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 does exist anti-villains that are outright evil in nature, though they still maintain having all of the attributes on what anti-villains usually have in common. They can also be capable of a HeelFace 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 HeelFace 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.
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.
Sub-tropes and related tropesCharacter types particularly prone to anti-villainy (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.
- Big Bad Slippage: The main villain isn't a villain at the start of the story and becomes one over time; they often have tragic and/or sympathetic motives for turning evil.
- Byronic Hero: Darker versions of this trope still tend to have sympathetic or admirable qualities and a lot of inner turmoil and conflict.
- Cry for the Devil: The villain is depicted sympathetically, even if only for a moment, and the audience pities them.
- Dark Magical Girl: She often has a Dark and Troubled Past and usually ends up switching sides.
- Designated Monkey: The character supposedly deserves the misfortunes they endure, but the audience considers the abuse inflicted on the character to be too unreasonable and excessive.
- Designated Villain: The narrative says that they are villainous, but there are factors that contradict this.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: They may only be rough on their troops because they need to prepare them properly for the horrors of war.
- Driven to Madness: Someone else deliberately drove them insane.
- Driven to Villainy: The villain becomes a villain because of traumatic experiences.
- Even Evil Can Be Loved: A villain is humanized by the fact good characters still care about them and thus is more likely to have sympathetic qualities and/or be redeemable.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: A villain is sympathetic for their care for their family, friends, etc.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: A villain is sympathetic because of their care for their parents (usually his mother).
- Even Evil Has Standards: A villain has certain moral lines they 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 FaceHeel 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 their enemies like old pals.
- Gentleman Thief (when they're not the hero)
- Good Girl Gone Bad: A Nice Girl who becomes a villain (or just a Jerkass) due to something bad happening to her; they often still have sympathetic qualities.
- Harmless Villain: The villain is not really threatening at all.
- HeelFace Turn: The bad guy switches sides and becomes a good guy.
- A Hero to His Hometown
- He Who Fights Monsters: They started out a good guy but ended up becoming just as bad as what they were fighting against.
- Hidden Heart of Gold: The villain is a bit of a nice guy, although they don't want anyone knowing it.
- Hitman with a Heart: A Professional Killer who isn't quite as cold-blooded as they seem.
- Ignorant Minion: A Mook who is out of naivety or slow-wittedness unaware that their boss is evil.
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: The villain is so incompetent that their plans always fail.
- Invading Refugees: These invaders are attacking because they've been forced on the run.
- Jerkass Woobie: They may be a jerk, but they're also pitiable.
- Justified Criminal: They only commit crimes for a sympathetic or even morally good reason.
- Knight Templar: A villain who genuinely believes that their actions are good and/or just.
- A Lighter Shade of Black: They're no saint, but there are other villains who are comparatively much worse.
- Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: A villain who unintentionally causes problems through their own ignorance and lack of responsibility.
- 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.
- Never Hurt an Innocent: The villain wouldn't dare to hurt those who've done nothing wrong.
- 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: It turns out the so-called villain is actually mistakenly believed to be evil.
- Obliviously Evil: The villain doesn't realize that they're committing evil acts.
- Poke the Poodle: Someone tries to Kick the Dog, but their actions come off as laughable or just a bit annoying rather than truly harmful.
- 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.
- Reluctant Mad Scientist: A scientist who was pulled into villainy by bad circumstances, or have his experiments being systematically abused by other parties he doesn't intend to.
- 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.
- Sympathetic Slave Owner: Engages in slavery, but isn't too awful about it.
- Sympathy for the Hero: The villain expresses sympathy or pity for the hero.
- The Extremist Was Right: The villain's actions are vindicated later.
- Token Good Teammate: An anti-villain can be a part of a group of straight up villains.
- Tragic Bigot: They hate a particular group of people because a person/people belonging to this group were involved in a past personal tragedy.
- Tragic Monster: A heroic and/or sympathetic person who was turned into a monster and thus lost their humanity.
- Tragic Villain: They're aware that their villainous actions are wrong, but believe (rightly or not) that they have no choice but to continue doing them.
- Trapped in Villainy: Would like to quit villainy, but there is a threat of death over failures in evil or attempts to leave.
- Troubled Abuser: They commit abuse because they themselves were abused.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: The villain wants to Take Over the World because they genuinely believe they can create a better society.
- Villainous Friendship: Having friends proves that they aren't ALL bad.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The villain does bad things in order to achieve an admirable goal.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: A very sympathetic and pitiable character is Driven to Villainy.
- Worthy Opponent: More often than not, the anti-villain honestly respects the hero's resolve, even though they're normally Affably Evil to begin with.
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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? 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.
- 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.