The Antiheroes We Love to Hate: 15 TV Shows That Will Make You Root for the Bad Guy

Robert Sihler

Antiheros are protagonists who don’t fit the traditional “good guy” mold. Often, they’re amoral or even immoral, and even if they do the right thing, it’s usually for self-interested reasons, not noble ones. If you find yourself liking TV shows with antiheroes, you’re far from alone.

Here are some of the best of them.

 

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad (Season 4).
Image Credit: AMC.

At first, Walter White is someone to sympathize with. He’s an underpaid high-school chemistry teacher diagnosed with lung cancer. We can almost understand the decision to use the time he has left to secure his family’s finances by manufacturing meth. But as he falls into a world of murder and other crimes, our feelings about him become more and more conflicted.

 

Better Call Saul

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman - Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 13.
Image Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television.

Saul Goodman is the shady, unscrupulous, and ultimately criminal lawyer in Breaking Bad. This spinoff tells two stories: how he got that way and what happens to him when he becomes a fugitive at the end of the parent series.

 

Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy.
Image Credit: FX Network.

A motorcycle club protects its hometown from drug dealers, which is a good thing. However, they’re also deep in the illegal arms trade.

 

The Walking Dead

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee - The Walking Dead: Dead City _ Season 1.
Image Credit: Peter Kramer/AMC.

“Good guys” like Daryl Dixon might qualify as antiheroes, and the series has a long line of downright villains. Then there’s Negan. He’s one of the most brutal villains in the show, but he’s also strangely charming and likable, and it gets even more complicated when he seemingly reforms himself.

 

The Sopranos

The Sopranos.
Image Credit: Courtesy of HBO.

No one is ever going to make a case that Tony Soprano is a good man. Still, spending so much time getting to know him and his family makes it difficult not to like him.

 

Ozark

Ozark. (L to R) Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde, Sofia Hublitz as Charlotte Byrde in Season 4 Part 2 Episode 3 of Ozark.
Image Credit: TINA ROWDEN/NETFLIX.

Marty and Wendy Byrde are just two regular middle-aged people trying to raise their kids. The problem is that they make organized crime a family business in this show where just about every character is villainous or deeply complicated.

 

You

You. Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg in episode 407 of You.
Image Credit: Netflix.

Bookstore owner Joe Goldberg seems perfectly polite and meek when we meet him. Soon, we learn that when it comes to love interests, he’s obsessive, stalking, and murderous.

 

The Wire

The Wire.
Image Credit: HBO.

Any number of characters in this police drama could qualify as antiheroes. Detective Jimmy McNulty is a key one, but there are many others, including Omar Little, a criminal who makes a living sticking up drug dealers.

 

True Blood

True Blood.
Image Credit: Courtesy of HBO.

This series introduces us to vampires who live off a synthetic blood product, allowing them to take part in regular society. But they’re still vampires, and things don’t always go according to plan.

 

Dexter

Michael C. Hall and Yvonne Strahovski in Dexter (2006).
Image Credit: Showtime.

Dexter is a serial killer, which kind of qualifies you as a bad person. So what do we make of a serial killer who satiates his need by killing other serial killers?

 

Justified

Justified.
Image Credit: FX Networks.

There are two principal antiheroes in this crime series set in rural Kentucky. First, there’s Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal who increasingly stretches the bounds of the law and ethics. Then there’s Boyd Crowder, Raylan’s former mine co-worker and chief nemesis.

 

Deadwood

Deadwood.
Image Credit: HBO.

Set in South Dakota during its Wild West days in the 1870s, this series ran for only three seasons but garnered critical acclaim and several Emmys during its run. Ian McShane is spectacular as the real-life Al Swearengen, who ran a Deadwood brothel during the period and is the show’s villain you can’t help but like.

 

Peaky Blinders

Peaky Blinders.
Image Credit: Robert Viglasky/Netflix.

Another show where the distinctions between heroes and villains are blurry, Peaky Blinders is another crime drama with criminals you like and cops you don’t. Tommy Shelby is the marquee character, but he’s not the only character about whom you’d say “He’s bad, but…”

 

Succession

Brian Cox HBO Succession Season 4 - Episode 1.
Image Credit: David Russell/HBO.

There’s no good vs. evil theme in this show. Instead, we get an endless parade of characters that in some ways we relate to but in other ways are pretty horrible people.

 

Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones.
Image Credit: Marvel.

She has superhuman strength. She also has PTSD and runs her own detective firm. Jessica isn’t exactly the nice girl you want your parents to meet, but she’s pretty awesome and leans toward justice.

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Whiplash.
Image Credit: Sony.

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Happy Gilmore.
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

 

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Image Credit: See No Evil, Hear No Evil.

 

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Pictured: Gary Cole as FBI Special Agent Alden Parker in NCIS.
Image Credit: 2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

 

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THE LOST DAUGHTER. DAKOTA JOHNSON as NINA.
Image Credit: Netflix.

 

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