Discussion Time: What is it About Anti Heroes We Love so Much?

A little while back I did a Top Ten Tuesday post talking about my favourite morally grey characters, and a lot of the comment and responses I got from other bloggers were talking about how their favourite characters weren’t the heroes of their favourite books, but the anti heroes.

And I’m the same. While I loved characters like Ezra in Illuminae, or Kell in A Darker Shade of Magic, I always preferred scenes with AIDAN in, or learning more about Holland’s past. I sometimes enjoyed reading about the morally grey characters more than reading about the heroes, and the more I thought about it the more I wondered why.

What is it About Anti Heroes We Love so Much

What is it About Anti Heroes we Love So Much?

When it comes down to it we’re supposed to root for the heroes over anyone and everyone else, and in most books I do. When I was reading Harry Potter as a child I wasn’t on Voldemort’s side as he tried to kill the boy who loved, but Harry’s as he struggled to destroy all the Deathly Hallows before finally facing Voldemort. But if you add a morally grey, anti hero character into the story and I can easily find myself rooting for them instead.

Holland, from the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab, was a character I hated in the first book. But as the series continued and we saw more of Holland, discovering his real motivations – his desire to heal White London – and witnessing the horrors of his past, I started rooting for him. By the time I was halfway through A Conjuring of Light he was one of my favourite characters in the series.

shades-of-magic-uk-series

A point someone made in the comments of my Top Ten Tuesday post was how it would have been easy to see Holland as the hero of the series if it had been told from his POV rather than Kell’s and Lila’s. It’s the same situation with Vicious, also by V.E. Schwab. Victor could never be called a ‘hero’, but he was the hero of his own story while Eli was the hero of his. Both characters thought they were doing the right thing but in the general public’s eye one was a hero and the other was a villain.

Vicious


I’ve always found morally grey characters more interesting to read and I think it’s because I can see more of myself in them than I can in the heroes. Granted I’m never going to be able to put myself in the same situation Kaz and the Dregs were in Six of Crows, or Ethan and the Zeroes were in Zeroes, but their actions are easy to understand because their motivations are more human.

What is it About Anti Heroes We Love so Much (1)

When it comes down to it how we feel about characters is largely affected by how we connect to them. Heroes are great to read about but it’s always the flawed and human characters who stay with us because we can connect to them more.


There are plenty of different anti heroes; characters like Holland who have a redemption arc but there are also characters like Lada, from And I Darken, and Mia, from Nevernight. Characters who don’t have a redemption arc, who don’t need one, and whose stories have the potential to end bloody, but they’re some of my favourite characters because in a way they’re almost like the villains masquerading as the heroes.

What is it About Anti Heroes We Love so Much (2)

They can’t afford to care about the bodies that fall at their feet, the lives they have to end to get what they want, and it brings to mind the saying; ‘every villain is the hero of their own story.’


Personally I want more anti heroes in books; more characters like Holland who get their redemption arcs, more characters like Kaz and the Dregs who are out for themselves and no one else, more characters like Lada and Mia who are more brutal than any hero should be. It’s always more fun to read characters we can connect to, characters who have different motivations than simply saving the world.


Now Onto the Discussion Part of This Post:

What is it you love about morally grey anti heroes, and why do you think you love those types of characters so much?

Do you like reading about the anti heroes the most or do you prefer the heroes or villains of the story?

Who are your favourite anti heroes?

Let me know in the comments below.

56 thoughts on “Discussion Time: What is it About Anti Heroes We Love so Much?

  1. Oh yes I’m fascinated by the morally grey characters too 🙂 And I loved following Holland’s motivations too. And yes Victor is a fantastic anti-hero 😀 I love what you said about connecting more with the flawed characters- I so agree!! And yes- it is like they’re the villains masquerading as the heroes!
    Wonderful post!! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Holland had an incredible journey throughout the whole trilogy, and I can’t wait to get more of Victor’s story either.
      Yeah they’re just easier to identify with because like ya they’re not perfect (in my case nowhere near perfect!)
      Thanks so much! 🙂 ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh yes I ADORE morally grey characters/anti-heroes!! 💗 I often find myself drawn to them so much more than to the heroes, because who doesn’t love a good anti-hero? I find them so much more fascinating and interesting, because they are not clearly good or bad! I love that they’re walking a line between both extremes, it gets me every time!

    Okay I have to admit that I LOVED Holland from the right beginning, but I’m happy to hear that you began to like him in the sequels that I have yet to read 💗 And I NEED to read Six of Crows and Vicious sooo badly!

    Anti-heroes, morally grey characters that I love include Aeduan (from the Witchlands Series) and Adelina from The Young Elites 💗

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    1. I think I definitely love anti-heroes more than heroes. There’s so much more to uncover about their characters and it can be a lot more fun following them than it can just an ordinary hero who simply wants to save the world (not that I don’t love reading those characters as well.)
      For me there wasn’t enough info on his character for me to love him from the beginning, but the more we learnt about him the more I loved him. Six of Crows and Vicious are incredible, if you love anti-heroes I can’t recommend those books enough.
      Yes actually, Adelina is a favourite anti-hero of mine as well. 😀 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love morally grey characters and anti-heroes! If done well, they are amazing characters that have so much depth to them. I love the complexity!

    If I had to choose just a few morally grey and/or anti-hero characters for my favorites, I would have to go with Kaz and the crew from “Six of Crows,” along with Adelina Amouteru from the “Young Elites” trilogy.

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    1. Yes I get what you mean, creating an anti hero is difficult in my opinion but if done right they’re incredible characters to learn more about.
      Kaz and his crew are my favourite anti heroes (in fact the Six of Crows duology is my favourite anti hero book full stop) and oh yes Adelina is a great anti hero too,. I loved her development throughout that trilogy.

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      1. Exactly! There’s so many ways to, I guess, screw up an anti-hero, but all the ones I’ve read are so interesting!

        Yes!! I love Kaz and the crew, and I’m re-reading SoC to get ready for “Crooked Kingdom.”

        The “Young Elites” was so intriguing to me because almost everyone was morally grey, but Adelina especially was amazing. I really enjoyed her development, too, especially in the third book.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh I’m sure you’ll love Crooked Kingdom, it’s even better than SoC in my opinion! 😀
        Yeah it was fun seeing her character evolve throughout the series. I don’t think anyone could be described as purely good or evil in that book, but it made it even better I think. 🙂

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  4. Lovely post, Beth! I have to admit that morally grey characters are really interesting to follow – even if I’m one to love the heroes, these kind of in-between characters are SO much fun to read about, they’re unpredictable, conflicted, complex and I love that so much about them 🙂 x

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    1. Thanks so much Marie! 😀 I think I’m always going to root for the heroes over the villains and anti heroes but I enjoy reading anti heroes more than any other characters. They’re definitely more fun and unpredictable, and it means you’re never sure where exactly the story is going to go right? 😀

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  5. As a writer, I’m not sure I’ve ever written a ‘hero’ in my life. All my characters are terrible people — the protag of the novel I’m currently querying literally kills people for a living, and she’s not the tortured reluctant type of assassin, either. So I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about antiheroes.

    I think sometimes the key to making people like them is give them sympathetic reasons to do the things they do — e.g. sure, killing someone isn’t good, but if you’re doing to save someone else, that’s at least excusable if not admirable. And while tragic backstory isn’t an EXCUSE for murder, it can explain it, so making sure there’s a clear arc pointing to how a character ended up the way they did can help.

    But sometimes I’ve found the best method is to just make everyone else in that character’s life WORSE, so that they seem sympathetic by comparison. Or, to give them such a crappy situation that you start rooting for them just because their life is so awful. Like yeah, they murdered a lot of people, but you have to feel sorry for them anyway because they just can’t catch a break, you know?

    (This may be true of characters but I’m not advocating it of real people, for the record.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t been writing long enough to say I’ve never written a hero but I get where you’re coming from because a lot of my characters aren’t classic heroes either.
      Yeah that’s a good point, if you don;t give them a valid reason that’s edging too close to them being a villain and creating an anti hero rather than another villain or hero is a tricky balancing act I think.
      Ohh, that’s a good tip, and one I’ll be sure to remember for future WIPs I may have as well. Ha, yeah not something I’d recommend either. 😀

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  6. I think we love anti-heroes because my default, they aren’t perfect and thus we can connect to them a little easier maybe! I finished A Conjuring of Light yesterday and I loved it, like you, I ended up loving Holland. I understood that he was a victim of his situation. I loved how Schwab handled his situation and also pointed out the privilege Kell grew up in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, after a while if we just read perfect characters we’d get bored wouldn’t we?
      Oh Holland is amazing in A Conjuring of Light. I wasn’t a massive fan of his character in the first book, but he grew on me in the second and I loved him in the third. Getting that background to his character made him more real in my mind and yeah there was a lot of parallels between him and Kell. I guess in another world Holland could have been the hero and Kell the anti hero right? 🙂

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  7. Antiheroes are not unrelatable. Sometimes i think we see ourselves in them.
    Even though we are real people, we also do things that might not always be “heroic”.
    It’s also nice to get some insight into someone’s head who is morally grey, as they are quite interesting.
    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Totally agree with this post! We love anti-heroes because we can connect to them, and I personally love them because they feel like the villain versions of ourselves if we ever let ourselves fall to a darker level of humanity. It’s always interesting to examine the most flawed versions of ourselves and see how we (maybe) can be redeemed even in that state, and that’s always a feel-good aspect. Terrific discussion, and great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that’s great to hear. 🙂 Yeah that’s a good point actually, there’s something we can identify with more in anti heroes but at the same time they are slightly darker than us in real life. It’s an interesting balancing act, writing an anti hero that doesn’t go too close to the villainous or heroic side, but I also love seeing how they can be redeemed if the author decides to go down that path.
      Thanks so much. 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Favorite ànti hero is Sebastian Morgensten . Why do we love them? I think because with some of them we can understand why they became like that. Because they were abused or…and it makes us think that maybe we would have been the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I still probably have all that to come then, I haven’t read the last three of TMI books and I know Sebastian comes back in the last three.
      Yeah I get that, it can sometimes be easier to understand an anti hero than it is to understand heroes or straight up villains. 😀

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  10. Hello Beth ❤
    I tend to like the morally grey characters in a book as well, because although their actions might conflict with that of the hero in the story, they give us a reason to care. (For example AIDAN's actions are morally questionable although we get the sense that there are people he cares about.) I think certain villains like Voldemort are hard to sympathize with because he doesn't have such human qualities. I like your statement that each villain is the hero of their own story 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sophie. 🙂 Yeah that’s a good point, AIDAN is a great morally grey character and his actions definitely conflict with the main characters’, but at the same time they’re both reaching for the same goal aren’t they. They want to protect the fleet and stop BeiTech no matter what, only AIDAN doesn’t have morals standing in the way.
      Oh yeah, but there’s a difference between a villain and an anti hero isn’t there? As much as I love characters like AIDAN I’m never going to love characters like Voldemort in the same way. 🙂 Thanks Sophie! 😀 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes I agree! AIDAN did something that only he could do, and it seems like he recognized that Kady could never do what he did (even though it makes logical sense). So it is like he did it to spare Kady and the others from having to make this decision later on down the line.
        Hmm, I suppose that there is a difference between a villain and an anti-hero! I guess an anti-hero is someone that we can sympathize with and cheer on (has “hero” in the name) while villain is just a villain haha 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. AIDAN is very much the good of the fleet over individual people, whereas Kady will try and save every single life possible even if it means the possibility of losing every single life at the same time you know?
        Yeah and I was still cheering on AIDAN a lot, but I was never really cheering on BeiTech. 😀

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      3. This reminds me of the train dilemma! (divert the train and hit 1 person or let it continues its path and run over 4 people) In this case, AIDAN was there to make the most logical decision for the fleet, even though it was a cruel one.
        Yes BeiTech is the true villain here 🙂

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  11. I loved the Darkling; there are plenty of reasons but I think antiheroes just have these complex motivations, and nontraditional way of thinking. Antiheroes look out for themselves, but when they do, it’s not surprising. The fact that you don’t expect them to do anything heroic (and when they do, it’s even more valuable) is somewhat refreshing and honest, in a way.

    Great post! This makes for a very interesting discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah that’s how I feel. When I think of the villains and heroes from a lot of the books I’ve read recently their motivations can easily be sorted into a select few categories, but there’s always much more driving anti heroes, and for more reasons as well. Plus I guess I just enjoy exploring that darker side of the story and the characters that comes with anti heroes! 🙂
      Yep, it creates some interesting twists and turns when you’re never sure what choice a character is going to make in the face of a moral decision. 🙂
      Thanks so much, I’m glad you enjoyed this post. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I have noticed a lot of my favorite characters are the villains. I don’t really know why that is. I feel like a lot are just more interesting or has a more interesting story. Some I do dislike though. Like Amarantha from ACOTAR series. But I love Holland and have since the beginning. I love the Darkling from The Grisha Verse. I do love most of the heroes too though. I guess it just depends on the character.

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    1. Thinking back to a lot of my favourite books it’s the same for me. For me it’s just that there’s a lot more to uncover about the villains and anti heroes than the heroes whose motivation is normally nothing more than to stop the villain. 🙂
      Oh yeah, really not a fan of Amarantha but I love Holland and the Darkling too. For me my love for Holland’s character developed over the three books, I didn’t think much about him in the first but he was one of my favourite characters by the third! 😀

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  13. Love, love, love this post! I’ve also had a soft spot for antiheroes, and I think it mainly stems from the fact that they’re so much more layered and complex. I definitely agree with your point that they’re easier to relate to, on a certain level– we’re probably not all going to go around stabbing people like Lada does, but we can most likely connect to her struggle as a woman trying to advance in a male-dominated society. And honestly, part of the reason why I love Lada so much is that she never backs down– though I would obviously never condone her actions in real life, I found something so refreshing about a female character who completely threw all societal norms/gender roles out of window and was unapologetically ruthless.

    I love well-written characters that make me question my sense of right and wrong and who don’t adhere to the typical “shining hero saves the world and everyone eventually loves them in the end” arc.

    Also, I definitely have to read Nevernight and A Darker Shade of Magic ASAP ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Hannah! 🙂 Yeah it’s a lot more fun working out what makes anti heroes tick and what motivates them because it’s always something more complicated and real than what will end up motivating a hero or villain. Also yeah more relatable though, ha, no I don’t think anyone here is going to go around stabbing people like Lada does! 😀
      Lada is a brilliant character, and part of why I love that series so much is following her story. She doesn’t make the obvious choices I’d expect a hero to make which just means I can never predict where the story is going to go, and yeah she definitely doesn’t follow the societal norms/gender roles she’s expected to either (just makes her character more fun in my opinion!)
      There are only so many shining heroes you can read before you want a character a little more tarnished right?
      Oh definitely, especially ADSOM, that’s a favourite of mine! 🙂 ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ahh apologies for the late comment! (I’ve recently become quite a ghost on the blogosphere due to the unfortunate reality of exams/testing 😢)
        But YES, I can so relate to your point of wanting to read about someone whose motivations are darker and untraditional. I have to admit, I *do* occasionally tire of constantly reading about 100% pure, noble (not to mention staggeringly beautiful :P) heroes who go around rescuing unicorns from trees. There’s nothing wrong with them, of course, it’s just nice to have a change once in a while ❤

        (also I absolutely cannot wait for the last book of the Conqueror's Saga, BWB, to come out this summer! The wait is torturous Dx)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s all right, and oh I know all too well about that reality. Sucks doesn’t it, but I hope your exams are going well. 🙂
        A little variety in characters can only be a good thing can’t it? Besides if we only had heroes to read we’d get bored pretty quickly. There are only so many books you can pick up with the same-ish characters before you want something more than heroes rescuing unicorns from trees. 😀
        Oh my god yes! I have a horrible feeling about how the series will end but at the same time I’m so excited. It’s going to be epic! 🙂 ❤️

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      3. Ahh thank you!! super late comment hehe but I have managed to survive all my exams <33

        I have a track record of immediately gravitating to antiheroes in practically every book series I've ever read… I don't know what that says about me but I am shameless about my love for them :'')

        (I'm actually currently reading Bright We Burn right now and it's absolutely WRECKING me)

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! 🙂 Kaz is probably my favourite anti hero written so far, but V.E. Schwann writes incredible character and her anti heroes are amazing too. 🙂 Ha, yeah that’s a good point, nothing we do can be as bad as what Holland, Kaz and Lada have done right? 😀

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  14. Hahahha Love this post Beth! I recently read a book with a character who is supposed to be an antihero and who turned into your garden variety hero and I wondered why readers loved this book so much… I think it was because she called herself an anti-hero… Of all the characters you’ve mentioned Lada is perhaps the best anti-hero to me… she doesn’t pretend to care about the big picture like a lot of heroes do… she brutally went for what she wanted (which in a way is what she felt was right) and that was that… relationships didn’t even matter to her. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Dani! 🙂 See I think sometimes you can get anti heroes turn into heroes (and heroes turn into anti heroes) but it needs to be written well to feel real, and from the sounds of it the book you read wasn’t which is a shame.
      No the only big picture Lada cares about is the one that benefits her, she’s a brilliant anti hero and I cannot wait to see the end of her series. I suppose one downside of anti heroes is that it’s rare their stories end well isn’t it? 🙂

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  15. I love this post! What’s so interesting to me about morally grey characters is that they COULD so easily be the villain, if they made a slightly different choice, or even if the story were told from a different perspective. They teeter on that line between good and bad, which makes it so interesting to read about them because you don’t know that they’ll always make the morally “right” choice.

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    1. Thanks so much. 🙂 Ohh, that’s an interesting thought, and one I didn’t really think of before you mentioned it either. For me I just love uncovering their motivations, what it is that drives them, because it’s always something more complicated than the heroes desire to defeat evil. There’s something more human about anti heroes in my mind and I guess I identify with them more because of it.
      I feel like I’ve read more anti heroes who make the morally “wrong” choice, but that was part of the twist in the story I guess! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  16. This is well timed – I just posted a blog about anti-heroes as well! I love that they are dark and gritty. And finding out the reason why they act the way they do is so satisfying. I also love the possibility of redemption for some of them! Great post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, I guess maybe there’s a trend in anti-heroes at the moment. I’m not complaining I love them. It’s so much more interesting learning all about their motivations than it is the heroes I think, and yes I love the possibility of redemption for them too.
      Thanks so much! 😀

      Like

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