10 most well-received character redemptions in anime

Itachi's farewell, a well-received redemption (Image courtesy of Studio Pierrot)
Itachi's farewell, a well-received redemption (Image courtesy of Studio Pierrot)

There is a slew of redemptions in anime.

From former world-ending villains to emperors to just plain cowards, these characters usually had a rough go of their lives or have made someone else's life miserable. For the most part, their redemptions are well received by fans of the series in question and are usually seen as defining moments.

Here are the rules: only one example per series. Said examples must be well received, and the writing quality doesn't count.

Note: Spoilers for many popular anime, old and new. This list is entirely the author's opinion.


Seto Kaiba, Endeavor, and eight other well-liked anime redemptions

1) Vegeta

It almost feels like cheating to start a list off with the narcissistic Prince of All Saiyans, but Vegeta from Dragon Ball is here anyway! A longtime rival of Goku, and far more evil than Piccolo ever was, Vegeta nevertheless garnered his fair share of fans early on for his arrogant attitude and techniques.

Even though he was self-serving at first, people liked his underdog qualities and began rooting for him during the Cell Saga, when he acknowledged Trunks as his son.

His character redemption may have been slow, but it was well worth it for fans to see Vegeta go from "I will destroy the Earth and you with it, Kakarot!" to "THAT'S MY BULMA!" and punching out Beerus in Super.

Vegeta has only gotten better in fans' eyes as the series has gone on because of his family and devotion to them. Indeed, a popular redemption.


2) Emerald Sustrai

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Does it count as a villain redemption if you see it coming from several miles away, or if that person wasn't truly a villain in the first place? Emerald Sustrai of RWBY certainly fits the bill.

Like Vegeta, she started as a puppet of the villains and began questioning more than a few things after a spectacular defeat.

She started as an orphan thief, on the run from the police after using her illusions to steal to survive. After a run-in with the main antagonist, Cinder Fall, Emerald was swept into a dark world of murder, dark rituals, and horrifying creatures.

She stayed as long as she did out of a sense of devotion to Cinder, who did nothing more than abusing her.

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Finally, in Volume 8, Emerald worked up the courage to leave after hearing crucial information and being abused by Cinder more than once. She joined up with the good guys and, after some initial hostility, helped them save as many people as they could from the deranged military dictator Ironwood (stopping him from nuking the evacuees in the process).

She also caused the cold immortal Grimm Queen Salem to regenerate. The latter doing so brought them more time to evacuate people.

Though some critics didn't buy Emerald's redemption, fans were quick to point out how she never reveled in the slaughter or backstabbing the other villains did. She was always scared when things got spooky (as they often do when your boss is Queen of Grimm) and showed genuine concern for the wellbeing of people she didn't know.

It helped that she aided in evacuating hundreds and kept Penny Polendina grounded so they could help her out. Fans who've always seen good in Emerald were overjoyed when she eventually joined the good guys.


3) Seto Kaiba

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Seto Kaiba is an example of someone who definitely started as a villain. From the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga, where he tried to legitimately kill Yugi and friends over losing a card game, to the anime where he caused Yugi's grandfather to have a heart attack over said card game, to various other actions that resulted in harm, he was quite the antagonist.

So, where and when did Kaiba get fans and redemptions? From wanting to save his brother Mokuba from Pegasus in Duelist Kingdom to trying to dodge assassins sent by his corrupt board of directors, and to top it off, by confronting his controlling father in a virtual world, fans can see why Seto has fans. Add to these the odds against him, his dragon deck, and his attitude.

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He also slowly teamed up with Yugi and continued to help throughout the series until he recognized the latter as a legitimate duelist and person too. It was more of an eventuality rather than a surprise, a culmination of character development over several seasons.


4) Scar

Scar from Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood is another victim of genocide in the form of the Ishvalen Civil War. He started as a nameless lone serial killer who targeted State Alchemists, and it wasn't until later that the audience discovered why.

As far as his redemption, it took a long time with him targeting the Elrics and engaging them. He'd have to go on his own journey with his own party to finally realize the entire truth of the matter.

His redemption was convincing because it took a while, with him genuinely reflecting on the killings he did with Winry in particular, since Scar killed her parents, and helping the Elrics and everyone else take on the rest of the homunculi. He's loved for his backstory and colder attitude that hides a softer man beneath.

A realistic depiction of wrathful grief is good too.


5) Ken Ichijouji

The Digimon Emperor from Digimon Adventure 2 (and impersonated in Tri), Ken Ichijouji, is akin to Emerald in a sense. He's better compared to Tommy Oliver from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: he was hypnotized and depressed when he was the Digimon Emperor.

The dark spores that infected him had to be forcibly removed by the Digidestined, and then he had to be helped out of doing a self-sacrifice play to redeem himself.

Comparisons to Tommy aside, Ken was a child who ultimately felt pushed aside and lost thanks to his older brother dying. His cold and callous behavior was blamed mainly on the dark crystal's manipulations. Fans latched onto that when it came to his redemption.


6) Endeavor

Abusive dad, got better, next!

Endeavor from My Hero Academia wasn't the best father. He drove his first son to become Dabi, his second son Shoto to hate him, and his wife to a psych ward.

His general loud and horrifyingly aggressive behavior, not to mention his abusing and over-pushing of Shoto, definitely hurt his standing with fans.

Then again, over the course of the anime and manga, he began to realize how much of a tool he'd been. He apologized on a hospital bed after waking up from anesthesia and resolved to deal with Dabi alongside Shoto.

Fans were mixed on this one but are at least happy with how Shoto's family drama is wrapping up while the war looms ahead.


7) Erwin Smith

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This is a curious case of redemption that led to the death of him and his men.

Erwin Smith of Attack on Titan was the 13th commander of the Scout Regiment assigned to retake Wall Maria after the Titans breached it.

The problem was the whole thing was a ruse for his true goal: finding out what was in Eren Yeager's father Grisha's basement and proving his father's theories of life beyond the walls were correct.

However, at the end of it all, he chose to abandon that dream and charge in with his raw recruits to give Levi time to strike the Beast Titan and get everyone else away.

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This sacrifice proved to be a legendary redemption moment in the fans' eyes and elevated him to great heights posthumously. It also enabled Levi to almost kill The Beast Titan.


8) Canute

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Canute of Vinland Saga is notable for his own cowardice on this matter. As king of Denmark, he was timid and always hid behind his chief retainer and foster father, Ragnar.

However, following Ragnar's assassination, Canute has become more aggressive, more outspoken, and far more willing to keep living and step up.

Fans were rather appreciative of this, seeing the king come into his own. His speech on love, as seen above, is considered his awakening and start on his road to better character growth.


9) Itachi Uchiha

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We can't have a redemption list without Itachi Uchiha from Naruto. This one requires heavy summarization: Itachi was caught in a no-win scenario with the Uchiha Clan situation following the Nine-Tailed Fox attack on the Hidden Leaf.

He slew the Uchiha Clan to avoid a far worse fate for himself and his clan. Once that was done, and saving Sasuke was also done, he ran off to join Akatsuki.

Years later, it was revealed that all of that was to aid Sasuke in making him the hero he knew he could be. Sadly, that didn't happen for some time, and it took Itachi returning from the dead to get Sasuke on the right path.

Fans were, needless to say, very divided on this one, especially whether it was deserved or not. In time, most made peace with it, and some came to love this turn, especially after the Itachi Shiden was animated and when he came back from the dead to say farewell.

It was another one where redemption equaled death, but it counted.


10) Meruem

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Meruem from Hunter x Hunter was an enigma to many fans. His entire being was born as leader of the Chimera Ants, believing that violence was the only reliable way.

That changed when he met and came to care for Komugi, a young girl. Over time, through gungi games and a series of other incidents involving her, his whole attitude of seeing humans only as food diminishes.

He begins to care, love, and generally sees humanity's worth. Of course, it was gradual, and fans liked seeing the softer side of the ordinarily violent Chimera Ant.