In one of my latest articles, I wrote about anti-heroes but I found myself in another dilemma when I started studying villains for my book and it was then when I came across this term, which nonetheless only confused me more.

If ‘anti-heroes’ are the opposites of heroes that strive for goals with good intentions but that often perform questionable actions, then who are ‘anti-villains’?

And derived from that question I decided to do some research on it once again.

Definition

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For once I actually found a definition that is not ambiguous, though I admit that the more I read, the more confused I became (you will see why in a second)

(n1) - antagonist who isn’t purely evil nor entirely unsympathetic.

And I also found the next definition:

(n2) - a character who has heroic goals, personality traits and virtues but is ultimately villainous.

If you read the ‘anti-hero’ article then you might wonder, if that’s the case then how different would it be from the ‘unscrupulous anti-hero’ which is the type of character that would not hesitate to perform gruesome actions if that ensures that justice will be brought upon or that their good goal will be achieved.

What differentiates them?

Anti-villains believe with all their might that their actions are noble and they choose to believe what is good without it being necessary that. Furthermore, their actions most of the time are bad even in the long-run.

To put it in other terms, anti-villains are villains with redeemable features while an anti-hero is a hero without the conventional charms.

Types

Generally, there are four types:

The Noble

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Type of character that became a villain because of a specific reason, not just because they wished to become a villain in the first place.

They are also commonly known as “villains with a code”. Since they have their own set of rules to follow to accomplish their goals and they had a choice to become villains, but in doing so they are considered pretty bad regardless.

The Well-Intentioned Extremist

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In this case, the character is likely to share their goals with heroes, but in order to achieve that goal there are right and wrong methods, chances are this character, in particular, is aware that what they are doing is terrible but they still do it because they figured that it would be the only way to achieve their good-intentioned goals.

If I had to describe them with a sentence, it would probably be something along the lines of, ‘it is for the greater good and some sacrifices must be made.’

Villain in Name Only

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These are characters that are only villains because heroes need someone to go against.

Even if they are not evil actively or their intentions are not bad, they are simply considered that way because they stand in the way of the protagonist of the story, which in this case is highly likely to be a ‘Hero in Name Only’ as described in the previous article I mentioned before.

The One You Pity

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These are characters that started out as good or well-intentioned, but that the circumstances they were pushed in eventually managed to break them so bad that they eventually became villains.

In other words, they act like villains but we often feel for them because they got to that point after going through terrible events.

Summary

Anti-villains are characters that have good intentions (or at least ‘good’ according to themselves) but that their acts are evil nonetheless.

Common examples

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Draco Malfoy
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Bucky Barnes (in ‘Winter Soldier’)
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Thanos
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Carrie
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The Joker
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Killmonger

and many more.

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My previous article on Anti-heroes: