Since Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata's manga, Death Note, began serialization in 2003, the detective saga has grown into an internationally-renowned franchise spanning an anime series, light novels, video games, television dramas, Japanese and American film adaptations, and even stage musicals.
The key to Death Note's success is the super-intelligence of its central characters: Light Yagami, owner of a magical death-dealing book, and those who either support or try to capture him, chiefly, L, Near, and Mello. All of them play labyrinthine mind games on each other, but who is the smartest character of all?
10 ANTHONY RESTER
To aid the ineffective Japanese Task Force set up to combat the mysterious terrorist, Kira -- aka, Light -- the FBI and CIA combine forces to create a Special Provision for Kira unit, under Near's watchful eye. Anthony is Near's Number Two.
While he's not the most cunning member of the elite group -- or in Death Note as a whole -- being Near's most trusted right-hand man counts for a lot. Anthony is not the only person who gets a full briefing from Near, he's also the only SPK member to stay hidden from Kira.
9 STEPHEN GEVANNI
The handsome Stephen is one of the SPK's star members. His strong looks are matched by a strong brain and unwavering loyalty to his unit, even with his fellow teammates dropping like flies.
Stephen is the SPK's master rogue, able to sneak into anywhere and forge things to a highly convincing degree. The best demonstration of these skills is when he replicates a Death Note in just one night. In fact, Death Note 13: How To Read claims "the Kira case couldn't have been solved without him."
8 HALLE LIDNER
Another SPK member, Halle's past as a Secret Service agent stands her in excellent stead as a bodyguard. This means her mental aptitude extends her mind, as she's able to both think and act extremely quickly. Despite working for Near, she's also an excellent double-agent.
As Near and Mello compete to catch Kira, Halle's judgment allows her to work for both sides to achieve the greater good. She manages to spy on Mello largely without the expert detective's knowledge and make deductions about his actions no one else can.
7 REIJI NAMIKAWA
Namikawa is a member of the villainous Yotsuba Group, Death Note's own eight horsemen of the apocalypse, if you will. These business tycoons seek to use the Death Note for industrial sabotage of the murderous kind, and Namikawa is the most intelligent of the bunch.
A Harvard graduate and professional Shogi player (Japanese chess), Namikawa once proved crafty enough to trick Light (in the guise of L) into giving him key information. With his creepy charm and sharp business mind, he's basically a Japanese Lex Luthor.
6 TERU MIKAMI
A criminal prosecutor, Mikami becomes judge, jury, and executioner when given the opportunity to become the Hand of Kira by his idol, Light. Using a different Death Note to Light's, Mikami draws attention away from the real Kira when Near starts to circle Light.
Even before he becomes supernaturally-enhanced by Shinigami Eyes, Mikami could be marked out by his keen intellect. He really could have done anything he wanted had he not been drawn to Kira's doomed mission, proven by him being able to stand-in for the real deal.
5 WATARI/ROGER RUVIE
Watari and Roger are the Alfreds to L's Batman -- and all the rest of Wammy's House's homegrown detectives: Mello, Near, Matt and Beyond Birthday. The British gentlemen use their wealth to provide a home for talented, homeless children and, like Alfred, his skills extend past mere buttling.
While assisting L, Watari is the teen sleuth's most trusted confidante. Following both their deaths, Roger steps into Watari's shoes for L's successors. Mysterious as they both are, one thing is for sure, you have to be a pretty smart cookie to train the world's best detectives.
For Mello, being the second-smartest kid at Wammy's House (after L's demise) was an unforgivable snub. Because of his immaturity, the orphan failed to recognize that he was still one of the smartest youths in the world and refused to join forces with Near.
Mello instead chose to pursue Kira outside of the law, and though he ultimately loses the race between himself and his adopted "brother," he does work out that Misa Amane is a fake Kira and that Light is both the new "L" and probably the real Kira.
Whether or not L is smarter than Light, or vice versa, will be an ongoing debate forever. The pair are deliberately set-up by the creators as the Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty of the first half of the story, therefore making them practically equally-matched was essential for dramatic tension.
It doesn't take him long to associate Light with Kira, forcing Light to constantly shift suspicion away from him while L endeavors to hide his real identity -- a battle he loses...proving him correct. In any case, Light still appears to out-maneuver him in the end.
2 LIGHT YAGAMI
Gifted with the means to kill anyone he wants by writing their name in a book belonging to a Shinigami, Light becomes the world's most dangerous teenager. Not just because of this incredible power, but because he's able to use it without getting caught for so long.
After dispatching L, Light thinks of himself as even more godlike than before. However, his new rival, Near, is eventually able to play Light and his accomplices off each other with the swapping of fake Death Notes. Still, there are few IQs as diabolically high as Light's.
While all of them have their suspicions, Near is the only one of Death Note's trio of young detectives able to provide indisputable evidence of Light's guilt. Near's genius is often obscured by his love of toys and angelic features; after all, he is a child.
However, what seems like playful fun belies a constantly-ticking mind. Near's focus is actually laser-sharp, not distracted, and he doesn't become overly familiar with his target in the way L does. Why does Obata think Near is the smartest in the end? "Because he cheats."