacred his entire clan after uncovering their covert plan to exact a coup against the entire village – and only spared Sasuke, who then betrayed his friends and joined Orochimaru in his quest for vengeance.
Hmm, is the pattern obvious yet?
Despite all the jokes and the memes made between these two, you could definitely feel the way their story ended was somewhat bittersweet.
They were both forced to walk a lonely path — one out of duty, and one out of revenge.
The only difference is, Sasuke had his friends by the end to help get him get back on his feet.
And he eventually got to have something that Itachi never had for himself: a family of his own.
8. Eren Yeager
Anime: Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
The ultimate sacrifice.
A glorious purpose.
The greater good.
Such are the common themes in some of the anime featured mostly all the characters in this list.
And sadly, this includes Eren.
And admittedly, I (along with many fans) have been caught off guard by his sudden change in the later episodes of the anime.
He became more brutal and cerebral.
His decisions became more calculated, and his demeanor somewhat cold as the series went on. Which is a far cry from what we would normally expect from a typical shounen MC.
In the final season, fans were eventually shown what the changes were truly for – and what it cost Eren in the end:
Two of the many reasons why the ending of the anime had been so controversial.
7. Satou Kazuma
Anime: KonoSuba (Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!)
What, you don’t think a character from a comedy isekai anime can be an anti-hero?
Of course they can.
I mean, look at Satou Kazuma for example.
He was a lazy shut-in NEET before he died by shock after attempting to save a girl from a slow-ass farm tractor (yes, you read that right) which he mistook for the legendary Truck-kun.
Not exactly the typical origins of a brave and awe-inspiring hero.
He’s blunt and overly pessimistic when interacting with people in the Fantasy World.
Wait scratch that — he’s like that especially towards his party members, all of whom are arguably just as weird as he is.
Not only that, but he’s also shown to be a bit of a perv and a shrewd person.
Qualities that, along with the quirks of his other party members, make his adventures (or misadventures) even more fun to watch for most anime fans.
6. Naofumi Iwatani
Anime: The Rising of the Shield Hero
Serving as Kazuma’s polar opposite on this list, albeit also closely resembling him in terms of character traits is none other than Naofumi — we have yet another isekai protagonist from a story without the hilarity and absurdity of KonoSuba.
Though an enthusiastic and trusting person at first, Naofumi became an extremely cynical person from being betrayed almost immediately after being isekai’d.
This horrible experience made him distrusting of everyone he encountered, even the ones who truly meant him no harm.
He mostly kept to himself, raising his stats in bizarre yet clever and practical ways until Raphtalia (his ever-faithful and compassionate demihuman waifu) came along.
But even then, he had already ingrained it within himself to be vigilant.
Although he does go a tad too far with his newfound philosophy from time to time.
5. Ken Kaneki
Anime: Tokyo Ghoul
Kaneki’s story should serve as a cautionary tale for many, as we have to remember that his pain and suffering started because of the simple fact that he chose the wrong girl to simp for.
Along his journey of being the first half-human half-ghoul hybrid, Kaneki encounters so much torture and suffering that it broke him, leaving him severely detached and with a fractured identity.
Further down the story he developed ruthless and borderline sadistic tendencies that mirror that of the nastiest ghouls – turning him into a fallen hero of sorts.
His more sensible side isn’t completely gone, of course.
And it was revealed that he did retain some of his old personality despite all the injustices that he had faced.
4. Spike Spiegel
Anime: Cowboy Bebop
Ah yes, the groovy space cowboy himself.
Spike, although usually presented as a laid-back and happy-go-lucky guy, has a history when it comes to crime and questionable deeds.
After all, he is a thief, con artist, retired hitman, and a pretty experienced outlaw.
And that was all before he finally faked his own death and settled down as a bounty hunter with his friends.
And even though you can argue that he’s a pretty good guy at heart, you can’t deny that his heroic feats throughout the show doesn’t completely overshadow his past – and some of the shifty actions he took even after his do-over.
3. Tanya Degurechaff
Anime: The Saga of Tanya The Evil
If Guts is the embodiment of badassery, then Tanya is the embodiment of pure chaos and insanity.
After being Isekai’d into the war-torn nation called ‘The Empire’ in an alternate universe, it didn’t take long for us to see her true colors.
Despite being a gifted soldier and commander, she’s also a full-blown sociopath that wouldn’t think twice about using other people to her liking – and putting them in their place if need be.
That, and her lack of capability to feel empathy, are just a few of her many flawed traits.
Overall her callousness and utter disregard for human life and emotion is both a blessing and a curse.
Especially in a world where learning how to put herself in other people’s shoes could mean the difference between life and death.
2. Team Rocket (Jessie, James, and Meowth)
You might be wondering:
“How did characters from an anime with a target audience younger than its seemingly immortal main character get into this list?”
Well, why shouldn’t they?
Alongside being one of my favorite cartoonish “villains” of all time, this trio of wacky characters pretty much goes hand in hand with every Pokémon series – or at least they should be.
With their shenanigans including Pokémon kidnapping (pokenapping?), stealing, identity theft, robberies, fraud, entering a beauty contest with fake boobs, among many other crimes… it isn’t that hard to say they’re just your run-of-the-mill one-dimensional villains.
But they aren’t.
If you’ve followed the anime closely from day one, you’d see they have their own sad backstories, along with aspirations they’ve abandoned and others they still want to achieve.
This trio has a subtle yearning for a life beyond doing menial tasks for Giovanni.
Not only that, but they too have developed a strong bond amongst themselves overtime – much like Ash and his friends, whom they occasionally help out whenever they’re in truly dire situations.
And I think they had more emotional parting scenes with their Pokémon compared to the ones Ash had with the Pokémon he’s swapped out almost every season.
Come to think of it, did Ash ever visit that Pidgeot he promised he’d visit way back then?
1. Emiya Kiritsugu
Anime: Fate/stay night
Sometimes the anti-hero you’re looking for (among an anime filled to the brim with anti-hero waifus) isn’t a waifu at all.
It’s a husbando.
Emiya Kiritsugu is one of those dark and tragic characters whose actions we love to question, but in the end, can’t help but feel bad for.
Along with some of the other characters on this list, he experienced something gravely traumatic stuff in his youth – killing his own father.
This tragedy then became the catalyst of his unshakable conviction that eventually led him down the vicious and unforgiving path of sacrifice — all for the sake of the greater good.
Or rather, what he views as the greater good.
He’s a radical utilitarian that’s willing to sacrifice even his loved ones for his goals and beliefs.
There’s no doubt that Emiya Kiritsugu is one of the purest anti-hero characters on this list.