7 traits that make for a bad villain

I’ve written editorials on what makes for a good hero and what makes for a good villain. Now we’re going to look at what are traits you want your villains to avoid. These can turn you into a bad villain. Now there are really two kinds of villains. Ones who are meant to be taken seriously like Lex Luthor or Frieza and then there are the fun ones like Dr. Cortex or Drakken. The criteria for these villains can be quite different. In this editorial I’m mainly talking about serious villains to consider that in mind as I bring up the following points. Characters are quite layered so just because you may have some of these traits does not mean you are automatically a bad villain. However you do want to typically avoid these.

1. “I want to marry the princess!”

This is a huge one. In general what I’m talking about here is a villain’s motive. It can’t be something so superficial like this. Villains like Jafar from Aladdin or Claude from The Hunchback of Notre Dame come to mind. When a villain’s motive is like this it immediately makes it hard to take them seriously or even find them likable. I’m focusing more on the negative aspect of the motive here as I’ve already spoken at length about what a good motive is on the last editorial. Your motive just can’t be so petty/shallow. Another variation of this would be something like just being super evil for no reason. You can just be evil like wanting to destroy the world or something. That’s pretty legit but if you’re just torturing heroes and stabbing guys for no reason then it comes across as unnecessarily edgy.

2. The villain’s insane for a purpose that isn’t compelling

Insanity in small doses or even large doses can make for interesting villains. Look at Joker, he’s a pretty iconic villain who is insane in all the right ways. His rants actually have a purpose to them and while he is crazy, he still has general goals that you can find pretty interesting like tearing down society to prove that anyone can crack at any time. Now, he’s been through so many writers that this can vary but for the most part it’s good. Then you have a villain like Toga who is insane but not in a cool way. Her fascination with Deku is definitely quite out there and she doesn’t seem to quite understand why it’s so odd. Her origin story shows that she has been like this for a very long time. So to be most accurate, it’s not that being insane is automatically a negative trait but it tends to backfire so you want to be careful about it. Being insanely after another character like this is not the motivation you want for your villain.

3. The villain acts very subserviently to another

This is a big no no. You absolutely can’t grovel to another villain or constantly ask for forgiveness. This is a really easy way to make yourself a joke when it comes to big time villains. Whether you’re the big boss or a henchman you have to conduct yourself with a certain amount of class and decorum. You can’t go around being scared of the others. In some cases a villain might even allow himself to get beaten up by the others. Leo Lionheart is an example of a villain who is constantly pandering to his bosses. He spends his entire screen time being absolutely terrified of Salem and her crew. there’s no way to find a villain like this particularly likable. He’s just not made of the right stuff and this kind of groveling and terror is an immediate turnoff. Should have at least made a break for it.

4. The villain has a grotesque design

Now design is something that’s important for any character so this is a bit of an easy one. Particularly for villains sometimes you want to have a villain who is super deformed or grotesque to add to the fear factor but it’s not a good idea. For one thing, having that many scars means that people have been beating you up for ages or if it’s just too crazy then it’s going to be hard to look at the villain as it is. Freddy Krueger is the perfect example of this. It’s a grotesque design for sure and hurts his chances of being likable. I mean, he’s got a ton going in the wrong way for him so he was never close as it is but this does not help his case in the slightest. Mojo is a character who had more potential. At the very least he has a lot of fun lines and the guy can fight pretty well. It is hard to get past his design and mannerisms at times though. If they tone that down a bit he could become one of the all time greats.

5. The villain is fairly mindless

A villain needs to have an amazing design to make this work. Otherwise if you’re a mindless villain it’s going to really be hard to be likable at all. When you’re just a giant villain who can’t talk or act then are you even a character or just an obstacle? That’s the question you have to ask for someone like the Impure King from Blue Exorcist. It’s hard to find him likable or even that interesting. He just stands around as the heroes slash away at him until he is burned into nothing. He had a great intro but didn’t do anything with it. You can’t have a villain like this or at least you should try to avoid it. The same goes for villains who are usually smart but suddenly turn into a power type and lose all of their intelligence, it’s just not a good idea.

6. The villain throws a lot of pity parties

Whenever a villain starts to try and blame everyone for the mess he’s caused then this really won’t work out well. One big example of this is Reiner from Attack on Titan. Bear in mind that Reiner is directly responsible for murdering countless people during the Titan attacks. He tries to justify this many different ways and one of which is by trying to say that he didn’t even have a choice. He has a crazy speech against Eren to which Eren points out that the whole thing is ludicrous. It was a pretty hype scene but didn’t do anything for Reiner. His character starts to go downhill fast from this point. You absolutely cannot have the villain feeling bad for himself. It’s not going to end well. Villains need confidence and conviction to go through with their plans. Now, Reiner was caught up in a tough situation and he made a choice. It’s better to make a choice than not to do anything but then he’s got to live with it and can’t garner any sympathy from anyone.

7. The villain suddenly decides he doesn’t want to go through with the plan

This is a classic for minions or even big bosses They’ll do all kinds of evil things throughout a series but then suddenly they have second thoughts about the whole thing. “Maybe we’re going too far” or something like that when they’ve been totally on board the whole time. It always seems rather sudden and just out of character. You can also just call it chickening out. It’s different from having an honor code where you have some things that you’ll just never do. Backing out of a plan where you fully knew what it entailed is something else entirely. In this case with Emma from Godzilla, it’s just that she didn’t think things through. It’s almost worse when you think about it because she was so confident in her plan initially. Just listen to her plan. It made no sense and the start and it doesn’t make any sense now.

So these are my top 7 traits to avoid. Naturally there are others like just making sure your villain isn’t a creep like Nobuyuki from Sword Art Online but if you avoid these 7 traits you’re definitely in a really good position to go places. Naturally for there to be great villains you’re bound to run into run of the mill villains or even downright bad ones. It’s just the way things work but the more good villains the better right? It’s always interesting dissecting what makes a character interesting or unlikable like this. I’d say it’s more fun writing about the best ones though but you gotta see both sides of the coin. That means the final editorial in this series will be about what makes for a bad Hero but that’s not til December. In November the monthly editorial will be a simpler one about how I score media. What does a 7/10 mean to me and how do you achieve that? Look forward to that editorial next month!

9 thoughts on “7 traits that make for a bad villain

  1. Awesome post! You make a lot of very interesting points. I would disagree that Frollo should get marks off for the “I want to marry the princess” trope because it wasn’t so much that he just wanted Esmeralda, it’s that his lustful desires went against his religious viewpoints. He saw her a vixen who was luring him to evil, even though he was plenty evil himself and couldn’t understand how much of a hypocrite he was. I totally agree with Jafar, though. He definitely wanted to be all-powerful above all else, but he also wanted Jasmine and every scene with her lusting after him is just barf-worthy. The fact that this powerful and conniving man was successfully distracted by a kiss is one of his worst moments.

    In regards to the grotesque designed villains, I tend to hate that trope because it constantly perpetuates the idea that pretty=good and ugly=evil.

    And OMG the whiny “poor me, it’s not my fault” villains….. Even if they have a point, if you want a sympathetic villain they should be as such without them basically passing off the blame for their actions and acting like, as you pointed out, they had no other choice but to be evil. It just makes them irritating.

    • Thanks! I definitely have fun writing these monthly editorials, it’s a pretty fun aside from the reviews and battles plus I just love talking about what I like to see/don’t want to see from these guys.

      I get what you mean about Frollo, it’s an oversimplification to put him in the same league as Jafar or Bowser there. His motivation in wanting to go after Esmeralda is different there but I felt like the others it started to distract him from his main mission in wiping out all the gypsies and being a total dictator which ended up hurting him a bit. Jafar was definitely worse with how completely desperate he was for Jasmine. The kiss trick certainly hurt him a whole lot. In general I wasn’t a big fan of the original Aladdin film and Jafar played a sizable role in that.

      I’d say for design that’s part of why people like villains like Akira from Wixoss because they really defy the usual trope by appearing super attractive and nice only to be some of the meanest characters in the series. (The show dropped the ball with her for season 2 though) The trope is used a ton though for sure to the point where a lot of times when you’re watching a show you can immediately tell who the heroes and villains are. A character could be on screen for all of 5 seconds and based on the design you can almost always tell if he/she is good or evil. Definitely nice when that gets subverted.

      Yes, a sympathetic villain works really well when we see a good backstory or just know it through their actions but they shouldn’t be begging for validation or acceptance. I think great sympathetic villains are guys like Mr. Freeze, Accelerator, Itachi, and other characters like that. They’ve definitely been cornered into some pretty tricky situations or in other cases just realized what they were doing wasn’t good later on. For the ones that knew what they were doing was wrong, they accepted it. It’s like if I have a friend who needs to have an emergency operation to save their life and we don’t have the funds for it. I could rob a bank to quickly get the money since it’ll save her life and to me the good would outweigh the harm. Regardless it’s a bad thing to do though so if you make that call you gotta live with it. The worst is having the villain start blaming everyone else for it and trying to get off without guilt. I felt like Reiner was the biggest case of this I’d seen in a while.

      In December then it’s time to finally write the final part of the 4 part series which is traits that I don’t like to see in a hero. That one I’ve been thinking about for a long while so I’ve definitely got most of them all set

  2. If you’re not into more mindless villains, why do you like Kid Buu the most? He was intelligent thanks to absorbing Piccolo, but became much more mindless later. For that matter, why do you like Broly? He literally goes into a mindless rage mode in comparison to his base form.

    • So those two characters still have some depth to them and I’d argue that they had a good amount of character. For Kid Buu, he’s definitely not mindless. The guy really likes fighting and enjoys dealing out pain like when he was toying with Vegeta or clobbering Goku. He’d noticeably get happy at those points or the same when he took out Krillin. The guy’s super sadistic. He can’t talk, but I’d make the case that he’s not mindless. In contrast the Impure King from that option literally just moves in a straight line and only reacts to fire because it’s his weakness so he tries to extinguish it. That’s it, the guy’s more like a walking golem so he feels more like an obstacle than a villain. I’m sure there are some exceptions to that and one trait doesn’t automatically make you a bad villain but it does tend to hurt.

      Same with Broly, I wouldn’t say he’s mindless. In his rage form remember when he told Goku “Do you love your son?” That was in his final form and he kept complete reason. It’s only the second film which started to remove his character and then Bio Broly introduced the clone that was truly mindless. In the first film Broly is totally aware of his actions and it’s part of what makes him such a dangerous villain. He just wants revenge on Goku. The motive can come across as a bit odd/minor since it was Goku’s snoring that drove him insane, but insanity takes many forms. The motive may get mocked often online but Broly himself is a focused/insane character. He knows exactly what he wants to do and how to do it

    • Writing is definitely a key point. I agree that great writing can make just about any trait decent or even really good. There are limits to what you can salvage even with great writing but it certainly makes a big difference for sure.

      • And also, just food for thought, The reason why these ultimately exist is to show how short-sighted ultimately Evil is. You’re not completely supposed to root for them.

      • That’s true, but the best villains are the ones where you tend to root for them in some of the rounds or at least get where they’re coming from like Garou or Bass. They definitely aren’t heroes though so can’t lose sight of that

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