Compelling fiction is only as strong as its villains. They can either act as a plot device to further develop the protagonists or they can be fleshed out as complicated, conflicted individuals. Some are driven by hatred, some by power, some by revenge, it ultimately doesn’t matter. They want to cause harm and their actions speak volumes of their ambitions.
While some may argue a villain must possess physical strength to be regarded as a powerful threat, that’s not always the case. Intellect alone can cause a considerable amount of damage, as this list will attest. Villains who possess the whole package are perhaps the most dangerous, but even then, should their personalities also be considered? If one sacrifices physical power for volatility and mental instability, are they more dangerous than your traditional villain? It’s up for debate, but it’s a testament to how complex villains can be if they’re properly fleshed out.
Of course, context also plays an important role in determining who the most powerful anime villains are. It’s all relative to the strength of the protagonists and what kind of adversity they must surmount to achieve peace. When protagonists die in the process, for example, that villain’s rank among the most powerful villains is increased considerably. The deaths of integral characters are not exactly common in anime—well, except the Dragon Ball franchise.
So pop in your favourite anime, get yourself comfortable and enjoy this list of the most powerful villains in the medium. Disagree with our selections? Sound off in the comments section below.
10 Light - Death Note
There seems to be debate within the anime community whether Light Yagami is a villain or anti-hero. Let’s be real, Light murdered countless innocents and justified his actions by adhering to the philosophy of the ends justify the means. The guy is a stone cold killer. He’s also completely unlikeable. As viewers we want to believe he’s a protagonist because he’s the main character, but Death Note focuses on a villain, plain and simple–and that’s what made it so refreshing. As far as power goes, Light doesn’t possess any inherent abilities, sure, but the guy can write any name he chooses in a notepad and that person later dies. That’s true power.
9 Madara Uchiha - Naruto
Madara Uchiha is the type of villain who may be prone to lose his cool outside the battlefield, but when he engages in battle he enters a trance-like state and allows his expertise in combat to supplant any potential mental shortcomings. Uchiha’s chakra—think life source—is said to be so powerful that he can battle for hours on end without regressing. He even took on hundreds on opponents at once and easily dismantled them despite an unrelenting barrage of attacks coming from every angle. He also wields the power of Susanoo, a spiritual power that fights on the user’s behalf, and even manages to achieve Complete Body form, providing him with added agility and control of the Susanoo.
8 Blackbeard - One Piece
Blackbeard is a stout and towering beast of a man who claims to be the most powerful pirate of them all, and he makes a compelling argument. He’s a selfish and sadistic leader who infamously displayed his evil nature when he recruited the most physically gifted prisoners by making them fight each other to the death. Dark. Blackbeard’s most imposing power comes in his incredible endurance. It’s a near impossible task to inflict critical damage on Blackbeard because he possesses two Devil Fruits, which grant him the special abilities of controlling gravity and creating earthquakes—he is the only villain who simultaneously wields the powers of two Devil Fruits, making him a formidable foe for Luffy and friends.
7 Father - Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Father in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood—my favourite anime of all-time—is essentially a twisted version of God. He created all the homunculi, who stand as the most powerful villains in the series. Originating from a bottle as a tiny black substance, he eventually achieves human form but rids himself of all human traits in order to become the ultimate being incapable of error. He views human beings as mere stepping stones to complete his quest for power, and this confidence is what makes him such a formidable foe. As a physical threat, Father has the ability to create mindless humans that attack his prey, fire powerful energy waves, and stymy or redirect the alchemy of others.
6 Sosuke Aizen - Bleach
Sosuke Aizen belongs to one the most dangerous villain types: one who possesses a functioning brain. Aizen uses his advanced intellect to manipulate his underlings and achieve his selfish goals. His even-keeled, calming attitude frustrates his foes as he frequently treats physical encounters as redundant occurrences. Aizen is also a master tactician who never enters a fight without analyzing his opposition first, determining their strengths and weaknesses. He’s also incredibly proficient as a swordsman and in unarmed combat and moves at blistering speeds. His spiritual power eclipses most in the anime and can use his it to form a shield around him that can kill living beings close in proximity. That and Aizen is immortal. Enough said.
5 Yhwach - Bleach
If we made a list of anime characters with the best facial hair, Yhwach with certainly be among the top 10. His mutton chops and mustache alone are reason enough to include him here. As a villain, Yhwach possesses some truly unique powers. He has the ability to heal others and, in turn, receives refined senses once they pass. Yhwach can essentially pass a part of soul to others and allow them to cultivate it until he’s ready to take it back. In a sense, he loans out abilities and the interest charge is having the subject lifespan halved or even ending abruptly.
4 Meruem - Hunter x Hunter
One of the primary antagonists in Hunter x Hunter is Meruem, whose appearance is clearly inspired by Dragon Ball Z villain Cell. He is beloved by fans to the extent that—spoiler alert—his death was actually mourned within the Hunter x Hunter community. His arrogant and steadfast demeanor makes him a perpetual threat in the anime but he does eventually develop as a character, making even more likeable. As a physical specimen, Meruem has enhanced strength, durability, speed and intellect. He’s really the ultimate package as a villain. Oh, he also possesses a tail equipped with a stinger. Awesome.
3 Frieza - Dragon Ball Z
If this were a list consisting of the most memorable villains ever, Frieza may have been ranked even higher. For many Frieza is the first true supervillain they’ve ever witnessed on-screen. Sure, you have your traditional baddies who want to cause harm to others, but then you have villains like Frieza. He’s pure evil, and you want nothing more than to see Goku or Vegeta pound his face in until he can no longer speak with that insufferable and high pitched voice of his. He’ll destroy planets for no reason and gladly murder any in his sight if he so chooses. While technically the villains post-Frieza saga are more powerful, none match the drama and turmoil caused by this galactic overload.
2 Perfect Cell - Dragon Ball Z
The Cell saga is one of the best in Dragon Ball history because The Cell Games was a brilliant idea in changing up the pace of the show, and Cell himself is one of the more memorable villains in anime. If there’s one core strength in Dragon Ball Z, it’s the anime’s penchant for introducing viewers to colourful and overpowered villains. Cell’s cool demeanour and love of martial arts, reducing his Earthling opposition to mere playthings, is what stands out the most. His power is so great that future Trunks warns the present day heroes of Earth of impending death, and the build-up is so hyped that Cell’s abilities and power level seem to transcend common expectations with the villains in the Dragon Ball universe.
1 Kid Buu - Dragon Ball Z
Here’s the thing, Kid Buu may not be the most powerful Dragon Ball Z villain—although that is highly debatable—but he’s certainly the most deranged and volatile. Those two traits, coupled with his childish frame of mind, make him the biggest threat to Earth among the anime’s rogue gallery. If that mindset allows him inflict more damage and subsequently a larger threat to Earth’s heroes, then Kid Buu really is the most powerful villain in not only Dragon Ball Z, but in anime. His pursuit of Vegeta and Goku to challenge him led to countless planets being destroyed simply because they weren’t there. Buu just wants to have fun, and his idea of fun includes murdering countless innocents and achieving selfish and shallow goals.