There’s no falsehood in saying that Death Note is the ultimate classic of anime reigns! Featuring clever, witty characters who outdo each other in the most complex watching and waiting game, the series has held up wonderfully!
With the perfect portrayal of brilliant characters, the series has stood the test of time, introducing something novel that the manga industry has not seen in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Additionally, a narrative-driven series categorized under the psychological genre offers a new spectacle for early 2000s fans! As viewers of that era, they can only handle so many action-oriented, adventure, and fantasy anime.
The smartest characters in Death Note have brought us a change in manga consumption in these past 2 decades filled with originality, creativity, innovation, resourcefulness, tact, and of course, fun!
Here are 10 characters that I believe to be the smartest in the series Death Note.
10. Raye Penber
To start, I will rank FBI agent Raye Penber at #10. He demonstrated his detective skills early in the series when he was tailgating Kira. As a fan, my favorite aspect of his character is how well he figured out Kira’s plan during the bus-jacking incident because of his cleverness!
In an instant, he disposed of Kira’s plans and announced that he would be protecting all the bus passengers, as an FBI agent (including Kira and his date).
Despite the fact that Raye Penber is incredibly gifted, he also has a weakness: he’s far too gullible! (the reason he’s ranked #10 on this list)
In the end, Penber succumbed to his mental battle with Kira when the latter tricked him to write the names of FBI agents on Death Note sheets, which also caused his own death!
Despite Penber’s tragic fate, I am impressed at how much detective skills and audacity he possessed to stalk a potential murderer like Kira. A real FBI agent, that is!
9. Naomi Misora
We get to know that Naomi Misora worked under L a few years before the start of the series on a Los Angeles BB case. And as fans, it is reasonable to assume that she used her ingenuity and womanly intuition to solve many difficult cases while working with the Great Detective L!
Had Raye Penber not died, she would have accompanied her fiancée on the Kira investigation. Together, they would have solved the case assisting L, and then moved on to marriage!
But nonetheless, her achievements were already amazing prior to her untimely death. Despite the sadness she felt at Penber’s passing, she always remained calm and level-headed. Naomi’s screen time may be short, but that proves her as an intriguing and intelligent character. A truly remarkable woman!
8. Mihael Keehl / Mello
It’s unfair to judge Mello based solely on a perception that he’s “second best” after Near! While Near is always one step ahead of him, Mello surely perceptive in his approach (using both his fists and clever tactics)
Despite his mano-a-mano personality speaking louder than his sly words, Mello acts brazenly because his pride is at stake! Some Mello fans might say that his charisma and EQ are working to his advantage, but they are wrong.
The manga shows Mello allying with Near unintentionally and unwillingly to catch Kira! Due to the risk, he is taking, this may have done Mello more harm than good.
The scar (from detonating the explosion during the Mafia hideout raid) enhances the wild and edgy character of his character, it resonates with his true self!
It is sad to say this, but when Kiyomi Takada outmaneuvered and defeated Mello, he went beyond risking his limbs!
Once again, Wammy’s House has lost one of its former orphans, but now it’s the cookie crumbled (or in this case, how the chocolate melts)!
In addition, Mello desires to be number 1 for once, and only capturing Kira first can beat Near and make him number 1!
Despite knowing they are manipulating each other, the rivals grew up in the same orphanage and believe in each other’s words. After all, Mello and Near are halves of L. Near might be L’s true successor, but Mello loves desserts and candies just as much as L did!
The series’ cleverest and most reliable guy, Watari, is everything L wished for! When L was a lad in Wammy’s House orphanage, he was his caretaker. He is a reliable butler and reliable, both for equipment and support needs (for the Japanese Task Force, as well as for equipment and supplies).
Because they have spent so much time together, Watari and L have formed a special bond. Their shared interests have bonded them for so long that they already know each other’s thinking processes!
Even before his tragic death, Watari was always prepared for the schemes that L instructed him to carry out. With a proficient skill such as that, L won’t want for anything!
Watari only needs to serve some macaroons and ice cream to his master to keep him busy and happy; simple as that! Watari’s swift thinking and on-the-spot preparations help him solve mysteries quickly!
Another thing that fascinates me about Watari is that he has philanthropic goals. For example, he founded Wammy’s House orphanage in England. And not long after, he raised talented children like L, Mello, and Near (hence, L’s close connections with his successors).
Since Watari’s employed as L’s butler for most of his childhood (as discussed in the photography book: L. FILE No. 15), it is clear that Watari is much more than just a mere servant.
In the series, Rem is an intriguing character. I did not rank her #6 simply because she contributed significantly to L’s death.
For the sake of saving Misa, Rem uses every ounce of mental power she has. It is because of this that she initially trusted Kira. In the belief that Kira’s brilliant plan would rescue Misa from L’s tortures and interrogations, she placed faith in him.
Rem isn’t a wizard by any means, unlike L or Kira. Rem’s wisdom, on the other hand, is fascinating, keeping into consideration the way she is constantly ensuring that the Death Note’s secrets remain secret from the Kira Investigation Team.
It requires extraordinary level-headedness on Rem’s part to remain silent and simply respond, “I don’t know.” whenever L’s interrogations close in on the truth.
In addition, Rem also reminds me of the time when Mogi and Aizawa wisely remained silent during a discussion between Near and them about the new L being Kira.
While Mogi and Aizawa’s silence paid off at the end of the series, Rem’s silence led to her demise! Despite being wise enough to hold her tongue during L’s interrogations, she still ultimately yielded to Kira’s plans.
Despite the tragedy of Rem’s death, she remains proactive to ensure Misa’s safety. The fact that Misa is happy keeps her going so she doesn’t act irrationally.
5. Teru Mikami
Being a Kira fanatic, he is Teru Mikami’s life, who reveres and worships him religiously. And the fact that he’s a lawyer sting even more.
The deductive reasoning, brilliant mind, and prosecutorial skills of Mikami are supposed to protect the weak and poor. Yet his sense of justice is overridden by his reverence for Kira. How juvenile!
Several readers saw Mikami as a victimized “Kira’s Kingdom” worshipper. In an effort to please his god, his brainwashed mind instigates him to constantly deletes people.
Regardless, fans know that this criminal prosecutor’s upbringing is reminiscent of villains’ origin stories – like the bullied kids of Marvel’s comic book series. Thus, it is unfortunate and tragic that his brilliant mind was corrupted and squandered due to his worship of Kira.
Mikami has other uses for Light Yagami though – as a human shield. Mikami stooped to his lowest point when he received the Death Note from Kira, becoming crazy and allowing himself to be manipulated by Kira.
He lost his sense of justice completely by the end of the series! Hence, I am just ranking him #5.
In spite of his wits and knowledge, he worshiped a false god rather than utilizing his ability to improve the world.
4. Nate River / Near
Wammy’s House orphanage is home to another prodigy named Near. On his debut, I see several of the same defining features of L in Near!
From his body language (sitting position); speech mannerisms; cowlicks; and logical mind obsessed with complex puzzles (in addition to weird toys), it makes sense that Near is dubbed “L’s true successor”. All of this is to the dismay of his rival, Mello who despised Near.
In contrast to the arrogant and fashionable Mello, Near is dressed up in an eerie white outfit! You can even say that Near is “lacks in color”, just like how Takeshi Obata said “omits color” for Light.
In any case, Near is a genius. It was evident to him that Light Yagami was Kira as well as the new L. When at the brink of a difficult criminal case, nothing can go past his eagle vision!
Ryuk might not look like it, but he ranks #3 in this list for tricking Sidoh and the Shinigami King into acquiring not one, but two Death Notes!
Because Sidoh is weak-willed, he didn’t track down the Death Note he lost to Ryuk until the second part of the series.
However, I honestly believe that no Shinigami, or even a human, could fool Shinigami King like that and get away with it!
Consider Minoru Tanaka’s death in “Never Complete One-Shot” which was released in February 2020, just because the Shinigami King added a new Death Note rule at the last moment (before the Death Note was auctioned off to the president of the U.S. government)!
Although, this argument is debatable since Ryuk wrote Minoru’s name on the same Death Note. Moreover, Minoru’s name is written underneath Light Yagami’s name!
In any event, teasing the Shinigami King will have harsh consequences. Throughout the run of the series, Ryuk dodged these punishments impressively! Wouldn’t that make Ryuk a sly conman as well?
Besides, the only time the Shinigami King loses his temper with Ryuk was when Tanaka sold the Death Note in “Never Complete One-Shot”. However, this incident happened after the main series – when Light Yagami is no longer at Ryuk’s side!
Fans might not have seen the full scope of the Shinigami King’s punishments to Ryuk only because the mangakas did not draw them. (Ohba and Obata did not draw scenes like this).
Even though it’s considerable that Ryuk avoided capture and imprisonment for a long time, it proves that he is a cunning and elusive Shinigami! Because of his ability to manipulate people (that Ryuk possessed even before meeting Light), he is a trickster.
Ryuk might not possess a clever mind, often seeking entertainment from inventive and ingenious humans using the Death Note.
But, ranking Ryuk #3 in this list is fair, placing his boredom and luck aside and focusing on his manipulation skills and witty nature.
Ryuk’s ruse to get the two Death Notes from Sidoh and the Shinigami King is just a trick, but it may be the ruse that gave Kira life! As Kira would say, “It’s all according to plan!”
2. Light Yagami / Kira
This mastermind of a serial killer has me stumped. How do I even begin describing him? As a matter of fact, Death Note has been hailed by critics as being a masterpiece.
The manga is a masterpiece due to Light Yagami’s dual role-playing as the main character and the antagonist.
We see Kira repeatedly winning mind-battles one after another throughout the series until he defeated three adversaries: L, Watari, and Rem. As a god, Kira accomplished his goal of killing 3 birds with 1 stone!
He is “justice”? He is the “law”? He is the “god of the new world” that his alternate self (Kira) created? From the fans’ viewpoint, this is borderline ludicrous. But the reason that Light surpasses Shinigami is due to this god complex!
You can describe Light in any way you like: cunning or manipulative, clever or deceptive, intelligent, analytical, deductive, clever, or playing chess of eight dimensions!
Fans often overlook a phrase Light speaks to himself when he’s nervous: “I can do this.”. I am the only one who can.”
Having climbed from “human status” to “god-like status”, Light plunged into humiliation nation when Near defeated him.
Even so, Kira’s downfall is predictable: he’s just a child pretending to be God. Despite chaos after chaos, he persisted behind the scenes and many times, became frantic and frenzy in the series!
From someone as smart and confident as Light, these traits alone are indicative of courage and confidence. Fans even asked, “How on earth does he stay so calm, keeping his sanity within?” Well, this is a known truth: he craves power and influence at all costs.
Quoting L, Kira is “childish” just like him. They both hate losing and enjoy the thrill of the cat-and-mouse games. Despite the lives at stake, they deliberately put many more lives at risk to satisfy their appetite.
1. L Lawliet
Finally, we’ve reached my number one…L Lawliet!
Just by being Kira’s natural antagonist in the series cannot justify that L is the “good guy.”, as we’ve seen how L tortures and interrogates Misa while she’s on a straitjacket!
L must push moral boundaries aside to capture Kira out of respect for the narrative of the series.
L’s utilization of Lind L Tailor as a human shield remains one of the first things that mesmerized me, to this day.
When I first saw that infamous scene years ago, it struck me that L is “not completely good”. It’s okay, though, because that’s what keeps viewers glued to their seats when they watch and re-watch Death Note!
Light isn’t better than L. Many governments will be used as “cover-ups” as evidence for the thirteen-day cycle rule of the Death Note, which is a similar scenario with Lind L. Tailor (but at a smaller scale since L used this lone man as a trial).
The idea is both despicable and brilliant! Do not reveal your name or face to Kira if you don’t want him to kill you! Even though they are on death row, human lives must be sacrificed constantly to uphold this simple truth.
L is also the perfect detective for the job against Kira. Having been bullied by Wammy’s House orphans for the first time awakened his “chuni” side and sense of justice(a scene that is detailed in the photography book: L FILE No. 15).
L will always remain Kira’s biggest rival in the series, regardless of Near and Mello succeeding him. Fans across generations will resonate with this matter-of-fact statement.
About Death Note
The manga series Death Note is written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, published by Shueisha in 12 volumes. During the period October 2006 to June 2007, an anime adaptation of the story aired for 37 episodes.
It’s about Light Yagami, the protagonist who’s an extremely bright high schooler who discovers a notebook owned by Shinigami Ryuk. With the help of a notebook and a specific set of rules, a user can write down the names of targets while picturing their faces and then kill them.