Michael Moorcock created Colonel Pyat - 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.
In Kim Newman's The Hound of the D'Urbervilles, Colonel Moran and Professor Moriarty are the main characters, with Moran being the narrator. Moran is a thief, misanthrope, cheat, thrill-junkie who kills animals for sport and men for pay. As a protagonist, he's somewhat sympathetic due to being kind of funny, and even though he's very capable, Moriarty often manipulates him for his own reasons. Likewise, Moriarty is shown as taking joy in solving problems (either scientific ones or seemingly impossible crimes), but he has very little in the way of positive emotions or impulses. Both have Freudian Excuses, Moran had a mean angry dad so he became a mean angry man, and Moriarty's father was even worse.
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 Hell's 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 him for the murders), 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.
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.
Forgotten Realms' War of the Spider Queen series. All characters walking along the plot are fit in range from casual backstabbers to neighbor-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, a vampire overlord who was cursed after killing his brother to take his bride, forcing the woman into suicide to escape him.
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. Several of these have also been turned into movies, including The Hot Rock.
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 sheer 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.
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.
Reynard the Fox: In this medieval tale Reynard is the protagonist, but hardly an admirable character. He lies, cheats, murders, rapes, steals and betrays everybody and manages to get away with all of it in the end.
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.
The Darth Bane trilogy follows the exploits of Darth Bane, a Dark Lordof the Sith. It is interesting in that it follows the mythical hero's journey, as made famous by the films, but with a negative character.
Dark Lord—The Rise of Darth Vader, also by Luceno, focuses on the nascent Dark Lord's transformation from the shattered remnants of Anakin Skywalker to the confident, callous Sith Lord seen in the original films.
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.
A popular Alternative Character Interpretation is that Paul and Leto themselves are villains, or as David Brin put it "everyone in Dune deserves to die". Paul starts a religion and unleashes the bloodiest holy war in human history for revenge, even if he later starts preaching against the faith when he loses control of it. While Leto II oppresses humanity for 3,500 years in order to make them conform to his prophecies.
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. He works as a Pet Rat for various reactionary groups and at one point disposses of a political opponent who was in possession of sensitive documents by sinking the ship he was on, killing the rest of the passengers in the process. 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.. Notably, Eco wrote the book in part because of a Self-Imposed Challenge to create the most despicable protagonist in literature.
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 Teito Monogatari, 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.
Because O. Henry spent time in jail, many of his stories, like The Ransom of Red Chief, focus on (relatively low-time) criminals.
The protagonists of James Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy. While most of Ellroy's main characters are simply dark Anti Heroes who Pay Evil unto Evil, Kemper Boyd, Ward Littell, Wayne Tedrow Jr., Dwight Holly, and Pete Bondurant are a motley crew of extortionists, drug peddlers, mercenaries, con men, and assassins who are out for nothing but their own enrichment.
The Twits are a variation, as they are introduced before Muggle-Wump and get a lot more of the focus in the first half of the book. The position of protagonist is later given to Muggle-Wump.
The Liar series written by a Polish author Jakub Ćwiek take place in modern time Earth where all of the main religions of the past and present are real - there are Greek, Hindu, African gods and many mythological creatures that were either very powerful at some point or still live in the hearts of men (for instance, Santa Claus and his Slavic counterpart). The protagonist of the story is the Norse god Loki, who was imprisoned by his father out of fear of making Ragnarok come true. Unknown to Odin, Asgard was about to be attacked by the army of Heaven after God disappeared without a word and left angels in charge. They allied themselves with Loki and thanks to his treason easily wiped out the Norse. The series follows Loki's footsteps as an assassin for hire, hunting various deities and beings who are deemed by angels to be pagan and offensive to their plans. Depending on reader's viewpoint, not only Loki is an evil protagonist, who betrayed his people in exchange for his life and a job, but angels themselves are seen as bloodthirsty monsters who want to exterminate all other pantheons.
While The Gap Cycle has plenty of protagonists, most of whom are villainous to some extent, it's strongly dominated by Angus Thermopyle, a man who starts the story as a pirate, murderer, and rapist. He does get a bit less horrible over the course of the story, but even at the end he's a Noble Demon at best. Stephen R. Donaldson has stated that he hesitated to publish the first book in the series, because he didn't like what it said about him that he found it so easy to write Angus.
In Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain, Penny and her friends accidentally end up as supervillains rather than superheroes due to a run in with a particularly bitchy apprentice hero. Penny tries desperately to correct misconceptions and become a hero, but her friends clearly enjoy being villains. After they continuously foil villainous plots and rescue innocents and are still seen as villains, she pretty much just gives up and rolls with it.
An interesting Biblical example is the prophet Jonah (although he can also be seen as a very unpleasant sort of Anti-Hero). God has a plan to push the entire city of Nineveh into a Heel–Face Turn and he wants Jonah's help, but Jonah refuses. Eventually God convinces him to play along and the city does indeed get saved - but Jonah is explicitly noted to be "angry enough to die" about it. He wanted the city to remain evil. In particular, he appears to have been hoping that they would remain evil and dangerous enough for God to have no choice but to destroy them, which kinda implies the prophet was a closeted Blood Knight. While not the only Biblical protagonist to start off by opposing God, he is the only one who doesn't seem to learn the error of his ways. The narrative ends with God giving him a What the Hell, Hero? speech before apparently leaving him alone.
While The Quest of the Unaligned is not actually written this way, the author suggests that you should always try for a villain who you could do this for if you wanted, as it's an excellent way to avoid cliché storytelling.
The Blood Pack philia from the novel Blood Pack. While they're obviously the established villains of the book (or at least one of the villainous factions), and definitely evil, much of the story is told from their perspective and we see the individual personalities and the close relationships of its members. It makes their deaths, as told from the perspectives of the Ghost protagonists like Gaunt and Rawne, feel oddly abrupt, underwhelming, and sad, as to the good guys, they're just enemies to be put down.
In Robert Caro's The Power Broker, Caro shows how Robert Moses turns into this while in power, despite starting out as an idealist and doing heroic things at first.
Slappy's Nightmare, the 23rd book of GoosebumpsSeries 2000, features recurring villain Slappy as the protagonist. He's suffering from a curse that forces him to do good deeds in order to keep on living, but still engages in his usual sociopathy as well.
Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, from The Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence. The main protagonist of the Broken Empires series, Jorg endures many emotional and physical traumas throughout the series leaving him deeply damaged, resulting in his largely being unfeeling to the suffering of others. Willing to hurt or kill anyone in his quest to ascend to the throne of the Broken empire. Jorg runs away from his father and his home, after the brutal murder of his mother and younger brother, coming to lead a band of vicious outlaws known as the Brotherhood. As the series progresses, Jorg commits atrocities, often with incredible cruelty, causing pain to others purposefully, even when other means of obtaining his goals seem more likely to succeed. Why be kind when you can twist the knife deeper? Sure you've just killed a farmer, but why not taunt him about how worthless his life was, and explain how your men will find his daughters entertaining before they are killed as well. Truly, if ever a character deserved the villain protagonist title, it is this one. The first chapter shows that. And that is before developing (and stealing) dark and terrible powers of his own. While his actions by the end of the series could ultimately redeem his, the "ends justify the means" has seldom had a more dubious application.
H.P. Lovecraft used these sometimes. In "In the Walls of Eryx," the narrator is a heartless exploiter who treats the native Venusians as subhuman in his quest to steal their crystals. In "The Temple," the narrator is a heartless stereotypical militaristic German U-boat captain who murders helpless untermenschen after sinking their ship. Both are severely punished for their evil attitudes.
The Rules of Supervillainy stars Gary Karkofsky a.k.a Merciless, a Ridiculously Average Guy who has the disturbing desire to be a supervillain. He becomes extremely good at, even if there are some boundaries he won't cross. It helps his victims tend to be much-much worse.
Demon Seed follows Proteus IV, an AI that becomes determined to forcefully impregnate the female occupant of the Smart House he takes over, so he can become human.
The title characters of Edgar & Ellen are sadistic, misanthropic Nightmare Fetishist brats who play nasty pranks, con people, abuse animals (including their own pet), and are generally unpleasant people.
You2015 is told from the perspective of Joe and it revolves around his unhealthy obsession with Beck.
Amy Dunne of Gone Girl is a murderous, highly narcissistic, dangerous, vindictive sociopath, but the story's just as much about her as it is about her husband Nick, and she narrates about half the book.
The Lorax follows the story of the Once-ler, who starts to cause the devastation of a forest to consume the area of all its Truffula trees to sell them on the market, being opposed and scolded by the titular Lorax.
As one might expect from a book titled Worst. Person. Ever., its protagonist Raymond Gunt is a crude misogynist who accepts a B-unit cameraman position to get sex and legally abuse and enslave a homeless man he takes on an assistant. And when he's not incurring karma, he's stealing food from starving contestants, stressing someone to suffer a fatal heart attack, and aiding in the frame-up of a cabbie he antagonized for assault.
Grenouille of Patrick Susskind's Perfume. He's (probably) a sociopath who feels no emotion for other humans and his greatest ambition is to create the world's most beautiful perfume - by murdering young women to harvest their scent.
The Warrior Cats manga The Rise of Scourge focuses on how Scourge became the feared leader of BloodClan, and the novella Tigerclaw's Fury shows what Big Bad Tigerclaw got up to during his exile after his failed attempt to kill Bluestar.
Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr, who's a burglar, and Martin Ehrengraf, a criminal lawyer whose clients are always innocent - no matter what he has to do to obtain that verdict...