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White and Grey Morality
aka: Grey And White Morality
"There really aren't that many evil men out there. It's mostly just good men working at cross purposes."
Digger, by Ursula Vernon

Near the very idealistic end of the many Shades of Conflict (only Good Versus Good is more), a setting with White and Grey Morality features no truly evil characters, but ranges through a spectrum of squeaky-clean heroes, slightly more sarcastic heroes, borderline heroes, Well Intentioned Extremists, and the occasional Anti-Villain at worst. Conflict is generated either through misguided ideals or simple misunderstandings, so there is often an undercurrent of "if only people would sit down and talk to one another, they'd find they're Not So Different after all".

Expect a great deal of dog-petting and Heel Face Turning, from characters only nominally "heels" to begin with. Someone will likely say Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers! at some point.

This does not necessarily imply that there is little conflict or that the conflict is lightweight. Two powerful forces working at cross-purposes can cause an amazing amount of destruction and mayhem even though both of them have good reasons for what they're trying to do.

Contrast Black and Gray Morality, where Anti Heroes are the best you can expect from the good guys; because True Art Is Angsty, though, this trope is a lot less common than that one, at least among works intended for older audiences. If the antagonists only became so due to a negative influence from outside, this may overlap with Rousseau Was Right. In that case, the occasional villain may pop up, but they will inevitably be shown to be a victim of horrible circumstances that shaped them into what they became (rather than simply expressing a monstrous nature they always possessed).


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Stellvia of the Universe is all about this. There isn't even a single negative character in the series — even the aliens are good. Or at least, they expressed regret after slaughtering a Keiti wing almost wholesale.
  • The Lyrical Nanoha franchise was like this until Force (or not):
    • The Evil Matriarch Precia Testarossa, whose villainy defined the original series, was, as Alicia reveals in Fate's Happy Place sequence in A's, has originally been a very kind and gentle person. But exactly because she was so gentle, her psyche couldn't handle Alicia's sudden death and she "broke". The Movie expands her character to be even more of a Tragic Villain.
    • A's is the example of this trope in the franchise. The only entity that can be considered villainous is a self-defense program of an ancient artifact, which was corrupted long ago under unrevealed circumstances, while the rest of the cast only attempt to do what they believe would be best for everyone and angst heavily about having to hurt others ("It was such a small wish..."). Basically, the Team Nanoha vs. Wolkenritter is a Good Versus Good conflict.
    • StrikerS seems to feature a straight-up Mad Scientist villain with Jail Scaglietti until The Reveal that he was made that way by a group of old men who spent their youth fighting to stop a senseless, centuries-long war and were desperately seeking a means to prevent such wars from breaking out in the future. There is also the fact that the "Doctor" has a very family-like relationship with his Numbers and not in a Pet the Dog way: even after seeing the error of his (and their own) ways, none of the Numbers turns their back on Scaglietti, continuing to see him as a parent figure.
  • Lupin III: While the titular character and his gang are criminals, they wouldn't do anything really heinous, so even at their worst, the crew are Anti Villains. Their antagonist, Inspector Zenigata, is a Hero Antagonist, and their relationship can be described as an almost friendly rivalry, rather than confrontation between criminals and law-enforcement. Whenever a serious bad guy comes up, Lupin and Zenigata usually ally against him - though they always resume their antics when the alliance is no longer needed.
  • Towa No Quon: Although the group out to capture awakened children (dead or alive) is a very dark shade of gray, their ultimate goal is to protect the public. For now.
  • A common theme of Hayao Miyazaki's movies. The antagonists are sympathetic and/or have reasonable motivations.
    • Princess Mononoke: Ashitaka was very much an All-Loving Hero, but both Lady Eboshi and San had valid reasons for their actions. The enemy samurais seemed to be bad, but then, you feel if they had been explained then they too would have fair motivations.
  • Kidou Tenshi Angelic Layer and Chobits lack any really evil characters. There are lots of less pleasant individuals, like the cheaters in the former and the outright perverts in the later, but the closest things to villains in the storylines are concerned about victory like the protagonist or are interested in protecting other persocoms from the damage Chi could potentially cause.
  • In almost any sports manga/anime, there are no villains. The closest to villains are people who toy with or break the rules to achieve victory, as well as people who treat their friends or companions like crap.
  • In ARIA, the planet Aqua (formerly known as Mars) is populated by nothing but well-meaning, friendly people—or at least Neo-Venezia is. Every time someone seems to act in less than 100% positive manner it generally is only a matter of slight misunderstandings, which mostly get resolved quickly.
  • Cardcaptor Sakura has no villains either; in the first arc, the Cards are portrayed more as mischievous beings than truly evil troublemakers and are all subject to Defeat Means Friendship, and in the second arc, the "villain" is quickly hinted (and revealed at the end) to be much more of a Trickster Mentor. All the intelligent characters are presented as decent people, which underscores the "Humans Are Good" part of the trope.
  • Suzumiya Haruhi. There are pretty much no villains, aside from maybe, possibly Asakura Ryouko, and even then she's just a really, really, really far extremist. All forces are genuinely trying to create the world they think is ideal, and only very few seem too extremist for rationality. The Data Entity wants to just "observe"; the Organization wants to maintain the world as it is; the Time Travelers want to keep a Stable Time Loop. Haruhi herself isn't evil, just a Jerkass who wants a little more excitement, and Kyon just wants his peace. Even the Anti-SOS Brigade has somewhat stinted yet good intentions: Fujiwara wants to keep his race from being "slaves to time travel", Kuyou Suou just wants to communicate in the first place, Tachibana Kyouko just thinks the world is more ideal under Sasaki's influence, and Sasaki wants to figure out the truth behind everything. Not to mention the fact that it might even be better for Sasaki to become God.
  • Gundam Wing seems to like this trope, too, at least for most of the main characters. Save for the few like Dekim Barton, most of the characters desire for justice and peace, despite that their ways of achieving it is questionable, as pointed out by Relena Peacecraft. Fortunately, Everyone Lives except Treize Kushranada, who willingly dies by his own choice, and the world achieves true peace as Relena sees it. This way, Gundam Wing is a total opposite to the Universal Century series.
  • Seirei no Moribito has a total of two human characters in it whose motivations and methods are presented as unsympathetic, and they're both one-shot. The main conflict is entirely caused by a misunderstanding by the traditionalistic/dogmatic anti villains, and the fact that their cause manages to come across as understandable when it involves child-killing speaks volumes for the tone of the series.
  • Star Driver is full of this. The Glittering Crux want to use the Humongous Mecha Lost Technology to achieve world peace (by force, but the force part is only implied and never stated outright.) Many of the Crux deplore loss of civilian life and go out of their way to prepare ways to get the innocent out of the way in the event if a crisis (such as keeping a luxury ship large enough to carry the population of a small island on hand). The only reason they're at odds with the heroes at all is the "force" part. Both parties are fully aware of this and even act as genuine friends when off of the battlefield. There are a total of two named characters who are portrayed as genuinely bad and unlikeable people in the whole of the series, which stands out for its surprisingly large cast.
  • Astro Boy: While minor human crooks and such may be genuinely evil, the Big Bad Dr. Tenma and related characters are just Well Intentioned Extremists. If a robot is portrayed as a villain, it's always due to a misunderstanding. This is in contrast to the rest of Osamu Tezuka's work, where pretty much everyone but the main character is always a bastard. Especially Rock.
  • A lot of Slice of Life animes have no villains: Sketchbook, Lucky Star, Ichigo Mashimaro, Candy Boy, Azumanga Daioh, and others.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica. The characters split fairly cleanly into Idealists (Madoka, Sayaka, Mami) and Pragmatists (Kyubey, Kyouko, Homura). The latter group are the antagonists, but are often right (and in fact, Homura arguably turned out to be the real protagonist of the story).
  • Vision of Escaflowne qualifies. Even the Big Bad is eventually revealed as a particularly ruthless Well-Intentioned Extremist. The closest any character comes to "evil" is Dilandau, but s/he turns out to be more Brainwashed and Crazy than anything else.
  • In Fairy Tail, the majority of the major villains have reasonable and sympathetic motives. The first one is trying to release a monster so he can defeat it, which is the thing his teacher died doing; he merely wants to prove himself by surpassing her. Another notable villain was a slavemaster who spent 8 years building a tower to revive the most dangerous dark wizard in history because he was brainwashed into thinking it would bring about a Utopia. Both of these later pulled a Heel-Face Turn. Some later enemies, like the Oración Seis and Grimoire Heart guilds had guild masters and some members truly in the black morality pitch. However, most of the guild members were given sympathetic backstories and reasons for joining these guilds - like how Ultear's entire "evilness" is because of a misunderstanding in her childhood.
  • The closest things A Little Snow Fairy Sugar has to a "villain" would be Joe Crow, who is not so much that as just a typical bully. Ginger is fairly callous, Basil and Cinnamon are rather mischevious, Greta is a rich snob and sees Saga as a rival, but everyone else in the show is usually super-nice to one another.
  • In Popotan, the most evil thing anyone ever did (in this case, Keith) was attempt to kill someone in order to prevent the sisters' secrets from leaking out to the general public (which he never tried again after Ai calls him out for it). There was also that ghost girl who puts others to sleep, but also for understandable reasons.
  • Kanon. Not counting everyone who drove Mai away in the past, the worst we have are the Demons, who, despite their destructive behavior, mainly wanted to show Yuichi said past of Mai's and how they came to be, so that he can send a message to her that her constant battle with them can end as soon as she stops fighting. In general, everyone in the show is mostly good, even though a few of them (such as Makoto and Kuze) are Jerkasses in some way or another.
  • Digimon Tamers proves'' that yes, you can have intense conflict without anyone who is properly "bad." Every Big Bad is actually trying to prevent threats to their worlds, and you can see why they consider the other side to be bad news. Even the final Bigger Bad is just a program acting on its orders; see Gone Horribly Right.

    Comics 
  • In Season 9 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Drusilia returns, sane, and seeming to have pulled a genuine Heel-Face Turn. So just what is she up to these days? She encountered a demon that feeds on trauma (the reason she is so well,) trained it to work only in that regard, and sets up a shelter for those who have been traumatized, willing to have the demon feed on them so the pain they feel goes away if they ask for it. Angel sees the whole thing as a abomination and Mind Rape, believing people must suffer for what's happened to them and that if they did not feel bad about (in his case, Angelus) there's no reason not to make amends. Faith, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have a problem with it since the people are going willingly. After Angel kills the demon Drusilia is back to being the vicious Slayer killing psychotic.
  • Most X-Men stories where the antagonists are humans or government forces. Barring genocidal maniacs like Reverend Styker, in most cases their motive is simply the belief that mutants should be accounted for in some way.
  • Gaston Lagaffe. Gaston wants to sleep, have fun, protect the environment, etc., and the people around him want him to get his work done and obey traffic laws. If Gaston thought his actions through at all, there wouldn't be any problems, but of course he doesn't.

     Fanfiction 

    Film - Animation 
  • Pixar has some examples.
    • WALL•E, absolutely. The villain of the film was a robot that was doing exactly what it was programmed to do by programmers who themselves just had incomplete information, and all the humans soon fell head over heels in love with the world as soon as they were jerked out of their reverie and take responsibility to work to undo their ancestors' mistakes.
    • Finding Nemo - Dr. Sherman took Nemo because he mistakenly believed he would not be able to survive on his own with a deformed fin, and Darla is a "fish-killer" because she is a child who doesn't know any better. The other antagonists of the film are simply mindless predators. It's worth noting that both Finding Nemo and WALL•E were directed by Andrew Stanton.
    • The original Toy Story. Sid is a bit of a Jerk Ass, but he's mostly just a boy who likes playing in an unorthodox way with his toys. Unfortunately, the protagonists are Living Toys. In Toy Story 2, Al is also a Jerk Ass but otherwise is just a bit of a slob. He steals Woody as well, but considering it got him a deal with a museum that could have gotten him hundreds of thousands of dollars, it's hard to not understand why. Note that this trope is completely averted in Toy Story 3 with Lotso.
    • And in Al's defense, he did try to buy Woody legitimately.
    • Brave might fit for the "vicious animals are True Neutral" rule. Even if it's one hell of a Animal Nemesis. Which used to be human.
    • Monsters University, as many a college film, is this instead of the Black and White Morality of the original. The two protagonists (flawed people themselves) are only trying to prove their value in front of both the Dean Bitterman who expelled them from their major, and the Jerk Jock posse with whom they are competing.
  • Superman vs. the Elite: Superman is definitely a good guy, but the Elite, rather than bad guys, are at worst Anti Heroes; they do display actually heroic intentions, and hurting Black's team-mates typically is his Berserk Button. In addition, while the film does end on the side of Superman, his black and white views of the world are heavily questioned not just by the Elite, but Lois and the ordinary citizens who suffer every time a villain Superman has spared escapes and kills more people. Neither solution is perfect, but White is considered the better choice in the end.

    Film - Live Action 

    Literature 
  • Many Tom Clancy novels feature something like this, especially those which deal with full-scale war, like Red Storm Rising. Usually, the deal is that good, patriotic souls from different countries will struggle with each other because of the actions of one or two people (usually politicians) who are motivated by pride, fear, or ignorance. Although some villains might be delusional beyond reckoning, For the Evulz types are exceedingly rare.
  • A lot of Orson Scott Card's writing, particularly in Ender's Saga, deals with the idea that no-one is really evil, and it's all a matter of perspective.
    • Usually. For instance, the Formics are discovered to have attacked humanity because they have a Hive Mind and didn't know each human was individually sentient. On the other end, the Descoladores of the later books are either seeking outright planetary conquest or are just too alien to comprehend. And the Big Bad of the Shadow spinoffs, Achilles, is most definitely evil.
  • James White's Sector General space hospital series, a deliberate attempt to write Science Fiction with both tension and a murder deficit. Any aliens who may be trying to kill you have just been misinformed.
  • Isaac Asimov tended to be this way. He also had no real villains in his books. Asimov and Kurt Vonnegut were much alike. In the Foundation series, the psycho-historians behind the Gambit Roulette believe every conflict in human history comes from people not understanding each other. This is no Gut Feeling: they have human reactions and brain chemistry down to an exact science.
  • The Master and Margarita had this exchange:
    Pontius Pilate: And now tell me: why do you always use the expression "good people"? What, do you call everyone that?
    Yeshua ha-Nazri: Yes, everyone. There are no evil people in the world.
  • Every character in Brandon Sanderson's works is revealed to have "good" (or at least sympathetic) motivations for their actions, though he does include a handful of geniune villains for contrast. Perhaps the most spectacular example is the Lord Ruler of Mistborn, who in life is portrayed as pure evil but is gradually revealed after death to be a very human figure who basically had unlimited power dropped in his lap and did the best he could with it while it slowly drove him mad. One of the major themes running throughout all of Sanderson's novels is that "evil" is usually a lot more complicated than people realize.
  • The majority of books written by Timothy Zahn don't have many evil people at all. He doesn't really set up along the good guys and the bad guys. The Empire is not all bad. The New Republic is not all good. Other people have their own allegiances. Plenty of antagonists on any side are doing what they think will be best in the long run. He does have some actually unambiguous villains, but most of them at least have solid reasoning behind what they're doing. No one ever wakes up and decides to be evil.
    • In the Hand of Thrawn Duology, after all the bad blood Supreme Commander Pellaeon signed a peace treaty with President Gavrisom.
    • Zahn's non-Star Wars fiction tends to have a lot of this as well; The Conquerors Trilogy in particular features a galactic war caused by essentially a misunderstanding. The humans' standard "greet the unknown aliens" transmission is sent via radio, which causes varying degrees of pain for the non-human side of a First Contact scenario, and thus the aliens understandably interpret the greeting as an unprovoked attack. There are at least four, possibly more, distinct factions involved, none of whom act unjustifiably throughout the course of the brief but intense war that follows.
    • Also, there are plenty of characters who, despite a fall to Dark Side, eventually come to realize the error of their ways.
    • Averted with the Vagaari, who, as an entire slaver species, are one of the nastier cultures in the Star Wars EU, surpassed only by the Vong and a few others.
  • The Vampire Diaries veers between this and Grey and Grey Morality. Countless times, characters are introduced and seem just so mean but often turn out to have genuine motives behind their actions.
  • Oddly enough, Kurt Vonnegut states in the introduction to Welcome to the Monkey House that this is one of the guiding principles of his work: there are no villains, just people with conflicting interests.
    • Then again, his characters don't tend to be heroic either. So...
  • Most of Edgar Pangborn's antagonists are misguided rather than evil, but that doesn't prevent them occasionally causing horrific tragedies. Example: Tiger Boy, in which the semi-wild title character and a friend he meets are killed due to the belief that he is a demon.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe is at different places on the morality scale Depending on the Writer.
  • Honor Harrington certainly does feature many an irredeemable villain — and some truly, deeply unambiguous conflicts— but it's also at constant pains to point out that this trope is in play most of the time. In fact, the first part of the series (with the Manticore/Haven war) really only has five or so really evil characters, right at the top of the enemy food chain. The many dozens of other Havenite enemies given names and faces all tend toward My Country, Right or Wrong at worst.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin's work tends to feature this; in fifty years of publishing, only one of her stories(The Word for World Is Forest) features an character she described as "purely evil"
  • Played with in the novel Miracle Monday, where Superman faced The Devil's agent on Earth. While the demon was truly evil (we get to read his thoughts to confirm it) Superman himself holds this belief, and it's because of it that he ultimately wins.
  • Four Sherlock Holmes stories involve this: "A Scandal In Bohemia", "The Man with the Twisted Lip", "The Noble Bachelor", and "The Yellow Face". In each case, it is revealed that there is no villain, and the apparent victim turns out to be the morally gray character.
  • In Doctor Zhivago, most of the characters are treated sympathetically in one way or another, even the ones who come closest to being "villains": Komarovsky has some Pet the Dog moments in spite of all his manipulative seediness, and the two main communist characters, Strelnikov and Liberius, are portrayed as Well Intentioned Extremists swept up in the fervor of the Revolution rather than malicious murderers.

    Live Action TV 
  • Kingdom
  • The Vampire Diaries veers between this and Grey and Grey Morality. Countless times, characters are introduced and seem just so mean but often turn out to have genuine motives behind their actions.
    • Anna seemed to be a sinister vampire using Jeremy for her own ends - until we found out about her mother, and her Becoming the Mask.
    • Damon seemed to just be trying to make his brother's life a living hell, and then his history with Katherine was revealed, and his gestures of humanity to Elena.
  • In The West Wing, most of the antagonistic politicians wanted what was best—they just had different opinions of what was "best" for America. At worst, they tended toward stupid corruption, greed, and tendency to stretch the truth. There were actual evil people like the Western Terrorists, but they mostly stayed off-screen and seldom lasted long.
    • Even corrupt characters often had redeeming qualities. Russel, for instance, is probably the morally second-worst person on the show who isn't one of those briefly appearing or off-screen terrorists mentioned above, but even he won't let the president bomb the wrong country on the mistaken belief that they'd developed atomic bombs of their own in The Warfare of Genghis Khan and is disgusted at hearing on the news about a woman in Turkey being executed for adultery in King Corn. The worst non-terrorist character is Robert Ritchie, who even goes so far as to not seem to feel any sympathy when he hears about a secret service agent being killed in the line of duty ("crime...boy, I don't know"). Aside from some terrorists and homophobic activists, Ritchie's arguably the only complete villain on the show. Even the Christian right are portrayed as low and mean, but not pure evil.
    • For a discrete moment of Rousseau Was Right, see the end of "Evidence of Things Not Seen": the egg stands on its end.
  • Once Upon a Time starts out as Black and White Morality, but as it has continued its run it has drifted ever closer to White and Grey Morality, giving even most of its most monstrous characters sympathetic backstories that give them Freudian Excuses or sympathetic motivations, and giving Character Development to at least one of them that results in her becoming vastly more sympathetic. Now we have many villains who are tragic and heroes that are flawed.
  • Engine Sentai Go-onger has the Gaiark, who, while they are the antagonists and at first may resemble your typical evil empire or something of the sort, are actually intent on polluting the earth to give someplace for their world's inhabitants to live, away from the dictator Yogoshimacritein. In the end, the two remaining ministers sacrifice themselves to save the other Go-Ongers and stop Yogoshimacritein. So while it was a horrible way of doing things, they had their mechanical hearts in the right place.
  • Star Trek: Most of the five series heavily favored this trope. The show tended not to have very many truly evil people and the ones that seemed to be would get fleshed out or retconned later to be more sympathetic. Typically most people could be reasoned with and almost everybody was just looking out for their own if they weren't motivated by nobler intentions. Deep Space Nine skews furthest from this trope with the Federation becoming a bit greyer and the Dominion being darker than is typical of the other series.
    • The one exception would be the TNG era Ferengi. They were universally motivated by greed embodying the worst of capitalism on a show that tended to favor socialist utopias. Ironically, while DS9 was overall darker, they pulled the Ferengi into the gray range, even introducing a number of social reforms during their run and having the Alpha Quadrant be saved by a Ferengi.

    Music 
  • Dave Mason's "We Just Disagree."
    There ain't no good guys, there ain't no bad guys. / There's only you and me and we just disagree.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Until recent editions, this was the case between the naive, but swiftly learning Tau Emptire and the jaded, hardened Imperium of Man from [[Tabletopgame/Warhammer40000]]. However, the optimistic and idealistic the alien Tau were found by, at least by some members of the fanbase, to be too idealistic and utopian to fit into the settingnote . The Tau have since been "greywashed", and while they are they do fit the setting's equivalent of the The Federation, some recent fluff has stated that they may use concentration camps and "re-education" policies on worlds where the Imperium's xenophobic policies are too ingrained. The relationship between the Tau and the Imperium are further complicated by practices of Realpolitik and outright alliance by certain planets, though the official position is that the Tau must be exterminated someday.

    Theater 

    Video Games 
  • In one of the many endings for BioShock 2, the child you have been taking care of grows up to realize that there is no "evil", only "pain." Because of the mercy you have taught her, she is able to forgive her mother, and live a healthy life on her own.
  • Metal Gear Solid 4 reveals that most of the villains were actually good people whose plan to make the world a better place did horribly go wrong. Most events of the series were actually the villains' attempts to use whatever means neccessary to correct their mistakes.
  • Used tragically in Mega Man Zero. In the midst of this rebellion, barring the psychopaths (Copy X, Elipzo, Omega, and Weil), no one on either side is truly evil. The Zero series has some of the most sympathetic antagonists (Harpuia being #1) in the whole franchise.
  • Tales of Vesperia, with some exceptions, ultimately comes down on the side that most baddies are Anti Villains, and the Big Bad performs a Heel-Face Turn when he realizes he was wrong in his position that Humans Are Bastards.
  • Tales of the Abyss makes it clear from beginning to end that both sides ultimately want to accomplish the same goal, removing the Score's hold on the world. They just have very different methods on doing so.
  • In Xenogears Anyone doing bad things is just proven to be manipulated by a sort of cross between a crazy computer system and Giant Space Flea from Nowhere. The guy seen as the Big Bad is actually just misguided rather than truly evil and the hero even forgives him at the end, though he refuses to forgive himself. Another recurring antagonist is a sympathetic character forgiven by the heroes and even comforted by them after his defeat. The two warring nations are shown to be full of mostly good people and make peace. Even the leader of the evil empire is actually on your side for the most part. The entire theme of the game in fact seems to be that the goodness of humanity can triumph even in a Crapsack World. The only truely evil character in the game is an artificial human made by the Big Bad.
  • The Touhou series is full of Designated Villains who are unilaterally revealed to be Good All Along by the time the game ends - in most cases, your character has a tea party with the Final Boss following their defeat. Bad Powers, Bad People is completely averted. The only things in the series that could be considered evil at all are the Saigyou Ayakashi, more popularly known as the Cherry Tree of Doom, from Perfect Cherry Blossom (it hypnotizes people into languishing to death under its leaves, and then eats their souls), and the final boss of Subterranean Animism, who flat-out threatens to nuke all of Gensokyo and even then the latter turns out to be under the influence of a temporary but bad case of power induced crazy on top of being much, much more stupid than evil.
  • Unusually for an Alien Invasion game, Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds has an arguable case of white vs grey. The humans are fighting for their home and way of life, and the martians are only fighting because their home and way of life is dying. This does, however, lead to some rather nasty Fridge Logic in that whichever race you play as, you are dooming the other to extinction.
  • Dynasty Warriors generally holds to this in its modern installments with the exceptions of Dong Zhuo, Lu Bu, and Yuan Shao. Every one of the major factions is comprised of largely sympathetic people attempting to end the chaotic wars of the terminal years of the Han Dynasty and produce a better future for the greater good of all. However, they disagree, frequently in very lethal ways, about what sort of future it should be and how it should be achieved.
  • In Dungeon Siege III, just about every major villain up to and including the Big Bad is a well-intentioned extremist or has a Freudian Excuse.
  • Dissidia: Final Fantasy and its prequel Dissidia 012 at first tell your typical Order Versus Chaos story with the Big Bad Chaos summoning some of the most sinister villains of Final Fantasy to battle their heroes serving the Big Good Cosmos. However, the backstory reveals the conflict to be this trope. Chaos is a literal Designated Villain, as he and Cosmos agreed to war with each other as part of a pact with Cid and Shinryu, and Chaos was the one hesitant to participate at first. As for Chaos's forces, they variably have no interest in the way, are fighting for personal reasons, are Brainwashed and Crazy, or are Anti Villains who try to help the heroes win. The only villains who are totally and umambiguously evil are The Emperor, Ultimecia, Kefka and Exdeath, but of them, Ultimecia has a Freudian Excuse, Kefka has the Alternate Character Interpretation that he's too insane to know any better, and Exdeath is a Made of Evil Eldritch Abomination that simply does what he does.
  • Despite having a dark entity known as Sulphur, Phantom Brave certainly fit into this. Most characters, at worst, act like Jerkasses who cheat off Marona and treat her as trash. Some of who have selfish motivations does have a particular reason of being so. For example, Walnut, a Kill Steal bounty hunter, have a mindset of caring about money because he is trying to fund medicine for his sick little sister. And some who fell into the path of darkness is mostly due to tragic circumstances, such as Sprout, who lost his family to Sulphur. Regardless, everyone is Easily Forgiven by Marona and those who were treating her like trash came to realize she's the only hope of defeating Sulphur and realize her kindhearted nature, started treating her an actual human being, and rally to aid her. In the end, Marona's "treat everyone with kindness" favors her.

    Webcomics 
  • Ursula Vernon, creator of Digger, has complained that she can't seem to come up with a real villain, since all of them have reasons for what they are doing and believe that they're doing the right thing. Some of them admittedly think it's the right thing because they're doing it, yes, or that the ends will justify the means, but no one so far is truly evil. Well, no one except Sweetgrass Voice.
  • Freefall forgoes villains in favor of lots of geek-tickling tech-talk. Even the Corrupt Corporate Executives tend to be simply narrow-minded and incompetent, rather than willfully malevolent. It's just that they're not smart enough to figure out that AIs have become sentient, and still think that they're just products. It doesn't help that some of the AIs agree.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court is known for lacking "proper" villains; Coyote is (arguably) more of a general Trickster, and Ysengrin is simply insane. And Reynardine is... who knows? Tom Siddell confirms this in an interview: "There are no outright evil characters, for example, just situations in which a character might act in a way perceived to be evil."
    • On the other hand, Diego is a pretty evil character. It's bad enough that he causes the death of the woman he "loves" because she rejected him., but then in this comic, when Jeanne desperately comes to him for help, he just smugly smirks at her fear An alternative interpretation is that he is a coward and strongly in denial. He does seem to be horribly broken after Jeanne dies.
      • Sort of a combination of the whole buffet line. Definitely a coward, but he did it of his own free will, because he's too petty and selfish to think of anything except how she's getting her comeuppance. Then, rather than face his wrongdoing, he goes into denial; it haunts him for the rest of his life and on his deathbed he claims he was forced to come up with the plan by the same men who asked him if there wasn't an alternative at the time.
    • Jack was just some variant of gone nuts from the whole Zimmyham experience or high on his new creepy powers. He got better, though.
  • A Miracle of Science has no real villains. The Big Bad is a Well-Intentioned Extremist who actively avoids civilian casualties and even the Venusian Mafia is mostly just selfish.
  • El Goonish Shive has no one who does things For the Evulz. Save one bad eggnote , there are no really evil characters in the comic; all of them so far have either been misguided or acting off their own sense of what's right rather being downright evil.
    • Not-Tengu may have broken this trend. He enslaves people's minds and even alters them physically to suit his tastes simply because he can, and seems delighted at the prospect of killing anyone who tries to stop him.

    Western Animation 
  • This used to apply to most American Animated TV series, mainly because the Moral Guardians forced them to. Ironically, non-human villains were allowed to be truly evil- and often destroyed.
  • The first season of Super Friends. There were no supervillains (with the possible exception of the Raven, who put Superman on trial), just Anti Villains who were all doing the utterly wrong thing for what they felt were the right reasons. In the end, they always Saw the Light, Repented for their Wickedness, and never even went to jail.
  • Phineas and Ferb - While Candace is often the antagonist, she's neither evil nor truly spiteful - only impulsive and a bit high-strung. Heck, even the evil genius has his decent moments! The only really unpleasant people to appear are Doofenshmitz's parents (in his tales of his Hilariously Abusive Childhood) and the drill sergeant from "Phineas And Ferb Get Busted!" (Which was a dream..)
  • Unsurprisingly present in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Moments after the climax of the second episode, the goddess of darkness, who is effectively the Big Bad of the ponies' entire mythology, runs crying into a hug with her sister and counterpart day goddess. Who instantly forgives her. Indeed, the worst villains in the first season were Gilda from "Griffon the Brush-Off" and the Great and Powerful Trixie from "Boast Busters", who were both realistic Jerkasses rather than deliberately kid-friendly villains, neither of which learned their lessons in their respective episodes. This changed with the season 2 premiere "The Return of Harmony", which featured as its antagonist Discord, a trouble-making Reality Warper with a cruel sense of humor. note  Some of the show's conflicts even border on Good Versus Good, like the Dragon from Dragonshy, who was just trying to sleep until Dash kicked him in the face. Averted for Queen Chrysalis, who was very much an evil queen, and King Sombra.
    • It can even be argued to be the case for Queen Chrysalis who, from her own word, is trying to "bring food to her subjects". When defeated, she is also seen catapulted to what seems to be the Changelings territory : a barren wasteland.
  • Kim Possible has the recurring villain Senor Senior Senior. He had (quite likely) built his fortune legitimately: he turns to evil as a hobby (subverting Evil Is Not a Toy), seeing how closely he can mirror a classic Big Bad complete with setting up death traps for the heroes to escape from. In one episode, Sr. Senior Sr.'s fortune is stolen by a swindler, and he tries to get it back by robbing businesses owned by the person who scammed him: meanwhile, Kim attempts to stop him. She is stopped by his son who turns him in, and Kim settles for Senior earning his money back through the reward money that he'll gain for his capture.
  • Adventure Time: 80% of the time, Finn and Jake's enemies are less evil and more morally challenged, Obliviously Evil or just simple jerks. The Ice King and Lemongrab are good examples of this: the former is a sociopath who has an obsession with kidnapping princesses, however it's out of loneliness and his Jerkass moments come from not realising the social impact (due to an incredibly tragic backstory). The latter is a crazy Control Freak who puts people in dungeons for little reason, but it's because he was born utterly nuts instead of being a cruel person. Even Marceline's Dad, who's basically the Devil, is semi Affably Evil and loves his daughter. There are exceptions who definitely stand out, but they're few and far between.
  • While Iron Man: Armored Adventures has its share of villains, the large majority of its antagonists are either various Types of Anti-Villains (including two of the Big Bads) or Punch Clock Villains.
  • In Moral Orel Orel is a genuinely good kid with Incorruptible Pure Pureness. While Moralton has many horrible people (including his own parents), lots of them are sympathetic, most of whom have their own Freudian Excuse. His parents both had issues with their own parents, while Miss Censordoll is pretty awful, she has one of her own it's hard not to feel bad for her when you learn her mother removed her reproductive system. Reverend Putty is a bit cynical and jaded, but he has his own Pet the Dog moments in regards to Orel and his daughter Stephanie. Joe's a brat who bullies Orel and beats up kissing boys but he he's afraid of growing old and didn't know his own mother.
  • The Dreamstone generally portrays things this way narrative wise. While Zordrak is as evil as they get, he is usually too petty and ineffectual to do anything himself, and his Urpney army mostly consist of sympathetic minions Just Following Orders. The Land of Dreams is generally portrayed as a Sugar Bowl (though their occasional fondness for Disportionate /Misplaced Retribution may lean them more as A Lighter Shade of Grey).
  • Legends Of Chima: On one end you've got the Lions whom are the paragons of good and keep the other tribes in line by distributing Chi, and the Eagles and Gorillas whom are kindly scholars and spiritualists but are quick to ally with the Lions. On the other end you've got the Crocs whom are lead by a prince being manipulated by his sister, the Ravens who are master con men, and the Wolves who are savage and will seize power if deemed necessary. The other tribes fall somewhere in between.

Morality Kitchen SinkMorality TropesSheep in Sheep's Clothing
When Life Gives You LemonsIdealism Tropes'World of Cardboard" Speech
Morality Kitchen SinkPhilosophy TropesSliding Scale of Unavoidable vs. Unforgivable

alternative title(s): White And Gray Morality; Gray And White Morality; Grey And White Morality
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