"The biggest problem in the series is something that no amount of editing can get around: The series compels viewers to empathize with a serial killer, to root for him to prevail, to hope he doesn't get discovered."
An interesting twist on conventional storytelling is to make The Protagonist a villain. Sometimes (but not always), this villainous main character will even get the Sympathetic P.O.V. or be portrayed as an Anti-Villain. Although "hero" and "protagonist" are frequently used interchangeably, it can be fun to take the side of evil. However, it is not necessary for a villain to be sympathetic for them to be this trope. Sometimes, it's done by having the protagonist facing even worse people.
A Villain Protagonist (especially in a comedy) is quite likely to go down in flames at the end. Whether this counts as a Downer Ending or not generally depends on how many dogs they kick along the way and/or how entertaining their Humiliation Conga or Karmic Death is. They may also do a Heel Face Turn and become a Hero Protagonist.
Of course, in the case of video games, some will allow you to choose to be evil, but that's another trope entirely; only when the character you play automatically defaults to villainy does this trope apply.
A Nazi Protagonist is very often a Villain Protagonist as well, but doesn't have to be.
When this is done for one episode, it's a Villain Episode.
This trope often overlaps with a Nominal Hero and/or Sociopathic Hero, and sometimes with the more extreme cases of an Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist.
Not to be confused with the Byronic Hero, who is a horribly flawed person but has heroic qualities and is often working towards a heroic goal. There are cases where a Byronic Hero and Villain Protagonist can overlap, though.
Contrast Hero Antagonist, both in terms of morality and role in the story. Compare and contrast Villain Antagonist and Hero Protagonist.
The point of this trope is for the protagonist to be the villain; it doesn't count if the hero's girlfriend or best friend is the villain.
Lucy from Elfen Lied is a cold-blooded killer. She has killed armed men and innocent children, for reasons ranging from "trying to kill me" to "You killed my dog" to "I envy your happy, normal life, and I need a place to crash." She kicks people quite sadistically when they are down. She hears voices and tries to infest humans with her diclonius genes, which will lead to the extinction of mankind. No effort is spared to let the viewer feel sympathy for her plight. In the end, she sacrifices herself to save the one guy who was nice to her. And then you look in the fridge and realize that by the time the series started, years after her most horrific deeds, she never explicitly killed anyone who was unarguably innocent, and got Mayu, whom she'd never met before, out of harm's way when fighting another diclonius...
Haruko Haraharu is very much the face of FLCL, acting as one of the premier Manic Pixie Dream Girls in all of media. Energetic, spontaneous and hammy as hell, but manipulative, selfish and ruthless, to the point where there's a distinct Lack of Empathy. She cements it by trying to feed Naota into the Terminal Core and endangering the Earth's existence out of her desire to absorbing Amtosk's infinite power. By the end, however, she's mellowed out considerably.
Mirai Nikki is interesting as the true protagonist is reasonably moral (though not truly heroic), but all of his allies seem to have rather questionable morals. One is a terrorist who thinks nothing of blowing up a school while it's occupied, while his closest ally and potential girlfriend is dangerous. Over the course of the series, he does eventually become more immoral and becomes as nutty as his girlfriend. Many characters call him out on his villainous behaviour as he gets worse and worse.
Tanaka Punie of Dai Mahou Touge is definitely not as good as her "princess of Magical Land" persona makes her appear to be. Her incantation says it all: "Lyrical Tokarev, kill them all!"
Yuuhi and Sami, the main duo of The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer. Sami has vowed to destroy the Earth herself after saving it from the eponymous hammer, and Yuuhi is extremely loyal to her for that end. The other Knights besides Yuuhi don't know about Sami's intention; Yuuhi and Sami plot to turn against them as soon as the world is saved. After much Character Development for both of them, they get better. Yuuhi eventually 'defeats' Sami, who didn't really want to destroy the Earth at that point, and the two go on to live Happily Ever After.
Hell Girl. Ai and her helpers are likable, but they damn people to hell for a living. What's more, Ai gets most of her contracts from desperate, vulnerable people who will regret their decision for all eternity. The first season balanced Ai's group with a pair of non-villain protagonists, Hajime and Tsugumi, and Mitsuganae seems to be doing the same with Mikage. Futakomori's approach was to emphasize the helpers' sympathetic backgrounds and ramp up the nastiness of Ai's victims.
The protagonist, Ryo Narushima, in Shamo is one of the most hate-able main characters in comic/manga history. He murders his parents in the first 3 pages of the book, and throughout the series commits (or at least attempts to commit) multiple acts of murder and rape.
Mayo Sasaki in Fushigi Yuugi: Eikoden. While she's not truly evil, she is extremely selfish and unsympathetic, and her obsession with stealing Miaka's beloved husband Taka/Tamahome, coupled with her irresponsible behavior, causes a lot of trouble for the warriors of Suzaku.
Yoshitaka, the male lead of He Is My Master is a sociopathic pervert with little to no redeeming qualities.
Gundam SEED Stargazer does this with the pilot of the Strike Noir, Sven Cal Vayan. He is the character with the most focus and the only one that (due to the length of the story) got any degree of backstory. He's also shown to be extremely cold, more than willing to gun down entire crowds of refugees on the off-chance that one is a terrorist, and show no trace of remorse or grief when a wingman gets killed. He does eventually get better, but not before getting into a Chained Heat situation with the Hero Antagonist of the series and the pilot of the Stargazer.
The Count of Monte Cristo aka Edmond Dantes from Gankutsuou. Especially when the title monster is in control of him.
Alucard from Hellsing . The first anime leans towards Anti-Hero, but the manga and OVA series depict him as more of a monster.
At the same time, the Character Development he had in the manga and OVA was cut from the TV anime, which ended before his more sympathetic characteristics could even occur.
Ookami no Kuchi: Wolfsmund'' is a series of tragic stories only connected by the presence of Wolfram and the eponymous border pass that he oversees. As of the first volume, no one has gotten past Wolfsmund alive or unscathed thanks to him.
Sheila of Superior wants to achieve a future where humans will never again slaughter demons. However, she believes that the war will never end so long as both humans and demons continue to exist. Naturally, her solution is a bit . . . final. (Exa's near-absolute pacifism provides the jolt she needs to stop killing, at least temporarily, but matters aren't helped by the fact that she's the one person Exa wants to kill, as vengeance for slaughtering his entire village.)
Ling Xiaoyu from Tekken Blood Vengeance is probably the most heroic example of this trope ever, seeing that she was only in it because her target is a hottie. After her opponent goes out of her way to save her life following a showdown, she pulls a Heel Face Turn and allies herself with her so they can get to the bottom of what their superiors are really up to.
Natsuo of Teppu definitely qualifies. The realistic high school setting of the manga means that she's probably not going to be murdering anyone, but she has demonstrated herself to be ruthless, selfish, arrogant and frequently sadistic. For example, she initiates a fight with her future rival just because she's bored, and her rival's cheerfulness and self-confidence pisses her off. Natsuo has gotten a little less arrogant over the course of the series so far, but otherwise she's still just as much of a bitch as she was at the start.
In Black Lagoon almost all the main characters are villainous, and some arcs (like the first arc, and the initial Roberta arc) sees them take the actual villain's role by doing stuff like kidnapping, or doing stuff like supporting Balalaika, who is the Big Bad of the Yakuza arc (with the Washimine clan and Yukio being the closest thing to 'the hero', up until the point where The Bad Guy Wins).
In Canaan the main character Canaan is a gun-for-hire that kills mercilessly, even when her innocent soul mate Maria lays witness to her line of work. Albeit her cold personality is softened in Maria's presence.
Michio Yuki from MW. He is the main focus on the manga as he spends his time committing murder, not to mention collecting ransom money on his victims. He also crossdress women in his plot. His goal is to find MW and use it to end the world in vengeance for his own mortality.
The protagonist of the eponymous Bomb Queen is a supervillainess-turned-EvilOverlord. There are no apparent efforts to justify a Sympathetic P.O.V.. In the beginning it showed her character in a more humorous light, but now there is no doubt that she is a complete monster (she crushes Obama's nuts just for fun in the latest volume, murders all of her "friends", and rapes George Bush. Her actions would make Johan Liebert blush)
Mark Millar's Wanted, clearly, since nearly all of the main characters are stand-ins for DC and Marvel supervillains. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, most of those guys (including the protagonist) were too busy accelerating past the Moral Event Horizon to take notice of how they crossed it years ago. And they're still going faster.
A lot of DC villains get this treatment.
The Joker had his own short-lived series back in the '70s in which he cheerfully offed various other characters.
Lex Luthor had his own limited series in which he presents himself as a brave man trying to let humanity take its own course by freeing us from the influence of that meddling alien, Superman. He was also the star of Paul Cornell's Action Comics run (concurrent with Brightest Day).
Eclipso, a B-squad villain upgraded in a Crisis Crossover to the God of Vengeance, was the narrator and main villain in said crossover, "The Darkness Within", after which he was given his own series which lasted nearly two years.
Around the time of the 1970s Joker comic, DC also broached the trope (depending on your point of view) by launching Blitzkreig, a WWII comic featuring a group of Nazi soldiers as sympathetic protagonists.
The seven issue miniseries Empire centers around a Doctor Doom-esque protagonist finalizing his conquest of the Earth, and dealing with the question "what next?"
Etrigan, the titular Demon of DC comics, manages at least in his own series to have you rooting for him despite being Exactly What It Says on the Tin. He remains a sympathetic protagonist mainly by frequently allying himself with more, y'know, heroic heroes against demons who are either even worse than Etrigan, or who at least have more immediate actively evil plans in motion.
In the original comic book version of The Mask, the central character (who is called "Bighead", because most people don't know he's wearing a mask) is a sociopathic serial murderer, akin to The Joker given powers (which got even scarier in the Joker Mask miniseries, where this actually happened). Let's just say that in the comics, the early scene in the movie where the Mask shoved mufflers up the asses of the mechanics who ripped him off would have involved a lot of red ink being used in the coloring process. Very often, the actual people wearing the mask are treated as little more than hosts whose bodies are being used to commit Bighead's comedic killing sprees... and they'll still gladly kill each other for the chance to wear it.
One wearer of the mask was a little girl (in 5th grade or something) who was bullied at school, and so when she puts the mask on (a dream come true for her) she goes to a school party and burns the school down.
This aspect of the comic series may have been referenced in the animated series, when a 4000 year old sociopathic fey who claims to have known all of the Mask's previous hosts (who included the likes of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan) returns to Earth to team up with the latest Mask, but soon realizes he's "not like the others."
Teknophage, a short-lived comic by forgotten mid-90's publisher Tekno Comix, was a story about a 65 million year old, reptilian, SteampunkDimension Lord / Magnificent Bastard who fed strife, misery, and tyranny merely to enjoy the chance to eat the souls of those with the killer instinct to struggle against him. Nominally, the comics were about the people trying to stop him, but everyone knew who to root for.
The eponymous Lord Havok and the Extremists are all deadly supervillains bent on dominating the world that denied them... and are in fact portrayed much more sympathetically than the "heroic" Americommando, who is inarguably a danger to all around him. Lord Havok in particular is given a heartbreaking Start of Darkness.
Hunter Rose, the original Grendel, was an assassin/crimelord who did a lot of bad stuff for kicks and giggles. The later Grendels were more Anti Heroes, fighting against even worse individuals, particularly Japanese Kabuki Vampire Tujiro XIV.
According to Word Of God, the Legion of 3 Worlds miniseries is focused on its main villain Superboy-Prime.
Diabolik, the eponymous hero of the long-running Italian comic series. He is a ruthlessly violent jewel-thief who indifferently kidnaps, tortures, brainwashes and kills the innocent and guilty alike. His lover/partner-in-crime Eva Kant happily assists with all of the above, and throws obsessive sexual jealousy into the mix.
Incognito's main character, Zack, is an ex-super villain who got put into a witness protection program. He does do some heroic acts in secret, but only for selfish reasons.
Secret Six: It has Bane, the man who broke the Bat, Scandal Savage, the psychotic daughter of the first murderer, and Ragdoll, who is just freaky. Add to that Catman (an honorable but crazy hired killer), Deadshot (a sociopathic hitman) and an actual freakin' Banshee and you know this is not a team of nice people. Nice to look at, sure, but not nice. Definitely not nice.
The DCU villain Kobra, the Mad Scientist leader of a Religion of Evil, was originally introduced in an eponymous comic series that followed his efforts to Take Over the World, which were invariably foiled by his good twin brother. The series was cancelled after just seven issues (but Kobra would return).
RISE, KRAKEN! is a comic about a Cobra / SPECTRE-like global organization "with the stated goal of raising a giant sea creature that will rule the world by iron fist and slimy tentacle", and what kind of person joins up to build lasers on the Moon and get beaten up by the heroes. The protagonist discovers that most of the people involved aren't in it For the Evulz, but to advance their own possibly more reasonable agendas.
There was a Marvel Comics mini-series called Deadly Foes of Spider-Man was that was like this. The series focused on the Sinister Syndicate (a villain team made up of guys usually thought of as Inefficient Sympathetic Villains and actually gave them complex personalities, motivations, and in one case, a love interest. Spider-Man was pretty much a "hero antagonist" through the whole thing. Unfotunately, the story ended up with the villains splitting into two factions and an Enemy Civil War breaking out, where ultimatly, the only real winner was the Kingpin, the guy who had been funding them.
Daken in his own ongoing. It's made pretty clear he is not a good person (He kills people for kicks after all), but he is charismatic though.
Most iterations of the Thunderbolts, although how villainous they are depends on the iteration and the villains involved.
Chaos! Comics, a horror comics company whose heyday was in the '90s, specialized in villain protagonists. Their most successful "hero" and a downright extreme example of this trope was Lady Death, who in her first story won over a boy who had suffered severe child abuse with promises of love and then coaxed him into going on a killing spree. After seizing the opportunity to turn him into the "super-zombie" Evil Ernie, she encouraged him to wipe out the entire human race, all just to free her from a curse that kept her from returning to Earth. Over the course of his various mini-series Evil Ernie did indeed succeed in wiping out millions through hijacked nuclear bombs and his own zombie plague. Unsurprisingly, Lady Death softened up quite a bit even before Chaos! went under and more when she was licensed out to other companies; at least there was no more goading abuse victims into committing genocide.
Although he was given a sympathetic backstory, Evil Ernie remained a classic example of this all through the Chaos! days. Most of his mini-series began with him brutally slaughtering the populace of an entire city (one story started off just after he had killed the people of Manhattan single-handedly over the period of several months), and then having to ward off attacks from his Rogues Gallery, people who would be considered the protagonists in your typical Zombie Apocalypse story, or from someone who was the villain by default. One mini-series, War of the Dead, was about his attempts to wipe out humanity by hijacking the United States' nuclear arsenal.
As of June 2013, Larfleeze is likewise getting his own series.
Paperinik (a Donald Duck alter-ego created in Italy) had no problem committing thefts and fighting the police to get revenge on who wronged him in his early stories. He however evolved into a much more heroic character with time, especially in Paperinik New Adventures.
"The Salesman Is Always Right", in which the Salesman is revealed at the end to have come to murder the woman he strikes up a conversation with.
"Rats" centers on an escaped Nazi war criminal who is living incognito in the United States, and reminisces about all the people he murdered during the war.
Max from the Eagle Comic Strip 'The Thirteenth Floor'. Admittedly he straddled the line between Anti-Hero and Villain Protagonist, a computer AI designed to protect and care for the tenants of the block of flats he was installed in, punishing (and several times accidentally killing) those who would harm them. He was often portrayed as a straight hero but was initially given several moments where his actions backfired horribly (once getting one of his favorite tenants accused of a murder Max had committed), and was opposed by several openly heroic characters. Later on however he started to get into more action based scenarios and became a straight Guile Hero, with the whole 'multiple homicide' thing brushed under the carpet.
Played with in DKA: The land is torn with war, the forces of Light embattled with the vile Keepers- heralds and servants of dark gods. The Avatar of all that is good has been slain. So it has been for fifteen years when, suddenly, out of nowhere, a sorceress of unfathomable power emerges. Keeper Mercury. Takeing the form of a lovely young woman, this semi-demon seems to posses the antithesis of the Light's power. Amoral and feindishly intelligent, who knows what manner of cunning works behind that deceptive smile...
Justin as Kira in Kira Is Justice. However, his motive is that he is using the Death Note because he feels like "it is his duty".
King Superman: Each and every one of the protagonists qualify, for acts including using the children of Little Lamplight as slaves and human shields, repeatedly leaving behind friends and allies to save their own asses, and convincing Cliff Briscoe to chug radioactive sludge.
The Pony POV Series, being a POV series, does this on occasion. But the example that stands out is Princess Luna during her second POV. She starts out as a hero, but eventually performs a Face Heel Turn due to her overpossessiveness of Pip. She gets into an argument with Celestia, resulting in her killing and bringing Pip back to life as an immortal undead so she can have him forever. When Celestia tries to convince her against making him immortal, she tries to murder her, killing a number of innocent ponies in the process. This leads to Celestia being a Hero Antagonist and fighting back to stop her now insane sister, ultimately killing her. It was All Just a Dream, but still!
A milder example, but one that shouldn't be overlooked regardless, is any of the chapters set in the Epilogue timeline. Being a Villain World where Discord won, it's to be expected that about 99% of the story is told from the POV of either Discord himself or the discorded Mane Six, who now serve as his Co-Dragons. At least until Twilight Tragedy performs a Heel Face Turn, followed shortly there after by Liarjack. They then redeem Rarigreed and, much later, Traitor Dash and Angry Pie.
Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic Prison Island Break has all the main cast as violent convicted criminals. They don't even have a particuarly heroic goal; they just want to escape. But because the story is centered on them, they get the Sympathetic P.O.V. and you completely forget they're a collection of terrorists, serial killers and rapists (even though the writer never lets you forget).
In the short story series Lex Luthor Triumphant Lex Luthor gives Lois Lane an interview 8 months after Superman vanished without a trace. Then it goes places.
Jade's Face Heel Turn in Queen Of All Oni is what kicks off the entire plot in the first place, and she gets more much more focus than the heroes trying to stop her (though the author's started to rectify that in the latest chapters).
The eponymous Wreck-It Ralph stars an oldschool arcade villain who's tired of being ostracized for being the bad guy. He goes on a quest to prove that he can be just as heroic as his good-guy rival, Fix-It Felix Jr.
Darth Vader himself, from the Star Wars franchise. According to George Lucas, the film franchise is fundamentally about Anakin and his progression from innocence to a force of good, his fall to evil, and subsequent redemption.
The Sergio Leone's spaghetti western films has two examples:
Frank from Once Upon a Time in the West is a perfect example of a Villain Protagonist played completely straight, and most of the conflict in the main plot revolves around him.
Martin Scorsese's films are always accompanied by a great cynicism. Here are his examples of this trope:
Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle came in 30th on AFI's most iconic villains. He comes off as a hero at the end, but it's ironic. Had things gone slightly different, he would have been an attempted assassin instead.
In Goodfellas: Henry Hill, Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito.
Yuri Orlov in Lord Of War is a gunrunner who sells weapons to anybody, including violent dictators and human rights violators. We're shown what a disaster his love life and family relationships are in such a way that you have to stop and feel sorry for him.
Deathtrap: Michael Caine as a man who murders his wife and seduces his secretary.
Reservoir Dogs follows several thieves after a heist. Although one of them is actually a cop, they are all more or less equal in screen time.
Natural Born Killers, though the film muddies things by making the law enforcement officers creeps and murderers as well.
Big Jim Mc Lain features a "hero" who works for Senator Joseph McCarthy (yes, that McCarthy), and beats the living snot out of liberals in Hawaii. Made worse by the fact that this "hero" is played by John Wayne. To be fair he is targeting "communists", but the definition seems to be more than a little... general.
The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, Peter Sellers' final film, is an Affectionate Parody (with roots in The Goon Show) that makes Fu Manchu charming and a bit sympathetic in his unrepentant wickedness. Having been thwarted so many times by the British, and on the brink of death, the whole plot hinges on him creating a youth elixir to save himself.
Nick Naylor of Thank You For Smoking is the "Sultan of Spin" and chief spokesperson for the tobacco industry. His Crowning Moment of Awesome comes when he testifies before a Congressional hearing that when his son, possibly the only other sympathetic character, turned eighteen and wanted a cigarette, he would buy him his first pack. The story softens his character considerably by making plain that he realizes the fact that many people see him as a villain, and good-naturedly takes this in stride.
Diabolik, Italian comic book "hero" and main character of the film Danger: Diabolik (spoofed on Mystery Science Theater 3000's final episode) is definitely a Villain Protagonist. At first rub, Diabolik may come off as a Gentleman Thief, but throughout the film he indulges in purely selfish acts, stealing millions and killing indiscriminately just to satisfy his girlfriend Eva's tastes or his own whims. He doesn't even have the caveat of fighting a greater evil; he's simply indulging himself with every act in the film.
Crow: Well I'm sorry if you're offended by my random killings. Servo: Once again they triumph in the name of sex! Mike: (fake joviality) So more innocent people killed because of Diabolik's whims!
Actually, Ginko is supposed to be the protagonist. Unfortunately, the movie makes its allegiances unclear because it revels in Diabolik's evildoings.
Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) in Ace In The Hole (1951). He's a washed-up, amusingly cynical, charismatic, and brilliantly manipulative newspaper writer who dooms a man to death in a collapsed cave by prolonging and milking the rescue attempt - he's confident the man will make it through several days in there - just so he can report on it and restore his career. He regrets what he does in the end, but it's doesn't much matter because it's a World Half Empty where most of the characters don't care about the life at stake, and instead take his lead and encouragement to profit off of the literal media carnival that springs up in its wake of this "Human Interest Story".
The main character from Woody Allen's Match Point gets married to a rich woman mostly for her money while having an affair with his brother-in-law's girlfriend. Ultimately he gets the mistress pregnant, so to cover it up he kills her and her neighbor to make it look like a botched robbery.
Woody Allen loves the Trope, as Judah of Crimes & Misdemeanors follows a similar path to the protagonist of Match Point. Judah wrings his hands a lot, but he's still a complete monster.
In the Norwegian film Insomnia, the protagonist Engström begins as a moderately corrupt detective (though he's highly regarded by his peers). By the end, he's descended into pure evil, partially caused by the madness of working in 24-hour sunlight above the Arctic Circle but mostly due to his own inner lack of humanity. The final shot of his dead, haunted eyes is one of the creepier endings in film.
Kind Hearts and Coronets: The protagonist's mother, the daughter of a duke, is disowned by her family after eloping with an opera singer. In revenge, the protagonist plots to murder every relative standing between himself and the dukedom. While simultaneously leading on both Betty and Veronica. And it's all played for laughs.
Frank Abagnale Jr., the protagonist of Catch Me If You Can, is an adrift and young counterfeiter and con man who uses his natural cleverness to make some money, and his antagonist, Hanratty, is an FBI agent trying to, well, Catch Him if He Can. In the end Frank with Hanratty's support eventually goes straight.
The eponymous character of Charley Varrick is a career bank robber, who we first see robbing a bank. However, given that the movie is about him trying to escape the consequences when the bank he hits turns out to be a money laundry for the Mob, he played entirely fair with his fellow gang members until they tried to screw him over (at which point he unhesitatingly arranged for them to fall into the hands of the antagonists), avoided killing innocent bystanders (again unlike the antagonists), tragically lost his (fellow bank robber) wife in the opening scene, and faced off against a Mafia hitman, he's easy to root for.
Otis, which features a deranged serial killer who targets young women in order to relive his high school memories (or more accurately, his brother's). However, he apparently doesn't rape them.
The Australian psychological thriller Restraint has a female example in Teresa Palmer's character Dale, a stripper on a crime spree with her murderous boyfriend. She remains sympathetic due to a kind streak.
The father/daughter con-artist team of Paper Moon.
Tony Wendice in Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder and Steven Taylor in the pseudo-remake A Perfect Murder. Both discover that their wives (who are each independently wealthy) are cheating on them and, not wanting to divorce them and lose out on the money, cook up elaborate schemes to murder them instead.
The Usual Suspects revolves around a group of criminals, trying to get out from under the finger of the villain, Keyser Soze. It turns out that the protagonist, Verbal Kint, was the villain all along.
Jodie Foster's character from The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. An interesting case, because her killing is more of a survival tactic than a true villainy, but her actions are a little too extreme to describe as "antihero". Plus, it's not (usually) so much a matter of physical survival, but of preserving what amounts to a set of hippie values. Which is subversive in all kinds of great ways.
Four Lions: a comedy about aspiring jihadist suicide bombers.
The eponymous main character of Mini's First Time is an utterly remorseless parricide. She is probably as close to soulless as a person could be, which is precisely what makes her so compelling to watch.
The protagonist of The Bad and the Beautiful is a ruthless movie producer who scruples not to lie, cheat, steal, seduce, and con to get his movies made. The film is narrated by three of the people whom he chewed up and spat out on his way to the top.
Bridget Gregory of The Last Seduction, a Con Artist who steals $700,000 from her equally crooked (but much less clever) husband and spends the rest of the movie scheming to bump him off and get away with it. She succeeds, and her Unwitting Pawn goes to prison in her place.
Tony Curtis's Sidney Falco of Sweet Smell Of Success. He screws over and uses everyone he meets in the film, with the exception of his master, J.J. Hunsecker (as portrayed by Burt Lancaster).
Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) of Mr Brooks, a caring family man and philanthropist with a secret addiction to serial murder. Unlike a lot of examples, the good sides of his persona are real and not just a mask, making him highly sympathetic. Despite that, he's still a monster.
Matsu from the Female Prisoner Scorpion films is, not too surprisingly, a prisoner. Put away for attempted murder, she goes on to kill and cause to be killed many more times before the series ends, her victims including the prison warden at least two detectives and several other policemen. The facts that one of the detectives, the man she tried and failed to kill, seduced her and arranged her rape purely to allow him to arrest the rapists and corruptly take over their business, that the prison warden tortured her, locked her underground in chains for a year, had her raped and ultimately tried to stage her death, and that she never kills senselessly, only makes her less villainous relatively speaking.
The trio of the protagonists in Fassbinder's Film NoirLove Is Colder Than Death. The first of them is a pimp and rapist, the second is a violent killer-for-hire working for Mob, and seemingly the least evil of them is a prostitute, but she also doesn't disdain of murdering people, including Innocent Bystanders.
Maindrian Pace in Gone In Sixty Seconds 1974 steals cars for a living, though he makes sure that the cars are insured. The remake averts the trope. Although the protagonist is also a car thief, he's being blackmailed into performing the heist by the real villains.
Subverted by A Clockwork Orange. The first act of the film has Alex DeLarge, our protagonist, as a blatant villain. In the rest of the film, however, he's a helpless victim. In the film version of the story, the real villain turns out to be the government, who try to play God with a man's mind, screw up, and ultimately sweep it under the rug and make a deal with a psychopath.
The protagonist of I Stand Alone is a violent ex-butcher who pummels his pregnant girlfriend into a miscarriage, plans to murder random people who cross him, and molests his daughter.
Sue Shiomi as Yumi Higaki from Sonny Chiba's Dragon Princess is a killing machine with violent revenge the one thing on her agenda. She also fits into the Type III Anti-Villain category and gets a Bittersweet Ending in that while she suffers the same fate as her father in avenging the loss of his arm, she survives and is able to live a more normal life.
The title character from Caligula, which depicts the reign of the Ax Crazy Roman emperor.
O-Dog in Menace II Society. Unlike some other examples of villains protagonists, he is not sympathic or nice, has no redeeming qualities, and has very few traits of Affably Evil. Rather he is a sadistic Ax Crazy who does not hesitate to kill.
A-Wax is somewhats this, too.
Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen in The Dictator, played by Sacha Baron Cohen. He's a racist, sexist, antisemitic terrorist-supporting autocratic oppressor of a fictional third world nation. He wins in the end by defeating his equally evil treacherous advisor, while little has changed about his behavior.
Ryunosuke in The Swordof Doom is an amoral samurai who's cruelty earns him the hatred of almost everyone around him.
Neil McCauley (played by Robert De Niro) in Heat is a ruthless bank robber, but he has an equal role in the story as Vincent Hanna (played by Al Pacino), the cop trying to catch him.
Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me is an accomplished serial killer and domestic abuser masquerading as an honest cop, and genuinely enjoys all the murders he commits.
All the protagonists and antagonists in the Spanish movie Acción Mutante are villains, fighting each other for selfish reasons like money, sex or spite - not even because the other villain's kind of evil is worse. Even the minor characters are unsympathetic (e.g. the misogynist hillbilly miners; the ridiculously-posh, biased TV journalists).
Chad from In the Company of Men is a rude sexist Jerkass who gets a woman to fall in love with him just so he can break her heart later on for his own ammusmant. He runs a buisness and treats his employees like dirt. He later betrays his "friend" Howard, getting him demoted at work and driving him and his girlfriend to depression.
Michael Moorcock created Colonel Pyatt - a cocaine-addicted, self-aggrandising, violently anti-semitic Jewish engineer who worships Fascism and may or may not be a rapist. He's also the narrator of his series of novels, despite being an outrageous liar.
Barry Lyndon. The title character is based on a real-life cad, and William Makepeace Thackaray hides no joy in having his villain protagonist gets what's coming to him, including a Karmic Death. Stanley Kubrick's adaptation makes Barry far more sympathetic (though still a jerk).
The abominable Protagonists, from the novel Hells Children, by Andrew Boland, are this.
Thornhill is one of these by the end of The Secret River, having facilitated a genocide in order to avoid having to sell a hundred acres.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla from Colleen McCullough's Masters Of Rome series is a pretty mean guy. He brings about the deaths of his stepmother, her nephew and his stepmother's lover in order to inherit their fortune (and kills another man to frame the deaths on him), treats his wife harshly to the point of driving her to suicide, and travels up north to spy on a group of Germans where he meets and impregnates a woman, he later arranges for his German family to be protected and leaves them. And that's all in the first book.
Subverted by Alex from A Clockwork Orange. He spends the first part of the book as an obvious villain, but once he's given the Ludivico Treatment, he becomes a helpless victim at the mercy of others. Ultimately it turns out that the government was the villain for trying to rob him of moral choice. Alex ultimately reforms himself at the end of the book.
Humbert Humbert from Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Altogether a charming, well-spoken and eloquent young historian of French literature, liked by the reader and nearly anyone who meets him. Too bad he is also a pedophile who marries a woman in order to abuse her daughter, then proceeds to lie to said daughter about the death of her mother while taking her on a not-quite-consensual road trip, on which he tries to drug and then have intercourse with her.
Lord Soth of Dargaard Keep, a death knight, was originally a villain in the Dragonlance novels. Three novels were later released starring Soth as the main character: Knight of the Black Rose and Spectre of the Black Rose by James Lowder and Voronica Whitney Robinson, and the eponymous Lord Soth by Edo van Belkom.
Paradise Lost. Half of the story follows the War in Heaven, in which Satan is the protagonist. Putting Satan center stage and allowing him to work his diabolical charisma on the reader is a major source of the poem's appeal.
R. A. Salvatore'sSellswords series follow the adventures of Artemis Entreri and Jarlaxle, both of whom are recurring antagonists in his previous novels. While Jarlaxle is really more of a neutral, power-hungry Magnificent Bastard than an outright villain and Entreri's backstory gives him a Freudian Excuse for being a heartless-murderer-with-morals, neither character can really ever be seen in a positive light. It's also worth noting that Entreri has improved a great deal from his first murderous appearance.
Similarly, the antagonists Jarlaxle and Entreri face are all much worse than them.
Forgotten Realms' War of the Spider Queen series. All characters walking along the plot are fit in range from casual backstabbers to neighbour-sacrificing Lloth priestesses, and violent half-demons. Which does not prevent some of them from being charming and all of them from having more or less good points.
Ravenloft'sI, Strahd, is a novel about the history of - who else? - Strahd.
This is usually the case in The Vampire Chronicles. Some protagonists are sympathetic characters, some have a few good qualities, but most are villains, at least in the traditional sense.
Patrick Bateman from American Psycho is a deliciously Ax CrazySerial Killer who tortures and murders a wide variety of innocent people in the story, simply because he likes the feeling. But even if he's just imagining that, he's still an unlikable, self-centered, elitist, racist, shallow bastard.
Parker, the central protagonist of a series of novels by Westlake wrote under the pseudonym Richard Stark. Several of these have been filmed (most famously as Point Blank starring Lee Marvin, and Payback starring Mel Gibson), although the central character is never named Parker in these adaptations due to the author's request. Parker has no moral hang ups about killing, stealing, or torturing to get what he wants, and what he wants is usually money or revenge for not getting money.
Westlake also wrote a series of novels under his real name about John Dortmunder, a professional burglar. The books are much Lighter and Softer than the Parker series, and generally Played for Laughs.
Wyatt is the thief protagonist of a series of novels (starting with Kickback) by Australian author Garry Disher. You will end up barracking for Wyatt as his schemes bring him into conflict with worse criminals who lack even Wyatt's basic sense of honour and ethics.
Mary Gentle's Grunts! tells the story of a group of orcs just trying to make their way in the world. After they loot a dragon's hoard that has weapons from assorted universes, including some from the US Marines and assorted literature (including Das Kapital, which turns one female orc into a Communist Commissar). The book is an acid-tipped parody of Lord of the Rings, and none of the characters are heroes in the traditional sense.
A number of the books by Gregory Maguire (author of Wicked) feature villains from well-known stories as the protagonist. For example, the queen from Snow White (in Mirror, Mirror), and one of the stepsisters from Cinderella (in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister).
The Hitman from Thomas Perry's first novel The Butcher's Boy. He is a sociopathic, amoral killer of considerable ability who has to evade both government agents and Mafia thugs when a Mafia boss tries to have him killed after a successful hit on a U.S. Senator that can be traced back to the latter.
Mercedes Lackey, in one of her stories featuring fantasy elves in the real world, had a cold-hearted, ruthless bitch of an antagonist who was quite willing to kill children if the job required it. The only problem was that she was going after a family that were protected by those same, very powerful, elves acting in secret to protect them. The shear magnitude of her hapless floundering around as she was constantly thwarted in one long Humiliation Conga would make you feel sorry for her if you didn't remind yourself that she was a murderous sociopath.
Strahd von Zarovich, the sociopathic vampire in I, Strahd (and TSR's Ravenloft campaign world).
Soltan Gris, narrator of L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth, is also the series antagonist (although you can't really call him sympathetic) who is secretly trying to stop the mission of his incorruptible, heroic Marty Stu counterpart Jettero Heller.
Hester Shaw, from Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines quartet (really, she's only the protagonist of the second book "Predator's Gold;" the first focuses on her husband and the third and fourth on her daughter), hovers between this and anti-hero. On the one hand, she is completely and incontrovertibly evil (she sells a city into slavery or death just to get rid of her rival for her husband-to-be, and actively enjoys killing people); on the other, one somehow can't help sympathising with her regardless, and because of her genuine love for Tom, her interests generally coincide with those of the other (not so evil) protagonists.
The narrator of The Debt to Pleasure, although his villainy is only gradually revealed over the course of the book.
The Cleaner by Paul Cleave is written from the first person perspective of a psychotic serial killer who considers killing, mutilating, and raping women "just a hobby."
Horace Dorrington from the short stories by Arthur Morrison is a corrupt detective who won't hesitate to cut deals with the villains or even kill his own clients, if he can profit from it.
Death Star focuses on the various people on the first Death Star. Most of them are Punch Clock Villains, really, who either think that The Empire is flawed but good or don't think they can join the Rebellion, either because they are stuck or they think it would just be curb stomped (they are on the Death Star). The cast includes the gunner who pulled the trigger to destroy Alderaan, a pilot who shot down enough X-Wings to become an Ace Pilot, a Force-Sensitive cultured stormtrooper, a surgeon who'd been stuck in service since the start of the Clone Wars, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Darth Vader. The survivors all either join the Rebellion (it blew up the Death Star! Maybe there's a chance!), flee to somewhere far away, or are Darth Vader. The Rebels aren't seen much - they're out there, but they don't show up for long. Leia's in the novel long enough to impress and guilt the surgeon who's treating her for torture, but the others don't get voices or faces, let alone names.
Steerpike is the protagonist of the first Gormenghast novel, while he either manipulates or assassinates the Groan family and their associates.
To at least one other protagonist's surprise, Clem's motives for assembling the Hand Of Mercy are only a part the problem- as a Fallen angel, he's the villain by default. To a lesser extent, Nana Sophie and Salve aren't loyalists either, so it could be argued that most of the main characters are, at the very least, officially morally grubby.
Baron Harkonen from Dune during his POV segments. You so want him dead for his crimes and perversions, but while waiting for his comeuppance, you can't help but admire his brilliant political maneuvering and epic-level Magnificent Bastardry.
Subverted in Book 4, where Leto II says that the Baron wasn't really evil at all, just a very excessive individual. And Leto II knows evil better than anyone, since he has most of humanity living in his head.
Catherine de' Medici is the protagonist of Jean Plaidy's trilogy Madame Serpent, The Italian Woman, and Queen Jezebel. Plaidy paints her as a monster who has her brother-in-law and one of her own sons murdered, and orders courtiers to sexually abuse another son to "turn him gay" and ensure that her favourite would reach the throne. She also shows the abuse Catherine endured as a child - in one scene, a 6-year old Catherine is forced to watch her beloved dog die in agony because her aunt disapproved of her crying over her other dog's death (all Truth in Television, sadly).
Gerald Tarrant of the Coldfire Trilogy is the true embodiment of a villain hero. From the beginning of the first book he is foreshadowed as the boogieman of a country. He is what parents threaten their children with to get them to go to their beds on time, and it is completely justified. The only reason he is a protagonist is because the thing that is threatening the world just happens to be a threat to him as well. He is a Magnificent Bastard who feeds on suffering and fear. But he also has an amusing side, in a state of near exhaustion in a land where he might be attacked at any moment, he still uses a part of his magic to fix his clothes and hair to look dashing.
A. E. van Vogt's classic sci-fi novel The Voyage Of The Space Beagle opens with his previously published story "Black Destroyer", recounting the powerful, feline predator Coeurl's battle of wits against the crew of human space explorers who arrive on his planet. Partly because the story's told largely through Coeurl's eyes, and partly because the human characters' Expo Speak dialogue makes them seem bland and uninteresting in comparison, his eventual defeat almost comes across as a Downer Ending. In the end, though, perhaps Coeurl had the last laugh: the Space Beagle's crew has passed on into obscurity, while he's gotten a Shout Out as an enemy in practically every Final Fantasy game.
In the second book of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Nathaniel becomes one of these as part of his Character Development, especially unfortunate seeing as how he had previously been disgusted with the behavior of magicians who acted similarly to how he started to in the book.
Brendan Stokes in Edmund Power's The Last Chapter starts out as an "aspiring novelist", i.e. a pathetic, conceited, talentless hack. He finds a manuscript while looting his dead neighbor's apartment, promptly steals and plagiarizes it, lies his way to success, and on the way expands his repertoire with adultery, blackmail, and eventually, double homicide.
In the second book in the Night Watch series, Day Watch, part of the story is narrated by Alysa, who is the series protagonist Anton's opposite number/Evil Counterpart in the forces of darkness (They start at the same level of power; while the Big Good is Anton's mentor, the Big Bad was Alysa's lover), and she is one of the protagonists of the book.
The Eye Of The Needle has a villain co-protagonist, since it spends far more pages following the spy's progress across England than it spends with the heroine who eventually brings him down.
Most Gothic horror fiction features a Villain Protagonist:
Ambrosio, the villainous priest of Matthew G. Lewis's The Monk, who gives in to his desire for his pupil Matilda, a woman disguised as a monk, and then is overcome by lust for the innocent Antonia. With Matilda's sorcerous help, Ambrosio seduces her, then later rapes and murders her. He is delivered into the hands of the Inquisition and makes a Deal with the Devil to avoid the death sentence that awaits him. Only after getting tortured to death does he learn that Antonia was actually his sister.
The title character of Les Chants De Maldoror by Lautréamont, a figure of absolute evil who is opposed to God and humanity, and has renounced conventional morality and decency.
Edward Montague's Demon Of Sicily, who promises two holy people fulfillment of their wanton sexual urges in exchange for their souls.
Manfred, the lord of The Castle of Otranto, who tries to forcibly marry his own son's fiancee in order to avert the destruction of his line.
Byronic Hero Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. His life ambition is to wreak vengeance on all who have (in his opinion) stood between him and his would-be lover Cathy Earnshaw. He achieves this by mentally and physically abusing them, and embezzling their property. He extends his revenge to the children of his enemies.
The unnamed protagonist of Georges Bataille's Story of the Eye, which is full of squick.
As do Andy Chambers' books, Path of the Renegade and Path of the Incubus, which feature the Dark Eldar as protagonists.
Lady Susan Vernon of Jane Austen's epistolary novel Lady Susan. Despite being the novel's central, most prominent figure, she is an unscrupulous, manipulative Vamp engaged in a sort of pre-affair with a married man while at the same time trying to snare the man her daughter is in love with as she struggles to force said daughter to marry a man against her will. Unlike Austen's Emma, Lady Susan does not change at all over the curse of her story. Her daughter Frederica is the more sympathetic heroine.
Simon Darcourt from A Snowball In Hell spends an awful lot of time narrating his crimes to the reader with glee.
Lysander in the last Apprentice Adept book, Phaze Doubt. Much of the book is spent trying to lure Lysander over to Phaze/Photon's cause (doubling as distracting him from his "real" mission as The Mole). Even though he's essential in the good guys' eventual triumph, he never actually switches sides.
Umberto Eco's novel The Prague Cemetery stars a racist, misogynistic forger whose only redeeming feature is his love of good food. The book starts with him penning down why he hates Germans, Italians, French, women, Jews, Catholics, Freemasons and many others, and ends with him penning The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as his magnum opus.
In John C. Wright's The Golden Age, Ao Aeon points at Phaethon's behavior and assures him he is obviously the villain of the piece. In The Golden Transcendence, Phaethon cites this to explain his behavior to Daphne, who is obviously, he explains, the heroine.
We spend so much time experiencing The Liveship Traders through Captain Kennit's POV that it sometimes becomes hard to remember that he really is the villain of the piece. Just an extremely charismatic, sympathetic villain who tends to overshadow his more heroic fellow-protagonists.
Haplo of The Death Gate Cycle begins as one of these. In addition to being the main character, he is also a member of the Patryn race, which seeks to subjugate all the worlds under Patryn rule. Later, he becomes less of a villain.
Specifically, his progression goes thusly- in the first two books, he's the flat-out Dragon to Lord Xar, and though his backstory makes him sympathetic, there's no real doubt that he's a bad guy. Then, in books 3 and 4, he starts getting pitted against people much worse than he is, moving to more of a Type V Anti-Hero. From the fifth book onward, Haplo has reevaluated his purpose and place in the universe, and though he never loses his ruthlessness or hard edges, he softens up enough to settle in as a Type III Anti-Hero.
The Private series Spin-OffPrivilege is from the point of view of Ariana Osgood, the villain of one of the books in the series.
Thérèse Raquin is all about a woman who murdered her husband to be with her lover.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian Gray is corrupted by Lord Henry's ideas of hedonism and becomes a cruel man who does whatever he wants, regardless of the consequences, and ends up causing pain and death to several people. His portrait reflects Dorian's inner soul (and ages for him as well) and becomes uglier and uglier with each evil act he commits until it becomes monstrous.
Thought we don't find out until halfway through Within Ruin Virgil is the reason behind nearly every awful thing that has happened throughout the novel, including the plague.
Aside from the boatman and the epilogue's police, every character in And Then There Were None is culpable in someone's death, ranging from negligent homicide to premeditated murder. The one who seems most sympathetic and protagonist-like within the ensemble (Vera) turns out to be the most culpable. Subverted in most adaptations.
Robert Reed's short story, The Hoplite has the protagonist being a thoroughly brutal warrior of Alexander the Great's army, who was Resurrected for a Job - subjugating rebellious countries through use of massive firepower and a suit of Powered Armor. The protagonist murders several innocent people and children in revenge for being betrayed.
The monstrous sorcerer Yasunori Kato is generally labeled as the protagonist of Hiroshi Aramata's epic fantasy/alternate history novel Teito Monogatari (Tale of the Imperial Capital), although the story does focus on the perspectives of many other characters including a disillusioned Yukio Mishima.
Kaizan Nakazato's classic literary work Dai-bosatsu Tōge (The Great Bodhisattva Pass), generally considered one of the longest works ever written in world literature, revolves around the exploits of Tsukue Ryonosuke, a psychopathic samurai who commits several evil deeds.
John Barnes' "Kaleidescope Century'' is told from the fractured viewpoint of jashua Ali Quare, a mercenary in an alternate future who works for what used to be the KGB before it took over bothe The Mafia and The Mafiya.
The Sopranos: Considering that well over half the cast is in the Mob, this trope was bound to pop up. Even the nicer ones have no problem with murder, drug traficking and other unsavory, illegal activities. And chances are, if you're not in the mob, you're a huge Jerkass who just doesn't happen to be as morally bankrupt.
Walter White of Breaking Bad slowly evolves toward this over the course of the first four seasons, but remains an Anti-Hero by always struggling against someone worse. By the fifth season, however, Walter has become a cold and cruel man, and his opposition is his own family. He's become the villain in his own story.
Hustle is about a group of con artists, though they tend to remain sympathetic due to their incredible charm and their code of only scamming people who are dishonest, greedy, and otherwise presented to the audience as unsympathetic.
There a few episodes of iCarly where even Freddie and Carly end up going against Sam when she does something bad. Example, starting a child labour sweatshop.
Sylar of Heroes. In the first season he's the Big Bad, but in the second and subsequent seasons he's a protagonist and goes through a Heel Face Revolving Door, spending some portions as a hero and more portions as a villain.
To the extent that they are protagonists, rather than Echo, the staff of the Dollhouse is this. Although their villainy lessens over time, especially in season 2 as a Greater Evil is uncovered.
All male members of the Blake's 7 crew flirt with this, even Blake when you consider that in the finale of season 2 it's made clear that he was fully willing to cause the deaths of millions of people (by computer failure) in order to take down the Federation.
Francis Urquhart in the BBC series House Of Cards and its sequels To Play the King and The Final Cut. Urquhart is a Richard III-esque British MP who schemes his way up to being Prime Minister via various sneaky and some downright evil acts.
Frank Underwood in House Of Cards Remake is a ruthless politician who will do literally anything for more power. In Shakespearean tradition, he frequently gives snide, sneering and self-satisfied asides to the audience, letting the viewer see inside his twisted mind.
Al Swearingen in the first season of Deadwood is a co-protagonist and the main villain, with Seth Bullock as the heroic co-protagonist. In the second and third season, the Hearst enterprises serve as the villain and Al becomes a more sympathetic Anti-Hero.
Rod Serling wrote three stories in which the main character is a Nazi who receives a supernatural punishment: The Twilight Zone episodes "Judgment Night" and "Death's-Head Revisited", and a segment of the Night Gallery pilot film titled "The Escape Route".
Almost every episode of Columbo started off from the villain's point-of-view as he or she carried out a supposedly perfect murder.
The Borgias: Rodrigo Borgia, also known as Pope Alexander Sextus, is this. He's Affably Evil, has four kids and an openly-known mistress, and has no problem with blackmail or bribery, and pimps his kids out to the highest bidder. Plus, there's all of the less-than-ethical executions he's considered, and the situations his children have had to endure—in what amounts to emotional abuse. His elder son, Cesare, is an even better example, what with the killing people, having a personal assassin as a best friend, and really loving his sister, though that's probably the least villainous part of his personality. If history has anything to say about it, he gets worse.
Harry Montebello in The Straits has been known to kill people by feeding them to a variety of exotic wildlife. This is because he takes the security of his drug-smuggling business and his family extremely seriously.
24 has a couple: in the penultimate season there was Tony Almeida who actually eclipsed Jack for a good chunk of the season by working with a group of terrorists and actually is the first to plan out an attack on a subway station all so he could work his way up try and kill their leader, and in the final season both Allison Taylor who protects the masterminds behind a successful assassination attempt on a foreign government official and Jack Bauer himself who attempts to assassinate said masterminds even though his doing so starts indirectly putting innocent people in danger, so much so that he ultimately nearly stars a world war trying to kill the one in charge.
Scandal: Olivia Pope and her team start out as traditional protagonists, but that changes at the start of season 2. For starters, Olivia and Supreme Court Justice Verna shut down Quinn's trial to save Quinn. David Rosen is unhappy about that, and he decides to dig for answers about Quinn. It turns out that Olivia, Verna, Cyrus, Mellie, and Hollis are working together in some sort of conspiracy. Olivia had an affair with President Fitz for a long time, despite the fact that Fitz is still married to Mellie. Also, Olivia participated in rigging the election so that Fitz would become President. She also sabotaged David's efforts to find answers. When you put it together, you have a group of protagonists who are actually villains and not heroes.
The protagonists of the series The Americans are deep-cover KGB sleeper agents in the United States in 1981. The main antagonist is the FBI agent who is trying to catch them. It's an American series, so it definitely qualifies for this trope.
Dexter Morgan in Dexter. The protagonist is a serial killer; he murders people as his hobby. Several steps are taken to make the audience sympathize with him: he only kills bad guys, he has a bad past and lots of reasons, and so on, but the fact remains that he's a serial-murdering sociopath. The series flirts with drawing him as a hero, especially in season 2, but he never quite makes it. He makes some less-researched, more impulsive kills as the series progresses. Later, especially at the end of the seventh season, Dexter begins to appear more and more evil, as his psychosis starts to catch up to him and the people he loves.
The narrator of Warren Zevon's "Mr. Bad Example". He starts out stealing from a church fund for widows and orphans, and only gets worse. The Ax Crazy "Excitable Boy" would be another example.
Hip-Hop artists like Jay-Z or 50 Cent were allegedly criminals before having music careers, and many of their songs deal with this topic from their perspective.
The viewpoint character of Voltaire's song "When You're Evil" is a Card-Carrying Villain. Also "Almost Human", and "The Chosen" and "Brains"... he kinda likes that one.
The Rake from The Decemberists' "The Rake's Song" sings, without so much as a hint of regret, about how he killed his three children in order to escape from the responsibilities of parenthood. It's quite good.
Nick Cave has a few songs about villain protagonists, most notably the entire album Murder Ballads.
Peter Gabriel's songs "Intruder" and "Family Snapshot" are told from the perspectives of a burglar and Lee Harvey Oswald, respectively.
Everything that happens in a Monster Magnet song happens with a fistful of pills. Protagonists run the gamut from garden-variety drug abusers/dealers to comic-book-style supervillains and demonic agents. There are a lot of bombs getting planted, and things might get a little rape-y. Notable are the infanticidal couple of "See You in Hell", the drug-addled character in "Tractor", and various personifications of evil in "Kiss of the Scorpion", "Atomic Clock", and "Bummer".
"I drove out to the Meadowlands to throw our baby away."
See You in Hell
"If you wanna spank your demons and make them pay, well baby, I'm your man of the hour"
"Got a knife in my back, got a hole in my arm, I'm driving a tractor on a drug farm"
"Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen is sung by a condemned murderer who is only sorry he didn't get away with it. Maybe. At the very least, we know Beelzebub has a devil put aside for him. For him. For hiiiiiiiiiiiim.
Ziltoid from the Ziltoid the Omniscient album by Devin Townsend is definitely this. He destroys earth, because he didn't like the coffee they presented him, follows the escaping humans to another planet, unsuccessfully attempts to destroy that one, then he asks the Planet Smasher to destroy another planet, which is populated by sentient being, just to lift his mood.
The Nirvana song "Polly" is sung from the point of view of a rapist who holds his victim captive and tortures her with razors and a blowtorch. It was based on a true story.
Many, many Vocaloid songs. Notable examples include Mothy-P's Story of Evil and the numerous 'yandere' songs like Luka's Love Disease and Miku's Rotten Girl, Grotesque Romance.
Elton John's "Ticking" has an initially unassuming protagonist going on to kill 14 people in a mass shooting before being gunned down by police.
The Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays" was written about Brenda Spencer, who killed two adults and injured nine children in a school shooting in San Diego in 1979.
U2's "Until the End of the World" is sung from the perspective of Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus Christ.
After two expansions to their Middle Earth CCG, Iron Crown Entertainment tried shaking things up by releasing a whole second basic set called "The Lidless Eye", casting the players as one of the nine Nazgul, working in the shadows to locate the Ringbearer and/or rally the monstrous races into an army. An interesting idea, but unfortunately, one which did nothing to stem fan complaints of "filler lore", and only ruffled more feathers by being largely incompatible with cards from the previous set.
In the main 40k game, playing as any of the "evil" factions will automatically lead to this, even the fluff in the book is less sympathetic. This is most notable with the aforementioned chaos space marines and Tyranids, the latter of which usually has fluff written in an Apocalyptic Log style. This is more true during global campaigns, where the victories of "evil" factions will slowly edge the plot towards a downer ending, and the player base will still cheer for it.
The basic assumption when you play an Abyssal in Exalted. One chapter even has discussion about how to make the game more than one slaughterfest after another; they are that Baaad.
This is where you're assumed to start as a Green Sun Prince. Subverted, however, in the assumption is that you'll quickly catch on that the Yozis are (A) certifiably insane and (B) can't actually rope you in, so you'll either become a Punch Clock Villain looking for an escape, a Well-Intentioned ExtremistAnti-Hero using a loose interpretation of your orders to push an ultimately producitive agenda, or just a plan ol' Noble Demon who just wants to be left alone, before you slip the leash entirely.
Though not specific to any system in particular, it's very much the point to many campaigns. The "evil campaign" is often used to change things up where the PCs are the group of troublesome goblins, the terrorizing bandits or eclectic grouping of monsters. The goals tend to vary from pure destruction for the sake of destruction, sticking it to a certain group, actual goals of city/country/world domination or even a subversion of the genre.
Christopher Marlowe's play, Tamburlaine the Great, features as its protagonist a man who mutilates, kills, subjugates, and rapes at any opportunity he gets. He locks up the Ottoman Emperor in a cage and feeds him his wife; he kills one of his own sons for being unwilling to fight; he is driven around in a chariot drawn by deposed kings and emperors. In the end, he burns a Qor'an and dies suddenly.
Medea from Greek Myth, at least as presented by Euripides in the play Medea. A straight reading of the facts of the myth makes Medea come across as an irredeemably evil multiple murderess (her victims included her younger brother and her sons), yet Euripides presents her as sympathetic, or at least understandable.
In Used Cars, the salesman protagonists lie, cheat, and steal from essentially everyone they meet.
Volpone of Volpone is a greedy and lecherous con man; the play's main plot is about him faking being on the edge of death to trick people into giving him gifts in the hopes that he'd name them as his heir.
Arnolphe, from The School for Wives (L'école des femmes), is a clear example, although he is usually seen as sympathetic because all his plans are easily thwarted and his villainy stems mostly from his desire to have a loving wife who will not be unfaithful to him.
Don Giovanni of Don Giovanni is a lecherous noble who has had sex with over two thousand women before callously abandoning them. The opera begins with him trying to rape a woman, then killing her father when he defends her honor.
Walker of Spec Ops The Line. Though he thinks he's the hero, he's the one who's firebombing fellow soldiers and innocent people with white phosphorus and opening fire on an unarmed crowd. Late in the game, it's even spelled out for Walker why he's the bad guy, as part of a long Villainous Breakdown. How sympathetic he is in spite of the monstrous things he does is a matter of no small amount of debate, and indeed the game's Multiple Endings essentially allow the player to choose how redeemable they believe he is as a character.
Amnesia The Dark Descent is an odd example. The backstory, which is slowly revealed over the course of the game, shows that the protagonist was once a normal man who sunk to shockingly low depths in order to save his own life.
Armored Core For Answer is mostly Grey and Gray Morality, but one of the endings has you and a psychopathic cohort go on an Axe Crazy murder spree that leaves millions dead in the span of a few hours. The final mission involves the two of you fighting everyone left standing that can oppose you, including your own com operator, all at once. They managed to kill your cohort, but fail to kill you. It's hinted your unchecked rampage sends humanity right back to the dark ages.
Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer bears mention, because there is no other clear villain in the story unless the player takes it upon him or herself to be one. It is hard to consider The Founder a villain, despite what she did, and the only other character who bears any blame has been dead (for certain values of dead) for centuries.
Overlord, although you're allowed to choose between being really evil and just self-proclaimed evil. Plus, given that all the "good" characters are corrupt, choosing the latter option makes you the most sympathetic character in the game with this depiction being decidedly canon (the Overlord at least saves the Elves and Rose is the mother of his child). In the sequel you are 100% evil and you fight some genuinely Good foes, though your main enemies are still the anti-magic Glorious Empire bent on the destruction of all magic. Lord Gromgard of the Wii prequel Dark Legend is portrayed as a Villain with Good Publicity who is at the least well-liked amongst his servants for not letting them starve.
The games have gone back-and forth with this trope:
In Grand Theft Auto III, the protagonist was not even named, and appeared to be doing what he did solely to survive (the game starts with him being busted out of a prison transport). Only at the very end does a revenge motive appear.
The most clear-cut Villain Protagonist of the series is Tommy Vercetti from Grand Theft Auto Vice City. Unlike the other protagonists, Tommy is not above dealing drugs, and the game's plot mostly revolves around Tommy seizing control of Vice City from the criminals who previously controlled it. Also unlike otherprotagonists in the series, he shows little to no remorse for any of his crimes and is only committing them to benefit himself as opposed to protecting those he cares about.
By Grand Theft Auto San Andreas the first Anti-Hero protagonist appeared, Carl Johnson. In cutscenes CJ is present as an honourable, even admirable character, and his motivation for most of the game is simple survival as well as keeping his family safe. Notably, CJ is opposed to dealing drugs of any nature, the only protagonist in the series that does so. Out of cutscenes he's just as willing to murder, steal, and destroy as any of the other protagonists.
Niko from Grand Theft Auto IV is a strange example. He cares about his family, and part of him wants to live a normal life, but his experiences in the wars in Serbia, in his own words "ruined him." He kidnaps, robs, murders, sells drugs, and in general, does not seem to have anything close to a conscience. Interestingly, he realizes this about himself, and readily recognizes that the things he does are awful. When questioned on it at one point, he says that he considers himself to be completely soulless.
Warcraft III has a linear storyline that puts the player in control of different commanders from different sides of the war depending on the point of time in the story. The human campaign features Prince Arthas, an idealistic young man fighting a horrific undead army. As the war carries on, Arthas must resort to increasingly reprehensible tactics, starting with the slaughter of a sleeping town when he learns they've received shipments of food from a village secretly contaminated by the undead plague. Out of desperation to save the human population, he acquires, at the cost of his soul, a magic sword powerful enough to defeat his undead nemesis. The player is still in control of Arthas during the next campaign, but now he's a soulless Death Knight leading the undead in their war against the living.
Similarly, Star Craft has one campaign for each of the three factions, all of which form a cohesive story. During the Zerg campaign, you're an evil giant brain-slug monster, commanding your evil Big Creepy Crawlies into killing the good(ish) guys.
Likewise in Star Trek Armada, the second to last campaign is the Borg campaign. In the final mission, you successfully assimilate Earth, killing Worf in the process. This is undone via Time Travel in the subsequent hidden campaign, in which the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans join forces to defeat the Borg.
Kratos from the God Of War series is a berserker whose primary motivation is revenge on anyone who has spurned him. Which eventually expands to everyone who crosses his path or tries to stop him doing whatever he's doing. Also a fair few people whose deaths would be convenient for him.
The Brotherhood of Nod in general, and Kane in particular, of the Command & Conquer series, especially in Tiberium Wars where a large part of the Brotherhood's basic motivation stems from economic woes, health problems, and perceived oppression and marginalization by the Global Defense Initiative.
Taken up to eleven in Kane's Wrath, where you learn that a previous mission you played in Wars, where you were defending as the bad-guy Nod and were attacked by a rogue group of Nod traitors supposedly led by Killian, where you learn the truth of the treachery. However the perpetrator did it in belief that she would be helping Nod rid themselves of an unbeliever, but unintentionally (however it was planned by Kane) triggering the arrival of the Scrin. What makes this a villain protagonist is that you are now in command of the traitor army. It's hard to understand exactly who she ended up helping in the end, but she's definitely a villain to all factions.
Tie Fighter. You play on the side of The Empire, and have Darth Vader as your wingman. Note that while you do spend quite a bit of time fighting the Rebels, the Empire is portrayed as quite a bit less ruthlessly evil than in the films and other media. The result is more like an Anti-Villain Protagonist.
The Force Unleashed features Starkiller, a Dark Jedi who was raised by Darth Vader and has a disturbing talent for killing his enemies in outlandish, yet surprisingly amusing ways. Justified to an extent as he was raised from childhood to believe in Vader's cause and eventually turns against him anyway (canonically). The non-canon add-on missions included in Ultimate Sith Edition take it further, complete with Starkiller informing a captain "You Have Failed Me For The Last Time."
Star Wars Battlefront II's Campaign mode. You play as the Republic's 501st Legion, who quite obviously become the bad guys just before the halfway point.
Star Wars The Old Republic, if you go with the dark side on The Empire side. Sith warriors who follow this path will stun many a jedi with their vicious brutality. Then you have the Psycho for Hire bounty hunters, inquisitors with force lightning as way of greeting people, and Imperial agents who take the protocol of Leave No Witnesses to heart.
Saints Row 2 has the player becoming this, with the goal of the game being 'take over the city over the corpses of rivals gang, cops and any innocent civilians that get in the way'. The only reason the Saints look sympathetic is via the even worse antics of their enemies and the Undying Loyalty the Saints develop to each other. This continues into the next game, though much more downplayed in favour of chaos and stunts than outright villainy.
In No More Heroes, Travis Touchdown creates the line in the sand for a character who either just barely counts as a Villain Protagonist (he has very few, if any, likable qualities, and kills people for a living) or is not quite evil enough to be a Villain Protagonist (the people he kills are, for the most part, even moresick and twisted than he is, or at the very least other assassins). Which side he is actually on is up for debate. He veers completely away from this in the sequel, however.
Servant Avenger from Fate hollow ataraxia is definitely a Villain Protagonist - he is supposed to Evil Incarnate, after all. His soul itself is twisted and Always Chaotic Evil, and he actively pursues murder and rape to pass the time. This does not prevent him from becoming a character you can sympathise with, especially after the flashback to his horrific Start of Darkness and some very poignant conversations with other characters. Despite hating humanity, he still shoulders the responsibility that was forced onto him - to bear every sin ever committed and will be committed by a human and forever serve as a twisted 'champion' of humanity. The ending is complete with a Tear JerkingHeroic Sacrifice.
"Even if humanity is worthless, the history that has been laid down until now has meaning. (...) It is not a sin to exist."
Firebrand of Demon's Crest is, for starters, a Red Arremer from Ghouls 'n Ghosts (the original Demonic Spider). The game starts with him as a prisoner of the demon Phalanax, who interrupted his attempt to take over the world and stole the Crests he was using to do so. Once he breaks out, the rest of the game concerns him reclaiming his stolen property and kill Phanalax so that he can Take Over the World as previously planned.
Umineko No Naku Koro Ni loves to play with this trope, at least in-universe. Namely, in the 5th Arc, Battler become the Endless Sorcerer while a Mary Sue of Bernkastel's creation takes up the 'protagonist' role. (That is, has a reliable perspective.) In reality, though, no face heels or heel faces occur. The 'protagonist' role simply gets taken over by the two most evil characters in the series while they force the good guys into the 'antagonist' role.
In the Rampage games you score points by destroying as much property as possible and eating people, and most of the people haven't done anything to you or are just soldiers doing their job. You can also kick them to death or knock them off building/tear off parachutes and watch them splat.
The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion has the Dark Brotherhood quest line, in which the player takes the role of an assassin. It mixes in clearly deserving targets (The very first one is lightly implied to be either a rapist or a murderer) with somewhat-deserving ones (A pirate, who's clearly killed people 'on the job' before) with clearly innocent people. You also get to kill your entire 'family' of assassins, which may or may not qualify for the Moral Event Horizon. Several of the Daedric quests in the game are also pretty villainous, ranging from gleeful sociopathy to diabolic evil: In Molag Bal's Daedric quest, the player is asked to goad a Reluctant Warrior into murder. Obviously, being a sandbox game it also features Video Game Cruelty Potential aplenty.
Dungeon Keeper: Build your sprawling dungeon, employ creatures of darkness, spread your dark influence over the land. Don't forget to deal with those adventuring heroes who want to slay your army and steal your treasure. If the imps or the traps don't kill the them, have them tortured.
Caleb, the main character in the Blood series, is a psychotic undead cowboy killing his way through his former cult so he can get revenge on their god, Tchernobog. What pushes Caleb into true villainy is just how much he loves his Roaring Rampage of Revenge; when he isn't wisecracking or snarking, he's cackling like a madman while chucking dynamite at anything that gets in his way. And then, in the second game, his disuse of Tchernobog's powers begins to unravel the very stability of the universe; he's quite happy to let the totality of existence collapse out of boredom.
In the flash game Armed With Wings, you play as the exiled king Vandheer Lorde, the main villain of the series, who is undeniably Badass.
Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition adds the ability to play through the story as Dante's Evil Twin, Vergil. However, this is solely a gameplay feature as aside from a new intro cutscene Vergil doesn't have a special story mode and simply goes through Dante's missions as usual, with the only difference being that the Vergil boss battles have a Palette Swap.
Centipede: The comic book adaptation has the playable character (a wizard) in the role of the bad guy, with a boy trying to stop him.
Sands Of Destruction has us follow the adventures of the World Destruction Committee. Although only one is actively seeking the destruction of the world, the other is tagging along because he likes our crazed lady protagonist, and the third is going with to protect him.
Okage's main character is a slave of the evil king Stan, and through the game, you're trying to take the power of the other evil kings that showed up while Stan was in a jar, so he can take over the world. It's not very prominent though, what with Stan being a Harmless Villain who spends more time fighting evil than causing it.
The title character in Legacy of Kain is quite the nasty piece of work. The series starts with him becoming a vampire so he can avenge his death. He then decides to destroy the town he was murdered in. And then he gets a list of people to kill, and just settles for slaughtering every man, woman, and child he sees. And right as he's finished, he ruins the whole point of the quest and just decides to rule over Nosgoth's dying remains. In Blood Omen 2, he mind controls bystanders to their deaths, kills every human he sees, and murders his Love Interest when she realizes what a monster he is, all in the name of regaining his empire. It takes Nosgoth itself dying in the Soul Reaver series for him to simmer down, and then, he's a Manipulative Bastard to his vampire offspring Raziel, and is only out to save himself.
Scott Shelby in Heavy Rain especially when it is revealed that he is the Origami Killer.
Ragna the Bloodedge from BlazBlue was a mass murderer in human form, killing thousands of innocents. He's not doing that anymore, but he'll admit his murders without regret so that bounty on his head was really genuinely due to his fault and not because NOL is looking for a scapegoat. Granted, though, he's got reasons and shitty enough past to sympathize with despite such thing. Also, when you play as Hazama in story mode, he's the story's Villain Protagonist, with no past or reasons to justify his villainy. Also the same goes to Relius Clover.
Wizardry IV is an atypical entry in the series: it has the player take control of Werdna, the Evil Sorcerer of the first episode, now resurrected and thirsty for revenge... If he manages to just leave the dungeon where he was buried first, which is not an easy task.
PAYDAY The Heist has you as crook taking part in various heists, complete with taking hostages and shooting a whole lot of cops.
Jinkuro, the malevolent ghost possessing Momohime's body, in Muramasa: The Demon Blade. He's outright only into the whole ordeal to get his chosen weapon back and find a better target in his Grand Theft Me scheme to live forever, and does a lot of villainous actions (such as invading Heaven) in order to find alternate routes to immortality.
The Voinian campaign in Escape Velocity: Override is about as unambiguously evil as they come. The Voinians are a race of vicious alien warlords bent on conquering the galaxy and enslaving everything in their path. The player has the option to help the Voinians break their stalemate with the human United Earthnote Word of God is it fails and the stalemate ends up broken in favour of the UE, and crippling the attempts of a previously conquered race to rebel against their overlords. Rewards for doing so include access to a variety of powerful Voinian military vessels and the unsettling satisfaction of committing genocide against your own race.
AllEscape Velocity games have at least one storyline where the player character can be called a villain: in Classic, working for the Confederation and trying to bring the Rebels back to heel, in Override, the Voinian and the two Renegade storylines, and in Nova, the Federation storyline (after a certain point of no return).
Brice, a UFO-obsessed ghost and one of the playable characters in the adventure game, Amber Journeys Beyond. After you complete his level he is sent to Hell in a particularly horrifying way - granted, he did murder at least 3 people in the game's backstory.
In Disciples2, the Elves are initially on the side of the "good" guys. In Rise of the Elves, their god Gallean, driven mad by his resurrection and the Trauma Conga Line inflicted upon him by the vengeful Mortis, commands them to be brutal warmongers. Gallean is sick of the Elves always getting shafted by their so-called allies and has them taking what he believes is rightfully theirs by force. The "Villain" part is established in the first scenario, where the goal is to slaughter a town of innocent humans. A few Elves question these orders, but their doubts don't last. Ironically, the only Elf who continues to have reservations about this is the Oracle who relays Gallean's will to his people.
In DEFCON, each player takes up the role of a General Ripper during a global thermonuclear war. Each player's goal is to ensure that the capitalist/communists/whatever die in a nuclear fire. The "Genocide" mode elevates this - the only way to gain points is to nuke population centers.
The Lord of the Rings Online has a monster-play feature which lets you be an orc, goblin, warg, or other baddie minion, and play in a PvP dungeon against hero players.
The Fourth is about Dark Lord Tiberius Skarva IV and his plans to take over the local kingdom.
Darken features a party of evil characters led by Gort, the Lord of Hellfire, who wants to unite the three Artifacts of Hell in order to become a demonic demi-god and rule all of Darken with an iron fist.
Counting The Colonel poisons the entire town of Thirston.
The protagonists of Hellbound, especially Mel the demon.
The Last Days of FOXHOUND is as pure an example of this trope as you can find, given that the six lead characters are all the freak mercenary terrorists that Solid Snake must fight in Metal Gear Solid. It's also a subversion. Foxhound might be villains by the time Metal Gear Solid, but they start out the comic as heroes working for the US government, and remain so right up until the very end, where they become heroes working against The Patriots, Metal Gear's version of the Illuminati.
Every character in Cry Havoc bar Hati is greedy, violent, sadistic, or manipulative. The only defining characteristic the protagonists share is a sense of group loyalty (that may or may not be innate).
Dr. Kinesis, and in fact, most of the main characters in Evil Plan The Webcomic. The webcomic is about supervillains, so this trope applies heavily.
Jared features three main characters who are all varying shades of evil; Jared, Mary and Lilac, as well as some with questionable motives; corrupt police officer Carl and Hat Cat. The good guy is not introduced until the last page of the first arc.
Second Empire has the Daleks of the Second Dalek Empire going against the slightly more evil First Dalek Empire.
Bad Guy High, which is about a school for wannabe supervillains.
Voodoo Walrus ended their first year with a massive storyline focusing on baddies Mac and Shmeerm viciously taking down Big Bad Cyradwee and every last one of his underlings.
Minion Comics focuses on the lives of minions who sign up with an evil organization.
Goblins follows a band of the titular creatures from a role-playing game, usually regarded as low-level adventurer fodder, leading you to expect it would be this. However, the goblins are actually pretty heroic. A couple of straight examples do occur in the series, though, particularly the character of K'Seliss. (K'Seliss is part of a party including a couple of more admirable characters, though; the truly evil characters in the setting are never really used as viewpoint characters.)
Unlike most superhero based Shared Universe's. The Metaverse focuses primarily on the villains. And even then, a lot of the heroes aren't all that heroic...
In Sailor Moon Abridged, Raye/Sailor Mars is very much this, being a Satan-worshipper (Human Sacrifice included) who was more than happy to take Molly up on her offer of "Kill me first!" when she defended Nephlyte. All of it is played for laughs.
Though this really counts as a Deconstruction: Billy/Dr. Horrible insists that Utopia Justifies the Means, but even he seems confused sometimes about his motives ("All the cash, all the fame—and social change!/Anarchy, that I run..."), in contrast to Penny's more traditional, charitable methods of improving the world. And, of course, there's the ending.
Dorf Quest's Beardbeard embodies this trope - cutting down forests, killing elves, attacking small children, and promoting Satan himself to godhood.
Muschio in Dive Quest's goal is to "become the Devil" and has no qualms about burning down peaceful villages and assassinating his rivals to get his way.
The point of the entire seriesCause Of Death, where individual serial killers and psychos end up joining together and, in some cases, dueling against one another. It's up to the viewer to decide who to root for, because everyone in the show is going to Hell anyway.
In Worm, not only is the protagonist a villain (well, sort of, at first — although she later becomes one for sort-of real) but most of the perspectives seen via Interludes are also villainous. Anti-villainy varies greatly.
Michael from The Salvation War. Though the humans are undoubtedly the real heroes of the story, Michael acts as our main viewpoint in Heaven, and has quite sympathetic motivations in wanting to limit the damage done to Heaven when the humans inevitably invade, even as he keeps crossing the Moral Event Horizon to accomplish this.
Whateley Universe example: the story "Mimeographic", featuring the supervillain Mimeo. He's not an amoral street thug. He's an amoral street thug with unstoppable superpowers.
Or "It's Good to be the Don", told from the viewpoint of Don Sebastiano.
Or the Jobe stories. Or "Razzle Dazzle", told by a supervillain who may have been, among other supervillains, the legendary Cerebrex. It's hard to be sure, since it clearly has an Unreliable Narrator.
Iriana from Ilivais X gradually becomes this. At first, she's mostly freaked out, having narrowly escaped from an eternity of servitude to an empire that half-unwittingly tortured her for more than half of her life. As such, she spends her first week or so taking respite, learning to use the eponymous robot, defending herself, getting in close with Mille, and generally being moderately suspicious but even pitiable at times. But soon she realizes the infinitely destructive power of her robot, and her grudge against the Aztecs and the world in general begins to surface. She begins antagonizing the empires far more adamantly for little reason aside from wanting them destroyed, manipulates and forces people into serving her (especially Mille), and shows an unwillingness to accept things that aren't in her control- and if that doesn't change, she deigns to erase it from existence.
In the prequel segments of Red vs. Blue, the Freelancers fall in this category... but they're not portrayed as bad guys, just as guys being told the bad things they're doing are actually for good reasons.
While Bugs Bunny was generally a defensive character, there have been several episodes where he became a straight up villain. Examples of this include "Elmer's Candid Camera" (with a Bugs prototype where he picks on Elmer unprovoked), "Elmer's Pet Rabbit" (where he heckles Elmer for no justifiable reason), "Tortoise Beats Hare" and its follow ups "Tortoise Wins by a Hare" and "Rabbit Transit" (where Bugs is portrayed as an egomaniac who's willing to harm and cheat just to beat a turtle), "Wabbit Twouble" (again, picking on Elmer unprovoked), "The Wacky Wabbit (picking on an unprovoked Elmer again), "Hare Ribbin'" (where he picks on a dog who just happened to encounter him, unlike his encounter with a similar dog in "The Heckling Hare", and assists the dog in suicidenote It's even worse in the directors cut included on Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 5, where Bugs himself shoots the dog), "Buckaroo Bugs" (where he's a flat out thief and bully), and "Rebel Rabbit" (where he wreaks havoc on the US solely because the bounty for rabbits was so low, doing atrocities like filling up the grand canyon and sawing Florida off the mainland, breaking into congress during session and physically assaulting a senator, and by the end of the short gets so out of control that the military is called in to bring him down).
And when Bugs softened, the focus often changed to his enemies, with the former often acting as Hero Antagonist. In a lot of his bouts against Yosemite Sam and Daffy, the focus was more on their failings than his methods of dealing with them.
Daffy Duck also had several bouts of this trope, such as "Daffy Duck in Hollywood" (where he causes trouble in a Hollywood studio for the heck of it) and "Boobs in the Woods" (where he heckles Porky Pig for the sake of causing trouble). This only intensified during his later meaner years where he evolved into a genuine villain, albeit still often with the primary spotlight (see above).
Other Looney Tunes antagonists such as Sylvester and Yosemite Sam often fall into this category due to their immensely pitiful qualities and humor value and the fact the heroes' warring against them are often too swift and sudden to draw much focus and sympathy on (it can take a couple of minutes to establish a villain and how he sets up a trap, and couple of seconds for the hero to enter and foil it).
Woody Woodpecker went in and out of being this and an Anti-Hero in the original cartoons. Sometimes, he just goes about breaking the rules or causing trouble for the mere thrill of it or just out of ignorance, and is clearly shown to be a selfish glutton who will mow down or manipulate anyone who gets in the way of his food. On the other hand, he did occasionally star in a sympathetic light (i.e. "The Hollywood Matador") and by the late 40's his Anti-Hero traits were played up more by director Dick Lundy, especially when Buzz Buzzard entered the series. By the 50's, Woody veered between being a straight up hero, a villain and an anti-hero, and by the mid-50's both of the former traits were dropped altogether in favor of making Woody a straight up hero character.
Zim of Invader Zim, an alien trying to Take Over the World. He is juxtaposed to Dib, a preteen paranormal investigator trying to stop him. One could argue that the issue becomes confused for this show, however; while the majority of episodes focus on Zim, there are so many Villain Episodes that some fans would argue that Dib and Zim could both be seen as the protagonists, and that the show has one Villain Protagonist and one traditional hero.
Eddy from Ed Edd N Eddy, while not as evil as some of the examples, is still a cynical con artist who will do every dirty trick in the book for money. Including stealing Christmas presents from children. He has his reasons, but still.
Killface of Frisky Dingo is a supervillain protagonist who built a doomsday device designed to launch Earth into the sun, and he's still way more sympathetic than Jerkass superhero Xander Crews.
Several episodes of Samurai Jack used this trope, with the episode focusing solely on the villain, and Jack having little - or no - role in the actual story, making only a cameo appearance. In "Jack Tales", Jack did not appear in person at all, with Aku being the main character.
Task Force X are focused on during their mission to infiltrate Justice League headquarters and steal an invincible armor forged by the gods in the Justice League Unlimited episode named after them.
Stewie Griffin from Family Guy starts out as a diabolical Villain Protagonist (he still has his moments, but it's more general Comedic Sociopathy).
Mr. Krabs from Spongebob Squarepants became one during the Seasonal Rot, though around the start of the seventh season he pulls a Heel Face Turn. As a more conventional example, a good few later episodes focus more on Plankton and his schemes.
Resident Alien Roger from American Dad. He started out as a sympathetic, vaguely hedonistic alien, but over time he has established himself as a volatile, dangerous sociopath.
Zordrak and the Urpneys of The Dreamstone usually act this, in that each episode starts and ends from their perspective and we generally spend more time following them than the heroes. Depending on the Writer however, Sympathetic P.O.V. is sometimes given to the actual heroes.
Wolf from Nu, Pogodi! is one. Much like the Coyote from Chuck Jones' "Coyote and Roadrunner" shorts, the Wolf drives the plot... except that his entire raison d'etre is to eat the Rabbit, who more often than not is minding his own business.
One episode of Batman The Brave And The Bold completely redid the series as Joker: The Vile and the Villainous. The storyline was adapted from an issue of the seventies Joker comic.
Scoutmaster Lumpus from Camp Lazlo. A grumpy, lazy, negligent, apathetic, and all around mean-spirited moose who takes the fun out of summer camp for his own selfish reasons and treats the Bean scouts horribly on a regular basis.
Clay Puppington is this in the third season of Moral Orel, which focuses more on him than the other two seasons. Several episodes showcase his Villainous Breakdown.