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Hidden Villain

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"It was me, James. The author of all your pain."
"At last, the masks had fallen away. The strings of the puppets had become visible, and the hands of the prime mover exposed."

A situation where a Story Arc contains a Big Bad whose identity is not known until much later. This could be a result of the heroes going against The Faceless, requiring only a look under the mask to understand everything. In most cases, this is an inversion of the Hidden Agenda Villain, where we know that something bad is happening and the Driving Question is the one behind it all.

Usually a Magnificent Bastard post reveal. Compare The Man Behind the Man, except without the first man, and The Man in Front of the Man, who is Hidden in Plain Sight. It can only overlap if the first man is obviously a Disc-One Final Boss.

If the Hidden Villain turns out to be a previously known antagonist, see Hijacked by Ganon. If it was someone who was never suspected at all, then The Dog Was the Mastermind. Not to be confused with Evil All Along, where a seemingly good character turns out to be evil.

The Reveal may involve a dramatic Emerging from the Shadows.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The central mystery of 20th Century Boys is who lies under the mask that Friend wears.
  • Lucius Zogratis from Black Clover is the overarching villain of the story, having infiltrated the Clover Kingdom as Julius Novachrono and groomed his younger siblings the Dark Triad to become devil hosts and form the Tree of Qliphoth. The existence of the eldest Zogratis is shown quite some time after the Dark Triad's introduction. And then he's revealed to be the other soul of Julius, who was introduced in the very first chapter, and planned for the magic knights to defeat Lucifero to obtain his heart. With his hijacking of their body from Julius after Damnatio confronts Julius about being the devil host of Astaroth, he states that "the time has come", stepping into the Big Bad role for the final arc.
  • Bleach: Sosuke Aizen. This particular Reveal was quite the Wham Episode.
  • Lord Baan/Vearn from Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai. Of course, when he is revealed, he's pretty unimposing. Until much, much later, when you learn that he's really inhabiting the body of a lesser character who attempts Grand Theft Me on Hyunkeru to transfer to a younger, stronger body. Both the body-snatcher & the intended victim are white haired.
  • In Fairy Tail, the Dark Guild Tartaros is led by E.N.D., the mightiest of all of Zeref's demons, powerful enough to fight The Fire Dragon King Igneel and one of the few beings in existence with the power to actually kill Zeref himself. Despite this, we never see E.N.D. in person throughout the eponymous arc, due to being sealed away within his Book of Zeref, the opening of which is the crux behind the villains' actions throughout. By the end, Tartaros is defeated, but Zeref shows up to take E.N.D.'s book before it can be destroyed by the heroes. At the very end, alone, Zeref reveals that E.N.D. is actually a character we've seen in the series already, his powers and memory allegedly within the book and he himself unaware of his own existence as a demon. That person? Natsu Dragneel himself, as shown by E.N.D.'s full name being Etherious Natsu Dragneel and Zeref referring to both of them as the same person, yet at the same time different.
  • In the anime/manga of The Heroic Legend of Arslan, only Silvermask/Hilmes is aware of the full involvement of the Zahhak sorcerers in the story. Otherwise, the sorcerers take great lengths to avoid being seen or witnessed by others, in order to divide the fractions of Pars (and Lusitania) against each other, rather than for both kingdoms to recognize them as a common enemy. Arslan's group has seen and survived encounters with the sorcerers and even managed to kill a few but they remain completely in the dark as to who the sorcerers are and what their purpose and plans are.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • The main villain of Golden Wind, Diavolo, is only known as The Boss of Passione for the majority of the arc, and in all his appearances until near the very end, he's either The Faceless with his face completely shadowed over, or appearing as his Split Personality Vinegar Doppio (who he physically morphs into, so Doppio doesn't even look like him). In this case, he wants to be a completely hidden to maintain his power forever, to the point of killing anyone, even his own daughter, who could possibly threaten his rule, be it someone who tries to find out anything about him, has even seen his face, or shares his own blood.
    • JoJolion: Josuke and his allies come into conflict with the Rock Humans when their smuggling ring seeks the Locacaca branch. After discovering a connection at T.G. University Hospital, they figure that the head doctor, Satoru Akefu, is the one calling the shots. Then, it is revealed that Satoru is actually the Stand of the real leader, Toru, who acts as the hospital's seemingly well-meaning intern to cover his true identity.
  • In the first season of K, the events were all secretly orchestrated by the Green King, who becomes the main antagonist of the second season.
  • Trigun appears to have an obvious big bad at first: a nihilistic killer with psychic powers named Legato Bluesummers, who has seemingly assembled a private army just to destroy Vash. Midway through the Legato arc, we're given a flashback episode that reveals the existence of Vash's brother Knives. A few episodes later, we finally learn that Legato has been acting under Knives' orders all along, and his true objective isn't to kill Vash, but to force Vash to kill Legato.

    Comic Books 
  • The head of Leviathan in Batman, Inc. is shown as a mysterious figure in white robes and a skull mask, until The Reveal in Leviathan Strikes! that her identity is Talia al Ghul.
  • Fables: There is an "emperor" (known to the Fables as "The Adversary") and his identity is a secret for a large part of the comic's run, until we find out it's Geppetto of all people.
  • A Little Something Special: The team-up between the Beagle Boys, Flintheart Glomgold, and Magica DeSpell on Scrooge's 50th anniversary in Duckburg is orchestrated from afar by Duckburg's first citizen: Grandpa Blackheart Beagle.
  • Ms. Marvel (2014): The Inventor is first mentioned in #3 by Vick and #4 by his henchmen. In #5, his face is revealed to the readers for the first time, and in #6, Kamala encounters a holographic projection of him. The two finally meet face-to-giant robot-piloting face in #10.
  • The first Sin City story hid the Serial Killer Kevin until halfway through. Because of the movie, which actually shows him performing the killing of Goldie, most people realize who he is, but it was a specific mystery at first.
  • The Comedian's murderer and the person responsible for the events of Watchmen. It turns out that Adrian Veidt AKA Ozymandias is behind it, all in the name of world peace of course.
  • Used to create a new villain in X-Factor. There was a shadowy villain pulling the strings for several issues, and it was originally intended to be the Owl. For various reasons, this was nixed, and when the reveal came, prolific X-Men nemesis Apocalypse made his debut.

    Fan Works 
  • Discord is responsible for pretty much everything in Diaries of a Madman, but only the reader is aware of his involvement until much later on in the story.
  • In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, Mr. Black is initially seen as faceless, but eventually his face, backstory, and name are slowly revealed, as well as his motivations and target.
    • The Conduit, his boss, is also this to a greater degree, having several decoys at hand. His true identity as Lex Loath was only revealed just before the arc where he's defeated.
  • In Fate: Zero Sanity, there is another presence within the Grail alongside Angra Mainyu, but aside from some names that have some ties to him (Reaper, Grey), the presence's true name isn't revealed until the very end by Angra Mainyu at his own request. Who is it? Prometheus.
  • In the Rango fanfic Old West, mercenaries harass the people of Mud, Grace Glossy's lands are wanted by someone, and Mud's water supply is blocked in order to drive the people away while a large gold deposit underneath the town is being harvested. It's not until the 13th chapter that the mastermind behind everything appears.
  • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: The Big Bad of the story, whose existence is revealed relatively early on, but whose identity isn't revealed until the final arc of the first story. It's the Nightmare, the same entity that once possessed Princess Luna and turned her into Nightmare Moon, and is currently possessing the King of Equestria.
    • Other stories set in the same multiverse, including the final stories of the Doa-verse and Diplomacy-verse have revealed the existence of a mysterious villain who exists in the Place Between Realms, the Void Between Dimensions, but whom none of the protagonists (save one who died shortly after finding out they existed, though not much more than that) know about.
  • In the tradition of the Green Goblin and the Hobgoblin from the Spider-Man comics, the fanfic Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With The Light features Jack O' Lantern as Spider-Woman's Arch-Enemy along with several characters who could be his true identity. Said identity is eventually revealed at the end of issue #29.
  • The sidestory "Shadows of the Jungle" of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines is told in an Apocalyptic Log format, and it's not revealed until the very final entry who's the one behind the vicious Bug Pokémon attacks. It's a female bloodliner who controls them like a goddess or Hive Queen of sorts, and not a Legendary Pokémon as the crew had initially assumed.
  • Becoming a True Invader: The story's Big Bad, the Employer, is cloaked in shadows for most of the story, hiding his identity until the climax, where he's revealed to be Minimoose, of all people.
  • Heroverse:
    • Ace Savvy: A New Hope: For a time, the true cause of Ace Savvy's death was unknown. It isn't until much later when it is revealed that Lord Tetherby was the one who arranged his death.
    • Power Chord: High School Musical: One of the big mysteries of the fic is who is the person behind the mysterious affiliations of the students that cause them to reveal their biggest secrets. At the end, it's revealed that it is Luan, who wants revenge for her mistreatment.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Detonator (2003): In the end, Robert Brickland is exposed as the main antagonist of the film for he orchestrated the events to further his career in the FBI.
  • The Element of Crime, made worse by the fact that the elusive child killer may actually have been dead even before the events portrayed in the movie. And the whole movie is a flashback.
  • Aldrich Killian in Iron Man 3, who was the real Big Bad behind the fake Mandarin.
  • James Bond
  • Sir Lancelot in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, though he does pull a Heel–Face Turn in the climax.
  • 7: John Doe's identity is not known until the very end. Kevin Spacey's involvement in the film was kept a secret so that even the actor playing the villain would be a surprise to audiences.
  • The film version of Sin City hid Kevin to a lesser extent than the comic, since he's briefly seen just before he kills Goldie. He's still a Hidden Villain however, since the audience has no idea who he even is at this point.
  • In Underworld (2003), although Lucian is set up as the main villain he turns out to be a Disc-One Final Boss while Viktor, the assumed Big Good, is revealed to be the one really responsible for the conflict between vampires and Lycans.
  • In The Usual Suspects, the mythical Keyser Soze is mentioned right from the beginning, yet his involvement in the events isn't at least somewhat understood until the climax, and only fully comprehensible at the very end.
  • In Valentine, it quickly becomes apparent that the Cupid-faced serial killer weaving in and out of the main quintet's lives is Jeremy Melton, who was framed for sexual assault by four of the friends as a boy. This detail is clarified by the killer's bleeding nose, a trait Jeremy suffers from while under stress. However, Jeremy hasn't been seen in years; the real trouble is figuring out which character is Jeremy's public identity before he completes his vendetta.

  • The villain of Card Force Infection, the source of the eponymous infection, is unknown, but it's been determined that it's definitely an intelligent and malevolent entity (as opposed to something like a law of nature). Since nobody knows who this is, they just call them "the devil" for now.
  • Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere:
    • It was very obvious from the beginning of Mistborn that the Lord Ruler won his position by saving the world from something even worse. In the second book, it was revealed that this entity was still around, and it was freed from its prison at the climax. In the third book, the entity was revealed as Ruin, primordial god of entropy and destruction.
    • In Warbreaker the Big Bad is hidden for almost the entire novel, and the most obvious candidates are eliminated one by one (either by proving harmless, or revealed to be only a cog in the big machine). It turns out to be Bluefingers, the God King's kindly, timid secretary, who had been considered an ally of the heroes up to that point.
    • The Stormlight Archive: For the first two books, Taravangian is one for the main characters. In a classic case of Dramatic Irony, the reader knows, but no one else does. They learn of his organization at the end of the second book, but not his identity.
  • Daemon: The Major is only the Dragon-in-Chief/Heavy of the duology. We never get to meet the true face of the conspiracy he is an enforcer for.
  • The Dark Tower: The Crimson King isn't mentioned till Book 4. From that point on details are given bit by bit.
  • The dragon-snakes from The Death Gate Cycle are the collective Big Bad and the incarnation of evil in that multiverse, given form by magic gone awry. As such, they're technically the ultimate villains all along, but are only introduced directly in the fourth book, Serpent Mage.
  • In The Dresden Files, it isn't even hinted that there might be something moving behind the scenes until the end of the second book. Said Hidden Villain was chased after for over ten years, and the most tangible evidence that they existed was the traitor Peabody, who was immediately removed from the equation. It is finally confirmed in Cold Days, and it is implied the villain may not even be from our reality. Then the aftermath of the final battle in Battle Ground reveals that "Nemesis" has been the Greater-Scope Villain of the series all along, and The Man Behind the Man towards Ethniu (using the Titan as its Unwitting Pawn), when Harry manages to put the pieces together, with only he and Lara Raith being aware of its involvement. Its true identity is "He Who Walks Beside", one of the three Walkers who serve the Outsiders — beings from outside reality and seek to bring about the end of all Creation.
  • Most of the plotline of the Inda series is driven by Evil Sorcerer Erkric's scheming, as he's the one driving the Venn to be more warlike and expansionistic, but he's not directly introduced until the last third of the second book and his central role doesn't become apparent until later. This is at least in part because the Venn are initially portrayed as a faceless military juggernaut, though — he's introduced at the same time as Prince Rajnir and Commander Durasnir, the other two main Venn characters.
  • Kill Decision: We never see the true face of the villains orchestrating the drone attacks, only a pair of spin doctors and a lower-level agent in their employ.
  • Subverted in Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone. It's obvious from early in the first book that someone is conspiring against the House of Dare, but exactly who's in charge is left vague, though hints point towards a single mastermind. This turns out to be a Red Herring, as the conspiracy is actually composed of several loosely-aligned factions working together for their own gain but with distinct goals, and the hints towards a mastermind were actually about several different people. Robert, Praifec Hespero and the Black Jester all hand their hands in different parts, but represent distinct threats.
  • The Crippled God, the Big Bad of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, is only introduced in person in the third book, though in hindsight he is pretty heavily foreshadowed in the first two.
  • For the first three-quarters of the first book of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, it's obvious that there is a Big Bad (Evil Sorcerer Pryrates is an obvious villain, but as he's getting his power through a Deal with the Devil he's also obviously not the ultimate string puller) but none of the main characters know who he is. It turns out to be the vengeful Sithi prince Ineluki, resurrected as the undead entity called the Storm King, who had only been mentioned in scraps of legends prior to The Reveal.
  • In the first of the Otherland books, the focus occasionally shifts to an Egyptian simulation ruled by someone using Osiris as an avatar, who gives out orders and makes commentary that bears suspicious relation to other events in the book, but these connections are never actually stated. Late in the volume, the user is revealed to be a man named Felix Jongleur, leader of the Grail Brotherhood and creator of the Otherland system.
  • The Skulduggery Pleasant spends most of the series setting up the mysterious "Man with the Golden Eyes", who seems to be behind nearly every villainous scheme since book 3. It is finally revealed to be Erskine Ravel, one of the main character's best friends.
  • Star Wars Legends: In Fate of the Jedi, from the very first book something has started to make various Jedi go crazy, but none of the already introduced villains (President Evil Daala and an isolated but ambitious cult of Sith) seem to have the power to cause it. In the third book, readers are introduced to an enigmatic woman with tremendous Force powers named Abeloth. Turns out that she's the avatar of an Eldritch Abomination who has been subtly influencing galactic events for a while now — and by the end of the book she's out of her can and ready to take the position of Big Bad full time.
  • It's already established in A Song of Ice and Fire how Littlefinger is a villain who betrayed Ned Stark out of personal jealousy, but the ending chapters of A Storm of Swords escalates his role to show that he wasn't just a mere opportunist who's a little shady, but is directly responsible for the War of Five Kings.
  • Tortall Universe: The second book of the Beka Cooper trilogy, Bloodhound, is about an investigation into a counterfeit epidemic. While they know that Pearl Skinner's behind it and are mostly trying to find a way to stop her, Beka doesn't learn until near the end that the idea came from Hanse Remy, who is trying to repay the entire realm for being Ungrateful Bastards after his long military service.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the figure behind Project Centipede (and other antagonists of the week) was a supposed psychic who could see the future known only as "The Clairvoyant" even though psychic powers don't seem to exist in this universe. It's eventually revealed that the Clairvoyant is Thomas Nash, a man who is completely paralyzed and requires a ventilator and electronic voice box except not really; Nash is just a decoy for the true Clairvoyant who is actually a SHIELD operative/HYDRA mole named John Garrett, who while not actually being psychic, does have high-level SHIELD clearances which give him access to all the information he needs to appear psychic. And in even more of a twist, it's also revealed late in the season that Agent Grant Ward, a handpicked member of Coulson's own team, has actually been working for Garrett the whole time.
  • Arrow: As Season 6 goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the apparent new Big Bad, Cayden James, is an Unwitting Pawn of someone else, who's manipulated him into thinking that Green Arrow killed his son and sent him on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Team Arrow. Midway through the season, it's revealed that this true Big Bad is Ricardo Diaz, one of James' own supposed underlings.
  • Bones did this with the serial killer Gormagon as well as the Gravedigger. Their identities were only revealed late or in the end of the story arcs.
  • A really bizarre example comes from Breaking Bad, where the main character, Walter White, is the Hidden Villain Protagonist to his own brother-in-law, Hero Antagonist DEA Agent Hank Schrader, until "Gliding Over All".
  • In Burn Notice, a Client of the Week turns out to be the head of the Organization that got Michael thrown out of the CIA and forcibly recruited into their group. Later, Michael's trainer Tom Card who is initially a valuable contact and resource for multiple episodes, sends Michael on a Suicide Mission without Michael ever realizing what was going on.
  • Chouseishin Gransazer: The Warp Monarch are a faceless threat for most of the series, so it's unknown who the specific individual behind their attack on Earth is. Eventually it's revealed Belzeus is the one solely responsible, convincing the rest of Warp Monarch that humans are Bosquito descendants so he'd have the justification to invade and seize power.
  • Desperate Housewives used this several times. The identity of the aggressor in Season 6 was hidden this way until the reveal that he was a serial killer and actually one of Porter's friends.
  • Doctor Who:
    • During Series 3, the subplots taking place in present day London throw around the name Mr. Saxon. In the three-parter that ends the season, he is revealed to be none other than the Doctor's arch nemesis, the Master, who stole the Doctor's TARDIS and traveled 18 months before Martha was introduced, and in that time took on the Mr. Saxon identity and became Prime Minister.
    • The events of series 5 are caused by someone or something capable of making the TARDIS explode, accompanied by the Arc Words "silence will fall". It isn't until the following series that we meet the Silence, a religious order of supposedly Well Intentioned Extremists whose motives — they believe the Doctor is destined to answer the question "Doctor who?", which will end the universe — aren't revealed until the very end of that series. And it isn't confirmed that they blew up the TARDIS until the Eleventh Doctor's very last episode, which aired three years later.
  • The identity of just who was really behind the Dollhouse and the Rossum Corporation had a very high "Holy Shit!" Quotient when it was revealed late in Season Two.
  • Happened in Gekisou Sentai Carranger by half of the season the Bowzocks were believed to be the main bad guy's until Exhaus is shown to be the real Big Bad.
  • The Good Place: The show reveals around Eleanor who is mistakenly sent to the Good Place, as well as her trying to evade Michael, the Good Place Architect who is sure that she's a good person. Eventually Eleanor is discovered and Michael brings in Shawn, The Almighty Judge on High of All Beings Living and Dead for All Eternity in order to convince him that Eleanor belongs in the Good Place. In the Season 1 finale, however, Eleanor finds out that they are all in the Bad Place due to her finding out flaws that would definitely not be present in the Good Place, where Michael promptly drops the charade and reveals himself to be one of the Architects of the Bad Place and their main torturer, and then Shawn is revealed to be his boss, and definitely not the Judge in any sense.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • In Kamen Rider Blade, Hiroshi Tennoji turns out to be the one responsible for the release of the Undead, having set up the Battle Fight so he could rig it in his favor.
    • It isn't until the final third of Kamen Rider Den-O that we meet the true mastermind behind the Imagin attacks - Kai the Singularity Point.
    • The identity of Wiseman, the leader of the Phantoms, is kept hidden for most of Kamen Rider Wizard, with him either giving orders from behind a curtain or only appearing in his Phantom form. It takes until the final few episodes for us to learn his true identity, where he's revealed to be Sou Fueki aka the White Wizard, the ostensible Big Good of the series.
    • Kamen Rider Drive has a hidden Greater-Scope Villain in Tenjuro Banno, whose abuse and tampering with the Roidmudes caused their uprising, and who was secretly plotting his own scheme to forcibly digitize everyone.
    • Much of Kamen Rider Saber is the protagonists trying to uncover the traitor in Sword of Logos responisible for corrupting Kamen Rider Calibur, releasing the Megid and setting in motion the plot. The traitor eventually turns out to be none other than the leader of Sword of Logos, Master Logos.
  • Lost, in which the fact that there even is a Big Bad is not immediately stated. After several possible major antagonists are introduced over the first five seasons, the true Big Bad is not revealed until the Season 5 finale.
  • The Big Bad of The Mentalist is a serial killer identified only by the pseudonym Red John. It's not until midway through the penultimate season that his true identity is revealed, just minutes before he dies.
  • At least two members of the Person of Interest Rogues Gallery finally appeared onscreen, after several episodes of Foreshadowing and references, as that week's person of interest in disguise. Namely, Elias (in "Witness") and Root (in "Firewall").
    • A third, Control, makes their appearance as the loving family member of the week's actual person of interest.
  • In Pretty Little Liars, 'A' is a hidden villain and the main antagonist of the show.
  • Stargate SG-1: The mysterious backer of all the attempts to loot off-world sites and waylay the second Stargate isn't revealed until halfway through the series as the Committee, and they aren't at all what Stargate Command was expecting. The organization reformed itself into the Trust later without a single, clear leader.
  • In the Temporal Cold War arc in Star Trek: Enterprise, there is the mysterious humanoid only known as "Future Guy", so named because he is communicating with his Suliban henchmen from somewhere in the future. Within the whole run of the series, it's never revealed who Future Guy actually is, though.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter "Redemption", the Duras sisters are conspiring with a female Romulan officer hidden in the shadows, whose face gets revealed in the end. While she is a new character, it's still a Mind Screw Wham Shot for first time viewers, because she looks exactly like the deceased Enterprise crew member Tasha Yar. It turns out later that she is the daughter of a time-displaced alternate reality version of Tasha.
  • Supernatural: The show's initial story arc is the boys' quest to find their father John Winchester, who has been kidnapped by an unknown entity, and to avenge the deaths of their mother Mary and Sam's girlfriend Jessica. It isn't until late in Season 1 that we and the Winchesters find out the identity of the entity behind this, the Yellow-Eyed Demon/Azazel.

  • For its first four seasons, The Magnus Archives appears to be a Rogues Gallery with no true Big Bad — there are fourteen evil Entities trying to bring about world-ending rituals, but none of them seem to be more or less powerful than each other, and the protagonists are able to disrupt all of their plans. Until the end of Season 4, when the Big Bad is revealed to be none other than Jonah Magnus, the original founder of the Magnus Institute. He's been possessing Elias Bouchard since before the start of the series, and has orchestrated all of the protagonists' victories in order to make way for the Beholding ritual, the Watcher's Crown. Which he forces Jon to successfully perform in the Season 4 finale.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • Al Mualim and Prince Ahmet from Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed: Revelations, respectively.
    • In Assassin's Creed Origins, Flavius Metellus is the man responsible for the murder of Bayek and Aya's son Khemu.
    • Assassin's Creed: Odyssey has the Ghost of Kosmos, the true leader of the Cult of Kosmos (the local proto-Templar group). In order to reveal their identity, you must hunt down and deal with every other member of the cult (most of whom are largely optional). After you hunt the rest of the Cult, the Ghost is revealed to be none other than Perikles' wife Aspasia.
  • BlazBlue: The Big Bad isn't revealed until the console-only True Ending of Calamity Trigger, and isn't fought until Continuum Shift. And even then, that game's True Ending reveals him to be a Disc-One Final Boss, and it goes straight into The Dog Was the Mastermind. And then All There in the Manual suggests that no; he was the Big Bad all along. And then in Chronophantasma, it turns out that his so-called puppet was the real mastermind all along and the Terumi was her Unwitting Pawn. Why? Because the puppet is possessed by the 'thing' Terumi and Relius called forth: The Goddess of Death, Izanami. And for the record, yes, Izanami does all the planning backstage, leading you to believe that Terumi really look like the Big Bad in charge. She might not be so hidden if you have read the aforementioned All There in the Manual, but still. The last installment, Central Fiction, finally puts the matter to rest. Terumi — or rather his true identity the Susanoo Unit — is and always has been the true villain.
  • Omnicidal Maniac Eldritch Abomination Ouroboros, the source of corruption, is this in Bravely Default, since he only appears in person during the final chapter. He also shares the role with his servant, the mysterious “Evil One” A.K.A Airy.
  • Deadly Premonition has this with George Woodman & Kaysen but alludes to the Raincoat Killer many times as being some unknown entity.
  • The Elder One of Dragon Age: Inquisition is kept a mystery for the first act of the game, until the quest "In Your Heart Shall Burn" where it is revealed to be none other than Corypheus, the villain of the Legacy DLC of Dragon Age II.
  • Pagan Min in Far Cry 4, where he is depicted as a Big Bad who rules Kyrat with an iron fist with The Golden Path being the ones fighting against his rule led by Amita or Sabal. When you complete the game however, either leader you side with will reveal their true colours to the player, as they either turn Kyrat into a theocratic nation where non-believers and non-supporters of the Golden Path are killed for their 'betrayal' against their nation, or a quasi-socialist state that recalls aspects of The Khmer Rouge along with the recruitment of Child Soldiers for the sake of protecting their drug industry. This revelation show that they're similar to Pagan Min's rule, and this can all be prevented if Ajay Ghale were to just sit down and enjoy that Crab Rangoon.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn: Whatever sent the signal that turned GAIA's subfunctions into independent entities.
  • KanColle: If there is a high command, The Man Behind the Monsters, Eldritch Abomination or other authority in charge of the Abyssals, they have yet to appear onscreen.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising features Hades, who doesn't even make an appearance until apparent Big Bad Medusa is taken out in Chapter 9.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • Starting in Chain of Memories, certain Organization XIII members occasionally mention their leader, "The Superior." In Kingdom Hearts II, The Superior turns out to be a Literal Split Personality counterpart of the Final Boss from the original Kingdom Hearts game.
  • The Big Bad / Murderer of the first Laura Bow game turns out to be Lilian, when very little evidence suggests this.
  • Love & Pies:
    • When Amelia answers her mother Freya's call and tells her that she caught the culprit of the café arson, Freya warns her that they're "just a puppet" and that someone else is "pulling the strings". However, Freya doesn't tell her their identity because she believes that it would put Amelia in danger.
    • The anonymous caller who claims to be Amelia's frenemy and was the one who sabotaged Esme's van refuses to reveal their identity because it would be "a lot less fun". While it's not Edwina because she was in the same room as Amelia when the latter received the call, Yuka at least knows that they're from Global Megacorp because the threat letter they sent to Eve was made of high-quality paper, had "beautiful" ink on it, and had the company's logo ripped from its top.
  • The Inaba killer in Persona 4. It's Detective Adachi. Foreshadowed quite well due to the game being (except Knox's 2nd due to its nature) very compliant to the concept of Fair Play Mystery. Who's even more hidden is Izanami, aka the nameless gas station attendant, who gave Adachi, Nametame and the protagonist their powers in order to test humanity.
  • For most of NanoBreaker, you assume you're fighting Keith, your traitorous comrade, until a revelation late into the game where it turns out your commander, General Raymond, is the mastermind behind the Orgamech takeover, manipulating you to help him take down the Orgamech computer core so Raymond can take over before having you disposed of. And that the presumed main villain Keith is just his lackey.
  • Planescape: Torment: The player character, The Nameless One, is really the bad guy but doesn't know it. In actual truth, The Transcendent One, the mortal aspect of The Nameless One, is the bad guy. It gets confusing. Long story short...the player character was an evil douche, and the mortal aspect of him was split away, leaving The Nameless One.
    • The game also Deconstructs the trope. Finding out why a villain chooses to remain hidden will reveal its weakness. In this case, The Transcendent One fears to be rejoined with The Nameless One, not only due to how much it loathes him, but also facing eternal damnation.
      "An iron golem, forged from the weapons of war, told me this once: When one kills from a distance and does not show himself, it speaks of weakness. It is how a *coward* fights."
  • For most of Shadow Ops: Red Mercury, you're attempting to uncover the titular Red Mercury, a prototype nuclear bomb, who has fallen into possession of feared international terrorist Vladimir Styanovich. Alas, Vladimir is just a Disc-One Final Boss who dies halfway through - your CIA handler and liaison, Kate Daniels, is the game's true Big Bad who is in cahoots with Vladimir the whole time. You eventually uncover the truth a few missions later when she reveals herself and leaves you to die in a train filled with bombs.
  • In Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, we know that Hel is the Big Bad of the game having orchestrated all of the events for Wylfred to wreak as much sin as possible, and give Garm some fun. However; Hel is only mentioned, and when she talks, we never see her.
    • She does show up in the first game when she is stopped by the Einherjar that have been sent to Valhalla. Easy to miss if you don't realize that each line of text in the review has a cutscene associated with it.
  • In Xenogears Miang, the avatar of Deus is the Big Bad who has been manipulating events for the last 10,000 years in preparation for Deus' rebirth.

    Visual Novels 

  • Average Joe does this, with the main villain of the series appearing for a bit of Evil Gloating as early as Strip #5, but after multiple appearances in flashback and flash-forward sequences we've still never seen his face (over a year later in real time).
  • The Enemy in Harkovast is mentioned on the first page, but has never been shown in the comic. Who he is has only been hinted at on the comics forum, where his full title (The King in the West) has been stated.
  • Kirby Adventure has the leader of Talzo's Gang. He has very few appearances throughout the comic and when he does appear, he is shrouded in shadows, with the only part of him we see being a pair of glowing red eyes.
  • MAG ISALook at these guys with darkened faces sitting around a table planning nefarious schemes for you and me...

    Web Original 
  • Lear Dunham from Broken Saints, who was faking his own death.
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, the Master of the Totenkopfs, one of the more dangerous villains, has been travelling with the heroes all along while furthering the Totenkopfs' sinister agenda, and the heroes are unaware of having the Master being so close to them. Another example is Ax's longtime friend and ally Vaetris who turns out to be one of the four archdemons in disguise.
  • Petscop: In video 5, a character named "Marvin" is revealed, who is described as hitting a child, Mike, with a tool for having his PlayStation on. From this it can be assumed he is an evil person, but there is not much else known about Marvin. In video 8, however, a representation of Marvin seems to appear — and he looks the exact same as the player character's sprite, but with some sort of green object replacing/covering the head.
  • In University Ever After Rose Red of all people is the Big Bad of Season 2, despite being presented as one of Ella's friends from the very beginning.

    Western Animation 
  • An unproduced episode of Batman: The Animated Series had Batman and Robin dealing with a succession of supervillains, all of whom tried to kill them. They first apprehend Poison Ivy and the Riddler before confronting the Joker, who at first hints that he is the mastermind behind all the mischief. Once Batman has beaten him into submission, he finally admits that there's been someone pulling his strings, and he implies this person is Rupert Thorne. Batman and Robin track down Thorne's gang and think they have found Thorne himself, but it turns out to actually be Clayface, who has taken on Thorne's appearance and assumed control of his gang while Thorne is out of town.
  • During the third season of Ben 10, horror monster-themed aliens show up performing seemingly random tasks through several episodes. During the season finale, they are revealed to have been building a superweapon to allow Ghostfreak to achieve world domination.
  • Miraculous Ladybug has Hawk Moth (Le Papillion), The Corrupter who transforms innocent people into deranged villains and monsters from his hidden lair. While his stated goal is to steal the power sources of Ladybug and Cat Noir, why he wants them is never touched upon, and it's only very late in the first season and the beginning of the second that viewers are given even an inkling on who Hawk Moth is or his motivation. It's Gabriel Agreste, Adrien's emotionally distant father, and it's strongly implied that Adrien's Missing Mom is the center of Gabriel's obsession.
  • Averted in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic according to Word of God. Lauren Faust claimed that originally something corrupted Princess Luna into Nightmare Moon and also aided in her release, and fans speculated this same force aided in Discord's release as well. However with Faust's departure from the show, this plot point was dropped completely and never so much as touched on again. The Expanded Universe picked this up with the existence of the Nightmare Forces being responsible for the corruption, but later episodes of the main series seem to contradict this.
  • In Season 2 of 2009 reboot of Strawberry Shortcake, the Slinking Slinker in episode "On the Road" comes from one of Blueberry's books, the Slinking Slinker actually a "villain" and it don't exist in reality.
  • Slade in Teen Titans (2003) starts out like this, being introduced in the first episode as a shadowy Chessmaster, but not even named or revealed to the heroes until later (and it's even longer before they meet him face-to-face and learn of his plans). Also a Hidden Agenda Villain, ironically — meaning that for his first few appearances, all we know about him is that he exists and is up to no good.
  • Downplayed in one episode of the first season of the Canadian sort-of-parody Total Drama, "Basic Straining". It's revealed at the very end that Harold was responsible for Courtney's elimination. He rigged the votes to have her eliminated without anyone's knowledge(well, anyone except for the non-contestants, that is) and to save himself from getting eliminated. Bonus points for having a Slasher Smile at the end that signifies how much he enjoyed making Duncan and Courtney suffer. After all the things Duncan did to him, it's not surprising to see Harold wanting to get some revenge.
  • Until Episode 20, it wasn't certain that Season 2 of Wakfu even had a real Big Bad, just a bunch of minor arc villains causing trouble with the majority of them being Shushus. Qilby the Traitor was manipulating everyone all along from the very moment he appeared.
  • In Wolverine and the X-Men (2009), pretty much the whole first season was masterminded by the Inner Circle, who wanted to get their hands on the Phoenix. They're not introduced until just before the Grand Finale, and aren't truly The Man Behind the Man because the only character they were directly controlling was one of the heroes.
  • In Young Justice (2010), the seven leaders of The Light had their images hidden when communicating to their operatives. It wasn't until the episode "Revelation" that they are revealed to be Vandal Savage, Lex Luthor, Ra's Ahl Gul, Queen Bee, Ocean Master, The Brain, and Klarion, all who had appeared or were mentioned with the exception of Savage.