Best Fictional Morally Gray Characters

Photos courtesy of AMC (top left), @polarts_ on Twitter (bottom left) and Marvel Cinematic Universe (right).

Sometimes I think I like fictional characters more than real people. But not just any fictional characters — morally gray characters. You know, the ones who are neither entirely good nor entirely evil. The characters who make some very questionable choices, but deep down, there’s still a part of them that’s inherently good and wants to do the right thing. 

Morally gray characters are my bread and butter. They can be the protagonist, villain, side character or the anti-hero. Regardless, they’re complex, witty and flawed, which makes them relatable. And they always have the best character arcs because they’re usually dealing with an internal conflict alongside the main plot.

Considering the absurd amount of time I spend obsessing over these characters, I decided to make a list of some of the best morally ambiguous characters in books, TV and movies. 

Jesse Pinkman Breaking Bad

Courtesy of IMDb

Breaking Bad is one of my all-time-favorite shows, mainly because of Jesse Pinkman. Jesse is hilarious, resourceful, and seemingly dopey (pun intended). He has one of the best character arcs I’ve ever seen, and he has such an honest vulnerability to him that makes him extremely compelling.

Yes, he’s a drug addict. Yes, he cooks and sells meth. Yes, he had to murder a few people along the way. But underneath it all, Jesse is a scared kid who, despite being severely manipulated and emotionally abused by Walter White, tries desperately to hold onto his moral compass. 

Jesse is arguably the true hero of Breaking Bad. He may not be an ideal role model, but he’s real, and you can’t help but root for him.

Courtesy of Giphy

Bucky Barnes — Marvel Cinematic Universe

Courtesy of Alamy

Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, also experiences a complex character arc. Starting off in the role of the charming, handsome best friend to Steve Rogers, Bucky is then reverted into a villain when he becomes the Winter Soldier. In the later Marvel movies, he steps into the role of hero, or more aptly, the anti-hero. 

Bucky killed a lot of people as the Winter Soldier, but his misdeeds are easily forgiven because he’d been brainwashed and tortured for over 50 years, and he suffers from extreme guilt over his past actions.

Not to mention, he’s incredibly likable in all of his many personas, whether he’s broody Bionic-Staring-Machine Bucky or sarcastic Semi-Stable 100-Year-Old Man Bucky…who’s still kind of broody.

Courtesy of Tenor

Levi Ackerman — Attack on Titan

Courtesy of IceGif

Speaking of broody, this one is for all of my anime fans out there. Captain Levi is another favorite of mine. Not only is he a total badass, but he’s a coarse, blunt, dark-humored little clean freak who is respected (and feared) by many. 

What makes Levi such a great morally gray character, apart from his sardonic personality, is the fact that he’s completely conscious of his own ambiguity. Levi is essentially a weapon. He uses violence to his strategic advantage, constantly belittles those that irritate him and is not above torture if it means getting the information he needs.

Despite all of this, he places a great amount of trust in his comrades and values free will. In life-or-death situations, he lets his subordinates make their own choices, because he knows the path he’s chosen for himself is not one of good conscience. He’s empathetic towards his loved ones, and I truly believe he wants to do what’s right for humanity, even if he doesn’t always know what the right choice is. 

Also, did I mention he’s a badass?

Courtesy of Giphy

Aelin Galathynius/Celaena Sardothien — Throne of Glass

Courtesy of @morganaOanagrom on Twitter

Aelin/Celaena from Throne of Glass is the ultimate female badass. She is an 18-year-old assassin who’s serving time to repent for her crimes when the Crown Prince offers her a chance at freedom. All she has to do is act as his champion in an elimination competition to find the next royal assassin, and after three years, she’ll be free to do as she pleases. 

Celaena sparks a bit of controversy in fans who can’t decide whether she’s likeable or not. She’s an arrogant, cold-hearted killer, but she’s also just your average teenage girl who enjoys wearing dresses and makeup, according to a review from The Guardian. 

Celaena is a strong female protagonist who just wants to look good while she’s kicking ass.

Courtesy of Amazon

Locke Lamora — The Lies of Locke Lamora, Gentlemen Bastard series

Courtesy of Keja Blank on Deviant Art

Locke is an infamous thief and a con-man who spends most of his time scheming and, well, stealing. Set in the fantasy city of Camorr, which closely resembles Venice, Italy, during the Renaissance period, The Lies of Locke Lamora follows Locke and his gang of ruthless criminals, the Gentlemen Bastards.

Locke is clever, charismatic and daring. Seriously. He says some very stupid — albeit hilarious — things to some very dangerous people, yet he somehow always gets away with it, said a review from The Terror of Knowing blog.

Courtesy of Amazon

Tyrion Lannister — A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones

Courtesy of HBO

Tyrion is possibly the most famous morally gray character in the fantasy world. He’s self-serving and probably can’t be considered a nice person, but when push comes to shove, he usually tries to do the right thing (as long as it benefits him, of course). Unfortunately for him, his “good deeds” tend to backfire and create further trouble for him.

Tyrion is incredibly smart and strategic, yet he’s ostracized by his entire family. It’s hard not to root for an outcast like Tyrion. He drinks and he knows things, and we love him for it.

Courtesy of Giphy

Kaz Brekker — Six of Crows, Shadow and Bone Netflix series

Courtesy of Golden Rose on ArtStation

Kaz Brekker is not only the Bastard of the Barrel, but he’s the king of morally gray characters. Seriously, this guy wrote the book on moral ambiguity. 

Kaz is a ruthless, conniving, cold-hearted gang member in the city of Ketterdam. He’s well known for taking on any job — no matter how dangerous or violent — as long as there’s good money involved, and his quick-wit means he’s always one step ahead of everyone. 

However, underneath his cold exterior, Kaz is suffering from extreme PTSD. His actions show that he’s unconditionally loyal, and his inner monologues reveal that he cares deeply about his friends. 

While he may appear to be driven by greed, Kaz is secretly in love with his fellow Crow, Inej, and does everything in his power to do right by her. I’m not even kidding, the majority of Kaz’s POV is him thinking and worrying about Inej. It’s insanely adorable.

He may act like one, but Kaz is not a true baddie at heart.

Courtesy of y1d2 on Tumblr

There’s nothing more compelling than an unpredictable character who challenges your perceptions of right and wrong. Simply put, morally gray characters are possibly one of the best fictional tropes, and I’d like to personally thank them for giving me a reason to live.


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