The Appeal of Villain Protagonists

Part of me hates reading stories like Death Note and Watership Down… not because they’re bad (far from it), but because they were so good they can’t be topped!

Anyway, on that note, I wanted to do something a little different and talk about what pushed me to read Death Note, like I did with Watership Down.

Grab a snack and some coffee and get comfy! I’m going to get a little personal here.

So, this past summer was not good for me. My anxiety was at an all-time high and I was really struggling with controlling it. The pandemic, the loss of in-person classes at university, and personal phobias drove my anxiety up the wall and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

Fast forward to September, I decided I wanted to treat myself and attend a virtual Jeremy Jordan concert and he decided to perform Hurricane from the Death Note musical.

Little did I know I would fall in love with the song…

I think it’s the music. The piano, the way Jordan was able to perfectly capture Light Yagami’s personal feelings in his voice! The lyrics comparing Light to a destructive storm…

The song was so good that I decided to give the manga that inspired it a shot!

Now, I went in not knowing what to expect. I didn’t expect Yagami to be the villain-protagonist he was, and that’s part of the appeal of the story for me.

See, the villain-protagonist is not a common thing in the literature I’ve read. Sure, I’d come across a bad apple protagonist every once in a while, but it wasn’t a common trope at all.

It was more common for there to be a protagonist and antagonist, or sometimes even no antagonist at all and it would just be the protagonist’s personal journey. Most often, the protagonist would be good and the antagonist was bad.

Death Note was one of those rare (for me) instances where that was flipped around, with the antagonist being the comparatively “good guy” and the protagonist the “bad guy”.

Source: Death Note Wiki

I realized Light Yagami was evil as I read on, but he was so bad that it was fun to just watch as he enacted his plans and got what he wanted (or didn’t! I won’t lie, I love the end of the series because he finally gets a taste of his own medicine. I know people didn’t like Near, but I thought he was well-written in the manga).

The only other villain protagonists I know of are Humbert Humbert from Lolita and maybe Dr. Victor Frankenstein from Frankenstein (although I honestly didn’t realize he was a villain when I read the story the first time).

Now that I’m back in school (virtually) I don’t really have time for personal reading, but ever since I read Death Note I’ve been looking for another villain protagonist to read about.

I know it’s a common trope in anime and manga, but no other manga’s really been grabbing me… which is a shame, because it’s a beautiful medium.

I think the appeal of villain protagonists may lie in their rarity and how well-executed they are as villains. I guess it’s as fun to watch someone be bad in a similar way to acting out the role.

Well, I’ve got some ideas for manga to read when the semester’s over! I just hope I can find another story that hit me the way Death Note did.

By Amber Rizzi

I am a literature geek working toward my Bachelor's in English with a concentration in writing. I love to read, and I'm always itching to write, especially creatively. I started "The Writer's Library" about three years ago, previously working with a Blogger platform before moving over to Wordpress. While I mainly post reviews of books, occasionally I will go ahead and review works in other media forms as well, such as music and certain television shows. No matter what I'm doing on here, I love to share with anyone who is willing to listen, and I'm excited to finally be on Wordpress!