Plain and simple, you can’t have a great hero without a great villain. The villain plays a vital role as the hero’s counterpart, the source of antagonism that drives the hero to achieve their heroic acts. And, without a villain, a story is just dull and one-dimensional. Who wants to read or watch a story about paradise? And although Nickelodeon cartoons may often seem simple and juvenile, their writers also recognize the importance of a good villain.
So, what makes a good villain? A good villain is more than just evil, they’re complex and have their own set of relatable motivations. Avatar: The Last Airbender’s Prince Zuko and Princess Azula, the main antagonists throughout the series, are motivated by a desire to be accepted by their father, a feeling many viewers can relate to. Even Plankton, the main antagonist from Spongebob Squarepants, is fueled by jealousy towards Mr. Krabs. And almost everyone knows the feeling of being jealous of another’s success.
So, in this article, we will look at the 6 best villains to ever appear in Nickelodeon shows. And keep in mind that a good villain is one with their own complex motivations and desires as we go through this list.
For the first entry on this list, we have to include the main villain from (in my opinion) the best cartoon to ever air on Nickelodeon. As a child of the ‘90s, Spongebob Squarepants is probably the defining show of my generation, and Plankton, the cartoon’s tiny and not-so-formidable villain, is a great contributor to this show’s success.
In case you’ve been living under a rock (like Patrick), Plankton’s great desire in life is to steal the Krabby Patty formula, the proprietary recipe that has led to the success of Plankton’s arch nemesis Mr. Krabs and his restaurant, The Krusty Krab. Unfortunately, Plankton’s convoluted attempts to steal the formula always end in failure, driving Plankton toward insanity. To make matters even worse, Plankton’s robot wife, Karen, is completely unsupportive and constantly ridicules Plankton. Plankton’s impotence as a villain is precisely what makes him one of the best Nickelodeon villains of all time.
2. Denzel Crocker
Another iconic Nickelodeon cartoon that came around slightly after Spongebob was The Fairly Odd Parents, a show that was the fulfillment of every kid’s dream. Imagine having a set of fairy godparents that could grant your every wish! Yes, Timmy Turner was one lucky kid. And the covetous and mentally unstable school teacher Denzel Crocker was hellbent on capturing Timmy’s fairy godparents and bending them to his will.
However, Crocker’s backstory is fairly tragic. As a child, he had his own fairy godparents. But, when he accidentally revealed to the entire town of Dimmsdale that he had fairy godparents, Jorgen Von Strangle was forced to erase Crocker’s memory of ever having fairies. Sadly, Von Strangle botched the procedure, leading to an overdose of Forgeticen that left Crocker horribly disfigured and hated by the entire town. Denzel Crocker is the perfect example of the fact that villains aren’t born; they’re created.
3. Angelica Pickles
As someone who grew up with an older sister who wasn’t always nice to me, I resonated with Tommy Pickles, the main character of Rugrats. The show’s main antagonist was Tommy’s older sister Angelica Pickles, the most horrifying three-year-old child you’ll ever witness. Her main pastime is tormenting her little brother and his friends, and the rest of her time is spent playing very disturbing games with her doll Cynthia (which, of course, she treats like a real person).
While Angelica was definitely more of a villain throughout Rugrats, ultimately, she was always still a protective older sister. And, when the going got tough, and Tommy and his friends were in trouble, Angelica would often come to the rescue. However, as soon as they all return to normal life, Angelica goes right back to being cruel and mean.
4. Invader Zim
Just because Zim is the titular character and main protagonist of the show Invader Zim certainly doesn’t mean that he’s a good guy. In fact, I would argue that Invader Zim is undoubtedly the villain of his own story. Zim is an alien from the planet Irk who’s been sent to Earth with the mission of conquering the planet and enslaving the human race. However, luckily, Zim’s plots always fall short or are thwarted by the young paranormal investigator named Dib.
Zim is a fairly complex character due to the fact that his sole motivation for conquering the human race is that he wants to be allowed back on his home planet, and he believes that domination of Earth is his golden ticket. However, it seems as if Zim often sympathizes with humans more than he does with his own species. And in certain episodes, he even makes the conscious decision to side with humans instead of his fellow Irkens.
5. Vlad Plasmius
Personally, I think that Danny Phantom is one of the most underrated shows to ever air on Nickelodeon. This program is about a boy named Danny Fenton who has an accident with an unpredictable portal between the human world and the Ghost Zone that turns him into a human-ghost hybrid. However, he’s not the only member of that club. The series’s main antagonist is a character named Vlad Plasmius, a billionaire half-ghost who has vowed to take revenge against Danny’s father for stealing the love of his life.
Vlad isn’t just rich; he’s also extremely intelligent and charming, which makes it easy for him to hide his nefarious intentions. He also has 20 years of experience as a ghost, meaning he’s far more comfortable in the Ghost Zone than Danny is. All of this makes Vlad Plasimus an extremely formidable villain. Oddly enough, though, he tends to shout the names of foods when he’s frustrated. Very strange.
6. Prince Zuko
Spoiler alert: Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender turns from villain to ally at the end of the series. However, before that, Zuko is one of the biggest threats to Team Avatar. Zuko is the son of Fire Lord Ozai, the power-hungry ruler of the Fire Nation. Ozai banished Zuko from the Fire Nation in order to teach him a lesson after Zuko speaks out of turn in a war meeting. Thus, Zuko believes that his honor can only be restored if he returns to the Fire Nation, having captured the Avatar.
What makes Prince Zuko such a great character is his internal conflict and his development. At the beginning of the series, Zuko is an enraged teenager whose mind is set on the goal of capturing the Avatar. However, as the series evolves, under the guidance of Uncle Iroh, Zuko begins to think for himself and decipher right from wrong. He realizes that the path that he once thought was his destiny might not be the righteous path, and he begins to develop his own sense of agency. The development of Prince Zuko is a story that many of us can relate to: the realization that we must carve our own path in life rather than letting others decide what is best for us.