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A Lighter Shade of Black

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In this case, the red one is worse.

"I'm just a bad guy who gets paid to fuck up worse guys."
Wade Wilson, Deadpool (2016)

While Evil vs. Evil may be fun, it carries the risk of Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: people just do like having someone to cheer for, but if both sides are equally reprehensible, then there's really no point to it.

So that's where this trope kicks in. It basically means that the author is clearly trying to portray one side of the conflict as the better or more sympathetic one, so the audience can root for them. Since both sides are supposed to be villains, this isn't that hard. You just need to give your Lighter Black a little edge on the sympathy meter. The idea is to have the audience say "Yeah, Alice may be evil, but at least she's not half as bad as Bob!"

This can be done in many ways. Give your villain the Sympathetic P.O.V.. Have them Pet the Dog, be a Noble Demon or invoke Even Evil Has Standards. Perhaps they're simply a smaller threat to the world. Maybe their goals are, or used to be, somewhat sympathetic. Maybe they have many Evil Virtues. Or, when compared to the opposition, their cause still seems a little more "right" or their character "pure" than that of the enemy. Sometimes, Bob just needs to be stopped at any cost, and Alice happens to have that goal in mind, if only for selfish reasons. Since we want them to win, this may lead to a villainous version of Right Makes Might and Pure Is Not Good.


Or maybe the villain is such a dangerously efficient operator that it's easier to side with them. Especially if their opposition is a threat to everyone.

If they shoot way over the line, the character in question may end up doing a Heel–Face Turn. This is generally a trait of most Enlightenment fiction that believes Rousseau Was Right.

See also A Lighter Shade of Grey, Nominal Hero, and Shades of Conflict. An exaggerated form of this trope is Evil Versus Oblivion. The polar opposite of Viler New Villain, when a villain is shown to be worse than the more nobler villain. For a downplayed form, see Black-and-Gray Morality.

Do not confuse this trope with Lesser of Two Evils, in which case, there still isn't a side to root for. Those stories usually involve a hero's P.O.V. and he's observing the two villains fighting each other.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Godzilla: The Planet Eater has Godzilla, who is outright malevolent to humanity and seeks to wipe them out, going against Ghidorah, the titular Planet Eater who devours worlds at the behest of the cultist alien race, the Exif. As such, Godzilla ends up as the lesser of the two evils and ultimately saves the planet from Ghidorah, though he does kill the main protagonist Haruo in the finale.
  • Most of the villains in Black Butler are worse than Ciel.
  • Death Note: Even Rem agrees, while Light Yagami may be a bastard he isn't as bad as Kyosuke Higuchi. Not that that excuses any of Light's own depravity. This ends up getting subverted when Light eventually becomes far worse than Higuchi ever was.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam's Kycilia Zabi is a fascist dictator who holds that We Have Reserves and once left a group of her own men buried alive in a collapsing mine. That said, she's not quite as awful as her older brother, Gihren, a psychopath who aims to reduce the population of Earth to less than a billion and who murders their father with a Wave-Motion Gun. This makes it possible, if just, to root for her as the two of them manouvere for position in the Zeon hierarchy.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ spoiler: Invoked by Haman Khan as she tries to convince Judau to ally with her against Glemmy Toto. Haman explains that she's just a conqueror who doesn't believe in the Zabi name she's using as a flag, but Glemmy does, and Glemmy will drown the Earth Sphere in blood because of it. Judau doesn't buy it; as far as he can tell, Haman and Glemmy are exactly the same, and he's not going to pick one above the other.
  • In the Area 88 manga and OVA, Asran's pro-monarchy forces are not the good guys. The Asran monarchy lives in luxury while Asran struggles with poverty and a poor educational system. Saki is willing to use nuclear weapons in the country's civil war. Many of the mercenaries at Area 88 are amoral or outright sociopathic. However, members of Asran's monarchy have sympathetic moments, as do many of the mercenaries. To boot, the anti-government forces are depicted as much worse, committing atrocities against civilians and allying with Farina's mafia.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • There's no denying that Nappa is a ruthless villain, but he seems to care for his comrades, as shown in Dragon Ball Z when he suggested the Dragon Balls be used to wish their fallen fellow Saiyan, Raditz, back to life; a suggestion Vegeta shoots down in favor of his own desire for immortality.
    • Vegeta himself serves as the lesser evil to Frieza during the Namek Saga. Both are truly evil with plans on conquering the galaxy, with Dende even remarking Vegeta is Not So Different than Frieza, but Vegeta nonetheless has a warrior's sense of pride, Villainous Valor, and is willing to work with the Z-Fighters against a common threat, while Frieza at his best is far more sadistic and cutthroat than Vegeta at his worst, and a Dirty Coward to boot. In fact, this is the entire reason Krillin agrees to make Vegeta immortal using the Dragon Balls, because while Vegeta is undoubtedly a monster, Frieza is just that much worse.
    • Beerus, the God of Destruction and the villain of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods stands out amongst the Z-Fighters' Rogues Gallery. Most other Dragon Ball villains, especially Frieza and Cell, are utterly sadistic, depraved monsters who kill and destroy whoever and whenever they want For the Evulz. Beerus, on the other hand, only destroys because it's his job (though he is prone to destroying planets for petty reasons) and is quite sociable and friendly when off the clock. He'll keep on delaying the clock, too, as long as you keep his stomach full of good food and keep him of the opinion that blowing up your planet will rob him of said food.
    • To a certain extent, Cooler to Frieza. They're both ruthless galactic conquerors that like pummeling their opponent, but Cooler's less sadistic and more focused on just finishing off his opponent. Plus he respects his men as opposed to ruling them through fear like Frieza.
    • In Dragon Ball Super, Frost from Universe 6 plays a similar role to Frieza. While Frost may be a crime lord and con-artist who profiteers off war like Frieza used to do, he isn't a sadist. He is motivated mostly by money and respect, which although hardly noble, is a very "human" desire and leads him to cultivate a Villain with Good Publicity in order to get the most benefit out of his crimes and even when found out he keeps his head about himself, unlike Frieza who gladly slaughters anyone he comes across for kicks and revels in being the most feared being in the universe. It's how Frost achieves it that makes him evil. To his credit, however, he could have easily strong-armed a city into giving him a new base of power once he lost everything and/or tried to wage an universal war using what was left of his empire, but he instead lives on the streets and tries not to harm anyone despite his great power, even hiding from patrolling police officers when he could easily obliterate them with a flick of a wrist. When caught by the assassin Hit with no chance to escape (though not realizing Hit came with a different purpose than killing him), he chooses to silently accept his fate after a brief battle instead of blowing up the planet like Frieza whenever he is forced against the ropes.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Greed is still an antagonist and kind of a jerk, but he's leagues better than his fellow homunculi/siblings/former allies. He treats his underlings well and has their genuine respect and is not especially malicious.
  • Black Lagoon: The protagonists are pirates and smugglers who are quite willing to do all manner of immoral acts if the pay is right. They're still much better than most of their opponents, who include neo-Nazis, bloodthirsty cartels, and the other inhabitants of Roanapor.
  • Akame ga Kill!: The Jaegars can be very ruthless, but they are not barbarians. They don't indiscriminately kill the Empire's citizens unless they suspect them of working with La Résistance. Every member has their own share of Pet the Dog moments. This is very stark contrast to Wild Hunt, who are willing to kill the Empire's citizens for any reason (even for fun). In fact, considering the state of the Empire's government, the Jaegars come across as the the best possible hope of protection for the Empire's citizens.
  • The Genius Prince's Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?): The Earthworld Empire has its share of corrupt nobles and a glass ceiling for women, which is a continent-wide issue, but it's presented more positively than other countries due to being relatively better about racial equality.

    Comic Books 
  • In Wanted, Wesley and his allies are ever so slightly better than their opponents, which makes it possible to root for them. Invoked by the author, as the story's structure (a corruption of The Hero's Journey) is specifically modelled to make you root for the Villain Protagonist even though he murders, rapes and tortures his way through the issues and is a petty, smug sadist who obviously gets off on the evil acts he commits. In the end the only thing differentiating Wesley from Mr. Rictus is that Wesley is evil 6 days a week, whereas Rictus strives to fill all 7 of them with bonafide supervillainy. By the end Wesley has to Break The Fourth Wall to remind the reader that, yes, he's still a villain and proud of it.
  • Spider-Man: During Venom's transformation into an an anti-hero in the nineties, readers were introduced to Carnage, Venom's eviler counterpart. When push came to shove, Spider-Man would even team up with Venom against Carnage, who couldn't have Carnage deny him the "honor" of killing Spidy himself.
  • In X-Men while Magneto is often portrayed as a ruthless villain, he wants to create a better world for mutantkind free from human discrimination and persecution. This is a stark contrast to many other X-Men villains such as Sebastian Shaw, William Stryker, and Apocalypse; who have more selfish purposes (and in the case of Stryker, genocide against mutants). And of course there is Magneto's disgust towards the Red Skull note .
  • Doctor Doom has some very similar traits. Certainly, he is an A God Am I massive egomaniac and rules the nation of Latveria as a despot with armed Doombots on each corner and an enforced Cult of Personality. At the same time, he keeps his word, provides an excellent quality of life for his citizens (Latveria's health and education infrastructure makes the United States look like a podunk backwater), and seeks to Take Over the World in order to make life better for everyone (admittedly at the cost of armed Doombots on each corner and an enforced Cult of Personality). At least once, he's been replaced as Latveria's ruler by someone who turned out to be lacking those positive traits. The Fantastic Four have to deal semi-regularly with people who want to destroy the world for reasons that range from understandable but still kind of harsh (Galactus) to plain dickish and weird (Annihilus). And Doom also usually refuses to have anything to do with the Red Skullnote . In the Cyberpunk Marvel 2099 universe, a re-awoken Doom was actually one of the heroes - his takeover of the United States was actually a positive development, with the corporations brought back under control, and he even made a Heroic Sacrifice to deal with the Phalanx.
  • In Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, the titular Villain Protagonist has next to no redeeming qualities, but he does have a Morality Pet (that he seldom actually pets, try as he might) and seems to recognize that he's gone horrifically wrong... and when he's up against a universe-consuming Eldritch Abomination, it's relatively easy to root for him.
    • It helps, too, that Johnny is somewhat goofy and likable, mostly due to his Crosses the Line Twice mannerisms and general childish tendencies, while the Monster Behind the Wall is never fun or wacky at all. Even though Johnny is clearly not forgivable, most of the readers would much rather have him running around.
  • The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye: Mentioned in-universe. Sentinel Prime was, during his life, a violent, murderous, arrogant fascist who killed the guy before him to get the job. But, as Brainstorm notes, the last thing he did in life was fight the newly emergent Megatron, so he gets to be remembered as a hero. Not so much with the readers, who're more likely to side with Megs, who at the time was trying to overthrow an oppressive regime with a fondness for kicking every dog they could find.
  • Lampshaded in the MAD parody of Trading Places, after the main characters ruin the Duke brothers.
    "I know those two old guys were ruthless... but compared to these two sharks, they were damn-near lovable!!"
  • Raptors: Drago and Camilla are remorseless predators, but their love for each other and reason for wanting revenge against the other vampires for killing their parents makes them just slightly more sympathetic. Unlike their arch-enemy Don Miguel, they also don't make a habit out of hunting children or orchestrating the wholesale purge of humanity.
  • After Jason's Sanity Slippage during Batman: Battle for the Cowl anytime he's targeting an actual villain instead of trying to off members of his family he counts as a lighter shade of grey, unless the villain in question wasn't much of a monster since someone who hacks off people's heads and tries to murder his little brothers is a fairly dark shade to begin with.
  • Poison Ivy is often this to The Joker, to whom she is often presented as a Foil. Specifically, she really does love Harley, whereas the Joker just sees her as a convienent pawn/punching bag, and while she's still a bad person, she has an actual reason for her villainy, whereas the Joker is basically just "I love being evil! HAHAHA!".
  • Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man: Worlds Collide: Dr. Wily turns out to be this to Dr. Eggman. Both team up to conquer their respective worlds together and initially share a Villainous Friendship, but Dr. Eggman is revealed to be highly unstable and violent, at one point jettisoning Dr. Light from their floating fortress. When Wily found out, he was appalled: he wanted his intellectual rival defeated and humbled, not killed. In the end, when Sonic and Mega Man defeat them, Wily accepts his defeat and allows their universe to revert to normal. Eggman, however, directly attacks Sonic in the midst of his attempt to restore their own universe out of spite, ranting that if he can't have the universe remade in his image, then he'd rather doom all of reality than let Sonic restore it; this results in Sonic's world being irrevocably altered.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In The Butcher Bird, the Wild Hunt pirate alliance serves as this compared to most other pirates. While they're mercenary in nature, entirely uncaring of what their contract actually entails, and more than willing to conquer kingdoms or create bloody revolutions, the captains that form the Hunt can be trusted to keep their word, protect land that supplies them and supports them, and generally not participate in the Rape, Pillage, and Burn typical of most pirates.
  • The entity possessing Naruto (revealed to not be the Kyuubi) in Conquering Eostia wants to rule Eostia, but more so wants to claims the seven Princess-Knights along with Dark Elf Queen Olga and her guard Chloe. On the other hand, he's also fighting against Volt and his Kuroinu Mercenaries, who want to turn Eostia into a living hell where all women are considered sex slaves and public property. In the end, the main differences are the unnamed entity takes care of his slaves, has no interest in anyone but the nine mentioned, and actually has a few morals.
  • Throughout The Heart Trilogy, Smaug is acknowledged to be a murderous, greedy and self-serving dragon. However, Gandalf trusts that his love toward Kathryn will keep him from becoming a threat as serious as Sauron and Fankil who'd use the Seer and the dragon for their own desires (taking over Middle-Earth and freeing Morgoth, respectively). Smaug eventually sides with the Free Peoples in the War of the Ring, even if only for personal gains and vendettas.
  • In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, the Bloodline Prince is portrayed as this contrasting with his father, the Bloodline King. Both of them intend to Take Over the World by enslaving those they perceive as inferior, but while the King's goal is to rule over Pokémon and normal humans alike and have Bloodliners on top, the Prince extends this only to normal humans and not to Pokémon, and even shows some regret because he acknowledges that humanity has achieved some things he's come to appreciate (such as movies).
  • Naruto and Xanna in The (Questionable) Burdens of Leadership of a Troll Emperor are sociopathic dictators out to conquer the universe, but their enemies are the Goa'uld Hegemony and the Wraith. Furthermore, their own pride demands that their empire be as successful as possible, such that even first world countries on Earth see a significant improvement in their quality of life.
  • In Princess of the Blacks, Jen Black is a Black Witch who runs a child brothel but she's not a terrorist like Voldemort and his followers nor does she keep a stable of potential sacrifices around in case she needs them like fellow Black Wizards Menagerie and Priest. Even the brothel is from her days as one of it's employees and she acts as a cool big sis for the children working there.
  • The Many Dates of Danny Fenton (Danny Phantom Western Animation, TV Series, and Comic Books.): The Black Cat may be a thief, but she does possess some values at her core.
  • The Rogue Faction In Fate/Magnus Bellum is this to Manaka's faction. While Shirou's group is composed of Affably Evil well intentioned extremists who want to use the Holy Grail to rid humanity of evil and have moral lines they won't cross, Manaka's group is composed of Brainwashed and Crazy Servants led by an Ax-Crazy yandere whose endgame is to bring forth the Beast of Revelation and the destruction of the current world.
  • The XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Half-Life 2 crossover fic Twenty Years Late has the Ethereals invading Earth twenty years after the 7 Hour War. Despite the fact they seek to exploit humans in order to find the cure for their own decaying bodies, they are repulsed by what the Combine has done to humanity. The point is driven home when a Sectoid tries a psychic scan of a Combine Elite and starts screaming in sheer horror at what it finds.

  • In the two Alien vs. Predator movies, the Predators are this to the Aliens. In the first movie, not only does this lead to an Enemy Mine situation where the last surviving human character teams up with the last surviving Predator, but it's made abundantly clear that the Predators are by far the lesser threat, as the Aliens will cause global extinction if they reach civilization (which, as many of noted, invalidates the famous tagline "Whoever wins... we lose"). The second film is a bit better about this trope, with the Predator gruesomely killing a fair number of people without an Enemy Mine in sight, but to the humans, it remains a significantly smaller problem than the Alien swarm in addition to the many Evil Virtues of its species.
    • A lot of the victims the Predators kill in many of the films and video games are Asshole Victims: either gang leaders, thugs, criminals, rapists, or child-abusers (this is evident in Predator 2 where the Predator was killing a bunch of gang leaders and their henchmen). The Predators follow a strict code of honor and even helped develop some of the greatest civilizations in history (i.e. the Aztec Empire, Ancient Egyptians, and the Khmer Empire). The reason the Predators are considered antagonists is because many of the protagonists in such works are law enforcement officers or military personnel (which the Predators consider to be Worthy Opponents since many of them are capable of fighting back).
  • In Beast (2017), Moll is seriously unstable, and it's revealed that she lied in claiming she stabbed the girl in self-defence, which makes it ambiguous how much of a bully she was, and she fantasizes about killing the victims. However, she still gets revenge on Pascal and ensures he can't hurt anybody else by killing him after he confesses to being the killer.
  • In Freddy vs. Jason, Jason is often read this way, since at least he's not a children-killing scumbag with pedophilic undertones who stretches out his victims' deaths out of sheer sadism. That and Freddy can go just about anywhere whereas Jason only sticks to his home place. Jason's motive for becoming a killer is to avenge his mother whom he truly cares about, while Freddy is pretty much unable to love anyone. On the flip side, Jason racks up a way bigger body count than Freddy does (which is actually Freddy's motive for fighting him— he is killing kids Freddy has targeted), is clearly out of control, and is slaughtering teenagers by the dozen seemingly For the Evulz, so... Also, on a metaphysical level, there's the fact Freddy explicitly steals the souls of his victims, whereas Jason just kills people.
  • Every character in Conspiracy (2001) is a Nazi and have enthusiastically engaged in war crimes, so they're all evil. Yet Dr. Wilhelm Kritzinger, while still a proud servant of the Fuehrer who's glad to oppress the Jewish people, is the only one appalled by the concept of complete extermination. This is a Historical Hero Upgrade for him— the movie is about the Wannsee Conference which discussed details of the Holocaust, but the records (admittedly compiled by those in charge of the proposed measures) show that nobody objected to the genocide at the time, not least because it was already well underway— the point of the conference was not to start the Holocaust, but to make sure it happened efficiently. Kritzinger did try to resign soon after, but whether and how it was related to the conference is anyone's guess. He was ashamed about the whole thing after the war though.
  • Goodfellas: Henry Hill is a proud gangster who never directly kills anyone and is relatively sympathetic through most of the film even though both his associates and enemies are very nasty customers.
  • Hayley Stark in Hard Candy is a sociopathic Manipulative Bitch whose modus operandi is driving her victims to kill themselves...but she only targets child predators, such as the male protagonist. It seems to be up to the viewer to decide who to root for, until it turns out that Jeff did it.
  • Quentin Tarantino's films at their darkest descent into this type of conflict.
    • Kill Bill: The villains are ruthless assassins (though in the present, half of them have retired) and attacked The Bride at her wedding rehearsal, slaughtered everyone present, before mercilessly beating her. The Bride herself used to be one of them, an assassin, merciless, and with a sadistic streak. This trope is best summed up by Bud, who is the one of the only ones to admit that what they did was wrong, "That woman deserves her revenge. And we deserve to die. But then again, so does she."
  • In Suicide Squad, while the titular team consists primarily of criminals and psychopaths that have basically been co-opted by the US Government as a black ops unit, faced with the threat posed by the Enchantress, who seeks to completely destroy civilisation, the Squad eventually make a choice to stand against the Enchantress even when they don't have to, with Word of God affirming that the film is, at its core, drawing a line between the Squad being bad guys while the Enchantress is just evil.
  • The Way of the Gun:
    • Our protagonists Parker and Longbaugh are simple thugs who kidnap a pregnant woman to collect a ransom from a mob accountant. They're evil, but not without a sense of honor, and never plan to harm the pregnant woman, which contrasts with other characters in the film.
    • Jeffers and Obecks are both ruthless mob bodyguards who plan to betray their employer. However, Obecks is subtly shown to be less awful than Jeffers. When the pair point their guns at a woman's pregnant belly as a threat to her would-be kidnappers, Obecks surreptitiously calls her attention to the fact that his finger isn't on the trigger, showing her that it's a bluff, at least on his part. When he pulls her behind cover during the ensuing firefight, he whispers "You're okay" to her. Jeffers never shows any humanity contrasting with the pair's ruthless actions.
  • Caine in Menace II Society is just as much of a criminal living the thug life as his friends, but he is portrayed more sympathetic, with a backstory of him being born into a bad disfunctional family and surrounded by negative peers and influences all of his life. He acts as the Only Sane Man of the group, and just when he's about to do a full Heel–Face Turn he is gun down in a driveby shooting.
  • All the main characters in The Death of Stalin are morally questionable at best, being high-ranking members of Stalin's inner circle, and a bunch of brutal authoritarians. However, in the central power struggle between Nikita Khrushchev and Lavrentiy Beria, Khrushchev comes across as the much better option and the much more sympathetic character, having a few scruples and a reformist agenda, while Beria, leader of the sadistic Secret Police, is a Serial Rapist driven solely by self-interest. Most of the other characters whose support they are vying for, particularly Georgy Malenkov, comes across as either petty, cruel, and stupid. The character who comes across as the most genuinely decent is probably Stalin's daughter Svetlana, who has no real power and is constantly being manipulated by the men around her for her 100% Adoration Rating with the Soviet people. Finally, there's Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who comes across as fairly likable, being the man who, in his own words, "fucked Germany" and who, refreshingly, has no time for the political double-talk of the men around him.

  • The Parker novels by Richard Stark sometimes uses this. Parker, a Villain Protagonist, is an amoral thief. However, he is pragmatic. He would kill to get what he wants, but he would not do it if it was unnecessary because he knows that the police put more effort in hunting murderers than thieves. Some books like The Sour Lemon Score or Deadly Edge, put him against complete psychos who rape and kill on a whim.
  • In the BattleTech novel Bred for War, the assassin responsible for the death of Melissa Steiner-Davion in an earlier book gets this treatment. When a new "revolutionary" government takes over the planet he'd been thinking about going into retirement on, it turns out to be sufficiently nasty that even his disregard for collateral damage in leading La Résistance and his leaving his local girlfriend to be captured and killed as a distraction can't quite quench the admiration for his magnificent bastardry. (It helps that he only reveals his real identity at the end of the subplot — even to the reader.)
  • In-Universe in Vampire Academy, the Alchemists consider Strigoi, Moroi, and Dhampirs to be all "evil creatures of the night". But they are willing to concede that the latter two are a lighter shade of black. Allowing them to covertly co-operate.
  • Played With in The First Law. The wizard Bayaz is a grumpy Jerkass who assembles a team of hardened killers (and Jezal, who is still a soldier and The Fighting Narcissist, just a bit green) to find a secret weapon to help him defeat the cannibalistic slaver armies of the Evil Sorcerer Khalul, and near the end they thwart a separate plot by another renegade wizard to bring The Legions of Hell into the world as well. It turns out that Bayaz might be the greater evil of the three, as he turns out to be a massive Manipulative Bastard who played every character in the book like a fiddle, and the other evil wizards are driven in part to avenge crimes he commit in the past against them and their mutual master, whom it's implied Bayaz murdered for power. He is a megalomaniac bent on World Domination, and the armies of Khalul even offer to spare the capital city the protagonists are defending if they just hand over Bayaz to them. His vision might be a bit less dystopian than the other two evil wizards, but Bayaz is the most unprincipled of the three and is largely responsible for the other twos' descent into villainy in the first place, and is actively exploiting their greater threat to further his own ends anyway.
  • Ezra's Gamble is about Bounty Hunter Bossk and Street Urchin Ezra Bridger fighting a criminal and a corrupt and murderous Imperial officer in cahoots with him. Bossk himself only comes across as evil in other Star Wars stories, not in this one. Until the reward he promised Ezra turns out to be significantly smaller than implied.
  • The Hunger Games: While both Coin and Snow are power-hungry villains, what makes Snow a slightly better person than Coin is that if he makes a threat or promises to do something, he keeps his word on it. Coin, on the other hand, is willing to manipulate others and lie to order gain power. This led Katniss to realize that it was Coin, rather than Snow who was responsible for the bombing of the Capitol's children and the death of her sister, Prim.
  • Given that The Man in the High Castle takes place in an Alternate History in which the Nazis and Imperial Japan won World War II, the novel is rife with this. To name one example, Reinhard Heydrich is the ruthless leader of the SS and it's pretty heavily implied that he's been responsible for several genocidal actions. And yet he's still a lesser evil compared to other factions jockeying for power in the Reich... who want to nuke Japan.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has plenty of it, given it's set in a Crapsack World where good people suffer, seemingly good people are questionable, and bad people are total bastards.
  • The Imperial States of America in Caliphate are an brutal Christian empire that has abolished its Constitution, freedom of speech and the right to bear arms don't exist and it has expanded its influence over other foreign territories. Yet for all its faults, women have rights, are taught how to read and are allowed to join the military in a stark contrast the Caliphate where women are forbidden from reading, going out in public without veil or a male companion, their testimony are only count for half a male one and if they are raped they are regarded Defiled Forever.
  • Forest Kingdom: In book 2 (Blood and Honor), all of the three princes fighting for Redheart's throne are evil and murderous in their own way. Yet Prince Viktor, the middle of the trio, is regarded as the best option to take the throne due to supposedly being the least evil, despite being just as bad as his brothers.
    • Prince Lewis has a violent temper and makes a habit of forcing himself on young ladies from the lesser nobility, or any others who catch his interest (and he also has the habit of murdering them afterward if he feels like it).
    • Prince Viktor, who is also a headstrong and hotblooded lady's man who attempted to murder his own younger brother (which got him exiled from the castle) when the woman they were competing over chose Dominic, and doesn't care if everyone else in the kingdom dies if that's what it takes to achieve his own goals.
    • Prince Dominic is regarded as "barking mad" and having an unhealthy interest in sorcery.

    Live-Action TV 
  • By the third season of Boardwalk Empire, Villain Protagonist Nucky Thompson had taken a level in jerkass and embraced his role as a gangster to a degree that he was no longer clearly the Gray in the Black-and-Gray Morality framework. So, he was given an opponent in Gyp Rosetti, a brutal sociopath with a Hair-Trigger Temper, against whom Nucky looks like a saint in comparison.
  • Game of Thrones: Sandor is brutal, but unlike Gregor has some sort of morals. This only becomes more pronounced over time as Sandor begins to develop more of a conscience and feel more remorse for his crimes, whereas Gregor remains as monstrous as ever.
  • Casual racism pops up quite a bit in Sons of Anarchy, which is probably why the gang ends up fighting actual white supremacists. The blue collar, decidedly Un-PC Sons seem like paragons of liberal virtue in comparison to the brutal, bloodthirsty skinheads they battle throughout Season 2.
  • In Justified, Boyd Crowder transitions from antivillain to outright villain as the series progresses. For all his machinations and bloodshed, however, he has sympathetic moments, as is far less sadistic than his adversaries, who include his father, Bo (drug lord, casual killer and eventual mass murderer), the Bennetts (a clan of marijuana dealers who kill anyone who so much as questions their control), Robert Quarles (an Oxycontin-addicted serial killer and sexual predator), Nicky Augustine (a sociopathic starscream with a jerkass streak), Daryl Crowe Jr. (a murderous smuggler who had his own brother killed for screwing up a job), and the Mexican cartel, who skin their enemies alive. This works to Boyd's advantage in-series as well, as series' protagonist Raylan Givens will typically focus on the more evil villain of the season and leave Boyd more or less alone.
  • In From Dusk Till Dawn the Gecko brothers are thieves and murderers, but the vampires run an international drug cartel and drain innocent girls by the container-full.
  • As with the novel it's based on, this is all over the place in the live-action adaptation of The Man in the High Castle, due to the setting. Adolf frakking Hitler of all people comes across as this in comparison to Reinhard Heydrich's faction, whose goals are by all accounts a nuclear war with Japan. Interestingly, the novel portrays Heydrich's faction in the exact opposite manner; there Heydrich's faction is the only one that opposes nuking Japan. This may be a minor case of Not His Sled.
  • Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold from Once Upon a Time fits this trope throughout the series. While most other villains in the series either die or become active heroes (Anti-Heroes at worst), Rumpelstiltskin holds his Neutral position all the way through. He usually keeps out of the affairs of the savior and her friends and family unless he benefits from them in some way (either through a deal or a common goal) or if the villain they face threaten him or Belle directly, flip-flopping between Anti-Hero, Anti-Villain and straight up menace throughout.
  • In season 4 of Orange Is the New Black, three of the least-likable members of the prison staff in Healy, Luschek, and Coates turn out to be nothing compared to the majority of the new guards headed up by Capt. Piscatella. All three at various points of the season display at least a basic degree of concern for the inmates or remorse for their own misdeeds, in stark contrast to the likes of Humphries and Dixon who have absolutely no empathy whatsoever.

  • The Magnus Archives: Sure, the Magnus Institute works to stop the potentially world-ending rituals of eldritch fear gods and their followers... but only because the Institute follows its own eldritch fear god and wants to get its own world-ending ritual completed before anyone else's.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • CHAOS was the top "evil" stable of New Japan Pro-Wrestling before the establishment of the gaijin group Bullet Club (never mind CHAOS's own "outsiders") but they both get cheered when facing what was once Kojimagun. Minoru simply became that unlikable since taking over and making it Suzukigun.
  • Madison Eagles and Jessicka Havok became this when Nicole Matthews won the SHIMMER Championship belt. Eagles still had an unhealthy obsession with the title, Havok was still Havok, but Matthews was something of a coward, something no SHIMMER Champion had ever been before and Jessicka was after Nicole's Tag Team partner Portia Perez, a Hate Sink who once tried to kill a baby. Furthermore, most baby faces, while threatened and intimidated, were mostly spared during the two's Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Matthews and Perez, who happily hid among other heels like The Kimber Bombs.
  • World Wrestling League Tercias champions Los Rabiosos consisted of two thugs who only cared about money and a whiny backstabbing hypocrite, which still made them better than Spectro, Kronya and Vassago, the murderous arsonists of Legio. However, Rabiosos would later get some Pet the Dog moments through haciendo la diferencia while the later only got worse by picking up Mistress Glenda Lee and El Profe, turning it into Black-and-Gray Morality.
  • Level5 vs W-FIX in Chigusa Nagayo's Marvelous. They are both opposed by Nagayo's student Mio Momono but Level5 is merely Tomoko Watanabe and Yuu Yamagata's continuous effort to corrupt Natsumi Maki, and anyone else they can, as they know their careers are winding down. KAORU, while sometimes showing Affably Evil tendencies off ring, is individually worse than all of Level5, happy to end the career of any young wrestler that crosses her path, even if they aren't contracted to Marvelous, and is just one member of W-FIX, who are all almost as bad or worse. The worst is Chikayo Nagashima, who works overtime to ensure every last part of Marvelous suffers, including Level5.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is what Warhammer 40,000 has instead of Good versus Evil, and is presumably what fans of the Lighter Black factions (Tau, Craftworld Eldar, the nicer Imperium sub-factions such as the Salamanders, Necrons) see in playing on the side of such horrible people; they're fighting against the very incarnations of cruelty (Dark Eldar), savagery (Orks), consumption (Tyranids) and, well, Chaos.
    • The Tau were basically created to be this trope, despite Fan Dumb forcing them to get darker since their introduction. It says a lot about the state of the universe where the race with a "communist manifest destiny" motif, who openly seek to conquer the universe and make all other races part of their empire, who resort to violence if their efforts to subsume other races diplomatically fail, and who are implied (in a comment of dubious canonicity) to set up concentration camps and forced sterilization programs for races who resist, are still relatively good guys.
    • The Imperium of Man: a massive Vestigial Empire choked with a Tautological Templar bureaucracy that preaches zealotry, ignorance, and militarism while completely disregarding the individual — yet it's made up of humans just trying to survive in a universe where Everything Is Trying to Kill You. Or at least, some of it is; a lot of its other sub-factions aren't really distinguishable from Chaos or Tyranids in their behavior to other factions or even other elements of their own faction. Plus, at this point in the setting, the galaxy is so screwed up that fixing it might actually cause the apocalypse.
    • Among the Astartes, the Lamenters chapter is the best fit for this trope. They are the only chapter that will go out of their way to defend the innocent and defenseless of the Imperium. They also get regularly and thoroughly thrashed by whoever they tussle with. The Grey Knights and their holdings are another good example. They're brutal, but devoted totally to fighting The Legions of Hell. They'll even help and trade with xeno races like Craftworld Eldar and Necrons as long as they don't get in the way of that all-important goal. Another example among the Imperium is the Rogue Trade empires, de facto independent realms that get to defy standard Imperial policy in a lot of places, most notably via coexistence and cooperation with aliens and non-Imperium human polities. Keep in mind they'll also ruthlessly exploit those same neighbors if they're weaker and it's profitable to do so, they just (usually) won't exterminate them and will also play nice if it's profitable to do so; the British Empire to the wider Imperium's Nazi Germany, if you will.
    • Most (non-Dark) Eldar default to this. Like the Imperium, they consider all other races to be worthless compared to their own citizens; unlike most of the Imperium,note  they usually don't actively try to exterminate outsiders that don't get in their way, and mostly just want to be left alone. They're also the most likely race to cooperate with aliens (including humans) and generally aim their military efforts at the Always Chaotic Evil factions (they, are notably, the only race that hasn't had a real conflict with the Tau). The Necrons who aren't utter Omnicidal Maniacs are similar in that regard.
    • Among the forces of Chaos, the Thousand Sons (especially Magnus) are sort of this. The Emperor kept secrets from Magnus, and his attempt to warn the Emperor of the Horus Heresy damaged the Emperor's secret work, and resulted in the Thousand Sons being forced to join the traitors. Afterwards, Ahriman managed to turn most of the legion to dust, leaving the Thousand Sons as a broken legion, just as engineered by Tzeentch.
  • In Shadowrun, the triple-A Mega-Corp Horizon (which appeared in 4th edition onwards) is a world-dominating mega corp that has a completely flat and transparent corporate structure, an extremely cheerful and public CEO, and focus on 'benign' industries like Public Relations and pharmaceuticals. Rather than make them the 'good guys' of the setting, this has made them Paranoia Fuel; Shadowrunners are usually extremely smart (they don't live long if they aren't), and the concept of a Mega with no skeletons in the closet that actually cares is scarier than eight of the other open Pragmatic Villains on the Corporate Court combined, because this only means they must be hiding something utterly depraved in there somewhere... but nobody knows what it is. (They're still not as scary as Aztechnology, though.) Turns out it's metahuman experimentation on Technomancers.
    • Ares Macrotechnology is generally considered this trope in the shadows. It's not that Ares aren't doing shadowy, dirty business (they are) or that they give a hoot about making the world a better place (they don't), but Ares (perhaps due to their Lovable Rogue CEO or the fact that shadowrunners continuing to exist raises demand for their products) tend to understand 'the game' between shadowrunners and corporations better than most. A run against Ares is a run where if you play by the rules, so will they. If you get hired to do work on their behalf, odds are better than average that the Johnson actually intends to pay you at the end instead of backstabbing you. Also they were on the ground in Chicago when the Insect Spirits attacked
    • In an interesting example Saeder-Krupp is this trope to the rest of the world, while managing to be the darker shade of black to the Player Characters. Saeder-Krupp sheer pragmatism means that it doesn't have a hidden agenda beyond standard corporate profits and expansion. In fact the companies policy of safe guarding their computer systems meant that Europe was able to ride out Crash 2.0 mostly unharmed. However to any Player Characters, they are the worst company to do runs for. After all, you never cut a deal with a dragon.
  • In Pathfinder, The Lawful Evil God Asmodeus, firmly sits in this trope, even among other Lawful Evil Gods. He's the God of Slavery, Tyranny, Pride, and most importantly, Contracts. He will uphold his part of any contract and agreement he enters into. You just have to make sure what you think is his part and what actually is his part are one and the same. Even the Chaotic Good Gods go to him for advice on occasion, and he would give them honest advice. Because giving them honest advice means they would rely on him more, and would fall into his circle of power and influence. His worshippers are one of the only Evil Worshippers allowed to openly worship as they tend to cause less trouble then anyone else. Then there is the fact that he fought alongside all the other gods against Rovagug, and personally forge the lock to his cage. Free of charge.

  • Sweeney Todd is a murderous barber who slashes his customers' throats and has them baked into pies. But in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, we root for him because he wants revenge against the corrupt Hanging Judge who falsely transported him for life in order to get at his beautiful wife, as well as having some rather skeevy designs on his daughter when she comes of age.

    Video Games 
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines: Jack tells you flatly there are no Kindred "good guys", but it helps to retain your humanity so you don't let out The Beast.
  • Fate/stay night: Part of "Heaven's Feel" seems to be solely dedicated to making the players like Kirei Kotomine more, with several Enemy Mine and Pet the Dog situations, and most importantly, an utterly epic fight where he holds his own against the despicable Zouken Matou and his Servant quite well. In "Fate", Kotomine is portrayed as fairly simplistic with no motives beyond Evil Feels Good, and in Unlimited Blade Works he takes a backseat to the conflict between Shirou and Archer. Only "Heaven's Feel" fleshes him out at all, but in doing so it makes him into a much more complex character than when he was portrayed in simple black and white terms. In contrast, the aforementioned Zouken is an abusive grandfather to Sakura and outright rapes her via worms, and encourages his grandson Shinji to commit the same kind of immoral behavior, including raping Sakura. When Kirei finally kills him, it’s extremely satisfying.
  • Mad Father: In the true ending, Aya follows in her father’s footsteps turning people into dolls, however as a doctor she waits for people to come to her for medical treatment, and her victims are anesthetized before they are converted into dolls.
    • However possibly subverted in The Stinger added in the Steam version, depending on how you interpret what Aya means about her not forgetting because of her promise.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II: In the Dark Side Ending, Kreia will say that the PC is not really a Sith. Presumably, she considers them a Dark Jedi instead, i.e. someone who uses the Dark Side for their own advancement rather than submitting to the Sith Code and philosophies.
  • This is the case in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (Laharl the wannabe Evil Overlord vs. an Omnicidal Maniac). Disgaea 2 and Disgaea 4 have more heroic protagonists while Disgaea 3 is mixed (Mao wants to slay his father, the Overlord, for trivial reasons and the rest of the cast have more heroic goals plus the real villain already made Mao do it and surpressed his memories)
  • Blood has no good guys. On one hand you have a cult trying to summon a dark god, murdering anyone they want to and experimenting on the rest. On the other side you have one of their failed projects, a sadistic revenant named Caleb who was one of those cultists and has a penchant for murdering anyone he feels like. At least Caleb is fighting to avenge his wife and best friend and has a sense of humor.
  • The Scarlet Crusade vs the Scourge in World of Warcraft. At least until Wrath of the Lich King.
  • God of War is an interesting example. On one side, the Gods of Olympus, famous for toying with or outright squashing humanity when they feel like it, but also the sources of wisdom, love, agriculture, and even the Sun itself. On the other, a completely sadistic killer who thinks nothing of slaughtering anybody in his way, but with basically sympathetic motives for bringing war against the gods, and who ultimately grants his enormous power to humanity after bringing down Olympus. In the end, which side is Lighter comes down to the viewer.
  • Scarface: The World Is Yours follows the original film in this. Sure, Tony is wiping out the gangs and the enemy gangsters all the way up to Sosa, who watchers of the film would have known was not a nice person, but he is still putting drugs on the streets of Miami.
  • Drakengard. Among your plucky group of heroes is an Ax-Crazy mute soldier whose sister loves him more than is socially acceptable, a vicious red dragon, a batshit crazy elf who eats children, a religious patriarch who never passes up an opportunity to call for genocide against all other intelligent species, a blind pedophile, and a child cursed to never grow up. However, they're care bears compared to The Empire- a theocratic state that worships the Watchers/Grotesqueries (who are hideous Humanoid Abominations who wish to unmake creation), and is led by the Cult of the Watchers’ high priestess Manah, a six year old girl who delights in ruining lives left and right because her mommy never loved her enough.
  • In BlazBlue we have the Big Bad Duumvirate, Relius Clover and Yuuki Terumi. Both of them are seemingly caught in a "How far beyond the Moral Event Horizon can you go" contest, but despite the fact that they're almost evenly matched as far as accomplishments go, Relius is still a lighter shade of black than Terumi is. First and foremost because most of his atrocities were committed in order to satiate his own scientific curiosity, and secondly because he is pretty pragmatic in his villainy. Compare to Terumi who doesn't even pretend to have a rationalization for all the shit he does and often goes out of his way to ruin people's lives just because... His behavior is sort of justified, as Terumi avoids getting erased from reality by anchoring his own existence in the world through people's hatred of him, but any sympathy points this could've earned them are ultimately Double Subverted, because he really does get off on pushing people beyond the Despair Event Horizon. The fact that the fourth game revealed that he's actually Susanoo no Mikoto, the BlazBlue 'verse's own take on Satan, doesn't help his case, either.
    • Chronophantasma reveals that Relius is capable of being portrayed as an extreme version of Well-Intentioned Extremist. All three main bad guys (The Imperator, Terumi and Relius) aim for destroying the Master Unit: Amaterasu, which can cause a genocidal damage to the current world and reset it, but it turns that Relius does so because he's frustrated that the Master Unit's Groundhog Day Loops prevents the world from making progresses and prevents advancement of his goal of creating the Perfect Doll. While he is still pretty selfish in that he only cares for his own project, his intention can be portrayed as being beneficial for the rest of humanity trapped in depressing loops. If he completes the project, he could either leave humanity alone, or try to inject the Perfect Doll for humanity, which in his twisted mind, may have a chance to be considered a beneficial improvement for overall humans (though probably other people will not agree). Compare to Terumi, who just wants to turn the world into his own playground of evil, filled to the brink with endless despair for himself to drink in, and the Imperator, being Izanami, who just wants everyone to die and reduce the world to inert seithr.
    • Relius' case got even lighter by Central Fiction, whereas it was revealed that Master Unit Amaterasu has been abusing her world reset ability just to get her desired ending of her being plugged out of the unit and no longer having to do her duty of observing the world, which ignores not only his desire to progress on his project, but also towards the other suffering that the cast experiences, with or without Terumi's interference, an utter selfishness that drove former hero Nine the Phantom utterly mad and devised a plan to destroy the Master Unit to free the world from its machinations, which Relius is totally on board for. It's still for his own selfish desires, but it somehow became a bit more relatable.
  • Baldur's Gate
    • In Baldur's Gate II, you are given the choice between supporting the Shadow Thieves, a thieves' guild you've probably already done some sidequests for, and a rival guild led by a lady called Bodhi that contains vampires that attack people in the streets at night. If you visit their guildhalls neither of them seem terribly 'good', but at least the Shadow Thieves don't decorate with giant pools of human blood and fill their halls with mindless thralls they feed on.
    • In all the three parts (BG 1, BG 2 and BG 2: Thone of Bhaal), the protagonist can be evil but will still be potentially sympathetic due to being the Player Character, and will also be the lesser evil compared to the major villain of each story and their destructive plans. In Throne of Bhaal, the prophecy behind much of the games' plot is revealed to contain the clause that, no matter what path the protagonist chooses if they should triumph over their antagonists in that storyline, the results of their losing would always be worse.
    • Viconia is a drow and a downplayed case of My Species Doth Protest Too Much in that she's evil aligned, just not that evil. The typical drow, especially those you meet in the Underdark arc in Shadows of Amn, are so evil that Viconia looks good aligned in comparison.
  • Common in the Grand Theft Auto series. More often than not, as bad the Villain Protagonist Player Characters are, they're still usually better than their antagonists.
  • If you play as a rogue in NetHack, the Assassins' Guild becomes the lighter shade of black to the Thieves' Guild. You're on the eviler side.
  • Wizardry has the typical D&D alignments and the manuals use this reasoning to explain the presence of such people in the party: "Evil characters are not really evil when compared to some of the things they fight in the Maze. They are self-centered, and always want to know "what's in it for them." Evil characters help old ladies cross the street for a small fee."
  • In the lore of Overwatch, Hanzo Shimada is the heir to a powerful yakuza clan, groomed to be such from the day he was born. He also killed his brother (or so he assumed), but it's heavily implied that Hanzo didn't want to go through with it and he spends the rest of his life trying to atone for it. Hanzo is definitely a rude asshole, a ruthless assassin, and a morally dark gray character, but he also despises his family for what they made him do.
    • He also denies joining up with Talon, though whether this is based more on his morals or his pride is still up for debate.
    • Another example is Symmetra. She's a devout member of Vishkar Corporation, which is so far portraying itself as a Mega-Corp that tramples on basic human rights just to ensure that they can rennovate the world and place their order in it, while she believed (or is tricked to believe by Vishkar) that it's for the greater good, though that IS starting to wane. When faced with a squarely moral opposer like Lucio, Symmetra would look like the villain, but she really had the best interests towards the people, and not to mention she also stands opposed to Talon, marking them as enemies of order.
  • While Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire never explored the morality of Team Aqua and Team Magma when they weren't in the role of main antagonists, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire make it clear that they're still ruthless in their endeavors. When the player character first meets the non-antagonistic team's leader, he thinks nothing of threatening the kid not to get in their way. Of course, it's not entirely clear just how much lighter they actually are; while they're clearly horrified by the power of the version mascot, so is the antagonistic team, and dialog at Mt. Chimney suggests that they'd have been planning something similar if their rivals hadn't beaten them to the punch.
  • In modern Sonic the Hedgehog games, while Dr. Eggman remains a threat, he ends up as the lighter shade of black against the Greater Scope Villains that appear. In Sonic Adventure, he ultimately becomes this to Chaos during the Super Sonic campaign, when the ancient water monster rebels against him and Eggman tries to destroy them in retaliation. In Sonic Adventure 2, he becomes this again to his own grandfather Professor Gerald, who went insane following the death of his granddaughter Maria and sabotaged the Space Colony ARK so that it would destroy the Earth if someone tried to use the Eclipse Cannon, whereas Eggman only wanted to use the Eclipse Cannon to conquer the planet. In Shadow the Hedgehog, he becomes this to the Black Arms: the invading aliens want to destroy the Earth, and Eggman can't conquer the planet is there is no planet left to take over. In Sonic Lost World, Eggman becomes this once more when he loses control of the Deadly Six, who seek to use his technology to destroy the world.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising: Viridi hates humans and wants them wiped out, but she's a Well-Intentioned Extremist who does it to save nature, making her this against Medusa's vengeance-driven goals against humanity and Palutena, Hades' gluttony for souls and power, the Chaos Kin's destruction for destruction's sake, and the Aurum's desire to strip the entire planet of life.
  • Both Overlord games have this. While the character you play as is definitely evil (well, in the second game. The first game has you either be an Anti-Villain or Stupid Evil with no real in-between), you're exclusively pitted against opponents worse than you. Sure, you still get to do some evil things, but you don't get to indulge in it anywhere near as much as the people you're fighting.
  • The City of Heroes Big Bad, Lord Recluse, is the lesser of about 200 different evils. He is a Pragmatic Villain with several Evil Virtues he’s imposed upon his army/government and the reason there is even a national government and civilians have a decent life expectancy. That said, he is still a highly competent, Card-Carrying Villain, meaning he has Vetinari Job Security for his Big Bad status, despite this trope.

    Web Animation 
  • Hank J. Wimbleton in Madness Combat is a mass-murdering Blood Knight who kills people over a boombox in his first appearance, and graduates to a cop-killing sociopathic mercenary in his second. In later episodes though, Hank becomes at least nominally heroic given how his opponents now include Tricky the Clown and The Auditor, who are responsible for warping Nevada into a Crapsack World full of senseless violence.
  • RWBY: Raven Branwen is the leader of a Bandit Clan, a ruthless believer in the idea that the strong survive and the weak die, and is someone who doesn't care about the lives of the people she hurts; she will even kidnap people for ransom purposes if the price is right. Volume 5 pits her against Cinder Fall, a sadist whose hunger for power cannot be sated and who enjoys pain and killing; she thrills at the destruction and suffering she causes to the city of Vale, picks off people to die just to torment their friends, and is willing to work for someone who wants to destroy humanity if she can obtain great power out of it. Cinder's lust for power is so great, she's even willing to attach Grimm body parts to herself to aid her search for power, an act that disgusts Raven.
  • Death Battle has a few episodes with two villains pitted against each other, but one of them is more morally-gray or has a good side as compared to the other who is flat-out villainous. Examples are "The Shredder vs. Silver Samurai", "Sephiroth vs. Vergil", and "Carnage vs. Lucy", all three of which have the former being the more evil of the two.

  • Homestuck has The Midnight Crew, who are only considered heroes during "Operation Regisurp" in the Troll's Session, due to their alliance with the protagonists. Later in story, they're only considered heroic at all because their rivals, Lord English and the Felt, are worse. They still casually murder people and given half the chance would become just as dangerous as Jack Noir and the agents under him in the Kid's session.
  • Zala'ess Vel'Sharen in Drowtales is by no means a particularly nice person, since in the process of vying for the title of Empress among her sisters participates in Matricide, pulls a Uriah Gambit on an (adopted) child, politically manipulates several clans into helping her and deliberately and secretly sabotages a duel that causes one of her sisters to die. And yet compared to her eldest sister Snadhya'rune, who's an outright sociopath who views people (even her children) as things, and Sarv'swati, her brutal and tyrannical second eldest sister, she seems downright reasonable and displays some humanizing qualities, like honest concern for her children.
  • 8-Bit Theater gets a fair bit of mileage out of this. Red Mage in particular tends to fill this role in the Light Warriors, compared to Fighter (the Token Good Teammate) and Black Mage and Thief (incredibly evil). Red Mage is amoral, borderline insane, and has a total disregard for life, but he tends to be less evil than the latter two because his actual motivation is simply to finish the adventure and win fame and power for himself. This causes him to frequently balk at their methods for being senselessly cruel—even though he's done some pretty horrible things himself, he did them because he thought they were the best way to accomplish his current objective (they rarely were, but Red Mage is not good at planning).
  • Lackadaisy is about a gang war between two booze joints in the 20's USA. The eponymous Lackadaisy gang is mostly presented as a group of good friends and underdogs who got into organized crime due to circumstances or for some of them out of desperation, while the rival Marigold gang is a group of experienced and hardened criminals who seem to enjoy their job way too much and have very few (if any) redeeming qualities.
  • The war between Batea and Alemi in Anecdote of Error is a textbook case. On the one hand, Alemi is led by a bunch of psychopaths who kill their prisoners in some of the most horrific ways possible, who invade boarding schools while children are present in order to gain the weapons inside, and whose soldiers brag about all the cities they will sack once the tide of the war turns in their favor, and claim that someone being torn limb from limb is an appropriate response to being held and questioned. On the other hand, Batea is a place where children are sorted into unequal castes once they reach a certain age, and can be drafted into wars, and housekeepers have very few rights, and the faculty of a boarding school decide to summarily execute an enemy soldier without thinking twice, and the teacher who explains this thinks that it will make the children she is telling it to feel better, and is hinted to have alienated the entire rest of the world such that they are willing to ally with Alemi in spite of all its crimes against humanity. A lot of readers want both sides to lose, but if forced to pick, would want Batea to be victorious, not just because the protagonists are from there, and are just normal kids caught up in a horrible situation, but because Batea is merely an oppressive tyranny, whereas Alemi is a fanatical horde that will destroy for the sake of destruction. There are a small handful of Alemi citizens who aren’t this bad, but not enough to classify the conflict as A Lighter Shade of Gray instead.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, Sir George vs Diagon. George might be a anti-alien Knight Templar leading a whole faction of Cape Busters, but he is still better than the Mind-Raping, Multiversal Conqueror Eldritch Abomination that is Diagon. However, later episodes show that he, unlike Driscoll and the rest of the knights, was not so bad after all. Once the Diagon arc kicks in he's pretty much a good guy who also protects the world, but he and Ben were at odds with their views on non-earthly beings until a bigger threat forced Sir George to get over it and work with the team.
    • Also, Charmcaster vs. Adwaitya. Charmcaster is hardly is a saint, but Adwaitya is way, way worse: she may have done more damage than he did temporarily (though one could argue that regardless of what Spellbinder claimed, wiping out all life in her realm in one go is still more benevolent than Adwaitya's systematic killing over the ages) but is called out on it and becomes a Friendly Enemy afterward for the most part; by contrast, Adwaitya was power-mad and unrepentant to the end.
  • Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, more prominently in the tie-in sequel comics, have Amanda Waller as this. Amanda Waller is far from a heroic, pleasant, or likeable individual, but the comic points out quite clearly she had done good things. Meanwhile the two she's competing with for the Get Out of Hell Free Card, Vandal Savage and Reverse-Flash, are complete monsters with no redeeming features or good actions to their names.
  • Harley Quinn (2019) does this with Harley and her friends. They're ever so slightly nicer than their enemies, which makes it possible to root for them. Harley herself is still a Card-Carrying Villain who wants nothing more than to be invited to join the Legion of Doom, but she at least gets the benefit of a sympathetic backstory and isn't as extreme in her evil acts as the Joker.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: Sly Sludge is this compared to the other villains, as he is more negligent than malicious. He works in waste disposal, which could actually be very beneficial to the environment. The problem is that he's a Lazy Bum who goes about it in the most careless ways, just dumping his polution wherever he can and burning it to make acid rain. He isn't truly evil, and he eventually turns himself around and starts properly recycling.


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