I must confess, I love books with villain protagonists. There's just something about having an evil — or, at least, not good — main character that I can really relate to. Because who doesn't get tired of reading about some Goody Two-Shoes Mary Sue running the show, amirite?
Writing good villains — and by "good," I mean evil and conniving — isn't easy. There are tons of trope pitfalls you can break your ankle in. I'm a fan of the Magnificent Bastard, myself, but it's just a short hop over to the Villain Sue, especially if you let your antagonist talk too much.
Those problems don't disappear when your book has a villain protagonist, but you're far less likely to write a terrible bad guy when he's your main character. Bonus points if he's your narrator. And 50 points to Slytherin if you make him a Complete Monster and subject us to his internal musings. Because, seriously, there's nothing like getting inside the head of a fantastically irredeemable character.
Whether you want a write a great antagonist or just read about some villainous main characters, the books on this list are a great place to start. Once you're finished here, be sure to share your favorite books with villain protagonists on Twitter.
1. You by Caroline Kepnes
2. The Young Elites by Marie Lu
Heroine Adelina's talents have been suppressed for far too long. Now she's out to master them, but to do so, she must risk succumbing to the darkness within herself.
3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Pedophile Humbert Humbert narrates Vladimir Nabokov's most famous novel, in which he is convinced that his victim — the titular 12-year-old, Lolita — has seduced him.
4. Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates
Quentin P. has one goal: to create the ultimate sex slave. He's tried and failed many times, but he's getting better. And he always keeps souvenirs...
5. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Set in the mid-19th century American West, Blood Meridian follows a group of mercenaries who collect the scalps of local Apache and sell them for $100 each.
6. The Hound of the D'Urbervilles by Kim Newman
Kim Newman's Professor Moriarty Series follows Sherlock Holmes' nemesis as he solves mysteries with the help of his constant compatriot, Colonel Moran.
7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
For those who haven't read Gillian Flynn's breakout hit, or seen the film adaptation, I'll limit myself to this comment: the victim isn't one.
8. The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
When he started working on The Prague Cemetery, Umberto Eco set out to make the most unlikable protagonist possible. He succeeded.
9. Grunts by Mary Gentle
If you've ever read a fantasy novel and wondered why orcs are always the bad guys, Mary Gentle's Grunts is here to tell the other side of the story.
10. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
This 1996 title from Chuck Palahniuk centers on the chaotically evil Tyler Durden: a sadistic anarchist who loves destroying people's lives for his own selfish gains.
11. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
12. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
American Psycho narrator Patrick Bateman enjoys torturing and killing people, particularly women, just for shits and giggles. If you've seen the 2000 film starring Christian Bale, you know what to expect here.
13. The Catherine de Medici Trilogy by Jean Plaidy
Jean Plaidy's Catherine de Medici Trilogy begins with Madame Serpent. The historical fiction series centers on the Queen Regent of France, who is distrusted by many and feared by most.
14. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
If you've seen the X-rated film adaptation starring Malcolm McDowell, you know you're in for a bit of the old ultraviolence. Trust me when I say this, however: Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange is much more extreme than the 1971 movie.
15. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Ah, the Byronic hero Heathcliff. Is there anyone more romantic? Um, yeah. Everyone who isn't a pseudo-incestuous rapist, for starters.
16. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Victor Frankenstein is pretty close to being a Complete Monster. He creates life, then casts his son away, leaving him to fend for himself in a world that cannot possibly understand him. When his creation asks for a companion, Victor fashions one, only to destroy her body in front of her intended.
17. Blubber by Judy Blume
Narrator Linda joins her best friends as they mercilessly subject their classmate to physical and psychological torment in Judy Blume's Blubber.
18. Apt Pupil by Stephen King
Todd Bowden knows his neighbor is a former Nazi who now lives in hiding. He doesn't want to turn the old man in, however. Todd wants to learn.
19. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie's classic murder mystery centers on a group of people lured to an old house for the night. As their housemates begin to disappear and die, the survivors realize that none of them has a spotless past.
20. Richard III by William Shakespeare
So the real life Richard III probably wasn't a bad guy, but Shakespeare's version of him certainly is. The Bard casts the legendary king as a Machiavellian anti-hero in his 1592 play.
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