It's tough being the good guy. Being "good" all the time means being held to higher standards; slavishly following the rules and acting holier than thou, even when nobody else is. It may be effective, but it isn't much fun. We may idolize characters like Luke Skywalker for their goodness, but we'd much rather spend a day on the Millennium Falcon with Han Solo. Han is the consummate anti-hero. Unlike ideal heroes, anti-heroes are amoral -- unconventional marauders and rogues who follow only one code: their own. Their tendency to be selfish and unethical makes them easy to confuse with villains, with the key difference between them being motivation.
An anti-hero might not hesitate to take a life if necessary, but their intent isn't to do evil or take over the world. An anti-villain, on the other hand -- an anti-hero's true antithesis -- has a noble goal but is willing to reach it through evil methods. As the murderous "God" Kira, Death Note's Light Yagami fits this description comfortably, while his sweet-toothed nemesis, L is willing to flout any law to catch him, casting him as the story's anti-hero. Anime is filled with black and white "good vs. evil" rivalries, but there are also plenty of characters who occupy the grey area in-between like Light and L. Even Attack On Titan's Eren Jaeger isn't particularly pure-hearted when you think about it: his motivation to kill Titans stems from a personal vendetta, and his fits of rage are pretty scary. With that in mind, we're counting down our favorite anti-heroes in anime who make not fitting in look way cooler than sticking to the rules.
20 SPIKE SPIEGEL
The Space Western genre typically features cosmos' teeming with intergalactic pirates and astronautical mercenaries. Naturally, it's a hotbed for anti-heroes like Cowboy Bebop's Spike Spiegel. Spike is a reformed criminal, having escaped the Red Dragon Syndicate by faking his own death and becoming a bounty hunter.
Along with the grouchy, Jet Black, Spike captains the Bebop around the solar system in pursuit of the galaxy's Most Wanted. With his shady past, rebellious spirit and unhealthy habits, Spike has that kind of James Dean swagger -- cool without really trying, in other words. While he oscillates between apathy and antagonism, we know he's just a lovesick puppy deep down.
19 LELOUCH LAMPEROUGE
Born Lelouch vi Britannia, Code Geass' lead protagonist had his heritage ripped away after he was banished by his father, Emperor Charles zi Britannia, to Japan as a young boy, following his mother's assassination. Lelouch eventually gained the Geass power to control people, and assumed the persona of masked vigilante, Zero.
Like V For Vendetta's V, Zero became a figurehead for a movement -- Japan's revolt against British rule -- and, for the man inside the mask, a means to get his own back on his former family. Head writer, Agha Ohkawa said she wanted Lelouch to be seen as a "cool" and attractive character, and that certainly comes through. In battle, he's a demon, but to those he loves, he's an angel.
18 SASUKE UCHIHA
As if the dark hair and characteristic scowl weren't enough of a clue, Naruto's resident emo kid, Sasuke Uchiha, is a classic brooding hero. For most of his adolescence, he was focussed on nothing but vengeance against his older brother, who was responsible for the massacre of their people.
He develops an intense rivalry with his fellow Team 7 buddy, the titular Naruto Uzumaki, but once he leaves to try and become more powerful, he turns further and further inward, and even starts to walk the path towards villainy. Thankfully, his old friends pull him back to the light, but that dark spirit we love still remains.
As we've touched upon previously, there are few morally unambiguous characters in Death Note. Those that aren't don't have a high chance of survival, either. While Light Yagami is viewed as anti-heroic by some fans, and L -- with his sloppy appearance and eccentric personality -- is beloved. It's L's replacement, Mello, who is the epitome of "bad boy" cool.
Somehow, even with the pageboy haircut, the wardrobe of a dominatrix and the diet of Augustus Gloop, the kid still has swag. As the black sheep of the detective family, Mello goes further than either L or Near to thwart Light. Partnering with the mafia, kidnapping... Whatever it takes in the name of justice.
Mixing samurai with hip-hop, Samurai Champloo is some of the coolest anime you'll ever watch. And it has the characters to match. Jin and Mugen are both jobless warriors with very different ways of getting a job done. While Jin is the strong and silent type, Mugen is messy and loud.
True to the show's soundtrack, Mugen's style of combat fuses traditional swordsmanship and martial arts with modern breakdancing. This heady mix makes him practically unstoppable. Being the creation of Shinichiro Wanatabe, the man behind Cowboy Bebop, Mugen also has a lot in common with Spike Spiegel -- big hair, big ego and effortless cool.
15 THE STRAW HAT CREW
Yes, all of them. With its focus on a golden age of piracy, One Piece has a smorgasbord of anti-heroes to choose from. Luffy's Straw Hat crew have earned a reputation as a crew that shouldn't be messed with -- even their adorable little physician can become a fearsome beast when needed.
Though we love them, by their own admission they're far from straight-laced heroes. Captain Luffy will stand up for what's right and help those in need, but more often than not, this happens as a byproduct of causing chaos for the hell of it. If we had to pick the coolest of the bunch, it'd have to be Zoro -- proving that three swords are always better than one.
14 GENE STARWIND
Released in the same year as Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star has gotten somewhat lost in the former's shadow over the years. Both series are Space Westerns that follow a rag-tag team of sketchy misfits as they try and make a quick, intergalactic buck. Both series' ships are captained by archetypal rogues with a heart of gold.
But, Gene Starwind has more starry-eyed optimism than Spike Spiegel. Gene has been terrified of space since his father's murder aboard a spaceship. However, when he gets his hands on a unique ship, he can't resist the urge to fly it. Gene isn't a fussy about what job he'll take or what vice he'll indulge in, but he isn't sloppy when it counts: fighting to win.
If Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star are serious Space Westerns, Space Dandy is a brilliant send-up of the genre. The show's titular character, Dandy hunts aliens for a living aboard his spaceship, the Aloha Oe. His one dream in life is to visit every restaurant location in the "BooBies" chain to see the galaxy's best... assets.
Like Deadpool, Dandy really emphasizes the "anti" part of anti-hero. Though he styles himself as heroic, he's petty, selfish and always looking for the shortest way to do something, rather than do it the right way. With his Elvis Presley quiff and slick track suit collection, at least he always looks good, even when he's doing a lot of bad.
A Certain Magical Index takes place in a world in which technology and psychic powers are the driving forces of society. The vast majority of the population of Academy City, where the story is set, have an esper ability -- some more potent than others. Accelerator is one of them.
Ranked at Level Five, Accelerator's powers are deadly and, as such, he has had an intoxicating taste of what it means to take a life -- relishing the chance to battle someone close to his level so that he can let loose. Neither inherently good or evil, this complex anime character is a true lone wolf.
11 CLAIRE STANFIELD
Claire Stanfield is the birthname of Felix Walken, also known as Baccano's red-headed assassin, Vino. Claire is very good at his job, a brutal and cold profession that has helped foster his own twisted moral code: some people are guilty and deserve to die, while others are innocent and deserve to be protected.
Claire also subscribes to the concept of solipsism, a philosophical belief that upholds the idea that the world's existence is dependant on your own mind, which is at the center of everything. He may be a bit odd, but this acrobatic assassin is hard not to like.
10 SEBASTIAN MICHAELIS
Set in Victorian-era London, Black Butler revolves around the young heir to the Phantomhive estate, Ciel Phantomhive and his mysterious butler, Sebastian Michaelis as they delve into supernatural criminal cases at her Majesty's pleasure. Sebastian prides himself on being "one hell of a butler."
Of course, this is a not-so-sly nod to the secret that Sebastian is of Hell. He's a demon in human clothing that Ciel bartered his soul in exchange for a loyal and capable servant. Sebastian is inhumanly fast, strong and deadly with a set of silverware. The only border between him and his demonic impulses is his faithfulness to his master.
9 CAPTAIN HARLOCK
The stoic and debonair Captain Harlock is the star of Leiji Matsumoto's classic 1977 manga series, Space Captain Harlock. After being adapted into an anime series soon after, the Captain has rarely stayed off our screens for long, and it's easy to understand why. The character oozes old-school cool.
He's got all of the mythologized accessories you'd expect of a classic pirate: the eye patch, the facial scar, the high-collared coat, the hard-eyed stare and a legendary vessel: the Arcadia. The only thing missing is that "yo ho ho" zeal for adventuring. Instead, Harlock is a tragic figure who "fight[s] for no-one's sake, only for something deep in [his] heart."
8 NICOLAS AND WORICK
Is there someone you need "taken care of," no questions asked? Well, your friendly neighborhood Benriya boys are here to help! Benriya (meaning "Handymen") consists of Nicolas Brown, the deaf assassin with superhuman strength and speed, and Worick Archangelo, the one-eyed gigolo who is a surprisingly good shot.
They live on the mean streets of Gangsta's Ergastulum City, operating between the police and the complicated turf wars of the City's many criminal gangs. Nick and Worick are survivalists who'll slice and dice their way to a payout, but they both have a soft side when it comes to those less fortunate. These brothers in arms are true diamonds in the rough.
In Black Lagoon, the mercenary life couldn't agree more with Revy, or Rebecca Lee, to use her full name. The Chinese-American assassin values her weapons more than most human lives, and finds killing to be a relaxing and natural past time, displaying a horrifying absence of any moral compass.
As well as this, Revy regularly causes trouble within the Black Lagoon group for her crudeness, debauchery and name-calling. Even among a team of hardened professional killers, Revy is someone to be feared as much as admired. As an anti-hero, she's right on the border, with her affiliation to Rock being her only saving grace.
One Punch Man's Saitama was just an ordinary guy; then, after being attacked by a supervillain, he decided to change his life for the better. One hundred sit-ups, push-ups, squats and a six-mile run every day later, and Saitama lost all of his hair but gained the extraordinary ability to knock out any opponent with a single punch.
Saitama may dress like a superhero, but make no mistake, One Punch Man celebrates and parodies the Shonen and superhero genres in equal measure. In a world in which "lesser" superheroes work their hardest to earnestly make the world a better place, Saitama's sole reason to fight is to stave off boredom. He's in the right job but for all the wrong reasons.
5 ARSENE LUPIN III
The gentleman thief of the long-running Lupin The Third franchise is considered to be the best at what he does -- stealing things from places that no-one else would dare to. This makes him the constant target of an international manhunt by Interpol, who he usually manages to shake-off with great amusement.
In the anime adaptations, Lupin is usually joined on his criminal escapades by the beautiful burglar, Fujike Mine, marksman Daisuke Jigen and modern samurai, Goemon Ishikawa XIII. Though Lupin and his outlaws do lend a hand to those in need, they're far from charitable -- no good deed goes without reward.
Berserk takes place in a twisted, medieval fantasy world and follows Griffith, leader of the mercenary group, Band of the Hawk, and fellow independent mercenary, Guts. Both men have a completely individualistic outlook on life, but with Griffith's demonic alliances, Guts is the more noble of the pair.
Unlike the graceful and attractive Griffith, Guts is a barbaric fighter with a barbarian's rage to match. Most who cross his path end up dying by his sword or wishing they'd never met him. On the surface, Guts appears to be the villain to Griffith's heroic leader. In reality, the opposite is true; Guts' rough exterior hides a softer soul.
Fullmetal Alchemist and Brotherhood are shows that deal with a lot of heavy philosophical and ethical subject matter. Scar is emblematic of how well the story in both versions deals with the idea of good and evil being just a matter of perspective. As a survivor of the Ishvalan Civil War, Scar is a man on a mission: vengeance.
To most, his savage and murderous actions are those of a mad cold-blooded killer. But, to some, he's a religious extremist pursuing his own brand of vigilante justice against those who wronged his people. (Or, just those who he deems guilty by association). Though brutal, Scar proves he still has a sympathetic side, allowing his victims a final prayer before the end.
Initially, Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama planned to downplay Goku's heroic qualities by making him (even) more self-centered. This plan died out in the Z series, and instead, the anti-hero role fell to Goku's Saiyan brethren, Vegeta. Well, eventually it did. When he first showed up, the alien prince was a new nemesis for Goku.
Much like Piccolo, though, Vegeta's villainy gradually mellowed until he became one of the family. Even though his rivalry with Goku still burns bright, Vegeta has and will lay down his life to help Goku protect Earth. (Even if his pursuit of a fair and challenging fight was the cause of Earth's endangerment in the first place...)
The only thing cooler than a muscle-bound Saiyan Prince who looks great in pink is a 500-year old, Nazi-hunting vampire. Alucard, the lead protagonist of Hellsing and Hellsing: Ultimate is a living weapon against the tyrannical forces that have a stranglehold on the world he lives in -- forces that include those of his own kind.
As a "true" vampire, Alucard has no qualms about dispatching the "lesser" members of his species with extreme, bloody prejudice -- and ease, given his superior superhuman powers. Though he shows kindness towards his charge, Seras Victoria, the only thing separating him from outright villainy is that his victims are ethically worse than he is.