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The Top 10 Morally Grey Characters of Young Adult and New Adult Fantasy Novels

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Who doesn't love a good morally grey character? The good guy with a flair of villainy. The devil with the heart of gold. The cold-hearted murderer who has a soft spot that you just can't resist. After extensive research (and by research, I mean obsessive binge-reading), here are my top 10 finalists in the morally grey characters category:

**Note: This post contains minor spoilers. But don't worry, I won't give away anything earth-shattering, I promise!

10. Stolas Darkshade

Stolas gives me heavy Rhysand vibes... but honestly, is anyone really complaining? Yes, by all means, give us more Rhys! I actually like his character more than Rhys because he stays consistently "evil," unlike Rhys, who is only evil to the public eye and, let's be honest, kind of changes throughout ACOTAR to fit the "good guy" mold. But Stolas? He fits a Hades persona to a T. The unapologetic bad boy we all hate to love and love to hate! Audrey Grey nailed this slow burn (and I mean aaaaachingly slow) and definitely delivered! If you haven't checked out the Kingdom of Runes series, do it now! You won't regret it.

Morally Grey Characters: Oath Taker

9. Alessandra Stathos

Alessandra is a sexy badass - and she knows it! Which is why we love her so much. In The Shadows Between Us, she doesn't have a lot of good in her heart, but we still root for her anyway. Her heart is set on murdering the king and becoming queen, but, of course, love gets in the way. She isn't afraid to kill or double-cross in order to succeed. Her cunning and crafty nature make her devious but oh-so-loveable! If you haven't read The Shadows Between Us, it's a real treat! I read it in a single day.


8. Wrath

An enemies-to-lovers slow burn with the prince of hell - who is often shirtless? Where do I sign? As expected, this demon prince is, well, demonic. He's cunning. He's crafty. He deceives, manipulates, and betrays. But guess what? We love him anyway. He's dark and brooding and up to no good, but we are here for this romance! Give us more Wrath please! The intricate world of the seven princes of hell set in historical Italy is beautifully crafted. If you haven't checked out Kingdom of the Wicked yet, you definitely should!


7. Severus Snape

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the classic morally grey character, Severus Snape. He has a dark, tragic past that haunts him and fuels his life, his entire being. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of Snape. He was friend-zoned and never let it go, then verbally abused children just for fun. He's kind of a sicko. But his character is just so three-dimensional. Villain, then hero, then villain, then hero again. He worked in secret to bring down an unstoppable villain and refused to take credit for it. His entire persona was a front, and he performed it bravely. Regardless of your poor people skills, you still deserve applause for that, Snape.


6. Rhysand

The only reason Rhysand of the Night Court isn't closer to number one is because, to me, he's not really morally grey. Yes, he does dark and evil things, but he himself is not dark and evil. He has a conscience. He is ruled by guilt. On the inside, he's a total softie. But, depending on your definition of morally grey - sexy, brooding, murderous, evil persona - then he might just fit the bill! He's every woman's dream guy. He's built to fulfill all your sexual desires. But, in my opinion, this hero of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series is just a little too perfect for my taste.


5. Casteel Da'Neer

Though his Hawke persona is devoted and kind, the Casteel we know and love is devious, cunning and not afraid to kill (even if he doesn't enjoy it). He's got a light side and a dark side, and we love him for it. The banter and sexual tension between Casteel and Poppy is just... *chef's kiss* If you like enemies-to-lovers with plenty of smut, the From Blood and Ash series is for you!


4. Jude & Cardan

This scheming duo is the epitome of enemies-to-lovers. Jude and Cardan are both terrible, but we love them anyway! They deserve each other in all their morally grey perfection. They aren't afraid to lie, cheat, or steal to get their way. The back and forth betrayal between them is epic. The Cruel Prince series will yank you back and forth on a delightful ride that includes fae, deception, and crazy plot twists!


3. Aelin Galathynius

Aelin is the female badass. She doesn't let anyone stand in her way. She's a hella fierce assassin who gets the job done. The Throne of Glass series is long, epic, and beautifully interwoven between several incredible characters. Though the early books reek of cliché tropes and poor plotting, it's altogether a series you don't want to miss out on. If you haven't boarded the TOG ship yet, then what are you waiting for?!


2. The Darkling

Oh, Darkling, you mischievous little tyrant. He is one of the most beautifully-written villains of all time. He's sympathetic. He's flawed. He's tormented. And we love him for it! He has valid reasons for being the villain he is ("Fine. Make me your villain." *cue all the fangirls squealing*). He may be manipulative and toxic, but don't pretend like you're not weeping while reading about his growth. He will do whatever it takes to protect Grisha. That may make him heroic or evil depending on how you look at it. Dive into the Shadow and Bone trilogy to decide for yourself!


1. Kaz Brekker

Kaz Brekker is, hands down, the #1 morally grey character. He's got it all! The tragic, traumatized past. The secret love for a girl he can never have. The darkness that drives him to do whatever is necessary. Liar, thief, murderer, all-around cold-hearted fiend... but we know all about his mushy interior that he never reveals to anyone - except one person. If you like heists with a splash of magic and a side of darkness, then Six of Crows is for you!


Thanks for reading my comprehensive list of loveable morally grey characters! Obviously, this is all my own opinion, but I'm always up for a healthy debate! Who are your favorite morally grey characters and why? Comment below!


This article was written by R.L. Perez.

R.L. Perez is a YA fantasy romance author, perfectionist, anxious Type A worrier, and proud Hufflepuff. She's published three series: the Timecaster Chronicles, the Nightcaster Chronicles, and the Bloodcaster Chronicles - three separate series set in the same world, featuring witches, romance, and time travel. When she's not working on her books, she's either napping, diving into a good book, obsessively watching Netflix, or playing with her two kids. She loves chocolate, loud laughter, and alternative rock music.

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Sep 23, 2023

Darkling is a wonderful hero and I agree with him. I know he can be cruel, but he has a serious reason for it. Years of persecution, suffering and a terrible mother made him what he is. He deserves more than what happened to him. For me, he is a hero worth delving into.


Oct 25, 2022

You lost my respect when you put the darkling I should have seen the red flag of Snape, Carden, and Rhys I like morally gray characters but this is just pick me shit


May 27, 2022

If you want 2 entire series filled with morally gray characters, you need to read Anne Bishops Black Jewels novels, that *ehhemm*, heavily influenced Sarah J Mass. And the Terra De Ange novels of Jaqueline Carey. The incredible Broken Earth trilogy by NK Jemison also.


Amna Rahim
Amna Rahim
Jan 14, 2022

Omg I love love loove your list! I totally agree, Kaz is number 1. And the Darkling is the most beautifully written villain of all time 😍 I love Casteel, Rhys, Wrath, Jude and Cardan as well, all deserving of a place on this list.

Oct 25, 2022
Replying to

The darkling is a pedophile for fucks sake


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