Arc Villain

The Super Trope to Filler Villain and Starter Villain, an Arc Villain serves as the Big Bad for one Story Arc, having an Evil Plan to threaten the heroes. After that, though, he's killed off, imprisoned, sent into a Humiliation Conga, or makes a Heel-Face Turn, and the heroes continue their adventures to the next arc.

There's no Man Behind the Man for the Arc Villain and no greater threat inspiring him, and he's certainly not something so minor as a Monster of the Week. At the same time, he isn't really the ultimate Big Bad of the series, either, since his defeat doesn't mark the end of the plot - or even the end of the hero's character arc. He is only the in-universe Big Bad for a limited time, after which someone new takes over the position. However, an Arc Villain can be the final antagonist of a series (that he/she isn't the overall Big Bad of.)

Isn't the same as the situation where a character is intended as the ultimate Big Bad, but a Post Script Season (or sequel) starts an entire new story. In fact, Arc Villains are often used as middle rungs on the Sorting Algorithm of Evil.

Compare Big Bad Wannabe. Contrast Disc One Final Boss and Interim Villain. When the villain is around for a great portion or all of the series, they're an Overarching Villain.


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     Anime and Manga  
  • Bleach:
    • Canon examples: Tsukishima in the Lost Agent Arc with Ginjo as The Man Behind the Man and Yhwach of the Thousand Year Blood War Arc, though flashbacks have shown how he was involved with past events (i.e: Being responsible for Masaki's death, Katagiri's death (Uryu's mother), Old Man Zangetsu is actually a manifestation of him in his younger days, etc.) and he has since been cemented as the new and Final Big Bad.
    • Filler Villain examples: Jin Kariya, Shusuke Amagai, Muramasa, and Kageroza Inaba. Ouko Yushima is The Man Behind the Man for Kageroza.
  • Pretty much every Big Bad in Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z.
  • Gato and his Dragon-in-Chief Zabuza in Naruto.
  • One Piece is the Trope Codifier for anime and manga, featuring a new Arc Villain for almost every arc. The examples that best fit this trope are Eneru and Arlong, though both left their respective marks on the Straw Hats (Haki for Eneru; Jones for Arlong).
  • Soul Eater has Arachne in the Arachnophobia arc and Noah/The Tables of Contents in the Book of Eibon Arc.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Spirit of the Millenium Ring (aka Dark Bakura) is the series' recurring antagonist and overall Big Bad. However, he is only the central villain of two arcs, and over the course of multiple story arcs he's regularly relegated to scheming in the background as the heroes are forced to confront more immediate threats:
    • Trial of the Mind: Shadi
    • Death-T: Seto Kaiba
    • Monster World: Dark Bakura
    • Duelist Kingdom: Pegasus J. Crawford
    • Dragons, Dice & Dungeons: Mr. Clown (manga-only)
    • Battle City: Marik Ishtar -> Dark Marik.
    • Millennium World: Dark Bakura, Akhenaden, and Zorc Necrophades
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! anime adds its own via filler arcs, and skips the first three arcs above (or adapted them into really short non-arcs).
    • Virtual Heroes: The Big Five
    • Virtual World: Noah & Gozaburo Kaiba.
    • Doma : Dartz
    • KaibaCorp Grand Prix: Ziegfried von Schroeder.
  • The Pokémon anime makes Team Plasma (with Colress and Ghetsis in particular) the villains of the Episode N arc in Best Wishes. Less straightforward and more spaced-out examples are Team Magma and Aqua in Advanced and Team Galactic in Diamond/Pearl.
  • Sailor Moon:
    • Series 1: The Dark Kingdom
    • Sailor Moon R: Filler Arc: Ali and En, the Maikaiju aliens
    • Sailor Moon R: The Black Moon Arc: The Black Moon Clan
    • Sailor Moon S: The Death Busters
    • Sailor Moon Super S: The Dead Moon Circus, though Nehellenia bled into the first arc of Sailor Stars
    • Sailor Moon Sailor Stars: Shadow Galactica
    • The manga technically has a similar progression, though the arcs referred to each other and the final story arc reveals that each arc's Big Bad is in reality a reincarnation of the final enemy in the series.
  • Fairy Tail, having very little in terms of overarching villains, had quite a few of these. Thus far the list includes: Bora, Duke Everlue, Erigor, Lyon Vastia, Jose Porla, Jellal Fernandez, Laxus Dreyar, Brain/Zero, King Faust, Hades, Future Rogue, Mard Geer, and Alok.
    • An argument could be made for Hades being the Big Bad pretime-skip, as he is revealed to have a hand in Jellal's arc, but it is largely his minion Ultear who gets involved for him, acting as a sidekick to the Arc Villain in every plot she turns up in, while Hades has very little buildup prior to the arc he heads.
    • Though character like Zeref, Acnologia, and E.N.D. (all of whom are depicted as The Dreaded), all seem to be building up towards the Big Bad, since they are ultimately responsible for many of the events that transpire in the story, or at least had a hand in it.
  • As each Story Arc of Lyrical Nanoha covers a specific incident, all installments have their own Arc Villain.
  • Most villains in YuYu Hakusho are this, with only a few major villains (such as Toguro and Sakyo) being recurring beyond a saga or even sub-arc.
  • Brilliant Dynamites Neon, or BDN for short, in Trigun.
  • Jojos Bizarre Adventure is divided up into different parts (8 so far,) each with both it's own Big Bad and main protagonist.
  • Eyeshield 21, as a series about a football team, lacks an overarching villain, with most of its conflicts being settled over the course of individual matches. During the Kanto Regional Tournament Arc, however, the series gains a temporary Big Bad in the form of Reiji "Marco" Maruko, captain of the Deimon Devil-Bats' evil counterparts, the Hakushu Dinosaurs. While the Devil-Bats still play against other teams, Marco's scheming drives much of the plot on and off the field, as various teams attempt different strategies to stop him and his monstrous centre, Rikiya Gao. After grinding their way through Deimon's former adversaries in the Taiyo Sphinx and Seibu Wild Gunmen, Marco and his Dinosaurs become the final team that the Devil-Bats have to face to claim the Kanto Regional Championship and move onto the Christmas Bowl.
  • One Piece villains are rarely interconnected, and all have their own distinct set of goals, affiliations, and groups. The World Government and Blackbeard are both played up as the ultimate bad guys, though they are rarely actually seen.

  • In most contemporary Super Hero comics, which are written with collected editions in mind, this has effectively replaced the older villain-of-the-month trope.
  • The longer, four-issue story arcs of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) each have their own villain:
    • The "Return of Queen Chrysalis" arc (issues 1-4) has the titular Changeling Queen.
    • The "Nightmare Forces" arc (issues 5-8) has the new Nightmare Moon, Rarity.
    • The "Reflections" arc (issues 17-20) has the Mirror Universe versions of Celestia and Luna.
  • Each arc of Joss Whedon's Astonshing X-Men had one:
    • "Gifted:" Ord.
    • "Dangerous:" Danger.
    • "Torn": Cassandra Nova and the Hellfire Club.
    • "Unstoppable:" Aghanne.

     Fan Fiction  


  • Newsflesh:
    • In Feed it was Gov. David Tate
    • In Deadline it was Dr. Joseph Wynne.
  • Nicodemus in The Dresden Files. He's one of the few villains who has so far remained unconnected with the Black Council.
  • The New Jedi Order has several of these, which makes sense when one considers that the series is largely composed of linked duologies and trilogies that together tell a Myth Arc. The most prominent are Shedao Shai from the Dark Tide duology, Lord Nyax and Czulkang Lah from the Enemy Lines duology (each holding down their own half of the story arc), and B'Shith Vorrik from the Force Heretic trilogy.
  • The Artemis Fowl series has one every second book. There's Artemis himself in the first book, John Spiro in book 3, Leo Abbot in book 5, and Turnball Root in book 7. Opal Koboi is a recurring villain in the other books, though she's part of a Big Bad Duumvirate with Briar Cudgeon in book 2.
  • Daughter of the Lioness has Bronau as the main antagonist for the first book. His recklessness first indirectly endangers the Balitangs (and makes their exile among the raka less easy thanks to his flagrant racism), then through his smugly inept plan to seize the throne through Sarai. Book two is about the wider rebellion throughout the Isles.

     Live Action TV  
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: This show is famous for having one Arc Villianper seasonal arc: the Master, Angelus, Mayor Wilkins, Adam, Glory, the Trio, and the First Evil. This continues in the comic book seasons with the Twilight dimension and Simone.
  • Almost every season of Dexter has involved some kind of Arc Villain; the Ice Truck Killer in the first season and the Trinity Killer in the fourth season are the two that fit this trope the best.
  • Nimueh from the first series of Merlin.
  • NCIS has a fair few of these, although there aren't excessive numbers of them; perhaps 1 every season or two. Notable Arc Villains include Ari Haswari for seasons 1, 2 and 3, La Grenouille for season 4 and Colonel Bell for season 7.
  • 24 has quite a few of these: Victor Drazen for season 1, Stephen Saunders for season 3, Habib Marwan for season 4, and Alan Wilson for season 7. The others don't technically count as seasons 2 and 5 had the Big Bad working for someone else, while seasons 6 and 8 moreso featured a Big Bad Ensemble. Season 5's Big Bad went on to also later be part of 8's ensemble.
  • The Disney Zorro series was almost unique among 1950s television by using an arc-based plot format; following the defeat of Capitan Monistario halfway through the first season, a brief breather was followed by the arrival of "The Eagle", who drove most of the plot for the second half of the season. The second season reverted to a more episodic format.
  • Luther was episodic for its first series, but its second one introduced an arc driven format that would persist until its end. In Series 2, London Gangster Baba served as the Big Bad of the series, while serial killers Cameron Pell and Robert & Nicholas Millberry served as the villains of its first and second arcs (Luther would investigate their cases on the job, while dealing with Baba off the job). In Series 3, Internal Affairs officer George Stark was the series' driving antagonist, while the Shoreditch Creeper and Tom Marwood acted as the villains of its first and second arcs.
  • Johnny Crowder, Boyd's bitter, jealous cousin, was one of these for the first part of Justified's fifth season. Having been a recurring cast member in the previous four seasons, Johnny returned as The Man Behind the Man to many of Boyd's problems at the start of Season 5. He masterminded an attack on a heroin shipment in Episode 2, seized control of Hotrod Dunham's organization in Episode 5, and came gunning for Boyd in Episode 7, where he was promptly taken down,, leaving the rest of the season open for bigger players with connections to both Boyd and s.
  • The CSI Crime Scene Investigation franchise has had several examples (most of them Serial Killers and/or users of Criminal Mind Games). Notable examples include Paul Millander, the Blue Paint Killer, the Miniature Killer and "Dr Jekyll" from "The Mothership", the Mala Noche cartel from "CSI: Miami" and the Cabbie Killer and Shane Casey from "CSI: NY".
  • Hannibal has Serial Killer Garrett Jacob Hobbs as the Arc Villain of Season One. Though Hobbs dies in episode one, a good deal of both Will and Abigail's storylines and conflicts can be traced back to him, thanks to Will's guilt over killing Hobbs and Abigail's survivor's guilt due Hobbs killing eight teenage girls as substitute for her, respectively.
    • Mason Verger acts as Arc Villain for the latter half of season 2. Will and Hannibal's desire to help Margot, Mason's abused sister, places both in the line of Mason's "hobbies."
  • Like CSI, Bones has its own ensemble of Serial Killers, each with a specific modus operandi: Howard Epps, The Gormogon, The Gravedigger, Jacob Broadsky and Christopher Pelant.
  • Criminal Minds had George "The Boston Reaper" Foyet, an unbelievably horrifying Serial Killer even for this show who becomes obsessed with Agent Hotchner after the latter refuses to make a deal with him: Hotchner lets Foyet go free, and Foyet stops killing. Hotch having more spine than Foyet thought he would causes Foyet to switch his target from "anyone who gets in my way" to Hotch in particular.
  • Once Upon a Time uses this trope a lot.
    • Season 2: Cora as the Big Bad for most of the season, replaced by Greg and Tamara in the last few episodes.
    • Season 3A: Peter Pan as the Big Bad. He's also the Greater Scope Villain for much of the show, due to his actions indirectly influencing many of the previous Big Bads.
    • Season 3B: The Wicked Witch of the West as the Big Bad.
    • Season 4A: The Snow Queen as the Big Bad.
    • Season 4B: The Queens of Darkness are a Big Bad Duumvirate along with Rumpelstilskin (although Maleficent is considered the most prominent member and de facto leader). Halfway through the arc, Isaac the Author emerges as a Greater Scope Villain for much of the events of the show up to this point, however he doesn't take the Big Bad mantle until the final three episodes with the Queens dispersed (In order: Ursula gone home with her father, Cruella deceased, and Maleficent ditching the group and eventually deciding to form an Enemy Mine with the heroes), Zelena captured, and Gold weakening over time and relying on Isaac.
  • The 100 has the Mountain Men as the main villains of the second season.
  • Wiseguy was a fairly early adopter of the arc format. Arcs were of varying length, but each had its own Big Bad to be taken down by protagonist Vinnie Terranova and assorted stand-ins due to actor Ken Wahl's various issues.

     Video Games  
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Keeper Zathrian is the Arc Villain of the Nature of the Beast quest and Uldred is the Arc Villain of the Broken Circle quest, though the other major quests track back to either Loghain or the Archdemon.
    • Dragon Age II had ones for each of its two primary DLCs. "Mark of the Assassin" had Duke Prosper de Montfort and "Legacy" had Corypheus who went on to become the main villain in Dragon Age: Inquisition.
  • While Mass Effect doesn't exactly have "Arcs" per se, it's worth noting that many of its side villains are standalone, found in single missions or 'campaigns' of missions, where a group of sidequests make up a single story. In the sequel, most of them are antagonists to a certain squadmate on a personal level, and so act as the main villain of that character's loyalty mission. Notable examples include Major Kyle, Helena Blake, and Lord Darius in the first game and Gatatog Uvenk, Weyrloc Guld, Tarak, Enyala, and Donovan Hock in the second game.
  • Used fairly commonly in World of Warcraft. VanCleef is behind the low-level Defias arc, Naralex's Nightmare and the Crone of the Kraul are responsible for The Barrens' arcs, and following their father's (retconned out of continuity) death, the Big Bad Duumvirate of Onyxia and Nefarian are behind quite a lot of the rest of the plot.
  • Grubba in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door's Chapter 3. He's the only Chapter Boss never to come in contact with one of the major villains, if you count the original purpose of Smorg as canon.
    • Similarly, Francis the chameleon in Super Paper Mario, also in Chapter 3. This is true for the odd-numbered chapters: King Croacus IV for Chapter 5, and Bonechill for Chapter 7. Although Count Bleck sends out his minions to fight Mario and the others in those chapters, they never interfere directly with the conflict.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising, with its gameplay divided into chapters, has several Arc Villains. Medusa for Chapters 1-9, Viridi for Chapters 11-14, The Aurum for Chapters 15-17, The Chaos Kin for Chapters 18-21, and Hades for Chapters 10, 22-25, and while he serves as the overriding villain for the whole game, he doesn't become a direct threat until those chapters.
  • The Last of Us seems to have this in the form of a major threat persistent through each chapter, who is eventually faced as the boss near the end of it. You have, for each arc from start to finish: the dodgy arms dealer Robert from the Escape from Boston arc, the Bloater from the Bill's Town arc, the Looter's Humvee from the Pittsburgh arc, the cannibal hebephile David from the Winter Resort arc, and Marlene for the Jackson City arc.
  • Ōkami has three major villains for the three main areas.
    • Orochi for the Kamiki Village arc.
    • Ninetails for the Ryoshima Coast arc.
    • Lechku and Nechku for the Kamui arc.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! Reshef of Destruction has Bandit Keith and the Neo Ghouls, who invade the town of Domino for a few chapters before moving back to the main threat, Pegasus and Reshef.
  • With the exception of the second and third games who has Zeus as the main vilain, God of War has one villain each game and killed by Kratos at the same game.
  • Each Volume (or season) of Causeof Death has an individual Arc Villain.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! Nightmare Troubadour is divided into three story arcs and has different main villains for each of them. The first arc has Para and Dox as minor antagonists with Bandit Keith and Pegasus being the boss fights. The second arc has you facing Noah, Gozaburo Kaiba, and the Big Five, while the third and last arc deals with Marik and Yami Marik.
  • Ace Attorney will generally have minor villains to fill up your time until the last one or two cases, at which point the Big Bad will show up, though there are exceptions. The full list:
    • The first game has Frank Sahwit, Redd White, Dee Vasquez, and Damon Gant.
    • The second game has each case be completely standalone, so all of the villains (Richard Wellington, Mimi Miney, Acro, and Matt Engarde) are this, save for an accomplice (Morgan Fey) who shows up next game.
    • The third game has only Luke Atmey and Furio Tigre.
    • The fourth game has Alita Tiale and Daryan Crescend.
    • The fifth game has Ted Tonate, Florent L'Belle, and Aristotle Means for the core game and Marlon Rimes for the DLC case.
    • Investigations has Jacques Portsman, Cammy Meele, and Lance Amano.
    • Investigations 2 has Horace Knightley and Dane Gustavia. Surprisingly, no one else counts, as the other villains are all major players in the plot.
  • The post-game of Mega Man Star Force 2 has an actual storyline vaguely connected to the plot of the main game. It concerns MegaMan travelling to a possible Bad Future where MegaMan didn't manage to defeat LeMu. The cause of this future is Apollo Flame, who managed to Kill All Humans and subjugate all EM Beings.

  • Damien in El Goonish Shive.
  • In The Order of the Stick, the main villain is Xykon the sorceror, but there are several lesser antagonists:
    • Daimyo Kubota is a villain in Azure City (and in exile) in the No Cure for the Paladin Blues and Don't Split the Party story arcs.
    • Bozzok is the leader of the Greysky City Thieves' Guild and the villain from Haley, Celia, and Belkar's perspectives in Don't Split the Party.
    • General Tarquin is only an Arc Villain in the Empire of Blood story, but he thinks he's the Big Bad and his son is The Hero.
  • Loan Shark Kim Lurker from Tower of God in the first "episode"note  of season two.
  • Inverloch has Berard for the main antagonist for the first three volumes. He has nothing to do with Kayn'dar, but he stalks the party while they look for clues about Kayn'dar. After he kidnaps Acheron for a Forced Prize Fight, Varden kills him and the story turns completely to Kayn'dar.
  • L's Empire has had three, with each arc (referred to as sagas in the comic) named after them: Dark Star, Phala (the Pixl Queen), and Sergeant Smacka.
  • Sam Sanders in Webcomic/Endtown is a mixture of this and F Iller Villain. Once the arc is completed, he is never mentioned again, and when Al and Gustine do reappear, they don't mention him. He is also one of the examples in which he had no minions or a dragon - he operated completely by himself.

     Web Original  
  • In Atop the Fourth Wall, there usually is one major villain per story arc:
    • Mechakara in "His Heart is Steel".
    • Dr. Linksano in "The Other Insano".
    • Lord Vyce in "All That He Sees, He Conquers".
    • The Entity in "A Piece of the World is Missing".
    • Lord Vyce again in "His Blue Soul".
    • The "Guns and Sorcery" story arc is where the main villain is harder to place. Holokara serves as the main antagonist for the first half of the arc, the Gunslinger is the major antagonist for most of the story and Dr. Insano just steals the show by the end of the story arc.
    • Lord Vyce for a third time in "Ghost of the Machine".
    • The King of Worms in "The Machinations of Worms".

     Western Animation  
  • Commander/Admiral Zhao from Avatar: The Last Airbender was part of a Big Bad Ensemble with Zuko in the first season, but he was barely even mentioned following that (due to having provoked the anger of a powerful spirit, and being imprisoned in a Psychological Torment Zone as punishment). In the next season, the most we have is that he was the first that entered the library made by Wan Shi Tong, which led to...problems when the Five-Man Band showed up in it.
    • Long Feng in the latter half of the second season as well, who ends up making the mistake of getting into a Big Bad Duumvirate with Princess Azula.
    • The Legend of Korra has one per story arc.
      • Book 1: Amon/Noatak
      • Book 2: Unalaq and Vaatu
      • Book 3: Zaheer and the Red Lotus
      • Book 4: Kuvira
  • Ben 10: Omniverse:
    • Arc 1: Khyber (working for Malware, the real villain)
    • Arc 2: Malware
    • Arc 3: The Incurseans
    • Arc 4: Albedo
    • Arc 5: Zs'skayr and Lord Transyl
    • Arc 6: Vilgax and Eon
    • Arc 7: Proctor Servantis and the Rooters
    • Arc 8: Mad Ben
    • Arc 9: Vilgax and Maltruant
  • Legends of Chima:
    • Team of Cragger and Crooler while Crooler is manipulating Cragger with the Persuader Plants
    • Worriz after Crooler breaks the Crocs' pact with the Wolves, with Crooler trying to regain lost footing
    • Cragger after he's corrupted by the Fog of Destiny and has Crooler imprisoned
    • Bat, Scorpion and Spider tribes led by Scorm and Spinlyn in season 2
    • Sir Fangar and the Saber-Toothed Cat, Vulture, and Mammoth tribes in season 3
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic uses a different villain for its multi-part episodes barring the opening of season 4:
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man was divided into 3-4 episode arcs. Though Tombstone and Norman Osborn vied for the position of Big Bad of the overall series, each arc had its own central villain(s):
    • Arc 1: The Lizard
    • Arc 2: Tombstone
    • Arc 3: Green Goblin
    • Arc 4: The symbiote, ultimately leading into Venom
    • Arc 5: The Master Planner, aka Doc Ock
    • Arc 6: Venom
    • Arc 7: Tombstone, Doc Ock, and Silvermane in an Evil Versus Evil scenario, though it turns out they were all being played by the Goblin
    • Arc 8: Green Goblin ultimately revealed to be Norman Osborn
  • Since Star Wars: The Clone Wars follows an anthology-format of loosely connected Story Arcs, most of the villains have role only in their own arcs, and never show up again. Also an interesting case in that, a number of them are small scale dragons to Dooku, instead of independent antagonists with an agenda of their own. Examples of this type include Osi Sobeck, Moralo Eval and Riff Tamson.
  • In Teen Titans, we have Slade for the first two arcs, Brother Blood for the third, Trigon for the fourth, and the Brain for the fifth.
  • Along with fighting the Monster of the Week, Steven Universe has major villains that gradually reveal the backstory of the Crystal Gems.
  • Though Xanatos and Demona were the overarching villains of Gargoyles, each of the major multi-part storylines had their own villains (with the aforementioned two sometimes -but not always - in the position):
    • "Awakening": Xanatos and Demona as a Big Bad Duumvirate
    • "City of Stone": Demona
    • "Avalon": The Archmage
    • "The Gathering": Lord Oberon
    • "Hunter's Moon": Demon and the Hunters, in opposition to each other.
    • The non-canonical Goliath Chronicles had Castaway and the Quarrymen.