This is both an interesting and disturbing question to ask, in trying to consider which of these two anime/manga characters is the greater evil. Murderous intent and nature isn't something to be intrigued by, at least in real life human beings. Not many people would be interested in asking which of the two, Hitler and Bin Laden, is the greater evil. But when it comes to anime and manga there is a place for being intrigued by and even admiring the evil acts of fictional characters, because this is one of anime and manga's most significant traits; its ability to make any subject, no matter how benign or dark, interesting and exciting.
Maybe its because we know that what we are watching is not real (and even if it was, it would be happening in Japan, far far away) or because anime character are designed to execute each and every act, no matter how gruesome with a great sense of flare and showmanship. The point is their is a place for appreciating just how well an fictional characters carries out his fictional actions, even if those actions are down right evil and loathsome.
With evil in anime and manga, very few acts that can trump murder, the act of taking the life of another, sometimes in the most gruesome manner and on large scales. And when it comes to anime ad manga and murder, few other characters can dare to hold a candle to JOHAN from MONSTER and LIGHT YAGAMI from DEATH NOTE.
It isn't merely the fact that these two characters kill; many characters in the medium have done that and on several times greater scales that these two could dream of. It is how they kill, why they kill, basically who the characters are that determines the level of intensity involved in their murderous acts.
Sure we can be certain that MADARA from NARUTO has killed several hundred characters during his long life in the world, and who knows how many worlds FRIEZA from DBZ has laid to waste, yet their is something about watching LIGHT, sitting in his room, writing in a little note book by candle light and laying to waste the lives of several dozens that is exhilarating. Something about such a scene transcends anything we see LELOUCH do during his rampage against BRITANNIA. I can't explain it.
Point is, no other anime characters (that i can think of right now) personify the very essence of death wrapped in a cool handsome package the way these two. And it got me thinking, when paired up against each other, which of these would stand out as the greater evil, not only to the other but the world at large? Which of these two characters would usurp the other's claim to the title of supposedly misunderstood evil; which would you rather move across continents to avoid living next door to?
When i considered this question, i approached it from three perspectives; their characters, comparison with the other, especially in a hostile environment and threat level to the greater world.
So, here is my argument.
LIGHT YAGAMI- I have always had mixed feelings about light. I am not even sure if he is the protagonist or the antagonist. What i do know is that of the two, he stands out as the more evil. Light Yagami is basically the perfect person, handsome, intelligent, kind, charismatic, a perfect student and citizen, basically everything every one with a brain would want to be. Yet when he fortuitously comes into contact with the death note, a tool of the shiningami, with which one can kill by simply writing the name of the person on its pages as well as specifying in great detail when and how they will died, his true colors emerge.
Deciding to play god, Light starts by ending the lives of all those that have chosen to stand their ground against justice, which in this case includes vast majority of prisoners, in the hundreds of thousands if i am not mistaken, eventually earning the attention of a team of FBI agents intent on catching and stopping his murderous antics. Soon murdering criminals is no longer enough, and Light begins a campaign of purging all those that seek to find and destroy him, the most important of which is L, a genius socially inept detective intent in revealing the identity of the serial killer.
L is no ordinary foe for Light, not only because he can match Light brain cell for brain cell but because no one knows what L's real name is, which means, even with the most powerful weapon in the world, light can't kill him. Thus begins their game of cat and mouse, with L trying to peel back Light's true face while Light attempts to break through L's barriers to reveal his true name, taking care to lay to waste any number of law enforcement agents stupid enough to set their sights on him.
Here is one of the most egregious differences between these two characters. If you have watched or read Monster, then you might be surprised by me saying that Light is actually the most evil of the two. In fact if there was such a thing as an evil meter, Light would rank miles ahead of Johan. And i say that despite of what Johan does in Monster becausei wouldn't call Johan evil.
All those terms many use to describe Light, young, misunderstood, corrupted by power, i would apply to Johan. Light is a very basic Psychopath. I would disagree with anyone that tries to suggest that the death note is primarily responsible for what Light becomes. The way i have always seen it is that the death note is just one of several things that could have set Light off. Even if that shiningami hadn't suddenly tossed that book through the portal and Light had never found it, i believe that something else later on in life would have made him snap. Somewhere down the line i believe something would have happened, maybe that obnoxious neighbor would have run Light's cat down, at which point he would have gone on to feed both him and his family their own eye balls. Or maybe a manager at work would have been especially rude to him and Light would have lashed out, beginning his reign as a psychotic killer.
The fact is, if the death note hadn't come into his life, Light would have still killed, only that he would have been reduced to a mere serial killer of no particularly extraordinary existence. After all many a serial killer have been known to possess abnormally high IQs. And death note clearly showed just how much of a genius Light was, his ability to think several steps ahead, manipulate events and people to his advantage with the express purpose of determining one or two tiny facts with which he could go on to destroy a person's life.
None the less, despite his genius, this is where Light and Johan part ways. Despite his genius, Light was only ever extraordinary because of the death note. In other words it is unlikely that Light was the smartest person on the planet. I am certain there were several other individuals in possession of intelligence on par with Light's own. But Light stood out only because of the death note. Without it, he would have never done any of the things he did, or achieve as much as he did on the scale that he did. Oh sure, he was smart and he would have ran rings around the FBI for a while, but in the end his most offensive capability was the death note, and without it, he would have been reduced to a somewhat impressive serial killer later on in life, who would have met his end in ordinary circumstances, probably by the hand of some random police officer putting a bullet into his head..
2.JOHAN- this is why i rate Johan so much higher than Light. I am not even sure if i could call Johan a genius. Oh sure he was smart, intelligent, but Light was a genius on the level of which i am not sure Johan compares. Yet Johan stands above Light for one reason, he is a master manipulator the likes of which i do not think even Light would understand. Johan is the primary antagonist of the Monster anime and manga. As a child he and his sister enter Doctor Tenma's life as victims of a gruesome murder than claimed the lives of their foster parents. Johan had taken a bullet to the head while his sister had survived with nothing more than mental scarring.
It is Tenma's decision to ignore his orders and choose to use his genius surgical skills to save the life of the child Johan over the chairman of the board of the hospital that begins the entire monster escapade. Johan, as it is quickly determined is no ordinary boy. He was bred to be something more, something that, once it is discovered who he is, begins to attract several figures, important in the history of Europe as well as its future in an attempt to drink from the well that is his potential. Tenma on the other hand is horrified by what he learns he has unleashed into the world, not only after learning from Johan's sister that it was she who shot him in the forehead (on his request i might add), but that there was a reason the twins had gone through so many foster parents in so many years; none of them survived the first few months of their adopted children's new lives.
The fact that Johan can manipulate so many people so easily sets him apart from Light. Johan himself is an enigma, to me at least in that through out the entire story we never actually realize what it is he wants and why he plays so many games with Tenma, besides the fact that the Japanese doctor saved him when he had chosen to die. There are times in the manga where it seems like all his actions are random. At the end of it all, certain truths are revealed that lead me to believe that Johan is crazy, psychotic even, but i wouldn't really call him evil. Without giving too many spoilers away for anyone that hasn't encountered Monster, Johan is revealed as a young man on a quest, he is searching for something that has eluded him ever since he was ripped away from his home along with his sister.
But what Johan lacks in sanity-and it is worthy pointing out that i really do think that Johan is crazy, where as Light is a perfectly sane psychopath- he makes up for in mental agility. To understand just how bad Johan is , you have to simply realize that he is indeed the monster of the story. And while that term is figurative, for there are no supernatural elements in the manga, one has to wonder, why would all those people choose to call such a handsome, kind soft spoken young man a monster.
People, scholars, soldiers, lay men, basically a very diverse crowd of people have been known to meet Johan, sometimes for mere minutes at a time and while many have proclaimed their wonder and amazement at his words and spirit, they also almost always referred to a darkness, always talking about how they felt like they had just encountered and stared into an abyss. Now if this doesn't tell you of just how dark this character is, nothing will. The fact that bright minds would refer to this 'revolutionary' as a monster, even while praising him, expressing a fear like nothing they have ever felt, the kind that touched them right down to their soul, this is a powerful display of just why Johan is clearly a more dangerous adversary than Light.
No one ever referred to Light as darkness and if they inferred it, it was because he could murder them with a note book. Johan did nothing more than speak.
Through out the story, Johan kills, a lot of people in fact, some times creating one massacre after another. Yet if you were to put both light and Johan in front of a judge, Light would rot in jail for all eternity while Johan would escape with a slap on the wrist. And that is because Johan himself has not actually killed that many people. Besides his murderous escapades as a kid, by his word alone Johan will seal the fates of thousands but without having actually done the killing, or even actually giving the order.
This is the manifestation of Johan's masterful manipulation skills. He will sit down and have a conversation with a kindly nun one sunny afternoon. And in two weeks time, that same nun will be lurking in the shadows slitting throats. Johan seems to have a way of reaching into the darkest places of the human soul and revealing what lies within. Many a man in the story held Johan as a leader, a great revolutionary in the making. Heck there were many among them who were ready to announce him and were indeed making preparations to reveal him as Hitler's replacement, and through out the story these same people were reeking havoc and mayhem against all those that stood in their and Johan's way, which in this case included Dr. Tenma and all those who stood by him.
Now here is the thing, if that doesn't sound impressive, that a young man of 18 or so had high ranking authoritative figures ready to follow him to the very end and spill blood in the gallons for his sake, then consider the fact that at least two thirds of these people had never met Johan or even spoken to him. The story displays countless men and women, many of great intelligence, ready to commit violent acts on behalf of someone they had never met.
Now maybe some of these characters, old soldiers from the second world war with forgotten dreams, can be forgiven for their rashness. But there were others, ordinary men and women who killed and maimed in Johan's name, for the sake of protecting him, a man, again, they had never met. This was Johan spreading his influence through a domino effect, not personally touching each and every soul he wished to use for his own good, but touching just that right one individual in a 100 and watching him infect a town. In other words, Light's weapon is a powerful note book with the power to kill any whose name is written in it. Johan's weapon is his word, and the ideology he spreads.
The funny thing is there was a time it seemed like Johan didn't even know half of the people he was having do things for him. He would walk into a town, recruit and make a disciple in a day or so, a young man or woman that, after a day or two with Johan, was ready to lay their life down for him. Then he would do what he needed to do and leave, letting the consequences of his actions continue to echo on through out the society in the vicinity.
It's even funnier to realize that Tenma spends most of the story trying to find and locate Johan; and those that are intent on killing Tenma on Johan's behalf are also looking for Johan. It would be funny if it wasn't so disturbing.
MY POINT- So here is the bottom line; of the two, Light is clearly evil while Johan is merely crazy, lost in the reveries of his past and after all these years unable to decipher the truth from the lie in his mind.Johan stands above Light in raw intelligence. He is the kind of enemy that light would fear, someone who both exists and doesn't exist, which is another funny thing about Monster; a number of people see and speak to Johan, yet for the most part, no one can prove that he even exists.
Johan is the enemy that can reach out and kill Light without light even knowing of Johan's existence. A good example of the difference between these two is that FBI agent that Light kills. He executes a brilliant performance to get the agent to reveal his true identity so as to finally end his existence using the death note. Now, while that was impressive, you could say that the difference between Johan and Light is that light had to involve his being into the play, if i am to call it that, to get a result. Even when dealing with L, he had to put himself right in the heart of the situation. This is the opposite of how Johan works, only making an appearance when he has to but mostly working from the shadows. Well, that is a wrong term to use. Johan works in the light, right were anyone and everyone should be able to see him, they simply can't.
If it was Johan charged with getting the agent's identity, rather than plan a ruse that finally gets the agent to drop his badge, Johan would get the man to tell him his name on purpose and rather than kill him, have him spy on L on his behalf.
As far as the world goes, Light seems like the more tolerable evil. I can see him troubling a town or two, maybe irritating a small country somewhere with his death note before someone eventually puts a bullet in his head, or nukes the country if the death note proves to be that potent a weapon. It is Johan that would prove to be the most destructive force if a character like his was ever to come to life; Johan is a threat that the world would have to contend with.
His weapon is one of the most potent of all, words and ideologies, two elements that can spread like wild fire to every corner of the world. Just consider the Monster story. People were ready to place Johan at the head of their nation; that is a worth while consideration when you realize that not at any one point in time did Johan ever ask or crave for power. Yet if he had wanted it, he could have had it and if he wished to, he would have given it to anyone.
That is the sort of man a world should fear, the sort of person someone like Hitler was made of, the kind of man that can change the fates of nations and continents with little to no effort. If Johan in Monster had actually strived for something, because for the most part he was apathetic to anything that wasn't related to his past; but if he actually had an objective, had strived to accomplish something, gain power, burn Europe to the ground and so on, Monster would have been a completely different story.
Both men are handsome, kindly, soft spoken, gentle even, yet hide a cruel streak, psychopathic tendencies, murderous intent and an abnormal intellect. Johan would however be the greater evil.