Credited as being the first of the Three Unifiers of modern Japan, Nobunaga was one of Japan's most successful warlords. He started as a son of a minor daimyo (and earned the nickname "The Fool of Owari" due to his childhood and teenage antics), with a number of factions within his own province opposing him, eventually he would not only crush those factions but also proceed to conquer over a third of Japan, with the rest well positioned to fall to him. That ended on June 21, 1582, when his retainer Akechi Mitsuhide attacked him at Honno Temple; Nobunaga, his eldest son, his bodyguards and his wakashu, Mori Ranmaru, died that night.
Although noted for many things, including a mastery of tactics, (most famously, at the Battle of Okehazama, Nobunaga's forces, numbering at most 3000, defeated an army of around 25,000 through a combination of daring, misdirection, a brilliant surprise attack, and more than a little luck) revolutionizing the ways Japanese armies used firearms, and completely changing the economic system of and the way wealth was counted in Japan, Nobunaga is chiefly remembered for his ruthless and brutal nature, and it is these traits that dominate most depictions of him in any period pieces or games. Nobunaga's actions leave him ripe for playing the part of the villain, as his most infamous deeds include the burning of powerful Buddhist temples critical of him, and the slaughter of the thousands of men, women and children that lived in them. Even the kinder portrayals of him tend to show him as a man fueled by ambition and greed, in many others it is either speculated or explicitly said that he has either become a demon or made a literalDeal with the Devil to carry out his ambitions. See Demon King Nobunaga.
Although he did not live to see the conquest of all Japan finalized, Nobunaga's actions all but ended over a century of near-constant civil war among the lords of Japan for dominance. After his death, his general Hashiba Hideyoshi (later known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi) finished the conquest, and another general, Tokugawa Ieyasu, founded the Tokugawa shogunate that ruled Japan from 1600 until 1868.
Amusingly enough, his most famous descendant, Oda Nobunari, is one of Japan's top male figure skaters, and is most known for crying at the drop of a hat, and getting caught driving his moped drunk.
Compare with other historical figures Miyamoto Musashi and Yagyu Jubei. Almost always a Big Bad, Evil Overlord and 0% Approval Rating dictator when he is receiving a Historical Villain Upgrade in fiction. And a Magnificent Bastard as well (though this one can be applied in real life too).
Tropes associated with the historical Nobunaga:
Ambition Is Evil: Nobunaga is the most ambitious of the unifiers, and is the most ruthless. Of course this is one source of his villainization.
Oddly enough, there were a number of other people in the same time period, with the exact same ambition that tend to be portrayed positively. Nobunaga might not have been any more ruthless than them, but he was the one that actually ended up in the position to commit those ruthless acts.
It doesn't help that by most accounts it seems he was rather a Jerkass...
Badass: He was only 26 when he won the Battle of Okehazama where his army of 1500 (other sources say 2000 or 3000) men defeated Imagawa Yoshimoto's army of about 25,000. Sure, Nobunaga attacked the main encampment that held "only" 5-6000 soldiers, and he got really lucky, but his army crushed the enemy and killed Yoshimoto and most of his generals, which led to a complete victory. So it was pretty badass.
Badass Creed: Tenka Fubu — "Take the country by military power."
Bad Boss: Nobunaga did not treat even his inner circle well, being notably cold and tactless even to his highest ranking generals. Perhaps he was paranoid about betrayal or disloyalty, but if so Nobunaga might have turned it into a Self Fulfilling Prophecy.
He apparently also had a habit of making fun of his subordinates, such as mocking Akechi Mitsuhide's poetry (which was actually considered pretty good), and calling Toyotomi Hideyoshi "monkey" and "bald rat" (because of his shortness and peculiar face).
And there's a story that says that Nobunaga executed a hostage whom Mitsuhide had promised safety. In turn, the hostage's enraged family accused Mitsuhide of betrayal, and as a revenge, murdered his mother. This, plus the aforementioned mocking and other insults by Nobunaga (who allegedly went as far as kicking him) make it easy to see why Mitsuhide wasn't Nobunaga's biggest fan.
He might be an example of this only as Common Knowledge rather than an actual example.
He promoted Toyotomi Hideyoshi based on his competence. This was basically unheard of at this point in Japanese history. In fact, a lot of the hatred for him came from noble families that Nobunaga embarrassed repeatedly by elevating lowborn peasants who displayed actual competence rather than choosing his followers based on noble blood.
He was known for not putting much faith in his lieutenants, but this was not entirely true. He didn't put much trust in the nobility that served him. The people he put his trust in were a ronin, peasant, and traitor. All people traditionally loathed in Japanese culture, but all of which proved extremely competent.
The situation with Mitsuhide is not actually well known. There is a gigantic gap in information between "Nobunaga and Mitsuhide are the best of pals" and "Nobunaga is publicly insulting Mitsuhide." Mitsuhide's mother being killed only provides a possible explanation for his actions, but not Nobunaga's.
All those degrading nicknames were at least partly affectionate. Nobunaga had a very eccentric sense of humor.
A disguise he might have been all too happy to keep up, had his original province of Owari not been in the path of an eastern warlord marching westward to Kyoto, forcing Nobunaga to make a stand or capitulate.
He showed signs of this trope much earlier. Since Nobunaga was "fooling around" in his early days, some Oda clan members decided to intiate a coup to take him out and place his brother as clan leader instead (so that when Yoshimoto's force arrive they'll surrender)...And Nobunaga proceeded to curbstomp the coup's forces. Even Shibata Katsuie (on the coup side), the well-known veteran of Oda clan, was shocked of his defeat, to the point that some suspected he let Nobunaga won the battle. Only then most of the clan members turned to recognize Nobunaga's hidden talents.
Recent historical materials say that the battle wasn't quite as lopsided as people knewnote one theory goes that the Takeda were actually able to shift forces past the left end of the famous palisade — the right end was bordered by a river — and erode the Oda-Tokugawa coalition forces' left flank enough that Nobunaga actually ordered a withdrawal... only to have to reverse it once he learned that the Takeda had ordered their own withdrawal first!, but since the Takeda clan lost most of their valuable generals in the battle it was still a major victory for Nobunaga.
Nobunaga was actually forced to commit seppuku when he was betrayed by Akechi Mitsuhide and forced into a completely hopeless situation with thousands of Mitsuhide's troops surrounding him at Kyoto and only a handful of retainers to protect him.
From Nobody to Nightmare: Went from being the "Fool of Owari" to being in a position to unify all of Japan under his rule.
Historical Villain Upgrade: One of the biggest victims of this in all Japanese history. Of course, as mentioned repeatedly on this page, there are plenty of reasons why he usually plays the villain.
Kick the Dog: The burning of the temples on Mount Hiei. Buddhist warrior monks from this and other sects had been meddling in politics for centuries, and soon became vocal critics and enemies of Nobunaga. Nobonuaga responded by surrounding the culturally significant temple at night and attacking from all sides, working upwards. By the next day the sprawling temple complex was ashes and thousands lay dead, with not even innocent women or children safe from Nobunaga's wrath. Becomes a Moral Event Horizon to many historians, which kickstarted his long run of villainization in fiction.
Less famous but arguably more horrifying than the destruction of Mt. Hiei was the burning of Nagashima, a fortress of another warrior monk sect. The group resisted a siege by Nobunaga for several years, but were eventually forced back within their entirely wooden inner fortifications. Nobunaga built a wall around the building, then set the building on fire. With nowhere to run, no chance to escape the flames, and with Nobunaga's men taking potshots at them from the wall, not a single one of the 20,000 inhabitants survived. Note that once again, many of these inhabitants were noncombatants, including both women and children.
This is one of the reasons why Nobunaga was betrayed by Akechi Mitsuhide: As a high-ranking General of the Oda clan and a Buddhist, the torching of the Mt. Hiei temples did not sit well with him at all.
Of course, Mt. Hiei and the Ikko-Ikki tend to have their own dark spots overlooked in this, and who tend to get painted as completely innocent victims. Suffice it to say this was *not* the case, and many argue that this was more of a necessary Shoot the Dog.
The warrior monks of Mt. Hiei were a longstanding threat to Kyoto and so invasive in politics an Emperor of Japan allegedly said he had no power over them. The reason why they came to blows with Nobunaga was because they aligned with his enemies and were trying to strongarm a law expelling all Christians and foreigners from the country. When they were challenged to justify this in a debate with a Jesuit priest sponsored by Oda, they accepted and were so utterly humiliated their debater tried to lunge at the priest. In response, they stepped up their intrigues with the Oda's enemies and outright tried to kill Nobunaga and several others.
The Ikko-Ikki are best summed up as Theocratic Church Militant Communists/Socialists/Anarchists depending on the sect and interpretation (think something like a Medieval Japanese Taliban). They also had the stated intent of upturning Japanese society entirely and thus were hated even by their own allies. And who were also engaged in very brutal, very bloody politicking of their own that eventually targeted the Oda and their allies. The siege of Nagashima we all remember was actually the third in about as many years, after previous attempts to conquer it in a "cleaner"/more conventional way were driven back by the ultra militarized inhabitants and their clan allies.
Kill It with Fire: Nobunaga had a rather disturbing tendency to burn and raze the strongholds of his enemies... with his enemies still inside them.
Lucky Bastard: Not one but two lords and tremendously skilled generals (Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin) died under mysterious circumstances soon after having initial success in their campaigns against Nobunaga. Needless to say, conspiracy theories about these deaths abound.
No Social Skills: At least part of the folklore about Nobunaga's cruel and evil actions comes from his being, even by contemporary standards, really weird. For example, when he crushed the Azai clan, he had the skulls of Azai Hisamasa, Azai Nagamasa, and Asakura Yoshikage gilded and used them as drinking vessels. Many thought that he wanted to vent his spleen at a hated enemy after death, but in fact, he was attempting to pay homage to his enemies as Worthy Opponents. He was a very eccentric man in a place and time that put high value in conformity, and many modern scholars believe that that is partly responsible for Historical Villain Upgrade after the fact.
Pet the Dog: In addition to his relationship with Ranmaru, Nobunaga was noted for his tolerance of and respect towards foreigners and foreign ideas. This stands in stark contrast to his "benevolent" successor Tokugawa's attitude towards "un-Japanese" ideas, in particular Christians. Also, whether or not his treatment of Hideyoshi was degrading or affectionate, he still elevated a lowly peasant to become one of his right-hand men.
Satan: According to Luís Fróis, it was Nobunaga who nicknamed himself "Dairokuten maou", lit. "Devil King of the Sixth Heaven", which is essentially the same as calling himself Satan. He was probably being ironic, but later generations were eager to take it literally...
Seme: Oda practiced shudo with his page Ranmaru, a form of homosexual relationship more closely related to Greek pederasty than modern gay relationships. The primary goal of the relationship was not sex necessarily, but rather the growth of the youth into a strong and powerful man — the sex was just an added bonus. Ranmaru was in line to be his successor when the two of them died at Honno. While Oda's treatment of much of Japan would seem to suggest the personality of a Bastard Boyfriend, according to Ranmaru he was an exceptionally kind and gentle lover. The relationship was accepted among Oda's contemporaries, but after Christian influence began to sweep Japan the closeness of the two warriors was largely swept under the rug.
Admiral Akainu from One Piece is VERY similar personality and method-wise to Nobunaga. He is even paired with two other admirals who fit the Hideyoshi (Kizaru) and Ieyasu (Aokiji) characters.
In an early episode of Inuyasha, Kagome is startled when a handsome, idealistic young samurai gives his name as Nobunaga. She eagerly asks for his autograph, only to see in disappointment that he is Amari Nobunaga; when she asks about Oda Nobunaga, the other Nobunaga objects to being mistaken for "that idiot." This has been used by fans to put a date to the Inuyasha story, since there's a very limited period of time when Oda Nobunaga was known, but considered not to be a big deal.
Nobunaga doesn't directly appear in Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma, but the story takes place at the height of his conquests, and he influences the story since the main character is a ninja serving the Takeda clan when it opposes Nobunaga, and because the brutality of Nobunaga's conquests is giving power to the Yoma demons. At one point the main character thinks about Nobunaga's brutality and wonders if he is a demon. While he's doing this, Nobunaga and his army are seen in a montage, and all of them have glowingred eyes.
Oda Nobunaga is the reason Recca's clan all but perished in Flame of Recca; at the end of the series Kurei returns to Jidai Geki Japan and takes his revenge by assassinating Nobunaga at Honnoji.
A rowdy young man implied to be Nobunaga appears in the Axis Powers Hetalia strip "The World of War and the Fool of Owari," in which he tells the anthropomorphic personification of Japan "This is the face of your future ruler." The anthropomorphic personification of Owari is skeptical.
Nobunaga is gender flipped into a violent redhead with a big sword in Sengoku Otome. She's also one of the main characters, seeking out the pieces of the Crimson Armor to unite Japan. Her armor is largely reminiscent of Red Sonja, and she is one of the few portrayals of Nobunaga that is not villainous, wishing to stop the pointless conflict of the Sengoku Period by using the Armor as a vehicle through which she can end the fighting and unify the nation.
In the historical comedy manga and anime Hyouge Mono, Nobunaga is the liege lord of main character Sasuke. He is presented pretty much as he was in life: A very ambitious (and slightly megalomaniac) warlord with designs to rule Japan, and then conquer China and Take Over the World. He has an interest in western culture, wearing Portugese clothing and citing the myth of the Tower of Babel. He also seems to be highly dismissive of most of his vassals, with the exception of Sasuke whose foolishness amuses him. He is killed by Hideyoshi at Honno-Ji.
In Nobunagun, Nobunaga is reincarnated in the modern day as a girl named Shio Ogura, who has a passion for More Dakka. Nobunaga himself often appears in her dreams or in visions, and the memories often help her figure out new ways to fight.
In Nobunaga No Chef, Ken, the main character, becomes Nobunaga's chef after getting thrown back in time from the present day. The Nobunaga here is fairly balanced, an ambitious warlord capable of both kindness and cruelty.
In Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha, Takeda Shingen, a powerful rival of Nobunaga's, (and perhaps a better general) uses a lookalike thief to pretend to be healthy instead of dead in an attempt to discourage an attack on his clan. Rightfully infuriated, Nobunaga proceeds to decimate the Takeda cavalry led by Shingen's son, the hotheaded Takeda Katsuyori in the Battle of Nagashino.
In the film for Ghost Sweeper Mikami, both Oda Nobunaga and his vassal blamed for his death, Akechi Mitsuhide, appear. A ghostly Akechi defends his apparent betrayal by explaining that Nosferatu killed the original Oda, transformed himself and took his place, leading to the famed brutality.
Nobunaga is a target of the ninjas in Shinobi no Mono.
The historical novel Taiko traces the rise of Nobunaga's general Toyotomi Hideyoshi from peasant to general and regent for the Emperor. Nobunaga, as Toyotomi's lord for much of his life, plays a large role. His defining characteristics are ambition and constant fury.
The Adventures of Samurai Cat tells the epic tale of Miawaro Tomokato's quest to avenge the death of his lord, Odo Nobunaga, who true to form had irritated a lot of people in his youth.
Toshiie to Matsu gives a largely sympathetic portrayal, though it doesn't shy away from Nobunaga's worse moments, either. (It helps that the actor portraying him is quite handsome.)
A homonculus version of Nobunaga appears in Kamen Rider OOO's first movie. Exactly what he is is hard to tell - Nobunaga himself revived by Medals, or a Greeed that thinks it's Oda Nobunaga? He is portrayed as ambition incarnate, but a pretty nice guy to his friends. However, at times, he turns into his monster form and kills the descendants of those he blames for his death, and is seemingly unaware of this when not actively engaged in it. Core Medals given to him by Dr. Maki corrupt him into a Greeed-like being that Eiji has to stop. And even then, he's not really stopped, as his Core Medals go on to create an even bigger problem.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: Shi En and the rest of the Legendary Six Samurai are based off Oda Nobunaga's life story.
GURPS: Infinite Worlds: In the Shikaku-Mon timeline, alterations in the dynastic successions in Europe result in Portugal being able to focus more of its energy on colonization and conversion. More Jesuit missionaries in Japan result in more Christian converts and more support for Nobunaga, who lives long enough to finish the conquest of Japan himself and avert the sakoku (closing of the country to outsiders). Japan adopts Western technology with a vengeance, colonizes its neighbors, and ends up top dog in a cyberpunk-flavored world.
In the Onimusha game series Nobunaga is mortally wounded by an arrow during his great victory at Okehazama, but makes a deal with the demon king to return to life as a demon and conquer Japan on behalf of the demons.
In Kessen III, Nobunaga does a rare turn as the protagonist, depicted in much more idealized fashion, making the traitor whose attack would kill him the antagonist, while using relatively conventional depictions of the rest of the cast. (Unlike Samurai Warriors however it actually deals with the shogunate at the time.) This game surprisingly contains a lot of Take That to treatments toward Nobunaga in general fiction...
He appears in the first Kessen in a cutscene, also in a non-evil depiction, as a vision of the idealistic Tokugawa Ieyasu speaking of his dream of a unified Japan. Well-Intentioned Extremistof sorts?
His love life is similarly complex. His wife wavers between wanting to kill for him and wanting to kill him (their marriage was a setup for his assassination, but she has decided to forego going through with it until she sees what he plans to do), and his relationship with his pageboy, Mori Ranmaru, is much less platonic in the original Japanese. Nobunaga finds both of them attractive in his quotes, making him a rare video game bisexual male protagonist.
He also gets paired up ironically in the second game with Akechi Mitsuhide, his future killer. However, in his ending he actually survives, killing Mitsuhide instead and shows that he is in fact capable of feelings of remorse and regret.
Nobunaga is the final boss of the Neo Geo fighting game Ninja Master's, complete with a pair of flaming swords and a posessed demonic cape.
A rare case of a non-evil Oda Nobunaga: the Koei strategy video game Nobunaga's Ambition, which lets you play as Nobunaga or any of three dozen other daimyo trying to claim the Japanese crown. Nobunaga generally has the best attributes of all of them, though.
In the series' crossover with Pokémon, known as Pokémon Conquest in America, Nobunaga is one of the main antagonists. His Badassery is not lost here, as he gets to control not one, but twoLegendarydragons (first Zekrom, then Shiny Rayquaza) through the course of the game. Oddly, this is one of his most positive portrayals, given that his entire motive is eventually revealed to be stopping conflict before people grow to view their Pokémon as little more than tools. The final story teams him up with the player character as the eponymous "Two Heroes of Ransei."
The Taikou Risshiden RPG/strategy series, where Hideyoshi is the main character, has Nobunaga shown as an magnificent lord defying the norm by trusting a peasant-born warrior.
Shogun: Total War has a non-evil Nobunaga, in the linear campaign the player gets to command several of his more famous battles.
Nobunaga makes a very brief appearance at the beginning of a historical campaign mission in Age of Empires II: The Conquerors, in which he is assassinated. The player then receives control of Hideyoshi's troops and the goal is to destroy three castles in Kyoto to avenge Nobunaga's death.
Nobunaga gets referenced in Soul Calibur as the one who cut off Yoshimitsu's arm, or at least was there when it happened, and is the one responsible for Yoshimitsu's Doomed Hometown.
Nobunaga in Ikusagami inverts this plays it straight and then inverts again. Nobunaga is shown to orchestrate battles solely to study Aoi Yasaka, Inugami and the demons and shows a borderline obsession towards them, but Mitsuhide Akechi takes the final boss role.
In the H-GameSengoku Rance, Nobunaga is shown to be a very compassionate leader and loves his sister dearly. His genocidal tendencies are caused by being possessed by a literal demon.