My heart unmasked and the face of my soul.
Or to slide on a beautiful rainbow, singing songs that we don't know.
We could sing the words with glee if you would just play...
Just play with me, I am misunderstood.
Please don't judge a book by its cover.
Take the time to get to know me and you'll see that I'm a friend.
I am misunderstood..."
Sometimes, what people call villains are just... misunderstood. They aren't necessarily evil or deliberately committing bad deeds, but rather, everybody around them assumes that they are the "bad guy" simply because their ideas and goals might not mesh or because they mistakenly believe them to be aiming for bad things. A villain might be misunderstood because of their appearance (for example, the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast"), as a result of family, by the nature of their powers, or due to circumstances outside of their control.
Can also refer to characters who aren't deliberately portrayed as antagonists, but are still misunderstood in a negative light.
Dark Is Not Evil is a close relative of this trope; a character who is dark but not evil is likely to be mistaken for a villain due to their scary exterior.
Obliviously Evil is a subtrope (despite the name) when a character doesn't have the malevolent intent to really be considered an evil person but causes serious harm anyway because they don't understand that what they're doing is wrong.
See also Justified Criminal, Anti-Villain, Tragic Villain, Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold, Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, and, for nonsapient creatures, Non-Malicious Monster. Compare and contrast Hero with Bad Publicity and Good All Along. When a character decides to give in to the accusations, Then Let Me Be Evil results. When the fandom makes dubious or obviously wrong claims that a villain is this, it's Draco in Leather Pants.
- Tenshi of Angel Beats!, so legendarily bad at communication that it starts a miniature war.
- The Demon King in Maoyuu Maou Yuusha has all the visual characteristics of Obviously Evil and the Hero thought she was the Big Bad. But instead of fighting the Hero, she joins forces with him in an elaborate attempt to end the war between their races peacefully. If anything, she's the kindest and least evil character in the story. Most of the other "demons" seem to be victims of Fantastic Racism rather than actually being evil.
- Pokémon loves this trope in regards to movie antagonists that are Pokémon themselves:
- All Mewtwo from Pokémon: The First Movie wants is a purpose in life, but his means of obtaining it are quite questionable (though the dub makes him out to be less misunderstood).
- Deoxys is a powerful alien virus that puts an entire city under captivity... but it was really looking for his friend.
- Darkrai is a shadowy-looking creature who gives nightmares through its sheer presence... but it's really a softie, even after being hounded as a bad guy by Alamos Town, and its nightmares are revealed to be warnings of the larger threat of Dialga and Palkia.
- Giratina is an Eldritch Abomination who seemingly wants to eat Shaymin... but really it just wanted to use its Seed Flare to leave the Reverse World at will and means no harm otherwise.
- Kyurem is a Super-Persistent Predator who hunts Keldeo down to the ends of the region... but only because it wanted to finish a fight between the two of them, and it has no ill-will towards anything otherwise.
- The Genesect Army are (mostly) violent cyborgs who forcibly evict several Pokémon out of their home so they can live in it instead... but ultimately, all they want is to go home, which seems to excuse all their actions beforehand.
- Averted, however, with Yveltal from Pokémon: Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction, which never goes through a HeelFace Turn and is treated as an antagonist throughout the movie. It isn't redeemed, Xerneas just forces it to stop its rampage.
- Poor, Poor No Face in Spirited Away. He's lonely, shy, and so desperate to make Chihiro happy. Sure, some of the things he did were a bit too far, but he had good intentions deep down. His desires may be reasonable, but his Blue-and-Orange Morality makes it ambiguous, as his image song makes clear. He really does want to stop being lonely, but it seems the only way he knows to do this at first is to eat people and absorb their personalities.
- In Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note, Sunahara's reputation of being a Japanese Delinquent comes from being arrested twice on the suspicion of beating an adult and gang activity, despite being cleared of any wrongdoing in either case. And after the second arrest, he already knew his reputation is so bad that he has to leave after confirming his feelings towards Aya. Strangely, on a meta sense, this trope helps to make up a "bad boy" for the All Girls Want Bad Boys trope, with enough street cred, while keeping him pure enough as Aya's Love Interest in this G-rated series.
- In Pocket God, Newbie says the trope name word-for-word when he smashes the girl tribe's Jewel of Life. He was a clone of Nooby who originally wanted to kill his predecessor, but a brush with death caused him to focus on finding immortality, regardless of what he must do to achieve it.
- In Young Avengers Loki tried to use this early on, comparing himself to Tyrion Lannister at one point. Of the three people he was saying this to, Hulkling and Wiccan didn't buy it, and Miss American didn't know what he was talking about (and did not trust him). Justified since it's Loki, even if he was in cute little kid form.
- Even before that in a 2004 team-up with Spider-Man Loki already claimed that "I'm not evil. ... I'm complicated.", so the jerk has been trying to sell this for a long time.
- How evil he/they actually are depends heavily on the incarnation, story, and writer, but even at the most benevolent Loki is dangerous (for example he can and will just turn people into magical jewellery for their own good).
- Transmetropolitan: Spider imagines President Gary Callahan's predecessor to be just a corrupt fiend, hence why he gave him the nickname "The Beast". But instead of finding a soulless monster, he discovers a man who, while still venal and corrupt, is mostly just as cynical about society and the role of the individual in it as Spider, but who, unlike Spider, sees no way for a single man (even the President of the US) to change it.
- Subverted in the Batman one-shot Friends. A reporter named Thomas Blackcrow sets out to cast The Joker in a less frightening light, and after seeing how Joker treats his minions decides that Joker doesn't have any friends and is lashing out because of how alone he feels. Joker (who is promptly captured by Batman) agrees and, after breaking out again, finds Thomas, murders his best friend, and announces that he and Thomas are going to be best friends forever. Cue a string of horrific events that eventually drive Thomas completely insane, with the dark implication that Joker actually thinks this is how friendships work.
- Robin Series: Darla Aquista makes a few impassioned speeches about how she's not actually evil and her immoral actions following her resurrection are driven by the forces which now power her body. Trouble is, that while she certainly believes what she's saying, all evidence is to the contrary seeing as she wanted to have a more active role in her father's murderous mob work prior to being killed and it's clear the only thing she regrets about committing homicide is that it seems to be a barrier to getting into Tim's pants (she refuses to acknowledge that Tim had already made it clear he has no interest in her).
- This is The Incredible Hulk's relationship with most average citizens of the Marvel Universe. Especially Thunderbolt Ross.
- Ditto for Marvel's version of Godzilla. He was just too darn big for the world he was born into.
- In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Izuku runs into some tentacled shark-headed Kaiju spawn with More Teeth than the Osmond Family. Like any sane person, he runs away screaming in terror and doesn't bat an eye at punching them away when they attack him. But after getting to safety, he realizes that they're trapped on Korusan Island because of their inability to swim and are a lot like him in that they're alien creatures that humanity would not hesitate to annihilate if they were ever revealed to the world at large. So he returns to them and apologizes for his actions, managing to reach some level of understanding as they slink away harmlessly (albeit with a snarl of contempt).
- Basically applies to Toiréasa's developing dynamic with Heather in A Thing of Vikings; when Heather asks Toiréasa to act as part of her new developing spy network for Berk, Toiréasa immediately starts thinking that Heather will start her out with 'easy' assignments before she begins to threaten her daughter (who is also Heather's adopted sister) Mhairi to make Toiréasa commit more brutal acts, assuming that Heather is like their former master Alvin the Treacherous rather than recognising that there are lines Heather won't cross.
- In Arcadia or Bust, it turns out that Morgana Le Fay only did everything she did because Merlin forced her brother Arthur into the role of hero much like with Jim and then cut off her hand against her will to make the Amulet after Arthur died, Gunmar her way of getting revenge. After being able to calm down in the Shadow Realm, she offers Claire an opportunity to learn magic and warns her to be wary of Merlin.
- In It's not the Raptor DNA, the Indominus rex that wreaked havoc on Isla Nublar (as seen in Jurassic World) is revealed to be a frustrated, lonely, and unexpectedly sapient, hybrid dinosaur that's hurting (emotionally) as a result of over half-a-decade of isolation within her paddock and the loss of her cherished sister to terminal illness. Upon her social and mental needs being met courtesy of Owen Grady and co., she gradually proves capable of being much more amiable and empathetic.
- Mega Mind. The title character starts out trying to fit in, but since he is always cast as the villain and punished/ridiculed for his inventions, he decides to live up to everyone's opinion of him by actually becoming a villain. Furthermore, Megamind was literally taught that Bad is Good and Good is Bad by the people who raised him: prisoners in the Metro City jail! Contrast his rival Metro Man, who landed right in the middle of a rich family's home and had a good upbringing as a result. It is only natural that Megamind would become a villain and Metro Man a hero because of that when, really, neither of them wanted to be.
- Hoodwinked! provides an example: Red thinks the Wolf is trying to kill her when he turns out to be an Intrepid Reporter who suspected her of being complicit in an Evil Plan to shut down rival bakeries.
- Elsa from Frozen. Acts aloof and secretive, attempting to be an Emotionless Girl, for thirteen years in order to keep her powers as a literal ice queen controlled and hidden, both to avoid the reactions of others and to avoid hurting them, but it makes her look like a metaphorical one. And then she opens up the castle for her coronation day, during which a stressed Elsa lashes out, shooting ice spikes and revealing her powers, during an argument with her neglected sister Anna, who doesn't know why her family's been keeping her and the rest of them so isolated or why Elsa appears to not care about her. She flees, as unbeknownst to her, the kingdom plunges into an Endless Winter - which doesn't help the accusations. For all the other characters know, it looks as if Elsa cursed the land on purpose. Despite the argument, Anna's the only one to believe that Elsa is not the stereotypical evil witch-queen she appears to be and to realize that she's just scared.
- The sequels to Disney's Cinderella, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, paint Anastasia, the red-headed stepsister, this way; unlike her mother and sister, she's mostly a kind person who wants to love and be loved in turn. She's largely acting under her family's influence, and with Cinderella's help, she's able to shake that and earn a happily ever after of her own.
- Death to Smoochy:
[sings] "My stepdad's not mean, he's just adjusting!"
"But if he's ever abusive to you or your mother, then the magic number is 911!"
- While she isn't exactly a villain, Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada certainly isn't portrayed as a good or nice person. But considering her career, can you blame her?
- Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit is at first glance appears to be morally ambiguous and devious as one might expect from a Femme Fatale, but she's not like that in any way. She's a good girl who just also happens to be incredibly sultry and loves her husband more than anything.
Jessica Rabbit: I'm not bad... I'm just drawn that way.
- Death is generally thought of as the villain of life, but Death in Death Takes a Holiday disagrees; he's a friend who shouldn't be feared.
- Tim Treadwell of the documentary Grizzly Man firmly believed this about the subject of his passion, North American Grizzlies. Sadly for Treadwell, he turned out to be only half right.
- In the film version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Cindy Lou truly believes that this is the case with the Grinch, and remains his only holdout, even though he doesn't believe it. (The film gives the Grinch a backstory that isn't in the animated version that makes him a sympathetic character while making the Who's sadly materialistic. Long story short, Cindy Lou is right.)
- King Kong (1933). The big ape was kidnapped and then put on display and gawked at. Seriously, who was the real monster here?
- It's clearer in Peter Jackson's remake where Kong has more personality and furthermore acts more like a real gorilla rather than the man-eating monster of 1933.
- Bedazzled (1967) - in the 1967 original, George Spiggot claims this of himself - but of course he's the Devil and freely admits being a compulsive liar.
- In Big Fish, Edward is "attacked" by the circus ringleader, who has just been revealed to be a werewolf, but manages to make friends with the beast through a game of fetch. His narration posits that some things seen as evil may simply be "lonely and lacking in social niceties." He also has no hard feelings towards the beast when he turns back into a man the next morning.
- In Scary Movie 3, the aliens aren't looking to launch an invasion of Earth. They're just there because they accidentally watched the The Ring videotape like the other characters, so they need to do something about Tabitha before she comes to kill them.
- Many of the antagonists in the 1930s-40s Universal Horror franchise fall into this category. For example, Dr. Frankenstein genuinely wants to improve the world and shows genuine regret for creating the Monster; the Monster himself acts more like an enraged animal than an actual evil person (at least at first); Larry Talbot, The Wolf Man, is a sympathetic figure who is more of a hero figure than a villain (especially in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein); and Bride of Frankenstein is often classified as a villain despite the fact she was only alive for about five minutes and did little more than hiss at the Monster.
- Harry Potter:
- Snape comes across as a 'bad guy' due to his appearance and personality, plus the later ambiguity of what side he's on. However in the series overall it becomes obvious that, at least on the scale of "good versus evil", he's one of the good guys. However he's not entirely misunderstood, as he is still a major Jerkass who took pleasure in bullying his students, including an 11-year-old Harry because of who his father was and Neville, just because he was an easy target. Much of his motivation for being a good guy is getting back at Voldemort for killing his unrequited love Lily Potter, not because he actually cares about anyone else. Good Is Not Nice is definitely in play, and he has ended up being one of the most well-liked characters in the entire series.
- In addition, Sirius Black was initially believed to be an unrepentant traitor to the titular character's parents. Sirius proves to the main characters that he is on their side by revealing the real killer of Harry's parents, although the general wizarding world continues to see him as a murderer throughout the series.
- Slytherin House could be considered this as well. Slytherin values ambition, and cunning, produces the majority of dark wizards. However, it is not evil itself, and according to JKR, most Slytherins are not evil and there are examples of Slytherins who are good, such as Snape, Slughorn, who is shown to be a good teacher and a nice man, and Andromeda Tonks, who went against her family's racism and helped the Order of the Phoenix in the last book. Probably the biggest reason Slytherin gets a bad rap, quite simply, is because Voldemort was a Slytherin student. The founder of the House being a prejudiced antisocial who hid a monster in the bowels of the school can't have helped. In the end even series-wide jerkass Draco Malfoy turns out to not have it in him to be evil, even when he genuinely tries. Also, at no point in the books or films is it ever stated that Voldemort's minions and the Death Eaters are exclusively Slytherin; for all we know, there could be Gryffindors among them too.
- In fact, in the first book, the Sorting Hat actually thought Slytherin might have been the best House for Harry, thinking that the focus on ambition fit him well (which few would deny) and in a later book, still stood by that opinion. It didn't because Harry asked it not to. Dumbledore thought differently, however, saying in Chamber of Secrets that only a student who had been favored by Godric Gryffindor himself could have pulled his Sword out of the Hat, as he did in the fight with the basilisk. (Well, the qualities aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. By all accounts, the founders of the school were friends and allies and shared a mutual respect, given that Gryffindor would have gladly lent his blade to his buddy Salazar. Embodying the core ideals of Slytherin would in no way prevent his blue Jedi ghost from approving you.)
- In For Love Of Evil, we see an interesting side of how Satan is this. Although his job is to promote evil (and, according to Archangel Gabriel, he is one of the best at it), he himself is a good man. In essence, he is not his job.
- Frankenstein's Monster started this way. He was rejected by his "father" and forced to run through the wilderness; his only friend was taken from him by relatives, and he couldn't even face himself in the mirror. He just wanted a friend. However, he crossed the line into darkness upon murdering Frankenstein's younger brother, and it all went downhill from there.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Jaime Lannister is introduced as an incestuous jerk who killed the king he swore to protect. Later we learn that the real villain was actually the king, and in killing him, Jaime saved countless lives. In the middle of the battle, there was no time, and by the time things had calmed down his reputation as The Oathbreaker was well and truly set.
- Arthur "Boo" Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird. A mysterious recluse, the townsfolk believe he's a lunatic due to the rumors spread about him and a trial he underwent as a teenager. During the course of the story, however, it is implied that he is actually a lonely man, and tries to reach out to Jem and Scout by leaving them gifts in the hollow tree in front of his house. At the climax of the story, he rescues them from Bob Ewell, who tries to kill them in an attempt at revenge against their father for humiliating him.
- The entire Hades clan in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and its sequel series The Heroes of Olympus. They all tend to suffer from the perception that Dark Is Evil, when Hades himself is actually one of the nicer Olympians, and all his children are firmly on the side of good. And, of course, they're all profound woobies.
- Rama II: The Avians are an alien species inhabiting the Rama spaceship. At first unhelpful and even hostile-seeming to the humans, Nicole and Richard get them to help carry them over the wide sea (in a net made of either sessile material or mana melons) after spending some time learning to communicate with them in a rudimentary way. As we learn more about Rama it becomes learn these are another sentient species like humans, kept as part of the Raman zoo.
The octospiders (in book 3) appear as completely terrifying and antagonistic. Later we learn that they can be friendly, and have a technologically advanced society, plus empathy. But before that, they kidnap a human and as of book 3, he has not gotten over whatever experiments they performed on him while he was captive. The characters still ally with the octospiders at times.
- The Relativity character "Cricket" is a classic example. He's an ordinary guy who can talk to insects and wants nothing more than to study insects. However, no one will give him a job as a researcher and he's constantly mocked for "believing" he can talk to them. He turns to villainy first out of anger, and later out of a need to survive.
- A species-wide example with The Hearts We Sold. Demons aren't really evil, or even malevolent, and they're not making deals for any malicious purpose, as many humans suspected. They're not nice, and they don't think much of humanity, but they're mostly content to leave well enough alone and let humans go about their lives with no intervention. The deals, as it turns out, are part of a plan to save the world from destruction.
- The Neverending Story: Ygramul the Many is spoken of as a force of evil by the greenskins, who sing a song about the danger of falling into his clutches if they should venture into the dead mountains. Despite this, he is just a creature who needs food to survive like any other, although his meals tend to be rather large and some of them are sentient, like Falcor. He gives Atreyu some helpful advice; he must measure his quest in terms of her life and not his, which means he can't afford to take months or years to find her a cure. He even gives Atreyu the means to reach the Southern Oracle instantly, although the means are fatal; his poison bite allows the victim to teleport to anywhere their heart desires. Ygramul can't help this as it's simply his nature, and he suggests that it's still a better deal than sitting around waiting for the Childlike Empress to die and The Nothing to overtake all of Fantastica.
- LazyTown's Robbie Rotten. Or so he claims, though he does tend to revel a bit too much in things like scaring children.
Robbie Rotten: They want me to be nice, they want me to be good
But I'm a simple rotten guy, who's just misunderstood
- In the Murder, She Wrote episode "Simon Says, "Color Me Dead", Cash Logan scares Irene by turning up suddenly, was found in possession of one of Simon's paintings, and his rap sheet claims that he knifed a man in a bar brawl. However, he turns out to have loved the original Irene (the guy he stabbed had been insulting her) and come to Cabot Cove to make things up to their child.
- In Supernatural, when the fallen archangel Lucifer (better known as Satan to most humans) escapes to Earth, his first order of business is to locate and possess a human vessel. Since he is an angel rather than a demon, he must acquire the willing consent of the human who will be his vessel. He claims himself as the ultimate example of this trope as part of his argument to persuade his chosen human to agree to become his vessel. Subverted as he is really evil all along.
- Scandal: Amanda Tanner. Olivia's third client (not counting the little girl herself and her earlier clients, which includes the president) when accused of murder.
- Wizards of Waverly Place: Superintendent Clanton was played as a bad guy (and was a little stern), but was probably better for the students than Mr. Laritate. He didn't fear Alex, didn't let Justin brown nose him, and even convinced Max to go to college.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: In the episode "Silicon Avatar", Captain Picard takes this view of the Crystalline Entity.
Captain Picard: It is NOT evil. It is feeding.
- In an episode of The Librarians 2014, trees periodically attack and abduct campers. Eventually, they take Stone. As it turns out, they were looking for an interpreter to talk to humans, but no one fit the bill until Stone. They wish to explain that killing the Grandfather Tree will doom all trees across the world, which wasn't a problem until the government removed the forest's protected status a few years before. The DOSA agents agree to reinstate the status, and the Tree gives the Librarians its acorn for storage. Then the trees release everyone they have abducted over the centuries.
- Many demons in the Buffyverse are not evil, regardless of their appearance and demeanor.
- A running gag in Angel is that demons at Lorne's karaoke bar are really just trying to get along, and in one episode Angel finds out that the demons he killed were protectors.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy's first college roommate is a demon who just wants to live as a human. It's not her fault that this happens to require sucking the soul of a human; unfortunately for her, that human just happens to be the Slayer.
- The first half of an episode in cop drama Cracked followed the agents hunting down a mentally unstable teenager who had kidnapped a baby. What was really going on was the teen was suffering from Tourette's, and he saved the baby, keeping her warm and safe after finding her abandoned.
- P!nk's song "M!ssundaztood":
"I was taken for granted, but it's all good
'Cause I'll do it again, I'm just missundaztood"'
- Mocked in the Warren Zevon song "Excitable Boy," in which the 'excitable boy' starts off being just quirky, and then goes on to do some quite horrible things, with each act followed by the line "excitable boy, they said."
- The titular "Beast of Pirate Bay" by Voltaire is described as a terrible creature of pure evil. It's just a poor, wounded whale, and the singer made up all those stories to keep people away so they wouldn't hurt it again.
- The Franklin stage show Franklin and the Adventures of the Noble Knights has a song that is actually titled "Misunderstood," about the Wily Winged Beast, who is actually a mother bird who was mistaken for evil because of her fierceness in protecting her eggs.
- Inspector Javert from Les Misérables is not evil—he's more misguided than anything else. This is evidenced near the end of the show in his soliloquy. Subverted with the Thenardiers (esp. Monsuier), who claims to be an honest man making a decent living running an inn, but is a thief and child abuser at best, and by the end of the show he's stealing off the corpses of the dead students, including his own dead son and daughter.
- In the musical Wicked, the Wicked Witch of the West is pretty misunderstood — maligned from childhood for her unusual skin color, cursed with unpredictable and hard-to-control magic, and the victim of a vigorous smear campaign by the Wizard, who wished to discredit her.
- The Charr of Guild Wars have been revealed to be this in Guild Wars 2, now that their side of the story has been presented. Yes, they are ruthless and militaristic, but their war against humans in the first game was a struggle to reclaim their occupied homeland, and the human propaganda painting them as loving to enslave and eat humans was precisely that - propaganda. There is some truth to it, however. Under the leadership of the Gold (Flame) Legion's shamans, the Charr have done everything human propaganda claimed they did. The players get to experience some of it in the first game. The trope only applies to Charr as a whole, as most of them would not go that far.
- In Mass Effect.
- Most geth just want to be left alone, and the ones you fight in Mass Effect are actually a splinter group that worship the Reapers. This is especially true in Mass Effect 3, when geth memories of the Morning War depict them in an extremely sympathetic light, depicting the quarians as Neglectful Precursors or even Abusive Precursors. They spared the fleeing quarian survivors and want peace with them. Unfortunately, the splinter group running around wreaking havoc, and their Blue-and-Orange Morality, mean they are all painted as monsters.
- Cerberus try to sell themselves as this to Shepard in 2. In 1 they were shown to be in possession of a number of Morally Ambiguous Doctorates, performing experiments on humans and rachni, for example, as part of their super-soldier research. Admittedly, they do accomplish some good deeds in the sequel — their leader, the Illusive Man, has Shepard brought Back from the Dead and replaces the old Normandy with a bigger, better version, as well as showing the pragmatism to reach out to qualified specialists who happen to be aliens for help. And considering the Council brush off Shepard's warnings about the Reapers and dismiss the secrets you uncovered about them during the first game as an idiotic Snipe Hunt fuelled by Saren's delusional ramblings, it's refreshing that Cerberus believe you and provide you with the means to fight them. Still, "try" is the key-word — the experiments from the first game get mentioned sometimes and all your old buddies are skeptical of them, ranging from "I don't trust them but I do trust you" to "I won't work with you as long as you're working with them". Furthermore, it's revealed in 3 that the crew you were working with in 2 was hand-picked to seem decent and non-evil — TIM up there deliberately kept the less pleasant elements of his organisation away from Shepard to ensure their cooperation.
- MapleStory, Barbara is believed to be a Wicked Witch who curses the Reina Strait with bad weather. In truth, she's a Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold who spends all her time caring for orphaned baby animals. The three chieftains of Reina Strait are shocked to discover that they were three of those baby animals long ago.
- Dark-Type Pokemon are frequently portrayed this way despite the type being called the Evil-Type in Japan. Absol is probably the most well-known example. It's feared because of allegedly causing natural disasters, but it's actually only trying to warn people.
- Pokémon Sun and Moon takes this concept and runs with it. Team Skull, who certainly look evil are just a bunch of wannabe-thugs with low self-esteem and a silly attitude, and the Ultra Beasts, instrumental as they are to the goals of the real bad guys from the Aether Foundation, doesn't seem to act on anything but instinct.
- Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon downplays it with Necrozma. It does have genuinely malicious intentions towards humans, but it does have a pretty good reason for it. Greedy humans injured it while trying to steal its light, so now it can't hold onto any light it absorbs, leaving it in constant pain. Essentially, Necrozma is acting out of both spite and survival instinct.
- Tales of the Abyss has an Anti Villainous example in Arietta. Despite working for him, she isn't involved in the Big Bad's Evil Plan at all and is actually a pretty sweet kid at heart who just wants to protect the boy she loves. Unfortunately, said boy passed away long ago and has been replaced by a clone without her knowledge. In a Pet the Dog moment Big Bad took her into his service because he knew that, were she to find out, she'd be Driven to Suicide.
- Subverted in Final Fantasy VII. When Sephiroth kills President Shinra, Barrett's immediate response is to wonder if he's really such a bad guy after all. However, Cloud puts a stopper in that by cementing that Sephiroth is the evilest sonuvabitch one's likely to find in the VIIverse. The next dungeon is a flashback arc explaining why.
- Poor Black Knight. He only wanted to save Shield Knight just as much as Shovel Knight did...
- The titular antagonist in The Sandman. When you find his diary you get to see that the reason for stopping time was his work had kept him awake for centuries and he just wanted some sleep.
- The massive skeletal pirate ghost Cortez from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door might be a greedy undead pirate obsessed with defending his hoard of treasure, but he's not an unreasonable guy in the least. After your fight with him fails because, as an undead, he can't be killed, he raves that you'll never get his treasure and Mario points out all he wants is the Crystal Star. Cortez lets him keep it and leave in peace without much thought. He even takes the heroes to and from Rogueport and Keelhaul Key after they give him back the jewel that powers his ship.
Cortez: You're not even interested in my treasure? Just this little rock over here? Are you serious? Well, that's no big deal. Here, take it. What do I need one or two extra gems for? I didn't really like that one anyway.
- This was the reason for the persecution and near extinction of the Umbra Witches from the Bayonetta series. Due to the fact they gain their powers from darkness and make contracts with demons, it was pretty easy for the angels to trick humankind into hunting them down and slaughtering their clan. In reality, the angels are actually the evil ones, their scheme was to take the witches out of the picture so they could claim the Left Eye of Darkness from the Umbra, resurrect Jubileus (Mundus' "Holy" counterpart), who would then destroy everything and start over.
- The whole point of Undertale is this. Every enemy encounter can be spared and all antagonists (well, the closest things that you get to antagonists, at least) can be redeemed. One Enemy Scan description even says: "It seems evil, but it's just with the wrong crowd..." Should you finish the Genocide Run, however, you will come face to face with an aversion: the first Fallen Child, who was already distinctly unhinged compared to the rest of the cast, but has been irrevocably corrupted by your actions.
- The Dark Ones in Metro 2033 are the overall antagonists in the story. Having attacked the player's station, killing many and driving several others mad in their attacks in addition to malevolence throughout the game. It's not until the end though that we find out that they are not evil nor intending to harm people. It is just that because of their telepathy works it drives most adults mad and causes them to see hallucinations or outright kill them. A prime example of Dark Is Not Evil in a literal sense as well.
- As the deeper plot points of Bloodborne are revealed, it appears that the Great Ones are the true evil behind the Scourge of the Beast that's ravaging Yharnam, but surprisingly, It isn't so. In fact, most of the horrible mutations, wicked experiments and otherworldly horror you encounter was brought to the world by humans who foolishly tinkered with the Great Ones' blood and knowledge. In fact, it is stated that the Great Ones are actually sympathetic towards humanity, and quite a few of the Great Ones you meet and perhaps slay are trying to fix humanity's mess. Humans Are the Real Monsters indeed.
- The unnamed Starfish Aliens in Just Deserts are the primary antagonists of the game, having invaded Earth for unknown reasons and causing anyone who gets too close to them to become catatonic. However, Eves ending reveals that its not an invasion: the aliens are travellers looking for a new homeworld, and theyre just making a stopover on Earth so they can gather the resources they need to finish the journey. The Brown Note is caused by them attempting to communicate their intentions through telepathy, which is inadvertently harmful to human brains; they never intended to hurt anyone, and the ones you fight are only acting in self-defense.
- Irisu from Rabi-Ribi, founder of the UPRPRC - a group of obsessive bunny-loving fanatics who hound Erina throughout the game. It's revealed that she's actually another rabbit-girl like Erina, who founded the group out of loneliness, wanting to find another bunny like herself. Erina getting transformed into a bunny-girl was a dream come true for her, but she was so socially awkward that she couldn't bring herself to approach her, and her guilt over her organization getting out of control and causing problems for Erina, as well as past jealousy towards Rumi for being Erina's master, leads her to conclude that she's not worthy of Erina's love and try to isolate herself, turning the True Final Boss fight against her into a Save the Villain moment.
- Star Trek Online: The Iconians. "Midnight" depicts the Iconians of the past as aloof Space Elves who were targeted for extinction by an alliance of lower-tech species who wanted their technology. You only learn this, however, because you originally went back in time to kill them in order to stop their invasion of the present, and when Sela kills one of them anyway, it sets up a Stable Time Loop that causes the whole conflict. However, considering that the Iconians' Historical Rap Sheet includes blowing up Romulus, fan reaction to this was... mixed.
- The titular character of Nomad of Nowhere is seen as a menace at best and an outright Evil Sorcerer at worst, but is really just a kindly hermit who just wants to make friends, that coincidentally has magical powers. But unfortunately his attempts to help people do not necessarily end well, as shown in episode two, where he tries to help the dying town of Bliss Hill by bringing their dried-up water mill to life, only for the now-living wheel to tear itself from the rest of the mill and roll over a good chunk of the town.
- Roan in Impure Blood. The general view of him is summed up in his nickname: the Abomination. Caspian, who's the leader, agrees with it but needs him. Fortunately, Dara sympathesizes, Elnor gives him some Tough Love, and Mac is cheerfully oblivious.
- In The Order of the Stick, the necrophiliac Tsukiko seems to believe this about the undead. In her mind, the living are bastards for being "prejudiced" against her; therefore, since the undead are the opposite of the living in every way, they must actually be good. She is completely wrong on both parts, as Redcloak eventually shows her.
- Ellen in El Goonish Shive actually misunderstood herself, initially. No one else really thought of her as evil, especially her "good twin", Elliot. Being his magically created opposite gender clone with all his memories, she was pretty terrible at being evil.
- Most of Worm's extensive cast of villains would claim this to some degree. However several among the protagonist and her friends are straight examples, Taylor herself isn't even originally trying to be a villain. Unfortunately circumstances make it unlikely that many will ever realise how heroic Taylor is, despite her repeatedly saving innocents no matter the risk.
- Mr. X is depicted as such in Resident Evil Abridged. He actually wants to befriend Leon and seems cheerful and affable enough, but his monstrous appearance spooks Leon so much that he shoots him on sight. Mr. X's subsequent reactions are understandable from there.
- In Five Nights at Freddy's: The Musical, all the animatronics with the exception of Springtrap are shown to be this. They're really friendly but are mistaken for evil by the employees. Phone Guy even tries to warn the new security guard not to be afraid of them, but the guard doesn't listen, kicking off the plot.
- In American Dragon: Jake Long, when Spud first saw a holographic image of a krylock, he thought this was the case. It wasn't.
Spud: Aw, it's not evil, it's just misunder- (Hologram snaps at him) It's evil!!
- Beastly in at least one instance on the CGI Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot series, though it's still early days.
- Elmyra from Tiny Toon Adventures is usually seen as Death incarnate to all known animals. The problem is, Elmyra genuinely doesn't mean any harm but is too stupid to understand her means of showing affection are often deathly hazardous to her pets. So they do have a good reason to chastise her given that she's Lethally Stupid.
- Bob's Burgers: Parodied in "The Deepening", during a parody of the Jaws franchise, a mechanical shark is set free on the streets of the city, making the city get together and wonder how to get rid of it. Tina, who had grow fond of the shark invokes this trope to no results since, again, the shark is just a machine.
Tina: Listen to me, I know how the shark thinks, it doesn't know why we wanna kill it, it just wants to go home!
Bob: Tina, it's a machine, it's dumber than our toaster.
Tina: Our toaster is also confused, it doesn't know why we put bagels on it.
- The episode of The Simpsons "Bart After Dark" there was Belle, someone who the children all thought was some mean old witch. As it turned out, she was a lot nicer than they thought.
- Bart: Lady, I've apparently been severely misinformed about witches.
- This is also the case with many of the show's "villains" or antagonists. Ms. Krabappel and Principal Skinner seem mean, but they're actually rather nice people who started out as genuinely wanting to help children (something that still flashes through here and there), only to be beaten down by low budgets and bratty students like Bart. Others, like bully Nelson Muntz and Marge's irritating sisters Patty and Selma, have perfectly valid explanations for their unpleasant behavior, including a bad home life (Nelson) and a not-entirely misguided belief that Marge could do better than Homer (Patty and Selma). In short, the nasty characters we see on the show seem nasty because we're viewing them through the Simpsons' eyes — and given that the family has nearly destroyed the town on numerous occasions, can you really blame them?
- An episode of Polish animated Show Hip-Hip and Hurra deals with the subject that the actions of some animals can't be considered evil. In the story, a Magpie commits a series of robberies, but when she gets captured by the main detective protagonists, she claims to be innocent. The animals put her on a trial, with Coco bird as the main witness. At the end of the trial, two birds appear as surprise witnesses, thinking it's a trial for the Coco and hoping she finally faces the justice. In the end, Hip-Hip (who plays the role of the judge) says both Magpie and Coco are innocent, since they can't control their actions which are a result of their natural instincts, so they can't be considered evil since there is no malice in their actions.
- Eddy from Ed, Edd n Eddy is shown to be a selfish Jerkass who would do anything for money, revenge or popularity. It turns out that, in the movie, he only committed these deeds to gain recognition after years of abuse from his brother.
- Pretty much said word for word in the Christmas Episode of Darkwing Duck, "It's a Wonderful Leaf". Darkwing says out loud some sinister force is at work when Bushroot chimes in casually saying he's not really sinister, just misunderstood. Being one of the more sympathetic villains on the show, he might have a point.
- Dark Magical Girl Charmcaster is summed up as "not a bad person, just damaged" by Gwen Tennyson in Ben 10: Omniverse.
- In the Superfriends episode "Monolith of Evil", the Legion of Doom manages to trick the heroes into uncovering a super-weapon called, uh, the Monolith of Evil (at least that's what they call it). At first, it seems to be an Artifact of Doom with near limitless powers of darkness, and the heroes are outmatched by the villains... Until they manage to shanghai control of it and use it against the villains themselves. How could the heroes possibly harness such dark power, after Sinestro muses after they beat the crud out of them? They figured out that the thing wasn't evil at all. It was True Neutral, and like any such weapon, it can only be used for evil "in the wrong hands", so to speak. (Of course, it's still dangerous and the episode ends with the heroes still in possession of it; much like any loose end in that series, we can only guess what they did with the thing.)
- One episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) dealt with a village of very superstitious folk who believed the mountains were the home of a Bigfoot-like creature called the Tingler. Although many had seen him and were sure he was a malignant predator, none of them could agree on any details. (In truth, all they had ever seen were his eyes.) The Tingler was actually just a hermit who lived in the mountains, and while he was a big, muscular guy, he would never hurt a fly; when trouble did threaten the town, he actually saved the day.
- The Real Ghostbusters once encountered a ghost like this; it could not tolerate noise, and after a movie studio woke it up, it was going crazy trying to find quiet so it could go to sleep again. The heroes realized they could help it by putting it in their containment unit — it was pretty quiet in there — but the problem they had was, how do you tell an angry and powerful ghost you're trying to help it when even the sound of talking makes it mad? Egon found the solution: he communicated with it using sign language.
- Lemongrab in Adventure Time; the show's creators all insist this Trope applies to him, despite his anti-social (and at times, sociopathic) behavior (Adam Muto claims he is "just completely unadjusted to living," while Patrick Seery, says he is under the delusion that he is always right). Lemongrab is shown to be capable of actual love for his family in "It's All Your Fault" and "Mystery Dungeon" portray as a sympathetic, lonely fellow who just wants attention and affection. (Unfortunately, he doesn't know how to interact with anyone who tries to befriend him, making his attitude self-destructive.)
- The dog catcher in the Hallmark special Jingle All the Way. In the climax, he's revealed to be truly just wanting to help give Jingle shelter and find him a good home. This after a Pet the Dog moment.
- Steven Universe alternates between playing this trope straight and playing with it. The scary gem monsters turn out to be corrupted gems who are more confused and frightened victims of circumstance than villains. Peridot turns out to be less a malevolent villain and more of an awkward, lower-rank technician who switched sides once exposed to the earthling viewpoint. On the other hand, while knowing Jasper's issues with the Earth and Rose Quartz (from the moment of her birth on Earth she had to fight in a vicious war for its future that Rose Quartz started) makes her more sympathetic, it doesn't change the fact that she defiantly remained a villain when given multiple chances to change. Yellow Diamond so far seems to be the only character to outright defy this trope when she makes it perfectly clear that she doesn't care what resources the Earth might have, she just wants it wiped off her starcharts already.
- On The Octonauts, Kwazii likes to speculate about a lot of the stuff the Octonauts encounter being caused by strange and scary monsters. Instead, when the Octonauts encounter strange phenomena or troublesome behavior, it's just sea creatures doing what they do normally, often as a natural defense mechanism. Examples include a snapping shrimp that knocks them all out with the loud sound he makes by snapping his claw, and slime eels protecting their territory by sliming.
- In "All Heated Up" from Elena of Avalor, Charoca of the monfuego is neither actually a monster nor evil. He just has serious anger management issues that are set off both by being called a monster and by people always taking his stuff. He's working to control them, though, through both deep breathing and meditation, among other things.
- Monsters in Star vs. the Forces of Evil. "Mewnipendance Day" that they are actually peaceful and mostly harmless, just minding their own business. They only cause trouble because they believe that they can return everything back to how it was before if they can get the wand. Ludo being a Harmless Villain and his group of monsters having serious cases of Minion with an F in Evil are just one sign of this. But then again, Toffee is also a monster and not only the Big Bad of season 1 but also The Chessmaster.
- Matt's Monsters: Not all monsters cause mayhem out of malice. More often than not, something is bothering them, and they stop their rampage the moment a solution is provided.
- My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has Starlight Glimmer. While she does have genuinely malicious intentions towards everypony, she does have a pretty good reason for it. Sunburst abandoned her to study at Canterlot, so she doesn't have any friends, leaving her in constant depression. Essentially, Starlight was only acting out of revenge.
- In an episode of TaleSpin, Baloo's best friend Louie is accused of stealing a purse full of jewels that a pair of clients Baloo and Rebecca gave them as collateral for a tour they'd been hired on, or else one of the regulars at Louie's bar or someone who works for him. Louie confides in Baloo that his patrons are a little rough around the edges but aren't criminals. Indeed, it turns out that Rebecca's clients are the real crooks, having staged this whole thing with fake jewels in order to rob Baloo and Rebecca, and it's one of Louie's employees who brings proof of this.