Both Death Note and Code Geass both have huge fanbases who are ardently devoted and claim that their preferred series is the best. But despite the obvious rivalry between lovers of the two shows, most fans cannot help but notice certain similarities between them.
This is not to say that one was inspired by the other, since both anime aired from 2006 to 2007 and have very different plotlines. This article does not aim to decide which series is better, but merely to point out how the two are similar or different from each other.
Spoiler: Mentions of plot points and characters from both shows ahead.
5 similarities between Death Note and Code Geass
1) Protagonists who are anti-heroes with savior complexes
Both Lelouch and Light have legitimate savior complexes, with their initial aim being to make the world a better place. In Death Note, Light concludes that annihilating criminals will not only reduce crime but also be a harsh reminder of the consequences of immoral actions, thus being true justice.
In Code Geass, Lelouch believes the Britannia empire to be the root of all evil and thus vows to obliterate the royal family and their empire.
2) Both have strange power given to them by immortals
Both Light and Lelouch stumble upon strange powers that kickstart their stories and fuel their savior complexes. While Light obtains the power to kill anyone by learning their full name using the shinigami Ryuk’s notebook, the immortal CC gives Lelouch a power called Geass, which gives him the ability to manipulate people.
Even the two protagonists’ clinical exploration of the limits of their powers are similar; Light tests out the death note on death row convicts and Lelouch experiments on students from his high school.
3) Psychological warfare and strategy
Both Code Geass and Death Note revolve around psychological warfare between the protagonists and enemies. In Light's case, he maneuvers around and outsmarts the entire Japanese police force, Interpol and L, through his clever scheming and manipulation. He even uses Misa Amane, his paramour, as a pawn.
Lelouch similarly sets up a powerful offensive force to go up against the Britannian empire. He uses the Black Knights, Japanese freedom fighters and organizations rallying for Japan’s independence.
4) Deuteragonists who are morally good “hero” characters
The deuteragonists in both series are morally upright characters, which is unsurprising as the main characters are both anti-heroes, with Light’s character shifting progressively towards that of a villain as the series goes by.
While L is eccentric and unsocial, he remains righteous about exposing Kira for his twisted crimes in the name of justice. Suzaku’s aim is also Japan’s liberation, he takes a more passive and non-violent approach, trying to change the Britannian empire from within.
5) Protagonists killed people
There is no doubt about the fact that both Light and Lelouch killed a lot of people, either directly or indirectly. In Death Note, Light initially kills only hardened criminals and death-row convicts, but the more he gets entangled in his own web, he begins killing anyone who stands in his way.
Lelouch creates a persona for himself as a leader, directing entire armies who are bound to incur loss of life. But his Geass also becomes the cause of both a legitimate genocide and Euphemia’s death.
5 ways the two shows are different from each other
1) Motives and ideologies
The two shows have very different ideologies dominating them. In Death Note, Light’s objective begins off as the implementation of justice to create a crime-free world.
Over the course of the show, however, his motive shifts to simply proving himself as someone who can outwit his enemies and establishing himself as a God-like figure.
Compared to that, Lelouch’s motives in Code Geass start off as far more personal, and turn out to be as cross purposes with each other, forcing him to choose- between exacting revenge for his mother’s murder and creating a better world for his younger sister to live in.
2) Different thematic concerns
Death Note and Code Geass have different thematic contexts as well. The former has a much more biblical ambience, focusing on the meanings of morality and justice and how easily one with power can get those meanings twisted.
Code Geass, being more of a drama with a wider focus, deals with change and ways to bring about it. Lelouch and Suzaku become foils to each other, the paths they take defining how they impact this world to bring about the kind of change they both want.
3) Very different genres
Death Note is at its root, a psychological crime thriller, with supernatural elements becoming the vehicle for carrying the plot forward. Code Geass is much more political, with elements of the supernatural adding spice to it.
While both protagonists are high school students, there are little to no high-school life elements in Death Note, while Code Geass uses this setting to both create significant situations and add comedic moments. The show also incorporates a lot of mecha elements due to its futuristic setting.
4) Code Geass emphasizes emotions while Death Note stresses on intellect
Throughout the show, Light is apathetic and unemotional to the point where the audience is unable to judge if any grief he shows at his father’s death is genuine. His genius lies in his impeccable planning and ability to deal with any situation.
In contrast, Lelouch is a master strategist but can be highly emotional, going to several lengths to keep the people he cares about as far away from harm as possible. This makes him much more human and less condemned despite his actions causing a lot of death.
5) Protagonist character development
The protagonists of Death Note and Code Geass undergo very different character arcs. Light Yagami’s arc is straight-forward, beginning as an anti-hero to finally becoming a ruthless villain.
Nowhere in the show does he show remorse and that only makes his eventual fate pathetic, something that was predicted from much earlier and is in keeping with the moral context of the show.
Lelouch’s journey is much more poignant and fluctuating, as he constantly tries to balance his roles as a leader and dictator, a loving older brother, and a loyal friend. By the end of the series, his goals were also influenced by his experiences, making his dream encompass not just his little sister but all the Elevens and Britannians.
Both shows are very popular and equally acclaimed, with huge fanbases. But they cater to different viewers, and this makes comparisons between these shows’ quality false equivalents.
Both Death Note and Code Geass have their own virtues and vices, but are thoroughly enjoyable in their own right.