What is a good Shonen anime series without some villains to fight? Tite Kubo's hit anime/manga franchise Bleach packs plenty of bad guys into its run. Some are minor bit-players, while others are incredibly scary and powerful. Many of them drive the plot, while others are really just a monster of the week.
The question of who's the strongest is always an interesting one, but here's something else to consider: who's the most sympathetic? For a long time, there weren't really any truly sympathetic villains in American comics, but modern comics and manga are packed with villains who live in shades of gray. What does it mean to be evil? Are there some bad guys who are really just misunderstood, or are themselves victims? It's fascinating to see who's a tragic figure and who really is just a monster after all. Let's see how Bleach's villains rank!
10 Most Sympathetic: Coyote Stark
He is the most powerful Arrancar alive, and ranks as the Primera Espada, Sosuke Aizen's most potent weapon of all. You'd expect a total demon, but instead, we get the tragic soul of Coyote Stark. Through flashbacks, we learn that his overwhelming spiritual pressure could kill any other Hollow who even got close, and in desperation, he created Lilynette from himself as a companion.
He was grateful when Aizen gave him "friends" among the Espadas, so it's really sad to see him go. He's a borderline pacifist, too, being reluctant to fight anyone. He has no malice, and only fights to protect himself. He really doesn't put the "bad" in "bad guy" at all.
9 Total Monster: Barragan Luisenbarn
In a way, the Segunda Espada Barragan Luisenbarn skirts the line between sympathetic and monster, but ultimately, he's a bad guy. In the past, Barragan was the uncontested king of Hueco Mundo, with a Hollow army to call his own. Then Aizen usurped him, and Barragan nursed a grudge ever since. His final, futile effort was to slay Aizen, and it almost evokes sympathy. But not quite.
Barragan has an enormous god complex which is repulsive, and he enjoys harming and tormenting his opponents in battle. Not to mention that he's a tough boss on his Fracciones, and in the past, he planned on pitting both halves of his Hollow army against each other just for his amusement.
8 Most Sympathetic: Tier Halibel
Many Espadas will make this list, since they're among the most prominent villains in Bleach. That trend continues with the Tres Espada, the lady-warrior Tier Halibel. Why is she sympathetic? Her motives are not to slaughter people for fun, but protect her three Fracciones: Apacci, Mila Rose, and Sun-Sun. As hollows, those three girls were often bullied by larger hollows, until the Vasto Lorde Halibel took them under her wing like a big sister.
She does much the same in the four women's Arrancar days, and Halibel was driven to fight even harder once her beloved minions fell in battle. Everyone needs a big sister figure like her!
7 Total Monster: Nnoitora Gilga
Now for the fourth Espada in a row, the Quinta Espada Nnoitora Gilga. His motives are not too different from Grimmjow's: he eagerly wants to be the strongest of all, and loves to find the toughest opponents to test his mettle with. While Grimmjow was a benign leader, though, Nnoitora is truly selfish, and super cruel.
He worked with Szayelaporro in the past to injure Nelliel in an underhanded attack and had her expelled from the Espadas. All from a mere grudge! Nnoitora is also harsh toward his Fraccione Tesla, similarly to the way Mayuri Kurotsuchi sometimes treats Nemu. Despicable!
6 Most Sympathetic: Acidwire
We take a break from the Espadas to explore an early villain in Bleach, the lesser Hollow known as Acidwire. All Hollows were human at some point, and this one was... Sora Inoue, Orihime's beloved big brother! The poor man died in an accident, and his restless soul manifested as a Hollow that Ichigo had no choice but to slay.
Even more tragically, Acidwire/Sora desperately fought against his bloodthirsty Hollow instincts, trying to pry off his mask. Sadly, it was no good: the soul of this doting big brother kept attacking until Ichigo put him down. Rest in peace, Sora Inoue.
5 Total Monster: Aaroniero
It's time for more Espadas, and this time we get the most chilling one of all. Aaroniero doesn't even have a slightly tragic backstory to explain his motives. Instead, he is the embodiment of Gluttony! He is a Gillian, the lowest class of Menos Grande, but he has the unique ability to consume other Hollows and add their spiritual energy and powers to his own. He has eaten 33,650 Hollows this way, and all he wants to do is slaughter.
Aaroniero cruelly fooled Rukia into thinking that he was Kaien Shiba, and once they fought, Aaroniero enjoyed mutilating Rukia. He laughed like a maniac when she was nearly killed, and when Rukia slew him, he died cursing her. What a foul creature he was.
4 Most Sympathetic: Renji Abarai
Like most members of the Gotei 13, Renji was only a temporary villain. He stood in the way of Ichigo's attempts to rescue her, and the two young men crossed swords more than once, but Renji is not a bad guy by any measure. He has a childhood past with Rukia, and she's like a sister to him.
He's also loyal to Byakuya Kuchiki, and acted on his Captain's orders to stand in Ichigo's way. Once Ichigo won their final duel, Renji desperately implored his opponent to rescue Rukia, no matter what. Renji even stood up to Byakuya on Rukia's behalf later! After that, he was a friend to Ichigo, through and through.
3 Total Monster: Grand Fisher
Much like the Espada Aaroniero, Grand Fisher has two things on his mind: eat, and kill! This remarkable Hollow has stalked the land for 50 years, and used his shapeshifting lure to consume the souls of countless innocent people. He's even eaten some Soul Reapers this way.
He's got no tragic backstory or noble mission at all. Grand Fisher is an animal, operating on his instincts to kill and eat. He's malicious and cruel the whole time, so there's zero sympathy for this guy. It's a relief when Isshin slays him at last.
2 Most Sympathetic: Dordoni
This gentleman is a Privaron Espada; that is, an Arrancar who was ejected from the Espadas due to being replaced with stronger, newer ones. His main goal is to rejoin the Espadas and enjoy the glory that brings, and like some other villains in Bleach, he encourages Ichigo to fight with his full power.
Dordoni wants a fair fight, and he thanked Ichigo greatly when he got one. After that, Dordoni stood before the Exequias and bought time for Ichigo to flee. Dordoni even gave Ichigo some grim advice, to become like a devil, rather than "sweet and soft, like the chocolate." Thanks for the heads up!
1 Total Monster: Sosuke Aizen
Every molecule of Sosuke Aizen's body is completely evil! You wouldn't guess it at first, which is part of his insidious plot. Aizen had the veneer of being a kind and compassionate Captain, and thus he was very popular. Momo Hinamori positively idolized him. How did Aizen repay her? A nearly-fatal sword thrust and a cold "good bye." That's just for starters!
He claimed Kisuke's grim research into Hollows, and used the Hogyoku to create an army of Arrancar abominations to plot world domination. He has no compassion, mercy, or empathy of any kind whatsoever. Like Barragan, he has a god complex, and he screams furious curses at Kisuke before being sealed away with a powerful kido. We won't miss you, Aizen!