In the world of anime, mega-popular villains can catapult a series to stardom, especially in the world of shonen and seinen. Many of these villains are tragic and sympathetic, while others are downright vile and evil to the end. However, other villains end up becoming heroes themselves, taking everyone by surprise.
Some of these anime villains were actually heroes the entire time and the protagonist simply crossed paths with them when they first met, or the « villain » had to act like this while taking orders. In other cases, the villain started out as something of a rogue and joined the team of heroes after changing his mind. Some anime villains prove that there is a hint of goodness in even the most evil foes.
10 Itachi Uchiha, the assassin of the clan (Naruto)
Itachi Uchiha is a classic example of an antagonist who was actually a hero throughout his life, but was forced to act like a villain due to various circumstances. Itachi and his younger brother Sasuke got along well in their youth, but Itachi had a mission that put the entire Leaf Village in danger.
10 anime heroes who actually turned out to be the villain
10 anime villains who stopped being a threat later in the series
The Uchiha clan was going to rebel and act with hatred, so Itachi was ordered to kill the Uchihas and avoid disaster. However, Itachi forgave Sasuke, and years later, Sasuke learned the truth, and decided for himself what to do about it.
9 Askeladd, The Bitter Viking (Vinland Saga)
At the beginning of this medieval anime, the cunning Viking Askeladd lured the mighty Thors into a trap in the Faroe Islands, and dueled him. Thors lost his life as a result of the deception, and his son Thorfinn vowed revenge, while also acting as Askeladd’s surrogate son. It’s complicated.
However, Askeladd is not totally evil and wants to free the Welsh people from the threat of the Vikings. In fact, Askeladd taught Thorfinn many lessons about war, life, death, and revenge, and Thorfinn put all of this into practice during his subsequent quest to found the peaceful nation of Vinland.
8 Captain Byakuya Kuchiki, the Law-abiding Reaper of Souls (Bleach)
Captain Byakuya Kuchiki was born into a noble family, and had to set an example by being a leader respectful of the law and traditions, both of his family and of Squad 6. He and Ichigo came to blows when the innocent Rukia was sentenced to be executed, but Byakuya never meant to hurt. I just wanted to protect the peace.
Fortunately, Byakuya changed his mind after coming to a standstill with Ichigo, and acted in accordance with his family love for Rukia by defending her from Sosuke Aizen when the latter became a traitor. From that moment on, Byakuya would be the protective older brother that Rukia always wanted.
7 Bruno Bucciarati, the kind mobster (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure)
Bruno Bucciarati was first introduced as an antagonist in the Golden Wind story arc, facing Giorno Giovanna in an intense Stand battle. But that did not last long. Bucciarati belonged to the famous Passione gang, but he was not a monster.
Instead, Bucciarati shared Giorno’s dream of freeing Italy from the terror and violence of crime families and gangs, and after that initial battle, Bucciarati extended the hand of friendship, and Giorno accepted it. They shared a common goal, and they soon went to work to achieve it.
6 Laxus Dreyar, The Lightning Dragon Hunter (Fairy Tail)
Laxus Dreyar, the lightning dragon hunter, was introduced as an antagonist after the battle against the Phantom Lord. Laxus was determined to eliminate the weaker members of the Fairy Tail guild, and although this was a bad idea, Laxus truly had the guild’s best interests at heart.
Laxus was defeated, and was exiled from the guild for a time. However, he felt strong ties to his grandfather (Makarov) and his guildmates, and would later return as a loyal friend. He soon risked his life for the sake of his guildmates, finally showing his true colors.
5 Scar, the vengeful monk (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
Scar, an Ishvalan monk, had revenge in mind when state alchemists annihilated his compatriots in a brutal and senseless civil war. No one could blame Scar for seeking blood for blood, but Scar’s fate lay elsewhere.
Scar wore the tattoos of alchemy, and soon learned to direct this power against Father and his minions, not against the alchemists of the state. He later became Ed’s ally and helped take down Father and Solf J. Kimblee, to truly restore peace and balance to the world. Only then will his fallen countrymen be able to rest in peace.
4 Uncle Iroh, The Wise Firebender (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
Uncle Iroh was only a de facto villain, as he supported Prince Zuko in his quest and was part of the Fire Nation. However, Iroh was a miniature Avatar in his own right, as he sought balance and harmony with the world, contradicting his conquering-minded younger brother Ozai.
Iroh also realized that all things and all people are connected, and that hurting one of them will eventually hurt all of them. Iroh tried to end all conflicts and reconcile the warring parties, starting with Zuko, and he achieved that dream. The fact that he belonged to the White Lotus organization also helps.
3 The Great Holy Knight Dreyfus (The Seven Deadly Sins)
Dreyfus was a great holy knight who one day encountered the powerful demon Fraudrin, along with his friend Hendrickson. Fraudrin ended up possessing Dreyfus and did unspeakable acts while using him, and Dreyfus was introduced to the anime as a villain.
Fortunately, Meliodas and his friends put an end to that, and Fraudrin was assassinated, freeing Dreyfus. Now, Dreyfus’ considerable power can be used for good, as was always intended, and Dreyfus can find a way to fix things after all that Fraudrin has done.
2 Inosuke the Hardheaded Hunter (Demon Hunter)
Fortunately for Tanjiro and Zenitsu, Inosuke’s tenure as a villain was short-lived. He was a wild card during the fight against Kyogai, ready and willing to fight any opponent that came his way. He was eager to fight Nezuko, and he beat up Zenitsu because the latter tried to push Inosuke away from Nezuko.
Then Inosuke confronted Tanjiro, and a head butt helped put Inosuke in his place. From then on, Inosuke accompanied him as a tough yet loyal ally, using his twin nichirin swords to challenge demons of all shapes and sizes. He was always a demon slayer, but his personality borders on villainy.
1 Neji Hyuga, the bitter ninja (Naruto)
When Neji Hyuga first appeared, he was a formidable antagonist to both Naruto Uzumaki and Hinata Hyuga, the latter his cousin. Neji is a bitter determinist who thinks everyone’s fate is set, and he tried to instill this « lesson » in Naruto and Hinata during the Chunin exam arc.
Neji is not bad at all. He’s just upset about his luck in life, and he just needs some hope … and a friend or two. Naruto defeated him during their duel, and Neji started to change his mind in no time. In fact, he gave his life to protect his companions much later, near the end of Shippuden’s story.