Villains of the stories are the most interesting parts of every media piece, whether it’s TV, a book, or a movie. Since the beginning of the storytelling, there was always evil to every good, and over the years, the villains developed into interesting pieces in interpretation. What is the villain’s motivation? Why are they trying to make the story’s hero miserable, and why will they ruin someone’s life, mostly just to satisfy their needs?
At least, that’s what the first popular cartoon presented us – Disney villains were the biggest representation of the stereotypical antagonists in every cartoon or animated feature. However, with time the characters and their interpretation changed as well, and now we have layered villains that we cannot simply hate – we love to hate them, but we also hate loving them.
This article will present our picks of the 30 best cartoon villains of all time, including recent ones that left an impression on us. We won’t include anime characters that deserve their own article, but we will include comic book characters that were adapted to cartoons. If you are interested in our list of villains, stay with us until the end.
30. Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Captain Hook is the main antagonist of Disney’s 1953 animated featured film, Peter Pan. This classic villain had everything expected from the villain – looks, charisma, and motivation to take the main hero down.
Captain Hook seeks revenge on Peter Pan since a mischievous boy severed his left hand and fed it to the Tick-Tock the Crocodile, pursuing the handless Captain. Despite being a traditional villain, Captain Hook is quite relatable because he is limited but never gives up on his goals, which are done in a really funny manner.
29. Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a Disney animated feature film released in 1996. The story loosely follows the original story of the same name by Victor Hugo. It is one of the more serious entries in the Disney cartoon franchise since it follows the marginalized group of gypsies in 16th-century Paris.
Frollo is an evil Minister of Justice, who lusts after the gypsy dancer Esmeralda, and plans on killing all of the Romani people in Paris. He is an evil, entitled man who thinks he is better than others and doesn’t stray from the worst ways to get to his wants. Truly a proper classic villain.
28. Shere Khan (Jungle Book)
In 1967, Disney’s Jungle Book presented us with great and beautiful animal characters like Baloo, Bagheera, and others, who practically raised “a human-cub” Mowgli.
Despite being a charming and sophisticated Bengal Tiger, Shere Khan is a manipulative predator who hates humans and wants to do everything to kill the young boy Mowgli. Shere Khan is one of the most notorious villains in Disney’s history.
27. Aku (Samurai Jack)
Moving away from the Disney villains, this entry presents us with Aku, a demon born from The Black Mass of Evil, as an archnemesis to Samurai Jack and his family. Cartoon Samurai Jack presented us with many great aspects, but the best one is probably the rivalry between Aku and Jack, constantly fighting.
Aku is a source of comic relief in the cartoon and is quite loveable by the fans. Aku is usually considered a deuteragonist in the show, a secondary character, which makes him quite important.
26. Mr. Burns (The Simpsons)
In my defense, this is not necessarily the ranked list, but if you want to take it that way, don’t be surprised to see Burns that low on the list. Don’t get me wrong; Burns is a menace and a villain making everyone around him miserable. He is also really old, and the show usually makes fun of his age by referencing past lost empires and monarchies that existed at the time of his birth.
Burns is a billionaire and a despicable, typical rich man from Corporate America who will do anything to be the richest man in the world. Burns is an iconic Simpsons character and should be included in every villain list of the last two decades.
25. Jafar (Aladdin)
Jafar from Aladdin movies is quite similar to Frollo because he’s unapologetically evil, and nothing and no one will change that. The only difference is that Jafar has style and charisma, with which he successfully manipulated the Sultan for years.
When he finds out that Aladdin got a hold of the magic lamp that would grant him cosmic power, Jafar does everything he can to get to it and wants to destroy everything that stands in his way. Jafar is one of the most renowned villains of the Disney Cartoon franchise because he is so different from everybody else.
24. Bill Cipher (Gravity Falls)
Once again, we move away from the traditional Disney cartoon villains and move to the modern ones, particularly Bill Cipher from Gravity Falls. This critically acclaimed cartoon brought us great characters. The antagonist, Bill Cipher, is a Dream Demon with mysterious motives who seems to have a vendetta against the Pines family, especially his old rival Stanford Pines.
Bill Cipher looks at us with the Illuminati crest, which indicates the villain’s evil motives to take over the world through his powers of manipulation and knowledge of everything.
23. Catra (She-Ra: Princess of Power)
In 2018, Netflix gave us a reboot of a famous cartoon that originally aired in the 1980s, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. The heroine She-Ra was adapted to the modern era with great success.
The story follows two young women, Adora and Catra, who grow up in the Fright Zone as a part of the evil intergalactic empire called The Horde. Eventually, Adora flees the oppressive land, finds out she is She-Ra, and leaves her best friend, Catra, and the Fright Zone.
Catra’s rivalry with Adora is astonishing throughout the series, and their dynamic is the best part of the show. Catra also suffers great trauma, which makes her lash out and go against the Rebellion – the actions almost kill her, but Adora saves her and brings her to the ways of redemption. Catra is one of the most astonishing redeemable villains in recent years, and she deserves to be on this list.
22. Fire Lord Ozai (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
Avatar: The Last Airbender is certainly one of the modern era’s best cartoons/animated series. It presented us with great lore, world-building, and still very much remembered characters. The main protagonists like Aang, Katara, Toph, and Sokka charmed us to the core, but the villains of the Avatar series made us bite our nails multiple times.
Fire Lord Ozai, father of Zuko and Azula and once a great friend of the Avatar Roku, became a despicable monster. Fire Lord title wasn’t enough for him – he wanted to become the Phoenix King, use Sozin’s Comet’s powers, and burn the whole Earth Kingdom. Ozai does not have a redeemable bone in him, and we are totally fine with that.
21. Shan Yu (Mulan)
“Let’s get down to business, to defeat … the Huns!” is a verse from a legendary song from the Disney animated feature film Mulan. Throughout the movie, China fights the vicious army of the Huns, killing every Chinese in their sights to rule the whole Empire. Their leader is Shan Yu, a notorious and evil man who wants to take over the Chinese Empire from the Emperor of China.
The cartoon showed many subtle signs of Shan Yu leading his army and slaying everyone and everything – even the children. Thankfully, Mulan defeats the foul man with the help of the allies.
20. Slade Wilson (Teen Titans)
Deathstroke is a notable character from the DC comics and a huge rival to Green Arrow and Batman. He also had some significant confrontations with Dick Grayson, also known as Robin, in the Teen Titans cartoon. The villain wants to destroy Teen Titans and every they stand for, and even the brief alliance with Robin to achieve the ultimate goal did not change Slade’s feelings towards the group.
Slade Wilson is a great villain and character in any adaptation, so it’s not surprising seeing him here.
19. Rasputin (Anastasia)
We move away from Disney, DC, and familiar characters and get to one Fox Animations Studio product, Anastasia. This cartoon is based on the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia. It follows the young 18- year-old Anastasia “Anya” Romanov, who is trying to find some trace of her deceased family. Two conmen “volunteer” to help her find her family, but one man is trying to stop her – Grigori Rasputin.
An evil man who considers himself a prophet and magician betrays the Romanov family and sparks the Russian revolution, which banishes Anastasia and kills her family. Rasputin is a manipulative know-it-all trying to take over the Russian Empire. Inspired by Russian history’s real happenings, Rasputin’s animated version is quite interesting.
18. Gargamel (Smurfs)
Smurfs was originally a comic book series released in Belgium in the 1950s and 1960s and became popular in Europe. The cartoon version of the Smurfs gained much more traction with the American public, and Hanna-Barbera Production decided to create a cartoon for their public. It was a hit and provided us with great characters, including a villain of the Smurfs story – Gargamel.
He is a despicable man trying to eliminate all the Smurfs and torment them. He does have some emotions, particularly for his loyal companion, a cat named Azrael, and his despicable demeanor comes from his tough and careless upbringing.
17. Magneto (X-Men)
Marvel adapted many of its characters to animated media, including the notable villain/antihero of the comics, Magneto. In the 1990s notable cartoon, Magneto was characterized as a friend and a foe of Charles Xavier. He believes that the mutants are humanity’s next stage of evolution and that they are destined to take over the world.
Like Slade Wilson, Magneto is always adapted well to the other media, and the 1990s X-Men is one of them.
16. Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Mother Gothel was an antagonist of the 2010 Disney animated featured film Tangled. The story follows a young girl with magical, golden hair who gets imprisoned by Mother Gothel, who uses her magical hair to stay forever young.
She is not just a basic, classic villain – she manipulates Rapunzel to the point of convincing her she is her mother and is trying to protect her from the cruel outside world. She is an abusive and manipulative woman whose character Disney mellowed a bit for young audiences – still, we noticed her true nature.
15. Hades (Hercules)
Besides Captain Hook and Jafar, we have another charismatic Disney villain on this list – the god of the Underworld, Hades. He is the main antagonist in the animated featured movie called Hercules.
Hades seeks revenge against his brother Zeus and tries to take over Mount Olympus and the cosmos. Of course, Zeus’s son Hercules stands in his way of achieving his goal. Hades is not anything like the original character of the Greek myths – he is comic relief and charismatic character who is loved by the viewers even today.
14. Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
The main antagonist of the 1989 animated featured film, The Little Mermaid, Ursula, is one of the most popular villains in fictional media history. A half-woman, half-octopus, Ursula strikes deals with unfortunate merfolk with the promise of making their dreams come true.
After the movie’s release, Ursula became a fan favorite and is one of the most quotable Disney characters today: “You bring the smile. I’ll bring the teeth!
13. The Evil Queen (Snow White)
The first-ever Disney animated villain needs to be on this list – The Evil Queen. She is still one of the most despicable villains of all time and doesn’t have any redeemable qualities.
She hates Snow White because the young girl is more beautiful than her, and throughout the movie, she tries to kill her stepdaughter. The Evil Queen set a precedent for future cartoon villains, which worked until things started to change. The Evil Queen is still an iconic villain but, in my opinion, has a better adaptation in the TV show Once Upon a Time.
12. Megatron (Transformers)
The leader of Decepticons and the main antagonist of the animated series Transformers, Megatron is one of the most iconic cartoon villains of all time. He is the archenemy of the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, and is considered the strongest Decepticon.
Megatron is a cool character and villain. The 1980s and 1990s have seen Transformers toys and later cartoons that popularized the franchise and are still relevant today.
11. Cruella De Vil (One Hundred and One Dalmatians)
Even though she is considered a fashion icon, and one of the coolest characters of all time (thanks to the movie Cruella), the eccentric villain is not so soft and “normal” in the animated Disney-featured movie 101 Dalmatians. Cruella is insane, and her “love” for fur transcends common sense.
She wants to skin the Dalmatian puppies to make her clothes out of fur, and for that only, which isn’t, Cruella is one of the most despicable villains in fictional media history.
10. Maleficent (The Sleeping Beauty)
Maleficent is next on this list, and her appearance in the 1950s Sleeping Beauty movie made her one of the best villains of all time. She is wholly evil in this adaptation and wants to destroy King Stefan for not inviting her to his daughter’s Aurora christening. Maleficent goes ballistic and curses the young princess’s future – Aurora will die by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel’s spindle before the sun sets on her 16th birthday.
She is striking, dramatic, and has iconic looks, making her the most iconic character of all time. She does get a mellow adaptation in the Maleficent movies starring Angelina Jolie, and we have to say, we like her characterization there.
9. Amon (Legend of Korra)
Modern cartoon villains are top-notch, and one of them is Amon, the main antagonist of Book One in the Legend of Korra cartoon series. His charismatic and mysterious but intimidating demeanor granted him the place and support in the anti-bender revolutionary group called Equalists. They aimed to introduce equality to the world by eliminating bending from the whole world.
Amon was Korra’s first challenge that tested her tenure as the Avatar, and he left huge scars on her psyche after their final confrontation. Amon is a layered villain that we rarely see in cartoons at that point; it serves as an example of how cartoons should depict villains.
8. Azula (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
Since her creation and appearance in the Avatar: The Last Airbender series, Azula has been considered one of the best cartoon villains in the last two decades. She is an absolutely insane and troubled character whose mental instabilities drive her toward evil even more.
A total opposite of her brother Zuko who gained their mother Ursa’s demeanor, Azula has taken over from her father Ozai and is portrayed as manipulative and obsessed with power. She is still a fan-favorite character, but we can all agree that no one could ever redeem her in any shape and capacity – she is just purely evil.
7. Silco (Arcane)
Recently, Netflix provided us with the League of Legends adapted series, Arcane. The show received critical acclaim and became one of the best pieces of media released in 2021 – arguably the best game adaptation ever. It introduced us to the League of Legends characters we could barely imagine in other media and brought some new ones that we will remember for a very long time – one of them is Silco.
Silco is a Zaunite drug lord, industrialist, and adoptive father of Jinx, the main protagonist of Arcane. He is a brutal, oppressive, and simply cruel man who wants the Zaun to become independent from the progressive Piltover. However, during the show, we realize his softer side, love, and loyalty for Jinx, for whom she would do anything to protect her.
6. Lex Luthor (Superman)
Lex Luthor is arguably Superman’s most notorious villain and a huge part of the Superman mythos. Luthor appeared in almost every Superman adaptation to date, and his cartoon appearances had the same effect in comic book stories.
The Superman: The Animated Series from the 1990s received critical acclaim. Despite being an ordinary human, Lex Luthor is still the most dangerous DC villain to date, and for a good reason.
5. Scar (The Lion King)
People who grew up with the Lion King movie will tell you they hate Scar, the antagonist of the 1994 Disney animated featured film. The despicable brother of King Mufasa, Scar was supposed to be the next in line for the throne of the Pride Lands. Still, after the birth of his nephew Simba, Scar decided to take matters into his hands and forcefully take over the lands with his hyenas.
Just for the scene where he kills his brother, Scar became one of the most iconic villains of all time – he made his mark on the young children watching the Lion King.
4. Shredder (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
There are 1987, 2003, and 2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons that featured Shredder as the main villain, and I would pick the 2003 version of the character. Why? In that particular version, Shredder’s character was insane – he wanted to destroy the world. He was intimidating throughout the whole series, and we always feared for the worst whenever he would enter the fight with his Foot Clan against the Turtles.
All versions of Shredder are scary, but the 2003 one takes the throne as the scariest of the whole franchise. Shredder is also an intergalactic war criminal in this version, and we don’t mind it, not one bit.
3. Skeletor (Masters of Universe)
Even though his character was memed to death in recent years, Skeletor is still the most iconic character in cartoon history. He is the main antagonist of the Masters of the Universe franchise and the biggest danger to Etheria.
He is vicious in his ways and won’t stop at anything to get a hold of the secrets of Castle Grayskull, which will grant him the powers to become the master of the Universe.
2. Joker (Batman)
Batman: The Animated Series is arguably the best cartoon of all time. This notable show presented us with comic book characters in a totally different light, particularly Joker, who is once again portrayed as Batman’s deadliest, menacing, and extremely dangerous archenemy.
He creates havoc all over Gotham City and wants to ruin Batman’s life, both physically and mentally. Joker is the deadliest and most interesting villain in any adaptation, and Batman: The Animated Series is no different – arguably the best-portrayed adapted villain in any media.
1. Zaheer (Legend of Korra)
Finally, we are at the end of this list and will finish it with one of the fascinating villains in the last two decades, Zaheer. Legend of Korra Book Three presented us with Korra and her friends after the Harmonic Divergence. This phenomenon accidentally gave some non-benders airbending ability, and they are going all over the Four Nations to acquire and train accidental airbenders.
Amongst the sea of people getting powers, one of the most notorious criminals, and a member of Red Lotus, Zaheer, gained the airbending powers, escaped the White Lotus prison, and went on a mission to “free the world of oppression.”
Zaheer’s character is vastly different from his beliefs, making him a compelling character – he wants to free the nations from oppressing governments and free the people of their shackles. He also wants to kill the Avatar since it represents the god-like force that can imprison “normal, lesser people.”
Zaheer is not your traditional villain, but a man who strongly believes in his goals and will do anything to protect his people – unfortunately, he does it wrongly. That is why Zaheer is one of the best and most interesting cartoon villains of all time.