I think it’s pretty safe to say that a good villain is just as important and appealing as a good hero.
However, sometimes you get the best of both words, as the once evil overlord suddenly starts being buddies with their previous enemies.
That perspective shift is always enjoyable when done correctly. And in this list we’re going to talk about some of them as we take a look at some iconic anime villains that turned good.
And just a heads up: my definition of “villain” also includes generally terrible people, so not all of the characters here were set on ruling the world or something.
15. Kyoka Izumi
Anime: Bungou Stray Dogs
Let’s start with Kyoka, as her transition was the most predictable.
She initially fills the role of the brainwashed child assassin, an oddly popular trope in anime, but quickly discovers that she’s just being manipulated.
Although the switch was quite quick and seamless, I really enjoyed this character because her past is still rather evident.
It takes her quite a while to finally accept the notion that there are other ways of solving problems aside from plain murder.
Her power also just had a very strong Shaman King or even JoJo vibe, which is always a huge plus.
14. Aoi Toudou
Anime: Jujutsu Kaisen
I put Aoi next here, as his transition was probably the most hilarious switch I have ever seen.
Although he never formally agreed to follow his orders, he was part of the squad sent out to kill our protagonist. Which is as villainous as you can get.
But the second he realizes that said protagonist has the same taste in women as he does, everything changes.
The imagined flashback where Aoi and Yuuji are suddenly lifelong childhood friends was among the most hilarious things I have ever seen – and firmly cemented Aoi as one of my favorite characters of all time.
13. Teruki Hanazawa
Anime: Mob Psycho 100
Maybe it is just me, but I love it when characters change simply because they got vibe checked.
Teruki was so full of himself initially that it was ridiculous.
The dude acted as if he was God’s gift to humanity or something.
But once he got a well-deserved haircut and a humble pie thrown directly into his face, he changed his tune.
I found the switch to be extremely realistic, and his newfound humility made him way more likable, even if it was really hard to take him seriously with that hairdo.
12. Itona Horibe
Anime: Assassination Classroom
Assassination Classroom, being what it is, had a lot of villains turned good.
However, Itona was probably the most memorable, as he seemed the most villainous out of the bunch.
Although him having tentacles wasn’t a completely unique feature, his backstory made up for it. And who doesn’t like a good old human weapon story?
Plus, he was the closest thing to a young Koro-sensei we were ever going to get, with his love of sweets being second only to his love for the female body.
11. Hisoka Morow
Anime: Hunter x Hunter (2011)
This one is a harder sell than most others, as Hisoka is morally grey to the maximum.
He could be slaughtering children one moment, and then saving an orphanage a moment later.
However, the Greed Island arc definitely painted him more as a hero than anything else.
Sure, he had helped out the cast in his own way previously. But this was the first time that we got to see him fighting shoulder to shoulder with our protagonists.
It wasn’t a permanent change, and Hisoka will likely never completely fall under each category.
But seeing him in the shoes of a protagonist was definitely very enjoyable.
Anime: Naruto Shippuden
Back in the days of the original Naruto, Gaara was one of the most unique and terrifying villains that anime had to offer.
His fight with Lee instantly received legendary status – and I’m sure that we all eagerly awaited what his plotline had in-store.
His backstory made his villainous nature completely justifiable, and even the talk no jutsu strategy came off more natural than it usually does in the show.
Naruto is, after all, the only one who could truly understand him.
Couple that with the Akatsuki arc and you get an extremely well made character arc that produced a really good hero.
My only regret is that they had to do his hair like that.
Why did you kill the man’s drip that hard?
Anime: Dragon Ball Z
This switch happened so long ago that it’s easy to forget that Piccolo ever was a villain to begin with.
What made it so memorable for me personally was just how much better his character got over the course of Dragon Ball Z.
In the original Dragon Ball he just seemed like your average villain with the depth of a ballet shoe.
But come Dragon Ball Z and his new designation as a father figure to Gohan, and his character got completely fleshed out.
I honestly even preferred him to Goku for a long period of time, as his goodness somehow seemed more grounded given that we know how it came into play.
Anime: My Hero Academia
This one might be another hard sell, as Endeavor literally held the title of hero throughout his story.
However, he was such scum of a person that I never saw him that way.
Mentally traumatizing your wife, leading one of your sons to a rather dark path, completely ignoring two more and then abusing the fourth, none of it really screams “hero”.
However, once he gained the title of the number one hero, we saw his anger crumble and make place for redemption.
I think his character was written extremely well.
And seeing him take those baby steps towards an image worthy of being called a hero was very wholesome and nice to see.
Anime: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
Both the rivalry and comradery that were present between Karma and Viral made the intro to the show so enjoyable.
Karma as a character already seemed larger than life. But it was his relationship with Viral that really made him stand out.
They seemed like a match made in heaven when it came to the tug of war between good and evil.
However, that’s when Gurren Lagann hits you with its deceptive complexity and Viral changes sides.
He was like a living memento to our protagonist, and their admiration for one another never seemed to die down – making it one of the best battle bromances in anime.
6. Tsukasa Shishiou
Anime: Dr. Stone
I just did not see this one coming to be honest.
Tsukasa seemed so firm in his ideals to enforce eugenics that I could have never imagined him dawning the good guy cape.
His rivalry with Senku seemed very intense and genuine, with hefty loads of admiration. So I always assumed that it had to end in blood.
And it sort of did, but just not in the way that I had imagined it.
I’ll be honest: Tsukasa’s initial switch was nothing special.
In fact, it was even poorly done to some degree.
However, his final scenes with Senku were so beautifully shot and directed that it made the whole ordeal more than worth it.
Anime: Dragona Ball Z
Vegeta is arguably one of the most famous “villains turned heroes” characters of all time.
And the series really took its sweet time when it came to the switch. Even once he joins up with the gang, a lot of his bad habits frequently come into play.
He was the most dangerous and destructive tsundere I have ever seen, honestly.
But then came the Buu saga and I was just blown away.
The execution was just perfect. And I will admit, I shed a tear even though I knew he was coming back at some point.
From there on, he became a staple in the franchise as the warmup dish before any major carrot-based meal.
4. Shinobu Oshino
Anime: Monogatari Series
If you watched Monogatari as it came out, this one seemed more like a hero turned bad than anything else.
But once you finally wrap your head around this mess of a timeline, you understand just how evil Shinobu (or should I say Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade) truly was.
The Kizumonogatari series was simply amazing in my opinion. And they gave a lot of weight to Shinobu’s character, explaining a lot of her characteristics from later on in the timeline.
Plus, going from that stadium scene to becoming the most lovable loli character is no easy task, which is why it deserves some praise.
3. Sasuke Uchiha
Anime: Naruto Shippuden
Even though I put down Shippuden, it’s only once Boruto started that I think Sasuke’s transformation was complete.
Sasuke’s story was all over the place, starting with his emo phase, then going through a ninja terrorist phase, and finally concluding at the stubborn rival phase.
It had a lot of twists and turns.
But I think that his talk with Itachi paired, with that beautiful final scene of his fight with Naruto, made the transition feel very natural and earned.
And then we look at Boruto and see a completely reformed Uchiha, prepared to lay his life on the line in order to save his friends.
He still sucks as a parent, and got drip nerfed like Gaara.
But man am I glad to have finally seen the end of his long and dramatic transition.
2. Satsuki Kiryuin
Anime: Kill la Kill
Satsuki’s twist was just pure art in my mind.
It made complete sense, and only gets better with subsequent rewatches.
Although the main story always depicted her as the most bog standard villain, her history with the Council always painted a different picture.
And then it finally all clicked, and she performed one of the best switcharoos ever.
Her scenes with Ryuko by the end of the series were already tear-jerkers.
But when you take into account their initial animosity, it somehow just makes it that much more interesting and memorable.
Anime: Vinland Saga
I’ll be honest:
Askeladd is simply number one in many categories in my mind.
He started off as another bog standard villain. A typical sword for hire who kills the protagonist’s father right in front of his eyes.
But man, this dude just had so many layers.
As the show continued, he just subtly crawled into our hearts, to the point where I often forgot how badly he damaged Throrfinn’s life.
Hell, even Thorfinn kind of forgot.
Askeladd took everything that was good about the Piccolo transition and just brought it to an entirely different level. Just S writing all around.