5 most memorable antagonists in the Yakuza franchise

Yakuza has no shortage of memorable, often horrific antagonists. Here are some of the series' most memorable foes (Image via Sportskeeda)
Yakuza has no shortage of memorable, often horrific antagonists. Here are some of the series' most memorable foes (Image via Sportskeeda)

If there’s anything Yakuza is known for as a franchise, it's the antagonists. They widely range in character and background as well. Some have terrible yet sympathetic falls from grace, others are jealous of Kiryu, and the rest are just unrepentantly vile with zero redeeming characteristics.

Kiryu and Ichiban are both wholesome characters who fans have come to love over the years. But what about the antagonists of this franchise? Which characters have come to be unforgettable?


Who are the best of the worst in the Yakuza franchise?

It’s important to note that this list is not ranked. The way these characters appeal to players will often vary, and these are not the only memorable characters that Kiryu and Ichiban wind up fighting. As intense, story-driven games, the foes Kiryu fights need to be memorable. They need to have plenty of depth.

Despite many of them being criminals, they have origins and backstories that have ultimately led them to this place, standing at odds against Kiryu. Not all of them are even especially bad people.

5 most memorable Yakuza antagonists

  • Ryo Aoki (Masato Arakawa)
  • Ryuji Goda
  • Futoshi Shimano
  • Daisaku Kuze
  • Akira Nishikiyama

Every villain in the series is different, but these stand heads and tails above the rest.

This list will contain spoilers for the Yakuza franchise.

5) Ryo Aoki (Masato Arakawa) - Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Ryo Aoki is the final boss of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and for the early part of the game, he’s just the son of a Yakuza, bound to a wheelchair. The visual changes between “Ryo Aoki” and “Masato Arakawa” are incredible, and so is the governor of Tokyo and founder of Bleach Japan, throughout the events of the game.

Masato Arakawa basically did not exist. Ostracized for being the son of a Yakuza Patriarch, it changed the character’s view of the world in a dark way. Changing up his name and his physical features, he chose to be a politician. Instead of developing empathy for other people that suffer, he chose to punish those people instead.


Ryo Aoki wanted to be popular and powerful, and he used the most conservative, closed-minded parts of the Japanese population to do that. He focused on the “gray zones” of Japan, punishing the vulnerable parts of the population. Despite that, he was very willing to hire people in the gray zones, like the Yakuza, to forward his schemes.

Ultimately, this led Kasuga Ichiban to do battle with Ryo Aoki one-on-one, the two trading fists. Kasuga got through to Ryo Aoki, who was going to take his own life. Right as Ichiban got through to him, the tragedy of Ryo Aoki’s life hits its end, as Kume stabbed his former employer.


Ryo Aoki is certainly a tragic character throughout the game, who, instead of growing up from the circumstances he found himself in, used this to harm others.

4) Ryuji Goda: Yakuza 2/Yakuza Kiwami 2

Ryuji Goda is the son of the fifth leader of the Omi Alliance, Jin Goda in Kiwami 2. He ultimately succeeded his father in the Go-Ryu Clan of that same organization. Incredibly powerful, he was known as “The Dragon of Kansai.” This nickname would lead to his clash with Kiryu Kazuma since he was known as “The Dragon of Dojima.”


Incredibly ambitious and wildly powerful, Ryuji Goda wants to be the one and only dragon. There can’t be two, in his head. He believes that strength is the only thing that matters, akin to Makoto Shishio in Rurouni Kenshin. Only the strong deserve to wield power.

His final moments in dealing with Kiryu are also a tragic affair. He had already taken several bullets that should soon end his life, he challenged Kiryu to one final battle, having already proven to be selfless in taking bullets to protect his family.


Ryuji Goda sadly died at the end of the battle, and he admitted that he wished to have spent more time with his sister, in his final moments. Ryuji is a fascinating character in that he’s scornful of duplicitous people, and is well-aware of his own faults, such as his impulsive nature.

3) Futoshi Shimano: Yakuza Kiwami

Futoshi Shimano, head of the Shimano Clan, is a character that is frankly, without much in the way of positive virtues. He’s ruthless, violent, and bullies anyone too weak to fight back against him.

He’s not shy about torture, being responsible for torturing Majima in 1985. Majima did not take part in the Yoshiharu Ueno hit, and it was a perfect way to show just how horrific Shimano was.

He can be manipulative too, though, as he used Majima to exploit Makoto Makimura to try and acquire the deed to the Empty Lot. He also managed to keep Majima from killing him at the events of Yakuza 0, by giving up his Captain’s seat. After torturing Majima, the Mad Dog of Shimano still did not kill his former boss.


Completely ruthless, anyone in his way was a casualty, such as when he threw a grenade, likely knowing Shintaro Kazama would protect Haruka. Most of the acts committed by Shimano are plagued with self-interest, and he sees no change of heart.

In his final moments, he throws the grenade and winds up gunned down by Terada, leading to the Nishkiyama family absorbing the Shimano Family.


Futoshi Shimano is gross, evil, and vile without many positive traits. Most people remember him simply for the torture of Majima, making him an unrepentant villain. He even corrupts Nishikiyama, turning him against Kiryu and all of his other friends through his words.

2) Daisaku Kuze: Yakuza 0

Enough interesting things cannot be said about Daisaku Kuze. One of the best antagonists in the entire franchise, he epitomizes what it means to be an old-school Yakuza in the 1980s. A lieutenant in the Dojima family, he also led a subsidiary family, the Kenno Clan.


An older, muscular man, Daisaku Kuze is a thug and is well aware of the way he lives his life. He is open about his feelings and the shortcomings of others, but he’s not a particularly evil man. He does adhere to a code of honor, though, and lives the life of a Yakuza the way he feels it should be lived.

A former boxer, he’s resilient and does not give up. Kuze views the world as a struggle to get stronger, and this leads him into repeated battles with Kiryu. He wants to make the latter fall in line but ultimately finds himself respecting Kiryu as a combatant. He even acknowledges Kiryu as a “true Yakuza.”


However, unlike many of the other antagonists in the series, Kuze goes to jail for his crimes, instead of being killed in battle, by a giant explosion, or by an assassin’s bullet.

He goes to jail with Shibusawa during Yakuza 0. Although Kuze is often seen as ruthless and brutal, he lives the life through to the end.

1) Akira Nishikiyama: Yakuza/Yakuza Kiwami

Akira Nishikiyama is the adopted brother of Kiryu Kazuma, and for most of their lives, they are best friends. In Yakuza 0, he’s Kiryu’s ally, standing by his side through the events of the Empty Lot. However, in the first game, he’s the main antagonist of the title. The events of the prequel turned Nishikiyama into a tragic villain.

No matter what Nishikiyama did, he was always in Kiryu’s shadow. This could even perhaps be seen in his tattoo of a Koi fish swimming up a waterfall, whereas Kiryu’s is a dragon.

The tale represented in Nishikiyama’s tattoo is of a Koi fish that swims up a waterfall and becomes a dragon. However, Kiryu is already a dragon.


Even when Kiryu left the Dojima clan and spent 10 years in jail, he could not escape his brother’s shadow. This changed Nishikiyama as a person, making him cold, and emotionless. He would become a person that would do anything to climb the ladder of the clan.

Being told he wasn’t good enough to lead his clan, he wound up growing paranoid. He’d view the words of people as being words of scorn or mockery. Except for Matsushige, who genuinely did not respect his leader.

Nishikiyama’s inferiority complex could be seen in Yakuza 0 as well, such as when he has a showdown with Kiryu, with orders to kill him.

In Yakuza Kiwami, he betrayed his friends, and repeatedly tried to kill Kiryu. He even used the Omi Alliance, his faction’s biggest enemy to try to do it. Nishikiyama was so far gone that he even shot Kazama, his adopted father, just to get at Kiryu. He would stop at nothing to gain the respect he felt he deserved, that others had already given him.


Ultimately, Kiryu defeats his friend and convinced him to take responsibility for what he had done. This did lead to the death of Akira Nishikiyama.

The tale of the franchise is often one filled with sadness and good people who have been led to do terrible things. These characters are deep, fascinating looks into the human psyche.

They are well developed and have reasons that make sense for why they have become what they have. These antagonists are some of the most memorable in the entire franchise.

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Edited by Sijo Samuel Paul
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