Tsugumi Ohba's and Takeshi Obata's hit anime/manga series Death Note challenged audiences with a high-stakes crime thriller, pitting the aspiring death god Kira vs the world's greatest detective, L. High schooler Light Yagami picks up the Death Note, with the power to kill, and his life (and the world) are never again the same.
Death Note explores Light's grisly career as Kira in two arcs: one where he contends with L in a deadly cat-and-mouse game, and a part 2 set five years later, where a triumphant Light faces the dual threat of Mello and Near. Each of these two major arcs has its merits, and while most fans seem to defer to the first half, there are reasons to find both sequences thrilling.
10 L the scene-stealer
Arguably, this is the main reason why so many Death Note fans like part 1 best: L! He's vicious, cunning, and brilliant, but also quirky, soft-spoken, and oddly childlike at times. His social skills are poor and he needs Watari to handle the paperwork, but this detective's disheveled appearance and odd mannerisms make him a standout star.
Throw in his amusing obsession with sweets and his blank but intense eyes, and you've got the centerpiece of any scene.
9 We glimpse Kira's world
Ultimately, Light is toppled from the combined efforts of Near and Mello, but in part 2, we can see the "Kira's world" that is only theorized in part 1. It's one thing to talk about creating a utopia where Light is king. But it's equally fascinating and horrifying to see the major news stations, various companies, world governments, and mobs of ordinary people become Kira's henchmen and tools of dominance.
For good or ill, Light really did have his kingdom for a time, and what a place it proved to be.
8 Light's fall from innocence
The Death Note manga's drawing style showed Light's gradual but complete transition from idealistic high schooler to a cruel, brutal serial killer. From the start, Light has been using the killer notebook, but he becomes ever more cold-blooded as he goes.
At first, he's just killing criminals. But as part 1 progresses, we see him trick Naomi Misora into suicide, use, and slaughter Raye Penber, scheme to kill Misa after she outlived her usefulness, and more. Just before he loses his memories in confinement, Light's face is one of true evil.
7 Poetic justice on Light
Part of what makes Death Note so thrilling is its moral ambiguity, and its willingness to challenge the viewer's worldviews and beliefs on right and wrong, justice and crime. Part 2 concludes the series and Light is outed as Kira dies at the hands of Ryuk. Many may argue that Light certainly brought this on himself, as a modern Icarus. And really, Death Note would be sending a pretty strange and controversial message if Light also defeated Mello and Near to become Kira forever.
Actor Danny Trejo once said that he ensures that all his criminal characters die, so young viewers will never see a glamorized version of the crime life and try to emulate it. Perhaps Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata were thinking along similar lines (not that the Death Note is real, but still).
6 Part 1 has the best tricks
Both parts 1 and 2 of Death Note have all kinds of mind-bending schemes and tricks that Light, L, Mello, and Near employ against each other. But in part 1, Light uses some of his most creative and resourceful tricks, such as when he fooled Raye Penber into killing all the FBI agents in Japan.
L, meanwhile, used just one television broadcast to confirm Kira's existence and location in Japan's Kanto region. And of course, there's Light's brilliant play to lose the Death Note, has Yotsuba use it, then regain it and have his final triumph over L.
5 The three-way battle
The thrilling duel between Light and L is legendary, but part 2's three-way battle between L/Kira, Mello, and Near is not to be dismissed. With three parties involved, alliances can and do shift, and this keeps all parties on their toes. At first, Mello is the big bad guy with his mafia friends and threats against the American president.
But after Light and Mello subdue him (temporarily), Near shifts his attention onto the suspicious new L, and Mello is ready to help. Today's friends are tomorrow's enemies.
4 Yotsuba arc
As mentioned earlier, Light makes good use of corporate greed in part 1 to create a new Kira and stab L in the back later. This is one of Death Note's largest arcs, and it has some of everything. Light and L work together as a true powerhouse team, Misa volunteers as a mole at Yotsuba and employs her fine acting skills, Aiber and Wedy make their debut, and we see what a money-minded Kira would look like.
And let's not forget Matsuda's glory when he stumbled upon the Kira team and helped lure out Higuchi for a final, thrilling chase to corner this white-collar Kira. It's also amusing to see Soichiro and the others meet Rem.
3 Soichiro's last stand
Death Note has no shortage of tragic moments, and a standout is Mr. Yagami's final sacrifice in part 2. He was agonized by his role in giving the Death Note to Mello in exchange for Sayu's life, and he bravely led a team to forcibly take it back. He even had a nail-biting standoff with Mello, face to face.
The mission was a success, but Soichiro paid with his life. On the plus side, he died satisfied (wrongly) that Light was not Kira. But we also see that Light only cared about defeating Mello, and he was upset not at his father's death, but his missed chance to have someone write down the name "Mihael Keehl" for good.
2 Part 1 is funnier
Even a grim, bloody crime thriller like Death Note needs to take a break from the drama every once in a while, and part 1 has some pretty great comic relief (and it's all done tastefully and with finesse). L is unintentionally funny all the time, given his quirky and oblivious behavior, which makes him only more likable.
Light also gets a few funny scenes, mostly his exasperation at someone else's jokes or attitude. And Matsuda has plenty of "oh, Matsuda..." scenes. Part 2, by contrast, takes itself a bit too seriously. Near doesn't get any humor unless you count a fully-loaded Christmas tree that appears in his headquarters out of nowhere.
1 Light shows true grit
Remember part 2's three-way battle of wits mentioned earlier? What's so interesting about that is not only shifting alliances, but the fact that Light is truly pushed to his limit. Not that L wasn't a challenge; he certainly was! But this time, Light has his back to the wall, and he shows the full depths of his wit, determination, and true character to defend his position as king of Kira world.
A desperate protagonist is an interesting one, as you never know what he/she will do next or whether they'll survive the next battle. It can get a bit dull if Light always gets his way, after all.