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- Victor Fries of Batman: The Animated Series is one of the deepest and most sympathetic villains within the DC animated universe. Notable in that, before his acclaimed appearance in BtAS, in the comics, he was more or less a typical villain, and his tragic backstory has since been integrated into his comic incarnation.
- Later subverted in that he goes from being an anti-villain in "Heart of Ice" to a (still-sympathetic) corrupted hero in "Deep Freeze" to someone with an utter disregard for the lives of others in Subzero, to Jumping Off the Slippery Slope in "Cold Comfort." Though his actual final appearance before Batman Beyond (an issue in the comic Gotham Knights) didn't even have him commit any crimes, instead, the crimes pinned on Mr. Freeze were actually done by a robotic duplicate made by Nora's stephusband, and Freeze even pulled a Heroic Sacrifice in the end.
- In his Batman Beyond appearance, he tries to kill hundreds of innocent people to get vengeance on two, but in the end he does pull an Enemy Mine with Batman when Blight unveils himself, and sacrifices himself to tell Batman to get out of there when the facility was collapsing. In the end, Bruce admits that Freeze wasn't a Complete Monster and Freeze goes back to being an Anti-Villain.
- Freeze is far from the only Batman villain to feature this trait. There's Catwoman, who is a Classy Cat Burglar, definitely a criminal, but far from a violent psychopath like most of his other enemies. She's frequently portrayed sympathetically and is a major (many would say, THE major) love interest for the hero, sometimes nudging her into Anti-Hero territory.
- Matt Hagen, AKA Clayface, is an actor-turned-shapeshifting monster whose main purpose is to get back to looking human again and get revenge on the people who turned him into Clayface. It was partially his own damn fault that he got mixed up with them, but don't expect him to acknowledge that.
- The Riddler has shades of this as well in several incarnations, considering, most of the time, his entire gimmick is based on pathetically making it easier for Batman to catch him, and his crimes are relatively benign ones...right about now, he's spending more time reformed than not. Notably not the case in the DCAU where he successfully takes the level in bad-ass and has intentions that (while sympathetic) are clearly murderous.
- The Mad Hatter is also sometimes quite sympathetic, and not only in the Animated Series (though his first appearance therein is filled with enough squick to make everyone feel comfortable when he gets repeatedly punched in the face). At one point in the comic based on the Animated Series, he trapped Batman in a morally simplistic Silver Age dream world...and when Batman managed to free himself and confront him, the Mad Hatter explained that he thought it would make the ordinarily lonely and brooding Batman happy for once. This plot was used in "Perchance To Dream".
Hatter: You ruined my life! I was willing to give you whatever life you wanted, just to keep you out of mine!
- Killer Croc was this for a time, committing crimes to get food and clothing for homeless outcasts who he sympathized with as they, like him, were hated and shunned by society.
- Then we have little Mary Dahl, a 30-something actress who is trapped in the body of a 5-year-old due to a rare genetic defect. After failing to be taken seriously as a dramatic actress as Macbeth's wife in a stage play, she snaps and reverts to her TV persona, going so far as to capture her old cast mates to recreate a birthday party episode "ruined" by Cousin Oliver (according to script, of course). Seems standard fare...but then they hit the hall of mirrors when she tries to escape from Batman. A bit of mind breakage is kind of expected, in a situation like that.
- Terry gets his own Dating Catwoman moment with Ten, member of Beyond's version of the Royal Flush Gang. She's significantly more reluctant and less ruthless than the rest, acting more out of familial loyalty than malice or greed. At the end, we get the delightful Continuity Nod from Bruce:
Terry: This kind of thing ever happen to you?
- Two-Face/Harvey Dent. Granted, in Batman: TAS, he had the split personality beforehand...but then, the guy suffers from a split personality!
- Ra's al-Ghul and Poison Ivy are willing to kill nearly every other human being on the planet, if it meant saving Mother Earth.
- And in the movie, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, we have the Phantasm or Andrea. Given her reasons for doing what she does, it's practically impossible not to have sympathy for her.
- The Penguin entered this territory in the episode "Birds of a Feather". He decides to reform and actually goes through with it. Two socialites decide to play a trick on him and the female one pretends to be in love with him; but the Penguin takes it seriously and saves her from muggers. Ultimately, though, he finds out about their original intentions to mock him, snaps, convinced that society will never accept his reform, and kidnaps her. It seems to go without saying that attempting to make a Butt Monkey of a recently-reformed criminal is a VERY bad idea.
- About the only really heinous thing about Harley Quinn is her undying crush on the resident Complete Monster. When she isn't around the Joker, she's still an obnoxious Tsundere, but she rarely tries to harm anyone unprovoked, and she legitimately cares about a few others, such as Poison Ivy (mentioned above) and her pet hyenas.
- Arnold Wesker, aka the Ventriloquist, is a calm, quiet person bossed around by his other personality, Scarface. Fortunately, in "Double Talk" he finally gets rid of Scarface for good, making him one of the few Batman villains to successfully reform.
- In The Spectacular Spider-Man series, Black Cat fills precisely the same role she had in the comics. Unlike her comic book counterpart, she never made the jump to Anti-Hero.
- Sandman was definitely an anti-villain, as explored in the final episode that he appears in season two. In his own words: "I never meant to hurt anybody; I was just in it for the bucks".
- Even The Batman has examples of Anti-Villain such as Clayface who had his back story changed as to become horribly mind raped by The Joker after already having to deal with hell from Da Chief, and to make it worse, he was a childhood friend of Batman, and one of his few supporters on the Gotham Force.
- Also The Riddler who is even more sympathetic than usual,who only wanted to help increase intelligence only for one experiment of his to be sabotaged by his co-worker,who he was implied to have a crush on.
- Harley Quinn also counts,for all the same reasons as her DCAU counterpart.
- In the seasons preceding his Heel Face Turn, Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender had so many heroic traits and plot lines that fans were at a loss as to what to call him before this index was created. If not for the fact that he was constantly trying to capture the protagonist, he would be the most sympathetic character on the show. (And to many viewers, he is anyway.)
- Mai and Ty Lee would count as either this or Punch Clock Villains, moreso Mai than Ty Lee since, while Ty Lee isn't evil at all, Mai has more of a sympathetic reason behind her behavior than Ty Lee does.
- For a few episodes after his Heel Face Turn, Zuko is arguably the purest form of this trope; his attempts to explain his change of heart to the Gaang and prove the sincerity of his intent only serve to convince them that he's gone from threat to nuisance, and after he burns Toph by mistake he cries unto the heavens, "Why am I so bad at being good?!"
- There's also Iroh, who almost delves into Hero Antagonist territory.
- Amon from The Legend of Korra. When he was a child, his family was poor. Eventually, a firebender killed his family and burned his face to a grotesque degree. Because of this, he became violently prejudiced against benders, and the act of bending itself. While comparisons can be drawn between Amon and various historical figures; most notably Mao Ze Dong, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin, from what we've seen so far, there is at least a grain of truth to Amon's assertion that benders are oppressing non-benders.
- Scourge in Transformers Cybertron, whose iron-fisted rule over the Jungle Planet began with the intent of bringing law to a lawless world, and is about halfway down the Slippery Slope when we meet him, slips down further, then manages to claw his way back towards the top near the end of the series.
- An even greater example is Sky-Byte from Transformers Robots in Disguise, who sometimes found himself trying to protect human lives. He's also flamboyantly comical, prone to singing songs and writing haikus, and seems to desire appreciation by his commander. By the end of the series, rather than be incarcerated with the rest of the villains, he escapes to live peacefully on Earth.
Sky-Byte: "Now, more than ever before--my dear hostages need me!"
- Transformers Generation 1 had at least one in Thundercracker, one of the original three Seekers. He was constantly shown to have Noble Demon tendencies, did not enjoy the suffering of humans like most 'Cons and was at times capable of compassion, and would question his allegiance (contrast his colleagues Starscream and Skywarp - one a Smug Snake backstabber, and the other a Stupid Evil psycho). It's strongly implied the main reason he continued to serve Megatron was out of fear rather than loyalty. Skyfire/Jetfire may also count, but since he underwent a Heel Face Turn so quickly it's debatable.
- David Slack, Amy Wolfram, and Glen Murakami, the writers and producers of the Teen Titans animated series, considered their version of Terra to be "a tragic character." The fans had their own interpretations...
- The Ultra-Humanite, as he appears in Justice League. His grand list of crimes is as follows: 1: breaking Lex Luthor out of prison and saving his life from kryptonite poisoning so that Ultra can get a huge donation to Public Broadcasting (and then foiling Lex's plot and turning both Lex and himself in once Batman gives him a better offer), and 2: planning to demolish a modern art museum during the Christmas Episode (when, of course, nobody would be around to be caught in the crossfire), only to quickly declare a Christmas Truce with The Flash and help him give Christmas presents to orphans (ok, so he modified the toy so it recited The Nutcracker, complete with musical score, instead of blowing raspberries). He isn't seen in another villain role after that.
- Many (if not most) of the villains in the first season of Superfriends qualify. Goodfellow invented the GEEC so as to free mankind from tedious chores, then offered it as a free service to everyone on Earth. The ocean-polluting aliens were filtering silicon from Earth's seas for fuel, because they were stranded and their space ship ran on silicon. The global-warming aliens were heating up the Earth because their own planet had frozen over and they needed a new home.
- Whether or not Invader Zim qualifies for this trope is a heavily debated topic amongst the fandom. Those against cite his Psycho for Hire-like eagerness to cause The End of the World as We Know It, while those for cite his failure to Just Kill his arch-nemesis and his partly "I just want to be loved" motives. See Alternate Character Interpretation for more.
- The majority of the Rogues Gallery in Gargoyles qualifies to some degree or another—it's actually easier to list off the truly evil characters in Gargoyles, as there are fewer of them. Sevarius, Jackal and Hyena, Thailog, Proteus, the Archmage, and a few historical characters who were bastards in real life. Everyone else is various shades of Anti-Villain (or at least, more realistically human in their villainy):
- Xanatos, if he didn't start out this way, he would be there by the end, when he became a Friendly Enemy to the clan and found a pair of Morality Pets in his wife, Fox, and son, Alexander.
- Demona, a mostly-immortal gargoyle who has watched her species driven to near-extinction over the course of her life and wants to Kill All Humans as revenge/to protect the few that remain. Aside from her Freudian Excuse, she has her daughter, Angela, as a Morality Pet, and is generally portrayed as being deeply wounded deep down.
- Macbeth is another immortal with a history with Demona, and his early actions are mostly centered on finding her so that he can finally die, since only she can kill him. Later on, he drifts more into Anti-Hero territory, though it's hard to say where he stands by the time the comic ends.
- The Emir, a one-off villain associated with Xanatos, tried to control the spirit of death so that he could resurrect his young son.
- Sylvester the cat and Elmer Fudd in Looney Tunes, who, beside their personal vendetta against their adversary, are quite nice fellows and star as the good guys in one or two cartoons.
- And on the Disney side, Pete was nothing more for Mickey Mouse than what Sylvester was for Tweety in his debut. While he's more Machiavellian these days, most other Disney villains would still able to smash him in a villainy contest. And in few instance, he, too, would have a good (if slightly anti-heroic) role once in a while.
- The second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 'toon has several of these, but three stand out. Karai begins as a Worthy Opponent, who, despite disagreeing with some of the Shredder’s more destructive tendencies and secretly stopping them when she can, stands by his side because he is her adoptive father. Bishop is a Well-Intentioned Extremist, who truly does care about his stated mission to protect Earth and will fall in with anyone who aids that goal. Baxter Stockman, although amoral and unrepentant, becomes one of these due to getting the short end of the karma stick during his systematical reduction to a Brain In a Jar. By the time his Day in The Limelight comes along, he's more tragic than anything.
- In Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, it's revealed that Charmcaster's villainous attempts to gain great power were all to free her enslaved home world and avenge her fallen people, including her father.
- One episode of Samurai Jack is entirely from an enemy Mook's perspective. It is revealed that this robot was given emotions and that a dog he cares for is held hostage, which is why he fights Jack, only to be immediately killed.
- Another episode focused on a group of bounty hunters who wanted to capture Jack. One of them, Princess Mira, wanted to capture him to trade to Aku for her kingdom's freedom.
- King Haggard, from The Last Unicorn, is arguably this, as his motivations are laid bare.
- Sargeant Hatred of The Venture Bros, once he finally enters the spotlight, turns out to be far more benevolent than his name would suggest, treating the Venture family well and not taking his position as their "arch" all that seriously. In season 4, he even becomes their bodyguard and attempts to be a good role-model to Hank. Unfortunately, he's severely emotionally unstable, not to mention a recovering pedophile, so the love is not exactly reciprocated.
- In Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Gene Khan is this initially and throughout most of the first season. Whether or not he's still an Anti-Villain after the events of the season one finale is a serious case of contention among fandom. On the one hand, there's some foreshadowing that he may not be too far gone to save, and he doesn't seem happy with how things have turned out. On the other hand, he has (by the standards of Nickolodeon) crossed the Moral Event Horizon for many, given he almost killed Tony, kidnapped Tony's dad, and threw this into Tony's face mercilessly.
- The Jonny Quest franchise isn't known for its sympathetic villains, but The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest did a number with Ezekiel Rage, primarily in his initial appearance, where he was a delusional man, driven mad by the brutal loss of his wife and child, who mistook Jessie for a hallucination of his own daughter and wanted revenge against anyone he could find. His subsequent appearances, however, are much less sympathetic.
- The titular character of Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? gradually became this. She played many related tropes straight, too: the Friendly Enemy, often partnering with her rivals Zack and Ivy; the Worthy Opponent, shown to enjoy her "game" with ACME and harbor no ill feelings against them; and occasionally the Villain Protagonist, particularly in the last two episodes of the series when she met her long-lost father only to see him abducted by proper villain Lee Jordan.
- Bushroot in Darkwing Duck was once described along the lines of "not so much a villain as just desperately in need of a peer group".
- Rameses in The Prince of Egypt (yes, the Pharaoh). Unlike the Pharaoh of The Bible, he's shown to be a well-meaning man who genuinely loves his brother Moses and is struggling with his father's shadow, but because of his upbringing, he's blind to certain things in life, like the suffering of the slaves. Yet he's not villainous at all until Moses starts demanding that he let his people go. The writers deliberately humanized him, but made him so sympathetic and tragic that, at some points, they had to rewrite some scenes between him and Moses because Moses came off as being cruel to him. And even then, he is a very tragic figure.
- Arbutus from Aladdin: The Animated Series (that guy who has power over plant life) could arguably count. He did capture Jasmine and demand her as the Sultan's twenty-year-old debt payment for killing one of his flowers, but he didn't exactly do anything particularly villainous beyond that and wasn't even evil by standard definitions.
- A more genuine example is Aladdin's father in Aladdin and the King of Thieves. As implied by the title, he is the leader of the forty thieves. However, it's implied that his only motivation for wanting to lead them, as well as stealing various treasures, and why he left the family to lead them, was to allow his family to not be impoverished anymore. He also intended to return to his family once he had amassed enough wealth, but by the time he returned, he was unable to find them, and thus he believed they had died.
- Moordryd Payyn from Dragon Booster qualifies. It's implied rather often that while he is a jerk most of the time, he is really only doing the evil stuff for his Big Bad dad's approval (shown best in episode 11, "Pride of the Hero", when he was shocked out of a With Great Power Comes Great Insanity state when his father (under pressure from The Hero, the Dragon Booster) admits to being proud of Moordryd. From Moordryd's reaction, one must assume that he doesn't get that praise often).
- Also, when things got really dangerous for the whole city (including his friends), Moordryd saved the city from the Brainwashed and Crazy Dragon Booster, foiling his father's scheme. It's also implied in the final episodes that he might go Anti-Hero, but as the second series never materialized, it's impossible to know.
- Adventure Time: the Ice King may or may not be this trope. While he does make a hobby out of kidnapping princesses and is shown to have sociopathic tendencies, most of the time, he's just desperate for the same affection Finn and Jake receive but doesn't know how to get it, due to, again, him being a sociopath.
- One episode revolved entirely around the Ice King spying on the duo using a creepy horse costume, not in an attempt to learn their secrets, but to learn how to have fun.
- And now it's been revealed that he was once a human named Simon Petrikov until, one day, he bought an old antique crown and tried it on. It drove him insane, driving away his fiance and warping him into the Ice King we know today. He even apologises in the tape where we find this out for anything awful he might do under the crown's power.
- The earl of Lemongrab could count as this. He isn't really a villain- just a huge prick- but the extent of his jerkassery certainly paints him in a villainous light. He sent everyone in the kingdom to the dungeon for one million years, terrorized and threatened the candy people for petty reasons, made a child cry in deleted scene, belittled his butler, screamed at and imprisoned everybody including his mother... But the reason he's so insensitive and such a huge jerkass is the fact that he's a science experiment gone horribly wrong. Whatever mistake Princess Bubblegum made while creating him resulted in him having an Ambiguous Disorder that causes him a Hair-Trigger Temper, Super OCD, No Social Skills, No Indoor Voice, and the general mannerisms of The Mentally Disturbed. Sure he's a jerk, but he's also "completely unadjusted to living," according to Adam Muto, a writer on the show. To make matters more puzzling, his motivations are far from malicious- he just wants the kingdom to be quiet, peaceful, orderly, tidy, clean, and free of pranks and pillow fights. It just happens that, in his maladjusted mind, Disproportionate Retribution is the proper way of dealing with disorder of any kind.
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic villains, for the most part, either change their ways, or are too minor villains to really need to in the first place It's considered more jarring for a villain in the show to be genuinely vile.
- In some Tom and Jerry shorts, Tom qualifies, due to him either not starting the conflict, just trying to protect the house, doing his job, or other things. At some point, the writers allowed him to win a few times.
- In Tiny Toon Furrball is a homeless kitten who desires a home and love. Even at his most antagonistic, trying to eat Sweet Pea, who is a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing Jerkass Comedic Sociopath anyway, is only motivated by survival. Furrball is also the series’ biggest Woobie.
- The Voltron: Legendary Defender's incarnation of Prince Lotor can be seen as a mix of this and Anti-Hero. He settles on a very dark take of this trope
- admittedly, by their own industrial air pollution
- such as Luna, or the dragon from Dragonshy, or even the main characters after temporary villainy from less sane moments
- such as Silver Spoon, Diamond Tiara, Gilda, Trixie or Flim and Flam.