The Big Bad Wolf, the Evil Queen, the Stepsisters, Joker, Darth Vader – these iconic villains have stayed with us for a very long time. We read about them, we see them in movies, in the originals and remakes. What makes a villain iconic? What makes them timeless? For you to remember them years and years later and still know what the story is about and what the villain did so the hero couldn’t achieve their destiny. These book villains tell their story, you might even relate to them a bit, but the way they do things might not be the right one.
For me, a villain needs to have a reason. A reason for them to do what they’re doing. And for you to see it in a different light, it might be the way to change things, yes, but the villain always does it in their own way: not at all caring that they might create chaos. The hero, if you’re in a A+ story, is not at all that good. They might not follow the rules completely. So you have that gray area that you can see how easily the hero can turn into a villain. The villain also can work into that area. Take a look at these book villains.
Note: This includes spoilers in some of the book villains chosen. You have been warned!
Best Book Villains in Children’s Books
Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter
When I first got introduced to her, I instantly didn’t like her. And with reason! Her whole story arc is to be a bad person. She tortured Harry, she was completely on Voldemort’s side, she fought with him. Through it all, Dolores Umbridge was a pain to read about whenever she was on scene.
The Grinch from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
One of the greatest book villains. He hates Christmas and wants everyone to be completely miserable like him? So he decides to steal Christmas from the Whos. How does he do it? He dresses up as Santa, puts some antlers on top of Max’s (his dog) head, and call it a day. It’s wonderful.
Smaug from The Hobbit
A dragon who was drawn to the fortune of the Lonely Mountain? It’s pretty amazing when you meet him for the first time. Plus he pretty much doesn’t care about the world. He just wants his fortune and to lie there with it.
The Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid
You might know Ursula, the sea witch in the Disney’s retelling, but the Sea Witch from the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen is much worse and more cruel. Why is that? Well, she makes a deal with the Little Mermaid for human legs. Her tongue is chopped off, her fin is cut in half literally to make two legs, and whenever she walks on land, she will feel like she’s walking on sharp knives.
The Raven in Red from City of Ghosts
The Raven in Red is a woman with black hair and a crimson cloak. She’s some sort of myth, of the woman stealing children away from their families. Her story is told through time and it goes like this: her child doesn’t return home one day, so she decides to go search for him and puts on a red cloak so she is easily recognized. She never did find him though. After this, she began to call and cry for other children who were drawn to her voice.
Best YA Book Villains
Adelina Amouteru from The Young Elites
What’s great about The Young Elites is that it’s the story of Adelina’s rise to evil. Because of her dark past, she has always believed the worst of people. Her own father betrayed her, so she couldn’t trust someone so easily. Every encounter she has, she does it with caution. Adelina doesn’t have a lot of friends, but who needs friends when you can rule a kingdom? Marie Lu, the author, has said Adelina is based on Magneto and Darth Vader.
The Darkling from Shadow and Bone
Every villain is very controversial. Do you love them or do you hate them? I’ve never seen a thing like the emotions the Darkling causes. He is the creator of the Shadow Fold, a space of darkness that houses horrifying creatures. He is in need of a Sun Summoner, and when he finds Alina he uses everything in his arsenal to have her.
The Bonner Sisters from When the Moon Was Ours
Four beautiful sisters who are rumored to be witches, the Bonner sisters are alluring but yet terrifying. They have held the attention of the boys of the town for a very long time, but now that charm is fading. They think Miel’s roses are the key to all, so they focus their attention on Miel and Sam. And they will have those roses even if everything comes crashing down.
The Commandant from An Ember in the Ashes
Keris Veturia, also known as The Commandant, is a fearsome woman. She is the head of Blackliff’s academy, and her ruthlessness is known by every single person inside those walls. She tortures and hurts anyone who makes a mistake. She is one scary and evil villain to be honest; every action she does is difficult to read about.
The Patriarchy from We Set the Dark on Fire
The patriarchy is the very villain of this story. It forces women into fighting and competing between themselves. As we know, the government is led by it and women in this society don’t benefit from anything. They are mistreated and put into boxes of how they should live their lives. So who doesn’t want a book that smashes the patriarchy with Latinx leads and a queer romance? Because I do.
Lada Dracul from And I Darken
Oh boy. Lada Dragwlya is a brutal princess who wants the best for her people. But she doesn’t care to spill blood to achieve that. She is a really bloodthirsty royal and has a lot of enemies. But quite honestly, Lada loves being that way. It’s what is so appealing about her and about villains in general. They know how they are and what they want and how they will do it. And if something or someone is in their way, they will be sure to destroy them. That’s Lada Dragwlya, our very own Vlad the Impaler.
Strigoi from Vampire Academy
Strigoi are evil vampires, very different beings from the Moroi, who also are vampires—but Strigoi are made not born. Not like the Moroi. They’re also immortal and very hard to kill, as you know if you’ve read the series. They constantly search for royal Moroi to drink their blood, because theirs is the most delicious and gives them powerful abilities. Things get really difficult when you’re trying to save them.
Okiku from The Girl from the Well
This novel is inspired by Bancho Sarayashiki, the Japanese ghost story. You might have seen the movie The Ring? It’s also inspired by this story with their own dead girl who died in a well. Okiku, in The Girl from the Well, is a ghost who hunts and kills child murderers. She wants revenge and she does it wonderfully. But she also has a heart; she has lived for a very long time, and throughout her life (dead-life?) she has learnt about this world and everything that happens in it.
Cardan Greenbriar from The Cruel Prince
Our fae prince. Cardan Greenbriar is one of the antagonist in The Cruel Prince (he later becomes a crucial character in the next installment). He bullies Jude and her sister. He threatens them, which shows you his cruel personality and his care for nobody. His whole life he has been mistreated by his mother and father. Being the sixth son and someone with not a bright future, he was ignored his whole life.
Jude Duarte from The Cruel Prince
But let me talk to you about Jude Duarte. This is where things get interesting. Because yeah, Cardan is sort of evil and mean and does a lot of questionable things throughout the books. But Jude? Jude is our main protagonist. But she loves lying and bloodshed. Jude is our manipulative queen. She is the master of lies and creator of the outcome of everything happening in this series. She is the one behind the scenes, making it happen. You don’t want to make her angry.
Xifeng from Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns shows us the rise of the Evil Queen. I always find fascinating the books that makes us wonder how these iconic villains rose to power. Xifeng knows she is destined for greatness. With darkness and light battling inside of her, Xifeng has to decide if she wants to become empress even though that path is filled with dark magic. Her journey is hard and good thing try to tempt her but she has a goal set in her mind, and she knows what the outcome will be.
The Cohort from Lady Midnight
The Cohort are horrible people. They believe in the restriction of Downworlders’ rights, because they fear them. They have feared them for a very long time. They also have pushed for internment camps for werewolves. And to be honest, every single thing sounds very Nazi-like, so a very big yikes. They’re the true book villains of this series.
The curse (but also Khalid?) from The Wrath and the Dawn
The curse made Khalid a monster. Because of it, Khalid killed all his previous wives to save his kingdom. All he has wanted is for his people and his kingdom to be okay. He has committed some mistakes along the way, but before anything else, his kingdom is first. He is a man with a lot of secrets. Secrets that Shahrzad has vowed to find out.
Book Villains in Adult Fiction
The Wood from Uprooted
The Wood is a frightful entity. A living, dark entity that feeds constantly. If someone went inside the Wood, you probably won’t be seeing them again. Or if they did come out, they would come out changed, be it in the mind or on their bodies. The Wood ate you alive and good riddance if you so much as get neared it. That’s why everyone is afraid of it and the only one who can protect the town is the Dragon, another being that whispers fear.
Circe from Circe
If you’ve read The Odyssey, you know about Circe. The sorceress who was exiled to the island of Aiaia. Who was a very important part of Odysseus’s journey. But when you read that, you don’t stop and think about Circe’s story and upbringing. Madeline Miller’s book shows you how the stories vilify Circe, and in this love letter to her, Circe becomes a new being. There’s more than turning men into pigs, believe me.
Pennywise from It
One of the most terrifying clowns in history. Pennywise is still making people have nightmares. With the new remake, It came back into our lives. Pennywise is a shapeshifter that changes into people’s fears or loved ones in order to manipulate them and kill them. It’s a rather intelligent being that stalks the Derry kids in the form of a clown because it knows that kids love clowns so it would be easier to get to them.
Ramsay Bolton from A Song of Ice and Fire
Ramsay is cruel, unapologetic, and very, very evil. We can all agree that he’s better off dead. He did a lot of bad things like mutilating victims, raping Sansa Stark, killing children, and lots of other people, and more. His crimes are huge. He is one book villain that we can’t never forget about. Be it if you read about it or watch the series, in either version you hate him with all your guts.
Find even more books about villains here.