This article contains spoilers for the current season of My Hero Academia.

Shonen anime has produced no shortage of iconic villains over the years, from Lord Frieza in Dragon Ball Z to Dio Brando in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure to Marshall D. Teach of One Piece fame. But in recent years, the main antagonist of one of the biggest modern shonen series has risen up to take his place as one of the most compelling, fascinating, and downright terrifying shonen villains in all of anime — Tomura Shigaraki from My Hero Academia.

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My Hero Academia is, true to its name, a superhero series first and foremost, following the adventures of Izuku “Deku” Midoriya as he trains to become the world’s greatest hero. Deku’s fought plenty of deadly villains over the course of the manga and its anime adaptation — villains like the hero-killing ideologue Stain, the sadistic brute Muscular, and the ruthless yakuza boss Overhaul. But every great superhero needs a truly legendary supervillain as their arch-nemesis, and in this case, that villain is Tomura Shigaraki.

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Shigaraki was the first major villain to appear in the series, making his debut in the latter half of the anime’s first season. He was presented as the leader of the League of Villains, the main enemy faction of the series — but despite providing Deku’s first fight with real supervillains, Shigaraki didn’t come off as particularly intimidating in his initial appearance. Instead of a cunning evil mastermind, he was immature, arrogant, and short-tempered. Compared to his level-headed right-hand man Kurogiri or the monstrous genetic experiment Nomu, Shigaraki himself posed little threat to the heroes by comparison.

However, it quickly became apparent that this was by design. After all, Shigaraki begins the series at a mere 20 years old, barely any older than the show’s teenage protagonists. Just as Deku is taking the first steps in his Hero’s Journey under the tutelage of his mentor All Might, Shigaraki is initially the apprentice to All Might’s nemesis All For One. And by the end of the first season, it’s clear that Shigaraki still has a lot to learn about villainy. In Season 2, Shigaraki attempts to recruit the Hero Killer Stain to the League of Villains, only for Stain to decry Shigaraki as a petty criminal with no ideology behind his actions. And while Shigaraki is enraged by Stain’s insults at first, he soon chooses to correct his mistakes by discovering his own philosophy.

In Season 3, All For One is defeated by All Might in a spectacular final battle, forcing Shigaraki to cope with his leader’s absence. And sure enough, he reappears in Season 4, Shigaraki is finally beginning to come into his own as the true leader of the League of Villains. He’s evolved from an unstable man-child to a clever and charismatic schemer, playing his foes against one another to expand his control over Japan’s criminal underworld. Moreover, he’s gone from treating his minions as disposable pawns to commanding a close-knit team of villains who trust and admire him as their leader. The League of Villains are no longer a criminal organization, but a genuine found family.

Shigaraki’s development is highlighted in the final episodes of My Hero Academia Season 5, which feature the League of Villains not as the antagonists, but as the lead characters. While the main story of the arc — focusing on the League of Villains as they clash with a rival villain organization, the Meta Liberation Army — is an entertaining look at the League and their team dynamic, the real meat of the arc comes from Shigaraki himself, whose tragic backstory is finally revealed. It’s been known since Season 3 that Tomura Shigaraki was born Tenko Shimura, the grandson of All Might’s late mentor Nana Shimura who died fighting All For One. But in Season 5, the series explores his descent into villainy in all its gruesome detail.

It’s revealed that young Tenko was quite similar to Deku himself — an optimistic boy who adored and admired superheroes. But while Deku’s mother supported his dreams of heroism, Tenko’s father harshly disciplined him for playing hero, due to his own estranged relationship with his mother Nana. One day, Tenko broke into his father’s office and discovered a picture of his grandma in her hero costume, causing him to become overjoyed that he was related to a real hero. But when Tenko’s father learned of this, he beat his son in retaliation. The trauma of this event caused Tenko’s superhuman Quirk to activate uncontrollably for the first time, forcing the child to watch helplessly as he disintegrated his family one by one — including his father, who he ended up killing deliberately in a fit of rage.

The newly orphaned Tenko wound up wandering the streets alone, hoping that one of the heroes he admired would save him. But instead, all he saw was an uncaring populace who passed him by without a second glance. In the end, the only person who saved him wasn’t a hero, but the greatest villain of all — All For One, the killer of Tenko’s own grandmother. All For One adopted Tenko as his own son, granting him the name “Tomura Shigaraki” and training him as an apprentice. Under All For One’s tutelage, Shigaraki’s resentment towards the heroes who failed to save him turned into hatred, and that hate soon extended to society as a whole. Over the years, Shigaraki’s rage only grew, until he became determined to tear down the current order as his vengeance against the world that ignored his suffering.

Some of the greatest supervillains are the ones who serve as dark reflections of their hero — Batman and Joker, Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus, et cetera. Likewise, Shigaraki serves as a twisted parallel to Deku. Both began as children who dreamed of becoming heroes, only to have their dreams shattered by cruel fate. But while Deku’s hope was restored by the ultimate hero, All Might, Shigaraki’s bitterness was stoked by the ultimate villain, All For One. And just as Deku seeks to be the next Symbol of Peace, Shigaraki follows in his master’s footsteps as the Symbol of Fear.

But not only is Shigaraki the perfect foil to Deku, he’s also the perfect thematic antithesis for the series as a whole. My Hero Academia is a love letter to the superhero genre, exploring just what it means to be a hero and highlighting how superheroes can inspire hope and change lives for the better — so there’s no better villain for that story than a man who’s lost all faith in heroes, seeking to expose their failings to the world and destroy the flawed system they uphold. Ultimately, the conflict at the heart of the system is an ideological one: do superheroes make the world better or worse?

Of course, being the villain, Shigaraki is bound to be proven wrong in the end. But up until that point, he’s sure to be the perfect ideological opposite to Deku, not to mention a darkly fun character all around. In a series filled with villains who fans love to hate, none are quite so delightfully devilish as Tomura Shigaraki.

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