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Love to Hate
This villain trope is for the characters we love to hate.
"Love to hate" is a term we (and others) use to describe villains we enjoy. We love them for various reasons, such as excellent character development, being hilarious, getting the best writing, having a memorable personality, or being lucky enough to have a top notch performance by their actor. (Of course, the fans still want to see the baddie get their comeuppance in the end. There is still hatred, after all.) Also named Heel Hate.
Faux Affably Evil, Affably Evil, Laughably Evil, Magnificent Bastard, and Card-Carrying Villain are sub tropes for different reasons. Being a Large Ham definitely helps (see also Evil Is Hammy). An Anti-Villain is often one of these due to the character development they often get. A villain who's The Scrappy, or Creator's Pet is typically not eligible for this trope as are some villains who cross the Moral Event Horizon.
Not to be confused with Draco in Leather Pants, which is when a villain's fandom will gloss over the actual nastiness of a villain and insist that he or she is just misunderstood. Also not to be confused with when the heroeswould love to hate the villain, but just can't manage it.
This is someone whom the fans enjoy and even maybe respect because of their unapologetic evilness. Their shamelessness is cathartic to us, and they retain their awesomeness as time goes by without villain decay.
In order to be eligible, a villain must be generally well regarded/well liked by said fandom while the same fandom still acknowledges they're a villain. Being here means that said villain is part of the pantheon of great villains.
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Anime & Manga
Several villains in the Dragon Ball franchise, with Tao Pai Pai, Frieza, Cell, Buu, Broly and Cooler being this at best.
Ladd Russo from Baccano!. Complete Ax-Crazy psycho whose ultimate desire is to kill everyone, but it is so hard not to enjoy him for his Large Ham status, his genuine enjoyment of what he does and for actually being quite funny.
Digimon: Myotismon was far and away the record-holder for the most evil villain, until Kurata topped him by far. Both characters seem to be treated like The Joker in fandom - people can't get enough of talking about how so sick and twisted they are, but it's definitely love.
Monster: Titular character Johan Liebert, whose sheer evil is such that he becomes loved instead of hated.
Katejina Loos of Victory Gundam, she is well loved for her insane personality, being a major Hero Killer and her memorable moments in the series, and at the same time hated for all the horrible things that she has done to the point where her final Fate Worse than Death is considered to be fitting punishment by both the fans and Tomino himself.
Rau Le Creuset of Gundam SEED, who singlehandedly talked the world into self-destruction, while coming off as a seemingly impossible combination of Char Aznable, Emperor Palpatine, and Hannibal Lecter.
Agon from Eyeshield 21 is this to parts of the fandom. He's just such an over-the-top depiction of a Jerk Jock (with absolutely no traces of a Freudian Excuse to justify it), that even those who despise the character will agree that the series was at it's emotional best when Agon was the main antagonist.
Team Rocket in the Pokémon Best Wishes series. The recurring trioTook A Level In Bad Ass and are now more straightforward villains who rarely show the silliness or softer side they used to flaunt, and are thus easier to dislike. Yet they still keep the flamboyant style, overconfidence, and eccentric motto recitals that they built their career on, which makes (most of) the audience love it when they're on-screen.
Marik/Dark Marik from the Battle City arc. While Marik was pure Mr. Fanservice despite the acts he committed, Dark Marik was so twisted and Axe Crazy.
Dartz from Season 4. He's the most evil villain ever, considering the things he's done compared to the other villains. What is even more amazing is that Dartz is from a Filler Arc.
Then there's Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL which has Vector. He has done terrible things not just to the heroes, but the other villains as well. This has caused the fandom to hate him, but also love him for being a Magnificent Bastard and a Large Ham.
Envy is this for the saner contingent of the fanbase (those who don't try to put him in leather pants), since it's easy to see him as cool, yet still despise him not only for killing Maes Hughes, but for starting the Ishvalan War. Then there's Pride for being a Creepy Child and The Dragon to Father, plus how unsettling he is.
Bluebeard, whose seiyuu shows the talent for the dramatique. Meanwhile, Fate/stay night has Kirei, who does Evil just-because, making a nice Foil for Shirou who does Good just-because. Both have their arses kicked with much gusto.
Bluebeard and his master actually discuss this trope in-universe. Ryuunosuke claims that in his world-view, God is a playwright writing the greatest tale known to man and thus loves all of his characters no matter how wicked they are; after all, what good is a tale without a villain? Bluebeard embraces this vision and decides that the pair shall honor God by performing an act of villainy unmatched so far in Creation.
Several villains from Fist of the North Star, especially Jagi, Amiba, and Souther. They are three of the most evil villains in the series and are very popular with the fans.
Rurouni Kenshin: Shishio Makoto is a brutal Social Darwinist who causes many atrocities in the series, yet his odd sense of honor makes him the perfect adversary to Kenshin due to his genuine desire to make Japan strong.
Nui Harime from Kill la Kill is a unique case because she holds this view In-Universe; her philosophy is that all extreme emotions are interchangeable, so the more you hate someone, the more you love them. She lives by this rule, and makes damn sure to earn everyone's love/hate.
Ladd Russo from Baccano! is a deranged Serial Killer who brutally kills several people throughout the story, including a child. On the other hand, he's just so goddamn happy about what he does that it's hard not to like him, and the child he killed was an immortal, anyway.
Loki of Thor. Gotta love the brotherly hate they feel towards each other, but gotta hate his attitude. Up until he died and came back as a mischievous, pre-teen Magnificent Bastard. It's only a matter of time until his inevitable turn back to evil, but right now he's all love.
The Joker (played by Heath Ledger) from The Dark Knight. He is genuinely admired for being one of the most realistic representations of the original Joker, and for being incredibly monstrous and comical at the same time.
Erich von Stroheim is practically the Trope Namer, as "The Man You Love to Hate" was the nickname he earned for his silent-era villainy.
Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars films.
Also, Indio from For a Few Dollars More. Vicious. He spends much of his screen time in a drug-induced haze, but is still a scary and efficient villain.
Frank from Once Upon a Time in the West. He is admired for being amazingly evil, and in fact, the role of Henry Fonda in this movie was meant to be shocking to the audience, as Fonda, before this, always characterized by making the "good guy". His sarcasm and cynism certainly helps this trope.
In Good Fellas, interestingly, the most infamous (and most memorable) character in the entire film is Tommy De Vito.
Jimmy Conway as well, but rather is to be played by Robert De Niro, who always wears a growing fanbase that appears as a villain.
Dolores Umbridge is an interesting example. There are eviller villains in the series, to be sure, but none of them are quite so passive-aggressive about it, nor are many of them the type of people readers might actually encounter in real life. As a result, Umbridge is more fun to hate even than the Big Bad.
Bellatrix may be a better example, because she actually has enjoyable qualities as a character - she's badass, sexy, hopelessly insane, and Helena Bonham-Carter gave a fittingly psychotic performance in the films. By contrast, Umbridge's character mostly exists to be a Hate Sink.
Voldemort himself arguably qualifies, seeing how he was voted the #1 villain in a poll that decided which character was the best literary villain.
Venandekatra the Vile from the Belisarius Series can be like this. Just the sheer effort of cramming so much evil and vice into the same character is amazing.
Joffrey Baratheon from A Song of Ice and Fire. One of the biggest douches in the series, but so fun to loathe.
A more standard version is Tywin Lannister. Unlike Joffrey whom fans just absolutely loath, Tywin actually has fans because of his badass aura and his history of being a rather effective battle commander and leader. He's balanced out for his pious attitude and his unfair treatment of his son Tyrion.
Lucifer, or Satan. There's a reason why he's considered the most iconic and consummate villain. However, this is far more common in modern interpretations; medieval folklore normally wrote him as a dangerous, yet stupid thug who could be easily outwitted by humans. The Magnificent Bastard that we see nowadays came later.
Spoiled Brat and the queen of Aesop Amnesia, Reva Dalby from Fear Street is a mean-spirited brat who has repeatedly endured horrific encounters each holiday season, swears to be a better person, and does absolutely nothing to follow up on it. R.L. Stine has stated that he loves writing her because she's so bitchy, so this was the intended reaction.
Alfred Bester may have not been the Big Bad of the entire series, but every time his shuttle arrived unannounced on the station, both the viewers and the officers at flight control and customs instantly knew that he came to do something horribly and unspeakably cruel to some people on the station. And it would be awesome. Not helped by the fact that he is the head of the agency that protects society from criminal and insane telepaths and when he takes part in an operation personally, he's usually Necessarily Evil. But he doesn't need to be so smug and boastful about it all the time.
To a lesser extent Neroon, one of the leaders of the Minbari Warrior Caste. He is a strong contestant for the shows greatest badass, having it made to the top in the galaxy's most powerful military where Asskicking Equals Authority. For him, he and his fellow warriors are the only ones capable of saving the Galaxy in a war that started a thousand years ago, while having to put up with incompetent politicans and priests, and he doesn't take crap from anyone, having no hesitation to kill everyone who gets in his way. But unlike most characters, he doesn't seem to seek any personal gain, doing what needs to be done.
Mr. Morden. Nearly every time he appeared, he exuded a massive aura of confidence and menace that let the viewer know he was up to no good. He was the leading Manipulative Bastard of the series, in part because the "associates" he represented could grant many services for those he wished to manipulate. He also wore a nice suit.
Davros as well. There's a reason even casual fans know his "to hold in my hand" speech.
Another good one from the BBC is Madame President Servalan. Dear God, she usually walked away with whatever she was after and made the alleged heroes look like idiots in the process. Evil, but you can't help but admire her sense of style.
An example that was completely unintentional on the part of the writers was Lana. The writers in fact desperately wanted the fans to view her as some sort of tragic heroine, but most fans found her underwhelming. The writers responded by attempting to to shill her, to the point where it backfired and just made fans despise her. The writers decided that the answer was to try and shill her even more, apparently thinking that it had to work eventually (it didn't; fans just hated her more and more as the show went on). It really says something that the fanbase rejoiced when it was announced that Lana was not going to be Back for the Finale.
Sue Sylvester from Glee is so petty and nasty and just so entertaining. Even people who dislike the show feel she does a great job.
In Game of Thrones the evil Joffrey (like his book counterpart) is so despicable that his actor Jack Gleeson gets a lot of praise from the fandom for making him so easy to hate.
Pete Campbell from Mad Men, while not necessarily a "villain," has this affect on a lot of viewers, as a creepy, shameless climber with few sympathetic qualities (and those who exist seem to exist within his non-sympathetic ones - e.g. his greater awareness of social progress and attempts to get the other writers and execs to realize this, is something he leverages to advance his career).
'Dirty' Den Watts from Eastenders was a classic soap example.
Charlie Gimbert from Lovejoy 'Smooth and oily and yet hard as nails.'
24: Ira Gaines, Mandy, Nina Meyers, Stephen Saunders, Christopher Henderson, Charles Logan, and Jonas Hodges for actual threats-to-America villains. Specifically for the political storylines, one can't ever go without mentioning Sherry freaking Palmer.
Once Upon a Time: Most of the villains, like Rumplestiltskin, Regina, and Captain Hook, quickly went through badass decay with their sympathetic backstories and quests for redemption. Peter Pan, on the other hand, is well-loved for finally being a villain that's content to be nothing more than an obnoxious, Magnificent Bastard, pint-sized piece of shit.
Ice Cube claimed to be "The Nigga Ya Love To Hate" on his debut album AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, because of the firestorm of controversy surrounding him at the time.
If the heel does his job well, he or she fits this trope. If it's simple hatred, that's X-Pac Heat.
Bully Ray seemingly goes out of his way to be a heat magnet, and it works magnificently. Case and point: Lockdown 2013, where his betrayal of the Hogan family as president of the Aces & Eights got energy drink cans tossed into a caged ring from all over the arena.
Virtually any "villain" faction from Warhammer 40,000 will have its own dedicated fans and players:
Orks — Laughably Evil, the green tide is full of murderous interstellar fratboy hooligans who will cut a bloody swath across the galaxy for no other reason than because it is damn good fun. This is reflected in their unpredictable, uncomplicated, and Crazy Awesome style of gameplay.
Exalted: The Deathlords have something to hate for everyone, but the biggest target for love-to-hatedom is Mask of Winters.
Chejop Kejak is the Anti-Villain that any Solar players would love to hate. This is the guy who spends every day manipulating everyone and everything just so he can tell himself that Usurpation was the Right Thing. He don't care about how many Fair Folks / Death Lords / Third Circle Demons you slaughter, to him he's always right and you're always wrong. And he's got 50 or so fate-ninjas to shut you up, even though said fate-ninjas really should be directed in helping you saving the world.
Tenpenny from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Sure, he's a corrupt, self-serving bastard who's behind some pretty despicable acts, but he's often highly entertaining and gets some of the best lines in the game. His voice actor certainly helps.
Ryder as well. He's a favorite among the fandom, as he manages to do enough humor during missions, in spite of being a megalomaniac jerk. Also notable for his voice actor, who is the rapper MC Eiht.
Interestingly, Ray Bulgarin from Grand Theft Auto IV has a large fanbase, but mostly is because him is a flatly efficient antagonist.
Kefka in Final Fantasy VI. He's an unapologetic sadist who also throws in plenty of Large Ham moments and several of the game's best lines. He also tops off an epic Final Boss fight that manages to thematically complete all of the themes of the game. Also, the theme to said final battle is a multi-movement tour de force that remains a fan favorite to this day.
Weil earns a special place in Mega Man history for being one of the few recurring Mega Man villains not to suffer from Villain Decay. Rather than being the Final Boss in every game like Wily and Sigma (who were turned into complete jokes because of it,) he keeps to manipulating things from the background, only personally taking on Zero in the final game of the Zero series.)
Prometheus and Pandora from Mega Man ZX due to how their battles never fail to entertain, especially the one where you fight both of them at once.
Skyward Sword has Ghirahim, the camp but creepy villain who's become very popular with fans. And while not necessarily a villain, Groose was loved for being a hilarious Large Ham even before he stopped being a jerk to Link.
Dr. Eggman/Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog. A rare case of Villain Decay actually making him more popular (due to being more sympathetic). Contrast with Eggman Nega.
Lezard Valeth of Valkyrie Profile. Somewhat problematic because half of his fanbase is in the Draco in Leather Pants camp, but even those that find him abhorrent believe the series wouldn't be half as good without him.
Dracula from the Castlevania series, who just continuously keeps coming back, just to get killed and then revive and then get killed and, you get the picture...
Erol from the Jak and Daxter series, who is a colossal Jerk Ass to Jak from the second his character is first introduced to just before he blows himself up. As if that isn't enough, he comes back from the dead in the third game and takes over the position of Big Bad.
General Sarrano from Bulletstorm, who taunts and swears nonstop at the player until you are FINALLY able to kill him at the end of the game...or so you think.
SHODAN and her/its speeches are essentially the main draw of the System Shock series. No other villain makes their taunting feel so bizarrely immediate, or so strangely personal.
BlazBlue: Both Hazama and ReliusClover exude this trope to the max. Hate their depravities, but admire their awesomeness while doing so, making them really solid villains to the series. Hazama started losing this as the series went on, but then Chronophantasma brought in a playable version of his alter-ego Terumi, winning him a few points back.
Dragon Age: Origins gives us Rendon Howe and Loghain Mac Tir. In contrast to the incoherently violent, Always Chaotic EvilBig Bad of the game, Howe and Loghain had identifiable intelligences, with dialog that provided players heightened impetus. The battle with the Archdemon has inevitability beyond the need for motivation, but the confrontation with Loghain is character-driven, and approaches with increasing dramatic tension.
More than anyone else in Saints Row 2, Shogo Akuji, leader of the Ronin, so much that his fate goes unpitied, and makes Ax-Crazy Johnny look reasonable. And almost as hated is Maero's girlfriend Jessica. Perhaps the comparison to these two makes the Big Bad look a little more sympathetic; by the time of his confrontation, the player's character has generated a little of this trope on himself/herself.
Nearly any villain from the Ace Attorney series. Each villain is thoroughly explored and wonderfully played. Case in point, Matt Engarde. He drove a woman to suicide, had a man assassinated, and had Maya Fey kidnapped as bargaining chip, at which point she was nearly starved to death. Why? To preserve his image. He also manages to sneak a glass of bourbon into the detention center. His reveal to Phoenix Wright was top notch, and the fact that he taunts you about Maya's capture makes him all the better.
Ridley from Metroid, beloved for his design, which is badass to the hilt, and for his apparent Joker Immunity, as well as the Awesome Music that tends to accompany his fights.
KaiLeng from Mass Effect 3 is paradoxically both hated and loved for 1) being a xenophobicasshole who's actions (killing Thane, Major Kirrahe, or Miranda, depending on how you play the game) give players enough incentive to take him down and 2) having a cool cyborg-ninja motif.
The Thalmor from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Almost Nazi Elves, the fans adore massacring any Thalmor patrols they see on the road for a variety of reasons, not limited to their smugness, various acts of dickery, and complete openness about trying to kill or enslave anyone who opposes or looks directly at them. They get more hate then any of the series' heralds of the apocalypse! As cherry on the top, if you dig into the obscure lore one can find that the Thalmor in their own way are would-be heralds of the apocalypse.
In Punch-Out!!, Aran Ryan and Super Macho Man are booed on sight for good reason (the former for being a blatant cheater and the latter for being an egotistical Jerkass), and yet they both have quite a few fans in real life; especially Aran, whose craziness and cheating made him one of the most memorable opponents.
Possibly the most popular villain in the Suikoden franchise is Prince Luca Blight from 2 for this reason. He is an unrepentantly cruel, deranged sociopath who commits horrific attrocities throughout the game; from slaughtering bands of children to outright genocide. Yet, because he is so over the top while still being terrifying, combined with his impressive track record in battle, he is often seen as the most memorable part of the game.
Hatoful Boyfriend: Doctor Shuu. He's an unpologetically Ax-CrazyMad Scientist who literally murders you in his romantic route and is pretty creepy otherwise... and he takes to the role so well, you can't help but love the bastard.
He's even this in-universe, as during one route in Holiday Star the human girl comments on how much she misses the fluffy little heretic.
The 5th installment of Umineko no Naku Koro ni introduces Erika Furudo. She's a (self-proclaimed) Great Detective who washes up on Rokkenjima and proceeds to hijack the gameboard. She's a Canon Sue, Parody Sue and Black Hole Sue and while the narration won't stop gushing over her the characters in-universe can't stand her especially after She pins all the murders on Natsuhi, kills Beatrice, gets into a fight with Maria over candy and makes her cry and tricks Battler into a logic error with a Wounded Gazelle Gambit. Erika is completely ruthless and amoral. Despite that she is a fairly popular character. Also in-universe Battler acknowledges her as an opponent in the end and is upset at her absence at the after party. Her master Bernkastel may also qualify after becoming theBig Bad.
Miko's fall from grace turned her from simply Scrappy to this. When she killed the Cool Old Guy, the hatred she'd garnered up to that point reached critical mass, in-universe and out.
Tarquin, who manages to be smug, Genre Savvy, helpful, and balance competence with being a Large Ham, is a meta-example. He knows he's an evil archvillain, and will eventually get defeated by a dashing hero, but he's entirely okay with that, because at least he'll be an awesome villain whom everyone will like more than the hero.
Caliborn. He's a misogynistic, annoying, creepy little shit but very few people actually dislike him.
Clio Gabriella of Survival of the Fittest, full stop. This is a girl who relishes her kills. Yet to quote one of the members of the site:
Clio is an absolute bitch who will eventually get what's coming to her. But, you know, Clio could easily be a character that I actually WOULD hate just on principle alone, were it not for how she was written.
The Federal Epidemic Containment Agency (FECA) from the live zombie game/event Dead Town. Within the narrative, FECA agents routinely shoot at the protagonists, even calling air strikes on them and more the less ignoring zombies to instead attack the heroes. The Dead Town creators told me that FECA merchandise is the most popular they sell. I have a button with a cartoon man in a gasmask that reads, "FECA: We're Here To Help." Even though FECA did not help me when I played Dead Town! They're fun to hate!
Katz from Courage the Cowardly Dog. Unlike other recurring villains in the series, he is incredibly popular in the fandom. He is genuinely admired for being a villain incredibly scary and creepier, who play like an Ax-CrazySerial Killer in a kids show. Very few villains like him can be found in Cartoon Network.
Him from The Powerpuff Girls. More or less like Katz, Him is admired for being a villain incredibly efficient and frightening in several of his early appearances
The Joker was already this, but Mark Hamill's performance made him even more lovable while being as monstrous as ever.
Osmosis Jones: Thrax a.k.a. The Red Death - one of the deadliest and coolest germs out there.
South Park: Eric Cartman (after crossing the Moral Event Horizon). Most of time he's just so utterly despicable that you just want to punch in the face, repeatedly. (So it was extremely satisfactory when Wendy did exactly that at some point.) However, if you remove him from the show, it suddenly becomes a lot less funny.
Discord. Being Laughably Evil makes him fun to watch but very easy to hate. Being the thinly-veiled expy of Q (complete with sharing the same actor) went a long way to making him this and earning him the Fan NicknameDisQord. Not so much "Hate" now that he's performed a Heel-Face Turn, but he's still pretty damn cool nonetheless.
Queen Chrysalis, a cunning Manipulative Bitch with shapeshifting powers, she fooled the entire cast (except Twilight), and her plan led to defeating Celestia in a fight and a commendable Near Villain Victory. On top of that she's so nasty, hammy and outright intriguing that fans can't not admire her note (except they can).
Skullmaster of Mighty Max was an incredibly powerful, threatening and dangerous villain who threatened to eat a child's heart in the opening scene of the first episode, but with the voice of Tim Curry there's no way not to love this hateful monster. The fact that he never suffers Villain Decay, but instead becomes significantly more threatening as the show progresses only sweetens the deal.