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"Vlad was one of those old-time bad guys with honor and morals, which made him almost one of the good guys. None of us was a saint."
Max, Max Payne

An Anti-Villain is the opposite of an Anti-Hero — a character with heroic goals, personality traits, and/or virtues who is ultimately the villain. Their desired ends are mostly good, but their means of getting there range from evil to undesirable. Alternatively, their goals may be selfish or have long-term consequences they don't care about, but they're good people who might even team up with the hero if their goals don't conflict.

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 coming from the opposite direction.

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 when 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 façade of good PR, often by engaging in Pragmatic Villainy. They'll see it as a viable means to a (possibly) good end.

In terms of personality, anti-villains are kind-hearted and can be caring and honorable in nature, even towards their enemies, but it can be possible for them to treat their own allies with rudeness, which by its own accord, is a very unusual trait to possess. Moreover, compared to regular villains that are just simply evil, anti-villains are often neutral — depending on the writers of said characters. Those that are part of the neutral alignments however, aren't exactly benevolent, but they aren't malevolent either, but there also do exist anti-villains that are outright evil in nature, though they still maintain all of the attributes that anti-villains usually have in common. They can also be capable of a Heel–Face Turn much more easily than normal villains thanks to their personalities.

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, multiple Pet the Dog 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.

Compare and contrast this trope with its antithesis, the Anti-Hero. A character who is a Wild Card or a Heel–Face Revolving Door can be capable of being both an Anti-Hero and an Anti-Villain depending on whether or not they are acting for or against the protagonist at the time. They are often the sympathetic party of a Sympathetic Villain, Despicable Villain duo.

These characters fall under "villians we sympathize with" on the Sliding Scale of Character Appreciation.

Important: A Complete Monster can never qualify as an Anti-Villain, because their causes are never noble (even if they claim otherwise) and are not meant to be sympathetic in any way, whereas you are supposed to relate to, if not sympathize with, an Anti-Villain despite otherwise not approving their methods. it is possible for a character that formerly qualified as an Anti-Villain to be a Complete Monster, however, if they remove all their redeemable or sympathetic characteristics.

Also not to be confused with Hero Antagonist in which the Anti-Villain is outright good.

Sub-tropes and related tropes

Character types particularly prone to anti-villainy (though many have their share of flat-out villains, and heroes too) include:

Example subpages

Other examples

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  • In almost all Transformers: Generation 1-based continuities, Thundercracker is usually the most sympathetic of the Seekers. In the original cartoon, he was still villainous, but wasn't as stupid and cruel as Skywarp or as narcissistic and grasping as Starscream. In the recent The Transformers: All Hail Megatron comic event, he shows disgust at the experiments that created the Swarm, and saves New York City from being nuked by another Decepticon because the way of the Decepticons is not slaughter, but battle. In War For Cybertron, whereas Skywarp's in-game dialogue is fuelthirsty and Starscream's is all vainglory, he expresses curiosity and wonders at the unusual environs of Cybertron's underworld (apt, as his class for the mission is Scientist). In almost all "character profile" productions, he's usually described as being a reluctant follower who's still around mainly because he believes in the original ideals or because he's already gone so far.

    Web Animation 
  • An Adventure of Sheep and Chicken has the hiker, who’s only trying to eat Chicken because he’s starving. He later makes a Heel–Face Turn and helps save Chicken’s friend, Sheep.
  • 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 rot away in 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.
  • RWBY has Hazel Rainart. His murderous hatred of Ozpin aside, he is the least antagonistic of Salem's enforcers. He abhors unnecessary violence, as seen with his anger at Adam's murder of Sienna Khan, and his reluctance to fight Ren and Nora. He doesn't take pleasure in attacking Oscar and Nora, instead seeing them as unfortunate causalities as a result of Ozpin. He's willing to take the blame for the failure at Haven rather than blame Cinder or let Salem go for Emerald and Mercury, and begins to keep an eye out for them after returning from the mission. Outside of his anger towards Ozpin, Hazel's a fairly decent guy.
  • DemonKing from TOME really just needs the money to go back to school, okay? An even better example from TOME, though, lies in Kizuna, who turns out to be this by the end of Episode 15. She just doesn't want anyone to be hurt anymore... and it leads her to try and almost kill SOFDTI.
    Web Original 
  • Acktreal Domma from Alien Abduction Role Play. She is a genuinely kind, loving soul who cares for her crewmates and human test subjects, yet both are put in serious danger because of her increasingly deteriorating mental state, possibly due to something in the hormones or genetics of the humans she comes into contact with.
  • Brennus: The Dark, the original super-villain, qualifies due to being a) a Noble Demon whose organization helps keep the hero-villain conflict from escalating to truly uncontrollable levels, b) being in Enemy Mine situations with the heroes more often than he is in conflict with them, and c) a genuinely loving father and Benevolent Boss. At times he comes off more like a full on Anti-Hero, but remember that he still willingly employs cannibals and Serial Rapists, and he's the one who gives them their marching orders, and he has no small amount of blood on his own hands.
  • Most of oWn in Cult of Personality are no less moral than other characters in RED and BLU, mostly because the mercenaries who joined own have their personalities largely intact despite their changed loyalties.
  • Vincent Liedecker of The Descendants, philanthropist, life saver, and sponsor the hero team's school — the only one around that doesn't seem to be about brainwashing or supersoldier projects. He sends his thugs to protect the establishments he takes protection money from, even from threats that he didn't create or provide the weapons for. he is into protection rackets and the underground economy, and producing Magitek and cloning horrible monsters that Should Not Be, and then selling them to the highest bidder...
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: Dr. Horrible. He claims to be a Well-Intentioned Extremist but is really an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain who's in the whole evil business because of constant humiliations from Jerk Jock superheroes like Captain Hammer and unrequited affection for a girl he met at the laundromat. The story follows his transition from Anti-Villain to full-blown Supervillain. In "Fury of Solace", originally created for the ELE application contest note , his Villain Song details how he had to kill a young girl's parents (and, implied by extension, become her nemesis) so she'll become a superhero and save the world. One of the prequel comics show that Penny actually likes him too.
  • Despite going criminally insane and burning down a toy factory in a rampaging fit of revenge, Doctor Steel is really a kind-hearted soul who only wants to make the world a better place (for himself...).
  • Fallout Is Dragons has Death, leader of one quarter of the Four Horses Raider Gang. His status as villain is mostly given by his position; in person he's actually quite reasonable, acts as an unofficial mentor to one of the player characters, and is willing to stop the raids on towns if it will help his gang.
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, Kagetsu I deeply cares for his subordinates and loves his wife Marya above anything else. He knows that his plan of destroying the world, killing countless innocents and depowering the gods is an unfortunate but necessary step to create an everlasting utopia but he hesitates when he has to choose whether to sacrifice Marya to make his dream come true. Glaurung shares a vision of a world without borders where no more warfare is necessary, but in order to do so her armies have to crush any opposition.
  • Some Imperials from The Gungan Council, like Akio Kahoshi and Delek Wrentar, usually want to bring peace to a war ridden galaxy and care for their close friends. Yet, their methods to bringing peace usually involve hostile conquests of systems and purging the Jedi.
  • Dudley Griffin in KateModern was fighting the Order long before the heroes, and tries desperately to warn Kate away from danger. Nevertheless, with his willingness to attack other good characters and his bad temper, he functions as an antagonist.
  • Tenshirock from Noob is a villain mostly due to most character being gamers while his objective is getting people to stop playing MMORPG. He's otherwise partners in crime with the Manipulative Bastard among the protagonists and Friendly Enemies with the rest to the point of You Will Be Spared.
  • In commentaries, Doug said he wrote The Nostalgia Critic and company in Kickassia and Suburban Knights this way; selfish and doing bad things, but sympathetic and at least in the end knowing what's right. By To Boldly Flee, Critic's broken enough to just want to be the hero, and succeeds, while everyone else is nicer too.
  • Only Villains Do That: The goddess of evil won't let him be too nice, but neither does Seiji actually want to be evil.
  • The Gear Group during the Keep the Flag Flying arc in Our Avatars Were in a Room Together: The Continuation, if only because they're slightly sympathetic in their motives, which is to get revenge on the humans that experimented on them.
  • In A Practical Guide to Evil, this is Catherine's explicit aim, and part of Black Knight's plan seems to be to create such a role for Evil Names. Likewise, Thief also fills this role, joining Catherine because she'd be better joining her.
  • Springhole
    • Deconstructed in No, Thanos Was Not Justified. Syera argues that regardless of his intentions, what Thanos did during Avengers: Infinity War was pointlessly cruel and wouldn't even be effective in the long run. In addition, there were alternatives that wouldn't have traumatized half the universe.
    • Reconstructed in How To Write Sympathetic Antagonists Without Endorsing Or Excusing Their Actions, & Without Making Your Protagonists Seem Heartless. Syera advises making the heroes acknoweledge how awful the villain's tragic backstory or that they do have good intentions while also pointing out neither gives them free reign to hurt others.
  • In Survival of the Fittest, the closest things to villains per se are those who choose to play the game. While sometimes these people are downright evil or simply terrifyingly insane, there are killers who actually aren't very bad people, often given a sympathetic reason for playing the game such as trying to protect a loved one or because they've given up all hope of escape and see it as the only way to survive (and as far as they know, it is). Examples of this include Bobby Jacks, Lenny Priestly (not... anymore), Bryan Calvert, to an extent, and, arguably, Jacob Starr.
  • There are plenty in the Whateley Universe. Dr. Diabolik is responsible for the deaths of thousands, all in his campaign to improve the human race. Brigand is a wanted supervillain who is actually trying to track down the monsters who corrupted his father. Jobe Wilkins is a Heroic Comedic Sociopath who thinks nothing of testing serums on unwilling criminals if it provides a new cure for dysentery.
    • Even some of the more antagonistic characters have shades of Anti-Villain. The MCO, for example, is filled with a number of people who genuinely do believe that they're protecting humanity, even if it has its share of genuinely mutophobic... let's say 'jerkfaces'. The Syndicate, probably the closest thing to a 'League of Supervillains' that the Whateley Universe has, is actively involved in trying to prevent worse things from happening... like Dr. Palm's, or the Bastard's, goals succeeding.
  • Worm:
    • The main characters are a group of supervillains called the Undersiders, whom on some level have at least a little anti-villain flavoring (with the possible exception of Regent). Taylor becomes a supervillain because she couldn't betray her friends in addition to Jerkass superheroes, and constantly tries to minimize the harm her actions do and keep innocents from getting hurt. Tattletale becomes Taylor's friend to stop her from committing suicide by villain or whatever fresh horror just arrived in Brockton Bay. Brian became a Punch-Clock Villain to take care of his little sister Aisha. Bitch is a antisocial thug who due to a harsh, abusive upbringing doesn't trust any other humans anymore, but genuinely loves dogs and provides funds for the shelter she starts running for them. They also serve as A Lighter Shade of Black, being a thieves' gang who find themselves pitted against threats like white supremacists, criminal masterminds trying to take control of the city, and wandering bands of hero killers, and do a better job of fighting them than the heroes.
    • Arguably, the leaders of Cauldron. They're utterly ruthless, but everything they do is directed toward the goal of saving as much of the human race as possible from Scion's inevitable Face–Heel Turn into a nigh-omnipotent Omnicidal Maniac. Also, they know for certain that their means are necessary to achieve that end because of Contessa's power, which is basically Combat Clairvoyance turned up to the level of a Story-Breaker Power — it doesn't just let her see a path to victory in a single fight, she can project the path to victory in a decades-long global conflict affecting hundreds of parallel Earths.


Video Example(s):


Alister Azimuth

Though you wouldn't know it until the Final Boss battle. For most of the game, he's on friendly terms with Ratchet, but his uncompromising drive to undo his mistakes is what pushes him into villain territory.

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Main / BigBadFriend

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