An Anti-Villain is the opposite of an Anti-Hero — a villain with heroic goals, personality traits, and/or virtues. Their desired ends are mostly good, but their means of getting there are evil. Alternatively, their desired ends are evil, but on a personal level they are far more ethical or moral than most villains and they thus use fairly benign means to achieve it, and can be heroic on occasion. They could also be someone or something whose desired ends or means are not necessarily "evil" at all, but their actions simply conflict with that of whoever seems to be the protagonist.
They often reach a kind of critical mass that makes them more good than normal villains but not quite heroes, blurring the line between hero and villain the same way an Anti-Hero does, but by coming from the opposite direction. Also, they seldom perform a full Heel–Face Turn, or if they do, they continue to struggle with their villainous impulses.
Anti-Villain is an attempt to lighten up a villain as opposed to an Anti-Hero, which has a tendency to darken the hero. Side by side, it can become very hard to tell them apart. The only reason some would even be considered evil at all is because they're the Designated Villain. Despite this humanizing characterization, they are rarely less dangerous. For instance, heroes wouldn't know what to expect if their enemy shows caring and then attacks their reputation, without giving them an excuse to rationalize killing them.
Most of them are probably well aware that what they're doing is "evil", unlike the blinded Knight Templar, but strive to maintain a facade of good PR, often by engaging in Pragmatic Villainy. They'll see it as a viable means to a (possibly) good end.
It may also be possible to turn a normal villain into an Anti-Villain over time by detailing their Start of Darkness, giving them a Cynicism Catalyst, a Morality Pet, kind episodes, or otherwise retconning them into submission. A Freudian Excuse may explain their actions, but almost never changes them into an Anti-Villain if there is nothing good about their present motivations.
See also the Sliding Scale of Anti-Villains.
Character types particularly prone to anti-villainy and classifying them as such (though many have their share of flat-out villains and heroes, too) include:
- Affably Evil: A villain who is genuinely polite and friendly in spite of being evil.
- Ambiguously Evil: A mysterious character who is hard to classify good or evil based on their actions.
- Being Evil Sucks: A life of doing bad things has given them nothing but misery.
- Byronic Hero
- Cry for the Devil
- Dark Magical Girl
- Designated Monkey
- Designated Villain: The narrative says that he is villainous, but there are factors that contradict this.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty
- Driven to Madness
- Driven to Villainy: The villain becomes a villain because of traumatic experiences.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: A villain is sympathetic because of his care for his parents (usually his mother).
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: A villain is sympathetic for his care for his family, friends, etc.
- Even Evil Has Standards: A villain has certain lines he won't cross.
- Evil Virtues: The villain has strength(s) of character thought to be typical of a hero, and that's what makes the villain more efficient than other villains.
- Fallen Hero: A hero who made a Face–Heel Turn can be an anti-villain if they haven't fully given up their good intentions/traits from their heroic days.
- Family Values Villain: A villain who believes in following standards in the form of family values.
- Forced into Evil: A character doesn't want to be a villain, but is one only because of being blackmailed or otherwise extorted.
- Friendly Enemy: The villain treats his enemies like old pals.
- Gentleman Thief (when they're not the hero)
- Harmless Villain
- Heel–Face Turn
- A Hero to His Hometown
- He Who Fights Monsters
- Hidden Heart of Gold: The villain is a bit of a nice guy, although he doesn't want anyone knowing it.
- Ignorant Minion: A Mook who is out of naivety or slow-wittedness unaware that their boss is evil.
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain
- Invading Refugees: These invaders are attacking because they've been forced on the run.
- Jerkass Woobie
- Justified Criminal
- Knight Templar
- Minion with an F in Evil: Has villainous intentions, but fails at it.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: Supports one's nation even if they don't personally agree with their villainous policy.
- My Master, Right or Wrong: Serves a villain out of loyalty.
- Mysterious Backer
- Necessarily Evil: An anti-villain who chooses to serve as the Big Bad in order to prevent a catastrophe or prevent someone worse from taking the role.
- Noble Demon: A villain whose principles prevent them from embracing villainy wholeheartedly.
- Noble Top Enforcer: The Dragon is noticeably more virtuous than the Big Bad they serve.
- Non-Malicious Monster: A creature that, while dangerous, cannot be called evil due to its animal-like sapience.
- Not Evil, Just Misunderstood
- Obliviously Evil: The villain doesn't realize that he's committing evil acts.
- Poke the Poodle
- Politically Correct Villain: Evil as they may be, they won't tolerate discrimination, and will gladly work with anyone regardless of how different they look or act.
- Punch-Clock Villain: Performs evil just to make livelihood.
- Regretful Traitor: They betrayed you, yes, but it doesn't mean they haven't any qualms about it.
- The Rival
- Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: The antagonist is a likeably portrayed law-enforcer trying to capture a law-breaker who happens to be the protagonist.
- Sympathetic Murderer: Their act of homicide has sympathetic circumstances to it, like the victim being someone horrible or the act being accidental or the result of a moral dilemma.
- Token Good Teammate: An anti-villain can be a part of a group of straight up villains.
- Tragic Bigot
- Tragic Monster
- Tragic Villain
- Trapped in Villainy: Would like to quit villainy, but there is a threat of death over failures in evil or attempts to leave.
- Utopia Justifies the Means
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The villain does bad things in order to achieve an admirable goal.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds
- Worthy Opponent: The villain honestly respects the hero's resolve.
See also Villain Protagonist, Hero Antagonist, and Minion with an F in Evil, as well as No Place for Me There. Another way for the Anti-Villain to transcend conventional morality is to completely, utterly set aside limitations and achieve a moral fluidity that prevents himself from crossing the Moral Event Horizon, becoming The Unfettered. For a broad covering of what Anti-Villains can be, see the Sliding Scale of Anti-Villains. Compare Sympathy for the Devil and Satan Is Good. See also Evil Virtues.
Compare and contrast Nominal Hero, a character who is often essentially a villain working for the heroes because Even Evil Has Standards. Do not confuse Anti-Villains with members of the Anti-Villain League.
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- Red vs. Blue: Revelation has Agent Washington who is only after the Blood Gulch crew to take Epsilon back to the Chairman so he doesn't have to go to prison. Adding to this, the only reason he has to get Epsilon in the first place is because Caboose didn't turn Epsilon in like Wash told him to.
- DemonKing from TOME really just needs the money to go back to school, okay?